(Read Acts 2:1-8, 12-18, 22-24, 32-47)
This chapter, as we all are aware, gives us the history, the divine history, of the birthday of the church of God. To speak about the church of God is to speak about a difficult subject. And because the doctrine of the church is encompassed with peculiar difficulty, a great many believers ignore it altogether, and confine their attention and their service to individual Christian life. Nevertheless the church of God has a paramount claim upon every believer, whatever the difficulty may be to understand its present position in the light of God's word. Moreover, the greatness of the difficulty is, after all, a matter of fancy rather than of reality.
The Exaltation of Christ
Whatever then the difficulty may be in understanding ecclesiastical truth, and in conforming to it, the subject is of the utmost consequence to each believer for the reason that the church of God is associated with two great facts of scripture history — two facts which are of transcendent importance.
The first fact is the exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ. His glory in the heavens lies far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named. There God the Father has conferred upon Jesus of Nazareth the highest dignity and glory. He Whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain is in that place of ineffable glory. The Man Christ Jesus, the One Who was crucified, the One Who was in the grave, is now at the right hand of the throne of God, and all power is given unto Him in heaven and in earth.
Because of this fact the church was founded. The church began upon earth because the Lord Jesus Christ was glorified in heaven. The church was formed here, but there was a living connection between the company of believers so formed upon the earth and the Lord Jesus Christ in glory. You cannot match this fact throughout all the wonderful revealings of Holy Scripture; and therefore I say that the church of God has a unique claim upon you and upon me because of this character.
The Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God, and the church upon the earth is connected with Him there. Moreover, I, as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, form, apart from any action of my own, apart from any choice of my own, an integral portion of that church, and as such I am associated with Him there in heaven. It is a thought which ought to awaken the deepest chords of praise and thanksgiving to God that such a thing could be. You may say that heaven is far away, that it is a long distance from Wildfell Hall to the right hand of the throne of God, and you may think that because it is so far away you may neglect it without personal loss, and that it need not concern you now. But if you despise the privileges arising from this fact, you will miss the personal blessings they bring.
The Descent of the Holy Spirit
The other historical fact, which we also have in this chapter, is that as surely as the Lord Jesus Christ is there on the right hand of the throne of God, the Holy Spirit of God, the third Person of the blessed Trinity, is here upon the earth; and His habitation upon the earth is that house which He Himself formed at Pentecost, the church of God. The Spirit dwells not in temples made with hands; He is not to be found in those vast architectural wonders, raised by man in the name of the Lord. Jesus Christ, but He is veritably dwelling here in that unseen temple made holy by His presence. Is it not an incomprehensible marvel that the Spirit of God should be dwelling here? Night and day, week by week, year after year, He is here in this world, for He came at Pentecost, not on a transient visit, but to abide.
How terrible to ignore this fact! We read in this second of Acts that the sin of the Jew in denying and rejecting the Son of God was great and heinous in God's sight. What then must be the gravity of the sin of Christendom today in denying — denying in practice, if not in profession — the holy presence of the Spirit of God amongst the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ? How few believe Him to be dwelling, not only in one here and one there, but dwelling in them all corporately, uniting them in one perfect company, however spread abroad upon the earth; and each and all being in consequence associated with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head in glory of the church!
We must, in order to have right and holy thoughts concerning the nature of the church of God, take fast hold of these two central truths. The Lord Jesus Christ is at God's right hand; and having given Him that heavenly glory, God has also given Him for His own special possession a called-out people, which is His church; and in order to maintain that church, in order to support, to feed, to energise that feeble company of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit of God is sent down here. The world cannot see Him nor receive Him, but you and I, if we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, are bound to acknowledge His presence — to listen to Him, to give Him place, to heed Him for our guidance, to be under His continual sway. If we do so we shall then enjoy that sweet and gracious fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ in heaven of which the world knows nothing, but which those know best who humble themselves most and allow the gracious Spirit of God to do with them what He will.
Waiting for the Promise of the Father
In reading this chapter we find that there was in Jerusalem a waiting company of people, very small in number, probably less in number than there are in this hall tonight, but they were assembled in Jerusalem, and were all animated by a common interest and a common purpose. Everyone in that company had a personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ; and their latest knowledge of Him was that ten days before He had led them out as far as Bethany and while speaking to them there He was parted from them. As He ascended up into the heavens out of their sight, the strings of their hearts almost broke. He, the One Who loved them so, the One Who had spoken to them words that never man had spoken before, the One Who had died for them and risen again, was leaving them. He was fading from their sight, and they stood gazing and gazing, and hoping that He might immediately return. They were comforted, as we know, by the two angels, who told them not to stand gazing into heaven, for in due time the Lord would certainly come back.
But before that happy event there was something of profound importance to take place; and the words of their Master came afresh to their ears and to their memories. For He had bidden them to go into Jerusalem and to wait there for the promise of the Father, "which", said He, "you have heard of Me." Now they remembered what was said to them in the upper room after the institution of the Lord's Supper. The Lord had then made the astounding statement, "It is expedient for you that I go away"; and they needed some faith and enlightenment to understand how such a thing could be. "It is better for you that I go away, than that I should stay here. I go to prepare a place for you." This was blessed news to hear of a place for them in the Father's house, but in connection with the expediency, He said, "If I go not away, the Comforter will not come, the other Comforter. The One Who is coming will come to take My place, and He will be to you even more than I have been. He will dwell with you, not for three years, but will abide with you for ever. He will be with you, never to leave you. He will be with you in any place where you may be, no matter how widely separated on the face of the earth; and He, the Spirit of truth, will guide you into all truth."
Accordingly they went back to Jerusalem, to wait there for the promise of the Father, as the Lord had bidden them. How did the disciples wait? What was their attitude, while waiting? We find they spent their time in prayer. They were in the temple blessing God, as Luke tells us in his Gospel; but here in the Acts we find them continuing in prayer and supplication, not each in his private chamber praying separately, but each and all assembled together. They were praying that the words of the Master might be fulfilled, that the promise of the Father might be given. The Lord had said to them, "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?" Accordingly those who were there had the authority of the Lord to ask God to give them the Holy Spirit. We find it on record that they prayed and God did send Him. Therefore, it is no use for us to quote the passage in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 11:13) as the scripture which gives us warrant to ask God to send the Holy Spirit now. Those one hundred and twenty persons who were assembled took their stand upon that promise. They prayed and received the answer, and we shall be centuries behind the time if we now ask for the Holy Spirit to be sent. He is here. How grievous to neglect His presence!
Early Morning Prayer
The disciples waited day after day in that attitude. When the fiftieth day came, the day of Pentecost, there they were all together, very early in the morning, because it was only the third hour of the day (9 a.m.) when Peter began his address. That day they had learned the happy experience of an early morning prayer meeting. Those who have taken part in such early meetings know what freshness they have; they know the preciousness of the occasion; they know the power there is in the prayers. Persons who leave their beds in earnest self-denial that they may be together very early to wait unitedly upon God for His blessing are never disappointed. It is a true saying, that God is no man's debtor. He is no debtor to you nor to me. If we give up anything for Him, oh, how much He gives us in return! If you have not proved this goodness of His, prove it now for yourselves — "Prove Me now herewith" — God gives us the challenge to prove Him.
Here, then, is a notable instance of God's faithfulness. Those men and women were unitedly praying for the outpouring of the Spirit, that the promised Spirit should come; and He came while they were together. He came suddenly. The Holy Spirit came down to this prepared company, as in the early part of the New Testament we find the Son of God coming to a prepared company. The way of the Lord had been prepared by John the Baptist. At his preaching sinful men had repented of their sins and had been baptized in Jordan, confessing those sins. There stood this company of penitents feeling what sinners they were in God's sight. And to that prepared company Jesus, the One Who should save His people from their sins, came at the appointed moment to be baptized also. Then the Father witnessed that His beloved Son was there, and, as He came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended and abode upon Him.
Sound and Sight and Speech
Now we have the Holy Spirit of God coming to this prepared company in Jerusalem, who were waiting for Him. There were audible signs that the Holy Spirit had come. There was the sound of a rushing mighty wind. They heard His presence, but He was unseen. He was "blowing" whithersoever He pleased (John 3:8), but He was undoubtedly present where they were assembled.
It was specially needful at the outset that it should be made perfectly clear to those assembled that the Holy Spirit had arrived. Hence there were not only audible but visible signs also, for there appeared to the disciples cloven tongues like as of fire. There were not many spirits present. There was but One, for the word says "it sat upon each of them." The tongues were cloven or divided, the reason for which we soon learn. The disciples were made able to speak with other tongues, the Spirit giving utterance to each one as it pleased Him. The wonderful works of God, the fact that Jesus Christ was glorified at God's right hand could not now be confined to one nation; God's exalted Christ must be proclaimed to all men everywhere. Hence they received power from the Spirit to speak with a variety of tongues for that purpose, but while there was diversity of utterance there was one directing Power. The same Holy Spirit rested upon each of them and of His power gave power to each, ensuring unity of action in their witness for Christ. Thus was the great fact substantiated that the Holy Spirit had come, and Peter stood up to speak under the influence and power of the newly-come Spirit.
When Solomon's house was dedicated the cloud of glory filled it, and that glory was so great that the priests could not stand to minister because of the glorious presence of Jehovah in His earthly and material temple. Now the Holy Spirit had come down and formed another house, a spiritual temple, wherein He was to dwell. And now His was a genial gracious influence. None were overpowered by the presence of the Spirit. None were afraid of His manifestations in their midst.
The disciples were all under the power of the Holy Spirit and were filled with Him, but the influence of the Spirit upon them was of a character that was suited to the faith and love within them. For they were prepared for the reception of the Holy Spirit Who had now come. And what had prepared them? The Lord Jesus Christ had drawn together this company by His own words. He came unto His own things, but His own people received Him not. Then He gathered together those who believed on Him; they came to Him and He taught them. He made them His own company. They loved Him; they welcomed Him when in the course of His ministry He came to them. Lazarus and Martha and Mary did not follow the Lord in His wanderings, but oh, how pleased they were when He visited their house!
The Blood and the Oil
And so, as the result of the Lord's own service there was this company in Jerusalem which belonged to Him. But there was now a special feature which marked this company. The great fact, never true before in the world's history, was that the Lord Jesus Christ had died for their sins. He had shed His precious blood. The work of eternal redemption had been accomplished by Him. The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleansed them from every stain. These men and women were all clean, whiter than snow, purged in conscience by the efficacious blood of the Lord Jesus. This waiting company in Jerusalem was composed of prepared persons.
In the old types, the blood of the sacrificial victim was put on the ear and the hand and the toe at the consecration of a priest and the cleansing of a leper. Wherever there was sprinkling upon a person, the blood came first, and then the oil was applied upon the blood. The figure of the Holy Spirit followed the figure of Christ's work of atonement and purging; and it was so historically at Pentecost.
These people assembled in Jerusalem, and praying, were a purged people. They were made clean by the work of Christ and, therefore, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and took them up for His immediate service. At once they began to speak with other tongues. They all were clean vessels filled with the Spirit for His use.
Announcing the Ascended Christ
And Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, spoke to the multitude. What was the great subject of Peter's preaching that day? He said many weighty things, according to the short account we have here. But the keynote of it all was this, that the One Who had just been crucified and slain in this world, God had now exalted in heaven. The apostle brought home their guilt to them, "You with wicked hands have crucified and slain Him, Jesus of Nazareth. You know what He did among you; you know that He was a Man approved of God. God set His seal upon Him; everything He did showed that He was God's righteous Son, yet you took Him and put Him upon the tree. Now God has exalted Him to His own right hand."
And Peter's soul was filled with the glory of his Master. Taught by the newly-come Spirit, he was speaking of the work and excellence of the Lord Jesus Christ. He said nothing about himself, nothing about the church, but the one theme of his heart was the glory of Christ — what the Jews had done in despising Him, what God had done because He was so dear to Him. "This is My beloved Son", the Father said with the voice that came out of the glory-cloud upon the Mount of Transfiguration. The Lord Jesus was now taken up into the glory. He was now glorified with that glory which He had along with the Father before the world was.
And from that day to this, Christ, once crucified and now glorified, has been the central theme of the Spirit's testimony. If you listen to anyone speaking to you, and find that the subject, the discourse, the theme, is not in accordance with the theme we have here, the exceeding glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, you may set it upon one side as being of very third-rate value. The real value of testimony by the church of God to the world is measured by the value it sets upon Christ.
What a subject for the preacher! If we had even a thousand tongues, how feebly could we tell out the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ! Yet the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ is the A B C of the church's lesson book, and the church should be growing in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ all the while she is here.
Christ is also the test for each individual. I do appeal to you to consider what place the Lord Jesus Christ has in your heart. Does your heart thrill at the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? Are your energies given up to Him? Is He first and foremost in your life? What is He to you daily? I do not ask whether you have been delivered from your sins, or whether God answers your prayers and gives you joy in your heart from the happy circumstances granted you from day to day. But I do ask what is Christ to your inmost affections? Have you anything in your heart that answers to this first appeal by the apostle of the Lord to the Jews at Jerusalem?
Peter declared that the exaltation of Christ explained everything: "Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted . . . He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear." The Lord Jesus was above; hence there was power below. The people said, "These men are drunken, they are full of new wine." Of course they were not; it was absurd to suppose such a thing at that early hour of the day. But it never entered into their minds that the marvels of the tongues were due to the One Who was recently crucified and Who was now in supreme power at the right hand of God. Being astray as to the truth about Christ the Jews could not understand what was taking place.
Hence we see this great concourse of people gathered together in Jerusalem, full of amazement at what they were hearing, each in his own tongue, concerning the wonderful works of God. They ask, "What meaneth this?" And the answer is, "Jesus Christ is exalted and glorified." This fact Peter makes known to them in his powerful speech. What he said was shared by all those with him, for the church at Pentecost was characterised by this special feature that they were one and all full of the importance of the exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ, as revealed to them by the newly-descended and indwelling Spirit of God.
The Effects of the Ascension
I really believe there are a great many Christians who never get further than the apostles at Bethany. They do not in their experience pass from Acts 1 to Acts 2. There they stand gazing up into heaven while the clouds hide the Master from their sight, and they say to themselves, "He is gone so far away from us." They do not understand what the ascension of Christ has secured for them. They have not yet listened to the voice of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, telling them from the word of God that far beyond those clouds, through all the heavens, Jesus the Son of God has passed; and He is now seated on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.
What a difference this knowledge makes to me! I know that yon Glorified One is my Saviour, that He is the One Who died for me, and that He is the One Who has united me with Himself by the Holy Spirit. What is the whole world to me in comparison with this knowledge? There is nothing on earth to match it.
And I repeat that this truth is of immense importance. If you forget everything else which is being, said, do not forget that the reason for the church of God being here in the world from the day of Pentecost to the present time is because Jesus Christ is exalted, and that the beginning of the church synchronized with the exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit.
This is the first and foremost thought that should fill the heart of every member of the body of Christ, the church of God. Moreover, the Holy Spirit abides here to keep the hearts of the saints in practical touch with Jesus Christ on the throne. This is a fact, beloved friends. When I say it is a fact, I mean it is something that has been done, that is accomplished. The presence of the Holy Ghost on earth is as true a fact as Jesus Christ dying on the cross and now glorified on high. Is it not so?
Yet how many people get to the cross but never get any further. They do not get into the heavens by faith and rejoice in what is there for them. They hope to go some time or other to the place of many mansions, but the fact does not enter into the minds of everyone that Jesus Christ is already there, and that He is glorified by the Father, and that because He has been exalted the Holy Ghost is here as that "other Comforter" for them individually, while He also dwells in the church as the temple of God.
In the verses at the close of this chapter, we have some of the characteristics of this newly-formed community in Jerusalem, and we will now turn to these.
The Expansion of the Church
Peter makes it quite clear to his audience that this great gift of the Holy Ghost was not for a privileged few only. It was not to be confined to those who attended the early morning prayer-meeting; but it was for others too if they repented and were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. And the result of the apostle's preaching was that men were pricked to the very heart.
It was the Lord's Day morning, and one of unexampled blessing for the believers; but it was not a pleasant experience for those who were listening to Peter's words. His words pierced their consciences like drawn swords, and they were convicted of guilt. They said, "We are sinners", and this is no pleasant feeling. Peter said, "You are amenable to God's just judgment", and they felt it was true, for they had killed the Prince of life. "If what you say is true, that we have crucified the One Whom God has exalted to His right hand, what are we to do?" Then Peter said, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of that One you have crucified. Save yourselves from this untoward generation."
As the result of this testimony, there were three thousand persons united to the original company. And the converts withdrew themselves from the evil and adulterous generation that had despised the Lord of glory and crucified Him. Thus the Lord added to that new assembly formed in Jerusalem three thousand souls in one day, showing what great things His Holy Spirit had done. Of course, He can do similar mighty works still. And I believe He is even now saving more than three thousand souls in one day, if we consider His work all over the world. But He does not do this in one place, because the people of that particular place would probably become very exalted in mind. They would not be able to bear such a great work of the Spirit in their midst without despising other places not so favoured.
We may be sure, however, that the Spirit of God is never idle. He is ever at work drawing souls to Christ, and will continue to do so until the church is complete. Nevertheless, we have before us in scripture the fact that three thousand souls were drawn to Christ, and added to the church formed at Pentecost. We see this new company in Jerusalem, apart from the high priests, Annas and Caiaphas, from all the Sanhedrin, from the scribes and lawyers and great men, and from the crowds in Jerusalem come up to keep the feast of weeks. There was the temple and its courts with the lowing of the oxen and bleating of the sheep for sacrifice; but divinely considered, it was a desolate place. Here in this little company in some back street of Jerusalem was the Holy Spirit, not in that magnificent building which took Herod forty-six years to complete. The Spirit of God passed by the temple made with hands, and came to blood-bought, blood-washed souls, to dwell in them. Oh, what an honour!
We stand in wonder as we see the cloud of Jehovah's glory in the temple on Mount Moriah in the days of Solomon long past, but there is a greater wonder here. The Spirit of God comes to dwell amongst fishermen, common people, ordinary folk of daily life. But why to these? What characterised them was not their wealth, not their position in society, not their external piety, not even their exceptional devotion to their Lord and Master; but the one special feature about them, one and all, was love, regard, adoration for the Lord Jesus Christ
Blessing and Praising
If we really believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, the One Who loved us and died for us, is at God's right hand in heaven, we are constrained to praise and worship Him. If we recognise His position in the highest glory, ought we not to show it, ought we not to sing His praises, ought we not to recount His excellences? Beloved friends, it is a sad day when the saints of God have to pump His praises out of their hearts. They should bubble up spontaneously (cp. Ps. 45:1, margin). You ought to praise Him because you cannot help it, because your heart, as it were, refuses to be silent. You love Him so much that you want to tell Him how much you love and adore Him. Oh, let us not forget to praise the One Whom God has so highly exalted.
With One Accord
We find that this little company of believers was quite apart, quite separate from all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They continued together "with one accord." Before the Holy Ghost came they had various ideas, as we read, for instance, in the last chapter of John. There we read that some of the apostles said, "Let us go fishing", but they were not all of this mind, only a few of them went. There was nothing in this project to give the whole band a common interest, and to act "with one accord." Now they act as one; and what is it that keeps them together in this unity?
Now let us carefully consider this question. What will keep together those who quarrelled for precedence on the night of the Lord's betrayal? At Pentecost we have the company at its beginning, together "with one accord." There is no contentious talk, no disorderly conduct; but we see a united church in its primitive simplicity and power. What is it that keeps them all continuing steadfastly together? That unseen presence, the presence of the Holy Spirit of God.
When the blessed Lord Jesus Christ came into the house in Bethany, Mary could see Him, and Martha could see Him. None can see the Holy Spirit in the house of God. He is in the church, but He is invisible. We can observe only the effects of His presence. And the one invariable effect of the presence of the Holy Spirit is that all eyes are directed by Him to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. In this way all hearts, all minds, all mouths are united, and all act "with one accord", the glory of the Lord being the governing motive of each and all.
No babe in Christ need ever go wrong about the working of the Holy Spirit. What is not in accord with the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ may with safety and certainty be rejected. It is not of the Holy Spirit, and it cannot help you. But if a person is doing all he can to make you think better of the Lord Jesus Christ, you say, "He is right. I want a little more of this. It is the apostles' teaching, and will suit me very well." The doctrine of Christ is the test given us in scripture to decide what doctrine is of God, and what is of man.
The Apostles' Doctrine
The disciples "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." We must not think this continuance refers to the first day only. It means they went on in this way. These were the new habits of the disciples of Christ.
The Holy Spirit gave them a new power of understanding the scriptures as well as new revelations of truth. In the Old Testament time God had given the prophets, and the writings of Moses, and the Psalms. And those who were gathered together were familiar with the Old Testament scriptures. But we read that they continued in the apostles' doctrine, and the apostles' doctrine means the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which they delivered to the saints at the beginning. But perhaps we may say more about this subject later.
Coupled with the apostles' doctrine is fellowship. Fellowship is a beautiful word, and one of peculiar significance to the church of God. Briefly it just means that everyone who is in the church of God has a common interest and a common title founded upon the person and the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence those who are in the church of God are irresistibly drawn together; and the Holy Spirit works in them all for the spiritual well-being of the community as a whole.
If I am looking out for a person that I like, who has a fellow-feeling with myself, for whom I have a personal affinity, probably I can find but very few who are suitable. Fellowship in that sense would necessarily be very limited, but in the church of God there is no limitation of that kind at all. The fellowship that is spoken of here in Acts 2 is that all who were brought together into that new company loved the Lord Jesus Christ, all had been equally cleansed and redeemed by His precious blood, all had been put on a common platform as belonging to Him, all had received the Holy Spirit, and each and all formed part of that new creation by Him. The apostle Paul speaks later on of the church under the figure of the body, and we know that each member of the body of Christ is a member of the body equally with the rest. It may have to perform a special function of its own, but so far as the common interest and interdependence are concerned all are alike. And this fellowship is the particular feature of the assembly that we find here.
Breaking of Bread
The breaking of bread is also mentioned at the very first. I wonder if the disciples observed the breaking of bread on the very day of Pentecost. We are not told that they did, but that they continued in it afterwards. At any rate, it was no doubt a great experience for the eleven apostles especially to carry out the Lord's wishes in this respect. Just a few weeks before, the Lord had asked them to eat the bread and to drink the wine in remembrance of Him. Now they do it for the first time as the church. The memorial was very real to them. The apostles could recall His very looks when He said, "This do in remembrance of Me." The very tone of His voice was fresh to their memories in those early days. The Holy Spirit also made the recalling to mind of His death real too, because they had not to depend entirely upon their own memories. One of His functions was to bring to their remembrance the things which the Lord had said. Therefore, unspoiled by sinful neglect or coldness, or even lukewarmness, it was their happy experience in the power of an ungrieved Spirit to remember the Lord in the way of the breaking of bread. Moreover, they continued steadfastly in eating the Lord's supper. There must have been a special sweetness and joy and power about the celebration in those first fresh days of the communion of the body of Christ.
They continued steadfastly in the breaking of bread. They were not content with an occasional observance. And do not let anything trivial keep us from the breaking of bread. Let us do it continually and steadfastly It is sweet today, and as real as it was at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit of God is still here, and the Lord is still true to His promise, "Where two or three are gathered together unto My Name, there am I in the midst of them."
In addition to the breaking of bread they continued in prayers too. This does not mean individual prayers offered at any time and in private. It refers to the definite prayers of the assembled company, as such, because they could now all pray together as one. What had made them one? The Holy Spirit of God. They were united in heart and desire by Him, Who intercedes for them according to God (Rom. 8:27).
I am sure we do not realise, sufficiently what power there is in the assembly prayer-meeting. The prayer of those whose petitions are united in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ must bring down much blessing. Nothing can keep blessing away from the saints in their walk and service when the church of God prays in its corporate character and privilege and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Let us then continue steadfastly in the prayer-meeting like these people of old. If you stay away from the prayer-meeting, of course you will not get anything of the corporate blessings they did. You do not want these gifts of grace, and so you do not unite to pray for them! We attend because we are poor, empty vessels, and want to be filled. We also have the priestly privilege of interceding for others. And we are sure to succeed because we know the grace of our God, and because we bring to Him a Name which He will not on any account disown or disclaim.
The Expression of Unity
"And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul. . . . And all that believed were together, and had all things common." Their collective behaviour reflected the unity there was in this new company, and behind it was the power of the Holy Spirit making them suppress all selfish interests and act as one. They were all together, and they had all things common.
Moreover, they sold their worldly possessions, showing that their faith and hope was in a heavenly Christ, Whose kingdom was not of this world. A Jew who believed in the immediate coming of the kingdom on earth would not like to part with his freehold. He would wish to retain his inheritance in the land until Messiah reigned on the throne. But these believers had learned the "better" thing that Christ gives. They had a "better" inheritance, undefiled, unfailing, reserved in heaven for them.
They "parted them to all men, as every man had need." The mind of Christ was in them, and they thought of others, not of themselves. The Holy Spirit had come down and His first business, so to speak, was to fill them with self-denying love like the Master. For Who was it that, when He saw a pearl of great price, sold all that He had that He might have it? It was the Lord Jesus, Who, though He was rich, for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich. The Holy Spirit casts out all selfishness from their hearts. Hence there was in these acts of humility and self-denial a lovely representation reproduced in Jerusalem of the Man Whom the Jews had killed and crucified. In the hearts and lives of His followers the meek and lowly Saviour was living again in that guilty city.
Is there a similar testimony today? If we belong to Him, let us have the ways of Christ, our Master. Let it not be said that the members of the body cast shame upon the Head; but let the Head direct all their words and acts, and may His Spirit fill all those that are united with Him in glory.
Valuing Church Truth
I close by impressing upon you to keep it much before your heart that the truth of the church of God is the most precious revelation in God's holy word. I say this with all due consideration. Israel was and is very precious to God; although the chosen nation is now wandering homeless on the face of the earth, its place of ultimate blessing is here on the earth, while the ordained place of the church is association with Christ in glory. And we have this assured destiny before us. We have the certain hope of sharing His glory. While waiting for the fulfilment of this hope, we are privileged to share Christ's rejection by the world. Presently His glories will be shared by us because we are connected with Him in His heavenly exaltation. All this and much more is associated with our place in the church of God.
Lest we should allow the difficulties and perplexities of assembly life in its present dark and broken condition to obliterate from our hearts the real nature of the church of God about us, the truth concerning it abides unchanged in the scriptures. And we should accustom ourselves to look at things relating to the assembly in the way that God looks at them in His word. We need to have His mind about the church in its entirety, and therefore let us ever go back in thought to the beginning of its history. Oh, for those days of Pentecost! Let us look back with satisfaction and praise upon what happened on that memorable day, when the Holy Spirit came down from heaven and took up His abode in the hearts of saints individually and collectively upon the earth — and He is remaining here to this day. Moreover, that Holy One will abide until the church is numerically complete, and the Lord Jesus comes to claim His body and His bride, and to take all that are His to be with Him for evermore.