The Work of the Holy Spirit as Seen in the Book of Acts.
by J. M. Davies
THE Book of the Acts forms a fitting complement to the Gospels on the one hand, and to the Epistles on the other. It links both together into one living whole. It commences where the Gospels stop and prepares us for the Epistles. It provides us with an inspired history of the first thirty years of the Christian era.
In the Gospels, we have the record of the incarnation of Christ, the record of Him taking upon Himself the "form of a man," that through that body, He might manifest God to men. In the Book of the Acts, we have recorded the coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell in the "Body of Christ" that through it, He might manifest Christ to men. So that we might expect prominence to be given to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Acts, just as prominence is given to the ministry of Christ in the Gospels. And this is just what we do find.
In all, there are some 53 references to the Holy Spirit in the book, and it is imperative that these be examined if we are to comprehend what is His mission and ministry. It is important to notice that He is spoken of in terms implying personality, and also referred to as God.
"Thou hast not lied unto men but unto God" (Acts 5. 4).
These 53 references may be classified into the following groups—
1. Those relative to the Holy Spirit and the Saviour.
2. Those relative to the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures.
3. Those relative to the Holy Spirit and the Sanctuary—The Church.
4. Those relative to the Holy Spirit and Salvation and the Saints.
5. Those relative to the Holy Spirit and Service.
6. Those relative to the Holy Spirit and the Saints that Sinned.
7. Those relative to the Holy Spirit and Stiff-necked Israel and the SINNER.
We shall consider them in the above order.
I.—THOSE RELATIVE TO THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE SAVIOUR.
(a) Acts 10. 38. "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power." A reference to what happened on Jordan's banks after He had been baptized by John the Baptist.
It is said that when, under the old economy, worshippers would bring their lambs to the temple for sacrifice, they would be inspected by the priests with minute scrutiny to see if there was any spot or blemish in them. If the representatives of the law were satisfied, they would seal the lamb with the temple seal, thus certifying that it was fit for sacrifice and for food. And when the Lord Jesus appeared at Jordan, God bore testimony to His spotless and holy life. God affixed the heavenly seal of approval. John, seeing this, cried out saying, "Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." He is a Lamb meet for the altar, and for food. He satisfies the claims of God and is sufficient to meet the needs of men.
Ere Elisha commenced his ministry, he was duly anointed by Elijah to the prophetic office, and similarly, the Prophet spoken of in prophecy, the Lord Jesus Christ, was anointed of the Holy Ghost to be the Prophet of God unto Israel. Like Moses, a "prophet mighty in word and in deed," like Jeremiah, a weeping prophet, weeping over Jerusalem. Alas! that, like his predecessors, his words were unheeded and despised. They said, "He deceiveth the people." Instead of Moses, they would have a golden calf; Jeremiah they put into a dungeon; Christ they killed! And they have had to suffer the curse and the judgment ever since. It is a solemn thing to turn the deaf ear to God's anointed prophet.
(b) Acts 2. 33—"Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this."
As the anointing at Jordan was a testimony to His life, here we have the Holy Ghost bearing testimony to His glory. As the first was the anointing to the office of the prophet, this would be the anointing to the office of the High priest. "God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows" (Heb. 1. 9).
Under the Mosaic economy, it was essential that the High Priest should be anointed with holy oil before he could minister in the sanctuary, and the priests had to be anointed ere they could minister at the altar. Aaron was anointed with oil twice, both prior to offering the sacrifice and after (Lev. 8. 12. 30), whereas his sons, the priests were only anointed once, and that after the offering had been waved and offered and after the blood had been applied to the ear, the thumb and the great toe, for the Holy oil was not to be poured upon flesh (Exod. 30. 32). Corresponding to the two-fold anointing of Aaron, we have the Lord Jesus Christ prior to the Cross, in His High Priestly prayer of John 17, saying in connection with the sanctification of those who believed on Him; "For this purpose I sanctify myself that they also may be sanctified." Then subsequent to the Cross, having ascended to the right hand of God, He was anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows. He received of the Father, the promise of the Holy Ghost, thereby becoming the "Great Priest of our confession." Consequently, the Holy Ghost is poured out upon the believers, constituting them anointed priests, a spiritual priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices.
The pouring forth of the Holy Ghost referred to in this verse was final proof that the sacrifice of Calvary had satisfied all the claims of God's law, and that He had entered upon His ministry within the veil, becoming the minister of the Heavenly sanctuary to make reconciliation for the sins of His people. And "Seeing He ever liveth to make intercession, He is able to save to the uttermost all that come to God by Him." Blessed consequence.
II.—THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE SCRIPTURES.
"God hath spoken by the mouth of all His prophets" (Acts 3. 21-23).
"To Him give all the prophets witness" Acts 10. 43.
These two quotations may serve as an epitome of the Scriptures that fall under this section. They testify that all the prophets were borne along by the Holy Spirit and that all the prophets bear witness of Christ and the salvation of God through Him.
In days when the inspiration of the Word of God is being doubted by many and denied by many others, it is refreshing to remind ourselves of the attitude of the Apostles toward it as it is recorded in the Acts. In this, they are imitators of their Lord, who, when in the wilderness, found the Scriptures a sufficient stay and a successful sword. The fact that God hath spoken and that we have these utterances recorded and preserved for us to-day, should draw out our hearts in sincere thanksgiving and praise, especially when one considers the motley of voices that clamour for our consideration and confidence.
A cursory reading of the messages of the Apostles is sufficient evidence of the fact that they considered the testimony of the Scriptures as final and authoritative.
At the choice of a successor of Judas, Peter said "men and brethren, the Scriptures must needs have been fulfilled." At Pentecost, again he said, "This is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel" At the Jerusalem conference, the conclusion was arrived at finally by the words of James as he said, "And to this agree the words of the prophet."
It was the fact that the Scriptures were considered to be the oracles of God, given through the instrumentality of His chosen servants, that they were made the final court of appeal. The following quotations are proof of this.
Chapter 1. 16, "The Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake concerning Judas.”
2. 16-17, "It shall come to pass in the last days saith God."
4. 25, "Thou art God, who by the mouth of David hast said."
28. 25, "Well spake the Holy Ghost by Isaiah . . ."
Paul was very careful to say that he "said none other things than those which the prophets and Moses said should come." This is further borne out by the well-nigh 200 quotations from the Old Testament in the Epistles of Paul alone.
It is noteworthy that some of the portions which have become the subject of criticism as to the question of authorship, have been especially guarded by the writer's name being given. Thus Psalms 3; 16; and 110 are referred to as David's (Acts 2. 25; 4. 25; 2. 34) while in Chapter 13. 3-35, Psalms 2 and 16 are quoted as the oracles of God. Deuteronomy is quoted as "Moses truly said" 3. 22-24. Both parts of Isaiah are referred to as the work of the one prophet. Chapter 8. 28-30 is from Isaiah 53, whereas chapter 28. 25 is a quotation from Isaiah 6. 8-9.
In writing to the saints at Corinth, the Apostle emphasized his fear lest they should be drawn away from the simplicity which is in or towards Christ, one mark of which is confidence in His Word. Once we are robbed of this, there can be no desire to conform to its principles or to propagate its message, as characterized in the Apostolic days. So, may our hands not hang down, or our knees be feeble, or the path of our feet be uneven, in regard to this most important matter of the Inspiration of the Scriptures, so that through our testimony, that which is lame, may be healed rather than turned out of the way.
III.—THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE SANCTUARY, THE CHURCH.
When the Church is spoken of as the temple of God, the word for the "inner Sanctuary" is used, so the Church of God to-day is the Holy of Holies and the people of God, the Cherubim in the midst of whom He dwells.
During the Jewish economy, the Tabernacle in Shiloh and later the Temple in Jerusalem were the dwelling-places of Jehovah. When our Lord was on earth, His body was the Temple. With the passing away of the Jewish dispensation and the exaltation of the Lord, there was need of another Sanctuary on earth. At Pentecost, this was brought into being, and in the book of Acts, we have the history of its formation and the pattern for its administration.
1. ITS FORMATION. (Acts 2). Baptism in the Holy Spirit.
It was on the day of Pentecost, that the Holy Spirit was given and the Church formed. Whereas all who were baptized in the Holy Spirit on that occasion were disciples prior to the event, they were not members of the Church which is His body for the simple reason that there was no such body. There could be no body without a head, and Christ was constituted the Head at His exaltation (Eph. 1. 22). As the stones of Solomon's temple were quarried and hewn and trimmed prior to being brought on to the temple ground, so with these disciples. At Pentecost, they were incorporated into the Church as foundation stones (Eph. 2. 20). The order of the words "Apostles and Prophets," places the Prophets as New Testament Prophets. Of those who were converted on that day and after, we are told that they were added. "And the Lord added to the Church daily" . . . (Chap. 2. 47, c.f. 5. 14 and 11. 24). Thus, it is the Lord's prerogative to add and He only adds the saved, and it is to denote this Divine mode of adding to or incorporating into the Church, that the term "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" is used in the New Testament. "In one Spirit are we all baptized into one body . . . whether Jews or Greeks" (1 Cor. 12. 13).
The portions dealing with the Samaritans (chap. 8) Gentiles (chap. 10) and the Grecian Jews (chap. 19), and the import of the special manifestations in connection with them will come under our notice in connection with the next section when the terms Baptism in the Holy Spirit and its related terms will be considered.
2. ITS ADMINISTRATION (Acts 20. 28).
"Take heed therefore to yourselves and to the flock of God over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers to feed the flock of God."
The Apostle Paul laboured in Ephesus for the space of three years, possibly longer than in any other one place. Hence, we might expect to find the Church there more developed than any other. The fact that they were able to receive the meat of the Epistle addressed to them confirms this.
In Acts 20, there are three words used which help us to apprehend something of the internal administration of the Church. Paul called the elders (Presbuteros) of the Church (v. 9). These are addressed as overseers, or Bishops (Episcopos) (v. 28) and are told to feed or shepherd the flock (v. 28). The word rendered feed being the verb form of the word "Pastor" or "Shepherd." Hence, the same men were elders, bishops and pastors. Elders denoting spiritual maturity; Bishops denoting spiritual consistency necessary in view of correcting and rebuking others; and Pastors denoting spiritual capacity to teach the word to edification. There were many in the one Church. But in Christendom, to-day the order is reversed so that instead of what we see in the pattern, we have one Bishop over many churches, and many evangelicals who disclaim the title "Rev." substitute it by using the word "Pastor" in an official sense. By pattern and precept, the Scriptures teach that there should be plurality of elders who are to recognize their responsibility to shepherd and to teach the flock. Comp. 1 Peter 5. 1-4. "The elders that are among you—I exhort as a fellow elder, feed the flock of God, taking the oversight thereof." Peter and Paul agree.
As in the house of the Lord at Shiloh, there came to be found in it, a seat for Eli, a sleeping place for Samuel, and doors to be shut and opened without any revelation regarding them or any record as to when they were added, so to-day, there are many points of departure from the pattern without any foundation for them in Scripture. And it is even difficult to determine with accuracy when they came into practice to begin with.
IV.—RELATIVE TO SALVATION AND THE SAINTS.
This forms one of the most important sections of our study. Apart from the word "comfort of the Holy Ghost," there are seven different words, or terms, used in the book, relative to the Spirit's work in this connection. It is necessary that they be noted and compared with one another, and with other scriptures, if we are to acquire a scriptural apprehension of their portent. When Isaac digged again the wells that his father had digged, he called their names after the names by which his father had called them (Gen, 26. 18). So, we need to hold fast the form of sound words, and call spiritual experiences by their divinely given names. Much harm has been done by the misuse and misapplication of scriptural terms.
The seven words used in the book are—
1. Baptize (1. 5; 11. 16).
2. Come upon (1. 8; 19. 6).
3. Shed forth. Pour forth (2. 17, 33; 10. 45).
4. Holy Spirit given (8. 18; 10. 45; 15. 8).
5. Receiving the Holy Spirit (8. 17; 10. 47; 19. 2).
6. Fallen (10. 44; 11. 15).
7. Filled (2. 4; 4. 8, 31; 7. 55; 9. 17; 13. 52).
8. Full (6. 3; 11. 24; 13. 9).
A comparison of the portions where these words are used will reveal that the first six are used almost synonymously, to describe six different aspects of the same experience, and as far as we are concerned to-day, the initial experience of salvation, and never repeated. Whereas, the last term, "filled," stands by itself, denoting an experience or state of soul which was repeated in the lives of the same persons. While we read of Peter and Paul, and all the believers being filled on more than one occasion, we never read of them being baptized in the Spirit more than once. A brief consideration of each of these terms will help to determine their purpose.
1. Baptism in the Holy Spirit—New relationship to Christ as members of His body.
In all, this is referred to 7 times in the New Testament—Matt. 3. 11; Mark 11. 8; Luke 3. 16; John 1. 33; Acts 1. 5; 11. 16; 1 Cor. 12. 13.
From the Scriptures in the Gospels, we gather that it is the Lord Jesus that baptizes in the Holy Spirit, and 1 Cor. 12. 12 gives us its doctrinal import. "For in one Spirit are we all baptized into one body." To this may be added Gal. 3. 27, "As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ." One of the chief reasons why the term, "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" is used by many to denote some special blessing, the experience of a "spiritual aristocracy" only, and attended with special manifestations, such as tongues, as the absolute proof, and to many, the only adequate proof of having had the baptism in the Spirit, is that those who were thus the participants of it on the Day of Pentecost, were prior to that, disciples or believers. This no-one can, or cares to deny. However, two things need to be remembered in the connection.
1. Pentecost was an event which can never be repeated any more than Calvary can be repeated. Pentecost was the ushering in of the present age in which the Holy Spirit is the worker. As the Holy Spirit came on that day in fulfilment of the promise of the Saviour (John 14. 26; 16. 7), and of the Old Testament prophetic types (Lev. 23. 15, 16), we cannot do as the disciples did, "tarry till the Spirit come." Thus, the tarrying meetings so prevalent among the Pentecostal people are a denial of this fundamental fact, the Holy Spirit has come.
2. Whereas those who met in the upper room were undoubtedly believers, they were not members of the Body of Christ until Pentecost, for the simple reason that there was no such body till then. Eph. 1. 22 makes it clear that the Lord Jesus was made Head of the body at His ascension. Hence, it was at Pentecost, that the church, which is His body, came into being as such. By the baptism in the Holy Spirit, the disciples were made members of that body. No believer to-day, can compare his experience with theirs, or make theirs a pattern for his, for this reason that they lived in the transitional period between the setting aside of Israel and the formation of the church. In this connection, it is necessary to note the three or possibly four times when the impartation of the Spirit was accompanied with tongues. These events are recorded in—
(1) Acts 2, where we have the experience of those who were Jews.
(2) Acts 10, where we have the experience of those who were Gentiles.
(3) Acts 19, where we have recorded the experience of Greeks or Grecian Jews.
Apart from these occasions when there were the manifestations of tongues, in Acts 8, we have recorded the experience of the Samaritans. But we do not read that there were tongues in evidence, but as they only received the Holy Spirit after Peter and John went there, the event may be included with the above mentioned three. It will be noted that in 1 Cor. 12. 13, special emphasis is given to the fact that this baptism into the body of Christ, is irrespective of national or social distinctions. "Whether we be Jews or Gentiles, bond or free." To establish this, the record of the same experience given to Gentiles as to Jews is given in the Acts. This is especially noticeable in connection with the house of Cornelius (Acts 10. 47, 11. 16, 17). The national prerogative and superiority of the Jew that prevailed prior to Pentecost was not to be continued in the church. This was very difficult for the Jews to accept. Acts 11 proves this. The Elders at Jerusalem reproved Peter for having gone unto the Gentiles. It was the fact that God had given the Gentiles the same gift as He had given to them, "making no difference," that eventually silenced them.
The Samaritans and Greeks or Grecian Jews were also considered in the same category as the Gentiles by the Jews. Hence, we have one illustration from each, and one only. From Acts 11. 16, it is clear, that from Pentecost to the conversion of Cornelius, tongues had not accompanied the giving of the Holy Spirit. If speaking in tongues was the usual occurrence, why should Peter compare the experience of Cornelius and his household to what happened in the upper room? Why should he say, "as on us at the beginning," if this is what happened everywhere. We do not read of those special manifestations occurring when the 3,000 were converted at Pentecost, or at any other time other than the above referred to. This agreed with what we learn of God's ways as revealed in other portions of the Scriptures. For example, His attitude towards the Sabbath breaker was established by the stoning to death of the first man guilty of the sin. Compare also the penalty of sudden death visited upon Ananias and Saphira for their sin of hypocrisy and tempting of the Holy Ghost. Thus, by the experience of these in the Acts, the fact, that in the church, there was to be no national or social distinctions, was established. Whatever their position or condition before, by being baptized in the Spirit, they were constituted members of the body of Christ.
2. "Come upon" (Acts 1. 8; 19. 6). New relationship to the world as witnesses.
"Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you, and ye shall be My witnesses."
This is a term which is used in the Old Testament. Of Samson, we read that the Holy Spirit came upon him, and in consequence, he slew the lion and broke the cords wherewith he was bound (Jude 14. 6; 15. 14). On the prophets, the Holy Spirit came and by virtue of that fact they were able to prophesy.
So, to-day, the power whereby the enemy may be overcome, bonds broken and testimony for God be borne of the Holy Spirit. Whereas in Old Testament days, this was the privilege of the few; under the new economy, it is the birthright heritage of every true child of God.
3. "Shedding forth," "Poured forth" (2. 17, 33; 10. 45). New relationship to God as worshippers.
Our Lord, upon His ascension, having become the High Priest of the Heavenly Sanctuary, thereby having been anointed with the oil of gladness, receiving of the Father, the promise of the Holy Ghost, He shed Him forth on the waiting disciples, thus constituting them into a new priestly family of a new and spiritual order entirely distinct and different from the Old Testament priesthood of the Aaronic lineage. As the sons of Aaron ministered unto the Lord within the veil, and for the Lord with the trumpets, so these New Testament priests performed part of their priestly service by the declaration of the gospel. It is thus that Paul views his service in the gospel (Rom. 1. 9). In 2 Chron. 5. 12, 13, we read of a company of priests, 120 strong, as one man, making one sound in the house of the Lord. This seems to have found its antitype in Acts 2, when 120 of the common folk, who had companied with the Lord Jesus, were constituted the House of God, with Christ as the Son over His own house.
Pentecost was the inauguration of a new era, with a new High Priest, a new temple, and a new order of priesthood enabled in the power of the Holy Spirit, shed forth to enter into the holiest, and offer up spiritual sacrifices to God, while outside, as a royal priesthood, they declared the virtues of the risen Christ.
4. "The Holy Spirit given" (5. 32; 8. 18; 10. 45; 15. 8).
5. "The Holy Spirit received" (2. 38; 8. 17; 10. 47; 19. 2). New relationship to God as children and sons (c.f., Gal. 4. 6; Rom. 8. 15).
As these two terms are complementary, the one to the other, I have linked them together. In Romans and Galatians, the receiving of the Spirit is based upon the fact that Christ, having fulfilled the Law, we are given the place of sons in the family, delivered from the Law and the spirit of bondage and fear. So, the sending, giving or receiving of the Spirit has taken the place of the giving of the Law. Pentecost was the ushering in of a new dispensation, when the Holy Spirit is given as the indwelling power whereby we may live and please God, in contrast with the old economy, when they were given a carnal commandment or a code of morals. Therefore, the "giving" or "receiving" of the Holy Spirit, is the God-given inheritance of everyone in whom has been begotten the "obedience of faith." In this connection, we read in Acts 5. 32, of "Holy Spirit, whom God hath given to them that obey Him." When the House of Cornelius believed the message of the forgiveness of sins, God bare witness to the fact, by giving to them the Holy Spirit (c.f. 10. 45; 15. 8).
Of all the terms used in the Acts, the word "received" is the only one that is capable of being construed as connoting an experience in which the believer is active. In all the others, man is passive and God is active. And on examination it will be found that the word "receive" is used in the same passive sense. The disciples were made the recipients of the gift of the Holy Spirit. In 2 Cor. 11. 4, we read of receiving the gospel and receiving the Spirit, but two different words are used. "In receiving the Spirit, the will of man is passive, but actively concurrent with the will of God in accepting the gospel" (Fausett and Brown). This same distinction is maintained in the Acts, when speaking of receiving the Word and receiving the Spirit (c.f. 8. 14; 17. 11—receiving the Word. 8. 15; 19. 2—receiving the Spirit).
Not once, do we read of the apostles urging anyone to wait for the Spirit, or to seek the Spirit. These are innovations that, in effect, deny the finished character of the work of Christ, and turn the individual to a dangerous subjectivism that goes far towards nullifying the objective character of the teaching of the Pauline Epistles. A comparison of Acts 19. 2 and Eph. 1. 13, proves that the saints at Ephesus received or were made recipients of the Holy Spirit, or in the language of the Epistle, were sealed with the Spirit, when they believed the gospel of their salvation. Until Paul reached there, they had not heard of this.
It is the same idea of being made recipients that is found in Acts 1. 8, "Ye shall receive power" and 10. 43, "Whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins."
Rom. 8. 15, 1 Cor. 2. 12, and 2 Tim. 1. 17, teach that the believer has been made the recipient of the Spirit for the threefold purpose of prayer, knowing the will of God, and testimony for God.
6. Fallen (10. 44; 11. 15). New relationship to God as sons and servants.
The word is used in Luke 15. 20, where we are told that the Father "fell" on the prodigal's neck, depicting God's prompt anxiety to restore the banished to a place in His affections and at His table. It is again used in John 13. 25, when John was "lying" on Jesus' breast. John had found a place to rest his head. As the dove let out of Noah's ark could find no rest except by returning to the ark, so the Holy Spirit can only find rest in, or fall on a person who has been delivered from the curse.
In the Acts, the word is used in chapter 10. 10, "Peter fell into a trance," or a trance fell upon Peter. Also in 13. 11, when a mist fell upon Elymas. In both of these places, it is the thought of control, subjection and submission to that which fell upon them that is connoted.
Grouping these scriptures together and applying the meanings to this aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit, we learn that when the sinner repents, he is given to experience the comfort of the Holy Spirit, or the love of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit falling upon his neck in affection, as it were. Then the Holy Spirit finds in such an one, a place of rest, an abiding place. He comes to dwell (Rom. 8. 9). Moreover, He comes to control, to take over the reins of the life. Henceforth, the believer is to walk in the Spirit as a willing servant, abandoned to the will of another, to be entirely dependent upon Him for guidance.
7. Filled (Acts 2. 4; 4. 31). "All were filled."
Of all the terms used, this is the only one that is used in a way that depicts an experience which may be repeated, or to denote a state of soul rather than an initial experience. In all, there are nine references to this in the Book. Then in Eph. 5. 18, we have the exhortation to believers, "Be filled with the Spirit." "He that is spiritual" may be another way in which one thus filled is spoken of.
The difference between the baptism in the Spirit and the filling of the Spirit, may be illustrated by the two ordinances committed to the church—Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Baptism is an initial act exemplifying our union with Christ in death, burial and resurrection. No believer needs to be baptized twice. As Christ has died once, so the believer has died once in the death of his substitute. But of the Lord's Supper we read, "As oft as ye do this." This is an oft-repeated remembrance feast. Thus, with the Baptism in the Holy Ghost and the filling of the Holy Spirit, the one denotes an initial experience, the other an experience or state of soul that may and should be repeated.
The word rendered, "filled," is not the one used in Luke 15, where we read of the prodigal who fain would "fill" his belly with the husks. This filling of the Spirit is not for self-satisfaction, but for the blessing of others. It is the word used of the sponge, when it was full of vinegar. The sponge gets filled by no self-effort, but simply by being put in the element. It is used of a river when full of water (c.f., Ezek. 47). When there was water to swim in, the head was practically all that could be seen. In like manner, a spirit-filled man will magnify the head—Christ. His language will be that of John the Baptist, "He must increase, but I must decrease." Again, the word was used when speaking of the "full-moon," and in this, we have a true picture of the man who is full of the Holy Ghost. Four such are spoken of in the Acts. Peter preaching, Stephen suffering, Barnabas shepherding and Paul rebuking. As the full-moon is but the reflection according to its capacity of the sun, so the Spirit-filled man is the man who most reflects the absent Lord, the Sun of righteousness. One fears most of us are like either new or waning moons. Few give a full-orbed view of the glory of Christ. Many are seemingly in a state of perpetual, partial or total eclipse. Instead of revealing Christ, they but mirror the earth and earthly things. May God preserve us from such a condition of soul and keep us as bright luminaries for Him in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.
V.—RELATIVE TO SERVICE.
"Mine eyes shall be on the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with Me; he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve Me" (Psa. 101. 6).
Service for God in any capacity is a blessed privilege. It should dignify the character. The New Testament speaks of the Lord's servants as witnesses (1. 8); heralds (1 Tim. 2. 7); and ambassadors (2 Cor. 5. 20). Being a spiritual service, it should only be carried on in the energy of the Holy Spirit. And in the Acts, we have a true pattern for us in the service of the apostle of the Gentiles.
1. "The Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul unto the work where unto I have called them" (Acts 13. 2).
This must mark the commencement of all true service. Apart from this and the definite assurance of it in the soul, the difficulties that will be met with, and they are inevitable, cannot be overcome.
Moses was called of God and so was Joshua. The workers in connection with the erection and ministration of the Tabernacle, were called and commissioned. The prophets raised up of God for the blessing of Israel were called men; men burdened with a message; men who had a spiritual vision and had seen the Man on the Throne, and their responsibility to Him and to His people. Though they would fain keep quiet, the fire burned within them, necessity was laid upon them. Enraptured and enslaved, their tongues became the pen of a ready writer. With Paul, they could say, "Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel."
2. "So they being sent forth by the Holy Spirit, departed" (Acts 13. 4). They were called and now their commission was made effective.
The prophets and teachers "sent them away" (v. 3), or more properly, "let them go," that is, they set them at liberty to go. They released them from any ties or responsibilities that would have kept them at Antioch. The same root word is found in John 11. 44, "Loose him and let him go." Thus, the sending in the work of the Holy Spirit. The setting of them at liberty was the responsibility of the church, through its representatives, the prophets and teachers. They were thrust forth of the Holy Spirit. With this in view, the apostle says, "How shall they preach except they be sent?" (Rom. 10. 15).
Paul's call synchronized with his conversion, and I take it that this is generally so; but it was only years after, possibly twelve or more, that it was ratified by the church. First through Barnabas, calling him to Antioch, and then by the prophets and teachers in the Antioch assembly. As there was a period of five years at the commencement of the service of the Levites from the age of twenty-five to thirty (Num. 8. 24; 4. 3) which seems to have been a period of apprenticeship, as it were, so in the New Testament there is a time of testing. It is of this period of his life, I take it, that the apostle wrote afterwards, saying, "God, counting me faithful, putting me into the ministry." Thus, the fact of his call became evident to the church, and with joy, they set him at liberty. If this pattern was more closely followed, there would not be the commending of individuals inexperienced in church life and gospel testimony to the work abroad.
3. "Then Saul filled with the Holy Spirit" (13. 9).
At the very commencement of their service in this wider sphere, they met with severe and very subtle opposition. To meet such in carnal energy would be very natural, but if the emissary of Satan was full of all subtlety, the ambassador of the Cross was filled with the Spirit. And under his rebuke, the enemy was defeated. Elymas was blind for a season, whereas the Deputy's eyes were opened to behold the gospel of the glory of Christ. Later, the apostle wrote, "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds."
In the Old Testament, there is a phrase used just three times in connection with the work of the Holy Spirit that seems to correspond to that in the New Testament spoken of as "being filled with the Spirit." It is used of Gideon (Judges 6. 34); Amasa (1 Chron. 12. 8); and Zechariah (2 Chron. 24. 20). In the Authorized, it is rendered, "But the Spirit of the Lord came upon . . .," but a marginal translation renders it, "But the Spirit of the Lord clothed himself with Gideon." This gives it a new and added meaning and serves to bring out the full contents of the passage. It is thus that the apostle was clothed upon with the Spirit. May God enable us to know more of it.
4. Guided of the Spirit.
"They were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia" (16. 6).
"The Spirit suffered them not to go to Bythynia" (16. 7).
"Assuredly gathering, the Lord called us to preach the gospel unto them" (16. 10).
In the service of the gospel, the apostles were led to the strategic centres of population first. These were made the centres where the truth of the gospel was established, and from which it was to radiate. This is important to note and to remember to-day, in the prosecution and preaching of the gospel in lands unevangelized or but partially evangelized.
The ascertaining of the will of God regarding a special sphere of service is often difficult. One needs to be guarded against false principles and false guides. One's feelings, conscience, or experience, whether our own or of someone else, are no safe guide. We need to pray with the Psalmist, "Send out Thy light and Thy truth, let them guide me." The servant of God needs to be careful lest he be subtly influenced by financial considerations, or by the prominence attached to service in certain places.
Here in India, the word "guidance" has become to have amongst many an almost cheap and unsavoury usage. On arriving at a certain place for some gospel meetings a few years ago, I found that one who had been serving there in the gospel had just left that day, after knowing I was coming, saying he had had a special guidance to go to. This is an extreme example, but is an example of much that one hears, so much so, that one is almost afraid to use the word. In these matters, sterling honesty is an absolute necessity.
5. Owned of the Spirit (13. 52; (c.f., 2 Cor. 2. 14; 1 Cor. 9. 2).
"For the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord."
Paul and Barnabas saw fruit for their labours. Souls were converted, assemblies were formed, and of the believers, we read "they were filled with the Holy Spirit." So much did the blessing of God rest upon their work that the enemy was made to confess, "These are the men which have turned the world upside down." Even though not in the same measure, yet in a similar manner, the servant of the Lord should seek for the seal of God upon his service to-day.
VI.—RELATIVE TO THE SAINTS WHO SINNED. (Acts 5. 1-11).
How swift and summary was this visitation of judgment. In the joy of their new-found inheritance, many who were possessors of lands or houses, sold them and brought the money, laying it at the apostles' feet. Among them was Barnabas. This was entirely spontaneous on their part. There was no command from the apostles or any word from the Lord. In view of the fact that Jerusalem was not long afterwards sacked by the Romans and all the believers had to forsake it, it was good for them that they had sold their properties. Those who thus sacrificed their all, would evidently be held in esteem, and seeing this, Ananias and Saphira, anxious for a place of prominence, sought to do in the energy of the flesh what the others had done in the energy of the Spirit. Consequently, they professed to be doing what they were not really prepared to do. Unitedly, they had agreed to give a part as though it was the whole. Thus, they lied to the Holy Ghost (v. 3) and tempted the Spirit of the Lord (v. 9). It was the leaven of the Pharisee—hypocrisy that they had been guilty of. By their death, so sudden and drastic, great fear came upon all. The truth that holiness becometh the House of God, and therefore the Christians who constitute that house, was engraved deeply upon all.
Of the sins against the Holy Spirit, possible of commitment by believers, this seems the worst. The other two are "grieving the Spirit" (Eph. 4. 30), and "quenching the Spirit" (1 Thess. 5. 19). Obliquity in the life and opaqueness of character are alike reprehensible. Hypocrisy is grouped in Gal. 5. with the works of the flesh, and sad to say, Peter himself was rebuked for this sin of hypocrisy at a later date (Gal. 2. 12, 13). When hypocrisy is analyzed, it will be found to have many ingredients, all gathering around self, and finding its root in the natural heart.
Of the saints at Corinth, we read that because they would not judge themselves, they were chastised of the Lord. Some had died, some were sick, and others were weak. Such chastisement, the apostle says, is evidence that the individual thus child-trained, will not be condemned with the world. In other words, God chastises His own now, whereas the judgment of the wicked awaits them.
Ananias and Saphira were cut off in the midst of their years. Their life was cut short. They held on to part of the money and lost their life and their reward, and from their funeral pyre, blaze out the words, "Our God is a consuming fire. Judgment must begin at the House of God."
VII.—RELATIVE TO STIFF-NECKED ISRAEL AND THE SINNER. (Chap. 7. 51).
More space is given to the events connected with Stephen's death than possibly any other in the book. Hence, it is one of the most important events recorded therein. Stephen's appeal seems to be, in the last made to the nation, as such. In an address that he was not allowed to finish, he goes over the history of the nation, choosing out such events and persons as would suit his message which he applies with the words, "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in the heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost," persecuting the prophets, slaying those who announced the coming of the Just One, and now reaching the climax in the betrayal and murder of the Lord Jesus.
In his appeal, Stephen refers to four special persons, each of whom had suffered rejection at the hands of the nation, and each of whom was afterwards made a blessing to them and received by them. The experiences of these four, serve to typify four aspects of the rejection and final glory of the Lord Jesus. The four persons are—
1. Joseph rejected becoming their preserver (vs. 9-14).
2. Moses rejected becoming ruler and deliverer (vs. 20-42).
3. David rejected becoming king (v. 46).
4. Solomon rejected becoming King-prince of peace (v. 47).
Stephen lays special emphasis upon the first two. He details the facts of the Patriarchs having sold Joseph into Egypt, how he was delivered and made governor over Egypt, and finally made known to his brethren and thereby his kindred made known to Pharaoh.
Of Moses, he says, "He was thrust away" (v. 27), refused (v. 35), and again they thrust him from them in the wilderness (v. 39). This double rejection typifying the rejection of our Lord by Israel, as in John 1. 11, and also by the professing church in the last Laodicean days, when the Lord is portrayed as outside. This Moses, whom they refused, the same did God send to be a ruler and deliverer.
Similarly, David was rejected, not only in the days of Saul, but also towards the end of his reign in the days of Absalom. But of David, it might be said as it is of Moses, this David whom Saul thrust away, him did God anoint to be their king.
Prior to the coronation of Solomon, Adonijah "exalted himself, saying, I will be king." He was Absalom's younger brother and sought the kingdom in the same way. Joab and Abiathar helped him. However, his usurpation lasted but a short time. The public coronation of Solomon, with Nathan, the prophet, and Zadok, the priest, anointing him king in Gihon, put an end to the temporary and ill-founded merriment of Adonijah. On that day, David's oath was fulfilled. The whole event pre-figures Satan's final attempt to supply a world-ruler, not one who will exalt himself, but one whose reign will be brought to a sudden close by the manifestation of the Lord in glory. In that day, will be fulfilled the Lord's oath to David regarding the enthronement of Him who is of David's seed, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus, in Israel's rejection of these four, Stephen finds four illustrations of Israel's rejection of Christ. Before he could apply the message of their final glory to the present and coming glory of the Christ, they gnashed upon him with their teeth, but ere his mouth closed in death, he said, "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God." Stephen saw Him in His capacity as Judge, "Behold the Judge standeth at the door," ready to vindicate the cause of His servants. In rejecting Christ, they had rejected the Holy Spirit.
The New Testament speaks of three sins against the Holy Spirit possible of commitment by unbelievers. Resisting (Acts 7. 51); doing despite to (Heb. 10. 29); and speaking against or blaspheming against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12. 31, 32). All three are manifestations of the same root unbelief. Unbelief first resists, withstands or stands against; then does despite to, or goes against; finally speaks against or blasphemes against the Holy Spirit.
The dearth and great affliction when the Patriarchs found no sustenance, drove them to the feet of Joseph, and him whom they had last seen in his sorrow in the pit, and crying out in the hands of the Ishmaelites, they now saw in glory.
This dearth and the affliction of Israel under Pharaoh, together with Israel's helplessness to meet the Phillistinian giant of Gath—Goliath—are events with prophetic import. They portray clearly the day of Jacob's trouble, the great tribulation, the time of indignation that is soon to dawn, by virtue of which Israel will be brought to see in the crucified Son of Man, their long-looked-for Messiah. In that day, the Spirit of grace and supplication will be poured upon them, and Israel shall become holiness to the Lord.
Who of the Lord's people can contemplate this coming glory without finding his heart echoing, "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly."
“The Believer’s Magazine” 1935