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Next to the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, the Holy Spirit’s outpouring and the church’s birth is the most momentous fact in history. Itself a miracle, it could only enter the world with a retinue of miraculous appearances. Yet, it daily reappears, on a smaller scale, in every individual regeneration and will thus be perpetually repeated, until all humanity shall be transformed into the image of Christ and united with God. For we have here not an isolated and transient occurrence, but the generative beginning of a vast series of workings and manifestations of God in history; the fountain of a river of life, which flows with unbroken current, through all time, until it merges in eternity. The Holy Spirit had thus far only temporarily and sporadically visited the world to enlighten certain especially favored individuals, the bearers of the Old Testament revelation. Now he took up his permanent abode upon earth, to reside and work in the community of believers, as the principle of divine light and life, to apply more and more deeply and extensively to the souls of men the redemption objectively wrought by Christ. The relation of the Holy Spirit to the Son is like that of the Son to the Father. The Holy Spirit reveals and glorifies the Son in the church. “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). Our Lord had expressly connected the bestowment of the Spirit of truth on his people, as their permanent possession, with his ascension to the Father. “It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter (Helper) will not come unto you: but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” This mission of the Holy Spirit was the burden of Christ’s parting discourses before his death, as well as of his last words to his disciples at his ascension (Acts 1:8), when he also directed them to tarry in Jerusalem until the promise should be fulfilled, and they should be baptized with the Holy Spirit (v. 4, 5). For “out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined,” (Ps. 50:2). “Out of Zion,” as predicted in Isa. 2:3, should “go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
That this great fact, which, in the highest sense, forms an epoch, might be known at once to all the world, God had chosen as the time of its occurrence one of the great feasts of the Israelites, and, indeed, the very one, which bore a typical relation to the founding of the Christian church, like that of the Passover to the death and resurrection of Christ Pentecost fell on the fiftieth day after the day following the Paschal sabbath (Lev. 23:15 sq.), and was therefore reckoned, according to the common acceptation, from the 16th of Nisan, when the corn-harvest began (Lev. 23:11. Deut. 16:9). It had, with the Jews, a twofold import, physical and historical. It was, first, a festival of thanksgiving for the first fruits of the harvest, which had been gathered during the preceding seven weeks. Hence, it is called in the Old Testament the feast of weeks, or the feast of harvest. At the same time, according to the old Rabbinical tradition, this feast had reference to the founding of the theocracy, the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai, which occurred at this time of the year, seven weeks after the exodus from Egypt. According to Jewish tradition, the giving of the law was on the 6th of the third month, Sivan, and thus exactly on the fiftieth day after the 16th of Nisan (comp. Ex. 19:1). This feast was accordingly called also the feast of the joy of the law. In both these views, the day was strikingly suitable for the first Christian Pentecost, in which the Old Testament types were to find their glorious fulfillment. Then were gathered into the garners of the church the first-fruits of the Christian faith, the ripe harvest, as it were, of the Jewish people. Then was founded the fellowship of the new covenant, and that no longer merely for one nation and a few centuries, but for all mankind and forever. Then God wrote the law of the life-giving Spirit upon the hearts of men, as formerly he had written the law of the letter, which killed, on the tables of stone.
The narrative of this momentous event is given, though very briefly, in the second chapter of Acts. On the Pentecost after the resurrection of the Lord, in the year 30 of our era, on a Sunday,2 the apostles and other followers of Jesus, to the number of a hundred and twenty, ten times twelve (comp. Acts 1:15), were assembled with one accord for devotion in their accustomed place, most probably an apartment of the temple, perhaps Solomon’s porch (comp. 3:11. 5:12). During the first hour of prayer, about 9 o’clock in the morning, unusual signs announced the fulfillment of the Savior’s solemn promise, for which they had anxiously waited and fervently prayed—the outpouring of the Spirit and the beginning of a new moral creation. As, through the mysterious sympathy between the physical and the moral worlds, the great epochs of history are usually preceded or accompanied by extraordinary phenomena in nature; as, for example, the promulgation of the divine law on Sinai was solemnly announced by “thunders and lightnings and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud,” (comp. Ex. 19:16 sqq.); so was it here; and the disciples recognized in the sensible form, under which God now revealed himself to them, a fit emblem of what was taking place in the spiritual world. A sound from heaven, as of rushing wind, suddenly filled the quiet house of prayer; a precursor, announcing the approach of the supernatural power of God. The Holy Spirit, who had once brooded over the chaos of the material world, as the creative, animating breath of God, now, in a higher form, as the Spirit of the glorified Redeemer, with all the fullness of his theanthropic life; as the principle of the new moral and religious creation; as the Spirit of faith and love, of truth and holiness; descended upon the worshipers, and rested upon them in the form of cloven tongues, like as of fire. Wind and fire are here plainly symbolical of the purifying, enlightening, and enlivening power of God; the sacramental channels, as it were, of the promised baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matt. 3:11); and, at the same time, prophetical of the lofty inspiration of the messengers of the faith, and of the life-giving nature of their future labors. These heavenly tokens, moreover, were probably visible only to the inward eyes of the believers, like the effulgence of the opened heavens at the baptism of Christ and the death of Stephen.
Through these significant symbolical channels were the hundred and twenty disciples, and especially the apostles, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” (Acts 2:4). This phrase, which must be understood in its full New Testament sense, describes the proper essence and the main feature of the Pentecostal miracle. The disciples were not merely enlightened in the ordinary sense, but transferred into a new, supernatural sphere of life, into the center of Christian truth and holiness, and transformed into organs of the Holy Spirit, according to the Lord’s prediction: “The Spirit of truth shall testify of me, and ye also shall bear witness,” (John. 15:26, 27). “It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaks in you,” (Matt. 10:20). At this moment was performed the proper act of inspiration, which forms, in some degree, the continuation, in the apostles, of the incarnation of the Word. Inspiration is as much a practical as a theoretical process. It is a communication as well of life, as of the knowledge of Christ, and affects not only the subsequent writings of the apostles and evangelists, but also all their oral instructions. Henceforth, they always spoke, wrote, and acted, out of the fullness of the Spirit. He was the pervading and controlling principle of their entire moral and religious being. This supernatural equipment was their solemn ordination and inauguration to the apostolic office.
The first effects of this miracle were in perfect keeping with such a creative beginning, and with its vast significance for the future. Among them, we must distinguish (1) the speaking with tongues, or the utterance of the new life in a new form of prayer and praise; (2) the testimony of the apostles concerning Christ, given in intelligible language to the assembled multitude, which, at this hour of service, was at any rate on its way to the temple, and which was the more attracted thither by the rushing sound and the speaking with tongues; (3) the result of this preaching, the conversion and baptism of the three thousand Israelites. The speaking with tongues here makes its first appearance, and the obscurity of the subject demands for it a more extended consideration.
 Philip Schaff, History of the Apostolic Church; With a General Introduction to Church History, trans. Edward D. Yeomans (New York: Charles Scribner, 1859), 191–196.