J. N. Darby.
Chapter 6, 7
The Acts of the Apostles are a continuation of the Gospel of Luke, and are written by the same Evangelist. The discourses, whether of Peter or of Paul, have their source in the heavenly commission which is found at the end of that Gospel. It is not necessary, I hope, to say that the whole is given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, because each of the evangelists has been employed by God to present us with a different aspect of the history of the Lord; and each has accomplished, with the help of the Spirit, the work assigned to him by God. For example, in Matthew we find much more the dispensations of God, and the Lord as Emmanuel in the midst of Israel on the earth. In Luke, after the first two chapters, we have the Son of man, and the ways of God in grace and the blessings of the present time. Then again, in Matthew, the ascension of the Lord is not recounted, and the commission given to the apostles comes from a risen Jesus, and is addressed to the Gentiles as though the residue of the Jews were already received in grace. The Lord, in Luke, is about to ascend into heaven, and goes there while speaking to them, blessing them with a heavenly blessing; and the commission is addressed to all - first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. The disciples were to begin in Jerusalem; and this work - the accomplishment of their mission - is what is found recounted in Acts.
Let us follow the course of this story, which is essentially the history of the activity of the apostles Peter and Paul: the first among the Jews, and in the foundation of the church at Jerusalem; and the other among the Gentiles, although he always addressed himself first to the Jews. The first was one of His eleven disciples who had followed the Lord on the earth, till the cloud received Him and took Him from their sight. The last, Paul, an open enemy to the name of Christ, and converted in sovereign grace while he was occupied in the destruction, if possible, of that name, only saw Him in the glory, and went out to call the Gentiles to the faith: marvellous witness of the sovereign grace of God, and of a glory which renders a magnificent testimony to the perfect and accepted work of Christ, to which believers are led by faith in Him and in His work. Both these two great apostles laid the same foundation of the salvation preached, that there is but one Saviour and one work by which we may be saved.
320 Now the grand and important fact, on which all the history depends, is the descent of the Holy Spirit. Doubtless, in all Biblical history, the responsibility of man is found, as well as the ways of God, through the deeds and weakness of man; but nevertheless the presence of the Holy Spirit on the earth, sent by the Father and by the Son of man, and dwelling in the faithful and in the house of God, is of immense importance. It is only when God has accomplished redemption that He comes to dwell in the midst of men. He did not dwell with Adam in his innocence, nor with Abraham, nor with any, till He had brought Israel out of Egypt, and had rescued them from the hands of the king of Egypt, in whose hands they were prisoners; then He came to dwell in their midst in the cloud, and the tabernacle was filled with His glory.
Thus, as soon as the Son of man is gone into heaven to sit down at the right hand of God, having accomplished the work of redemption, the Holy Spirit descends according to His promise of the Comforter, and the baptism of the Spirit is realised. Sent from the Father, He cries, "Abba, Father," in the hearts of those who have received Him. Sent by the Son from the Father, He reveals the glory of Him, the man in heaven; and, more than that, forms the body of Christ joining the members to the head, so that he "that is joined to the Lord is one spirit," dwelling in the believer, and also in the universal congregation of believers, so that they are together the habitation of God. It is evident that this truth is of immense importance; the spiritual liberty given to the child of God, the unity of the assembly of God, and the union of the children of God, all depend on the presence of the Spirit, as all are founded on the work of the Saviour on the cross. Then this truth reveals the state of the external church where He dwells, because she has grieved the Spirit, and has been - and has acted - in a manner altogether contrary to what He would have her be and do, so much so that the judgment of God is ready to fall upon her.
Since I have spoken of the descent of the Holy Spirit, it must be understood that the "new birth" is not the point here (though that may be accomplished by the same Spirit), but rather the personal coming of the Spirit, when the Son of man ascended into heaven. The Holy Spirit has worked divinely since the foundation of the world. He it was who moved upon the face of the waters, who inspired the prophets, who has been the immediate instrument of all that God has done on the earth and in the heavens. But He only came here below when the Son of man went to sit down at the right hand of God (John 7:37-39), and is only received when we believe (Eph. 1:13; Gal. 4:6). This is seen also clearly elsewhere: we are sealed when we have believed, and especially when we have believed in the value of the blood of Christ. Washed in this precious blood, we are fit to be the habitation of the Spirit of God. "Know ye not," says the apostle Paul, "that your bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit which ye have from God?" As when the leper was cleansed and purified under the law, he was first washed with water, then sprinkled with blood, then anointed with oil (Lev. 14:8-9, and 14-18) - clear figure of our purification by means of the word of God when we are converted and born again, then of the sprinkling of the blood of Christ, and finally of the anointing of the Holy Spirit by which we are sealed for the day of final redemption.
321 Also all gifts, the exercise of which is found in the church, are the manifestation of the Holy Spirit who works there. But here, in the Acts, the exposition of the operations of the Spirit is not found, but the fact itself of His coming in order to work.
Let us now come to the examination of the narrative itself. This begins with the great truth of which we have already spoken. The disciples were to wait at Jerusalem for the baptism of the Holy Ghost. We shall find again the proof of another precious truth. The Lord, after His resurrection, gave commissions to His disciples by the Holy Ghost. We shall not lose the Holy Ghost when we are raised again: truth perhaps simple, but which makes us feel how great will be our capacity for happiness in that state. Now a great portion of our spiritual strength is employed to enable us to walk in integrity, in spite of the flesh and the temptations of the enemy; but then neither the one nor the other will exist. All the power of the Spirit in us will be employed in rendering us fit for the infinite felicity we shall find there. We shall enjoy it according to the strength of the Spirit, as Christ gave gifts by the Spirit to His disciples after His resurrection.
322 Remark now the intimacy of the Lord with His disciples. He spoke of the things belonging to the kingdom of God. Christ is now glorified, but His heart, full of divine love, is not removed, is not any the farther away from His own. When He appeared to Saul, He said, "I am Jesus of Nazareth whom thou persecutest." He speaks to Ananias with authority it is true, but as with a friend, opening His heart respecting Saul, and sending Ananias to speak to him.
He was not ashamed to call His disciples friends on the earth; He is not ashamed to treat them as friends now. Immense blessing! To feel that the Lord of glory is near to us, that He holds us as friends and loved ones, and that He can feel compassion also for our infirmities.
The disciples expected still the visible kingdom of the Lord in Israel; their hearts were still Jewish. They quite believed that He had risen again, but expected that their hopes of the restoration of Israel as a nation would be realised by the Lord, now that He had come out of the sepulchre. The Lord did not tell them that the kingdom would not be restored to Israel; but that it did not concern them to know the times and seasons which the Father had put in His own power. The kingdom shall be restored to Israel - when is not revealed. The Son of man will come in an hour when He is not expected. He sits at the right hand of God the Father till His enemies shall be made His footstool. In the meantime He gathers His co-heirs, those who are content to suffer with Him; and caught up into glory we shall reign with Him. It is not revealed then, it was not revealed to the disciples - the hour of the Saviour's return; but they should receive, said the Lord, not many days hence, the power of the Holy Ghost, which should come on them, and they should be witnesses to Him in Jerusalem, in Judaea, in Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth. And, having said these things, He was taken up, while they beheld, and a cloud received Him and took Him away out of their sight. They were to be eyewitnesses as far as this point of His heavenly glory. The Holy Ghost was sent after Him (see John 15:26-27). We shall find later that Saul saw Him in His heavenly glory for the first time, of which thing he was to be the special witness. How the Holy Ghost has rendered clear testimony to this glory, we shall see in the discourses in the Acts; and again it may be seen in the epistles of Peter and elsewhere.
323 But here is found, before the coming of the Holy Ghost, a very remarkable testimony rendered by means of angels. The disciples had their eyes fixed on the heavens while Jesus was going there. This was very natural. The beloved Saviour, given back to them from the grave, was, apparently at least, abandoning them again - for heaven, it is true, which ought to have strengthened their faith. He had left a promise of the power of the Spirit, which, however, had not yet come; and therefore the consciousness and direction of this power, which was to reveal all the truth, was wanting to them. He had gone away, and what should they do? They must wait.
And as their eyes were then fixed on the heavens, behold, two by appearance men, but in reality angels, stood beside them, asking why they looked up into heaven, and making them the revelation of His return. A fact very remarkable, since the Lord had, after the Lord's supper, made known to the disciples that He was going to the Father; and the first consolation He gave His disciples was that He would come again and take them to Himself in the Father's house, where He was going to prepare them a place; then He speaks of the presence of the Comforter which was to be accomplished. There He speaks of His coming to introduce His own into the Father's house; here, of His glorious appearing, when He will make Himself seen from the place where He has gone. There He Himself speaks of the special privilege of His own according to His personal affection which He had for them. He wished to console them, His heart had need of them; He desired to have them near to Himself, in the same glory, so that they might see His glory, but especially that, where He was, there they might be also. Here it is His return in glory, which would be like His going away.
This was the disciples' first consolation, once they were deprived of His presence. Then another Comforter would be given to dwell with them meanwhile here below. But whether in the declaration on the part of the Lord in His love, or in the revelation made by the angels, the first thing in the Saviour's heart and in the revelations of God is that He will come again. Immense is the gift of the Spirit during His absence, and for ever immense is the nature of the state in which redemption has placed the assembly of God here below: but its hope is, and the height of its joy will be, to see the Saviour as He is, to be always with Him, like Him, to see and to be for ever with Him who does love us and has washed us from our sins in His own blood, and to see Him face to face! Greatest blessing, too great for us, if not the fruit of something still greater - the cross and the sufferings of the Son of God.
324 Once this blessed Saviour has suffered, and the Son of God has been made sin for us, and has died as a man on the cross, nothing is too great; it will only be the fruit of the travail of His soul. He shall be satisfied; His love shall be satisfied in our happiness and in our presence with Him. Look only at Zephaniah 3:17, where the love and the glory are inferior to this: "Jehovah thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love; he will joy over thee with singing." The Father will rest in His love, and in the accomplishment of all His counsels for the glory of His Son; showing, at the same time, in the ages to come, the excellency of the riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. Such is our expectation.
The disciples return to Jerusalem, and live there together in an upper chamber. They persevered with one consent in supplication and prayer, with the women and with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and His brethren. But the effect of the promise of the Father is only found in chapter 2. All that we have at the end of chapter 1 is connected with a Jewish situation; that is, with the condition of the disciples before the coming of the Spirit, yet possessing an understanding which had been opened by the Lord to understand the word. They had not the power of the Spirit, but intelligence of the word; because their standing was in relation with Christ raised up from the dead, they were enlightened by the divine light communicated to them after His resurrection. These verses accord perfectly with verses 14-48 of Luke 24. Then comes the promise of the Spirit, the accomplishment of which is found in chapter 2.
The well-known active energy of Peter employs the knowledge given by the Lord, applying Psalm 109 to Judas, whose office, says the psalm, another should take. They drew lots, according to Jewish custom, leaving the decision in the hands of God. Matthias is chosen and added to the eleven apostles. Verses 18, 19 are a parenthesis. The sabbath-day's journey, the lots, and all the circumstances, show clearly the actual state of the disciples and the thought of the Holy Ghost on this step. They work with intelligence of the word of the Old Testament; but the Spirit had not yet come. It is important for us to understand the difference. The Spirit gives now intelligence (1 Cor. 2:14); but this is not of itself power.
325 The Lord is faithful to lead His own in the path of truth. His grace is sufficient, His strength is made perfect in weakness, and also He always gives us the strength necessary to accomplish His will; but the power of the Spirit is another thing. Now, we are specially called to follow His word, although we may be feeble (see what is said to the church of Philadelphia, Rev. 3).
It is impossible for Christ to fail us in our obedience, and His strength is sufficient for us. Faithful to His word, while we wait for Him in weakness, we shall be pillars in the temple of His God, when He sees the hour of glory. Yet the Holy Ghost dwells in the faithful, sealed with Him by the Father according to His promise.
THE COMING OF THE HOLY GHOST.
But the great event of which we have spoken now claims our attention - the immense fact of the coming of the Holy Ghost to dwell with the disciples of Jesus, in each, and in the midst of all together. Thus, in 1 Corinthians 3:16, the church as a universal assembly is the temple of God; and then, in 1 Corinthians 6:19, the body of the faithful is the temple of God. All those who, steadfast in Jesus, habitually gathered together were thus assembled on the day of Pentecost. We have seen (Acts 1:14), that they continued with one accord in prayer while waiting for the Comforter, promised according to the word of Jesus.
Suddenly an impetuous wind is felt, filling all the house where they sat, as the cloud filled the tabernacle, [temple] so that the priests could not enter there (1 Kings 8:11). But now men themselves composed the tabernacle where God disdained not to dwell. The blood of Jesus had purified them, and rendered them fit to be the habitation of God through the Spirit (or in Spirit) Eph. 2:22. Marvellous truth, fruit of accomplished redemption, and blessed knowledge, that a Man, much more than a man, sits at the right hand of God (John 7:39). But how beautiful is the truth, this divine fact, that - such is the effect of the death and of the blood of Christ, and of our reconciliation and purification - instead of driving away the priests by His presence, God, in grace, makes us His habitation! What a contrast between the law and the gospel!
326 But, besides this, a marvellous testimony is found in this fact to the grace of God. The presence of the Holy Ghost depended on the sitting of the Man Jesus at the right hand of God; demonstration and fruit of the accomplishment of the work of redemption. Now this could not be limited to the Jewish people. This presence was in itself a testimony to that accomplishment, and the earnest of our inheritance, Christ being dead for all, and ascending into glory. For the moment, the patience of God fulfilled the work of grace among the Jews, people of the promises; but the gospel which should be preached was for the whole world.
When the judgment of God fell on man at the tower of Babel, it dispersed them, confounding their speech; but God took Abraham, separating him from his country and from his father's house, to have a seed and then a people for Himself. During many years God endured the iniquity and unfaithfulness of this people, sending prophets, till no further remedy could be found; at last He sent His own Son, and they, as we know, rejected and crucified Him. Then the nation is put aside till the sovereign grace of God - His church, the fulness of the Gentiles, being gathered out - commences anew on the footing of the new covenant, and of the presence of the Messiah on the earth.
In the meantime He gathers together the heirs of Christ, the heavenly assembly. Thus - although for a moment the Spirit had separated in the midst of the Jews, spared as a nation by the intercession of Christ on the cross, till they should have rejected a glorified Christ in the same way that they had a crucified Christ come in humiliation: and also to gather together all those among this people that had ears to hear - it is shown by the Spirit how the God of grace was ready to overstep the limits of the chosen people and surmount the judgment of Babel, speaking to all the people in their own tongue - highest testimony of grace towards the world!
327 The barriers remained, but God surmounted them - passed over them - in order to announce the Saviour's grace and salvation unto the whole world. We also see this special gift every time that God intervenes anew, as in Samaria and in the house of Cornelius. In fact, it was impossible that a glorified Saviour should be only the Jewish Saviour. The history of this people, when they had rejected the Saviour, was finished, save by grace: and the eternal redemption of God could not be for the Jews alone.
The visible character that the Holy Ghost takes corresponds to this work. When it descended on Christ, the Spirit was like unto a dove, symbol of the meekness and sweet tranquility of Him of whom it was written, "He shall not strive nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory" (Matt. 12:19-20). But to the disciples He said, "That which I say in the darkness, tell it in the light; and that which ye have heard in the ear, proclaim it on the house-tops."
The Spirit came then as an impetuous wind, filling all the house, and as cloven tongues of fire. The partition was symbolical of the diverse languages, the fire of the penetrating power of the word of God, discerner of the thoughts and intentions of the heart. It seems to us, that not only the apostles, but all the one hundred and twenty, were invested with this power. They were all together; and the explanation given by Peter of the prophecy of Joel confirms the matter (Joel 1:14-15; Joel 2:1, 17).
They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak in strange tongues, according as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now, at Jerusalem, men of all countries were present, and the rumour of what had happened brought them together. This great crowd was astonished to hear each his own dialect, speaking together and saying, "Are not all these Galileans? How then do we hear each his own tongue?" They were in doubt, saying, "What means this?" Others, cavilling, said, "They are full of new wine." These were, especially the Jews, always prone to incredulity.
To them Peter replies, speaking firmly in their mother-tongue, and makes them understand that this was what Joel had said, prophesying that these things should happen in the last days. It is clear, on reading Joel, I doubt not, that the Holy Ghost will be poured out anew when Israel is re-established in its own land. It will then be the rain of the latter season. Remark that verse 30 of Joel 2 should come before those preceding. These things will happen before the terrible day of the Lord comes: but the blessings are after that day. Peter says, in a general way, "in the last days," and speaks of judgment as yet to come, as in fact was the case.
328 But what is important in his discourse is the presentation to the conscience of the Jews of their actual position: because, whatever the case may be, God is always clear and positive in the declaration and in the setting out of the sins of those souls where grace works. In short, this was their position; they had outraged and crucified Him whom God had set at His right hand, His own Son. Him they had put to death, and God had raised Him up, besides what had been demonstrated by the power manifested in His works. Horrible position! and we say it not only for the Jews, but for all men. Their Messiah, foundation of all their hopes, rejected; the Son of God put to death - a rupture which seemed irreparable between God and man; and on man's side, it was in fact irreparable.
All was lost. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, and mankind had refused it. Sin was there, transgression against the law was already there: God had come in grace, and man had not received Him. Now He had gone back into heaven; but, blessed be His name, the counsels of God were not frustrated: far from that, they were accomplished. Grace had won the victory; and where man had manifested his enmity against God, God had manifested His love towards man, and accomplished the work for the salvation of believers in Christ. "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by hand of lawless men have crucified and slain."
God has made use of the iniquity and enmity of man to accomplish the work of redemption. The enmity of man and the love of God were contrasted in the same fact on the cross, in the glorious manifestation that His love surpassed and surmounted the enmity of man. Woe to him who neglects and refuses this immense grace, this work alone efficacious for salvation!
329 Acts 3.
The third chapter of the Acts is remarkable in the ways of God. The declaration is not found, as in the second, of a present introduction of those who repent and confess the name of Jesus, into the blessings of the remission of sins, nor of the gift of the Holy Ghost. Peter shows, as in all his other discourses, that the death of Christ was the effect of the thoughts of God, though He was put to death by wicked hands: but rather as the accomplishment of prophecy than as the fruit of the counsels of God. The Spirit descends in virtue of the proclamation by the gospel of God's ways with Israel. The Lord, interceding on the cross for the people, had said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." His prayer was heard, and the judgment of God suspended in the design of presenting repentance to the people once more.
God knew well that the Jews, hard of heart, would not receive the merciful voice of the long-suffering of God; and had warned those who had ears to hear (Acts 2:40) to save themselves from this untoward generation. But He would not come to judge till everything possible had been done, and they had rejected a glorified Christ, as they had rejected a Christ come in humiliation here below. The Spirit, therefore, by the mouth of Peter, starting from the intercession of Christ, proposes repentance to the people, saying, that then Christ would return. The apostle enters more particularly into the sin of the Jews, and presents the facts with great power to their consciences.
It may seem strange that the apostle should speak of the repentance of all the people, and of sparing them, when the Christian assembly had already commenced, and he had warned them to avoid the judgment which was ready to fall on a people which had crucified the Lord of glory. But God knew well that the rulers of the people would render His grace vain; and reject the testimony of a glorified Christ, as they had put to death a Christ present in grace. He prosecuted His counsels according to His own knowledge, but He did not carry out the judgment of His government till everything possible had been done to spare man, inviting them to repentance.
Thus Abraham was told that his seed must descend into Egypt because the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet accomplished (Gen. 15:16). And Jeremiah (chaps. 7-14, and in other places) does precisely what Peter does; he says clearly by his prophetical knowledge that the people and the vessels of the temple would go into Babylon: at the same time he exhorts the people to repent, and that thus doing they would be spared. And it is laid down as a principle, that when Jehovah had pronounced the condemnation of a people or of a city, if that people or that city should repent of its wickedness, He would turn away from the judgment that He had pronounced (Jer. 18:7-11). Thus, then, the apostle exhorts the people to repent, and Christ would return.
330 Going up to the temple, the apostles Peter and John had healed a man, lame from his birth, who asked alms at the gate called "Beautiful." The man goes up together with the apostles, leaping and praising God; a crowd naturally gathers, as the man was well known. Peter takes advantage of the occasion to put before the eyes of the people what had been done. It was not by his own power. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of their fathers, had raised up His servant Jesus, whom they had put to death. Horrible position! what open opposition! fatal - if grace had not been there among the people of God.
It is thus that Peter always presents the truth. They had rejected Him, and God had recognised and glorified Him. And here he enters much more particularly into their sin, more than in chapter 2. He presents the facts with great power to their consciences. They had betrayed the Lord, and denied Him in the presence of Pilate when he had decided to let Him go. They had denied the Holy One and the Just, had desired a murderer, and killed the Prince of Life. But God had raised Him up - once more opposition between the people and God. The name of the risen Saviour at the right hand of God had given to the cripple the perfect health in which they saw him. And here the Spirit responds in grace to the Lord's intercession; and the apostle attributes to ignorance the terrible fact of having rejected the Lord, whether on the part of the rulers or of the people.
That which had been foreordained by God was now accomplished - the sufferings of Christ announced before by their prophets; and, if they repented, Jesus would come back: God would send Him from heaven. Those times of blessing that would be fulfilled on the earth by His presence they would have; times that might come on the Lord's side, but for which the repentance of Israel was absolutely necessary, and for which it is still necessary. That always remains true. Their house, said the Lord, should be left unto them desolate, until they should say, "Blessed be he that comes in the name of Jehovah" (Matt. 23:38, quoting Psalm 118).
331 When Israel repents, the Lord will come, and they will own that He whom they had rejected was the Lord Himself; and they will be full of sorrow and shame, but be pardoned and liberated; and all the blessings, of which the prophets have spoken, shall be fulfilled. Meanwhile heaven held Jesus hid from the eyes of men. But Peter presents this repentance to the Jews, and the present return besides.
But before he could finish his discourse, the rulers of the Jews arrive, take possession of the apostles, and throw them into prison. Jesus glorified is refused, as completely as Jesus in humiliation. All is finished for Israel, with respect to its responsibility - the marvellous patience of God, and the grace that had made intercession for the beloved people on the cross. Nothing more could be done: it only remained to carry out the judgment of a people who would not have grace. Such is the history alas! of the natural man.
Let us mark this, that here the Holy Ghost is not offered, as in the discourse of the preceding chapter, which began the new order of the ways of God; but he speaks of the return of Christ Himself to accomplish all that the prophets had said. The presence of the Holy Ghost distinguishes the time between the first and the second coming of Jesus - the present interval. I do not say that the Spirit will not be poured out after the second coming; but the coming and presence of Jesus distinguished that period, and His absence the present, as moreover the presence of another Comforter instead of Him. And this reveals to us a Christ glorified in the heavens, makes Him the object of a living faith, unites us to Him, makes us understand that we are children of God, joint-heirs with Christ, that we are in Him and He in us, and makes us members of His body, while we wait for Him to take us to Himself. The love of God, too, is shed abroad in our hearts.
Although Peter never speaks of the rapture of the saints to be with Jesus, yet we may turn to 1 Peter 1:11-13, where we find the testimony of the prophets, that of the Holy Ghost come down from heaven, and the accomplishment of the promises to happen on the appearing of Jesus - the three things which appear here. It is not a question of gathering believers to Christ, nor of the coming of the Holy Ghost. We find ourselves entirely on Jewish ground. And God, having first raised up His servant Jesus, had sent Him to bless them, that is, down here in the world; and as they would not receive Him, repentance was offered them. But the rulers interposed, resisting the Holy Ghost, just as they had refused Christ on the earth, thus sealing their own judgment. The final sentence will be found in the history of Stephen.
332 Another truth is introduced here, which is not wanting in importance in the ways of God; though it may not be equal in importance to the moral state of men which led them to reject the Lord come in grace. After this moment the throne and the government of God cannot be found on the earth. The providence of God watches over all; not even a little bird falls to the ground without His hand. But this throne does not exist on the earth, and will no more exist till the Lord Jesus, the Son of David, establishes it, till He comes to whom it belongs. The throne of God, between the cherubim, was taken away from Jerusalem when the Jews were led captive into Babylon; but a little remnant of the Jews was brought back to Jerusalem, in order to present to them again their true King, the Son of David, Jesus of Nazareth. But they would not receive Him. Thenceforward the kingdom of God is changed to the kingdom of heaven; the King is in heaven, and the kingdom is like the grain of wheat, which, once sown, springs and grows, without man's hand being applied to it (Mark 4:26). Christ works; without His grace nothing would be done; but He does not appear. He sits on the throne of God, and has not taken His own throne; He will take it when He returns.
Thrones are perfectly established by God; the Christian recognises fully the authority of princes and governors as ordinances of God, and submits to them. But it is not the immediate kingdom of God. From the captivity of Babylon till the coming of Christ are the "times of the Gentiles"; and God gathers the joint-heirs of Christ, who are not of this world, as He was not. They are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ; they will reign with Him in glory, joint-heirs by grace of the inheritance of God.
222 There are two great subjects in the Bible, after personal salvation; the divine government of the world with the Jews as centre, under Christ; and the sovereign grace that has given those who are content to suffer with Him the same glory that Christ enjoys as Man, predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He may be the first-born among many brethren. Already we enjoy the same relationship with His God and Father. "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." Already children and heirs here below, when Christ comes we shall rejoice with heavenly joy with Him, and we shall reign with Him.
The Jews, and with them the Gentiles on the earth, will enjoy the peace and blessings resulting from the reign of Christ. Chapter 2, though it does not go any farther than to the presence of the Spirit here below, speaks of the first and heavenly position; chapter 3 of the second. The word of God in chapter 2 brings forth its fruit in gathering souls for God's assembly, and for heavenly glory. In chapter 3 the call to repentance is refused on the authority of the people; and the Lord sits at the right hand of God in heaven till His enemies are made His footstool.
And the work of God goes on here below. The reign of Christ on the earth is deferred because of the unbelief of the Jews; and the presence of the Spirit, Christ being in heaven, to gather together the heavenly citizens, and to put them into a new, eternal, and heavenly relationship with God - this is the foundation of the history recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. The following chapters unfold the progress of the work, its difficulties and their causes. "Unto you first God, having raised up his Son [servant] Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities."
What we read in this chapter is very sad, but full of instruction. The state of Israel is frightful, and the contrast to the apostles, and to all the believers marvellous. There is ecclesiastical authority and hatred of the truth and of the Lord on one side, and the presence and power of God on the other. Authority, depending on public opinion, is timorous at this juncture, and for a moment by this means held in check by the hand of God; and the courage of faith, given by God, is sustained by the powerful presence of the Holy Ghost.
334 The priests deliberately resist the action of the Holy Ghost though admitting that the power of God had been manifested. Is it not frightful? Oh what audacity, of what malice, is the heart of man capable when abandoned by God and left to its own hatred against Him! "The transgression of the wicked says within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flatters himself in his own eyes, until his iniquities be found to be hateful," Psalm 36:1-2. And for what follows see also Luke 12:1-12. Horrible and vain opposition, for the word of God will be fulfilled in spite of men. If we suffer, it is our glory. Our portion is to be found in Psalm 27; and then in Psalm 37: "Fret not thyself - trust in Jehovah - delight thyself also in Jehovah - commit thy way unto Jehovah - rest in Jehovah, and wait patiently for Him - cease from anger and forsake wrath; fret not thyself in any wise to do evil."
We shall see the path of the apostles; what courage, what tranquility, what clearness of judgment, doing exactly what became servants of God - those who, in the testimony of God, represented Him on the earth! Doubtless an extraordinary power was displayed in them, but the principle is just the same for us all. Moreover the word did not remain without effect, the number of men who had believed became about five thousand.
We have seen that the chief priests had put the apostles in prison. The morning came, they meet at Jerusalem, and make the apostles appear before them. They demand by what power and in what name they had done the miracle. The old story is again repeated - official authority opposed to the power of God. Thus the high priests and the rulers of the people demanded of the Lord by what authority He worked. But what madness, what hardness of heart, what lack of conscience! A miracle had evidently been performed by the apostles: it was known by the people, and they could not deny it. It is God Himself who works, but they will not allow the knowledge of it to spread among the people. It was not convenient that the power of God should be manifested outside their office; for if divine power operated outside their office, they could no longer secure authority to themselves. But it was not for them to command God: and not only this, but they were directly opposed to that power which was of God.
335 In such cases absence of all conscience is always found, as when the Lord did not reply to their questions, but, in His divine wisdom, asked them what the baptism of John was. And they, fearing the people, dared not say that it was not of God, because public opinion was against them. They were forced to acknowledge their incapacity; evidently, then, the Lord was not bound to account to them for what He had just before done.
Here something more is found. What the apostles had done was an act of power and not of authority, and the priests place themselves in open opposition to God. They would have suppressed His power if they had been able; otherwise they were humiliated. This was necessary, for the miracle had been performed in the name of Him whom they had crucified. They were adversaries of God, and adversaries consciously and willingly, for they had acknowledged that it was impossible to deny the miracle. This was indeed the power of Satan, but also of an office destitute of the power of God. Whenever man finds himself in such a position, he is unwilling that God should work. But what a state of soul, what a frightful condition!
Let us contemplate the spectacle of an unlettered and ignorant man, but believing in Jesus and full of the Holy Ghost. He announces openly, and with frank candour, not only that it was by the name of Jesus that the man had been cured, but that He was the stone set at nought by the builders, now become the head of the corner, and that there was no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. The position of the rulers is clearly established, such as we have seen it. The man there present had been cured by the name of Him whom they had crucified, and whom God had raised from among the dead.
But alas! the will of men was not moved, though they had nothing to say against the facts. The power of God was there; the testimony could not be refuted; but they would not have divine testimony. And, having conferred together, they dismissed them, "straitly threatening them that they should speak henceforth to no man in this name."
Their part was taken against God and against His Anointed. They commanded the apostles, therefore, when they had brought them in again, never to speak again in this name. Peter does not boast, does not insist on his rights or on his liberty, does not threaten the priests and council, does not show on his part any of his own will; he remains tranquil in obedience, but in obedience to God rather than to man. God was with them; the others were only men. They must obey God. He appeals to the priests and themselves, if it was not right to do so. Again they threaten them and let them go; witnesses were before them who glorified God for what had been done.
336 It is well to remark that the apostles do not assail the Jews - they do their duty; and when these oppose themselves, conscious of doing the will of God sent by Him, they declare that necessarily they were doing His will - that, when God willed and sent, they had to obey. It is the calm, the tranquility, of him who does not think of himself, either through fear or through human ardour. It is full of the Holy Ghost; what is said, what is done, comes from Him. Such a man works perfectly on God's side, because the man is put aside, and God by His Spirit works in him. Though it may be the man who presents himself perfectly in the position in which he finds himself, yet it is that Spirit who produces the perfection in him. "It is not ye," said the Lord, "that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaks in you," Matt. 10:20. If man works, then there is imperfection. God works in man, and then man is what he ought to be. Is it always thus?
But the miserable position of the Jews unfolds itself only too clearly. God was no longer to be found among the chosen people who had rejected their Messiah, the Son of God, in whom are all the promises of God; and now they were abandoned. God dwelt by His Spirit among the Christians. God will fulfil His promises to the nation in the last times, but then it will be in pure grace. He is faithful, whatever may be the iniquity of His people. What Peter proposed to Israel in chapter 3, repentance, will be accomplished in their hearts by grace, when the assembly of God shall have been taken up into heaven. Then they shall see Him whom they have pierced, and shall be blessed; but meanwhile they are put aside, kept apart however, till the fulness of the Gentiles be brought in. Then Israel as a whole shall be saved. But now they are displayed as resisting the Holy Ghost, as having rejected the Messiah. Now we see the power of the Spirit and His presence manifesting itself in the midst of the assembly.
337 The apostles returned to "their own"; for now there existed a company, a society, the house of God; composed, it is true, of Jews, but apart, outside the national pale. There they recount what has happened. Then, moved by the Holy Ghost, with one heart they raise the voice to God, acknowledging the accomplishing of Psalm 2, where the rejection of the Messiah, the Son of God is announced, and the absolute power of God, whatever might be the wickedness of men who did nothing but fulfil the counsels of God. Nevertheless they do not ask that the kingdom should be established, according to what is said in that Psalm, of which kingdom the Father has put the times into His own power (Acts 1:7); but the manifestation of the power of the Holy Ghost is pronounced in the same place, whether in the full courage to announce the word, or in the works of power done in the name of the holy servant of God, Jesus, His Son.
After they have prayed, the presence of God is manifested in their midst, and the place where they are assembled shakes. Here too, is seen, in an exterior way, the difference between the new birth and the presence of God by the Spirit. Many more important proofs of it are to be found; but I speak of it, because here it is an outward sign, impossible to confound with the work of grace in the soul. Their prayer is heard. They are all filled with the Holy Ghost, and speak the word of God with great boldness. But it is not only in the gifts of speech; it is the faith which does it all, that shows the effect and the power of being filled with the Holy Ghost. We find a work of the same character in the description given in chapter 2: there was but one heart.
No one retained his own property, but distributed to those who were in need. With great power the apostles bore testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on them all. None among the disciples lacked anything. Those who possessed lands or houses sold them, and laid the prices of the things that were sold at the apostles' feet, who distributed to every one according to his need. Beautiful testimony of the power of love, the love of God shed abroad by the Holy Ghost in the hearts of those who were filled with it! Among the others we find Barnabas, especially noticed here, because we shall find him soon occupied in the work of God, the companion of Paul; so that he is called an apostle. But God has not forgotten the others.
338 Such is the scene which passes before our eyes when the church was established in the beginning - when the Spirit, ungrieved, displayed all the effect of His presence. Most blessed scene, giving us to understand what it is to be filled with the Holy Ghost! He dwells in every true Christian; but it is another thing to be so filled with Him that He may be the source of all that is thought, of all that is done, and that all that the heart, which is His vessel, produces may be the fruit of His presence; that there may be no doubting, no shutting up in the career of love, that Jesus may be faithfully confessed before men. The heart is set free from its own love, and loves according to the love of Christ. Liberty, true liberty, is found, and the practical life, and its fruits are the fruits of the Spirit.
What a blessed state! And whatever may be the ruin of the church, in principle this state belongs to-day to every Christian; circumstances may hinder the form that existed in the days of the apostles; but the Spirit of God, at the bottom, is more powerful than circumstances.
Although a man may be truly a Christian, yet the flesh always remains in him, which is just as ready to show itself in the assembly as in the world. The desire to have a good reputation among men may arise in the heart, although such a reputation may merely be sought for among Christians. Thus too it happened when the assembly of God first began. Love produced the inclination to think of others rather than of themselves. But the flesh also would have the reputation of doing so, without denying itself, deceitfully thinking to keep back its money, and at the same time to gain the benefit of a reputation for giving it away. But here also the great truth of the presence of the Holy Ghost is the subject of God's revelation given in this book.
Ananias and Sapphira have lied to the Holy Ghost: this is the gravity of the sin of Ananias and his wife. God dwelt in the midst of His own in the assembly. Deceived in heart and conscience by cupidity, whether of money or of human glory, Ananias did not recognise His presence. But still another was acting in this sad event. Satan suggested to them the means of keeping back the money, and still of winning fame. But the Holy Ghost was there, and the folly of men and malice of Satan did nothing but make manifest the truth and the power of His presence, in a sad way it is true, but in a way that could leave no doubt of it.
339 Ananias, whose sin was thus unexpectedly to himself revealed, falls dead by the judgment of God who was there. But what a solemn judgment! And it is not surprising if, not only the Christians, but also the outside world, were terrified at such a testimony to the presence of God that was entirely unmistakable. Moreover the sin was not a simple failure. Ananias and Sapphira had agreed together in their eagerness of endeavour to deceive God, forgetting that He knew everything and that He was there.
But, however sad and solemn the fact might be, it was a testimony from which it was impossible to detract, that God Himself was present; a testimony to the great truth that God, in the person of the Holy Ghost, had come down to dwell in the midst of His people, and for ever (John 14:17), so that they might be taken up to dwell in the Father's house. The apostles were filled with it; everything at that time was in the power of it. But the assembly of God has been unfaithful; the Spirit has been grieved, and therefore we see no longer those actions which bore testimony to His presence.
This, nevertheless, does not in any way render it invalid - that would be impossible. The word of Christ is - He shall dwell with you; and the Spirit is as able to accomplish the will of God in His children now as in the time of the apostles, though it may not be shown in the same manner. But it is more blessed, says the Lord, to have our names written in heaven than to cast out demons: and by the true work of God in souls, and in all His ways, He manifests His presence in the assembly, and in Christians who depend on Him, and are filled with Him, just as much as He did in the days of the apostles. It is not proper that it should be shown outwardly in the fallen church as in the faithful assembly long ago established by God Himself, as though He sealed its fall with His approbation. But God changes not, and His grace and power are the same, and are as available as ever for all that is necessary and all that is suitable to the state of the church; and He still does all that is requisite for His glory and our full blessing. He works in His own with the same power according to the circumstances in which they are placed.
340 Now many signs and wonders were wrought by the hands of the apostles, who were to be found habitually (it seems to us) in Solomon's porch in the temple. The great and the rulers did not dare to identify themselves with them; but the people, convinced in their simplicity, increased the number and importance of the Christians in the holy city. We see always fear on the part of the great and of the ecclesiastical rulers. They could persecute, but they could not join the Christians, because then their power would be compromised. As Paul says, "not many mighty, not many noble, are called." The reproach of Christ is always linked to His name, wherever there is fidelity.
But still the power of God manifested itself in such a way that in Jerusalem and in the cities round about they brought sick folks, so that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them; and the sick of the city and those vexed with unclean spirits were all healed. But all this excited the envy and indignation of the chief priests; the divine power and authority had evidently passed away from their hands, and they were unwilling that they should be found elsewhere. They could not prevent God from manifesting His power, but they could take possession of the persons who exercised it, at least when God allowed it. They do so, and throw the apostles into the common prison.
But this did nothing more than prepare the way for another display of the hand and power of God. When God is working, vain are the efforts of men. We have seen, and shall see, the internal power of the Holy Ghost. Here we find angels, the servants of God, in favour of the men who preach the good news of salvation through Christ. I do not doubt that they ever minister, according to the will of God, to all His children who walk in the way of His will; and they may be employed otherwise, if it please God, as it is written in Hebrews 1. But here they operate in a visible way. The angel opens the doors of the prison, leads the apostles out, and tells them to go their way, and to speak in the temple all the words of this life, which they do at once at break of day.
Meanwhile the high priest and they that were with him meet together in the great council of the Jews, and send the sergeants, commanding them to bring the apostles before them. They go therefore to the prison, which they find shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors, but no prisoners within. The priests, confounded, know not what to think. Who can make war against God, and not find himself discomfited? Satan can do much, he can persecute and exercise great influence over unbelieving souls; but, where the working of the power of God is present, he cannot surmount it. Confidence is found on the part of God's servants; and, at the bottom of their heart, the adversaries are afraid and perplexed. See Joshua 2:9; Phil. 1:23; 1 Peter 3:6. Satan had the Sadducees ready to resist the work of the apostles who presented the resurrection, as the Pharisees to oppose Christ who preached true righteousness.
341 But the work of God goes on in the midst of suffering. He allows His own to suffer; it is given to them to suffer for the name of Christ; but He accomplishes His counsels in spite of man. The officers then brought them without violence, fearing the people lest they should have been stoned. The apostles appear before the council, and the high priest reproves them, because they had preached Jesus, in spite of the prohibition, and that thus they thought to bring the blood of Jesus on them. It is apparent that their conscience was ill at ease. The simple truth was that they were responsible for the blood of Jesus; but when a man is spurred on by Satan to commit a crime, he does not fear to do it, but, once committed, the deceit of Satan leaves him; the crime weighs on his conscience, and Satan cannot alleviate it, but often goads him to desperation, as he did with Judas.
The reply of Peter to the rulers is very brief and decisive; already they knew it well. "We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him has God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God has given to them who obey him." When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.
But here again the hand of God appears; and as He had miraculously used an angel to let Peter out of prison, so now He employs the hand of man to arrest the power and the malice of the elders and high priest. The human prudence of the Pharisee Gamaliel, a man much esteemed, gives them to realise, by several examples, the peril of putting themselves in conflict with God. The Pharisees were always opposed to the Sadducees, and the high priest belonged to the sect of the Sadducees, so that the Pharisee could always employ his human sagacity to gain a hearing. And God could use it to preserve His servants from the wicked hand of their enemies.
342 They consent to the counsel of Gamaliel, but without any fear of God. The will is not changed, the enmity against the testimony of God remains in all its force; but they are afraid of compromising themselves, and know not what to do. The apostles are beaten, and forbidden to speak in the name of Jesus. It is enmity without strength, without conscience, and without knowledge, blind from unbelief, and resisting in vain the power of God! The apostles continue their work, teaching and preaching both in the temple and in every house.
Acts 6, 7.
But the flesh manifests itself in Christians, and the more so if their number be large. Now we find a new event happening; in the multitude the power of faith and the fruits of the Spirit begin to grow feebler. Love and confidence - love's constant companion - diminish; but at the same time the strength of the Spirit found in the apostles takes its stand against difficulty. And not only this, but an opportunity is given for securing greater regularity in the daily ministration of the assembly. The preaching of the word is separated from the care of the poor. In this case the apostles desired that the people should choose those who might care for the widows. We shall see farther on that the apostle Paul himself, with Barnabas, appointed elders, but, when it was a question of money, neither the twelve nor Paul would take any part in it, nor confound the divine service of the word with the administration of the money furnished by the faithful; 1 Corinthians 16.
The twelve desired to be occupied only with the word, and Paul would not charge himself with the money for the poor at Jerusalem, unless brethren appointed for this purpose were with him. But, although the flesh showed itself, the Spirit was enough to overrule circumstances. In the case of Ananias and Sapphira this power and the presence of the Spirit was manifested in judgment against hypocrisy; here we find it seeking to make its way in the assembly, producing order and right where danger of disunion was manifested in the midst of the disciples.
343 But another principle respecting the Holy Ghost, easy to believe but often forgotten, is now made evident - His full liberty: as we read in 1 Corinthians 12, "dividing to every man severally as he will." We have seen up to this moment the activity of the apostles, established in their office by the Lord Himself, if we except Matthias. We find now seven men, full of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom, chosen by the people to serve at the tables where the distributions were made to the poor widows; and among these were two specially used by the Holy Ghost in the preaching of the gospel; and, at this moment, Stephen. In 1 Timothy 3:13, we find, "For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good decree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus."
Stephen was already a man full of the Holy Ghost and of faith, but now his gift is unfolded. He does signs and wonders; even his adversaries could not resist the power and wisdom with which he spoke. The Holy Ghost here works freely as in Philip. He also was obliged to give up his office for the work of evangelisation, for he went to Samaria. By the liberty given by the Spirit he is a minister of the word, and not of the tables. It is a new phase of the work of grace and of the Spirit. We shall find still other proofs. It is a very important principle, the truth and force of which extend to the present day. They are not sent by the apostles but directly by God. It is the strength of the Holy Ghost that urges them to the work, consecration to Christ, and love of souls.
It seems also that Stephen had said more, and spoken more openly, than Peter. The latter ever bore testimony to Israel's open opposition to God, for they had crucified Him whom God had exalted to His own right hand. We know not how Stephen spoke; but at all events he gave rise to the accusation of having said that Jesus would destroy Jerusalem, and change the customs which Moses had established. Evidently he always preached Christ and His glory, as did Peter; but he said more - he warned the people of the consequences of their sin. Peter laid down the fundamental truth that showed the state of the Jews before God. Stephen, taking lower ground and speaking more familiarly, announces the consequences of non-repentance. Both testimonies were fully of God, and inspired, but differed in character.
344 The accusations being brought before the council, Stephen is seized and forced to appear before the high priest and his accusers. To these there only remained enmity against God, and the power of death, for God allowed them to fulfil their purposes. But the occasion produces the magnificent defence of Stephen, indicating the position of the Jews with the utmost precision, and closing the history of humanity, of man before God here below. Before the flood God bore testimony, but He established no institution. We have perhaps Adam, Abel, Enoch and Noah, godly men, but not one of them was the head of a race according to God; but after the flood God began in the new world to found institutions for the government of the world, for the blessing of man, and to unfold truth and His ways.
At first no promise was made to man. In the judgment pronounced on Satan we find a prophecy of the final work of Christ, the object, by grace, of Adam's faith, and also of ours, the everlasting gospel; but God made no promises to the first man. After the flood God began to unfold His ways. In Noah He established government in order to restrain violence. Then, when man fell into idolatry (Joshua 24), not only was he wicked, but he chose demons as the power of the world in place of God; and God called Abraham to be for Himself, and the father of a race that He might on earth recognise as His, whether after the flesh or after the Spirit. The great principles of election, of calling, or of the promises are established. Then the law is given on Mount Sinai, by which man is put to the proof in a still more definite manner. Then, after long patience, in which prophets were sent to recall the people chosen according to the flesh to the obedience of the law, and sustain the trust of the few faithful by the promise of the Messiah, God sent His only-begotten Son, His well-beloved, saying, in the words of the parable, "They will reverence my Son"; but we know what happened. The history of man was finished on the cross. Not only had he sinned, but he had rejected grace when the Saviour had come.
Now they reject the testimony that spoke of a glorified Saviour, sent in virtue of His intercession on the cross, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." As we have seen, God replied to this intercession in the testimony of Peter and of the apostles; and in the announcement of the Holy Ghost of a glorified Saviour, Him whom they had rejected; but, as we have again seen, they refused the testimony of the Holy Ghost by the mouth of the apostles.
345 And here we have a kind of resume, an explanation of their state, their history from the time of Abraham till that day. It is the history of man from the moment that God began His dealings with him - in the beginning, in giving the promise, whether to Israel or to Christ, the true offspring; then in the law, in the prophets, and, finally, in Christ Himself. All this time the Spirit was working, and now especially, after Christ had been glorified in heaven, as we have seen. Stephen recounted this history; grace in the call of Abraham; what happened to Joseph and to Moses, wherein the Spirit worked and had been rejected by Israel; then the law violated at the outset in the calf of gold; then the prophets; then Christ Himself; and, finally, the testimony of the Holy Ghost. They had broken the law, persecuted and put to death the prophets who had spoken of the coming of the Just One, of whom now they had become the betrayers and murderers. And more than this, they still resisted the Holy Ghost, as their fathers had always done.
All the dealings of God pass before our eyes; the law, the prophets, Christ, the Spirit. In all, the people are found in enmity against God. Meanwhile they confided in the temple, of which God had declared by the prophet that the Most High dwelt not in temples made with hands. Such is the history of Israel - of man. Conscience is hardened, will is unchanged in the Sanhedrim, and nothing but hate and opposition to the testimony of the Holy Ghost is revealed; their hearts are goaded to resistance, and put the witness himself to death. They were unable to answer him; it was indeed their history of which they so loudly boasted - and what a history! Man always resists the testimony of the Spirit; and, if the conscience be stung, hatred breaks out violently against the witness.
On the other hand we see a man, a Christian, full of the Holy Ghost, doubtless here manifested in a very special way; but that which was visible to Stephen is the object of faith for us. Mark first the perfect tranquility of the servant of Christ. With beautiful simplicity he tells a story familiar to all - a story, however, which carried with it the condemnation of the Jews. To reason with him was needless, for they could not deny the facts. Then, kneeling down quietly amid the stones which fell on him, he prays for his enemies. What moral power! How entirely it overcomes all circumstances, and displays the man of God in the presence of the fury of his adversaries!
346 But let us examine not only the character of Stephen's testimony against his enemies, but his own state. He is the embodiment of a man full of the Holy Ghost, and his enemies are the embodiment of men who resist the Spirit. First, heaven is opened to him; he is enabled to keep his eyes fixed on the heavens - touch-stone of the state of the soul - and sees the Son of man standing at the right hand of God. He saw indeed the glory of God, but does not speak of it; the new and blessed thing was, that Man, in the person of the Son of God, stood there.
I believe that here He does not sit, because, until the Jews had refused the testimony of His glory, the Saviour was expecting to come back according to the address of Peter. As soon as Stephen is slain this testimony is at end; and, a single soul in heaven, the gathering of the spirits of the redeemed begins, which will continue till the Lord comes to re-unite the bodies and spirits of His own, and bring them into heavenly glory. Thus, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, it is said that Jesus is set down at the right hand of God, expecting till His enemies be made His footstool. He sits down on the throne of the Father, and not yet on His own. This is what rouses the hatred and fury of the Jews. They cry out "blasphemy!" and stone the witness of God, of the glory of Jesus.
For Stephen heaven is opened, and Jesus is seen in divine glory; and this is what forms his soul in such a beautiful way into the likeness of Jesus. As He prayed for enemies, so also Stephen prays for his; and as the Lord Jesus commended His spirit to His Father, so Stephen exclaims, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Not only does he pardon his enemies, but quietly kneels down to do so. The view of Jesus transforms the heart into His likeness. That which was seen by Stephen is the object of faith for us, made clearer by what happened to him.