Acts 2:38 ESV
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. ~ Acts 2:38 ESV
Matthew Henry's Commentary
We have seen the wonderful effect of the pouring out of the Spirit, in its influence upon the preachers of the gospel. Peter, in all his life, never spoke at the rate that he had done now, with such fulness, perspicuity, and power. We are now to see another blessed fruit of the pouring out of the Spirit in its influence upon the hearers of the gospel. From the first delivery of that divine message, it appeared that there was a divine power going along with it, and it was mighty, through God, to do wonders: thousands were immediately brought by it to the obedience of faith; it was the rod of God’s strength sent out of Zion, Ps. 110:2, 3. We have here the first-fruits of that vast harvest of souls which by it were gathered in to Jesus Christ. Come and see, in these verses, the exalted Redeemer riding forth, in these chariots of salvation, conquering and to conquer, Rev. 6:2.
In these verses we find the word of God the means of beginning and carrying on a good work of grace in the hearts of many, the Spirit of the Lord working by it. Let us see the method of it.
I. They were startled, and convinced, and put upon a serious enquiry, Acts 2:37. When they heard, or having heard, having patiently heard Peter out, and not given him the interruption they had been used to give to Christ in his discourses (this was one good point gained, that they were become attentive to the word), they were pricked to the heart, or in the heart, and, under a deep concern and perplexity, applied themselves to the preachers with this question, What shall we do? It was very strange that such impressions should be made upon such hard hearts all of a sudden. They were Jews, bred up in the opinion of the sufficiency of their religion to save them, had lately seen this Jesus crucified in weakness and disgrace, and were told by their rulers that he was a deceiver. Peter had charged them with having a hand, a wicked hand, in his death, which was likely to have exasperated them against him; yet, when they heard this plain scriptural sermon, they were much affected with it.
1. It put them in pain: They were pricked in their hearts. We read of those that were cut to the heart with indignation at the preacher (Acts 7:54), but these were pricked to the heart with indignation at themselves for having been accessory to the death of Christ. Peter, charging it upon them, awakened their consciences, touched them to the quick, and the reflection they now made upon it was as a sword in their bones, it pierced them as they had pierced Christ. Note, Sinners, when their eyes are opened, cannot but be pricked to the heart for sin, cannot but experience an inward uneasiness; this is having the heart rent (Joel 2:13), a broken and contrite heart, Ps. 51:17. Those that are truly sorry for their sins, and ashamed of them, and afraid of the consequences of them, are pricked to the heart. A prick in the heart is mortal, and under those commotions (says Paul) I died, Rom. 7:9. “All my good opinion of myself and confidence in myself failed me.”
2. It put them upon enquiry. Our of the abundance of the heart, thus pricked, the mouth spoke. Observe,
(1.) To whom they thus addressed themselves: To Peter and to the rest of the apostles, some to one and some to another; to them they opened their case; by them they had been convinced, and therefore by them they expect to be counselled and comforted. They do not appeal from them to the scribes and Pharisees, to justify them against the apostles’ charge, but apply to them, as owning the charge, and referring the case to them. They call them men and brethren, as Peter had called them (Acts 2:29): it is a style of friendship and love, rather than a title of honour: “You are men, look upon us with humanity; you are brethren, look upon us with brotherly love.” Note, Ministers are spiritual physicians; they should be advised with by those whose consciences are wounded; and it is good for people to be free and familiar with those ministers, as men and their brethren, who deal for their souls as for their own.
(2.) What the address is: What shall we do? [1.] They speak as men at a stand, that did not know what to do; in a perfect surprise: “Isa. that Jesus whom we have crucified both Lord and Christ? Then what will become of us who crucified him? We are all undone!” Note, No way of being happy but by seeing ourselves miserable. When we find ourselves in danger of being lost for ever, there is hope of our being made for ever, and not till then. [2.] They speak as men at a point, that were resolved to do any thing they should be directed to immediately; they are not for taking time to consider, nor for adjourning the prosecution of their convictions to a more convenient season, but desire now to be told what they must do to escape the misery they were liable to. Note, Those that are convinced of sin would gladly know the way to peace and pardon, Acts 9:6; 16:30.
II. Peter and the other apostles direct them in short what they must do, and what in so doing they might expect, Acts 2:38, 39. Sinners convinced must be encouraged; and that which is broken must be bound up (Ezek. 34:16); they must be told that though their case is sad it is not desperate, there is hope for them.
1. He here shows them the course they must take. (1.) Repent; this is a plank after shipwreck. “Let the sense of this horrid guilt which you have brought upon yourselves by putting Christ to death awaken you to a penitent reflection upon all your other sins (as the demand of some one great debt brings to light all the debts of a poor bankrupt) and to bitter remorse and sorrow for them” This was the same duty that John the Baptist and Christ had preached, and now that the Spirit is poured out is it still insisted on: “Repent, repent; change your mind, change your way; admit an after-thought.” (2.) Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ; that is, “firmly believe the doctrine of Christ, and submit to his grace and government; and make an open solemn profession of this, and come under an engagement to abide by it, by submitting to the ordinance of baptism; be proselyted to Christ and to his holy religion, and renounce your infidelity.” They must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. They did believe in the Father and the Holy Ghost speaking by the prophets; but they must also believe in the name of Jesus, that he is the Christ, the Messias promised to the fathers. “Take Jesus for your king, and by baptism swear allegiance to him; take him for your prophet, and hear him; take him for your priest, to make atonement for you,” which seems peculiarly intended here; for they must be baptized in his name for the remission of sins upon the score of his righteousness. (3.) This is pressed upon each particular person: Every one of you. “Even those of you that have been the greatest sinners, if they repent and believe, are welcome to be baptized; and those who think they have been the greatest saints have yet need to repent, and believe, and be baptized. There is grace enough in Christ for every one of you, be you ever so many, and grace suited to the case of every one. Israel of old were baptized unto Moses in the camp, the whole body of the Israelites together, when they passed through the cloud and the sea (1 Cor. 10:1, 2), for the covenant of peculiarity was national; but now every one of you distinctly must be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and transact for himself in this great affair.” See Col. 1:28.
2. He gives them encouragement to take this course:—(1.) “It shall be for the remission of sins. Repent of your sin, and it shall not be your ruin; be baptized into the faith of Christ, and in truth you shall be justified, which you could never be by the law of Moses. Aim at this, and depend upon Christ for it, and this you shall have. As the cup in the Lord’s supper is the New Testament in the blood of Christ for the remission of sins, so baptism is in the name of Christ for the remission of sins. Be washed, and you shall be washed.” (2.) “You shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost as well as we; for it is designed for a general blessing: some of you shall receive these external gifts, and each of you, if you be sincere in your faith and repentance, shall receive his internal graces and comforts, shall be sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Note, All that receive the remission of sins receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. All that are justified are sanctified. (3.) “Your children shall still have, as they have had, an interest in the covenant, and a title to the external seal of it. Come over to Christ, to receive those inestimable benefits; for the promise of the remission of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, is to you and to your children,” Acts 2:39. It was very express (Isa. 44:3): I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed. And (Isa. 59:21), My Spirit and my word shall not depart from thy seed, and thy seed’s seed. When God took Abraham into covenant, he said, I will be a God to thee, and to thy seed (Gen. 17:7); and, accordingly, every Israelite had his son circumcised at eight days old. Now it is proper for an Israelite, when he is by baptism to come into a new dispensation of this covenant, to ask, “What must be done with my children? Must they be thrown out, or taken in with me?” “Taken in” (says Peter) “by all means; for the promise, that great promise of God’s being to you a God, is as much to you and to your children now as ever it was.” (4.) “Though the promise is still extended to your children as it has been, yet it is not, as it has been, confined to you and them, but the benefit of it is designed for all that are afar off;” we may add, and their children, for the blessing of Abraham comes upon the Gentiles, through Jesus Christ, Gal. 3:14. The promise had long pertained to the Israelites (Rom. 9:4); but now it is sent to those that are afar off, the remotest nations of the Gentiles, and every one of them too, all that are afar off. To this general the following limitation must refer, even as many of them, as many particular persons in each nation, as the Lord our God shall call effectually into the fellowship of Jesus Christ. Note, God can make his call to reach those that are ever so far off, and none come but those whom he calls.
III. These directions are followed with a needful caution (Acts 2:40): With many other words, to the same purport, did he testify gospel truths, and exhort to gospel duties; now that the word began to work he followed it; he had said much in a little (Acts 2:38, 39), and that which, one would think, included all, and yet he had more to say. When we have heard those words which have done our souls good, we cannot but wish to hear more, to hear many more such words. Among other things he said (and it should seem inculcated it), Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Be you free from them. The unbelieving Jews were an untoward generation, perverse and obstinate; they walked contrary to God and man (1 Thess. 2:15), wedded to sin and marked for ruin. Now as to them, 1. “Give diligence to save yourselves from their ruin, that you may not be involved in that, and may escape all those things” (as the Christians did): “Repent, and be baptized; and then you shall not be sharers in destruction with those with whom you have been sharers in sin.” O gather not my soul with sinners. 2. “In order to this continue not with them in their sin, persist not with them in infidelity. Save yourselves, that is, separate yourselves, distinguish yourselves, from this untoward generation. Be not rebellious like this rebellious house; partake not with them in their sins, that you share not with them in their plagues.” Note, To separate ourselves from wicked people is the only way to save ourselves from them; though we hereby expose ourselves to their rage and enmity, we really save ourselves from them; for, if we consider whither they are hastening, we shall see it is better to have the trouble of swimming against their stream than the danger of being carried down their stream. Those that repent of their sins, and give up themselves to Jesus Christ, must evidence their sincerity by breaking off all intimate society with wicked people. Depart from me, ye evil doers, is the language of one that determines to keep the commandments of his God, Ps. 119:115. We must save ourselves from them, which denotes avoiding them with dread and holy fear, as we would save ourselves from an enemy that seeks to destroy us, or from a house infected with the plague.
IV. Here is the happy success and issue of this, Acts 2:41. The Spirit wrought with the word, and wrought wonders by it. These same persons that had many of them been eye-witnesses of the death of Christ, and the prodigies that attended it, and were not wrought upon by them, were yet wrought upon by the preaching of the word, for it is this that is the power of God unto salvation. 1. They received the word; and then only the word does us good, when we do receive it, embrace it, and bid it welcome. They admitted the conviction of it, and accepted the offers of it. 2. They gladly received it. Herod heard the word gladly, but these gladly received it, were not only glad that they had it to receive, but glad that by the grace of God they were enabled to receive it, though it would be a humbling changing word to them, and would expose them to the enmity of their countrymen. 3. They were baptized; believing with the heart, they made confession with the mouth, and enrolled themselves among the disciples of Christ by that sacred rite and ceremony which he had instituted. And though Peter had said, “Be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (because the doctrine of Christ was the present truth), yet we have reason to think that, in baptizing them, the whole form Christ prescribed was used, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Note, Those that receive the Christian covenant ought to receive the Christian baptism. 4. Hereby there were added to the disciples to the number of about three thousand souls that same day. All those that had received the Holy Ghost had their tongues at work to preach, and their hands at work to baptize; for it was time to be busy, when such a harvest was to be gathered in. The conversion of these three thousand with these words was a greater work than the feeding of four or five thousand with a few loaves. Now Israel began to multiply after the death of our Joseph. They are said to be three thousand souls (which word is generally used for persons when women and children are included with men, as Gen. 14:21; margin, Give me the souls; Gen. 46:27; seventy souls), which intimates that those that were here baptized were not so many men, but so many heads of families as, with their children and servants baptized, might make up three thousand souls. These were added to them. Note, Those who are joined to Christ are added to the disciples of Christ, and join with them. When we take God for our God, we must take his people to be our people.