Suddenly a sound like a mighty rushing wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.
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.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven.
Apostolic Pastor.The united prayer of the apostles was a cry to heaven, well pleasing to God, and this sound was a delightful answer and counter-cry from heaven; thus was this ἦχος at the same time an echo. So faithful is God to His children, their cry presses into heaven to His heart, and there results from that the return of prayer from heaven
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. WIND. In His —
1. Secret coming.
2. Powerful shaking.
3. Purifying blowing.
4. Soft refreshing.
II. FIRE. In His —
1. Bright shining.
2. Genial warming.
3. Destructive burning.
4. Rapid spreading.
(Gerok.)1. That came in fulfilment of Divine promises — the promises of the Old Testament.
2. The first Pentecostal season came, also, in direct answer to prayer — united, earnest prayer.
3. Yet further, the first Pentecostal season came to meet urgently and profoundly felt necessities.
4. Then, lastly, the first Pentecost, in its immediate results, was a special and very extraordinary revelation of the Holy Spirit's power in the souls of men. It demonstrated at once His presence as the great Convincer and Renewer, and the ease with which He could change the hearts of men and dispose them to welcome Christ and the great salvation.
(Ray Palmer, D. D.)I. THE ESSENTIAL VIRTUE OF THE DIVINE COMMUNICATION. "They were all filled with the Holy Ghost." What is it that God does for us when He thus acts upon us? He has, in His heavenly wisdom and in His parental love, left a way open between Himself and ourselves by which He can act upon us not indirectly, but directly, not mediately, but immediately; this is by the gentle, gracious, efficient action of His own Spirit on our spirit.
1. It is surely natural that He should do so; most likely, most credible it is that the Infinite Father of mankind should, while giving to His children a large measure of freedom, responsibility, and so of spiritual dignity, hold Himself free to touch, to quicken, to restrain, to incite, to restore, to ennoble.
2. It is surely desirable in the last degree that He should do so. Whence, otherwise, should we gain the spiritual force which gives life to the dying, energy to the languishing, sanctity and peace to the stained and struggling spirit?
II. ITS MANIFESTATIONS.
1. This manifestation was remarkable; it excited a large amount of attention.
2. It was also beneficent.
3. It will be abundantly evident to all that God is with us and in us; our new and nobler life will make that clear, and will not only invite but compel attention.
4. And the influence will be beneficial; we shall lead men's thoughts upwards, Godwards.
III. THE CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH WE MAY LOOK FOR THE DIVINE OUTPOURING.
(W. Clarkson, B. A.)
I. We have, first, then, to consider THE TRANSIENT SYMBOLS OF THE ABIDING GIFT. Now the story is often somewhat erroneously conceived, and it may be worth our while to try to get a clear idea of what really was seen and heard before we ask what was meant thereby. We are to conceive, then, of the whole group of 120 disciples gathered together in their usual place of resort, possibly the very same upper chamber as that in which He had said, "If I depart I will send Him unto you"; and there waiting, with the tension of expectation, which the wondrous events through which they had passed and the closing promises of their Master had now made to be the habitual attitude of their spirits — waiting in concord, hope, and prayer. And what, I suppose, happened was this. The rushing wind came and passed, the mass as of fire flashed and glowed and parted yet remaining united, and hovered over their heads and disappeared. And then they were filled with the Spirit, and then they spake with tongues. And after that the multitude entered, and heard no wind, and saw no fire, and only discerned that the men were "filled with the Holy Ghost" because they heard them speak with tongues. The symbols, therefore, were simply intended as premonitory of what was immediately to ensue, and as preparing the disciples for the gift by quickened anticipation and attention and insight. The signification of the symbols needs little elucidation. The Hebrew, Greek, Latin, German, English, and other tongues express the immaterial part of man by analogous words, having the original meaning of breathing or breath. The breath is the life, and the symbol, inherent in the word spirit, carries the truth that the gift at Pentecost was, in its deepest conception, the communication of a Divine life. We are forgiven and accepted in order that a new Divine life may be imparted to us, and we get heaven because that life has been imparted. I need not remind you how there are subordinate felicities and beauties in this emblem, which, however, must never be allowed to disturb the prominence given to the central idea in it, such. as those which our Lord hinted at when He said, "The wind bloweth where it listeth; thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth." The depth and mystery of the source, the height and mysterious glory of the end, the liberty wherewith it makes them who possess it free when the impulses of the spirit are in harmony with the commandments of the Lord — all these things, and many more, are suggested by this great metaphor. Nor must we forget how the same motion of the same atmosphere stirs the young leaves on the summer trees and fans the hot cheek, and, gathering force, devastates cities and sweeps all before it. The variety in the operations and the might of the agent are wonderfully expressed in the symbol. The fire that parted itself into flames, and yet was all one, howsoever divided, is, too, a familiar emblem which needs little expansion. Fire is death; but fire is life too. And it is the vital, quickening, purifying, transforming energy of fire, not its consuming and annihilating force, which is expressed for us in this emblem. We speak of warm affections, fiery impulses, hearts glowing, spirits flaming with zeal, and metaphors of the like sort. Where God's Spirit is there will be no coldness; where His Spirit is there will be no dead, hard obstinacy, as of black coal and green, smoky wood; where His Spirit is it will turn all into its own fiery likeness; and out of the most unpromising material will evoke shooting flames that aspire upwards to their source. The condition of all goodness is enthusiasm, and the author of all holy enthusiasm is that fiery Spirit which will sit upon each of us.
II. That brings me to the second stage here — viz., THE ABIDING GIFT. Let us take the liberty of inverting the words of the clause which describes it. "They were all filled with the Holy Ghost." "Holy Ghost." That designation, coupled with the other which is kindred to it, the "Spirit of Truth," makes the difference between the sobriety of the Christian idea of inspiration, and the extravagances and immoralities which have honeycombed all other forms of belief that God breathes Himself into men. If Christian people would only remember that all high-flying pretences to spiritual illumination and eminent religiousness and endowments are to be measured by this sharp test, "Do they make better men?" there would have been less to weep over in some pages of the history of the Church; and men would have been saved from fancying that any spirit is a spirit of God unless the manifestations of it are love, joy, peace, righteousness. Let us remember, "They were all filled with the Holy Ghost." Further, mark the abundance of the gift. The word "filled" is not to be passed lightly, as if it were merely a favourite phrase of Luke's. It cannot mean anything else than that a man, according to the height of his capacity to receive, was under the influence of that Divine Spirit, and that all the nature — thought, affection, will, practical energy — in all its manifestations, in daily life and common secular things, as well as in waiting on God in prayer and what we call religious exercises, was an inspired nature. "Filled with the Holy Ghost"! Filled? And most of us have a little drop in the bottom of the reservoir; a trickle of water down the dry bed; a cats-paw of wind that dies before it moves the flapping sails; a spark of fire in one corner of a cold grate. And we talk about being "filled with the Spirit"! And then there is the universality of the gift. "They were all." Not the eleven apostles only, as people sometimes fancy, but the whole 120 of them. Now, then, Christian people, "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His."
III. Lastly, notice THE TRANSIENT RESULTS OF THE ABIDING GIFT. That speaking with tongues, the supernatural expression of Christian truth and devout emotion, in languages learned by no ordinary method, lasted but for a little while. What was its significance? It was a lesson, at the beginning, of the universal adaptation and intention of Christ's work and gift. It was a lesson of the solemn duty of the Church in all lands, and to all ages. But beyond that, there is another lesson which I desire to leave on your hearts. "They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak." Of course! Christian people who have learned with any passionate affection to love, and with any depth of intelligence to understand, Christ and His gospel, must needs speak it forth. Do you see to it that you, first of all, receive, and then you will not be lacking in the impulse to impart, that great gift. There is only one way to get that Pentecostal gift. The precursors of it in the upper room are the precursors of it still. Patient hope, expectance, concord, prayer. These brought Pentecost, and these will bring the Spirit.
(A. Maclaren, D. D)1 John 2:20): — Wind, fire, water, oil — these four are constant Scriptural symbols for the Spirit of God. In our texts we have the breath, the fire, the water, and the anointing oil of the Spirit to all Christian souls.
I. "A RUSHING MIGHTY WIND." Spirit is breath. Wind is but air in motion. Breath is the synonym for life. Spirit and life are two words for one thing. So in the "rushing mighty wind," we have the highest work of the Spirit — the communication of a new and supernatural life.
1. We are carried back to the vision of the valley of dry bones. It is the Spirit that quickeneth. The Scripture treats us all as dead, being separated from God. "They which believe on Christ receive" the Spirit, and thereby receive the life which He gives, or are "born of the Spirit," who is the Spirit of life.
2. Remember, "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." If there be life given it must be kindred with the life which is its source.(1) "The wind bloweth where it listeth." That spiritual life, both in the Divine source and in the human recipient, is its own law. The wind has its laws, but these are so complicated and undiscovered that it has always been the symbol of freedom, and poets have spoken of the winds as "chartered libertines"; and "free as the air" has become a proverb. So that Divine Spirit is limited by no human conditions or laws. Just as the lower gift of "genius" is above all limits of culture or position, and falls on a wool-stapler in Stratford-on-Avon, or on a ploughman in Ayrshire, so the Spirit follows no lines that churches or institutions draw. It falls upon an Augustinian monk in a convent, and he shakes Europe. It falls upon a tinker in Bedford gaol, and he writes "Pilgrim's Progress." It falls upon a cobbler in Kettering, and he founds modern Christian missions. And so the life that is derived from the Spirit is its own law. The Christian conscience, touched by the Spirit of God, owes allegiance to no regulations or external commandments laid down by man. Under the impulse of the Divine Spirit, the human spirit "listeth" what is right, and is bound to follow the promptings of its highest desires. Those men only are free as the air who are vitalised by the Spirit of the Lord, for where the Spirit of the Lord is, there, and there alone, is liberty.(2) In this symbol there lies also the idea of power. The wind was not only mighty but "borne onward" — fitting type of the strong impulse by which "holy men spake as they were 'borne onward' (the word is the same) by the Holy Ghost." There are diversities of operations, but it is the same breath which sometimes blows in the softest pianissimo that scarcely rustles the summer woods in the leafy month of June, and sometimes storms in wild tempest that dashes the seas against the rocks. The history of the world since has been a commentary upon these words. With viewless, impalpable energy the mighty breath of God swept across the ancient world and laid paganism low. A breath passed over the whole civilised world, like the breath of the west wind upon the glaciers in the spring, melting the thick-ribbed ice, and wooing forth the flowers, and the world was made over again. In our own hearts and lives this is the one power that will make us strong and good. "As many as are impelled by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." Is that the breath that swells all the sails of your lives, and drives you upon your course? If it be, you are Christians; if it is not you are not.
II. "CLOVEN TONGUES AS OF FIRE." The Baptist contrasted the cold negative efficiency of his baptism with the quickening power of Christ's baptism of fire. Our Lord Himself employs the same metaphor when He speaks about His coming to bring fire on the earth. In this connection, the fire is a symbol of a quick, triumphant energy, which will transform us into its own likeness. There are two sides to that emblem, one destruction, one creative; one wrathful, one loving. There are the fire of love, and the fire of anger; the fire of the sunshine which is the condition of life, and the fire of the lightning which burns and consumes.
1. Fire is selected to express the work of the Spirit by reason of its leaping, triumphant, transforming energy. See how, when you kindle a pile of dead wood, the tongues of fire spring from point to point until they bare conquered the whole mass, and turned it all into a ruddy likeness of the parent flame. And so this fire of God, if it falls upon you, will burn up all your coldness, and make you glow with enthusiasm, working your intellectual convictions in fire, not in frost, making your creed a living power in your lives, and kindling you into a flame of earnest consecration. The same idea is expressed by the common phrases of every language. We talk about the fervour of love, the warmth of affection, the blaze of enthusiasm, the fire of emotion, the coldness of indifference. One of the chief wants of the Church is more of the fire of God! We are all icebergs compared with what we ought to be. Look at yourselves; never mind about your brethren. Is our religion flame or ice? Listen to that solemn old warning: "Because thou art neither cold nor hot I will spue thee out of My mouth." We ought to be like the seraphim, the spirits that blaze and serve; like God Himself, all aflame with love.
2. The metaphor suggests also — purifying. "The Spirit of burning" will burn the filth out of us. No washing or rubbing will ever clear sin. Get the fire of the Divine Spirit into your spirits to melt you down, and then the scum and the dross will come to the top, and you can skim them off. Two things conquer my sin; the one is the blood of Jesus Christ, which washes me from all the guilt of the past; the other is the fiery influence of that Divine Spirit which makes me pure and clean for all the time to come.
III. "I WILL POUR OUT OF MY SPIRIT." — Cf. such texts as "Except a man be born of water," etc. "He that believeth on Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water," "A river of water of life proceeding from the throne," and the expressions, "pouring out" and "shedding forth." The significance of this is that the Spirit is —
2. Refreshing, and satisfying. There is only one thing that will slake the immortal thirst in your souls. The world will never do it; love or ambition gratified and wealth possessed, will never do it. You will be as thirsty after you have drunk of these streams as ever you were before. There is one spring "of which if a man drink, he shall never thirst" with unsatisfied, painful longings, but shall never cease to thirst with the longing which is blessedness, because it is fruition. The Spirit of God, drunk in by my spirit, will still and satisfy my whole nature, and with it I shall be glad. "Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters!"
3. Productive and fertilising. In Eastern lands a rill of water is all that is needed to make the wilderness rejoice. Turn that stream on to the barrenness of your hearts, and fair flowers will grow that would never grow without it.
IV. "YE HAVE AN UNCTION FROM THE HOLY ONE." In the old system, prophets, priests, and kings were anointed with consecrating oil, as a symbol of their calling, and of their fitness for their special offices. The reason for the use of such a symbol would lie in the invigorating and health-giving effect of the use of oil in those climates, and the meaning of the act was plain.
1. It was a preparation for a specific and distinct service.(1) You are anointed to be prophets that you may make known Him who has loved and saved you.(2) That anointing calls and fits you to be priests, mediators between God and man; bringing God to men, and by pleading and persuasion, and the presentation of the truth, drawing men to God.(3) That unction calls and fits you to be kings, exercising authority over the little monarchy of your own natures, and over the men round you, who will bow in submission whenever they come in contact with a man all evidently aflame with the love of Jesus Christ, and filled with His Spirit.
2. And then do not forget also that when the Scriptures speak about Christian men as being anointed, it really speaks of them as being Messiahs. "Christ" "Messiah" means anointed. And when we read "Ye have an unction from the Holy One," we cannot but feel that the words are equivalent to "As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you." By derived authority, and in a subordinate and secondary sense, we are Messiahs, anointed with that Spirit which was given to Him not by measure, and which has passed from Him to us. "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His."
(A. Maclaren, D. D)
And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire
I. LIGHT DIFFUSED OR CONDENSED AS FIRE HAD BEEN FROM THE BEGINNING THE ELECT TOKEN OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD.
1. A light drawn from no material source hovered over Paradise, rested on patriarchal altars, irradiated the camp, trembled over the mercy-seat and was the glory of God filling His temple. Now when the new temple is consecrated by the advent of the Spirit the emblem appears for the last time and marks by the manner of its appearance a change which carries with it the essence of the Christian privilege.(1) Over the whole company, before it was distributed into fragments, there rested for one brief moment the glory of the Lord, as the sudden token that Jehovah had transferred His dwelling place from the holiest to the upper room. But specially the Holy Ghost signified that the Trinity was no longer a mystery hidden from the people. Within the veil the glory of God had symbolised the Three-One God. The Son had come and fulfilled His part of the symbol, "We beheld His glory," etc.; and now the Spirit descends to fulfil His part also, and when the Church was "filled with the Holy Ghost" it became a temple or "habitation of God through the Spirit." We are not in the court without conscious only that there is within the curtain an awful mystery of light. The Triune God is in our midst.(2) The diffused glory presently disparted "and sat upon each of them." In ancient times this light of the Lord's was never known to rest upon any individual — it was reserved for the congregation. Now the order is inverted, and imported that God accepted, sealed and set apart for Himself every one of them without exception.(3) But the symbol went as suddenly as it came. It could not remain, otherwise the conditions of probation would be changed. Who could sin under the irradiation of that heavenly token? And how could the world go on if the elect carried about with them this signature of heaven? But the reality remains, "they were all filled," etc. What the evanescent light taught for a moment the New Testament now teaches for ever: that the penitent believer is released from condemnation and knows it, being sealed by the Spirit of consecration.(4) The sign departed, but if restored on whom would it rest now? Whom would it leave unvisited? Over whom would it waver and then retire? What melancholy separations would it make between husband and wife, brother and sister, etc. Let every one ask, Would it rest upon me? Such tokens of acceptance or rejection we cannot expect, but we may turn with confidence to the sacred reality. Never live without the thing which this symbol signifies.
2. But this light was the light of a sacred fire. This introduces another novelty. In the ancient temple the two were distinguished. The light was behind the veil or was only diffused through the courts; the fire burned continually on the altar without. But now the light is the fire, and the fire the light. The Holy Ghost sealed believers for God by an outward token, and then filled their hearts as the refiner and sanctifier from sin.(1) Throughout the symbols and prophecies of Old Testament fire was an emblem of the purifying energy of the Spirit. Wherever the light of God's accepting presence rested, hard by was the altar on which fire consumed what God could not accept. And whether by the sharp discipline of affliction, or by the sweet and gentle influences of His grace; whether by the fire that bums or the fire that melts, the Spirit's work must be wrought in us unto perfection. The fire must burn on until it is quenched through having nothing more to consume.(2) But in its other meaning it is a fire that never can be quenched. The meaning of the fire upon the altar was this — the refuse was purged out that the rich essence of every offering should ascend trembling to God with perfect acceptance. Our whole being must be for ever ascending in abiding consecration. Interior religion makes the Spirit a "whole burnt-offering," the principle of which is being "filled with the Holy Ghost."(3) Note the connection between the light and the fire; between the Divine acceptance through the atonement and our interior meetness for it through the Spirit.(4) The fire is kindled from heaven, but it must be kept burning from below. The Eternal High Priest, by His Spirit, puts the fire on your altar; you must be the Levite to bring the perpetual offering. Feed it with your vanities, idols, sins, until these being destroyed, it shall be quenched. Feed it with your best affections, words, actions, whole life, until your whole being shall be ready for the perfect sacrifice of heaven; and then it never shall be quenched.(5) And remember the awful counterpart. For all who refuse the grace there is prepared a fire which in another sense "never shall be quenched."
II. THAT WHICH SAT ON EACH OF THE DISCIPLES ASSUMED THE FORM OF A TONGUE. This was its most characteristic novelty. Never before did it so appear and never again, and we must look for its interpretation to the subsequent history.
1. The Spirit gave to the Church a new utterance. The tongue signified that to the whole company was given the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ. From that hour the Spirit has been the Supreme teaching authority.
2. The voice of the Church was lifted up in two ways.(1) In the utterance of praise of the wonderful works of God. The Spirit — the tongue of God to man — made known the wonders of the incarnate Saviour as they had never been made known before. And the same Spirit — the tongue of the Church to God — dictated a hymn worthy of the revelation. And the Spirit ordered that it should be a type of the great future. The worship was offered in many languages which, as heard by God, were blended into one. Hence our assemblies are above all worshipping assemblies inspired by the Spirit.(2) But in due time the new tongue was heard in preaching also. Peter was a representative of the great company of preachers in his subject, his zeal, the demonstration of the Spirit which accompanied him, and his great success. But the distributed symbol teaches that in the whole work each individual must take a part. There is a strong tendency to introduce such music, etc., as must reduce many a poor member of the congregation to a mere spectator. Remember also that you must take your part in the preaching service, if not as a professed preacher, as a faithful servant of Christ, ready to defend His name, and recommend His salvation both by voice and by life.
(W. B. Pope, D. D.)I. TONGUES. Because —
1. They were to declare by the tongue the message of God to every creature.
2. They who had been unlearned and ignorant men, unapt to teach, and powerless to convince, were from henceforth to teach and convince.
3. The Church was not to be confined to men of their own language, but was to embrace men of every language under heaven.
II. AS OF FIRE. Because fire was an emblem of —
4. The power with which the Word world burn its way into the human heart (Luke 24:32).
5. The fiery trials which awaited them.
III. WERE DISTRIBUTED TO EACH that each might know that he had his distinct gift, and that none might exalt himself above his brother.
IV. SAT UPON THEM, teaching them to do their work constantly and untiringly.
(W. Denton, M. A.)
(J. C. Jones, D. D.)
(Bp. Hacket.)James 3:6).
(R. Steer, D. D.)
(W. Arthur, M. A.)
(J. C. Jones.)Genesis 11:4): —
I. THE OLD TESTAMENT TEXT carries us back to the period when "the whole earth was of one language and of one speech."
1. At that period the human race had begun to so multiply, that it became necessary for them to lengthen the cords of their habitations. A considerable horde journeyed westward, with the view of settling wherever the advantages of pasture might tempt them to fix their residence. Faction, however, soon began to divide them, and it became evident that such a spirit, if some effectual remedy were not applied to it, would issue in their dispersion over the earth's surface. Such a prospect, it appears, was intolerable. Even in the infancy of the race it was felt that union was strength — that to disperse the family was to debilitate it. Possibly there was another motive. The deluge was fresh in the memory, and a guilty dread of some similar judgment drew them near to one another for shelter and support. It was the period when man was beginning to awake to self-consciousness and a knowledge of his own resources. Might not those resources, wisely applied, enable him to hurl defiance at the Most High, and serve to secure him against a second deluge? This presumptuous horde then laid aside for a while their petty differences, and exclaimed, as with one voice, "Go to, let us build us a city," etc. Do not such thoughts, widely different as to outward shape, find an echo in the minds of men of the present generation? There never was a generation which possessed a fuller consciousness of the physical resources at its command, and a higher estimation of the results which, wisely applied, those resources may achieve. And never was there a stronger yearning after union. Men recognise the evils which are incidental to partisanship and division, and profess to deplore even where they cannot remedy them. But to return to our narrative.
2. The people had proceeded some way, when "the Lord came down to see the city... Let us go down, and there confound their language." The miracle seems to have consisted of two parts — first, their language was confounded on the spot — secondly, an instinct of dispersion was sent by God among the builders. Without such aa instinct the confusion of tongues would have failed to effect its object. "So the Lord scattered them abroad upon the face of all the earth," which points to the effects of such an instinct. Each little band took its own path, and finally settled down in a separate district, placing between them and their former companions the natural barriers of mountains and rivers. Here, in this state of isolation, national character began to develop itself. Those who lived much abroad in a sunny and genial climate became keenly alive to the various forms of beauty, and susceptible of a high refinement; those whose allotted district was a northern and a cold country, became rude in their manners, and adopted superstitions of a ferocious cast, in which was blended a strong element of the mysterious. Language, too, declined more and more from its original model, and assumed in each case certain great distinguishing features. And thus were the members of the human family effectually separated, and their design of establishing one great central institution baffled, while God's counsel of dispersing them stood for ever.
3. Now this narrative is fraught with admonition to those who, under the conviction that man can only be strong and happy in union with his fellows, desire to compass that noblest of all ends, the universal brotherhood of the race. It testifies that genuine unity is only to be compassed by striking at the original root of discord. To bring men to recognise one another as brethren is a noble aim; but it is not to be achieved by a fundamental alteration of the arrangements of property or rank, while we leave untouched those springs of selfishness which lead to the accumulation of property in certain hands. To make wars to cease in the world is indeed the very prerogative of Deity; but assuredly it is not otherwise to be effected than by aiding those spiritual influences which modify and repress the unruly wills and affections of sinful men. That Christians should agree in the truth of God's Holy Word, and live together in unity and godly love — this were the very realisation of Christ's prayer — but it is an end which cannot be otherwise furthered than by the more effectual propagation of the gospel of love and peace, an end which no uniformity of ecclesiastical discipline on the one hand, no sinking or waiving of distinguishing tenets on the other, will avail to secure. That all nations should recognise their common fellowship in one world-embracing community — this is the very consummation to which true believers are looking forward; but then it cannot otherwise be brought about than by a spiritual agency, and its attempted achievement by the wider establishment of commercial relations, or by any other method of the kind, will issue most assuredly in failure. To counteract this instinct, by diffusing one of an opposite tendency, is the only sure method of success in such a work.
II. LET US NOW TURN OUR THOUGHTS TO THE NEW TESTAMENT TEXT.
1. It pleased God, in His own good time and manner, to realise the presumptuous design of the Babel builders. In the mediation of His Son, which unites heaven to earth, He hath reared up a tower whose top reaches to heaven, while its base is accessible to the heirs of sinful flesh and blood, whereby the communications of prayer and praise may pass upwards to Him, and those of grace, mercy, and peace, may descend to His creatures. Clustering round the base of this tower is a city which He hath founded, and which is designed to be world-embracing. The members of the community thus formed are united together by strong and efficacious bonds, although such as are invisible to the eye of sense. They have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of them all, who is above all, and through all, and in them all. The same hope animates, the same Word guides, the same bread feeds, the same providence directs, the same blood cleanses, the same grace quickens and consoles them. Aye, and their fellowship extends its ample bounds beyond the barriers of the world of sense. It embraces within its fair girdle an innumerable company of angels and the spirits of just men made perfect (Hebrews 12:22, 23). This community, so constituted, is the appointed centre of union for mankind. There, within its invisible precincts, the families of the human race may meet and recognise one another, as all claiming by faith a common interest in Christ. There, at length, the dusky Moor and the frozen Laplander, the rude Goth and the refined Greek, may acknowledge their oneness of blood. In Christ all national distinctions are annihilated (Colossians 3:11).
2. It was in order to gather the nations into this world-embracing community, that the apostles, after the Holy Ghost had fallen upon them at Pentecost, went forth as ambassadors of reconciliation. As an outward token that the Spirit, whose operation should re-unite in one mystical body the scattered families of man, was issuing forth to the moral world, the physical impediment obstructing union was removed. The apostles "spake with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." It was not, however, this miraculous faculty which was the secret of their success: rather it was their burning love to Christ, their burning conviction that His word was truth, their burning zeal in the cause of perishing and benighted souls, so aptly emblematised by those cloven tongues like as of fire, which sat upon each of them.
3. Nor has the spirit and power of apostles failed in the Church, although the extraordinary gifts which attended their mission have been withdrawn. The Church has now gained a firm footing in the earth, and accordingly is left to work her way with that spiritual power which is still alive and vigorous within her. As with the spirit of love any triumphs of Christianity may be achieved, so without it, let us not think to do anything. This is the only spirit by which we can be instrumental in repairing the breaches of mankind, and building up the family again in the second Adam.
(G. T. Stokes, D. D.)
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