The death of Christ, as the paschal lamb, took place punctually to the day; so did His resurrection as the wave-sheaf; yet no saint knew the significance of either till they were accomplished facts. Nor have we proof, notwithstanding the marked intelligence displayed in the use of scripture since the resurrection (Acts 1, cf. Luk_24:45), that any entered into the meaning of the feast of weeks with its wave loaves, till it was fulfilled. The disciples were together, however, in their true place of dependence and expectation. 'And when the day of Pentecost was in course of fulfilment they were all together1 in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of a mighty blast rushing, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues parting asunder as of fire, and it2 sat upon each one of them. And they were all filled with [the] Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them to utter' (vers. 1-4).
1 Text. Rec., followed by the Authorized Version 'with one accord', has ὁμοθυμαδὸν with one or two uncials and most cursives; but omou, 'together', is the reading of ABC, et al.
2 Some read with p.m. Dgr, some ancient versions and fathers 'they', but ABCE, the cursives, and other ancient versions support the singular. The plural is probably to suit the tongues' just before.
This was the baptism of the Spirit, though neither the mighty cause is here unfolded, nor are the effects as yet traced out. But the promise of the Father was now accomplished. The Holy Spirit was sent down from heaven according to the word of the Lord to abide with His own for ever, that other Advocate Who answers on earth to Christ in heaven, the Divine manager of all our affairs according to the will of God. As being a wholly new thing, there were accompanying signs, and these of a twofold character; not only the violent blowing which filled all the house, but the disparted tongues as of fire which sat upon each. Thus was manifested the presence of the Spirit in a general way for all the house, in a special way as power of testimony for each: a distinction of importance also found in other forms elsewhere.
But testimony is the predominant point here, for if they were all filled with the Spirit, they also began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Hence the aptness of the form in which the Spirit manifested His action: not a dove as with the Lord when sealed on earth emblem of One holy, harmless, and undefiled, but tongues wherewith now to make known the wonderful works of God in the new creation, every way far beyond the wonders of the old. But the tongues were not one, but parting asunder. The Gentile must hear, no less than the once favoured Jew. Now the mission of grace was to go forth indiscriminately as became a dead and risen Saviour, Whom God exalted on high, after man, especially Israel, had rejected Him as their own Messiah on earth. Further, the tongues were as of fire, that set forth divine judgment intolerant of evil, as just now demonstrated in grace to man in the cross of Christ.
But the languages were as real as they were different from their mother tongue or any naturally acquired one. This fact is as clearly stated as the gift itself was eminently significant and seasonable. What could be so clear a testimony that, if God gave His law to Israel, though in itself the expression of man's moral duty, He was now about to make known His grace in the gospel to every race and tongue? His grace not only forgives all offences, but quickens together with Christ, so as to be a new and everlasting ground for the energy of the Spirit to produce in a new life the fruit of righteousness which is by Jesus Christ to God's glory and praise. This witness of divine love, efficacious through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, acts in direction toward all, in effect upon all those that believe. It was not the extirpation of difference in language, nor yet the power which will make once more the whole earth of one lip and the same speech, but grace lifting its objects and instruments above the effects of that judgment at Babel, which by diversity of language confounded the pride of the race, when it sought to combine and exalt itself in a union of human will which forgot God altogether. But God remembered guilty and miserable man, and in His wisdom and mercy availed Himself of the chosen people's hatred of Himself and of His Son (Joh_15:24) to go out in the power of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; and to mark this in a way most touching to every nation under heaven.
'Now there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, pious men, from every nation under heaven; and when this report [or sound] was made, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because they each one heard them speaking in his own dialect. And they were all amazed and wondering, saying1 Behold, are not all these that speak Galileans? And how hear we each in our own dialect in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and those that dwell in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, in Phrygia and Pamphylia, in Egypt and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and the Roman sojourners, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them speaking in our tongues the mighty things of God' (vers. 5-11).
1 Text. Rec., with the Authorized Version, adds πρὸς ἀλλήλοῦσυ 'one to another', with pretty good authority, but not the best.
If any words were needed to make the nature of the wonder plain and precise, it might have been supposed that these could not fail. But men of this world's science and learning, though bearing the name of Christian, manifest no less incredulity now than the Jews did of old, who foolishly sought to treat it as mere excitement. Some have tried to find in the account the same sort of senseless jargon, or (as Meyer) an entirely new language as its favourers allege,2 which was revived [more than] a half-century ago among the Irvingites; others (as Bleek, et al.) contend for a highly excited or ecstatic style of speech suitable to the communication of the marvels of grace, or (Olshausen) for so low a thought as a magnetic relation between speakers and hearers, or (Wieseler, et al.) for mere inarticulate ejaculations of praise! The older rationalists, as Paulus, et al., supposed no other than their native tongue; others, from Gregory of Nyssa and Cyprian to Erasmus and men of our own day, had grafted on this the strange idea that the multitude of foreigners was caused by the Spirit to hear each his own tongue! But Gregory of Nazianzus rejects the notion as making the marvel lie with the hearers rather than the speakers, contrary to the clear statement of scripture, as indeed are all these vain hypotheses.
2 There can be but little doubt that the interpolation of the word unknown in the Authorized Version of 1Co_14:2; 1Co_14:4; 1Co_14:13; 1Co_14:19; 1Co_14:27, gave occasion to, and helped to consecrate, the delusion of the enemy. It is no small proof of the evils of these unwarranted additions, but I find another has anticipated me in remarking what occurred independently to my mind.
The truth is that all these ideas, though maintained not only by preachers, but by theologians of the highest rank, are swept away at the first touch of the written word, ever the standard of truth and never more needed than in this day of active and daring intellect. The disciples were enabled in the power of the Spirit to speak the various languages of the earth; but it would seem that there were measures in this gift as in others. The apostle thanks God that he speaks with tongues more than all the Corinthians, so ostentatious of these sign-gifts; but he also insists on the subordination of them all to prophecy, as a gift characteristically for edification, encouragement, and consolation. The great end in the assembly is building up, to which a tongue without interpretation contributed nothing, as their frequency, if not simultaneous also, was an evident offence against order, both of which he corrects as the commandment of the Lord (1 Cor. 14).
Tongues therefore played a very inferior part in the assembly. That they were conferred for the dissemination of the gospel is the supposition of many in ancient and modern times. They were certainly used to arrest the Jews from foreign countries, who flocked to Jerusalem for this feast, or were otherwise staying there. What confounded these strangers from so many lands was, that they each one heard the disciples speaking in their own language, and whatever may have been the prevalency of Aramaic, or of Greek and Latin over the then known world, it is idle to tell one who believes this careful and varied enumeration from the N.E. to the W. and S. (which seems to be the reason why Judea comes between Mesopotamia and Cappadocia), that the inspired writer does not mean to convey more than a few distinct tongues. Not so judged the residents and sojourners in Jerusalem, whose piety gave them weight, yet who least of all were disposed to religious innovation. To them the evidence was irresistible, an impossibility if the variety of languages had not been a plain and sure reality of which they are competent judges. 'Behold, are not all these that speak Galileans? And how hear we each in our own dialect in which we were born? Parthians, and Medes and Elamites . . . we hear them speaking in our tongues the mighty things of God.'
Still those that heard and believed the gospel that day were Jews and proselytes only. But the wondrous form of testimony prepared the way for those who glean the mind of God from the mighty workings of His gracious power, as well as from the words of the Lord in His varied commissions to the disciples, the wide-reaching activity in witnessing His love to which they were called. His hands which had been stretched out in vain to a disobedient and contradictory people were already pointing to all the nations, who also would hear. But the Lord had to use, as we shall see in due time, fresh means to reach the ears and quicken the hesitating feet of His own in the grace that tarrieth not for man and waiteth not for the sons of men.
The tongues were, as the apostle explains elsewhere, a sign to the unbelievers. They were intended to arrest and produce inquiry. The presence of the promised Holy Spirit was an incomparably deeper and more fruitful fact. He was sent down from heaven to form the assembly, the new dwelling place of God, the body of Christ. He was to be the power of testimony, of God's good news for the world. He was to be in the believers and with them for ever, that Paraclete Whom Christ after going on high was to send, not only to bring demonstration to the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, but to guide the saints into all the truth announcing what is coming, and glorifying Christ as He too had the Father. Whatever might be the marvel and the gracious suitability of the tongues, the gift of the Spirit Himself immensely transcends them, but His presence and the all-important results of it are beyond the ken of the world which neither sees nor knows Him. The signs and wonders occupy men.
'And they were all amazed and perplexed] saying one to another, What meaneth1 this? But others mocking1 said, They are filled with sweet wine. But Peter,2 standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice and spoke forth unto them, Men of Judea and all1 ye that dwell in Jerusalem, be this known to you, and give ear to my words. For these are not drunken as ye suppose, for it is [the] third hour of the day; but this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel: And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your elders shall dream with dreams1; yea and on my bondmen and on my bondwomen in those days will I pour out of My Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will give wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below blood and fire and vapour of smoke. The sun shall be changed into darkness and the moon into blood before the great and manifest3 day of [the] Lord come. And it shall be, whosoever shall call on the name of [the] Lord shall be saved' (vers. 12-21).
1 The critics depart from the Text. Rec. chiefly in forms which affect the sense so little that we need not notice them.
2 See note on previous page.
3 Tischendorf omits καὶ ἑπιφανῆ ('and manifest') on the authority of D.
As usual, men arrange themselves in more than one class, some astonished, others hostile and scornful. Peter takes the lead in explaining with gravity and distinctness. He explicitly denies the unworthy thought of intoxication, which the early hour itself should have silenced as against God-fearing souls. It was really what Joel spoke of: not of course the fulfilment as it is to be in the last days, but an effusion of that nature. Indeed, the words of the prophet went in this beyond what that day saw accomplished; for 'all flesh' cannot fairly be limited to Israel, and God, Who was soon about to bring in Gentiles to the name of Christ, will bless the nations in the future kingdom, when all the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord, and all the kindred of the nations shall worship before Him. The gospel now makes good the indiscriminate grace of God even more profoundly than will be under His future government, when He will show that the kingdom is Jehovah's, and that He is the governor among the nations.
In the latter day, when Joel's words will be fulfilled as a whole, the Spirit will be poured out, and if Israel enjoy the blessing freely, it will flow far beyond their narrow limits. God's ways will then be known upon earth, His saving health among all nations. Temporal blessing is then to be vouchsafed to Israel (Joe_2:19-27), and their great northern enemy is to be for ever disposed of, for Jehovah will do great things for His people and land, whatever the enemy may have prepared to do. 'My people', He says emphatically, 'shall never be ashamed.' Then as a distinct intimation the prophet presents two announcements: the first, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (vers. 28, 29); the second, external signs of judgment ushering in the days of Jehovah, the circumstances of which are detailed in Acts 3, till we come down to the closing account of their blessings once more. As the wonders above and below precede that day, so does the repentance of Israel prepare for their deliverance and blessing, and especially for the gift of the Spirit. We see the same principle here also.
For God, in pouring out of His Spirit now, does thereby associate believers with Christ exalted on high. Given in virtue of redemption the Holy Spirit sheds the love of God in their hearts, seals them for the day of redemption, and is the earnest of their inheritance. He dwells in them now, and will quicken their mortal bodies soon at Christ's coming. Besides, He is the blessed and divine bond, constituting them Christ's body and God's house. And here it may be of interest to not a few if I set before them the judgment formed by the celebrated ecclesiastical historian, Neander, who of course from his Lutheran views had no bias toward the truth of the church. It is not cited as invariably sound or as in any respect authoritative, but as a grave testimony from an able and well-informed Christian in direct opposition to the present state of the church, whether Protestant or Romanist, Oriental or Greek. It is, therefore, as far as it goes, a strong involuntary homage to the revealed truth on this subject.
'What Moses expressed as a wish (Num_11:29) that the Spirit of God might rest upon all and all might be prophets, seems to me a prediction of that which was to be realized through Christ. By Him was to be instituted a fellowship of Divine life, which, proceeding from the equal and equally immediate relation of all to the One God, as the divine source of life to all, should remove these boundaries, within which, as the Old Testament position, the development of the higher life was still confined, and hence the fellowship thus derived would essentially distinguish itself from the constitution of all previously existing religious societies. There could, in such a society, be no longer a priestly or prophetic office, constituted to serve as a medium for the propagation and development of the kingdom of God, on which office the religious consciousness of the community was to be dependent. Such a guild of priests as existed in the previous systems of religion, empowered to guide other men, who remained, as it were, in a state of religious pupilage; having the exclusive care of providing for their religious wants, and serving as mediators by whom all other men must first be placed in connection with God and divine things - such a priestly caste could find no place within Christianity. In removing that which separated men from God, in communicating to all the same fellowship with God, Christ also removed the barrier which had hitherto divided men from one another. Christ, the Prophet and High Priest for entire humanity, was the end of the prophetic office and of the priesthood. There was now the same High Priest and Mediator for all, through Whom all men 1 being reconciled and united with God,1 are themselves made a priestly and spiritual race; one heavenly King, Guide, and Teacher, through Whom all are taught of God; one faith, one hope, one Spirit which should quicken all, one oracle in the hearts of all, the voice of the Spirit proceeding from the Father, all were to be citizens of one heavenly kingdom, with whose heavenly powers, even while strangers in the world, they would be already furnished. When the apostles applied the Old Testament idea of the priesthood to Christianity, this seems to me to have been invariably for the simple purpose of showing that no such visible particular priesthood could find place in the new community; that since free access to God and to heaven had by the one High Priest, even Christ, been opened once for all to believers, they had, by virtue of their union to Him, become themselves a spiritual people, consecrated to God, their calling being none other than to dedicate their entire life to God as a thank-offering for the grace of redemption, to publish abroad the power and grace of Him Who had called them out of the kingdom of darkness into His marvellous light, to make their life one continual priesthood, one spiritual worship springing from the temper of faith working by love; one continuous testimony for their Saviour. (Compare 1Pe_2:9; Rom_12:1; and the spirit and whole train of thought running through the Epistle to the Hebrews.) So too, the advancement of God's kingdom in general and particular, the diffusion of Christianity among the heathens and the good of each particular community, was now to be the duty not of one select class of Christians alone, but the immediate concern of each individual.'2
1 [It should be 'believers', not 'men'; united with 'Christ', not with 'God'.]
2 (Neander's General History of the Christian Religion and Church i. pp. 248-250, Bohn's edition.)
We need not do more than notice the vague inaccuracy of 'entire humanity' on the one hand and of the 'King' on the other, for we must never expect a Lutheran to know the total ruin of man or the new relations of Christ. That He tasted death for every man is true; but He is King of Israel and of nations, also Head of the church, not of humanity as such. He has authority over all flesh to give eternal life to as many as the Father hath given Him. But this and other passages show that, notwithstanding grave drawbacks, this modern historian understood better than most the peculiar character of that new thing which God had formed for His glory on the day of Pentecost; a character in no wise accidental or temporary, but essentially distinguishing it from first to last, and as distinct from that which God had set up in Israel as from the inventions of Satan among the Gentiles. The new thing was God's habitation in the Spirit.
Such was the preface of the apostle's discourse, a denial of the carnal not to say immoral, excitement imputed, and an affirmation of the power of the Spirit then manifested in the gift of tongues, and in prophesying according to the prophet Joel.
Now Peter enters on the foundation of their hopes as God's chosen people, and sets forth the facts just accomplished in the light of His word, mainly as we shall see in Psalms 16, 110, and 132.
'Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man shown forth from God to you by mighty works, and wonders, and signs, which God wrought by Him in your midst, as yourselves know - Him, given up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by hand of lawless [men] did crucify and slay; Whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death, inasmuch as it was not possible that He should be held fast by it. For David saith as to Him, I kept the Lord in view always before me, because He is on my right hand that I may not be shaken. On this account my heart was cheered and my tongue was exceeding glad; yea more, my flesh also shall dwell in hope [that, or] because Thou wilt not leave my soul to1 Hades nor give thy Holy [or Gracious] One to see corruption. Thou didst make known to me ways of life, Thou wilt make me full of joy with Thy countenance. Brethren, [lit. men brethren] one may speak with freedom unto you about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is amongst us unto this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God swore with an oath to him of the fruit of his loins to seat upon his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was He left to1 Hades nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus did God raise up, whereof all we are witnesses. Having therefore been exalted by the right hand of God and received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured forth this which ye see and hear. For David ascended not into the heavens, but saith himself The LORD said to my Lord, Sit on My right hand till I make Thine enemies [the] footstool of Thy feet. Let all [the] house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God made Him both Lord and Christ - this Jesus Whom ye crucified' (vers. 22-36).
1 [For the Author's criticism of the text, and his reasons for the rendering here given see his The Preaching to the Spirits in Prison, 1900, p. 133. Editor.]
The apostle addresses them according to their due national title as the chosen theocracy; and, while he in no way hides his Master's name of humiliation, he claims for Him the indubitably proved character of Messiah. It was God, he affirms, Who had shown Him forth to them by mighty works and wonders and signs; it was God Who by Him thus wrought in their midst. They could deny neither the actual display of divine power in every form of goodness and mercy, nor that Israel had so expected the Anointed of God according to the living oracles. The eyes of the blind were opened, the ears of the deaf were unstopped, the lame leaped as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sang. Had all this come without the person to whom Scripture attaches it all? If not yet with vengeance, surely it was in mercy unequivocally divine? Granted that the parched ground has not become a pool, nor the thirsty lands springs of water, and that the way of holiness is invisible save to faith, granted that the unclean abound and are bold as the lion, and the ravenous beasts are still objects of terror, because the people are apostate from their King when He came, as they once gave up Jehovah for every vain idol of the nations (cf. Ps. 35). But God had failed in no attestation that could commend His Servant Whom He upheld, His elect in Whom His soul delighted; and they themselves knew it, though tempted by Satan to impute it to the enemy in order to escape the submission of their conscience to the truth. To the enemy! when Christ's every word and every work directly tend to destroy Satan's evil power and wiles. But what will not the deluded mind of man think or at least say to avoid the grace that pities and would save him if he bowed to God and His Christ?
Did any Israelite stumble at the cross as invalidating His claims? Yet on the cross, man - the Jew - being what he is, God had ordered it all marvellously to His own glory. Unbelief and rebellion and blasphemy on the one hand were allowed to work their unimpeded way, when the fit moment arrived; and Jesus was rejected ignominiously by His own people and the Gentiles were urged by them to crucify Him, that on the other hand He might become a propitiation for the sins of His own that believed yea, for the whole world. If that was man's inexcusable iniquity, this was God's sovereign grace. If they were the instruments of their own spite, He gave One Who had been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Thus in the same cross met creature-will of man and of Satan in deadly enmity to God, divine love turning the otherwise hopeless sin to the shedding of that precious blood which cleanseth from all sin, impossible without the glorious person Who is God no less than man, impossible save by His once in atonement suffering for our sins, Just for unjust. 'Him given up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by hand of lawless men did crucify and slay.'
The cross therefore, dreadful as it is as the proof of man's blind guilt and of Satan's power, now that it is seen not only to be necessary that scripture be fulfilled, but also to be the indispensable and only possible door of deliverance for the sinner in God's grace, is owned as an essential and morally the deepest part of God's ways, as it is the highest moral glory of the Lord Jesus. As Himself said on the eve of it, 'Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God be glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in Himself, and shall straightway glorify Him' (Joh_13:31-32).
But the resurrection! - what did God say therein? In vain the lie that the disciples came by night and stole Jesus away, while the soldiers slept. Peter does not even notice such an unworthy subterfuge, but simply asserts the grand truth on which the gospel rests: 'Whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death, inasmuch as it was not possible that He should be held fast by it. For David saith as to Him, I kept the Lord in view always before me....' The word of God by David pointed to the resurrection of the Messiah, and God showed Him openly when risen to witnesses chosen of Him beforehand. But indeed it was not possible that He should be held fast by death to which He, the Holy One, had submitted for sin to God's glory. Nor was it possible that the scripture could be broken which said, 'Thou wilt not leave My soul to Hades, nor give [i.e. suffer] Thy Holy One to see corruption.' Even according to the ancient Jewish interpretation these words of Ps. 16 can only apply to the Messiah (SchÂ?ttgen, 564-8). Here Peter and in Act_13:33-37 Paul, declare that it was fulfilled in God's raising Jesus from the dead, not in David, still less in any other. Thus was He shown the path of life through death with fulness of joy in the presence of God His Father.
The apostle in his reasoning on the text cites Ps. 132, the great psalm of the kingdom settled for ever in the son of David. 'Brethren, one may speak freely [with freedom] unto you about the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried and his tomb is amongst us unto this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God swore with an oath to him of the fruit of his loins to seat upon his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ that neither was He left to Hades nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus did God raise up, whereof all we are witnesses.' This, and this alone, explains the peculiarly glorious character of the kingdom even in its earthly relations. Even now the King is risen from the dead. This stamps perpetuity as nothing else could: yet is it the kingdom of a man. Only it is man risen from the dead, for in all things He must have the pre-eminence (Col_1:18).
But in fact resurrection was the immediate stepping stone, not to the kingdom which still awaits His appearing in glory, but to His going up into the presence of God on high; and this for reasons most nearly affecting God's glory now as well as those who enjoy His favour, as we shall hear presently. 'Having therefore been exalted by the right hand of God and received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured forth this which ye see and hear. For David ascended not into the heavens but saith himself, The LORD said to my Lord, Sit on My right hand till I make Thine enemies [the] footstool of Thy feet. Let all [the] house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God made Him both Lord and Christ - this Jesus whom ye crucified.'
Again from that most fruitful treasury of God's words is a sentence drawn to prove the bearing of Christ's life, including His resurrection and ascension, where were not only facts of the deepest import, the grounds of truth needed for every day and for eternity, but parts of God's infinite scheme for manifesting His own glory and giving effect to His goodness toward us. If Ps. 132 secures the risen Son of David for the everlasting King on His throne in Zion, with the abundant and suited privileges peculiar to His kingdom on earth and in Israel, the citation from Ps. 110 testifies to His present exaltation in heaven. Of this there was the most conclusive proof in the now accomplished promise of the Father, the gift of the Holy Spirit, of Whose outpouring there was indubitable evidence to their eyes and ears. That gift Christ had received for the second time. Once a man on earth He was sealed, the holy and acceptable One of God's delight: now a man in heaven a second time did He receive the same Spirit as the One Who, having finished the work of redemption, had gone on high, the guarantee and glorious witness of the acceptance of all who believing in His name, are justified and delivered, that they might be united in one, the body of the ascended Head. And on this rests the perpetuity of that gift, the presence of the Holy Ghost, so essential to the church of God. Not only is the outpoured Spirit the fruit of His accepted work in all its unchanging and everlasting love, but He is therefore given again to Christ, though for us. If Christ received of the Father the promised Spirit and poured forth what was seen and heard at Pentecost, how could the Holy Spirit but abide in honour of Him and of His work? No wonder whatever be the humiliating and deplorable provocations on our part whatever the deep griefs on His part as feeling for Christ's injured name, that He abides in us and with us for ever. He is come to testify to God's exalting Jesus, made both Lord and Christ, Whom men, yea Jews, crucified.
The effect of this solemn appeal to conscience, grounded on testimonies of scripture undeniably direct, was both immediate and permanent. The truth of God searched His people unsparingly: His grace met them in sovereign goodness, and established them in the Christ Whom they had so blindly and wickedly rejected.
'And when they heard, they were pricked in heart and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, What shall we do, brethren? And Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized each of you in the name of Jesus Christ for remission of sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off as many as [the] Lord our God shall call to [Him]. And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, Be saved from this perverse generation. Those then that accepted his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they persevered [continued steadfastly] in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.1 And all that believed were together, and had all things common, and sold their possessions and substance, and distributed them to all according as anyone had need. And day by day, continuing with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they did take their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord was adding day by day together those that were to be saved' (vers. 37-47).
1 Some ancient authorities add 'in Jerusalem; and great fear was upon all': apparently a gloss. Cf. Act_5:5.
It was a real work of God in the conscience. They were not persuaded only, but pricked in heart. There was submission to His person Whom they had just crucified, and this through faith in God's word. It was not mere remorse, still less a change of mind only, but real judgment of self before God (Whose part they now took against themselves and their unbelieving evil in the past), and a distinct casting themselves on Him Whom they had so bitterly despised to their own ruin. Now they repented, and were baptized each of them in the name of Jesus for remission of sins. Through His name the believer receives remission of sins; in none other is there salvation. He is exalted to give repentance and remission of sins. As they repented, so also were they baptized in His name, according to the charge laid on His servants. They took the place of death with Him: I say not that they then understood its meaning, as they doubtless entered into it more or less afterwards. The Lord directed His servants to baptize; and the new converts simply and without question submitted. It was His way, nor is any other so good, though many a servant of His diverged from His orders, and many a convert seems in effect to think himself, in this as in other things, wiser than his Master. It was a clean final break with sins and sin, with man and religious man, with Judaism. Little or nothing could any one of these confessors be supposed at this solemn epoch of new birth to apprehend with intelligence; but they did feel before God their own nothingness, and the all-sufficiency of His name Who had died on the cross. And they were welcome to the precious privilege conferred on them, as they could in no way have been recognized as disciples of His had they refused baptism in His name. It was the mark of His confession, the sign of salvation; and woe to him that spurns the authority and grace of Him Who instituted it!
But there is another matter of new and immense import that follows. These repentant Jews who submitted to baptism in the name of Jesus Christ for remission of sins are assured of the subsequent gift of the Spirit: 'And ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.' They were already born of God: without which there could be no repentance nor faith. They were to be baptized with water in the name of Jesus for remission. Not till then was the believing Jew to receive the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; for this is in question here, 'the gift' (ἡ δωρεά not merely the gifts (τὰ χαρσὶματα or powers which accompanied and attested His divine presence now on earth. It is the more necessary to insist on the specific character of the truth, because of the widespread confusion in Christendom as to all this. The gift of the Spirit here spoken of, the peculiar and abiding privilege of the Christian and the church, is as distinct from new birth by the Spirit as from the gifts of which we read not a little in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles. But there is to be noticed circumstantial difference in the manner. For while the favoured Jew in Acts ii. had to be baptized before he receives this wondrous gift, the hitherto despised Gentile receives the Holy Ghost before being baptized in the name of the Lord: a difference in my judgment worthy of God, and instructive in His ways for His children.
The inestimable gift was not overlooked in Old Testament scripture: not only the new blessings of redemption in general, but that of the Spirit particularly. And Peter could here say that the promise was to them and to their children, yea, to all that were afar off, as many as the Lord their God should call to Him. Now that the time was come for displaying, not law nor government, but grace God would call to Himself the most distant, and bless the needy to the full. It is now no question of a mere external sign, but of the power of God in grace according to His promise.
This was not by any means all the apostle urged on that memorable day but from among more and different words it sufficed the Holy Ghost to recall the exhortation, 'Be saved from this perverse generation'. For now God was about to separate as well as to forgive and deliver, at least, the salvation goes beyond guilt and sin. He would set apart from the perverse generation hurrying on to its speedy ruin, which was rejecting the gospel as it had the Messiah Himself. From the separate people, now proved utterly crooked and rebellious, He would have His own to be saved, for His own glory and after a new way. This the rest of the Book we have entered upon opens out to us; nor can anything of the sort be to us of deeper interest or of more practical value. For we too, though Gentiles naturally, belong to this new family of God and new testimony of Christ.
'Those then that accepted his word were baptized: and there were added that day about three thousand souls' (ver. 41). 'Gladly,' the reading of the Received Text, is rejected on ample evidence by the critics as not found in the oldest and best authorities. It seems to be a perhaps unconscious importation from, or effect of, Act_21:17, where it is in perfect keeping. Here it is not. For, precious and comforting as the gospel may be, deep seriousness would characterize those souls so newly repentant, and on grounds suited to sound them thoroughly. A 'glad' reception would better harmonize with a revival movement and its generally superficial results. The Pentecostal work was both profound and extensive: three thousand souls that day were no slight haul, but in every way suited to prove that a Divine person was just come in grace no less than power, both to save and to gather. So it is the Lord's will that we should ever remember and heed His presence from first to last. The Holy Spirit works by the gospel and forms the church here below for heaven.
Further, the Spirit abides evermore, so as to cut off all excuse for not going on with God according to His word and will. So here it is noted that 'they persevered in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers' (ver. 42). Such was the course on which entered the souls just born to God and blessed of Him in Christ. The teaching of the apostles supplied the needed instruction, fitted perfectly as they were not only by the Spirit's recalling to their remembrance all the words of the Lord Jesus, but by His own communication, according to the Saviour's promise, of all that they themselves could not then bear (Joh_14:26; Joh_16:12-13). Never was there such teaching for souls whose very recent introduction into divine relationships made them hunger and thirst for all that would satisfy the new spiritual wants and affections of their souls. And they had it not orally alone, but after a while also in forms written by inspiration, that we too might have 'fellowship' with them, taking in now not the 'twelve' only but the great apostle of the Gentiles yet to be called. For 'teaching', however valuable, is not enough without 'fellowship', and few weigh how much they owe to the presence and living commentary on the truth which sharing it all together in practice furnishes.1 Then 'the breaking of bread' has a most influential place, both by keeping the Lord continually before the saints in His unspeakable grace and suffering, and in drawing out the deepest feeling of the heart, where the exercise or display of power might be otherwise a danger, as we see at Corinth, where the true character of the Eucharist was lost, and the assembly became a scene of ostentation (1Co_11:20-34). Nor are 'prayers', meaning a suppose) the united or common prayers of the saints, left out of this weighty record; for none can neglect 'the prayers' without loss otherwise irreparable, and so much the more of moment were they then as the saints rose to the joy of their new and everlasting blessedness. For power and privilege would be of all things the most fatal if the saints slipped out of the sense of needed and constant dependence on God.
1 Canon W. G. Humphry would, with others, apply κοινωνία here to 'the communication of worldly goods', but this does not suit the immediate connection, and is given in another form subsequently. Besides κοίνωνὶα requires to be modified as in Rom_15:26; 2Co_8:4; and Heb_13:16, to mean other than 'communion', as here.
On the one hand, the moral impression was great and immediate (ver. 43): 'fear came upon every soul', and not the less, but the more, because it was the effect of God's presence in grace, not in judgments which alarm for a moment but soon yield to a fatal reaction. 'And many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.' The manifestations of power were not only marvellous, but significant, so as to reveal Him Who wrought by means of His servants in His own character and ways, alas! among a people manifestly treated as unbelieving and apostate: else His word had sufficed and made them out of place.
On the other hand, how lovely the picture the faithful present for a brief moment! 'And all that believed were together, and had all things common, and sold their possessions and substance, and distributed them to all according as any one had need. And day by day, continuing with one accord in the temple and breaking bread at home, they did take their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord was adding day by day together those that were to be saved' (vers. 44-47). Never before was such a sight among men on earth; never such love rising above the selfishness of nature, not merely in that land and race, but in any other, and all through the power of divine grace in the name of the Crucified now seen by faith on high. It was sweet fruit of the Spirit, as far as possible from a claim or a command, however right be the voice of divine authority in its place. But here was the flow, mighty yet unbidden, of divine love that embraced every one begotten of God, without reserve or stint in hearts which answered in their measure to His Who with His Son vouchsafes us all things.
It was, no doubt, a peculiar hour of transitional character, exactly suited to a state which beheld all the faithful within one city; what, in fact, we never do find when grace called and gathered elsewhere, and especially from among the Gentiles. There love surely was not wanting in the power of God; yet it never did take this shape, but one more adapted to the one body, wherever found on earth. So, too, we may observe the continuing in the temple as yet steadfastly, perhaps more so than ever, whilst they celebrated 'at home' (not 'from house to house') the Lord's Supper: deep and solemn joy in the remembrance of the Saviour, but unabated attachment as yet to the temple and its hours of prayer. Even ordinary meals were lit up with the happiness of His presence: how much more where all His self-sacrifice was before their eyes! Thus did they praise God, and all the people regarded them with the favour with which they viewed Christ Himself in His earlier day (Luk_2:52). In the last verse, 'to the assembly' appears to be a gloss. 'Together', from Act_3:1, should come in here: 'and the Lord was adding day by day together those that were to be saved.'1 It was the church, but described, not yet so designated till Act_5:11, where the saints there called out together are styled 'the assembly' or church.
1 It appears to me that σώθητε in ver. 40. refutes the prevalent mistake that τοὺς σωζομένους means 'those in process of salvation' though this be grammatically possible and easy. But see Luk_13:23. So Heb_10:10 shows that robs ἁγιαζομένους in ver. 14 cannot refer to present process. Not time, but character, is in question.
Thus did God gather to the name of the Lord Jesus, His church began to be built. But He did not therefore forget His ancient people. In word and deed He appealed to their conscience, if haply they might repent, and He bring in the predicted times of blessing.