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Bible Commentaries

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture
Acts 2

 

 

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Verse 1

Acts

THE ABIDING GIFT AND ITS TRANSITORY ACCOMPANIMENTS

Acts 2:1 - Acts 2:13.

Only ten days elapsed between the Ascension and Pentecost. The attitude of the Church during that time should be carefully noted. They obeyed implicitly Christ’s command to wait for the ‘power from on high.’ The only act recorded is the election of Matthias to fill Judas’s place, and it is at least questionable whether that was not a mistake, and shown to be such by Christ’s subsequent choice of Paul as an Apostle. But, with the exception of that one flash of doubtful activity, prayer, supplication, patient waiting, and clinging together in harmonious expectancy, characterised the hundred and twenty brethren.

They must have been wrought to an intense pitch of anticipation, for they knew that their waiting was to be short, and they knew, at least partially, what they were to receive, namely, ‘power from on high,’ or ‘the promise of the Father.’ Probably, too, the great Feast, so near at hand, would appear to them a likely time for the fulfilment of the promise.

So, very early on that day of Pentecost, they betook themselves to their usual place of assembling, probably the ‘large upper room,’ already hallowed to their memories; and in each heart the eager question would spring, ‘Will it be to-day?’ It is as true now as it was then, that the spirits into whom the Holy Spirit breathes His power must keep themselves still, expectant, prayerful. Perpetual occupation may be more loss of time than devout waiting, with hands folded, because the heart is wide open to receive the power which will fit the hands for better work.

It was but ‘the third hour of the day’ when Peter stood up to speak; it must have been little after dawn when the brethren came together. How long they had been assembled we do not know, but we cannot doubt how they had been occupied. Many a prayer had gone up through the morning air, and, no doubt, some voice was breathing the united desires, when a deep, strange sound was heard at a distance, and rapidly gained volume, and was heard to draw near. Like the roaring of a tempest hurrying towards them, it hushed human voices, and each man would feel, ‘Surely now the Gift comes!’ Nearer and nearer it approached, and at last burst into the chamber where they sat silent and unmoving.

But if we look carefully at Luke’s words, we see that what filled the house was not agitated air, or wind, but ‘a sound as of wind.’ The language implies that there was no rush of atmosphere that lifted a hair on any cheek, or blew on any face, but only such a sound as is made by tempest. It suggested wind, but it was not wind. By that first symbolic preparation for the communication of the promised gift, the old symbolism which lies in the very word ‘Spirit,’ and had been brought anew to the disciples’ remembrance by Christ’s words to Nicodemus, and by His breathing on them when He gave them an anticipatory and partial bestowment of the Spirit, is brought to view, with its associations of life-giving power and liberty. ‘Thou hearest the sound thereof,’ could scarcely fail to be remembered by some in that chamber.

But it is not to be supposed that the audible symbol continued when the second preparatory one, addressed to the eye, appeared. As the former had been not wind, but like it, the latter was not fire, but ‘as of fire.’ The language does not answer the question whether what was seen was a mass from which the tongues detached themselves, or whether only the separate tongues were visible as they moved overhead. But the final result was that ‘it sat on each.’ The verb has no expressed subject, and ‘fire’ cannot be the subject, for it is only introduced as a comparison. Probably, therefore, we are to understand ‘a tongue’ as the unexpressed subject of the verb.

Clearly, the point of the symbol is the same as that presented in the Baptist’s promise of a baptism ‘with the Holy Ghost and fire.’ The Spirit was to be in them as a Spirit of burning, thawing natural coldness and melting hearts with a genial warmth, which should beget flaming enthusiasm, fervent love, burning zeal, and should work transformation into its own fiery substance. The rejoicing power, the quick energy, the consuming force, the assimilating action of fire, are all included in the symbol, and should all be possessed by Christ’s disciples.

But were the tongue-like shapes of the flames significant too? It is doubtful, for, natural as is the supposition that they were, it is to be remembered that ‘tongues of fire’ is a usual expression, and may mean nothing more than the flickering shoots of flame into which a fire necessarily parts.

But these two symbols are only symbols. The true fulfilment of the great promise follows. Mark the brief simplicity of the quiet words in which the greatest bestowment ever made on humanity, the beginning of an altogether new era, the equipment of the Church for her age-long conflict, is told. There was an actual impartation to men of a divine life, to dwell in them and actuate them; to bring all good to victory in them; to illuminate, sustain, direct, and elevate; to cleanse and quicken. The gift was complete. They were ‘filled.’ No doubt they had much more to receive, and they received it, as their natures became, by faithful obedience to the indwelling Spirit, capable of more. But up to the measure of their then capacities they were filled; and, since their spirits were expansible, and the gift was infinite, they were in a position to grow steadily in possession of it, till they were ‘filled with all the fulness of God.’

Further, ‘they were all filled,’-not the Apostles only, but the whole hundred and twenty. Peter’s quotation from Joel distinctly implies the universality of the gift, which the ‘servants and handmaidens,’ the brethren and the women, now received. Herein is the true democracy of Christianity. There are still diversities of operations and degrees of possession, but all Christians have the Spirit. All ‘they that believe on Him,’ and only they, have received it. Of old the light shone only on the highest peaks,-prophets, and kings, and psalmists; now the lowest depths of the valleys are flooded with it. Would that Christians generally believed more fully in, and set more store by, that great gift!

As symbols preceded, tokens followed. The essential fact of Pentecost is neither the sound and fire, nor the speaking with other tongues, but the communication of the Holy Spirit. The sign and result of that was the gift of utterance in various languages, not their own, nor learned by ordinary ways. No twisting of the narrative can weaken the plain meaning of it, that these unlearned Galileans spake in tongues which their users recognised to be their own. The significance of the fact will appear presently, but first note the attestation of it by the multitude.

Of course, the foreign-born Jews, who, from motives of piety, however mistaken, had come to dwell in Jerusalem, are said to have been ‘from every nation under heaven,’ by an obvious and ordinary license. It is enough that, as the subsequent catalogue shows, they came from all corners of the then known world, though the extremes of territory mentioned cover but a small space on a terrestrial globe.

The ‘sound’ of the rushing wind had been heard hurtling through the city in the early morning hours, and had served as guide to the spot. A curious crowd came hurrying to ascertain what this noise of tempest in a calm meant, and they were met by something more extraordinary still. Try to imagine the spectacle. As would appear from Acts 2:33, the tongues of fire remained lambently glowing on each head {‘which ye see’}, and the whole hundred and twenty, thus strangely crowned, were pouring out rapturous praises, each in some strange tongue. When the astonished ears had become accustomed to the apparent tumult, every man in the crowd heard some one or more speaking in his own tongue, language, or dialect, and all were declaring the mighty works of God; that is, probably, the story of the crucified, ascended Jesus.

We need not dwell on subordinate questions, as to the number of languages represented there, or as to the catalogue in Acts 2:9 - Acts 2:10. But we would emphasise two thoughts. First, the natural result of being filled with God’s Spirit is utterance of the great truths of Christ’s Gospel. As surely as light radiates, as surely as any deep emotion demands expression, so certainly will a soul filled with the Spirit be forced to break into speech. If professing Christians have never known the impulse to tell of the Christ whom they have found, their religion must be very shallow and imperfect. If their spirits are full, they will overflow in speech.

Second, Pentecost is a prophecy of the universal proclamation of the Gospel, and of the universal praise which shall one day rise to Him that was slain. ‘This company of brethren praising God in the tongues of the whole world represented the whole world which shall one day praise God in its various tongues’ {Bengel}. Pentecost reversed Babel, not by bringing about a featureless monopoly, but by consecrating diversity, and showing that each language could be hallowed, and that each lent some new strain of music to the chorus.

It prophesied of the time when ‘men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation’ should lift up their voices to Him who has purchased them unto God with His blood. It began a communication of the Spirit to all believers which is never to cease while the world stands. The mighty rushing sound has died into silence, the fiery tongues rest on no heads now, the miraculous results of the gifts of the Spirit have passed away also, but the gift remains, and the Spirit of God abides for ever with the Church of Christ.


Verse 2-3

Acts

THE ABIDING GIFT AND ITS TRANSITORY ACCOMPANIMENTS

THE FOURFOLD SYMBOLS OF THE SPIRIT

Acts 2:2 - Acts 2:3, Acts 2:17. - 1 John 2:20.

Wind, fire, water, oil,-these four are constant Scriptural symbols for the Spirit of God. We have them all in these fragments of verses which I have taken for my text now, and which I have isolated from their context for the purpose of bringing out simply these symbolical references. I think that perhaps we may get some force and freshness to the thoughts proper to this day [Footnote: Whit Sunday.] by looking at these rather than by treating the subject in some more abstract form. We have then the Breath of the Spirit, the Fire of the Spirit, the Water of the Spirit, and the Anointing Oil of the Spirit. And the consideration of these four will bring out a great many of the principal Scriptural ideas about the gift of the Spirit of God which belongs to all Christian souls.

I. First, ‘a rushing mighty wind.’

Of course, the symbol is but the putting into picturesque form of the idea that lies in the name. ‘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 then, in the symbol, the ‘rushing mighty wind,’ we have set forth the highest work of the Spirit-the communication of a new and supernatural life.

We are carried hack to that grand vision of the prophet who saw the bones lying, very many and very dry, sapless and disintegrated, a heap dead and ready to rot. The question comes to him: ‘Son of man! Can these bones live?’ The only possible answer, if he consult experience, is, ‘O Lord God! Thou knowest.’ Then follows the great invocation: ‘Come from the four winds, O Breath! and breathe upon these slain that they may live.’ And the Breath comes and ‘they stand up, an exceeding great army.’ ‘It is the Spirit that quickeneth.’ The Scripture treats us all as dead, being separated from God, unless we are united to Him by faith in Jesus Christ. According to the saying of the Evangelist, ‘They which believe on Him receive’ the Spirit, and thereby receive the life which He gives, or, as our Lord Himself speaks, are ‘born of the Spirit.’ The highest and most characteristic office of the Spirit of God is to enkindle this new life, and hence His noblest name, among the many by which He is called, is the Spirit of life.

Again, 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. Reflect upon those profound words of our Lord: ‘The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth. So is every one that is born of the Spirit.’ They describe first the operation of the life-giving Spirit, but they describe also the characteristics of the resulting life.

‘The wind bloweth where it listeth.’ That spiritual life, both in the divine source and in the human recipient, is its own law. Of course the wind has its laws, as every physical agent has; but these are so complicated and undiscovered that it has always been the very symbol of freedom, and poets have spoken of these ‘chartered libertines,’ the winds, and ‘free as the air’ has become a proverb. So that Divine Spirit is limited by no human conditions or laws, but dispenses His gifts in superb disregard of conventionalities and externalisms. Just as the lower gift of what we call ‘genius’ is above all limits of culture or education or position, and falls on a wool-stapler in Stratford-on-Avon, or on a ploughman in Ayrshire, so, in a similar manner, the altogether different gift of the divine, life-giving 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. It blows ‘where it listeth,’ sovereignly indifferent to the expectations and limitations and the externalisms, even of organised Christianity, and touching this man and that man, not arbitrarily but according to ‘the good pleasure’ that is a law to itself, because it is perfect in wisdom and in goodness.

And as thus the life-giving Spirit imparts Himself according to higher laws than we can grasp, so in like manner the life that is derived from it is a life which 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. The Christian conscience, enlightened by the Spirit of God, at its peril will take its beliefs from any other than from that Divine Spirit. All authority over conduct, all authority over belief is burnt up and disappears in the presence of the grand democracy of the true Christian principle: ‘Ye are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ’; and every one of you possesses the Spirit which teaches, the Spirit which inspires, the Spirit which enlightens, the Spirit which is the guide to all truth. So ‘the wind bloweth where it listeth,’ and the voice of that Divine Quickener is,

‘Myself shall to My darling be

Both law and impulse.’

Under the impulse derived from 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 we breathe, who are vitalised by the Spirit of the Lord, for ‘where the Spirit of the Lord is, there,’ and there alone, ‘is liberty.’

In this symbol there lies not only the thought of a life derived, kindred with the life bestowed, and free like the life which is given, but there lies also the idea of power. The wind which filled the house was not only mighty but ‘borne onward’-fitting type of the strong impulse by which in olden times ‘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 of God, 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. So this mighty lif-giving Agent moves in gentleness and yet in power, and sometimes swells and rises almost to tempest, but is ever the impelling force of all that is strong and true and fair in Christian hearts and lives.

The history of the world, since that day of Pentecost, has been a commentary upon the words of my text. With viewless, impalpable energy, the mighty breath of God swept across the ancient world and ‘laid the lofty city’ of paganism ‘low; even to the ground, and brought it even to the dust.’ 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. The question is all-important for each of us, ‘Have I this life, and does it move me, as the ships are borne along by the wind?’ ‘As many as are impelled by the Spirit of God, they’-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 be not, you are not.

II. And now a word as to the second of these symbols-’Cloven tongues as of fire’-the fire of the Spirit.

I need not do more than remind you how frequently that emblem is employed both in the Old and in the New Testament. John the Baptist contrasted the cold negative efficiency of his baptism, which at its best, was but a baptism of repentance, with the quickening power of the baptism of Him who was to follow him; when he said, ‘I indeed baptise you with water, but He that cometh after me is mightier than I. He shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.’ The two words mean but one thing, the fire being the emblem of the Spirit.

You will remember, too, how our Lord Himself employs the same metaphor when He speaks about His coming to bring fire on the earth, and His longing to see it kindled into a beneficent blaze. 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 destructive, one creative; one wrathful, one loving. There are the fire of love, and the fire of anger. There is the fire of the sunshine which is the condition of life, as well as the fire of the lightning which burns and consumes. The emblem of fire is selected to express the work of the Spirit of God, by reason of its leaping, triumphant, transforming energy. See, for instance, how, when you kindle a pile of dead green-wood, the tongues of fire spring from point to point until they have conquered the whole mass, and turned it all into a ruddy likeness of the parent flame. And so here, this fire of God, if it fall upon you, will burn up all your coldness, and will 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 speak of the fervour of love, the warmth of affection, the blaze of enthusiasm, the fire of emotion, the coldness of indifference. Christians are to be set on fire of God. If the Spirit dwell in us, He will make us fiery like Himself, even as fire turns the wettest green-wood into fire. We have more than enough of cold Christians who are afraid of nothing so much as of being betrayed into warm emotion.

I believe, dear brethren, and I am bound to express the belief, that one of the chief wants of the Christian Church of this generation, the Christian Church of this city, the Christian Church of this chapel, 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. Let each of us look at his own heart, and say whether there is any trace in his Christianity of the power of that Spirit who is fire. Is our religion flame or ice? Where among us are to be found lives blazing with enthusiastic devotion and earnest love? Do not such words sound like mockery when applied to us? Have we not to listen to that solemn old warning that never loses its power, and, alas! seems never to lose its appropriateness: ‘Because thou art neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth.’ We ought to be like the burning beings before God’s throne, the seraphim, the spirits that blaze and serve. We ought to be like God Himself, all aflame with love. Let us seek penitently for that Spirit of fire who will dwell in us all if we will.

The metaphor of fire suggests also-purifying. ‘The Spirit of burning’ will burn the filth out of us. That is the only way by which a man can ever be made clean. You may wash and wash and wash with the cold water of moral reformation, you will never get the dirt out with it. No washing and no rubbing will ever cleanse sin. The way to purge a soul is to do with it as they do with foul clay-thrust it into the fire and that will burn all the blackness out of it. Get the love of God into your hearts, and the fire of His Divine Spirit into your spirits to melt you down, as it were, and then the scum and the dross will come to the top, and you can skim them off. Two powers 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. Pray to be kindled with the fire of God.

III. Then once more, take that other metaphor, ‘I will pour out of My Spirit.’

That implies an emblem which is very frequently used, both in the Old and in the New Testament, viz., the Spirit as water. As our Lord said to Nicodemus: ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ The ‘water’ stands in the same relation to the ‘Spirit’ as the ‘fire’ does in the saying of John the Baptist already referred to-that is to say, it is simply a symbol or material emblem of the Spirit. I suppose nobody would say that there were two baptisms spoken of by John, one of the Holy Ghost and one of fire,-and I suppose that just in the same way, there are not two agents of regeneration pointed at in our Lord’s words, nor even two conditions, but that the Spirit is the sole agent, and ‘water’ is but a figure to express some aspect of His operations. So that there is no reference to the water of baptism in the words, and to see such a reference is to be led astray by sound, and out of a metaphor to manufacture a miracle.

There are other passages where, in like manner, the Spirit is compared to a flowing stream, such as, for instance, when our Lord said, ‘He that believeth on Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water,’ and when John saw a ‘river of water of life proceeding from the throne.’ The expressions, too, of ‘pouring out’ and ‘shedding forth’ the Spirit, point in the same direction, and are drawn from more than one passage of Old Testament prophecy. What, then, is the significance of comparing that Divine Spirit with a river of water? First, cleansing, of which I need not say any more, because I have dealt with It in the previous part of my sermon. Then, further, refreshing, and satisfying. Ah! dear brethren, 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. Our thirst can be slaked by the deep draught of ‘the river of the Water of Life, which proceeds from the Throne of God and the Lamb.’ The Spirit of God, drunk in by my spirit, will still and satisfy my whole nature, and with it I shall be glad. Drink of this. ‘Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters!’

The Spirit is not only refreshing and satisfying, but also 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. The one means of lofty and fruitful Christian living is a deep, inward possession of the Spirit of God. The one way to fertilise barren souls is to let that stream flood them all over, and then the flush of green will soon come, and that which is else a desert will ‘rejoice and blossom as the rose.’

So this water will cleanse, it will satisfy and refresh, it will be productive and will fertilise, and ‘everything shall live whithersoever that river cometh.’

IV. Then, lastly, we have the oil of the Spirit.

‘Ye have an unction,’ says St. John in our last text, ‘from the Holy One.’ I need not remind you, I suppose, of how 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, I presume, would lie in the invigorating and in the supposed, and possibly real, health-giving effect of the use of oil in those climates. Whatever may have been the reason for the use of oil in official anointings, the meaning of the act was plain. It was a preparation for a specific and distinct service. And so, when we read of the oil of the Spirit, we are to think that it is that which fits us for being prophets, priests, and kings, and which calls us to, because it fits us for, these functions.

You are anointed to be prophets that you may make known Him who has loved and saved you, and may go about the world evidently inspired to show forth His praise, and make His name glorious. 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. 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. The world is hard and rude; the world is blind and stupid; the world often fails to know its best friends and its truest benefactors; but there is no crust of stupidity so crass and dense but that through it there will pass the penetrating shafts of light that ray from the face of a man who walks in fellowship with Jesus. The whole nation of old was honoured with these sacred names. They were a kingdom of priests; and the divine Voice said of the nation, ‘Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm!’ How much more are all Christian men, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, made prophets, priests, and kings to God! Alas for the difference between what they ought to be and what they are!

And then, do not forget also that when the Scriptures speak of Christian men as being anointed, it really speaks of them as being Messiahs. ‘Christ’ means anointed, does it not? ‘Messiah’ means anointed. And when we read in such a passage as that of my text, ‘Ye have an unction from the Holy One,’ we cannot but feel that the words point in the same direction as the great words of our Master Himself, ‘As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.’ By authority derived, no doubt, and in a subordinate and secondary sense, of course, 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.’

So, dear brethren, all these things being certainly so, what are we to say about the present state of Christendom? What are we to say about the present state of English Christianity, Church and Dissent alike? Is Pentecost a vanished glory, then? Has that ‘rushing mighty wind’ blown itself out, and a dead calm followed? Has that leaping fire died down into grey ashes? Has the great river that burst out then, like the stream from the foot of the glaciers of Mont Blanc, full-grown in its birth, been all swallowed up in the sand, like some of those rivers in the East? Has the oil dried in the cruse? People tell us that Christianity is on its death-bed; and the aspect of a great many professing Christians seems to confirm the statement. But let us thankfully recognise that ‘we are not straitened in God, but in ourselves.’ To how many of us the question might be put: ‘Did you receive the Holy Ghost when you believed?’ And how many of us by our lives answer: ‘We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.’ Let us go where we can receive Him; and remember the blessed words: ‘If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him’!


Verses 4-13

Acts

THE ABIDING GIFT AND ITS TRANSITORY ACCOMPANIMENTS

Acts 2:1 - Acts 2:13.

Only ten days elapsed between the Ascension and Pentecost. The attitude of the Church during that time should be carefully noted. They obeyed implicitly Christ’s command to wait for the ‘power from on high.’ The only act recorded is the election of Matthias to fill Judas’s place, and it is at least questionable whether that was not a mistake, and shown to be such by Christ’s subsequent choice of Paul as an Apostle. But, with the exception of that one flash of doubtful activity, prayer, supplication, patient waiting, and clinging together in harmonious expectancy, characterised the hundred and twenty brethren.

They must have been wrought to an intense pitch of anticipation, for they knew that their waiting was to be short, and they knew, at least partially, what they were to receive, namely, ‘power from on high,’ or ‘the promise of the Father.’ Probably, too, the great Feast, so near at hand, would appear to them a likely time for the fulfilment of the promise.

So, very early on that day of Pentecost, they betook themselves to their usual place of assembling, probably the ‘large upper room,’ already hallowed to their memories; and in each heart the eager question would spring, ‘Will it be to-day?’ It is as true now as it was then, that the spirits into whom the Holy Spirit breathes His power must keep themselves still, expectant, prayerful. Perpetual occupation may be more loss of time than devout waiting, with hands folded, because the heart is wide open to receive the power which will fit the hands for better work.

It was but ‘the third hour of the day’ when Peter stood up to speak; it must have been little after dawn when the brethren came together. How long they had been assembled we do not know, but we cannot doubt how they had been occupied. Many a prayer had gone up through the morning air, and, no doubt, some voice was breathing the united desires, when a deep, strange sound was heard at a distance, and rapidly gained volume, and was heard to draw near. Like the roaring of a tempest hurrying towards them, it hushed human voices, and each man would feel, ‘Surely now the Gift comes!’ Nearer and nearer it approached, and at last burst into the chamber where they sat silent and unmoving.

But if we look carefully at Luke’s words, we see that what filled the house was not agitated air, or wind, but ‘a sound as of wind.’ The language implies that there was no rush of atmosphere that lifted a hair on any cheek, or blew on any face, but only such a sound as is made by tempest. It suggested wind, but it was not wind. By that first symbolic preparation for the communication of the promised gift, the old symbolism which lies in the very word ‘Spirit,’ and had been brought anew to the disciples’ remembrance by Christ’s words to Nicodemus, and by His breathing on them when He gave them an anticipatory and partial bestowment of the Spirit, is brought to view, with its associations of life-giving power and liberty. ‘Thou hearest the sound thereof,’ could scarcely fail to be remembered by some in that chamber.

But it is not to be supposed that the audible symbol continued when the second preparatory one, addressed to the eye, appeared. As the former had been not wind, but like it, the latter was not fire, but ‘as of fire.’ The language does not answer the question whether what was seen was a mass from which the tongues detached themselves, or whether only the separate tongues were visible as they moved overhead. But the final result was that ‘it sat on each.’ The verb has no expressed subject, and ‘fire’ cannot be the subject, for it is only introduced as a comparison. Probably, therefore, we are to understand ‘a tongue’ as the unexpressed subject of the verb.

Clearly, the point of the symbol is the same as that presented in the Baptist’s promise of a baptism ‘with the Holy Ghost and fire.’ The Spirit was to be in them as a Spirit of burning, thawing natural coldness and melting hearts with a genial warmth, which should beget flaming enthusiasm, fervent love, burning zeal, and should work transformation into its own fiery substance. The rejoicing power, the quick energy, the consuming force, the assimilating action of fire, are all included in the symbol, and should all be possessed by Christ’s disciples.

But were the tongue-like shapes of the flames significant too? It is doubtful, for, natural as is the supposition that they were, it is to be remembered that ‘tongues of fire’ is a usual expression, and may mean nothing more than the flickering shoots of flame into which a fire necessarily parts.

But these two symbols are only symbols. The true fulfilment of the great promise follows. Mark the brief simplicity of the quiet words in which the greatest bestowment ever made on humanity, the beginning of an altogether new era, the equipment of the Church for her age-long conflict, is told. There was an actual impartation to men of a divine life, to dwell in them and actuate them; to bring all good to victory in them; to illuminate, sustain, direct, and elevate; to cleanse and quicken. The gift was complete. They were ‘filled.’ No doubt they had much more to receive, and they received it, as their natures became, by faithful obedience to the indwelling Spirit, capable of more. But up to the measure of their then capacities they were filled; and, since their spirits were expansible, and the gift was infinite, they were in a position to grow steadily in possession of it, till they were ‘filled with all the fulness of God.’

Further, ‘they were all filled,’-not the Apostles only, but the whole hundred and twenty. Peter’s quotation from Joel distinctly implies the universality of the gift, which the ‘servants and handmaidens,’ the brethren and the women, now received. Herein is the true democracy of Christianity. There are still diversities of operations and degrees of possession, but all Christians have the Spirit. All ‘they that believe on Him,’ and only they, have received it. Of old the light shone only on the highest peaks,-prophets, and kings, and psalmists; now the lowest depths of the valleys are flooded with it. Would that Christians generally believed more fully in, and set more store by, that great gift!

As symbols preceded, tokens followed. The essential fact of Pentecost is neither the sound and fire, nor the speaking with other tongues, but the communication of the Holy Spirit. The sign and result of that was the gift of utterance in various languages, not their own, nor learned by ordinary ways. No twisting of the narrative can weaken the plain meaning of it, that these unlearned Galileans spake in tongues which their users recognised to be their own. The significance of the fact will appear presently, but first note the attestation of it by the multitude.

Of course, the foreign-born Jews, who, from motives of piety, however mistaken, had come to dwell in Jerusalem, are said to have been ‘from every nation under heaven,’ by an obvious and ordinary license. It is enough that, as the subsequent catalogue shows, they came from all corners of the then known world, though the extremes of territory mentioned cover but a small space on a terrestrial globe.

The ‘sound’ of the rushing wind had been heard hurtling through the city in the early morning hours, and had served as guide to the spot. A curious crowd came hurrying to ascertain what this noise of tempest in a calm meant, and they were met by something more extraordinary still. Try to imagine the spectacle. As would appear from Acts 2:33, the tongues of fire remained lambently glowing on each head {‘which ye see’}, and the whole hundred and twenty, thus strangely crowned, were pouring out rapturous praises, each in some strange tongue. When the astonished ears had become accustomed to the apparent tumult, every man in the crowd heard some one or more speaking in his own tongue, language, or dialect, and all were declaring the mighty works of God; that is, probably, the story of the crucified, ascended Jesus.

We need not dwell on subordinate questions, as to the number of languages represented there, or as to the catalogue in Acts 2:9 - Acts 2:10. But we would emphasise two thoughts. First, the natural result of being filled with God’s Spirit is utterance of the great truths of Christ’s Gospel. As surely as light radiates, as surely as any deep emotion demands expression, so certainly will a soul filled with the Spirit be forced to break into speech. If professing Christians have never known the impulse to tell of the Christ whom they have found, their religion must be very shallow and imperfect. If their spirits are full, they will overflow in speech.

Second, Pentecost is a prophecy of the universal proclamation of the Gospel, and of the universal praise which shall one day rise to Him that was slain. ‘This company of brethren praising God in the tongues of the whole world represented the whole world which shall one day praise God in its various tongues’ {Bengel}. Pentecost reversed Babel, not by bringing about a featureless monopoly, but by consecrating diversity, and showing that each language could be hallowed, and that each lent some new strain of music to the chorus.

It prophesied of the time when ‘men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation’ should lift up their voices to Him who has purchased them unto God with His blood. It began a communication of the Spirit to all believers which is never to cease while the world stands. The mighty rushing sound has died into silence, the fiery tongues rest on no heads now, the miraculous results of the gifts of the Spirit have passed away also, but the gift remains, and the Spirit of God abides for ever with the Church of Christ.


Verse 17

Acts

THE FOURFOLD SYMBOLS OF THE SPIRIT

Acts 2:2 - Acts 2:3, Acts 2:17. - 1 John 2:20.

Wind, fire, water, oil,-these four are constant Scriptural symbols for the Spirit of God. We have them all in these fragments of verses which I have taken for my text now, and which I have isolated from their context for the purpose of bringing out simply these symbolical references. I think that perhaps we may get some force and freshness to the thoughts proper to this day [Footnote: Whit Sunday.] by looking at these rather than by treating the subject in some more abstract form. We have then the Breath of the Spirit, the Fire of the Spirit, the Water of the Spirit, and the Anointing Oil of the Spirit. And the consideration of these four will bring out a great many of the principal Scriptural ideas about the gift of the Spirit of God which belongs to all Christian souls.

I. First, ‘a rushing mighty wind.’

Of course, the symbol is but the putting into picturesque form of the idea that lies in the name. ‘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 then, in the symbol, the ‘rushing mighty wind,’ we have set forth the highest work of the Spirit-the communication of a new and supernatural life.

We are carried hack to that grand vision of the prophet who saw the bones lying, very many and very dry, sapless and disintegrated, a heap dead and ready to rot. The question comes to him: ‘Son of man! Can these bones live?’ The only possible answer, if he consult experience, is, ‘O Lord God! Thou knowest.’ Then follows the great invocation: ‘Come from the four winds, O Breath! and breathe upon these slain that they may live.’ And the Breath comes and ‘they stand up, an exceeding great army.’ ‘It is the Spirit that quickeneth.’ The Scripture treats us all as dead, being separated from God, unless we are united to Him by faith in Jesus Christ. According to the saying of the Evangelist, ‘They which believe on Him receive’ the Spirit, and thereby receive the life which He gives, or, as our Lord Himself speaks, are ‘born of the Spirit.’ The highest and most characteristic office of the Spirit of God is to enkindle this new life, and hence His noblest name, among the many by which He is called, is the Spirit of life.

Again, 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. Reflect upon those profound words of our Lord: ‘The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth. So is every one that is born of the Spirit.’ They describe first the operation of the life-giving Spirit, but they describe also the characteristics of the resulting life.

‘The wind bloweth where it listeth.’ That spiritual life, both in the divine source and in the human recipient, is its own law. Of course the wind has its laws, as every physical agent has; but these are so complicated and undiscovered that it has always been the very symbol of freedom, and poets have spoken of these ‘chartered libertines,’ the winds, and ‘free as the air’ has become a proverb. So that Divine Spirit is limited by no human conditions or laws, but dispenses His gifts in superb disregard of conventionalities and externalisms. Just as the lower gift of what we call ‘genius’ is above all limits of culture or education or position, and falls on a wool-stapler in Stratford-on-Avon, or on a ploughman in Ayrshire, so, in a similar manner, the altogether different gift of the divine, life-giving 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. It blows ‘where it listeth,’ sovereignly indifferent to the expectations and limitations and the externalisms, even of organised Christianity, and touching this man and that man, not arbitrarily but according to ‘the good pleasure’ that is a law to itself, because it is perfect in wisdom and in goodness.

And as thus the life-giving Spirit imparts Himself according to higher laws than we can grasp, so in like manner the life that is derived from it is a life which 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. The Christian conscience, enlightened by the Spirit of God, at its peril will take its beliefs from any other than from that Divine Spirit. All authority over conduct, all authority over belief is burnt up and disappears in the presence of the grand democracy of the true Christian principle: ‘Ye are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ’; and every one of you possesses the Spirit which teaches, the Spirit which inspires, the Spirit which enlightens, the Spirit which is the guide to all truth. So ‘the wind bloweth where it listeth,’ and the voice of that Divine Quickener is,

‘Myself shall to My darling be

Both law and impulse.’

Under the impulse derived from 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 we breathe, who are vitalised by the Spirit of the Lord, for ‘where the Spirit of the Lord is, there,’ and there alone, ‘is liberty.’

In this symbol there lies not only the thought of a life derived, kindred with the life bestowed, and free like the life which is given, but there lies also the idea of power. The wind which filled the house was not only mighty but ‘borne onward’-fitting type of the strong impulse by which in olden times ‘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 of God, 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. So this mighty lif-giving Agent moves in gentleness and yet in power, and sometimes swells and rises almost to tempest, but is ever the impelling force of all that is strong and true and fair in Christian hearts and lives.

The history of the world, since that day of Pentecost, has been a commentary upon the words of my text. With viewless, impalpable energy, the mighty breath of God swept across the ancient world and ‘laid the lofty city’ of paganism ‘low; even to the ground, and brought it even to the dust.’ 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. The question is all-important for each of us, ‘Have I this life, and does it move me, as the ships are borne along by the wind?’ ‘As many as are impelled by the Spirit of God, they’-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 be not, you are not.

II. And now a word as to the second of these symbols-’Cloven tongues as of fire’-the fire of the Spirit.

I need not do more than remind you how frequently that emblem is employed both in the Old and in the New Testament. John the Baptist contrasted the cold negative efficiency of his baptism, which at its best, was but a baptism of repentance, with the quickening power of the baptism of Him who was to follow him; when he said, ‘I indeed baptise you with water, but He that cometh after me is mightier than I. He shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.’ The two words mean but one thing, the fire being the emblem of the Spirit.

You will remember, too, how our Lord Himself employs the same metaphor when He speaks about His coming to bring fire on the earth, and His longing to see it kindled into a beneficent blaze. 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 destructive, one creative; one wrathful, one loving. There are the fire of love, and the fire of anger. There is the fire of the sunshine which is the condition of life, as well as the fire of the lightning which burns and consumes. The emblem of fire is selected to express the work of the Spirit of God, by reason of its leaping, triumphant, transforming energy. See, for instance, how, when you kindle a pile of dead green-wood, the tongues of fire spring from point to point until they have conquered the whole mass, and turned it all into a ruddy likeness of the parent flame. And so here, this fire of God, if it fall upon you, will burn up all your coldness, and will 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 speak of the fervour of love, the warmth of affection, the blaze of enthusiasm, the fire of emotion, the coldness of indifference. Christians are to be set on fire of God. If the Spirit dwell in us, He will make us fiery like Himself, even as fire turns the wettest green-wood into fire. We have more than enough of cold Christians who are afraid of nothing so much as of being betrayed into warm emotion.

I believe, dear brethren, and I am bound to express the belief, that one of the chief wants of the Christian Church of this generation, the Christian Church of this city, the Christian Church of this chapel, 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. Let each of us look at his own heart, and say whether there is any trace in his Christianity of the power of that Spirit who is fire. Is our religion flame or ice? Where among us are to be found lives blazing with enthusiastic devotion and earnest love? Do not such words sound like mockery when applied to us? Have we not to listen to that solemn old warning that never loses its power, and, alas! seems never to lose its appropriateness: ‘Because thou art neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth.’ We ought to be like the burning beings before God’s throne, the seraphim, the spirits that blaze and serve. We ought to be like God Himself, all aflame with love. Let us seek penitently for that Spirit of fire who will dwell in us all if we will.

The metaphor of fire suggests also-purifying. ‘The Spirit of burning’ will burn the filth out of us. That is the only way by which a man can ever be made clean. You may wash and wash and wash with the cold water of moral reformation, you will never get the dirt out with it. No washing and no rubbing will ever cleanse sin. The way to purge a soul is to do with it as they do with foul clay-thrust it into the fire and that will burn all the blackness out of it. Get the love of God into your hearts, and the fire of His Divine Spirit into your spirits to melt you down, as it were, and then the scum and the dross will come to the top, and you can skim them off. Two powers 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. Pray to be kindled with the fire of God.

III. Then once more, take that other metaphor, ‘I will pour out of My Spirit.’

That implies an emblem which is very frequently used, both in the Old and in the New Testament, viz., the Spirit as water. As our Lord said to Nicodemus: ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ The ‘water’ stands in the same relation to the ‘Spirit’ as the ‘fire’ does in the saying of John the Baptist already referred to-that is to say, it is simply a symbol or material emblem of the Spirit. I suppose nobody would say that there were two baptisms spoken of by John, one of the Holy Ghost and one of fire,-and I suppose that just in the same way, there are not two agents of regeneration pointed at in our Lord’s words, nor even two conditions, but that the Spirit is the sole agent, and ‘water’ is but a figure to express some aspect of His operations. So that there is no reference to the water of baptism in the words, and to see such a reference is to be led astray by sound, and out of a metaphor to manufacture a miracle.

There are other passages where, in like manner, the Spirit is compared to a flowing stream, such as, for instance, when our Lord said, ‘He that believeth on Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water,’ and when John saw a ‘river of water of life proceeding from the throne.’ The expressions, too, of ‘pouring out’ and ‘shedding forth’ the Spirit, point in the same direction, and are drawn from more than one passage of Old Testament prophecy. What, then, is the significance of comparing that Divine Spirit with a river of water? First, cleansing, of which I need not say any more, because I have dealt with It in the previous part of my sermon. Then, further, refreshing, and satisfying. Ah! dear brethren, 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. Our thirst can be slaked by the deep draught of ‘the river of the Water of Life, which proceeds from the Throne of God and the Lamb.’ The Spirit of God, drunk in by my spirit, will still and satisfy my whole nature, and with it I shall be glad. Drink of this. ‘Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters!’

The Spirit is not only refreshing and satisfying, but also 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. The one means of lofty and fruitful Christian living is a deep, inward possession of the Spirit of God. The one way to fertilise barren souls is to let that stream flood them all over, and then the flush of green will soon come, and that which is else a desert will ‘rejoice and blossom as the rose.’

So this water will cleanse, it will satisfy and refresh, it will be productive and will fertilise, and ‘everything shall live whithersoever that river cometh.’

IV. Then, lastly, we have the oil of the Spirit.

‘Ye have an unction,’ says St. John in our last text, ‘from the Holy One.’ I need not remind you, I suppose, of how 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, I presume, would lie in the invigorating and in the supposed, and possibly real, health-giving effect of the use of oil in those climates. Whatever may have been the reason for the use of oil in official anointings, the meaning of the act was plain. It was a preparation for a specific and distinct service. And so, when we read of the oil of the Spirit, we are to think that it is that which fits us for being prophets, priests, and kings, and which calls us to, because it fits us for, these functions.

You are anointed to be prophets that you may make known Him who has loved and saved you, and may go about the world evidently inspired to show forth His praise, and make His name glorious. 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. 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. The world is hard and rude; the world is blind and stupid; the world often fails to know its best friends and its truest benefactors; but there is no crust of stupidity so crass and dense but that through it there will pass the penetrating shafts of light that ray from the face of a man who walks in fellowship with Jesus. The whole nation of old was honoured with these sacred names. They were a kingdom of priests; and the divine Voice said of the nation, ‘Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm!’ How much more are all Christian men, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, made prophets, priests, and kings to God! Alas for the difference between what they ought to be and what they are!

And then, do not forget also that when the Scriptures speak of Christian men as being anointed, it really speaks of them as being Messiahs. ‘Christ’ means anointed, does it not? ‘Messiah’ means anointed. And when we read in such a passage as that of my text, ‘Ye have an unction from the Holy One,’ we cannot but feel that the words point in the same direction as the great words of our Master Himself, ‘As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.’ By authority derived, no doubt, and in a subordinate and secondary sense, of course, 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.’

So, dear brethren, all these things being certainly so, what are we to say about the present state of Christendom? What are we to say about the present state of English Christianity, Church and Dissent alike? Is Pentecost a vanished glory, then? Has that ‘rushing mighty wind’ blown itself out, and a dead calm followed? Has that leaping fire died down into grey ashes? Has the great river that burst out then, like the stream from the foot of the glaciers of Mont Blanc, full-grown in its birth, been all swallowed up in the sand, like some of those rivers in the East? Has the oil dried in the cruse? People tell us that Christianity is on its death-bed; and the aspect of a great many professing Christians seems to confirm the statement. But let us thankfully recognise that ‘we are not straitened in God, but in ourselves.’ To how many of us the question might be put: ‘Did you receive the Holy Ghost when you believed?’ And how many of us by our lives answer: ‘We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.’ Let us go where we can receive Him; and remember the blessed words: ‘If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him’!


Verses 32-35

Acts

PETER’S FIRST SERMON

Acts 2:32 - Acts 2:47.

This passage may best be dealt with as divided into three parts: the sharp spear-thrust of Peter’s closing words [Acts 2:32 - Acts 2:36], the wounded and healed hearers [Acts 2:37 - Acts 2:41], and the fair morning dawn of the Church [Acts 2:42 - Acts 2:47].

I. Peter’s address begins with pointing out the fulfilment of prophecy in the gift of the Spirit {Acts 2:14 - Acts 2:21}.

It then declares the Resurrection of Jesus as foretold by prophecy, and witnessed to by the whole body of believers [Acts 2:22 - Acts 2:32], and it ends by bringing together these two facts, the gift of the Spirit and the Resurrection and Ascension, as effect and cause, and as establishing beyond all doubt that Jesus is the Christ of prophecy, and the Lord on whom Joel had declared that whoever called should be saved. We now begin with the last verse of the second part of the address.

Observe the significant alternation of the names of ‘Christ’ and ‘Jesus’ in Acts 2:31 - Acts 2:32. The former verse establishes that prophecy had foretold the Resurrection of the Messiah, whoever he might be; the latter asserts that ‘this Jesus’ has fulfilled the prophetic conditions. That is not a thing to be argued about, but to be attested by competent witnesses. It was presented to the multitude on Pentecost, as it is to us, as a plain matter of fact, on which the whole fabric of Christianity is built, and which itself securely rests on the concordant testimony of those who knew Him alive, saw Him dead, and were familiar with Him risen.

There is a noble ring of certitude in Peter’s affirmation, and of confidence that the testimony producible was overwhelming. Unless Jesus had risen, there would neither have been a Pentecost nor a Church to receive the gift. The simple fact which Peter alleged in that first sermon, ‘whereof we all are witnesses,’ is still too strong for the deniers of the Resurrection, as their many devices to get over it prove.

But, a listener might ask, what has this witness of yours to do with Joel’s prophecy, or with this speaking with tongues? The answer follows in the last part of the sermon. The risen Jesus has ascended up; that is inseparable from the fact of resurrection, and is part of our testimony. He is ‘exalted by,’ or, perhaps, at, ‘the right hand of God.’ And that exaltation is to us the token that there He has received from the Father the Spirit, whom He promised to send when He left us. Therefore it is He-’this Jesus’-who has ‘poured forth this,’-this new strange gift, the tokens of which you see flaming on each head, and hear bursting in praise from every tongue.

What triumphant emphasis is in that ‘He’! Peter quotes Joel’s word ‘pour forth.’ The prophet had said, as the mouthpiece of God, ‘I will pour forth’; Peter unhesitatingly transfers the word to Jesus. We must not assume in him at this stage a fully-developed consciousness of our Lord’s divine nature, but neither must we blink the tremendous assumption which he feels warranted in making, that the exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God meant His exercising the power which belonged to God Himself.

In Acts 2:34, he stays for a moment to establish by prophecy that the Ascension, of which he had for the first time spoken in Acts 2:33, is part of the prophetic characteristics of the Messiah. His demonstration runs parallel with his preceding one as to the Resurrection. He quotes Psalms 110:1 - Psalms 110:7, which he had learned to do from his Master, and just as he had argued about the prediction of Resurrection, that the dead Psalmist’s words could not apply to himself, and must therefore apply to the Messiah; so he concludes that it was not ‘David’ who was called by Jehovah to sit as ‘Lord’ on His right hand. If not David, it could only be the Messiah who was thus invested with Lordship, and exalted as participator of the throne of the Most High.

Then comes the final thrust of the spear, for which all the discourse has been preparing. The Apostle rises to the full height of his great commission, and sets the trumpet to his mouth, summoning ‘all the house of Israel,’ priests, rulers, and all the people, to acknowledge his Master. He proclaims his supreme dignity and Messiahship. He is the ‘Lord’ of whom the Psalmist sang, and the prophet declared that whoever called on His name should be saved; and He is the Christ for whom Israel looked.

Last of all, he sets in sharp contrast what God had done with Jesus, and what Israel had done, and the barb of his arrow lies in the last words, ‘whom ye crucified.’ And this bold champion of Jesus, this undaunted arraigner of a nation’s crimes, was the man who, a few weeks before, had quailed before a maid-servant’s saucy tongue! What made the change? Will anything but the Resurrection and Pentecost account for the psychological transformation effected in him and the other Apostles?

II. No wonder that ‘they were pricked in their heart’!

Such a thrust must have gone deep, even where the armour of prejudice was thick. The scene they had witnessed, and the fiery words of explanation, taken together, produced incipient conviction, and the conviction produced alarm. How surely does the first glimpse of Jesus as Christ and Lord set conscience to work! The question, ‘What shall we do?’ is the beginning of conversion. The acknowledgment of Jesus which does not lead to it is shallow and worthless. The most orthodox accepter, so far as intellect goes, of the gospel, who has not been driven by it to ask his own duty in regard to it, and what he is to do to receive its benefits, and to escape from his sins, has not accepted it at all.

Peter’s answer lays down two conditions: repentance and baptism. The former is often taken in too narrow a sense as meaning sorrow for sin, whereas it means a change of disposition or mind, which will be accompanied, no doubt, with ‘godly sorrow,’ but is in itself deeper than sorrow, and is the turning away of heart and will from past love and practice of evil. The second, baptism, is ‘in the name of Jesus Christ,’ or more accurately, ‘upon the name,’-that is, on the ground of the revealed character of Jesus. That necessarily implies faith in that Name; for, without such faith, the baptism would not be on the ground of the Name. The two things are regarded as inseparable, being the inside and the outside of the Christian discipleship. Repentance, faith, baptism, these three, are called for by Peter.

But ‘remission of sins’ is not attached to the immediately preceding clause, so as that baptism is said to secure remission, but to the whole of what goes before in the sentence. Obedience to the requirements would bring the same gift to the obedient as the disciples had received; for it would make them disciples also. But, while repentance and baptism which presupposed faith were the normal, precedent conditions of the Spirit’s bestowal, the case of Cornelius, where the Spirit was given before baptism, forbids the attempt to link the rite and the divine gift more closely together.

The Apostle was eager to share the gift. The more we have of the Spirit, the more shall we desire that others may have Him, and the more sure shall we be that He is meant for all. So Peter went on to base his assurance, that his hearers might all possess the Spirit, on the universal destination of the promise. Joel had said, ‘on all flesh’; Peter declares that word to point downwards through all generations, and outwards to all nations. How swiftly had he grown in grasp of the sweep of Christ’s work! How far beneath that moment of illumination some of his subsequent actions fell!

We have only a summary of his exhortations, the gist of which was earnest warning to separate from the fate of the nation by separating in will and mind from its sins. Swift conviction followed the Spiri-given words, as it ever will do when the speaker is filled with the Holy Spirit, and has therefore a tongue of fire. Three thousand new disciples were made that day, and though there must have been many superficial adherents, and none with much knowledge, it is perhaps not fanciful to see in Luke’s speaking of them as ‘souls’ a hint that, in general, the acceptance of Jesus as Messiah was deep and real. Not only were three thousand ‘names’ added to the hundred and twenty, but three thousand souls.

III. The fair picture of the morning brightness, so soon overclouded, so long lost, follows.

First, the narrative tells how the raw converts were incorporated in the community, and assimilated to its character. They, too, ‘continued steadfastly’ [Acts 1:14]. Note the four points enumerated: ‘teaching,’ which would be principally instruction in the life of Jesus and His Messianic dignity, as proved by prophecy; ‘fellowship,’ which implies community of disposition and oneness of heart manifested in outward association; ‘breaking of bread,’-that is, the observance of the Lord’s Supper; and ‘the prayers,’ which were the very life-breath of the infant Church [Acts 1:14]. Thus oneness in faith and in love, participation in the memorial feast and in devotional acts bound the new converts to the original believers, and trained them towards maturity. These are still the methods by which a sudden influx of converts is best dealt with, and babes in Christ nurtured to full growth. Alas! that so often churches do not know what to do with novices when they come in numbers.

A wider view of the state of the community as a whole closes the chapter. It is the first of several landing-places, as it were, on which Luke pauses to sum up an epoch. A reverent awe laid hold of the popular mind, which was increased by the miraculous powers of the Apostles. The Church will produce that impression on the world in proportion as it is manifestly filled with the Spirit. Do we? The s-called community of goods was not imposed by commandment, as is plain from Peter’s recognition of Ananias’ right to do as he chose with his property. The facts that Mark’s mother, Mary, had a house of her own, and that Barnabas, her relative, is specially signalised as having sold his property, prove that it was not universal. It was an irrepressible outcrop of the brotherly feeling that filled all hearts. Christ has not come to lay down laws, but to give impulses. Compelled communism is not the repetition of that oneness of sympathy which effloresced in the bright flower of this common possession of individual goods. But neither is the closed purse, closed because the heart is shut, which puts to shame so much profession of brotherhood, justified because the liberality of the primitive disciples was not by constraint nor of obligation, but willing and spontaneous.

Acts 2:46 - Acts 2:47 add an outline of the beautiful daily life of the community, which was, like their liberality, the outcome of the feeling of brotherhood, intensified by the sense of the gulf between them and the crooked generation from which they had separated themselves. Luke shows it on two sides. Though they had separated from the nation, they clung to the Temple services, as they continued to do till the end. They had not come to clear consciousness of all that was involved in their discipleship, It was not God’s will that the new spirit should violently break with the old letter. Convulsions are not His way, except as second-best. The disciples had to stay within the fold of Israel, if they were to influence Israel. The time of outward parting between the Temple and the Church was far ahead yet.

But the truest life of the infant Church was not nourished in the Temple, but in the privacy of their homes. They were one family, and lived as such. Their ‘breaking bread at home’ includes both their ordinary meals and the Lord’s Supper; for in these first days every meal, at least the evening meal of every day, was hallowed by having the Supper as a part of it. Each meal was thus a religious act, a token of brotherhood, and accompanied with praise. Surely then ‘men did eat angels’ food,’ and on platter and cup was written ‘Holiness to the Lord.’ The ideal of human fellowship was realised, though but for a moment, and on a small scale. It was inevitable that divergences should arise, but it was not inevitable that the Church should depart so far from the brief brightness of its dawn. Still the sweet concordant brotherhood of these morning hours witnesses what Christian love can do, and prophesies what shall yet be and shall not pass.

No wonder that such a Church won favour with all the people! We hear nothing of its evangelising activity, but its life was such that, without recorded speech, multitudes were drawn into so sweet a fellowship. If we were like the Pentecostal Christians, we should attract wearied souls out of the world’s Babel into the calm home where love and brotherhood reigned, and God would ‘add’ to us ‘day by day those that were being saved.’


Verse 36

Acts

PETER’S FIRST SERMON

THE NAME ABOVE EVERY NAME

Acts 2:36.

It is no part of my purpose at this time to consider the special circumstances under which these words were spoken, nor even to enter upon an exposition of their whole scope. I select them for one reason, the occurrence in them of the three names by which we designate our Saviour-Jesus, Lord, Christ. To us they are very little more than three proper names; they were very different to these men who listened to the characteristically vehement discourse of the Apostle Peter. It wanted some courage to stand up at Pentecost and 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 three names are names of the same Person, but they proclaim altogether different aspects of His work and His character. The name ‘Jesus’ is the name of the Man, and brings to us a Brother; the name ‘Christ’ is the name of office, and brings to us a Redeemer; the name ‘Lord’ is the name of dignity, and brings to us a King.

I. First, then, the name Jesus is the name of the Man, and tells us of a Brother.

There were many men in Palestine who bore the name of ‘Jesus’ when He bore it. We find that one of the early Christians had it; and it comes upon us with almost a shock when we read that ‘Jesus, called Justus,’ was the name of one of the friends of the Apostle Paul [Colossians 4:11]. But, through reverence on the part of Christians, and through horror on the part of Jews, the name ceased to be a common one; and its disappearance from familiar use has hid from us the fact of its common employment at the time when our Lord bore it. Though it was given to Him as indicative of His office of saving His people from their sins, yet none of all the crowds who knew Him as Jesus of Nazareth 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.

Now 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,’ for instance, only occurs, if I count aright, twice in Matthew, once in Mark, twice in John. But if you turn to the Epistles and the latter books of the Scriptures, the proportions are reversed. There you have a number of instances of the occurrence of such combinations as ‘Jesus Christ,’ ‘Christ Jesus,’ ‘The Lord Jesus,’ ‘Christ the Lord,’ and more rarely the full solemn title, ‘The Lord Jesus Christ,’ but the occurrence of the proper name ‘Jesus’ alone is the exception. So far as I know, there are only some thirty or forty instances of its use singly in the whole of the books of the New Testament outside of the four Evangelists. The occasions where it is used are all of them occasions in which one may see that the writer’s intention is to put strong emphasis, for some reason or other, on the Manhood of our Lord Jesus, and to assert, as broadly as may be, His entire participation with us in the common conditions of our human nature, corporeal and mental.

And I think I shall best bring out the meaning and worth of the name by putting a few of these instances before you.

For example, more than once we find phrases like these: ‘we believe that Jesus died,’ ‘having therefore boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,’ and the like-which emphasise His death as the death of a man like ourselves, and bring us close to the historical reality of His human pains and agonies for us. ‘Christ died’ is a statement which makes the purpose and efficacy of His death more plain, but ‘Jesus died’ shows us His death as not only the work of the appointed Messiah, but as the act of our brother man, the outcome of His human love, and never rightly to be understood if His work be thought of apart from His personality.

There is brought into view, too, prominently, the side of Christ’s sufferings which we are all apt to forget-the common human side of His agonies and His pains. I know that a certain school of preachers, and some unctuous religious hymns, and other forms of composition, dwell, a great deal too much for reverence, upon the mere physical aspect of Christ’s sufferings. But the temptation, I believe, with most of us is to dwell too little upon that,-to argue about the death of Christ, to think about it as a matter of speculation, to regard it as a mysterious power, to look upon it as an official act of the Messiah who was sent into the world for us; and to forget that He bore a manhood like our own, a body that was impatient of pains and wounds and sufferings, and a human life which, like all human lives, naturally recoiled and shrank from the agony of death.

And whilst, therefore, the great message, ‘It is Christ that died,’ is ever to be pondered, we have also to think with sympathy and gratitude on the homelier representation coming nearer to our hearts, which proclaims that ‘Jesus died.’ Let us not forget the Brother’s manhood that had to agonise and to suffer and to die as the price of our salvation.

Again, when the Scripture would set our Lord before us, as in His humanity, our pattern and example, it sometimes uses this name, in order to give emphasis to the thought of His Manhood-as, for example, in the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ‘looking unto Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith.’ That is to say-a mighty stimulus to all brave perseverance in our efforts after higher Christian nobleness lies in the vivid and constant 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. We are to turn away our eyes from contemplating all other lives and motives, and to ‘look off’ from them to Him. In all our struggles let us think of Him. Do not take poor human creatures for your ideal of excellence, nor tune your harps to their keynotes. To imitate men is degradation, and is sure to lead to deformity. None of them, is a safe guide. 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. He is the Ideal incarnate. The secret of all progress is, ‘Run-looking unto Jesus.’

Then, again, we have His manhood emphasised when His sympathy is to be commended to our hearts. ‘The great High Priest, who is passed into the heavens’ is ‘Jesus’ . . . ‘who was in all points tempted like as we are.’ To every sorrowing soul, to all men burdened with heavy tasks, unwelcome duties, pains and sorrows of the imagination, or of the heart, or of memory, or of physical life, or of circumstances-to all 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.

When one of our princes goes for an afternoon into the slums in East London, everybody says, and says deservedly, ‘right!’ and ‘princely!’ This prince has learned pity in ‘the huts where poor men lie,’ and knows by experience all their squalor and misery. The Man Jesus is the sympathetic Priest. The Rabbis, who did not usually see very far into the depth of things, yet caught a wonderful glimpse when they said: ‘Messias will be found sitting outside the gate of the city amongst the lepers.’ That is where He sits; and the perfectness of His sympathy, and the completeness of His identification of Himself with all our tears and our sorrows, are taught us when we read that our High Priest is not merely Christ the Official, but Jesus the Man.

And then we find 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’: I think any one that reads with sympathy must feel how very much closer to our hearts that consolation comes, ‘Jesus rose again,’ than even the mighty word which the Apostle uses on another occasion, ‘Christ is risen from the dead.’ The one tells us of the risen Redeemer, the other tells us of the risen Brother. And wherever there are sorrowing souls, enduring loss and following their dear ones into the darkness with yearning hearts, they are comforted when they feel that the beloved dead lie down beside their Brother, and with their Brother they shall rise again.

So, again, most strikingly, and yet somewhat singularly, in the words of Scripture which paint most loftily the exaltation of the risen Saviour to the right hand of God, and His wielding of absolute power and authority, it is the old human name that is used; as if the writers would bind together the humiliation and the exaltation, and were holding up hands of wonder at the thought that a Man had risen thus to the Throne of the Universe. What an emphasis and glow of hope there is in such words as these: ‘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 who 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.

So the ties that bind us to the Man Jesus should be the human bonds that knit us to one another, transferred to Him and purified and strengthened. All that we have failed to find in men we can find in Him. Human wisdom has its limits, but here is a Man whose word is truth, who is Himself the truth. 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. Human excellence is always limited and imperfect, but here is One whom we may imitate and be pure. So let us do like that poor woman in the Gospel story-bring our 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. This Man has loved each of us with a brother’s heart; let us love Him with all our hearts.

II. So much for the first name. The second-’Christ’-is the name of office, and brings to us a Redeemer.

I need not dwell at any length upon the original significance and force of the name; it is familiar, of course, to us all. It stands as a transference into Greek of the Hebrew Messias; the one and the other meaning, as we all know, the ‘Anointed.’ But what is the meaning of claiming for Jesus that He is anointed? A sentence will answer the question. It means that He fulfils all which the inspired imagination of the great ones of the past had seen in that dim Figure that rose before prophet and psalmist. It means that He is anointed or inspired by the divine indwelling to be Prophet, Priest, and King all over the world. It means that He is-though the belief had faded away from the minds of His generation-a sufferer whilst a Prince, and appointed to ‘turn away unrighteousness’ from the world, and not from ‘Jacob’ only, by a sacrifice and a death.

I cannot see less in the contents of the Jewish idea, 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 of wondering strangers and scowling Pharisees, and said, ‘The Man that died on the Cross, the Rabbi-peasant from half-heathen Galilee, is the Person to whom Law and Prophets have been pointing,’-no wonder that no one believed him except those whose hearts were touched, for it is never possible for the common mind, at any epoch, to believe that a man who 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 afford myself upon this point, and one is this: 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 beec-leaves lie folded up-contains in itself all the rest, was this: ‘Jesus is Christ.’ Although it is no part of my business to say how much imperfection and confusion of head comprehension may co-exist with a heart acceptance of Jesus that saves a soul from sin, yet I cannot in faithfulness to my own convictions conceal my belief that 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 a most simple inference is that a Christian is at least a man who recognises the Christship of Jesus. And I press that upon you, my friends. It is not enough for the sustenance of your own souls and for the cultivation of a vigorous religious life that men should admire, howsoever profoundly and deeply, 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.

And then, still further, let me remind you how the recognition of Jesus as Christ is essential to giving its full value to the facts of the manhood. ‘Jesus died!’ Yes. What then? What is that to me? Is that all that I have to say? If His is simply a human death, like all others, I want to know what makes the story of it a Gospel. I want to know what more interest I have in it than I have in the death of Socrates, or in the death of any man or woman whose name was in the obituary column of yesterday’s newspaper. ‘Jesus died.’ That is a 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 in order that it shall be 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.’

So in regard to His perfect example. If we only see His manhood when we are ‘looking unto Jesus,’ the contemplation of His perfection 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.

So in regard to His Resurrection and glorious Ascension to the right hand of God. We have not only to think of the solitary man raised from the grave and caught up to the throne. If it were only ‘Jesus’ who rose and ascended, His Resurrection and Ascension 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 they would be no more. 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, others may or may not follow in His train. He may show that manhood is not incapable of elevation to heaven, but has no power to draw others up after Him. But if Christ is gone up, He is gone to prepare a place for us, not to fill a solitary throne, and His Ascension is the assurance that He will lift us too to dwell with Him and share His triumph over death and sin.

Most of the blessedness and beauty of His Example, all the mystery and meaning of His Death, and all the power of His Resurrection, depend on the fact that ‘it is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God.’

III. ‘The Lord’ is the name of dignity and brings before us the King.

There are three grades, so to speak, of dignity expressed by this one word ‘Lord’ in the New Testament. The lowest is that in which it is almost the equivalent of our own English title of respectful courtesy, ‘Sir,’ in which sense it is often used in the Gospels, and applied to our Lord as to many other of the persons there. The second is that in which it expresses dignity and authority-and in that sense it is frequently applied to Christ. The third and highest is that in which it is the equivalent of the Old Testament ‘Lord,’ as a divine name; in which sense also it is applied to Christ in the New Testament.

The first and last of these may be left out of consideration now: the central one is the meaning of the word here. I have only time to touch upon two thoughts-to connect this name of dignity first with one and then with the other of the two names that we have already considered.

Jesus is Lord, that is to say, wonderful as it is, His manhood is exalted to supreme dignity. It is the teaching of the New Testament, that in Jesus, the Child of Mary, our nature sits on the throne of the universe and rules over all things. Those rude herdsmen, brothers of Joseph, who came into Pharaoh’s palace-strange contrast to their tents!-there found their brother ruling over that ancient and highly civilised land! We have the Man Jesus for the Lord over all. Trust His dominion and rejoice in His rule, and bow before His authority. Jesus is Lord.

Christ is Lord. That is to say: His sovereign authority and dominion are built upon the fact of His being Deliverer, Redeemer, Sacrifice. His Kingdom is a Kingdom that rests upon His suffering. ‘Wherefore God also hath exalted Him, and given Him a Name that is above every name.’

It is because He wears a vesture dipped in blood, that ‘on the vesture is the name written “King of kings, and Lord of lords.”‘ It is ‘because He shall deliver the needy when he crieth,’ as the prophetic psalm has it, that ‘all kings shall fall down before Him and all nations shall serve Him.’ Because He has given His life for the world He is the Master of the World. His humanity is raised to the throne because His humanity stooped to the cross. As long as men’s hearts can be touched by absolute unselfish surrender, and as long as they can know the blessedness of responsive surrender, so long will He who gave Himself for the world be the Sovereign of the world, and the First-born from the dead be the Prince of all the kings of the earth.

And so, dear friends, our thoughts to-day all point to this lesson- do not you content yourselves with a maimed Christ. Do not tarry in the Manhood; do not think it enough to cherish reverence for the nobility of His soul, the gentle wisdom of His words, the beauty of His character, the tenderness of His compassion. All these will be insufficient for your needs. There is more in His mission than these -even His death for you and for all men. 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. 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.

May we all be able, with clear and unfaltering conviction of our understandings and loving affiance of our whole souls, to repeat as our own the grand words in which so many centuries have proclaimed their faith-words which shed a spell of peacefulness over stormy lives, and fling a great light of hope into the black jaws of the grave: ‘I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord!’


Verses 37-41

Acts

PETER’S FIRST SERMON

Acts 2:32 - Acts 2:47.

This passage may best be dealt with as divided into three parts: the sharp spear-thrust of Peter’s closing words [Acts 2:32 - Acts 2:36], the wounded and healed hearers [Acts 2:37 - Acts 2:41], and the fair morning dawn of the Church [Acts 2:42 - Acts 2:47].

I. Peter’s address begins with pointing out the fulfilment of prophecy in the gift of the Spirit {Acts 2:14 - Acts 2:21}.

It then declares the Resurrection of Jesus as foretold by prophecy, and witnessed to by the whole body of believers [Acts 2:22 - Acts 2:32], and it ends by bringing together these two facts, the gift of the Spirit and the Resurrection and Ascension, as effect and cause, and as establishing beyond all doubt that Jesus is the Christ of prophecy, and the Lord on whom Joel had declared that whoever called should be saved. We now begin with the last verse of the second part of the address.

Observe the significant alternation of the names of ‘Christ’ and ‘Jesus’ in Acts 2:31 - Acts 2:32. The former verse establishes that prophecy had foretold the Resurrection of the Messiah, whoever he might be; the latter asserts that ‘this Jesus’ has fulfilled the prophetic conditions. That is not a thing to be argued about, but to be attested by competent witnesses. It was presented to the multitude on Pentecost, as it is to us, as a plain matter of fact, on which the whole fabric of Christianity is built, and which itself securely rests on the concordant testimony of those who knew Him alive, saw Him dead, and were familiar with Him risen.

There is a noble ring of certitude in Peter’s affirmation, and of confidence that the testimony producible was overwhelming. Unless Jesus had risen, there would neither have been a Pentecost nor a Church to receive the gift. The simple fact which Peter alleged in that first sermon, ‘whereof we all are witnesses,’ is still too strong for the deniers of the Resurrection, as their many devices to get over it prove.

But, a listener might ask, what has this witness of yours to do with Joel’s prophecy, or with this speaking with tongues? The answer follows in the last part of the sermon. The risen Jesus has ascended up; that is inseparable from the fact of resurrection, and is part of our testimony. He is ‘exalted by,’ or, perhaps, at, ‘the right hand of God.’ And that exaltation is to us the token that there He has received from the Father the Spirit, whom He promised to send when He left us. Therefore it is He-’this Jesus’-who has ‘poured forth this,’-this new strange gift, the tokens of which you see flaming on each head, and hear bursting in praise from every tongue.

What triumphant emphasis is in that ‘He’! Peter quotes Joel’s word ‘pour forth.’ The prophet had said, as the mouthpiece of God, ‘I will pour forth’; Peter unhesitatingly transfers the word to Jesus. We must not assume in him at this stage a fully-developed consciousness of our Lord’s divine nature, but neither must we blink the tremendous assumption which he feels warranted in making, that the exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God meant His exercising the power which belonged to God Himself.

In Acts 2:34, he stays for a moment to establish by prophecy that the Ascension, of which he had for the first time spoken in Acts 2:33, is part of the prophetic characteristics of the Messiah. His demonstration runs parallel with his preceding one as to the Resurrection. He quotes Psalms 110:1 - Psalms 110:7, which he had learned to do from his Master, and just as he had argued about the prediction of Resurrection, that the dead Psalmist’s words could not apply to himself, and must therefore apply to the Messiah; so he concludes that it was not ‘David’ who was called by Jehovah to sit as ‘Lord’ on His right hand. If not David, it could only be the Messiah who was thus invested with Lordship, and exalted as participator of the throne of the Most High.

Then comes the final thrust of the spear, for which all the discourse has been preparing. The Apostle rises to the full height of his great commission, and sets the trumpet to his mouth, summoning ‘all the house of Israel,’ priests, rulers, and all the people, to acknowledge his Master. He proclaims his supreme dignity and Messiahship. He is the ‘Lord’ of whom the Psalmist sang, and the prophet declared that whoever called on His name should be saved; and He is the Christ for whom Israel looked.

Last of all, he sets in sharp contrast what God had done with Jesus, and what Israel had done, and the barb of his arrow lies in the last words, ‘whom ye crucified.’ And this bold champion of Jesus, this undaunted arraigner of a nation’s crimes, was the man who, a few weeks before, had quailed before a maid-servant’s saucy tongue! What made the change? Will anything but the Resurrection and Pentecost account for the psychological transformation effected in him and the other Apostles?

II. No wonder that ‘they were pricked in their heart’!

Such a thrust must have gone deep, even where the armour of prejudice was thick. The scene they had witnessed, and the fiery words of explanation, taken together, produced incipient conviction, and the conviction produced alarm. How surely does the first glimpse of Jesus as Christ and Lord set conscience to work! The question, ‘What shall we do?’ is the beginning of conversion. The acknowledgment of Jesus which does not lead to it is shallow and worthless. The most orthodox accepter, so far as intellect goes, of the gospel, who has not been driven by it to ask his own duty in regard to it, and what he is to do to receive its benefits, and to escape from his sins, has not accepted it at all.

Peter’s answer lays down two conditions: repentance and baptism. The former is often taken in too narrow a sense as meaning sorrow for sin, whereas it means a change of disposition or mind, which will be accompanied, no doubt, with ‘godly sorrow,’ but is in itself deeper than sorrow, and is the turning away of heart and will from past love and practice of evil. The second, baptism, is ‘in the name of Jesus Christ,’ or more accurately, ‘upon the name,’-that is, on the ground of the revealed character of Jesus. That necessarily implies faith in that Name; for, without such faith, the baptism would not be on the ground of the Name. The two things are regarded as inseparable, being the inside and the outside of the Christian discipleship. Repentance, faith, baptism, these three, are called for by Peter.

But ‘remission of sins’ is not attached to the immediately preceding clause, so as that baptism is said to secure remission, but to the whole of what goes before in the sentence. Obedience to the requirements would bring the same gift to the obedient as the disciples had received; for it would make them disciples also. But, while repentance and baptism which presupposed faith were the normal, precedent conditions of the Spirit’s bestowal, the case of Cornelius, where the Spirit was given before baptism, forbids the attempt to link the rite and the divine gift more closely together.

The Apostle was eager to share the gift. The more we have of the Spirit, the more shall we desire that others may have Him, and the more sure shall we be that He is meant for all. So Peter went on to base his assurance, that his hearers might all possess the Spirit, on the universal destination of the promise. Joel had said, ‘on all flesh’; Peter declares that word to point downwards through all generations, and outwards to all nations. How swiftly had he grown in grasp of the sweep of Christ’s work! How far beneath that moment of illumination some of his subsequent actions fell!

We have only a summary of his exhortations, the gist of which was earnest warning to separate from the fate of the nation by separating in will and mind from its sins. Swift conviction followed the Spiri-given words, as it ever will do when the speaker is filled with the Holy Spirit, and has therefore a tongue of fire. Three thousand new disciples were made that day, and though there must have been many superficial adherents, and none with much knowledge, it is perhaps not fanciful to see in Luke’s speaking of them as ‘souls’ a hint that, in general, the acceptance of Jesus as Messiah was deep and real. Not only were three thousand ‘names’ added to the hundred and twenty, but three thousand souls.

III. The fair picture of the morning brightness, so soon overclouded, so long lost, follows.

First, the narrative tells how the raw converts were incorporated in the community, and assimilated to its character. They, too, ‘continued steadfastly’ [Acts 1:14]. Note the four points enumerated: ‘teaching,’ which would be principally instruction in the life of Jesus and His Messianic dignity, as proved by prophecy; ‘fellowship,’ which implies community of disposition and oneness of heart manifested in outward association; ‘breaking of bread,’-that is, the observance of the Lord’s Supper; and ‘the prayers,’ which were the very life-breath of the infant Church [Acts 1:14]. Thus oneness in faith and in love, participation in the memorial feast and in devotional acts bound the new converts to the original believers, and trained them towards maturity. These are still the methods by which a sudden influx of converts is best dealt with, and babes in Christ nurtured to full growth. Alas! that so often churches do not know what to do with novices when they come in numbers.

A wider view of the state of the community as a whole closes the chapter. It is the first of several landing-places, as it were, on which Luke pauses to sum up an epoch. A reverent awe laid hold of the popular mind, which was increased by the miraculous powers of the Apostles. The Church will produce that impression on the world in proportion as it is manifestly filled with the Spirit. Do we? The s-called community of goods was not imposed by commandment, as is plain from Peter’s recognition of Ananias’ right to do as he chose with his property. The facts that Mark’s mother, Mary, had a house of her own, and that Barnabas, her relative, is specially signalised as having sold his property, prove that it was not universal. It was an irrepressible outcrop of the brotherly feeling that filled all hearts. Christ has not come to lay down laws, but to give impulses. Compelled communism is not the repetition of that oneness of sympathy which effloresced in the bright flower of this common possession of individual goods. But neither is the closed purse, closed because the heart is shut, which puts to shame so much profession of brotherhood, justified because the liberality of the primitive disciples was not by constraint nor of obligation, but willing and spontaneous.

Acts 2:46 - Acts 2:47 add an outline of the beautiful daily life of the community, which was, like their liberality, the outcome of the feeling of brotherhood, intensified by the sense of the gulf between them and the crooked generation from which they had separated themselves. Luke shows it on two sides. Though they had separated from the nation, they clung to the Temple services, as they continued to do till the end. They had not come to clear consciousness of all that was involved in their discipleship, It was not God’s will that the new spirit should violently break with the old letter. Convulsions are not His way, except as second-best. The disciples had to stay within the fold of Israel, if they were to influence Israel. The time of outward parting between the Temple and the Church was far ahead yet.

But the truest life of the infant Church was not nourished in the Temple, but in the privacy of their homes. They were one family, and lived as such. Their ‘breaking bread at home’ includes both their ordinary meals and the Lord’s Supper; for in these first days every meal, at least the evening meal of every day, was hallowed by having the Supper as a part of it. Each meal was thus a religious act, a token of brotherhood, and accompanied with praise. Surely then ‘men did eat angels’ food,’ and on platter and cup was written ‘Holiness to the Lord.’ The ideal of human fellowship was realised, though but for a moment, and on a small scale. It was inevitable that divergences should arise, but it was not inevitable that the Church should depart so far from the brief brightness of its dawn. Still the sweet concordant brotherhood of these morning hours witnesses what Christian love can do, and prophesies what shall yet be and shall not pass.

No wonder that such a Church won favour with all the people! We hear nothing of its evangelising activity, but its life was such that, without recorded speech, multitudes were drawn into so sweet a fellowship. If we were like the Pentecostal Christians, we should attract wearied souls out of the world’s Babel into the calm home where love and brotherhood reigned, and God would ‘add’ to us ‘day by day those that were being saved.’


Verse 42

Acts

PETER’S FIRST SERMON

A FOURFOLD CORD

Acts 2:42.

The Early Church was not a pattern for us, and the idea of its greatly superior purity is very largely a delusion. But still, though that be true, the occasional glimpses that we get at intervals in the early chapters of this Book of the Acts of the Apostles do present a very instructive and beautiful picture of what a Christian society may be, and therefore of what Christian Churches and Christian individuals ought to be.

The words that I have read, however, are not the description of the demeanour of the whole community, but of that portion of it which had been added so swiftly to the original nucleus on the Day of Pentecost. Think, on the morning of that day ‘the number of the names was one hundred and twenty,’ on the evening of that day it was three thousand over that number-a sufficiently swift and large increase to have swamped the original nucleus, unless there had been a great power of assimilation to itself lodged in that little body. These new converts held to the Apostolic ‘doctrine’ and ‘fellowship,’ and to ‘breaking of bread’ and to ‘prayers,’ and so became homogeneous with the others, and all worked to one end.

Now, these four points which are signalised in this description may well afford us material for consideration. They give us the ideal of a Church’s inner life, which in the divine order should precede, and be the basis of, a Church’s work in the world. But, while we speak of an ideal for a Church, let us not forget that it is realised only by the lives of individuals being conformed to it.

I. The first point, which is fundamental to all the others, is ‘They continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine.’

An earnest desire after fuller knowledge is the basis of all healthy Christian life. We cannot realise, without a great effort, the ignorance of these new converts. ‘Parthians and Medes and Elamites,’ and Jews gathered from every corner of the Roman world, they had come up to Jerusalem, and the bulk of them knew no more about Christ and Christianity than what they picked up out of Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost. But that was enough to change their hearts and their wills and to lead them to a real faith. And though the contents of their faith were very incomplete, the power of their faith was very great. For there is no necessary connection between the amount believed and the grasp with which it is held. Believing, they were eager for more light to be poured on to their half-seeing eyes. They had no Gospels, they had no written record, they had no means of learning anything about the faith which they were now professing except listening to one or other of the original Eleven, with the addition of any of the other ‘old disciples’-that is, early disciples-who might perchance have equal claims to be listened to as ‘witnesses from the beginning.’ We shall very much misunderstand the meaning of the words here, if we suppose that these novices were dosed with theological instruction, or that ‘the Apostles’ doctrine’ consisted of such fully developed truths as we find later on in Paul’s writings. If you will look at the first sermons that Peter is recorded as having delivered, in the early chapters of the Acts, you will find that he by no means enunciates a definite theology such as he unfolds in his later Epistle. There is no word about the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ; His designation is ‘Thy holy child Jesus.’ There is no word about the atoning nature of Christ’s sacrifice; His death is simply the great crime of the Jewish people, and His Resurrection the great divine fact witnessing to the truth of His Messiahship. All that which we now regard, and rightly regard, as the very centre and living focus of divine truth was but beginning to shine out on the Apostles’ minds, or rather to gather itself into form, and to shape itself by slow degrees into propositions. ‘The Apostles’ teaching’-for ‘doctrine’ does not convey to modern ears what Luke meant by the word-must have been very largely, if not exclusively, of the same kind as is preserved to us in the four Gospels, and especially in the first three of them. The recital to these listeners, to whom it was all so fresh and strange and transcendent, of the story that has become worn and commonplace to us by its familiarity, of Christ in His birth, Christ in His gentleness, Christ in His deeds, Christ in the deep words that the Apostles were only beginning to understand; Christ in His Death, Resurrection, and Ascension-these were the themes on the narration of which this company of three thousand waited with such eagerness.

But, of course, there was necessarily involved in the story a certain amount of what we now call doctrine-that is, theological teaching- because one cannot tell the story of Jesus Christ, as it is told in the four Gospels, without impressing upon the hearers the conviction that His nature was divine and that His death was a sacrifice. Beyond these truths we know not how far the Apostles went. To these, perhaps, they did not at first rise. But whether they did so or no, and although the facts that the hearers were thus eager to receive, and treasured when they received, are the commonplaces of our Sunda-schools, and quite uninteresting to many of us, the spirit which marked these early converts is the spirit that must lie at the foundation of progressive and healthy Christianity in us. The consciousness of our own ignorance, of the great sweep of God’s revealed mind and will, the eager desire to fill up the gaps in the circle, and to widen the diameter, of our knowledge, and the consequent steadfastness and persistence of our continuance in the teachings-far fuller and deeper and richer and nobler than were heard in the upper room at Jerusalem by the first three thousand- which, through the divine Spirit and the experience of the Church for nineteen hundred years are available for us, ought to characterise us all.

Now, dear friends, ask yourselves the question very earnestly, Does this desire of fuller Christian knowledge at all mark my Christian character, and does it practically influence my Christian conduct and life? There are thousands of men and women in all our churches who know no more about the rich revelation of God in Jesus Christ than they did on that day long, long ago, when first they began to apprehend that He was the Saviour of their souls. When I sometimes get glimpses into the utter Biblical ignorance of educated members of my own and of other congregations, I am appalled; I do not wonder how we ministers do so little by our preaching, when the minds of the people to whom we speak are so largely in such a chaotic state in reference to Scriptural truth. I believe that there is an intolerance of plain, sober, instructive Christian teaching from the pulpit, which is one of the worst signs of the Christianity of this generation. And I believe that there are a terribly large number of professing Christians, and good people after a fashion, whose Bibles are as clean to-day, except on one or two favourite pages, as they were when they came out of the bookseller’s shop years and years ago. You will never be strong Christians, you will never be happy ones, until you make conscience of the study of God’s Word and ‘continue steadfastly in the Apostles’ teaching.’ You may produce plenty of emotional Christianity, and of busy and sometimes fussy work without it, but you will not get depth. I sometimes think that the complaint of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews might be turned upside down nowadays. He says: ‘When for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles.’ Nowadays we might say in Sunday-schools and other places of church work: ‘When for the time ye ought to be learners, you have taken to teaching before you know what you are teaching, and so neither you nor your scholars will profit much.’ The vase should be full before you begin to empty it.

Again, there ought to be, and we ought to aim after, an equable temper of mutual brotherhood conquering selfishness.

‘They continued in the Apostles’ doctrine and in fellowship.’ ‘Fellowship’ here, as I take it, applies to community of feeling. A verse or two afterwards it is applied to community of goods, but we have nothing to do with that subject at present. What is meant is that these three thousand, as was most natural, cut off altogether from their ancient associations, finding themselves at once separated by a great gulf from their nation and its hopes and its religion, were driven together as sheep are when wolves are prowling around. And, being individually weak, they held on by one another, so that many weaknesses might make a strength, and glimmering embers raked together might break into a flame.

Now, all these circumstances, or almost all of them, that drove the primitive believers together, are at an end, and the tendencies of this day are rather to drive Christian people apart than to draw them together. Differences of position, occupation, culture, ways of looking at things, views of Christian truth and the like, all come powerfully in to the reinforcement of the natural selfishness which tempts us all, unless the grace of God overcomes it. Although we do not want any hysterical or histrionic presentation of Christian sympathy and brotherhood, we do need-far more than any of us have awakened to the consciousness of the need-for the health of our own souls we need to make definite efforts to cultivate more of that sense of Christian brotherhood with all that hold the same Lord Christ, and to realise this truth: that they and we, however separate, are nearer one another than are we and those nearest to us who do not share in our Christian faith.

I do not dwell upon this point. It is one on which it is easy to gush, and it has got a bad name because there has been so much unreal and sickly talk about it. But if any Christian man will honestly try to cultivate the brotherly feeling which my text suggests, and to which our common relation to Jesus Christ binds us, and will try it in reference to A, B, or C, whom he does not much like, with whose ways he has no kind of sympathy, whom he believes to be a heretic, and who perhaps returns the belief about him with interest, he will find it is a pretty sharp test of his Christian principle. Let us be real, at any rate, and not pretend to have more love than we really have in our hearts. And let us remember that ‘he that loveth Him that begat, loveth Him also that is begotten of Him.’

II. Another characteristic which comes out in the words before us is the blending of worship with life.

‘They continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine . . . and in breaking of bread.’ Commentators who can only see one thing at a time-and there are a good many of that species-have got up great discussions as to whether this phrase means eating ordinary meals or partaking of the Lord’s Supper. I venture to say it means both, because, clearly enough, in the beginning, the common meal was hallowed by what we now call the Lord’s Supper being associated with it, and every day’s evening repast was eaten ‘in remembrance of Him.’

So, naturally, and without an idea of anything awful or sacred about the rite, the first Christians, when they went home after a hard day’s work and sat down to take their own suppers, blessed the bread and the wine, and whether they ate or drank, did the one and the other ‘in remembrance of Him.’

The gradual growth of the sentiment attaching to the Lord’s Supper, until it reached the portentous height of regarding it as a ‘tremendous sacrifice’ which could only be administered by priests with ordained hands in Apostolic succession, can be partly traced even in New Testament times. The Lord’s Supper began as an appendage to, or rather as a heightening of, the evening meal, and at first, as this chapter tells us in a subsequent verse, was observed day by day. Then, before the epoch of the Acts of the Apostles is ended, we find it has become a weekly celebration, and forms part of the service on the first day of the week. But even when the observance had ceased to be daily, the association with an ordinary meal continued, and that led to the disorders at Corinth which Paul rebuked, and which would have been impossible if later ideas of the Lord’s Supper had existed then.

The history of the transformation of that simple Supper into ‘the bloodless sacrifice’ of the Mass, and all the mischief consequent thereon, does not concern us now. But it does concern us to note that these first believers hallowed common things by doing them, and common food by partaking of it, with the memory of His great sacrifice in their minds. The poorest fare, the coarsest bread, the sourest wine, on the humblest table, became a memorial of that dear Lord. Religion and life, the domestic and the devout, were so closely braided together that when a household sat at table it was both a family and a church; and while they were eating their meat for the strength of their body, they were partaking of the memorial of their dying Lord.

Is your house like that? Is your daily life like that? Do you bring the sacred and the secular as close together as that? Are the dying words of your Master, ‘This do in remembrance of Me,’ written by you over everything you do? And so is all life worship, and all worship hope?

III. The last thing here is habitual devotion.

I suppose the disciples had no forms of set Christian prayers. They still used the Jewish liturgy, for we read that ‘they continued daily with one accord in the Temple.’ I am sure that no two things can be less like one another than the worship of the primitive Church and the worship, say, of one of our congregations. Did you ever try to paint for yourselves, for instance, the scene described in the First Epistle to the Corinthians? When they came together in their meetings for worship, ‘every one had a psalm, a doctrine, an interpretation.’ ‘Let the prophets speak, by ones, or at most by twos’; and if another gets up to interrupt, let the first speaker sit down. Paul goes on to say, ‘Let all things be done decently and in order.’ So there must have been tendencies to disorder, and much at which some of our modern ecclesiastical martinets would have been very much scandalised as ‘unbecoming.’ Wise men are in no haste to change forms. Forms change of themselves when their users change; but it would be a good day for Christendom if the faith and devoutness of a community of believers such as we, for instance, profess to be, were so strong and so demanding expression as that, instead of my poor voice continually sounding here, every one of you had a psalm or a doctrine, and every one of you were able and impelled to speak out of the fulness of the Spirit which God poured into you. It will come some day; it must come if Christendom is not to die of its own dignity. But we do not need to hurry matters, only let us remember that unless a Church continues steadfast in prayer it is worth very little.

Now, dear brethren, it is said about us Free Churchmen that we think a great deal too much of preaching and a great deal too little of the prayers of the congregation. That is a stock criticism. I am bound to say that there is a grain of truth in it, and that there is not, with too many of our congregations, as lofty a conception of the power and blessedness of the united prayers of the congregation as there ought to be, or else you would not hear about ‘introductory services.’ Introductory to what? Do we speak to God merely by way of preface to one of us talking to his brethren? Is that the proper order? ‘They continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ teaching,’ no doubt; but also ‘steadfastly in prayer.’ I pray you to try to make this picture of the Pentecostal converts the ideal of your own lives, and to do your best to help forward the time when it shall be the reality in this church, and in every other society of professing Christians.


Verses 43-46

Acts

PETER’S FIRST SERMON

Acts 2:32 - Acts 2:47.

This passage may best be dealt with as divided into three parts: the sharp spear-thrust of Peter’s closing words [Acts 2:32 - Acts 2:36], the wounded and healed hearers [Acts 2:37 - Acts 2:41], and the fair morning dawn of the Church [Acts 2:42 - Acts 2:47].

I. Peter’s address begins with pointing out the fulfilment of prophecy in the gift of the Spirit {Acts 2:14 - Acts 2:21}.

It then declares the Resurrection of Jesus as foretold by prophecy, and witnessed to by the whole body of believers [Acts 2:22 - Acts 2:32], and it ends by bringing together these two facts, the gift of the Spirit and the Resurrection and Ascension, as effect and cause, and as establishing beyond all doubt that Jesus is the Christ of prophecy, and the Lord on whom Joel had declared that whoever called should be saved. We now begin with the last verse of the second part of the address.

Observe the significant alternation of the names of ‘Christ’ and ‘Jesus’ in Acts 2:31 - Acts 2:32. The former verse establishes that prophecy had foretold the Resurrection of the Messiah, whoever he might be; the latter asserts that ‘this Jesus’ has fulfilled the prophetic conditions. That is not a thing to be argued about, but to be attested by competent witnesses. It was presented to the multitude on Pentecost, as it is to us, as a plain matter of fact, on which the whole fabric of Christianity is built, and which itself securely rests on the concordant testimony of those who knew Him alive, saw Him dead, and were familiar with Him risen.

There is a noble ring of certitude in Peter’s affirmation, and of confidence that the testimony producible was overwhelming. Unless Jesus had risen, there would neither have been a Pentecost nor a Church to receive the gift. The simple fact which Peter alleged in that first sermon, ‘whereof we all are witnesses,’ is still too strong for the deniers of the Resurrection, as their many devices to get over it prove.

But, a listener might ask, what has this witness of yours to do with Joel’s prophecy, or with this speaking with tongues? The answer follows in the last part of the sermon. The risen Jesus has ascended up; that is inseparable from the fact of resurrection, and is part of our testimony. He is ‘exalted by,’ or, perhaps, at, ‘the right hand of God.’ And that exaltation is to us the token that there He has received from the Father the Spirit, whom He promised to send when He left us. Therefore it is He-’this Jesus’-who has ‘poured forth this,’-this new strange gift, the tokens of which you see flaming on each head, and hear bursting in praise from every tongue.

What triumphant emphasis is in that ‘He’! Peter quotes Joel’s word ‘pour forth.’ The prophet had said, as the mouthpiece of God, ‘I will pour forth’; Peter unhesitatingly transfers the word to Jesus. We must not assume in him at this stage a fully-developed consciousness of our Lord’s divine nature, but neither must we blink the tremendous assumption which he feels warranted in making, that the exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God meant His exercising the power which belonged to God Himself.

In Acts 2:34, he stays for a moment to establish by prophecy that the Ascension, of which he had for the first time spoken in Acts 2:33, is part of the prophetic characteristics of the Messiah. His demonstration runs parallel with his preceding one as to the Resurrection. He quotes Psalms 110:1 - Psalms 110:7, which he had learned to do from his Master, and just as he had argued about the prediction of Resurrection, that the dead Psalmist’s words could not apply to himself, and must therefore apply to the Messiah; so he concludes that it was not ‘David’ who was called by Jehovah to sit as ‘Lord’ on His right hand. If not David, it could only be the Messiah who was thus invested with Lordship, and exalted as participator of the throne of the Most High.

Then comes the final thrust of the spear, for which all the discourse has been preparing. The Apostle rises to the full height of his great commission, and sets the trumpet to his mouth, summoning ‘all the house of Israel,’ priests, rulers, and all the people, to acknowledge his Master. He proclaims his supreme dignity and Messiahship. He is the ‘Lord’ of whom the Psalmist sang, and the prophet declared that whoever called on His name should be saved; and He is the Christ for whom Israel looked.

Last of all, he sets in sharp contrast what God had done with Jesus, and what Israel had done, and the barb of his arrow lies in the last words, ‘whom ye crucified.’ And this bold champion of Jesus, this undaunted arraigner of a nation’s crimes, was the man who, a few weeks before, had quailed before a maid-servant’s saucy tongue! What made the change? Will anything but the Resurrection and Pentecost account for the psychological transformation effected in him and the other Apostles?

II. No wonder that ‘they were pricked in their heart’!

Such a thrust must have gone deep, even where the armour of prejudice was thick. The scene they had witnessed, and the fiery words of explanation, taken together, produced incipient conviction, and the conviction produced alarm. How surely does the first glimpse of Jesus as Christ and Lord set conscience to work! The question, ‘What shall we do?’ is the beginning of conversion. The acknowledgment of Jesus which does not lead to it is shallow and worthless. The most orthodox accepter, so far as intellect goes, of the gospel, who has not been driven by it to ask his own duty in regard to it, and what he is to do to receive its benefits, and to escape from his sins, has not accepted it at all.

Peter’s answer lays down two conditions: repentance and baptism. The former is often taken in too narrow a sense as meaning sorrow for sin, whereas it means a change of disposition or mind, which will be accompanied, no doubt, with ‘godly sorrow,’ but is in itself deeper than sorrow, and is the turning away of heart and will from past love and practice of evil. The second, baptism, is ‘in the name of Jesus Christ,’ or more accurately, ‘upon the name,’-that is, on the ground of the revealed character of Jesus. That necessarily implies faith in that Name; for, without such faith, the baptism would not be on the ground of the Name. The two things are regarded as inseparable, being the inside and the outside of the Christian discipleship. Repentance, faith, baptism, these three, are called for by Peter.

But ‘remission of sins’ is not attached to the immediately preceding clause, so as that baptism is said to secure remission, but to the whole of what goes before in the sentence. Obedience to the requirements would bring the same gift to the obedient as the disciples had received; for it would make them disciples also. But, while repentance and baptism which presupposed faith were the normal, precedent conditions of the Spirit’s bestowal, the case of Cornelius, where the Spirit was given before baptism, forbids the attempt to link the rite and the divine gift more closely together.

The Apostle was eager to share the gift. The more we have of the Spirit, the more shall we desire that others may have Him, and the more sure shall we be that He is meant for all. So Peter went on to base his assurance, that his hearers might all possess the Spirit, on the universal destination of the promise. Joel had said, ‘on all flesh’; Peter declares that word to point downwards through all generations, and outwards to all nations. How swiftly had he grown in grasp of the sweep of Christ’s work! How far beneath that moment of illumination some of his subsequent actions fell!

We have only a summary of his exhortations, the gist of which was earnest warning to separate from the fate of the nation by separating in will and mind from its sins. Swift conviction followed the Spiri-given words, as it ever will do when the speaker is filled with the Holy Spirit, and has therefore a tongue of fire. Three thousand new disciples were made that day, and though there must have been many superficial adherents, and none with much knowledge, it is perhaps not fanciful to see in Luke’s speaking of them as ‘souls’ a hint that, in general, the acceptance of Jesus as Messiah was deep and real. Not only were three thousand ‘names’ added to the hundred and twenty, but three thousand souls.

III. The fair picture of the morning brightness, so soon overclouded, so long lost, follows.

First, the narrative tells how the raw converts were incorporated in the community, and assimilated to its character. They, too, ‘continued steadfastly’ [Acts 1:14]. Note the four points enumerated: ‘teaching,’ which would be principally instruction in the life of Jesus and His Messianic dignity, as proved by prophecy; ‘fellowship,’ which implies community of disposition and oneness of heart manifested in outward association; ‘breaking of bread,’-that is, the observance of the Lord’s Supper; and ‘the prayers,’ which were the very life-breath of the infant Church [Acts 1:14]. Thus oneness in faith and in love, participation in the memorial feast and in devotional acts bound the new converts to the original believers, and trained them towards maturity. These are still the methods by which a sudden influx of converts is best dealt with, and babes in Christ nurtured to full growth. Alas! that so often churches do not know what to do with novices when they come in numbers.

A wider view of the state of the community as a whole closes the chapter. It is the first of several landing-places, as it were, on which Luke pauses to sum up an epoch. A reverent awe laid hold of the popular mind, which was increased by the miraculous powers of the Apostles. The Church will produce that impression on the world in proportion as it is manifestly filled with the Spirit. Do we? The s-called community of goods was not imposed by commandment, as is plain from Peter’s recognition of Ananias’ right to do as he chose with his property. The facts that Mark’s mother, Mary, had a house of her own, and that Barnabas, her relative, is specially signalised as having sold his property, prove that it was not universal. It was an irrepressible outcrop of the brotherly feeling that filled all hearts. Christ has not come to lay down laws, but to give impulses. Compelled communism is not the repetition of that oneness of sympathy which effloresced in the bright flower of this common possession of individual goods. But neither is the closed purse, closed because the heart is shut, which puts to shame so much profession of brotherhood, justified because the liberality of the primitive disciples was not by constraint nor of obligation, but willing and spontaneous.

Acts 2:46 - Acts 2:47 add an outline of the beautiful daily life of the community, which was, like their liberality, the outcome of the feeling of brotherhood, intensified by the sense of the gulf between them and the crooked generation from which they had separated themselves. Luke shows it on two sides. Though they had separated from the nation, they clung to the Temple services, as they continued to do till the end. They had not come to clear consciousness of all that was involved in their discipleship, It was not God’s will that the new spirit should violently break with the old letter. Convulsions are not His way, except as second-best. The disciples had to stay within the fold of Israel, if they were to influence Israel. The time of outward parting between the Temple and the Church was far ahead yet.

But the truest life of the infant Church was not nourished in the Temple, but in the privacy of their homes. They were one family, and lived as such. Their ‘breaking bread at home’ includes both their ordinary meals and the Lord’s Supper; for in these first days every meal, at least the evening meal of every day, was hallowed by having the Supper as a part of it. Each meal was thus a religious act, a token of brotherhood, and accompanied with praise. Surely then ‘men did eat angels’ food,’ and on platter and cup was written ‘Holiness to the Lord.’ The ideal of human fellowship was realised, though but for a moment, and on a small scale. It was inevitable that divergences should arise, but it was not inevitable that the Church should depart so far from the brief brightness of its dawn. Still the sweet concordant brotherhood of these morning hours witnesses what Christian love can do, and prophesies what shall yet be and shall not pass.

No wonder that such a Church won favour with all the people! We hear nothing of its evangelising activity, but its life was such that, without recorded speech, multitudes were drawn into so sweet a fellowship. If we were like the Pentecostal Christians, we should attract wearied souls out of the world’s Babel into the calm home where love and brotherhood reigned, and God would ‘add’ to us ‘day by day those that were being saved.’


Verse 47

Acts

PETER’S FIRST SERMON

A PURE CHURCH AN INCREASING CHURCH

Acts 2:47.

‘And the Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved.’-{R. V.} You observe that the principal alterations of these words in the Revised Version are two: the one the omission of ‘the church,’ the other the substitution of ‘were being saved’ for ‘such as should be saved.’ The former of these changes has an interest as suggesting that at the early period referred to the name of ‘the church’ had not yet been definitely attached to the infant community, and that the word afterwards crept into the text at a time when ecclesiasticism had become a great deal stronger than it was at the date of the writing of the Acts of the Apostles. The second of the changes is of more importance. The Authorised Version’s rendering suggests that salvation is a future thing, which in one aspect is partially true. The Revised Version, which is also by far the more literally accurate, suggests the other idea, that salvation is a process going on all through the course of a Christian man’s life. And that carries very large and important lessons.

I. I ask you to notice here, first, the profound conception which the writer had of the present action of the ascended Christ. ‘The Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved.’

Then Christ {for it is He that is here spoken of as the Lord}, the living, ascended Christ, was present in, and working with, that little community of believing souls. You will find that the thought of a present Saviour, who is the life-blood of the Church on earth, and the spring of action for all good that is done in it and by it, runs through the whole of this Book of the Acts of the Apostles. The keynote is struck in its first verses: ‘The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began to do and to teach, until the day in which He was taken up.’ That is the description of Luke’s Gospel, and it implies that the Acts of the Apostles is the second treatise, which tells all that Jesus continued to do and teach after that He was taken up. So the Lord, the ascended Christ, is the true theme and hero of this book. It is He, for instance, who sends down the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. It is He whom the dying martyr sees ‘standing at the right hand of God,’ ready to help. It is He who appears to the persecutor on the road to Damascus. It is He who sends Paul and his company to preach in Europe. It is He who opens hearts for the reception of their message. It is He who stands by the Apostle in a vision, and bids him ‘be of good cheer,’ and go forth upon his work. Thus, at every crisis in the history of the Church, it is the Lord-that is to say, Christ Himself-who is revealed as working in them and for them, the ascended but yet eve-present Guide, Counsellor, Inspirer, Protector, and Rewarder of them that put their trust in Him. So here it is He that ‘adds to the Church daily them that were being saved.’

I believe, dear brethren, that modern Christianity has far too much lost the vivid impression of this present Christ as actually dwelling and working among us. What is good in us and what is bad in us conspire to make us think more of the past work of an ascended Christ than of the present work of an indwelling Christ. We cannot think too much of that Cross by which He has laid the foundation for the salvation and reconciliation of all the world; but we may easily think too exclusively of it, and so fix our thoughts upon that work which He completed when on Calvary He said, ‘It is finished!’ as to forget the continual work which will never be finished until His Church is perfected, and the world is redeemed. If we are a Church of Christ at all, we have Christ in very deed among us, and working through us and on us. And unless we have, in no mystical and unreal and metaphorical sense, but in the simplest and yet grandest prose reality, that living Saviour here in our hearts and in our fellowship, better that these walls were levelled with the ground, and this congregation scattered to the four winds of heaven. The present Christ is the life of His Church.

Notice, and that but for a moment, for I shall have to deal with it more especially at another part of this discourse,-the specific action which is here ascribed to Him. He adds to the Church, not we, not our preaching, not our eloquence, our fervour, our efforts. These may be the weapons in His hands, but the hand that wields the weapon gives it all its power to wound and to heal, and it is Christ Himself who, by His present energy, is here represented as being the Agent of all the good that is done by any Christian community, and the Builder-up of His Churches, in numbers and in power.

It is His will for, His ideal of, a Christian Church, that continuously it should be gathering into its fellowship those that are being saved. That is His meaning in the establishment of His Church upon earth, and that is His will concerning it and concerning us, and the question should press on every society of Christians: Does our reality correspond to Christ’s ideal? Are we, as a portion of His great heritage, being continually replenished by souls that come to tell what God has done for them? Is there an unbroken flow of such into what we call our communion? I speak to you members of this church, and I ask you to ponder the question,-Is it so? and the other question, If it is not so, wherefore? ‘The Lord added daily,’- why does not the Lord add daily to us?

II. Let us go to the second part of this text, and see if we can find an answer. Notice how emphatically there is brought out here the attractive power of an earnest and pure Church.

My text is the end of a sentence. What is the beginning of the sentence? Listen,-’All that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the Temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added.’ Yes; of course. Suppose you were like these people. Suppose this church and congregation bore stamped upon it, plain and deep as the broad arrow of the king, these characteristics-manifest fraternal unity, plain unselfish unworldliness, habitual unbroken devotion, gladness which had in it the solemnity of Heaven, and a transparent simplicity of life and heart, which knew nothing of by-ends and shabby, personal motives or distracting duplicity of purpose-do you not think that the Lord would add to you daily such as should be saved? Or, to put it into other words, wherever there is a little knot of men obviously held together by a living Christ, and obviously manifesting in their lives and characters the likeness of that Christ transforming and glorifying them, there will be drawn to them-by natural gravitation, I was going to say, but we may more correctly say, by the gravitation which is natural in the supernatural realm-souls that have been touched by the grace of the Lord, and souls to whom that grace has been brought the nearer by looking upon them. Wherever there is inward vigour of life there will be outward growth; and the Church which is pure, earnest, living will be a Church which spreads and increases.

Historically, it has always been the case that in God’s Church seasons of expansion have followed upon seasons of deepened spiritual life on the part of His people. And the only kind of growth which is wholesome, and to be desired in a Christian community, is growth as a consequence of the revived religiousness of the individuals who make up the community.

And just in like manner as such a community will draw to it men who are like-minded, so it will repel from it all the formalist people. There are congregations that have the stamp of worldliness so deep upon them that any persons who want to be burdened with as little religion as may be respectable will find themselves at home there. And I come to you Christian people here, for whose Christian character I am in some sense and to some degree responsible, with this appeal: Do you see to it that, so far as your influence extends, this community of ours be such as that half-dead Christians will never think of coming near us, and those whose religion is tepid will be repelled from us, but that they who love the Lord Jesus Christ with earnest devotion and lofty consecration, and seek to live unworldly and saint-like lives, shall recognise in us men lik-minded, and from whom they may draw help. I beseech you-if you will not misunderstand the expression-make your communion such that it will repel as well as attract; and that people will find nothing here to draw them to an easy religion of words and formalism, beneath which all vermin of worldliness and selfishness may lurk, but will recognise in us a church of men and women who are bent upon holiness, and longing for more and more conformity to the divine Master.

Now, if all this be true, it is possible for worldly and stagnant communities calling themselves ‘Churches’ to thwart Christ’s purpose, and to make it both impossible and undesirable that He should add to them souls for whom He has died. It is a solemn thing to feel that we may clog Christ’s chariot-wheels, that there may be so little spiritual life in us, as a congregation, that, if I may so say, He dare not intrust us with the responsibility of guarding and keeping the young converts whom He loves and tends. We may not be fit to be trusted with them, and that may be why we do not get them. It may not be good for them that they should be dropped into the refrigerating atmosphere of such a church, and that may be why they do not come.

Depend upon it, brethren, that, far more than my preaching, your lives will determine the expansion of this church of ours. And if my preaching is pulling one way and your lives the other, and I have half an hour a week for talk and you have seven days for contradictory life, which of the two do you think is likely to win in the tug? I beseech you, take the words that I am now trying to speak, to yourselves. Do not pass them to the man in the next pew and think how well they fit him, but accept them as needed by you. And remember, that just as a bit of sealing-wax, if you rub it on your sleeve and so warm it, develops an attractive power, the Church which is warmed will draw many to itself. If the earlier words of this context apply to any Christian community, then certainly its blessed promise too will apply to it, and to such a church the Lord will ‘add day by day them that are being saved.’

III. And now, lastly, observe the definition given here of the class of persons gathered into the community.

I have already observed, in the earlier portion of this discourse, that here we have salvation represented as a process, a progressive thing which runs on all through life. In the New Testament there are various points of view from which that great idea of salvation is represented. It is sometimes spoken of as past, in so far as in the definite act of conversion and the first exercise of faith in Jesus Christ the whole subsequent evolution and development are involved, and the process of salvation has its beginning then, when a man turns to God. It is sometimes spoken of as present, in so far as the joy of deliverance from evil and possession of good, which is God, is realised day by day. It is sometimes spoken of as future, in so far as all the imperfect possession and pre-libations of salvation which we taste here on earth prophesy and point onwards to their own perfecting in the climax of heaven. But all these three points of view, past, present, and future, may be merged into this one of my text, which speaks of every saint on earth, from the infantile to the most mature, as standing in the same row, though at different points; walking on the same road, though advanced different distances; all participant of the same process of ‘being saved.’

Through all life the deliverance goes on, the deliverance from sin, the deliverance from wrath. The Christian salvation, then, according to the teaching of this emphatic phrase, is a process begun at conversion, carried on progressively through the life, and reaching its climax in another state. Day by day, through the spring and the early summer, the sun shines longer in the sky, and rises higher in the heavens; and the path of the Christian is as the shining light. Last year’s greenwood is this year’s hardwood; and the Christian, in like manner, has to ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Saviour.’ So these progressively, and, therefore, as yet imperfectly, saved people, were gathered into the Church.

Now I have but two things to say about that. If that be the description of the kind of folk that come into a Christian Church, the duties of that Church are very plainly marked. And the first great one is to see to it that the community help the growth of its members. There are Christian Churches-I do not say whether ours is one of them or not-into which, if a young plant is brought, it is pretty sure to be killed. The temperature is so low that the tender shoots are nipped as with frost, and die. I have seen people, coming all full of fervour and of faith, into Christian congregations, and finding that the average round them was so much lower than their own, that they have cooled down after a time to the fashionable temperature, and grown indifferent like their brethren. Let us, dear friends, remember that a Christian Church is a nursery of imperfect Christians, and, for ourselves and for one another, try to make our communion such as shall help shy and tender graces to unfold themselves, and woo out, by the encouragement of example, the lowest and the least perfect to lofty holiness and consecration like the Master’s.

And if I am speaking to any in this congregation who hold aloof from Christian fellowship for more or less sufficient reasons, let me press upon them, in one word, that if they are conscious of a possession, however imperfect, of that incipient salvation, their place is thereby determined, and they are doing wrong if they do not connect themselves with some Christian Communion, and stand forth as members of Christ’s Church.

And now one last word. I have tried to show you that salvation, in the New Testament, is regarded as a process. The opposite thing is a process too. There is a very awful contrast in one of Paul’s Epistles. ‘The preaching of the Cross is to them who are in the act of perishing foolishness; unto us who are being saved, it is the power of God.’ These two processes start, as it were, from the same point, one by slow degrees and almost imperceptible motion, rising higher and higher, the other, by slow degrees and almost unconscious descent, sliding steadily and fatally downward ever further and further. And my point now is that in each of us one or other of these processes is going on. Either you are slowly rising or you are slipping down. Either a larger measure of the life of Christ, which is salvation, is passing into your hearts, or bit by bit you are dying like some man with creeping paralysis that begins at the extremities, and with fell, silent, inexorable footstep, advances further and further towards the citadel of the heart, where it lays its icy hand at last, and the man is dead. You are either ‘being saved’ or you are ‘perishing.’ No man becomes a devil all at once, and no man becomes an angel all at once. Trust yourself to Christ, and He will lift you to Himself; turn your back upon Him, as some of you are doing, and you will settle down, down, down in the muck and the mire of your own sensuality and selfishness, until at last the foul ooze spreads over your head, and you are lost in the bog for ever.

 


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Bibliography Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Acts 2:4". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mac/acts-2.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, September 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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