Acts — 2 Corinthians, from the Numerical Bible

F W Grant.

Preface

After an interruption which threatened a complete setting aside of the Numerical Bible, as far as I at least could have personally to do with it, the Lord has graciously permitted me to see the second volume of the New Testament at last ready for what readers He may  give interest in it. Realizing the imperfection that cleaves to all that is of man, I have yet no doubt that the value of the numerical structure to the interpretation of the word of God will be found here still by others as by myself. It has never (to me) failed to witness to the integrity, harmony, and perfection everywhere pervading this: the evidence of which will not fail to be found by those who care to look for it. As for the rest, it remains only to say that I have sought to make the outline of the divine truth in the Scriptures contained in this volume — mere outline as it must necessarily be — as full as space and ability permitted. Nor have I sought anywhere to hide my convictions upon any subject whatever that came fairly before me, but have taken my readers fully into my confidence, as the nature of my task demanded. "He that hath My word, let him speak My word faithfully," is a direct command which has given me no liberty, where a prudent reserve might have commended my work to a much wider circle. Alas, for the distractions of Christendom! which show how far Great Babylon has thrown its shadow beyond itself. But God would use even this for blessing to those absolutely sincere before Him, and not willing to give up any of that truth, into all which His Spirit would fain guide us. The exercise necessitated cannot fail to be for more establishment and deeper apprehension of that about which there has been exercise; and to "prove all things" is everywhere needed in order to "hold fast that which is good." But Christians will find here no departure from the fundamentals of the common faith as expressed in the three great creeds which are a legacy from the early centuries. Alas, that already we miss from them the clear ring of the gospel: "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved"

The last volume of the New Testament is almost entirely in manuscript already.

It is due to Mr. Ridout, as well as to those who may miss the usual fulness of the references in the later epistles, to say that he is not responsible for these, having himself also been for some months laid aside from all work of this kind by the prostration of severe illness, from which he is now happily recovering, so that the next volume will show, as we trust, once more the marks of what has been to him so long a labor of love.

F. W. Grant.

Plainfield, N. J., August 17th, 1901.

The Acts of the Apostles

Scope and Divisions of the Acts of the Apostles

In the New Testament Pentateuch, there is no question possible that the book of the Acts fills the Exodus place. It is the story of the going forth of the people of God from a servitude the "yoke" of which, as the apostle of the circumcision himself declares, neither they nor their fathers were able to bear (Acts 15:10). To the conscience quickened by the entrance of divine light, what can be more unendurable than the bondage of law? And the Light had come into the world. Christ had swept away the things permitted for the hardness of men's hearts; He had drawn with absolute precision the line between right and wrong; He had followed it into the secret chambers of the heart, and condemned as adultery the lustful look, denounced causeless anger as subject to the judgment, the calling a brother "fool" as worthy of hell fire; He had required men to love their enemies, pray for those that cursed them, return good for evil, live a life which men have at large judged to be as impracticable as beautiful. Make all this into a legal system, and it is indeed an intolerable one. The apostle Paul has told us how the very prohibitions of the law stirred up within him the lust which it condemned, so, that "holy, just, and good" as the commandment was, when it came to him in the reality of what it was, the sin, of which he had been before so little conscious that it seemed as if it were dead, revived and he "died" (Rom. 7:9). This is the powerlessness of law, and this is at the same time its strength: its powerlessness is its strength; for it is the impotence of man's own self-devised way (for all natural religion is law in some form) to meet God and stand before Him. The veil unrent before His face, the way into the holiest still unopened, the plain declaration that (upon that footing) no man can see Him and live, — all these unite to speak the hopelessness of confidence in human effort of any kind. None can rise up to the measure, of divine requirement, nor can the holiness of God permit the modification of the requirement. The old covenant, then, must be done away, and the glorious new covenant of God's "I wills" must be substituted for that to him so fatal of "Thou shalt."

"There is," therefore, "verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof (for the law made nothing perfect), and the bringing in of a better hope, by which we draw nigh to God" (Heb. 7:18, 19). Hagar, who "gendereth to bondage," must, according to the apostle's inspired "allegorizing" of Abraham's history, be cast out of the house (Gal. 4:30). "The law is not of faith," and the contradictory principles of grace and of works cannot subsist together (Gal. 3:12; Rom. 11:6).

But with Hagar Ishmael also must be cast out and here we have to read, as the apostle also teaches us, the rejection of Israel nationally, cleaving to law and refusing grace, and Him in whom alone grace can be offered and is found. This is what we have in the book of Acts: the weaning time of Isaac, the child of the freewoman, the "mocking" of Ishmael, the setting aside of unbelieving Israel as involved in that of the legal covenant, to which with all the spirit of bondage that it breathes, they yet adhere. With this, as its necessary corollary, we find the gathering together of the children of God who were scattered abroad, — the widening of the publication of the gospel, first to Samaria, and then to the uncircumcised nations, the opening of the "mysteries" in the gospel given to Paul, the special features of the work among the Gentiles. The final portion shows Jewish enmity bringing the great apostle of the Gentiles to a Roman prison: a close in sorrow which we may find to have significance in relation to the Gentile work at large, and to be a prophecy of the failure of what we speak of (somewhat loosely perhaps) as the Christian dispensation.

Into the doctrines of Christianity the book of Acts does not enter largely: it is a history, and apart from what we have already seen, scarcely treats as we might have expected of the new truth which has come to gladden and bless and sanctify the redeemed. We have a certain development in connection with Paul's ministry which we shall have to trace, from forgiveness of sins to justification and a place in Christ, the Spirit being all through the witness to Christ glorified and the seal of the disciple. The Church as the House of God or the Body of Christ is only seen here by the help of what is given us elsewhere; it is rather seen here as a communion of believers in an exalted Saviour, expecting His return, and meanwhile enjoying the consciousness of the salvation He has wrought.

The main divisions of the book have been in some measure indicated: —
1. (Acts 1 — 7): — The beginning of the Church: the call of Israel alone.
2. (Acts 8 — 12): — Israel rejecting, but the Church enlarging.
3. (Acts 13 — 20): — The Proclamation of the Mysteries.
4. (Acts 21 — 28): — Into the Roman prison.

Notes.

Division 1. (Acts 1 — 7)

The Beginning of the Church: the call of Israel alone.

Israel has rejected her Lord and Saviour: the Son of God has come to His own, and His own have not received Him. Tested under law, they had been proved "ungodly and without strength;" the coming of Christ had now more completely tested them, with a more terrible result: the Cross had now manifested as to them that the mind of the flesh was enmity against God.

It is true that this was not the condition of Israel only. "As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man;" and we have learned nothing right, if we have not learned to identify ourselves with the privileged nation, and to see in their condemnation the judgment passed upon the whole world. This we shall have put before us fully by the apostle of the Gentiles in that epistle in which he declares a salvation needed alike by all as being without difference guilty before God. But this is not what we have to do with here; here it is as yet Israel alone that is before us; Israel, over whom the heart of God is still yearning, and for whom, therefore, as a nation, there is to be a first offer of grace, if perhaps the demonstration of their guilt and danger in the crucifixion of the Son of God may work upon them to receive it. "Repentance and remission of sins" was indeed to be "preached among all nations," but "beginning at Jerusalem," (Luke 24:47), and from thence, if even yet they would repent, the living streams were to flow forth.

Accordingly at the Cross itself there is heard the intercession, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do;" words which Peter takes up in his address to the multitude upon the healing of the lame man at the beautiful gate of the temple: "And now, brethren, I know that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers;" and thereupon he assures them that, if now they repented, the times of refreshing would come from the presence of the Lord, and He would send Jesus Christ to fulfil to them all that the prophets had foretold of blessing (Acts 3:17-21).

With this offer and its results the first division mainly is taken up; the end being reached in the trial and stoning of Stephen, who fulfils his name in receiving the "crown" of martyrdom, and is, according to the Lord's parable the messenger of the unhappy people sent after Him, to say they will not have this Man to reign over them. Until this time there is no going out whatever to the Gentiles. Although the risen Saviour has declared that the apostles are to be His witnesses "in Samaria, and to the end of the earth," not even Samaria, though so near at hand, and having, in fact, upon one memorable occasion, heard, not without precious fruit, the gospel from His own lips, gets any further testimony. All seems in suspense while the issue of Israel's call is yet to be seen. A Gentile centurion has already proclaimed the Crucified to be the Son of God; yet we hear of no Gentile added to the Church; and this, though formed by the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost, has not displayed therefore its distinctive characteristics. It is a remnant of Israel merely, and has heard nothing apparently whatever of its own high calling. From this point it is that a notable change begins.

Subdivision 1. (Acts 1:1-11.)

The Foundation.

It is striking that, while Luke's is one of the two only Gospels closing with the ascension of Christ, he yet should begin what is in some sense, as he declares, a continuation of his former work, with another account. The reason of this, however, is not hard to discover. In Matthew He has announced that upon that "Rock" which Peter had just confessed He would build His assembly (Matt. 16:18). And He Himself, as Peter assures us, is the foundation upon which this "spiritual house" is built up (1 Peter 2:4-6). Resurrection it is that has marked out the Son of the Living God (Rom. 1:4). His work is there manifestly accomplished and accepted; that upon which all rests for us is finished, and here alone can there be an unchangeably secure foundation laid for any blessing. But the Church as the "spiritual house" is the House of God; and it is made so by the indwelling of the Spirit within it; while, if we think of it as the Body of Christ, it is by one Spirit that we are all baptized into one body (1 Cor. 12:13). This the Lord presently assures us, was at Pentecost: Pentecost then was the beginning of the Church, and the Spirit given at that time was the fruit of Christ's departure to the Father (John 16:7); and it is as there set at the right hand of God that He is made Head over all things to the Church, which is His Body (Eph. 1:20-23).

It is plain, then, why the story of the assembly as related here should have for its introduction the ascension of Christ. It was fitting that this should end the Gospel; it is as fitting that it should begin the history of the Acts: in both connections its place is perfect, yet it is neither from the Gospel nor the Acts that we are made to realize this. Scripture as a whole is the product of one Mind alone.

1. It is the writer of the Gospel of the Manhood who gives us here, distinctly as linked with it, the story of that which He has specially associated with Himself as Man. The body is that by which the spirit of man which is in him takes its part in the world and is able to express itself in a scene like this. The Body of Christ is in the same way the "epistle of Christ," the expression of the absent One who as Head guides and governs it. To be feet and hands and mouth for Christ, as representatives of Him, seems fittingly and naturally to explain our position in this respect, which the opening of the Acts may well confirm. "Acts of the Apostles" is the title given by the MSS., which is confirmed by writers as early as Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian, while Luke himself might appear to furnish another. For he calls his Gospel a "first account" of things which "Jesus began both to do and teach until the day in which He was taken up." The "Acts" he leaves us to infer to be a second account, of things Jesus went on to do after His ascension, somewhat as Mark speaks of the disciples going forth and preaching everywhere, "the Lord (in heaven) working with them, and confirming the word with signs following." Here in Luke it would be, not the Lord working with, but in and through; and this would be completely that which the members on earth of the Christ in heaven would seem to suggest.

A company like this the world had never seen before. It implies an intimate fellowship with the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), and a unity of loving obedience to His will, which, empowered by the Spirit of God, would be indeed an epistle of Christ upon the earth; and such truly was the Church at its commencement. They were a force among men which was recognized alike by enemies and friends. As they became known, indifference ceased regarding them; there remained but sympathy or opposition, friendship or bitter hatred. They experienced the truth of the Saviour's words, "If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also." And, while persecution did not fail to follow, the word of God ran and was glorified; the light shone; the heavens through which Christ had gone were pouring out radiance through that open door.

Luke writes once more to his friend Theophilus, who, we notice, has lost his title of honor on the world's roll, — a sign, perhaps, of advance in honor on a better one; perhaps the world had promoted the "friend of God" after its fashion with such. At any rate, Luke was sure of Theophilus, continued interest in such matters as he cared to write about. In him Jesus had begun both to do and teach, — a beginning which would have a glorious ending and a sure one. He is not able to go on in the truth, for whom the world is not dropping off the more in proportion as he goes on with this; and such an one, we may surely believe, was he to whom Luke the evangelist, — must we not say, Luke's glorious Master also? — was able to pour out his heart.

Of that which Jesus goes on to do and teach, Luke devotes himself, as we have seen, to the activity, rather than the doctrine. It has never been the method of the Spirit to confide what He has to communicate to a single teacher. No one vessel could be found competent to hold all the truth; — a thing to be marked at all times, when the Spirit is communicating. Humility is better served, communion is more realized, God is mote fully exalted, in the use of various instruments, not tied to any, working sovereignly as He will. But Luke has a very distinct line of his own, as, more or less, every inspired writer has. He is the historian of the Spirit's energy in a world of sin and of Satan's power manifested; — the historian, therefore, of a mighty conflict, the world side of that which in Ephesians is seen upon its heavenly side. Here it is the struggle to save men from his sway on earth; there it is to lay hold against all his wiles of our inheritance in heaven.

It is the commandment of the Lord to which all are subject here; He, as true and typal Man, speaking by the Holy Spirit upon Him to the apostles He had chosen; to whom as witnesses of His resurrection He shows Himself alive after His suffering with many sure proofs. For the resurrection, as the sign of His acceptance, and of ours in Him, is the basis of the whole gospel, and of our heavenly position, as well as of the Church; and thus the resurrection chapter closes the first epistle to the Corinthians, the epistle of Church fellowship and activity, the doctrinal counterpart of the Acts itself.

Again and again, therefore, during forty days the risen Lord is seen by them, and as no mere apparition, but freely speaking to them of the Kingdom of God, to the interests of which they were now devoted. This is the general term for that which meets the condition of a world away from God, which has thrown off allegiance to Him, and wandered in the tortuous labyrinths of its false wisdom and the misery of its self-will. For God being no longer in His place, all else is out of its place necessarily when that to which all is in relation has ceased to be.

Thus the news of the coming of the Kingdom of God is indeed gospel; and the faith of Jesus, as it prevails, establishes of necessity the Kingdom. The full rest of the soul is only gained when the apprehension of sovereign Love has subjected the will of man to entire acquiescence in its blessed ways.

2. It is not by the knowledge of His resurrection merely that they are qualified to bear testimony for their Lord. The promise of the Father is to be fulfilled, and they are to be baptized with the Holy Spirit within a few days from that time. It is sorrowful enough, after all the pains that the Lord has taken to make known the true nature of the coming of the Spirit, and even in spite of the apostle's declaration that "by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body," that Christians should still be ignorant of the character of that which then took place, — should confound Person and influence, the Gift with the gifts! The Lord has fully shown us that it was the Spirit Himself who then would come in place of Him who was now going away: "another Comforter" or Advocate, to be with them, as Christ had been, but in them also, making their bodies by His Presence temples of God. As the Spirit of adoption He taught them to cry, "Abba, Father!" As dwelling in the Church, this became also the House and Temple of God; as united by Him to Christ, His Body. The various gifts are qualifications for various place in this, as its members.

It is not so much denied that such things are, as that it was ever otherwise than now, at least from Abraham, with whom by most the Church is thought to have begun. All that has taken place since is, for those who hold such views, merely an increase of light and power; the coming of the Spirit merely a strong term for a larger outpouring than heretofore; and such "a Pentecostal shower" should "precede every sermon." This treatment of Scripture evacuates it of its proper meaning. Its language becomes loose, indefinite, incapable of precise significance. We escape from this fog easily by giving the same credit to the statements of the word of God that we should to those of any honest man not given to exaggeration, nor liable to confusion of speech. However, this is not yet the place to discuss the doctrine of the Church, for the simple reason that we have not, yet the scripture as to it, and the Church is born, like many another child of destiny, without the knowledge of its God-given dignity.

But we should notice that the Lord, after His resurrection, has acknowledged in His disciples brethren of His own, and that the "promise of the Father" of which He here speaks characterizes well the Spirit of adoption which is at hand. The children of God which have been scattered abroad are now to be gathered together, and this involves that they shall be known to themselves and one another. Baptism with the Holy Spirit, whatever else it may mean, is the introduction into this acknowledged family of God, and as the Holy Spirit, the introduction accomplished by it is no formality but a true and enduring change. John's baptism of water is only mentioned, as he himself mentioned it, to be put in contrast with the gift now to be given by the Son of God. It is a true initiation into a spiritual state, never to be confounded or mixed up with any baptism of water: there the line is clearly drawn by the Lord's own conduct as to the latter: "Jesus Himself baptized not, but His disciples" (John 4:2).

Those gathered round Him now, as risen from the dead, are still, however, Jews, and with little ability to enter into that which the Lord is putting before them. We hear, at least of no question pointing in this direction. They have another, "Lord, dost Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" The answer to this we can easily see now they were not prepared for; nor did it accord with the offer which was to be made through them to the nation, to be told the final result. "It is not for you," He says, "to know times and seasons which the Father has placed under His own authority." Yet, with reference to Israel in the days preceding her entrance into the blessings promised her, such times are not only given, but it was distinctly declared to the prophet of them that, while the vision was shut up and sealed to the time of the end, yet that then the wise shall understand (Dan. 12:9-11). The Lord's words therefore are an intimation that they stood not in such relation to the coming blessing. And as they were, so are we still. A heavenly people, waiting to be caught up to heaven, "days and months, and times, and years" are not for those who are not of the world, but detached from the stream of the world's history. That which to the wise in Israel, in such a crisis as Daniel shows they are to pass through, will be of the greatest importance for them to know, would have been to Christians, through all the intervening centuries of their history, a knowledge which would have put far off from them the One for whom they wait. We still watch because we know not what hour our Lord doth come (Matt. 24:42).

But if times and seasons were not for them to understand, there was a glorious testimony to be given, for which the Spirit's coming would empower them. They were to be His witnesses far and wide, even to the end of the earth; and of this testimony Jerusalem would be the beginning and the centre. How great a glory indeed the Light that arising out of Israel illumines already with its beams every heart that will receive it in! "A Light," says Simeon, "for revelation of the nations, and the Glory of Thy people Israel." But not as yet would Israel receive the message sent.

3. Now in open sight of all, He is taken up. The cloud that receives Him out of their sight is surely the "bright cloud" of the Transfiguration. It is the Man Christ Jesus welcomed by the Glory into which He is taken; and no vision of angels would be as fitting as is this. Nay, angels have here no place: we are made to think rather of the apostle's words, that being perfected, He was "saluted of God a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek" (Heb. 5:10). The Glory salutes Him here, now perfected; and His priestly office is that upon which depends all the outflow of divine grace with which the book is filled.

Upon earth the angels have their message of comfort: this Jesus is to return as He went up; the beginning and end of the day of atonement are here brought together. As Priest He departs, and as Priest He will return to bless the people of Israel. As yet it is of Israel that they are specially thinking; and His coming for the Church is not revealed. The disciples are in heart an Israelitish remnant still, and the revelation of the purposes of God proceeds only gradually. But heaven is where He is; and the angels, message comforts the home-sickness of their hearts as they see Him depart. Up, then! to serve Him in His absence. Not in contemplation merely, but in active energy of devoted labor will they be in fellowship with Him, who even upon the throne of heaven is serving still.

Subdivision 2. (Acts 1:12-26.)

Matthias added to the Eleven Apostles.

We have now the inroad that Satan has made upon their ranks repaired, and Matthias substituted for Judas in the number of the twelve apostles. Dreadful was the apostasy of one in such a position: and it could not be permitted that men should have the least apparent cause to blaspheme on this account; it must be shown that sin in its extremest manifestation had not yet exceeded the bounds ordained by God for it; — that in its worst uprising He was Master still.

1. They return from the mount of Olives to Jerusalem: Olivet is their spring of power; Jerusalem the sphere of their ministry: they break no sabbath-rest by journeying between the two. Olivet is their Gilgal, for their new conquest of the land; but they are a small company for so great a work, and realize their weakness. Gathering in the upper room where the eleven are staying, they continue with one accord in prayer, waiting for the fulfilment of the promise made. This conscious weakness is a main element of strength. The work being so entirely beyond them, they are delivered from the necessity of calculating their own resources, and are left to the unobstructed view of God as their sole argument and their sufficient resource.

Mary the mother of Jesus is seen here for the last time in Scripture. She takes her place simply with the rest, humbled, no doubt, rather than exalted by God's grace towards her. What a grief it would have been to her to have known the place in which an apostate church would set her in the time to come! She is neither prayed to, nor even leads in prayer, but remains as in the beginning "the handmaid of the Lord," and with this passes out of the history. In the doctrine of the epistles she has no place, and is never mentioned. Blessed and honored she is, and always will be; by none so dishonored as by those who would force her into a place impossible for a creature, that of a Pagan goddess rather than a Christian saint.

2. We see now the authority of Scripture over these disciples of the Lord Jesus, in which they are true followers of their Master. We have traced His ways in the Gospels, and know how fully the principle that "by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God doth man live" was acted upon by Him. Scripture that "cannot be broken" had for Him, therefore, all the authority of unalterable truth. "But how, then should Scripture be fulfilled, that thus it must be?" He gives as a convincing reason for not taking Himself out of the hands of those who came to seize Him. On the Cross, "that the Scripture might be fulfilled, He saith, I thirst." Twice over He speaks of the course and end of Judas as needful "that Scripture might be fulfilled." Peter, therefore, does but follow his Lord, when now, standing up amongst the brethren, he declares that "it was necessary that the Scripture should be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became guide to those who took Jesus." How blessed to realize the control of the Word of God in the darkest events, as in those most evidently displaying the signs of His handiwork! How dark they would be, if we had not in this way the assurance of His perfect oversight of every circumstance! But the Cross is, above all, this assurance, as the speaker here will presently point out to us. What a blaze of prophetic light is concentrated upon it! and how the worst evil the world ever saw is there gloriously overruled to be the greatest good! And what is true of this is true of every evil that has stained man's history: "He maketh the wrath of man to praise Him; and the remainder of wrath He will restrain."

So, then, with Judas, whose terrible descent is spoken of here, from his reception of the lot of his apostleship to his suicide in the field of blood, which he had purchased with the price of his iniquity. The apparently discordant accounts as to this purchase have been reconciled in a manner well-known and probable enough. Begun by the traitor, we have only to suppose it closed by the leaders of the people; Judas returning to it to hang himself in his despair, as Matthew relates; the judgment of God ensuing, as related here. That the character of the purchase-money should combine with the horror of his death to give its name of Aceldama to the potter's field, is in no wise difficult to understand.

Peter in his quotation connects two psalms (Ps. 69:25; Ps. 109:8); the first fulfilled in the judgment at which his own hands had doubly wrought, the second as defining the duty which now pressed upon them. The office which he has shamed and cast aside is not to be left vacant to bear witness of the enemy's victory. All has been provided for, — all has been specified beforehand in the prescient wisdom of God, which cannot be taken by surprise or overmatched by Satan's subtlety or power. Nay, the Word is shown by his apparent success only the more fully master in all circumstances. It lies with them now to see filled up their broken ranks, — not by the appointment of a fresh apostle, for which plainly they have no authority, but by choosing out from among themselves those who had the necessary qualifications for one who was to be a witness of that wondrous life which had shone out among men, and then referring to the Lord Himself to determine which of these was according to His mind.

3. Scripture had settled for them what His mind was as to the place being filled; for the determining of the individual there was the lot, used so often in Israel for a matter like this. They had even the scripture for this, that. if "the lot is cast into the lap, the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord" (Pro. 16:33). They had no reason to doubt, therefore, that they would have His guidance in acting on such an assurance; the Spirit had not yet come; and this, which some have taken to cast doubt upon the issue, and to dispute Matthias, right to the apostleship, they had no ground for believing to be a cause for delay when Scripture was thus clear. They acted in obedience, not in self-confidence; we never find their act disputed afterwards, and we have surely no right to dispute it now. It would be a totally different thing to imitate their conduct, now that the Spirit of God is come.

It is true that we have nothing of Matthias afterwards; but the same could be said of most of the apostles; nor of the fancied substitution of Paul for him at a later time have we any proof whatever. We have no reason for believing Matthias to have been other than his name imports, "the gift of the Lord" to them, according to their faith; and it is a happy thing to see faith acting in them in such simplicity and confidence, the word of God being its justification as always, — in this case before the Spirit has come. When He comes, it will not be to render us less subject to the Word, but on the contrary, to give us the fulness of it, even of the Old Testament; and the new dispensation which is now being introduced, with all its higher blessing, will confirm the old.

Subdivision 3. (Acts 2.)

The Promise of the Spirit fulfilled.

The fulfilment of the promise is not long delayed, and we come now to the real commencement of the Church of God on earth. In saying this it must be remembered we are simply using the familiar word, which has so long retained its place that it would be now almost affectation to change it. Every one knows that the strictly accurate term is the "assembly," and that this also needs to be further defined as the assembly which is Christ's Body, or we shall fall into confusion. And this is the good of adhering to the common phraseology, negative enough in character to receive meaning from Scripture, but which, under. stood in this way, may become as definite as we can desire. The word "Church" in itself means only something belonging to the Lord, and so may apply to an assembly or a building, as in fact, people apply it. The Scripture-word "assembly" cannot be confounded in this fashion, but yet in itself would not distinguish the Jewish "assembly in the wilderness" from the Christian one so widely different, or even that heathen assembly which the town-clerk at Ephesus dismissed (Acts 19:41). The word "Church" has the advantage that it does not really occur in Scripture; so that in using it invariably for the Christian assembly we can make it definite without any confusing with a scriptural word. Thus it will be easily understood if we use it here.

As already said, for the doctrine of the Church we need not look in the Acts. We have to go further now, and say, that for the doctrine of the Spirit we must not look in the Acts. It is important to recognize this, that we may retain the truth of the doctrine. In the Acts we shall not find "sealing," "anointing," or the "earnest" of the Spirit, or any terms equivalent with these. Of the baptism with the Spirit we do hear, but without the help of Corinthians should not be able to understand it. On the other hand, of the Spirit being poured out, coming and falling upon men we hear in the Old Testament, as well as in the book before us. These things have been urged in various interests, and we must not ignore them: Scripture is as perfect in its form as in its matter, and it is only by strict attention to such things as these that we honor its perfection and obtain its deepest secrets. The Spirit is also spoken of as given and received; we have the "gift" of the Spirit, as elsewhere the gifts."

Now the absence of certain terms which speak of the Spirit's inward operation is not to be wondered at in what is an historical account. As the public Witness to Christ, it is natural that the outward manifestations should be dwelt upon, rather than the inward, more really important though these last might be. Thus also the gift of tongues is specially noticed. When the Spirit fell or came upon men in the Old Testament times, it was seen similarly in works of power put forth; and the coming upon men speaks naturally of enduement with power. Of the work in the heart no spectator could be witness, save as this showed itself in fruit in the life in due season. And this does not lack in what is before us now, as is most evident; but it does not give us insight into the character of the Spirit's outpouring seen at Pentecost.

It is to the Gospel of John that we must turn, in fact, to know the real significance of the Pentecostal gift; although, as we have seen in going through this, even John does not speak of the Church. That it is the Spirit Himself who comes, the Lord there makes very plain to us; but the effect as declared is the perfecting of the truth and of the individual life; the circle into which you are brought by it is that of the acknowledged family, or, as Paul would say, the sons. The Spirit is the "Spirit of adoption"; the "gift" of the Spirit is to individuals; and, while producing necessary oneness of mind and heart, does not in any other way seem to imply the formation of a "body."

Yet that it was the baptism of the Spirit that was received at Pentecost, does not admit of question; and "by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." Thus the Church, the Body of Christ, came into being, — a body such as never had existed before. It was not proclaimed at its birth, however, nor for a good while afterwards. It was Christ that was proclaimed, — Christ come into the world, crucified by men, raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, ascended up to God, and now Lord and Christ, a Prince and Saviour, to give remission of sins. The present revelation opens gradually, developing out of Old Testament Scripture fulfilled, and as a message also to the people of the Old Testament; and only as it is seen that Israel will still refuse the grace of God, is there a widening of the sphere of the proclamation, and new characters begin to be assumed by the assembly. The present division does not go beyond the first form of the message.

1. Pentecost is named from its connection with the Sheaf of Firstfruits, being the fiftieth day from this which speaks of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Upon this day two loaves of firstfruits, the beginning of the harvest, were offered to God. Their typical application is shown very clearly by the fact that they are baken with leaven, and therefore can represent nothing but men in that condition to which the fall has brought them, although the action of the leaven has been stopped by the fire, — that is, the holiness of God which has its effect in self-judgment. They are a "new meal-offering to the Lord," the fruit of, and in character akin to that "corn of wheat" which, that it might not abide alone, fell into the ground and died (John 12:24); the presence of the leaven being met by a sin-offering, which is followed by two lambs for a peace-offering, with seven lambs, a bullock, and two rams, for a burnt-offering. There is adequate witness to peace accomplished, with a full realization of acceptance with God, — the work of Christ in its completeness for the soul. This, of course, does not give the Church in its unique character as that, but rather in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel which began with it; consequently, all the more in the character in which, in fact, we see it in the Acts. The "feast of weeks," as they called it, fulfils its typical significance, as Passover and the sheaf of firstfruits had fulfilled theirs.

Pentecost finds the disciples gathered once more together. In those days of expectancy, it seems to have been habitual with them, and not as if any premonition of what was to take place had brought them at this time. But suddenly there comes from heaven a sound rousing them all to instant attention. It is like that of a powerful sustained breathing: so I think the words should be understood; it is confessedly "blowing" or "breathing" rather than "wind" as in the ordinary versions; and the latter of these two words should have the preference. It is not a storm that can furnish us with the symbols here; and in consistency with this, "rushing" is better replaced with "sustained." The simple force is "carried on"; it is not intermittent, as breathing might otherwise be taken to be. The idea suggested is that of inspiring, animating agency, though beyond human, — a heavenly power; not fitful or (as we say) impulsive, but lifting and bearing on with divine energy. It is the "power from on high," which the Lord promised, that has manifested itself; and, as the savor of the ointment once poured upon Him at that time filled the house, so now the house is filled with that which is poured out upon those whom divine grace has identified with Christ risen and gone up to God. Upon Him when in the world the Spirit had come to abide, the testimony to Him who was not of the world; so now upon those not of the world, because chosen by Him out of it, yet sent into it as His representatives, the Spirit comes to abide. Upon Him it was the seal of His perfection; upon them it is the seal of their perfection in Him.

The sound is not alone; a light as of fire appears in the form of tongues parting themselves, which rest upon each one there; and they all, filled with the Spirit, begin to speak in the diverse languages into which sin has divided the tongues of men. Grace is pursuing man with its testimony wherever his sin has carried him; as a consuming lire to his sin, but as light for his darkness, and in love which testifies by those who, themselves once the servants of sin, now speak with tongues enfranchised and given utterance by the Holy Spirit.

For the Spirit in man, not occasionally merely, nor, as one may say, officially, but characteristically and abidingly, so that it may be pressed as a part of one's responsibility to "be filled with the Spirit," (Eph. 5:18,) is indeed the perfect witnesss of how grace has come in for us, and therefore of the value before God of Christ's precious work. This is what we have insisted on in the Acts, rather than the doctrine — any doctrine — of the Church of God. This is the key to the missionary activity which so pervades it, as the coming into the realization of it from out of legal shadow makes it the New Testament Exodus. The height of Christian position we must wait for in Paul; for to him is the administration of the mystery committed.

2. The great word, as we see now, is testimony. The gift of tongues is prominent from the first; and this it is that attracts the multitude. It was indeed a new thing in Israel, and its significance is at once manifest. Tongues were not needed for Jews in Palestine. The gift said at once, "Here is something to go forth." The scattering of the Jews, the privileged possessors of a revelation from God, was in His providence a preparation for the evangelization of the nations, and had, as we find abundantly in the Acts itself, been the scattering of seed widely among them. The Hellenistic Jews, with whom we shall soon be brought in contact, had taken up with some earnestness, if with less intelligence, the questions arising from their necessary relations with the paganism around. But, although there were thus many proselytes, yet there could not be said to exist any true missionary spirit, and the temper of the stricter Jews towards those who turned to them from the idolatry on all sides was not encouraging. Now had come the breath of change; and a new message must come with the new spirit. God was claiming His creatures, far as they might have wandered from Him; the miraculous gift was at once a trumpet to call the mass together, and a means of reaching personally all who should come.

There is no need for noticing the strange and differing versions that have been given by interpreters of what, though a miracle, is so simple a fact. It is plain that this crowd of people of many languages heard these men who were evidently Galileans speaking in these tongues. The miracle, as one of old remarked, was with those that spoke, not with those that heard; and therefore they were real languages the speakers used. Not even the "great things of God" that they heard them utter seem to have made such an impression upon the multitude, as this wonder of their use of unfamiliar speech. The Jews, unacquainted with these dialects, mocked the disciples as men who were drunken with new wine; but the rest marvelled.

3. It is specially to these uncomprehending ones, men of Judea and inhabitants of Jerusalem, that Peter, standing up with the eleven, addresses himself in explanation. They were, in fact, the guilty ones to whom yet, first of all, the gospel was to be preached. He gravely remonstrates against their groundless thought, of men being drunk so early in the day. The third hour of the day was that of the daily sacrifice, the custom prevailing being to abstain from food and drink, specially upon the feast-days, until this was offered. This is only a means, however, of gaining the hearing that he seeks: for explanation of what was taking place he refers them to their own scriptures. Joel had spoken of an outpouring of the Spirit in the last days which would affect young and old, men and women, after this manner. The apostle cannot mean indeed that this is the proper fulfilment of this prophecy, which speaks definitely of what shall take place after Israel's deliverance, when Jehovah should be openly dwelling in the midst of her, as now too surely He was not. But what if already these things which they were witness of were the premonitory signs of the incoming of those last days? We have only to remember that the time of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel had been a matter of enquiry on the part of the disciples with their risen Lord, and that He had definitely refused them satisfaction. Peter could not then say that the days of Joel were upon them. Yet he could warn them that such times were coming, which, with all their blessing, involved antecedently the "great and glorious day of the Lord," which for man's sin would not be light for all, but might be darkness (Amos 5:18). And he reminds them of the darkening of sun and moon that would precede it: what if already the things they witnessed might be signs of this great day? By and by we shall find a definite promise given that, if there were nationally repentance and the reception of Him whom they had crucified, He would return, and bring in that time. Plainly, then, as far as Peter knew, it might not be far away; and it was in the mind of God that Israel should thus have the offer of all that He had promised, without any drawback to the mercy so declared.

But Joel had added the necessary condition of salvation in the trial of those days: — a condition which could hardly be called one indeed, so naturally would it be the resource in trial to "call upon the Name of the Lord," (that is, "of Jehovah.") Yet even here, alas, might the unbelief of man make this a stumbling-block over which to fall and perish: for, in fact, Jehovah had come to them already, and they had rejected Him!

From this point, then, Peter begins to preach to them Jesus. He does not shun the title of Nazarene which was such an offence to them. Had not God borne witness to Him by mighty works and signs, which He wrought by Him in their very midst? Could they deny it? — an unbribed witness, surely.

What then had been the issue? They, the men of law, had used the hands of lawless men — of the Gentiles, to crucify and slay Him. That might seem, at least, the effectual disproof of His claims; nay, nothing had been accomplished but what had its place in the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God by which He had been delivered up; all man's attempts would indeed have been futile, apart from this!

Spite of the Cross, God had shown His estimate of Him by resurrection from the dead. The Firstfruits from the dead, He had broken bands which yet had released no one besides after this manner. Others had been indeed raised up, but at last to return again and moulder in the dust to which man is sentenced. Not so with Him: it was not possible for Him to be held by it.

Peter cites their scriptures in proof of this; and as sufficient witness, David, of whose line Messiah was to come: in the sixteenth psalm, David, though speaking in the first person, speaks evidently of Another than himself, who, perfect in a perfect pathway, Jehovah always before Him, always therefore for Him, gave unwavering steadfastness to all His steps. It was a pathway of life, therefore, even though it led through death; in which His flesh dwelt in confident hope, that He would not abandon His soul to hales, nor suffer piety such as His to see corruption. Beyond, the face of God was the brightness before Him. Of David himself certainly, all this could not be said. Not to him could this perfection be ascribed; and his monument amongst them showed him to have seen corruption, like all others. Not of himself, then, did he speak; and there was but One of whom it could be spoken. As a prophet he looked forward to Him whom God had sworn, as the fruit of his loins, to set upon his throne, King of the final Kingdom; final, because perfect, as necessary in the perfection which He manifests here.

But David's throne, would the Jew have argued, where is David's throne today? Did He take it? Is He filling it, — the Nazarene? And Peter could never have replied, as so many since have done for him, that the throne of heaven was, as the greater, inclusive of the less! No, his argument is a very different one. He has been in death, as this perfect One was to be; He has come up out of it, His flesh even not having seen corruption. That God has raised Him up, all the disciples there were witnesses. But more, the Spirit with its tongues of fire was His witness. "Being by the right hand of God exalted," says the apostle, "and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this which ye now see and hear."

But that is not the argument: he is coming to it; and again he draws from David's arsenal. The weapon is one with which the Lord has before met and silenced the scribes; now it is to do the happier work of bringing the unbelieving to the faith of the gospel. David has shown, he would let them know, that there was to be for that Son whom he owns to be his Lord, a time of waiting for the Kingdom, with enemies opposing. He shows also that this waiting time would be while He was personally exalted at the right hand of God. "Jehovah said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand, until I make Thy foes the footstool for Thy feet." Thus the pause before the taking of David's throne is itself a proof of the Messiahship of Jesus, instead of being an argument against it; and David himself it is who testifies to this.

Thus His enemies are to be put down, and those who call upon Jehovah's Name and find salvation in the last days must accept as Saviour Him whom Israel has rejected: for, "let all the house of Israel know assuredly," concludes the apostle, "that God has made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ."

4. The proof is conclusive, and the arrow of conviction is winged by the Spirit to the hearts of the listeners there. "Brethren," they cry out in alarm, "what shall we do?" And the grace that meets them is full and immediate. Let them in true repentance give up their sinful opposition to the Christ of God, and be baptized, each one, in dependence on the name of Jesus, for the remission of sins, and they should themselves receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; for the promise was to them and to their children, and to those afar off, even as many as the Lord (Jehovah) their God should call. But we must look at this more particularly.

In the Lord's commission to His disciples, as we have it in Luke's Gospel, repentance and remission of sins are to be preached in the Name of the risen Christ to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. This is accordingly what we find here, — repentance and remission of sins; though with an addition which has to be taken into account.

The Name of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed by the apostle to the sinners of Jerusalem; faith in that Name, if real, will of necessity produce repentance in the hearts of His rejectors hitherto. What a discovery of the state of man is the cross which he has given to the Christ of God! "Pricked in the heart" they may well be; but the apostle declares the mercy of God as pledging itself to those who, undoing their former rejection, take their place now as loyal subjects of the Crucified One. As the open sign of this, they must be "baptized in dependence on the Name of Jesus Christ:" baptism being the authoritative way of discipling (Matt. 28:19), and His Kingdom being a Kingdom of truth (John 18:37). Peter is using thus the two keys of the Kingdom (Matt. 16:19; see the notes).

The connection of baptism with the remission of sins is a difficulty with many. It has been so much abused in the interests of sacramentalism, that it is no wonder if the very allowance of any connection should be abhorrent to those who, rightly refusing the mediatorship of sinful men between the soul and God, identify such a thought with any connection of the kind. But it is not faith to be afraid of Scripture; and, in some sense, Scripture does make baptism, not a prerequisite to the washing away of sins, but the actual doing of this. If Peter here bids his hearers be baptized for the remission of sins, Ananias clinches the two things together in his words to Saul of Tarsus: "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the Name of the Lord." It is not the place yet to examine this particularly, but it cannot fairly be denied that the washing away of sins of which he speaks is put as the effect of baptism. If we are to meet Romanism effectually, we must frankly own the truth that is in it. It is not possible to maintain the ground that here a remission of sins by men is not intended. Did not the Lord, in fact, say to His disciples, "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted to them"? He certainly did. To be able to illustrate this by the example of baptism cannot surely endanger the gospel with those who know it. Nor can any limiting the power to remit sins to the apostles avail to alter the conditions of the case. We can only affirm that the question of the Jews, in the sense in which they made it, is simply unanswerable: "Who can forgive sin, but God alone?" We must answer: As before God, none! He does not give His glory to another.

On the other hand, to apply a text like this to the preaching of the gospel, as if this were the power of the keys, as is so often done among Protestants, is to weaken the cause which it is intended to defend. Whose sins do I remit, when I preach the gospel? Clearly, none! And it is just here, where the question is of sins being put away from before God, that it is utterly impossible for men to do anything. Neither baptism nor anything else that can be done by man, can cleanse a soul for heaven; nor has it to do with admission there at all, but with discipleship, and therefore with the earth, and not with the heaven. It does not even admit into the Church; for there another baptism, that of the Spirit, perfectly distinct from it, takes its place, as we have seen. He who as Creator has given everything its place from the beginning does not override this, and confound all our thoughts by making matter do the work of Spirit, any more than He puts man into His own place. We must keep these lines clear, or everything falls into confusion. But there is a sphere of things on earth, which is in a peculiar way that of His interests, in which He has put man in responsibility to have things after His own mind, and where therefore a certain authority is necessarily committed to him. Here things are to be kept clean for Him; and therefore he must be able to pronounce within fixed limits between clean and unclean; therefore to cleanse for that sphere. Admission to fellowship or re, admission after the suspension of this, these are examples with which we are all familiar. Baptism for the remission of sins is not difficult to understand in this way, — an authoritative, governmental remission, which testified on God's part to a soul His disposition towards it, if, on its side, there were no dishonesty of heart, but truthful response to the divine approach to it.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit is promised to every one who turns to God after this manner in true subjection to Jesus Christ as Lord. We must, of course, distinguish this one Gift common to all from the various "gifts" (charismata, — a different word) which were imparted variously. These will come to be considered in another place. Where the Spirit is, the gifts of the Spirit will, more or less, be found. The one is the Source; the other the stream; and, amid the changing forms of the latter, the fundamental Gift, without which is no Christianity, abides the same.

The apostle closes with assuring them of Israel's interest in the blessing, even though it had a wider range, as Joel had declared as to the day of which he spoke. The promise, he tells them, is for you and for your children; but beyond these, for all that are afar off, — the Gentiles; yet not as claim; even Israel could have no claim; it depended for all entirely upon the call of God's grace: "to as many," he adds, "as the Lord (that is, Jehovah) our God shall call."

We shall have to notice in its place that, when we come to the reception of the Spirit on the part of the Gentiles, the insistence upon baptism as a condition drops. God takes things into His own hands, as one may say, and the Spirit falls upon Cornelius and those with him while they are yet listening to Peter's address, and before ever a hint of baptism has been given. Saul of Tarsus, again, is baptized first, and so are the disciples of John at Ephesus. In the case of the Samaritans, again, even when they have been baptized there is still delay; and they have to receive the Spirit from the apostles' hands. Thus the order of reception is conditioned upon the persons: for the Jews who had openly rejected the Lord, baptism is always a pre-requisite; they must openly own Him whom they had disowned. The varying order, but above all, the entire setting aside of ordinances in the case of the Gentiles (which is our own case, for the most part now,) at once destroys the ritualistic teaching as to baptism. According to this, Cornelius must have received the Spirit while in an unregenerate condition! for he had not yet received the "sacrament of regeneration." Thus do the simple facts of history of themselves refute the whole system of error. Scripture is in all its parts prophetic; and the wisdom of God has given ample warning against the inroads of evil, for those who have hearts open to receive instruction. We shall see this more and more, as we go on with the inspired writer.

"With many other words," he adds, "did (Peter) testify, and exhort them, saying, Be saved from this perverse generation."

5. God is at work, and the harvest is large and immediate: three thousand souls in one day! Nor was this temporary emotion; but the effects were permanent as they were deep. "They persevered in the apostles, teaching and fellowship, — in the breaking of bread and prayers." In this enumeration, that to which they owed all — the teaching — comes necessarily first, as the root of all the rest. Here was what gave them their fellowship; it was in the truth: participation in that drew them together. They had nothing of the poet's liberalism, — "for forms of faith let graceless zealots fight;" — grace had come to them in inseparable companionship with truth, which they found not in the world, but which had exposed the world and set them apart from it to Him whom the world had crucified and by whose cross they were crucified to it. Of the Church they knew little yet; but they had found Christ; and the force of that irresistible attraction which drew them as to a common centre, drew them to one another. The Church began as the spiritual creation of that Spirit which had come to bear witness of Christ; and it knew Him before as yet it had learned to know itself.

These things find illustration in that which follows next, — "the breaking of bread," — which from its first application to a common meal, we see here set apart to its sacred use in reference to that which the Lord had instituted for a remembrance of Himself. It is strange that any should dispute this application in the place before us, where certainly we are not meant to understand that the disciples "persevered" in partaking of food, nor in coming together tor this, (which they never did,) nor in the "love-feasts," of which we read in Jude, but which were not an institution of Christ at all, and probably a later practice. The preliminary meal, of which the disciples had partaken with their Lord before the Last Supper, was the passover, which could not be thought of in this connection. And if as is very probable, it was at the end of a common meal that they remembered the Lord's death, there could be no reason for so unlikely a thing, and so repulsive to the warm Christian hearts of those who are here spoken of, as naming the meal with which the Supper was associated, while forgetting that which alone made it worthy of mention.

The breaking of bread, in the mention thus made of it, shows the Lord as the Centre of His people, the Object before them, the Sustenance of their true life, the Effecter of their communion with one another: this realized in that precious Death, passed for ever, yet ever abiding in that which it has wrought and that which it has displayed. Lastly, prayer manifests the sense of constant need which the nearer we are to God is always the more realized.

The effect upon the outside multitude was that of fear; signs and wonders being continually wrought by the apostles as the special witnesses to the Risen Saviour. The people in the mass seemed with them, as in His early life with the Lord Himself. They were, in fact, at present in that border land, so hopeful, yet so unsafe, which will presently empty itself either into the fixed abodes of conviction and faith, or with more likelihood, into the seats of alienation and rejection.

Among those who believed was manifested a unity of heart and interest, in which the natural selfishness of the fallen condition was swallowed up in the fulness of a love which the sense of divine love had begotten. They were together in such sort that all they had was held in common; not by any law or outward constraint, which would have spoiled it all, but in the consciousness of what they were all to Christ, and what Christ was to each and all of them. Enriched by Him with a blessing which nothing could diminish, but the more they ministered it, the more they had it, "they sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, as any one had need." So by more than miracles was the power of the Spirit displayed among them. As for the rest, they were in their own consciousness but a remnant of Israel who had received Messiah. And though by the indwelling of the Spirit the House of God after a new manner had begun upon earth, yet their daily resort was still to the temple; and this was in the love that still waited upon His ancient people, permitted and used of God for testimony to the nation. But the temple after all was not where they could enjoy what was peculiar to themselves. The bread in which they remembered what had made all new to them was broken at home. In spite of the ambiguity of the expression, and the reference to the ordinary meal which follows it here, this is the most natural application of the breaking of bread in this place also. There seems scarcely need to tell us that they ate their meals at home! and to refer it, as has been done, to their having no longer part in the peace-offering or other sacrifices, has everything against it, at so early a date as this. Long afterwards we hear that the many thousands of the Jews who believed were all zealous of the law; and Paul even is persuaded to enter purified into the temple with men who were distinctly to have an offering offered for every one of them (Acts 21:20, 26). It is vain, therefore, to seek to transfer these new-made Christians to a later time than that to which we have, in fact, arrived. God bore long with the continuance of that which had been His own institution, and it would be many years before the epistle to the Hebrews would be written. The statement here seems certainly to have its only proper application to the Lord's Supper, while it would be not unsuited in such connection to speak of how even the common meals were taken with the gladness which the Christian feast had communicated to them.

Thus the happy days went on; and day by day the Lord added together those that were being saved. Israel would not yet turn to the light vouchsafed her; but a remnant were being marked off, in which would be found the nucleus of a new testimony: to the principalities and powers in heavenly places was to be made known in the Church the manifold wisdom of God.

Subdivision 4. (Acts 3, 4.)

The Testing of the Nation.

We are now to see the testing of the nation by the offer of divine grace to it as a whole, — the distinct promise that, even yet, if they will now repent and receive Him, Jesus, though in heaven, will return, and the blessing prophesied for them shall be fulfilled. The commission already given as to the Gentiles lies, therefore, still in abeyance, because the question of relation between Jew and Gentile in the new condition introduced will be affected by the answer given to such an offer. The hostility of the leaders is apparent from the outset; but that which ends hope is that the people as a whole more and more identify themselves with the position of the leaders; and by and by it is from the Jewish element that even in far-off cities the bitterest opposition comes to be found. This is specially roused by the reception of the Gentiles on equal terms with Jews, by which, of course, these forfeit the exclusive privileges they have really so little valued. But this does not fall to be considered yet.

1. A man, lame from his birth, was accustomed to be carried and laid down at the temple gate which was called Beautiful, to solicit alms from those who went into the temple. He cannot but remind us of the similarly impotent man at the pool of Bethesda upon whom the Lord Himself works a like miracle of healing; and as in that case, we cannot but see here the condition of the nation, impotent at a door which impotence could not enter. The dwelling place of God, however nigh, and however beautiful the approach to it might be, was powerless for blessing, and indeed now vacant, — a seemly formalism only. They praised the gate indeed by which none really entered, great as might be the throng of worshipers, into the presence of God. The beggarly, maimed condition, for those who had eyes to see, characterized all who sought that way of approach.

It is in the consciousness of such a state that the power of the Name of Jesus makes itself known. At the ninth hour, being the third hour of prayer, the hour of the evening sacrifice, — the time when the answer to Daniel was vouchsafed, God manifests Himself in answer to that Name by Peter, who with John is going up still among those of whom they are not. Poor in that world in which his Lord had become poor, he has in the One despised by Israel as the Nazarene the secret of a power still available to them, if like the beggar they will but ask an alms. First lifted, he then leaps up and stands, and now enters into the temple a true worshiper. How simple and natural a picture of such an one, to whom, released from his life-bondage, every movement is a new joy, a, leap of the heart to God. The people recognize with amazement this transformation from impotence to exuberant life, and seeing the man holding Peter and John, run to them in the porch called Solomon's, greatly wondering. Sad reminder of that ruin, from which they would fain believe they have emerged! well will it be if they let this preach to them their need of a Saviour, while they listen to the assurance that He indeed is come.

2. But this involves the story of their sin, which is charged home upon them. They need not look so earnestly on them, (the apostles say,) as if by power of their own, or by reason of their great piety, they had made the man to walk. No, it was the God of their fathers, — of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, from whom they had wandered so far as to be unconscious of His doings, who had acted for the glory of His Servant Jesus whom they had delivered up and even forced His condemnation at the hands of the Gentile governor, when he had given judgment in His favor. They had chosen instead of the Author of life, a murderer! but God had raised Him from the dead; and His Name, through faith in it, had wrought this miracle.

3. Hopeless indeed might their condition seem who had killed the Author of life! That which was their fundamental need they had put from them in a manner seeming to forbid all hope. As the Servant of God, He had come to minister to them, and they had struck down the ministering Hand. The Gentile would have saved whom the Jew put to death: Him whom they knew as the Holy and Righteous, and from whom mercy flowed out still, as it had flowed out in His life.

But the City of Refuge stood open still, as now divine grace assured them. As at the cross He had prayed for them as ignorantly doing what yet they had so heartily done, so now the apostle grounds still upon their ignorance, as the only possible argument in their behalf, an offer once again of mercy. God too had overruled for the accomplishment of His determinate purposes of good this wickedness itself Messiah needs must suffer; and this suffering is of grace on His part. Grace then can manifest itself by its means. Did they repent now, nationally, and turn to God, not only would their sins be blotted out, but the presence of Jehovah would be again manifested in their midst, the unfailing sign of the Spirit's renewing influence, and He would send once more their appointed Messiah, — Jesus. Not till His return from heaven would come the long expected blessing for the earth, the time to which all prophets have ever been looking forward, — times of restoration physical as well as spiritual. These cannot be, then, while Israel is still in unbelief; and the long season that has elapsed since the offer made to them by the apostle here has been but a time of suspension of the earthly promises. God has, however, in the meanwhile been revealing and carrying into effect other purposes, and of fuller, higher blessing, — of grace therefore more wondrous, the unfolding of which we shall see gradually beginning, as soon as it is clear that Israel as a nation is still going to reject the grace yet being extended towards her, with the full testimony of the Spirit also, to make it good. In what is here before us, the trial is now upon her, and our eyes are directed to the result of this.

The apostle goes on to show the emphatic witness of Moses himself to Christ. A Prophet like to himself he had declared that Jehovah would raise up to them: One whose authority he strongly affirms; not a mere expounder of what had been spoken before, but the Originator of a new dispensation, as was Moses, and necessarily, therefore, in advance of that which he had inaugurated. In the passage in Deuteronomy from which Peter quotes, it is after the inability of the people to draw nigh to God has been demonstrated, and the Lord has acquiesced in their own statement of it, — "They have well said that which they have spoken," — that He declares that He will raise up to them a new Prophet. Had Moses sufficed, there would not have needed to be another; but the Law must necessarily fail to bring nigh to God. "There shall no man see Me and live" had been His word to the lawgiver himself; and the veil before the holiest bore witness to it throughout the dispensation. But in this failure all fails for man's blessing; and on this account, as the apostle tells us. God finds fault with the law. There must be, then, another Prophet and a different message. If He be heard, then there opens for the recipient of it that otherwise inaccessible way to God; while, if He be not heard, there is indeed no remedy: "every soul that shall not hear that Prophet shall be destroyed from among the people." Thus has Moses spoken of One greater than himself. Thank God, though Israel as a nation rejected Him, as we know, in the days to which we are now looking back, yet "Him shall ye hear" is declared in her favor with regard to days to come. The blessing has been long delayed; but in the meanwhile the gospel has risen up above these human barriers to only a more wondrous height, to overflow to the nations with a fuller blessing.

But thus then had Moses spoken; and from Samuel, through a succession of witnesses raised up, the same things had been constantly uttered. The apostle urges them now upon His hearers, as the legitimate heirs, the sons of the prophets, and of the wide-reaching covenant of promise given before the Law, and not crippled by its ineffectiveness. In Abraham's Seed all the families of the earth would indeed find the blessing. To them, therefore, had Jesus come first of all, to bring it to them, in turning them every one from the iniquities which now were the true hindrance.

4. A sinister interruption here takes place, — the first note of warning from the heads of the people. While the lower classes listened, the religious leaders felt the preaching in the Name of Jesus to be a direct attack upon themselves. The most forward now and henceforth were the Sadducees, with whom the resurrection of the Saviour was the overthrow of their nihilistic creed. How happy might they have been to have their dread negations penetrated by this glorious light from heaven! but, in fact, the more complete the proof of the truth of the gospel, the more they were stirred up against it. Had it been less complete, they would undoubtedly have acted in a milder fashion; but when argument is made impossible, the will that lurks in it stands out from under the cover with the more stubborn energy to win the already decided battle. Of all men, the hopeless Sadducee should have been the most ready for the gospel; but in reality he was more indifferent than hopeless; his creed was positive in the present rather than negative as to the future; a fair world balanced in his mind the dimness of heaven. Thus he might in any wise not have troubled himself about the enthusiasm of the disciples, had not the miracles brought God too near and preached too alarmingly to the conscience. That should have broken him down before God, but that here the fanaticism of the rebellious spirit was aroused to get rid of the truth with the witness to the truth. But the truth not only abides, but sustains the witness also which it has called forth. The apostles are imprisoned; but the number of the converts rises to five thousand men. It seems as if the narrator were thinking, in this manner of statement, of the camp and battle-field.

The morrow comes, and with it the whole council is gathered together. They who have slain the Master now face the disciples, to find them very unlike the timid men they had been. Now it was not they that spoke, but, as it had been promised, the Spirit of their Father that spoke in them. The foremost now in the confession of Christ was he who had, in the very recent past, denied Him; and with none of them was there any hesitation or tremor of soul. They were "in nothing terrified by their adversaries," which the apostle speaks of afterwards to the Philippians in like case as "to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God" (Phil. 1:28).

Were they not afraid to put their idle question, when the "power" which had wrought was manifest and before their eyes, and manifestly divine? And did they not tremble to hear — so attested — the Name of Him whom they had slain? Had they heard of Peter's old denial? and did they dream that even then he might repeat it? Vain hope indeed, if it was theirs! The "Spirit of glory and of God" was filling Peter now; and they had to hear their guilt charged home upon them, and Jesus Christ the Nazarene declared, as His own lips had once intimated, the "Stone" rejected by the builders, as prophecy had forewarned would be the case. Yes, the building of living stones upon this Corner-stone was already taking place, as thousands in Jerusalem were now witness; by which their office of builders had plainly passed from them. Nay, more; there was no salvation either in any other; none other name under heaven given among men, whereby they could be saved!

They do not, in the presence of their persecutors, as before the people, append to this the promise of Christ's return. This hard-trodden ground must be plowed up, before such good seed as this could be safely committed to it. But they preach salvation, as to perishing men, Sanhedrists as they might be, and doctors of the Law; they themselves in possession of the only security for life and blessing, which they offer with a conscious certainty which, as we know, the teaching of the scribes had not, but which had always characterized their Master's teaching. Still, as of old, it causes astonishment; illiterate, home-bred men as they plainly were. And there stands with them their voucher, a crippled beggar restored, with a new gladness greater than for his physical healing! Among themselves, when the accused have been for awhile sent aside, the council admit their perplexity. An evident sign has been done which they can as little deny as they choose to accept; and the worst of it is that it has laid hold of the people; — for men with their strong faith in the present an argument most difficult to resist; for such faith seeks no martyrdom. Truth also they seek not, these leaders of the people, but that which is convenient and will preserve their valued authority. They decide therefore that they will threaten the disciples, and forbid their speaking any more in the name of Jesus. If they cannot refute, they can yet forbid. They can make wrong by edict what they cannot prove to be wrong by any argument they possess.

But they find the men intractable beyond their expectation: men to whom God is the fountain of all authority, and whose consciences are, without fear of results, before Him alone. Their course is fixed, to obey God rather than man; and they dare even to appeal to the consciences of their judges in behalf of such a determination. With the council the fear of men is in proportion to the absence of their fear of Him; and this deters them from going further at the present time. They threaten and let them go. For the wave of popular feeling on account of the miracle that has been done is at present not safely to be resisted.

5. The disciples return to their own company; — to how different an atmosphere! The opposition of the enemy had failed, and was destined to fail; it had only given opportunity to set before the whole council of the people the blessed Name which it was their happiness to make known. It had thus furthered their work, not hindered it; and this was but the type and prophecy of all the future, — "He maketh the wrath of man to praise Him, and the remainder of wrath He will restrain." The threatenings only show the restraint actually put upon those whose will for harm could not be doubted, and strengthened in going forward those whom they were intended to intimidate. All this they now report among those greeting them on their return, who answer with an outburst of praise, lifting up their voices to God with one accord, as Sovereign Lord of all that He has created, and who has fulfilled what long He had declared in overruling the conspiracy or Jews and Gentiles against Jehovah and against His Christ. The quotation is from the second psalm, which, according to the common belief among the Jews, they ascribe to David. With strange and terrible unanimity, indeed, had all the world (Jews and Gentiles together) combined against Him with whom was all the hope of the world. But this is only the proof of the thorough sameness of man everywhere, — not only one blood, as God made them, but of one spirit, such as the Fall has made them. Only divine grace has anywhere brought in a difference, and then by a change so great and sovereign that the Spirit of God speaks of it as "new creation." Israel's rejection of her Lord was indeed a perfect witness of how all help that could be given him, short of that, must be unavailing, when the Jew it was who clamored for His crucifixion from the unwilling Gentile. So too it was the Jew who was to hound on the heathen persecution of His followers in the time soon to come.

They had accomplished their evil will. There was no resistance. The Light of the world had seemed to be quenched in darkness; but only to rise again in unsetting glory. There had been done just what God's hand and counsel determined before to be done!

What then could His disciples ask, save for boldness to proclaim and follow Christ? He had been more than content through all to be the Servant of that unique and glorious will. They pray only for the stretching out of God's hand in such a way as to give them power and courage; and that signs and wonders may be done in Christ's Name, to carry on that blessed service.

How certain is the answer, when the Lord and His interests are the burden of the prayer! and there is no reserve of self-seeking to give unsteadiness to the faith that would lay hold of Omnipotence! The assurance of being heard is immediately granted them, the place being shaken in which they were gathered together. It is the answer of the Creator, as appealed to, and who will yet "shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land, and shake all nations," to bring in Christ (Hag. 2:6, 7). But also they are all filled with the Holy Spirit, and speak the word with boldness.

Lest we should sigh and say, These are but records of far-off days, let us remember that we are exhorted, and it is part of our responsibility, therefore, to "be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18.) This is no question of gifts lost to the Church, nor even of exceptional blessing. We may make it, alas, exceptional; but that is another thing. It is but, in fact, a question of devotedness: for the Spirit is here to glorify Christ, not to give impossible brightness to lives lived in the circle of our own petty interests; which, indeed, so far as they answer to this character, are not in any true sense our interests; for these are all secured with Christ on high. We are identified with Him as our Representative before God, to have resting upon us the favor in which He dwells; and He is identified with us as His representatives on earth, for a life for Him as thus sent into it. We see then how fully and simply in place is what we have here. The disciples are full of His interests. How could it be otherwise than that the Witness for Christ on earth should fill them as vessels of testimony for Him? The same argument will always hold good; and the Spirit can never be indifferent to His glory. To suppose any thing else would be to dishonor Him who is come to abide with us forever, and who is yesterday, today, and for ever the same. For us also, every thing else must be shaken, until He is made supreme over all.

There follow also, as surely, the fruits in practical life. The innate selfishness of the heart is surmounted by the influx of spiritual blessing which expands while it overflows it. There was no communistic law among these gathered saints; it would have spoiled all, if there had been; it was a unity of heart which allowed none of them to say that what was really his belonged to him. The sale of lands and houses was optional and unsolicited, as we see by the very specification of those who did this. There was therefore no general renunciation of personal title; but a love that knew no holding back from the need of another. It was the instinct of hearts that had found their real possessions in that sphere into which Christ had risen. The glorious fact of resurrection to which testimony was being given now with power took them of necessity out of the world; and great grace was on them all. The deeper need which could not be thus met found still the means to meet it in the actual sale of possessions on the part of those that had them; so that there were none that lacked: the money being laid at the apostles, feet. It is not necessarily that all sold all they had; but that this was the way in which the need was met: the history following, and which grows out of this, seems to make this plain.

Subdivision 5. (Acts 4:36 – 5:11.)

The Government of God over those with Him.

We have now to see the government of God over His own, now separated as a distinct company from the mass of Israel, although one could not say, as yet, from Israel itself. The trial of the nation as such is not yet ended. Meanwhile we are called away from this to see the attempt of the enemy against this new beginning, and the solemn judgment of God by which it is defeated. Yet on the other hand, we are not to overlook the divine appreciation of the fruits of the Spirit, where they are found, as in the case of Joseph, surnamed Barnabas, who by his ministry in self-sacrificing love to the need of the saints "purchases to himself a good degree" (1 Tim. 3:13), and we bear of him accordingly, in the after history. His name answers to his character here, — "one who adds," — and he becomes indeed a "son of consolation," — meriting his surname.

In terrible contrast to him is Ananias ("Jah has shown grace") but who abuses grace to his own destruction. The good report of Barnabas, if we may judge by the connection, seems to have moved him; but only with an ungodly emulation. He covets the reputation and influence; with perhaps much greater things following, as the movement spreads; but he has no thought, even for this, of making the sacrifice demanded. Outwardly he must do it, while his heart refuses; and thus, in conjunction with his wife, he forms a deliberate plan to deceive, — leaving God out. He actually sells his possession, and professedly brings the whole purchase-money, to lay it down at the apostles' feet. But he has not brought the whole: he reserves a part for himself, and in the midst of the divine power working (only in grace as yet, which probably he misinterprets, to his ruin,) does not fear to offer this imitation of the fruit of divine love, — in fact, a fraudulent attempt to buy for himself what alone be values. Satan was thus working from inside the assembly, to destroy truth and holiness, and thus early to introduce into it the worldly elements which, by and by, alas, were to gain open allowance. But the Spirit of God, as yet ungrieved, forbids the intrusion of the evil; and judgment swift and terrible smites down the transgressor. His unhappy wife, coming in afterwards, and deliberately reaffirming her husband's falsehood, shares his punishment. And fear falls upon all the assembly, and upon all that hear these things.

Thus we have indicated to us the evils which, from within as well as from without, threatened the infant Church. It is in a hostile world. It carries the fatal seeds of corruption in its own bosom. For in this respect the community can only be as those who compose it. The exercise as to evil and the struggle with it we are not yet, in the wisdom of God, delivered from; although the final deliverance is completely secured. God is training us for eternity, and to bring us into full participation in His apprehension of it. For this He would have us see it as those who are partakers of the divine nature, and yet linked with that flesh in which "dwelleth no good thing." Responsible to be its masters, we may yet degrade ourselves to do its will, and need at all times to be on the watch against it; while the world around appeals to it, and incites it to activity, and Satan with all the cunning of four thousand years' acquirement is "the prince of this world," proved so by the Cross! So thoroughly are we intended, it is plain, to learn the painful — and yet, it must be, salutary — lesson of the nature of that which exhibits the ruin of the creature fallen away from God! But this is also the background of the divine glory in redemption, in which He is displayed in His mastery over it, and thus we are held fast to Him forever.

Subdivision 6. (Acts 5:12–6:7.)

Triumph within and without.

The inspired historian does not detain us long with this now, but passes on to speak of the Church's triumph over this double evil, within and without.

1. There is the constant display of divine power at the hands of the apostles; so the crowds follow, and the people magnify them; while the fear of what has taken place deters those from joining them who are not joined to the Lord in living faith. But multitudes are thus added to Him, both of men and of women. Consciences are brought into serious exercise, with the sure result of many believing. The place which is habitually frequented, and in which we have found them before, is Solomon's porch; the testimony of their ruin under the old covenant, whatever may have been the pains to cover it up since, and even to decorate that which covered it. Jerusalem thus becomes a centre to which men flock from all the districts round, bringing the sick and those oppressed by demons, — two classes always carefully distinguished in the word of God; and the very shadow of Peter is sought to for its power to heal; nor do we read of disappointment even in this. The masses all are healed. So fully is the prayer of true and devoted hearts for the glory of Jesus answered of God.

2. Persecution arises again, and from the same quarter as before; the high priest being foremost, with the sect of the Sadducees, to which he belonged. But when the apostles are once more shut up in prison, an angel of the Lord (that is, of Jehovah) opens the doors by night, and bids them enter again into the temple, to preach there unto the people "all the words of this life." In the morning, therefore, the prison being securely shut, they are found in the temple at their blessed work. The council is perplexed, and wonder what will be the end of it; but the issue raised is become so serious for them, that they will dispute it with God Himself. So they command them to be brought once more, though it has to be done quietly, lest the excited people should stone the officers; and for the second time the council of the nation, in answer to their charge of violating the prohibition they had given, have to listen to the statement of their crime. The rulers had made obedience to them impossible by their own vain conflict with the God of their fathers. Him, whom they had put to death with the greatest indignity, God had raised up, and with His right hand exalted Him to be Founder* and Saviour, to begin that new temple to God's praise, of which they had before proclaimed Him the Foundation-Stone. But for this it was necessary that every one who should form part in it — for the temple was to be, as Peter explains from his own name, a building of "living stones" (1 Peter 2:4, 5) — should be cleansed and sanctified. The Founder must therefore be a Saviour, and give repentance and remission of sins. The apostles say, "to Israel," and this He will yet do. It was the nation that was at present before them, and to whom their message was. The Church had not emerged into distinct thought, although it was in existence in fact, but as a babe that had not yet learned to know itself. But Christ, — Christ was their absorbing occupation and delight; no higher could be, though they were to learn much more of their own relationship to Him. "And we are witnesses of these things; and the Holy Spirit also, which God hath given to them who obey Him."

But it is not proof which they were wanting, — these leaders of the people; just the reverse; and to be reminded of the proof which was all too demonstrative only throws them into a passionate rage that would quench itself in the blood of those who so fearlessly maintain this testimony. Had they not quenched this light once? Could they not again do so? Had they not put out of their way the Master? Could they not deal with the disciples?

{*The word here is the same as that in the first answer of the apostles, and there translated "Author," — "Author of life." It does not seem practicable to give a uniform rendering, except, with the common version, we use the very meagre word, "Prince." The meaning is, "one who begins, or originates;" thus, leader and author in one. "Founder," which is also given by the lexicons, unites these thoughts, and seems the best adapted to the sense in this place.}

So impossible is it for His enemies to understand the patience of God, which is oftentimes so great a trial to His people even. If He has indeed this power, how is it that, as the Psalmist puts it, He does not "pluck His hand out of His bosom," and deal more openly with His adversaries? Will He use it in healings and raising up crippled beggars, and let His people lie so defenceless in the hands of their persecutors? Can this gentle zephyr ever grow into a tornado blast? They cannot believe it, however great at times the evidences may seem to be. Did not the prison doors unaccountably open? Yes; but that did not deliver out of their hands after all! Balance this against that: even their Master did not come down from the cross; and the cross seems ordained for His disciples also. Yes; the Cross! and how little yet do we understand its glory!

3. Thus, even if He interferes for His own, there is generally a veil over His Face: "Thy way is in the sea, and Thy path in the great waters, and Thy footsteps are not known!" Still, for all that, "Thou leddest Thy people like a flock" (Ps. 77:19, 20).

Christ's witnesses are now to prove this; they are to be sheltered, yet by no apparent intervention of the divine Hand. One of the councilors themselves, a Pharisee and not a believer, though brought by all he has seen and heard into the neutral position which his advice indicates, is the instrument which God uses at this time to shelter the witnesses of His grace to men. Gamaliel, a man of great weight among the Jews, and grandson of the celebrated Hillel, having caused the apostles to be put forth for a little while, remonstrates against any violence. The case before them, he urges, was no solitary one; and the examples they had had of impostors who had arisen showed how surely these pretensions of men came to nought. He mentions two of these: one well-known, — "Judas of Galilee, in the days of the census, — the other a Theudas,* only conjecturally taken to be either a Judas, in the reign of Archelaus, as Archbp. Ussher thought, or else a Matthias, about the close of that of Herod. Both attempts ended disastrously, as Gamaliel reminds his hearers, and so would this, if it were not of God. The possibility of this he warns them of, and the result in that case of being found fighting against God. A tremendous possibility, indeed!

{*There having been another Theudas, resembling this one of Luke, but some fifty years too late, mentioned by Josephus, this has naturally been used by infidelity to discredit the Scripture narrative. But, as the name was common, so the insurrections of the time were many; "the Theudas, whose defeat by Fadus he places a dozen years later" than Gamaliel's speech, "seems to have had a far larger following than the four hundred men of whom our Evangelist writes." (W. Kelly on the Acts) Ussher speaks of Theudas as only the Syriac form of Judas; while Koehler (in Herzog's Real Encyclop.) makes it the Greek translation of Matthias, the "gift of Jehovah" or of God.}

His advice is conformable to such a suspense of judgment: "Refrain from these men, and let them alone." To which they agree, with a strange modification of their own; for while they acknowledge they may be fighting against God, and so give up their murderous intent, they contradict themselves, and show the malice of their hearts, by beating these possible witnesses for God, before they let them go! and again forbidding them to speak what they cannot venture to say may not be truth! Such a being is man!

But Gamaliel himself, though impressed, and right in his refusal to act in the dark as if in the light, is otherwise wrong in his principles, and untrue to the truth. His judgment by the issue leaves him a doubter till that issue; and when, and what, may that issue be? If one could look far enough, no doubt the end would be seen to be in accordance with the righteousness of God who governs. But who will undertake to trace this with any infallibility through those ways which the Psalmist confesses are in the sea, and His footsteps are not known? Who will pierce the clouds and darkness that are about Him, and give a trustworthy account of all His doings? The Psalmist complained of the prosperity of the wicked, and had to pursue them to the other side of death, in order to find satisfaction (Ps. 73.). The friends of Job argue like Gamaliel here, and are rebuked by the sufferer as speaking deceitfully for God (Job 13:7); for he also has seen the wicked spend their days in prosperity (Job 21:13). The Preacher too sees it as among the vanities of earthly things, "that there be righteous men to whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; and again there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous" (Ecc. 8:14). While Habakkuk complains to Him who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity that yet He looketh upon them that deal treacherously, and holdeth His peace when the wicked swalloweth up the man, that is more righteous than himself (Hab. 1:13). And Jehovah answers him that "the just shall live by faith" (Hab. 2:4).

And this is what Gamaliel with his temporizing policy has left out. He would wait and watch, and go down to the grave perhaps unconvinced; and so there is reason to believe he did; while a bolder and more hasty spirit might catch more quickly his conclusion, and decide, — but decide wholly wrong. For it would be hard upon his principles to accept in his way as the witnesses for God men "as it were, appointed unto death, a spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men; — hungry and athirst. and naked, and buffeted"! Must not those who laid their stripes upon the apostles now have fancied they were helping to disprove these fanatical teachings with every stroke of their lash? The meaning of the Cross would be, for them and for their teacher both, an impossibility to comprehend.

But God none the less had sheltered His people; and, as for the rest, they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for the Name! And still, every day, in the temple and in the house, they ceased not to teach and tell the glad tidings that Jesus was the Christ.

4. Another trial was at hand; and now again from within: a difficulty had to be met, which the very growth in numbers tended to produce, the natural selfishness of man's heart showing itself amid all the power and joy of the work of the Spirit constantly progressing. "There arose a murmuring of the Grecian Jews," or Hellenists, "against the Hebrews," (the native Jews,) "because their widows were neglected in the daily ministrations." It does not say, they were neglected, but that this was affirmed. In fact, although grace was here dominant above it, there was always a certain jealousy existing between these two classes. The Jews born in foreign countries tended to more liberal views than those of Judea, and indeed to a liberality as far from the truth on one side as the Pharisaism of the Rabbinistic teachers was upon the other. It was upon the side of the Hebrews, however, that jealousy was rather to be expected. Here it was on that of the Hellenists; but perhaps a reaction resulting from the knowledge of such a spirit generally existing, which would give rise to suspicions such as we find actually manifested now. But there is grace to meet them effectually, as has been often pointed out; for the names of those chosen on account of the complaints, to take charge of the whole matter of the ministry of the common fund are Greek, every one; and thus, presumably Hellenistic. Those who murmured should have the distribution in their own hands; and those who cannot trust their brethren shall find that nevertheless their brethren can trust them. How lovely is divine grace! and how effectual is such a settlement! The thought that some have had, that there had been already men appointed to this charge, but who were all Hebrews, and that the seven now chosen were only an addition to the previous number to satisfy the foreign element by giving them representation which hitherto they had not had, is as totally without foundation in Scripture, as it destroys all the beauty of the act itself. In this case, it was but a mere act of tardy justice, or at least the reparation of an actual oversight, which might have given some apparent ground for the complaint. But there is no truth in it; for it is the apostles who have hitherto been in charge of that which we have seen laid at their feet for that purpose and who now take occasion to relieve themselves of what was become a burden, distracting them from their own proper work. The disciples are now to choose those in whom they can have confidence for the management of that which they had themselves contributed; the apostles, however, giving them appointment, as being the divinely constituted leaders, and representatives of the absent Lord.

The word of God is that which we see they recognize as their true sphere of service, and that to which they desire wholly to devote themselves; joining with this prayer, which they put first, as the necessary prerequisite. Without that link of conscious dependence, what gift, — even the greatest, — could at all avail? But here we realize the exceeding importance attaching to it in their minds: "We will give ourselves up to prayer and to the ministry of the word." Is it not here, in fact, that we fail so much, and the ministry of the word fails correspondingly?

Even for such work as serving tables men are to be sought full of the Holy Spirit, and of wisdom; and the first two that are among the number of those appointed are to be owned and honored of God afterwards in very different ways. One of them also is a proselyte, — of a class thoroughly despised by the Hebrews in general; even while they would do much to gain them. But the grace of God was removing already these unspiritual estimates, — merging all human distinctions in the consciousness of a common relationship to Christ and to God. They are set apart, not without prayer, and by the imposition of hands, as a token, doubtless, of the fellowship with them in their new office. Thus the brief trouble ended; and all was overruled for blessing and the display of the new spirit which animated the new company of believers. The power of it was felt in the increased power of the word of God. The number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem exceedingly; and even of the priests a great company became obedient to the faith. The expression made use of in their case lays stress upon the greater difficulty, speaking humanly, to be surmounted by those whose office it would set aside; and of this, although the full light of Christianity had not yet dawned, there were already many intimations.

Subdivision 7. (Acts 6:8 — 7.)

Completion of the Testimony to the Nation.

In fact, the whole system of Judaism is tottering to its fall; and the nation is ready to give its last, emphatic answer to the grace that has visited it. The number to which the converts had increased could only arouse hostility proportionately more, as the leaders felt their authority compromised, themselves personally attacked, and all ranks being swept away into an opposition continually gathering strength, with its arguments which could be met only by force, and its signs and wonders which could neither be denied nor imitated. Only the fear of the people had hitherto restrained, as we have seen, the outbreak of fury on the part of the council twice before. And now it is increasingly being felt that a struggle cannot be averted; it is in fact a death-struggle. The occasion of its coming on is now shown us by the inspired historian; and with this the offer to the nation as such ends. Stephen, "full of grace and power," becomes, on that very account, the object of special enmity to the enraged people, and as the first martyr, receives the "crown" of which his name speaks.* He becomes the messenger sent after the Lord, to say, "We will not have this Man to reign over us." The glory of Christ shines upon the face of His witness, and makes it radiant with the light of heaven, where the Son of man stands at the right hand of God. Earth has cast out the Light; but to earth's outcasts heaven is opening, as it never opened yet. We have an intimation, indeed, of Paul's "gospel of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ;" although not yet is Paul come to proclaim it. He is there! yes; keeping the garments of those that stone that glory from the face of Stephen!

{*The meanings of the seven names are no doubt significant: — 1. Stephen — A crown. 2. Philip — A lover of horses — a racer. 3. Prochorus — A leader of praise. 4. Nicanor — A victor. 5. Timon — Honorable. 6. Parmenas — Enduring. 7. Nicholas — Conqueror of the people.}

1. We do not read hitherto of any miracles wrought by other hands than those of the apostles; but now the "power" that is in Stephen manifests itself in great wonders and signs among the people. There is commencing, apparently, a wider bestowal of gifts of this kind, such as was, at any rate, found afterwards. The "faith," of which we have been told that he was full, doubtless coveted, as the apostle exhorts at a later time, the best gifts, and these, although not so valuable in themselves as that of prophecy, were of great importance for the crisis then approaching. The saints had prayed, on the first return of the apostles from the council, that God would glorify the name of Jesus by stretching out His hand to heal; and Stephen's endowment is found in connection with most earnest testimony. Hellenist himself, the men of the Hellenistic synagogues to whom he had been probably formerly well known, undertake disputation with him, but are unable to resist the wisdom and spirit by which he speaks. This rouses all their malice against him; and as with his Lord, to whom through this closing scene he is in growing likeness, they suborn men to bear false witness against him. They could easily pervert his words, no doubt, into blasphemies against Moses; and those against God could be, with not much more difficulty, reasoned from the other. And now we find what is deeply significant for the issue with regard to the nation; the people, who had hitherto been favorable to the disciples, now join the outcry against them. Henceforth, save as the direct action of the Spirit still produces faith in a remnant of them, rulers and people are one. Persecution can now therefore begin in earnest, and the door of repentance as yet held open to them begins to close. This gives character to the last testimony of Stephen, as we shall see directly: it is a full summing up of the case against them, and adds to their crime in the death of the Lord Jesus, the witness that they always resist the Holy Spirit. The last hope is gone when this can be said.

They come upon him, and seize him, and bring him before the council, — at last with their wolfish ferocity unbridled. And here the false witnesses can amplify their assertions "He does not cease," they affirm, "to say things against the holy place, and the law: for we have heard him say that this Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place, and change the customs which Moses delivered unto us."

Matter enough indeed to stir the dullest of those who have no greater boast than to be Moses' disciples! They look intently upon the man so accused, to see how he will bear himself, or what he will answer to such an accusation, and lo, as if he were himself Moses, his face brightens with an angelic glory! As if not seeing the lowering gloom around him, he is in the light, under the smile of God!

2. Stephen is not upon his defence. He is not answering for himself, nor pleading at all. He is the judge giving sentence. He is the still, small voice of the national conscience roused by the power of the Spirit of God. He is the memory of the people, edged and sharpened, as when called into the Presence of God. The long roll of the centuries obeys his summons, and comes forth; its record of the simplest, but with a strange new utterance; a voice of challenge and conviction, impossible to resist. If, even now, they had but hearkened to it! But man is capable of turning from known, incontestable realities, and of saying in the pride of his heart that things are as he will have them to be. Thus Israel once more turns her back upon God, and abides, still under the doom which it has brought upon her.

(1) Stephen goes back to Abraham, to the father in whom they boasted, but in whom God had set before their eyes the principles which He would have them ever remember, — principles which,while the world continues what sin has made it, must ever abide as principles owned of Him and necessary for a path according to His mind. Back of law they must go to find the one in whom they had the promises, — a man justified by faith, and thus a perfect example of the grace which they so steadily refused.

"The God of glory," begins Stephen, "appeared unto our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran." Thus all for him was found in One who by this marvelous vision drew him to Himself. We know that he and his were serving other gods in that land beyond the flood, (that is, Euphrates, Joshua 24:2). They were involved in the idolatry in which, even then, the whole land was immersed; and there and thus grace met him. He was not the heir of privilege; and for him the glory dwelt not in any place made with hands, but apart from the world, in which he became by the revelation henceforth a pilgrim. From the land of his birth God called him out, and from his kindred; and the land to which He called him was one unknown. Faith every way was a necessity to him; slow as he might be, and was, to sever the ties of nature, which were but hindrance to him. After his father was dead, God removed him to the land which was to be his own.

Yet here also the discipline continued, and by faith alone was the land ever enjoyed by him. Promised it was, but no foot of it made good to him; and the seed which was to inherit it came late and slowly on. Of grace, then, and of faith in the unseen, was Abraham's life a constant witness to them; and this was the life so approved of God, so honored by themselves, who yet knew so little of it!

A long sorrow also was made known to him in relation to his seed. They were again to leave the land which was theirs by promise, and to dwell in another, ill-treated, and in bondage, until 400 years had run their length. Then God would judge their oppressors, and they should come out, and serve Him in the inheritance destined for them. But for so long a time still discipline and the need of faith! They grew to a nation in that stern Egyptian school. But why the furnace covenanted to them thus? Why this need of the Refiner's fire?

It all hangs perfectly together: man under this patient but strong hand of God, ever to be watched, never to be reckoned upon. On the other hand, faith in God always therefore the one necessity, always sure amid all changes. With this, as the apostle shows, witnesses that covenant of circumcision of which Stephen thereupon speaks. Abraham is near a hundred years old," his body now dead," nothing more to be expected from it. Just there it is that God, as the "Almighty" God, comes in to renew His assurance of what He will do, when Abraham can do nothing. Circumcision is "the putting off the body of the flesh" (Col. 2:11); and thus it was to him "the seal of the righteousness of faith which he had, being yet uncircumcised" (Rom. 4:11). Where then is the law, and all the work of man in which Israel so trusted, in the covenant given to a man with a "body now dead"? And this sign is now to be put upon all the seed of Abraham: "And so he begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob the twelve patriarchs" or tribe-fathers.

Here are the principles which would have carried Israel through to blessing. Had they sat patiently at the feet of Moses even, they would have learned them from the other side. God never left Himself without witness of the characteristic marks of all that comes from Him: "Had ye believed Moses," said the Lord to them, "ye would have believed Me." And this was as true of His indirect, as of His direct testimony.

(2) Stephen goes on to another part of well-known history, in which not only the fundamental untrustworthiness of man displayed itself, but in a way which was but too significant of their later rejection of their God-sent deliverers. Indeed, their latest and worst was in so many ways pictured in it that the least sensitive conscience should have been aroused by it. And this took place in the history of the first fathers of the nation, who yet wrought out in it unwittingly the purposes of God. Who could forget the envy of Joseph's brethren! which yet helped to fulfil the very premonitions of his greatness which had caused their envy. They sold him into Egypt, (did those before Stephen not remember their own thirty pieces of silver? ) but God was with him, spite of those afflictions in the meantime, out of which God so signally delivered him, and made him governor over all the land. Then came the famine which compelled his guilty brethren to have recourse to him whom they had rejected and cast out. And this again led to the fulfillment of the prophecy to Abraham. Man, working freely and, alas, away from God, nevertheless wrought out His purposes as if designedly seeking their accomplishment.*

{*There is a well-known difficulty in connection with what is said of the burial of Jacob and his sons. The simplest rectification is by omitting "Abraham" from the text; which would then read "which he bought," — referring to Jacob, and "they were carried over to Sychem" would refer to Jacob's sons alone; of whom we only know that Joseph was, but the tradition among the Jews was that the rest were also. "Jerome states that Paula saw the sepulchres of the rest; and Wetstein quotes Syncellus and two Jewish writers to the same purpose. The omission of Abraham is given credit to by this — that one uncial MS., ancient and of good authority, has an addition here which gives strong ground to suppose Abraham to be an interpolation." (The Irrationalism of Infidelity: being a reply to "Phases of Faith;" p. 140.)}

(3) And now the speaker proceeds to Moses himself, — Moses whose disciples they all claimed to be, as indeed God had made him their deliverer and lawgiver; but had he in fact fared much better at their hands? Through Moses also they had received the "living oracles," and the house of God (which they had brought into his indictment) had received its initial form through him. What was the testimony of history again as to all this? He brings forward no reasoning of his own; nothing that they could for a moment deny: the facts are a sufficient argument. But he goes more leisurely through these, as if he would have them marshal their cumulative evidence well, and compel the attention of his unwilling listeners. It is as if, not he, but Moses himself had turned to be their accuser; as the Lord had before declared to them that he was; and that they were going on with such an adversary to the judgment. The judgment now was really come, and the Judge was about to deliver them to the officer, that they might be cast into prison: — a prison from which (although the doors are about to open) they have never come forth yet.

The birth of Moses was in one of the disastrous times of Israel's history. The destruction of their male children threatened their very existence as a nation; and as one of these doomed ones, he was only saved by the signal interposition of God, who shelters him in the bosom of the persecutor. As the adopted son of Pharaoh's daughter he is taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and becomes mighty in words and deeds. Scripture says nothing elsewhere of this education of his, but much of the divine discipline by which he became the fit ruler of the people of God. Stephen mentions, perhaps, his greatness, to exhibit the more the power of that love which made him renounce it all to identify himself with a rabble of serfs, and set himself in opposition to all the wealth and power and civilization of the foremost nation of the day. Perfectly he knew all that his choice implied; but he saw Him who was invisible, who was lost to the Egyptians amid their bestial deities; and "it came into his heart to look upon his brethren, the sons of Israel." God was looking upon them, as he was; and the spirit of the deliverer awoke within him. Seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was being oppressed, and smote the Egyptian. He thought that his brethren would understand that by him God was giving deliverance to Israel; but they understood not. The love that had brought him to renounce for their sakes the place in which he had been so wonderfully put by God, was not appreciated; and when he would have united and set them at one, he was in their mind only assuming without warrant the place of a ruler and judge over them. He had to flee with his work unaccomplished, and become a sojourner in the land of Midian, where he found other attachments, and became the father of children.

No doubt there was that in Moses that needed the discipline; and at the backside of the desert he got training that he needed for the work which after all he was to do. God is over all, and through all, and in all. Thus all can be accepted as of Him, and one can see His hand in that which is nevertheless the sin of man, and done in opposition to Him. In the people there was no preparedness of heart, no generous response to the devotedness that would have served them, no perception of the mind of God at all. Their appointed deliverer they drove out among strangers, as Israel were doing now with One who had come down from a more wonderful height, with attestation from God beyond all that ever had been given before, and to accomplish a much mightier deliverance. But the warning was plain that that Moses in whom now they boasted had been for forty years an outcast from the people who had yet to own that God indeed had raised him up to be their ruler and their judge.

Stephen pursues the story of how to that rejected man there came the commission from God, sealed with the broad seal of wonders and signs which accredited in that day to another generation what now no miraculous signs, with how much that went far beyond them, could accredit. In the flame of fire in a bush unburnt, Jehovah had manifested Himself to him, tremble though he might as he stood barefoot in His presence, to send him back, His messenger, into Egypt. How unlike indeed to the glory that had so lately been displayed among them, where He who was sent was One with Him who sent Him, — the glory of the Father's Son!

Yet Moses accomplished His work; as Egypt and the Red Sea and the desert witnessed. They believed in Moses now! Was it not he who said," A prophet will God raise up unto you from among your brethren, like unto me"?

From him came the living oracles, — the voice of Him who had been speaking to them ever since. He whom they rashly accused of blasphemy against Moses, clears himself from any possible imputation of irreverence as to what had spoken to his own soul as that. But for Israel, alas! how had Israel, encompassed with all those daily manifestations of divine power and grace of which their history bore witness, — how had Israel treated Moses? How had they treated that Greater Presence that went with them then? It was all written in those records of theirs, so well-known by them, so little fruitful in them. Were they subject? Let their molten god bear witness! Let Jehovah's neglected altars, all those forty years, while those of Moloch and Remphan steamed with profane offerings! And there, as Amos declares in the name of the Lord, their captivity had already been decided.* How this shows the unity of the nation morally all through their history! for their heartfelt turning to God at any time would have brought about the rescinding of that judgment which the prophet thus declares had been continually impending over them.

{* Amos 5:25-27. Stephen follows, in general here, the text of the Septuagint, which substitutes Remphan for the "Chiun" of the Hebrew; for what reason seems not to be clear. For "beyond Damascus," in the prophet, Stephen, interpreting by the history, says "beyond Babylon."}

The tent of testimony began also in the wilderness the history of that dwelling-place of God among them, which furnished another count in the indictment of the fearless disciple. Moses had received the pattern, and made it as directed; and it had come into the land with Joshua, when God cast out the nations from before His people. Of how much might the mere mention of its tarrying time remind them, until David prepared for, and Solomon built the House which with its chequered history, and so long now in its tenantless condition, they clung to yet. But whatever it might be, did they think it, then, so adequate a dwelling for the Creator of all? Solomon himself had asked with wonder, whether He whom the heaven of heavens could not contain could be indeed contained in the house that he had builded. And God Himself had asked by the prophet a similar question. How poor and unworthy was in fact that reverence for the house by those who had cast out and slain the Son of the Father, — Him whose glory Isaiah had seen filling it!

At the thought of that, the light upon that radiant face seems to kindle into an awful glow of fire. The love of God poured out upon the people of His choice, met but by the enmity of apostate hearts, which had tasted only to harden themselves against it, stirs to passionate outbreak a heart that has with its whole energy responded to it. He rebukes them as not the Israel of God, but stubborn and uncircumcised Gentiles in heart and ears. They had always, — and now how fatally, — resisted the gracious strivings of the Holy Spirit, in one unbroken succession of ungodly men. Had he spoken to them by prophets? which of these had not been the victims of their malicious rage? They had slain the messengers who had but announced the coming of the Righteous One; and He having come, they had now gone on to be His betrayers and His murderers! Law! — they might talk of law! They had received it, indeed, at the hands of angels; but they had never kept it.

3. Was it not true? There was nothing in it all, but the simplest facts of history, the unimpeached, unimpeachable testimony of writers held by themselves for inspired men. Not even a comment had been given, not an application made, until the full tale to which they had listened was complete. Then at last the verdict had been pronounced, none other than which could possibly have been given. Their consciences bore witness in the lightning flash of conviction which cut them to the heart. Yes, it was true, that was the maddening, if not the overwhelming reality: and stubborn with Satanic pride, they were not overwhelmed, but maddened: "They gnashed upon him with their teeth." It was like a defiant hell; though hell will not be defiant.

On the other side, heaven opens upon its martyr — surely martyr now! Filled with the Spirit, he looks up with eager intentness, out of the fast darkening earth to the place whence the light of God, breaking through the mists, had lighted up his face with radiance. But now, as he looks, there is no mist at all, but a way opened through to the uttermost glory; and there He of whom he had testified is revealed to him, standing at the right hand of God. There are no receptive hearts to which to utter it; but he cannot keep back the closing testimony vouchsafed him. Hear it or not, the testimony must be given. Eager, impassioned, triumphant, "Behold," he says, "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God."

They will have no more! As out of the mouth of the pit, comes the shriek of frenzied opposition: "they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and rushed upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city and stoned him." Israel has given her answer to the appeal of God, and in the light of the open heavens, they slay His witness. The trial of the nation with this is ended.

Yet out of the darkness there is permitted to us here one reminder of transcendent grace: "the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul."

There is nothing to be said of him yet; we are turned from him to him who has now fought the good fight, and has finished his course, for whom his crown of victory is reserved: "They stoned Stephen invoking and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" Witness he is to the last; and most so when wholly unconscious of it he has beheld the glory of his Lord with open face, and is changed by it into the same image, from glory to glory: — undying glory in a dying face! "And kneeling down, he cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge! And having said this, he fell asleep."

How plainly through all this is the fore-gleam of what is just at hand! Only in the language of Saul, the present persecutor, — of Paul, the apostle as he is soon to he, — do we find adequate expression for the spiritual interpretation of the last moments of the dying Stephen. He was to see for himself, through the wondrous grace of God, what Stephen had seen and testified. But in Stephen himself he had seen that transforming power of the glory of Christ, of which he speaks in the words that have been quoted from him. Was he not looking back in them to such a scene as we know never passed from his remembrance? True, he had raged against it then. All the deeper would be his remembrance of it now. Paul is in many ways Stephen revived; and thus what the imprint of Stephen's death would make him. Certainly there was here the anticipation of that "gospel of the glory of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:4), which was, in a special sense, his gospel. Fitting it was that the awful cloud which closed in darkness Israel's day of grace, should be banded with the brightness of the day that was to follow. The fulness of God's grace, and His manifold wisdom were to be told out now in the Church in its new and heavenly relationships, — mysteries that had been hid from ages and generations, but are now made manifest to the saints (Col. 1:26). In Stephen's vision we have not as yet, of course, the Church, but the Son of man in heaven, which He has opened by His presence there; Heaven fixing the gaze and beckoning the feet of the saints by the Object revealed there. Judaism is thus ended for us; the law with its unrent veil is set aside; and the way is opened for Jew and Gentile to be brought together as heirs of a better inheritance than the law could speak of.

But even now this will only gradually be realized; and the riches of grace will only by degrees pass into the actual possession of those to whom they are destined.