Meditations on Prophetic Portions of the New Testament: Chapter 2

Acts 1‑7  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 6
I propose now to meditate on the first seven chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. They have a great prophetic character. I must introduce them by a few observations. When the Son of man was refused, God had still a reserve left, that was, the Holy Ghost. The mission of the Spirit conies after the mission of the Son. It is always the divine way, that the Lord will not give us up till He has made every trial of us. Thus God tried Adam in innocence by a law. The innocent creature having defiled himself, God tries the guilty creature again and again, and does not give him up till He has spent all His resources on him; so, though the Son of man had been refused, yet God had still the Spirit, and that opens the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, or, as it might more properly be called, the Acts of the Holy Ghost. That being so, we enter on the book, and we find it is God, in His abounding grace, testing Israel by the Spirit. The result of this last trial is reached in the first seven chapters; it is, as to man, found utterly to fail, just as the mission of the Son had failed as to So that when the Potter came to that, He had nothing to do but to declare the vessel to be worthless.
Now in these seven chapters you will observe that the Spirit is unhindered for a time, just as the Son was. If we travel through chaps. 5., 6., 7., 8., and part of 9., of Matthew, we shall find that the Lord is unhindered. And so the Apostles are here; but at length the enmity reaches such a height, that Stephen (" full of the Holy Ghost ") is cast out as the Son -was, and is taken to heaven as the Son had been. Now we turn to chap. 1., and we find the Lord in ver. 3 speaking of things pertaining' to the kingdom of God. He keeps their thoughts in connection with the earth. The Lord Jesus was born King of the Jews, and it was because of the unbelief of the Jews that He was not received as such. So the Lord here, in his forty days' resurrection-sojourn, keeps their minds in connection with earthly glory. And when they were looking up, ver. 11, the angel comes and says: "Why stand ye gazing up into heaven!"
As much as saying, That is not the place of your hope. You are not to follow Him there,—He is to come to you here. All this is a ministry keeping the hopes of the elect in connection with the earth.
There is no thought yet of ascension to heaven. Then Peter and the rest continue in Jerusalem, and appoint another to the bishoprick of Judas, because an apostleship of twelve was suited to a nation distributed into twelve tribes. So before the Holy Ghost could come down with a ministry to Israel, the vacancy must be filled up.
Now I will linger a little here. Pentecost arrives, and the Spirit is given; but in what form is the presence of the Spirit manifested? "They began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." Did you ever think why the Holy Ghost was manifested in the gift of tongues? If we go back to Gen. 11, we shall find that the children of men had so far departed from God, that they took counsel to make themselves a name that they might not be scattered abroad. That was an attempt affecting divine rights—a universal monarchy. In the counsels of God a universal monarchy is reserved for Christ. So, though it has been the effort of one Beast after another, and in later days of the great Napoleon, it has never been reached. When they thus affected to defy the God of heaven, He stopped their purpose by scattering them. Now when God comes down to repair the mischief, He conies down on the humiliation. of the Son to re-gather, to bless and to establish. The Lord Jesus has gone through the scene of His humiliation, and upon what Christ has done the Spirit is given to re-gather the human family—" and they heard them speak, every man in their own tongue, the wonderful works of God." Man was scattered and confounded;—there was no brotherhood left in the earth, because maw had exalted himself. Because Christ has humbled Himself for the glory of God, all this is to be reversed. Pentecost is just the reverse of the scene at Babel. God is restoring man to Himself and his brother by the accomplished work of the Lord Jesus.
Now that gives entrance on this ministry of the Spirit. The Jew begins to betray his ignorance: "These men are full of new wine." Then Peter opens his mouth and takes for his natural text the thing before him,—the fulfillment of the prophecy of.Joel, and upon the occasion delivers a precious, sermon on the glories of Christ.
He finds Christ in Joel, and Christ in Psa. 16 He is discovering the glories of Christ in the Scriptures of God. Is there any such witness of the fresh power of the Spirit as that? A sermon on the glories of Christ as embosomed in Scripture. A very blessed thing it is that the Spirit should begin His work by testifying to the glories of the rejected, crucified Christ. Not a word as yet about grace; but going into the bosom of recondite Scriptures in Joel and the Psalms, and finding Jesus of Nazareth there -the crucified One, of whom the rabble of the earth had said, " Crucify Him, Crucify Him "—the Spirit takes up and says, He is the God of heaven and earth. He goes to Psa. 16, and says, David is not in that Psalm; and He goes to Psalm ex., and says, David is not in that Psalm. It is Jesus of Nazareth whose soul was not left in hell. It is Jesus of Nazareth to whom it is said, “Sit thou on my right hand till I make thy foes thy footstool." It is admirable, beyond all thought, to find such all opening of a freshly anointed lip. Under this preaching there was pricking of heart. Nothing causes pricking of heart like the disclosure of the glories of Christ. Was not this disclosure the confusion of Saul of Tarsus, and of Peter on the Lake of Galilee, and of the prophet in Isa. 6? We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God; and if I am introduced to any sight of it, I cannot bear it until I know that He who occupies the glory has reconciled me by blood. So they cried out, "Bien and brethren, what Shall we do " They are convicted. They have found out that they are sinners. Peter is ready at hand, and says, “Repent," etc. They received the word. '" Convicted yet confiding": that marks those that are truly converted. The next passage is beautiful. They were satisfied, and they could part with everything. It was “the expulsive power of a new affection," and the things they had boasted of before, now Might leave them.
Then, in chap. 3., Peter again uses the occasion for his text, and now he is presenting grace. Having spoken of the glories of Jesus, he now speaks of the grace that is in the name of Jesus. What God hath joined together let no man put asunder. And will you not consent to let His glories go before? Now, we must mark this. In all this testimony there is not a thought of heaven.
No " Repent.... and He shall send Jesus." Ye men of Galilee, keep your eyes down here. Heaven is not your home. Repent, and Jesus will come. Most advisedly the Spirit is keeping the hopes of faith in connection with earth.
Up to that moment the work of the Spirit had not been hindered. Now the Sadducees begin to resent it. The self-righteous Pharisee stood up in contradiction to grace in THE SON. Now, the resurrection is spoken of and the Sadducee stands in contradiction. Peter and John are put in prison; but Peter has now been " converted " ( restored Luke 22:3232But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. (Luke 22:32)). Instead of being intimidated by a maiden, he can now confront the Sadducees as well as the Pharisees, and lead his brethren on from strength to strength.
Then they go on through chap. iv. It is lovely to see two qualities of boldness and tenderness in these chapters:—the boldness with which they confront the enemy, their tenderness with a poor lame beggar; and the exultation yet brokenness when they address themselves to God. Would you blot out such beautiful qualities of action? We are clumsy. We ought to clothe right things in right qualities, put " apples of gold in pictures of silver." Then in chap 5., we see a beautiful action, the keeping of the House of God clean. Ananias and Sapphira are beguiled by this: they wanted to appear on a level with their brethren; they did not like to appear to come behind, yet they had not faith to part with their money, and that ensnared them to death. I do not say that it was anything more than judicial death,—the death of the body.
Then through chap. 5., Peter was bold as ever: " We ought to obey God rather than men." Here is the man that denied the Lord before a damsel! Then Gamaliel stands forth and, for the time, is a kind of partition-wall between them and the enmity.
As we enter on chap. 6., we must pause on a very humbling thing. Could you believe that before such heated enmity from the world around, they would have bickerings among themselves? We often say persecution binds the church together, but here is a witness that it is not enough. The chapter opens with the domestic bickerings of the saints; and closes with the martyr spirit that was in their bosom all the time. How the Book of God leads our thoughts hither and thither and exposes us to ourselves!
But now conies the crisis. Just as in the cross of Christ, in the martyrdom of Stephen we get a critical era. Chapter 7, closes the Book of Acts, so far as it is kindred with the four Evangelists. The path of the Spirit is critically the same as the path of the Son. The Spirit, like the Son, comes down with hopes for the earth, finds indisposedness, and takes His flight to heaven, just as the Son was forced by His rejection to find His inheritance in heaven. There were two different aspects in which the Lord was looked at in His death,—as a victim and as a martyr. As a poor sinner, I go to the cross where the Lamb of God bled;—as a saint, I to it and say, " That is where my great Exemplar was cast out, and I was cast out with Him." The last is how Paul looked at the cross when he said, " God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." So in 1 Cor. 1, " We preach Christ crucified."
Commonly when people speak of the cross, they limit their thoughts to it, as the place where the Lamb of God hung. As a sinner I know nothing else; but as a saint I take another look at it, and see my great Exemplar hung there because He was a witness against the world. In this way Stephen followed the path of a martyr. He was a witness against the world, and the World cast him out. So the Spirit in Stephen meets the same reception as the Son.
Now, let us mark it: Stephen was cast out; there was no angel to open the prison doors for him. But before he meets his death he is made a child of resurrection. Before ever a stone disfigured his face, God had glorified his countenance. God put His beauty on him, before ever man had put his marring touch on him. Now, just as Peter in chaps. 2., 3., takes the occasion for his text, so Stephen here takes his own beautiful glorified visage, takes himself as his text. Will not you take yourself as your text for eternity:-" Worthy is the Lamb." We ought to be able to preach a sermon on ourselves now. Stephen takes himself for his text, and what does he say? He says, Why, I am no novelty in your history. It has been the same thing from Abel downward." There has always been a heavenly parenthesis in the bosom of the earthly story. For instance, Abraham went forth from his father's house into a strange land, where his only company was his tent and his altar. In due time, God said his children should inherit the land. Joseph in the same manner became a heavenly stranger. He was cast out by his brethren and sent down into Egypt.
Abraham’s heavenly strangership in Canaan was a picture of Stephen's heavenly ascension; and Joseph's dignity and joys and new found family in Egypt are a picture of the heaven Stephen was going to. In the same way Moses was taken for a time to the back of the mountain, where he found a new family and was happy with his dear Zipporah. And when we come to the history of Christ, we find the same thing. He came with glad tidings. They cast Him out and heaven received Him. And heaven is just about to receive Stephen. And now I ask, are you in company with Stephen? Do you believe you are occupying the heavenly parenthesis in the bosom of God's history of the earth? What were stones to Stephen " Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God; and when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory." What did he see when he looked up? " Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?" Was that still the voice? The Holy Ghost directed Stephen's eyes. The scene of our expectation is transferred; Stephen went there as our representative. How beautiful to see him thus on the confines of the two countries! His left foot on earth where he was about to be martyred, his right foot scaling the heavens that were about to receive him! From that day to this the Church has been traveling the path of a heavenly stranger. As far as you and I are pulling down our barns and building greater, as far as we are covetous and worldly we are not in chap. 7. of Acts; and let me not dare for a moment to disfigure the work of God, and take myself for my text.
It is the path of the Church from that day to this, and will be, till we are taken to meet the Lord in the air, and be forever with Him.
(Continued from page 40.)
(To be continued D. V.)