In these verses, I. Theophilus is put in mind, and we in him, of St. Luke’s gospel, which it will be of use for us to cast an eye upon before we enter upon the study of this book, that we may not only see how this begins where that breaks off, but that, as in water face answers to face, so do the acts of the apostles to the acts of their Master, the acts of his grace.
1. His patron, to whom he dedicates this book (I should rather say his pupil, for he designs, in dedicating it to him, to instruct and direct him, and not to crave his countenance or protection), is Theophilus, Acts 1:1. In the epistle dedicatory before his gospel, he had called him most excellent Theophilus; here he calls him no more than O Theophilus; not that he had lost his excellency, nor that it was diminished and become less illustrious; but perhaps he had now quitted his place, whatever it was, for the sake of which that title was given him,—or he was now grown into years, and despised such titles of respect more than he had done,—or Luke was grown more intimate with him, and therefore could address him with the more freedom. It was usual with the ancients, both Christian and heathen writers, thus to inscribe their writings to some particular persons. But the directing some of the books of the scripture so is an intimation to each of us to receive them as if directed to us in particular, to us by name; for whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning.
2. His gospel is here called the former treatise which he had made, which he had an eye to in writing this, intending this for a continuation and confirmation of that, ton proton logon—the former word. What is written of the gospel is the word as truly as what was spoken; nay, we now know no unwritten word that we are to give credit to, but as it agrees with that which is written. He made the former treatise, and now is divinely inspired to make this, for Christ’s scholars must go on towards perfection, Heb. 6:1. And therefore their guides must help them on, must still teach the people knowledge (Eccl. 12:9), and not think that their former labours, though ever so good, will excuse them from further labours; but they should rather be quickened and encouraged by them, as St. Luke here, who, because he had laid the foundation in a former treatise, will build upon it in this. Let not this therefore drive out that; let not new sermons and new books make us forget old ones, but put us in mind of them, and help us to improve them.
3. The contents of his gospel were that, all that, which Jesus began both to do and teach; and the same is the subject of the writings of the other three evangelists. Observe, (1.) Christ both did and taught. The doctrine he taught was confirmed by the miraculous works he did, which proved him a teacher come from God (John 3:2); and the duties he taught were copied out in the holy gracious works he did, for he hath left us an example, and that such as proves him a teacher come from God too, for by their fruits you shall know them. Those are the best ministers that both do and teach, whose lives are a constant sermon. (2.) He began both to do and teach; he laid the foundation of all that was to be taught and done in the Christian church. His apostles were to carry on and continue what he began, and to do and teach the same things. Christ set them in, and then left them to go on, but sent his Spirit to empower them both to do and teach. It is a comfort to those who are endeavouring to carry on the work of the gospel that Christ himself began it. The great salvation at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, Heb. 2:3. (3.) The four evangelists, and Luke particularly, have handed down to us all that Jesus began both to do and to teach; not all the particulars—the world could not have contained them; but all the heads, samples of all, so many, and in such variety, that by them we may judge of the rest. We have the beginnings of his doctrine (Matt. 4:17), and the beginnings of his miracles, John 2:11. Luke had spoken, had treated, of all Christ’s sayings and doings, had given us a general idea of them, though he had not recorded each in particular.
4. The period of the evangelical story is fixed to the day in which he was taken up, Acts 1:2. Then it was that he left this world, and his bodily presence was no more in it. St. Mark’s gospel concludes with the Lord’s being received up into heaven (Mark 16:19), and so does St. Luke’s, Luke 24:51. Christ continued doing and teaching to the last, till he was taken up to the other work he had to do within the veil.
II. The truth of Christ’s resurrection is maintained and evidenced, Acts 1:3. That part of what was related in the former treatise was so material that it was necessary to be upon all occasions repeated. The great evidence of his resurrection was that he showed himself alive to his apostles; being alive, he showed himself so, and he was seen of them. They were honest men, and one may depend upon their testimony; but the question is whether they were not imposed upon, as many a well-meaning man is. No, they were not; for, 1. The proofs were infallible, tekmeria—plain indications, both that he was alive (he walked and talked with them, he ate and drank with them) and that it was he himself, and not another; for he showed them again and again the marks of the wounds in his hands, and feet, and side, which was the utmost proof the thing was capable of or required. 2. They were many, and often repeated: He was seen by them forty days, not constantly residing with them, but frequently appearing to them, and bringing them by degrees to be fully satisfied concerning it, so that all their sorrow for his departure was done away by it. Christ’s staying upon earth so long after he had entered upon his state of exaltation and glory, to confirm the faith of his disciples and comfort their hearts, was such an instance of condescension and compassion to believers as may fully assure us that we have a high priest that is touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
III. A general hint given of the instructions he furnished his disciples with, now that he was about to leave them, and they, since he breathed on them and opened their understandings, were better able to receive them. 1. He instructed them concerning the work they were to do: He gave commandments to the apostles whom he had chosen. Note, Christ’s choice is always attended with his charge. Those whom he elected into the apostleship expected he should give them preferments, instead of which he gave them commandments. When he took his journey, and gave authority to his servants, and to every one his work (Mark 13:34), he gave them commandments through the Holy Ghost, which he was himself filled with as Mediator, and which he had breathed into them. In giving them the Holy Ghost, he gave them his commandments; for the Comforter will be a commander; and his office was to bring to their remembrance what Christ had said. He charged those that were apostles by the Holy Ghost; so the words are placed. It was their receiving the Holy Ghost that sealed their commission, John 20:22. He was not taken up till after he had given them their charge, and so finished his work. 2. He instructed them concerning the doctrine they were to preach: He spoke to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. He had given them a general idea of that kingdom, and the certain time it should be set up in the world (in his parable, Mark 13:1-37.), but here he instructed them more in the nature of it, as a kingdom of grace in this world and of glory in the other, and opened to them that covenant which is the great charter by which it is incorporated. Now this was intended, (1.) To prepare them to receive the Holy Ghost, and to go through that which they were designed for. He tells them in secret what they must tell the world; and they shall find that the Spirit of truth, when he comes, will say the same. (2.) To be one of the proofs of Christ’s resurrection; so it comes in here; the disciples, to whom he showed himself alive, knew that it was he, not only by what he showed them, but by what he said to them. None but he could speak thus clearly, thus fully, of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. He did not entertain them with discourses of politics or the kingdoms of men, of philosophy or the kingdom of nature, but pure divinity and the kingdom of grace, the things which most nearly concerned them, and those to whom they were sent.
IV. A particular assurance given them that they should now shortly receive the Holy Ghost, with orders given them to expect it (Acts 1:4, 5), he being assembled together with them, probably in the interview at the mountain in Galilee which he had appointed before his death; for there is mention of their coming together again (Acts 1:6), to attend his ascension. Though he had now ordered them to Galilee, yet they must not think to continue there; no, they must return to Jerusalem, and not depart thence. Observe,
1. The command he gives them to wait. This was to raise their expectations of something great; and something very great they had reason to expect from their exalted Redeemer. (1.) They must wait till the time appointed, which is now not many days hence. Those that by faith hope promised mercies will come must with patience wait till they do come, according to the time, the set time. And when the time draws nigh, as now it did, we must, as Daniel, look earnestly for it, Dan. 9:3. (2.) They must wait in the place appointed, in Jerusalem, for there the Spirit must be first poured out, because Christ was to be as king upon the holy hill of Zion; and because the word of the Lord must go forth from Jerusalem; this must be the mother-church. There Christ was put to shame, and therefore there he will have this honour done him, and this favour is done to Jerusalem to teach us to forgive our enemies and persecutors. The apostles were more exposed to danger at Jerusalem than they would have been in Galilee; but we may cheerfully trust God with our safety, when we keep in the way of our duty. The apostles were now to put on a public character, and therefore must venture in a public station. Jerusalem was the fittest candlestick for those lights to be set up in.
2. The assurance he gives them that they shall not wait in vain.
(1.) The blessing designed them shall come, and they shall find it was worth waiting for; You shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost; that is, [1.] “The Holy Ghost shall be poured out upon you more plentifully than ever.” They had already been breathed upon with the Holy Ghost (John 20:22), and they had found the benefit of it; but now they shall have larger measures of his gifts, graces, and comforts, and be baptized with them, in which there seems to be an allusion to those Old-Testament promises of the pouring out of the Spirit, Joel 2:28; Isa. 44:3; Isa. 32:15. [2.] “You shall be cleansed and purified by the Holy Ghost,” as the priests were baptized and washed with water, when they were consecrated to the sacred function: “They had the sign; you shall have the thing signified. You shall be sanctified by the truth, as the Spirit shall lead you more and more into it, and have your consciences purged by the witness of the Spirit, that you may serve the living God in the apostleship.” [3.] “You shall hereby be more effectually than ever engaged to your Master, and to his guidance, as Israel was baptized unto Moses in the cloud, and in the sea; you shall be tied so fast to Christ that you shall never, for fear of any sufferings, forsake him again, as once you did.”
(2.) Now this gift of the Holy Ghost he speaks of,
[1.] As the promise of the Father, which they had heard of him, and might therefore depend upon. First, The Spirit was given by promise, and it was at this time the great promise, as that of the Messiah was before (Luke 1:72), and that of eternal life is now, 1 John 2:25. Temporal good things are given by Providence, but the Spirit and spiritual blessings are given by promise, Gal. 3:18. The Spirit of God is not given as the spirit of men is given us, and formed within us, by a course of nature (Zech. 12:1), but by the word of God. 1. That the gift may be the more valuable, Christ thought the promise of the Spirit a legacy worth leaving to his church. 2. That it may be the more sure, and that the heirs of promise may be confident of the immutability of God’s counsel herein. 3. That it may be of grace, peculiar grace, and may be received by faith, laying hold on the promise, and depending upon it. As Christ, so the Spirit, is received by faith. Secondly, It was the promise of the Father, 1. Of Christ’s Father. Christ, as Mediator, had an eye to God as his Father, fathering his design, and owning it all along. 2. Of our Father, who, if he give us the adoption of sons, will certainly give us the Spirit of adoption, Gal. 4:4, 6. He will give the Spirit, as the Father of lights, as the Father of spirits, and as the Father of mercies; it is the promise of the Father. Thirdly, This promise of the Father they had heard from Christ many a time, especially in the farewell sermon he preached to them a little before he died, wherein he assured them, again and again, that the Comforter should come. This confirms the promise of God, and encourages us to depend upon it, that we have heard it from Jesus Christ; for in him all the promises of God are yea, and amen. “You have heard it from me; and I will make it good.”
[2.] As the prediction of John Baptist; for so far back Christ here directs them to look (Acts 1:5): “You have not only heard it from me, but you had it from John; when he turned you over to me, he said (Matt. 3:11), I indeed baptize you with water, but he that comes after me shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” It is a great honour that Christ now does to John, not only to quote his words, but to make this great gift of the Spirit, now at hand, to be the accomplishment of them. Thus he confirmeth the word of his servants, his messengers, Isa. 44:26. But Christ can do more than any of his ministers. It is an honour to them to be employed in dispensing the means of grace, but it his prerogative to give the Spirit of grace. He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, shall teach you by his Spirit, and give his Spirit to make intercession in you, which is more than the best ministers preaching with us.
(3.) Now this gift of the Holy Ghost thus promised, thus prophesied of, thus waited for, is that which we find the apostles received in the next chapter, for in that this promise had its full accomplishment; this was it that should come, and we look for no other; for it is here promised to be given not many days hence. He does not tell them how many, because they must keep every day in a frame fit to receive it. Other scriptures speak of the gift of the Holy Ghost to ordinary believers; this speaks of that particular power which, by the Holy Ghost, the first preachers of the gospel, and planters of the church, were endued with, enabling them infallibly to relate to that age, and record to posterity, the doctrine of Christ, and the proofs of it; so that by virtue of this promise, and the performance of it, we receive the New Testament as of divine inspiration, and venture our souls upon it.