Meditations on the Acts of the Apostles*: Introduction

Acts  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 11
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The Acts of the Apostles are a continuation of the Gospel of Luke; they are written by the same evangelist. Whether the discourses be those of Peter or of Paul, they have their starting-point in the heavenly commission which we find at the close of Luke’s Gospel (Luke 24).
It is not necessary, I trust, to say that it is all by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; inasmuch as each of the evangelists has been used by God in presenting to us a different aspect of the history of the Lord, and has accomplished, with the help of the Spirit, the work allotted to him of God.
For example, in Matthew we find in a special manner the dispensations of God, and the Lord as Emmanuel in the midst of Israel on earth. In Luke, after the first two chapters, we have the Son of Man and the ways of God in grace, and the blessings of the present time. Again, in Matthew the ascension of the Lord is not recorded, and the commission given to the apostles comes from Jesus risen, and is addressed to the Gentiles, as though the remnant of the Jews were already received in grace.
In Luke, the Lord is on His way to ascend into heaven, and goes up from them while speaking to them, blessing them with a heavenly blessing; and the commission is addressed to all—first to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles. The disciples were to commence at Jerusalem. And this work —the fulfillment of this mission—is what we find recorded in the Acts.
Let us follow the course of this history, which is essentially the history of the activity of the apostles Peter and Paul: the first amongst the Jews and in the foundation of the Church at Jerusalem; the other among the Gentiles, although he always addressed himself first to the Jews. The former—Peter—one of His eleven disciples, had followed the Lord on earth till the cloud received Him and took Him out of their sight; the latter—Paul (an open enemy of the name of Christ, and converted by sovereign grace while engaged in the destruction, were it possible, of this Name) only saw Him in the glory, and goes out to the Gentiles to call them to the faith; a marvelous witness of the sovereign grace of God, and of a glory which rendered a magnificent testimony to the perfect and accepted work of Christ, and to that into which faith in Him and in His work brings believers. Both these great apostles lay the same foundation of salvation preached in the one only Saviour, and one only work whereby we are saved.
Then the great and important fact, on which all the history depends, is the descent of the Holy Spirit. No doubt we find, as in all the history of the Bible, man’s responsibility and the ways of God amidst the actings and the weakness of man nevertheless the presence of the Holy Spirit on earth, sent from the Father and the Son of Man, and dwelling (1) in believers and (2) in the house of God, is of the greatest importance. It is only after God has accomplished redemption that He comes to dwell amongst men. He did not dwell with Adam in his innocence, nor with Abraham, though He visited him, nor with any until He had brought Israel out of Egypt, and had redeemed them from under the hands of the king of Egypt, whose prisoners they were. Then He came to dwell in their midst in the cloud, and the tabernacle was filled with His glory.
Similarly, after the Son of Man had ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God, having accomplished the work of redemption, He sends down the Holy Spirit from heaven—the Comforter —according to His promise; and the baptism of the Holy Spirit ensued. Sent by the Father, He cries “Abba, Father,” in the hearts of those who have received Him. Sent by the Son of Man on the part of the Father, He reveals His glory as Man in heaven; and, further, He forms the body of Christ, uniting the members to the Head, so that “he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit,” dwelling in the believer, and likewise in the universal Church of believers, so that they are together the habitation of God. It is evident that this truth is of immense importance; the spiritual liberty of the child of God, the unity of the assembly of God, and the union of the children of God, all depend on the presence of the Spirit, as it is all founded on the work of the Saviour on the cross. Then this truth brings to light the actual state of the external Church in which He dwells, because she has grieved this Spirit; and has been, and has acted, in every respect the contrary of what the Spirit would have had her to do, so that the judgment of God is about to come upon her.
Since I have spoken of the descent of the Holy Spirit, I must explain that I do not refer here to the “new birth,” although it he the same Spirit that works it also, but of the coming of the Holy Spirit personally, when the Son of Man had ascended into heaven. The Holy Spirit has wrought divinely ever since the foundation of the world. He moved on the face of the waters; He inspired the prophets, has been the immediate instrument of all that God has done on earth and in the heavens; but He did not come down here until the Son of Man had ascended to sit on the right hand of God (John 7:37-3937In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. 38He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. 39(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.) (John 7:37‑39)); and He is received only when we have believed (Ephesians 1:1313In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, (Ephesians 1:13); Gal. 4:66And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. (Galatians 4:6)). This we see clearly else where likewise; we are sealed when we have believed, and specially believed in the value of the blood of Christ. Washed in this precious blood we are fit to be the habitation of the Spirit of God. “Know ye not,” says the apostle Paul, “that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God” (1 Corinthians 6:1919What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19)). As when the leper was healed and cleansed under the law, he was first washed in water, then sprinkled with blood, then anointed with oil (Leviticus 14:8, 9, 14-188And he that is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, and shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean: and after that he shall come into the camp, and shall tarry abroad out of his tent seven days. 9But it shall be on the seventh day, that he shall shave all his hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows, even all his hair he shall shave off: and he shall wash his clothes, also he shall wash his flesh in water, and he shall be clean. (Leviticus 14:8‑9)
14And the priest shall take some of the blood of the trespass offering, and the priest shall put it upon the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot: 15And the priest shall take some of the log of oil, and pour it into the palm of his own left hand: 16And the priest shall dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand, and shall sprinkle of the oil with his finger seven times before the Lord: 17And of the rest of the oil that is in his hand shall the priest put upon the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot, upon the blood of the trespass offering: 18And the remnant of the oil that is in the priest's hand he shall pour upon the head of him that is to be cleansed: and the priest shall make an atonement for him before the Lord. (Leviticus 14:14‑18)
), a distinct type of our cleansing by the word of God when we are converted, and born anew, then of the sprinkling of the blood of Christ, and lastly, of the anointing of the Holy Spirit, by which we are sealed unto the day of final redemption. So likewise all the gifts, the exercise of which we find in the Church, are the manifestation of the Holy Spirit which works there. But here in the Acts we do not find the exposition of the operations of the Spirit, but the fact itself of His coming to work.
(To be continued, D. V.)
1. Translated from the Italian of J.N.D.