WITH ONE ACCORD
Sermon preached in Rye Lane Chapel on Sunday morning, 17th May, 1953
"These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren." Acts 1:14
IN some respects this Sunday in the ecclesiastical calendar is quite unique. It is overshadowed by Ascension Day, which I trust had a place in the thought and adoration of each one of us. It is eclipsed to an even greater extent by next Lord's Day, which will be the day of the Pentecostal blessing. This is the one Sunday when the Christian Church on earth had neither the presence of the Lord nor the Indwelling of the Comforter.
The company returned from Olivet to Jerusalem and on their arrival went to an upper room. We may, with some justification, presume it was the same room in which the last Supper had been observed, the same upper room to which Peter, a little later on, upon his marvellous release from prison, proceeded in the middle of the night. If so, it was the home of the mother of Mark. The eleven disciples were all there. Judas was dead by his own hand. Thomas no longer had any doubts. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was there. She is amongst the company and with this verse she makes her exit from the sacred record. There is no evidence that she had any particular place in the proceedings, no veneration, no place of eminence. After this the Scriptures make no reference to her. The brethren of Jesus are there. Mark has already made reference to the brethren of our Lord and now Luke, the careful historian, underlines the relationship. Father Ronald Knox has a footnote in his New Testament concerning our Lord's brethren. He writes: "Since it is impossible for anyone who holds the Catholic tradition to suppose that our Lord had brothers by blood, the most common opinion is that these brethren were His cousins." But why attempt to sustain the Catholic tradition of the perpetual virginity of Mary when the Scriptures so clearly indicate the tradition is contrary to the fact? These brethren had not always believed in Him, but now the truth has dawned upon them and the apostolic circle and the family circle are gathered together in the upper room. This was the spiritual nucleus through which mighty blessing was to come. It was
1) A COMPANY THINKING OUT THEIR PLANS
The door being closed the familiar room would bring back memories. The cup they had shared, the fears in His death, their unbelief and amazement in His resurrection would all be recalled, but all this was now seen in the glory of His ascension, for Luke tells us they returned from Olivet with great joy. And now what was to be done?
We may be sure they now intended to be obedient. Our Blessed Lord had commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem. It may be, of course, that there was a danger that they would leave the city and proceed to their homes in the country round about. In the period between the resurrection and the ascension they appear to have lost heart, they saw no future, Peter had exclaimed: "I go a fishing, " and the others were agreeable. This was not a time for such a separation, but for a fellowship in Jerusalem and it is clear they intended to be obedient. The little group joined the other disciples, some 120 from time to time. They worshipped in the temple. They were so confident of their future that they elected Matthias to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Judas. Whether they were right or wrong in so doing we may leave, but the fact of the election indicates they saw a future for their testimony and that is important.
We may be certain that our Lord's words had a great significance for them. The Risen Lord had clearly taught them that events had to be understood by revelation. He had told them they were fools and slow of heart not to believe all that the prophets had written. What He would say to us today I cannot think! That they did study the Scriptures is clear from the use Peter made of those Scriptures in his address on the day of Pentecost. Those were days in which they read the Old Testament with a light they had never enjoyed before. "To Him give all the prophets witness." The early Church learned from its Glorious Master, Lord and Head to search the Scriptures. There will be little Pentecostal blessing until we do.
To the Scriptures must be added the words of our Lord. They were to tarry until they were baptised by the Holy Spirit. Probably they did not know in the least what that baptism meant or the form it would take, but every word He had uttered concerning the Spirit would be recalled. " It is expedient for you that I go away for if I go not away the Comforter will not come, but if I depart I will send Him unto you." He had departed! When or how would the Comforter come? John had baptised in water, but " ye shall be baptised in the Holy Spirit not many days hence." There was, therefore, evidently, a waiting, a baptism and then a witnessing which was designed to take them far from Jerusalem and Judea, even to the uttermost parts of the earth! In a wonderful way it became
2) A COMPANY TAKING TO THEIR KNEES IN PRAYER
We may be quite sure that these disciples remembered the encouragements to prayer that had fallen from the lips of their Lord. No less they remembered His own example; for it was as they observed Him at prayer that they began to perceive what prayer could be. It was a new thing in heaven no less, that a company of men and women in Jerusalem began to pray in reference to the Ascended Lord. For if He had all authority in heaven and on earth, then it was in His Name that they should pray. Had He not declared: " If ye shall ask anything in My Name, I will act?" Wonder of wonders indeed if their feeble praying prevailed in heaven because they wielded the Glorious Name of Him to Whom all power belonged! They probably planned very little and yet they were drawn to the promises, they remembered and obeyed His word and they pinned their faith not in themselves but in Him and although they possibly were not aware of the significance of such ground for praying they were waiting on God for a consummation which was bound to bring them blessing.
With nearly 2,000 years of Church history behind us and the record of many revivals, we fall very easily into the folly of praying for something already defined in our own minds. If we pray for revival it is because we are thinking of something akin to the days of Wesley or of Moody or of Wales at the beginning of this century. To some extent we may be right, but we may be unwise also. We are right to pray for a baptism of the Spirit if by that we mean the Spirit possessing us fully, but the manifestation of which we must surely leave to the wisdom of God. Even in the case of the disciples, while the day of Pentecost was one of exhilarating victory, yet it was not long before the baptism of the Spirit brought them into suffering. When we pray for the full blessing of Pentecost let us be sure we mean the full experience of the Spirit, no matter what may be the cost involved. Let us get our minds off huge campaigns, valuable as they may be, and see the truth in its real perspective. If the fullness of the Holy Spirit should mean for us cost, discipline, a serious interference with comfort, and much sacrifice, would we still long for the blessing?
Whether the disciples understood the mystery or not, a blessing that flows out of the blood and sacrifice of our Lord will be bound to express itself through us in some similar fashion. If we understand that and still pray for the blessing then it may be with us, as the disciples, that we may seem to be intoxicated with joy and the joy will still be ours as we are counted worthy to suffer. Finally this was:
3) A COMPANY OF GREAT PERSEVERANCE
The time spent in waiting for God always seems to be long. The enemy is quick to point out how much we could do in the time we are praying and waiting, but we have to learn that once in answer to prayer God acts, then the time involved could not have been better spent. The disciples were with one accord. The truth is emphasised. They were resolved not to be separated by doubts, by mutual criticisms, by recriminations, but to remain one in heart and spirit. This ten days was a serious test. They did not know how long they would have to wait and pray, and when you do not know, ten days is a long time. In ten days doubts can develop about God and about your fellow believers.
What if somebody had suggested that the blessing was being withheld because Peter had denied his Lord? It would be easy to suggest that Peter should withdraw from the circle of prayer. It is one of the fatal acts of God's people that with very little knowledge of the ways of God they can find the spiritual cause when the blessing tarries! When the blessing tarries be sure you do not find fault, except with yourself, and be sure that no matter what the cost you continue with one accord.
We are capacitated for the baptism in the Spirit by that spirit of forgiveness by which we forgive others so freely, but make no excuses for ourselves. If as Christians, we are not, " with one accord" then the blessing is bound to tarry! It was in this spirit that they persevered. The idea within the word is that they persevered to a man. It is evident that these ten days were not spent entirely in prayer as if they never slept. On the contrary, during that time they elected Matthias to succeed Judas. Their perseverance is to be understood that they renounced all lackof love between themselves. They believed the promise of their Lord and they were resolved to keep that upper room available not for a day, not for a week but until they were baptised in the Holy Spirit. This they did know and believe, that until they were so baptised they would be largely ineffective.
So that room was set apart for prayer as often as any of them could gather together until this mysterious blessing of the baptism of the Spirit should be theirs with consequences that they left to the Lord. Such perseverance, of course, purifies the heart, enlightens the mind concerning the Scriptures, intensifies faith, and thus prepares the ground for the baptism of the Spirit. By the time the day of Pentecost was fully come the disciples were fully ready. The hour of God struck and it found a people of God on their knees ready for the blessing.
The room in Jerusalem, with its persevering disciples, has much to commend it. You may go to Edinburgh and see the room where John Knox prayed, you can go to South Wales and see the house and the upstairs room where Evan Roberts prayed. I should like to think in these very dark days that we had a room here in Rye Lane Chapel to which our members came whenever they could, not with a flood of enthusiasm which soon petered out, but where members met who had promised by the grace of God they would not let Him go until they had the blessing. Let us think it over; we may be nearer to blessing than we think. Is God calling us to give our energy supremely to waiting upon Him? I would not be dogmatic, but I can be realistic. In this Church we have much for which to be thankful. We have stood up to a gruelling experience in these last 14 years and it may be said with truth that we have faced the onslaught of evil as well as most of our churches. All that we leave in God's hands with gratitude. It is, however, equally true that with an enormous amount of energy, with a larger number of activities than ever before in the history of this Church, with Committees and Councils which have to be attended to be appreciated, with a demand upon some of our workers which is exhausting, yet our membership is decreasing. Probably 95 per cent of the boys and girls who go through our schools leave us for good by the time they are 13; this great neighbourhood around us is virtually untouched and some of our own members are uncertain in their loyalty to Christ and their fellowship with us.
Anybody who knows the facts will know how true are my words. Supposing we said with one accord that this cannot really be the will of God. Supposing we scrapped all our mid-week activities and opened our Sunday School each night for waiting upon God until He was pleased to send us the baptism in the Spirit which whatever may be its manifestation, is what we need? If those who came intended to persevere with God until the blessing was given, and to be in the School Hall in prayer whenever they could and to pray at home when they could not, surely the longing for God would deepen in their hearts and spread to others. If we waited until this time next year before the blessing came, when it did come we should soon see how mightily God could and would work. Are there any members of Rye Lane Chapel who are prepared with one accord to persevere in prayer until the blessing, without which we shall be relatively fruitless, is bestowed upon us?
(The message recorded above found an echo, in the Church Meeting on the following Monday, when questions were asked as to whether action was to be taken. An interesting discussion followed, the Pastor intimating that doubtless the Church Officers would be giving careful attention to the whole matter. The Deacons have decided to set apart Monday, 29th June to Saturday, 4th July inclusive, as a week when all other work in the Church and Missions will be closed down so that all members of the Church may have an opportunity of giving themselves to prayer. The meetings will be CHURCH meetings to which members only may come. We feel the need that those who accept responsibility as members should lay the burden before the Lord. It is hoped therefore that all Church members will take thought and trouble to plan the week so that they may be present as many evenings as possible. The Church Meeting will commence each night at 7 P.M.)
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