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to a flowing stream, such as, for instance, when our Lord said, 'He
that believeth on Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living
water,' and when John saw a 'river of water of life proceeding from the
throne.' The expressions, too, of 'pouring out' and 'shedding forth'
the Spirit, point in the same direction, and are drawn from more than
one passage of Old Testament prophecy. What, then, is the significance
of comparing that Divine Spirit with a river of water? First,
cleansing, of which I need not say any more, because I have dealt with
It in the previous part of my sermon. Then, further, refreshing, and
satisfying. Ah! dear brethren, there is only one thing that will slake
the immortal thirst in your souls. The world will never do it; love or
ambition gratified and wealth possessed, will never do it. You will be
as thirsty after you have drunk of these streams as ever you were
before. There is one spring 'of which if a man drink, he shall never
thirst' with unsatisfied, painful longings, but shall never cease to
thirst with the longing which is blessedness, because it is fruition.
Our thirst can be slaked by the deep draught of 'the river of the Water
of Life, which proceeds from the Throne of God and the Lamb.' The
Spirit of God, drunk in by my spirit, will still and satisfy my whole
nature, and with it I shall be glad. Drink of this. 'Ho! every one that
thirsteth, come ye to the waters!'

The Spirit is not only refreshing and satisfying, but also productive
and fertilising. In Eastern lands a rill of water is all that is needed
to make the wilderness rejoice. Turn that stream on to the barrenness
of your hearts, and fair flowers will grow that would never grow
without it. The one means of lofty and fruitful Christian living is a
deep, inward possession of the Spirit of God. The one way to fertilise
barren souls is to let that stream flood them all over, and then the
flush of green will soon come, and that which is else a desert will
'rejoice and blossom as the rose.'

So this water will cleanse, it will satisfy and refresh, it will be
productive and will fertilise, and 'everything shall live whithersoever
that river cometh.'

IV. Then, lastly, we have the oil of the Spirit.

'Ye have an unction,' says St. John in our last text, 'from the Holy
One.' I need not remind you, I suppose, of how in the old system,
prophets, priests, and kings were anointed with consecrating oil, as a
symbol of their calling, and of their fitness for their special
offices. The reason for the use of such a symbol, I presume, would lie
in the invigorating and in the supposed, and possibly real,
health-giving effect of the use of oil in those climates. Whatever may
have been the reason for the use of oil in official anointings, the
meaning of the act was plain. It was a preparation for a specific and
distinct service. And so, when we read of the oil of the Spirit, we are
to think that it is that which fits us for being prophets, priests, and
kings, and which calls us to, because it fits us for, these functions.

You are anointed to be prophets that you may make known Him who has
loved and saved you, and may go about the world evidently inspired to
show forth His praise, and make His name glorious. That anointing calls
and fits you to be priests, mediators between God and man, bringing God
to men, and by pleading and persuasion, and the presentation of the
truth, drawing men to God. That unction calls and fits you to be kings,
exercising authority over the little monarchy of your own natures, and
over the men round you, who will bow in submission whenever they come
in contact with a man all evidently aflame with the love of Jesus
Christ, and filled with His Spirit. The world is hard and rude; the
world is blind and stupid; the world often fails to know its best
friends and its truest benefactors; but there is no crust of stupidity
so crass and dense but that through it there will pass the penetrating
shafts of light that ray from the face of a man who walks in fellowship
with Jesus. The whole nation of old was honoured with these sacred
names. They were a kingdom of priests; and the divine Voice said of the
nation, 'Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm!' How much
more are all Christian men, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, made
prophets, priests, and kings to God! Alas for the difference between
what they ought to be and what they are!

And then, do not forget also that when the Scriptures speak of
Christian men as being anointed, it really speaks of them as being
Messiahs. 'Christ' means _anointed_, does it not? 'Messiah' means
_anointed_. And when we read in such a passage as that of my text, 'Ye
have an unction from the Holy One,' we cannot but feel that the words
point in the same direction as the great words of our Master Himself,
'As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.' By authority derived,
no doubt, and in a subordinate and secondary sense, of course, we are
Messiahs, anointed with that Spirit which was given to Him, not by
measure, and which has passed from Him to us. 'If any man have not the
Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.'

So, dear brethren, all these things being certainly so, what are we to
say about the present state of Christendom? What are we to say about
the present state of English Christianity, Church and Dissent alike? Is
Pentecost a vanished glory, then? Has that 'rushing mighty wind' blown
itself out, and a dead calm followed? Has that leaping fire died down
into grey ashes? Has the great river that burst out then, like the
stream from the foot of the glaciers of Mont Blanc, full-grown in its
birth, been all swallowed up in the sand, like some of those rivers in
the East? Has the oil dried in the cruse? People tell us that
Christianity is on its death-bed; and the aspect of a great many
professing Christians seems to confirm the statement. But let us
thankfully recognise that 'we are not straitened in God, but in
ourselves.' To how many of us the question might be put: 'Did you
receive the Holy Ghost when you believed?' And how many of us by our
lives answer: 'We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy
Ghost.' Let us go where we can receive Him; and remember the blessed
words: 'If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your
children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit
to them that ask Him'!



PETER'S FIRST SERMON

'This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33.
Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received
of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this,
which ye now see and hear. 34. For David is not ascended into the
heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on
My right hand, 35. Until I make Thy foes Thy footstool. 36. Therefore
let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that
same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. 37. Now when
they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter
and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
38. Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you
in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall
receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39. For the promise is unto you,
and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the
Lord our God shall call. 40. And with many other words did he testify
and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. 41.
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day
there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42. And they
continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in
breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43. And fear came upon every soul:
and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44. And all that
believed were together, and had all things common; 45. And sold their
possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had
need. 46. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and
breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness
and singleness of heart, 47. Praising God, and having favour with all
the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be
saved.' - ACTS ii. 32-47.

This passage may best be dealt with as divided into three parts: the
sharp spear-thrust of Peter's closing words (vs. 32-36), the wounded
and healed hearers (vs. 37-41), and the fair morning dawn of the Church
(vs. 42-47).

I. Peter's address begins with pointing out the fulfilment of prophecy
in the gift of the Spirit (vs. 14-21). It then declares the
Resurrection of Jesus as foretold by prophecy, and witnessed to by the
whole body of believers (vs. 22-32), and it ends by bringing together
these two facts, the gift of the Spirit and the Resurrection and
Ascension, as effect and cause, and as establishing beyond all doubt
that Jesus is the Christ of prophecy, and the Lord on whom Joel had
declared that whoever called should be saved. We now begin with the
last verse of the second part of the address.

Observe the significant alternation of the names of 'Christ' and
'Jesus' in verses 31 and 32. The former verse establishes that prophecy
had foretold the Resurrection of the Messiah, whoever he might be; the
latter asserts that 'this Jesus' has fulfilled the prophetic
conditions. That is not a thing to be argued about, but to be attested
by competent witnesses. It was presented to the multitude on Pentecost,
as it is to us, as a plain matter of fact, on which the whole fabric of
Christianity is built, and which itself securely rests on the
concordant testimony of those who knew Him alive, saw Him dead, and
were familiar with Him risen.

There is a noble ring of certitude in Peter's affirmation, and of
confidence that the testimony producible was overwhelming. Unless Jesus
had risen, there would neither have been a Pentecost nor a Church to
receive the gift. The simple fact which Peter alleged in that first
sermon, 'whereof we all are witnesses,' is still too strong for the
deniers of the Resurrection, as their many devices to get over it prove.

But, a listener might ask, what has this witness of yours to do with
Joel's prophecy, or with this speaking with tongues? The answer follows
in the last part of the sermon. The risen Jesus has ascended up; that
is inseparable from the fact of resurrection, and is part of our
testimony. He is 'exalted by,' or, perhaps, at, 'the right hand of
God.' And that exaltation is to us the token that there He has received
from the Father the Spirit, whom He promised to send when He left us.
Therefore it is He - 'this Jesus' - who has 'poured forth this,' - this
new strange gift, the tokens of which you see flaming on each head, and
hear bursting in praise from every tongue.

What triumphant emphasis is in that 'He'! Peter quotes Joel's word
'pour forth.' The prophet had said, as the mouthpiece of God, '_I_ will
pour forth'; Peter unhesitatingly transfers the word to Jesus. We must
not assume in him at this stage a fully-developed consciousness of our
Lord's divine nature, but neither must we blink the tremendous
assumption which he feels warranted in making, that the exaltation of
Jesus to the right hand of God meant His exercising the power which
belonged to God Himself.

In verse 34, he stays for a moment to establish by prophecy that the
Ascension, of which he had for the first time spoken in verse 33, is
part of the prophetic characteristics of the Messiah. His demonstration
runs parallel with his preceding one as to the Resurrection. He quotes
Psalm cx., which he had learned to do from his Master, and just as he
had argued about the prediction of Resurrection, that the dead
Psalmist's words could not apply to himself, and must therefore apply
to the Messiah; so he concludes that it was not 'David' who was called
by Jehovah to sit as 'Lord' on His right hand. If not David, it could
only be the Messiah who was thus invested with Lordship, and exalted as
participator of the throne of the Most High.

Then comes the final thrust of the spear, for which all the discourse
has been preparing. The Apostle rises to the full height of his great
commission, and sets the trumpet to his mouth, summoning 'all the house
of Israel,' priests, rulers, and all the people, to acknowledge his
Master. He proclaims his supreme dignity and Messiahship. He is the
'Lord' of whom the Psalmist sang, and the prophet declared that whoever
called on His name should be saved; and He is the Christ for whom
Israel looked.

Last of all, he sets in sharp contrast what God had done with Jesus,
and what Israel had done, and the barb of his arrow lies in the last
words, 'whom ye crucified.' And this bold champion of Jesus, this
undaunted arraigner of a nation's crimes, was the man who, a few weeks
before, had quailed before a maid-servant's saucy tongue! What made the
change? Will anything but the Resurrection and Pentecost account for
the psychological transformation effected in him and the other Apostles?

II. No wonder that 'they were pricked in their heart'! Such a thrust
must have gone deep, even where the armour of prejudice was thick. The
scene they had witnessed, and the fiery words of explanation, taken
together, produced incipient conviction, and the conviction produced
alarm. How surely does the first glimpse of Jesus as Christ and Lord
set conscience to work! The question, 'What shall we do?' is the
beginning of conversion. The acknowledgment of Jesus which does not
lead to it is shallow and worthless. The most orthodox accepter, so far
as intellect goes, of the gospel, who has not been driven by it to ask
his own duty in regard to it, and what he is to do to receive its
benefits, and to escape from his sins, has not accepted it at all.

Peter's answer lays down two conditions: repentance and baptism. The
former is often taken in too narrow a sense as meaning sorrow for sin,
whereas it means a change of disposition or mind, which will be
accompanied, no doubt, with 'godly sorrow,' but is in itself deeper
than sorrow, and is the turning away of heart and will from past love
and practice of evil. The second, baptism, is 'in the name of Jesus
Christ,' or more accurately, '_upon_ the name,' - that is, on the ground
of the revealed character of Jesus. That necessarily implies faith in
that Name; for, without such faith, the baptism would not be on the
ground of the Name. The two things are regarded as inseparable, being
the inside and the outside of the Christian discipleship. Repentance,
faith, baptism, these three, are called for by Peter.

But 'remission of sins' is not attached to the immediately preceding
clause, so as that baptism is said to secure remission, but to the
whole of what goes before in the sentence. Obedience to the
requirements would bring the same gift to the obedient as the disciples
had received; for it would make them disciples also. But, while
repentance and baptism which presupposed faith were the normal,
precedent conditions of the Spirit's bestowal, the case of Cornelius,
where the Spirit was given before baptism, forbids the attempt to link
the rite and the divine gift more closely together.

The Apostle was eager to share the gift. The more we have of the
Spirit, the more shall we desire that others may have Him, and the more
sure shall we be that He is meant for all. So Peter went on to base his
assurance, that his hearers might all possess the Spirit, on the
universal destination of the promise. Joel had said, 'on all flesh';
Peter declares that word to point downwards through all generations,
and outwards to all nations. How swiftly had he grown in grasp of the
sweep of Christ's work! How far beneath that moment of illumination
some of his subsequent actions fell!

We have only a summary of his exhortations, the gist of which was
earnest warning to separate from the fate of the nation by separating
in will and mind from its sins. Swift conviction followed the
Spirit-given words, as it ever will do when the speaker is filled with
the Holy Spirit, and has therefore a tongue of fire. Three thousand new
disciples were made that day, and though there must have been many
superficial adherents, and none with much knowledge, it is perhaps not
fanciful to see in Luke's speaking of them as 'souls' a hint that, in
general, the acceptance of Jesus as Messiah was deep and real. Not only
were three thousand 'names' added to the hundred and twenty, but three
thousand souls.

III. The fair picture of the morning brightness, so soon overclouded,
so long lost, follows. First, the narrative tells how the raw converts
were incorporated in the community, and assimilated to its character.
They, too, 'continued steadfastly' (Acts i. 14). Note the four points
enumerated: 'teaching,' which would be principally instruction in the
life of Jesus and His Messianic dignity, as proved by prophecy;
'fellowship,' which implies community of disposition and oneness of
heart manifested in outward association; 'breaking of bread,' - that is,
the observance of the Lord's Supper; and 'the prayers,' which were the
very life-breath of the infant Church (i. 14). Thus oneness in faith
and in love, participation in the memorial feast and in devotional acts
bound the new converts to the original believers, and trained them
towards maturity. These are still the methods by which a sudden influx
of converts is best dealt with, and babes in Christ nurtured to full
growth. Alas! that so often churches do not know what to do with
novices when they come in numbers.

A wider view of the state of the community as a whole closes the
chapter. It is the first of several landing-places, as it were, on
which Luke pauses to sum up an epoch. A reverent awe laid hold of the
popular mind, which was increased by the miraculous powers of the
Apostles. The Church will produce that impression on the world in
proportion as it is manifestly filled with the Spirit. Do we? The
so-called community of goods was not imposed by commandment, as is
plain from Peter's recognition of Ananias' right to do as he chose with
his property. The facts that Mark's mother, Mary, had a house of her
own, and that Barnabas, her relative, is specially signalised as having
sold his property, prove that it was not universal. It was an
irrepressible outcrop of the brotherly feeling that filled all hearts.
Christ has not come to lay down laws, but to give impulses. Compelled
communism is not the repetition of that oneness of sympathy which
effloresced in the bright flower of this common possession of
individual goods. But neither is the closed purse, closed because the
heart is shut, which puts to shame so much profession of brotherhood,
justified because the liberality of the primitive disciples was not by
constraint nor of obligation, but willing and spontaneous.

Verses 46 and 47 add an outline of the beautiful daily life of the
community, which was, like their liberality, the outcome of the feeling
of brotherhood, intensified by the sense of the gulf between them and
the crooked generation from which they had separated themselves. Luke
shows it on two sides. Though they had separated from the nation, they
clung to the Temple services, as they continued to do till the end.
They had not come to clear consciousness of all that was involved in
their discipleship, It was not God's will that the new spirit should
violently break with the old letter. Convulsions are not His way,
except as second-best. The disciples had to stay within the fold of
Israel, if they were to influence Israel. The time of outward parting
between the Temple and the Church was far ahead yet.

But the truest life of the infant Church was not nourished in the
Temple, but in the privacy of their homes. They were one family, and
lived as such. Their 'breaking bread at home' includes both their
ordinary meals and the Lord's Supper; for in these first days every
meal, at least the evening meal of every day, was hallowed by having
the Supper as a part of it. Each meal was thus a religious act, a token
of brotherhood, and accompanied with praise. Surely _then_ 'men did eat
angels' food,' and on platter and cup was written 'Holiness to the
Lord.' The ideal of human fellowship was realised, though but for a
moment, and on a small scale. It was inevitable that divergences should
arise, but it was not inevitable that the Church should depart so far
from the brief brightness of its dawn. Still the sweet concordant
brotherhood of these morning hours witnesses what Christian love can
do, and prophesies what shall yet be and shall not pass.

No wonder that such a Church won favour with all the people! We hear
nothing of its evangelising activity, but its life was such that,
without recorded speech, multitudes were drawn into so sweet a
fellowship. If we were like the Pentecostal Christians, we should
attract wearied souls out of the world's Babel into the calm home where
love and brotherhood reigned, and God would 'add' to _us_ 'day by day
those that were being saved.'



THE NAME ABOVE EVERY NAME

'Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath
made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and
Christ.' - ACTS ii. 36.

It is no part of my purpose at this time to consider the special
circumstances under which these words were spoken, nor even to enter
upon an exposition of their whole scope. I select them for one reason,
the occurrence in them of the three names by which we designate our
Saviour - Jesus, Lord, Christ. To us they are very little more than
three proper names; they were very different to these men who listened
to the characteristically vehement discourse of the Apostle Peter. It
wanted some courage to stand up at Pentecost and proclaim on the
housetop what he had spoken in the ear long ago, 'Thou art the Christ,
the Son of the living God!' To most of his listeners to say 'Jesus is
the Christ' was folly, and to say 'Jesus is the Lord' was blasphemy.

The three names are names of the same Person, but they proclaim
altogether different aspects of His work and His character. The name
'Jesus' is the name of the Man, and brings to us a Brother; the name
'Christ' is the name of office, and brings to us a Redeemer; the name
'Lord' is the name of dignity, and brings to us a King.

I. First, then, the name Jesus is the name of the Man, and tells us of
a Brother.

There were many men in Palestine who bore the name of 'Jesus' when He
bore it. We find that one of the early Christians had it; and it comes
upon us with almost a shock when we read that 'Jesus, called Justus,'
was the name of one of the friends of the Apostle Paul (Col. iv. 11).
But, through reverence on the part of Christians, and through horror on
the part of Jews, the name ceased to be a common one; and its
disappearance from familiar use has hid from us the fact of its common
employment at the time when our Lord bore it. Though it was given to
Him as indicative of His office of saving His people from their sins,
yet none of all the crowds who knew Him as Jesus of Nazareth supposed
that in His name there was any greater significance than in those of
the 'Simons,' 'Johns,' and 'Judahs' in the circle of His disciples.

Now the use of Jesus as the proper name of our Lord is very noticeable.
In the Gospels, as a rule, it stands alone hundreds of times, whilst in
combination with any other of the titles it is rare. 'Jesus Christ,'
for instance, only occurs, if I count aright, twice in Matthew, once in
Mark, twice in John. But if you turn to the Epistles and the latter
books of the Scriptures, the proportions are reversed. There you have a
number of instances of the occurrence of such combinations as 'Jesus
Christ,' 'Christ Jesus,' 'The Lord Jesus,' 'Christ the Lord,' and more
rarely the full solemn title, 'The Lord Jesus Christ,' but the
occurrence of the proper name 'Jesus' alone is the exception. So far as
I know, there are only some thirty or forty instances of its use singly
in the whole of the books of the New Testament outside of the four
Evangelists. The occasions where it is used are all of them occasions
in which one may see that the writer's intention is to put strong
emphasis, for some reason or other, on the Manhood of our Lord Jesus,
and to assert, as broadly as may be, His entire participation with us
in the common conditions of our human nature, corporeal and mental.

And I think I shall best bring out the meaning and worth of the name by
putting a few of these instances before you.



Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 5 of 57)