They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
I. THE INFANT CHURCH CRAVES INSPIRED INSTRUCTION, AND IS FURNISHED WITH IT. The call for this had been foreseen by the great Master-teacher himself. In the same commission in which he charged his apostles to "make disciples of all nations," he enjoined them to teach such disciples "to observe all things I have commanded you." Great stress must be laid upon Christ's own teaching. We cannot overvalue it. The stress he laid on it himself, by his unwearied labors in it, tells volumes of his own practical estimate of its importance. Meantime such an expression as that we find in Matthew 15:9, "Teaching for doctrines the commandments of men," differences for us most decisively not any mere question of style, and superiority of style, in the teaching that is from above, but the matter itself. The characteristic, then, begun with in the description of the new community was this: "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching." That was inspired teaching. And let the world stand in need of whatsoever else, it is to be laid down emphatically that the Church stands in need of this. Inspired teaching is the breath of the Church - its vital air, its light, and the alphabet of its knowledge.
II. THE INFANT CHURCH DRAWS TOGETHER IN CLOSEST AND MOST REAL UNION. The "fellowship" spoken of in ver. 42 does not mark merely the fact of association with the apostles. Nor does it describe association with one another from the attractions of friendship, of new-born natures, or of worship. It marks a newer thing, and, considering the numbers of those concerned, a very new thing. Jesus, with the little circle of his twelve disciples, had suggested, possibly enough, the germ of this. But the number of twelve or thirteen living together on a common purse, and with no selfishly individual object whatsoever in view, was but the suggestion of a principle; and that now, as many scores, or possibly hundreds, should attempt a similar thing, was a bold thought; it was the daring of a high and unwontedly noble impulse, and best of all was the deed of it. Those who made up this new community first did a thing, that would have been called nothing else than utopianism while only talked about. It is something most reinvigorating to a Christian's faith in the hidden possibilities of a regenerate human nature, to think of the real proofs of sincerity and of utter earnestness that came out of the conduct of men who sold their lands and possessions, and brought all to one common stock. It was certainly a beginning of a "new earth," and none the less so that it was but temporary in the then form of it. It betrayed and it displayed a genius lying in the new-found forces of Christianity never to be forgotten. For a while there was no want and no wealth, except that best wealth, absence of want. The snare of wealth is vanished, and the charm of loving contentment smiles in the world.
III. THE INFANT CHURCH BRINGS WITHOUT HESITATION RELIGION INTO DAILY LIFE. The "breaking of bread" certainly did not mean simply the taking of the ordinary meals of day after day. There could have been nothing remarkable in individual men "continuing steadfast" in this. The "breaking of bread" referred to was that of a united meal, and this was the particular significance of it. Again, the life of those few weeks in Jerusalem would have been a life of mere desultory and unfruitful idleness, except for an unusual reality in occupations, which would generally be counted as at most the luxurious enjoyments of religious service. But these evidently become the works of religious service, and then was the fulfilling of the admonition, given some years later to the Hebrews (Hebrews 10:24, 25), beautifully anticipated. They considered "one another, to provoke unto love and to good works," and they did not forsake "the assembling of themselves together" for that very purpose. Thus they assemble, and thus break bread day after day. On the one hand, we witness association "in breaking of bread" with its more or less of direct religious reference brought into the daily home and the daily life of those who composed the infant Church; and, on the other hand, we witness religious thought and religious purpose and religious work become for a season the staple occupation of "the common days." Perhaps all of us will agree that if ever works merited the title of religious, the works of those days did which had for their (secular) business the sale of lands and goods, to the end that "the price" of them (Acts 5:1) might go to the common treasury of the new-born Christian society.
IV. THE INFANT CHURCH STILL OBSERVES THE TEMPLE HOURS OF PRAYER. The history of temple prayer was rightly charged with sacredness to the pious Jew. As up to the last Jesus paid all due reverence to both temple and even synagogue also, so the young community of his disciples do not forsake the temple prayers. Public prayer was offered three times a day: at the third hour (Acts 2:15); at noonday (Psalm 55:17), or the sixth hour; and in the evening, at the ninth hour (Acts 3:1; Acts 10:3). The general history of the nation's prayer must naturally have abounded in interest, and many a touching allusion is made to it (1 Kings 8:30-38, etc.; Daniel 6:10; Daniel 9:21; Psalm 5:7; Psalm 28:2; Psalm 55:17; Psalm 65:1, 2; Psalm 119:164; Psalm 138:2; Psalm 141:2; Isaiah 56:7; Luke 1:10; Luke 18:10; etc.). But not the least interesting fact in its history is that before us. While all things else - sacrifice, and feast, and ceremony, and priest, and the furniture of the temple, and its very stones - are doomed and about to disappear, its prayers bud out, blossom, bear fruit afresh. The point of living contact with God lasts. The old Church and the new join hands here. Prayer is the golden link between these, as it is between all earth and heaven. - B.
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized.
S. S. Times.1. A public profession of faith.
2. A desire to fulfil all the ordinances laid upon them by our Lord.
3. A desire to unite in fellowship with other believers.
4. Continuance in the Word.
5. Prayer and study of the "Word in order to growth in grace.
6. Conclusion: In proportion as those who receive the Word are faithful, will godly fear fall upon others.
(S. S. Times.)
1. One great safeguard of religious life is Christian instruction. "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching." It is the glory of Christianity that it is a teaching religion. It offers men an open Bible, an open Church, an open way of redemption and an open means of access to God. We have read of men in ancient times who had two sets of doctrines, their esoteric and their exoteric truth, truth that was for the few and truth that was for the many, truth to be sought in secret to the privileged circle, and truth that was taught to the multitude of the people. Christianity has no privileged secrets. As far as mysteries are revealed they are revealed alike to all. Its invitations are invitations to all. The attitude of the apostles was that of men who had seen great light and. found great blessing, and they yearned that other men might also see and share that which had become so precious unto themselves. You will observe, moreover, these first converts to Jesus Christ not only continued in Christian teaching, but in the teaching of Christ's apostles. They did not think each was qualified to teach the other. They turned instinctively to the instruction of those who were ordained. for all time, the accredited teachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The apostles were qualified to teach because they themselves were taught. They were the first; learners. Their Christian education was not confined to one portion of their life, it continued on. Truth was added to truth. Light increased to greater light. Thus they were enabled to speak as the Spirit gave them utterance. The quiet teaching of the great truths of God is one of the greatest blessings of religion. If we are to attain to right views of the Deity, right views of ourselves, right views of the world, we must be taught by a higher Power. Not fancy, but food is the first requirement of spiritual life. God has sent us many teachers to guide our feet in the way of His commandments. Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding, the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, the gain thereof than fine gold.
2. A second safeguard of Christian life is Christian intercourse. They continued in the apostles' fellowship. There were doubtless special reasons which drew these early disciples into close spiritual communion. They lived in an age of hostility. In fellowship they found a powerful means of sustaining their common spiritual life. There are two forms of help which minister to Christian life in men, one which comes from within, another which comes from without. By that which comes from within I mean meditation, prayer, devotion, the power of the Spirit of God within us. By that which comes from without I mean the contact of mind with mind, and heart with heart the power of the Spirit of God ministering through agencies which are without us. Christian men need both. There is inspiration in true Christian fellowship. Faith strengthens faith. Love is quickened by love. Through Christian fellowship also they were able to make greater efforts for Christ's cause. Achievements are possible to organised life which are beyond the power of individual effort. Unity is strength. Co-operation is multiplied power. I know no habit more worth pleading for than this habit of meeting together in Christian fellowship. It has been the custom of religious men in all ages and in all climes. The patriarchs in their wandering life gathered their followers about them in religious fellowship: The people of God had their united gatherings, their feast days, and their solemn assemblies, when they joined together in offering their devotions to their God. The ancient Druids had their sacred enclosures — rough stones were the walls, the heavens the canopy above their heads, nature the silent witness of their devotions. And it has been the custom of the Christian Church in every stage of its eventful history for the saints of God to continue in Christian fellowship. How often has the first downward step of a wasted life commenced in the wandering away from the communion of God's people? If we cannot meet with God's people to get good, we can, at least, meet with them to do good. It is more blessed to give than to receive.
3. A third safeguard of Christian life is faithful observance of Christian ordinances. "They continued in the breaking of bread." The breaking of bread may symbolise three things which should not be forgotten. I see in it a link with the past. You may trace this rite step by step backward through the centuries, till you reach the little upper room where Christ was in the presence of His disciples. But by it all confess their devotion to Him and His relationship to them as Saviour and Redeemer, and Friend. I see in the breaking of bread also the sign and pledge of present grace. The broken body and the shed blood is for all men who will receive His atoning work. "Take, eat, this is My body which is broken for you," is the language of the Saviour to every man, woman, or child, that lingers about His table. It is a personal bond of a personal Saviour. In it He seals us as His own. I see further in the breaking of bread a promise and a prophecy. This rite shall be observed on and on by generations yet unborn.
4. A fourth safeguard of Christian life is found in communion with Jesus Christ and God. They continued in prayer. They did not theorise about prayer; they prayed. Men have drawn near to God in sorrow that have left His presence with joy. Men have entered the secret closet with weakness that have left it with courage and strength. The sorrowful have felt the comfort in sorrow. The perplexed have found light in their darkness. The tempted and tried have found deliverance in prayer. Charles Kingsley has said, "What an awful weapon prayer is! It saved me from madness in the hour of my great sorrow. Pray day and night very quietly, like a weary child, to the loving and great God for everything you want in body as well as soul, the least as well as the greatest. Nothing is too much to ask God for. Nothing is too great for Him to give. Thus we have traced the four great safeguards of religious life. We need them as much to-day as these first converts needed them for their Christian life. I do not know one that can wisely be neglected in the spiritual discipline of Christian souls. We trifle with them at our peril."
I. PROFESSION OF FAITH — baptism. Inquire what are those modes of baptism which Scripture warrants; but do not pelt others who differ, seeing the principle of Christianity is not baptism, but communion with Christ. If you have received Christ, you are not to delay open profession. Young Christians may hear a whisper, "There is a lion in the way." What lion? A laugh, or an angry word anticipated, or like that in "Pilgrim's Progress," which, after all, was chained. Let every waverer look to God, and get strength to come out, as these Christians of an heroic age did!
II. CONTINUANCE IN APOSTOLIC TEACHING. These young converts were but in the infant school, and, like children, would often say to the apostles, "Tell us again about the angels' song, the Infant in the manger, the storm on the lake, the crucifixion on Calvary"; and that telling was the apostles' teaching. I have read an account of the conversion of a scoundrel at a gospel meeting which took place at six o'clock, and at half-past six he was preaching; but these children in the apostles' infant school knew they had to learn before they could teach. Meanwhile, with some entreaty, they might say, Come father, come shipmate, come shopmate, and hear what these men have to say.
III. GENEROSITY. "And all that believed were together, and had all things in common," etc. The Socialist says, "Ah, there you see Communism is Christianity, and comes in along with the Lord's Supper and baptism." But no. The Communist says, "All your property is mine." "All my property is yours," says the Christian. The Communist says, "Stand and deliver!" The Christian says, "Brother, your trouble is mine, receive." There is nothing that fell from the lips of Christ to make this act a law. The circumstances were peculiar, and a special arrangement had to be made to meet them. The workman had left his work, and had nothing provided for a lengthened stay, and then had come the sudden conversion and consequent waiting for more teaching. The spirit was of Christ, but the action was an economic mistake. For see, presently, how the poor brethren had given away their independence, and looked on this generosity, not as an act of love, but as a right. They were pauperised. Notice how the Church at Jerusalem was so miserably poor as to be dependent on the churches abroad for support. Of a certain man you say, "No use helping him; it is like throwing money into a well." As to its motive, it was Divinely splendid; it was Jesus Christ in action through three thousand incarnations. We are to have the same glorious capacity for making such a mistake. The generous God will have a generous people. God will withdraw Himself from a synagogue of misers, as from a synagogue of the dead.
IV. JOY. If we have like precious faith in the precious Saviour, like joy will follow. Jesus Christ is mine; and mine is the inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, Rocks of diamonds, mines of gold, are all as nothing compared to what the believer has in Christ. Can you say that, brother? If so, then you may eat at the same fir table, out of the same coarse delf, your poor fare; but it will be "with gladness," etc. What a change! These converts had been the wolves howling round the Cross. Now Christ might say to them, "Who is Master?" The Spirit in the Word transfixed them, and they shuddered and twisted like shot things; but now the balm has been applied to their wounds, the oil of joy and gladness has been poured into their hearts.
V. DIVINE INCREASE (ver. 47). God adds to the Church the saved. Does God alone add to the Church? If you mean certificated members, then verily others add to the" Church in plenty. Who added Judas, Ananias, and Sapphira? Who is that stealing on to God's farm in the darkness, sowing his tares? The devil. Yea, the devil adds to the Church diligently, to neutralise it, and make it like the world. How many were added to the Church last year? The proper question is not How many, but Who? Man adds the dry branch, which cannot grow or blossom into fruit. God adds the living branch, giving beauty and strength to the Church. Mr. Beckford built Fonthill, and thought one hill needed growth of wood to beautify the prospect. He found the soil so thin and the climate so bleak, that no trees would grow. Instead of sending again to the nursery, he sent to the foundry for cast-iron trees, had them painted green, and stuck them by long iron stakes into the ground. He could add to these trees daily, but they could not grow. May we never have such trees on this hill — iron hope, iron charity, iron love. Conclusion: In certain transatlantic climes, spring immediately succeeds winter. By gentleness it makes winter go, by kisses the sun unlocks the ice, and the river is sent forth to beautify the plain. May God give such a spring to all the world, when its ice and snow shall melt with the magic celerity of enchantment, and spiritual woodlands burst into song and rejoice in the newborn beauties of an imperishable spring.
(C. Stanford, D. D.)
I. OPENLY CONFESSED CHRIST. Opinions vary, and will vary, as to the mode of baptism; but all are agreed as to its symbolic meaning. The words appointed to be used in baptism declare the relation of the candidate to each person in the Godhead; the water symbolises the need of Divine purification, and the gracious provision which has made that purification possible; while the application of the water represents the process and conditions of personal salvation. In this baptism Christ was openly confessed. And He must be openly confessed in some way by all who are His.
II. DILIGENTLY ATTENDED TO APOSTOLIC TEACHING. They were careful to hear what the apostles had to say, that their knowledge of the truth might increase. Instruction, then, followed baptism. We have not the apostles, but we have their writings, by which they still teach. Diligent attention to the New Testament is calculated to save men from infidelity and much mischief of other kinds.
III. ASSOCIATED WITH OTHER CHRISTIANS. How would people who were drawn together by a common attachment to Christ act when together? All their conduct would be affected by their Christianity. When professing Christians, of choice, associate with the god-less, their conduct belies their profession. And when they meet Without any reference to the Master, they neglect a means of grace, and give ground for suspicion as to their sincerity or zeal.
IV. DILIGENTLY USED THE MEANS OF GRACE.
1. "Breaking of bread" reminds us of the institution of the Eucharist.
2. "Prayers" show us that they were devout people, in which respect their example is important. When professors are too busy to pray, or indulge in conduct which makes prayer irksome, they are in great danger. If the first Christians had so lived, they would never have been charged with turning the world upside down. And since their day great wonders have been wrought by men and women of much prayer.
V. MADE A DEEP AND SALUTARY IMPRESSION ON THEIR OBSERVERS. "Fear came on every soul." Those who had not become Christians were filled with solemn dread. They felt that God had sent among them a wonderful thing, which no creature could have produced. They seem also to have been afraid lest they should be smitten for standing in an improper relation to what was transpiring. Recollection of the past history of their nation would tend to deepen the fear. And ought not all Christians to make on those who watch them impressions of the presence of God? A holy man often makes the self-condemning observer miserable by his very silence. When will all professors thus give counsel and rebuke by the spirit which they manifest? Were they to do so, how soon would Christianity diffuse itself through all the world!
VI. GOD DIRECTED PUBLIC ATTENTION TO THE RELIGIOUS SYSTEM WHICH THESE CONVERTS HAD EMBRACED. "Many wonders and signs," etc. Attention was called by miracles to the doctrine and personal conduct of the first propagators of Christianity. Repeatedly we find in the Acts first a miracle, then a sermon. If the time for miracles has passed away, attention has already been called to Christianity. What is now wanted is the fearless preaching of the gospel, with that best of all commentaries, Christlike living. In using such means, Christianity is its own witness.
I. THE INCORPORATING PRINCIPLE OF THIS NEW SOCIETY. The magnet that drew together and centralised into a loving unity these souls which a few hours ago were so discordant, were —
1. The apostle's word — i.e., Peter's sermon.
2. The apostle's word received. They were convinced of its truth, and accepted it as a Divine reality.
3. The apostle's word received gladly; for while it convinced them of enormous wickedness, it assured them of salvation. Christ, then, as He said, was the rock on which He built His Church.
II. THE INTRODUCTIVE CEREMONY TO THIS NEW SOCIETY. Baptism is a symbolical ordinance, which expresses the twofold truth of the moral pollution of humanity, and the necessity of an extraneous influence to cleanse its stains. These truths these sinners felt under Peter's sermon; and, as the most proper thing, they were admitted into communion with the disciples by an impressive declaration of them. As to the mode, this is a trifle interesting only to those religionists who live on rites. When it is remembered that Jerusalem had only the fountain of Siloam as its water supply, that the three thousand were baptized in one day which had commenced its noon, and that they included both sexes, it is impossible that they could all have been immersed in water. However, the mode of the act is nothing, the spirit is everything.
III. THE UNREMITTING SERVICES OF THIS NEW SOCIETY. They were "persevering" in —
1. The teaching. After their conversion they had much to learn; so this new society became a society of students — they "inquired" in the house of the Lord. They regularly attended the teaching as distinguished from all other.
2. The fellowship. They appreciated the communion of saints. They regarded themselves as members of a brotherhood, whose rules they were bound to obey, and whose interests they were bound to promote. In this fellowship, like saints of old, they "spake often one to another," considered one another "to provoke unto love and good works," exhorted "one another daily," endeavoured to "edify one another," and perhaps confessed their "faults one to another."
3. The breaking of bread, in accordance with their Master's dying command.
4. The prayers, probably prayer meetings.
IV. THE DISTINGUISHING SPIRIT OF THIS NEW SOCIETY.
1. Reverence. "Fear came upon every soul." Whilst they were happy, there was no frivolity. They felt God was near, because of the "wonders and signs."
2. Generosity. Selfishness had no place here. Their benevolence —(1) Inspired them to make sacrifices. The love of property gave way to love of man. The law of social Christianity enjoins the strong to help the weak, and all to bear each other's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.(2) Adjusted itself to the occasion. The circumstances justified this particular effort. Many came from a distance, and were unprepared to settle down; and many of them, too, were poor. The benevolence of those who had property, therefore, was called out to meet the case. This, consequently, cannot be regarded as a precedent binding on future times, nor is there a word in the narrative to imply this.
3. Gladness. The rich were happy, for their benevolence was gratified in giving. The poor were happy, for their hearts glowed with gratitude in receiving. All were happy in themselves and with each other, because happy in God.
4. Simplicity. There was no pride, ostentation, self-seeking, hypocrisy among them; but all were childlike in spirit.
5. Religiousness. "Praising God" — a summary of the whole.
V. THE BLESSED CONDITION OF THIS NEW SOCIETY.
1. Their influence was great. They had favour, not with a class — not with priests, Pharisees, Sadducees — but with all the people.
2. Their growth was constant. They were neither declining nor stationary; they were daily increasing. This was "the Lord's" doing. He only can add true men to the Church.
3. Their salvation was promising. "Such as were in the way of salvation."
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine
I. THE TEACHING OF THE APOSTLES. There was much for them to learn. They knew nothing as yet in detail of the doctrine of their new Master. The particulars of His life, words, character, work; how must the apostles have busied themselves in recounting these things to a congregation all but wholly ignorant of them, amidst breathless silence or murmured satisfaction! — the gospel story. We are too ready to imagine that we have nothing to learn now from public teaching. We sit in judgment upon our teachers, as though we had all truth and knowledge already in possession. And most unwilling would your ministers be to speak as though they had anything which you know not, or might not know, for yourselves from the pages of the Holy Book. Nevertheless, preaching is one of God's ordinances, and to it belongs the emphasis of that solemn caution, "Despise not prophesyings." It is still one mark of the true Christian that he waits stedfastly upon the teaching of appointed men, whose responsible office it is rightly to divide the word of truth.
II. IN FELLOWSHIP — i.e., in the formation and fostering of that brotherly spirit of Christian love which the Apostles' Creed calls "the communion of saints." The converts did not separate after their baptism, each to his home, to live a life of pious meditation. They set themselves resolutely to a life of fellowship. The Christian is one of a community; alone, he is but a limb cut off from the trunk; separately, he must draw his vital vigour from the Head, but that vigour must be used and manifested in a self-forgetting fellowship. He must never fancy himself the whole body, either in being independent of the Head or of the organised system. "Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular."
III. THE BREAKING OF THE BREAD. How instantly the sacrament of the Lord's Supper took its place among the marks and tokens of the true Church! From the very first it was understood that a Christian is one who observes all that Christ has commanded, and not least His dying charge, "This do," etc. Doubtless the Lord's Supper was a daily celebration. And do you suppose that any of the three thousand dared or wished to turn their back upon it? And yet how many of us are knowingly, wilfully, and throughout life, acting as if the charge, "This do," had never been uttered, or as if the apostles only had ever been addressed by it! And no doubt there are those who could not, without presumption or profaneness, attend on that breaking of bread. But does not that inability, of itself, startle them? Does it not sound in their ears the condemning sentence, "Thou art none of Christ's; thou art yet in thy sins"?
IV. IN PRAYERS. No doubt they prayed in secret. No doubt it was a life of prayer. The charge which we treat as hyperbolical — "Pray without ceasing" — was to them, in its spirit, a literal precept. Their life was now above, hidden with Christ in God, and well might they exercise that life in offices of perpetual communion. Christ was to them not a name nor a doctrine, but a real and living Person, their Friend and their Saviour, their Lord and their God. They could not have too much of Him! Therefore a life of prayer was to them a life of happiness. But the particular place occupied by the word "prayers" in the text, leads us rather to think of the worship of the congregation than of the worship of the secret chamber. It was not then, as it is now, that any little fluctuation of feeling, or any passing accident of weather or of company, can thin a congregation almost to nothing. It was not then the case, as it is now, that everything is more attractive than worship; an additional half-hour's rest, a walk into the country, a newspaper or a novel; nothing felt to be so little worth exertion as the opportunity of joining in the Church's prayers or listening to the Church's teaching.
1. This description of the first Christians implies that the good churchman is stedfastly attached to the communion of his Church, cultivates a warm and constant affection for her, and uses all proper means for extending its influence, and carrying its beneficial influence to all who are ignorant of, or careless about, those invaluable blessings she contains within her sacred repository. This profession, entered into at baptism, and ratified at confirmation, leads the true member of Christ's Church courageously to assert and to maintain the doctrines of the Cross of Christ in all their genuine simplicity, and that not only when it can be done without incurring opposition, but also when their maintenance may be scorned by the world and assailed by the sceptic; the good Churchman knows from Scripture that these truths are the doctrines of the apostles. From these doctrines he has derived peace and consolation; and from them, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, he feels implanted within him a principle, a life-giving principle, of holiness, which suggests the motives and dictates the acts of his daily conduct. These doctrines, when heartily embraced, are doctrines for the healing of the world of its sins and evils. The good Churchman remains immovable; he loves his Church for the truth's sake; if any of her sons act unworthily of her, if any abuse, any deformity for a time creep round her sacred battlements, the abuse, the deformity is lamented, and, if possible, removed; but the Church herself is his delight; he loves her for the blessings she conveys.
2. From our text, it is to be observed that the Christian who desires to act his part well in his duty and obligations to his Church, will stedfastly attend on its services and observe its institutions. The first three thousand Churchmen, than whom so good a sample has never since been met with, "continued stedfastly, as in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, so also in breaking of bread and in prayers." Indeed, the services of the Church form the main bond of fellowship with her. Most inconsistent is it for men, like the Jews of old, to exclaim, "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are we," when the temple is scarcely ever frequented, and they themselves never seen within its sacred enclosure! Calling themselves members of Christ's Church, but altogether neglecting its services, except as necessity calls upon them to join in them, and consequently as ignorant of their intent and meaning, as unmoved by any spiritual affection towards them or sacred pleasure from them, as though they were repeated in a language they understood not; boasting of their external fellowship by baptism, as though baptism were the sum-total of Church membership. The remark of Bishop Beveridge upon the character and behaviour of these first Christians is well worthy of universal attention: "They did not think it sufficient to be baptized into Christ, but they still continued in Him, doing all such things as He hath appointed, whereby to receive grace and power from Him to walk as becometh His disciples; and so must we also, if we desire to be saved by Him. It is our great happiness to have been by baptism admitted into the Church and school of Christ, and so made His disciples and scholars; but unless we continue to do what we promised at our baptism, our condemnation will be the greater, in that we do not only break the laws of God, but likewise the promise we made to Him when we were baptized." Of this state of things the consistent Churchman is fully aware, and by the grace of God he acts accordingly; hence his regular attendance on Divine ordinances is marked by internal devotion and external propriety. He is enabled to say of the temple and worship of the Lord, "This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."
(J. C. Abdy, M. A.)
(A. Maclaren.)I. IT WAS MADE UP OF CONVERTS — that is, of such as had repented and put an unquestionable faith in Jesus Christ. It is possible, of course, that some slipped in who were either wilful deceivers or self-deceived, but that was not likely to be the case under such circumstances. None joined from social considerations or because others were doing so.
II. THE MEMBERS OF THIS MODEL CHURCH "CONTINUED STEDFASTLY IN THE APOSTLES' DOCTRINE." They received the truth as it came to them from inspired lips and were cordially faithful to it. They had a creed and were not ashamed of it. There were no heretics among them, walking about with feathers in their hats and vaunting their disloyalty to truth. We are -told that Christianity is not dogma, but life. It is both, and to say that it is either at the expense of the other is to antagonise the clear teaching of Scripture. Christianity is neither dogma nor life; it is life founded on dogma; it is ethics growing out of truth; it is creed flowering into conduct.
III. "THEY CONTINUED STEDFASTLY IN FELLOWSHIP AND IN BREAKING OF BREAD AND IN PRAYERS." The rationale of the Church finds its briefest expression in that word "fellowship." There is a notion abroad that the Church is an organisation of good people, such as think themselves a little better than their neighbours. This is a mistake; the very opposite is true. The Church is a mutual help association, made up not of good people, but of such us want to be good, who feel their weakness and their need of co-operative sympathy and prayer. The over-righteous, who are strong enough to get along by themselves, are outside of the Church.
IV. THEY SURRENDERED ALL THEIR EARTHLY POSSESSIONS TO A COMMON TREASURY TO BE EXPENDED FOR THE COMMON GOOD. These people lived in the early morning, with the dewy memory of Christ upon them and hearts warmed by the baptism of fire; they had recently seen their Master caught up in the clouds of heaven and received an assurance that He would come again in "like manner." Thus memory and hope conspired to make their hearts unworldly, and in their fellowship we may reasonably expect to find the nearest approach to the Church of the millennium. In these days, when property rights so far eclipse the great verities, we may be excused for wondering how these people could be so foolish as to sell their possessions in this way and "hold all things common"; but by-and-by there will come a time when truth and goodness will outshine silver and gold, and then, perhaps, it will appear that these early Christians were not wrong after all, but only a little premature. The term "communism" is applied to so much of crack-brained fanaticism that we are in danger of overlooking the real truth at the centre of it.
V. THE MEMBERS OF THIS PRIMITIVE CHURCH GAVE THEMSELVES WHOLLY UP TO THE WORK AND WORSHIP OF GOD; "They continued daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house." They were not content with mere Sabbath worship and the other perfunctory duties of a religious life. To these enthusiastic Christians every day was a holy day and every place was a sanctuary.
(D. J. Burrell, D. D.)I. We have here, then, in the first place, A VERY FULL ACCOUNT OF THE PRIMITIVE CHURCH. It is, in fact, a kind of full-length portrait, drawn by the pencil of inspiration, which we must analyse and examine for our own benefit. And here, first of all, we find it stated that "they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine." If you ask what this doctrine was, we refer you back to the clear outline of it which is presented to our minds in the sermon of the Apostle Peter. It was the doctrine of a free and full remission of our sins, through the atoning sacrifice of our blessed Saviour, who was put to death for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
II. THE BLESSED EFFECTS. It is also asserted that these primitive Christians maintained a constant attendance on the means of grace. A man cannot walk alone and by himself on the path which leads to glory. As soon as his conscience has been awakened, his judgment convinced, and his heart subdued to the obedience of faith, he must become a member of that Church to which her Divine Master has entrusted the dispensation of those means of grace which He has provided for the advancement of the spiritual interests of His people. But we must also notice another characteristic feature in this infant Church, They manifested a noble and commendable attention to the wants of their poorer brethren; they "continued stedfastly in the fellowship," or, rather, as the original word implies, in the contribution, or in the generous and considerate extension of their temporal resources for the supply of the necessities of their poorer brethren: "They had all things common, and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need." And we cannot fail to notice the spirit of union and of Christian love that pervaded all the services and intercourse of these first disciples of our blessed Redeemer. There was an unity of faith, and, what was of more consequence, there was an unity of feeling amongst them, binding together into one happy family the constituent members of this infant Church. It might, indeed, be said of them, "Behold how these Christians love one another," so zealously did they endeavour to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace." They "were together"; they did not frustrate the great purpose for which Christ has incorporated His people into a church by becoming hermits, but, feeling their mutual dependence on each other, they endeavoured by mutual encouragement to strengthen and to build each other up in the faith and hope of the everlasting gospel.
(D. Bagot, D. D.)I. THE KIND FATHER OF THE FAMILY: recognised in filial love and proved in daily blessings.
II. THE LOVING MEMBERS OF THE FAMILY: the old ones of Pentecost and the new ones added to it.
III. THE BEAUTIFUL ORDER OF THE FAMILY: doctrine and prayer, breaking of bread and care for the poor.
IV. THE HOLY PEACE OF THE FAMILY.
1. Within among themselves.
2. Without in relation to the world.
(Gerok.)1. The faith which it testified.
2. The deeds which it performed.
3. The love which it evidenced.
4. The means of grace which it employed.
5. The blessedness which it enjoyed.
(G. Florey.)1. The delightful sunshine of Divine grace which it enjoys after the Pentecostal rain.
2. The lovely spiritual blossoms and fruits of grace which increase under such a Divine blessing — faith, love, hope, humility, meekness, purity, alms, prayer, etc.
3. The strong wall by which God's garden is protected from the wasting of the enemy.
I. THAT THE CHRISTIAN LIFE DEPENDS PARTLY UPON THE SOUL'S CONVICTIONS AS TO THE CHARACTER OF GOD.
1. This life is derived from God, and is developed in the soul. There are inscrutable influences of the Holy Spirit in bringing about the inward change. There are also undefinable influences of godly friends or preachers, but none of these can be effectual unless there be a truth or fact through which the Holy Spirit works. How does a parent move his child towards a godly life? By force of character? Yes; but character is the product of Christian truth; and the parent was holy because, among other things, he read his Bible and believed his Saviour.
2. You might as well try to account for the life of a flower apart from the seed as to account for spiritual life apart from spiritual doctrine. You can predict the character of the flower from the nature of the seed; so from your knowledge of religious systems you can foretell the forms of character that will be developed from them — Mohammedan, Buddhist, Socinian, etc.; and our spiritual life will depend on the tenacity with which we cling to true convictions of the character of God. St. Paul was one of the most spiritual and self-denying of men, and again and again he traces his inner life to the power which Christian truth had over him — over his heart, of course, but over his intellect as well.
3. It is a shallow and often a hypocritical cry that asks us for a Christianity without doctrine. You cannot have it. God is — that is a doe-trine. God loves you-that is a doctrine, and so on. Feed your mind on these and kindred facts, and yours shall be no puny life.
II. THAT A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY MUST BE DRAWN TOGETHER BY AFFINITIES IN CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE.
1. If the unit of spiritual life depends for its existence and sustenance on truth, so does the community; if one child needs food, so do all the children; and though differences may be made to suit various appetites, yet chemical analysis shows that the foods are the same in their primal elements. And all spiritual communions must find a common spiritual basis. Feeling is too shifting for this basis, conduct too indefinite, negation too cold and unsubstantial, ceremony too formal and outward, and those combinations which are formed by the sinking of convictions are immoral and hollow. No; the first requisite for Christian union is that there shall be a due regard to Christian conviction.
2. We sometimes talk of truth as though it were in the air, in documents, in the mystic utterance of the whole body of believing people. Yet ultimately it must be found in the individual soul. This is where error is, and not merely in magazines and lectures. A number of individuals, then, tenaciously holding the same beliefs, constitutes a spiritual community, and no Church is so destitute of the first principles of common sense as to seek fellowship apart from understood and common beliefs. The Unitarian may say, "We do not lay down any doctrinal basis for our fellowship," yet a preacher who proclaimed the atonement or Divinity of Christ would have but a sorry welcome.
3. Churches exist for the very purpose of proclaiming Christian truth. If truth has gone, their mission has gone, and thirsty souls will go to them and find no living water.
III. THAT FOR CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE WE ARE DEPENDENT ON REVELATION. God did not leave men to find out the truth concerning Himself; He revealed it. When He revealed it He did not leave it to take care of itself. Both the revelation and the record are monuments of God's special love to man. The idea of the supernatural is particularly obnoxious to "advanced thinkers"; they are consequently ever on the look-out for evidence that Christianity was only a product of the human mind, and so on a level with all other religions. But Christianity professes to be a new and supernatural departure in the history of religion, and the apostles are the Divinely appointed media of the Divine revelation. Their "doctrine" concerns the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, and who so competent as they to deliver it, and who shall contest it as it comes from their lips or pens? Matthew was a chosen companion of Christ's; Mark was a convert of Peter's, and a comrade of Paul's; Luke had "a perfect understanding of all things from the first"; John was "the disciple whom Jesus loved," and "we know that his testimony is true." Peter was an eye-witness of His majesty, and did "not follow cunningly devised fables." To Paul the risen Christ appeared as to one born out of due time. and "he received of the Lord that which he also delivered" to his converts. If we want trustworthy guides, these are the men to help us.
IV. THAT THE POWER OF CHRISTIAN CHURCHES LIES, AMONGST OTHER THINGS, IN THEIR ADHERENCE TO CHRISTIAN DOCTRINES. If men want to be strong and aggressive, they must not be easily moved by the threatening sounds of modern unbelief; they must know their own minds and the mind of Christ. In moral conflicts convictions are the only forces that will do lasting service.
(S. Pearson, M. A.)
1. The apostles' doctrine; the great, deep, broad fundamental truths and principles upon which the whole catholic faith is founded, and according to which the lives of the members of the Church must be regulated and conformed. Before we proceed to teach a truth, before we even profess to embody a truth in life and conduct, we should have a clear conception of the same. And before we ask others to frame their life and conduct according to these principles, we must see that upon them and according to them we frame and fashion our own. A profession without practice will never tend to the conversion of others, it can only bring ridicule and contempt upon ourselves.
2. The apostles' fellowship. Besides the community of principle, there was a community of life. Nothing tends to give principles so much force as seeing and feeling them embodied, not merely in the lives of isolated individuals, but in the life of a society. The power of a small united body of men is many times greater than that of each separate unit multiplied by the whole number. Let us remember that the wisdom and teaching of the Church is more perfect than that of any individual within it. Let us cultivate a spirit of watchful obedience; and let us be careful to check in ourselves or in others a spirit of self-wisdom, which, could we only regard it in its true light, would be seen to be little more than the spirit of selfishness.
3. The breaking of the bread. They were careful to be regular communicants. The most familiar name of that sacred service reminds us that it is meant to be a bond of union; those who neglect to partake thereof are, by absenting themselves from it, guilty of encouraging divisions in the Church. In the Holy Communion God calls us to rejoice with Him over the celebration of the closest union between the Divine and the human. It is the spirit of selfishness which causes us to disobey that call. But the Holy Communion is more than the chief bond of unity in the Church. It is in worthily partaking of the blessings offered there that the Christian soldier receives his chief support; there he gains the strength he needs in the day of battle; there he re-equips himself for active service.
4. The prayers. As they had a common creed and a common life, as they joined together in the participation of the Holy Communion, so they took part in a form of common prayer. The principal feature of the prayer-book upon which! Would now dwell is this — it teaches regular, systematic, common and public prayer. Nothing ministers more surely to the unity of faith and the unity of life than the unity of worship. That we think the same thing, that we aspire towards the same ideal, that we ask the same blessing, the prayer-book is ever reminding us.
(W. E. Chadwick, M. A.)
I. THE APOSTLES' DOCTRINE.
1. Sudden conversions are not always lasting. Many causes may bring about a change of view. It is difficult even for a man of calm self-possession to retain the mastery of his emotions and keep himself free from the influence of that strong sympathetic feeling which, like an electric current, runs through a crowd. Thus by the able orator or the artful demagogue marvellous effects are often produced, and many" a so-called conversion has been so effected. For the moment it is undeniably sincere, but the impression is due to passing sympathy with an earnest soul rather than with the truth declared; and the sequel often is unstedfastness in the doctrine of Christ. The cause ceases, and the effect disappears. The sympathy dies out for want of fresh stimulus. Like a house without a foundation, the assumed Christian profession may be swept into ruin by the first tempest. It is like a human body whose spinal column has been materially damaged; artificial props are necessary to shore it up and prevent its collapse.
2. One test, then, of sincere adhesion to Christ is stedfast adherence to His teaching — a life in accordance with His precepts. This proof of conversion these converts had. With us it is not a difficult thing to make a profession. In certain circles this is a badge of respectability. But then it was to incur serious peril. These converts were true converts, and therefore became assiduous scholars in Christ's school, and when the day of cool reflection or hot persecution came, they were not moved from their stedfastness. The more they knew of the doctrine, the more they deemed it worth the sacrifice.
II. IN FELLOWSHIP. The disciples were no longer a mere family, but a community. They had now ceased to be the private followers of a man; they stood before the world as a church, a living body, all whose members were in fellowship. And so we come thus early to the root idea of the Church. It is a brotherhood conferring privileges upon, yet demanding duties from, every one of its members. Each is a partner in a firm, and as such is bound to promote the interests of the concern. But it is a concern that can neither conduct its operations with borrowed capital, nor permit the presence of any sleeping partners. It is a living body, whose graceful movement is as much impeded by an inactive member as is the action of the body by a diseased limb. The rich are to help the poor, and the strong the weak; the wise are to be the advisers of the ignorant, etc. The converts at Pentecost recognised all this, and thus proved the reality of their conversion. "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."
(W. M. Arthur, M. A.)
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)I. FOUNDED ON A NEW DOCTRINE.
1. This doctrine was in harmony with and fulfilment of the old, but yet it was new. Its subject was the life, death, etc., of Christ, and the salvation which His work had brought to man.
2. This doctrine, received by faith and applied by the Holy Ghost, became spirit and life to the hearers. There were, of course, no church buildings; the meetings, therefore, could only be held in the Temple courts or in private houses. Wonderful evenings must those have been which were spent in the spacious apartments of such as, being wealthier, kept open house — evenings not only of hearing the doctrine, but of worship, mutual converse, frugal feasting, and winding up with the Lord's Supper. But it was to learn about Jesus that mainly brought them together.
II. INSPIRED BY A NEW LIFE.
1. This life began in repentance and faith, and broke out of cloud into sunshine, and from embryo into active and joyous expression through the power of the Holy Spirit. It was the soul of the new fellowship, the spring of its development, the source of its tendencies and laws.
2. This new life, like the new doctrine, was one with the old, but so much fuller, and more intense and glorious, that it may justly be called new. Moreover, it was poured forth with so free and wide a bounty that it may well be called the donation of a new life to the Church, and through it to the world.
3. This new life belongs to every penitent believer, and there is no "higher life" than this, although it has its stages from the "babe" to the "father" in Christ. It is in fact that "life eternal," which is to "know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent."
4. This new life made all things new.
5. Its secret and its relations to Divine truth and holy duty are summed up in 1 Peter 1:22, 23. Faith is obedience to the truth; the new life develops itself in holy love.
III. EXPRESSED AND SUSTAINED BY NEW MEANS AND DEVELOPMENTS.
1. Fellowship meetings from house to house, where speech and prayer were free to each, were the ordinary means of common edification, and appear for some time to have been the only specific and characteristic means maintained in the Church at Jerusalem. There was neither ritual nor organisation, but the primary germ cell was there in the fellowship meetings, and we are thus shown what is the true substratum of Church organisation and life. Without this a so-called church is not a living Christian community. However complete its organisation may become, it is bound to retain its character as a spiritual commonwealth, instinct with free life.
2. This new life grafted on its new means new developments of mutual care. The converts did not say that anything was their own; they acknowledged themselves to be not proprietors, but stewards. There was a vast number of pauper Jews, and we may be sure that the fountain of Pharisaic beneficence would be sealed against them when they became Christians. It was therefore incumbent upon their believing brethren to make provision for their necessities. And in that hour of loving enthusiasm their generosity knew no bounds. This was no new principle. It lay at the root of all Bible ethics, but it had never been fully acted on by a whole community before.
IV. SEALED BY NEW SACRAMENTS — baptism and "the breaking of bread." The latter was a natural and beautiful finish to their social meals and sacred exercises. As multitudes were continually joining the Church, we may believe that at each gathering, house by house, there were fresh converts. To these the seal of the Holy Communion would rightfully be given as consummating their union and fellowship with the company of believers.
V. MAINTAINED IN HARMONY WITH THE EARLIER ORDINANCES OF PUBLIC WORSHIP AS ESTABLISHED IN THE TEMPLE SERVICES. "The prayers" were the daily prayers of the Temple. Thus in the providence of God it was ordered that the Christian Church should take root, and partially unfold its form and glory within the ground of Judaism. The unity and continuity of the Divine dispensations was thus to be set forth.
(J. H. Rigg, D. D.)I. ITS HINDRANCES.
1. Exaggerated individualism.(1) It is a grand truth that religion lies between the solitary soul and God, and that no priest has any right to intermeddle with it. Alone we were born into the new world; alone we have to wrestle in it; alone we shall die.(2) But we have exaggerated this principle, and thrown the idea of the Church into the shade. The lonely pilgrim travels to the Cross, but to find there "the general assembly and Church of the first-born." Yet there are those in our churches who do not share, or only feebly, this common .life. To them public worship differs only from private in being offered publicly. They eat their portion alone, and come and go, knowing only the man who preaches, and the man who collects pew rents. It may be they are constitutionally shy, or self-absorbed, or unhappy. But they are spots in our feasts of charity, and icebergs which chill the gulf stream of the Church's life.(3) We need to be reminded that the Church is not a club, hotel, or a mere voluntary association, but a home, and that they can no more denude themselves of their spiritual than they can of their natural relationships.
2. Social distinctions.(1) It is a dark day for any Church when it declares its special mission to be to any one class, or when a Church consists of any one class. This is a danger which menaces modern Church life. The rich gravitate to the suburbs, the poor crowd into the towns, her great gulf yawns between.(2) The ideal relation is when rich and poor meet together on the same common level — before the Lord, the Master and Redeemer of them all. We need to be reminded that squire and labourer, master and clerk, mistress and maid, have committed the same sins, felt the same penitence, been redeemed by the same sacrifice. If the life of the Church is not strong enough to perfect this union, and enable men So rise above such things, seen and temporal, as distinctions of rank, to things unseen and eternal, it is time we consider how to recover the diviner spirit of earlier days.
3. The caste of culture. Superior persons who are acquainted with all the scientific objections to Christianity look down upon the uninitiated as Philistines. Then there are those half-time Christians who contend that their spiritual culture can be promoted quite as well by private reading as public worship, and attend once a day merely for example. Such forget that the Saviour was the Friend of publicans and sinners, and thanked God for hiding things from the wise and prudent, and for revealing them unto babes.
4. The spirit of faction. "Mark them which cause divisions among you." How many are they! On what slight grounds and paltry pretexts they disturb the peace of the Church! With what arrogance do they judge and condemn brethren whose lives are as pure as theirs!
II. PRACTICAL REMEDIES.
1. We must train our young members, and inculcate upon them the duties as well as the privileges of Church fellowship.
2. Our churches must be organised for work. There must be no drones in the hive. No member ought to secure exemption by money payment from personal service. It was when the people had a mind to work that the walls of Jerusalem rose. Pastor Oncken, of Hamburg, gathered a church of three thousand, the distinctive feature of which was that each was pledged to personal service. In our churches the most beautiful and spiritually operative brotherly love is found among those who, in Sunday-schools, tract societies, etc., are associated in effort to advance the cause of Christ.
3. Meetings of the Church might be held distinct from those for business, for mutual conference, after the pattern of Methodist class meetings, where "whosoever hath a psalm, a doctrine, a revelation, an interpretation," might feel at liberty to impart it. The patient sufferings of the sick and poor, their quiet trust in God's love might rebuke our discontent, and teach us the meaning of Divine support and consolation. The rough honest speech of a working man telling the story of his difficulties might give the well-to-do an insight into hardships which they are in danger of forgetting, while a business man frankly telling his difficulties might remind the poor man that the prosperous have temptations from which he is spared. Such conferences would create a mutual trust and affection fruitful in a thousand acts of brotherliness.
(A. Wilson, B. A.)
1. They are generally so thinly attended.
2. They are so disparaged — "It is only a prayer meeting." Let us show, then —
I. THAT PRAYER MEETINGS ARE SCRIPTURAL. We find here that when those who gladly received the Word had been baptized, they "continued stedfastly," not once or twice or occasionally, "in prayers," in fact as stedfast as in "doctrine," etc. Social prayer is placed on a level in point of importance with apostolic doctrine and the Lord's Supper. Why, then, should the one be comparatively lost sight of by the churches, whilst the others are regarded as essential to the profession of Christianity? Those who neglected "the assembling of themselves together" were denounced by the apostle, and the continuance of fellowship is here associated with continuance in prayer. Now if we look at any other part of the Word of God, we shall find the same thing uniformly brought before us as the practice of the Church. In Acts 1:14-15 we find that such was the practice before the outpouring of the Spirit. We come next to chap. Acts 4., and after Peter and John had been dismissed we find, in ver. 33, they reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. Then there was a prayer meeting, and the prayers offered were honoured with a remarkable reply from heaven (ver. 31). In chap. Acts 12. Peter was apprehended and kept in prison. The Church, however, had prayer meetings on his behalf. And the prayer was granted before the prayer meeting was broken up. I have not quoted passages in the Epistles where supplication and prayer are enjoined on the churches, but, glancing generally at these exhortations, are you to suppose that they ask for the prayers merely of individuals as such? When they call upon the Church to do anything, do they not call upon the Church to do it as a public body, and in a public way? Taking this view of the matter, you will find all the apostolic exhortations to supplication bearing upon the apostolic practice, and then the evidence that prayer meetings, properly so called, were a part of the practice of the apostolic churches will be found to be complete.
II. WHAT BENEFIT WILL ACCRUE FROM SUCH MEETINGS.
1. Union of feeling must arise in the Church. When the same minds are before the same throne of grace; when the same acknowledgment is made of common transgressions, and the same faith is exercised in a common Saviour; and when the whole mind of a combined people is consecrated by the solemnity of their common supplications, surely there must be the elements of a union far surpassing any other that can exist. It is this very circumstance that frequently leads people to think highly of unions by no means scriptural in their character.
2. As that united feeling becomes sanctified prayer meetings will also tend to strengthen spiritual devotion in the Church. Devotion may be regarded as an ardent feeling in connection with religious matters; with or without scriptural light and authority the latter may be created in a variety of ways. The solemnities of high mass create that feeling in the Church of Rome. The splendour of its statuary and its paintings; the richness of its structures; the grandeur of its rites; the elevating influence of its music, all will be found having a tendency to create an ardent feeling in connection with religious matters. But this is not religious feeling accompanied with scriptural light and scriptural sobriety. In the midst of the thrilling influences to which they are subject, remind them that these structures were raised by a system that destroyed the souls of men, and took away liberty as regarded their bodies. Tell them to observe that such places were never intended for instruction. Let them afterwards look at the plainer structures which were evidently intended for instruction. It is very clear that the feeling I have described is not to be found there; but at the same time the light of scriptural truth will be found operating, and the calm and practical influence of genuine Christianity will be found to have superseded the feeling of excitement and religious awe. Now, if we look at devotional feeling in both these points of view, where are we to find that which is really scriptural so clearly exhibited as in prayer meetings? Go to the humble prayer meeting; let there be no influence there but the influence of heaven: let there be no power but the power of the Spirit of God; let the mind be directed by scriptural light and by scriptural desires, expressed in scriptural petitions, and you have there the exhibition of a plain and practical Christianity, which, while it has fellowship with the Father and with His Son, exercises a sufficient command over the physical economy to prevent that extravagance which deludes in the manner that I have described.
3. Prayer meetings are calculated to promote the spread of God's glory in the Church. We know that they bring the glory of God before the supplicants with a degree of spirituality and power unknown in any other circumstances, and that therefore they are best fitted, best armed, for the field in which God calls upon them to act when they have received common refreshment at the footstool of the Majesty on high.
4. Prayer meetings are calculated to raise the Church above the secular influence and spirit by which churches are often divided. If individuals belonging to a Christian Church are habitually separated from one another; if they know little or nothing about one another; when any question arises in that Church, how ill provided are they to treat it in the spirit of Christian devotion. In such a state of things every man feels that he has to seek his own will in reference to the question, and there is likely to be a conflagration of feeling in the Church. But let them come from the throne where they have often asked for that help by which they may work together in the spirit of Christian charity; let them come from the place where God has often been felt to be present; and let something them be suggested that may for a moment lead to debate, and you will see the whole Christian brotherhood acting as those who know what it is to feel together the sanctifying influence of devotion. The peace of the Church, therefore, is involved in prayer meetings.
5. When prayer meetings are conducted spiritually, the Church itself will be found to exhibit to the world more of the spirit by which the Church must be actuated before the gospel can triumph. If the Saviour prayed that His people might be one, as He was one with the Father, in order "that the world might believe that He had sent Him"; i.e., made their union evidence of the truth of Christianity; and if the Saviour, at the same time, held up His people as a praying people, and promised that whatever they should ask in His name He would bestow; the world finding all this laid down in our statute book, will look to see how far it. is carried out in our practice. Let them see, then, that prayer meetings are duly attended; and they will be ready to acknowledge that God is "among you of a truth" (1 Corinthians 14:24).
III. WHAT ARE THE REAL OBJECTIONS? The only objection that I know is that people cannot give two evenings in the week. You have, then, to take the prayer meeting and the meeting for public assembly, and to ask which is the more important of the two; or you have to compare the two meetings with your other employments, and to determine to which you shall give the preference. Is the business to which you have to attend on the two evenings, or on one of them, more important than the assembly or the prayer meeting; then attend to that business. The very same remark will apply to the Sabbath day.
And fear came upon every soul
I. THE EFFECT PRODUCED UPON BEHOLDERS WITHOUT. "And fear came upon every soul." One explanation of this may be found in the clause which follows. Proofs daily witnessed of the Divine presence could not fail to strike fear into the hearts of those who looked on without obeying. But there is more than that. The effect upon the wicked Herod of the character of the Baptist was fear, little as was the ground for it in an earthly sense. So it was here. Christians do not always know their own power. What fears do young Christians often experience in the prospect of opposition or ridicule! Let them go forward in the path of duty, and they will find that "Greater is He that is in them than he that is in the world." So far from having anything to fear, you have all of you the power of striking a wholesome and perhaps a saving fear into the enemies of Christ by a bright and consistent example. That is a testimony which men cannot gainsay. All else they may laugh at your persuasions, warnings, arguments; but your example will make its way into their consciences. That is the one weapon which a woman, which a child may wield, and which no coat of mail is close enough to evade or strong enough to parry.
II. THEIR UNION AND BENEFICENCE (vers. 44-45). In the first ardour of their new conviction they obeyed literally the direction to "lay up for themselves no treasures on earth"; to "sell that they had, and give alms"; to "forsake all and follow Christ." They could not bear to have while another wanted. Nothing but a real community of goods could satisfy their Christian instincts. It was an example for all times.
1. Not, however, in form. There is no inspired rule, applicable to all cases, for this. We find St. Paul, e.g., recommending a liberal contribution, according to the circumstances of each man, to the relief of the poor saints at Jerusalem; and in another, advising that on the first day of each week every one should "lay by him in store" for this purpose "as God had prospered him." This could not have been done if in the Church of Corinth there had been a community of possessions. How different was this example from anything which the world has since witnessed! It has been the dream of theorists to see all distinction of ranks levelled, and a whole congregation, or nation, living in brotherly concord upon the common property of all. But every such scheme has been based upon assumptions hasty in themselves and mischievous in their consequences. In Christian bodies the attempt to establish a system of communion has led more often to the exclusion than to the consideration of the poor. Among political speculators the principle of communism has been too often absolutely anti-Christian; and a hatred of subordination has been the secret spring of much professed zeal for the rights of man, and of much declamation upon the interests of society. The example before us was of a widely different kind from either of these. It was the spontaneous, natural, and temporary effect of a fresh faith, a lively hope, and a genuine charity. In its form it was not and it could not be permanent. While it continued it was a wonderful testimony to the strength of the new religion in the hearts of those who believed. "See how these Christians love," might well be the comment of those who looked on upon a scene so unlike the world of common life. Judge ye what there is, in heaven or in earth, which would have made any one of us go and do likewise.
2. And though the form of that entire self-sacrifice may vary — and we believe that our Master designed that it should vary with the varying circumstances of the world and of His Church — let us not forget that the spirit of this life must be ours. If it be the best on the whole for the true welfare of society that each man be the possessor of the fruits of his own toil, and the uncontrolled steward of his own resources; if many high and Christian purposes are answered by that gradation of ranks and that variety of fortunes which is the form of society under which God has placed us; yet let us not forget that one end, perhaps the chief end, to be answered by this arrangement, is, that each man, "working with his hands the thing that is good," may thereby "have to give to him that needeth"; that every one may be able to exercise his individual judgment upon various objects of piety and charity proposed to him; but certainly not that any one may be at liberty to say, I prefer keeping to myself, and to my own, all that I possess.
III. THEIR PRIVATE AND DOMESTIC LIFE (vers. 46-47).
1. The life of a true Christian ought to be and will be a happy life. His very food has a blessing. He praises God over it. He partakes of it in gladness. It is to him the token of a Father's love. He receives it, as out of God's hand, in his own. And the heart which is glad is described as a "single" or a "simple" heart. The word denotes properly smooth or level; it is the epithet of a field or a road out of which the stones have been carefully gathered, so that it presents no impediment to the plough of the husbandman or the feet of the traveller. A stoneless heart is one which has no impediments or obstacles in it; one out of which the roughnesses of temper and the stumbling blocks of sin have been removed by grace, so that it is now level and even, smooth in its course, and gentle in its contact.
2. And this may explain how it should be that a life which inspired fear was also one of "favour with all the people." A Christian life is a witness against sinfulness and carelessness. It awakens slumbering consciences, testifying of realities above not to be forgotten without danger. In this aspect it inspires awe. But in another it is altogether lovely. It is written of Jesus that, as He "increased in wisdom and stature," He increased also "in favour with God and man." So is it with His people. Men often show their religion in unattractive or repulsive forms, and then regard their own unpopularity as a proof of the world's hatred against religion. Let them exhibit their religion in its aspect of a world-wide charity, and they will find it otherwise. They will find that, while it inspires awe as God's witness, their religion wins love also as.the friend of man.
IV. THEIR INCREASE (ver. 47). There is nothing here of a Divine selection fixing by an arbitrary sentence who should and who should not be heirs of salvation. The words themselves say, "those who were in the course (in the process) of salvation." Salvation, if in one sense a single act, is in another a course of acts. A man may forfeit salvation; he may grieve and quench the Holy Spirit; he may fall away and never be renewed And while these things are possible, it is as much as we can say of any man that he is in course of salvation. And a great thing it is to be able to say this. We cannot say this of a man who is trifling, or is a despiser of the means of grace, or is cherishing any known sin.
1. It is "the Lord" who adds. Without Him, without His Holy Spirit, what would be Paul or Apollos or Cephas, much more we poor, erring, uninspired men? It was He who "opened the heart" of Lydia "that she attended to the things that were spoken by Paul." And it is He who opens hearts now to attend to the things spoken by His ministers. We want new converts, and who can add these to our number, save the Lord only?
2. It is "to the Church" that the Lord adds. It is not only secret desires, resolutions, prayers, that we need awakening in us; there must be an adding to the Church. We ought ¢o be not only a pious people, fulfilling life's duties and satisfying life's relations in the fear of God; but also a people honouring God, and walking to heaven together, together serving Christ, and working righteousness.
3. These additions were "day by day." The course of this world is a transitory, rapid thing; we are here to-day, and to-morrow there. In the meantime can we say that there is a daily Church progress? "The Lord's arm is not shortened," etc. Then why this pause and intermission in the work of grace? Why is it that a minister counts himself happy if but one or two souls are gathered into the Church below? What has become of the word "daily"? Can we afford, any better than the primitive Christians, to lose time in this work of adding? The world stops not for our loitering; life and death stop not while we linger; God of His infinite mercy make us feel the value of time, and count each day lost that has not added to His Church one that shall be saved!
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