Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE MISSION OF CHRIST. We gather front the opening words of Luke that this was fourfold, and may be included under these heads:
1. Miraculous works. He "began to do (ver. 1). The mighty works" of Jesus were far from being mere "wonders:" they were
(1)deeds of pure beneficence,
(2) acts called for by the circumstances of the hour, malting an irresistible appeal to the heart of love and the hand of power,
(3) illustrations of the Divine principles which he came to establish, as well as
(4) incidental proofs of heavenly origin and almighty power.
2. Teaching. He began "both to do and teach (ver. 1). The teaching of Christ covered all the ground on which we most urgently need enlightenment. He taught us all that we want to know concerning
(1) the nature and disposition of God, including his attitude toward guilty souls;
(2) the real nature of man, his true heritage and the way by which he could return to God;
(3) what constitutes moral excellency in God's sight: how man can do and be that which is due to himself and to all by whom he is surrounded;
(4) the truth respecting the future world.
3. Endurance. The story of his passion" (ver. 3) is the story of his life. In the case of all other of the children of men, the narrative of the last hours is felt to be but the necessary closing of the chapter. In his case alone the relation of the Passion is felt by us all to be the supreme and culminating point the one indispensable feature of his whole career; that to which everything led up, for which everything prepared, compared with which everything else was unimportant. Never, at any period of his ministry, did the Son of God so truly and so largely fulfill the mission on which he came, as when he was "putting away sin by the sacrifice of himself," as when he was betrayed and smitten and reviled, as when he was "lifted up" on the cross and "poured out his soul unto death."
4. Life. He came to be the holy, loving, patient, truthful, reverent One he was. The historian does not speak here of this his exemplary life before his Passion, but we may have it in our mind as a complementary thought; he does, however, refer to his life after the Passion (ver. 3). This is divisible into two parts.
(1) The forty days on earth. Then he bore witness to the reality of his work and the genuineness of his mission: he "showed himself alive... by many infallible proofs."
(2) Everlasting life in heaven. He is now doing the work of administration. "Jesus began both to do and to teach" when he was below; he continues now the great work he then began. As he arrested Paul on his way to Damascus and charged him to enter his service, as he inspired and directed his servants so that the "acts of the apostles" are his acts through them; so now he is administering the affairs of his blessed kingdom by enlightening, inspiring, governing his Church by his Spirit (see ver. 2).
II. OUR MISSION. We have here indications of the kind and method of service which it belongs to us to render. We are:
1. To look expectantly. We too are to "wait for the promise of the Father" (ver 4); often in our Christian life, from its very beginning to its very end, asking and waiting. We are to ask, to seek, to knock - if need be, again and again; not impatient to receive, but remembering that God knows when as well as how to bestow.
2. To receive gratefully. We too "shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost" (ver. 5, and see ver. 8). God will come to us in rich effusion if only we ask earnestly and wait patiently; then we shall receive joyfully, and our hearts will fill with sacred and happy gratitude.
3. To submit cheerfully. Our Lord ofttimes says to us, "It is not for you to know" (ver. 7). We long to know many things not revealed, and this is his reply to our vain curiosity. Or we long to effect impossible things, and then he says to us, "It is not for you to do." He imposes limits to our action as well as to our knowledge, and within these bounds we must be content to move, rejoicing that we are permitted to know anything of him and do anything for him; rejoicing, also, to believe that soon the circle of understanding and accomplishment will be immeasurably enlarged.
4. To testify faithfully. "Ye shall be witnesses unto me" (ver. 8). It was a far higher function for the apostles to bear witness to Christ - to the greatness of his person, the beauty and tenderness of his spirit, the fullness and joy of his salvation - than to be the depositaries of heavenly secrets as to dates and places. There is nothing we should so earnestly aspire and so strenuously strive to become, as faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ. We cannot conceive of a nobler work than to be, by life and lip, bearing testimony to him, constraining our fellow men to realize his readiness to receive, his willingness to forgive, and his power to bless and to ennoble them. - C.
I. JESUS PREPARATIONS FOR DEPARTURE. In the work of God all is continuous. As in nature there is no pause, but in autumn we find the new petiole or leaf-stalk already formed when the old leaf is detached, so in the kingdom of God. There were ages of preparation for Christ's coming; and when he came, his life-work was a making ready to go. Full of blessing was the ministry of his visible presence; fuller still was to be that of the invisible Spirit. He must go that the Spirit may come (John 16:7). The progress is ever from the visible and finite form to the eternal and infinite spiritual content.
1. Preparation by special instruction. (John 14:15; John 15:12-17.) These parting commands were charged with the holiest unction; were breathed forth in spiritual power, with the deep earnestness and tenderness of a Divine farewell. All his commands are summed up in the great word "love." They were issued to a select band, and ever remain in the select keeping of the true Church. Obedience to Christ is, in one word, the unfolding of love in all life-relations. Christian duties and graces are but the various forms which Divine love would stamp on conduct.
2. By manifestations era risen life. His appearances were firmly accredited as red, says St. Luke, using, a word not elsewhere found in the New Testament denoting valid proof (cf. Luke 24:31, 39, 43). This firm persuasion of the reality of the Lord's risen life is the inspiration of the early Church; it cannot be explained away without raising more difficult problems. The appearances were accompanied by appropriate activity. He discoursed on these occasions, and on the supreme theme, on religion, on the kingdom of God. Christianity is not sensation - wonder for wonder's sake; its principle is intelligence; its method is teaching. "Go and teach is the great word of the risen One.
3. By a particular direction. The apostles were to remain in Jerusalem (Luke 24:49). Here were all the conditions of unity provided for: place and time and a common attitude of soul. Spiritual force must be collected in centers, that it may be diffused through the body of the world.
II. THE CHURCH IN THE ATTITUDE OF WAITING.
1. It was for something definite - the fulfillment of a Divine promise. Promise attends all obedience; and perhaps the highest blessings belong to the patient attitude of the soul, the unhaste of perfect confidence in God. It was the promise of a blessing foreshadowed in past experiences. A baptism, therefore a revival and refreshing from above like John Baptist's ministry; yet unlike that in that it was to be more excellent.
2. There was something indefinite, therefore, in the promise. A good not yet tasted, and so not yet conceivable. So is it with all coming good. We know something of that to be expected from past experiences of Divine grace; but the half has not been told us." The future is ideal, and never exactly imitates the past; while it rests upon the past and elicits its meaning. Obey, trust, wait this is a grand lesson of the Christian life which comes back to us from this page. - J.
Sun of Righteousness in the heavens. From thence he will shine upon the earth - first upon that part of the earth immediately below the point of his ascent; and from that, as a starting-place, from country to country, till the whole earth is enlightened. The Acts begins its narrative at Jerusalem, the metropolis of Palestine, and ends it at Rome, the metropolis of the world. Again, we recognize the divinely chosen method, the appointment of apostolic witnesses and representatives, who heard the things which Jesus "spake concerning the kingdom of God," and received from him "the commandment," or commission, to preach and labor for the spread of the glad tidings of the kingdom. And then, further, in these verses, the vital distinction is set prominently forth between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of this world - the indwelling presence and operation of the Holy Ghost, which is represented as first in Jesus himself, speaking in him, working in him, promised by him, and then as bestowed upon the messengers of the kingdom according to "the promise of the Father," repeated by the Son. Thus the great fundamental lines of the Book of the Acts are hid down; the kingdom of the risen and glorified Christ proclaimed and spread through the world; chosen and consecrated men the representatives and ministers of the kingdom; baptism of the Holy Ghost the prerequisite for Christian work and achievement, without which it must not be attempted and cannot be accomplished. - R.
Alpha of the kingdom, and he is the Omega. His doing and his teaching really one; in matter and in manner, Divine; the standard for apostles and all others; the Acts of the Apostles a continuation of the acts of their Master. He only began to do and to teach in his ministry; he went on to manifest himself by the Spirit, according to his promise, "He [the Father] shall give you another Comforter [Helper], that he may be with you for ever" (John 14:16). Consider, then -
I. THE PRE-EMINENCE OF JESUS. A spiritual pre-eminence. The short period of his life and ministry; yet containing deeds and words which have created the world afresh. Not the bare history of miracles, or record of religious discourses, but the manifestation to the world of the Divine Spirit through a human history, character, and speech.
II. A PRE-EMINENCE ACKNOWLEDGED IN HEAVEN. "The day when he was received be the consummation of the gospel story; the "doing and up" is distinctly declared to teaching" were not only before men, but before God, on behalf of men. Hence the distinction between Christ's ministry and that of all merely human doers an teachers; God accepts the pre-eminence, is well-pleased in his testimony - a testimony which was wrought out both in active efforts and patient suffering. His pre-eminence is prophetic, priestly, kingly. The necessity, especially in our times, of following Christ is thought to the right hand of God. He is not merely the highest of the philanthropists and the wisest of the sages. He is the Heir of all things, "received up" to heaven, pre-eminence that "in all things he might have the pre-eminence."
III. THE PRE-EMIENCE OF JESUS IS GRACIOUS. His own ministry is followed by the ministry of his apostles. The Acts only the first volume of an endless record of gracious ministration, of which Jesus is the Source and his people the instruments. Hence the value of the Acts. It helps us to see what a Christ-like ministry is; how it overcomes the world, how it reveals the Spirit. Yet compare the Acts and the Gospels, and we are taught how much the servants fall below their Lord. Instances of infirmity and sin in apostles. Encouragement in the great lesson, our life linked on to Christ's. "Acts a continuation. Keep close to the doing and teaching of Jesus, in its essential features and ruling spirit. - R.
beginning. The word "began" is as characteristic of St. Luke as "straightway is of St. Mark; it occurs thirty-one times in his Gospel. The idea of Christ's life on earth as being a beginning" fits well into the Pauline theology, which sets in such prominence the present and continuous working of the risen, glorified, living Savior. To the apostles' first view our Lord's earthly life must have seemed a failure; they could not know how it was to be continued and completed. From our enlarged knowledge we can apprehend it as being the necessary introduction to his present and permanent spiritual work. Illustrations of apparent incompleteness of earthly life may be found in the story of Moses, who did not cross the Jordan; and David, who did not build the temple. A man's life is never incomplete if he does well his appointed piece.
I. THE BREVITY OF OUR LORD'S LIFE-WORK. At the longest computation it extended only over three years, and many think the time was even shorter than this. Thirty years were spent in secluded preparations; and we may well ask - What great work could any man accomplish in three brief years? And yet some of the most powerful and permanent influences recorded in human history have come from men whose lives were short. Illustrations are found in every department of life; and the common observation has gained expression in the proverb, "Those whom the gods love die young." Life may be very short, and yet very full of power and impulse for good. "He liveth long who liveth well.
II. THE SUDDEN STOPPAGE OF IT. Taken away by a violent death, our Lord could not make it what men would call complete," "rounded off." On his last day he had to admit that it must remain, to men's view, seemingly imperfect. "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now." So with many human lives, the close comes suddenly, and we wish we could tarry to get things completed. But we must leave them, as Christ did; and we may be restfully assured that, if our work has been good, God will find for it completeness by finding its fitting into his great plan.
III. THE INTRODUCTORY CHARACTER OF IT. It was a "beginning," a "preface," a "threshold," an "ante-chamber," an outward earthly show to help us in realizing a continuous spiritual reality. The remembrance of what was is to aid us in realizing what/s. And, in a yet fuller sense, that brief human life was to lay the intellectual, moral, and religious bases on which the Divine relations with men were from that time to rest. "It behooved Christ thus to suffer, and to enter into his glory."
IV. THE CONTINUANCE OF IT. Of that "continuance" we have several distinct forms of Conception; such as:
1. The work of the Holy Spirit.
2. The actual presence of Christ in his Church.
3. The permanent office of Christ as the one human Mediator, Intercessor, and High Priest.
The relation of the "continuing" work to the "introductory is shown in our Lord's statement concerning the Holy Spirit: "He shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you." So far as the continuance of Christ's earthly life and influence is concerned, we find it in the holy living of his Church, and the teachings of apostles and ministers. In application, it may be urged that a work so graciously introduced in our Lord's life on earth, and so graciously continued in his present working in his Church, must have its completion some day. Such completion is reached in the believer's "full sanctification;" and, for the Church, in that day when the "kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ," and the "Church" shall be the redeemed world. - R.T.
Luke 1:1-4). Incidentally we are assured that the historical figure of Christ is the essential foundation of the Christian system; and, therefore, such extreme care was necessary in securing authentic records of his words and works. The trustworthiness of our Gospels may be efficiently impressed by the illustration and enforcement of the following points, which are suggestive enough to be presented without elaboration:-
I. SHOW THE LEADING POINTS OF APOSTOLIC PREACHING AND TEACHING. They were facts, of Christ's coming, teaching, personnel, miracles, crucifixion, and resurrection.
II. IN DECLARING THESE, THE APOSTLES INVITED COMPARISON WITH THE OLDER SCRIPTURES. They appealed to existing and recognized inspired writings.
III. THEIR FACTS NEEDED TO BE SET IN DEFINITE WRITTEN FORM. If comparisons were to be efficiently made, the precise facts must be assured. As preached, there would be variety in the statement of the incidents and expressions of our Lord's life, and no suitable basis for faith.
IV. THE MATERIALS FOR SUCH WRITING MUST BE GATHERED FROM VARIOUS SOURCES. Each disciple remembered some special thing. Our Lord's mother could tell what nobody else could know. Other women had special narratives to give. Peter, James, and John were on several occasions of importance alone with Christ.
V. SUCH MATERIALS REQUIRED THE EDITING OF SOME COMPETENT MEN. Illustrate Luke's fitness - as educated, as Paul's companion, as evidencing a careful, critical habit, and as having access to the best information. Show that, of the many Gospels, and parts of Gospels, that may have been written, there was a Divine selection of four. The wisdom of the selection may be pointed out and impressed; and also the special bearing of Luke's two treatises on the basis-facts of the Pauline theology. Luke's facts underlie Paul's doctrines. - R.T.
do, and to teach; the third we gather from the Gospel itself - to suffer.
I. OUR LORD CAME TO DO. It has been said that "conduct is three-fourths of life;" and upon our Lord's daily life and doings we, first of all, reverently fix our gaze.
1. He came to live; to express in pure, beautiful character, and in sweet, self-denying, helpful intercourse with men, the example of the holy life. Show how this became inspiration for all sincere hearts, and conviction for all self-servers and time-servers.
2. He came to work mighty works. In miracles, of healing and of power, revealing to men the true God and Father, in whom we "live, and move, and have our being;" and making trust in the "living God the Savior" possible for man.
II. OUR LORD CAME TO TEACH. And the teaching was in full harmony with the life, and unfolded the gracious design and mission of the works.
1. He taught the people. As in the sermon on the mount, by his parables, and in the temple porch at Jerusalem.
2. He taught the disciples. By explanation of parable and miracle, by private instructions, by trial missions, and in his modes of dealing with them.
3. He taught his enemies. By severe warnings and denunciations, seeking to arouse the sense of sin, in which alone lies the hope of salvation.
III. OUR LORD CAME TO SUFFER. He could not but suffer personally, in carrying out such a mission; but he, further, suffered mediately and vicariously, as "bearing our sins." For us it "pleased the Lord to bruise him." Conclude by working out the harmony of this threefold aspect, in the light of Christ's perfect and complete obedience to his heavenly Father's will. He did, he taught, he suffered, all that will. And also in the light of our Redeemer's minion as the Savior of the world. He is therein shown to be the perfect Savior. - R.T.
whole scriptural impression. Especially difficult it is to connect the divinity of Christ with the revelation of the Divine Spirit, the Holy Ghost. The difficulty is in part occasioned by our failing to associate the Spirit, in the apostles and in the older prophets, with the Holy Ghost in Christ. The differences need to be carefully marked, but the samenesses also need to be brought to light. We do not fully realize that God can be in man; but precisely this is brought home to us by the teaching of the Holy Ghost in Christ, the man; and the representation that his human words and laws come to us with the perfection and authority stamped by the indwelling Holy Ghost. Scripture gives us three distinct representations of the relations of the Holy Spirit to Christ himself, to his miracles, and to his teachings.
I. THE SPIRIT IS REPRESENTED AS COMING TO CHRIST. Recall the scene of his baptism. The symbolic "dove" brooded over him, or settled on him, and the Spirit of God "came upon him." This took place at the very entrance upon his ministry, so that throughout his ministry we are to conceive of him as specially endowed, as one in whom dwelt the Spirit "above measure" (see Luke 4:1; John 3:34). The sense in which the Spirit came to Christ needs careful treatment. From his birth the Divine Spirit was his Spirit; and in this lies the deep mystery of his Godhead. The Spirit that came to him at his baptism was the specific Divine endowment for the ministry to which he was called, and so it and the descent of the Holy Ghost on the disciples at Pentecost help to explain each other; and they show that the Spirit may still be with us in a twofold sense. As "born again," he is our very life; as called to any work, he comes to us as a specific endowment for that work. It is, therefore, right to realize the Spirit's permanent dwelling in the believer, and at the same time right to pray that he may come to us for special needs.
II. THE SPIRIT IS REPRESENTED AS WORKING THROUGH CHRIST. This was our Lord's teaching concerning his miracles, and it lies at the basis of his solemn warning to the blaspheming Pharisees. The "sin against the Holy Ghost" is shown to be precisely this - declaring the miracles of Christ, which manifested the presence and power of the Holy Ghost, to have been wrought by devilish agencies. So vital is it to the Christian faith and life that we should recognize the Holy Ghost in Christ's mighty works, that the sin of the Pharisees is declared to be "beyond forgiveness." In measure the same is true of the witness and work of Christ's Church now. It is wrought in the power of the Holy Ghost. It is mighty only as this conviction dwells in the workers, and opens the hearts of those who receive the witness and are the subjects of the work. The one thing that Christ's Church needs is to be lifted up to the solemn and inspiring conviction - the Holy Ghost is with us.
III. THE SPIRIT IS REPRESENTED AS SPEAKING THROUGH CHRIST. This is set forth separately because, though, in Christ, miracle and teaching went together, teaching, speaking, preaching is the one great agency of his Church, and therefore we do well to see the truth in precise relation to it. To this point our Lord directed the attention of the disciples in the "upper chamber." All he had spoken to them had been "given him to speak," and just so they might be assured that the Divine Spirit would give them right and fitting words. And in our text the last injunctions and counsels and commands are directly traced to the Holy Ghost. But, properly regarded, the sphere of the Spirit's operation is the human will - the real source and spring of all activity, the center of the human vitality, From the teaching of what the Spirit was, beyond measure, in Christ, we may learn what the Holy Ghost can be, within measure, in man; what he may be to apostles and to us. In conclusion, show, practically, that the necessary condition of the abiding of the Holy Ghost in Christ was his perfect openness and entire submission to the Spirit's lead; and that this Christ-like openness is still the one condition of the Spirit's abiding and working in us. Impress the warnings of the apostles against the danger of resisting, quenching, and grieving the Holy Ghost. - R.T.
I. THE WITNESSES.
1. Prepared and trained for the work. Not shown to all, but to those who could look at the miracle in its spiritual aspect, who could see the fulfillment of God's Word.
2. The certain knowledge of Christ's resurrection a solemn responsibility which all were not able to bear. Nothing secret but that it may come abroad. Not to the wise of this world, who know not how to use Divine secrets, but to the babes in disposition, simple, humble, self-forgetful, waiting on God.
3. The main work of Christ's servants is witnessing, not theorizing; not building up ecclesiastical structures; not seeking dominion over the faith of others; but "showing forth" the great facts. Our, preaching should be of the nature of witnessing. "Add to our seal that God is true. Although apostles had distinct duties as leaders and founders of the visible Church, they share with all the Lord's people the office of witnesses. "Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord." See to it that we speak as those who "know the certainty of the things."
II. THE PROOFS. The Resurrection must be proved infallibly (τεκμηρίοις); that is, beyond all reasonable doubt. We must build on a foundation of fact and testimony. Our first teachers must be those who could say that they had tasted, handled, felt of the Word of Life (1 John 1:1-4). Now the proofs were:
1. Appearances of the risen Jesus, thirteen in number, in various circumstances, to different kinds of witnesses, and with amply sufficient tests of reality.
2. Coincidence of the facts with-the words of our Lord himself and the promises of the Old Testament.
3. Distinction of the signs and proofs of the Resurrection from any other facts; from the possible misapprehensions or illusions of disciples. It was unexpected; proved against unbelief; with growing assurance; and with concurrence of many sincere and faithful men who knew their responsibility as witnesses.
4. Jesus showed himself alive after his resurrection. The fact to which apostles testified was not the mystery of the Resurrection itself, but the simple fact that Jesus was alive. No one saw him rise, but they saw him after he was risen. They might mistake what occurred at the sepulcher; they could make no mistake in talking with a living man, handling him, eating with him, and that for forty days and on many occasions, in one another's presence. Necessity that we should set the proof of the Resurrection and risen life of Jesus first and foremost in our defense of Christianity. It is the key-stone of the arch.
III. THE GLORY OF GOD IN THE FACE OF JESUS CHRIST. The forty days and their influence on the first disciples, and through them on all future ages.
1. The personal presence of Jesus lifted up into a more glorious fact. The infirmities gone. The fact of his victory shining in his face. The influence of his condescension; the risen Jesus still the Friend and Companion of his people. The expectation of his return to heaven: "I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God" (John 20:17). The effect on Thomas: "My Lord and my God!" The necessity that disciples should cease to "know Christ after the flesh." Henceforth they felt his presence spiritually.
2. Forty days of special instruction "concerning the kingdom of God." The history which follows corrects the view sometimes put forward that the risen Savior imparted to his apostles any body of ecclesiastical laws. Had they received them they would certainly have referred to them. He spoke of the kingdom itself, which is not meat and drink, not external ordinances and regulations, not creeds and shibboleths; but "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost." He called to remembrance what he had preached. He opened their understandings to the meaning of the Old Testament. He corrected their worldly views. He showed them the relation of the gospel facts to the kingdom; that is, that he could reign by the power of these facts. "The Messiah ought to suffer, and to enter into his glory." He led them back to Calvary with new faith before he took them to Olivet. Jesus was a Teacher to the last. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. - R.
beginning. He had done, indeed, unnumbered benefits to unnumbered persons. He had taught unnumbered lessons of wisdom and goodness to unnumbered persons. And he had been a light, a wonder, a glory, to a nation. But now, after his passion and resurrection, on to his ascension, his work shows as though cast in larger mould. Its character speaks comprehension beyond what it formerly did. And this is its simple, grand, motto - "the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." We have here -
I. THE MANIFEST INSTALLATION, LONG AWAITED, OF THE ONE ROYAL INSTITUTION OF THE WORLD. Henceforth the question that shall be to the front for the whole world is "the kingdom of God." The kingdom of God and the Church of Christ are not, indeed, identities. But they stand in most real correlation. The just analogy of the relation that holds between them is that of the perfect type, the original model to the faithful copy - a copy ever realizing greater faithfulness of resemblance. For this supreme installation, now come with so little of ceremony, at so unexpected a time, in so unexpected and modest a way, the world had waited thousands of years, while "kings and prophets" had been on the watch-tower. These had died with "hope deferred," but in many cases with faith never stronger than in that dying hour. But further, during the last thirty-three years, since in strangest consent a heavenly band of angels, and certain shepherds, and certain "wise men of the East," and a certain very unwise king, Herod, struck to the heart cowardly, had seemed to set them going, wave after wave of excited expectation and of suspense had swayed to and fro the hearts of multitudes. The expectation and the suspense were just now put to rest, and it should be a satisfied rest, for "this time," to be soon superseded by an untold period of hard work and severe conflict. During the past thirty-three years, this kingdom had been foreshadowed among a thousand things "done" and "taught" that seemed of nearer import, by
2. The introduction of it into the model prayer taught by Jesus to his disciples, "Thy kingdom come Thine is the kingdom."
3. The many parables of Jesus, of which "the kingdom of God" or "the kingdom of heaven" was the subject.
5. The detached observations made by Jesus, having the kingdom as their subject (Luke 17:20; John 18:33-37). But now, during so special a period as the forty days, this subject - "the things pertaining to the kingdom of God " - is spoken of as the characteristic and discriminating theme of Christ's discourse and instruction to the apostles. The inference is plain.
II. THE INDICATIONS OF THE AUGUST CRISIS, WHEN THE MOST ARDUOUS WORK, MOST ENNOBLING PRIVILEGE, MOST TREMENDOUS RESPONSIBILITY, WERE DEVOLVED ON HUMAN AGENTS. And two things are specially to be noted at this amazing juncture.
1. The carrying on of the work of Christ on earth, in the establishing and propagating of the kingdom of God, is given into the hands of men. We know nothing like all which Jesus said to his apostles during these "forty days." Probably we do not know even all the occasions on which he appeared to them and instructed them. But there can be no doubt that there was one reason, and only one chief reason, why the theme of Christ's conversation or discourse was what we are here told it was. The reason this, that the apostles should now be prepared, both in heart and hand, to undertake the lead of the great work, as they had never Before been prepared, probably not even to the conceiving of such a thing.
2. The carrying on of that work, now devolved or about immediately to be devolved on the servants by the Master, is - for so we are irresistibly led to conclude - not prescribed too closely, is not provided for in anything approaching literal detail. Christ spoke of "the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. One inevitably imagines that under this description principles were imparted - possibly enough information savoring of the character of revelation. These would be lighted up and warmed by the presence of gracious promise and stirring glimpses of the above and of the future. Yet, all as inevitably, one is impressed with the conviction that even that poor earthly judgment of those poor earthly men, who had so often slipped and failed even under the eye of the Master, was not fettered, hampered, overpowered by the severity of binding detail. We seem to see Jesus doing at that germinal time what the history of the Church clearly enough shows he ever has done since, throwing himself and his own expensive work and grand sacrifice alike on the love and the judgment of his servants! It is a marvelous thought of work and honor devolved on men! Nor could it be easy to find either a more stirring or inspiring stimulus both of love and of wisdom's best efforts. The conjunction of the trust Christ offers to repose practically, not on our hearts' love alone, but even on our fallible discretion, illustrates the height of his surpassing grace to us, in the very gracefulness of the grace.
III. THE SUGGESTIONS OF THE SOURCE OF THE KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM THAT UNDER ALL CIRCUMSTANCES WOULD BE REQUIRED. He who spake" to loving disciples, friends, servants, and who instructed them now, would by the very act, often repeated before "his passion," but now (it is impossible to refrain from the word) with increased sanctity after his resurrection, ensure their memory, and their grateful memory, of himself. These he would make his own - more surely than the child hallows more and more the memory of the father; more surely than the pupil never conquers, nor wishes nor tries to conquer, the reverence he used to feel to a teacher, whom he once pictured as possessed of all knowledge. To him who gives the grace of conversion, we look instinctively for that of sanctification; as to those who give us life, we instinctively, unconsciously look for the support and rearing of that life. "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world," were words, we may rest assured, not heard exactly for the first time in the rapt moments of the literal Ascension! We are also immediately informed that Christ emphatically directed his disciples, now hanging on his lips, to look for and wait for the Holy Spirit, one of whose main offices was and ever is to bring to remembrance the things already spoken by Christ. Until, then, "God is all in all," and the mediatorial reign of Christ is resigned, he is our one Hope and Trust. He is the Giver of light, knowledge, love. He is the one only Head of his Church. He the Savior and the King of men, who now so condescendingly "showed himself alive" to the apostles, "after his passion, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. - B.
literal and historical fact, of which satisfactory proofs could be given - such proofs as men are accustomed to accept. Here it is stated that our Lord "showed himself alive;" that he "appeared -unto the disciples" (see Revised Version), that the proofs he offered of his restored life were "infallible," as well as "numerous; i.e. they were not merely "probable," or "circumstantial," they were such as naturally and properly carried conviction. The disciples were not deluded or deceived; they acted as reasonable men, and accepted the fact of the Resurrection because convinced by adequate proofs. But when the historical fact is thus fully assured, we must be prepared to receive the further fact which our Lord's ascension declares, viz. that his resurrection was essentially a spiritual resurrection. We have in it the assurance that he himself, the spiritual person, Jesus, lived; we have but the formal part of the truth before us when we say that his body was restored to life. The bodily manifestations during the forty days were necessary, in order to give the disciples and us such proofs as they and we can apprehend, of the real continuance of the life of Jesus himself; through these sensible proofs our minds grasp the fact that "he ever liveth." The "spiritual cannot be apprehended by us save by the help of figure, body, and form; and our Lord's whole life on the earth is a gracious bringing home to our carnal minds of spiritual truths and realities by sensible appearances and deeds and words. Luke briefly declares the sufficiency of the proofs of the Resurrection. Each point may be illustrated and enforced by the facts detailed in the Gospels, and by the summary given in 1 Corinthians 15.
I. THE TIME COVERED BY THE PROOFS WAS PROLONGED. It was forty days. Any sudden and passing manifestation of Christ might be explained as a mental delusion or a ghostly vision. The time, in this case, gave sufficient opportunity for testing the veritableness of Christ's restored life. Spirit-manifestations never remain for forty days.
II. THE OCCASIONS ON WHICH THE PROOFS WERE GIVEN WERE MANY, For them see Paul's summary (1 Corinthians 15.). Some were given at Jerusalem; others in Galilee; others, again, at Olivet. Some on the shore; others on the mountain; others, again, in the house. Some with the sound of voice which all recognized; others with the showing of the crucifixion marks; others with the sharing of bodily food; and yet others with the signs of the old miraculous power. Impress the force that lies in cumulative evidence.
III. THE WITNESSES WHO TESTIFY TO THE PROOFS WERE VARIOUS. Individual men may be selected, such as the skeptical Thomas, or the questioning Philip, and the value of their testimony may be shown. But equally important is the witness of Peter's intensity and John's insight. Add the evidence of the women, and that of five hundred" disciples, to the majority of whom personal appeal could be made when Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Show what a stream of witnesses. They "crowd the court." Was ever any fact more adequately assured by sober testimony and sensible proofs, such as ought to carry conviction?
IV. THE SUBJECT OF CHRIST'S TEACHING IN THE FORTY DAYS WAS THE SAME. The importance of this continuity needs to be carefully shown. Jesus resumed his work, carried it on from the point where he left off, completing his personal instructions to his disciples, with precise adaptation to his new relations as the risen and ascending Lord, and to their new duty as the preachers of his gospel to the world. Really in this lies the best proof of the Resurrection. Impress the security of the foundation fact on which the gospel rests. Christ "is risen," and our preaching is "not vain." - R.T.
God, and to lilt up the world into a Divine household. In the infancy of the Church all depended on simple obedience to orders. Immense evil from not waiting for God's time and preparation. Here are the two guiding lights - the promise unfolding the prospect, the commandment marking out the way.
I. THE UNFOLDED PROSPECT.
1. The extent of it. "The Father's promise;" infinite as his love. Though faith was demanded, because sight of the future withheld, still the voice was the voice of infinite assurance.
2. The nature of the expectation. "Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost." The gift already tasted, known by experience. We cannot be without "the earnest of the Spirit" if Christ's. We yet must look for a fuller baptism, especially as meeting responsibilities and trials, anticipating work and fruits.
II. THE WORD OF COMMAND. "Wait."
1. With the word of promise in mind, expecting the fulfillment, "not many days hence."
2. In fellowship with one another and in prayer, that the heart may be open to the gifts, that they may be poured out upon all
3. At Jerusalem, where the two dispensations meet, where the main action against the kingdom of darkness can best commence, where the facts of the gospel have already preceded you, and you can build on the foundation laid in Zion.
4. In self-renunciation and faithfulness, not in slothful indifference or depression. While we make the best of present opportunities, the larger open to us. Do the work of the day in the day, and so wait for the promise of the Father. Individually, here is encouragement - grain of mustard seed will grow. Our Father must desire growth in us. Collectively, many applications - prospects of the Church and of the world. The true method of gathering in the masses, not by departing for Jerusalem before the time, but waiting till we are able to send out into the unconverted world the energy bestowed upon us. - R.
Luke 24:49) he remembers it to quote it, in its completest precision: "Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you." These are the two occasions of the occurrence of this expression in Scripture. Other portions of Scripture, however, concerned with the same grand subject, are quite in harmony with these two picked expressions. They may possibly all date in the first instance from the words of the Prophet Joel (Joel 2:28, 29). But we most thankfully accept the reminding words of Jesus, as here distinctly quoted," which ye have heard of me," as good for asserting the independent choice of the designation by an original authority. When thus viewed, it will exceed in value the words of the prophet, though treasured long, if not in grateful, yet in hopeful memory. We have here -
I. THE MENTION OF THE DESCENT, THE SPECIAL DESCENT, OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, UNDER THE TITLE OF "THE PROMISE OF THE FATHER."
1. This title maintains consistently the strict fidelity of revelation. The uniform representation of Scripture sets forth everything good as originating with the Father. He is the Source. He is the Beginning. Whatsoever comes even nearest of all to him, is still but "in the beginning with him." He is the "Giver of every good and perfect gift" - of the glorious array of gift that ranks the brightest among its treasures, beyond comparison the brightest, Jesus Christ, "the Son of the Father" and the Savior of the world, and the Holy Spirit, "the promise of the Father," and the Regenerator and Sanctifier of human hearts. "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift," the fit refrain of ten thousand songs - songs of life, of light, of warmth, of love, of reason, of memory, of imagination, of hope, of beauty, of joy - is nevertheless heard, first of all, in its fullest tones, in its richest strains, as the refrain of those songs, that celebrate the gift of Jesus to a once prostrate world, and the "promise of the Father" to that same world just begun to lift its head, and gasp for pure air, and to beg for a little light, and a little love and hope. To that doubting prayer of a world crushed under sin and darkness so long, and wrung from it by the bitterness of its effectual woe, how large the answer that came down wrapt in the "promise of the Father" And within the narrower limits of Christ's own testimony respecting the Holy Spirit, this title preserves the harmony of Scripture. "The Father... shall give you another Comforter" (John 14:16); "The Father will send... the Comforter, the Holy Ghost" (John 14:26); "The Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father" (John 15:26). We may notice these testimonies of Christ the more observantly, because they grow up lovingly tangled among allusions to his own relations to the Spirit, and to the "sending" of him. Of which more follows immediately.
2. The title is one that specially honors the Father. Taking into account the exact juncture, it may perhaps be viewed as intentionally an almost final act for the days of Christ's tarrying on earth, of honor, of obedience, of the reverent love of a true, sublime Sonship on the part of Christ toward God the Father. Only the day before his crucifixion had Christ spoken with some fullness and in some detail of his own relation to the Spirit. That relation must be a very close one, to answer correctly to the things which Jesus then said and implied as well. For instance: "I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter" (John 14:16); "The Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my Name (John 15:26); The Comforter... whom I will send unto you from the Father" (John 15:26); "If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you. But if I depart, I will send him unto you" (John 16:7); "The Spirit of truth... shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you" (John 16:13, 14). Sot in the whole body of these sayings of Christ is there, indeed, anything that trenches upon the rights of the Father; yet now the great original Promiser is justly brought, and is as it were finally left by Christ in the place of first majesty and prominence.
3. The title offers, for all devout and reverent thought, to link together that present, which ever seems so prosaic, so unmemorable with hallowed antiquity, with the sacredness of the past, with the legitimate enchantment of distance. The promise reminds (and in this case most plainly) of the Promiser. And this Promiser of ages past, long waited for, not seldom distrusted, sometimes despaired of, is now in a moment or two going to be manifested - the faithful Promiser. He is none other than the Father everlasting! Promise adds preciousness to bestowment in several ways - in the very tension of the moral nature which it challenges, in the mutual keeping hold of hands (all the while that the promise subsists), of promiser and promisee, in the educatory processes of varied sort that are sure to be transpiring during all the same interval, and, in a word, in the preparation of the receiver for the thing prepared for him, as well as in his final supreme gratification on receiving it. But come this time, the "forecasting of the years" past, "the reaching of the hand through time to catch the far-off interest of tears" over, and the blank days that have been yield to the dawn of radiance itself. So sang Moses, when now at last he saw the land, "the promise of the Father " -
"My Father's hope! my childhood's dream! "My death is come, but not decay; "Blest scene! thrice welcome after toil - 4. The title offers in a fresh form, to the sensitive, impressible disposition of true discipleship, a pathetic suggestion of the nearness and the continuing purpose and the watching grace of the Father. 'Tis all covered by the word promise. For a promise must be of something welcome and wished for. A promise has no part nor lot with a threat. The only question that lies at the door of promise is the anxious one, as to faithfulness; that assured, the prospect must be a grateful one. So one chosen word, an opportune name, a kindly expression, becomes a suggestion, fruitful and full of fruitfulness. The promise of the Father" must ever be the "Comforter" of the Church. II. THE COMMAND TO AWAIT TOGETHER AT JERUSALEM THAT DESCENT, OR "BAPTISM," OF THE HOLY GHOST WHICH WOULD CONSTITUTE THE FULFILMENT OF PROMISE. It is not necessary to linger over the fact that Jerusalem was to be the scene of the "baptism with the Holy Ghost," and the geographical point of departure for the new heralds of" the kingdom of God." It was the metropolis of the land; it was the shrine in a shrine. It had been the ecclesiastical gathering-place of the elect people for centuries upon centuries, and divinely appointed such. But now, if ever work was to date from place, the work of Christ might well begin from the place where he suffered, and the glory of the dispensation of his Spirit be manifested where had been first the manifestation of his soul's sore "trouble," and his humiliation unto death! This, the first crown after the cross! But other suggestions, of more intrinsic importance, arise out of this command. 1. The command, by preventing the separation and dispersion of the apostles, prepared the way for a manifestation which, if viewed merely as a phenomenon, must have been unsurpassed in the experience of the people, whether those who saw it or those who felt it as well. No amount of depth of conviction, no amount of consequent real stir, could be wondered at after such a scene, or the credible report of it only. The impression and the effect must have been justly tremendous then and there. Could we give ourselves leave to imagine for one moment a reproduction of that scene in the modern world's metropolis, we know that, taking into consideration the scale of modern thought, the character and variety and tenacity of modern skepticism, and the wonderfully advanced means of modern communication, nothing short of the genuine turning upside down of "the world" might be expected to be the result. The atheist, the rationalist, the materialist, the mere scientist, would have a hard task before them, and would have hard work to escape the administration prompt of lynch law, as it were! There were, of course, the greatest ends to be secured by that extraordinary demonstration proportionate to the time of day, and guarded from effects that would be absolutely appalling through their forcibleness. (1) That demonstration of the Spirit would be forever memorable in the thought and religious life of each individual who experienced it. (2) Also its value would be greatly enhanced in the mutual witness, which was so striking a feature of it. No hour, no moment, was wasted (as after the Resurrection) by any attempt called for on the part of one disciple to persuade or to inform another. All saw, felt, believed, and were divinely elated. (3) It irresistibly secured a wide, varied, distant circulation, at a time when this was a thing difficult to attain. 2. The command prevented apostles and disciples separating and dispersing to attempt in an individual, fitful manner their great Master's work. They are to await one united baptism - to have one distinct, impartial impression made upon them and commission entrusted to them. From the first a very needed idea was offered to them, that they were not to air their individualities, but to lose self in one glorious congregation. 3. The command scoured, on the very merits of the case, the proper preparation of the apostles for their work. Not only will they now not go forth in their own individual strength and pride, but not in human strength and pride at all. They are all to be baptized, and with such a force as the Holy Spirit! His life, his light, his love, his tongue, are to be theirs. As with Jesus' spoken charge to "the twelve," and again to "the seventy," under each permanent or temporary item of direction lay this one principle, that they were to go forth in the strength of a Stronger than man, so in this acted charge, this marvel of a demonstration of the Spirit, the same root-principle is conveyed, be it said, with a thousandfold impressiveness. Not one atom of Christ's work must they touch in their own strength, nor begin it presumptuously before they are sufficiently equipped - panoplied by the Word and the Spirit. That lesson has gone, is going, must go down through all time, and all succeeding generations and portions of the Church. Nor is it the least of important lessons being at this very time taught us, by methods often most painful, most humiliating but most healthful, that the work of Christ prospers with the man, with the Church, with the age, which is most thoroughly characterized by a profound trust, and effectual, fervent invocation of the Holy Spirit. - B.
"My death is come, but not decay; "Blest scene! thrice welcome after toil - 4. The title offers in a fresh form, to the sensitive, impressible disposition of true discipleship, a pathetic suggestion of the nearness and the continuing purpose and the watching grace of the Father. 'Tis all covered by the word promise. For a promise must be of something welcome and wished for. A promise has no part nor lot with a threat. The only question that lies at the door of promise is the anxious one, as to faithfulness; that assured, the prospect must be a grateful one. So one chosen word, an opportune name, a kindly expression, becomes a suggestion, fruitful and full of fruitfulness. The promise of the Father" must ever be the "Comforter" of the Church. II. THE COMMAND TO AWAIT TOGETHER AT JERUSALEM THAT DESCENT, OR "BAPTISM," OF THE HOLY GHOST WHICH WOULD CONSTITUTE THE FULFILMENT OF PROMISE. It is not necessary to linger over the fact that Jerusalem was to be the scene of the "baptism with the Holy Ghost," and the geographical point of departure for the new heralds of" the kingdom of God." It was the metropolis of the land; it was the shrine in a shrine. It had been the ecclesiastical gathering-place of the elect people for centuries upon centuries, and divinely appointed such. But now, if ever work was to date from place, the work of Christ might well begin from the place where he suffered, and the glory of the dispensation of his Spirit be manifested where had been first the manifestation of his soul's sore "trouble," and his humiliation unto death! This, the first crown after the cross! But other suggestions, of more intrinsic importance, arise out of this command. 1. The command, by preventing the separation and dispersion of the apostles, prepared the way for a manifestation which, if viewed merely as a phenomenon, must have been unsurpassed in the experience of the people, whether those who saw it or those who felt it as well. No amount of depth of conviction, no amount of consequent real stir, could be wondered at after such a scene, or the credible report of it only. The impression and the effect must have been justly tremendous then and there. Could we give ourselves leave to imagine for one moment a reproduction of that scene in the modern world's metropolis, we know that, taking into consideration the scale of modern thought, the character and variety and tenacity of modern skepticism, and the wonderfully advanced means of modern communication, nothing short of the genuine turning upside down of "the world" might be expected to be the result. The atheist, the rationalist, the materialist, the mere scientist, would have a hard task before them, and would have hard work to escape the administration prompt of lynch law, as it were! There were, of course, the greatest ends to be secured by that extraordinary demonstration proportionate to the time of day, and guarded from effects that would be absolutely appalling through their forcibleness. (1) That demonstration of the Spirit would be forever memorable in the thought and religious life of each individual who experienced it. (2) Also its value would be greatly enhanced in the mutual witness, which was so striking a feature of it. No hour, no moment, was wasted (as after the Resurrection) by any attempt called for on the part of one disciple to persuade or to inform another. All saw, felt, believed, and were divinely elated. (3) It irresistibly secured a wide, varied, distant circulation, at a time when this was a thing difficult to attain. 2. The command prevented apostles and disciples separating and dispersing to attempt in an individual, fitful manner their great Master's work. They are to await one united baptism - to have one distinct, impartial impression made upon them and commission entrusted to them. From the first a very needed idea was offered to them, that they were not to air their individualities, but to lose self in one glorious congregation. 3. The command scoured, on the very merits of the case, the proper preparation of the apostles for their work. Not only will they now not go forth in their own individual strength and pride, but not in human strength and pride at all. They are all to be baptized, and with such a force as the Holy Spirit! His life, his light, his love, his tongue, are to be theirs. As with Jesus' spoken charge to "the twelve," and again to "the seventy," under each permanent or temporary item of direction lay this one principle, that they were to go forth in the strength of a Stronger than man, so in this acted charge, this marvel of a demonstration of the Spirit, the same root-principle is conveyed, be it said, with a thousandfold impressiveness. Not one atom of Christ's work must they touch in their own strength, nor begin it presumptuously before they are sufficiently equipped - panoplied by the Word and the Spirit. That lesson has gone, is going, must go down through all time, and all succeeding generations and portions of the Church. Nor is it the least of important lessons being at this very time taught us, by methods often most painful, most humiliating but most healthful, that the work of Christ prospers with the man, with the Church, with the age, which is most thoroughly characterized by a profound trust, and effectual, fervent invocation of the Holy Spirit. - B.
"Blest scene! thrice welcome after toil -
4. The title offers in a fresh form, to the sensitive, impressible disposition of true discipleship, a pathetic suggestion of the nearness and the continuing purpose and the watching grace of the Father. 'Tis all covered by the word promise. For a promise must be of something welcome and wished for. A promise has no part nor lot with a threat. The only question that lies at the door of promise is the anxious one, as to faithfulness; that assured, the prospect must be a grateful one. So one chosen word, an opportune name, a kindly expression, becomes a suggestion, fruitful and full of fruitfulness. The promise of the Father" must ever be the "Comforter" of the Church.
II. THE COMMAND TO AWAIT TOGETHER AT JERUSALEM THAT DESCENT, OR "BAPTISM," OF THE HOLY GHOST WHICH WOULD CONSTITUTE THE FULFILMENT OF PROMISE. It is not necessary to linger over the fact that Jerusalem was to be the scene of the "baptism with the Holy Ghost," and the geographical point of departure for the new heralds of" the kingdom of God." It was the metropolis of the land; it was the shrine in a shrine. It had been the ecclesiastical gathering-place of the elect people for centuries upon centuries, and divinely appointed such. But now, if ever work was to date from place, the work of Christ might well begin from the place where he suffered, and the glory of the dispensation of his Spirit be manifested where had been first the manifestation of his soul's sore "trouble," and his humiliation unto death! This, the first crown after the cross! But other suggestions, of more intrinsic importance, arise out of this command.
1. The command, by preventing the separation and dispersion of the apostles, prepared the way for a manifestation which, if viewed merely as a phenomenon, must have been unsurpassed in the experience of the people, whether those who saw it or those who felt it as well. No amount of depth of conviction, no amount of consequent real stir, could be wondered at after such a scene, or the credible report of it only. The impression and the effect must have been justly tremendous then and there. Could we give ourselves leave to imagine for one moment a reproduction of that scene in the modern world's metropolis, we know that, taking into consideration the scale of modern thought, the character and variety and tenacity of modern skepticism, and the wonderfully advanced means of modern communication, nothing short of the genuine turning upside down of "the world" might be expected to be the result. The atheist, the rationalist, the materialist, the mere scientist, would have a hard task before them, and would have hard work to escape the administration prompt of lynch law, as it were! There were, of course, the greatest ends to be secured by that extraordinary demonstration proportionate to the time of day, and guarded from effects that would be absolutely appalling through their forcibleness.
(1) That demonstration of the Spirit would be forever memorable in the thought and religious life of each individual who experienced it.
(2) Also its value would be greatly enhanced in the mutual witness, which was so striking a feature of it. No hour, no moment, was wasted (as after the Resurrection) by any attempt called for on the part of one disciple to persuade or to inform another. All saw, felt, believed, and were divinely elated.
(3) It irresistibly secured a wide, varied, distant circulation, at a time when this was a thing difficult to attain.
2. The command prevented apostles and disciples separating and dispersing to attempt in an individual, fitful manner their great Master's work. They are to await one united baptism - to have one distinct, impartial impression made upon them and commission entrusted to them. From the first a very needed idea was offered to them, that they were not to air their individualities, but to lose self in one glorious congregation.
3. The command scoured, on the very merits of the case, the proper preparation of the apostles for their work. Not only will they now not go forth in their own individual strength and pride, but not in human strength and pride at all. They are all to be baptized, and with such a force as the Holy Spirit! His life, his light, his love, his tongue, are to be theirs. As with Jesus' spoken charge to "the twelve," and again to "the seventy," under each permanent or temporary item of direction lay this one principle, that they were to go forth in the strength of a Stronger than man, so in this acted charge, this marvel of a demonstration of the Spirit, the same root-principle is conveyed, be it said, with a thousandfold impressiveness. Not one atom of Christ's work must they touch in their own strength, nor begin it presumptuously before they are sufficiently equipped - panoplied by the Word and the Spirit. That lesson has gone, is going, must go down through all time, and all succeeding generations and portions of the Church. Nor is it the least of important lessons being at this very time taught us, by methods often most painful, most humiliating but most healthful, that the work of Christ prospers with the man, with the Church, with the age, which is most thoroughly characterized by a profound trust, and effectual, fervent invocation of the Holy Spirit. - B.
Father's gift, made to them for his sake. We are to regard the bestowment of the Spirit in different ways.
1. He is the very Spirit given as Divine endowment for the fulfilling of the old prophets' missions; given as Divine endowment for the mission of the apostles and of the Church.
2. He is the fulfillment of the assurance that Christ would "come again," to abide ever with his Church.
3. He is sent by the Son.
4. He is the gift of the Father.
5. He is sent by the Father and the Son. Allusion may be made to the disputes and separation of the Eastern and Western Churches on the subject of the "procession of the Holy Ghost;" and the importance of accepting the "many-sidedness" of Divine revelation should be urged, even if intellectually we find ourselves unable to fit the varied aspects into a satisfactory harmony. Our Lord would glorify the Father to our thought, by assuring us that the unspeakably precious gift of the Holy Ghost is his gift to us, the abiding sign and pledge of his "so great love," and the fulfillment of his own "promise" to us. This point we take for enlargement and enforcement.
I. BY WHOM WAS THE PROMISE MADE?
1. By God, but by God conceived as the "Father;" so we may find in it signs of the fatherly wisdom, tender consideration, and gracious adaptation to our need. Impress how the preciousness of the Spirit to us is enhanced by this assurance - he is our Father's gift. His "Great-heart guide" for his pilgrim sons.
2. By God, but through Christ, who conveys to us our Father's promise. See the special occasions (John 14:16, 17, 26; John 15:26; John 16:7-15, etc.). Show how the messenger, through whom the Father's promise is made, enhances the value of the promise. An element of tender feeling and sympathy is added to it.
II. WHAT DOES THE PROMISE CONCERN? Set out its first form, the coming of the Holy Ghost, under sensible figures, as a Divine ordination and endowment of the apostles and early Church for their mission. This ordination may be compared with that of Christ after his baptism, and the figures under which the Spirit came in the two cases should be compared. For Christ, a symbolic dove; for apostles, symbolic wind and fire. Set out its permanent form - the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the believer, as his seal, earnest, and assurance of the culture of the spiritual life; and the abiding of the Holy Ghost in the Church, as its inspiration to the fulfillment of its mission.
III. WHY WAS SUCH A PROMISE MADE?
1. Because of the dependency of the disciples on Divine aid. Then and now disciples are not "sufficient of themselves;" "without Christ we can do nothing."
2. Because in carrying out the Divine purpose of redemption the bodily presence of Christ had to be removed, and so a sense of loneliness and helplessness would oppress the disciples.
3. Because God is ever wanting to help us on from carnal and bodily to spiritual conceptions of himself and his work, both in us and by us. Conclude by showing how the promise gains character by being called the Father's. It is evidently a promise made to sons. Then practically and forcibly impress that our Father will only keep his promise if we keep the spirit and temper, the openness and obedience, of loving and trusting sonship. - R.T.
I. WISTFULNESS ABOUT THE FUTURE. A curiosity mingled of fear and hope stirs in the disciples minds. The present oppresses; we seek escape into dreams of a happy past or future. There is an clement of truth and of illusion in these cravings.
II. ILLUSORY THOUGHTS OF THE FUTURE. The cherished dream of Israel for five centuries had been the restoration of the temporal power of David's throne. It was a fixed idea, and here reappears. So have we all our fixed ideas, and cannot conceive a happy future out of their sphere. But God's unfolding realities prove better than our sensuous dreams.
III. DIVINE EVASION OF HUMAN QUESTIONINGS ABOUT THE FUTURE.
1. No fixed knowledge of the future, its changes, and those epochs, can be ours. With all our science we cannot touch the beginnings, therefore not the issues, of things. History is a Divine poem, and God does not permit us to guess at the denouement or catastrophe of events. The unexpected happens, and Providence is full of surprises. Enough for us to read the unrolling page from day to day, and subdue our wishes to the actual, rather than measure the actual by our wishes.
2. Strength for the future is enough, and this may be ours. Power, inner power, spiritual power, in other words, a full and vigorous life-consciousness, is what we need. This is promised. But not if we are seeking sensual and selfish ends. Power is imparted for God's ends. Only on condition that we are given up to God's will can we work for God's ends, or enjoy the power thereto. The laws of the kingdom are as strict as any we learn from nature. The narrowing of Divine thoughts to our own petty notions of advantage means desertion and weakness; the inclusion of our purposes within the infinite purpose means strength. All true life-acting may be regarded as witness. Each man stands for some principle, expresses some leading thought in his action. What do we represent? What tale does our life tell from day to day? What negative or what positive is it that our individual life makes clear in the scheme of things? The pessimism of unbelief or the optimism of profound faith in the laws of God's world? To witness for the eternal Truth and Love gives joy and zest to existence; to have no report or message to bring to others of aught felt or tasted of the good of life is vacancy and sadness. The Christian witness is above all of the life of which mere words are a poor transcript. If in some way or other our life clearly affirms the goodness of God by reflecting him, this is witness for him. And the ways of witness are manifold as the glory of the stars, the colors and forms of the flowers. There are special testimonies to special facts or truths which have their place and season and no other; but in all places and times the whole life-witness silently tells. The "living epistle "is intelligible in every tongue and to all orders of minds. - J.
I. THE CONTRAST between the earthly, as represented in the disciples, with their Jewish prejudice and thought of "times and seasons," and the heavenly, in the Lord Jesus himself.
II. THE PROSPECT. Separation for a season. Cloud concealing the glory. Promise of return.
III. THE FELLOWSHIP of the disciples with the Master. The mingling together of heaven and earth. The witnesses appointed, that to the uttermost part of the earth the glory of the risen dawn might be seen, and so a new heaven be revealed over a new earth. (Cf. the promise made to Nathanael (John 1:51) and Jacob's dream.) - R.
John 21:20-23. And except for the fact that it is not put down to the account of Peter, we might probably be pardoned for surmising that it was he again who was the prime mover in it. We have here -
I. THE SIGNS OF EVEN APOSTOLIC CRAVING AFTER FORBIDDEN KNOWLEDGE.
1. Whoever may have promoted the question, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel most eagerly, we can feel no difficulty in admitting its very natural character. Nor is it at all necessary to affix too mean a construction to the motive of the apostles. Let it be granted only that their mind was not thoroughly delivered from the idea of a "kingdom of Israel" on earth, and we need not straightway therefore conclude that their chief thought or wish was to a "kingdom of Israel" of earth, rather than "of heaven" or "of God."
2. And as the question was not an unnatural one in itself, so also it was one that bears the traces of that deeper impression which had been most legitimately made on the apostles by the marvels of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Whatever might be in store or might not be in store for them in this matter of the long-cherished hope of a kingdom, their conviction was stronger and stronger grown that Jesus was One who could do this thing, who could be the Founder of such a kingdom, and establish it on no doubtful, hazardous, merely adventurous sort of footing, but worthily, strongly, and for ever. If other miracles were for a sign of his authority, and for a grand moral witness of him, this yet more than all else whatsoever: his own death issuing in resurrection! The space of one moment may have awakened again and ripened the impulse to dwell with a fascinated interest on this subject - the moment that in which "these sayings sank down into their ears," namely, that "they should not depart from Jerusalem," that they "should wait for the promise of the Father," and that they should "be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence."
(1) Nevertheless the issue, if nothing else, convicts the question of being the wrong one. How often the thins that are abundantly natural, and to which the warmest impulses seem made to lead us on, are for all that the forbidden - forbidden, perhaps, by Divine word of mouth even, otherwise by deeper sense in our own self and life! Christ apprizes his interrogators that on the merits of the case, not on any mere ceremony, the subject was one too high for them - "they cannot attain to it." It is for us to remember at the present time that nothing that we know is plainer than the some things we do not know, in matters of religious thought and speculation, that these "some" things which we do not know are often of the intensest speculative interest, are at the same time things not in the position of the not clearly "revealed," but of the clearly not "revealed," and that the more than likely reason for this is, that they are too high for human reason at present, and are kept for "yet the little while" of earth," in the Father's power. Let it, however, be granted that there may be other things left unrevealed, which rightly and designedly keep awake the intense speculative thought of the whole Church. They challenge not the presumptuousness, but the reverent diligence, of the Church's intellectual life.
(2) At a moment of confessed intense practical significance, the question of the disciples was the suggestion of a departure to an inopportune subject. In instances of far inferior magnitude how certain it is that we should remark upon the untimeliness of the interruption that broke in upon some supreme crisis of one kind with matter possibly quite foreign to it!
(3) Any way, the question looked too much in the direction of the old oft-reproved thing - of hankering for the form, the show, the handling of dignity and superiority and authority, not of the intrinsic but of the unreal kind.
(4) The condescending familiarity of the Savior should not have hidden for so much as a moment from the apostles reverence, or from their quickened apprehensions as to the nature of their Master, the interval that was between him and themselves. There can be no doubt that they had learned this, that the seed of conviction and godly impression had not fallen on trodden, impracticable soil, and that their opportunity of intelligent appreciation of Christ had been increased a thousandfold. Therefore the time - all the time - was what courted the attitude of adoring waiting and most heedful listening, rather than of suggesting the course in which such a Master's instructions, such a Lord's vouchsafings, should go. The language of a prophet better suited it: The Lord is in his holy temple: let all... keep silence before him!"
II. THE DISTINCT DENIAL ON THE PART OF CHRIST OF THE KNOWLEDGE CRAVED, Christ at once replies in language that we in modern times, at all events, would feel to be very emphatic: "It is not for you to know times and seasons, which the Father hath placed in his own power." Notice:
1. The freedom of this direct denial from asperity. If positive, it is not arbitrary; if severe in its strictness, it is not harsh; if decisive, it is not uncourteous or ungracious.
2. The loftiness, on the contrary, of the reason implicitly contained in the denial. The knowledge begged is not withheld as so much punishment or rebuke. It is withheld in this light, that it is not a thing of man, but of the Father - possibly Christ might still mean of the Father alone (Mark 13:32). But we cannot affirm this with any strong conviction, as he now speaks subsequently to his resurrection. Now, not the most sensitive disciple-temperament could have need to feel wounded at not sharing knowledge affirmed to belong either exclusively or all but exclusively to the supreme Father.
III. THE SUBSTITUTE IMMEDIATELY PROMISED. How often this is the method of Divine wisdom and kindness! How often the analogy of providence illustrates it, in the individual life. So rooted is it in the spirit of Christ's encouraging and bracing doctrine, "Ask, and ye shall have," that even when we ask amiss we very often do have something, and have something that we might have missed of had we not asked at all. So much does heavenly care appraise a hungering nature, an open mind, a craving heart, if it be anything at all within the compass of a right outlook that our desires go forth. And while the new gift is not what we asked, how sure it is to prove itself very superior in kind, and in its being the correctly adapted gift!
1. The substitute now proffered to the anticipation of the interrogators consists in an early and immense accession of power.
(1) It is real power.
(2) It is power guaranteeing at one and the same time holiness to self and usefulness to others.
2. The substitute both illustrated and was the outcome of very noteworthy principles.
(1) The principle of diverting mere speculative thought, or sentimental thought, or brooding, disheartened thought, by the bracing activity of work - work arduous and beneficent. Wonderful is the effectiveness of this corrective. It is an alterative safe, healthful, sure of compassing the desired end. Nor a whir less so in the light of one of the axioms of Jesus, "He that doeth,... shall know.
(2) The principle that the servants of Christ are witnesses, not prophets. They are hereunto called," to witness to the world's ends, and world without end. They are to be quite absolved, if, being faithful witnesses, they refrain from trying the wings of prophecy. In all directions, those of philosophy and of science, as well as of Christianity, human duty, human strength, human advance, lie rather in meditating and digesting the material of memory than in attempting the horoscope; in interpreting the past for the edification and helpful guidance of the present, than in forecasting and hazarding prediction. These last tendencies nourish dogmatism, for they bring forth what may not be able to be disproved, though it cannot be proved. And they nourish "lofty imaginations," and "high thoughts," and luxurious idleness, that consume the very time, when every heart should be humility and every hand should be industry. Thanks to Jesus, still Master, Teacher, Friend - fresh thanks to him from his modern disciples, who, when earth and air vibrate again with the shock and the clash of discordant theological polemics, still keeps his own band faithful to the memory of his own commission, that they should be "witnesses unto" him throughout all the world! - B.
spiritual character and work, and therefore our Lord's cautions to his apostles may be applicable to us. The dream of an "outward and visible" kingdom has not yet altogether faded, and given place to the sober reality of the existing "inward and spiritual" one. Christ is a King, but he is King of truth-seekers; he is "Lord of lambs the lowly, King of saints the holy." Show what the carnal conceptions were that the apostles cherished: the breaking off of the Roman yoke; the restoration of Israelite independence; the resumption of the Davidic kingdom under the Messiah. Show -
I. WHENCE THESE CONCEPTIONS SPRANG. Distinguish between the tone of prophecy and Messianic allusion before and after the "Captivity." Tendency of national circumstances to set prominently the promise of a Deliverer and King, and to set aside the figure of Messiah as a crushed Sufferer. Then show the influence exerted by the Messianic conception of Daniel, and yet that the Jews did not take it in its entirety. Further point out how the Maccabean princes became Messianic models, and the idea cherished was that Messiah would prove to be a national Hero and Savior, accomplishing the work permanently which Judas Maccabeus had only achieved temporarily. The merely national idea of Messiah cannot be based on a full treatment of the Messianic representations of Holy Scripture.
II. HOW WERE THESE CONCEPTIONS NOURISHED? Partly by the national condition in our Lord's time. Patriotic feeling was crushed down by the strong Roman rule; but patriotism, though it may be crushed down, cannot be crushed out, and indeed only becomes more dangerous to oppressors by being silenced. Partly by the hopeless condition of religion, which called for a great reformer; and, in the later monarchy, the reformers had been kings. Partly by the personal ambitions of the disciples, as illustrated by the request of the sons of Zebedee for the first places in the new court. To be faithful to the truth has often required resistance to surrounding sentiments and circumstances. Such resistance is only made by high-minded men.
III. HOW THESE CONCEPTIONS WERE OPPOSED BY CHRIST. Take:
1. The general tone of his teaching, as illustrated in the sermon on the mount.
2. The prominence in which he set his sufferings, especially after the Transfiguration.
3. The rebuke of those who would use carnal weapons for his defence, as to Peter outside the Garden of Gethsemane.
4. The distinct explanation of the nature of his kingship, as stated to Pilate. In spite of all his efforts with his disciples, we find the carnal notions of Messiah lingering in them (see Luke 19:11; Luke 24:21); and they seem to have been revived by that very resurrection which should have finally removed them. This is indicated in the text. Our Lord's last effort to destroy them is full of wisdom and gentleness. He says in effect, "Don't think about it; bend your whole mind and heart to two things -
(1) your great life-work, and
(2) the Divine presence that will be with you for its fulfillment" (ver. 8). The true corrective for intellectual error is still that which our Lord commands, viz. Christian work. - R.T.
I. The world through its whole extent NEEDS SUCH A TESTIMONY. The facts which can be testified without the power of God's Spirit cannot speak the whole of the Father's mind concerning man.
II. WITNESSING FOR CHRIST THE MISSION OF ALL CHRISTIANS. Apostles only first because nearest to Jesus himself; chosen by him, not because above others in merits. Witnessing must be as universal in the character and life as the work of the Spirit. All speaks of the same Divine fountain from which all flows. The hope of the Church and of the world is in the waking up of the witnessing spirit. "Martyrs we should all be in heart, if not in suffering. Apostolic" in the best sense - "sent out.
III. OUR LIFE-WORK SHOULD BE THE OUTCOME OF DIVINE GRACE. Ye shall receive power." "The Holy Ghost shall come upon you;" then, being so endued from on high, "ye shall be my witnesses." Spiritual life the foundation of all other life. We should be able to know that the time is come for great work, for we should be conscious of the gifts of God. By no mere conventional forms let us be led away. "Power the great want of the Church - spiritual power; not wealth, or organization, or external attractions, but that which comes upon us from above. Are we working without it? Is our witnessing unto condemnation? - R.
I. THAT THE CULMINATION OF HOPE IN ONE MAY PROVE THE DEPTH OF PRIVATION TO ANOTHER. For the joy that was set before him Jesus "endured the cross, despising the shame" (Hebrews 12:2). Into that joy he now entered. As the "cloud received him out of their sight" (ver. 9), and he returned unto the Father, he took possession of the glorious inheritance for which he had paid so costly a price. But the time of his exaltation was the hour of his disciples sorrow. By his departure they lost sight of their dearest Friend, their wise Counselor, their great Teacher, their honored Lord. So must it be with us. The upright Christian statesman passes to a still larger sphere of usefulness and honor, and the nation mourns; the gifted and devoted pastor is called to a celestial ministry, and the Church is bereaved; the Beloved parent is translated to the skies, and the family hearth is desolate.
II. THAT THE ATTITUDE OF HELPLESSNESS IS ONE FROM WHICH WE MUST SOON BE AROUSED. (Vers. 10, 11.) It was natural and right enough that, when the Savior was taken up and disappeared from sight, the disciples should continue to "look steadfastly toward heaven; their eyes may well have been riveted to the spot in inexpressible awe and wonder. Doubtless all thought was swallowed up in simple surprise and consternation; they stood in helpless, bewildering astonishment. This might last for some minutes, but it could not continue longer. The angels broke in upon it, not with the language of reproach, but with the voice of arousing. A kindly voice is this. When disposed to give way to helpless awe, or fruitless grief, or inanimate prostration of soul, we may thank the minister of God, in whatever form he may come, who says to us, "Why stand ye gazing'? Amuse ye! All is not lost. The past is past, but the future is in front of you."
III. THAT TIME, WITH PATIENCE, WILL BRING HEAVENLY COMPENSATIONS. (Ver. 11, latter part.) Though the Master was taken, he would come again; and when he returned, it would, indeed, be "in like manner, etc., but in more glorious form and with more splendid surroundings (1 Thessalonians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; Jude 1:14; Revelation 1:7). Moreover, he would come again in unlike manner, but in a way as gracious and, perhaps, even more needful, viz. in the enlightening influences of the Holy Spirit (ver. 5). Heaven was taking away their Strength and their Joy; but let them wait in holy trustfulness, and Heaven would soon give them ample and blessed compensation. God takes from us-from the community and from the individual heart - those that are very dear, things that are very precious to us; then we faint and are grievously distressed; we may be almost paralyzed with our sense of loss and desolation. But there is blessing on its way - Divine comfort, solace, strength. The hand that takes our treasures has large compensations in reserve.
IV. THAT BEREAVEMENT FINDS A PURE AND WISE RELIEF IN COMMUNION WITH GOD AND IN FELLOWSHIP WITH MAN. (Vers. 12-14.) The apostles, roused by the angels' speech, returned unto Jerusalem and went into the upper room, where they would meet their best friends - those who had the deepest sympathy with them - that they might commune with them and that they might "continue in prayer and supplication." In the time of bereavement and woe we may be tempted to shut ourselves in to our own chamber and nurse our grief. Nothing can be more unwise. Let sorrow, indeed, have its own chosen loneliness in its first dark hours; leave it alone with God, with the pitiful, patient Savior. Then let it come forth; let it go into the "upper room," where it can hold fellowship with human friends; let it go into the sanctuary, where, with the people of God, it can pour out its heart in prayer and supplication: it will not be long before it finds itself joining with them in the accents of praise. - C.
he was taken or lifted up" (vers. 2, 9).
I. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE UPLIFTING. The human is raised into the Divine. The body of humiliation is translated into a form of glory. Exaltation crowns self-abasement. The self-emptied One for love's sake becomes the depository for all time of the Divine fullness. For our sake the descent from heaven, and the return thither still for our sake. Heaven woos earth in the Incarnation, and in the Ascension earth is wedded to heaven forever. It is the pledge of permanent intercourse and special occasional visitations from God to man. "The Ascension - that pole-star of our night!" (E. Irving).
II. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CLOUD. It was ever a symbol of God. It veils, yet reveals; hides, yet manifests him. The definite ever passes into the indefinite; the visible form into the fainter symbol. Men may ask, "Where is he who came and loved our clay?" The answer is in the cloud-symbol. As in its beauty we see it float between heaven and earth, half-dense and half-transparent with the solar glory, we have the image of the vanished Jesus in the world of pious thought. He is the indefinable link between the world of sense and the super sensual. We cannot analyze the truth. We see it, we feel it, by the spiritual aesthesis; and this is better than all definition.
III. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE ANGELS' WORDS. We gaze into the mysterious Divine beyond of our life. Our limited horizon melts into the Infinite. What was more knowable than the living and loving Jesus of Nazareth? Here at last the spell of Divine silence seemed to have been broken, and the unutterable One had uttered himself in an articulate voice, and the indefinable and inimitable in form had clothed himself in a form recognizable by all. Yet now this form melts again into the indefinable; this voice ceases in a hush of mystery restored. Well may we stand gazing into the ether. Was the whole an illusion? Not so; but what God has once revealed remains a spiritual possession for all time. And more; it is the pledge that God will repeat the revelation. Christ will come again; the cloud will reappear; out of the mystery voices will again be heard, the express Image will again stand clear for recognition. Here is a Divine process; out of the indefinable into the definable, back to the indefinable again. Christ appears to disappear, again to reappear; and so
"That one Face, far from vanish, rather grows;
Mark 16:19, 20) probably a later addition. As an event, corresponds with the miraculous commencement of the Savior's life, and his many announcements of return to heaven, especially as recorded by St. John. The important place of the fact in the Acts, and its manner of relation, show that it is not a mere halo of disciple-worship round the head of the Master, but the true beginning of the Church's history. Yet, like many other essential facts, only partly presented to the eyes of men. There is a cloud of mystery, a veil over the secret depths of glory. Regard the Ascension -
I. IN ITS RELATION TO THE SAVIOUR HIMSELF.
1. As glorification, and so lifting up of the earthly facts into the higher sphere; scaling of authority; hiding of infirmity; manifestation of kingly power; connecting of the three offices of Christ, as Prophet, Priest, and King, with the one center of his personal existence, his heavenly throne.
2. As the commencement of the wider ministry of the Spirit. Before his ascension Jesus was almost entirely a minister to the Jews; from henceforth he was, through his messengers by the Holy Ghost, the Savior of the world.
II. IN RELATION TO DISCIPLES.
1. As the completion of their faith.
2. As the correction of their errors, and the help to a more spiritual apprehension of Jesus.
3. As the embodiment of the promise of the Spirit, for the High Priest had thus visibly gone into the holiest place, and would return with the blessing. 4. As the discipline which would draw them together, and help them to realize the fact of their Church life as the life of the world.
III. IN RELATION TO THE WORLD AT LARGE.
1. Proclamation of the kingdom of heaven.
2. The setting on high of the gospel facts as a sun in the sky from which the light should pour down over all the earth. The Nazarene speaks from heaven. The Crucified is the Glorified.
3. The help of men's faith to lay hold of the invisible and eternal. He who has so gone, shall so return. "I go to prepare a place for you." The end of the world is in that ascension of the world's highest to heaven. - R.
I. THE ASCENSION ITSELF - what is recorded of it. Nothing whatever is said of it in the Gospel by St. John. In that by St. Matthew the matter leads up to it, and abruptly stops, omitting all description of the great event itself. The language of St. Mark is," So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God." The invisible world was for one moment opened to the inspired vision of St. Mark, it would seem, as afterwards to that of Stephen. And the account of St. Luke in his "former treatise" is, "And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven." There are a detail and an added touch, however, in the passage before us very grateful to read: "When he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And... they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up." In the event itself, its unadorned majesty is the characteristic. In the description, the own dignity of brevity is pronounced. There is reason, as well as sublimity of effect, in both the one and the other of these things. Simplicity and brevity obviate distraction, and attention is fixed on the essentials. So we see again the scene with no bodily eye, it is true; men to the end of time shall see again and again the scene, it is true, with no bodily eye, but with a spiritual distinctness and a vividness that may leave nothing more to be asked for that could, in the nature of things, be given. Jesus does not die away on mortal view, but he soars away from mortal view, while the accents of his voice are still in the ear, "speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God," and repeating the "promise of the Father" in the gift of the Holy Ghost. And for what is seen it is this: he is borne in an unusual direction - upward, clear in the eye of sense, till "a cloud received him;" and beyond that cloud, only clear where the eye of faith pierces, he is seen "received up into heaven, and... on the right hand of God." In this ascension, therefore, notice:
1. The visibleness of it, as compared, for instance, with the departures, whatever they were, of Enoch and of Moses.
2. The deliberateness of it, as compared, for instance, with the departure in blaze and speed of Elijah. So much to the contrary the manner of ascent of Jesus, that in the all-brief description before us there are nevertheless contained as many as four verbal indications of the distinctness of the amazing phenomenon; e.g. "while they beheld... out of their sight... while they looked steadfastly as he went up... in like manner as ye have seen him go.
3. The number of witnesses present to see whatever was to be seen.
4. Not a figment of an earthly trace of Jesus after ascension alleged by foe, not a fancy of it alleged by friend, as compared, for instance, with such things as we read in 1 Kings 18:12; Luke 4:1, and as might have been conceivable.
II. THE FASCNATION OF THE SIGHT FOR THE APOSTLES. One thing betrays it and describes it - their rapt upward gaze. Beneath this one thing what wealth of suggestion may lie! It is probable that the apostles were forewarned of the coming ascension of their Master; of his departure, certainly. At all events prophecy (Psalm 24:7-10; Psalm 68:18; Ephesians 4:8), with which it is likely that they were on their own account acquainted, likelier that Jesus had made them acquainted, had advised them that the departure would be of the nature of an ascension. Yet, judging from the analogy of other forewarnings, mercifully vouchsafed but little improved (Luke 24:25-27, 44-46; John 21:4-6), it is conceivable that the moment found them now off their guard, and little prepared for the consummate event. Again, of the exact methods of Christ's departure from his apostles and the women, and others to whom he graciously revealed his presence during the forty days, we are not distinctly informed in each several case. But in some we are told simply that he vanished" out of their sight. Let it be supposed that this was the method of his going in each ease, and we may guide ourselves to the conclusion that at most the apostles imagined that some one of the occasions of their being blessed with the sight and the voice of him would inevitably prove the last. But what a vision this prepared for them! What a transcendent "gift" even of itself! His "speaking" suddenly but quietly ends. And while all eyes are calmly, attentively, lovingly turned upon the grace of his countenance, "he was taken up." And so their eyes also are lifted up, and thoughts and affections. "A cloud" which receives him "out of their sight" arrests their vision, but not their thoughts and affections. They still look "steadfastly toward heaven," and seem lost in wonder and in meditation. What is it they are seeing, or, so far as they retain the power to think, what is it they think they see? What is it they are experiencing while they gaze?
1. This upward gaze was their last earthly beholding of Jesus. One wonders not it was prolonged as much as possible. That last long look, judging from analogies of inferior matter, how was it wreathed all the way up with richest remembrances most vividly revived! Well indeed might it be so now, at all events. How fragrant crowd the flowers of memory, that nevertheless some while seem to mock our grief! They accord so ill, yet are so spontaneous; again seem to feed it, but fail not at length to help sanctify it, when our last earthly look has been taken of the companion we have so well loved and long time so cherished. But now, men's eyes were being robbed of the welcomed beholding of a Friend of matchless power, and matchless wisdom, and matchless loving-kindness! That riveted gaze - who could have wondered had it drunk out forever the light of earthly eyes?
2. This upward gaze was one that found elements of most impressive contrast with much of the apostles' former knowledge of Christ. There is a great difference between the thoroughest persuasion as to the intrinsic quality of some one whom we trust and love, who nevertheless is left lifelong in the cold shade of obscurity, and the cheerful light and satisfaction that make us proud sharers of the public success and the popularity and the manifestation of our idol. This latter portion Jesus had never sought. That he had never done so, nor shown the slightest disposition to do so, had been occasionally subject of remark and of petulance to some of even his faithful adherents. The Disciples of Christ had, as the overwhelming rule, seen his humiliation; and what of his intrinsic, most real glory they had been privileged to see, was nevertheless veiled with the garments of humiliation. They had seen his modest subjection, his calm, obedient observance of what was due to custom and religious rite, as in his baptism. They had seen his great works, his wise words, his holy life, his undeniable innocence, all flouted times without number, and yet no remedy, no fire from heaven, no thunderbolt, no conspicuous avenger, came to view. Then they had seen the garden struggle, the trial, the Crucifixion. And though they had seen the Transfiguration and the Resurrection, yet up to this present time what became even of these? He seems to take no visible, practical benefit from them. But what their eyes now see opens indeed their eyes! One could imagine that volumes of mist, dark masses of cloud, roll away; the obscurities and conflicting perplexities of some years "vanish," and count themselves all for nothing. The steps of Jesus are no longer on the level, no longer down to submission more submitting; depression is no longer the rule. He rises! Upward is the word! Glory and the realms of air and light are his, and his mode of entrance upon these, in its very uniqueness, awakens fresh impulses of unfeigned adoration. It is an illustration of how those who wait - wait even unto the end - shall be "satisfied.
3. This upward gaze was a silent giving of themselves away at last. It made a willing weaning for them. Now have they done with the things that are seen," and with self; and they have done with doubt and uncertainty; and they have done with the shadows that are felt, in favor of the momentous realities of which faith is henceforth the trusted and sufficient custodian. So it was no unfruitful gaze. It was not a flash, to leave no permanent effect. It left much more behind it than a mere "glory on the soul." It was convincing evidence, irremovable conviction; it was the kindling of genuine adoration, and a perennial spring of devotion.
III. AN APPARENTLY UNCHARITABLE CHALLENGE OF THE ATTITUDE OF THE APOSTLES, AND AN APPARENTLY INCONCLUSIVE REASON FOR IT, ON THE PART OF TWO MEN, "WHO APPEARED IN WHITE APPAREL." The "two men in white apparel" were neither phantoms, creatures of the brain, nor specters, creatures of the air and heavens. The expression, no doubt, designates angels; it is likely enough such as had once been "men," such as Moses and Elijah, or two "of the prophets." Their interruption, one must imagine, must have been at first unwelcome to the apostles. It seems so at first to ourselves. We would have liked to know what close the apostles would have themselves put to their rapt gazing heavenward, Nor is the necessity or the expediency of the interruption visible upon the surface. Yet we may remark that:
1. We are, as it happens, in ignorance of what might have been the effect upon the spectators of the glorious scene of the Ascension, but for this interruption - the strickenness of a trance, for instance.
2. Intently excited states of mind often answer to the corrective of the mere sound of the human voice, calmly addressed to them. Marvelous instances of this fact are furnished in the history of mental disease.
3. Genuinely exalted feeling may "exalt above measure" (2 Corinthians 12:7), and may need a prompt simple treatment, to obviate the necessity of future much more painful treatment. The simple treatment now was interruption, but with the comforting assurance that the separation was not absolute and forever, but distinctly the contrary.
4. Very vivid experiences of joy, of grief, or of an intricately mingled character, while on the one hand very prone to absorb undue attention for the present, are at the same time the very soil that abundantly rewards the introduction of the seeds of great aspects of the future. Nor could there easily be found a more certain example of this than in what is now before us. It was of first-rate importance that in the heart and mind of the first teachers and preachers of Christianity the second coming of Christ should be closely linked with his ascension. The Christian individual and the Christian Church may never linger too long in the past. It is a silent, wonderful testimony to the vitality of Christ's truth, and its spirit of progress, wide as the world and lasting as the world, that a tremendous future career and consummation are ever marked for prominence. Side by side with the Ascension must the second descent of Christ be kept. Therefore side by side were these great facts (so to say) sown, in the apostolic heart. Further, that the descending Christ would be the same - i.e, one of glorified human body, as the cloud bore him a minute or two ago out of human sight - was a fact to be deeply impressed upon the Church of all time. And therefore, ab initio, it is so impressed on the apostolic heart, while nothing has yet occurred to efface from them the conviction of the real body of Jesus. The words of the "two men in white apparel" are the words of studied precision and emphasis. "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." We can be left in no doubt that the interruption was neither reckless nor heartless. It was not to spoil the infinite serenity, infinite solemnity, infinite charm of moments, that with the eye raised heart and soul to heaven. Momentous doctrinal truth was to be safely sealed and impressed upon the Church's mind. And the choicest of Heaven's seasons must be ungrudgingly given and unchurlishly accepted - a tribute to the importance of that truth; a token, also, of another noteworthy thing, that the Church was infinitely dear to the heart of her Lord at all time; nor that even the purest joy of a few first apostles shall be permitted to stand in the light of the whole Church. In this case there is not the atom of a reason to think those apostles would have asked it. They breathe no murmur that their delicious reverie was disturbed.
5. Last of all, under any circumstances, heavenward gaze, contemplation, seraphic vision, must be exchanged a while for earth's duty. That word is sacred, that call is sovereign. We must come down from the mount, whether it be the Mount of Beatitudes, or of Transfiguration, or of Olivet. Prayer, praise, and those acts of meditation and devotion that may be of sublimest significance, are the aliment of Christian life. It is in "the strength of such meat" that we must live the present life, and do the work of the present days, and teach the "truth as it is in Jesus," by living, humble example as well as by word. And we must ourselves "wait for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ," "comforting and edifying one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11) with the words of the "two men in white apparel." - B.
Gethsemane our Redeemer's soul won a full triumph of trust, submission, and obedience. This inward soul-triumph was tested and proved, and came off perfectly and triumphantly victorious, in the bodily shame and suffering, and even in the death-agony, of Calvary. As a "man," his spirit and purpose of obedience, and his actually doing and beating in obedience, were thus perfectly tested and proved. What remained necessary to constitute him a perfect and all-sufficient burnt offering, to be presented to God for us? Manifestly this alone, that God himself should give some adequate and visible sign to us that with Christ he was infinitely well pleased, and that he would accept him as our Sacrifice. And just this we have in the Resurrection and Ascension. God raised him from the dead. God received him to his own right hand in the heavenly places. Disciples saw him go up to God; and if Enoch was manifestly accepted of God because of his translation; and if Elijah was declared to be God's prophet by his wondrous fire-journey into the unseen world; much more was the Lord Jesus declared to be the "Son of God," and the accepted Sacrifice, by that breaking of grave-bonds, and passing, to mortal vision, up within the clouds. Our Redeemer's work may be said to lack completeness until his soul-triumph of trust and submission, and his bodily act of obedience, in enduring the cross, as God's will for him, have manifestly and in some open way gained the acknowledgment and acceptance of God. The Ascension properly completes the Resurrection, and both together are the Divine acceptance of the perfect Son, and the acceptance, be it remembered, of humanity in him who was its Head and Representative. Then two thoughts may be unfolded and illustrated -
I. THE RESURRECTION IS THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF MAN'S VICTORY. That is of Christ, as man, for man; of man in Christ. It is his victory over self, the evil power; and over sin, the evil Consequence. Christ mastered self, and obeyed perfectly, as a Son. Christ broke the bonds of death; for the penalties of transgression cannot lie on One who is infinitely acceptable. Now, in Christ, serf is no unbeaten foe; and "death hath no more dominion over us." We have hope in the struggle with self. We have security against the penalties of sin. In Christ death cannot hold us.
II. THE ASCENSION IS THE BEGINNING OF GIVING THE VICTOR THE VICTOR'S PLACE AND HONOUR. He is "highly exalted, and given a name above every name." He is "glorified with more than the glory which he had with the Father before the world was." Exalted to position of highest honor, to a place of power and authority; entrusted with the "bringing on of sons to glory;" empowered to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins; set on God's right hand, our one Mediator and Intercessor; and "Head over all things to his Church." In heaven we may not conceive him as dissociated from the place, relation, and work of earth, but occupying these still in relation to us, only in altogether higher, more efficient, and spiritual modes. He is the "Captain, or Author, of salvation." Able now, as the ascended Lord," to save unto the uttermost all that come unto God by him." - R.T.
I. A REMONSTRANCE. "Why stand ye looking into heaven?"
1. Against the misuse of signs and appearances. Get at the substance of the fact, and waste no time and strength on the mere form.
2. Against prying into forbidden secrets. Indulgence of fancy in religion. Following the track of sense beyond its reach.
3. Spiritual depression and reaction. Christ is still the same. Be not afraid or perplexed, but set to work and prepare for his return.
II. AN ANNOUNCEMENT. "This Jesus shall so come."
1. A personal advent, but not necessarily pro-millennial. The chief meaning of the promise is that this world is to be prepared for the return of Christ, therefore is to be made his kingdom, so the expectation is practical.
2. The similarity of circumstances is helpful to faith. "Out of sight," "a cloud," "taken up," - such terms remind us that we must not look for mere sensible indications of the Savior's descent from heaven; but in like manner as he went away, so mysteriously that his disciples scarcely knew whether he was gone and still gazed after him, so he will appear again "with clouds," and only imperfectly seen, until his presence shall be hailed with the shout of the archangel and the trump of God.
3. The assurance of the second advent of the Lord should be the summons to work, and the comfort of all that feel their loneliness and want in this scene of separation from their Savior's visible presence. "Till Jesus comes." The promise speaks peace to us. - R.
finally lost their Lord out of visible and sensible apprehension. This was the mission of the angels, who may be identified with the two who attended our Lord on his resurrection morning (Luke 24:4-7). The point of their message is, "Your Lord will come again some day, but not now. He will come in suddenness and in unexpected ways, 'in like manner as ye have seen him go away; and, until he comes, your duty is not 'gazing,' but carrying out, in simple and loving obedience, the commands he has left." Evidently the angels, while assuring the fact of Christ's "coming again," design to correct the mistaken thought of that coming which was in the minds of the disciples. The parts of their message may be thus set forth.
I. THE SAVIOR WAS, FOR THE PRESENT, GONE OUT OF THE SPHERE OF THE SENSES. For three years the disciples had enjoyed sensible fellowship with their Lord. All that time he had been trying to teach them the deeper truth concerning himself and his relations with them. For forty days after his resurrection the sensible fellowship had been renewed, but under conditions which should have prepared the disciples for their Lord's spiritual presence without the aid of sensible manifestations. At the Ascension they were plainly taught that the sensible helps were removed; for them there was no more "Christ in the flesh." Show how this bore on the culture and training of the disciples; and how it recalled the Savior's own words, "It is expedient for you that I go away." In all training, and not least in religious training, it is well for crutches and helps to be presently removed, that we may try our own feet. Illustrate how this is still done for us in the ordering of Providence, as for the disciples in the Ascension. "Looking," "gazing," "expecting" visible appearances of Christ out of the clouds, is declared by the angels not to be the appropriate duty of the hour.
II. THE SAVIOR HAD MADE EVERY PROVISION FOR THEM IN HIS BODILY ABSENCE. They are recalled to consider the commands he had left. An immediate duty was before them - to wait together at Jerusalem for the gift of the Spirit. A great work was entrusted to their charge: they were to be Christ's witnesses through the whole world. An all-sufficing promise had been made them - they should "receive power" for the efficient carrying out of their work, in the energy of the Holy Ghost.
III. THE SAVIOR WOULD NOW COME TO THEM, BUT IN X TRANSCENDENT AND SPIRITUAL WAY. This is really the meaning of the angels' words "in like manner," "in a like glorious and surprising manner," not "in a like bodily manner." And, according to Christ's own promise, he did at once come again spiritually, to abide in his people; to be "with them always." No conceptions of future sensible manifestations of the Son of God should be permitted to weaken our conviction that Christ is now with us. He has come, he "makes his abode with us." And the present spiritual Christ is a present sanctifying power. The coming of Christ again to his Church in some sensible form is intended to be a secondary thought; bearing relation to Christian culture as holding out before us a high and ennobling object of hope. But it is properly to be regarded as "the sweet light away yonder" which cheers us while we set heartily to the doing of Christ's work in the world, under the daily inspirations and leadings of Christ's spiritual presence. - R.T.
I. THE SCENE IN THE UPPER ROOM. Obedient to the Lord's command, the disciples return to Jerusalem. A certain upper chamber, probably in a private dwelling, became the first Christian Church. Epiphanius says that when Hadrian came to Jerusalem, he found the temple desolate and but few houses standing. This "little church of God," however, remained; and Nicephorus says that the Empress Helena enclosed it in her larger church. It was probably the room in which the Supper had been celebrated, and was to be associated with the power of the risen, as it had been with the suffering of the humiliated, Christ.
1. The assembly. It represented all varieties of character, gifts, and graces. Peter the eager, John the mystic, James the practical, Thomas the skeptical, and others. The feminine clement, destined to play so large a part in the life of the Church, was also represented.
2. Its employment. It was engaged in the highest exercise of the spirit. Prayer is action; as action may be itself a prayer. And there are times of waiting for all, when prayer is the only possible action. The transactions between the spirit and God are the most real of all, and are ever followed by significant results. It was social prayer. True prayer requires both solitude at times and at times society. We need the help of one another in the pursuit of truth. Plato spoke of the "joint striving of souls" in philosophy Common prayer is the joint striving of souls to lay hold upon the strength of God. "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. It was persevering, continuous prayer, as all exertion of the spirit must be to attain worthy ends. Thus was the mind of the Church calmed, and its intelligence cleared for insight into the business of the kingdom.
II. THE DISCOURSE OF PETER.
1. It rests on the past. He begins by pointing to a fulfillment of Scripture. The present event is thus constantly identified in apostolic thought with some word from the past. Nothing befalls except by Divine law. And in the words of poets and prophets of the past, whatever their original meaning, hints of other meanings are to be found. All language is indeed fossil poetry; and as in the earth's strata plants are found to which living organisms correspond, so in the realm of moral law past and present are in inner and profound connection. To the traitor sketched in Psalm 69, (also 109. and 55.) the features of the unhappy Judas closely corresponded. False and wicked relations of conduct repeat themselves in history, and incur the like doom foreshadowed by the prophetic consciousness.
2. It finds hints for present duty in the past. The fragment of a verse from a psalmist ran, "His office let another take." Conduct must run on the line of precedents. Often an old proverb or example may give us our clue. A memory for the old sayings of Scripture and other ancient lore may guide the judgment, or serve as a finger-post to the will. This might run into superstition; as when men in the Middle Ages turned over Virgil's pages for a clue to decision in cases of perplexity. But in the case of the apostles there is no reason to believe (but the contrary) that their habit, in common with all the devout, of falling back on old sayings checked the full and free exercise of their independent judgment.
III. THE SELECTION OF A FRESH WITNESS of the Resurrection.
1. "Witnesses for Christ" is perhaps the largest designation of the "office" to be filled. An "apostle" is one sent - a man with a mission; and the mission is to witness. Of what? Above all of the Resurrection; for it is this which made the gospel a power in the world. "Assurance is given to all men" that Jesus was the Son of God with power, and possesses all the functions of majesty, by the resurrection from the dead. We can hardly conceive how the gospel should have spread without this testimony. Hence the importance of the present business.
2. The mode of selection. It blends human intelligence with the recognition of Divine determination. The call to any function proceeds from God, and is contained in the gift or capacity. Yet God requires us to cooperate with him through all the sphere of freedom. The use of means towards a decision does not exclude the Divine wisdom, but reposes upon it. The junction of the Divine and the human will in such solemn acts is real, though impossible to explain. First, then, there is an exercise of human judgment, and two distinguished brethren are selected. Here the human choice already recognizes the Divine indication in the existence of observed gifts and graces. Next there is prayer, sacramentally sealing the union of Divine with human thought, and seeking a fruitful result. Lastly, there is the casting of lots, in which the human intelligence confesses its inability for the last decision, and surrenders itself utterly to the guidance of God. The lot falls on Matthias; and he is "voted into" the company of the eleven. Two extremes are to be avoided in the crises of affairs. One, to passively "leave everything to God," which really means to excuse one's self from the trouble or thought. The other, to take the whole burden of responsibility on ourselves, which means to move from our point of support. Thus we topple over into weakness and deeper uncertainty. Let faith be at the root of all our thinking; the scales of judgment stand firmly on the Wisdom that works through and in the activity of finite minds. - J.
1. Jerusalem, with Olivet in the background. Henceforth a new Jerusalem. The descent from the Mount of the Savior's glory, a Sabbath day's journey off; return to the duties of life, to new responsibilities, but with a vivid remembrance of the parting interview with Jesus.
2. Upper chamber. The grain of mustard seed must be sown in the common ground of humanity. Yet the commencement of Church life must recognize separation from the world as the law of the new kingdom, fellowship as the condition of union, subordination and order as helpful to activity.
3. The society composed of mingled elements - men and women, apostles and disciples, old and young; those attached to Jesus by spiritual bonds alone, and those who were his fleshly kindred, able to minister with special familiarity of personal knowledge. "Mary "and "his brethren."
4. Their first mutual occupation. "With one accord they continued steadfastly in prayer." Not as excluding exhortation and other forms of fellowship, but as indicating the pre-eminently devout and believing attitude of their minds. - R.
I. THE RECORD OF ANOTHER PERIOD OF WAITING, CHARGED WITH THRILLING EXPECTATION. It may be held that a period of just six weeks had elapsed since the very same persons as are here spoken of had passed through a much briefer interval than the ten days they are now passing through, marked, however, very largely by the same characteristic of thrilling expectation. Perhaps we may say, in the light of such language as that of our Lord himself (Luke 24:25, 26), that it was entirely to be set down to the fault of these disciples and women that on that occasion their experience was not altogether one of expectation, instead of being so dreadfully dashed by gloom, by fear, sometimes by a very near approach to despair. That interval of a very short three days may probably have dragged its hours along with fearful slowness. It was, however, the time, if faith had apprehended it, which should have been brilliant with the light and hope of a rising, and therefore finally vindicated and manifestly triumphant, Master - of One who had long time patiently stooped to suffering, humiliation, insult, it is true, and who had at last bowed his head to death, but whose task and subjection were now done, and come the time of "rest from his labors," and of glory in his victory. But we know credibly that the interval was not thus brightened. Memory was faint, and faith faint-hearted. And the impressions of sense that came of Gethsemane, and of the brutal scenes of the judgment hall, and of the fierce sufferings of the cross, and the darkness of death, overmastered the pleading suggestings of faith, and overruled the whispering memories of the vanished Friend's own words. It was natural, indeed, because to be wrong is, alas! the very thing that is so natural with us all; but we may say that never were three days so wrested of their rights. For confident, joyful, ardent expectation were substituted fear, gloom, and only the timidest of hopes. And yet there can be no doubt that the beating pulse of expectation, though the low-beating, would be our correctest diagnosis of that period. And it was now a pulse of expectation, too, but a healthier one by far. Faith had had a little rest, a little occasional change to sight these forty days past, and was the better, stronger, more willing for it. What an inversion had mercifully occurred to them of their ignorance, doubt, fear, in certain cardinal directions - of their estimates of impossibility, or at least incredibility! So, after a few enchanting visions and audiences of their great Lord, they find themselves "left" again! But they are not left "comfortless." They do remember now his words. They return to Jerusalem; they wait. They learn a fresh lesson in waiting. Their waiting rests on memories that now glow with glory, on a few words of direct command, on other few words of express promise, and on one incomparable fact - the Ascension. Things noteworthy in the nature of this period of expectation are as follows: -
1. It was waiting for their life work, which they are implicitly forbidden to anticipate. Yet who could call it wasted waiting? The hasty, the uncertain, and those who may have other motive inferior to the most real motive, sometimes decry a delay, in which they ought to recognize a great meaning and a positive use.
2. It was waiting for even liberty to leave a certain place or separate from a certain circle of companions or associates. The final reason of this became apparent. The startling developments of Pentecost would have been shorn of half their intended value, apart from the solidarity of the apostles and disciples. The conditions of our earthly life, and our sphere of Christian ministry and service, often seem both tieing and trying. Yet there must be valuable consideration for these, and sometimes time does at last surprisingly justify them.
3. It was waiting for a promised marvelous endowment, not of anything so vulgar as outward wealth, not of anything so enviable but dangerous as mere intellectual superhuman illumination, but of the undefined, the mysterious, the awful power of the Holy Ghost. With what anxious outlook we do sometimes wait! With what mistaken, ill-judged longings! Nay, but sometimes past these, with what pardonably trembling, shrinking, fainting, hovering fancy we wait! But oh, if these disciples and women could have gauged beforehand something of that awful gift of the Holy Ghost, what of character, quality, color, would it not have given to their expectation! So men have now and again trembled before the mystery of their own conversion - before some deep change in their spiritual self, and before that supreme exchange of grace and trial here for glory and perpetual security above. And so also, for infinite reason, God veils just a while light, beauty, the blaze of knowledge, even the finish of holiness, from his own.
II. A PERIOD OF WAITING AND OF RICH EXPECTATION, UNDEFINED AS TO ITS DURATION. The tension of the disciples on the occasion of the Crucifixion and entombment was relieved, and might have been much more relieved for them. They had been not only expressly forewarned of what was to be, but of the time also. And Old Testament type and temple parable had offered to deepen the impression on the minds of the disciples, of the women, and of the mother herself. Jonah's "three days and three nights," and the "three days" rebuilding of the demolished temple, spoke the duration of the trial, darkness, sorrow. But now all that is known, all that has been said, is, "not many days hence." And to this, no doubt, the quickened intelligence of the apostles and their associates would have most naturally argued that the delay could not be really long. Christ would never, in the nature of things, keep his disciples long in an inactivity that might degenerate, if prolonged, into indifference or idleness. This exact crisis abounds in aspects and questions of interest. That the apostles should at all be relegated to a period of this kind at such a moment inspiring above all others; that the interval should need to be one of some ten days; that this length of time was not specified to them; and what the ascended Lord's transactions were in that interval above, - are suggestions of questions to which none but conjectural and alternative response can be offered. But these things may be said about them:
1. They bring events and experiences of our own individual life, of our combined religious work, of our own entrance and of the Church's entrance upon the fruition of the immortal hope, into close and grateful analogy with things that passed and that were ordained directly under the eye of our Founder and Lord himself.
2. They are in manifest consonance with the objects and moral advantages of very much of our appointed waiting. Once ascertain and announce time, and it is manifest that a whole range of moral advantage in our education would be swept away, and a vast range of disaster would tyrannously usurp its sacred place.
3. They help comfort every reverent mind, every humble heart, that instead of its first impression being true, that arbitrariness is the hard bondage under which we live, this is the very last thing that can be true. And they help to convince of the greatness of him who, with all the deep counsel of his own purposes, neither forgets nor is baffled in securing the advantage of his own children.
III. THE EMPLOYMENT OF THE PERIOD OF WAITING.
1. It is spent "in prayer." Not in an ill-concealed, graceless return to ordinary work, and which might at any other time have possibly been sacred duty, but which was not so now. Times, the honest work of which is prayer, may well belong to every good life. That of Jesus owned to them. And this was just such a time.
2. It is spent in united prayer. "With one accord." Persons, voices, hearts, hopes, - all were accordant. What an augury, what an example, what a type!
3. It is spent in persevering, united prayer. They "continued." No sense of weariness crept over them; no dullness, no monotony, struck them in this their worship and liturgy.
4. To the company and unanimity of the apostles were added "the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brethren."
(1) There is no priesthood here, nor any proxy of Divine worship and service. Round the apostles are gathered various others, whose worship, prayer, and thoughts are all the same.
(2) There is here no exaltation of man and depreciation of woman. Twas a happy augury, this little early incident before Christianity was fully planted, of the place that it would give woman; and a happy earnest of the fact that nowhere does woman rank so high as where Christ and his pure truth have the fairer sway at all events, if not yet the perfect sway.
(3) Mary, the genuine mother of Jesus, acknowledges his Deity. She joins "in prayer;" and "his brethren" do the same. What quiet telling witness to Jesus, and to our "faith and hope toward" him, this may justly be felt!
(4) As Jesus began his earthly career from the stable, so the compacted body of his Church begin theirs from the upper room. It is not the temple, it is not even the tabernacle, it is not a consecrated place heretofore. The company, the prayer, the o'er hovering Spirit, "waiting" to alight, - these consecrate. The grandness and sacredness of temple and of church all had and have their meaning and their use. But there is truth of so much greater and deeper force in Christ and his people, that wherever they are, that is "the house of God and the gate of heaven," that is the really grand temple, that the sacred Church. Happy, threefold happy, this early picture of Christ's "little flock." "Who shall harm them? What shall move?" And though but some six weeks had passed since they were seen plunged in the faithless gloom of the three days, this has traveled far into the past. It is no wonder. A little time suffices for dawn to drive away the darkness. How differently this present interval of ten days is passing! So when darkness, storm, and fear are vanishing, all is hushed in peaceful prayer, and the Church "waits" with a just and blissful expectancy! - B.
his own home; Mary, the mother of Mark, had a house to which Peter went; Nicodemus, as a ruler, would have a large house; and if Joseph of Arimathaea had a private garden and tomb outside the city, we may be sure that he had a mansion inside. Recall the suggestions and associations of this "upper chamber." How full it would be of the presence of their Master! How solemn with the recollection of his words, and the sufferings through which he had passed! It was a" holy place." Set out the individuality of the company - the apostles, the women, the disciples; need not think that all the disciples made by our Lord were assembled here. The hundred and twenty names only represented those in Jerusalem, and those from the country who were attending the feast. Fixing attention on the attitude and occupations of this company, we see illustrated -
I. THE UNION OF BELIEVERS. "One accord." The basis of the accordance was their common faith in Christ. It is the only basis of unity for the Church still. One in Christ. Brothers because sons.
II. THE WAITING OF OBEDIENT TRUST. They did not know what was coming. They could not have explained their Lord's promise. They did not understand or know, but they could trust, and show the trust by simple obedience.
III. THE OCCUPATION OF WAITING BELIEVERS. They "continue in prayer." Prayer, which is "the Christian's vital breath," is the Church's "atmosphere." And they who are sincerely waiting for God will be found constantly and earnestly waiting on him. For even the fulfillment of his promises God loves" to be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them." - R.T.
I. THE PLACE IT OCCUPIES.
1. Under the cloud of a great trial. The separation from Jesus; the attitude of the Jews of the metropolis; the dependence of a company of poor and persecuted people; the sense of ignorance and feebleness. What could they do but pray, especially as they felt that the power had not as yet come?
2. At the threshold of the Church's history. We know what grew out of that first meeting. All great religious movements have commenced in prayer. Little the actors have foreseen of the future. Luther nailing up his theses. Early meetings of the Wesleys. Modern revivals. The "Acts" a commentary upon that spiritual germination of a new life at Jerusalem. Developments of the individual characters represented by the names. Providence works with grace. They that put themselves by prayer into the hands of God are led on by his hand.
3. In the history of the world, a new social fact which is destined to enlarge until it embraces all human interests and associations within itself. A missionary prayer-meeting it was, though as yet the herald-spirit had not taken full possession of the brethren. They knew that they were sent by Jesus to the uttermost parts of the earth. It was a prayer for the baptism which should make all alike messengers of the new life. The success of all evangelistic efforts depends on their following this example of prayerfulness.
II. THE LESSONS IT TEACHES.
1. The spirituality of the kingdom of Christ.
2. The equality of Christians in the Church.
3. The dependence of Divine gifts on our preparation for them, in heart and life. An outpouring of the Spirit in answer to prayer is a bestowment of grace, on those who are ready to employ it when it comes.
4. Mutual recognition in the Divine presence the prerequisite to individual callings and separate work. The spirit of prayer the preservative against division. - R.
I. THE PATH OF SIN. (Vers. 16-20.) This is a gradual descent. "No one ever became most vile all at once," wrote the Roman; and he was right. Some men descend much more rapidly than others the path of folly and of sin, but no one leaps at once from the summit to the foot. We do not suppose that one day Judas was devoted to Christ and the next day Began to think how he should betray him. Probably his evil course was this: first, surprise at the Lord's slower and more quiet method of ministering; then impatience and even positive dissatisfaction with him; then growing doubt of his claims; then cupidity; then treachery; then remorseful despair; then suicide, and the "going to his own place" (ver. 25). Those who from being virtuous become vicious men, fall in the same way, i.e. by degrees; more or less slowly: first, the harboring of one evil thought and another; then laxity in word; then carelessness and looseness of action; then occasional transgression; then habitual vice; and then the miserable end. Similarly the passage from godliness to absorbing worldliness is through weakening of a sense of obligation; decline of sacred joy; relaxation of holy habits; grooving abandonment of devotional exercises; losing the soul in temporal anxieties and passing pleasures. In all such oases as that of Judas there is:
1. A gradual withdrawal of the soul from sympathy and intercourse with its Lord.
2. Acts which pain and injure him.
3. A disastrous end - death; the reprobation of the good and true, the retribution of the righteous Judge.
II. THE WAY OF THE RIGHTEOUS. (Vers. 21-26.) In the course of Peter, Matthias, and the other ten apostles, there were three things exceptional and peculiar to their position.
1. Bodily attendance on the Lord Jesus Christ (ver. 21).
2. Consequent witness-bearing to the facts of his life and his resurrection (ver. 22).
3. Appointment by direct Divine selection: in the case of the eleven by the Lord himself at the commencement of his work, and in the case of Matthias by appeal to supernatural guidance (vers. 23-26). But though these features were not meant to be perpetual, there are those of which they are suggestive which ought to characterize all true and earnest followers of Christ.
(1) Intimate association with him; the intimacy which is not "after the flesh" (see John 20:17), but that which is "after a spiritual and heavenly manner."
(2) Bearing witness to Christ; not only to the facts of his life and of his victory over death, but to the graciousness of his character, the tenderness of his spirit, the excellency of his service, the joy of his friendship.
(3) Continual resort to the throne of grace for Divine guidance. We do not now use "the lot," but none the less do we seek, and gain by patient, trustful inquiry, the guidance of our God and Savior as we walk the path of life and as we labor in the field of holy usefulness. - C.
I. A GLIMPSE INTO PRIMITIVE CHURCH LIFE, showing:
1. Its purity and simplicity. No pomp, no complicated organization, appeal to the body of the Church.
2. Its separation from the world. "The names were recorded in some way, and numbered; probably a written record kept from this time in the upper room. They were all regarded as brethren."
3. Its reverence for Scripture. The quotation of the Apostle Peter is not either exactly from the Hebrew nor from the Septuagint, but the manner of it denotes entire subjection to scriptural guidance and study of the Messianic prophecies.
4. Obedience to the law of f/brisk. In the acknowledged leadership of Peter. In the desire to complete and maintain the apostleship. In the strict condition of apostolic testimony recognized, the knowledge of the facts from the baptism of John to the Ascension.
5. Realization of the presence and guidance of the Divine Spirit. In the appeal by lot; preceded by prayer and thoughtful action in selection of two, and acquiesced in without a difference.
II. THE SOLID FOUNDATIONS ON WHICH CHRISTIANITY RESTS. Care taken that the witnesses be divinely appointed. The treachery and punishment of Judas thus conspicuously mentioned, that the solemnity of the apostolic office may be there impressively seen. The whole tone of the transaction is that of men feeling their responsibility, not of fanatics carried away with the dream of power, certainly not of impostors "cunningly devising" a statement to take the world captive. The reference to Scripture shows that the apostles and their brethren would follow the track of the Old Testament in their testimony. The publicity of the gospel facts is proclaimed and appealed to. "Known to all the dwellers at Jerusalem."
III. JUDGMENT BEGINNING AT THE HOUSE OF GOD. (Ver. 16 or 25.) - R.
Apostles. What he reports St. Peter as saying is not in verbal harmony with what St. Matthew says. But there is not the slightest difficulty in seeing the way to a real and perfect harmony. The only difficulty is in declaring absolutely that one way and not another is the authoritative harmony. That Judas fell headlong and burst asunder" is a very easy sequel to his "hanging himself." And that the chief priests took counsel, and determined to buy with the abandoned thirty pieces of silver the potter's field, and to devote it to the burial of strangers, is also a very conceivable sequel. It may be it was but the carrying into effect of a bargain which the covetousness of Judas had contemplated and had arranged for - all but the transfer of the money and the thereby "completion of purchase." The chief priests hear of this, and in their perplexity and desire to get rid of the accursed thirty pieces of silver, they close at once with the proposing vendor, whoever he was; but while they devote their purchase to an object the same, the purpose was very different from that which Judas had grown in a covetous mind. We may be tolerably sure he bought for some sort of further gain. They adapt (adsit omen) to a burial-ground. Once, such an end to such a career, of a professed disciple of the Lord, was unique, and then, for that reason, it would fascinate study. It not long remained so, alas! and for that reason, that practical, alarming reason, it has been suggesting for centuries, and still to this day it suggests - ay, it demands - solemn, heart-searching study. Let us get beneath our eye -
I. WHAT INFORMATION WE HAVE TO REST UPON IN FORMING A JUDGMENT RESPECTING JUDAS AND HIS CHARACTER.
1. He was called in the same way as, at all events, a majority of the whole number of the twelve disciples were called. So far as we know, there was nothing special or emphatic in the circumstances that accompanied his call (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-19). St. John says nothing whatever of the call of Judas; but that he knew something about it is evident from his allusion to Christ's foreknowledge (John 6:64, 70, 71). Why Christ, with his admitted perfect foreknowledge, did call Judas to be an immediate attendant upon him, is a question that cannot be answered, perhaps. But three things may be remarked upon it:
(1) That Christ certainly did not do Judas harm, but gave him the grandest possible opportunity of help towards subduing whatever may have been his master-sin, by permitting his special and constant association with him and his other disciples.
(2) That at all events Christ did not, in calling Judas to the circle of his disciples, call one who would betray another, and have favorable opportunity of betraying another thereby, but only himself. Jesus bore all the pain and suffered all the loss of what he did himself; he did not scatter harm in the path of others.
(3) That after all, in deep principle, Jesus did nothing different from what has ever since been transpiring under his Name, wherever his Name is known. His Church now - and his Church is his representative - admits within its most really hallowed enclosure many a traitor. It is true, not with foreknowledge; it is true, pleading ever, as its apology when discovered, its own confessed fallibility; and, let it be true also, that it is this which strikes us as constituting the difference. But is it to be so regarded? Without leaving out of sight for one moment Christ's foreknowledge and infallibility of foreknowledge, we must bring into sight the fact that this is traversed by another most evident principle and practice on the part of Jesus, which reveal him ever beforehand sharing the lot of his Church, and intending to share it in disappointment, in deception on the part of others, in woe as in weal. On much the same principle that Jesus did not take advantage of his ability to command stones into bread, so he does not take certain kinds of advantage from his foreknowledge. And what we have under consideration is exactly one of these kind. There are ample and significant indications that the one expression, Jesus called unto him "whom he would" (Mark 3:13), and our own willing estimate of his superlative knowledge, are to be balanced with other considerations, both such as arise from disciples' choice and disciples' volunteering (John 1:37-42), and from the essential facts of human nature. At all events, we do not know that Judas was not a volunteer. He may have been an ardent, enthusiastic volunteer; he may have been a financial expert of his rank and day, who seems to sacrifice bright business prospects in following Jesus, who takes credit, too, for it, and who by general consent becomes designated treasurer so soon as a treasurer was wanted (Luke 8:3, and elsewhere). Do we not know something today of the busy and clever and ready-tongued volunteer, and of his entrance within the pale of the Church visible? It may, in passing, just be noted that in the three parallel Gospels the name of Judas always stands last, and is attended by the evangelistic remark, merely posthumous, that he was the traitor of his Master.
2. From the announcement of the call of the twelve disciples up to now, the closing days of Christ's life, not a syllable is to be read of Judas, except the damnatory remark of John 6:71. The question of Jesus preceding that running comment belonged, of course, strictly to the occasion, but the running comment itself is merely historic. But the closing days are now come. And they bring this man to the fore.
(1) He finds fault (or otherwise leads the fault-finding of himself and some others) with the loving devotion of a woman who, for priceless mercy received, brings the only present she knows to bring - a present, no doubt, of what was costliest in her treasures, and admitted by all to be both precious and costly - ointment with which to anoint the head and feet of Jesus. And Judas says, "It's waste." And Judas asks, "Why was it not sold, and the hard cash put into the Master's bag for the poor, which I carry?" Yes, and the Evangelist St. John adds, probably in the light of after developments, from which he carried too, i.e. from which he stole. And Judas incurred the silencing and reproof of the Master, and he does not forget that reproof. This was late as the fourth day of the fatal week.
(2) At the end, or immediately after the end of the very next day (equivalent to the evening which led in the sixth day), Judas also asks, "Is it I?" when the question was - Who among those twelve there was the traitor? and he is pronounced, by the lip and the hand of Jesus, the traitor; and he withdraws from the solemn, sacred, pathetic Supper scene! And again he goes with a word of the Master in his hearing, nor forgets it either.
(3) Now but a few hours of night-time pass, when Judas reappears. It is into the Garden of Gethsemane - a place he knew, because he had been there often with a Master who loved to go there olden - that he enters, no longer, for ever and ever no longer, the disciple of Jesus, but now the leader of a band, who lighted a way, that surely much needed light, "with lanterns and torches," and who bore "swords and staves" (Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-52; Luke 22:47-53; John 18:2-12). With a word and a kiss Judas betrays his recent Master, who asks him one gentle question, "Friend, wherefore art thou come?" And like a shadow Judas vanishes again from our sight.
(4) Once more, and once more only, does Judas come himself before us. He comes to show a certain violent repenting, an attempt at some sort of restitution and unreserved confession of his own individual sin; and for these the treatment that he gets from "the chief priests and elders" seems to ripen remorse and madden despair, and, witness against himself, and jury, and judge, he becomes his own swift executioner also, all four in one terrible demonstration! It stands a witness to the end of time (and there cannot in this instance be a doubt that eternity looks on) of the avenging force that couches in ambush, in the being in whom God has implanted a moral constitution, when that constitution is keenly affronted, wounded to the quick repeatedly, and in aggravated form sinned against! Woe is to that being; it had been better for him that he had never been born! And now we have exhausted all the actual information recorded for us respecting the career of Judas. Let us ask -
II. WHAT DEDUCTIONS REGARDING THE REAL CHARACTER OF JUDAS WE MAY BE WARRANTED TO DRAW FROM THESE MATERIALS. It has Been often thought that the key to the opening of his character is held out to us in the one word covetousness, This impression must be supposed to have been derived from the two facts - that he filched from "the bag," and that he asked money for the iniquitous volunteered enterprise of being "guide to them that took Jesus." The foundation is perhaps something slander for what is built upon it. Likely enough his tendencies may have looked this way. He may have known a shade too well the use and "the love of money;" but evidence there is none that he loved money as a miser loves it. Nor did it seem to stick to his fingers as it does to those of an essentially covetous man - not, for instance, when he threw it down on the temple floor at the priests' feet. May not other causes, that moved in deeper groove, and mined their unsuspected approaches in darker and more tortuous channel, have determined this monstrous deformity of growth? We believe that we have before us, in the unenviable, unwelcome riddle of this character:
1. A man to whom ambition (very probably native to him) was the misguiding, the fatuous, the disastrous light. This covetousness was in him; it had been looking out for its own food; it had comparatively long time looked in vain. But now, in what the history of two thousand years, perhaps rather of four thousand years, has shown to be the most dangerous direction of all, the opportunity seemed to open itself within the ecclesiastical sphere. He sees and snatches at the opportunity. Here is a manifest novelty - Jesus! His pretensions are great, and are far from lacking probability, The mighty works he does are supported by significant indications, though not so popular, by mighty words, and deeper still by the framework of cherished prophecies not unknown to Judas, and with which just now the very air, natural, political, religious, is rife. The thought enters his mind to become a disciple - it is not altogether business, for his heart owns to a gentle upheaving of enthusiasm towards Jesus. He essays to become a disciple, puts himself in the way, keeps near and in the right company, and finds himself "called" in the sacred circle. Adventure, religiousness, and a practical good chance seemed all combined.
2. A man with an immense power of self-deception. No form of deception is more aggravated in its character and in its effects than self-deception. The victimizer is the same with the victim. The deadliest harm suffered from another may have, even in the supreme moment, some possible compensation for the sufferer, in high moral feeling, in the exercise of high moral grace, such as forgiveness, or patience under unmerited, uncaused suffering, nay, in the bare thought that one is suffering through another. For now, at all events, the vicariousness of suffering, in a wide range of degree, has a charm of real glory. But to have the very faculty of self-deception is to have one of the worst of enemies while character grows, one of the most vengeful of enemies when the day of settlement comes. And Judas, whether in aiming to become a disciple or in only consenting to it, had little idea of the amount of his unfittedness for it. And so the months that flew on increased the unfittedness and the ignorance by equal strides.
3. A man of amazing power of veiling his real self behind an impassive exterior, when he gradually came to know that real self, and of keeping his own secret.
(1) Was it not getting time for conscience to show itself in the cheek for Judas, when Jesus said, "Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?"
(2) Was ever more perilous stuff pent up in the breast, and yet not a sign of it on the countenance, nor even in a faltering tone of voice, when, that Last Supper evening, Judas found himself compelled to join the inquirers, and brought his lips also to say, "Lord, is it I?"
(3) Was it not the very incarnation of the own devil's deliberateness and of matchless coolness when Judas not only headed the cowed procession, armed with swords and staves, and lighted with lanterns and torches, into the garden, but that, when he "fell to the ground," he had nerve enough so soon to find his feet, and to go on with his work as though he had not fallen, and surpassed himself in then stepping forth to the very van of the troop, who had hitherto covered him in part - to say "Hail!" to the Master, no longer his, and to "kiss" him? The very highest moral efforts have been sometimes accomplished just so much the more effectively because they have been accompanied by a certain force of moral nervous exertion. On this occasion the very highest immoral effort bore witness to a destitution of nervous sensibility hitherto incredible. Surely to the end of the world Judas will hold all his own the first place for secretiveness and deliberateness and unperturbedness, both in darkest design and in execution of it. His calm, balanced, impassive bearing serves him with every one, except with him "who knows the hearts of all men."
4. A man who, finding that he is playing a losing game, or thinking so, dares to attempt to retrieve what he counts his error, by heading a dark and desperate scheme, and by providing himself (for this was the probable reason of his occasional "thefts," and of his asking payment for the betrayal) with something in compensation of the "all he had left," together with the other disciples, when he first "followed" Jesus. However, now he stakes "all" on one cast - the event too clearly demonstrates it. He shows himself not the man to bear disappointment and loss, especially when riled, as he probably now felt, by a conviction of having suffered under some delusion. He is not of the temper to brook a practical affront, let it have come whence or how it may! He refuses to remain partners with inward discontent one unnecessary, one avoidable hour! And not the first man of the kind, though the undoubted first of the solemn pitch of enormity, he miscalculates - awfully miscalculates - the hour, and in another hour is falling into the lowest Tophet, under the name of "the son of perdition"! So fell the selfish and typical gambler of this world and time.
5. A man - emphatically not "stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted," but - whose branded heart and seared conscience were stricken of God, being restored for one moment to their maximum vitality, that moment their very last! It is impossible to account for the previous phenomena of the history of Judas as recorded, and for this fierce end of his career, without believing that he had long been hardening - heart and conscience grievously and dreadfully injured. Nemo fit repente turpissimus. And Peter, the thrice-denier, stands close by Judas, the betrayer, to point with Heaven's own method of distinctness the difference. The death-struggle not unfrequently has witnessed to the measure of life that body and mind together can claim. And supineness has suddenly snatched and for a moment wielded the weapons of preternatural, if not supernatural, force. And it must be that this was the philosophy of Judas doing these three things at once - "repenting himself," "confessing his sin," and "hanging himself." The third of this series interprets for us the former two. The man who breaks thus, breaks because he is intrinsically weak. The keenest potency of feeling, the fullest, simplest confession of sin, the unequivocal renunciation of his unholy gain, and this all in the right arena, in face of the priests and on the temple floor - and yet these not followed by mercy and forgiveness, but blackened to sight by a self-inflicted dog's death - must proclaim a man strengthless, hopeless, for ever the disinherited "son of perdition." Let us ask -
III. WHAT IMPLICATIONS MAY BE INVOLVED IN THE STRANGE AND REMARKABLY STRONG EXPRESSION HERE APPLIED TO JUDAS, AS DESCRIPTIVE OF THE END OF HIS EARTHLY CAREER. St. Peter says that Judas "fell by transgression" from his apostleship, "that he might go to his own place." It can scarcely be that Peter, who rose to speak thus in the midst of his "brethren," should entirely forget how near he himself bad been to falling from his apostleship; and yet there are essential considerations so differencing the two cases that we could imagine it possible that, in real fact, he never connected them for so much as a moment in his own mind. This the difference - not that, having strayed, Peter so soon and with so genuine a penitence came back, and not that he had been perfectly sincere and was so sound at heart still, but - that, though he undoubtedly fell suddenly by transgression (as Judas fell suddenly), he did not fall "that he might go to his own place." He fell that he might get more estranged from "his own place," and, regaining his footing, might find himself nearer "placed" to his Master, and safer far than before. It is very noticeable that St. Peter does not say that Judas went "to his own place" because he." fell by transgression," but that his fall, come at by distinct and flagrant transgression such as admitted neither defense nor palliation, made his own way to his own place. Some make a bridge of escape, and some cut off from their enemies or for higher reasons from themselves a bridge of escape, but Judas, "by transgression," actually bridges a way of destruction for himself; yes, "by transgression" so pronounced, so aggravated, so enormous, but which drew its greatest, its most distinctive peculiarities from what was antecedent to it. Its long roots lay in a long past. From these it was nourished till it became monstrous. Harder than it is to "pluck a rooted sorrow from the memory" did Judas find it, arrived at a certain point, to pluck himself from "his own" destruction. The disease will now have its course. The road leads to a visible precipice, but Judas cannot stop his driving. The stream bears irresistibly to the gulf. To what do these things point? What were the antecedent peculiarities?
1. Very strong individuality of character ungoverned. Such may make very fine character. But it needs very skilful management, very strict observation; a very firm hand must be kept upon it. Let it be ever remembered that it is not likely to be and is not on side issues that the battle of character, of life, of destiny, is fought. And it is not on side issues that any man's "own place" is determined. And this is the reason why human judgments of self or of others are so often wrong, because they are so prone to be arrested by the glitter or else the glare of what may be a most minor point, a mere detail, a really side issue, instead of being of the very web and woof. A man's "own place" is neither determined nor ascertained by the side issues, which are so often all that lie visible. But there are some potencies of character that do, or otherwise undo, the work. A certain strong persistence of some force - a thought, a taste, a wish, a passion. And when a man has a character of this sort, his best friend has one gospel to preach to him - this, that his work lies clear as noonday before him; he has an option of trembling significance before him; he is set to master or to be mastered, to guide and rule and rise high as the angels, or - to be lured, drawn, dragged, driven, all the appalling way down to "his own place"!
2. Splendid opportunities grossly neglected. The same phenomena and facts of character and of growth to the very end, may and naturally must be true anywhere, any time. But as the "own place" of Judas was different from what could be the "own place" of vast numbers to whom for instance the very name of Christ is unknown, so it is fair to take into account the fact that his opportunities were, for his time of day and for every time of day to which they could apply, literally splendid. The principle will be very rarely unobservable, that in proportion as opportunity was good, gross neglect of it made the surest ill end, yet surer. And make whatever deductions possible, the opportunities of any one of the twelve disciples were splendid - then certainly none more splendid than they. To see, to hear, to watch such excellence, the excellence of naturalness, of simplicity, of perfect truth, of tenderest human kindness, of superhuman holiness, - was it not splendid opportunity? To have the personal inspection, occasional correction, deep-sighted suggestions, and high warnings, not unmingled with gracious encouragement that never bore a tint of flattery, - was it not splendid time of opportunity? To root confidence in such a Worker, not of gaping wonders but of majestic beneficence, - was it not splendid opportunity? In brief, to witness that activity, to hear that teaching, to study that Model, was a mass of opportunity that all the world beside could not give, and that all the world beside ought not to have been able to take away. But Judas let the world, or a small portion of the world, take it away - nay, he pitched it away himself. And he did this to get on to "his own place."
3. The fearful irritation (working sometimes underneath even the calmest exterior) of an unreal religious profession. The horrors of a false position must be counted to be in good truth multiplied infinitely when the false position lies within the domain of religion, and when it consists in the unreality of the person, rather than in merely a temporary unsuitableness to him of the place or the niche in which he has got fixed. In the recesses of a lowly spirit, in the calm retreat and silent shade of religious meditation, in the all-sacred shrine of deepest self-surrender and self-consecration, what music of angels, what whisperings of the Spirit, what tones of Jesus himself, are heard, and what peace that passeth understanding steals blissfully in! But of the vacant hollows of religious unreality, mocking echoes are the tenants habitual, and winds of the most dismal wail wander endless in them! The heart of Judas was not in his work these three years. His concealed irritation must often have been severe. His thoughts were neither where his hands or lips were, and chagrin was often his meat day and night together. His life was joyless; and as the sun ripens all good fruits and many a bad fruit too, so as surely, though strangely, does the sunlessness of joylessness ripen with fearful rapidity and affect the ill fruits of the hypocrite and of religious unreality. And, beyond any doubt, it had been so now with Judas. Irritation, inside and unseen, brings, in bodily disease, many an unhealthy humor to the surface, and out of these forms the loathsome tumor, not infrequently fatal. It is so with the burnouts and the turnouts of a religious profession, career, and office, destitute of reality. In no other directions do disease and inward injury rankle to so deadly effect. Judas is a great Scripture typical warning against the profession, the work, the ministry, and the dignity of religion assumed for whatsoever reason, and by whomsoever, without reality. This is par excellence the usurpation that finds "its own fall, while the usurper falls by some "transgression," little matter what, to find "his own place."
4. The suffering to drift along a huge moral wrong in character and life. Judas was guilty, certainly, of such moral wrong. He was guilty of it in three directions as it affected his professed Master, as it affected his so-called fellow-disciples, and of necessity most of all as it concerned his own soul. If a man lets any serious wrong in his earthly affairs drift, it is not long before he finds it out, for it finds him out. Business rarely indeed drifts right of itself. But wrong never drifts right. Least of all does that highest fashion of moral wrong ever drift right, when the question lies in the domain that brings into contact that which is or ought to be highest in ourselves with that which is indisputably highest out of ourselves. All here is matter of consciousness, of real life, of spirit. It is past us altogether to say, what we almost irresistibly imagine, that Judas was often on the point of making a clean breast of it; but it is not past us to say that during those three years conscience must have often urged him to confess his mistake, to resign the livery he wore, to quit the Master's shamed service, and the disciples' shamed society. In that event there would have been "room for repentance;" there would have been room for help; there would have been room to remonstrate, to rebuke, to revive some spark of grace, to recover yet a soul alive. From some loving brother he might have heard anticipated the words, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" and again, "It is impossible for those who were once enlightened... if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance." And the falling away might have been at the last averted. But no! Judas has no mercy on his own soul, because he will not be faithful even to it. The betrayer of his Master is the man to be the betrayer of himself. At every turn the career of Judas is fraught with solemn lessons for every one to whom the grace of discipleship to the Lord Jesus is offered. The character of the test ordained for him is scarcely less plainly or less concisely written than that ordained for our first parents. Yet, nevertheless, thousands of years have not passed away morally in vain in the world's history. And in place of the test of an humble, practical obedience to one individual and merely physical command, the probation for Judas, and for every one of ourselves, is self-consecration to Jesus, Master and Savior, without one reservation, and personal holiness the sequel. - B.
powers to provide for his own necessities, so he would not use his own miraculous knowledge to secure himself against the changes and possible crimes of his disciples. Keeping our thought of our Lord's divinity back in our minds, we are to see that, in the selection of Judas, our Lord acted as a good and wise teacher might today. He estimated the qualities of Judas, and his fitness for the apostolic office, and on the ground of these he called him. That Judas had some special fitnesses, which others than Christ could recognize, is shown in the fact that all agreed to his having the trust of the money (John 13:29). Possibly for his practical business abilities he was chosen. Our Lord was condescendingly pleased to order his human life on the earth by his ordinary intellectual abilities as a man, and not by his Divine omniscience. And in this lies the great marvel of his humiliation and limitation. Nothing is said, on the occasion of the call of the apostles, to mark Judas off in any way. He is, indeed, named last, but this may have been due to the subsequent feeling of his brethren against him. That Jesus did absolutely know the character of the betrayer is indicated in John 6:64, 70, 71; but his allusions to him were not at the time understood by the apostles. The evil side of his character comes to view in John 12:6. His plot for the betrayal of Jesus may be given in detail. The idea that he deluded himself to suppose that his action would bring matters to a crisis, and lead Christ to declare himself and set up his kingdom, seems hardly tenable. If such was his thought, his money-loving gaze was set oil securing the chief place of trust in the new kingdom. His vice was covetousness. These remarks indicate so fully the line of thought respecting the office and the character of Judas, that we need give little more than the main topics needing treatment. The effort should be made to show that a root of evil lay in the very disposition of Judas; the circumstances in which he was placed ought to have checked its growth, and even turned it from evil to good. Instead of this, the circumstances were misused - made to foster the evil into strength; and at last there came blossom and fruitage at which Judas himself, a little while before, would have shuddered. In this there is a solemn lesson for all time. We want to keep and cherish such a daily openness to God, that his grace shall sanctify all surrounding circumstances and influences to our good culture.
I. THE EARLY PROMISE. "Once fair for the celestial city." Singularly privileged in call to apostleship. Early sincerity without depth. Usefulness for business qualities.
II. THE FATAL TESTINGS. Privilege was too great. Trust of money tested his one great weakness - money-loving. Opportunity of peculation became too great a temptation. Life finds scenes that surely test what we really are.
III. THE AWFUL CRIME. The utter baseness of Judas's action should be fully shown. Intense moral indignation against all betrayers of trust or of friends is perfectly right. The infinite tenderness and long-suffering of the Lord Jesus make this betrayal the worst ever known on earth. Is it possible that men nowadays may commit Judas's crime? If so, how?
IV. THE MISERABLE END. Remorse came. It is ever bitter and hopeless. It drove to suicide. Judas hanged himself in the very field bought with the rewards of his iniquity; and, being heavy, when they cut him down his body was miserably broken in its fall. The story adds the uttermost shame to the worst of crimes. Learn that one evil disposition, if unchecked, may poison a whole life; and that this is peculiarly true if the evil disposition be covetousness. - R.T.
I. THAT REFERENCES TO MESSIAH IN THE OLD TESTAMENT WERE FULLY RECOGNIZED BY THE JEWS. Apart altogether from the question - In whom do we find the Messianic promise realized? it is well for us distinctly to see that the Jews always did, and do still, clearly recognize the Messianic feature of their ancient Scriptures. Christians do not import this element into them. So Christians and Jews have a common standing-ground and basis of argument. And from this common standpoint the apostles make their appeals. With an open Bible they plead for Christ's claim to fulfill the predictions concerning Messiah. But we can hardly say that the Jewish modes of reading and translating the ancient Scriptures are altogether satisfactory to us as Christians in these days. The intense national feeling concerning Messiah made them over-keen to discover Messianic allusions, and they had ways of allegorizing and spiritualizing which we are unable to appreciate. Some of the so-called proofs, from Old Testament Scriptures, given by the apostles appear to us to be illustrations rather than argumentative proofs. We cannot find any designed reference to Judas Iscariot in the passage here taken from the Psalms, only an appropriateness in the historical allusion to one who, though righteous, was a victim of treachery. The psalmist presents a parallel case to that of Judas; but to recognize this suffices for us, and we need not see a definite prophecy of the betrayer. Urge the essential unity and harmony of God's Word in its great principles, which find repetition in every age. Show that we endeavor first fully to apprehend the original, local, and historical reference of a passage, and from it gather the principle which may be of permanent application. Further point out that distinct Messianic references, many and various in form, can be traced; but caution is necessary, lest we force these unduly, and add to them upon insufficient grounds. We recognize two senses of Scripture, which may be called
(1) the literal and historical; and
(2) the moral and mystical.
For the first we need culture, for the second spiritual insight and sympathy. Then - if we have these fitnesses - to us the Bible seems to be full of Christ, because of the truths he came to declare, and the life he came on earth to live - the life of believing and obedient sonship to God.
II. To THESE MESSIANIC REFERENCES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT THE APOSTLES HAD A QUICKENED VISION. They knew well the life-story of the Lord Jesus. They fully believed him to be the Messiah. With this in their minds, the Old Testament seemed to them to be full of him. But there was some danger of extravagance. They were liable to bring the Messiahship into passages, rather than to find him in them. The Divine Spirit in them needed to be fully followed, as "leading them into all truth." At the time of Peter's speech the special gift of the Spirit had not come to the apostles; so we have only Peter's opinion, and must take it for what it may be worth. Impress our duty to God's sacred Word. The reverence with which it should ever be treated; the anxiety we should cherish lest, to any portion of it, we should give a private and self-willed interpretation; the need for constant openness to the leadings of the Holy Spirit; and the certainty that he will help us to find Christ everywhere, the "Alpha and Omega" of the Book. - R.T.
I. An instance of SELF-DECEPTION, its power and fruits.
1. The possibility that only gradually Judas fell away - original basis of narrow-mindedness and self-indulgence leading to love of money and dishonesty.
2. The light turned into darkness. Near to Jesus, but the conscience, once perverted, becoming rapidly its own tempter, kicking against convictions, till convictions themselves become impossible, and the Master, once revered, is hated.
3. The higher the elevation of privilege, the deeper the fall. When remorse lays hold of such a mind it devours all hope, and casts down headlong. Warning against the beginning of evil. Appeal to those who have still opportunity of repentance to listen to the voice of remonstrance. Jesus gave Judas many times the clear note of pitiful admonition, which was rejected.
II. A GREAT LESSON ON THE DUTY OF GOD'S PEOPLE IN THEIR RELATION TO CHURCH DISCIPLINE. The supreme principle must be, not that the Church punishes, but that it solemnly recognizes the Divine jurisdiction. Judas was in God's hands, and God dealt with him. The place was left vacant, to be filled up in dependence on Divine guidance. We can cut off a name and fill up an office, but we must not lay our hand on persons. The great error which has worked so fatally in Christendom has been the Church's usurping the Divine office of punishment, and calling in the secular arm to do its evil will. We should deal with backsliders in the tenderest spirit. At the same time, this conspicuous instance serves to keep us in mind that the kingdom of Christ is a real reign of sovereign power, and that the events of men's lives, their happiness or misery, and what the world calls their fate, all are appointed in harmony with the Divine purpose which is being fulfilled in the Church. The appeal to God by lot was a recognition of the same truth. Though an old Jewish custom, it was sanctioned by God as helping his people to remember the universality of his rule. It was not a blind appeal to chance, but was accompanied with believing prayer and an exercise of human wisdom so far as it went. As at the beginning, so still and always, the Church can be purged of its evil only by God, not by man. We must expect a mingled state, while we aim at purity and maintain a spiritual oversight and watchful discipline in the Church itself. There are two extremes to be avoided:
(1) the latitudinarian indifference which says, "Let the world and the Church intermingle without attempt at distinction;"
(2) the Pharisaical censoriousness which would be constantly pulling up tares, and wheat with them, and so tends to disintegrate the Church by endless divisions and separations. Let God be the Judge; for he has said, "Vengeance is mine." Let the prevailing spirit be the charity which "hopeth all things." - R.
twelve. It was a purely Jewish conception, based on the fact that the tribes composing the nation were twelve. But it was a notion suited to the formality of the age, which made so much of numbers, and washings, and ordinances, and ceremonies. It does not appear that our Lord made any sacredness attach to the number; nor did he, after his resurrection, make any suggestions as to the filling up of the betrayer's office. It may further be shown that the conditions of apostleship laid down by Peter are not otherwise indicated. He seems to have gained the idea by dwelling on the fact that the apostles were to be Christ's witnesses; but our Lord's call to witness was made to disciples as well as to apostles. It would rather seem that the one thing essential to apostleship was direct appointment to office by the Lord Jesus Christ himself. In this view we can fully understand the claim St. Paul makes to the rights, standing, and authority of an apostle. The Revised Version makes a suggestive change in ver. 23, reading "they put forward," for "they appointed;" intimating that candidates were first selected by the apostles, and then "put forward" before the entire body of disciples, who made the definite choice. Regarded as the first effort to secure system and order among the Christian disciples, we may find indications of the early recognition of five great practical principles - the five which have been variously powerful in shaping the order of the various Christian communities as one or the other of them has gained prominence. We do little more than state the principles, leaving the questions of their relative values, their adaptations to present religious life, and their influence on the formation of different ecclesiastical organizations.
I. THE PRINCIPLE OF THE NEED FOR OFFICES IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH. This is universally recognized. The offices are arranged with more or less precise copying of the early Church models, and with varying sense of the elasticity of the principle. One thing needs to be carefully impressed, viz. that all offices are for use - for the order and edification of the Church.
II. THE PRINCIPLE OF THE EIGHTS OF THE COMMUNITY. All being believers, having the new life and the indwelling Spirit, - all may and should take part in the proposed election. This principle is recognized in all Churches, but is less prominent in some than in others. Prudence provides limitations of the claims which it might inspire.
III. THE PRINCIPLE OF THE EXECUTIVE RIGHTS OF CHRIST. He is the living and present Head and Ruler of the Church, and must be thought of as actually presiding; not only having given us laws, but actually presiding over their execution. All officials in a Church are Christ's ministers and agents, simply carrying out his will.
IV. THE PRINCIPLE OF THE RIGHT OF JUDICIOUS SELECTION. A large number of people cannot make wise and united selection of suitable men for suitable offices. This is a very practical principle, which prudence would have established if for it there had been no early Church precedent. It is found useful in all societies and associations of men,
V. THE PRINCIPLE OF ELECTION BY THE WHOLE COMMUNITY. All the Church joined in the act of choosing one of the two selected ones. It may be impressed that these simple and practical principles lie at the very foundation of Church order, and that the healthy working of Church systems depends upon the wise applications made of them, relative to the circumstances of national and social surroundings, and the "genius" of the community so ordered. - R.T.
John 1:26) to the time of the Resurrection, we know nothing of them. We do not know on what principle the two were selected first of all from any others who might have answered to the same qualifications of having "companied with" the disciples; we do not know how the casting of lots was managed; we do not know whether Matthias ever really ranked with the apostles to any practical purpose, though he was 'voted in;" nor do we know one authentic syllable of his succeeding work or of his death. To conjecture is as unsatisfying as it is easy. Setting aside any detail of mere curiosity, we should certainly have liked to know whether the transaction of this election was authorized; if it were not, whether nevertheless it was legitimate, or whether it was possibly a fresh illustration of the ready zeal, without authority, of Peter. It need scarcely be said, however, that in the absence of any evidence or of any strong reason to believe the latter, we assume the legitimateness of the whole proceeding. And on this showing we notice -
I. THE DEVOTED ZEAL OF PETER. He is a born leader. He had often shown a forward zeal. In the fort of many, many characters lurks also their weakness. Purified from this, the strength becomes apparent again, and the advantage becomes real. It is he who now takes the lead, and says, "It behooves to fill up the perfect number.
II. THE DISCERNING ZEAL OF PETER. He enthrones this great historic fact of the resurrection of Jesus in its proper seat in the Church for all time. The eleven," to be now strengthened by one more, are to accept this as their chiefest mission and commission, to be "witnesses of the Resurrection."
III. THE CORRECTLY PROPHETIC ZEAL OF PETER. He takes it that part of the work and of the organizing of the work of Christ is to devolve upon man, and upon those who were the already "chosen" apostles, together with the body of his people and disciples. He calls upon all to join, and arranges for all to join in this proposed election.
IV. THE PRAYERFUL AND DEPENDENT ZEAL OF PETER. Still the wisdom and the choice and the appointment are to rest with him whom we call the Head of the Church. It may not be certain that, so far as the terms of Peter's prayer go, he means it to be addressed exclusively to the risen Lord, yet even this is most probable; and all the more so from his likely recalling of the words of Jesus himself (John 15:16; John 6:70; John 21:17). - B.