I. By whom required?—All, seeing that all have sinned.
II. Wherein lies its seat?—In the heart, as distinguished from the head.
III. By what produced?—
1. The instrument—the word of God, either preached or read.
2. The agent—the Holy Ghost applying the word to the conscience.
IV. To what it leads?—A sense of danger and feeling of alarm, prompting the cry, "What shall we do?"
V. How removed?—By:
2. Remission of sin.
3. Reception of the Holy Ghost.
The Cry of awakened Souls, "What shall we do?" The cry of:
I. Acknowledged guilt.
II. Realised danger.
III. Conscious helplessness.
IV. Earnest desire.
V. Eager hope.
VI. Humble docility.
VII. Arising faith.
The Spirit and the New Sense of Sin.—Confucius is said to have once exclaimed, in an outburst of despondency, "It is all over! I have not yet seen one who could perceive his fault and inwardly accuse himself." Confucius is not alone in that verdict upon human nature. The lament is suggestive. It implies the enormous difficulty of bringing an average man to admit his fault. It is all but impossible to argue the world into a frank and unreserved acknowledgment of its follies and misdemeanours. The most horrible offences which have ever blotted and befouled the history of mankind find ingenious apologists. At this very hour men will write to the newspapers to defend with sociological sophistries every vice that saps and smirches our national life. Where the Spirit of God does not work in the fulness of His power true moral discernment is wanting. You might as well make a colour-blind man judge at a flower-show, as accept from one who has not the Spirit of God a verdict upon questions of morals not already determined by statute law or public opinion. To convince of sin is a work of supreme difficulty worthy of the Spirit's matchless light and wisdom and resource. So many forces militate against the work of the Spirit in convincing the world of sin, that the wonder is we should come to see any dawning humility, reproach, and self-accusation in human nature at all.
I. The instinctive pride of human nature is arrayed against this first task of the Comforter.—The man who, born to wealth, lands himself in an unhappy bankruptcy is rarely able to adapt himself to a life of straitened circumstance. He will think he has the right to ride behind horses, to be waited on, and to drink the best wines, to the end of his days, although he may never redeem his fortunes. His habits cling to him, and he goes upon the assumption that once a merchant prince, always a prince. A fallen king can rarely reconcile himself to the position of a mere subject. Poor plaything of chance though he is, he looks upon his hereditary rights as interminable, and claims from his followers on the tossing sea, or in the mountain cave or island prison, to which his conquerors have banished him, the deference he had claimed when the head of a brilliant court. And so with human nature. It seems to possess some faint hereditary consciousness of its own high birth. It has some pathetic and indefinable reminiscence of the position to which it was designated in the beginning. The reverence of children and the honour of neighbours are demanded as rights. The Bible, too, seems to give its sanction to this code of etiquette; for, in spite of all it has to say about the depravity of human nature, it enforces the universal honour of man as man. Can we be content to honour ourselves less than it is claimed others must honour us? We are built up in pride by that habit of expecting honour at the hands of others, the germ of which is perhaps hereditary, and we repel and resent that self-humiliation to which the Spirit must needs bring the best of us.
II. The work of the sin-convincing Spirit is further hindered by the fact that we judge ourselves in the light of an imaginary future, as well as by the ideals of an outfading past. We draw the material for our own portraiture from the flattering hopes we have been wont to cherish, rather than from the practical record we have left behind us. We had meant to be holy and noble and without reproach, and have not yet relinquished our great intentions, and it is from that standpoint we form the estimate of ourselves. It is not the spendthrift youth only, with a small income and extravagant conceptions of life, who makes audacious drafts upon the future. We are all prone to live in a fool's paradise, in the ethical sense. We are not yet at the end of our career, and of course we are going some day to be faultless from every point of view. And the glamour of that dream is always before our eyes when we are called to the task of knowing ourselves. The future, as we intend to shape it, will more than outbalance the past.
III. Another difficulty encountered by the Spirit in this preparatory work is that we find ourselves with personalities whose natural perceptions are more active than their moral.—Two diseases work within us, our physical senses are in a condition of hyperæsthesia and morbid sleeplessness, and our spiritual senses are blunted by an ominous coma and a fast-developing in-duration. The perceptions of pleasure and pain are so much keener than the consciousness of right and wrong, that we never forget the wrongs done to us by others, and spend our lives in counting up the pitiful sum, whilst our heart grows stone-dead to the trespasses we have committed against both God and our fellows. We are occupied with an arithmetic that is entirely false, vicious, and misleading, and can never give us an equation of justice and of truth. Whilst our natural sensibilities are so keen, that we can give a most minute and detailed account of all the wrongs inflicted upon us by others, our moral sensibilities seem to be represented by a single attenuated nerve-thread only, which is so obtuse that it fails to register a tithe of the wrongs we do to others; and it is hard to bring us to that state of soul described by the expression "pricked in the heart." And we come to look upon these solitary delinquencies as more than outweighed by the losses of which we are the victims through the multitudinous delinquencies of others. And by thinking of these possible offsets in judgment, we shut out the operation of the Spirit as He seeks to convince of sin.
IV. We are sometimes trained to self-justification by the exigencies of our daily life, and a tenacious habit is formed within us adverse to the sin-convincing work of the Spirit. The current conditions of society are such that certain cardinal moralities, and a reputation for them, are necessary to worldly success. We must vindicate our name at every turn if we are to live. The competition that prevails in all sections of the world, grave and gay alike, is in the last analysis the competition of reputations, and we must keep up our reputations, unless we are to go to the wall. It has become a second nature to us to overlook our own faults entirely, and to be ever dressing out our virtues for the eye of the world; and we carry the habit of self-vindication into God's presence, and exercise it before His bar, perhaps at the very time we are joining in the General Confession of the Liturgy. When trees have been bent by the prevailing winds that have been beating upon them for half a century, it is not easy to make them lean in the other direction. A passing hurricane will not effect the reversion.
V. Our passionate self-interests league themselves against the work of the Spirit as He comes to convince us of sin.—We live in a world sadly lacking in charity and tenderness, and to plead guilty of a trespass in the common affairs of life would often be to invite punishment more or less severe. The world gives us the full benefit of all the confessions we pour into its ear, and we soon learn the art of keeping confessions to ourselves. In very few communities indeed is the admission of error a highway to advancement. Wherever Governments are cruel and public opinion is harsh and pitiless, you will find a proportionate reluctance to admit error and shortcoming. The most immaculate people in the world, according to their own estimate at least, are to be found in the lands where rule is despotic and public opinion pitiless. And some traces of this fact are present in our own midst. For the servant to confess error would be in many instances to challenge dismissal, especially if his position is one of trust and responsibility; for a master to confess error would be to invite strikes and to risk the break up of his authority; for a tradesman to confess grave error would in some cases lead to a discontinuance of the business that has been given him. I have heard some men plead that authority must be upheld when it is wrong, because to allow that it had made mistakes might pave the way to anarchic conditions of feeling. And this repugnance to the acknowledgment of error, ingrained into us through our worldly training and experience, influences us when the Spirit begins to deal with us and to convince us of our sin. Confession is almost inseparably associated with the idea of drastic punishment. What is the method of the Spirit's logic? By what process does He introduce into the human mind and implant there these stern, unflattering convictions of sin? His work is creative, and we cannot penetrate its many secrets; and answers to these questions are necessarily fragmentary and inadequate.
1. The Holy Spirit for the fulfilment of His appointed work puts an environment of new ideals before the mind. He testifies of Christ, and in so doing makes us see how in His humanity all divine excellencies have come down into the midst of men and made themselves a new law to the conscience. Some little time ago I was passing through a country lane, and saw a flock of sheep feeding on the hillside. They seemed to be milk-white, justifying the scriptural metaphor, "He scattereth hoar-frost like wool," and fit to be welcomed as pets into a drawing-room. In comparison with the green pastures in which they were feeding, their fleeces seemed bleached into spotlessness. Not long after, a snowstorm came, and I had occasion to pass by the same field. But the sheep did not seem to be the same creatures at all. The background had changed as if by magic, and they were in a new world, the conditions of which served to bring out their griminess. The collier, rising out of the pit into the sunshine after a night of toil, scarcely looked grimier than those spotless sheep of yesterday. So when the Spirit brings down from the presence of God on high into these human souls new ideals of truth and righteousness, love, purity, faithfulness, the soul sees itself against a new ethical background. The philanthropist puts himself by the side of churl and niggard, and says, How open-handed I am! A man poses before the background of ethical mediocrity current in his town, or city, or nation, and is quite content with his past record. And for the time his self-satisfaction seems to be warranted. But by-and-by the new background comes in. He awakes to the fact that he is in God's presence, and sees himself standing by the side of the spotless Son of man in whom the Father has revealed Himself, and before the great white throne of all-searching judgment, and he is filled with shame and self-condemnation,
2. The Spirit enwraps the man to whom He comes with a new atmosphere of sympathy and graciousness, unlike that which exists in the world and provokes to ingenuous self-justification. He who comes under this ministry feels almost instinctively His right to search the heart and bring every delinquency before a divine tribunal. It is useless to attempt concealment, for the Spirit knows us more thoroughly than we know ourselves, and can constrain the most reluctant natures into a consciousness of their own evil. He acts upon us, not like the angry storm which leads men to bar their doors and close their shutters, but like the soft south wind, which opens every labyrinth of the heart and life to the light. It is no treachery or ill-will or unrelenting antagonism which is bringing right home to us the unwelcome facts of the past, but helping and healing beneficence.
3. But over and above these things, a new power of moral discernment needs to be aroused in those who are to be re-created by the ministry of the Spirit. The Pharisee met Jesus, and had no sense of guilt. The idea of spiritual sin seemed to be entirely foreign to the genius of his thought. He looked upon the surpassing excellence of this man of Nazareth as mere eccentricity, a freak of fanaticism, a spasm of madness. Men needed new senses, an enlargement of the conscience that would enable them to feel the guilt of unchastened desire, evil imagination, soulless worship. And where the Spirit comes, whilst He deadens to the illusions of the world and its vain shows, He makes men conscious of the paramount significance of the faintest things which touch their relation to the invisible. By awakening these new perceptions the Spirit brings into view the countless spiritual sins of the former days, and shuts men up for hope to the one common law of mercy. The fact that the sins of the spirit as well as the sins of the body are rebuked by this inward Teacher is indicated by that expansion of the words immediately added—indeed, sins of the spirit are the roots of all outward transgression—"of sin, because they believe not on Me." In the view of the Spirit this is the core of all heinousness in either the ancient or the modern world, and the Spirit will demonstrate it to those with whom He deals.
4. The conviction of sin is the groundwork of all religious belief, and there can be no genuine consciousness of divine things which does not begin here. Remember in what an awful state the man is who lacks this new sense of sin. If the natural senses were blotted out, a man would walk into some death-trap or other in less than twenty-four hours. And when a man lacks these spiritual senses, is the peril less tragic, think you? The highest thing that the love of God or man can seek for you is that you may have this sense of sin. Has it been born within you? Do you possess this sign of a dawning spiritual life?—T. G. Selby.
Act . The Gift of the Holy Ghost.
I. Supernatural as to its origin.
II. Mysterious as to its enjoyment.
III. Free as to its bestowment.
IV. Conditioned as to its reception.
V. Permanent as to its duration.
VI. Saving as to its effect.
Act . The Cross, the Crucifiers, and the Crucified.
I. The crucified One.—Let us note concerning this.
1. Who He was. "That same Jesus"; yes, Jesus of Nazareth.
2. What was done to Him. He was betrayed, tried, condemned, crucified, slain.
3. By whom was this done? By "His own"; by "Israel," the house of Israel.
4. What God has made Him. "Both Lord and Christ." The stone which the builders rejected has been made the head of the corner.
II. The crucifiers.—They were, as we have seen, "the house of Israel." They had deliberately united to crucify.—
1. An innocent man.
2. A good man.
3. A prophet.
4. The Lord of Glory.
5. Their own Messiah. They were thus not merely murderers, but no ordinary ones; criminals in the highest and darkest sense.
III. The connection between the crucified and the crucifiers for evil and for good.
1. For evil. For condemnation. It was this that they felt so awfully when the Apostle had stated the simple facts.
(1) They were pricked in their hearts.
(2) They cried out, What shall we do? A full sense of their awful criminality flashed through them.
2. For good. This connection for evil might be disannulled, and a new one formed.—H. Bonar, D.D.
Act . The Promise of the Gospel.
I. As to its giver, divine.
II. As to its contents, saving.
III. As to its terms, free.
IV. As to its recipients, universal.
V. As to its continuance, irrevocable.
To you and to your Children; or, the Church Membership of Children.
I. The import of this statement.—Not that all children indiscriminately and promiscuously should be regarded as within the pale of the Church visible, but only those of such parents or parent as accepted and relied upon the promise.
II. The ground of this statement.—That children were considered as within the pale of the Old Testament Church, and that under the New the promise of salvation (remission of sins and reception of the Holy Ghost), and therefore of Church membership, is distinctly offered to men and women not by themselves, but along with their offspring.
III. The consequence of this statement.—
1. The salvation of children dying in infancy. This seems, in the case at least of the children of believing parents, involved in their relation to the promise. The promise belongs to them in virtue of their connection with believing parents, and is given to them the moment they accept it by an act of personal repentance and faith. Hence, in the case of such as die before this repentance and faith can be exercised, it seems reasonable to conclude that they are saved. Nor is it an unnatural supposition with regard to infants generally who die before attaining to years of responsibility that they also, for Christ's sake, share in the blessing of the promise.
2. The reasonableness of infant baptism. If to them belongs the promise of salvation, why should they not receive its sign and seal? If it be answered that faith must precede baptism, the answer is that faith must also precede salvation. If, then, a child cannot be baptised without faith, the conclusion is that neither can he be saved without faith. In other words, a child dying in infancy must be lost. We prefer to believe Christ: "Of such is the kingdom of heaven."
Act . Words for Anxious Inquirers.
I. Their duty pointed out.—
3. Be baptised.
II. Their salvation assured.—
1. The Holy Ghost is for them who perform these duties.
2. As a free gift.
3. In undoubted certainty.
III. Their warrant set forth.—
1. The promise of salvation is for them. 2 They are called to believe the promise and accept the gift.
Act . The Miraculous Draught of Souls.
I. The deep sea.—The listening multitude.
II. The gospel net.—The sermon of Peter.
III. The great catch.—Three thousand converts in one day.
Act . Scala Salutis; or, the Ladder of Salvation.
I. Repentance cherished.
II. Faith expressed.
III. Sin forgiven.
IV. The Holy Ghost received.
V. Baptism submitted to.
VI. The Church entered.
Act . They continued steadfastly.—Lit. constantly applying themselves unto, or being engaged in. A term characteristic of Luke (see Act 2:46; Act 6:4; Act 8:13; Act 10:7). The apostles' doctrine—I.e., listening to and applying to themselves the teaching of the Twelve. From this expression, τῇ διδαχῇ τῶν ἀποστόλων, the title of Didache seems to have been borrowed. (Compare Wohlenberg, Die Lehre der Zwölf Apostel, s. 49). And fellowship.—Rather, and in fellowship, but whether:
(1) unity of spirit and brotherly intercourse with one another (Gal ), or
(2) in acts of sacramental communion, or
(3) in communication—i.e., distribution of money (Rom ) is disputed. The second sense is excluded by the fact that "fellowship" was not used to mean communion in the Lord's Supper before the fourth century. The third, though supported by eminent authorities (Olshausen, Bengel, Zöckler, Hackett, Spence, and others), does not appear so good as the first (Meyer, Holtzmann, Alford, Lechler, and others). Breaking of bread meant the Lord's Supper, as in Luk 22:12; Luk 20:7-11; 1Co 11:23. Prayers were public and private devotions (Act 3:1; Act 4:24).
Act . All things common.—This pointed not merely to an exuberant and spontaneous liberality (De Wette, Neander, Bengel), but to an actual community of goods—which, however, was not legally instituted, but voluntarily practised. See Act 4:32 ff., Act 5:1. "A sort of community of goods appears already to have existed in the lifetime of Christ. See Luk 8:3; Joh 12:6; Joh 13:29" (Holtzmann).
Act . From house to house, though not inadmissible (Tit 1:5; compare κατʼ οἴκους, Act 20:20, and κατὰ πόλιν, Luk 8:1), should perhaps be rendered "at home" (Philippians 2), as distinguished from "in the temple. Possibly both ideas should be included, as the number of believers was already too large to find accommodation in one house.
Act . Added to the Church should be added, the words "to the Church" being omitted in the best MSS., and "together," ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ, found in its stead. Such as should be saved.—Rather, such as are being saved. The present participle denoting a process rather than a completed fact. "The Greek should have been τοὺς σεσωσμένους, to signify that they had already secured their salvation; and τοὺς σωθησομένους to signify that they were certain of its completion" (Hackett).
I. The leaders of the Church.—The apostles, who were employed in two ways:
1. Teaching. Instructing the newly baptised converts in the elements of Christian truth. Baptising and teaching the order prescribed by Christ (Mat ). This traverses the idea that baptism should not be administered to infants because these cannot understand the gospel before being baptised.
2. Working miracles. Doing signs and wonders; most likely healing sick persons. The curing of the lame man (Act ) an example of their activity in this direction. Their "works" secured a hearing for their "words." "Good works" should always accompany "good words."
II. The members of the Church.—
1. The New Converts. Devoted to four things:
(1) Waiting on the teaching of the apostles. An example for young Christians, who should desire the sincere milk of the world that they might grow thereby (1Pe ).
(2) Cultivating religious fellowship with one another. Joining, doubtless, in common acts of worship and mutual deeds of kindness. So should Christ's disciples not forsake the assembling of themselves together (Heb ), or forget to be kindly affectioned one to another (Eph 4:32), speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19), and endeavouring to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).
(3) Celebrating the Lord's Supper. At first observed on the evening of every day, at the close of a common meal or lovefeast (Agap), it gradually came to be dissociated from the lovefeast, and to be celebrated at wider intervals.
(4) Engaging in acts of devotion. Praying both in public "in the temple" and privately "at home." Perhaps using the prayers of the Jewish sanctuary; more likely employing the prayer which Christ had taught His disciples (Mat ); and outpouring besides, in speech of their own, their hearts' desires for themselves and for one another.
2. The whole body of believers. Of these, who also continued daily in the temple praising God and celebrating the Lord's Supper in their homes, three things additional are recorded:
(1) They maintained visible unity among themselves. Not only being of "one accord," but meeting "in one place." Not necessarily in one building all at once, since a commodious enough chamber might be difficult to find in Jerusalem, but in separate groups in different rooms, the essential thing about their meetings being that they were characterised by a spirit of concord and unity.
(2) They supported themselves by a common purse. Those who had "lands" or "estates"—i.e., real property—and those who had "goods" or personal property, sold what belonged to them and cast the proceeds into a common fund, out of which each man received what was needful for his daily sustenance. This, the first effort after Christian socialism, was probably dictated by two things—a desire to live as nearly as possible like Christ and His apostles (Joh ), and the necessity of finding a livelihood for those who, by becoming Christians, had been thrown out of their customary employments, and so reduced to want. How far this experiment of the Jerusalem Church was binding on the Churches that afterwards arose, or how far it should be followed by Churches to-day, are questions on which the "Hints on Act 4:34-35" may be consulted.
(3) They grew in popularity with the outside public. Owing doubtless to the "signs and wonders of the apostles," by which the populace were impressed; to the increasing number of believers, which caused the new movement to be respected; to the peaceful character of the Christians, who, not being turbulent fellows, gradually disarmed the people's fears and suspicions; and to the kindness they exhibited towards each other, which naturally drew the people to regard them with sympathy.
III. The Head of the Church.—The Lord—i.e., Jesus Christ. Occupied in two ways.
1. Impressing the people.
(1) With fear towards Himself. Religious awe (Luk ) fell on every soul who witnessed what was going on. They said "This is the doing of the Lord!" (Psa 118:23).
(2) With favour towards the disciples. These came to be looked upon with approbation (Luk ), on account doubtless of their serious characters and peaceful lives.
2. Increasing the Church. Adding to it daily through the preaching of the apostles—not those who should be, or those who were, but those who were being saved.
1. The secret of spiritual growth—continuing in the apostles' doctrine, etc. (Act ).
2. The secret of Church stability—walking in love and bearing one another's burdens (Act ).
3. The secret of happiness—the cultivation of piety at home and the exhibition of it abroad (Act ).
4. The secret of ecclesiastical prosperity—God adding to the Church those who are being saved.