Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. SIN AND FALSE SECURITY ARE OFTEN ASSOCIATED. The tempter not only leads men into sin; he persuades them that sin will have no evil consequences. The voice of conscience is silenced; the solemn assurance of Scripture is disregarded or disbelieved. Men sin without foreboding and without fear.
II. HENCE THE NEED OF A SOLEMN AND FAITHFUL NOTE OF ALARM AND WARNING. Ezekiel was taught that one especial function of the prophet is to give the people warning. The watchman who sees the approach of danger is bound to blow the trumpet, that they may not be surprised and taken unawares. Those who are entrusted with a message from God to their fellow-men are directed, whether men hear or forbear, to deal faithfully with souls.
III. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF GIVING HEED TO THE ALARM RESTS WITH THOSE WHO ARE WARNED. The warning may be disregarded, the penalty may be incurred, the judgment may be experienced. Or, on the other hand, the alarm may not be sounded in vain. Repentance may prove its reality by sincere resolutions and prayers, and a new heart may produce a new life. Then not only does the prophet deliver his soul; the sinner finds acceptance and salvation. - T.
I. IT HAS TO ANNOUNCE A JUDGMENT THAT IS TERRIBLE. How graphically and appallingly does the prophet set forth the tremendousness of the calamity that was about being inflicted on Judah! It was a day of "darkness and gloominess," a day of "clouds" and of "thick darkness," etc. We have here:
1. The executors of the judgment. Whom did the Almighty Governor of the world now employ to execute his judgments? The magnates of the earth, or the illustrious legions of heaven? No; locusts. He brings them out by millions, and marshals them as his battalions, to fight against sin and crush the sinner. So dense are their crowds, that they darken the sun and conceal the stars. So rapid their movement, and so closely do they jostle together, that their noise is like "the noise of chariots on the top of the mountains." The sunbeam falleth on their glazed wings, so that they appear as a "fire that falleth before them, and behind them as a flame that burneth." They move with such order and force that their appearance is like "horses ' and "horsemen." The meanest insect is God's messenger; the little locust he employs as an officer of his justice.
2. The effects of the judgment. "The land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them as a desolate wilderness." Note the power of combination. These little insects singly were comparatively powerless; in combination they moved with a resistless energy. Unity is strength. This terrible judgment, however, is but a faint shadow of that more terrible judgment that awaits this wicked world, "when the Sou of man shall come in all his glory, with his holy angels," etc. "I saw, and, behold, a great white throne," etc.
II. IT HAD TO ANNOUNCE A JUDGMENT THAT WAS APPROACHING. "The day of the Lord cometh; it is nigh at hand." This terrible army of insects was now in the course of formation, and was gathering together for the fearful work of destruction. The Church now has to give warning of a judgment that is coming. "The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in the which the heavens shall pass away," etc. Yes, it is coming. Its dim rays of dawn are seen on the tops of the distant hills; the terrible sun will break forth in the heavens ere long: it will indeed be "the day of the Lord." The Church's work is to warn every man, to blow the trumpet of alarm, give it a blast that shall startle the thoughtless generation. - D.T.
I. NONE CAN RESIST THE OMNIPOTENCE OF THE DIVINE JUDGE.
II. NONE CAN ELUDE HIS OMNISCIENT SCRUTINY INTO THE HEARTS AND LIVES OF MEN.
III. NONE CAN QUESTION THE PRINCIPLES OF JUSTICE UPON WHICH HE PROCEEDS.
IV. NONE CAN SHOW CONFORMITY TO THE STANDARD OF RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH HE APPLIES.
V. NONE CAN EVADE THE AUTHORITATIVE SENTENCE WHICH HE PRONOUNCES.
APPLICATION. If none can abide the judgment of the future, it will be wise not to seek by repentance and faith reconciliation and acceptance. "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way." - T.
I. WHO ARE THEY WHO ARE THUS ADMONISHED? They are such as have been highly favoured, and have nevertheless disobeyed the Father who has cared for them, rebelled against the King who has been gracious to them. Who amongst men must not be included in this class?
II. TO WHOM ARE THEY INSTRUCTED TO RETURN? "To me," saith the Lord. It is the offended One, who himself condescends to invite transgressors to reverse their steps, to renounce their disobedience, to cleave unto himself. This is a miracle of grace.
III. WHAT KIND OF CONVERSION DOES GOD REQUIRE? In this passage we have as clear a statement as even the New Testament can supply of the spirituality of true religion. God does not ask for verbal, formal submission; he asks for the return of the heart. Here is involved true penitence - heart-sorrow for sin. Here is involved true faith - heart-attachment to God. The heart is emphatically God's, and it is the heart he asks.
IV. WHAT TOKENS OF SINCERITY IN CONVERSION DOES GOD EXPECT? The true conversion is within; but there will be appropriate evidences that sin is loathed and forsaken. For this purpose the tears and mourning, etc., here described, are to be desired by God and presented by man. - T.
I. ITS PROCESS. Turning to the Lord, "Turn ye unto the Lord your God." The unregenerate man is an alien from God. Like the prodigal son, he has left his Father's house and gone into the "far country" of carnality and sin. Reform is turning and directing his steps back to God. Soul-reformation is not turning from one doctrine, or Church, or habit to another, but turning to God, going back with all its deepest love to him. But in turning there is deep moral contrition; there is "fasting," and "weeping," and "mourning," and the "rending of the heart." Soul-reformation begins in genuine repentance for past sins. "Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and in thy sight .
II. ITS URGENCY. "Therefore also now, saith the Lord." Yes, now is the time; there is nothing more urgent; everything must make way for this; until this is done, nothing is done properly. Now:
1. Because the work is of the most paramount importance.
2. Because the time for accomplishing it is very short. Whatever other work you adjourn to a future time, for your soul's sake adjourn not this for a single hour.
III. ITS ENCOURAGEMENT. "For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil." The word deprecateth would be better than "repenteth.' The inflicting of sufferings on his creatures is repugnant to his nature. "He desireth not the death of the sinner." What an encouragement it is to the sinner to turn to the Lord, to be assured that he will be welcomed with all the love and tender sympathy of an affectionate father! - D.T.
I. TRUE REPENTANCE DOES NOT CONSIST IN ANY EXTERNAL, CEREMONIAL OBSERVANCE. In the East especially it has always been common to practise rites of a symbolical character in connection with the religious life. Sorrow and penitence are expressed by the rending of the garments. Now, it is in accordance with human nature that the sign should be substituted for the thing signified, the outward observance and ceremony for the feeling. It is an evidence of the divinity and spirituality of the religion of the Old Testament that, in this as in other passages, the mere symbol should be disparaged in comparison with the emotion which it represents.
II. TRUE AND ACCEPTABLE REPENTANCE IS SPIRITUAL.
1. Its seat is the heart. A broken and a contrite heart will not be despised by him who cares nothing for rent garments, for sackcloth and ashes, for loud and repeated lamentations.
2. Its essence is turning unto the Lord, i.e. away from sin and away from self, to him against whom the sinner has offended, and by whom alone the sinner can be justified.
III. TRUE REPENTANCE IS PROMPTED BY JUST THOUGHTS OF GOD AS MERCIFUL AND FORGIVING.
1. In disposition (if language so human may be allowed concerning the Supreme) God is gracious, merciful, forbearing. If his only principle of government had been the strict retribution which some have attributed to him, there would be no encouragement to the sinner to repent of sins which could never be forgiven.
2. In his treatment of men, God is characterized by great kindness, such as our poor, stricken, clinging hearts especially need and crave for.
3. In regard to threats and promises, God makes himself known as repenting of the evil. The threat of punishment is not idle. But the revelation of mercy, the promise of grace, is far deeper than all threatening. Denunciations of wrath are for the impenitent and unbelieving; but when sinners repent of their sin, God repents of his purpose to destroy. - T.
I. WHEN MEN THINK OF THEIR OWN ILL DESERTS, THEY MAY WELL FEAR THE CONSEQUENCES OF GOD'S NOTICE AND ACTION.
II. BUT WHEN THEY THINK OF GOD'S CHARACTER AND PROMISES, THEY MAY WELL CHERISH THE HOPE THAT HE WILL HAVE MERCY UPON THEM.
III. WHEN FAITHFUL AND REPENTANT, MEN MAY LOOK, NOT MERELY FOR THE REMISSION OF JUSTLY THREATENED PENALTIES, BUT FOR THE ENJOYMENT OF UNDESERVED BLESSINGS.
APPLICATION. If we were to think chiefly of our own sins and unworthiness, the utmost that we could do would be to cherish some faint hope that mercy might be extended to us. Those untaught by revelation, if they have any sense of their sinfulness, cannot go beyond this: "Who can tell if he will repent?" But those who are in possession of the glad tidings which are by Jesus Christ will be guilty of distrusting and dishonouring God, if this be their mental attitude. They have the express assurances of "him who cannot lie," and who has promised that the penitent and believing sinner shall be pardoned, and put into the enjoyment of all spiritual blessings. They are not, therefore, at liberty to doubt, but are bound to credit and to act upon the revelation of a faithful and merciful God. - T.
I. IT IS A MEETING CALLED ON ACCOUNT OF COMMON SIN. All the people of Judah had sinned grievously, and they were now summoned together on that account. No subject is of such urgent importance as this. Sin, this was the root of all the miseries of their country. It behoved them to meet together in order to deliberate how best to tear up this upas, how best to dry up this pestiferous fountain of all their calamities.
II. IT IS A MEETING COMPOSED OF ALL CLASSES. The young and the old were there; the sad and the jubilant; even the bridal pair; the priests and the people. The subject concerned them all; all were vitally interested in it. Sin is no class subject. It concerns the man in imperial purple as well as the man in pauper's rags.
III. IT IS A MEETING FOR HUMILIATION AND PRAYER. "Let the priests and the ministers weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord!" It was not a meeting for debate or discussion, for mere social intercourse and entertainment; but for profound humiliation before God.
CONCLUSION. No meeting in England is more urgently demanded to-day than such a one as this. - D.T.
I. OLD AND YOUNG ARE ALIKE PARTAKERS OF THE DIVINE BOUNTY, ALIKE OBJECTS OF DIVINE CARE.
II. OLD AND YOUNG ARE ALIKE POSSESSED OF SPIRITUAL CAPACITIES AND FACULTIES. It is sometimes taken for granted that children, because of imperfect knowledge and undeveloped intellect, are incapable of any serious part in the religious exercises of the Church. But intelligence is relative. Is not the "grey barbarian lower than the Christian child"? Is not the full-grown man but a babe when compared with heavenly intelligences? Faith is often stronger and prayer is often more genuine in the child than in the adult.
III. OLD AND YOUNG ARE ALIKE NECESSARY TO THE COMPLETENESS OF SOCIAL LIFE. It has often and justly been said, that a community without children would be scarcely human. Providence has so ordered society that those of all ages should live together in mutual intercourse. And no religion can afford to leave out of sight those who are growing up to be the men and women of the next generation. It would indeed be unwise, even ruinous, to so adapt the language and the thoughts in prayer, praise, or meditation to the capacities of the young, as to estrange the mature and intellectual from the services of the Church. Yet there must be milk for babes, as well as meat for strong men. The admonition of the text should reach the ears especially of Christian ministers, "Gather the children." - T.
I. THE PRIESTLY OFFICE. Priests were:
1. Ministers of the Lord, appointed by him to serve in the offices of religion.
2. Representatives of the people, from amongst whom they were selected by Divine wisdom.
3. Mediators between the laity whom they represented, and the Eternal whom they served in his temple.
II. THE PRIESTLY GRIEF. In time of calamity it was the function of the priests to mourn. They were men, and representative men. They were touched with a feeling of the people's infirmities. They bore the burden of the nation on their hearts. Between the porch and the altar, it was their sacred function, clad in dark sackcloth, to lift up their voices and to weep.
III. THE PRIESTLY ENTREATY. The simple and touching language, in which the Hebrew priests appealed on behalf of the nation to the mercy of high Heaven, has passed into the Litany of the Christian Church. The supplication for pity and deliverance is urged by the united appeal of the holy assembly in the words, "Spare us, good Lord!"
IV. THE PRIESTLY PLEA. The text does not urge the necessities and sorrows of the people as a motive for Divine interposition, so much as the reputation, the honour, of the God of Israel. If God's chosen people perish, then Jehovah will no longer be worshipped, and the heathen will triumph over the downfall of the true faith. This lesson we may learn from this plea, that to a rightly judging mind the glory of God himself is the highest, noblest aim that can be sought and striven and prayed for. - T.
I. THE OCCASION OF DIVINE RELENTING. The deep-seated cause is to be found in the character, the moral nature, of God himself. He is merciful, and delights in mercy. Yet this attribute can be exercised only upon certain conditions, only towards those in a certain attitude of heart. Penitence: humiliation, contrition, entreaty, on the part of Judah, account for the exercise of compassion on the part of God.
II. DIVINE RELENTING LEADS TO THE REMOVAL OF GRIEVOUS EVILS. The northern army of locusts, and perhaps also a hostile force figured by it, should be driven away, and famine and pestilence averted. The penalties of sin, being intended mainly for the correction of offenders, are not retained when their purpose is accomplished. In the midst of wrath God remembers mercy.
III. DIVINE RELENTING PROVES ITSELF BY AN ABUNDANT BENEFICENCE. The Jews were assured that, as a sign that the storm-cloud of wrath was overpast, they should again enjoy the fruits of the earth - "corn, wine, and oil." Those whom God pardons he blesses too; he takes away the wrath to bestow the loving-kindness; the load of trouble is cast into the sea, and "he loadeth with benefits." - T.
Zephaniah 2:13, "He will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like a wilderness," is sufficient to prove that the term "northern" here refers to the Assyrian power. However, for homiletical purposes, it scarcely matters whether the locusts, Assyrians, or any other destructive enemy are referred to. The grand question is - What are the truths contained in the paragraph that are of universal importance and application? The following are clearly deducible.
I. THAT THE MATERIAL CONDITION OF A PEOPLE DEPENDS UPON THE DIVINE OPERATIONS. Two things are referred to in the passage as the works of the Almighty towards the Jewish people at this time.
1. The withdrawal of calamities. "I will remove far off from you the northern army, and will drive him into a land barren and desolate." When terrible calamities come upon a people, such as hosts of destructive insects, or pestilence, famine, or war, who but the Almighty can remove them? Men may and ought to employ means; but futile for ever will be all human efforts without the co-operation of Almighty power. This fact should teach us ever to look to him and him only for deliverance from evil at all times, both material and moral.
2. The bestownent of blessings. "The Lord will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, and ye shall be satisfied therewith: and I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen." The productions of the earth are dependent every moment upon Almighty power. At his bidding the most fertile regions of nature are struck into barrenness, and deserts and wildernesses become fertile and beautiful as Eden. The pseudo-scientist of this age traces the operations of nature to what he calls "laws," a term to cover his ignorance. But true philosophy as well as the Bible teaches that nature is absolutely in God's hands. "He causes the sun to rise and to set." He poureth down the genial showers and sealeth the heavens. A practical recognition of him in all the phenomena of nature is what reason and religion demand. "Every good and perfect gift," etc.
II. THAT THE DIVINE OPERATIONS ARE INFLUENCED BY THE MORAL CONDITION OF THE PEOPLE. We are taught here, that the removal of the calamity and the bestowment of the blessing came upon the people in consequence of the moral humiliation for their sins, described in the preceding verses. The priests and the ministers of the Lord wept between the altar, and said, "Spare thy people, O Lord!" etc. "The porch before the temple was a hundred and twenty cubits high, twenty broad from north to south, and ten from east to west. The altar was that of burnt offering in the court of the priests. Here, with their backs toward the altar, on which they had nothing to offer, and their faces directed towards the residence of the Shechinah, they were to weep, and make supplication on behalf of the people." That the Divine conduct towards us depends upon our conduct towards Heaven, is inexplicable to us although clearly taught in the Word of God. Indeed, consciousness assures us that he is to us what we are to him. It is absurd to suppose that God will alter the laws of nature because of human prayers or human conduct, says the sceptic scientist. But what laws of nature are more manifest, more universal, settled and unalterable than the tendency of human souls to personal and intercessory prayer? From every human heart the world over, there goes up to the great Spirit in some form or other a prayer, either for self or others. Every aspiration is a prayer - "God help me! God help thee!" God help him! "God help them!" Point out to me a human soul where the spirit of these is not being breathed out every day. Scripture abounds with examples too numerous here to write of God apparently altering his conduct on account of man's supplications.
III. THAT THE RIGHT MORAL CONDUCT OF A PEOPLE WILL ENSURE THEM DIVINE BENEDICTIONS. "Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things. Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength. Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month." In these verses there is a beautiful gradation. First, the land which has been destroyed by the enemy is addressed in a prosopopoeia; then the irrational animals which had suffered from the famine; and lastly, the inhabitants themselves. All are called upon to cast off their fears, and rejoice in the happy change which God would effect. Desolation, barrenness, and famine would disappear, and times of prosperity and happiness return. It is too clear for either argument or illustration, that if you change the moral character of any country from ignorance to intelligence, from indolence to industry, from intemperance to self-discipline, from sensualness to spirituality, from enmity to love, that the whole material region in which they live may abound with plentifulness and beauty. Such a change throughout the whole human population to-day will give to all a new heaven and new earth. - D.T.
I. THE FAVOUR OF GOD BANISHES FEAR. If natural calamities have power to excite alarm and foreboding, much more is this the case with the displeasure of the Ruler and Judge of all. Men do indeed adopt various devices to silence the voice of fear, to persuade themselves that all will be well with them. But there is no true remedy for painful foreboding except the assurance of Divine reconciliation and acceptance.
II. THE FAVOUR OF GOD CREATES GLADNESS. When the locusts were swept away, the scourge removed, and when the earth resumed its garb of fertility and uttered its promises of fruitfulness, a universal rejoicing took the place of mourning, distress, and alarm. And in the spiritual realm, when the grace and love of God are realized, it is felt that the blessing of God maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow. And the inspired admonitions are felt to be congenial: "Rejoice in the Lord alway;" "Rejoice evermore." - T.
I. SHOWERS OF BLESSING COME FROM ABOVE.
II. SHOWERS OF BLESSING FALL IN THEIR APPOINTED SEASON.
III. SHOWERS OF BLESSING RESPOND TO THE FAITH AND ENTREATIES OF GOD'S HERITAGE.
IV. SHOWERS OF BLESSING CREATE FERTILITY AND ABUNDANCE.
V. SHOWERS OF BLESSING AWAKEN THE VOICE, THE SONG, OF THANKSGIVING AND OF JOY.
APPLICATION. There is nothing arbitrary in the bestowal of spiritual blessing. The dews and rains from heaven are bestowed in accordance with Divine wisdom. And spiritual mercies are assured in response to faith and prayer. And God has said, "Prove me now, and see if I will not open the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing." - T.
I. THE RESTORATION OF LOST MATERIAL MERCIES. "I will restore you the years that the locust hath eaten," etc. That the prophet has here in view the plague of locusts described in ch. 1., cannot well be doubted. The names, though placed in a different order, are identical with those there specified. "My great army. They are called God's great army, a name still given to them by the Arabs. Though a scourge lasted only one year, yet, as they not only destroyed the whole produce of that year, but also what was laid up in store for future years, the calamity was great. The loss of these God promises to recompense or make good by not only furnishing them with an abundance of temporal enjoyments, but affording them a delightful experience of his presence and favour as their covenant God. This promise is amplified in vers. 26, 27. Restoration in God's peculiar work. Who can restore the earth but him? An insect may destroy a giant; but God alone can restore the life of a dying flower. Restoration is God's constant work. From death he brings life to all nature. Spring is the grand annual illustration of it. God restores lost temporal blessings to his people in two ways.
1. By giving back the same in kind, as in the case of Job.
2. By bestowing that which answers the same purpose.
II. THE RESTORATION OF LOST RELIGIOUS PRIVILEGES. What are these?
1. Worship. And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the Name of the Lord your God, that hath dwelt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed." True worship is one of man's greatest and most original privileges of his being. True worship is supreme love for the supremely good. The loss of this has been man's crime and ruin; the restoration of this is his salvation. When men come to praise the Lord as they ought to, they reach the heaven of their being.
2. Communion. "And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God, and none else." Loving fellowship with the infinite Father is also another privilege which we have lost. The restoration of this is the consummation of blessedness. "In thy presence is fulness of joy." This last restoration is the most urgent and the most glorious one. The restoration of lost material mercies to a man, community, or country, is a Divine work for which gratitude should be cherished and practically exemplified; but the restoration of lost religious privileges, the true worship of God and true fellowship with him, is the transcendent restoration. When this is realized, the world's redemption is completed. - D.T.
I. THE EVIDENCE WHICH CONVINCES US THAT THE LORD IS OUR GOD.
1. As in the case of Israel, so in our case, God is known by his delivering mercy. He who saved the Jews from locusts and from armies, delivers us from the bondage of sin and death.
2. And, as Jehovah crowned the national life of Israel with plenty and prosperity, so has he made all provision for our spiritual well-being and happiness, in the gift of his Son and in the dispensation of his Spirit.
II. THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR CONVICTION THAT THE LORD IS OUR GOD. "My people," says the Lord, "shall never be ashamed;" i.e. because:
1. They shall never be disregarded; their prayers shall always be heard with favour.
2. They shall never be disappointed; the expectations which the Lord awakens he will fulfil.
3. They shall never be forsaken; for he says, "I will never leave thee." - T.
I. THE PERIOD OF THE GIFT. It is not intended to teach that the bestowal of the Holy Spirit was deferred, and reserved for the Messianic age. Yet no believer in the New Testament can doubt that the Day of Pentecost witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of Divine energy and grace, in itself the herald and the promise of a constant perennial effusion of blessing upon all the Church of the ascended Redeemer.
II. THE NATURE OF THE GIFT. It was an invisible, impalpable grace; its operation took place in spiritual natures. The Spirit of God bestowed those special gifts of inspiration, of faith, of healings, of tongues, which were peculiar to the first age of the Church. The same Spirit conferred the gifts of teaching and administration, which have tended to the edification and increase of the body of Christ. But the choicest and richest of spiritual gifts have ever been those of character and principle, of disposition and habit, which have made the Church the true representative upon earth of its ascended Lord. Of these gifts the chief is love.
III. THE ABUNDANCE OF THE GIFT. The promise is not of scanty drops, but of copious showers. The great Giver delights to give generously, royally, gloriously.
IV. THE RECIPIENTS OF THE GIFTS. The most marvellous part of this magnificent prophecy is the language in which is described the comprehensiveness of the Church of the Lord Jesus.
1. Among these recipients of spiritual grace are men and women. "Your sons and your daughters." In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female.
2. Old and young are alike included among the seers of visions and the dreamers of dreams; for upon every enlightened soul shall stream the light which is not of this world, and which reveals eternal realities.
3. Upon bond and upon free the graces of the Spirit are shed without distinction. Servants and handmaids are participators in the Spirit; for all are free in Christ Jesus.
4. To make this universality explicit, it is expressly said that the outpouring, shall be upon "all flesh," i.e. upon all humanity. Beyond a prospect like this, the vision of inspired prophets could not extend; the grace of the infinite Giver could not be vaster and more comprehensive. - T.
Acts 2:16-21). But the baptism of the Spirit is recurrent. The Church has known many a Pentecost. It is within our reach now, and we all sorely need it.
I. THE EFFECTS OF THE EFFUSION OF THE HOLY GHOST may be briefly suggested, so far as they are alluded to in our text. Amongst them may be mentioned the following.
1. Belief in the supernatural. "Visions" and "dreams" were the means of Divine revelation. We read of them in the history of Joseph, Daniel, Ezekiel, and others, mentioned in the Old Testament. Under the new dispensation Peter had visions of angels; Paul saw the angel of the Lord more than once; Stephen beheld Jesus standing at the right hand of God; John gazed on the glories of the New Jerusalem, and rejoiced in visions of his Lord. If such special manifestations are no longer given, spiritual realities around us are not the less confidently believed in by men baptized with the Holy Ghost. What are laughed at by the world as dreams and visions are actual truths and obvious phenomena in Christian experience. Spiritual truths are spiritually discerned.
2. Fearless enunciation of Divine truth. "Prophecy" is used in two senses in Scripture. As the faculty of foretelling future events, it was prevalent in the Christian Church. Agabus, and the daughters of Philip the evangelist, were not alone in their gifts. Even now coming events cast their shadows before on the sensitive souls of believers, whose answered prayers are the beginnings of the Divine purposes. But if we take the phrase in its more ordinary acceptation, there can be no doubt that the baptism of the Spirit gives courage and power for utterance of Divine truth. This the apostles realized. Feeble and trembling before Pentecost, they shook the world by their bold preaching after it.
3. The extension of the covenant. "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh can only mean the inclusion of the Gentiles in the covenant blessings. And it was the fact that to them also was given the Holy Ghost, which broke down the prejudices of the apostles and led them to the inclusion of these in the Christian Church. God put no difference between Jew and Gentile, nor does he now.
4. The exaltation of the lowliest. The servants" and the "handmaids," in other words, the male and female slaves, were not to be excluded. God was no respecter of persons. Onesimus, the fugitive slave, was as true a convert as his master, Philemon.
II. THE ATTITUDE OF SOUL NECESSARY TO THE RECEPTION OF THIS BLESSING, This we may learn from a comparison of the passage with the actual experience of the apostles.
1. The Church should feel profoundly convinced of her weakness. As afflictions brought down the Jews, so the departure of their Lord saddened and disheartened the apostles. They had no strength, and they knew it. Therefore they could only tarry in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high. "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted." "My strength is made perfect in weakness."
2. The Church should cherish strong confidence in the power of God. All that puts natural causes in the place of the Divine energy which is in them, weakens this faith. As the earth is dependent on the rains, and "lives because heaven weeps over it," so is the Church dependent on the outpouring of the Spirit from on high. According to our faith so it will be unto us.
3. The Church must bestir herself to believing and importunate prayer. Compare the Lord's parable of the importunate widow. Recall the promise, "Ask, and ye shall receive," etc. Above all, trust to this explicit declaration, "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?' - A.R.
I. WITH AN EXTRAORDINARY EFFUSION OF THE SPIRIT. "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh." Flesh here stands for humanity. Under the gospel dispensation, the influence of the Spirit would be:
1. Universal, not limited to sex. "Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy." Not limited to age. "Your young men shall see visions; your old men shall dream dreams." The redemptive influences of the gospel are like the rolling atmosphere and the shining sun - universal in their aspect.
2. Illuminating. It would bring the light of God's thoughts upon the soul. They "saw visions and dreamed dreams and prophesied." That is, men under its influence would receive and reflect God's eternal truths.
II. WITH PRODIGIOUS REVOLUTIONS. "I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke." These words may perhaps be properly regarded as a highly poetic representation of that revolution in governments, Churches, and all other human institutions which would inevitably follow the working out of the Divine ideas and spiritual influences of these last days (Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 34:4). WhenChristianity enters with all its renovating power the individual soul, what a revolution! What wonders in heaven, what signs on earth, what blood, fire, and vapour of smoke! It is so also when it enters a community; then it shakes the heavens and the earth of social and political life.
III. WITH A TERRIBLE DAY. Peter calls it a notable day. The primary reference in all probability is to the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus. It was indeed a terrible day (see Josephus; see also first edition of 'Genius of the Gospel,' p. 606). But there is another terrible day still before us, a day of which the destruction of Jerusalem is but a faint shadow and type - the day of general judgment - the day when the heavens shall pass away with a great noise. What a day will that day be - "day of judgment, day of wonders," etc.!
IV. WITH THE POSSIBILITY OF SALVATION TO ALL. "Whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord shall be delivered;" or, as Peter has it, "shall be saved" - saved from the thraldom, the guilt, the damnation, of sin. "Whosoever" - thank God for this "whosoever"! - D.T.
I. IN WHAT THE DELIVERANCE CONSISTS. Not in exemption or release from temporal calamity or disaster; but in spiritual rescue and emancipation - salvation from sin, its bondage and its penalty.
II. UPON WHAT CONDITION THE DELIVERANCE IS PROFFERED AND PROMISED, Calling upon the Name of the Lord involves:
1. A sense of personal need and danger.
2. A conviction of the power of God to save.
3. Faith in his declared willingness to be the Deliverer of his people.
4. The cry of the heart to God the Saviour.
III. TO WHOM THE PROMISE OF DELIVERANCE IS ADDRESSED. "Whosoever" is a wide, all-embracing term, comprehending not only every class of society, but every nation, and every grade of character. St. Paul himself scarcely went beyond this, when he said that "God is the Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe." - T.
I. THE CONDITION OF THE CONTRITE. They are in danger, or they would not require to be "delivered." Those who heard the apostles "were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" for they knew that they had sinned against God in the rejection of his Son.
1. They were guilty of sin. Who is not? Even children have evil tendencies which respond to temptation. The heart of a child is like a pool of water which seems perfectly clear, but let it be once stirred, and it is at once beclouded. Sin is a terrible thing. In Scripture it is spoken of as a debt we cannot pay, as a burden we cannot bear, as a thief who robs us, as a leprosy which corrupts us, and as a poison that ends in death. Sin has insulted God and robbed him of his children, and nailed the Lord Jesus Christ to the cross. But however widespread and deadly its influence, "whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord shall be delivered."
2. They were convicted of sin. Unless they had been they would not have called upon God. It is not simply a knowledge that all men are sinners which is required, but a sense of our personal responsibility in regard to sin. There is a great difference between knowing that fire burns, and knowing that we are being burnt.
3. They were convicted by the Holy Spirit. Yet he is called "the Comforter." He is likened to the dove, to the breath which Jesus breathed, to the dew that lights upon the grass, and to the oil of joy. Nevertheless, it is his work to "convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of a judgment to come;" and in doing so he overwhelms sinners with a sense of shame and peril. But for this, there would be no cry and no deliverance. Pain is a necessary stage of cure in such a disease as sin. If a wound has been long neglected, the wise surgeon will take off all the coverings which have been wrapped over it in ignorance, and will give new agony for a time, if only he is able to get rid of the venom. But after that he will bind it up. So must the Holy Spirit wound before he heals. We must have the broken heart before God can bind it up. Conviction of sin shows that God has not given us up.
II. THE CRY OF THE CONTRITE. It has been said that we are not saved by prayer, but we cannot be saved without it. Prayer is the soul going to its refuge, or rather it is the soul laying hold on the hand that draws it into the refuge.
1. Prayer is the ordinance of God. It is as much a law as is the law of gravitation, and is proved by experiment, not by a priori argument as to its probability. True, God is our loving Father; but unless we arise and go to him as the prodigal did, we shall not have the welcome and the kiss, the robe and the music.
2. Prayer implies faith and hope. We must have faith in the character of God - in his "Name," to use the phrase in our text - that is, in what he has made known of himself. For example, he is revealed to us as the Holy One; so that we can only go to him when we are really wishing to forsake sin, to be helped out of it instead of being helped in it. He is omniscient; therefore thoroughness in confession is required, for he knows us so perfectly that we dare not dissemble, nor cloke our sins before him. And he is almighty - well able to give us the pardon and deliverance we need. His "name" is "Jesus," for he shall save his people from their sins. Add to faith in his character faith in his nearness. It is useless to cry to one who is out of hearing. He is a God near, and not far off.
3. Prayer may be a simple call. It is a cry rather than a statement. The Pharisee told God much, but he did not pray. The publican smote upon his breast and cried for mercy; and God heard his prayer, and he went down to his house justified.
III. THE PROMISE TO THE CONTRITE.
1. They shall be delivered:
(1) From the forebodings of doom.
(2) From the terrors of an awakened conscience.
(3) From vain efforts at self-reform.
(4) From the power and from the love of sin.
2. Deliverance will come through faith in the crucified Saviour. To this the Jews were brought on the Day of Pentecost. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,"
3. Deliverance will follow on the cry for mercy. All are encouraged to call upon the Lord - the backslider, the uneducated, the child, the degraded and abandoned. "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth; wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye." - A.R.