On the Acts of the Apostles.

Chapter 1:1-11.

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 308 - January 1882


As Luke's narrative of our Lord Jesus was addressed to a christian convert, so was its sequel which recounts the gift of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, in His presence and operation, more especially in the leading apostles, first of the circumcision, then of the uncircumcision. But we have the ways and working of the Holy Spirit, not only with many others, but also in and with the assembly also: a truth of capital moment, though lost sight of practically to the deep dishonour of God, and the irreparable injury of the church itself.

It would seem that Theophilus had either ceased to hold a governorship (or whatever other public position of a magisterial kind the inspired historian implies by the title "most excellent": cf. Acts xxiii. 26, xxiv. 3, xxvi. 25, with Luke i. 3), or had become so matured in faith and so spiritual as to value title as little as position, though one could scarce conceive a faithful man abiding in it. Further, they are not to be heard of in old or modern times, who imagine the name to be a fictitious designation of those who love God. Not only does the comparison of the Gospel with the Acts point to a real Christian to whom the writer inscribes both, but the form of the word would in this case have been Φιλόθεος, as in 2 Timothy iii. 4, and not θεόψιλος.

"The first account I composed, 0 Theophilus, concerning all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which, having by the Holy Spirit charged the apostles whom he had chosen, he was taken up; to whom he also presented himself alive, after he had suffered, by many proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking the things concerning the kingdom of God. And being assembled with [them], he commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem but to await the promise of the Father, which [said he] ye heard of me. For John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit after not many days hence." (Vera. 1-5.)

Such is the simple opening of this book, treating of the wonderful works of God in the new creation, which He would have to be testified in the old by a witness no less competent than His own Spirit. In the cross of the Son of man sin was judged by God, not yet on sinners, but in the one perfect Sacrifice, that God might righteously send forth good tidings of saving mercy to Jew and to Greek, alike ruined that they through faith might be alike saved. And now the Saviour stood in resurrection life and power, first-fruits of them that are asleep, a life-giving Spirit to all that believe. As He had walked according to the Spirit of holiness in a world of sin during the days of His flesh, so now was He marked out Son of God in power according to that Spirit by resurrection, conqueror over Satan in death as in life, as He had also exhausted God's judgment in suffering for sin, that He might be the righteous Head of a new family who live of His life as He died for their sins. Thus does the Gospel of Luke lead into what is commonly though not correctly called " the Acts of the Apostles"; for it is rather the inspired narrative of the risen Lord working in the energy of the Holy Ghost sent down from en high and witnessing to Him there both in the assembly and in His servants, some of the apostles above all.

Even the Lord risen from the dead, though not yet "received up," is seen here enjoining the apostles through the Holy Spirit. (Ver. 2.) It was not merely before He died; in the new estate of man beyond the grave we have the evidence of the same blessed power. The Holy Spirit acts in man risen. In Jesus we see this truth, as every other. It will be so with us when we are raised from the dead; we shall not lose that divine spring of power and joy when or because we enter the final state of man according to the counsels of God. It will be that which is perfect come, but the Holy Spirit will not therefore cease to act in us; rather will He form us for all the worship and service suitable for those glorified with Christ.

That Christ presented Himself alive after He had suffered was the great fact established "by- many proofs" (Ver. 3); and so it is the subject-matter of testimony throughout the book, as it is the foundation truth of the gospel. The God of grace is the God of resurrection in Christ who suffered for sins once, Just for unjust. The apostles are false witnesses of God if He did not raise Him up; and He raised Him not up if no dead are raised; and if He has not been raised, our faith is vain; we are yet in our sins. But He has been raised from the dead, as surely as God is true, His word faithful; His grace and power are alike manifested not more in His chosen witnesses, than in the transforming effects of His testimony on others who believe, once children of disobedience and of wrath, His enemies. The charge was to the apostles from Him risen.

Nor was it only that He was seen by them, or appeared to them, by the space of forty days; He spoke also the things concerning the kingdom of God, as His servants preached afterwards. This was no less true of the apostle to the Gentiles, as we may learn distinctly and to the end from chapters xx. 25, xxviii. 31.

His command, when assembled with them, was not to depart from Jerusalem but to await the promise of the Father, the baptism in the Holy Spirit, not many days after that. (Vers. 4, 5.) It is of the deepest moment that this be understood: for many misapply the Spirit's baptism either to miraculous displays or to the new birth: and the more so, as without doubt He wrought largely in both these ways at Pentecost. But the reader has only .to consider John xiv.–xvi. with care, to learn from God's word that it is not a question here of the great primary need of sinful man at all times to be born of the Spirit, still less of those gifts or "charisms" which were so abundantly distributed among those who confessed the Lord at that time, but of the immense and standing privilege of the church in the presence of the Holy Ghost sent down in person to abide with the saints and be in them. Him the 'ether gave to be with them for ever; .Him the Son sent to them from the Father. For this was contingent on the Son's going away: if He went not away, that other Advocate, the Spirit of truth, would not come. But, the work of reconciliation wrought, Jesus went on high and sent here below the Spirit. This would be the accomplishment of the Father's promise. Thy saints were then to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.

For the believer it is impossible to conceive anything of more commanding importance, whether in itself, for God's glory, for doctrinal truth or for practical value. Yet what was so soon or so generally forgotten? Without it Christ's place as Head of the church is unknown, and consequently the true relationship of the church as His body. Redemption is enfeebled, the new and heavenly place of the Christian is neither understood nor enjoyed, and the proper hope is levelled down to a Jewish expectation with its signs and dates, its troubles and fears. Still more directly does lack of faith as to the baptism of the Holy Ghost affect the walk and service of the individual, the joint worship and public action of the assembly. There is no surer sign, no more fatal means, of the ruin of the entire testimony to Christ than the blank ignorance, the utter exclusion, of this incomparable power and privilege for the Christian and the church, which now pervades Christendom, as it has done since apostolic times. Oh, what a mercy on God's part, what love on His own, what honour to Christ and His cross, that the Holy Spirit deigned to abide in all His truth to the church, if the church has been thus false to Him I The gift or baptism of the Holy Ghost was the promise of the Father, and the disciples heard it from the Son. John, the, greatest of mere men woman-born, baptized with water, the baptism of repentance; the Son of God but risen and ascended Man, the same is He that baptizeth in (or with) the Holy Spirit. None indeed could but a divine person; yet is it the One who became man to accomplish redemption and was received up in glory whence He sent the Spirit down.

"They therefore being come together asked him, saying, Lord, dust thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not yours to know times or seasons which the Father set in his own authority. But ye shall receive power at the coming of the Holy Spirit upon you; and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth. And having said these things, as they looked, he was taken up, and a cloud withdrew him from their eyes. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went on, behold, two men stood by them in white garments, who also said, Men of Galilee, why stand ye looking into heaven? This Jesus that was taken up from you into heaven shall so come in the manner in which ye beheld him going into heaven." (Vers. 6-11.)

As in the Gospel (chap. xix. 11, &e.) the Lord corrects the hasty expectations of the disciples: the kingdom was not immediately to appear. The Passover was to be Fulfilled in it when it would assume a different shape. (Chap. xxii.) The christian form of the kingdom however is not here spoken of, because the question was about restoring it at that time to Israel. Now the Lord does not at all contradict such a restoration in its season, but the salvation of Israel and the restoration of the kingdom to the chosen people clearly belonged to the ways of God of which prophecy treats; and He lets them know that times and seasons the Father placed in His own authority. Another vista He opens out to them as that immediately before them. "But ye shall receive power at the coming of the Holy Spirit upon you; and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth." These words explain the situation with divine precision and unspeakable grace. It was not yet to be the displayed kingdom which belongs to the age and world to come. Now it is a question of testimony in the power of the Holy Ghost, with whose mission and presence it is bound up. They were to be witnesses of Christ, not yet reigning with Him, but His witnesses, as rejected yet risen, despised of men, especially of the Jews and Jerusalem, but on the point of being exalted of God in heaven; and witnesses of Him—for all is of grace —both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth. Compare with this beginning of the Acts the end of Luke's Gospel, where the risen Saviour commands that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. "And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high." It is not baptism here, but vital blessing, repentance unto life and remission of sins sealed with the Holy Ghost. 411 has its place, and propriety; but the better thing it was the lot of the beloved physician to indite under the inspiring energy of God, who was in honour of His Son's person and work giving life and liberty with the Spirit's seal to all that believe the gospel: its source the grace of God; its righteous foundation the cross of Christ; its character of life His resurrection; its formative object the heavenly glory; and its power the Holy Ghost sent down from above.

But the true outlook of hope is wanted to complete the circle of blessing. And this, at least as far as it is connected with the scope of this book (for there is a divinely perfect system in all scripture and in every distinct part), now follows, the hope of our Lord's return. "And having said these things, as they looked, he was taken up, and a cloud withdrew him from their eyes. And while they were gazing into heaven, as he went on, behold, two men stood by them in white garments, who also said, Men of Galilee, why stand ye looking into heaven? This Jesus who was taken u ρ from you into heaven shall so come in the manner in which ye beheld him going into heaven." Doubtless it is His return for the kingdom to be established over ell nations and tongues, for the times of the restitution of all things, and not specially to receive His own to Himself and present them in the Father's house. It is the more general aspect of His coming, and not the heavenly side. Still it is the personal object for the saints, the Lord coming again in person, as surely as the chosen witnesses saw Him taken up from them into heaven. This the disciples have let slip as a real living hope, not more to His dishonour and the grief of the Spirit than to their own immeasurable loss. For if faith be the more essential as men say, the true hope cannot be obscured, weakened, or destroyed, without proportionate injury, if we judge by the only true measure of God's glory in Christ. We fall into misleading hopes as soon as the truth ceases to be before the heart; and none is so false as to look for the gradual amelioration of that world or even of Christendom which must be judged in the day of the Lord, instead of waiting as pilgrims and strangers, the bride separate from the world, for Christ to come and fetch us to heaven for the marriage-supper of the Lamb. This is gracious and heavenly separateness to God, above the world's attractions and honours, outside its evils, and unmoved by its enmity. May it be more and more tree of us in His grace!