Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE MANIFESTED PRESENCE OF GOD. God revealed his presence through the media of air and fire; the one in unusual, indeed supernatural agitation; the other in unkindled, lambent flame. Both air and fire are fitting elements for the vehicle of Divine manifestation; their ubiquity, their beneficence, the secret and indeed mysterious powers which reside in them, the mighty and even awful forces which slumber in them, and which, when aroused or kindled, work such terrible results ("Our God is a consuming fire"), - these qualities make them suitable agencies to signify the presence of the Divine. But while our God is in the elemental forces of nature, both when they render the kind and constant ministry to mankind and when they are in unusual and quite exceptional activity - though he is in the soft airs and the life-giving heats which breathe and brighten round us, and though he is in the storm and in the fire which rage above and about us - yet the way in which he manifests himself in answer to our earnest prayer and reverent waiting is not thus. Our Lord comes now to us in
(1) illumination of the mind,
(2) enlargement of the heart,
(3) multiplication of spiritual faculty and force,
(4) renewal of the will and the whole spiritual nature - we are "filled with the Holy Ghost."
II. HIS CHOSEN TIME. Christ came again to his disciples when they were "all of one accord in one place" (ver. 1). When acting together, praying together, feeling together, hoping and expecting together, then he appeared in glorious manifestation. If we who '"wait for his appearing" really desire his coming and would do our best to bring him, we must act in the same way; we must be united in thought, in feeling, in prayer, in expectation, in activity.
III. THE DIVINE END IN SPECIAL MANIFESTATION. It was not only to "sound a bell "calling attention to the birth of a new dispensation that Christ thus came in power. It was to convey redeeming truth to many minds and many peoples (vers. 5-11). "Devout men out of every nation" heard "the wonderful works of God," and carried back with them, whithersoever they returned, the knowledge of the great things God had wrought for the children of men. When men say to us "See here!" or "Lo there!" "Behold these strange phenomena, these supernatural appearances, these remarkable displays of Divine power," etc., let us dismiss them with incredulity unless they are working to the Divine end, the spiritual enlightenment and moral elevation of mankind. By their fruits we shall know them. If they "work not the righteousness of God," they are not of him; if they do, they are. So shall we "try the spirits whether they are of him."
IV. OUR HUMAN RESPONSE. (Ver. 12, 13.) The manifestation of Divine power on this occasion excited amazement and incredulity. Of these the former is wholly insufficient and the latter altogether wrong. Only too often this is the result in our case.
1. We are surprised when we ought to be simply grateful; it ought to be a surprise to us when, in response to our prayer and holy expectation, God does not come to us in renewing, fertilizing power. When the Son of man does come, does he find the expectancy of faith or the astonishment of unbelief (Luke 18:8)?
2. We are incredulous, and perhaps derisive, when we ought to be congratulatory. Some Christian men can account for Divine energy and agency on any principle but the one which should be readiest to their mind, viz. that God is with us, willing to appear on our behalf, prepared to outpour his Spirit in rich effluence on our souls and on our labors. By cur incredulity we
(1) displease him,
(2) hinder the cause we should help,
(3) make impossible any blessed share for ourselves in the shouts of victory. - C.
I. THE DAY. The fiftieth after the Passover; the beginning of the great festival of harvest. What associations of joy! It was a focus of national life. It was a convenient season for the designs of Providence. Jerusalem was thronged, and the multitude was alive with thought. A sound now heard from the depths of the world of spirit must vibrate through the conscience of mankind for ages.
II. THE SOUND. As of a mighty blast from heaven, sweeping through the whole house from top to bottom. The phenomena of the wind and of the storm have ever been the natural symbolism of Divine presence and power to the human intelligence. q he sense of hearing is the peculiarly believing sense; all through the grades of language faith "cometh by hearing." Now it is the soft voice of love, and now that of power, which speaks; in the zephyr or in the boreal blast.
III. THE LIGHT. The eye, too, is addressed. This is the more skeptical sense, and either confirms or corrects the report of the ear. Thomas was in the meeting, and would possibly have explained the sound away. The testimony of the eye is needed for full satisfaction, and is given. Not one but many tongues, cleft and as of fire, are seen; on the head of each disciple rests a tongue. The picture is that of a wing of flame, distributed into manifold parts according to the number of those present. And this is the analysis of the symbol: cleansing, all-penetrating Divine activity; the love that consumes evil, and fuses the material of life to ends of refinement; unity of principle with distributive and various operation in this power. As the burning ray reveals the gem, so does the dispiriting flame reveal the love that ever burns in the center of things, in the heart of the living God. Here, then, was the "Spirit of power and of love" made known through ear and eye in inmost conscience and feeling.
IV. THE EFFECT. It was fullness of conscious life, which in turn breaks forth in wondrous action. All things are for this epoch possible. They begin to speak in foreign tongues. Their utterances are felt to be not their own. It is "according as the Spirit granted them utterance." They are the AEolian harps on which the wind is playing. The best of our speech and thought is in like manner from an inner fullness, and is felt not to be our own. What we do as we say "unconsciously," i.e. conscious that it is not we but God in us, is our true deed. Mozart could not explain to his friend the process of his marvelous musical constructions. At times the thoughts flowed into him in full stream, and he merely reported them as they came. We cannot artificially bring on the hour of inspiration. We must watch and wait and pray. For every faithful heart there are Pentecostal epochs. And of each it will be recorded, "suddenly it came," like all Divine comings, to leave unlooked-for power and blessing behind. - J.
I. THE TIME AND PLACE. Correspondence with the facts of the natural world and of the Jewish Church. Harvest festival. Connection with the Passover, from which it was reckoned - seven weeks. The gifts of God poured out at Jerusalem, where yet he was about to pour out his judgments. The new must be grafted on the old, according to the promises in the prophets, that there should still be a remnant according to the election of grace. Favorable position of Palestine to be the center of the world's religious life. Distinction from Greece and Rome, and the great absolutisms of the East. Providential education of the Jews to be the world's messengers in Christ's Name. Rebuke of human pride. Not to the wise, not to the wealthy, not to the politically powerful, was the function assigned, but to the small and despised people in whom the gracious preparation was made, to the Church when it was in the attitude of prayer.
II. THE FORM OF MANIFESTATION.
1. Tongues; not swords, not scepters, but the sign of persuasion and moral victory over men's hearts.
2. Fire, changing, subduing, penetrating, purifying, irresistible. The element of the world's destruction. So the power of truth brings about the overthrow of error and the destruction of the evil world.
3. Accompanied with the sound of a mighty rushing wind from heaven, symbol of the vastness of the spiritual forces now to be sent upon earth, of their mysteriousness of operation, of their super-earthly origin; not brought about by any devices or machinery of man's, but the free gift of God, that his Name alone be glorified.
4. Distributed amongst God's people; "sat upon each of them," "cloven tongues," probably referring to the flames being divided into portions - "parting asunder" (Revised Version). Whether the all of ver. I mean all the twelve apostles alone, or all the disciples, is of little consequence, for the promise of the Spirit was declared by Peter to be for all flesh (see below).
5. The voice of the Spirit. Either an unknown tongue which the Spirit interpreted, partly by inspiration of those who heard it, and partly by communication of its meaning to individuals, or the special gift of languages imparted for the occasion, by a miraculous elevation of the faculties, so that the uneducated Jew spoke a foreign tongue. The former seems the most likely. But the one great fact is the utterance of the Spirit's voice. - R.
And when the day of Pentecost... And the same day there were added about three thousand souls." The day of Pentecost is emphatically the complement of the great days of the New Testament. The visible glories of this day are the fitting sequel, the almost natural sequel, of the more veiled glories of certain days that had preceded it. The heavenly luster and music of the day of incarnation, unique as they were, reached the eye and ear of but few. The world was asleep. The dread, tremendous glory of the day of crucifixion, charged though it was with fullest significance, was not seen to be such at the time. The glories of the day of resurrection undeniably opened eyes and hearts to the keenest and most thankful appreciation of them, but their appeal was to a very limited number. When the calm, sweet, strange glory of Ascension Day revealed a vision of literally endless light, the scene undoubtedly began to widen, if only that it so heightened. And now but a short interval has passed, and there is a certain manifestation given to this day of Pentecost which reflects floods of glory upon the Giver, and pours light and hope, new and amazing, upon a world well-nigh prostrate. It is the simply told history of this day that is written for us in this chapter. And it tells us of -
I. THE MAGNIFICENT INTERVENTION OF A SUPERNATURAL PRESENCE. (Vers. 2-4). Observe:
1. The signs of the presence. It is distinguished by
(1) the sound of wind, apparently without the usual other accompaniments of it to the feeling.
(2) The sound of wind of irresistible and conquering energy. It is not as when" the Spirit of God moved on the face of the" archaic "waters" (Genesis 1:2), and it is not "as summer evening's latest sigh, that shuts the rose. No; nor is it as the stormy wind and tempest." The elements are not in confusion, and the wind is not furious. But it sweeps along, nevertheless, with a certain irresistible majesty; rather, it distinctly thus sweeps down from heaven. It is wind that bears itself down, and is full of might."
(3) Its facile pervading and penetrating of "all the house where" the disciples "were sitting." St. John, for certain, was there, and learned then the grand original of his later - nay, much later - Patmos experience, "I was in the Spirit." All in "that house" were enveloped, bathed, "baptized" in the Holy Spirit.
(4) An added appearance; an appearance of fire, manifold fire, every several portion of the bright burning shaped as the tongue, and one of these speeding to settle on each of the startled assembly of disciples.
2. The first and direct results off, presence.
(1) Those to whom it was vouchsafed, and who "were sitting in the house," are "all filled with the Holy Spirit." This is the testimony, the assertion, of the historian at a somewhat later period. Whether those who experienced the wonderful force knew in that same hour what had thus taken possession of them may be a question. If they knew it not in name, they very certainly began to know it in its marvelous nature. We justly give our imagination some leave of exercise here, and the more happily if that imagination can assist itself in any degree from the materials of our own experience of the quickening, invigorating influences of the Spirit in our heart. Evidently in degrees, ranging from little to the largest, does that Spirit vouchsafe his visits and his work in human hearts. What would it be if we knew him today in some really large measure! What conviction it would be to the individual heart! What commanding joy, inexpressible, overflowing to the very life and soul of any one disciple! But if such a visitation were granted to a gathering of disciples - just one meeting of Christian people - making account of the different time of day, the greater enlargement of scope of the day, the crowded people around, millions for thousands, the rapidity and trustworthiness of communication, - surely England itself would scarce contain the excitement, and the Church might well be beside herself for very joy. The mere imagination of this will help to reproduce for us some more vivid idea of the surprise of that moment, that hour of the day of Pentecost.
(2) Those who were thus filled with the Holy Spirit are not rapt in ecstatic feeling, do not improvise celestial psalm and music, but they speak the many languages of earth. They speak, but the Spirit gives them the speech. They speak, but it is now literally fulfilled that the Spirit gives them in that same hour what they shall speak. The case is one of genuine verbal inspiration. There is little doubt, perhaps, that these numerous disciples spoke words which they did not understand the meaning of (1 Corinthians 14:22), nor could have "interpreted" had they been called to do so. They uttered sounds, their faculties of speech being subject to the mighty and condescending power of the Holy Spirit. What of loss of dignity this may at first seem to the disciples, is far more than counter- balanced, not only by the suggestions of honor set on the organs of human speech in the use of them by One who may for the moment be called the Maker and Giver of them, but also by the gain of a clearly more impressive result. There was far less mixture of the human element in the Divine communication that purported to pass from the Spirit to the ear and mind of a large number of various-speaking peoples. It is the difference to us of a correspondent who indeed uses an amanuensis, as St. Paul often did in his Epistles, but who keeps with himself the dictating of every word. Such a one has not left the selection of words, or style, or turn of expression to another; and this is the chief thing we care about, though we should have prized his handwriting as well. Nor need it seem at all too far-fetched an inference, if any one hesitated to count it a designed arrangement, that through this speaking being so essentially the act of the Holy Spirit, a very strong suggestion of the personality of that Spirit should be borne in on the disciples then, and much more on disciples of succeeding ages. Absolute speech does not come from what is merely an influence, an energy, a power. It is the function of a person. And it is one of the highest of prerogatives of the human being. The disciples had lost a personal Presence, in the person of Jesus, which could never be replaced, and which never was to be replaced till he should "so come" again, "in like manner as they had seen him go into heaven." And yet, though the personal presence of Jesus was not to be replaced by another personal presence, it was most surely to be replaced by the presence of a Person. Would it not be calculated to assist disciples both to believe correctly and to feel grateful that the ever-invisible Spirit was none the less a Personage, a Being - not a vague influence nor a phantom? And now there is probably no cardinal fact of Christianity less honored, less operative, than that of the personality of the Holy Spirit. It is one of the disastrous causes of his being too often slighted, sinned against, grieved, and "quenched,"
3. Certain incidents in the presence. It is fitted
(1) to a certain time. "When the day of Pentecost was fully come." The time was certain; it was fore- spoken by Jesus; it was waited for by his disciples. But though certain, alluded to, and awaited, neither "the day nor the hour" was revealed.
(2) To a certain place. The place certainly was Jerusalem. And the same Being who told the disciples "not to depart from Jerusalem, but wait" there, was one who "knew" also "the place," the "one place," of his loved people's loved meeting, as he had once well known "the place" of his own agony - the garden.
(3) To a certain temper of heart. "They were all with one accord," i.e. together, "in one place." Juxtaposition and visible association do not always infer the purest of harmony by any means. But they did infer it now; and that the disciples were all with one accord in one place was the real fruit of their being all "of one accord." Since that blessed day, true it is - too true - that Christ's people have very often been "together" when they have not been "of one accord," "of one mind," "having the same love," "like-minded." But it was so now. And if it had not been, the grandeur of the day would either never have been at all, or would have "set in darkness" and shame.
(4) Of undoubted design, to a congregate body, and one, comparatively speaking, numerous. No longer to a woman by herself, no longer to two disciples alone, no longer to the twelve, or the eleven, but at all events to some ten times that number (Acts 1:15). The Spirit often whispers silently, stealthily almost, in the ear of the soul most solitary. Not so now. The sacred illumination, sacred quickened faculty, and sacred joy shall possess "each" and "all together" of that new style of family, that infant Church - that little company of fellow-pilgrims, of fellow-voyagers, of a mere handful of an army. They need food, and strength, and comfort, and the inspiration of experiences - never, never to be forgotten - shared together. Grand uses frequently come of the Spirit's force over one individual, and him the obscurest of the obscure; but now grand uses were to come for themselves, for one another, for a world, in that the disciples were associated so variously, yet so closely, in ecstatic privilege, in unbounded surprise, and in the consentaneous joy of the unwonted inspiration that came "wild-murmuring o'er their raptured souls."
(5) To an occasion that either admitted of the testimony or invited the challenge of a large and various multitude. There were present the comparatively large number of those who experienced the power of the Holy Ghost, but there were also near at hand a very much larger number of those who soon became spectators of what was transpiring. They were not only a large number, but a very various number. They hailed from different regions; they spoke different languages; their objects and their modes of life were, no doubt, very various. It were inconceivable that any collusion should obtain here, so far as spectators, were concerned. In their excitement, and in the open expression of it, so natural, some did challenge, though the pitiful challenge fell stillborn to the ground. "New wine" never wrought such marvel, each nationality must have felt, when addressed touching "the wonderful works of God" in its own language. But till then the Parthian, for instance, might set down to "new wine" the discordant sounds, as they must seem to him, of a dozen other nationalities. Just so far there was reason in the "mocking;" and, at all events, there was use in it. For the "new wine" theory found expression, got a hearing, and got a verdict too. Most profitable was this occasion, when "the multitude were confounded...were all amazed and marveled... were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?... and others mocking said, These men are full of new wine." Such awakening, such spirit of inquiry and investigation, such clear proof of a readiness to challenge appearances rather than succumb too readily and run the chance of delusion, made for every man that was there a strong, convinced witness in time to come, and in the home and country of each. From being excited spectators, they became, man for man, so many intelligent and determined witnesses of "the wonderful works of God." From being gaping hearers, they became instructed and impressive preachers. And the unsettledness of their mind gave place to deep, unmoved conviction. The adaptation of occasion here gave two great advantages - the advantage of satisfactory and conclusive evidence, and that of an effective and willing missionary service over large portions of the earth.
II. A GRAND MANIFESTATION-DAY OF PROPHECY. (Vers. 16-21.) This was a very gala-day of prophecy. Often distrusted, often mocked, and often saluted with the taunting question, "Where is the promise of his coming?" - now the scene which stirred all Jerusalem was one "in demonstration of that Spirit and power" which dwelt in it. The day witnessed in matter prophetic the majestic force of the avalanche, overwhelming doubt and disbelief in deep destruction indeed, but carrying no other destructiveness with it. The piled predictions of ages past no longer tower aloft so proudly and forbiddingly, but they fall at the feet of an amazed, an astounded, but a revived and gladdened nation. Or, if the figure be permitted, the leases of property of immeasurable value fall in this day. And that this was a day of justest pride in the career of prophecy, may be testified by the thought:
1. Of the largeness of the contents of it. The volume is an ample one indeed. What treasures it unrolled, and all the while seemed to say spontaneously, "This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your hearing! It was an abounding harvest that was now gathered in ripe, - a rich and gladdening vintage. It is not prophecy fulfilled for an individual king or mighty man, nor for a caste of priests, nor for a band of prophets, but it includes all flesh,...sons and daughters,...young men and old men my servants and my handmaidens." It proved itself over a wide variety of human character and condition.
2. Of the intrinsic nature of it. "They shall prophesy. It is a fulfillment in spiritual sort. The Spirit is the great Worker, and spiritual results are still what underlie great outer wonders. Living powers of human nature, immensely intensified and diversified, - these are the phenomena at all events. They are marked as the beginning," not of "sorrows," not of "tribulation," not of "miracles," but of "signs" that contain an amount and a kind of signifying power far in excess of all which had ever been. Now began - whatever its duration should prove to be - this world's last aeon. And strongly marked are its characteristics from the first. "All flesh" begin to answer responsive to the might of the invisible Spirit, and in a certain sense the very presumption of Saul, and of those who were stricken because they touched the sacred ark, begins to be the law. Directness of individual contact with whatever should be most holy, for each and all, becomes the established, the enthroned religion of the world.
III. A GLORIOUS DISCLOSURE AND EMPHATIC PROCLAMATION COUCHED IN THE VERY WORDS OF ANCIENT REVERED PROPHECY. (Ver. 21.) That very prophecy that had seemed to cover, now served to proclaim loudly and distinctly the universal mercy of the one universal "Lord." The "gracious word" now proceeds from its lip, to begin its unresting journey. What a word was this, "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord shall be saved"! It is the disclosure in broadest daylight of the purpose of ages past; yes, of a purpose that had been purposed before the world began. Most assuredly prophecy had held it, and had made it visible, but to very few who beheld, though it was before their eyes. The eyes even of those to whom it was given to see "were holden that they knew" it not. And the vast multitude outside were long time dying without the knowledge or so much as one glimpse of it. Of the past three years Jesus had given significant hints of it in some of his works, and had whispered it sometimes in the ears of his disciples, and had distinctly uttered it in his parting commission, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." But to the day of Pentecost "is this grace given," that it should preach aloud, with a hundred tongues, and a hundred better than silver trumpets, the riches of the gospel of Christ. Three things mark what was then in particular, and what must ever essentially be the surprising riches of the proclamation.
1. It is hope to all and every one.
2. It is the call of a human voice alone, no doubt drawn deep from the heart, that is the method, the one simple method of access to that hope.
3. The hope is that of no mere respite, subterfuge, soothing relief, but of salvation. Exclusiveness "is finished;" ritual, ceremony, sacrifice, the earthly priest, - each "is finished; tantalizing expectancy, "is finished;" and everlasting salvation is to be had free, by any one and by every one, for the one anguished or trustful call of the heart "on the Name of the Lord." It is a fact worthy to be noticed, that, as the gospel of Jesus' own public ministry began from the quotation of Isaiah's prophecy (Luke 4:17-21; Isaiah 61:1), so the gospel of the day of Pentecost begins its illustrious career with the motto of a quotation from prophecy (Joel 2:28-32). These two links - were they the only ones - how strongly they bind together the Scriptures of the old and new covenants, and the covenants themselves!
IV. THE FIRST OF THE LONG SUCCESSION OF CHRISTIAN PREACHERS. (Vers. 14, 29, 38). This honor was reserved for Peter, to be the first of that "great company which publish" the glad tidings of salvation through Jesus Christ. He had been preparing for this place now these three years. He had passed through good fame and through ill, through not a little most merited rebuke; he had passed through, not the discipline of warning and correction alone, but also through that of the genial influences and constant stimulus of priceless privileges. The memories of the fishing, and the storm, and the walking on the water, and the death-chamber, and the brilliant heights of the Transfiguration, and the darkest contrasts of the shades of Gethsemane's garden, and the judgment hall, and the look vouchsafed from the very cross after the terrible thrice denial, and of all the rest, were now all upon him. And he has made, at all events, this impression on us - the impression as of a man of:
1. Native impetuosity of temperament.
2. Imperious moral judgments.
3. Liability to fearful lapse.
4. Unbounded enthusiasm and devotion to a great and good Master
5. And now lastly, of a man with the eye of an eagle for the object dear to his heart.
V. A MODEL TESTIMONY TO "THE TRUTH AS IT IS IN JESUS." (Vers. 14-36). The character of a model Christian sermon may be justly claimed throughout for this address of Peter to the multitude. The leading features of it are strongly marked.
1. It is one testimony to Christ; the subject is variously approached, but it is one. Whatever the then reason, the subject is not lost sight of nor allowed to linger. Each approach to it, each conclusion from it, becomes more telling, till the pronounced assertion confronts the people, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ."
2. It is a summary of indisputable historic facts. The incarnation and birth of Jesus are, therefore, not adverted to, as perhaps too remote. They did not come directly within the range of facts patent to the hearers of Peter. "As ye yourselves know" was an argument Peter loved to use. He didn't beg reliance on his judgment, opinion, or assertion, but he challenged the knowledge of those to whom he spoke. The "Man of Nazareth,... the approved of God by miracles and signs and wonders... the delivered" (though here Peter does insert the transcendent statement of Divine "foreknowledge" and "counsel"), "the taken crucified and slain... the raised up" from death's kingdom and dominion, "the exalted by the right hand of God," and the corroboration of these statements of the Resurrection and Ascension from the prophecies of their own prized oracles, - these are the vital facts summarized now by Peter. The chain breaks nowhere. Peter is strong in his facts.
3. There was an unflinching style in the address. The indiscriminate people of Judaea and Jerusalem are before Peter, and barely seven weeks are passed since the Crucifixion, and Peter brings the guilt home in uncompromising language to the heart and the hand of those whom he addresses; and also declares that the wonders of this day of Pentecost, of which the fickle multitude were no doubt the willing witnesses, are all the work of that "Man of Nazareth" whom they had disbelieved, ill treated, crucified. Many men will bear to be told of their guilt, who won't stand the demonstration of their exceeding folly. But the hearers of Peter get both in his faithfulness and unflinchingness to his subject. "This Jesus... hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear."
4. There was intense earnestness in the address of Peter. This, no doubt, went naturally a long way to disarm what might otherwise have seemed the offensive character of the matter of his indictment. The instance is an interesting and a remarkable one of the very severest rebuke consisting with a kindliness only thinly veiled. And without a word of kindness expressed, the impression and effect are probably gained by the manifest intense earnestness and strongest conviction of the speaker. These things, so that they are not abused, are legitimately within the province of the Christian preacher. With this proviso it is given to him to dogmatize, only not in his own name; to rebuke in the most uncompromising manner, only not for any offence personal to himself merely; and to wield the denunciations of the future and the unseen, only not otherwise than as drawn, both for matter and for justifiable occasion, and justly drawn, from the warrant of revelation.
VI. A MODEL CONFESSIONAL OF THE CHURCH. (Vers. 37-40.) As was to be expected, in no respect is the transition from Judaism to Christianity more worthy of interested study than as it offers to view the healthy young growth of Christian institutions, taking root amid the ruins of the old and corrupt traditions of the "Jews' religion." Many a site that witnessed long time crumbling decay, stones no two of which lay together, and the very squalidity of disorder, now witnessed the surprising signs of vigorous, determined, and beautiful life. It were well if it had been possible to secure that these should not in their turn succumb, in lapse of time, to the affronts of human imperfection, and show again the pitiful sight of diviner growths within cumbered, choked, and finally killed, by fungus, excrescence, and merciless blight. Here, however, we have a fine example of the vitality of roused religious life, its own cries, and the methods of treatment with which it was blessed to meet. Observe:
1. The central fact - conviction. The conscience itself is touched, wakens responsive to the touch, and takes upon itself to speak for its owner sounds that have the sounds of life. Men hear, and are "pricked in the heart."
2. The first immediate course resorted to under the circumstances. Those whose hearts are thus "pricked," whose conscience is thus touched, begin to make inquiry, and inquiry of what they "shall do." They play not the role of excuse for the past, of moralizing reminiscence, or of any other of the pretexts for procrastination. It is the moment for undoubted action, for decided action, and, if honest ignorance exist as to the shape of that action, for prompt inquiry as to the way: "What shall we do?" No doubt, when the men and the time and the circumstances and those to whom they now addressed themselves, - when these all are put together, it must be granted that there was here the reality and the best part of genuine confession.
3. Religious interrogatories made, not under the probing of the confessional-expert; not under the conditions of morbidness, and it goaded; not in secrecy and solitariness. These, as between man and his fellow-creature, may be often more than doubtful. But it is in open day that this confessional-scene is placed. And safety invests it, and spiritual health and even symptoms of robustness are indicated.
4. Preachers not priest, doctrine not ritual, practice not penance, lively repentance not remorseful reflection, are the order of that well-omened hour. Yet, to speak of nothing else, if ever remorseful reflection - something short of remorse itself - might have put in a reasonably opportune claim, it was surely now, while Peter's stinging words still rang in their ears: "This Jesus whom ye crucified" (Revised Version). But no; the answer to the questions put at this honorable, open confessional is "Repent," altering at once the thing you have been, though alter you cannot the crucifying thing that you have done; "Repent," and show it before men, by being "baptized, every one of you," actually in that very Name, "the Name of Jesus Christ," whom you rejected and crucified, acknowledging thereby that you are bounden to him for "the remission of sins;" "Repent," and be baptized, and enter at once on the inheritance of long promise, "the gift of the Holy Ghost." That "gift of the Holy Ghost," after repentance and offer baptism and after the remission of sins, as distinguished from the preeminent quickening effected by his sacred breath, would be the conclusive, surest token of the absolution of sin. For them and for ourselves this may sufficiently distinguish the ever-necessary working of the Holy Spirit in quickening the human heart from death, necessary equally with Abel and Enoch as with Paul or any man of modern days, from that special endowment of the Spirit for other uses, vouchsafed to the "new covenant" from the day of Pentecost downward to this day. This is the special grace and crown of the Christian Church, though probably still little understood, and its conquering force accordingly still little tested. From the language of ver. 40 we may understand that we have but a sketch of all that Peter said from the moment that he stood up to vindicate the prophesying army from the charge of drunkenness, to the moment that the actual administration of the rite of baptism began. Unstintingly he "testified," unweariedly he "exhorted," and this the burden of his enthusiastic and impassioned appeal, that those who heard should show themselves willing, anxious, eager to be rescued from the following and from the belongings of an inherently "crooked generation."
VII. A GLORIOUS AND MOST HEART-GLADDENING HARVEST. (Ver. 41-47). Three thousand were that day added to the hundred and twenty or thereabout, who began the day as believers in Christ. The multiplication was twenty-five for every one. They are those who "received his word." It will not be going beyond chapter and verse if we regard this as equivalent to "receiving the Word." Still, this is not the exact meaning of the historian, and as it is very possible that some of these very thousands at some subsequent time were guilty of defection, we may prefer to hold that those who came to be thus guilty did not receive" with meekness the engrafted Word, which was able to save their souls." They only caught a transient enthusiasm as they listened to Peter. Any way, some then also did not "receive" the word of Peter. "Some" then also "believed and some believed not. Some tares then also were mingled with the good seed." Glorious, therefore, as that harvest was of the "latter day," it falls very short of the glory that shall be of" the last day." Then no Peter shall baptize, and no Church shall charitably judge, and no adulteration shall be possible. Then "the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just" (Matthew 13:49); "The Son of Man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity" (Matthew 13:41); "The Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him And he shall separate," etc. Meanwhile the spiritual harvest and ingathering into the Church visible and militant of that day of Pentecost was glorious and heart-reviving. The thought of it is so still. It is still unique for one time, one place, and one preaching. Yet these are but the clothing of circumstance; and perhaps many a day since, the eye that surveys all, and sees every- where at one and the same time, may have witnessed equal proofs of the converting power of Word and Spirit, the one spoken by the lip of man, the other teaching that lip to speak. - B.
Acts 3:1), there is much in favor of the scene occurring within the temple precincts. There a large company could be readily and conveniently assembled, and there the high priest and Levitical guard would have the necessary authority to arrest "disturbers of the peace." While the apostolic company was engaged in prayer, a sudden rushing sound was heard, like that which accompanies an earthquake. It seemed to sweep through the room, and fill it with a new and inspiring atmosphere; and then, as each one of them looked in astonishment upon his companion, he saw a central flame come and part, settling in divided streams upon each head. The mystic symbols soon passed away, but they left the disciples conscious of a new life; they were as men moved beyond themselves by a mighty inward impulse. The glow of a Divine kindling was upon their faces, the passion of a Divine urging was within their souls, the freedom of a Divine utterance was upon their lips; they began to speak to the people around about the Messiahship of Jesus, the crucified. The rumor soon spread among the excitable multitudes, gathered from all parts, who were present at the feast. They crowded round the apostles; they felt the influence of their enthusiasm; they heard one and another of them speaking in the familiar language of their birthplace; they were moved by the power of a Divine presence, and that day three thousand bowed the knee to Christ. Those disciples had been told to wait for spiritual power - inward, heart-power. And the signs that attended the gift were designed to indicate the kind of power that came. It was a mighty breath filling them with larger life. They were caught up, and encircled as with a great wind of Divine energy, and in this atmosphere they breathed more freely, and lived more nobly. F. W. Robertson well expresses this in the following note: - "Just as if the temperature of this northern atmosphere were raised suddenly, and a mighty tropical river were to pour its fertilizing inundation ever the country, the result would be the impartation of a vigorous and gigantic growth to the vegetation already in existence, and at the same time the development of life in seeds and germs which had long lain latent in the soil, incapable of vegetation in the unkindly climate of their birth. Exactly in the same way, the flood of a Divine life, poured suddenly into the souls of men, enlarged and ennobled qualities which had been used already, and at the same time developed powers which never could have become apparent in the cold, low temperature of natural life." It may be well to recall the associations of the Feast of Pentecost, especially noting that it was held to commemorate the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. Then Law came as a series of formal commandments; now Law came as an inward impulse to righteousness; it was" written in the mind and the heart." The symbols designed to show the character of the Spirit's work in the disciples are three, viz. wind, fire, tongues.
I. THE SYMBOL OF THE WIND. This would recall our Lord's simile used in conversation with the inquiring Nicodemus (John 3:7, 8), "The wind bloweth where it listeth," etc. It would also remind of the later incident when Jesus "breathed on them, and said, Receive ye the Holy Ghost" (John 20:22). The figure in the Hebrew word for Spirit (punch) is "breath," or "wind." We may note that the wind suggests the freeness of the Spirit, the force of the Spirit, and the elevating and inspiring influence of the Spirit.
II. THE SYMBOL, OF THE FIRE. This would recall the words of John the baptizer, "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire." Fire is conceived as the great purging and purifying agent. John could not forgive sin, or cleanse souls, or sanctify. For this work he prepared the way. Christ cleanses and sanctifies, by his Spirit, with a fullness and a power that can only be represented by the work of fire on precious metal. A Power like fire is needed to destroy and root out self and sin.
III. THE SYMBOL OF THE TONGUES. It is difficult to decide precisely the form of the gift that came to these first disciples. Afterwards we find the gift of tongues explained as an ecstatic utterance, which required interpretation. Here we may assume that the gospel message was delivered by different individuals, in different languages, and in different parts of the temple courts. We should see that it fulfilled the promise made to the disciples of power to witness. The first sign of the Power came in adaptation to the particular circumstances and needs of the day, and they might see in this the assurance that the power would come in adaptation to every day's needs. Not always as power to speak a foreign language, but always as power to speak, as the freed loosened tongue, as a new tongue, so that they might preach Christ, and witness everywhere for the "Prince and Savior, exalted to give repentance, and remission of sins." Conclude by showing that the symbols teach us this lesson - that the same Spirit is still with the Church and with us; and is as certainly and precisely adapting his grace and help to the work and the witness we are called to render. - R.T.
I. A GREAT EPOCH in human history. World filled with many things - thoughts, speculations, strivings, powers; capable of much, but the great want the Spirit. Truth, love, life, for a false world - a world at enmity with itself, fall of disorder; a dying world, needing to be renewed and restored.
II. A GREAT GIFT of God to man. "Suddenly bestowed; freely, apart from man's claims and merits; upon all, without respect of persons, for the selection of the few believing Jews, with a view to the abolition of Judaism and of all restrictions; abundantly - all filled," to their own astonishment, with supernatural powers. Spiritual gifts above all other gifts. Even science points to a continuous ascent of man. He is only highest when he is filled with the Spirit of God.
III. A GREAT CHANGE in individuals and in the community. We may anticipate a similar baptism of the Holy Ghost, not with the same external manifestation, but with substantially the same elevation of faith and life. Instances of such a baptism in great preachers and workers, in lowly men and women, in periods of the Church's history. Suddenly the fact may appear, but, like the first Christians, our duty is to be ready for it, waiting, expecting, with one accord, often in one place. Revival of the Church, conversion of the world, should be viewed in their relation to this stupendous change, and what came out of it. Baptism is consecration. The Holy Ghost is not given for signs and wonders, but to endow the Church for its mission to the world. The power of utterance is the great test of Divine endowment, not in the sense of human eloquence, but in the fulfillment of the Spirit's work, to "convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment" (John 16:8-10). And so -
IV. A GREAT OPENING HEAVEN. The one fact of Pentecost is the pledge of the future. It is the gate through which we can see endless glory: "angels of God ascending and descending." "All the families of the earth" blessed in the true children of Abraham. We must admit of no compromise in the proclamation of such a message. If Christianity is no more than a moral doctrine, then Pentecost is lost in the background of a primitive antiquity; if it is "life from the dead," then we must ceaselessly repeat the watchword, "This is he that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost." We can do nothing without a Divine Christ, a Divine Spirit, the promise of the Father, a new creation. To this opened heaven all are alike invited. The conditions of such a baptism were proclaimed by Jesus himself on the mount, through all his ministry. "Come unto me;" "Ask, and it shall be given unto you;" "Walk in the light, and be children of light." - R.
John 16:7-11). The only satisfactory explanation is this - that the Spirit's work was the continuance of his own. It continued that Divine presence which was essential to the stability and culture of the disciples; for both while he lived among men and when he passed beyond human vision, our Savior's words were true, "Without me ye can do nothing. No longer is Christ outside us, only to be seen by the eye, heard by the ear, and touched by the hand; we are now the "temples of the Holy Ghost;" he dwelleth with us, and is in us. We do not rightly apprehend the scene of Pentecost if we regard it only as the first of a series of separate gifts of the Spirit, which may be made in answer to prayer. We take a much more comprehensive and truthful view when we regard it as the entrance of God the Holy Ghost upon his special mission in relation to the full redemption of mankind. It was, as it were, the opening of the heavens, and the sending forth of the Divine Spirit, to brood forever over the waters, quickening life. It was his reception in the hearts prepared for him, that he might begin a work which, ever spreading and widening, seeks to enthrone God the Father in every heart and every life. As God the Son entered and won first a mother's heart, that he might get a standing-ground from which to enter the heart of the whole world; so God the Spirit came into the souls of a few disciples first, only that he might extend his sway, spreading from heart to heart, entering, subduing, teaching, and sanctifying, ever working for that glorious day when the "people shall be all holy." We fix attention on this one point: The disciples gained, and kept from that day, a deep sense of their entire dependence on God, and on God as the indwelling, in working Spirit. They could never recall that "day of Pentecost" without contrasting what they were before it came, and what they were after it had passed. There was contrast in their measure of spiritual vision, and contrast in the energy and joy of their work. And so they learned, in a most effective way, that their sufficiency was of God. The secret of all moral strength is dependence on God - open-heartedness to receive, and simple readiness to obey and work out, all the inward impulses and leadings of his Holy Spirit. Because the disciples learnt this lesson of Pentecost so well, therefore it can be thus reported concerning them, "They went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the Word with signs following." Application of this lesson may be made to the Christian.
1. We have a Christian life to maintain, culture and growth to watch over, higher truth to reach, clusters of graces to ripen, and the power of a holy example to wield. But we "are not sufficient of ourselves even to think anything as of ourselves." "Our sufficiency is of God." We too need the Quickener, Comforter, and Teacher.
2. We too have a conflict to wage, and sufferings to bear for our Master. And who "dares to do the warfare at his own charges"? We are only strong in God either to fight or to bear.
3. We too have a work to do for Christ, and a witness to render. And we must learn to say after the great apostle, "I can do all things through him who strengtheneth me." What we need is spiritual power, Spirit-power, the Pentecostal power. When shall we fully grasp the inspiring truth - the Holy Ghost is with us? - R.T.
I. WONDER IS CAUSED BY ANY BREAK IN THE REGULAR ORDER AND CUSTOM OF THE WORLD. It is so in the kingdom of nature, and here in that of spirit. The country-folk of Galilee were least of all likely to acquire the power to speak the tongues of nations with which they were seldom or never in contact. And here unlettered men are found speaking the tongues of ancient and cultivated peoples. It is a type and prophecy of what the gospel in its simplicity is to do for all the varieties of mankind.
II. WONDER WAS HERE ENHANCED BY THE MATTER AS WELL AS THE MANNER OF THE MESSAGE. The burden of this deliverance in diverse tongues was the "great deeds" or "mighty works" of God. Notice that power is the great theme. In any new beginning of spiritual life or fresh era of revelation, perhaps it may be said, the power of God must first be felt by the heart before his mercy and love can be rightly received. Our weakness needs the disclosure of the power working within us to make all things possible, and our pride may need chastising by the proof that one touch of that power brings the wisdom of this world to naught.
III. THE PHENOMENA OF THE SPIRIT ADMIT OF DIVERSE INTERPRETATIONS, The elation and exaltation of the mind produced by the incoming of Divine power outwardly resembles the intoxication of wine, and may readily be mistaken for it. With allusion to this, doubtless, St. Paul said, "Be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit" (see F. W. Robertson's sermon on this text). This is an example of the coincidence of extreme opposites. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned, and only the spiritual man can distinguish the spurious from the genuine enthusiasm, the superficial effervescence of bodily excitement from the sublime manifestation of the presence of God in the soul. Here, too, lies a trial of faith. The enthusiast is liable to be confounded with the madman or the fanatic by the many who judge according to appearances. The results can alone show the reality or otherwise of influence. Genuine spiritual power is ever followed by moral regeneration in the community. - J.
I. DEVOUT MEN may still be living at a very low point of spiritual apprehension and experience (ver. 5). To many conscientious and sober-minded people the manifestations of the Spirit a perplexity. Hence the importance of a progressive faith, a praying and expectant attitude. Religion apt to grow stagnant and perfunctory.
II. The MULTITUDE will be startled by that which comes from heaven. They need to be roused and quickened with great and enthusiastic utterances. The natural tendency of man is to rest in mere second causes. How could these "Galilaeans so speak? Yet God has something which each one can feel his own language." The gospel message must be brought home to men's" business and besoms." Speak to them, not in a learned, or philosophical, or theological phraseology, but in a dialect with which they are familiar.
III. There will be VARIETY among perplexed hearers. Some will ask for information, others will mock and scorn, revile and blaspheme. Yet the first opposition or indifference may be followed by a blessed ingathering of souls.
IV. The FEW SPEAKERS compared with the vast sphere represented in the multitude - east, west, north, south - reminds us that God hath chosen the weak to confound the mighty. The field is the world, but the small beginning is yet an announcement of the "wonderful works of God. To him there is no small and great. - R.
Uneducated, countrified Galilaeans were speaking to the comprehension of men who came from various parts of the earth and used several distinct languages. We do not know whether the disciples themselves understood the new words which they were empowered to utter, but it is certain that what the hearers heard was no jargon or incoherent speech; it was the story of Christ crucified and risen, given in the languages with which they were familiar. Manifestly here was a mystery, something surprising, needing explanation, something to exercise thought about; something which men of different dispositions would regard in different ways; something which would bring into expression the marked peculiarities of each class. Compare the way in which St. Paul's preaching at Athens tested the dispositions of his hearers (Acts 17:32). "Some mocked, and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter... certain men clave unto him, and believed." In our passage the attitudes taken towards the mystery were, at first two, and afterwards three.
I. SOME WERE IN DOUBT, AND WOULD INQUIRE FURTHER. (Ver. 12.) They were struck with surprise, confused, perplexed. They did not know what to make of these remarkable incidents; but they were not disposed to put them away from consideration, as necessarily delusions or impostures, because beyond a ready explanation. Their attitude was a right and a hopeful one. Denial of the "supernatural" is a sign of mental weakness or prejudiced obstinacy. Doubt about the "supernatural" is rational, and leads to inquiry, consideration, and due weighing of argument and proof. There is "honest doubt," and merely "willful doubt." The first disposition finds expression in sincere and earnest inquiry for the solution and satisfaction and removal of the doubt. The second disposition rejects inquiry, and keeps the doubting, priding itself upon its ability to doubt. No proofs can satisfy this class of doubters. Both these are still found in our Christian society; and the times tend to multiply that hopeless class that prides itself on doubting. Our Lord gave us the best remedy for the doubting disposition when he said, "If any man will do My will, he shall know of the doctrine."
II. SOME MOCKED, AND WOULD SUGGEST EVIL EXPLANATIONS. (Ver. 13.) Such dispositions even our Lord had to deal with. Some who saw his miracles declared that he wrought them "by the power of the devil;" showing in this their exceeding folly, for our Lord's works were all good and kind and helpful, and not in any sense mischievous or hurtful, as the work of devils is. So here, we find some who would not think, would not doubt, but at once rejected the mystery, and showed their folly in their insulting suggestion, "These men are full of new wine." This kind of disposition is a hopeless one. Such men have no susceptibility, No argument or proof can reach them. To this class belong the deniers and mockers of the "supernatural" in our day. The infidel class of all ages and of this has been very largely made up of those who were determined not to believe. The hard heart is too often the one great hindrance to belief.
III. SOME AMONG THE INQUIRERS WOULD RECEIVE THE TRUTH WHICH WAS DECLARED AND ATTESTED IN THE STRANGE PHENOMENA. Peter's words were a stern rebuke of the "mockers," with whom he would not deign to argue; he would utter no more than the words that should declare their folly. He preached to the doubting and inquiring. He may not have satisfied them all that day. Many may have needed to think quietly about it all, and seek further for themselves; but then, even that very day, in response to his word, three thousand accepted the Pentecostal wonders as the Spirit's witness to Jesus as the "Messiah," and "risen to become the present, living Savior. Peter gives the example of bringing the doubting and inquiring to God's Holy Word: To the Law and to the testimony." And still there can be no better way of guiding the seeking soul. The mysterious, the supernatural, is a stumbling-block in these days of the enthronement of human science, more serious than it has been in any previous age. The dispositions of men towards it remain the same; but the company of the scorners, who put the subject away as unworthy of consideration, is larger than ever. Yet there are still multitudes of susceptible and open-hearted doubters; and, with our Bibles in our hands, and our personal convictions and experiences giving tone to our words, we may hopefully plead with them to recognize God in nature, and God beyond nature; God's working within human explanation, and God's working beyond human explanation: a sphere "unseen and spiritual," that is altogether more real and permanent than the sphere "seen and temporal." Urge, in conclusion, that the things of the soul, religion, and God must of necessity lie in this "beyond," "within," "spiritual," "supersensuous," sphere. - R.T.
I. THAT THE SOURCE OF HUMAN INSPIRATION MAY BE VERY MUCH HIGHER, AS IT MAY BE VERY MUCH LOWER, THAN IS SUPPOSED. (Vers. 15-17.) It is true enough that what passes for Divine inspiration is often nothing more or better than earth-born excitement, mental or moral heats which are kindled by man and not by God - of the flesh, fleshly. This is abundantly proved by the test of time, and, in these cases, the last state is usually worse than the first. But, on the other hand, it sometimes happens that what is ignorantly mistaken for human passion is nothing less than a Divine afflatus. So here: these men "were not drunken;" God was "pouring out his Spirit" upon them. So has it been in the history of the Christian Church. Men that God has raised up and inspired to do his work have been either contemptuously disregarded, or cruelly decried, or systematically persecuted. Such facts as these should make us wait, examine, inquire, before we dismiss as worthless, or denounce as evil, those who profess to speak for Christ in ways other than our own.
II. THAT THE WHOLE HISTORY OF OUR RACE IS OUTSPREAD BEFORE GOD, AND THAT HIS HAND IS LAID UPON IT. (Vers. 17-20.) The Prophet Joel tells us what God will do. His words are necessarily obscure, for only the facts when they have occurred can make clear and plain their full significance. But we perceive that it was God's purpose, looking on to the future of the world, to pour down at one epoch a very rich effusion of his Spirit on the race, and to "show wonders" of the most extraordinary kind before the end of the dispensation. Everything is foreseen, arranged; the eye of God looks on, and all is before him; his hand, too, is stretched out, and at various points he makes his almighty power to be felt.
III. THAT AMID ALL THE ROCKINGS OF REVOLUTION THERE IS ONE PLACE OF UNFAILING SAFETY. (Ver. 21.) "Whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord shall be saved." Whatever visions are seen, or dreams are dreamed, or prophesyings are uttered on earth; whatever wonders may be wrought in heaven, - the man that makes God his Refuge has no need to fear; he shall be hidden in the everlasting arms of strength and love.
IV. THAT DIVINE PURPOSE IS COOPERATIVE WITH HUMAN FREEDOM. (Ver. 23.) Christ Jesus was "delivered by the determinate counsel," etc.; yet he was not so delivered but that they were "wicked hands" that crucified and slew him. The providence of God makes all things possible to us - the noblest achievements and also the darkest crimes; it is our faithfulness which makes us the agents of the one, and our sin which makes us the perpetrators of the other.
V. THAT GOD HAS MADE HIS ETERNAL SON TO OCCUPY THE THRONE OF THE HUMAN WORLD. (Vers. 24-36.) Peter showed:
1. That David had predicted the resurrection of Christ (vers. 25-31).
2. That they could bear positive testimony that he had risen from the dead (ver. 32).
3. That prophecy pointed him out as One reigning in power, awaiting the final and complete overthrow of all his enemies (vers. 34, 35). Wherefore let every knee bow to him, every heart be subject to his sway; for
(1) all power as well as all authority is his;
(2) on his side, we are sure of victory and blessedness;
(3) ranged against him, we shall be overcome, with terrible disaster to ourselves. - C.
I. THEY ARE NOT TO BE CONFOUNDED WITH THOSE OF SENSUOUS INTOXICATION. In this case the latter was not in the least likely, for it was still early morning. Indeed, Peter waves aside the explanation with an air of contempt.
II. THEY ARE TO BE INTERPRETED BY THE LAWS OF SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE.
1. The teaching of the prophets - the most inspired and enlightened of the race - must be fallen back upon. The prophet lived near to the fount of truth, and was the mouthpiece of the oracles of God. The oracle quoted from Joel lies in the center of his short roll, and burns there like a core of fire. It seems the one portion of his prophecy which looks beyond the circumstances of his time, and can only be satisfied by repeated fulfillments in the course of all future history.
2. The contents of the oracle of Joel.
(1) At some epoch undefined there is to be an outpouring of God's Spirit upon all mankind.
(2) The effect of this will be a general outburst of sacred utterance; an intense inward illumination.
(3) The whole manifestation is to be accompanied by wonders, symbolic and significant of a spiritual revelation, and the passing away of old and outworn customs.
(4) It will be an era of deliverance, of salvation. Men will cry to Jehovah, of old the Deliverer, and will be heard and saved from their distresses, with these prophetic hints the apostle would explain the wondrous events of the day. Christianity begins with a new effusion of the Divine into the human, the strengthening and illumination of the finite mind, the enlargement of its gifts of expression; a profound and general impression of the nearness of God, and the joy of a new-found freedom and salvation. - J.
I. The SIMPLICITY AND DIRECTNESS of the sermon; beginning with the facts of the present, going back to the facts of the past, and ending in the solemn appeal to enter the kingdom of Christ.
II. The SCRIPTURAL AUTHORITY on which it rests. The ancient promise of Messiah; the glory of the latter days; the prophetic psalms ; - thus showing that the unbelief of those who despised that day of grace was inexcusable.
III. The INSPIRED BOLDNESS of utterance. The hearers charged with the rejection of the Messiah; the facts openly proclaimed, and their disproof challenged; the present, ascended glory of Jesus published as the glad tidings which should, if welcomed, Obliterate the gloom of the last few years in Israel.
IV. The AFFECTIONATE EARNESTNESS mingling with all the discourse. A true Israelite is speaking as a brother to those who were the "house of Israel," over which Jesus came to be the Head. - R.
1. Any reference which cannot fairly be fitted to or exhausted by any passage of history, or the history of any individual, may be referred to Messianic times, or to the Messiah himself. This principle guides us both in the Book of Psalms and in the prophets. It helps to decide the intention of Joel, in the passage before us, which no page of ordinary human history satisfies.
2. Any reference from the Old Testament which an inspired apostle is led to use as proof of the Messiahship of Christ, must be accepted as having that for its proper application. On this ground Joel's prophecy must be received as dealing with the times and dispensation of the Holy Ghost. The prophecies given by the Scripture writers are of the utmost importance, as tending to check the material conceptions of the Messiah, which the later circumstances and history of the Jewish nation seem to have greatly encouraged. Those prophecies keep prominently before men's minds the suffering aspects of Messiah's life, so suggesting that his power would be moral, not material; and the spiritual aspects of the kingdom he would set up, whose features should be "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." The prophetical figures are often difficult, and need for their apprehension some knowledge of the sphere of poetical imagery from which Eastern writers used to draw their illustrations. Western composition is more formal and precise; and we should be careful not to press our associations with prophetic language in front of those associations which were familiar to the Scripture writer. Forgetting this, men have mistaken the meaning of the figures given in vers. 19, 20.
I. THE DISPENSATION OF THE SPIRIT. The leading features of it may be brought out by comparing it with the earlier "dispensation of the Law. Under that, God's Law was written on tables," for men's eyes to read; under this, God's Law is written on hearts, and becomes an inward impulse. Under that, goodness was regarded as right conduct; under this, goodness is regarded as right motive inspiring right doing. Other similar contrasts may be urged; and it should be impressed that, in the gift of his Son and Spirit, God sought to lay hold of men's souls, and win them, in love and trust, for himself.
II. THE EFFECTS OF THE DISPENSATION ON MEN. Here Peter explains the present signs: the high enthusiasm of the disciples, the bold preaching, the power of the tongues, etc. We may go on to show what are the permanent effects, in present-day endowments for Christian work and witness. Still we only work truly and successfully as we work in the "power of the Holy Ghost."
III. THE SIGNS OF ITS ADVENT IN THINGS. (Vers. 19, 20.) "The imagery is drawn as from one of the great thunderstorms of Palestine. There is a lurid blood-red hue of clouds and sky; there are the fiery flashes, the columns or pillars of smoke-like clouds boiling from the abyss. These, in their turn, were probably thought of as symbols of bloodshed and fire and smoke, such as are involved in the capture and destruction of a city like Jerusalem." The fall of Jerusalem was the formal passing away of the old dispensation of Mosaism, and the full establishment of the new dispensation of the Spirit. Press, in conclusion, the sublime hopes for mankind that lie in this "dispensation. Especially note ver. 21: there is now full and free soul-salvation for every one that calls upon the Lord in faith. The moral and spiritual redemption can now be applied to every open-hearted man by the energy of the abiding, indwelling, regenerating Spirit. - R.T.
I. WHAT IT IS.
1. Salvation, both present and eternal, in the great day of the Lord; amid the terrors of judgment.
2. Spiritual life, given by God, given to all and of every condition, manifested in the life and in the character, opening the eyes of the soul to Divine realities and future glories; flesh receives it, and is made spiritual; a new creation is pledged by it; flesh lifted up into the immortality of heaven.
3. Salvation through the Name of the Lord, wrought by him, illustrated by the wonderful facts of his history, secured by his infinite merit.
II. THE SIMPLE CONDITION. "Call on the Name of the Lord;" another description of faith in Old Testament language, including:
1. The soul's cry for help in the sense of sin and misery; call as one dying.
2. Apprehension of the Savior. The name is the person, the character, the claim, the authority, the promise.
3. Prayerful consecration in response to the Divine grace. The day of salvation is light around us. We accept the light as the light of life. 4. Universality of the proclamation - "whosoever. The spiritual gifts are not poured out upon all, but the moving of a new life is the invitation to growth in grace. The words of Joel remind us that there are special crises of opportunity, which it is awful sin to slight. Where many are calling on the Lord," shall we be dumb? "Who shall abide the day of his coming?" -R.
I. THE LIFE OF JESUS.
1. His simple and homely humanity. "Jesus of Nazareth," a name of scorn to many, of unpretentious lowliness to all.
2. His gracious, divinely attested career. Though poor and despised of men, the favor of God was upon him. And the proof was in the energy which went forth from Jesus. Again we come upon the note of power. "Mighty works" or "powers," "wonders" which called attention to will introducing change, and "signs," or all-significant acts which pointed to an unusual meaning, attested that Jesus was the Organ of Divine power and will.
3. This career was public, led in the light of day. The evidence was not only of the highest quality, but of the most unquestioned universality: "as you all know."
II. THE DESTINY OF JESUS TO DIE. To the superficial observer, or one knowing the facts only from the outside - a Jewish or Roman historian of the time - it might appear that Jesus perished as Judas the Gaulonite had done, the victim of the conflicts of the time. Jewish and Roman interest and passion seemed to unite against him, and he perished, the Victim of hate and misconception. But this was but a small part of the truth. To one instructed in the Divine logic of history, the death of Jesus was no accident; it lay in the laws of the moral order, in the "definite counsel and foreknowledge of God." Yet it was an act of wickedness to put him to death. Possibly we cannot solve in thought the seeming contradiction of the foreknowledge of God and the freedom of man. Enough that we can recognize separately the perfect truth of each.
III. THE UPRAISING OF JESUS. God's hand released him from the grasp of death. Here, again, was the operation of necessary law. It was impossible that he should be mastered by death - he who is the very affirmation of life. The absolute life cannot live beneath its negative. And here, again, the past furnishes its hints to the solution of the truth of the present. Spiritual life is imperishable; he who possesses it has an immediate consciousness of immortality, and can find parables of the victory of life over death everywhere. - J.
I. THE CLAIM.
1. Viewed in the light of human work. A man, to teach, to atone, to lead, as never man did. Compare the human supply of such wants with that provided by God in Christ.
2. Viewed in the light of Scripture promises. The line of prediction from the protevangel to the promise of the "Sun of Righteousness with healing in his wings."
II. THE PROOF OF THE CLAIM.
1. The superhuman character of Christ's humanity; as spotlessly pure, coming forth out of an impure nation and decayed religious life; as supreme in spiritual qualities - love, self-sacrifice, etc.
2. The direct testimonies given by God, at birth, baptism, with a voice from the cloud, etc.
3. The works of the Lord himself. Their authority thus solemnly and conspicuously put forth by the Apostle Peter; their embodiment in the gospel; their harmony with the character and mission of the Savior; their superiority to all others, before or since. "God did them."
III. THE APPEALING FORCE OF THE CLAIM.
1. A "great salvation!" "How can we escape, if we neglect" it?
2. A Man amongst men, touched with fellow-feeling, tenderly claiming obedience.
3. A Name which gathers round it the testimony of the multitude which no man can number, approved by the facts of salvation in the past, waiting to find in us another proof that he is "able to save unto the uttermost," etc. - R.
historical basis. Apostles fearlessly appealed to certain known facts, which could not be gainsaid. It has been left to these later times to find myth and legend, when the contemporaries of the apostles dare not dispute the literal and truthful character of their statements. The interest of Peter's sermon - the first gospel sermon - lies mainly in its indicating what were early regarded as the essential facts of the gospel, and so the points to which the faith of men was called. The interest of the occasion of this sermon may be shown, and it should be impressed that we properly expect, at such a time, the utmost clearness and definiteness. Whatever is essential to Christianity surely found expression then, in broad statement and general principle. We find -
I. DISTINCT IDENTIFICATION OF JESUS. Peter will allow no possibility of confusion or mistake. There were doubtless many persons named "Jesus" in the country, but he speaks of Jesus of Nazareth; the Teacher who was so well known by this name; the man whom the elders of the nation despised and crucified. St. Peter, like St. Paul afterwards, testifies for "Jesus," whatever may be the disabilities that seemed to attach to him, and however Jew and Greek may despise him. They take Jesus, and his whole story, shameful crucifixion and all, and will not let any man doubt who it is that they preach.
II. FIRM ASSERTION OF DIVINE POWER IN HIS MIRACLES. "God did them by him." The miracles as facts could not be denied, but their testimony to the mission, authority, and power of Christ might be turned aside if it could be made out that they were impostures, clever medical triumphs, or works wrought by Satanic power. Therefore St. Peter so earnestly declares that the miracles are signs of God's power in Christ. Show how this, once admitted, involves the truthfulness, sincerity, and goodness of Christ, since God would not work gracious healing works through a bad agent; and so it follows that Jesus rightly claimed the office and mission of Messiahship. This line of argument from the miracles is of permanent value in Christian evidence. Press our Lord's words. "Believe for the very works' sake.
III. OUR LORD'S ACTUAL CRUCIFIXION AND ACKNOWLEDGED DEATH. There is permitted no dispute as to the personal guilt of Jesus; he was admittedly innocent, freed from charge by every court that tried him, and made a victim to prejudice and malice and religious bigotry. There could be no dispute as to his real death on the cross; Peter seems to remind the Jews that their council held the Roman centurion's certificate of death, and that council had set watchmen" to keep the grave. And still there are two foundation facts of the gospel system:
1. Jesus was crucified as an innocent man.
2. Jesus actually yielded up his fife on the cross. Show the importance of these facts to the doctrine of redemption in Christ's blood. A "lamb without blemish" was the only fitting "burnt offering" for humanity; it was consumed upon the altar, and the sacrifice accepted of God.
IV. OUR LORD'S RESURRECTION AS THE TESTIMONY OF DIVINE APPROVAL. Apostles constantly urge the fact that Jesus had risen from the grave. It is significant that the men of their day could not deny the fact. Give the lame and poor attempts to make out that the disciples had stolen the body. But apostles carefully say God raised him, and so publicly declared His acceptance of him and of his sacrifice. They do not say "he was raised," or "he raised himself. We know, therefore, that with him God is well pleased." Peter seeks to carry home his teachings by appeal to Scripture. His plea is this - Jesus, crucified and risen, asks our faith, and to all who believe in him he gives "eternal life." - R.T.
I. THE IMMEDIATE SENSE OF THE PRESENCE OF THE LIVING GOD. And this is a presence which, once enjoyed, carries with it the promise of its enjoyment forever. God can never be less to me than he is at the moment of my highest spiritual joy in the possession of him. This sense of his presence gives perfect security.
II. THE EFFECT IS GLADNESS AND TRIUMPHANT HOPE. The soul will not be left in the gloom of Hades, to live on a life but the cold and shadowy reflection of the Bright life on earth. This cannot be believed and God's goodness be believed. This cannot be believed and the filial feeling retained. At last all arguments for the immortality of the soul fall back upon this deepest basis, the ineradicable conviction of the goodness of God.
III. THE WHOLE IS AN ARGUMENT FROM THE PAST TO THE FUTURE. "Thou madest known...the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of gladness." And the argument may be applied in a wider sense than that present to the mind of the psalmist. For he was a prophet; and all prophecy is a germ which unfolds into endless meanings which history brings to light. The greatest and most signal fulfillment of the prophecy was in the resurrection of Christ.
IV. THE FACTS, TOGETHER WITH THE PROPHECY, COMBINE IN ONE ARGUMENT FOR THE RESURRECTION. The facts were, that the risen Jesus had been seen by many. That now, after an interval from his departure, there had been a remarkable effusion of spiritual power. With these must be connected the fact that he had spoken of the coming of the Holy Ghost, the "promise of the Father." Putting the whole of the facts together, the conclusion was: Jesus, the despised and crucified, had been exalted to sovereign dignity, and in reference to Israel especially to the Messiahship; to be anointed Prophet, Priest, and King over his people for ever. The coincidence of extreme opposites is to be observed throughout the scheme of the gospel. It is illustrated, above all, in the humility and glorification, the weakness and power, the human contempt, and the Divine honor associated with the person of Jesus. - J.
facts of the Resurrection, as having come within their own personal knowledge. But they also argued from Scripture, that the Lord's resurrection was the natural and necessary completion of Messiah's earthly mission. In the above passage is given the first specimen of such argumentation; and it should be carefully noted that it is fitted to Eastern rather than to Western modes of thought. The late Dr. Robert Vaughan says, "The Oriental intellect is not logical. Its faculty is to a high degree intuitive; it reasons, but it rarely does so formally. It passes to its conclusions with a subtle celerity, resembling what we see in women, much more than by those scientific processes which are familiar to our Western habits of thought." The audience which Peter at this time addressed was composed of devout, God-fearing Jews, who were attending the feast, and it was therefore especially appropriate that his argument should be based upon the Scriptures, and take Scripture form. "The passage which he first quotes is taken from Psalm 16:8-11, and he argues that it could not be of himself that the psalmist there spake, for they had evidence that the words could not be truly said of him; but that, having regard to God's promise, he spake of him who was to be born from his line, as identified with himself." The second quotation is from Psalm 110., and is taken to suggest that David went down to the grave, and "slept with his fathers;" and the allusion to ascension and place at Jehovah's right hand could not possibly apply to him, but must refer to his "greater Son," of whose resurrection and ascension the apostles gave their witness. The argument may be followed through its several stages.
I. DAVID PLAINLY SPEAKS OF THE RESURRECTION AND ASCENSION OF SOME ONE. He does not deal, in these psalms, in vague generalities and pious sentiment. He was a prophet, and under Divine inspiration, and speaks with distinctness and definiteness. We must seek for the person to whom he refers.
II. HE COULD NOT MEAN HIMSELF, This, indeed, would be the first thought of the reader of his words, but it will not bear examination. The expressions are too large to be satisfied in the experience of any mere man. And, if taken literally, as they should be, they cannot be applied to David himself. They must refer to some great one who has no earthly sepulcher, because, though he died, he rose, and no tomb holds his body. But David's sepulcher was then recognized, and all regarded him as awaiting the general resurrection of the just.
III. HE MUST HAVE REFERRED TO MESSIAH. It must have been a prophetic utterance. And the Messianic character of both these psalms has been generally admitted by the Jews; so that Peter's proof-texts would not be disputed by his audience as unsuitable. The only difficulty would be the identification of Messiah. To this point he leads the argument.
IV. DAVID'S WORDS FIT THE FACTS WHICH THE APOSTLES WITNESSED CONCERNING JESUS OF NAZARETH. He only had been thus raised after death to the spiritual and incorruptible life. He only had passed, after resurrection, into the eternal world without another experience of death. He alone met the conditions of the psalmist, and therefore he must be the promised Messiah. The other cases of resurrection narrated in Old and New Testament Scriptures should be examined, and the points of contrast between them and our Lord's case should be carefully noted; especially the most marked peculiarity in our Lord's case, that ascension followed resurrection, whereas all other raised persons died a second time. If, then, Jesus be the Christ, the Messiah, to him our "knees should bow, and our tongue confess." - R.T.
I. RECEIVED OF THE FATHER. The throne of Christ is the right hand of the Father. "Righteousness and peace have kissed each other." The obedience of Christ rewarded. The highest manifestation of the Divine in the Man Christ Jesus. The only true view of infinite power is that which sees it on Christ's throne as the source of the Spirit of life. Man's power destroys, God's power creates and saves. The thrones of this world fall, because they are so unlike Christ's throne.
II. The HIGHEST SUMMIT which Jesus reached; to which he was exalted. He did not throw off humanity, but carried it with him. For the sake of it he endured the cross. The glory of the throne shines through the earthly scenes of his history. So we can see the summit of our blessedness beyond and through the steep sides of the earthly path. Exalted for us, Jesus shows us that there is a holy ambition which is not self-worship, but self-sacrifice. James and John were not reproved for desiring to sit beside Jesus, but for desiring it apart from Divine appointment - as mere personal favor.
III. THE GIFT ITSELF. "He hath shed forth this, which ye see and hear." Spiritual power is given that it may be manifested; not in the world's forms, not as ecclesiastics have claimed to exhibit it, but with Pentecostal grace - distinguished men, subduing and captivating messages. The poverty of the Church without this gift. The evidence of its presence in the spirit of loyalty to the King from whose throne it descends. Christ-like power is what we want. The individual appeal: "Ye see and hear." The gift is already bestowed. Why should any be without it? An appeal (as in ver. 36) to the Crucifixion. "Ye slew him; yet he offers you his grace. Ye said, 'We will not have this man to reign over us;' yet he holds out his scepter, and invites you to sit down with him on his throne." Is not this a love to put on the throne of our hearts? - R.
wind was still heard, and it seems hardly likely that the tongues of flame continued to rest on the heads of the disciples. But the ability to speak in foreign languages was the sign that chiefly arrested the people's attention, and this may have continued throughout the day. Some of the audience had, no doubt, also seen the "tongues of flame." St. Peter here makes three distinct points.
I. GOD HAS EXALTED JESUS OF NAZARETH. This Jesus, to whom he had been so distinctly referring. Here is an advance to a conclusion from the facts which the apostles witnessed. They declared the facts of resurrection and ascension. St. Peter now says - Admit the facts, and what follows? Surely this: God has acknowledged, accepted, and exalted Jesus, so affirming his Messiahship, and entrusting him with Lordship in the new spiritual kingdom (ver. 35). In no sublime way could the Divine attestation of Jesus have been given.
II. GOD HAS FULFILLED THE PROMISES MADE THROUGH CHRIST. Give, from the closing chapters of St. John's Gospel, the promises of the Spirit as Teacher and Comforter. The truth of our Savior rested on the fulfillment of those assurances. Peter bids the people see, in Pentecostal signs, the fulfillment of both the general promise of the Spirit given through ancient prophets, and the special and precise promises of the Holy Ghost given through the Lord Jesus.
III. SHOW THE GIFT OF THE SPIRIT IS THE FINAL SEAL OF CHRIST'S CLAIM. He is given because Jesus is glorified. As exalted, as entrusted with holy authority and power, the Lord Jesus has "shed forth this, which ye now see and hear." The Spirit witnesses to Christ, and especially to his present claim, as Lord, to the allegiance of every heart, the surrender of every will, and the obedience of every life. - R.T.
I. THE RANGE OF DIVINE LOVE. (Ver. 39.) Peter declared, at this the outset of the new dispensation, that the range of God's redeeming love would be "exceeding broad."
1. It was to go from generation to generation: "to you and to your children."
2. It was to extend to remotest regions: "to all that are afar off."
3. It was to embrace every one whom the summons of the inviting Lord should reach: "as many as the Lord our God shall call." Thus, at the beginning, the apostles gave a true idea of the fullness of that "kingdom of God" of which their Master had spoken so much, and which he lived and died to establish.
II. THE FIRST RESULT OF DIVINE TRUTH (Ver. 37.) This was (and is):
1. Spiritual agitation.
2. Earnest inquiry. When they heard this, they were pricked in their heart; they said, "What shall we do?" This is the simple, natural, constant course of things divine in the heart of man. When the truth of God is faithfully preached, and when the seed falls on good soil, there is spiritual agitation; the soul is smitten, the heart pierced; there are "great searchings of heart;" the old apathy, self-sufficiency, equanimity, is disturbed and broken up, and the spirit is troubled with a deep disquietude. It discovers that everything is wrong: the past is guilty, the present utterly unsatisfactory, the future clouded. Then comes earnest inquiry: "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" "Wherewithal shall we come before the Lord?" How shall we be forgiven, justified, accepted? What is the path of reconciliation and peace? Through what spiritual experiences must we pass? What is the way into the kingdom of God? The soul, thus in earnest, turns to the sacred Scriptures or addresses those who speak in the name of Christ.
III. THE CHRISTIAN MINISTER'S COUNSEL TO THE INQUIRING. (Vers. 38, 40.)
1. Repent; i.e. turn from sin and selfishness to righteousness and holy service; abandon the old and evil life of folly, thoughtlessness, worldliness, wrong-doing; put that away with shame and sorrow, and enter the opposite path - turn Godwards, truthwards, heavenwards.
2. Accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your Teacher, Lord, Savior; be baptized into him. Heartily accept him, and honestly avow him, as your Divine Redeemer.
3. Separate yourself from the sin which surrounds you; "save yourselves," etc. (ver. 40); have no participation in guilt, and have no sympathy or fellowship with sinners, as such.
IV. THE PROMISE OF DIVINE MERCY AND INDWELLING POWER. These conditions fulfilled, there will be:
1. Remission of sins (ver. 38).
2. The indwelling of the Holy Ghost (ver. 38). Christ, our almighty Savior, our Divine Friend, being with us, we shall have above us a reconciled heavenly Father to whom we can look up with rejoicing, childlike trust and love; and we shall have within us a Holy Spirit, cleansing the thoughts of our heart by his inspiration; sanctifying our nature; empowering us for the burden, the witness, and the battle of life; preparing us for the companionships and engagements of immortality. - C.
I. COMPUNCTION. Fear is awakened by every drawing near of God to man. And with fear is closely connected the sense of sin. Stated from the other side, the truth is: behind the power of God lies his holiness, which is as a consuming fire. The deepest seat of fear is not in our physical but in our moral instincts. Thus the fear awakened by the revelation of the All-holy is itself a witness to the fact that conscience is the central unity of our being. Our very self seems threatened when confronted with a Being who judges evil, and is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.
II. INSTINCTIVE DESIRE FOR ACTION. "What shall we do?" Let us not take the words in the grossest sense of personal fear, and mere desire to escape from some imminent outward danger. Why should we? Brave as lions in the ordinary sense, there are men who cannot endure the face of their God. The Object before which all must quail is the Spirit revealed in the inmost moral convictions. All religion is a striving after inner unity, reconciliation between self and God. And the will is deeply concerned in this. It is a good sign when men ask, amidst the pains of a wounded conscience - What must I do? It implies the feeling of freedom; the fact that they have power and will left.
III. THE WAY OF SALVATION. AS indicated in the words of Peter.
1. A change of mind. Repentance. To see its full meaning we should look to the Greek. It is μετάνοια
: it is a change of thought from the bad to good, the erroneous to the true, or the less true to the more true. Repentance is not mere feeling; it has not the uncertainty of moods and sentiments. It is not a simple change in the weather of the soul. It is a distinct alteration of the focus of the intelligence; it carries with it a movement of the will; in short, it is a revolution in the very ground of the man's being.
2. The expression of the change of mind. By baptism - a pure and simple rite, significant to every eye and imagination of washing, of cleansing, of recovered purity, for intelligence, feeling, and conduct. The acts of the spirit are not complete until they have been clothed in outward form. We hardly know ourselves to be changed, and certainly others cannot know that we are changed, without the language of the act. Sacraments are thus needed both for the believer himself and for the society; they have a subjective and an objective value.
3. The promises of the new life. The man who conics out of paganism or ritualism is baptized into Christ, i.e. into a spiritual religion which offers promises as well as enjoins duties.
(1) Remission of sins. Deliverance in its highest and most absolute form. The deliverance which was Israel's age-long dream passes out of its lower, sensuous, typical form of national freedom and independence into the spiritual form of personal freedom and independence of the (lark necessity, the fate or bondage of sin. It is the discovery that freedom is in this deepest sense a reality which makes Christ's doctrine a great moving force in the world. Men grasp at the shadows of freedom, or the mere skirts of freedom, until this its true shape is revealed.
(2) The gift of the Holy Ghost. Closely connected with the foregoing; for moral power goes hand in hand with moral freedom. Only in freedom from the oppression of sin can the soul become the organ of the Holy Spirit. The wide extent of this promise. To the chosen people - to their posterity, and to an undefined multitude of the heathen whom God shall call unto him. The universality of the gospel blessings here appears in germ, although from the lips of one who afterwards sided with the Judaizers. The progress of Christianity has been marked by the growing appreciation of the part and place of the nations in the kingdom of God.
4. Exhortation. "Be saved from the generation of this crookedness," says the apostle, using an idiom of his native Hebrew. Salvation is ever from a present evil, affecting not only the individual but the society. It is the tyranny of custom which weighs upon all. And all that is said in the New Testament about this "present evil world," and the "course" of this world, refers to some such predominance of immoral habits in the general life of society. As evil, Proteus-like, changes its forms from age to age, so is the hope and message of salvation eternally fresh and new. - J.
I. WROUGHT IN THE HEART. Repentance. Anxious inquiry. Submission to Divine teaching. Separation from the old life. Depth of the work revealed in progressive steadfastness.
II. The fruit of HUMAN AGENCY accompanied by Divine power. Preaching, the testimony of believers, the sight of wonders, the open gate of the Church.
III. SEALED with the appointed sign of the Spirit. Baptism, both selective and consecrative in meaning. It was to separate and to unite. Save yourselves from this generation. God calls you unto him.
IV. Given in GREAT ABUNDANCE. "Three thousand souls;" as encouragement to the Church; as a sign of promise and invitation to the world; as a confirmation of the gospel; as a preparation for immediate assault upon the mass of unbelief. For though God can work with small and insignificant instrumentality, he summons his people to make great efforts.
V. The PLEDGE, PROMISE, AND PROPHECY of the world's ingathering. Nations shall be born in a day. The wonders of Pentecost may and shall be repeated, though we should not look for the repetition of the exact mode and form.
VI. The wonderful is a preparation in the spiritual world for the ORDERLY AND REGULAR. (Ver. 42.) As soon as possible the fruits of great revivals and religious excitements should be built up into the steadfast system and abiding fellowship. In the Church God works, as in the natural world. The new and extraordinary is brought at once into relation to the continuous line of progressive life.
VII. THE ORDINANCES OF THE CHURCH stand immediately connected with its most vital point. When the spiritual life was freshest and least formalized, baptism and the Lord's Supper were observed. The antidote to sacramentarianism is not disparagement of that which the Lord himself appointed, but the closer identification of the rite with the spiritual grace which gives it reality. The true presence and operation of the Spirit is the remedy for all the evils of the professing Church; making work, prayer, teaching, fellowship, the regular and the extraordinary, all alike pure and true and heavenly. - R.
I. THE TRUE RELIGIOUS AWAKENING.
1. Distinguished from mere excitement; from educational and conventional preparation for public acknowledgment of Christianity; from an attitude produced by personal influences or circumstances, as a child pressed to call itself a Christian by parental affection, or a member of a congregation almost unconsciously carried forward to a position which has no true and deep feeling to support it.
2. The fruit of preaching, or other setting forth of the facts of the gospel in relation to the individual. The hearers were pricked to the heart, because they felt the application to themselves of the apostle's appeal. He did not employ any irregular or even sensational methods; he proclaimed the facts. He said, "You are verily guilty; the promise is made unto you." Directness of appeal cannot fail of its effects.
3. The work of a special bestowal of the Spirit. It was intelligent, conscientious, heartfelt, outspoken. There is no intimation of any abnormal manifestations, but simply the calm, earnest question of personal anxiety: "What shall we do?" Spiritual life begins in different ways, but it will always be marked by conviction of sin and acceptance of offered grace. Heart, conscience, life, - all changed.
II. THE TRUE BEGINNING OF RELIGIOUS LIFE.
1. It is towards God. The inner man recognizing the facts, responding to the appeal, turning the heart from its perversity and selfishness, feeling and acknowledging the greatness of the sin and the danger of condemnation. The tendency to multitudinism is one of the most injurious in modern life. The gathering of masses, not really changed towards God, into the associations of the Church, and so into a state of calm security as to their religious prospects, is a barrier to a vital, spiritual advancement. Better the Church should not be increased with its thousands, than that they should be mere nominal Christians.
2. It is towards man. They addressed themselves to Peter and the rest of the apostles. Religious life is not a solitary thing, not a mere matter between the soul and God; but between the man and his fellow-man - between the individual believer and the Church of Christ. The questions of the anxious and seeking souls should be drawn out by the Church. The Church should present itself to the world in such a way that the questions should be both humbly and affectionately asked. There is an authority of superior knowledge and experience and tried character which should be able to make itself felt. Yet men should see that we are their brethren, and that love to their souls is our ruling motive. "What shall we do?" Though we often teach men their moral helplessness and nothingness - that Christ has done all - still all true religious life means action; life must reveal energy, express itself in conscious, steadfast effort. The apostle immediately directed the awakened people to do something for themselves. "Be baptized;" "Come out and be separate." While it is possible to press an immature religious life to too early an acknowledgment, it is well to follow the apostolic precedents, and seal impression and resolve, with decided action and public testimony. We must cast ourselves on God. We are safer in the Church than in the world. Everywhere there is temptation, but the pledged Christian will have help in his holy vows. - R.
intense feelings with which the Jews anticipated the coming of their Messiah, we may set forth the terrible revulsion of feeling, and the overwhelming shame that smote them, when they were convinced that they had actually crucified their Messiah, offering him thus the greatest insult, and rendering themselves guilty of the gravest crime. St. Peter demands three things - repentance, faith, and confession. The first and last of these are distinctly stated, the second is implied.
I. THE GOSPEL DEMANDS REPENTANCE. This was the requirement of John the Baptist, and of our Lord when he sent forth his apostles on their trial mission. It is the proper and necessary preparation for forgiveness; it is the state of mind and feeling to which alone forgiveness can come, and by which alone it can be appreciated, Here the conviction of the one particular sin of crucifying Messiah becomes a revelation of general sinfulness; and so definite repentance is attended with a humiliation and humility which can be a basis of faith, an openness to receive further truth, and a condition fitted for a gracious forgiveness. Repentance is still the first gospel demand. Possibly modern preaching greatly fails because adequate prominence is not given to it.
II. THE GOSPEL DEMANDS FAITH. Here the special object of the faith should be dwelt on. The repentance of these Jews involved their believing that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed their Messiah. But this was not saving faith. It only crushed and humbled. The faith required is personal trust in the living, exalted Lord Jesus Christ, the present Savior, and actual surrender of heart and life to him. It is belief in his Name as Savior. This distinction should be fully unfolded and illustrated, with earnest pleadings for that faith, or personal trust, which actually links us to the living Savior.
III. THE GOSPEL DEMANDS CONFESSION. This is the real point and meaning of the rite of baptism, which is the public act in which our faith in Christ is declared. If we are sincere in our faith we shall be willing to make it known. If we are earnest in our faith we shall want to make it known. And Christ's kingdom is to be spread by just this confession and acknowledgment of him. Therefore the demand is, "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." Show that this duty of "public confession" is sadly neglected in our day, and there is consequently a perilous vagueness, indefiniteness, and indistinctness characteristic of religious life. Press the importance of this duty, in relation both to personal soul-culture and to the duty of witnessing for the Christ in whom we hope. Conclude by showing that the gospel response to those who meet its demands is forgiveness, involving acceptance with God and the privileges of restored sonship; and that this is scaled to us by the gift of the Holy Ghost. - R.T.
original of even this there can be no doubt the Jewish nation as such had long been acquainted. The rite, however, unavoidably invests itself with fresh dignity and fresh significance from the time that Jesus, in the interval between the Resurrection and Ascension, and especially in his very parting words before the latter event, enjoined his disciples to observe it, in the sense, not of submitting to it themselves at the hands of one another, but of calling others to it and administering it to them. They are expressly advised by Jesus that in their own case it would be utterly superseded by the baptism of the Holy Ghost, which the day of Pentecost was to bring, and which it now had brought. "This beginning," therefore, of baptism in the Name of Jesus Christ may well attract most interested notice. It practically owned to certain objects or requirements, whether more explicit or implicit in their character. And it is our duty to study it in the appearances it then offered to view.
I. IT IMPLIED THAT, GIVEN CERTAIN FAVORING CIRCUMSTANCES AND OPPORTUNITIES OF KNOWLEDGE IN THEIR RELIGIOUS LIFE, MEN ARE CALLED TO ENTER INTO A DEFINITE AND FIXED RELATIONSHIP TO CHRIST. Once the novel appeal to men was, "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Now the more permanent appeal has taken its place: "Repent, and be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ."
II. IT SUPPOSES THAT THE ENTRANCE UPON SUCH RELATIONSHIP TO CHRIST BE OF THE NATURE OF A PROFESSION, AND MORE OR LESS PUBLIC PROFESSION. Not in the retirement of sacred shrine, or of more sacred closet, or of most sacred heart alone, must the relationship be established. There were reasons why a certain kind of notoriety should attend it. That notoriety might be expected to have in it:
1. Some share of useful influence on the individual character of the person making profession.
2. Some helpful influence in the founding and holding together of the Christian society.
3. Some tribute of grateful and willing acknowledgment to him who once was put to "open shame."
III. IT CONTAINED IN IT A TACIT CONFESSION, IN THE VERY NATURE OF THE RITE SUBMITTED TO, OF THE TAINT INHERENT IN NATURE, AND OF NATURE'S NEED OF PURIFICATION. The indistinctness of prophecy that went before by centuries, and the unequivocal distinctness of apostolic language in both history and Epistle, give the description of washing, cleansing, purifying, as the symbolic significance of the rite of baptism.
IV. IT DID NOT, TO ALL APPEARANCE, ASK FOR ANY INQUISITORIAL ELEMENT OR SEARCHING INVESTIGATION ON THE PART OF THE ADMINISTRATORS OF IT. It would seem impossible, in the nature of the circumstances described in the history before us, that even apostles, under the highest amount of inspiration, could have done more than accept simply the profession of those who offered themselves for baptism. The guarantee they took of the very repentance which they urged and preached as the deepest matter in question, was only that which belonged to the fact of the people's willingness and desire to be baptized. That was indeed a great and open change of mind, or repentance, which brought the people to this point. It seems impossible to imagine that baptism was now accepted as anything but the very first step toward holiness of heart and life. Those who were baptized did thus much - they "set their faces Zionward." These are the appearances that invest the first occasion of the observance or use of baptism as a Christian rite. These appearances by themselves scarcely amount to the assertion of a permanent institution; and they can scarcely be accounted as speaking with authority the subjects, or the convictions, or the methods of its administration for all time and all circumstances, even upon the supposition of its permanent obligation. They are not, therefore, the less interesting; nay, they may kindle keener and more observant inquiry. But they need such inquiry, and they must be interpreted under the light of Christ's ascending commission to his disciples, of obedience to which this is the first possible occasion, and in the light of the succeeding history of Christ's followers during the apostolic period. At present baptism may be said to hold the place of an initiatory rite. Through that first Christian baptism three thousand persons were introduced into the ranks of those who believed in Christ as the Messiah, and who were prepared to become learners in his school, and to put in practice (as was immediately seen) his principles. They no longer are of those who believe in sacrifices and ceremonial observances innumerable for "the remission of sins," but "in the Name of Jesus Christ." And they are introduced within the covenant of promise - that covenant the abiding promise to which was "the gift of the Holy Ghost." - B.
I. Consider it as the NEED of man, and the fulfillment of that whole dispensation of mercy under which man was placed when he fell.
1. Trace it through the bestowments of the Old Testament, and show that while God was ever bestowing his Spirit, both in special manifestations as in the inspiration of his messengers, and in individual life, yet the requirement of man was that in connection with a larger communication of truth and redeeming love there should be the lifting up of humanity itself, of the spirits of men by Divine gifts.
2. Show that such is God's method always. With gifts from without he sends gifts within. The gifts of science and discovery accompany an elevation of the mind and life of the world. Moreover, it is a Divine gift to be able to speak for Christ.
II. Consider the EXTENT AND APPLICATION of the promise.
1. Apart from all restrictions of human merit. To the crucifiers of Jesus - for God is merciful; to the Jew, notwithstanding his abuse of special privileges; to the Gentile, notwithstanding ignorance and degradation.
2. Apart from all restrictions of age. To the children as well as to the adults; to the families as well as the heads of households: for though the word "children" does not necessarily denote infants, it does not exclude them, and in such ways as by the analogy of Scripture we can interpret the "promise to the children," the word applies to the youngest. The Jew might well understand it as a covenant, which, like that of circumcision, was applied in its signs to the infant.
3. Wider than the utmost limits of human knowledge and belief. It is not for us, as it was not for the Apostle Peter, to say "whom the Lord our God should call." He has no respect of persons. He calls those whom we should not call. Peter himself was soon taught that God's purposes cannot be judged by man. The universality of the Spirit is the basis of all missionary efforts - the bond of the true Church. - R.
1. There were miracles wrought by the apostles (ver. 43).
2. There was a community of goods (vers. 44, 45), which was so far from being permanent and general, that it only lasted for a short time in the one Church at Jerusalem.
3. There was daily temple-worship, necessarily restricted both as to time and place (ver. 46). But though there were these peculiar and exceptional features, there was much in the spiritual fervor of those earliest days which belongs to every age of the Christian Church.
I. IT WAS BEGOTTEN OF DIVINE INFLUENCE. We must not dissever this passage from all that precedes, but remember that this remarkable manifestation of sacred feeling was the outcome of Divine influence. It was the gift of the Holy Ghost, descending upon the Church in copious streams of sacred power, which brought forth these abounding signs of spiritual life. All life in the soul of man is "born from above." Whatever looks like it, in the shape of extraordinary activity or intense feeling, which is not awakened by the Spirit of God, is but the semblance and show of it, and is not the vital thing itself.
II. IT WAS MANIFESTED IN ABIDING FORMS.
1. In open declaration of faith in Christ: "They that gladly received his word were baptized" (ver. 41).
2. In attachment to saving truth: "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine" (ver. 42). Souls in earnest will not leave the truth by which they have been led to God to wander in byways of unsatisfying human fancies; still less to go off into the high-road of error.
3. In fellowship: with man, and also with God (vers. 42, 44, 46). The disciples "continued in fellowship, and in breaking of bread;" they "were together;" they "continued with one accord in breaking bread." Here was
(1) human fellowship - the cordial, frequent associating one with another; and
(2) fellowship with God in the Lord's Supper.
4. In prayer (ver. 42) and in praise (ver. 47). The sacred fervor which often comes as, in part, the result of devotion will spend itself largely in more devotion, in private and public "prayers," and in "praising God." Prayer and praise are the very atmosphere in which elevated piety lives and breathes and has its being.
5. In consideration of the needs of others (vers. 44, 45). They who have a real "zeal for God," who are devoted to Jesus Christ, will ask themselves what they can do to help those who are in need; how they can best contribute to the comfort, the elevation, the well-being of those who are left behind in the race, who are defeated in the battle of life. They will show, in some form different states of society demand different methods - sympathy, liberality, succor.
III. IT HAD UNFAILING RESULTS.
1. In sacred joy: "They did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart" (ver. 46). We may reasonably doubt the excellence of any spiritual fervor which does not show itself in gladness of heart.
2. In general devoutness: "Fear came upon every soul (ver. 43). If we are heartily and wisely in earnest, those who witness our lives will be impressed with the reality of our convictions, and will pause to ask whence this holy ardor comes.
3. In abounding usefulness (vers. 41-47). The Lord will add to the Church continually of those who "are in the way of salvation." - C.
I. IMMEDIATE CHANGE ON THE PART OF MANY. Three thousand were found receptive to the truth, so powerfully attested in word and deed, and submitted to baptism.
II. PERSEVERANCE IN DISCIPLESHIP. That the conversion was genuine is shown by their diligent attention to the apostolic instruction, and frequentation of the Christian society. Perhaps no better tests of genuine change can be found. The breaking of bread and the prayers stand for the regular ordinances of religion. The life that is of God will ever prove its worth by becoming a social power, by seeking social nourishment and common edification.
III. THE SPREAD OF A GENERAL SPIRIT OF REVERENCE. This, too, is symptomatic of an outpouring of the Divine Spirit. It is not without reason we speak of the general "tone of society." When and wherever the Church is really alive unto God, and Christians have received an unction from the Holy One, public and private life feels the influence; the newspapers, books, gossip, turn upon serious matters; and the scoffer is shamed.
IV. OCCASIONAL MANIFESTATIONS OF DIVINE POWER. Wonders and signs by the agency of the apostles; in other words, indications of the Divine presence with chosen men, intimating special meanings directing to moral ends. But the occasional ever rests upon the constant and permanent. The wonderful ever serves to direct attention to the regular and the common. We should forget the beneficent law of spiritual things, did not special interruptions arouse us from the stolid apathy of custom.
V. A NEW MODE OF LIFE INTRODUCED. There was a deep sense of unity, and consequently delight in fellowship. They met together; they instinctively sought a perfect equality with one another. To carry this out involved in many instances, doubtless, great personal sacrifices - the parting with personal property and distribution to the needy. It was the best proof of love that could be given, and the best of sincerity. Usually the instinct for property is the last thing to go beneath the gracious expulsive power of Divine love. They were striving after the brightest ideal of life that Christian love can dream of; to make "all men's good each man's rule." A joyous religion inspired this conduct. The temple became again what it was designed in idea to be - the house of the Father and the home of man. By that sacred hearth there was for a time a bright, visible picture of the spiritual reunion between God and man. They "sat at feast, enjoying each the other's good," because all conscious of partaking of the bread of God. Joy broke into thanksgiving, and the dark shadows of mutual envy were dispersed. Finally, this life of the new Christian community became an irresistible center of attraction; and daily men "in the way of salvation" were added to the Church. This episode is a type in history of the power and effect of the gospel. That life could not continue at this ideal height only reminds us that the actual world presents irresistible obstacles to the attainment of our best wishes. That it was manifested, though but for a short time, proves the direction of love, and is prophetic of its final dominion in the life of mankind. - J.
I. A WONDERFUL TESTIMONY TO THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST.
1. The victory over prejudice, indifference, fear - all the evil of heart and life. Full-grown men - Jews. Jews of that degenerate age, in the midst of anti-Christian influences, accepting a Word which condemned themselves - which incited them to forsake their old life, and count all things loss for Christ. Not only moved and partially changed, but wholly converted; ready to be put, by baptism, into the new life opened to them.
2. The vastness of the work accomplished. Not here and there one, but three thousand souls, which, as representatives of families and connections, may be reckoned as at least twenty thousand. Scarcely possible that every one should be individually solicited. The work was spiritual, miraculous. While there is much in the effect of numbers - the rapid spread of a common sentiment by contact of soul with soul, there is in the narrative no appearance of undue excitement. We must regard the fact as specially ordained, that there might be a mighty impetus given to the gospel at its starting-point. Many of the three thousand would become messengers to prepare the way of the Lord in heathen lands.
3. The signs of a new creation. In that multitude of converts there is no chaotic confusion, but the order of a new world rising into view. The leadership of apostles; the fellowship; the observance of the two ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper; the recognition of prayer as an expression of faith and dependence on the continual outpouring of the Spirit. The apostolic commencement of the Church must be the model to which we continually refer for the corrections of those natural errors of development which, if not so called back to the ideal of the kingdom, will, by mixture with the world, destroy the fundamental conception of Christianity.
II. A GREAT EXAMPLE OF ABIDING SUCCESS IN SPIRITUAL ENTERPRISE.
1. Remark the entire simplicity and sincerity of the agents. Much of our failure caused by mixing up mere human schemes and inventions with the gospel. Danger of reactions. The Word was clearly, boldly, and fully preached, with direct personal appeal to the conscience as well as to the heart.
2. The steadfastness was the result of a continued use of the means of grace - teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayers. We lose many whom we reach with our word by not throwing round them quickly the net of our Christian community and institutions.
3. A great lesson on the importance of waiting for God's time, and being ready to receive the Spirit. All mere got-up revivals result in failure. God's Spirit will himself teach us how and when to expect the success. Follow the leadings of Providence. - R.
Church. Circumstances soon modified the form of it; but we keep the essential idea of it, which is this: common indebtedness to Christ, and devotion to him, bring men together into a gracious sense of brotherhood and fellowship. They recognize their oneness in Christ.
I. THE IMPULSE TO FELLOWSHIP. (Ver. 42.) Or, to gather together. The center of the gathering was naturally the apostolic company. A desire to hear more about Christ was awakened, and the converts would not separate. Staying hour after hour, there would arise the necessity for meals; and though this may have been readily met on the first day, some order and provision would be necessary as they kept together day after day. The impulse to fellowship felt by those sharing common opinions and beliefs is constantly recognized, and is the basis of all associations, clubs, and societies of men. Those with the common opinions enjoy, and are benefited by, each other's fellowship. Therefore the apostle bids us "not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is." Urge that still this natural and proper impulse should be nourished and followed. Neglected fellowship is the sign of weakened impulse, failing "first love," and inadequate impression of the "great grace" received in Christ Jesus.
II. THE IMPULSE TO SELF-SACRIFICE. Others were more thought of than self. There was a general desire to imitate Christ by giving up for others. This seems the idea in their "having all things common." "Under the strong and general feeling of Christian charity, which sprang out of Christian unity, men gave as freely as if what they had were not really their own, but only held by them in trust for others. Practically, what was any brother's came to be the brethren's; no man asserted his private proprietorship, or said that 'aught of the things that he possessed was his own.'" The following points may be illustrated: -
1. Community of goods is a dream. One which earnest and sentimental philanthropists have dreamed over and over again.
2. Community of goods is an impossibility. Socialistic systems have always broken down. If the community could be once established, the disabilities of life and the different dispositions of men would immediately introduce irregularities. "Religious communisms have generally rested, like the monastic orders, on an ascetic rather than a social basis. The fanaticism of the German Anabaptists, indeed, did not lack force, but it involved the ruin of society. Recent humanitarian attempts in France and America to realize a voluntary communism, wanting a religious motive, have broken down" (Dr. Dykes).
3. Community of goods is an extravagant assertion of a true and high principle, viz. that whatsoever a man holds, he holds in trust, and in trust for the service of others.
4. Community of goods is substantially realized in the Christian Church, where, ideally, each seeks not his own but his brother's good. "There is no real cure for diseased society except the regeneration of the individual, and the individual is regenerated when you have substituted brotherly kindness for selfishness as the ruling motive or ground of character." "Just in so far as any man takes in the peculiar teaching of the gospel, such as the saving mercy of the Father in heaven, our oneness in the incarnate Son, and the binding common life of the Holy Ghost - to that extent he will cease to be a difficulty in the way of social economics. He will help others as much, and grasp as little for himself, as possible." Conclude by pressing the importance of keeping our hearts ever open to the gracious and loving impulses of God's Holy Spirit; and also press the relation to an earnest life of charity, brotherhood, and goodness which is found in "keeping our first love. - R.T.
I. THE INFANT CHURCH CRAVES INSPIRED INSTRUCTION, AND IS FURNISHED WITH IT. The call for this had been foreseen by the great Master-teacher himself. In the same commission in which he charged his apostles to "make disciples of all nations," he enjoined them to teach such disciples "to observe all things I have commanded you." Great stress must be laid upon Christ's own teaching. We cannot overvalue it. The stress he laid on it himself, by his unwearied labors in it, tells volumes of his own practical estimate of its importance. Meantime such an expression as that we find in Matthew 15:9, "Teaching for doctrines the commandments of men," differences for us most decisively not any mere question of style, and superiority of style, in the teaching that is from above, but the matter itself. The characteristic, then, begun with in the description of the new community was this: "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching." That was inspired teaching. And let the world stand in need of whatsoever else, it is to be laid down emphatically that the Church stands in need of this. Inspired teaching is the breath of the Church - its vital air, its light, and the alphabet of its knowledge.
II. THE INFANT CHURCH DRAWS TOGETHER IN CLOSEST AND MOST REAL UNION. The "fellowship" spoken of in ver. 42 does not mark merely the fact of association with the apostles. Nor does it describe association with one another from the attractions of friendship, of new-born natures, or of worship. It marks a newer thing, and, considering the numbers of those concerned, a very new thing. Jesus, with the little circle of his twelve disciples, had suggested, possibly enough, the germ of this. But the number of twelve or thirteen living together on a common purse, and with no selfishly individual object whatsoever in view, was but the suggestion of a principle; and that now, as many scores, or possibly hundreds, should attempt a similar thing, was a bold thought; it was the daring of a high and unwontedly noble impulse, and best of all was the deed of it. Those who made up this new community first did a thing, that would have been called nothing else than utopianism while only talked about. It is something most reinvigorating to a Christian's faith in the hidden possibilities of a regenerate human nature, to think of the real proofs of sincerity and of utter earnestness that came out of the conduct of men who sold their lands and possessions, and brought all to one common stock. It was certainly a beginning of a "new earth," and none the less so that it was but temporary in the then form of it. It betrayed and it displayed a genius lying in the new-found forces of Christianity never to be forgotten. For a while there was no want and no wealth, except that best wealth, absence of want. The snare of wealth is vanished, and the charm of loving contentment smiles in the world.
III. THE INFANT CHURCH BRINGS WITHOUT HESITATION RELIGION INTO DAILY LIFE. The "breaking of bread" certainly did not mean simply the taking of the ordinary meals of day after day. There could have been nothing remarkable in individual men "continuing steadfast" in this. The "breaking of bread" referred to was that of a united meal, and this was the particular significance of it. Again, the life of those few weeks in Jerusalem would have been a life of mere desultory and unfruitful idleness, except for an unusual reality in occupations, which would generally be counted as at most the luxurious enjoyments of religious service. But these evidently become the works of religious service, and then was the fulfilling of the admonition, given some years later to the Hebrews (Hebrews 10:24, 25), beautifully anticipated. They considered "one another, to provoke unto love and to good works," and they did not forsake "the assembling of themselves together" for that very purpose. Thus they assemble, and thus break bread day after day. On the one hand, we witness association "in breaking of bread" with its more or less of direct religious reference brought into the daily home and the daily life of those who composed the infant Church; and, on the other hand, we witness religious thought and religious purpose and religious work become for a season the staple occupation of "the common days." Perhaps all of us will agree that if ever works merited the title of religious, the works of those days did which had for their (secular) business the sale of lands and goods, to the end that "the price" of them (Acts 5:1) might go to the common treasury of the new-born Christian society.
IV. THE INFANT CHURCH STILL OBSERVES THE TEMPLE HOURS OF PRAYER. The history of temple prayer was rightly charged with sacredness to the pious Jew. As up to the last Jesus paid all due reverence to both temple and even synagogue also, so the young community of his disciples do not forsake the temple prayers. Public prayer was offered three times a day: at the third hour (Acts 2:15); at noonday (Psalm 55:17), or the sixth hour; and in the evening, at the ninth hour (Acts 3:1; Acts 10:3). The general history of the nation's prayer must naturally have abounded in interest, and many a touching allusion is made to it (1 Kings 8:30-38, etc.; Daniel 6:10; Daniel 9:21; Psalm 5:7; Psalm 28:2; Psalm 55:17; Psalm 65:1, 2; Psalm 119:164; Psalm 138:2; Psalm 141:2; Isaiah 56:7; Luke 1:10; Luke 18:10; etc.). But not the least interesting fact in its history is that before us. While all things else - sacrifice, and feast, and ceremony, and priest, and the furniture of the temple, and its very stones - are doomed and about to disappear, its prayers bud out, blossom, bear fruit afresh. The point of living contact with God lasts. The old Church and the new join hands here. Prayer is the golden link between these, as it is between all earth and heaven. - B.
I. THE EDIFICE OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH RESTS UPON THE SUPERNATURAL. Fear on every soul; signs and wonders. Divine work both in the outward world and in the hearts and consciences of men.
II. THE STRENGTH OF THE UNITING BOND in the new society is spiritual; not mere companionship, or social instinct, or common necessity, or political aim, but brotherly love springing out of faith - a faith showing itself in self-sacrifice and steadfastness.
III. THE SPECIALITY AND DISTINCTNESS of the Christian life in the midst of such a world. Unselfishness, mutual consideration, compassion for the needy, gladness and singleness of heart, devoutness, purity of home life, steadfast continuing in well-doing.
IV. THE MIGHTY EFFECT of a pure Church upon an impure world. The true method of spreading religion is not by breaking down the distinctions between Church life and worldly life, but by revealing the spiritual power of Christ's kingdom. "They had favor with all the people." The people know how to distinguish between reality and pretence. They will be always moved by sincerity. The Lord will add to his own work. The method which we see in nature is a type of that Which is ordained in grace. The vigorous life is selected to carry on the increase. Half-hearted Christianity cannot convert the world. Multitudinism is a great mistake, as well as mockery of Christ. Let the Lord add to the Church; let not our desires, or even our observances of Christian institutions, multiply numbers without increasing strength. - R.
once embodied, it begins its work there and then, and begins it never to pause, never to cease, till it is all finished. The peculiar and, at the same time, rightful influences of Christianity embodied in human society showed themselves promptly and decisively, Nothing artificial could help, nothing arbitrary could hinder, these. And if to the last possible moment they stole their march on the world silently, and to that same world insensibly, they no sooner come into sight than they are felt also, and unmistakably felt. The kingdom of God, that in some sense "cometh not with observation," when once come, is ever making a mark, that calls to it all manner of observation. It is full to overflowing of influence on the individual heart, on the individual life, and on human society. The intrinsic character of Christian principle and the possibilities that are in it, are simply and beautifully witnessed to in the very first of the fruits which it bore.
I. IT WROUGHT AN UNUSUAL FEAR. It was an unusual fear, for more reasons than one.
1. The fear fell on all. If the "all" here mean the disciples and new converts only, yet the gain was great and the phenomenon noteworthy. But the great probability is that the "every soul" does not mean to point to those who were nosy enrolled in the new community alone, but to the vast number outside, who saw and heard of the apostles' "signs and wonders. The city was still oftentimes because of this new portent in the very midst of it. The men of the city talked often one with another." There was a temporary, general weaning from indifference, from frivolity, and from the zeal of mere earthly business.
2. The source of the fear was unusual. It was not that of Sinai. It was not that of wind and storm, earthquake or fire. The elements of nature were what they long had been. Just now, at all events, the sun was not "turned into darkness, nor the moon into blood." It was a fear that came on men, not because of any overwhelmed impression made on the senses, but upon the mind.
3. The character of the fear was unusual. For it was that of awe and reverence - one that awoke inquiry, and provoked irresistibly deeper thinking than those hearts had been generally familiar with. It more resembled the fear that ought to possess men in the presence of the facts, responsibilities, and heaven-born opportunities of human life. There is no evidence nor even room to suppose that it savored of anguished fear, or slavish fear, or tumultuous apprehension. This is one of the grand legitimate effects of Christian impression and conviction on the heart of either converted or unconverted, that they reduce to soberness and to some due sense of the things that are, whether in heaven or on earth, of which we may have thought previously far too little.
II. CHRISTIANITY BORE THE FRUIT OF A MOST UNUSUAL UNITY. The brotherhood of humanity now is exampled. And though for many a reason and from many a cause, better or worse, its duration was very brief, yet we may say," It is enough." We shall know it again, "in like manner" as we now know it. These two things may be most permissibly said to the grief that mourns devoutly its short duration:
(1) that in very truth it was not really so short as it seemed; and
(2) that but a glimpse of it was of use, but a glimpse of it good to behold, but a flash of it such as to leave when it had gone, and such as has left, a glory on the Christian soul and on its gaze.
III. IT BORE THE FRUIT OF A MOST UNUSUAL CHARITY. "To do good and to communicate" was not an absolute novelty; to give, and to give kindly and ungrudgingly, was not an unheard of thing; to feed the poor and give him garments, and to visit him, sick and in prison, was exalted moral philosophy, and godly practice too, in and from the days of Job. But the charity, and the sacrifice of the just rights of property, and the equality of this large family, was, for the thoroughness and the scale of them and for the occasion - not one of shipwrecked distress on a desolate shore - something very new under the sun. This, again, in outside show and bulk, was of short duration, but perhaps not of so short stay as it seems sometimes. And this; too, we shall recognize again.
IV. CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLE NOW BORE A VERY UNUSUAL MANIFOLD FRUIT. Yes, not only manifold for quantity, but in kind. These, all these together, are found by the disciples; namely, great happiness of heart, great happiness in association with one another (as though no "root of bitterness" sprang up), great handiness in worshipping God, and great popularity with all the people. They were halcyon days indeed! Their peculiarity, as representing the infancy of the Church, irresistibly reminds us of the peculiarity of those early years in the humanity of the now risen, ascended, glorified Master himself. There was a time when it was said that "Jesus increased... in favor with God and man. It is even so now with the family of his followers. The analogy is striking. And it is striking as one novel indication of the condescension of the great Lord, who so closely shared, who still so closely shares, his Church's fortunes. For the resemblance must be quoted, not as one that shows the Church sharing its Founder's fortunes, but the Founder anticipating his Church's fortunes. In both examples how gratefully are we reminded of the legitimate influence, even in this world, of goodness. And how gratefully are we, by a mere foretaste, as it were, assured of that favor" that Jesus and his truth and his faithful disciples must eventually command from the judgment of the world, whenever the time shall come! Nor was the Divine contentment that spread over and that evidently interpenetrated this newly fashioned society one which looked to mere selfishness then or to mere picturesqueness now. The favorable impression that it made on them that were without was useful as well as beautiful. It was attractive. And the very same qualities that made it attractive made it a safe refuge, home, school, nursery, to those that might own to the Divine attraction. To such a society the Lord added daily. And, let it with reverence be said, it could not be otherwise; but if it could, it would not. This is what the Church of Christ must be. It must be these all in one. The refuge for the sinner "saved;" his home on earth; his school; for many, because of their tender years, also the nursery of piety and devotion; but for all, young or old, a nursery, from which heaven is looked to as the introduction to the presence and abiding society of the Father himself. Thus, now, not the abstraction of a perfection of Christianity unlikely to be yet reached, but the oft-erring, oft-deficient embodiment of it in the lives of frail sinful, men, gave clear and beautiful proofs of what is the genius of it, of what it has in itself to do, and no obscure foreshadowing of the reign of love and peace and joy that Jesus is hastening on. - B.
I. SALVATION A FACT. "Be saved," or "those being saved."
1. The rescue. Salvation from self - as sinful, condemned, corrupt, dying; from the "untoward generation," i.e. from the world - from the sinful life and habits. If the message was understood in Jerusalem, so everywhere. Salvation is coming out of the old world into the new.
2. The gracious reception and pledged security. "Saved - like the furtive passing through the gate of the fortress. Necessity that there should be a separation unto Christ. The baptism was a confession by the mouth unto salvation," i.e. unto safety within the fold. Not that the fold is itself equivalent to salvation, but it is the pledge of Divine grace. The presence and operation of the Holy Spirit set the promises of God clearly before men's eyes. They were invited to put themselves into the embrace of Divine power. So still, men are scarcely safe when they despise the fold of Christ.
II. SPIRITUAL WORK THE HOPE OF THE WORLD. "The Lord added to the Church" (or "to them," Revised Version). Divine in its origin, the grain of mustard seed has never ceased to grow - must spread to the ends of the earth. The difference between Church life and ecclesiastical assumptions. The true Church neither a mere assembly nor association, but a Divine fact - the body of Christ. The Name of Christ the rallying-point, the presence and authority of Christ the power. There was confession - open, public, decided; there was fellowship - true brotherly love; there was apostolic doctrine and order - not formalism, but living obedience to the laws of Christ. Sentiment and ceremony not to be substituted for practical religion. The community was not communistic. It was not a revolt against laws nor an experiment in politics; it was a simple method of expressing the sense of separation from the world. The believers must be provided for at any sacrifice, that they may continue faithful to Christ. It was not for the sake of abolishing distinctions, but of substituting the spiritual distinction for the falsehood of the world. In Christ Jesus there is neither high nor low, rich nor poor; all are one in him. The true remedy against mammon-worship, with all its crowd of evils, is to set human life on the spiritual basis. "Seek first the kingdom of God," etc. The renovation of the world wilt be by the increase of the Church.
III. THE OPEN SECRET OF CHRISTIANITY the mingling together of Divine power and human agency. Incarnation begins the Gospels, the day of Pentecost the Acts. The Lord must add to the Church. The Church must confess its own insufficiency, and seek the Lord. "Day by day" the addition was made, day by day the blessing falls. Ask for it, individually and in fellowship. - R.