We often speak of the primitive church, and appeal to it, and to the history of it; in these verses we have the history of the truly primitive church, of the first days of it, its state of infancy indeed, but, like that, the state of its greatest innocence.
I. They kept close to holy ordinances, and abounded in all instances of piety and devotion, for Christianity, admitted in the power of it, will dispose the soul to communion with God in all those ways wherein he has appointed us to meet him and promised to meet us.
1. They were diligent and constant inn their attendance upon the preaching of the word. They continued in the apostles’ doctrine, and never disowned nor deserted it; or, as it may be read, they continued constant to the apostles’ teaching or instruction; by baptism they were discipled to be taught, and they were willing to be taught. Note, Those who have given up their names to Christ must make conscience of hearing his word; for thereby we give honour to him, and build up ourselves in our most holy faith.
2. They kept up the communion of saints. They continued in fellowship (Acts 2:42), and continued daily with one accord in the temple, Acts 2:46. They not only had a mutual affection to each other, but a great deal of mutual conversation with each other; they were much together. When they withdrew from the untoward generation, they did not turn hermits, but were very intimate with one another, and took all occasions to meet; wherever you saw one disciple, you would see more, like birds of a feather. See how these Christians love one another. They were concerned for one another, sympathized with one another, and heartily espoused one another’s interests. They had fellowship with one another in religious worship. They met in the temple: there was their rendezvous; for joint-fellowship with God is the best fellowship we can have with one another, 1 John 1:3. Observe, (1.) They were daily in the temple, not only on the days of the sabbaths and solemn feasts, but on other days, every day. Worshipping God is to be our daily work, and, where there is opportunity, the oftener it is done publicly the better. God loves the gates of Zion, and so must we. (2.) They were with one accord; not only no discord nor strife, but a great deal of holy love among them; and they heartily joined in their public services. Though they met with the Jews in the courts of the temple, yet the Christians kept together by themselves, and were unanimous in their separate devotions.
3. They frequently joined in the ordinance of the Lord’s supper. They continued in the breaking of bread, in celebrating that memorial of their Master’s death, as those that were not ashamed to own their relation to, and their dependence upon, Christ and him crucified. They could not forget the death of Christ, yet they kept up this memorial of it, and made it their constant practice, because it was an institution of Christ, to be transmitted to the succeeding ages of the church. They broke bread from house to house; kat oikon—house by house; they did not think fit to celebrate the eucharist in the temple, for that was peculiar to the Christian institutes, and therefore they administered that ordinance in private houses, choosing such houses of the converted Christians as were convenient, to which the neighbours resorted; and they went from one to another of these little synagogues or domestic chapels, houses that had churches in them, and there celebrated the eucharist with those that usually met there to worship God.
4. They continued in prayers. After the Spirit was poured out, as well as before, while they were waiting for him, they continued instant in prayer; for prayer will never be superseded till it comes to be swallowed up in everlasting praise. Breaking of bread comes in between the work and prayer, for it has reference to both, and is a help to both. The Lord’s supper is a sermon to the eye, and a confirmation of God’s word to us; and it is an encouragement to our prayers, and a solemn expression of the ascent of our souls to God.
5. They abounded in thanksgiving; were continually praising God, Acts 2:47. This should have a part in every prayer, and not be crowded into a corner. Those that have received the gift of the Holy Ghost will be much in praise.
II. They were loving one to another, and very kind; their charity was as eminent as their piety, and their joining together in holy ordinances knit their hearts to each other, and very much endeared them to one another.
1. They had frequent meetings for Christian converse (Acts 2:44): All that believed were together; not all those thousands in one place (this was impracticable); but, as Dr. Lightfoot explains it, they kept together in several companies or congregations, according as their languages, nations, or other associations, brought them and kept them together. And thus joining together, because it was apart from those that believed not, and because it was in the same profession and practice of the duties of religion, they are said to be together, epi to auto. They associated together, and so both expressed and increased their mutual love.
2. They had all things common; perhaps they had common tables (as the Spartans of old), for familiarity, temperance and freedom of conversation; they ate together, that those who had much might have the less, and so be kept from the temptations of abundance; and they who had little might have the more, and so be kept from the temptations of want and poverty. Or, There was such a concern for one another, and such a readiness to help one another as there was occasion, that it might be said, They had all things common, according to the law of friendship; one wanted not what another had; for he might have it for the asking.
3. They were very cheerful, and very generous in the use of what they had. Besides the religion that was in their sacred feasts (their breaking bread from house to house) a great deal of it appeared in their common meals; they did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart. They brought the comforts of God’s table along with them to their own, which had two good effects upon them:—(1.) It made them very pleasant, and enlarged their hearts with holy joy; they did eat their bread with joy, and drank their wine with a merry heart, as knowing that God now accepted their works. None have such cause to be cheerful as good Christians have; it is a pity but that they should always have hearts to be so. (2.) It made them very liberal to their poor brethren, and enlarged their hearts in charity. They did eat their meat with singleness of heart, en apheloteti kardias—with liberality of heart; so some: they did not eat their morsels alone, but bade the poor welcome to their table, not grudgingly, but with all the hearty freedom imaginable. Note, It becomes Christians to be open-hearted and open-handed, and in every good work to sow plentifully, as those on whom God hath sown plentifully, and who hope to reap so.
4. They raised a fund for charity (Acts 2:45): They sold their possessions and goods; some sold their lands and houses, others their stocks and the furniture of their houses, and parted the money to their brethren, as every man had need. This was to destroy, not property (as Mr. Baxter says), but selfishness. Herein, probably, they had an eye to the command which Christ gave to the rich man, as a test of his sincerity, Sell that thou hast, and give to the poor. Not that this was intended for an example to be a constant binding rule, as if all Christians in all places and ages were bound to sell their estates, and give away the money in charity. For St. Paul’s epistles, after this, often speak of the distinction of rich and poor, and Christ hath said that the poor we always have with us, and shall have, and the rich must be always doing them good out of the rents, issues, and profits, of their estates, which they disable themselves to do, if they sell them, and give all away at once. But here the case was extraordinary (1.) They were under no obligation of a divine command to do this, as appears by what Peter said to Ananias (Acts 5:4): Was it not in thine own power? But it was a very commendable instance of their raisedness above the world, their contempt of it, their assurance of another world, their love to their brethren, their compassion to the poor, and their great zeal for the encouraging of Christianity, and the nursing of it in its infancy. The apostles left all to follow Christ, and were to give themselves wholly to the word and prayer, and something must be done for their maintenance; so that this extraordinary liberality was like that of Israel in the wilderness towards the building of the tabernacle, which needed to be restrained, Exod. 36:5, 6. Our rule is, to give according as God has blessed us; yet, in such an extraordinary case as this, those are to be praised who give beyond their power, 2 Cor. 8:3. (2.) They were Jews that did this, and those who believed Christ must believe that the Jewish nation would shortly be destroyed, and an end put to the possession of estates and goods in it, and, in the belief of this, they sold them for the present service of Christ and his church.
III. God owned them, and gave them signal tokens of his presence with them (Acts 2:43): Many wonders and signs were done by the apostles of divers sorts, which confirmed their doctrine, and incontestably proved that it was from God. Those that could work miracles could have maintained themselves and the poor that were among them miraculously, as Christ fed thousands with a little food; but it was as much for the glory of God that it should be done by a miracle of grace (inclining people to sell their estates, to do it) as if it had been done by a miracle in nature.
But the Lord’s giving them power to work miracles was not all he did for them; he added to the church daily. The word in their mouths did wonders, and God blessed their endeavours for the increase of the number of believers. Note, It is God’s work to add souls to the church; and it is a great comfort both to ministers and Christians to see it.
IV. The people were influenced by it; those that were without, the standers by, that were spectators. 1. They feared them, and had a veneration for them (Acts 2:43): Fear came upon every soul, that is, upon very many who saw the wonders and signs done by the apostles, and were afraid lest their not being respected as they should be would bring desolation upon their nation. The common people stood in awe of them, as Herod feared John. Though they had nothing of external pomp to command external respect, as the scribes’ long robes gained them the greetings in the market-places, yet they had abundance of spiritual gifts that were truly honourable, which possessed men with an inward reverence for them. Fear came upon every soul; the souls of people were strangely influenced by their awful preaching and living. 2. They favoured them. Though we have reason to think there were those that despised them and hated them (we are sure the Pharisees and chief priests did), yet far the greater part of the common people had a kindness for them—they had favour with all the people. Christ was so violently run upon and run down by a packed mob, which cried, Crucify him, crucify him, that one would think his doctrine and followers were never likely to have an interest in the common people any more. And yet here we find them in favour with them all, by which it appears that their prosecuting Christ was a sort of force put upon them by the artifices of the priests; now they returned to their wits, to their right mind. Note, Undissembled piety and charity will command respect; and cheerfulness in serving God will recommend religion to those that are without. Some read it, They had charity to all the people—charin echontes pros holon ton laon; they did not confine their charity to those of their own community, but it was catholic and extensive; and this recommended them very much. 3. They fell over to them. Some or other were daily coming in, though not so many as the first day; and they were such as should be saved. Note, Those that God has designed for eternal salvation shall one time or other be effectually brought to Christ: and those that are brought to Christ are added to the church in a holy covenant by baptism, and in holy communion by other ordinances.