Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.…
The New Testament was not yet written, yet there was a coherent system of Christian faith and truth, and by an instinct these people knew it. The truth had not yet been formulated into a creed, but the essentials of a creed existed in the minds of both preachers and hearers of the gospel; and say what we may about creeds and the use which has sometimes been made of them, Christian doctrine is and ever has been essential to the integrity and the triumphs of the Christian Church. Note —
I. THAT THE CHRISTIAN LIFE DEPENDS PARTLY UPON THE SOUL'S CONVICTIONS AS TO THE CHARACTER OF GOD.
1. This life is derived from God, and is developed in the soul. There are inscrutable influences of the Holy Spirit in bringing about the inward change. There are also undefinable influences of godly friends or preachers, but none of these can be effectual unless there be a truth or fact through which the Holy Spirit works. How does a parent move his child towards a godly life? By force of character? Yes; but character is the product of Christian truth; and the parent was holy because, among other things, he read his Bible and believed his Saviour.
2. You might as well try to account for the life of a flower apart from the seed as to account for spiritual life apart from spiritual doctrine. You can predict the character of the flower from the nature of the seed; so from your knowledge of religious systems you can foretell the forms of character that will be developed from them — Mohammedan, Buddhist, Socinian, etc.; and our spiritual life will depend on the tenacity with which we cling to true convictions of the character of God. St. Paul was one of the most spiritual and self-denying of men, and again and again he traces his inner life to the power which Christian truth had over him — over his heart, of course, but over his intellect as well.
3. It is a shallow and often a hypocritical cry that asks us for a Christianity without doctrine. You cannot have it. God is — that is a doe-trine. God loves you-that is a doctrine, and so on. Feed your mind on these and kindred facts, and yours shall be no puny life.
II. THAT A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY MUST BE DRAWN TOGETHER BY AFFINITIES IN CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE.
1. If the unit of spiritual life depends for its existence and sustenance on truth, so does the community; if one child needs food, so do all the children; and though differences may be made to suit various appetites, yet chemical analysis shows that the foods are the same in their primal elements. And all spiritual communions must find a common spiritual basis. Feeling is too shifting for this basis, conduct too indefinite, negation too cold and unsubstantial, ceremony too formal and outward, and those combinations which are formed by the sinking of convictions are immoral and hollow. No; the first requisite for Christian union is that there shall be a due regard to Christian conviction.
2. We sometimes talk of truth as though it were in the air, in documents, in the mystic utterance of the whole body of believing people. Yet ultimately it must be found in the individual soul. This is where error is, and not merely in magazines and lectures. A number of individuals, then, tenaciously holding the same beliefs, constitutes a spiritual community, and no Church is so destitute of the first principles of common sense as to seek fellowship apart from understood and common beliefs. The Unitarian may say, "We do not lay down any doctrinal basis for our fellowship," yet a preacher who proclaimed the atonement or Divinity of Christ would have but a sorry welcome.
3. Churches exist for the very purpose of proclaiming Christian truth. If truth has gone, their mission has gone, and thirsty souls will go to them and find no living water.
III. THAT FOR CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE WE ARE DEPENDENT ON REVELATION. God did not leave men to find out the truth concerning Himself; He revealed it. When He revealed it He did not leave it to take care of itself. Both the revelation and the record are monuments of God's special love to man. The idea of the supernatural is particularly obnoxious to "advanced thinkers"; they are consequently ever on the look-out for evidence that Christianity was only a product of the human mind, and so on a level with all other religions. But Christianity professes to be a new and supernatural departure in the history of religion, and the apostles are the Divinely appointed media of the Divine revelation. Their "doctrine" concerns the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, and who so competent as they to deliver it, and who shall contest it as it comes from their lips or pens? Matthew was a chosen companion of Christ's; Mark was a convert of Peter's, and a comrade of Paul's; Luke had "a perfect understanding of all things from the first"; John was "the disciple whom Jesus loved," and "we know that his testimony is true." Peter was an eye-witness of His majesty, and did "not follow cunningly devised fables." To Paul the risen Christ appeared as to one born out of due time. and "he received of the Lord that which he also delivered" to his converts. If we want trustworthy guides, these are the men to help us.
IV. THAT THE POWER OF CHRISTIAN CHURCHES LIES, AMONGST OTHER THINGS, IN THEIR ADHERENCE TO CHRISTIAN DOCTRINES. If men want to be strong and aggressive, they must not be easily moved by the threatening sounds of modern unbelief; they must know their own minds and the mind of Christ. In moral conflicts convictions are the only forces that will do lasting service.
(S. Pearson, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.