While reading in Acts this morning, I ran across an outline that I penciled in the margin years ago on Acts 4:31. Four simple points: (regarding the Apostles) 1. they prayed, 2. they fellowshipped together, 3. they were Spirit filled and 4. they witnessed boldly. I wondered how others would treat this passage for a sermon and am posting the following for your use as you study and prepare. Enjoy;
And when they had prayed the place was shaken … and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.
Prayer effects miracles
1. Hearts are savingly affected.
2. Spirits are mightily strengthened.
1. Houses are moved.
2. Churches awakened.
3. Enemies frightened.
4. Mountains displaced.
5. The world convulsed. (K. Gerok.)
The blessings of spiritual worship
I. The devotional supplication offered to God. “They prayed.” It was–
II. The visible evidence of the Lord’s presence. “The place was shaken where they were assembled together.”
1. The unmistakable proof of Divine power.
2. The reliable sign of Divine nearness.
3. The full assurance of Divine protection.
III. The invisible descent of the spirit. “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost.”
1. The gift of the Holy Ghost was bestowed.
2. The supply of the Holy Ghost was abundant.
3. Every worshipper received the baptism of the Spirit.
IV. The Christian courage of the disciples. “They spake the Word of God with boldness.”
1. The subject of their speeches.
2. The fearlessness of their conduct.
3. The activity of their labours.
1. To plead with God should be our first thought when surrounded with difficulties.
2. God will grant to our request some token of His presence and help of the Spirit.
3. The prayers of true worshippers bring blessings if we wait patiently at the throne of grace.
4. May we seek by holy fellowship to speak Divine truths without the fear of the world. (Alfred Buckley.)
The gift of the Spirit dependent on prayer
How well I remember a sermon I preached at a great outdoor meeting in the upper part of this State! For several days in that place prayer had been offered for the success of the service, and I had myself been unusually prayerful, and we had a Pentecostal blessing while I was preaching it. That afternoon I took the train for a great outdoor meeting in Ohio. I said to myself: “This sermon was blessed to-day, and it is fresh in my mind, and I will preach it to-morrow in Ohio.” And I did preach it, but not in as prayerful a spirit, and I think no one else had been praying about it, and it turned into the most inane and profitless discourse that I ever delivered. It was practically the same sermon, but on Wednesday it had on it a power that comes from the secret place of thunder, and on Thursday it had on it no such power at all. Oh! pray for us! Poor sermons in the pulpit are the curse of God on a prayerless parish. We ministers and preachers want the power a man gets when he is alone, the door locked; on his knees at midnight; with such a burden of souls upon him that makes him cry out, first in lamentation and then in raptures. Let all the Sabbath-school teachers, and Bible-class instructors, and all reformers, and all evangelists, and all ministers know that diplomas, and dictionaries, and encyclopaedias, and treatises, and libraries are not the source of moral and spiritual achievement, but that the room of prayer, where no one but God is present and no one but God hears, is the secret place of thunder. Secret? Ah, yes! So secret that comparatively few ever find it. At Boscobel, England, we visited a house where a king was once hid. No one, unless it were pointed out to him, could find the door in the floor through which the king entered his hiding-place. When there hidden the armed pursuers looked in vain for him, and afterward through an underground passage, far out in the fields, he came out in the open air. So this imperial power of spiritual influence has a hiding-place, a secret place which few know, and it comes forth sometimes in strange and mysterious ways, and far off from the place where it was hidden. You can find it only by diligent searching. But you may find it, and some of you will find it, and I wish you might all find it, the secret place of thunder. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The second Pentecost
I. The praying.
1. The exuberance of joy, the yearnings of sympathy, the wailings of sorrow seek–very commonly–Loud vocal expression. So the disciples lifted up their voice (Act 4:24).
2. They prayed together. The soul loves sympathy in joy as well as sorrow.
II. The sharing. Praying and shaking have often been found together. The foundations of the prison at Philippi were shaken. The Lord of old promised to shake the heavens, and not the earth only. The bones were shaken when Ezekiel prophesied in the valley of vision. In mighty prayer the electric current shakes the clouds of blessing, so that heavy showers descend upon us. Hearts are shaken, knees shaken, sinners shaken.
III. The filling. Not half filled, not three parts, but completely. Not filled with doubts and fears, as too often people now are when they pray, but with the Holy Ghost. That is the sort of filling preachers or people, teachers or scholars, require nowadays. To be filled with the Holy Ghost is to be filled with faith, with power, with unction, with heaven.
IV. The speaking.
1. What did they speak? Not the praise of man: much less slander and reproach. Not the mere shibboleth of party, not idle or mischievous words, but the Word of God. How little do many professors speak of God’s Word. But as David said of Goliath’s sword, “there is none like it.”
2. They spake it–how? Boldly. Of course, when they were full of the Holy Ghost they would little heed what men thought of them, said about them, or did at them. Many a fit of nervousness has been cured this way, (W. Antliff, D. D.)
Early Church life
Let us consider–
I. The prayer.
1. Its occasion. The persecution of the apostles.
2. Its substance. It was seasonable, suitable, short, as all the prayers recorded in the Scriptures are; and though they had been so evil entreated yet they beseech God to stretch forth His hand, not to strike and to punish, but to heal.
3. Its success. God never said to the seed of Jacob, “Seek ye My face in vain.” The sign of the acceptance of their prayer seemed much more likely to produce dread than to gender hope; but so God would teach us that He is greatly to be feared in the assembly of His saints; that He will be sanctified by all them that come nigh to Him; that there is something awful even in the dispensations of His grace; that He sometimes answers His people as the God of their salvation, by terrible things in righteousness.
4. Its effect. “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” They were now called to fresh duties, difficulties, dangers; and therefore they required fresh supplies of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Their strength was made equal to their day, and they obtained accessions of illumination, of confidence, of courage, of peace, and of joy, and were prepared to stand complete in all the will of God.
II. The preaching. “And they spake the Word of God with boldness.” The very thing for which they had been praying. The very thing Paul beseeches of the Ephesians to implore on his behalf: “that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly.” You see how little they were governed by the opinions of the people around them; that they did not walk in craftiness, nor handle the Word of God deceitfully, nor appeal to the fancies and wishes of the individuals before them; but by manifestation of the truth, they commended themselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. Suppose a number of persons were to call on a minister on a Sabbath-day morning, and one of them should say, “I hope, sir, you do not mean to-day to be severe against avarice, for my heart goes after my covetousness”; and another, “I trust you will not be severe against backbiting, for my tongue walketh with slanderers”; and another, “Do not represent implacability as being inconsistent with Divine forgiveness, for I never did forgive such an one, and I never will.” What would this minister say to these men? Why, if he were in a proper state of mind, he would say, “Oh, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness! when wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” Our people are not likely to address us in this way, but this is the wish and meaning of many. “Three things equalise,” says Bishop Hall, “the grave, the judgment-bar, and the pulpit: the grave makes no difference, the judgment-bar makes none, and the pulpit should make none.” Daniel addressed Belshazzar as if he had been a common man. John the Baptist was to Herod as rough as the garment he wore. James the First said of one of his chaplains, “Why, this man always preaches before me as if death stood at his elbow.” Why, dearth does always stand at the preacher’s elbow, and he ought to be able to say with Baxter: “I preach as if I ne’er should preach again; and as a dying man to dying men.”
III. The people (verse 32). Verily, if this be “the golden age of Christianity,” we may well exclaim, “How is the gold become dim!” Note–
1. Their number, “a multitude.” This accords with our Saviour’s represcutation of His kingdom as in the beginning–Like a little leaven in the meal, and like a mustard-seed in the ground. But then this little leaven was to leaven the whole lump, and this mustard-seed was to become a tree. Our Saviour first opened His mind to twelve, and then to seventy, and then we read of five hundred brethren in Galilee and a hundred and twenty in Jerusalem; then three thousand at Pentecost. Then as a result of daily additions to the Church, five thousand. We concede that success by itself is not proof of the divinity of a cause. If we did, what should we then do with Mohammedism and Popery? But here we contend that the case is unspeakably peculiar, and that the instrumentalities employed were so perfectly in themselves inadequate to the result, that the effect must induce us to exclaim, “This is the finger of God.”
2. Their character. “The multitude believed.” The subject reported by the apostles had been unknown, or held in contempt, before; but now the people received is, not as the word of man, but as it was in truth, the word of God; and the belief became productive of godliness in the soul, and the influence of it worked effectually in them that believed. Is this always the case with belief? You believe! so do the devils–and tremble, and remain devils still; and wicked men may hold the truth in unrighteousness. Take heed, therefore; he is a vain man, says James, who says he has faith and has not works.
3. Their unity. They “were of one heart and of one soul”–one object influenced them; one cause engaged them; one principle swayed them. It must be obvious that the views, and tempers, and inclinations of men are very various; and therefore they are only to be brought into a state of social connection by an object that is important and interesting to all: and you find such aa object as this in the gospel. Therefore, in the language of prophecy, it is said, “All nations shall flow unto it,” as so many streams flowing from different sources towards the same fulness–the sea. When the brazen serpent was erected in the midst of the camp, it became the centre of attraction and regard. Our Saviour, in allusion to this, says, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.” If there were but one well for the inhabitants of a village or a town, why they must all repair to it or perish. Old Jacob, therefore, said when he was dying, “Unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.” Isaiah said, “To Him shall men come.” They were of one heart and of one soul; one in their need of the blessing, one in their desire after it, one in their valuation of it, one in their concern to diffuse it, and to extend it to all their fellow-creatures. They were as one family, as one body, where if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it, and if one member be honoured, all the members rejoice. You will note here, as they were now so numerous in Jerusalem, they must have worshipped in various rooms, and have been addressed by various preachers; but though they were divided into so many parts, there were no parties among them. They had not yet learned to be carnal, and to walk as men, saying, “I am of Paul, and I of Apollos.”
4. Their liberality. You have heard often of the communion of saints, and here you have it literally. Their property, by a conventual giving and receiving, being intermingled, became a kind of joint stock, from which every man drew according to his need. (W. Jay.)
Waiting for the Spirit
When tidal rivers meet the sea, a sight may often be witnessed very strange to the uninformed spectator. The day is fine, the breeze is steady and favourable, the rippling waters dance in the sunlight; and as the anxious watcher waits for the long-absent friend who is expected from a distant land, he rejoices in the favourable conditions which will hasten the happy hour of meeting. Eagerly he scans the horizon for the expected ship. Presently it appears, rapidly draws nearer, and the bounding heart shows its restless eagerness by a hundred sighs. But lo! the great vessel slackens speed, and presently drops anchor. Then from the horizon comes another, a stately ship, her snowy sails filled by the breeze. She, too, draws near, and turns away, or furls her sails and waits. And then another and another come, and are stopped on their course by some unseen barrier. Perplexed and impatient, the watcher appeals to a seaman, and gets for answer, “Oh, it’s the tide; they are waiting for the tide.” And behold, even while they speak there is a change in the aspect of the shore. The hurrying waters, which have been flowing so rapidly down to the sea, are stopped; they creep up again over the strand. From far away in the southern ocean a mighty wave is flowing on unseen. It rises and flows and fills the channels, and washes against the sea-wall, and reaches almost to the dock sills, and the gates are opened, and the waiting fleet wakes up to new life; anchors are raised; sails are spread; steam is once more at work; and the stately procession comes up the stream and into the harbour–the ocean steamer with its living freight of a thousand souls, the merchantman from the East with precious cargo of silks and spices, and lesser craft from their various voyages, and with their various stores of goods. (London Missionary Society’s Report.)
Conditions of the baptism of the Spirit
Some of the older States in the great Republic across the Atlantic complain sadly of excessive drought. In bygone years the rain was wont to descend in copious fertilising showers; but now the clouds hover high in the air and float away to other regions. And why? Because the old-established States have been completely shorn of their ancient forests, and as a penalty they now fail to attract the clouds; or, if they attract them, they fail to draw from them the “water of life.” What then do the inhabitants do under these blighting circumstances? They plant cannons in the high places of the land, and when they see a cloud sailing high in mid-air they fire their artillery; the air shakes, and in the shock the cloud rends and pours its precious contents on the thirsty soil–rain often descends the day after battle. That is the modern way of obtaining rain; but the grey-haired settlers declare the old way was better, and they are now busily planting trees in the denuded regions–trees will draw water from the clouds easier than artillery. In like manner the Israel of God is lamenting the excessive drought in the present day–some of you are longing for a “season of refreshing from the presence of the Lord,” you are fervently praying for the “day of visitation.” We see the clouds of the Divine promises heavy-laden with water; but they sail high in the empyrean–no showers descend. What do the Churches do? They fetch the American revivalists, they send here and there for the big guns of the Christian ministry. The guns shoot, the air trembles, the clouds burst, the torrent falls. But it is a torrent, and like all torrents it drenches the surface and soon passes, and the earth is as parched as ever. I say nothing against your resorting to extraordinary means to force on a revival–forcing is now a complicated art, not only in horticulture, but in all departments of activity, temporal and spiritual. But I show you a more excellent way–cultivate more assiduously the “trees of righteousness,” grow more vigorously in grace and knowledge, fulfil more faithfully your duties to men, and discharge more promptly your obligations to God and your Redeemer, and the clouds of the Divine promises, big with mercy, shall break in showers on your heads. Get you up, gird your loins, live lives of holiness and consecration, and soon you will hear the “sound of abundance of rain.” (J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)
The secret of power
I. The outpouring of prayer. “When they heard, they lifted up their voice to God.” It would seem that not a word was said to one another. “We know it was earnest and fervent prayer, because of the men by whom it was offered, because of the special source that gave the inspiration from which it sprang, and because of the result that followed. Prayer is the only preparation by which we can be meetened for the work, and the only power by which the work can be blessed. Not mere repetition of forms, either from printed page or stereotyped memory, but the uprising and outpouring of prayer like a living power out of a living soul, in which God the Spirit shall plead with God the Father the merits of God the Son, and then shall God’s work be sustained by His grace, and be prospered by His Divine power indeed. Prayer without work is mockery; work without prayer is vanity, and must lead to despair, vexation, and grief. If Israel is to rally her broken ranks to the conflict, bearing her glorious standard, to march in undaunted power and all-conquering might against the Amalekites and all that assail her, it must be preceded by the uplifting of the arms upon the mountain above the plain. It must be special prayer, prayer with point, with a purpose, for your ministers, for all your instrumentalities. Gather them all like a golden sheaf into your arms, and bring them all into the presence of the God of all grace, and the Spirit of all power. Prayer that shall spring from a sense of our own responsibility to God for everything, the utter inability for anything of ourselves; prayer that shall bring down the Divine power to make us say, “I can do all things.”
II. They were all filled with the Holy Ghost.
1. All filled with it, not merely Peter, and John, and James. And so must it be with every servant of God. It shall be sought not merely for the minister, or the church officer, or the Sundayschool teacher, but for all, that it may give the tenderness of the still small voice; that it may be heard in the thunder of every Boanerges; that it may give Divine vitality and power to the sweet, soft music of every Barnabas; that it may be as a living two-edged sword out of the mouth of every Apollos; that it may be as the Divine fire that shall glow in all the reasoning of all Pauls; that the Church may become an embodiment of Divine life and power.
2. They were all filled–not merely drops and rivulets. It came like a river that proceeded from the throne of God; or rather the broad, deep tide from the fathomless ocean of the fulness of the Divine grace and glory above. It came and filled them, and overflowed, and poured its living tide throughout the world around them. And so it must be. “Prove Me now herewith, and see if I will not pour out the blessing till there shall not be room to receive it.” We want more depth, and breadth, and power of religious emotion, and life, and faith, and service. Our life too often is so restricted in its dimensions, so feeble in its spirit, so low-toned in its vitality, and so circumscribed in the mode of its operation. We want as men of God to be filled with the fulness of God.
3. They were filled with the Holy Ghost–not merely with excitement, mental vigour and determination, indignation, compassion, grief, despair, but with the Holy Ghost. There is the power we must have.
III. What followed. They all sprang to the work in which the two brethren had been previously engaged. “They spake the Word of God with boldness” is spoken of all the brethren. There are none who have a voice that cannot speak and sing of other things; and there must be none that do not speak of Jesus. It must be spoken at all becoming times and with all becoming promptitude, for soon our voices will be hushed in the silence of the grave. (J. P. Chown.)
Power to be witnesses
1. These feeble Christians moved the Hand that moves the world. The place was shaken, but not the people. The ground trembled, but they had found a refuge in God. It is after and in answer to prayer that the Lord arises to shake the earth. Quick and strong vibrations are felt in the political sphere. God’s saints groan. God hears and answers in His own good time, and then the most firmly-rooted national, social, religious tyrannies totter and fall. The shaking was a sign that prayer was heard. They had acknowledged God as the Maker of heaven and earth. In answer He gives a token that Almightiness is at hand for their protection. The commotions of our day are encouraging to the Christian. Hollow hypocrisies are shaken in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain (Heb 12:27).
2. But besides this symbol of power, a more specific answer was given. “They were filled with the Holy Ghost and spoke the Word with boldness.” They did not fear their enemies, they distrusted themselves lest danger should shake them from their steadfastness. Now they have obtained what they asked, they are at ease, as is the magnet on the surging sea, fixed to its pole because loosed from holds, The steadiest thing in a shaking world is a disciple whose life, loosed from the dust, is hid with Christ in God.
3. Thus endued with power, all that was required of them was to bear witness to a fact: “The resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” Christ had promised them power for this purpose, and now the promise was fulfilled.
(1) The main characteristic of their witnessing was not “great” eloquence or learning, but “power.” When you travel by night through a mining district, you see mighty volumes of flame issuing from the furnaces. This is the ordinary accompaniment of the power, but it is not the power. The heat in the heart of the furnace is melting the metal. Do not despise dazzling accompaniments of preaching, but do not trust in them, for they may be the pithless flash from blazing straw.
(2) This power seems to have been a special gift bestowed on the apostles, but a suitable portion was imparted to the whole company–“great grace was upon them all”–a specific example of which was liberality and brotherly love. And thus the world had two things to say about them–“Behold how they defy us; behold how they love one another.” Alas for the Church in our day–for we are weak where they were strong; viz., in courage to bear witness for Christ, and fervent charity among ourselves. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
Work for those who are filled with the Spirit
Is there nothing for men who are filled with the Spirit of God to do now? Are there no vile iniquities still going on buttressed up with immoral wealth and political chicaneries which may coexist very well indeed with all the pomposities of a fashionable religiousness; but to-day if there were but one stirring of the Spirit in our dead hearts would be spurned back to the hell from which they came? Look at the streets of London, shameless with prostitution; look at glaring and multiplied incentives to drunkenness which roll into the coffers of some one, a stream of wealth, tainted with the tears of women and the blood of men; look at the nefarious sweaters’ dens, where greedy Jews and Christians make their vile money out of human misery. Look at the universal worldliness around us, look at the passionate mammon worship, at the reckless competition, at the desecration of Sundays in the mere voluptuous wantonness of pleasure. Lock at the dangerous increase of the guilty madness of betting and gambling in every school, office, street among rich and poor. Look at the rapid degradation of our journalism by the paltry flunkeyism of gossip and the evil malice of slander; look at the bad and false spirit of our so-called religious newspapers. O God, give us saints; O God, pour out the Spirit of Thy might. Were it but in the hearts of one or two to slay these dragons and not fear their poisonous breath! O Christ, send us but two or three heroes for this new Thermopylae. O Holy Ghost, fill one or two hearts with Thy rushing mighty wind, and mitre one or two brows with Thy Pentecostal flame! Priests we have in plenty, and Churchmen, but oh, send us men filled with the Holy Ghost! (Archdeacon Farrar.)