J. Paterson Smyth
The Birth of the Church
"Ye shall receive power after
that the Holy Ghost is come upon you."
EACHER should read over the Special Lessons for
Whitsuntide, as throwing fuller light upon this Lesson.
Recapitulate last Lesson. "The Great Forty Days." Then
came the Ascension—then the return to Jerusalem to
upper room—to wait ten days more—for what? (i. 4).
What promise? Remember what said in last Lesson about
"power" to be given.
§ 1. The Story of Pentecost
Picture the group in that
room, meeting day after day for earnest prayer and
waiting. How solemn life would seem! How real would be
Christ and religion! Day after day they meet, waiting,
wondering, expecting they scarce know what.
Then, at last, one of the great Church holidays of the
Jews. Enormous crowds of Jews from all neighbouring
countries crowded into Jerusalem. Whence?
The 120 disciples make their way through the crowds
early (v. 13). Their morning prayer
has begun. If
every parish like these on Sunday
morning—all with one accord in one place—with one accord in eager prayer
for the Holy Ghost—in one place, not scattered into
different sects and parties—there would be more of
Pentecost results. See them waiting, wondering,
praying. Suddenly a most startling thing—the house
shaking and quivering, as with earthquake, and they
hear—what? And see—what?
(v. 4). This
last was the most wonderful of all—the shaking house
and stormy sound and tongues of fire, were as nothing
to the great wonder of all which they felt in their own
souls. Surely this must be the promised gift—this must
be the Holy Ghost—God appearing in mysterious power to
equip the new Church for its work in the world! And
then they discovered another wonderful thing, that
astonished everybody who heard. What?
(v. 4). People
came crowding together to enquire about the sound, as
of a mighty wind, and as they crowd around, the
disciples begin to speak in the various languages of
all the strangers. The Jerusalem people don't
understand—it seems mere gabble. What do they
think? (v. 13). But the strangers
know better. Utterly astonished. What do they say?
(vv. 7-11). Yes, it
was really the foreign tongues taught by miracle in a
moment. Many think it was to enable them to go and
preach to all these nations. It seems a sort of
prophecy of what the Church should do in the days to
come. To-day the Church sends out missionaries to teach
many people in their own tongue wherein they were born.
The Bible Society sends out Bible in 250 different
languages through the world.
What did Peter reply to the mockers? Not filled with
wine, but filled with what? (v. 4).
Not the excitement
of drunkenness, but the glorious enthusiasm for God and
righteousness. Some cold, worldly people
now-a-days don't believe in this
It is possible still? Yes; there are people now also
very enthusiastic for God, willing to do and say and
suffer anything if only they can carry out our Lord's
blessed design for the Kingdom of God (see last
Lesson). But should be far more people and far more
power and enthusiasm. What would accomplish this? More
of the power of the Holy Ghost. How get it?
§ 2. The Birth of the Church
We name this Lesson "Birth of
the Church." Why? Christian Church really began on that
Pentecost day. Before that day there were materials
collected waiting for the influence of the Holy Ghost,
like wires laid in their place waiting for the electric
energy that was to infuse them with power. Now the
Before that day also there were 120
separate individual disciples believing in Christ and
loyal to Him. Now they become One Body, they become
"The Church." There is One Body and One Spirit," i.e.,
the whole band of Christians became the one body
indwelt by the One Spirit. Explain: like human body
indwelt by human spirit. That is the meaning of calling
the Church the "Body of Christ." It is very wrong to
split it up into separate little sects. He prayed
"that they all may be one (John xvii. 21). And they
were (vv. 44-47).
And so, with insignificant
exceptions, for nearly 1,000 years. Then they
up more and more as years went on. Now more than
200 separate bodies in Great Britain. The beautiful
thought of One Body, One Spirit, spoiled by these
divisions. Like as His earthly body was ill-treated,
so is His mystical body the Church. "By schisms rent
asunder." But we must not lose hope of reuniting the
parts again. God has all power still. Full power of
Holy Ghost, in answer to prayer, would teach all
divided Christians to love one another, and give up
their disputings, and come together again, and thus
accomplish their Master's prayer. Like the separate
pools on the shore when the tide is out, all belonging
to the same sea, all composed of the same water, yet
hopelessly separate until the tide sweeps in, and they all become one.
So will it be when some day, in answer to earnest
prayers, a great outpouring again of the gift of
Pentecost, and we all shall be one. And then we may
hope that same Pentecost gift will give us more and
more of the power of holiness and self-sacrifice and
enthusiasm for Christ's work.
§ 3. The First Sermon in the Christian Church
Think of the influence of preaching in all ages of the Church.
Therefore interesting to think of its first sermon, and
its results. First the sermon—(1) Plain, ordinary, not
clever or eloquent, but close, manly, personal appeal
from a man to men as about something of enormous
consequence to them. (2) It was all about Jesus
Christ—Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, gift of
Holy Ghost. (3) Its courageous tone. Think of that
poor coward who was frightened by the mocking tongue of
a maid-servant a few weeks ago, and these timid
disciples who had run away before crucifixion, now
bearding priest and Pharisee and mob, proclaiming in
that very town where He had been crucified—the Risen,
and Glorified, and Ascended Messiah! Where had they
got that power? Surely from Holy Ghost. (4) And then
look at results. More than all the results of our
Saviour's own preaching throughout His ministry. We
cannot understand, but the Lord had foretold it.
"Greater works than these shall ye do, because I go to
the Father." In some way it was necessary for Him to go in
order that He should send down this marvellous
power—the Holy Ghost. See the result at once.
(vv. 37, 41) pricked to
the heart and crying out, "What shall we do?" More
about this in next Lesson.
§ 4. Lesson
Believe in the Holy Ghost—in
the reality of His power—for
Church—for individual (v. 3, "sat
upon each"). His power is ready to our hand to-day. We
who want to be good and holy, who want our Church to be
a mighty blessing, pray more and more for
"the fellowship of the Holy Ghost."