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STUDIES IN THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
—INTERNATIONAL S.S. LESSONS—
SUGGESTIVE THOUGHTS DESIGNED TO ASSIST THOSE OF OUR READERS WHO ATTEND BIBLE CLASSES, WHERE THESE LESSONS ARE USED; THAT THEY MAY BE ENABLED TO LEAD OTHERS INTO THE FULNESS OF THE GOSPEL. PUBLISHED IN ADVANCE, AT THE REQUEST OF FOREIGN READERS.
THE EARLY CHURCH—ITS SIMPLICITY
III. QUAR., LESSON III., JULY 17, Acts 2:37-47
Golden Text—”The Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved”
VERSES 37-41. As soon as the disciples had received the begetting spirit and the qualifying gifts, they became preachers—all who received the spirit received a gift or ability to preach the truth in some way. They did not tarry to build colleges and seminaries, and to study astronomy, or geology, or even elocution, but straightway preached—using whatever talents they had, God being willing to use all who desired to serve him. They did not even stop to dispute about how they would “organize” and who should be the officers and which should be Reverend and which Most Reverend. They did not say, Let us make a creed which will elaborately state all that must be believed regarding this life and the next. Already, in being united to Christ, they had the only proper organization.
What then did they do? They preached! What did they preach? The words of Peter are briefly stated (verses 14-36) and were doubtless the text for all, as all preached. He simply explained to the people that these gifts of the spirit, which they saw displayed, were meant to designate these as acceptable to God, as the Prophet had foretold (see June TOWER); that their acceptance with God was the result, not of works of their own, but of faith in Christ’s work (verse 21); then he explained about Christ, the Messiah, and how they as a people had slain him; how God had foreknown and foretold this, and how he had raised Christ from death, as also foretold by the prophets; and how this Messiah was now highly exalted by God and would yet conquer every foe; and that he had secured for his followers divine favor and adoption into the family of God, of which these gifts of the spirit of adoption were the outward witness. And with many other words and arguments in this same line Peter and the others preached the gospel and said to the people, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation,” accept of Christ and through him have God’s favor and unite with us in his service—telling the good tidings.
Some believed this plainly-told story, and asked, What must we do to be saved from the fate of our cast-off nation and to obtain the divine favor as you have it? The answer came quickly, Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. They did not say, You are all right now since you BELIEVE: there were certain works proper to show their belief. Their course of conduct as well as their belief was to be changed in conformity to the words of Jesus, whom they now accepted as Messiah, and they were to give outward expression to this change, and to show publicly that they believed in him and had consecrated their lives to his service, by baptism into his name.
They did not ask them which Church they would join, for there is but one true Church—”The Church of the Living God,” of which Christ is the Head, and of which every truly consecrated one who believes in him as his Savior is a member. They did not ask them to assent to a fixed creed devised by men, nor to bind or commit themselves in any manner, except as their faith in Christ and their allegiance to him would be expressed by their baptism into his name, in the likeness of his death. How beautifully simple was the organization of the early Church. The names were “written in heaven” (Luke 10:20), but we have no record to indicate that they were enrolled on earth. And all were just as free to leave the Church as to come into its gatherings; and when any “drew back” or proved unworthy,
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their names were “blotted out” in the heavenly records only, for no other records are mentioned. (Rev. 3:5.) About three thousand souls were added to the Church by that first day’s preaching—but it is not stated that they were all immersed in the one day.
The statement that they were to be baptized for the remission of their sins is generally misunderstood. It should be remembered that those addressed were all Jews—already in covenant relationship with God, but about being cast off because of failure to live as nearly as they could up to the terms of their covenant. There was a difference, therefore, between them and the Gentiles who had always been aliens and strangers, afar off from God—”without God and without hope.” And it was proper to tell the Jews to repent—to turn again to God and to their covenant—to be his people and to seek to do his will. To the Jew who had wandered away from God, baptism in the name of Jesus became a fresh witness of a covenant
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relationship with God which recognized Jesus as his appointed Messiah. If they would thus accept and acknowledge Christ, their sins against their covenant and their share in the sin of their nation in rejecting and crucifying him would be remitted or forgiven. Compare Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; Acts 13:24 and particularly Acts 22:16. These instances all relate to Jews, either natural born or proselyted.
VERSE 42. Recognizing the Apostles’ teachings as divinely inspired, the early Church had a grand unity of sentiment, and “all believed the same things” (1 Cor. 1:10); they did not each try to rack his brain to make a new theory or a new kind of theology. How blessed it would be for the Church to-day if she were delivered from the confusion (Babel) of tongues—doctrines—which now prevails, and if, instead of studying and endeavoring to harmonize the inconsistent teachings of men, all would unite in discussing the teachings of the Lord and the apostles, with a view of learning just what they (God’s mouthpieces) meant to teach. How soon would “the faith once delivered to the saints” illuminate the hearts of all the humble.
The “breaking of bread” does not refer to the Lord’s Supper; for in it the wine is no less important than the bread, and would surely have been mentioned had that yearly memorial been meant. Our Lord’s resurrection from death on the first day of the week seems to have given rise to the custom in the early Church of meeting together on that day, so precious in its memory of revived hopes. And since after his resurrection our Lord made himself known to them several times in connection with their partaking of food (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:30,31; John 21:5-12), the early Church appears to have gotten into the habit of having a simple meal in common in remembrance of this—a sort of love-feast.
Prayers, of course, were not neglected. No soul appreciative of the great privilege of communion with the great Creator, opened to us by our Mediator through the sin-offering which he gave for our transgressions, would fail to use so precious a boon—to express his thanks for mercies received and to seek fresh supplies of grace and wisdom in the Redeemer’s name.
VERSES 44,45. The tendency with all whose hearts are touched and sealed with God’s spirit, the spirit of love, is to live together as one family—the new-found cup of blessings, joys of the Lord, being rendered the more sweet and precious by being shared in common; and if the spiritual so also the temporal joys and sorrows would be gladly shared. So it was in the early Church: such a spirit of love prevailed and speedily led to community of goods—”They had all things in common”—”possessions (houses, etc.) and goods”—as one family, the family of God.
This beautiful and desirable condition of affairs doubtless affords a foreview of the blessed state of affairs already existing in heaven and of what will be found also upon earth when that which is perfect is come, and when as a result of the promised “times of restitution” God’s will shall be done on earth as it is done in heaven. And God no doubt arranged for this sample of Christian Communism as an illustration of what a full measure of the holy spirit would lead to. But that God did not intend that such a communism should continue throughout this Gospel age seems evident. Having served its intended use as an object lesson, it was permitted to die. Indeed, it should be evident to all that the children of this world would be led into such a community by a spirit of selfishness and indolence as surely as if not more numerously than saints would be drawn into it by the spirit of love. And it is evident that it required the exercise of those special powers conferred upon the apostles, to keep the community from being imposed on by such selfish characters.—Acts 5:1-11; 8:18-24.
When our Lord traveled throughout Palestine with his twelve disciples they had a common “bag” into which freewill offerings were put. Judas, who had a devil, was the treasurer, being naturally drawn to the position by his love of money, selfishness. And yet theirs was not a communism in the full sense; for John at least had “his own home.”—John 19:27.
Furthermore, neither our Lord nor the apostles in any of their teachings urged believers to communism of goods; but, on the contrary, they urged each to esteem himself a steward of God’s favors, temporal and spiritual, and to use them—”distributing to the necessities of the saints”—laying by on the first day of the week, according as God had prospered each, a fund from which the Lord’s cause could be forwarded. And those who have, from time to time since, attempted religious socialism or communism have, as a rule, found the matter impracticable, because, although the spirit may be willing, the flesh is weak.
VERSES 46,47. Whilst it lasted, their full fellowship was delightful, and made even the ordinary affairs of life more blessed—”They ate their food with gladness.” Such a blissful condition was well calculated to draw the attention and hearts of all Israelites indeed. And thus did the Lord draw out of the rejected nation into the Church such as it was proper to rescue or “save” from the “blindness” which he had sent upon that nation, because of unfitness of heart to share the blessings of the Gospel age.—Rom. 11:7-11.
— July 1, 1892 —