Paul and the Baptist's disciples.
I. LESSONS FROM PAUL IN THIS RELATION . His care for souls is comprehensive, zealous, and wise.
1. "Have ye received the Holy Ghost?" Is your religion genuine? Is it profound? Is it a living consciousness of God within the soul? Or a dependence on forms, on creeds, on ideas merely? How many trained and taught as Christians must answer, "We know not yet the Holy Spirit"! the new birth, the love, "the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father"!
2. "In whom were ye then baptized?" A question also for us. What means the name "Christian" that you bear? Is the devil and all his works daily renounced? Baptism reminds us of God the Father, and of childhood to him; of God the Son, and of redemption through his blood; of God the Holy Spirit, and of the temple we ought spiritually to be. Let us ask ourselves the questions Paul asked of the disciples of the Baptist.
II. LESSONS FROM THE DISCIPLES OF JOHN THE BAPTIST .
1. They are typical, as we have seen, of many among us; and those who resemble them among us should be treated in like manner. There are those who stand upon a lower step of faith. They know that the gospel requires them to give up sin; perhaps not yet that it calls them to the perfect trust and the love that casts out fear. They confess themselves ignorant if questioned of this "higher life."
2. The testing question. A living faith, a life in conformity with the baptismal profession, a sanctified speech and life, give the only satisfactory answer.
3. The unity of all disciples under one Master. "One is your Master, and all ye are brethren" Human teachers impart their words, Christ his Spirit. Human teachers lay the foundation, give the elements; he leads on to perfection, guides to the goal. Many are the schools of philosophy, one is the Church of Jesus Christ.—J.
Practical exemplification of Christian doctrine.
The principles involved in the case of Apollos might be lost sight of for lack of examples. He himself was so distinguished. The Church needed to be taught by a more prominent and wider illustration. The distinctions insisted on by Paul essential to Christianity. Hence the whole episode of the appearance of Apollos on the scene ordered providentially. Paul's journey through Upper Asia to Ephesus possibly hastened by his desire to watch over the spiritual work there. The gift of the Holy Ghost not a mere endowment, but a seal upon the faith as faith in Christ and his spiritual kingdom; it betokened an entire change of position and of life. The twelve disciples, probably converts of Apollos, were still occupying a Judaistic position, believing in Jesus, but only as John preached him. Their public baptism into the Name of the Lord Jesus was a public renunciation of their old standing as Jews and their acceptance of the higher platform of the spiritual kingdom. The gifts poured out on them and exercised by them was a glorious testimony to Christ in Ephesus. Learn—
I. THE SUPREMACY OF THE GOSPEL .
1. To Judaism.
2. To reformed Judaism with the new hopes revived in it by John.
3. To mere moral change and reformation of life.
II. THE PRACTICAL POWER OF A TRUE FAITH . Those that believed as Paul would have them believe became, not only spiritual men, but preachers. The faith which evangelizes is not a cold assent to truth, not a mere principle of religious reverence and order regulating the individual life, not a mere setting of Christ on the throne of the intellect as the highest Teacher, but a faith which works by love through the energy el the Spirit bestowed. They believe, and therefore speak. The test of true faith is its aggressive tendency. That which sits at home is paralyzed.—R.
Baptism in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and its sequel
The exceeding economy of Scripture will prevent our supposing that these verses lie on the page of Scripture for no end, and will equally prevent our supposing they are present for no distinct and important end. Starting from quite the opposite creed, we are led to notice—
I. THAT THE STRESS OF THE PASSAGE BELONGS , NOT TO THE SUBJECT OF BAPTISM , BUT TO THE SUBJECT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT . The point of departure of Paul is from the question, "Did ye receive the Holy Ghost when ye believed?" His first inquiry is not respecting the baptism of those whom he was addressing.
II. THAT THE DISPENSATION OF CHRISTIANITY IS TO BE EMPHATICALLY APPRAISED AS THE DISPENSATION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT . Too little stress is ever laid upon this grand fact. Too much stress cannot possibly be laid upon it. And whatever the causes of the former of these things, it may be said that the apostle, from the very first, did what in him lay to provide against a defect so disastrous in its certain tendency and work.
III. THAT BAPTISM IS THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS , WHATEVER REFERENCE IT MAY OBVIOUSLY AND FOR OBVIOUS REASONS CARRY TO HIM , IS EQUIVALENT TO THE SIGN OF ADMISSION TO ALL THE PRIVILEGES OF THE SPIRIT , AND TO IMPLICIT SUBMISSION ON THE PART OF THOSE OF MATURE YEARS TO THE FULL RULE OF THE SPIRIT .
IV. THAT TO INVEST THIS FACT WITH THE GREATEST POSSIBLE PLAINNESS AND EMPHASIS , EVEN THE SPECIAL GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN APOSTOLIC TIMES WERE BESTOWED AS THE SEQUEL OF BAPTISM IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS .—B.
And when for when, A.V.; into for in, A.V. Into the Name of the Lord Jesus (see Acts 8:16 ). So too Acts 10:48 of Cornelius and his company, "He commanded them to be baptized in the Name ( ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι ) of Jesus Christ" (R.V.). The formula of baptism, as commanded by the Lord Jesus himself, was, "In [or, 'into'] the Name ( αἰς τὸ ὔνομα ) of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" ( Matthew 28:20 ). But the candidate always first made a profession of his faith in Jesus Christ, as in the A.V. of Acts 8:37 ; and the effect of baptism was an incorporation into Christ so as to partake of his death unto sin and his life unto righteousness. It was, therefore, a true and compendious description of baptism, to speak of it as a baptism in (or into) the Name of Jesus Christ. (See the Baptismal Service in the Book of Common Prayer.) There does not seem to be any difference of meaning between ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι and εἰς τὸ ὄνομα .
The founding of a Church at Ephesus, the capital city of Proconsular Asia—a great center of Greek and Asiatic life, civil, religious, and commercial, the seat of the famous temple of Artemis, the place of concourse of all Ionia for its celebrated games—is one of those great epochs in the history of Christianity which arrest the attention and demand the consideration of the Christian reader. Not above two years (if so much) had elapsed since the Holy Ghost had expressly prohibited the preaching of the Word in Asia, for reasons which we know not; but now that prohibition is removed, and, after a preliminary movement by Apollos, we find St. Paul planting his foot firmly on the soil of Asia, and taking possession in the Name of the Lord Jesus. The banner which he then set up has never been taken down to this present hour. What the influence of the great success of St. Paul's ministry at Ephesus upon other Asiatic cities may have been, we have no means of knowing in detail; but that it was very great and widespread we learn from the tenth, twentieth, and twenty-sixth verses of this chapter. The first, second, and third chapters of the Revelation of St. John supply further important evidence, both as regards Ephesus itself and the other Churches of Asia; and so do the two Epistles of St. Paul to Timothy. From hence St. John exercised his jurisdiction over the whole of the Churches of Asia. The Epistle of Ignatius to the Church of Ephesus carries on the tradition; and we learn from later ecclesiastical history how important a position Ephesus held, being styled ἡ πρώτη καὶ μεγίστη μητρόπολις τῆς ασίας . The third general council was held there in A.D. 431. In thus casting a hasty glance at the succeeding history of this apostolic Church, we are led to the reflection how little we know what may be the consequences of any single forward movement in the kingdom of God. The humblest servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, in a meeting with a few like-minded brethren, may be laying the foundation of institutions which will last while the Church lasts, and exercise a world-wide influence upon the destinies of mankind. A mission to a race of semi-barbarians may be the planting of a Church under whose shadow millions may hereafter walk in all the joy of Christian hope, and in all the beauty of Christian holiness. The simplest word spoken in the kingdom of God, the simplest action taken in the Name of the Lord Jesus, may be the instrument used by the power of God for advancing his own purposes of grace and salvation to untold multitudes. When Augustine had his first interview with King Ethelbert in the city of the men of Kent (Cant-wara-byrig), who could have foreseen the influence upon the Christianity and civilization of the world which that interview was destined to exercise? And so in the case of every fresh effort to preach Christ where he is not known, there is a glorious uncertainty as to the ultimate consequences of such advance. The missionaries' stammering speech telling the story of the cross to a handful of heathen may be the first step of a mighty change which shall make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. One Heaven-born thought in the mind of a man of God, one prayer in the Holy Ghost, one faithful word of truth, may be the seed of a sacred history which shall fill, not earth only, but heaven also with enduring fruits of joy and salvation. Let St. Paul himself make the application: "Be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" ( 1 Corinthians 15:58 ).
Essential but insufficient; valuable but temporary.
We have here, in connection with the Christian faith and with Christian work—
I. THE ESSENTIAL BUT THE INSUFFICIENT . ( Acts 19:1-5 .) At Ephesus Paul met with disciples who had been baptized "unto John's baptism" (verse 3), but who had not learnt to exercise faith in Jesus Christ, nor even heard that there was a Holy Ghost (verse 2). These men were well on the way to salvation by Jesus Christ, but they were far from the goal. Repentance is essential, but it is not sufficient of itself.
1. It is essential; for without it the heart remains estranged from God, the soul unturned from self and sin, the life unrelieved of that which is false and wrong; and without it there is no sense of that spiritual need which welcomes a Divine Savior with humility and trust, which rejoices in a Divine Lord to whom full submission may be made. The Christian preacher who does not enforce repentance is fatally lacking in his duty; the Christian disciple who has not experienced it is fatally short of fulfilling the condition of acceptance with God.
2. It is not sufficient; for
II. THE VALUABLE BUT THE TEMPORARY . (Verse 6.) "When Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues," etc. It was desirable, then, that the presence and power of the Divine Spirit should be manifested by "signs and wonders." It was, at that stage of the progress of the gospel, a very valuable contribution to its triumph; it gave assurance to those on whom he came, and evidence to those who "were without." Experience soon proved ( e.g. the Corinthian Church) that this order of evidence and influence was open to abuse, and that it was not of the kind that could be permanent in the Church.
1. We can plainly see that in these days it would be practically useless: it would be, to ordinary observers, indistinguishable from the jugglery and affectations of the impostor.
2. God has given us that which is better, with which we may well be content, and for the perfection of which we should strive and pray. He gives us, as the consequence of our faith and as the response to our believing prayer, quickening influences in the soul; a Divine action upon and within the spirit, of the actual working of which we are not usually conscious at the moment of operation, but the effects of which are obvious to ourselves and to others. They are these: