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JEWISH REJECTERS AND GENTILE RECEIVERS
Act_13:44 - Act_13:52 - Act_14:1 - Act_14:7 .
In general outline, the course of events in the two great cities of Asia Minor, with which the present passage is concerned, was the same. It was only too faithful a forecast of what was to be Paul’s experience everywhere. The stages are: preaching in the synagogue, rejection there, appeal to the Gentiles, reception by them, a little nucleus of believers formed; disturbances fomented by the Jews, who swallow their hatred of Gentiles by reason of their greater hatred of the Apostles, and will riot with heathens, though they will not pray nor eat with them; and finally the Apostles’ departure to carry the gospel farther afield. This being the outline, we have mainly to consider any special features diversifying it in each case.
Their experience in Antioch was important, because it forced Paul and Barnabas to put into plain words, making very clear to themselves as well as to their hearers, the law of their future conduct. It is always a step in advance when circumstances oblige us to formularise our method of action. Words have a wonderful power in clearing up our own vision. Paul and Barnabas had known all along that they were sent to the Gentiles; but a conviction in the mind is one thing, and the same conviction driven in on us by facts is quite another. The discipline of Antioch crystallised floating intentions into a clear statement, which henceforth became the rule of Paul’s conduct. Well for us if we have open eyes to discern the meaning of difficulties, and promptitude and decision to fix and speak out plainly the course which they prescribe!
The miserable motives of the Jews’ antagonism are forcibly stated in Act_13:44 - Act_13:45 . They did not ‘contradict and blaspheme,’ because they had taken a week to think over the preaching and had seen its falseness, but simply because, dog-in-the-manger like, they could not bear that ‘the whole city’ should be welcome to share the message. No doubt there was a crowd of ‘Gentile dogs’ thronging the approach to the synagogue; and one can almost see the scowling faces and hear the rustle of the robes drawn closer to avoid pollution. Who were these wandering strangers that they should gather such a crowd? And what had the uncircumcised rabble of Antioch to do with ‘the promises made to the fathers’? It is not the only time that religious men have taken offence at crowds gathering to hear God’s word. Let us take care that we do not repeat the sin. There are always some who-
‘Taking God’s word under wise protection,
Correct its tendency to diffusiveness.’
It needed some courage to front the wild excitement of such a mob, with calm, strong words likely to increase the rage.
‘Lo, we turn to the Gentiles.’ This is not to be regarded as announcing a general course of action, but simply as applying to the actual rejecters in Antioch. The necessity that the word should first be spoken to the Jews continued to be recognised, in each new sphere of work, by the Apostle; but wherever, as here, men turned from the message, the messengers turned from them without further waste of time. Paul put into words here the law for his whole career. The fit punishment of rejection is the withdrawal of the offer. There is something pathetic in the persistence with which, in place after place, Paul goes through the same sequence, his heart yearning over his brethren according to the flesh, and hoping on, after all repulses. It was far more than natural patriotism; it was an offshoot of Christ’s own patient love.
Note also the divine command. Paul bases his action on a prophecy as to the Messiah. But the relation on which prophecy insists between the personal servant of Jehovah and the collective Israel, is such that the great office of being the Light of the world devolves from Him on it and the true Israel is to be a light to the Gentiles. These very Jews in Antioch, lashing themselves into fury because Gentiles were to be offered a share in Israel’s blessings, ought to have been discharging this glorious function. Their failure showed that they were no parts of the real Israel. No doubt the two missionaries left the synagogue as they spoke, and, as the door swung behind them, it shut hope out and unbelief in. The air was fresh outside, and eager hearts welcomed the word. Very beautifully is the gladness of the Gentile hearers set in contrast with the temper of the Jews. It is strange news to heathen hearts that there is a God who loves them, and a divine Christ who has died for them. The experience of many a missionary follows Paul’s here.
‘As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.’ The din of many a theological battle has raged round these words, the writer of which would have probably needed a good deal of instruction before he could have been made to understand what the fighting was about. But it is to be noted that there is evidently intended a contrast between the envious Jews and the gladly receptive Gentiles, which is made more obvious by the repetition of the words ‘eternal life.’ It would seem much more relevant and accordant with the context to understand the word rendered ‘ordained’ as meaning ‘adapted’ or ‘fitted,’ than to find in it a reference to divine foreordination. Such a meaning is legitimate, and strongly suggested by the context. The reference then would be to the ‘frame of mind of the heathen, and not to the decrees of God.’
The only points needing notice in the further developments at Antioch are the agents employed by the Jews, the conduct of the Apostles, and the sweet little picture of the converts. As to the former, piously inclined women in a heathen city would be strongly attracted by Judaism and easily lend themselves to the impressions of their teachers. We know that many women of rank were at that period powerfully affected in this manner; and if a Rabbi could move a Gentile of influence through whispers to the Gentile’s wife, he would not be slow to do it. The ease with which the Jews stirred up tumults everywhere against the Apostle indicates their possession of great influence; and their willingness to be hand in glove with heathen for so laudable an object as crushing one of their own people who had become a heretic, measures the venom of their hate and the depth of their unscrupulousness.
The Apostles had not to fear violence, as their enemies were content with turning them out of Antioch and its neighbourhood; but they obeyed Christ’s command, shaking off the dust against them, in token of renouncing all connection. The significant act is a trace of early knowledge of Christ’s words, long before the date of our Gospels.
While the preachers had to leave the little flock in the midst of wolves, there was peace in the fold. Like the Ethiopian courtier when deprived of Philip, the new believers at Antioch found that the withdrawal of the earthly brought the heavenly Guide. ‘They were filled with joy.’ What! left ignorant, lonely, ringed about with enemies, how could they be glad? Because they were filled ‘with the Holy Ghost.’ Surely joy in such circumstances was no less supernatural a token of His presence than rushing wind or parting flames or lips opened to speak with tongues. God makes us lonely that He may Himself be our Companion.
It was a long journey to the great city of Iconium. According to some geographers, the way led over savage mountains; but the two brethren tramped along, with an unseen Third between them, and that Presence made the road light. They had little to cheer them in their prospects, if they looked with the eye of sense; but they were in good heart, and the remembrance of Antioch did not embitter or discourage them. Straight to the synagogue, as before, they went. It was their best introduction to the new field. There, if we take the plain words of Act_14:1 , they found a new thing, ‘Greeks,’ heathens pure and simple, not Hellenists or Greek-speaking Jews, nor even proselytes, in the synagogue. This has seemed so singular that efforts have been made to impose another sense on the words, or to suppose that the notice of Greeks, as well as Jews, believing is loosely appended to the statement of the preaching in the synagogue, omitting notice of wider evangelising. But it is better to accept than to correct our narrative, as we know nothing of the circumstances that may have led to this presence of Greeks in the synagogue. Some modern setters of the Bible writers right would be all the better for remembering occasionally that improbable things have a strange knack of happening.
The usual results followed the preaching of the Gospel. The Jews were again the mischief-makers, and, with the astuteness of their race, pushed the Gentiles to the front, and this time tried a new piece of annoyance. ‘The brethren’ bore the brunt of the attack; that is, the converts, not Paul and Barnabas. It was a cunning move to drop suspicions into the minds of influential townsmen, and so to harass, not the two strangers, but their adherents. The calculation was that that would stop the progress of the heresy by making its adherents uncomfortable, and would also wound the teachers through their disciples.
But one small element had been left out of the calculation-the sort of men these teachers were; and another factor which had not hitherto appeared came into play, and upset the whole scheme. Paul and Barnabas knew when to retreat and when to stand their ground. This time they stood; and the opposition launched at their friends was the reason why they did so. ‘Long time therefore abode they.’ If their own safety had been in question, they might have fled; but they could not leave the men whose acceptance of their message had brought them into straits. But behind the two bold speakers stood ‘the Lord,’ Christ Himself, the true Worker. Men who live in Him are made bold by their communion with Him, and He witnesses for those who witness for Him.
Note the designation of the Gospel as ‘the word of His grace.’ It has for its great theme the condescending, giving love of Jesus. Its subject is grace; its origin is grace; its gift is grace. Observe, too, that the same connection between boldness of speech and signs and wonders is found in Act_4:29 - Act_4:30 . Courageous speech for Christ is ever attended by tokens of His power, and the accompanying tokens of His power make the speech more courageous.
The normal course of events was pursued. Faithful preaching provoked hostility, which led to the alliance of discordant elements, fused for a moment by a common hatred-alas! that enmity to God’s truth should be often a more potent bond of union than love!-and then to a wise withdrawal from danger. Sometimes it is needful to fling away life for Jesus; but if it can be preserved without shirking duty, it is better to flee than to die. An unnecessary martyr is a suicide. The Christian readiness to be offered has nothing in common with fanatical carelessness of life, and still less with the morbid longing for martyrdom which disfigures some of the most pathetic pages of the Church’s history. Paul living to preach in the regions beyond was more useful than Paul dead in a street riot in Iconium. A heroic prudence should ever accompany a trustful daring, and both are best learned in communion with Jesus.
DEIFIED AND STONED
DREAM AND REALITY
This was the spontaneous instinctive utterance of simple villagers when they saw a deed of power and kindness. Many an English traveller and settler among rude people has been similarly honoured. And in Lycaonia the Apostles were close upon places that were celebrated in Greek mythology as having witnessed the very two gods, here spoken of, wandering among the shepherds and entertained with modest hospitality in their huts.
The incident is a very striking and picturesque one. The shepherd people standing round, the sudden flash of awe and yet of gladness which ran through them, the tumultuous outcry, which, being in their rude dialect, was unintelligible to the Apostles till it was interpreted by the appearance of the priest of Jupiter with oxen and garlands for offerings, the glimpse of the two Apostles-the older, graver, venerable Barnabas, the younger, more active, ready-tongued Paul, whom their imaginations converted into the Father of gods and men, and the herald Mercury, who were already associated in local legends; the priest, eager to gain credit for his temple ‘before the city,’ the lowing oxen, and the vehement appeal of the Apostles, make a picture which is more vividly presented in the simple narrative than even in the cartoon of the great painter whom the narrative has inspired.
But we have not to deal with the picturesque element alone. The narratives of Scripture are representative because they are so penetrating and true. They go to the very heart of the men and things which they describe: and hence the words and acts which they record are found to contain the essential characteristics of whole classes of men, and the portrait of an individual becomes that of a class. This joyful outburst of the people of Lycaonia gives utterance to one of the most striking and universal convictions of heathenism, and stands in very close and intimate relations with that greatest of all facts in the history of the world, the Incarnation of the Eternal Word. That the gods come down in the likeness of men is the dream of heathenism. ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,’ is the sober, waking truth which meets and vindicates and transcends that cry.
I. The heathen dream of incarnation.
In all lands we find this belief in the appearance of the gods in human form. It inspired the art and poetry of Greece. Rome believed that gods had charged in front of their armies and given their laws. The solemn, gloomy religion of Egypt, though it worshipped animal forms, yet told of incarnate and suffering gods. The labyrinthine mythologies of the East have their long-drawn stories of the avatars of their gods floating many a rood on the weltering ocean of their legends. Tibet cherishes each living sovereign as a real embodiment of the divine. And the lowest tribes, in their degraded worship, have not departed so far from the common type but that they too have some faint echoes of the universal faith.
Do these facts import anything at all to us? Are we to dismiss them as simply the products of a stage which we have left far behind, and to plume ourselves that we have passed out of the twilight?
Even if we listen to what comparative mythology has to say, it still remains to account for the tendency to shape legends of the earthly appearance of the gods; and we shall have to admit that, while they belong to an early stage of the world’s progress, the feelings which they express belong to all stages of it.
Now I think we may note these thoughts as contained in this universal belief:
The consciousness of the need of divine help.
The certainty of a fellowship between heaven and earth.
The high ideal of the capacities and affinities of man.
We may note further what were the general characteristics of these incarnations. They were transient, they were ‘docetic,’ as they are called-that is, they were merely apparent assumptions of human form which brought the god into no nearer or truer kindred with humanity, and they were, for the most part, for very self-regarding and often most immoral ends, the god’s personal gratification of very ungodlike passions and lust, or his winning victories for his favourites, or satisfying his anger by trampling on those who had incurred his very human wrath.
II. The divine answer which transcends the human dream.
We have to insist that the truth of the Incarnation is the corner-stone of Christianity. If that is struck out the whole fabric falls. Without it there may be a Christ who is the loftiest and greatest of men, but not the Christ who ‘saves His people from their sins.’
That being so, and Christianity having this feature in common with all the religions of men, how are we to account for the resemblance? Are we to listen to the rude solution which says, ‘All lies alike’? Are we to see in it nothing but the operation of like tendencies, or rather illusions, of human thought-man’s own shadow projected on an illuminated mist? Are we to let the resemblance discredit the Christian message? Or are we to say that all these others are unconscious prophecies-man’s half-instinctive expression of his deep need and much misunderstood longing, and that the Christian proclamation that Jesus is ‘God manifest in the flesh’ is the trumpet-toned announcement of Heaven’s answer to earth’s cry?
Fairly to face that question is to go far towards answering it. For as soon as we begin to look steadily at the facts, we find that the differences between all these other appearances and the Incarnation are so great as to raise the presumption that their origins are different. The ‘gods’ slipped on the appearance of humanity over their garment of deity in appearance only, and that for a moment. Jesus is ‘bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh,’ and is not merely ‘found in fashion as a man,’ but is ‘in all points like as we are.’ And that garb of manhood He wears for ever, and in His heavenly glory is ‘the Man Christ Jesus.’
But the difference between all these other appearances of gods and the Incarnation lies in the acts to which they and it respectively led, and the purposes for which they and it respectively took place. A god who came down to suffer, a god who came to die, a god who came to be the supreme example of all fair humanities, a god who came to suffer and to die that men might have life and be victors over sin- where is he in all the religions of the world? And does not the fact that Christianity alone sets before men such a God, such an Incarnation, for such ends, make the assertion a reasonable one, that the sources of the universal belief in gods who come down among men and of the Christian proclamation that the Eternal Word became flesh are not the same, but that these are men’s half-understood cries, and this is Heaven’s answer?
DEIFIED AND STONED
Act_14:11 - Act_14:22 .
The scene at Lystra offers a striking instance of the impossibility of eliminating the miraculous element from this book. The cure of a lame man is the starting-point of the whole story. Without it the rest is motiveless and inexplicable. There can be no explosion without a train and a fuse. The miracle, and the miracle only, supplies these. We may choose between believing and disbelieving it, but the rejection of the supernatural does not make this book easier to accept, but utterly chaotic.
I. We have, first, the burst of excited wonder which floods the crowd with the conviction that the two Apostles are incarnations of deities.
It is difficult to grasp the indications of locality in the story, but probably the miracle was wrought in some crowded place, perhaps the forum. At all events, it was in full view of ‘the multitudes,’ and they were mostly of the lower orders, as their speaking in ‘the speech of Lycaonia’ suggests.
This half-barbarous crowd had the ancient faith in the gods unweakened, and the legends, which had become dim to pure Greek and Roman, some of which had originated in their immediate neighbourhood, still found full credence among them. A Jew’s first thought on seeing a miracle was, ‘by the prince of the devils’; an average Greek’s or Roman’s was ‘sorcery’; these simple people’s, like many barbarous tribes to which white men have gone with the marvels of modern science, was ‘the gods have come down’; our modern superior person’s, on reading of one, is ‘hallucination,’ or ‘a mistake of an excited imagination.’ Perhaps the cry of the multitudes at Lystra gets nearer the heart of the thing than those others. For the miracle is a witness of present divine power, and though the worker of it is not an incarnation of divinity, ‘God is with him.’
But that joyful conviction, which shot through the crowd, reveals how deep lies the longing for the manifestation of divinity in the form of humanity, and how natural it is to believe that, if there is a divine being, he is sure to draw near to us poor men, and that in our own likeness. Then is the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation but one more of the many reachings out of the heart to paint a fair picture of the fulfilment of its longings? Well, since it is the only such that is alleged to have taken place in historic times, and the only one that comes with any body of historic evidence, and the only one that brings with it transforming power, and since to believe in a God, and also to believe that He has never broken the awful silence, nor done anything to fulfil a craving which He has set in men’s hearts, is absurd, it is reasonable to answer, No. ‘The gods are come down in the likeness of men’ is a wistful confession of need, and a dim hope of its supply. ‘The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us’ is the supply.
Barnabas was the older man, and his very silence suggested his superior dignity. So he was taken for Jupiter Zeus in the Greek, and the younger man for his inferior, Mercury Hermes in the Greek, ‘the messenger of the gods.’ Clearly the two missionaries did not understand what the multitudes were shouting in their ‘barbarous’ language, or they would have intervened. Perhaps they had left the spot before the excitement rose to its height, for they knew nothing of the preparations for the sacrifice till they ‘ heard of it, and then they ‘sprang forth,’ which implies that they were within some place, possibly their lodging.
If we could be sure what ‘gates’ are meant in Act_14:13 , the course of events would be plainer. Were they those of the city, in which case the priest and procession would be coming from the temple outside the walls? or those of the temple itself? or those of the Apostles’ lodging? Opinions differ, and the material for deciding is lacking. At all events, whether from sharing in the crowd’s enthusiasm, or with an eye to the reputation of his shrine, the priest hurriedly procured oxen for a sacrifice, which one reading of the text specifies as an ‘additional’ offering-that is, over and above the statutory sacrifices. Is it a sign of haste that the ‘garlands,’ which should have been twined round the oxen’s horns, are mentioned separately? If so, we get a lively picture of the exultant hurry of the crowd.
II. The Apostles are as deeply moved as the multitude is, but by what different emotions!
The horror of idolatry, which was their inheritance from a hundred generations, flamed up at the thought of themselves being made objects of worship. They had met many different sorts of receptions on this journey, but never before anything like this. Opposition and threats left them calm, but this stirred them to the depths. ‘Scoff at us, fight with us, maltreat us, and we will endure; but do not make gods of us.’ I do not know that their ‘successors’ have always felt exactly so.
In Act_14:14 Barnabas is named first, contrary to the order prevailing since Paphos, the reason being that the crowd thought him the superior. The remonstrance ascribed to both, but no doubt spoken by Paul, contains nothing that any earnest monotheist, Jew or Gentile philosopher, might not have said. The purpose of it was not to preach Christ, but to stop the sacrifice. It is simply a vehemently earnest protest against idolatry, and a proclamation of one living God. The comparison with the speech in Athens is interesting, as showing Paul’s exquisite felicity in adapting his style to his audience. There is nothing to the peasants of Lycaonia about poets, no argumentation about the degradation of the idea of divinity by taking images as its likeness, no wide view of the course of history, no glimpse of the mystic thought that all creatures live and move in Him. All that might suit the delicate ears of Athenians, but would have been wasted in Lystra amidst the tumultuous crowd. But we have instead of these the fearless assertion, flung in the face of the priest of Jupiter, that idols are ‘vanities,’ as Paul had learned from Isaiah and Jeremiah; the plain declaration of the one God, ‘living,’ and not like these inanimate images; of His universal creative power; and the earnest exhortation to turn to Him.
In Act_14:16 Paul meets an objection which rises in his mind as likely to be springing in his hearers: ‘If there is such a God, why have we never heard of Him till now?’ That is quite in Paul’s manner. The answer is undeveloped, as compared with the Athenian address or with Rom_1:1 - Rom_1:32 But there is couched in Act_14:16 a tacit contrast between ‘the generations gone by’ and the present, which is drawn out in the speech on Mars Hill: ‘but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent,’ and also a contrast between the ‘nations’ left to walk in their own ways, and Israel to whom revelation had been made. The place and the temper of the listeners did not admit of enlarging on such matters.
But there was a plain fact, which was level to every peasant’s apprehension, and might strike home to the rustic crowd. God had left ‘the nations to walk in their own ways,’ and yet not altogether. That thought is wrought out in Rom_1:1 - Rom_1:32 , and the difference between its development there and here is instructive. Beneficence is the sign-manual of heaven. The orderly sequence of the seasons, the rain from heaven, the seat of the gods from which the two Apostles were thought to have come down, the yearly miracle of harvest, and the gladness that it brings-all these are witnesses to a living Person moving the processes of the universe towards a beneficent end for man.
In spite of all modern impugners, it still remains true that the phenomena of ‘nature,’ their continuity, their co-operation, and their beneficent issues, demand the recognition of a Person with a loving purpose moving them all. ‘ Thou crownest the year with Thy goodness; and Thy paths drop fatness.’
III. The malice of the Jews of Antioch is remarkable.
Not content with hounding the Apostles from that city, they came raging after them to Lystra, where there does not appear to have been a synagogue, since we hear only of their stirring up the ‘multitudes.’ The mantle of Saul had fallen on them, and they were now ‘persecuting’ him ‘even unto strange cities.’
No note is given of the time between the attempted sacrifice and the accomplished stoning, but probably some space intervened. Persuading the multitudes, however fickle they were, would take some time; and indeed one ancient text of Acts has an expansion of the verse: ‘They persuaded the multitudes to depart from them [the Apostles], saying that they spake nothing true, but lied in everything.’
No doubt some time elapsed, but few emotions are more transient than such impure religious excitement as the crowd had felt, and the ebb is as great as the flood, and the oozy bottom laid bare is foul. Popular favourites in other departments have to experience the same fate-one day, ‘roses, roses, all the way’; the next, rotten eggs and curses. Other folks than the ignorant peasants at Lystra have had devout emotion surging over them and leaving them dry.
Who are ‘they’ who stoned Paul? Grammatically, the Jews, and probably it was so. They hated him so much that they themselves began the stoning; but no doubt the mob, which is always cruel, because it needs strong excitement, lent willing hands. Did Paul remember Stephen, as the stones came whizzing on him? It is an added touch of brutality that they dragged the supposed corpse out of the city, with no gentle hands, we may be sure. Perhaps it was flung down near the very temple ‘before the city,’ where the priest that wanted to sacrifice was on duty.
The crowd, having wreaked their vengeance, melted away, but a handful of brave disciples remained, standing round the bruised, unconscious form, ready to lay it tenderly in some hastily dug grave. No previous mention of disciples has been made. The narrative of Acts does not profess to be complete, and the argument from its silence is precarious.
Luke shows no disposition to easy belief in miracles. He does not know that Paul was dead; his medical skill familiarised him with protracted states of unconsciousness; so all he vouches for is that Paul lay as if dead on some rubbish heap ‘without the camp,’ and that, with courage and persistence which were supernatural, whether his reviving was so or not, the man thus sorely battered went back to the city, and next day went on with his work, as if stoning was a trifle not to be taken account of.
The Apostles turned at Derbe, and coming back on their outward route, reached Antioch, encouraging the new disciples, who had now to be left truly like shepherdless sheep among wolves. They did not encourage them by making light of the dangers waiting them, but they plainly set before them the law of the Kingdom, which they had seen exemplified in Paul, that we must suffer if we would reign with the King. That ‘we’ in Act_14:22 is evidently quoted from Paul, and touchingly shows how he pointed to his own stoning as what they too must be prepared to suffer. It is a thought frequently recurring in his letters. It remains true in all ages, though the manner of suffering varies.
‘THE DOOR OF FAITH’
There are many instances of the occurrence of this metaphor in the New Testament, but none is exactly like this. We read, for example, of ‘a great door and effectual’ being opened to Paul for the free ministry of the word; and to the angel of the Church in Philadelphia, ‘He that openeth and none shall shut’ graciously says, ‘I have set before thee a door opened, which none can shut.’ But here the door is faith, that is to say faith is conceived of as the means of entrance for the Gentiles into the Kingdom, which, till then, Jews had supposed to be entered by hereditary rite.
I. Faith is the means of our entrance into the Kingdom.
The Jew thought that birth and the rite of circumcision were the door, but the ‘rehearsing’ of the experiences of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary tour shattered that notion by the logic of facts. Instead of that narrow postern another doorway had been broken in the wall of the heavenly city, and it was wide enough to admit of multitudes entering. Gentiles had plainly come in. How had they come in? By believing in Jesus. Whatever became of previous exclusive theories, there was a fact that had to be taken into account. It distinctly proved that faith was ‘the gate of the Lord into which,’ not the circumcised but the ‘righteous,’ who were righteous because believing, ‘should enter.’
We must not forget the other use of the metaphor, by our Lord Himself, in which. He declares that He is the Door. The two representations are varying but entirely harmonious, for the one refers to the objective fact of Christ’s work as making it possible that we should draw near to and dwell with God, and the other to our subjective appropriation of that possibility, and making it a reality in our own blessed experience.
II. Faith is the means of God’s entrance into our hearts.
We possess the mysterious and awful power of shutting God out of these hearts. And faith, which in one aspect is our means of entrance into the Kingdom of God, is, in another, the means of God’s entrance into us. The Psalm, which invokes the divine presence in the Temple, calls on the ‘everlasting doors’ to be ‘lifted up,’ and promises that then ‘the King of Glory will come in.’ And the voice of the ascended Christ, the King of Glory, knocking at the closed door, calls on us with our own hands to open the door, and promises that He ‘will come in.’
Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians ‘that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith,’ and there is no other way by which His indwelling is possible. Faith is not constituted the condition of that divine indwelling by any arbitrary appointment, as a sovereign might determine that he would enter a city by a certain route, chosen without any special reason from amongst many, but in the nature of things it is necessary that trust, and love which follows trust, and longing which follows love should be active in a soul if Christ is to enter in and abide there.
III. Faith is the means of the entrance of the Kingdom into us.
If Christ comes in He comes with His pierced hands full of gifts. Through our faith we receive all spiritual blessings. But we must ever remember, what this metaphor most forcibly sets forth, that faith is but the means of entrance. It has no worth in itself, but is precious only because it admits the true wealth. The door is nothing. It is only an opening. Faith is the pipe that brings the water, the flinging wide the shutters that the light may flood the dark room, the putting oneself into the path of the electric circuit. Salvation is not arbitrarily connected with faith. It is not the reward of faith but the possession of what comes through faith, and cannot come in any other way. Our ‘hearts’ are ‘purified by faith,’ because faith admits into our hearts the life, and instals as dominant in them the powers, the motives, the Spirit, which purify. We are ‘saved by faith,’ for faith brings into our spirits the Christ who saves His people from their sins, when He abides in them and they abide in Him through their faith.
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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Acts 14". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28