Speaking generally, the present experience of gospel testimony is not particularly encouraging. Lack of results is the common report, albeit here and there we are glad to hear of some responding to the claims of Christ. The question may legitimately be asked: “Is there not a cause?” and we feel constrained to say there is. Making all due allowance for the spirit of the age, particularly the indifference of the masses to anything of a religious character, we feel sure that our God is still the same, and His desire to communicate blessing to others through human instrumentality, is as real today as in early apostolic times, when blessing was the rule and not the exception. One cannot read through the Acts of the Apostles without being deeply impressed at the manifestations of divine power, how men of like passions as ourselves were the vessels through whom God wrought. Why was this so? Had these first century Christians something which we have not fallen heir to? Or was the purpose of God such that the church era would be characterised by a ready response to the gospel at its commencement, while the close of the same period would be noted for, “few there be that enter”? We suggest that a study of the opening chapters of the Acts, noting with care the character and procedure of these early heralds of the gospel, will indicate why they were so mightily used of God, whereas a comparison with present day methods will likewise explain the reason for the increasing dearth. As we look at some of these first century features, may the Lord by His Spirit beget in each of us a desire to imitate those men and women who displayed them.
(1) THE PURPOSE OF GOD.
It is very essential that every Christian should be instructed in the present purpose of God. This comes into view at the commencement of the book. Our Lord, after He had risen from among the dead, appeared unto His own for forty days, at the conclusion of which period He led the disciples out to Bethany from whence He would ascend to the right hand of God. Before doing so, He was asked the question, “Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1. 6). The answer to this enquiry is most important: “It is not for you to know the times or seasons, which the Father hath put in His own authority, but ye shall receive power, the Holy Spirit coming upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto Me.” It is evident that the establishment of a material kingdom upon earth, with Israel as head of the nations, was not to occupy the attention of the disciples meantime. The purpose of God for them is clearly indicated in the words: “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me” Has every Christian really appreciated the truth here announced? God is not presently establishing a visible kingdom in this world, rather is He “visiting the nations to take out from among them a people for His Name” (Acts 15. 14). If we fail to grasp this, we shall sadly fail in our work for God. How many saints are spending time and energy in assisting the futile attempts of men to set up an order here, the realisation of which will only be enjoyed when “the government shall be upon His shoulder,” Who was once crucified on a cross of shame. The world is like a sinking ship whose doom cannot be averted, but there are precious souls on board, and our business is “by all means to save some.” This is blessedly possible if we are prepared to become a witness unto Him.
It should be observed in the New Testament that of one man it is stated that such was his special mission in life for, “there was a man sent from God whose name was John. The same came for a witness to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe” (John 1. 6, 7). If we continue our reading of this chapter we shall learn what the character of true witness is. Let us consider what is said.
(a) In John 1. 15 we have the Baptist’s first note of witness in these words: “He that cometh after me is preferred before me; for He was before me.” This was a testimony to THE HUMANITY AND DEITY OF CHRIST. The two expressions, “after me “and” before me,” convey these great doctrines; here indeed we have “the mystery of Godliness,” God manifest in flesh. The natural man may quibble about the two statements being contradictory, but the man taught of the Spirit believes and worships.
“AFTER ME” tells us He was human.
“BEFORE ME” tells us Divine.
“AFTER ME” we know Him as David’s son.
“BEFORE ME” we know Him as Lord.
“AFTER ME” He was the offspring of David.
“BEFORE ME” He was the root of David.
“AFTER ME” He is Son of Man.
“BEFORE ME” He is SON of God.
“AFTER ME” in time.
“BEFORE ME” in eternity.
How necessary it is that every witness should imitate John here. Modern teachers, so called, would propagate the theory that the Saviour did not exist until born into this world; it is true that His humanity began here but His deity never had a beginning. We cannot over emphasize this initial word of John; in fact it is essential to every succeeding truth relating to Christ.
(b) In John 1. 29 we have John again raising the voice of witness to Christ in the words: “Behold the Lamb of God which beareth away the sin of the world.” Here we learn THE PURPOSE OF HIS COMING. Again the commonly believed teaching on this point is wrong. The doctrine that Christ came into the world to exhibit a life, which if followed with any degree of success would ensure the pursuer a place of lasting bliss has no scriptural support. Not a few clerics propound this theory regularly from their pulpits, but, alas, they be “blind leaders of the blind,” and both if not enlightened will ultimately “fall into the ditch.” We are not forgetful that Peter wrote, “He left us an example that we should follow His steps,” but he was writing to those who were “partakers of the divine nature,” and only such are capable of imitating the perfect example. It must be carefully noted that the Baptist speaks of the removal of the “sin “of the world, not “sins “; if this were so, then all would be saved, a doctrine not found within the compass of divine revelation. Sin is universal, it has affected the whole creation, but the eternal purpose is that it shall not abide permanently. One day it shall vanish and only because of the efficacy of the blood of Him Who is the Lamb of God. The saint of God even now can take his stand beside the beloved Seer and hear the voice, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21. 5).
(c) In John 1. 34 we hear John again speak as a witness to Christ in the words: “And I saw and bare record that this is the Son of God.” This was a testimony to HIS EQUALITY WITH GOD. The title “Son,” when relating to Christ, implies much more than its use in human generation. There is no thought of inferiority but on the contrary absolute equality with the Father. The Jews interpreted it thus, for we read, “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill Him, because He said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5. 18). The gospel by John is very full of “this title and as we read we learn with deepest admiration that the invisible has become visible, the intangible has become tangible; for “no man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath told Him out” (John 1. 18). It is a wondrous truth that the Father and the Spirit Who cannot be seen in their individual Persons have both been fully displayed in the Son. One of the most profound statements in the Bible is contained in Col. 2. 9: “For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” If the Son was in any way inferior to the Father and Spirit the passage in Colossians would never have been penned. Let everyone who bears the torch of witness be as bold in their declaration as Peter who once said: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
We have seen therefore that John’s testimony, in so far as we have considered it, consisted of witness to Christ in His Person and work; would God have it otherwise today? May we all emulate the wilderness preacher here.
(To be continued.)