The revelation of the highest truth needs both words and works for its completeness—theory enforced and illustrated by practical example.
The revelation of the mission and ministry of the Paraclete waited for Christ's incarnation to be fully taught, and for his ascension to be fully explained and understood, when the Spirit was poured out in a glorious baptism of divine energy, a Pentecost of power.
We accordingly find that the great body of our Lord's teaching as to the person and work of the Spirit is found, not in the records of his earlier ministry, but later, in the single discourseJohn 14, 15, 16 immediately preceding his crucifixion, and the last on record, preserved for us in those three precious chapters of the Gospel according to John.Παρακλητος
Here the Spirit of God is first known by that mysterious name, Paraclete, the full meaning of which no one English word can convey or express, and which, perhaps, it would be better to transfer direct, in its original form, into our translation, like other untranslatable words, such as "Jehovah," "Abba," "hallelujah," etc. This word "paraclete," like its nearest Latin equivalent, "advocate," which is once used to translate it, seems to embody mainly the conception of being called to one's aid or summoned to act as a substitute; as, in a court of law, an advocate appears to conduct a case or cause in another's behalf and as his representative.1 John 2:2.
Whatever other conceptions may properly pertain to the name, Paraclete, this seems to be central and controlling: the Holy Spirit comes when Christ goes—comes to take the place of the absent Lord Jesus; to become, therefore, to the believer, and to the church as the collective body of believers, all that Christ would have been had he remained on earth, with this added advantage: that, as a condition of his humiliation, the Lord Jesus submitted to certain limitations of his and our humanity, and was therefore, while in the flesh, not practically omnipresent; whereas the Holy Spirit, not having assumed a human body as his mode of incarnation, is, equally and everywhere, resident in and abiding with every believer. Hence it was "expedient" for his disciples that Christ should "go away"; for when he departed he sent the Paraclete to act in his stead.
The fact is both curious and significant that what is found in the Gospel narratives, in the form of precept or teaching, reappears in the Acts of the Apostles in the form of practice or example; and so the great truths taught about the Holy Spirit, in that "farewell discourse" recorded by John, are in the Book of the Acts illustrated and illuminated, being exemplified and applied in actual history.
If, therefore, we are to study the Acts of the Apostles, with a view to the understanding of the Holy Spirit's person and ministry as there exhibited, it is first of all desirable and needful to combine, in one continuous form of statement, all that our Lord taught upon this subject in the discourse already referred to, especially as it holds in germ all the teaching afterward illustrated in the Acts and expanded in the Epistles.
We tarry, then, at this point, to present the combined body of testimony concerning the Spirit, preserving that obvious parallelism which pervades the whole of this teaching, imparting to it that peculiar poetic rhyme and rhythm of thought which are of the very genius of Hebrew poetry, and help to give insight into the relations of corresponding ideas:
"I will pray the Father,
And he shall give you
That he may abide with you forever;
Even the Spirit of truth;
Whom the world cannot receive,
Because it seeth him not,
Neither knoweth him:
But ye know him;
For he dwelleth with you,
And shall be in you.
These things have I spoken unto you,
Being yet present with you.
But the Paraclete,
Which is the Holy Ghost,
Whom the Father will send in my name,
He shall teach you all things, And bring all things to your remembrance,
Whatsoever I have said unto you.
When the Paraclete is come,
Whom I will send unto you from the Father,
Even the Spirit of truth,
Which proceedeth from the Father,
He shall testify of me:
And ye also shall testify,
Because ye have been with me from the beginning.
It is expedient for you that I go away:
For if I go not away,
The Paraclete will not come unto you;
But if I depart, I will send him unto you.
And when he is come,
He will reprove the world
And of righteousness,
And of judgment:
Of sin, because they believe not on me;
Of righteousness, because I go to my Father,
And ye see me no more;
Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.
I have yet many things to say unto you,
But ye cannot bear them now.
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come,
He will guide you into all truth:
For he shall not speak from himself;
But whatsoever he shall hear,
That shall he speak:
And he will show you things to come.
He shall glorify me:
For he shall receive of mine,
And shall show it unto you.
All things that the Father hath are mine:
Therefore said I, that he shall take of mine,
And shall show it unto you."
With this body of teaching before us, we turn to the Book of the Acts to find the practical example and illustration of these truths in the early history of the church.
This book we may, perhaps, venture to call the Acts of the Holy Spirit, for from first to last it is the record of his advent and activity. Here he is seen coming and working; and all normal activity in believers, individually and collectively, is traced, like a stream, past its human channel to its divine source and spring. But one true Actor or Agent is here recognized, all other so-called actors or workers being merely his instruments; an agent being one who acts, an instrument being that through which he acts.
This constitutes the unique charm of this book: it is the field chosen for the display of the Spirit's working. To the devout, discerning reader every chapter is but a new channel for his activity, and every event or occurrence a new exhibition of his presence and power in the affairs of the church or mystical body of Christ.
All that remains now is to verify these statements by an examination into the details of this brief history, which, like the story of our Lord's life which precedes, covers the period of about thirty-three years, the average lifetime of a generation, as though to show us, for all the generations to come, what a power the Spirit would be to the believer and the church if allowed to work unhindered by disobedience, unbelief, worldliness, and carnality.
In this introductory chapter let us put before us the great double truth which we shall here find taught and illustrated:
The Spirit of God, the Paraclete, is to be to the disciple and to the church all that Christ would have been had he tarried among us and been the personal companion and counselor of each and all.
And by the Spirit of God working in and through the believer and the church, believers are, in their measure, to be to the world what the Spirit is to them.
These propositions we are now reverently to examine in the light of the recorded "Acts of the Holy Spirit."
The doorways of all God's temples are consonant with the beauty and perfection of what is within; and at the very threshold of this book we meet an indication of the apartments of glorious truth into which we are to enter, and the wonders which are there to be revealed and unveiled.
At the second verse of the opening chapter we read of Christ that he was "taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen."
Here all the blessed intercourse between the risen Lord and his disciples, during the forty days between his resurrection and ascension, all the marvelous communications that he made to them as he spake to them of things pertaining to the kingdom of God, are traced to the Holy Spirit. This prepares the reader to appreciate the importance of the commandment immediately following: that his disciples "should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father," the baptism of that same Holy Spirit for which Christ himself had waited thirty years, before beginning his public ministry. The disciple is not above his Master, nor the servant above his Lord. If even he was indebted to the Holy Spirit for the power of his ministry, surely we cannot afford to attempt the work appointed us without the same anointing.
This hint of need is immediately followed by a renewed assurance of its supply (we prefer the marginal reading):
"Ye shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost, coming upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermostActs 1:8, margin. part of the earth."
This is the initial lesson, which is the key to the entire book which it prefaces. The "promise of the Father" now became also the promise of the Son. The same Holy Spirit who abode in Christ, through whom he discoursed of the kingdom and gave the disciples both instruction and commandment, was to descend upon them, dwell in them, and be to them the source and secret of all power in working and witnessing. So important was this new baptism that for it they were to wait before beginning their work—to "tarry, until endued with power from on high." They were to have a new experience, and upon that experience their testimony was to be based, as identifying them with their Master.
Let this first lesson be written in large letters to be read by all, for it unlocks all the history that follows, and explains every subsequent lesson: the one supreme qualification of Christ's witnesses is this: that THEY BE ENDUED AND ENDOWED WITH POWER BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.
And the whole narrative which is thus prefaced with such a promise shows us its importance; for here we see disciples, thus endued, becoming to the world what the Spirit has become to them. In them he so incarnates himself that through them he works upon others, so that, by the indwelling Holy Spirit, they become, like him, teachers of truth, guiding into all truth; anointed witnesses, testifying to Christ and glorifying Christ; inspired witnesses, not speaking from themselves, but receiving of the things of Christ and showing them to men; effective witnesses, convincing the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment; and even prophetic witnesses, showing things to come.
Thus this Book of the Acts of the Holy Spirit is, with this key, made self-explanatory. The opening chapter sounds the key-note and leading chord of the harmony which follows. What it was that was promised, and what that promise meant, ten days would reveal; and it will best appear to us if, step by step, we follow this fascinating story.
We may anticipate at this point, as properly pertaining to the introductory thoughts, what Peter says, in his pentecostal address, of Jesus: "Being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father theActs 2:33. promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear."
This language, which occurs only here, is too marked to pass unnoticed. The Holy Spirit was God's ascension gift to Christ, that he might be bestowed by Christ, as his ascension gift to his church. Hence Christ had said, "And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you." This was the promised gift of the Father to the Son, and the Son's promised gift to his believing people. How easy now to reconcile the apparent contradiction of Christ's earlier and later words: "I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete;" and then, afterward: "If I depart, I will send him unto you." The Spirit was the Father's answer to the prayer of the Son; and so the gift was transferred by him to the mystical body of which he is the head.