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Acts 1:12-14:1.673673The portions of the evangelic history and of the Acts of the Apostles referred to in this chapter contain much debatable matter. But as it would be quite unsuitable to the character of this work to enter into disputed questions at length, we give our own construction of events without reference to the sceptical views of many modern critics.
After that the Lord was parted from them, and carried up into heaven, the eleven returned to Jerusalem, and did as they had been commanded. They assembled together in an upper room in the city, and, in company with the believing women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and His kinsmen and other brethren, amounting in all to one hundred and twenty, waited for Power and for Light as men who wait for the dawn; or as men who have come to see a panorama wait for the lifting of the curtain that hides from view scenes which their eyes have not seen, nor their ears heard of, nor hath it entered into their hearts to conceive. These verses from the first chapter of the “Acts” show us the disciples and the rest in the act of so waiting.
How solemn is the situation of these men at this crisis in their history! They are about to undergo a spiritual transformation; to pass, so to speak, from the chrysalis to the winged state. They are on the eve of the great illumination promised by Jesus before His death. The Spirit of Truth is about to come and lead them into all Christian truth. The day-star is about to arise in their hearts, after the dreary, pitchy night of mental perplexity and despairing sorrow through which they have recently passed. They are about to be endowed with power of utterance and of character proportional to their enlarged comprehension of the words and work of Christ, so that men hearing them shall be amazed, and say one to another: “Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And now hear we every man in our own tongue wherein we were born the wonderful works of God.”674674Acts ii. 7-11. With a dim presentiment of what is coming, with hearts which throb and swell under the excitement of expectation, and heaving with wondering thoughts of the great things about to be revealed, they sit there in that upper room for ten long days, and wait for the promise of the rather. Verily it is an impressive, a sublime scene.
But how do they wait? Do they sit still and silent, Quaker fashion, all that time expecting the descent of the Power? No; the meeting in the upper room was not a Quaker meeting. They prayed, they even transacted business; for in those days Peter stood up and proposed the election of a new apostle in the room of Judas, gone to his own place. Nor was their meeting a dull one, as those may imagine who have never passed through any great spiritual crisis, and to whom waiting on God is a synonym for listless indolence. The hundred and twenty believers did not, we may be sure, suffer from ennui. Prayers and supplications alone filled up many blessed hours. For to men in the situation of the disciples prayer is not the dull “devotional” form with which we in these degenerate days are too familiar. It is rather a wrestling with God, during which hours passed unobserved, and the day breaks before one is aware. “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication.” They prayed without fainting, without wearying, with one heart and mind.
Besides praying, the waiting disciples doubtless spent part of their time in reading the Scriptures. This is not stated; but it may be assumed as a matter of course, and it may also be inferred from the manner in which Peter handled Old Testament texts in his address to the people on the day of Pentecost. That pentecostal sermon bears marks of previous preparation. It was in one sense an extempore effusion, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, but in another it was the fruit of careful study. Peter and his brethren had, without doubt, reperused all those passages which Jesus had expounded on the evening of the day on which He rose from the dead, and among them that psalm of David, whose words the apostle quoted in his first gospel sermon, in support of the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection. We may find evidence of the minute, careful attention bestowed on that and other Messianic portions of Scripture in the exactness with which the quotation is given. The four verses of the psalm stand word for word in Peter’s discourse as they do in the original text — a fact all the more remarkable that New Testament speakers and writers do not, as a rule, slavishly adhere to the ipsissima verba in their Old Testament citations, but quote texts somewhat freely.
The spiritual exercises of those ten days would be further diversified by religious conversation. The reading of Scripture would naturally give rise to comments and queries. The brethren who had been privileged to hear Jesus expound the things which were written in the law, and in the prophets, and in the psalms concerning Himself, on the night of His resurrection-day, would not fail to give their fellow-believers the benefit of instructions through which their own understandings had been opened. Peter, who was so prompt to propose the election of a new witness to the resurrection of Jesus, would be not less prompt to tell the company in the upper room what the risen Jesus had said about these Old Testament texts. He would freely speak to them of the meaning Jesus taught him to find in the sixteenth Psalm, just as he took the liberty of doing afterwards in addressing the multitude in the streets of Jerusalem. When that psalm had been read, he would say: “Men and brethren, thus and thus did the Lord Jesus interpret these words;.” just as, when the 109th Psalm had been read, he stood up and said: “Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas: for it is written, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein; and his bishopric let another take. Wherefore” — let us choose another to fill his place.
Thus did the brethren occupy themselves during these ten days. They prayed, they read the Scriptures, they conferred together on what they read and on what they expected to see. So they continued waiting with one accord in one place till the day of Pentecost was fully come, when suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, filling all the house where they were sitting; and there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Then the promise was fulfilled, the Power had come down from on high, in a manner illustrating the words of the prophet: “Since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside Thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.”
The events of Pentecost were the answer to the prayers offered up during those ten days, which we may call the incubation period of the Christian Church. And that the lesson of encouragement to be learned from this fact may not be lost, it may be well to remember that the prayers of those assembled in the upper room were not essentially different from the prayers of saints at any other period in the Church’s history. They had reference to much the same objects. The eleven and the others prayed for the promised Power, for additional light on the meaning of Scripture, for the coming of the divine kingdom on earth. And while they prayed for these things, we believe, with peculiar fervor, they did not pray for them with extraordinary intelligence. Of them, perhaps more emphatically than of most, it might be said that they knew not what to pray for as they ought. They had very indistinct ideas, we believe, of the “power,” of its nature, and of the effects it was to produce. That they had crude, and even erroneous ideas of the “kingdom,” we know; for it is recorded that on the very day of His ascension they asked Jesus the question, “Dost Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”675675Acts i. 6. In this brief question three gross misconceptions are contained. It is assumed that Christ was to reign personally on the earth, a great king, like David. The disciples had no idea whatever of an ascension into heaven. Then the kingdom they expect is merely a national Jewish one. “Dost Thou,” they ask, “restore the kingdom to Israel?” Finally, the kingdom looked for by them is political, not spiritual: it is not a new creation, but a kingdom of earth restored from a present prostrate condition to former power and splendor.
The notions of the eleven concerning the kingdom continued to be much the same to the day of Pentecost as they had been on the day of the ascension. It is true that Jesus had, in His reply to their question, made a statement which, if rightly understood, was fitted to correct their misconceptions. Formally a declinature to give information on the subject about which the disciples were curious, that reply afforded a sufficiently clear and full explanation of the real state of the case. When He spoke of the power which they should receive, Jesus not obscurely hinted that the work of inaugurating the kingdom was to be done by the apostles as His commissioners, not by Himself in person. And the same thing is implied in the words, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me,” for witnesses would be needed only for one who was himself unseen. By connecting the “power” with the descent of the Holy Ghost, Jesus in effect corrected the third mistake of the eleven concerning the kingdom — the notion, viz., that it was to be of a political nature. Power arising out of a baptism of the Spirit is moral, not political, in its character; and a kingdom founded through such power is not a kingdom of this world, but one whose subjects and citizens consist of men believing the truth: “of the truth,” as Jesus Himself put it in speaking of His kingdom before Pilate. And, in the last place, the words, “Witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth,” were certainly fitted to banish from the minds of the eleven the dream of a merely national Jewish kingdom. If it was but the kingdom of Israel that was to be restored, to what purpose bear witness to Jesus to the world’s end? Such witness-bearing speaks to a kingdom of a universal nature, embracing people of every tongue and kindred under heaven.
From the reply of their Lord the disciples might thus have gathered the true idea of the kingdom, as one founded on faith in Christ; presided over by a king, no longer present bodily, but omnipresent spiritually; not limited to one country, but embracing all who were of the truth in all parts of the world. This great idea, however, they did not take out of the words on which we have been commenting. They were to learn the nature of the kingdom, not from the teaching of Jesus, but from the events of providence. The panorama of the kingdom of God was to be hid from their eyes till the curtain was lifted in three distinct historical movements — the ascension, the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost on the multitude who had come to keep the feast, and the conversion of Samaritans and the Gentiles.676676Compare remarks on p. 495 on the slow-mindedness of the disciples, preventing them from understanding the words of Christ till these were interpreted and illuminated by events. The first of these movements had already taken place when the disciples assembled themselves together in the upper room to wait for the promise of the Father. Jesus had ascended, so that they now knew that the seat of empire, the capital of the kingdom, was to be in heaven, not in Jerusalem. This was a valuable piece of knowledge, but it was not all that was needed. Only a small part of the panorama was yet visible to the spectators, and they were still in the dark as to the nature and extent of the coming kingdom. They expected to see a panorama of a new Palestine, not of a new heaven and a new earth wherein should dwell righteousness; and they doubtless continued to cherish this expectation till the curtain was uplifted, and facts showed what they had unwittingly been praying for, when they at length learned that the Hearer of prayer not only does for His people what they ask, but far above what they even think.
This waiting scene, looked at in relation to the subsequent events recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, not to say the whole history of the Church, suggests another observation. We may learn therefrom what significance may lie in things apparently very insignificant. We had occasion to make this remark in connection with the first meeting of Jesus with five of those who afterwards became members of the chosen band of twelve, and we think it seasonable to repeat it here now. To the contemporary Jewish world that meeting in the upper room, if they knew of its existence, would appear a very contemptible matter, yet it was the only thing of perennial interest in Judea at the time. The hope of Israel, yea, of the world, lay in that small congregation. For small as it was, God was with those who formed it. Infidels who believe not in supernatural influence smile at such words; but even they must acknowledge that some source of power was centred in that little community, for they multiplied with a rapidity surpassing that of the Israelites in Egypt. Those who reject divine influence impose on themselves the burden of a very laborious explanation of the fact. For those who believe in that influence it is enough to say the little flock grew great, not by might, nor by power of this world, but by God’s Spirit. It was their Father’s good pleasure to give them the kingdom.
And now, in taking leave of those men with whom we have so long held goodly fellowship, it may be well here to indicate in a sentence, by way of résumé, the sum of the teaching they had received from their Master. By such a summary, indeed, it is impossible to convey an adequate idea of the training for their future career which they had enjoyed, seeing that by far the most important part of that training consisted in the simple fact of being for years with such an one as Jesus. Yet it may be well to let our readers see at a glance that, unsystematic and occasional as was the instruction communicated by Jesus to His disciples, therein differing utterly from the teaching given in theological schools, yet in the course of the time during which He and they were together lessons of priceless worth were given by the Divine Master to His pupils on not a few subjects of cardinal importance. To enumerate the topics, as far as possible in the order in which they have been considered in this work, Jesus gave His disciples lessons on the nature of the divine kingdom;677677Chaps. v., viii. on prayer;678678Chap. vi. on religious liberty, or the nature of true holiness;679679Chap. vii. on His own Person and claims;680680Chap. xi. on the doctrine of the cross and the import of His death;681681Chaps. xii., xvii., xviii., xxii., and also ix. on humility and kindred virtues, or on the right Christian temper required of disciples both in their private life and in their ecclesiastical life;682682Chaps. xiv., xv., xvii., xxi., xxix. on the doctrine of self-sacrifice;683683Chap. xvi. on the leaven of Pharisaism and Sadduceeism, and the woes it was to bring on the Jewish nation;684684Chaps. vii., x., xx. on the mission of the Comforter, to convince the world and to enlighten themselves.685685Chaps. xxix., xxv. The teaching conveyed, assuming that we have even an approximately correct account of it in the Gospels, was fitted to make the disciples what they were required to be as the apostles of a spiritual and universal religion: enlightened in mind, endowed with a charity wide enough to embrace all mankind, having their conscience tremulously sensitive to all claims of duty, yet delivered from all superstitious scruples, emancipated from the fetters of custom, tradition, and the commandments of men, and possessing tempers purged from pride, self-will, impatience, angry passions, vindictiveness, and implacability. That they were slow to learn, and even when their Master left them were far from perfect, we have frankly admitted; still they were men of such excellent moral stuff, that it might be confidently anticipated that having been so long with Jesus they would prove themselves exceptionally good and noble men when they came before the world as leaders in a great movement, called to act on their own responsibility. Not, certainly, as we believe, without the aid of the promised power from on high, not without the enlightening, sanctifying influence of the Paraclete; yet even those who have no faith in supernatural influence must admit on purely psychological grounds, that men who had received such an exceptional training were likely to acquit themselves wisely, bravely, heroically as public characters. According to the actual narrative in the Acts of the Apostles, they did so acquit themselves. According to a well-known school of critics, they acquitted themselves very poorly indeed — in a manner utterly unworthy of their great Master. Which view is the more credible, that of the evangelist Luke, or that of Dr. Baur?
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