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The Miracle of Pentecost

Acts 2:1-37.

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place; and suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting; and there appeared to them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance, etc.

Q. WHAT do you here understand by the day of Pentecost?

A. The word Pentecost is derived from the Greek word Pentecoste which signifies the fiftieth, because the feast of Pentecost was celebrated the fiftieth day after the sixteenth of Nisan, which was the second day of the feast of the passover. The Hebrews call it the feast of weeks, Exod. 34:22, because it was kept seven weeks after the passover. On the sixteenth day of the month Nisan, or March, the wave-offering of the first sheaf was to be made, to implore the divine blessing on the ensuing harvest, which began about that time, that climate being so much warmer and forwarder than ours: and fifty days being allowed with that for the getting in all their corn, that is, the remaining fifteen in Nisan, (March), and twenty-nine in Ijar or Zif, (April), the sixth of Sivan (May) would be the day of Pentecost; when they were to hold the solemn festival of thanksgiving, for their participation of the harvest, together with a grateful commemoration of their being delivered from Egyptian servitude, and enjoying their property by reaping the fruits of their labours, Levit. 23:10, 11, etc. The learned have observed, that the very day of Pentecost was the same day on which God delivered the law from mount Sinai, Exod. 19:11, as it was that on which the apostles were filled with the Holy Ghost, and the gospel was attended with remarkable success.

Q. And what do you understand by their being all, on this occasion, with one accord in one place?

A. In the original Greek there is no mention here made of place, but it is expressed eis to auto, which more properly signifies for this (purpose), to denote that they were all of one mind to celebrate the solemn feast of Pentecost, which was the object of their assembling.

Q. And what do you conceive to be here meant by the words, Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting?

A. According to the literal sense of this miracle, these words are to be understood literally, because they were literally true; but according to the spiritual sense, they are to be understood spiritually, and are to be interpreted in agreement with the general law of interpretation, when applied to signs or symbols from heaven. According, therefore, to this law, by a sound from heaven, is to be understood the operation of a principle which affects the will, because sound applies itself to the sense of hearing, and hearing is a sense more subject to and connected with the will of man, as the sense of sight is more subject to and connected with the understanding. By a sound from heaven then, on this occasion, was intended to be expressed the operation of the divine love which prevails in heaven, and which was designed, according to this symbolical language, to prevail on earth, and therefore it is written, that it was as a rushing mighty wind, and filled all the house where they were sitting, because by a rushing mighty wind was figured the powerful influence by which it was felt and perceived; and by its filling all the house where they were sitting, is further denoted its taking entire possession of the minds of those who were assembled in the house.

Q. But it is written, There appeared to them cloven tongues like as of a fire, and it sat upon each of them — how do you understand these words?

A. These words again are figurative, and the things which they express, as the cloven tongues and the fire, are representative of spiritual things, agreeable to the mode observable in the sacred Scriptures throughout, of expressing heavenly principles by natural images. These images were indeed presented to the view of the apostles in the manner here described, but then it is to be observed that they involved in them spiritual realities, which corresponded with them, Thus, by the image of a tongue was figured its corresponding spiritual reality, which is nothing else but the thought, persuasion, or doctrine, which the tongue is instrumental in uttering; and thus too by the image of a fire, was expressed the principle to which fire corresponds, which is nothing else but the principle of love, whether it be good or evil.

Q. Can you mention any passages in the sacred Scriptures which prove, that a tongue and that fire are applied according to the spiritual sense which you here speak of?

A. That the tongue is applied to express spiritual thought, persuasion, or doctrine, is manifest from the following passages, Your tongue frames deceit, (Ps. 50:14); and again, Their tongue walks through the earth, (Ps. 75:9); and again, They have spoken against me with a lying tongue, (Ps. 109:2); not to mention many other passages to the same purport, where it must be evident to every attentive reader, that the tongue is applied to express what the tongue utters, namely. a man's ruling persuasions, or the doctrines which he conceives to be true, for how else can the tongue be said to frame deceit, to walk through the earth, and to be a lying tongue? That fire too is applied to express the principle of love, whether it be good or evil, is alike evident from the following passages, My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire kindled, (Ps. 39:3); They have cast fire into your sanctuary, they have defiled the dwelling-place of your name to the ground, (Ps. 74:7); and again, John the Baptist testifies concerning Jesus Christ, He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire, (Matt. 3:11); and again, Jesus Christ Himself says, I am come to send fire upon earth, and what will I if it be already kindled? (Luke 12:49), and again, Every one shall be salted with fire, (Mark 9:49); from all which passages it is most evident, that fire is applied in the sacred scriptures both in a good and bad sense, and that in a good sense it denotes heavenly love, and in a bad sense, infernal love. When therefore it is said, as above, that there appeared cloven tongues like as of fire, by this representation was intended to be figured the doctrine of heavenly truth which was to be taught from that period by the apostles, together with the warmth of heavenly love from which they would teach. Therefore the tongues are said to be cloven, because cloven has respect to the two-fold love from which they were to teach, namely. love towards god, and neighbourly love; in other words, it has respect to the two-fold doctrine which they were to publish to the world, namely. the doctrine of good, and the doctrine of truth, or the doctrine of charity, and the doctrine of faith.

Q. And what do you understand by the concluding words of the verse, It sat upon each of them?

A. By it is manifestly meant the fire before mentioned, and sitting is a term applied to the will or love of man, agreeable to what was shown in the explanation of a former miracle: by its sitting therefore upon each of them, according to the spiritual idea, is to be understood, that the divine love, represented by the fire, conjoined itself with the love of those who are here signified by each of them, that is to say, with the teachers of heavenly doctrine in the new church about to be established.

Q. But it follows, that they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance — what do you conceive to be the import of these words?

A. By the holy ghost, or holy spirit, is to be understood the divine operation, or the divine principle proceeding from the divine humanity of Jesus Christ, which He calls the Comforter and Spirit of truth, and of which He says, When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth; for He shall not speak of Himself, but whatever He shall hear, that shall He speak: He shall glorify me; for He shall receive of mine and shall show it to you, (John 16:13, 14). The holy ghost therefore is manifestly the divine operation of Jesus Christ, for Jesus Christ says expressly, He shall take of mine, and shall show it to you; and in another place, I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you, (John 14:18); and on another occasion it is written, that Jesus breathed upon them, and said, Receive you the Holy Ghost, (John 20:22);and in another place, The Holy Ghost was not yet (given), because Jesus was not yet glorified, (John 7:30). By being filled then with the Holy Ghost is to be understood, that they became the subjects of divine operation in such a sort, that their wills were submitted to the divine will, their wisdom to the divine wisdom, and all their intentions, purposes, thoughts, words and works were now on to be under the guidance and government of Jesus Christ ruling, directing and blessing them by His own spirit of love and wisdom.

Q. And what do you understand by their speaking on this occasion with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance?

A. According to the letter or literal meaning of these words, by speaking with other tongues is to be understood the speaking different languages, or, as some conceive of the miracle, being understood by men of different languages, which amounts to the same thing, and is equally miraculous, since whether we say that the apostles spake different languages, or, (as appears far more probable), that what they said in their own language was heard by strangers in their language, the miracle is the same, and equally declares the mercy and omnipotence of a divine agent: but according to the spiritual meaning of these words, by speaking with other tongues is to be understood the teaching a new doctrine, namely. the doctrine of faith in the incarnate god, of repentance from sin, and of renovation in the gospel spirit, which doctrine is the distinguishing doctrine of Christianity, and therefore is here figured under the symbol of other tongues. This new doctrine, or this new tongue, is spoken of in another place, where Jesus Christ, after His resurrection, says to His disciples, These signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues, (Mark 16:17). It is also alluded to in the word of prophecy, where it is written, In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan, (Isaiah 19:18); and in another place, Then will I turn to the people a pure language, (Zeph. 3:9). This then is the sign which follows every true believer, namely. that he speaks with a new tongue; in other words, that he believes, professes, and practises a new doctrine, by acknowledging the sole and supreme divinity of Jesus Christ, together with the necessity of living according to all His holy precepts, by shunning all evils as sins against him, and by loving, thinking, and doing whatever is good, and wise, and beneficial, because it is from Him, and leads to an eternal conjunction of life and of blessedness with Him. Moreover, the true believer makes the above acknowledgment, and professes to make it, not by any power merely his own, but by a power imparted from above, or from the divine operation, and therefore he speaks with another or a new tongue, not in the pride and vanity of his own self-derived intelligence, but in the humility and meekness of entire submission to divine influence, thus, as the Spirit gives him utterance.

Q. But it is written, that they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What means this? Others mocked, and said, These men are full of new wine. But Peter standing up with the eleven lifted up his voice, and said to them, You men of Judea, and all you that dwell in Jerusalem, be this known to you, and hearken to my words, for these are not drunken, as you suppose, seeing that it is but the third hour of the day; but this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel, etc. — what instruction do you learn from these words?

A. I learn from these words, that there have been, and perhaps always will be in the world, three different classes of persons, who are differently affected by extraordinary dispensations of the divine providence, or by what may be called supernatural events, one class wondering and doubting, another mocking, or deriding, whilst a third, like the apostle Peter in this history, confirms the probability and even certainty of such interpositions by the unerring testimony of the word of god, which not only bears witness to the credibility of miraculous agency, but also in some instances, as in the present, prepares mankind for the reception of it by the most accurate prediction. I am cautioned therefore by the above account, to take heed to my-self, how I decide on points of such magnitude and importance, and for this purpose to apply to the oracles of god for the direction of my judgment, that so, in cases of divine interference and operation, I may neither be found amongst those who doubt, or amongst those who mock, but rather amongst those, who, like Peter on the present occasion, justify the ways of god by a judicious appeal to the sure word of prophecy.

Q. What then do you conceive to be the great end and design of the descent of the holy ghost, as announced by the extraordinary symbols above recorded?

A. The miraculous descent of the holy ghost was a re-publication of the original record, by which the nature and quality of the life of man, and of his internal connection with his maker, was defined, where it is written, The lord god formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul, (Gen. 2:7). For by this record it is evident, that man was created to be a receiver of life from god, and thus not to possess an inherent life of his own independent of his creator, but rather to possess a life, which he derived continually by influx from its divine source, and for  the  continuation  of which he was every moment indebted to the divine  bounty.      This law  then,  which asserts man's perpetual dependance on his maker for every spark of life, (or rather of lives) which he enjoys, whether it be the life of love in his will, or the life of wisdom in his understanding, or the life of both in his affections, thoughts, words, works, and delights, was re-published, and confirmed by divine authority,  on the occasion of the miracle above recorded.    For by the descent of the holy ghost, on the memorable day of Pentecost, the communication of life  (or lives) from god, which had been closed and obstructed by sin and disorderly love, was intended to be re-opened, so that man might be again restored, not only to the privileges and blessings imparted to him at creation, but also to an increase of those privileges and blessings, in consequence of the redemption worked by the great   saviour.    For on this occasion, man was to  be gifted with new and additional energies, because the light of the moon was to become as the light of the sun, and the light of the  sun was to be seven-fold as the light of seven days,  in the day that  the  Lord binds up the   breach of His people, and heals the stroke of their  wound, (Isai. 30:26).     Accordingly,   Jesus Christ, the divine procurer and bestower of those energies, testifies on the occasion, I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it   more abundantly,  (John x. 20).    When this incarnate  god,   then,   had  finished   the great work of redemption, by the subjugation of the powers of darkness, and the glorification of the humanity which He had assumed, He now began, from His divine omnipotence, to verify His own declaration, by imparting to all believers that more abundant portion of life, which He came to communicate. Thus the eternal father glorified His name a second time, and by the same act provided for the purification, the reformation and regeneration of His penitent children.

Q. What is it I am to understand by the eternal father glorifying His name, and by glorifying it a second time?

A. By the father's name is to be understood, in an eminent sense, the humanity which He assumed here on earth, and therefore Jesus Christ, in speaking of the glorification of His humanity, addresses Himself to the Father in these words, Father, glorify your name, (John 12:28); and by this name being glorified a first time is to be understood that the humanity was made divine, by being fully united with the divinity from whom it came forth; and by its being glorified a second time, is further to be understood its divine operation, by virtue of which it was to rule the church here on earth, as it ruled heaven, instructing, purifying, reforming, and regenerating the hearts and lives of all true believers, thus filling all things, as the apostle expresses it, by becoming the essential life and soul of all that is good and lovely, of all that is wise and intelligent, of all that is holy, pure, and blessed, in the church in general, and in every member of the church in particular. This second glorification of the humanity of the blessed Jesus had been before announced by a voice from heaven in those remarkable words, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again, (John xii. 28).    By   this second glorification therefore of the great redeemer is to be understood,  not only that  His humanity  was made divine, and thus became the god of heaven and earth, but also that all influx of heavenly life, or,  what amounts to the same, of heavenly love, wisdom and blessedness, was to proceed from that divine humanity, and was to be received and acknowledged in the church accordingly.    In speaking therefore of the descent of the holy ghost, Jesus Christ says expressly, in agreement with the above idea,  He shall glorify   Me, for He shall  receive of mine and shall show it unto you,  (John 16:14).    Thus the blessed Jesus cannot be seen in the fulness of His glory, until He be seen by the eye of faith,   as He was seen of old by the beloved apostle, in, the midst of the seven candle sticks, (Rev. 1:12, 13, 20); in other words, until he be seen in the inmost centre of what the seven candlesticks represent, namely. the seven churches, or the hearts and lives of all true believers, purifying them from sin, and raising them to a blessed conjunction with Himself by renovation and regeneration,

Q. And  what am  I to understand by what you further said, that by the same act He provided for the purification, the reformation and regeneration of His penitent children?

A. This follows as a necessary consequence of the glorification above spoken of, for until Jesus Christ be acknowledged in His divine operation as the alone source of all heavenly life, that is to say, of all heavenly love, heavenly wisdom, and heavenly joy in His church, and until man thus makes confession from the heart that his life is not properly his own, but derived perpetually from another, thus that neither good nor evil are properly his own, only so far as he makes them so, by ascribing them to himself, it is impossible that he can either be purified, reformed, or regenerated, since all purification, reformation and regeneration imply the acknowledgement of divine agency, and particularly of the operation which Jesus Christ exercises in human minds by His holy spirit. But no sooner is this acknowledgment made in the humility and sincerity of a penitent bosom, than all the blessings and graces of purification of reformation, and of regeneration presently follow, because then man begins to acknowledge a divine power continually present and operative in the centre of his own life, and his religion, in such case, consists in bringing every affection, thought, word, and work, into subjection to that power, that so he may be an instrument in its hands of effecting divine purposes, claiming nothing to himself but a feeling sense of his own infirmities and defilements, and ascribing the kingdom, the power and the glory to Him to whom it properly belongs. The great evil therefore of all evils, to which the human mind is exposed, is the inclination to yield to the delusive suggestion of the tempter of old, You shall be as gods, (Gen. 3:5); in other words, you shall have an independent life of your own, subject to no control from another, and acknowledging no source but itself. For in whatever mind this suggestion prevails, sin, and death, and misery must inevitably attend it. On the other hand, the good of all goods, or that which conducts to the acquisition and enjoyment of every good, is the inclination to admit and to act upon the sacred and edifying truth contained in those words of the great redeemer, I am the vine, you are the branches, (John 15:5); by the humble grateful acknowledgment, that the life of man is at all times a derived life, and that thus the connexion between him and his maker is like that which subsists between a tree and its branches. In other words, it is a connection worked by the perpetual communication of a vital principle, so that as a tree constantly supplies its branches with renewed life and vigour, without which the branches could not subsist, in like manner the father of mercies constantly supplies His children with his vital spirit, and if His children are deprived of this supply, they then are cast forth as branches, and withered, and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned, (John 15:6).

Q. What then is the general instruction which you derive from the above miracle?

A. From the remarkable signs and symbols manifested on this occasion, such as the sound as of a rushing mighty wind, and the cloven tongues like as of fire which sat upon each of them, I am instructed in the language of representatives, which is a heavenly language, expressing spiritual realities under the most significant natural images, and inculcating thus the important lesson, that between spiritual things and natural there is an exact agreement established at creation, by virtue of which agreement the latter are expressive of the former, and are applied accordingly throughout the sacred Scriptures. I learn further, from the descent of the holy ghost announced by this miracle, to adore with unfeigned thankfulness the mercy and goodness of my heavenly father, who, when He had glorified the humanity which He assumed here upon earth made that humanity the medium of communication with His children here below. In that divine humanity therefore I behold, and rejoice in beholding, the blessed source of all spiritual life, love, holiness, and benediction which god can communicate, and man can receive. I will no longer therefore doubt respecting the divine operation, still less will I be of the number of those who mock on the interesting occasion, but I will rather regard the miraculous descent of the divine spirit as the completion of the counsels of the eternal, the accomplishment of the sure word of prophecy, and a security to the true believer, that he is never for a moment forsaken by his heavenly father, but is ever attended by His divine presence, power and operation in the inmost centre of his own bosom. Above all, I am resolved to take heed to myself, that this holy guest may be ever pleased with His internal residence in my heart and life, for which blessed purpose I will pray and labour earnestly, through His divine aid, that all inordinate and defiled love may be ever removed from me, and that in its place may be implanted the pure love of god and of my neighbour. Thus may I humbly hope, that the blessed Jesus will perform in me the same circle of benediction which He performed for His church when here upon earth; and that therefore after instructing, purifying, reforming, and raising me up to Himself in His resurrection and ascension-glory, He may finally descend, and by His divine operation fill and sanctify all my purposes, affections, thoughts, words and works, that so I, like the apostles of old, may be filled with the holy ghost. amen.

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