Studies in Preaching - The Apostolic Sermons
A great number of preachers, who profess to give God’s message to the people, are discarding His gospel and substituting for it their own vain babblings, and the multitudes love to have it so. This clearly indicates that the time has come which the Word of God declared would come, “when they will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lust shall heap unto them teachers having itching ears, . . . and shall be turned to fables” (2 Tim. 4:4). In view of this sad fact we feel that it will be helpful to those who are determined to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, to turn to the divinely-given records of the sermons preached by Holy Ghost-filled men when first the gospel of the glory of Christ shone in this world.
We believe there are many young men who have passed through a furnace of testing, and have proved in the trial the power and worth of the gospel which they have believed, and who long to tell it out to others in its integrity and blessedness; we want specially to encourage and help such to preach the Word courageously in dependence upon God; to be evangelistic in spirit in season and out of season, serving the Lord.
The preacher is a messenger sent forth with a report, not to seek popularity with those to whom he is sent, but to be faithful to the One who sends him; and “A FAITHFUL MESSENGER refresheth the soul of his Master” (Prov. 25:13). He is an ambassador of peace from Christ to man, and he must know the divine terms if he is to present them and interpret them according to the mind of his Sovereign-Master, and “A FAITHFUL AMBASSADOR is health” (Prov. 13:17). He is a witness in himself to the delivering power of the message that he carries, and so can seek out those who need the deliverance that he has experienced with confidence; and “A TRUE WITNESS delivereth souls” (Prov. 14:25).
Putting these three things together we learn that there are three great necessities for the preacher who would be efficient in his work.
HE MUST BE FAITHFUL TO THE ONE WHO HAS SENT HIM.
HE MUST DELIVER THE MESSAGE THAT HE CARRIES FAITHFULLY.
- HE MUST KNOW THE POWER OF HIS MESSAGE HIMSELF.
Every bit of true service springs from the knowledge of the love and glory of the Lord; if we know Him we shall yield ourselves to His claims.
“Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands our souls, our lives, our all.”
And we shall say with Samuel, “Speak, for Thy servant heareth”; and with Isaiah, “Here am I, send me”; and with Saul of Tarsus, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do.”
“HOW SHALL THEY PREACH EXCEPT THEY BE SENT? AS IT IS WRITTEN, HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THEM THAT preach the gospel of peace, and bring GLAD TIDINGS OF GOOD THINGS” (Rom. 10:15).
To understand Peter’s Pentecostal sermon in Acts 2 we must approach it through Luke 24, for it was in this latter chapter that the disciples were commissioned by their Lord; and the commission given to them abides for us. These disciples not only needed to be commissioned, they needed to be rebuked because of their unbelief of the Scriptures, and instructed because of their ignorance of the theme and purpose of them. They could not preach God’s message, if they were doubtful or ignorant of God’s Word, and to put them right as to this was the Lord’s first labour. Here we reach the prevailing need of the day, for there are preachers, alas, an increasing multitude of them, who do not believe the Scriptures;—these are not as the disciples of the Lord, whose slowness to believe all that the prophet had spoken arose from their ignorance of the object of their prophesying;—but these deliberately refuse the Word, and impudently and presumptuously imagine that their own thoughts are better than those expressed for us in the God-breathed Scripture. From such we must turn away; their words eat as a canker; there is neither life, nor hope, nor salvation in them; they point out a way that seems right to them, but it is the way of death—the devil’s way. They preach a gospel without Christ, and without the blood; they deny man’s need of atonement, and mock at the future, teaching that whatever is for the present material good of man is for the glory of God. Those who would be faithful to Christ will refuse all association and fellowship with such, for what communion can there be between light and darkness? what concord between Christ and Belial? or what fellowship can a believer have with an unbeliever?
But there is another class of preachers who do not deny that the Scriptures are the Word of God, but like the disciples of the Lord they do not understand them, nor their central theme; consequently. they have no certain, definite message, and they are in great danger of being carried away by the plausible theories, and the great claims to scholarship on the part of the critics of the Word of God.
To any who have doubts as to the Bible being God-inspired, and consequently the one authority for all questions of doctrine and conduct, we would say, “Stop your preaching until your doubts are removed.” And if we are asked how those doubts can be removed, we would answer, “Learn what the purpose of the Scriptures is, and who it is who is their One sole and absorbing theme. Only see Christ in the Scriptures and all doubt as to their origin will disappear.”
In verse 27 the Lord opened the Scriptures to the disciples. He disclosed the one treasure that lay in the casket of Moses and all the prophets. He showed that they had one theme—HIMSELF; and in verse 45 He opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures. No word of theirs, when the time for preaching came, had to clash with what was written. The gospel they were to preach was to be according to the Scriptures, as Paul told the saints at Corinth. Their own opinions and notions were barred; the wisdom and philosophy of men had to have no place in their teaching; for their gospel was to be a gospel of deliverance, and God only can deliver men; this He does by His own Word, which has Christ for its subject.
Yes, Christ is the great theme of the Word. Beginning at MOSES AND ALL THE PROPHETS He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures THE THINGS CONCERNING HIMSELF (v. 27). (We may pay scant courtesy to the critic, since the Lord confirmed the Old Testament writers thus.) The Scriptures which spoke of Him, and their fulfilment in His death and resurrection and glory are inseparable; they are woven together in one glorious web, and if one is denied it is that the other might be damaged. The devil is behind this criticism of the Scriptures, by it he is blinding the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. His object is to enchain the souls of men in present darkness that they may share his doom in the lake of fire for ever. The preachers business is to enlighten these souls, and deliver them, and it is by the preaching of the Word of which Christ is the great centre and theme that this is done.
The Scripture spoke of the sufferings of Christ and of His resurrection; these are the two great facts of the gospel, and because of them, repentance and remission of sins were to be preached amongst all nations. Men of all nations are to hear the joyful tidings that a way has been opened for them to return to God from their wanderings, their miseries and sins, and that returning they will meet a pardoning God.
This divine message had to be carried world-wide in Christ’s name. Those who carry it have to do it as His representatives, on His behalf; a solemn consideration, of which we shall have more to say. Being a divine message, doing a divine work, it must of necessity be done in divine power; so that we are not surprised to learn that these disciples of Christ had to wait for power from heaven. The Holy Ghost is absolutely indispensable to successful preaching of the Word.
Lastly, these Christ-chosen men beheld their Lord ascend to the highest place in the glory of God, yet not forgetting them, for He went up with hands lifted in priestly, benediction. And thus He serves all His servants who serve Him until their service is done.
Those then who are sent into the world to serve Christ in the gospel are to bear the following features:
THEY MUST BELIEVE THE SCRIPTURES (MOSES AND ALL THE PROPHETS) TO BE GOD’S WORD TO US CONCERNING CHRIST THE SAVIOUR. APART FROM THIS THEY COULD HAVE NO MESSAGE, OF POWER AND AUTHORITY.
THEY MUST UNDERSTAND THE SCRIPTURES, IN THE SENSE THAT CHRIST IS THE GREAT THEME AND CENTRE OF THEM; OTHERWISE THEY WOULD ONLY CARRY LIFELESS AND LOVELESS DOCTRINES.
THEY MUST PRESENT THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST, AND HIS RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD AS THE ONLY GROUND UPON WHICH REPENTANCE AND REMISSION OF SINS MUST BE PREACHED TO ALL NATIONS.
THEY MUST KNOW THAT THE BLESSING IS OFFERED TO ALL; IT MUST NOT BE CONFINED TO ANY CLASS, DISTRICT, OR NATION.
THEY GO FORTH IN HIS NAME, NOT TO SHOW THEMSELVES, OR TO PARADE THEIR OWN WARES, BUT TO REPRESENT HIM, THENCE THEY MUST SPEAK OF HIM, AND BEAR HIS CHARACTER.
THEY MUST HAVE THE HOLY SPIRIT WITHIN THEM, AND WITH THEM IN THEIR LABOURS, FOR HIS POWER ALONE IS EQUAL TO THE WORK TO BE DONE.
THEY MUST BE SUSTAINED BY THE KNOWLEDGE THAT THEIR EXALTED LORD IS INTERCEDING FOR THEM; AND THAT HIS GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR THEM IN EVERY INFIRMITY, AND THAT HIS STRENGTH FINDS ITS OPPORTUNITY IN THEIR WEAKNESS.
The Vindication of Christ
Coming now to the Pentecostal Sermon, reported in Acts 2, we find that after a brief explanation to the wondering multitudes of the outpouring of the Spirit, Peter reaches the great theme of his preaching in verse 22. The words that he here speaks are the words of God, and he demands that the people should hear them. He then proceeds to vindicate the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This was the first thing. It was the fulfilment of John 15:26-27, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of Me: and ye also shall bear witness because ye have been with Me from the beginning.” In it there is no appeal to the people to repent, or to come to the Saviour—this took place in the inquiry meeting at the end of the preaching. There is not even the mention of blessing for those that heard and believed. This would come in its proper place. That which was first, and must ever be first in the heart and purpose of the faithful servants of Christ, is the vindication of His name, and the proclamation of the truth as to His person. Let this slip into the background and the Spirit’s work will be correspondingly hindered. The gospel of God (which He had promised afore by His prophets in the Holy Scriptures) is concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 1); and the Spirit’s power goes with this preaching.
The great facts that Peter declares are:
The perfect human life of Jesus, approved of God, and fruitful with works that God did by Him.
His crucifixion and death, which though wickedly compassed by the people, was according to the foreknowledge and counsel of God.
God had raised Him up from the dead; for death could not hold Him who had glorified God in life and death.
It was not possible that death should hold Him, or that He should see corruption; plainly demonstrating the sinlessness of His humanity; and the absolute contrast between Him and the whole of Adam’s race that to dust returns.
The Scriptures had spoken before of all this; what had taken place was only the fulfilment of them.
The risen Christ was to sit upon the throne of David.
His exaltation to God’s right hand, and that there He had received from the Father the Holy Ghost, for the effectuation of His work on earth. And incidentally His place in the Godhead is introduced, for none but God could sit in the throne of God.
His Deity is definitely declared, when Peter quotes the words of David that had already baffled the Pharisees: “The Lord said unto MY LORD, sit Thou on my right hand, until I make Thy foes Thy footstool.
- His exaltation to the position of supreme authority that every creature must acknowledge; He is Lord and Christ.
It will be noticed that Peter brings into sharp contrast the way the people had treated Jesus and the way that God had treated Him. He begins and ends upon this solemn note. There could be no more powerful weapon than this in the preacher’s hand, for it brings into question man’s whole state before God. What mattered the Temple with its gorgeous ritual, its perpetual service, its surpliced priests and crowded courts; what mattered praying Pharisees, and scribes and lawyers versed in every detail of the ceremonial law; what mattered all the parade of religion on the part of the people, if the One whom God delighted to honour was insulted and crucified by the consent of all? And what matters it today how fair a show men may make in their religion and philanthropy if they refused to yield to Christ the place that God claims for Him? Christ is the crux, and if men are out of harmony with God as to Christ they are utterly and in all things astray.
How blessed was the result of this vindication of Jesus! What joy must have been in heaven as three thousand souls, convicted and repentant, asked, “What shall we do?” And how great must have been the surprise of these inquirers when they discovered that through the Name of Jesus, so despised by them, the remission of sins was freely offered them. What confidence it gives the preacher when he sees that when men have done their worst God brings out His best; and where sin abounded grace did much more abound.
The Power of the Name
Peter’s second sermon was preached to a multitude mightily impressed by a notable miracle. One of the most familiar figures at the gate of the Temple was a helpless beggar; priests and levites passed him continually and left him as they found him; worshippers thronged to the morning and evening sacrifices, but none could raise him up; he was a constant witness to the fact that there was no power in the Temple ordinances to relieve the miseries of men. His helpless wretchedness was figurative of the condition of Israel and mankind generally, who are without strength, as the Scriptures declare, to render to God what is His due, or to deliver themselves from the bondage in which sin has bound them.
But power had come into the world at last, wonder-working power, delivering power, and that power lay in the Name of Jesus of Nazareth. No better title could be given to the Book of The Acts of the Apostle than “The Power of the Name.” Peter and John knew its power, and boldly used it, saying to the crippled wretch, “IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST OF NAZARETH rise up and walk.” Quick from his helplessness leaped the man, his withered limbs thrilling with a new life at the sound of that name, and with feet made strong he entered the Temple with the apostles, “walking, and leaping, and praising God.”
It was not by silver and gold that this miracle had been performed. There was plenty of that in the temple and in Jerusalem, and it was doubtless held in high esteem then as it is now. The pity is that that which is highly esteemed by men of the world should be so highly esteemed by those who profess to honour the name of Christ. It was said sometime ago by a leader in the religious world that what the church needed was more money, that its work of converting the world was held up by the lack of it. There never was a greater delusion, but it is a widespread and popular one, as a glance at some of the religious publications of the day will prove. The need is not silver and gold, but a return to the beginning, a renewed realization of the power of the Name.
It was a prepared audience that ran together to learn the secret of this marvellous miracle, and the servants of the Lord had a Spirit-given readiness to meet the situation. Peter had no need to prepare a sermon; the stream of living truth, of which Christ was the force and theme, burst forth with a blessed spontaneity. His heart was bubbling up (Ps. 45. marg.). He was like Elihu who said, “I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me,” and, like this same Elihu, he was regardless of the estate or rank of those to whom he spoke as the greatness of his subject and the importance of the hour carried him on. He was no flatterer of his hearers, else he would have been an unworthy witness to the truth. This same spirit characterized Paul, who said of his preaching, “Neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness” (1 Thess. 2:5). No flatterer can be a faithful preacher of God’s message, but the one who would be preserved from it must be in the fear of God all the day, or he will be betrayed by the fear of man, or by covetousness into that which is so hateful to God and so harmful to men.
But we will quote the words of Elihu in full, for the preachers of today need to ponder them well.
“For I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me. Behold, my belly is as wine which hath no vent; it is ready to burst like new bottles. I will speak, that I may be refreshed. I will open my lips and answer. Let me not, I pray you, accept any man’s person, neither let me give flattering titles unto man. For I know not to give flattering titles; in so doing my maker would soon take me away” (Job 32:18-22).
Swiftly Peter removes the idea that he and John were wonderful people, to be applauded and pampered; his business was to turn all the thoughts of his audience to the One whom his soul loved, and by whose power the lame man had been healed. He was like John the Baptist before him, whose joy and ambition was to decrease that his Lord and Master might increase; and like a quaint old Yorkshire preacher of the last century, who would hide himself out of sight in the high old-fashioned pulpit in which he preached, and cry, “Not the man in the pulpit, but the man who hung upon the cross.”
We suggest that no man is fit to preach Christ unless like the Apostles—
HE TRUSTS NOT IN SILVER AND GOLD, BUT IN THE POWER OF THE NAME OF JESUS.
HE IS FEARLESS IN THE PRESENCE OF THE MULTITUDE, VIEWING HIGH AND LOW ONLY AS THOSE WHO HAVE NEED OF HIS MESSAGE.
HE PREACHES THE TRUTH IN THE FEAR OF GOD, SEEKING NO FAVOUR FROM MEN AND REFUSING TO USE FLATTERING WORDS.
- HE IS OF NO ACCOUNT IN HIS OWN ESTIMATION.
Out of the good treasure of his heart Peter brings forth that which is good. He proclaims the fact that GOD HAS GLORIFIED HIS SERVANT JESUS.
Thus had He put His seal upon His service, and the disapproval of that same service, by the Jews had not hindered Him from so doing. How triumphantly this Holy Ghost inspired preacher rang out this note, a note sadly missing in modern preaching, in which man and his needs are so prominent instead of Christ and His glory. In Peter’s sermon we have the fulfilment of the Lord’s words in John 15:26-27,
“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.”
It is well for the preacher to dwell much upon the exaltation of Christ, the Holy Ghost will help him in this, and will also be with him in proclaiming the fact to others. Many a preacher is powerless because he does not stand up with the consciousness in his soul of the glory of his Master. He is defeated before he begins because the triumph of Christ is not real to him. What can be more arresting, more conscience-awakening than this, that God has glorified Jesus, whom men put to shame, that He has crowned with glory and honour the One whom they crucified as a malefactor.
There was divinely given wisdom in the way Peter announced this fact. It was no strange God who had done this, a God whom neither they nor their father’s knew, but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God to whom they owed their national existence, and in whom they professed to boast and trust. If He had done this one of two ways stood open to them, either they must own the worthiness of Jesus to be thus glorified, and so show themselves to be true children of the fathers, or still refuse Him and disown the God in whom their fathers trusted in so doing.
Moreover, another point of importance is here brought into prominence. It was the God of the Old Testament who has exalted Jesus, He is the God of the Old and the God of the New. Revealed as Almighty to Abraham, He is preached now as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This we need to affirm, for there have arisen those who deny that the God of the Gospel is the Jehovah of the ancient covenants; they would destroy the value of the prophetic word, and the unity of the Scriptures.
With what force Peter brings the lash of the truth upon their consciences. They delivered up and denied God’s perfect Servant, and bitterly opposed Pilate when he proposed to release Him. They sought as a favour that a murderer might be granted them and clamoured for the death of the Holy One and the Just. They killed the Prince of life.
Here is a pattern for every preacher; the state and conduct of the hearers are searched out and exposed by the truth. Their opposition to God and their love of violence and evil rather than of holiness and justice are plainly set before them; and also that they chose the way of death rather than the Originator, or Prince of life.
Notice how the Apostle keeps in the foreground the truth of the Person of Christ, this is the marrow of all true preaching. Christ came as the Servant of God, as He said: “Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it was written of Me) to do Thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:7).
As to His nature He was the Holy One, as to all His works and ways He was the Just One. Thus He stood alone amongst men, the only one who was always and altogether pleasurable to God, and upon whom death had no claim. But there was more, He was the Prince, or Author of life, this carries us back to the beginning, to the declaration of His Godhead power and glory in John 1.
God had raised Him up, and the unparalleled wickedness of men in killing Him had not changed His wonderful character as the Author of life; He was raised up that He might be this effectually and eternally; not of physical life only, which men forfeited by their sin, but of eternal life which was the gift of God through Him, a life entirely of grace, founded and maintained upon what He is and not on what we are. And this life and blessing was now being preached to the most guilty men in the most guilty city on earth.
Again, as in his first sermon, Peter appeals to the Scriptures. What his hearers had done had not taken God by surprise, for He had before showed by the mouth of all His prophets that Christ should suffer. And He had fulfilled His word as to this, as He will fulfil every other word that He has spoken.
The points that are notable in this sermon, as far as we have considered it, are
GOD HAS GLORIFIED HIS SERVANT JESUS.
IT IS THE GOD WHO MADE PROMISES TO ABRAHAM, ISAAC AND JACOB WHO HAS DONE THIS, THE GOD OF THE OLD TESTAMENT IS THE GOD OF THE NEW.
THE HOLINESS OF THE NATURE OF JESUS; THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF ALL HIS WAYS, AND HIS DIVINE GLORY AS THE AUTHOR OF LIFE ARE MADE PROMINENT.
GOD HAS RAISED HIM UP TO BE THE FOUNTAIN OF BLESSING, AS WITNESS THE PERFECT SOUNDNESS OF THE ONCE LAME MAN.
HIS SUFFERING AND DEATH WERE ACCORDING TO THE WILL OF GOD FOR BLESSING.
THE SCRIPTURES ARE THE WORD OF GOD, FOR IT WAS GOD WHO SPOKE BY THE MOUTH OF HIS PROPHETS.
The Preacher’s Sphere
The last words that the disciples heard from the lips of their risen and ascending Lord were, “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me . . . UNTO THE UTTERMOST PART OF THE EARTH.” What amazement must have filled their Jewish hearts when, after the cloud of glory had received Him out of their sight, they began to realize the vastness of the sphere in which they were to witness for Him. They were eager to tell of His glory to Israel, for hitherto their hopes and affections had been confined within that narrow bound; but now in their hearts were to be enlarged at the coming of the Holy Ghost to embrace the world; they were to speak of the most blessed Person, exalted to the most glorious place, to the greatest possible number of men; for not a needy sinner beneath the sun had to be denied the favour of hearing the Word, and upon all had to be pressed the rightful claims of Christ.
What a rebuke are these last words of our Lord to our narrow, selfish and anti-missionary hearts! What a challenge they are to us and our indifference to all but a very confined circle, and the way we have of miserably limiting the Gospel and its preachers! Let us consider them afresh in the light of His ascension to heaven to be the centre of blessing for all; being the Lord’s last words they ought to profoundly impress us. In them we learn the extent of the Lord’s claims; His power for blessing; the immensity of the grace that is in Him, as well as its suitability to the needs of men even to the uttermost part of the earth. Here also we learn the breadth of the love of God, who gave His Only-begotten Son for the world, and will have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
“Yes, the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man’s mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own,
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.”
“Unto the uttermost parts of the earth.”
With this agrees the declaration of Ephesians 4:8 that, “when He ascended up on high, He gave gifts unto men.” Not to the assembly only, though they were not apart from that, certainly not any limited circle in the assembly, but to men.
The Preacher’s Power
The power that was to carry these witnesses for their wonderful Saviour to the uttermost part of the earth was the Holy Ghost; without Him they were not to move a step or speak a word.
“Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” They were to receive POWER; but this power was inseparable from the person of the HOLY GHOST, and His coming was specially to enable them to WITNESS FOR CHRIST. A great many men like to have power that would give them a place amongst their fellows. In this the devil will help them, but not the Holy Ghost; He has come solely and only in the name of Christ and for His glory.
Being God, the power of the Holy Ghost is the same today as then; the growing corruption of Christendom may make it impossible for Him to give the same manifestation of His presence as He did at Pentecost, nevertheless there is no other power for God on earth. All the vast organizations and the machinery that men have created, who depend upon the arm of flesh, and upon the wisdom of the schools, and upon money gathered from any quarter, tainted or otherwise, for the carrying on of so-called religious work, are a hindrance to God’s work and no help. They make more show and noise as they build their wood, hay and stubble, and outstrip the world in self-advertisement and self-laudation; but the Holy Ghost is not in it, and when the trial by fire comes the work will not stand. Happy is the servant of Christ who has no confidence in the carnal weapons; who in faithfulness to his Master will stand apart from that which does not glorify Him; who pursues his true mission of witness for Christ, and places himself at the disposal of his Lord to be filled with the Holy Ghost to this end.
The Preacher’s Mission
It is necessary in these days in which even true servants of Christ make the blessing of men and their uplifting the primary matter to insist that WITNESS TO CHRIST IS THE PREACHER’S MISSION. Blessing to men will follow this as effect follows cause, but “Ye shall be witnesses to Me” is the commission, and it is for this that the Holy Ghost gives power. A man may talk of the blessing of men with great eloquence and leave them still self-centred and consequently unblest, but if he bears witness to Christ all who are affected by it will change their centre; they will turn from self to Christ and “magnify God.” This is the work of the Holy Ghost.
What a glorious witness it was that they had to bear. They had seen their Lord nailed upon a cross as a common malefactor, thieves on either side; hatred and mockery around; and darkness above from whence they expected that succour would come to Him. It was a sight of most awful dreadfulness to them; it had filled them with unspeakable sorrow; it had broken their hearts, shaken their faith, and scattered them like sheep attacked by wolves. But His resurrection had gathered them, removed their sorrow and stablized their faith; and now the Holy Ghost had come to fully instruct them in the meaning and necessity of that cross, and to tell them that it had been exchanged for the throne; that their Lord had been crowned with heavenly glory and honour; that God had “highly exalted Him and given Him a name above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The Holy Spirit came upon them directly from the enthronement and coronation of their Lord, from the scene of exultation in heaven at His triumph and the Father’s delight in Him; and, filling them as He did, they bore witness as though their very eyes had beheld it all, for the Spirit’s witness to them as to it, made it real to faith’s vision. Thus they spake, and this was their theme, and this still is the true theme of the preacher. Sad that those who have so glorious a subject should be so caught by the spirit of the world that they find other themes more congenial, and spend their energies upon many schemes for the betterment of the world, instead of uplifting Christ as the great magnet who draws men out of it to Himself. But the Holy Ghost will not depart from His mission no matter how the servants of the Lord may fail, and none shall seek His help in vain whose purpose is to bear witness unto Christ.
The Result of the Witness
To those who believed the witness of the apostles the Holy Ghost was given. This was part of Peter’s message in his first recorded sermon. “Repent,” he said unto them, “and be baptised 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.” Two things at least were involved in this. Firstly, when the Holy Ghost came upon any one it meant that the Lord was thereby taking possession of that which was His by right of purchase. The Lord’s rights were involved in it. We must give a greater place to this in our preaching. So often we dwell upon what men will get; but what will the Lord get? He will get all who believe the gospel concerning Himself, and He takes possession of them as His own when the Spirit seals them. The Spirit comes to make good the Lord’s claims in those who believe. Secondly, the gift of the Holy Ghost gives to those who receive it the power and capacity to enter into a sphere of blessing entirely outside the range of the natural man; for the natural man receiveth not the things of God, they are spiritually discerned. Our preaching is poor in this respect, we dwell largely upon what men will be delivered from—their sins will be forgiven, and they will be saved from the judgment those sins deserved; all very true, but all negative. But the gospel brings what is most blessedly positive; it opens the door to the things of God, gives these things to the saints as their inheritance, gives the Holy Ghost so that those who believe might have a present knowledge and enjoyment of these things, and a well of water within them fully satisfying the deepest yearnings of the soul; a power transforming every part of the life; a capacity for entering into communion with God. The gift of the Holy Ghost meant the translation from a world, disappointing, bankrupt and condemned, into the Kingdom of God, the head and centre of which is the victorious Lord and Saviour, and the power of which is the Holy Ghost thus received, and the joy of which is God Himself.
Questions and Answers
Q1. Tongues of Fire
We often hear of TONGUES OF FIRE, but Scripture says, “like as of fire,” which I understand to mean that the appearance was of forked or cleft flames. I should like a word of explanation.
THE TONGUE is the instrument by which the word is made known. “How shall they hear without a preacher”; and thus it was that the Holy Ghost appeared. He had come from heaven to bear witness to the world, to bring the testimony of God to men, and these men whom He filled, and upon whom He sat, were to be His vessels. This is the prominent thought at Pentecost, and not the baptism of believers into one body, though that of course took place, but was not the first thing in the mind of God at the moment. THESE TONGUES WERE NOT ONE BUT WERE AS FORKED FLAME. The testimony of the Holy Spirit was not to be confined to one nation as was the law; it was to be universal, toward the whole world. The will of God was that all men must hear the word in their own tongue, thence the statement, “The Word is nigh thee, even in thy heart and in thy mouth, that is the word of faith which we preach” (Rom. 10). The Romish system denies this when it insists upon its services being rendered in one tongue only, and that, one that the multitudes do not understand.
THE FORKED TONGUES WERE AS OF FLAME. It was in human words that the truth was to be spoken, but the truth was God’s truth, and “our God is a consuming fire.” The message was a message of grace, a glad evangel suited to the needs of a world, sinful, miserable and lost, but it came only as a result of God’s righteous judgment of sin having been borne by the Holy Sin-bearer. The words were pure words “the word of righteousness.” God proclaims the forgiveness of sins, but He does not tolerate sin; His gospel makes it exceeding sinful, so that those who heard that gospel and believed it did not think that sin was nothing, or at the worst something to be excused and winked at, but they were brought to deep repentance because of it. Like a flame of fire the word drove its way down into their consciences until in their horror of their own sin and with a sense of God’s holiness they cried, “What shall we do?” This is the meaning of the tongues of flame.
It is this that is so sadly lacking in modern preaching, thence the shallowness of the results, and probably one reason, and perhaps the chief reason, is that those who preach the word are not themselves under its searching power.
Q2. The Pouring Out of the Spirit.
“This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” (v. 16). Does this mean that a complete fulfilment of the prophecy occurred? If so, in what sense could it be said that the Spirit was poured out on all flesh?
“All flesh” in this passage stands in contrast, we judge, to Israel only. And Peter’s heart at the moment must have been full of this. The last words he had heard from the Lord’s lips as He ascended to heaven were “to the uttermost parts of the earth.” He was filled with the Holy Ghost, who had come to bear witness to the world; and filled, gifted and inspired by the Holy Ghost the apostles spoke, not the language of the Jew only, but with many diverse tongues; the blessing was for all, for “WHOSOEVER shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The passage stands on the same plane as John 12:32, where “all men,” in contrast to Jews only, are to be drawn to the uplifted Son of Man. All flesh does not necessarily mean every individual, but that all nations are in view.
It is plain that the Spirit is only given to those who have turned in repentance to God, and have believed His testimony as to Christ; as in the type the oil (figurative of the Spirit) was only put upon the blood (redemption) (Lev. 9:14). Acts 2 gives the character of the outpouring and not the completion of it; this will take place as in the days which Joel describes and which will follow the judgments which he foretells in chapter 3, when nations will turn in repentance to God. The church will have been translated to heaven before this final fulfilment of the prophecy.
Q3. The Gift of Tongues
Why is the gift of tongues connected with the baptism of the Holy Ghost?
The gift of tongues, which was inseparable from the coming of the Holy Ghost (see also chaps. 10:46; 19:6) indicated the universality of the witness that He brought and the urgency of the message. It was exercised in the assemblies also, for they were composed of men of many languages, but the chief use of it seems to have been to spread the word intelligently and immediately amongst all nations. It was a sign gift, and passed away when the faith was established in the earth.
Q4. How Shall They Preach, Except They be Sent?
I should like to ask what constitutes being “sent”?
Our correspondent deplores the ineffectiveness of much of the preaching, and the consequent indifference of the multitudes to the gospel, and the lack of interest even in those who come to the regular services, many doing so merely because it is customary, and evidently not expecting to hear a living message.
This widespread condition of things should produce great exercise in the preachers. It is impossible to move men according to God unless the preacher comes from God. To be SENT is of first importance; to have to do with God about the message and those who are to hear it is surely the sine qua mon of successful preaching. Those who have affected others have always been men who sought audiences with God. John the Baptist came from God before moving the multitudes of Israel. The apostles spent ten days in prayer before Pentecostal blessing broke on them and through them; and if there comes a revival of prayer, of spending more time with God about the message than in delivering it, we may yet hope to see the state of things which our correspondent deplores give place to earnest interest on the part of those who come together to hear the gospel. Not all are called to preach, or sent of the Lord to do it, though He has given to every servant his work; each should know, as a result of communion with his Master, what that work is, and carry it out with fervency of spirit in dependence upon Him. The preacher may be tempted to cast the blame of the dead state of things upon others, or upon the general indifference to the things of God which marks these difficult times; but let him remember that God’s message is a living message—the POWER OF GOD unto salvation, and seek to so preach it that many may believe. Better not preach at all than give those who gather together the impression that “the wonderful works of God” are of small importance. No light, heat, or power can be obtained from the electric power station without contact therewith, and no preacher, no matter what his gifts, has power with men for God, unless he is in contact with God.
It will be noticed in Paul’s first sermons that, having powerfully pressed upon his hearers the truth as to Christ’s Person, and His resurrection and exaltation to God’s right hand in heaven, he called upon them to repent; he did more, his call was a command in the name of Christ, on whose behalf he spoke, to yield themselves to God’s righteousness in this way, and by so doing pass into blessing by the only possible door.
We believe that all who are truly exercised as to the work of God in the world must feel that this is a note that is sadly lacking in modern preaching. Hence the poverty of the results of the preaching, and the shallowness of that which is seen.
“God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17). And no good and faithful servant of God will leave this solemn command out of his preaching. Peter pressed it in the beginning of Acts in addressing the Jews. Paul pressed upon both Jews and Greeks “repentance towards God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (chap. 20:21). Wherever he went it was his clarion call to men, as he testified before Agrippa, “I showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout the coasts of Judah, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (chap. 26:20). There is no good and honest heart in which the word of God can take root apart from this; no foundation in the soul upon which the truth can be built.
But this involves more than the reiteration of the word Repent. It is necessary, if men are to be brought to repentance, to press upon them God’s claims which they have ignored; to open their eyes to their guilt and to show them faithfully the consequences of their sins. These things the preacher must know, not as matters of doctrine but as great and solemn verities, and only those know them in this way to whom God is a reality.
The preacher must live before God rather than men; in his measure he must be sent “from God” if he is to do this real work, as John the Baptist was, and the Apostles. But the pressing of God’s claims must be done in tenderness and compassion; for the God who commands all men everywhere to repent is the same God who commends His love to all; the same Lord whose terrors should be known to all who serve Him is the One who by these same servants beseeches men to be reconciled to Him. The goodness of God leads men to repentance. No preacher will be successful in bringing men to repentance who has not in his soul a deep sense of the grace and compassion of God.
“I was preaching to my hearers the terrors of the Lord last night,” said a preacher to a friend.
“I hope you did it with tears,” was the wise reply.
Peter’s second sermon was addressed, not so much to the individual conscience, but to the nation, and the offer made to them on their repentance and conversion was of national and earthly blessing. In response to their repentance God would send Jesus Christ to bring in the times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.
Advantage has been taken of the term “the times of restitution of all things” by the enemies of the truth to deny eternal punishment and to teach the final salvation of all men. It will be found, we believe invariably, that those who quote Scripture to support error, quote part texts. The devil did this when quoting the Word to the Lord—so in this case; but this term, which has been so much abused, is qualified by the full sentence—“the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world begun.”
Here again the Old Testament Scriptures, rejected by the false “spirit of the age,” are definitely declared to be God’s Word, and if we are to know what is involved in Peter’s words we must study these Scriptures. The all things are limited by what God had spoken as recorded in these Scriptures.
What a suitable vessel for the flowing forth of the grace of God was Peter, having tasted it so sweetly and fully himself! How his heart must have glowed as he closed his sermon to these very people who had denied and crucified the Lord, with this glorious announcement: “Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” Here was the proclamation of repentance and remission of sins which was to go out to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. God is the source of all blessing. Jesus is the One by whom it reaches men, and the effect of it is to turn men from their iniquities.
Peter is confronted by a very different audience in chapter 4 to those that he had already addressed. His first was a cosmopolitan multitude gathered from far and near to the feast in Jerusalem; his second was more especially a city audience and perhaps more critical than the first, but both would be largely composed of the common people amongst whom Peter would naturally be at home. But now he stands with John before the leaders and rulers, the men of light and learning; a coldly critical audience, and withal bitterly hostile to the men and their message. This was a great test, and would prove conclusively whether Peter was serving by the power of the Holy Ghost, or in his own natural energy. His former audiences were such as might be easily moved by the natural eloquence and fervency such as he could evidently command, but not these before whom he now stood. They were well versed in the law; they were master logicians, and had all the confidence that their position and influence and authority in the city gave them. Moreover, they had taken the place of leading the people in God’s way, and the people had followed them submissively, and they believed that they had but to threaten and command, and Peter and John would immediately obey. Before such an audience as this, the man who had trembled with fear and denied his Lord at the taunt of a servant girl, would have little to say if he stood there in his own natural ability and strength of purpose.
But Peter neither trembles nor hesitates; he is the master in that assembly. With trumpet clearness he makes known the truth; exposes their folly and guilt; clearly defines the terrible question that lay between God and them, and exalts the name of Jesus. There can be no mistake in the application of his direct and powerful words. These rulers of the people, with all their learning, had let the lame beggar lie at the gate of the temple; they had put forth no effort to help him; they were the impotent men in spite of all their pride and pretension. But Jesus of Nazareth was not impotent, for by His name the helpless cripple had been restored to perfect soundness. But these rulers had crucified Him, and if their purpose had been fulfilled, mankind would have been deprived for ever of the virtue that was in His name; for they were His enemies who said, “When shall He die, and His name perish?” (Ps. 41:5). But God had raised Him from the dead, plainly showing what He thought of their great sin; what He thought of Christ, and His way of blessing for men.
Peter would have been no match for these men apart from the Holy Ghost; he was the mouthpiece, the vessel for the communication of God’s message to them; the words he spoke were divinely inspired; they were God’s words; hence the power and importance of them. The poor blind builders of the great world-system did not discern the one indispensable stone in Jesus; or they saw, if any light penetrated their minds, that if they accepted Him, they must cease their own building, acknowledge their own ruin, and be born anew. This they would not do. They could find no place in their building for Him, and so they cried, “Away with Him.” There was room for Herod and Pilate, for Priests, Pharisees and people; room even for Barabbas, but none for Jesus in their building, their tower of Babel; so He must go, for it must stand at all costs. So the Stone was rejected, but God had raised Him up This was the Lord’s doing in contrast to theirs, and now He is preached as ruined man’s only hope. “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven even among men, whereby we must be saved.”
The chief thought in this is not individual salvation; it is salvation for mankind, for Israel, for all. Men must abandon the schemes for the reconstruction of the world and look to Christ; they must turn from their own building which is falling to pieces about them, and cry to Him. He is the only hope, but they need no other, for He is all-sufficient. It was this that Peter proclaimed to these rulers—there is no hope for you except in the Man you have rejected.
This needs to be pressed today, for the world-builders are building more feverishly than ever, and leaving Christ out. All will fail, whether peace treaties, League of Nations covenants, or whatever else is requisitioned in order to shore up this great world-system; all will come to naught; Christ is the only hope. It is plain that the world will not own Him until He comes in judgment; it is plain that no nation or groups of nations will own Him, for they still make their treaties without reference to Him; hence it follows that it comes down to the individual soul. This is the character of salvation today—it is individual. Hence the Gospel preacher can find no better text than this, yet we should proclaim also the great fact that the Stone rejected by the world- builders is the only hope of men.
What a lesson for us in preaching, is the way in which Peter sticks to his one theme—JESUS. Crucified but risen, rejected by men but exalted by God—the one, only, but all-sufficient Saviour. He was a Holy Ghost preacher, and we may test the preachers of today by this standard; if they turn away from this preaching, they have turned away from the truth; they are not guided by the Spirit of truth, and they have no Gospel for perishing men.
The lesson we learn from Acts 5:12-28 is that no hatred or force of men could stand in the way of the Gospel of God when His servants were walking in the truth and in the fear of God. It is not the enemy without, but failure within, that is the cause of the feebleness of the testimony to the grace of God and the glory of the risen Christ an these last times. This we do well to own, for only in the confession of the truth is there any measure of recovery.
The cultured rationalists of that day with the high priest at their head might treat the servants of the Lord as common felons, but their contempt of them received a rude shock when they discovered that the angel of the Lord had a key that could open the prison doors, and that these lowly fishermen were not afraid of their threatenings.
“GO, STAND AND SPEAK TO THE PEOPLE ALL THE WORDS OF THIS LIFE.” This was the command, and still is; the failure of the servants of the Lord down the centuries has not changed this. The people still need “the words of this life,” and they need all the words of it. It is only by the complete Gospel concerning the risen Saviour that men can be turned to repentance and to the knowledge of the truth. Who can tell “the words of this life” to them? Only those surely who know it, and they must be careful to speak it as they find it. “You make no concession to modern thought,” was said to me the other day. No, these servants of Christ did not in their day; they had their message to deliver, and it was a message of life; they had themselves proved its power and blessing, that was enough for them. God has sent no other message to men, no other is needed. We must not change it, for men have not changed since then; sin and death and Satan’s power are just the same, and God is the same, and no other name than the name of Jesus has been found by which men can be saved. Modern thought in all ages has been against the truth of God; the wisdom of this world never yet led a man to God, and until a man is brought to God he is without light and hope, and it is God alone who can meet the deep questions that arise in the hearts and consciences of men, and He does this by “the words of this life,” the Gospel of the glory of Christ. If we would serve God and bless men we must stick to that.
The rulers felt that a crisis had been reached and this preaching must be stopped at all costs; what they did not understand was that their quarrel was not with these unlearned fishermen, but with God; and Christ was the test; and not Christ only but His blood also, which they had wickedly shed. Would that blood be upon them to their everlasting condemnation, or for the cleansing of their awful guilt?
Peter and the apostles gave their last united testimony to these leaders ere they finally and irrevocably sealed their doom by the stoning of Stephen. While they fearlessly pressed home their guilt as on former occasions, for only thus can the conscience and heart be prepared for the Gospel, yet what wonderful grace there was in their testimony. God had raised up Jesus to be a Leader and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and the forgiveness of sins. This Leader and Saviour is given for all men, and apart from Him all, like sheep will go astray and be for ever lost; but He leads in the paths of righteousness on to the house of the Lord.
Most men seek leaders who will lead them out of bondage into liberty, but it is the bondage of sin that they are in and only Jesus can deliver them from that, and they must be led to God before they can enjoy true freedom. This was the apostle’s message and it is ours also.