Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 313 - June 1882
The effect of this solemn appeal to conscience, grounded on testimonies of Scripture undeniably direct, was both immediate and permanent. The truth of God searched His people unsparingly, His grace met them in sovereign goodness, and established in them the Christ whom they had so blindly and wickedly rejected.
"And when they heard they were pricked in heart, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, What shall we do, brethren? And Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized each of you in the name of Jesus Christ for remission of sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Him. And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, Be saved from this perverse generation. Those then that accepted his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they persevered in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.1 And all that believed were together, and had all things common, and sold their possessions and substance, and distributed them to all according as anyone had need. And day by day, continuing with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they did take their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, "praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord was adding day by day together those that were to be saved" (ver. 37-47).
It was a real work of God in the conscience. They were not persuaded only, but pricked in heart. There was submission to His person whom they had just crucified, and this through faith in God's word. It was not mere remorse, still less a change of mind only, but a real judgment of self before God, whose part they now took against themselves and their unbelieving evil in the past, and a distinct casting themselves on Him whom they had so bitterly despised to their own ruin. Now they repented, and were baptized each of them in the name of Jesus for remission of sins. Through His name the believer receives remission of sins; in none other is, there salvation. He is exalted to give repentance and remission of sins. As they repented, so also were they baptized in His name, according to the charge laid on His servants. They took the place of death with Him: I say not that they • then understood its meaning, as they doubtless entered into it more or less afterwards. The Lord directed His servants to baptize; and the new converts simply and without question submitted. It was His way, nor is any other so good, though many a servant of His has diverged from His orders, and many a convert seems in effect to think himself, in this as in other things, wiser than his Master. It was a clean final break with sins and sin, with man and religious man, with Judaism. Little or nothing could any one of these confessors be supposed at this solemn new-born epoch to apprehend with intelligence; but they did feel before God their own nothingness, and the all-sufficiency of His name who had died on the cross. And they were welcome to the precious privilege conferred on them, as they could in no way have been recognised as disciples of His had they refused baptism in His "name. It was the mark of His confession, the sign of salvation; and woe to him that spurns the authority and grace of Him who instituted it!
But there is another matter of new and immense import that follows. These repentant Jews who submitted to baptism in the name of Jesus Christ for remission of sins are assured of the subsequent gift of the Spirit: "And ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." They were already born of God: without which there could be no repentance, nor faith. They were to be baptized with water in the name of Jesus for remission. Not till then was the believing Jew to receive the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; fur this is in question here, " the gift " (ἡ δωρεά), not merely the gifts (τά χαρίσματα) or powers which accompanied and attested His divine presence now on earth. It is the more necessary to insist on the specific character of the truth, because of the widespread confusion as to all this in Christendom. The gift of the Spirit here spoken of, the peculiar and abiding privilege of the Christian and the Church, is as distinct from new birth by the Spirit as from the gifts of which we read not a little in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles. But there is a circumstantial difference in the manner to be noticed, that while the favoured Jew in Acts ii. had to be baptized before he receives this wondrous gift, the hitherto despised Gentile receives the Holy Ghost before being baptized in the name of the Lord: a difference in my judgment worthy of God, and for His children instructive in His ways.
The inestimable gift was not overlooked in Old Testament Scripture: not only the new blessings of redemption in general, but that of the Spirit particularly. And Peter could here say that the promise was to them and to their children, yea, to all that were afar off, as many as the Lord their God should call to Him. Now that the time was come for displaying, not law nor government, but grace, God would call to Himself the most distant, and bless the needy to the fall. It is no question of a mere external sign, but of the power of God in grace according to His promise.
This was not by any means all the Apostle urged on that memorable day; but from among more and different words it sufficed the Holy Ghost to recall the exhortation, "Bo saved from this perverse generation." For now God was•about to separate as well as forgive and deliver; at least the salvation goes beyond guilt and sin. He would set apart from the perverse generation hurrying on to its speedy ruin, which was rejecting the gospel as it had the Messiah Himself. From the separate people now proved utterly crooked and rebellious He would have His own to be saved, for His own glory and after a new way. This the rest of the book we have begun to study opens out to us; nor can anything of the sort be to us of deeper interest or of more practical value. For we too, though Gentiles naturally, belong to this new family of God, and new testimony of Christ.
"Those then that accepted his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls " (Ver. 41). " Gladly," the reading of the Received Text, is rejected on ample evidence by the critics as not found in the oldest and best authorities. It seems to be a perhaps unconscious importation from, or effect of, chap. xxi. 17, where it is in perfect keeping. Here it is not. For, precious and comforting as the gospel may be, deep seriousness would characterise those souls so newly repentant, and on grounds suited to sound them thoroughly. A "glad" reception would better harmonise with a revival movement and its generally superficial results. The Pentecostal work was both profound and extensive: three thousand souls that day were no slight haul, bit in every way suited to prove that a Divine person was, just come in grace no less than power, both to save and to gather. So it is the Lord's will that we should ever remember and heed from first to last. The Holy Spirit works by the gospel and forms the church.
Further, the Spirit abides evermore, so as to cut οff all excuse for not going on with God according to His word and will. 'So here it is noted that " they persevered in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers " (Var. 42). Such was the course on which entered the souls just born to God and blessed of Him in Christ. The teaching of the apostles supplied the needed instruction, fitted perfectly as they were, not only by the Spirit's recalling to their remembrance all the words of the Lord Jesus, but by His own communication, according to the. Saviour's promise, of all that they themselves could not then bear. Never was there such teaching for souls whose very recent introduction into divine relationships made them hunger and thirst for all would satisfy the new spiritual wants and affections of their souls. And they had it not orally alone, but after a while also in forms written by inspiration, that we too might have "fellowship" with them, taking in now not the twelve only but the great apostle of the Gentiles yet to be called. For "teaching," however valuable, is not enough without "fellowship"; and few weigh how much they owe, to the presence and living commentary on the truth which sharing it all together in practice furnishes.2 Then " the breaking of bread" has a most influential place, both keeping the Lord continually before the saints in His unspeakable grace and suffering, and in drawing out the deepest feelings of the heart, where the exercise or display of power might be otherwise a danger, as we see at Corinth, where the true character of the Eucharist was lost, and the assembly became a scene of ostentation. Nor are "the prayers," meaning I suppose the united or common prayers of the saints, left out of this weighty record; for none can neglect " the prayers" without loss otherwise irreparable; and so much the more of moment were they then as the saints rose to the full joy of their new and everlasting blessedness. For power and privilege would be of all things the most fatal if the saints slipped out of the sense of needed and constant dependence on God.
On the one hand, the moral impression was great and immediate (ver. 43): "fear came upon every soul;" and not the less, but the more, because it was the effect of God's presence in grace, not in judgments which alarm for a moment but soon yield to a fatal reaction. "And many wonders and signs were done through the apostles." The manifestations of power were not only marνellουs, but significant, so as to reveal Him who wrought by means of His servants in His character and ways; alas 1 among a people manifestly treated as unbelieving and apostate: else His word had sufficed and made them out of place.
On the other hand, how lovely the picture the faithful present for a brief moment! " And sf1 that believed were together, and had all things common, and sold their possessions and substance, and distributed them to all according as any one had need. And day by day, continuing with one accord in the temple and breaking bread at home, they did take their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord was adding day by day together those that were to be saved" (ver. 44-47). Never before was such a sight among men on earth; never such love rising above the selfishness of nature, not merely in that land and race, but in any other; and all through the power of divine grace in the name of the Crucified now seen by faith on high. It was sweet fruit of the Spirit as far as possible from a claim or command, however right be the voice of divine authority in its place. But here was the flow, mighty yet unbidden, of divine love that embraced everyone begotten of God, without reserve or stint in hearts which answered in their measure to His who with His Son vouchsafes us all things. It was, no doubt, a peculiar hour of transitional character, exactly suited to a state which beheld all the faithful within one city; what, in fact we never do find when grace called and gathered elsewhere, and especially from among the Gentiles. There love surely was not wanting in the power of God; yet did it never take this shape, but one more adapted to the one body, wherever found on earth. So, too, we may observe the continning in the temple as yet steadfastly, perhaps more so than ever, whilst they celebrated "at home" (not "from house to house") the Lord's Supper: deep and solemn joy in the remembrance of the Saviour, but unabated attachment as yet to the temple and its hours of prayer. Even ordinary meals were lit up with the happiness of His presence: how much more where all His self-sacrifice was before their eyes 1 Thus did they praise God, and all the people regarded them with the favour with which they viewed Christ Himself in His earlier days (Luke ii. 52). In the last verse " to the assembly " appears to be a gloss. "Together," from iii. 1, should come in here: "and the Lord was adding day by day together those were to be saved."3 It was the church, but described, not yet so designated till chap. v. 11, where the saints there called out together are styled "the assembly" or church.
1) Some ancient authorities add "in Jerusalem; and great fear was upon all'," apparently a gloss. Cf. Acts v. 5.
2) Mr. W. G. Humphry would, with others, apply κ. here to "the communication of worldly goods;" but this does not suit the immediate connection, and is given in another form subsequently. Besides κ. requires to be modified, as in Rom. xv. 26, 2 Cor. viii. 8, and Heb. xiii. 16, to mean other than "communion," as here.
3) It appears to me that σώθητε, in ver. 40, refutes the prevalent mistake that τοὺς σώζ. means " those in process of salvation," though this be grammatically possible and, easy. But see Luke xiii. 22. So Heb. x. 10 shows that τοὺς ἁγ. in 14 cannot refer to present process. Not time, but character, is in question.