“The Apostles’ Doctrine”
W Jackman, Barnstaple
Acts 2. 41, 42. Who of us does not know this familiar passage? How often has it been quoted in the reader's hearing? But familiarity with a passage is no guarantee that we appreciate its original setting. .
THEY. Who were they? Those who gladly received his (Peter's) word. Certainly—but after all, who were they? Jews, devout men out of every nation under heaven—men whom Peter address as “Ye men of Israel.” They were not heathen, but believers in God. They accepted the Old Testament Scriptures; they had no difficulty about the creation story; to them Jonah was no myth. Peter could appeal to Joel’s prophecy and freely speak to them of the Patriarch David.
HIS WORD. What word was this? We must read Peter's address to find the answer. He spoke of the life, the death and the resurrection of Christ, and stressed that this same Jesus was “both Lord and Christ.” These words wrought conviction and conversion.
WERE BAPTISED. What did this signify to them? With the fuller teaching of the New Testament before us we can see the profound significance of this ordinance in the light of Romans 6. 1-6. But did these Jews understand this when they were baptised? It is hardly likely. Their submission to baptism could have been, at that time, simply an acknowledgment that Jesus was Lord and Christ, but if at that time they knew less of its wider significance than we do, we may be sure that baptism to them was a tremendous and solemn step, fraught with consequences we know little about. It meant the open acknowledgment that they accepted as God's Son, One whom their nation had branded as a blasphemer. It made a cleavage between them and their people which was destined to widen day by day. Undoubtedly we have here God's order for us—conviction, conversion, baptism, reception to Church fellowship—an order that we have no authority to change.
ADDED UNTO THEM. Unto whom? Surely unto the company of the apostles and their fellow disciples. This indicates that believers in Christ were already a distinguishable company and although at this early date they still met day by day in the precincts of the temple, as natural and convenient, especially at that season, notice is already taken of their separate position as the “church.”
THEY CONTINUED STEADFASTLY. This is the mark of true disciples. Every assembly has them or there would not be an assembly. Who can tell how much assemblies owe to those men and women upon whom we can depend? John speaks of some who “went out from us.” Why? “Because they were not of us.” But in what did these believers continue? The apostles' doctrine or teaching.
THE APOSTLES’ DOCTRINE. What was this? We are familiar with the treatment of this expression which makes it mean the whole body of revealed truth. This may be a legitimate application of the passage to a convert to-day, but what did it mean, to these early believers? They, with their fellow Jews, believed implicitly in the Old Testament. Why then did they part company with their former friends? What did the apostles teach which differed from the accepted religious teaching? Why did they leave the old and embrace the new? Surely one word sums up the Apostle’s doctrine here. One name caused them to leave their old associates. The apostles spoke and taught Jesus. They said He was the Messiah—the rest said He was an imposter. They said He was the Son of God—the rest said He was Joseph's son. They said He was the Saviour of the world—the rest said He was just a carpenter. They said He died for sinners—the rest said He was a malefactor. They said He had risen—the rest denied this. The Apostles said, “He hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear.” The rest said, “These men are full of new wine.” Surely the whole point about the Apostles’ doctrine is that it gave Christ the pre-eminence and saw in Him the fulfilment of all the promises of God. Christ Himself was their message, and these early converts longed to learn more of Him. The Apostles alone could teach them this—they had known Him, loved Him, listened to His word and followed in His steps. They had seen Him alive after His resurrection. The converts gladly received Peter's word and they continued steadfastly in his teaching. All teaching and learning is progressive. Further revelations of this blessed Person awaited them. Their learning was no intellectual exercise merely, no cold abstractions of theology, but a heartfelt desire to know more of Christ. Perhaps it began as intimate talks with their new found friends about the One whom the Holy Spirit had made real to them.
The Apostles doubtless told them about His work, how they themselves had heard Him speak and had followed Him. The miracles He had done would be recounted again and those thrilling moments when He had raised the dead, healed the sick, fed the hungry, and stilled the waves would be relived as they told their new found friends of Jesus. The words He had spoken to them, Who spake as never man spake, would come rushing back to their remembrance according to His promise and surely the first beginnings of the foundation doctrines would be the re-telling of the Master's own words, of His deity, of man's own deep and dire need. They would tell how in His presence their righteousness seemed as filthy rage. They would tell of what transfiguration scene and the voice from Heaven. Surely these new converts would want to hear more and more concerning Him, and is not this the key to all the “Deep things of God”? He is made unto us wisdom (1 Cor. 1. 30). Then they would come to His death, understood now by the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. During that tragic night their hearts had been too troubled to understand what it all meant, but now in the calm assurance that had come to them they spoke of His blood that had put their sins away. Now they understood the real meaning of the Last Supper. But perhaps their greatest joy of all would be to speak of His resurrection, the keystone of truth. It was Jesus alive who held them together. The new converts had not left Moses for a dead Christ, but for One who had “shewed Himself alive.” His promise that He would never leave them would have a deep meaning for them now that they had turned their backs upon their old life, and their old time friends refused to have any more to do with them. Then, too, they would speak to these new converts about those appearances after the resurrection, going on to tell of His ascension and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Their doctrine, however, would not be complete without some reference to the future. They believed in life after death. In simple words, but with all the authority of a Risen Christ behind them, they could speak of the words of Jesus concerning the Father’s house and His coming again. In a word then, all the great doctrinal truths are summed up in Christ. He is the answer to all our seeking after truth. The Apostles’ doctrine was Christ. Simple souls may revel in the unsearchable riches of Christ and in Him the greatest intellects will find all they need and more. It would be well for us if we realised as vividly as did these early disciples, that all of God’s purposes for His people now and in the ages to come, centre in Christ.
(To be followed by an article on “Fellowship.”