The Day of Pentecost was the epoch of the foundation of the Christian Church. The prepared disciples of Christ were assembled, and upon them the Holy Ghost came down, making them the New Temple of the Triune God. Those were added whose faith received the preaching of the Finished Gospel; and the disciples were constituted into an organised and visible fellowship, to continue for ever during this dispensation under the government of the Spirit as the representative of Jesus its Head.
1. The institute of the Feast of Weeks, representing the presentation of the Jewish harvest firstfruits, typified the, oblation of the firstfruits of the Christian ingathering. It also, though not by Divine enactment, commemorated the giving of the Law, and had its antitype in the full revelation of the New Law of Faith. The Risen Lord appointed a meeting of His disciples in Galilee for the proclamation of His Kingdom; but bade them wait in Jerusalem for the founding of His Church. There they received, as representatives of the Saviour’s old discipleship and the germ of the future body, that baptism of the Spirit which was to them, as their special dignity, instead of the baptism of water. But the Holy Ghost represented the Triune God, now fully revealed, who took possession of this consecrated body, and made them the new Temple or Church. The Shekinah, which was the symbol of the union of God with man, appeared for the last time, and was resolved into the Personal Spirit, the Presence of God in the midst of His people, and resting upon every person present from the Apostles downwards. And it sate upon each of them (Acts. 2:4).
2. After the wonderful works of God (Acts. 2:2) had been proclaimed by the many new tongues of the worshipping assembly, the one new tongue of the preaching brotherhood began the everlasting Gospel. The new Law was the proclamation of the finished work of Christ. The day of the foundation thus gives the first and perhaps the most complete exhibition of the process by which the Church is to be formed to the end of time. The ἐκκλησία is the company called out from the mass by the preaching of the completed redemption of the Incarnate Mediator. It is the Church as gathered from the world; it is the Congregation as assembled together; it is the Fellowship as replenished with common gifts. And these three ought to be one.
3. This Day also began the organisation of the community: that is, if we include the final words of the chapter as belonging to its history. The elements of order, prepared in the Gospels, now take their instant and permanent form. Pentecost is the typical day of the future of Christendom: in the morning the worshipping assembly, glorifying God for the accomplishment of all His purposes; in its noon the full Evangelical preaching; the rest of it given to organisation and fellowship. Amidst such shaking of heaven and earth as was never known before, whilst the Christian company was in its first ecstasy of worship, and the crowd in the strong excitement of conviction, the water of Baptism begins to flow as the symbol of order and of introduction to the new fellowship. And, as the rite of initiation was remembered in honour of the Lord’s final command, so the community was immediately organised within. Here first indeed we have the ἐκκλησία, or church, mentioned as an historical fact: the Lord added to the church daily such as were in course of salvation. (Acts 2:47, 42) And what was the course or process of salvation? The Apostles’ doctrine: (Matt. 16:18) that is, the Great Confession of an earlier day expanded by the Apostles; their fellowship, that is, the submission to all the obligations of the society life that day begun, and the enjoyment of the blessings of the Christian covenant under Apostolical sanction; the breaking of bread, the Lord’s Supper this, not the Apostles’; and, as embracing, and pervading, and sanctifying all, the prayers ordered by the new Spirit of adoption.
4. The later New Testament—the Acts and the Epistles being interwoven into one history of the beginnings of the perfected fellowship—shows us the gradual consolidation of the economy of the Church, under the guidance of the Apostles, who were for a season all in all as Christ had been. As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you. (John 20:21) We see the formation of a pastoral ministry in its elements afterwards to be developed. We see the growth of the community from without by the preaching of the Word, from within by the incorporation of the children of believers. Meanwhile, orderly arrangement never fails. The new brotherhood was not moulded by an esoteric influence, acting like a philosophy: the leaven leavened a lump which the Holy Spirit shaped into a body as fully and exactly organised as any known to men. Simple as are the elements of this primitive ecclesiastical polity, it is very sharply defined. The visible Jesus, surrounded by His disciples, was not more isolated and apart from the mass of the people around, than His Church is, under the influence of His Spirit, marked off and isolated from the world. And that organisation, thus perfectly sketched, remains as the standard of order in the congregation for ever.
5. This Day placed the Christian community under the jurisdiction and government of the Holy Ghost. What the presence of Christ was in the Gospels, the Head without a corporate body, the presence of the Spirit is, representing the Invisible Head of a body now visible. This doctrine is vital in many ways. It overturns the delusion of any earthly vicar of Christ. There is one body and one Spirit (Eph. 4:4). What the great hierarchical theory gives to the Pontiff is taken only by usurpation. The delegated headship of the Holy Ghost is the security of the infallibility and indefectibility of the Christian Body in the conservation of the truth. The Spirit of life (Rom. 8:2) is strong against every enemy of the Church: the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). For He is the Giver of life: of all ecclesiastical life, as well organic as individual. He moulds its elements and fashions them as He will: being τὸ Κύριον, τό ζωοποιόν, as defined in the Nicene Creed. There are crises in the history of Christianity when new forms are given to the outward organisation, and He makes those a people who were not a people (1 Peter 2:10). This truth may be and has been perverted; but the Spirit Himself vindicates it in His own way, and the history of Christendom cannot be understood without it. More generally He is the Source of all energy and strength to the body of Christ upon earth: He is the breath of lives (Gen. 2:7), of many lives, inbreathed into it, and Himself the Inbreather. Lastly, the Spirit is the Representative of the Lord, Whose Headship abideth ever. He acts for Christ in His one Person. As the whole Trinity generally is represented by the Spirit, and not the Father alone, so it is the whole Christ and not the Eternal Son alone. But, as the Lord’s Vicegerent in His Church, He does not exclude the Lord Himself. When the Saviour declared the necessity of His going in order that the Spirit might come, He so spake as to reserve His own dignity as that of One who would be never absent. I will come to you. He shall take of Mine (John 14:18; 16:15). It is not as in the case of that other Forerunner: He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30). The Lord Christ Himself, and not the Spirit, is Head over all things to the church (Eph. 1:22). We know that the presence of our Intercessor is behind the veil, we know also that in the Holy Ghost He is here also: at hand as well as afar off (Jer. 23:23). One name is common to the heavenly and the earthly Head: that of Παράκλητος or Advocate. He who pleads for the people, our Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1) in words unheard, pleads in them by the Spirit Who maketh intercession for us with groanings not spoken (Rom. 8:26). It is true that the phraseology of the Acts introduces a great change in the Divine personality: the I is that of a Third Voice not heard before. As, passing from the Old Testament into the Gospels, we have a new Divine Speaker, so it is in the Acts. Separate Me! (Acts 13:2) is the command of the Holy Ghost. But, as the Father sometimes is heard during the earthly dispensation of the Son, and is never absent, so the Lord Jesus in the Acts is never absent, and sometimes speaks in His own name. He is King in His kingdom: He has that universal kingship which He will surrender at the last day; He has that special kingship over His redeemed which will not really begin or be consummated till the last day. But He is in Apostolical language the Head over His Church, the Head of the Church, rather than its King. This indicates, if possible, a yet nearer and closer relation. The Incarnate Person has a union with His Body unshared and pre eminently His own. It is the Church of God (Acts 20:28)—or the Lord—which He hath purchased with His own blood (Matt. 16:18). We return to His own first word: My Church!