The day of pentecost being arrived, and the disciples assembled, the Holy Spirit descended as a mighty rushing wind, and in the likeness of fiery tongues sat upon them; in consequence of which, they were all enabled to speak different languages, which they had never learned, Acts 2:1-4. An account of persons from various countries who there present, and were astonished to hear the apostles declare the wonderful works of God in their respective languages, Acts 2:5-12. Some cavil, Acts 2:13, and are confounded by Peter, who asserts that this work is of God; and that thereby a most important prophecy was fulfilled, Acts 2:14-21. He takes occasion from this to preach Jesus to them, as the true Lord and only Messiah, Acts 2:22-36. The people are alarmed and convinced, and inquire what they shall do, Acts 2:37. He exhorts them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus, that they may receive remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Acts 2:38-40. They gladly receive his word, about three thousand are baptized and added to the Church in one day; they continue steadfast in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, Acts 2:41, Acts 2:42. The apostles work many miracles; and the disciples have all things in common, and live in a state of great happiness and Christian fellowship, Acts 2:43-47.
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.When the day of pentecost was fully come - The feast of pentecost was celebrated fifty days after the passover, and has its name πεντηκοστη from πεντηκοντα, fifty, which is compounded of πεντε, five, and ηκοντα, the decimal termination. It commenced on the fiftieth day reckoned from the first day of unleavened bread, i.e. on the morrow after the paschal lamb was offered. The law relative to this feast is found in Leviticus 23:15, Leviticus 23:16, in these words: And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave-offering; seven Sabbaths shall be complete: even unto the morrow after the seventh Sabbath shall ye number fifty days. This feast was instituted in commemoration of the giving the law on Mount Sinai; and is therefore sometimes called by the Jews, שמחת תורה shimchath torah, the joy of the law, and frequently the feast of weeks. There is a correspondence between the giving of the law, which is celebrated by this feast of pentecost, together with the crucifixion of our Lord, which took place at the passover, and this descent of the Holy Spirit, which happened at this pentecost.
1. At the passover, the Israelites were delivered from Egyptian bondage: this was a type of the thraldom in which the human race were to Satan and sin.
2. At the passover Jesus Christ, who was typified by the paschal lamb, was sacrificed for the sin of the world, and by this sacrifice redemption from sin and Satan is now procured and proclaimed.
3. On the pentecost, God gave his law on Mount Sinai, accompanied with thunderings and lightnings. On the pentecost, God sent down his Holy Spirit, like a rushing mighty wind; and tongues of fire sat upon each disciple, in order that, by his influence, that new law of light and life might be promulgated and established. Thus, the analogy between the Egyptian bondage and the thraldom occasioned by sin - the deliverance from Egypt, and the redemption from sin - the giving of the law, with all its emblematic accompaniments, and the sending down the Holy Spirit, with its symbols of light, life, and power, has been exactly preserved.
4. At the Jewish passover, Christ was degraded, humbled, and ignominiously put to death: at the following festival, the pentecost, he was highly glorified; and the all conquering and ever during might of his kingdom then commenced. The Holy Spirit seems to have designed all these analogies, to show that, through all preceding ages, God had the dispensation of the Gospel continually in view; and that the old law and its ordinances were only designed as preparatives for the new.
They were all with one accord in one place - It is probable that the All here mentioned means the one hundred and twenty spoken of Acts 1:15, who were all together at the election of Matthias. With one accord, ὁμοθυμαδον; this word is very expressive: it signifies that all their minds, affections, desires, and wishes, were concentred in one object, every man having the same end in view; and, having but one desire, they had but one prayer to God, and every heart uttered it. There was no person uninterested - none unconcerned - none lukewarm; all were in earnest; and the Spirit of God came down to meet their united faith and prayer. When any assembly of God's people meet in the same spirit they may expect every blessing they need.
In one place. - Where this place was we cannot tell: it was probably in the temple, as seems to be intimated in Acts 2:46, where it is said they were daily ὁμοθυμαδον εν τῳ ἱερῳ, with one accord in the temple; and as this was the third hour of the day, Acts 2:15, which was the Jewish hour of morning prayer, as the ninth hour was the hour of evening prayer, Acts 3:1, it is most probable that the temple was the place in which they were assembled.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.A sound from heaven - Probably thunder is meant, which is the harbinger of the Divine presence.
Rushing mighty wind - The passage of a large portion of electrical fluid over that place would not only occasion the sound, or thunder, but also the rushing mighty wind; as the air would rush suddenly and strongly into the vacuum occasioned by the rarefaction of the atmosphere in that place, through the sudden passage of the electrical fluid; and the wind would follow the direction of the fire. There is a good deal of similarity between this account and that of the appearance of God to Elijah, 1 Kings 19:11, 1 Kings 19:12, where the strong wind, the earthquake, and the fire, were harbingers of the Almighty's presence, and prepared the heart of Elijah to hear the small still voice; so, this sound, and the mighty rushing wind, prepared the apostles to receive the influences and gifts of the Holy Spirit. In both cases, the sound, strong wind, and fire, although natural agents, were supernaturally employed. See the note on Acts 9:7.
And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.Cloven tongues like as of fire - The tongues were the emblem of the languages they were to speak. The cloven tongues pointed out the diversity of those languages; and the fire seemed to intimate that the whole would be a spiritual gift, and be the means of bringing light and life to the souls who should hear them preach the everlasting Gospel in those languages.
Sat upon each of them - Scintillations, coruscations, or flashes of fire, were probably at first frequent through every part of the room where they were sitting; at last these flashes became defined, and a lambent flame, in the form of a cloven tongue, became stationary on the head of each disciple; a proof that the Spirit of God had made each his temple or residence. That unusual appearances of fire were considered emblems of the presence and influence of God, both the Scriptures and the Jewish writings amply prove. Thus God manifested himself to Moses, when he appointed him to deliver Israel, Exodus 3:2, Exodus 3:3; and thus he manifested himself when he delivered the law on Mount Sinai, Exodus 19:16-20. The Jews, in order to support the pretensions of their rabbins, as delivering their instructions by Divine authority and influence, represent them as being surrounded with fire while they were delivering their lectures; and that their words, in consequence, penetrated and exhilarated the souls of their disciples. Some of the Mohammedans represent Divine inspiration in the same way. In a fine copy of a Persian work, entitled Ajaceb al Makhlookat, or Wonders of Creation, now before me, where a marred account of Abraham's sacrifice, mentioned Genesis 15:9-17, is given, instead of the burning lamp passing between the divided pieces of the victim, Genesis 15:17, Abraham is represented standing between four fowls, the cock, the peacock, the duck, and the crow, with his head almost wrapped in a flame of lambent fire, as the emblem of the Divine communication made to him of the future prosperity of his descendants. The painting in which this is represented is most exquisitely finished. This notion of the manner in which Divine intimations were given was not peculiar to the Jews and Arabians; it exists in all countries; and the glories which appear round the heads of Chinese, Hindoo, and Christian saints, real or supposed, were simply intended to signify that they had especial intercourse with God, and that his Spirit, under the emblem of fire, sat upon them and became resident in them. There are numerous proofs of this in several Chinese and Hindoo paintings in my possession; and how frequently this is to be met with in legends, missals, and in the ancient ecclesiastical books of the different Christian nations of Europe, every reader acquainted with ecclesiastical antiquity knows well. See the dedication of Solomon's temple, 2 Chronicles 7:1-3.
The Greek and Roman heathens had similar notions of the manner in which Divine communications were given: strong wind, loud and repeated peals of thunder, coruscations of lightning, and lambent flames resting on those who were objects of the Deities regard, are all employed by them to point out the mode in which their gods were reported to make their will known to their votaries. Every thing of this kind was probably borrowed from the account given by Moses of the appearance on Mount Sinai; for traditions of this event were carried through almost every part of the habitable world, partly by the expelled Canaanites, partly by the Greek sages travelling through Asiatic countries in quest of philosophic truth: and partly by means of the Greek version of the Septuagint, made nearly three hundred years before the Christian era.
"A flame of fire seen upon the head of any person was, among the heathens, considered as an omen from their gods that the person was under the peculiar care of a supernatural power, and destined to some extraordinary employment. Many proofs of this occur in the Roman poets and historians. Wetstein, in his note on this place, has made an extensive collection of them. I shall quote but one, which almost every reader of the Aeneid of Virgil will recollect: -
Talia vociferans gemitu tectum omne replebat:
Cum subitum, dictuque oritur mirabile monstrum.
Namque manus inter, maestorumque ora parentum.
Ecce levis summo de vertice visus
Iuli Fundere lumen apex, tactuque innoxia molli
Lambere flamma comas, et circum tempora pasci.
Nos pavidi trepidare metu, crinemque flagrantem
Excutere, et sanctos restinguere fontibus ignes.
At pater Anchises oculos ad sidera laetus
Extulit, et coelo palamas cum voce tetendit:
Jupiter omnipotens -
Da auxilium, pater, atque haec omina firma.
Virg. Aen. ii. v. 679.
While thus she fills the house with clamorous cries,
Our hearing is diverted by our eyes;
For while I held my son, in the short space
Betwixt our kisses and our last embrace,
Strange to relate! from young Iulus' head,
A lambent flame arose, which gently spread
Around his brows, and on his temples fed.
Amazed, with running water, we prepare
To quench the sacred fire, and slake his hair;
But old Anchises, versed in omens, rear'd
His hands to heaven, and this request preferr'd:
If any vows almighty Jove can bend,
Confirm the glad presage which thou art pleased to send.
There is nothing in this poetic fiction which could be borrowed from our sacred volume; as Virgil died about twenty years before the birth of Christ.
It may be just necessary to observe, that tongue of fire may be a Hebraism: for in Isaiah 5:24, לשון אש leshon esh, which we render simply fire, is literally a tongue of fire, as the margin very properly has it. The Hebrews give the name of tongue to most things which terminate in a blunt point: so a bay is termed in Joshua 15:2, לשן lashon, a tongue. And in Joshua 15:5, what appears to have been a promontory is called לשון הים leshon hayam, a tongue of the sea.
It sat upon each - That is, one of those tongues, like flames, sat upon the head of each disciple; and the continuance of the appearance, which is indicated by the word sat, shows that there could be no illusion in the case. I still think that in all this case the agent was natural, but supernaturally employed.
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.To speak with other tongues - At the building of Babel the language of the people was confounded; and, in consequence of this, they became scattered over the face of the earth: at this foundation of the Christian Church, the gift of various languages was given to the apostles, that the scattered nations might be gathered; and united under one shepherd and superintendent (επισκοπος) of all souls.
As the Spirit gave them utterance - The word αποφθεγγεσθαι seems to imply such utterance as proceeded from immediate inspiration, and included oracular communications.
And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.Devout men, out of every nation - Either by these we are simply to understand Jews who were born in different countries, and had now come up to Jerusalem to be present at the passover, and for purposes of traffic, or proselytes to Judaism, who had come up for the same purpose: for I cannot suppose that the term ανδρες ευλαβεις, devout men, can be applied to any other. At this time there was scarcely a commercial nation under heaven where the Jews had not been scattered for the purpose of trade, merchandize, etc., and from all these nations, it is said, there were persons now present at Jerusalem.
Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.When this was noised abroad - If we suppose that there was a considerable peal of thunder, which followed the escape of a vast quantity of electric fluid, and produced the mighty rushing wind already noticed on Acts 2:2, then the whole city must have been alarmed; and, as various circumstances might direct their attention to the temple, having flocked thither they were farther astonished and confounded to hear the disciples of Christ addressing the mixed multitude in the languages of the different countries from which these people had come.
Every man heard them speak in his own language - Use may naturally suppose that, as soon as any person presented himself to one of these disciples, he, the disciple, was immediately enabled to address him in his own language, however various this had been from the Jewish or Galilean dialects. If a Roman presented himself, the disciple was immediately enabled to address him in Latin - if a Grecian, in Greek - an Arab, in Arabic, and so of the rest.
And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans?Are not all these - Galileans? - Persons who know no other dialect, save that of their own country. Persons wholly uneducated, and, consequently, naturally ignorant of those languages which they now speak so fluently.
And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?How hear we every man in our own tongue - Some have supposed from this that the miracle was not so much wrought on the disciples as on their hearers: imagining that, although the disciples spoke their own tongue, yet every man so understood what was spoken as if it had been spoken in the language in which he was born. Though this is by no means so likely as the opinion which states that the disciples themselves spoke all these different languages, yet the miracle is the same, howsoever it be taken; for it must require as much of the miraculous power of God to enable an Arab to understand a Galilean, as to enable a Galilean to speak Arabic. But that the gift of tongues was actually given to the apostles, we have the fullest proof; as we find particular ordinances laid down by those very apostles for the regulation of the exercise of this gift; see 1 Corinthians 14:1, etc.
Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,Parthians - Parthia anciently included the northern part of modern Persia: it was situated between the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf, rather to the eastward of both.
Medes - Media was a country lying in the vicinity of the Caspian Sea; having Parthia on the east, Assyria on the south, and Mesopotamia on the west.
Elamites - Probably inhabitants of that country now called Persia: both the Medes and Elamites were a neighboring people, dwelling beyond the Tigris.
Mesopotamia - Now Diarbec in Asiatic Turkey; situated between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates; having Assyria on the east, Arabia Deserta with Babylonia on the south, Syria on the west, and Armenia on the north. It was called Padan-aram by the ancient Hebrews, and by the Asiatics is now called Maverannhar, i.e. the country beyond the river.
Judea - This word has exceedingly puzzled commentators and critics; and most suspect that it is not the true reading. Bishop Pearce supposes that Ιουδαιαν is an adjective, agreeing with Μεσοποταμιαν, and translates the passage thus: the dwellers in Jewish Mesopotamia. He vindicates this translation by showing that great numbers of the Jews were settled in this country: Josephus says that the ten tribes remained in this country till his time; that "there were countless myriads of them there, and that it was impossible to know their numbers." - Μυριαδες απειροι, και αριθμῳ γνωσθηναι μη δυναμεναι. See Ant. lib. xv. c. 2, s. 2, and c. 3, s. 1; Bell. Jud. lib. i. c. 1, 2. This interpretation, however ingenious, does not comport with the present Greek text. Some imagine that Ιουδαιαν is not the original reading; and therefore they have corrected it into Syriam, Syria; Armeniam, Armenia; Ινδιαν, India; Λυδιαν, Lydia; Ιδουμαιαν, Idumea; Βιθυνιαν, Bithynia; and Κιλικιαν, Cilicia: all these stand on very slender authority, as may be seen in Griesbach; and the last is a mere conjecture of Dr. Mangey. If Judea be still considered the genuine reading, we may account for it thus: the men who were speaking were known to be Galileans; now the Galilean dialect was certainly different from that spoken in Judea - the surprise was occasioned by a Jew being able to comprehend the speech of a Galilean, without any interpreter and without difficulty; and yet it is not easy to suppose that there was such a difference between the two dialects as to render these people wholly unintelligible to each other.
Cappadocia - Was an ancient kingdom of Asia comprehending all that country that lies between Mount Taurus and the Euxine Sea.
Pontus - Was anciently a very powerful kingdom of Asia, originally a part of Cappadocia; bounded on the east by Colchis; on the west by the river Halys; on the north by the Black Sea; and on the south by Armenia Minor. The famous Mithridates was king of this country; and it was one of the last which the Romans were able to subjugate.
Asia - Meaning probably Asia Minor; it was that part of Turkey in Asia now called Natolia.
Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,Phrygia - A country in Asia Minor, southward of Pontus.
Pamphylia - The ancient name of the country of Natolia, now called Caramania, between Lycia and Cilicia, near the Mediterranean Sea.
Egypt - A very extensive country of African bounded by the Mediterranean on the north; by the Red Sea and the Isthmus of Suez, which divide it from Arabia, on the east; by Abyssinia or Ethiopia on the south; and by the deserts of Barca and Nubia on the west. It was called Mizraim by the ancient Hebrews, and now Mesr by the Arabians. It extends 600 miles from north to south; and from 100 to 250 in breadth, from east to west.
Libya - In a general way, among the Greeks, signified Africa; but the northern part, in the vicinity of Cyrene, is here meant.
Cyrene - A country in Africa on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, southward of the most western point of the Island of Crete.
Strangers of Rome - Persons dwelling at Rome, and speaking the Latin language, partly consisting of regularly descended Jews and proselytes to the Jewish religion.
Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.Cretes - Natives of Crete, a large and noted island in the Levant, or eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, now called Candia.
Arabians - Natives of Arabia, a well known country of Asia, having the Red Sea on the west; the Persian Gulf on the east; Judea on the north; and the Indian Ocean on the south.
The wonderful works of God - Such as the incarnation of Christ; his various miracles, preaching, death, resurrection, and ascension; and the design of God to save the world through him. From this one circumstance we may learn that all the people enumerated above were either Jews or proselytes; and that there was probably none that could be, strictly speaking, called heathens among them. It may at first appear strange that there could be found Jews in so many different countries, some of which were very remote from the others; but there is a passage in Philo's Embassy to Caius which throws considerable light on the subject. In a letter sent to Caius by King Agrippa, he speaks of to the holy city of Jerusalem, not merely as the metropolis of Judea, but of many other regions, because of the colonies at different times led out of Judea, not only into neighboring countries, such as Egypt, Phoenicia, Syria, and Coelosyria, but also into those that are remote, such as Pamphylia, Cilicia, and the chief parts of Asia as far as Bithynia, and the innermost parts of Pontus; also in the regions of Europe, Thessaly, Boeotia, Macedonia, Aetolia, Attica, Argos, Corinth, and the principal parts of Peloponnesus. Not only the continents and provinces (says he) are full of Jewish colonies, but the most celebrated isles also, Euboea, Cyprus, and Crete, not to mention the countries beyond the Euphrates. All these (a small part of Babylon and some other praefectures excepted, which possess fertile territories) are inhabited by Jews. Not only my native city entreats thy clemency, but other cities also, situated in different parts of the world, Asia, Europe, Africa; both islands, sea coasts, and inland countries." Philonis Opera, edit. Mangey, vol. ii. p. 587.
It is worthy of remark that almost all the places and provinces mentioned by St. Luke are mentioned also in this letter of King Agrippa. These, being all Jews or proselytes, could understand in some measure the wonderful works of God, of which mere heathens could have formed no conception. It was wisely ordered that the miraculous descent of the Holy Ghost should take place at this time, when so many from various nations were present to bear witness to what was done, and to be themselves subjects of his mighty working. These, on their return to their respective countries, would naturally proclaim what things they saw and heard; and by this the way of the apostles was made plain; and thus Christianity made a rapid progress over all those parts in a very short time after the resurrection of our Lord.
And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?
Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.These men are full of new wine - Rather sweet wine, for γλευκους, cannot mean the mustum, or new wine, as there could be none in Judea so early as pentecost. The Γλευκος, gleucus, seems to have been a peculiar kind of wine, and is thus described by Hesychius and Suidas: Γλευκος, το αποσταγμα της σταφυλης, πριν πατηθῃ. Gleucus is that which distils from the grape before it is pressed. This must be at once both the strongest and sweetest wine. Calmet observes that the ancients had the secret of preserving wine sweet through the whole year, and were fond of taking morning draughts of it: to this Horace appears to refer, Sat. l. ii. s. iv. ver. 24.
Aufidius forti miscebat mella Falerno.
Mendose: quoniam vacuis committere venis
Nil nisi lene decet: leni praecordia mulso
Aufidius first, most injudicious, quaffed
Strong wine and honey for his morning draught.
With lenient bev'rage fill your empty veins,
For lenient must will better cleanse the reins.
But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words:Peter, standing up with the eleven - They probably spoke by turns, not altogether; but Peter began the discourse.
All ye that dwell at Jerusalem - Οἱ κατοικουντες would be better translated by the word sojourn, because these were not inhabitants of Judea, but the strangers mentioned in Acts 2:9-11, who had come up to the feast.
For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day.But the third hour of the day - That is, about nine o'clock in the morning, previously to which the Jews scarcely ever ate or drank, for that hour was the hour of prayer. This custom appears to have been so common that even the most intemperate among the Jews were not known to transgress it; Peter therefore spoke with confidence when he said, these are not drunken - seeing it is but the third hour of the day, previously to which even the intemperate did not use wine.
But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;Spoken by the prophet Joel - The prophecy which he delivered so long ago is just now fulfilled; and this is another proof that Jesus whom ye have crucified is the Messiah.
And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:In the last days - The time of the Messiah; and so the phrase was understood among the Jews.
I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh - Rabbi Tanchum says, "When Moses laid his hands upon Joshua, the holy blessed God said, In the time of the old text, each individual prophet prophesied; but, in the times of the Messiah, all the Israelites shall be prophets." And this they build on the prophecy quoted in this place by Peter.
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy - The word prophesy is not to be understood here as implying the knowledge and discovery of future events; but signifies to teach and proclaim the great truths of God, especially those which concerned redemption by Jesus Christ.
Your young men shall see visions, etc. - These were two of the various ways in which God revealed himself under the Old Testament. Sometimes he revealed himself by a symbol, which was a sufficient proof of the Divine presence: fire was the most ordinary, as it was the most expressive, symbol. Thus he appeared to Moses on Mount Horeb, and afterwards at Sinai; to Abraham, Genesis 15:1-21; to Elijah, 1 Kings 19:11, 1 Kings 19:12. At other times he revealed himself by angelic ministry: this was frequent, especially in the days of the patriarchs, of which we find many instances in the book of Genesis.
By dreams he discovered his will in numerous instances: see the remarkable case of Joseph, Genesis 37:5, Genesis 37:9; of Jacob, Genesis 28:1, etc.; Genesis 46:2, etc.; of Pharaoh, Genesis 41:1-7; of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel 4:10-17. For the different ways in which God communicated the knowledge of his will to mankind, see the note on Genesis 15:1.
And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:On my servants and on my handmaidens - This properly means persons of the lowest condition, such as male and female slaves. As the Jews asserted that the spirit of prophecy never rested upon a poor man, these words are quoted to show that, under the Gospel dispensation, neither bond nor free, male nor female, is excluded from sharing in the gifts and graces of the Divine Spirit.
And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:I will show wonders - It is likely that both the prophet and the apostle refer to the calamities that fell upon the Jews at the destruction of Jerusalem, and the fearful signs and portents that preceded those calamities. See the notes on Matthew 24:5-7 (note), where these are distinctly related.
Blood, fire, and vapour of smoke - Skirmishes and assassinations over the land, and wasting the country with fire and sword.
The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come:The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood - These are figurative representations of eclipses, intended most probably to point out the fall of the civil and ecclesiastical state in Judea: see the notes on Matthew 24:29. That the Sun is darkened when a total eclipse takes place, and that the Moon appears of a bloody hue in such circumstances, every person knows.
And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved - The predicted ruin is now impending; and only such as receive the Gospel of the Son of God shall be saved. And that none but the Christians did escape, when God poured out these judgments, is well known; and that All the Christians did escape, not one of them perishing in these devastations, stands attested by the most respectable authority. See the note on Matthew 24:13.
Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:A man approved of God - Αποδεδειγμενον, celebrated, famous. The sense of the verse seems to be this: Jesus of Nazareth, a man sent of God, and celebrated among you by miracles, wonders, and signs; and all these done in such profusion as had never been done by the best of your most accredited prophets. And these signs, etc., were such as demonstrated his Divine mission.
Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel - Bp. Pearce paraphrases the words thus: Him having been given forth; i.e. sent into the world, and manifested by being made flesh, and dwelling among you, as it is said in John 1:14; see also Acts 4:28.
Kypke contends that εκδοτον, delivered, does not refer to God, but to Judas the traitor "the Jews received Jesus, delivered up to them by Judas; the immutable counsel of God so permitting."
By the determinate counsel, ὡρισμενῃ βουλῃ; that counsel of God which defined the time, place, and circumstance, according (προγνωσει) to his foreknowledge, which always saw what was the most proper time and place for the manifestation and crucifixion of his Son; so that there was nothing casual in these things, God having determined that the salvation of a lost world should be brought about in this way; and neither the Jews nor Romans had any power here, but what was given to them from above. It was necessary to show the Jews that it was not through Christ's weakness or inability to defend himself that he was taken; nor was it through their malice merely that he was slain; for God had determined long before, from the foundation of the world, Revelation 13:8, to give his Son a sacrifice for sin; and the treachery of Judas, and the malice of the Jews were only the incidental means by which the great counsel of God was fulfilled: the counsel of God intending the sacrifice, but never ordering that it should be brought about by such wretched means. This was permitted; the other was decreed. See the observations at the end of this chapter.
By wicked hands have crucified and slain - I think this refers to the Romans, and not to the Jews; the former being the agents, to execute the evil purposes of the latter. It is well known that the Jews acknowledged that they had no power to put our Lord to death, John 18:31, and it is as well known that the punishment of the cross was not a Jewish, but a Roman, punishment: hence we may infer that by δια χειρων ανομων, by the hands of the wicked, the Romans are meant, being called ανομοι, without law, because they had no revelation from God; whereas the others had what was emphatically termed ὁ νομος του Θεου, the law of God, by which they professed to regulate their worship and their conduct. It was the Jews, therefore, who caused our Lord to be crucified by the hands of the heathen Romans.
Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.Whom God hath raised up - For, as God alone gave him up to death, so God alone raised him up from death.
Having loosed the pains of death - It is generally supposed that this expression means, the dissolving of those bonds or obligations by which those who enter into the region of the dead are detained there till the day of the resurrection; and this is supposed to be the meaning of חבלי מות chebley maveth, in Psalm 116:3, or חבלי שאול chebley sheol, in Psalm 18:5, and in 2 Samuel 22:6, to which, as a parallel, this place has been referred. But Kypke has sufficiently proved that λυειν τας ωδινας θανατου, signifies rather to Remove the pains or sufferings of death. So Lucian, De Conscr. Hist., says, "a copious sweat to some, ελυσε τον πυρετον, Removes or carries off the fever." So Strabo, speaking of the balm of Jericho, says, λυει δε κεφαλαλγιας θαυμαστως - it wonderfully Removes the headache, etc. That Christ did suffer the pains and sorrows of death in his passion is sufficiently evident; but that these were all removed, previously to his crucifixion, is fully seen in that calm manner in which he met it, with all its attendant terrors. If we take the words as commonly understood, they mean that it was impossible for the Prince of Life to be left in the empire of death: his resurrection, therefore, was a necessary consequence of his own Divine power.
Instead of θανατου, of death, the Codex Bezae, Syriac, Coptic, and Vulgate, have Ἁιδου, of hell, or the place of separate spirits; and perhaps it was on no better authority than this various reading, supported but by slender evidence, that, He descended into hell, became an article in what is called the apostles' creed. And on this article many a popish legend has been builded, to the discredit of sober sense and true religion.
For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved:For David speaketh concerning him - The quotation here is made from Psalm 16:8-11 (note), which contains a most remarkable prophecy concerning Christ, every word of which applies to him, and to him exclusively. See the notes there.
Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope:And my tongue was glad - In the Hebrew it is ויגל כבודי vaiyagel kebodi, "And my glory was glad:" but the evangelist follows the Septuagint, in reading και ηγαλλιασατο ἡ γλωσσα μου, what all the other Greek interpreters in the Hexapla translate δοξα μου, my glory. And what is to be understood by glory here! Why the soul, certainly, and not the tongue; and so some of the best critics interpret the place.
Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell - Εις Ἁιδου, in hades, that is, the state of separate spirits, or the state of the dead. Hades was a general term among the Greek writers, by which they expressed this state; and this Hades was Tartarus to the wicked, and Elysium to the good. See the explanation of the word in the note on Matthew 11:23 (note).
To see corruption - Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return, was a sentence pronounced on man after the fall: therefore this sentence could be executed on none but those who were fallen; but Jesus, being conceived without sin, neither partook of human corruption, nor was involved in the condemnation of fallen human nature; consequently, it was impossible for his body to see corruption; and it could not have undergone the temporary death, to which it was not naturally liable, had it not been for the purpose of making an atonement. It was therefore impossible that the human nature of our Lord could be subject to corruption: for though it was possible that the soul and it might be separated for a time, yet, as it had not sinned, it was not liable to dissolution; and its immortality was the necessary consequence of its being pure from transgression.
Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance.Thou hast made known to me the ways of life - That is, the way from the region of death, or state of the dead and separate spirits; so that I shall resume the same body, and live the same kind of life, as I had before I gave up my life for the sin of the world.
Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.Let me speak freely - of the patriarch David - In Midris Tillin, it is said, in a paraphrase on the words, my flesh shall rest in hope, "Neither worm nor insect had power over David." It is possible that this opinion prevailed in the time of St. Peter, and, if so, his words are the more pointed and forcible; and therefore thus applied by Dr. Lightfoot: "That this passage, Thou shalt not leave my soul in hell, etc., is not to be applied to David himself appears in that I may confidently aver concerning him, that he was dead and buried, and never rose again; but his soul was left εις ᾁδου, in the state of the dead, and He saw corruption; for his sepulchre is with us to this day, under that very notion, that it is the sepulchre of David, who died and was there buried; nor is there one syllable mentioned any where of the resurrection of his body, or the return of his soul εξ ᾁδου from the state of the dead." To this the same author adds the following remarkable note: I cannot slip over that passage, Hieros. Chagig. fol. 78: Rab. Jose saith, David died at pentecost, and all Israel bewailed him, and offered their sacrifices the day following. This is a remarkable coincidence; and may be easily applied to him of whom David was a type.
Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne;According to the flesh, he would raise up Christ - This whole clause is wanting in ACD, one of the Syriac, the Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, and Vulgate; and is variously entered in others. Griesbach rejects it from the text, and Professor White says of the words, "certissime delenda," they should doubtless be expunged. This is a gloss, says Schoettgen, that has crept into the text, which I prove thus:
1. The Syriac and Vulgate, the most ancient of the versions, have not these words.
2. The passage is consistent enough and intelligible without them.
3. They are superfluous, as the mind of the apostle concerning the resurrection of Christ follows immediately in the succeeding verse.
The passage therefore, according to Bp. Pearce, should be read thus: Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath, of the fruit of his loins, to set on his throne; and foreseeing that he (God) would raise up Christ, he spake of the resurrection of Christ, etc. "In this transition, the words which Peter quotes for David's are exactly the same with what we read in the psalm above mentioned; and the circumstance of David's foreseeing that Christ was to be raised up, and was the person meant, is not represented as a part of the oath; but is only made to be Peter's assertion, that David, as a prophet, did foresee it, and meant it."
He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.That his soul was not left in hell - The words ἡ ψυχη αυτου, his soul, are omitted by ABCD, Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, and Vulgate. Griesbach has left them out of the text, and Professor White says again, certissime delenda. The passage may be thus read: "He spake of the resurrection of Christ, that he was not left in hades, neither did his flesh see corruption." For the various readings in this and the preceding verse, see Griesbach.
This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.Whereof we all are witnesses - That is, the whole 120 saw him after he rose from the dead, and were all ready, in the face of persecution and death, to attest this great truth.
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, which ye now see and hear.By the right hand of God exalted - Raised by omnipotence to the highest dignity in the realms of glory, to sit at the right hand of God, and administer the laws of both worlds.
The promise of the Holy Ghost - This was the promise that he had made to them a little before he suffered, as may be seen in John 14:16, etc., John 16:7, etc., and after he had risen from the dead. Luke 24:49, and which as the apostle says was now shed forth.
For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,David is not ascended - Consequently, he has not sent forth this extraordinary gift, but it comes from his Lord, of whom he said, The Lord said unto my Lord, etc. See the note on these words, Matthew 22:44 (note).
Until I make thy foes thy footstool.Until I make thy foes thy footstool - It was usual with conquerors to put their feet on the necks of vanquished leaders, as emblematical of the state of subjection to which they were reduced, and the total extinction of their power. By quoting these words, Peter shows the Jews, who continued enemies to Christ, that their discomfiture and ruin must necessarily take place, their own king and prophet having predicted this in connection with the other things which had already been so literally and circumstantially fulfilled. This conclusion had the desired effect, when pressed home with the strong application in the following verse.
Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.Both Lord and Christ - Not only the Messiah, but the supreme Governor of all things and all persons, Jews and Gentiles, angels and men. In the preceding discourse, Peter assumes a fact which none would attempt to deny, viz. that Jesus had been lately crucified by them.
1. Proves his resurrection.
2. His ascension.
3. His exaltation to the right hand of God.
4. The effusion of the Holy Spirit, which was the fruit of his glorification, and which had not only been promised by himself, but foretold by their own prophets: in consequence of which,
5. It was indisputably proved that this same Jesus, whom they had crucified, was the promised Messiah; and if so,
6. The Governor of the universe, from whose power and justice they had every thing to dread, as they refused to receive his proffered mercy and kindness.
Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?When they heard this, they were pricked in their heart - This powerful, intelligent, consecutive, and interesting discourse, supported every where by prophecies and corresponding facts, left them without reply and without excuse; and they plainly saw there was no hope for them, but in the mercy of him whom they had rejected and crucified.
What shall we do? - How shall we escape those judgments which we now see hanging over our heads?
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.Peter said unto them, Repent - Μετανοησατε; Humble yourselves before God, and deeply deplore the sins you have committed; pray earnestly for mercy, and deprecate the displeasure of incensed justice. For a definition of repentance, see on Matthew 3:2 (note).
And be baptized every one of you - Take on you the public profession of the religion of Christ, by being baptized in his name; and thus acknowledge yourselves to be his disciples and servants.
For the remission of sins - Εις αφεσιν ἁμαρτιων, In reference to the remission or removal of sins: baptism pointing out the purifying influences of the Holy Spirit; and it is in reference to that purification that it is administered, and should in consideration never be separated from it. For baptism itself purifies not the conscience; it only points out the grace by which this is to be done.
Ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost - If ye faithfully use the sign, ye shall get the substance. Receive the baptism, in reference to the removal of sins, and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost, by whose agency alone the efficacy of the blood of the covenant is applied, and by whose refining power the heart is purified. It was by being baptized in the name of Christ that men took upon themselves the profession of Christianity; and it was in consequence of this that the disciples of Christ were called Christians.
For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.For the promise is unto you - Jews of the land of Judea: not only the fulfillment of the promise which he had lately recited from the prophecy of Joel was made to them, but in this promise was also included the purification from sin, with every gift and grace of the Holy Spirit.
To all that are afar off - To the Jews wherever dispersed, and to all the Gentile nations; for, though St. Peter had not as yet a formal knowledge of the calling of the Gentiles, yet, the Spirit of God, by which he spoke, had undoubtedly this in view; and therefore the words are added, even as many as the Lord our God shall call, i.e. all to whom, in the course of his providence and grace, he shall send the preaching of Christ crucified.
And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.Save yourselves from this untoward generation - Separate yourselves from them: be ye saved, σωθητε: the power is present with you; make a proper use of it, and ye shall be delivered from their obstinate unbelief, and the punishment that awaits it in the destruction of them and their city by the Romans.
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.They that gladly received his word - The word ασμενως, which signifies joyfully, readily, willingly, implies that they approved of the doctrine delivered; that they were glad to hear of this way of salvation; and that they began immediately to act according to its dictates. This last sense is well expressed in a similar phrase by Josephus: when speaking of the young Israelites enticing the Midianitish women to sin, by fair speeches, he says, αἱ δε ασμενως δεξαμεναι τους λογους συνῃεσαν αυτοις, Ant. l. iv. c. 4. Then they who approved of their words consorted with them. The word is however omitted by ABCD, Coptic, Sahidic, Ethiopic, Vulgate, the Itala of the Codex Bezae, Clemens, and Chrysostom.
Were baptized - That is, in the name of Jesus, Acts 2:38, for this was the criterion of a Jew's conversion; and when a Jew had received baptism in this name he was excluded from all communication with his countrymen; and no man would have forfeited such privileges but on the fullest and clearest conviction. This baptism was a very powerful means to prevent their apostasy; they had, by receiving baptism in the name of Jesus, renounced Judaism, and all the political advantages connected with it; and they found it indispensably necessary to make the best use of that holy religion which they had received in its stead. Dr. Lightfoot has well remarked, that the Gentiles who received the Christian doctrine were baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost; whereas the Jewish converts, for the reasons already given, were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Were added - three thousand souls - Προσετεθησαν, They went over from one party to another. The Greek writers make use of this verb to signify that act by which cities, towns, or provinces changed their masters, and put themselves under another government. So these 3000 persons left the scribes and Pharisees, and put themselves under the teaching of the apostles, professing the Christian doctrine, and acknowledging that Christ was come, and that he who was lately crucified by the Jews was the promised and only Messiah; and in this faith they were baptized.
These 3000 were not converted under one discourse, nor in one place, nor by one person. All the apostles preached, some in one language, and some in another; and not in one house - for where was there one at that time that could hold such a multitude of people? For, out of the multitudes that heard, 3000 were converted; and if one in five was converted it must have been a very large proportion. The truth seems to by this: All the apostles preached in different, parts of the city, during the course of that day; and in that day, τῃ ἡμερᾳ εκεινῃ, 3000 converts were the fruits of the conjoint exertions of these holy men. Dr. Lightfoot thinks that the account in this place is the fulfillment of the prophecy in Psalm 110:1, etc.: The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou on my right hand; this refers to the resurrection and ascension of Christ. Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, Psalm 110:3. This was the day of his power; and while the apostles proclaimed his death, resurrection, and ascension, the people came willingly in, and embraced the doctrines of Christianity.
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine - They received it, retained it, and acted on its principles.
And fellowship - Κοινωνιᾳ, community; meaning association for religious and spiritual purposes, The community of goods cannot be meant; for this is mentioned Acts 2:44, Acts 2:45, where it is said, they had all things common.
And in breaking of bread - Whether this means the holy eucharist, or their common meals, it is difficult to say. The Syriac understands it of the former. Breaking of bread was that act which preceded a feast or meal, and which was performed by the master of the house, when he pronounced the blessing - what we would call grace before meat. See the form on Matthew 26:26 (note).
And in prayers - In supplications to God for an increase of grace and life in their own souls; for establishment in the truth which they had received, and for the extension of the kingdom of Christ in the salvation of men. Behold the employment of the primitive and apostolic Church.
1. They were builded up on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the corner stone.
2. They continued steadfastly in that doctrine which they had so evidently received from God.
3. They were separated from the world, and lived in a holy Christian fellowship, strengthening and building up each other in their most holy faith.
4. They were frequent in breaking bread; in remembrance that Jesus Christ died for them.
5. They continued in prayers; knowing that they could be no longer faithful than while they were upheld by their God; and knowing also that they could not expect his grace to support them, unless they humbly and earnestly prayed for its continuance.
And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.And fear came upon every soul - Different MSS. and versions read this clause thus, And Great fear and Trembling came upon every soul in Jerusalem. For several weeks past they had a series of the most astonishing miracles wrought before their eyes; they were puzzled and confounded at the manner in which the apostles preached, who charged them home with the deliberate murder of Jesus Christ, and who attested, in the most positive manner, that he was risen from the dead, and that God had sent down that mighty effusion of the Spirit which they now witnessed as a proof of his resurrection and ascension, and that this very person whom they had crucified was appointed by God to be the Judge of quick and dead. They were in consequences stung with remorse, and were apprehensive of the judgments of God; and the wonders and signs continually wrought by the apostles were at once proofs of the celestial origin of their doctrine and mission, and of their own baseness, perfidy, and wickedness.
And all that believed were together, and had all things common;And, all that believed - Οἱ πιστευοντες, The believers, i.e. those who conscientiously credited the doctrine concerning the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, and had, in consequence, received redemption in his blood.
Were together - Επι το αυτο. "These words signify either, in one time, Acts 3:1; or in one place, Acts 2:1; or in one thing. The last of these three senses seems to be the most proper here; for it is not probable that the believers, who were then 3000 in number, Acts 2:41, besides the 120 spoken of Acts 1:15, were used all to meet at one time, or in one place, in Jerusalem." See Bp. Pearce.
And had all things common - Perhaps this has not been well understood. At all the public religious feasts in Jerusalem, there was a sort of community of goods. No man at such times hired houses or beds in Jerusalem; all were lent gratis by the owners: Yoma, fol. 12. Megill. fol. 26. The same may be well supposed of their ovens, cauldrons, tables, spits, and other utensils. Also, provisions of water were made for them at the public expense; Shekalim, cap. 9. See Lightfoot here. Therefore a sort of community of goods was no strange thing at Jerusalem, at such times as these. It appears, however, that this community of goods was carried farther; for we are informed, Acts 2:45, that they sold their possessions and their goods, and parted them to all, as every man had need. But, this probably means that, as in consequence of this remarkable outpouring of the Spirit of God; and their conversion, they were detained longer at Jerusalem than they had originally intended, they formed a kind of community for the time being, that none might suffer want on the present occasion; as no doubt the unbelieving Jews, who were mockers, Acts 2:13, would treat these new converts with the most marked disapprobation. That an absolute community of goods never obtained in the Church at Jerusalem, unless for a very short time, is evident from the apostolical precept, 1 Corinthians 16:1, etc., by which collections were ordered to be made for the poor; but, if there had been a community of goods in the Church, there could have been no ground for such recommendations as these, as there could have been no such distinction as rich and poor, if every one, on entering the Church, gave up all his goods to a common stock. Besides, while this sort of community lasted at Jerusalem, it does not appear to have been imperious upon any; persons might or might not thus dispose of their goods, as we learn front the case of Ananias, Acts 5:4. Nor does it appear that what was done at Jerusalem at this time obtained in any other branch of the Christian Church; and in this, and in the fifth chap., where it is mentioned, it is neither praised nor blamed. We may therefore safely infer, it was something that was done at this time, on this occasion, through some local necessity, which the circumstances of the infant Church at Jerusalem might render expedient for that place and on that occasion only.
And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,They, continuing daily with one accord in the temple - They were present at all the times of public worship, and joined together in prayers and praises to God; for it in not to be supposed that they continued to offer any of the sacrifices prescribed by the law.
Breaking bread from house to house - This may signify, that select companies, who were contiguous to each other, frequently ate together at their respective lodgings on their return from public worship. But κατ' οικον, which we translate from house to house, is repeatedly used by the Greek writers for home, at home, for though they had all things in common, each person lived at his own table. Breaking bread is used to express the act of taking their meals. The bread of the Jews was thin, hard, and dry, and was never cut with the knife as ours is, but was simply broken by the hand.
With gladness and singleness of heart - A true picture of genuine Christian fellowship. They ate their bread: they had no severe fasts; the Holy Spirit had done in their souls, by his refining influence, what others vainly expect from bodily austerities. It may be said also, that, if they had no severe fasts, they had no splendid feasts: all was moderation, and all was contentment. They were full of gladness, spiritual joy and happiness; and singleness of heart, every man worthy of the confidence of his neighbor; and all walking by the same rule, and minding the same thing.
Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.Praising God - As the fountain whence they had derived all their spiritual and temporal blessings; seeing him in all things, and magnifying the work of his mercy.
Having favor with all the people - Every honest, upright Jew would naturally esteem these for the simplicity, purity, and charity of their lives. The scandal of the cross had not yet commenced; for, though they had put Jesus Christ to death, they had not get entered into a systematic opposition to the doctrines he taught.
And the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved - Though many approved of the life and manners of these primitive Christians, yet they did not become members of this holy Church; God permitting none to be added to it, but τους σωζομενους, those who were saved from their sins and prejudices. The Church of Christ was made up of saints; sinners ware not permitted to incorporate themselves with it.
One MS. and the Armenian version, instead of τους σωζομενους, the saved, have τοις σωζομενοις, to them who were saved; reading the verse thus: And the Lord added daily to those who were saved. He united those who were daily converted under the preaching of the apostles to those who had already been converted. And thus every lost sheep that was found was brought to the flock, that, under the direction of the great Master Shepherd, they might go out and in, and find pasture. The words, to the Church, τῃ εκκλησιᾳ, are omitted by BC, Coptic, Sahidic, Ethiopic, Armenian, and Vulgate; and several add the words επι το αυτο, at that tine, (which begin the first verse of the next chapter) to the conclusion of this. My old MS. English Bible reads the verse thus: For so the Lord encresed hem that weren maad saaf, eche day, into the same thing. Nearly the same rendering as that in Wiclif. Our translation of τους σωζομενους, such as should be saved is improper and insupportable. The original means simply and solely those who were then saved; those who were redeemed from their sins and baptized into the faith of Jesus Christ. The same as those whom St. Paul addressed, Ephesians 2:8 : By grace ye are saved, εστε σεσωσμενοι; or, ye are those who have been saved by grace. So in Titus 3:5 : According to his mercy he saved us, εσωσεν ἡμας, by the washing of regeneration. And in 1 Corinthians 1:18, we have the words τοις σωζομενοις, them who are saved, to express those who had received the Christian faith; in opposition to τοις απολλυμενοις, to those who are lost, namely the Jews, who obstinately refused to receive salvation on the terms of the Gospel, the only way in which they could be saved; for it was by embracing the Gospel of Christ that they were put in a state of salvation; and, by the grace it imparted, actually saved from the power, guilt, and dominion of sin. See 1 Corinthians 15:2 : I made known unto you, brethren, the Gospel which I preached unto you, which ye have received, and in which ye stand; and By Which Ye Are Saved, δι' οὑ και σωζεσθε. Our translation, which indeed existed long before our present authorized version, as may be seen in Cardmarden's Bible, 1566, Beck's Bible, 1549, and Tindall's Testament, printed by Will. Tylle, in 1548, is bad in itself; but it has been rendered worse by the comments put on it, viz. that those whom God adds to the Church shall necessarily and unavoidably be eternally saved; whereas no such thing is hinted by the original text, be the doctrine of the indefectibility of the saints true or false - which shall be examined in its proper place.
On that awful subject, the foreknowledge of God, something has already been spoken: see Acts 2:23. Though it is a subject which no finite nature can comprehend, yet it is possible so to understand what relates to us in it as to avoid those rocks of presumption and despondency on which multitudes have been shipwrecked. The foreknowledge of God is never spoken of in reference to himself, but in reference to us: in him properly there is neither foreknowledge nor afterknowledge. Omniscience, or the power to know all things, is an attribute of God, and exists in him as omnipotence, or the power to do all things. He can do whatsoever he will; and he does whatsoever is fit or proper to be done. God cannot have foreknowledge, strictly speaking, because this would suppose that there was something coming, in what we call futurity, which had not yet arrived at the presence of the Deity. Neither can he have any afterknowledge, strictly speaking, for this would suppose that something that had taken place, in what we call pretereity, or past time, had now got beyond the presence of the Deity. As God exists in all that can be called eternity, so he is equally every where: nothing can be future to him, because he lives in all futurity; nothing can be past to him, because he equally exists in all past time; futurity and pretereity are relative terms to us; but they can have no relation to that God who dwells in every point of eternity; with whom all that is past, and all that is present, and all that is future to man, exists in one infinite, indivisible, and eternal Now. As God's omnipotence implies his power to do all things, so God's omniscience implies his power to know all things; but we must take heed that we meddle not with the infinite free agency of this Eternal Being. Though God can do all thinks, he does not all things. Infinite judgment directs the operations of his power, so that though he can, yet he does not do all things, but only such things as are proper to be done. In what is called illimitable space, he can make millions of millions of systems; but he does not see proper to do this. He can destroy the solar system, but he does not do it: he can fashion and order, in endless variety, all the different beings which now exist, whether material, animal, or intellectual; but he does not do this, because he does not see it proper to be done. Therefore it does not follow that, because God can do all things, therefore he must do all things. God is omniscient, and can know all things; but does it follow from this that he must know all things? Is he not as free in the volitions of his wisdom, as he is in the volitions of his power? The contingent as absolute, or the absolute as contingent? God has ordained some things as absolutely certain; these he knows as absolutely certain. He has ordained other things as contingent; these he knows as contingent. It would be absurd to say that he foreknows a thing as only contingent which he has made absolutely certain. And it would be as absurd to say that he foreknows a thing to be absolutely certain which in his own eternal counsel he has made contingent. By absolutely certain, I mean a thing which must be, in that order, time, place, and form in which Divine wisdom has ordained it to be; and that it can be no otherwise than this infinite counsel has ordained. By contingent, I mean such things as the infinite wisdom of God has thought proper to poise on the possibility of being or not being, leaving it to the will of intelligent beings to turn the scale. Or, contingencies are such possibilities, amid the succession of events, as the infinite wisdom of God has left to the will of intelligent beings to determine whether any such event shall take place or not. To deny this would involve the most palpable contradictions, and the most monstrous absurdities. If there be no such things as contingencies in the world, then every thing is fixed and determined by an unalterable decree and purpose of God; and not only all free agency is destroyed, but all agency of every kind, except that of the Creator himself; for on this ground God is the only operator, either in time or eternity: all created beings are only instruments, and do nothing but as impelled and acted upon by this almighty and sole Agent. Consequently, every act is his own; for if he have purposed them all as absolutely certain, having nothing contingent in them, then he has ordained them to be so; and if no contingency, then no free agency, and God alone is the sole actor. Hence the blasphemous, though, from the premises, fair conclusion, that God is the author of all the evil and sin that are in the world; and hence follows that absurdity, that, as God can do nothing that is wrong, Whatever Is, is Right. Sin is no more sin; a vicious human action is no crime, if God have decreed it, and by his foreknowledge and will impelled the creature to act it. On this ground there can be no punishment for delinquencies; for if every thing be done as God has predetermined, and his determinations must necessarily be all right, then neither the instrument nor the agent has done wrong. Thus all vice and virtue, praise and blame, merit and demerit, guilt and innocence, are at once confounded, and all distinctions of this kind confounded with them. Now, allowing the doctrine of the contingency of human actions, (and it must be allowed in order to shun the above absurdities and blasphemies), then we see every intelligent creature accountable for its own works, and for the use it makes of the power with which God has endued it; and, to grant all this consistently, we must also grant that God foresees nothing as absolutely and inevitably certain which he has made contingent; and, because he has designed it to be contingent, therefore he cannot know it as absolutely and inevitably certain. I conclude that God, although omniscient, is not obliged, in consequence of this, to know all that he can know; no more than he is obliged, because he is omnipotent, to do all that he can do.
How many, by confounding the self and free agency of God with a sort of continual impulsive necessity, have raised that necessity into an all-commanding and overruling energy, to which God himself is made subject! Very properly did Milton set his damned spirits about such work as this, and has made it a part of their endless punishment: -
Others apart sat on a hill retired,
In thoughts more elevate; and reasoned high
Of providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate;
Fixed fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute,
And found no end, in wand'ring mazes lost.
Parad. Lost, b. ii. l. 557.
Among some exceptionable expressions, the following are also good thoughts on the flee agency and fall of man: -
- I made him just and right,
Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.
Not free, what proof could they have given sincere
Of true allegiance, constant faith or love,
When only what they needs must do appeared,
Not what they would? What praise could they receive?.
Useless and vain, of freedom both despoiled,
Made passive, both had served Necessity,
Not Me. -
So without least impulse or shadow of fate,
Or aught by me immutably foreseen,
They trespass, authors to themselves in all
Both what they judge, and what they choose, for so
I formed them free, and free they must remain
Till they enthrall themselves: I else must change
Their nature, and revoke the high decree
Unchangeable, eternal, which ordained
Their freedom; they themselves ordained their fall.
Ibid, b. iii. l. 98, 103, 120.
I shall conclude these observations with a short extract from Mr. Bird's Conferences, where, in answer to the objection, "If many things fall out contingently, or as it were by accident, God's foreknowledge of them can be but contingent, dependent on man's free will," he observes: "It is one thing to know that a thing will be done necessarily; and another, to know necessarily that a thing will be done. God doth necessarily foreknow all that will be done; but he doth not know that those things which shall be done voluntarily will be done necessarily: he knoweth that they will be done; but he knoweth withal that they might have fallen out otherwise, for aught he had ordered to the contrary. So likewise God knew that Adam would fall; and get he knew that he would not fall necessarily, for it was possible for him not to have fallen. And as touching God's preordination going before his prescience as the cause of all events this would be to make God the author of all the sin in the world; his knowledge comprehending that as well as other things. God indeed foreknoweth all things, because they will be done; but things are not (therefore) done, because he foreknoweth them. It is impossible that any man, by his voluntary manner of working, should elude God's foresight; but then this foresight doth not necessitate the will, for this were to take it wholly away. For as the knowledge of things present imports no necessity on that which is done, so the foreknowledge of things future lays no necessity on that which shall be; because whosoever knows and sees things, he knows and sees them as they are, and not as they are not; so that God's knowledge doth not confound things, but reaches to all events, not only which come to pass, but as they come to pass, whether contingency or necessarily. As, for example, when you see a man walking upon the earth, and at the very same instant the sun shining in the heavens, do you not see the first as voluntary, and the second as natural? And though at the instant you see both done, there is a necessity that they be done, (or else you could not see them at all), yet there was a necessity of one only before they were done, (namely, the sun's shining in the heavens), but none at all of the other, (viz. the man's walking upon the earth.) The sun could not but shine, as being a natural agent; the man might not have walked, as being a voluntary one." This is a good argument; but I prefer that which states the knowledge of God to be absolutely free, without the contradictions which are mentioned above. "But you deny the omniscience of God." - No, no more than I deny his omnipotence, and you know I do not, though you have asserted the contrary. But take heed how you speak about this infinitely free agent: if you will contradict, take heed that you do not blaspheme. I ask some simple questions on the subject of God's knowledge and power: if you know these things better than your neighbor, be thankful, be humble, and pray to God to give you amiable tempers; for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. May he be merciful to thee and me!