Great Theologians on a Great Sermon
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart . . . and about 3,000 were added to their number that day.” (Acts 2:37, 41)
In Acts 2, Peter preached a sermon that led to the conversion of over 3,000 people at once. That’s powerful. And it came about, after his presentation of the gospel, when they were “cut to the heart” or convicted of their sin.
Does that mean that the preaching in the book of Acts was emotionalistic or averse to doctrinal teaching? Hardly.
Consider what several great theologians said about the preaching content of the book of Acts.
Martin Luther “regarded Acts as a beautiful mirror in which one beholds the truth: Sola fides justificat. The fathers, likewise admired the contents of the book, noting the great variety of subjects and the immense value of each: the great testimony in regard to the apostolic doctrine and the church; the fundamental outlining of church government, church discipline, and church organization; an arsenal full of artillery against the antichrist; a laboratory replete with remedies against all soul-destroying errors of faith and offenses in conduct; . . . a treasury of learning and right doctrine.” (Cited in Lenski, Commentary on Acts)
John Calvin’s name is often attached to doctrinal controversies, and some mistakenly think that he was the first to teach God’s sovereignty and the doctrine of predestination. Acts 2 is one of those early, bold proclamations about the sovereignty of God (1500 years before Calvin). Peter heralded that Jesus had been “handed over by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.” Furthermore, over a thousand years prior to Calvin, Augustine contended against Pelagius, who insisted that men have full freedom of the will in spiritual and moral matters. Calvin and Augustine were only echoing Peter, John, Paul, . . . and Jesus.
Calvin applied that same “far and wide” outpouring of the Spirit to his own day. God continues to offer “daily unto us all, by this same promise, without putting any difference.” His point is that the gospel goes to “common people,” including “women and men, young and old.” He continues to assert that “the gate of salvation is set open unto all men; neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in save only our own belief. I speak of all unto whom God doth make himself manifest by the gospel.”
In 1525, while Calvin was still a teenager, Martin Luther strongly insisted on God’s sovereignty in all things, including man’s salvation. Although you may not know it, many are semi-Pelagian by default, since it is the prevailing view in American evangelical circles. Semi-Pelagianism is also called Arminianism, after Jacobus Arminius, who lived a generation after Calvin and opposed his views on predestination and free will. The Arminian view is that men can, of their own free will, choose to believe in Jesus Christ. The fact that God elects some to salvation is explained as being due to His knowing in advance who would choose Him. Arminians reject the doctrine that God chose in advance those whom He would save. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 would hardly agree with such emphasis on human ability.
Steven Cole commented on this sermon in Acts 2: “To be ‘pierced to the heart’ shows their feelings of deep anguish as they realized that they were guilty of killing their own Messiah. The Holy Spirit stabbed them with conviction of their terrible sin. Charles Spurgeon said, ‘It is idle to attempt to heal those who are not wounded, to attempt to clothe those who have never been stripped, and to make those rich who have never realized their poverty’. The conviction of sin is often the missing note in our evangelistic efforts. We are too quick in trying to heal people who do not realize that they are mortally ill. We need to use God’s holy law to show sinners their desperate condition. Only after they feel that should we apply the promise of God’s grace in the gospel.”
Let me conclude with a quote from contemporary Michael Horton: “Lacking confidence in the power of our story to effect that of which it speaks, to evoke a new people out of nothing, our communication loses its nerve. Nothing is said that could not be heard elsewhere. . . . In conservative contexts, gospel speech is traded for moralism, for self-help psychologies . . . In more liberal speech, talk tiptoes around the outrage of Christian discourse and ends up as an innocuous, though urbane, affirmation of the ruling-order. Unable to preach Christ and him crucified, we preach humanity, and it improved.”
That’s the kind of preaching God’s church needs in the days ahead. And preaching like this is what launched the church to the ends of the earth.