In about the year 1540, the English Reformer Myles Coverdale published a treatise called Fruitful Lessons. In it he expounded the passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and the sending of the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit. It is a book that makes the believer’s heart rejoice for its knowledge, reverence, and depth of spiritual wisdom.
Chapter 5 of Fruitful Lessons by Myles Coverdale was about the sending of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, as described in Acts 2:1-4. Coverdale began by setting forth the verses from Acts, which he took from the 1539/1540 Great Bible. He then explained the significance of the events described: why the pouring out of the Spirit happened when it did (on the fiftieth day after the death of Christ), why it happened where it did, and more. Below are excerpts from Coverdale’s lesson on Acts 2:1-4. I have updated some of the obsolete English, including putting “Holy Spirit” where he had “Holy Ghost.”
From Fruitful Lessons by Myles Coverdale: His lesson on Pentecost:
Acts 2:1-4: When the fifty days were come to an end, they were all with one accord together in one place; and suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as it had been the coming of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they sat. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like fire, and they sat upon each one of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, even as the same Spirit gave them utterance.
Doctrine and Fruit
The evangelist makes mention here of “the fiftieth day” upon which this great wonder was done. In this there lies hidden a notable mystery. The Jews, from the day that they offered the Passover lamb, counted fifty days, and upon the fiftieth day was the Feast of Weeks. In this feast they kept holy day, offering unto God a willing sacrifice of the firstfruits, after they had cut them down. We begin to count from the resurrection of Christ, our Passover Lamb, who also was offered up. Upon the fiftieth day, when the fruits began now to be ripe and were ready to be reaped, the harvest also being great and the laborers few, then God sent his Holy Spirit to prepare and equip the disciples, so that from amongst the heathen they could gather fruit together unto the Lord.
And as beforetime, when the children of Israel were departed out of Egypt the law was given to the people on the fiftieth day, so it was fitting that upon the fiftieth day the Holy Spirit should be given to the disciples – which Holy Spirit is both an interpreter and fulfiller of the law.
The place where the Holy Spirit was given is Zion, for there Christ commanded his disciples to wait, and from that place the law of God should, according to the saying of the prophets, proceed forth into the whole world. Therefore, like aforetime the law was given on Mount Sinai, even so was the Spirit given up on Mount Zion.
Upon Sinai did God at that time, with some terrible things, declare his might and power, his plagues also, and vengeance, which would fall upon those who scorned his law; and therefore was there such fearfulness through lightnings, thunderings, and other such terrible things. Here there is heard a noise, mighty and vehement, but not horrible and fearful – in which wind is signified that the doctrine of the Spirit should speedily and with power break in through the world and bring fruit; and that no man would be so strong as to hinder the strength of it, even as the wind in its course can by no man be kept back.
Whereas fiery tongues do appear and are seen, it signifies the manifold speeches and instruction that the Spirit gives to Christ’s disciples. It also signifies the zeal and ferventness that he works in their hearts, making them altogether fire, and kindling them in such sort that even their words are fervent, and pierce afterwards into the hearts of others. All weakness, fear, and coldness he removes out of them, so that they are not afraid to manfully step forth before all the people, although not long before they dared not stay with, but fled from the Lord. Now they confess him to be the Savior of all the world, whom they before had denied.
Whereas the tongues were divided, it signifies the diversity of the gifts of the Spirit. Christ promised in Mark 16 that they would “speak with other tongues,” or with a new speech or language. This promise is now performed in them. … How else could the apostles have been instructors of the whole world, if the Spirit had not taught them the diversity of tongues?
… The tongues of Christian men ought to be adorned with gentleness and with the Holy Spirit, so that no foul or wanton talk proceeds out of their mouth. The tongues that pronounce and confess Christ the eternal Truth, and his sincere Spirit, must not lie, neither speak any unclean, hurtful, or venomous thing. For to all such speech the Spirit is an enemy. Therefore they are not fleshly, but fire in spiritual tongues, out of which the fire of the Spirit has consumed all moisture of worldly and carnal wantonness, and God with his own love has kindled them. …
… Immediately after the resurrection, he breathes upon his disciples and gives them the Holy Spirit, to show that he is the same One who at the beginning created our nature and sealed it with his Spirit, and that it is he who now, in the beginning of a new life, must by his Spirit renew and restore our decayed nature again…
[And] immediately after this, he ascended up into heaven, to show to them that he was the Lord of all things. [Then], out of the high and real throne, where he sits at the right hand of God his Father, Christ the eternal King sent down his Holy Spirit upon all flesh, so that we by him may obtain the old innocency and salvation again; and so that the image of God, stained and defiled by sin, can be restored to us; and so that we might thus become partakers of eternal life.
… Come, O Holy Spirit, replenish the hearts of thy faithful believers, enkindle in them the fire of thy love, thou that through manifold tongues hast gathered together all the nations of the heathen in unity of faith. O take all dissension and discord out of thy holy church, and make us to be of one mind in unfeigned love, without which we cannot please thee.
[From Myles Coverdale, “Fruitful Lessons,” c. 1540, in Writings and Translations of Miles Coverdale, editor George Pearson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1844), 387-388, 392-393.]
Baruch House will soon be re-publishing a facsimile of the Parker Society’s edition of Fruitful Lessons by Myles Coverdale. Though Coverdale’s English was remarkably modern compared to other writers of his time, our edition will include a glossary of words that are likely to cause difficulty. Below is a sneak preview of our cover.
Coverdale was co-translator of the 1537 Matthew Bible along with William Tyndale. The story of his amazing contribution to the English Bible is in our book, The Story of the Matthew Bible: That Which We First Received. To purchase on Amazon USA, click here
Ruth Magnusson Davis, Feb 9, 2021