Were together ( ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτό ; see Acts 1:15 , note, and above, verse 42). Had all things common. Just as the Transfiguration gave a passing glimpse of the state of glory, so here we have a specimen of what Christian love and unity in its perfection, and unchecked by contact with the world without, would, and perhaps some day will, produce. But even at Jerusalem this bright vision of a paradise on earth was soon troubled by the earthly dissensions recorded in Acts 6:1-15 .; and the Christian community received a timely lesson that things good in themselves are not always practicable in an evil world, where sluggish virtues require the stimulants of bodily wants to draw them out and strengthen them, and where hypocrisy often claims the kindly offices which are due only to disciples indeed.
As the sermon preached by St. Peter on the day of Pentecost was the first sermon preached in the Church of God, so the baptism of which we have here an account was the first ministration of that sacrament. Our Lord's last command to his apostles was, "Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost", and now for the first time that command was carried out. A few points of special interest and importance are brought out in the narrative of this first Christian baptism.
I. ITS CLOSE CONNECTION WITH PREACHING . Here St. Peter preaches the Word with power, the hearers are pricked in their heart, and by his direction they are baptized, and so put in possession of the promised salvation. In like manner, in Mark 16:16 , faith comes by hearing the gospel preached, and baptism is the complement of faith. The first baptism of Gentile believers—that recorded in Acts 10:48 —was the fruit of St. Peter's sermon to the house of Cornelius.
II. ITS DISTINCTIVE FEATURE as the "one baptism for the remission of sins." So Ananias said to Saul, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins" ( Acts 22:16 ). And St. Paul teaches that we are baptized into the death of Christ, and so are freed from sin. And so in the Baptismal Service we pray that the water may be sanctified to the mystical washing away of sin, and that those who come to it may receive remission of their sins; and St. Peter speaks of those who turn away from the holy commandment delivered unto them as having forgotten that they were "purged from their old sins" ( 2 Peter 1:9 ). The clement of water points distinctly to this characteristic feature of the sacrament of baptism, as appears in the prophecy of Ezekiel, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you" ( Ezekiel 36:25 ).
III. THE NECESSITY OF REPENTANCE AND FAITH ON THE PART OF THE BAPTIZED , as it is written, "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ," where repentance is expressly named, and faith is necessarily implied in the phrase, being baptized "in the Name of Jesus Christ." And this is exactly the teaching of the Church in the Catechism, where the answer to the question, "What is required of persons to be baptized?" is, "Repentance, whereby they forsake sin; and faith, whereby they steadfastly believe the promises of God made to them in that sacrament."
IV. THE GREAT GIFT PROMISED TO THOSE WHO , HAVING TRULY REPENTED AND BELIEVED THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM , have been baptized into Christ, viz. the gift of the Holy Ghost. "Repent, and be baptized … and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." Upon this promise we shall all do well to fix our thoughts, and to put in our own individual claim to its fulfillment. To have the Holy Spirit of God dwelling in us is our birthright, as we are Christ's. Our common likeness to Christ as the Head of the Christian family depends upon our possession of the portion of the one Spirit which is given to all that are Christ's. He is the Fountain of all true wisdom, holiness, and love in man; and the great Christian rite of baptism is manifestly incomplete unless we actually possess the great gift which is promised to us in that sacrament. We shall have read in vain the inspired history of the first Christian baptism on the day of Pentecost, when the gift of the Holy Ghost to the newly baptized was surrounded with such striking incidents, and its connection with holy baptism was made so visible and apparent, if we disconnect in our own thoughts the grace of baptism with such an actual indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our hearts as shall make us holy in thought, word, and deed. Rather this striking and, one may say, awful narrative should fall upon the ear of the whole Church as a message to urge us who are "afar off" to be at one with those who were "near," in surrendering ourselves to the Holy Ghost to dwell among us and in us as in the holy temple of God.
The Pentecostal outpour was more than a mere flashing forth of Divine energy, suddenly emitted and immediately withdrawn; it was the communication of Divine power which remained in the Church and resulted in lasting spiritual fervor. This fervor, no doubt, took certain exceptional and temporary forms.
1. There were miracles wrought by the apostles ( Acts 2:43 ).
3. There was daily temple-worship, necessarily restricted both as to time and place ( Acts 2:46 ). But though there were these peculiar and exceptional features, there was much in the spiritual fervor of those earliest days which belongs to every age of the Christian Church.
I. IT WAS BEGOTTEN OF DIVINE INFLUENCE . We must not dissever this passage from all that precedes, but remember that this remarkable manifestation of sacred feeling was the outcome of Divine influence. It was the gift of the Holy Ghost, descending upon the Church in copious streams of sacred power, which brought forth these abounding signs of spiritual life. All life in the soul of man is "born from above." Whatever looks like it, in the shape of extraordinary activity or intense feeling, which is not awakened by the Spirit of God, is but the semblance and show of it, and is not the vital thing itself.
II. IT WAS MANIFESTED IN ABIDING FORMS .
1. In open declaration of faith in Christ: "They that gladly received his word were baptized" ( Acts 2:41 ).
2. In attachment to saving truth: "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine" ( Acts 2:42 ). Souls in earnest will not leave the truth by which they have been led to God to wander in byways of unsatisfying human fancies; still less to go off into the high-road of error.
3. In fellowship: with man, and also with God ( Acts 2:42 , Acts 2:44 , Acts 2:46 ). The disciples "continued in fellowship, and in breaking of bread;" they "were together;" they "continued with one accord in breaking bread." Here was
4. In prayer ( Acts 2:42 ) and in praise ( Acts 2:47 ). The sacred fervor which often comes as, in part, the result of devotion will spend itself largely in more devotion, in private and public "prayers," and in " praising God." Prayer and praise are the very atmosphere in which elevated piety lives and breathes and has its being.
5. In consideration of the needs of others ( Acts 2:44 , Acts 2:45 ). They who have a real "zeal for God," who are devoted to Jesus Christ, will ask themselves what they can do to help those who are in need; how they can best contribute to the comfort, the elevation, the well-being of those who are left behind in the race, who are defeated in the battle of life. They will show, in some form different states of society demand different methods—sympathy, liberality, succor.
III. IT HAD UNFAILING RESULTS .
1. In sacred joy: "They did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart" ( Acts 2:46 ). We may reasonably doubt the excellence of any spiritual fervor which does not show itself in gladness of heart.
2. In general devoutness: "Fear came upon every soul ( Acts 2:43 ). If we are heartily and wisely in earnest, those who witness our lives will be impressed with the reality of our convictions, and will pause to ask whence this holy ardor comes.
3. In abounding usefulness ( Acts 2:41-47 ). The Lord will add to the Church continually of those who "are in the way of salvation."—C.
Effects of the Divine power upon the heart.
I. COMPUNCTION . Fear is awakened by every drawing near of God to man. And with fear is closely connected the sense of sin. Stated from the other side, the truth is: behind the power of God lies his holiness, which is as a consuming fire. The deepest seat of fear is not in our physical but in our moral instincts. Thus the fear awakened by the revelation of the All-holy is itself a witness to the fact that conscience is the central unity of our being. Our very self seems threatened when confronted with a Being who judges evil, and is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.
II. INSTINCTIVE DESIRE FOR ACTION . "What shall we do?" Let us not take the words in the grossest sense of personal fear, and mere desire to escape from some imminent outward danger. Why should we? Brave as lions in the ordinary sense, there are men who cannot endure the face of their God. The Object before which all must quail is the Spirit revealed in the inmost moral convictions. All religion is a striving after inner unity, reconciliation between self and God. And the will is deeply concerned in this. It is a good sign when men ask, amidst the pains of a wounded conscience—What must I do? It implies the feeling of freedom; the fact that they have power and will left.
III. THE WAY OF SALVATION . AS indicated in the words of Peter.
1. A change of mind. Repentance. To see its full meaning we should look to the Greek. It is μετάνοια : it is a change of thought from the bad to good, the erroneous to the true, or the less true to the more true. Repentance is not mere feeling; it has not the uncertainty of moods and sentiments. It is not a simple change in the weather of the soul. It is a distinct alteration of the focus of the intelligence; it carries with it a movement of the will; in short, it is a revolution in the very ground of the man's being.
2. The expression of the change of mind. By baptism—a pure and simple rite, significant to every eye and imagination of washing, of cleansing, of recovered purity, for intelligence, feeling, and conduct. The acts of the spirit are not complete until they have been clothed in outward form. We hardly know ourselves to be changed, and certainly others cannot know that we are changed, without the language of the act. Sacraments are thus needed both for the believer himself and for the society; they have a subjective and an objective value.
3. The promises of the new life. The man who conics out of paganism or ritualism is baptized into Christ, i.e. into a spiritual religion which offers promises as well as enjoins duties.
4. Exhortation. "Be saved from the generation of this crookedness," says the apostle, using an idiom of his native Hebrew. Salvation is ever from a present evil, affecting not only the individual but the society. It is the tyranny of custom which weighs upon all. And all that is said in the New Testament about this "present evil world," and the "course" of this world, refers to some such predominance of immoral habits in the general life of society. As evil, Proteus-like, changes its forms from age to age, so is the hope and message of salvation eternally fresh and new.—J.
Effects of the Pentecostal day.
I. IMMEDIATE CHANGE ON THE PART OF MANY . Three thousand were found receptive to the truth, so powerfully attested in word and deed, and submitted to baptism.
II. PERSEVERANCE IN DISCIPLESHIP . That the conversion was genuine is shown by their diligent attention to the apostolic instruction, and frequentation of the Christian society. Perhaps no better tests of genuine change can be found. The breaking of bread and the prayers stand for the regular ordinances of religion. The life that is of God will ever prove its worth by becoming a social power, by seeking social nourishment and common edification.
III. THE SPREAD OF A GENERAL SPIRIT OF REVERENCE . This, too, is symptomatic of an outpouring of the Divine Spirit. It is not without reason we speak of the general "tone of society." When and wherever the Church is really alive unto God, and Christians have received an unction from the Holy One, public and private life feels the influence; the newspapers, books, gossip, turn upon serious matters; and the scoffer is shamed.
IV. OCCASIONAL MANIFESTATIONS OF DIVINE POWER . Wonders and signs by the agency of the apostles; in other words, indications of the Divine presence with chosen men, intimating special meanings directing to moral ends. But the occasional ever rests upon the constant and permanent. The wonderful ever serves to direct attention to the regular and the common. We should forget the beneficent law of spiritual things, did not special interruptions arouse us from the stolid apathy of custom.
V. A NEW MODE OF LIFE INTRODUCED . There was a deep sense of unity, and consequently delight in fellowship. They met together; they instinctively sought a perfect equality with one another. To carry this out involved in many instances, doubtless, great personal sacrifices— the parting with personal property and distribution to the needy. It was the best proof of love that could be given, and the best of sincerity. Usually the instinct for property is the last thing to go beneath the gracious expulsive power of Divine love. They were striving after the brightest ideal of life that Christian love can dream of; to make "all men's good each man's rule." A joyous religion inspired this conduct. The temple became again what it was designed in idea to be—the house of the Father and the home of man. By that sacred hearth there was for a time a bright, visible picture of the spiritual reunion between God and man. They "sat at feast, enjoying each the other's good," because all conscious of partaking of the bread of God. Joy broke into thanksgiving, and the dark shadows of mutual envy were dispersed. Finally, this life of the new Christian community became an irresistible center of attraction; and daily men " in the way of salvation" were added to the Church. This episode is a type in history of the power and effect of the gospel. That life could not continue at this ideal height only reminds us that the actual world presents irresistible obstacles to the attainment of our best wishes. That it was manifested, though but for a short time, proves the direction of love, and is prophetic of its final dominion in the life of mankind.—J.
The spiritual commonwealth.
The Bible not intended to be a statute-book for nations, but a Book of Divine principles, which, while they should underlie all legislation, are not intended to supersede the natural development of human law. The glimpse into the earliest Church life specially helpful to God's people, indirectly so to the world. Confirmation of the Acts in heathen authors, as Lucian, in his 'Peregrinus Proteus,' who refers to the community of goods and other features of the early Church.
I. THE EDIFICE OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH RESTS UPON THE SUPERNATURAL . Fear on every soul; signs and wonders. Divine work both in the outward world and in the hearts and consciences of men.
II. THE STRENGTH OF THE UNITING BOND in the new society is spiritual; not mere companionship, or social instinct, or common necessity, or political aim, but brotherly love springing out of faith—a faith showing itself in self-sacrifice and steadfastness.
III. THE SPECIALITY AND DISTINCTNESS of the Christian life in the midst of such a world. Unselfishness, mutual consideration, compassion for the needy, gladness and singleness of heart, devoutness, purity of home life, steadfast continuing in well-doing.
IV. THE MIGHTY EFFECT of a pure Church upon an impure world. The true method of spreading religion is not by breaking down the distinctions between Church life and worldly life, but by revealing the spiritual power of Christ's kingdom. "They had favor with all the people." The people know how to distinguish between reality and pretence. They will be always moved by sincerity. The Lord will add to his own work. The method which we see in nature is a type of that Which is ordained in grace. The vigorous life is selected to carry on the increase. Half-hearted Christianity cannot convert the world. Multitudinism is a great mistake, as well as mockery of Christ. Let the Lord add to the Church; let not our desires, or even our observances of Christian institutions, multiply numbers without increasing strength.—R.
The first regime of the body of Christ's disciples as a Christian community.
"And they continued steadfastly … such as should be saved." It may be conceded that the history in these verses acknowledges to some appearance of repetition. This is appearance, however, rather than reality. The first of these verses gives in the highest possible form the headings of a subject which is developed a little more fully in the following five verses; and these same verses find room for a touch or two which antedate, though by a very trifling interval, the course of the history. The verses invite to an observation of the very first workings of Christian principle, craving, feeling, and practice. It is no more true that there are things most characteristic of infant life which drop away by process of time and the advent of maturity, than that methods appropriate to the actual infancy of the Christian Church will, as generations pass, inevitably be superseded by other methods, stronger, sterner, and to all outside appearance far less flexible. Yet, if the man cannot be forecast always in the child, for want of enough of the prophet's vision, he can be traced back to the child. And a wonderfully tenacious personal identity is the lesson in human nature that is impressed on the observer. And well it is for us in the maturer ages of Christian individual life, and the Christian Church's life, to refresh ourselves with the sight of the first facts of Christian Church life, and of the real principles that must ever be found in the last analysis to underlie it. Such a sight is here offered us. The following are the principal features of it:—
I. THE INFANT CHURCH CRAVES INSPIRED INSTRUCTION , AND IS FURNISHED WITH IT . The call for this had been foreseen by the great Master-teacher himself. In the same commission in which he charged his apostles to "make disciples of all nations," he enjoined them to teach such disciples "to observe all things I have commanded you." Great stress must be laid upon Christ's own teaching. We cannot overvalue it. The stress he laid on it himself, by his unwearied labors in it, tells volumes of his own practical estimate of its importance. Meantime such an expression as that we find in Matthew 15:9 , "Teaching for doctrines the commandments of men," differences for us most decisively not any mere question of style, and superiority of style, in the teaching that is from above, but the matter itself. The characteristic, then, begun with in the description of the new community was this: "They continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching." That was inspired teaching. And let the world stand in need of whatsoever else, it is to be laid down emphatically that the Church stands in need of this. Inspired teaching is the breath of the Church—its vital air, its light, and the alphabet of its knowledge.
II. THE INFANT CHURCH DRAWS TOGETHER IN CLOSEST AND MOST REAL UNION . The "fellowship" spoken of in verse 42 does not mark merely the fact of association with the apostles. Nor does it describe association with one another from the attractions of friendship, of new-born natures, or of worship. It marks a newer thing, and, considering the numbers of those concerned, a very new thing. Jesus, with the little circle of his twelve disciples, had suggested, possibly enough, the germ of this. But the number of twelve or thirteen living together on a common purse, and with no selfishly individual object whatsoever in view, was but the suggestion of a principle; and that now, as many scores, or possibly hundreds, should attempt a similar thing, was a bold thought; it was the daring of a high and unwontedly noble impulse, and best of all was the deed of it. Those who made up this new community first did a thing, that would have been called nothing else than utopianism while only talked about. It is something most reinvigorating to a Christian's faith in the hidden possibilities of a regenerate human nature, to think of the real proofs of sincerity and of utter earnestness that came out of the conduct of men who sold their lands and possessions, and brought all to one common stock. It was certainly a beginning of a "new earth," and none the less so that it was but temporary in the then form of it. It betrayed and it displayed a genius lying in the new-found forces of Christianity never to be forgotten. For a while there was no want and no wealth, except that best wealth, absence of want. The snare of wealth is vanished, and the charm of loving contentment smiles in the world.
III. THE INFANT CHURCH BRINGS WITHOUT HESITATION RELIGION INTO DAILY LIFE . The "breaking of bread" certainly did not mean simply the taking of the ordinary meals of day after day. There could have been nothing remarkable in individual men "continuing steadfast" in this. The "breaking of bread" referred to was that of a united meal, and this was the particular significance of it. Again, the life of those few weeks in Jerusalem would have been a life of mere desultory and unfruitful idleness, except for an unusual reality in occupations, which would generally be counted as at most the luxurious enjoyments of religious service. But these evidently become the works of religious service, and then was the fulfilling of the admonition, given some years later to the Hebrews ( Hebrews 10:24 , Hebrews 10:25 ), beautifully anticipated. They considered "one another, to provoke unto love and to good works," and they did not forsake "the assembling of themselves together" for that very purpose. Thus they assemble, and thus break bread day after day. On the one hand, we witness association " in breaking of bread" with its more or less of direct religious reference brought into the daily home and the daily life of those who composed the infant Church; and, on the other hand, we witness religious thought and religious purpose and religious work become for a season the staple occupation of "the common days." Perhaps all of us will agree that if ever works merited the title of religious, the works of those days did which had for their (secular) business the sale of lands and goods, to the end that "the price" of them ( Acts 5:1 ) might go to the common treasury of the new-born Christian society.
IV. THE INFANT CHURCH STILL OBSERVES THE TEMPLE HOURS OF PRAYER . The history of temple prayer was rightly charged with sacredness to the pious Jew. As up to the last Jesus paid all due reverence to both temple and even synagogue also, so the young community of his disciples do not forsake the temple prayers. Public prayer was offered three times a day: at the third hour ( Acts 2:15 ); at noonday ( Psalms 55:17 ), or the sixth hour; and in the evening, at the ninth hour ( Acts 3:1 ; Acts 10:3 ). The general history of the nation's prayer must naturally have abounded in interest, and many a touching allusion is made to it ( 1 Kings 8:30-38 , etc.; Daniel 6:10 ; Daniel 9:21 ; Psalms 5:7 ; Psalms 28:2 ; Psalms 55:17 ; Psalms 65:1 , Psalms 65:2 ; Psalms 119:164 ; Psalms 138:2 ; Psalms 141:2 ; Isaiah 56:7 ; Luke 1:10 ; Luke 18:10 ; etc.). But not the least interesting fact in its history is that before us. While all things else—sacrifice, and feast, and ceremony, and priest, and the furniture of the temple, and its very stones—are doomed and about to disappear, its prayers bud out, blossom, bear fruit afresh. The point of living contact with God lasts. The old Church and the new join hands here. Prayer is the golden link between these, as it is between all earth and heaven.—B.
The Church's immediate assertion of her own moral forces.
"And fear came upon every soul … daily such as should be saved." For many an institution of human society it is most easy to fix the date for the commencement of its operation, and to assign its term. It is one among many of the marks of Christianity that, once embodied, it begins its work there and then, and begins it never to pause, never to cease, till it is all finished. The peculiar and, at the same time, rightful influences of Christianity embodied in human society showed themselves promptly and decisively, Nothing artificial could help, nothing arbitrary could hinder, these. And if to the last possible moment they stole their march on the world silently, and to that same world insensibly, they no sooner come into sight than they are felt also, and unmistakably felt. The kingdom of God, that in some sense "cometh not with observation," when once come, is ever making a mark, that calls to it all manner of observation. It is full to overflowing of influence on the individual heart, on the individual life, and on human society. The intrinsic character of Christian principle and the possibilities that are in it, are simply and beautifully witnessed to in the very first of the fruits which it bore.
I. IT WROUGHT AN UNUSUAL FEAR . It was an unusual fear, for more reasons than one.
1. The fear fell on all. If the "all" here mean the disciples and new converts only, yet the gain was great and the phenomenon noteworthy. But the great probability is that the "every soul" does not mean to point to those who were nosy enrolled in the new community alone, but to the vast number outside, who saw and heard of the apostles' "signs and wonders. " The city was still oftentimes because of this new portent in the very midst of it. The men of the city "talked often one with another." There was a temporary, general weaning from indifference, from frivolity, and from the zeal of mere earthly business.
2. The source of the fear was unusual. It was not that of Sinai. It was not that of wind and storm, earthquake or fire. The elements of nature were what they long had been. Just now, at all events, the sun was not " turned into darkness, nor the moon into blood." It was a fear that came on men, not because of any overwhelmed impression made on the senses, but upon the mind.
3. The character of the fear was unusual. For it was that of awe and reverence—one that awoke inquiry, and provoked irresistibly deeper thinking than those hearts had been generally familiar with. It more resembled the fear that ought to possess men in the presence of the facts, responsibilities, and heaven-born opportunities of human life. There is no evidence nor even room to suppose that it savored of anguished fear, or slavish fear, or tumultuous apprehension. This is one of the grand legitimate effects of Christian impression and conviction on the heart of either converted or unconverted, that they reduce to soberness and to some due sense of the things that are, whether in heaven or on earth, of which we may have thought previously far too little.
II. CHRISTIANITY BORE THE FRUIT OF A MOST UNUSUAL UNITY . The brotherhood of humanity now is exampled. And though for many a reason and from many a cause, better or worse, its duration was very brief, yet we may say," It is enough." We shall know it again, "in like manner" as we now know it. These two things may be most permissibly said to the grief that mourns devoutly its short duration:
III. IT BORE THE FRUIT OF A MOST UNUSUAL CHARITY . "To do good and to communicate" was not an absolute novelty; to give, and to give kindly and ungrudgingly, was not an unheard of thing; to feed the poor and give him garments, and to visit him, sick and in prison, was exalted moral philosophy, and godly practice too, in and from the days of Job. But the charity, and the sacrifice of the just rights of property, and the equality of this large family, was, for the thoroughness and the scale of them and for the occasion—not one of shipwrecked distress on a desolate shore—something very new under the sun. This, again, in outside show and bulk, was of short duration, but perhaps not of so short stay as it seems sometimes. And this; too, we shall recognize again.
IV. CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLE NOW BORE A VERY UNUSUAL MANIFOLD FRUIT . Yes, not only manifold for quantity, but in kind. These, all these together, are found by the disciples; namely, great happiness of heart, great happiness in association with one another (as though no "root of bitterness" sprang up), great handiness in worshipping God, and great popularity with all the people. They were halcyon days indeed! Their peculiarity, as representing the infancy of the Church, irresistibly reminds us of the peculiarity of those early years in the humanity of the now risen, ascended, glorified Master himself. There was a time when it was said that "Jesus increased … in favor with God and man. " It is even so now with the family of his followers. The analogy is striking. And it is striking as one novel indication of the condescension of the great Lord, who so closely shared, who still so closely shares, his Church's fortunes. For the resemblance must be quoted, not as one that shows the Church sharing its Founder's fortunes, but the Founder anticipating his Church's fortunes. In both examples how gratefully are we reminded of the legitimate influence, even in this world, of goodness. And how gratefully are we, by a mere foretaste, as it were, assured of that "favor" that Jesus and his truth and his faithful disciples must eventually command from the judgment of the world, whenever the time shall come! Nor was the Divine contentment that spread over and that evidently interpenetrated this newly fashioned society one which looked to mere selfishness then or to mere picturesqueness now. The favorable impression that it made on them that were without was useful as well as beautiful. It was attractive. And the very same qualities that made it attractive made it a safe refuge, home, school, nursery, to those that might own to the Divine attraction. To such a society the Lord added daily. And, let it with reverence be said, it could not be otherwise; but if it could, it would not. This is what the Church of Christ must be. It must be these all in one. The refuge for the sinner "saved;" his home on earth; his school; for many, because of their tender years, also the nursery of piety and devotion; but for all, young or old, a nursery, from which heaven is looked to as the introduction to the presence and abiding society of the Father himself. Thus, now, not the abstraction of a perfection of Christianity unlikely to be yet reached, but the oft-erring, oft-deficient embodiment of it in the lives of frail sinful, men, gave clear and beautiful proofs of what is the genius of it, of what it has in itself to do, and no obscure foreshadowing of the reign of love and peace and joy that Jesus is hastening on.—B.
Early impulses of Christian disciples.
Estimate the fervor of feeling which those knew who had found the Messiah; had found him altogether more glorious, more spiritual, than their highest thoughts had ever conceived, and actually felt the joy of forgiveness from him, and the inward witness of his sealing Spirit. It was a time of rapture and intensity, in which all selfish thoughts would be easily overcome, and the common joy bind all together in common bonds. In their enthusiasm they expected the Lord Jesus to return at once, and therefore they were so ready to resign even their worldly goods, and devote all that they possessed to the use of the brethren. The custom of large numbers living and eating together is familiar to Easterns, and may be illustrated by the daily meals provided for the citizens of Sparta. Possibly the first thought that came to the early disciples was that they might realize, in the larger sphere, the state of things existing between Christ and his apostles when he was in the flesh. Those apostles gave up their trades to be with Christ, and he and they had lived together, and bad "all things common." The company so gathered present the first model of a Church. Circumstances soon modified the form of it; but we keep the essential idea of it, which is this: common indebtedness to Christ, and devotion to him, bring men together into a gracious sense of brotherhood and fellowship. They recognize their oneness in Christ.
I. THE IMPULSE TO FELLOWSHIP . ( Acts 2:42 .) Or, to gather together. The center of the gathering was naturally the apostolic company. A desire to hear more about Christ was awakened, and the converts would not separate. Staying hour after hour, there would arise the necessity for meals; and though this may have been readily met on the first day, some order and provision would be necessary as they kept together day after day. The impulse to fellowship felt by those sharing common opinions and beliefs is constantly recognized, and is the basis of all associations, clubs, and societies of men. Those with the common opinions enjoy, and are benefited by, each other's fellowship. Therefore the apostle bids us "not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is." Urge that still this natural and proper impulse should be nourished and followed. Neglected fellowship is the sign of weakened impulse, failing "first love," and inadequate impression of the " great grace" received in Christ Jesus.
II. THE IMPULSE TO SELF - SACRIFICE . Others were more thought of than self. There was a general desire to imitate Christ by giving up for others. This seems the idea in their "having all things common." "Under the strong and general feeling of Christian charity, which sprang out of Christian unity, men gave as freely as if what they had were not really their own, but only held by them in trust for others. Practically, what was any brother's came to be the brethren's; no man asserted his private proprietorship, or said that 'aught of the things that he possessed was his own.'" The following points may be illustrated:—
1. Community of goods is a dream. One which earnest and sentimental philanthropists have dreamed over and over again.
2. Community of goods is an impossibility. Socialistic systems have always broken down. If the community could be once established, the disabilities of life and the different dispositions of men would immediately introduce irregularities. "Religious communisms have generally rested, like the monastic orders, on an ascetic rather than a social basis. The fanaticism of the German Anabaptists, indeed, did not lack force, but it involved the ruin of society. Recent humanitarian attempts in France and America to realize a voluntary communism, wanting a religious motive, have broken down" (Dr. Dykes).
3. Community of goods is an extravagant assertion of a true and high principle, viz. that whatsoever a man holds, he holds in trust, and in trust for the service of others.
4. Community of goods is substantially realized in the Christian Church, where, ideally, each seeks not his own but his brother's good. "There is no real cure for diseased society except the regeneration of the individual, and the individual is regenerated when you have substituted brotherly kindness for selfishness as the ruling motive or ground of character." "Just in so far as any man takes in the peculiar teaching of the gospel, such as the saving mercy of the Father in heaven, our oneness in the incarnate Son, and the binding common life of the Holy Ghost—to that extent he will cease to be a difficulty in the way of social economics. He will help others as much, and grasp as little for himself, as possible."
Conclude by pressing the importance of keeping our hearts ever open to the gracious and loving impulses of God's Holy Spirit; and also press the relation to an earnest life of charity, brotherhood, and goodness which is found in " keeping our first love. " — R.T.