Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.…
We have here a beautiful portraiture of primitive Church-life in its simplicity, its purity, and its fidelity. Now we have brought before us four safeguards of spiritual life. They are not in themselves religion, but they are protective of religion. We may see the husbandman build a circle of fencing around the tender sapling to protect it in its early growth. The fence is not part of the sapling, but it preserves it. Thus are these four things placed about religious life. Not as a barrier to confine: their mission is protective. You will notice these are, Christian teaching, Christian fellowship, Christian sacrament, communion with Jesus Christ and God.
1. One great safeguard of religious life is Christian instruction. "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching." It is the glory of Christianity that it is a teaching religion. It offers men an open Bible, an open Church, an open way of redemption and an open means of access to God. We have read of men in ancient times who had two sets of doctrines, their esoteric and their exoteric truth, truth that was for the few and truth that was for the many, truth to be sought in secret to the privileged circle, and truth that was taught to the multitude of the people. Christianity has no privileged secrets. As far as mysteries are revealed they are revealed alike to all. Its invitations are invitations to all. The attitude of the apostles was that of men who had seen great light and. found great blessing, and they yearned that other men might also see and share that which had become so precious unto themselves. You will observe, moreover, these first converts to Jesus Christ not only continued in Christian teaching, but in the teaching of Christ's apostles. They did not think each was qualified to teach the other. They turned instinctively to the instruction of those who were ordained. for all time, the accredited teachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The apostles were qualified to teach because they themselves were taught. They were the first; learners. Their Christian education was not confined to one portion of their life, it continued on. Truth was added to truth. Light increased to greater light. Thus they were enabled to speak as the Spirit gave them utterance. The quiet teaching of the great truths of God is one of the greatest blessings of religion. If we are to attain to right views of the Deity, right views of ourselves, right views of the world, we must be taught by a higher Power. Not fancy, but food is the first requirement of spiritual life. God has sent us many teachers to guide our feet in the way of His commandments. Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding, the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, the gain thereof than fine gold.
2. A second safeguard of Christian life is Christian intercourse. They continued in the apostles' fellowship. There were doubtless special reasons which drew these early disciples into close spiritual communion. They lived in an age of hostility. In fellowship they found a powerful means of sustaining their common spiritual life. There are two forms of help which minister to Christian life in men, one which comes from within, another which comes from without. By that which comes from within I mean meditation, prayer, devotion, the power of the Spirit of God within us. By that which comes from without I mean the contact of mind with mind, and heart with heart the power of the Spirit of God ministering through agencies which are without us. Christian men need both. There is inspiration in true Christian fellowship. Faith strengthens faith. Love is quickened by love. Through Christian fellowship also they were able to make greater efforts for Christ's cause. Achievements are possible to organised life which are beyond the power of individual effort. Unity is strength. Co-operation is multiplied power. I know no habit more worth pleading for than this habit of meeting together in Christian fellowship. It has been the custom of religious men in all ages and in all climes. The patriarchs in their wandering life gathered their followers about them in religious fellowship: The people of God had their united gatherings, their feast days, and their solemn assemblies, when they joined together in offering their devotions to their God. The ancient Druids had their sacred enclosures — rough stones were the walls, the heavens the canopy above their heads, nature the silent witness of their devotions. And it has been the custom of the Christian Church in every stage of its eventful history for the saints of God to continue in Christian fellowship. How often has the first downward step of a wasted life commenced in the wandering away from the communion of God's people? If we cannot meet with God's people to get good, we can, at least, meet with them to do good. It is more blessed to give than to receive.
3. A third safeguard of Christian life is faithful observance of Christian ordinances. "They continued in the breaking of bread." The breaking of bread may symbolise three things which should not be forgotten. I see in it a link with the past. You may trace this rite step by step backward through the centuries, till you reach the little upper room where Christ was in the presence of His disciples. But by it all confess their devotion to Him and His relationship to them as Saviour and Redeemer, and Friend. I see in the breaking of bread also the sign and pledge of present grace. The broken body and the shed blood is for all men who will receive His atoning work. "Take, eat, this is My body which is broken for you," is the language of the Saviour to every man, woman, or child, that lingers about His table. It is a personal bond of a personal Saviour. In it He seals us as His own. I see further in the breaking of bread a promise and a prophecy. This rite shall be observed on and on by generations yet unborn.
4. A fourth safeguard of Christian life is found in communion with Jesus Christ and God. They continued in prayer. They did not theorise about prayer; they prayed. Men have drawn near to God in sorrow that have left His presence with joy. Men have entered the secret closet with weakness that have left it with courage and strength. The sorrowful have felt the comfort in sorrow. The perplexed have found light in their darkness. The tempted and tried have found deliverance in prayer. Charles Kingsley has said, "What an awful weapon prayer is! It saved me from madness in the hour of my great sorrow. Pray day and night very quietly, like a weary child, to the loving and great God for everything you want in body as well as soul, the least as well as the greatest. Nothing is too much to ask God for. Nothing is too great for Him to give. Thus we have traced the four great safeguards of religious life. We need them as much to-day as these first converts needed them for their Christian life. I do not know one that can wisely be neglected in the spiritual discipline of Christian souls. We trifle with them at our peril."
Parallel VersesKJV: Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.