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By Philip Schaff
The astonishment of the well-disposed hearers at these wonderful proceedings, and the mockery of the unbelievers, who ascribed the speaking with tongues to intoxication, called for an explanation and apology; and this first independent testimony of the apostles, poured forth from the fullness of the Spirit, was the effective signal for gathering in the first fruits of the new spiritual creation. Thus, the work of preaching is immediately connected with the founding of the church; thenceforth, it is the chief instrument of extending the kingdom of God. The testimony of the Holy Ghost perpetuates itself in the testimony of those in whom he dwells (John 15:26, 27). It is at once the fruit of faith and the means of propagating it. The speaking with tongues is followed by the interpretation of tongues, and intelligible, calm prophecy, and the religious faculties, which had been agitated to their inmost depths, are restored to their regular natural action.
True to his character as presented in the Gospels, the ardent, impetuous Peter, born to be a leader and spokesman, came forward in the name of his colleagues and of the whole church, and thus proved himself, with his fearless confession of faith, to be, in fact, the rock, upon which the Lord, as the architect, had promised to build his church. His discourse to the assembled multitude, delivered probably in the Hebrew language, is exceedingly simple and appropriate. It is neither a direct assault upon Judaism, nor an exposition of doctrine, but simply the annunciation of historical facts, especially the resurrection of Jesus; an unpretending, but powerful testimony of the most assured experience, the immediate effusion of the divine life within; an expansion of the fundamental confession before made by Peter, that Jesus was the Son of the living God and the Savior of sinners; in short, a genuine missionary sermon. The contrast here is remarkable between the exalted inspiration just exhibited in the speaking with tongues and the calm self-possession and clearness of this sermon. But the harmonious union of these two gifts is a characteristic feature of the apostles, who were thus as far removed from cold intellectualism as from extravagant enthusiasm.
Peter begins, with meek condescension and exemplary mildness, by refuting the rude charge of drunkenness with the very modest and apparently trivial, but popular and conclusive argument that it is but the third hour of the day (9 o’clock in the morning) before which time the Jews usually indulged in nothing, and even drunkards were sober. This appearance, he goes on to say, is nothing else than the glorious fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel concerning the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which was to be attended with unusual natural phenomena—the outpouring of the Spirit, too, not only upon single extraordinary ambassadors of God, as under the Old Dispensation, but upon all people, even the most insignificant and illiterate. This communication of the Spirit is brought about by Jesus of Nazareth, the promised Messiah, who was powerfully accredited to you as such by works and miracles. Ye did, indeed, deliver him up, according to the eternal counsel and foreknowledge of God, and crucify him by the hands of heathen Romans. But God has raised Him from the dead, according to the promise in the sixteenth Psalm;2 and of this fact we all are living witnesses. This risen One, exalted at the right hand of God, hath sent us his Spirit, as ye here see. Know, therefore, that God himself has, by indisputable facts, shown this Jesus, crucified by you, to be the Messiah, from whom ye yourselves, as Israelites, look for all salvation.
The great point of the apostle evidently was, to show, in few, but impressive words, the official character of Jesus as Messiah, from a comparison of the present occurrences with the clear prophecies of the Old Testament, which the hearers themselves acknowledged; and at the same time, by touching upon the crucifixion, of which the Jews were the authors, to lead these Jews to earnest repentance. The sermon had its designed effect. The convicted and alarmed hearers anxiously asked: “What shall we do?” Peter required them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and they should receive the same Holy Spirit whose wonderful workings they perceived in the apostles. For the promise was intended for them, and for their children, even for all the Gentiles, whom the Lord should call. Thus repentance and faith, the turning of the heart away from the world and sin, and towards God through Christ, appear here, as in all the Scriptures, as the first condition of participation in the kingdom of God, and in the blessings of salvation, namely, the forgiveness of sins, imparted and sealed by Christian baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost as the new positive principle of life.
After several other exhortations to repentance, those who received the word gladly were baptized, and about three thousand souls were gathered, on this harvest festival of the new covenant, into the garners of Christ’s kingdom. For the first time, the word of the Lord was fulfilled, that, in consequence, and by virtue of his ascension to the Father, his disciples should do greater works than he himself wrought in the days of his humiliation (Jno. 14:12). The awakening testimony of Peter, and the extraordinary operation of the Holy Spirit, supplied the want of longer preparation for the solemn act of baptism, which here coincided with true conversion. But the young plant needed strengthening and care. The believers were constant and united in attention to the four essential elements of all truly Christian associate life—the instruction of the apostles; brotherly fellowship in active, self-denying love; breaking of bread, i. e. partaking of the Lord’s Supper in connection with the daily love-feasts; and prayer, (Acts 2:42). Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, the fulfiller of the whole Old Testament, was the center of their faith; and Christianity proved itself not merely a theory, nor an emotion, nor a collection of moral precepts and actions; but life, in the deepest and most comprehensive sense; a power of God to make happy all, who believe in it. “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”
This was the pre-formative beginning of the church. It has never yet had its like in history, but it will one day be repeated, for the promise of Joel has not yet reached its absolute fulfillment. This young band of believers, with their successors, were to be the salt of the earth, to preserve the mass of humanity from spiritual putrefaction; and the communion then founded was to be thenceforth the basis of every true advance in morality, science, art, social life, and outward civilization, as well as the spring of all great events in later history. Before shy and timid, the apostles find, from this day forth, armed with undaunted courage in bearing witness of the truth. Before unknown or little cared for, they become at once the heroes of the day and soon attract the attention, not only of Palestine but of the whole world. A few honest, plain fishermen of Galilee, raised to be the official witnesses of the Holy Ghost; transformed from illiterate men into infallible organs of the Savior of the world, teachers of all ages;—truly, this is marvelous in our eyes!
 Philip Schaff, History of the Apostolic Church; With a General Introduction to Church History, trans. Edward D. Yeomans (New York: Charles Scribner, 1859), 204–207.