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Bible Commentaries
Acts 2

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

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Verses 1-4

Acts 2:1-4

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come.

The day of Pentecost

In the occurrences of the day of Pentecost we discover evidence of a special Divine influence. This idea is too prevalent, that the agency of the Supreme is only of a general character--that the repentance and salvation of sinners are brought about, independently of any direct agency on the part of God. They spake with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Most convincing evidence of a special Divine influence is found also in the effects produced upon the day of Pentecost.

The occurrences of the day of Pentecost confirmed the Divine mission of Jesus and the truth of Christianity. Whilst on earth the Lord Jesus gave abundant evidence that He was from God. Jesus encouraged His disciples to expect that they would be endued with special power from on high.

The occurrences of the day of Pentecost exhibit the folly of opposition to the Kingdom of Christ. The day of Pentecost assures us that Jehovah regards the kingdom of His Son with supreme affection, and that all His perfections are engaged for its defence and enlargement.

The occurrences of the day of Pentecost exhibit the grand means of advancing the cause of Christ and saving sinners.

The occurrences of the day of Pentecost exhibit the Christian minister’s grand source of encouragement.

The occurrences of that day exhibit the reality and importance of revivals of religion. By a revival of religion we understand an uncommon and general interest in the subject of salvation, produced by the Holy Spirit, through the instrumentality of Divine truth. Such, substantially, was the revival on the day of Pentecost. Do you say that the excitement, denominated a revival of religion, occurs in connection with the special efforts of Christians? We answer, that the excitement on the day of Pentecost occurred in a similar connection. Do you say that the Divine influence to which we allude, as to the mode of its operation, is enveloped in the darkness of mystery? So it was on the day of Pentecost. Do you say there is enthusiasm connected with the excitement denominated a revival of religion? Fanaticism there may have been. But does such a fact prove the entire absence of genuine religion? Does it prove that no revival is a sober, rational work? Do you say that in a time of general excitement there will be instances of gross imposition on the Church? So it was in the Pentecost revival, when, in awful warning to hypocrites, Ananias and Sapphira fell down dead. Do you say that the excitement denominated a revival of religion, is often succeeded by instances of apostacy? We answer, that apostacies have likewise occurred under other circumstances. The occurrences of the day of Pentecost exhibit, likewise, the importance of revivals of religion. In a single day it gave to the Christian Church a weight of influence more than a hundredfold greater than it had previously possessed. It is important to individual happiness and to the community at large. (Baxter Dickinson.)

Pentecost--the first-fruits

But why was the gift of the Spirit delayed until the day of Pentecost was fully come? No man must irreverently pry into the purposes of Deity.

Pentecost was the feast of first-fruits; therefore symbolical of the first-fruits of the Christian Church (Leviticus 23:15; Leviticus 23:17; Deuteronomy 16:9). The first sheaf of the Christian harvest, the first fruit of the Christian reaping was there ingathered.

Pentecost was associated in the Jewish worship with the giving of the law from Sinai. Fifty days after the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites received the law from Sinai. To this day the gift of the law is kept in view in the Jewish observance of Pentecost.

1. Conviction of sin is the prominent idea of the apostolic Pentecost. Peter’s sermon resulted in the cry, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Conviction of sin is the prelude to a reformed life. In our Christian families and amongst our young people, trained from infancy in Christian virtue, we need not always look for the intense conviction of sin which is apparent on this first day of the Christian Pentecost. No! God’s ways are often gentle.

2. The first gift of the Paraclete on the day of Pentecost--the day which, in Jewish thought, was specially consecrated to the giving of the law from Sinai--was specially fitted to the mission of Him “who will convict the world in respect of sin.”

The first-fruits on the day of Pentecost are typical of the ingathering of all nations to Christ. More foreign Jews attended the Pentecost than any other Jewish feast. And in the light of Pentecost we look forward hopefully to the time when the “great multitude, whom no man could number, out of every nation, and of all tribes, and peoples, and tongues” shall stand before the throne and before the Lamb, and shall cry with a great voice, saying, “Salvation unto our God which sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-10).

Pentecost teaches the union of vast spiritual power with feeble human agency. (George Deane, D. Sc.)


What the day of Pentecost gave indisputable proof of.

1. The truth of Old and New Testament prophecies (Isaiah 44:3; Ezekiel 36:27; Joel 2:28; Zechariah 4:6; John 14:16; John 15:26; John 16:7; Acts 1:5, etc.).

2. The reality of the Messiahship and mission of Christ. The Holy Ghost would bring to the remembrance of the disciples the words they had heard their Master utter, and reveal the meaning of the things of Christ unto them. The Spirit bears witness with our spirits to-day that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

3. The person, presence, and power of the Holy Ghost.

What the day of Pentecost gave infallible pledge of. The success of the preaching of Peter on that day was the earnest of the successive victories the gospel would achieve over error in the world down to the end of time. Those victories would be won--

1. In spite of the paucity of numbers on the side of the gospel.

2. In spite of the poverty of the preachers of the gospel.

3. In spite of the antagonism of the enemies of the gospel.

4. In spite of the unfaithfulness of professors of the gospel.

What the day of Pentecost gave irrevocable pattern of. The primitive Church had to--

1. Wait for the day.

2. Work for the day. Human agony linked with Divine power. (F. W. Brown.)


The season when the Spirit was given.

1. In God’s appointed time. There is a set time to favour Zion, both to try our faith and to prove God’s sovereignty. If every drop of rain has its appointed birthday, every gleam of light its predestinated pathway, and every spark of fire its settled hour for flying upward, certainly the will of God must have arranged and settled the period and place of every gracious visitation.

2. After the ascension. The Spirit was not given till after Jesus had been glorified. Various blessings are ascribable to different parts of Christ’s work. His life is our imputed righteousness; His death brings us pardon; His resurrection confers upon us justification; His ascension yields to us the Holy Spirit. “When He ascended up on high,” etc. It was the wont of the Roman conqueror as he rode along to scatter large quantities of money among the admiring crowd. So our glorified Lord scattered gifts among men.

3. At Pentecost. Some say that at Pentecost the law was proclaimed on Sinai. If so, it was very significant that on the day when the law was issued amid thunders and lightnings, the gospel--God’s new and better law--should be proclaimed with mighty wind and tongues of fire. We are clear, however, that Pentecost was a harvest-festival. On that day the sheaf was waved before the Lord and the harvest consecrated. The passover was to our Saviour the time of His sowing, but Pentecost was the day of His reaping, and the fields which were ripe to the harvest when He sat on the well, are reaped now that He sits upon the throne.

4. When there was most need. Vast crowds were gathered. What would have been the use of the many tongues when no strangers were ready to hear? Whenever we see unusual gatherings, whenever the spirit of hearing is poured out upon the people, we ought to pray for and expect an unusual visitation of the Spirit.

5. Where they were all with one accord in one place. Christians cannot all now be in one place, but they can all be of one accord. When there are no cold hearts, no prejudices and bigotries to separate, no schism to rend the one sacred garment of Christ, then may we expect to see the Spirit of God resting upon us.

6. When they were earnest about one grand object.

The manner. Each word here is suggestive.

1. Suddenly. It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, and so, though the Spirit may have been secretly preparing men’s hearts, yet the real work of revival is done suddenly to the surprise of all observers.

2. There was a sound. Although the Spirit of God is silent, yet His operations are not silent in their results.

3. As of wind. In Greek and Hebrew the word used for wind and for Spirit is the same. The wind is doubtless, chosen as an emblem because of its mysteriousness: “Thou canst not tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth”; because of its freeness: “It bloweth where it listeth”; because of diversity of its operations, for the wind blows a gentle zephyr at one moment, and anon it mounts to a howling blast. The Holy Spirit at one time comes to comfort, and at other times to alarm, etc.

4. It was rushing. This pour-trayed the rapidity with which the Spirit’s influences spread--rushing like a torrent. Within fifty years from Pentecost the gospel had been preached in every country of the known world.

5. It was mighty, irresistible, and so is the Spirit of God; where He comes nothing can stand against Him.

6. It filled all the place where they were sitting. The sound was not merely heard by the disciples. When the Spirit of God comes, He never confines Himself to the Church. A revival in a village penetrates even the pot-house. The Spirit of God at work in the Church is soon felt in the farm-yard, work-room, and factory.

7. But this was not all. I must now mention what was the appearance seen--a bright luminous cloud probably, not unlike that which once rested in the wilderness over the tribes by night--which suddenly divided, or was cleft, and separate tongues of fire rested upon the head of each of the disciples. They would understand that thus a Divine power was given to them. Heathens represent beams of light or flames of fire proceeding from their false deities, and the nimbus with which Roman Catholic painters always adorn the heads of saints, is a relic of the same idea. It was said by the ancients of Hesiod, the first of all the poets, that whereas he was once nothing but a simple neat-herd, yet suddenly a Divine flame fell upon him, and he became henceforth one of the noblest of men. We feel assured that so natural a metaphor would be at once understood by the apostles.

(1) It was a tongue, for God has been pleased to make the tongue do mightier deeds than either sword or pen; by the foolishness of preaching to save them that deliver.

(2) It was a tongue of fire, to show that God’s ministers speak, not coldly as though they had tongues of ice, nor learnedly as with tongues of gold, nor arrogantly as with tongues of brass, nor pliantly as with tongues of willow, nor sternly as with tongues of iron, but earnestly as with the tongue of flame; their words consume sin, scorch falsehood, enlighten the darkness, and comfort the poor.

(3) It sat upon them. So the Spirit of God is an abiding influence, and the saints shall persevere.

(4) It sat upon each of them, so that while there was but one fire, yet each believer received his portion of the one Spirit. There are diversities of operations, but it is the same Lord.

The result. After all this, what are you expecting? Shall the wind blow down dynasties--the fire consume dominions? No; Spiritual and not carnal is the kingdom of God. The result lies in three things.

1. A sermon. The Spirit of God was given to help Peter preach. You turn with interest to know what sort of a sermon a man would preach who was full to the brim of the Holy Ghost. You expect him to be more eloquent than Robert Hall, or Chalmers; more learned than the Puritans. You expect all the orations of Cicero and Demosthenes to be put in the shade. No such thing! Never was there a sermon more commonplace. It is one of the blessed effects of the Holy Spirit to make ministers preach simply.

2. The people were pricked in the heart, and cried, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” What a disorderly thing! Blessed disorder which the Spirit of God gives. Men then feel that they have heard something which has gone right into their inmost nature and receive a wound which only God can heal.

3. Faith and the outward confession of it in baptism. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The descent of the Spirit

The circumstances connected with the event.

The Time. “When the day of Pentecost was fully come.” It was the fiftieth day after the Passover, and beginning of the harvest festival. Harvest home! Surely it was no blind chance that made this appointment for the inauguration of the dispensation of spiritual ingathering (Revelation 14:15).

The place. It was “a house,” the noteworthy fact being that it was not the temple. Up to this time the temple had monopolised the formal worship of Jehovah; but to-day a new order begins. The privileges of worship are to be everywhere and for all sorts and conditions of men.

The dramatis personae. Here were a hundred and twenty feeble folk, none mighty or noble among them, distinguished from the multitudinous rank and file of common people only by the fact that God had chosen them to be the nucleus of the Christian Church. Thus, kneeling together, they held the coign of vantage. They were sure of the blessing. May it not be that, under similar conditions, the Church of our times would be similarly blest?

The onlookers. There came together to witness this strange occurrence a motley and polyglot assemblage of “Parthians, Modes, and Elamites, dwellers in Mesopotamia and in Judaea and Cappadocia, in Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, in Egypt and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians.” Was ever a more representative body of people? And this was as it should have been, for the thing about to happen was of universal importance, and the power about to descend was, like the sceptre in Balaam’s vision, to smite even to the remotest corners of the earth. The time had come for the propagation of a catholic gospel; and this heterogeneous company of people was the first representative Christian congregation that ever assembled on earth. Those who, on this occasion, were “sojourning at Jerusalem out of every nation under heaven,” carried back to their countrymen the announcement of the new religion; and thus the seed was sown whose full and glorious fruition will be seen at the close of history, when “a great multitude which no man can number,” etc. (Revelation 7:9).

What they saw and heard. At this point everything is significant.

1. The “sound as of a mighty, rushing wind.” This must instantly have recalled to the minds of the disciples their Master’s word, “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.” In Ezekiel’s vision in the valley of dry bones we have a similar association of the wind or breath (Hebrew ruach) with spiritual influence: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live!” The symbol is appropriate, suggesting an influence so elevating and inspiring as to mark the beginning of a new life.

2. The fire. This would instantly recall the words of John the Baptist, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” Fire burns, subdues, purifies, penetrates, illumines, energises. Fire is power. The heart that has received the baptism from on high is “set on fire” with a passion for all things true and right.

3. Cloven tongues. It is to be observed that the symbol used to designate the power of the gospel dispensation was not an iron rod, nor a sword, nor a pontifical mitre, but a cloven tongue--the symbol of speech, of argument, of “the foolishness of preaching.” The victory by which the world is to be subjugated to the gospel is to be a moral victory; and the power which is to accomplish it is the simple story of the Cross. Jehovah is not in the storm nor in the earthquake, but in the still, small voice.

The significance of this event.

1. It marked the reformation and reorganisation of Judaism into the Christian Church. In this company of a hundred and twenty persons--like-minded as to the ruling principle of life and engaged with one accord in prayer for a specific blessing--we behold, in seed and promise, a mighty organism which is destined to survive all shocks and oppositions, gathering meat out of the eater and sweetness out of the strong, until at length it shall bring the world and lay it before its Master’s feet. This is the living mechanism that Ezekiel saw by the river Chebar, “a whirlwind out of the north and a fire infolding itself and winged creatures going straight forward: whither the spirit yeas to go they went, and they turned not when they went” (Ezekiel 1:4-10). This working Church of Jesus, inspired by a purpose above all carnal ambitions and endued with power to accomplish it, is at this moment incomparably the greatest force on earth.

2. The miracle of the day of Pentecost marked the beginning of a new epoch. The old economy of types and shadows was over; the dispensation of the Spirit was at hand. Thenceforth the Holy Ghost was to rule in human affairs. It was a transitional point in history. Let us thank God that we live on the hither side of it. Nay, rather, let us thank God over and over that we are permitted to take part in the splendid achievements of these days.

3. This Pentecostal effusion of the Spirit marked the beginning of the end. At that moment God Himself made bare His arm and said, The kingdoms of this world shall be Mine! Those who looked on” were amazed and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?” In answer they were referred by Peter to the prophesy of Joel: “It shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, that I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophecy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.’” It is scarcely to be believed that God will wait upon the slow processes which His people are using for the conversion of the world. He has mighty forces in reserve which we in our poor philosophies have never dreamed of; and who can tell at what moment He may bring them into requisition? (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)


1. “Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.” The exact day was not specified, and still less the precise nature of the gift. Expectation has always been the posture of the Church. For ages the expectation was that of the Messiah’s coming; and no sooner did the Messiah appear than a new season of expectation set in; the expectation of His second coming. Nowhere is there, nor ought there to be, mere retrospection or satisfaction. Many chief graces can only be exercised by looking forward and upward.

2. The condition of the disciples between Ascension and Pentecost was one of expectation in a double sense. They were taught by the angels to look for their Lord’s return. But there was a near return as well as one more remote. When our Lord said “I will see you again,” etc., He said so in three senses--in His own resurrection; in their resurrection; but between these two there lay a spiritual but not therefore an unreal advent.

3. The feast of Pentecost was one of the three great festivals of Israel. It was so called from one particular point in the celebration of the Passover; the waving of the sheaf of the first-fruits of the harvest on the morrow after the Passover-Sabbath. From that day they were to number seven complete sabbaths, and then arrived the feast of weeks or of Pentecost; on which occasion, as at the earlier Passover, and the later Tabernacles, all the men were required to appear before the Lord at His sanctuary in Jerusalem. The Passover had already found its antitype in that season at which Christ the Paschal Lamb was sacrificed for us. The feast of Tabernacles, the celebration of the completion of harvest and vintage, and of the rest which followed the entrance into Canaan, is to find its antitype in that rest which remains for the people of God in heaven. The intermediate festival of Pentecost was to have its antitype in that gift which this chapter describes. Jewish tradition marked out the feast as the commemoration of the giving of the law. And peculiar significance is therefore given to the choice of the day for the giving of that new law, of the Spirit of life, by which the commandments of God were to be written, not on tables of stone, but on the tablets of a renewed and willing heart. At all events the festival of the first-fruits was now to be fulfilled in the Holy Spirit as the firstfruits of the heavenly inheritance. Two things in the narrative need to be distinguished.

The origin of the gift.

1. Men are slow in understanding and stubborn in disputing spiritual or supernatural influences; resolving everything into workings of nature, chance, or imagination. There is no spiritual influence which the philosophers and theologians of this age would not explain away, or laugh down. It is well, perhaps, that the gospel was established in men’s convictions in an age of greater simplicity and of less presumption.

2. But if God would make it evident that He is at work, I know not how it can be done without miracle. If our Lord would convince common men that He had all the power of God, was there any mode so really decisive as that which the Gospels describe to us? Those who had actually seen Him still a tempest, raise a corpse, etc., must have felt that God had given them evidence of the Messiahship of Christ. Even thus was it with the coming of the Holy Ghost. Hearts might have been influenced, lives might have been changed, and men might have ascribed it to natural causes; but if it was to be made plain, beyond gainsaying, that the Holy Spirit had descended to make His abode in the Church and in the hearts of men, there must be some sign of which the senses could take cognisance, and from which but one inference could be drawn.

3. Such a sign was that marvellous power of which we have here the first example. If unlettered men were heard to utter sounds recognised by men of diverse nations as their native speech, what other explanation could be given save that which Peter gave?

4. And is there anything irrational in the supposition that God should come in direct personal communication with man, or should make it plain whence that communication was derived? It can be no reproach to a revelation that its utterance is decisive and its proofs intelligible to unlettered men.

5. In the signs which accompanied the descent of the Holy Ghost we can recognise all the emblems by which He had been foretold.

(1) The rushing mighty wind, “blowing where it listeth,” audible in its sound, inscrutable in its source and destination.

(2) The fiery flame which had been taken from the first as the description of the Saviour’s baptism.

(3) The voice which bore witness to the informing, instructing, and counselling presence within.

The gift signified.

1. We read of it in its prediction and in its experience. Look for the one to Joh 14:-16., and for the other to Romans 8:1-39., Galatians 5:1-26. Study those and you will see how little they can enter into the fulness of the promise, who either imagine it to have been designed for apostles only, or as consisting principally of miraculous gifts. The Holy Spirit was promised as the Comforter, the Remembrancer, the Teacher, the Guide, the inward Advocate, the Representative of Christ, the Presence of God and of Christ in the soul, whose coming was to make it a gain even that the Saviour should depart. And what then was the experience of this great gift? How did they describe it who had found it for their own? Hear what Paul, who was not present at Pentecost, but only received the gift afterwards as any one of you might receive it in answer to prayer, tells how the Holy Ghost within had set him free from the bondage of sin and death; how He had turned his affections from things below to things above; how he had found the Holy Spirit to be indeed a Spirit not of fear but the Spirit of adoption, etc.

2. The gift of the Spirit is one half of the whole need of man. We need forgiveness first. But there is a need behind, without which forgiveness would be a mockery--the gift of the Holy Ghost pledged in baptism--promised in the Word of life. We are ignorant, poor, weak, sad, and lonely in heart, until the Sun of Righteousness rises upon us with that healing in His wings, which is first the joy of a free forgiveness, and secondly the joy of an indwelling Spirit! And be we well assured that, if we are filled with the Holy Ghost, the other words of the text will be realised in us; we shall also speak with another tongue, the Spirit giving us the utterance. How transforming is the influence of the Holy Spirit upon human lips! Can we live with a man in whom God dwells and not perceive it in his words? Let us pray for the gift of that new Divine speech, in the power of which he who once opened his lips only to trifle, to defame, or to deceive, has begun to breathe the sounds of love and joy and peace, of gentleness and goodness and faith and meekness. Thus shall men take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus. Thus shall we bear that testimony, not of word only but of sign, by which minds are convinced and hearts opened, by which God’s name is made known on earth, His saving health among all nations. (Dean Vaughan.)

Pentecost a spiritual spring feast

The spring breezes which blow: stormy blasts and soft zephyrs.

The spring voices which are heard: the inspired tongues of the apostles praising the mighty acts of God, and the timid voices of awakened consciences inquiring after salvation.

The spring blossoms which appear: childlike faith and brotherly love. (Gerok.)

The Pentecostal outpouring

The preparation for the gift of the spirit.

1. The ascension. Christ had taught that His going away was essential to the Spirit’s coming.

2. The attitude of the disciples.

(1) Patient waiting.

(2) Union.

(3) Prayer.

(4) Fellowship with the risen Christ.

Its sensible accompaniments. The elements of nature were now, as so often, symbolical of spiritual realities.

1. The sound like wind indicating the immediacy, secrecy and swiftness of the Divine action.

2. The appearance like fire symbolising warming, quickening, cleansing.

The gift itself. The Spirit’s influence was--

1. In its nature adapted to affect men’s minds and hearts.

2. In its measure as vast as human capacities could receive.

3. In its extent universal, being designed for Christ’s whole Church.

The immediate consequences.

1. The apostles were empowered to speak with other tongues, which was a sign of Divine energy.

2. Preaching was made powerful to the conversion of many; enemies of Christ became friends.

3. The Church was established upon a sure and lasting foundation. (Family Churchman.)

The gift of Pentecost the best gift of God

In virtue of--

Its root--the merits of Christ, His humiliation and exaltation.

Its nature--the union of the Spirit of God with man.

Its operations--the new creation of the heart and of the world. (Gerok.)

Pentecost; or, the first Christian day

Next to the day of Christ’s death, Pentecost was the greatest day that ever dawned. It was “the birth-day” of the Church, the first day of the new creation, in which chaos began to be fashioned and arranged by the plastic power of the Spirit, the day of the grand and solemn opening of the kingdom of heaven, after the completion of the Christ’s preparatory work, the day on which the fountain was unsealed, whose waters should flow forth for the healing and purifying of the nations. And as it was the first of Christian days, so was it a type of Christian days. Note--

The history.

1. The season was the Pentecost, a Jewish festival.

2. The hour, “the hour of prayer.”

3. The place was one of the apartments of the temple. If we put these things together, we shall have two results.

(1) They secured a large and fitting audience. Great numbers of Jews and proselytes visited Jerusalem; and the temple was just the place where they could most easily become parties to the introduction of the new dispensation.

(2) It was strikingly taught that the old state of things was giving place to another, which should change its form but perfect its spirit. The shell was being broken to yield a new life; the beautiful fly was being developed from the worm. Judaism was to be displaced by that which should spiritualise and ennoble its truths and principles. The temple was to become a church, and Pentecost to witness a new celebration of harvest, the ingathering of souls.

4. The antecedents. The apostles “continued with one accord,” etc.

The occurrences as strikingly suggestive of important truths in relation to the dispensation thus introduced. There was--

1. A new Spirit. Whatever spiritual influences had been shed forth in former periods, the Holy Ghost, in the New Testament sense, was to be the gift of the glorified Saviour, the characteristic blessing of His kingdom. We must beware of restricting this fact to miraculous endowments. The gift of tongues, etc., were but signs and seals of the spiritual power intended to draw attention to the inward gift, only as the thunder and lightning of the new spiritual world, occasional and impressive incidents of powers and processes whose constant, silent operation is the very life of men.

(1) The world needed the Spirit. It was not a case merely for new religious opinions, habits, or institutions; the need was of life from above; the nature required to be restored and quickened. Sin had cut off the supplies of Divine grace, had converted the temple into a tomb. It was the grand design of the gospel to engraft humanity upon Deity, to breathe into our dead souls the breath of life.

(2) The apostles needed the Spirit. Much as they had been with Jesus, they were still strangers to His inner being, the deeper meaning of His acts and words, the glory of His Cross; they were like the skeletons in the valley of vision, very dry, till at the prophet’s bidding they became living men.

2. A new truth. “We do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God,” the same as composed the subject of Peter’s discourse; the history of Christ. True, they knew that He had died, and risen again, and ascended: but all this, though familiar as history, was new as truth. And just as a man who has travelled in the dark, looks back at break of day and admires the objects that he passed, aware only of their existence, or deeming them objects of fear, so the disciples recalled the events of their Master’s life, and rejoiced in much which had perplexed and grieved them. The death and departure of Christ were to His followers like the fabled statue of Memnon, which sent forth sounds, mournful in the night, but melodious at the rising of the sun: when God’s morning light arose, how sweet the notes those facts, once only sad, emitted! Christianity is essentially historical. It does not set men on arduous inquiries, nor answer them by logical expositions; but it points us to the incarnate Son of God; tells us how He lived and suffered and arose to glory; tells us that He was, that He is: He is the object of its faith, its love, its obedience and its joy. Such was evidently Peter’s thought when he used “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” to open it to the Jewish world on the day of Pentecost. Such was also Paul’s (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This was the truth which they propounded to men of every class and in every condition--to Greek (1 Corinthians 2:2); to Jew (Galatians 6:14); to Roman (Romans 8:3-4); and it proved, in the case of all, the power of God unto every one that believeth. The declaration of this truth on the day of Pentecost was therefore not an exceptional thing; it was a specimen of the kind of moral instrumentality which should be characteristic of Christianity.

3. A new vehicle. “They began to speak with other tongues.”

(1) Had a Jew been told that God was about to introduce a new and transcendent dispensation in a style worthy of its superior excellence, he would probably have expected a grand ceremonial. But he was here taught that Christianity would be a system, not of ceremonialism, but of moral agency, and that its chief means would be uttered thought and feeling, man coming into contact with man, reason with reason, heart with heart. No system of religion has made such use of the voice as Christianity, and its purest forms have always been connected with the largest use of the voice.

(2) The manner as well as the fact of the use of the tongue was instructive. In the publicity and indiscriminateness of Pentecostal preaching there was something different from all that had appeared in the best types of heathen wisdom. The philosophers universally disregarded the poor; their discoveries were confined to those who sought and could purchase them. But the gift of tongues declared not only that speech would be the most appropriate organ of the gospel, but that it would “speak to the people” without exception, “all the words of this life.”

4. A new world. No power on earth could have brought together, at that time, so typical a congregation. And herein was there an expression of the catholicity of the gospel. It not only declared that the world might enjoy the privileges of the true religion, but it spoke to the world in its own language; it destroyed every “middle wall of partition” between Jew and Gentile, and made the common possession of every race the rich inheritance of “the gospel of the grace of God.” The confusion of tongues (Genesis 11:7) was reversed, and it was proclaimed that the effect of the gospel would be the destruction of all that divided and alienated men; that its purpose was to form a new “body,” into which all should be “baptized by one Spirit, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free,” so creating a “new man,” in which there should be “neither Greek nor Jew,” etc.

5. A new impression (verses 37, 41-42).

(1) There had been mighty religious movements among Jews and Gentiles, but there had been no seasons similar to Pentecost. Not that we are to dissociate that time from times preceding. “Other men had laboured, and the disciples entered into their labours.” Christ had no Pentecost; but He was always doing that without which no Pentecost could have been. He was breaking up the fallow-ground, and sowing seed; the ingathering was to come. It is a far greater thing to make a gospel than to preach a gospel. And when Peter with quickening energy spake to the people, and thousands confessed the sovereignty of truth, he was only the instrument of bringing to bear the virtue and power of Christ’s redemption. “The corn of wheat had fallen into the ground and died,” but, having died, it now “brought forth much fruit.”

(2) But however men had been moved or changed before, they had never been moved or changed thus. The sense of guilt was not strange, but penitence had never possessed the depth and the tenderness which belonged to theirs who “looked on Him whom they had pierced, and mourned for Him,” Moral and religious reformation had often rewarded the labours of the wise and good, but never had it taken so Divine a type as in those who now “gladly received the Word.” Men had often associated themselves together at the bidding of outward law or inward love, but organisation and fellowship had never known their truest life and strongest bonds till the thousands of Pentecost joined the Church at Jerusalem.


1. Let us recognise the fact that this is the dispensation of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is now given because Jesus is glorified. It is the time of spiritual life, “the day of Christ’s power.”

2. The means whereby “the power from on high” may be obtained for ourselves and others. These are prayer and truth. It was the supplicating Church that was filled with the Spirit; it was the speaking Church that received the addition of three thousand souls. This is & union that evermore prevails, and without which there can be no realisation of Pentecostal times.

3. The pouring forth of the Spirit of Christ is the present, the universal, the urgent necessity of men. The main misery of the world is its carnal life, its separation from God: it will never be whole and happy till it be possessed and regenerated by the Spirit of the living God. (A. J. Morris.)

The day of Pentecost

The occurrences of the day exhibit--

1. Evidence of a special Divine influence.

2. The Divine mission of Jesus and the truth of Christianity.

3. The folly of opposition to Christ’s kingdom.

4. The grand means of advancing Christ’s cause and saving sinners.

5. The Christian minister’s great source of encouragement.

6. The reality and importance of revivals of religion. (B. Dickinson, M. A.)

The day of Pentecost

The disciples--

Began to speak. Hitherto they had kept silence. They were learners and asked questions. True, they were sent by Christ to try their “‘prentice hands”; but their discourses could not have been much to boast of, or they would have been recorded. But no sooner were they filled with the Spirit than they began to speak out. A man may have a little of the Spirit and be able to observe silence; but if he is filled he cannot hold his peace. “Necessity is laid upon me.” From their irrepressible desire to speak, many concluded they were “full of new wine.” And herein there is a superficial likeness between “being filled with wine” and “being filled with the Spirit”; in either case there is a powerful desire to speak. A few chapters further on in reply to the magistrates, they said, “We cannot but speak.” The Holy Spirit was fermenting within them and bursting through all restraints (see Job 32:17-20, and Marg.).

With other tongues.

1. This is a power inherent in all men. Men speak with new tongues every year. Some can converse in many languages. Here the Spirit quickened this power. The first miracle of Christ was the turning of water into wine. There is nothing unnatural in that. Do we not see it every year in the vintages of Europe? The supernatural consisted in its instantaneousness. And so the first miracle of the Holy Ghost consisted in the rapidity with which the knowledge of other tongues was acquired.

2. Some acquire knowledge with much greater rapidity than others. Who can tell how quickly the human intellect may acquire it when inspired by the Holy Ghost? Sir William Hamilton tells us of a servant girl who, under the excitement of fever, repeated long and intricate passages from Latin, Greek, and Hebrew authors, which she had occasionally overheard her old master read as he was walking up and down in his house. If that be the ease under the excitement of fever, is it incredible that the disciples spoke with foreign tongues under the influences of the Holy Spirit? Man is only a degenerate specimen of what he once was. Adam could learn more in five minutes than we can in five years. He could instinctively make language, a much more formidable task than to learn it. Let the wound which sin has inflicted on the mind be healed up, and man will learn a new language with as much facility as Adam made one.

3. The Holy Spirit, it is admitted, ennobles other faculties; then why not this? He made Bezaleel and Aholiab skilful workmen, and still endows men with the knowledge necessary to the successful prosecution of art. When Christianity appeared, the arts and sciences were at a very low ebb. But before long the new religion poured a new spirit into society, and began to ennoble the intellect of the race. Just as you have seen a tree, after being well manured, budding out in early spring with fresh vitality, so Christianity enriched the human mind. Poetry revived under it--the best poetry of the world is Christian. Painting grew under the shadow of its wing--the grand pictures are nearly all representations of scenes in the life of the Saviour. Music and architecture also have chiefly flourished on Christian soil and in immediate connection with Christian worship. And so with the sciences. The revival of learning was coincident with the revival of Christianity. Science did not make the discovery that the sun is the centre of our system until Luther discovered that Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, is the centre of religion. Stephenson was once asked, What was the power that pulled the train along the rails? He answered, The sun. The sun was not the immediate power--that was the fire under the boiler; but he knew that science could trace back the fire of the coal to the fire of the sun. And the power that is now working in the heart of civilization, that is pushing upward and forward all that is good and true is the power of the Spirit of Christ.

4. As sin, which lies like an incubus on the heart of humanity, hindering free movement, will be expunged, we may expect corresponding celerity in our acquisition of knowledge. Possibly the lofty mental state of the apostles is the normal state of man. Daniel was thrown to the lions’ den, and the lions hurt him not. That we call supernatural: yet it is perhaps the true natural--the state in which man was placed in Paradise, and in which he will find himself again by and by. The three young men in Babylon were cast into the fiery furnace, and the flame did not singe a hair of their heads. That we call supernatural, yet it may be the true natural. Man was not subject to death either natural or accidental before the entrance of sin into the world; and man redeemed will go through the fire and not be burnt. Christ walked the sea, that we call supernatural: yet I am not sure but it is the true natural--the state in which man found himself in the Paradise of old, and in Paradise regained he will walk through rivers and they will not overflow him. Paul took hold of serpents, and they did not bite him, nor did they bite man in Eden, and they will not bite him in the future. And the disciples on the day of Pentecost spoke with other tongues. The family of man once spoke the same language; and who knows but the partition walls between nations as the result of the confusion of languages will be totally removed by a vast display of intellectual power on the part of the race baptized with the Holy Ghost? The miracle of Pentecost will gradually neutralise the miracle of Babel. Men travel now with greater speed than of old; they correspond with greater rapidity; and who can tell but that learning will move with greater ease, relieved to a certain extent from the present drudgery? “There is a royal road to learning.” Let sin be purged out, and man will learn by intuition.

The wonderful works of God.

1. His ordinary works are the Creation in its various ramifications. He makes the sun to rise and to set; His wonderful works are as Peter’s sermon shows, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The only subjects worthy of the pulpit are not the arts and sciences, but the gospel--a thing specially lacking in the sermons of some leading preachers.

2. It is truly remarkable that the wonderful works of God are easily translatable. Science is not suitable for every language; it cannot speak Welsh, e.g.; but the gospel can. A minister insisted on the importance of knowing Greek to understand the New Testament. “I do not,” remarked an old lady, “perceive the necessity, for my Saviour knows Welsh as well as I do. It is in Welsh that I always speak to Him, and that He always speaks to me. He knew Welsh when I was a little girl, and we have talked Welsh together ever since.”

3. But the words intimate that the disciples spoke in foreign languages with a thorough command of their peculiar idiom and accent. Not only in their languages but in their “tongues” they had the very twang of natives. Native tongue has very great influence over man. The same truths uttered in another language, though well understood, exercise not the same charm. “Can an Ethiopian change his skin?” Yes, as soon as he can change his tongue. When St. Paul addressed the enraged multitude in Jerusalem in Hebrew, they grew calm and attentive. Latin and Greek would only excite them.

4. Seeing that language is the only weapon in the propagation of the gospel, it is of great importance that its ministers should know how to use it deftly and well. The sword of Cromwell was mighty; all Europe feared the flash of it. But the tongue and pen of Milton did more to ensure liberty of conscience. The pen is stronger than the sword--the tongue can drown the roar of cannon.

5. And the Church leads the van in the study of languages. Commerce and love of learning have done a little in that direction; but they generally follow in the wake of the gospel. Who are the first to learn the languages of distant nations, to write their grammars, to compile their dictionaries? Missionaries of the gospel. What book is the first to speak in the barbarous tongues of the earth? The Bible; but the moment the Bible speaks in those tongues they forthwith cease to be barbarous. Sin has left its deep, black marks upon language. Open your English dictionary and you will find in the first page that three-fourths of the words owe their existence and significance to sin. But these words must gradually grow obsolete, and language be refashioned--the gospel will leave its mark upon the dictionary. The Church of the present day is richly endued with the gift of tongues, every fresh effusion of the Spirit being followed by the certain acquisition of a new language. Go to the Bible Society House, where the Church speaks in no fewer than two hundred and fifty languages. The disciples only began; the Church continues and will continue till all nations shall have heard in their own tongues the wonderful works of God.

6. But we are not taught languages miraculously now. True; and for valid reasons--

(1) One is the printing press. What the gift of tongues did for the Church of Pentecost, the printing press has done for the Church of the Reformation.

(2) Another is the abundance of the labourers. In the primitive Church there were only a few, whereas there was a whole world to evangelise. So Goal gave them their tools ready made--sickles sharpened for work. But the need for this no longer exists. There are Christians enough in England alone to learn all the languages of the earth, and to preach the gospel to every creature in less than ten years, without in the least disturbing the ordinary course of business at home. God, therefore, has withdrawn the miracle. To continue it would be to patronise indolence, and do for believers what they can easily do for themselves.

7. The miracle has ceased, but the blessing enveloped in the miracle remains.

(1) The necessity for miracles arises out of the want and not of the wealth of the age. Hence Jesus turned water into wine, multiplied loaves and fishes and healed the sick, because there were no other means of supply and effectual medicine. It is different now.

(2) The miraculous ages are always the most spiritually impoverished. The deliverance of Israel from Egypt is marked by miracles. But the necessity for them arose out of the moral dearth of the times. As the consciousness of God grew, the miraculous continued to wax smaller, till in the reigns of David and Solomon--the richest period materially, intellectually, and spiritually--it ceased altogether. But in subsequent reigns spiritual religion rapidly declined; therefore the gift of miracles was again revived in the persons of Elijah and Elisha. When the Saviour appeared the epoch was the most degraded in the annals of the race. The gift of miracles was therefore granted once more. Miraculous is always in inverse proportion to spiritual power; where the latter grows the former declines. Will miracles be again revived in the Christian Church? Not unless spiritual religion be threatened with speedy extinction.

To men of other nations.

1. Increased life always demands increased scope for its exercise. There was no power to spread itself in religion under the Old Testament. The Spirit was given in very scanty measures, just enough to preserve, but not to multiply life and replenish the earth. That Judaism should cover only a small portion of the globe was an absolute necessity, for it could maintain its life only by concentration. If the fire be small, it can only be kept burning by being heaped close together. Let the coals be scattered, and the fire will die out. And under the Old Testament only a few sparks came down from heaven to earth; hence it was necessary to gather them together within the narrow confines of Palestine. And in the days of the Saviour the fire was nearly extinguished. Fire was the great need of the age. “I indeed baptize you with water,” exclaims the Baptist; but water can only cleanse the surface, but He will baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire. And on the day of Pentecost the prediction is fulfilled. The fire first burns into the hearts of the disciples, then it begins to extend its area, and now it threatens to burn up all the stubble of the world.

2. This increased life reveals itself instinctively in a desire to enlarge its circumference. Whenever the presence of the Spirit is powerfully felt in the Church, it is invariably followed by a renewed effort to evangelise the world. Let the spring impart new life to the roots of the trees, and the life will at once be transmitted to the branches, covering them with abundant foliage. Let the warm, genial months come round, reviving the drooping nature of the bird after the long dreary winter cold, and the bird shows it immediately in his song. He does not sing because he thinks he ought; he sings because he must. And it is a poor way of promoting the evangelistic zeal of the Church to demonstrate constantly what she ought to do. It is useless to lay down rules for the guidance of the Churches unless we supply them with motive power.

(1) I do not cry down organisations; they are very valuable in their proper place. But they are only cisterns, and cisterns, though of the most approved pattern, are not of much use to quench thirst. The Pentecostal Church had few organisations; but she had the water of life to give freely to all who were in need. The modern Church can boast of multitudinous organisations; and so far she can claim superiority to the early Church, for cisterns after all are serviceable. What glorious cisterns are missionary societies! They have silver pipes connecting them with every country under heaven; the waterworks are laid to convey the water of life to every thirsty soul. But the results are seldom proportionate to the expenditure. The cisterns too often run dry. How few the triumphs of Christianity at home and abroad! How tardy its onward march! Why? Lack of funds, answer our secretaries. Nay, lack of life, piety, the Holy Spirit of God. Had the apostles funds to back their efforts?

(2) Reflection on the part of the Church is not to be discouraged. But stock-taking will not clothe the naked. We spend too much time in surveying our property, and meanwhile our enthusiasm considerably abates. The Greek Church took stock of all the Christian doctrines and reduced them into carefully worded articles. But in reflection she lost her ardour, in speculation evaporated all her life. The most orthodox church became practically a dead church. I have not heard of her sending out missionaries to evangelise the heathen. What then is required to awaken within her the old life and incite her to new adventures? What is wanting to make Roman and Protestant Churches more powerful for good in the world? Another outpouring of the Holy Ghost. We have cisterns enough, pray for the living water; machinery enough, pray the Spirit of the living creature to enter the wheels, and then it will do more work and make less noise.

That they also might be filled with the Holy Ghost. “Repent and be baptized,” etc.

1. Truth, though it be Christian truth, cannot fill and satisfy our nature. God alone can do that. This, of course, implies that human nature is capacious enough to take in the Spirit. God is too great for our powers, but not for our wants; too vast for our reason, but not for our hearts. Our abilities are limited enough, but our necessities are verily boundless. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”; and He made him in the similitude even of His infinitude. I have infinite wants within me, and through the Infinite within I can know the Infinite without, and receive Him in the ample plenitude of His power and grace into my soul. How does the infant know his mother? By his wants. He knows not whether she is rich or poor, accomplished or unlearned, beautiful or plain; but he thoroughly knows her when he is hungry, for she feeds him; when he is cold, for she warms him; when he is in pain, for she soothes him. We know God just in the same way.

2. We may be filled with Him so as to convince unbelievers, not only that we have been with God, but that He dwells in us of a truth. There is a curious invention to fill the human body with electricity. If you only approach the body so filled, it will shoot forth sparks of wild lightning. But all connection between the body and the earth must be severed; the man must stand on a non-conducting material, else the electric fluid will flow out as fast as it flows in. In like manner we me y be recipients of the Divine fire. And sometimes we feel as if we were getting full, we emit Divine sparks at the approach of others they are convinced that God is in us of a truth. But ere many days pass, the hallowed influences have all flowed out. Worldliness is the great sin of the Church; it robs us of the Divine in Christian experience. Oh for another Pentecostal baptism! We need the Spirit now as much as ever to convert unbelievers, and to stir up the dormant energies of the Church. Why is it that Christian workers see so little fruit to their labours? That the success is not commensurate with the organisations? Some answer, The poverty of your sermons. But that cannot be the reason for every preaching qualification met in Christ, and yet He made but comparatively few converts. “He could not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” A cold church, an unbelieving church robs itself of the choicest blessings of heaven. Let it not blame its ministers for its non-success--roses will not grow in Greenland, trees will not blossom at the North Pole. (J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)

The day of Pentecost

The religious history of the world has been marked by great steps or periods, separated by striking events or epochs, and constituting dispensations or eras.

1. Thus the creation of man inaugurated an era which continued until the Flood; the covenant with Noah inaugurated another, which continued until the Exodus; the delivery of the law another, which continued until Christ’s ascension; and the day of Pentecost another, in the course of which our own generation finds its place. This, too, will be superseded by the Second Advent. And it is well for us to connect the little day of our life with this magnificent progression. As an independent thing our life is utterly insignificant; as a contributing item, it becomes almost sublime.

2. Up to the day of Pentecost every dispensation was preparatory. Christianity is final; and therefore surpasses in importance every other that preceded it. All the constituent elements of Christianity were now provided; the life of Christ had demonstrated the practicability and holiness of God’s law; His death had constituted an atonement for transgressors; His resurrection had attested it; His ascension had consummated His incarnate life; and then, after seven or eight days, as if to mark by a solemn pause the broad boundary line of Judaism and Christianity, the Holy Spirit was palpably bestowed; and the spiritual religion of Christ inaugurated.

3. Amongst the anniversaries of the Church, therefore, the day of Pentecost must ever occupy an august position. Christianity was a completed system stereotyped for all men to the end of the world in a historical form.

The dispensational change which the day of Pentecost marked and consummated. The dispensation of the Spirit stands in natural and logical order amongst the Divine dispensations looked at.

1. As manifestations of God. Of these there have been three successively presented, and corresponding with the triune distinction of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. First, the revelation of the Father--the manifestation of those ideas of the Divine nature which we associate with the Father--such as power, wisdom, holiness, and law. Secondly, the revelation of the Son--the manifestation of those ideas of the Divine nature which we associate with the Son--such as teaching, mediation, sacrifice, love. Lastly, the revelation of the Spirit--as the Source of life, the Enlightener, the Sanctifier, the Comforter. And these correspond in their order to the spiritual education of men. In their ignorance and guilt they need first to be taught the idea of God. Convinced of sin, they then need to be taught a way of reconciliation; and under the dispensation of the Son, they have the great saving plan revealed. Under the dispensation of the Spirit, a provision is made for the efficiency of the plan; spiritual life is quickened; they are not only forgiven, but sanctified. So with their education in worship. Under the dispensation of the Father, they learn the first rudiments of worship, through material symbols and pictures; under the dispensation of the Son they worship the spiritual God, but m connection with the living body of the Incarnate One; under the dispensation of the Spirit, they worship without any material medium in “spirit and in truth.” The dispensation of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost assumed two distinct forms, and produced two distinct effects.

(1) As miraculous endowment it was peculiar to the apostles. This was indicated by material symbols. But such endowment was incidental and subordinate. Just as the miracles of Christ are not to be confounded with His moral mission, so the miraculous endowments of the Spirit are not to be confounded with His moral or sanctifying influences. The miraculous element in both cases is simply the credential or attestation of the moral. It soon, therefore, ceased. As moral evidence for Christianity accumulated, and the written records of the New Testament were completed, miraculous testimony was withdrawn.

(2) But the deeper and abiding manifestation was that moral and regenerating influence of it of which Christ discoursed to Nicodemus, and is known, therefore, only by its effects. The former was an endowment of the preacher; this is an endowment of the hearer, qualifying and disposing him to receive it in the saving love and power of it.

2. As a saving provision for man.

(1) This dispensation of the Spirit abides with the Church for ever, and is bestowed upon all believers. And this is the grand and transcendent characteristic of Christianity, whereby it provides for the efficacy of its own religious teaching. Other religions give laws, and leave men unaided with the stern requirement; but Christianity gives dispositions as well as laws. It puts a new spirit into those whom it calls to its discipleship.

(2) We cannot, therefore, exaggerate the importance of this provision. Without it, all that Christ has taught or done would have been in vain; we should for lack of spiritual discernment have failed to discern spiritual things, and for lack of spiritual affection failed to have embraced them.

(3) Of course spiritual influence of this kind must have been in operation before. No holy man ever became such save through the influences of the Holy Spirit, allusions to which are very numerous in the Old Testament. But just as the work of Christ was in efficacious operation before Christ Himself was historically manifested, so was the work of the Spirit. Just as the first pardoned man was justified by faith in Christ, so the first holy man was renewed by the operation of the Holy Ghost, and just as the Nativity was the manifestation of the atoning Christ, so the day of Pentecost was the manifestation of the renewing spirit. As much of the character and work of the Son were revealed as the world could receive; and as much of the influence of the Spirit was exerted as the moral condition of the world would admit of. Hence we may understand how there should be a greater amount of spiritual influence operating in the Christian Church than in the Jewish Church. (H. Allon, D. D.)

The fitness of the day of Pentecost

It is natural to assume a purpose in the Divine choice of the day on which the disciples were thus to receive the promise of the Father. That choice may have been determined, if one may so speak, either in view of the circumstances of the feast, or of its history and symbolic fitness.

1. Of all the feasts of the Jewish year it was that which attracted the largest number of pilgrims from distant lands. The dangers of travel by sea or land in the early spring or late autumn (cf. Acts 27:9)

prevented their coming in any large numbers to the Passover. At no other feast would there have been representatives of so many nations. It was Pentecost that St. Paul went up to keep once and again, during his mission-work in Greece and Asia (Acts 18:21; Acts 20:16). So there was no time on which the gift of the Spirit was likely to produce such direct and immediate results.

2. Each aspect of the old Feast of Weeks, now known as Pentecost, or the “Fiftieth-day” Feast, presented a symbolic meaning which made it typical of the work now about to be accomplished.

(1) It was the “feast of harvest, the feast of the first-fruits”; and so it was meet that it should witness the first great gathering of the fields that were white to harvest (Exodus 23:16).

(2) It was one on which, more than on any other, the Israelite was to remember that her had been a bondman in the land of Egypt, and had been led forth to freedom (Deuteronomy 16:12), and on it, accordingly, they were to do no servile work (Leviticus 23:31); and it was, therefore, a fit time for the gift of the Spirit, of whom it was emphatically true that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17), and who was to guide the Church into the truth which should make men free indeed (John 8:32).

(3) It was a day on which sacrifices of every kind were offered--burnt-offerings, and sin-offerings, and meat-offerings, and peace-offerings--and so represented the consecration of body, soul, and spirit as a spiritual sacrifice (Leviticus 23:17-20).

(4) As on the Passover the first ripe sheaf of corn was waved before Jehovah as the type of the sacrifice of Christ, of the corn of wheat which is not quickened except it die (Leviticus 23:10; John 12:24), so on Pentecost two wave-loaves of fine flour were to be offered, the type, it may be, under the light now thrown on them, of the Jewish and the Gentile Churches (Leviticus 23:17). And these loaves were to be leavened, as a witness that the process of the contact of mind with mind, which--as the prohibition of leaven in the Passover ritual bore witness--is naturally so fruitful in evil, might yet, under a higher influence, become one of unspeakable good: the new life working through the three measures of meal until the whole was leavened (Matthew 13:33).

3. The Feast of Pentecost had--traditionally, at least--also a commemorative character. On that day--so it was computed by the later Rabbis, though the Book of Exodus (Exodus 19:1) seems to leave the matter in some uncertainty--the Israelites had encamped round Sinai, and there had been thunders, and darkness, and voices, and the great Laws had been proclaimed. It was, that is, an epoch-making day in the religious history of Israel. It was fit that it should be chosen for another great epoch-making day, which, seeming at first to be meant for Israel only, was intended ultimately for mankind. (Dean Plumptre.)

The feast of harvest

The consecrated harvest of the field. It may seem somewhat singular that we should be talking of harvest on the first of June, but in Palestine the harvest is much earlier than where the climate is more severe. At the beginning of the barley harvest the first ripe ears were presented to the Lord in due order, but at the fuller festival they brought into God’s house, not the ears of wheat, but two large loaves--the fruit of the earth actually prepared for human food. What did that mean?

1. That all came from God. We regard our bread as the fruit of our own labour; but who gives us strength to labour,, and gives the earth the power to bring forth her harvest? I fear in many houses bread is eaten and the Giver is forgotten. Let us by grateful offerings to the Lord express our thankfulness for all the comforts we enjoy.

2. That all our possessions need God’s blessing upon them. Without a blessing from God His gifts become temptations, and bring with them care rather than refreshment. It was a joyous sight to see the loaves and the fishes multiplied; but the best part of it was that the Master looked up to heaven and blessed them. If thou hast little, yet if God has blessed thy little there is a flavour in it which the ungodly cannot know when they fill themselves with stalled oxen. If thou hast ample, yet if thou hast more blessing, thy riches shall not be a snare to thee.

3. That all we have we hold under God as His stewards. These two loaves were a kind of peppercorn rent acknowledging the superior landlord who was the true owner of the Holy Land. We farm our portions and gather the fruit as stewards for the Most High, and bring a part thereof to His altar in token that we would use the rest to His glory. Have we all done this with our substance? Where is that one talent of thine, O slothful servant? Where are those five talents, O thou man of influence and of wealth?

4. That they were afraid they might commit sin in the using of what God had given. The first thank-offering was of barley, fresh plucked from the field; but this second offering of the first-fruits was not wheat as God made it. Why was it ordained that they should present leaven to God? To show us that common life, with all its imperfections, may yet be used for God’s glory. We may, through our Lord Jesus, be accepted in shop-life as well as in sanctuary-life, in market-dealing as well as in sacramental meditation. Yet do not fail to notice that they brought also a burnt-offering: so the precious blood of Christ’s sacrifice must fall upon our leavened loaves, or they will be sour before the Lord. “He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.” Nay, that was not all. In consideration of the loaf being leavened, they brought with it a sin-offering as well (Leviticus 23:19). Confessing, as each one of us must do, that however hearty our dedication to God, there is still a faultiness in our lives, we are glad to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus.

5. All this was done as an act of joy. A new meat-offering was offered unto the Lord with peace-offerings, which two always signify, among other things, a quiet, happy communion with God. In addition to all this they presented a drink-offering of wine, which expresses the joy of the offerer. Pentecost was not a fast, but a festival. When thou givest anything to God, give it not as though it were a tax, but freely; or it cannot be accepted. God loveth a cheerful giver. His service is perfect freedom; to give to Him is rapture; to live to Him is heaven.

The consecrated harvest of our Lord Jesus Christ, as taught by the events of the great Christian Pentecost. Our Lord is the greatest of all sowers, for He sowed Himself. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground,” etc. Had He not said, “The fields are white already to harvest”? and now, when the day of Pentecost was fully come, the fruit was seen of them, and joyfully gathered. Learn--

1. That the first harvest of our Lord Jesus Christ was through the Holy Ghost. There were no three thousand converts till first of all was heard the rushing of mighty wind. Till the cloven tongues had rested on the disciples there were no broken hearts among the crowd. Until the believers were all filled with the Holy Ghost the minds of their hearers were not filled with conviction. If you desire to save your class you must yourselves be endowed with the power of the Holy Ghost. You cannot burn a way for the truth into the heart of another unless the tongue of fire is given to you from on high.

2. That day may be considered to be the ordering of the Christian dispensation. It was exactly fifty days after the original Passover that the law was given on Mount Sinai. At the commencement of the New Testament dispensation the Lord gives the Spirit. Under the old covenant the command was given; but under the new the will and the power to obey are bestowed by the Holy Ghost. Moses on the mount can only tell us what to do, but Jesus ascended on high pours out the power to do it. Now we are not under the law, but under grace, and the Spirit is our guiding force.

3. This Pentecost was also the beginning of a great harvest of Jews and Gentiles. Were there not two loaves? Not only shall Israel be saved, but the multitude of the Gentiles shall be turned unto the Lord. If the first-fruits were so great, what will the ultimate harvest be?

(1) The filling of the apostles with the Holy Ghost was a part of the first-fruits. A man full of the Holy Ghost rejoices the heart of Christ.

(2) Still, the major part of the Pentecostal first-fruits will be found in the great number that were that day converted.

4. The Christian Pentecost is to us full of instruction.

(1) The disciples had to wait for it. “The husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth.” Sow on: Pentecost will yet yield its loaves unto the Lord.

(2) They obtained nothing until they began preaching the gospel, and then in one day the Church was multiplied by twenty-five.

(3) Of all those people saved it was acknowledged that they belonged unto the Lord alone.

(4) Even if we should see three thousand converted in a day we must not reckon that such first-fruits would be absolutely perfect. In all our successes and additions there will sure to be a leaven. Do not wonder if some converts go back. It will always be so; tares grow with the wheat, and bad fish are taken in the same net with the good.

The consecrated harvest from each particular person. In Deuteronomy 26:1-19. you will find there a form of service which I pray may serve your turn to-day. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A Whitsunday meditation

There is a Christian as well as a Jewish year; we ought not to be unmindful of the changes which illustrate God’s holy counsel and tender conduct. The Author of natural and spiritual life is one, and He gives many a hint of His gracious purpose in the changes of the year. Christ has taught us to see in seed-sowing a symbol of the Cross, and a call to Christian sacrifice. The “harvest,” the solemn fruitful autumn-time, reminds us of “the end of the world,” and has its strangely blended influences of mournfulness and hope. Spring is a type of the resurrection; life bursting out of the grave. Of all symbols of the Christian life, this early summer-time is the most blessed. Calm as these warm and not yet sultry days; peaceful as early June mornings; fresh as the dews and showers; rich as the verdure of our landscape, it is given us to know that our Christian life is under the silent energy of the Spirit.

The Passover and Pentecost were intimately connected.

1. The injunction to keep the feast of first-fruits concludes, “and thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt”; the rejoicing followed the commemoration of the deliverance. The Jews call the day of Pentecost the “concluding festival” i.e., the festival that concludes the Paschal celebration. The association is not difficult to trace. The national life of Israel was the sequel to their deliverance from Egypt. It was not enough for them to be set free and to be led into the desert. God had prepared a land for them needing greater labour and more careful cultivation than Egypt, but yielding better fruits. The feast of Pentecost was their memorial that God had fulfilled His promise. They brought the fruits of the land which He had given them, and remembered year by year that He blessed their toil, and was nourishing the men He had redeemed,

2. Spiritual life is the sequel of Christian redemption; the gift of the Holy Ghost was God’s purposed supplement of Calvary. Spiritual history begins with the Cross, but it does not end there. It sometimes happens that the first gladness and gratitude of a forgiven soul are followed by a strange restlessness and dissatisfaction, as was the deliverance of Israel. But the Paschal time, of haste and scarce-quelled anxiety, of girded loins and unleavened bread and bitter herbs, are followed by the Pentecost of life, love, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. It is not till this Divine life is formed within us by God’s Spirit, strong as the forces that clothe the earth with summer beauty, that we can fully commemorate the death of Christ which is our redemption. The Holy Ghost was needed by the men who were to be preachers of the Cross. He not only unfolded to them its meaning; He dwelt in them an energy tender, earnest, and strong, like that of Christ the Redeemer. They had life in them; and nothing could suppress their faith, their gladness, or their labours; and by all the genial force of life, men were constrained by their influence, and drawn into their communion. And so now, if Christian teaching is ineffective, it is because it lacks the force of Christian life. Our teaching may be scrupulously orthodox, yet very repellent and cold. Our efforts may be unnumbered, and our plans most wisely organised; yet, without the love, the earnestness that only life can give, they will be all in vain. There is something for us besides praying for the Divine life; it is to live it. Christians sometimes ask that “the Spirit may be poured out.” He has been poured out.

Pentecost was a memorial of God’s constant presence and power. The feast was ordained to remind the Jews who it was who gave them their corn and wine and oil. They were not permitted to eat of the year’s harvest till the first sheaves had been waved before the Lord, and the two loaves offered to Him; lest they should think that the earth brought forth fruit of itself, lest they should be undevout, and gluttonous, and drunken in their feasts. This was the consecration of the “first-fruits” which would hallow the “whole lump” of which they were daily partaking. The Jews, like Englishmen, were prone to practical atheism; they, like Englishmen, only recognised God in signal events of their history, unmindful of the care that was daily mindful of them, and the bounty which daily made them glad. All piety decays when we forget that the “Father” is “ever working.” Body and soul, as well as spirit, have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. Food and raiment, house-room and friends, have been given us by the same Father who gave us His Son. The power that quickened the world from the Cross is ruling over it still; the love that shines in the Cross gives summer flowers and autumn fruits. Men who see nothing more than forces of nature in the power that yearly clothes the hill-sides, and makes the valleys fruitful, see too in the Christian life nothing more than human nature under new developments. The day of Pentecost is the witness of a Divine person abiding near us, and working in us all the energies and influences of a Christian life. It prevents our falling into that despondency which must be our lot if we have none to trust in but ourselves. Where we are powerless, He imparts life; and then truth becomes plain, and motives are felt that we could not awaken. Earnest Christian people need the teaching of the day of Pentecost. There are many who connect the Holy Ghost only with their conversion, and with periods of high-wrought emotion; but in the whole range of Christian life, however varied to our feeling, the Spirit, the source of life, is working. Yes, and in hearts that have not yet yielded themselves to Jesus; in children born into godly households, and abandoned ones listening wonderingly to new words of hope and love; in providential circumstances; by words of kindness and deeds that flow from a heart of love; in everything that has a Christian tendency, in every influence that comes from Christ and moves towards Him, “worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.” A few weeks ago, and though ,we knew, we did not feel that summer was nigh. The trees were bare, and the earth was hard, and we shivered beneath the chilling blast. But God was working; the spirit of life was moving in the sluggish sap, the sun was gathering force, and the western winds were on their way to us with refreshing showers. And lo! the summer is hero. Let us work according to God’s will, and we shall one day see the glad and genial life that the Divine Spirit is accomplishing; for He is near us and is in us still. “I have planted, Apollos watered, and God gave the increase.” (A. Mackennal, D. D.)

The White Sunday (children’s sermon)

1. Two reasons for the name.

(1) On Whitsunday people used to come to be baptized, dressed all in white. Why? Because they wanted to feel that they were going to be made clean. And so it came to be called “White Sunday,” or, shortened, “Whit Sunday.”

(2) If you count Easter Sunday one, and then count on to this Sunday, you will find that this is the eighth. Now the French word for “eight” is “halt.” You know a great many French words came into English, but people did not know how to spell some of them, so they spelt this word “bait” as if it were “white.”

2. What happened on Whitsunday? The Holy Ghost came down. I cannot explain to you all about the Holy Ghost. It is very deep and mysterious. Perhaps you have heard about the monk who was trying to explain all about God. He went down to the seaside, and found a man with a little shell in his hand scooping up the sea. He said to the man, “What are you doing?” He replied, “I am going to put the sea into this shell.” “You cannot do it,” said the monk. Then the man replied, “My task is easier than yours. You are trying to put the great God into your little mind.”

3. What does “Holy Ghost” mean? Holy Spirit. Sometimes, when we cannot look at the sun, we look at a sunbeam; or we look at the reflection of the sun in a looking-glass. We cannot see the sun in his full lustre. Now I want to speak about the Holy Ghost by emblems.

What is that you can feel, but cannot see? The Wind. You can feel the Holy Ghost, but you cannot see Him. “The wind bloweth where it listeth,” etc. The Saviour likened Him to that, and said, “Except a man be born,” etc. Now--

1. Nobody can go to heaven unless they are “born again.” A man was once asked, “Where were you born?” He said, “In London, and in Salisbury.” “What! born in two places?” he was asked. He explained, “My body was born in London, and my soul was born in Salisbury.” Now what does it mean? Did you ever see a new-born baby? What a new, strange world it has come into. When you become a real Christian, you enter a new world, and all will be so new to you. Poor little baby! Somebody must feed it, clothe it, carry it. So when you become a Christian you must feel, “Jesus must carry me, clothe me, feed me.” When you are “born again” you will have new thoughts, new feelings.

2. Does everybody know when they are “born again”? Some do; but very few. There is a great palm-tree called the Palm Azaleum, and when the blossom comes out of the shield, the flower breaks the shield with a noise as loud as a cannon. Everybody can know when that flower comes out. Some conversions are like that, but most are as quiet as when the little grain comes out of the grass, or when the flower comes out in the bud; you can hardly tell when it happens. One day there was a wicked man driving his cart along a road, and suddenly the wind blew a tract to his feet. Where that tract came from he never knew. He took it up and read it, and a word there changed the man, made him a Christian. The Holy Ghost, like the wind, turned his heart.

3. Did you ever see an AEolian harp? It is a very wonderful thing, a little harp with a few strings. No human fingers play upon it. If you keep it in your room it won’t play; but if you put it just outside the window, on a windy day, it will play such sweet music. A great writer has said, “The human heart is a harp of a thousand strings.” All the thoughts and feelings in your heart are all strings. If the Holy Spirit comes they will play very sweet music. But your heart won’t play without the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Ghost is like water When you were baptized some water was poured over your head to tell you that the Holy Ghost can make the heart clean. There was a good man who, when he wanted to think about holy things, put before himself three words, “black,” “red,” and “white.” He looked at the word “black,” and he thought, “That is my heart, which is very black.” Then he looked at the word “red,” and thought, “The blood of Jesus can make the black thing white.” And then he looked at the word “white,” and thought, “I hope my heart has been washed, and made white through the Holy Ghost.”

When the Holy Ghost came down upon the Lord Jesus He appeared as a dove. And a dove is considered an emblem of something very gentle. The Holy Ghost comes very gently, and He makes us gentle. I knew two little girls who were going out of a church, and one little girl pushed by the other, and she made way for her to pass, saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” That was gentle, like a dove. As a boy was once going to throw a stone at a little bird, the bird sang so sweetly that the boy could not throw. Another, passing, said, “Why don’t you throw? You will hit it.” “I cannot,” he said; “the little bird is singing so sweetly.” If you know anybody who is unkind to you, you sing like the little bird, and then see if anybody will hurt you.

The Holy Spirit is like dew. “Dew” is to be seen in the morning and evening. It is very pretty and makes everything so fresh where it comes. Now, if you wish to be good and please God, take care that every morning and evening yon get a little of the dew of the Holy Spirit upon you; it will make everything fresh and nice. You are in the morning of life. Now is the time to have dew, and may it always abide in and upon you, not like the natural dew, that soon passes away.

The Holy Spirit is like fire. Supposing I were to give you a piece of iron, and ask you to make an image out of it, what would you do? If you got a hammer and chisel, and worked ever so hard, it would not make it into an image. What, then, would you do? Put it into the fire, then it would get soft; then you could make it into almost any shape you like four hearts are like iron. You have tried to make them good, but you cannot do so; but put them into “the fire,” the Holy Spirit will make them soft and make them into right shapes. Supposing I saw two girls quarrelling, and I wanted to make them at one, how can I do it? Supposing I gave you two bits of iron, and asked you to make them one, how would you do it? You must weld them together. You could not do it till you put them into the fire. So if I find two persons quarrelling, and I want to make them one, I should try to do it by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is a seal now, supposing a person had got some very precious jewels, and was going abroad, and he wanted to be quite sure that they would be safe when he came back again. He would lock them up, and put a seal upon the lock, that nobody might be able to break the lock. You are Christ’s jewels, and He has gone abroad. By and by He will come back again. He has “sealed” you with the Holy Spirit. If you take care not to break that “seal,” then you are quite safe; but if you trifle with it, i.e., if you grieve the Holy Spirit, the “seal” will be broken; then what will become of the jewels? But keep the Holy Spirit in your heart, then you will be safe when Christ comes back. In the time of the Emperor Tiberius, there was a law in Rome that anybody who carried a particular ring on his finger must never go into any dirty or wrong place. You have got the seal; keep it holy! (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Holy Spirit: The method of His bestowment unrevealed

It is the doctrine of the interworking of the Spirit of God upon the souls of men. I have no philosophy about it. All I say is this: that God knows what is the secret way in which mind reaches mind. I do not--you do not. I do not know why words on my tongue wake up thoughts corresponding to those words in you. I do not know why the soul of man, like a complex instrument of wondrous scope, is played upon by my words, so that there are waked up in it notes along the whole scale of being. I do not understand why things are so, but unquestionably they are so. I do not know how the mother pours her affection on the child’s heart, but she does. Two stars never shone into each other as two loving souls shine into each other. I know it is so, but I do not know why it is so. I do not know how soul touches soul, how thought touches thought, or how feeling touches feeling, but I know it does. Now that which we see in the lower departments of life--that which exists between you and your friends, and me and my friends--that I take, and by my imagination I lift it up into the Divine nature, and give it depth and scope and universality; and then I have some conception of the doctrine of God’s Spirit poured upon the human soul. (H. W. Beecher.)

The Holy Spirit needed

It is as if you saw a locomotive engine upon a railway, and it would not go; and they put up a driver, and they said, “Now, that driver will just do.” They try another and another. One proposes that such and such a wheel should be altered; but still it will not go. Some one then bursts in amongst those who are conversing, and says, “No, friends; but the reason why it will not go is because there is no steam. You have no fire; you have no water in the boiler: that’s why it will not go. There may be some faults about it: it may want a bit of paint here and there: but it will go well enough with all those faults if you do but get the steam up.” But now people are saying, “This must be altered, and that must be altered.” But it would go he better unless God the Spirit should come to bless us. That is the Church’s great want; and, until that want be supplied, we may reform and reform, and stiff be lust the same. We want the Holy Spirit; and then, whatever faults there may be in our organisation, they can never materially impede the progress of Christianity when once the Spirit of the Lord God is in our midst. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The Holy Spirit indispensable

Here is a noble ship … The forests have masted her; in many a broad yard of canvas a hundred looms have given her wings. Her anchor has been weighed to the rude sea-chant; the needle trembles on her deck: with his eye on that friend, unlike worldly friends, true in storm as in calm, the helmsman stands impatient by the wheel. And when, as men bound to a distant shore, the crew have said farewell to wives and children, why, then, lies she there over the self-same ground, rising with the flowing and falling with the ebbing tide? The cause is plain. They want a wind to raise that drooping pennon and fill these empty sails. They look to heaven; and so they may; out of the skies their help must come. At length their prayer is heard.… And now, like a steed touched by the rider’s spur, she starts, bounds forward, plunges through the waves, and, heaven’s wind her moving power, is off and away, amid blessings and prayers, to the land she is chartered for. Even so, though heaven-born, heaven-called, heaven-bound, though endowed with a new heart and new mind, we stand in the same need of celestial influences. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Revivals--occasional things

Revivals are not constant, but occasional things; they are like the showers that water the earth. (T. H. Skinner.)

The sending of the Holy Ghost

We are this day to celebrate the yearly memory of the sending down of a benefit, so great and so wonderful, as there were not tongues enough upon earth to celebrate it, but there were fain to be more sent from heaven to help to sound it out thoroughly.

The time. The day of Pentecost. Why that day? Pentecost was a great feast under the law; and meet it was this coming should be at some great feast. The first dedication of Christ’s Catholic Church on earth, the first publishing the gospel, the first proclaiming the apostles’ commission, were so great matters, as it was not meet they should be done in a corner.


1. On their parts on whom the Holy Ghost came. It is truly said by the philosopher, that if the patient be prepared aright, the agent will have his work both the sooner and the better. And so, consequently, the Spirit in His coming, if the parties to whom He cometh be made ready. And this is threefold:

(1) Unity. Can any spirit animate or give life to members dismembered? A fair example we have in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37:7-9). Now the Holy Ghost is the very essential unity, love, and love-knot, of the two Persons, the Father and the Son, even of God with God. And He is sent to be the union, love, and loveknot of the two Natures united in Christ, even of God with man. And can we imagine that He will enter (essential unity) but where there is unity? There is no greater bar to His entry than discord and disunited minds.

(2) Not only of one mind, that is, unanimity, but also in one place too, that is, uniformity; both in the unity of the Spirit, that is inward, and in the bond of peace too, that is, outward. God’s will is, we should be as upon one foundation, so under one roof (Psalms 68:6). Therefore it is expressly noted of this company where they prayed, they prayed all together (Acts 4:24). When they heard, they heard all together (Acts 8:6). When they brake bread, they did it all together (verse 46). Division of places will not long be without division of minds.

(3) A disposition in them, whereby they held out, and stirred not, even till the fifty days were fulfilled. That ,former, unanimity; this latter, longanimity. There is in us a hot, hasty spirit, impatient of any delay.

2. On His part. He came sensibly, a rare coming, since the Holy Ghost, an invisible Spirit, cometh, for the most part, invisibly. Yet here it was meet--first, that no less honour done to this law of Zion than to that of Sinai, which was public and full of majesty; and secondly, it pleased Him to vouchsafe to grace the Church, His queen, with like solemn inauguration to that of His own, when the Holy Ghost descended on Him in likeness of a Dove. This coming, then, of His thus in state, is such as it was both to be heard and seen. To the ear, which is the sense of faith; to the eye, which is the sense of love. The ear, that is the ground of the word, which is audible; the eye, which is the ground of the sacraments, which are visible. To the ear in a noise; to the eye in a show. The noise, serving as a trumpet, to awake the world, and give them warning He was come. The fiery tongues, as so many lights, to show them and let them see the day of that their visitation.

(1) There comes a sound. Which is to show that the spirit is no dumb spirit but vocal. The sound thereof is gone into all lands, and hath been heard in all ages.

(2) It was the sound of a wind. For first, of all bodily things it is the least bodily, and cometh nearest to the nature of a spirit, invisible as it is; and secondly, quick and active, as the spirit is. Now, this wind that came and made this sound is here described with four properties:

(a) It fell suddenly, so doth the wind. It riseth often in the midst of a calm, giveth no warning; and even so doth the Spirit, for that cometh not by observation, neither can you make set rules of it: you must wait for it as well when it cometh not as when it comes. Many times it is found of them that seek it not. It creeps not like motions that come from the serpent. And therefore sudden, saith Gregory, because things, if they be not sudden, awake us not, affect us not. And therefore sudden, saith he again, that men may learn not to despise present motions of grace, though suddenly rising in them, and though they can give no certain reason of them, but take the wind while it bloweth as not knowing when it will or whether ever it will blow again.

(b) It was a mighty, or vehement, wind. Although the wind is nothing else but a puff of air, the thinnest, the poorest, and to our seeming, of the least force of all creatures, yet groweth it to that violence which pulls up trees, blows down huge piles of building, hath most strange and wonderful effects, and all this but a little thin air. And surely no less observable or admirable, nay, much more, have been and are the operations of the Spirit. Even presently after this, this Spirit, in a few poor weak and simple instruments, waxed so full and forcible as it cast down strongholds, brought into captivity many an exalting thought, made a conquest of the whole world, even then, when it was bent fully in main opposition against it.

(c) It came from heaven. Winds naturally come not from thence, but move laterally from one coast or climate to another. To come directly down from heaven, that is supernatural, and points us plainly to Him that is ascended up into heaven, and now sendeth it down from thence that it may fill us with the breath of heaven. To distinguish this wind from others is no hard matter. If our motions come from above it is this wind, which came thence to make us heavenly-minded.

(d) It filled that place where they sat. That place, not the places about. The common wind fills all places within his circuit alike. And this is a property very well fitting the Spirit. To blow in certain places where itself will; and upon certain persons and they shall plainly feel it, and others about them not a whir.

(2) This wind brought down with it tongues to be seen. Here is not only sent a wind which serveth for their own inspiration, but tongues which serve for elocution, that is, to impart the benefit to more than themselves. It showeth that the Holy Ghost cometh and is given rather to do others good than to benefit themselves. Charity poured into their hearts would serve them; grace poured into their lips was needful to make others partakers of the benefit. This also standeth of four parts, as did the former.

(a) There were tongues, and God can send from heaven no better thing, nor the devil from hell no worse. The best member we have (Psalms 108:1). The worst member we have (James 3:6). Both, as it is employed.

(b) Cloven tongues--and that very cleaving of right necessary use to the business intended, viz., that the knowledge of the gospel might be dispersed to every nation under heaven. If there must be a calling of the Gentiles, they must have the tongues of the Gentiles wherewith to call them. But with their many tongues they spake one thing.

(c) They were tongues as of fire to show that they were not of our elementary fire. As the wind, so the fire from heaven, of the nature of that which made the bush burn and yet consumed it not. The tongues were as of fire to teach that the force of fire should show forth itself in their words, both in the splendour, which is the light of knowledge to clear the mist of their darkened understanding, and in the fervour, which is the force of spiritual efficacy, to quicken the dulness of their cold and dead affections. With such a tongue spake Christ Himself, when they said of Him, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He spake unto us by the way?” With such a tongue St. Peter, here in this chapter; for sure there fell from Him something like fire on their hearts, when they were pricked with it and cried, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” But this is not always, nor in all with us; no more was it with them, but in those of their hearers which had some of the anointing, and that will easily take the fire, in them good will be done; or at least, where there was some smoking flax, some remainder of the Spirit, which without any great ado will be kindled anew.

(d) These sat upon each of them. In which sitting is set down unto us their last quality--of continuance and constancy. They did not light and touch and away, after the manner of butterflies. (Bp. Andrewes.)

The advent of the Spirit

That the promise of the Holy Spirit to the Church will certainly be fulfilled.

1. The Holy Spirit is promised to the Church (John 15:26; John 16:7; Joel 2:28-29).

2. The promise is not always understood in its full meaning as it ought to be. The disciples did not understand it, nor does the Church of our own age. It would not rest a day without its fulfilment (John 4:10).

3. The promise will certainly be fulfilled. This is seen in the history of the Church at Pentecost. There was delay, but not denial. Then as now the Holy Spirit is given to the Church at the best and most appropriate time. We must wait, for it is determined by infinite wisdom.

That the Church must put itself into a proper moral attitude in order to receive the Holy Spirit. The Church must be--

1. Frequent in its meetings.

2. United in its spirit.

3. Prayerful in disposition (Acts 1:14).

4. Patient in temper.

5. Catholic in sentiment.

Not merely the disciples were present, but many strangers. They had come to the feast, and got a better feast than they expected. Some Churches are so narrow and sectarian in their spirit, that the Holy Spirit is shut out from them.

That the advent of the Holy Spirit to the Church is accompanied by wondrous phenomena and sublime moral results. The advent of the Holy Spirit--

1. Is set forth under appropriate emblems.

2. Affects the speaking of the Word. When men receive the Holy Spirit it is always evident in their conversation, which is aglow with heavenly fire and feeling. True eloquence is a spiritual gift.

3. Is designed to fill the human soul with Divine and ennobling influences. As the wind filled the house, so the Spirit filled the men, every crevice of their being. The heart of man must be filled with something; if God does not fill it the world will. The Divine filling is the most ennobling and blessed. (The Study and the Pulpit.)

The coming of the Holy Spirit

I am sitting, on a summer’s day, in the shadow of a great New England elm. Its long branches hang motionless; there is not breeze enough to move them. All at once there comes a faint murmur; around my head the leaves are moved by a gentle current of air; then the branches begin to sway to and fro, the leaves are all in motion, and a soft, rushing sound fills my ear. So with every one that is born of the Spirit. I am in a state of spiritual lethargy, and scarcely know how to think any good thought. I am heart-empty, and there comes, I know not where or whence, a sound of the Divine presence. I am inwardly moved with new comfort and hope, the day seems to dawn in my heart, sunshine comes around my path, and I am able to go to my duties with patience. I am walking in the Spirit, I am helped by the help of God, and comforted with the comfort of God. And yet this is all in accordance with law. There is no violation of law when the breezes come, stirring the tops of the trees; and there is no violation of law when God moves in the depths of our souls, and rouses us to the love and desire of holiness. (James Freeman Clarke.)

The descending Spirit


Some features of the event here related.

1. It is interesting that the Holy Spirit should have been conferred at Jerusalem, the capital of the old faith. It is not God’s way to inaugurate the new by any harsh abandonments of the old. The Christian is only the Jewish Church led forth into a new stage of development. As the two lay in Christ’s mind there was no break between them. “I came not to destroy, but to fulfil.” It was suitable, then, that where the old Church had matured, the new Church should germinate.

2. It is impossible to say with exactness where in Jerusalem the disciples were gathered. It is barely possible that it was in some portion of the temple edifice. If that were the case it would only be in the line of what has just been said.

3. This first giving of the Spirit was at Pentecost. Still another proof of this is that God would like to have us consider Christianity as a graft upon an old stock.

4. As to the nature of the miracle. Was it a gift of “tongues,” or a gift of “ears”? The most casual perusal is sufficient to convince that it was the disciples that were inspired to speak. The hearers were not in a mood to be inspired. The Holy Ghost works inspiringly upon those who are in sympathy with Him; and this these foreign residents at Jerusalem were not.

The lessons connected with the event.

1. The Christian Church was born at Pentecost. The materials were already present, but standing out of organic relation with each ether. It was the brooding of the Spirit that produced the formless elements of things into a shapely and prolific world. It was the inbreathing of God into the being of our first parent that developed him into a living soul. It was the influx similarly of the Divine Spirit that composed the disciples of Christ into an organised and living Church.

2. This was the first Christian revival of religion. The Church was born in a revival, and the survival of the Church has been along a continuous line of revival. There is nothing in the whole New Testament narrative more startling than the transformation which the Twelve suddenly underwent on the fiftieth day after Calvary. A cultivated ministry and well-appointed churches are well enough in their way; they are suitable for the conveyance of power, but are not themselves power. They are to positive spiritual efficacy only what riverbeds are to the floods that are set to roll in them. The early Church, as compared with the modern, was poor in appliances; but one sermon then converted three thousand men, and now it takes three thousand sermons to convert one man. The difference between the times is largely difference of power.

3. The Spirit descended upon the disciples when they were together. The full meaning of Christianity is not exhausted in any relation in which it sets us individually to Christ. There are blessings that accrue to Christians only by their standing in fellowship with each ether. The first Christian revival was inaugurated in a prayer-meeting. It is easy, and rather common, to treat prayer-meetings with disparagement. But it is generally found that when a revival comes it begins in God’s revelation of Himself to saints that draw near to one another in prayer.

4. This first revival of religion began with the spiritual replenishment of those already Christian. It is time wasted, and runs counter to the Divine order of things, for a Church that is not itself revived to attempt revivalistic operations among the unconverted. Christianity, to the degree in which it extends itself, does so as a kind of contagion. The result of “gotten-up” revivals is only man-made Christians; and man-made Christians stand in the way of their own conversion and add to the inertia of the Church.

6. After the Ascension the disciples simply waited for Pentecost. There was no further work that needed to be wrought in them before its bestowment. And we shall always receive the Divine baptism just as soon as there is nothing on our part that hinders it. “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, and prove Me now herewith,” etc.

6. The Holy Spirit descended upon all the disciples. So far as we are Holy Ghost Christians, all substantial distinctions in this respect between the laity and the clergy are erased.

7. The Holy Spirit revealed Himself outwardly in the shape of tongues. This was prophetic of the way in which revealed truth was to be disseminated. It does not suffice that men should simply live lives of Christian constancy. Christ not only lived, He preached. The first revival, then, opened men’s mouths and set men talking. There is no place for silent Christians under the administration of the Holy Ghost. The pressure of God upon the heart inevitably finds escape at the lip. (G. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)

“It’s no’ bilin’”

The late Dr. William Arnot, of Edinburgh, used to tell of his being at a railway station, where he grew weary of waiting for the train to move. He inquired if the trouble was want of water. “Plenty of water,” was the quick reply, “but it’s no’ bilin’.” We have no lack of religious machinery in Church and Sabbath-schools and benevolent societies. The engines are on the track, and the trainmen are in their places. If there is little or no progress, may it not be that the water is “no’ bilin’”?

Sudden revivals explained

I looked recently at a very remarkabIe sight, the burning of a huge floorcloth manufactury. I was just about returning home from my Master’s work when I saw a little blaze, and in an incredibly short space a volume of fire rolled up in great masses to the skies. Why blazed it so suddenly? Why, because for months before many men had been busily employed in hanging up the floorcloth and in saturating the building with combustible materials; I do not mean with the intention of making a blaze, but in the ordinary course of their manufacture; so that when at last the spark came it grew into a great sheet of flame all at once. So sometimes when the gospel is faithfully preached a sinner gets present peace and pardon, and he is so full of joy his friends cannot make him out, his progress is so rapid. But be it remembered that God has been mysteriously at work months before in that man’s heart, preparing his soul to catch the heavenly flame, so that there was only a spark needed, and then up rolled the flame to heaven. Oh that I could be that spark to some heart in whom God has been working this morning, but He alone can make me so! (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Spiritual influence from another world

The Gulf Stream in its beneficent and hidden influence may be taken as a sort of parable of spiritual influence. This England of ours should be naturally and properly a land of almost eternal winter. For some eight months of the year our very seas ought to be frozen over, so that no ship could approach our shores. Our islands should be a rough rude tract of country, where only the hardiest forms of life could survive--a land of forests where wild beasts should roam, whose furs should give to the place almost its only value, and where the deep snows should make agriculture almost impossible. This should be Great Britain--a proud name for so desolate a tract. What mystery is this which delivers us? Away in the distant southern world, in the fierce heat of the tropics, starts the Gulf Stream. It gathers the warmth of the sun, and sends it for thousands of miles across the seas to lave our shores. And thus the arctic winter is driven from us; and our ports are open all the year round; over us stretch the kindlier skies; about us blow the gentler winds; our fields are covered with grass, the valleys are thick with corn; the pastures are covered with flocks and herds, and this favoured land is shut off from extremes, and has the summer of the North with the winter of the South. Now think of some shivering native of Labrador, who has heard of this Gulf Stream, and scornfully shakes his head--“I do not believe it,” says he; “it is impossible and absurd.” Well, I would not argue the subject. I would only invite him to come and see. “But where is this Gulf Stream which does such wonders? Can you see it?” No, we cannot see it, but it is there--hidden, noiseless, mingling with our waters and transforming our climate. The parable is a many-sided illustration of the truth. Of nature, of ourselves, we do dwell in a land of winter--frozen and well-nigh dead, without the energy to put forth any life of God. But, lo, about us do flow gracious influences from another world. We know not how, but by the Holy Spirit of God, there is breathed about us and within us the love of God, softening, transforming, bringing to us a new heaven and a new earth. And now do grow and flourish blessed things which before we knew not. (M. G. Pearse.)

The outpouring of the Spirit

(first sermon):--

Mark the very critical care of the Divine Head of the Church, in fixing special times for the communication of special blessings. Here we have the largest possible opportunity which God Himself could have secured for the communication of His supreme gift. Pentecost was a harvest festival; about that time people could come with the least degree of danger from various outlying countries and districts. There are opportunities even in Divine providence. The days are not all alike to God. We bind Him down to one day, whereas is there in reality a single day in our life that He has not a lien upon? Does He not come in upon birthdays, days of deliverance, of surprise, of unusual sorrow and joy? God is not the God of one day only; He takes up the one day and specially holds it before us, but only symbolically. What He does with that He wants to do with all the others.

On this occasion we have the largest possible union--

1. Of nationalities.

2. Of desire. Note the word “accord.” The instruments were all in tune together, without mental distraction or moral discord. God has promised nothing to disunion; the man that creates disunion in the Church must instantly be put away--he is worse than an infidel.

3. They were also gathered in one place: that is the transient word. The place is nothing, the accord is everything. Neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem will men worship the Father, but the accord, the rhythmic fellowship--this is the eternal quantity, and he who meddles with it is a violator within the very shadow of the altar. Yet who thinks of this? If a poor moral cripple should be caught suddenly in some moral fault, then is the imperfect and blind Church enraged with him, but the man who is speaking ungracious words, making unlovely statements, breathing a spirit of dissension in the Church--who takes note of him?

Then we have the largest possible bestowment of the Divine gift. The word “all” includes the followers of Christ of every name and degree. We are not to suppose that popes, prelates, preachers, ministers, leaders, alone have this gift of the Holy Spirit. We must not imagine that a minister merely as such has greater spiritual privileges than a mechanic. We are all equally priests before God, our priesthood has no standing but in our holiness. As to the Church all meeting in one place, do not believe in a place-church. God’s Church is everywhere. Many of you belong to God’s Church and may not know it. What is your heart, what is your heart’s desire, what is the sovereign purpose of your life? If you can say it is to know God’s will and do it, then you are in the Church, whatever particular place you may occupy. Jesus Christ made a great promise to His disciples when they asked Him whether at that time He would restore the kingdom unto Israel. The very great-nero of the promise necessitates that the fulfilment of it shall be upon a scale proportioned to itself. Now how will He fulfil the promise of enduement with power from on high? That would be no commonplace realisation of that promise, nor was there one (verses 1-4). Imagination says, “It is enough.” God always takes care to satisfy the moral nature, and to call upon conscience to say, “It is right.”

We see from this revelation how helpless we are in the matter of spiritual revivals. What did the apostles do towards this demonstration of Divine power? They did nothing but wait, pray, hope, expect--what the world, so fond of action, would call nothing. That is all we can do. Have nothing to do with those persons who organise revivals, with any mechanised resurrection of spiritual life. We need to know the power of waiting. There are those who tell us we ought to be doing something practical, and they degrade that word into a kind of mechanical exercise. Is he doing nothing who continues steadfast in prayer? or he who speaks great words of wisdom, and who calms the heart in the midst of its searching trouble? To be practical is not to be demonstrative, to be building wood, hay, stone, and metal, it may be to give thought, to offer suggestion, to stimulate the mind, to check the ambition, to elevate the purpose of life. The disciples and apostles, previous to Pentecost, did everything by doing nothing.

We see how unmistakable fire is. The difference between one man and another is a difference of heat. The difference between one reader and another is a difference of fire; the difference between one musician and another is that one man is all fire, and the other man all ice. The difference between one preacher and another is a difference of fire. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The outpouring of the Spirit

(second sermon):--

It is in the presence of the Holy Ghost that we find the true union of the Church. There are diversities of operation, and must always be, but such diversity does not impair the unity of the Spirit. There is one faith, though there be many creeds, one baptism, though there be many forms of it, one Lord, though He shine in a thousand different lights. We have been vainly looking for union in uniformity. Consider how irrational this is. Is the human race one or many? is there any difficulty in identifying a man whatever his colour, form, stature, language?--yet are there any two men exactly alike? Man has, say, some seven features, forehead, eyes, nose, mouth, chin, form or contour, colour or complexion, yet out of those seven notes what music of facial expression has God wrought? It is so in the Christian Church. That is split up into a score of sects, but the Church itself is one. To those who look upon things from the outside merely, it would seem impossible that the Arminian and the Calvinist can both be readers of the same Bible, and worshippers of the same God. But their unity is not found in formality, in creedal expression, in propositional theology, in ecclesiastical arrangement; down in the centre of the heart lies the common organic nerve that unites Christendom in its worship and in its hope; and when the Cross is touched, the defence never comes from any one section, the whole Church with unanimous love and loyalty rushes to the vindication. This has been illustrated by the diversities which occur in the expressions of sorrow, worship, and loyalty. The Eastern sufferer lies prostrate, crying piteously and vehemently. The Western is silent and self-controlled. The difference is not in the sorrow, but in the manifestation of the sorrow. So the Oriental before his king falls fiat on the ground, and the Briton before his God only kneels. Is there, then, a difference in the spirit of worship?

Have we received the Holy Ghost? The question does not admit of hesitation as to its answer.

1. No man can mistake the summer sun when he sees it; he will not come home with a half tale of having seen some kind of light, but is not quite sure whether it was a gas jet, or the shining of an electric light, or a new star. The sun needs no introduction, has no signature but its own glory, and needs take no oath in proof of its identity. The shadows know it, and flee away; the flowers, and open their little hearts to its blessing; all the hills and valleys know it and quiver with a new joy.

2. We may have the form, and not the spirit. People say the great thing after all for a man to do is to do good. That is correct. But what would you think of me if I said the great thing after all is for a train to go, when the train has not been attached to the engine? You are perfectly right in saying that the train is useless if it does not go, and if the train is going it is all right. But you must bring within your argument the fact that the engine could not go without the fire, that the tram cannot go unless attached to the engine, that the engine and the train move, vibrate, fly, under the power of light--the light that was sealed up in the bins of the earth ten thousand ages ago is driving your great locomotives to-day I When, therefore, you tell me that a man must do good, and that is enough, you omit from your statement the vital consideration that we can only do these things as we are inspired by the indwelling Spirit of God. I see before me at this moment certain pieces of cord. What is wanted is but to connect these cords with a motive power, but until the connection is established they are but dead useless things. Connect them, set the engine going, let it cause the necessary rotations to fly, and presently an arrangement may be made by which from these cords we shall receive a dazzling glory. They are nothing in themselves, and yet without them the engine might go for a thousand ages and we should get no light. It is even so with us. We are here, men educated, intelligent, well-appointed, and what is it that we need but connection with the heavens, direct communication with the source of light and fire.

When the Holy Spirit is communicated to the Church, we must not imagine that we shall be other than ourselves, enlarged, ennobled, and developed. The Spirit will not merge our individuality in a common monotony. Whatever your power is now, the incoming of the Holy Ghost will magnify and illuminate, so that your identity Will be carried up to its highest expression and significance. And more than that, there will be a development of latent faculties, slumbering powers, the existence of which has never been suspected by our dearest friends. Look for surprises in the Church when the Holy Ghost falls upon it: dumb men will speak, ineloquent men will attract and fascinate by the sublimity of their new discourse, timid men will put on the lion, and those who had hidden themselves away in the obscurity of conscious feebleness will come out and offer themselves at the Lord’s altar to help in the Lord’s service. The resources of the Church will be multiplied in proportion as the Church enjoys the presence and power of the Holy Ghost. How the old earth has continued to keep pace with all our civilisation and science. The electric light was, as to its possibilities, in Eden, as certainly as it is in the metropolis of England to-day. The locomotive has not created anything but a new combination and a new application and use. It is even so in the Bible. The Church knows nothing yet about the possibilities of revelation. No new Bible will be written, but new readers will come. We have learning and ability and industry enough; what we want is the baptism of the Holy Ghost. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The baptism of the Spirit experienced

As I turned, and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without any expectation of it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed, it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love, for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me like immense wings. No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love These waves came over me and over me and over me, one after the other, until I recollect I cried out: “I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.” I said, “Lord, I cannot bear any more”; yet I had no fear of death. (C. G. Finney, D. D.)

The baptism of the Spirit: its effects

It was that baptism which made the might of weakness irresistible; it was that which sent a few poor fishermen and publicans to conquer and regenerate the resisting world. In the might of that Spirit Peter broke down the old wall of partition, and admitted the Gentiles into the Church of God. By the earthquake of that Spirit the veil of the temple was rent, and free access was given to all in the holiest place. Convicted by the might of that Spirit the Rabbi of Tarsus sent the gospel flashing like a beacon fire from Jerusalem to Antioch, from Antioch to Ephesus, from Ephesus to Rome. The might of that Spirit, working among the Roman legionaries subdued their fierce and stubborn hearts; the might of that Spirit dilated the humble intellects of the apologists of Christianity, made ridiculous the wit of Lucian, the taunts of Celsus, the logic of Porphyry, the satire of Julian. That Spirit leapt with Telemachus into the Coliseum, and put an end for ever to the hideous butchery of the gladiators in the arena; it emancipated the wretched millions of ancient slaves; it made childhood sacred with the seal of baptism, and gave to trembling womanhood the rose of chastity and honour. The might of the Spirit again dissipated the radiant glamour of Pagan fancy, broke the wand of the enchantress, hushed the song of the Syren, branded with shame the flushed face of Bacchus, and the harlot brow of Aphrodite. The might of that Spirit, abasing the Roman eagles, wove its cross, the symbol which heathenism loathed as the gibbet of the malefactor, in gold on the banners of armies, and in gems on the diadems of kings. Touched with that Spirit, the rude northern barbarians bowed their heads before the meek white Christ. Clothed in that Spirit, the missionaries went forth from St. Thomas to Ulphilas, from Ulphilas to Boniface, from Boniface to Henry Martin and Coleridge Pattison, until the great Angel stood with one foot upon the land and one upon the sea, with an everlasting gospel in His hands. In the might of that Spirit the Crusaders gave up their lives for their fair Captain, Christ. It was the love which that Spirit kindled, like a pure flame on the altar of their hearts, which made the philanthropists, from Fabula to St. Francis, from St. Francis to St. Vincent de Paul and John Howard and David Livingstone and Lord Shaftesbury, strong to confront the menacing monopolies, and to smite the hoary head of inveterate abuse. So the descending flame, the rushing mighty wind of the Holy Ghost, is the secret of all that Christianity has done for the love of Christ its Lord. Look forward for three poor centuries from the first Pentecost, and on Whitsunday a.d. 337 died, in the white robe of baptism which he had just received, Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor of Rome. Look forward for six centuries, and it was on Whitsunday of a.d. 597 that the conversion of Saxon England began with the baptism of King Ethelbert. Look forward for seven centuries and a half, and it was on Whitsunday a.d. 755 that St. Boniface was martyred, the great apostle of the Germans. Look forward nearly nineteen centuries, and to-day, in tens of thousands of Christian Churches, from the snows of Greenland to the rocky Falkland Isles, from dawn to sunset, and again from sunset to dawn, in every single spot where there are gathered the representatives of any portion of civilised peoples, there is being preached that very same gospel in every essential particular which was preached nearly two millenniums ago in Nazareth and Bethlehem. (Archdeacon Farrar.)

A new manifestation of the Divine Spirit

1. Though we cannot regard Pentecost as the birthday of the Church, since the Church was born centuries before, we are bound to regard it as the grand crowning period in the development of the plan of redemption. Periods in the working out of this plan mark the history of four thousand years, one leading to another. From Adam to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses, and from Moses to Christ, and now from Christ’s Advent to Pentecost. To this all the others pointed, and in it they were all crowned with glory.

2. But we are not to suppose that this was the first time the Divine Spirit visited this world. He strove with the antediluvians, inspired old prophets, and dwelt in old saints. But He never came in such a demonstration and plenitude of power before. Before He had distilled as the dew, now He comes down as a shower; before He had gleamed as the first rays of morning, now He appears as the brightness of noon. Note His action--

Upon the disciples.

1. Upon their ear. “Wind,” an emblem of the Spirit.

(1) Invisible.

(2) Mysterious.

(3) Powerful.

(4) Refreshing.

Great ,epochs are usually marked by extraordinary phenomena--e.g., the giving of the Law; the Advent; the Crucifixion, and now Pentecost.

2. Upon their eye. “Fire” is

(1) Purifying.

(2) Consuming.

(3) Transmuting.

(4) Diffusive.

Perhaps these supernatural appeals to the senses were intended to express the relation of the Divine Spirit.

(a) To life--“wind” or air is vital, the breath of life.

(b) To speech--“tongues” would intimate that the Spirit had given men new utterances.

(c) To purity--“fire” would indicate that the Spirit had to consume all the corruptions of the soul.

In the disciples. “They were filled with the Holy Ghost.” He took possession of their--

1. Minds, and made them the organs of Divine thought.

2. Hearts, and filled them with Divine emotions.

3. Bodies, and made them His living temples.

4. Wills, and made them the organs of Divine resolutions. Nothing but the Divine will fill the soul Without God there will be a boundless vacuum within.

through the disciples. Your things are observable concerning their speech.

1. It followed their Divine inspiration. It was not until the Spirit had given them the right thoughts and feelings that utterance came. Better be dumb than express the sentiments of the unrenewed soul. It is when the Spirit comes that we want speech, and shall have it. A Divinely filled soul must break forth in Divine language.

2. It was miraculous. The coming at once into the possession of a new language is as great a miracle as the possession of a new limb.

3. It was unspeakably useful. It served to impress the multitude with the Divinity of Christianity, and enabled the disciples to proclaim without preparation the gospel to every man. Without it the first age of the Church would have had a different history.

4. It was profoundly religious. This wonderful gift was employed to speak of God’s wonderful works. May the day soon come when God-given language, instead of being the vehicle of erroneous thought, impure feeling, depraved purpose, shall convey to men nothing but holiness, goodness, and truth. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

The time of the Spirit’s outpouring proves the unity of the two dispensations

The time when the Spirit was poured out on the body of Christians, and the Church’s foundations laid deep and strong, revealed profound reverence for the old dispensation, raising by anticipation a protest against the heretical teaching which become current among the Gentiles in the second century, and has often since reappeared, as amongst the Anabaptists of Germany and the Antinomians at the Reformation. This view taught that there was an essential opposition between the Old and the New Testament, some holding that the Old Testament was the production of a spiritual being inferior and hostile to the eternal God. The Divine Spirit guided St. Luke, however, to teach the opposite view, and is careful to honour the eider dispensation and the old covenant, showing that Christianity was simply the perfection and completion of Judaism, and was developed therefrom as naturally as the bud of spring bursts forth into the splendid blossom and flower of summer. We trace these evidences of the Divine foreknowledge, as well as the Divine wisdom, in these Pentecostal revelations, providing for and forecasting future dangers with which, even in its earlier days, the bark of Christ’s Church had desperately to struggle. (G. T. Stokes, D. D.)

Effect of the Holy Spirit

“Tell me,” said a father to his son, “what difference you can detect between two needles--one of which has received an electric shock, whilst the other has not. And yet the one has hidden virtues, which occasion will show, of which the other has none. The electric shock has rendered the one needle a magnet, which, duly balanced, will enable man to find his way across the trackless ocean. As this needle, so may that soul be which has received the electric shock of the Holy Ghost: on the ocean of a sinful world, it shall point wanderers to the heaven of everlasting rest.”

Revivals of religion

Their nature. Religion in the soul is sometimes in a lower, sometimes in a higher state. The passage from the one to the other is more or less rapid. So in a community or church. There were periods of decline and refreshing under the Old Testament, in the time of Christ, in the time of the Reformation, in the time of Edwards and since. The phrase has now acquired the meaning of a sudden change from inattention to attention in regard to religions--to those seasons when Christian zeal is manifestly increased, and converts multiplied.

Their reality,

1. This has been denied--

(1) By rationalists, and all who deny the supernatural operations of the Holy Spirit.

(2) By those who deny that the converting influences of the Spirit are ever exerted except in connection with the sacraments.

(3) By those whose theory of religion does not admit of instantaneous or rapid conversions; who hold that the germ of piety implanted in baptism is, by an educational process, to be nurtured unto conversion.

(4) By those who, while admitting the facts of She Bible on the subject, seem disposed to regard them as belonging rather to the miraculous than to the normal state of the Church.

2. But granting the fact of supernatural influence, there is no objection to the theory of revivals. There is nothing in them inconsistent with the nature of religion, or with the modes of Divine operation. It is a question of fact, and both Scripture and history are decisive on the point.

3. In regard to the question whether any religious excitement is a revival or not, note--

(1) It is, of course, not to be taken for granted that every such excitement is a work of God. It may be nothing but the product of human acts and eloquence, and consist in the excitement of mere natural feelings. Much, no doubt, which passes for revival is more or less of that character.

(2) The criteria for the decision between true and false revivals, and true and false religion is the same.

(a) Their origin. Are they due to the preaching of the truth?

(b) Their character. Is the excitement humble, reverential, peaceful, benevolent: holy; or is it proud, censorious, schismatical, irreverent?

(c) Their permanent fruits. This is the only certain test.

(3) Perfection is not to be expected in revivals any more than in the religion of individuals, and they are not to be condemned because of some evils.

Their importance.

1. This may be estimated, proximately, in two ways--

(1) By the importance of the end which they are assumed to answer--the salvation of many souls and the elevation of the piety of the Church.

(2) Historically, i.e., by a reference to the effects they have produced. Pentecost, the Reformation, the Mission of Wesley, etc. Estimated by these standards their importance is incalculable.

2. But there are false views of their importance, viz.,

(1) That they are the only ways in which religion can be promoted. Many expect nothing except during a revival, and consequently do nothing.

(2) That they are the best way. They are great mercies, but there are greater. When there have been years of famine a superabundant harvest is a great blessing. But it had been better had each harvest been good. General permanent health is better than exuberant joyousness alternating with depression.

Their dangers. These may be learned--

1. From their nature. Excitement in proportion to its intensity in an individual or a community calls into vigorous exercise both the good and bad elements which may be extant. It makes the self-righteous, the censorious, the vain, more so. It sets men on new, unauthorised or improper means of promoting religion; and the evil elements often mingle with the good, so as to be far more apparent than the good. The desolations of storm or flood are often more apparent than their benefits.

2. From experience we find the following evils are apt to attend revivals.

(1) False teachers, doctrines, measures, as in the apostolic age.

(2) False views of religion, fanaticism.

(3) Contempt of the ordinary means of grace, and neglect of them.

(4) Disparagement of religion in the eyes of serious, reflecting men.

(5) Denunciation and schisms.

(6) False views of the proper kind of preaching, and neglect of the instruction of the young. (C. Hodge, D. D.)

Revival preceded by prayer

In the winter of 1875, we were worshipping in the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the interregnum of churches. We had the usual great audiences, but I was oppressed beyond measure by the fact that conversions were not more numerous. One Tuesday I invited to my house five old, consecrated Christian men--all of them gone now, except Father Pearson, and he, in blindness and old age, is waiting for the Master’s call to come up higher. These old men came, not knowing why I had invited them. I took them to the top room of my house. I said to them: “I have called you here for special prayer. I am in an agony for a great turning to God of the people. We have vast multitudes in attendance and they are attentive and respectful, but I cannot see that they are saved. Let us kneel down and each one pray, and not leave this room until we are all assured that the blessing will come and has come.” It was a most intense crying unto God. I said, “Brethren, let this meeting be a secret,” and they said it would be. That Tuesday night special service ended. On the following Friday night occurred the usual prayer-meeting. No one knew of what had occurred on Tuesday night, but the meeting was unusually thronged. Men accustomed to pray in public in great composure broke down under emotion. The people were in tears. There were sobs and silences and solemnities of such unusual power that the worshippers looked into each other’s faces as much as to say, “What does all this mean?” And, when the following Sabbath came, although we were in a secular place, over four hundred arose for prayers, and a religious awakening took place that made that winter memorable for time and for eternity. There may be in this building many who were brought to God during that great ingathering, but few of them know that the upper room in my house in Quincy Street, where those five old Christian men poured out their souls before God, was the secret place of thunder. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

Belief in the Holy Ghost

“I believe in the Holy Ghost,” is not with us a mere formal expression; but the utterance of our heartfelt conviction. I have heard of a Church school in which the children were taught the Apostles’ Creed, and each child had to say a sentence. One day the clergyman came in, and asked them to repeat it to him. They managed all right for a time, but all of a sudden there was an awkward silence. The clergyman said, “Why don’t you go on?” One trembling little voice replied, “Please, sir, the boy that believes in the Holy Ghost isn’t here to-day.” I fear that is true of many churches, and many pulpits; those who believe in the Holy Ghost are not there! His very name is scarcely heard in some places of worship; and all ascription of glory and honour to Him is lost in the mention of an “influence.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Waiting where the Spirit is likely to come

“That ship does not seem to stir; there’s not a breath of wind to move her sails”; said one of our little company. “No,” replied another, “but she is where she will get the wind as soon as it begins to blow.” And so it proved; for presently her canvas began to fill, and ere long she was speeding towards her desired haven. It is a good thing to be in the way of any blessing that may be coming. Perhaps you are not yet a Christian; but you say that you long to be one. Then seek to get where the sacred wind is likely to blow. The Spirit, like the wind, “bloweth where it listeth”; but there are special times and places in which His gracious influences are usually manifested. See that you are where you may expect the heavenly breeze. Prayer-meetings, Bible-classes, special services, and places of worship where the gospel of the grace of God is preached in all its fulness, are the spots where the Spirit delights to work; go there, and may the Divine afflatus fill thee, and speed thee on thy heavenward voyage! (J. W. Harrald.)

Are we ready for spiritual power

This power is what we want; but the question is, are we ready for it? Are we fit to be used, willing to be used, to be used anywhere, to be apparently unused, to be nothing, that Christ may be all? The possession of power is a great responsibility; perhaps the self-will and self-esteem of some of us would make the possession of such power a very deadly thing. Andrew Murray says, “We want to get possession of the power, and use it; God wants the power to get possession of us, and use us. If we give ourselves to the power to rule in us, the power will give itself to us to rule through us.” We are waiting here this morning to be filled with power. Perhaps we had better wait first to be emptied. (T. J. Longhurst.)

Awaking to truth

The Holy Spirit comes like a rushing wind upon the disciples, and in an hour they are new men. The jailer hears and believes in a night. Luther, while toiling up the holy stairs of the Lateran, holding to salvation by works, drops that scheme on the way, and lays hold of the higher one of salvation by faith. Ignatius Loyola, in a dream, has sight of the Mother of Christ, and awakes a soldier of Jesus. It is often so. We do not so much grow into the possession of new spiritual truths as we awake to them. Their coming is not like ,the sunrise, that slowly discloses the shapes and relations of things, but is like the lightning, that illuminates earth and sky in one quick flash, and so imprints them for ever on the vision. (Theodore T. Munger.)

The gift of the Spirit dependent upon conditions

How to realise the immanence, or possess ourselves of the indwelling of this Holy Spirit, is purely a question of conditions. Let me illustrate my meaning. To a man in perfect health an atmosphere impregnated with disease-germs is comparatively harmless; but should he approach a typhus-stricken patient with a body exhausted by exercise, or faint from want of food, the probabilities are that he will fall a prey to the disease. Again, as a man brings himself into harmony with all the laws of his being, life assumes a bright and joyous aspect. Forms, tints, sounds, the shouldering hill, the roseate hues of dawn, the sweet-voiced song of birds, rouse in him the spirit of devotion, and appeal to him as revelations of a hand and mind Divine. But if his eye be jaundiced, his liver torpid, his pulse irregular, his brain congested, then creation becomes a blank, the world a wilderness, and life a weariness and a woe. Or, once more, take mental conditions. Have you never, in reading a book, marked with pencil some passage that suddenly flashed its meaning in upon your mind; and then, some six months later, in re-reading the same passage, wondered how it was you failed to re-experience the inspiration of the former time? There was no change in the book; the change was in your mental condition. Have you never, in hearing some strain of music, felt that it led you into a world of fancy, a realm of strange unutterable delight, and yet, forsooth, when on a later day the same chords have been touched by the same hands, to your astonishment they languidly and meaninglessly floated past your ear without rousing the imagery of your soul? There was no change in the music, the change was in the mental conditions of your life; at one time you were responsive; at the other, dull and inert. In all spheres of our existence, joy, truth, love, are proportioned to conditions. And so in the realm of the Spirit. Fulfil the Divine conditions and you are en rapport with the Divine life. Permit those conditions to go unfulfilled, and the Divine life will be to you as though it were not. And oh! how simple these conditions are! They do not consist in lashing yourself into a frenzy, nor in shouting yourself into hoarseness, nor in mutilating yourself. No. The conditions are prayer and supplication from hearts one in accord. It is prayer, and prayer only, that fits us for Divine indwelling; it is prayer, and prayer only, that puts us in touch with God. A prayerless life can no more draw to itself the Holy Spirit than glass can draw the electric fire; nor can a prayerless Church bring forth the fruits of holiness any more than the frigid zone can call forth and perfect a tropical growth. “Ye have not because ye ask not; and ye have not because ye ask amiss.” Live in the atmosphere of prayer; for therein, and therein only, will you fit yourself for the Divine indwelling; therein, and therein only, will you be vigorous with the life of God. (J. Marshall Mather.)

All with one accord in one place.--

The outward unity of the Pentecostal Church

There was unity of spirit and unity in open manifestation to the world at large. Christ’s disciples, when they received the gifts of heaven’s choicest blessings, were not split up into dozens of different organisations, each of them hostile to the others, and each striving to aggrandise itself at the expense of kindred brotherhoods. They had keenly in remembrance the teaching of our Lord’s great Eucharistic supplication (John 17:21). There was visible unity among the followers of Christ; there was interior love and charity, finding expression in external union which qualified the disciples for the fuller reception of the spirit of love, and rendered them powerful in doing God’s work amongst men. What a contrast the Christian Church presents to this now! There are some persons who rejoice in the vast divisions in the Church; but they are shortsighted and inexperienced in the dangers and scandals which have flowed, and are flowing, from them. It is indeed in the mission field that the schisms among Christians are most evidently injurious. When the heathen see the soldiers of the Cross split up among themselves into hostile organisations, they very naturally say that it will be time enough when their own divergencies and difficulties have been reconciled to come and convert persons who at least possess internal union and concord. Then, again, these divisions lead to a wondrous waste of power both at home and abroad. If men believe that the preaching of the Cross of Christ is the power of God unto salvation, and that millions are perishing from want of that blessed story, can they feel contentment when the great work of competing sects consists, not in spreading that salvation, but in building up their own cause by proselytising from the neighbours, and gathering unto their own organisation persons who have already been made partakers of Christ Jesus? And if this competition of sects be injurious and wasteful within the bounds of Christendom, surely it is infinitely more so when various contending bodies concentrate all their forces, as they so often do, on the same locality in some unconverted land, and seem as eagerly desirous of gaining proselytes from one another as from the mass of paganism. Then, too, to take it from another point of view, what a loss in generalship, in Christian strategy, in power of concentration, results from our unhappy divisions! The united efforts made by Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Greeks, are indeed all too small for the vast work of converting the heathen world if they were made with the greatest skill and wisdom. How much more insufficient they must be when a vast proportion of the power employed is wasted, so far as the work of conversion is concerned, because it is used simply in counteracting and withstanding the efforts of other Christian bodies. How different it was in the primitive Church! Within one hundred and fifty years, or little more, of the ascension of Christ, and the outpouring of the Divine Spirit, a Christian writer could boast that the Christian Church had permeated the whole Roman empire to such an extent that if the Christians abandoned the cities they would be turned into howling deserts. This triumphant march was simply in accordance with the Saviour’s promise. The world saw that Christians loved one another, and the world was consequently converted. (G. T. Stokes, D. D.)

Verses 2-3

Acts 2:2-3

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven.

The sound from heaven an answer to prayer

The united prayer of the apostles was a cry to heaven, well pleasing to God, and this sound was a delightful answer and counter-cry from heaven; thus was this ἦχος at the same time an echo. So faithful is God to His children, their cry presses into heaven to His heart, and there results from that the return of prayer from heaven (Apostolic Pastor.)

The echo

Our truest prayers are but the echo of God’s promises. God’s best answers are the echo of our prayers. As in two mirrors set opposite to each other, the same image is repeated over and over again, the reflection of a reflection, so here, within the prayer, gleams an earlier promise, within the answer is mirrored the prayer. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Symbols of the Spirit

The Holy Ghost as--

wind. In His--

1. Secret coming.

2. Powerful shaking.

3. Purifying blowing.

4. Soft refreshing.

fire. In His--

1. Bright shining.

2. Genial warming.

3. Destructive burning.

4. Rapid spreading. (Gerok.)

Pentecostal seasons

1. That came in fulfilment of Divine promises--the promises of the Old Testament.

2. The first Pentecostal season came, also, in direct answer to prayer--united, earnest prayer.

3. Yet further, the first Pentecostal season came to meet urgently and profoundly felt necessities.

4. Then, lastly, the first Pentecost, in its immediate results, was a special and very extraordinary revelation of the Holy Spirit’s power in the souls of men. It demonstrated at once His presence as the great Convincer and Renewer, and the ease with which He could change the hearts of men and dispose them to welcome Christ and the great salvation. (Ray Palmer, D. D.)


The essential virtue of the Divine communication. “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” What is it that God does for us when He thus acts upon us? He has, in His heavenly wisdom and in His parental love, left a way open between Himself and ourselves by which He can act upon us not indirectly, but directly, not mediately, but immediately; this is by the gentle, gracious, efficient action of His own Spirit on our spirit.

1. It is surely natural that He should do so; most likely, most credible it is that the Infinite Father of mankind should, while giving to His children a large measure of freedom, responsibility, and so of spiritual dignity, hold Himself free to touch, to quicken, to restrain, to incite, to restore, to ennoble.

2. It is surely desirable in the last degree that He should do so. Whence, otherwise, should we gain the spiritual force which gives life to the dying, energy to the languishing, sanctity and peace to the stained and struggling spirit?

Its manifestations.

1. This manifestation was remarkable; it excited a large amount of attention.

2. It was also beneficent.

3. It will be abundantly evident to all that God is with us and in us; our new and nobler life will make that clear, and will not only invite but compel attention.

4. And the influence will be beneficial; we shall lead men’s thoughts upwards, Godwards.

The conditions under which we may look for the Divine outpouring. (W. Clarkson, B. A.)


The crucifixion coincided with the Passover; the resurrection with the feast of the first-fruits; the giving of the Spirit with the feast of the gathering in of the harvest. There was another application of the feast which had come into force in the time of our Lord, according to which the day of Pentecost commemorated the giving of the law. Whilst Jews were rejoicing over a law which could not give righteousness, because it could not give life, the little band of Christians were being vitalised and sanctified by the descent of the Divine Spirit. The whole difference between a dispensation of hard law, with all its burdens and impotence, and that of a living spirit, with all its buoyancy and power, is expressed by the occurrence of the Jewish festival and the Christian miracle in the same city at the same hour. The incident as it lies before us has three distinct steps, the keeping well apart of which is necessary in order either rightly to conceive the external features or to apprehend the spirit and meaning of the scene. These three are the symbols and precursors of the gift; the gift itself; and its consequences. The first and the last are transient, the central one is permanent. When the symbols had prepared the hearts there came the actual bestowment, and on it followed the speaking with tongues.

We have, first, then, to consider the transient symbols of the abiding gift. Now the story is often somewhat erroneously conceived, and it may be worth our while to try to get a clear idea of what really was seen and heard before we ask what was meant thereby. We are to conceive, then, of the whole group of 120 disciples gathered together in their usual place of resort, possibly the very same upper chamber as that in which He had said, “If I depart I will send Him unto you”; and there waiting, with the tension of expectation, which the wondrous events through which they had passed and the closing promises of their Master had now made to be the habitual attitude of their spirits--waiting in concord, hope, and prayer. And what, I suppose, happened was this. The rushing wind came and passed, the mass as of fire flashed and glowed and parted yet remaining united, and hovered over their heads and disappeared. And then they were filled with the Spirit, and then they spake with tongues. And after that the multitude entered, and heard no wind, and saw no fire, and only discerned that the men were “filled with the Holy Ghost” because they heard them speak with tongues. The symbols, therefore, were simply intended as premonitory of what was immediately to ensue, and as preparing the disciples for the gift by quickened anticipation and attention and insight. The signification of the symbols needs little elucidation. The Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German, English, and other tongues express the immaterial part of man by analogous words, having the original meaning of breathing or breath. The breath is the life, and the symbol, inherent in the word spirit, carries the truth that the gift at Pentecost was, in its deepest conception, the communication of a Divine life. We are forgiven and accepted in order that a new Divine life may be imparted to us, and we get heaven because that life has been imparted. I need not remind you how there are subordinate felicities and beauties in this emblem, which, however, must never be allowed to disturb the prominence given to the central idea in it, such as those which our Lord hinted at when He said, “The wind bloweth where it listeth; thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth.” The depth and mystery of the source, the height and mysterious glory of the end, the liberty wherewith it makes them who possess it free when the impulses of the spirit are in harmony with the commandments of the Lord--all these things, and many more, are suggested by this great metaphor. Nor must we forget how the same motion of the same atmosphere stirs the young leaves on the summer trees and fans the hot cheek, and, gathering force, devastates cities and sweeps all before it. The variety in the operations and the might of the agent are wonderfully expressed in the symbol. The fire that parted itself into flames, and yet was all one, howsoever divided, is, too, a familiar emblem which needs little expansion. Fire is death; but fire is life too. And it is the vital, quickening, purifying, transforming energy of fire, not its consuming and annihilating force, which is expressed for us in this emblem. We speak of warm affections, fiery impulses, hearts glowing, spirits flaming with zeal, and metaphors of the like sort. Where God’s Spirit is there will be no coldness; where His Spirit is there will be no dead, hard obstinacy, as of black coal and green, smoky wood; where His Spirit is it will turn all into its own fiery likeness; and out of the most unpromising material will evoke shooting flames that aspire upwards to their source. The condition of all goodness is enthusiasm, and the author of all holy enthusiasm is that fiery Spirit which will sit upon each of us.

That brings me to the second stage here--viz., The abiding gift. Let us take the liberty of inverting the words of the clause which describes it. “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” “Holy Ghost.” That designation, coupled with the other which is kindred to it, the “Spirit of Truth,” makes the difference between the sobriety of the Christian idea of inspiration, and the extravagances and immoralities which have honeycombed all other forms of belief that God breathes Himself into men. If Christian people would only remember that all high-flying pretences to spiritual illumination and eminent religiousness and endowments are to be measured by this sharp test, “Do they make better men?” there would have been less to weep over in some pages of the history of the Church; and men would have been saved from fancying that any spirit is a spirit of God unless the manifestations of it are love, joy, peace, righteousness. Let us remember, “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” Further, mark the abundance of the gift. The word “filled” is not to be passed lightly, as if it were merely a favourite phrase of Luke’s. It cannot mean anything else than that a man, according to the height of his capacity to receive, was under the influence of that Divine Spirit, and that all the nature--thought, affection, will, practical energy--in all its manifestations, in daily life and common secular things, as well as in waiting on God in prayer and what we call religious exercises, was an inspired nature. “Filled with the Holy Ghost”! Filled? And most of us have a little drop in the bottom of the reservoir; a trickle of water down the dry bed; a cats-paw of wind that dies before it moves the flapping sails; a spark of fire in one corner of a cold grate. And we talk about being “filled with the Spirit”! And then there is the universality of the gift. “They were all.” Not the eleven apostles only, as people sometimes fancy, but the whole 120 of them. Now, then, Christian people, “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.”

Lastly, notice the transient results of the abiding gift. That speaking with tongues, the supernatural expression of Christian truth and devout emotion, in languages learned by no ordinary method, lasted but for a little while. What was its significance? It was a lesson, at the beginning, of the universal adaptation and intention of Christ’s work and gift. It was a lesson of the solemn duty of the Church in all lands, and to all ages. But beyond that, there is another lesson which I desire to leave on your hearts. “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak.” Of course! Christian people who have learned with any passionate affection to love, and with any depth of intelligence to understand, Christ and His gospel, must needs speak it forth. Do you see to it that you, first of all, receive, and then you will not be lacking in the impulse to impart, that great gift. There is only one way to get that Pentecostal gift. The precursors of it in the upper room are the precursors of it still. Patient hope, expectance, concord, prayer. These brought Pentecost, and these will bring the Spirit. (A. Maclaren, D. D)

The fourfold symbols of the Spirit

(text and verse 17; and 1 John 2:20):--Wind, fire, water, oil--these four are constant Scriptural symbols for the Spirit of God. In our texts we have the breath, the fire, the water, and the anointing oil of the Spirit to all Christian souls.

“a rushing mighty wind.” Spirit is breath. Wind is but air in motion. Breath is the synonym for life. Spirit and life are two words for one thing. So in the “rushing mighty wind,” we have the highest work of the Spirit--the communication of a new and supernatural life.

1. We are carried back to the vision of the valley of dry bones. It is the Spirit that quickeneth. The Scripture treats us all as dead, being separated from God. “They which believe on Christ receive” the Spirit, and thereby receive the life which He gives, or are “born of the Spirit,” who is the Spirit of life.

2. Remember, “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” If there be life given it must be kindred with the life which is its source.

(1) “The wind bloweth where it listeth.” That spiritual life, both in the Divine source and in the human recipient, is its own law. The wind has its laws, but these are so complicated and undiscovered that it has always been the symbol of freedom, and poets have spoken of the winds as “chartered libertines”; and “free as the air” has become a proverb. So that Divine Spirit is limited by no human conditions or laws. Just as the lower gift of “genius” is above all limits of culture or position, and falls on a wool-stapler in Stratford-on-Avon, or on a ploughman in Ayrshire, so the Spirit follows no lines that churches or institutions draw. It falls upon an Augustinian monk in a convent, and he shakes Europe. It falls upon a tinker in Bedford gaol, and he writes “Pilgrim’s Progress.” It falls upon a cobbler in Kettering, and he founds modern Christian missions. And so the life that is derived from the Spirit is its own law. The Christian conscience, touched by the Spirit of God, owes allegiance to no regulations or external commandments laid down by man. Under the impulse of the Divine Spirit, the human spirit “listeth” what is right, and is bound to follow the promptings of its highest desires. Those men only are free as the air who are vitalised by the Spirit of the Lord, for where the Spirit of the Lord is, there, and there alone, is liberty.

(2) In this symbol there lies also the idea of power. The wind was not only mighty but “borne onward”--fitting type of the strong impulse by which “holy men spake as they were ‘borne onward’ (the word is the same) by the Holy Ghost.” There are diversities of operations, but it is the same breath which sometimes blows in the softest pianissimo that scarcely rustles the summer woods in the leafy month of June, and sometimes storms in wild tempest that dashes the seas against the rocks. The history of the world since has been a commentary upon these words. With viewless, impalpable energy the mighty breath of God swept across the ancient world and laid paganism low. A breath passed over the whole civilised world, like the breath of the west wind upon the glaciers in the spring, melting the thick-ribbed ice, and wooing forth the flowers, and the world was made over again. In our own hearts and lives this is the one power that will make us strong and good. “As many as are impelled by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Is that the breath that swells all the sails of your lives, and drives you upon your course? If it be, you are Christians; if it is not you are not.

“Cloven tongues as of fire.” The Baptist contrasted the cold negative efficiency of his baptism with the quickening power of Christ’s baptism of fire. Our Lord Himself employs the same metaphor when He speaks about His coming to bring fire on the earth. In this connection, the fire is a symbol of a quick, triumphant energy, which will transform us into its own likeness. There are two sides to that emblem, one destruction, one creative; one wrathful, one loving. There are the fire of love, and the fire of anger; the fire of the sunshine which is the condition of life, and the fire of the lightning which burns and consumes.

1. Fire is selected to express the work of the Spirit by reason of its leaping, triumphant, transforming energy. See how, when you kindle a pile of dead wood, the tongues of fire spring from point to point until they bare conquered the whole mass, and turned it all into a ruddy likeness of the parent flame. And so this fire of God, if it falls upon you, will burn up all your coldness, and make you glow with enthusiasm, working your intellectual convictions in fire, not in frost, making your creed a living power in your lives, and kindling you into a flame of earnest consecration. The same idea is expressed by the common phrases of every language. We talk about the fervour of love, the warmth of affection, the blaze of enthusiasm, the fire of emotion, the coldness of indifference. One of the chief wants of the Church is more of the fire of God! We are all icebergs compared with what we ought to be. Look at yourselves; never mind about your brethren. Is our religion flame or ice? Listen to that solemn old warning: “Because thou art neither cold nor hot I will spue thee out of My mouth.” We ought to be like the seraphim, the spirits that blaze and serve; like God Himself, all aflame with love.

2. The metaphor suggests also--purifying. “The Spirit of burning” will burn the filth out of us. No washing or rubbing will ever clear sin. Get the fire of the Divine Spirit into your spirits to melt you down, and then the scum and the dross will come to the top, and you can skim them off. Two things conquer my sin; the one is the blood of Jesus Christ, which washes me from all the guilt of the past; the other is the fiery influence of that Divine Spirit which makes me pure and clean for all the time to come.

“I will pour out of my spirit.”--Cf. such texts as “Except a man be born of water,” etc. “He that believeth on Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water,” “A river of water of life proceeding from the throne,” and the expressions, “pouring out” and “shedding forth.” The significance of this is that the Spirit is--

1. Cleansing.

2. Refreshing, and satisfying. There is only one thing that will slake the immortal thirst in your souls. The world will never do it; love or ambition gratified and wealth possessed, will never do it. You will be as thirsty after you have drunk of these streams as ever you were before. There is one spring “of which if a man drink, he shall never thirst” with unsatisfied, painful longings, but shall never cease to thirst with the longing which is blessedness, because it is fruition. The Spirit of God, drunk in by my spirit, will still and satisfy my whole nature, and with it I shall be glad. “Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters!”

3. Productive and fertilising. In Eastern lands a rill of water is all that is needed to make the wilderness rejoice. Turn that stream on to the barrenness of your hearts, and fair flowers will grow that would never grow without it.

“ye have an unction from the Holy One.” In the old system, prophets, priests, and kings were anointed with consecrating oil, as a symbol of their calling, and of their fitness for their special offices. The reason for the use of such a symbol would lie in the invigorating and health-giving effect of the use of oil in those climates, and the meaning of the act was plain.

1. It was a preparation for a specific and distinct service.

(1) You are anointed to be prophets that you may make known Him who has loved and saved you.

(2) That anointing calls and fits you to be priests, mediators between God and man; bringing God to men, and by pleading and persuasion, and the presentation of the truth, drawing men to God.

(3) That unction calls and fits you to be kings, exercising authority over the little monarchy of your own natures, and over the men round you, who will bow in submission whenever they come in contact with a man all evidently aflame with the love of Jesus Christ, and filled with His Spirit.

2. And then do not forget also that when the Scriptures speak about Christian men as being anointed, it really speaks of them as being Messiahs. “Christ” “Messiah” means anointed. And when we read “Ye have an unction from the Holy One,” we cannot but feel that the words are equivalent to “As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.” By derived authority, and in a subordinate and secondary sense, we are Messiahs, anointed with that Spirit which was given to Him not by measure, and which has passed from Him to us. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” (A. Maclaren, D. D)

And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire.--

The tongues of fire

It may be said generally that at Pentecost the reign of symbols closed; not, however, that worship was to be absolutely released from visible signs--witness the institution of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper--but a great change passed over the relations of the signs and the reality. Formerly the symbols disguised the things signified, now they have either been displaced by or simply illustrate the manifested reality.

Light diffused or condensed as fire had been from the beginning the elect token of the presence of God.

1. A light drawn from no material source hovered over Paradise, rested on patriarchal altars, irradiated the camp, trembled over the mercy-seat and was the glory of God filling His temple. Now when the new temple is consecrated by the advent of the Spirit the emblem appears for the last time and marks by the manner of its appearance a change which carries with it the essence of the Christian privilege.

(1) Over the whole company, before it was distributed into fragments, there rested for one brief moment the glory of the Lord, as the sudden token that Jehovah had transferred His dwelling place from the holiest to the upper room. But specially the Holy Ghost signified that the Trinity was no longer a mystery hidden from the people. Within the veil the glory of God had symbolised the Three-One God. The Son had come and fulfilled His part of the symbol, “We beheld His glory,” etc.; and now the Spirit descends to fulfil His part also, and when the Church was “filled with the Holy Ghost” it became a temple or “habitation of God through the Spirit.” We are not in the court without conscious only that there is within the curtain an awful mystery of light. The Triune God is in our midst.

(2) The diffused glory presently disparted “and sat upon each of them.” In ancient times this light of the Lord’s was never known to rest upon any individual--it was reserved for the congregation. Now the order is inverted, and imported that God accepted, sealed and set apart for Himself every one of them without exception.

(3) But the symbol went as suddenly as it came. It could not remain, otherwise the conditions of probation would be changed. Who could sin under the irradiation of that heavenly token? And how could the world go on if the elect carried about with them this signature of heaven? But the reality remains, “they were all filled,” etc. What the evanescent light taught for a moment the New Testament now teaches for ever: that the penitent believer is released from condemnation and knows it, being sealed by the Spirit of consecration.

(4) The sign departed, but if restored on whom would it rest now? Whom would it leave unvisited? Over whom would it waver and then retire? What melancholy separations would it make between husband and wife, brother and sister, etc. Let every one ask, Would it rest upon me? Such tokens of acceptance or rejection we cannot expect, but we may turn with confidence to the sacred reality. Never live without the thing which this symbol signifies.

2. But this light was the light of a sacred fire. This introduces another novelty. In the ancient temple the two were distinguished. The light was behind the veil or was only diffused through the courts; the fire burned continually on the altar without. But now the light is the fire, and the fire the light. The Holy Ghost sealed believers for God by an outward token, and then filled their hearts as the refiner and sanctifier from sin.

(1) Throughout the symbols and prophecies of Old Testament fire was an emblem of the purifying energy of the Spirit. Wherever the light of God’s accepting presence rested, hard by was the altar on which fire consumed what God could not accept. And whether by the sharp discipline of affliction, or by the sweet and gentle influences of His grace; whether by the fire that bums or the fire that melts, the Spirit’s work must be wrought in us unto perfection. The fire must burn on until it is quenched through having nothing more to consume.

(2) But in its other meaning it is a fire that never can be quenched. The meaning of the fire upon the altar was this--the refuse was purged out that the rich essence of every offering should ascend trembling to God with perfect acceptance. Our whole being must be for ever ascending in abiding consecration. Interior religion makes the Spirit a “whole burnt-offering,” the principle of which is being “filled with the Holy Ghost.”

(3) Note the connection between the light and the fire; between the Divine acceptance through the atonement and our interior meetness for it through the Spirit.

(4) The fire is kindled from heaven, but it must be kept burning from below. The Eternal High Priest, by His Spirit, puts the fire on your altar; you must be the Levite to bring the perpetual offering. Feed it with your vanities, idols, sins, until these being destroyed, it shall be quenched. Feed it with your best affections, words, actions, whole life, until your whole being shall be ready for the perfect sacrifice of heaven; and then it never shall be quenched.

(5) And remember the awful counterpart. For all who refuse the grace there is prepared a fire which in another sense “never shall be quenched.”

That which sat on each of the disciples assumed the form of a tongue. This was its most characteristic novelty. Never before did it so appear and never again, and we must look for its interpretation to the subsequent history.

1. The Spirit gave to the Church a new utterance. The tongue signified that to the whole company was given the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ. From that hour the Spirit has been the Supreme teaching authority.

2. The voice of the Church was lifted up in two ways.

(1) In the utterance of praise of the wonderful works of God. The Spirit--the tongue of God to man--made known the wonders of the incarnate Saviour as they had never been made known before. And the same Spirit--the tongue of the Church to God--dictated a hymn worthy of the revelation. And the Spirit ordered that it should be a type of the great future. The worship was offered in many languages which, as heard by God, were blended into one. Hence our assemblies are above all worshipping assemblies inspired by the Spirit.

(2) But in due time the new tongue was heard in preaching also. Peter was a representative of the great company of preachers in his subject, his zeal, the demonstration of the Spirit which accompanied him, and his great success. But the distributed symbol teaches that in the whole work each individual must take a part. There is a strong tendency to introduce such music, etc., as must reduce many a poor member of the congregation to a mere spectator. Remember also that you must take your part in the preaching service, if not as a professed preacher, as a faithful servant of Christ, ready to defend His name, and recommend His salvation both by voice and by life. (W. B. Pope, D. D.)

Tongues of fire

Tongues. Because--

1. They were to declare by the tongue the message of God to every creature.

2. They who had been unlearned and ignorant men, unapt to teach, and powerless to convince, were from henceforth to teach and convince.

3. The Church was not to be confined to men of their own language, but was to embrace men of every language under heaven.

As of fire. Because fire was an emblem of--

1. Purity.

2. Enlightenment.

3. Warmth.

4. The power with which the Word world burn its way into the human heart (Luke 24:32).

5. The fiery trials which awaited them.

Were distributed to each that each might know that he had his distinct gift, and that none might exalt himself above his brother.

Sat upon them, teaching them to do their work constantly and untiringly. (W. Denton, M. A.)

Tongues of fire

Richard Sheridan said he often went to hear Rowland Hill preach, because his words flowed hissing hot from his heart. Chalmers’s main forte as a preacher and college professor, it is said, was his “blood-earnestness.” “What we want,” remarked a Chinese convert once, “is men with hot hearts to tell us of the love of Christ.” Be earnest, be enthusiastic, and the fire of your own soul will kindle a flame in the souls of others. (J. C. Jones, D. D.)

Tongues of fire

Rabbinic writers show that it was a common belief of the Jews that an appearance like fire oft encircled the heads of distinguished teachers of the law. God has often been pleased to reveal Himself to men in conformity with their own conceptions as to the mode in which it is natural to expect communications from Him, as by star to magians. (Bp. Hacket.)

Tongues of fire: different kinds of

As the tongue kindled of hell is a fire that consumes everything with its wickedness, so tongues when they are kindled of heaven are converted into torches by which a Divine fire can be kindled in many souls (James 3:6). (R. Steer, D. D.)

The necessity of the fire

Suppose we saw an army sitting down before a granite fortress, and told us they intended to batter it down. We might asked them, How? They point us to a cannon-ball. Well, but there is no power in that. It is heavy, but not more than a hundredweight, or half a hundredweight. If all the men in the army were to throw it, that would make no impression. They say, No, but look at the cannon. Well, but there is no power in that; it is a machine, and nothing more. But look at the powder. Well, there is no power in that; a child may spill it, a sparrow may pick it up. Yet this powerless powder and this powerless ball are put into this powerless cannon; one spark of fire enters it, and then, in the twinkling of an eye, that powder is a flash of lightning, and that cannon-ball is a thunderbolt, which smites as if it had been sent from heaven. So is it with our Church machinery of the present day. We have our instruments for pulling down the strongholds, but, oh, for the baptism of fire. (W. Arthur, M. A.)

True eloquence

It is the fire of the Holy Ghost that will make men eloquent. Many of us think it consists in a power to rattle vowels and consonants together, and make language ring like a tinkling cymbal. No; that is not eloquence, it is counterfeit; that man has not command over language--language has command over him. What is eloquence? According to Gilfillan, “Eloquence is logic set on fire.” But where is the fire to come from? From the great heart of God. A preacher in his study ought to gather his thoughts, to collect his materials, and ascending the pulpit he ought to set them all ablaze with fire from off the altar. (J. C. Jones.)

The building up of the family

(text and Genesis 11:4):--

The Old Testament text carries us back to the period when “the whole earth was of one language and of one speech.”

1. At that period the human race had begun to so multiply, that it became necessary for them to lengthen the cords of their habitations. A considerable horde journeyed westward, with the view of settling wherever the advantages of pasture might tempt them to fix their residence. Faction, however, soon began to divide them, and it became evident that such a spirit, if some effectual remedy were not applied to it, would issue in their dispersion over the earth’s surface. Such a prospect, it appears, was intolerable. Even in the infancy of the race it was felt that union was strength--that to disperse the family was to debilitate it. Possibly there was another motive. The deluge was fresh in the memory, and a guilty dread of some similar judgment drew them near to one another for shelter and support. It was the period when man was beginning to awake to self-consciousness and a knowledge of his own resources. Might not those resources, wisely applied, enable him to hurl defiance at the Most High, and serve to secure him against a second deluge? This presumptuous horde then laid aside for a while their petty differences, and exclaimed, as with one voice, “Go to, let us build us a city,” etc. Do not such thoughts, widely different as to outward shape, find an echo in the minds of men of the present generation? There never was a generation which possessed a fuller consciousness of the physical resources at its command, and a higher estimation of the results which, wisely applied, those resources may achieve. And never was there a stronger yearning after union. Men recognise the evils which are incidental to partisanship and division, and profess to deplore even where they cannot remedy them. But to return to our narrative.

2. The people had proceeded some way, when “the Lord came down to see the city … Let us go down, and there confound their language.” The miracle seems to have consisted of two parts--first, their language was confounded on the spot--secondly, an instinct of dispersion was sent by God among the builders. Without such aa instinct the confusion of tongues would have failed to effect its object. “So the Lord scattered them abroad upon the face of all the earth,” which points to the effects of such an instinct. Each little band took its own path, and finally settled down in a separate district, placing between them and their former companions the natural barriers of mountains and rivers. Here, in this state of isolation, national character began to develop itself. Those who lived much abroad in a sunny and genial climate became keenly alive to the various forms of beauty, and susceptible of a high refinement; those whose allotted district was a northern and a cold country, became rude in their manners, and adopted superstitions of a ferocious cast, in which was blended a strong element of the mysterious. Language, too, declined more and more from its original model, and assumed in each case certain great distinguishing features. And thus were the members of the human family effectually separated, and their design of establishing one great central institution baffled, while God’s counsel of dispersing them stood for ever.

3. Now this narrative is fraught with admonition to those who, under the conviction that man can only be strong and happy in union with his fellows, desire to compass that noblest of all ends, the universal brotherhood of the race. It testifies that genuine unity is only to be compassed by striking at the original root of discord. To bring men to recognise one another as brethren is a noble aim; but it is not to be achieved by a fundamental alteration of the arrangements of property or rank, while we leave untouched those springs of selfishness which lead to the accumulation of property in certain hands. To make wars to cease in the world is indeed the very prerogative of Deity; but assuredly it is not otherwise to be effected than by aiding those spiritual influences which modify and repress the unruly wills and affections of sinful men. That Christians should agree in the truth of God’s Holy Word, and live together in unity and godly love--this were the very realisation of Christ’s prayer--but it is an end which cannot be otherwise furthered than by the more effectual propagation of the gospel of love and peace, an end which no uniformity of ecclesiastical discipline on the one hand, no sinking or waiving of distinguishing tenets on the other, will avail to secure. That all nations should recognise their common fellowship in one world-embracing community--this is the very consummation to which true believers are looking forward; but then it cannot otherwise be brought about than by a spiritual agency, and its attempted achievement by the wider establishment of commercial relations, or by any other method of the kind, will issue most assuredly in failure. To counteract this instinct, by diffusing one of an opposite tendency, is the only sure method of success in such a work.

Let us now turn our thoughts to the New Testament text.

1. It pleased God, in His own good time and manner, to realise the presumptuous design of the Babel builders. In the mediation of His Son, which unites heaven to earth, He hath reared up a tower whose top reaches to heaven, while its base is accessible to the heirs of sinful flesh and blood, whereby the communications of prayer and praise may pass upwards to Him, and those of grace, mercy, and peace, may descend to His creatures. Clustering round the base of this tower is a city which He hath founded, and which is designed to be world-embracing. The members of the community thus formed are united together by strong and efficacious bonds, although such as are invisible to the eye of sense. They have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of them all, who is above all, and through all, and in them all. The same hope animates, the same Word guides, the same bread feeds, the same providence directs, the same blood cleanses, the same grace quickens and consoles them. Aye, and their fellowship extends its ample bounds beyond the barriers of the world of sense. It embraces within its fair girdle an innumerable company of angels and the spirits of just men made perfect (Hebrews 12:22-23). This community, so constituted, is the appointed centre of union for mankind. There, within its invisible precincts, the families of the human race may meet and recognise one another, as all claiming by faith a common interest in Christ. There, at length, the dusky Moor and the frozen Laplander, the rude Goth and the refined Greek, may acknowledge their oneness of blood. In Christ all national distinctions are annihilated (Colossians 3:11).

2. It was in order to gather the nations into this world-embracing community, that the apostles, after the Holy Ghost had fallen upon them at Pentecost, went forth as ambassadors of reconciliation. As an outward token that the Spirit, whose operation should re-unite in one mystical body the scattered families of man, was issuing forth to the moral world, the physical impediment obstructing union was removed. The apostles “spake with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” It was not, however, this miraculous faculty which was the secret of their success: rather it was their burning love to Christ, their burning conviction that His word was truth, their burning zeal in the cause of perishing and benighted souls, so aptly emblematised by those cloven tongues like as of fire, which sat upon each of them.

3. Nor has the spirit and power of apostles failed in the Church, although the extraordinary gifts which attended their mission have been withdrawn. The Church has now gained a firm footing in the earth, and accordingly is left to work her way with that spiritual power which is still alive and vigorous within her. As with the spirit of love any triumphs of Christianity may be achieved, so without it, let us not think to do anything. This is the only spirit by which we can be instrumental in repairing the breaches of mankind, and building up the family again in the second Adam. (Dean Goulburn.)

The tongues of fire

The sign of the Holy Spirit s presence was a tongue of fire. It was a most suitable emblem, pregnant with meaning, and indicative of the large place which the human voice was to play in the work of the new dispensation, while the supernatural fire declared that the mere unaided human voice would avail nothing. The voice needs to be quickened and supported by that Divine fire, that superhuman energy and power, which the Holy Ghost alone can confer. The tongue of fire pointed on the Pentecostal morn to the important part in the Church’s life, and in the propagation of the gospel, which prayer and praise and preaching would hereafter occupy. It would have been well, indeed, had the Church ever remembered what the Holy Ghost thus taught, specially concerning the propagation of the gospel, for it would have been thereby saved many a disgraceful page of history. The human tongue, illuminated and sanctified by fire from the inner sanctuary, was about to be the instrument of the gospel’s advancement--not penal laws, not the sword and fire of persecution; and so long as the divinely-appointed means were adhered to, so long the course of our holy religion was one long-continued triumph. But when the world and the devil were able to place in the hands of Christ’s spouse their own weapons of violence and force, when the Church forgot the words of her Master, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and the teachings embodied in the symbol of the tongue of fire, then spiritual paralysis fell upon religious effort; and even where human law and power have compelled an external conformity to the Christian system, as they undoubtedly have done in some cases, yet all vital energy, all true godliness, have been there utterly lacking in the religion established by means so contrary to the mind of Christ. Very good men have made sad mistakes in this matter. Archbishop Ussher was a man whose deep piety equalled his prodigious learning, yet he maintained that the civil sword ought to be used to repress false doctrine; the divines of the Westminster Assembly have left their opinion on record that it is the duty of the magistrate to use the sword on behalf of Christ’s kingdom; Richard Baxter taught that the toleration of doctrines which he considered false was sinful; and all of them forgot the lesson of the day of Pentecost, that the tongue of fire was to be the only weapon permissible in the warfare of the kingdom whose rule is over spirits, not over bodies. (G. T. Stokes, D. D.)

Verse 4

Acts 2:4

And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.

The historic movement towards spiritually

The succession which is indicated by the words Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is neither nominal nor accidental, it is a philosophicaI progress and culmination.

1. When we go back towards the origin of things, we are dissatisfied with all mere critical terms, and yearn for something for which we cannot hit the exact word. Then is suggested the Biblical word, Father, and with it comes a promise of satisfaction in spite of all its difficulties.

2. But fatherhood is an inclusive term, suggesting the idea of childhood, and childhood is realised most impressively in the sonship of Christ; but sonship such as this, involving visible expression, is beset with peculiar risks. So He withdrew Himself immediately that He had secured for His personality an unquestioned place in history, as there was nothing more to be gained by His visible continuance on earth.

3. But what of the future of His work? Then, according to Christian teaching, was to come manifestation without visibility; instead of bodily presence, there was to be a new experience of life and spirituality. In one word, the holy Man was to be followed by the Holy Ghost. This idea of a philosophical rather than a merely arbitrary succession is strictly consistent with the fact that the whole movement of history, in all that is vital and permanent, is a movement from the outward and visible to the inward and spiritual.

The order of creation. The succession runs thus: Light, firmament, dry land, seas, the fruit-tree yielding fruit, sun, moon, and stars, the moving creature that hath life, and fowl flying in the open firmament of heaven, cattle, creeping thing, and beast of the earth; if we pause here we shall be dissatisfied, because of a sense of incompleteness; but to crown the whole “God said, Let us make man in our image and in our likeness.”

The order of human recovery. Beginning with the Levitical ritual, what could be more objective? The sin-offering, the trespass-offering, the incenses, etc., represent the most sensuous and exhausting system of mediation? Could aught be farther from the point of spirituality? In moving forward to the incarnation, we take an immense step along the line whose final point is spirituality, yet even there we are still distinctly upon the carnal line. The final representative of sensuous worship must Himself be the revealer of spiritual life. Jesus Christ ascended, and henceforth we know not even Him “after the flesh,” for the fleshly Christ has Himself placed mankind under the tuition of a spiritual monitor.

The order of written testimony. From picture and symbol we pass to spiritual meanings; through the noise and fury of war we pass into the quietness and security of moral civilisation; through the porch of miracles and mighty signs and wonders we enter the holy place of truth and love. The quality of John’s Gospel requires the very place that has been assigned to it in the New Testament. John seems to say, “You have heard what the Evangelists have had to tell, and have seen the wonderful things of their Master’s ministry; now let me explain the deep meaning of the whole.” From Malachi to Matthew is but a step; but to get from Malachi to John, you have to cross the universe. Matthew shows the fact; John reveals the truth; Matthew pourtrays on canvas; John puts his word into the heart.

The whole law. From the minuteness of microscopic bye-laws men have passed to a spiritual sense of moral distinctions. Every moment of the Jew’s time, and every act of his life, was guarded by a regulation. Amidst our spiritual light, such regulations could not be re-established without awakening the keenest resentment. The great tables of bye-laws have been taken down, because the spirit of order and of truth has been given. What is true of law is equally true of all institutionalism.

Precisely the same movement takes place in the experience of every progressive life. Every man can test this doctrine for himself--the doctrine, namely, that the growth of manhood is towards spirituality. The child grows towards contempt of its first toys; the youth reviews the narrow satisfactions of his childhood with pity; the middle-aged man smiles, half-sneeringly, as he recalls the conceits of his youth; and the hoary-haired thinker lives already amid the peace and joy of invisible scenes, or if he go back, living in memory rather than in expectation, it is so ideally as to divest his recollections of all that was transient and unlovely. The spiritual world of the wise man increases every day. These suggestions point to the conclusion that the Holy Ghost is the reasonable completion of revelation, and as such His ministry is an impregnable proof of the reasonableness of Christianity. In the person of Jesus Christ truth was outward, visible, and most beautiful; in the person of the Holy Ghost truth is inward, spiritual, all-transfiguring. By the very necessity of the case the bodily Christ could be but a passing figure; but by a gracious mystery He caused Himself to be succeeded by an eternal Presence, “even the Spirit of Truth, which abideth for ever.” It is claimed, then, on behalf of Christianity, that there is a Holy Ghost, and to this doctrine is invited not only the homage of the heart but the full assent of the most robust and dispassionate understanding. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Filled with the Spirit

They were filled with the spirit.

1. Men may be filled but not with the Spirit (verse 13). The audience confessed they were full, but with wine, a liquor though full of spirit, yet no spirit. It was false, yet if the Spirit may be taken for a humour, why not a humour for a spirit. Isaiah says (Isaiah 29:9) that men may be drunk but not with wine. A hot humour is taken for this fire and termed, though untruly, a spirit of zeal, and men imbued with it are ever mending churches, states, superiors, and all save themselves.

2. Not every spirit. “There is a spirit in man,” i.e. our own spirit, and many there be who follow their own ghost, and not the Holy Ghost; for even that ghost taketh upon it to inspire, and we know its revelations (Matthew 16:17).

3. blot the world’s spirit (1 Corinthians 2:12).

4. But the Holy Spirit, i.e. His gifts and graces. And because these be of many points they are all included under these two--

(l) Under the wind is represented saving graces; as necessary to our spiritual life as breath is to our natural. This is meant for us personally. Of this Spirit there are nine points (Galatians 5:22).

(2) Under the tongues are set forth the grace meant for the benefit of others. Tongues serve to teach and fire to warm; and of this spirit the points are reckoned up in 1 Corinthians 12:7, etc.

They were filled with the Spirit.

1. It was not a wind that blew through them, as it does through many of us, but that filled them.

2. Not that they were devoid of the Spirit before. Christ had not breathed upon them (John 20:22) in vain. This shows us that there are diverse measures of the Spirit, some single, some double portions (1 Kings 2:9). As there are degrees in the wind--a breath, a blast, a gale, so there are in the Spirit. It is one thing to receive the Spirit as at Easter and to be filled with Him as at Whitsuntide. Then but a breath; now a mighty wind; then but sprinkled as with a few drops (Ezekiel 20:46), now baptized with that which was plenteously poured out (Joel 2:20).

In sign that they were filled they ran over. The fire was kindled in them by this wind, and in sign thereof they spoke with their tongue (Psalms 39:3). The wind would have served them as Christians, but as apostles, i.e. ambassadors, they must have tongues.

1. They were filled and then they began to speak. Some speak, I will not say before they are full, or half full, but while they are little better than empty, if not empty quite.

2. This beginning to speak argues courage. Any man might see that there was a new spirit come into them. Before they were tongue-tied. A damsel did but ask Peter a question, and he faltered. But after this mighty wind blew up the fire, and they were warmed with it, then they were not afraid to testify before magistrates and kings. (Bp. Andrewes.)

Filled with the Spirit

The new era opened at Pentecost was one in which all God’s people were to have God abiding in them always, the Guest, Comforter and Friend of every Christian heart. It must be admitted, however, that this Divine ideal has been very inadequately realised. Let us consider some of the results which may be expected to flow from a fuller baptism of the Spirit.

Spiritual mindedness.

1. This does not mean that our thoughts should be perpetually running on the future, that we should ever be debating theological questions, but that we shall have the power to appreciate those great and eternal realities that are about us.

2. This spiritual mindedness will reveal itself--

(1) In the estimate we form of our fellow men.

(2) In our appreciation of the great spiritual end we ought ever to be seeking in order to do Christian work.

(3) In our appreciation of Christian doctrine caring more about the spiritual substance than the particular form or fashion by which the truth may have been expressed. For instance--

(a) In all our thought about the death and atonement of Christ, the imagination will not dwell on the physical blood that was shed, or upon the physical agony that was endured, but upon the majesty of God’s righteousness, the wonder of God’s love, the mystery of that great sacrifice on the Cross, and the awfulness of the sin which made that sacrifice necessary.

(b) When we think about the second coming of Christ, our thoughts will not be taken up with the external circumstances of pomp and splendour, but rather with the triumph’ of good over evil, and truth over falsehood, which is the consummation to which all devout souls must ever be looking.

(c) In thinking about inspiration we shall not trouble ourselves about theories of it, or about the mere letter, but our care will be mostly for the Divine truth itself, which will lift us up in our despondency, and guide us in our perplexity when we come to the sacred page.

An access of power by which the naturally timid will be enabled to do things which would be otherwise impossible to the strongest; in regard to--

1. Testimony for Christ.

2. Endurance of suffering.

3. Philanthropic work.

A change of disposition.

1. The cessation of “jealousies, strifes, and divisions,” which Paul includes amongst the “works of the flesh.”

2. The prevalence of a spirit of mercy and kindness towards others.

(1) To those who in our midst are compelled to live very hard lives.

(2) For those multitudes all over the world who are without the knowledge of God as revealed in Christ.

An enthusiasm of holy fervour in all work.

1. In worship.

2. In Church life.

3. In evangelism. (H. Arnold Thomas, M. A.)

Filled with the Spirit

The fulness. There was no part of the complex nature of man that was not pervaded by the Spirit.

1. The intellect was illumined to know the truths of the Spirit.

2. The affections were purified and inflamed with desires after heavenly things.

3. The will was strengthened to obey the motions of the Spirit.

Its manifestation. Those who are so filled give out only the language of the life-giving Spirit. Even when they speak of earthly things it is with a tongue reminding men of the wisdom and simplicity of the children of God. When they do aught in the common business of life, their example recalls the thought of a higher life. All they say or do is to edifying. (Cornelius a Lapide.)

Filled with the Spirit and receiving the Spirit

The difference is not of kind, but of degree. In the one case, the light of heaven has reached the dark chamber, dispelling night, but leaving some obscurity and some deep shadows. In the other, that light has filled the whole chamber, and made every corner bright. This state of the soul--being “filled with the Holy Ghost”--is the normal antecedent of true prophetic or miraculous power, but may exist without it; without it, in individuals who are never endowed with the gift either of prophecy or of miracles; without it, in individuals who have such powers, but in whom they are not in action, as in John the Baptist, before his ministry commenced. (W. Arthur, M. A.)

Fulness of the Spirit not necessarily miraculous

Eyesight is the necessary basis of what is called a painter’s or a poet’s eye; the sense of hearing, the necessary basis of what is called a musical ear, yet eyesight may exist where there is no poet’s or painter’s eye, and hearing where there is no musical ear. So may the human soul be “filled with the Holy Ghost,” having every faculty illuminated, and every affection purified, without any miraculous gift. On the other hand, the miraculous power does not necessarily imply the spiritual fulness: for Paul puts the supposition of speaking with tongues, prophesying, removing mountains, and yet lacking charity, that love which must be shed abroad in every heart that is full of the Holy Ghost. (W. Arthur, M. A.)

The fulness of the Spirit the need of the Church

We are apt to fix our thoughts and desires on subordinate instrumentalities.

1. Good organisation. Many are chiefly anxious to perfect the ecclesiastical apparatus of the Church; but without speaking disparagingly of this, yet perfect machinery is useless without motive power, a Church may be organised to death, and may be only like a stately tomb. The Church’s finest triumphs were gained in days when it had no elaborate organisation.

2. Orthodoxy. Many are distressed by the present unsettlement of theological opinion, and regard uniformity of belief as the great desideratum. Correct thinking is much to be desired, and in proportion as any Church departs from fundamental Christian truth it emasculates its moral force. But an orthodox Church may be a scene of mental and spiritual stagnation. It may have a perfect creed and yet be loveless, lifeless, helpless.

3. Intellectual equipment. Of scholarship and disciplined thought it is impossible for a Church to have too much, but a Church that prides itself on its culture may be as cold as an iceberg and exclusive as a coterie. It may virtually say to any candidate who cannot be classed among its “thoughtful,” or who does not rise to a certain standard of wealth and social status, what a deacon is reported to have said to an unwelcome applicant, “There is no vacancy in our church just now.”

4. Liberty, fearless independence of thought and expression. But liberty may degenerate into license quite as easily as zeal for truth may pass into bigotry, and in its sacred name deadly errors and worthless speculations and conceits may be passed off as current coin of the realm of truth.

What we want supremely is the fulness of the Spirit.

1. Organisation, etc., are good things, but there is something more essential. Might not the Master say to-day as He did of old, “Ye are careful about many things, but one thing is needful.” With the fulness of the Spirit our organisation will be filled with power, our orthodoxy pulsate with love, our culture have in it no Phariseeism, and our liberty always serve the interests of truth and godliness.

2. “Filled with the Spirit.”

(1) The Church will be guided into all truth, for a fuller tide of the Spirit means finer spiritual discernment and discrimination, and deeper insight into eternal verities.

(2) The Church will be “glorious in holiness,” for wherever the Spirit of God dwells He is as the refiner’s fire.

(3) The peace and harmony of the Church will be insured, for brotherly love will reign supreme, and fidelity to truth will carry no bitterness with it.

(4) The Church will be preserved from selfishness, and made missionary and philanthropic.

(5) The Church will not descend to carnal and unworthy methods of spreading the kingdom of God. It will cease to bow at the shrine of mammon, disdain the expedients of worldly wisdom, and not measure its success by statistical tables or worldly standards.

(6) The Church will have an attractive power. We look too much to the mere accessories of religion--to music and ritual, intellectual brilliance and sensational services, forgetful of the fact that the magnetic spell of the Church is the beauty, intensity, and fulness of its spiritual life. When the fruits of the Spirit abound men will be drawn as bees to the apple blossom, or steel filings to the magnet.

(7) The Church will exert a mighty power to perform greater miracles than those of Christ, and in their presence the voice of the caviller will be silenced. Preaching will be “in the demonstration of the Spirit and power,” and we shall rejoice in constant accessions.

How shall we obtain this fulness of the spirit? There have been seasons when the Spirit has swept in mighty tides, and we are tempted to think that the supply of the Spirit is according to some capricious or arbitrary arrangement. But the supernatural has its laws as well as the natural.

1. Everything that grieves the Spirit must be put away, “all malice and all guile and hypocrisies,” etc., and “all unbelief, worldly-mindedness, pride, selfishness”; everything opposed to the simplicity, the charity and purity of Christ, or there will be fatal hindrances.

2. Earnest, importunate prayer--prayer that is not a mere repetition of conventional phrases, that has in it the utmost intensity of desire, that links together the whole communion of the faithful, and knows no cessation till the answer comes. The experience of the disciples before Pentecost, and in Acts 4:31, is a lesson for all ages.

3. There must be avenues for the Spirit’s entrance, a large measure of receptivity, sensitiveness to His influence, fidelity to the truth. He requires cheerful response as He calls to duty or sacrifice, and an implicit obedience to His commands. Luther once said that people cried, “Spirit, Spirit, Spirit!” and then struck down all the bridges by which the Spirit might enter. At the moment of his ordination Whitefield says, “I offered up my whole spirit, soul and body, to the service of God’s sanctuary,” and the result we know. If the sacrifice be upon the altar, the fire from heaven will come down. (T. G. Tarn.)

The soul filled with the Holy Ghost

A piece of iron is dark and cold; imbued with a certain degree of heat, it becomes almost burning without any change of appearance; imbued with a still greater degree, its very appearance changes to that of solid fire, and it sets fire to whatever it touches. A piece of water without heat is solid and brittle; gently warmed, it flows; further heated, it mounts to the sky. An organ filled with the ordinary degree of air which exists everywhere is dumb; the touch of the player can elicit but a clicking of the keys. Throw in not other air, but an unsteady current of the same air, and sweet, but imperfect and uncertain, notes immediately respond to the player’s touch: increase the current to a full supply, and every pipe swells with music. Such is the soul without the Holy Ghost, and such are the changes which pass upon it when it receives the Holy Ghost, and when it is “filled with the Holy Ghost.” In the latter state only is it fully imbued with the Divine nature, bearing in all its manifestations some plain resemblance to its God, conveying to all on whom it acts some impression of Him, mounting heavenward in all its movements, and harmoniously pouring forth, from all its faculties, the praises of the Lord. (W. Arthur, M. A.)

Power of a man when God works by him

Look at the artist’s chisel; the artist cannot carve without it. Yet imagine the chisel, conscious that it was made to carve, and that it is its function, trying to carve alone. It lays itself against the hard marble, but it has neither strength nor skill. Then we can imagine the chisel full of disappointment. “Why cannot I carve?” it cries. Then the artist comes and seizes it. The chisel lays itself into his hand, and is obedient to him. Thought, feeling, imagination, skill, flow down from the deep chambers of the artist’s soul to the chisel’s edge. The sculptor and the chisel are not two, but one; it is the unit which they make that carves the stone. We are but the chisel to carve God’s statues in this world. Unquestionably we must do the work. But the human worker is only the chisel of the great Artist. The artist needs his chisel; but the chisel can do nothing, produce no beauty of itself. The artist must seize it, and the chisel lay itself into his hand and be obedient to him. We must yield ourselves altogether to Christ, and let Him use us. Then His power, His wisdom, His skill, His thought, His love, shall flow through our soul, our brain, our heart, our fingers. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)

And began to speak with other tongues.--

The new tongue which ought to fall to our lot by the Spirit of Pentecost

Wherein it consists.

1. Not in a miraculous gift of languages.

2. Nor in a formal repetition of pious expressions.

3. But in a heart and mouth opened to thankful praise of Divine grace and joyful confession of the Lord.

Whence it proceeds.

1. Not from our natural state.

2. Nor from the arts and sciences.

3. But from above, from the Spirit of God, who touches heart and lips with fire from heaven.

What purpose it serves. Not to vain self-glorification or worldly delectation, but to the praise of God and to the message of salvation to the world. (Gerok.)

As the Spirit gave them utterance.--

Characteristics of Spirit-inspired speech

They spoke--

Wisely, as the Spirit of wisdom moved them.

Powerfully, as the Spirit of power strengthened them.

Purely, as the Spirit of holiness sanctified them. (Cornelius a Lapide.)

The gospel for all nations

The apostles’ speaking on the day of Pentecost to the people in their respective languages, was to us a plain intimation of the mind and will of God, that the sacred records should be preserved by all nations in their own tongue; that the Scriptures should be read, and public worship be performed, in the vulgar language of the nations. (M. Henry.)

Verses 5-11

Acts 2:5-11

And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation.

The first congregation appealed to by the apostles

It consisted of men of many lands. The fifteen countries remind us of the dispersion of the Jews. They had been scattered on account of their sins; but the mercy of God was shown in making this punishment a way for the gospel. Jews and proselytes would return and tell their kindred of the wonders of this day. Some without design would convey to the heathen saving truth; just as fugitive traitors may build a bridge over which the saviours of their country afterwards pass; others doubtless saw here the fulfilment of their prayers that they might benefit the perishing Gentiles among whom they dwelt.

It represented the whole world. When the glorious news which God designed for all had to be declared for the first time, it was fitting that all should thus be represented. But on the ground of the unity of the race every congregation represents the whole world, and he who leads one soul to the Saviour makes a contribution to the aggregate of human good. What value does this put on the work of Christian agents of every class.

It exemplified various moral characteristics.

1. The God-fearing and worthy. They looked on the wonders with careful and devout inquiry. In seeking the salvation of sinners it is necessary to elicit the question, “What may this be?”

2. The frivolous. They preferred the vain charge of drunkenness. No doubt the excitement in part accounted for it, but it is probable that jesting was resorted to that the impressions of the moment might be resisted. This obvious way of grieving the Spirit is sometimes exhibited in criticisms on preachers.

3. The haughty who could not bear the idea of being taught by Galileans. So David had doubt cast on his ability to show any good, and our Lord was received with suspicion because He belonged to Nazareth. But a servant has sometimes been able to teach his master the truth of God, and an illiterate preacher has often convinced men of learning whom their equals had failed to reach. (W. Hudson.)

How the seed of the Word is spread

1. In the cotton factories of Lancashire there is a huge piece of machinery fifty feet in length, and containing hundreds of spindles, which moves steadily backward and forward from one side of the room to the other. It is a great triumph of skill to insert within the machine a power by which it shall move a certain distance and then stop and go back again. There was a similar contrivance in Judaism which retained the Word of God at Jerusalem till a certain time and then sent it forth from Jerusalem. This contrivance was the regulation that all the people should repair to the capital to celebrate their appointed feasts; and this regulation was observed even after the Jews had been scattered all over the world. Hence the gathering at Pentecost. Up to that period the arrangement seemed devised to keep the worship of God in one place and to forbid the spread of true religion. But now it seemed expressly invented for the universal diffusion of the gospel of Christ.

2. In a still, sultry autumn day, as you walk through the fields, your attention is arrested by a tiny sound at intervals, like an explosion in miniature, and a few seconds after a shower of tiny bails falls upon the ground. It is the bursting of seed pods in the sun. The casket that contains the seed of some plants is composed of four or five long narrow staves, joined together like Cooper work, but without the staves. The staves are glued together at the edges, and the vessel so constructed is strong enough to contain the seed till it is ripe. But if the seeds were retained beyond that the purposes of nature would be thwarted. Accordingly at this stage there is a turning point, and the action of the machinery is reversed. The same qualities in the vessels that hold fast the seed while it is green jerk it to a distance after it is ripe. The staves of the little barrel are bent, the bursting force overcomes the adhesion and opens them with a spring that flings the seed as if from a sewer’s hand. By this contrivance, though no human hand were near, a whole field would soon be sown by seed from a single plant. Thus the law in Israel that confined the sacrifices to a single spot, and so brought Jews from all parts at Pentecost, threw the seed of the Word as by a spring out from Jerusalem into all the neighbouring nations. These Parthians, etc., were the vessels charged with precious seed at Jerusalem, and then thrown back on the several countries whence they had come. In this way the gospel was in a single season brought to regions which otherwise it might not have reached in a century. (W. Arnot.)

The visitors at Jerusalem

The list is characteristic of the trained historian and geographer--trained, it may be, in the school of Strabo--who had carefully inquired what nations were represented at that great Pentecost, who had himself been present, at least, at one later Pentecost (Acts 21:15), and knew the kind of crowd that gathered to it. There is a kind of order, as of one taking a bird’s-eye view of the Roman Empire, beginning with the great Parthian kingdom, which was still, as it had been in the days of Crassus, the most formidable of its foes; then the old territory of the Medes, which had once been so closely connected with the history of their fathers; then, the name of the Persians having been thrown into the background, the kindred people of Elam (commonly rendered Persia in the LXX.), whom Strabo speaks of as driven to the mountains (11:13, § 6); then the great cities of the Tigris and Euphrates, where the “princes of the captivity” still ruled over a large Jewish population; then passing southward and westward to Judaea; then to Cappadocia, in the interior of Asia Minor; then to Pontus, on the northern shore washed by the Euxine; then westward to the Proconsular Province of Asia, of which Ephesus was the capital. From Ephesus the eye travels eastward to the neighbouring province of Phrygia; thence southward to Pamphylia; thence across the Mediterranean to Egypt; westward to Cyrene; northward, re-crossing the Mediterranean, to the great capital of the empire; then, as by an after-thought, to the two regions of Crete and Arabia that had been previously omitted. The absence of some countries that we should have expected to find in the list--Syria, Cilicia, Cyprus, Bithynia, Macedonia, Achaia, Spain--is not easy to explain, but it is, at any rate, an indication that what we have is not an artificial list made up at a later date, but an actual record of those whose presence at the feast had been ascertained by the historian. Possibly they may have been omitted, because Jews and converts coming from them would naturally speak Greek, and there would be no marvel to them in hearing Galileans speaking in that language. The presence of Judaea in the list is almost as unexpected as the absence of the others. That, we think, might have been taken for granted. Some critics have accordingly conjectured that “India” must be the true reading, but without any MS. authority. Possibly the men of Judaea are named as sharing in the wonder that the Galileans were no longer distinguished by their provincial patois (cf. Matthew 26:73)

. (Dean Plumptre.)

We do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.--

The thousand-tongued hallelujah of the world in honour of God

Begun on the morning of creation in the kingdom of nature.

Renewed at Pentecost in the kingdom of grace.

Perfected, but never finished, on the day of manifestation in the kingdom of glory. (Gerok.)

The wonderful works of God

The subject itself. And where shall we begin? All that God does is wonderful. Let us enter--

1. The field of creation. Here, how wonderful are the works of God! Think of--

(1) Their number. Look at the heavens. Though infidelity has mocked at the idea of comparing them to the sands of the sea-shore, the discoveries of astronomy have proved it to be a fact. Look on the face of the world, how many inhabitants are there, visible and invisible!

(2) Their diversity! How large are some, and how minute are others! Take up the microscope and the telescope. What vastness in the sun! what smallness in the mite! And yet there are creatures less than these, and all of them have their peculiar qualities, tribes, families, birth, breeding, education, government. Only observe the commonwealth of the ants and the queendom of the bees!

(3) Their support. They are all provided for. There is sufficient for all and for all seasons.

(4) Their structure. Take only one of the vegetable tribes; how miraculous its growth, how simple its form, and yet how beautiful! “Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” What man contrives man may comprehend; whereas in the works of God we find that we are in the region of infinity.

2. The field of providence. Here all is wonderful! Nothing comes by chance.

(1) What an astonishing series of events are displayed in the history of one single country! What mighty movements proceed from causes almost imperceptible!

(2) The history of every individual is equally wonderful.

3. The field of grace. How wonderful is the work of redemption and its application to the soul! How wonderful the history of the believer from conversion to glorification! Angels desire to understand these things, and the more they discern the more they are surprised, and at each discovery they sing new songs, “Great and marvellous are all Thy works, Lord God Almighty.”

The way in which the subject was announced. “We do hear them speak,” said the audience, diversified as it was, “in our tongues.” It is the duty of ministers to tell the people in their own tongue the wonderful works of God. “The poor have the gospel preached unto them,” said Christ. “The common people heard Christ gladly,” says the evangelist. What are philosophical expressions and learned disquisitions to these? I fear we may apply what the apostle says of speaking in an unknown tongue to many of them. Ministers should use “great plainness of speech.” But this speaking to men of various languages is--

1. Nothing less than a real miracle. Two things are essential to a miracle.

(1) There must be something addressed to the sense as well as to the reason. These are called “signs,” and it would be wonderful if signs could not be seen.

(2) It must be above all known second causes. God only could have stored the minds of these men with such a multitude of merely arbitrary signs, and have given them power and ability to utter such a variety of distinct sounds.

2. The truth of it is evident also. It was undeniable.

(1) These men were well known.

(2) Their judges were competent to detect imposture.

(3) They did not go to a distance to tell their tale; they began amongst their enemies.

(4) The time was when large multitudes were present.

(5) Mark their boldness; they charged the Jews around them with the murder of an innocent young man.

(6) Note the result.

3. This miracle was expressly predicted. Christ said, “They shall speak with new tongues.”

4. This miracle was necessary for the accomplishment of their world-wide mission.

5. This gift of tongues was continued for years.

6. The want of this gift in the work of evangelising the world must now be supplied by human learning. And we ought to be very thankful to God that His Word is translated into so many tongues.

How this subject was heard.

1. Some heard with wonder. So it is now. And this is not surprising; for the natural man discerns not the things of God. Christians are “men wondered at”; the men of the world wonder that you run not to the same excess of riot with themselves, not knowing that you have meat to eat which they know not of. And this is often attended with a good effect, for it induces them to examine, and truth always gains by investigation. But then, on the other hand, the wonder often dies away, and he who wondered comes within the number of those of whom it is said, “Behold, ye despisers, and wonder and perish!”

2. Some heard in mockery. And so it is now. That which devils believe, and the belief of which makes them tremble, furnishes such men with matter for mirth.

(1) Some of these mockers were Once professors; the apostate is seldom found neuter.

(2) Some mock from the affectation of greatness. These things may be well enough for the common people, but will not do for men of taste.

(3) Some mock from the affectation of wisdom. “What will this babbler say?” “We preach Christ crucified, to the Greeks foolishness.”

(4) Some mock from ignorance. They mock at what they do not understand, at what they never read. Many are afraid to hear or to read the truth lest it should destroy their peace.

(5) Some cannot deny certain facts which are before them; but then they show their malignity by accounting for them. They ascribe the zeal of the Christian to disappointed love--to ambition--to a sanguine complexion--to a heated imagination--to enthusiasm, etc. So here, the multitude ascribed the phenomena to drunkenness.

3. Some heard and believed. (W. Jay.)

Verses 12-13

Acts 2:12-13

And they were all amazed.


Whit Sunday, or what our Churches need


Three things immediately preceding the outpouring of the Spirit--things which if not the direct cause of a revival, always herald it--the shadows cast by the coming blessing.

1. A complete congregation. “They were all in one place.” No absentees. This betokened earnestness, for it was in fact an early Sunday morning prayer-meeting with every one present. Always before a great blessing there will be a revived interest in sanctuary services. The half truth, “I can worship God as well at home” (which is a lie when the man is able to come to the sanctuary and does not) will not be heard. Indifference to public worship is a fatal sign. Things that would never be permitted to interfere with business or pleasure are reckoned sufficient to warrant “staying at home to-day.” You found eleven o’clock this morning too early to come to worship, but I will guarantee you catch the eight o’clock excursion train to-morrow morning.

2. A congregation one in desire and motive; “With one accord.” No two motives had drawn them. They came to receive the promised blessing. Is not the want of this spirit of accord the weakness of the Churches of the present day? Unbelief is not the only thing that keeps Christ from doing many mighty works. It might with equal truth be said of many a Church: “He did not many mighty works there because of their squabbling, petty, selfish spirit.” There are men who will be nothing unless they are everything, and will without compunction sacrifice a whole Church’s prosperity upon the wretched little altar of their own unsanctified ambition. Instead of all being baptized into one spirit, it looks more as if every one had been baptized into a different spirit and every spirit an evil one. But when all differences become drowned in one overwhelming passion of saving souls, then let the Church lift up her head, for the day of her revival draweth nigh.

3. A congregation steeped in the spirit of prayer. They had a ten days’ prayer-meeting. Do you wonder they had a Whit Sunday? I should have wondered if they had not. The general prayerlessness of the Church is simply deplorable. Here and there the hundreds come to prayer. But take the general run of prayer-meetings. It is not an uncommon thing for Churches to have to give them up because so few come. Whilst all this is so it is of no use talking about having a revival.

The blessing itself.

1. It came at an appointed time. “When the day of Pentecost was fully come.” God has a time for everything. The disciples doubtless expected the blessing sooner. They had to learn that there is a sovereignty in revivals. Man has no power to command one. He can but cry and wait. Over one Church a cloud of blessing hangs, continually letting fall showers of refreshment. Beneath its influence all is verdant, fresh and lovely. But yonder is another Church the very contrast to this. The heavens above it seem as brass. The piety of its members seems to lack freshness and their leaf withers. Converts are almost unknown. Let not those Churches that have the blessing despise those that lack it. The only difference is that the time to favour them “has come and the time to favour the others shall come.”

2. It came suddenly and in a moment. Revivals’ very often do. With man’s work the process as well as the result is visible. Is a temple to be built, the plans are exhibited, the foundations dug out, the scaffolding reared, and for months the chipping of the chisel and the clicking of the trowel are heard. God can build His temple in a night, and like Solomon’s, no sound of tool be heard. At any moment, without any previous warning, the revival may come.

3. It spread far and wide. From the upper room it soon flew along the streets of Jerusalem like an electric current. There is no telling where the influence of a revival in a Church may spread. It creeps into homes shut against the tract distributor. It glides into darkest places of vice. A revived Church will be certain to draw the multitude together. This is the secret of getting at the masses.

The question of our text. “What meaneth this?” Why, it means--

1. That Christ is ascended, and has received gifts for men. An ascended, glorified Christ warrants the Church in expecting any measure of blessing, any number of conversions. “What meaneth this”?

2. That all instrumentality is nothing without the Holy Ghost, but that the meanest instrumentality with the Spirit is mighty enough to accomplish anything. Alas, what an amount of powerless machinery we have in the so-called “religious world,” because it has no unction, because it is the work of man, not the working of God through the man, because it is dry and official. Instrumentality is almost worshipped, whilst the Holy Ghost is well-nigh ignored.

3. That God is pleased to work on the world through the Church. Far be it from us to call in question the good that has been accomplished by many of our “societies,” but we believe that half of them could be spared with ease did a greater unction but rest upon the Church.

4. That these are the seasons God’s Church is to seek at His hands. I will close with an illustration. Once upon the sea-shore, watching the “getting off” of a fishing smack, I saw in it a union of work and dependence that charmed me. The fishermen brought the craft clown the beach as far as they could and then left her awhile until the tide, which was flowing, neared her. Meantime two anchors had been cast out to sea, from which were ropes to a windlass in the centre of the vessel. Soon the surf (for the sea was fresh) began to run round her as she lay a dead weight upon the shore. Then the waves began to curl over and break upon her side. The men at the windlass took a turn and made the rope fast. And now every moment the tide had more power over her. She was never still. Twenty times did I say “now she is off”; and twenty times did she settle down again upon the shore, and twenty times did the men at the windlass put on the strain. At last one wave swept higher than any before; she shook--rose--glided down towards the deep--the men turning the handle of the windlass quickly as possible. A wave she met threatened to sweep her back upon the shore, but the anchors held her, and right through the surf the men wound her, and half an hour after she was flying away before the breeze, a very contrast to the dead weight she looked upon the beach. That vessel is the Church. The Holy Ghost is the tide. The ropes and the windlass are human agencies only to be used in dependence on the tide. The tide is coming in. The Church feels its power. She moves--she rises. Oh God send the billow that shall float her now, and send her careering on her course, with the breeze of the Spirit. (A. G. Brown.)

The multitude in amazement

A multitude gathered from all parts of the world.

A multitude gathered for religious purposes. They had come to the feast of Pentecost.

A multitude astonished by a miracle. The subject was one, the languages many. So--

1. In the gospel we have proof that by the foolishness of preaching God confounds the wisdom of the world.

2. Note the wonderful adaptation of the gospel to the entire world. It appeals to all natures and dispositions, and equally meets the wants of all.

A multitude variously affected. All were amazed. Some inquired, some mocked. Some said (probably the devout men mentioned in Acts 2:5), “What meaneth this?” This language betokened a desire to learn. Others (Acts 2:13) said, “They are full of new wine”; regarding the religion of Jesus Christ as fanaticism. How does the gospel affect us? (F. Wagstaff.)

A miracle the object of derision

Of all the expressions of our distaste, a scoff is the worst. Admonition may be physic, a reproof balm, a blow ointment; but derision is as poison and a sword. It was the height of Job’s complaint that persons made jests on him; and it was the depth of Samson’s calamity (Judges 16:25). That which raises our anger presents some magnitude to our eyes; but that which we scorn is less than nothing. But now everything is not always as it appears, especially to the eye of the scoffer; for here we see things of excellency may be submitted to jests. Note


the object of their derision. A. miracle. In every miracle there is “the thing done,” which must transcend the course of nature, and “the end,” which is also supernatural. In respect of the power of God there is no miracle; but in His goodness He was pleased to work wonders, not for show, but for our instruction. And as He had borne witness to His Son by miracles, so doth He here to the Holy Ghost. This was the end of this miraculous operation.

The persons.

1. What entertainment finds the miracle? What welcome hath the Holy Ghost? No other than what befals all extraordinary events. Every man lays hold of it and shapes it in such a form as he may please. To some it is a matter of wonder; to others, of mirth.

2. We should account it a strange stupidity in any one not to be more affected at the sight of the sun than of a taper, and to esteem the great palace of heaven but as a furnace. But when God stretcheth forth His hands to produce effects which follow not the force of secondary causes, then, not to put-on wonder, not to conclude that it is for some great end, is not folly, but infidelity, the daughter of malice and envy and affected ignorance.

3. Miracles are signs; and if they signify nothing it is evident that a stubborn heart and froward mind will not understand the meaning of them. And then what are miracles but trifles, matter of scoff and derision? “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God by miracles” (verse 22), a juggler; a voice from heaven, but “thunder”; to make the blind to see, etc., witchcraft; to be full of the Spirit, “to be full of drink.” When Julian had read a Defence of Christianity, he remarked, “I have read, understood, and condemned it.” To which St. Basil replied, “Had you understood it, you would never have condemned it.” The same befalls men prepossessed and too far engaged in the world, and the father’s reply will reach home to them.

4. To this day our behaviour is little better than mocking. Our lust, which waits for the twilight, mocks at God’s Omniscience (Psalms 73:11); our distrust argues against His power (Psalms 78:20; 2 Kings 8:2); our impatience questions His truth; and those who acknowledge Him to be the Giver of life, have confined His goodness to a few. His mercy “triumpheth over” His justice; yet Novatian made every fall as low as hell: and what is despair but a mocking of God’s mercy?

5. The ground of all is infidelity, the proper issue of obstinate and wilful ignorance. Plato well observeth, that none can taste and judge of that sweetness which truth affords but the philosopher, because they want that instrument of judgment which he useth; and that cannot be applied by covetousness, ambition, and lust; “the philosopher’s instrument is reason.” So in Divine mysteries and miracles, we cannot reach the meaning of them without a humble, pure, and free spirit, the best instrument of a Christian.

6. Indeed, reason might have taught these men that this was a miracle. For rude and illiterate men to speak on a sudden all languages, was more than all the linguists in the world could teach. And from no other principle arose the question of verse 12. But, to “read the riddle, we must plough with another heifer” than reason (Judges 14:18). To dive into the sense of the miracle can proceed from no other Spirit than that whose miracle it was, even Him wire enlightens them that sit in darkness, and who makes the humble and docile soul both His school and His scholar. Reason is a light, but obnoxious to fogs and mists, till this great light dispel and scatter them. Julian was a man as well furnished as any; yet he wounded religion more with his scoffs than with his sword. When he had received his death’s wound, he confessed it came from the power of Christ, in a phrase of scorn, “The day is Thine, O Galilean!” Indeed the greatest scoffers have been for the most part eminent in natural abilities, whose reason, notwithstanding, could not show them their own fluctuations, the storms and tempest of their souls, she being eclipsed with her own beams.

The scoff itself.

1. It was not only a scoff, but an accusation, and there be divers reasons which make men accusers, ambition, hatred, hope of reward. Ecumenius tells us it was here that perverseness which indifferently passeth censure upon any cause, or “no cause at all.” And this is bred by opinion, and not by truth. If they understood not what the apostles spake, how could they say they were drunk? and if they did understand, why did they scoff? They were men settled in the very dregs of error and malice; and, having taken up an opinion, they would not let it go, no not at the sight of a miracle.

2. But yet though there were no reason nor probability to justify their scoff, some show there was to countenance it. The apostles, after this gift of tongues, talked much: they were full indeed with the wine of the New Testament; and, as drunken men, they were merry and cheerful; they publish secrets, they fear no face, regard no power, regard not themselves.

3. This hath always been, and to this day is, the great error of the world--to make shadows substances, similitudes indentities, the faintest representations truth (1 Samuel 1:13-14; 2 Samuel 6:20; Mark 3:21). Upon this ground faith is called “presumption” because it is like it; Christianity is called “madness”; for when we mortify the flesh, and estrange ourselves from the world, most that behold us think us not well in our wits. At this day true devotion goes for fancy, reverence for superstition, bowing for idolatry. Our Saviour’s counsel is, “Judge not according to the appearance” (John 7:24). For how easy is it to paint and present things as we please! Many times an evil eye makes an evil face, puts horror upon religion itself, and, where devotion shines out in the full beauty of holiness, draws a Pope or a devil. As “‘charity covers a multitude of sins” (James 5:20), so doth malice cover a multitude of virtues with the black mantle of vice. (A. Farindon, D. D.)

What meaneth this? (text and verse 37).--

Two great questions

These questions are the outcome of two widely different but intimately associated states of experience--the one intellectual, the other moral. The first is an inquiry of the mind in the face of a problem which unassisted it cannot solve; the second is an inquisition of the soul in the presence of a danger from which unaided it cannot flee. An extraordinary event had taken place at which the perplexed beholders exclaimed “What meaneth this?” When the reply came it was found to involve such tremendous issues that they cried in despair “What shall we do?”

What meaneth this? The inquiry was--

1. Natural. The mind instinctively rebels against the unexplained. It was made for and is fed by knowledge. Just as the animal instincts are urged by thirst and hunger to search for food and drink, so the intellect is stimulated by a sense of void to inquire for the knowledge that will fill and satisfy it. These men were confronted by a mysterious fact, and were “troubled in mind” until it was accounted for.

2. Right. The liberty to inquire is one of the inalienable, inborn, and crown rights of humanity. That it may exercise this function, God has endowed it with the requisite faculties. The hunger of the mind for knowledge is a stamp of its Divine original, and a prophecy of its immortality. Inquiry makes all the difference between savagedom and civilisation, between weakness and strength. The feeble and superstitious shun it, and perish in darkness; the strong and wise welcome it and are rewarded by the light. We must carefully distinguish, however--

(1) between aimless inquiry, i.e., curiosity, and the search for true wisdom, and

(2) between legitimate and illegitimate inquiry. “The secret things belong unto God.” The present inquiry was in many respects legitimate and commendable.

3. Was addressed to the wrong persons with unsatisfactory results. Twice, we are told, they questioned one to another. They were prevented by a too hasty generalisation and by prejudice from asking those on whom these wonders were wrought what they meant.

(1) It was enough for “strangers” to know that they were “Galileans,” a name which embodied all that was ignorant and vile.

(2) The “dwellers at Jerusalem” would recognise them as the fanatical followers of one who was set down as “a man gluttonous and winebibber.” These manifestations, therefore, were treated as the ravings of men excited with enthusiasm or with drink. But Galileans as they were, drunk or mad as they considered, there was the phenomenon. They could not account for it, but they felt it must be accounted for. And instead of asking those from whom only a reply could be obtained, they engaged in a fruitless inquiry among themselves. How like modern scepticism!

4. Suggests an important line of argument in favour of Christianity. There are certain facts equally inexplicable to the human mind to-day. We do not see cloven tongues, etc., but we are witnesses of events even more wonderful.

(1) The conversion of infidels. Lord Lyttleton, Gilbert West, and some within personal knowledge.

(2) The conversion of men immoral and profane. Bunyan and John Newton, etc.

(3) The conversion of men of merely moral habits. John Wesley and William Wilberforce. Each case forces the question upon us. They are not isolated but common occurrences. How are they to be accounted for? On the score of weakness, wrought upon by terror or excitement, or on the score of ignorance? The known character of these men forbid these explanations. These wonders should set us inquiring, and the inquiry is as natural and proper in the one case as in the other, and furthermore by inquiring matters will be disclosed that seriously concern us all.

What shall we do? Although not invited Peter undertook to reply to the first question. The general explanation was verses 14-21; the particular application verses 22-36. So with the modern facts adduced. Does this explanation satisfy? Is this explanation taken home? Then both will now as of old lead to the second question. This inquiry--

1. Expressed a sense of utter helplessness. “What shall we do?” These men were convinced of the crime and mistake of a whole life, and of the human impossibility of rectification.

2. Was to the point, “What shall we do?” Not like the other question theoretical, but practical. They felt that they were in an unsatisfactory state, and that something must be done. What?

3. Was, like the first inquiry, answered.

(1) Repent. Change your mind, forsake your sins.

(2) Be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus; implying faith, union with the Church and public profession. Conclusion: Both inquiries were at length crowned with blessed results. Three thousand received forgiveness for the past, comfort for the present, hope for the future (verses 38-47). (J. W. Burn.)

Verses 14-40

Acts 2:14-40

But Peter standing up with the eleven.

The scene

Never was such an audience assembled as that before which this poor fisherman appeared: men of different nations, rapidly and earnestly speaking in their different tongues; one in Hebrew, mocking and saying, “These men are full of new wine”; another inquiring in Latin; another disputing in Greek; another wondering in Arabic; and an endless Babel beside expressing every variety of surprise, doubt, and curiosity. Amid such a scene the fisherman stands up; his voice strikes across the hum which prevails all down the street. He has no tongue of silver; for they say, “He is an unlearned and ignorant man.” The rudeness of his Galilean speech still remains with him; yet, though “unlearned and ignorant” in their sense--as to polite learning--in a higher sense he was a scribe well instructed. On whatever other points the learned of Jerusalem might have found Peter at fault, in the sacred writings he was more thoroughly furnished than they; for though Christ took His apostles from among the poor, He left us no example for those who have not well learned the Bible, to attempt to teach it. Yet Peter had no tongue of silver, or of honey, no soothing, flattering speech, to allay the prejudices and to captivate the passions of the multitude. Nor had he a tongue of thunder; no outbursts of native eloquence distinguished his discourse. Indeed, some, if they had heard that discourse from ordinary lips, would not have hesitated to pronounce it dry--some of a class, too numerous, who do not like preachers who put them to the trouble of thinking, but enjoy only those who regale their fancy, or move their feelings, without requiring any labour of thought. Peter’s sermon is no more than quoting passages from the Word of God, and reasoning upon them; yet, as in this strain he proceeds, the tongue of fire by degrees burns its way to the feelings of the multitude. The murmur gradually subsides; the mob becomes a congregation; the voice of the fisherman sweeps from end to end of that multitude, unbroken by a single sound; and, as the words rush on, they act like a stream of fire. Now, one coating of prejudice which covered the feelings is burned, and rends away: now, another and another: now the fire touches the inmost covering of prejudice, which lay close upon the heart, and it too gives way. Now, it touches the quick, and burns the very soul of the man! Presently, you might think that in that throng there was but one mind, that of the preacher, which had multiplied itself, had possessed itself of thousands of hearts, and thousands of frames, and was pouring its own thoughts through them all. At length, shame, and tears, and sobs overspread that whole assembly. Here, a head bows; there, starts a groan; yonder, rises a deep sigh; here, tears are falling; and some stern old Jew, who will neither bow nor weep, trembles with the effort to keep himself still. At length, from the depth of the crowd, the voice of the preacher is crossed by a cry, as if one was “mourning for his only son”; and it is answered by a cry, as if one was in “bitterness for his first-born.” At this cry the whole multitude is carried away, and, forgetful of everything but the overwhelming feeling of the moment, they exclaim, “Men and brethren, what must we do?” (W. Arthur, M. A.)

St. Peter’s first sermon

Here we have the report of a sermon preached within a few days of Christ’s ascension, addressed to men many of whom knew Jesus Christ, all of whom had heard of His work, His life, and His death, and setting forth the apostolic estimate of Christ, His miracles, His teaching, His ascended condition and glory. We cannot realise, unless by an intellectual effort, the special worth of these apostolic reports contained in the Acts. Men are sometimes sceptical about them asking, How did we get them at all? how were they handed down? This is, however, an easier question to answer than some think. If we take, for instance, this Pentecostal address alone, we know that St. Luke had many opportunities of personal communication with St. Peter. But there is another solution. The ancients made a great use of shorthand, and were quite well accustomed to take down spoken discourses, transmitting them thus to future ages.

The congregation assembled to listen to this first gospel discourse preached by a human agent was a notable and representative one. They were all Jews or Jewish proselytes, showing how extremely wide, at the epoch of the Incarnation, was the dispersion of God’s ancient people. The Divine seed fell upon no unploughed and unroken soil. Pure and noble ideas of worship and morality had been scattered broadcast throughout the world. Some years ago the judgment of Solomon was found depicted on the ceiling of a Pompeian house, witnessing to the spread of Scriptural knowledge through Jewish artists in the time of Tiberius and of Nero A race of missionaries, too, equipped for their work, was developed through the discipline of exile. The thousands who hung upon Peter’s lips needed nothing but instruction in the faith of Jesus Christ, together with the baptism of the Spirit, and the finest, the most enthusiastic, and the most cosmopolitan of agencies lay ready to the Church’s hand. While, again, the organisation of synagogues, which the exigencies of the dispersion had called into existence, was just the one suited to the various purposes of charity, worship, and teaching, which the Christian Church required.

The brave, outspoken tone of this sermon evidences the power and influence of the Holy Spirit upon St. Peter’s mind. Chrysostom notes the courageous tone of this address as a clear evidence of the truth of the resurrection.

Again, the tone of St. Peter’s sermon was remarkable because of its enlarged and enlightened spirituality. It proved the Spirit’s power in illuminating the human consciousness. St. Peter was rapidly gaining a true conception of the nature of the kingdom of God. He enunciates that conception in this sermon. He proclaims Christianity, in its catholic and universal aspect, when he quotes Joel as predicting the time when the Lord would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh.

Let us look somewhat farther into the matter of this earliest Christian sermon, that we may learn the apostolic view of the Christian scheme. What was the conception of Christ’s life, work, and ascended state, which St. Peter presented to the astonished multitude? We must not expect, indeed, to find in this sermon a formulated and scientific system of Christian doctrine. St. Peter was as yet far too near the great events he declared, far too close to the superhuman personality of Christ, to coordinate his ideas and arrange his views. Yet his discourse contains all the great principles of catholic Christianity as opposed to that low view which would represent the earliest Christians as preaching the purely humanitarian scheme of modern unitarianism. St. Peter taught boldly the miraculous element of Christ’s life, describing Him as “a man approved of God by mighty works,” etc. Yet he did not dwell as much as we might have expected upon the miraculous side of Christ’s ministry. And that for a very simple reason. The inhabitants of the East were so accustomed to the practices of magic that they simply classed the Christian missionaries with magicians. The apostles had, however, a more powerful argument in reserve. They preached a spiritual religion, a present peace with God, a present forgiveness of sins; they pointed forward to a future life of which even here below believers possess the earnest and pledge.

Again, the sermon shows the method of interpreting the psalms and prophets popular among the pious Jews of St. Peter’s time. St. Peter’s method of interpretation is identical with that of our Lord, of St. Paul, and of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. He beholds in the Psalms hints and types of the profoundest doctrines of the Creed. He finds in the sixteenth Psalm a prophecy of the intermediate state of souls and of the resurrection of our Lord. (G. T. Stokes, D. D.)

St. Peter to the multitude

1. We are struck first with the calmness and concentrated force of this address. How difficult the task which St. Peter undertook! He had to speak on the spur of the moment, and to a crowd excited as only an Eastern crowd can be. It is not easy for the most practised orator to catch the ear, and hold the attention of a confused and hostile crowd. Shakespeare means us to recognise consummate skill in Mark Antony’s handling of the Roman citizens at Caesar’s funeral; but he used flattering words, and he spoke in order to rouse the people against the assassins of Caesar, not against themselves. St. Peter had to address the crowd on a theme which could not be welcome, and to stir them to self-condemnation. Yet we see no trace of hesitation or embarrassment. The speech was as well conceived and compacted as if it had been premeditated for weeks. It soothed the tumult of unfriendly excitement, and stirred a tumult of convicted conscience.

2. An opening for the address was made by the rude jeering of some as to the source of that ardour which glowed in the faces and uttered itself in the words of the brethren. This charge was easily disposed of. It was a fair specimen of the capacity of carnal men to judge spiritual.

(1) But St. Peter brushed it away with a sentence. It was enough that it was but the third hour of the day. What Jew would have drunk wine at all on such a morning, and before the morning sacrifice i And even if one or two could be so lost to shame, how absurd to accuse one hundred and twenty! Even the heathen reckoned it disreputable to drink strong wines in the morning. Cicero tells us indeed that the revelry at Antony’s villa began at nine o’clock; but this was regarded as the foolish excess of debauchees.

(2) But the complete refutation of it was the whole tone and tenor of the address, which was calm and well considered to a marvel. It showed that he and his companions were certainly “not filled with wine, wherein is excess.” They were “filled with the Spirit.” The apostle gave this as the true explanation, and proceeded at once to illustrate and support it by a felicitous quotation from one of the ancient prophets. He knew that in order to convince it was necessary to proceed on the common ground of Scripture. No one in that multitude, however prejudiced or impatient, could object to the citation from Joel. What St. Peter taught was the beginning of a fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy. It was the sign of a new era; the inauguration of a time, the length of which no man could define, but ending with a “great and terrible day of the Lord.” Such was the exordium of St. Peter’s speech. We can see the mockers silenced, some of them, let us hope, ashamed. The crowd ceased to sway and shout, listening to the calm, clear, strong statement which carried with it such a ring of certainty.

3. Then the speaker, pursuing his advantage, addressed himself to the main theme. The Spirit had come upon them, that they might preach Christ with power. The apostles never dragged in their great theme abruptly or awkwardly. Here St. Peter found a starting-point for preaching Jesus in the concluding words of the passage he had cited from Joel, “Whosoever should call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Who was the Lord, whose “great and notable day” should terminate the dispensation of the Spirit? St. Peter and his colleagues were prepared to say and prove that it was Jesus. And then for the first time the sin of the crucifixion was charged on the conscience of the Jews, the fulness of the gospel made known. Not a few of those present had joined in the cry, “Crucify Him!” That had not been, however, spontaneous; but had been stirred up by the rulers. And now that hot blood had cooled there must have been sore misgivings, which the apostle soon deepened. He reminded his hearers of “the mighty works and wonders and signs” by which God had accredited His prophet. He appealed to their own knowledge of those things; and their silence intimated that they could not dispute the fact.

4. Having gained the point, St. Peter proceeded to show who the prophet Jesus was--

(1) By reference to His crucifixion. Was this fatal to a claim of Messiahship? Peter would once have said so; but now he stood there prepared to show that it formed an essential part of the proof that He was indeed the Christ. It was God’s purpose, and was predicted in the ancient oracles. Jewish teachers had turned away from a suffering to an exclusively glorious Messiah. But none the less was He so predicted, and none the less was the fulfilment secured by God’s “determinate counsel.” Therefore was Jesus delivered into the hands of those who hated Him, who crucified Him by the hand of “men without the law”--the Roman soldiers. But it was really on the Jews and their children that the blood of the Just One lay--“Ye did crucify and slay.”

(2) Then, in a breath, the speaker announced a fact which gave a new turn to the whole history in the resurrection of the Crucified One. “Whom God raised up,” etc. This, indeed, had been announced immediately after; but a counter story had been set afloat that the body had been stolen. These conflicting rumours had left the whole matter in a haze of doubt. But, before adducing witnesses, St. Peter referred again to the Old Testament. With a fine skill which the Holy Ghost had taught him, he prepared the Jews for receiving evidence, by showing that it was far from incredible, since it had been clearly foretold in one of the prophetic Psalms. Of course this did not prove that Jesus was that Christ. But, if it could be proved that Jesus had risen, His fulfilment of this oracle would go far to place it beyond doubt that He was the Messiah. And then the proof was adduced. Pointing to the Christian company, St. Peter said boldly, “This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we all are witnesses.” How could any fact of the kind have better attestation?

(3) The argument had to be carried one step further; and the speaker, not knowing how long the crowd might continue to listen, proceeded at once to say that the risen Jesus was exalted by the right hand of God. On this point, too, St. Peter found support in the Old Testament--“Jehovah said to Adonai” (Psalms 110:1-7.). Every one knew who was meant by Jehovah: but who was Adonai? David could not have meant himself, for he was not his own Lord; far less could he have given such a title to any of the kings of the earth. The Spirit had inspired him to sing thus of the Lord Christ, and the proof of His ascension was before the eyes of the multitude. On the followers of Jesus, and on them only, had descended the new energy from heaven.

5. Thus the proof was completed at every point. There was no declamation but compact statement and close reasoning, leading up to the conclusion that God had made the crucified Jesus both Lord and Christ. And now the Christians beheld the crowd no longer mocking, but subdued, ashamed, conscience-stricken. Pricked in their hearts, many cried out, “What shall we do?” A welcome interruption! It showed St. Peter that he had struck the right chord, and that the Holy Spirit was speaking through him to the people. It enabled him to follow up his address with a very pointed application, and a very earnest appeal. They could not undo their own act, but God had done that already. This, however, they might and should do without delay:

(1) “Repent.”--It was not enough to be pricked in heart. Repentance is more than vexation with one’s self, or even poignant sorrow. The apostle bade them reconsider the whole matter, and so change their minds regarding the Nazarene, and consequently their attitude.

(2) “And be baptised every one of you unto the remission of sins.”--This implied that they should believe, and confess their faith-for faith is always allied with repentance unto life, and is the instrument of forgiveness. Those who sincerely repented of their rejection of Jesus, must now believe in Him as the Christ; and in token thereof were called to join the company of His followers by openly receiving that baptism, which Christ had authorised them to administer. The consequence of this would be, that they would obtain not only pardon, but the Holy Ghost; for the promise was to their nation first, though also, God be praised, to the Gentiles--“as many as the Lord our God shall call.”

6. Such was the speech of St. Peter; and the result was glorious. The fisher of men let down a good net into the deep, and caught a great draught--drew to the shore of faith and peace three thousand souls. He wrought no miracle to astonish and impress them. It was better that no sign or prodigy performed by the apostles should interfere with the direct and solemn application of truth to the conscience. He performed no ceremony. The notion of a Christianity that trusts to ceremonial and celebration was quite foreign to the apostolic conception. The speaker prevailed by the word of his testimony. The three thousand felt the power of the truth and yielded to it--the Spirit of the Lord disposing and enabling them so to do. Thus they repented, believed, were baptized, were pardoned, were quickened to newness of life.

7. In one day! It was the typical and significant day of our dispensation, a day which should be expected to repeat itself. True, there cannot be a second descent of the Holy Spirit, any more than there can be a second incarnation of the Son. But the Church should ask and look for a continuance of the mighty working of the Holy Ghost, and so for conversions by thousands. The Church wants no other means of increase than those by which it was founded--

(1) the fire of the Holy Ghost, and

(2) the testimony of anointed witnesses in sound speech that cannot be gainsaid, testifying to Jesus, the Saviour, that He is the Christ of Israel, and the Lord of all. (D. Fraser, D. D.)

The first apostolic appeal to the multitude

The wondering, the questioning, and the mockery compelled the apostles to explain. So have young Christians often been constrained by what they saw or knew to attempt work for which they had little inclination. In making this appeal the apostles--

Had a leader. All had been speaking with tongues, and when that sign had answered its first purpose it was necessary for one to appeal to the intelligence of all. Peter now “stood up.”

1. A man of confidence and quick decision. What a change since his denial.

2. A man who could command attention. For this end he “lifted up his voice.” Having to plead for Christ and truth, he gladly used his best powers.

3. A man of knowledge; “be it known unto you.” Some were guessing and misinterpreting, and honesty demanded a hearing for one who said he had certain knowledge.

4. A man of words. “Hearken to my words.” He proceeded to prove what he had boldly affirmed. In this he is an example. He gave the sense of Scripture, and did his work with sobriety and earnestness, and without reflections on the spirit of the crowd.

Had to rebut error. There were misconceptions which had to be removed, and in doing this Peter did not mock the mockers, or show irritation. He calmly and kindly rooted out error that truth might take its place. Note that--

1. Peter denied the false charge of drunkenness, but not as a malicious calumny, but as the actual opinion of intelligent men. “As ye suppose.” In this way we may introduce an argument against the false doctrines of the day. But denial was not enough, so--

2. He gave a clear reason--the hour was too early and too sacred for intoxication. Religious controversy ought to be based on undeniable facts. Yet this was not enough, so Peter--

3. Interpreted the facts which the mockers had misinterpreted. It was the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy. Would that all preachers would meet the demand for facts by the positive truth of the Word of God.

Realised that there is given to believers what men’s natural suppositions misrepresent. It was natural for men to think that they could explain the strange signs; but the error was brought home in due time. How many to-day are like this multitude. They observe the profession and zeal of Christians, and hear about their experiences, but put it all down to superstition, weakness, or delusion. (W. Hudson.)

Preaching on the day of Pentecost

The restoration of Peter was fully recognised by his brethren. They felt bound to imitate Christ’s conduct. He knew what underlay the weakness of His servant, and having received him to favour, sent him forth with fresh power to feed the lambs, etc. Whom God receives, let no man refuse. A tempted Christian may fall, but if he repent, his fellow Christians should receive him back. Let us contemplate--

The circumstances in which Peter preached.

1. He preached upon the day of Pentecost. All the memories of God’s goodness in seedtime, summer, and autumn, were then occupying the minds of the Hebrews. And Peter rose to appropriately publish God’s glorious gospel of mercy.

2. His audience was peculiarly stimulating. Like Simeon they waited for the consolation of Israel. They had come from distant parts, and presented, in their diversified wants, a type of the world’s necessities. Following the law they found the gospel. The law was a schoolmaster that brought them to Christ. An appreciative assembly has a stimulating effect upon any orator; and this audience, composed of devout inquirers, anxious to learn the whole truth about Christ, was sufficient to give the eloquence of true earnestness of Peter’s preaching.

3. His position was that of spokesman for and defender of his brethren.

4. He preached under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Ghost and with a tongue of fire.

The sermon that Peter delivered. We cannot say it was a great sermon, in the modern sense. There is no profound and far-reaching grasp of Divine truth; no display of mental and spiritual genius; no soaring flight of imagination; none of those marvellous revelations which are given in Isaiah and Ezekiel; none of those mighty sentences, lightning-like in their flash, thunder-like in their sound, that rolled from the mouth of Cicero or Demosthenes; and certainly none of that loud-coloured grandiloquence, which is so much admired by a sensation-loving world. The preaching of Peter, or Paul, or Christ, is usually destitute of these artistic qualities, and yet conspicuously fitted to serve its heavenly purpose. The characteristics of Peter’s sermon are very distinct.

1. It was Scriptural. His subject was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He brings a text from Joel (Acts 2:28-32), to show that the Spirit was promised, and should have been expected in some such way as that in which He had actually come. The use which Peter makes of his proof-text is simple, yet skilful; displays good powers of reasoning, and above all, reveals a clear knowledge of the Scriptures; and the finishing stroke brings out, most happily, the grand design of God in His wonderful promise, and its more wonderful fulfilment--“That whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

2. Most faithful. The trumpet at his mouth gave no uncertain sound. He spake no smooth things, and minced no truth to suit fastidious tastes. Speaking, though he was, against the great men of his nation, and among an excited populace, who had a few weeks ago destroyed his Master, the earnest preacher was unconscious of timidity, and he did not hesitate to tell them plainly, that they had taken with wicked hands and crucified and slain the Lord’s anointed. Harsh words, no doubt; but words like the hammer that breaks the rocky heart. And the man who would preach the Word of God with true faithfulness to his fellow-sinners must be prepared at any risk to expose and condemn every sort of wickedness.

3. Evangelical. It contained very prominently the three R’s which Rowland Hill has made proverbial in our country

(1) Ruin by the fall. The apostle gave prominence to the ruinous effects of sin. Jerusalem sinners had committed an awful crime in killing the Son of God.

(2) Redemption through the death of Jesus.

(3) Regeneration through the power of the Holy Spirit. “Repent, and be baptized,” etc.

The success of Peter’s sermon. We find it very difficult to realise the impression produced. There is nothing like it in modern times. People assemble in great crowds to hear the best of preachers, and go away in a state of stolid indifference. From week to week the whole preaching of the Christian sabbath, in every village and town, passes over without the smallest degree of spiritual excitement. We surely need more of that earnest, heaven-reaching prayer, that will bring the Spirit of God, like a rushing mighty wind, to fill our house and every heart with spiritual animation. This was the prime result of Pentecostal preaching. Thousands of sleeping souls were awakened. We have heard of men sailing towards the rapids of Niagara, all unconscious of danger, until they felt their boat quiver in the struggling water, and stars away with alarming speed. In a moment they were filled with anxiety, and began to pull and cry with all their might for safety. So with Jerusalem sinners under the sermon of Pentecost. The whole crowd was shaking like fields of corn in the autumn wind, or tossing like troubled waves upon the stormy ocean. And with one loud cry that went ringing through the holy city, and up to the Holy God, they said, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Blessed question from a sinner’s heart! And the question must have gone with a grateful thrill to the preacher’s heart, as it surely went like a shout of triumph to the heart of Jesus on the throne. We have read somewhere of a Russian prince, coming in the course of hunting to a river’s side, where a few peasants had brought to the bank a person apparently drowned. The prince had previously been reading some directions which had been issued by a humane society, about the mode of restoring animation to people who have been rescued from under water. He leaped from his horse, stripped off his flowing robes, gave instructions to the peasants how to assist, and commenced the work of rubbing the cold limbs of the unfortunate man with all his might. The work was continued by the prince for a whole hour, without any appearance of success. At length the lifeless-looking bosom began to heave and give signs of animation. On seeing which, the prince looked up, with beaming countenance, and exclaimed: “This is the happiest moment of my life.” He had saved a man from death. Not less would it be a happy moment for the heart of Elisha, when he felt the flesh of the Shunamite’s child waxing warm, and saw him open his eyes in life and happiness. But we can believe it was even a happier moment for the apostle of Christ on the day of Pentecost, when the people cried, “What shall we do?” and so gave signs of being raised from spiritual death to Christian vitality. No time was lost in telling the inquirers their path of duty. “Look to Jesus and be saved.” (J. Thompson, A. M.)

A varied ministry blessed by the Holy Spirit

Mark the course of a river like the Thames; how it winds and twists according to its own sweet will. Yet there is a reason for every bend and curve: the geologist, studying the soil and marking the conformation of the rock, sees a reason why the river’s bed diverges to the right or to the left; and so, though the Spirit of God blesses one preacher more than another, and the reason cannot be such that any man could congratulate himself upon his own goodness, yet there are certain things about Christian ministers which God blesses, and certain other things which hinder success. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The first sermon

1. The gospel is not a system of doctrines, a code of laws, still less a fabric of fancies or theories: it is a record of facts. It is this characteristic which makes it--

(1) So satisfactory; we can plant the foot firmly upon it, for it is founded upon a rock.

(2) So universal: not the religion of a few philosophers, capable of arguing out deep truths or of rising to lofty mysteries, but the religion of a world, as suitable to the simple as to the learned.

2. And as the gospel rests upon fact, so also it prompts to action. No sooner is the persecutor of the Church struck to the earth by the bright light of the Divine presence than we hear him asking, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” And no sooner does the jailer at Philippi recognise in his prisoners the servants of the Most High God, than he asks the practical question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And no sooner does the astonished multitude hear from Peter’s lips the explanation of the marvellous sign which has gathered them to listen, than they exclaim, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” What they heard was a narrative of facts: what they understood by it was a summons to action. God grant to us also a spirit of faith in gospel fact, a spirit of readiness for gospel action!

3. St. Peter sets us the example of repeating a text for his sermon. The Bible then was the Old Testament. Out of it Christian teachers were able to plead for God and to prove the gospel. In our thankfulness for the New Testament we must never learn to despise the Old. St. Peter’s text was taken from Joel. That Book was probably composed 850 years before Christ. The prophets of the Old Testament were not instructed to reveal the long interval which should elapse between the two advents. The delay of the second coming was not even a revelation of the gospel. Each age was to expect it. The taunt, “Where is the promise of His coming?” was to have scope to operate, because no generation was to be made aware that the advent might not take place within its duration. And thus it is that Joel here speaks of the outpouring of the Spirit as a sign of the last days. The gospel age, however long it has continued or may continue, is the dispensation of the last times: after it comes none other, and itself is to be viewed as one whole, from the redemption which contained in itself not the promise only but the germ of all, until the coming of the very kingdom of heaven in power and great glory. “In the last days, saith God,” etc.

4. After this quotation the discourse addresses itself pointedly to the audience. “Ye men of Israel, hear these words. A Man, as you deemed Him, and as He was, has within these few weeks been put to death by you; the blood of that Man is at this moment upon your hands!” But was, then, that murder effectual? No; “God raised Him up because it was not possible that He should be holden of death.” Not possible, by reason of His Divine nature. Not possible, because the voice of inspired prophecy had declared the contrary (Psalms 16:1-11.). Could words like these have found their full accomplishment in their human author? The words which David thus spake, he spake as God’s prophet. For himself the words could only express that assurance of a life beyond death, the hope of the saints. But in relation to Christ the words have a fuller meaning. His soul was recalled from its brief sojourn in Hades, before it bad taken up its abode there as a recognised inmate. Of this revival from death we His apostles are the witnesses. Now, therefore, the events of this day become intelligible and natural. The risen Saviour hath fulfilled His promise. He promised to send--He hath sent--His Holy Spirit upon His disciples. And hereunto agree those other words of the Psalmist, “The Lord said unto my Lord,” etc. That prophecy, like the former, points, not to David, but to David’s Son; even to Him who is as truly the Lord of David in right of His Godhead, as He is the Son of David by reason of His manhood. “Therefore let every family of Israel know,” etc.

5. Such was the discourse, to which blessing was vouchsafed such as has been granted to no other. God works where and as and by whom He will; choosing oftentimes the weak things of the world to confound the mighty. We may read St. Peter’s words unmoved. But not so did they to whom he addressed himself. Compunction was the first fruit of his preaching. Conscience now awoke. The sign before them was a sign of power: how could this be, save by the hand of God? But beyond this, it was a sign foretold by Jesus. All things had come to pass, even as He had said to them. Yes, all is now clear and consistent, though the inference is one of shame and condemnation for themselves. “When they heard, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter,” etc. We will not answer the question now, rather let it press upon us as a question of deep moment for ourselves. Hearing of Christ caused--

Compunction. What they heard was extremely simple. It was nothing more than what we have all heard ten thousand times. The words of Zechariah were fulfilled, “They shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn.” They had pierced Him, and now the arrow of conviction pierced them.

1. I know not that any words of man could bring to our minds the same conviction of sin without the grace of God by His Holy Spirit. And yet we do read of such a crime as that of “crucifying the Son of God afresh, and putting Him to an open shame.” The Epistle to the Hebrews even says of such persons that “it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance.” God grant, therefore, that, in its worst form, that of actual apostasy, none of us may yet have committed it! But there are approaches to that crime. There are those who make very light of the purposes for which Christ died, who contradict and go against the very object of that death; that He might put away sin; that He might redeem us from all iniquity. Is there no one here who ever helped to undo Christ’s dying work in another person’s soul? who ever tempted another person to commit sin; either by ridiculing his scruples, or by making the way to sin known to him, or by suggesting to his mind sinful images, or raising in his mind sinful desires? That man, whoever he is, has done worse things than even the Jews who gave Jesus to be crucified. Nothing, however cruel, done to the body, can be so heinous as the least injury done to the soul. Alas! there are those now amongst us who have more cause to be “pricked in their heart” than ever had those men on the day of Pentecost.

2. And if not in this gravest sense, yet which of you has not cause to be sorrowful when he thinks of his Lord and his God? What is a day to you but one succession of slights done to your Saviour? How did it begin? Was not your morning prayer a poor, cold, reluctant service? And so the day went full of anything and everything rather than the thought and the love of Christ; full of the world, of vanity, of self. Then have not you, have not we all, cause to feel compunction, and to cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner”?

This compunction may well work in us anxiety; the conviction of sin the desire for direction. “What shall we do?” It is the want of this desire which make our meetings for worship too often cold and lifeless. What would preaching be, if it were in deed and in truth addressed to a number of human hearts, every one of which was inwardly asking, “What must I do? Preaching is a finger-post marking the traveller’s way, and saying to wayfaring men, “This is the way; walk ye in it!” Let us come together, Sunday by Sunday, in this spirit; crying, “What shall I do?” and doubt not but your cry will be heard: if man should fail you, God Himself will be your preacher; your inward ear shall hear the voice of His Spirit, warning, counselling, comforting, according to your need. (Dean Vaughan.)

A new style of religious ministry

Peter’s sermon is something strikingly fresh in the history of preaching. Moses, Joshua, the prophets, the Baptist, Christ had preached, but this preaching was in many respects a new thing in the earth.

1. The occasion was new--the spiritual excitement of the disciples, produced by Divine influence and leading to strange thoughts.

2. The substance was new. It was not a prophetic or a present, but an historic Christ who had risen from the grave to the throne of the universe. No one had ever preached Christ in this form before.

3. The impression of the sermon was new. In analysing the discourse we find--

A statement for refuting the charge of the scoffer.

1. The negative part includes three distinguishable points.

(1) A categorical denial: “These men are not drunken.” It is a libel.

(2) An intimation of the groundless-ness of the charge: “As ye suppose.” It was a mere empty assumption.

(3) A suggestion of high improbability: “Seeing it is but the third hour.”

2. The positive part asserts that the phenomenon was the effect of Divine inspiration: “It shall come to pass,” etc. The days of the Messiah are “the last days”; no other dispensation of mercy will succeed them. The passage teaches that these last days--

(1) Would be connected with an extraordinary effusion of the Spirit, not limited--

(a) To any class.

(b) To any sex.

(c) To any age.

(2) Would be connected with prodigious revolutions. The words “I will show wonders,” etc., may probably be regarded as a highly poetic representation of what would follow, in government and churches, the working out of Divine ideas and spiritual influences (Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 34:4).

(3) Would be succeeded by a notable day--probably the destruction of Jerusalem as a type of the Judgment.

(4) Would be connected with a possibility of salvation to all who seek it.

An argument for convicting the hearts of the hardened--an argument resolving itself into four facts.

1. That Jesus had wrought miracles among them while living.

2. That His crucifixion was only the working out of the Divine plan. So great is God that He can make His greatest enemies serve Him.

3. That His resurrection, which they could not deny, was a fact which accorded with their Scriptures. In this quotation from the Psalms Peter--

(1) Assumes that the document which he quotes will be admitted by them as of Divine authority.

(2) Takes for granted that the document refers to the resurrection of some one of distinguished excellence.

(3) Reasons that the resurrection of the distinguished one predicted could not be David.

(4) Concludes that the resurrection predicted must have referred to Christ.

An exhortation to the awakened. Peter directs them--

1. To the only blessings that could meet their case: Divine pardon and Divine influence.

2. To the course of conduct essential to the attainment of those blessings.

3. To the precious promise of heaven to encourage them in the course of conduct required. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Elements of power in Peter’s sermon

Adaptation to circumstances. There was a startling event; the sermon applied its lessons. It was spontaneous: Peter had no time to prepare a history or even notes.

A scriptural basis. The main points were proved by the Bible. Nature and experience are important, but do not carry conviction like the living Word.

Unsparing rebuke of sin. Their guilt was so pressed home that they were “pricked in their hearts.”

Christ at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end.

The presence of the Holy Ghost. (Homiletic Monthly.)

Peter’s impulsiveness useful because wisely directed

Turn water into a proper receptacle, and its power is well-nigh overwhelming. Turn fire into its proper channel, and it proves an unparalleled power. And these elements thus controlled and brought into their legitimate course, will prove a blessing to man, but left uncurbed, though still a power, it is destructive in its character. Even so it is with impulsiveness, if sanctified by God’s grace, and thus turned within the divinely appointed channel of redemption, it will prove a great blessing to an individual and those with whom he associates; but left uncurbed, it becomes a destructive power to happiness, peace, usefulness, and real success. (W. H. Blake.)

The power of the human voice

The true preacher has nothing to fear from any rival, for the human voice has no adequate substitute. Even a gospel written is not equal to a gospel spoken. The heart will not disdain any instrument of expression, but the instrument which it loves with all its love is the human voice--all instruments in one, and all inspired. (J. Parker.)

A sermon to prick the conscience

If a man is able to produce beautiful roses and delight his congregation with them Sunday after Sunday, by all means let him produce them: only let him take care to make his roses as God makes His--never a rose without a thorn, to prick the conscience of the hearer, and to spur him onward in his Divine life. Let the sermon please if possible; but, like Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, it ought to prick the consciences of men. (J. C. Jones.)

Plain preaching

In some churches the creed and commandments are painted so grand, in such fantastic characters, and with such perplexing convolutions, that a plain man cannot possibly make them out; and the truth is sometimes treated in the pulpit by the preacher as the painter has painted it--the language is so grand, and the rhetoric so gorgeous, that the people fail to realise the truth it may be supposed to embody.

Different styles of preaching

We are often told with great earnestness what is the best style for preaching; but the fact is, that what would be the very best style for one man would perhaps be the worst possible for another. In the most fervid declamation, the deepest principles may be stated and pressed home; in the calmest and most logical reasoning, powerful motives may be forced close upon the feelings; in discussing some general principle, precious portions of the text of Scripture may be elucidated; and in simple exposition, general principles may be effectively set forth. Let but the powers given to any man play with their full force, aided by all the stores of Divine knowledge which continuous acquisition from its fountain and its purest channels can obtain for him, and, the fire being present--the fire of the Spirit’s power and influence--spiritual effects will result. The discussion about style amounts very much to a discussion whether the rifle, the carbine, the pistol, or the cannon, is the best weapon. Each is best in its place. The great point is, that every one shall use the weapon best suited to him, that he charge it well, and see that it is in a condition to strike fire. The criticisms which we often hear amount to this: We admit that such-an-one is a good exhortational preacher, or a good doctrinal preacher, or a good practical preacher, or a good expository preacher; but because he has not the qualities of another--qualities, perhaps, the very opposite of his own--we think lightly of him. That is, we admit that the carbine is a good carbine; but because it is not a rifle, we condemn it; and because the rifle is not a cannon, we condemn it. (W. Arthur, M. A.)

Verses 17-21

Acts 2:17-21

And it shall come to pass in the last days.

The gospel age

Four things taught here determine the gospel age.

It is connected with an extraordinary effusion of the Divine Spirit, “I will pour out My Spirit.”

It is connected with prodigious revolutions, “I will show wonders,” etc.

It is connected with an ultimate crisis, “The notable day of the Lord.”

It is connected with the possibility of a universal salvation, “Whosoever,” etc. (Homilist.)

The pouring out of God’s Spirit

In this highly interesting chapter we find an account--

1. Of the Divine testimony borne to the truth of the gospel by the descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost.

2. Of the different effects which this event produced on the different characters who witnessed it. In the devout it excited amazement, which led them to make serious inquiry respecting what was occurring (verse 5-12). In the careless it excited contempt. But the wrath of man turned to the praise of God; for in the sequel we find an account.

3. Of Peter’s discourse in reply to those aspersions thus east on the works of God by His wicked opposers.

Some observations on these words. Here we may notice--

1. The blessing promised: God’s Spirit. “I will pour out of My Spirit, saith God.” By the Spirit here promised is meant both His miraculous and saving influence.

2. The manner of its dispensation; it will be poured out. This indicates the prerogative of God; that the influences of His Spirit are at His disposal. The pouring out of God’s Spirit also indicates the special properties of the blessing promised. For instance, that it will be gratuitous, abundant, perpetual.

3. The extent of its influence upon all flesh. By all flesh is meant the whole human race, however distinguished, by descent, by circumstances, or by sex.

4. The season of its communication--the last days. By the last days are certainly meant the days in which we now live.

5. The certainty of its effusion. It shall come to pass, saith God, in the last days, “I will pour out of My Spirit.” This event is certain--for it is predicted, and it will be fulfilled. It is promised, and will be performed.

Some application of them.

1. The strong claims which this subject has on our attention. It claims attention by the importance of the blessing which it exhibits.

2. The duties to which this subject urges us. It particularly urges us to apply for the saving influences of God’s Spirit, as He requires us in His Word. By repentance (Acts 2:38-39); by faith in Christ (John 7:39; Galatians 3:14); and by earnest importunate prayer (Luke 11:13).

3. The hopes with which this subject inspires us. On engaging in the duties to which our text urges us, it encourages us to hope--for the saving influence of God’s Spirit in our own souls: for the general effusion of God’s Spirit on the human race. (Theological Sketch Book.)

The sending of the Holy Ghost

The occasion of Peter’s sermon was a lewd surmise touching the gift of tongues. As soon as God from heaven sent His fiery tongues upon His apostles, the devil from hell put his into the mouths of his apostles. Note--

The Spirit’s pouring.

1. The Spirit is here the author of prophecy.

(1) Prophecy can come from no nature not rational; so the Spirit is natura rationalis, i.e., a person.

(2) Effusion is a proceeding of that which is poured; as inspiration, in the very body of the word “spirit.” So the Spirit is a person proceeding.

(3) No person, angel or spirit, can be poured out, least of all “upon all flesh.” God only can be that: hence the Spirit is God.

(4) But Peter saith, “of My spirit.” The whole Spirit flesh could not hold, not even “all flesh”; and parts He hath none. The phrase, then, indicates the gifts and graces of the Spirit--beams of this light, streams of this pouring--here the gifts of prophecy and tongues.

2. The act: “pour.”

(1) The quality. That which is poured must be a liquid. But this seems improper to the occasion when we should have looked for fire. But Peter perhaps refers to their slander, “that it was nothing but new wine,” a liquor; and certainly the metaphor was frequently used by Christ (John 7:39; Acts 1:5). Further, this quality falls well within the graces here given--

(a) Prophecy, likened by the great prophet (Deuteronomy 32:2) to the “dew falling upon the herbs.”

(b) Invocation, which is the pouring out of prayer, and of the very heart in prayer,

(2) The quantity. Pouring is a sign of plenty. The Spirit had been given before but never with such a largess; sprinkled but not poured.

(3) Pouring tells us that the Spirit came not of Himself, not till He was thus poured out; that so order might be kept in Him, and we by Him taught to keep it, i.e., not to start out till “we be sent, not to leak or run over, but stay till we be poured out.”

(4) Pouring is not as the running of a spout, but the voluntary act of a voluntary agent who has the vessel in his hand, and pours or not at will, and when he pours strikes not out the head of the vessel and let all go, bug moderates his pouring. So here the Spirit dispenses.

(a) To divers parties,

(b) divers gifts,

(c) in divers degrees.

3. On whom this pouring is.

(1) Flesh, i.e., men. But we are spirit as well as flesh. Yes, but to magnify His mercy the more that part is chosen which seems farthest removed (Isaiah 40:6; Romans 8:3).

(2) Upon this flesh. But had not “into” been better? The Spirit is given both ways. At Christ’s baptism the dove came “upon Him”; at His resurrection, “He breathed into” them. And so He has parted His sacraments--baptism is upon us, the Eucharist enters into us. But both come to one. If it be poured on it soaks in; if it be breathed in it works forth. But it is “upon” here--

(a) That we may know that the graces of the Spirit are from without, and grow not from our flesh; and not only from without but “from above, from the Father of lights.”

(b) Because “upon” is the preposition proper to initiation into any new office, as in the case of anointing, investing with a robe, imposition of hands, etc.

(c) To inure the apostles to the preposition, which so many hate. No “super,” no superiority; “the right hands of fellowship,” if you will, but no imposition of them; if “super” then “sub” follows; and no “sub” with those who submit neither head nor spirit to any.

(3) Upon all flesh. None is excluded--no sex, age, condition, nation. Yet not promiscuously; the text limits the promise to such as will be “My servants,” i.e., as will “believe and be baptized.” This gives them the capacity, makes them vessels meet to receive the effusion, all which effectually exclude unbelievers and counterfeit Christians.

The end whereto. The Spirit is given to many ends, but one last--the salvation of mankind. Mankind was on the point to perish, and the Spirit was poured as a precious balm to recover and save it.

1. Means to that end. That men may be saved they are to call on the name of the Lord; that they may call to purpose they are to be called on to it, and directed in it by prophesying.

(1) Prophecy stands first, for without that the people must needs perish (Proverbs 29:18; Isaiah 32:14-15). Not, however, in the sense of foretelling, but preaching (Romans 10:13-15), as Peter prophesied here. But is this gift poured upon all flesh? No! It is not promised that all God’s sons and servants shall prophesy; for there must be some to be prophesied to. “All flesh” may not be cut into tongues; some must be left for ears. Else a Cyclopean Church would grow upon us, where all were speakers and none hearers.

(2) How then shall the Spirit be poured out upon all flesh? The spirit of prophecy is not all God’s Spirit. If that be upon some, the spirit of grace and of supplication (Zechariah 12:10) is upon the rest.

2. The end itself--Salvation. (Bp. Andrewes.)

The dispensation of the Holy Ghost and its distinctive character

The commencement of the dispensation of the Holy Ghost. By the dispensation of the Holy Ghost we mean a certain period during which the operations of the Holy Ghost are vouchsafed in a peculiar manner, as contrasted with other ages. Now, that such a dispensation was to be looked for is perfectly clear from the passage before us. We are distinctly told that there shall be a particular time, called the last days, when God will pour out the Spirit upon all flesh. The Same truth is necessarily implied in the Lord’s own promise, “It is expedient for you that I go away,” etc. So again with the remarkable statement, “The Holy Ghost was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified.” Of this dispensation the Day of Pentecost was the commencement, for which there are two reasons.

1. The first is seen in the covenant transaction between the Father and the Sen. The Father covenanting to give the Son a people, and all that was needful for their salvation, on condition that the Son fulfilled the law of works. The law of works was never abrogated; it pressed completely and eternally on man, or on man’s representative. Christ was that representative, and the condition was absolute that He should fulfil the law, or salvation never could visit man’s lost race. But salvation is dependent on the gift of the Spirit of God. The first effect of the great covenant work, therefore, must be the gift of the Spirit. Till that was accomplished, Christ had no claim upon the Father for the gift of the Spirit. Hence we read, “The Holy Ghost was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified.”

2. It relates to the work that the Holy Ghost himself had to do. “He shall glorify Me,” said Jesus, “for He shall take of Mine and shall show it unto you.” Now, the things of Christ are the very things He accomplished on earth, whereby He purchased that Spirit. However the Holy Ghost might in olden times have given a sort of foretaste and instalment of what was to result from the finished work of Christ it was not until that work was accomplished, either that the Father was disposed to give, or Christ entitled to claim the Spirit, or that the Holy Spirit had the materials to work with, which He now employs for the enrichment of the soul, the introduction of it into union with Jesus, and its final exaltation into everlasting glory.

The character of the operations of the Holy Ghost.

1. In regard to the operations of the Holy Ghost during this dispensation generally, we have an illustration in our text, “I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh.” Another illustration is, “I will open rivers in dry places.” Look at the pouring out of the streams from heaven when the rain comes down, how varied in its measure and its operation! Sometimes it comes down in a gentle, soft, tiny shower. Then again, the windows of heaven seemed to be opened, and we have a deluge. Or trace the course of a river through the valley. Now it is reduced to a small, silvery thread, and then it opens out, expands, overflows its banks, and irrigates the country all round. Then it narrows itself, and you have the silvery thread again; but the stream still runs on. The difference is in the measurement, degree, and expansion. Now what has been the fact in regard to the Holy Ghost under this dispensation? Has it not been precisely that which is illustrated by a river? Look back to the very commencement of it on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Ghost came down on the twelve, and three thousand were added to the Church. There the river was broad and expansive, the shower coming down from heaven copiously. Shortly after that we have two thousand more. Then we read no more of this kind of thing--the river narrows. “Some believed the word spoken, and some believed not”; “some received the Holy Ghost, and some blasphemed.” And so it went on for a considerable time, varying in degree and expanse, till the time of the Dark Ages. Then it ran like a little silvery thread; the mass of the world was overrun with darkness, and evil and superstition. Still, in some valleys and out-of-the-way places, we know that the work of the Spirit of God was progressing. The river never ceased to flow, however narrow it was. Thus it ran on for some centuries; and what followed? The great Reformation. The river then broke out into an immense expanse, overflowed the country all around, and irrigated the neighbourhood. Then again did the river condense, and then came the time of the Puritans; a mighty movement there was, and multitudes were gathered into the fold of Christ. Again did this genial shower apparently cease, or the river narrowed, and so it continued for some time. But once more did the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit break out in the days of Whitfield and Wesley, and Venn and Newton; there was a mighty outpouring of the grace of God, and multitudes were gathered into the Church. The river narrowed again, but it has gathered strength once more, and now we stand amazed at what the Lord is doing at home and abroad.

2. In regard to His particular operations as contrasted with those of former times; under this dispensation, and the legal dispensation. The dispensation of the law closed at the ascension. That lasted till Christ had fulfilled all its requirements when He said, “It is finished,” and brought in an everlasting righteousness, and made an end of transgression. Now, this being the case, we should expect to find that the experience of holy men up to that very time was exceedingly distinct from that of holy men after that time. So Paul forcibly contrasts the Spirit of adoption with the spirit of bondage, and says, “But we have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” Now, did any one under the Old Testament ever cry “Abba, Father”? There is no question that they knew God as God, as Jehovah, as Almighty; but they did not know God as Father. Until humanity had been consecrated by the indwelling of Deity--until the Son of God had taken to His nature humanity, and invested that humanity with power, and made it a son with Himself--no other human being could become a son. The sonship was dependent upon Christ coming into the world; and when He came and accomplished His great work the Spirit of God then came, and the Spirit of adoption with it. Hence, again, “The Spirit bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God.” Where did they have that assurance under the Old Testament? Hence, again, “The earnest of our inheritance”; after we have believed, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise. Where was that the case under the Old Testament? Did it never strike you, in examining the experience of Old Testament saints, what terror and alarm they displayed in regard to death? There is another point, viz., that blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is spoken of under this dispensation as a damning sin, because in proportion to the privileges is the responsibility and condemnation. A man sins against the Father, and blasphemes; there is the blood of Christ to blot it out: a man sins against the Son, and blasphemes; there is the work of the Holy Ghost to bring him to repentance: a man sins against the Holy ,Ghost, and he puts away the only power whereby the soul can be made penitent and brought back to Jesus.

The close of the dispensation. At the end of the prophecy we have the close of the dispensation, “I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.” These are the same signs that are spoken of by our Lord in Matthew 24:1-51. and Luke 22:1-71. I do not mean to say that the Holy Ghost’s operations will not continue through all eternity; they unquestionably will. All holiness in the creature for ever and ever must depend upon the sanctifying operations of the Holy Ghost. But as soon as the body of Jesus shall be quite complete, and the bride formed in her integrity, the work of the Holy Ghost will be done. But that runs on necessarily to the very advent of Christ, for we cannot exclude the glorification of the bodies of His people. Christ is glorified in His body, and every one of His mystical body must be like Him; but He changes them by the power of the Holy Ghost (Romans 8:1-39.). When that shall be done, that will be the end of the dispensation of the Holy Ghost. The Church will then be the monument of the eternal love of the Father, of the all-sufficient, perfect work of Jesus, and of the life-giving, sanctifying, and God-glorifying operations of the Holy Spirit. (Capel Molyneux, B. A.)

Features of the new dispensation

The period of the new dispensation.

“In the last days,” an expression which covers an indefinite length of time. It also marks a “new departure” in the world’s affairs. Up to this all had been preparatory, and the privileges of God’s people only partially apprehended. It is to end in “the notable day of the Lord” which will wind up one portion of Christ’s administration.

The universality of its privileges. The Spirit is given to all mankind. This discloses the rationale of Christian missions. He is already where missionaries desire to be. This also discloses the grounds of confidence for those who seek the salvation of the young, for the Spirit is already graciously working before they can grasp the simplest truths of the gospel. The text proceeds to apply this principle particularly to men and women, old and young, and all classes of society are thus reached again, and the great privileges of the gospel placed within the reach of every class. This universality is a great rebuke to the vanity which sets up castes and distinctions.

The spirtual equality which marks it. The gift of the spirit is bestowed--

1. On women as well as men. “Your sons and your daughters,” etc. In heathenism woman has generally been oppressed. Under Judaism she had but partial privileges. Miriam, Deborah, etc., were exceptions which with other things seemed to indicate that woman was on her way to her true position. But under Christianity she attains equality with man (Galatians 3:28).

2. On the young as well as the old. Many forms of heathenism have neglected the aged, and ill-treated parents advanced in years; Christianity regards them with veneration. Equally distinctive of Christianity is the practical recognition of the piety of childhood.

3. On servants as well as on masters. In Christianity there is no difference between bond and free.

It is a period of waiting. It is to continue till “the notable day of the Lord.” During this period the Church waits for the Lord’s craning, and for the final subjection of all. The end waited for will be marked by prodigies. There were wonders when Christ first came, there will be greater when He comes the second time.

It is distinguished by a glorious evangel. (verse 21). Here we have--

1. A recognition of man’s great need.

2. An offer made on a condition which is natural. “Whosoever shall call.” Sin causes misery, and misery a cry for help.

3. A sure promise of salvation. (W. Hudson.)

The promise kept

The events of this chapter are the fulfilment of the promise of cur Saviour in Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4. But Peter recognises here the fulfilment of an earlier promise (Acts 1:16). The same Spirit which spake in the tongues of the apostles, and wrought effectually in the hearts of their hearers also spake by the prophets. The promise was thus fulfilled, but not exhausted; it was but the beginning of that work of preaching, and that mighty answering work in men’s hearts of which the Holy Spirit was just as much the life and the secret as of the wonders of Pentecost.

The promise and its fulfilment.

1. “Promise,” is one of the most distinguished features of this Book; so that if you want to contrast in the strongest way the Scriptures with the sacred books of other nations you might pitch upon this and say, “The Scriptures are the Book of God’s promises to men.” And “promise,” you know also, is the main link of human life and society. “I promise to pay”--if the breath of suspicion could dim those words upon a thin strip of paper the whole fabric of commerce and social life would be shaken. The bride and the bridegroom stand side by side in God’s house, and when the manly “I will” has been echoed by the softer but not less earnest and serious “I will” what has happened? Two lives which a few minutes ago were separated are now bound together, “until death do them part.” The little child says, “Promise father, promise mother,” and when the father or the mother has promised the little child soon learns to know that it has a hold that cannot be broken. Well, then, when we say that the Bible is the Book of God’s promises, we mean that God has come down into the circle of human duty; that you can go and present a cheque payable at demand on the treasury of infinite mercy and almighty power; that the child of God can go to God and say, “My Father, Thou hast promised, now, therefore, do as Thou hast said.” There is a bond between the Eternal God and the feeblest soul that trusts Him, stronger than the bond which holds our world to its central sun. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but His word shall not pass away.

2. We cannot fix the exact date of this promise of Joel; but we gather from the fact that Amos, in the reign of King Uzziah, begins by a quotation from Joel that Joel was an older prophet. The substance of his prophecy had been, in a sense, anticipated perhaps eight hundred years or more by Moses, when he said, “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would pour out His Spirit upon them”; but to Joe! was given the high honour of announcing that so it should be, that God was going to answer that prayer. A generation later we find the promise beautifully and bountifully enlarged by Isaiah (Isaiah 44:3-5); but to Joel seems to have been given this signal honour to be the first to sound out sweet and clear this note of promise. Perhaps eight hundred years passed away, and that promise stood there upon the page in what was becoming a dead language, unfulfilled and unexplained--as long as from the days of William the Conqueror to the days of Queen Victoria--and the unbeliever could point to it and say, “What do you make of that? What is the value of a promise that is never accomplished, a prophecy that the centuries bring no nearer to fulfilment?” Generations came and went, and prophets greater than Joel rose up, fulfilled their course, and departed. Great religious revolutions, reforms, revivals took place, then they were followed by fresh outbursts of irreligion, fresh victories of unbelief and profligacy, and atheism. Alas! the whole structure seems to have broken down. But all this meant no delay, no unfaithfulness. In the fulness of time Peter was able to point to tiffs glorious fulfilment, and to say, “Jesus, whom you have crucified, being by the right hand of God exalted, hath shed forth this which you now see and hear--‘this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.’”

3. And so, across the long ages God reaches out the closed hand of promise, filled with sealed-up blessings to keep faith from fainting, to encourage patience and hope. Then, just at the appointed moment, when the dial points, when the hour of His purpose strikes, He opens it, and gives a fresh starting point for new faith. Unfulfilled prophecy Peter compares to a light shining in a dark place, a light that tries our eyes almost as much as it enlightens them--we pore in vain over the dimly-illuminated truth. The fulfilled word the same apostle compares to the sunrise, the dawn of the day, and the rising of the day-star. Time and experience at the appointed hour set their seal to the declaration that God is true.

4. Let me say a word to my younger friends. Let me urge you to give great attention to this practiced evidence of the truth and inspiration of God’s Word, which you may find in the actual fulfilment of God’s promises. A distinct prediction pointing for hundreds of years to an event that could not be foreseen by mere human reasoning, and then the fulfilment in God’s providence of that prediction betokens a power above and behind and within man. Now is not this perfectly plain, that the Old Testament Scriptures did claim to pledge God to these two things--viz., the sending of a Saviour in whom all nations should be blessed, and the bestowment upon all flesh of His Holy Spirit? The New Testament is just the record of the fulfilment of those two promises; and so is the whole history of the Church.

God is fulfilling His promise to-day. Not that we see such proofs as we here read of; our senses are not amazed with the wonders like those of the days of Pentecost; but do not forget that one soul really converted to God is just as much the work of the Holy Spirit as one thousand or three thousand. To pray the prayer of faith; to understand God’s truth; to have in reality the temper of humility, penitence, and unreserved consecration; these are just as truly the gifts of the Holy Spirit as the tongues of fire and all the miracles that followed. I am sometimes afraid that we may offer prayers for the fulfilment of this very promise, which are rather the prayers of unbelief than the prayers of faith. Do we not err often in our expectations of the limits in which God will fulfil His promise? His promise is so wide, taking in the whole Church and all mankind; it is so far-reaching, running down the whole channel of human history, that we have no business to expect it to be exhausted in our time, in our nation, in our parish; and yet if it be not, do not we sometimes pray as if God were forgetting His promise, or were unfaithful to it? Thus we dishonour God and discourage our brethren and ourselves. I do not for a moment think we ought to shut our eyes to any of the facts that are around us, even the darkest, or our ears to the bitter cry that may rise from the great city, or from the lonely village; but do not let us shut our eyes, either, to what God is doing amongst us. If we look only at the tendencies of human nature, only at the set and tide and drift of events, it is pretty easy to make a dark forecast, easy to say that the signs of the times denote the prevalence and triumph of those masterly evils, superstition, atheism, anarchy--that is, if you leave out of sight God’s promise and God’s Spirit. But that is just what you must not do, and have no right to do. We are crying with the prophet, “Oh, that Thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down, and that the mountains would flow down at Thy presence.” But when He only touches the hills and they smoke--that is the finger of God. Perhaps we are looking for the earthquake, the fire, the tempest; but we fail, it may be, to hear the “still, small voice”; yet that is the voice of God’s Spirit. Whence comes the gentle, quiet, but yet mighty and irresistible outburst and continual growth of missionary zeal and missionary labour and missionary sacrifice, which is carrying the gospel from year to year more completely into the most central fortresses of heathenism? Zeal and labour, which have made the Bible already a known book in all the leading languages of the world--what is this? Is not this the very breath and presence of God’s Spirit? Then, in what we call the outside world, there are great waves of sympathy with this Christian work; and whence come they but from the contagion of Christian love and faith and hope, the very breath of God’s Spirit?

God will fulfil his promise. “The last days” are a wide margin. It is not for us to measure how far that season of fulfilment may stretch out, or grow weary or unbelieving because of its stretching out longer than we expect. When that morning broke over the waters of Galilee, and the disciples looked weary and sadly at one another and at their dripping and empty nets, supposing one had said to them, “Friends, in less than half-an-hour that empty net will be so full that you won’t be able to draw it on board”--why, they would have said, “If God would send an angel from heaven to be our fisherman perhaps it might be so.” But who is that walking on the shore? A stranger? Hark! He speaks. “Cast on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find.” If it had not been for the night of toil, do you think there would have been any morning of joy? No. It is not for us, to say how long the night of toil is to be. We serve the same Master, our faith rests upon the same promise; we have the same work, and we are responsible for toil, for faithfulness, for prayer, for patience, not for results; the results are God’s. Can you say, “I believe in the Holy Ghost?” Why, then, fear not, doubt not. Let us bring to God’s treasury not the mere tithes of corn and wine and gold and silver, but that which will make all these seem just little gifts thrown in by the way--the tithes, the first-fruits of consecrated hearts, and hallowed lives, and affections aglow with the love of Christ, and then we may prove Him and see if He will not pour out a blessing so that there should not be room to contain. (E. B. Conder, D. D.)

The possibilities of life

There are two gifts or faculties which every one who would be a power among their fellows must do their utmost to cultivate. The first is the power of insight into the circumstances of their own time and place. The second is the power of foresight. After we have convinced ourselves of how and what things are, we shall then try to see what they may become; how and to what extent they may be changed for the better. To see the world as it is, is only to convince ourselves that it is very different from what it ought to be. To begin with ourselves. No true Christian can be contented with his present spiritual condition. Like St. Paul, the more we know of ourselves the more reason shall we have to confess that “we have not already attained, neither are already made perfect.” And if the fact is true of ourselves, it is no less true of the men and things around us. We learn that the lives and circumstances of others stand in need of more or less improvement. Let us notice how the text brings these thoughts before us. The apostles had been very intimate with Jesus. The standard of life inculcated by Him was an extremely lofty one; to have had that standard constantly before them must have shown the disciples how terribly everything around them fell short of it. But merely to see this great gulf, this awful difference, might lead them to despair. How was the chasm to be bridged? How was the actual to be made the ideal? It will help us to answer this question if we remember that St. Peter uttered the words of the text on the very day on which God poured out upon the apostles the great gift of His Holy Spirit. They had now received the promised gift, a new energy, a new life, the spirit of truth, the spirit of love. The spirit of truth put everything in its true light. They saw how dark, how sad, how imperfect, how sin-stained was life and conduct. Bat the spirit of love came with the spirit of truth, and impelled them at once to try to rectify what needed alteration. Notice, the method they employed was the same as that of their Master--first to teach, and then to put their teaching into practice. And with what sort of reception were they met? With very much the same kind that has generally fallen to the lot of the reformer. Men listened to them, and then derided them. They were regarded as idle visionaries, as wild and foolish dreamers. St. Peter steps forward as the apologist of his brethren. The present was but witnessing the fulfilment of an ancient Jewish prophet’s prediction. Drunk the apostles were not--mere dreamers, mere visionaries they were not. But they had dreamt a dream, and seen a vision. They saw things as they were, and as they might be. They saw that to the great majority of their fellow countrymen religion was little better than a hollow mockery; something almost wholly external, and having little connection with their lives and conduct. This they saw, but they also saw a vision and dreamt a dream of a better day, Of a brighter, holier, and happier, future, of a more real religious tone, of a higher and nobler morality. They were not mere dreamers, mere visionaries--the dream and the vision were useful only as revelations of an ideal which they must endeavour to realise. To receive a vision of better things was only a call to turn the vision into a reality. The gift of insight issued in the call to repentance; the gift of foresight was the summons to work. It may have been the lot of some of us to have seen a vision made a reality; we may even have had the blessing and privilege to have been in some small degree instrumental in its realisation. We may have known one who was formerly intemperate, now living a sober life; one formerly impure, now feeling from experience the truth of the words, “Blessed”--that is, happy--“are the pure in heart”; one formerly dishonest, now getting his or her living by hard and honest labour, and able to look the world in the face. Yet if some little has been done, the unaccomplished is almost beyond measure. We must try to realise what humanity was meant to be, what Jesus would have it to be. The words of the old prophet can never be too often in our ears, “I will make a man more precious than fine gold, even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.” To have realised that that awful threat was becoming verily the promise of a blessing, is in itself to have seen a vision. Man is indeed precious; each human soul, each human heart and character is infinitely precious in God’s sight, for the Lord Jesus died to save it. (W. E. Chadwick, M. A.)

Your young men shall see visions.--

A young man’s vision

(missionary sermon):--

1. Many visions have led to the most disastrous results. When ,Napoleon had a vision of a universal monarchy over which he should preside, he drenched the lands in blood. Many visions have been wretchedly delusive. Men have dreamed of finding the fairy pleasure in the dark forest of sin. Many dreams have been enervating. Many pass all their days building castles in the air. With fine capacities they have drivelled away existence: as their theory of life was born of smoke, so the result of their lives has been a cloud.

2. For all this, good and grand visions are not unknown which came from the excellent glory, and which, when young or old men have seen them, have filled them with wisdom, and grace, and holiness. Such visions are given to men whose eyes have been illumined by the Holy Spirit.

3. All Divine things, when they first come to men from the Lord, are as visions, because man is so little prepared to believe God’s thoughts and ways, that he cannot think them to be real. They appear to us to be too great, too good to be real. It must be so while Jehovah’s ways are higher than oar ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts. We must take care that we do not neglect heavenly monitions through fear of being considered visionary; we must not be staggered even by the dread of being styled fanatical, for to stifle a thought from God is no mean sin.

4. How much of good in this world would have been lost if good men had quenched the first half-fashioned thoughts which have flitted before them. Suppose Luther had taken the advice of his teacher when he said to him, “Go thy way, silly monk! and pray God, and if it be His will He will reform the abuses of this Church, but what hast thou to do with it?” And George Fox, that most eminent of dreamers, where had been all the testimonies for a spiritual religion, all the holy influences for benevolence, for peace, for anti-slavery, which have streamed upon this world through the agency of the Society of Friends, if the wild Quaker had been content to let his impressions come and go and be forgotten? These things,which nowadays are ordinary Christian doctrines, were considered in his day to be but the prattle of fanatics; even as the reforms which some of us shall live to see are denounced as revolutionary, or ridiculed as Utopian.

5. Many suggestions which come from God to men, are not so much visions to them as they are to the outside world. And need we wonder at this? Why, men of science and art have to endure the same ordeal. Stephenson declares that he will make a machine which will run without horse-power, at the rate of twelve miles an hour--and how the Tory benches of the House of Commons roared at the man as a born fool!

6. It too, have seen a vision. I have seen missionary spirit in England, awakened, and revived. I have seen--the wish was father to the sight--the ardour of our first; missionary days return.

Let us justify our vision. That which we have dreamed of is--

1. Evidently needed. There is a general flagging in missionary interest; and albeit that the funds may not much have fallen off, yet the annual recurrence of a debt, together with other matters, goes to show that missionary zeal needs rekindling. This results partly from the fact that the novelty of the thing has gone off, and partly because we have had few very startling incidents of ]ate to evoke a display of enthusiasm. That the missionary fire exists is certain, for the heart of the Church is alive; but it is slumbering, somehow. If there be any one point in which the Christian Church ought to keep its fervour at a white heat, it is concerning missions. How can we expect in such an enterprise that we shall ever succeed if any of our strength be left unused? Depend upon it, that the flagging of zeal at home acts like a canker abroad, and when the heart of Christianity in England does not throb vigorously, every single limb of the missionary body feels the decline.

2. It is very possible that it may be realised. It is not a thing too hard to look for. It is far harder surely to establish missions than to revive them. If we will but inquire into the causes of decline we shall not find them, I think, to be very deep, nor to be difficult of remedy. Lovingly correcting errors, carefully removing excrescences, and boldly advancing, the stone shall be rolled away from the sepulchre before we reach it, or if not, in God’s name, and by His strength, we will roll it away ourselves.

3. It is very probable; for so it always has been. If ever God’s Church has declined for a little while, unexpectedly there has been yielded a season of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. He is great at surprises: His best wine last amazes us all. When the devil is most secure upon his throne, then God sprints a mine, and blows his empire into atoms.

4. It is solemnly required of us. What are our personal obligations to the Crucified? Did our Saviour slumber in His life-work? Was He tardy in His service for our redemption? Then might we grow lax. But He claims of us, according to our measure, the same steadfastness of resolve, and perseverance of purpose, and sacrifice of self.

Let us proceed to elaborate the vision. My dream seemed to take this shape.

1. In order that missionary work should be reformed, revived, and carried on with energy and with hope of success, it seemed necessary that especially among our young members there should be a revival of intense and earnest prayer, and anxious sympathy with the missionary work. The power of prayer can never be overrated. They who cannot serve God by preaching, need not regret it if they can be mighty in prayer. The true strength of the Church lies there. If a man can but pray, he can do anything. He that knows how to overcome the Lord in prayer, has heaven and earth at his disposal.

2. Next, if our young men who see visions will follow up their prayers with practical effort, then we shall see in our Churches a larger and more efficient staff of collectors and contributors. We should then find men who would give of their substance as a matter of principle, so that the kingdom of Christ should never have an empty exchequer.

3. Up till now my dream has been reasonable, you will say. I will now be more visionary. If we were all praying for missions, and all giving for their support, it might be very well asked of us, “What do ye more than others?” for what Romanist is there who is not zealous for the spread of his religion? What heathen is there who does not give quite as much as any of us give, ay, and a great deal more than we give, to his superstitions? But, supposing next to this, that there should be a number of young men who have been trained in the same sanctuary, nurtured in the same Church, who should meet together and say to one another, “Now, we are in business, and God is prospering us, but still we trust we are never going to permit ourselves to be swallowed up in a mere worldly way of living; now, what ought we to do for missions?” And suppose the inquiry should be put, “Is there one amongst us who could devote himself to go and teach the heathen for us? As we, most of us, may not have the ability, or do not feel called to the work, is there one out of twelve of us young men who feels called to go?” Let us make it a matter of prayer, and when the Holy Ghost saith, “Separate So-and-So to the work,” then we, the other eleven who remain’, will say to him, “Now, brother, you cannot stop at home to make your fortune; you are now giving yourself up to a very arduous enterprise, and we will support you; you go down into the pit, we will hold the rope, and bear the expense among ourselves.” I wish we had such godly clubs as these. Why, on such a plan as that, I should think, they would give a hundred times as much as ever they are likely to give to an impersonal society, or to a man whose name they only know, but whose face they never saw.

4. Further, I have dreamed also that there would spring up in our Churches a very large number of young men who would count it to be the very highest ambition to give themselves up to the work of Jesus Christ abroad, and who will say, “The missionary society is in debt, and cannot take us; very well, send me out, and let me exercise my faith in God, only having this for my comfort, that you will stand at my back and give me what you can, while I will only draw upon you for what “I cannot get for myself.” I set Paul before you, young men. He was a tent-maker, and he earned his own living. Are there no occupations in these days by which a man may earn his living, and yet preach the gospel? Are there not to be found physicians who, in China and in India, would not only procure a subsistence, but much more, and might proclaim the gospel at the same time? But are there no other occupations? I find men going out to India by scores, to make their fortunes, and ruin their constitutions. Have we no young men and women who will preach the gospel, intending to use their commercial pursuits as a means of introduction and support?

The realisation of this vision? It must be--

1. By each individual’s own personal piety mounting to the very highest degree of elevation. If holy work be a mere diversion for your leisure moments, you will do nothing; you must make a solemn occupation of it. When the Christian Church glows in this fashion, it will swell with an intense heat like a volcano, whose tremendous furnaces cannot be contained within itself, but its sides begin to move and bulge, and then after a rumbling and a heaving, a mighty sheet of fire shoots right up to heaven, and afterwards streams of flaming lava run from its red lips down, burning their way along the plain beneath. Oh! to get such a fire for God’s cause into the heart of the Christian Church, till she began to heave and throb with unquenchable emotion, and then a mighty sheet of the fire-prayer should go up towards heaven, and afterwards the burning lava of her all-conquering zeal should flow over all lands.

2. By young men and young women feeding the flame of their zeal with greater information as to the condition of the world in reference to our mission-work. You may not have time to get through it all, but if you read some of it, I think you will feel a great accession to your zeal.

3. By keeping yourselves right in this matter by constant, energetic efforts in connection with works at home. Those who do not serve God at home, are of no use anywhere. It is all very well to talk about what you would do if you could speak to the Hindoos. You will be of no use whatever in Calcutta, unless you are of use in Poplar or Bermondsey. The human mind is the same everywhere. See what you can do for Jesus Christ in the shop, and in that little Bible-class of which you are a member. Rest assured that no missionary ardour really burns in the breast of that man who does not love the souls of those who live in the same house and neighbourhood.

4. But oh! do make sure that you are saved yourselves. Do make sure that you yourselves know the Christ whom you profess to teach. That missionary-box, what is it but an infamous sham if you put into it your offering, but withhold your heart? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The visionary aspect of Christianity

(a sermon to young men):--There are two periods in human life to which dreams and visions belong--dreams and visions, at least, of any persistence and depth. Young men naturally see visions, and old men dream dreams. This visionary power is not to be neglected or thought lightly of. It is a beneficent power. It feeds practical efficiency. All the great enterprises we have were once visions in the brain of some man or men. It is the mighty dreamers who have become the great doers. In the listless, heavy eye of Chalmers there often seemed no power of volition. He was brooding over his visions; yet for all this brooding--nay, largely by virtue of it--he moved men, and swayed his time as no contemporary Scotchman did. It is the enthusiasm begotten in the region of visions that ultimately moves the machinery of the world.

Visions that do not come from Christ.

1. There are visions that sense brings us, very bright and seductive at times. They are often dangerous, but we do not know that they are so, because we love the strong colouring in which they are put before us. The force of youthful life tends to the outward and sensible, and the sensible sometimes lowers into the sensual. As you love your souls, as you love purity, as you fear God and your conscience, put these dreams of the flesh away from you in whatsoever form they come.

2. Mammon again paints visions for a young man, and, of course, with unusual clearness and persistence in a commercial community like this of ours. It is foolish to speak disparagingly of money. It is a power which, wisely wielded, has almost no limits in its beneficence. But it is a very dangerous thing. Therefore, if you feel tempted to dream of bank-notes and shares and big speculations, to make these your visions, I beseech you for the sake of your higher nature to beware. They say that money nowadays can command anything, can accomplish wonders. It is quite true; but the most wonderful thing that it does is to metallise a human soul.

3. Closely allied to the dreams which Mammon weaves for us are the visions of success in life. But they are distinct. There are men who are not avaricious, and yet are ambitious; and a young man insensible for the most part to bank-notes may long for distinction. He has brain force and nerve force, which give him a good hope of rising. Granting that such an ambition can be honourably pursued, is it fit to be our vision? What is the typical successful man generally like--tender, scrupulous, sympathetic? Is he true, large-hearted? I don’t think so.

4. Many of us may have had visions of intellectual eminence, and these are sometimes very attractive. We dream of laying in stores of information, of mastering this subject or that. Or, it may be, we have become absorbed in social questions, in politics, in art. We feel our faculties expanding, and delight in their exercise. Well, those visions are high and fair, but again, are they the best? Have they power to lift our lives, to fill them to the very end? Do they bring light and healing in trouble or sorrow?

5. Then there are visions of domestic happiness. Such dreams rise before our minds if we have known what love and truth are. But is this sufficient? Are these best things of earth good enough for us? They are legitimate, of course, but not lasting.

The inspired visions.

1. Christ brings visions of purity. Until the world has blinded a young man’s eyes so that he cannot see, there are now and then flitting before him images of unearthly purity. An unflecked garment in which to clothe the soul he feels is the most princely possession. Had he only singleness of eye, a nature true at the core, a mirror of thought from which the blots of foul fancy were all away, his heart would be strong. Christ comes to tell him that this purity which he sees glimpses of is no mere fancy, but a celestial vision which has had an embodiment on earth, one which may have it again.

2. Christ brings visions of strength and heroism. Nothing is fairer to dream of than the power to get out of ourselves and rise to higher ranges of courage and resolve. Christ brings before us a vision of exalted manhood, a dream of daring and doing what average men cannot do. Heroism is that quality of the soul by virtue of which a man can carry the movements of his thought and will away from the touch of mean, self-degrading motives, so that people cannot measure his actions by the standard of every-day life--by virtue of which a man can stand alone against the world, if need be, as Christ Himself stood alone against the world. This is a faculty Christ Himself gives to men.

3. But our better dreams have more than strength and manhood in them; they have self-conquest, self-denial. Amid the vulgar contentment and self-seeking of society, we sometimes envy a life like that of Livingstone, given for Africa and the slaves. But what will give to the faint outline of these dreams substance and shape? The approach of Christ will. He makes cross-bearing and the strain of the higher service an easy thing, so that those inspired by Him think it unnatural when they have not some difficulties for His sake to meet, some cross for His sake to bear.

4. Another vision that sometimes visits a young man is the vision of usefulness--the thought of exerting a wide, beneficent influence. When we do good we find we are blessed. But no man can rightly do good until Christ has taught him. Christ gives us ends, methods, power.

5. We dream of the future--not a future here merely, by beyond, elsewhere. We refuse to stop short at the barriers earth and time erect. Our visions project themselves past these. Such visions often get very faint as men grow older, and sometimes die away altogether. Thoughts that once soared towards the setting sun come down to earth like a bird grown weary of the wing. It is Christ alone who gives permanence to such visions. We get from Him sudden flashes of the glory of the new Jerusalem. He brings immortality to light in our hearts. (J. F. Ewing, M. A.)

Visions realised

The vision of a pure England, of a temperate England, of an England without grinding poverty, heartrending distress, and free from crimes; the very mention of which make one’s blood run cold, is a noble vision, Need it remain altogether a vision? Was the vision of the abolition of slavery in North America allowed to remain a vision? Was the vision of a system of universal education for our own nation allowed to remain a vision? Think again of the visions of the reformer, the scientist, the engineer--how many of these visions have been realised! Faith, energy, patience, and perseverance have wrought wonders. Why should not our visions also be realised? What is required is that we claim for ourselves a fuller measure of God’s Holy Spirit--the spirit of love, hope, self-sacrifice, whereby we shall attain the substance of the things we hope for, and shall witness, possess, and enjoy the evidence of things as yet unseen by the natural man, but awaiting in all their glory to be revealed among us. (W. E. Chadwick, M. A.)

Verse 20

Acts 2:20

The sun shall be turned into darkness.

Downfall of Christianity

Solar eclipse is here prophesied to take place about the time of the destruction of ancient Jerusalem. Josephus says that the prophecy was literally fulfilled. Christianity is the sun of our time, and men bare tried, with the vapours of scepticism and the smoke of blasphemy, to turn this sun into darkness. Suppose the archangels of malice and horror should be allowed to extinguish and destroy the sun in the natural heavens. They would take the oceans from other worlds and pour them on this luminary, and the waters go hissing down among the ravines and the caverns, and there is explosion after explosion until there are only a few peaks of fire left in the sun, and these are cooling down and going out until the vast continents of flame are reduced to a small acreage of fire, and that whitens and cools off until there are only a few coals left, and these are whitening and going out until there is not a spark left in all the mountains and valleys and chasms of ashes. An extinguished sun. A dead sun. Let all worlds wail at the stupendous obsequies. Of course, this withdrawal of the solar light and heat throws our earth into a universal chill, and the tropics become the temperate, and the temperate becomes the arctic, and there are frozen rivers, lakes, and oceans. From the arctic and antarctic regions the inhabitants gather in towards the centre and find the equator as the poles. The slain forests are piled up into great bonfires, and around them gather the shivering villages and cities. The wealth of the coal mines is hastily poured into the furnaces and stirred into rage of combustion, but soon the bonfires begin to lower and the furnaces begin to go out, and the natives begin to die. The great volcanoes cease to smoke, and the ice of hailstorms remains unmelted in their craters. All the flowers have breathed their last breath. Child frosted and dead in the cradle. Octogenarian frosted and dead at the hearth. Workman with frozen hands at the hammer or frozen foot on the shuttle. Winter from sea to sea. The earth an ice-floe, grinding against other ice-floes. The archangels of malice and horror have done their work, and now they may take their thrones of glacier and look down upon the ruin they have wrought. What the destruction of the sun in the natural heavens would be to our physical earth, the destruction of Christianity would be to the moral world. The sun turned into darkness. Infidelity in our time is considered a great joke. I propose to take infidelity out of the realm of jocularity into one of tragedy, and show you what these men, if they are successful, will accomplish. It will be--

The complete and unutterable degradation of womanhood. In all communities where Christianity has been dominant, woman’s condition has been ameliorated and improved, and she is honoured in a thousand things, and every gentleman takes off his hat before her. You know that while woman may suffer injustices, she has more of her rights in Christendom than she has anywhere else. Now compare this with woman’s condition in lands where Christianity has made little or no advance. The Burmese sell their wives and daughters as so many sheep. The Hindoo Bible makes it an outrage for a woman to listen to music, or look out of the window in the absence of her husband, and gives as a lawful ground for divorce a woman’s beginning to eat before her husband has finished his meal! Her birth a misfortune. Her life a torture. Her death a horror. Now compare those two conditions. How far toward this latter condition would woman go if Christian influences were withdrawn? If an object be lifted to a certain point and not fastened there, and the lifting power be withdrawn, how long before that object will fall down to the point from which it started? Christianity has lifted woman up from the very depths of degradation almost to the skies. If that lifting power be withdrawn she falls back to the depth from which she was raised, not going any lower because there is no lower depth. And yet I have read that notwithstanding all that, there were women present at a meeting in a Brooklyn theatre at which Christianity was outrageously assailed and our Lord blasphemously maligned.

The demoralisation of society. The one idea in the Bible that infidels most hate is the idea of retribution. Take away that idea from society, and it will begin very soon to disintegrate, and take away from the minds of men the fear of hell, and there are a great many of them who would very soon turn this world into a hell. I have heard this brave talk about people fearing nothing of the consequences of sin in the next, world, and I have made up my mind it is merely a coward’s whistling to keep his courage up; for when they came to die they shrieked until you could hear them far enough. The mightiest restraints to-day against crime of all sorts are the retributions of eternity. Men know that they can escape the law, but down in the offender’s soul there is the realisation of the fact that he cannot escape God. Take this out of the hearts and minds of men, and it would not be long before our great cities became Sodoms.

Suppose now these generals of infidelity got the victory, they will first attack the churches. Away with those houses of worship. They have been standing there so long deluding the people with consolation in their bereavements and sorrows. Turn the St. Peters and St. Pauls and the temples and tabernacles into club-houses.

Next they scatter the sabbath-schools, filled with bright-eyed, bright-cheeked little ones who are singing songs on Sunday afternoon and getting instruction when they ought to be on the street corners playing marbles or swearing on the commons.

They destroy Christian asylums, the institutions of mercy supported by Christian philanthropies. Never mind the blind eyes and the deaf ears and the crippled limbs and the weakened intellects. Let paralysed old age pick up its own food, and orphans fight their own way, and the half-reformed go back to their evil habits.

They come to the great picture galleries, and tear down the pictures, for they are Bible pictures--Claude’s “Burning Bush,” and Rembrandt’s “Christ in the Temple,” and Paul Veronese’s “Marriage in Cana,” and Michael Angelo’s “Last Judgment.” Down with the pictures; they are Bible pictures. And away with the oratorios of Handel and Haydn and Beethoven, for they speak of the Messiah and the Creation, and of Jephthah, and of Samson, and of other Bible heroes.

Now they come to the graveyards. Pull down the sculpture, for it means the resurrection. On, ye great army of infidels where you see “Asleep in Jesus,” cut it away, and where you find a marble story of heaven blast it; and where you find over a little child’s grave, “Suffer little children to come unto Me,” substitute the words “delusion” and “sham”; and where you find an angel in marble strike off the wing; and when you come to a family vault chisel on the door: “Dead and dead for ever.” The place of Christian burial turned into a place for the burial of the whole family of Christian graces. Prayer dead. Faith dead. Hope dead. Charity dead. Self-denial dead. Honesty dead. Happiness dead.

They will attempt to scale heaven. On and on until they blow up the foundations of jasper and the gates of pearl. They charge up the steep. Now they aim for the throne of Him who liveth for ever and ever.

There is only one more height to scale. They assail the Eternal Father and they want Him to feel the combined force of human and Satanic spite. A world without a head, a universe without a king. Orphan constellations. Fatherless galaxies. Anarchy supreme. A dethroned Jehovah. An assassinated God. Patricide, Regicide, Deicide. That is what they mean, and what they will have, if they can. Civilisation hurled back into semi-barbarism, and semi-barbarism driven back into Hottentot savagery. The wheel of progress turned the other way, and turned towards the Dark Ages. The sun turned into darkness. Has Christianity received its death-blow? Yes, when the smoke of the city chimney arrests and destroys the noonday sun. Josephus says about the time of the destruction of Jerusalem the sun was “turned into darkness”; but only clouds rolled between the sun and the earth. The sun went right on. At the beginning God said, “Let there be light,” and light was, and light is, and light shall be. So Christianity is rolling on, and it is going to warm all nations, and all nations are to bask in its light, and all nations are to be kindled with its joy. Men may shut the window-blinds so they cannot see out, or they may smoke the pipe of speculation until they are shadowed under their own vapouring; but God is a sun. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)

Verse 21

Acts 2:21

Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.


Its nature.

1. Deliverance from--

(1) The guilt of sin.

(2) The power of sin.

(3) The punishment of sin.

2. Deliverance to--

(1) Acceptance with God.

(2) Conquest of evil.

(3) Heaven.

Its Condition. Calling on the name of the Lord, involving--

1. A sense of helplessness. A man in the water will not cry if he can wade to dry land, but only when he feels in danger of drowning without assistance.

2. A conviction of His power to help on whom we call. A beggar will not waste time in asking alms of another beggar; a sick man will scarcely rouse himself to seek medical help from one in the same condition.

3. An assurance that He on whom we call will help us when we call. This is faith. The call should be earnest and persevering.

Its score. “Whosoever.”

1. Poor as well as rich.

2. Ignorant as well as learned.

3. Bad as well as good. What an encouragement to convinced sinners, Sunday-school teachers, preachers, and missionaries. (J. W. Burn.)

Calling on Christ

There is a story concerning the father of Thomas a Becket, who went into the crusades and was taken prisoner by the Saracens. While a prisoner, a Turkish lady loved him, and when he was set free and returned to England, she took an opportunity of following him. But she knew not where to find him she loved: and all she knew about him was that his name was Gilbert. She determined to go through all the streets of England crying the name of Gilbert till she found him. She came to London first, and passing every street persons were surprised to see aa Eastern maiden crying, Gilbert! Gilbert! And so she passed from town to town, till one day as she pronounced the name the ear for which it was intended caught the sound, and they became happy. And so, sinner, to-day thou knowest little perhaps of religion, but thou knowest the name of Jesus. Take up the cry as thou goest along the streets, and say to thy heart, “Jesus! Jesus!” And when thou art in the chamber, say it still, “Jesus! Jesus!” Continue the cry and it shall reach the ear for which it was meant. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The secret cry to God

Some years ago a young man was going home one night from the house of business in which he was engaged. The thought occurred to him that he was becoming more careless each year about his soul’s salvation, and that he would soon become utterly hardened. And he said to himself, “Why should this be? Why not seek the Lord now?” So he lifted up his cry secretly as he walked through the street, “Lord, forgive me, and help me to love and serve Thee.” The Holy Spirit, to whose voice he was then listening, inspired the cry for mercy; and the prayer thus offered was answered. The sleeper was awakened, and Christ gave him life. Let your conduct be like that young man’s, for the Holy Spirit is calling you now. If hitherto you have rejected the message, now determine to hear and obey it. An effectual cry:--I heard of two millers who used to keep the old mill going day and night, and at midnight one miller would go down the stream, pull his boat up two or three yards above the dam, and the other miller would come along the other way. One night the miller was going down as usual, and he fell asleep, and when he awoke, it was the water over the dam that woke him. He knew that if he went over he would be dashed to pieces on the rocks below. He seized his oars and he tried to pull back, but he found that it was too late. But he got hold of a little twig between the rocks. It began to give way; and if that twig had come away he would have been swept over the dam and lost; but there was just enough strength in the root to hold him; and so he sat there in that boat and held on, and he cried, “Help! help! help!” and he kept crying, until at last the cry of distress was heard by the brother miller, and he found out the situation, and he got a rope and threw it, and the man let go of the twig and laid hold of the rope, and they pulled him out of the jaws of death. He saved his life because it was an honest cry for help. And there is not a man or woman in this house to-night but that shall be eternally saved if he or she will send the cry up to heaven, “Lord, help me. Lord, remember me. Lord, save me, or I perish.” “It shall come to pass that whosoever calleth on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Put the promise to the test. (J. McNeill.)

Verses 22-36

Acts 2:22-36

Ye men of Israel, hear these words.

Personal preaching

One of the old English worthies said that a great many sermons were like carefully written letters dropped into the post-office without any address written upon them. They were not intended for any one in particular, and they never reached anybody.

The effect of Pentecost upon Peter

If we see the effect upon Peter, we shall have a true idea of the effect of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost upon the entire Church. Fix your minds, therefore, upon Peter. We know what he has been up to this time, ardent, impulsive, unbalanced, enthusiastic, cowardly. Since we last saw him he has been the subject of Pentecostal influence. We have therefore to look on that picture and on this; and upon the change discoverable between the two pictures you may found your estimate of the value of spiritual inspiration. Notice--

His heroic eloquence. It is not enough to speak--you may teach an automaton to speak. This man is not only speaking words, he is speaking them with unction, with fire, with emphasis, never heard in his tone before. You have not the whole speech in the words. You must be enabled, by a kind of semi-inspiration of your own, to read between the lines, in order to get hold of all the force and weight of this burning oration: there are palpitations which cannot be reported, and tones which have no typal representation. It carries everything before it like a fire marching through dry stubble.

Not only was he transformed into an orator, but into a profound expositor of the Divine purpose in the creation and education of the Church. He speaks like a philosopher. He sees that the ages are not unrelated days, broken and incohesive nights, but that the ages are one, as the day is one, from its grey dawn to the time of the lighting of the evening star. This always follows deep acquaintance with the mysteries of God and high fellowship with the Spirit of the living One; we are delivered from the vexation and torment of daily details, and are set in the great currents and movements of the Divine purpose, and thereby do we acquire the balance which gives us rest and serenity, which often glows into courageous joy.

Peter shows us how prophecy is fulfilled. The fulfilment of prophecy is not something which God has been arduously trying to do and has at last barely accomplished; it is a natural process, and it comes to express a natural end. Prophecy is not to God a mere hope, it is a clear vision of what must be, and of what He Himself will bring to pass. It is prophesied that the whole earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. It is not a mere hope, it is the sure outcome of the Divine way of doing things. Christ must, by the necessity of righteousness and light and truth, reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet. Prophecy is God’s note of hand that He will yet give His Son the heathen for an inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for a possession, signed in every ink in the universe, signed in heaven before the earth was formed, signed on Calvary by the blood-ink of the Cross. We must rest in this assurance; the word of the Lord will prevail, not by means of education, eloquence, or mechanical efforts on the part of the Church, but the world will be converted unto Christ because God has said it will be so, and when His word has gone forth it cannot return to Him void.

Peter startled the Church by becoming its most solid and convincing reasoner. Observe where and how Peter begins his address. “Jesus of Nazareth, a man,” there is no appeal to theological bias or prejudice. Had he begun by saying, “Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate God,” he would have lost his audience in his first sentence. He began where his hearers could begin, and he who begins otherwise than at the point of sympathy, how eloquent soever, will lose the reins ere he has time to put one sentence to another. Already, therefore, this inspiration is beginning to tell in the mental force and astuteness of this unlettered fisherman. He gives up the Deity of Christ, does he? Note the argumentative skill. Had Peter broken off his speech in the first sentence, the coldest Socinian could have endorsed his utterance, but Peter makes way through Scriptural quotations and through inspired exposition, until he concludes with this burning breath, “God hath made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified both Lord and Christ.” Notice, too, how Peter stands without equivocation upon the historical fact of the resurrection. He was not talking to people who lived a century after the reported rising again of Christ: he was talking to men who knew perfectly well what had happened. Does he put any gloss upon the matter--does he seek to make it a parable, a typal instance, a quasi resurrection? He talks with the absolute frankness of a man who is relating facts, which every child in the assembly knew to be such, and could instantly have contradicted the statements which he made, had they been false. Does Peter separate Christ from the wonderful manifestation of the Spirit which had been granted? On the contrary, he connects the Pentecost with the risen and glorified Son of God. This enables him to use another “therefore.” I refer to these “therefores” in this connection because we are trying to show how inspiritedly argumentative the apostle had become. “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted,” etc. This is His last miracle, the spiritualisation of all the miracles, the marvel to which all signs and wonders were leading up, the capital without which the column would have been unfinished, the revelation of the purpose which moved His heart when He came to save the world and found His Church.

It was also a great evangelical speech which Peter made. He gave the house of Israel a new chance. “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly”--it is as if Peter would say, “Now you have the opportunity of escaping all the past and beginning a new and glorious future.” This is the continual speech of Christianity. Every morning Christianity says, “You can make to-day better than yesterday.” Conclusion.

1. We have in Peter a standard whereby to measure ourselves. When the Holy Ghost falls upon us we shall go to the Bible with a new reading power, and we shall see wonders where before we saw nothing because of our spiritual blindness. Under the enlightenment of the Spirit we shall see that everything grand in thought, thrilling in poetry, tragic in experience, noble in heroism, is in the Bible. There is nothing in literature whose root is not to be found in the inspired volume. This is the Book out of which all other books are made, as the earth is the quarry out of which all its palaces have been dug, and as there are grander palaces in the rocks and woods than have yet been built, so there are more glorious visions in the Bible than we have yet beheld.

2. As the earth owes nothing to any other world but her light, so God has made men that we carry everything in us but our own inspiration. He does not make us new men in the sense of losing our old identity, He makes us new by His inspiration in the sense of lifting us up to the full expression of His own holy purpose in our original creation. We cannot inspire ourselves. The Holy Ghost is the gift of God. We have wondrous faculties as the earth has wondrous treasures--all these are the gift of God, all these we hold in stewardship for God. But these will be in us so many weights and burdens, curses rather than blessings, unless there fall upon us the mighty Pentecostal Holy Spirit. Then shall we be our true selves, eloquent, wise, argumentative, strong, evangelical, sympathetic, new creatures in Christ Jesus, through whom the Holy Ghost has been shed abroad in our hearts. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The first Christian apology

1. The present confusion of theological opinion is not wholly to be regretted. It is sad enough, no doubt, if you look at it on one side, that men should still be asking the question, “What is Christianity?” and giving to that question the most contrary answers. Grave and able men tell us that the virtue of Christianity lies in an order of men, is transmitted by one man putting his hand on another man’s head, and reaches the rest of the world through water, wine, and bread. Other men as grave and able assure us there is in the system no supernatural virtue at all, only certain religious instincts which long ago attached themselves crudely to a few more or less mythical facts, the real value of which we can hardly now make out. Betwixt them an infinite variety of not less inconsistent opinions finds room, and for each of them intelligent and honest advocates may be heard to plead.

2. But sad as this bewilderment is in some aspects, it surely betrays at least a desire to get at the heart of Christianity, and to do so by disentangling its essentials from its accretions. No one can pretend that such disentangling is unnecessary. Christianity, in the course of her nineteen centuries, has had her own central and proper truths so sorely overlaid by external forms of Church life; has seen her simple doctrines pressed into shapes determined by changing fashions of thought, speculated on, debated over, worked up into systems, and deduced into syllogisms; has entered also into alliance with so many other influences, with art, with politics, with social systems; that in no land of Christendom does she offer to us to-day the features she wore when she began her mission, or speak in the voice with which she first spoke when she won the world. To get at the kernel of our faith, and know it as it is, there is need for some unwrapping. And if the critical tendency which has thrown the theology of educated men into such confusion has any raison d’etre at all, it is this, that it is bent on getting at the kernel of what we call Christianity.

3. It would be a blunder for the Church to suppose that criticism has only a hostile tendency. Men who hate our holy faith are to be found in this as in every age; and they take advantage of the prevailing uncertainty, as they would do of anything else, to create a prejudice against religion. But there are multitudes of inquirers who mean no ill to Christianity, and numbers more who revere and trust it as their only hope or guide in the perplexities of our present condition.

4. In these circumstances a timid distrustful clinging to traditional forms of truth, with a nervous desire to defend the farthest and most doubtful outposts of orthodoxy is an utterly mistaken policy. It is so, whether the criticisms we are called to face be hostile or friendly.

(1) If it be hostile, it seems unwise tactics to spend our strength in defending outworks, which are either barely defensible or of inferior moment, when the enemy we fear is already thundering at the central citadel of the faith. The question which the Church must gird herself to answer is, whether there is any living Christ at all. For strategic reasons, therefore, the field to be defended needs to be contracted, that the strength of all gallant advocates of the faith may be concentrated on those main positions which are as a key to the whole situation.

(2) Nor is a narrow dogmatism any better policy if our critics are friendly. It is better, surely, and hopefuller, to meet the new spirit with the frank admission that where human reason has manipulated things of God, and forms of words, beaten out in hot controversy, have been forged to set forth infinite truth, there something may need correction.

5. In what shape the religious faith of Christendom shall emerge after this time of doubt shall have worked itself out, no man can foretell. Yet the creed of the future is not likely to be very different in substance from the creeds of the past. There is, if any one care to look for it, a solid body of Christian verity which has been, with hardly any change, the possession and life of the Church at every period of her history, and the secret nutriment of her true life through her impurest periods--the “faith once delivered to the saints.”

6. Whatever may be the issue within the Church of such revision of her ancient belief, in our contest with outside scepticism we find ourselves thrust back upon our centre, and driven to do battle there for the first principles of our faith, just as the apologists of the earliest age of Christianity had to do. Not against the same sort of doubters, nor altogether with the same arguments, yet the essentials of the Gospel we must make good as they did. In this first Christian apology, and in all other reported addresses of St. Peter in the Acts, I find the gospel defended in its germ. Back to this earliest kernel of gospel fact and truth the controversy of our day is again pressing us. We may borrow a lesson, therefore, from the apologist of Pentecost. How does he conduct his defence? In this and the other sermons of that first period, the Christian cause is made to rest on two pillars of supernatural historical fact bearing on its Founder’s life. These are not two isolated facts, however, but two periods of supernatural history. The first is His earthly life of ministry and passion, the supernaturalness of which was sealed mainly by the fact of resurrection after death. The second is the later celestial life of Jesus, the supernatural relation of which to human experience is proved by a series of spiritual facts which began at Pentecost and have not yet ceased. Of course, when the Church asserts this double claim for a continuous Divine history from her Master’s birth, she is met by a denial from those who hold any direct intercourse betwixt highest God and us earthly men to be, on philosophical grounds, a thing impossible. But she has no right to be so met by the inductive science of our day. It is the boast of modern science to have no prejudices, but to accept without misgiving whatever is established on its proper evidence. It therefore cannot bar Christianity in her attempt to prove her facts. For the Christian apologist in the Acts, and all wise Christian apologists since, profess to establish the two supernatural facts on the self-same sort of evidence on which the most ordinary facts of a like order are established.

(1) The audience whom St. Peter addressed were familiar with the main outlines of Jesus’ life as recent and notorious events. We assume them also. We owe it to the historical criticism of late years that no one now doubts the existence of Jesus and the leading features at least of that biography which we have in the holy Gospels. It is when we try to look behind the external events, and to explain their spiritual value, that the Church’s faith and the unfaith of our age part company. That the Jewish teacher of Nazareth whom the Romans crucified was in very literal deed, God, a Divine Person, come among us to do a Divine work; that on His life and death rest the hopes of every man to be redeemed from sin and recovered to the favour and likeness of our heavenly Father: this is the Christian theory for the explanation of such historical facts as all admit. For the truth of this theory the Church offers one test-proof--the resurrection. Virtually, St. Peter does so in these early sermons of his. Expressly, St. Paul, the ablest of all her defenders, does so in his second letter to Corinth. If God did raise Jesus from the dead, as no other man ever was raised, then Jesus was the Son of God as He claimed to be, His life as Divine as it professed to he. But if God did not raise this Man, the Christian advocate throws up his case, our faith is false, our fancied Saviour an impostor, and we are in our sins like other men. So the case stood when Peter preached and Paul wrote. So it stands still. But the question, whether a given man was dead and became alive again, is one which nothing can help us to answer but the witness of such as saw what happened. It is a question of evidence, and it has pleased God that this crowning seal put to His Son’s life should be sustained and guarded by an amount of proof such as no other fact in history can boast; so that no honest searcher for truth might be left in doubt that Jesus of Nazareth has been declared to be the Son of God with power, has risen the first fruits of an innumerable harvest of Christian sleepers, and by His resurrection has begotten us also unto a living hope.

(2) Even a Christ who became alive is not enough, if He has so withdrawn Himself that in His absence He cannot help us. Our Christ is not out of reach. We believe with St. Peter that the re-ascended Son has been exalted by God’s right hand to receive of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, and that by the special mission of this second Paraclete, He maintains a closer, mere equal, and more effective contact with human souls now than ever. Say that there is no Holy Ghost, or say that He is not otherwise present in Christian men than we know He is in all natural human life; and the Church is a delusion, and the word we preach as powerless for the spiritual cure of men as any socialistic or other earth-born scheme for the improvement of mankind. But how is it to be proved that through Christian agencies there does work a veritable Divine Agent? We have here the advantage over an apologist so early as St. Peter. In proof that his newly-departed Master had sent down the Holy Ghost, Peter had nothing to appeal to but one unique and startling phenomenon just happening in his hearers’ presence. We have the gathered spiritual experience of eighteen centuries. Not an age has passed since without leaving somewhere tokens that to the gospel belongs a heavenly power. It is quite true that infinite discredit has been over and over again done to the Church’s claims. But enough remains to us. Christianity is not now so new or so small a thing that it should be hard, for any man who tries, to track its working in detail on innumerable men and gather up even its secret fruits. Whoever honestly does this will satisfy himself, I think, of such facts as these: That where the gospel of Christ has been made known with tolerable correctness to numbers of men, it has been always followed, in the case of individuals, by spiritual and moral changes of a uniform type. Conclusion: To this ever-gathering evidence, each Christian must contribute. And you, who can bear no witness for Christ, because you have never let His Spirit in within your heart to change and cleanse you, be sure there is a risen living Christ who saves; be sure there is a present Holy Ghost who changes us; be sure the kingdom of God is come upon you. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)

Jesus of Nazareth, a Man approved of God among you.

The gospel in its simplicity

We have here--

A distinct affirmation of the proper humanity of Jesus. “Jesus of Nazareth, a Man.” Under this name He had been “among” them. They had not to think of Him as a recluse, but as one who had frequented the common walks of life. This would prepare the audience to think of His sympathy and compassion. But they knew that He had not been aa ordinary man. Around His person had gathered most remarkable circumstances that had to be accounted for. Accordingly we find in the text--

A distinct assertion of the extraordinary credentials of Jesus. He had been “approved of God by miracles” etc. These had demonstrated Him to be what He professed to be. Such things revealed the mind of God, and Peter now affirmed that the life of Jesus was full of God. This was a new thought to some who heard it. It followed that certain impressions of Jesus had to be corrected. For the present it was enough to make the hearer feel that Jesus was God’s messenger. More would follow.

Peter declares that even the sufferings of christ were included in the Divine plan. He had been apprehended and nailed to the Cross by the lawless, the representatives of Roman power; but in delivering Him up the Jews had been the greatest criminals, and this charge was now urged home upon them. Yet, as Peter explains, this was only in accordance with the Divine decree. Observe, then, that men are held accountable though they do not act with uncontrolled power, and that there is no excuse for sin in the mysterious blending of the Divine and the human in the working out of God’s decrees. If we could adequately survey all the facts, we might be able to remove the apparent disagreement between Divine sovereignty and human freedom: but we are ignorant.

Peter affirms that in spite of appearances Jesus has gained a complete victory. “Whom God raised up.” (W. Hudson.)

Miracles and wonders and signs.--


The first of these words, as more correctly rendered in the Revised Version, means “powers,” or “mighty works.” By Peter, therefore, the “miracles” recorded in the Gospels are referred to the three heads of “powers, wonders, and signs,” and the same terms are used by Luke to represent those wrought by the apostles and early Christians in the name of Christ. The word “powers” intimates to us the source of miraculous gifts, and the superhuman power manifested in their exercise. The second term, “wonders,” which corresponds more nearly with our word “miracles,” intimates their effect in producing wonder or astonishment, leading to conviction and belief; and the third term “signs,” indicates their value as proofs of a Divine mission. All these aspects may be more or less presented in different miracles, or may appear in different degrees in the same miracle, and in considering the relations of miracles to nature they should all be kept in view. More especially we should bear in mind that our word “miracle,” derived from the Latin, and meaning merely something wonderful, does not express the whole nature of the Biblical miracles, nor indeed, perhaps, ‘their most important feature. There may be great miracles which excite but little wonder or astonishment, though they may produce important effects, as, for instance, some of those miracles of deliverance wrought for the apostles, and little known or thought of among their contemporaries. On the other hand, there are many wonderful phenomena which are not miracles. A more important aspect is that of powers, or mighty works, which indicate the presence of superhuman power, capable of controlling natural agencies, and of modifying or rearranging the laws of the universe. In this respect miracles bring us face to face with God as the only true miracle-worker. But, perhaps, the most important aspect of all, more especially in connection with the apostolic history, is that signs, or proofs, of the Divine character or mission of those who possess such powers, or to whom they are given. It is this aspect that they are most frequently referred to, and in which they approach most nearly to those moral and spiritual characters on which I am not to enter, any further than to say generally that miracles must conform in their natural relations to the higher moral and spiritual character of the message which, as signs, they authenticate. (Principal J. W. Dawson.)

The miracles of Christ appealed to on the day of Pentecost

These words contain--

An important appeal. It was addressed to the Jews, and its subject is the promised Messiah.

1. The name by which He is designated. “Jesus of Nazareth.”

2. The character under which He is set forth. “A Man approved of God.”

3. The conclusive manner in which His claims were established. “By miracles and wonders and signs.”

A solemn charge. “Him being delivered,” etc.

1. The unparalleled crime of which they were guilty.

2. It was no extenuation of their conduct that what they had done accomplished the Divine purposes.

A blessed announcement. It referred to the resurrection of Christ.

1. To whom this great event is here ascribed. “Whom God hath raised up.”

2. The manner in which it was performed. “Having loosed the pains (or bonds) of death.”

3. The necessity of its accomplishment. “Not possible that He should be holden of it.”

A striking quotation. “For David speaketh concerning Him,” etc.

1. The feelings evinced. Those of confidence and joy.

2. The grounds on which they rested. Because Jesus died and rose again. (Expository Outlines.)

Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of Nod, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.--

Christ crucified according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God

Who was delivered?

Jesus of Nazareth had at once a name of ignominy, and a name of renown. He was called a Nazarene by the Jews because He was brought up at Nazareth; and they availed themselves of that fact to fasten upon Him what they thought would be an indelible stigma. Jesus is a name of glory. It was, indeed, a human, a common name, borne by many before; but when it was once put on Him it never was put on any other. You do not hesitate to call your children by the names of the apostles, but no father dares to call his son Jesus, because God has called His Son Jesus. “This is the name to sinners dear, the name to sinners given,” the name above every name.

2. The particular feature of His character here developed is the power of working miracles. A miracle has been defined--“a suspension or counteraction of the laws of nature.” And what are the laws of nature? They are the agencies of God, by which He employs certain causes to the production of certain effects. What philosophers signify by the essential, inflexible, eternal laws of nature, is nothing but the will of God acting in a definite way; and these laws Jesus of Nazareth broke in upon, disturbed them when He pleased. He showed that He was the Author of nature, and that all these laws were of His own making; and, therefore, as He produced the effects apart from the usual associated causes He was the God of nature. His miracles are called wonders, because they filled the spectators with wonder; and signs, because they were indexes of the properties, and prerogatives, and character of Him that wrought them.

To what was He delivered? To a death the most extraordinary in its nature, and the most dolorous in its circumstances, if you consider:--

1. The place where He died. We all hope to die in our own homes and beds. But your Lord and Master died at Calvary, a place putrid with blood and bones--the atmosphere of which was impregnated with a blasphemous breath.

2. Among whom He died. He was crucified between two malefactors; He had the middle place as though He was worse than either of them.

3. The death itself. Crucifixion was the most lingering and painful mode of death, and the most infamous. “Cursed is he that hangeth on a tree.” What part of His body was exempt from anguish? Was it His hands and His feet?--they were pierced with nails. Was it His temples?--they were punctured with thorns. Was it His back?--that was lacerated with scourges. Was it His side?--that was broken by the hostile spear. Was it His bones?--they were all as it were out of joint. Was it His muscles?--they were stretched upon the gibbet. Was it His veins?--they were deprived of their purple fluid. Was it His nerves, those canals of feeling, those rivers of sensation?--they were wrung with anguish. And all this was as nothing compared with the sorrows of His soul. Though He had been a man of sorrows and a child of grief, yet, when He came to be delivered up, He said, “Now, now is My soul exceeding sorrowful.” The weight of mental anguish may be alleviated by three sources.

(1) The sympathies of affectionate friends. But when Christ died, His disciples forsook Him and fled; He was surrounded with grim guard-by hostile bands.

(2) By the holy angels, who are ministering spirits sent forth to minister’ unto them who are heirs of salvation; and perhaps the most important part of their ministration is rendered to us just when the immortal spirit is on the confines of eternity. Our Saviour had Himself, during His life, been ministered to by angels; but when delivered up to death, the angels afforded Him no sympathy. He drank the wine-press alone, with Him was none, neither man nor angel could sympathise with Him in His suffering.

(3) By the consolations of our heavenly Father. But Jesus of Nazareth when delivered up to death was without these. The Father that had honoured His birth by a new star, and His baptism by the sound of a more than mortal voice from the excellent glory, that had honoured Him when He performed the miracles to which I have alluded, forsook Him upon the Cross.

By whom was He delivered? I notice--

1. The human agents. It was the Jews that did it; their high priest had said it was expedient for Christ to die; it was their Pontius Pilate that condemned Him; it was their Judas that betrayed Him; their priests that plotted it; their Scribes and Pharisees that hailed it; their populace that shouted for it. But let not the Jews imagine that their guilt is at all diminished by the fact of the death of Christ being “according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.” Their actions were not at all influenced by the determinate counsel of Jehovah; the apostle tells them they were not; he says, “Ye have done it.”

2. But there is another agency in this “transaction (a God appears in this amazing scene). Lift up the eyes of your mind to the throne of the heavens, to the Majesty on high, and see God delivering up His own Son to this accursed death. They could have had no power against the Son of Man except it had been given to them from above. The death of Christ was not casual, it was not accidental, it was according to the certain councils entered into between the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in the abyss of a past eternity. In these counsels it was agreed that one of the persons of the Trinity should become incarnate for lost human nature; that one should die for our guilty world. According to the contract entered into, Jesus of Nazareth was delivered up unto death. How amazing that such deliberations should be followed by such results I Hear the declaration of the apostle on the subject, “He spared not His only Son, but freely gave Him up for us all.”

The design on account of, and the end for which, Jesus of Nazareth was delivered. He was delivered up for what? for whom? Not for His own iniquity, for He had none; not for Himself, for He was no transgressor. He could challenge the bitterest of His enemies and say--“Which of you convinces Me of sin?” Now, we are only acquainted with the iniquity of angels and men, and the question is narrowed to this: If Jesus were not delivered for His own iniquity--having none at all--He was delivered for the iniquity of angels that sinned, or for ours. Now then, for which was it? He passed by the angels, He took not hold of their nature, He never was found in fashion as an angel. I love the angels, because, among other reasons, they do not envy man the grandeur and glory of his being redeemed by the Son of God, while part of their own species was not taken hold of by the Son of God. When Jesus of Nazareth was born the angels sang--“Glory to God in the highest”--and in hell peace? No; and because they could not sing in hell peace, did they refuse to sing on earth peace? They could not say, and they did net say, “Good will to devils,” to our lost brethren; but could say, and they did say, “Good will to man.” Jesus of Nazareth took hold of our nature and was delivered, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God. Why He felt for us, rather than for angels that sinned, I know not. It is enough for me to know that He loves me, and loves you, and that He loves all our apostate race. Here comes in the old, good-for-nothing objection to the innocent suffering for the guilty. Why, then, did Christ suffer? Oh, they say, He suffered to give us an example of magnanimity and patience under suffering. And they talk about justice. Why, if there is injustice in His dying to save a world from the curse of God, there is a million times more monstrous injustice in His dying merely to teach us how to suffer. He died by His own consent. What bound Him to the Cross? Was it the nails? If He had never been fastened by anything but nails, He had never been fastened at all. It was love that led Him to go to the high altar, and it was love to us that fastened Him to that altar. Conclusion: It is not enough to hear of this Saviour, and of this salvation, and the love that prompted it; there must be a personal appropriation of the benefit of the death of Christ. (J. Beaumont, D. D.)

The nature and quality of the death Christ died upon the Cross

The Kind Or Nature Of His Death.

1. It was a violent death in itself, though voluntary on His part (Isaiah 53:8; John 10:17). And indeed He must either die a violent death or not at all, partly because there was no sin in Him to open a door to natural death, partly because His death had not been a sacrifice satisfactory to God for us. That which died of itself was never offered up to God, but that which was slain when it was in its full strength and health.

2. A most painful death. Indeed in this death were many deaths contrived in one. The Cross was a rack as well as a gibbet.

3. A shameful death. One appointed for the vilest of men.

4. A cursed death (Galatians 3:13; Deuteronomy 21:23).

5. A very slow and lingering death.

6. A helpless death.

The reasons why Christ died this, rather than any other kind of death.

1. Because Christ must bear the curse, and a curse by law was affixed to no other kind of death as it was to this.

2. To fulfil the types. All the sacrifices were lifted up from the earth upon the altar. But especially the brazen serpent prefigured this death (Numbers 21:9; John 3:14).

3. Because it was predicted of Him (Psalms 22:16-17; Zechariah 12:10). Inferences: Did Christ die the death of the Cross? Then--

1. There is forgiveness with God, and plenteous redemption for the greatest of sinners, that by faith apply the blood of the Cross to their poor guilty souls (Colossians 1:14; 1 John 1:7). Two things this will make demonstrable.

(1) That there is sufficient efficacy in the blood of the Cross to expiate and wash away the greatest sins (1 Peter 1:18; Acts 20:28). On the account of its invaluable preciousness, it becomes satisfying and reconciling blood to God (Colossians 1:20), and having enough in it to satisfy God it must needs have enough in it to satisfy conscience (Hebrews 10:22).

(2) As there is sufficient efficacy in this blood to expiate the greatest guilt, so it is as manifest that the virtue of it is intended by God for the use of believing sinners (Acts 13:39).

2. Though there be much of pain there is nothing, of curse in the death of the saints. Death poured out all its poison and lost its sting in Christ’s side when He became a curse for us.

3. How cheerfully should we submit to, and bear any cross for Jesus Christ. What feathers are ours compared with His!

(1) We shall carry it but a little way.

(2) Christ bears the heaviest end of it.

(3) Innumerable blessings and mercies grow upon it. (J. Flavel.)

Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death; because it was not possible that He should be holden of it.--

The resurrection

Its cause. It was such an action as proclaimed an omnipotent agent. Death is a disease which art cannot cure: and the grave a prison which delivers back its captives upon no human summons. To restore life is only the prerogative of Him who gives it. Physic may repair and piece up nature, but not create it. Neither is it in the power of a spirit or demon to inspire a new life; for it is a creation, and to create is the incommunicable prerogative of a power infinite and unlimited. But; I suppose nobody will be very importunate for any further proof of this, that; if Christ was raised, it must be by God who raised Him. The angel might roll away the stone from the sepulchre, but not turn it into a son of Abraham; and a less power than that which could do so could not effect the resurrection.

The manner by which God wrought it. With what propriety can God be said to “loose the pains of death,” when those pains continued not till the resurrection, but expired in the death of His body?

1. Some have affirmed that Christ descended into the place of the damned and suffered the pains of hell. But this could not be; for if Christ suffered any of those pains it was either in His Divine nature, or in His soul, or in His body. But the Divine nature could not suffer as being wholly impassible: nor yet could He suffer in His soul; forasmuch as in the very same day of His death that passed into paradise; nor in His body, for that being dead, and consequently for the time bereaved of all sense, could not be capable of any torment.

2. Now can we make out the reason of this expression upon some other or better ground. The word rendered “pains,” in the Hebrew signifies also a cord or band; according to which it is very easy and proper to conceive that the resurrection discharged Christ from the bands of death; besides “having loosed,” is properly applicable to bands and not to pains. But--

(1) The words contain in them a Hebraism, viz., the pains of death, for a painful death; as it is said (Matthew 24:15), the abomination of desolation, for an abominable desolation; and so the resurrection loosed Christ from a painful death, not as if it were so at the time of His release from it, but in a divided sense it loosed Him from a continuance under that death; which, relating to the time of His suffering it, was so painful.

(2) But though the pains of death ceased long before the resurrection, so that this could not in strictness of sense be said to remove them; yet, taken in a metonymy of the cause for the effect, the pains of death might be properly said to have been loosed in the resurrection, because that estate of death into which Christ was brought by those foregoing pains was then completely triumphed over. Captivity under death and the grave was the effect and consequent of those pains, and therefore the same deliverance which discharged Christ from the one, might not improperly be said to loose Him from the other.

Its grounds, which was its absolute necessity.

1. The hypostatical union of Christ’s human nature to His Divine rendered a perpetual duration under death absolutely impossible. For how could that which was united to the great source and principle of life be finally prevailed over by death, and pass into an estate of perpetual darkness and oblivion? It was possible, indeed, that the Divine nature might for a while suspend its supporting influence, and so deliver over the human nature to pain and death, but it was impossible for it to let go the relation it bore to it. A man may suffer his child to fall to the ground, and yet not wholly quit his hold of him, but still keep it in his power to recover and lift him up at his pleasure. Thus the Divine nature of Christ did for a while hide itself from His humanity, but not desert it; put it into the chambers of death, but not lock the everlasting doors upon it. The sun may be clouded and yet not eclipsed, and eclipsed but not stopped in his course, and much less forced out of its orb. Surely that nature which diffusing itself throughout the universe communicates an enlivening influence to every part of it, and quickens the least spire of grass, would not wholly leave a nature assumed into its bosom, and, what is more, into the very unity of the Divine person, dismantled of its prime and noblest perfection.

2. God’s immutability. Christ’s resurrection was founded upon the same bottom with the consolation and salvation of believers, expressed in that full declaration made by God of Himself (Malachi 3:6). Now, the immutability of God, as it had an influence upon Christ’s resurrection, was twofold.

(1) In respect of His decree or purpose. God had from all eternity designed this, and sealed it by an irreversible purpose. For can we imagine that Christ’s resurrection was not decreed, as well as His death and sufferings? and these in the 23rd verse of this chapter are expressly said to have been determined by God. It is a known rule in divinity, that whatsoever God does in time, that He purposed to do from eternity; for there can be no new purposes of God, since he who takes up a new purpose does so because he sees some ground to induce him to such a purpose, which he did not see before; but this can have no place in an infinite knowledge, which by one comprehensive intuition sees all things at present, before ever they come to pass: so that there can be no new emergency that can alter the Divine resolutions.

(2) In respect of His word and promise, for these also were engaged in this affair (Psalms 16:10). And Christ also had frequently foretold the same of Himself. Now when God says a thing He gives His veracity in pawn to see it fully performed. Heaven or earth may pass away sooner than one iota of a Divine promise fall to the ground.

3. God’s justice. God in the whole procedure of Christ’s sufferings must be considered as a judge exacting, and Christ as a person paying down a recompense or satisfaction for sin. The punishment due to sin was death, which being paid by Christ, Divine justice could not any longer detain Him in His grave. For what had this been else but to keep Him in prison after the debt was paid? Satisfaction disarms justice, and payment cancels the bond. Christ’s release proceeded not upon terms of courtesy but of claim. The gates of death flew open before Him out of duty.

4. The necessity of His being believed in as a Saviour, and the impossibility of His being so without rising from the dead. As Christ by His death paid down a satisfaction for sin, so it was necessary that it should be declared to the world by such arguments as might found a rational belief of it; so that men’s unbelief should be rendered inexcusable. But how could the world believe that He fully had satisfied for sin, so long as they saw death, the known wages of sin, maintain its full force and power over Him? Had not the resurrection followed the crucifixion, that scoff of the Jews had stood as an unanswerable argument against Him (Mark 15:31-32). To save is the effect of power, and of such a power as prevails to a complete victory and a triumph.

5. The nature of the priesthood which He had taken upon Him. The apostle (Hebrews 8:4) says, that “if He were upon earth He should not be a priest.” Certainly then much less could He be so, should He continue under the earth. The two great works of His priesthood were to offer sacrifice, and then to make intercession for sinners, correspondent to the two works of the Mosaical priesthood. Christ, therefore, after that He had offered Himself upon the Cross, was to enter, into heaven, and there presenting Himself to the Father to make that sacrifice effectual to all the intents and purposes of it (Hebrews 7:25). Had not Christ risen again, His blood indeed might have cried for vengeance upon His murderers, but not for mercy upon believers. Ever since Christ ascended into heaven He has been pursuing the great work begun by Him upon the Cross, and applying The virtue of His sacrifice to those for whom it was offered. (R. South, D. D.)

The necessity of Christ’s resurrection

It was not possible that death should hold our Divine Lord and Saviour. Why?

Was it simply because of His power? Is the victory that He gained when He came forth from the grave only the prevalence of a stronger force over a weaker? The love of power, the delight in wielding it and in witnessing its exercise, the joy of battle, the elation of victory--how much of human energy finds vent in these great passions! Is this spectacle of the triumphing of Christ over death only another exhibition of strength? Doubtless we must see in the resurrection a proof of superhuman energy. “No man taketh My life from Me,” etc., said our Lord. Here is the sign of a strength superior to nature; of an energy that is not confined by the uniformities of physical law; of a force that is stronger than the strongest of the forces with which our science deals. But is this all? No; this is the least of the truths disclosed to us upon the Easter day. Men had faith enough in physical power before Christ rose from the dead. Worshippers of power most of them were. Men believed quite enough in the power of God; as a revelation of the fact that there is a Will behind nature superior to nature, the resurrection was not needed.

Was it logical? Does the apostle mean that Christ could not have been left in the grave, because the Divine plan and purpose made His resurrection necessary? Doubtless this is true. The success of His mission required Him to rise from the grave. It was necessary as a practical measure, for the confirmation of His claims, and the verification of His gospel. But is this all? No.

The impossibility was moral. It was not might nor policy but love and right that conquered.

1. The apostle expresses in this phrase one of the strongest and most persistent of the instinctive moral feelings of man, viz., that virtuous being ought to continue. It is sometimes said that man has an instinctive faith in immortality, and it is doubtless true. But the feeling to which I refer is much deeper and more dominant than this. I am not speaking now of the testimony of revelation concerning future existence, but of the conclusions to which our own instinct and judgment would lead us. And I think that if we had to depend wholly on these for our light upon this great question, while each one might hope for life beyond the grave as his own inheritance, we should hesitate to affirm it confidently respecting all our neighbours. Here, for example, is one whose life has steadily gravitated downward; who has grown more sordid, sour, brutish, with every passing year. So he lives, and so living he goes down to death. If we had no other guide than our own reason and moral instincts, should we confidently affirm of such a man that there would be life for him beyond the grave? I do not think so. I think we should be more likely to say of him, pityingly and mournfully: “If there were any prospect that his character could be mended, then we would hope that he might have life beyond; but if his life is to go on in this strain, there is no reason why his existence should be prolonged. If this universe is built on righteousness, the continuance of such lives is illogical and inexplicable.” That is what the moral reason would say about it. But here is another of different quality. His life has been full of faithful and loving service of his kind; the contact of his spirit made every man more manly and every woman more womanly. Steadily as the years have gone by his character has been ripening, and now in the midst of his years he suddenly falls, and among men no more is seen. Is not our feeling about such a man’s departure quite different from that with which we noted the passing out of life of the other? Do we not say at once, that if this universe means righteousness such a man ought not to cease to be; that the discontinuance of such a life would be as illogical and inexplicable as the continuance of the other would be? Death has seized upon our friend, we say, but it is not possible that death should hold him fast.

2. In cases of many that we have known we have felt that this impossibility was strong, almost invincible; but how much stronger should it have been in the minds of those who had been the companions and disciples of Jesus Christ all their lives! Might they not have said, with far clearer emphasis, when the hand of death was laid on Him, “It is not possible that He should be holden of it”? Recall some faint outline of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Remember the clear truthfulness of His speech, His courage, His friendship for the outcasts and the despised, the grand independence with which He brushed aside the conventional estimates, the tireless beneficence and boundless sympathy of His life. And now suddenly this life terminates. By wicked hands this Prince of Life is crucified and slain! Is it possible that such a life, so pure and perfect and benignant, should end like this? You could not affirm that it would reappear on this earth; on that point experience could give you no encouragement; but you could say that there ought to be and must be given to that life, somewhere, glory and immortality.

3. The force of this conclusion respecting all highest and noblest life it is hard to evade. The expectation of future existence in the abstract may be more or less shadowy; but the expectation that virtuous life will continue rests on the very foundation of our moral nature. And there is a great word of science that reaffirms this verdict of our moral sense. It is the fittest that survive, we are told. And, in a moral universe, it is the righteous, surely, who are fit to survive. You stand upon some elevated spot, where you can see, far down the valley, a railway train approaching. The pennant of smoke is lifted by the wind as the train draws nearer and nearer, bending round the curves, speeding swiftly along the straight alignments, its first faint murmur deepening into an audible roar, until it rushes past you swift, majestic, resistless, the very incarnation of motion and of might. Quickly, almost before your nerves have ceased to thrill with the onset of its power, it is out of sight behind an embankment, and out of hearing beyond a hill; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, it is gone. Would it be easy for you now to believe that that wonderful power has vanished out of being; that when it passed beyond your sight it suddenly ceased to be; that all which you saw and felt but for a moment ago is now nothing but a memory? No; that would not be possible. You are sure that the glory of going on still belongs to that wonderful mechanism, though it is now beyond your sight. And it seems to me that the reasons for believing in the persistence of a great moral force after it has disappeared from these scenes of earth are far stronger. Of such a power we say, more confidently than of any physical energy, “It cannot be blotted out; it must continue to be.”

4. It was to strengthen this conviction, to demonstrate its truth and its reason, to give the world, in a great object lesson, the proof that virtue does not die, that our Lord came back to earth. It was not only to show His own Divinity; it was also to show that virtue and holiness are immortal. And as it was not possible that He should be holden of death, so neither is it possible that any of those who have His life in them should be detained in that prison-house. This is no arbitrary decree by which a future life is assured to the disciples of Christ; it is the law of the universe. Over such characters as His death has no power; and they who by faith in Him are brought into harmony with Him in this life can never be the prey of the spoiler. “He that believeth in Me,” said the Master, “hath everlasting life.” He who is one with Christ, who has the spirit of Christ, hath eternal life. What, to him, are all the vicissitudes and perils of our mortal state, all the sullen and ominous noises of the flood of years whose tides steadily gather round the narrow neck of land whereon he calmly waits? There is a hope within him that many waters cannot quench. His life is hid with Christ in God. (W. Gladden, D. D.)

The resurrection inevitable

St. Peter’s way of accounting for Christ’s resurrection is the first apostolic statement on the subject. And certainly, even if the point were only one of antiquarian interest, it would be full of attraction to know how the first Christians thought about the chief truths of their faith; considering the influence which that faith has had and still has on the development of the human race. But for us, Christians, concern in this matter is more exacting. Our hopes or fears, our depressions or enthusiasms, our improvement or deterioration, are bound up with it. “If Christ be not risen, our preaching is vain, your faith is also vain.”

St. Peter states the fact that Christ had risen from the dead. “Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death.” He is preaching in Jerusalem, the scene of the death and resurrection, and to some who had taken part in the scenes of the crucifixion. Not more than seven weeks have passed. And in Jerusalem, we may be sure, men did not live as fast as they do in an European capital, in this age of telegraphs and railroads. An event like the crucifixion, in a town of that size, would have occupied general attention for a considerable period. It was then to persons keenly interested in the subject, and who had opportunities of testing its truth, that St. Peter states so calmly and unhesitatingly the fact of the resurrection. He states it as just as much a fact of history as the crucifixion, in which his hearers had taken part. Some twenty-six years later, when St. Paul wrote his first letter to Corinth, there were, he says, more than two hundred and fifty still alive who had seen Jesus Christ after His resurrection. The number of witnesses to the fact, to whom St. Peter could appeal, and whom his hearers might cross-question if they liked, will account for the simplicity and confidence of his assertion. In those days men had not learnt to think more of abstract theories than of well-attested facts. Nobody, it may be added, who professed to believe in an Almighty God, thought it reverent or reasonable to say that He could not for sufficient reasons modify His ordinary rules of working, if He chose to do so. St. Peter then preached the resurrection as a fact, and, as we know, with great and immediate results. But how did he account for it?

He says that Christ was raised because “it was not possible that he should be holden of” death. Thus St. Peter’s first thought about this matter is the very opposite to that of many persons in our day. They say that no evidence will convince them that Christ has risen, because they hold it to be antecedently impossible that He should rise. St. Peter, on the other hand, almost speaks as if he could dispense with any evidence. In point of fact, he had his own experience to fall back upon (Luke 24:34). But this evidence only fell in with the anticipations which he had now formed on other and independent grounds. It will do us good to consider the reasons of this Divine impossibility.

1. It was not possible, “for David speaketh concerning Him.” Prophecy forbade Christ to remain in His grave. As to the principle of this argument there would have been no controversy, between St. Peter and the Jews. When once God had thus spoken, His word, it was felt by Jews and. Christians, stood sure. It could not return empty; it must accomplish the work for which God had sent it forth; since it bound Him to an engagement with those who uttered and with those who heard His message. Obviously enough, the true drift of a prophecy may easily be mistaken. God is not responsible for eccentric guesses as to His meaning. But where a prediction is clear, it does bind Him who is its real Author to some fulfilment, which, in the event, will be recognised as such. And such a prediction of the resurrection St. Peter finds in Psalms 16:1-11., where David--as more completely in Psalms 22:1-31.--loses the sense of his own personal circumstances in the impetus and ecstasy of the prophetic spirit, and describes a Personality of which indeed he was a type, but which altogether transcends him. The meaning of the Psalm was so clear to some Jewish doctors, that, unable as they were to reconcile it with David’s history, they invented the fable that his body was miraculously preserved from corruption. David, however, was really speaking in the person of Messiah. And his language created the necessity that Messiah should rise from the dead. Observe, here, that St. Peter had not always felt and thought thus. He had known this Psalm all his life. But long after he had followed Jesus, he had been ignorant of its true meaning. Only little by little do any of us learn God’s truth and will. And so lately as the morning of the resurrection, the apostles “knew not the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.” Since then the Holy Spirit had come down, and had poured a flood of light into their minds and over the sacred pages of the Old Testament. And thus a necessity for the resurrection, which even Jews ought to recognise, was now abundantly plain.

2. A second reason lay in the character of Christ. Now, of that a leading feature was its simple truthfulness. He was too wise to predict the impossible. He was too sincere to promise what He did not mean. But Christ had again and again said that He would be put to a violent death, and that after dying He would rise again (John 2:19; Matthew 12:40; Matthew 16:21; Mark 9:31; Mark 10:32-34). Thus He was pledged to this particular act--pledged to the Jewish people, and especially to His own followers. He could not have remained in His grave--I will not say without dishonour, but--without causing in others a revulsion of feeling such as is provoked by the exposure of baseless pretensions. It may indeed be urged that the resurrection foretold by Christ was not a literal resurrection of His dead body, but only a recovery of His credit, His authority; obscured as these had been for a while by the crucifixion. The word “resurrection,” according to this supposition, is in His mouth a purely metaphorical expression. Socrates had had to drink the fatal hemlock; and the body of Socrates had long since mingled with the dust. But Socrates, it might be said, had risen, in the intellectual triumphs of his pupils, and in the enthusiastic admiration of succeeding ages; the method and words of Socrates had been preserved for all time in a literature that will never die. If Christ was to be put to death by crucifixion, He would triumph, even after a death so shameful and degrading, as Socrates and others had triumphed before Him. To imagine for Him an actual exit from His tomb is said to be a crude literalism, natural to uncultivated ages, but impossible when the finer suggestiveness of human language has been felt to transcend the letter. An obvious reply to this explanation is, that it arbitrarily makes our Lord use literal and metaphorical language in two successive clauses of a single sentence. He is literal, it seems, when He predicts His crucifixion; but why is He to be thought metaphorical when He foretells His resurrection? Why should not His resurrection be preceded by a metaphorical crucifixion; a crucifixion of thought, or will, or reputation--not the literal nailing of a human body to a wooden cross? Surely He meant that the one event would be just as much or just as little a matter of fact as the other. Those who cling to His human character, yet deny His resurrection, would do well to consider that they must choose between, their moral enthusiasm and their unbelief; since it is the character of Christ, even more than the language of prophecy, which made the idea that He would not rise after death impossible for His first disciples.

3. Not that we have yet exhausted St. Peter’s reasons. In the sermon which he preached after the healing of the lame man, he told his hearers that they had “killed the Prince of Life, whom God raised from the dead.” Remark that striking title. Not merely does it show how high above all earthly royalties was the crucified Saviour in the heart and faith of His apostle. It connects his thought with the language of his Master on the one side, and that of His apostles St. Paul and St. John upon the other (John 14:6; John 5:26; John 5:40; John 1:4; Colossians 3:4). What is life? We do not know what it is in itself. We only register its symptoms. We see growth, movement; and we say, “Here is life.” It exists in one degree in the tree; in a higher in the animal; in a higher still in man. In beings above man, we cannot doubt, it is to be found in some yet grander form. But in all these cases it is a gift from another: and having been given, it might be modified or withdrawn. Only the Self-Existent lives of right. He lives because He cannot but live. This is true of the Eternal Three, who yet are One. Hence our Lord says, “As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself.” Thus, with the Eternal Giver, the Eternal Receiver is the Fountain and Source of life. With reference to all created beings, He is the Life--their Creator, their Upholder, their End (Colossians 1:16-17). This then is the full sense of St. Peter’s expression, “The Prince of Life.” How could the very Lord and ,Source of life be subdued by death? If, for reasons of wisdom and mercy, He subjected the nature which He had made His own to the king of terrors, this was surely not in the course of nature; it was a violence to nature that this should be. And therefore when the object had been achieved, He would rise, St. Peter implies, by an inevitable rebound, by the force of things, by the inherent energy of His irrepressible life. From St. Peter’s point of view, the real wonder would be if such a Being were not to rise. The pains of death were loosed--not by an extraordinary effort, as in your case or mine--but because it was impossible that He, the Prince of Life, should be holden of it.

This necessity, while in its original form strictly proper to His case, points to kindred necessities which affect His servants and His church. Note--

1. The impossibility, for us Christians too, of being buried for ever in the tomb in which we shall each be laid at death. In this, as in other matters, “as He is, so are we in this world.” To us as to Him, although in a different way, God has pledged Himself. In Him an internal vital force made resurrection from death necessary; in us there is no such intrinsic force, only a power guaranteed to us from without. He could say of the temple of His body, “I will raise it up in three days”: we can only say that God will raise us up, we know not when. But this we do know (Romans 8:11). The law of justice and the law of love combine to create a necessity which requires “a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust.” Death is not an eternal sleep; the tomb is not the final resting-place of the bodies of those whom we have loved. The empty sepulchre at Jerusalem on Easter morning is the warrant of a new life, strictly continuous with this, and, if we are faithful, much more glorious.

2. The principle of moral resurrections in the Church. As with the bodies of the faithful so it is with the Church. The Church is, according to St. Paul’s teaching, Christ Himself in history (1 Corinthians 12:12; Ephesians 1:22-23). But the force of this language is limited by the fact, equally warranted by Scripture--that the Church has in it a human element, which, unlike the humanity of Christ, is weak and sinful. Again and again in the course of her history large portions of the Christian Church have seemed to be dead and buried. But suddenly the tomb has opened; there has been a moral movement, a new spirit of devotion, social stir, literary activity, conspicuous self-sacrifice; and, lo! the world awakes to an uneasy suspicion that “John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that mighty works do show forth themselves in him.” The truth is that Christ has again burst His tomb and is abroad among men. So it was after the moral degradation of the Papacy in the tenth century; so it was after the recrudescence of Paganism by the Renaissance in the fifteenth; so it was after the triumph of misbelief and profanity in the seventeenth, and of indifference to vital religion in the eighteenth.

3. What is or ought to be the governing principle of our own personal life? If we have been laid in the tomb of sin, it ought to be impossible that we should be holden of sin. I say “ought to be,” because, as a matter of fact, it is not impossible. God only is responsible for the resurrection of the Christian’s body, and for the perpetuity of the Christian Church; and therefore it is impossible that either the Church or our bodies should permanently succumb to the empire of death. But God, who raises our bodies whether we will or not, does not raise our souls from sin, unless we correspond with His grace; and it is quite in our power to refuse this correspondence. That we should rise then from sin is a moral, not a physical, necessity; but surely we ought to make it as real a necessity as if it were physical (Romans 6:4).

4. A real resurrection with Christ will make and leave some definite traces upon life. Let us resolve this day to do or leave undone some one thing which will mark a new beginning: conscience will instruct us, if we allow it to do so. (Canon Liddon.)

The inevitableness of Christ’s resurrection

The fact here stated. “Him hath God raised up,” etc. Note--

1. That Jesus did experience everything which death is able to inflict upon mortal man. It was not, as some ancient heretics pretended, the mere appearance of death, but the reality, which He underwent. He felt “the pains of death.” And so fearful and rapid was the operation of His sufferings, that, of the three who were crucified together, He alone was dead, when the hour arrived for removing the bodies. And death had then full dominion over Him.

2. That He was set free from the power of death by being raised to life again. To all human appearance the hopes of His cause were for ever buried with Him. But at this point the power of death was broken, and the grave is robbed of its victory. “Death has no more dominion over Him.” He is raised--not as the widow’s son at Nain or Lazarus, again to die--but to wear for ever that scarred body which He has brought with Him out of the sepulchre.

3. That this event was effected by Divine power: “Him hath God raised up.” This circumstance may excite no wonder in your minds; for who can raise the dead but God only? Unquestionably, He alone, who first “breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life,” can restore it after He hath taken it away. Call to mind, however, what He Himself had openly declared long before His death, “No man taketh My life from Me,” etc. Scripture teaches us that each Person in the blessed Trinity took His share in effecting this glorious resurrection.

(1) The Father (Hebrews 13:20).

(2) The Son (John 2:19).

(3) The Holy Ghost (Romans 1:4; 1 Peter 3:18).

These would be contradictory statements were it not for that mysterious doctrine, that our God is one God in three Persons. That doctrine reconciles all; while it still calls upon us to wonder and adore.

The reason assigned for it. Had Jesus so willed, death could not have taken hold of Him; nor could it keep its hold one moment; longer when God commanded, “Loose Him and let Him go.” The impossibility here dwelt upon, however, seems to mean something more than that arising from God’s irresistible power. It could not be, because--

1. Prophecy had long ago foretold that it should not be; “and the Scripture cannot be broken.”

2. No good end would have been answered by the continuance of Christ under the power of death. All that He had suffered was in order to His being “the propitiation for our sins.” Now those agonies needed not to be eternal, although they were an equivalent to that eternal punishment which is our desert. The Sufferer being infinite, the merit of His sufferings was so likewise. And for the same reason, the humiliation of the grave once submitted to was enough, since it was the infinitely glorious Son of God who condescended to endure it. Just as “one offering” sufficed for “the sins of many,” so one short sojourn in the tomb of dishonour was sufficient to earn its infinite reward. More was not required--and God does nothing unnecessarily.

3. Satan’s apparent triumph would then have been a real one. The chief end of Christ’s coming was to “destroy the works of the devil.” Of this, Satan himself was fully aware; and to prevent his own defeat left no effort untried. He assailed the mind of Jesus with temptations: he stirred up enemies against His life. Defeated in the former by Christ’s holy nature, he appeared to succeed in the latter, and possibly began to boast that he had now triumphed over the only Redeemer of men. And had Jesus still lain in the corruption of the grave, who could have gainsaid this boast? St. Paul himself allows that it would have been the ruin of our hopes (1 Corinthians 15:17). Jesus, therefore, must needs rise again.

4. He had still one perpetual work to perform on behalf of His people, which required His entire presence as perfect Man before God. As our Priest He had offered the sacrifice for sins; in the same character He had now to make continual “intercession for us.” “He might have done this,” you say, “in His Divine Person, or by His human soul in glory.” Why not as well say He might have made atonement without a human body? No--the presence of that living body is indispensable, as an evidence of His merit, as the pledge of His claims. (J. Jowett, M. A.)

Christ still escaping from entombment

Dead, and yet not able to continue dead. A stone sepulchre, and yet not equal to the strain of the strange body that was entombed in it. “Not possible” that He should be holden of it. It is just that “not possible” that we are going to think about. The world has never made a great deal of the resurrection of Lazarus, or of the widow’s son of Nain, or the ruler’s daughter, or the Shunammite’s son. There are two kinds of resurrection: there is a natural resurrection and there is an artificial resurrection. Something roused Lazarus. Elisha roused the Shunammite’s son. Jesus has had His death-sleep out. Artifice versus: nature. It never could have been said of the ruler’s daughter that God raised her up, loosing the pains of death because it was not possible that she should be holden of it. It was possible, most possible. In the rending of the Lord’s sepulchre we are dealing with a distinct matter. It is an event on another plane. At any rate, people have never pinned their hope of immortality to Lazarus’ resurrection, and they have to the Lord’s. And something of the core of the case lies in this particular clause we are upon: “Because it was not possible that He should be holden of it.” We gain from Christ’s instance a sense Of resurrection power working from within outward; in other instances, the sense of resurrection power working from without inward. Here it is something indigenous. Here it is like the wheat-grain growing up out of the ground because there is intrinsic impulse making it grow up; resurrection inheres in its nature; it is not possible that it should be holden; rising is a part of its genius. The Lord’s life was somehow in His own hands. His life was such a thing that limitations did not limit it; obstructions were no embarrassment to it; death was not fatal to it. Life under any circumstances, life of any kind is a wonderful thing, spiritual life, animal life, yea, even vegetable life. We cannot say much about it, only wonder at it. An acorn lying, for months, still, brown and insensible, with a slight change of environment, begins to become dimly conscious of itself; and waking up into a mighty tree that fills the air, greens and withers, and greens and withers while children grow old and generations pass away. It is a long way from the buried acorn cracking in the dark to the rending of the tomb of the Son of God in the morning twilight of the world’s first Easter; and yet our thought to-day is upon the same feature in the two instances--the life element, vegetable in one, Divine in the other, but working out with an easy expanse, shattering confinement by the native tension of its own energy; with facile sufficiency disrupting its own confinement and crushing its own bonds. “It was not possible that He should be holden of it.” It seems to me we can almost see the very steps of the transaction, Divine life in the grave unnerving the clasp of death and striving to fracture the meshes of fatality; and all of that, not by virtue of extrinsic reinforcement, but out of the abundance of its own easy sufficiency, the exuberance of its irresistible fulness of Divine life. Now all of that brings almost to our very senses the event of Divine resurrection which the great Church catholic on earth celebrates. But not only is there a great historic meaning in this resurrection emergence of Christ from the sepulchre, but it seems to me there is a picture in small of what Divine life on earth is everywhere and always doing.

1. That is the grand meaning of history, slow resurrection of the Divine life float is buried in it, and that every day strains a little more the gritty sepulchre; not because you and I try to drive into the enshrouding rock the wedges of our holy endeavour, not because liberating power is borne in upon it from any outward source; but because of the strengthening tension and growing push of its own resistless life that is eternally destined to break loose from the confinement of death because it is not possible that it should be holden of it. All the sin that is in the world, and the apathy and the obstinacy, and the ignorance and the hopelessness, what is it but so much vast, cold granite tomb in which the immanent buried life of God is working itself forth day and night, century after century, as the dawn slowly reddens toward the perfect glory of the full day and the ushered kingdom for whose coming we reverently pray. Oh, in how many ways the Divine Spirit of all truth has been working through all the ages of the world and giving even pagan minds a presentiment and suspicion of the deep things of man and history of God! As geologists delight to lay bare the rocks and track the pathway upon them worn by the archaic forces of fire and flood, so it seems to me there is no grander effort of which human mind in the range of immaterial things is capable, than to trace the movements of human history, considering those movements always as being steadily marshalled by the generalship of God’s ordering Spirit, and every advance toward freer living, truer thinking, sweeter acting, and holier worshipping as being one more blow with which the rising Lord of Life strikes the grim casing of His tomb, and shatters Himself a pathway out into the light and splendour of the world’s final Easter.

2. Think again of this same confined Spirit of God, as struggling in quiet resurrection against the barriers of sin, ignorance, and prejudice that hinder the evangelisation of the world. Remembering how the claims of the gospel cut directly athwart the stalwart passions of every human heart, I cannot understand how any man, with a mind that is appreciative, and that has a grasp upon the history of the victories achieved by the Cross, can escape the conclusion of a God-Spirit striving in the midst of it all, and rending its way out like an entombed Jesus breaking forth into the light and liberty of full resurrection. There is no argument for the Divineness of Christianity like the steady, irresistible, onward march of Christianity. It is the same thing over again, a sepulchre entombing a waking Divine Lord, and it was not possible that He should be holden of it; antagonism compacted to granitic hardness; sin rolled as a stone against the door of the sepulchre and sealed with malignity and cruelty: cunning posted as a watch upon it. But the night is going by, it is a Divine presence that is straining at the grave clothes and struggling out from entombment, and every new tribe that has the gospel brought to it, every new island out in mid-ocean that is vocal to-day with Easter praises, every new dialect that this April spells out “resurrection” to the wondering eye of the untaught pagan, is one more blow with which the rising Lord of Life strikes the grim casing of His tomb and shatters Himself a pathway out into the light and splendour of the great world’s Easter.

3. And then, again, an imprisoned Divine Lord is struggling to full resurrection within the entombing religion of the world. One of the unappreciated marvels of our very Bible is the way in which, from the beginning of it to the end, it marks the steady rise of that current of Divine truth which it channels. There is not a greater mistake made, nor a sadder one, than the habit of treating the Bible as a dead level of Divine revelation. Its first lessons are but the seed-corn out of which, through the successive seasons of four thousand years, the primary germ has been unfolding into to-day’s blossomed and fruited Tree of Life. It was a Divine thing then; Divine in its inception as it is in its finish; just as the confined germ is as live a thing as the great air-filling elm after a growth of two hundred years. But away back there it was a Divine thing perpetually striving and struggling forth into unsepulchred life against the constraints and confinements that human small-mindedness and false-heartedness put upon it. Divine, but Divineness bandaged! Eternal Spirit, but Eternal Spirit in a vault. Four thousand years of resurrection in the domain of truth! The Word which in the beginning was with God and was God, breaking off year by year and century by century the coarse integuments of human stupidity and carnality with which, forsooth, even Divineness requires to come into the world encased.

4. The Lord, too, is sepulchred, and has always been most gloomily sepulchred, in the theology of His Church. To disparage theology is to forget the Divine Spirit of truth which the pettiness and faultiness of human conception encases; and to ignore or lightly to pass over the history of theologic thought for the past forty centuries is to be oblivious of the slow, steady process of resurrection through which the confined Spirit of God is straining and crushing, age by age, the tough integument by which He is so jealously guarded, the tomb of petrified opinion around which His lovers keep tearful vigil, and to which in the grey light of the early morning they gather with linen bandages and spices “as the manner of the Jews is to bury.” Theological controversy thus, so far as it is the cracking away of archaeological deposit and dogmatic stratification is but the emergence of the God-Spirit into freer air and wider liberty, and therefore can no more be stamped out or whistled down by a dogmatic constabulary than you could stop the growth of a California pine by girdling its trunk with cotton yarn, or than the resurrection of the Son of God at Jerusalem could have been delayed by piling more granite upon the roof of the sepulchre or posting more Roman police at its door.

5. And then, just in a word, the irrepressible Lord of Life is immured and struggling inside the ethics of the world. There is nothing in the history of the human race more calculated to amaze us than its improvement in morals; especially when you remember that every step of such improvement is taken in the teeth of every man’s native tendency and original passion. No man ever becomes better except as he has Divine power given him to trample on himself. And to deny that there has been moral improvement is to be ignorant of history or to give the lie to history. As I say, it is all of it a growth; and the hindered, entombed, struggling life of the Lord is the Divine sap that permeates that growth. History, from the beginning of it to the end of it, is all resurrection; the straining, tenser and tenser straining, of the immured life of God in the world. Here is our hope. We praise God for the irrepressible and irresistible life that is in His Son Jesus Christ. We celebrate the empty grave with songs of loud acclaim. But while in this we are memorially celebrating the past, we would also, O God, by the same act anticipate and celebrate that greater coming Eastertide, when every bandage that human pettiness and ignorance wind about our risen Lord shall be sundered, when the whole sepulchre of world-sin in which He is yet entombed shall be rent, and the Lord of Life move forth a free Lord over a free earth--a glorified Lord in the midst of a redeemed world. (C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)

Bonds which could not hold

1. Our Lord felt the pains of death truly and really. His body was in very deed dead, yet there was no corruption.

(1) It was not needful: it could have borne no relation to our redemption.

(2) It would not have been seemly.

(3) It was not demanded by the law of nature; for He was sinless, and sin is the worm which causes corruption.

2. But from the pains of death His body was loosed by resurrection.

It was not possible that the bands of death should hold our Lord. He derived His superiority to the bondage of death--

1. From the command of the Father that He should have power to take His life again (John 10:18).

2. From the dignity of His human person.

(1) As in union with Godhead.

(2) As being in itself absolutely perfect.

3. From the completion of His propitiation. The debt was discharged: He must be freed.

4. From the plan and purpose of grace which involved the life of the Head as well as that of the members (John 14:19).

5. From the perpetuity of His offices.

(1) Priest (Hebrews 6:20).

(2) King (Psalms 45:6.

(3) Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20).

6. From the nature of things, since without it we should have--

(1) No assurance of our resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:17).

(2) No certainty of justification (Romans 4:25).

(3) No representative possession of heaven (Hebrews 9:24).

(4) No crowning of man with glory and honour, and exaltation of him over the works of God’s hands.

It is not possible that any other bands should hold His kingdom.

1. The firm establishment of error shall not prevent the victory of truth. The colossal systems of Greek philosophy and Roman priestcraft have passed away; and so shall other evil powers.

2. The scholarship of His foes shall not resist His wisdom. He baffled the wise in His life on earth; much more will He do it by His Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 1:20).

3. The ignorance of mankind shall not darken His light. “The poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matthew 11:5). Degraded races receive the truth (Matthew 4:16).

4. The power, wealth, fashion, and prestige of falsehood shall not crush His kingdom (chap. 4:26).

5. The evil influence of the world upon the Church shall not quench the Divine flame (John 16:33).

6. The rampant power of unbelief shall not destroy His dominion. Though at this hour it seems to bind the Church in the bands of death, those fetters shall melt away (Matthew 16:18).

It is not possible to hold in bondage anything that is His.

1. The poor struggling sinner shall escape the bonds of his guilt, his depravity, his doubts, Satan, and the world (Psalms 124:7).

2. The bondaged child of God shall not be held captive by tribulation, temptation, or depression (Psalms 34:19; Psalms 116:7).

3. The bodies of His saints shall not be held in the grave (1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Peter 1:3-5).

4. The groaning creation shall yet burst into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:21). Conclusion. Here is a true Easter hymn for all who are in Christ. The Lord is risen indeed, and the happiest consequences must follow. Let us rise in His rising, and walk at large in His loosing. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verses 25-28

Acts 2:25-28

For David speaketh concerning Him.

A prophetic panorama of the life of Jesus

These words of David show Jesus--

In His relation to the Father.

1. He had a constant recollection of God. “I saw the Lord always,” etc. In His early life He said, “Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?” And when the end drew near He said, “I must work,” etc. His faithful people are in this respect like Him in their degrees.

2. He had a constant assurance of the Divine presence--“He is on My right hand.” He could speak to the Father anywhere, and be sure that He was always heard. It is granted also to His true disciples to have like gracious freedom of access.

3. He fully accepted and entered into the Divine purpose as to His life. He was not to “be moved.” The evils through which He had to pass would have shaken one less fixed in soul. So may each of us overcome in the day of conflict.

In a state of delight. “Therefore did My heart rejoice.” Of this delight note--

1. That it was reasonable. “Therefore.” Why? Because Jesus stood in a proper relation to God. Some seek delight when they are not right towards God. This is irrational.

2. Affected the whole man. The heart rejoiced, and the tongue was glad, and the flesh rested. So His servant Paul, though always sorrowful, was always rejoicing. Oh, blessed paradox!

3. Tinged the dark future with light. “My flesh also shall rest in hope.” An unknown experience lay before Him in prospect, and He naturally shrank from it; but such was His delight that He could steadily go forward to His appointed lot. He knew that no evil could befall Him, though He must pass through the kingdom of the dead. So are His servants upheld and comforted in death by thoughts of heaven.

4. Was brought to its fulness by His resurrection and ascension. “Ways of life” were made known to Jesus by experience when He laboured among men. When men thought He had gone finally in the way of death, the way of victorious life was made known in His resurrection. Thus was His joy enhanced in ways and degrees known only to Himself. And that joy reached its fulness when He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. “Full of joy with Thy countenance.” His people are to sit with Him upon His throne, as He sits on the Father’s throne. Then “they shall hunger no more,” etc. Conclusion: See here--

1. The unity of Holy Scripture. Christ is its chief subject. Its main purpose is the setting forth of the truth concerning Him. Peter pointed out allusion to Him where it had not been previously seen; and from His Person there shines a light in which many obscurities disappear.

2. The privileges of those who are complete in Christ. By His grace they are brought into proper relations to God, and have thenceforward meat to eat which the world knows not of His salvation transcends all other good. (W. Hudson.)

Thou shalt not leave My soul in hell, neither wilt Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption.

Christ’s descent into hell and rising again from the dead

St. Peter, in a short but notable sermon, demonstrates Jesus to be the Messiah. The Holy One of God, the Lord, the Christ.

1. From the miracles He did in His lifetime, they being witnesses of the same (Acts 2:22).

2. By the fulfilling of prophecy. In being not only rejected by His own, but crucified by them, according to the determinate counsel of God (Acts 2:23).

3. From the wonders He did, not in life only, but in death. He brake through the bonds of it; the grave could not detain His body, nor Hades His soul. And this according to prophecy and promise (Psalms 16:10), which is the apostle’s quotation and my text. In discussing this doctrine, I will show--

What is the meaning of Christ’s soul being in hell? For, with respect to His Godhead, we may say of Him in the words of the Psalmist (Psalms 139:7-8). But our discourse is of the soul of the Messiah, and that was for a while in hell; not in a state of torment. But the soul of the Messiah, when He gave up His ghost, passed into the receptacle of blessed souls, into that paradise where the redeemed and pardoned are lodged, and where with Him went the repenting thief on the cross (Luke 23:43). It is this receptacle of good souls, this paradise for those that die in Christ, that is called Hades; that is, an invisible state, a being, though in a remote region, which eye cannot reach or penetrate. I confess it is a hard matter to beat out of the vulgar heads the gross conception of the word hell, which sounds to them no other than horror, and blackness of darkness, and fire and brimstone. “A place very improper to look for the soul of Christ when departed out of His body, for Him and His betrayer Judas to meet in the same place. He that had by death purchased heaven for others, Himself after death to descend into hell. This, therefore, cannot be; no, is not the meaning of the word hell where Christ went. He came not near that abyss, nor was at all among those reprobated crew.” The true, easy, and natural sense of Hades is an invisible region. Objection: If Hades means paradise, why should Christ pray against His being left in Hades, as He hopes His body shall not see corruption? Answer: He doth not pray thus, as if it were not well with His soul in Hades, as to what He enjoyed. For His soul was the soul of the Messiah, the soul of a Redeemer, a soul that was to conquer death, and not to stay any considerable time from His body born of the Virgin Mary. He had work to do which other souls had not; He was to rise for others’ justification. He was to ascend into the holy of holiest, as the great High Priest of our souls; and therefore He must return to His body, that He may as God-Man in human flesh for ever enter into glory. As if He should say, Thou wilt not leave Me unto death; that is, My soul in separation. This would be the triumph of the devil.

The occasion and reason of this article being inserted in our creed. Not that it was there at first, but it came in afterward, and that occasioned by a new heresy that started up in the Church; and therefore to obviate that this article was added as a truth provable from Scripture, that Christ went into Hades. The error was this, that Christ had no proper intellectual or rational soul. Which heresy was begun and propagated by one Apollonius and his followers. That the Word or the Divinity supplied the place of a soul, and that therefore He was not properly dead when His body was in the grave. But in opposition to this error, the Christians assert that Christ had a human soul, that it underwent all the offices of one in the body and out of the body. And when He was crucified, and by the pains of that disposed for a resignation of His Spirit, He gave it up to God, and waited upon His disposal of it. For all souls are to return to the Father of spirits, to be consigned to the state or place they are meet for. And the soul of the Messiah went to the apartment of separated souls, that is, of good and righteous ones.

1. That we are assured that we are when we go hence. And the disciples of Christ go to Paradise, as He did. I do not say they go into the heaven of heavens, for that Christ did not Himself until He reassumed His body. But when they are not as to mortal eye they shall be. “This day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.” Thy soul and Mine shall go together to the assembly of the firstborn. The dissolution of our bodies shall not break off our being; the soul, the better part, is, even in the state of separation. They enter into rest, not a cessation of being or a rest of sleep. But they rest in hope, they live in a joyful expectation of a more glorious appearance. Our Saviour’s return to reassume His body gave an ocular demonstration of the immortality both of body and soul.

2. A God incarnate takes actual care both of our bodies and souls, in every state after we come into the body; in life, in death, and after death. A God incarnate, I say; for so was the Lord of glory that was crucified for us, that died, and rose again from the dead (John 10:17-18). And this power He exerts not only for Himself, but all His followers. He is with them in life, in death, in the body, and out of the body. He dwells with them by His Spirit while in the tabernacle of the flesh; and when out of the body they are with the Lord. He beams His light of glory into the regions they are in, for a while, as separate from the body. He never leaves them nor forsakes them. St. Stephen, under a shower of stones, looked up stedfastly into heaven, arid saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God (Acts 7:55). And some such like manifestations separate souls have of their glorified Saviour, which makes them wait with joy for a farther salvation.

3. That a separation hereafter will be ever made betwixt the righteous and unrighteous. Our Saviour in the state of separation had nothing to do with the damned; He gave them no visit. He went not into hell in this sense.

4. Nothing shall withhold us from returning unto the body when the time of reunion comes.

The incorruptibility of His body. It was not to see corruption. Though the soldiers gave Him His death wounds, yet they did not fester, nor His body see corruption. The immaculate Lamb was without spot; He was pierced, but He was not putrified; He was butchered, but not blemished. His body was cast into the grave, but it did not see corruption. Worms were neither His brothers nor sisters. His body was of a purer make, and had none of that taint that could attract such vermin. I shall represent to you some considerations why Christ’s body was not to see corruption.

1. Because He was in three days to reassume it, according to promise, and His own prediction. His body was not to be a mortal body as ours, to return to dust. That was the melancholy sentence passed on the posterity of Adam, but not to reach him that is the second Adam, who was though the son of Adam, as says St. Luke, yet not according to an ordinary generation. He had said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again”; and He spake, says the text, of the “temple His body” (John 2:21).

2. His body was not to see corruption because He was the second Adam, and was not under the guilt of the first. He was the Lord from heaven and the Lord of glory; and His body was to be a glorious body. His body was never stained by sin or sickness, and His death wounds only opened a passage for His Spirit; but the cabinet, though broken or bruised, was not disjointed. The temple was destroyed without dislocation of any part. The first Adam brought in sin and death into the world; the second, life and immortality. An argument which the apostle pursues, in 1 Corinthians 15:47, “The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second Man is the Lord from heaven.” Our natures, as derivative from a sinner, are decreed to death and dissolution, and must sink into the same principle of which they are compounded, but the second Man is the Lord from heaven--the Lord of life and immortality. And therefore, in verse 45, the apostle styles Him a quickening Spirit, keeping His body tenantable, though He went out of it; and not only so, but He was Lord of His own body, and none other had power and dominion over it. None, nor anything, could assault His body laid up as in a repository for His returning.

3. His body was not to see corruption because He was, as the Christian High Priest, to enter into the Holy of Holiest, as the first fruits of the dead. So our apologist, St. Peter, verse 29, etc. This spiritual High Priest must enter into the Holy of Holiest, with all His body and soul clean, and clear, pure and perfect, radiant and glorious; the true regalia that adorned the investiture of this High Priest. The Christian High Priest was to be a freeman, not a prisoner. He was not to enter with shackles, but rather with the armature of a glorious Victor (Ephesians 6:13).

The doctrinal part of this sermon speaks comfort to us all that should enliven us and fill us with joy in believing.

1. The same Lord Jesus that raised and reassumed His own body, shall raise ours, and make them like His glorious body (Philippians 3:21).

2. Because Christ is our Lord, He hath redeemed our bodies by His precious blood, and He sacrificed His body for ours, and we have dedicated our bodies to Him, and He is Lord of our bodies. Not only our souls, but our bodies are redeemed by Him from the grave, and here is the state of the dead.

3. That Christ raised His own body. But I am not preaching to infidels, but believers: and we know that because Christ is risen we also shall arise, and our bodies shall be made like Christ’s body. For--

4. Christ will do this great work by taking away all those corruptible qualities and infirmities to which our bodies are liable, both living and dead. That this vile body may be refined, and free from decay, being made like the glorified body of Jesus after the resurrection.

5. The instrument by which our Lord shall effect this wonder, even by His omnipotence. “Why,” says the same apostle, “should it be thought impossible that God should raise the dead?”

6. We conclude that a spiritual resurrection in this life must precede the blessed and glorious resurrection to eternal life. It is for the sake of a raised mind that the body shall be like Christ’s glorious body; for we must not expect to have a part in the resurrection of the just, unless in this life we commence such men. (W. Allen, D. D.)

Thou hast made known to me the ways of life.--

The experience and prospect of a real Christian

This exulting language (quoted from Psalms 16:11) may be adopted by those who believe in Christ, and have a lively sense of interest in His salvation.

The language of devout gratitude. “Thou hast made known,” etc. Compared with such a communication, every other kind of knowledge is insignificant. The ways which are worthy to be called “ways of life” are “made known” by none except the Almighty. The “life” to which they lead us is the life of faith, holiness, and peace in the present world, and the life of inconceivable excellence and delight in the world to come. “The ways of life” may therefore justly be called “the ways of God.” He has prepared these ways; in the gospel He reveals them; and, by the influence of His Spirit, He conducts into them. Nor are these “ways” merely “made known” to a Christian--he occupies them, and recommends them; they are his delight; in them he meets God, and communes with Him. Thus he grows in grace and likeness to the Divine image.

The language of devout expectation. “Thou shalt make me,” etc.

1. Christians already find that sin has lost its commanding influence; but they anticipate its entire extinction and their complete deliverance from all evil.

2. Christians anticipate a removal out of the world.

3. Christians anticipate the successful termination of their conflict with invisible principalities and powers.

4. Christians anticipate eternal intercourse with each other, and with all the angels of God.

5. Hence we are led to the richest view of the prospect with which Christians are indulged--they anticipate a vision all Divine. “Thou shalt make me full of joy with Thy countenance.” (O. A. Jeary.)

Verses 29-32

Acts 2:29-32

Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David.

An anti-rationalist argument

Peter avers--

That david could not have said of himself the words here quoted, For this he states the threefold reason, that David had died, that he had been buried, and that his tomb was still shown. No one had ever heard of his returning to life; his soul was still in the kingdom of the dead, and his flesh must long since have returned to dust. Yet he had spoken the truth in the words quoted. Then those words must refer to some other than himself. To whom could they refer? For an answer to this question Peter asks his hearers to consider--

That david was wont to think and speak of the Messiah. God had sworn to David, and told him concerning the Messiah--

1. That He would be His descendant. The descent could be traced to the Lord’s mother, who was now present.

2. That He would succeed him on the throne of Israel. David’s line was to be restored and completed in Christ, though the disobedience of his posterity caused the kingdom to pass to another family for a time.

3. That He would die. This is assumed in the apostle’s quotation, and must be included in the meaning of David’s words. And therefore--

4. That He would rise from the dead. For the prophecy points to a sitting on the throne of David which should follow the death and the resurrection of the Messiah. All these things had been foretold by David, with conscious reference to the promises of the covenant. We need not suppose that he saw the full meaning of what he said; but that which he said of himself, and which exceeded what was true concerning himself, was proper in allusion to Christ, and ultimately found its explanation in the events of His course. And Peter takes this position without apology. What is his reason for so acting? It is--

That events well known had fulfilled the prophecy of David. The most striking event of the series is put forward in confirmation of the whole, and the vouchers for it are produced. “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.” They knew who “this Jesus” was, and what was His descent. They knew that He had died but a few weeks before at Jerusalem, and had been buried. Probably all the disciples now present had seen Him after His resurrection. All the mixed multitude now present were witnesses that His resurrection was affirmed by His friends, and that His enemies could not otherwise account for the disappearance of His body. They were all, therefore, God’s witnesses. The inevitable conclusion was that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah; and this conclusion involved His kingship and His succession to David. This last was the only point yet remaining to be proved. We admire the precision and steady progress of this argument. Conclusion: Let us pause here and reflect on Peter’s way of disposing of rationalism. Those whom he addressed followed reason and judged by appearances. He met them by an appeal to facts. Whatever reason might have said beforehand, David, under Divine direction, had recorded certain predictions, and those predictions had been fulfilled. “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” How else can the rationalism of this day be dealt with?

1. The character of Christ as sketched beforehand in prophecy is presented in the Gospels.

2. The course of Christianity as foretold by the Lord and His apostles has been witnessed thus far through the ages.

3. The promises made to those who repent and believe are clearly fulfilled from day to day. And in the character of Christ, the fulfilment of prophecy, and the Christian life, with its blessed fellowship with God and power of virtuous conduct, there are unanswerable “evidences” for Christianity. (W. Hudson.)

This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.

The witness of the disciples

The only possible issue to the life of our Lord was His standing up again in life, and His entrance visibly as a risen Man into the spiritual, eternal world. In that world He had lived while still a mortal Man. “The Son of Man which is in heaven” is the sentence which contains the key to the innermost shrine of His life. This life which on earth was lived in heaven, brought to bear on man’s earthly state all the influences of the eternal world. And as the life of Christ could only fulfil itself in its most quickening core of force by resurrection, so in all His previsions and predictions about His death, He included the idea of resurrection. For precisely such a phenomenon our Lord’s language should have prepared the disciples; and their record is the more significant inasmuch as He was wholly misapprehended by them, and only when they were compelled by overwhelming evidence to accept it as a historical fact, did they begin to realise the regenerative power with which it might be charged for the world. For the resurrection was entirely transcendent, though, like all Divine facts, when it was revealed it fitted the place in history which was vacant for it--it explained and completed the whole movement of the ages, and keyed the arch which, but for it, would have become a wreck. But the gospel is not a philosophy of resurrection, but a proclamation. It says nothing about antecedent probabilities, secular preparations, or aspirations and hopes. These we investigate and discuss, and are right in so doing. But what the gospel proclaims is the historical fact; of the resurrection, and through this proclamation the whole world of civilisation has come to believe it. But all rests on the original proclamation, the credibility and sufficiency of the original witnesses; the character and amount of the testimony which is behind the affirmation. We have a very clear and succinct statement of the evidence in the words of Paul (1 Corinthians 15:3-8), and it seems as complete as can well be conceived. The Epistle was written within the generation which followed the resurrection. The majority of the witnesses were alive when it was written. There is no question of the moral honesty of the testimony. This thing, remember, was not done in a corner. There was a powerful national party at Jerusalem whose very existence was staked on proving it a fiction. Any flaw in the harness, any weak link in the chain, keen eyes would have hunted out and exposed. But there is not a trace anywhere of an answer to the apostle’s precis of testimony; not a hint that this argument on the resurrection had been answered by denying it as a fact. The witnesses are ample in number, character, and opportunity of knowledge, and their testimony is that of men who had not the faintest idea that there was any one who could raise a valid doubt on the subject anywhere about the world. This leads me to the features of the evidence.

Surely the most prominent thing which strikes one about it is its perfect simplicity and naturalness. Pascal notes “the naturalness (naivete)

with which Jesus Christ speaks of the things of God and of eternity.” With the same naturalness do the apostles speak of the resurrection. In the account of the meeting at the sea of Tiberias (John 21:1-25.), the naturalness of their communion with the risen Saviour is the wonderful thing. Transcendently wonderful, as it was, they write about it quite as simply and naturally as about the Sermon on the Mount, or the journey to Jerusalem; and instead of spending all their strength on parading the evidence of it, they are more reticent and more artless about it than about many another far less momentous fact in the history of our Lord. The manner in which the resurrection brought itself at once so perfectly into the natural order of the disciples’ lives, is to me an absolute proof that they knew they were dealing with a simple though profound and far-reaching fact. They write as if the restoration of their Lord to them, when they had once grasped the fact, was the most natural thing in the world. The only key to this is its truth.

It is entirely the evidence of disciples, of those who had a deep personal interest in establishing the resurrection as a truth. Understand what the word “interest” means. The notion of a company of interested followers of Christ, conspiring for their own purposes to palm this tale upon the world, is abandoned on all hands as utterly inadequate. These were true men, whatever else they might be. The witnesses had the deepest interest in the truth of the resurrection, but it would have been quite worthless to them except as truth. They had nothing to gain but everything to lose by the proclamation, except in as far as the power of the resurrection as a fact lay behind it. They were the best of all possible witnesses; witnesses whose supreme interest is truth. We can, however, well imagine evidence of a different character, which we are tempted to think would have at once forced conviction home on every rational mind. If it had been proved, say to the full satisfaction of the Roman procurator, after a review of all the evidence for and against it, that would have immediately established it as an unquestionable fact in history, and the whole world would have been filled with wonder and adoration. But the actual evidence is a striking contrast to this. It made no attempt to impose itself as a fact forced by the overwhelming weight of evidence on an unwilling world. Like the Incarnation, it was to be a power, and not a portent. In this, too, the kingdom of heaven came not with observation; its mission was to open minds and believing hearts alone. The spirit which seeks a sign, and the faith which is nourished on a sign, are alike worthless in that spiritual order which the Lord came to establish. The spirit which is turned to God, by the word and the work of the Saviour, is inestimably precious in His sight, and is a power in His kingdom of heaven. The Lord put deliberately from Him through life the homage which He might have won, and the power which He might have wielded, by portents and splendours; and obeying the Divine necessity to trust to the truth alone, He put them from Him also in death and in resurrection. “My kingdom is not of this world,” He said through all--birth, life, death, and resurrection. The fact, then, that the evidence is entirely of the kind described, the evidence of disciples, of men in spiritual fellowship with it, and on whose lips and in whose lives it would be not a portent but a power, is in entire and beautiful harmony with the whole spirit and method of the Divine dispensations, and lies in the true line of the spiritual culture and development of mankind.

Granting, then, that the evidence must be that of spiritual witnesses to a fact whose whole virtue was spiritual, can anything be more explicit and complete than the testimony which they bear? We have not the witness of a single, possibly hysterical, or fanatical, follower. The evidence was offered again and again to individuals, to companies, to a great crowd of disciples, with opportunities of tactical satisfaction, leaving actually nothing to be desired. Words were spoken and are recorded which none but the risen Man could have uttered. And the demonstration is crowned by the actual effect of the resurrection’, in the instant and complete transformation which it accomplished in the lives of the witnesses. We cannot read John 21:1-25. and Acts 2:1-47. without the conviction that some such fact as the resurrection is absolutely needed to account for the contrast in the narratives. The disciples were not in a mood even to think about inventing such a fact. They accepted the decease as a death-blow to their hopes. Nothing was further from their thoughts than to lead a movement which would reconstruct and save society. And yet, in a few days, the work is in vigorous progress. As by the touch of some mighty creative Hand, these men are re-made. They are preaching the resurrection with a power which is to shake the whole structure of society, and they are kindling hearts like flame, in the very city where the events were transacted. Peter, heart-broken, going back bravely to his fisherman’s toils--Peter, standing out as an incomparable teacher and leader of men, founding a Church which at this day is the strongest institution upon earth--Peter the disciple, who denied his Master, Peter the apostle, who won for Him the homage and worship of mankind--what links the two but the fact of the resurrection; the fact that a risen and reigning Christ was behind him, lending heaven’s own force to every action, and heaven’s own emphasis to every word? And what happened to them, through the resurrection, happened to the world. It began to work instantly as a tremendous force in organising and uplifting human society. It is said of a city, “There was great joy in that city when these evangelists came to it.” It is the feature everywhere. Joy, strength, hope, vital activity, all by which men and societies grow, sprang up like willows by the watercourses, wherever the sound of that gospel of the resurrection was heard. For nearly two thousand years that order has been strengthening its foundations and widening its circuit, and its unquestioned, unquestionable basis has been and is the resurrection and reign of the risen Lord. And this you ask me to believe is an imposture or a delusion! Well, I may believe it when I am driven to believe that everything is imposture or illusion; that I am illusion; that the great world around me and the great heaven above me is illusion; that all which man holds noble and beautiful, all that he thinks worth living for, worth dying for, is illusion; and that a mocking demon is the master, the ruler, and the tormentor of the world. Till then I believe and preach Jesus and the Resurrection. (J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)

The witness of the Church

Nothing that our Lord did on earth was enough to establish a faith in Himself which should survive His death. At the end of His career, not even the Twelve retained their conviction. If the Lord had only left us the Sermon on the Mount and the memory of a martyrdom, there would never have been a Church. The risen and ascended Christ is the only intelligible account that can be given of the existence of our faith. From beyond the grave the living Master works. And how? By a Spirit. But for that Spirit to act firmly, enduringly, there must be given an instrument, an organic body, and the office of that body is clearly determined for it by the conditions of its existence. “The Spirit of truth proceeding from the Father shall bear witness of Me, and ye also shall bear witness,” and so the apostles say, “We are witnesses of these things.”

The Church is the witnessing body; it proves Christ’s case.

1. Before God the Father. It manifests His glory by justifying His method of redemption; it bears witness before God that He has not sent His Son in vain.

2. In the face of men. It is to convince, so that even an unbelieving world may believe that the Father sent the Son.

In accomplishing this conversion of the world, the Church has to prove and testify.

1. That Christ is alive and at work to-day on earth, and that He can be found of them that believe, and manifest Himself to those that love Him.

2. That He is so by virtue of the deed done once for all at Calvary.

What proofs can the Church offer for these points?

1. Its own actual life. Its one prevailing and unanswerable proof is, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”

2. This personal life of Christ in His Church verifies and certifies to the world the reality of His life, death, and resurrection. The fact that the man at the Beautiful Gate has this perfect soundness--this makes it certain that God did send His Son Christ Jesus to be a Prince of Life. And therefore the living Church bears a book about with it, the gospel book, the witness of those who beheld, tasted, handled the Word of Life. “This book,” the body of Christ, declares “is true, and we know that these apostles spoke true; we are here to prove it, in that we have tasted the present power of that Word whose story they saw and recorded.”

3. And again, the body carries with it the apostolic rite, the act commanded by the dying Christ to be done for ever as a memorial and a witness until His coming again.

By believing in a body, a church, our faith lays upon us responsibilities. It gives us a call; it sets us each a task. And is not this just what our religion most lacks? There is so little sense of purpose in our religious life. Religion is a comfortable habit, a refreshment in weariness, a solace and security in the face of death. Yes, but is it the one thing that gives us a living reason for being alive? Is it that which sets us on an aim worthy and enkindling, for which it is well worth while to live? Does it come to us as something which lays upon us a service of delightful freedom under the eye of a Master who waits ever to say, “Well done, well done, thou faithful servant”? Is not this exactly what we lack? If Christ established a Church, this means that every member has, by believing, a definite, an urgent, a glad and proud task set before him. That task is to witness; and do you doubt whether you have any call to witness for Christ? For what is this witness? It is the evidence you can give by active personal union with your Lord, now alive at God’s right hand, of the authority of the gospel record and of the gospel Eucharist. And is there no one, then, who needs that evidence from you?

1. Can you find no one near you who is struggling with doubt and perplexity as he reads that gospel story? It is your witness and your evidence that alone can recover him his footing.

2. Is there no one who looks out upon the scenery of this bewildered earth and who can see nothing but confused suffering and unjust penalties; who can but cry out his bitter protest, “Is God indeed to be found there? Is there a Divine Judge of all the earth? Where are the signs of His love?” What if your witness were ready at hand?--if you could but whisper, “I know that the love of God has been manifested to all who believe Christ Jesus, every one that so believeth hath the witness in him”?

3. Or you may find yourself standing by one whom some strong sin has fast bound in misery and iron. Now is your time to speak, to cry to him, to deliver your testimony--“My brother, you may be free, for Christ is not dead--He is risen; He the great breaker of bonds, He is strong as of old to set free the captives.” Conclusion: It is for us to be sure that we know, by blessed experience, that Christ was manifested to take away our sins; and that is the message that you have to carry on your lips--“We know that it is true.” It would be a miserable thing to find yourself standing over some brother, with your human heart indeed yearning to help him, and yet to find yourself speechless and impotent just because you had never taken the trouble to learn, when you had time, the happy lesson which would enable you to say to him the one word that can now save him. (Canon Scott Holland.)

Our witness to the resurrection

Let us see whether it is not a fact that just after the same manner that the angel, the guard, the women, and the apostles did testify in the beginning to this cardinal truth of our holy religion, so in our own time like testimony is afforded. Daily an angel sitteth at the door of Christian hearts with the message that Christ is risen! Daily do the careless and indifferent among mankind find themselves forced to confess that there are thoughts of the future which, if they admit them into their minds, cause them to feel as dead men in the midst of all the business of the world. Daily do the godly who seek Christ rejoice in the sure signs and tokens of His resurrection. First, then, there is such a witness to the resurrection supernaturally present in our hearts. In all this assembly what man or woman can say they have never heard a voice whispering within their hearts the solemn assurance that Jesus hath risen, and that we shall rise with Him? To take an illustration. Are there not many here who have known what it is to miss from their home, from their daily walk in life, the face of parent, of brother, of friend, of husband, of wife, of child? And as you have bent with breaking heart over the sepulchre of your buried affection, has no angel spoken to you: “It is not here, the object of your tender love and sorrow. All that is true and real lives still! He is risen. Behold He goeth before you into the courts of the heavenly mansions, there shall ye see Him!” There is not a bitter sorrow that is not rolled away together with that stone from the door of the sepulchre of Jesus. And though the traces of our grief be left, though the earthly garments in which we had wrapped all that was lovely in our lives are lying there in a place by themselves, yet do we know by that same angelic voice that the joys that we have experienced in the past we shall possess again in the future, and that in the land whither our Saviour Christ is gone before we shall know and be known once more! The dawn of hope which we see to succeed the dark night of sorrow in these deep water-floods of affliction enables us to perceive that the stone has been rolled away from the heart, and that an angel of God is seated upon it. In our hearts, then, there is a witness to the truth of the resurrection. This Jesus hath God raised from the dead, whereof our hearts are witnesses. But although God hath His own witness in the hearts of men, to His own Divine truth, yet (since He has ever been pleased to work through human instruments) it is manifestly required by Him that we should feel, every one of us--yes, the weakest, the poorest--that our whole life and conversation is intended to be a witness to the resurrection: that we should so live that men may know that we live, yet not we ourselves, but Christ liveth in us, and that the life which we now live in the flesh we live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us. (T. L. Claughton, M. A.)

Verses 33-36

Acts 2:33-36

Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted.

The right hand of God

The phrase imports--

The unspeakable felicity into which Christ’s human nature--for it is of Christ incarnate that this is said, and as the reward of His sufferings as a man--had now entered; for “in Thy presence is fulness of joy,” etc. (Psalms 16:11).

The glorious majesty to which He had reached (Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 8:1).

The fulness of power with which He is invested who has declared, “All power is given unto Me,” etc. (Matthew 28:18). (See Psalms 20:6; Psalms 89:13; Matthew 26:64).

The judicial throne on which He sits (Romans 14:9-10). (D. Whitby, D. D.)

The ascension and its meaning

Peter shows--

That it had taken place in fulfilment of prophecy. Again the particular prediction is taken from David. It is a passage applied by Jesus to Himself, to the confusion of the Pharisees, whose silence was a confession of its Messianic character (Matthew 22:42-46). Its fulfilment was by the power of God. The hand is that part of the body by which man puts forth his strength, and the right hand is superior to the left; and God, condescending to human ways of speech, represents the exercise of His power as the work of His right hand. Creation was done by a word; but this concluding act of redemption demanded the putting forth of Jehovah’s power.

That it had taken the Redeemer to His heavenly condition. He was exalted, that He might “sit at the right hand of God” (cf. Matthew 26:64; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 8:1). This condition is marked by--

1. A continuous quiet dominion.

(1) He has dominion, being “at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” and that dominion involves “all authority in heaven and in earth.”

(2) But He rules in quietness and rest. Having finished His great work, He “sits.” Angels, being evermore on duty (Hebrews 1:14), stand about the throne. God says not to them, “Sit on My right hand.”

(3) This dominion will continue until its Mediatorship has answered its purpose.

2. Perfect happiness (Psalms 16:11). The great joy had been set before Him, and had sustained Him in sorrow. Let His consummate blessedness show as the good placed within the reach of man.

3. The subduing of His foes. The allusion is to the ancient custom of conquerors to set their feet upon the necks of the vanquished.

Who are His foes?

1. The Jews, who were subdued when their nationality was destroyed.

2. The Romans, who were subdued when their empire was comprehended in Christendom.

3. The pagans, that still remain. These will be subdued when the gospel has been preached to all nations for a witness.

4. Men and women in Christendom who still reject Him. They also will see their folly and sin, and acknowledge Him either too soon or too late.

5. Sin and Satan, but these will be cast out.

6. Death. “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”

That it was declared to have taken place by events now transpiring. “He hath shed forth this,” etc. These events--

1. Showed that the Holy Spirit had been given. This Peter does not tire of repeating. Its importance demanded its repetition, and does so still. But Jesus had said that unless He went to the Father the Holy Spirit would not come. Therefore His manifest presence proved the ascension.

2. Were a fulfilment of the Father’s promise. The promise made through the prophets had been repeated to Jesus, and by Him to the apostles; and He was now gone to receive what was promised. This was the simple, straightforward explanation of what was happening.

3. Were brought about by Jesus Himself. “He hath shed.” During His ministry He had wrought unnumbered miracles, every one of which displayed Divine power, and He was but continuing what He had begun (Ephesians 4:8).

4. Were in themselves wonderful. “This which ye now see and hear.” Explanation was not attempted. What was seen and heard was enough to work conviction.

In the ascension Peter finds the concluding-point of his argument--viz., that Jesus was Lord and Christ. Then they had crucified the Messiah. No wonder they were pricked in the heart. In conclusion, see here--

1. The means to be employed by preachers: the facts M history and experience, with interpretations from the Word of God.

2. The end to be aimed at by preachers--that personal conviction which prepares sinners to accept Christ. (W. Hudson.)

The exaltation of Christ

He is there at the right hand of God, above all principality and power, and every name that is named. He is not there among the patriarchs; He is higher up. He is not there among the martyrs; He is higher up. He is not there among the prophets; He is higher up. He is not there among the four and twenty elders; He is higher up. He is not there with the four living beings that are immediately surrounding the throne; He is higher up. He is at the right hand, in the midst of the throne, literally over all, God-blessed for ever. That throne will never be called the throne of God and the patriarchs, or the throne of God and the prophets, or the throne of God and the angels, or the throne of God and the martyrs, but it will evermore be called the throne of God and of the Lamb; for He that giveth not His glory to another has taken Him unto that throne, and at that throne He stands as the Lamb that was slain, bearing upon Him in the central seat of glory and brightness the dark tokens of death: the dear tokens of His passion still His dazzling body bears, and from that centre of authority He hath poured out, “He hath shed forth that which now ye do see and hear.” (W. Arthur, M. A.)

He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.--

The effusion of the Spirit

The promises of the spirit, under preceding dispensations. As the prophecies of Christ served to identify the Messiah on His manifestation in the flesh, and prove His Divine mission, so these predictions of the coming and agency of the Holy Ghost in the ancient Scriptures of the Jewish people, conspire, with the facts afterwards to be noticed as the accomplishment of them, to show that it is a Divine energy from on high which is now amongst us of a truth.

The communication of the Holy Ghost from the hands of the exalted Redeemer.

1. The work of the Holy Ghost is essentially connected with the work of Christ. Of old the Spirit was given to foretell it, but His greater province was to attest and apply it.

2. This communication of the Spirit from the hands of the exalted Saviour makes distinctly manifest what is everywhere implied in Scripture--that the gift of the Holy Ghost is a purely gratuitous and gracious bestowment.

What is stated to be the nature of the work of the Holy Ghost in the Church. What were those manifestations thus dispensed from the hands of the Redeemer, of which we read in Scripture, and some of which are matters of observation or of consciousness still?

1. There were those supernatural endowments, called in Scripture “Spiritual gifts,” which first proclaimed the presence of the Holy Ghost in the Church.

2. With this stands closely connected the inspiration of the apostles. The system of truth which the spiritual gifts were to attest was that of which they were the professed expositors; and it was in the train of their ministry that these manifestations appeared.

3. We have further to advert to that, to which all that we have been dwelling upon is but subservient, as means to the end--the manifestation of that new element of spiritual life which sprung up in connection with the exhibition of apostolic truth, and which is ascribed in Scripture to the application of that truth to the soul by the Holy Ghost. The first work of the Spirit, of which we have spoken, was chiefly for attestation; the second, for instruction; this third, for regeneration and salvation. And if the Spirit appears glorious in His gifts and diversities of miraculous working, and as the source of inspiration in the apostles and prophets, much more is it so when we view Him as “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” and as establishing “a law” within the renewed soul, which makes it “free from the law of sin and death.” (E. T. Priest.)

Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.

The Lordship of Christ

The apostle applies himself to his auditory in a fair, gentle manner. We have a word amongst us in familiar use--“compliment”; and for the most part in an ill sense, for the heart of a speaker does not always answer his tongue. But God forbid but a true heart and a fair tongue might very well consist together. He aggravates his condemnation who gives me fair words and means ill; but he gives me a rich jewel in a choice cabinet, precious wine in a clean glass, who intends and expresses his good intentions well.

So the apostle is civil here; but his civility does not amount to flattery; and therefore, though he gives his audience their titles, he puts home to them the crucifying of Christ. How honourably soever they were descended, he lays that murder close to their consciences. It is one thing to sew pillows under the elbows of kings, as flatterers do, and another to pull the chair from under them, as seditious men do. When inferiors insult over their superiors, we tell them they are the Lord’s anointed; and when such superiors insult over the Lord Himself, we must tell them, “Though you be the Lord’s anointed, yet you crucify the anointed Lord”; for this was Peter’s method, though his successor will not be bound by it.

When he hath carried the matter thus evenly between them, he announces a message. “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly.” Need the house of Israel know anything? Need the honourable to be instructed? Yes, for this knowledge is such that the house of Israel is without a foundation if it be without it. Let no Church or man think that he hath done enough or known enough. The wisest must know more, though they be the house of Israel; and then, though you have crucified Christ, you may know it. St. Paul says, “If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8); but he never says they are excluded from the knowledge. The wisest have ever something to learn; they must not presume. The sinfullest have God ever ready to teach them; they must not despair. Now the universality of this mercy God has extended very far, in that He proposes it even to our knowledge: “Let all know it.” And therefore it is not enough for us to tell you except you believe all this you shall be damned, without we execute that commission before, “Go and preach”; and it is not enough for you to rest in imaginary faith and easiness of believing, except you know what, why, and how you believe. The implicit believer stands in an open field, and the enemy will ride over him easily; the understanding believer is a fenced town, and hath outworks to lose before the town be pressed--i.e., reasons to be answered before his faith be shaked. Let all men know--i.e., inform themselves and understand.

The particular which all were to know was that this same Jesus whom they crucified was exalted. Suppose an impossibility: if we could have been in paradise, and seen God make of a clod a body fit for an immortal soul--fit for God the Son to dwell in, and fit for a temple of the Holy Ghost, should we not have wondered more than at the production of all other creatures? It is more that this same crucified Jesus should be exalted to the right hand of the glorious God. Let, then, sinners pass through their several sins, and remember with wonder and confusion that the Jesus whom they have crucified is exalted above all. How far exalted? Three steps carry Him above St. Paul’s third heaven.

1. God made Him so, not nature. The contract between the Father and Him that all He did should be done so--this is what hath exalted Him, and us in Him.

2. God made Him Christ--i.e., anointed Him above His fellows.

3. God made Him Lord. But what kind of Lord, if He had no subjects? God hath given Him these too (Romans 14:9). (J. Donne, D. D.)

Jesus as Lord11

We are apt to let this idea slip. As soon as we have apprehended Christ as Saviour, we suppose sometimes that the work is done; whereas it is but just begun. Christ is Saviour in order that He may be King. He saves us first, because that is the only effective way of ruling over us. He cannot capture man and bring him into subjection, except by laying hold of man’s heart. It is love that changes, and love that rules. One of our best story-tellers has taken us into a Californian camp. They were a hard, fighting, swearing set, those gold-diggers. But a baby was born into the camp, and these rough men were allowed to go and look at the little babe; and there was one man put his finger down, and the baby’s hand wound round it, and seemed to thrill his rough, coarse nature with a new love. The man was changed; the camp was changed. It was love that did it. Love is Christ’s method; rule His end. If Christ does not rule men, He has failed in the purpose that called Him here. All living things need a ruling force. The body is useless without the brain to direct its movements; the family fail when father and mother die; an army is powerless when there is no one to give orders; a state is the home of miserable factions when there is no recognised authority; and humanity itself is but a series of disjointed individuals, until Christ is crowned Lord of man and King of the world. Christian men are forgetting Christ’s world-wide Lordship and universal claims; and these claims must be pressed home on the hearts and consciences of men until they fully acknowledge Jesus as Lord.

Lord of man.

1. Ruling man’s body, with its passions and inclinations.

2. Guiding man’s mind, preserving the intellect from sophistry, the conscience from error, the heart from corruption.

Lord of woman.

1. Touching her tender heart with a deeper pathos for the sufferings of the world.

2. Making her man’s helpmeet in all that is pure and ennobling.

3. Enabling her, with man, to deal with all that is evil in society and degrading in public sentiment.

Lord of the child.

1. Alluring the young life along paths of obedience and self-denial and thoughtfulness.

2. Yet filling the lap with buttercups and daises, and merriment and laughter. “Suffer little children,” etc.

Lord of the home. Determining its--

1. Expenditure.

2. Giving.

3. Habits.

4. Prayers.

5. Purposes, and binding parents, children, servants, into one holy fellowship.

Lord of the Church. Giving--

1. Truth to feed the mind.

2. Grace to support the life.

3. Wisdom to guide the judgment.

4. Reverence to lift up the soul in worship.

5. Enthusiasm to inspire the work.

6. A peaceful spirit, binding all together by our golden chain of loving brotherhood.

Lord of the state.

1. Decreeing justice to all.

2. Bringing law into harmony with Divine teaching.

3. Lifting up the poor and abasing the proud.

4. Rebuking the evil doers, and overturning all iniquity.

Lord of the world.

1. Driving back the darkness.

2. Destroying false religion and bringing in the true.

3. Making the world like heaven.

Conclusion: That Lordship of Christ will not let us put on and put off religion with our Sunday clothes. It bids us take Christ with us, not merely to religious work, but so to take Him that all work should be religious. It calls upon Christians to be the subjects of Christ everywhere; to obey Christ in business, in the home, in politics, in reading, in talking, in laughing, in giving, in dying. There is a majesty about this name that men have not yet felt. (S. Pearson, M. A.)

The name above every name

These names, to us very little more than three proper names, were very different to these men who listened to Peter. It wanted some courage to proclaim on the housetop what he had spoken in the ear long ago. “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!” To most of his listeners, to say, “Jesus is the Christ” was folly, and to say “Jesus is the Lord” was blasphemy.

The name Jesus is the name of the man, which tells us of a brother.

1. There were many who bore it in His day. We find that one of the early Christians had it (Colossians 4:11). Through reverence on the part of Christians, and horror on the part of Jews, the name ceased to be a common one. But none of all the crowds who knew Him supposed that in His name there was any greater significance than in those of the “Simons,” “Johns,” and “Judahs” in the circle of His disciples.

2. The use of Jesus as the proper name of our Lord is very noticeable. In the Gospels, as a rule, it stands alone hundreds of times, whilst in combination with any other of the titles it is rare. “Jesus Christ” only occurs twice in Matthew, once in Mark, twice in John. But in the later books, the proportions are reversed. There you have hundreds of such combinations as “Jesus Christ,” “Christ Jesus,” “The Lord Jesus,” “Christ the Lord,” and not frequently the full solemn title, “The Lord Jesus Christ.” But “Jesus” alone only occurs some thirty or forty times outside of the four evangelists; and in these the writer’s intention is to put strong emphasis on the Manhood of our Lord.

(1) We find phrases like this: Jesus died, the blood of Jesus, which emphasise His death as that of a man like ourselves, and bring us close to the reality of His human pains for us. “Christ died” makes the purpose and efficacy of His death more plain; but “Jesus died” shows us His death as the outcome of His human love. I know that a certain school dwells a great deal too much for reverence upon the mere physical aspect of Christ’s sufferings. But the temptation with most of us is to dwell too little upon it, to think about it as a matter of speculation, a mysterious power, an official act of the Messiah, and to forget that He bore a human life, which naturally shrank from the agony of death.

(2) When our Lord is set before us in His humanity as our example, this name is used--e.g., “Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith”--i.e., a mighty stimulus to Christian nobleness lies in the realisation of the true manhood of our Lord, as the type of all goodness, as having Himself lived by faith, and that in a perfect degree and manner. Do not take poor human creatures for your ideal. Black veins are in the purest marble, and flaws in the most lustrous diamonds; but to imitate Jesus is freedom, and to be like Him is perfection. Our code of morals is His life. The secret of all progress is, “Run, looking unto Jesus.”

(3) We have His manhood emphasised when His sympathy is to be commended to our hearts. “The great High Priest” is “Jesus”… “who was in all points tempted like as we are.” To every sorrowing soul there comes the thought, “Every ill that flesh is heir to” He knows by experience, and in the man Jesus we find not only the pity of a God, but the sympathy of a Brother. The Prince of Wales once went for an afternoon into the slums, and everybody said deservedly, “right” and “princely.” This Prince has “learned pity in the huts where poor men lie.”

(4) And then you read such words as these: “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.” How very much closer to our hearts that consolation comes, “Jesus rose again,” than even the mighty word, “Christ is risen from the dead.” The one tells us of the risen Redeemer, the other tells us of the risen Brother. And wherever we follow our dear ones into the darkness with yearning hearts, there, too, the consolation comes; they lie down beside their Brother, and with their Brother they shall rise again.

(5) So again, most strikingly, in the words which paint most loftily the exaltation of the risen Saviour, it is the old human name that is used, as if to bind together the humiliation and the, exaltation, and proclaim that a Man had risen to the throne of the universe. What an emphasis and glow of hope there is in, “We see not yet all things put under Him, but we see Jesus”--the very Man that was here with us--“crowned with glory and honour.” So in the Book of the Revelation, the chosen name for Him that sits amidst the glories of the heavens, and settles the destinies of the universe, and orders the course of history, is Jesus. As if the apostle would assure us that the face which looked down upon him from amidst the blaze of the glory was indeed the face that he knew long ago upon earth, and the breast that “was girded with a golden girdle” was the breast upon which he so often had leaned his happy head.

3. So the ties that bind us to the Man Jesus should be the human bonds that knit us one to another, transferred to Him, and purified and strengthened. All that we have failed to find in men we can find in Him.

(1) Human wisdom has its limits; but here is a Man whose word is truth, who is Himself the truth.

(2) Human love is sometimes hollow, often impotent; it looks down upon us, as a great thinker has said, like the Venus of Milo, that lovely statue, smiling in pity, but it has no arms. But here is a love that is mighty to help, and on which we can rely without disappointment or loss.

(3) Human excellence is always limited and imperfect; but here is One whom we may imitate and be pure.

4. So let us do like that poor woman, bring the precious alabaster box of ointment--the love of these hearts of ours, which is the most precious thing we have to give. The box of ointment that we have so often squandered upon unworthy heads--let us come and pour it upon His, not unmingled with our tears, and anoint Him, our Beloved and our King.

The name “Christ” is the name of office, and brings to us a redeemer. It is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew Messias, both meaning the Anointed. I cannot see less in the contents of the prophetic idea of the Messias than these points: Divine inspiration or anointing; a sufferer who is to redeem; the fulfiller of all the rapturous visions of psalmist and of prophet in the past. And so, when Peter stood up amongst that congregation and said, “The Man that died on the Cross, the Rabbi-peasant from half-heathen Galilee, is the Person whom all the generations have been looking forward to,” no wonder that nobody believed him except those whose hearts were touched, for it is never possible for the common mind, at any epoch, to believe that the man that stands beside them is very much bigger than themselves. Great men have always to die, and get a halo of distance around them before their true stature can be seen. And now two remarks are all I can offer.

1. The hearty recognition of His Messiahship is the centre of all discipleship. The earliest and the simplest Christian creed, which yet--like the little brown roll in which the infant beech leaves lie folded up--contains in itself all the rest, was this: “Jesus is Christ.” He who contents himself with “Jesus” and does not grasp “Christ,” has cast away the most valuable and characteristic part of the Christianity which he professes. Surely the most simple inference is that a Christian is at least a man who recognises the Christship of Jesus. And it is not enough for the sustenance of your souls that men should admire, howsoever profoundly, the humanity of the Lord unless that humanity leads them on to see the office of the Messiah, to whom their whole hearts cleave. “Jesus is the Christ” is the minimum Christian creed.

2. The recognition of Jesus as Christ is essential to giving its full value to the facts of the manhood.

(1) “Jesus died.” Yes! What then? If that is simply a human death, like all the rest, I want to know what makes it a gospel? What more interest I have in it than I have in the death of any men or women whose names were in the obituary column of yesterday’s newspaper? “Jesus died.” That is the fact. What is wanted to turn the fact into a gospel? That I shall know who it was that died, and why He died. “I declare unto you the gospel which I preach,” Paul says, “how that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures.” The belief that the death of Jesus was the death of the Christ is needful to make that death the means of my deliverance from the burden of sin. If it be only the death of Jesus, it is beautiful, pathetic, as many another martyr’s has been; but if it be the death of Christ, then “my faith can lay her hand” on that great sacrifice, and know “her guilt was there.”

(2) So in regard of His perfect example. To only see His manhood would be as paralysing as spectacles of supreme excellence usually are. But when we can say, “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example,” and so can deepen the thought of His Manhood into that of His Messiahship, and the conception of His work as example into that of His work as sacrifice, we can hope that His Divine power will dwell in us to mould our lives to the likeness of His human life of perfect obedience.

(3) So in regard to His resurrection and ascension. If it were only “Jesus,” those events might be as much to us as the raising of Lazarus, or the rapture of Elijah--namely, a demonstration that death did not destroy conscious being, and that a man could rise to heaven. But if “Christ is risen from the dead,” He is “become the first-fruits of them that slept.” If Jesus has gone up on high, it may show that manhood is not incapable of elevation to heaven, but it has no power to draw others up after it. But if Christ is gone up, He is gone to prepare a place for us, and His ascension is the assurance that He will lift us too to dwell with Him, and share His triumph over death and sin.

“The Lord” is the name of dignity, and brings before us the King. There are three grades of dignity expressed by this word in the New Testament. The lowest is that in which it is almost the equivalent of “Sir”; the second is that in which it expresses dignity and authority; the third is that in which it is the equivalent of the Old Testament “Lord” as a Divine name; and all are applied to Christ. The central one is the meaning of the word here.

1. “Jesus is Lord”--i.e., the manhood is exalted to supreme dignity. It is the teaching of the New Testament, that our nature in the Child of Mary sits on the throne of the universe and rules over all things. Trust His dominion and rejoice in His rule, and bow before His authority.

2. Christ is Lord--i.e., His sovereign authority and dominion are built upon the fact of His being Redeemer and Sacrifice. His kingdom rests upon His suffering. “Wherefore God also hath exalted Him, and given Him a name that is above every name.” It is because He bears a vesture dipped in blood, that on the vesture is the name written, “King of kings, and Lord of lords.” Because He has given His life for the world, He is Master of the world.

Conclusion: Do not content yourselves with a maimed Christ.

1. Do not tarry in the Manhood; do not be content with an adoring reverence for the nobility of His soul, the wisdom of His words, the beauty of His character, the tenderness of His compassion. All that will be of small help for your needs. There is more in His mission than that--even His death for you and for all men.

2. Take Him for your Christ, but do not lose the Person in the work, any more than you lose the work in the Person. And be not content with an intellectual recognition of Him, but bring Him the faith which cleaves to Him and His work as its only hope and peace, and the love which, because of His work as Christ, flows out to the beloved Person who has done it all.

3. Thus loving Jesus and trusting Christ, you will bring obedience to your Lord and homage to your King, and learn the sweetness and power of the name that is above every name--the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. (A. Maclaren, D. D)

Verse 37

Acts 2:37

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?

It is the preaching that pricks men’s consciences that saves them

It may not be well that some of you should be pleased. Sometimes, when a man grows outrageously angry with a sermon, he is getting more good than when he retires saying, “What an eloquent discourse!” I have never yet heard of a salmon that liked the hook which had taken sure hold of it; nor do men admire sermons which enter their souls. When the Word of God becomes as an arrow in a man’s heart, he writhes; he would fain tear it out; but it is a barbed shaft. He gnashes his teeth, he grows indignant; but he is wounded, and the arrow is rankling. The preaching which pleases us may not be truth; but the doctrine which grieves our heart and troubles our conscience, is, in all probability, true; at any rate, there are grave reasons for suspecting that it is so. It is not the way of truth to fawn on guilty men. I say, the Lord uses ministries of a cutting kind to make men uneasy in their sins, and cause them to flee to Christ for peace. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Conviction of sin: its naturalness

If a man really saw an angel, or one “risen from the dead,” we should expect that all consideration of bystanders would forsake him in the awe of the moment. And so, if in an instant a supernatural power opens the unseen world to the soul, with its one eternal Light, its heaven and its hell, although the view of these must be imperfect and confused, yet if it is a view, a sudden view, it must shoot fear, wonder, awe, through and through the soul, till man and man’s opinion are as little thought of, as fashion by a woman fallen into a steamer’s foaming wake. (W. Arthur, M. A.)

Conviction of sin: instantaneous

An unconverted man sat down to read the Bible an hour each evening with his wife. In a few evenings he stopped in the midst of his reading, and said, “Wife, if this book is true, we are wrong.” He read on, and a few days later said, “Wife, if this book is true, we are lost.” Riveted to the book, and deeply anxious, he still read, and in a week more joyfully exclaimed, “Wife, if this book is true, we may be saved!” A few weeks’ more reading, and, taught by the Spirit of God, through the exhortations and instructions of a city missionary, they both placed their faith in Christ.


The inquiry made. Men always want to know what they are to do when conviction of sin is on them. This was Paul’s excited cry when on the way to Damascus, and that of the Philippian jailer. And until a sinner is willing to do anything that he may, if possible, undo what he has done amiss, little evidence of a contrite state of heart does he afford. But how blessed is God’s plan of salvation. We have not to do or to undo; another has done for us what is required, and what we could not do. Jesus has died, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God. All left for us, therefore, is repentance which leads to the avoidance of sin in future, by submitting to His ordinances, and present realising, appropriating faith. “Men and brethren!” Previously any contemptuous terms were good enough for the followers of the Nazarene; but see how the change of heart affects the speech. A sinner under conviction will naturally become more guarded in language than before. How many ways has the Spirit of God of producing conviction; and how many ways has a convicted sinner of showing the conviction which is thus produced! Not only do men adopt new modes of action, but new styles of speech.

The reply given. How ready is the apostle to respond.

1. “Repent,” as if he would say, do not go about to establish a righteousness of your own; do not suppose that by costly sacrifices or penal suffering you shall be saved. Hate your sin and flee from it. Repent; sincerely, instantly, earnestly; seek mercy, for it is awaiting you.

2. Be baptized, as an expression of your determination henceforth to be enrolled under the banner of the Messiah, thus publicly admitting His claims, and showing your faith in Him, and obedience to Him.

3. Do this in reference to the remission of your sins; not supposing that baptism will save you, but rather that it will symbolise the regenerative power of the Spirit by which you have been awakened, and then you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (W. Antliff, D. D.)

Sham repentance

Confession of sin is not a mere abandonment of sin as a losing game. That was a shrewd: but not a very flattering estimate found on record in the private thoughts of an old divine. “I believe,” he says, “that it will be shown that the repentance of most men is not so much sorrow for sin as sin, or real hatred of it, as sullen sorrow that they are not allowed to sin.” When any individual surrenders an iniquitous occupation because he perceives public opinion is setting against it, and that eventually he will be injured by its continuance, it is simple mockery for him to try to make moral capital out of the relinquishment. When a young man forsakes dissipation because it endangers his place with his employer; when a merchant gives up dishonest trade-marks because his tricks are becoming transparent, and honesty seems the best policy--this is not penitence for sin; it is only the hypocrisy of worldly wisdom.

The work of conversion

Conversion is a work of--

Argument, for the judgment is gained by the truth.

Conviction, for the awakened are pricked to the heart.

Enquiry, for they ask, “What must we do?”

Comfort, for its subjects have received remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Joseph Sutcliffe.)


1. Men must be pricked in their heart before they can have the joy of salvation in their heart.

2. The conditions of salvation--how easy! Salvation has only to be accepted.

3. The conditions of salvation--how hard! Each one must repent; that is, turn from his sin; and that is no easy matter.

4. Salvation is accompanied with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Without His help, no one could conquer sin.

5. The promise of salvation and the help of the Holy Spirit is to all men of all peoples.

6. The promise of salvation is a family covenant, extending through the father to the children.

7. The exhortation, now as ever, is: “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” (Sunday School Times.)

Converting power permanent in the Church

To suppose that it has been withdrawn is--

To suppose that the only practical end of Christianity has been voluntarily abandoned. If Christianity cannot renew men in the image of God, she ceases to have any special distinction above other religions. Her mission here was to overcome Satan in the realm in which he had hitherto triumphed, to re-establish the empire of God.

Not only would this practical end be abandoned, but the standing evidence to Christianity would be discontinued. The miracles and prophecies are past, and no accumulation of arguments can demonstrate to our neighbours at this moment that Christianity is a power which can actually make men superior to their own circumstances and sins. The only real and effective evidence is living men who have been regenerated. Wherever men can be pointed to whose lives are a manifest example of salvation from sin, there is the standing evidence that Christianity is “the power of God unto salvation.” Is it supposable that Christ has withdrawn or diminished that power which would show continually that He “saves His people from their sins”?

The converting power is also the Church’s great attraction. It is true that some would attract men by ceremonies, or talent, or the charms of architecture or music,--attract them that they may convert them; whereas the true order is, Convert, that you may attract. The one is the order of the charlatan, who trusts to factitious allurements for attracting the public, in the hope that he may cure some; the other, the order of the true physician, who trusts to the fact of his curing some as the means of attracting others. Whenever the Church sends into a family one new convert glowing with love and joy, she kindles light which will, in all probability, give light to all that are in the house. Whenever she is the means of making one shopman turn from his sins, and exhibit to his comrades a picture of holy living, in all probability she will soon have others from that shop at her altars. Whenever she brings one factory-girl to sit, like Mary, at the feet of Jesus, very probably in a little while other Marys will be with her.

The converting power is also the principal lever which Christianity can use for raising the standard of morals in nations.

1. Instruction is the basis of all moral operation; but instruction in morals, as in science, is of little force unless backed by experiment. One tradesman converted, and manfully taking ground among his companions against trade tricks once used by himself, casts greater shame upon their dishonesty than all the instructions they ever heard from pulpits; or, rather, gives an edge, a power, and an embodiment to them all. One youth whom religion strengthens to walk purely, among dissipated companions, sends lights and stings into their consciences, which mere instruction could not give, because it shows them that purity is not, as temptation says, unattainable. And so with all the virtues; it is but by embodying them in the persons of men that they become thoroughly understood by the public mind.

2. Just in proportion as the number of converted men is great or small, will be the amount of conscience in the community generally. Each new convert adds somewhat to the existing moral influence, and weakens the ties which bind men to sin. Where no one is godly, moderately correct persons are almost ashamed of their lack of badness; where a tenth of the adults are godly, even ordinary sinners are ashamed of their lack of goodness; and where a fifth, or a third, of the adults are so, the hindrances to the conversion of the rest are as nothing, compared with those that exist where the great masses are still living in their sins.

The converting power is also the only means whereby Christianity raises up agents for her own propagation.

1. That which is wanted in an agent, above all, is zeal, burning desire to save sinners. This zeal is never a mutter of mere conviction, but always a matter of nature. It is “Christ in you.” It is “the love of Christ constraining you.” Agents with this nature we can have only by successive outpourings of the Spirit of God, by constant accessions of new converts.

2. When they who have been great sinners are themselves converted, having been forgiven much, they love much, and frequently become mighty instruments of winning others to Christ. When “numbers turn to the Lord,” saying, “We have redemption in His blood, even the forgiveness of sins,”--then some will assuredly appear with plain marks that the spirit of the prophets is in them, and that they are called to spread, far and wide, the glorious salvation of which they themselves partake.

3. Nothing so re-animates the zeal of old Christians as witnessing the joy and simplicity, the gratitude and fervour, of those who have been lately born of God. While the old disciple is to the young one an example of moderation and strength, the young is to the old an example of fervour; the one shedding upon the other a steadying influence, while he receives in return a cheering and an impelling one.

4. It is also wonderful how much the occurrence of conversions heightens the efficiency of men already employed in the ministry, or in other departments of the work of God, The preacher preaches with new heart, the exhorter exhorts with revived feeling, he that prays has double faith and fervour; and the joy of conquest breathes new vigour into all the Lord’s host. (W. Arthur, M. A.)

Want of ministerial results to be deprecated

A farmer who all his lifetime has been sowing, but never brought one shock of corn safe home; a gardener who has ever been pruning and training, but never brought one basket of fruit away; a merchant who has been trading all his life, but never concluded one year with profit; a lawyer who has had intrusted to him, for years and years, the most important causes, and never carried one; the doctor who has been consulted by thousands in disease, and never brought one patient back to health; the philosopher who has been propounding principles all his life, and attempting experiments every day, but never once succeeded in a demonstration;--all these would be abashed and humiliated men. They would walk through the world with their heads low, they would acknowledge themselves to be abortions, they would not dare to look up among those of their own professions; and as for others regarding them with respect, pity would be all they could give. Yet, alas! are there not cases to be found wherein men whose calling it is to heal souls, pass years and years, and seldom, if ever, can any fruit of their labours be seen? Yet they hold up their heads, and have good reasons to give why they are not useful; and those reasons generally lie, not in themselves, but somewhere else,--in the age, the neighbourhood, the agitation or the apathy, the ignorance or the over-education, the want of gospel light, or the commonness of gospel light, or some other reason why the majority of those who hear them should continue unconverted, and why they should look on in repose, without smiting upon their breasts and crying day and night to God to breathe a power upon them whereby they might awaken those that sleep. Probably they have wise things to say about the undesirableness of being too anxious about fruit, and about the advantage of the work going on steadily and slowly, rather than seeking for an excitement, and a rush of converts. But while they are dozing, sinners are going to hell. (W. Arthur, M. A.)

Verses 37-42

Acts 2:37-42

Now when they heard this they were pricked in their heart.

The effects of gospel preaching

1. Peter having explained the events of Pentecost, an immediate effect was produced. “They were pricked in their hearts.” So the Holy Ghost was poured out upon them as He had been poured out upon the assembly of the Church. We see here, therefore, the double action of the Holy Spirit. He is poured out upon the Church to sanctify and to confirm in the faith; and upon those who are outside that He may alarm and quicken and direct to right conclusions.

2. This was the first Christian sermon that had been preached. Jesus Christ was no longer present in the body. Now we are curious to know how the truth will make its way upon its own merits, apart from that magnetic influence which attached to the audible voice of the Divine Master. Will the truth make its way by sheer force of its celestial beauty and grace, and comfort, or will it perish under other voices than Christ’s own? So we wait, we hear the discourse, and when it is concluded we read--that when the people heard this they were pricked in their hearts.

3. Observe the peculiarity of that effect. Not, they were awed by the eloquence, excited in their imagination; gratified in their taste; the result was infinitely deeper and grander. An arrow had fastened itself in the very centre of their life. In their conscience was inserted the sting of intolerable self-accusation. This was the grand miracle. Truly we may say this was the beginning of miracles of the higher, because the spiritual kind. Great effects are produced by great causes.

4. A reflection of this kind would, however, have a very remote interest for us were it confined to an ancient incident. As a matter of fact, the apostle Peter preached the only sermon that any Christian minister is ever at liberty to preach. This is the model sermon. No change must be made here or a corresponding change will be made in the effect. Men may be more eloquent, literary, technical, and philosophical; they may use longer words and more abstruse arguments, but the effect will be like other talk, pointless, and there will be no answer in the great human heart--no conscience will accuse, no eyes will be blinded with tears, none will cry, “What shall we do?” Let us look at--

The sermon and see how it is made up.

1. It is full of Scriptural allusions, as is every sermon that is worth listening to. The reason why our preaching is so powerless is that we do not impregnate it with the inspired word. Peter did not make the sermon. He quoted David and Joel, the Psalms and the prophets, and set these quotations in their right relations to what had just happened, and whilst he was talking history he made history. Faithful to God’s word, God’s Spirit was faithful to him, and herein was realised “My word shall not return unto Me void.” Peter’s word would have returned void, but God’s word is as a sower in the eventide bringing back his sheaves with joy.

2. It is full of Christ. But for Christ it never could have been delivered. From end to end it palpitates with the Deity and glory of the Son of God.

3. It is full of holy unction. It was not delivered as a schoolboy might deliver a message. The great strong rough frame of the fisherman-preacher quivered under the feeling of the sacred message which the tongue was delivering.

4. It is full of patriotic and spiritual tenderness, and all the while without art or trick or mechanical skill, it led up to a vehement and solemn demand. When that demand was thundered upon the people they did not applaud the man, they were concerned about themselves; they were not pleased, they were pierced; and they were not gratified, they were convicted.

But even this great sermon of Peter’s does not explain the full result. The preacher must have had something to do with the effect. He had just received the Holy Ghost. An inspired doctrine demands an inspired ministry. The Book is inspired, but when uninspired readers read it they kill the very fire of heaven when it touches their reluctant tongues. It is there that the holy influence is lost. When the Holy Ghost is both in the doctrine and in the people who profess it, the mountains of difficulty will fly away like dust upon the mocking wind.

Nor have we read the full account yet of the production of this mighty effect. The people were prepared for vital statement; anything that was beautiful in nature, or in music would not have satisfied them. They would have resented any discourse that bristled with merely clever allusions or curious conceits of expression. The fire fell upon prepared material, therefore the Word of the Lord had free course and was glorified. How can we preach to a people unprepared to hear? The work is too great for any man. A prepared pulpit should be balanced by a prepared pew, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.” To the unthirsty man the Bible spring is without attraction, but to the thirsty traveller, sun-smitten and weary, how like the music of running streams! A very solemn reflection occurs here. Where the heart is unaffected, Christian service is more mischievous than beneficial. What if our notions be increased, if our motives be left unbaptized? And what if we have been flattered and cajoled and “daubed with untempered mortar,” if the Word has not reached the very seat of the disease? Pray for a ministry that shall affect the heart. He who seeks after a comforting ministry only, and a restful one that shall give him no disturbance, wounds his own life.

The effect was grand in every aspect.

1. Three thousand souls were saved. And this will be the effect of Christian teaching everywhere under the right conditions. Again and again we read that the people who heard the apostolic preaching, “cried out.” We have lost that cry: we have succumbed to the cold and benumbing spirit of decorum. And whilst it is perfectly true that there may be an irrational excitement which ought to be subdued and controlled, it is also true that there is a spiritual enthusiasm, without which the Church may be but a painted sepulchre.

2. The people continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine, and in fellowship, in breaking of bread and in prayers.

(1) The flock kept well together for fear of the wolf. Were we ourselves in heathen lands we should realise the joy of keeping closely together. But Hying in a Christian land where Christianity has become a luxury, or in some instances even an annoyance, what wonder that we do not realise the primitive enthusiasm, and enter with delight into the original fellowship and union of the Church?

(2) The people continued in the right teaching. Until our teaching be right our life must be wrong. We must ask for the pure bread, the pure water, the undefiled Bible, and live on that; out of such nutritious food there will come proper results such as fellowship, sacramental communion, and common prayer. A man says, “I can pray by myself,” that is perfectly true, but you should realise that you are something more than yourself; you are part of a sum total. A man is not at liberty in the Christian sense of manhood to detach himself from the common stock to which he belongs. Herein is the advantage of common prayer and common praise. “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together.” There is inspiration in sympathy, there is encouragement in fellowship. It does the soul good to see the hosts gathered together under the royal banner stained with blood; to see the great army marching shoulder to shoulder under the blast of the great trumpet. “No man liveth unto himself” who lives aright.

(3) They had all things common. This is the sternly logical outcome of true inspiration. But having regard to all the social conditions under which we live this mechanical form of union is impracticable. But having lost this form, which broke down under the eyes of apostles themselves, we still reserve the spiritual outcome and meaning. My strength is not my own, it belongs to the weakest child that I may see groaning under oppression. If I interfere, and the oppressor say to me, What have you to do with him--he is not yours? Christianity obliges me to say he is mine. If you see an animal ill-used and ill-treated, though it be not yours in any technical or legal sense of the term, you are called upon to interfere by an earlier right, and by a diviner law. Whoever has strength owns it for the benefit of those who have none. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Evangelical preaching

Preaching has ever been the principal means used for diffusing a knowledge of Christianity. It was the method adopted and enjoined by the great Author of our religion (Matthew 4:17; Matthew 10:7; Mark 16:15). A striking instance of its early success is recorded in the chapter before us; and we are led by our text to inquire into the nature of that preaching which was so successful; and into the effects which followed such preaching.

The nature of the preaching may be understood from the context.

1. The subject was Christ. The preacher’s name evidently was to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was the true Messiah.

2. The subject was of the highest importance; it was perfectly suitable to the audience;

3. And the manner of treating it was excellent. The discussion was plain--concise--clear. The mode of address was courageous.

4. The preacher who thus conducted himself, demands our consideration. It was Peter, a late fisherman of Galilee, he was Divinely called to preach the gospel; and thus qualified, he preached; power from above attended the word.

And the effects which followed well deserve our attention. “They were pricked in their heart.” Hearers treat the Word preached with indifference; or feeling its force they resist it; or happily, like those whose case is before us, they yield to its convincing influence. The address was made to their understanding--their judgment--their conscience; and being accompanied by the power of Divine grace, they were rationally, Scripturally, and feelingly convinced of the error of their ways and said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” We may consider this as--

1. The language of religious concern.

2. The language of religious distress.

3. The language of humble inquiry. Think on their former prejudices. Such was the preaching, and such were the effects.

Our minds are farther led to the following improvement.

1. Christ crucified is, and ever should be, the grand subject of the Christian ministry.

2. There is salvation in no other--there is no other name whereby we can be saved (Acts 4:12).

3. In religion, it is of the utmost importance that the heart be affected (“ they were pricked in their hearts”); See Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:7; Joel 2:13; Mark 7:21; Proverbs 4:23; Psalms 51:10; Psalms 51:17. Sin hath its seat in the heart--there the change should begin.

4. Persons may be so affected on account of their sin and danger, that they cannot, in some cases, avoid strongly expressing what they feel.

5. The essential importance of Divine influence to render the word preached successful is another idea suggested by the circumstances connected with the text. (Theological Sketch-book.)


Refers to what they heard. They heard--

1. An explicit statement of the truth.

2. Enforced by solid reasoning.

3. Brought home to their own Consciences with fidelity.

It describes what they felt--“They were pricked in their heart.” The expression denotes a sudden, deep, strong, anguished feeling.

1. Agonised astonishment--at this ignorance amid so much light--at the error committed against such evidence. They see that Jesus was no impostor.

2. Inexpressible conviction. They felt the guilt of rejecting a Divine Teacher.

3. Terrified apprehension. Could they forget their treatment of Jesus? Think of the alarm that now seizes them when the tumult of rage gives way to the conviction of guilt.

It records what they said.

1. What shall we do? This explanation is the utterance of concern--concern which it is not in the power of language to express.

2. It is the utterance of ingenuous confession.

3. It is the language of surrender. They abandon unbelief.

4. The language of anxiety for salvation. (Homilist.)

The effusion of the Holy Spirit

“Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation They will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto Me;… yet thou shalt speak unto them, and tell them, thus saith the Lord God; whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear;… and they shall know that there hath been a prophet among them.” Thus God formerly forearmed Ezekiel against the greatest discouragement that he was to meet with in his mission, I mean the unsuccessfulness of his ministry. For they are not only your ministers, who are disappointed in the exercise of the ministry: Isaiah, Jeremiahs, Ezekiels, are often as unsuccessful as we. In such melancholy eases we must endeavour to surmount the obstacles, which the obduracy of sinners opposeth against the dispensations of grace. If “the angels -of God rejoice over one sinner that repenteth,” what pleasure must he feel who hath reason to hope, that in this valley of tears he hath had the honour of opening the gate of heaven to a multitude of sinners, that he hath “saved himself and them that heard him.” This pure joy God gave on the day of Pentecost to St. Peter. In order to comprehend what passed in the auditory, we must understand the sermon of the preacher. There are five remarkable things in the sermon, and there are five correspondent dispositions in the hearers.

We have remarked in the sermon of St. Peter that noble freedom of speech, which so well becomes a Christian preacher, and is so well adapted to strike his hearers. How much soever we now admire this beautiful part of pulpit-eloquence, it is very difficult to imitate it. Sometimes a weakness of faith, which attends your best established preachers; sometimes worldly prudence; sometimes a timidity, that proceedeth from a modest consciousness of the insufficiency of their talents; sometimes a fear, too well grounded, alas I of the retorting of those censures, which people, always ready to murmur against them who reprove their vices, are eager to make; sometimes a fear of those persecutions, which the world always raiseth against all whom heaven qualifies to destroy the empire of sin; all these considerations damp the courage of the preacher, and deprive him of freedom of speech. But none of these considerations had any weight with our apostle. And, indeed, why should any of them affect him? Should the weakness of his faith? He had conversed with Jesus Christ Himself; he had accompanied Him on the holy mount, he had “heard a voice from the excellent glory,” saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Could he distrust his talents? The Prince of the kingdom, the Author, and Finisher of faith, had told him, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church.” Should he dread reproaches and recriminations? The purity of his intentions, and the sanctity of his life confound them. Should he pretend to keep fair with the world? But what finesse is to be used, when eternal misery is to be denounced, and eternal happiness proposed? Philosophers talk of certain invisible bands that unite mankind to one another. A man, animated with any passion, hath in the features of his face, and in the tone of his voice, a something that partly communicates his sentiments to his hearers. Error proposed in a lively manner by a man, who is affected with it himself, may seduce unguarded people. Fictions, which we know are fictions, exhibited in this manner, move and affect us for a moment. But what a dominion over the heart doth that speaker obtain, who delivers truths, and who is affected himself with the truths which he delivereth! To this part of the eloquence of St. Peter, we must attribute the emotions of his hearers; “they were pricked in their heart.”

A second thing which gave weight and dignity to the sermon of St. Peter, was the miracle that preceded his preaching, I mean the gift of tongues, which had been communicated to all the apostles. The prodigy that accompanied the sermon of St. Peter had three characteristic marks of a real miracle.

1. It was above human power. Every pretended miracle, that hath not this first character, ought to be suspected by us. But the prodigy in question was evidently superior to human power. Of all sciences in the world, that of languages is the least capable of an instant acquisition. Certain natural talents, a certain superiority of genius, sometimes produce in some men the same effects, which long and painful industry can scarcely ever produce in others. We have sometimes seen people whom nature seems to have designedly formed in an instant courageous captains, profound geometers, admirable orators. But tongues are acquired by study and time. The acquisition of languages is like the knowledge of history. It is not a superior genius, it is not a great capacity, that can discover to any man what passed in the world ten or twelve ages ago. The monuments of antiquity must be consulted, huge folios must be read, and an immense number of volumes must be understood, arranged, and digested. In like manner, the knowledge of languages is a knowledge of experience, and no man can ever derive it from his own innate fund of ability. Yet the apostles, and apostolical men, men who were known to be men of no education, all on a sudden knew the arbitrary signs by which different nations had agreed to express their thoughts. Terms, which had no natural connection with their ideas, were all on a sudden arranged in their minds.

2. But perhaps these miracles may not be the more respectable on account of their superiority to human power. Perhaps, if they be not human, they may be devilish? No, a little attention to their second character will convince you that they are Divine. Their end was to incline men, not to renounce natural and revealed religion, but to respect and to follow both; not to render an attentive examination unnecessary, but to allure men to it.

3. The prodigy that accompanied the preaching of St. Peter had the third character of a true miracle. It was wrought in the presence of those who had the greatest interest in knowing the truth of it. The miracle being granted, I affirm that the compunction of heart, of which my text speaks, was an effect of that attention which could not be refused to such an extraordinary event, and of that deference which could not be withheld from a man, to whose ministry God had set His seal. They instantly, and entirely, surrendered themselves to men, who addressed them in a manner so extraordinary, “they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter, and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

We remark, in the discourse of the apostle, an invincible power of reasoning, and, in the souls of his hearers, that conviction which carries along with it the consent of the will. Of all methods of reasoning with an adversary, none is more conclusive than that which is taken from his own principles. But when the principles of an adversary are well grounded, and when we are able to prove that his principles produce our conclusions, our reasoning becomes demonstrative to a rational opponent, and he ought not to deny it. Christianity, it is remarkable, is defensible both ways. The first may be successfully employed against pagans; the second more successfully against the Jews. It is easy to convince a heathen that he can have no right to exclaim against the mysteries of the gospel, because if he have any reason to exclaim against the mysteries of Christianity, he hath infinitely more to exclaim against those of paganism. The second way was employed more successfully by the apostles against the Jews. They demonstrated that all the reasons, which obliged them to be Jews, ought to have induced them to become Christians; that every argument, which obliged them to acknowledge the Divine legation of Moses, ought to have engaged them to believe in Jesus Christ. St. Peter made use of this method. What argument can ye allege for your religion, said they to the Jews, which doth not establish that which we preach? Do ye allege the privileges of your legislator? Your argument is demonstrative; Moses had access to God on the holy mountain. Do ye allege the purity of the morality of your religion? Your argument is demonstrative. The manifest design of your religion is to reclaim men to God, to prevent idolatry, and to inspire them with piety, benevolence, and zeal. But this argument concludes for us. Do ye allege the miracles that were wrought to prove the truth of your religion? Your argument is demonstrative. But this argument establisheth the truth of our religion. What, then, are the prejudices that still engage you to continue in the profession of Judaism? Are they derived from the prophecies? Your principles are demonstrative; but, in the person of our Jesus, we show you to-day all the grand characters which, your own prophets said, would be found in the Messiah. Close reasoning ought to be the soul of all discourses. I compare it in regard to eloquence with benevolence in regard to religion. Without benevolence we may maintain a show of religion; but we cannot possess the substance of it (1 Corinthians 13:1, etc.). In like manner in regard to eloquence; speak with authority, display treasures of erudition, let the liveliest and most sublime imagination wing it away, turn all your periods till they make music in the most delicate ear, what will all your discourses be if void of argumentation? a noise, sounding brass, a tinkling cymbal. Ye may surprise, but ye cannot convince; ye may dazzle, but ye cannot instruct; ye may, indeed, please, but ye can neither change, sanctify, nor transform.

There are, in the sermon of St. Peter, stinging reproofs; and, in the souls of the hearers, a pungent remorse (verse 22). And who can express the agitations which were produced in the souls of the audience? What pencil can describe the state of their consciences? They had committed this crime through ignorance. St. Peter tore these fatal veils asunder. He showed these madmen their own conduct in its true point of light; and discovered their parricide in all its horror. “Ye have taken, and crucified Jesus, who was approved of God.” The apostle reminded them of the holy rules of righteousness, which Jesus Christ had preached and exemplified; and the holiness of Him, whom they had crucified, filled them with a sense of their own depravity. He reminded them of the benefits which Jesus Christ had bountifully bestowed on their nation. He reminded them of the grandeur of Jesus Christ. He reminded them of their unworthy treatment of Jesus Christ; of their eager outcries for His death; of their repeated shoutings. The whole was an ocean of terror, and each reflection a wave that overwhelmed, distorted, and distressed their souls.

In fine, we may remark in the sermon of St. Peter denunciations of Divine vengeance. The most effectual means for the conversion of sinners, that which St. Paul so successfully employed, is terror. St. Peter was too well acquainted with the obduracy of his auditors not to avail himself of this motive. People, who had imbrued their hands in the blood of a personage so august, wanted this mean. St. Peter quoted a prophecy of Joel, which foretold that fatal day, and the prophecy was the more terrible because one part of it was accomplished; because the remarkable events that were to precede it were actually come to pass; for the Spirit of God had begun to pour out His miraculous influences upon all flesh, young men had seen visions, and old men had dreamed dreams; and the formidable preparations of approaching judgments were then before their eyes. Such was the power of the sermon of St. Peter over the souls of his hearers! Human eloquence hath sometimes done wonders worthy of immortal memory. Some of the ancient orators have governed the souls of the most invincible heroes, and the life of Cicero affords us an example. Ligarius had the audacity to make war on Caesar. Caesar was determined to make the rash adventurer a victim to his revenge. The friends of Legarius durst not interpose, and Ligarius was on the point, either of being justly punished for his offence, or of being sacrificed to the unjust ambition of his enemy. What force could control the power of Caesar? But Caesar had an adversary, whose power was superior to his own. This adversary pleads for Ligarius against Caesar, and Caesar, all invincible as he is, yields to the eloquence of Cicero. Cicero pleads, Caesar feels; in spite of himself, his wrath subsides, his vengeance disappears. The fatal list of the crimes of Ligarius, which he is about to produce to the judges, falls from his hands, and he actually absolves him at the close of the oration, whom, when he entered the court, he meant to condemn. But yield, ye orators of Athens and Rome! Yield to our fishermen and tent-makers. Oh, how powerful is the sword of the Spirit in the hands of our apostles! But will ye permit us to ask you one question? Would ye choose to hear the apostles, and ministers like the apostles? Would ye attend their sermons? or, to say all in one word, Do ye wish St. Peter was now in this pulpit? Think a little, before ye answer this question. Compare the taste of this auditory with the genius of the preacher; your delicacy with that liberty of speech with which he reproved the vices of his own times. One wants to find something new in every sermon; and, under pretence of satisfying his laudable desire of improvement in knowledge, would divert our attention from well-known vices that deserve to be censured. Another desires to be pleased, and would have us adorn our discourses, not that we may obtain an easier access to his heart, but that we may flatter a kind of concupiscence, which is content to sport with a religious exercise, till, when Divine service ends, it can plunge into more sensual joy. Almost all require to be lulled asleep in sin. Ah! how disagreeable to you would the sermons of the apostles have been! Realise them. Ah! methinks I hear the holy man; methinks I hear the preacher, animated with the same spirit that made him boldly tell the murderers of Jesus Christ, “Jesus of Nazareth, a Man approved of God among you, by miracles and wonders, and signs, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” Methinks I see St. Peter, the man who was so extremely affected with the sinful state of his auditors; methinks I hear him enumerating the various excesses of this nation, and saying, Ye! ye are void of all sensibility when we tell you of the miseries of the Church, when we describe those bloody scenes, that are made up of dungeons and galleys, apostates and martyrs. (J. Saurin.)

The results of revivals not all known

A revival is as when a sportsman goes out with his gun, and sends its charge into a flock of pigeons. Some fall dead at once, and he sees and secures them; but others, sorely hurt, limp off and hide, to die among the bushes. The best part of this revival is, that while you can only see those who are shot dead, and fall down before you, there are, thank God, thousands in all parts of the land, being hit and wounded, to go off unnoticed to their own homes, and God heals them there.

Revival preachers

Revival preachers make their sermons like a lens, to concentrate the rays of truth, and exhibit them with unflinching hand, in near connection with the sinner, till they burn and inflame his heart. (J. Jenkyn.)

A sermon without an application

A sermon without an application does no more good than the singing of a skylark: it may teach, but it does not impel; and though the preacher may be under concern for his audience, he does not show it till he turns the subject to their immediate advantage. (Bishop Home.)

The operations of truth

Divine truth exerts on the mind of man at once a restorative and a self-manifesting power. It creates in the mind the capacity by which it is discerned. As light opens the close-shut flower-bud to receive light, or as the sunbeam, playing on a sleeper’s eyes, by its gentle irritation opens them to see its own brightness; so the truth of God, shining on the soul, quickens and stirs into activity the faculty by which that very truth is perceived. It matters little which of the two operations be first; practically they may be regarded as simultaneous. The perception rouses the faculty, and yet the faculty is implied in the perception. The truth awakens the mind, and yet the mind must be in activity ere the truth can reach it. And the same two-fold process is carried on in the whole subsequent progress of the soul. (Professor Caird.)

Awakened sinners

Peter’s hearers--

Were in a state of distress. “Pricked to the heart.” The Holy Spirit did this by means of--

1. What they saw; the wrong and folly of their action towards Jesus.

2. What they felt; that their folly and wrong-doing were sinful in the sight of God.

3. What they feared; that they might have to endure dreadful consequences.

Uttered a cry of distress, which meant--

1. That something must be done. The misery of self-condemnation must be ended by some means. It is a joy to an evangelist when hearers have this feeling.

2. That the apostles were able to tell them what to do. Peter had led them into that state, and it was natural to expect that he could deal with them in that state.

3. That they were ready to do what was required. The mark of true penitence is submissiveness. So long as a seeker lays down his own terms he is not fit to be saved.

Received an apostolic answer.

1. Turn from your sins. They were already convinced of sin and sorry for it, and were therefore ready for the direction.

2. Openly declare that you have turned from your sins. At this time baptism meant a great deal, viz., that the service of Christ was chosen at the risk of certain suffering.

3. Fulfil the appointed conditions of pardon. “Repent etc. with reference to the remission of sins.” So long as these are unfulfilled the sinner is morally unfit to receive pardon.

4. The Spirit who has given you this distress will give you joy. “Ye shall receive the gift,” etc. The fulness of the Spirit’s work always brings fulness of joy.

Learned the ground of the answer. “The promise is unto you,” etc. How wonderful that their awful sin did not invalidate this promise. Who is not the subject of the Divine call? The call to repentance, faith and virtue comes by many means: by providence, the Word, the Spirit. Have you not heard it?

Receive a final direction (verse 40).

1. The generation was wicked. This had been abundantly proved. Is it not so with the present generation? What else mean the frauds, vices, and blasphemies of every class of society.

2. It was necessary for the followers of Jesus to be separate from the world. Reason, interest, and Christian philanthropy required it then and require it now. Jesus was separate from sinners; His kingdom is not of this world; and true Christianity and worldliness cannot coalesce. He, then, who wishes to be saved must renounce the world.

3. This direction, therefore, is properly the last to penitent inquirers. To leave the world is to give decisive proof of the genuineness of repentance and faith. (W. Hudson.)

The great question and the inspired answer

The questing.

1. To this question they were led--

(1) by the Spirit;

(2) by the Truth;

(3) by their conscience--a view of sin leading to a consciousness of many.

2. This question indicates their--

(1) feeling;

(2) condition;

(3) desire.

3. This question was--

(1) honest,

(2) searching,

(3) inspired.

A suitable and significant answer.

1. Consider who gives the answer--

(1) apostles,

(2) inspired,

(3) speaking with authority.

2. The answer urges to--

(1) repentance,

(2) profession of Christ.

(3) yielding to the Spirit’s control.

3. The answer rests--

(1) not on human wisdom,

(2) not on human goodness,

(3) not on human efforts,

(4) but on the promise of God (verse 39), which is as wide as the world.

To a right reception comes a blessed consummation.

1. In personal experience--

(1) peace,

(2) goodness,

(3) singleness of heart (verse 46).

2. Relatively--

(1) favours with God,

(2) and man (verse 47). (J. M. Allis.)

Rightly dividing the word of truth

1. The word had wounded, now the word heals. A little religion is a painful thing, but more takes the pain away. The word is a hammer to break and a balm to heal. Its first effect is to convince a sinner that he is lost; its next to make the lost rejoice in his Saviour.

2. It is important to keep these two functions distinct. To preach a healing gospel when there is no wound on the conscience is like pressing cold water on those who are not thirsty. There is nothing sweeter to the thirsty; nothing more insipid to the satisfied.

3. The apostle rightly divided the word of truth. Peter’s aim all through is to produce conviction of sin, and for this appeals to Scripture to bring home the guilt of the crucifixion. It was not with gladness that they received that word but with grief, shame, remorse. When the preacher saw that his first word had taken effect he delivered the second. He had succeeded in wounding; and at the cry of the suffering patient, he comes forward to heal. The old stem had been cut off and the tree was bleeding; he turns the knife, and with its other side inserts the new graft, that there may be a tree of righteousness the planting of the Lord. You pour some burning drops upon a sore; their first effect is to increase the pain; but knowing the sovereign power of the remedy you continue to pour, sparing not for the patient’s crying. At length continued application of that which caused the pain takes all pain away. When the word wounds, still ply the word until the sword becomes a balm. Then, in this second stage, the hearer will receive the word with joy. He who really receives the word receives it gladly, for those who do not, will not long continue to receive it at all.

3. The believers were immediately baptized. It is clear that regeneration was not the result of baptism, but vice versa. It was when they received the word with gladness they were baptized. The order of events is that which the master enjoined (Matthew 28:19-20). Peter and his companions first laid themselves out to make disciples. Then, when by the successive pain and gladness produced by preaching, they perceived that disciples were made, they baptized them. Lastly, the newly accepted members of the Church were taught to observe all the commandments, for they abounded in faith and love.

4. But a dash of sadness is thrown upon the happy scene. “Fear came upon every soul.” But this points to the outer circle. The conversions startled the onlookers, and they were smitten with a sudden fear lest they should be left outside and perish. From the apostles view point, however, this was a hopeful symptom. The example of believers had begun to tell. It is a good sign when those living without God begirt to be uneasy; especially when it is at the sight of multitudes pressing into the kingdom. When men are delivered from the horrible pit many shall see it and fear (Psalms 40:1-17.). The Christian community in the freshness of its first faith was suddenly thrown into society, and disturbed it by its unwonted presence. If a new planet should be projected into our system, it would make the old worlds stagger. Bodies in contact reciprocally affect each other, especially in respect of temperature. Pour hot water into a cold vessel; the water contributes to heat the vessel, but the vessel also contributes to cool the water. But if a constant stream of hot water is supplied, it will bring up the vessel to its own temperature. A process like this goes on continually between the Church and the world. Fervent disciples, particularly those in their first love, affect with their own warmth the society into which they are poured; but society, on the other hand, affects them with its own coldness, and being the larger body will soon cool the disciples’ hearts, unless they maintain constant contact with Christ.

5. A word to those who are without Christ, I confess that the Church in contact with you is more or less cold. The disciples are not so manifestly like heaven as to send a thrill of terror through you lest you should fall to join their company. But if you stumble over their coldness, to blame them for their lukewarmness will not save you when you are lost. A man on inspecting a new house he was having built found one of the men lighting his pipe in the midst of dry shavings. So he said to him, “If my house is burnt the blame will rest on you.” Thinking over what he had said, he added, “The blame will be yours, but the loss will be mine.” He saw the risk, and went away and insured his house. Go thou and do likewise. The Church deserves blame; but the loss is yours. Hide your imperilled soul “with Christ in God.” (W. Arnot, D. D.)

On being pricked to the heart

When we hear God reprove sin we should be pricked at the heart.

1. So as to be sensible of sin.

(1) The guilt of it (Psalms 51:3-4).

(2) Of our defilement with it (Psalms 57:5).

2. So as to be troubled for our sins.

(1) Their sinfulness.

(2) Their multitude. (Ezra 9:6).

(3) Their greatness; as being--

(a) Against knowledge (John 3:19).

(b) Against mercies.

(c) After judgments (Isaiah 1:5; Amos 4:9).

(d) Contrary to our promises.

(e) Against the checks of conscience (Romans 2:15), the motives of the Spirit, the reproofs of the word.

3. Uses: Be pricked at your hearts when sin is reproved considering--

(1) Who is it that reproves (Amos 3:8; Jeremiah 5:21-22).

(2) Reproofs without this effect do more harm than good (Proverbs 29:1).

(3) God may reprove no more (Ezekiel 3:26; Hosea 4:17).

(4) You must answer for all the reproofs you hear.

Such as are pricked to the heart should be very inquisitive what to do.

1. We are all capable of holiness and happiness (Genesis 1:26).

2. But full of sin and misery (Ephesians 2:3).

3. It is one part of our sin and misery that we are not sensible of

(1) sin. This appears--

(a) In that we have not grieved for it (Ezekiel 7:16).

(b) Nor fear to commit it (Psalms 18:23).

(c) Nor strive to get it subdued (Psalms 57:2).

(2) Misery. This appears--

(a) In that we rejoice in it.

(b) We do not strive to get out of it.

4. The first step to holiness and felicity is sensibleness of sin and misery.

5. There is none so sensible of this, but he will be very inquisitive what to do (Acts 16:30). This is essential because--

(1) Our everlasting happiness depends upon it.

(2) Unless we inquire we shall never know what to do.

6. Whom must we inquire of?

(1) God.

(2) The Scriptures (Luke 17:29).

(3) Ministers. (Bp. Beveridge.)

Being pricked to the heart

Whitefield was preaching at Exeter. A man was present who had filled his pockets with stones to throw at the preacher. He heard, however, the prayer with patience, but no sooner was the text named than he pulled out a stone, and waited for an opportunity to throw it. But God sent the Word into his heart, and the stone fell from his hand. After the sermon he went to Whitefield, and said, “Sir, I came to hear you with a view to break your head, but the Spirit of God through your ministry has given me a broken heart.” The man proved to be a sound convert, and lived an ornament to the gospel.

Heart-work God’s work

Heart-work must be God’s work. Only the great heart-maker can be the great heart-breaker. (R. Baxter.)

The gospel to be preached to the heart

“I have an ear for other preachers,” Sir John Cheke used to say, “but I have a heart for Latimer.” Here is a very clear and main distinction. Too often men hear the Word sounding its drums and trumpets outside their walls, and they are filled with admiration of the martial music; bat their city gates are fast closed and vigilantly guarded, so that the truth has no admittance, but only the sound of it. Would to God we knew how to reach men’s affections, for the heart is the target we aim at, and unless we hit it we miss altogether.

The truth the sword of the Spirit

It is not the drapery in which Divine truth may be clothed, nor the force and beauty of the illustrations with which it may be presented, but it is the truth itself--the bare, naked, unvarnished truth-that is the instrument of the Spirit’s power. That is the sword of the Spirit; and it is the sword that does the work, not the scabbard in which it is sheathed. The scabbard may be finely fitted, and beautifully embellished, bound with the finest gold, and glittering with jewels of polished diamonds; but it is not the garnished scabbard, it is the drawn sword which the Spirit wields, and which, when wielded by Him, is quick and powerful, piercing even to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart. (J. A. Wallace.)

A famous conversion

1. It is remarkable in the very first order of it. It is the first conversion that was wrought by the apostles in the Christian Church; the first-fruits of the gospel; the first handful of ripe ears of corn offered up to God to sanctify the whole harvest; the goodly bunch of Eskol gathered by these first spies, the apostles, betokening the Church’s fruitfulness.

2. It is remarkable for the time and season when these converts embrace the faith and profess religion. We all know it was a sad time of persecution.

3. It is remarkable in the condition and quality of the persons: a mixed, confused company of men, strangely disposed and affected before their conversion. They run together, and flock about the apostles, with no very religious purpose, but merely to gaze and wonder at them. Nay, worse than so, they fall a-scoffing and deriding the apostles. Oh, the greatness of God’s mercy that He would, and, oh, the power of Christ’s grace that it could, convert such converts as these!

4. It is remarkable in the great number and multitude of converts. Not a cluster, or two, but a plentiful vintage. Such was the power of religion in those primitive times; so mightily grew the Word, and prevailed.

5. It is remarkable for the complete, entire fulness of their conversion. They are troubled for their sins, “pricked at their heart.” They repent, believe, and are baptized. They are diligent in all the duties of God’s service, and worship (verse 24). Their religion is not confined to the Church only, but they are fruitful in all works of charity (verse 45). They live together in all Christian love (verse 46). Here is an exact pattern of a through-conversion, a complete and perfect frame of a holy Church.

The means that wrought this anguish and compunction. It is St. Peter’s sermon: “When they heard this.” The text tells us of a wound that was given them, that pierced their heart. Here we see both the weapon that made it, and the place where it entered. In bodily strokes, he that means to hit the heart must take another aim, not run his weapon in at the ear; but he that means to wound the heart spiritually, his directest passage is through the ear. In this case there is an immediate conveyance from the ear to the heart. Men may as well expect good corn on their land without ploughing and sowing, as true sorrow and repentance without hearing and attending. The passage and entrance, then, is the ear; but what is the weapon St. Peter uses to pierce and wound them?

1. God’s Word in the general, that is the means that works this compunction, that is the choice, sanctified instrument appointed by God for this sacred work. The speaking to exhortation and doctrine is the way to convince and convert souls.

2. It is verbum convictivum. St. Peter makes choice of that Word of God that was most fit to detect and convict them; and he doth manage it so that they could not avoid the edge of it. And this he does by a close application of it to their sinful condition.

3. It was verbum convictivum de his peccatis. He charges them in a special manner with these and these sins as those that are likeliest to perplex their soul and bring them to compunction. As, in course of law, general accusations will ground no action; if we come to accuse a man, it is not sufficient to lay to his charge that he is a malefactor, but we must charge him with particulars. So, would a sinner arraign his conscience before God’s tribunal, he must frame an indictment against himself of his more notorious and personal impieties. If we trouble and disquiet and perplex your souls, we have our warrant from St. Peter’s example. St. Peter was even now filled with the Holy Ghost, and so the first vent that it found is in this sharp reprehension. This kind of dealing is warranted by the great success that God gave unto it. Peter hath saved thousands with it, and Paul his ten thousands. This is to cast the net on the right side of the ship, as Christ directs Peter; he shall not miss of a plentiful draught. He that means to fish for souls, let him bait his hook with this worm of conscience, and he will take them presently.

The paroxysm itself, the anguish and compunction they were brought into.

1. It is exceeding sharp; their soul is embittered in them. The Scripture sets out this compunction of spirit in terms of extremity (2 Samuel 24:10; Proverbs 18:14; Romans 2:9; Psalms 51:17). And it is the sense of God’s displeasure causes this breaking by three apprehensions, as by so many strokes.

(1) As most deserved and due to us. We eat the bitter fruit of our works.

(2) As most heavy and unsupportable by us. Who knows the power of His anger? Who can dwell with everlasting burnings?

(3) As, of ourselves, unavoidable by us. How shall we flee from the wrath to come? A poor sinner, beset with these anxieties, tortures himself with these pensive thoughts: “What have I done?” “What danger have I run into?” “How bitter are mine anguishes?” “Whither shall I turn myself for ease and comfort?”

2. Consider the goodness of these men’s compunction; and it will appear observable for our imitation in these four respects:--

(1) Their compunction is the more observable, because it is wrought in them without the help and concurrence of any outward affliction, only by the dint of St. Peter’s sermon.

(2) Their compunction is the more observable because wrought into them by the hearing of one sermon of St. Peter; no sooner charged with sin but they are convinced presently, and cry cut for sorrow.

(3) Their compunction is the more observable as being wrought in them only by convincing them of sin, not by threatening or denouncing of judgments.

(4) This compunction is the more observable because, ye see, it is a full yielding to the accusation. St. Peter charges them with horrid sin, and, without more ado, they plead guilty to all, confess the whole indictment. They are not enraged against the apostle for this sharp reproof. They take no exception against the accuser. They make no defence of the fact. They excuse it not. They demur not. None of all these shifts, but they accept of the accusation; they confess themselves guilty, and, with sorrow of heart, acknowledge they are murderers of the Lord of glory.

(a) Such power and such strength was in the Word of God preached by Peter. His words are like sharp arrows in the hand of a giant: they return not empty.

(b) Such prevalency hath the Grace of God in the hearts of this people. Like a sovereign antidote that served to drive the poison of sin from the heart into the outward parts by an open confession. That is the second particular of the text--their anguish and perplexity; and it briefly affords us a threefold meditation.

(i.) It lets us see the outfall of sin; the issue and end of it is sorrow and vexation. It may be sweet in the mouth, but it will be bitter in thy bowels.

(ii.) It shows the inlet and first entrance of grace; it begins with sorrow and sharp compunction. The first physic to recover our souls are not cordials, but corrosives; not an immediate stepping into heaven by a present assurance, but mourning, and a bitter bewailing of our former transgressions.

(iii.) It shows us the downfall of despair. Are these converts, whom God means mercy to, thus sharply tortured? How bitter are their torments whom He plunges into perdition I

The course they take for ease and remedy. They repair to Peter and the apostles, crave their help and direction: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” And this course of theirs is qualified with three conditions.

1. They take a speedy course. As soon as the wound is given and felt, they presently seek for help and direction. They put it not off till some other time, as Felix did when he felt the first shiverings and grudgings of contrition. Nor think they that they shall outgrow it in time, that their hearts are like good flesh that will heal of itself. No; delays in this kind breed a double danger.

(1) Good motions, if not cherished, will vanish away, and then the heart grows harder.

(2) Hath God pricked thine heart? Take the wound timely, lest it grow worse.

2. It was an advised and proper course they make choice of St. Peter and the rest of the apostles. And the wisdom, shall I say, or the happiness of this choice will appear in four particulars.

(1) They are spiritual men, physicians for the soul. A. wounded spirit cannot be cured but by spiritual means.

(2) They repair to the apostles. Why, Peter was he that wounded them! Best of all, none like him to cure them. What Hosea speaks of God is true of His ministers in a due subordination. “They have wounded, and they heal us; they have smitten, and they will bind us up.”

(3) They repair to Peter and the rest; they come to men of practice and experience. These apostles knew what it was to have a wounded spirit; these had crucified Christ; Peter had denied Him, the rest had forsaken Him, and it cost them dear ere they could be recovered. None like these to direct their conscience. They do it--

(a) more skilfully,

(b) more humbly,

(c) more tenderly.

(4) They are unanimous, all here in a joint consent and concurrence of judgment.

3. It proves successful, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” It discovers a threefold effect that this compunction hath already wrought in them to help forward their conversion.

(1) It represses their censoriousness. A man truly sensible of his own sins will have little lift or leisure to censure and judge, much less to reproach or slander others. It will make him judge himself, and condemn himself, and think worst of himself of all other men.

(2) This compunction and perplexity makes them reverent and respectful to St. Peter and the other apostles. God’s ministers are never in season with the world till men come to distress and perplexity. In the time of ease and jollity a minister is but a contemptible man; he and his pains may be well spared. But when sorrows surprise you, and your hearts are wounded, then one leaf from the Tree of Life to stanch the bleeding wilt be precious to you. This is the honour of our ministry to be able to help in such helpless times.

(3) It makes them inquisitive. “What shall we do?” Surely it is the voice of anguish and perplexity. They speak as men at a loss; they know not how to shift. But they were men acquainted with the law; nay, devout zealots of the Jewish traditions (verse 5); and yet we see they are now to seek how to ease themselves in that great perplexity. Whence arises this sudden amazement? Was it from the surcharge of sorrow that had overwhelmed their spirits and darkened that light which was formerly in them? It often proves so. It shadows out the insufficiency of the law to breed peace and comfort to us. It may perplex us, but it cannot quiet us; discover our sins, but not remove them. Or was it not they placed all their religion in some outward observations, without the life and piety of inward devotion. Rituals with substantials are the beauty of religion, but severed and divided will breed but cold comfort to us.

2. It makes them docile and tractable, willing and desirous to receive instruction. Compunction bores and opens the ear, and makes it capable of direction.

3. It begets a readiness to undertake any course that shall be prescribed for relief and comfort. In our ease heaven must fall into our laps, or we will none of it. If it put us to pains or cost it is toe dear a bargain for us to deal withal. But when our souls are in perplexity we will be glad to accept of mercy upon any terms; we will take heaven at God’s price then. “I will do anything, Lord, I will suffer anything to get hell out of my soul now, and to keep my soul out of hell hereafter.” (Bp. Brownrigg.)


1. Peter’s sermon was not a fine display of eloquence.

2. Neither was it a very pathetic plea.

3. Nor a loud but empty cry of “Believe, believe!”

4. It was simple, a plain statement and a soberly earnest argument.

5. Its power lay in the truthfulness of the speaker, his appeal to Scripture, the concurrence of his witnessing brethren, and his own evident faith.

6. Above all, in the Holy Spirit who accompanied the Word.

Saving impression is a prick in the heart. To be cut to the heart is deadly (Acts 5:33): to be pricked in the heart is saving.

1. All true religion must be of the heart. Without this--

(1) Ceremonies are useless (Isaiah 1:13).

(2) Orthodoxy of head is in vain (Jeremiah 7:4).

(3) Profession and a constrained morality fail (2 Timothy 3:5).

(4) Loud zeal, excited and sustained by mere passions, is useless.

2. Impressions which do not prick the heart may even be evil. They may

(1) Excite to wrath and opposition.

(2) Lead to sheer hypocrisy.

(3) Create and foster a spurious hope.

3. Even when such superficial impressions are good, they are transient: and when they have passed away, they have often hardened those who have felt them for a season.

4. They will certainly be inoperative. As they have not touched the heart, they will not affect the life. They will not lead to

(1) Confession and inquiry, nor

(2) Repentance and change of life.

(3) Glad reception of the Word, nor

(4) Obedience and steadfastness. Heart-work is the only real work.

What truths produce such a prick?

1. The truth of the gospel has often, by the power of the Holy Ghost, produced an indelible wound in minds sceptical and opposed.

2. A sense of some one specially startling sin has frequently aroused the conscience (2 Samuel 12:7).

3. Instruction in the nature of the law, and the consequent heinousness of sin, has been blessed to that end (Romans 7:13).

4. The infinite wickedness of sin, as against the very being of God, is also a wounding thought (Psalms 51:4).

5. The exactness, severity, and terror of the judgment, and the consequent punishment of sin, are stirring thoughts (Acts 16:25-30).

6. The great goodness of God has led many to see the cruel wantonness of sin against Him (Romans 2:4).

7. The death of Christ as a Substitute has often been the means of revealing the greatness of the sin which needed such an atonement, and of showing the true tendency of sin in having slain One so good and kind (Zechariah 12:10).

8. The abundant grace and love revealed in the gospel and received by us are sharp arrows to wound the heart.

What hand makes these painful pricks?

1. The same hand which wrote the piercing truths also applies them.

2. He is well acquainted with our hearts, and so can reach them.

3. He is the Quickener, the Comforter, the Spirit helping our infirmities, showing to us the things of Jesus: His fruit is love, joy, peace, etc. We need not utterly despair when wounded by such a tender Friend.

4. He is a Spirit to be sought unto, who acts in answer to His people’s prayers. We turn for healing to Him who pricks.

How can these pricks be healed?

1. Only One who is Divine can heal a wounded heart.

2. The only medicine is the blood of His heart.

3. The only hand to apply it is that which was pierced.

4. The only fee required is gladly to receive Him. Conclusion: Let us ask the question, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Let us then obey the gospel, and believe in the Lord Jesus. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Honest preaching

No doubt it is a high and difficult task to preach with success; far be it from us to teach that no pains should be used to gain men’s ears; but the preacher who gains their ears should use his conquest to reach their consciences--and it is his business to give them pain. They are sinners, and they know it, even better than the preacher. He will not become their enemy by telling them the truth, and so telling it that their ears will tingle with shame and their consciences cry out with remorse. At all events, enemies made in that way may become the preacher’s best friend; and if they do not, they will carry his credentials as stigmata burnt into their memories. A man riding with his friend past a country church fell to musing with himself, and presently said: “In that house, thirty years ago, I passed the most uncomfortable hour of my life. It seems but yesterday, and my pain seems as keen as it was then.” The other laughed and said: “I suppose it was some coquettish maiden.” “No. It was an honest preacher who got hold of my very soul.” Such memories in the hearts of sinners are the best credentials they can give to preachers of the gospel.

Reaching the heart

Jerome used to say, “It is not the clamour of praise but the groans of conviction that should be heard whilst the minister preaches.” And again, “The tears of the congregation form the highest praises of the pulpit orator.” The anecdote of Dean Milner and Rowland Hill here is apposite. Dean Milner had a great objection against extemporaneous preaching, thinking that it warred against the precise and orthodox mode. However, being attracted by the great fame of Rowland Hill, he was led to indulge his curiosity by once going to hear him. After the sermon the Dean was seen forcing his way, in much haste, to the vestry-room, when, seizing the hand of the preacher, in his enthusiasm, he cried out, “Well, dear brother Rowland, I perceive now that your slapdash preachers are, after all, the best preachers; it went to the heart, sir; it went to the heart, sir!” (Scottish Christian Herald.)

Powerful preaching

John Elias was called to preach a great association sermon at Pwllheli. In the whole neighbourhood the state of religion was very low, and distressingly discouraging to pious minds, and it had been so for many years. Elias felt that his visit must be an occasion with him. It may almost be said of that day that “he prayed, and the heavens gave rain.” He went. He took as his text, “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered.” It was an astonishing time. While the preacher drove along with his tremendous power, multitudes of the people fell to the ground. Calm stood the man, his words rushing from him like flames of fire. There were added to the churches of that immediate neighbourhood, in consequence of the impetus of that sermon, two thousand five hundred members. (E. Paxton Hood.)

Only God can heal the wounds He makes

When a man is wounded with a barbed arrow, the agonies he suffers will cause him to toss about in pain; but the harder he strives to release the weapon from his flesh, the more does it become entangled in his sinews, the wound becomes enlarged, and the torture increased. When, by the power of the Holy Ghost, a man is wounded on account of sin, and the arrows of the Most High tear his soul, he frequently tries to pluck them out with his own hand, but finds that the misery becomes worse, and the inflaming wounds at last cause faintness and despair. Only the Good Physician knows how to relieve the pain without tearing and festering the spirit. (Handbook of Illustration.)

A true saving conviction of sin

The instrument by which it was produced, namely, the preaching of St. Peter. The Holy Spirit was the Author, but He employed the preaching of the apostle. It is by the Word of God, and usually by the preaching of that Word, that the heart is awakened, enlightened, and impressed. See why Satan is such an enemy to the preaching of the gospel. He knows that it is the appointed instrument for overturning his kingdom. He would, therefore, gladly prevent preaching, but when he cannot do this he tries to keep men from hearing.

The description here given of a saving conviction of sin. They “were pricked in their hearts.” The Word of God, in order to be of any real use, must reach the heart. It is not enough that it enlighten the understanding, or please the fancy, or warm the affections. Nor is merely reaching the heart sufficient. It must touch it. And what is the way in which it touches the heart? We read of some ‘who were “cut to the heart.” Their hearts were deeply affected; but instead of any saving conviction being wrought in them, they were only the more exasperatd and hardened against the truth. A prick in the heart, though a small wound, would be fatal.

The way in which such a conviction will show itself; namely, in an application for relief. Take notice to whom they made this application: to those very persons through whose preaching the wound had been inflicted. Not that the preacher, by his own power, can heal the wound, any more than he could at first inflict it. The same Holy Spirit, which alone produces conviction, can alone administer consolation. But in both eases He works by means. Attend, then, to the preaching of the Word, and you will find it a life-giving Word, mighty to heal as well as to wound, the power of God unto salvation.

The humility produced by a saving conviction of sin. Such a conviction disposes men to use the remedy prescribed. “What shall we do?” indicates that they were not only in deep trouble as not knowing what course to take, but also that they were willing to follow any directions which the apostles might point out. To this question there is but one answer, that of Peter. (E. Cooper.)

We must preach to the consciences of men

Inspector Byrnes of New York says, “The great lieutenant of every police officer is that mysterious thing called conscience. You let a man try to deceive himself and lie to himself about himself, and that something comes knocking up against the shell of his body, and thumping on his ribs with every heart-beat, and pounding on his skull until his head aches and he wishes he were dead, and groans in agony for relief. It is the same conscience that makes a criminal ‘give himself away,’ if one only knows how to awaken it, or stir it into activity. I never let a man know for what he is arrested. He may have committed a dozen more crimes of which I know nothing. If I lock him up alone and leave him to the black walls and his guilty conscience for three or four hours, while he pictures the possible punishment due to him for all his crimes, he comes presently into my hands like soft clay in the hands of the potter. Then he is likely to tell me much more than I ever suspected.” So the conscience is the great lieutenant of every preacher of the gospel, and this is not a lesson for the pulpit alone, for one of the most suggestive features of the Pentecost revival is that the Church members were all preachers that day. This picture ought to lead us to have courage to expect immediate results from the faithful preaching of the gospel. One of the most dangerous errors that ever was propagated by the enemy of souls, an error that paralyses the tongue of the preacher and the prayer of the Church, is that Christianity is only a system of culture, and that souls are to be ransomed by gradual stages. (L. A. Banks.)

Verse 38

Acts 2:38

Then Peter said, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Peter’s direction

In getting the exact meaning of Peter’s directions to these inquirers, observe--

(1) “Repent” is literally to perceive afterwards, and hence to change the mind, including one’s view of life and truth, and hence one’s purpose. Here it means an entire change of opinion respecting Jesus Christ, from regarding Him as an impostor to reverencing Him as both Lord and Christ; but it also includes all that change of inner life and purpose which follows thereon. The Roman Catholic translation, “Do penance,” making the direction merely the observance of certain legal rites, is equally inconsistent with the original Greek and with the spirit of the entire passage.

(2) “Be baptized” follows in order the direction to repent. Baptism is not a regenerating ordinance, but a sign and symbol of repentance, and a public confession of Christ.

(3) “Each of you,” shows that the repentance and baptism must be a personal act. The multitude could not have been baptized under this direction, as some of the converts under Xavier’s preaching were baptized in India, by being sprinkled altogether in a multitude, or as some of the northern people were baptized in earlier times, by being made to pass through the river in a great host.

(4) “In” (upon) “the name of Jesus Christ,” is upon the name of Jesus Christ as the foundation of the baptism, i.e., with an acknowledgment of Him in that act as being what His name means, the sinner’s only hope, his Redeemer, Justifier, Lord, and Final Judge. (Lyman Abbott.)

St. Peter’s prescription

The means he prescribes.

1. Repentance; that is the first ingredient in the cure. It is the primitive original grace, even before faith itself, as it serves to justify. All the promises are made only to the penitent.

(1) See the necessity of this spiritual medicine. As when a loving father shall command his sick child to use such a medicine to save his life, should the child refuse it, he sins not only as a disobedient child against his father, but as a desperate creature against his own life. Impeniteney is the damning sin. All sins deserve damnation, but it is impenitency which doth actually cast us. As he that hath eaten poison hath done that which in itself is deadly; but yet there is an antidote that can cure it; now to refuse the antidote is more desperate. Other sins are against our duty; but impenitency is against our recovery. Still the Scripture promises this as a necessary condition for obtaining mercy (Acts 5:3).

(2) It is a proper cure for sin this penitential sorrow. To speak truly, sorrow and remorse, it is good for nothing but to destroy sin. God, when He implanted this affection in our souls, intended it only for this purpose, to purge and cure our spiritual maladies

(3) See the efficacy of this prescript, the strength and virtue of this balm of Gilead. It is able to work strange cures, to recover men of desperate maladies. As no sin is so small but it needs repentance, so no sin so great but may be done away by this grace of repentance.

(4) Take notice of the seasonableness of this prescription. They were already deeply cast down with sorrow and anguish, they were pricked at the heart, pierced. One would think some other course were more seasonable. No, no; St. Peter is right, he sees their souls are in perplexity, and yet he calls upon them to repent; they are in sorrow, and yet they must sorrow if they mean to be eased. There is indeed a large difference betwixt that sorrow which they already felt and that penitential sorrow which St. Peter enjoins them. Their former sorrow, it was a legal sorrow, wrought into them by the terrors of God’s law and the sense of their sin; but the sorrow St. Peter commends to them is an evangelical sorrow, a sorrow wrought by the gospel and a gift of Christ.

(5) Their former sorrow and compunction, it was a pang and passion of sorrow that seized them, whether they would or no; but the penitential sorrow that Peter exhorts them to, it is a voluntary, willing sorrow to which they must stir up and provoke themselves.

(a) Look upon it in the original, it is a grace, and that is seated in the will, it serves to enable it and to make it willing.

(b) Look upon it in the exercise, so it is a duty; God requires and expects repentance. Now, God requires our actions. Sufferings are not commanded but inflicted; but duties are, enjoined, and we must willingly perform them.

(c) Look upon it in the use; so it is a condition upon the performance of which God doth covenant with us. A true penitent must provoke himself to sorrow, praying that he may sorrow; grieving that he cannot grieve, never repenting that he hath repented.

(6) The sorrow they felt before, when their hearts were pricked, differs from the sorrow to which St. Peter exhorts them; that was dolor, the pain of the disease; but this he requires of them, it is the smart that comes by the cure and medicine. It is not every stroke of conscience, nor every pang of sorrow, that is true repentance; we may feel all these, and feel them in extremity, and yet the bitter pill of repentance must be taken down for all that. That is the first means, a spiritual purging. Come we--

2. To the second means which St. Peter prescribes them, that is a spiritual bathing; that is the sacrament of baptism.

(1) The sacramental action; they must be baptized. This outward, external, bodily ceremony of washing in water, it is of Divine institution, and so necessary. Let the means be what it will, if Christ sends us to it, it shall be effectual. Purposely Christ uses these bodily means as special conveyances of spiritual grace; even amongst men we see outward evidences and seals are accounted strong assurances. We are not content to have estates passed over to us by bare word; but writings and seals, livery and seisin, are all requisite. Purposely God employs very mean instruments that our faith may only depend upon His power, and that our thankfulness may ascribe it only to His glory. In particular, Christ prescribes this sacrament of baptism, and washing in water, that element fitly resembling those spiritual effects which are wrought in baptism.

(a) Water hath a force of drawing and killing and suffocating any breathing thing. And this quality of water is a fit resemblance of the grace of baptism. A sinner, coming to this sacrament, hath all his sins drowned and abolished.

(b) Water hath a power of quenching; and such a spiritual virtue there is in baptism, it allays the heat of our natural concupiscence, quenches and extinguishes the boilings and inflammations of our sinful lusts.

(c) Water, it is a cleansing element, it washes away filthiness, and so doth baptism; it purges a sinner from all defilements of flesh and spirit (Ephesians 4:26).

(d) Water hath a fructifying virtue in it; it is a fruitful element, and makes other things fruitful (Genesis 1:20). So this sacrament by Divine institution and benediction, it is a fountain of living water, a font and laver of regeneration. See how abundantly these waters brought forth. Three thousand were baptized and renewed in one day. That is the action. Then--

(2) The relation of it, which enlivens the action and makes it effectual, is that it must be done in the name of Jesus Christ. What means that? In His name, that is, by His authority. He alone can institute a sacrament, He alone can make the seal that must confirm His covenant. In His name; that is, be baptized in the faith of Jesus His name, through faith in His name (Acts 3:16). A sacrament without faith is a seal to a blank. In the name of Jesus Christ, that is, in the solemn and holy profession of Christ into His religion, into the fellowship and communion of His holy profession. In baptism we take upon us Christ’s cognisance and livery.

The benefits which upon the use of this means he doth assure them.

1. Remission of sins. And this will appear--

(1) A seasonable benefit. Men in their case and perplexity had rather hear of the pardon of their sins, then that all the goods of the world should betide them. This mercy, it is the sinful soul’s city of refuge. Other means may stupefy and benumb our conscience, and lay it asleep; only this assurance can truly and effectually quiet and comfort it, Thy sins are forgiven thee.

(2) This mercy here promised is a full complete comfort; it is remission of sins in the plural number. As in bodily cures, when Christ cast out one devil, He cast out all; seven devils out of Mary Magdalen; a whole legion of devils, left not one remaining. So when He pardons one sin He forgives all.

(a) God’s love, it is not partial and imperfect, pardoning some and retaining others.

(b) And then repentance, though it be occasioned by some one sin, yet it bewails all, detests all, forsakes all. A good Christian will leave no sin unrepented of.

(c) The grace of baptism doth not only seal up the actual remission of our by-past sins; but it hath a force even for the pardoning of the sins of our whole life. Not that all our sins past, present, and to come are actually all forgiven in baptism, but because in our baptism God seals up that covenant by which He assures us, He will pardon all our sins upon our repentance; and thus the force of baptism reaches to the pardon of future sins.

2. The receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.

(1) Grace is a gift not inbred in us, not deserved or purchased by us.

(2) We must receive it; we are only passive and receptive of grace. The Spirit is the only agent, we are but receivers of the gift of grace. To pass by these, consider only these two things: the order. Repent and be baptized, and then receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. First, here is cleansing required, and then beautifying. The Holy Ghost abhors uncleanliness, will not come near to a defiled soul. The nature of this gift. The gifts of the Holy Ghost; were of two sorts.

3. Those that are usually called gifts tending to edification of others; as tongues and other ministerial enablements. They were the gifts of this day, but not the only gifts.

4. Others are gifts of personal concernment, for the good of the receivers to further their salvation. And these were promised and bestowed on this day.

(1) The grace of sanctification; that was the gift and benefit of this day.

(2) The grace of obsignations and sealing, that was the work and gift of the Spirit that came this day. This is one great office of the Holy Ghost to ratify and seal up to us the forgiveness of our sins and all the benefits of our redemption (Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30).

(3) The grace of consolation; that is another work and gift of the Spirit, that was also the gift of this day.

(a) In regard of our sanctification, so the Holy Ghost is a gift of grace enabling us.

(b) In respect of our assurance, so He is a seal confirming us.

(c) In respect of comfort and consolation, so He is the kiss of love and peace to rejoice and comfort us. And this assurance that Peter gives them of their receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, it will afford us a threefold meditation.

See here--

1. His earnest desire to have the gift of the Spirit communicated to them.

2. The bounty of God; whom He pardons, those He enriches and stores with grace.

3. Learn here the duty and obligation of a penitent. If God bestows this rich gift on us, that very gift obliges us to use it. We must not be content to have our sins pardoned, but we must set ourselves to perform better obedience. (BP. Brownrigg.)

The gospel

The crowd, convinced of sin and fearful of its consequences, cried out in an agony of remorse and despair, “What shall we do?” Meaning, of course, what the jailer meant in the full evangelical question. They wanted to know how they should escape the penalty incurred. Very full is this condensed reply of Peter’s. The whole gospel of man’s salvation is included in it. No director of a stricken and bewildered conscience can improve upon it.

The nature of salvation.

1. Remission of sins. Sin had run them into danger; continuance in sin would involve them in ruin. The first thing, therefore, was that sin should be remitted. When a disease breaks out it exposes its victims to a possible or probable death. To check its ravages does not mean absolutely health; but there is no averting that fatality until the progress of the disease receives a check. In our case sin exposes us to punishment on account of its guilt; to death because of its power. To forgive the guilt and to counterwork the power is therefore the first requirement. It is not full salvation, but it is necessary to it.

2. The gift of the Holy Ghost. This is the positive side of that which remission is the negative side, and completes the idea of salvation. To receive the Spirit is for the sick soul to be restored to full ‘health; it is to lay ourselves open to His gracious work, which is

(1) Regeneration, the gift of a new nature.

(2) Adoption, translation into the Divine family and acceptance in the Beloved.

(3) The witness to our sonship.

(4) Progressive sanctification.

(5) The earnest of all the glory and the joy of heaven.

The means of obtaining salvation.

1. Repentance. Change of mind about sin, self, holiness, and God, with endeavours after a corresponding change in the life and conduct. This will involve a hatred of sin, a true measurement of our own weakness and unworthiness, an endeavour after holiness, a desire after God as the supreme good.

2. Baptism. Here the rite was a symbol--

(1) Of trust in Christ. “In the name of Jesus Christ.”

(2) Of the purity to which the Christian is pledged.

(3) Of confession of Christ before men.

(4) Of separation from the old life of the world, and consecration to Christ.

These conditions are as inexorable to-day as they were then. All that the baptism we have already enjoyed in infancy means is obligatory on every baptized man. Our baptism is vain and our salvation non-existent unless “the life we live in the flesh be by the faith of the Son of God”; unless our lives are pure, unless our confession of Christ be unmistakable, and unless we are fully consecrated to our Master’s service. Conclusion:

1. How simple the conditions on which God grants His greatest boon.

2. How essential that we should comply with them before the gift is withdrawn. (J. W. Burn.)


This is a turning from sin to God. When genuine it is a fruit of the Spirit, and secures the further gift of the Spirit. In its widest sense it includes the whole process of conversion. It has been well defined to be “a saving grace whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth with grief and hatred of his sin turn from it unto God with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience.”

Its means.

1. From a due sense of sin. This includes--

(1) A knowledge of sin.

(2) A conviction of our own sinfulness.

(3) A proper sense of our own guilt and pollution.

The knowledge of sin supposes proper views of the holiness and justice of God, and therefore of the greatness of the evil of sin, and that we are absolutely at God’s mercy.

2. It is with apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ. Repentance is not possible as long as we think we are without hope. For despair excludes repentance. We must apprehend, i.e., believe--

(1) That God is merciful.

(2) That He can consistently exercise His mercy.

(3) That we are, or may be, its objects.

(4) That this is through Christ; because out of Christ conscience and Scripture teach Him to be a consuming fire.

The attending circumstances.

1. Grief, i.e., sincere sorrow for having sinned; including--

(1) Remorse.

(2) Self abhorrence.

(3) Self-condemnation.

(4) Shame.

2. Hatred of sin, which includes--

(1) Disapprobation.

(2) Disgust.

The act itself.

1. Turning from sin: from its

(1) Approbation.

(2) Indulgence.

(3) Promotion.

2. Turning to God--

(1) As an object of excellence.

(2) As an object of enjoyment.

Its efforts.

1. Purpose. A decision of the will to obey God in all things.

2. Endeavour to do so.

(1) Continued.

(2) Sincere.

(3) Effective. (C. Hodge, D. D.)

Repentance: its nature

It consists in the heart being broken for sin and from sin. (W. Nevins.)

Repentance: its beginning and end

It begins in the humiliation of the heart, and ends in the reformation of the life. (J. M. Mason, D. D.)

Repentance: its double aspect

True repentance looks upon things past with a weeping eye, and upon the future with a watchful eye. (R. South, D. D.)

Repentance, thorough

I pray you dig deep. Christ’s palace-work and His new dwelling, laid upon hell felt and feared, is most firm; and heaven, grounded and laid upon such a hell, is sure work, and will not wash away with winter storms. (S. Rutherford.)

Repentance, universal

If a ship have three leaks, and two be stopped, the third will sink the ship. If a man has two severe wounds, and cures one, the neglected one will kill him. (J. Spencer.)

Repentance: a change of course

A captain at sea discovers that, by some mistake, the steersman is steering the ship directly for the rocks. How is the danger to be avoided? By scrubbing the decks, or setting the men to the pumps? No! these things are good enough in their own time, but if the ship is to be saved, one thing must be done--her course must be changed. So the captain utters a few quick words, and the ship turns and speeds away from the danger.

Repentance produced by God

You feel that you cannot repent, but cannot Jesus make thee repent by His Spirit? Do you hesitate about that question? See the world a few months ago hard bound with frost, but how daffodil, and crocus, and snowdrop have come up above that once frozen soil, how snow and ice have gone, and the genial sun shines out! God does it readily, with the soft breath of the south wind and the kind sunbeams, and He can do the same in the spiritual world for thee. Relieve He can, and ask Him now to do it, and thou shalt find that the rock of ice shalt thaw, that huge, horrible, devilish iceberg of a heart of thine shall begin to drip with showers of crystal penitence, which God shall accept through His dear Son.

Repentance before joy

As certain fabrics need to be damped before they will take the glowing colours with which they are to be adorned, so our spirits need the bedewing of repentance before they can receive the radiant colouring of delight. The glad news of the gospel can only be printed on wet paper. Have you ever seen clearer shining than that which follows a shower? Then the sun transforms the raindrops into gems, the flowers look up with fresher smiles and faces glittering from their refreshing bath, and the birds from among the dripping branches sing with notes more rapturous, because they have paused awhile. So, when the soul has been saturated with the rain of penitence, the clear shining of forgiving love makes the flowers of gladness blossom all round. The steps by which we ascend to the palace of delight are usually moist with tears. Grief for sin is the porch of the House Beautiful, where the guests are full of “the joy of the Lord.”

The magnitude of repentance

Repentance is an old-fashioned doctrine, which in these days has been despised; but, if I stand alone, I will bear testimony for it. They say that repentance is nothing at all--that it is merely, according to the Greek, a change of mind. That shows what a little Greek they know. A little of such knowledge is a dangerous thing. A pity that they do not learn more. Repentance is a change of mind; but do you say that it is only a change of mind? That is a pretty big “only.” A change of mind, a radical change of mind, from the love of sin to the love of holiness, is that a small affair? It is always attended with sorrow and regret for past sin: and, if there is a man here who thinks that he will get to heaven by a dry-eyed faith, he will be mistaken. He that never mourned for sin hath never rejoiced in the Lord. If I can look back upon my past life of sin and say, “I have no grief over it,” why, then I should do the same again if I had the opportunity: and this shows that my heart is as perverse as ever it was, and I am still unregenerate. Dear Mr. Rowland Hill used to say that faith and repentance were his daily companions as long as he lived, and that, if he had any thought of regret at entering heaven, it would be to think that he might have to part with his dear friend Repentance as he went through the gate. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A repentance not so earnest as it seems

The gondoliers at Venice, when we were sojourning in that queen of the Adriatic, frequently quarrelled with each other, and used such high words and ferocious gestures that we were afraid murder would come of it; yet they never came to blows, it was only their rough way of disputing. Often and often have we heard men upbraiding themselves for their sins, and crying out against the evil which their follies have wrought them, yet these very people have continued in their transgressions, and have even gone from bad to worse. They barked too much at sin to fall to and destroy it. Their enmity to evil was mere feigning; like the sword-play of the stage, which looks like earnest fight, but no wounds are given or received. Let those who play at repentance remember that they who repent in mimicry shall go to hell in reality. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Legal and evangelical repentance

There is many a wounded conscience that is wounded like a sheet of ice shivered on the pavement, which yet is stiff and cold. But let the sun shine forth, and the ice is melted, and melted completely; so is it with legal and evangelical repentance.

For the remission of sins.--

Remission by God only

As the prince or ruler only has power to pardon treason in his subjects, so God only has power to forgive sin. As no man can forgive a debt but the creditor to whom the debt is due, so God only can forgive us our debts, whose debtors we are to an incalculable amount.

Remission for the greatest sinners

There was once a man who was a very great sinner, and for his horrible wickedness was put to death in the town of Ayr. This man had been so stupid and brutish a fellow, that all who knew him thought him beyond the reach of all ordinary means of grace; but while the man was in prison the Lord wonderfully wrought on his heart, and in such a measure discovered to him his sinfulness, that, after much serious exercise and sore wrestling, a most kindly work of repentance followed, with great assurance of mercy, insomuch that when he came to the place of execution he could not cease crying out to the people, under the sense of pardon and the comforts of the presence and favour of God, “Oh, He is a great forgiver! He is a great forgiver!” And he added the following words, “Now hath perfect love cast out fear. I know God hath nothing to lay against me, for Jesus Christ hath paid all; and those are free whom the Son makes free.” (J. Fleming.)

Remission gives confidence under the accusations of the law

A man was once being tried for a crime, the punishment of which was death. The witnesses came in one by one, and testified to his guilt; but there he stood, quite calm and unmoved. The judge and the jury were quite surprised at his indifference; they could not understand how he could take such a serious matter so calmly. When the jury retired, it did not take them many minutes to decide on the verdict “Guilty”; and when the judge was passing the sentence of death upon the criminal he told him how surprised he was that he could be so unmoved in the prospect of death. When the judge had finished the man put his hand in his bosom, pulled out a document, and walked out of the dock a free man. Ah, that was how he could be so calm; it was a free pardon from his king, which he had in his pocket all the time. The king had instructed him to allow the trial to proceed, and to produce the pardon only when he was condemned. Now, that is just what will make us joyful in the great day of judgment; we have got a pardon from the Great King, and it is sealed with the blood of His Son. (D. L. Moody.)

And ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.--

The gift of the Holy Ghost

1. Among the various reasonable grounds and ends of observing festival solemnities, the principal are these:

(1) The occasion which they afford to instruct ourselves and others in the mysterious doctrines of our religion.

(2) The engaging us seasonably to practise that great duty to God, the remembering and praising Him for His great favours and mercies.

2. For these purposes chiefly did God Himself appoint the Jewish festivals: e.g., the Passover. In compliance with which design the Christian Church has recommended to her children the observation of her chief festivals, continuing the time and name, though changing or improving the matter and reason of those ancient ones. The effusion of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost corresponded with the time when the Jews were obliged to “rejoice before the Lord,” for the harvest newly gathered in, and the earth’s good fruits bestowed on them; and then did God bountifully impart the first-fruits of His Holy Spirit. The benefit, therefore, and blessing, which at this time we are bound to commemorate, is in effect the publication and establishment of the evangelical covenant, the foundation of all our hopes, and claims to happiness; but more immediately and directly--

The donation of the Holy Spirit to the Christian Church, and to all its members.

1. God’s gracious design was to reclaim mankind item their ignorance, errors, and sins, and to reconcile them to Himself by the mediation of His Son, whom He sent to instruct them in their duty.

2. To render this successful according to the capacities of human nature, it was requisite to provide convincing arguments to persuade men of the truth of these things; means to excite their attention to them; motives to accept them; and a power also to retain them firm in their belief, and uphold them in the performance of the conditions required.

3. To prevent, therefore, the disappointment of His merciful intentions, God to the ministry of His eternal wisdom adjoined the efficacy of His eternal love and blessed Spirit, the which not only conducted our Divine Saviour into His earthly tabernacle, but did continually reside with Him, and attend Him in the performance of His miraculous works, attesting the truth of His quality, commission, and doctrine, and exciting men to notice these things. Nay, farther, to induce them to comply with these gracious overtures, He faithfully promised that He would impart the same blessed Spirit, as the continual guide and comforter of all who should sincerely embrace them, and conform their lives to His righteous laws.

4. Now although the natural and ordinary manner of this Divine Spirit’s operation is not by violent and sensible impressions, but rather in way of imperceptible penetration, hardly discovering itself except by its results; and though its proper and principal effects relate to the furthering our performance of the conditions of our salvation; yet more fully to satisfy the doubtful, confound the obstinate, and confirm the faithful, God was pleased, after our Lord’s ascension, to dispense both to teachers and disciples more liberal and extraordinary communication of that Holy Spirit, attended with wonderful effects.

5. The Christian Church therefore obliges us at this time to commemorate that incomparable gift, then conferred more visibly on the Church, and still really bestowed on every particular member who is duly incorporated into it. It is so bestowed, that is, on each member; for the evangelical covenant extends to every Christian, and a principal ingredient thereof is the collation of this Spirit. This is the teaching of Holy Scripture, the doctrine constantly, and with very general consent delivered down in the Catholic Church.

The worth and excellency of this Divine gift. That it is transcendently valuable, we may hence generally collect; that even in our Lord’s esteem it did not only countervail, but in a manner surmount the benefit of His presence. “It is expedient for you that I go away,” etc. But to take a more distinct survey of its benefits.

1. We owe to the Holy Spirit our spiritual state and being; our spiritual life, freedom, and honourable condition.

(1) By virtue of this “quickening Spirit” we are raised from death to an immortal state of life, being “quickened together with Christ.”

(2) We are enfranchised from intolerable slavery, from “the spirit of bondage unto fear,” etc.

(3) We are also advanced to an honourable condition, ennobled with illustrious relations, and entitled to glorious privileges: for thence “we have access unto the Father, and are no more strangers, but fellow-citizens of the saints, and of the household of God.”

2. Neither only relatively and extrinsically is our estate thus bettered, but we ourselves are answerably changed and amended by the same Holy Spirit; being “renewed in the spirit of our mind”; becoming “new creatures, created according to God in righteousness.” Such doctrines, as that our happiness consists not in affluence of temporal enjoyments, but in a disposition of mind curbing our appetites and quelling our passions; in conformity of practice to rules distasteful to our sense; in gaining and retaining the love of an Infinite Being; that naked goodness is to be preferred before all the pomp and glory of this world, etc.; such doctrines are indeed hard and harsh to us, absurd to our natural conceits, and abominable to our carnal minds: of our own accord, without Divine attraction, we never should come to Christ. His own disciples struggled against such doctrines, and without the aid of the Spirit would scarcely have admitted many evangelical truths. As for the mighty sages of the world, “the wise men according to the flesh,” they were far more ready to deride than to admit them. Though some few sparks of Divine knowledge may have been driven out by rational consideration and philosophical study, yet no external instruction, no interior discourse, could remove the mists of ignorance, and awaken the lethargic stupidity of their souls. Thus is the light of spiritual knowledge, together with a temper of mind disposed to receive it, communicated by the Holy Spirit. But farther than this, by the same Divine power is imparted vital heat and vigour, active strength and courage. Though our spirit should be willing, yet our flesh is weak: knowledge therefore and willingness to do good are not alone sufficient.

3. The continued subsistence and preservation of our spiritual being, and active powers, the actual use and exercise of them, all our discreet conduct, all our good practice, rely on the Holy Spirit. It is true of our spiritual no less than of our natural life; “if He doth avert His face we are troubled,” etc. On all occasions we need His direction, aid, and comfort; for “the way of man is not in himself,” etc. Vie are vain and fickle in our purposes, slow in our proceedings; apt to faint and stumble in our practice; we need therefore this sure oracle and faithful friend, to guide, encourage, and support us; to guard us in trials; comfort us in afflictions; and impart to us joy unspeakable in believing and well-doing. So many and great are the blessings which He imparts to us.


1. Let us earnestly invite this Holy Guest unto us, by our prayers unto Him, who hath promised to bestow His Spirit on those which ask it, to impart this living stream to every one which thirsteth after it.

2. Let us willingly receive Him into our hearts, let us treat Him with all kind usage, with all humble observance. Let us not exclude Him by supine neglect, or rude resistance; let us not grieve Him by our perverse and froward behaviour towards Him; let us not tempt Him by our fond presumptions, or base treacheries: let us not quench His heavenly light and heat by our foul lusts and passions: but let us admit gladly His gentle illapses; let us hearken to His faithful suggestions; let us comply with His kindly motions; let us demean ourselves modestly, consistently, and officiously toward Him. (I. Barrow, D. D.)

The gift of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is given to renew and purify the moral feelings. He awakens the conscience to a sense of guilt and danger. He opens the eyes to see the exhalted purity of the moral law, and to feel the justice of its righteous condemnation. He affects the heart with the tidings of a Saviour’s love, and creates within the soul that godly sorrow which worketh repentance to salvation, needing not to be repented of. The work thus begun in the soul is carried on through the same Divine agency, for the Holy Ghost is the Sanctifier Of all the elect people of God. It is through Him that we die daily unto sin and live unto righteousness, that the old man with his corrupt deeds is put off, and that the new man is put on, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness. Nor are these the only influences which the Holy Spirit exerts on man’s moral nature. Our Lord has promised that He shall be present with His people under the endearing character of the Comforter. It is His special work to heal the brokenhearted, to set at liberty them that are bruised, and to comfort all that mourn.

The Holy Spirit is given to enlighten and govern the intellectual powers. It should never be forgotten that the Spirit bestowed upon the first disciples was “the Spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind”; and that He is promised to us also for these great ends that we may attain to a right judgment in all things, and have power to accomplish the will of God. It is thus that man is to present himself a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, and is to become a temple of the Holy Ghost, consecrated in all his faculties to the glory of God, and yielding the powers of his mind, the energies of his body, and the affections of his heart, to the service of Him who is the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Preserver of men, and to whom alone all honour, and power, and glory belong. (W. Niven, B. D.)

Verse 39

Acts 2:39

For the promise is unto you, and to your children.

Why Christianity has failed

1. One of the earliest and most vital errors into which the Church fell was the conception that the Church’s power is proportionate to her wealth.

2. The second great error of the Church was made when it began to depend upon political power as a means of effecting spiritual ends.

3. The third great error which has delayed the realisation of the blessings of Pentecost by the Universal Church has been the conception that education and culture could do the work of the Holy Spirit. Let us consider briefly what were the different features foreshadowed in this promise.

First and foremost, undoubtedly, was what we may term evangelistic power, the power of leading men to Christ, of so influencing them that they should abandon their sins and put their trust in a crucified Redeemer.

2. Closely allied with this element in the promise, and yet distinct from it, is the power of conquest which it involves. It is a remarkable fact--in many respects an incomprehensible fact--that Judaism, with all its great revelations of the truth, with all its wonderful striving after righteousness and its profound reverence for the unity of the Godhead, nevertheless, was by no means an aggressive religious force, and its converts at no time in its history were an important factor in its life. Mohammedanism spread by the power of the sword, and owed its victory to material, rather than to spiritual causes. Christianity, on the other hand, has ever spread, and will continue to spread, in virtue of a special power bestowed upon its apostles in answer to behoving prayer.

3. The next element in the promise is the element of boldness.

4. It only remains, in concluding our consideration of this subject, to point out with all emphasis that this promise was not limited to the apostles and their proximate or remote successors. (H. S. Lunn.)

The three covenants

The National covenant, “to you.”

The Family covenant, “to your children.”

The Universal covenant, “to as many,” etc. How wide was the outlook of the gospel upon the day of Pentecost. (M. C. Hazard.)

The promise of the Holy Ghost

Every dispensation has its present duties and privileges: it has also its peculiar promise; and according as men have apprehended the promise and the privileges, has been the ardour of their devotion.

1. In the patriarchal dispensation men had the privilege of presenting to God an accepted service, and living under His guidance and protection. But their promise was that the seed of Jacob should inherit the land of Canaan.

2. After the chosen people had been brought into their possession they were blessed with the privileges of the Mosaic code, and God gave them the promise of the Messiah. It was the privilege of the Israelite to take part in the worship of God with the feeling of holy anticipation that He would come whom their rites symbolised.

3. When Christ came He said that the privileges of His disciples were greater than those of the greatest man of the former dispensation, and gave them the promise of the Holy Ghost. This is the last promise characteristic of the last times; beyond this dispensation there will be no other, and its promise will be succeeded by no other. Notice--

Its nature. It implies that the Holy Ghost should be given.

1. For the official qualification of the preacher. The words suggest the exclusive power and right of Divine selection. “I will pour out … of My Spirit.” The selection includes teachers of different grades in society and of both sexes. And for their qualification the Spirit is absolutely necessary. It is universally recognised that whatever else a man may possess, talent, power, wealth, or learning, he must possess the Spirit. This was taught by Christ when He said, “Tarry ye at Jerusalem,” etc.

(1) The Spirit was to give them correct views of truth, “He will guide you into all truth.” These right views are necessary to preserve men from heresy. All revivals in the history of the Church have been connected with the revival of spiritual truth. Witness Pentecost, Luther, the Puritans, Wesley, etc. The Word of God comes out with clearness and power, and error recedes before it.

(2) Something more, however, is needed than to be saved from heresy. The teacher must have spiritual views in relation to the Word of God such as those suggested by the expressions, “lively word,” “the lively oracles,” “the unction of the Holy One.” A man must not speak merely in a way free from inaccuracy; but his words must be clothed with energy breathed by the Holy Ghost, so that wherever they come they may communicate that power.

(3) The affections must be touched. There must be a yearning for souls which will not let the preacher rest unless they are brought to God.

(4) The Holy Ghost is necessary for the resistance of unworthy motives such as would lead men to court popularity and indulge spiritual pride.

(5) He only again is an effectual preservative against bigotry.

2. To dispose the heart of the hearer to derive full advantage from spiritual teaching. He

(1) convinces of sin.

(2) Inspires living faith.

(3) Regenerates.

(4) Bears witness to the believer’s adoption into God’s family.

(5) Preserves from sinning.

(6) Sanctifies.

(7) Consoles.

(8) Guides.

Its extent.

1. “To you.” All piety is out of place if it be not first of all practised at home. Your own salvation is of more importance to you than that of any one else. To save others and after all be lost yourself would greatly aggravate your misery.

2. “To your children.” These, next to yourself, should claim your most earnest attention. The man who devotes himself to others and n neglects his own family inverts the order of things. It is a monstrous evil to be engaged from early Sunday morning to late at night in a constant succession of services, and to have not a single half-hour to spare for one’s own children.

3. “To them that are afar off.”

(1) Morally.

(2) Geographically.

(3) Chronologically. (S. D. Waddy, D. D.)

Christianity a religion of promise

The promise spoken of.

1. The promise of Christ which includes--

(1) The remission of sins through His atonement and merit.

(2) Full justification.

(3) Peace with God and our own conscience, “Christ is our peace.”

(4) Adoption into the family of God.

(5) Eternal life.

Think of these and other like blessings, and their connected hopes and consolations, and behold them all centred in Christ, Himself the great promise of the Old Testament, and then rejoice to receive Him for yourselves, and to recommend Him to others as the promise of revelation, the desire of all nations, and the consolation of Israel.

2. As Christ was preeminently the promise of the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is pre-eminently the promise of the New. We are not to look for that miraculous agency which was given in apostolic days. This was not even then intended to supersede that ordinary gracious influence, which the Scripture declares to be essential to every one for the state of salvation. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His”--“Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit,” etc. Our Lord speaks of sending the Spirit as the promise of the Father. No promise can be more plainly expressed than this, “Ask, and ye shall have”; and it is in reference to the Holy Spirit that this promise is given. Christianity is the very dispensation of the Spirit; its whole life, energy, and beauty depend on the communication of spiritual influence. The promise of the Spirit, like that of the Saviour, includes many other promises.

(1) Repentance.

(2) Faith.

(3) A new heart and a right spirit.

(4) Strength in every season of weakness.

(5) Comfort in every trial.

(6) Joy amidst sorrow.

(7) Patience under tribulation.

(8) Perseverance amidst difficulty.

Christianity is throughout a religion of promise. It began with the first promise to fallen man; its promises expanded, like the stream of holy waters in the vision of Ezekiel, till, when the fulness of time was come, they formed that river of life which is rolling its salubrious tide throughout a thirsty world.

For whom is the promise meant?

1. The Jews; for St. Peter’s auditory consisted entirely of Jews. Our Lord confined His personal ministry to the Jews. “I am not sent,” He said, “but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Sending forth His apostles at first, He said, “Go not in the way of the Gentiles,” etc. After His resurrection, when He enlarged their commission, so that its extent was to be the world, yet they were still to begin at Jerusalem; and in every city were first to address Jews, and then to turn to the Gentiles. And is there not encourage-anent for us, from the circumstance, that the Jews were to have the first offers of the promises of the gospel? There is this; the history of the Jews is a history of a most perverse, ungrateful, and rebellious people, who at length consummated their guilt by crucifying the Lord of life; yet to them first was the promise sent. Now surely that fact speaks volumes as to the freeness of the promise, as to the mercy of our God, as to the efficacy of the Redeemer’s merits.

2. “The promise is unto you.” If these brought joy home to the hearts of the Jews who heard the apostle, then surely His next words, “And to your children,” must have touched another like chord, or rather, the same chord over again; for hard must be that parent’s heart that does not rejoice quite as much in benefit to his children as in benefit to himself. Christianity most fully recognises that principle of natural affection, which the God of nature implanted in breasts of parents. The God of nature and the God of grace is one and the same. No sooner do parents discover the promise sent to themselves, than it says to them, I am sent unto you and to your children, introduce me to them, and them to me. I come to tell them that their father’s God is willing to be their God also. It is remarkable how the Scriptures throughout encourage the promotion of the training up of children in the knowledge and belief of the promises of God. For this Abraham was so commended, “For I know him, that he will command his children,” etc. This was the determination of Joshua. “Let others choose as they may, as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” This was the lamentation of David. “Although this mine house be not so with God.” This was the pious study of the ancient Lois, and the maternal anxiety of Eunice, to train young Timothy in the knowledge of the Scriptures, which were able to make him wise unto salvation. This again was the care of Lydia, whose heart the Lord opened to attend to the things spoken by Paul, immediately after to have them addressed to her household also. The same was the effect on the jailer. Thus these examples from the Old and New Testament show that God encourages efforts to make known His promises to the young. What, then, can we think of parents who are anxious enough that their children should be well off for this world, should be accomplished, or learned, or rich--should form good connections, shine and sparkle in society, be admired and venerated in this world, but who have no care for their safety and happiness in the next?

3. “To all that are afar off,” this means the Gentiles. St. Paul, writing to Ephesians, gives the very best comment on these words of St. Peter, “Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh,” etc. Thus the Gentries afar off from God, from peace, from hope, and from salvation: but Christ hath broken down the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile. The same God over all, is rich unto all that call upon Him. The same promise which sounded in the ears of the three thousand Jews on the day of Pentecost is now gone forth to the ends of the world. It is the voice of the good Shepherd seeking after His lost sheep; and is the promise of Himself and His Spirit to give us a full salvation. This promise is to be addressed to all; it has a message to every human being; and yet, though the outward call is thus general and universal, our text adds,

4. “Even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Hence it is necessary well to understand, that beside the general call to be addressed to all, there must be the gracious and effectual calling of God. What the minister speaks to the ear, God speaks to the heart. The general call is so large, so rich, and so free, as to leave all without excuse who rest in the mere hearing of it with the ear, and do not seek to enter into it with their souls. The general call should stir us up to pray much for the gracious call. (J. Hambleton, M. A.)

The children may be converted

There was in my ancestral line an incident so strangely impressive that it seems more like romance than reality. It has sometimes been so inaccurately put forth that I now give you the true incident. My grandfather and grandmother, living at Somerville, New Jersey, went to Baskingridge to witness a revival, under the ministry of the Rev. Dr. Finney. They came home so impressed with what they had seen that they resolved on the salvation of their children. The young people of the house were to go off for an evening party, and my grandmother said, “Now, when you are all ready for the party come to my room, for I have something very important to tell you.” All ready for departure, they came to her room, and she said to them, “Now, I want you to remember, while you are away this evening, that I am all the time in this room praying for your salvation, and I shall not cease praying until you get back.” The young people went to the party, but amid the loudest hilarities of the night they could not forget that their mother was praying for them. The evening passed, and the night passed. The next day my grandparents heard an outcry in an adjoining room, and they went in and found their daughter imploring the salvation of the gospel. The daughter told them that her brothers were at the barn and at the waggon-house under powerful conviction for sin. They went to the barn. They found my uncle Jehiah, who afterwards became a minister of the gospel, crying to God for mercy. They went to the waggon-house. They found their son David, who afterwards became my father, imploring God’s pardon and mercy. Before a great while the whole family were saved; and David went and told the story to a young woman to whom he was affianced, who, as a result of the story, became a Christian, and from her own lips--my mother--I have received the incidents. The story of that converted household ran through all the neighbourhood, from family to family, until tim whole region was whelmed with religious awakening, and at the next communion in the village church at Somerville over two hundred souls stood up to profess the faith of the gospel. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

As many as the Lord our God shall call.--

Effectual calling

From whence observe--

That all men till called by God are afar off from Him.

1. In regard of the knowledge of God in a true and saving way. They are as little children, no more apprehensive in a right manner of God than the children in the dark are perceiving of the things of reason. Even Christians by birth are also far off from God till they have this spiritual eye-salve; and therefore in two respects men may be said to be far off from God.

(1) First, both in respect of inward grace and the outward means of salvation; and thus all the heathenish part of the world is afar off God.

(2) Or secondly, in respect of the inward grace only. When men do enjoy the outward means of salvation, and in this sense of their duties are said to draw nigh to God, but in respect of any saving work of grace are as far off as heathens and pagans; and this is the condition, as is to be feared, of many thousands. They are nigh God in respect of the Christian faith they profess in respect of the duties and ordinancies they exercise themselves in, but in respect of their affections and heart, so they are at as great distance from God and His holy ways as heathen and publicans. This distinction must be attended unto, that we do not vainly deceive ourselves as the Jews did with “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”

2. In respect of God’s special and gracious love to justify their persons to pardon their sins. Do not thou please thyself with the thought that thou hast free access to the presence and into the favour of great ones on earth; for if thou art far off from God, if He regard thee not, if His displeasure be towards thee, thou art in the state of gall and wormwood.

3. We are by nature afar off from Christ the Mediator between God and man. And this indeed is the foundation of all calamity; for as in Christ we are blessed with all heavenly blessings, so without Him we are cursed with all spiritual and temporal curses.

4. Such as are afar off have no hope. They are a hopeless people; which way soever they look everything curseth and condemneth them; and no marvel, for, if without the promise, they have not the ground of hope, and if without Christ, the object of hope.

5. Such are afar off in respect of God and an universal constant obedience to His holy will. As God loveth not them, so neither do they love God. As God is not gracious in His promises to them, so neither are they obedient to His precepts.

That not all of mankind, but some only, doth God call with a loving call. The apostle plainly makes a difference of these that are afar off, and this only to come from God; some are so afar off that they never hear the voice of God in the Word calling them to repent and believe in Christ. Others again have salvation brought unto their house; and if thou ask why God calls such and not others, do not curiously pry in this mystery; God’s ways are just, even when they are hidden to us. Too much gazing on this Sun may quickly blind us.

1. That there is a general and common invitation even of all in the world by God; and there is a special gracious one. The former invitation is by the creatures, by the works of God.

(1) This invitation and call by the creatures doth not nor cannot reveal anything of Christ, the only cause of salvation.

(2) The call by the creatures is not saving, because it discovers not the way of salvation no more than the cause--viz., faith.

(3) This call could not be saving, for the farthest and utmost effect it had upon men was only outwardly to reform their lives. But you may say, To what purpose is this call of God by the creatures and the work of His providence, if it be not to salvation? Yes, it is much every way.

(a) Hereby even all men are made inexcusable.

(b) God’s purpose in these calls is to restrain sin and to draw men on further than they do. There is no man that hath no more than this remote and confused call that doth what be may do and can do. He doth not improve, no, not that natural strength that is in him. I do not say to spiritual good things; for so he hath no natural strength, but to such objects as by nature he might. He wilfully runneth himself in the commit-ing of sins against his conscience and knowledge. Now God calleth by these natural ways to restrain him to put a bound to these waves. For if there were not these general convictions, no societies, no commonwealth could consist.

2. Take notice of a twofold saving calling. The one is only external and saving in respect of the ability and sufficiency; the other is saving effectually and in respect of the event.

3. That God doth not call all men with this saving, gracious call will evidently de facto appear if you consider the ways of God ever since there was a Church till now.

4. It is no injustice in God, though He does not give this universal call of grace to all men.

(1) If we could not satisfy the reason and disputes of men in this Divine dispensation, yet if the Scripture be clear in this point we must all stop our mouths and not gainsay. Doth not the apostle (Romans 9:1-33.) expressly bring these carnal reasonings? “Who hath resisted His will? and why then doth He find fault?” But see how he rebukes this unruliness in man, “Who art thou, O man, that disputest against God?” If then Scripture and experience saith thus much, we must conclude God’s ways are just, though hidden to us.

(2) Even reason enforced out of Scripture may satisfy us in many things; for it is no injustice in God if He had not called any man in the world with a gracious call; for seeing man by his fall had broken the covenant with God, all things became forfeited into His hand; He was not bound to set up man with a new stock after his first breaking.

(3) There can be no injustice where all that is done is done wholly out of grace and mere favour. The devil he thinks God is gracious too much and calls too many; he is tormented with malice because so many escape out of his jaws.

(4) Although God doth not call every man with this immediate call of grace, yet no man is damned merely because he wants this. The apostle saith, “That those that are without the law [viz., written and revealed to them], shall be judged without the law.” And thus those that are without the gospel, that have not the means of grace they shall not be judged because they did not believe in Christ, because they did not submit to Him, but because they did not walk in the practice of those things they did know.

(5) God is not unjust, no, not to those that are afar off, because none among them have done what they might do in a natural and moral way; for although no man hath power in a gracious manner to any spiritual good thing, yet they may restrain from the outward actings of many gross sins.

(6) Though God do not call all men, and thereby they are wholly impotent and unable to any good; yet they do not sin so much because they want power as because they have a willing delight in it; and this indeed doth mainly remove all objections; for it is not a man’s impotency so much as his wilful consent to sin that damneth him. (A. Burgess.)

Verse 40

Acts 2:40

Save yourselves from this untoward generation.

Much exhortation is needed

Concerning salvation, we need only preach one sermon by way of explanation, but men need ten sermons by way of exhortation. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Save yourselves

Let the word of God be like one who, during the great flood in America, rode on a white horse down the valley, crying out, as he rode along, “To the hills, to the hills, to the hills!” The waters were following fast behind him, and he would have the people escape to the mountains, lest they should be destroyed. Oh, precious Book, thus bid me seek the hills! Ring the alarm bell in my ear, and compel me to flee from the wrath to come. Day and night, wherever I may be, may a word from the oracle of God sound in my ears, and keep me from sleeping on the bank of the abyss! May no enemy be able to steal upon us when sleeping in false security, for it is high time that we awake out of sleep, and this Book tells us so. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Save yourselves--Why

1. Because of the danger in which every unforgiven sinner stands.

2. Because ample means have been provided for the salvation of every one.

3. Because the providing means are unavailing unless we use them.

4. Because in this important matter each one must act for himself.

5. Because if you suffer yourself to be lost it will be deliberate spiritual suicide. (J. Z. Tyler.)


Untoward is said of anything which will not go toward, that is straight onwards, but will go now on this side, now on that, making a crooked path. The beast that rebels against the hand of its driver, pushes now in this direction, now in that, instead of that in which he is required to go. The slimy serpent that crawls along, never in one line, but from this side to that side. The man who knows not his road, takes a path now to the right hand, now to the left, and goes not straight forward. The drunkard who reels and staggers from side to side, instead of going forward. All these are examples of untowardness. And now is not sin untoward? The path of the commandments of God leads straightforward, but their transgressor is not found in that path. He has the wilfulness and rebelliousness of the beast that will not be driven. He is a true and close follower of the crooked ways of the old serpent, and walks in his slime of sin. He is ignorant and blind with vanity, and chooses:his own crooked road. He is drunk with pride and evil desires, and cannot keep the straight paths of godliness. Such is the character of an untoward generation. In it are found the drunkard, the unchaste, the swearer, the Sabbath-breaker, the thief, the covenant-breaker, the forswearer; and not only these, but all who hold not the truth in righteousness, all who abide in any practice which (they know) is not according to the will of God; all who continue in the neglect of any known duty, all who give God but lip-service instead of life-service, all the careless, all the indifferent, all the selfish. (R. W. Evans, B.D.)

Salvation from an untoward generation

Peter’s attestation. What is a generation? All that are contained in one list of time--fixed: Seridas under reckons it at seven years, but the ordinary rate is a hundred (Genesis 15:16)--uncertain; so Solomon, “One generation passeth, another cometh.” It is with men as rasps: one stalk is growing up, another grown, a third withered, and all upon one root. You see your condition; there is no staying here. Make no other account, but with David to serve your generation, and away. An untoward generation is one froward, perverse, crooked. Let us note--

1. A negative fowardness.

(1) No matters of belief. This is what our Saviour rebuked the two disciples for. The stiff neck, the uncircumcised ear, the fat heart, the blinded eye, the obdurate soul, are expressions of it. If these Jews, then, after the manifest proofs of Christ’s Messiahship disbelieved and rejected Him, most justly are they a froward generation. And so is any nation that follows them in their peevish incredulity, shutting their eyes to gospel light, like that Indian tree, which closes itself against the beams of the rising sun, and opens only to the shades of night. It is neither shame nor wonder for those to stumble who walk in darkness, but for a man to stumble with the sun in his face is so much more hateful, as the occasion is more willing.

(2) In action, i.e., when a nation fails palpably in those duties of piety, justice, charity, which the royal law of their God requires.

2. Positive. In matter of faith maintaining impiety, heresy, superstition, atheism, and whatever other intellectual wickedness; in matter of fact maintaining idolatry, violation of God’s day and ordinances, drunkenness, thefts, or any other actual rebellion against God. Whatever succession of men abounds in these is an untoward generation. That which makes a man untoward makes a generation so, for what is a generation but a resultarian of men? But let not our zeal make us uncharitable. Never time was so bad but God left some gracious remainders. But these few, if they give a blessing to the times, cannot give a style.

3. Let me commend three emerging considerations.

(1) The irreparable wrong and reproach that lewd men bring upon the times in which they live. It were happy if the injury of a wicked man could be confined to his own bosom; but his lewdness is like some odious scent diffused through the whole place where he lives. There were worthy saints in St. Peter’s time, yet the apostle brands them with being “an untoward generation.” It is not in the virtue of a few to drown the wickedness of the more. If we come into a field that hath plenty of corn, notwithstanding the poppies, etc., we still call it cornfield; but if we come upon a barn floor, where there are a few grains among a heap of chaff, we do not call it a corn heap. Thus it is with times and nations, a little good is not seen amongst much ill; a righteous Lot cannot make his city to be no Sodom. A wicked man is a perfect contagion to his age. Hear this, then, ye glorious sinners, who brag that your heads, purses, hands, are pressed for the public good--are your hearts godless, your lives filthy? Your sins do more disservice to your country than yourselves are worth. “Sin is a shame to any people.”

(2) The difference of terms in respect of the degrees of evil. Never generation was so straight as not to be distorted with some powerful sins; but there are degrees in this distortion. In the first world there were giants (Genesis 4:4) which, as our mythologists add, “bid battle unto heaven.” In the next there were mighty hunters and proud Babel builders; after them followed beastly Sodomites. It were easy to draw the pedigree of evils through all times; yet some generation is more eminently sinful than another; as the sea is in perpetual agitation, yet the spring tides rise higher than their fellows. Hence Peter notes his generation with an emphasis of mischief; and what age could compare with that which crucified Christ?

(3) The warrant of the free censure of ill-deserving times. It is a peevish humour that aggravates the evils of the times, which, were they better than they are, would still be decried. But it is the warrantable duty of Peter and his successors when they meet with a froward generation to call it so, although we may be called querulous Micaiahs. Well might Peter do so: his Master did it before him, and the Baptist before Him, and the prophets on every page. And why may we not follow Peter? Who should tell the times of their sins if we be silent?

His obtestation, “Save yourselves.” The remedy is of a short sound, but of a long extent. The saving comprises in it three great duties.

1. Repentance for our sin. Surely those sins are not ours of which we have repented. The skin that is washed is as clean as if it had never been foul. The waters of our tears are the streams of Jordon to cure our leprosy, of Siloam to cure our blindness, of Bethesda to cure our lameness and defects of obedience.

2. Avoidance of sinners; not indeed in natural matters, such as breathing the same air, etc., nor in matters of business, nor in such spiritual matters as attending the services of God, but in their evil deeds (Ephesians 5:1-33. ff.). If we would save ourselves from the sin of the time we may not command it, counsel it, consent to it, soothe it, further it, share in it, dissuade it not, resist it not, reveal it not.

3. Reluctation to sin and sinners. We must set our faces against it to discountenance it, our tongues against it to control it, our hands against it to oppose it.

Our dissuasive from the danger implied in the word “save,” for how are we saved but from danger. The danger here is that of--

1. Corruption. One yawning mouth makes many. This pitch will defile us. St. Paul makes that verse of the heathen poet canonical. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.”

2. Confusion (Numbers 16:26). The very station, the very touch is mortal. If we share in the work, why not in the wages? “The wages of sin is death.” (Bp. Hall.)

Saving ourselves from a crooked generation

A man ought not to be carried to hell by his surroundings. Many a man has lived in a crooked generation, and adapted himself to it most completely. And many a man has lived in a crooked generation, and kept straight all the way through it. If your generation is crooked, that is no reason why you should be. But if you would keep straight in this generation, or in any other, you have got something to do about it. Your responsibility is for yourself, in spite of your generation. If your generation is crooked, see that; you don’t crook with it. (H. S. Trumbull.)

Verses 41-42

Acts 2:41-42

Then they that gladly received his word were baptized.

Marks of having received the Word

1. A public profession of faith.

2. A desire to fulfil all the ordinances laid upon them by our Lord.

3. A desire to unite in fellowship with other believers.

4. Continuance in the Word.

5. Prayer and study of the “Word in order to growth in grace.

6. Conclusion: In proportion as those who receive the Word are faithful, will godly fear fall upon others. (S. S. Times.)

Anxious for baptism

Mr. A. Wills, whose work for Christ was much blessed at Hang-Chan. He says: “I examined a poor sick man this morning, who is anxious to be baptized. He was first brought to hear the gospel through coming for medicine, about a year ago, and since then I have baptized his wife. He was examined some months ago, but the Church thought it best for him to wait a little for further instruction. His sickness has become worse, and now all hope of recovery is past, and he again asks for baptism. He said, ‘I expect to die in a few days,’ and upon my asking where he thought his soul would go, he promptly replied, ‘To heaven.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because Jesus on the Cross died to save sinners; I am a sinner, and I trust Him to save me.’ ‘But,’ said I, ‘if you die before you are baptized, do you then expect to go to heaven?’ ‘Oh, yes,’ he said, ‘because it is the blood of Jesus that saves the soul.’ ‘Then why do you in your weak and dangerous state wish to be baptized?’ ‘Because,’ he said, ‘it is the duty of every Christian to obey the commands of Jesus, and not be ashamed of Him. I worshipped idols for forty-two years, and was not ashamed of the devil’s works; and now, before I die, I want to let my sons and neighbours know that I am not ashamed of Jesus Christ.’ I asked him many other questions, one of which was, ‘Are you not afraid of the cold water doing you harm?’ He replied, ‘Oh, no, I don’t fear that, because I have prayed to Jesus to help me.’ We baptized him, and a week later he was called up into the presence of his Saviour.”

Safeguards of religious life

We have here a beautiful portraiture of primitive Church-life in its simplicity, its purity, and its fidelity. Now we have brought before us four safeguards of spiritual life. They are not in themselves religion, but they are protective of religion. We may see the husbandman build a circle of fencing around the tender sapling to protect it in its early growth. The fence is not part of the sapling, but it preserves it. Thus are these four things placed about religious life. Not as a barrier to confine: their mission is protective. You will notice these are, Christian teaching, Christian fellowship, Christian sacrament, communion with Jesus Christ and God.

1. One great safeguard of religious life is Christian instruction. “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching.” It is the glory of Christianity that it is a teaching religion. It offers men an open Bible, an open Church, an open way of redemption and an open means of access to God. We have read of men in ancient times who had two sets of doctrines, their esoteric and their exoteric truth, truth that was for the few and truth that was for the many, truth to be sought in secret to the privileged circle, and truth that was taught to the multitude of the people. Christianity has no privileged secrets. As far as mysteries are revealed they are revealed alike to all. Its invitations are invitations to all. The attitude of the apostles was that of men who had seen great light and found great blessing, and they yearned that other men might also see and share that which had become so precious unto themselves. You will observe, moreover, these first converts to Jesus Christ not only continued in Christian teaching, but in the teaching of Christ’s apostles. They did not think each was qualified to teach the other. They turned instinctively to the instruction of those who were ordained for all time, the accredited teachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The apostles were qualified to teach because they themselves were taught. They were the first; learners. Their Christian education was not confined to one portion of their life, it continued on. Truth was added to truth. Light increased to greater light. Thus they were enabled to speak as the Spirit gave them utterance. The quiet teaching of the great truths of God is one of the greatest blessings of religion. If we are to attain to right views of the Deity, right views of ourselves, right views of the world, we must be taught by a higher Power. Not fancy, but food is the first requirement of spiritual life. God has sent us many teachers to guide our feet in the way of His commandments. Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding, the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, the gain thereof than fine gold.

2. A second safeguard of Christian life is Christian intercourse. They continued in the apostles’ fellowship. There were doubtless special reasons which drew these early disciples into close spiritual communion. They lived in an age of hostility. In fellowship they found a powerful means of sustaining their common spiritual life. There are two forms of help which minister to Christian life in men, one which comes from within, another which comes from without. By that which comes from within I mean meditation, prayer, devotion, the power of the Spirit of God within us. By that which comes from without I mean the contact of mind with mind, and heart with heart the power of the Spirit of God ministering through agencies which are without us. Christian men need both. There is inspiration in true Christian fellowship. Faith strengthens faith. Love is quickened by love. Through Christian fellowship also they were able to make greater efforts for Christ’s cause. Achievements are possible to organised life which are beyond the power of individual effort. Unity is strength. Co-operation is multiplied power. I know no habit more worth pleading for than this habit of meeting together in Christian fellowship. It has been the custom of religious men in all ages and in all climes. The patriarchs in their wandering life gathered their followers about them in religious fellowship: The people of God had their united gatherings, their feast days, and their solemn assemblies, when they joined together in offering their devotions to their God. The ancient Druids had their sacred enclosures--rough stones were the walls, the heavens the canopy above their heads, nature the silent witness of their devotions. And it has been the custom of the Christian Church in every stage of its eventful history for the saints of God to continue in Christian fellowship. How often has the first downward step of a wasted life commenced in the wandering away from the communion of God’s people? If we cannot meet with God’s people to get good, we can, at least, meet with them to do good. It is more blessed to give than to receive.

3. A third safeguard of Christian life is faithful observance of Christian ordinances. “They continued in the breaking of bread.” The breaking of bread may symbolise three things which should not be forgotten. I see in it a link with the past. You may trace this rite step by step backward through the centuries, till you reach the little upper room where Christ was in the presence of His disciples. But by it all confess their devotion to Him and His relationship to them as Saviour and Redeemer, and Friend. I see in the breaking of bread also the sign and pledge of present grace. The broken body and the shed blood is for all men who will receive His atoning work. “Take, eat, this is My body which is broken for you,” is the language of the Saviour to every man, woman, or child, that lingers about His table. It is a personal bond of a personal Saviour. In it He seals us as His own. I see further in the breaking of bread a promise and a prophecy. This rite shall be observed on and on by generations yet unborn.

4. A fourth safeguard of Christian life is found in communion with Jesus Christ and God. They continued in prayer. They did not theorise about prayer; they prayed. Men have drawn near to God in sorrow that have left His presence with joy. Men have entered the secret closet with weakness that have left it with courage and strength. The sorrowful have felt the comfort in sorrow. The perplexed have found light in their darkness. The tempted and tried have found deliverance in prayer. Charles Kingsley has said, “What an awful weapon prayer is! It saved me from madness in the hour of my great sorrow. Pray day and night very quietly, like a weary child, to the loving and great God for everything you want in body as well as soul, the least as well as the greatest. Nothing is too much to ask God for. Nothing is too great for Him to give. Thus we have traced the four great safeguards of religious life. We need them as much to-day as these first converts needed them for their Christian life. I do not know one that can wisely be neglected in the spiritual discipline of Christian souls. We trifle with them at our peril.” (B. Bramham.)

The first revival

In the outpouring of the Spirit, we have the cause in our text--the characteristics of the first revival of the Christian Church. Note--

Profession of faith--baptism. Inquire what are those modes of baptism which Scripture warrants; but do not pelt others who differ, seeing the principle of Christianity is not baptism, but communion with Christ. If you have received Christ, you are not to delay open profession. Young Christians may hear a whisper, “There is a lion in the way.” What lion? A laugh, or an angry word anticipated, or like that in “Pilgrim’s Progress,” which, after all, was chained. Let every waverer look to God, and get strength to come out, as these Christians of an heroic age did!

Continuance in apostolic teaching. These young converts were but in the infant school, and, like children, would often say to the apostles, “Tell us again about the angels’ song, the Infant in the manger, the storm on the lake, the crucifixion on Calvary”; and that telling was the apostles’ teaching. I have read an account of the conversion of a scoundrel at a gospel meeting which took place at six o’clock, and at half-past six he was preaching; but these children in the apostles’ infant school knew they had to learn before they could teach. Meanwhile, with some entreaty, they might say, Come father, come shipmate, come shopmate, and hear what these men have to say.

Generosity. “And all that believed were together, and had all things in common,” etc. The Socialist says, “Ah, there you see Communism is Christianity, and comes in along with the Lord’s Supper and baptism.” But no. The Communist says, “All your property is mine.” “All my property is yours,” says the Christian. The Communist says, “Stand and deliver!” The Christian says, “Brother, your trouble is mine, receive.” There is nothing that fell from the lips of Christ to make this act a law. The circumstances were peculiar, and a special arrangement had to be made to meet them. The workman had left his work, and had nothing provided for a lengthened stay, and then had come the sudden conversion and consequent waiting for more teaching. The spirit was of Christ, but the action was an economic mistake. For see, presently, how the poor brethren had given away their independence, and looked on this generosity, not as an act of love, but as a right. They were pauperised. Notice how the Church at Jerusalem was so miserably poor as to be dependent on the churches abroad for support. Of a certain man you say, “No use helping him; it is like throwing money into a well.” As to its motive, it was Divinely splendid; it was Jesus Christ in action through three thousand incarnations. We are to have the same glorious capacity for making such a mistake. The generous God will have a generous people. God will withdraw Himself from a synagogue of misers, as from a synagogue of the dead.

Joy. If we have like precious faith in the precious Saviour, like joy will follow. Jesus Christ is mine; and mine is the inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, Rocks of diamonds, mines of gold, are all as nothing compared to what the believer has in Christ. Can you say that, brother? If so, then you may eat at the same fir table, out of the same coarse delf, your poor fare; but it will be “with gladness,” etc. What a change! These converts had been the wolves howling round the Cross. Now Christ might say to them, “Who is Master?” The Spirit in the Word transfixed them, and they shuddered and twisted like shot things; but now the balm has been applied to their wounds, the oil of joy and gladness has been poured into their hearts.

Divine increase (Acts 2:47). God adds to the Church the saved. Does God alone add to the Church? If you mean certificated members, then verily others add to the” Church in plenty. Who added Judas, Ananias, and Sapphira? Who is that stealing on to God’s farm in the darkness, sowing his tares? The devil. Yea, the devil adds to the Church diligently, to neutralise it, and make it like the world. How many were added to the Church last year? The proper question is not How many, but Who? Man adds the dry branch, which cannot grow or blossom into fruit. God adds the living branch, giving beauty and strength to the Church. Mr. Beckford built Fonthill, and thought one hill needed growth of wood to beautify the prospect. He found the soil so thin and the climate so bleak, that no trees would grow. Instead of sending again to the nursery, he sent to the foundry for cast-iron trees, had them painted green, and stuck them by long iron stakes into the ground. He could add to these trees daily, but they could not grow. May we never have such trees on this hill--iron hope, iron charity, iron love. Conclusion: In certain transatlantic climes, spring immediately succeeds winter. By gentleness it makes winter go, by kisses the sun unlocks the ice, and the river is sent forth to beautify the plain. May God give such a spring to all the world, when its ice and snow shall melt with the magic celerity of enchantment, and spiritual woodlands burst into song and rejoice in the newborn beauties of an imperishable spring. (C. Stanford, D. D.)

The newly converted

The actions of the converts proved that they had passed into a new spiritual state, and we may regard them as models for every age. They--

Openly confessed Christ. Opinions vary, and will vary, as to the mode of baptism; but all are agreed as to its symbolic meaning. The words appointed to be used in baptism declare the relation of the candidate to each person in the Godhead; the water symbolises the need of Divine purification, and the gracious provision which has made that purification possible; while the application of the water represents the process and conditions of personal salvation. In this baptism Christ was openly confessed. And He must be openly confessed in some way by all who are His.

Diligently attended to apostolic teaching. They were careful to hear what the apostles had to say, that their knowledge of the truth might increase. Instruction, then, followed baptism. We have not the apostles, but we have their writings, by which they still teach. Diligent attention to the New Testament is calculated to save men from infidelity and much mischief of other kinds.

Associated with other Christians. How would people who were drawn together by a common attachment to Christ act when together? All their conduct would be affected by their Christianity. When professing Christians, of choice, associate with the god-less, their conduct belies their profession. And when they meet Without any reference to the Master, they neglect a means of grace, and give ground for suspicion as to their sincerity or zeal.

Diligently used the means of grace.

1. “Breaking of bread” reminds us of the institution of the Eucharist.

2. “Prayers” show us that they were devout people, in which respect their example is important. When professors are too busy to pray, or indulge in conduct which makes prayer irksome, they are in great danger. If the first Christians had so lived, they would never have been charged with turning the world upside down. And since their day great wonders have been wrought by men and women of much prayer.

Made a deep and salutary impression on their observers. “Fear came on every soul.” Those who had not become Christians were filled with solemn dread. They felt that God had sent among them a wonderful thing, which no creature could have produced. They seem also to have been afraid lest they should be smitten for standing in an improper relation to what was transpiring. Recollection of the past history of their nation would tend to deepen the fear. And ought not all Christians to make on those who watch them impressions of the presence of God? A holy man often makes the self-condemning observer miserable by his very silence. When will all professors thus give counsel and rebuke by the spirit which they manifest? Were they to do so, how soon would Christianity diffuse itself through all the world!

God directed public attention to the religious system which these converts had embraced. “Many wonders and signs,” etc. Attention was called by miracles to the doctrine and personal conduct of the first propagators of Christianity. Repeatedly we find in the Acts first a miracle, then a sermon. If the time for miracles has passed away, attention has already been called to Christianity. What is now wanted is the fearless preaching of the gospel, with that best of all commentaries, Christlike living. In using such means, Christianity is its own witness. (W. Hudson.)

A new development of social life

As the result of Peter’s sermon, a form of society rises which had never appeared before. New forces act upon the social natures of men, and bring them together with new feelings for new engagements.

The incorporating principle of this new society. The magnet that drew together and centralised into a loving unity these souls which a few hours ago were so discordant, were--

1. The apostle’s word--i.e., Peter’s sermon.

2. The apostle’s word received. They were convinced of its truth, and accepted it as a Divine reality.

3. The apostle’s word received gladly; for while it convinced them of enormous wickedness, it assured them of salvation. Christ, then, as He said, was the rock on which He built His Church.

The introductive ceremony to this new society. Baptism is a symbolical ordinance, which expresses the twofold truth of the moral pollution of humanity, and the necessity of an extraneous influence to cleanse its stains. These truths these sinners felt under Peter’s sermon; and, as the most proper thing, they were admitted into communion with the disciples by an impressive declaration of them. As to the mode, this is a trifle interesting only to those religionists who live on rites. When it is remembered that Jerusalem had only the fountain of Siloam as its water supply, that the three thousand were baptized in one day which had commenced its noon, and that they included both sexes, it is impossible that they could all have been immersed in water. However, the mode of the act is nothing, the spirit is everything.

The unremitting services of this new society. They were “persevering” in--

1. The teaching. After their conversion they had much to learn; so this new society became a society of students--they “inquired” in the house of the Lord. They regularly attended the teaching as distinguished from all other.

2. The fellowship. They appreciated the communion of saints. They regarded themselves as members of a brotherhood, whose rules they were bound to obey, and whose interests they were bound to promote. In this fellowship, like saints of old, they “spake often one to another,” considered one another “to provoke unto love and good works,” exhorted “one another daily,” endeavoured to “edify one another,” and perhaps confessed their “faults one to another.”

3. The breaking of bread, in accordance with their Master’s dying command.

4. The prayers, probably prayer meetings.

The distinguishing spirit of this new society.

1. Reverence. “Fear came upon every soul.” Whilst they were happy, there was no frivolity. They felt God was near, because of the “wonders and signs.”

2. Generosity. Selfishness had no place here. Their benevolence--

(1) Inspired them to make sacrifices. The love of property gave way to love of man. The law of social Christianity enjoins the strong to help the weak, and all to bear each other’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

(2) Adjusted itself to the occasion. The circumstances justified this particular effort. Many came from a distance, and were unprepared to settle down; and many of them, too, were poor. The benevolence of those who had property, therefore, was called out to meet the case. This, consequently, cannot be regarded as a precedent binding on future times, nor is there a word in the narrative to imply this.

3. Gladness. The rich were happy, for their benevolence was gratified in giving. The poor were happy, for their hearts glowed with gratitude in receiving. All were happy in themselves and with each other, because happy in God.

4. Simplicity. There was no pride, ostentation, self-seeking, hypocrisy among them; but all were childlike in spirit.

5. Religiousness. “Praising God”--a summary of the whole.

The blessed condition of this new society.

1. Their influence was great. They had favour, not with a class--not with priests, Pharisees, Sadducees--but with all the people.

2. Their growth was constant. They were neither declining nor stationary; they were daily increasing. This was “the Lord’s” doing. He only can add true men to the Church.

3. Their salvation was promising. “Such as were in the way of salvation.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)

And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine.--

Church life

The text tells us how the newly-baptized lived, in that first bloom and freshness of the gospel. They waited constantly upon--

The teaching of the apostles. There was much for them to learn. They knew nothing as yet in detail of the doctrine of their new Master. The particulars of His life, words, character, work; how must the apostles have busied themselves in recounting these things to a congregation all but wholly ignorant of them, amidst breathless silence or murmured satisfaction!--the gospel story. We are too ready to imagine that we have nothing to learn now from public teaching. We sit in judgment upon our teachers, as though we had all truth and knowledge already in possession. And most unwilling would your ministers be to speak as though they had anything which you know not, or might not know, for yourselves from the pages of the Holy Book. Nevertheless, preaching is one of God’s ordinances, and to it belongs the emphasis of that solemn caution, “Despise not prophesyings.” It is still one mark of the true Christian that he waits stedfastly upon the teaching of appointed men, whose responsible office it is rightly to divide the word of truth.

In fellowship--i.e., in the formation and fostering of that brotherly spirit of Christian love which the Apostles’ Creed calls “the communion of saints.” The converts did not separate after their baptism, each to his home, to live a life of pious meditation. They set themselves resolutely to a life of fellowship. The Christian is one of a community; alone, he is but a limb cut off from the trunk; separately, he must draw his vital vigour from the Head, but that vigour must be used and manifested in a self-forgetting fellowship. He must never fancy himself the whole body, either in being independent of the Head or of the organised system. “Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”

The breaking of the bread. How instantly the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper took its place among the marks and tokens of the true Church! From the very first it was understood that a Christian is one who observes all that Christ has commanded, and not least His dying charge, “This do,” etc. Doubtless the Lord’s Supper was a daily celebration. And do you suppose that any of the three thousand dared or wished to turn their back upon it? And yet how many of us are knowingly, wilfully, and throughout life, acting as if the charge, “This do,” had never been uttered, or as if the apostles only had ever been addressed by it! And no doubt there are those who could not, without presumption or profaneness, attend on that breaking of bread. But does not that inability, of itself, startle them? Does it not sound in their ears the condemning sentence, “Thou art none of Christ’s; thou art yet in thy sins”?

In prayers. No doubt they prayed in secret. No doubt it was a life of prayer. The charge which we treat as hyperbolical--“Pray without ceasing”--was to them, in its spirit, a literal precept. Their life was now above, hidden with Christ in God, and well might they exercise that life in offices of perpetual communion. Christ was to them not a name nor a doctrine, but a real and living Person, their Friend and their Saviour, their Lord and their God. They could not have too much of Him! Therefore a life of prayer was to them a life of happiness. But the particular place occupied by the word “prayers” in the text, leads us rather to think of the worship of the congregation than of the worship of the secret chamber. It was not then, as it is now, that any little fluctuation of feeling, or any passing accident of weather or of company, can thin a congregation almost to nothing. It was not then the case, as it is now, that everything is more attractive than worship; an additional half-hour’s rest, a walk into the country, a newspaper or a novel; nothing felt to be so little worth exertion as the opportunity of joining in the Church’s prayers or listening to the Church’s teaching. (Dean Vaughan.)

Attachment to the Church

All of us here assembled profess ourselves members of this Christian community; we profess ourselves churchmen, as members of the Church of Christ; for every sincere and honest member of the Church of England values his Church for this reason, that it is a portion of the Church of Christ. The churchmanship which I am now inculcating is the churchmanship of our text, and the duties therein described are the duties which I earnestly press upon you, and which I now proceed to illustrate. “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

1. This description of the first Christians implies that the good churchman is stedfastly attached to the communion of his Church, cultivates a warm and constant affection for her, and uses all proper means for extending its influence, and carrying its beneficial influence to all who are ignorant of, or careless about, those invaluable blessings she contains within her sacred repository. This profession, entered into at baptism, and ratified at confirmation, leads the true member of Christ’s Church courageously to assert and to maintain the doctrines of the Cross of Christ in all their genuine simplicity, and that not only when it can be done without incurring opposition, but also when their maintenance may be scorned by the world and assailed by the sceptic; the good Churchman knows from Scripture that these truths are the doctrines of the apostles. From these doctrines he has derived peace and consolation; and from them, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, he feels implanted within him a principle, a life-giving principle, of holiness, which suggests the motives and dictates the acts of his daily conduct. These doctrines, when heartily embraced, are doctrines for the healing of the world of its sins and evils. The good Churchman remains immovable; he loves his Church for the truth’s sake; if any of her sons act unworthily of her, if any abuse, any deformity for a time creep round her sacred battlements, the abuse, the deformity is lamented, and, if possible, removed; but the Church herself is his delight; he loves her for the blessings she conveys.

2. From our text, it is to be observed that the Christian who desires to act his part well in his duty and obligations to his Church, will stedfastly attend on its services and observe its institutions. The first three thousand Churchmen, than whom so good a sample has never since been met with, “continued stedfastly, as in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, so also in breaking of bread and in prayers.” Indeed, the services of the Church form the main bond of fellowship with her. Most inconsistent is it for men, like the Jews of old, to exclaim, “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are we,” when the temple is scarcely ever frequented, and they themselves never seen within its sacred enclosure! Calling themselves members of Christ’s Church, but altogether neglecting its services, except as necessity calls upon them to join in them, and consequently as ignorant of their intent and meaning, as unmoved by any spiritual affection towards them or sacred pleasure from them, as though they were repeated in a language they understood not; boasting of their external fellowship by baptism, as though baptism were the sum-total of Church membership. The remark of Bishop Beveridge upon the character and behaviour of these first Christians is well worthy of universal attention: “They did not think it sufficient to be baptized into Christ, but they still continued in Him, doing all such things as He hath appointed, whereby to receive grace and power from Him to walk as becometh His disciples; and so must we also, if we desire to be saved by Him. It is our great happiness to have been by baptism admitted into the Church and school of Christ, and so made His disciples and scholars; but unless we continue to do what we promised at our baptism, our condemnation will be the greater, in that we do not only break the laws of God, but likewise the promise we made to Him when we were baptized.” Of this state of things the consistent Churchman is fully aware, and by the grace of God he acts accordingly; hence his regular attendance on Divine ordinances is marked by internal devotion and external propriety. He is enabled to say of the temple and worship of the Lord, “This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (J. C. Abdy, M. A.)


Recently, at Chicago, Bishop Whipple related the following incident as an illustration of the moral courage of Christian Indians: “One day an Indian came to our missionary and said, ‘I know this religion is true. The men who have walked in this new trail are better and happier. But I have always been a warrior, and my hands are full of blood. Could I be a Christian?’ The missionary repeated the story of God’s love. To test the man, he said, ‘May I cut your hair?’ The Indian wears his scalp-lock for his enemy. When it is cut it is a sign that he will never go on the war-path again. The man said, ‘Yes, you may cut it. I shall throw my old life away.’ It was cut. He started for home, and met some wild Indians, who shouted with laughter, and with taunts said, ‘Yesterday you were a warrior; to-day you are a squaw.’ It stung the man to madness, and he rushed to his home and threw himself on the floor and burst into tears. His wife was a Christian, and came and put her arms about his neck and said, ‘Yesterday there was not a man in this world who dared call you a coward. Can’t you be as brave for Him who died for you as you were to kill the Sioux?’ He sprung to his feet and said, ‘I can, and will.’ I have known many brave, fearless servants of Christ, but I never knew one braver than this chief.”

Revivals favourable to doctrine

A languid church breeds unbelief as surely as a decaying oak fungus. In a condition of depressed vitality, the seeds of disease, which a full vigour would shake off, are fatal. Raise the temperature, and you kill the insect germs

Revivals unfavourable to unbelief

A warmer tone of spiritual life would change the atmosphere which unbelief needs for its growth. It belongs to the fauna of the glacial epoch, and when the rigours of that wintry time begin to melt, and warmer days to set in, the creatures of the ice have to retreat to arctic wildernesses, and leave a land no longer suited for their life. (A. Maclaren.)

Model Church

It was made up of converts--that is, of such as had repented and put an unquestionable faith in Jesus Christ. It is possible, of course, that some slipped in who were either wilful deceivers or self-deceived, but that was not likely to be the case under such circumstances. None joined from social considerations or because others were doing so.

The members of this model church “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine.” They received the truth as it came to them from inspired lips and were cordially faithful to it. They had a creed and were not ashamed of it. There were no heretics among them, walking about with feathers in their hats and vaunting their disloyalty to truth. We are -told that Christianity is not dogma, but life. It is both, and to say that it is either at the expense of the other is to antagonise the clear teaching of Scripture. Christianity is neither dogma nor life; it is life founded on dogma; it is ethics growing out of truth; it is creed flowering into conduct.

“they continued stedfastly in fellowship and in breaking of bread and in prayers.” The rationale of the Church finds its briefest expression in that word “fellowship.” There is a notion abroad that the Church is an organisation of good people, such as think themselves a little better than their neighbours. This is a mistake; the very opposite is true. The Church is a mutual help association, made up not of good people, but of such us want to be good, who feel their weakness and their need of co-operative sympathy and prayer. The over-righteous, who are strong enough to get along by themselves, are outside of the Church.

They surrendered all their earthly possessions to a common treasury to be expended for the common good. These people lived in the early morning, with the dewy memory of Christ upon them and hearts warmed by the baptism of fire; they had recently seen their Master caught up in the clouds of heaven and received an assurance that He would come again in “like manner.” Thus memory and hope conspired to make their hearts unworldly, and in their fellowship we may reasonably expect to find the nearest approach to the Church of the millennium. In these days, when property rights so far eclipse the great verities, we may be excused for wondering how these people could be so foolish as to sell their possessions in this way and “hold all things common”; but by-and-by there will come a time when truth and goodness will outshine silver and gold, and then, perhaps, it will appear that these early Christians were not wrong after all, but only a little premature. The term “communism” is applied to so much of crack-brained fanaticism that we are in danger of overlooking the real truth at the centre of it.

The members of this primitive Church gave themselves wholly up to the work and worship of God; “They continued daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house.” They were not content with mere Sabbath worship and the other perfunctory duties of a religious life. To these enthusiastic Christians every day was a holy day and every place was a sanctuary. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)

The faith and stedfastness of the early Christians

We have here, then, in the first place, a very full account of the primitive Church. It is, in fact, a kind of full-length portrait, drawn by the pencil of inspiration, which we must analyse and examine for our own benefit. And here, first of all, we find it stated that “they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine.” If you ask what this doctrine was, we refer you back to the clear outline of it which is presented to our minds in the sermon of the Apostle Peter. It was the doctrine of a free and full remission of our sins, through the atoning sacrifice of our blessed Saviour, who was put to death for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.

The blessed effects. It is also asserted that these primitive Christians maintained a constant attendance on the means of grace. A man cannot walk alone and by himself on the path which leads to glory. As soon as his conscience has been awakened, his judgment convinced, and his heart subdued to the obedience of faith, he must become a member of that Church to which her Divine Master has entrusted the dispensation of those means of grace which He has provided for the advancement of the spiritual interests of His people. But we must also notice another characteristic feature in this infant Church, They manifested a noble and commendable attention to the wants of their poorer brethren; they “continued stedfastly in the fellowship,” or, rather, as the original word implies, in the contribution, or in the generous and considerate extension of their temporal resources for the supply of the necessities of their poorer brethren: “They had all things common, and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” And we cannot fail to notice the spirit of union and of Christian love that pervaded all the services and intercourse of these first disciples of our blessed Redeemer. There was an unity of faith, and, what was of more consequence, there was an unity of feeling amongst them, binding together into one happy family the constituent members of this infant Church. It might, indeed, be said of them, “Behold how these Christians love one another,” so zealously did they endeavour to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.” They “were together”; they did not frustrate the great purpose for which Christ has incorporated His people into a church by becoming hermits, but, feeling their mutual dependence on each other, they endeavoured by mutual encouragement to strengthen and to build each other up in the faith and hope of the everlasting gospel. (D. Bagot, D. D.)

The first Christians a holy family

The kind father of the family: recognised in filial love and proved in daily blessings.

The loving members of the family: the old ones of Pentecost and the new ones added to it.

The beautiful order of the family: doctrine and prayer, breaking of bread and care for the poor.

The holy peace of the family.

1. Within among themselves.

2. Without in relation to the world. (Gerok.)

The first Christian Church

1. The faith which it testified.

2. The deeds which it performed.

3. The love which it evidenced.

4. The means of grace which it employed.

5. The blessedness which it enjoyed. (G. Florey.)

The blooming garden of God in the primitive Church

1. The delightful sunshine of Divine grace which it enjoys after the Pentecostal rain.

2. The lovely spiritual blossoms and fruits of grace which increase under such a Divine blessing--faith, love, hope, humility, meekness, purity, alms, prayer, etc.

3. The strong wall by which God’s garden is protected from the wasting of the enemy. (C. Gerok.)

Christian doctrine

The New Testament was not yet written, yet there was a coherent system of Christian faith and truth, and by an instinct these people knew it. The truth had not yet been formulated into a creed, but the essentials of a creed existed in the minds of both preachers and hearers of the gospel; and say what we may about creeds and the use which has sometimes been made of them, Christian doctrine is and ever has been essential to the integrity and the triumphs of the Christian Church. Note--

That the Christian life depends partly upon the soul’s convictions as to the character of God.

1. This life is derived from God, and is developed in the soul. There are inscrutable influences of the Holy Spirit in bringing about the inward change. There are also undefinable influences of godly friends or preachers, but none of these can be effectual unless there be a truth or fact through which the Holy Spirit works. How does a parent move his child towards a godly life? By force of character? Yes; but character is the product of Christian truth; and the parent was holy because, among other things, he read his Bible and believed his Saviour.

2. You might as well try to account for the life of a flower apart from the seed as to account for spiritual life apart from spiritual doctrine. You can predict the character of the flower from the nature of the seed; so from your knowledge of religious systems you can foretell the forms of character that will be developed from them--Mohammedan, Buddhist, Socinian, etc.; and our spiritual life will depend on the tenacity with which we cling to true convictions of the character of God. St. Paul was one of the most spiritual and self-denying of men, and again and again he traces his inner life to the power which Christian truth had over him--over his heart, of course, but over his intellect as well.

3. It is a shallow and often a hypocritical cry that asks us for a Christianity without doctrine. You cannot have it. God is--that is a doe-trine. God loves you-that is a doctrine, and so on. Feed your mind on these and kindred facts, and yours shall be no puny life.

That a Christian community must be drawn together by affinities in Christian doctrine.

1. If the unit of spiritual life depends for its existence and sustenance on truth, so does the community; if one child needs food, so do all the children; and though differences may be made to suit various appetites, yet chemical analysis shows that the foods are the same in their primal elements. And all spiritual communions must find a common spiritual basis. Feeling is too shifting for this basis, conduct too indefinite, negation too cold and unsubstantial, ceremony too formal and outward, and those combinations which are formed by the sinking of convictions are immoral and hollow. No; the first requisite for Christian union is that there shall be a due regard to Christian conviction.

2. We sometimes talk of truth as though it were in the air, in documents, in the mystic utterance of the whole body of believing people. Yet ultimately it must be found in the individual soul. This is where error is, and not merely in magazines and lectures. A number of individuals, then, tenaciously holding the same beliefs, constitutes a spiritual community, and no Church is so destitute of the first principles of common sense as to seek fellowship apart from understood and common beliefs. The Unitarian may say, “We do not lay down any doctrinal basis for our fellowship,” yet a preacher who proclaimed the atonement or Divinity of Christ would have but a sorry welcome.

3. Churches exist for the very purpose of proclaiming Christian truth. If truth has gone, their mission has gone, and thirsty souls will go to them and find no living water.

That for Christian doctrine we are dependent on revelation. God did not leave men to find out the truth concerning Himself; He revealed it. When He revealed it He did not leave it to take care of itself. Both the revelation and the record are monuments of God’s special love to man. The idea of the supernatural is particularly obnoxious to “advanced thinkers”; they are consequently ever on the look-out for evidence that Christianity was only a product of the human mind, and so on a level with all other religions. But Christianity professes to be a new and supernatural departure in the history of religion, and the apostles are the Divinely appointed media of the Divine revelation. Their “doctrine” concerns the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, and who so competent as they to deliver it, and who shall contest it as it comes from their lips or pens? Matthew was a chosen companion of Christ’s; Mark was a convert of Peter’s, and a comrade of Paul’s; Luke had “a perfect understanding of all things from the first”; John was “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and “we know that his testimony is true.” Peter was an eye-witness of His majesty, and did “not follow cunningly devised fables.” To Paul the risen Christ appeared as to one born out of due time and “he received of the Lord that which he also delivered” to his converts. If we want trustworthy guides, these are the men to help us.

That the power of Christian churches lies, amongst other things, in their adherence to Christian doctrines. If men want to be strong and aggressive, they must not be easily moved by the threatening sounds of modern unbelief; they must know their own minds and the mind of Christ. In moral conflicts convictions are the only forces that will do lasting service. (S. Pearson, M. A.)

The disciplined life of the Church

“They continued steadfastly.” The word seems to imply a double action; first, that of stretching out the hand to grasp firmly; and having done this, to adhere strongly to the object in our possession. They were perseveringly devoted to--

1. The apostles’ doctrine; the great, deep, broad fundamental truths and principles upon which the whole catholic faith is founded, and according to which the lives of the members of the Church must be regulated and conformed. Before we proceed to teach a truth, before we even profess to embody a truth in life and conduct, we should have a clear conception of the same. And before we ask others to frame their life and conduct according to these principles, we must see that upon them and according to them we frame and fashion our own. A profession without practice will never tend to the conversion of others, it can only bring ridicule and contempt upon ourselves.

2. The apostles’ fellowship. Besides the community of principle, there was a community of life. Nothing tends to give principles so much force as seeing and feeling them embodied, not merely in the lives of isolated individuals, but in the life of a society. The power of a small united body of men is many times greater than that of each separate unit multiplied by the whole number. Let us remember that the wisdom and teaching of the Church is more perfect than that of any individual within it. Let us cultivate a spirit of watchful obedience; and let us be careful to check in ourselves or in others a spirit of self-wisdom, which, could we only regard it in its true light, would be seen to be little more than the spirit of selfishness.

3. The breaking of the bread. They were careful to be regular communicants. The most familiar name of that sacred service reminds us that it is meant to be a bond of union; those who neglect to partake thereof are, by absenting themselves from it, guilty of encouraging divisions in the Church. In the Holy Communion God calls us to rejoice with Him over the celebration of the closest union between the Divine and the human. It is the spirit of selfishness which causes us to disobey that call. But the Holy Communion is more than the chief bond of unity in the Church. It is in worthily partaking of the blessings offered there that the Christian soldier receives his chief support; there he gains the strength he needs in the day of battle; there he re-equips himself for active service.

4. The prayers. As they had a common creed and a common life, as they joined together in the participation of the Holy Communion, so they took part in a form of common prayer. The principal feature of the prayer-book upon which! Would now dwell is this--it teaches regular, systematic, common and public prayer. Nothing ministers more surely to the unity of faith and the unity of life than the unity of worship. That we think the same thing, that we aspire towards the same ideal, that we ask the same blessing, the prayer-book is ever reminding us. (W. E. Chadwick, M. A.)

Steadfastness in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship

Proofs of the reality of alleged conversions are always desirable. No man ought to feel offended if both the Church and the world demand such proof. If the change is real, the evidence will be forthcoming. Profession will not do, for without corresponding life it is mere assertion. For a man to say he is a Christian does not make him one. The only satisfactory evidence is that given by these Pentecostal converts by stedfastness in--

The apostles’ doctrine.

1. Sudden conversions are not always lasting. Many causes may bring about a change of view. It is difficult even for a man of calm self-possession to retain the mastery of his emotions and keep himself free from the influence of that strong sympathetic feeling which, like an electric current, runs through a crowd. Thus by the able orator or the artful demagogue marvellous effects are often produced, and many” a so-called conversion has been so effected. For the moment it is undeniably sincere, but the impression is due to passing sympathy with an earnest soul rather than with the truth declared; and the sequel often is unstedfastness in the doctrine of Christ. The cause ceases, and the effect disappears. The sympathy dies out for want of fresh stimulus. Like a house without a foundation, the assumed Christian profession may be swept into ruin by the first tempest. It is like a human body whose spinal column has been materially damaged; artificial props are necessary to shore it up and prevent its collapse.

2. One test, then, of sincere adhesion to Christ is stedfast adherence to His teaching--a life in accordance with His precepts. This proof of conversion these converts had. With us it is not a difficult thing to make a profession. In certain circles this is a badge of respectability. But then it was to incur serious peril. These converts were true converts, and therefore became assiduous scholars in Christ’s school, and when the day of cool reflection or hot persecution came, they were not moved from their stedfastness. The more they knew of the doctrine, the more they deemed it worth the sacrifice.

In fellowship. The disciples were no longer a mere family, but a community. They had now ceased to be the private followers of a man; they stood before the world as a church, a living body, all whose members were in fellowship. And so we come thus early to the root idea of the Church. It is a brotherhood conferring privileges upon, yet demanding duties from, every one of its members. Each is a partner in a firm, and as such is bound to promote the interests of the concern. But it is a concern that can neither conduct its operations with borrowed capital, nor permit the presence of any sleeping partners. It is a living body, whose graceful movement is as much impeded by an inactive member as is the action of the body by a diseased limb. The rich are to help the poor, and the strong the weak; the wise are to be the advisers of the ignorant, etc. The converts at Pentecost recognised all this, and thus proved the reality of their conversion. “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” (W. M. Arthur, M. A.)

The use of fellowship

The community of spirit suggested in the word here rendered “fellowship” must have grown out of the instant recognition of the rule, “A place for every man, and every man in his place.” One of the most successful preachers in modern times, being asked how he was able to accomplish so much good in the course of a year, replied, “It is not I that do it, but the Church I serve; I preach as hard as I can on Sunday, and then I have seven hundred members who go out and preach every day of the week afterwards.” (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

The primitive fellowship at Jerusalem was

Founded on a new doctrine.

1. This doctrine was in harmony with and fulfilment of the old, but yet it was new. Its subject was the life, death, etc., of Christ, and the salvation which His work had brought to man.

2. This doctrine, received by faith and applied by the Holy Ghost, became spirit and life to the hearers. There were, of course, no church buildings; the meetings, therefore, could only be held in the Temple courts or in private houses. Wonderful evenings must those have been which were spent in the spacious apartments of such as, being wealthier, kept open house--evenings not only of hearing the doctrine, but of worship, mutual converse, frugal feasting, and winding up with the Lord’s Supper. But it was to learn about Jesus that mainly brought them together.

Inspired by a new life.

1. This life began in repentance and faith, and broke out of cloud into sunshine, and from embryo into active and joyous expression through the power of the Holy Spirit. It was the soul of the new fellowship, the spring of its development, the source of its tendencies and laws.

2. This new life, like the new doctrine, was one with the old, but so much fuller, and more intense and glorious, that it may justly be called new. Moreover, it was poured forth with so free and wide a bounty that it may well be called the donation of a new life to the Church, and through it to the world.

3. This new life belongs to every penitent believer, and there is no “higher life” than this, although it has its stages from the “babe” to the “father” in Christ. It is in fact that “life eternal,” which is to “know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.”

4. This new life made all things new.

5. Its secret and its relations to Divine truth and holy duty are summed up in 1 Peter 1:22-23. Faith is obedience to the truth; the new life develops itself in holy love.

Expressed and sustained by new means and developments.

1. Fellowship meetings from house to house, where speech and prayer were free to each, were the ordinary means of common edification, and appear for some time to have been the only specific and characteristic means maintained in the Church at Jerusalem. There was neither ritual nor organisation, but the primary germ cell was there in the fellowship meetings, and we are thus shown what is the true substratum of Church organisation and life. Without this a so-called church is not a living Christian community. However complete its organisation may become, it is bound to retain its character as a spiritual commonwealth, instinct with free life.

2. This new life grafted on its new means new developments of mutual care. The converts did not say that anything was their own; they acknowledged themselves to be not proprietors, but stewards. There was a vast number of pauper Jews, and we may be sure that the fountain of Pharisaic beneficence would be sealed against them when they became Christians. It was therefore incumbent upon their believing brethren to make provision for their necessities. And in that hour of loving enthusiasm their generosity knew no bounds. This was no new principle. It lay at the root of all Bible ethics, but it had never been fully acted on by a whole community before.

Sealed by new sacraments--baptism and “the breaking of bread.” The latter was a natural and beautiful finish to their social meals and sacred exercises. As multitudes were continually joining the Church, we may believe that at each gathering, house by house, there were fresh converts. To these the seal of the Holy Communion would rightfully be given as consummating their union and fellowship with the company of believers.

Maintained in harmony with the earlier ordinances of public worship as established in the temple services. “The prayers” were the daily prayers of the Temple. Thus in the providence of God it was ordered that the Christian Church should take root, and partially unfold its form and glory within the ground of Judaism. The unity and continuity of the Divine dispensations was thus to be set forth. (J. H. Rigg, D. D.)

Christian fellowship

Its hindrances.

1. Exaggerated individualism.

(1) It is a grand truth that religion lies between the solitary soul and God, and that no priest has any right to intermeddle with it. Alone we were born into the new world; alone we have to wrestle in it; alone we shall die.

(2) But we have exaggerated this principle, and thrown the idea of the Church into the shade. The lonely pilgrim travels to the Cross, but to find there “the general assembly and Church of the first-born.” Yet there are those in our churches who do not share, or only feebly, this common life. To them public worship differs only from private in being offered publicly. They eat their portion alone, and come and go, knowing only the man who preaches, and the man who collects pew rents. It may be they are constitutionally shy, or self-absorbed, or unhappy. But they are spots in our feasts of charity, and icebergs which chill the gulf stream of the Church’s life.

(3) We need to be reminded that the Church is not a club, hotel, or a mere voluntary association, but a home, and that they can no more denude themselves of their spiritual than they can of their natural relationships.

2. Social distinctions.

(1) It is a dark day for any Church when it declares its special mission to be to any one class, or when a Church consists of any one class. This is a danger which menaces modern Church life. The rich gravitate to the suburbs, the poor crowd into the towns, her great gulf yawns between.

(2) The ideal relation is when rich and poor meet together on the same common level--before the Lord, the Master and Redeemer of them all. We need to be reminded that squire and labourer, master and clerk, mistress and maid, have committed the same sins, felt the same penitence, been redeemed by the same sacrifice. If the life of the Church is not strong enough to perfect this union, and enable men So rise above such things, seen and temporal, as distinctions of rank, to things unseen and eternal, it is time we consider how to recover the diviner spirit of earlier days.

3. The caste of culture. Superior persons who are acquainted with all the scientific objections to Christianity look down upon the uninitiated as Philistines. Then there are those half-time Christians who contend that their spiritual culture can be promoted quite as well by private reading as public worship, and attend once a day merely for example. Such forget that the Saviour was the Friend of publicans and sinners, and thanked God for hiding things from the wise and prudent, and for revealing them unto babes.

4. The spirit of faction. “Mark them which cause divisions among you.” How many are they! On what slight grounds and paltry pretexts they disturb the peace of the Church! With what arrogance do they judge and condemn brethren whose lives are as pure as theirs!

Practical remedies.

1. We must train our young members, and inculcate upon them the duties as well as the privileges of Church fellowship.

2. Our churches must be organised for work. There must be no drones in the hive. No member ought to secure exemption by money payment from personal service. It was when the people had a mind to work that the walls of Jerusalem rose. Pastor Oncken, of Hamburg, gathered a church of three thousand, the distinctive feature of which was that each was pledged to personal service. In our churches the most beautiful and spiritually operative brotherly love is found among those who, in Sunday-schools, tract societies, etc., are associated in effort to advance the cause of Christ.

3. Meetings of the Church might be held distinct from those for business, for mutual conference, after the pattern of Methodist class meetings, where “whosoever hath a psalm, a doctrine, a revelation, an interpretation,” might feel at liberty to impart it. The patient sufferings of the sick and poor, their quiet trust in God’s love might rebuke our discontent, and teach us the meaning of Divine support and consolation. The rough honest speech of a working man telling the story of his difficulties might give the well-to-do an insight into hardships which they are in danger of forgetting, while a business man frankly telling his difficulties might remind the poor man that the prosperous have temptations from which he is spared. Such conferences would create a mutual trust and affection fruitful in a thousand acts of brotherliness. (A. Wilson, B. A.)

In prayers.--

Prayer meetings as affecting the prosperity of the Church

If we regard prayer meetings merely as expedients appointed by men and having no sanction from the Word of God, we may, perhaps, be disposed to treat them lightly. And it is very much to be feared that this is the view taken by many of prayer meetings, because--

1. They are generally so thinly attended.

2. They are so disparaged--“It is only a prayer meeting.” Let us show, then--

That prayer meetings are scriptural. We find here that when those who gladly received the Word had been baptized, they “continued stedfastly,” not once or twice or occasionally, “in prayers,” in fact as stedfast as in “doctrine,” etc. Social prayer is placed on a level in point of importance with apostolic doctrine and the Lord’s Supper. Why, then, should the one be comparatively lost sight of by the churches, whilst the others are regarded as essential to the profession of Christianity? Those who neglected “the assembling of themselves together” were denounced by the apostle, and the continuance of fellowship is here associated with continuance in prayer. Now if we look at any other part of the Word of God, we shall find the same thing uniformly brought before us as the practice of the Church. In Acts 1:14-15 we find that such was the practice before the outpouring of the Spirit. We come next to chap. 4., and after Peter and John had been dismissed we find, in verse 33, they reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. Then there was a prayer meeting, and the prayers offered were honoured with a remarkable reply from heaven (verse 31). In chap. 12. Peter was apprehended and kept in prison. The Church, however, had prayer meetings on his behalf. And the prayer was granted before the prayer meeting was broken up. I have not quoted passages in the Epistles where supplication and prayer are enjoined on the churches, but, glancing generally at these exhortations, are you to suppose that they ask for the prayers merely of individuals as such? When they call upon the Church to do anything, do they not call upon the Church to do it as a public body, and in a public way? Taking this view of the matter, you will find all the apostolic exhortations to supplication bearing upon the apostolic practice, and then the evidence that prayer meetings, properly so called, were a part of the practice of the apostolic churches will be found to be complete.

What benefit will accrue from such meetings.

1. Union of feeling must arise in the Church. When the same minds are before the same throne of grace; when the same acknowledgment is made of common transgressions, and the same faith is exercised in a common Saviour; and when the whole mind of a combined people is consecrated by the solemnity of their common supplications, surely there must be the elements of a union far surpassing any other that can exist. It is this very circumstance that frequently leads people to think highly of unions by no means scriptural in their character.

2. As that united feeling becomes sanctified prayer meetings will also tend to strengthen spiritual devotion in the Church. Devotion may be regarded as an ardent feeling in connection with religious matters; with or without scriptural light and authority the latter may be created in a variety of ways. The solemnities of high mass create that feeling in the Church of Rome. The splendour of its statuary and its paintings; the richness of its structures; the grandeur of its rites; the elevating influence of its music, all will be found having a tendency to create an ardent feeling in connection with religious matters. But this is not religious feeling accompanied with scriptural light and scriptural sobriety. In the midst of the thrilling influences to which they are subject, remind them that these structures were raised by a system that destroyed the souls of men, and took away liberty as regarded their bodies. Tell them to observe that such places were never intended for instruction. Let them afterwards look at the plainer structures which were evidently intended for instruction. It is very clear that the feeling I have described is not to be found there; but at the same time the light of scriptural truth will be found operating, and the calm and practical influence of genuine Christianity will be found to have superseded the feeling of excitement and religious awe. Now, if we look at devotional feeling in both these points of view, where are we to find that which is really scriptural so clearly exhibited as in prayer meetings? Go to the humble prayer meeting; let there be no influence there but the influence of heaven: let there be no power but the power of the Spirit of God; let the mind be directed by scriptural light and by scriptural desires, expressed in scriptural petitions, and you have there the exhibition of a plain and practical Christianity, which, while it has fellowship with the Father and with His Son, exercises a sufficient command over the physical economy to prevent that extravagance which deludes in the manner that I have described.

3. Prayer meetings are calculated to promote the spread of God’s glory in the Church. We know that they bring the glory of God before the supplicants with a degree of spirituality and power unknown in any other circumstances, and that therefore they are best fitted, best armed, for the field in which God calls upon them to act when they have received common refreshment at the footstool of the Majesty on high.

4. Prayer meetings are calculated to raise the Church above the secular influence and spirit by which churches are often divided. If individuals belonging to a Christian Church are habitually separated from one another; if they know little or nothing about one another; when any question arises in that Church, how ill provided are they to treat it in the spirit of Christian devotion. In such a state of things every man feels that he has to seek his own will in reference to the question, and there is likely to be a conflagration of feeling in the Church. But let them come from the throne where they have often asked for that help by which they may work together in the spirit of Christian charity; let them come from the place where God has often been felt to be present; and let something them be suggested that may for a moment lead to debate, and you will see the whole Christian brotherhood acting as those who know what it is to feel together the sanctifying influence of devotion. The peace of the Church, therefore, is involved in prayer meetings.

5. When prayer meetings are conducted spiritually, the Church itself will be found to exhibit to the world more of the spirit by which the Church must be actuated before the gospel can triumph. If the Saviour prayed that His people might be one, as He was one with the Father, in order “that the world might believe that He had sent Him”; i.e., made their union evidence of the truth of Christianity; and if the Saviour, at the same time, held up His people as a praying people, and promised that whatever they should ask in His name He would bestow; the world finding all this laid down in our statute book, will look to see how far it is carried out in our practice. Let them see, then, that prayer meetings are duly attended; and they will be ready to acknowledge that God is “among you of a truth” (1 Corinthians 14:24).

What are the real objections? The only objection that I know is that people cannot give two evenings in the week. You have, then, to take the prayer meeting and the meeting for public assembly, and to ask which is the more important of the two; or you have to compare the two meetings with your other employments, and to determine to which you shall give the preference. Is the business to which you have to attend on the two evenings, or on one of them, more important than the assembly or the prayer meeting; then attend to that business. The very same remark will apply to the Sabbath day. (J. Burnet.)

And fear came upon every soul.--

Church life


The effect produced upon beholders without. “And fear came upon every soul.” One explanation of this may be found in the clause which follows. Proofs daily witnessed of the Divine presence could not fail to strike fear into the hearts of those who looked on without obeying. But there is more than that. The effect upon the wicked Herod of the character of the Baptist was fear, little as was the ground for it in an earthly sense. So it was here. Christians do not always know their own power. What fears do young Christians often experience in the prospect of opposition or ridicule! Let them go forward in the path of duty, and they will find that “Greater is He that is in them than he that is in the world.” So far from having anything to fear, you have all of you the power of striking a wholesome and perhaps a saving fear into the enemies of Christ by a bright and consistent example. That is a testimony which men cannot gainsay. All else they may laugh at your persuasions, warnings, arguments; but your example will make its way into their consciences. That is the one weapon which a woman, which a child may wield, and which no coat of mail is close enough to evade or strong enough to parry.

Their union and beneficence (verses 44-45). In the first ardour of their new conviction they obeyed literally the direction to “lay up for themselves no treasures on earth”; to “sell that they had, and give alms”; to “forsake all and follow Christ.” They could not bear to have while another wanted. Nothing but a real community of goods could satisfy their Christian instincts. It was an example for all times.

1. Not, however, in form. There is no inspired rule, applicable to all cases, for this. We find St. Paul, e.g., recommending a liberal contribution, according to the circumstances of each man, to the relief of the poor saints at Jerusalem; and in another, advising that on the first day of each week every one should “lay by him in store” for this purpose “as God had prospered him.” This could not have been done if in the Church of Corinth there had been a community of possessions. How different was this example from anything which the world has since witnessed! It has been the dream of theorists to see all distinction of ranks levelled, and a whole congregation, or nation, living in brotherly concord upon the common property of all. But every such scheme has been based upon assumptions hasty in themselves and mischievous in their consequences. In Christian bodies the attempt to establish a system of communion has led more often to the exclusion than to the consideration of the poor. Among political speculators the principle of communism has been too often absolutely anti-Christian; and a hatred of subordination has been the secret spring of much professed zeal for the rights of man, and of much declamation upon the interests of society. The example before us was of a widely different kind from either of these. It was the spontaneous, natural, and temporary effect of a fresh faith, a lively hope, and a genuine charity. In its form it was not and it could not be permanent. While it continued it was a wonderful testimony to the strength of the new religion in the hearts of those who believed. “See how these Christians love,” might well be the comment of those who looked on upon a scene so unlike the world of common life. Judge ye what there is, in heaven or in earth, which would have made any one of us go and do likewise.

2. And though the form of that entire self-sacrifice may vary--and we believe that our Master designed that it should vary with the varying circumstances of the world and of His Church--let us not forget that the spirit of this life must be ours. If it be the best on the whole for the true welfare of society that each man be the possessor of the fruits of his own toil, and the uncontrolled steward of his own resources; if many high and Christian purposes are answered by that gradation of ranks and that variety of fortunes which is the form of society under which God has placed us; yet let us not forget that one end, perhaps the chief end, to be answered by this arrangement, is, that each man, “working with his hands the thing that is good,” may thereby “have to give to him that needeth”; that every one may be able to exercise his individual judgment upon various objects of piety and charity proposed to him; but certainly not that any one may be at liberty to say, I prefer keeping to myself, and to my own, all that I possess.

Their private and domestic life (verses 46-47).

1. The life of a true Christian ought to be and will be a happy life. His very food has a blessing. He praises God over it. He partakes of it in gladness. It is to him the token of a Father’s love. He receives it, as out of God’s hand, in his own. And the heart which is glad is described as a “single” or a “simple” heart. The word denotes properly smooth or level; it is the epithet of a field or a road out of which the stones have been carefully gathered, so that it presents no impediment to the plough of the husbandman or the feet of the traveller. A stoneless heart is one which has no impediments or obstacles in it; one out of which the roughnesses of temper and the stumbling blocks of sin have been removed by grace, so that it is now level and even, smooth in its course, and gentle in its contact.

2. And this may explain how it should be that a life which inspired fear was also one of “favour with all the people.” A Christian life is a witness against sinfulness and carelessness. It awakens slumbering consciences, testifying of realities above not to be forgotten without danger. In this aspect it inspires awe. But in another it is altogether lovely. It is written of Jesus that, as He “increased in wisdom and stature,” He increased also “in favour with God and man.” So is it with His people. Men often show their religion in unattractive or repulsive forms, and then regard their own unpopularity as a proof of the world’s hatred against religion. Let them exhibit their religion in its aspect of a world-wide charity, and they will find it otherwise. They will find that, while it inspires awe as God’s witness, their religion wins love also as.the friend of man.

Their increase (verse 47). There is nothing here of a Divine selection fixing by an arbitrary sentence who should and who should not be heirs of salvation. The words themselves say, “those who were in the course (in the process) of salvation.” Salvation, if in one sense a single act, is in another a course of acts. A man may forfeit salvation; he may grieve and quench the Holy Spirit; he may fall away and never be renewed And while these things are possible, it is as much as we can say of any man that he is in course of salvation. And a great thing it is to be able to say this. We cannot say this of a man who is trifling, or is a despiser of the means of grace, or is cherishing any known sin.

1. It is “the Lord” who adds. Without Him, without His Holy Spirit, what would be Paul or Apollos or Cephas, much more we poor, erring, uninspired men? It was He who “opened the heart” of Lydia “that she attended to the things that were spoken by Paul.” And it is He who opens hearts now to attend to the things spoken by His ministers. We want new converts, and who can add these to our number, save the Lord only?

2. It is “to the Church” that the Lord adds. It is not only secret desires, resolutions, prayers, that we need awakening in us; there must be an adding to the Church. We ought ¢o be not only a pious people, fulfilling life’s duties and satisfying life’s relations in the fear of God; but also a people honouring God, and walking to heaven together, together serving Christ, and working righteousness.

3. These additions were “day by day.” The course of this world is a transitory, rapid thing; we are here to-day, and to-morrow there. In the meantime can we say that there is a daily Church progress? “The Lord’s arm is not shortened,” etc. Then why this pause and intermission in the work of grace? Why is it that a minister counts himself happy if but one or two souls are gathered into the Church below? What has become of the word “daily”? Can we afford, any better than the primitive Christians, to lose time in this work of adding? The world stops not for our loitering; life and death stop not while we linger; God of His infinite mercy make us feel the value of time, and count each day lost that has not added to His Church one that shall be saved! (Dean Vaughan.)

Verses 44-47

Acts 2:44-47

All that believed were together, and had all things common.

The primitive Christians, as here depicted

Presented a new social development, marked--

1. By community of goods.

2. By judicious distribution to the needy. Poor people had, of course, been relieved before, but not in the systematic way which is here seen to mark the beneficence of the early Church.

3. By a new and separate place of worship. Religious exercises were conducted “at home” as well as in the Temple. Thus the disciples were both conformists and nonconformists.

Exhibited notable personal characteristics.

1. They were strongly attached to one another.

2. They kept a good conscience, “singleness of heart.”

3. They lived in happiness, “gladness.”

4. They mingled devotion with all their actions, “praising God.”

Commanded the esteem of observers,” having favour with all the people.”

Witnessed the constant extension of the work of God (Acts 2:47). (W. Hudson.)

The communism of Christianity

To those whose eyes are opened wide, because their hearts are truly loving, there is no time in God’s whole year that is equal to this (Whitsuntide) time of fullest bloom. The soul of man is greatened by promises of the future, and he walks the earth in gladness because of the glorious bloom around him. But it is sad when autumn comes to see the pitiful harvest. I have seen that of a hundred blossoms on a given tree only one came to perfection. There is pathos and tragedy in that, for I see in it human life. Of a thousand babes that are born--God’s holiest blossoms--how many come to manhood? Why this waste? Yet God knows best. It is His law that the bloom shall be plentiful, and that some may remain for fruit. Some must fall, but the few that remain are a prophecy of what shall be, and man must learn that a little fruit of God is worth a great waste of bloom. “All that believed were together,” etc.: the doctrine was received into gladsome hearts. The spring heat was come, the winter had vanished. But what became of it? When a man looks round the world nowadays, what a strange blossom that seems to be! Who would try to gather it? When lovers, newly entranced, are scarce able to see common daylight, or to comport themselves with common sense, what are they to do? Bloom, blossom! But the blossom will not last. It is so like that outbreak of communism--and we know that did not last. But it will come again ultimately. It is the Word of God, the end of civilisation, the aim of all holy souls, that the holy city, the New Jerusalem, shall descend to earth. Here, then, is this first blossom of Christian faith, which was the natural outbreak of loving hearts. But these blossoms could not last, because the blossoms of love have to blow out in the cold, and be tried by the storm, as the blossoms of the tree must have the wind to nip them--but they prophesied as they died. Watching a little child’s life, what glorious blossoms of unselfishness we see sometimes I But they don’t last. The cynic sneers at this, but the wise man rejoices, for these blossoms tell him of what man may come to under more perfect conditions. And so these men got scattered, and by degrees the old world resumed its sway over them. Nevertheless, there yet remains the ultimate outcome of the Christian faith. We smile at these men, but only as a loving father smiles upon his little child who cries for the moon, because his ambition is so lofty and its realisation so impossible. Yet the Christian religion is making progress, and having its effect in working out of us what is evil and low, and what it is working out of us it will ultimately work out of the whole world. For what else mean the various efforts to put all things at the service of all men? Some of you who are much given to admiring the pictures of saints can now have a library full of the souls of the ancients; for far beyond all the saints you can paint on windows are those shelves filled with the books of the men of olden time. For in these books are the spirits of the fathers--of John Milton, of William Shakespeare--the thoughts of the wise, the songs of the minstrels, the gathered honey of all nations. And over all this is written “Free Library”--holy words which the Holy Ghost Himself might have inspired. By and by education too shall be like the gospel--free to all, crying, “Come unto me, all ye that labour,” and “he that hath no money, come buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Since I was a boy what has not been done to restore Pentecost? I have long given up the dream of my youth--that all men could do as these men did--live in a community. Robert Owen tried it; thousands have tried it, but they have given it up. All attempts at communism, in any practical form, have died out, gone into history, but the fruit remains. At every point we are winning--hours of leisure, places of recreation, flee libraries, free roads, free churches, free speech, cheap books. Therefore when I hear that the National Gallery is opened free to the public my soul is glad. For the beautiful works of art of the nation are there; they are not now shut up in rich men’s houses, but belong alike to all. What has God to do with the rich? Did He send His sun to shine simply for the rich? Nay, but for the beggar also. The Spirit of Christ is always toward the Pentecostal blossom; but that it may become golden fruit there must be large loving; all thought of self must be consumed by the love of God. God’s gifts are many; strive as far as possible to have all things common, especially the greatest things. I smile when I see men saving a little property of their own, and keeping apart from one another; for the best and greatest things are fast passing into the hands of every one. Books are cheap, and when books are cheap the inspiring things of God belong to all. High price of books means Pentecost impossible. Let every man judge his own heart to what degree the love of God has entered it, for in that degree he will be willing that all things should be common, especially the highest and greatest things. Some men smile at this doctrine, and think that we mean the dividing of money or property. No, keep your money! Free libraries, picture galleries, churches, etc.

all these we have won, and we shall win more yet. So you may keep your old purse. Those blossoms that did stop on the tree are now bearing rich and golden fruit which shall last for ever. Christianity is the death-blow of privilege, the scorner of pedigree, the ridiculer of fine linen. It turns its back on all these and says, “When thou makest a feast, call the poor,” etc.; for the Christian religion means the opening of the gate of heaven to all men. It is the religion whose first miracle was to turn water into wine for humble people, and is slowly bringing back the Pentecostal spirit; not with a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire, but with the sweetness of charity. You would do well to get it into your plans of daily life, that the day will come when all the nations of Europe shall be Pentecostal, for they shall have passed from feudalism to federalism, and the custom-house shall be abolished, and all nations shall be “together and have all things common.” (Geo. Dawson, M. A.)


What about this so-called communism in the early Church? What was it in nature and extent? The passage describing the community of goods is critical. Social reformers, not always Christian, point to this as the ideal state from which the Church has wandered.

1. The arrangement was purely voluntary. What any man put in was still his. The sin of Ananias was not that he had kept back a portion of his estate by fraud, but that he lied about it. It was still in his power after the sale as before. The community of property flowed out of the new spiritual life. (See Acts 4:32-37.) “In point of fact, their experiment was simply the assertion of the right of every man to do as he chooses with his own; and they chose to live together and help each other. It was a fraternal stock company for mutual aid and protection. No man was bound to come into it unless he wished; but if he did come in, he was bound to act honestly.”

2. It was a spiritual result, and not a social experiment. It cannot be explained except on the spiritual basis. It must be studied in its true setting. The Brook Farm, “Utopia,” and all kindred institutions, have been social experiments. Bellamy’s “Looking Backward” Society is allied with them. They have arisen for lack of the Holy Spirit. This sprung up spontaneously because of Pentecost.

3. The community of goods seems to have been a community of use, not ownership. Nobody said that aught that he possessed was his own. They were of one heart. The circumstances were peculiar. Many of the people were away from home. All had to be cared for. No one should suffer.

4. The plan was local. Jerusalem was the only city where it was tried. No trace of it is to be found in any ether Church. It evidently did not commend itself to other churches as a wise plan. The other churches took up collections just as now when a case of need was presented. (See 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7.)

5. It was temporary. It lasted while the circumstances in which it arose continued.

6. It did not relieve poverty. It was not devised for that purpose. Many writers insist upon seeing a close connection between this incident and the subsequent poverty in Jerusalem. Thus Meyer: “And this community of goods at Jerusalem helps to explain the great and general poverty of that Church. It is probable that the apostles were prevented by the very experience acquired in Jerusalem from advising or introducing it elsewhere.” Thus Gulliver: “Under such sublime inspirations it is easy to see that a communism, impossible to ordinary human nature, might temporarily flourish. But it is as easy to see that it would gradually settle to the level of ordinary motive, and would be subjected to the disturbances of inevitable inequalities in capacity and industry, as well as in piety. The Plymouth Pilgrims were, perhaps, the most single-minded men of modern times. Yet it was not till the community of lands and goods which obtained in the early years of their settlement gave place to farms in severalty, and to private property protected by law, that the annually recurring danger of absolute starvation in their colony disappeared. The lesson of such a history is, therefore, not solely the lesson of Christian consecration. It includes the utility and the sacredness of the personal control of property. It places before us the problem of combining the largest Christian benevolence with the strict maintenance of proprietary rights.”

7. It was not modern communism. Says Gerok: “That holy community of goods proceeded from love to the poor; but that which is now proclaimed is the result of a hatred to the rich.” And Van Dyke: “Of late years the communistic doctrine has begun to present itself in another shape. It has laid aside the red cap and put on the white cravat. It invites serious and polite inquiry. It quotes Scripture and claims to be the friend, the near relative, of Christianity. So altered is its aspect that preachers of religion are discovering that it has good points, and patting it on the back somewhat timidly, as one might pat a converted wolf who had offered his services as watch-dog.” There is a fundamental and absolute difference between the doctrine of the Bible and the doctrine of the communiser. For the Bible tells me that I must deal my bread to the hungry; while the communiser tells the hungry that he may take it for himself, and if he begins with bread there is no reason why he should draw the line at cake. The Bible teaches that envy is a sin; the communiser declares that it is the new virtue which is to regenerate society. The communiser maintains that every man who is born has a right to live; but the Bible says that if a man will not work neither shall he eat; and without eating life is difficult. The communiser holds up equality of condition as the ideal of Christianity; but Christ never mentions it. He tells us that we shall have the poor always with us, and charges us never to forget, despise, or neglect them. Christianity requires two things from every man that believes in it: first, to acquire his property by just and righteous means; and, secondly, to look not only on his own things, but also on the things of others. (W. F. McDowell.)

The equalities and inequalities of human lots

The infant Church, from the nature of the case, was composed mainly, though not exclusively, of the less prosperous classes. The work it had to do at Jerusalem brought together a number of persons whose homes were elsewhere, and whose ordinary occupations were suspended, and it became necessary to face the all-important question of their simplest food and lodging. For this purpose a common fund was instituted, to which those who had money or other property might contribute for the temporary support of those who had none. There is no evidence that these were anything but voluntary offerings. There follow, for example, repeated references to the existence of rich and poor side by side in the same Church, and to the need and duty of almsgiving. Had there been any system in force, tantamount to a “community of goods,” neither of these things could possibly have survived. It might seem, indeed, superfluous to argue such a point were it not for two reasons--one, that there are always to be found well-meaning persons who, believing that the earliest type of Church, before corruption entered and human frailty overthrew Divine institutions, was and must be the best, and the one we ought to seek to restore, look back with yearning upon a state of things so different from our own, and resolve that our faces ought to be firmly set towards reviving the primitive usage. Imagining that true Christian equality involves equality of conditions and advantages, they see in the phenomena of our modern Church only the most terrible of inconsistencies. Many of these objectors are genuine friends and adherents of Christianity, and as such demand our warm sympathy. But there are others, I need not say, hostile to our religion, who in all times have made useful capital out of these alleged discrepancies. We cannot but notice that one chief grievance against Christianity in our day is that it does not tend to rectify human inequalities; that while it professes to hold all men equal in the sight of God, it seems quite content that they should remain unequal in their own. But though the objection is put as one against religion, it is obvious that the grievance is really one against Providence, or rather (since this form of socialism is almost always atheistic) against fate, which has allowed one man to enter the world better equipped than another for the struggle of life. Hence this form of socialism, which we see more and more asserting itself, is not merely atheistic, it is bitterly antitheistic, since it chiefly resents inequalities, due not to defective laws, but to natural, inborn, inherited differences. Such socialism demands, as the first right of humanity, that society should aim at compensating the feeble for their feebleness at the expense of the strong; or rather, that arrangements should be made that neither weak nor strong should be at any expense; that society should be restored to one level, and that of universal prosperity and comfort. This, it asserts, a reform in the world’s laws might and would effect. Religion, it alleges, is a failure; civilisation is a failure; legislation is a failure, seeing that all these have so far failed to bring about an equalisation of human lots. Those who use this language and lead captive many willing listeners are at least thus far justified in that Christianity has beyond question failed to bring about the result they desire; and they might even go further and object that Christianity does not start from any such assumption as the equal rights of human beings. From first to last the Bible nowhere teaches this kind of equality among men; nor their equal right, nor the right of any individual among them, to prosperity and comfort. It does not even regard these things as the aim towards which human effort should be directed. Its millennium is not in any sense a millennium of an equally distributed prosperity. Every counsel and command addressed to the rich and strong is, on the contrary, framed on the evident expectation that inequalities of condition would always exist. It must be frankly admitted that Jesus Christ accepted such inequality as a fact of human existence, and addressed His teaching to show how that fact might be made the best of--how it might minister to the discipline of man’s nature, and its preparation for the kingdom of God. Christ’s teaching abounds in denunciations of the rich. But it is never for being rich, but for not recognising and accepting the responsibility of riches. He enunciated no fixed and rigid rules for the regulation of society. He enjoined no pouring of the world’s wealth into a common stock, from which the once rich and the once poor should be endowed anew on one uniform and unchangeable scale. He never offered to put back the clock of time, and to start all men on the race of life afresh. He took society as it existed in his day, and propounded the law and the spirit by which it might be made ever sounder and sounder, even while the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor, lived and worked side by side. A vulgar Socialist, aiming first at winning adherents, might have preached vaguely how all this would speedily be at an end; how no one should suffer much longer from his present disabilities, but that all should share and share alike when new laws should be passed in the Constitution he would frame and establish. But Jesus promised no such thing; He introduced no such topic. He dealt, indeed, persistently with the subject of equality. He called all men, without distinction, His brethren; He spoke of them all as alike dear to the heart of God, and as equally invited to the highest blessings that God confers. He appealed to all who were weary and heavy laden to come to Him (Jesus) and He would give them rest. And, before all things, He insisted that in that kingdom there is no such thing as caste. The first upon earth might be the last in that kingdom, and the lowliest on the earth the highest and greatest there. Who can doubt that it was this Christian doctrine of equality--this form of Christian Socialism (“fellowship,” “membership in one Body,” He preferred to call it) that fell like music on the wearied spirits of that motley crowd? No religious caste--no intellectual caste--no social caste--each man’s acceptance of the responsibilities of sonship; each man’s faithful cultivation of the talent entrusted to him--this, the one way of working out his own salvation, and entering upon eternal life. This was the one only equality that Christ recognised and proclaimed. As to inequalities of human fortune, so-called, and their methods of equalisation, it apparently did not enter into His plan to speak. On such subjects as a man’s right or duty to “better himself” in his earthly position He said nothing. He neither commanded nor forbade a man to do his utmost in that kind. There is a common sneer against religion that it looks with coldness upon the ambition which natures, not apparently vicious, are aware of, to rise in the world, and to win fame, position, and wealth by the effective use of the talents confided to them. Whatever can be reasonably inferred from the Bible’s teaching is to the very opposite effect. A gospel which enjoins its followers to cherish and improve every talent committed to them is in itself a command to excel, and therefore to advance, in whatever the hand, or the intellect, findeth to do. And to excel, and to advance, means and implies (let us not be afraid of the word) competition. If, of two men to whom talents are entrusted, one cultivates them and the other neglects them, what power that we can even guess at can prevent one of these men outstripping the other in the course of pre-eminence? If one man rises through moral character and fidelity to the talents given him, and another sinks through moral weakness and indolence, who can deny that in that contrast is witnessed a survival of the fittest? And the gospel of Christ did not interpose to remove such inequalities. But the primary purpose of the revelation of God to men was to change their conceptions of success and failure; to alter the world’s standpoint as to happiness. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” And who can fail to observe that whichever be cause and which effect, the decay of belief in a God, and the assertion of every man’s right to be prosperous, always appear together? It cannot be otherwise; for belief in the God whom Christ revealed is not consistent with belief that we have all, or any of us, a right to any blessing or comfort save one, the greatest and most blessed of all. We have no rights as against God: we have only obligations. The very things that difference us from other men are our talents. We are forgetting to thank God for what He takes away. Prosperity--equal prosperity--and the gradual extinction of bodily pain and mental distress--this is the earthly paradise to which thousands are now being taught to look forward. Does it harmonise well with the teaching of Him who claimed to be the Elder Brother of the race, whose appointed life was suffering and self-denial, and whose death was the death of the Cross? The cure for discontent is to turn our thoughts to the noblest, purest, best Friend of our spirits; and then, recalling what He has been to us in the past, and what things He has prepared for us in the future, we may well feel that with all our unworthiness, all our weakness and disappointments, our profoundest sorrows and anxieties, we are more than conquerors; that having received this pledge of victory, we may indeed scorn to “change our state with kings.” (Canon Ainger.)

The apparent communism of the infant Church

Under the shadow of a great calamity, or the strain of a great excitement, the lines that divide classes or limit possessions vanish like snow-wreaths in the noonday sun. “All ye are brethren” is the word of the great occasions that stir and shake society to its depths. It is an easy step to the conclusion that that which associates men lies deeper in their nature and in the nature of society than that which divides them. It is a tempting step, though a false one, from this position to the principle that that which creates and maintains the differences cometh of evil, and is to be fought against as evil. This is the conviction out of which the nobler idea and form of communism spring; that which is rooted in love of humanity, in the desire for human progress, and the realisation of a condition in which society will not have to weep tears over the miseries of the poor. Whether the communistic conviction and plan of working out the regeneration of society have any root in the nature of things, or the Word of God, is one of the most profoundly important social questions of our times. Let us consider--

The remarkable appearance of a communistic organisation in the Church. Nothing can look more like communism on the outside. Make this arrangement universal, a communist would say, and the social millennium will come in. It will help us to estimate the countenance which Christianity lends to communistic ideas to consider--

1. How far was this universal in the Church? It seems to have been born and to have died at Jerusalem. There appears to have been no attempt even to extend it in the Church. It was a beautiful outburst of heavenly charity and zeal; but it bloomed, flourished, and faded, so to speak, in an hour. Churches were planted everywhere, but there is not the faintest attempt to repeat the experiment. Further, it was not universal even in Jerusalem. In chap. 5:1-4 St. Peter recognises that Ananias was free to adopt the plan or to decline it; and it appears from Acts 12:12 that some members retained their property, and had their households, children and servants, round them as before. It would appear that it was but a partial and temporary arrangement even in the Church which adopted it, growing out of a moment of pressure, and quietly dying away. But--

2. How far are we justified in regarding it as an arrangement or organisation of the infant society at all? Both terms are misapplied. Organisation implies a definite principle of action for a definite purpose, adopted by competent authority, and binding upon all over whom the authority extends. We find nothing of this kind in the action of the apostles and of the Church. It was a spontaneous outburst of feeling--nothing like a plan. The man who had the best right to speak for the community expressly disclaims any plan or arrangement binding on the members of the community; he recognises their entire freedom. Far from making this a primary law of the Church of Jerusalem, it was in no sense a law at all, but simply a voluntary action on the part of individuals; beautiful, heavenly in its inspiration, but valid only while the inspiration lasted, and having no beauty, no virtue apart from the spirit which gave it birth.

3. The light cast upon the institution by the legislation of the apostolic age. Remember that the Church had before it the very problems with which communism professes to be able to deal--the wrongs of oppressed classes and the miseries of the poor. No literature of communism is so charged with passionate sympathy for the oppressed and the wretched, such burning indignation against strong-handed wrong, such tender, cherishing compassion for the poor and helpless, as those Old Testament prophecies to which Christ appealed to explain His mission (Luke 4:18-21). “The poor have the gospel preached unto them” was the very crown of miracles in the Saviour’s judgment; and the words--“Only they would that we should remember the poor”--tells us how sacredly the mission was cherished in the Apostolic Church. It was through no oversight of this its great function, to save the poor and so to begin at the right end the salvation of society, that the apostles suffered this institution to drop out of the habit of the Church. They were as intensely eager to enfranchise the enslaved, to deliver the oppressed, to comfort and to elevate the poor, as the most passionate of social reformers; and yet, having to deal with three great classes whose woes and wrongs were rending society in pieces--the slaves, the women and the poor--instead of proclaiming universal emancipation and community of possessions, they deliberately left the slave to the Christian brotherhood of his master, the woman to the Christian fellowship of her husband, and the poor to the Christian justice and charity of mankind. There was no attempt at a rearrangement of society, save as it might grow naturally and healthfully out of better and holier spiritual relations between class and class, and man and man. Thus they addressed themselves to the terrible social problems of their times: on this basis they sought to work out their solution. They showed themselves, like Christ, studious to maintain the existing order against violent disturbance or readjustment from without. When hardy Galileans would take Christ by force, and make Him a king, giving Him, as they dreamed, the grand opportunity to work out His glorious plans, He withdrew Himself to a desert place and prayed. The only power which could regenerate the world must come from that fountain. The Church sought to redress the wrongs, to adjust the inequalities, to heal the maladies and the miseries of society, by proclaiming the brotherhood of man under the Fatherhood of God, revealed in Him who is the Elder Brother of the poorest, the most crushed of the human race. You may say in answer, “Look round and see what it has wrought! Look round in Lambeth, in Bethnal Green, on burning Paris, on luxurious, dissolute New York. Is this salvation?” I feel the full pressure of the question. “How long, O Lord, how long?” is the cry that is ever rising from watching, breaking hearts. But I see also this, that the selfish lust and passion which make the day of the Lord so long, and the progress of the kingdom so slow, would bury in wreck or drown in blood every poorer and weaker attempt to work out more swiftly and vehemently the salvation of society.

But, what then was this, “they had all things common”? Was it a mistake?

1. On the contrary it was an inspiration; an outlet of love and joy when man’s heart was bursting with them; and a holy and beautiful prophecy of what Christianity will one day accomplish for the salvation of the poor. There is many a beautiful, elevating, purifying action of the spirit in its intercourse with spirits, which if it were organised into an institution would be fatal to society. This action of the Church belongs to the same sphere as the holy waste of Mary. The money might have been saved and given to the poor, and the Master none the worse. But the prompting of the spirit which found that expression held within its glow more benediction to the poor in the long run, than the pence that might have been saved a thousand times told.

2. This action was an irrepressible outburst of joy and thankfulness. Travellers meeting in the heart of a great desert are ready to make “all things common” under the human sympathy which the new and glad experience kindles within. A shipwrecked company gathered on the shore of a desert island is ready to make “all things common,” through the joy of deliverance, and shame that any of the saved should want. There are crises when all that leads a man to say that anything is his own vanishes; when the sense that one great human heart is beating everywhere, and that we are but limbs of one great body, whose private use and pleasure is nothing, whose ministry to the whole is all, possesses us. These are our moments of inspiration, of rapture. They come to us laden with the breath of a purer, brighter region, which, organised as we are, it would waste us to live in, but the breath of which, mingled with our grosser air, lends a more vivid glow to the vital flame in our hearts, and in the heart of society.

3. And it was beautiful as a prophecy. The miracles of Christ were prophecies. And this shone out as a sign, that forces were there at work, whose fountain is the heart of Christ, which will one day, after a Divine fashion, establish--

(1) Liberty, the liberty of a soul and a society under the law to Christ.

(2) Equality, not of lot or of function, but of use and of honour.

(3) Fraternity, not of rights and of claims, but of ministries and loves. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)

Christian and anti-Christian communism

That Christian communism said, What is mine is thine; modern anti-Christian communism says, What is thine is mine. Among those Christians it was said, Take what I have; modern communists say, Give me what thou hast. That holy community of goods was founded on a spirit of love to the poor; this now preached rests on a spirit of hatred to the rich. (C. Gerok, D. D.)

Christian communism distinguished from unchristian

Its source. Not an external law or bare power, but the free impulse of love.

Its object. Not general equality, but general welfare.

The way to effect his object. Not by a community of goods, but by a community of hearts. (C. Gerok, D. D.)

Man’s willingness to trust everything to God but money

Once in a most lively prayer-meeting the preacher who was presiding prayed: “O Lord, help all of us to trust Thee with our whole souls!” And a hundred voices responded, “Amen!” Some also shouted, “Lord, grant it!” and “Amen, amen,” all over the room. Encouraged by such sympathy, he went on: “Help us all to trust Thee wholly with our bodies!” And then the people cried, “Amen!” as heartily as before. Now the exalted sense of consecration rose to its height, and he prayed again: “Oh, help us to trust Thee wholly with our money!” And it is actually reported in private circles since that not a man had a word to say then. (E. S. Robinson.)

And they continuing daily with one accord in the temple.--

Characteristics of the primitive Christians


Their constancy--they continued.

Their fervour--daily.

Their unity--with one accord.

Their audacity--in the temple.

Their charity--breaking bread from house to house.

Their familiarity--did eat their meat.

Their alacrity--with gladness.

Their sincerity--with singleness of heart. (E. Leigh.)

Public worship

We ought to worship God in public.

1. It is obvious to the natural reason of mankind that this is a duty.

(1) Even those whose “foolish heart was darkened,” etc., were not so blind as not to see the fitness of their honouring with public worship those whom they accounted Deities. The heathens have their temples to which they resort for the celebration of some rites, whereby they think their idols honoured.

(2) God has formed our nature for society, is it not, then, a dictate of nature that we should associate ourselves for the most important purposes of religion as well as for the lesser purposes of the natural and civil life.

(3) Our Creator has made us capable of signifying to all about us the sense we have of His perfections, and of our obligations to Him. Should we not, then, employ our best powers after that manner in His service, to which they are so wisely fitted? “The heavens declare the glory of the Lord; the firmament showeth His handiwork. How excellent is His name in all the earth!” And is it not fit that intelligent creatures should show forth His glories by the most open acknowledgment of them? The law of God written in the heart (Romans 2:15) obliges them to the performance of social public worship.

2. God has in His Word given plain significations of His will that men should publicly worship Him.

(1) Public worship was practised long before we have any account of its being required. The light of nature directed men to assemble themselves together for the worship Of God; perhaps, therefore, He did not see it needful expressly to reveal His mind till their natural notions of religion were greatly corrupted by idolatry. Then it pleased God to give a law according to which worship was to be regulated (Exodus 23:17). But though Israel were to offer sacrifices only at the tabernacle or temple, yet they did meet together in other places, where they did engage in some parts of Divine worship. This appears from the account given us in Scripture of synagogues (Acts 15:21).

(2) Jesus Christ, while He was here on earth, did not only go to Jerusalem at the great feasts, but also attended constantly to the service of the synagogue (Luke 4:16). His example lays a strong obligation upon His followers.

(3) The disciples of Jesus, in the early days of Christianity, discharged their duty in this matter with great diligence, but in process of time the love of some began to cool, which appeared in their neglect of the duties of public worship. To prevent the spreading of this great evil the apostle admonished them (Hebrews 10:25).

The ends of public worship.

1. The glory of God. As He made all things for Himself it is highly reasonable we should principally design the glorifying of His name in all that we do. Now when God is worshipped by His creatures, they own His being, His all-sufficiency, His infinite understanding, that to Him belongeth power and mercy; and the more public their worship is the more clearly they spread abroad the honour of His name. The house of God, where He was publicly worshipped, is called “the place where His honour dwelt” (Psalms 26:8), perhaps because He was there honoured in an eminent manner by the social worship of His people. For this reason, as we may justly suppose, the Lord is said to love the gates of Zion (Psalms 87:2). This chief end of Divine worship cannot be so well answered by private devotions. The honour of God’s name is more propagated in the congregation than it can be in the family. Though our Saviour far exceeded those in knowledge who officiated in the Jewish synagogue, yet was He stated in His attendance there, for He knew that by so doing He “glorified His Father.”

2. Our spiritual benefit. God has connected our advantage with His own glory. He dispenses to us blessings in that way wherein we show forth the honour of His name. He promised His people of old that in all places where He should record His name he would come unto them and bless them (Exodus 20:24). There is no appointment of any particular place under the gospel, but our Lord has said that “where two or three are gathered together in His name, there He is in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20; Revelation 1:13). God delights to honour the ordinances of His public worship by making them means of grace (Psalms 87:5). Most commonly it is by the means of public worship that sinners are awakened and converted; it is hereby that the saints are for the most part edified and comforted. All the private instructions which the psalmist enjoyed were not effectual to remove a very perplexing temptation. But when “he went into the sanctuary” so much light was imparted to him there as cleared his difficulty (Psalms 73:17). Upon which he concludes (verse 29) that it was good for him to draw near to God, i.e., in the sanctuary. David expected that the clearest and most engaging discoveries of God would be made to him in His house, therefore he was very desirous of having his stated abode there (Psalms 27:4; Psalms 92:12-14).

3. Communion with one another in the great concerns of religion. The Scripture represents believers as one in God and Christ (John 17:20-21). They are spoken of as “members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25). They have one God and Father, the same Mediator and Saviour; they are animated by one Spirit; they belong to the same family, and they are travelling towards the same heavenly habitation. Now, when as many of them as conveniently can assemble together to partake of the ordinances of the gospel, they hereby denote the oneness.

The several parts of public worship as mentioned in the context.

1. Prayer. The house of God is called “the house of prayer” (Matthew 21:13). We have all our common wants and weaknesses. Is it not, then, proper we should present our joint supplications to God for supplies and helps? (Matthew 18:19).

2. Praise (Psalms 48:1; Psalms 34:3). We are never in such destitute circumstances as not to be obliged to bless the name of God, therefore are we commanded to add thanksgivings to our supplications (Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18). It is proper here to consider that particular method of praising God by singing. It is natural for the joy of men’s hearts to break forth into songs, and it is most fit they should express the delight they take in the perfections and mercies of God by singing His praises (James 5:13; Ephesians 5:19-20; Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 14:14-15; Revelation 15:3).

3. Hearing the Word of God. Under the Mosaic constitution the priest’s lips were to keep knowledge, and the people were to seek the law at his mouth (Malachi 2:7). Our Lord Jesus Christ has appointed ministers “who are to give themselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word; to be instant in season and out of season” in preaching of it. Therefore, certainly it is the duty of Christians to be instant in season and out of season in hearing the gospel (Ephesians 4:11-13).

4. The Lord’s Supper. This is meant by “breaking of bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). Application:

1. How thankful should we be for our liberty to worship God in public.

2. It is matter of great lamentation that there is so much indifference among us to the public worship of God.

3. Let us have a care of “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is.” In order to press you hereto, consider

(l) That an indifference to the duties of public worship is a dangerous step towards apostacy.

(2) Persons of the most eminent piety have expressed the greatest value for the public worship of God. (S. Price.)

Importance of daily prayer

Great pianists carry the dumb piano with them, which is simply a mechanical keyboard for the exercising of the fingers. Rubenstein uses it, and on a recent occasion he said, “If I neglect practice a single day, I notice it, and if for two days, my friends notice it, and if for three days the people notice it.” Some Christians leave off practising their religion. First they notice it themselves, then their friends, then the world. Every Christian has his dumb piano on which to practise. True it gives no sound that the world can hear, but it nevertheless accomplishes much; it is the instrument of silent prayer. McCheyne once expressed the belief that no one who prayed daily to God ever became a lost soul. It is well to recall this at times whenever the habit of silent prayer is neglected. Use the dumb piano.

Constancy in the performance of holy duties makes them easy

It is easy to keep that armour bright which is daily used; but hanging by the walls till it be rusty, it will take some time and pains to furbish it up again. If an instrument be daily played upon, it is easily kept in tune; but let it be but a while neglected, and cast in a corner, the strings and frets break, the bridge flies off, and no small labour is required to bring it into order again. And thus, also, it is in things spiritual, in the performance of holy duties, if we continue them with a settled constancy, they will be easy, familiar, and delightful to us; but if once broken off, and intermitted, it is a new work to begin again, and will not be reduced to the former estate but with much endeavour and great difficulty.

Constancy in the performance of holy duties

It is observable that many who have gone into the field, have liked the work of a soldier for a battle or two, but soon have had enough, and come running home again from their colours, whereas few can bear it as a constant trade. War is a thing that they could willingly woo for their pleasure, but are loath to wed upon what terms soever. Thus many are soon engaged in holy duties, easily persuaded to take up a profession of religion, and as easily persuaded to lay it down. Like the new moon, which shines a little in the first part of the night, but is down long before half the night be gone, are lightsome professors in their youth, but whose old age is wrapt up in thick darkness of sin and wickedness. Oh! this constancy and persevering is a hard word! This taking up the cross daffy, this praying always, this watching night and day, and never laying aside our clothes and armour, indulging ourselves to remit and unbend in our holy waiting upon God, and walking with God. This sends many sorrowful from Christ; yet this is the saint’s duty, to make religion his every day’s work, without any vacation from one end of the year to the other.

And breaking bread from house to house did eat their meat with gladness.--

The holy communion a feast of love

Love, as it is undoubtedly one of the most natural and general, so is it likewise one of the most agreeable and delightful emotions of the human heart. Whoever therefore promotes love, at the same time promotes happiness; and the firmer, the purer, the nobler that love is, the more solid is this happiness. And where shall we find a more perfect doctrine of happiness than in Christianity? Tend not all its doctrines, all its precepts, all its promises, all its rites to kindle and inflame the purest, noblest love towards God and man? Such is its whole design; this is the distinctive character of the noble few by whom it is actually attained.

1. The holy communion is a feast of the love of God. Here we see the love of God, our heavenly Father, in all its lustre; here enjoy it in its full measure. Here we draw nigh to Him, not as slaves, not as criminals, trembling at the sight of their judge, but as children, favoured, eminently endowed, meet together in His house, at His table, and rejoice and glory in His being our Father. Here we are truly blessed in the enjoyment of all the benefits wherewith He has favoured us through His Son Jesus.

2. In like manner is the holy communion a feast of love to Jesus our Lord. This holy feast emphatically reminds us of that sublime, disinterested, unprecedented love to the wandering wretched race of mortals that brought Him from a throne to the condition of a servant, to the Cross and to the sepulchre! And here we enjoy the fruits and effects of this love of our Lord. The effulgence which He brought with Him from heaven enlightens and shines round us; the virtue and the efficacy that are gone out from Him, vivify us; the serenity, the hope which He prepared for mankind reanimate us; the prospects into better worlds which He opened to them are our comfort and joy.

3. Lastly the holy communion is a feast of Christian brotherly love. Far hence away, all such as harbour malice, all cold and selfish hearts, all the slaves of envy, hatred, and revenge! Far hence, every the slightest suggestion of vanity and pride, whereby one exalts himself above another, and one in comparison of himself despises another! Do we not here rejoice and glory in our common deliverance, forgiveness, elevation, and happiness? Come, let us show ourselves glad in Jesus Christ by our love, by our mutual endeavours to become ever more humane, ever more bountiful and generally useful. Let us all rejoice in one another, as He rejoices in us all. Let us serve and assist one another, as He has helped and still helps us all. (G. J. Zollikofer.)

The soul’s atmosphere

This passage points out the characteristic fact of the cheerful social dispositions of the early disciples. The Jewish religion was the only one which ever organised joy as an integral and important part of its services. Christ and the apostles were Jews, and the same joyous spirit came with the new faith; and although they entered upon the organisation of the new life under circumstances calculated to make men bigoted and bitter, yet all the early periods of Christianity were sweet and calm. The earliest Christian art has not a single emblem of suffering or distress. All the representations were those of hope and cheerfulness. Subsequently philosophy almost destroyed this temper, and wrought an atmosphere of stoical hardness and moroseness which was not characteristic of true Christianity. Note:--

The nature of the Christian atmosphere. We all know how, in the physical world, that a dull, heavy atmosphere is unfavourable to pleasure or labour. We bear with it, fight our way through it; but it is the clear, bright, genial day that affects our spirits favourably, facilitates our work, and makes things grow. So the soul has an atmosphere of one kind or another. Discouragement, sadness, obscurity of soul makes it hard for a man to live, to be social. It is especially mischievous in religious life; for all the higher graces are such as spring up and bloom only in most genial atmospheres, just as many of our plants can only blossom in a long warm summer. The characteristics of this atmosphere are--

1. Good-nature--a grace not mentioned in Scripture because Paul did not speak English. This is better than genius, property, or honour. When Baxter spoke of marrying a woman who was of a good disposition rather than one who was eminently pious, he said that the grace of God could dwell with many persons that he could not live with. This good disposition is enjoined in “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love,” etc., and is that charity which is “not easily provoked,” etc. Now good-natured people are often not geniuses; because to have genius one must have nerves; but men whose nerves are well covered, are relieved from many exasperations and exaggerations which annoy people; but where men have not this protection anal still are good-natured, it is a peculiar grace.

2. Cheerfulness--a hopeful state of life under any conditions; a shining state which amounts to more than contentment.

3. Faith--not simply that act which accepts Christ, but that which includes the whole action of the imagination. A practical, matter-of-fact man is like a waggon without springs--every single pebble on the road jolts him; but the man who has imagination has always the power of glancing off from hard facts, and of overcoming the world.

4. Humour. The sense of the ludicrous is a distinct peculiarity of man as lifted above the brute creation. If it calls to itself an element of distinctiveness it becomes sarcasm. When it holds up a man as an object of mirth it becomes ridicule. When it has a certain element of suppression then it developes humour. It sees things in a funny light. Blessed are the men who are able to put this cushion between themselves and all the sharp edges of affairs--who know how to see something that will convert sorrow into a source of pleasure. A man who has it is always able to call to his side good-nature and happiness, and troubles are not so troublesome, nor cares so sharp to him as they would be if he had no such faculty.

Its advantages. He who is cheerful, imaginative, humorous, has summer of the soul, and whatever he has to do he will do better in that than in any other atmosphere. This atmosphere favours--

1. Earnestness and courage. It has been thought to tend to frivolity, but that is not the case. When Napoleon was crossing the Alps, and the strength of the men had almost given out, and there was hesitation, he ordered the band to strike up a cheerful air. The sound of the drums rolled through the mountain passes, and the men, catching exhilaration from the music, applied themselves with renewed earnestness to the task. Now, when we are called to disappointments, if under the influence of imagination we can but feel cheer and good-nature, that temperament of the soul will enable us to hold on our way. What kills men is discouragement. It is sitting down under trouble that destroys men; it is standing up and mocking it that enables men to go through it without harm. “I have thee, O man,” says the Gorgon of disaster. “Not yet,” says the man of hope, with a smiling face, and eludes his grasp.

2. Charity--that which seeks the well-being of men. A man who is without good-nature always judges harshly; but the man who has cheerfulness and humour is at peace with other men. The most difficult people to manage are those who never see a jest or develop a smile; they carry gashing angles to the end of life. And unfortunately among them there are only too many professing Christians; so that men say that if they wanted sympathy in distress they would rather go to their drinking companions than to members of the Church. But a man who is really a Christian is “light of the world”--a man whose temper and disposition make him luminous. Sweet emotions give light to the face, and bitter emotions make it dark. And a man whose face is lit with joy and hope carries among his fellow-men that good will which takes away the friction of life and gives joy to the sorrowful and hope to the sinful.

3. Patience under difficulties. The world is a great deal larger to a man of imagination than to a “Gradgrind”--a man of mere facts--a man of miles who treats the world as though it were a football. The former takes cognisance of things invisible which help him to see that the troubles of to-day are the instruments of the joys of to-morrow. The man of facts sees only the cloud; the hopeful man sees the sun behind and the fruitful showers after the cloud.

4. Realisation of the presence of God and trust in Him. The trouble with men in this world is that they have no God. A present help in time of trouble is God, and if there be no help for you it is because you have no God that you know how to use. A man might live to the age of Methuselah and never know what music was, if he did not know how to handle the instrument; and a man may live with God around him and yet be without God because he does not know how to use Him.

And the soul’s atmosphere is the medium through which a man discerns God more easily than through any other. In conclusion--

1. You ask, “Does not this tend to relax conscience?” Perhaps it does, and that is the best thing about it so far as some consciences are concerned. A man may be conscientiously wrong and cruel as were Saul of Tarsus and Loyola. What is needed of conscience is that it should act in the sphere of love. Love being the summer atmosphere of the soul, let any faculty act in it, and it will act right.

2. But do not many lack the capacity for such cheerfulness? Yes, but cripples are not to be held up as models of humanity. (H. W. Beecher.)

The atmosphere of a church

There ought to be such an atmosphere in every Christian church, that a man going there and sitting two hours should take the contagion of heaven and carry home a fire to kindle the altar whence he came. (H. W. Beecher.)

Christian festivity

1. When you ascend from the post-apostolic to the apostolic days, you seem to emerge from a stifled, airless cave, where all manner of fungous growths luxuriate, into the open field, where fresh breezes play and sunbeams glitter and dew-besprinkled flowers shed their varied perfume on the air. In the Acts you find not only a purer religion but more of common sense and manliness than in the history of the fathers.

2. We make a great mistake if, while we seek in the Scriptures and by prayer for direction in matters of faith and in the larger turning-points of life, we leave smaller affairs, such as our feasts, to the arbitrament of chance or the example of the world. “In everything by prayer and supplication,” etc. Only on the great things may the stranger approach the king, but in everything is the appeal of the child welcome to the Father.

The disciples did eat their bread--

With gladness.

1. A preliminary to this was a liberal contribution to their poorer brethren--a necessary ingredient in all glad Christian festivity.

2. These ancient Christians were not hermits, they enjoyed their food all the more by enjoying it together. The sight of a friend’s face, and the sound of his voice while we eat, are as good gifts of God as food. A convivial meeting is an object of dread to Christian parents, but it is not in itself evil: in as far as it retains its etymological meaning--eating together--it is good.

3. A good reason for eating with gladness is that we have something to eat, and a self-acting machinery which reminds us when nourishment is needed, and compels us to take it at the proper time.

4. In the case of a Christian the Giver of food is recognised, and therefore he has more gladness than other men.

With singleness of heart, as well as gladness, and that without which gladness soon disappears. “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” Simplicity is destroyed and gladness lost--

1. By burdensome and irrational luxury. The cares of the meal are sometimes as heavy as the management of the estate. Instead of singleness, doubleness of a very troublesome type is the occupant of the heart. One half of the mental vision squints aside to calculate the estimation in which the elaborate festival is held by the guests. Simplicity may be marred, too, by the cost of the entertainment; and some approach to it might both replenish the coffers of charitable institutions and facilitate the settlement of tradesmen’s bills. The Christian should “add to his faith courage” here.

2. By immoderately late hours. To turn night into day is not simplicity, and cannot promote gladness. It is like the opinion within lunatic asylums that people should lie in bed while the sun shines, and be active under gaslight during the night. What would you think of the gardener who should cover your greenhouse till noon, and make up for the deficiency of light by burning lamps beside the flowers till midnight. Treat yourselves as you treat your gardens. Young men and women would be more like the lilies in freshness and beauty if they considered and imitated them.

3. The free use and vile abuse of intoxicating drinks. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

The bright side of life

There are two sides to every street and to every life--the bright and the dark. The man who deliberately chooses the latter must look to himself for companionship, but the man who elects the former will not lack society. The double attraction of his circumstances and his example will prove irresistible.

2. The bright side exists not only in spacious avenues fringed with lordly mansions, but in narrow lanes flanked by lowly cottages. The cheerful Christian draws satisfaction from, and shows it in, not only life’s great occasions, but in life’s commonplace acts. You can form no judgment of the spirit of a man when he is being united to his bride, when successful in business, or when on a holiday. Watch him at the table, or in some ordinary duty, and you will be able most accurately to gauge his character.

The bright side of life is illumined by a triple light.

1. Gladness. We like to see a man--particularly if he be a guest--thoroughly enjoy his meal. To see him daintily picking over half of it, and sending the other half untasted away, grieves the generous host, and excites commiseration for the man who cannot relish wholesome food. The illustration may be expanded so as to embrace the whole of life. The good workman is glad with his work and glad to do it. There is no gladness for a good mother like that excited by and indulged in home and children. And for the good Christian perfect gladness is only to be found in the blessed work that God has given him to do. But insipidity or disagreeableness in any of these relations is invariably attended by poor if not bad effects.

2. Singleness of heart--a word only occurring here in the New Testament--means soil from which all stones are cleared; and hence even and smooth, presenting no obstacle to the object passing over it. So these good people did not wait till conscience thundered that while they were feasting others were starving. Nor had they to clear away a number of prudential considerations, and make a number of troublesome calculations before their beneficence could find free play. All hindrances were already swept away by the fresh vigorous tide of charity which resulted from the copious baptism of the Holy Ghost. Surely this singleness of mind is wanted everywhere. What trouble is caused by anxious thought about the future at home and in the market place. What energies are paralysed when the thought of interest is allowed to mingle with the single thought of duty. How many Christians are kept back from joyous Christian service by allowing the disturbing thought of what other people will think or feel to upset the simple conviction that God’s will ought to be done. Get these thoughts swept out of the mind by the power of the Spirit, and then let the current of activity flow straight forward, and life will be bright. Otherwise it will be gloomy-a mixture of light and darkness--or hopelessly dark.

3. Thankfulness. He was a happy man who wrote that 103rd Psalm. The unthankful man is never happy, and cannot be. Selfishness and discontent kill all joy.

The bright side is the attractive side. The disciples had “favour with all the people, and the Lord added to the Church.” Thus God blesses those who walk on the bright side, and gives them their heart’s desire, which is success--the gathering to themselves of a like-minded company. Religious increase is brought about in two conceivable ways--by compulsion and by attraction. The first produces hypocrites, the second only true Christians. It is only when Christians win favour that God adds. Apply this to--

1. Families. How many children have simulated godliness when forced upon them only to cast it away with disgust when the time of independence comes; but how many have risen up to call God blessed by the winsome piety they have seen at home.

2. Society. The estimate which worldly men and women form of religion is derived from what they see of professing Christians. And, alas! much of it is wholly and naturally unfavourable. The time has come to re-try the Pentecostal experiment; not in form but in spirit, a spirit that shall work through established social usages--showing how a Christian can comport himself joyously everywhere, and society will not long remain unchristianised.

3. The Church. So-called Christianity has tried force, indifference, and means calculated only to repel. Let Christians try that which will have favour with the people, use means in the best sense popular, and watch the result. (J. W. Burn.)

Gladness and singleness of heart.--

Gladness of heart springs from singleness of heart

They were glad at heart because they were single in heart. Their hearts were not divided between God, or Christ, and the world, and, being wholly the Lord’s, they rejoiced in the Lord.

Their gladness was the effect of their singleness of heart towards God, towards God in Christ, whom they called Lord and God, and into whose name they had been baptized for forgiveness of sins, with the promise of receiving from Him, if they repented, the gift or baptism of the Holy Ghost. It was the proper fruit, that is to say, of that awful fear of God, tempered and softened by filial confidence and grateful love, which we see characterised in the context as the habitual frame of mind in which these primitive disciples walked with God, in the exercise of living faith in Jesus Christ. In proportion as they knew God, or knew the gospel of Christ, they saw that He was all in all, that of Him, and through Him, and to Him were all things. They connected all things, little and great, with God. All things were thus to them full of God, and since they rejoiced in God, full of the joy of God. This was the secret of their happiness, this the source, this the sum. And in proportion to the singleness of their hearts towards God, so that He was all in all, and of Him, through Him, and to Him, all things, did the gladness of their hearts become more full and ecstatic, or rise nearer to the blessedness of saints in heaven. Their joy was, then, first of all the joy of godliness and gratitude.

Again, this gladness proceeded from the singleness of their hearts towards the world, from the victory over the world, to which they were crucified by the Cross of Christ. A half-hearted Christian, if such a man there be, a worldly-minded professor of Christianity whose heart is divided between God and the world, or rather is not yet given to God, is miserable when he is called to surrender his worldly possessions, and feels his happiness to consist in giving as little as possible to the cause of Christ. But not so the man who with singleness of heart has said, “I am not mine own; I am bought with a price,” therefore must I glorify my Redeemer with all that is mine. The more he can do for God, the more he can contribute to the cause of Christ, the more is his joy made full. His heart being single, his final aim being one, in the fulfilment of that aim, in the extent to which he can contribute by his exertions or possessions to its fulfilment, he is glad.

There was, however, another element in the joy of these Christians, for there was another distinguishing feature of their character. Theirs was the joy of mutual love--the sweetest joy which earth can boast. Their hearts were united in the bond of perfectness, charity, and therefore they were glad. That man might well consent to part with the world who, with the world as the price, could purchase a friend, could win to himself the pure love of one purified heart. No wonder they were glad at heart. They loved one another with a pure heart fervently. Their singleness of heart in their attachment to one another made them glad. Love is the proper fruit of the gospel, for faith, which is the reception of the gospel, worketh by love. Love is happiness; pure love is pure happiness; Christian love is Christian happiness, or life eternal in present possession, the life of heaven upon earth. Theirs was therefore the gladness of love free from selfishness, and as free from sectarianism.

But there was one other characteristic of this gladness of heart which must not be omitted, since it points to its source, and is the thing by which it was distinguished from all other joy. This gladness was the joy of faith is Jesus Christ. In all its elements it was the fruit of that faith. Their godliness, their gratitude, was the godliness of faith and the gratitude of faith. Their victory over the world was also the victory of faith: “For this is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith.” And their love to one another was love in the Lord, love of faith’s producing, for “faith worketh by love,” which is the believer’s life. They were glad at heart, because they believed with all their heart. What, then, is the gladness of faith, as it is described here, compared with other joys? Need I show that it was a joy peculiar in its character, and pre-eminently pure and exalted? Need I show that it was an independent, and uniform, and habitual joy? not arising from circumstances of a variable kind, not like the joy of wealth, or of honour, or of pleasure, which may come in a night and depart in a night, which return only at intervals, and soon pall and cease to please, the sooner the oftener they return. Faith may flourish whatever fades; and this joy is as independent and as uniform as is the exercise of faith. Need I show that it is a perpetually increasing joy, a light which shineth more and more unto the perfect day? Every view of God increases it, if we see Him as He is in Jesus Christ. All our intercourse with the world calls it into exercise, and gives it, if we overcome the world, renewed strength. And love produces love. By loving we learn to love, as by walking we learn to walk. (R. Paisley.)

Verse 47

Acts 2:47

Praising God, and having favour with all the people.

At once godly and popular

Piety. “Praising God.” Behold the natural history of regeneration. Those who are bought with a price are constrained to glorify God. Thanksgiving is a constituent element of prayer without which it is ineffectual. In the case of these converts as in the case of Israel redeemed from Egypt it was spontaneous, and could not be restrained. The gratitude that comes through prompting is not gratitude.

Popularity. “Having favour,” etc. In the first stage of their progress these converts were not persecuted. Two opposite experiences alternate in the history of the Church: sometimes the world admires and sometimes reviles. This is necessary. If godliness were always to obtain the favour of the world, counterfeits would spring up; if it were always to bring down the world’s enmity, the spark of Divine truth in humanity would be quenched. God holds the balance, and permits as much of the wrath of man as suffices to praise Himself and purge the Church, and then He restrains the remainder. This method, as exemplified in history, we see to be the best. When a spark is imbedded in the flax, and it begins to smoke, a blast would blow it out, and therefore the blast is restrained. But after the fire has fairly caught, the blast will spread the flame, and therefore it is permitted to blow.


1. The Lord added them, and yet they added themselves. The Good Shepherd carried the sheep home, but the prodigal walked home. The two are one showing the Divine and human sides of the same transaction. At one place the saved are “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord”’, at another they are “As many as the Lord shall call.” When I know myself to be like a withered leaf that flows to a sea of perdition, it is sweet to think that help is laid on One that is mighty, and to hope that the Lord adds me to His Church. My comfort arises from the fact not that I hold Him, but that He holds me. But woe to the man who with no liking for God’s presence or the company of His people dares to comfort himself that he has no power till God puts forth His strength. The Lord is now ready to do it, if you are willing that it should be done.

2. Every day some were added. There is no blank in the birth registers of God’s family. The Lamb’s Book of Life has a page for every day, and names on every page, although some pages are more crowded than others.

3. He added the saved to the Church: added them in the act of saving, saved in the act of adding. He does not add a withered branch to the vine; but in the act of inserting it makes the withered branch live. When pure water is drawn from the salt sea, it is added to the clouds in heaven. It is thus that the Lord adds the saved to the Church, winning them from a sea of wickedness and leaving their bitterness behind. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

And the Lord added to the Church such as should be saved.--

The relation of the Church to the individual

It seems almost inevitable that all believing men will as a matter of course associate themselves with the Church.

1. This is prompted by the very nature and fitness of things.

(1) It is the moral duty of every individual to give society an account of his convictions. No man is perfectly sincere to his fellows except as his whole life--his thoughts as well as his conduct--is open to their inspection. Respect for his fellow-men, himself and his God alike demand this. Therefore not to do this in matters of religious conviction is to withhold from society that to which it has a moral claim, for religious belief lies at the foundation of all moral conduct; and therefore of all social confidence. To profess to belong to society, and yet conceal our religious principles is a moral fraud.

(2) An evasion of religious profession does as much wrong to the spiritual life of the believer as it does to the community. He does as much violence to his spiritual nature as he would to his social nature were he to become a recluse. Such separation renders the development of one’s entire nature impossible--social instincts, sympathies and capabilities. And just as the domestic feeling finds development in the family, the mercantile in the company, the political in the club, so the religious feeling finds its proper development in the Church. Standing aloof, therefore, our personal piety must suffer, wanting that mutual encouragement and help that it requires. For the Church is “the garden of the Lord”--the place of rapid and healthy growth. “They that be planted in the house of the Lord,” etc. Standing aloof from our fellow Christians, moreover, there is a large class of holy and beautiful feelings that are never called into exercise. It is as if the members of a family were to live separate--the tie of relationship would be the same, and the affection might be in their hearts, but it would find but imperfect expression in the life.

(3) Church association is, moreover, needful for the advantageous application of spiritual power. The units are added into one sum; the drops collected into one stream; the strands twisted into one cable; the parts “fitly framed together” into one potent engine. What separated believers cannot do the Church easily can. For other purposes, the advancement of literature, science, commerce, etc., men spontaneously unite, and so should believers in the work of God. For each Christian to do “what is right in his own eyes” is as if soldiers were to disperse themselves through a country for the purpose of subduing it.

(4) One prime part of the practical expression of religious principle is in public worship. God will have His people render Him sanctuary service--the chief way in which the “profession of Christ” is to be made. We might be pious without it, but our piety would be to ourselves, not to the world.

2. This natural necessity of the Church is further insisted upon in the New Testament. The injunctions of Christ and His apostles are not mere arbitrary directions, but recognitions of our spiritual nature. We have passages--

(1) Recognising the Church as a legitimate fact. “Tell it to the Church,” “They assembled with the Church,” etc.

(2) Of injunction, expostulation and promise. “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves,” “These be they who separate themselves,” “Where two or three are gathered in My name.”

(3) Where the necessity of professing Christ (of which Church membership is the chief way) is insisted on. We are to “come out and be separate,” to “confess the name of the Lord Jesus.” So imperative was this that the early Christians submitted to persecution for the maintenance of it. Half the martyrdoms of the Church might have been avoided had Christians been content with an isolated religion. And the great solicitude of the apostle in writing to persecuted believers is that they should “hold fast their profession without wavering.”

What does the Church require of the individual as a condition of its communion? Verse 42 embodies the natural principles of associated Christian life, and St. Luke distinctly traces the passage of the individual to the social Christian life. Membership with Christ first, then membership with His Church. All social life is made up of individual lives--each member enters as an individual not to receive life from it, but to add life to it. The spiritual life of the Church, therefore, is the sum of individual lives. In none of our relationships can we lose our individuality. As individuals we are born, live, die, and give account of ourselves to God. Of the individual, therefore, the Church may require--

1. Moral conversion. A purely spiritual society can admit none but spiritual members; and can include none that are unregenerate. Of course the Church has not omniscience, but it is bound to exercise the most vigilant jealousy. And it cannot receive a more deadly injury than an unsanctified member. A society is worth no more than it possesses of the quality for which it exists. A scientific society, whatever other qualities its members may have, is worth no more, as such, than it has science. And so the Church is worth no more than the spiritual life that is in it. Wealth, intellect, energy, are of incalculable value, if their possessor bring spiritual life also, but they are a curse if he do not. Hence the Church is invested with the power of discipline, like all social bodies, and therefore St. Paul censured the Corinthian Church for not excommunicating the incestuous person. Christian churches must be churches of Christians.

2. Intellectual agreement with its distinctive ecclesiast