The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,…
1. This Book is a letter addressed to one man. God always speaks to individuals. He does not address the great seething throng. He made Adam, called Abram, selected Mary; all through history God has called out the one person, and has started His kingdom oftentimes from very insignificant beginnings.
2. But great letters cannot be kept private: where there is anything in a letter it burns its way out. There are some letters which exercise a secret and wonderful power over the receiver, and he says the whole world must be taken into his confidence; to keep it back from others would amount to practical felony. We cannot hide gospels permanently. What is in a book and not what is said about it, determines its fate in the long run. Luke wrote a long account of Christ's ministry to Theophilus, and the whole world has Luke's narrative in its hand to-day! So Luke undertook further to write the Acts to this same man, and to-day the Acts are read in every school, perused by all students of history, and in it are the fundamentals of the most influential commonwealths.
3. Luke divides the great life into two portions — action and doctrine, miracles and truth. All Christian life admits of precisely the same division. If we do, but fail to teach, we shall be but barren puzzles. If we teach, and fail to do, we may incur the just imputation of being theorists and fanatics, or devotional sentimentalists.
I. And yet JESUS CHRIST ONLY BEGAN.
1. There can be no ending in anything that God does. Though it may appear to end in itself, yet itself is related to some other and broader self, and so the continuity rolls on in ever-augmenting accretion and proportion. There are no conclusions in truth; there may be resting-places, a punctuation of statement, so that we may take time to turn it into beneficent action, but God's hand never wrote the word "finis; though the Bible be, in point of paper and print, a measurable quantity, it opens a revelation that recedes from us like the horizon.
2. So then life becomes a new thing from this standpoint. Men talk about formulating Christian truth: you might as well attempt to formulate the light or the atmosphere. You cannot formulate quantities that are infinite. We have organised geology, botany, astronomy, why not theology? The answer is that geology, etc., represent finite and therefore measurable quantities. We can begin a theology, and in doing so we shall do well, provided that we never mistake beginnings for endings. As to verbal statements, we may never agree; the action of the mind is in advance of the action of the tongue. We know always more than we can tell.
3. So we may well be charitable. If Jesus only began, men can only do the same. No man has the whole truth. The Book itself is not a full grown garden, it is a seed-house. We are all beginners. The old grey-haired student lifts up his wrinkled brow from the glowing page and says, I have hardly begun it." Who, then, are we, fifty years his juniors, who should start up and say, "We have reached the goal"? Let us not account ourselves to have attained, but let us press forward, and ever say, "God hath yet more light and truth to bring forth from His Holy Word."
II. Though Jesus Christ only began, His BEGINNINGS HAVE ALL THE FORCE AND URGENCY OF COMPLETE ENDINGS. He gave "commandments," He did not offer mere suggestions for their consideration, to adopt or reject on further inquiry. Jesus Christ was never less than royal. "Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you." We are then the slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore the Lord's freemen. We do not make the commandments, we obey them — we do not walk under the loose rule of license, we are kept within the limits of a specific moral gravitation, and we have come to know that there is no liberty without law, that life without law is chaos.
III. THESE BEGINNINGS PERTAIN TO THE KINGDOM OF GOD. Jesus Christ had but one subject. He never talked about anything less than a kingdom that rose above all other empires and enclosed them in its infinite sovereignty. The disciples never could get away from their little "kingdom" any more than Christ could detach Himself from His great royalty. So we often find ourselves talking Christian language without the full Christian meaning. The terms are identical with those Christ used, and yet the meanings are separated by the diameter of infinity. Let us know that the larger meaning is always the right one. Yet Jesus chided the apostles very gently. He told them that they were as yet incomplete men; but "ye shall receive power," etc. They were unbaptised in soul: the symbolic water had done its initial work, but they stood there without the sacred fire, the inspiring afflatus. Into what baptism have we been baptised? We have not received the Holy Ghost if we are conducting a narrow ministry. Jesus Christ said so much when He added, "Ye shall be witnesses both in Jerusalem," etc. No power but the Holy Ghost could take a man through those regions. The man who has been baptised with water only will choose his own parish, but the man in whom is the burning of the Holy Ghost will say with Wesley, "My parish is the world." You will know whether you are inspired or not by the vastness of your labours. If we are waiting until we be properly equipped and duly sent out, then know that we have been baptised with ice.
IV. WE NOW PASS FROM THE VISIBLE MINISTRY OF CHRIST — a cloud received Him out of their sight. Nothing more. Not out of hearing, sympathy, nor helpful ministry — only out of sight. We are not out of His sight, nor out of His memory!
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,