Unity of the Church in the Inspired History

In full accord with what has been shown from the Gospel of John and from the Pauline epistles are the facts presented in the Acts of the Apostles. The disciples were born of God and had genuine faith. From deep anguish they had joy in their risen Lord. But as yet they were awaiting "the promise of the Father, which [said he] ye have beard of me. For John baptised with water; but ye shall be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days hence" (Acts i. 4, 5). They had not yet His personal presence so as to make them one. They were living units, but did and could not yet possess the promised unity. Saints of God individually, they were soon in virtue of one Spirit to be baptized into one body, Christ's body (1 Cor. xii. 13). Meanwhile they all gave themselves, Mary &c. with them, to persevering prayer.

When the day of Pentecost was a-fulfilling (chap. ii.), the wondrous answer came. The Holy Spirit, attended by significant tokens, filled them all; and they began to speak with other tongues. Devout Jews from every nation were then dwelling at Jerusalem, who could recognise their own languages in Galilean lips telling out the mighty things of God, not in creation now, but in redemption. Nor was there only the church of God but the gospel of grace. For to those pricked in heart by the truth preached and saying, "What shall we do?" the word was, "Repent ye, and be baptised each of you in (or on) the name of Jesus Christ for remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (ver. 38). Thus was the blessing to go on, as it began; the saintly status precedes the grace which established unity and gifts Repentance unto life, and washing away of sins in baptism, were followed by not gifts merely but the Holy Spirit given.

Thus were added about 3,000 souls that day; and they persevered in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles, in the breaking of bread and the prayers. It was not a human or voluntary association, but a divine institution of unequalled character, the one body of Christ. "And the Lord was adding together [the true text] daily those that should be saved" (cf. ver. 47 with 44). Baptism was the mark or sacramental badge for the individual; the Lord's Supper, for the communion of saints as one body (1 Cor. x. 16, 17).

But beyond controversy the article of the church stood, not on the truth of justification by faith, but on the presence and action of the Holy Spirit. When this was a new thing, grace gave plain, characteristic, and irrefragable proofs. These do not seem continued beyond the apostolic era and the close of the N.T. canon, which supplied henceforward the weightier attestation of permanent authority in God's word. At first, as Christ, so also His own, had favour with all the people; for unselfish love, happiness, and holiness, all hanging on the name of the crucified but exalted Jesus, told on conscience and heart, to say nothing of wonders and signs.

But as the work grew, the Jewish rulers became exasperated and threatened in vain; for with great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. Lying was sternly judged "within" as lying to the Holy Spirit, for God was there as never before (Acts v. 4.). Signs were yet more abundant subsequently, as before the place wherein they were assembled shook in answer to their praying. Yea, their bared religious adversaries might imprison or beat the apostles, but what could be done with men rejoicing to be counted worthy of dishonour for the Name? And every day in the temple and at home they ceased not preaching and teaching Jesus the Christ. The over-whelming appeal of Stephen to the Jews, always resisting the Holy Spirit as their fathers did, drew out their hatred unto blood; and all the saints were scattered save the apostles. But thereon the free action of the Spirit in the work of the gospel went forward outside the J ews. Even Saul, who had consented in his blind fury to Stephen's murder, was called as apostle to the Gentiles (Acts ix.), and pre-eminently became also minister of the church, whose union with Christ was conveyed in our Lord's words at his conversion, "I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest."