The former treatise have I made.
A true commencement must have respect to what has gone before
In any new beginning of study or work, it is important to have in mind what has been done before in the same line. No one can learn or do to advantage, unless he avails himself of what others have learned and done before him. Any other plan would utterly forbid progress. The world would be full of new beginnings--and nothing else. He who would study the New Testament wisely, must know what the Old Testament has disclosed. He who would get good from the Book of Acts must have in mind at the start the facts and teachings of the former treatise by the same author. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
The Gospels and the Acts
I. Their relation. In determining this it is not enough to say that while the Gospels contain the history of the Master’s ministry, the Acts record that of the apostles. Both alike narrate the work of the Lord: the Gospels what He did in Person, the Acts what He did by His chosen witnesses. This relation is marked at its outset. If the former treatise records “all that Jesus began,” then the present relates what Jesus continued. His incarnation, death, etc., were only the foundation. In the Acts He rears a lofty temple on that foundation. Nor does the work cease with the abrupt conclusion of the Acts. In a city map you mark the road which leads to another city a little beyond the wall, when it breaks off. To trace it further you require another map. So our Lord’s path breaks off on the map of inspiration and is continued on the map of providence.
II. Their point of union. The latter treatise does not begin precisely where the former ends. By design they overlap each other--both recording the Resurrection and the Ascension. Thus where a bridge of two arches spans a river, both arches lean on one pillar which rises in the middle of the flood. In the midst of the gulf which separated God and man, and in the midst of the tide of time stood Jesus--on Him rests the Old Dispensation and the New. In the end of the Gospel history we found the first hemisphere of the Divine dispensation terminating in Christ crucified and ascended. Here we find the second arch springing where the first was finished. Resting there, it rises into heaven, and stretches away into the future. We lose sight of it as we lose sight of the rainbow, in mid-heavens; but we know assuredly that it will traverse all the intervening space, and lean secure on the continent of a coming eternity. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
St. Luke a model for the Bible student
I. He collected his facts with care and diligence (Luke 1:1-3). This complete knowledge of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach suggests the importance of endeavouring to gain a more perfect knowledge of the Word of God. There is a great readiness in quoting certain texts or favourite portions, but the fulness of which St. Luke speaks is rare. The Word of God cannot be said to be unknown, but it does not “dwell richly in us in all wisdom.” Hence truths are magnified into undue proportions, and important doctrines are passed over slightly, because they do not well enter into some peculiar system.
II. His collection was limited by the boundaries of revelation. It did not go beyond what God made known by His Son. Here, again, we may learn the importance of not going beyond the revealed Word whenever we attempt to review God’s dealings with mankind, anti especially of the redemption of the world by Christ. If there be danger in a partial knowledge of God’s truth, there is perhaps more in adding to the things which God has revealed. It is this which has caused so much superstition.
III. He recognised that a knowledge of “all that Jesus began to do and to teach,” however comprehensive and however free from mixture, will not prove a saving knowledge unless it be conveyed to the soul by the power of God. St. Luke describes the commandments of Jesus as given unto the apostles by the Spirit. It is possible for any man to learn these commandments. The letter of the law and the facts of the gospel are within the reach of the poorest capacity. But, in order to make the knowledge available, the Spirit of God must take of the things so learnt, and show them to the soul. “No man can say that Jesus is the Christ but by the Holy Ghost.” It is impossible to read the Acts without seeing that the Holy Spirit was the acting Guide of all the sayings and actions of the first teachers of Christianity. Looking upon the doctrines of the gospel as a medicine to heal our spiritual sickness, we must suppose that the medicine is taken, and that it penetrates through the constitution of the sick soul.
IV. It requires strong convictions of the truths we believe in order to be diligent in the propagation of them. Our zeal for the cause of the Redeemer, our desires for the advancement of His glory, our prayers for the prevalence of His truth, will all be in proportion to the depth of our conviction that this is the Word of God. The earliest impressions are liable to be effaced by time, by the world and its cares, by the changes of our own views, by the speculative views of others, etc. We have need, therefore, of watchfulness, lest that which is within us lose its power and freshness, and we begin in the routine of duty and form to think less and less of the power of godliness. (R. Burgess, B. D.)
Luke was the Haydon of the sacred scribes; he sketched the perfect Man and drew in heroic size the figures and scenes of the new kingdom. Historians often become interested in a single character and turn aside to give us a monograph or biography on the object of their enthusiasm. Motley, after writing “The Rise of the Dutch Republic” and “The History of the United Netherlands,” published “John Barneveld.” Bancroft left his chosen field, the “History of the United States,” to make us better acquainted with Abraham Lincoln. Froude has added to his “History of England” a “Life of Lord Beaconsfield.” Writers of history describe the movements of an age as centring about their heroes. The records of a given period are seen to bear the stamp of a distinct personality. But Luke begins with a great character. His biography precedes his history and is the inspiration of it. There was a life which was the key to the Acts, and our writer was in touch with it. He did not gild an earthly tyrant and set him up like Nebuchadnezzar’s image in the plain of Dura to fill the wastes of godless history, but he traces the way of the Church through the fiery furnace of events with a form “like a son of the gods.” Gulzot wrote a “History of Civilisation in Europe and in France,” and gave to the world as one of his latest works “Meditations on the Christian Religion.” Edwin Arnold, after following the “Light of Asia” till it led him to a dim Nirvana, came back for another guide and traced the path of the “Light of the World.” Gounod composed operas in his youth, and afterward turned his attention to such serious works as the oratorios of “The Redemption” and “St. Paul.” It thus not infrequently happens that in later life men are led to dwell upon and portray that great personality they have passed by in search of the world’s truth; but the Bible writers all had their study fires kindled by the rays of that Sun which illuminates the past and future, before they became scribes of Divine truth. The ancient penmen were friends of God, and those of the New Testament were disciples of His Son Jesus Christ before they essayed to describe the powers, the laws, and the institutions of redemption. (W. R. Campbell.)
The Gospels the living picture of Christ
The whole value of the Gospels to Erasmus lay in the vividness with which they brought home to their readers the personal impression of Christ Himself. “Were we to have seen Him with our own eyes, we should not have so intimate a knowledge as they give us of Christ, speaking, healing, dying, rising again, as it were in our very presence. If the footprints of Christ are shown us in any place, we kneel down and adore them. Why do we not rather venerate the living and breathing picture of Him in these Books? It may be the safer course,” he goes on, with characteristic irony, “to conceal the state mysteries of kings, but Christ desires His mysteries to be spread abroad as openly as was possible.” (Little’s “Historical Lights.”)
The “Memorabilia” of Christ
Xenophon, the loving disciple of Socrates, has given an account of the last sayings of that great man, after he was imprisoned and condemned to death; and in all ages the “Memorabilia” has been regarded as one of the most precious records which classical antiquity has sent down to us. But sublime and heroic as they were, how immeasurably do these last utterances of the Grecian stage fall below the moral grandeur and the deathless interest inspired by the last words of Jesus. The nearer we stand to the Cross, and the more we enter into the spirit of its great central character, the more do we feel the force of Rousseau’s eloquent eulogium, “Socrates lived and died like a philosopher; but Jesus Christ like a God.”
The pre-eminence of the doctrine of Christ incarnate
We have seen in mountain lands one majestic peak soaring above all the rest of the hills which out the azure of the horizon with their noble outline, burning with hues of richest gold in the light of the morning sun; and so should the doctrine of Christ incarnate, crucified, risen, and reigning, be pre-eminent above the whole chain of fact, doctrine, and sentiment which make up the sublime landscape--the magnificent panorama--which the Christian preacher unfolds, and makes to pass in clear form and brilliant colour before the eye of his people’s faith. (Evangelical Magazine.)
Not an ideal person with a name expressive of his religious character. That must have been Philotheus (cf. 2 Timothy 3:4). Probably a Gentile convert, not resident in the Holy Land, or he would not have needed the many explanations of places and usages. He is said by Theophylact to have been of senatorial rank; and the title prefixed in the Gospel has been thought to imply that he was a provincial governor (cf. Acts 23:26; Acts 24:3). The address here is less ceremonious, indicating that Luke’s friendship had become more intimate. (Bp. Jacobsen.)
Of all that; Jesus began.--
Teaching to be combined with doing
If it were not for the fact of a Christian life manifested in the holy lives of believers, Christian doctrine would command no attention beyond that of a speculative system. God begins, but never finishes. His works and His teachings are only movements in the march of infinite advance. But one thing we know is finished, and that is the redemption work of Christ, which He declared accomplished when He bowed His head and gave up the ghost; but even this gives birth to a progressive work of salvation, based upon, and springing out of, that foundation. Jesus intimated to His disciples that, through them, He would do greater works after He went to the Father than while He was on the earth, and that, as they became able to bear them, He would give them other teachings. In the Acts of the Apostles we find both of these promises being literally fulfilled. (Gf. Pentecost.)
Aspects of Christ on the earth
1. A Founder. He “began to do and teach,” like an architect who draws the plan of a magnificent cathedral, and lays its foundations, then leaves it for others to finish. The Church of to-day at its best is only carrying out the purpose of its Founder.
2. A Lawgiver. Giving His commandments through the Holy Ghost to His apostles. His laws were not written on tables of stone, like those of Mount Sinai, but on the hearts of His disciples. Whoever becomes a follower of Christ pledges himself to obey His commands.
3. A Sufferer. “His Passion” is not omitted from this summary, brief as the summary is, for the death of Christ is far more important to us than was His life. His Passion brought to us our salvation.
4. A Conqueror. He was dead, He was buried, but He lived again; “He showed Himself alive after His Passion.” Bug for the resurrection of Jesus the world would never have heard of His name.
5. A Revealer. “Speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.” Notice what was the theme of conversation during those forty days. The same subject is the object of all Christ’s interest on the earth now. He cares little for the rise and fall of empires, except as they affect the salvation of men. One soul outweighs all the politics of a continent.
The unchanged plan
The lines of the kingdom run before the crucifixion were not changed. Christ’s assumption of authority was the same as of old. His words were those of command. He had no mistakes to rectify, nor did He withdraw any offer or retract any promise. The scenes He had passed through had not shaken His mind in its loves, its powers, or its purposes. The old commissions were renewed, but there must be halt, not for orders or drill, but for power. Not as the heathen legionaries waited for the auguries from dead beasts, but for a descent of the Spirit from on high were these men to linger at Jerusalem. The moulds were set and the wicks were already dipped for the men who were to be the candles of the Lord, and only the spark of the Spirit was needed to light them. (W. R. Campbell.)
The ministry of Jesus a beginning
I. It was a new thing among men.
1. His miracles. “We have seen strange things to-day.”
2. His teaching. “Never man spake as this Man.”
3. His character. “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” This originality presents--
II. It was introductory to the work of the apostles.
1. He prepared them for their work by instruction. He made them to feel that they could have no other Master. They were assured that to learn of Him was to find the truth. This relation continued during His presence, but they had to be prepared for His absence.
2. Accordingly He brought them to a conviction of His abiding supremacy in the Church. Though when with Him they in a degree lived by sight, even then faith was required; and after His departure faith was their chief directive principle. And Low realising was the faith in which they carried on their work (Acts 2:33; Acts 4:10).
III. It was introductory to the work of the Church in succeeding ages. Centuries have rolled by, and Christianity has not fulfilled all the desires of its friends. Yet the name of Jesus has never ceased to be spoken, and His Holy Spirit has wrought by means of the truth however partially known. Of His living ministry we have abundant proofs in buildings, institutions, and saved souls. And provision is made for the perpetual continuance of the work of Jesus. The Gospel history furnishes--
1. An inexhaustible theme.
2. An all-powerful motive.
Conclusion: See here--
1. How to understand the history of the Christian Church. It presents the truth of Jesus in incessant contention with error, the world, and Satan, and it points hopefully to the time when the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God, etc.
2. The magnificence of a right influence. The work which Jesus began has never ceased. Some of His followers have begun movements which have continued So bless the world ages after they have gone. If your life is short and sphere narrow you have the opportunity of beginning what may bless many.
3. The dignity of Christian effort. It is an honour to have distinguished associates, how much more to have your name in the long list headed by Jesus! (W. Hudson.)
The ever-active Christ
1. Luke’s Gospel is confessedly but an imperfect sketch of an absolutely perfect life. Yet, in his Gospel, every beneficent act seems well-rounded off, every miracle seems complete, every parable seems to have received its finishing touches. And yet Luke says that his Gospel is only a narrative of what Jesus “began both to do and teach.” There were greater things to follow--miracles of grace far surpassing the opening of blind eyes, the cleansing of lepers, or even the raising of the dead to life again.
2. The Acts of the Apostles contains an account of those greater works which were done in the name of Christ. In the Gospels Christ begins to do and teach; in the Acts of the Apostles He continues to do and teach; but His doing and teaching are not now restricted and limited, but assume larger and grander proportions.
3. Our Lord’s beneficient activity did not cease when the last of the apostles fell asleep. Christ has been doing and teaching ever since, and never more than during the last hundred years. Christ is with us still, and He is not inactive. He is keenly alive to all that goes on in His Church. Indeed, it is the Christ in you that prompts to that noble deed, or to lay upon His altar that costly sacrifice. Apart from Christ you can do nothing. The Gospels are full of beginnings. The Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles are also full of beginnings. Now, if the beginnings are so glorious, what will the endings be? If the Spirit of Christ abides in the Church, leading us into all truth, then we ought to possess a larger and richer spiritual heritage than our forefathers possessed. The Churches of the New Testament were only the beginnings of Christ’s redemptive activity. His influence on the world is immeasurably greater than it was when He died upon the cross, and immeasurably greater than it was when the Books of the New Testament were written. We know that He who in the time of His humiliation began to do and teach, until “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together,” and “the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the mighty deep.” Mr. Beecher somewhere speaks of “a Christ a thousand times more glorious than Jerusalem ever saw; a Christ a thousand times freer and fuller of the manifestation of love than any historical Christ; a Christ larger in every way than the Christ of the past; a Christ enwrapping every soul as the whole atmosphere of a continent broods over each particular flower; a Christ conceived of as living near, as overhanging, as thinking of each one, and as working for Him.” Do we know anything of this Christ? The same Christ as we have in the Gospels, and yet not the same: for a man may know the Christ of history and yet be unsaved, but to know the risen, ascended, ever-present Christ is salvation itself. (A. Verran.)
The beginning of apostolicity (1.)
1. This Book is a letter addressed to one man. God always speaks to individuals. He does not address the great seething throng. He made Adam, called Abram, selected Mary; all through history God has called out the one person, and has started His kingdom oftentimes from very insignificant beginnings.
2. But great letters cannot be kept private: where there is anything in a letter it burns its way out. There are some letters which exercise a secret and wonderful power over the receiver, and he says the whole world must be taken into his confidence; to keep it back from others would amount to practical felony. We cannot hide gospels permanently. What is in a book and not what is said about it, determines its fate in the long run. Luke wrote a long account of Christ’s ministry to Theophilus, and the whole world has Luke’s narrative in its hand to-day! So Luke undertook further to write the Acts to this same man, and to-day the Acts are read in every school, perused by all students of history, and in it are the fundamentals of the most influential commonwealths.
3. Luke divides the great life into two portions--action and doctrine, miracles and truth. All Christian life admits of precisely the same division. If we do, but fail to teach, we shall be but barren puzzles. If we teach, and fail to do, we may incur the just imputation of being theorists and fanatics, or devotional sentimentalists.
I. And yet Jesus Christ only began.
1. There can be no ending in anything that God does. Though it may appear to end in itself, yet itself is related to some other and broader self, and so the continuity rolls on in ever-augmenting accretion and proportion. There are no conclusions in truth; there may be resting-places, a punctuation of statement, so that we may take time to turn it into beneficent action, but God’s hand never wrote the word “finis”; though the Bible be, in point of paper and print, a measurable quantity, it opens a revelation that recedes from us like the horizon.
2. So then life becomes a new thing from this standpoint. Men talk about formulating Christian truth: you might as well attempt to formulate the light or the atmosphere. You cannot formulate quantities that are infinite. We have organised geology, botany, astronomy, why not theology? The answer is that geology, etc., represent finite and therefore measurable quantities. We can begin a theology, and in doing so we shall do well, provided that we never mistake beginnings for endings. As to verbal statements, we may never agree; the action of the mind is in advance of the action of the tongue. We know always more than we can tell.
3. So we may well be charitable. If Jesus only began, men can only do the same. No man has the whole truth. The Book itself is not a full grown garden, it is a seed-house. We are all beginners. The old grey-haired student lifts up his wrinkled brow from the glowing page and says, “I have hardly begun it.” Who, then, are we, fifty years his juniors, who should start up and say, “We have reached the goal”? Let us not account ourselves to have attained, but let us press forward, and ever say, “God hath yet more light and truth to bring forth from His Holy Word.”
II. Though Jesus Christ only began, His beginnings have all the force and urgency of complete endings. He gave “commandments,” He did not offer mere suggestions for their consideration, to adopt or reject on further inquiry. Jesus Christ was never less than royal. “Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” We are then the slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore the Lord’s freemen. We do not make the commandments, we obey them--we do not walk under the loose rule of license, we are kept within the limits of a specific moral gravitation, and we have come to know that there is no liberty without law, that life without law is chaos.
III. These beginnings pertain to the Kingdom of God. Jesus Christ had but one subject. He never talked about anything less than a kingdom that rose above all other empires and enclosed them in its infinite sovereignty. The disciples never could get away from their little “kingdom” any more than Christ could detach Himself from His great royalty. So we often find ourselves talking Christian language without the full Christian meaning. The terms are identical with those Christ used, and yet the meanings are separated by the diameter of infinity. Let us know that the larger meaning is always the right one. Yet Jesus chided the apostles very gently. He told them that they were as yet incomplete men; but “ye shall receive power,” etc. They were unbaptised in soul: the symbolic water had done its initial work, but they stood there without the sacred fire, the inspiring afflatus. Into what baptism have we been baptised? We have not received the Holy Ghost if we are conducting a narrow ministry. Jesus Christ said so much when He added, “Ye shall be witnesses both in Jerusalem,” etc. No power but the Holy Ghost could take a man through those regions. The man who has been baptised with water only will choose his own parish, but the man in whom is the burning of the Holy Ghost will say with Wesley, “My parish is the world.” You will know whether you are inspired or not by the vastness of your labours. If we are waiting until we be properly equipped and duly sent out, then know that we have been baptised with ice.
IV. We now pass from the visible ministry of Christ--a cloud received Him out of their sight. Nothing more. Not out of hearing, sympathy, nor helpful ministry--only out of sight. We are not out of His sight, nor out of His memory! (J. Parker, D. D.)
The beginning of apostolicity (2.)
1. Who could have told beforehand that Christ would be the first to go? Our conception would rather have been that He would remain until the last lamb had been enfolded and the last pilgrim entered into rest. Instead of this, He Himself said, “It is expedient for you that I go away.”
2. Being about to go, His last interview with the apostles took place. Last interviews are notably pathetic. The words that would be common on any other occasion acquire a new and significant accent. Little things that would not be noticed under ordinary circumstances, start up into unusual prominence. We should always listen as if in a last interview. “What I say unto one, I say unto all--Watch.” We lose so much through inattentiveness.
3. Jesus Christ is about to go--how will He go? He cannot be allowed to die: that would be a fatal disappointment to the attention which He has strained and to the expectation He has excited. Dogs die: and if this Man die, He will contradict by one pitiful commonplace all that was phenomenal in His life. How will He go? Luke tells us that He was “taken up.” In other places we learn that He “ascended.” He entered within the action of another gravitation, into His own place in the heavens. It is enough: the mind is satisfied by the grand action. Were I reading this upon a poet’s page, I would applaud the poet for one of the finest conceptions that ever ennobled and glorified human fancy.
4. Jesus Christ then “ascended,” and in doing so He but repeated in one final act all the miracles which had made His previous ministry illustrious. From the very beginning He had been ascending, so that when He took the final movement, it was but completing that which He had been continuing for years. Our life should be an ascent! We should not be to-day where we were ten years ago. Not that we are to ascend by sharp steeps that attract the attention. There are ascents so gradual that they do not seem to be ascents; yet looked at as from the beginning to the end, we see that the gradient has evermore lifted itself up until the very next thing to do is to step into heaven! You may know how you will die by knowing how you really live. If your life is a life of faith in the Son of God marked by, at all events, the desire to be Christ-like, then you shall “ascend.” All that drops away from you will be the flesh and the bones, that have been a distress to you for many a day. Your self, your liberated spirit, shall “ascend.” Who ever saw fire going downward? It is in fire to go up, to seek the parent sun out of which it came. We, too, living, moving, and ever having our being in God shall not die as the dogs die, but “rise” to our fount and origin “with Christ.”
5. If the final interview was pathetic to Christ, it was also pathetic to the disciples. They had their question to ask as certainly as He had His commandments to give. “Lord, wilt Thou”? etc.
6. Christ’s answer may be read in a tone of rebuke, but it was not spoken in that tone. You cannot report a tone--hence it is possible to express the very words the speaker said and yet entirely to misrepresent him! Features can be photographed, but not life. Jesus Christ spoke in a tone that was instructive, and followed with utterances of the largest and tenderest encouragement. “Ye shall receive power,” etc. There is no gift equal to the gift of power. When a man in distress comes to you, if, instead of answering his immediate necessity, you could give him power to answer his own, you would bestow the most precious of treasures.
(a) Not intellectual only, though Christ has indeed sharpened every faculty of the mind, and blessed the Church with penetrating insight--but that is not the power referred to here.
(b) Nor social power--the power usually associated with the idea of kingdom, rule, and authority.
(c) But the power of holiness--“after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” Know yourselves to be powerful by the measure of your holiness, and contrariwise know yourselves to be weak, though your mind covers the whole register of intellectual possibility. We have lost the Holy Ghost. We betake ourselves now to Church questions and not to soul inquiries. The problem of to-day is ecclesiasticism, not evangelisation. We are building structures, arranging mechanics, instead of being carried away with the whirlwind of Divine inspiration, and displaying what the world would call supreme madness in consecration of heart. A grand, or learned, or rich Church--these may be but contradictions in terms, but a holy Church, an inspired Church, would go forth “fair as the moon,” etc. The world can answer our argument so as to confuse the listener, but it can have no reply to an unimpeachable purity.
7. Christ’s last words were about Himself. “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me.” What sublime audacity! What magnificent confidence! The Church has one Lord, one thing to say--Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and went out of the world to pray for His Church and sustain His servants in all the stress of life and in all the anxiety of service. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Christ’s finished and unfinished work
Compare Acts 28:30-31. So begins and so ends this Book. The reference to “the former treatise” implies that this Book is to be regarded as its sequel. Is not the natural inference that the latter treatise will tell us what Jesus continued “to do and teach” after He was taken up? I think so. And thus the writer sets forth at once, for those that have eyes to see, what he means to do, and what he thinks his Book is going to be about. So, then, the name “The Acts of the Apostles,” which is not coeval with the Book itself, is somewhat of a misnomer. Most of the apostles are never heard of in it. But our first text supplies a deeper reason for regarding that title as inadequate. For, if the theme of the story be what Christ did, then the Book is, not the “Acts of the Apostles,” but the Acts of Jesus Christ through His servants. He, and He alone, is the Actor; and the men that appear are but the instruments in His hands. It is the unfinished record of an incomplete work. The theme is the work of Christ through the ages, of which each successive depository of His energies can do but a small portion, and must leave that portion unfinished, the Book does not so much end as stop. It is a fragment because the work of which it tells of is not yet a whole. If, then, we put these two things--the beginning and the ending of this Book--together, I think we get some thoughts about what Christ began to do and teach on earth; what He continues to do and teach in heaven; and how small and fragmentary a share in that work each individual servant of His has. Let us look at these things briefly.
I. We have here the suggestion of what Christ began to do and teach on earth. Now, at first sight, the words of our text seem to be in startling contradiction to the solemn cry which rang out of the darkness upon Calvary. Jesus said, “It is finished! and gave up the ghost.” Luke says He “began to do and teach.” Is there any contradiction between the two? Certainly not. It is one thing to lay a foundation; it is another thing to build a house. And the work of laying the foundation must be finished before the work of building the structure upon it can be begun. It is one thing to create a force; it is another thing to apply it. It is one thing to compound a medicine; it is another thing to administer it. It is one thing to unveil a truth; it is another to unfold its successive applications, and to work it into a belief and practice in the world. The former is the work of Christ which was finished on earth; the latter is the work which is continuous throughout the ages. “He began to do and teach,” not in the sense that any should come after Him and do, as the disciples of most great discoverers and thinkers have had to do: systematise, rectify, and complete the first glimpses of truth which the master had given. But whilst thus His work is complete His earthly work is also initial. And we must remember that whatever distinction my text may mean to draw between the work of Christ in the past and that in the present and the future, it does not mean to imply that when He ascended up on high, He had not completed the task for which He came. The revelation is complete, and He that professes to add anything to, or to substitute anything for, the finished teaching of Jesus Christ concerning God, and man’s relation to God, and man’s duty, destiny, and hopes, is a false teacher, and to follow him is fatal. In like manner that work of Christ, which in some sense is initial, is complete as redemption. “This Man has offered up one Sacrifice for sins for ever.” And nothing more can He do than He has done; and nothing more can any man do than was accomplished on the Cross of Calvary as a revelation, as effecting a redemption, as lodging in the heart of humanity, and in the midst of human history, a purifying energy, sufficient to cleanse the whole black stream. Resurrection and Ascension needs no supplement, and can have no continuation, world without end.
II. But we have to notice what Christ continues to do and to teach after His ascension. The theme of this Book of the Acts is the continuous work of the ascended Saviour. There is nothing more remarkable than the way in which, at every turn in the narrative, all is referred to Jesus Christ Himself. For instance, to cull one or two cases in order to bring the matter more plainly before you. When the apostles determined to select another apostle to fill Judas’ place, they asked Jesus Christ to show which “of these two Thou hast chosen.” When Peter is called upon to explain the tongues at Pentecost, he says, “Jesus hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear.” When the writer would tell the reason of the large first increase to the Church, he says, “The Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved.” Peter and John go into the Temple to heal the lame man, and their words to him are, “Do not think that our power or holiness is any factor in your cure. The Name hath made this man whole.” It is the Lord that appears to Paul and to Ananias, the one on the road to Damascus and the other the city. The same point of view is suggested by another of the characteristics of this Book, which it shares in common with all Scripture narratives, and that is the stolid indifference with which it picks up and drops men, according to the degree in which, for the moment, they are the instruments of Christ’s power. As long as electricity streams on the carbon point it glows and is visible, but when the current is turned to another lamp we see no more of the bit of carbon. As long as God uses a man, the man is of interest to the writer of the Scripture. When God uses another one, they drop the first, and have no more care about him, because their theme is not men, and their doings but God’s doings through men. On us, and in us, and by us, and for us, if we are His servants, Jesus Christ is working all through the ages. He is the Lord of Providence, He is the King of history. And thus He continues to teach and to work from His throne in the heavens. He continues to teach, not by the communication of new truth. That is done. But the application of the completed revelation is the work that is going on to-day and that will go on till the end of the world. Now these truths of our Lord’s continuous activity in teaching and working from heaven may yield us some not unimportant lessons. What a depth and warmth and reality the thoughts give to the Christian’s relation to Jesus Christ. We have to think, not only of a Christ who did something for us long ago in the past, and there an end, but of a Christ who to-day lives and reigns to do and to teach according to our necessities. What a sweetness and sacredness such thoughts impart to all external events, which we may regard as being the operation of His love, and moved by the hands that were nailed to the cross for us, and now hold the sceptre of the universe for the blessing of mankind! The forces of good and evil in the world seem very disproportionate, but we forget too often to take Christ into account. Great men die, good men die, Jesus Christ is not dead. He lives; He is the Anchor of our hope. What a lesson of lowliness and of diligence it gives us! “Be not wise in your own conceits.” You are only a tool, only a pawn in the band of the great Player. If you have anything, it is because you get it from Him.
III. Lastly, we note the incompleteness of each man’s share in the great work. As I said, the Book which is to tell the story of Christ’s continuous work from heaven must stop abruptly. There is no help for it. If it was a history of Paul, it would need to be wound up to an end; but as it is the history of Christ’s working, the web is not half finished, and the shuttle stops in the middle of a cast. The Book must be incomplete because the work of which it is the record does not end until He shall have delivered up the kingdom to the Father, and God shall be all in all. So the work of each man is but a fragment of that great work. Every man inherits unfinished tasks from his predecessors, and leaves unfinished tasks to his successors. It is, as it used to be in the Middle Ages, when the men that dug the foundations or laid the first courses of some great cathedral were dead long generations before the gilded cross was set on the apex of the needlespire, and the glowing glass filled in to the painted windows. Enough for us, if we lay a stone, though it be but one stone in one of the courses of the great building. (A. Maclaren, D. D)
The permanence of Christ in history
The mists of gathering ages wrap in slowly-thickening folds of forgetfulness all other men and events in history, and make them ghostlike and shadowy; but no distance has yet dimmed or will ever dim that human form Divine. Other names are like those stars that blaze out for a while, and then smoulder down into almost complete invisibility; but Christ is the very Light itself, that burns and is not consumed. Other landmarks sink below the horizon as the tribes of men pursue their solemn march through the centuries, but the cross on Calvary “shall stand for an ensign of the people, and to it shall the Gentiles seek.” (A. Maclaren, D. D)
The uniqueness of Christ’s earthly ministry
Two facts here mark it off from every other.
I. It was original.
1. His works were original--done in His own strength. The best deeds of the holiest men are done in the strength of heaven.
2. His teaching was original, not derived from others. He was “the Truth.” His doctrines emanated from Him as living streams from a fountain of life.
3. His life was original. Such a life was never lived before; so blending the weak with the strong, the fleeting with the eternal, the human with the Divine. His whole life was a new fountain in earth’s desert, a new light in earth’s darkness.
4. His ministry was initiatory. Luke’s Gospel was the commencement of a life here developed. Christ, absent corporeally, is with us always by His Spirit.
II. It was posthumous. Christ did not leave the world before He had made effective arrangements for the working out of His grand purpose. What He did He did through the Divine Spirit. It was in this might that He rose and continued for forty days. The ministry after the Passion was--
1. An undoubted reality (verse 3).
2. Confined to the disciples. Before His death He spoke to promiscuous crowds; hut now only to those between whom and Himself there was a vital spiritual connection. Henceforth He would deal with the unconverted world through them. Observe here:
(a) By giving them distinct impressions of the work He required them to discharge (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16).
(b) By giving them an immovable conviction of His resurrection.
(c) By preparing them for the reception of their great Helper, the Holy Spirit. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Until the day in which He was taken up.--
We can never forget a long corridor in the Vatican Museum, exhibiting on the one side epitaphs of departed heathens, and on the other mementoes of departed Christians. Opposite to lions leaping on horses, emblems of destruction, are charming sculptures of the Good Shepherd bearing home the lost lamb, with the epitaph, “Alexander is not dead, but lives above the stars.” (J. Stoughton.)
The ascension: its central position
Luke narrates the ascension twice--showing the importance of the event. The first mention is at the end of the Gospel--forming the keystone to the life of Jesus; the second at the beginning of the Acts--forming the keystone for the edifice of the Church. (Nesselmann.)
The Ascension of Christ
I. The fact. Seneca said: “The ascent from earth to heaven is not easy.” But Seneca was an atheist, if we may believe his adversaries. The atheist will not receive the witness of men. And Jesus said: “How shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?” The difficulties concerning supernaturalism are all difficulties of disbelief. To the mind of the believer there appears nothing that is difficult to Jesus in His miracles. The ascension of Jesus, like the resurrection or birth of Jesus, was only natural supernaturalism. It “was a necessary consequence of the resurrection,” as it was the consummation of the series of His redemptive miracles. It was natural with Him; it would have been unnatural with His disciples. The time, the place, the nature, and the witnesses of the ascension will corroborate the supernatural claim. The time was opportune. “After having lived awhile on earth; after having offered His body as a sacrifice for sin; after having been raised from the dead; after having shown Himself alive to His disciples by many infallible proofs, then He led them out as far as Bethany, and in the presence of the whole Church then collected together He was taken up into heaven.” Equally interesting, fitting, and convincing was the locality of the ascension. The nature of the ascension is evidence of the fact of the ascension. Jesus simply arose from the earth to go into the heavens. He had brought His body from the grave, and it belonged no more with corruptible things. It was not subject to the conditions or limitations of the earth. To go away was all that remained to be done. There was nowhere else to go but into the heavens. The witnesses of the ascension were not deceived, and could not be deceivers. They were the friends of Jesus. It accorded with their faith to expect that, like Enoch and Elijah, He should be caught up in the air. They were overcome with their sorrow when He was crucified. But now they had returned to Jerusalem with great joy. The angels who had announced His birth and proclaimed His resurrection were present to confirm His ascension. Stephen, when permitted to answer to the accusation of blasphemy in his apology, uttered in the very article of death, said: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.” And among his last words were: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And John, from the isle of Patmos, saw in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks the Son of Man, whom he heard saying: “I am the First and the Last: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” So also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath sent, is a witness. His presence in the hearts of men is the greatest witness. “He shall testify of Me.” If Jesus had not ascended the Holy Spirit would not be here.
II. The doctrine. The ascension of Jesus was essential to the plan and work of redemption. It was necessary to relate again the work which Jesus had come to do in the earth with the world from whence He came. He had accomplished a virtual redemption. He was thenceforth to make it actual. It was prophesied that He would ascend on high, lead captivity captive, and receive gifts for men. He himself had foretold that He should go away. The ascension was the fulfilment of prophecy and the verifiaation of His own words. Without the ascension the world could not have understood Him. It was the explanation of His character and work on the earth. Christianity was triumphant at the ascension. Sin was mastered, death was dead, and man was free. In the ascension of Jesus there was given to all believers the surety of their ascension. The heavens are now the pledge of another advent of the Son of Man.
III. The results. There were both direct and indirect results of the ascension. The ascension was the dividing point between the gospel and the apostolic histories. It concluded the one and introduced the other. The peasant becomes a prince. He is given a name which is above every name. He is returned to the honours which He had with the Father before the world was. The last act of Jesus as He ascended was to lift up His hands and bless. In the very sight of Gethsemane and Calvary, “with malice toward none and charity for all,” He went away blessing the cruel world which had received Him not, and dispensing gifts not to His friends only, but to the rebellious also. Of the great gift, in which all other gifts are included--the gift of the Holy Ghost which came on all men-we are all witnesses and partakers. The indirect influences of the ascension have been and are multifarious as the intellections and emotions of men. With the ascension the personal element of the Christ who had gone about doing good was taken from the earth, and it no longer excited malefactors to persecute Him. His disciples were exalted with Him. They were raised “into union and fellowship with a higher nature.” The Father and the heavenly world were brought nearer and made dearer to the children of men. It is now the aspiration of all Christians to explore with the Son of Man the heavenly spaces. (J W. Hamilton.)
The ascending Lord
I. The preparation of the witnesses. You cannot lay hands on any man at random, and ask him to bear testimony even to undisputed facts. He must have seen the things, and be a man of truthful spirit. What Christ did that day before their eyes gave them knowledge of the final fact which was to complete the circle of their testimony. It is the consummation of His resurrection. But what He said was needful, too. It was essential that their spiritual vision should be illumined, and so the Holy Spirit was promised to complete what their outward vision had begun. Through the mere vision they might have light: only through the spiritual baptism could they have power; but not to be warriers, but witnesses. “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth, go ye, therefore, and”--not fight, not reign, but--“teach.” This is ever the divinest thing that men can do, and is the work of the disciples in every age. For this the Master Himself came into the world.
II. The limitation of the witnesses. “While they beheld, a cloud received Him out of their, sight.”
1. There was clear vision for a while, and then a mystery. So all our knowledge ends. The strength of the witnessing of the early disciples lay in this that they testified up to the limits of their knowledge, and then relapsed into utter silence. It will be well for the later witnesses to follow their example. Many an earnest witness has lost his power because there was no clear line between things known and things fancied; because the unfaltering testimony was not contrasted with the emphasis of silence, but dribbled off into vague surmisings.
2. But because a cloud hides, it need not cast a shadow upon us. The cloud which underlies the mysteries of heavenly truth is not black with thunder, nor scarred with lightning, but edged at least with the silver glory which it hides, and only laden for us with showers of peace and plenty. The cloud is the condescension of Divine love to our weak sight. As the rainbow repeats the promise of the early covenant, so the cloud tells us of hope and reminds us of our risen and returning Lord.
III. The attitude of the witnesses. They stand gazing after Him up into heaven; long enough, it is evident, to lead to the rebuke and reassurance of the two angels. While they could look at Jesus they were best fitting for their witnessing; but gazing at the cloud would only make them less strong and confident, Note--
1. Their obedience. Christ had told them to go to Jerusalem and witness first where it is hardest and most perilous to do so; and where their testimony will reach the thousands of Pentecost. It is not by peering into mysteries that we gain grace to be faithful witnesses, but by unquestioning obedience to plain commands. They who are willing to do His will shall know His teaching.
2. Their fellowship. Christ had appointed them a common mission and promised a common gift. And so they stayed together till it should come. As it is in the way of obedience that we learn the truth, it is in the way of fellowship that we most often receive the richest spiritual gifts.
3. And then, of course, they prayed; not of necessity only for that which He had promised, but quite as much, perhaps, for patience to wait for it, and then for grace to use it. Obedient souls, waiting together for the promised gift of Christ, will always pray. These three things shall make you strong to be witnesses, martyrs if need be, unto Him. (Monday Club.)
The resurrection and ascension of Christ
I. The resurrection.
1. The proofs of the fact. They are said to be not only many, but of infallible certainty.
(a) Upon themselves: they gave the best proofs that they firmly believed it; for they preached it at the hazard of their lives, and many sealed their testimony with their blood.
(b) On others. Though these witnesses were but poor illiterate fishermen, and the story which they told ungrateful to the Jews, and contemptible to the Gentiles. Yet their testimony was presently received by many thousands, and nothing could possibly give a check to it.
2. The manner and circumstances of His resurrection.
3. The uses:
II. The time of Christ’s stay in this world after His resurrection, and of what He did during that time. Our Saviour’s ascension was delayed so long:
1. To confirm the truth of His resurrection. When He first appeared to His disciples they were so transported that they hardly believed the thing was real (Luke 24:41), and therefore, if they had not seen Him again and again, very likely it would have passed for a vision only.
2. His love to and care of His disciples detained Him with them.
III. The ascension.
1. The manner and circumstances.
2. The ends and purposes.
3. Inferences. Since Christ is ascended into heaven--
The coronation of Christ
Jesus’s resurrection might have been regarded as a private return to a select circle, had it not been followed by the assumption of the symbols of world-wide and heavenly authority. The Czar of Russia began to reign on the death of his father, but there was an interval of two years before he was crowned. Then it was at Moscow, the ancient seat of the rulers of the realm, where representatives of the empire and the world were gathered in unwonted splendour. The coronation signifies something. It is a time for renewing old constitutions and cementing the different parts of the dominion. Christ was formally to connect the dispensation of the chosen people with that of a universal sovereignty. There were new states to be added to His rule. Instead of remaining an illustrious citizen, He receives and wields an imperial sceptre. (W. B. Campbell.)
Christ preceding His apostles to heaven
As one who precedes a mighty host, provides and prepares rest for their weariness, and food for their hunger, in some city on their line of march, and having made all things ready, is at the gates to welcome their travel-stained ranks when they arrive, and guide them to their repose; so Christ has gone before, our Forerunner, to order all things for us there. (A. Maclaren, D. D)
Christ directs thought to heaven
It is said that Socrates brought men down from heaven to earth because he diverted attention from astronomy to a philosophy that considered the duties and relations of man in this life. Christ, on the other hand, exalts the thoughts and purposes of men from earth to heaven.
The last days of the Gospel period
The crucifixion had seemed to put an end to Jesus’s ministry. But not so: the period of Gospel history was yet forty days from its end. Consider--
I. How they resembled previous days.
1. In the visible presence of Jesus.
2. In the personal ministry of Jesus. No one else could have done what was required.
3. In the verbal instruction of Jesus. “The things pertaining to the kingdom of God” had been Christ’s themes at the commencement (Matthew 4:17; John 3:3), and throughout His public life.
4. The exercise of the authority of Jesus. Long ago He had chosen them, now He gave them commandments. They were to understand that death had not broken His authority.
5. In the mysterious agency of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 3:16; John 3:34; Hebrews 9:14).
II. How they differed.
1. He who was now seen had been hidden in the grave. Here was a testimony to the reality of the invisible. Then He could be present with them in thought, though not to sense when He returned again to the unseen.
2. The voice now heard had been silent in death. Surely then His words must have been listened to with the deepest reverence.
3. Strange experiences had increased the fitness of the disciples to receive Christ’s instructions. Their misunderstandings had been rectified, and their attachment deepened. When attention has been secured a speaker can say more in a minute than in an hour otherwise.
4. The visible presence of Jesus was not constant. To give His disciples--
III. Their leading impression. That Jesus was alive. He still lives, and because of that we shall live also. (W. Hudson.)
To whom also He showed Himself alive after His Passion.
He rose again from the dead
I. The fact itself, or the notion of a resurrection in general. Admitting the power and providence of God, there can be nothing in it repugnant to reason, or incredible.
1. To raise a dead man to life surpasses the power of any creature; but no reason can be assigned why it should be beyond the Divine power; since the doing it involves no contradiction. He that first inspired the soul into the body, may surely be supposed capable of reuniting them.
2. Nor was it apparently in its design unworthy of God, or inconsistent with His holy will: for the ends thereof, such as were pretended by its attesters, were--
II. The witnesses.
1. General considerations:
2. The character of the witnesses.
III. Their testimony.
1. How could such a cheat, if contrived, have so easily prospered,. and obtained so wonderful a progress?
2. The matter of their testimony, and its drift, were very implausible, such as no impostors would be likely to forge, and no hearers, without great evidence of truth, be ready to admit.
3. One would indeed think that this report, had it been false, might easily have been disproved and quashed; they who were mightily concerned, and as eagerly disposed to confute it, wanting no means of doing it.
4. As also this testimony had no human power to sustain it, so it used no sleight to convey itself into the persuasions of men” it craved no blind faith: it dared all adversaries and powers to withstand it, relying on the patronage of heaven alone.
5. Furthermore, the thing itself, had it been counterfeit, was adapted to fall of itself; the witnesses clashing together, or relenting for their crime. The advice of Gamaliel on this point had much reason in it.
6. He then who doubts the sincerity of this testimony, or rejects it as incredible, must instead of it admit stronger incredibilities.
7. To these things we may add that God Himself did signally countenance and ratify this testimony, by extraordinary powers and graces conferred on the avowers thereof, as well as by a wonderful success bestowed on them. (F. Barrow, D. D.)
Christ risen, yet not ascended
There is a strong disposition to reverence that which has been connected with the great and good. If the wood of the true Cross had been preserved, few could look upon it but with the deepest interest. It is remarkable, however, that we have few relics of Christ’s days; while the museums of all civilised lands are filled with well-authenticated fragments from Greece, Rome, Babylon, Egypt. God has wisely ordered this to check the tendency to superstition and idolatry. But can no good use be made of this law of our nature? Our Church has judged that there can, and she teaches us not to seek for relics, but to remember events in Christ’s life, and then leads our thoughts to the instruction they convey.
I. How, or in what form, did our Lord “show Himself after His passion”? There was evidently some change in His body and some difference in His manner of appearing. He ate, indeed, with His disciples, yet not as one who needed food, but only to convince them of His corporeal existence. He does not seem to have lived with them familiarly as He bad before done, but came to them occasionally; and the forms of expression intimate something miraculous. “He showed Himself” as one was invisibly present, but, at will revealing Himself, like the sun shining from a cloud. Then, “He vanished out of their sight.” At other times He would come when “the doors were bolted.” The disciples regarded Him far otherwise than in His former state. Their accustomed free intercourse was changed for the deepest reverence. All questions concerning the nature of Christ’s body must remain unanswered till we know for ourselves what a spiritual and glorified body is.
II. Where? Chiefly in Galilee. There had been the favoured scene of His earthly ministry, and there His followers were most numerous. With what intense interest must those lowly followers have flocked together when the summons was to meet their risen Lord! He offers to meet us in His sacraments, house, word, prayer, yet how carelessly we regard the summons I He has carried the same loving, compassionate spirit with Him to heaven, and we may share with His disciples in His Divine consolations, if we seek them aright.
III. For what purpose. To speak “of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God,” i.e., His Church. They had been hitherto very dull, and Christ in these meetings gave them fuller instructions. It is probable that we have the substance of our Lord’s conversations in the Acts and Epistles, for in these they would naturally embody and carry out their Master’s directions. It is also very likely that many of the customs of the primitive Church were nothing more than our Lord’s instructions reduced to practice. Hence we see the importance of appealing, for our own guidance, to primitive usage. If, for instance, we find immediately after the apostles’ times, that infants were baptised, and nothing to oppose this in the New Testament, we might be strengthened in our conclusions, that this was a practice settled by our Lord Himself. How many points there are in civil law which are decided by such an appeal to established usage, and are not found in any written code! Many points, however, upon which our Lord dwelt in these interviews, are recorded. He promised to send them the Comforter, etc.
IV. Its certainty. “By many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days.” Our faith and hopes rest then on infallible proofs. And the certainty of the gospel increases the guilt and danger of those who neglect it. Are you living as if you believed it true? (W. H. Lewis, D. D.)
Many infallible proofs.
Sense evidence given of Christ’s resurrection
As the faith of the Church depends on the Resurrection God has given ample evidence of the fact. But He gave none other than that which appeals to the senses--the only way of proving any fact. Even our Maker could not give us better evidence without changing radically our nature. Observe how this bears on the Romish dogma of transubstantiation. The pillar on which that rests is the assumption that the senses deceive and cannot be trusted. But this assumption would leave the Resurrection incapable of proofs. Either the evidence of the senses is a valid proof of a fact or it is not. If it is transubstantiation is false; if it is not the Resurrection is unproved. The very same evidence which proves that Christ has risen proves also that the bread and wine are not changed into Christ’s body and blood. Thus the Roman apostasy cannot sustain its fundamental superstition without destroying the proof that the Redeemer has risen. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
Being seen of them forty days.--
The forty days
I. For the Lord. The period of--
1. The Sabbath rest after the completion of His work of redemption.
2. The last care of the Shepherd for His disciples.
3. The joyful expectation of His approaching exaltation.
II. For the Disciples. The period of--
1. The last blessed intercourse with their Divine Master.
2. Quiet communion with their own heart (“Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?”).
3. Earnest preparation for their apostolic mission.
III. For us. An emblem of--
1. The blessed life of faith with Christ in God, concealed from the world (Corinthians 3:3).
2. The blessed work of love in the hearts of our friends in looking forward to our approaching separation.
3. The expectation of hope of our heavenly perfection. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
The forty days
I. How careful our Saviour was to have the fact of His resurrection certified to His disciples beyond the possibility of doubt. Strictly speaking, one meeting was enough. But proofs were multiplied, as His visits were repeated. They grew familiar with His look and aspect; heard Him talk, etc.; and after all this, they could never suppose that a vision had been imposed upon them. The positiveness with which they always spoke on this subject was an important element in their preaching, and it was their Lord’s purpose to build them up in a confidence which should never be shaken. Through the “forty days” a work of education was going on the fruits of which were seen in the next forty years.
II. This period was not one of uninterrupted intercourse, but of brief meetings, followed sore-times by days, or possibly weeks, of separation. Very graciously the Lord condescended to His friends, very blessed were these seasons when they came, but there was not the companionship of former days. Now Christ stood forth in His proper character as the Divine Mediator, to whom all power was committed in heaven and earth. The apostles had to learn this truth, and act upon it. Their approaches to the Mercy-seat, while bold, were to be marked with that solemn reverence without which all worship is a mockery.
III. Time was given to teach the apostles much of their Lord’s will, and to send them forth well equipped for their future work.
1. Particular directions given from time to time. They were to tarry at Jerusalem, where, judging from past experience, they would sow their seed as upon a rock, and peril their lives for nought. From that centre light was to radiate over the wide surface of this fallen world.,
2. Special gifts were promised to them for their work and “power from on high.”
3. Mistakes and prejudices were corrected.
4. The great truth was enforced, explained, anti illustrated, that their Lord’s death was the world’s life.
1. A lesson of patience. Think what was before Him, and how contentedly He waited for it. No hasting to His crown till all was ready. We may well suppose that there was eagerness on the part of the heavenly hosts. Their harps were ready strung, and the song was on their lips, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates,” etc. But their King has work to do in this lower world; and the march of triumph must be deferred. Let us then not only put up with our crosses, but wait patiently for the good things to come. What we sow in faith we shall reap one day; and God’s harvest-time is the best. We long to see the Church advancing faster in her march of triumph, to see Christ’s name more honoured among ourselves. Let us not wish less fervently, but let us wait more humbly. Centuries rolled away before the Son of God was manifested, and many more may come and go before He shall come back again in glory. Ten thousand unconscious agents in different lands are doing His work, and fulfilling His pleasure.
2. To think of Christ as the apostles thought of Him. They knew Him well before as the human Friend, but now as the Divine Redeemer. In both characters may we think of Him as ascended to His throne, and realise His presence with ourselves! You must not so degrade the Saviour as to think of Him only as the world’s great Prophet, or as the perfect Pattern; nor in your attempts to exalt Him, lose sight of the truth that He carried His human nature with Him to heaven. “Such an High Priest became us,” etc. (J. Hampden Gurney, M. A.)
The best proof of Christ’s resurrection
The best proof of Christ’s resurrection is a living Church, which itself is walking in a new life, and drawing life from Him who hath overcome death. (Christlieb.)
The identification of the risen Christ
Luke, the writer of our twofold gospel of the resurrection, was a physician, who would have been inclined and able to sift the evidences of our Lord’s bodily presence and identity among His followers. The longest and best accounts of Christ’s return to earth, except those of John, are by a medical expert. Special past events were referred to by the Lord, which were familiar to the disciples, such as the baptism of John. Stanley carried a boy back up the Congo who had been taken from there when quite small. Coming into the vicinity of the dwelling place of his tribe, a canoe rowed out to meet the steamer. In the boat the lad recognised his elder brother, but the latter was sceptical, and cried, “Give me some sign that I may know you.” The boy who had been away answered at once, “Do you remember the crocodile? His scar is there on your right arm.” So Christ to His disciples gave many proofs. His lines of thought and speech during His forty days’ residence among them were in the familiar phrase of the past, such as the “things concerning the kingdom of God.” There might have been good evidences of Jesus’s resurrection if He had appeared in China or under the Southern Cross or in the clearings of the Danubian forests. Had He gone there after He came from the grave, by the by the tidings would have reached the outer world of some strange and illustrious personage who manifested Himself at one place and another, just as a comet is reported in the sky. Yet we should always be grateful that the Lord showed Himself alive to those apostles “whom He had chosen.” There was the possibility of verification which we so often ask for. (W. R. Campbell.)
The forty days
A host of reasons suggest themselves as to why He should at once enter into His glory.
I. Earth at best could have been but a very dreary home for Him who had come from the paradise of God. For Him, the high King of Glory, we could find no fit entertainment. What society was there for Him, the all-wise? Thou hast given Thy life, O Lord, O glorious Son of God. Thou canst give no more. And where upon this guilty earth is any rest for Thee now since that dreadful Cross has cast its shadow over all the land!
II. Then Christ Himself longed for rest. He who dwelt in the bosom of the Father was an exile here.
III. Then, again, there waited for Christ His great triumph, that to which He has looked forward during all His life-work, finding in it strength and consolation. “For the joy that was set before Him He endured the Cross, despising the shame.”
IV. Delay would be worse than unfitting. If His reign means the world’s salvation, gifts for men, the proclaiming of the gospel with the power of the Holy Ghost, dare He linger still upon earth? No, it is not human, this delay, Not our thought nor our way is this. It is all Divine--just like our blessed Lord. This lingering for the forty days is the crowning proof of His tender regard for His little flock. He who had laid down His life for them is loath to leave them. He must tarry with them till He has made them feel that He is just the same friendly, brotherly Jesus that He has ever been, caring for them in their work, watching them with a yearning pity, stooping to kindle a fire for their warmth and to cook the fish for their meal, and then to bid them come and dine.
V. Then again, these days were the necessary preparation for the ascension. A very tender and beautiful upleading of the disciples. Then with this exalted vision of their glorious Lord filling all their soul they went back to Jerusalem. Now they were able worthily to celebrate the Ascension. They returned to Jerusalem with great joy. Now all the familiar songs of triumphs come in to tell of the coronation of the King. Now they heard the rapturous anthem of the angels, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in.” So we must know Him. And thus does He seek to lead us in our weakness and dimness of faith into the knowledge of Himself. So day by day does He lead us on our way, ordering our steps that life may make more room for Him, and that He may give us Himself as our salvation and our strength. (M. G. Pearse.)
Forty days with Jesus
Men now-a-days yearn for a repetition of Pentecost without the trouble of preparing for it. The text teaches that that must be preceded by prolonged communion with Jesus.
I. This communion gave the disciples the full persuasion that Christ was the Son of God. They held such a thought before, but the crucifixion had shaken it. The resurrection however restored it and the forty days intercourse confirmed it. No Pentecost without the mastering conviction that Jesus is the Son of God with power.
II. Along with these great thoughts of Christ’s Godhead the intercourse brought the most delightful consciousness that Jesus was still their brother. He called them by that name, and demonstrated his Brotherhood by many infallible proofs. The realisation of this relationship by love-begetting certitude of Christ’s presence is necessary to Pentecost. The Holy Spirit simply gives us power to bear witness to facts of which we are sure.
III. The character of this intercourse.
1. It was discriminating. Christ dealt with each man as each required Peter, Thomas, John, etc.
2. It was self-discovering. Unsuspected faults were revealed and hearts were moved to self-renunciation.
3. It was educational.
4. It was encouraging. Knowing what we do of the disciples Pentecost would have been an impossibility before the forty days. So now we all need to be dealt with one by one, to know ourselves, to be humbled, taught, and inspired.
IV. The Subject Dwelt Upon. “The kingdom of God”--its spirituality, glory, universality, final triumph. This was the matter which they had by the Spirit’s inspiration to preach. Hence they must know about it from the King. Hence Christ must fire our minds with the same thought before the Spirit can fire our hearts to proclaim it. (J. P. Gledstone.)
After the resurrection
I. Jesus had come back from the mysterious change, but He had forgotten nothing--neither the places, the dear familiar shores, the roads, the mountain paths, the lake, and the hills, the hallowed spots of His life-work. Now, as to the persons, Martha and Mary, and Peter, and the other disciples, were not only still remembered, but still loved. It will be so with us when we also come back from the mysterious regions of the grave. The present life will he something more than a dream. It will be a living reality.
II. Jesus had come back from the mysterious change, but His love remained the same. It will be the same with us. When we have crossed to the other side, we shall still bear with us the fond remembrances of past love. The affections will not be destroyed.
III. Jesus had come back from the mysterious change, but His physical nature remained. And His human nature was visible, tangible, capable of taking food. Our physical powers will, in a certain manner, remain with us after death. There will be conversation and action in the same way as at present. Wherein, then, will be the change? Our human bodies will not be destroyed, but they will be changed. We may gather some particulars from the resurrection of our Lord.
1. It will be the same body fully developed. It is evident to all that our human bodies are cramped and dwarfed by circumstances. They are but elementary, imperfect organisations. If they were perfect they would not change. If they were perfect they could not deteriorate. If perfect they could not die. That they are undeveloped is observable from the capacities which they possess. How strong and mighty the body may become! What we call maturity of character is in reality only its commencement. With regard to the body, take its power of progression, limited to, say, four miles an hour--a rate which would require millions of years to reach the nearest star. The same body will have all its powers fully developed to their utmost capacity.
2. It will be the same body rendered immaterial. (Homilist.)
The significance of the forty days
The period is a significant space of time in Scripture, and is frequently allotted as a term of probation before some great event which concerned God’s kingdom. For forty days and forty nights rain was sent upon the earth as the prelude to the Deluge. Before the giving of the law Moses was in the Mount forty days and forty nights; and when after the destruction of the first tables, the law was renewed again, Moses was with the Lord forty days and nights. The same space of time was spent by the spies who were sent forth to survey Canaan the type of the spiritual inheritance of the people of God. For forty days and nights Elijah journeyed before he came by Divine direction to Horeb the Mount of God. The time of probation and repentance given to Nineveh was a like space of time. When we come to the New Testament we note the same phenomenon. Forty days after His birth our Lord was presented in the Temple. Before He entered on the work of His ministry after His baptism He was forty days tempted in the wilderness. So now He abode on earth forty days before His ascension. What significancy there may be in the number we are not informed: the recurrence, however, of this space of time, usually in connection with events of extraordinary importance, would lead us to believe that there is a mystery in the number. Nor is this diminished when in parallelism with the forty days’ wandering (Numbers 14:33-34) Jerusalem had its forty years of trial and space for repentance after the Crucifixion;and not until that period had been accomplished was it destroyed by the Romans. For forty days during which He showed Himself alive they were obdurate, and forty years afterwards each day for a year came the destruction of the nation. (J. Lightfoot, D. D.)
The Epiphanies of the forty days
1. To Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:1-20.; John 20:1-31.)
2. To the women who had first visited the sepulchre, by whom the disciples were summoned to meet Christ in Galilee (Matthew 28:1-10).
3. To Peter (Luke 24:33-35; 1 Corinthians 15:5).
4. To Cleophas and another on the way to Emmaus (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13-32).
5. To the eleven in the absence of Thomas, at Jerusalem (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25).
6. “Eight days afterwards” to the disciples, Thomas being present (Mark 16:14; John 20:26-29; 1 Corinthians 15:6).
7. To certain of the disciples when fishing on the lake of Galilee (John 21:1-24).
8. To James (1 Corinthians 15:7).
9. To the apostles, and probably the whole body of disciples on a certain mountain in Galilee (1 Corinthians 15:6).
10. On the morning of the ascension (Luke 24:43-51, and text). Speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
I. Of the Church militant--the kingdom of God on earth.
1. Its governance.
2. The means of its extension.
II. Of the Church triumphant--the kingdom of God in heaven.
1. Its glories.
2. Themeans of obtaining them. (W. Denton, M. A.)
The kingdom of God
1.Its Founder (verse 1).
2. Its laws (verse 2).
3. Its privilege, the personal presence of the Holy Spirit (verses 4, 5).
4. Its extent, the whole world (verse 8).
5. Its King, a risen and ascended Saviour (verse 9).
6. Its hope, a returning Christ.
The conversations of the great forty days
Let us reflect for a little on the characteristics of Christ’s risen appearances to His disciples. I note then in the first place that they were intermittent, and not continuous--here and there, to Mary Magdalene at one time; to the disciples journeying to Emmaus, to the assembled twelve, to five hundred brethren at one, at other times. In one place in the Gospel narrative we read that our Lord replied thus to a section of His adversaries: “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as angels in heaven.” Now we often read of angelic appearances in Holy Scripture, in the Old and New Testament alike. We read too of appearances of Old Testament saints, as of Moses and Elias on the Mount of Transfiguration. And they are all like these of our Lord Jesus Christ after His resurrection. They are sudden, independent of time or space or material barriers, and yet are visible and tangible though glorified. Such in Genesis was Abraham’s vision of angels at the tent door, when they did eat and drink with him.
I. Now let us here notice the naturalness of this query concerning the restoration of the kingdom. The apostles evidently shared the national aspirations of the Jews at that time. We can scarcely realise or understand the force and naturalness of this question, “Dost Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” as put by these Galilean peasants till one takes up Archbishop Laurence’s translation of the book of Enoch, and sees how this eager expectation dominated every other feeling in the Jewish mind of that period, and was burned into the very secrets of their existence by the tyranny of Roman rule. They were thinking simply of such a kingdom as the book of Enoch foretold. This very point seems to us one of the special and most striking evidences for the inspiration and supernatural direction of the writers of the New Testament. Their natural, purely human, and national conception of the kingdom of God was one thing their final, their divinely taught and inspired conception of that kingdom is quite another thing. Some persons maintain that Christianity in its doctrines, organisation, and discipline was but the outcome of natural forces working in the world at that epoch. But take this doctrine alone, “My kingdom is not of this world,” announced by Christ before Pilate, and impressed upon the apostles by revelation after revelation, and experience after experience, which they only very gradually assimilated and understood. Where did it come from? How was it the outcome of natural forces? The whole tendency of Jewish thought was in the opposite direction. Nationalism of the most narrow, particular, and limited kind was the predominant idea, specially among those Galilean provincials who furnished the vast majority of the earliest disciples of Jesus Christ. How could men like them have developed the idea of the Catholic Church, boundless as the earth itself, limited by no hereditary or fleshly bonds, and trammelled by no circumstances of race, climate, or kindred? The magnificence of the idea, the grandeur of the conception, is the truest and most sufficient evidence of the divinity of its origin. If this higher knowledge, this nobler conception, this spiritualised ideal, came not from God, whence did it come? I do not think we can press this point of the catholicity and universality of the Christian idea and the Christian society too far. We cannot possibly make too much of it. There were undoubtedly Christian elements, or elements whence Christian ideas were developed, prevalent in the current Judaism of the day. But it was not among these, or such as these, that the catholic ideas of the gospel took their rise.
II. In this passage again there lies hidden the wisest practical teaching for the Church of all ages. We have warnings against the folly which seeks to unravel the future and penetrate the veil of darkness by which our God in mercy shrouds the unknown. We have taught us the benefits which attend the uncertainties of our Lord’s return and of the end of this present dispensation. “It is not for you to know times or seasons.”
1. The wisdom of the Divine answer will best be seen if we take the matter thus, and suppose our Lord to have responded to the apostolic appeal fixing some definite date for the winding-up of man’s probation state, and for that manifestation of the sons of God which will take place at His appearing and His kingdom. Our Lord, in fixing upon some such definite date, must have chosen one that was either near at hand or else one that was removed far off into the distant future. In either of these cases He must have defeated the great object of the Divine society which He was founding. That object was simply this, to teach men how to lead the life of God amid the children of men. The Christian religion has indeed sometimes been taunted with being an unpractical religion. But is this the case? Has Christianity proved itself unpractical? If so, what has placed Christendom at the head of civilisation? Compare Christendom and India from the simply practical point of view, and which can show the better record?
2. Our Lord’s answer to His apostles was couched in words suited to develop this practical aspect of His religion. It refused to minister to mere human curiosity, and left men uncertain as to the time of His return, that they might be fruitful workers in the great field of life. And now behold what ill results would have followed had He acted otherwise! The Master in fact says, It is not well for you to know the times or seasons, because such knowledge would strike at the root of practical Christianity. Uncertainty as to the time of the end is the most healthful state for the followers of Christ.
3. There are in the New Testament, taken as a whole, two contrasted lines of prophecy concerning the second coming of Christ. If in one place the Lord Jesus speaks as if the date of His coming were fixed for His own generation and age, “Verily, I say unto you, this generation shall not pass away till all these things shall be fulfilled,” in the very same context He indicates that it is only after a long time that the Lord of the servants will return, to take account of their dealings with the property entrusted to them. Suppose Christ had responded to the spirit of the apostolic query, “Dost Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” and fixed the precise date of His coming? He would in that case have altogether defeated the great end of His own work and labour. Suppose He had fixed it a thousand years from the time of His ascension. Then indeed the doctrine of Christ’s second coming would have lost all personal and practical power over the lives of the generation of Christians then living, or who should live during the hundreds of years which were to elapse till the date appointed. The day of their death, the uncertainty of life, these would be the inspiring motives to activity and devotion felt by the early Christians; while, as a matter of fact, St. Paul never appeals to either of them, but ever appeals to the coming of Christ and His appearing to judgment as the motives to Christian zeal and diligence. But a more serious danger in any such prediction lurks behind. What would have been the result of any such precise prophecy upon the minds of the Christians who lived close to the time of its fulfilment? It would have at once defeated the great end of the Christian religion, as we have already defined it. The near approach of the great final catastrophe would have completely paralysed all exertion, and turned the members of Christ’s Church into idle, useless, unpractical religionists. We all know how the near approach of any great event, how the presence of any great excitement, hinders life’s daily work.
4. Again and again has history verified and amp]y justified the wisdom of the Master’s reply, “It is not for you to know times or seasons.” It was justified in apostolic experience. The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians is a commentary on our Lord’s teaching in this passage. The language of St. Paul completely justifies our line of argument. He tells us that the spirits of the Thessalonians had been upset, the natural result of a great expectation had been experienced as we might humanly have predicted. The beginning of the second chapter of his Second Epistle proves this: “Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto Him; to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is present.” See here how he dwells on mental perturbation as the result of high-strung expectation; and that is bad, for mental peace, not mental disturbance, is the portion of Christ’s people.
III. Christ, after He had reproved the spirit of vain curiosity which strikes at the root of all practical effort, then indicates the source of their strength and the sphere of its activity. “Ye shall receive power after the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” (G. T. Stokes, D. D.)
Christ’s conception of His kingdom
His thought and teaching concerning the kingdom was manifestly different from theirs. Their idea was narrow, small, and limited to Israel after the flesh, while His idea was large, and universally included all peoples, nations, and languages. It is always difficult for us to rise out of our own narrow limitations, and take in God’s great thoughts and purposes. This narrowness of mind on our part is always obtruding itself on God’s great thoughts; indeed, they are higher than ours as the heavens are higher than the earth. God’s thoughts and purposes of mercy have in them a wideness like the wideness of the sea, while ours are bounded by local surroundings. As we come into a closer and more intimate fellowship with Jesus, we shall also come into a larger and more godlike view of things, both in heaven and earth.
Things pertaining to the kingdom of God
Now that Jesus was about to depart, it might reasonably be expected that His parting instructions would be concerning that kingdom which He was to rule as the Invisible Head, and they were to administer as the visible agents.
I. The Church Of Christ is a Kingdom. With Christ and His apostles it was never less. Christ did not come as an ecclesiastic to found a new sect, nor as a philosopher to construct a new school of thought, nor as a democratic leader to form a new social club or to draw up a new social programme. He came as a sovereign to establish a new Kingdom of Truth, of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Hence the apostles felt that they had more to do than to secure a place for Christianity side by side with Judaism and Paganism--they claimed universal sovereign supremacy. Hence, again, they had no philosophy to set over against the school of Hillel or the school of Aristotle. True they reasoned, but that was only because the kingdom rested on a rational and not on a military basis, and its subjects were to be won by the force of persuasion and not by the force of arms. And hence lastly the apostles entered into no revolutionary plots, nor asked any man to rise above or turn aside from the secular occupation; but told slave and governor alike to abide in the callings wherein they were called as servants of the Lord Christ. Note
1. The grandeur of this conception. Sects, systems, programmes are all limited, and one after another pass away. Christians are citizens of a commonwealth which transcends space and outlives time. Compared with the dignity of the Christian that of the proudest autocrat is mean. Here all subjects are royal. The divine right of kings, a myth elsewhere, is a reality here. Christ “hath made us kings and priests unto God.”
2. The responsibility.
Kings by virtue of their office are under an obligation to live royally. Let us then walk worthy of Him who hath called us to His kingdom and glory.
II. The things pertaining to this Kingdom.
1. The King. Christ Jesus. God and man who occupies the throne because He became obedient to the death of the Cross (Philippians 2:1-30.).
2. The means of entrance into this kingdom--the new birth (John 3:1-36.)
3. The conditions of continuance in the kingdom.
4. The glorious prospects of the kingdom. “The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God,” etc. “He shall reign from sea to sea,” etc. (J. W. Burn.)
The unfolding of the Divine kingdom throughout the ages
The patriarchal, the Jewish, and the Christian dispensations, are evidently but the unfolding of one general plan. In the first we see the folded bud; in the second the expanded leaf; in the third the blossom and the fruit. And now, how sublime the idea of a religion thus commencing in the earliest dawn of time; holding on its way through all the revolutions of kingdoms and the vicissitudes of the race; receiving new forms, but always identical in spirit; and, finally, expanding and embracing in one great brotherhood the whole family of man! Who can doubt that such a religion was from God? (Mark Hopkins.)
And being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem.
Before ascending Christ had--
I. A misconception to remove--respecting the date and character of the Messianic Kingdom.
II. A promise to bestow.
1. The Father made the promise.
2. Christ was to bestow it.
3. The Holy Spirit was the subject. They were to receive a baptism, copious, cleansing, consecrating, and be endowed with spiritual power.
III. A commission to entrust.
1. Its nature--“witnesses unto Me.”
2. Its sphere ever widening till it reached the uttermost part of the earth. (J. R. Thomson, M. A.)
The Lord’s last command to His disciples
I. The command was of a trying nature. “Not to depart from Jerusalem.” This would--
1. Recall painful sympathies--the agony and crucifixion; the rejection by the Jews.
2. Suggest personal unfaithfulness in the denial by Peter, the defection by all.
3. Bring the fear of man. The Jerusalemites had slain the Master; what might the servants expect? Why did Christ give such hard orders? Discipline was needed, and Christ’s own sovereignty must be asserted and accepted.
II. A gracious promise accompanied this trying command. If the command set forth the bitter severity of law, the promise had the sweet gentleness of the gospel. Thus God gives His servants mingled portions. Duty and privilege go together. Of the promise, observe--
1. It was of ancient date (Isaiah 44:3; Joel 2:28).
2. The Lord’s recent utterance of it had made its terms familiar, “Which ye have heard of Me” (Luke 24:49).
3. It was the promise of the greatest possible good. When the Messiah had done, the next best thing was the gift of the Holy Ghost.
III. The meaning of this promise could be fully apprehended only by experience. They had heard the terms, and some of them had seen the “form of a dove” at Christ’s baptism, but neither would make the promise clear. They must wait for a new blessing. It is so still. Experience reveals what must else be for ever unexplained. Of what, then, were the disciples to have experience?
1. Of the utmost possible nearness to God. The Incarnation had brought God near; but the Spirit was to unite the believer to God, and make Him a living temple.
2. Of an abundance of blessing. They were to have that which baptism represents--purity, refreshment, health.
3. Of a deep acquaintance with Divine truth. Christ had promised that the Spirit should bring to their remembrance what He had said.
IV. The command and promise were a test of discipleship.
1. Patience was exercised by remaining at Jerusalem. There are times and places in which witnessing for Christ is easy. Such a place was not Jerusalem. Disciples prove their fidelity by abiding in the way of duty in spite of hardship.
2. Faith was tried by uncertainty of time “not many days hence.”
3. But past experience encouraged confidence and perseverance. Some of Christ’s promises had been already fulfilled, and in some cases beyond all expectation.
Conclusion: See here--
1. The gentleness of the Lord’s discipline.
2. The condition on which He fulfils His promises. (W. Hudson.)
The Saviour’s last charge
There attaches a deep interest to this commandment of our Lord, from whatever point of view it is regarded. Tender associations cluster and cling about it.
I. A grave charge. “He commanded,” etc. Revised version, “charged.” The gravity of the charge is seen--
1. In what it was He asked them to do.
2. In the issues of it. What was it they were to wait for? The great promise. Generally this applied to the outpouring of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. It was a promise. It was the promise of the Father. All that the Church needs is embraced in this promise. If a promise be of the Father, we may be sure it is inviolable, and the thing it indicates invaluable. How differently we are inclined to think of matters from the view God takes of them. Our first thought is, probably, “Why not strike iron while it is hot,. and follow up just now, while the fame of Jesus is ringing out its praises, with the preaching of the truths for which He laid down His life?” God says “tarry” till ye be endued with power from on high. “My thoughts, not your thoughts,” etc.
II. An inspired attitude. “To wait.” This meant three things--
1. A looking for something under a profound conviction of its necessity.
2. A pleading for the object in prayer; and this they were doing for ten whole days. Show what prayer-meetings should be, and their place in the success of the Church.
3. The attitude of patient expectation, of prospective sufficiency. They took hold of God in prayer and waited round about Him until He should satisfy their longings and fill them with the glory of His praise.
III. A specific commandment. They were to wait at Jerusalem. This appointed place no haphazard, but a design of the infinite mind. Recall a few things of Jerusalem to see this.
1. It was the city of solemnities. Here Jews gathered--feasts and fasts held. Here stood the Temple, there it fell--there was to begin the building of a new and better temple that should stand for ever.
2. The city of sublime figure. “Thou art comely, O my have, as Jerusalem.” “If I forget thee, let my right hand forget its cunning.” “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion,” etc.
3. It was the concentration of all prophecy. “I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication, and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced.”
4. How full it was of historic associations. City of Melchizedek, place of Abraham’s offering, and the metropolis of David’s kingdom, etc.
5. It was the place of danger. Here met all the rage and malice, envy and hatred of the time-honoured Scribes and Pharisees. Then why tarry here? To honour the people whose ancestors were worthy soldiers of the faith; to preach mercy and forgiveness where was found the most sin. (W. Halls.)
The gospel first tested at Jerusalem
At the village near which I reside, there is a foundry for casting cannon. After cannon are east they are tested by the founders. They first put in a single charge. If the cannon can bear that they put in the double charge. If the cannon can bear that without bursting, then they are pronounced fit for the field of battle, or for the deck of a man-of-war. The casters act wisely, for should there be one flaw it is better that it should be detected in the foundry-yard than when in the act of being fired. Now the gospel was a new and untried instrument. It had to be tested, and where better than at Jerusalem? If it could stand the test there it could stand it anywhere. Peter fired the first gun, and three thousand were converted in one day. Moreover a great multitude of the priests were obedient unto Christ. The apostles could not but have faith in the power of the gospel when they saw the men who mocked and crucified Christ, and gloried in what they did, exclaiming, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Williams of Wern.)
But wait for the promise of the Father.--
The promise of the Father
1. The great promise of the Father was, that He would send His Spirit into the hearts of men.
2. The promise is worth waiting for. Tarry ye, etc.
3. The fulfilment of the promise always brings power with it, and will make witnesses for Christ of all those who receive it.
4. When the promise is to be claimed, let no ambitious desires turn one away from receiving its baptism.
5. The Father, in His own good time, will fulfil His declarations concerning the universal sway of His kingdom. (S. S. Times.)
The promise of the Spirit
The doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of religion. The Father elects, the Son redeems, the Spirit sanctifies. The Son came in execution of the covenant of redemption, and having fulfilled its conditions, was entitled to its promises. One of these was the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:33), which Christ again and again repromised.
I. The Holy Ghost is secured for the Church only by the mediation of Christ.
II. Christ is the immediate giver of the Holy Ghost. He sends Him to whom He pleases, and bestows through Him what blessings He pleases. Therefore men must seek the Spirit specially from Christ as our Mediator.
III. Election by the Father, and redemption by the Son avail only in virtue of the Spirit’s work. Until the Spirit is received, the elect do not differ from the non-elect, the redeemed from the unredeemed. Hence our obligations to the several persons of the Trinity are the same. And as the Son acted voluntarily in redeeming those whom the Father chose, the Spirit is voluntary in applying the redemption purchased by the Son.
IV. The work of the Spirit is--
1. To renew or quicken those dead in sins.
2. To illuminate. To reveal the glory of Christ, the holiness of God, the justice and extent of the law, the evil of sin, the certainty of judgment, the truth and authority of the Word of God.
3. To work repentance and faith, i.e., turning from sin to God.
4. To guide in the knowledge of truth and duty.
5. To qualify for special duties and offices.
6. To sanctify.
7. To comfort.
8. To glorify soul and body.
V. The dependence of the individual and the Church on the Spirit is absolute. Nothing can be experienced or done but by Him. Analogous to the dependence of the creatures on the Creator for--
4. Results or successes. But not in any one of these is our agency superseded; in all the need of effort is the same. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
Our need of the Holy Spirit
What the light is to the mariner’s compass, or the wind to the sail of the ship, or the oil to the lamp, or the sap to the tree, rising up softly and diffusing its life to the farthest leaf of the remotest branch, that the Spirit is to the Christian in every-day life. I should as soon attempt to raise flowers if there were no atmosphere, or produce fruits if there were neither light nor heat, as to attempt to regenerate men without the Holy Ghost. (H. W. Beecher.)
The power of the Holy Spirit
1. A promised power, “the promise of the Father.”
2. A coming power, “not many days hence.”
3. A power in testimony, “Ye shall be witnesses.”
4. An abiding power, to remain until “the uttermost part of the earth” shall have heard the gospel.
The ascension of Christ
It will be interesting to note the reasons why Jesus did not ascend into heaven immediately after His resurrection from the dead, but remained forty days longer on earth.
1. He wished His disciples to know beyond all peradventure that He was not dead, but living, and alive for evermore. To this end “He showed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs.” Whatever His disciples may have thought of Him previously, they must henceforth know Him as the Conqueror of death and hell. As to His Divine character and work, they could no longer cherish a shadow of doubt.
2. He desired to teach His disciples sonic things which hitherto they had been unable to receive. In particular He wanted them to understand about His kingdom, to which they had previously attached all sorts of carnal notions. So it is written, “He spoke of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”
3. During these forty days He planned the campaign which is to result in the conquest of all nations to the glory of His name. We cannot place too strong an emphasis on the parting injunctions here delivered to the disciples--and to us--by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
I. “He commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait.” This was not an easy thing for them to do. Flushed with the memory of the glorious things which the Master had been revealing to them, they were doubtless in a mood to go everywhere proclaiming His kingdom. But return to Jerusalem, said He, “and wait.” There were good reasons for this requirement.
1. It was proper that Jerusalem should be geographically the point of departure for the new order of things. “Salvation is of the Jews.” “Go ye everywhere, beginning at Jerusalem.” Here is the metropolis of redemption (Micah 4:2). It begins in Jerusalem, the capital of Jewry, and proceeds to Rome, the capital of the world.
2. The disciples needed a season of mutual conference and prayer. To hasten to their work fitfully and each for himself would be to court despondency and failure.
3. They were to “wait” for a special preparation. They were not yet ready for their work. It pays to be well prepared for anything, most of all for the work of the kingdom of Christ.
II. Our Lord in this last interview with His disciples gave them, with renewed emphasis, the glorious promise of the Holy Ghost. This was “the promise of the Father” (John 14:16; also 15:26). The man who imagines that he can set about the affairs of the kingdom of righteousness in strength of his own will make a lamentable failure of it. Let him tarry at Jerusalem until he has received the promise of the Father. When the fire descends upon him, and he is endued with power from on high, nothing will seem impossible to him.
III. In this last conference of Jesus with His disciples He disclosed to them the plan of future operations. Had the attention of a passer-by been directed to the six-score or thereabouts who were gathered on Olivet on this occasion with the remark that these few working people--this feeble folk like the conies--were being organised for universal conquest, he would have pronounced it the wildest scheme that was ever beard of. Jesus not only gave the disciples to understand that He Himself was, through the influence of His ever-present Spirit, to take charge of the propaganda, but He issued clear and specific directions as to how it should be carried on.
1. For reasons already noted, they were to make Jerusalem their starting-point.
2. They were to wait for the baptism of the Holy Ghost. This was to mark their initiation into the dispensation of the Spirit, or new order of things.
3. They were to proceed in their work with a clear understanding of the fact that their only power was from God.
4. The followers of Christ were to be “witnesses unto Him.” Words in due season, spoken from the pulpit or anywhere else, are like apples of gold shining through the meshes of a silver basket; but a Christlike life is like a lighthouse on a rocky coast: multitudes are saved by it. All lives, indeed, are testimonies; every man on earth is lending his influence in behalf of truth or falsehood, for Christ or against Him. Character will out. Our creed is the thing we live by.
5. This witnessing must be universal. “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” Observe, the disciples are not made responsible for the conversion of the world, but only for its evangelisation. They are to see that the story of redemption is told everywhere; and God Himself will do the rest.
IV. Then cometh the end. “He shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.” The consummation of the Divine plan for the deliverance of our sinful race is to be signalised by the second coming of Christ.
1. When? “It is not for you to know the times and seasons which the Father has put in His own power.” This ought to be enough. The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. The appointed time is a state secret, and we cannot guess within a thousand years of it.
2. How? “In like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.” In like manner His re-coming is to be a real personal advent.
3. What then? It behoves us to watch. Not to watch as do certain wiseacres, who lean indolently out of their windows with eyes towards the east, but as the Lord’s faithful workmen, who have much to do and know that the husbandman may return at any moment. “Why stand ye gazing up into heaven?” (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
Waiting for the promise of the Father
I. What the disciples were commanded to wait for--“the promise of the Father,” i.e., the fulfilment of the promise.
1. Not that the Spirit of God had been absent at any time from the Church. There could be no Church without Him. We find David praying, “Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me,” etc. Now that Christ had finished the work of redemption, the Holy Ghost was to be given on a scale so new that we are told “the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.”
2. “Which ye have heard of Me” sends us back to the promises in John 14:-16.
3. But why did Christ call this emphatically, “the promise,” as if there had never been another? Because--
II. The import of the waiting for the promise.
1. Looking for it under a profound conviction of its absolute necessity, and its full sufficiency. Once and again Christ had taught this when, after they had toiled all night and taken nothing, immediately on the putting forth of His power, they enclosed a great multitude of fishes; and when He said to them, “Greater works than these shall he do, because I go unto My Father,” “He will convince the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” They were to wait at Jerusalem somewhat in the Spirit of God’s prophet, when the Lord set him down in the midst of the valley of dry bones.
2. Pleading for it with the Lord in prayer. The best comment on this is the actual waiting (verses 12-14). And in the same attitude we find them, at the opening of the second chapter. It evidently never entered their minds that, having the promise, they might abide its fulfilment in listless indolence. They had drunk into the spirit of those words, “I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.” None of those disciples said, “Oh, it’s only a prayer-meeting!” Assuredly, if there were addresses at these meetings, yet the business was prayer. I doubt not that the drift of any exhortations would simply be, to call up examples of “the promise of the Father,” and to impress the more deeply on every heart its glorious certainty--its urgent necessity--its all-comprehensive preciousness and sufficiency. The scope of them all would be, “Ye that are the Lord’s remembrancers, keep not silence, and give Him no rest, till He establish, and till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” What definiteness of aim would characterise these prayers! How would they exemplify the words of Jesus, “If two of you shall agree on earth,” etc.
3. Intense longing desire and patient believing expectation. The term “wait” signifies to wait round about a thing, as in anxious expectation. “They continued”--“stedfastly persisted with one accord in prayer and supplication.” Agreed together as touching that which they should ask, how would they “fill their mouths with arguments,” drawn from their own utter insufficiency, from the world’s ungodliness and misery, from Jehovah’s power, and grace, and faithfulness to His own pre-eminent promise in Christ! “Oh that Thou wouldst rend the heavens,” would be their spirit, if not their language, “that Thou wouldst come down, that the mountains might flow down at Thy presence!” They had only the naked promise; but it was enough. If, in respect of longing desire, they were as when Elijah said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea”--in respect of patient believing expectation, they were as when the servant went up and looked, and said, “There is nothing,” and Elijah said, “Go again seven times.”
III. The commandment to wait. This was quite as express as the promise--the means no less necessary than the end. To whom was it given? It is very clear that the apostles did not regard it as belonging exclusively to them. We find associated with them the private members of the Church. Did it then belong exclusively to the disciples of that age? This question turns on a very simple issue. If the transactions of the Pentecostal period exhausted the riches of “the promise of the Father”; or if the Church and the World now no longer stand in need of them, then, doubtless, the commandment must have ceased. But if only the first-fruits of the promise were reaped in the apostolic age, if darkness yet to a mournful extent covers the earth, if the dispensation of the covenant of grace under which we live is termed expressly “the ministration of the Spirit,” if that word abides the inheritance of the Church, “I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh,” with numberless words like these, “The earth shall be full of the knowledge and glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea”--then it can admit of no doubt that the commandment belongs to us at this hour. Then we, no less than the apostles, are not warranted only, but commanded “to wait for the promise of the Father.” Then it is ours to meditate on all that that expression implies; to plead for it with longing desire and patient believing expectation in secret, in the family, in the social meeting, in the public assembly. (C. J. Brown, D. D.)
Waiting upon God in His ordinances
It is usual for ships to ride a long time in a roadstead, when they might be in the haven; and wherefore do they so? but that they may be in the wind’s way, to take the first opportunity that shall be offered for their intended voyage. Even thus should all good Christians do, anchor, as it were, in the house of God, even then when they seem to be becalmed, that they cannot stir and move themselves about holy duties as they were wont to do; yet, even then, ride it out, hearken what God will say to their souls, wait upon Him in the use of means; not in an Anabaptistical phrensy, refusing to attend upon duty till the Spirit move them; but look up unto God for life, and seek it from Him in their attendance upon His holy ordinances.
The disciples waiting at Jerusalem for the promise of the Father
Conversion to the individual and revival to the Church, is God’s great end in the dispensation of grace. The means are the manifestation of Jesus Christ, through the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. Hence the personal reception of the truth and the personal presence of the Spirit are alike essential. Hence in every case the first and most promising symptom is increasing thirst for the Word, with increasing dependence on the Spirit. Where the Word of God is set aside or undervalued, whatever else is substituted in its place, there will be no depth or reality in spiritual exercises. There may be abundance of bustling activity about the things of God, but, apart from the Holy Ghost, there will be no real conversion or revival. You may have Herod, hearing gladly and doing many things, but retaining his besetting sin--Simon Magus, asking in his terrors an apostle’s prayers, but persisting in the way to heresy and perdition--Felix, trembling, but stifling conviction. These disciples were waiting in--
I. Devout expectancy. They had been commanded to wait; and expectation is essential to a patient waiting upon God. It is far easier to do much than to wait long. The disciples’ hearts must have burned to go out upon the world with unhesitating confidence in their miraculous powers, and in the strength of their marvellous message. But they had learned, amid recent events, a lesson of self-distrust. So, day after day, they waited on in silence, though charged with a message fitted to convert the world. “He that believeth shall not make haste.” He will judge nothing, do nothing before the time. Till in the Spirit Himself, He will not attempt to force the Spirit’s work. Such a state of expectancy is essential to a patient continuance in well-doing. Without expectation there will be no truth, no prevailing power in prayer. Thus it is that, because men have ceased to expect the outpouring of the Spirit, the heavens have become as brass. Because they see no cloud above their head, they will not climb the mountain-top to watch the little cloud that faintly fringes the horizon. They expect nothing, wait for nothing, and that is all they get. For the law of God is, according to thy faith, so shall it be unto thee. Delight thyself also in the Lord, and He will give thee all the desires of thine heart. Plead the Father’s promise, and be assured of the Father’s performance. For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off.
II. Earnest desire. It is in the heart of the believer, in the bosom of the Church, that the promise of the Father first takes effect, and the first symptom of it generally is the panting of the soul after God--the longing of God’s weary heritage for a season of refreshing and revival. And such a season awakening new desires, communicates a new impulse to the entire body of Christ. In her deadness it comes and tells of reviving life, in her weakness of returning power, in her hopelessness of opening prospects of success. Thus we cannot but long for the outpouring of the Spirit in Pentecostal fulness. In His absence we can work no deliverance, communicate no life, have no comfort, enlargement, nor refreshing fellowship with God.
III. Earnest and united prayer (verse 14). Prayer is the spontaneous offspring of expectation and desire. It is hope’s utterance before God. It is faith recognising God as the Giver of every good and perfect gift, and asking whatever it wants. Give faith a promise, and immediately it will transform it into a prayer. Hence, wherever faith exists the special promise of the Father becomes the object of special prayer. As promised, it is expected; as good, it is desired; as freely given, it is frankly asked. Secret prayer is the life of the individual; social prayer, of the community; congregational prayer, of the Church. The soul that lives in the neglect of secret prayer is dead. Family prayer is no substitute--cannot, indeed, exist without close personal intercourse with God. And as for social meetings for prayer to be of any avail, they must be inspired by a life derived in secret communion from Jesus. What meetings ye might have, though but two or three of you together, were each to bring the life, the fervour, the heaven-breathing spirituality of soul, just come down from meeting alone with God upon the mount. These are the united prayers that have power with God. For so soon as the people of God in any neighbourhood are baptised with the spirit of prayer, they will come to know each other by a secret sympathy. The Father rejoices over such meetings, for it opens up to Him a channel for pouring down the streams of life, for meeting their largest desires with a still larger outpouring of His Spirit; and Jesus, how He rejoices! for He knows what blessings they will get; and the Spirit Himself rejoices, for He is ever on the wing to hasten down and join such companies.
IV. Seclusion from unnecessary intercourse with the world. There are, indeed, duties which we owe in the various relations of society from which it is not the will of God to call us away. With all this, however, there must be habitual separation unto God. The Holy Dove will not come to us in the crowd. It is when the doors are closed and the world is shut out that Jesus comes with power upon His lips, and love in every tone of His voice, and breathes on us and says, “Receive the Holy Ghost.”
V. The fellowship with one another (verse 12-14, 2:1).
1. The Lord loves to see His family dwelling together in unity. Parents, can you not understand our Father’s feeling in this? If, then, ye being evil, etc. God is doubtless to be found wherever there is a humble and believing heart, but nowhere surely in such manifested love as in the bosom of His loving family, met together to wait for the promise of their Father (Song of Solomon 1:7-8; Ezekiel 34:11-12).
2. It is our strength and safety to walk together through the wilderness, to keep together on the battlefield. (W. Cousin.)
The Spirit essential to the establishment of the Christian Church
In the Old Testament the doctrine of the Spirit had been revealed in its great outlines. In the Gospels the subject is more fully treated in connection with the person and history of Christ. In the Acts there is a great advance, for full and distinct testimony is borne to Him in sixteen out of its twenty-eight chapters. His path in the Scriptures, like that of the sun, “shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” In the text He is called “the promise of the Father.” To Him the attention and hope of the Church had been long directed as the largest gift of a Father’s love. The Old Testament writers had taught believers to look forward to Him as the consummation of their hope, and for Him the disciples were now bidden to wait. This command was--
1. The circumstances of the disciples were peculiarly trying. They had scarcely recovered from the shock of their Lord’s death. His presence was now very occasional, and was about to terminate. In their discouragement they needed to have their hopes assured.
2. Besides on what a stupendous enterprise they were about to be engaged. Moses trembled to undertake His mission. Jonah fled when commanded to go to Nineveh. Jeremiah excused himself by saying, “I am a child.” What, then, must the apostles have felt?
II. Necessary. Without this promise they were entirely disqualified.
1. They were few.
2. They were destitute of those outward qualifications of station and influence, which are generally thought to promise success.
3. They laboured under its greatest mental and moral disqualifications. They were--
All this considered, no wonder they had been hitherto unsuccessful. They little understood their ministry, had not much heart in it, and wanted unity. How fitting, then, that they should have to “wait for the promise”!
III. Effectual. The command had a mighty influence. They did wait, and engaged in exercises becoming such a period. Already there were indications of what would be done for them by the Spirit. But the earnest was small compared with the realisation of the promise.
1. The slow of understanding were made quick of apprehension.
2. The cowardly were made bold.
3. The earthly were made heavenly minded.
4. Their only rivalry now was who should bear to do most for the common cause.
5. The effects were such as might be excepted. Their “word was with power.” “Mightily grew the Word of God and prevailed.”
IV. Instructive. The great lessons are as applicable to us as to them.
1. Without the Spirit we are disqualified for the work of God.
2. We should engage in every special work only in His strength. It is not enough that we have the Spirit. We need to be enriched afresh by His grace.
3. Hence He must be diligently sought.
1. How inexcusable we are if we do not obtain “the promise of the Father.” “Ask and ye shall receive.”
2. How great the influence which this doctrine should exercise over us. How pure, heavenly, and energetic we ought to be. (J. Morgan, D. D.)
The need of waiting
No wise man or woman will enter hastily upon any great work. In proportion to the greatness of the work is the amount of thought, care, and training necessary for its successful accomplishment. History will teach us that those enterprises have usually been most successfully accomplished for which the workers have been most carefully trained. We know that the higher the class of work the more skill is required in the worker, great delicacy is required in the treatment of the raw material; time and care and skill must be used in its manipulation, otherwise no high degree of perfection can be looked for in the fabric to be produced. We often find that nothing is easier than to spoil or damage that which we are trying to improve or refine. And the more we study the matter the more shall we be convinced that what the world terms ability or power--in other words, the possession of skill--is not so often an innate gift, as a faculty gained by much study and practice. These truths are, if we may use the expression, true in the highest degree with regard to Church workers and all kinds of Church work. The material upon which they work, and with which they work, is the most delicate and the most easily spoiled in the whole world; for that material is the heart, will, mind, conscience, character of man. The fabric they are endeavouring--by the aid of God’s Holy Spirit--to produce is human nature refined, purified, ennobled, brought by long and careful training into Christlikeness, continually made more and more to approach and resemble the perfect Example, Type, and Pattern of the Divine humanity. But ere the active, aggressive missionary work to which the apostle had been called, commences, there is to be a solemn period of pause, during which they may at once meditate upon the experiences of the past and fit themselves to receive the promised gift. Through haste we often fail together, and preserve the results of experiences through which we have passed; through haste we also often fail from want of preparation to use aright an opportunity when it presents itself to us. The loss is then double, for it is the loss both of harvest and of seed-time. We forget to reap; we are not able to sow. (W. E. Chadwick, M. A.)
John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.
Last words of our Lord. Dispensation of John: baptised with water, not in.
I. John’s use of water. Baptism.
1. A sign of universal pollution, from the womb. Repentance.
2. Acknowledgment of guilt, and need of pardon.
3. Acknowledgment of corruption, and need of holiness.
4. Profession of thirst after refreshing comfort.
5. Profession of helplessness. None baptised themselves.
6. Profession of cleansing the outside.
II. Insufficiency of John’s baptism.
1. Material water cannot cleanse the soul.
2. It is not saving, witness Simon Magus. “You shall be baptised,” etc.
3. The water flows off, dries up; the effect superficial.
4. The testimony of John himself: “I indeed.”
5. The declaration of Christ in the text.
III. General necessity of the baptism of the Holy Ghost.
1. All tainted with original sin, must be born again.
2. All guilty, must be pardoned (chap. 2. and 10.).
3. All unholy, must be sanctified. Catechism (Romans 8:1-39.).
4. The corruption is spiritual and deep. Fire refines.
5. All are miserable, and need the Comforter and kingdom.
6. All helpless and Christless till then. “If any man,” etc.
7. All are unfit for heaven and bliss, without love, melting--uniting.
8. Particular necessity for ministers:
To preach the Word with power. To bear up under troubles and persecutions. To be directed into all truth, and to testify of Jesus, though not to work miracles and speak with tongues.
IV. The season. “Not many days hence.” When prepared with prayer anal faith, united, in one accord and tried. The day is not fixed, that we may expect daily and yet not faint. Application--
1. Unconverted. Rest in no baptism, but that of the Holy Ghost and fire. Water baptism will condemn you alone.
2. John’s disciples. Promised, the thing promised, the time. Oh, continue praying with one accord!
3. Believers. You want fresh baptism, till the Holy Ghost, which is grace, fill your soul. (Preacher’s Analyst.)
The baptism of the Holy Ghost
The same shower blesses various lands in different degrees, according to their respective susceptibilities. It makes the grass to spring up in the mead, the grain to vegetate in the field, the shrub to grow on the plain, and the flowers to blossom in the garden; and these are garnished with every hue of loveliness--the lily and the violet, the rose and the daisy: all these work by the same Spirit who renews the face of the earth. The influences of the Holy Spirit, descending on the moral soil, produce “blessing in variety”--convictions in the guilty, illumination in the ignorant, holiness in the defiled, strength in the feeble, and comfort in the distressed. As the Spirit of holiness, He imparts a pure taste; as the Spirit of glory, He throws a radiance over the character; as the Spirit of life, He revives religion; as the Spirit of truth, He gives transparency to the conduct; as the Spirit of prayer, He melts the soul into devotion; and, as the Spirit of grace, He imbues with benevolence, and covers the face of the earth with the works of faith and labours of love. (T. W. Jenkyn, D. D.)
No better for the baptism of fire
In some parts of the world there are certain boiling springs, called geysers. Their peculiarity is, that at irregular intervals they send up spurts of boiling water, and then are silent for a considerable time. Travellers will tell you that at the time when they are silent you would find it very difficult to believe that water would ever issue out of such an orifice at all. There was a revival some years ago, was there not? The gracious rain came down upon God’s inheritance. How earnest you were--how active! But the revival passed away, and your warmth and fervour and energy passed away with it, and those who look on you find it very difficult to believe that you have ever been zealous in God’s service at all. (W. M. Punshon.)
A witnessing Church--a Church baptised with the Holy Ghost
1. The last interview with dear friend, and his last words, are wont to be embalmed in,fragrant remembrance.
2. A comparison is made between the baptism with the Holy Ghost, and John’s baptism. Such as truly turned from sin to God were prepared as a dwelling for the Spirit. Repentance from dead works went before--the new unction from above came after.
3. Notice also the time--“not many days hence.” God is sovereign in fixing a fulness of time, and we may not ask why that time was appointed. But on our part it is necessary to know our want of the Spirit, and to feel it, that we may welcome Him with the more delight to testify of Jesus. Often, alas! have we returned with nothing but the toil for our pains, because we did not wait to pray down the Spirit. In opening up the doctrine, consider--
I. The baptism.
1. Its nature. That more is meant than renewal is plain from this, that the disciples were already in Christ. This baptism is the great promise of New Testament times. Before Pentecost, God’s children were not wholly exempt from the spirit of bondage; but in the days of the apostles the saints in general seem to have enjoyed the promise of the Spirit through faith. The Holy Ghost is the first fruits of glory. Are we baptised with the Holy Ghost? Then--
2. Its marks.
3. How shall we obtain this baptism, and on what occasions is it given? Such as already enjoy the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins may obtain supplies of the Spirit a thoUsand-fold greater than any they have ever known. Are we faithful in a little? God’s rule is, To him that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundantly. This heavenly unction is conferred--
II. A Church is only so far a witnessing Church as it is thus baptised with the Holy Ghost. “After that the Holy Christ is come upon you … ye shall be witnesses unto Me.”
1. The Redeemer does not send skilful orators, but witnesses, such as have seen with spiritual eyes and heard with spiritual ears. A witness must know what He testifies; he believes and therefore speaks. Many have nothing they can testify. Can he be a witness of the Cross of Christ who does not daily look to it for pardon? Can he be a witness of the Lord’s abiding with His people who knows not in his heart a daily intercourse with Jesus--who has not the witness of the Spirit that he is a child of God?
2. Christ makes it plain that a new unction must visit His followers before the blessing spreads to the impenitent. A Church cannot long continue to display a living testimony, unless this baptism is repeatedly renewed; and to hold forth, like many declining Churches of the Reformation, a form of sound words, when the Spirit is sinned away, is but like a removed sign-post carried down a swollen river. For it is not protests, or creeds, or formularies, but living souls under the baptism of the Spirit, that makes a witnessing Church. (G. Smeaton, D. D.)
Wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
Before the Ascension
I. The question of the apostles.
1. The great awe produced by the first appearances of the risen Christ has worn off during the forty days. He and His are engaged in familiar converse as in days of old.
2. The apostles are not backward to ask a question; and it reveals their old notions of Messianic dominion still indulged. They still think of the restoration of “the kingdom to Israel.”
3. But their expectations are now high and eager.
(a) How prone we are to mistake God’s times and God’s ways, which are not as ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).
(b) How anxious we are to hurry on God’s dispensations; not considering the Divine slowness (1 Peter 3:9), which waits for our salvation, though we are so impatient for manifestations of great results in the work of His kingdom. Apply this to missionary efforts.
(c) How careful we ought to be, not, as it were, to suggest or dictate to Him the how or the when, since “He doeth all things well.”
II. The answer of our Lord was--
1. A concealment (Acts 1:7). It is not for the apostles to pry into the “secret things” of God. These are “put in His own power,” and even Jesus, as Son of Man, may not possess them (Mark 13:32). Learn--
2. A revelation (Acts 1:8), in which Jesus gives--
1. There are certain things put in man’s “power,” just as there are some kept in God’s.
2. These are, chiefly, to know the mind and will of God by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, which He has promised, and which He gives.
3. In receiving the Holy Ghost, we “receive power,” not only to know, but to do God’s will (see Deuteronomy 29:29). Spiritual knowledge and strength are that we may work, not speculate.
4. We are to be “witnesses” of the ascended Jesus--
The disciples’ question
I. Authorised as a question of--
1. Strong faith which expects the kingdom.
2. Tender love which wishes the salvation of the world.
3. Holy grief which feels for the miseries of the times.
II. Unauthorised as a question of--
1. Carnal impatience which wishes to see the Kingdom of God coming with external show.
2. Spiritual curiosity which will pry into what the Father has reserved for Himself.
3. Pious indolence which, with folded hands, looks at the clouds instead of working for the Kingdom of God in the calling entrusted to it. (J. P. Lunge, D. D.)
Christ’s last words to His disciples
Frequent were the interviews which Christ had with them previous to His death; ten times He was with them after His resurrection; but here is the final interview. The best things on earth must come to a close. The Divine drama is now over. These are words of--
I. Correction. The old prejudice came up--the making of Jerusalem imperial mistress of the world. This had been the brilliant dream of their race for ages.
1. The question indicated the working of several wrong elements.
2. Christ corrects this morally mistaken state of mind. He does not say that there shall be no restoration; He leaves that with the enlightening Spirit about to descend. His words served--
II. Encouragement. “But ye shall receive power.”
2. Moral--the power that made them brave, faithful, magnanimous, self-sacrificing, successful--the greater of the two. This encouragement was opportune coming as it did after His caustic rebuke. The power promised transcends the political power of kingdoms. It is a power to change the heart of kings, to regulate the springs of empire, to mould the governments of the world. The old theocratic kingdom of Israel was but a faint type of Christ’s.
III. Direction. “Ye shall be witnesses.”
1. The nature of their ministry--“witnesses.” Hence their preaching at first was little more than a honest and fervent declaration of facts (Acts 2:22-36; Acts 3:12-26; Acts 4:8-12; Acts 5:29-42). These men left all the theorising for weaker but more pretentious men of later ages.
2. Its universality and its philanthropy embraces the world.
3. Its method. “Beginning,” etc. This they followed (chaps. 2., 8.; Romans 10:18; Colossians 1:6-23). In this method we see--
IV. Benediction (see Luke 24:50). (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Christ’s last instruction to His apostles
I. The question of the disciples disclosed--
1. Their ignorance.
2. Their belief that there was a kingdom of God. They could not forget the Theocracy, nor lose the conviction that it would be restored. Why, then, not now, and by the King?
3. Their benevolence and patriotism.
4. Their inquisitiveness and impatience.
II. The answer of the Master suggests--
1. That He can bear the inevitable ignorance of the good.
2. That His followers should cheek vain curiosity.
3. That there are times and seasons, eras and epochs, in the development of the affairs of the kingdom of God. The meaning of this is plain now, to a degree impossible then. Pentecost, the death of Stephen, the conversion of Saul, were “times.” The apostolic age, with its wonderful diffusion of the gospel, was a “season.” This age with its revivals, scientific spirit, and scepticism is also a “season.” Other times and seasons have yet to follow. How wonderful the wisdom which could plan them, and the authority which can put and hold them under full control.
4. That the pre-vision of these times and seasons is withheld from man. The wonders of Pentecost had to be waited for and felt and seen before their nature could be known. So with other epochs. (W. Hudson.)
It is not for you to know the times or the seasons.--
Times and seasons
I. The faith of the first disciples, in a brighter future for the world. That faith was founded on the predictions of the Old Testament and of our Lord. Patriotism and philanthropy inspired them to hope for great things for their countrymen; but piety lifted them into the faith that a new kingdom would be set up and Jesus be all in all. The Christian Church has never lost faith in the dawn of a better day for the world, and has laboured and prayed for it. We show ourselves unworthy of the apostles--in whose steps we profess to tread--if we do not “attempt great things for God, and expect great things from God.” Christ has promised a golden age, and though earth and heaven pass away, His words shall not pass away; “The kingdom of this world shall become the kingdom of our God,” etc.
II. The error of the first disciples, in allowing their faith in a brighter future to lead them into presumptuous curiosity. The disciples sought to be endowed with the faculty of pre-vision, but such an endowment was denied them. The old prophets were inspired to make known coming events, but the day and hour were hidden; and the apostles, no more than the prophets, could know when the events predicted concerning Israel and the world would occur. The error of the apostles has been repeated down to the present day. But age after age “would-be prophets” have had to revise their dates, and shift their scenes, and own, with shame that they had ventured out of their depth. The “second coming of Christ” and the “end of the world,” they are events about which even the angels in heaven do not know; the Father has them in His own hands, and they are safe there, and sure to be brought about in His own good time and way.
III. The duty of the first disciples in relation to their faith in a brighter future for the world as shown by the reply of their Master to the questioning of their presumptuous curiosity. Their duty was to be “witnesses,” to speak of what they had seen and heard, and not of what was hidden from them. It must have been a great joy to them to know that the future was in the hands of the Father, who is too wise to err and too good to be unkind. And it ought to calm and cheer us that the times and seasons are not in the hands of a demon or an angel; and not in the clumsy and capricious hands of men, but in the hands of Him who can make the wrath of man to praise Him, and cause all things to work together for good. (F. W. Brown.)
Times and seasons not to be known by the best of men
I. What is implied in the text. That there are times and seasons which God hath appropriated to Himself, both to order and to dispose them.
1. The times and seasons of the world in general. As God first made it, so He governs it. He set a time for the beginning and for the ending of it. And He orders all its affairs (Acts 17:24; Acts 17:26; Acts 17:31).
2. The times and seasons of States in particular. These are also appointed by God. He gives them being and continuance (Job 12:23; Deuteronomy 32:8; Daniel 2:20-21; Daniel 4:17; Daniel 4:25; Daniel 4:32). And when He has once written vanity upon them they come to nothing.
3. The times and seasons of individuals (Psalms 31:15; Psalms 39:4; Job 14:5). All men’s times are put in God’s own power, in regard of their space and quality, whether prosperous or afflicted. All this is to show us what great cause we have to wait upon God upon all occasions. He who is the Lord of our times should have the command of our services.
II. What is expressed. That it is not for you to know these times and seasons.
1. It is not your business. For the right understanding of this we must be mindful of the context. It is not said, it is not for you to know any times or seasons but those “which the Father hath put in His own power.” Consider--
(a) Take it in a natural sense. It is proper for us to know the times and seasons of day and night, seedtime and harvest, winter and summer, and the like. These, it is true, God hath put in His own power, but they are not such as He hath kept to Himself, and accordingly we may take notice of them, for the improving of the opportunities of them.
(b) Take it in a civil sense--the times for buying and selling, war and peace (Ecclesiastes 3:8).
(c) Take it in a spiritual sense--the seasons of grace, the opportunities of salvation, the times of improvement (Luke 19:43; Jeremiah 8:7; so Ecclesiastes 9:12; 1 Chronicles 12:39.). To speak distinctly on this point, it concerns all men to know the sins and the miscarriages of the times (2 Peter 3:17). The judgments and calamities of the times (Proverbs 28:5; Isaiah 26:11). The duties and engagement of the times (Romans 12:11).
2. It is not profitable for you. It might please, as a matter of speculation, and so there are divers that busy themselves about it, but it cannot profit to edification. Nay, it is rather prejudicial and inconvenient: partly as it perplexes, and partly as it takes men off from their duty.
3. It is not within your reach. The Father hath put them in His own power, and so out of ours (Mark 13:32). It is not for you, that is, for you--
(a) As it meets with men’s vain curiosity and affectation. There are many who trouble both their own and other men’s heads with such questions. But this answer of our Saviour puts them off from such scrutinies; for if it be not for you to know, then it is not for you to inquire. There are many things which are necessary--the deceitfulness of our hearts, the depths of Satan, the will of the Lord. Therefore seek to know these.
(b) As with men’s curiosity in inquiring, so with their presumption in resolving. It is not for you to know it, therefore it is not for you to determine it. There are a great many persons who not only make a search into this mystery, but also positively fix it.
Conclusion: It is not for you to know, but--
1. It is for you to believe; not to know the time, but to believe the thing; to believe that this day will come, though we know not when it will come (2 Peter 3:3-4).
2. It is for you to expect; not to know when it will be, but to wait for it; to be always upon our watch and in readiness against the coming of our Master (Job 14:14; 2 Peter 3:11-14).
3. It is for you to pray; not to know when it will be, but to pray that it may be; and to desire that it may be as soon as may be (Revelation 22:17; Song of Solomon 8:14).
4. It is not for you to know the times and seasons which God hath put in His own power, but it is for you to know the times and seasons which God hath put in yours. The times and seasons of affliction and correction, to be troubled for them; and the times and seasons of mercy and deliverance, to be thankful for them. (T. Horton, D. D.)
If not for them, then for whom? Yet every age has had those who profess to be in the secret. They were in the Thessalonian Church, and Paul had to warn the disciples there to be on their guard against them. When Gallus renewed the persecution carried on by Decius Cyprian thought the judgment close at hand, and Milner remarks on this, “God hath made the present so much the exclusive object of our duty that He will scarce suffer His wisest and best servants to gain reputation for skill and foresight by any conjectures concerning the times and seasons which He hath reserved,” etc. More than a generation ago an Edinburgh reviewer was not speaking without cause when he said of men who could see in the Apocalypse the current condition of Europe, and who told a British statesman to adopt that book for a political manual, that they were carrying on madness “upon too sublime a scale for our interference. We were brought up in the humble creed of looking at the prophecies chiefly in connection not with the future, but with the past; where a cautious divinity, looking backward, might shadow out marks of anticipation and promise, and lead our faith by marks of Divine foreknowledge, to an apparent accomplishment of the Divine will. But to use them as this year’s almanack; to put the millennium backwards and forwards, according as the facts of the last twelvemonth have falsified the predictions of the last edition; to jeopardise the State rather than tolerate a policy which might spoil a favourite criticism on some ambiguous text is to turn the apocalyptic eagle into the cuckoo of the spring.” Horace Smith had his fling at “Dr. C., who one month writes a book to expound the Apocalypse, and next month Another to refute his own argument.” The thoughtful and erudite author of “Small Books on Great Subjects” professes an ever-increasing disinclination to the study of prophecy, further than in its great features, remarking that man is not formed for the knowledge of futurity, and that it is seldom that he knows how to make use of it, being too apt to put himself in the place of God, and instead of looking on the affairs of the world as a course of things directed to the final amelioration of the human race, to denounce this or that men, sure or man as impious, this or that event as a judgment on evildoers. Wycliffe and Luther both expected the judgment in their century, Napier at the close of the nineteenth, and Sir David Lindsay at the close of the twentieth. These ventures serve to bring to nought the wisdom of the wise, and to show what false steps may be confidently taken in a darkness that is not felt; for if felt it would crave warier walking. (J. Jacox, B. A.)
The benefits to character of ignorance of the future
I. Man’s ignorance of the future. One department of knowledge God has in part spread before us, and is leading us continually further into His deeper counsels. The laws of nature, when we have once gathered them from the examination of the past become our almost certain guides for the future. But even here all things are not naked and open. The phenomena of the atmosphere cannot be predicted with unerring accuracy, and the earth still contains many secrets which may never be reached. There is, however, another department, where knowledge cannot be reduced to simple laws, and where the future is hidden. This is the department in which the agencies of God and man meet, where the plan of the great Ruler and the plans of countless finite beings run across one another. So many agents and interactions create a confusion and complication which none but infinite skill can disentangle, the results of which only God can foresee. In illustration of this, note--
1. That we find in our own experience, that the times and seasons of human life God has put in His own power. All of us can testily that an unexpected future has been unrolling itself. We make new acquaintances, and they affect our condition and prospects. Our plans are ever interrupted by events wholly unforeseen. Disease, misfortune, prosperity, and joy are as much hid from us as if the lot determined them.
2. The strange mistakes of the most practised men, as they stand on the threshold of great events. There are vast revolutions which alter the course of the world, and must have had deep foundations in the past; yet the statesmen and philosophers of the time are slumbering without anxiety on the sides of the volcano. Nay, if some one, confident in the sway of general law, assured that the Divine government will have its way, ventures to predict in vague terms a coming disaster, the men of his time laugh at him. But the storm has come, and has left desolations which the predicter himself did not anticipate. Thus how little did the Senatorial party augur, when they required Caesar to resign his command, that they were urging on measures which would destroy the power of the aristocracy, change Rome into an empire, and bring on a revolution in society, law, and government! How little did Caiaphas or Pilate dream of the power that would go forth from that submissive man who lay under their hand! How little did Leo X. and the leading Italians imagine that Martin Luther would make an era, and start a movement that would never stop! Who thought a little before the French revolution, unless some dreamer regarded as wild, that all the thrones of Europe would be shaken, or that a man of Corsica would hold half the continent under his foot? “It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.”
3. The prophets and apostles were kept to a great degree in ignorance of the future, §o that the times and seasons were not brought within their view. Some persons imagine that a prophet acquired a telescopic sight which penetrated all the details of the future. But Paul says, “We prophesy in part,” i.e., imperfectly.
II. The moral uses which this arrangement is intended to serve.
1. In the province of individual effort uncertainty as to the future, united with probability of success, taxes the energies of man and develops his character in a desirable way.
2. It is well that we cannot foresee the mass of difficulties which may discourage us, and that all our trials do not press on us at once. Suppose that ignorance were exchanged for certainty; is it not evident that the mass of them would seem too great for human strength to move? Ignorance, the,,, is a great blessing, and without it we should not have courage to undertake anything good and great. We now encounter our toils and anxieties one by one; we conquer them in detail, and sweet hope lives through all the efforts.
3. Man’s ignorance of the future aids the spirit of piety.
1. According to analogy, prophecy will never shed more than a dim, uncertain light upon the future before its fulfilment. Christ gave no satisfaction here, and when Peter asked what should befall John, he received but an ambiguous answer--“If I will that he tarry,” etc. And so Paul went to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that should befall him there, etc. And the history of interpretation shows that thus far the Church has made little progress in applying prophecies to particular events.
2. He who gains character out of the uncertainties of life is a great gainer. He has learned in the dark not only those qualities of character which make him a good actor in these earthly scenes and which generally insure success; but he has learned also how to depend on God, to trust in His providence, and to secure His co-operation. He is thus fitted for eternal life, for its employment, for its revelations. (T. D. Woolsey, D. D.)
Limitation of human knowledge
Dr. Ludlow, my professor in the Theological Seminary, taught me a lesson I have never forgotten. While putting a variety of questions to him that were perplexing, he turned upon me somewhat in sternness, but more in love, and said, “Mr. Talmage, you will have to let God know some things that you don’t.” (T. De Witt Talmage.)
God’s plans are in His own keeping
You cannot set the world right, or the times, but you can do something for the truth; and all you can do will certainly tell if the work you do is for the Master, who gives you your share, and so the burden of responsibility is lifted off. This assurance makes peace, satisfaction, and repose possible even in the partial work done upon earth. Go to the man who is carving a stone for a building; ask him where is that stone going, to what part of the temple, and how is he going to get it into place, and what does he do? He points you to the builder’s plans. This is only one stone of many. So, when men shall ask where and how is your little achievement going into God’s plan, point them to your Master, who keeps the plans, and then go on doing your little service as faithfully as if the whole temple were yours to build. (Phillips Brooks.)
God has His own plans
At this time, all ever the trees, and throughout the grass, is deposited the condensed moisture o! the air; and silent dewdrops are on every flower and every leaf. If you go and look at them in the darkness of to-night, there is no form or comeliness in them; but by and by God will have wheeled the sun in its circuit so that it shall look over the horizon; and the moment its light strikes these hidden drops, small and scattered, every one shall glow as if it were a diamond, and all nature shall be lighted up with myriad fires, each reflecting something of the Divine glory. God has His own plans. He never told us in full what they are. We know this, however: that we are fragmentary in our lives; that it takes many to make the one idea of God; that the work of past generations is hinged upon this, and that the work of this generation is hinged upon that of generations to come; and that God sits in sublimity of counsel, putting part with part, so that when we see the connected whole, the things that now seem most insignificant will shine out in wonderful beauty and magnificence. (H. W. Beecher.)
Human knowledge limited
There are things in every life which we cannot understand now--troubles, disappointments, sickness, poverty, death--but the time will come when all will be plain. I suppose no one at the beginning knows the full meaning of his life, or for what some of his experiences are training him. Robert Raikes had no vision of the millions studying in Sunday schools every Sunday; he only saw his present work and duty. John Bunyan, shut up in prison for the best twelve years of his life, while longing to preach the gospel, and thousands were eager to hear him, had no conception that “Pilgrim’s Progress” would enable him to preach to millions instead of thousands, and for centuries instead of years. So we, in our feeble beginnings, our narrow circumstances, our trials and disappointments, may know that if we are faithful we shall understand hereafter the meaning of all, and rejoice in the way God has led us. (F. N. Peloubet.)
God’s decisions unknown
I remember once sailing over the crystal waters of Lake Superior. We had come out of the muddy waters of Lake Huron during the night, and early in the morning I came on deck, and looking over the prow, started back in instinctive terror, for, looking down into the clear waters of that lake, it seemed to me as though our keel was just going to strike on the sharp-pointed rocks below; but I was looking through fifty or sixty feet of clear water at the great rock bed of the lake over which we were sailing. Now we endeavour in vain to fathom God’s judgments. As by a great deep they are hidden from us. But by and by, through the mystery we shall see and shall understand. (Lyman Abbott, D. D.)
Ensnared by inquisitiveness
How actively inquisitive are some people: and into what strange predicaments does this their strong propensity land them! They remind us of the crested anolis (Xiphosurus velifer), a species of the lizard tribe. It is a timid yet restlessly inquisitive animal; for although it hides itself with instinctive caution on hearing the approach of a footstep, it is of so curious a nature that it must needs poke its head out of its hiding-place, and so betray itself in spite of its timidity. So absorbed, indeed, is the anolis in gratifying its curiosity, that it will allow itself to be captured in a noose, and often falls a victim to the rude and inartificial snares made by children. (Scientific Illustrations.)
The sufficiency of human knowledge
Here on earth we are as soldiers fighting in a foreign land, which understand not the plan of the campaign, and have no need to understand it, seeing well what is at our hand to be done. Let us do it like soldiers, with submission, with courage, with a heroic joy: “Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” Behind us, behind each one of us, lie six thousand years of human effort, human conquest: before us is the boundless Time, with its as yet uncreated and unconquered continents and Eldorados, which even we have to conquer, to create; and from the bosom of Eternity shine for us celestial guiding stars. (T. Carlyle.)
Mysteries in nature
Do not understand me at all as saying that there is no mystery about the planets’ motions. There is just the one single mystery--gravitation; and it is a very profound one. How it is that an atom of matter can attract another atom, no matter how great the distance, no matter what intervening substance there may be--how it will act upon it, or, at least, behave as if it acted upon it, I do not know, I cannot tell. Whether they are pushed together by means of an intervening ether, or what is the action, I cannot understand. It stands with me along with the fact that when I will that my arm shall rise, it rises. It is inscrutable. All the explanations that have been given of it seem to me merely to darken counsel with words and no understanding. They do not remove the difficulty at all. If I were to say what I really believe, it would be that the motions of the spheres of the material universe stand in some such relation to Him in Whom all things exist--the ever-present and omnipotent God--as the motions of my body do to my will; I do not know how, and never expect to know. (Prof. C. A. Young.)
Prophecy: purpose of
I am profoundly affected by the grandeur of prophecy. God unveils the frescoed wall of the future, not so much that we may count the figures, and measure the robes, and analyse the pigments; but that, gazing upon it, our imaginations may be enkindled, and hope be inspired, to bear us through the dismal barrenness of the present. Prophecy was not addressed to the reason, nor to the statistical faculty, but to the imagination; and I should as soon think of measuring love by the scales of commerce, or of admiring flowers by the rule of feet and inches, or of applying arithmetic to taste and enthusiasm, as calculations and figures to these grand evanishing signals which God waves in the future only to tell the world which way it is to march. (H. W. Beecher.)
Prophecy: fantastic interpretation of
All along the Oker Thal, in the Hartz, there are huge rocks towering up among the fir-clad hills, to which the peasants have appended names according as they fancy them to bear resemblance to chairs, horses, cobblers, or cocked hats. The likeness in most cases is such as only fancy can make out when she is in her most vigorous mood; nevertheless this rock must needs be called a man, and that a church, and there has no doubt been many a quarrel between rival observers who have discovered each a different image in the one pile of rock; yet the stones are not churches, chairs, or cobblers, and the whole business is childish and nonsensical. Interpreters of prophecy during the last few centuries have been most of them in the same position; one of them sees in the sublimities of the Revelation the form of Louis Napoleon, where two or three hundred years ago half Christendom saw the Pope, and the other half Martin Luther. The other day one of the seers saw Sebastopol in the prophecies, and now another detects the Suez Canal, and we feel pretty sure that the Council at Rome will soon be spied out in Daniel or Ezekiel. The fact is, when fancy is their guide men wander in a maze. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Speculations versus duty
While a minister was riding in a railway carriage he was saluted by a member of an exceedingly litigious and speculative sect. “Pray, sir,” said the sectary, “what is your opinion of the seven trumpets?” “I am not sure,” said the preacher, “that I understand your question; but I hope you will comprehend mine. What think you of the fact that your seven children are growing up without God and without hope? You have a Bible-reading in your house for your neighbours, but no family prayer for your children.” The nail was fastened in a sure place; enough candour of mind remained in the professor to enable him to profit by the timely rebuke. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
But ye shall receive power when the Holy Ghost is come upon you.
The gift of power
At first sight this promise seems to be Christ’s response to a universal craving. There is nothing which so awakens man’s ambition as power. It is sweeter to him than bread to the hungry, or home to the wanderer, or sunrise to the benighted; of all the Divine attributes this is the one he most intensely and incessantly covets. The old classic fable of Prometheus, who made a figure and shaped it after the beauty of a man, and then animated it with fire which he had dared to steal from heaven, is only the thinly-veiled record of man’s fierce ambition to create. Powerless to create, he seeks control. He has summoned almost every known element and force in nature to his service, and compelled them to do for him what he cannot do for himself. He has blasted the rock unshaken by the ages, and hurled its ponderous masses into the air as easily as a child throws up its tennis ball. He has tunnelled the mountain and bridged the river to make way for his flying locomotive. He has engirdled the earth with a belt of wire, and through it swifter than thought flashed his messages from pole to pole. From the masterful schoolboy to the statesman on the topmost ladder, and the monarch of a hundred isles, this passion for power is all pervading. The very apostles, to whom these words were addressed, were in this, as in other respects, “men of like passions with ourselves.” Observe, this love of power may be as legitimate as it is natural. Its quality is determined by its motive. Still power may be beneficent as well as baneful. Now, mark the power with which Christ promises to endow His disciples.
1. Not physical power. Not like that possessed by Samson when he carried upon his back the gates of Gaza, or with the jaw-bone of an ass slew the Philistines heaps upon heaps. It had nothing at all to do with bone, and muscle, and sinew. Men have sometimes forgotten this. They once thought that they could resist the spread of the gospel by physical means. The very efforts which men have employed to suppress the truth have been made the means of exalting it to supremacy. Just as the blast which rocks the giant oak makes it strike its roots deeper and wider in the earth; or, just as the tempest which beats down the tree carries its winged seeds over land and sea to distant continents, there to take root and become trees themselves, so persecution has this twofold tendency--it makes the persecuted cling closer than ever to the truth for which they are assailed, and prompts them to spread it more widely abroad than ever. On the other hand, brute force can no more help the gospel than hinder it. Persecution never made saints ver. If you want to infuse new life into a tree you do not smite it with an axe, but expose it to the genial breath of spring. The weapons of their warfare were not to be carnal.
2. Nor was it the power of logic. The disciples were to convert souls, and mere argument cannot do this. You have all seen sheet lightnings; they flash, they dazzle, but they do not kill. And arguments, after all, are only sheet lightnings, dazzling, enlightening, but seldom or never killing in the sense in which Paul says he was killed.
3. Nor was it the power of eloquence, though that is not to be despised. Oh, yes! there is a tremendous power in words. They breathe, they burn, they fly about the world charged with electric fire and force; but there is one thing they cannot do--they cannot regenerate a soul. You may electrify a corpse. By bringing it into contact with a battery you may make it imitate the living; but it is after all only the semblance, not the reality of life.
4. It was spiritual power--the power of the Holy Ghost. “We can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth us.” In other words, it was the power of a living union with a living God. Need I say that this promise of Christ is as much ours as it was the apostles’? It has been fulfilled, but not exhausted. There is an essential difference between the two. “A postage stamp once used can be used no longer; but it is not so with a bank note. The note may be old and torn, stained and soiled; it may have been cut in halves and pasted together again. It does not matter; whoever holds it can present it and demand its equivalent in sterling gold. So is it with a Divine promise. It may pass from lip to lip, and from age to age, and be fulfilled a thousand times; still you may present it and plead it before God in the assurance of success.” The light of the sun may fail, the waters of the ocean may be dried up, but the riches of Christ’s fulness are the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. And we need this promised power as much as the apostles did. Nothing else can supply its place. It is to the Church what steam is to the machinery. Suppose you are examining the propelling powers of the Majestic or the Teutonic--the two most magnificent specimens of naval architecture the world has ever seen. You look down into the engine-room on the polished levers, and cranks, and shafts, and the innumerable wheels made to revolve there; and you go home amazed at the inventive power which they represent. And yet in reality you have seen no power. There must be put into that machinery a power, a hidden power, and then, and not till then, will those wheels revolve majestically, and the vessel speed over the water lightly and swiftly as a bird with outspread wings. Who amongst us dare assert that the Church’s successes are equal to her opportunities? Why, then, is it we are making so little impression on the world? Is it not because we are too much under its influence? The fabled giant Animus was invincible so long as he was in direct communication with his mother earth. Overthrown by the wrestler, the moment he touched the ground out of which he was born his strength revived. Hercules discovered the secret of his invigoration, and, lifting him from the earth, crushed him in the air. We are in the same danger from the world, and to escape it we must get nearer to the source of our spiritual strength. Away from Christ she is like an army without ammunition and cut off from its base of operations. Near to Him she will breathe the air, and walk in the light, and wield the might of heaven. She shall receive power--power to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. And does not the Church need more power to deal with the manifold evils and enemies by which she is surrounded? There is scepticism. We live in an age of doubt--doubt all the more dangerous because it is courteous rather than coarse. Well, then, another evil with which, as Churches, we have to contend is indifference to spiritual truth. Men are absorbed in material pursuits and enjoyments. It is sometimes argued that the Church is trying to do too much; that she is unequal to the work she is undertaking; that Christian service is already so overgrown that, like a man with a large frame and a feeble heart, we are staggering under the weight of the tasks we have undertaken; that the spiritual power of the Church is unequal to the vast and varied machinery it has to keep in motion. This is, doubtless, true when the resources which the Church possess in itself are alone considered; but add Christ to them, and then the disproportion is turned the other way. “All power”--power of every kind and without limit--is given unto Him, There cannot be too much work when there is so much Divine power to sustain it. When the tide is out the estuary seems far too wide for the tiny stream which crawls through the centre; but when the tide comes in the whole expanse is covered and the water rushes right up to the greensward. Brethren, do we desire this power? Then let us ask for it. Remember that it has its source outside the Church and human life altogether. “Ye shall receive power”--receive it as a gift; not generate it from within; not attain it by straining present powers or enlarging present capacity. Sometimes we forget this, and talk about getting up a revival. You might as well talk about getting up a thunder shower. Having this power, let us use it. The disciples received it that they might be “witnesses unto Christ.” Divinely bestowed power always brings responsibility; it is always given for use. Keep any of God’s gifts for your own selfish purposes, and they will speedily get the canker and the rot. (J. Le Huray.)
The Lord’s last promise to the apostles
Christ’s last words are a promise and declare the vocation of all Christians of every station and class. They are all called to testify to Christ, but they are not all equally qualified for the duty. The text shows--
I. That there is a condition of attachment to Christ in which due fitness for this vocation does not exist. The apostles were in this condition. They had personal acquaintance with Christ, believed in Him, had knowledge of the facts, and had natural ability. Still these did not confer the testifying “power.” So with many Christians now. They know, believe, desire, are eloquent, etc., but lack the mystic energy in the absence of which sermons fail to convert.
II. That due fitness for the great vocation comes by a Divine bestowal. “After that the Holy Ghost is come.” The bestowal came in a miraculous manner but in answer to prayer. Thereupon the apostles were constrained to de what the Lord had commanded. So nowadays. When God has given special ability, and adds an influence which constrains to its exercise, no wonder that striking results follow.
III. That this power should be exercised when and where it is received. They were to wait at Jerusalem until they received a Divine gift, and there employ it. Had they been permitted to seek their own pleasure they would have chosen another place. So we must begin where and when God blesses us, however disagreeable the effort may be.
IV. The manner of spreading the gospel. Here we have a plan of the acts of the apostles.
1. Jerusalem (Acts 3:1-26; Acts 4:1-37; Acts 5:1-42; Acts 6:1-7).
2. All Judaea (Acts 6:8-15; Acts 7:1-60; Acts 8:1-3).
3. Samaria, which had long been “White unto harvest” (Acts 8:4-40).
4. The uttermost part of the earth (9 to close).
This view suggests the importance of evangelising cities. If Paris were made Christian how great would be the blessing to Europe; if London how easy the conversion of the world. (W. Hudson.)
The call to apostleship
This verse is of interest as involving the condition of all success, which in every line of occupation is made out of power converged upon an object. Means in our hand, an end in our eye, resources and purposes, are the alpha and omega of success. Our failures, therefore, are due sometimes to our attempting too much, but our saddest failures are due to the indecision of our aim. Men, especially in the higher relations of life, are unproductive, not because they are feeble, but because they are purposeless. A purpose lying athwart the track of a man’s energies is what a burning glass is lying across the path of the sunbeam, a means of tension and the pledge of result. At this solemn moment, then, in which Christ turns over mankind into the hands of the eleven, His last service is to tell them of the power which shall be wrought in them by the Holy Ghost, and what they shall do with it. Christ had spent three years and a half in making Himself the most real of all real things, and now as He ascends He says, “What is real to you, go out into the midst of men and make real to them; and so soon as the power of the Holy Ghost is come upon you, ye shall be witnesses unto Me,” etc. On this basis there are some things proper to be addressed to--
I. Christians as individuals. The science of mechanics is reducible to statics which concerns itself with forces in equilibrium, and dynamics which treats of forces in motion. One gives us physical condition; the other physical agency. The New Testament is an inspired treatise on spiritual mechanics, and expounds the doctrines of spiritual statics and dynamics, and exhibits to us Christianity as a splendid equilibrium of the soul, and as an energy that upsets equilibrium. The trouble with a great many of our Christians is that they never get beyond the statics. They stop with Christianity as an inward composure. They do not reach the point of seizing Christ s peace, and hurling it in all its holy equipoise into the midst of unholy men to their unutterable discomposure. They stop with reading the Four Gospels of condition without going on to read the fifth Gospel of “Acts.” And if we have not the serenity of spirit which the apostles had, and the same passionate ambition to make Christ a reality in the minds and hearts of those about us, it is not because we are not their equals, but because we have not let Christ become as real to us. If they had stopped with being disciples, then we should have said that Christianity meant nothing but discipleship. But inasmuch as they went on from being absorbent disciples to radiant apostles, then Christianity means purpose as much as power; making others Christians as much as being Christians ourselves. These things when prayerfully considered will create a deep sense of individual responsibility. The anointing of the Holy Ghost sets each one of us in the line of the true apostolic succession; and, as after the ascension of Christ mankind lay in the hands of the original apostles for them to convert, so to-day the conversion of the world pertains to us as their spiritual successors. If each Christian were to make one convert each year, within eight years the whole population of the globe would be at the foot of the Cross!
II. Christians in the associate relation of a Church. Individual Christianity means individual apostleship. What advantage does Christianity gain by being organised?
1. Negatively. A church does not exist, properly--
2. Positively. By indicating what the Church does not exist for, we have already implied the object for which it does exist. A Church, as an efficiency of God for the conversion of men, is the interweaving of the individual strands of strength fused into a solid bolt of force and hurled at the adversaries of the Lord; and no desultory skirmishing of individual Christians will begin to take the place of the grand concentrated bombardment of a confederate Church. We regularly proceed upon that principle in the achievement of large secular results. We organise for purposes of government, warfare, improvement, revolution, and discovery. Why not for Christ? (C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)
I. The preparation for power (verses 1-3).
1. The training which they had received. They were with Jesus when He “began both to do and to teach.”
2. The facts that made their faith in Him unwavering, courageous, conquering--“He also showed Himself alive after His passion by many proofs,” etc. Faith in a risen Christ gave to their preaching a tremendous power.
3. Special instruction “speaking the things concerning the kingdom of God.” Samples of this speaking may be found in Luke 24:25-28; Luke 24:45-49.
II. The baptism of power (verses 4,5).
1. This was the baptism that long had been promised. It was “the promise of the Father” (Isaiah 44:5; Joel 2:28, etc.)
2. This was that which had been promised by Christ, when He said it was “expedient that He should go away” (John 14:16; John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7-15).
3. This was to be unlike the baptism of John. Water was the symbol--this the reality.
4. For this baptism the apostles were to wait. The ship can afford to wait for its sails, the army for its general, the traveller for his compass. Why at Jerusalem? (Isaiah 2:1-4; Micah 4:1-3).
III. The source of power (verses 6-8).
1. The false idea. “Lord, dost Thou at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” The old thought of a temporal kingdom still uppermost!
2. The true idea. “But ye shall receive power,” not temporal such as they had coveted, but spiritual and supernatural. That power is worth coveting and waiting for.
IV. The result of power (verse 8). “Ye shall be My witnesses.” There is no successful witnessing for Christ without this power. Christ’s disciples are all-powerful with it.
V. Ascending to power (verses 9-11).
1. The ascension. The reception of power by the disciples depended upon His ascension (Luke 24:49; see also Acts 2:33; John 16:7).
2. The return. “Shall so come,” etc. No need, however, to stand idly gazing into heaven. Before He went, Christ gave “to each one his work” (Mark 13:34). Three watchwords He has given--watch, pray, work. The harvest is hastened by cultivation--not by counting the days from the time the seed was sown.
VI. Praying for power (verses 12-14). The disciples had the promise of power, “not many days hence,” but they did not wait in idleness for it to be fulfilled. The promise is ours to-day as much as then it was the disciples’. Praying, as they did, a Pentecost may come to us as certainly and as bounteously as it came to them. (S. S. Times.)
The Church to-day has many things, but she lacks one thing--power. Peter bade the lame man rise and walk. To-day, Christian men say, “Gold and silver have I such as I have give I thee.” We buy crutches for cripples, and write apologetics for Christianity. Peter gave strength, and the man was an argument no one could answer.
I. We feel this want of power in our own lives; we lack grip when we seize a great subject, or a sinning soul. This consciousness of weakness palsies action, compels compromise, cautions delay. Paul lived, yet no longer he but Christ in him. We live, but not Christ. When the heart is weak in its action, the members suffer, lack warmth and vigour; all we come in contact with, home, business, city, nation, feel our lack of power; children grow up uncontrolled, business leans to the side of dishonesty, government is corrupt. The type of Christianity of to-day is that of the disciples before Pentecost--“in the temple praising and blessing God,” and intellectually busy about times and seasons. In the business world everything is quiet; men say manufacturing has been overdone; the mills have glutted the markets. So in the religious world, some tell us the market is overstocked with creeds and denominations; there is no call for religion. That is not true; the needs are as many and as real as ever. The Church is like a great mill by the river side--machinery, raw material, market all right, but the water-courses are dry--the power is wanting. On the other hand, it is the business of Christianity to make a market, not wait for one. The Shepherd sought the lost sheep. Salt and light are to be aggressive, making a market. Plant a post; you wouldn’t suppose there is anything in the soil to furnish a market, a mass-meeting of posts would decide there is no call for us here. Take up the post and plant a tree; what a commotion there is below the surface; the rootlets push out in every direction and lay hold of the properties of the soil; above the soil buds broaden into leaves, the air is broken into currents and eddies, beasts of the field gather under the helpful shadows, birds are able to find building sites. The tree finds a market in earth and air and animals. A measure of meal finds no market; a handful of leaven makes one. We are not simply to be stirred up and mixed with the world, as lifeless and dry as others, but are to carry leavening power with us. An iron post placed in a public park does not disperse darkness. String the electric wire across it, fix the carbon points, now it is a fountain of light. “Ye are the light of the world.” Light compels recognition, all hail, it, it meets need. The first sign of power in the tree is life in itself, in the posts of light on itself; the first proof of power in a disciple is power over himself. From this nerve-centre of self the power thrills along the family, and business and body politic. The word power, dunamis, carries the thought; from the word comes dynamics, the science of moving forces. Another word comes in here too--dynamite. A glance at the family of words will show us what is bound up in the promise. In a Wesleyan chapel a mighty revival was in progress. A visitor scandalised by the excitement rebuked the zealous Wesleyans, saying, “This is all wrong. When Solomon built his temple there was heard neither the sound of hammer, nor saw, nor chisel. “You make too much noise here.” The preacher made reply, “Oh, but we ain’t building, we are blasting.” The preacher was right; he was using dynamite, destroying the kingdom of darkness. Oh for the promised dynamite of the Holy Spirit!
II. This power has its source outside the Church and human life. “Ye shall receive power”; not generate it, nor attain to it by straining present powers, or enlarging present capacities. We cannot whip ourselves into a state of power, as though we were eggs, strike the fire from ourselves by any flint and steel arrangement, lift ourselves into it by force of will, educate ourselves into it by culture of heart or head.
III. The conditions of realising the power. The great discovery of modern science is law. By the study of phenomena we learn the law, by obeying the law we control phenomena. Studying the appearance of the Spirit, the conditions of the appearance, we can learn the law of His appearing; conforming to the law thus learned we can receive the power. There are two instances of His appearing of special interest;
1. When Christ received the Holy Ghost. Christ stands unique in His power. His thoughts give life to every language embodying them; His teachings transform every character embracing them. All this is true of Him after the Spirit came upon Him, not before. John Baptist knew Him not until he saw the Spirit descending. Two simple facts give us the key: Obedience and prayer. When John rebuked Him, He replied, “Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” “Jesus also being baptised and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended.”
2. In the case of the disciples we read that Christ commanded, “Tarry ye in Jerusalem,” and they obeyed; and “all continued in prayer and supplication.” Then when Pentecost came they were all filled with the Holy Ghost. Here we touch a law of nature as well as of spiritual power. He who obeys known law and communes with nature, masters her secrets. In the home the obedient, sympathetic child has power given it by the parents. In your stores the clerk who obeys and communes with you is the one to whom you give power. To the obedient and prayerful now as truly as then, will the Holy Ghost be given, and after that power will come.
IV. When the power comes it must use us. Christ is driven into the desert, and the disciples are scattered, sown broadcast in the waiting world-field of thought and action. Simon Magus offered money for Peter’s power. We cannot control this power; it must control us. (O. P. Gifford.)
The might of the gospel
The gospel is a mighty engine, but only mighty when God has the working of it. (T. Adams.)
Christianity diffused by the apostles
How wonderful is God, in that He can accomplish great ends by insignificant means! Christianity, for example, diffused through the instrumentality of twelve legion of angels, would have been immeasurably inferior as a trophy of omnipotence, to Christianity diffused through the instrumentality of twelve apostles. When l: survey the heavens, with their glorious troop of stars, and am told that the Almighty employs to His own majestic ends the glittering hosts, as they pursue their everlasting march, I experience no surprise; I seem to feel as though the spangled firmament were worthy of being employed by the Creator; and I expect a magnificent consummation from so magnificent an instrumentality. But show me a tiny insect, just floating in the breeze, and tell me that, by and through that insect, God will carry forward the largest and most stupendous of His purposes, and I am indeed filled with amazement; I cannot sufficiently admire a Being who, through that which I could crush with a breath, advances what I cannot measure with thought. (H. Melvill.)
Power indescribable but appreciable
All power is indescribable, but at the same time appreciable. What it is, where it is, how it came, where it goes, its measure, movement, nature, form, or essence, no human skill can discover. We may ask the sunbeam which has such power to fly and to illuminate, the lightning which has such power to scathe, the dew-drop that has power to refresh, the magnet, the fire, the steam, the eye that can see, the ear that can hear, the nerve that can convey the messages of will, we may ask all the agents we see exerting power to render us “an account each of its own power, and all will be dumb. Not the cannon ball on its flight, or the lion in his triumph, not the tempest or the sea, not even pestilence itself, can tell us what is power. If we ask Death who has put all things under his feet, even he has no re.ply; and after we have passed the question, “What is power?” round a mute universe, we mast say, “God has spoken once, yea, twice have I heard this, that power belongeth unto God.” Yet power, in itself so hidden and indescribable, is ever manifest by its effects. An effect demonstrates the presence of a power. Where gunpowder explodes, there must have been fire; where water shoots up through the atmosphere in steam, there must have been heat; where iron moves without mechanical force, a magnet must be; and the absence of the effect is conclusive evidence of the absence of the power from which the effect would have followed. The intellect at once recognises the presence of intellectual power. The feelings, also, faithfully tell whenever an emotional power is brought to bear upon them; and no less surely does the conscience of a man feel when a moral power comes acting upon it. (W. Arthur, M. A.)
Power not in mechanism but in fire
Suppose we saw an army sitting down before a granite fort, and they told us that they intended to batter it down: we might ask them, “How?” They point to a cannon-ball. Well, but there is no power in that; it is heavy, but not more than perhaps a hundred weight: if all the men in the army hurled it against the fort, they would make no impression. They say, “No; but look at the cannon.” Well, there is no power in that. A boy may ride upon it, a bird may perch in its mouth; is is a machine and nothing more. “But look at the powder.” Well, there is no power in that; a child may spill it, a sparrow may peck it. Yet this powerless powder, and powerless ball, are put into the powerless cannon; one spark of fire enters; and then, in the twinkling of an eye, that powder is a flash of lightning, and that ball a thunderbolt. (W. Arthur, M. A.)
Prayer the means of obtaining spiritual power
When John in the Apocalypse saw the Lamb on the throne, before that throne were the seven lamps of fire burning, “which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth”; and it is only by waiting before that throne of grace that we become imbued with the holy fire. When a lecturer on electricity wants to show an example of a human body surcharged with his fire, he places a person on a stool with glass legs. The glass serves to isolate him from the earth, because it will not conduct the electric fluid; were it not for this, however much might be poured into his frame, it would be carried away by the earth; but, when thus isolated from it, he retains all that enters him. You see no fire, you hear no fire; but you are told that it is pouring into him. Presently you are challenged to the proof--asked to come near, and hold your hand close to his person; when you do so, a spark of fire shoots out towards you. If thou, then, wouldst have thy soul surcharged with the fire of God, so that those who come nigh to thee shall feel some mysterious influence out from thee, thou must draw nigh to the source of that fire, to the throne of God and of the Lamb, and shut thyself out from the world. As this is the only way for an individual to obtain spiritual power, so is it the only way for churches. (W. Arthur, M. A.)
Spiritual power recognised
Often when I have had doubts suggested by the infidel I have been able to fling them to the winds with utter scorn because I am distinctly conscious of a power working upon me when I am speaking in the name of the Lord, infinitely transcending any personal power of fluency, and far surpassing any energy derived from excitement such as I have felt when delivering a secular lecture or making a speech--so utterly distinct from such power that I am quite certain it is not of the same order or class as the enthusiasm of the politician or the glow of the orator. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Natural gift no substitute for spiritual power
No natural gift can suffice, and when any men have the power of God, failure is impossible. Yet do not let us suppose there is no room for gifts. If some people make the Cross of Christ of none effect through wisdom of words, others make it of none effect through lack of wisdom. There are some persons who put dulness for piety. Of the wise man we read that he “sought to find out acceptable words”--“words of delight,” as it is literally. And of a greater than Solomon it is recorded that the people heard him gladly. Christianity invites and consecrates every gift of God and every grace and art of which man is capable. There is room for money, enterprise, methods, learning, and genius. All gifts are good when they are lost in the great purpose of the gospel; but any gifts are perilous, just in proportion as preacher or people are conscious of them. In a sham fight everybody admires the uniforms, the music, the horses, the precision of the march. But in a real fight there is a desperate earnestness that cannot stay to admire anything--that just girds itself up for death or victory. If there be the intensity, the downright earnestness, the baptism of fire, which longs to make Christ the conqueror, then the more gifts the better. But if that baptism be lacking, gifts are a peril and a snare. (M. G. Pearse.)
The reception of spiritual power
I was in the train some time ago, and was thinking of this higher life, and it seemed so bright and beautiful--like a star far above me--and my eye fell on the word “receive,” and I saw it was not my climbing up but the Lord coming down. It was early spring, and as we stopped at a station it was raining, and I noticed a little cottage where an old woman had put out a pitcher to catch the water, and it was filled to the brim; I said to myself, “My poor heart can never make a garden for my Lord, but at least He can take my broken pitcher of a heart and fill it abundantly.” “Ye shall receive power.” Do you see that this is His purpose? Then surrender yourself. (M. G. Pearse.)
The pleasure of realised power
There are few things more pleasant than to work with power. A little child balancing itself upon its tiny feet and running alone, a schoolboy making the treasures of knowledge his own, a lad learning a trade easily and yet accurately, a tradesman conducting an extensive concern with complete system and perfect order, an artist colouring canvas or chiselling marble, a man of letters writing books that shall never die, a man of science unlocking the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, an orator taking captive by his words the eyes, ears, thoughts, and souls of a multitude of hearers, diplomatists and politicians arousing and hushing the voice of the people and turning the hearts of princes whither they will, the commander leading a fleet or an army to victory, are illustrations of working power, upon which we cannot look without interest, and of which we cannot speak without excitement. And as more power is needed to deliver than to direct, to redeem than to sustain, we look with greater interest upon the physician healing sickness, and upon the surgeon removing diseased flesh or bone. It is a glorious sight, power employed to save! A fireman entering a burning dwelling and plucking the sleeping inmates from the flames, even the water-dog snatching a child from a watery grave, are great and glorious illustrations of power put forth for salvation--but a greater than these, a greater than all, is here. (S. Martin.)
Power from on high
Let us look upon the subject--
I. On its negative side. It is not--
1. Physical power. Current literature speaks of “muscular Christianity”; but that is not the Christianity of the New Testament. Subsequently, men thought they could assist the gospel by bringing it into alliance with political organisations. But no. Persecutions never made saints yet. The axe can never infuse new life into the tree. But the spring can.
2. Miraculous power. They were already endued with this. But this cannot save men. Men saw Jesus performing miracles, and still remained in their unbelief.
3. The power of eloquence. I have seen, under powerful sermons, stout-hearted sinners weep and pray, but when the electric current which flowed from the preacher subsided, they fell back to their former torpor. Many so-called revivals are but electric shocks disturbing the dead, but leaving them dead notwithstanding. Eloquence, like the wind, moves the sea from without, but that which saves must move it from its own depths. Eloquence works upon the soul; that which saves must work in the soul. One can compose a sermon in which the most critical hearer cannot detect a flaw: but he will-forget it in half an hour. It is so refined that it shoots right through the soul instead of entering into it and remaining there. Polish is commendable up to the point of showing instead of concealing the material underneath. I never like to see an article of furniture so highly polished that I cannot say of what timber it is made.
4. The power of logic. Conquer a man in argument, and, as a rule, you only confirm him in his error. I saw a picture entitled, “Conquered but not Subdued.” The young lad was evidently conquered by his mother. There he stood, with his face half-turned towards the wall: but there was determination in the mouth, defiance in the eye, anger in the nostrils. Drive a sinner in argument to a corner, so that he cannot move, yet he can sink, and sink he will to his own hell. Sheet-lightnings dazzle, but never kill. And arguments after all are only sheet-lightnings.
5. The power of thought. The Bible does not claim superiority on account of its ideas, although it contains the sublimest. You may be the best Biblical scholar in the land, and be at last a castaway. The history of preaching abundantly proves this. Read the sermon by Peter on the day of Pentecost, and it will not astonish you with the profundity of its thoughts. The sermons on the Mount and on Mars’ hill stand higher on the intellectual side; and yet they made but few converts. Look again from the pulpit to books. Take the” Analogy” by Butler; no book perhaps displays more intellectual power; yet who can point to it as the means of bringing him to Jesus? But read the “Dairyman’s Daughter,” or the “Anxious Inquirer,” without a millionth part of its mental power; but there are thousands who trace their conversion to these books. I do not wish to cast discredit on any of these excellences. They are very valuable in their own places. If a man is possessed of them he can do nothing better than consecrate them on the altar of Christianity. But if man is to be saved, a new power must come to the field.
II. On its positive side. In the Gospel it is called “power from on high.”
1. The great want of the world was a power to uplift it out of its state of degradation and sin. Previous to Pentecost the world was sinking lower and lower in the scale of morals. But since humanity has been gradually ascending. Physically we know that this earth is subject to the attraction of other planets. The same fact holds true spiritually. There is a power working mightily in the children of disobedience, and the source of it is in darker regions than our own. But another power has come to the field, a power from on high; the contest must be long and terrible; but the higher power is gradually winning, and will deliver the world from the grasp of evil. Here it is called “the power of the Holy Ghost.” We often picture God as looking down pitifully upon us from His heaven. But we are also taught that the great God has descended upon men, and thrown into their hearts the infinite impulse of His own eternal nature. The disciples, as we see them in the Gospel, are cowards; in the Acts they are heroes. The Christian life is Divine. Christianity is not a remembrance of the supernatural in the past, but its perpetuation throughout all ages. Every true ministry is heavy with supernatural influences. We do not perform miracles, but if our ministry is not a continuation of the supernatural in the realm of matter, it is a continuation of it in the realm of mind; and of the two, the latter is the higher kind. Luke tells us that in his Gospel he narrated what Jesus began both to do and to teach; here he goes on to tell what Jesus continued to do and to teach through men; and Church history continues the tale. “The works that I do ye also shall do,” etc.
2. What was the effect of this Divine baptism on the disciples?
3. What is the effect upon the congregation? Many are turned to God. On the consecration of the Temple of Solomon, the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud; much less could the people stand to criticise the work of art, or to admire the amount and richness of the gold. In the same manner the power from on high hides everything but itself. Many a critic went to hear Whitefield with hostile intentions; but in less than five minutes they had totally forgotten their sinister art. (J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)
Power from on high
I. The being to be manifested.
1. The Holy Spirit is represented as having all the attributes of Deity, distinct from, yet united with, the Father and the Son. This is not sufficiently dwelt upon. In the apostolic age there were those who did not “so much as know whether there were any Holy Ghost.” This is not your case, but it is needful to remind you lest you should withhold from Him His proper homage. That He is God is matter of explicit revelation--not in the Arian or Sabellian sense--not an illumination but an essence, not an influence but a Person. And to the blasphemers who deny His Divinity we hurl the thunderbolt, “Ananias, why hath Satan put it into thy heart to lie unto the Holy Ghost? Thou hast not lied,” etc.
2. It is to the Spirit, thus Divine, that belongs the right of induction to the holy ministry; and however men may place their pretentions or trace their geneaology they are intruders without the call and unction of the Spirit.
3. As the Spirit is thus the originating source, so is His perpetuating grace the means of success in the ministry. This is everywhere asserted in the prophets. “Not by might,” etc.
II. The result of his manifestation. “Ye shall receive power.”
1. The power of God is the attribute which is earliest to impress the mind. It is impossible to send the thought out into the universe without discovering its manifestations. It lurks in the minutest and is exhibited in the mightiest phenomena.
2. And as it is the earliest, so it is the attribute of which men are most keenly coveteous. The fable of Prometheus, who made the figure of a man, and then animated it with the fire which he had dared to steal from heaven, is only a thinly veiled record of man’s fierce ambition to create. Man, the master-mind, would stand in the midst of the elements and say, “Ye are vassals: work for me.” And if from the world of nature you pass up into the world of mind you find the same coveteousness from the child-dictator of the nursery to the monarch of a hundred isles. Now as the apostles were men of like passions with ourselves they were under the influence of this desire. There was an effort |o reserve seats on either side of the Redeemer in His kingdom for the sons of Zebedee. And here was asked, “Lord, wilt Thou,” etc. Now this love of power, as it is an instinct, is not criminal. The God who implanted it had wise purposes in view. The gospel does not annihilate a solitary passion, only it directs those which were vehicles of rebellion into instruments of blessing. The Saviour therefore here rebukes unhallowed curiosity, but answers prayer. “Ye shall receive power,” that is what you want and ye shall have it. When Pentecost came they saw how infinitely superior to all royalties was the kingdom they were to establish. Without this power the most perfect organisation and the most exquisite appliances are valueless. But give us this and the stammerer shall be an Apollos, and the stripling with the sling and stone shall be as an angel of the Lord.
III. The design of this manifestation.
1. That the Church may testify to the world. Power Divinely given is to be used for Divine ends. God imprisons no force in aimless bondage. There is power in the lightning, but it is not to dazzle but to purify. There is power in the frantic breaker, and in the careering cloud; but they are all true and loyal servants in the vast palace in which the King of the universe has lodged His favourite creature man. And as in the physical so in the moral sphere. God’s gifts are not given to be hoarded, despised, or abused. Every endowment of mind--the athletic reason, the lordly will, the creative fancy, the eloquent utterance, every communication of grace, and every attainment of privilege are all conferred upon as individually to minister as the rest of the universe ministers.
2. We are witnesses for Jesus. A crucified, risen, and exalted Christ will charm the heart of the nineteenth as it charmed the heart of the first century; and though scoffers deride it, cowards hesitate about it, and traitors betray it; it is the only testimony which the Holy Ghost will endorse with power. (W. M. Punshon, LL. D.)
Power from on high
I. The characteristics of the Holy Spirit in His descent on the apostles and the Church. He was given as a Spirit of--
1. Knowledge and understanding. Witness the change in the apostle’s views of Christ’s Messiahship and death before and after. So now truth like a transparent dial becomes illuminated. The eunuch was perplexed till Philip joined him. Compare one frequent expression, “I see.”
2. Faith. A great difference between knowing and believing. A man may come and see, but go away without faith. Not so at Pentecost. Noah did not stand outside to admire the ark. He entered in and was safe.
3. Holiness and prayer. Holiness is separateness from the world to God. More than ever at Pentecost the disciples proved this. So now men are holy in proportion as they are endured with the Holy Spirit; and in proportion to their holiness will be their power in prayer.
4. Courage. The boldness of Peter was conspicuous. And now the Spirit works such conviction that the most timid become the most brave.
II. The experiences of power answering to their characteristics. The power of--
1. Witness for the truth. A sense of their sincerity was inspired in the hearers. “We believe and therefore speak.”
2. Steadfastness in Christian life notwithstanding human or Satanic opposition. They were proof against tempting bribes, seductive philosophy, fierce persecution.
3. Great example. Men could hate, but could not charge them with inconsistencies. On them was imprinted the likeness of their Master.
4. Untiring zeal. (G. McMichael, B. A.)
Spiritual power for missionary work
The Holy Ghost is the source of all--
I. Spiritual illumination. The Bible, written by holy men moved by the Holy Ghost, is our only standard of revealed truth; but even the Bible is not enough. The spirit of scepticism is abroad, and men hardly know what or what not to believe. Hence the feeble faith and the shallow conviction and extreme worldliness of the Church. But the missionary, as a teacher of a religion Divine in it origin, requires absolutely the power of clear vision and deep conviction. Doubt to him is paralysis, so it is to every teacher, or work becomes a fruitless, burdensome task. Nor can there be any development of a noble, manly Christian character without Divinely illumined, soul-transforming apprehension of truth. How, then, is the Church to protect herself against a noxious intellectual atmosphere, and obtain a clear vision of Divine things? There can be but one answer. The Spirit that guided holy men of old in recording Divine truths is the same Spirit that reveals to the reader their deep significance. The fully illuminated soul is beyond the reach of doubt, for the Spirit so shows the things of Christ that the inward eye beholds them with open vision.
II. Holiness. This is a mighty and indispensable power. The ideal Christian of the New Testament is a “saint,” and so long as that ideal is not embodied in the lives of Christians, the progress of the gospel must be slow and unsatisfactory. The world must be convinced that Christianity is a practical reality, and not a mere system of belief before it will bow to its authority. Books on evidences are useful in their way. But few will read them or be convinced by them. The one argument that will command attention is the holy life, not of ancient, but of modern saints (Isaiah 62:1-3). How long are we to wait for this? There is no reason why we should wait at all. The Holy Spirit is the Author of all holiness.
III. Spiritual unity. This also is indispensable to evangelisation--not uniformity, but such unity in variety that we see in the works of God. “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” What does it matter to the Chinese whether I am an Independent and my brother is an Episcopalian, if we manifest the same Christ-like spirit? But this is only produced by the Holy Spirit. There is nothing more disastrous to missionary and every form of Christian work than the want of unity. Before Pentecost the apostles had their childish rivalries and jealousies; but the baptism of fire burned all that out of them.
IV. Spiritual joy. There are different kinds of joy.
1. Natural. It may be ethical, inspired by an approving conscience; or intellectual, springing from the consciousness of superior gifts and culture; or animal, flowing from a fulness of bodily health or animal spirits; or the joy of harvest, the result of success in worldly pursuits.
2. The unnatural, which consists in the exhilaration produced by stimulants.
3. The spiritual--the joy of conscious pardon, deliverance from sin, fulness of spiritual life, which flows from the Holy Ghost. Without this work is a burden. An unspiritual missionary must be a joyless missionary, and a joyless missionary is a pitiable object.
V. The power of dealing with souls. Some men are richly endowed with this. They may or may not be profound thinkers or eloquent speakers, but when they speak their hearers feel a supernatural power grappling with them.
VI. Prayer. (Griffith John.)
The old gospel preached with new spiritual power
When I was preaching at Farwell Hall, Chicago, I never worked harder to prepare my sermons than I did then. I preached and preached; but it was beating against the air. A good woman used to say, “Mr. Moody, you don’t seem to have power in your preaching.” Oh, my desire was that I might have a fresh anointing! I requested this woman and a few others to come and pray with me every Friday at four o’clock. Oh, how piteously I prayed that God might fill the empty vessel! After the fire in Chicago, I was in New York, and going into the Bank on Wall Street, it seemed as if I felt a strange and mighty power coming over me. I went up to the hotel, and there in my room I wept before God, and cried, “Oh, my God, stay Thy hand!” He gave me such fulness that it seemed more than I could contain. May God forgive me if I should seem to speak in a boastful way; but I do not know that I have preached a sermon since but God has given me some soul. I seem a wonder to you, but I am a greater wonder to myself. These are the same sermons I preached in Chicago word for word. They are not new sermons; it is not a new gospel; but the old gospel with the Holy Ghost of power. (D. L. Moody.)
The Holy Ghost awakens ability as well as communicates a power
The gifts of the Holy Ghost are powers, the fellowship of the Holy Ghost is a source of power. I see a man hungry, and I give him money: that money is a power to buy bread; but the hungry man is destitude through lack of ability to earn his bread. I devote myself to that man, awaken a spirit of self-dependence and self-respect, arouse his dormant energies, quicken his whole nature, and lead him into a path of honest industry, and now I have given him not a power, but power. An ignorant man applies to me for enlightenment on some particular subject; I answer his questions, and the knowledge I have given him is a power, but I awaken a thirst for all knowledge in that man, and I lead him to fountains of information, and now I have endowed him not with a power, but with power. I see a man timid and feeble in his whole nature, I draw near to him, I quiet his fears, awaken hope and inspire him with courage, and he becomes, under my influence, sanguine and brave. To this man I give no powers or a power, but power. And thus, while the Holy Ghost, by endowing men with knowledge, wisdom, ability to work miracles and to speak with tongues, bestows particular powers, by entering into fellowship with them He communicates vital energy and general ability. Hitherto the Holy Spirit had not entered into full fellowship with the spirits of men, but now He is to dwell with all Christ’s disciples. Now if he who walketh with wise men shall be wise, if as iron sharpeneth iron so doth the countenance of a man his friend, what must be the effects to Christ’s witnesses of communion with the Holy Ghost! (S. Martin.)
Divine power to be carefully transmitted
Here at one end is the great fountain ever brimming. Draw from it ever so much, it sinks not one hair’s-breadth in its pure basin. Here, on the other side, is an intermittent flow, sometimes in scanty driblets, sometimes in painful drops, sometimes more full and free, on the pastures of the wilderness. Wherefore these jerks and spasms? It must be something stopping the pipe. Yes, of course. God’s might is ever the same, but our capacity of receiving and transmitting that might varies, and with it varies the energy with which that unchanging power is exerted in the world. (A. Maclaren, D. D)
Power in excess of organisation
Machinery saves manual toil, and multiplies force. But we may have too heavy machinery for what engineers call the boiler power--too many wheels and shafts for the steam we have to drive them with. What we want is not less organisation or other sorts of it, but more force.
Latent power in the Church
It is impossible to overestimate, or rather to estimate, the power that lies latent in our Churches. We talk of the power latent in steam--latent till Watt evoked its spirit from the waters, and set the giant to turn the iron arms of machinery. We talk of the power that was latent in the skies till science climbed their heights, and seizing the spirit of the thunder, chained it to our service--abolishing distance, outstripping the wings of time, and flashing our thoughts across rolling seas to distant continents. Yet what are these to the moral power that lies asleep in the congregations of our country and of the Christian world? And why latent? Because men and women neither appreciate their individual influence, nor estimate aright their own individual responsibilities. They cannot do everything; therefore they do nothing. They cannot blaze like a star, and, therefore, they won’t shine like a glow-worm; and so they are content that the few work, and that the many look on. Not thus the woods are clothed in green, but by every little leaf expanding its own form. Not thus are fields covered with golden corn, but by every stalk of grain ripening its own head. Not thus does the coral reef rise from the depths of ocean, but by every little insect building its own rocky cell. (T. Guthrie.)
And ye shall be witnesses unto Me.--
Our Lord did not cut short the apostles’ speculations to stop there; he gathered up the broken ends of their energy and fastened them to our immediate work. If the planets were to stand still, they would be drawn into the central fire and consumed. It is necessary to their well-being that they should be flung with all their force on a path of activity. So, unless Christians are thrown out into a course of vigorous action, they will be drawn into an orbit so narrow that action will be no longer possible.
I. The qualification for this service.
1. Although the apostles were saved, they were not fit to work any deliverance in the earth by their own wisdom or strength. Their demand for fire might have consumed the adversaries, but it could not have converted them. Wanting the Spirit even they were inclined to persecute, and for the same reason their self-styled successors have persecuted in all subsequent times.
2. The Spirit is like the air. We could not live without air--the sun would not warm us but for it. The sun’s heat sustains life; but the atmosphere communicates that heat. The earth, again, is dependent for its supply of water on the air, which obtains it from the ocean and pours it on the land. So the disciples in every age obtain grace from the Lord through the ministry of the Spirit.
II. The nature of this service.
1. Whom Christ saves from sin He employs in the world. The liberated captive is sent to fight against his former master. Christians have need of Christ and Christ has need of them. The simple fact that they are on earth not in heaven is proof that there is something for them to do here, and if they are not doing it they are either no Christians, or Christians that grieve Christ. A broken limb hurts more than a severed one, and Christ is hurt by those members of His who do not witness for Him.
2. This is an honourable but difficult function. In the case of a witness the real strain comes in cross-examination. You are set down in the market-place having lately worshipped in the house of prayer. Those whom you meet know this, so that there is no need for you to preach. The cross-examination takes place here. It is not now, what do you believe? but is your life consistent? The cross-examiner generally begins on some apparently indifferent theme, but the questions are so linked to the main subject that if, in answering them, anything escapes which clashes with the original evidence the good confession of the witness is thereby destroyed. Over-reaching, unfairness, unkindness to dependents, untruth, evil-speaking, expose the Christian profession to scorn.
III. The sphere. “Beginning at Jerusalem.”
1. The charity that will convert is one that begins at home, but does not end there. If it essay to reach the heathen by leaping over many ranks of unslain enemies in our own hearts, and of blasphemers in our own streets, it will never reach its mark, or reach it with a force already spent. The gospel is like a fire; it must be out; but like light and heat it cannot reach the distant circumference without passing through the intermediate space and kindling all that it touches on its way. Unless our love greatly disturb a godless neighbourhood at home, it will not set on fire a distant continent.
2. Besides, while a great mass of our home community remain unchristian, specimens of our population, cast up in foreign lands like drift-wood, will counteract missionary effort. A preacher with the pure gospel will not influence much the native mind if followed by a fellow-countryman with poisoned rum. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
Necessary variety among the apostles
Because Christ Himself was so truly and deeply the Wonderful, it was necessary that His witnesses, who were also to be the future organs of His Spirit, should be men of broadly varied nature--not copies one of another, like images of clay cast in kindred mould, but differing in mental constitution, experience, spiritual affinities, and faculty of vision. No single man could take in His whole image, or apprehend, in its completeness, unity, and infinite reaches of application, the truth revealed in Him; and therefore the “chosen witnesses” were many and many-natured. And further, as no single flower can show forth all that is in the sun--as it takes the whole bloom of the year to do so, from the first snowdrop that pierces the dark earth to the latest flower of autumn--so He needed them all for the adequate forthtelling of His holy personality. (J. Culross.)
Witnesses for Christ
I. All Christians are appointed to be Christ’s witnesses. These words were spoken to the Church, not merely to eleven members of it. You are all subpoenaed to appear, and must all be ready when you are wanted to depose.
II. Christians are made Christ’s witnesses by the power of the Holy Ghost. Any poor weakling might say, “I a witness! I cannot speak, I am a child!” or like the poor woman, “I could die for Christ, but I cannot speak for Him.” He might say, “I shall be puzzled, contradict myself, not hold out all through the cruel cross-examination; besides, I am nobody, who will take notice what I say?” But our loving Master, to still this trepidation, has left to each witness, the promise of necessary power. But power is of various kinds, and this is not of the kind that you, perhaps, think necessary. There is physical power, the power of knowledge, and the power of wealth, and rank; these would, you think, help to make you influential witnesses. But its most influential witnesses have been totally without these. Instead, He gives the power of faith, love, prayer, courage, all powers in one, in the gift of the Holy Ghost. Let me but have the Holy Ghost helping me to realise the life of Christ in my life, and I am unconquerable, for who can resist God?
III. All Christians are Christ’s witnesses to tell what they personally know about Him. Your mission is to speak “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” If you only tell what another man knows, and so merely circulate second-hand impressions, you may stand down, for these things are not evidence. Not as echoes, reflectors, copying machines, are you worth anything, but simply as yourselves. The first disciples had to give out from their own personal knowledge information of those facts respecting Christ on which all the saving value of the Cross depends, and the truth of their testimony has passed successfully through the test of the most subtle and searching cross-examination. No more evidence is wanted as to these facts; but we, the successors of these same witnesses, being under the same law, have, on the same principle, to tell all the truth that we personally know of “this same Jesus.” The world says in a thousand ways to each one of us: “What has He done for you? Do you know Him?” Yes. “Is He real?” Yes. “Where does He live?” With me. “When did you speak to Him last?” Just now. “When did you meet Him first?” Many a long year ago. Oh! “I know whom I have believed,” and He knows me. One of the later Puritans was one day catechising a row of young disciples. When they had answered the question on “Effectual Calling,” he said, “Stop; can any one say this, using the personal pronoun all through?” Then with sobbing, broken breath, a man stood up and said: “Effectual calling is the work of God’s own Spirit, whereby convincing me of my sin and misery, enlightening my mind in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing my will, He doth enable and persuade me to embrace Jesus Christ freely offered to me in the gospel.” Let but each Christian personally, and from his heart say the same, then “One will chase a thousand, and two will put ten thousand to flight,” and one single congregation would have in it the life to shake London.
IV. We are witnesses for the purpose of repeating the words which we believe Christ has spoken. The witness does not make the message any more than the telegraphic wire makes the telegram; all he has to do is to transmit it in its integrity.
V. We are to be Christ’s witnesses, not only by what we say, but by what we are. What are you? If you are only a ceremony, or an insipid imitation, or a manufactured article; if some man of the world with whom you do business can show some excuse for saying of you, “That a Christian! it needs no Christ to make a Christian like that,--I could make as good a Christian myself, any day!” then, whatever you are, you are of no use to a “Christian Evidence Society.” A good farm is the best witness to a farmer; a good painting to an artist; a good book to the author; cures are the best witnesses to doctors; and Christ’s cures, His miracles wrought in souls, are His most effective witnesses. It is but fair and reasonable to expect that His people should bear this kind of witness.
VI. Christians are to witness by verbally preaching the gospel. Preach in the house, in the nursery, in the schoolroom: all who can. Preach as Brownlow North was said to preach, like one who had just escaped from a sacked and burning city, his ear still stung with the yell of the dying and the roar of the flame; his heart full of gratitude at the thought of his own wonderful escape. (C. Stanford, D. D.)
The Church’s work and power
I. The work of the church. “Ye shall be My witnesses.” A witness is one who knows, and who is summoned to tell what he knows. The first preachers of the gospel had personal knowledge of all the facts to which they were called to bear witness. They had been with Christ from the beginning, and so could witness to His life, His death. His resurrection and ascension. That was their business, and, with certain modifications in form, it is ours to-day. All the truth that we personally know of “this same Jesus” we are under an obligation to tell.
1. What, then, is the manner of testimony that devolves upon us? In the first place, we are to witness by our lives. On this living witness Christ depends in a very serious and important way. Professing Christians are, in fact, the only Bible that the majority of unconverted people read. You see, then, how much depends upon the testimony of our lives. Let Christ Himself be seen in them--let them exhibit the magnetic power of the Cross--let them manifest His spirit, His love, His deep compassion for men in their misery, and His readiness to help and save them, and through them, without word or deed, prejudice will be melted down, hatred will be subdued, and men and women will be won to light and love.
2. Let me now call attention to another department of testimony which belongs to every one of us--the witness of personal experience. “You call yourself a Christian. What is Christ to you? Is He to you a real Saviour, Brother, Helper, and Comforter?” You need no eloquence, no genius, no intellectual grasp of the doctrinal side of Christian truth, to go to a brother and say, “I have found Christ to be the Bread of Life to my soul, will you not help yourself?” You need nothing, except honesty and experience. If you have these, go and bear witness. And then, still further, let me remind you that if, having the facts to attest, you can go, you ought to go. You are under an obligation to make known to others what Christ has done for your soul. You have received His grace that you may share it with others, and not that you may go by yourselves into a solitary heaven.
II. The power which the witnesses need for their work. They need such power as is received in splendid measure, when the heart is opened widely to receive the Holy Spirit, when His presence is prized and enjoyed, and duty’s commands are joyfully fulfilled. The apostles needed this power. No doubt they were new creatures in Christ. They loved and served Him. But if you consider the mistakes that they made regarding Christ’s kingdom, their prejudices, their fears, the shock which they had received, and the panic into which they had been thrown by Christ’s death, you will admit that they were not fit, as they afterwards were, to found the Church. “Ye shall receive power,” and power did they receive. For, mark that strong unwavering faith which lifted them out of the dark valley of speculation and doubt, and so laid hold of the truth to which they were testifying that it possessed their souls and controlled their lives. Mark that growing love to Christ which kindled the flame of holy devotion in their hearts, and made them forget themselves in their daily efforts to exalt and honour Him. Mark their enthusiasm for Him and His cause, their splendid courage, their loyalty to truth, and that singleness of purpose which governed all their thoughts and actions. The power which the first witnesses needed is just the power we need today. Is it possible to deny this? Many hard things are said against the Christianity of the present day, with which I have no sympathy, but I fear this much must be granted, that it is sadly lacking in power. Its vital truths are accepted by many who do not practise what they profess to believe. Men go over the points of their faith, and having assured themselves that they are sound, they never trouble themselves with the question, “What does it all come to in the matter of character?” They believe only in a kind of way, for men believe truly only what they practise. Is it not a sad fact that there is so much of that Christianity among us that does not shine with the beauty of holiness--that never attempts a great achievement, that has no emotions to express, and that allows men and women to live without caring a broken straw for the soul of anybody? If it is--and you know it it--do we not need a baptism of the Holy Spirit? Let Him enter our hearts as the Spirit of power, and then shall we not only bear witness for our exalted Lord, but be His witnesses. We shall be what every Christian is meant to be--the strongest argument for Christ that exists. By being what Christ was, and by doing what Christ did, we shall bear witness to the fact that He lives and reigns in the hearts of men and women whom He has redeemed by His blood. (James Cameron, M. A.)
Witnesses for Christ
I. Our Lord Himself is the glorious reality to which His servants are to bear their witness. Witnesses unto Me! “Others might witness to My miracles, they were wrought in the face of day; others might repeat My discourses, ‘spoken in the temple,’ and you, in witnessing to Me, will witness to them likewise; but they are but the rays which proceed from Myself, and it is to this and to all that this implies, that I bid you witness.” Contrast this with what we should expect from a great man. We should expect him to tell us that his endowments or achievements were the unmerited gift of heaven. If he should claim honour for himself, then our good opinion would be outraged, and we should proclaim him unworthy of His greatness. Our Lord defies this rule and the conscience of mankind justifies Him in defying it. He who could say, “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” “I and the Father are one,” could truly feel that it was impossible for Him to eclipse any higher greatness by drawing attention to Himself. His words and works were His own. As God, He was the author of the gifts which He received as Man. And therefore He thought it not robbery to draw the eyes of men away from the miracles and words to Himself, who gave their greatness to both.
II. How can we bear witness to a person? We can witness to that which we know, a miracle or sermon; but how can we know so impalpable a thing as a person? especially how can we witness to a superhuman person?
1. But let me ask, can we be witnesses to each other? Yes, for we can know each other. Not merely the form and colour of the body or features, but that which gives to features and to form their interest, the soul. We cannot, indeed, see the soul with the eye of the body. But with the eye of the mind we can see it, and form a very clear conception of it, which we call “character.”
2. Now in Jesus Christ, God made use of this provision to enter into communion with His creatures. Reason may discover God’s existence and attributes, and under favourable conditions may attain to a cold and partial appreciation of His glory. But to reason, unaided by Revelation outside the soul, and by grace within it, God must ever seem abstract and remote. Therefore, that He might embrace His fallen creatures with a revelation of His beauty, the Most High robed Himself in a human body and a human soul. The thoughtful Gentile might have learnt something concerning Him in the natural world; the devout Jew might have read more of His true character in the Mosaic law; but a living personal revelation of what He is was reserved for the faith of Christendom. There are strangers, alas! to our faith, who yet confess that in the Gospels they encounter a form of unapproached grace and power. In the last age infidel writers like Diderot and Rousseau challenged the sceptics of the time, in language which has since become classical, to match, if they could, the moral beauty of the gospel. For in the gospel we meet with one who in His pre-eminent humanity is perfectly one with us, yet also most mysteriously distinct. So rare and refined is His type of manhood, He escapes the peculiarities of either sex. He is tied to no one form of human existence, yet adapt that Himself to all. He is born in extreme poverty, yet He has no grudge against wealth: He is claimed as their representative, by Geeek and Roman, and African and Teuton, no less truly than by the children of His people. No class professional, or national prejudice has lelt its taint upon that ideal Form, so as to make it less than representative of pure humanity. Yet, so far is He from being a cold, passionless statue, divested of all interests, strictly human, that there is a warmth and vividness in His character which none who have truly love or wept can fail to understand and to embrace. He hates evil, and denounces it; but He is never betrayed into an unbalanced statement; Herod does not make Him a revolutionist, nor the Pharisees an Antinomian. His triumphs cannot disturb, and His humiliations do but enhance the serene, self-possession of His soul. Well might we surmise that such a character as this was more than human. We know ourselves too well to suppose that human nature would conceive the full idea, much less that it could create the reality. Even to the Roman officer the truth revealed itself. “Truly this was the Son of God.” Nay, Jesus Himself used language which no intimacy between God and holy souls would warrant if it were not literally true. Either we must resign that vision of beauty which we meet in the character of Jesus as an untrustworthy phantom, since it is dashed with a pretension involving at once falsehood and blasphemy, or we must confess that Jesus is Divine. Jesus is God; and in His acts, words, and very physiognomy the Apostles came face to face with the Perfect Being of beings. He had taken our nature as an instrument through which to act upon us, but also as an interpreter who should translate His own matchless perfections into audible words and visible actions (1 John 1:1-3). An enthusiasm, of which the object is merely human, must pass away, since its object is necessarily transient and imperfect. As you sit with the ashes of Wellington beneath your feet, you little dream of the warmth with which Englishmen named their great general on the morrow of Waterloo. One only has succeeded in creating an impression, which is as fresh in the hearts and thoughts of His true disciples at this moment as it was eighteen centuries ago; and as we listen to His words, and watch His actions, and almost seem to gaze on His face, irradiated with superhuman beauty in the pages of the Gospels we feel that He, as none other, had a right to say to unborn generations, “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me.”
III. Is there anything in our conduct, or our words, that really bears witness to the Saviour? Or are we living, speaking, feeling, acting, thinking, much as we might have done if He had never brightened our existence. Or are we bearing Him what our conscience tells us is a partial witness; a witness of language but not of conduct; a witness which attests those features of His work and doctrine which we prefer, rather than all that we know or might know about Him? This witness is the debt which all Christians owe to Christ. No class, or sex, or disposition, or age, or race can claim exemption. We cannot delegate it to our clergy. It is not merely that we are bound to witness to Him. If we are living Christian lives, we cannot help doing so. Be Christians indeed, and you will forthwith witness for Jesus--you who are at the summits of society, and you who are at its base; you who teach, and you who learn; you who command, and you who obey. In the lower and feeble sense they who practise the natural virtues, witness to Him, who is the source of all goodness. And thus courage under difficulties, and temperance amid self-indulgent livers, and justice truly observed between man and man, are forms of witness. They bear this witness who are in power, and who, renouncing selfish purposes, aim at the good of others. They too bear it, who have wealth, and who spend it not in perishing baubles, but in relieving bodily or spiritual suffering. Rut they, especially, who know our Lord in His pardoning mercy will hardly be content with a silent witness. For the disease which He heals is universal, and the efficacy of His cure is undoubted. The redemptive love of Jesus, like the sun in the heavens, is the inheritance of all who will come to have a share in it, and, as with the heart that love is believed in unto righteousness, so with the mouth confession of it is made unto salvation. (Canon Liddon.)
I. Our function as witnesses for Christ. In our courts of law a witness is pledged under oath to “speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” and in our capacity of witnesses a similar obligation rests upon us. Our duty is to bear witness to what we know, and to all that we know of the facts of the gospel, as contained in God’s Word, and which we have verified by such means of verification as the nature of the case admits of--objective or subjective, as the case may be, external or internal evidence, which observation or experience supplies. With fancies, conjectures, speculations, or even matters of hearsay which we have not verified, we have as witnesses nothing to do. Our duty is to “speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen.” The effect of our testimony depends greatly on the certainty with which it is borne. We must speak with the accent of conviction if men are to be convinced and converted and saved.
II. The sphere in which we are to perform our functions: “both in Jerusalem and in all Judaea, and Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” According to this it is manifest that whatever may be our testimony, there is no country, or province, or city, or locality in which it can possibly be borne, from which it can be intentionally withheld, or by arrangement, or compact, even temporarily suppressed. We may, of course, use discretion as to the localities in which it should first be borne. Being unable to enter every field at once, we may, as wise men, give our first and chief attention to that in which as a whole it is most required. But we cannot, in loyalty to our Lord, consent that men, in any locality, should either arbitrarily or to suit the convenience of parties be left in ignorance of it.
III. The testimony we have to bear. This consists of all that the Lord hath made known to us--the things we have seen and heard and verified. The most important part of our testimony is not that on which we differ from our fellow-Christians, but that which relates to the Divine feelings towards sinful men; and to that we ought to give the first and most prominent place. There is a fulness of meaning in the gospel which we have not unfolded yet--a note of music in it more capable of charming the ear than has ever yet been heard--a power to thrill the hearts of men such as has never yet been felt.
IV. The endowment which fits us for our work. “Ye shall receive power when the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” It is by the light the Divine Spirit supplies that we know what part of our testimony is most required. It is the firm conviction He imparts that gives authority and persuasiveness to our word. The whirlwind spreads devastation, the thunder shakes the sphere, the earthquake convulses and overthrows; but it is through the still small voice that the power of God enters the soul of the derelict prophet, and produces a mighty and beneficent revolution. (W. Landels, D. D.)
The witness-bearing injured by inconsistencies
A train is said to have been stopped by flies in the grease-boxes of the carriage-wheels. The analogy is perfect; a man, in all other respects fitted to be useful, may by some small defect be exceedingly hindered, or even rendered utterly useless. It is a terrible thing when the healing balm loses its efficacy through the blunderer who administers it. You all know the injurious effects frequently produced upon water flowing along leaden pipes; even so the gospel itself, in flowing through men who are spiritually unhealthy, may be debased until it grows injurious to their hearers. We may be great quoters of elegant poetry, and mighty retailers of second-hand wind-bags; but we shall be like Nero of old, fiddling while Rome was burning, and sending vessels to Alexandria to fetch sand for the arena while the populace starved for want of corn. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Noble witnesses for Christ
Two brave boys in Armenia, at Hoghe, near the supposed site of the old Garden of Eden, attended the Mission School there, and became Christians. Being anxious for the conversion of others, they organised with other converts what they called a “Home Missionary Society.” All who were members went from house to house to read the Bible to the people, and tell them of the way of salvation. These two boys, though only fourteen years old, said “Why should we labour in our own village merely? Why not go on a foreign mission?” So taking their Testaments, they started one Sabbath morning for the village of Ghoorbet Mezereh, about two miles distant, to preach. On entering the village they met a company of Mohammedan Turks, who decided to try the courage of these Christians, and said to them, “Well, boys, who is Jesus?” “He is a prophet of God,” they replied. But when they were returning home, they were both troubled because they felt they should have confessed Him to be the Son of God. So kneeling down, they asked the Lord Jesus for courage to confess Him, and they went back to do so. On re-entering the village they found the Turks still assembled, and they asked, “Boys, why have you come back?” “We have come back,” they replied, “to confess our Saviour. We told you He is a prophet of God. He is so, and more; He is the Son of God, and the only Saviour of men.” The followers of the false prophet respected their courage, and were not displeased; and the boys returned home with light hearts.
Christianity a living witness
Christianity in the books is like seed in the granary, dry and all but dead. It is not written but living characters that are to convert the infidel. (D. Thomas.)
Religion an effective witness
Lord Peterborough, speaking on one occasion of the celebrated Fenelon, observed: “He is a delicate creature. I was forced to get away from him as fast as I could, else he would have made me pious.” Would to God that all of us had such an influence over godless men! Some one has said that it is not so much the words as it is the “Acts of the Apostles” that convince us of the truth of the gospel.
The life the best sermon
I would not give much for your religion unless it can be seen. Lamps do not talk, but they shine. A lighthouse sounds no drums; it beats no gong; and yet far over the waters its friendly spark is seen by the mariner. So let your actions shine out your religion. Let the main sermon of your life be illustrated by all your conduct, and it shall not fail to be illustrious. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
“A report of a report is a cold thing and of small value; but a report of what we have witnessed and experience d ourselves comes warmly upon men’s hearts.” So a mere formal description of faith and its blessings falls flat on the ear; but when a sincere believer tells of his own experience of the Lord’s faithfulness, it has a great charm about it. We like to hear the narrative of a journey from the traveller himself. In a court of law they will have no hearsay evidence. Tell us, says the judge, not what your neighbour said, but what you saw yourself. Personal evidence of the power of grace has a wonderfully convincing force upon the conscience. “I sought the Lord, and He heard me,” is better argument than all the Butler’s Analogies that will ever be written, good as they are in their place.
The witness of a good life
Faith that is lived is what gives efficacy to faith professed. Rev. Dr. Deems is accustomed to relate some feeling incident before the first hymn in church, on Sunday morning. Recently he told this: “A Christian man one day said to a friend, ‘Under whose preaching were you converted?’ ‘Nobody’s,’ was the answer; ‘it was under my aunt’s ‘practising.’” He then made an earnest appeal to aunts to examine their characters and lives, to see if these contained converting power.
Witnessing for Christ
Witness Christ, means nothing if it be not a witness to righteousness of life. It was the glorious function of ancient Israel to be a witness to righteousness. She was incomparably less brilliant than Greece; she was feebleness itself compared with Rome; she was a lamb in the midst of wolves compared with the fierce nations of Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt, pressing round her on every side. Why was she nevertheless greater and more enduring than the mightiest of them? It was by virtue of her conduct. And the Church has borne this witness for righteousness before kings and not been ashamed. As Nathan witnessed before David, and John before Herod, so did Paul before Felix, and Athanasius before Constantine, and Ambrose when he drove Theodosius back from the Cathedral-gates of Milan because he came with his hand red from the massacre of Thessalonica. So did Savonarola when he refused to absolve Lorenzo de Medici on his death-bed unless he set Florence free; so did John Hues when he called up the burning hue of shame upon the cheek of the perjured Sigismund; so did Luther when he faced kings and cardinals at Worms; so did Massillon when he made Louis XIV. wince before his warnings; so did Kerr when he rejected the command of Charles II. to receive Nell Gwynne at Winchester; so did the London clergy when they refused to read in their churches the treacherous edict of James II.; so did the Court chaplain when he openly rebuked Frederick William I. on his death-bed. No age can do without the Church’s witness for righteousness; certainly not in ours, and the Church will fail of her duty in her witness for Christ if she do not rebuke the startling inadequacy of charity, the selfish accumulation of wealth, the ostentatious luxury of fashion, the heartless indifference of middle-class prosperity, the fulsome development Of puffery, the widespread of gambling, the adulterations of manufacturers, the scandal mongering of society, the intrigues of religious parties, the curse of drink. Oh, let the Church denounce these works of the world, the flesh, and the devil in no timid half utterance: let her not fight with graceful sham blows which only beat the air! are there no owners of rotting houses to be branded with the infamy they deserve? Are there no sweaters’ dens to be purified, and the owners of them taught what a curse are ill-gotten riches? Are there no reeking hells of vice to be torn out of the greedy hands of rich oppressors? Salt is good; but if the salt hath lost its savour, etc. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
Witnessing for Christ
While Colonel Wilayat, an English officer who used to preach at Delhi, was speaking, a number of Sepoys on horseback rode up to his house, and knowing him to be a Christian, said, “Repeat the Mohammedan creed, or we will shoot you.” But he would not deny his Lord. “Tell us what you are” said one. “I am a Christian, and a Christian I will live and die.” They dragged him along the ground, beating him about the head and face with their shoes. Not being soldiers, they had no swords. “Now preach Christ to us,” some one cried out in mocking tones. Others said, “Turn to Mohammed, and we will let you go.” “No, I never never will!” the faithful martyr cried; “my Saviour took up His Cross and went to God, and I will lay down my life and go to Him.” The scorching rays of the sun were beating on the poor sufferer’s head. With a laugh one of the wretches exclaimed, “I suppose you would like some water.” “I do not want water,” replied the martyr. “When my Saviour was dying He had nothing but vinegar mingled with gall. But do not keep me in this pain. If you mean to kill me, do so at once.” Another Sepoy coming up, lifted his sword; the martyr called aloud, “Jesus, receive my spirit!” and with one stroke his head was nearly cut off.
Witnessing for Christ
It became the most sacred duty of a new convert (among the early Christians)to diffuse among his friends and relations the inestimable blessing which he had received, and to warn them against a refusal that would be severely punished as a criminal disobedience to the will of a benevolent but all- powerful Deity. (T. Gibbon.)
The sweet gospel singer, Mr. Peter Bilhorn, of Chicago, who was at one time a well-known saloon concert singer, was passing by a gospel service a few years ago. When he came opposite to the gathering of Christians, the testimony of a young man, “Christ saves the worst of sinners,” fastened itself on his heart, and led him to Christ. He never saw the young man afterward--never has been able to find him, but his words so came home to him that he changed his course, and is now devoting his life to God’s service. Oh! the power of a life that is not ashamed to make Christ known to the world! How beautiful the feet of them that never tire of witnessing before the world the riches of eternal life in Christ Jesus! What glory awaits the soul that daily walks so near to Christ that others see Christ through him!
The witness of the Church, its importance
Christ was about to be seen no more among men. What memorial had He left? The kings of Egypt built mighty pyramids to immortalise their fame. Those of Assyria have left on chiselled column and even on the bold sides of their native cliffs the hieroglyphics that should commemorate their wonderful deeds. The Roman emperors have bequeathed to us triumphal arches which even now bring before us the splendour of their victories. But Christ left no such memorial. He did not commit a single line to writing. His only record in Scripture is the one He traced with His finger upon the sand. He left no parchment, pillar, pyramid, arch, or temple. On that farewell day He was without the slightest trace of a record, except that written on the heart of His disciples. Whatever impression therefore He was to make upon the world depended on the courage and fidelity of these men. If they had given one uncertain sound, oblivion would have settled like a pall upon Gethsemane, Calvary, and Olivet. They were the one living link between Christ and the world He came to save. And it is so still. Christ is not here. We have, it is true, the printed witness of the apostles; but the world does not get its ideas of Christ and Christianity from that, but from the living testimony of professing Christians. How important then the function of the humblest! He is Christ’s representative and memorial before men. (H. Pedley, M. A.)
I. With its glory--Witnesses of the exalted King.
II. With its lowliness--Witnesses nothing of and for ourselves.
III. With its sufferings--Witnesses of the Lord in a hostile world.
IV. With its promises--Strength from above. (J. P. Lunge, D. D.)
Both in Jerusalem.--
Witnessing in Jerusalem
A difficult service was to be performed in Jerusalem that day. Had it been desired to find a man in London who would go down to Whitehall a few weeks after Charles was beheaded, and, addressing Cromwell’s soldiers, endeavour to persuade them that he whom they had executed was not only a king and a good one, but a prophet of God, and that, therefore, they had been guilty of more than regicide--of sacrilege: although England had brave men then, it may be questioned whether any one could have been found to bear such a message to that audience. The service which had then to be performed in Jerusalem was similar to this. (W. Arthur, M. A.)
There is also for us a “Jerusalem,” a “Judaea,” a “Samaria,” if not an “uttermost part of the earth”--some well-dressed city with its ragged fringe of want and wickedness, some country district with its neglected families, some sophisticated brain that has gone astray from the old standards at home of the faith and set up its Gerizim rivalry--some that you can minister to by your charity, and win back by your witnessing, if that witnessing is only as zealous as Peter’s and as patient as Paul’s, and as loving as John’s. (Bp. Huntington.)
Apostolic missions: their order
Jerusalem, the place of the reception of the Spirit, was also to be the place where the witness of the Spirit commences; and in the land of promise was the promise, the fulness of spiritual blessing to find its first native soil. Samaria, the mission field white for harvest (John 4:35), our Lord mentions as the middle station between Judaea and the land of the Gentiles; and the end of the earth was Rome, for there all nations were united in the capital of the world. We shall find that the order of the history perfectly corresponds with the order of testimony. Jerusalem (chaps. 1.-7.); Judaea (9-12.); Samaria (8.); the world (13 to end). (R. Besser, D. D.)
Apostolic missions: their evidential value
How came these humble and hated persons, these slaves and artisans, these unlearned and ignorant men to get the start of the majestic world, and bear the palm alone? How came it that the:greatest, the most advanced, the splendid and prominent races of the whole world have, one after another, embraced Christianity? How comes it that at this very moment one out of every four of the one hundred thousand millions of human beings is a professing Christian? Securus judicat orbis terrarium. Is the world so silly, is all its best intellect so anile, is the genius of humanity so wretched a fool as to be duped by a mere fraud and illusion preached by wandering beggars, blindly to embrace with all its heart, to enshrine in its stateliest temples, to enrich with its most splendid offerings, to set forth in its most brilliant hues of imagination and intellect, a faith so intrinsically feeble that after nineteen centuries of beneficent victory it can only tumble down like a pack of cards at the touch of any smart declaimer who chooses to say it is a lie? Because it was a truth and no lie. We have been well reminded that the babes and striplings of the world prevailed over the serried army of emperors, aristocracies, statesmen, institutions. Is this solemn voice of the ages, is this cogent mass of human testimony to go for nothing? Is it nothing that Christianity has prevailed over the banded union of the powers of evil, and that even in spite of the corruptions which have gathered round it; in spite of the crimes, negligences, and ignorances of its own professing followers that it should still triumph and prevail. I say that if Christianity be a lie, then everything and all human life is a lie, and “the pillared firmament is rottenness, and the earth’s base built on stubble.” (Archdeacon Farrar.)
Missionary work commanded
During the American war, a regiment received orders to plant some heavy guns on the top of a steep hill. The soldiers dragged them to the base of the hill, but were unable to get them farther. An officer, learning the state of affairs, cried, “Men! it must be done! I have the orders in my pocket.” So the Church has orders to disciple the world.
Love first to fall on objects near and then to diffuse itself
As radii in a circle are closest near the centre, and towards the circumference lie more widely apart, the affections of a human heart do and should fall thickest on those who are nearest. Expressly on this principle the Christian mission was instituted at first. Love in the heart of the first disciples was recognised, by Him who kindled it, to be of the nature of fire or light. He did not expect it to fall on distant places without first passing through intermediate space. From Jerusalem, at His command and under the Spirit’s ministry, it radiated through Judsea, and from Judsea to Samaria, and thence to the ends of the earth. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
The Church engaged in the renovation of the world
The Church must grope her way into the alleys and courts and purlieus of the city, and up the broken staircase, and into the bar-room, and beside the loathsome sufferer. She must go down into the pit with the miner; into the forecastle with the sailor; into the tent with the soldier; into the shop with the mechanic; into the factory with the operative; into the field with the farmer, into the counting-room with the merchant. Like the air, the Church must press equally,on all surfaces of society; like the sea, flow into every nook of the shore-line of humanity, and like the sun, shine on things foul and low, as well as fair and high; for she was organised, commissioned, and equipped for the moral renovation of the world. (Bishop Simpson.)
Kingdom of Christ: more permanent than earthly kingdoms
I shall soon be in my grave. Such is the fate of great men. So it was with the Caesars and Alexander. And I, too, am forgotten; and the Marengo conqueror and emperor is a college theme. My exploits are tasks given to pupils by their tutor, who sit in judgment over me. I die before my time; and my dead body, too, must return to the earth, and become food for worms. Behold the destiny now at hand of him who has been called the great Napoleon! What an abyss between my great misery and the eternal reign of Christ, who is proclaimed, loved, and adored, and whose kingdom is extending over all the earth! (Napoleon I.)
Evangelism a law of self-preservation
Evangelism is not merely a work of love. It is the sheer law of self-preservation. The heathenism which is creeping along the fences of society is scattering its seeds on both sides. As we love our neighbour, we must try to do him good; but if we love only ourselves and our homes, we must be at work to make the world better. If Christians do not make the world better, the world will surely make the Church worse. (C. H. Fowler.)
The heathen may reach heaven without the gospel, but better with it
A man may make his way across the Atlantic in a skiff, for all I know, but if you are intending to cross the sea, take my advice, and secure passage in a first-class steamer, and you will be more likely to get there. So it is with these heathen millions. I do not know but some of them may drift, and we shall find them in the city of God. But I do know that by giving them the gospel, by building up and supporting among them a Christian Church, we shall greatly multiply their chances of heaven. (C. H. Fowler.)
A good man seeks to make others good
“A good man is always seeking to make others good, as fire turneth all things about it into fire.” You cannot make fire stay where it is; it will spread as opportunity serves it. It will subdue all its surroundings to itself. Carlyle says that “man is emphatically a proselytising creature,” and assuredly the new creature is such. Life grows, and so invades the regions of death, and spiritual life is most of all intense in its growing and spreading. Liberty to hold our opinions but not to spread them is no liberty: for one of our main opinions is, that we should bring all around us to Jesus and to obedience to the truth. Lord, help us ever to be doing this, subduing the earth for Thee by spreading OH all sides the name of Jesus! Let our life burn till the whole world is on a blaze.
And when He had spoken these words, while they beheld, He was taken up.
How we talk about “up,” took “up” I What eager, earnest; faces are looking up through the clouds of sorrow. The atmosphere above us seems palpitant with the hopes and aspirations of hearts below. The secret of this is, God is “up,” and Jesus was taken “up.” Note--
I. That the departed good are “taken up.” Jesus promised that the disciples should follow Him (John 14:2-5); and all good spirits find their higher level. Heaven is the rendezvous of all goodness, the barn of God into which He gathers His grain. Our loved ones are not far away, only the cloud separates us. But Jesus was not taken up until “He had spoken these things,” i.e., finished His work. When we have done that, like Him, we shall be taken up to our reward.
II. That God supplies the place of the departed good (Acts 1:10). Jesus went up and the angels came down; and they took His place beside the desolate disciples, and who knows but that they hovered about until the Holy Ghost supplied the Master’s place. So it is. If God takes Moses, He brings up Joshua; if He takes up Elijah, Elisha catches his falling mantle. This law of compensation is seen all through nature, human life, and religion.
III. That the departed good shall come again (verse 11). This was the disciples’ comfort in regard to the departed Christ. “This same Jesus.” So “they that sleep in Jesus shall God bring with Him.” Do not grieve then that the grave has closed upon them. (W. Johnson.)
I. The Lord was taken up into heaven.
1. Fact of the ascension: stated here (Luke 24:1-53.; Acts 1:1-26.)
2. Also implied--e.g., John 6:62; John 20:17.
3. And in Acts and Epistles asserted--e.g., Ephesians 4:10; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 3:22. Also in the Acts and Epistles, implied passim (the Saviour being ever referred to as living, invisible, glorified, and to come again from heaven). See, e.g., Acts 7:55-56; Philippians 3:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:16.
II. He sat on the right hand of God.
1. The metaphor (from an Oriental throne, a seat admitting more than one occupant) implies the share of the incarnate Lord in the supreme glory--more than mere nearness to it.
2. See in support of this, Revelation 22:1, etc. (“throne of God and of the Lamb”); and especially John 17:5 (where N.B. that “with Thine own self” is παρὰ σεαυτῷ, “by Thine own side”; and so at the end of the verse, τῇ ἱόξῃ εἰχον πρὸ τοῦ κόσμον εἶναι παρά σοι).
3. Reflect--“the Son of Man (Acts 7:55) is at the right hand of God.” Not only is Christ there as God the Son (John 1:1, etc.), but as man--as Jesus (Acts 1:11; Hebrews 4:14). What a pledge for His brethren (John 17:24, etc.).
III. After that He had spoken to them.
1. Merciful prelude. The clear, spoken revelation given before the mysterious removal. We see Him not (1 Peter 1:8), but He has spoken--
2. Application of this and the whole ascension truth (John 17:13). He has spoken. He is there. (H. C. G. Moule, M. A.)
The ascension of Christ and its lessons
I. The ascension of our Lord is a topic whereon familiarity has worked its usual results; it has lost for most minds the sharpness of its outline and the profundity of its teaching because universally accepted by Christians; and yet no doctrine raises deeper questions, or will yield more profitable and far-reaching lessons. First, then, we may note the place this doctrine holds in apostolic teaching. Taking the records of that teaching contained in the Acts and the Epistles, we find that it occupies a real substantial position. The ascension is there referred to, hinted at, taken as granted, pre-supposed, but it is not obtruded not: dwelt upon overmuch. The resurrection of Christ was the great central point of apostolic testimony; the ascension of Christ was simply a portion of that fundamental doctrine, and a natural deduction from it. If Christ had been raised from the dead and had thus become the first-fruits of the grave, it required but little additional exercise of faith to believe that He had passed into that unseen and immediate presence of Deity where the perfected soul finds its complete satisfaction. St. Peter’s conception of Christianity, for instance, involved the ascension. Whether in his speech at the election of Matthias, or in his sermon on the day of Pentecost, or in his address in Solomon’s porch after the healing of the crippled beggar, his teaching ever presupposes and involves the ascension. He takes the doctrine and the fact for granted. Jesus is with him the Being “whom the heavens must receive until the times of restoration of all things.” So is it too with St. John in his Gospel. He never directly mentions the fact of Christ’s ascension, but he always implies it. So, too, with St. Paul and the other apostolic writers of the New Testament. Is he exhorting the Colossians to a supernatural life: it is because they have supernatural privileges in their ascended Lord. “If ye then were raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is seated on the right hand of God.”
II. But some one may raise curious questions as to the facts of the ascension. Whither, for instance, it may be asked, did our Lord depart when He left this earthly scene? The childish notion that He went up and up far above the most distant star will not of course stand a moment’s reflection. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles does not describe our Saviour as thus ascending through infinite space. It simply describes Him as removed from off this earthly ball, and then, a cloud shutting Him out from view, Christ passed into the inner and unseen universe wherein He now dwells. The existence of that inner and unseen universe, asserted clearly enough in Scripture, has of late years been curiously confirmed by scientific speculation. Scripture asserts the existence of such an unseen universe, and the ascension implies it. The second coming of our Saviour is never described as a descent from some far-off region. What a solemn light such a Scriptural view sheds upon life! The unseen world is not at some vast distance, but, as the ascension would seem to imply, close at hand, shut out from us by that thin veil of matter which angelic hands will one day rend for ever.
III. The ascension was a fitting and a natural termination of Christ’s earthly ministry, considering the Christian conception of His sacred personality. The departure of the Eternal King was, like His first approach, a part of a scheme which forms one united and harmonious whole. Tile Incarnation and the Ascension were necessarily related the one to the other.
IV. Again, we may advance a step further, and say that not only was the ascension a natural and fitting termination to the activities of the Eternal Son manifest in the flesh, it was a necessary completion and finish. “It is expedient,” said Christ Himself, “that I go away; for if I go not away the Comforter will not conic to you.” Let us take the matter very simply thus. Had our Lord not ascended into the unseen state whence He had emerged for the purpose of rescuing mankind, He must in that case (always proceeding on the supposition that He had risen from the dead, because we always suppose our readers to be believers) have remained permanently or temporarily resident in some one place. He might have chosen Jerusalem. There would have been nothing to tempt Him to Antioch, or Athens, or Alexandria, or Rome. Nay, rather the tone and temper of those cities must have rendered them abhorrent as dwelling-places to the great Teacher of holiness and purity. At any rate, the risen Saviour, if He remained upon earth, must have chosen some one place where His presence and His personal glory would have been manifested. All interest in local Churches or local work would have been destroyed, because every eye and every heart would be perpetually turning towards the one spot where the risen Lord was dwelling, and where personal adoration could be paid to Him. All honest, manly self-reliance would have been lost for individuals, for Churches, and for nations. Judaism would have triumphed and the dispensation of the Spirit would have ceased. The whole idea, too, of Christianity as a scheme of moral probation would have been overthrown. Christ as belonging to the supernatural sphere would of course have been raised above the laws of time and space. Sight would have taken the place of faith, and the terrified submission of slaves would have been substituted for the moral, loving obedience of the regenerate soul. The whole social order of life would also have been overthrown. The ascension of Jesus Christ was absolutely necessary to equip the Church for its universal mission, by withdrawing the bodily presence of Christ into that unseen region which bears no special relation to any terrestrial locality, but is the common destiny, the true fatherland, of all the sons of God.
V. We have now seen how the ascension was needful for the Church, by rendering Christ an ideal object of worship for the whole human race, thus saving it from that tendency to mere localisim which would have utterly changed its character. “We can also trace another great blessing involved in it. The ascension glorified humanity as humanity, and ennobled man viewed simply as man. The ascension thus transformed life by adding a new dignity to life and to life’s duties. This was a very necessary lesson for the ancient world, especially the ancient Gentile world, which Christ came to enlighten and to save. Man, considered by himself as man, had no peculiar dignity in the popular religious estimate of Greece and Rome. A Greek or a Roman was a dignified person, not, however, in virtue of his humanity, but in virtue of his Greek or Roman citizenship. The gladiatorial shows were the most striking illustration of this contempt for human nature which paganism inculcated. We leave to science the investigation of the past and of the lowly sources whence man’s body may have come; but the doctrine of the Ascension speaks of its present sanctity and of its future glory, telling of the human body as a body of humiliation and of lowliness indeed, but yet proclaiming it as even now, in the person of Christ, ascended into the heavens, and seated on the throne of the Most High. It may have been once humble in its origin; it is now glorious in its dignity and elevation; and that dignity and that elevation shed a halo upon human nature, no matter how degraded and wherever it may be found, because it is like unto that Body, the first-fruits of humanity, which stands at the right hand of God. (G. T. Stokes, D. D.)
So many of the events of our Lord’s incarnate ire are connected with Olivet that it might almost be called the mountain of the Lord Jesus. It was His closet, His pulpit, the place of intercourse with His disciples. Bethany at its base was their home. Underneath it was Gethsemane, and there from its crest He rose. Consider--
I. Several attendant circumstances of the ascension.
1. As to the manner of it, it was visible. These things were not done in a corner. His crucifixion and burial were public. It was requisite that His resurrection should be so. Forty days did He accumulate proofs of it, and then in the broad open day He ascended up on high.
2. The place where it happened is worthy of notice. “He led them out as far as Bethany.” There was a peculiar fitness in this selection. Prophecies had fixed the place of His ascension as the Mount of Olives, and Bethany was at its base. We can imagine the feelings of the disciples as they trod the familiar road. It is fitting that the Conqueror should pass by Gethsemane, that He should pass the place where He wept over Jerusalem, and that His triumph should take place in view of the house of sorrow.
3. The act during the performance of which He was lifted up on high. “Blessed them.” This was His daily work, for which He became incarnate, and for which He returned to His glory. He blesses now, not from the mountain, but from the throne.
II. The purposes of the ascension.
1. The personal results were the publicity of the scene and the triumph of His entrance into His primal glory. It was a witness which all the world could understand that His work on earth was done. It was only the complement of Calvary, the ovation of the triumph actually won on the Cross. Moreover it was a part of the consequences of redemption that the Father should not only sustain the Son in His sufferings, but because of them He should exalt Him to pre-eminence of government and honour.
2. There were representative results. Christ is the federal Head. By His exaltation our own race derives surpassing honour. Humanity is throned in the highest.
3. There were mediatorial results. “He received gifts for man.” (W. M. Punshon, LL. D.)
1. Was as indubitable as any act of His life--“As they were looking, He was taken up.”
2. Brought angels to the earth immediately with a message of comfort.
3. Is no excuse for standing idly gazing into heaven. There is work here to be done, the doing of which will quickest hasten His return.
4. Is only for a while. He will return again, and come in great power and great glory.
5. Has given to us an advocate on high--He ever liveth to make intercession for us. (S. S. Times.)
We have three narratives of the ascension, each of which presents it in a somewhat different application.
1. In St. Mark the aspect of faith is predominant. It sets before Christian people, in their life of faithful labour, the form of Him who, though now out of sight, is still and evermore working with them, and confirming His words by signs following.
2. St. Luke presents it in its aspect of love; sets before Christians, in their hours of loneliness or of depression, the form of Him, who, when He left this world, left it with hands uplifted in blessing.
3. In the Acts we have the aspect of hope. As St. Luke’s Gospel closed with the narrative of the Ascension, so the Acts opens with it. It was not more naturally the close of the gospel than it was the beginning of the history of the Church. It was the event which, while it withdrew from personal work below, introduced Him into that life above, and the power of which He works through others. And we are to regard it as a fact full of hope. The words of the two angels give it this aspect. Learn
I. That the posture of those who love Christ must henceforth be one not more of retrospect than of expectation. It is well indeed that you should treasure the thought of Him as He was on earth. His wonderful works, His perfect example, His Divine words. And to look up after Him into heaven, and see Him there the High Priest of man; the Resurrection and the Life, first of the soul, and hereafter: also of the body; to ascend thither, in heart, after Him. Thus it is that men are made strong for conflict, victorious over temptation, and at last fit for heaven. But all this is a different thing from vain regret and idle contemplation. To gaze up into heaven not after One who is gone, but for One who shall come is our work. And in those few words lies the whole of the vast difference between two states and lives; those of a true, and wise, and diligent, and those of a dreamy, and gloomy, and torpid Christian.
II. But how does the ascension foster this hope or suggest this duty? The words of the angels will answer that question. The ascension was intended to make real the thought of Christ’s return. He might have simply disappeared, and left them to form their own conjectures what had become of Him. Perhaps even then they might have formed the right conjecture from His own words. But it would have fallen far short of the conviction inspired by the actual sight. There would have been a mystery which might well have diminished the comfort and impaired the satisfaction of His disciples. But now they would feel that they could trace Him in His glory, and expect Him to come again. Nothing is more remarkable than the personal hope of the personal return of Christ, which cheered the first ages of the Church. It is no good sign when the language of Scripture is read as an allegory, but a sign of the decay of faith. It was in the dark and cold ages of the Church, when even the wise virgins too often slumbered and slept, that this definite hope of the Bridegroom’s coming was lost sight of. And was it not by a just retribution that they who refused to infer the Advent from the Ascension, came at last from denying the Advent to deny the Ascension also? If ever the faith of the Church is brought back to its simplicity in matters of doctrine, it must be by its being brought back to its simplicity in matters of fact. Take one of the Gospel miracles by itself, and of course it is improbable. But take each one in connection with the proofs Christ gave of His holiness, truth, and goodness, and thus of His Divinity, and we shall find it not only credible, but natural also; consistent, harmonious, and to be expected. Even thus is it with the hope of which we are speaking. It might be in itself hard to be understood, that God should bring this dispensation to a close by the personal advent of the Mediator as Judge. But view that purpose in the light of the Incarnation, and the Advent in the light of the Ascension; and all shall become symmetrical. The disciples saw Him go: why should it be incredible that He should likewise come? “A cloud received Him out of their sight”: even so shall a cloud be the sign when they who look for Him watch His appearing. Conclusion: What to us is our Lord’s ascension?
1. Do we know anything of the assurance that we have in heaven, One who knows our frame and has felt our infirmities? One who ascended, that He might intercede for us, minister to us the Spirit, and prepare a place for us?
2. If there is One, up there, who sees and will judge; what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness! (Dean Vaughan.)
I. The circumstances.
1. While blessing His disciples (Luke 24:50-51; cf. Leviticus 9:22). The first tidings of our Saviour’s birth were attended with blessings to men; and when He died, He breathed out His soul in blessings to His enemies. So now He is translated into heaven with a blessing in His mouth. And, indeed, His whole life was a blessing to mankind--a blessed pattern to us; in imitation whereof we should endeavour that our whole life may be h blessing too.
2. In the view of His disciples. After the apostles were fully convinced by several appearances that He was indeed risen; that they might be fully satisfied that He came from God and went to Him, He was in their sight taken up. And this is no small confirmation of the truth of our religion.
3. In a cloud fitly represents the law. Elias was carried up by a whirlwind in a fiery chariot, with horses of fire: but our Saviour in a cloud; to signify to us the coolness and calmness of the gospel dispensation, in comparison of that of the law; which difference our Saviour had before observed to His disciples upon a remarkable occasion (Luke 9:54-55). And there is likewise another difference. The blessing which Elijah left to Elisha is conceived in very doubtful words (2 Kings 2:9). This was suitable to the obscurity of the law; but our Saviour makes a plain and absolute promise of the Holy Ghost, answerable to the clearness and grace of the gospel (verse 8).
4. Into heaven (verse 11). And this is elsewhere more particularly expressed, by declaring the dignity to which He was exalted (Mark 16:19). This exaltation of Christ was conferred upon Him as a reward of His great humiliation and sufferings (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 2:9-10).
II. The consequent benefits.
1. The sending of the Holy Ghost in miraculous powers and gifts upon the apostles, to qualify them for the speedy and effectual propagation of the gospel, and to give credit to them in the preaching of it (John 16:7).
2. His powerful intercession for us at the right hand of God (Hebrews 9:24).
3. A mighty confirmation of our faith.
Conclusion: The consideration of our Saviour’s ascension is very comfortable to all true Christians.
1. In respect of our condition in this world. The Church, and every particular member of it, is exposed to trouble and danger; but it is a great comfort that we are under His patronage and protection, who hath “all power given Him in heaven and earth” (Hebrews 4:14-15).
2. In respect of the happiness which we hope for in the next; world. No religion hath given men so sensible a demonstration of a blessed immortality as Christianity by the ascension. The reasonings of the philosophers concerning immortality besides their uncertainty are only calculated for the more refined and speculative part of mankind; but every man is capable of the force of this argument, that He who declared to the world another life after this, and the happy condition of good men in another world, was Himself visibly taken up into heaven. (Abp. Tillotson.)
I. The ascension of our Lord is in perfect harmony with the other portions of His history. His birth, the voice from heaven at His baptism, His works, His words, were all supernatural. When He was crucified the earth trembled, on the third day He rose, and then, in opposition to the laws of gravity, He ascended up to His Father. All this is perfectly harmonious. Of old His name was called “Wonderful”; and if you reject what is wonderful in the history of Christ, then there is no Christ whatever. It is the light of the sun that makes that luminary what it is. Extinguish the light of the son, and it becomes a dark, invisible body, revolving uselessly in the depth of heaven. After the sun has set there is twilight. But it grows feebler and feebler every minute, and by and by all is enveloped in the darkness. Now you may eliminate from Christianity the supernatural facts of it, and after you have done that for centuries, very likely, the twilight of the setting sun--the after effects of what Christianity once had been--would remain here; but as for the Christian religion and Church, and the Christ of history, without the supernatural they cannot be.
II. The conduct of our Lord at the time of His ascension harmonises with all that is written of Him before that time. “While He blessed them.” That was His work. He was like Himself to the end. His heart was not embittered by the Cross. His last look was one of sympathy and love. It was the same at the end as at the beginning.
III. The ascension is connected with the carrying on of His own work.
1. He ascended “that He might fill all things”--that is, the hearts of men, the governments of the world, all literature, art, science, philosophy, commerce, courts of law, pulpits, with His influence, The facts of the history of the Redeemer, the truths embodied in these facts--have saved Europe from animalism, or materialism, or downright atheism. Thess facts, like leaven, are put into the hearts of men everywhere.
2. Christ has left the spirit of His life here. Fragrance is on the rose, but distinct from the rose. The rose is the fact, the fragrance is something over and above the rose. The landscape is one thing, its beauty of another. There are truths in the Book, but the genius with which those truths are treated is another thing. There are the facts of the Redeemer’s life, but there also is the spirit of His life upon those facts--a fragrance, a beauty, a genius, a tenderness, an atmosphere, a divineness which belong to no other facts in the world. It is not the salvation of your souls only that you owe to Him--He has humanised humanity, and He is rectifying and consecrating Europe by the influence of the spirit of His life. Let any artist here say if I am wrong. He has beautified art, and pagan art can never exist again.
3. He ascended that He might send the Holy Ghost down among men. By Holy Ghost I do not mean a mere influence, or power, or energy going forth, but a personality, come down to regenerate the heart and create in it a noble ambition, strengthen it for brave purpose, and consecrate it.
IV. The ascension inspired the noblest feelings in the hearts of His apostles (Luke 24:52). While they looked at the glorious vision they instinctively felt a reverence and admiration that could not be expressed. These feelings are not to become extinguished in Christian hearts. The lowest state of mind, in regard to the Redeemer, is stolid indifference. The highest state to which many people attain, is inquiry concerning Christ. Inquire by all means, but there is a higher state than that. A great number seem never to attain to anything higher than simply believing on Jesus. But our religion means more than knowledge, faith, awe, hope. It means reverence, admiration, transcendent wonder. How many of us are content to live without elevated moments when the soul is lost in wonder, love, and praise?
V. The ascension teaches that virtuous sufferings lead to and end in glory. It was becoming that Jesus Christ should have ascended from the Mount of Olives. At the foot of that mountain was the place of His sorrow and agony. The death of a good man is, by far, more an ascension to heaven than a descent into the grave. It is very little after all that the grave shall possess of us. Take a tree, consume it, and then look at the small quantity of ash left. That is the only thing that tree derived from the earth. Where are the other elements? They belonged to the skies and have returned to the skies to mingle with their brother elements. Death is the consuming, and the little heap of ashes, when the burning is over, is all that the grave shall have of us; but the intellect, the will, the conscience, the affections, the imagination, the spirit, the man returns to God who gave it. (Thomas Jones.)
I. Its historical circumstances and character.
1. As to the historical fact. If, like Matthew and John, the other evangelists had omitted to tell us of the ascension, yet we could not have conceived of any other sequence of the resurrection; we could not have imagined the life of Christ to have wasted away in old age or sickness, much less to have died a second time. It was needful--
2. As to its circumstances--
II. Its mediatorial and doctrinal importance.
1. The Ascension is the final historic attestation of the validity and acceptance of the Atonement. A moral attestation is continually going on in the effects which the preaching of the Atonement produces. But the Ascension is a direct personal attestation to the sufficiency of Christ’s expiatory death.
2. The Ascension was the necessary introduction of the Mediator to the scene and reception of His mediatorial reward. Mark tells us that “He was received up into heaven, and sat at the right hand of God.” “God hath highly exalted Him.”
3. Christ ascended that He might bestow the promise of the Father, the gift of the Holy Spirit.
4. He ascended that He might, as our High Priest and Intercessor, “appear in the presence of God for us.”
5. He ascended to reign as Mediatorial King, to superintend the providence of the world, to be “head over all things to His Church,” and to “expect until His enemies shall be made His footstool.”
6. He ascended according to His promise, to “prepare a place” for His disciples in His “Father’s house.”
1. How to conceive of the spiritual world, a world in which human nature shall be glorified as it has been glorified in Christ.
2. How precious the encouragements of our Christian life. We have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus.” “We have not a High Priest who cannot be touched,” etc.
3. The attitude and temper of our Christian life. The effect on the disciples was an effect not of sorrow but of joy. (H. Allon, D. D.)
I. The circumstances.
I. The place. It is only natural that a sacred interest should attach to the spot which received the last print of the Redeemer’s footsteps. No doubt the honour accorded to particular places may open the door to much of fraud, and folly, and superstition. But the Mount of Olives was a fit scene for the ascension. Around no other spot does there gather such a cluster of hallowed associations.
2. The witnesses. Romulus is said to have gone up into the clouds in a thunderstorm, and of Mahomet it is pretended that he was miraculously taken up into heaven; but no witnesses were ever produced who saw these events. Our Lord was careful to have chosen and competent witnesses. He did not challenge all Jerusalem to see what was going to take place; nor invite the five hundred assembled at Galilee. The miracle is not harder to believe than that eleven holy and loving men should be mistaken in the identity of one, with whom they had eaten and discoursed after He rose from the dead.
3. The form of transport. A cloud: that emblem of mingled obscurity and light which Deity often employs as a medium through which to converse with man. Thus Jehovah “maketh the clouds His chariot.” Of the glory which settled on the Mount of Transfiguration, the characteristic feature is that it was “a bright cloud.” It was a pillar of cloud which went before Israel in the wilderness, and it was the descending cloud at the dedication of the Temple which told of an accepted sacrifice, and an approving and present God. Most fitting was it, therefore, that such a substance should enshrine the glorified humanity of Jesus. It spoke of His Deity. It connected Him more directly with the symbolisms and revelations of the heavenly world. It preserved the weak vision of the disciples from being confounded and dazzled. It prefigured the method of their Lord’s return.
4. The manner. It was mild, merciful, and majestic. Like a conqueror, wreathing his brow with trophies--like a priest, lifting up his hands to bless--like a parent, gathering his loved ones round to give them a parting charge. He gave them--
And thus, in the mode of the Saviour’s parting, we cannot fail to see a blending of His three offices. As Prophet, He provides for the future evangelisation of the world. As a King, He engages for the perpetual preservation of His Church. As a Priest, He scatters from the throne of His ascension all the treasures of heavenly benediction.
II. The lessons.
1. The grandeur of the scheme of redemption, as seen in the joy of the heavenly host in this its earthly consummation. When God brought His only begotten Son into the world, it was said, “Let all the angels of God worship Him.” How gladly would they welcome Him back to their own pure courts when His work was done. “God is gone up with a merry noise, and the Lord with a sound of a trumpet.” “Lift up your heads, O ye gates,” etc.
2. The special honour put upon our nature--upon His humanity, and upon ours.
3. The cementing and hallowing of those ties which subsist betwixt Himself and His Church--in their several relations of King and subject, Advocate and client, Head and members, Bridegroom and bride.
4. A recognition of Christ’s title to universal empire. It is the solemn investiture of the Saviour with authority over all worlds, times, economies, intelligences. “He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet.” (D. Moore, M. A.)
1. Jesus retired from Jerusalem for this final act of His earthly life. Great deeds are better done in solitude, when one is shut up to the Father alone. A man’s piety cannot be very deep, if it does not sometimes have a few personal and unutterable reserves in it.
2. Christ chose a spot hitherto full of only debased memories; Bethany, “house of the poor.” This ascension made it historic, more even than the august march of the Shekinah over the same plot of ground (Ezekiel 11:23). Very much of our earthly geography will be famous in heaven to those who love Jesus.
3. Our Lord took with Him only His humble circle of disciples as witnesses. Those simple fishermen had seen His humiliation; now they saw its offset. “Not many mighty, not many noble are called.” Lady Huntington once wrote that she was accustomed, every time she met this verse, to “thank God for the letter M.” What she meant was that, she (being a woman of rank) was not necessarily excluded from Divine grace, as she would have been, had the word been “any,” not “many.”
4. Christ paused at the final moment for a priestly act. He extended His hands; but there is no hint of His imposing them. He was blessing His disciples; He was in no sense mysteriously ordaining them. If any one asks what He said there is room for conjecture (Numbers 6:23).
5. There was great grace of suggestion in the gesture. When His hands were extended, all would see plainly the prints of the nails in His resurrection body. It was a most instructive lesson to learn; the Son of God showed “the marks--stigmas--of the Lord Jesus” at the moment of His coronation and advance to His throne.
6. Jesus left the field of His vast triumph without any display or fuss. All the pageants, all the hallelujahs, were reserved for the celestial city when the lawful Prince of glory came in. It is not everybody who is great enough to disappear when in the moment of success.
7. When our Lord returns, it will be with the same form of greeting (verse 11). Then let all believers learn that the crown of a religious and Christ-like life is blessing; the symbol of Jesus’ gospel is blessing; the very prediction of His coming again is blessing; the attitude He chooses is the silent grace of benediction. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The ascension: its purposes
I. That men might believe in Him. For three years He had taught, and with what result? Most of those who believed trusted in Him not so much for spiritual blessings as for the conquest of the heathen invader or for the “loaves and fishes.” Now contrast this failure to awaken the faith of men, while He lived on earth, with the success of His apostles after the ascension. The first sermon was followed by the conversion of three thousand souls. The reason of this contrast is not hard to find. While Jesus lived a human life, and performed miracles, He called forth admiration and wonder, but this only prevented a deep spiritual movement in men’s hearts. In the Gospels we seldom come across narratives of men convicted of sin and crying for redemption, but after the ascension Christ began to move upon the conscience of the world as “The Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world.”
II. That men might know Him and commune with Him. Men were won, indeed, by the beauty of His character. But who knew Him? Whose heart throbbed in sympathy with His? Where will you find the record of any real communion on the great themes that were nearest His heart? When He addressed them they but half understood Him. But contrast these disciples after the ascension. Then they began to know Him. They grasped the significance of His coming, His labour and His death. Knowing Him now in the spirit and aim of His great mediatorial life, they communed with Him, and illumined with this new knowledge and inspired by this communion, they went forth to preach the gospel, and it proved itself the power of God and the wisdom of God. We easily understand this. The daily life of men serves as often to conceal as to reveal them. How often a great statesman is not seen in his true proportions until he has been received “out of sight”! How often the child knows not the meaning of a father’s or a mother’s life until death has separated the parent from them! So it was with the disciples.
III. In order that His people might truly follow Him. While He was with them on the earth the disciples sought to imitate His outward life, to repeat His miracles, and His judgments. I cannot detect a single sign that the mind which was in Christ Jesus was in one of them. The result was that they never became independent of His physical presence. But how different when He had ascended! The impetuous and ambitious Peter lays down his life, like his Master, for the redemption of men. The “son of thunder” breathes forth the spirit of Christ in the words, “Little children, let us love one another.” Instead of attempting to imitate Christ’s outward life, they sought to drink into His spirit. And so it is with us.
IV. That He might be the spiritual redeemer of the whole world. The Church and the world are to become one; the spirit of Christ is to become the dominant spirit of the world’s life. In order to achieve this Jesus removed Himself from the limitations of place and time and nationality; and, ascending on high, seated Himself on the throne of universal dominion. And thus it was that when Christ had gone the Church moved forward on the path of universal conquest. (J. De Witt, D. D.)
Christ’s way to heaven unclosed
It has been said that in the early ages an attempt was once made to build a chapel on the top of the hill from which Christ ascended into heaven; but that it was found impossible either to pave over the place where He last stood, or to erect a roof through the path through which He ascended--a legendary tale, no doubt, though perhaps intended to teach the important truth that the moral marks and impressions which Christ has left behind Him can never be obliterated; that the way to heaven through which He passed can never be closed by human skill or power; and that He has before us an open door which no man shall be able to shut. (J. Alexander, D. D.)
The trail of the ascending Saviour
Sometimes, when the sky is beclouded, we do not see that across the garden path there sways a ladder of gossamer, linking tree with tree; but when the sun shines it is revealed by its silver sheen. So, as the infidel looks upwards, he can see no bond of union between this atom of star-dust and the metropolis of the universe, until his eyes are opened, and he sees the ladder left by the trail of the departing Saviour. Thank God, we are not cut adrift to the mercy of every current; this dark coal-ship is moored alongside the bright ship of heavenly grace; yes, and there is a plank between them. (F. B. Meyer.)
Christ in heaven
Christ’s ascension lights up our thought of heaven. Says one: “The presence of the glorified humanity of Christ seems a necessary preliminary and condition of our presence in heaven. We could not be at home among those august and terrible splendours unless we saw I-lira, our Brother, in the heart of all. As Joseph’s brethren, who had been all their lives wild Arab shepherds, would have felt ill at ease indeed in the proudest court in the world had it not been that their brother was there upon the throne, so we would not have found heaven to be our home unless we found it to be the place of the presence of Jesus Christ. Heaven is no place for us unless Christ Jesus be there:
“My knowledge of that life is small,
The eye of faith is dim;
But ‘tis enough that Christ knows all,
And I shall be with Him.”
(G. H. James.)
The angels watching Jesus
It takes a spiritual nature to see the spiritual facts of this world. Doubtless there were thousands in Galilee and Judaea who passed the Messiah without a glance. Let us have a walk of two miles through the heart of any metropolis with any man, and we would not care for any further exposition of his character. He is to be judged by what He himself “sees.” Around the display in the window of the diamond-broker there gathers a certain number by the silent process of natural selection. At the toy store a different crowd augments itself. Before the bulletin board of the stock exchange a third company collects; and at a bookseller’s shop a fourth. While men were watching the movements of Herod or the campaigns of Caesar the angels were watching Jesus. They hovered over the manger at Bethlehem; minstered to His fainting frame in the wilderness; guarded the tomb in the garden, and followed with glad eyes His form as it disappeared in the clouds above Olivet. It is a crucial test of character whether we see or slight the living Christ in the men and women of our own day. (Christian Age.)
The ascension: its moral uses
I. Our faith in Christ’s divinity is made sure. He who said, “I came down from heaven,” spoke also of the Ascension as the means whereby the doubts of His disciples should be removed (John 6:38; John 6:51; John 6:61-69.).
II. Our hope in His promises is strengthened. Where He is gone we shall also go, since He is gone as our first-fruits, and to prepare a place for us.
III. Our love is inflamed. By His going up into heaven our hearts are raised in expectation to the same place, and our love is kindled by the fire of the Holy Spirit He sends down from thence. (W. Denton, M. A.)
The Ascension: its diffusive benefits
So long as a lamp in a room is placed on a low level its light may be intercepted by the bodies of persons around it, and so prevented from reaching others who are in the remoter corners. But let it be lifted up to the ceiling, and it sheds its beams down on all who are below. Our Lord, while on earth, was circumscribed by place and earthly relationships; but since His ascension, His presence and influence are diffused everywhere through the spiritual world, as the rays of the sun are through the natural. (Dean Goulburn.)
The Ascension: its lessons
I. Heavenly-mindedness. He went as the great Forerunner of His people, and we must follow in His course. Where the Head is there should the members be; and our treasure, life, affection are meant to be with Him at the right hand of God.
II. Simple duty. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, which is emphatically the Epistle of the Ascension, this is the aspect of the doctrine which is always urged. Because Christ is highly exalted and we are raised up together with Him, therefore we are to be lowly and meek, and to forbear one another in love; to put off the old man, etc. It is the same lesson which is taught in two of the Psalms appointed for the service of Ascension Day, “Lord, who shall dwell in Thy tabernacle, or who shall rest upon Thy holy hill?” Is it only the lofty, the devoted? No, but common men who, by God’s grace, have lived their common lives in the paths of purity and duty, the lowly, the undeceitful, the unmalicious, the uncorrupt.
III. Holy fear How are you living? As Christ ascended, so shall He one day descend to awful judgment. If you be a hardened sinner, and will continue so, then fear; for then to you the lesson of Christ’s ascension is a lesson of wrath and doom.
IV. But if you be living in justice and mercy, and walking humbly with your God, then the lesson is one of hope. It is a pledge to us of that forgiveness which Christ died to win. For Christ is our Intercessor. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
The Ascension: the Saviour’s gifts
It was the custom of the Roman emperors, at their triumphal entrance, to cast new coins among the multitudes: so doth Christ, in His triumphal entrance into heaven, throw the greatest gifts for the good of man that were ever given. (T. Goodwin, D. D.)
The ascension of Christ and of Elijah
While the going up of Elias may be compared to the flight of a bird which none can follow, the ascension of Christ is, as it were, a bridge between heaven and earth, laid down for all who are drawn to Him. (J. Baumgarten.)
The Ascension and the Second Advent practically considered
1. Four great events shine out in our Saviour’s story--His birth, death, resurrection, and ascension. These make four rounds in that ladder of light, the top whereof reacheth to heaven. We could not afford to dispense with any one of them. That the Son of God was born creates a brotherhood; that He died is the rest and life of our spirits; that He rose is the warrant of our justification and an assurance of the resurrection of all His people. Equally delightful is the remembrance of His ascension. No song is sweeter than this--“Thou hast ascended on high; Thou hast led captivity captive,” etc.
2. Each one of those four events points to another, and lead up to it: the Second Advent. Had He not come a first time in humiliation He could not have come a second time in glory “without a sin-offering unto salvation.” Because He died we rejoice that He cometh to destroy the last enemy. It is our joy that in consequence of His rising the trump of the archangel shall sound for the awaking of all His slumbering people. As for His ascension, He could not a second time descend if He had not first ascended.
3. We will start from the ascension. Picture our Lord and the eleven walking up the side of Olivet. They come to a standstill, having reached the brow of the hill. While the disciples are looking, the Lord has ascended to the clouds. They stand spellbound, and suddenly a bright cloud, like a chariot of God, bears Him away. They are riveted to the spot, very naturally so; but it is not the Lord’s will that they should long remain inactive; their reverie is interrupted. Two messengers of God appear in human form that they may not alarm them, and in white raiment as if to remind them that all was bright and joyous. As they had once said to the women, “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen”; so did they now say, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus,” etc. Their reverie over, the apostles at once gird up their loins for active service; they hasten to obey the command, “Tarry ye at Jerusalem.” Here is--
I. A gentle chiding.
1. What these men were doing seems at first sight to be--
2. What they did we are very apt to imitate. “Oh,” say you, “I shall never stand gazing up into heaven.” I am not sure of that.
II. A cheering description--“This same Jesus.” I appreciate this the more because it came from those who knew Him. “He was seen of angels.”
1. Jesus is gone, but He still exists. As surely as He did hang upon the Cross, so surely does He, the self-same Man, sit upon the throne of God. Jesus lives; mind that you live also. “Jesus “means” a Saviour.” Oh, ye anxious sinners, the name of Him who has gone up into His glory is full of invitation to you! Will you not come to “this same Jesus”?
2. He who is to come will be the same Jesus that went up into heaven. He will be “the same Jesus” in nature though not in condition: He will possess the same tenderness when He comes to judge. Go to Him with your troubles, as you would have done when He was here. Look forward to His second coming without dread. On the back of that sweet title came this question, “Why stand ye here gazing into heaven?” They might have said, “We stay here because we do not know where to go. Our Master is gone.” But oh, it is the same Jesus, and He is coming again, so go down to Jerusalem and get to work directly. Do not worry yourselves; it is not a disaster that Christ has gone, but an advance in His work. Despisers tell us nowadays, “Your Divine Christ is gone; we have not seen a trace of His miracle-working hand, nor of that voice which no man could rival.” Here is our answer: He lives; and it is our delight to turn our heavenly gazing into an earthward watching, and to go down into the city, and there to tell that Jesus is risen, that whosoever believeth in Him shall have everlasting life. His ascension is not a retreat, but an advance. His tarrying is not for want of power, but because of the abundance of His long-suffering.
III. A great practical truth, which will not keep us gazing into heaven, but will make us render earnest service.
1. Jesus is gone into heaven; up to the throne, from which He can send us succour. Is not that a good argument--“Go ye therefore and teach all nations,” etc.?
2. Jesus will come again. A commander has not given up the campaign because it is expedient that he should withdraw from your part of the field. Our Lord is doing the best thing for His kingdom in going away.
3. He is coming in like manner as He departed. He will descend in clouds even as He went up in clouds; and “He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth” even as He stood aforetime. Do not let anybody spiritualise this away. Jesus is coming as a matter of fact, therefore go down to your sphere of service as a matter of fact. Jesus is literally and actually coming, and He will literally and actually call upon you to give an account of your stewardship.
4. Be ready to meet your coming Lord. I called one day on one of our members, and she was whitening the front steps. She got up all in confusion, and said, “Oh dear, sir, I did not know you were coming to-day, or I would have been ready.” I replied, “Dear friend, you could not be in better trim than you are: you are doing your duty like a good housewife, and may God bless you. When Jesus comes, I hope He will find me doing as you are doing, namely, fulfilling the duty of the hour.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The apostles’ last sight of Jesus
I. The Master of all resources making use of natural means in connection with a stupendous miracle. Jesus showed Himself superior to natural laws, yet up to the highest point possible He made use of natural means on the way to His glorious end. He might have ascended from the valley, but since He made hills so much nearer heaven, He would not neglect the benefit of His own creation. He who could always have walked on the sea did so but once, and He to whom the highest mountains are but valleys would walk up a hill to ascend into heaven. This should teach us to bless God for means when we have them, and to trust Him for means when we have them not.
II. The Great Master going to His rest when His work was done. He had overcome, and must therefore now go to His throne. He had shown His sovereign power over the sea by walking on it and making it pay His tribute; over the earth by raising the dead and forsaking His own tomb; over hell by conquering Satan; and He must now show His power over the air by a local ascending into heaven.
III. Christ served by other beings than men. The cloud might be a multitude of heavenly attendants. Certainly celestial messengers instructed the apostles about “this same Jesus.” How great is His dignity who has such servants, and what an honour to serve Him.
IV. That even Christian contemplation must be regulated with reference to other duties. It was but natural that the disciples should gaze after Jesus; but the angel’s word called them off from an object engrossing and delightful to their work. To neglect the shop for the prayer-meeting, to allow your cattle to hunger that you may hear a sermon, to make private devotion an excuse for refusing to visit the sick and needy, is what God cannot bless; and when a Christian is called from such dangerous ways he ought to feel deeply grateful.
V. That the ascension is a pattern of the Second Advent. It will be--
2. With clouds.
3. With angelic attendants. (W. Hudson.)
A cloud received Him.--
The Ascension cloud
Lovers of nature find almost as much pleasure in watching the clouds as in gazing upon a landscape; in some respects even more, for the colouring is far more splendid, and the whole scene is one of perpetual change and variety. We read very much of clouds in Holy Scripture. The one before us is the Ascension cloud. A last thought is the extent and amount of the change involved in the Ascension. “A cloud received Him.” That is all. This and no more is the change made by the Ascension. Behind, above the cloud, is the Person who a moment ago was visible, was audible, was conversing and communing with us, was here, and answering our questions; was speaking of things pertaining to His kingdom. There is now just a cloud between us--between us and Him. That is all. No other change has had place or room. We are still gazing into heaven, only a cloud has intercepted the view. His last act was benediction: while He blessed He was taken from us. The hand is stretched out still. It is to leave His peace with us which passeth understanding. The Ascension cloud has nothing but benediction in it. It was that He might fill earth and heaven, St. Paul tells us, that He went away. In other words, it was that, being out of sight, and because He was out of sight, He might be to us that spiritual presence which alone profits, satisfies, comforts, or saves. The Ascension cloud is all blessing. The mystery which it involves is no illusion. It is true and wholesome doctrine. It is the doctrine of the reality, and the activity, and the nearness to us of that spiritual presence which is our life. Alas I it is quite ether-wise with other clouds which intercept the view of the Ascended. “Earth-born clouds” our evening hymn speaks off They are of all kinds. There is the cloud of simple indifference. The heart feels no want which earth cannot supply. The heart sees no beauty in spiritual satisfaction. Christ is out of sight; the cloud is between, and we care not to pierce it. Let it hide the Invisible; we do not want Him. And then there is the cloud of unbelief. We have heard of the sneer of the infidel; alas! we have listened to it. All things are dared in these days, even if it be to the parodying and caricature of the Bible. Wheresoever the soul has no God in it, there clouds are, and their name is legion. There is the earth-born cloud of sinning. Yes, for one cloud of worldliness, or levity, or conscious unbelief, there are in the individual skies thousands and tens of thousands of damp, dark, heavy clouds of sin; and each one of these hides Jesus Christ from view. If it be no bigger than a man’s hand it is enough. Each one of these little clouds places Him at a measureless distance, Him the holy, the undefiled, the separate from sinners. He cannot dwell where sin is, either as guest or host. “A cloud receiveth Him out of their sight.” It was one of the earth-born clouds. It was not the sweet Ascension cloud, for that while it intercepts the view of sense only quickens the view of faith, which is the eye of the soul. (Dean Vaughan.)
Comfort in a cloud
A friend of mine told me of a visit he had paid to a poor woman overwhelmed with trouble. “Mary,” said he, “you must have very dark days; the clouds must overcome you sometimes.” “Yes,” she replied, “when I am very dark and low I go to the window, and if I see a heavy cloud I think of those precious words, ‘A cloud received Him out of their sight,’ and I look up and see the cloud sure enough, and then I think, ‘Well, that may be the cloud that hides Him’; and so you see there is comfort in a cloud.”
The intervening cloud
A minister says: “I once visited an invalid lady who for a long time had been confined to her bed, and she said to me, ‘The Lord has forgotten me altogether.’ I replied, ‘Supposing a heavy mist should fall so that you could not see that lighthouse on the other side of the river, would you believe it was there?’ ‘Oh, yes,’ she said, ‘because I had seen it before, and I should all the time hear the whistle which warns mariners of danger.’ ‘Yes, and in the same way you may know that the Lord is near. Your bodily weakness is the cloud between you and your God. His Word still speaks to you, and the eye of faith can surely see through this cloud as clearly as through an earthly mist.’ This led her to a life of faith and comfort.”
And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up.
Too much mere sentiment in religion
It may be that the same two angels who rolled away the stone, and appeared at His open sepulchre, were present now. Or were they the “two men,” Moses and Elijah, who had appeared at the Transfiguration? Whoever they were, they were glorified beings, sent to do honour to Christ. The words may be taken as a rebuke for the indulgence of too much sentiment in connection with religion. Sentiment in religion is not only good, but essential; without the sentiments of love, hope, gratitude, adoration, there could be no religion. But if it continue merely as sentiment, and takes no practical form, sways not the actions and shapes not the life, it is rather pernicious than useful.
I. That too much sentimental interest in the marvellous in religion is not good. Religion has its marvels, supernatural events crowd the Word of God; but to yield our minds too much to the influence of the wonderful, is not good. The sentiment of wonder has its beneficent mission; it tends to take us out of ourselves, to break the monotony of our experience, and to give a passing freshness to life. But the indulgence of this sentiment of wonder, apart from religion, is a great evil. The religionists who are always gazing after signs and wonders become dreamy mystics and the dupes of priestly imposture. The wonder which the marvellous in religion excites, becomes only useful as it lifts us to a higher plane of practical life, only as it tends to make our lives sublime.
II. That too much sentimental interest in the objective in religion is not good. The disciples were looking outside of themselves, fixing their gaze on the heavens. We do well so to gaze upon the outward, as to reduce the whole into a science that shall become the richest inheritance of the intellect. In religion, too, we must be interested in the outward. The soul is neither self-sustaining nor self-directing; its elements of life must be derived from without; its lessons of direction must come from without. But to have all our interests absorbed in the externals of religion is a terrible evil, and, alas I a prevalent one. “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Ghost.”
III. That too much sentimental interest in the temporary in religion is not good. There is a natural tendency in these souls of ours to linger with interest over departed objects that were once dear to the heart. ‘“We cling,” says one, “to the shell, the husks, the garments, after the kernel, the essence, and the life have gone.” To indulge in this sentiment in natural things, is not good; the mourner whose sentiments are always absorbed in the dear ones that are gone, grows moody and diseased. The permanent was with them--the eternal principles of truth and the spirit of Christ, these did not depart; it was a mere temporary manifestation that went; and to have their sentiments engrossed in that, was not good. There are those around us in all directions whose sympathies are taken up with the mere temporary forms of religion. (Homilist.)
Words to the spectators of the ascension
I. The chiding element. “Why stand ye gazing?” There is undoubtedly reproof in these words.
1. “Why stand ye?”--you need not lament that which is a blessing. All that is necessary on earth for your spiritual culture and well-being He has accomplished, and now He enters heaven in order to give efficiency to all the spiritual instrumentalities which He has set in operation amongst you. You should rejoice, rather than lament--rejoice at what He has done for you, rejoice that He has triumphed over His enemies, rejoice that He is leaving His degradation, sorrows, and enemies for scenes of dignity, blessedness, and love. Ah, how often, through our ignorance, we lament over events which should fill us with rejoicing.
2. “Why stand ye”--you gain much by His departure. It is “expedient” for you that He goes away, for if He goes not away “the Comforter will not come.” When He is gone you will be thrown back upon yourselves and be made self-reliant.
3. “Why stand ye”--He has given you a commission to work. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, beginning at Jerusalem.”
II. The cheering element. “This same Jesus which is taken from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.”
1. He will return to you “in like manner.” How unexpectedly He went away. It is said, “while they looked” He went. “In like manner” He will come: unexpectedly.
2. He will return to you identical in personality. “This same Jesus.” Same loving Brother, tried Friend, mighty Lord, etc. Whatever changes take place in the universe, they will not touch Him.
3. He will return to you in great glory. He went up in great glory, “a cloud received Him out of their sight.” What cloud was that? It was that luminous, mystic flame which was ever regarded as the symbol of the Divine Presence. That which gleamed in the bush to Moses, in the pillar that conducted the Children of Israel through the wilderness, over the mercy-seat in the holy of holies, which glided through the heavens like a star and conducted the wise men to the place where Jesus was born; that which spread over the Mount of Transfiguration and made the scene so transporting. “In like manner” He will come. “I beheld a great white throne, and Him that sat thereon,” etc.
Conclusion: Such is what seems implied in this angelic language and from it three general truths may be drawn.
1. That what we deem our greatest losses are often our greatest gain.
2. That we indulge too much in the sentiments of religion when they detain us from earnest work.”
3. That the destinies of men in all worlds and ages are bound up in Christ. “This same Jesus.” (Homilist.)
Why stand ye gazing
There is reproof in the question. We might have thought that the question answered itself. Would it not have been strange if they had not stood gazing? Less wonderful spectacles than that have drawn together a crowd of gazers, and no one thinks of arguing with them. Curiosity alone will account for gazing upon this spectacle; ascent into heaven by one in human form, unaided by any visible appliance. Who, I say, would not gaze up into heaven to watch this? But how much more, if the person thus ascending was a friend--a friend closer than a brother. The disciples gazed as though they were looking their last upon the departed form. To be reminded, then, that this was by no means their last sight of Him was to be recalled at once to thoughts of peace, and hope, and blessedness; to be reproved for this gazing by the assurance which followed, that “this same Jesus shall come again in like manner as ye now see Him go,” had healing in the very wound. Interpreted by the teaching of the Last Supper, the reproof said this to them: “Remember how He said to you while He was yet with you, ‘A little while, and ye shall not see Me; and again a little while and ye shall see Me.’” One fulfilment of that saying you have already witnessed: He went from you by death, and He came back to you by resurrection. Another fulfilment of the same saying is now in development: He goes from you by ascension, and He shall come back to you in the Advent. This, then, was the meaning for the first disciples of the “Why stand ye gazing?” which is our text. Within tea days they understood it. On the instant it comforted them, for St. Luke expressly says, that they returned to Jerusalem that very hour with great joy. The idea of parting was swallowed up for them in the idea of meeting. But now, let us hear this question addressed to ourselves: “Why stand ye here gazing? What mean ye by this silence?” and let us think what we shall answer. “Why stand ye to-night in this church gazing on the ascension?” We take an onward step when we reply.
I. Because it helps us to realise a world beyond this world, a life above this life, a substantial rock that is higher than we, on which we would firmly stand our feet amidst the billows and storms of the temporal and the transient. To fix a steadfast gaze upon the ascending Lord, till a cloud comes between and intercepts the view, to which flesh and blood are unequal, of that glorious, that mysterious transition from the material into the immaterial universe--we find it helpful, we find it comforting, under the heavy pressure of sense and time, whether our circumstances at this present are joyous or grievous, weighted with care and sorrow, or but too jubilant with pleasure and prosperity. It is not easy to believe in a world out of sight. We want every help that a religious life can give to it, we want the aid of prayer, we want the discipline of providence, we want the experience of years, we want, first and above all, a revelation such as God gives in His Son, commending itself to man’s conscience and resting upon a basis of impregnable fact. I know not what would become of us in days such as these--days of unrest and disquietude, days of anxiety bursting sometimes into horror, days of failing hearts and almost despairing hopes, for the future of our own and other lands, if we could not gaze upward after the ascended Saviour and infer the certainty of a better country, that is a heavenly.
II. The desire to realise the life of Christ Himself as gone into heaven for us men and for our salvation.
III. That we are all learning in heart and mind to ascend after Him, and there with Him continually to dwell. There are many counterfeits of this grace, there are also some substitutes for it, counted as good or better, sometimes even by the Church of this age. It is an age which makes activity everything; measures religion by its tangible effects; leaves itself no inner life, as it were; itself depends on the outward, and thinks little even of the industry which has nothing to show for itself. The Church too much humours and pampers this temper of the times. Now, the ascent of our Lord is the protest against this whole system. They who would witness for Him must find time to track His ascending; they who would reproduce Him in. His reality to this nineteenth age must first have gazed steadfastly up; there must be leisure found or made for this, leisure for meditation, leisure for study, leisure for communing. Let each one fix his gaze upon the ascending Lord, that he may follow Him where the Ascended rests in that calm heaven, the heaven of holiness and the heaven of love. Let him dwell with the Ascended, having boldness to enter into the Holiest. Let us draw nigh; let it be a purified entering, and let it be a purified return also. That is the spiritual mind whose home is heaven. “Why stand ye gazing up into heaven?” Because we would follow where He has led, live the life of heaven here, and at last be with Him for ever where He is. (Dean Vaughan.)
The disciples at the Ascension
I. Men overpowered and dispossessed of self-control in the presence of a wondrous revelation. There are moments in which men are not themselves. Great events suddenly happen and the spectators lose all presence of mind, however sagacious they may ordinarily be. Sometimes they cannot speak for joy, sometimes for terror, sometimes for simple amazement. This is the case sometimes with children, and often with men when, e.g., a letter is received containing unexpected news. The thing to be remembered here is that this is the natural effect of Christian revelation. When the angels came to Bethlehem the shepherds were afraid, so were the women to whom the angels spake at the sepulchre. And no man ought to receive Divine communications or see Divine effects without sensibility. Nor ought we to look on the sublimities of nature or the wonders of art as if they were nothing. This is one of the perils of familiarity. A rustic thinks little of the mountain under whose shadow he was born, but is struck dumb when he gazes on St. Paul’s. A Londoner passes the cathedral without knowing that it is there, but looks at Snowdon for hours during his summer holiday.
II. Men recalled from enfeebling reverie. It was good for them to look upward, but there was something more to be done. We can waste time in the sublimest contemplation. When a man is naturally inclined to ecstasy he ought to fight against his inclination so as to bring it into harmony with other powers. There are persons to whom Christianity is so sublime a thing that they fail to see it in practical life. It is right to have hours of rapture, but a man cannot live so always. So the disciples were interrogated by the two men in white apparel--Moses and Elias, I think; for there is something Mosaic in the inquiry, and something of the power and passion of Elijah. We too are matched by the old master-workers of the world. Seeing then we are encompassed by so great a cloud of witnesses, why should our life be a gazing when we are called to work? When the women looked down into the sepulchre, the angel said, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” So we are not always to be looking down. The lesson of the text is that we must not always be looking up. What then is to be our attitude? Look about you; and look up only to gain inspiration for the work nearest to hand.
III. Men instructed and comported by a promise. “This same Jesus.” Who wants an amended Christ? “This same Jesus” who knows, has taught, has died to save you “shall come again.” One would like to see Jesus; but one would not like Him to be so changed that those who knew Him first know Him no longer. We want such elements of identity as shall enable the disciples to gladly recognise Him as the same Christ. He is promised to come again in the same sublime fashion, sovereign in will, gentle in spirit, pure as God, tenderer than woman. The world cannot live without that promise. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Gazing into heaven
There is here--
I. An affectionate expostulation with those who are under personal bereavement. When Jesus had kept telling these friends of His that He purposed to leave them before long, they received no settled impression from it. It is of no use to attempt to become prepared for the loss of one whom we love. Now they looked after their ascending Lord with unutterable dismay. When any one has parted with some precious object of affection, the wounded spirit remains just broken, gazing up into vacancy, sometimes even wishing it might fly away and be at rest. But this cannot be indulged. These disciples are told to report immediately for duty. The mourner’s eyes should be fixed upon work, and not upon loss. See the promise (Psalms 126:5-6.).
II. An earnest incitement to the laggard or listless. The great world needed the gospel without delay. Christ was gone, but the Comforter was coming. Just as soon as they advanced to duty the day of Pentecost dawned. There are men who stand gazing up into heaven after a revival. Now, nowhere does God’s Word bid us wait for any special outpouring of spiritual influence. The Holy Spirit is in the Church.
III. A clear counsel for those in earnest in the seeking of Christ for their souls. It is possible for a man to stand gazing up into heaven for a course of years, and then suddenly discover that what he has been looking for was an experience, and not a Saviour. Salvation is not a thing to be vacantly gazed after. Repent of your sins now. Put your trust in Christ now. The entire work of turning unto a new life usually begins with some commonplace step of commitment of one’s self before others. A public word in a prayer-meeting, the asking of a blessing at the table, a checking admonition to a comrade, a mere refusal to do a wrong or worldly act, will never make a man a Christian, but it may show he has become one.
IV. A comfort for such Christians as are in bondage through fear of death. Let us think of our departure as an ascension like Christ’s. One may habituate himself to melancholy foreboding until all looks dark and frightful on ahead. Or he may accustom his mind to regarding a change of worlds as only a sweet, bright journey along the path the Saviour went from the Mount of Olives. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Nothing is more dangerous than idleness. He who has nothing to do will soon be doing something wrong. “Our idle,” says an eminent divine, “are Satan’s busy days. If the mind is properly engaged, there is little room for the entrance of temptation; but when the mind is empty and open, the enemy can throw in what he pleases. Stagnant waters produce thousands of noxious insects that are unknown in flowing streams.”
Looking after it is useless
How true to nature is that gazing “steadfastly into heaven” after gazing was useless! So we look at the spot on the horizon where the last gleam of a sail that bears away dear ones has faded. (A. Maclaren, D. D)
The “two men in white apparel” make a part of the grand supernatural array which the common scenery of the earth put on as the Lord was leaving it. From the entrance of the Saviour into the garden, on through the following forty-three days, the spiritual world and the material seemed to have the doors between them swung open, and to become one. If we believe the history, or credit the incarnation, at all, is not this just as we should expect? He in whom the realities of both heaven and earth were united; He who could say--“The Son of Man is now in heaven,” He is passing back personally into the unseen communion, where all His friends are to follow Him. I believe in miracles because I see the greater miracle--Christ--grander than all this world’s men, and yet lowlier, saying that He comes forth from God, and goes to God, as simply as my child shows me the flower found in the garden-yet so saying it that all the philosophers and critics of eighteen hundred years have not been able to break the authority or explain the secret. The question is--
I. A call from contemplation to action. Only a little breathing space was to be given them first to gather up their energies; and even that was not to be an interval of idleness. They were to go at once to Jerusalem, and their waiting there was to be like the waiting of the still midsummer elements, before the mountain winds sweep down and the tongues of fire leap out--a busy waiting--a preparation for this long campaign of many ages. They were to be earnest and constant in prayer and praise; to settle in their minds the doctrines and directions of their Master, pertaining to the kingdom; to fasten and cement the bonds of unity with one accord, and to fill up the vacant place in the apostolate. Thus their business had been marked out as every Christian’s is. But the apostles are not turning to that business; they are still resting in a kind of sentimental trance between their commission and their ministry. They were living as some Christians do nowadays-in their feelings, more than in their convictions and their will, in fruitless memories, not in daring hopes. Indulged any longer, this would become a mere life of religious sentiment, not a life of religious service--and so not a healthy life at all. If those men that had companied so long with Christ needed to be startled out of a false indulgence in the mere idle luxury of feeling, most of us need it much more. I hear a man say it makes him “feel better” to say his prayers; so far so good; but how far does the feeling go, and the power of the prayer keep him company, as a law of regulation to his lips and a purifier of his conduct? Lacordaire says, “I desire to be remembered only as one who believed, who loved, and who prayed.” But why only these? Ought there not to be an equal desire to honour the Lord in an active following of His steps and proclaiming Him in life?
II. A summons to walk, henceforth, not by the light of an outward leader, but by a secret and steadfast trust in Him who is for ever with us by an inward possession. If, then, the question of the heavenly men be put into some paraphrase for ourselves here, this would be its import. Reduce your privileges to Christian practice, and your faith to action. Life is not given us for speculation, or gazing, or mere delight, even though the relish be religious--not for reverie and dreaming, even though it were the reverie of devotion, or a dream of Paradise. This world, our own little corner of it, wants sacrifice and labour, running feet and open hands, busy thoughts and gentle tongues.
III. A demand that our Christian life should be independent of external support, so that it may be only dependent on God. Not that we are to cast away any outward prop so long as God’s providence holds it in its place and comforts us by letting us lean upon it; but that we should not be perplexed or disheartened when any such help is taken away by Him, or enfeeble ourselves by letting our integrity, or our purity, or our prayers depend on it instead of depending directly on Him. There is no danger that our eyes or our hearts will he turned too much upwards, heavenwards--provided we look there, in faith and prayer, for the light and the strength to do our Christian service here. At present this is our place; and the judgment before us is a judgment for deeds done in the body. These men, when they were bidden to stop gazing into heaven and go to their work were not turned away from heavenly things to earthly things, but the opposite. They were to stop looking into the air, that by a truer and God-appointee road they might travel, in God’s time, higher up into the Christian heaven. They were to rouse themselves from a dream, that they might work out their salvation and the salvation of the world. To that end, the present line of living, however agreeable and prosperous, the present residence or occupation, however delightful, or the present apparent helps, however prized, as soon as they become tempters to sluggishness, must be given up--a sacrifice to Him whose sacrifice to us is the only assurance of life. Hence God’s providence is continually pushing us on, displacing one or another scheme, or vision, or staff, or companion. He does it for what he would make of us--better men. (Bp. Huntington.)
Idle emotion useless
Love to God is no idle emotion or lazy rapture, no vague sentiment, but the root of all practical goodness, of all strenuous efforts, of all virtue, and of all praise. That strong tide is meant to drive the busy wheels of life and to bear precious freightage on its bosom; not to flow away in profitless foam. (A. Maclaren, D. D)
Go about your business
Some years ago, a new clock was made to be placed in the Temple Hall. When finished the clockmaker was desired to wait upon the Benchers of the Temple, who would think of a suitable motto to be put under the clock. He applied several times, but without getting the desired information, as they had not determined on the inscription. Continuing to importune them, he at last came when the old Benchers were met in the Temple Hall, and had just sat down to dinner. The workman again requested to be informed of the motto. One of the Benchers who thought the application ill-timed, and who was fender of eating and drinking than inventing mottoes, testily replied, “Go about your business!” The mechanic taking this for an answer to his question, went home and inserted at the bottom of the clock, “Go about your business!” and placed it in the Temple Hall, to the great surprise of the Benchers, who, considering the circumstances, argued that accident had produced a better motto than they could think of, and ever since the Temple clock has continued to remind the lawyer and the public to go about their business. (Christian Herald.)
This same Jesus … shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go.--
Christ’s second coming
I. Its Time.
1. Unknown (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32).
2. The times of restoration (Acts 3:19).
3. The latter day (Job 19:25).
4. “Such an hour as ye think not” (Matthew 24:44).
5. “After that tribulation,” etc. (Mark 13:24-26).
6. A falling away first (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
II. How characterised.
1. The times of restoration (Acts 3:19).
2. The day of God (2 Peter 3:12).
3. The last time (1 Peter 1:5).
4. The revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 1:13).
5. Appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour (Titus 2:13).
6. The day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:8).
7. The day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).
8. The appearing of the chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4).
III. Its manner.
1. Suddenly and unexpectedly (Matthew 24:44; Mark 13:36; Luke 12:40).
2. As a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 16:15).
3. As the lightning (Matthew 24:27).
4. As the flood (Matthew 24:37-39).
5. As He ascended (verse 11).
6. In clouds (Matthew 24:30; Matthew 26:64; Revelation 1:7).
7. With a shout and the voice of the archangel (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
8. With angels (Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:31; Mark 8:38; 2 Thessalonians 1:7).
9. With His saints (1 Thessalonians 3:13; Jude 1:14).
10. In the glory of His Father (Matthew 16:27).
11. In His own glory (Matthew 25:31; Luke 9:26).
12. In flaming fire (2 Thessalonians 1:8).
13. With power and great glory (Matthew 24:30.)
IV. Its purposes.
1. To be glorified in His saints (2 Thessalonians 1:10).
2. To bring to light the hidden things of darkness (1 Corinthians 4:5).
3. To reign (Isaiah 24:23; Daniel 7:14; Revelation 11:15).
4. Gather His elect (Matthew 24:31; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).
5. To judge (Matthew 25:31).
6. To reward (Revelation 22:12).
V. Duties relative to it.
1. Should consider as at hand (Romans 13:12; Philippians 4:5; 1 Peter 4:7).
2. Be prepared for (Matthew 24:44; Matthew 24:46; Luke 12:37-38; Luke 12:40).
3. Should love (2 Timothy 4:8).
4. Look for (Philippians 3:20; Titus 2:13).
5. Wait for (1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).
6. Watch for (Matthew 24:42; Mark 13:35-37; Luke 21:36).
7. Be patient unto (2 Thessalonians 3:5; James 5:7-8). (S. S. Times.)
Love makes the tears of farewells sparkle into welcomes, and if we could retain the came impression of Christ’s loss, His return would be as nigh. It is, moreover, in the New Testament the great event which towers above every other. The heaven that gives back Christ gives back all we have loved and lost, solves all doubts and ends all sorrows. His coming looks in upon the whole life of His Church, as a lofty mountain peak looks in upon every little valley and sequestered home around its base, and belongs to them alike. Every generation lies under the shadow of it, for whatever is transcendently great is constantly near, and in moments of conviction it absorbs petty interests and annihilates intervals. (J. Ker, D. D.)
Waiting for Christ’s return
The Rev. T. Brown, in The Watchword, tells of a gentleman, accompanied by his little son, having an errand at the East India House, who left the boy upon the steps, telling him to wait till he returned. Shortly afterwards, being much engrossed, with the business which he had in hand, he left the building by another door, and went home, entirely forgetting his son. When the family assembled at dinner the mother noticed the child’s absence, and made anxious inquiry for him. Then the incident of the morning flashed upon the father’s mind. He hurried back to the East India House, and there he found the little boy, tired and hungry, waiting, as he had been told to, at the door. He had been there four hours. “I knew you would come, father,” said he; “you said you would.” Such secure and childlike trust is the faith of all who die “in Christ.” All who fall asleep in Jesus, know that Jesus will come for them again, for He said He would, and He never forgets. In like manner the living believer should anticipate His second coming.
The Second Advent
I. Our Lord’s unchanged identity. After having been separated by years of time and leagues of space from a familiar friend, if a reunion is anticipated each will probably speculate on the change which the interval has wrought in the other. “He will have formed new friendships and contracted fresh habits; another generation has sprung up since we were companions, and the old links no longer exist; he can hardly feel for me as he once did.” But no such surmises can mingle with our thoughts of Jesus. “There is one Lord Jesus Christ,” and but one. The ascended and coming Saviour is the same who came and suffered (Ephesians 4:9). A native Indian preacher was met on his way to Church by two young English officers bent on sport. They asked him, “How is Jesus Christ to-day?” Astonished that two young men from the country who sent the Bible should take the sacred name in vain, he gently rebuked them, but added, “If you really want to know how Jesus Christ is, He is the ‘same yesterday, to-day, and for ever’“--a word fitly spoken which led the young men to the Saviour.
1. Jesus Christ is the same in--
Since His ascension those who have seen Him declare that He retains His identity--Stephen, Paul (1 Corinthians 9:1), John at Patmos. As He still bears the marks of His suffering, so He retains sympathy for every member of His body. Although “by seraph hosts adored, He to earth’s lowest cares is still awake.”
2. So it is with our friends who have gone homo. They have not lost their individuality--only their mortality and sin. They have not melted into the infinite azure. Moses and Elias on the Mount of Transfiguration were the same as in Hebrew story.
II. The certainty and manner of His return.
1. He continually revisits His people.
2. He is coming.
Not as first He came, a helpless infant, but a glorious conqueror (Daniel 7:13; Revelation 1:7; Revelation 14:14). (R. Lewis.)
The Second Advent
These words cannot refer to Pentecost, nor to Christ’s spiritual communion with His people, because other references point to the Second Advent as in the future, and far more glorious than any manifestations in the past.
I. Christ will come again. In the Early Church the expectation of soon seeing Christ was strong. But when this was disappointed the thought fell into the background. Yet error as to time does not affect the fact. The world waited many ages for the First Advent, but “in the fulness of time God sent forth His Son.” Why, then, should the Church despair if she must wait ages for the second?
II. Christ will come in glory. He ascended in triumph; He will return in triumph. In the prophets we have visions of glory and humiliation associated with the Messiah, and the Rabbis expected two Messiahs, one suffering and the other conquering. We now see that one man can be both in successive periods. Christ fulfils prophecy by degrees. Had the whole of Christ’s career fallen in the days of Tiberius the Jews might properly have rejected Him. We look for the final fulfilment of prophecy to the future glory of Christ.
III. Christ will come to reign. His glory will not be an empty pageant. They who look for a visible throne and a secular government fall into the error of the Jews. How He will appear we know not, but we know that His kingdom will be always spiritual, and when it comes “all men shall know the Lord from the least to the greatest.” This hope should stimulate the Church’s diligence. As she carries out her mission His full reign draws nearer. (Wf. Adeney, M. A.)
The Second Advent: the different feelings awakened by it
Did you ever hear the sound of the trumpets which are blown before the judges as they come into the city to open the assizes? Did you ever reflect how different are the feelings which those trumpets awaken in the minds of different men? The innocent man, who has no cause to be tried, hears them unmoved. They proclaim no terrors to him. He listens and looks on quietly, and is not afraid. But often there is some poor wretch waiting his trial, in a silent ceil, to whom those trumpets are a knell of despair. They tell him that the day of trial is at hand. Yet a little time, and he will stand at the bar of justice, and hear witness after witness telling the story of his misdeeds. Yet a little time and all will be over--the trial, the verdict, the sentence; and there will remain nothing for him but punishment and disgrace. No wonder the prisoner’s heart beats when he hears the trumpet’s sound! So shall the sound be of the archangel’s trump. (Bishop Ryle.)
The Second Advent: the uncertainty of its date
The cloud that enveloped our Saviour still shrouds His expected presence on the throne of judgment. It is a purposed obscurity, a wise and merciful denial of knowledge. In this matter it is His gracious will to be the perpetual subject of watchfulness, expectation, fear, desire, but no more. To cherish anticipation He has permitted gleams of light to cross the darkness; to baffle presumption He has made them only gleams. He has harmonised with consummate skill every part of His revelation to produce this general result--now speaking as if a few seasons more were to herald the new heaven and the new earth, now as if His days were as thousands of years; at one moment whispering into the ear of His disciple, at another retreating into the depth of infinite ages. It is His purpose thus to live in our faith and hope, remote yet near, pledged to no moment, possible at any; worshipped not with the consternation of a near, nor the indifference of a distant certainty, but with the anxious vigilance that awaits a contingency ever at hand. This, the deep devotion of watchfulness, humility, and awe, He who knows us best knows to be the fittest posture for our spirits; therefore does He preserve the salutary suspense which ensures it, and therefore will He determine His advent to no definite day in the calender of eternity. And yet this uncertainty is abused to security; and exactly as the invisibility of the Creator, which is His perfection, produces the miserable creed of the atheist, the obscurity that veils the hour of judgment, though meant in merciful warning, persuades the ungodly heart that none is ever to arrive. (W. Archer Butler, M. A.)
The two Advents: contrast between them
Christ came the first time in the guise of humanity; He is to come the second time in brightness, as a light to the godly, a terror to the wicked. He came the first time in weakness, He is to come the second time in might; the first time in our littleness, the second time in His own majesty; the first time in mercy, the second in judgment; the first time to redeem, the second to recompense, and that all the more terribly because of the long-suffering and delay. (A. Hildebert.)
The two Advents: the humiliation of the first, the glory of the second
The stable of Bethlehem disappears, and behold the clouds are His chariot. That lonely wanderer amid the hills of Palestine, who was forsaken by all, persecuted by many, is now attended by thousands of angels. The hand which held the reed now sways the sceptre of universal dominion. He has ]eft the Cross and ascended the great white throne; and many crowns now sparkle on the head around which thorns were wreathed. He was crucified then amid the execrations of the mob; now He comes amid the hallelujahs of the skies to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe. (W. Landels, D. D.)
Then returned they unto Jerusalem.
The return to Jerusalem
The distance was a “Sabbath-day’s journey”; not that Moses had limited a journey on the Sabbath; but the Rabbins derived the rule from the prohibition to depart, on the sacred day, from the camp, which was supposed to be two miles square. The return, had it not been for the promise of the Father, would have been like turning from the gates of heaven to the antechamber of hell.
I. The place. “An upper room.” This could hardly have been in the temple, for the ecclesiastical authorities were too hostile to suffer such a company within the sacred precincts. It was probably the room in which our Lord ate His last supper, and which, from His manner of pointing it out, seems to have belonged to a disciple. The Jews had such an upper room for their devotions, as we read of Peter going up to one, for prayer; and of Paul holding, in an upper room, a meeting of the Church at Miletus. In the houses of Jerusalem such apartments were provided for those who came up to keep the feasts. Here the disciples “abode,” i.e., probably spent the day there; retiring to separate lodgings at night. What reflections must have rushed into their minds on coming to the scene of the Last Supper! How much better they now understood our Lord’s discourse, and how soothing must have been the remembrance of His prayer! After seeing Him make the clouds His chariot, what must they have thought of His condescension in washing the disciples’ feet! In that room, after a few days, descended the Spirit, of which Jesus said not in vain, “He shall glorify Me.”
II. The company. As if to show how important it is for us to know who the apostles were, Luke, after giving the list in the Gospel, here repeats it. “The women” seem to be those who came up with our Lord “from Galilee, and who ministered to Him of their substance.” “Mary, the mother of Jesus,” not of God, as she has been impiously called, is there; and this is all that the inspired history says of her whom “all generations shall call blessed.” Verily the Scriptures are not chargeable with Mariolatry. By “the brethren” of Christ being there, we conclude that it could no longer be said, “neither did they believe on Him.” The “hundred and twenty” included probably the seventy evangelists; some inhabitants of Jerusalem, who, like the master of the house, believed, and such persons as Joseph of Arimathea. This upper room was the cradle of the Christian Church, now an infant, but soon to become a giant and stride over a conquered world. Who then would “despise the day of small things”?
III. Their employment.
1. Their harmony was secured by the discourses which they had heard and the scenes they had witnessed, which had extinguished self, that fire-brand of discord. With a world ready to rise in arms against them, their strength lay in union; and now that the traitor, the discordant one, was gone, we may say, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”
2. They were commanded to wait, but not to be idle; and their business was prayer for that Spirit who was to fit them for their work. They came from this retirement, to live in the view of a world, eyed by enemies as the butt of persecution, and by friends as examples and guides. Not the least of the blessings which resulted from these days of prayer was the lesson given to public men to prepare for great doings by secret devotions. (J. Bennett, D. D.)
The ten days
The interval between Ascension and Whitsuntide represents an exceptional portion of the history of the Church, and may be compared, or rather contrasted, with the three days during which our Lord rested in the tomb; in each Christ was gone and the Comforter was not come; in each the Church had received a part of her endowments but not the whole; in each the disciples waited patiently till they should obtain a more complete commission, though in the one case they waited with sad hearts and disappointed hopes, while in the other, notwithstanding the absence of their Lord, they experienced great joy, and were continually praising and blessing God. (Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)
The first assembly of the Christian Church
This assembly was marked by--
I. Separation from the world. The work was unworldly, and therefore separation was necessary. This separation was--
1. Local. Worldly business was not likely to come to the “upper room,” as there were no attractions for buyers and sellers. Every Church should have a place of meeting set apart for its own use.
2. Mental. No worldly-minded man could have anything in common with their mental state. They were waiting for the bestowal of what no outsider had ever seen or heard. Does this mental distinction exist to-day?
3. Moral. They had given themselves up to be directed by Jesus. Such renunciation marks all true Christians. It cannot co-exist with the pride and self-sufficiency which mark unregenerate men.
II. Unity. The separation would not have answered its purpose without this. All present--
1. Recognised one Head. Attachment to a chief often unites men of varying gifts, tastes, and ambitions. So high and low, educated and illiterate, etc., are united in Christ. The light of the sun illumines planets of different magnitudes in various orbits, and each reflects the light of the ruling orb. So Christ is the centre of the Christian system, binds each member of the system to Himself, and freely sheds His light on all. Discord in a Church is therefore unchristian.
2. Had oneness of spirit. They all stood in the same relation to Christ, agreed in the exercises to which they were now devoted, and had grace to love one another. This oneness has often appeared where personal elements have been of very diverse kinds. Such unity in diversity is one of the beautiful effects of Christianity.
3. Were of one purpose--viz., to know, experience, and do the Divine will. For this end they conferred, waited, and prayed. In the abolition of slavery men of opposite opinions, etc., were united by a common purpose. Such union will ever be shown where men aim at Christian ends.
III. Confident expectation. They persevered in the work to which they had given themselves. They had strong faith in Him whose words had brought and now kept them together. When that faith was tried by delay it bore the test. Continuance in prayer would increase the sense of power at the throne of grace; and this would intensify the longing for the promised blessing. This confident expectation ought to appear in all Christian assemblies, for there are Divine promises yet to be fulfilled. (W. Hudson.)
The waiting time
I. A transition period. It stood midway between Christ’s completed work on earth and the unopened work of the Spirit from heaven. In the history of redemption the first chapter closed on the day of the Incarnation. A long, dreary, chequered period that had been, but it was succeeded by one in all respects the reverse--brief, bright with heaven, and, though ending tragically, bringing life and immortality to light. But it was reserved for the Spirit to make this good, and His dispensation, the last chapter, was now to open. But ere the curtain should be drawn, a breathing time of ten days was in the wisdom of God to take place. It was like the “silence in heaven, for the space of half an hour” between the breaking of the “seals” and the appearance of the angels.
II. A time of felt need. The eleven were told that they were to be their Master’s witnesses, but they had no clear comprehension of the tale they were to tell, and could not but feel that they had neither position, culture, influence, nor any ground to hope for success save in their assurance of the truth of their story, and the help they might receive in telling it. As they thought of this what sinkings would come over them, which would rather be intensified, as day after day found them in the upper room, but for some counteractive.
III. A time of expectancy. How often would they recall and find it indispensable to recall the promise of the Father--ill as they understood what it meant. Yet being charged not to stir till it was fulfilled, they could not but hope that it would bring a full qualification for their arduous mission. But it was no time of silent waiting, for it was--
IV. A time of prayer. Who can doubt that the burden of the supplication was the promised power. But besides this it was--
V. A time of fraternal conference. They could hardly have prayed without intermission; and it is only reasonable to assume that the intervals would be filled up with the interchange of recollections and encouragements.
VI. It was a time of action (verses 15-26.) (D. Brown, D. D.)
Waiting for the promise
It is on Thursday, probably in the evening, that the disciples return to Jerusalem. Did they expect to receive it that very night? This we know not; but we do know that then opened a new era in the intercourse of man with heaven. As they began to pray, how would they find all their conceptions of the Majesty on high changed! The glory of the Father encompassing a human form, a beaming from a human brow! Mingling with this first joy for the Master’s exaltation would be the feeling, “He has entered for us within the veil! He maketh intercession for us!” Hush! which of the-twelve is it that says to the brethren--“Let us ask the Father in His name”? (John 16:23-24). The angels had often sung together over the prayer of repenting sinners, Now, for the first time, they hear prayers authorised and accredited by the name of the Only-begotten of the Father. That name has just been set “above every name”; and as it echoes through the host on high, with the solemn joy of a hundred believing voices, “things in heaven” bow. What must have been that moment for the saints in Paradise, who had seen the Saviour afar off, but never known the joy of praying directly in His name! Father Abraham had “rejoiced to see His day.” What would be His gladness now? David, what would be “the things” which, in that wonderful moment, his voice would sing, “touching the King”? Oh, the joy of that first hour of praying in the name of Christ! What short and burning petitions would go up from the lips which first quoted, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He shall give it you!” But the Spirit has not seen it good to hand down the strong and tender collects of these ten days. Then surely it is unlawful to impose good forms of prayer upon all men, because ancient saints wrote them. He who will never use a form in public prayer casts away the wisdom of the past. He who will use only forms casts away the hope of utterance to be given by the Spirit at present, and even shuts up the future in the dead hand of the past. Does any one of the hundred and twenty up to this moment forget that Thursday night? The Friday morning dawns: the day the Lord had died. Would He not send His promised Substitute to-day? Now came back all His words about the death “which He should accomplish.” Yet the Friday wears away, and no “baptism of fire”! The Saturday sets in; its hours are filled up as before, with prayer; but no answer. And now dawns the first day of the week, the day whereon He rose, the first Lord’s day He had passed on His throne of glory. Surely they would expect that the blessing be delayed no longer. But the evening steals on, and all their prayers might have risen into a heaven that could not hear. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday pass. Their faith does not fail; still in the temple “praising and blessing God,” or in the upper room in “prayer and supplication,” they continue of one accord. Though He tarry, yet will they wait for Him. This is waiting. Some speak of waiting for salvation as if it meant making ourselves at ease, and dismissing both effort and anxiety. Who so waits for any person, or any event? When waiting, your mind is set on a certain point; you can give yourself to nothing else. You are looking forward and preparing; every moment of delay increases the sensitiveness of your mind as to that one thing. A servant waiting for his master, a wife waiting for the footstep of her husband, a mother waiting for her expected boy, a merchant waiting for his richly-laden ship, a sailor waiting for the sight of land, a monarch waiting for tidings of the battle: all these are cases wherein the mind is set on one object, and cannot easily give attention to another. To-morrow will be Thursday, a full week from the Ascension; that will be the day. The Thursday finds them, as before, “of one accord in one place”; no Thomas absent through unbelief. How the scene of that day week would return to their view! How they would over and over again, in mind, repeat the occurrences of a week ago! But the day wears on, and no blessing. Is not the delay long? “Not many days!” Does the promise hold good? They must have felt disappointed as the evening fell. Now is the hour of trial. Will their faith fail? Will some stay at home, or “go a-fishing,” saying that they will wait the Lord’s time, and not be unwarrantably anxious about what, after all, does not depend on them, but on the Lord? Or will they begin to find out that the cause lies in the unfaithfulness of their companions? Happily the spirit of faith and love abides upon them. Happy for them that none fancied He could fix upon others the cause of their unanswered prayers! The Thursday is gone; eight days! The Friday and the Saturday follow it, marked by the same persistency in union, in praise, in prayer, and by the same absence of encouragement. Ten days gone! the promise, “Not many days,” is all but broken. The final proof given by Peter, that he was waiting indeed, making all preparation for the event, was in calling upon his brethren to fill up the number of apostles. (W. Arthur, M. A.)
Waiting for the promise
They were waiting in quiet expectation and hope, as little children sitting together on a Christmas Eve in a dark room, while in the next room the Christmas presents are preparing; for it was again the time of Advent, of the Advent of the Lord in the Spirit. (J. P. Lange, D. D.)
Waiting for the promise
As those who dye cloth first prepare the cloth to receive the dye which it is to take, so does God ordain that the soul which is to receive His grace must be fitted for the sanctifying Spirit. (Chrysostom.)
Waiting for the promise: the duty of ministers and churches
It may be asked whether we are to expect that in all ages, a sufficient number of men will be raised up, bearing the primitive marks of a call from God, and of gifts from God; and our reply would be simply, “Remember the ten days.” There we see men whose commission had come from the lips of the Lord Jesus, whose training has been under His own eye, who have forsaken houses, and lands, and all that could bind them to secular avocations, who are ready to set forth upon the work of calling and warning a world that is “lying in the wicked one”; and yet day after day the inhibition lies upon them, that they are to tarry until they are endued with power from on high. As we look at that spectacle--sinners dying, time rolling on, the Master looking down from His newly-ascended throne on the world which He has redeemed, seeing death bear away its thousands while His servants keep silence--there is in that silence a tone which booms through all the future, warning us that never, never, under the dispensation of the Spirit, are men to set out upon the embassy to Christ, be their qualifications or credentials what they may, until first they have been endued with power from on high, been baptized with tongues of fire. Better let the Church wait ever so long--better let the ordinances of God’s house be without perfunctory actors, and all, feeling sore need, be forced to cry with special urgency for fresh outpourings and baptisms of the Holy Ghost, to raise up holy ministers, than that, by any manner of factitious supply, substitutes should be furnished-substitutes no more ministers of God, than coals arranged in a grate are a fire; or than a golden candlestick with a wax taper, never kindled, is a light. (A. Arthur, M. A.)
The first prayer-meeting after the Ascension
I. The scene. “Upper” does not mean a room above the lower floor, much less a garret or inferior apartment, but one comparatively spacious--reserved in Greek and Jewish houses for the use of guests, or for unusual occasions. “Upper rooms were a kind of domestic chapels in every house. There they assembled to read the law, and to transact religious affairs. In returning to Jerusalem the disciples showed--
1. Their obedience to Christ.
2. Their fearless faith.
II. The attendance. The roll of names reminds us of--
1. The sociality of Christ’s system. If you would unite men in social affection, you must get them to love supremely your common object. Christianity alone supplies an object that all hearts can love supremely; and therefore of all systems it is the most social.
2. The triumph of grace. Here is Peter no longer fearful, and Thomas no longer incredulous, etc. Women are also here: their presence being noted in strong contrast which assigned a separate court in the temple, and kept women apart in the synagogue. In Christ there is neither male nor female. Christianity has raised woman to her present position, and woman has ever proved most loyal to the system that has made her what she is.
3. The ravages of sin. Where is Judas? He was present at the supper, perhaps in this very room.
III. The spirit was a spirit of--
1. Union. They were not only assembled in the same place and for the same purpose; but there was a great unanimity of sentiment amongst them. They agreed in the blessings they sought, and in the mode of seeking them.
2. Perseverance. Cf. Parable of unjust judge. Conclusion: Would that all prayer-meetings were something like this. We must go back to apostolic times for our models of devotion. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
A model prayer-meeting
If the prayer-meeting is the thermometer of the Church, then the first Christian prayer-meeting registers a high degree of spiritual life existing just after the departure of Christ. This was a model in point of--
I. Attendance. There were one hundred and twenty present.
1. All the office-bearers were there. Are modern elders and deacons as exemplary?
2. The male members were there. Business or pleasure did not hinder them.
3. The female members were there. “The women” still form a large proportion of the attendants at prayer-meetings.
II. The spirit. Peace and unity prevailed. The day of “murmuring” had not yet come (Acts 6:1.) Union is strength. A divided Church cannot long remain a praying Church. God answers prayer when it is offered by few or many “with one accord.” The promise is addressed to those who are “agreed.”
III. The results (see chap. 2.). The Church was born at a prayermeeting, which should encourage us to sustain our often thinly attended and cold-spirited prayer-meetings. The prayer-meeting is more than the thermometer of the Church, it is the source of her spiritual power. There is as intimate a relation between the prayer-meeting and the outpouring of the Spirit as between the gathering of the cloud and the downpour of the shower. Pentecostal revivals must be preceded by ante-Pentecostal prayer-meetings. (T. S. Dickson, M. A.)
The meeting for prayer preparatory to the day of Pentecost
This passage refers to the most interesting period in the history of the Church, the results of which will be felt to all eternity. In one point of view the infant Church was in a bereaved condition. Still their glorified Lord had given to them words of promise which inspired them with the confident expectation of coming glory. And never was there a more interesting congregation. No Jewish ruler, no Rabbi, no Roman senator was there. It was a select and happy group of holy men and women, who had met for the most important purpose, to agonise in prayer. They were not acting under a momentary impulse; nor as the result of a transient excitement, but under the influence of that deep personal piety that needs no other impulse but what is supplied by a sense of duty, or by its own spontaneous energy.
I. The features by which they were distinguished.
1. They contemplated the attainment of a special object. The Saviour’s promise, so far from inducing indifference, awoke attention, urged to duty, and gave a specific character to prayer. During the greater part of the Saviour’s ministry they seem to have known little of the doctrine of Divine influence. But at its close the Lord dwelt mainly upon this fundamental truth; and now the doctrine inspired their hopes, warmed their hearts, and must have formed the subject of their prayerful appeal to heaven. This blessing is as important for us as for them, The doctrine of Divine influence is admitted as an article of our faith, but it fails to exert the amount of influence over us which its importance demands. Yet, upon the prayers of the Church is made to depend the bestowment of the Spirit in any enlarged degree. And what else can secure the salvation of the perishing? or warm the hearts of slumbering saints? or reclaim the backslider from his wanderings? or correct the existing errors of the Church?
2. The prayers were presented in concert and union. The place was humble, but it served the purpose. It was not enough that that each one separately should have been endued with the spirit of prayer. Religion is social. Like gravitation, its tendency is to bring its recipients into contact; and the wants of the Church make it necessary for its members to meet that they may blend their affections and unite in service.
3. These devotional exercises were continuous and persevering. The disciples laid aside for several days their ordinary occupations and gave themselves to the uninterrupted pursuit of spiritual things. This course was as true to philosophy as it was consistent with religion. It is by oft-repeated strokes that the artisan produces the desired impression on the metal; and that the heart may be subdued and elevated, it must be brought into continuous contact with spiritual realities. It is partly on such grounds that extraordinary religious services may be adopted and justified. A state of things may exist in a Church such as to call for some special effort. It may have lost its first love, and the things that remain may be ready to die. All ordinary effort to revive its piety seems to be in vain. It may be necessary, therefore, to resort to, extraordinary measures and give ourselves to special prayer.
4. These exercises must have been marked by fervency and sustained by faith and hope.
II. The influence and results by which these devotional exercises would de attended.
1. They would improve personal piety. That indeed had progressed considerably. Still, in point of depth, comprehensiveness, and power, it was susceptible of improvement. And if the first disciples needed an improvement in spiritual character, how much more we? What, then, shall accomplish it? United, as well as private prayer.
2. They would prepare the disciples to receive the promised effusion of the Spirit, and for their future vocation. A fixed rule in the Divine government is that the minds of men must be prepared by a suitable course of discipline for the reception of any special token of the favour of God. Isaiah was not called to witness before the live coal from the altar touched his lips. Moses was instructed by immediate communion with the Most High, preparatory to his mission. Would you be endued with power from on high and win souls to Christ? Then pray in unison.
3. They sustained an intimate relation to the events of the day of Pentecost. May they not be regarded as a most gracious answer to the prayers of the suppliant Church? (W. A. Hurndall.)
Prayer-meetings not to be given up
A pious woman, when it was decided to close the prayer-meeting in a certain village, declared that it should not be, for she would be there if no one else was. True to her word, when, the next morning, some one said to her jestingly, “Did you have a prayer-meeting last night? Ah, that we did,” she replied. “How many were present?” “Four,” she said. “Why,” said he, “I heard that you were there all alone.” “No,” she said; “I was the only one visible; but the Father was there, and the Son was there, and the Holy Spirit was there, and we were all agreed in prayer.” Before long others took shame themselves at the earnest perseverance of this poor woman, the prayer-meeting was revived and the church prospered. (W. Baxendale.)
Prayer-meetings, Sunday morning
I have been endeavouring to establish among us what are called Aaron and Hur Societies; i.e., little collections of four or five or more persons, who meet before service on Sabbath morning, to spend an hour in prayer for a blessing on the minister and the ordinances. They began on New Year’s Day and we seemed to have an immediate answer, for the meeting was unusually solemn; and we have reason to hope that the Word was not preached in vain. (E. Payson, D. D.)
By this is meant such meetings as are held pre-eminently for the purpose of prayer, praise, and revival.
1. The inauguration of the Christian Church was preceded and attended with social prayer. The Day of Pentecost followed a ten days’ prayer-meeting of the one hundred and twenty disciples.
2. Seasons of joy or danger were marked by meetings for prayer (Acts 4:23-31; Acts 12:12; Acts 16:13).
3. Revivals of religion are closely connected with them. When Zion travails in prayer she brings forth her spiritual children (Isaiah 66:8).
4. Great movements have been originated in them. The first foreign missionary society had its inception in the meeting for prayer held by five young men--Mills, Richards, Robbins, Loomis, and Green--under a haystack at Williams-town in 1806.
II. Different kinds of meetings for social purposes.
1. The weekly Church prayer-meeting.
2. Ladies’ prayer-meetings.
3. Business men’s noonday meetings.
4. The week of prayer.
5. Neighbourhood or cottage prayer-meetings.
6. Conventions or convocations for prayer and revival.
III. Scripture promises.
1. That Christ will make one in their company, whether they be few or many (Matthew 18:20).
2. That the prayer of faith shall be answered (Matthew 18:19; John 16:23-24).
3. That their rewards shall be sure (Matthew 3:16).
IV. How may the efficiency of such meetings be enlarged?
1. By preceding them with secret prayer.
2. By regular and prompt attendance.
3. By labouring to secure the attendance upon them of every able-bodied Church member and others. (L. O. Thompson.)
An assembly of Christians
You know those lights which we use in public places, where you have a ring pierced with a hundred tiny holes, from each of which bursts a separate flame; but when all are lit they run into one brilliant circle, and lose their separateness in the rounded completeness of the blended blaze. This is like what Christ’s Church ought to be. We each, by our own personal contact with Him, by our individual communion with our Saviour, become light in the Lord, and yet we joyfully blend with our brethren and fused into one, give forth our mingled light. (A. Maclaren, D. D)
One of the greenest spots upon earth was the parish of St. Peter’s, Dundee, when the lovely M’Cheyne was its pastor. He thus records in his diary the spirit of prayer which prevailed among his people: “Many prayer-meetings were formed, some of which were strictly private, and others, conducted by persons of some Christian experience, were open to persons under concern at one another’s houses. At the time of my return from the mission to the Jews I found thirty-nine such meetings held weekly in connection with the congregation.
The social power of prayer
Akin to the moral are the social effects of prayer. Prayer makes men as members of society different in their whole being from those who do not pray. It gilds social intercourse and conduct with a tenderness, an unobstructiveness, a sincerity, a frankness, an evenness of temper, a cheerfulness, a collectedness, a con-stunt consideration for others, united to a simple loyalty to truth and duty, which leavens and strengthens society. (Canon Liddon.)
Result of united prayer
There was an old deacon in a city in Michigan who was connected with a church which had no conversion for sixteen years. He came to his death-bed, and felt that he could not die in peace. He sent for the minister, but he had been too long accustomed to the darkness to be easily awakened. Failing with all the male members of the church he sent for the ladies, and pleaded with them to pray for a revival. They prayed and fasted before God. In a little while the whole church was moved. I received a despatch from the minister. On my arrival he took me into a room filled with these ladies praying that the Lord would reveal His power. I felt, as soon as I entered, that God was there. The next night the power came, and in forty-eight hours there was scarcely a young man or young woman who was not converted to God, or anxious to be saved. (D. L. Moody.)
The substance of the Church
There is a mine near Plymouth, where the men work in it two hundred and fifty feet below the surface, have a little shelf for their Bibles and their hymn-books, and a little place where every morning, when they go down in the black darkness, they bow before God, and praise Him whose tender mercies are over all His works. You never heard of these miners, perhaps, and do not know them; but possibly some of them are the very substance of the Church. There sits Mr. Somebody in that pew; oh, what a support he is to the Church! Yes, in money matters, perhaps; but do you know there is poor old Mrs. Nobody in the aisle that is most likely a greater pillar to the Church than he, for she is a holier Christian, one who lives nearer to her God and serves Him better, and she is “the substance thereof”? Ah, that old woman in the garret that is often in prayer, that old man on his bed that spends days and nights in supplication, such people as these are the substance of the Church. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The duty of prayer
I. The circumstances of the apostles.
1. They had just been visited with a very afflicting dispensation. We all know something of the pangs of separation, but how trying must have been separation from the Redeemer Himself! Amidst the experience of the pain which separation inflicted, however, they betook themselves to prayer, and in the exercise they sought and found consolation. Have you such a salve for the experience of trials?
2. They had just met with disappointment in reference to their worldly views and expectations. How did they act? did they exhibit symptoms of chagrin or hesitate about persevering in the service of Christ? No, they betook themselves to prayer. Let us follow their example.
3. They were placed in circumstances of great trial and perplexity. Not only were they now deprived of their Adviser and Friend, not only were their worldly expectations blasted, but they were taught to look for the experience of difficulty, persecution, and death. And, besides this, there was perplexity as to the duties they were to discharge (verse 8). How were they qualified then to go to the uttermost parts of the earth to appear before the learned, the great, and the wise? But in the midst of all this they went to Him who could comfort them; and they did not repair to Him in vain.
4. A promise had been made to them, and their prayers had a very special reference to this. There are many who contend that prayer is useless because it is impossible that it can alter the decrees of the Almighty. There are some who condemn it for the same reason. But the apostles were made aware, not only of God’s decrees, but they had a promise actually made to them, yet they prayed for the very things which Christ had declared should be bestowed. True it is that no one can resist the will of the Almighty; but God works by means, and prayer is one of them.
II. The spirit and temper that characterised their supplications.
1. They doubtless prayed in the name of Christ (John 16:22). When we go to God never let us forget that the name we mention is that of Him who sitteth at the right hand of the Father.
2. They prayed in a spirit of obedience. We read here of their supplication, but notice their practice: “They returned unto Jerusalem.” Let us be taught by this, that if we expect our prayers to be heard we must not only go to God in the name of Christ, but we must go seeking, and praying, and aspiring after obedience.
3. They showed also the spirit of love. We do read of their disputes, hut we shall read of these no more. They are met with one accord.
4. They united together. And this teaches us the importance of public worship. (J. Marshall.)
Church attitudes: unity
To separate ourselves from our brethren is to lose power. Half-dead brands heaped close will kindle one another, and flame will sparkle beneath the film of white ashes on their edges. Fling them apart and they go out. Rake them together and they glow. Let us try not to be little, feeble tapers, stuck in separate sockets, and each twinkling struggling rays over some inch or so of space; but draw near to our brethren, and be workers together with them that there may rise a glorious flame from our summed and collective brightness which shall be a guide and hospitable call to many a wandering and weary spirit. (A. Maclaren, D. D)
Church attitudes: expectancy
The sunshine flows into the opened eye, the breath of life into the expanding lung--so surely, so immediately, the fulness of God fills the waiting, wishing souls. (A. Maclaren, D. D)
Church attitudes: receptivity
If the Church is to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit she must cultivate the receiving frame of mind--she must place herself in right attitude toward the gift she would receive. The thirsty man who comes to the fountain must hold his cup the right side up if he is to receive the refreshing water, then the water will fill it; but if he holds the cup the wrong side up the water will flow over and dash away from it, and thus his thirst will not be quenched. Penitence, unity, prayer, earnestness, constitute the receptive attitude of the soul; to such the Spirit will be given without measure. “Peter, James, and John”:--A curious text was once used by the Rev. J. Thain Davidson, D.D., in his first ministerial charge in Scotland, for the purpose of securing a large gathering of children whom he was anxious to address. The text was “Peter, James, and John”--from which he sought to show the individualising love of Christ. Fifteen years passed away and he heard nothing of that sermon; but one day, after he was settled in London, a young man called upon him: “Do you remember me, sir? No; I do not.” “Do you remember the sermon you preached years ago on Peter, James, and John?” “Yes.” “I was but a boy then, but I walked six miles to hear you, and God blessed that sermon to my conversion.” Since then the young man has devoted himself to the ministry, and he is now a useful minister of Christ in America. This illustrates the importance of presenting to children’s minds Bible truth in the most striking manner.
Prayer, patience in
How many courtiers go a hundred times a year into the prince’s chamber without hope of once speaking with him, but only to be seen of him! So must we come to the exercise of prayer, purely and merely to do our duty and to testify our fidelity. (St. Francis de Sales.)
Two Christian ladies, whose husbands were unconverted, feeling their great danger, agreed to spend one hour each day in united prayer for their salvation. This was continued for seven years; when they debated whether they should pray longer, so useless did their prayers appear, and decided to persevere till death, and, if their husbands went to destruction, it should be loaded with prayers. In renewed strength they prayed three years longer; when one of them was awakened in the night by her husband who was in great distress for sin. As soon as the day dawned she hastened, with joy, to tell her praying companion that God was about to answer their prayers. What was her surprise to meet her friend coming to her on the same errand! Thus ten years of united and persevering prayer was crowned with the conversion of both husbands on the same day. (E. Foster.)
Prayer, the secret of strength
There is an old story of mythology about a giant named Antaeus, who was born by the earth. In order to keep alive this giant was obliged to touch the earth as often as once in five minutes, and every time he thus came in contact with the earth he became twice as strong as before. The Christian resembles Antaeus. In order to become and continue a truly living Christian, the disciple of Christ must often approach his Father by prayer. (Preacher’s Lantern.)
Prayer, the secret of usefulness
Spurgeon, being asked as to the reason of his marvellous and blessed usefulness for God, pointed to the floor of the tabernacle saying, “In the room beneath you will find three hundred praying Christians. Every time I preach here they gather together, and uphold my hands by continuous prayer and supplication--there you will find the secret of all the blessing.”
Prayer, faith in
Prayer is the bow, the promise is the arrow; faith is the hand which draws the bow, and sends the arrow with the heart’s message to heaven. The bow without the arrow is of no use; and the arrow without the bow is of little worth; and both, without the strength of the hand, to no purpose. Neither the promise without prayer, nor prayer without the promise, nor both without faith, avail the Christian anything. What was said of the Israelites, “They could not enter in because of unbelief,” the same may be said of many of our prayers: they cannot enter into heaven because they are not put up in faith. (H. G. Salter.)
Prayer and revivals
The great revival in New York in 1858-9 began in answer to the earnest believing prayers of one man. After long waiting upon God, asking Him to show him what He would have him to do, and becoming more and more confident that God would show him the way through which hundreds might be influenced for their souls’ good, he at last began a noon-day prayer-meeting. The first half-hour nobody came, and he prayed through it alone. At half-past twelve the step of a solitary individual was heard on the stairs; others came, until six made up the whole company. His record of that meeting was, “The Lord was with us to bless us.” Of those six, one was a Presbyterian, one a Baptist, another a Congregationalist, and another a Reformed Dutch. (The Power of Prayer.)
They were “all together in one mind.” How graphic this sketch of true union; and of union for the attainment of a definite object I The expression implies not only concord, union of heart, but concert, agreement of will, prearrangement, and design. “All together in one mind.” How fair a model for the imitation of the expectant Church in every age--for “sure His after-comings will be like to His first, to them that are, and not to any but them that are ‘of one accord.’” “All,” comprising every diversity of mental and moral constitution, in every degree of development, each retaining his proper individuality, yet each in vital sympathy and unison with all the rest. Various yet one, and the more completely one because various. “All together,” the individual influencing the community, and the whole community influencing each individual; each communicating something to all; and all communicating something to each; Peter’s quickness and vigour acting upon Thomas’s sober considerateness; and Thomas’s quiet considerateness keeping Peter’s impetuous energy under wholesome restraint; the serene fervour of John blending with the activity of Andrew, and the unhesitating openness of Bartholomew; Martha’s vivacity combining with her sister Mary’s thoughtfulness, and the subdued and tender seriousness of Mary, the mother of the Lord; each simultaneously active and passive, and all sensibly quickened, by their union, to increasing earnestness and confidence. “All together, and of one mind,” that single mind centring all its hopes, exercising all its energies on one object-the immediate descent of power from on high. (F. W. Briggs.)
And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples.
Mark the bearing of Peter towards his fellow-believers. No priestly attitude does he assume. Though he leads, he associates the whole assembly with himself. He will have them to choose candidates for the apostleship; he accepts their nomination; and though it is all but certain that in laying these two before the Lord, he was the spokesman, this is not said. Nor was it only on this first occasion, when he might be supposed rather to shrink, that he thus acted, but on every subsequent occasion his procedure was in keeping with this. So little ground is there not only for the lordly assumptions of those who call themselves successors of “the prince of the apostles,” but for that ecclesiastical ambition which has proved the bane and blight of many who repudiate Romish pretensions. (D. Brown, D. D.)
A model church meeting
This was a meeting--
I. To transact business of very grave importance. To elect an apostle--an eye-witness of the resurrection--in the place of Judas. The resurrection is the key-stone of the Christian system. The fact was so extraordinary, and clashed so mightily with popular prejudices that no one would dare to proclaim it who had not been deeply convinced of it by irresistible evidence. To be able to do this was necessary to constitute an apostle.
II. In which the assembled members had a duty to fulfil, and all of them, male and female, were called upon to exercise their best judgment, and to give their conscientious vote. The candidates were set up not by the apostles, but by the whole body of disciples. The appointment of ministers is not the right of an individual, however distinguished in Church and state, but by the assembled Church.
III. Competent in itself to discharge the business. They sought no counsel from any body of men external to themselves, nor would they have submitted to dictation from any person or society outside, however dignified. The power of a Church for its own business is in itself inspired and guided by Christ its Head.
IV. Superintended by its ablest member. Peter’s conduct shows that he was the most competent--the man to direct affairs. Observe--
1. His sketch of the miserable man who had once occupied the vacant post.
2. His counsel as to present duty. Peter’s principle was that the new apostle should be selected from those who were most intimate with the Master--a principle to be for ever observed. He only is qualified for the highest office in the Church whose alliance with Christ is most vital.
V. In which they engaged in united prayer to heaven for direction. The prayer implies--
1. A recognition of the Divine omniscience. A deep impression of God’s acquaintance with all hearts is essential to devotion.
2. A desire to have their choice regulated by the Divine. “We only desire to vote for Him whom Thou hast ordained.” Conclusion: Would that all church meetings had ever been ruled by this model. Gathered not for trivial but important business; recognising the right of every member to a voice; holding the power to transact all its affairs independently of external authority, etc. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Preparing for ecclesiastical business
Notice that the company was--
1. Comparatively small. But it was the first part of Christ’s mighty kingdom. Despise not the day of small things.
2. Business-like. “Names” suggests that a list was probably drawn up--a sign of intelligence and earnestness.
3. Imperfect. One place was vacant, and the company could not be content till it was filled.
4. Every member of it acknowledged the authority of Holy Scripture. The company was prepared--
I. By being adequately instructed. Peter’s speech showed--
1. That the place of Judas must be filled up. The number of apostles followed that of the twelve tribes of Israel. They were commonly designated as “the Twelve,” both before and after the death of Judas.
2. That the whole assembly must take part in filling up the vacancy.
3. That the Word of God was to give the assembly present direction.
4. That definite qualifications were required in an apostle.
5. That a definite work had to be done by the apostles. This instruction probably cleared up vague thinkings for many a member of the company.
II. By being strongly warned against sin. In the case of Judas they saw--
1. Sin working in one who had held office under Jesus--the Saviour from sin. What qualifications had they which Judas had not had? Yet sin turned him out of his office. Then let all beware.
2. Sin working in one who had been chosen for office by Jesus Himself.
3. Sin growing to great enormity.
4. Sin making its perpetrator infamous.
5. Sin ending in a doom of darkness.
Conclusion: Here we see--
1. The true primacy of Peter. He led in preparation, interpretation and prayer. The fulfilment of the words, “Thou art Peter,” etc., is here begun. The foundation is not the confession, but the man (Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 2:4-6). Christ is the one foundation stone (1 Corinthians 3:11); but there is also a foundation of the apostles and prophets, and this is laid in Peter. Accordingly he founded the Jewish portion of the Church, as we see in the early chapters of this book. On him, standing on Christ, were laid in one day three thousand souls. And he also founded the Gentile portion (chaps. 10., 11.). But Peter had no special primacy of rank after his own special work was completed. And he could have no successor.
2. The true functions of the preacher. Peter gave the sense of Scripture, and applied it to the circumstances of the time so directing the hearers. The Acts is the best treatise on homiletics.
3. A good example for all Christians. Under Peter’s direction the company prayed, considered their duty, and so proceeded to action--prayer, meditation, work, describe the whole sphere of Christian duty. (W. Hudson.)
The premature election
1. “In those days” Peter “stood up.” It was a pity he did so, for he had been told to sit down. But who can wait ten days? Yet those periods of waiting are interposed in every life, for the trial of patience and for the perfecting of faith. “They also serve who only stand and wait.” “Stand still and see the salvation of God.” “Your strength is to sit still.” But Peter was a man who could not wait. He was always more or less of a talkative man. Instead of embodying it in patience and endurance his energy evaporated in speech. He will become a better man by and by; yes, even in this opening speech, he begins to show that delicacy of touch which made him conspicuous amid all the apostolic writers. It was to be feared that he would begin with a mistake, because he ended with one (John 21:21). The fussy church must be doing something, if it is only mischief; the mechanical church cannot stand still; they consider that if they are walking up and down very much, they are doing something, but if they be sitting quietly still in expectancy and eager love, they are doing nothing. Peter will have a vote taken, or a ballot; he will complete the broken circle--he who broke the circle most.
2. Peter begins where all wise teachers begin, if they would continue efficiently, and conclude beneficently. He founds what he has to say upon the Scriptures. This is the peculiarity of Christian teaching: it founds itself upon the Written Word. Even where there may be differences of interpretation, it rests upon something deeper than merely verbal exposition. Herein is that sublime possibility of all Christian sections being substantially and integrally right. It is the spirit that unites, it is the letter that divides and kills. It is quite possible for a heterodox man to have an orthodox spirit, and it is by his spirit that he will be saved, and not by his letter.
3. Grounding himself upon Scripture, and only partially interpreting it, Peter proceeded to take a ballot for an apostle to succeed the apostate Judas. Who asked him to rise and address the disciples at all? The disciples were told to wait for the baptism of power. Peter was not endued with the Holy Ghost in the Pentecostal sense when he made this speech. The conditions of succession to the apostolate are very beautiful (verses 21, 22). That is the law of the ministry to-day. “Lay hands suddenly on no man.” The Christian ministry must be composed of men who have “companied with us” and known the Lord Jesus Christ all the time. You cannot make ministers; they must be born, not of blood, etc. This is the mischief against which we have to guard, that you can buy ministers with money. This genius is not in the market.
4. Having elected two men for choice, the disciples prayed: they left the case in the hands of God, but unfortunately they had first taken it into their own. Never take your own case into your own hand. Persons say, “Be prudent”--if ever you can for a moment sit yourself down, resolving to be prudent, God has forsaken you! Persons say, “Beware of exaggeration, of enterprises that are dangerous”--those persons never did anything for the world; they cannot; cold water never drove an engine, and a body without wings never knew the danger, the mystery, the joy of flight. Seek an inspired life. So the apostles committed themselves in prayer to God for guidance. So would I take every matter to God day by day.
5. The disciples gave forth their lots. How pitiful. In a few more days they will have had the Holy Ghost. There are men now who would decide everything by lot: it seems a short and easy method, but it is no method in the house of God; we are now under the guidance of the Holy Ghost. There is no such way of discovering God’s thought. We do not decide things by lot in our own narrow sphere, nor do we carry things unanimously ourselves. Thus, these are the voters that live in you--Judgment, Self-interest, immediate Success, Curiosity, Speculation, Family considerations, Health, Time, and some twenty more voters all have a seat in the council of your mind. Now those who are in favour of this course say, “Aye,” those who oppose say, “No,” and then you, that innermost You, says, “The ayes have it--or the noes,” so that in reality you do not carry your own personal decisions unanimously. Sometimes your judgment does not vote at all, then the resolution is said to be carried nem. con. Sometimes you carry your resolutions unanimously, the whole man stands up and says, “Let it be done.” When I have wished in critical hours to know what was right, I have submitted myself to three tests--
6. In the case before us the lot fell upon Matthias, and you hear no more about him. I do not want to be a balloted minister: here because I had six votes, and another man had only five: I want to stand in my ministry by right Divine, by credentials not written by men and that cannot be expunged by men. That is the calling of the whole Church: do not imagine that Episcopalianism, Congregationalism, etc., will save you. We are not saved by name, nor are we an influential Church because we bear an illustrious name. Every day needs its own inspiration, as every day requires its own bread. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The Christian life organic
I. The suicide of Judas created a vacancy in the number of the twelve apostles. Christ does not seem to have spoken concerning this, but leaves it to be filled by the Church. And this is the duty to which Peter summons them. The little handful of believers were waiting for “the promise of the Father.” They were called not to activity, but to stillness and expectancy. But Peter at once organises a council and proceeds to an Episcopal election. And, unquestionably, Peter was right, and the disciples recognised it to be their first duty to fill up the ranks and perfect the organisation, and so enlarge the influence and increase the working power of that Divine agency which Christ had committed to their charge.
II. Let us admit freely that organisation is not life, but without organisation there can be no life. In nature we know of life at all, only as it exhibits itself under organised forms, and so St. Paul affirms must the life of Divine truth in the world, be an organised life with a head, and hands and feet--in other words with that which governs and that which communicates and that which obeys. When a farmer in the Salt Lake Valley constructs that ingenious system of sinuous and interlacing the watercourses by which the melting snows of the Wausatch Mountains are conducted to every remotest corner of his vineyards and cornfields, he has not thereby secured the smallest guarantee that the snow will fall, or that it will melt, or that it will obey the law of gravitation and run down hill into his tanks. These things are ordered by God, and his orchards blossom and his corn sprouts, not because he has laid so many feet of drain-pipe, but because God has put into the melted snow or the chance shower some mysterious power of making that arid desert of sand with its silex and potash to burst forth, straightway so soon as the water has touched it, and bud and blossom as a rose. But none the less, as things are, that arid and desert valley would never have burst into flower if the farmer’s simple machinery had not so organised and utilised these forces of nature that the baptism of the one became the new birth and resurrection of the other.
III. And this, at any rate, is the lesson of such a parable, as it is of all history. The church of God is in the world, not as a human invention, but as a Divine appointment to be applied by human hands. Its fellowship is not salvation, but it is a means of salvation. Its sacraments are not grace, but they are channels of grace. Its Bible is not a charm or a talisman, but it is a teacher and guide. Its services are not spells, but they are helps and refreshments. I honour with my whole soul that protest against the formalism of the Church, which resents the tendency to make of these things the whole of religion. I honour no less that vehement and robust indignation which denounces the temper that hands over all men who do not belong to your Church or mine or some other of equal historic pretensions, to the uncovenanted mercies of God. But all this does not affect in the smallest degree, the question whether or no Christ has founded a Church, whether or no you and I have sought, and found its fellowship. The Church exists in the world not to enjoy our patronage, to invite our criticism, to gratify our taste, but to accept our discipleship. Her organised life, her ministry, her sacraments, her worship, the proclamation of her Lord’s message--all these things are not less essential to-day, than when in the beginning Peter convened the hundred and twenty disciples to choose Matthias. This Christian organisation is Divine, and as such it speaks its message and holds forth its ministrations. It may be that some of us have come to regard the Church as a kind of social appendage, a rather more dignified marrying and burying and baptising association, which we are to make use of when tradition or custom or decorum constrains us to, and at other times conveniently forget. But the moment that we look into it we find that it asserts of itself nothing less than a Divine origin, and it demands a definite obedience. We may say that that authority is groundless, but until we have proved it, our allegiance is not an option, it is a debt.
IV. And so I plead with parents to train children in ways of reverent familiarity with God’s word, God’s house, and God’s day. Let them understand that something higher than your taste or preference makes these things sacred and binding. And that you may do this the more effectually, give them, I entreat you, that mightiest teaching which consists in your own consistent and devout example. And in your holidays remember that wherever you go, you are a baptised member of the Church, and treachery to your baptismal vow is as disloyal under a foreign flag as it would be under your own. (Bp H. C. Potter, D. D.)
Lessons from the pre-Pentecostal period
In this paragraph we have--
I. The law of leadership in Christian communities.
1. Society without leadership sinks into confusion.
2. In the long run leadership resolves itself into a question of personal qualification. Sooner or later unqualified men have to resign positions they ought never to have assumed.
3. In a great leader many elements are combined. Others may excel him in detached points, but taken as a whole, he rules not by one dominant faculty, but by a noble proportion of gifts.
4. The position of leader is not so easy as it seems to unreflecting observers. Men see the elevation, not the strain and responsibility.
5. The only sound rule for promotion is wisdom which should be recognised irrespective of age or position.
6. He leads best who knows the art of wise following. The leader is often, as here, but the mouthpiece of the whole community.
7. All human leadership is to be subjected to the Headship of the Divine Redeemer.
II. The construction of the Christian ministry.
1. It was required that the successor to the vacant bishopric be a man who had known Christ. Those who now sustain the office of witnesses for Christ must be men whose spiritual intimacy with Him is intense and fully tested. Every minister must have seen Christ and known the power of His resurrection.
2. It is clear from the election of Matthias that there is in the Scriptures a distinct claim to apostolic succession. Who then are in this succession? Those who are animated by the apostolic spirit. It is not question of ecclesiastical descent, but of spiritual illumination and sympathy.
3. The twelfth minister was chosen by the whole Church subject to a distinct expression of the Divine Will. The election was not determined by personal taste, much less by the industrious canvassing of ambitious candidates. The minister was sought by prayer and as a consequence was received with submission and thankfulness. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Men and brethren, this Scripture must needs have been fulfilled … concerning Judas.
The subserviency of crime to the purposes of God
We know not a more remarkable expression than “The wrath of man shall praise Thee, the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain.” The manner in which God overrules wickedness, and by which crime is as much an instrument in His hands as obedience, evidences our Maker’s greatness as well as His unlimited dominion. God is able to reckon with thorough certainty upon the commission of a crime, and yet leave men quite free in the commission. We are so accustomed to denounce the traitor for his crime, that we are apt to overlook the important ends which are eventually subserved. It will be our object to exhibit generally the testimony to Christianity which is furnished by the treason of Judas.
I. Let us premise one or two observations upon the character of Judas; for bad as this was, it may by possibility be misrepresented. We see no reason to believe that Judas had any design on the life of his Master, for, seeing the consequences of his treachery, he was tern with mortification and remorse. He might have supposed it highly improbable that, by placing Christ in the hands of His enemies, he would have been instrumental in His death; for the Jews had then no legal power of putting to death; and it was not likely that the Romans would pay attention to their accusations. Judas then may have calculated that all that could be done to Christ would be putting some restraint upon His person, and preventing Him from further propagating the religion, by whose precepts he himself was condemned.
II. We shall proceed, on this supposition, in tracing the ends which the treachery subserved. You may imagine that the traitor seized a favourable opportunity of indulging his avarice, and of stopping the diffusion of a religion, which, as a money-grasping man, he must have cordially disliked, Now, if he had been possessed of any information which at all tended to invalidate its truth, how eagerly would he have adduced it, and the chief priests have received it! The mere putting to death was as nothing compared with the proving Him a deceiver. And yet Judas, eager as he was for money, and anxious to crush the new religion, has no intelligence to give which may disprove Christ’s pretensions. This is amongst the strongest of proofs that Christ was “a teacher sent from God.”
1. Our Lord’s pretensions rested chiefly on His miracles, so that to show deceit in the one would have overthrown the other. Infidelity will sometimes argue that there might have been collusion in the miracles. Now, had this been the case, Judas must have known it, and if Judas must have known, this would have been a fine piece of intelligence to have sold to the chief priests, and by communicating it he would at once have enriched himself and destroyed Christianity. Nay, he would have done a righteous deed; and while gratifying his avarice, he would have laid up no food for remorse.
2. The infant religion might have been assailed with at least equal power through the moral character of its Founder. And one of the most beautiful arguments by which we may defend Christianity is derived from the more than human purity of Christ. And if it were possible to invalidate in the least degree the truth that Christ “did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth,” the whole system would fall to the ground. Mark, that “the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against Jesus to put Him to death; and they found none.” Yet they were bargaining with Judas, one of His intimate associates, who must have been accurately acquainted with all the flaws, if such there were, in His character. In the silence of this traitor in selling his Master, we find irresistible attestation to the fact that Christ Jesus was indeed “a lamb without blemish and without spot.”
3. The prophecies might have been frustrated. It had been declared, in Zechariah, that the Messiah should be sold for thirty pieces of silver, and this price be given to the potter. Now had the chief priest and scribes offered more than thirty pieces, or had Judas been contented with fewer, or had the price of blood, when returned by the traitor, been spent on the land of any but a potter, there would have been a defect in the evidence that Jesus was the Christ. And the infatuated rulers could not see this. Perhaps they drove a hard bargain with Judas, beating him down till they reached the exact sum which prophecy specified as the number of the pieces of metal. They never thought, when exulting that they had bought Jesus at the price of a slave, that they had completed the evidence of His being their king. The like may be said of the potter’s field. With all their profligacy, they were scrupulous in touching the money; and therefore will they use it in proving Jesus the Christ. It shall buy the potter’s field--the only purpose to which it can be turned; and after being the price of His blood it shall serve to prove His commission. The only prophecies with which infidelity could be successfully pressed are those in which it is impossible that the parties professedly interested should have planned or procured the accomplishment. Nothing can more directly answer this commission than those which have reference to the compact with Judas. Conclusion: This is our consolation whilst “the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing”--we know that the will of our Creator shall take effect. Hostility and malice and treachery shall prevail nothing against the Lord and His Christ. They shall but defend and consolidate the Church. Judas Iscariot vindicates the Master he betrayed, and sustains the cause from which he apostatised. Therefore need we be nothing dismayed if the wicked combine to oppose Christianity. There is one that sits above the tempest, and so directs it, that its fury shall be spent on those by whom it has been raised. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Judas: his sin
He was guide to them that took Jesus.
I. There are two ways to take Christ.
1. Faith takes Jesus. It takes Christ at His word.
2. Falseness takes Christ. Inspired by hatred of His words, by restlessness under His control, by uncongeniality with His spirit, it cries, “I will not; have this man to reign over me.” And when that spirit of opposition is developed there is no mode of destruction too vile for falseness to accept. The world is full of those who are controlled by this hostility. Opposition to Jesus among men only lacks leadership; and whensoever such a guide is found they covenant with him even to a costly sacrifice if he will deliver the Jesus of the Church into their hands. Pilate’s timidity, and Herod’s overweening, weak curiosity, are bad enough in condemning Christ; but He says, “He that delivered Me unto thee hath the greater sin.” It is not enough that the Judas who guides this hostility should plead his own freedom from violence. He adds meanness to his other sins when he shirks the responsibility he has assumed. There are multitudes who need no accusers before God’s throne. There are those who confess that they are opponents, and mean to be such, and whose only apology is, “At all events, we do not profess to be anything better,” and in God’s book of remembrance their apology becomes their accusation. Then there are those who say, “We know the truth perfectly.” Then, brother, if thy life is still against Christ, when thou shalt stand before that terrible bar thine own faith shall testify against thee. Of all dooms there is none so dreadful as that of him who strives to hold the privilege of professed discipleship, and yet is a guide to them that take Jesus.
II. Three steps which such a guide must take. Only three? How short a journey it is! David sums it up with other words in his first Psalm. The likeness of Judas’ life in these three respects can be traced, I fear, in that of some of us.
1. He counsels with Jesus’ enemies.
2. He reveals His hiding.
3. He perverts a profession of affection. (S. H. Tyng, D. D.)
God’s foreknowledge practically considered
Foreknowledge and predestination are not subjects for a careless, trifling, or cavilling mind to grapple with. Neither are they subjects which, under any circumstances, admit of being treated in an abstract or mere speculative way. That God foreknows all actions, and all occurrences, we cannot deny, without at once stripping Him of an essential attribute of His being. That His foreknowledge comprehends the final destiny of every human being, is clear. In order, however, to get rid of this inevitable conclusion, the doctrine of contingencies is sometimes resorted to; and we are asked how a thing can be certainly foreknown which is dependent upon occurrencies that may or may not take place. This is a mere evasion--the raising of a second difficulty, in order to dispose of the first. Is it more difficult for God to foresee the working contingencies, and the specific movements of pure volition, than it would be to foresee those results if they were suspended upon an absolute decree? But we are told that by pressing the doctrine of foreknowledge we place ourselves on the threshold of predestination; inasmuch as a thing definitely foreknown is as certain as a thing positively foreordained. I have neither the power nor the will to resist this inference, because I believe it to be a legitimate conclusion arising out of undeniable premisses. But then we are told, further, and by another class of persons, that foreknowledge and predestination involve in them the execution of a decree, whereby a large portion of mankind are reprobated and doomed to eternal misery; and the case of Judas is referred to as an instance in point. Here we are completely at issue with them, and for this plain reason--that the Bible speaks a different; language from that which they see fit to employ on the subject. The Bible represents the door of mercy as being wide open for the admission of every son and daughter of Adam. If the language actually employed by the inspired writers does not tell me that Christ died for all, could any other language have been adopted by them, calculated to convey the idea more forcibly, admitting that they wished to convey it at all? A second thought which presses itself upon the attention, as the result of a fair survey of the book of God, is,--that where the offers of mercy are rejected, such rejection is altogether voluntary: in other words, that obstacles to salvation rest entirely with man; and that every sinner who perishes under a blaze of evangelical light, is, to all intents, a self-destroyer. Still, however, though the theory of absolute unconditional reprobation is disproved by the testimony of Scripture, there is a rebounding echo which says that foreknowledge is certainty; and that if God foreknows who of His creatures will be finally saved, and who of them will be eternally lost, it amounts to the same thing, so far as the single point of destination is concerned, as if He had positively decreed life to some and death to others. This, again, is a position which I shall not attempt to controvert; and yet it is a position requiring to be taken in connection with the elucidation of certain principles which are constantly and practically operating in the affairs of human life. God foreknows everything; and yet man acts as if He foreknew nothing. Volition is as perfect, the will is as unfettered in the one case as it would or could be in the other. Simple foreknowledge, as distinguished from absolute predestination, is founded on free agency, and in no way does it influence or control it. The very certainty by which it is characterised is the result of free agents acting as they please, of rational intelligences ranging at large in the wide field of unrestrained liberty. If men are not saved, it is because they refuse to be saved, and for no other cause; and hence we may well ask, Where is the humility, where is the wisdom, where is the piety, of persons disquieting their minds, because their Creator is an omniscient Intelligence, and because the attribute of omniscience involves foreknowledge and certainty? You will observe that I have confined myself to the point of foreknowledge, leaving that of predestination, excepting incidently, untouched. I have done so because I consider it as irrelevant to the case of Judas, and not propounded, either directly or by implication, in the text. Predestination stands closely connected with sovereignty; and sovereignty has exclusively to do with the bestowment of good; exerting itself solely in acts of beneficence; decreeing blessings, not curses; ordaining men to life, not dooming them to destruction. At the same time, I cannot refrain from saying, in reference to predestination, that, in a practical point of view, it presents, so far as I can judge, no greater difficulties to the mind than those connected with foreknowledge. It is equally consistent with the freedom of man as a rational agent, with the universality of gospel offers, and with the fulness of gospel grace. Conclusion:
1. The subject we have considered constitutes a loud call to humanity. Instead of cavilling at difficulties, let us resolve them into the imperfection of mortal vision; and, instead of boasting our mental powers, let us lie prostrate at the Divine footstool, as those who feel their own littleness, and are sensible how blind and ignorant they are, in reference to heavenly things.
2. The subject should guard us against the error of suffering ourselves to be fettered by any human system. Let promises and precepts, doctrines, and duties, decrees and responsibilities, occupy the places assigned to them on the page of Scripture; and what God has joined together let not the presumptuous hand of man dare to put asunder.
3. The contemplation of God’s foreknowledge should never be engaged in otherwise than in close connection with gospel promises and gospel precepts. God knows no such character as a sincere inquirer shut out from mercy’s gate; and sooner shall the sun be shorn of its beams--sooner shall the rainbow discharge its beauteous colours--than a praying soul shall perish, because Divine foresight takes cognizance of human destination.
4. The doctrine of Divine foreknowledge, as taught in Scripture directly and inferentially, tends, when duly apprehended, through a spiritual medium, both to impart comfort, and to prompt exertion. In proportion as faith and hope ripen into assurance, the soul is perceptibly strengthened for the performance of its active duties; and on the same principle, the certainty of Divine foreknowledge, irradiated with the bright beams of evangelical promise, so stimulates the believer’s energies Chat he becomes “ready to every good work”--“steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” (Wm. Knight, M. A.)
Judas’s iniquity and its consequences
From these learn--
1. How great a sin avarice is, and to what a depth of wickedness it precipitates a man.
2. How deep the fall of those who fall from great grace and from high privileges.
3. How grievous the sin of desperation. It was this which made the difference between the sin of the traitor and that of the denier. (Cornelius Lapide.)
Judas: his fate
He fell headlong, or, rather, flat on his face (cf. Josephus, “Jewish Wars,” 6:1-6)
, a fact not contradictory, but additional, to the circumstances mentioned in Matthew 27:5, where the word is the same as that used by the LXX. concerning Ahithophel. Theophylact explained that the rope broke, Judas having flung himself off some height. It will be remembered that ten thousand Idumean captives, cast down from the top of a rock, after Amaziah’s victory, “were all broken in pieces” (2 Chronicles 25:12). (Bp. Jacobsen.)
A traitor’s death
The Duke of Buckingham, having by an unfortunate accident lost the army which he had raised against the usurper Richard III., was forced to flee for his life without page or attendant. At last he took refuge in the house of Humphrey Bannister at Shrewsbury, who, being one of his servants, and having formerly raised him from a low condition, would, he trusted, be ready to afford him every possible protection. Bannister, however, upon the king’s proclamation, promising £1,000 reward to him that should apprehend the Duke, betrayed his master to John Merton, high sheriff of Shropshire, who sent him under a strong guard to Salisbury, where the king then was, by whom he was condemned to be beheaded. But Divine vengeance pursued the traitor and his family; for, on demanding the £1,000, that was the price of his master’s blood, King Richard refused to pay it, saying, “He that would be false to so good a master ought not to be encouraged.” He was afterwards hanged for manslaughter: his eldest son fell into a state of derangement, and died in a hog-sty; his second son became deformed and lame; his third son was drowned in a small pool of water, and the rest of his family perished miserably.
The potter’s field
At Jerusalem traces of an ancient gateway have been discovered, apparently that known as “The Gate of the Potters,” the quarter where earthenware was manufactured. Opposite to this lies the “Potter’s Field,” still called Aceldama, on which rises an old ruin thirty feet long and twenty feet wide, the whole forming a flat-roofed cover to a dismal house of the dead. Two caverns open in the floor, their rocky sides pierced with holes for bodies; and galleries of holes run into the hill from the bottom. Holes in the roof are still seen through which the corpses were let down by ropes, and there are marks of the steps by which the tombs were entered. (C. Geikie, D. D.)
Aceldama, the field of blood
Bought with the price of blood (Matthew 27:8), and, according to received tradition, stained with the blood of Judas. The name would remind Jewish readers of that bloodshedding, the consequences of which had been invoked on themselves and on their children. The place commonly shown as Aceldama has ever been famous on account of the sarcophagus virtue possessed by the earth in hastening the decay of dead bodies. Shiploads of it were carried to the Campo Santo in Pisa. (Bp. Jacobsen.)
The gambling spirit, which is at all times a stupendous evil, ever and anon sweeps over the country like an epidemic, prostrating uncounted thousands. There has never been a worse attack than that from which all the villages, towns, and cities are now suffering.
1. This sin works ruin, first, by providing an unhealthful stimulant.
2. Again, this sin works ruin by killing industry.
3. Furthermore, this sin is the source of dishonesty.
4. Notice also the effect of this crime upon domestic happiness. (T. de Witt Talmage.)
The prophecies in Peter’s speech
The first quotation (verse 20) down to “therein” is taken substantially from Psalms 69:25, with some compression of LXX., and a variation in the number of the pronoun from plural to singular, by which Judas is taken as a representative of Christ’s enemies. This Psalm, quoted in the New Testament oftener than any other, except 22., is pre-eminently Messianic. Verse 9 is applied to Christ by John (John 2:17); the words immediately following by Paul (Romans 15:3); and the fulfilment of verse 21 is noted by John (John 19:28-30). The second quotation is taken with verbal exactness from LXX., Psalms 109:8 --the Iscariot Psalm. The conduct of Judas warranted the identifying him with Doeg and Ahithophel. David and his enemies are treated as types of Christ and His enemies. And after the exposition given by our Lord (Luke 24:44), it is out of the question to impute to Peter misunderstanding or misapplication. (Bp. Jacobsen.)
Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us.
The familiar side of Christ’s life
There are many ways of regarding the life of Christ: e.g., the philosophical or ideal, as in John’s Gospel; the historical, in its larger world relation, as in Luke and St. Paul’s Epistles; or, as here, the familiar. A proverbial touch may be detected in the phraseology of the text recalling Psalms 121:8. Such an expression indicates “the daily round” as distinguished from the special occasions of life. Note two or three reflections upon the great fact of the dwelling amongst us of God’s Son.
I. This contact must be a ground for the most complete sympathy between Him and us.
1. How thoroughly He shared the occupation, interest, and outlook of man. He entered into human thought, and looked upon the universe as it appears to the human eye and mind. Nothing human was indifferent to Him. All questions of labour, of the family, of social or political affairs, were and are of concern to Him. He is one with us.
2. He was a partaker in the suffering and shame of men. Pain, sorrow, disappointment, formed the alphabet of His experience as of ours. These were for Him a discipline as well as for us, and He regarded them and the problems they present as one of ourselves.
II. How independent christ was of external circumstances and associates. It has been said that “no man is a hero to his valet.” Familiarity breeds, if not contempt, at any rate, loss of reverence. Can we conceive of Jesus losing in moral dignity or the esteem of men by daily intercourse? Here He receives the title “Lord,” and His going in and put is “over” His people, i.e., authoritatively, as shepherd over his sheep. He chose a life least calculated to produce social or political effects, yet His influence was enhanced by that fact. His work so absolutely depended on Himself that political influence or high social position mould have injured it. But was He Himself affected by His station in life? Carlyle’s vices, we are told by Froude, were to be looked for, considering his nature and upbringing as a Scottish peasant, and even his virtues were those of people of humble circumstances. Were the virtues of the Peasant of Galilee subject to this drawback? Nay; for we see how He towers above His contemporaries and followers. To such an age He could owe nothing, and the best of all ages have done Him homage and tried to imitate Him.
III. It is just this “daily round” of life that needs saving. Five-sixths of life consists of routine, and what would be the use of a religion that could not affect this? There is a constant tendency to detach the common things of life from moral considerations. Christ’s parables discovered the mystery of the kingdom of heaven that was latent in men’s daily lives. Who shall tell how much the childhood of Jesus has done to purify home life, or His work as a carpenter to ennoble labour? (A. F. Muir, M. A.)
The election of Saint Matthias considered and applied
On the day which is appointed to commemorate the Apostle Matthias, our Church has selected for the Epistle a portion of Scripture from the Acts of the Apostles, the only portion of Scripture in which his name is to be found. Whatever else is related of him in uninspired authors is attended with uncertainty, however worthy of remembrance. One circumstance is mentioned concerning him by two respectable writers among the early Christians, viz., that he was one of the seventy disciples whom the Lord Christ, during His earthly ministry, sent forth to work miracles and to preach in His name. This circumstance proves that he was known to Christ, and Christ to him; and that Christ had distinguished him among His followers.
I. The first piece of instruction which I think we may learn from this portion of Scripture history is that among the good and faithful servants of God bad and unfaithful men my be found. Judas Iscariot was a traitor among the twelve apostles. Satan, as we read in the Book of Job, was among the sons of God when they came to present themselves to Jehovah. Among the early converts to the faith of Christ, Ananias and Sapphira, and Simon Magus, were discovered to be insincere. Our Saviour’s parables of the wheat and tares growing in the same field, and of the good and bad fish caught in the same net, give us the like view of His Church here on earth. We know that His Church triumphant will be presented to Him “a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy and without blemish.” The ministers of Christ’s Church, though especially called to be examples to the people whom they are appointed to teach and lead, are certainly not exempt from this corrupting influence: neither is it to be expected that they should be. They are still but men, liable to temptation as the rest of mankind, and subject to the peculiar temptations of their calling.
II. But another piece of instruction which we may learn from this portion of Scripture history is that, though wickedness be foreknown, foretold, and predetermined by God, it is wickedness notwithstanding. To God, who knows all things, it was certainly known that Judas would act the part which history relates he did. Was Judas, then, innocent on this account? Mark the language of the historian in writing of it: “This man [Judas] purchased a field with the reward of his iniquity.” Take another instance of the like kind in our Lord Jesus Christ: “Him,” says St. Peter, “being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” Let no Christian, therefore, set the foreknowledge and predestination of God against the willing agency and responsibility of man, as if they were inconsistent and at variance with each other, and could not both be true. And let those who would excuse their impieties, by pretending a fatal necessity, be told that, if their sins be decreed and inevitable, so also is their punishment; and if they cannot but choose the one, they must equally choose the other.
III. A third piece of instruction which we may learn from this portion of Scripture history is that when, by death or otherwise, a minister of Christ’s church is removed from his customary sphere of spiritual labour, it is the duty of the bishop, patron, and people, as far as lies in them, to appoint a good and well-qualified minister in his place. We may notice, however, in the election of Matthias what was thought particularly necessary for his office. “Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John unto that same day that He was taken from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of His resurrection.” It was an accurate knowledge of Jesus, from the beginning of His public ministry, which was from the time of His being baptised by John to the day of His ascension into heaven. And this knowledge was to qualify the apostle to be a witness of the resurrection of Jesus. Next, therefore, to honesty of character and sincerity of affection to Jesus, this information was a needful quality in a preacher of the gospel. The same quality is still needed in preachers of the gospel, though not to, be obtained from visible intercourse with the holy Jesus. They ought to be well acquainted with the history of His life; with the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning Him; with the manner of their fulfilment, as far as they have been fulfilled; and with all the evidences which clearly prove Him to be “the Christ, the Saviour of the world.” To state this knowledge properly and effectually, their hearts also ought to be warmed with love to Jesus, and to the sinners whom He came “to seek and to save.”
IV. A fourth piece of instruction which we may learn from this portion of Scripture history is the duty of prayer in the case of the ordination of ministers generally, and on the appointment of any individual minister to some particular field of labour in the church of God. This duty was carefully performed by the apostles and disciples of Christ in the instance before us. Let private prayer be added to that which is public, that the Holy Spirit may direct the minds and hearts of all parties concerned in the ordination of ministers. Having thus prayed in faith, they should receive the minister sent to them as Christ’s ambassador, to be reverenced for the sake of the King, his divine Master. But, more than this, their prayers should be seconded and followed up by active and cheerful efforts to help him in the great work to which he is called; to unite with him, in their several spheres and stations, in promoting and extending his labour of love, in teaching the young and ignorant, in strengthening the weak, in correcting those who fall into error; and, by their own bright and consistent example, glorifying God, and causing God to be glorified by others, through them. (W. D. Johnston, M. A.)
The reality and requirements of the Christian ministry
1. Here was one of the noblest ventures of faith ever made by man. Viewed from the world’s side, it was, as great faith always is, frivolous trifling or daring madness. A little company of ignorant men, in a small province of the Roman world, had for three years followed up and down their land a new teacher, who professed to come from God, but had been crucified and slain. They had been terrified and scattered, and now they gather together in an upper room, and talk of choosing one in the traitor’s stead to complete their broken number. They speak great words: they seem to look forth into the wide world around, as though it waited for them, as though they had a message for it, and power over it. Either their minds were full of the darkest delusions, or they were acting in the very might of God. And which was the truth the event may tell us. Prom that completed company a voice awoke to which the world did listen, and before which it fell. No visible strength dwelt in them as they went forth on their errand. They were scourged, imprisoned, slain. Their weapons were endurance, submission, love, faith, martyrdom--and with these they triumphed. They preached “Jesus and the resurrection,” and hard souls yielded and were gathered into the new company, and wore its cross and carried on its triumphs, until the world trembled at the change which was passing on itself. And so they have advanced with unfaltering step from that day to this, until all that is mightiest in power, and greatest in nobleness, and highest in intellect, has bowed down in adoration before that witness of the resurrection of Jesus.
2. The acts which we are here this day to do are but the carrying out of those which then were wrought, and we may see in the course of their work what should be the issue of ours. Here is--
I. The strength in which each one of those sent forth is to labour, and the spirit in which he is to be received. Here is his strength--he is called by God to this office (and woe be to him if he rush into it uncalled), and goes about God’s work: he may be, he ought to be, conscious of weakness, and therefore he may be strong; for conscious feebleness may drive him from himself to God in Christ. In spite of appearances, at all times in his ministry there is strength for him: “I witness not of myself, but of the resurrection of my Lord; my words are not mine, but His; I witness not by strength, but by weakness, glorying in infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” And as having such an office they are to be received, not for their natural eloquence or power, not for their acquired skill or learning, but for the supernatural presence which will make their weakness strong.
II. The nature of their charge--they are sent to bear the witness of Christ’s resurrection. All is shut up in this. They come from God to the world with the message of reconciliation; and this message is the incarnation of the eternal Son, His death, His rising again, and from this the truth of the ever-blessed Trinity, and man’s restored relation to his God. This is what man’s heart longs for unconsciously, and what the asceticism of the natural man is so restlessly craving for where it can never find it.
III. How are we to discharge this great vocation?
1. We must be deep students of God’s Word. Where else are we to learn our witness of Christ’s resurrection? Here it is written clear and full--in the Old Testament in type, prophecy, and promise; in the New in fulfilment, act, history, and grace. In it, day by day, we must live with Him. Thus must our message sink into our own hearts. Even as they “who companied with” Him “all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among them,” learned unawares, day by day, the truth they needed, so must it be with us.
2. We must be men of prayer. The union of these two is the essence of the apostolical character. “We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and the ministry of the Word”; and without prayer we cannot bear this burden. How without it shall we have an insight into Scripture? how turn what we read to profit? how have power with God or with our brethren? In prayer, in real, hearty, earnest prayer, all things around us are set into their proper places. In prayer our minds are armed for the coming temptations of the day; they are cooled, refreshed, and calmed after its vexations, fatigues, and anxiety. On our knees, if anywhere, we learn to love the souls of our people; to hate our own sins; to trust in Him who shows us then His wounded side and pierced hands, and to love Him with our whole heart. Nothing will make up for the lack of prayer. The busiest ministry without it is sure to become shallow and bustling. To come forth from secret communing with Him, and bear our witness, and to retire again behind the veil to pour out our hearts before Him in unceasing intercessions and devout adorations, this is, indeed, the secret of a blessed, fruitful ministry. Nor let us suppose that at once, and by the force of a single resolution, we can become men of prayer. The spirit of devotion is the gift of God; thou must seek it long and earnestly; and His grace will work it in thy heart. Thou must practise it and labour for it. Thou must pray often if thou wouldest pray well.
3. We must be men of holiness.
Witnesses of the resurrection
The fact of Christ’s resurrection was the staple of the first Christian sermon. The apostles did not deal so much in doctrine; but they proclaimed what they had seen. There are three main connections in which the fact is viewed in Scripture. It was--
1. A fact affecting Him, carrying with it necessarily some great truths with regard to His character, nature, and work. And it was in that aspect mainly that the earliest preachers dealt with it.
2. Then, as the Spirit led them to understand more and more of it, it came to be a pattern, pledge, and prophecy of their own.
3. And then it came to be a symbol of spiritual resurrection. The text branches out into three considerations.
I. The witnesses. Here we have the “head of the Apostolic College,” on whose supposed primacy--which is certainly not a “rock”--such tremendous claims have been built, laying down the qualifications and the functions of an apostle. How simply they present themselves to His mind. The qualifications are only personal knowledge of Jesus Christ in His earthly history, because the function is only to attest His resurrection. The same conception lies in Christ’s last designation, “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me.” It appears again and again in the earlier address reported in this book. “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses,” etc., etc. How striking the contrast this idea presents to the portentous theories of later times. The work of the apostles in Christ’s lifetime embraced three elements, none of which were peculiar to them--to be with Christ, to preach, and to work miracles; their characteristic work after His ascension was this of witness-bearing. The Church did not owe to them its extension, nor Christian doctrine its form, and whilst Peter and James and John appear in the history, and Matthew wrote a Gospel, and the other James and Jude are the authors of brief Epistles, the rest of the twelve never appear afterwards. This book is not the Acts of the Apostles. It tells the work of Peter alone among the twelve. The Hellenists Stephen and Philip, the Cypriote Barnabas--and the man of Tarsus, greater than they all--these spread the name of Christ beyond the limits of the Holy City and the chosen people. The solemn power of “binding and loosing” was not a prerogative of the twelve, for we read that Jesus came where “the disciples were assembled,” and “He breathed on them, and said, Receive ye the Holy Ghost, whose soever sins ye remit they are remitted.” Where in all this is a trace of the special apostolic powers which have been alleged to be transmitted from them? Nowhere. Who was it that came and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord hath sent me that thou mightest be filled with the Holy Ghost”? A simple “layman.” Who was it that stood by, a passive and astonished spectator of the communication of spiritual gifts to Gentile converts, and could only say, “Forasmuch, then, as God gave them the like gift, as He did unto us, what was I that I could withstand God?” Peter, the leader of the twelve. Their task was apparently a humbler, really a far more important, one. They had to lay broad and deep the basis for all the growth and grace of the Church in the facts which they witnessed. To that work there can be no successors.
II. The sufficiency of the testimony. Peter regards (as does the whole New Testament) the witness which he and his fellows bore as enough to lay firm and deep the historical fact of the resurrection.
1. If we think of Christianity as being mainly a set of truths, then, of course, the way to prove Christianity is to show the consistency of its truths with one another and with other truths, their derivation from admitted principles, their reasonableness, their adaptation to men’s nature, and the refining and elevating effects of their adoption, and so on. If we think of Christianity, on the other hand, as being first a set of historical facts which carry the doctrines, then the way to prove Christianity is not to show how reasonable it is, etc. These are legitimate ways of establishing principles; but the way to establish a fact is only one--that is, to find somebody that can say, “I know it, for I saw it.” And my belief is that the course of modern “apologetics” has departed from its real stronghold when it has consented to argue the question on these lower and less sufficing grounds. The gospel is first and foremost a history, and you cannot prove that a thing has happened by showing how very desirable it is that it should happen, etc.
all that is irrelevant. It is true because sufficient eye-witnesses assert it.
2. With regard to the sufficiency of the specific evidence--
(a) A delusion. But it was not; for such an illusion is altogether unexampled. Nations have said, “Our king is not dead--he is gone away and he will come back.” Loving disciples have said, “Our Teacher lives in solitude, and will return to us.” But this is no parallel to these. This is not a fond imagination giving an apparent substance to its own creation, but sense recognising the fact. And to suppose that that should have been the rooted conviction of hundreds of men that were not idiots finds no parallel in the history and no analogy in legend.
(b) A myth; but a myth does not grow in ten years. And there was no motive to frame if Christ was dead and all was over.
(c) A deceit; but the character of the men, and the absence of self-interest, and the persecutions which they endured, made that inconceivable.
(a) No testimony can reach to the miraculous. But cannot testimony reach to this: I know, because I saw, that a man was dead, and I saw him alive again? If testimony can do that, I think we may safely leave the verbal sophism that it cannot reach to the miraculous to take care of itself.
(b) Miracle is impossible. But that is an illogical begging of the whole question, and cannot avail to brush aside testimony. You cannot smother facts by theories in that fashion. One would like to know how it comes that our modern men of science who protest so much against science being corrupted by metaphysics should commit themselves to an assertion like that? Surely that is stark, staring metaphysics. Let them keep to their own line, and tell us all that crucibles and scalpels can reveal, and we will listen as becomes us. But when they contradict their own principles in order to deny the possibility of miracles, we need only give them back their own words, and ask that the investigation of facts shall not be hampered and clogged with metaphysical prejudices.
III. The importance of the fact which is thus borne witness to.
1. With the Resurrection stands or falls the Divinity of Christ. Christ said, “The Son of man must suffer many things, and the third day He shall rise again.” Now, if Death holds Him still, then what becomes of these words, and of our estimate of the Character of Him, the speaker? Let us hear no more about the pure morality of Jesus Christ. Take away the Resurrection and we have left beautiful precepts, and fair wisdom deformed with a monstrous self-assertion, and the constant reiteration of claims which the event proves to have been baseless. Either He has risen from the dead or His words were blasphemy. “Declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead,” or that which our lips refuse to say even in a hypothesis!
2. With the Resurrection stands or falls Christ’s whole work for our redemption. If He died, like other men, we have no proof that the Cross was anything but a martyr’s. His resurrection is the proof that His death was not the tribute which for Himself He had to pay, but the ransom for us. If He has not risen, He has not put away sin; and if He has not put it away by the sacrifice of Himself, none has, and it remains. We come back to the old dreary alternative: if Christ be not risen your faith is vain, and our preaching is vain, etc. And if He be not risen, there is no resurrection for us; and the world is desolate, and the heaven is empty, and the grave is dark, and sin abides, and death is eternal. Well, then, may we take up the ancient glad salutation, “The Lord is risen”; and turning from these thoughts of the disaster and despair that that awful supposition drags after it, fall back upon the sober certainty, and with the apostle break forth in triumph, “Now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first-fruits of them that slept.” (A. Maclaren, D. D)
And they appointed two.
An election sermon
This, the earliest, stands remarkably distinguished from the episcopal elections of after ages. Every one acquainted with history knows that the election of a bishop was one of the fiercest questions which shook the Church of Christ. Appointment by the people. Presbyters. Various customs. Anecdote of Ambrose of Milan. Appointment by the Emperor or Bishop of Rome. Quarrel of ages between the Emperor and the Pope. Consider--
I. The object of the election. To elect a bishop of the universal Church. It might be that in process of time the apostle should be appointed to a particular city--as St. James was to Jerusalem. But his duty was owed to the Church in general, and not to that particular city; and if he had allowed local interests to stand before the interests of the whole, he would have neglected the duty of his high office, and if those who appointed him considered the interest of Jerusalem instead of the Church universal, they would have failed in their duty. In the third century Cyprian stated this principle: “The Episcopate, one and indivisible, held in its entirety by each bishop, every part standing for the whole.” The political application is plain. Each legislator legislates for the country, not for a county or town. Each elector holds his franchise as a sacred trust, to be exercised not for his town, or faction, or himself, or his friends, but for the general weal of the people of England. We are not to be biassed by asking what charity does a candidate support, nor by his view of some local question, nor by his support of Tractarian or Evangelical societies. We are, in our high responsibility, selecting, not a president for a religious society, nor a patron of a town, nor a subscriber to an hospital, but a legislator for England.
II. The mode of the election. It was partly human, partly Divine. The human element is plain enough in that it was popular. The Divine element lay in this that it was overruled by God. The selected one might be the chosen of the people, yet not the chosen of God. Hence they prayed, “Thou Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men,” etc. The common notion is, vox populi vox--i.e., a law is right because it is a people’s will. We have not quite gone to this length in England. On the Continent it has long been prevalent. Possibly it is the expression of that Antichrist “who showeth himself that he is God”; self-will setting itself up paramount to the will of God. The vox populi is sometimes vox, sometimes not. It was so when the people rescued Jonathan from his father’s unjust sentence: and when, after the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, they cried, “The Lord He is God.” But not when, in Moses’ absence, they required Aaron to make them a golden calf for a god. Or when they shouted, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” or “Crucify Him!” Politicians eagerly debate the question, how best to secure a fair representation of the people’s voice--a question not to be put aside. But the Christian sets a question deeper far than this--how the popular will shall truly represent the will of God. And we shall attain this, not by nicely balancing interest against interest, much less by manoeuvring to defeat the opposite cause; but by each doing all he can to rouse himself and others to a high sense of responsibility. It is a noble thought, that of every elector going to vote, as these men did, for the Church, for the people, for God, and for the right, earnestly anxious that he and others should do right. Else this was an appeal to chance and not to God; and every election, by ballot or by suffrage, is else an appeal to chance.
III. The spirit.
1. A religious spirit. “They prayed,” etc. Now, we shall be met here by an objection. This was a religious work--the selection of an apostle; but the choice of a representative is only a secular one. But it is not the occupation, but the spirit which makes the difference. The election of a bishop may be most secular; the election of a representative may be religious. St. Paul taught that nothing is profane. Sanctified by the Word of God and prayer, St. Peter learned that nothing is common or unclean. Many relics remain to us from our religious forefathers indicative of this truth. Grace before meals. Dei gratia on coins of the realm; “In the name of God,” at the commencement of wills; oaths in court of justice--all proclaim that the simplest acts of our domestic and political life are sacred or profane according to the spirit in which they are performed; not in the question whether they are done for the State or the Church, but whether with God or without God. Observe: It is not the preluding such an election with public prayer that would make it a religious act. It is religious so far as each man discharges his part as a duty and solemn responsibility. If looked on in this spirit would the debauchery, which is fostered by rich men of all parties among the poor for their own purposes, be possible? Would they, for the sake of one vote, or a hundred votes, brutalise their fellow creatures?
2. It was done conscientiously. Each Christian found himself in possession of a new right--that of giving a vote or casting a lot. Like all rights, it was a duty. He had not a right to do what he liked, only to do right. And if any one had swayed him to support the cause of Barsabas or that of Matthias on any motives except this one--“You ought”--he had so far injured his conscience. The worst of crimes is to injure a human conscience. Now bribery is a sin. Not because a particular law has been made against it, but because it lowers the sense of personal responsibility. And whether you do directly by giving, indirectly by withdrawing, assistance, or patronage--you sin against Christ.
3. It was not done from personal interest. If the supporters of the two candidates had been influenced by such considerations as bloodrelationship, or the chance of favour and promotion, a high function would have been degraded. In secular matters, however, we do not judge so. A man generally decides according to his professional or his personal interests. You know almost to a certainty beforehand which way a man will vote, if you know his profession. Partly no doubt, this is involuntarily--the result of those prejudices which attach to us all from association. But it is partly voluntary. We know that we are thinking not of the general good, but of our own interests. And thus a farmer would think himself justified in looking at a question simply as it affected his class, and a noble as it affected his caste, and a working man as it bore upon the working classes. Brethren, we are Christians. Something of a principle higher than this ought to be ours. What is the law of the Cross of Christ? The sacrifice of the One for the whole, the cheerful surrender of the few for the many. Else, what do we more than others? These are fine words--patriotism, public principle, purity. Be sure these words are but sentimental expressions, except as they spring out of the Cross of Christ. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
The election of Matthias
Let us pause a little to meditate upon an objection which might have been here raised. Why fill up what Christ Himself left vacant? some short-sighted objector might have urged; and yet we see good reason why Christ may have omitted to supply the place of Judas, and may have designed that the apostles themselves should have done so. Our Lord Jesus Christ gifted His apostles with corporate power; He bestowed upon them authority to act in His stead and name; and it is not God’s way of action to grant power and authority, and then to allow it to remain unexercised and undeveloped. When God confers any gift He expects that it shall be used for His honour and man’s benefit. The Lord thus wished to teach the Church from earliest days to walk alone. The apostles had been long enough depending on His personal presence and guidance, and now, that they might learn to exercise the privileges and duties of their Divine freedom, He leaves them to choose one to fill that position of supernatural rank and office from which Judas had fallen. The risen Saviour acted in grace as God ever acts in nature. He bestowed His gifts lavishly and generously, and then expected man to respond to the gifts by making that good use of them which earnest prayer, sanctified reason, and Christian common-sense dictated. (G. T. Stokes, M. A.)
Readiness and preparedness
The Church, like a line of soldiers in action, must have no vacant places; each gap in the line must be made good. The unfilled post is a point of weakness in the system and the work, and the enemy against whom we strive is not slow to take advantage. The weak place is soon detected, and the gap in the line will soon be still further enlarged. A rent unmended rapidly grows greater. The apostles felt this. So at once they proceed to fill the vacant place. Two thoughts meet us here. If a place has to be filled, two requirements must be satisfied. First, we must have one prepared, one fit to fill the position; secondly, we must have one ready and willing to take up the work. Matthias was a disciple of experience. He was not a recent convert, no novice. Hitherto, we may conclude, he had filled no official position. But by attendance on the Lord’s ministry he had been preparing himself to take up the work when a call should come. He was probably quite unconscious as to when or how it would come; but as a Christian, as a soldier of Christ, as a servant of his Master, he was always liable. The summons, “I have need of thee,” might come at any moment. Would the summons find him fitted to obey it? He had “companied”--come along together--“with them.” He had listened to Christ’s teaching, watched Christ live and work; he could speak from experience. Is there not here a lesson for all? We do not know when Christ may need us; we do not know exactly how He may wish that we should be employed. But the summons may come. When it comes, in what state will it find us? Shall we know from experience anything of what a Christian life really is? A knowledge of Christian truth and Christian life is indispensable for Church workers. They must be prepared. And as a modern writer has said, “preparation is not preparedness,” but it is the secret of it, the means whereby it is obtained. Preparation, constant, ever going on, is the way to be prepared. But the worker, besides being prepared, must be also ready, that is, willing to obey the call when it comes. How often has a clergyman to lament the sorrowful fact that those who might be of the greatest service are sometimes the least willing to take up work. Yet to whom “much is given, of him shall be much required.” According to our means, abilities, opportunities, shall we be judged. Notice the example of Matthias and Joseph. There is not a word Of hesitation or excuse. They knew not upon which the lot might fall, but either was willing and ready; it was sufficient that the call had come, they must not dream of disobedience. They did not know what might lie before them-danger, toil, persecution, in all probability a martyr’s death. But there is no shrinking, no attempt to excuse themselves or find reasons why they should not take office. It has been of the nature of a national boast that Englishmen sought rather than shunned the point of danger, the life of active service and toil. How often have we read of the soldier chafing under the circumstances which cast his lot in the reserve rather than in the midst of the action which was progressing at the front! Should there not be a like spirit exhibited by the soldiers of the Cross? The life of action and the life of danger is surely in some measure the life of honour. (W. E. Chadwick, M. A.)
Ministers should be picked men
It is said of the Egyptians that they chose their priests from the most learned of their philosophers, and then they esteemed their priests so highly that they chose their kings from them. We require to have for God’s ministers the pick of all the Christian host; such men, indeed, that if the nation wanted kings they could not do better than elevate them to the throne. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God knows the heart
When Samuel Wilberforce, afterwards Bishop, went to his first charge, some of the parishioners complained that the bishop had seat them a boy. They condemned him before he spoke because of his looks. But after they had heard his first sermon they withdrew their first statement, and said, “We find he is a man.” This illustrates the way in which too often we judge men, but we must remember that although man looketh on the outward appearance the Lord looketh on the heart.
Workers indicated by God
“One night, a week before we got to Colombo, Mr. Millard and I were praying to God for special guidance in Ceylon, and I said to him, ‘The Lord has told me to bring on from Ceylon Mr. Campbell, Mr. Horan, Mr. Jackson, and David.’ ‘Well,’ said he, ‘if you bring on any one, these are the four names.’ So day by day we prayed, ‘Oh, Lord, is it Thy will that we should bring them on?” We had a fortnight in Ceylon, and we spent the greater part of it in prayer to be perfectly certain of God’s will. We were staying at a house a little distance out of Colombo that a friend very kindly put at our disposal, and there we gathered to wait on God in prayer. One day Mr. Millard and Mr. Campbell were there praying. They said nothing to me about it. They prayed, ‘Now, Lord, we will put Thee to the test: wilt Thou send up into this room those who are to go to Australia, and only those?’ They waited. The door opened, and Mr. Jackson went in and knelt with the other two. Mr. Horan was at his tea, but somehow he thought to himself, ‘I must go up’; so he left his tea and went upstairs, and went into the room and knelt down with the others. I also was downstairs, and said to myself, ‘I will go up and have a little prayer.’ I went into the room and found these friends there before me. But where was David? Was he to come or not? He was, at the time, in Colombo, five miles away. He knew nothing about the prayer in the upper room. As David was walking along the street of Colombo he lifted up his heart to God and said, ‘Where am I to go now, and what am I to do?’ The Lord told him to take a carriage and drive out to Dellagama House at once. David got into a conveyance and drove out. He appeared with his black face all shining with glory. Now we were certain that David was to go with us to Australia. So we sailed, and arrived at Melbourne. (G. C. Grubb.)
The beginning of ecclesiastical business
1. The requisite qualifications of apostleship were discerned in two members of the company. The claims of the two were probably equally balanced and superior to those of the rest.
2. The whole matter was referred to the Head of the Church in prayer.
3. They prayed Him to settle for them what they could not settle for themselves. No choice of theirs could make a man an apostle.
4. They looked for the expression of the Divine decision in the best way known to them. The lot had been sanctioned by God under the Old Dispensation; but it is significant that no more is heard of it. The unction of the Holy One rendered it unnecessary.
5. The decision asked for was cordially accepted. This beginning of ecclesiastical business presents to us--
I. Right-minded people not yet filled with the Holy Spirit. The truth had had its effect upon them, but like many now they were only in a course of preparation for the fulness of Divine knowledge. Such now should do the will of God as they know it as these did, and seek the promised blessing in prayer.
II. Right-minded people, though not yet filled with the Spirit, yet directed by their confidence in Christ. They believed that He, the Searcher of hearts, was surveying them; that prayer to Him would be answered; that they had a work to do for which He must fit them; and though one had fallen another would be found for his place. So now there are servants of Christ who, though not assured of sonship, are yet on the road to assurance. Let such maintain their confidence in Christ, and they will reach the goal as the disciples did.
III. The apostolic staff completed in proper time. The proper time was during the ten days. The disciples were expectant, but their confidence was increased when they felt that they had done their duty. Seamen are the more hopeful when the breeze strikes on the spread canvas, and physicians when they have used all the resources of their science. So congregations should be ready for what God waits to give, by a full cordial acceptance of His will. (W. Hudson.)
The holy choice
They begin with prayer; this was the usual manner in the Church of God (Numbers 27:16; John 17:17; Acts 6:6). It is not fit he that is chosen for God should be chosen without God. But for this, Samuel himself may be mistaken and choose even wrong, before he hit upon the right. This prayer respects two things:
I. The person is described--
1. By His omnipotence. “Lord”--
2. Omniscience: it is God’s peculiar to be the searcher of the heart. But why the heart? Here was an apostle to be chosen: now wisdom, learning, eloquence, might seem to be more necessary qualities. No, they are all nothing to an honest heart. I deny not but learning to divide the word, elocution to pronounce it, wisdom to discern the truth, boldness to deliver it, be all parts requirable in a preacher. But as if all these were scarce worth mention in respect of the heart, they say not, which is the greater scholar, but which is the better man (1 Samuel 16:7).
II. The matter entreated. “Show whom Thou hast chosen.”
1. What kind of hearts God will not choose.
(a) It divided heart from God (Isaiah 59:2).
(b) It divided heart from heart. God by marriage made one of two, sin doth often make two of one.
(c) It divided the tongue from the heart. So Cain answered God, when He questioned him about Abel.
(d) It divided tongue from tongue at the building of Babel.
(e) It divided the heart from itself (Psalms 12:2): one for the Church, another for the change; one for Sundays, another for working days.
2. What kind of hearts God will choose.
3. Why God will choose men by the heart. Because--
Festival of St. Matthias
We look back upon the career of Judas, who by transgression fell from “this ministry and apostleship”; and, secondly, see what is to be learnt from the election of Matthias.
I. Judas has been described as “one of the standing moral problems of the gospel history.” He is not a lay figure, draped in the historical dress provided by the Psalter, a mythical personage. His portrait stands out from the canvas of the Gospels life-like, vivid, terrible. He is no creation of the imagination, no mere foil to bring out into stronger relief the transcendent virtues of the Christ; but a real man, who betrayed his Master, and then hung himself. He illustrates the possibilities of evil, and the doctrine that “the corruption of the best becomes the worst.” And first it must be remembered that Judas “fell.” He is sometimes depicted as though he had always had the heart of an alien; and when chosen by our Lord to be one of His apostles, was then a traitor in spirit. This is a mistake. When our Lord said, “Have I not chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” He says “is a devil.” He does not say “was.” Judas Iscariot had a genuine vocation to the apostolate; that is, he had in him the makings of an apostle; otherwise, our Lord would not have chosen him. But vocations may be lost. Judas fell through yielding to temptation. Two sins mark the stages of his downward course--avarice and despair. It may be asserted, that however hardening may be the effect of this vice of avarice, when it has led to the committal of some heinous crime the benumbed conscience is often painfully and suddenly aroused from its state of torpor, and filled with dismay. The sinner is startled at the lengths which he has gone. Judas, doubtless, had tampered with the moral faculty, and persuaded himself that though he had betrayed his Master, Christ would, after all, escape from the hands of His enemies. His remorse, when he saw the effects of his treachery, bear witness, not to the absence of covetousness, but to the power of conscience, whose voice, though it may be for a time smothered, will assert itself in terrible tones at last. The disciple was not subjected to the trial without sufficient helps and cautions to enable him, had he willed, to vanquish his dominant passion, and to grow into the likeness of his Master. But a greater sin than covetousness followed--that of despair. The sins which are opposite to those great virtues, Faith, Hope, and Love, which have God for their Object, are sins of a deep dye. They are unbelief, despair, and hatred of God. Among these, despair is especially fraught with danger to us, because it takes away the hope “which recalls us from our sins and lead us to good.” Despair is a sin against Divine mercy, that attribute in the exercise of which God is said to “delight.” If Judas had sought for mercy, he would have found it. He had the semblance of repentance without its spirit. He had no hope; and, so in a frenzy of despair, he fled from the temple, and ended his life--in the strange and awful language, “that he might go to his own place.”
II. We turn now to brighter thoughts. Our Lord chose twelve apostles. It seems to have been important that this number should be preserved. It has been called “emphatically the Church number.” It occurs again and again in Holy Scripture. There were twelve patriarchs, twelve altars, twelve precious stones in Aaron’s breastplate, twelve judges, twelve wells at Elim, twelve loaves of show-bread. In the Book of the Revelation there are twelve stars round the head of the woman clothed with the sun, twelve foundations and gates of the heavenly Jerusalem. The first act of the apostles after the ascension of Christ is to fill up the gap in their number. Matthias was more than a successor of Judas; he was to take his place, to be invested with the dignity of an original apostle. But note how this vacancy was supplied. First, by united prayer--prayer, mark you, to Christ--they sought to know His choice, Who is the discerner of hearts; and then they cast lots; “and--the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” The Holy Spirit was not yet given, and thus they resorted to a method which had often been adopted for settling doubtful questions by different nations, that of casting lots, not as any precedent for the Church in the future; but as a means for discovering the mind of God in that interim between the missions of Divine persons, when they were left without a guide. Many are the lessons which may be drawn from our subject. Many are the warnings which it suggests. The excess of hope is presumption; its defect, despair. The history of Judas shows the peril of both. “Be not high-minded, but fear.” No office or position can insure us against falling. We see those who have had the highest privileges fall from God. Lucifer and the angels, Adam and Eve, David, Solomon, Peter, and Judas. Secondly, let us, on the other hand, never despair. There is no evil in the creature which the mercy of God cannot remedy--“Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Despair is worse than covetousness: for “with the Lord there is mercy”; it has its home and origin in the Divine character, and “with Him is plenteous redemption.” (W. H. Hutchings, M. A.)
Judas by transgression fell that he might go to his own place.--
It seems very strange that Jesus, who knew the hearts of men, should have admitted as one of the twelve a thief, a devil, a traitor, one who had better never been born. Gifts of some kind he must have had, rendering the choice of him not strange to others, not unfit in itself. Was it that, though our Lord discerned the germs of evil in his character, He saw also germs of good, and hoped that, as a result of association with Himself, these might prevail? If we suppose so, new force is given to many of Christ’s sayings. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” What a truth for Judas, if he were vainly trying to follow both! The destructive power of “the cares of this world,” and “the deceitfulness of riches,” Judas heard of. He heard of the fate of the unfaithful steward, etc. If Jesus had this merciful desire, not least among the griefs of the Man of Sorrows must have been the deepening conviction that His efforts were in vain, and that He was but adding to the condemnation of one from whom “so much would be required,” as so much had been given. What a pang each evidence of this must have given to Jesus! e.g., the objection to the costly ointment with which Mary anointed the Lord. At last Jesus said, “One of you shall betray Me,” and Judas, “having received the sop, went immediately out.” It has been suggested that motives other than base actuated Judas, but these contradict the narrative and every probability.
I. Considerations on the scripture doctrine of future penalties. Amidst much obscurity two things are clear:
1. That the consequences of evil will be felt after death; that what is sown here shall be reaped there, and that the “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish” felt, and inflicted by God, will be of such a sort that the strongest and most dreadful images are not too strong or dreadful to express it.
2. That, whatever the reality, the Judge of all the earth will do only right; so that no suspicion of injustice, or distress because of it, need or ought to have place in our minds.
II. Each going to his own place. Whether the apostles had clearer knowledge about the fate of Judas than they here express, we know not. At least there is singular moderation and reverence in what they said. One might well have excused sterner language about the betrayer. Their refraining is a pattern to us all. But this statement fits every case as well as that of Judas. It is not a mere confession of ignorance, which says nothing. See how exactly true it is of the material world. The two are so mysteriously allied that, to an extraordinary degree, what is true of the one is true of the other; and it is most useful to study the one to gain hints about God’s government of the other. We should avoid many errors if we recognised this oftener. The position of each mass of matter is exactly determined by its quantity and condition in relation to the forces around and within it. No pebble, no star, can be in a place one hair’s breadth different from that to which it is guided by its peculiar character. Every difference of character involves a difference of position. The same is true of each of those millions of invisible atoms of which each atom is composed. The place each fills is not determined by chance or by caprice, but by its very nature. Is not that indication of a Divine order, allied to morality and justice? And so no mere caprice will determine the position of spiritual beings in the future world, but each will “go to his own place” there, by a law as true and an order as beautiful as that which regulates the position of each material particle. The true, the pure, the loving and unselfish, will they not tend necessarily towards Him who is truth, and purity, and love, as the nearest planets live in the radiance of the sun? The untrue, the impure, the selfish, will they not as necessarily be repelled from the Divine light by their very condition? So with every intermediate description of character. Conclusion: In view of these sublime laws of Divine order and fitness, what a pitiable and monstrous delusion is it that mere profession will avail; that to say to Christ, “Lord, Lord,” is enough; that to be duly baptized and buried by a priest is to be safe for ever. What we are, or by Christ’s help become, that is everything--not what we profess to be. So Christ and Judas went “each to his own place”; so you and I shall do also. (T. M. Herbert, M. A.)
The place for Judas, and for others like him
A zealous partisan of the notion that there is no future punishment was telling his children the story of “The Babes in the Wood,” when a shrewd little boy looked up and asked, “What became of the little children?” “Oh, they went to heaven, of course!” was the prompt reply. “And what became of the horrid old uncle?” It was a poser; and for some moments the universalist looked confused. His favourite hobby must, however, be sustained at all costs, and he answered as composedly as he could, “Why, he went to heaven also!” “I am so sorry,” said the child, “for I am afraid the bad man will kill them again!” Here was logic in a nutshell, which no theories could overturn. President Nott had preached a sermon setting forth the everlasting punishment of the impenitent, when a man of the same class rudely said, “Well, sir, I have been to hear you preach, and now I want you to prove your doctrine.” “I thought I had proved it,” was the mild reply, “for I took the Bible for testimony.” “Well,” persisted the assailant, waxing valiant, “I do not find it in my Bible, and I do not believe it.” “What do you believe?” asked Dr. Nott, in a quiet and unconcerned tone. “Why, I believe that mankind will be judged according to the deeds done in the body, and those that deserve punishment will be sent to a place of punishment for awhile, and remain there until the debt is paid, when they will be taken out and carried to heaven.” “I have but a word to say in reply,” observed Dr. Nott, “and first, for what did Christ die? and lastly, there is a straight road to heaven; but if you are determined to go round through hell to get there, I cannot help it.” The man took his leave, the wiser for the interview, and a more careful study of the Bible led him to adopt the orthodox belief. If any one were asked, “Where do you suppose Judas went after death?” could he, in his sober senses, answer, “To heaven?” The thing is utterly preposterous; and we are prepared to read in the text that he went to “his own place”--a place suited to one who had proved himself a child of the devil. Every student knows that the significant expression is used by ancient writers to denote going to one’s eternal destiny. Thus the Jewish Targum, in Numbers 24:25, where it is said of Balaam that he “went to his own place,” adds, that this “place” was Gehenna, the place of final torment. The Chaldee paraphrase of Ecclesiastes 6:6 declares, “Although the days of a man’s life were two thousand years, and he did not study the Law, and do justice, in the day of his death his soul shall descend to hell, to the one place where all sinners go.” St. Ignatius, in his Epistle to the Mag-nesians, wrote, “Because all things have an end, the two things death and life shall lie down together, and each one shall go to his own place.” Without referring, then, to many passages of Holy Scripture, the brief allusion to the doom of Judas is enough to settle the question. Hell is not a mere arbitrary appointment of the Almighty, but as the polluted would not be fitted for heaven, and could not enjoy it, there must, of necessity, be some place adapted to their condition, and God teaches us that hell is that place. The guilty and impenitent accordingly will have no ground of complaint if a just God appoints for him precisely such a place as his own conduct in life has prepared him for. An eloquent speaker was attempting to show, from garbled passages of Scripture, that the gospel is peace and good-will, and not terror nor hell fire, when a young man rose and said: “Did Paul preach the gospel before Felix?” “Yes.” “And did Felix tremble?” “He did.” The young man took his hat, bowed politely, and retired, the rest of the people going out with him. The simplest-minded present could not but understand that the gospel which the apostle preached must have had some reference to future punishment, or the wicked and the haughty Felix would hardly have thus lost his self-command. It is useless to attempt to obviate the necessity for future punishment by insisting that we suffer for our sins in this life. There are such cases, it is true, but they are the excerption, and not the rule. What, then, becomes of the rest? The pirate Gibbs, whose name, for so many years, was a terror to those who sailed among the West Indies, when tried and condemned, confessed that the first few murders did occasion him some twinges of conscience, but that in course of time he could cut the throats of a whole ship’s crew, and then eat his supper and lie down and sleep as quietly as a babe! It seems from this that if remorse in this life is God’s way of punishing crimes, then the more horrible deeds that bad people commit the less He punishes them! If one act of sin, as in the case of Eve, Uzziah, Miriam, Nadab and Abihu, and thousands more, draw down the wrath of God, what must a whole life of sin! Think of the destruction of the cities of the plain, and then call to mind the Saviour’s words, “It shall be more tolerable,” etc. Wicked people need no “sending to hell,” since they go there of their own accord. The gulf which divides heaven from hell is one of moral unlikeness, and as people have sought the company that suited them here, so they will find themselves in congenial society hereafter. The sinner makes his own damnation, and he cannot blame God with it. “Thou hast destroyed thyself!” There is still another objection, viz., that eternal punishment is too long as the penalty for the sins of a short life. A just God is the best judge of this. The only question is, Was the transgressor duly forewarned? A man who proposes to embark on a steamer does not expect, after he has been told the hour of departure, that the bell will be rung for half a day, or even an hour, in accommodation to his dilatory habits. He may, by losing the voyage, change the prospects of a whole life, and even a few seconds may decide the case. A day is not too short a space for a crime which will be punished by imprisonment for life, and if a note is due at the bank, the loss of credit is not escaped because the promisor had received but one notice. Did any person ever object to eternal salvation, that it is too long to be the reward of this short life? Dante described both heaven and hell most wonderfully, for he had been in both. Once, as the servant of sin, he had known shame and doubt and darkness and despair,--which are certainly the grim portal of hell; and then, through God’s forbearing mercy, he had found peace in believing, and love to God, which casteth out fear--and here was the beginning of heaven. And so, when timid people saw him as he glided along the street, they said, with a shudder, “There is the man who has been in hell!” If we would not go where Judas has gone, we must begin our heavenly life on earth. (J. N. Norton, D. D.)
The soul in “his own place”
I. Every being must have its own place. Nothing can be more obvious than the exact adaptation to each other and to the region in which they dwell, of the objects and beings of this world.
1. Everything which is earthly, whose being belongs to, and will terminate with earth, is in its own place. Who can doubt that the bird, with its curious mechanism of eye and wing, was intented to exist in air; or-that the fish has been expressly formed for its watery abode; or that the beast of prey is at home in its forest haunts; or that man himself, physically considered, was intended for his abode and position here, and that if removed to another world, differing at all in its constitution from the present, they must either cease to exist, or exist only in a state of disorder and distress?
2. We may extend the observation to the world itself; and say, that our globe moves year after year along its own path, that it revolves in the very orbit for which it was designed.
3. And certainly it is true of the human intellect, that it has been provided with proper objects and occasions for the exercise of its powers, that it is placed in the midst of circumstances which are fitted to educate its faculties. It is required for earthly uses; and it has been accurately adapted to the purposes for which it is required.
4. Spiritual beings have likewise their “own place”; that although it may not be the case here, yet elsewhere, moral natures will find their own appropriate abode, will move amidst scenes and society with the spirit of which they can truly sympathise. The being who loves holiness and truth, must, in its perfect and proper condition, consort only with beings who love holiness and truth, and dwell in a region of holiness; and the being who loves evil and error, must, in its final and proper condition, consort only with beings who love evil and error, and dwell in an abode of evil. And the Scriptures uniformly represent the final abodes of men, as being severally adapted to the righteous and the wicked. But it is evident that these separate states can never exist on earth, nor be entered by those who are yet in the flesh. The infirmities of the body, as well as the influence of external things, must hinder a consummate manifestation of holiness, as well as a perfect development of evil.
II. The light which this principle throws upon our present state. Like Judas while still on earth, we are not now in our own place, but we are going there. Our position is temporary and imperfect. And its difficulties can be explained, only by regarding it as introductory to our perfect and permanent condition. The evil and the good are now joined together in a confused and discordant mass. They are travelling in companies along the same road, and strange appears the disorder and disunion in which they now proceed; but their common path will soon branch into two avenues, along which they will move in separated groups, each in its proper character, and each perfectly united in its course. Think of Judas associating with his fellow apostles and with his Lord; his utter want of sympathy with them; the irksome restraint, of which he must have been ever conscious. He is a type and example to ourselves. Are there any who have a love for holiness? Then earth is not their home, and cannot be their abiding place. Like Judas, they are living amidst circumstances in which they have no delight; among companions with whom they have no fellowship. Are there any who have a love for evil? Like Judas, they must often come among the true disciples of our Lord; but then, like Judas, they would rather be away. They are not now in their own place.
III. The light which this principle throws upon our future state. This principle is applicable to the explanation of the difficulty, that while the varieties of moral character are almost innumerable, we should be told of only two states after death. With respect to the holy or the utterly depraved, there is no difficulty. Heaven is plainly fitted for the one, and hell for the other. But the majority of mankind occupy a medium position; we can hardly affirm that they belong to the one or the other, displaying continually as they do the characteristics of both. There seems no reason why they should spend their eternity with saints; nor in the outer darkness “prepared for the devil and his angels.” Then, again, there are vast numbers who may more easily be described by saying what they are not, than by saying what they are. These, again, appear to be without fitness, as without merit, for an abode either with angels or with fiends. Now to this difficulty, our text, taken in connection with other Scriptures, seems to give a decisive explanation. Judas is represented as going unto “his own place,” as if, when his soul after death came at once under the dominion and influence of a spiritual law, which removed it to the sphere which was properly its own. And the difficulty will be at once removed, if we can assign this law, and show that it must take effect on every spirit dividing the souls of men into two classes, according to one decisive characteristic which, whatever be their varieties of moral character, either is or is not clearly inscribed upon them all. This law our Lord has Himself asserted. Of every being it may be affirmed either that it does or does not love God. And according to their possession or their want of this affection will some go away to the kingdom prepared for them, and others to that “prepared for the devil and his angels.” There are some souls in a state of indifference, and some in a state of hatred to God. But both these want the principle, which alone can make heaven their own place. And there are other souls which love God and are in affinity with Him; such, when they leave earth, must proceed at once to heaven. It is “their own place,” for God is there, and they are spiritually united unto Him; for Christ is there, and where He is, there must they also be; for it is an abode of holiness, and they have been sanctified by Almighty grace, they have been made meet for that inheritance of light. (G. S. Drew, M. A.)
Men sorted in the future
Men will be sorted yonder. Gravitation will come into play undisturbed; and the pebbles will be ranged according to their weights on the great shore where the sea has east them up, as they are upon Chesil beach down there in the English Channel, and many another coast besides; all the big ones together and sized off to the smaller ones, regularly and steadily laid out. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Where would we be
I was in America a few months ago, and went down the Alleghany Mountain on a railway train. It was a thing to remember to see the speed at which we went down the incline. A nervous passenger asked the conductor: “What would happen to us if the brake gave way?” “We have a spare one which we would apply at once,” he answered. “If it also gave way, what then?” again queried the passenger. “We have one on the last van, which we can put on.” “If it gave way, where would we he?” The conductor looked him in the face, and said gravely: “Friend, that depends upon the way you have lived.”
The fall of Judas
God does not predestinate man to fail. That is strikingly told in the history of Judas. “From a ministry and apostleship Judas fell, that he might go to his own place.” The ministry and apostleship were that to which God had destined him. To work out that was the destiny appointed to him, as truly as to any of the other apostles. He was called, elected to that. But when he refused to execute that mission, the very circumstances which, by God’s decree, were leading him to blessedness, hurried him to ruin. Circumstances prepared by eternal love became the destiny which conducted him to everlasting doom. He was a predestined man--crushed by his fate. But he went to his own place. He had shaped his own destiny. So the ship is wrecked by the winds and waves--hurried to its fate. But the wind and waves were in truth its best friends. Rightly guided, it would have made use of them to reach the port; wrongly steered, they became the destiny which drove it on the rocks. Failure--the wreck of life, is not to be impiously traced to the will of God. God will have all men to be saved, and come to a knowledge of the truth. God willeth not the death of a sinner. (F. W. Robertson.)
Hypocrisy does not disprove the reality of religion
Will you say that there are no real stars, because you sometimes see meteors fall, which for a time appear to be stars? Will you say that blossoms never produce fruit, because many of them fall off, and some fruit which appeared sound is rotten at the core? Equally absurd is it to say there is no such thing as real religion, because many who profess it fall away or prove to be hypocrites in heart. (E. Payson.)
A place for every man
I. Every man has his own place, here and hereafter.
II. Every man makes his own place, here and hereafter.
III. Every man finds his own place, here and hereafter.
IV. Every man feels that it is his own place when he gets there. (A. Dickson, D. D.)
Every man in his own place
When you know where you will most likely find a man for whom you are looking, you commonly know also what to expect of the man himself when he is found. Nobody would select for a position of trust a youth whom everybody would say was to be looked for at the drinking-saloon or at the idler’s corner. A fair question to ask, in the case of any man about whom you would learn, is: Will he probably be found--at the race-course, or in some place of honest business, during the daytime; at the club-room or in his library, in the evening; at the theatre, or at the prayer-meeting? That is also a fair question for every one to ask of himself: Where may those who know me best most reasonably expect to find me? The answer to that question tells a great deal regarding personal character; not because the place makes the man, but because the man chooses his place, and sooner or later he will find the place which is likest to himself. Scripture need say no more regarding the spiritual fate of Judas Iscariot than that he went to his own place. (H. C. Trumball, D. D.)
The law of spiritual gravitation
1. No event in the history of science more widely known as that of Sir I. Newton and the fall of the apple. From thence the law of gravitation in the law of matter.
2. Similar law in the world of mind.
3. The text teaches us that there is such a law in the world of spirit.
I. It is independent of a man’s position. There is no royal road in gravitation by which the delicate flower shall need no support because of its beauty; or by which success shall be secured to an idle man; or in the spiritual life a man be kept secure because his privileges are great. Law is inexorable. The higher the privilege the greater the fall, if the conditions are not observed.
1. The high position of Judas did not save him. Think of the probable effects of such a position as that of apostle, companion of Christ. But behold the actual effects. His advantages were but the instruments of his fall.
2. It is so with us. No man is out of the reach of law. In the matter of privilege our case in many respects analogous. Trace the history of a soul; let it hate what God loves and love what God hates: during all that time it is gravitating to its own place, with all the certainty of law. And when he dies the man does not leave himself behind, the man and his character constitute the undying self.
II. It is accelerating in its progress. Nature is full of instances of this. Things and events tend to a climax; the sun passes on to its meridian, the river to the full, the avalanche to its final crash.
1. Watch this with Judas. His downward course was hastened by his reigning sin (John 12:4; John 13:2; John 13:27; Matthew 27:15), and by the feeling of isolation (Matthew 27:3-5), for he was cut off from the good and spurned by the evil.
2. It is so with all men similarly placed. By the growing strength of a given tendency, and by its power to employ all the mind. For life tends to a unity. More and more one purpose or passion or set of purposes or passions govern the life. Let the backslider and impenitent lay this to heart.
III. It determines the future by the present. You can see the ill effects of some things, but this great law works more quietly. In Judas it is worked before our eyes. His use of opportunity and position made his place for him. “He was a thief,” and that is the cause “he went to his own place”; that is the effect. We are architects of our own fortunes. Apart from repentance and faith there is no cleansing, and it is worse than madness to think that life hereafter will be other than the outcome of the life here.
IV. It leads to a self-made destiny. He was not doomed to sin, and his destiny was but the natural outcome of such a life. It did not need a Judas to save the world, though his is but the greatest out of a thousand cases in which man’s evil is made to work out the saving purposes of God. The destiny of Judas was of his own making, and not of Christ’s. It is so with ourselves (note difference between Matthew 25:34; Matthew 25:41). (G. T. Keeble.)
And they gave forth their lots.--
As interpreted by verse 24 and by the word “fell” here there can be no doubt that the passage speaks of “lots” and not “votes.” The two were standing, as far as they could see, on the same level. It was left for the Searcher of hearts to show, by the exclusion of human will, which of the two He had chosen. The most usual way of casting lots in such cases was to write each name on a tablet, place them in an urn, and then shake the urn till one came out. (Dean Plumptre.)
The only instance of an appeal to lots occurs between the departure of our Lord and Pentecost. The Church could dispense with them after the coming of the Holy Ghost, who was to guide into all truth, through whom we are encouraged to hope for a right judgment in all things. No recourse was had to lots in the appointment of deacons. But the Church regards the appointment as Divine (collect for St. Matthias’ day). Under the Old Testament lots were regarded as divinely directed (Proverbs 16:33), and therefore conclusive (Proverbs 18:18). They distinguished the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:8), convicted Achan, designated Saul to the monarchy, and distributed the promised land (Numbers 26:55-56). Lots also assigned their several duties among the priests in the temple (1 Chronicles 24:5; 1 Chronicles 25:8; Luke 1:9). Augustine deemed it lawful to determine by lot what ministers of the Church should remain and who should seek safety by flight, when prosecution threatened. The Moravians in 1464 had recourse to lots for deciding the question of their having a ministry of their own, and in 1467 for the appointment of their first three ministers. As late as 1731, the retention of their own discipline instead of incorporation with the Lutheran Church, was determined in like manner. Wesley also had, and indulged, a predilection for sortilege. (Bp. Jacobson.)
The lot: its lawfulness for Christians
When two courses are open to a man, and he is in doubt as to the election of either of them, why should he not, after due religious preparation, involving as this must the entire subordination of his will to God, risk the decision of the case on the casting of lots? Is there anything in such a course inconsistent with the simplicity of the Christian religion? The man, it is presumed, is most deeply anxious to know what God would have him do; he is willing to make any sacrifice the Divine will may impose on him, and however the decision may oppose his own choice he is prepared to accept it. Under such circumstances surely the lot may be used with advantage. But everything depends upon the spirit of the inquirer. For he may almost unconsciously manipulate the lot so as to gratify a wish he would hardly confess even to himself. In almost all cases of doubt, the perplexed man has more or less of a choice. At that point the battle has to be fought. The man has a leaning towards a certain course, yet he would not pursue it if he knew it to be opposed to the Divine will; at the same time he would be most thankful were the lot to confirm his secret bias. That man is not prepared to go to the lot until he has divested himself of every suggestion of his own will. We are not prepared to teach that upon every occasion we should turn the decisions of our life upon the casting of lots. We are not prepared to condemn their use, thus guarded, in very special cases of difficulty. (J. Parker, D. D.)
After life of Matthias
We know no particulars of the after life of Matthias. He was of course partaker with the rest of the twelve of the miraculous effusion of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost; and afterwards of their labours and distresses, at first in Judaea, and then in other parts of the world. But where St. Matthias went is uncertain; some say Macedonia, some say Ethiopia, some say Cappadocia. All authorities, I believe, are agreed that he won the crown of a martyr; but how he died, or where, or when, we cannot certainly tell. One account says that he was taken by the Jews, and stoned, and afterwards beheaded on a charge of blasphemy; another, that he was crucified, “as Judas was hanged upon a tree, so Matthias suffered upon a cross.” (A. M. Loring, M. A.)
Obscure lives of saints
Clement of Alexandria recounts for us some sayings traditionally ascribed to St. Matthias, all of a severe and sternly ascetic tone. But in reality we know nothing of what he either did or taught. The vast majority even of the apostles have their names alone recorded, while nothing is told concerning their labours or their sufferings. Their one desire was that Christ alone should be magnified, and to this end they willed to lose themselves in the boundless sea of His risen glory. And thus they have left us a noble and inspiriting example. We are not apostles, martyrs, or confessors, yet we often find it hard to take our part and do our duty in the spirit displayed by Matthias and Joseph called Barsabas. We long for public recognition and public reward. We chafe and fret internally because we have to bear our temptations and suffer our trials and do our work unknown and unrecognised by all but God. Let the example of these holy men help us to put away all such vain thoughts. God Himself is our all-seeing and ever-present Judge. The Incarnate Master Himself is watching us. The angels and the spirits of the just made perfect are witnesses of our earthly struggles. No matter how low, how humble, how insignificant the story of our spiritual trials and struggles, they are all marked in heaven by that Divine Master, who will at last reward every man, not according to his position in the world, but in strict accordance with the principles of infallible justice. (G. T. Stokes, D. D.)
He was numbered with the eleven apostles.--
The election of Matthias
The Greek word is not the same as in verses 17, and implies that Matthias was “voted in,” the suffrage of the Church unanimously confirming the indication of the Divine will what had been given by the lot. It may be that the new apostle took the place that Judas had rendered vacant, and was reckoned as the last of the twelve. (Dean Plumptre.)
A Divine appointment
The validity of the appointment, which has been questioned, is incidentally recognised in Acts 2:14; Acts 6:2; the Twelve must have included Matthias. The appointment being directly Divine superseded the laying on of hands. (Bp. Jacobsen.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Acts 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34