First Years of Christianity: No. 13

Acts 17:2  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Listen from:
The Effects of the Gospel.
We have dwelt on the facts of the Gospel in Acts 17, so very contrary to all human plans and theology. As Paul opened the scriptures, it was not to show what man must do, as in the law of old, but what Christ must needs do: that Christ must needs suffer, and rise again from the dead, and that this Jesus whom he preached is Christ. Let us now see what was the effect of this singular preaching. Did you ever hear preaching of this kind—not a word about what you must do, but all about what Jesus has done?
Let us go back to those early years when Paul, fresh from the heavenly vision, having seen the glorified Jesus, who must, and had died for his sins according to the scriptures. No doubt the certainty in his own soul carried great weight with it. He was sure he had the authority of God Three poor men arrive in the rich, populous, wicked heathen city of Thessalonica. They had been treated as dangerous vagabonds at another city, and were sore with stripes; and so poor and friendless they seem, that they have to labor night and day to get bread.
They had no authority from man nor from the Roman state. They were the disciples of a Man who had been executed in the most degraded and cruel manner. There was a Jews’ meeting room, or synagogue, in that city in those days, in which the law of God was read. There was often speaking in that synagogue, but always teaching what man was to do to attain to righteousness; not one speaker or hearer had ever been known to attain to righteousness before God.
For three sabbath days these poor men went into that synagogue. Never had such preaching been heard in that city before. It was a strange contrast to all that had ever been heard there. It was not what they must do, as we have seen, not one word of the kind; yet it was just the thing needed. Many felt they needed salvation first, and fruits would follow. All that is said, however, is that they believed the preaching, and consorted with Paul and Silas—a great multitude. These poor men soon had to flee for their lives as usual from the cruel hatred of the Jews, who could not endure such doctrine. They would rather seek after righteousness by their own works.
God ordered that an inspired letter was sent by these poor men to all these believers, as soon as they had heard from them. And as this is just a sample of the effect of the preaching of Paul, and others with him, in the First Years of Christianity, it is a great privilege to have such an inspired letter, showing the immediate effects of the true gospel in those clays. This assembly at Thessalonica does not seem to have had any further human help until Timothy was sent to see how they did. (1 Thess. 3:22And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlaborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith: (1 Thessalonians 3:2).)
So that all we read of are the effects of a few weeks’ preaching in a heathen city, given up to demon worship. We shall also find in this letter a good outline of the teaching of the apostle to such as are saved.
The first thing that strikes one is, that all these believers are at once brought into the position of the assembly in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ. This assembly was gathered out from Jews and Gentiles by these few weeks’ preaching. This, as we see elsewhere, was the work of the Holy Ghost. There are no jarring sects or parties, but the one assembly in that city, and in such a blessed relationship in the Father and in Jesus Christ. And their condition was such that Paul could give thanks to God always for them all, making mention of them in his prayers.
And what was the effect of this singular preaching as to good works? He says: “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father.” It must be right seed that produced such fruit as this. There could be no uncertainty as to their election of God. For the gospel he preached, so different from anything ever heard before, was not “in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.” Now this is never the case where a mixture of law and grace is preached, but it is always a vague hope, and all is uncertainty. No such uncertainty accompanied the true gospel in those first years. The full assurance of salvation in the power of the Holy Ghost always leads the happy believer long to make it known to others.
Thus, though the apostle had to leave them, yet the word of the Lord sounded out from them over a larger district than all Yorkshire. And mark another effect. These poor heathens were turned to God, from idols, “to serve the living and the true God.” Was not this wonderful? Did not God set His seal to His gospel in this marvelous result?
But were there no worldly advantages held out to these first Christians? Not a single earthly advantage, but the very opposite. It was “to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” They, as everywhere, received the word in much affliction and persecution, and with only one hope before them, the return of the Lord Jesus, the coming of the Lord. Nay, Paul himself had no other hope, as he says: “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?”
Oh, those first years: how different from these last days! One marked difference was this: “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God,” &c. Is it not generally the opposite of this now? Doctrines are believed, because certain men teach them. What should we think of a child, if a father sent him a letter, and he said, “I will believe it if the servants say it is so?”
Let it not be supposed from the gospel preached—of salvation entirely through what Christ had done—that when these hearers were born again, were saved, were justified forever from all things, that they were not then taught to walk as children of God. No, Paul says: “As ye know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, that ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.” As he says elsewhere: “This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works,” &c. (Titus 3:88This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men. (Titus 3:8).) The order is this: first, the grace of God bringeth salvation to all men; secondly, this teaches us to lead a holy life; and thirdly, to look for the blessed hope of the coming of the Lord. See Titus 2:11, 12, 1311For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; (Titus 2:11‑13). How simple this was in the first years.
Such was the order, and such the effect in Thessalonica. First, the free sovereign favor of God, bringing salvation: all accomplished by Christ, not a word of doing or law-keeping. Secondly, they were, when saved, exhorted to walk worthy of God, who hath called them unto His kingdom and glory. And thirdly, they were separated to God to wait for Jesus from heaven. And the power of the truth was so great that it spread in all directions.
The more we study this epistle to these young converts from Jews and Gentiles, the more wonderful we see the effects of the gospel Paul preached. Just a few weeks’ preaching, and a multitude of believers was the result, and every one of them in holy separation to Christ. Is there any town or city now on this earth, that answers to this? With all the vast machinery and privileges of these last days, can we find even a village where ALL the believers are separated, gathered to Christ; with no sect or party in it, but all under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, all enjoying the full assurance of faith, all waiting for Jesus from heaven? Where shall we look for the Christianity of these first years? How many cities may be found where there is not one believer really separated to the name and Person of Christ, and not one really waiting for Him from heaven; where it would be difficult to find anything that really answers to the first years? We must own the truth of this.
The Holy Ghost has not left on record the manner or order of their meetings for worship or teaching. We may, however, learn from Acts 17 that soon after their conversion, Paul and his companions had to escape by night. (Ver. 10.) Neither do they seem to have had the least help from any other servants of the risen Christ, except the visit of Timothy. (1 Thess. 3:1, 21Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone; 2And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlaborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith: (1 Thessalonians 3:1‑2).) Yet there were those amongst themselves “which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you.” And they were to esteem them very highly. And they were enabled to edify one another. (Chap. 5:11-14.) We shall find this in keeping with other epistles we may shortly notice.
Thus though we have not an exact description of a meeting for worship and edification, yet they had both, without the arrangements of modern Christendom. And it would be a most important inquiry, to examine the Acts and the epistles, to see what we can learn as to the way in which the assemblies came together in the First Years of Christianity. Have you ever done this, beloved reader? We are so liable to take for granted that what each of us has been brought up in is the right and scriptural thing, without ever comparing it with the word of God. At present our inquiry is more connected with the effect of a full unconditional gospel such as Paul the apostle preached. We have seen the effect to be marvelous.