MEDITATIONS ON THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
(meditations on all chapters)
J. N. Darby.
The Acts of the Apostles are a continuation of the Gospel of Luke, and are written by the same Evangelist. The discourses, whether of Peter or of Paul, have their source in the heavenly commission which is found at the end of that Gospel. It is not necessary, I hope, to say that the whole is given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, because each of the evangelists has been employed by God to present us with a different aspect of the history of the Lord; and each has accomplished, with the help of the Spirit, the work assigned to him by God. For example, in Matthew we find much more the dispensations of God, and the Lord as Emmanuel in the midst of Israel on the 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. Then again, in Matthew, the ascension of the Lord is not recounted, and the commission given to the apostles comes from a risen Jesus, and is addressed to the Gentiles as though the residue of the Jews were already received in grace. The Lord, in Luke, is about to ascend into heaven, and goes there while speaking to them, blessing them with a heavenly blessing; and the commission is addressed to all - first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. The disciples were to begin in Jerusalem; and this work - the accomplishment of their mission - is what is found recounted in Acts.
Let us follow the course of this story, which is essentially the history of the activity of the apostles Peter and Paul: the first among the Jews, and in the foundation of the church at Jerusalem; and the other among the Gentiles, although he always addressed himself first to the Jews. The first was one of His eleven disciples who had followed the Lord on the earth, till the cloud received Him and took Him from their sight. The last, Paul, an open enemy to the name of Christ, and converted in sovereign grace while he was occupied in the destruction, if possible, of that name, only saw Him in the glory, and went out to call the Gentiles to the faith: marvellous witness of the sovereign grace of God, and of a glory which renders a magnificent testimony to the perfect and accepted work of Christ, to which believers are led by faith in Him and in His work. Both these two great apostles laid the same foundation of the salvation preached, that there is but one Saviour and one work by which we may be saved.320 Now the grand and important fact, on which all the history depends, is the descent of the Holy Spirit. Doubtless, in all Biblical history, the responsibility of man is found, as well as the ways of God, through the deeds and weakness of man; but nevertheless the presence of the Holy Spirit on the earth, sent by the Father and by the Son of man, and dwelling in the faithful and in the house of God, is of immense importance. It is only when God has accomplished redemption that He comes to dwell in the midst of men. He did not dwell with Adam in his innocence, nor with Abraham, nor with any, till He had brought Israel out of Egypt, and had rescued them from the hands of the king of Egypt, in whose hands they were prisoners; then He came to dwell in their midst in the cloud, and the tabernacle was filled with His glory.
Thus, as soon as the Son of man is gone into heaven to sit down at the right hand of God, having accomplished the work of redemption, the Holy Spirit descends according to His promise of the Comforter, and the baptism of the Spirit is realised. Sent from the Father, He cries, "Abba, Father," in the hearts of those who have received Him. Sent by the Son from the Father, He reveals the glory of Him, the man in heaven; and, more than that, forms the body of Christ joining the members to the head, so that he "that is joined to the Lord is one spirit," dwelling in the believer, and also in the universal congregation of believers, so that they are together the habitation of God. It is evident that this truth is of immense importance; the spiritual liberty given to 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 all are founded on the work of the Saviour on the cross. Then this truth reveals the state of the external church where He dwells, because she has grieved the Spirit, and has been - and has acted - in a manner altogether contrary to what He would have her be and do, so much so that the judgment of God is ready to fall upon her.
Since I have spoken of the descent of the Holy Spirit, it must be understood that the "new birth" is not the point here (though that may be accomplished by the same Spirit), but rather the personal coming of the Spirit, when the Son of man ascended into heaven. The Holy Spirit has worked divinely since the foundation of the world. He it was who moved upon the face of the waters, who inspired the prophets, who has been the immediate instrument of all that God has done on the earth and in the heavens. But He only came here below when the Son of man went to sit down at the right hand of God (John 7:37-39), and is only received when we believe (Eph. 1:13; Gal. 4:6). This is seen also clearly elsewhere: we are sealed when we have believed, and especially when we have 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 bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit which ye have from God?" As when the leper was cleansed and purified under the law, he was first washed with water, then sprinkled with blood, then anointed with oil (Lev. 14:8, 9, and 14-18) - clear figure of our purification by means of the word of God when we are converted and born again, then of the sprinkling of the blood of Christ, and finally of the anointing of the Holy Spirit by which we are sealed for the day of final redemption.
321 Also all gifts, the exercise of which is found in the church, are the manifestation of the Holy Spirit who works there. But here, in the Acts, the exposition of the operations of the Spirit is not found, but the fact itself of His coming in order to work.