Acts 1Observe here, 1. The penman of this sacred history, St. Luke, the same that wrote the gospel, which he calls his former treatise, dedicated, both that and this, to the same Theophilus: The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus.
Observe, 2. The time when St. Luke wrote this holy history, and the place where, namely, when he was the companion of St. Paul; and, as some think, during the time of his imprisonment at Rome: If so, we may profitably remark, the favour which God gave the apostle and his companion in the sight of the keeper of the prison, that they were not denied pen and paper. When persecutors send the saints to prison, God can provide a keeper for their turn.
But how doth the apostle and his companion spend their time in prison?
Very advantageously: the former in writing epistles to the churches for their confirmation; the latter in recording the acts and monuments of the holy apostles for our imitation. There is no such way to be even with the devil and his instruments, for all their malice and spite against us, as by doing all the good we can, wherever we come. Satan had better have left these two holy men alone, than have cast them into prison: for by their pens they battered the walls of his kingdom, and made them shake about his ears.
Observe, 3. The integrity and impartiality of this historian St. Luke; he wrote of all things that Jesus both did and taught in his Gospel, and what the apostles did and taught, in the Acts; not that this is to be understood strictly and absolutely, but comparatively only; not as if St. Luke recorded every action that Jesus did, or every expression our Saviour said; for St. John says, they were so many, that they could not be written, Joh 21:25.
But by all things, we are to understand very many things; the most principal and chief things, the most necessary and useful things; every thing that the Holy Ghost thought fit to dictate to him, and enjoin him to publish for the church's use and service.
Learn thence, That St. Luke was a very faithful and impartial historian, withholding nothing which was necessary for the church to know, and leaving no room for unwritten and uncertain traditions: I have wrote all that Jesus began both to do and teach.
Observe here, The special concern and care which Christ had for his church on earth, before he ascended into heaven. The very first night that he appeared to his disciples, after his resurrection, he breathed on them, and distributed the Holy Ghost among them, Joh 20:22 both to inform their judgments of what they did not know, and to direct their practice, what he would have them to do; He, thought the Holy Ghost, gave commandments unto the apostles; that is, he distributed the Holy Ghost amongst them, to be their constant instructor and director, what they should do, in order to the execution of their office and employment.
Learn thence, That as the apostles had, so the ministers of Christ, in their measure, shall have, the gracious and special influences of the Holy Spirit to direct and instruct, to quicken and support them in the faithful discharge of their ministerial office to the end of the world; that gracious promise, Lo, I am with you always, Matt 28:20. We that live seventeen hundred years after the first making of it, may by faith draw out the comfort of it, as well as the apostles, to whom it was originally made.
Observe, 1. The time which our Lord spent here upon earth, between his resurrection and ascension; it was forty days; Christ would not presently ascend into heaven, as soon as he was risen, but thought fit to stay some time with his disciples, to confirm their faith in the belief of his resurrection, and to satisfy them that it was he himself, their Lord and Master, that died for them, that was indeed risen and now appeared to them; He was seen of them forty days.
Observe, 2. What our Saviour did in that forty days stay upon earth: He shewed himself alive unto his disciples, appearing sometimes to them, and giving them many infallible proofs of the verity of his resurrection, by eating, drinking, talking, and conversing with them, by shewing his wounds to them, and submitting himself to be touched and handled by them. Not that Christ's conversation with his disciples, in this his exalted state after his resurrection, was so frequent and familiar, as it was before his death, when he was in a state of humiliation: and accordingly we never read, I think, that Christ ever lodged or continued all night with his disciples, after he was risen from the grave. But he conversed with them only upon occasion, as he pleased himself, and when he pleased.
Observe, 3. What our Saviour said, as well as what he did, in this intervening time betwixt his resurrection and ascension, being forty days; He spake to his disciples of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God;
That is, 1. Of the things pertaining to his church militant, or the kingdom of grace here on earth, how he would have his church planted and propagated by the apostles doctrine, guided and governed by their discipline;
Or, 2. By the kingdom of God, may be understood the church triumphant, or the kingdom of glory in heaven; what perfect bliss and happiness he was now going ot prepare for them in the presence of his Father.
Where note, That Christ's kingdom is purely spiritual; that Christ's spiritual kingdom is his church: and the preaching of the gospel is the great instrumental mean for the erecting of the kingdom of grace, and enlarging of the kingdom of glory.
Note here, 1. How frequently Christ renewed his promise to his disciples, of sending down the Holy Ghost to confer upon them the gifts of tongues and miracles, in order to the fitting and furnishing of them for their work of preaching and publishing the gospel to all nations: Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence: That is, the gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost shall be largely poured forth upon you, (as water upon the baptized person,) which was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. When Christ calls his ministers to extraordinary assistance, furnishing them with endowments answerable to their great employments.
Note, 2. The place where Christ commands the apostles to wait for the descent ot the Holy Ghost upon them; namely, at Jerusalem; He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but wait there for the promise. Of all places the apostle would least have chosen Jerusalem to tarry in, had not Christ commanded them to wait there.
For Jerusalem was now a justly abhorred and detested place, reeking afresh with the blood of the holy and innocent Jesus; yet Jerusalem is the place chosen by Christ for the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit upon his apostles; because,
1. There had been his greatest humiliation. There Christ had suffered the greatest ignominy, therefore there will he shew forth his power and glory.
2. Because at Jerusalem there was the greatest company of spectators to behold this noble work, and to be wrought upon by it.
Such as would not be convinced by our Saviour's death and resurrection, might probably be convinced by this miraculous effusion of the Holy Spirit, descending upon the apostle in fiery cloven tongues.
Lord! what an instance was this of thy love to thine enemies! how desirous wert thou of the conversion and salvation of thy very murderers! In and at Jerusalem, where our Lord was crucified, the Holy Ghost first descended: And when Christ appointed where the gospel combination should begin, Jerusalem is the first place in nomination by him. And he said unto them, that repentance and remission of sins should by preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. Luke 24:47
Observe here, The disciples' question and our Saviour's answer:
1. The question proposed by the disciples, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
That is, Wilt thou repair the ruinous condition of the Jewish state, and restore it to that great dignity and splendour which we have always expected should be done by the Messias?
Where observe, That notwithstanding Christ had so often rebuked the Jews in general, and his disciples in particular, for their conceit of a temporal kingdom, (who were so full of ambitious expectations to receive great honours and preferments here on earth) yet it evidently appears, that this notion still ran in their minds, and that their Master being now risen from the dead, this was the time both for his and their dignity and advancement.
Learn hence, That it is no wonder that unbleievers stumbled at the poverty and meanness of Christ's outward condition when he was here on earth, seeing it was so hard for the disciples themselves to be convinced, and believe that his kingdom was not of this world. I know not any thing wherein the bishop of Rome may so properly call himself apostolical, as in his following this error of the apostles. Were they always dreaming of a temporal kingdom? So is he always doting upon it, and his eyes dazzled with the splendour and glory of it. The disciples, not only all the time whilst Christ was with them, but even now, when upon the point of departing from them, when he was just ascending, yea, in part ascended, having one foot upon the earth, and the other in the cloud which took hom up to heaven, yet still they asked him, Wilt thou restore the kingdom? that is, settle upon us thy followers secular power, and temporal dominion here on earth?
But mark, 2. Our Lord's answer, verse 7, It is not for you to know the times or the season, which the Father hath put only in his own power. Our Saviour's answer doth not in the least imply that any such kingdom should ever be granted as they dreamt of; but he checks their curiosity in inquiring into times and seasons, and nature of God's secrets, which it no ways concerned them to pry into: It is not for you to know the times or the seasons.
Here note, 1. Something implied, namely, That there are certain times and seasons, the knowledge of which only belongs to God, which yet man's curiosity has an itching desire to know both what shall be hereafter, and when that hereafter shall be. We are very careless in seeking out the season of that which we ourselves should do; but over careful and curious in seeking out the season of what God will do.
Note, Here is something expressed, namely, that God has times and seasons for executing his own purposes, which it is neither proper, nor profitable, nor possible for us to know. Not proper, because none of our business. Not profitable, because no part of our interest. Not possible, because out of our reach. It is not possible for us to know, either what God is about to do, or when he will do it. It is not possible for us to know it as men, by a natural sagacity; nor as Christians by a supernatural illumination; no, nor as ministers and apostles, without divine inspiration and extra-ordinary revelation, which we have no warrant to expect, and should have no curiosity to desire.
Learn hence, That it much better becomes us with an awful silence to adore, than with a bold curiosity to pry into God's hidden and unrevealed secrets. Yet though it be not for us to know God's times and seasons, it is our duty to expect them, and be prepared for them. We know not when our Lord will come to us by death and judgment, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cock-crowing, or in the morning. But it is our duty to believe and expect it, to wait and prepare for it, and be always ready to receive him.
Finally, Though it is not for us to know the times and seasons which God hath put in his own power, yet it is for us to know the times and seasons which God has put in our power; namely, the present time to improve it, and the time past to bewail our misimprovement of it. To improve the time of affliction, for consideration and humiliation; and the time of prosperity, mercy, and deliverance, for gratulation and thankfulness; and to improve both in farther measures, and increase of holiness and sanctification both of heart and life.
Observe here, How Christ, instead of gratifying his disciples curiosity, acquaints them with their own duty; he tells them, that although they had received his Spirit before, in some measure, yet very shortly the Spirit should be poured forth upon them in a plentiful manner, to confer the gift of tongues, prophecies, and miracles upon them, for rendering them fit to preach the gospel throughout all nations, and also to testify and bear witness unto the truth of what Christ did and said in Judea and Samaria, both to Jews and Gentiles, even to the uttermost parts of the earth.
Here note, What is the special work of the ministers of the gospel; namely, to bear witness unto Christ: Ye shall be witnesses unto me. This they do three ways, Christum praedicando; secundum Christum vivendo; propter Christum patiendo: "By the purity of their doctrine, by the piety of their lives, and by their patience under suffering, both for Christ, and from Christ."
Note, 2. What it was that enabled the apostles thus to bear witness unto Christ, namely, the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit upon them: The Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me.
Thence learn, That some measure of ministerial gifts and sanctifying graces from the Holy Spirit, is absolutely necessary to enable the ministers of the gospel to bear their testimony unto Christ with faithfulness and success.
Here an account is given of our Saviour's triumphant ascension into heaven, with several remarkable particulars thereunto belonging.
Observe, 1. Who and what it was that ascended; even the same that descended. Christ Jesus, in his divine nature as God, and in his human nature as man, his person consisting of soul and body, he now ascended in both.
Observe, 2. The place he ascended from; from this world in general, and from Mount Olivet in particular, that very place where he began his last sorrowful tragedy. Where his heart began to be sad, here it is now made glad.
Learn thence, That God can make the very places of our trouble and torment, (as sick-beds, prisons, strange countries) to become places of comfort and triumphant joy unto us, when he pleases.
Observe, 3. The place whither he ascended, into heaven; that is, the third heaven, the throne of God, the seat of the blessed. Hence he is said to ascend far above all heavens; that is, above the aerial and starry heavens which we see, into the highest heavens; unto the place where he was before, as himself expresses it, Joh 6:62.
Thence learn, That the Lord Jesus Christ is returned back again to that sweet and glorious bosom of delight and love, from which he came at his first incarnation; What and if he shall see the Son of Man ascending up where he was before?
Observe, 4. The time when our Lord ascended, forty days after his resurrection. The care and love of Christ to his church was manifested by this his stay with them. Unspeakable glory was prepared for him, and did now await him; but he would not go to possess it, till he had settled all things for the good of his church. And when he had settled his family in order, and given charge to his disciples concerning the discipline of his house, he would stay no longer, lest he should seem to affect a terrene life.
Note hence, That Christ desired to be no longer here, than he had work to do for God and souls. A good pattern for our imitation, to desire life upon the score of usefulness: To be willing to be gone when our work is done.
Observe, 5. How and after what manner Christ ascended up into heaven. he ascended, as well as was raised from the grave, by his own power, verse 10 Whilst they looked stedfastly, he went up: that is, by his own divine power. True, the angels did attend him, but they did not assist him. Elias went to heaven in a chariot of fire, but he was fetched up, he could not carry himself up: but Christ needed no chariot, no carriage of angels for his conveyance, being the author of life and motion.
1. He ascended magnificently, with great triumph into his kingdom in heaven; God went up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet. A cloud is prepared as a royal chariot, to carry up this King of glory to his royal pavilion: A cloud received him out of their sight.
And oh! what jubilations of the blessed angels were heard in heaven! The triumphs and universal acclamations are not ended to this day, nor ever shall end.
2. He ascended munificently, shedding forth innumerable and inestimable gifts upon his church at his ascension; When he ascended up on high, he gave gifts to men, prophets, apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
And oh! how many thousands now in heaven, and upon earth also, are blessing Christ at this day, for these his ascension-gifts!
Observe, 6. The witnesses of our Lord's ascension. Elias had but one witness of his rapture into heaven. St. Paul not one, but Christ will neither have all eye-witnesses of his ascension, nor yet too few; he did not carry all Jerusalem forth to see his glorious departure, but the select company of his disciples only: The number of witnesses were about an hundred and twenty. Those who had been partners with him in his humiliation, are now made witnesses of his glorious ascension. If we will converse with Christ in his lowly estate here on earth, we shall be made happy with the sight of his transendent glory ere long above.
Observe, 7. The cause and reasons why he thus ascended; namely, because had he not ascended, he could not have been inaugurated and installed in the glory he now enjoys above. Had he not ascended, he could not have interceded, as now he doth, for us here below. Had he not ascended into heaven, we could never have entered heaven: He entered as our forerunner, as our head and representative, and we ascend after him, in the virtue of his ascension before us.
In a word, had he not ascended before us, the Holy Spirit had not been enjoyed by us, as a sanctifier, and as a comforter, at least not in that measure in which he has been since enjoyed by his church. If Christ had not gone, the Comforter had not come. He begins where Christ ended. Take we good heed then, how we treat the Holy Spirit whom Christ sent down from heaven at his ascension thither; that we do not grieve him by our unkindness, nor vex him by our disobedience, nor quench him by our sinful neglects of duty: for in grieving our Spirit, we grieve our Comforter, and in grieving our Comforter, we grieve ourselves. But let us entertain him kindly, on the account of his nature, for he is God, Acts 5:1-42. On the account of his office, and the benefits we received by him; for he is Vinculum Unionis, the bond of union betwixt Christ and our souls, without which we can never have either interest in Christ, or communion with him.
Observe here, How the spectators of our Lord's ascension were justly transported into an extacy of wonder and admiration. Christ ascended gradually and leisurely, that he might at once confirm the faith, and delight the eyes and minds of his beholders. Whilst they thus stood admiring, two angels, in the shape of men, appear in white, (a colour which they oft appeared in, to shew both that they retained their native purity, and also to represent the joyfulness of their errand which they went upon) and call to the apostles, who were some of them men of Galilee, to take notice that this Jesus whom they now beheld ascending up into heaven, should come again to judge the world, and so come again in like manner, that is, visible, in a cloud, by his own power, with the like majesty, and with the same soul and body. But not one word of the time when; that, not knowing the hour, we may be upon our watch every hour; Ideo latet unus dies ut observentur onmes.
The apostles having seen our Saviour thus gloriously ascended into heaven from Mount Olivet, they return to Jerusalem; which is called a sabbath-day's journey that is, about two miles. Eight furlongs make a mile, and Bethany, in which was the Mount of Olivet, was from Jerusalem about fifteen furlongs, Joh 11:18. This was the common walk which the Jews used on the sabbath-day, but rather for meditation than recreation's sakes. The apostles thus returned, assemble together at Jerusalem, where they lay the foundation of the first gospel-church.
And here observe, 1. How the names of all the eleven apostles are repeated, and distinctly set down, to shew, that although they had fallen from their profession, and forsaken Christ, yet they had recoverd themselves by repentance, and were risen again; and upon their recovery, were continued by Christ in their former office and dignity. O the mighty power of a sincere repentance, to reinstate us in the favour and friendship of an offended God!
Observe, 2. How the sight of Christ's ascension had established and confirmed the apostles faith: they now adore and worship him, and assemble together to perform their joint devotions to him. True, they looked upon him as a person sent from God, a great prophet, and the Son of David; but his Deity being evinced, and now made evident to them by his resurrection form the grave, and ascension into heaven, they now worshipped him as the Son of God. Luke 24:52
Observe, 3. The place where this Christian congregation did assemble; In an upper room; that is, says Dr. Hammond, in one of the chambers belonging to the temple; in the large upper room, say others, where Christ had lately eaten the passover with his disciples; it was no doubt the most convenient place they could find for that solemnity; an upper room being remote from noise and company, and capacious enough to receive this primo-primitive church, consisting of an hundred and twenty persons.
It teaches us, That all advantages, with respect to time and place, and other circumstances, for the better performance of holy duties, ought to be made use of and improved by us.
Observe, 4. The persons who were the first constituting members of this new constituted church; together with the apostles, mention is made of women in general, and of the Virgin Mary in particular; where we may remark, That this is the first and last time that the scripture makes mention of her after Christ's death. None of the Evangelists record one word of our Lord's appearing once to her, during his forty days stay and continuance upon earth after his resurrection.
Doubtless, the Spirit of God in the holy scriptures, by speaking so sparingly of her life, and nothing at all of her death, took care that all those fabulous reprots of her assumption, which have since arisen, should find no footsteps in the word of God. God dealeth with her, as with Moses, of whose sepulchre no man knoweth unto this day, lest it should be abused to idolatry.
The learned Dr. Lightfoot is of opinion, that she continued, under the care of the beloved disciple, unto whom Christ committed her for some time, and at last was taken away by martyrdom, according to Simeon's prophecy. A sword shall pierce through thine own soul also. Luke 2:35 Which prophecy, he thinks, pointed at the manner of her death: But notwithstanding the silence of the scriptures, the church of Rome confidently affirms, that the Virgin lived sixty-three years, and that all the apostles were at her funeral, except St. Thomas, who desiring afterward to see her holy corpse, the sepulchre being opened the third day, the body was gone, being assumed and taken up into heaven.
During the ten days stay and continuance of the apostles at Jerusalem, before the feast of Pentecost, a motion was made among them for filling up the vacancy in the sacred college of the apostles, which was occasioned by the death of the traitor Judas; and here we have observable,
1. The person that made this motion, St. Peter: In those days Peter stood up, and said. Whence the church of Rome would infer his supremacy, byt very groundlessly.
For St. Peter's being the chief speaker, and sometimes the sole speaker, is not to be attributed to his superiority; but,
1. To his seniority, he being probably elder than the rest.
2. To his apostolical office! he was appointed to be the first and chief minister of the circumcision, to preach among the Jews: and therefore no wonder that Peter if first mentioned, when any thing relating to the Jewish affairs is recited.
3. His forwardness to speak and act for Christ and his interest, may be imputed to his repentance, it being but necessary that he, who had so scandalously fallen, should, by his future zeal, convince the world both of his repentance and recovery.
And accordingly he speaks, acts, and labours more abundantly than all the apostles; not that the rest were idle or insignificant; for they were equal with him, having an equal authority, an equal gift of miracles, an equal number of tongues, and equal power to preach the gospel, an equal wisdom in preaching of it:
For the reasons above mentioned, St. Peter spake and did so much; having dishonoured Christ before by his cowardly denial of him, he now resolves to signalize himself by shewing extraordinary measures of zeal nad activity for him.
Observe, 2. The honourable office and station which Judas once had; He was numbered with the apostles, and obtained part of that ministry with them. Judas though (secretly) a thief, a traitor, yea, a devil, yet had he by Christ's own choice, a part or office in the apostolic order.
O Lord! how possible, and yet how sad is it to preach to others, and to become castaways ourselves! to prophecy in thy name, and yet to perish in thy wrath! to cast devils out of others, and yet be cast to the devil ourselves! to have our ministry blessed to others comfort and salvation, and at the same time to minister to our own condemnation! Quistalia fando temperet a lachrymis?
Observe, 3. Judas's sin described; He was guide to them that took Jesus, verse 16. A guide to the chief priests in thier counsels, as to the manner of apprehending Christ; and a guide to the soldiers, as to the time and place of his apprehension.
Note thence, That there cannot be a greater sin, than for a person to be a guide and leader of others into sin. Woe to magistrates! woe to ministers! woe to parents! that are found guilty of this sin.
Observe, 4. Judas's punishment declared;
1. He was hanged or strangled; some think by his own hand: others by the devil's. No doubt that Satan, who had so great a hand in his sin, had more than a finger in his punishment. Of all mortals, no wretch ever deserved so direful a fate as this traitor Judas: And doubtless it was the dreadfulest that the devil could inflict.
2. It is added, that he burst asunder, and his bowels gushed out. The rope, or that to which it was fastened, breaking, he fell down headlong, and burst asunder, and his bowels gushed out. A just and suitable punishment for his want of bowels to his kind and innocent Master.
3. He went to his own place; that is, he went and was sent to hell and damnation, the proper place for the son of perdition: called his own place, because of his own choosing, of his own deserving, of his own procuring; it was what he had purchased to himself by the wages of iniquity, and justly deserved for his final impenitency.
Judas having in the forementioned manner made void his office, and being gone to his own place, St. Peter moves the company, that another person may be chosen to fill up the place.
Where note, 1. The electors or persons choosing; namely, the hundred and twenty; these were the eleven apostles, the seventy disciples, and about thirty-eight more, all of Christ's own kindred, country, or converse; not that these were all the believers that were found in Jerusalem, for he appeared to five hundred brethren at once, but these followed him continually, were of his family and society and of his immediate train and retinue, and appointed by him for the ministry: These therefore make the choice; and of one among themselves is the choice made.
Note, 2. The qualification of the person which St. Peter directs the company to observe in the choice they make of this new apostle; One that had accompanied with them all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among them:
That is, one that had followed Christ from his baptism to his ascension, to the intent he might be an authentic witness, both of the doctrine and miracles, but particularly of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: For the article of the resurrection includes many other articles of faith in it: for if he arose from the grave, he was buried; if he was buried, he died; if he died, he was born. Therefore the person whom they choose, was to be one that had accompanied with them.
Note, 3. That the apostles did not presume to ordain an apostle by imposition of hands; but the other apostles being chosen of God immediately, it was necessary that he who was to act in the same office, should be chosen after the same manner. Accordingly they cast lots, and leave the determination to God, who devolving it upon Matthias, he was thereupon numbered with the eleven apostles. Lots were used among the Jews for dividing inheritances, for composing differences, for determining elections; and how casual soever it seemed, God was the undoubted determiner of it. Therefore, to cast lots upon trivial occasions, and solemnly to appeal to God's determination in ludicrous matters, is profanely to take the name of God in vain.
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