“For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
So intended by the Holy Spirit, to be directed to those who under the mighty impetus of the gospel are pricked in their hearts, and who are impelled to cry out: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (verse 37) And unto whom the apostle must say: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (verse 38) “For the promise is unto you….!”
However, a truth which throughout history has been cast into the throes of ecclesiastical controversy, whether that debate be about the idea of the covenant, or more particularly about the promise of the gospel. And, therefore, a truth, when not properly understood, fails to convey the intended comfort. Not, you understand, as though the Word of God is uneffectual; for it will surely come to those for whom it is intended, and will comfort their hearts. But when this Word of God is explained as being a promise for all men, or that God’s covenant, is intended to embrace all men, then it loses its intended comfort. For a comfort that is for all, or a promise that is for all, is a promise and a comfort for none!
What we have here is a universal proclamation of a particular promise!
Not always does the Word of God speak of the promise in the singular. Again and again we read also of the promises. Observe the following examples. “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and. the promises.” Romans 9:4. “Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers.” Romans 15:8. ‘Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid . . . !”Galatians 3:21. “But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises . . . .” Hebrews 7:6. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises . . . .” Hebrews 11:13.
But also frequently we read of the promise, in the singular, as for example: “Is his mercy clean gone forever? doth his promise fail forevermore?” Psalm 77:8. “And behold; I send the promise of my Father upon you, but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endowed with power from on high.” Luke 24:49. “And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same . . . .” Acts 13:32. “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”Galatians 3:29. And so it is in our text: “For the promise is unto you . . . .”
Evidently the plural emphasizes the riches of the implications of the promise; while the singular is intended more particularly to identify the promise and express its unity. But always it is about the same promise, which is essentially one.
As to its nature the promise differs radically from an offer! Also in respect to the latter the person that makes an offer declares something. Be declares his willingness to do something for or to bestow something upon another unto whom the offer is made. However, for its realization the offer is contingent upon the willingness of the second party, upon his consent to the offer. And peculiarly an offer that is contingent upon the acceptance or consent of the second party may be general. The promise, on the other hand, is a declaration, written or oral, which binds the person that makes it to do or to forbear to do the very thing promised. A promise implies also the declaration of a certain good together with the assurance that this good shall be bestowed in behalf of the person to whom the promise is made. And a promise that binds the promising party and that is certain of realization is not general, but it requires a definite second party. This distinction of the promise we observe to be true especially in Scripture.
The promise is always sure! Its certainty is sustained by the fact that it is God Who makes the promise. He conceived of it, and declares it; and it is He Who realizes the thing promised. It cannot; therefore, in any sense of the word be contingent. It cannot be contingent upon the will of the creature for its fulfillment. The promise is as faithful and true as God is unchangeable. He will surely realize His promise. Fact is, when He binds Himself to bestow something, He does so by an oath. Notice what we read in Hebrews 6:13, 14, 17, 18. “For when God made promises to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee . . . wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation . . . .”
And the object of the promise is never general, but definite and particular! In Scripture the promise is centrally made to Christ, and through Him to the seed of Abraham, who are called the children of the promise, or heirs and co-heirs of the promise. This is clearly expressed in that passage quoted above from the Book of Hebrews. And this also clearly is asserted in such a passage as found in Galatians 3. “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ . . . And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (verses 16, 29).
Scripture speaks variously of the contents of the promise. It speaks of the promise of life— I Timothy 4:8; of the promise of eternal life— I John 2:25; of the promise of Christ’s coming— II Peter 3:4; of the promise of entering into rest— Hebrews 4:1; of the promise of becoming heirs of salvation— Romans 4:13; of the promise of raising up a Saviour— Acts 13:23. You feel immediately that though the expressions differ, they all nevertheless have to do with the same thing. Always the content of the promise has to do with Christ, or with something related to Him. Always, we may say, the promise is the gospel concerning Christ, or matters relating to Him. Such is also the truth concerning the promise in our text.
The promise concerning the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of Christ!
Note the context! “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear.” (verse 33) “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (verse 38) It was the day of Pentecost, the day when the Spirit was poured out on the church in heaven and on earth! The Spirit of the resurrected and glorified Redeemer! Given to Him in His exaltation without measure, and by Him poured out on the entire church. The Holy Spirit of Christ whereby He becomes to them the Comforter as He promised. So He regenerates them and makes them new creatures. He imparts to them faith, and through faith righteousness, sanctification, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. As .the Spirit of promise He is depicted often in Scripture. Think of that monumental passage in the prophecy of Joel, referred to in verses 16ff. But many passages as well look at the Holy Spirit as the fulfillment of the promise.
The promise to you, to your children, to all who are afar off!
To you, i.e., the immediate audience of the apostle as he preached his Pentecostal sermon. These are described in the context as Jews, devout men out of every nation under heaven who were present in Jerusalem. They are called men of Judea, men of Israel, men and brethren.
To your children, i.e., the children of these hearers, Jewish children.
To all who afar off, i.e., not only the Jews scattered over the world, as some insist, but also these refer to Gentiles who had lived all through the old dispensation far from the covenant of Israel.
So that we may conclude that the promise is not limited to one class or nation of people, but is universal in its scope. To the Jew first, then also to the Gentile—that is the order in which the promise is given and fulfilled.
To as many as the Lord our God shall call!
Though the promise has a universal scope and presentation, this does not mean that God gives this promise to all men. We must have nothing of the popular view that maintains that God gives the promise to all who hear the gospel, or who maintain that the promise is to all who are members of the church by baptism or born in the sphere of the covenant. These views are plainly erroneous on the very surface of our text. The apostle speaks emphatically and in no uncertain terms of the promise of the Holy Spirit as being intended for all and as many as the Lord our God shall call.
And the calling here is not the mere outward sound of the gospel, but the inward, effectual calling as God realizes it in the scheme of redemption. It belongs to the order of salvation described by the apostle Paul inRomans 8:30. “Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” The calling in this sense is not a mere invitation which you may accept or reject at will; rather, when you are called you come.
Those who are called are described in the context as repentant, who are pricked in their heart, and who cry out: What shall we do? They are those whom Paul describes as having been predestinated and chosen, or again, as the seed of Christ, and heirs of the promise. The called respond in faith, appropriating the promise, and experience the sweet, benevolent operations of that Spirit already in their hearts. These only receive the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ according to the unfailing promise of God. The promise already spoken to Abraham, the father of all believers. (Genesis 17:7) The promise of which evidently Peter is thinking as he uttered the words of our text.
We say again, how comforting is this truth!
It is intended to be in part at least the answer to the question of those whose hearts were pricked and who exclaim: Men and brethren, what shall we do? They had witnessed in the apostles the miracle of Pentecost, who were preaching the gospel in the language of each one gathered in Jerusalem. They had come under the hearing of the gospel which had as its theme the crucifixion, death, resurrection, and glorious ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. They had been shown in no uncertain terms that all of this had come upon Christ according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, but also through the hands of lawless men, who are charged especially with the sin of the crucifixion. And when they heard all this, they were pricked in their heart. They were convicted of sin, considering themselves worthy of damnation, and in despair were impelled to cry out: What shall we do?
It is therefore in the way of repentance and the experience of remission of sins that the recipients of the promise receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is also in this way that God fulfills His promise which cannot fail in its realization in those for whom it is intended. Having been called out of darkness into His marvelous light the recipients of the promise experience subjectively through the way of repentance and the means of grace that the promise by divine direction has been realized in them. The Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the exalted Redeemer has come to take up His abode in. their hearts and to lead them further into the joy of their salvation.
And this promise He is still realizing in them that are called wherever He is pleased to establish His covenant, not only in those who are near, but also afar off.