Click here to learn more!
And Saul was consenting to his death.
Three great figures in the Church
I. The persecuting Saul. In this part of the narrative the name of Saul occurs three times (Acts 7:58; Acts 8:1; Acts 8:3). How quick the development and how sure! First of all, he watched the clothes of the men who stoned Stephen; then he expressed in every feature of his face satisfaction at the martyr’s death; and then he took up the matter earnestly himself with both hands. He struck the Church as it had never been struck before. The taste for blood is an acquired taste, but “it grows by what it feeds on.” This man Saul began as he ended. There was nothing ambiguous about him. A tremendous foe, a glorious friend! We see from this part of the narrative--
1. The power of the Christian religion to excite the worst passions of men. It is a “savour of life unto life, or of death unto death.” Christianity either kills or saves. We have become so familiar with it externally as to cast a doubt upon this. It has become possible for nominal Christian believers to care nothing about their faith. The age has been seized with what is known as a horror of dogmatism. But Christianity has no reason for its existence if it be not positive. Poetry may hold parley with prose fiction, because they belong to the same category. But arithmetic does not say, “If you will allow me, I may venture to suggest that the multiplication of such and such numbers may possibly result in such and such a total.” Now, in proportion as any religion is true, can it not stoop to the holding of conversation with anybody. It is not a suggestion--it is a revelation. It is not a puzzle, to which a hundred answers may be given by wits keen at guessing; it is an oracle. Can you wonder, then, that a religion which claimed to be the very voice and glory of God, should have encountered unpitying and most malignant hostility? If it could have come crouchingly, or apologetically, and have said, “I think, I suggest, I hope,” it might have been heard at the world’s convenience. But being with angels’ songs true, it raised the world into antagonism and deadly conflict. So will every true life. We have no enemies because we have no gospel. We pass along pretty easily, because we annoy no man’s prejudices or naughtinesses. We dash no man’s gods to the ground; we stamp on no man’s idolatries; and so we have no martyrs. In olden times Christianity attacked the most formidable citadels of thought, prejudice, and error, and brought upon itself the fist of angry retaliation.
2. That the success of the enemy was turned into his deadliest failure. “They that were scattered” (Acts 8:4), did not go everywhere with shame burning on their cheek, nor whining and moaning that they were doomed to a useless life. They were made evangelists by suffering. That is the true way of treating every kind of assault. When the pulpit is assailed as being behind the age, let the pulpit preach better than ever and more than ever, and let that be its triumphant reply. When Christianity is assailed, publish it the more. Evangelisation is the best reply to every form of assault.
3. Christianity followed by its proper result. “And there was great joy in that city.” Joy was a word that was early associated with Christianity. Said the angel, “I bring you good tidings of great joy.” Where now is that singing, holy joy? We have lost the music, we have retained the tears. The revelling is now in the other house.
II. The dead Stephen. Already there are two graves in the early Church. In the one lie Ananias and Sapphira, in the grave opened to-day there lies Stephen. In one or other of these graves we must be buried! Over the first there was no lamentation. Sad grave! The liars’ retreat, the hypocrites’ nameless hiding-place! Will you be buried there? Then there is the good man’s grave, which is not a grave at all, it is so full of peace and promise, will you be buried there? The road to it is rough, but the rest is deep and sweet, and the waking immortality! Will you so live that you will be much missed for good-doing?
III. The evangelistic Philip (Acts 8:5). Stephen dead, Philip taking his place--that is the military rule! The next man, Forward! “Who will be baptized for the dead?” When Stephen was killed the remainder of the seven did not take fright and run away in cowardly terror, but Philip, the next man, took up the vacant place, and preached Christ in Samaria. Who will take up the places of the great men and the good men? Is the Church to be a broken line, or a solid and invincible square? These three great figures are still in the Church. Our Stephens are not dead. We see them no more in the flesh, but they are mightier than ever since they have ascended to heaven, having left behind them the inspiration of a noble example. John Bunyan is more alive to-day than he was when he wrote the “Pilgrim’s Progress.” John Wesley is more alive to-day than he was when he began to preach the Word in England. Your child is not dead when its memory leads you to do some kindness to some other child. Our fathers, heroic and noble, are not dead, when we are able at their graves to relight torches and go on with our sacred work. We cannot peruse a narrative of this kind without feeling that we are in a great succession, and that we ought to be in proportion great successors. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Stephen and Saul
One of the greatest demands that the Church makes on us is when she summons us to pass abruptly from Christmas Day to the feast of St. Stephen; from the peaceful joy of the holy family and angel songs to the violence of the mob; from the King of angels to the first who bore witness to his faith and patience. At a scene like that of St. Stephen’s martyrdom it is a relief to place ourselves in the position of a bystander. There stands Saul, the very antithesis of Stephen, young and enthusiastic as he, but passionately attached to Pharisaism as Stephen was to the gospel. As we know Paul in his Epistles, his great characteristic gift was sympathy. How then could he have consented to this tragedy?
I. The reasons for his consent.
1. He was following the stream of opinion. All Jerusalem agreed that Stephen deserved his fate; and Paul had as yet no reason for resisting the will of the majority.
2. He was following the instincts of religious loyalty as he understood them. To him Stephen was a rebel against authority.
3. He was following the instincts of piety. The charge against him was that he calumniated God, Moses,the temple, and the law. The first was clearly an inference from the rest, and about the rest there was this much truth, that he no doubt preached to the Christians against attending temple worship. This he thought was at variance with the world-wide mission of Christ. Accordingly he proved before the Sanhedrin that there was nothing to show that God’s presence was confined to the Promised Land, much less to a particular spot in it. All this to Paul was a blasphemous novelty.
II. His reflections on the tragedy. When all was over the memories of what had passed came back, and as he saw Stephen’s death in retrospect he felt the force of three forms of power--suffering, sanctity, truth.
1. Suffering is power--
(1) When it is voluntary. This stirs in us a fellow feeling even when undergone for an object we condemn.
(2) This power is great in proportion to the sacrifice it involves. The deaths of the very old or young touch us less than that of a young man just reaching and conscious of the maturity of his faculties. He gives the best human nature has to give. So it was with ,Stephen, and Saul as he remembered this young manly life crushed out felt the power of suffering.
2. Sanctity is power, greatest when associated with suffering. Stephen was not merely good, keeping clear of what is evil; he was holy. He had a spirit that reflects a higher world--“full of faith and of the Holy Ghost.” This sanctity illuminated his bodily frame, and was made perfectly plain in his dying prayer. This was not lost on Saul.
3. Truth is power. When Saul heard of Stephen’s declaration his whole soul rose against it; yet the ideas of Stephen’s speech haunted the young Pharisee, and became the great characteristic positions of his after ministry.
4. These three characteristics of the martyr find their perfect ,embodiment only in Christ.
III. Closing considerations.
1. The view a Christian should take of an opponent of Christian truth--that of a possible convert and ally.
2. What persecutors can and cannot do. They can put clown a given belief by extermination as Christianity was crushed out in Northern Africa and Protestantism in Spain. But if persecution does not exterminate it only fans the flame, as did the persecuting emperors and Queen Mary. The persecution begun by the death of Stephen only contributed to the spread of the gospel.
3. The criminal folly of persecution by Christians since it is an attempt to achieve by outward and mechanical violence results which to be worth anything before God must be the product of His converting grace.
4. The signal service which martyrs have rendered to the world--enriching his country, church, age, with new and invigorating ideas of truth, and therefore while other sufferers die and are forgotten, the martyr rightly has his place in the calendar of the Church and in the hearts of her faithful children. (Canon Liddon.)
After Stephen, Paul
It is said of John Huss that, on a countryman throwing a faggot at his head, he exclaimed, “Oh, holy simplicity! God send thee better light! You roast the goose now, but a swan shall come after me, and he shall escape your fire.” Oddly enough, “Huss” is the Bohemian for “goose,” while the meaning of “Luther” is “a swan.”
Strong contrasts of moral character
(texts, and Acts 9:5; Acts 9:11):--Here is moral character--
I. Quiescently consenting to the wrong (verse 1). From Stephen’s death Saul would no doubt catch the inspiration of his future life. His Jewish education has fitted him for this crisis. He was quite prepared to guard the clothes of those who would slay a Christian. Here, then, he stands at his post calmly and unmoved, the subject of two extreme influences, the surging, passionate mob, and the earnest prayer of the martyr. This event was educational to Saul. The manly conduct, earnest speech, and saintly death of Stephen, would appeal to his diviner sentiments; while the tumult and murderous intentions of the crowd would influence his baser side. To which will he yield? All the force of his past life inclines to the latter. But cannot that pale face and devout appeal to heaven overcome his prejudice? No! he leaves the scene with a cold determination to make it typical of his future. But, as a thought may lurk in the mind, concealed and unrecognised, so the impulses awakened in the heart of Saul by this event only awaited the further touch of the Divine Spirit to make them the master powers of his soul. Who can tell the formative power which one event may exercise upon our lives? But let us not think that we can stand to look at sin without sharing its guilt.
II. In determined hostility to the right (verse 3). This hostility was--
1. Daring. “The Church,” He might strive to pluck the stars from the Divine grasp, but to touch the object of God’s peculiar care was beyond description bold. We wonder that men dare to attack the Church, or to plot injury against it. Such conduct is a proof of their hardihood, or they would be awed by her holy presence and Divine Protector.
2. Extensive. “Made havoc.” It often appears strange that God should permit men to pursue, sometimes unchecked, a course of determined harm to His Church. This fact almost staggers reason, and only faith can repose in its rectitude and wisdom. But men need not take the sword; the tale of the tattler, the formality of the hypocrite is sufficient.
3. Impudent. “Entering into every house.” What right had Saul in another man’s house, and especially for such a purpose? A man’s house is sacred, consecrated to family union and love. No stranger unbidden, no foe should enter. But religious bigotry thinks not of social usage, much less of Christian courtesy.
4. Inhuman. “Haling men and women.” When bigotry once gets possession of a man, it yields to no argument, not even to that of tender womanhood. See what quiescent sin comes to. Men that commence by keeping the clothes of persecutors, soon become persecutors themselves. The path of sin is ever downward.
III. Aroused and inquiring (Acts 9:5). The transitions of moral character are often--
1. Sudden. Saul little expected in a few months to be praying to the very Being whose followers he was murdering; he was on an errand of rage, and he never thought that it would turn out a mission of mercy to himself
2. Overwhelming. Saul is almost stunned. His moral being is altogether confused. The change now working within his soul is too great to be made calmly. The only relief of his half-unconscious soul is the cry, “What wilt Thou have me to do?”
3. Astonishing to others. What would the Jewish council say to the change that had come over Saul? The disciples of Christ received him half with suspicion. What an impression would his conversion make upon the general public!
4. Productive of great results to mankind. How many have received truth and benefit through the toils of the Apostle Paul during his life; and how many minds has he instructed, how many souls has he aided in life’s struggles by his writings! Thus we see that the sudden changes that come over moral character are often productive of great results to the individual himself, and to mankind at large.
IV. In communion with God (Acts 9:11).
1. Prayer is an index to character. The praying man is not Saul the persecutor, but Saul the penitent sinner. Persecutors do not pray to Jesus Christ. Whenever you see a man in earnest prayer to Christ, you may have some idea of his moral character.
2. Prayer is a reason for help. Ananias was to go to Saul and instruct him, “for behold he prayeth.” No matter what our circumstances, if we will but pray, God will send His aid and comfort. It is not the rule of heaven to help a prayerless soul. Do you know of a penitent soul, it is your duty to take to it a message of peace and hope.
3. A life commenced by prayer is likely to be useful. Has not Paul been useful to the Church and the world? And why? Was it not because God could say of him, “Behold, he prayeth.”
4. God notices the first prayer of contrition and calls attention to it. “Behold.” It is an interesting sight even to heaven.
5. God sends succour to contrite souls. Has He not frequently sent an Ananias to you, fellow sinner? What have been the moral contrasts of your life? Is there a Damascus journey amongst them? Conclusion: Learn not to entirely estimate the character of men from a past remembrance of them. Suppose an associate of Saul’s who had known him in the earlier part of his life, but who had not seen him for some time, had spoken of him as a persecutor and Jewish bigot, how mistaken would have been his opinion, and how unjust to the converted apostle! We should not be hasty to pass an opinion on our friends from a past remembrance of them. They may have since undergone a moral change for the better. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The wonderful ways of the Lord in the propagation of His kingdom
1. The martyr Stephen waters the Church with his blood.
2. The raging Saul serves, even as a persecutor, unconsciously to the extension of the kingdom of Christ.
3. The fugitive Christians are the first messengers of the gospel to a distance. (K. Gerok.)
And at that town there was a great persecution.--
The persecution after Stephen
Here we have--
I. A man who became the greatest apostle of Christianity acting as its most milignant foe.
1. Saul was an accomplice in the martyrdom of Stephen, and rejoiced in it (Acts 7:58; Acts 22:20).
2. He was an infuriated leader in the general persecution. The word “made havoc” is commonly applied to wild beasts (Acts 21:10; Galatians 1:6). Now the fact that this man became the greatest apostle Demonstrates--
(1) The greatness of his conversion.
(2) The power of the gospel.
(3) The infinitude of Divine mercy.
II. Men rising above the most powerfully hostile circumstances.
1. The apostles stood calmly in the scene where their lives were in the most imminent danger, and when most of their fellow disciples had fled.
2. Devout men discharged a duty most exciting to the rage of their enemies. Away, then, with the dogma that man is the creature of circumstances. He is only so as he loses his manhood.
III. The most intolerant persecution furthering the cause of truth Persecution--
1. Throws the persecuted more and more on their God.
2. It enables them to furnish in their lives a nobler manifestation of Christianity to the world; more earnest, united, devout.
3. It awakens general sympathy among men on their behalf, and thus disposes them to attend to their teachings. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The effect of persecution
The sacred fire, which might have burnt low on the hearth of the upper chamber of Jerusalem, was kindled into fresh heat and splendour when its brands were scattered over all Judaea and Samaria, and circumcised Gentiles were admitted by baptism into the fold of Christ. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
They were all scattered abroad.--
Jerusalem was naturally the chief scene of the persecution, and the neighbouring towns, Hebron, and Gaza, and Lydda, and Joppa, became places of refuge. It was probably to this influx of believers in Christ that we may trace the existence of Christian communities in the two latter cities. The choice of Samaria was, perhaps, suggested by the hatred of that people to the Jews. Those who were fleeing from a persecution set on foot by the priests and rulers of Jerusalem were almost ipso facto sure of a welcome in Neapolis and other cities. But the choice of this as a place of refuge indicated that the barriers of the old antipathy were already in part broken down. What seemed the pressure of circumstances was leading directly to the fulfilment of our Lord’s commands, that the disciples should be witnesses in Samaria as well as in Judaea (Acts 1:8). (Dean Plumptre.)
The extension of the Church
I. God intended that His Church should be scattered all over the world.
1. There was a tendency in our humanity at first to remain together; hence the first grey fathers endeavoured to build a central tower around which the race should rally. But God confounded their language, and scattered them that they might people the world. Jerusalem was first the central point of Christianity, and the tendency doubtless was to keep the centre strong. I have often heard the argument, “Do not have too many out-stations, keep up a strong central force.” But God’s plan was that the holy force should be distributed; the holy seed must be sown--to do this the Lord used the rough hand of persecution. One went this way, and one the other; and the faithful were scattered.
2. Every Church endowed with the Spirit will be spread abroad. God never means the Church to be shut up in a shell or, like ointment, enclosed in a box. The precious perfume of the gospel must be poured forth to sweeten the air. Now that persecution has ceased godly men are scattered through the necessity of earning a livelihood. Sometimes we regret that young men should have to go to a distance, that families should have to migrate. But does not the Lord by this means sow the good seed widely? It is very pleasant to be comfortably settled under an edifying ministry, but the Lord has need of some of His servants in places where there is no light; and they ought of themselves to scatter voluntarily. Every Christian should say, “Where can I do most good?” And if we will not go afield willingly, God may use providential necessity as the forcible means of our dispersion.
II. God’s design is not the scattering in itself, but scattering of a purpose--to preach the Word. The word “proclaim” is not quite so subject to the modern sense which has spoiled the word “preach.” The latter has come to be a sort of official term for delivering a set discourse; whereas gospel preaching is telling the gospel out in any way. Note--
1. The universality of the work of evangelising. All the scattered went everywhere; there does not seem to have been any exception. You thought it would read “the apostles,” but they were just the people who did not go at all. Generals may have to stand still in the centre of the battle to direct the forces; but this was soldiers’ battles, and of this sort all the battles of the Cross ought to be.
2. There were no personal distinctions. It is not said that ministers preached the Word, scarcely anything has been more injurious to the kingdom of Christ than the distinction between clergy and laity. No such distinction appears in the Bible. “Ye are God’s Kle?ros”: all God’s saints are God’s inheritance. “Ye are a royal priesthood.” Though God gives to His Church apostles, teachers, pastors, etc., yet not by way of setting up a professional caste who are to do all the work while others sit still. Every converted man is to teach what he knows. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The scattered Church; or good out of evil
History is God teaching by example. The worst things in history are not necessarily without some elements which may be Divinely used for good. The reins never fall out of the guiding hand. The heathen rage. But the Lord sits as King in Zion. The contrasted lights and shadows of this narrative deserve, and will repay, closest attention.
I. Human sympathy and kindness manifest themselves amid exultant cruelty. The phrase in relation to Saul means to approve, take pleasure and delight in what others have done. He was “exceedingly mad” against the believers in Jesus. Amid such manifestations of cruel depravity there were devout men who carried the mangled remains of the martyred deacon to a reverent burial. The phrase refers to the better elements of Jewish society--the moderate men who hated persecution. Violence always overreaches itself. Sympathy is awakened when wrong is boasting its victories. Stephen dies; but those who fear God, although they have not adopted his faith, are emboldened to breast the currents of unjust opinion and to go in the face of the mob who applaud an infamous deed. It was the same in the case of Jesus, who was buried by Joseph and Nicodemus in Joseph’s garden. History is full of such contrasts. Humanity has its recoil from injustice and violence. Successful villainy is always ruinous. Passions, ecclesiastical or political, satiated with blood, involve blunder as well as crime. Religious animosities are met by this immense force in human nature, and there is no withstanding the influence of that pity which unjust violence evokes. The tears shed over a martyred corpse are more potent than the mightiest engines of persecution.
II. Adversity and persecution are overruled by the ascended Lord for the extension of the Church. The signal, by Stephen’s death, was given for a general outbreak to exterminate the Christians. When wild beasts taste blood their fury becomes madness. “As for Saul.” The word used means violent outrage and physical maltreatment. He made a ruin of the Church by brutal and bloody assaults on the persons of its members. Oriental religious fanaticism has always been tigerish in its cruelty. Beneath the Crescent have been wrought deeds of blood which have cursed and doomed Mahomedan fanaticism. The Lord reigneth. Christians are fugitives; but they carry Christianity wherever they go. New centres of Christian life and organisation spring up everywhere. When Rome drove out our own reformers they found leisure on the Continent to perfect translations of Holy Scripture in the mother tongue. God’s hand was in it when the power of Rome was established in our land. Caesar “meant not so, neither did his heart think so.” Beneath his eagles was borne the cross. Britain was conquered by the Romans that it might be conquered by Christ.
III. A principle and an encouragement respecting Church extension. Fugitive believers are the first messengers of the gospel to distant regions. Philip was not an apostle, nor a pastor. His was a secular Office. But when those duties ceased through the scattering, he was still ready for service. Changing his place, he did not change his disposition. He found, new work for himself. While within the Church, for teaching and ruling, men receive a special call and ordination of the Lord, there is a service of Christ for which official appointment is not indispensable. Men who are Christians can and ought to make Christ known to those who are not. Order is seemly; but it is not to displace energy and zeal. (W. H. Davison.)
Except the apostles.--
The apostles stayed bravely in Jerusalem
They might be east into prison, or even put to death, but they would not go. They must be there to help and comfort the poor people in their danger. I have often read of shipwrecks, and have generally found that when the terrible waves were dashing over the ship, and the sailors were letting down the boats that the passengers might escape, the captain and the officers remained on deck to the very last. The apostles were like those brave officers. Will the ship sink? No; but if it should they will sink with her. But many others left the city. It was as right for them to go as for the apostles to stay. Several of them may have had little children dependent on them, for whose sake they must try to live and work. Then while they lived they could speak for Christ, and so do good to others. (S. G. Green, D. D.)
And devout men carried Stephen to his burial.
The burial of Stephen
I. The devout men exemplified--
1. The constancy of Christian friendship. They did not need the sound of his voice and the echo of his steps to remind them of the duties they owed to him. The friendships induced by Christianity are the firmest and most enduring. Our friend may be no longer on earth, but he lives with Christ and so is still ours.
2. The heroism of Christian friendship. These men were in danger of sharing their friend’s fate. They might have said, “What is the use of risking that now Stephen is dead?” But the instinct of friendship was stronger than the fear of danger, and they went forth confessing that they were followers of Him in whose name Stephen had died. Christian friendship is not influenced by selfish considerations.
3. The practical kindness of Christian friendship. A saint who dies in the midst of saints is sure to have a loving burial. He may be poor, but his claims will not be unheeded.
II. The causes of their lamentation.
1. Their own personal loss. One dear to them had been taken away. Our religion does not chide the tears of the bereaved. “Jesus wept,” and manifested a tender feeling for the hearts of others when He said, “Woman, why weepest thou?”
2. The Church’s loss. Stephen seemed to be needed more than ever. Saul was becoming a terrible opponent, and there was no Stephen to answer him. A pillar strong with truth, and beautiful with love, was overturned when it was wanted to sustain the temple of God. A standard bearer had fallen when foes were gathering thickly about the camp. A shepherd was taken away when the flock was likely to be scattered.
3. The world’s loss. The world could not understand this. It was nothing to the soldier, the merchant, the priest; but it was a far greater calamity than if Caesar had fallen from his throne.
III. The alleviating circumstances. There was no need for the lamentation as far as Stephen was concerned.
1. A little before he died he had a vision of Christ.
2. He died in the calm assurance of a life to come.
3. He died in love and charity with all men. (J. Marratt.)
The burial of Stephen
The action of these devout men--
I. Expresses affectionate sorrow for their departed friend. The religion of Christ does not destroy our feelings as men. It makes the already gentle and loving heart more loving and gentle still, and fills the stern, the frozen breast, with warm and generous feeling. What a change it wrought in that young man, at whose feet Stephen’s murderers laid their clothes! The devout men were not yielding to unmanly or unchristian emotions. The religion of Jesus would moderate their grief, but it would not restrain their tears. Jesus Himself wept at the grave of a friend. And Stephen had been their friend.
II. Implies that their sorrow would be chastened by submission to the will of God. They knew who had said, “The hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doeth God service.” They also knew who had said, whilst Himself drinking a cup far more bitter than Stephen’s, “O My Father, if this cup may not pass from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done.” And did they not know that that sufferer had left His disciples an example that they should tread in His steps? and that now He was Lord of all, and could dash His enemies in places, like a potter’s vessel? And therefore these devout men would in submission say, amid all their tears, “It is the Lord, let Him do what seemeth Him good. The Lord gave--the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord.”
III. Infers that they would be influenced by kindest sympathy towards Stephen’s surviving relations. What was their loss compared with the loss sustained by such? The loss of a friend is not so great as the loss of a son--the loss of a father--the loss of a husband. To such the loss would be irreparable, or could only be made up by Him who is better than ten thousand sons, and who has said, “Leave thy fatherless children unto Me, I will provide, and let thy widows trust in Me.” And would not these devout men sympathise with the widow and the orphan and the mother who had lost such a relative as Stephen? “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction.”
IV. Leads us to suppose that they could not allow such an occasion to pass away without earnest prayer that this bereavement which the Church had sustained might be sanctified to the church’s interests. The burden of their prayer would probably be, “Help, Lord, for the godly man ceaseth,” etc. Who can tell what influence they had in the calling of Saul of Tarsus? Would they not also pray, “Lord, teach us to cease from man whose breath is in his nostrils, and trust alone in Thee”? And would not these prayers be blended with thanksgivings for the grace given to their departed brother?
V. Suggests the hope of a blessed reunion with their departed friend at the resurrection of the just. They sorrowed not as men without hope. They knew their brother had fallen asleep in Jesus; and surely they believed that them who sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.
VI. Would there not be renewed consecration to the service of God? The storm of persecution raged, and they were scattered by its violence--but not as flock that has lost or left the shepherd. No; rather scattered as rays of light, to become the lights of the world, to be as flames of fire in the service of the Saviour (Acts 8:4). And He that gave the word went with them, giving effect to the Word of His grace, so that the Word of the Lord had free course, and was glorified. So it ought ever to be. The work of the Lord must be done. It will be done, whether by us or not; but if not, we gain no reward. “Work while it is called to-day--the night cometh in which no man can work.” (P. C. Horton.)
I. A very select funeral.
1. Pre-eminently select. “Devout men”--not rich, learned, or titled, but good men; those who discharged thoroughly, from the purest motives, all the duties of life.
(1) Virtuous, or true to themselves.
(2) Philanthropic, or true to their fellow-men.
(3) Godly, or true to the Most High. Christians--men of the highest type.
2. Suitably select. The good burying the good. The pious should care for each other to the last.
3. Wholly select. Occasionally funerals are very mixed. Some attend because the dead man had been a good customer; some because they were neighbours; some because of a necessary family connection; some as an expression of readiness to put the deceased out of the way; some from a denominational bias. Stephen’s funeral was unmixed--composed of sincere and practical lovers of God and man. Perhaps heaven’s inhabitants streamed to the balconies of the celestial city and gazed with wonder at the novel sight.
II. A very sad funeral.
1. There have been many non-attendant burials, not an individual present to grieve.
2. There have been largely attended funerals, but the signs of regret were correspondingly small; more talk than tears.
3. Stephen’s funeral was attended by men of sense and sanctity, who rent the air with the cries of their broken hearts.
(1) Their sadness was an expression of homage to the excellencies of the departed.
(a) To great religious intelligence.
(b) To moral and religious character. The gospel lived in him, and he in it.
(c) To usefulness.
(2) An expression of sympathy with the sufferings of the departed. It was the loss of--
(1) A leading man.
(2) In a sudden manner.
(3) By cruel treatment.
(4) When he was most needed. (B. D. Johns.)
The lamentation at Stephen’s funeral
This was something more than a conventional funeral. The people among whom it occurred were given to burial rites of elaborate and studied ceremonial. Like all orientalists, their mourning was chiefly marked by a painstaking and intentional publicity. With them grief for the dead meant baring and beating the breast, sprinkling or sitting in ashes, songs of lamentation, and the employment of mourning women. And so, when the martyred Stephen is buried, the customs are not changed. True, he was not merely a flew, but a Christian; yet the infant Church still clung to the cherished ceremonies of the elder, and what was usual was followed here. It was indeed the hatred and vindictiveness of Judaism which had slain this godly man, yet, when he is dead, the manner of his burial is the usage of Judaism itself. To have changed it would have been to have surrendered his claim as a veritable and loyal Israelite; and doubtless, also, to have grieved and wounded his surviving relatives. All the more because his death had been so cruel and distressing, would they have his burial decent and reverent and painstaking; even as when the nation buries some honoured soldier she surrounds his funeral cortege with every element of pomp and state and ceremony, as though she would atone for the hardships of his bitter and lonely end upon the field of battle by utmost tenderness and reverence in dealing with his lifeless body. And thus it was with the bruised and mangled form of Stephen. The funeral order of his race was carefully observed. But there was this difference--and it comes out with a singular and touching significance in two Greek words, used here only in all the New Testament: the mourning at Stephen’s funeral was the mourning of unaffected feeling, and the attendants who followed him to his grave were not hired mutes nor paid mourners, but grief-stricken and godly men. This scene suggests the thought of the difference that there is in funerals. The Church has one common ritual for all her baptized dead. She does not attempt to discriminate either in her customs or her utterances. She is not a judge with such infallible insight that she can weigh character and prophesy of destiny. Most wisely, therefore, does she use one common office for all her dead, leaving scarce any discretion to her ministry, and uttering one uniform voice to her people. Her language is general, not specific. She writes as Inspiration has written before her, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,” but she utters no verdict of application in connection with their use. She speaks words of Christian hope; but they are coupled with the Scriptural conditions of all Christian hope. In a word, her language is that of Christian faith and trust; and while it is utterly devoid of any specific application of its very general terms, we feel that its tone is only what the tone of anything save a heathen burial ought to be. And yet, when we come to use it, we recognise what a really tremendous difference there may be in even the Church’s funerals. As with Stephen’s burial by the elder Church, there are the same preliminaries, the same customs, the same words, and yet, as there, there may be the widest and most radical difference in what those words and customs express. Have we not all witnessed funerals where even the sublime ritual of the Church seemed powerless to touch the heart or lift the thoughts? With utmost charity, with every willingness to leave the vanished life in the hands of a Love at once deeper and wiser than ours, we cannot bind that life and the Church’s tones together. Somehow, they do not fit into, and form a part of, each other. Verily, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; for they rest from their labours.” But if they have not lived in the Lord, nor laboured for Him--we may say these questions are useless; but we cannot help asking them. On the other hand, there are other funerals where we use precisely the same ritual; where there is no diversity in usage or custom from what is wonted, unless in the direction of greater simplicity; where merely the Church’s appointed words are said, and no others, and yet where the emotions of our own hearts and the very atmosphere of the whole occasion are utterly and wholly different. There is a deep and widespread sorrow, but it is a grief gilded with light. We listen to the words of inspired hope and promise, and, as we lift our eyes from the bier before us, lo! the clouds are parted, and we see how, to a Christian, the grave is only a low-brewed portal, through which, bending as he passes, he emerges into larger life and freer. (Bp. H. C. Potter.)
As for Saul, he made havoc of the Church.
The smiter smitten
Read and compare the following passages, the text and Acts 14:19; Acts 9:1; Acts 23:12; Galatians 1:13 and 2 Corinthians 11:23; Acts 26:10; Acts 16:23; Ezekiel 18:25 and Galatians 6:7. All these experiences were undergone by the same man--the persecutor was persecuted; he who breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the saints was himself pursued by the vengeance of furious men. Note, then--
I. That a man’s life comes back upon him (Galatians 6:7). One feels in reading such experience that the sense of justice is satisfied. Had Saul after his conversion settled down into a state of Christian enjoyment there would have been a want of moral completeness. Paul himself would have been injured. He must reap what he had sown. Such is the severe but beneficent law which keeps all things equal. If any man could mingle bitter cups for others and never be compelled to drink them himself, he would soon become a devil. God shows him that his turn is coming. All history has shown this--e.g., Adonibezek, Agag, etc. The testimony of Holy Writ is consistent and emphatic. “He shall have judgment without mercy that showeth no mercy.” See how literally and terribly this was fulfilled in the case of Paul. God forgot not one of his misdemeanours, and the most terrible of persecutors received the measure of his own fury.
II. That a man’s Christian experience must be affected by the unchristian life he has lived. One would suppose that after conversion all the former life would be done away. But physically it is not so, and why should it be so spiritually? Look at the reasonableness of the doctrine. A man has lived a self-indulgent life, been careless of the rights of others, etc. After all this he is converted; is he then to complain of the trials of the Christian way as if some strange thing had happened to him? Is there not a cause? Old neglects have to be made up; old wrongs have to be avenged. Is not the way of the Lord equal? We complain of the arduousness of the Christian way, but was the devil’s way easy? What about the cost and consequences of vicious luxuries? We were selfish, tyrannical, inconsiderate, and is it likely that all this can have passed away without leaving deep effects on our life? Across our very prayers there will be blown the bitter wind of the land we have lived in so long; and through our tenderest charities there may be breathed somewhat of the old selfishness which once enclosed us in its prison. Let us, in honesty, trace many of our trials to the life we have lived in the flesh rather than to any arbitrariness of Divine grace. Conclusion: In reviewing these statements in the light of history and revelation we see--
1. That the distribution of penalties is God’s work and not man’s. “Vengeance is Mine,” etc.
2. That under all the apparent confusion of life there is a principle of justice.
3. That the greatest sufferings may be borne with patience and hopefulness. When did Paul complain of his lot? When did he say that he had suffered more than his share? From him let us learn how good a thing it is to suffer and be strong. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Different kinds of martyrdom
They say that martyrdoms are ended. It is true that the stake is abandoned; Bloody Mary is dead; Smithfield is a commonplace sheep-market, with only an inscription on one side of it to record the fidelity of John Rogers. And perhaps it is not necessary to force the rhetoric which calls Abraham Lincoln the “martyr president,” or to assert beyond strict accuracy that an assassin could make President Garfield a martyr by shooting him. We need not plant ourselves upon a plane so high or so tragic as this. There are small martyrdoms for Christ’s sake which in ordinary life are quite within the reach of our attainment. It is a very plain truth that we find in the line of the German poet, Heinrich Heine: “Wheresoever a great thought is born, there always has been a Golgotha.” When any genuine man is called into conspicuousness, and forced to take a stand for an unpopular or advanced principle against obloquy and opposition, there will be persecution as common as “the common prison” into which the apostles were hurried after they preached the resurrection. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Thoughts under persecution
When I am driven from the city, I care nothing for it; but I say to myself, If the empress wishes to banish me, the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. If she would saw me in sunder, let her do it; I have Isaiah for a pattern. If she would plunge me into the sea, I remember Jonah. If she would thrust me into the fiery furnace, I see the three Hebrew children enduring that. If she would cast me to the wild beasts, I call to mind Daniel in the den of lions. If she would take my head from me, I think of John the Baptist. If she would deprive me of worldly goods, let her do it; naked came I into the world, and naked I shall go out of it. (Chrysostom.)
Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word.
The aggressive power of Christianity
That it is pre-eminently by aggressive movements that the Church is to prosper. By this means she is to maintain spiritual life in her own soul--cause religion to flourish at home, and extend its triumphs abroad.
1. The truth of this doctrine is suggested by the first impulses of the religious principle--the spirit of love in every Christian’s bosom. False religionists, both among Pagans and nominal Christians, have, I know, taught that piety was a kind of dormant, contemplative spirit; that its power was to be manifested in patient endurance rather than holy action; in a voluntary withdrawment from the world to avoid its contaminations, rather than in resolute efforts to make the world better. The unsophisticated promptings of the new-born soul are always to active effort for God. This is strikingly exhibited in young converts. It is illustrated with great beauty in the conduct of Christ’s earliest disciples. It conceives plans, it demands efforts, for the world’s conversion. Every real Christian that lives in the spirit of religion may consult his own Consciousness on this subject. See the lives also of eminently holy men in later times--Baxter, Brainerd, Martyn, Payson, etc.
2. The doctrine I have stated further appears from the fact that truth is the grand instrument which God employs to overthrow the kingdom of Satan, and advance and establish the kingdom of His Son. The Word of God must not only be translated into all the languages of the earth, but it must be carried to every, man’s door; nay, its great truths must be pressed home upon every man’s conscience. What a mighty work here opens for Christians of every name! It is, moreover, eminently an aggressive work, a missionary movement. How are they to accomplish it by shutting themselves up in cloisters?
3. Both the necessity and the vital importance of the aggressive movements of the Church appears from the very attitude of a fallen world towards God. It is one of hostility to His character and opposition to His truth. The world will not come to the Church and crave instruction at her lips. As her Saviour sought her, so He requires her to seek sinners. In other words, she must make external and aggressive movements. She must not study so much her own comfort as her enlargement.
4. The whole current of Scripture precept and representation is in perfect accordance with this view of the subject. The Bible never instructs the Church that she is to conquer the world by her passive virtues--“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”
5. The entire history of the gospel confirms this view of the subject. When has any signal advance been made in the work of human salvation, except by a movement similar to that described in the text? The Mosaic institution was peculiar. It was conservative rather than aggressive. Turn to a still later page in the history of the Church. How was it at the Reformation? How was it at the period when Whitefield and Wesley appeared? And just in proportion as any branch of the Christian Church, in the spirit of Christ, attempts spiritual aggression, in the same proportion its interests are prospered. It is seen fulfilling its high destiny.
1. We see why the Church is organised.
2. This subject also indicates the grand object of all preaching to the Church.
3. This discussion throws light upon the providences of God towards the Church. Now, as in former days, He allows heresies, persecutions, schisms, and various forms of affliction, from time to time, to invade the Church. Missionary efforts formed no part of their original plan; they were the plan of Providence.
4. This subject throws light upon the melancholy fact, “known and read of all men,” that many Churches which have numbers, and wealth, and much secular influence, have no corresponding moral power. Woe to Churches and to ministers who are thus “at ease in Zion.” (J. H. Tinsley, D. D.)
The gospel--its propagation and effects
I. It is the will of God to propagate His Son’s gospel; and in all ways, through circumstances adverse or prosperous, He gives it free course. Sometimes it is by opening the commerce of nations, so that the messengers may occupy new fields; sometimes by some spark from a martyr’s pile kindling a tire in a land or in a heart. Great as has been the effect of the patronage of kings, it has been as nothing in comparison with that constancy of faith even unto death, of which Stephen was its first instance, followed by those of whom our text speaks. This was all that remained of the effects of the first Christian persecution; an added testimony, a wider circulation, and a more decided devotion.
II. What is this gospel?
1. It is called “the Word.” A word is the utterance of a mind, reason communicating itself. Do we believe that the gospel is the expression of God’s mind, the communication of His will? It is a glorious view which is thus opened. God has spoken concerning us, and to us. That mystery which for ages and generations had enveloped the ulterior designs of the Almighty Creator touching His rebellious creatures is at last revealed. God has announced to us the forgiveness of sins through a Mediator and a Sacrifice; the sanctification of sinners, their recreation in His own lost image, by means of an indwelling Holy Spirit; that prayer is the one connecting link between us and these two unspeakable gifts; that it is His intention to raise the dead to an immortal existence, the character of which, for happiness or misery, will depend upon the life here led by us. These things are amongst the disclosures embodied in that Word which these dispersed disciples preached, and which we, if we be faithful to our commission, are preaching still and still hearing.
2. But, as they preached the Word, so Philip preached Christ (Acts 8:5). There was no difference between the two. Christ is “the Word,” and is so designated because He is the Revealer of God: “The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” To preach Christ, in His person, in His character, in His work, is to proclaim God’s Word, in its simplicity, fulness, and strength.
III. The credentials of this gospel. When we preach the Word, or Christ, how do we establish it? No doubt we go back to the evidences: we speak of God’s triple seal, of goodness, wisdom, and power, as set to the words and works of Christ: These arguments are never worn out; nor can it ever be safe to disuse them. But when our Lord said, “These signs shall follow them that believe,” He taught us to look for more than a mere historical proof. When Philip preached, certain results followed (Acts 8:7). Thus he could appeal to effects, and say, Judge ye whether a doctrine which brings with it these infallible signs be of man or of God. These visible tokens do not now attend our preaching, and we ought not to want them; and “if we hear not Moses and the prophets,” if we refuse the doctrine of Christ and the apostles, neither should we be influenced by any outward sign. But a changed life, an altered spirit, the formation of Christian habits, and the diligent use of Christ’s ordinances these are the true proofs of the gospel Word in our days; by these things other men take knowledge of its power and of its virtue.
IV. The effect of the proclamation of the Word (Acts 8:8). It is long, we may fear, since in any whole place there was joy on account of the gospel. Let me ask then as to the individual soul, Which of you knows what joy is in things spiritual? Who, in days of health and prosperity, finds his happiness simply in Christ? Who, in days of sickness and disappointment, does not find to his consternation that the light of heaven is gone out too? Joy is the overflowing of happiness, the exuberance of a comfort and a tranquillity habitually felt within. Oh where is such joy as that of which our Lord spoke, “These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full”? Levity there may be, and too much of it; cheerful spirits in some, domestic happiness in some, contentment and even thankfulness in a few; but where amongst us is that grace of Christian joy which seemed to flow so naturally, in other days, out of the very first reception of the tidings of a Saviour? And yet such joy lies nearer than we imagine: sin forgiven, the atonement believed in, the Holy Spirit cherished--it is the natural effect of these things to inspire joy. Ask of God the power to grasp them as realities, and joy will enter with them; a joy not of this world, a joy the very foretaste of heaven. (Dean Vaughan.)
The liberty of prophesying
The great majority of the dispersed Christians held no ecclesiastical office whatever. Yet they preached wherever they came, without being called to do so by official duty or express commission, but entirely from the internal pressure of faith, which cannot but speak of that which affects the heart, from the impulse of the Spirit by whom they were appointed, and from love to the Saviour to whom they were indebted for the forgiveness, of their sins and for their blessed hopes. According to human ideas of Church government and office, it ought not to have been so. But the Lord of the Church does not so confine Himself even to the office of the apostolate established by Himself, as that everything must take place entirely through it in order to be lawful, pleasing to God, blessed, and full of promise. Christ thus shows that no man and no finite office is indispensable and absolutely necessary; only He Himself is ever and everywhere indispensable. (G. V. Lechler, D. D.)
The aggressive character of Christianity
A Christian is one who knows and receives as true what Christ has revealed in His Word, whose inward state (religious consciousness) is determined by that knowledge, and whose life is devoted to the obedience and service of Christ. Christianity is therefore a system of doctrine, an inward life, a rule of action. When, therefore, we speak of the aggressive character of Christianity, we may mean the antagonism of truth to error, the expansive power of the principles of spiritual life, or the opposition of good to evil in the outward life; or, as the Scriptures call it, the kingdom of God. We may mean by the aggressive character of Christianity, its inherent force, by which it tends to gain more and more the complete control of the individual man and of human society; by controlling all the forms of human thought, the inward character of men, and their outward conduct.
I. Christianity is thus aggressive. It does tend and strive to subdue.
1. This is variously taught in the Scriptures. It is compared to a stone, cut out of a mountain, which gradually fills the whole earth; to a tree whose branches extend over all lands; to leaven; to a temple in the process of erection; to the sun in its course through the heavens.
2. It is deducible from its nature. Truth is necessarily antagonistic to error, and holiness to sin. The one must strive to overcome the other, both in the individual and the world. Besides being a religion suited to the necessities of all men, and absolutely essential to their well-being here and hereafter, it cannot be embraced by the individual without the consciousness on his part of the obligation to uphold and extend it. A Christian, from the nature of the case, is fired with zeal for the glory of Christ and with love for his fellow-men.
3. It is illustrated in the history of the Church. The original promise that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head has expanded into the whole system of Christian doctrine. The hundred and twenty disciples in Jerusalem occupied Syria, Egypt, Greece, Italy; and since then Christianity has gained the civilised world. It has banished idolatry, elevated man, and moulded human society.
4. It is proved in the experience of every Christian. His inward life is a progress. He passes from infancy to maturity. The truth becomes better known and more firmly believed. Indwelling sin becomes weaker, and grace stronger. Where this is not true, there is no true life.
II. To what is this aggressive power due?
1. Not to anything in itself as a system of truth. If revealed to the lost in the other world it would be powerless. If revealed to fallen men, sent in books or by living teachers to the heathen, it would, if left to itself, be universally rejected. The opposition of Satan and the evil heart would be too much for it.
2. Not to the subjective effect on the hearts of those who are led to embrace it. If nothing were done ab extra to induce the reception of the gospel, the inward effect and the outward agency would fade away.
3. But to the purpose of God and the co-operation of the Spirit. When a woman puts leaven into a measure of meal, she is sure that the whole will be leavened, because the effect is due to the operation of invariable physical laws. But when the gospel is introduced into a community, whether it will take root and extend, or not, depends on an ab extra sovereign working of Divine power. Hence a sense of dependence is to be acknowledged and cultivated. It is because Christianity is the life of God (i.e., of a present Christ)
that it must prevail.
4. Although the gospel is thus dependent on supernatural agency for its preservation and extension, yet human co-operation is ordained as the means. Faith and love are the powers which we are to wield, depending on the Spirit of God. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
The service of persecution to She Church
The dispersed preached the gospel. Thus by the storm the seeds hitherto collected in one place are scattered hither and thither, and carried to a distance, where they germinate and bear fruit. Thus the Redeemer knows how to convert that into good which was intended only for evil; i.e., not only to hinder the contemplated wicked designs, but by means of them to obtain an unexpected furtherance of His kingdom. (G. V. Lechler, D. D.)
Sparks carried by the wind
The storms of persecution are only winds which fan the fire of faith in the Church, and carry the sparks of truth to a distance. (K. Gerok.)
Wider growth of the Church
We spring up the thicker the oftener we are mowed down. The blood of the martyrs is their harvest-seed. (Tertullian.)
The zeal of the apostles
As a tree on fire kindles a whole forest into a flame, so the apostles, burning with the fire of heaven, have set in a blaze the whole world, and have filled it with the light of truth and the warmth of charity. (St. Augustine.)
The apostles were as burning coals, scattered throughout the nations, blest incendiaries of the world! (Archbishop Leighton.)
What true preaching is
I do not suppose that these good men stood up in pulpits and gave sermons. This also is good; but for this there would often be no time; the men must make haste--their enemies were close upon them--they must flee into the next village! But, before they went, “Just listen,” they would say. “You ask why we are here, why we are in trouble and danger, what is the matter? We will tell you.” Then would come the sad tale of Stephen. And the Name that Stephen had loved would again be spoken; with the glad tidings that Jesus who had died was risen again, and was at the right hand of God, to save from their sins those who repented and believed in Him. “And He has saved us!” those preachers would say; “and He is ready to save you!” They might not be, all of them, very wise, but they could tell as much as this. And to tell this truly and earnestly is to “preach the gospel.” May not even a child, then, sometimes preach? (S. G. Green, D. D.)
Then Philip wont down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ unto them.
Philip at Samaria
I. The preacher--“Philip.”
1. His native place--“Caesarea,” most likely.
2. His official status--“Evangelist,” and one of the first deacons.
3. His new charge--“Samaria.”
4. His specific work “Preached.”
5. His theme--“Christ.”
6. His directness--“Unto them.”
He took aim at his audience. He did not take long range at antediluvian iniquity, but poured hot shot and shell into the living iniquities of Samaria.
II. The preacher’s success.
1. He made a fine impression--“The people with one accord gave heed,” were impressed with his
(2) Character, and
2. He impressed them with his power--“Seeing the miracles.”
3. He surprised them by his authority--“Unclean spirits crying came out.”
4. He blessed them by his presence--“Many with palsies.”
5. He gladdened them by his ministry--“There was great joy in that city.” (T. Kelly.)
Philip preaching at Samaria
The early Christians were not disposed to leave Jerusalem. They had been counselled to abide in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high; but Pentecost had come and gone, and still they tarried. Perhaps they were in a measure constrained by their lingering prejudice against the gathering in of the Gentiles. The martyrdom of Stephen was the stirring up of the nest. The infatuated Jews who wrought that murderous deed may have fondly hoped that it would prove the death-blow of the little Christian Church. But God maketh the wrath of men to praise Him. Thus it is written, “The disciples that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word.” The Church perforce begins her aggressive march. Providence made them all missionaries. The apostles alone remained in Jerusalem, which became henceforth “a centre not of concentration, but of radiation.”
I. Philip, the evangelist, comes to Samaria. Among those who fled from Jerusalem at this juncture was Philip, one of the seven deacons. He was a man full of the Holy Ghost and power, and with a special fitness for evangelistic work. On reaching the city of Samaria he began at once to “preach Christ unto them.” In all the world there was probably, at that moment, no city whose conditions were more unfavourable to Christian effort. The people were half heathen at the best. Rejecting all of the Scriptures except the five books of Moses, they were addicted to all manner of superstitious observances. Just now they were under the spell of a certain necromancer, known to us as Simon Magus, who called himself “The Great Power of God.” Under these circumstances a prudent evangelist might have thought best to pass on to more congenial soil. But Philip was not prudent in that wise. He followed the lead of Providence, the only safe plan. For “he that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap” (Ecclesiastes 11:4).
II. His coming is followed by a revival. Some men are a curse to the cities they live in; others are a blessing. At once he set about two things:--
1. “He preached Christ.” It is noteworthy how often we come upon this and similar expressions in the Scriptures--“preaching the Word,” “preaching the gospel,” “preaching the Lord Jesus,” “preaching peace by Jesus Christ.” Nothing is said about fine essay work in the pulpit or about profound scientific and philosophical disquisitions. No truth was presented which did not emanate from Christ as a sunbeam from the sun. The mission of a minister is to preach the gospel; and the gospel is the good tidings that Jesus saves. A hundred philosophers, bending all their efforts for a hundred years upon a single sinner would fail to save him, but one faithful herald of the old-fashioned gospel of the Cross can stir a whole city to its depth. Philip was only a deacon, an evangelist; there were many wiser men in Samaria; but, alas! the truth as it is in Jesus had not set their hearts on fire. So he had the advantage of them all. “And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which he spake.”
2. And they were all the readier to listen to him by reason of the miracles which he wrought in the name of Jesus. “For unclean spirits came out of many that were possessed; and many taken with palsies and that were lame were healed; and there was great joy in that city.” The very best evidence of the truth of Christ’s gospel is in its influence upon the community. Take a map of the world and mark off the countries where happiness and prosperity prevail in largest measure, and in every instance they are the countries that acknowledge Jesus as the Christ. The gospel, wherever it goes, proves its Divineness by working miracles of beneficence. And the Christian proves the truth of his message by showing what it has done for his own heart and conscience, and by dispensing of its virtues to all around him. So one man turned Samaria upside down. Before the people knew, probably before he himself realised it, they were in the midst of a great revival.
III. Peter and John come to his relief. No better could have been selected than these two whom we so often find in each other’s company--Peter the Man of Rock, and John the Son of Thunder. We may imagine the delight with which the faithful, overworked evangelist welcomed them. These apostles came, moreover, not only to preach Christ to the Samaritans, but to confer upon the Christian workers the charismata, or gifts of the Holy Ghost. On the arrival of these apostles the work went forward with renewed energy, but Philip was less conspicuous. No doubt he recognised their superior fitness, and was content to take a subordinate place. Where the mind of Jesus prevails there is neither clash nor jealousy. There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
Philip’s ministry in Samaria
Consider the suggestions arising from--
I. The scene of his ministry. In selecting the “city of Samaria” we discover--
1. His practical sagacity. Christ had been there and had prepared the way.
2. His obedience to Christ. Christ had commanded it (Acts 1:8).
3. His largeness of soul. They were a people hostile to his own, by political and religious prejudices.
4. His intrepidity of conduct. He was doing that which would put him directly against the Jews.
II. The subject. “Christ,” not Moses; Christ, not creed--the living Christ, the anointed of God, the Saviour of the world--probably:--
1. As the burden of past promises, as “Him of whom Moses and the prophets did write.” This is what we have to do.
2. As the foundation of all future hopes. His the “ only name given,” etc. No one else to look forward to.
III. The reception (verse 6). They gave proper attention to what he said. What would be proper attention to a theme like this?
1. Profoundly reverential. It is a Divine communication.
2. Devoutly grateful. Infinite love is displayed in the message.
3. Earnestly practical. Demanding most strenuous personal application.
IV. The attestation. His miracles which were--
1. Illustrations of the benign glories of his ministry.
2. Powers to impress the Divinity of his ministry.
V. The influence (verse 8). They had been partly prepared for this by Christ’s conversation with the woman. The gospel brings joy to a people because it is “good tidings,” etc. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Philip preaching in a Samaritan city
I. Went down to a city of Samaria.
1. Went down, i.e., from Jerusalem. The place physically was high; it was also the centre of government and worship--hence the expressions “going up” and “going down.” If there is one super-eminent mountain in a country the clouds of heaven congregate round it, and from it the water flows in every direction to refresh the land. Such, spiritually, was Jerusalem. The clouds gathered round it at Pentecost, and under the influence of the mighty rushing wind they were precipitated, and bore the gospel of grace to all nations. Christ’s name and work is that central mountain now. The Spirit without measure is poured out upon Him. The Jerusalem that now is is His Church, around which all heavenly influences congregate, and from which they flow forth. Hence missions. Christians engage in mission work as mountains discharge rivers; they cannot help it, it is a law of their being. Love in redeemed hearts swells, and would rend them unless they opened.
2. To a city. The efforts of the first Christians were directed chiefly to the great cities. When the strongholds are won, the surrounding country is more easily occupied. Cities seem destined to play a greater part in modern than they did in ancient times. As yet no symptom appears of any natural law that shall check their increase. The thought of London makes the heart falter. But “this is the victory that overcometh the world,” etc. Lord increase our faith.
3. A city of Samaria. It was near; it was needy. Its inhabitants were a mixed people with a patchwork religion. Samaria is near us to-day, and if we are willing to go, we need not lack a mission-field.
II. He preached Christ unto them.
1. He preached--the first and chief work of a missionary, as a herald of peace from the king to a rebel country. Teaching and printing are useful auxiliaries, but they must not usurp the first place.
2. He preached Christ. To this the teaching of the Bible constantly comes round. Not law, morality, philosophy, or even the Scriptures or true doctrine, but Christ.
3. Unto them--to each heart. Not a general scheme of redemption, but a personal Saviour to a personal soul. Let the sunbeams passing through ordinary glass be spread over your naked band and the effect is imperceptible; but let the rays pass through a convex glass and be concentrated on one point, and they will shine brilliantly and go to the quick. The gospel may be preached or heard in both these ways; hence its diverse effects. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
The advent of the gospel to Samaria
With the history of Philip commences a new stage in the development of the Church. In the first commission to the twelve the glad tidings were restricted to the Jews, to the express exclusion of the Samaritans. This, however, was cancelled in the final commission, and Samaria first and then the whole world were thrown open to the gospel. But the honour of executing this commission, in both its narrowest and widest extent, fell not to an apostle, but to a deacon. Samaria directly, and Africa indirectly, were evangelised by Philip, the forerunner of Paul in his work as Stephen was in his preaching. “Coming events cast their shadows before.” The forms of Stephen and Philip, projected on the canvas of sacred history, give us some idea of the gigantic figure in reserve. What moved Philip is not recorded. Perhaps the persecution was specially directed against him, as his name occurs next to Stephen’s, and because he was as a Graecized Jew more liberal than his brethren in Palestine. He went down to a (not the) city of Samaria, probably Sebaste or Sychar. The orderliness of the spread of the gospel should be noted. It was to begin from Jerusalem as its centre, and first to permeate Judaea, the province of which Jerusalem was the metropolis, and thence to Samaria, the contiguous province, and thence to the uttermost parts of the earth. Now this collocation of Samaria (between Judaea and the uttermost parts of the earth) is not so much to be understood geographically as morally. The Samaritans were Judaised Gentiles, just as the Hellenists were Gentilised Jews. And it is obvious that Judaised Gentiles might play the same part which Hellenists played--act as a bridge between Judaism and heathenism. The Samaritans were probably purely heathen by extraction, descendants of those with whom Shalmanezer repeopled the desolated country (2 Kings 17:1-41.), whose corrupt religion soon found for itself a local habitation and a name. Manasseh, the son of a Jewish high priest, being threatened with expulsion from the priesthood for contracting marriage with a Samaritan lady, permanently sided with them, built a rival temple on Gerizim, and founded a rival priesthood. The Samaritan Bible was a copy of the law of Moses, and that only, showing, however, many alterations of the text. Thus where Moses commands the people to build an altar on Mount Ebal, Gerizim is substituted for Ebal. Thus the Samaritan religion was a spurious and mutilated Judaism. And hence the antipathy of the Jews to them exceeded their antipathy to mere Gentiles. Nothing do men hate more than a caricature of themselves. Accordingly Samaritans were cursed in every synagogue, excluded as witnesses from Jewish courts of justice, and could never become proselytes. These rancorous prejudices were foreign to the Spirit of Christ, and He took every opportunity of counteracting them. But while He forbids all animosity against them, He gave no sanction to their religious claims. It will be seen, therefore, that a strict Jew of the high orthodox school would have had a vast deal of prejudice to surmount in carrying the gospel to Samaria. But Philip did not belong to this school. His circumstances and office would give him wider sympathies than were to be found among Hebrews of the Hebrews. The original diaconate was now broken up, and Philip, the distributor of alms, appears in the new character of evangelist--a striking proof that the wisest plans for Church government must be subject to modifications by the Providence of God. Yet while the form of the early diaconate passed away, its principles remained, and we hear of deacons at Philippi, and of a gift of “helps “ at Corinth. A concluding word on the slow development of the ideas which were to form Christendom. The Church had much to learn after Pentecost, which experience and struggle only could teach. The outpouring was not a magical enlightenment on all points of truth, but rather the implantation of a principle of light and love, which was to work out its results according to the laws of the human mind. Placed under the guidance of the Spirit the views of the apostles became gradually clearer and wider. Pentecost did for society what conversion does for the individual. Conversion is a period of warm and lively emotions, but the work of sanctification, so far from being finished, has only begun. Our young strength has to be approved by trial, and our little knowledge to be enlarged by experience. So it was with the early Church. (Dean Goulburn.)
Samaria made joyful
I. The preaching of Christ. Christ is to be preached as--
1. All almighty;
2. All sufficient;
4. Gracious and compassionate, Saviour.
II. Its happy effects.
1. The blessings it brings.
2. The prospects it unfolds.
1. What reasons we have to be thankful for the gospel!
2. What use are we making of it? (W. Dransfield.)
I. Christ is the proper subject of preaching. This means--
1. That the subject of preaching was not the wisdom of the world.
2. That it was the revelation concerning Christ.
(1) The nature of His person.
(2) The character of His work in all His offices.
(3) The method of salvation through Him: what we must do to obtain an interest in His salvation.
(4) The duties we owe Him.
II. Christ as the object of preaching. The objects which men have are various, and some selfish and degrading. Some preach Christ of strife and envy. Others have objects which are legitimate, but subordinate, as the temporal or eternal well-being of men. The true specific and appropriate object is the exaltation and glory of Christ; that He may be known, worshipped, and obeyed.
III. Reasons why we should preach Christ. Because--
1. He is our God and Saviour.
2. This is requisite to men becoming Christians.
3. To make men Christians is the best means of glorifying God, and the only means of promoting the happiness, holiness, and salvation of men.
IV. To preach Christ is a grace. The reasons why it is so great a favour are because--
1. It is the highest service of God and Christ.
2. To serve Him is the highest honour, and the greatest source of happiness. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
How Christ should be preached
I. As the messiah of ancient prophecy.
II. As incarnate.
1. Very man.
2. Very God.
III. As crucified and risen.
1. Atoning for sin.
2. Triumphing over death.
IV. As glorified.
1. For Himself.
2. For His people.
V. As judge. Living to make Christ known:--I wonder how many Christian people here could have their biographies condensed into this line, “He lived to make Christ known.” Might it not be said of one, he lived to open a shop, and then to open a second? or of another, be lived to save a good deal of money, and take shares in limited liability companies? or of a third, he lived to paint a great picture? or of a fourth, he was best known for his genial hospitality? Of many a minister it might be said--he lived to preach splendid sermons, and to gain credit for fine oratory. What of all these? If it can be said of a man, “He lived to glorify Christ,” then his life is a life. Every Christian man ought so to live. Oh that my memorial might be: “He preached Christ crucified”! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ not in the sermon
The late Bishop F--, of Salisbury, having procured a young clergyman of promising abilities to preach before the king; and the young man having, in his lordship’s opinion, acquitted himself well, the bishop, in conversation with the king afterwards, wishing to get his sovereign’s opinion, took the liberty to say, “Does not your majesty think that the young man, who had the honour to preach before your majesty, is likely to make a good clergyman, and has this morning delivered a very good sermon?” To which the king in his blunt manner, hastily replied, “It might have been a good sermon, my lord; but I consider no sermon good that has nothing of Christ in it.”
Christ in every sermon
A lady named Ruth Montgomery, writing in an American journal, tells us of hearing a young man just entering the ministry, who visited her grandfather when she was a little girl, deliver an address on some public secular occasion. Years afterwards, when grown to womanhood, she heard the same speaker deliver a lecture of deep interest, in a town in the interior of New York. Standing at the entrance of the pew, as he passed down the aisle to the door, she shook hands with him, and said: “I am little Ruth.” A smile lighted up his countenance, and he replied, “Do you know that you said something to me when I was at your grandfather’s that I have never forgotten?” “Oh, no,” I said; “it cannot be possible!” “Yes, you did,” he replied; “when I returned from the lecture, you said, ‘Dr. D., you didn’t forget to bring in the Saviour into your lecture.’ And I determined then I never would forget it. I have remembered it from that day to this, and tried to keep my resolution.”
The duty of Christians to speak about Christ
Many years ago, when S. D. Rickards was walking home with a young lady, talking to her of the good Lord and His willingness to help us (in accordance with a resolution made still farther back that he would never be alone with any young person without speaking concerning “the better things”), he found that she had been longing to be a Christian for a considerable time; she wanted to love and trust the Lord Jesus, but she did not know how. In the simplest way he told her how--that trusting Christ was no more difficult than trusting him. Did she believe that he would save her if he could, if she asked him? And when the reply came, “Yes,” the question was put whether He, the Infinitely Good, was not much more to be trusted than a poor weak being like himself. Would He not be sure to save her if she asked Him, and could she not trust Him to say yes? A few days after, a little note came, thanking him for the conversation, relating how now she could say she trusted the Lord Jesus and was glad in Him, and adding these few words: “If any one during the last three years had spoken to me as you did the other night, I should have been a Christian. It was just what I was wanting. I often wonder Christians talk so little about Christ.” (J. L. Nye.)
And the people with one accord gave heed unto these things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.--
I. The people listened to the messenger. There was great earnestness and unanimity. They did not oppose him or remain unmoved. It is a great advantage when an awaking becomes general. Solitary Christians are like solitary trees near the sea coast; the cold winds keep down their growth or kill them. But in a thick wood all contribute to shelter each. So quickly and generally did this harvest grow up to Philip’s hand that we are compelled to believe that a sower had been previously at work. This was so. The Master had sown, the servant now reaped.
II. The people both heard his doctrines, and saw his mighty works. We have the same doctrines and the same results in conversion, but not the miracles? Why? They were the credentials of the first preachers; why, then, cannot we have them to authenticate ours? For the same reason, perhaps, that the miracle of Creation has not been repeated. To set the world going powers were necessary that are not necessary now. The present organic laws are sufficient for the continuance of the species, but not to account for the commencement. Why, then, should it be thought impossible that God should exert a power to establish the gospel which was not needed afterwards? Existing spiritual forces are sufficient for all gospel purposes, and are mightier even than the miracles employed to establish it.
III. There was great joy in the city. Hear this, ye butterfly flutterers, that flit from flower to flower, satiate with each sweet as soon as you alight upon it, and hastening unhappy to another, trying every flower all day, and at night bringing no honey home! Hear this, all ye who study hard to keep religion at arm’s length, lest it should cast a gloom over your heart or home! When an earnest missionary who had risked his life for Christ’s name preached in a city, the people, instead of growing gloomy, became glad. This is a phenomenon worthy of study. But do not mistake its meaning. The instinct which prompts the vain and worldly to keep religion away, lest it should destroy their pleasure, is a true instinct. Every creature’s instinct is for its own preservation. To embrace Christ is to crucify the old man, who does not die without struggle and pain. But when he is put off a new nature is put on, and the new nature has new joys. What the Samaritans felt is the ultimate result, not the first effect, of preaching Christ offered to a city or a soul, and kept out seems a terror, but received becomes a joy which life cannot give or death destroy. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
Genuine and spurious miracles
Undesigned coincidences are a most satisfactory evidence of the truth of Scripture. We have one here. From the account of our Lord’s sojourn in Sychar, given by John--a very different writer from Luke--we gather that the Samaritans were a simple-minded people, with childlike taste for the marvellous, and an equally childlike credulity, keenly anticipating the coming of a great Prophet and Deliverer, but having the moral faculties undeveloped. Now it is exactly among such a people that magic is likely to make way, as the narrative tells us it did. Thus the Samaritans of the Acts are true to the character incidentally ascribed to them in St. John. But among nations of a much higher civilisation there was at the time a susceptibility to magical arts. Religious ideas were in a state of fermentation, and religious minds in a state of high excitement. There was a general expectation of the advent of a great Ruler, due partly to the dissemination of Jewish ideas and associations through Israel’s dispersion, and to the growing disbelief in mythology. Men must have some religion, and so intelligent heathens held on to the old forms, with an occasional sneer, for the want of a better, but they yearned for something truer and more satisfying. Now this state is connected with credulity and an appetite for signs and wonders; and wherever there is a demand there is sure to be a supply. And, to go beyond the phenomena to the causes, by the manifestation of God in the flesh, the powers of evil were stirred up to a desperate effort for the maintenance of their supremacy. Demoniacal possession was one result of this effort; a great swarm of impostors was another. Apollonius of Tyana is said to have performed miracles which are parodies of those in the Gospels. By the side of the genuine coin which God minted was issued from the devil’s mint a whole school of counterfeit coins. The gospel was to fare as the law had done; when the sorcerers were able to do the same wonders as Moses up to a certain point, after which they are constrained to see “the finger of God.” So here the magician is forced to acknowledge that God is in the gospel, and is baptized, though without change of heart. His policy was, without relinquishing the purpose of his life, to ascertain the secret of this new power: and he seems to have regarded baptism as a magical rite on a level with his own spells. And Luke, in describing his state of mind while beholding the miracles of the gospel, used the same Greek word which he employed to describe the effect of Simon’s own powers. “He bewitched the people of Samaria,… and beholding the miracles and signs which were done, he was bewitched.” Note some of the characteristics of Philip’s miracles which distinguished them from those of the sorcerer. The former had upon them--
I. The seal of God’s glory. The sorcerer preached himself--“Gave out that he was some great one”; whereas Philip “preached Christ” and “the things concerning the kingdom of God.” He announced that the devil’s empire was broken, and that whosoever would come to God might have priceless blessings. Miracles of a corresponding character attested the message. Unclean spirits were expelled in token of Satan’s shattered kingdom, and in evidence that a new power had come into humanity many were healed. At the sight of these miracles the people rejoiced. But mere wonders have no aptitude to produce joy. Simon’s sorceries produced only amazement and dread. What produced the joy was the glad tidings which Philip preached. Where miracles redound, by many thanksgivings unto the praise of God, we may believe that they had their origin from God; but when they redound to the glorification of men, we may suspect them.
II. The seal of love to man. They brought relief to suffering humanity. But not a word is said of the beneficence of Simon’s miracles--they were simply wonders that bewitched folk. Conclusion:
1. True miracles are never shown for their own sake, but for some doctrine which has to be attested by them. They are never advanced to make people wonder, but as signs to make them believe. Hence, as soon as the doctrine has gained a firm footing, the miracles cease. When marvels are professed to be wrought by some occult power, do not credit them unless they are in confirmation of some Divine message.
2. There is a correspondence between the character of a true miracle and the doctrine which it is wrought to establish. Thus, e.g., the plagues of Egypt were all directed to establish the superiority of Jehovah to the idols of Egypt, and those of Philip to prove that the gospel was good tidings of great joy. And the people saw the correspondence between the two (verse 8). (Dean Goulburn.)
The spiritual miracles of the gospel
I. Impurity is expelled.
II. Weakness is strengthened.
III. Sorrow is converted into joy. Joy--
1. At the forgiveness of sins.
2. In the enjoyment of God.
3. In the hope of eternal salvation. (K. Gerok.)
The only cure for soul disorders
Some years ago I was at Birmingham when the onion fair was being held, and thousands of people came from the Black Country to attend it, and to witness the sights that seem to be a part of all such gatherings. The London Bible Society sent an agent to sell copies of the Bible. There was also a woman selling a patent medicine, and some young fellows from the Black Country went up to her, and one of them said, “Missis, can you cure us?” “What’s the matter?” inquired the woman. “Oh, we’ve got the devil in us,” was the reply. “No, young man,” said the woman, with a reverence for the truth that deserved something better than to be selling patent medicine, “I cannot cure you. Your disorder is of the soul; my physic is only for the body. If you want to be cured, you must go to the man that’s selling Bibles yonder.” (J. S. Pawlyn.)
And there was great joy in that city.--
The grounds of Christian joy
There was joy on account of--
I. Temporal mercies. The circumstances attending the benefits, as well as the benefits themselves, would render this joy peculiarly great. For many hopeless maladies were cured instantaneously and completely, neither subjecting the patient to any painful operation, nor leaving any portion of the distemper unremoved. And their joy would be still more enhanced by perceiving the hand of God in all this, and that it was illustrative of the mercy and power on which they might rest their confidence in Him for future and higher blessings. For they welcomed the redeeming message thus recommended and attested, and embraced the faith and hope of the gospel. Now, when any blessing is put into your lot, your hearts will doubtless be affected with joy. And the joy will be in proportion to the native sensibility of your minds and to the blessing received. But the great subject of anxiety should be that your joy shall be worthy of the faculties with which God has endowed you, and of those sentiments and anticipations which He has taught you to entertain. What is the nature of your joy after temporal benefit? Is it a mere animal excitement, like the gratification of the brutes when they are getting their hunger and thirst appeased, or when they are liberated from pain or confinement? Or is it the feeling of those worldlings who are happy only when their lower appetites are ministered to? In order for the joy to be Christian, those blessings by which the emotion has been excited must be considered as to their origin and as to the higher purposes which they are designed to subserve, both in your present and your future condition.
1. You are joyful for temporal benefits, but remember that these are not the fruits of your own exertion, or of the benevolence of your fellow-men, or of fate or accident. They are the gifts of God. The kind interpositions here recorded were miraculous; but if you have taken your principles and impressions from the Holy Scriptures, you will not need a miracle to lift your contemplation to Him by whom a mercy has been manifested. Every comfort you will regard as descending from heaven. And how sweet and satisfying is that joy which you draw from this reference of every blessing to God! Were you to be informed that any happy event which had befallen you originated in the contrivance of an individual, who combined with general worth a strong and disinterested attachment to you, would not this discovery add much to your pleasure by giving birth to sympathies which could not otherwise have existed? And if this individual should turn out to be the father whom you had done much to displease, would not this increase the enjoyment to a still higher degree? And must not this be realised in a style which no reciprocity of kindness between man and man can ever exemplify, and in a degree which no display of mere human generosity can ever create, when you are able to receive all the good things of life as proceeding from the hand of your Father in heaven? And in proportion as you see the finger of God in whatever contributes to your preservation and your comfort will your joy be regulated, not by the greatness of the prosperity which gives occasion for it, but by the Divine bounty which it indicates whether it be great or small.
2. But besides this, you should be joyful in the experience of temporal good, because it restores or increases your means of personal improvement and of social usefulness. There can be little doubt that many of the rejoicing Samaritans felt in this way. From their having been subject to various infirmities, they must have been not only debarred from useful exertion, but have even been a burden both to themselves and to their friends. But when freed from such bodily calamities, the faith they embraced in consequence of this Divine interposition would lead them to employ their recovered powers in advancing their own good and the good of their neighbours, and to rejoice that the ability was restored, while the inclination was also given, to glorify God in practical acknowledgments of His healing mercy. And, as under the impulse of this holy ambition every, thing which retards your progress will be a subject of regret, so whatever tends to promote it will make you glad in proportion to its power of adding to the warmth of your piety and the extent of your virtue. Nor can you fail to be conscious of the same emotions in reference to the welfare of others.
(1) You were long confined, perhaps, to a bed of sickness, which has interrupted your course of active duty. Now that, through Divine mercy, you are permitted to exchange the chamber of disease for the scene of wonted industry, you indulge in the gladness of soul which such a transition is fitted to inspire. But are you glad merely that you are again permitted to partake of the amusements, or mingle in the business, of the world? No; your gladness, if it be Christian, will rather arise from this--that you can now follow out the important purposes for which your Lord has qualified you.
(2) Perhaps you had a dear friend in whom you trusted for advice and encouragement; and as it had pleased God to afflict him, so it has pleased God to give him back to your prayers and your affections. But you must have poorly appreciated his value if you did not hail his return, not merely on the ground of friendship, but because you were to be again blessed with his counsels and admonitions and example.
(3) Or perhaps you have been rescued from worldly embarrassments which had checked you in the cultivation of your talents, and almost destroyed your power of promoting the good of your fellow-men. And in the relief from these embarrassments this will hold an influential and distinguished place, that you have recovered that by which you can make greater progress in the things that are excellent, and be instrumental in furthering the grand interests of humanity and religion in the world.
II. Spiritual mercies. Philip preached Christ to the Samaritans, and they embraced Him as an all-sufficient Redeemer, and by baptism vowed to undertake all the duties of their Christian profession. Now, if we have welcomed the gospel as they did, we must be similarly affected with joy. The gospel is of such an interesting description, and is so calculated to work upon the principles and susceptibilities of our nature, that whenever it meets with belief and obedience it cannot fail to produce joy. So much is this the case that Christianity is distinctively “good tidings of great joy.”
1. Let us only think of the information which Christianity conveys, that we may see how necessarily it excites gladness.
(1) Do we rejoice to learn that some temporary evil that we greatly feared has been averted? Well, then, we learn from the gospel that the greatest of all calamities is provided against so effectually that there is “no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.”
(2) Do we rejoice to be assured that some earthly friend to whom we had given just offence is willing to reinstate us in his favour? Well, then, the gospel assures us that God Himself, whose favour is life, whose displeasure is death, but against whom we had sinned, has made such arrangements that our iniquities may be blotted out, and our peace with Him regained and secured.
(3) Do we rejoice to be told that a distemper which threatened to be mortal may be arrested? Well, then, the gospel tells us that death, which we so much dreaded, is deprived of its sting--stripped of its terrors--and that it need not be feared any more.
(4) Do we rejoice when, through the unmerited kindness of some relative, we have the reversion of a fortune or an estate which we must soon leave to others? Well, then, the gospel informs us that God has reserved for us “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.”
2. But it behoves us to have this feeling of interest in the blessings of the gospel created and established according to the Scriptural method. Some people are comforted and gladdened by the discoveries of the gospel without any good warrant. They imagine that merely because a Saviour is provided, and a wink of redemption accomplished, they may banish all their fears and be “joyful in the Lord.” Whereas, according to the gospel scheme, this fact is of no avail to any sinner till it is received by him, and submitted to by him, “as a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation.” Now, this attainment is made by faith in Christ, and the moment that Christ becomes our Saviour joy exists there, and ought to be cherished there, as sanctioned by Him from whom the pardon and salvation which produce it have been derived--as itself a privilege which He confers, equally valuable and divine. We are not to rejoice because we believe, as if our joy were to arise from anything within ourselves, but because the Saviour, in whom we trust, is all-sufficient for us. Thus it was with the Samaritan converts. They had great joy. But it was an immediate sequence of their “believing the things that Philip preached concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ.” There may be a strong faith, and there may be a weak faith. The clearer and more multiplied our evidence is of the truths of the gospel, and of the sufficiency of Jesus Christ in whatsoever that evidence may consist, the more vivid and vigorous will be our faith; and the more vivid and vigorous our faith, the more lively, substantial, unmingled will be that joy which faith, in its every degree, is fitted to produce. And, therefore, that we may abound in joy, let it be our care and our study to abound in faith.
3. But remember that the same authority which commands you to believe and to rejoice, also presents to you delineations and enforcements of a character which you must possess, otherwise all your “religion is vain.” The faith which you repose in Christ, and which gives joy to your heart, is a faith which receives Him, that He may redeem you from the power and pollution of sin, and consecrate you to the service of God; and were it possible for you to believe in Him to the exclusion of that part of His saving character, your joy would be presumptuous and delusive. So that spiritual joy and spiritual renovation are inseparably united. And as you believe and rejoice, so you must give all diligence to abound in godliness. The Samaritans acted in this manner. We do not read of their after conduct; but so far as the narrative goes they did all of which their time and opportunities admitted. They were baptized--and this implied incalculably more than it does among us. By undergoing the rite, they braved all the terrors of persecution, and pledged themselves to maintain that purity of demeanour which the washing with water signified. A holy life, in reference to our spiritual joy, is of vast importance in two ways.
(1) It is the test by which we are to ascertain that our joy is not false and delusive. There is a joy which proceeds from frames, and feelings, and fancies. To guard against a deception so fatal, it is necessary that we “examine ourselves whether we be in the faith,” wanting which the gospel speaks nothing that is good to us, and whether we are entitled to be glad in the Lord as our Lord, our Saviour, and our portion.
(2) While practical godliness thus satisfies us that we are not rejoicing without warrant, the more we possess of that character, the stronger evidence do we obtain of our interest in the blessings of redemption, and the stronger reason have we for encouraging ourselves in that joy with which the blessings of redemption are so well fitted to fill the spirit. (A. Thomson, D. D.)
Joyful import of the gospel
I. It is deserving of remark, that the seat of this holy triumph was “the city of Samaria.” Well may it be said, “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them, and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom like the rose;” for such indeed was the city of Samaria. Thus the Lord builds up Jerusalem, and gathers together the outcasts of Israel (Psalms 147:2; Isaiah 56:6-8).
II. The joy which now prevailed in the city of Samaria is fully accounted for by the cause which produced it. Joy is never incited but on some great occasion, and the seasons of religious joy are distinguished by some interesting or extraordinary occurrence. Such was the joy and gladness at the preparation for building the temple of Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 24:9), at Hezekiah’s passover (2 Chronicles 30:25-26), at the rebuilding and dedication of the city wall (Nehemiah 12:43), at the birth of Christ (Luke 2:10-14), at the appearance of the star to the eastern magi (Matthew 2:13), and at the ascension of our blessed Saviour (Luke 24:52). All these were great events, and furnished an abundant source of joy and rejoicing. We may therefore expect something great and interesting in the present instance, to fill a whole city with joy--and what was it?
1. Is it not ground for joy that the Lord is come into the world to save sinners?
2. Is it not ground for joy that Christ has laid down His life for us, and redeemed us unto God by His blood?
3. Is it not a matter of great joy that Christ is risen from the dead? This proves that He was the true Messiah, that His sacrifice is accepted, and that justice is fully satisfied.
4. Is it not matter of joy, too, that Christ has ascended into glory, and that He ever liveth to make intercession for us?
5. That through faith in His name there is forgiveness of sin, and acceptance with God?
6. Is it not a source of joy that this gospel is now sent to all nations?
7. Was it not a special matter of joy to the Samaritans, that they themselves had believed the gospel?
1. If, then, the gospel bring tidings of great joy, why is it reproached as tending to gloom and melancholy? Can anything be more unreasonable and unjust?
2. Why do individuals despond while there is such an exhibition of mercy? Because they do not hearken to the gospel, nor receive the record which God hath given of His Son.
3. Why do not Christians possess more joy and peace in believing? Because we have not more religion, do not live more under the influence of the gospel. Lord, increase our faith. (J. Benson.)
The joy of salvation
John Bowen, afterwards Bishop of Sierra Leone, being, while a young farmer in Canada, converted by a sermon, wrote in his diary, “I experienced such an ecstasy last evening in prayer that I doubted if I were in my right senses. Christ was slain for me. I could give myself up to Him unreservedly. I cannot describe my sensations of joy. I could not praise God sufficiently for the great scheme of salvation. I remained a long time giving thanks and praying that such a heavenly joy might not be taken away from me.”
Joyousness of Christianity
Religion is good both for a man’s body and soul, both for time and eternity. It has the promise of the life that now is, and also of that which is to come. It not only teaches men to govern their spirits, but also to take care of their bodies; not only to watch over their tempers and dispositions, but also to manage, in a prudent manner, their worldly business. If men were truly religious, they would not only have brighter prospects for heaven, but they would also have far more cheerful and happy homes on earth. Religion brightens everything it touches. It strengthens the weak, comforts the disconsolate, encourages the despondent, lifts up those that are bowed down, and fills the mind, even amid worldly anxieties and cares, with peace and joy and hope.
The unique effects of the gospel
There was never found in any age of the world, either philosophy or sect, or law or discipline, which could so rightly exalt the public good as the Christian faith. (Lord Bacon.)
The Christian city
1. All around Philip was the misery and sin of a great city. He told them of Him who had come to relieve misery and forgive sin. As a symbol of the new life which he told them of, he touched some of their sick and their health came back to them. Not merely a few scattered souls caught the new inspiration; it seemed to fill the air and flow through all the life of the whole town.
2. There is something clear and peculiar in this joy of a whole city over a new faith. We can all feel it when a thought or an emotion which has lingered in a few minds starts up and takes possession of a whole community. It is as when a quiver of flame which has lurked about one bit of wood at last gets real possession of the heap of fuel, and the whole fireplace is in a blaze. There came a time when Christianity, which had lived in scattered congregations, at last seized on the prepared mind of the Roman Empire, and all Europe was full of Christianity. So it is a phenomenon possessing its own interest and demanding its own study, when beyond Christian souls you have a whole community inspired with the feelings and acting under the motives of Christianity. A city as well as an individual is capable of a Christian experience and character. It is more than an aggregate of the experience of the souls within it, as a chemical compound has qualities which did not appear in either of its constituents; it is a real new being with qualities and powers of its own.
3. Christianity is primarily a personal force, and only secondarily does it deal with communities. The souls of men must be converted; and out of those the Christian Church or the Christian State must grow. To begin by making the structure of a Church or a State, and expect so to create personal character, is as if you began to build a forest from the top. This is the error of all merely ecclesiastical and political Christianity. But none the less is it true that when a great multitude of personal believers, who have been fused together by the fire of their common faith, present before the world the unity of a Christian Church or nation, that new unity is a real unit, a genuine being with its own character and power.
4. We see the Church possessed as a whole of qualities which she must gather, of course, from her parts, but which we can find in no one of her parts. She is more permanent, more wise, more trustworthy than the wisest and most trustworthy of the men who compose her membership. Tile city is a being dearer to us than any of the citizens who compose it. Many a man goes out to war and gives his life gladly for his country who would not have dreamed of giving it for any countryman. The Bible is full of this thought. Israel is more than any Israelite; Jerusalem is realer and dearer than any Jew. The New Testament reverts to the individual, but it too advances towards its larger personality, and leaves the strong figure of the Christian Church and the brilliant architecture of the New Jerusalem burning upon its latest pages.
5. But let us come to our subject. Is anything more to be expected than that here and there throughout a city men and women should be Christians? Can we conceive of Christianity so pervading the life of a community that the city shall be distinctly different in its corporate life and action from a heathen city? Christianity, or the change of man’s life by Christ, has three ways in which it makes its power known. It appears either as truth, as righteousness, or as love. Every soul which is really redeemed by Christ will enter into new beliefs, higher ways of action, and deeper affections towards fellow-men. Now take these one by one, and ask if a city is not capable of them as well as aa individual.
I. Look first at faith.
1. Perhaps this seems the hardest to establish. There was a time, we say, when cities had their beliefs, when no man could live comfortably in Rome without believing like the Pope, or in Geneva without believing like Calvin. Then every proclamation was based upon a creed. But see how that is altered now. A thousand different beliefs fight freely in our streets, and it is almost true that no man is the less a citizen for anything that he believes or disbelieves. But this implies that the only exhibition of a faith must be in formal statement. It ignores for the city what we accept for the individual, that the best sign that a man believes anything is not his repetition of its formulas, but his impregnation with its spirit. It may have grown impossible, at least for the present, that cities should write confessions of faith in their charters; but if it is possible--nay, if it is necessary--that the prevalence through all a city’s life of a belief in God and Christ and the Holy Spirit should testify of itself by the creation of certain spiritual qualities in that city, then have we not the possibility of a believing city even without a written creed or a formal proclamation. Just look at London. This is a believing city. And why? Not because an occasional document is solemnised with the name of God, nor because a few verses of the Bible are read each morning in your public schools, but because that spirit which has never been in the world save as the fruit of Christian faith prevails in and pervades your government and social life, the spirit of responsibility, of trust in man, and of hopefulness. This is the Christian faith of your community, showing in all your public actions. It has not come by accident. It has entered into you through the long belief of your fathers which you yourselves still keep in spite of all your scepticisms and disputes.
2. If we doubt this, we have only to forecast the consequence if a heathen belief were prevalent. We have some men who disbelieve intensely and bitterly in every Christian doctrine. The spirit of these men we know: it is hopeless, cynical, despairing. If they are naturally sensual, they plunge into debauchery; if they are naturally refined they stand aside and sneer at or superciliously pity the eager work and exuberant feeling of other men. Now fancy such men’s faith made common. What would be the result? Would any generous work be done? Could either popular government or an extended system of business credit still survive, since both are based on that trust of man in man which is at the bottom a Christian sentiment? Would you not have killed enterprise when you had taken hopefulness away, and given the deathblow to public purity when you had destroyed responsibility?
3. No, the city has its Christian faith. Its belief is far from perfect: it is all stained and broken with scepticism, but it is vastly more strong than many of you believe. Every now and then comes a revival. “What does it mean?” we say; “when men seem settling placidly down into unbelief and indifference, all of a sudden this great outbreak? People crowding by tens of thousands to hear some homely preacher, the city shaken with the storm of hymns, thousands confessing their sins and crying out for pardon?” Is it not clear enough what it means? Here many of the men to whom the people most looked up have been sending down to the uplooking people the barren gospel of their scepticism. But by and by they have pressed too terribly upon the spiritual consciousness; the sense of God, the certainty of immortality, has risen in rebellion; the great reaction comes; the wronged affections reassert themselves. One must rejoice in such a healthy outburst. To complain of its extravagances or faults of taste is as if you complained of the tempest which cleared your city of the cholera because it shook your windows and stripped the leaves off your trees.
4. The methods by which this faith may be perpetuated and kept pure are open to endless discussion. No doubt the city in which it is liveliest stands the most in danger of ecclesiasticim on the one hand, and of dogmatic quarrelsomeness on the other; but about this one fact we are most clear, that a city may believe, and as a city may be blessed by its belief. It seems to open an appeal to any generous and public-spirited young man, to which he surely ought to listen. Not only for your own soul and its interests you ought to seek the truth, but for the community, because these streams of public and social life which run so shallow need to be deepened with eternal interests, because your faith in God will help to make God a true inspiration to the city’s life. Remember the simple old parable in Ecclesiastes 9:14-16. Wisdom in the Old Testament means what faith means in the New.
1. A man who is a Christian holds certain truth, and then he does certain goodness. And every city has a moral character distinguishable from, however it may be made up of, the individual character of its inhabitants. This is seen in two ways.
(1) In the official acts which it must do, the acts of justice or injustices by which it appears as a person acting in its official unity among its sister cities.
(2) In the moral atmosphere which pervades it, and which exercises power on all who come within it. You send a child to live in some heathen brutal community where vice is in the very atmosphere, and he is certainly contaminated. What is it that contaminates him? Not this man’s or that man’s example, but the whole character of the city where he lives. The brutality is everywhere, in all its laws, its customs, its standards, its traditions. You send him back to live in old Pompeii, where the abominations which modern times have uncovered and made the subject of cool archaeological study were live things, the true expression of the heathen city’s spirit. As he enters in you see his soul wither and grow spotted with corruption. Then bring your boy and put him here in Christian London. It is not only this or that Christian whom he meets. It is a Christian goodness everywhere: in the just dealing of the streets, in the serene peace of the homes, in the accepted responsibilities and obligations of friends and neighbours, in the universal liberty, in the absence of cruelty, in the purity and decency, in the solemn laws and courteous ceremonies--everywhere there is the testimony of a city wherein dwelleth righteousness. And when we think how imperfectly Christ has been welcomed and adopted here--how only to the outside of our life He has penetrated, then there opens before us a glorious vision of what the city might be where He should be wholly King.
2. We dwell on the iniquity of city life in modern times. But it is not the riotous and boastful wickedness of heathen times. Men have at least seen clearly enough the Christian standard to be ashamed of what they are not willing to renounce, and hide in secret chambers the villainies which use to flaunt upon the public walls. It is one stage in every conversion of the converted city as of the converted man. The next stage is to cast away the wickedness of which one has become ashamed. Of cities in the first stage there are instances everywhere through Christendom. Of the second stage--of the city totally possessed by Christ and so casting all wickedness away, there is as yet no specimen upon the earth, only the glowing picture of the apocalyptic city, the New Jerusalem. That sounds very visionary and far away; but consider that to bring about that city so different from your London you need only vastly more of the same power that has made your London so different from Pompeii.
3. Again we come to a lofty ground of appeal. If you are pure and true remember that your righteousness is not for yourself alone, nor for the few whom you immediately touch; it is for your city. I am speaking to business men who may help to put a more Christian character into business life; to women of society who may make the social character of the town more Christ-like; to young men on whom it rests to develop or to destroy for their city the character that their fathers gave her. If you fail, you Christian men and women, what chance is there for the city?
III. Charity. When a man becomes a Christian, he believes right, and then he does right; and then he tries to help his fellow-men. And now again the question comes, can a city too do good as the issue and utterance of its Christian character? The Christian character of charity is very apt to elude us, and the connection of a charitable act with Christian faith is lost. You say it is all impulse when you give your money to the poor; but what is the impulse? Is it the same as the savage’s? Has Christianity done nothing to keep down the other impulse to harm, and to strengthen this? And so you say the city’s charity is all economy; her hospitals are merely expedients for saving so much available human life. But who taught her this economy, and that a human life was worth the saving, and how is it that the most highly organised among un-Christian nations have had but the merest rudiments of hospitals? No! The charity of a city is a distinct testimony to one thing which has been wrought into the convictions of that city--the value of a man; and that conviction has come out of Christian faith. A poor neglected creature drops in the crowded street; a horse strikes him, and the heavy waggon crushes him as he lies; or in the blazing summer sun he is smitten to the ground insensible. Instantly the city--not this pitying man or that, but the pitying city--stoops and gathers him up tenderly, and carries him to the hospital, which it has built. Is there no Christ there? Once there was a city which, when Christ came to it, hated and scorned Him, and would not be satisfied till it had seen Him die in agony. To-day here is a city which, if Christ came to it in person, would go out and welcome Him, would call Him Lord and Master, and hang upon His words and glory in the privilege of giving Him its best. In that first city there was no hospital; in this new city the hospitals stand thick for every kind of misery. Has not the Christian city a right to hear the Saviour’s words as if He spoke to her: “Inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto Me”? Who doubts that if the city were tenfold more Christian than she is the hospitals would be multiplied and enriched till it should be an impossibility for any sick man to be left unhelped. Deepen the city’s Christianity and the city’s charity must deepen and widen too. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
But there was a certain man called Simon
Simon the Magian unmasked and put to shame
This Simon was the first heretic in the Christian Church, the first to claim its fellowship while out of sympathy with its fundamental truths.
His mistakes were many and grievous.
1. He began with an unscrupulous ambition. No sooner had Peter and John begun to confer the gifts of spiritual power by the laying on of hands than Simon saw that his own juggleries were cast into the shade. All that he perceived were the outward phenomena; the inward grace did not occur to him.
2. He was guilty, thus, of utter insincerity. His pious airs and phrases, while he worshipped with the Christians, were all make-believe. His heart was wholly unchanged; he was still an unregenerate sinner, in the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity.
3. He was grievously mistaken as to the purchasing power of money. He thought that money could do anything. His mind was so utterly sordid that he was as honest as he could be in proffering coin for the sovereign gifts of God. There are men in our times who seem to have a like confidence in filthy lucre. Their very souls grow yellow as they bow before their wretched golden god. They subordinate all things to persona[ gain. Friendship, beneficence, patriotism, and piety are of value only, as they can be made to serve their selfish ends.
4. He was a blasphemer. He should have been appalled at the mere thought of tampering with the influence of the Divine Spirit; but “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” God was nothing to him, and sacred things were of value only to grind at his mill. It is well that Peter and John had the courage to unmask this miserable impostor. There is no telling what harm he might have done otherwise in the early Church. As it is, he vanishes from our sight cringing under a terrific warning and whining for an intercession which, had it been offered, would have seemed to him only another of the apostles’ masterly conjurations. Farewell to him! And may no disciple of his ever again pollute the pure atmosphere of the Church of God! (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
Christianity true and false
I. The traits of a true Christianity.
1. It has growth. A true gospel has germinative power; it propagates itself; it is a seed which springs up wherever it is dropped, whether in Judea, Samaria, or Antioch.
2. It has breadth. It overcomes the prejudices of race and nation, breaks the bounds of sect, and brings Jews and Samaritans into one fellowship.
3. It has power (verse 7). The physical miracles of the apostolic age were pictures of spiritual power in all ages. Even now the gospel drives out unclean spirits and gives power to the impotent. Men can see the results of its power though they may not understand its source.
4. It brings joy (verse 8). Every soul truly converted tastes the joy of salvation, and is glad with an indwelling happiness.
5. It has discipline (verses 14-16). The Church recognises a central authority, to which all its workers are loyal.
6. It has high moral standards, which are not framed to suit base natures nor influenced by worldly considerations (verses 20-23).
II. The traits of a false Christianity. Even in the true Church, and in its purest days, there was to be found a Simon the sorcerer.
1. The false Christianity is often concealed under the formal rites of the Church service. Outwardly Simon was a baptised member, inwardly he was a hypocrite.
2. It is revealed in the spiritual manifestations of the Church. When the Holy Ghost descends, Simon is at once detected.
3. Its spirit is that of selfish ambition, seeking for power over men rather than power with God.
4. It should be dealt with promptly, rebuked unsparingly, and should find no countenance in the Church.
5. It may find mercy and forgiveness if the false disciple will seek the Lord.
Simon Magus, or wrong-heartedness
This short sketch reminds us--
1. That men in every age have been prone to deify great wickedness.
2. That great wickedness, to answer its end, has often identified itself with religion.
3. That true religion exposes all such imposture. We take Simon as the representative of wrong-heartedness.
I. Its essence--covetousness. “He offered them money.”
In relation to this observe that--
1. It is opposed to mental improvement. It necessarily blinds the eye and limits the intellectual horizon: whereas benevolence elevates the mind, gives vastness to the view, and places every object in the full light of heaven.
2. It is condemned by moral consciousness. There is a principle within which is an infallible indicator of the soul’s health, and this ever condemns covetousness, The selfish man wears out his self-respect, and stands before God and himself a wretched man.
3. It is condemned by the verdict of society. Society may flatter but it cannot respect a covetous man. Hence men assume the features and speak the language of benevolence.
4. It is incompatible with moral order. This requires one-ness, mutual attraction. But selfishness repels from one another and from God.
5. It is denounced by Scripture. Covetousness is declared to be idolatry, against which as the most revolting form of depravity the heaviest judgments are denounced.
II. Its tendency--ruin. This is no constitutional infirmity claiming palliation, but a disease of the heart. As in physics, so in morals, if the heart be wrong the most serious consequences are imminent. The text reminds us of three evils.
1. It involves the greatest sacrifice, “Thy money perish with thee.” Peter took it for granted that he would perish. A good man’s money lives in its consequences.
2. It precludes an interest in religion, “Thou has neither part nor lot,” etc., i.e., in Christianity with its glorious doctrines, promises, and provisions.
3. It necessitates great personal wretchedness. Covetousness is at once--
(1) A hitter “gall,” and
(2) A slavish life, “bonds.”
III. Its cure.
(1) Repentance--a change in the controlling disposition.
(2) Prayer--conscious dependence upon God.
(3) Forgiveness. Covetousness is a sin against God, and for it a sinner must be either forgiven or damned. Repentance and prayer are essential to pardon.
2. Ignored. Simon did not attend to the heavenly prescription. He did not repent of his sin although he deplored its consequences lie did not pray for himself, but he asked Peter to pray for him, and not that his heart might be changed, but that the consequence of his sin might be averted. Observe the two evils ever prevalent in false religions.
(1) Selfishness. To avoid misery is the leading idea in the religion of millions.
(2) Proxyism. The tendency to trust others in religious matters is the foundation of all ecclesiastical imposture and the great curse of the world. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Simon the sorcerer
I. The condition in which Philip found the city of Samaria. You find there the condition of the whole world represented. Samaria was diseased, possessed, and deluded. These are the conditions in which Christianity has always to fight its great battle. Christianity never finds any town prepared to co-operate with it. We are none of us by nature prepared to give the Christian teacher a candid hearing. We “hate the fellow, for he never prophesies good of us.” The literary lecturer pays homage to his audience, but the preacher rebukes it, humbles it. The early preachers did not trim, and balance, and smooth things. It was because they did fundamental work that they made progress so slow, but so sure. The world is--
1. Diseased--there is not a man who is thoroughly and completely well. If he suppose himself to be so, he is so only for the moment; he was ill yesterday, or will be to-morrow. You stand up in the mere mockery of strength; it is when we lie down that we assume the proper and final attitude of the body. How ill we are, what aches and pains!
2. Possessed. Possessed with demons, unclean spirits, false ideas. Why make a marvel about demoniacal possession, or push it back some twenty centuries? We are all devil-ridden. Out of Christ we are mad!
3. Deluded. Samaria was bewitched. Understand that somebody has to lead the world. In republicanism there is a sovereignty. In a mob there is a captaincy. There is only one question worth discussing so far as the future is concerned, and that is who is to rule. To-day you find men making churches for the future. You might as well make clothes for the future. My question is, who is to be the man, the life, the sovereign of the future? Christ, or Simon? As Christians we have no difficulty about the result.
II. Philip’s course in Samaria.
1. He took no notice of Simon. There are some persons who think we ought to send missionaries to argue down the infidels. Let us do nothing so foolish. There is nothing to be argued down. Argument is the weakest of all weapons. If occasion should naturally arise for the answering of some sophistical argument, avail yourselves of it, but do not imagine that Christianity has to go down to Samaria to fight a pitched battle, face to face with Simon Magus.
2. He preached Christ. Simon had been preaching himself. Philip never mentioned himself. Thus Philip did not argue down Simon, he superseded him. The daylight does not argue with the artificial light. The sun does not say, “Let us talk this matter over, thou little, beautiful, artificial jet. Let us be candid with one another, and polite to one another, and let us treat one another as gentlemen talking on equal terms. Let us thus see which of us ought to rule the earth.” The sun does nothing but shine! What then! Men put the gas out! “Let your light so shine before men,” etc. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Simon the sorcerer
The phases of human conduct do little more than repeat themselves along the ages. “There is nothing new under the sun.” Dugald Stewart remarks, “In reflecting on the repeated reproduction of ancient paradoxes by modern authors, one is almost tempted to suppose that human invention is limited, like a barrel-organ, to a specific number of tunes.” A period of deep religious and emotional feeling is always apt to be accompanied by a superstitious and mystical craving. Stephen’s martyrdom brings to light two typical characters at once; Saul with harassing persecutions, and Simon with delusions calculated to deceive even the elect, and the spurious professor was more dangerous than the violent foe. Note from the story that--
I. Mere working of wonders does not prove that a man comes from God. For the marvellous performances may not be miracles at all. In every age founders of religious systems have attempted what silly people have accepted as veritable interpositions of God. Human credulity is swift to assert that what is mysterious is divine. So fortune-tellers, spiritualists, necromancers, and quacks have swayed men and led women captive.
II. Miracles are at the best only evidences of Christianity. Of themselves, they never converted a soul. The genuine wonders wrought by Philip mocked this magician; as in Moses’ time, there was one supreme limit beyond which no human sleight of hand could go. Simon astonished, but Philip healed. So they left the impostor and went over to the Christian deacon in a body (verse 12). Not that Philip was more eloquent or persuasive than Simon; not that his miracles stirred them more; but Philip preached Christ. Marvels arrest the mind, and that is in demand when audiences are dull;: but it is the Spirit of grace only who touches the heart. How curious it must have appeared to those spiritually-minded converts that Simon Magus at last came over into the Church.
III. The best method in dealing with error is to proclaim the truth, and leave results to God. We are to advance the banner of Jesus Christ right out into the field brightly as if we trusted it, and most opponents will melt away before the mere marching of God’s host, without even a skirmish (verse 13).
IV. It is generally prudent to wait for a little before admitting untested persons into Church membership. It is a most interesting question, to be decided according to individual and local circumstances, how long one is to be delayed in ascertaining his own mind before he becomes publicly committed. These incidents are worth study in our modern times; for if the apostles could be deceived, it is possible for Church officers now.
V. Growth in spiritual graces renders one more gentle in feeling and more charitable to others (verses 14, 15). The apostolic company at Jerusalem were glad to hear what the Lord was doing, and Peter and John went over to the scene of action, and began to pray that God would bestow the gift of His Spirit. We cannot forget that the last wish of John’s concerning the Samaritans was that fire might fall on them (Luke 9:52-56). He was older now, and kinder, and gentler.
VI. Order ought to be observed in the official organisation of the Church (verse 17). These little significant forms are not to be lightly esteemed. The people had received that gift of the Holy Ghost by which their hearts had been renewed; but not the extraordinary gift by which they could work miracles. There was no physical transmission of anything in this laying on of hands; it was a mere sign. And it is not likely that all converted persons in Samaria were endowed with this superior gift; some discrimination must have been made according to fitnesses of character or grades of office (1 Corinthians 12:8-11).
VII. Every sin has its measure of deserved retribution, and meets its appropriate monument (verses 18-20). This hypocrite’s fate it has been to add a new word to our language; so, everywhere the Bible goes, that wicked thing which he did is held in everlasting remembrance.
VIII. The essence of a sin resides in the intention: (verse 22). Solemn admonition is given in the intimation that a wicked man is held responsible for his “thought” (Isaiah 55:7). Peter’s expression would look like a curse, if it were not for the suggestion that repentance and prayer might yet find the door open for pardon.
IX. Profession of religion is not real piety. (American Sunday School Times.)
Simon the sorcerer, an admonitory example of a false teacher
I. He gave himself out to be some great one. False teachers do not seek the glory of God, but their own.
II. He bewitched the people. False teachers seek to dazzle by popular arts, instead of enlightening and converting.
III. He believed, was baptized, and continued with Philip. Thus the unbelieving often speak the language of Canaan, because they observe that it is effective; and contract a hypocritical bond of fellowship with the servants of God, in order to cover their foul stains with the cloak of pretended sanctity. (K. Gerok.)
Simon Magus and Simon Peter
I. Simon the upright.
1. As a zealous servant of his Lord whom he serves everywhere with joy, in Samaria as in Jerusalem.
2. As an earnest admonisher of sins, which he reproves with holy zeal.
3. As a faithful guide to the way of salvation by repentance and prayer, which he knew from his own experience.
II. Simon the impure.
1. In the lying nature of his heathen magic.
2. In the hypocrisy of his deceitful Christianity.
3. In the defective nature of his superficial repentance. (K. Gerok.)
Saul, Simon, and Philip
I. The upright enemy.
II. The false friend.
III. The faithful servant of the Lord. Each indicated according to the disposition of his heart, his manner of acting and his fate. (K. Gerok.)
The sin of Simon
On a general view of this passage, notice--
I. The difference between the gospel, miracles and those of a mere magician like this Simon.
1. Power by itself is an ambiguous sign. There are other powers in the world besides God’s. Powers which have broken loose from Him, which oppose Him, and which He permits, for a time, for the trial of His people, and for the overthrow of His foes. Such a power was that exercised by this sorcerer. It came for the exaltation of a creature; to make beholders say, “This man is the great power of God.” It did not come to attest anything--to say, I have a message for you from God; and if you ask how you are to know that it is from God, this is the sign. That is the true use of power, in connection with Divine truth. It ought to come as the third part of God’s triple seal: first goodness, then wisdom, then power. That was the use which Jesus Christ made of power. This has never been the order of an impostor. He may astound and bewitch men with sorceries: but he will never succeed in counterfeiting those other parts of God’s seal, which the truly wise will wait for before they call either him or his the great power of God.
2. We are all in danger of too much worshipping power. Money is power, and talent, and rank, and office, and knowledge. But all these are of the earth, and will perish with it. Power-worship is too often devil-worship. Let the power you worship be all God’s power. You will know it by its signs; by its pointing upwards; by its drawing you towards God; by its making the unseen world real to you, and the world of show and semblance less attractive.
II. The existence of a visible as well as an invisible Church. We see how men fight against this truth. Men have been weary of the formality and hypocrisy and heartlessness which had taken possession of the visible fold, and have sought to go apart with a few, of whose consistency and devotion they could be assured. But there was a Simon Magus baptized by Philip the Evangelist, and recognised as a member of the Christian community by two of the apostles themselves. “Let both grow together until the harvest,” is the rule of Divine wisdom as much as of Divine forbearance. If you attempt to judge, you will err both ways: you will often be taken in by loud profession, you will oftener be driven into uncharitableness, into injury of souls. While the day of grace lasts, we must shut out from hope and from privilege no one who desires and claims either. And if others were to sit in judgment upon us, where should we be? We need patience, but we need severity too; patience from others, severity from ourselves, and a union of both from God.
III. This particular sin which requires in the case before us so stern a reproof. Simon offered money to the apostles to share their gift with him. He would purchase the Holy Ghost with money. The very idea is blasphemy. The law of this land calls a particular offence, that of buying and selling sacred offices in the ministry, by a name derived from that of this man, Simony. But this is not the only nor the chief sense in which we can be guilty of the sin of Simon. Simon had that mercenary mind which St. Paul calls the root of all evil. He thought that money could do everything. He deified money. Knowing what it was to him; how he taught, practised sorcery, and aimed at popularity, and set himself up as some great one for money; he took it for granted that every one else regarded money in the same way. Alas! “let him that is without sin among you” in this matter “cast the first stone” at him! If there are none now who seek to buy God’s gifts with money, at least are there not some who consent to sell their own souls for money? Oh these dishonesties in trade, in speculation, in trusts, yes, even in charity! If we really cared for God’s gifts, I can even fancy that some of us might offer money for them. If we do not offer money for God’s gifts, is it not because we care ten thousand times more for things which money can purchase? But I will tell you what no money can buy: it cannot buy any one of God’s highest gifts; it cannot even buy health, eyesight, comeliness, affection, repose of conscience, hope in death, or a single ray of the love of God. And therefore a man who learns by long habit to think that money is everything, is as much what the Scripture calls a fool, as he is what the Scripture counts a sinner. The sin of Simon is the being altogether of the earth, and yet expecting to have heaven too. It is the bringing all that is base and mean and corruptible, and expecting to receive--not in exchange for it, but along with it--all that is spiritual and eternal and Divine. To such a spirit it may well be said, “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter,” etc. (Dean Vaughan.)
The sin of Simon; or trading in holy things
The way in which the Holy Ghost is introduced here throws light upon apostolic usages and upon problems of Christian life in all ages. Compare Acts 19:1-7, in which, however, there is a difference, inasmuch as the disciples had not advanced beyond the teaching of John. They had not so much as heard of the Holy Ghost. The Samaritans were favoured with distinctive Christian teaching and baptism, but lacked that experience which we identify with conversion, viz., the receiving of the Holy Spirit. This, alas, is not peculiar to that age. Multitudes now are Christians, and yet not Christians. Strange paradox! Many become Christians by persuasion, conform to rites, live moral lives, without attaining consciousness of Divine sonship. We are not justified in excluding such from our assemblies; but their condition is full of danger, and renders them liable to fall into the gravest sins. To all such let Simon be a warning. As to his offence, notice--
I. What it was.
1. An insult to God. It could not have been the unpardonable sin, however, since the apostle holds out hope of forgiveness; but it may have been one of those sins which prepare for and predispose to it.
(1) It betrays a low estimate of the Holy Spirit. One who could speak as Simon did must have regarded Him very cheap! No more than a piece of sordid merchandise! Of a like character are all conceptions of monopolising spiritual privileges, of selling or buying such, or of bribing God by money, good works, etc.
(2) It was a contradiction of the principle on which the gospel is based--grace not works--that no man might boast or presume. Grace is the ground not of pardon only, but of every Divine gift.
2. A desire through Christianity to aggrandise self. Spiritual life springs from, and consists in, the crucifixion of self. In Simon self was alive and rampant. With him as with so many professors it was self first and God and righteousness afterwards. Every Christian worker should examine his heart and see whether he is serving self or the Master.
II. How he fell into it. This can never be fully answered; it is a part of the “mystery of iniquity.” But note--
1. His previous life tended to lead him into such an error. He was a magician. One who blended the mystical doctrines of Eastern wisdom with the practice of sorcery, and prepared the way for the subsequent monstrous growths of heresy, called by the general name of Gnosticism.
2. He had not yet fully understood the gospel. Probably he had learnt only a few of its doctrines, and those only imperfectly.
3. He was inwardly a stranger to Divine grace. He had not yet been converted. This defect is at the root of most heresies.
III. Its punishment--destruction.
1. Imminent and impending. The sentence was not only uttered by the apostle, it was inherent in the sin itself.
2. Graciously postponed. His might have been the fate of Korah and Ananias, etc. God gave him space for repentance. (St. J. A. Frere, M. A.)
The traffic in Church matters and spiritual gifts.
I. From what it proceeds--a covetous and ambitious heart. As Simon was for so long held in estimation and had bewitched the people, but was now displaced by the Christian evangelists, so he now resolved to regain his old status by money. Thus have all, who by impure means attempt to force themselves into the ministry, no other designs than to serve the idols of honour, sensuality, or mammon. On this account the Church has regarded Simon as the father of heresies and the type of sectarianism; for the mainspring of almost all founders of sects is love of power, which, united with arrogance, by its audacity and hypocrisy, bewitches the people cleaving to externals.
II. What it supposes. A bitter and unrighteous heart. His heart was full of gall, i.e., envy towards the apostles, and the preference given to their preaching above his arts; of unrighteousness, for notwithstanding his Christian profession he would be no follower of the Cross, but a proud miracle worker. He apparently attached himself to the apostles, but in heart was offended at them. Hence hypocrisy. He thought to bewitch these servants of Jesus with money as he had bewitched the people with magic, and himself with honour and mammon. Consequently unrighteousness towards the apostles, and a low estimation of their office and persons. Envy and jealousy, an earthly disposition and a low estimation of the ministry and its office bearers, mark even still the followers of Simon.
III. At what it aims. Not grace, but power. He did not wish to save souls by the preaching of the gospel, but only to acquire for himself a name by deeds of supernatural might. In this are all like him who desire the office but not the grace: who have in view not the service of Christ, but personal dignity and prerogative; and those, too, who are covetous of gifts for the office--learning, eloquence, etc.
but dispense with the qualification of holiness (Luke 10:20).
IV. How it acts. Simon offered money. Few offer actual money, now, for the ministerial office, but many employ means no less base. How often must this or that patron be gained over by crooked ways 1 How often is the office converted into a marriage portion!
V. What it entails. Simon along with his wicked designs retained a slavish fear of Divine punishment. He dreads damnation but will not have salvation. So all Simonists are slaves. They carry about them an evil conscience, and can have no true freedom in their ministry. (G. V. Lechler, D. D.)
The fortune hunter
We see here--
1. The power of ignorance. Simon used sorcery and the people were bewitched. Society in all ages is troubled by these artful characters, and strange to say people are ever ready to submit to them.
2. The power of religion. The sorcerer and his dupes believed the gospel. At dawn the unclean animals of the night flee to their dens; so gospel light chases away the morally unclean. We notice--
I. The duty of the Church towards the ungodly (verse 14). Wherever the primitive Church found a tendency toward the truth, they were ready to help. The true spirit of the gospel removes all party walls. Jew and Samaritan, black and white, etc., are all brethren according to the New Testament. Let us follow His example Who came to seek and to save the lost.
II. The existence of good and evil in the Church Judas was among the twelve, false teachers were at Corinth, etc., heretics abounded in the early churches, superstition was rampant in the Middle Ages, strange errors abounded in reformed communities. Why? Because of the limited knowledge of men. Christ likened His kingdom to a net full of fishes--good and bad. The Church may suspect many, but to select is dangerous, because of the imperfect knowledge of the selectors. The Church is often censured because of its imperfections, but, its enemies being witnesses, it is the best of moral schools.
III. In the life of men there are events which exhibit the master principle (verse 18). Simon saw here an opportunity of making his fortune. A bad man may go through the routine of Christian duties, deceiving and deceived, but some event will happen which will discover the inner man. This will not be usually in great public matters, but in small things connected with the home or shop. Simon was one of those fortune hunters which are so numerous to-day, whose God is Mammon, whose Bible the Ledger, and whose creed Gain. A quite incidental circumstance, of whose issue in an opposite direction he was quite sure, found him out. Thus the devil makes fools of the wisest.
IV. When the evil is found out it is the duty of the Church to reform it. Peter’s conduct is an example to the Church in all ages, and teaches us that church discipline should be administered--
1. Impartially. God is no respecter of persons. Simon’s policy had paid him well; he was rich and powerful. But Peter cared nothing for his position. Woe to the Church which palliates evil because of the social status of the offender. Achan in the camp means disaster in the field.
2. Compassionately. Though Peter spoke the truth frankly, he opened up the path to mercy (Galatians 6:1).
V. Bad men when disciplined will often have their own way. Peter told Simon to repent and pray, but Simon only wanted immunity from punishment in his own wicked course. So now God offers pardon on certain conditions, but men refuse the conditions, and go on pleasure seeking, mammon worshipping, hoping that at last some good man’s prayer will secure mercy. (W. A. G.)
Sudden conversions not always genuine
Fish sometimes leap out of the water with great energy, but it would be foolish to conclude that they have left the liquid element for ever; in a moment they are swimming again as if they had never forsaken the stream; indeed it was but a fly that tempted them aloft, or a sudden freak: the water is still their home, sweet home. When we see long accustomed sinners making a sudden leap at religion, we may not make too sure that they are converts; perhaps some gain allures them, or sudden excitement stirs them, and if so they will be back again at their old sins. Let us hope well, trot let us not commend too soon. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John.
The first Church visitation
I. The occasion. There is--
1. Christian life to be fostered (verse 14).
2. A want in the Church to be supplied (verse 16).
II. The visitors.
1. Peter--apostolic zeal.
2. Evangelical tenderness.
III. The functions.
1. Prayer in the name of the Church (verse 16).
2. Imposition of hands in the name of God (verse 17).
IV. The effects.
1. The strengthening of the Church (verse 17).
2. The sifting (verse 18). (K. Gerok.)
The deputation to Samaria
This must have been a most instructive experience to John. The apostle who would have prayed for destructive fire is himself sent down to Samaria to invoke the falling of another flame that burns but does not consume! We cannot tell what we may yet do in life. Amongst our old enmities we may yet find our sweetest friendships. Do not seek to destroy any man, however much he may reject you or misunderstand you. A time may come when you can render him the service of prayer.
I. The apostles receive a report from Samaria (verse 14). The text is now easy reading, but there was a day when it was a grand story. It is the dawning of a new day, the winning of a great battle; that day the Gentiles were admitted into the kingdom of Christ. We lose so much by forgetting the circumstances of the case. This is a verse now read as if it had no atmosphere. What is it that we lose in history? The atmosphere; that which gives the novelist or the dramatist supremacy over the dry, technical, and most learned annalist! The dreariest part of every missionary meeting to many persons is the reading of the report--a reading which should bring all the Church together in its noblest enthusiasm, shouting as a conquering host--“Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.”
II. When this report was made the apostles sent down Peter and John. Was Peter then really “sent down”? We thought that Peter would have sent down other men! Yet how delicate the tribute to his undoubted primacy of love and enthusiasm! He it was who was selected to go down. There is nothing papal here. The Pope is not “sent down,” he sends down. Our greatest men should always be sent down to the villages under circumstances such as these. Our very grandest prcachers ought to be our missionaries.
III. When Peter and John were come down what did they do? This will reveal the right aspect of apostolic influence and office. Let us read the text in a way of our own, “Peter and John sat upon a great and high throne, and waved over the astounded Gentiles a staff that was supposed to have singular power in it, and the amazed and wonder-struck villagers fell back before such dazzling dignity and bewailed their own unworthiness.” That would be poor Scripture! How does the text really read?
1. When they were come down, they prayed for the villagers. Pray for inquirers; do not overpower them. Pray in great religious crises, and thus magnify the event, and do not lessen it. Do we pray now? Do we ask as if we meant to have what we ask?
2. They prayed that Samaria might receive the Holy Ghost. Then what had Samaria already received? Only the first baptism. Water will do you no good. It was meant to be a beginning, not an end. We have believed, but have we received the Holy Ghost? People imagine that when they have believed, the work is done. As well tell me that when you have put the fuel into the grate the fire is lighted. We know the truth, what we want is the burning spark I There is no mistaking that. No man can mistake fire. You may paint it, but you cannot warm your hands at the flame on the canvas. Fire is like nothing but itself. It separates man from man, yet unites man to man. It burns up selfishness; purifies, glorifies. It gives a man individuality. It detaches him from the common crowd and gives him a singularity of his own. When the Church has received the Holy Ghost she will be unlike every other community. When the pulpit has been baptized by the Holy Ghost it will stand alone in the supremacy of its power. At present it is the retreat of the mumbler, the living of the essayist. Our religion is at present an argument, our desire is that it may become a passion!
IV. Simon, hearing that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was received, offered them money.
1. It is easy to abuse this man, but he acted a most natural and rational part, considering his training, avocation, and the influence he had acquired. He had lived all his life in the market-place; he had never breathed a purer air; he knew but one world, and one language. He saw only the outside--which of us sees any further? We think because we have been to church we are Christians. That is precisely the reasoning of Simon. There has grown up a custom which is known as Simony. He who would hold his place in the Church by virtue of haying bought it is guilty of it. But simony is not in the pulpit alone. We may buy influence, status, and authority in the Church by the use of money. Who is there that does not imagine that everything can be bought? Yet how little in reality can we buy with money! Can you buy sound judgment? Poetic fire? Prophetic insight? Any form of spiritual and enduring power? Know ye that money has hut a little world to live in, and that the highest gifts are not to be purchased with gold. God hath chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and strong in power. To the poorest man He says, “Take this gospel and preach it.” A manger will do for a cradle when there is in it the Saviour of the world. Do you suppose that because you have little money you have little power, life, responsibility? What have you? You may have the power of prayer! You may be able to “speak a word in season to him that is weary.” You may have the gift of hope and the faculty of music, and you may be able to lift the load from many a burdened heart. Poorest man, do not despair! You may be rich in ideas, in sympathies, in suggestion, and in all the noblest treasures that can make men wealthy with indestructible possession.
2. There was probably no fixed sum in the mind of Simon. If such a bestowal as that of the Spirit could be effected upon him, money should not stand in the way. This was the hour of apostolic temptation. Silver and gold they had none. Money is always a powerful temptation to the empty pocket. It is very easy when there is no temptation to say what we should do; but when the money is in the hand of the tempter, and when in one moment more it may be in our own, and when the thing asked for in exchange is itself a good thing, where is the man who can return a denial with the emphasis of thunder, and the accent of lightning? The Church is always tempted in this same way. We must always reject the unholy patronage. Do I address a minister who preaches to a moneyed pew? Your ministry will be blighted with well-merited condemnation. Do I minister to a Church that could accept secular patronage in order to preach a settled and determined theology? Such a Church would have sold its birthright for a contemptible price. Faith must spread its own daily board. Love must pay its own way. Do I speak to some who represent very feeble communities? Do not ask any man to help you, unless his help be the inspiration of love. Never be bribed into silence. Never keep back the truth of God, lest you should forfeit status or income. It is not necessary for any man to live, but it is necessary for every man to be loyal to Christ’s truth. When the king came to meet Abram, and offered him great hospitality and patronage Abram said, “No, lest thou say, I have made Abram rich” The chief power is spiritual, not financial. But the church has wonderfully fallen under the fallacy which teaches that the Church ought to be socially respectable.
V. How was it that the apostles were enabled to escape this potent temptation? The answer is that they had a true conception of the spiritual election and function of the Church (verse 20). The Church had not then become a machine. Ordination was not then a thing to be arranged. It was inspiration. Men are now “prepared” for the ministry. Now we “educate” men for the pulpit. Educate men for the ministry!” Thy education perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God” could be purchased by schooling. Get all the education you can; be the best-informed man of your circle; but inspiration makes a minister and makes the Church. “Not by might, and not by power,” etc. Are you, young man, considering whether you will enter Christ’s ministry or not? Then pray God you may never enter it; for it is not a question for consideration. There are those, shame on their grey hairs, who are telling us that if the Church would offer more money to the young men of our “better families,” they might possibly give themselves to the ministry! A malediction from heaven be upon such thoughts! Does Christ want the members of our “better families” to be kind enough to accept position as His ambassadors, and expositors, and friends? He will choose His own ministers. He will see to it that the pulpit is never silent.
VI. Peter spoke in his own characteristic tone. (verses 21-23). His speech was not a mere denunciation. His moral dignity is positively sublime, and yet, having uttered the word of malediction, he shows that the true object of the denunciation of wrong is to save the wrong-doer. Here is the gospel in an unexpected place. After such a thunderstorm who could have expected this voice of lute and harp? Repent! Forgive! Give up no man. Do not spare his sin; hold the fiercest light over it, but point the wrong-doer himself to the possibility of forgiveness through repentance and supplication.
VII. Simon did not--nor could he be expected to--seize the spiritual idea which ruled the apostle’s thinking. His reply is most natural, though often condemned (verse 24). He asked for prayer, so far he was not wrong. He suggested the prayer “that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.” There he failed to see the right meaning of prayer. We must not go to God in supplication merely to escape penalty, but to escape sin. Yet let a man come through any gate that first opens, only let him come! If one man should come through hatred of sin, if another man of lower mould should say, “I fear hell; God have mercy upon me.” Let him also come. Every man must pray as he can. You cannot send the heart to school to teach it how to pray. Where the pain is, the prayer should be. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The apostle’s visit to Samaria
I. The effacement of Philip. Like the Baptist; before our Lord, Philip retires when Peter and John come on the scene: There is something touching in this willingness to be eclipsed. Philip might naturally have felt that he had borne the burden and heat of the day, and that the apostles’ success was due to his efforts. “He had laboured” (words spoken about Samaria), “and they had entered into his labours.” He had dug the soil, sown the seed, watered it, until the field was white; and now it only remained for the apostles to reap. Nor is he in the least jealous. His aim was the reverse of Simon’s, and accordingly any increase and confirmation of faith was a matter of joy. Only those who after honest labour have been superseded by men of more brilliant gifts can appreciate the trial and the grace to bear it.
II. The apostolic deputation.
1. The men chosen.
(1) Peter’s presence was required by his position in prophecy and providence. Our Lord had entrusted him with the keys of the kingdom of heaven, indicating that he was to throw open the gates of the gospel dispensation.
(2) John is so constantly associated with Peter, that we are not surprised to find them companions here. But it is a striking coincidence that he who, giving vent to the prevailing hostility against the Samaritans, called for fire from heaven to consume them, should, now that a more loving spirit actuated him, be selected to call down the fire of God’s illuminating and quickening grace.
2. Their official act.
(1) This forms the scriptural ground for the rite of confirmation. Baptism is in the nature of a contract into which Christ enters with the soul, and the practice of infant baptism makes it almost a necessity to have some period at which a baptized child may consciously, and of his own accord, enter into this contract. How suitable, then, that they should receive the completion of their baptism by prayer and the imposition of hands. This consecrates, as it were, the baptized person to the royal priesthood, and sets him apart solemnly for the service of Christ. Yet, while we discover in holy Scripture the germ of this rite, we do not regard confirmation as having the universal necessity or virtue of a sacrament. For the gift of the Spirit was vouchsafed independently of the imposition of hands, as in the cases of Cornelius, Saul, and the Ethiopian eunuch.
3. Their treatment of Simon. Once before bad money been offered to Peter, in order to gain a fair reputation. Ananias had laid money down at his feet, wishing it to be understood as the whole. Simon now does the same thing to win power and influence. The secret of the apostles’ power was just what he wanted to regain his lost influence and eclipse Philip. What he coveted was not the Holy Spirit, but the power of communicating the Spirit to others. And what he cared to communicate was not the grace of the Spirit, but His gifts, And there can be little doubt that what he offered money for, he intended to win money by. Peter’s reproof, and his insinuation of the difficulty of saving a character so far gone in evil (“perhaps”) was not too strong for the occasion. Had there been a single stirring of conscience, a single aspiration after goodness, the rejoinder would have been far more lenient.
4. The contrasts of character in the Church. Here is Simon the apostle, a man of the most intense disinterestedness, who had forsaken all to follow his Master, confronted with Simon the sorcerer, who had nominally embraced Christianity as a possible means of wealth and power. What a natural repulsion must there be between the minds of the two when each gets an inkling of the other. (Dean Goulburn.)
The Church and the world
Between no two things is there a greater contrast. The contrast is a double one--between the natural and supernatural, and between the holy and the sinful. With respect to the first, they are for each other; and therein lies the task of the Church. With respect to the second, they are against each other; and therein lies the danger of the Church. Both the task and the danger are exemplified here.
I. The Church in the world.
1. The extension of the Church in the world.
(1) The words of our departing Lord (Acts 1:8) are the theme of all Church history, as well as that of the first days. The evangelical history of the first thirty-four years of our dispensation conducts us from Nazareth to Jerusalem. The apostolic history of the same number of years leads us from Jerusalem to Rome. The bridge between Jerusalem and the heathen world was Samaria, a field planted by our Lord, whose prophecy of the harvest there (John 4:35-38) was now fulfilled in Philip, driven thither by persecution. The storm destroys flowers, but scatters seeds--a consolation for the Church in every age.
(2) Philip was a guardian of the poor, but the Holy Ghost made him an evangelist. The liberty of the Spirit is not bound by human order. He founded the Mother Church of Missions at Antioch by means of private Christians, and the Church of Rome by men unknown; prisoners brought the gospel to the Goths in Europe. He “bloweth where He listeth.”
(3) In the days of Jesus, Samaria had been greatly moved; then there arose a sorcerer who won the people. Hunger grasps at any food, for which reason also they accepted the word of salvation. The conversion of the Samaritans was a sign for the Jews (Matthew 21:43), and the apostles understood it well. The spread of the gospel is always a sign of warning. In our days the age of missions has begun anew. May not this be a sign that the word of grace will depart if we esteem it slightly. “Buy,” says Luther, “while the market is at your door. Gather in while the weather is blight and fair. Use the word of God’s grace while you have it. The Jews had it once; but they lost it, and now they have nothing. Paul brought it to Greece; but they lost it, and now they have the Turk. Rome and Italy had it; but they lost it, and now they have the Pope. And you Germans must not think that you will have it for ever; for ingratitude and contempt will not suffer it to remain.”
2. The Church preserving its unity in the world. The apostles send Peter and John to sanction the work of Philip, and to incorporate the Christians into the Apostolic Church. The rending of the body of Christ into such a multitude of sects is to be deeply lamented. Unceasingly should we think of the words of Jesus (John 17:12). But a self-conceived, self-made unity, only leads to schism. Unity gives strength, but only true unity--unity in the truth.
3. The testimony of the Church in the world (verse 15-17). It must not be understood that the baptism of Philip was ineffective, and that laying on of apostolic hands made it so. The action of the Holy Ghost is twofold. He is a Spirit of life and a Spirit of work. He makes us children of God and servants of God. The first work of the Spirit was accomplished through Philip, the second through the apostles. The first is alike in all, the second manifold. God gives various gifts of service, and these are not necessarily and obviously miraculous. The gifts of knowledge, doctrine, guidance, etc., have nothing striking in themselves, and yet they are as much gifts of the Spirit as others. Without the power and blessing of God’s Spirit, all our toil and skill are vain; but with that, our work gives evidence to the world that the Church is the possessor of heavenly powers.
II. The world in the Church
1. The gathering of the world into the Church. The net cast into the sea collects all manner of fish. The condition of the Church is necessarily mixed; the wheat and tares must grow together here. When the reapers come at the Judgment, then will the Church be pure. Let us judge not, lest we be judged; but let us see to it that we are the children of God.
2. The spirit of the world in the Church. What is the spirit of the world and the spirit befitting the kingdom of God (Matthew 20:25-28). The world strives to rule, the Christian rejoices to serve; the one wants to be great, the other is willing to be nothing. It was not enough for Simon to be a Christian; he wanted to play the same great part as before his baptism; and to use the powers of the Spirit for the gratification of his self-seeking mind. And yet his sin grew from the corrupt soil of the heart, which is the same in all. Scarcely is the pride of the natural man driven out, when there comes the pride of the spiritual man. And, as Luther says, “the white devil is worse than the black.” How hard it is to seek nothing but the favour of God, whatever man’s opinion may be.
3. The Church’s judgment on that spirit. “Thy money perish with thee”--i.e., all thy arts by which thou thinkest the powers of the Holy Spirit are to be obtained. How marvellous will it appear when, at the Judgment, those now esteemed “great “ will be cast out, and the little ones esteemed great (Matthew 7:22, etc.). This judgment we can only escape by a penitent judgment of ourselves. (Prof. Luthardt.)
Then they laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
I. Its origin. No sacramental institution of our Lord, but a time-honoured ordinance of the Church.
II. Its import. No substitution for, or repetition of baptism, but a ratification of baptismal confession and grace.
III. Its effect. No infallible communication of the Spirit, as here by the apostles, but an incalculable spiritual blessing for susceptible hearts. (K. Gerok.)
But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee.
The impotence of money
I do not know that the age in which Simon lived was especially a commercial age; but whatever may have been its distinctive peculiarity, there cannot be much doubt about ours. There have been successive ages, each of a characteristic type, as, e.g., the age of the shepherds, illustrated in the long centuries of pastoral life in the East; the age of conquest, as depicted in the story of the Persian kings; the age of the arts and of letters, as seen in Greece; the age of civic rule and military despotism, as revealed in the history of Rome; the age of religious enthusiasm, as traceable in the history of the middle ages and the crusades; the age of luxury, as found in the France of the Louises, and of revolution, as found in the France of the Buonapartes. But, though in all of them men recognised the uses of wealth, and sought it, in no one of them was the conception of its capabilities so fevered and exaggerated as in our own. We are living in times when men not merely believe that wealth is of all things the most desirable (men have believed that from the time of the rich young man), but when they believe also that there is nothing that cannot be purchased with money. And therefore it is that this answer of Peter is so timely. “This power you covet is communicable, but you cannot buy it! You have seen these common people quickened into a disclosure of powers such as your poor arts have never dreamed of; but the wealth of an empire could not purchase the least or lowliest of them.” “Well, what of it?” one might answer. They are not the gifts and powers that I crave. But the things I do crave can be purchased with money. I look about me and see that there is nothing so potent as wealth. I find that in society nothing covers so many faults as money; that neither birth nor death are separate from the questions, “What will he inherit?” or “What did he leave?” That while we scorn the French marriage of convenience in name, we observe in fact; that poverty, if not a disgrace, is an impertinence; that every taste that I cultivate makes wealth more desirable and poverty more irksome; that while I can acquire the habits of luxurious living with facility, I can surrender them only with pain; and finally that, no matter how selfish or unscrupulous has been my career, it is only necessary that it shall have been exceptionally successful to secure for me, when dying, the applause of mankind. Wherein, then, consists the folly or even the error in my owning also that everything that I do care for can be purchased with money? That error and that folly consist in this: that these gifts of the Spirit which Simon would fain have bought with money are but the type of every other best gift in all the world, and that of these as of those, it is everlastingly true that they are not for sale. Recall some of them for a moment, and see if it is not so.
I. Health. Some of us have drifted into one of those European refuges of the invalid like Ems or Karlsbad; places where people whose lungs or limbs or livers are diseased have come together to drink the waters and submit to the regimen, or be washed whole again in the baths. Oh, those melancholy processions of gloomy-visaged and despondent men and women! I have heard of one of them bursting into a storm of passionate denunciation because a healthy-looking servant had entered his apartment. How dared such an one insult him with the offensive contrast of her unwelcome presence! And yet the one was only a peasant girl, and the other a prince and a millionaire. Would he not have been willing to have shared his millions if he could have bought with them the other’s single gift of health? Unfortunately, however, it is not for sale.
II. Next in rank is that higher boon of mental culture. There are hundreds of thousands of men and women who rarely know a day without an experience of pain, who yet are possessors of a secret which makes them habitually insensible to it. There are accomplishments in which they can so lose themselves that, for the time, nothing unwelcome really touches them; and above all, in the pages of a book, they can so pass out of the consciousness of their outer world into the consciousness of that inner world to which the poet, or the historian has introduced them, that penury and loneliness and pain will be for the time being forgotten. But such a pleasure as this is not purchasable. Indeed, just because high living is usually so fatal to high thinking, the pleasures of culture are almost prohibited to the merely rich. Now it does not matter that such persons have never known (because incapable of knowing) the joys of high intellectual activity and so cannot greatly miss what they have never tasted. What they do know is that weariness of ennui, that proneness to idle gossip, to coarser indulgence which is the everlasting tendency of an habitually luxurious life. So thoroughly is this understood where wealth is hereditary that occupations have to be created as a defence against the dangers of their peculiar circumstances. But when such occupations are wanting, the intellectual apathy is at times a hideous and appalling nightmare.
III. More tragically is this true in the domain of the Affections. Love is not for sale; and That mysterious sentiment which must be won and deserved--not purchased, never goes along with a jointure nor can be made over with transfers of real estate. There have been plenty of people with no capacity for such an affection who have bartered themselves for some one else’s possessions, but in selling their persons or their accomplishments they have usually sold all that they had to sell The power of greatly and unselfishly loving another was not in them, and what they had not to deliver they could not sell. But, where in any man or woman there has been such a capacity, the heart has steadily and invariably refused to follow the beckoning of mere worldly possessions. If any one else loves us, we may be sure that it is not for what we have, but for what we are.
IV. And that reminds me of one other unpurchasable possession--a good conscience, or peace of mind. The world has always had in it people who, having lived selfish lives, have striven, before they were done with life, to square accounts by the lavish distribution of their means. All along they have been uncomfortably conscious of the compassion of thoughtful men and quiet women. And when they have encountered such they have been dimly sensible that these people had a secret of peace, of hopeful and certain anticipation, of which they themselves knew nothing. Oh, what would they not give if they could buy that! Nay, more, as they look backward what else would they not give if they but had it to give, if somehow they could transform those cruel and accusing memories. But that peace of God which passeth all understanding, passeth all price as well! Conclusion: I want to say one word to the young. You are living in an atmosphere where the loudest bid that is made is the bid for money. Be afraid of an idolatry so poor and mean! Money, in itself considered, is neither good nor bad. It is an instrument. You may have it without being bad and you may be without it without being good. But to live for it, to fret because you are without it, is the death of all nobleness and the doom of aspiration, There must have been some hours in your life when your heart has thrilled with a genuine aspiration, and when, sitting alone, you have pored over the page that has told you of the great names that have made humanity immortal, and who, as they moved onward and upward have left behind them the lustre of a nobility that can never pale. And at such moments, surely you have longed to be like those nobler beings and to follow their radiant footsteps. Cling to that longing and follow it, for, sooner or later, this love of goodness will bring you into the presence of One who is the divinest of all. And yet, how poor He was! How utterly and absolutely Christ triumphed without the aid of money. Nowadays there is no enterprise, however uoworldly its aims, that must not rest upon a pecuniary basis. And yet there has lived in the world One, who from first to last was penniless. Since He came and went away, what colossal fortunes have been heaped up, what mighty combinations of capital have ruled the credit of the civilised world and made even princes and sovereigns to fawn obsequiously upon their possessors. What has become of them? Who remembers them? But all the while the sway of that Galilean peasant who had not where to lay His head, broadens and deepens and advances. Would you possess the secret of His resistless spell? Verily, if like Simon you come to buy it with mere money, you and your money shall most surely perish together. But if you come discerning that the gifts of God are gifts which money cannot purchase, then indeed you may hope to learn that secret, which shall make you rich for ever! (Bp. H. C. Potter, D. D.)
Gift and purchase
As we read Peter’s words, their very sound brings out the nature of the sin, for their terms express the contradiction that is involved in the misuse of money. To purchase a gift is evidently impossible. One of the two words must be wrong. Either the thing is not a gift, or else we have not purchased it. Is the world, is our life, a gift or a purchase? Between those two ideas we are for ever vacillating. Our belief in God says it is a gift; our lives of activity and energy say it is a purchase. We talk of Providence, and then are discouraged at our misfortunes or our failures, as if we had never heard of such a thing as God’s providence. We pray for all blessings, temporal and spiritual, and then congratulate ourselves when we have put ourselves in a position to obtain them. Now, into these lives, for ever tossed between these two ideas, enters the element of money. Its one reason of existence is purchase. We cannot eat it or wear it; the man who hoards it for the mere pleasure of looking at it is acknowledged to be a pitiable fool. Can we not see how at once this universal thing, so necessary and so much desired, throws all its weight on the side of purchase in our view of life? It makes one continual barter. Purchase is a necessary element of life, and money represents it. It is needed for our independence; without it we sink down into gift-receivers from out” fellow-men. The strong, self-reliant character that belongs to men of business comes entirely from their holding so natural a relation to their fellow-men they receive what they pay for, they expect to be paid for what they give. That is the simple law of honest trade and of honest manhood, and woe to the man who attempts to avoid it, whether by begging or gambling. The very money which he receives is a rebuke to him, as it tells him of the universal existence of that law of purchase between man and man which, like all other laws, will punish the man who violates it. But when money, with the principle which it represents, begins to enter into our relation to God, then the contradiction comes, and the sin with it. Just as living on men’s gifts spoils our true relation to them, so trying to purchase of God spoils entirely the true sense of our relation to Him. God must give: that fact is written in our belief of Him as our Creator, our great Superior, infinitely above us. It is the fact that is repeated in the tone of authority that fills every revelation of Him; it is the thought of every heart that cares to look for Him in the earth around us. There is no God if we can purchase things of Him. Money is utterly atheistic in its very central principle when taken out of its proper place; and, as men heap it up, we have only the repetition of the old-storied struggle of the giants who heaped mountain upon mountain, all of which were so good in their places on earth, that they might reach to heaven, and unseat God from His throne. As money grows in power and influence, this will be its destructive power upon men’s lives. Beware of this danger; it meets all, as they pass out of childhood’s state of gift-receiving into manhood’s time of purchase. There is nothing with which to meet it but the simple knowledge of God cultivated by every means which is thrown about us, and by every spiritual influence which can be brought to bear upon us. The relation to God must be learned more and more closely in all its special features. The thought and the effort must be fixed directly on Him by morals, by religion, by worship, by study, by prayer. Never more than in these times, when money is the world’s great power, did mankind more need the simplest, purest, most childlike belief in God, that life may be truly complete on both sides, toward man and toward God. The two sides will not remain without effect upon each other. The dependence of the one will soften and save from cruelty and haughtiness the independence of the other. He who knows that he is constantly receiving from One above him cannot be cruel and exacting toward one below him; nay, he cannot keep from being like his great, bountiful God in sweet acts of charity. The independence of the one will add a sense of responsibility and power to the other; he who appreciates the power that God has given him among his fellow-men will more gladly enter the service of that God to whom he owes so much, thankful for the opportunity to do something. And see how, once more, the relation between rich and poor is touched by this higher view of God as a constant and manifold Giver. Must the poor man stand aside, and see his neighbour, who has money, go before him in opportunities of doing good, in acquisition of high and refined motives and character in life? From how much does the want of money shut him out? Of how many of God’s gifts does it deprive him? Of but one--ease of bodily relation toward his fellow-men, one of the most dangerous gifts that can be bestowed. Shall he stand mourning for that one, while all the time God waits to bestow character here, salvation hereafter, while moral possessions and eternal life are open to him, and means of doing good by personal growth and work which wealth can never buy are at his hand? “Thy money perish with thee.” Money is perishable--in substance, form, possession. Our souls are immortal. Which shall affect the other? Shall we and our money perish together? or shall our lives, knowing our God, lift up the money by the devotion of us to whom it belongs? Shall it dazzle us with its glitter, and prevent our seeing God? or shall we save it by our power of serving God? We are the greater, surely, and to us God has opened a path out of this bondage in which earthly things are for ever holding us. Walk in it; break the chain, golden though it be, that binds our immortal souls to this earth; and seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and with that gift all other gifts shall be a blessing, and not a destruction. (Arthur Brooks.)
Simony assumes various forms
Simon desired to obtain spiritual power and office, not in the Divine method, but in low, earthly ways. Money was his way because it was the one thing he valued and had to offer; but surely there are many other ways in which men may unlawfully seek for spiritual office and influence in the Church. Many a man who would never dream of offering money in order to obtain a high place in the Church, or would have been horrified at the very suggestion, has yet resorted to other methods just as effective and just as wrong. Men have sought high position by political methods. They have given their support to a political party, and have sold their talents to uphold a cause, hoping thereby to gain their ends. They may not have given gold which comes from the mint to gain spiritual position, but they have all the same given a mere human consideration, and sought by its help to obtain spiritual power; or they preach and speak and vote in Church synods and assemblies with an eye to elections to high place and dignity. An established Church, with its legally secured properties and prizes, may open a way for the exercise of simony in its grosser forms. But a free Church, with its popular assemblies, opens the way for a subtler temptation, leading men to shape their actions, to suppress their convictions, to order their votes and speeches, not as their secret conscience would direct them, but as human nature and earthly considerations would tell them was best for their future prospects. (G. T. Stokes, D. D.)
Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.--
The natural heart
In meditating upon the story of the Samaritan impostor, and studying our own depraved nature in it, we may remark--
I. That the natural heart has no knowledge of Divine things.
1. According to some modern teachings, all men have a religious instinct, and worship God in some honest way, which, as He is a kind God, must be acceptable to Him. On analysis, we shall find that this is only either the action of a guilty conscience or of a poetic fancy. In the one case the man has a vague idea of retribution for his sins, and strives in some crude way to appease the offended divinity. In the other, the same disposition of mind which makes the painter and the poet makes the dreamy weaver of cobweb thoughts about the unseen. There is a desire to avert evil, and a blind ceremonial in consequence, or there is a constructive imagination indulging in its exercise.
2. But is this religion? Is this knowing and serving God? Can this satisfy the heart and purify the life? The religion of pagan nations is largely the product of this instinct. Does a comparison of these with Christian nations lead us to covet their condition? The religious instinct is of no higher character than the eating and drinking instinct, as far as true religion is concerned. They are both of the earth, earthy. Men are cut off from God by sin, and they can return only by the use of Divine means.
3. That which Simon brought out into full relief was simply the common character of the natural man. Divine things are treated with low, earthly affections, and, of course, as low, earthly things. Simon in trying to buy God’s power was no worse than the many who try to buy God’s pardon.
4. The prominent sinners of Scripture are only prominent by reason of their circumstances, not their sin. That is common to all. Pharaoh, Balaam, Doeg, Ananias and Simon are only types raised up high enough for all to see.
II. That man’s wickedness before God is in the condition of his heart. Men posit sin in overt acts, and fail to explore the pollution of their hearts. Our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount endeavours to correct this fatal error, and shows that the seat of murder, etc., is in the heart, and that the sins may there reside when these outward exhibitions are avoided. Simon’s desire, not his request, was his sin. God saw the wickedness in his heart. He cannot allow wickedness concealed any more than wickedness in display, and can receive none except as the unholy heart is renewed. This fundamental truth is what the poets and philosophers ignore. They would reform man on the basis of the old evil heart. They would make the outer circles of life pare, and leave the core rotten. If, however, they say that the heart of man is pure, how then did it ever produce such universal impurity in life? But some will say, “We believe the heart must be renewed, but why cannot man renew it himself?” In reply, we say--
III. That only God’s power can renew the heart. When the affections are in the wrong, how can their own influence take them out? Where is the first impetus to come from when that which forms the force of the life is fixed upon evil? Do you take refuge in the thought that there is some element of good in The heart, and that this at last accomplishes the renewal? Then why does it not always accomplish it? Any exceptional case destroys your theory, for Nature always works in the same way. But, besides that, how could the good element in the heart overcome the bad unless it had a majority? And if it had a majority, how came the heart ever to go wrong? No. The evil heart cannot renew itself. God alone can do that. Its condition without God is described as being in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity, wretched and helpless. The bound prisoner cannot loosen himself; another must do it. The conspicuous examples of this truth, such as the drunkard and the gambler vainly striving (in order to save their bodies or their property or their reputation) to stop their excesses, are only specimens of a universal rule.
IV. That the hope of man is in prayer. “‘Pray the Lord.” The “if” was not a doubt whether God would pardon if Simon prayed, but whether Simon would ever pray. Prayer must have penitence as its spirit. “Repent.” It must have a deep conviction of personal sin. Simon seems to have been too far gone to have any such conviction. Hence we find him only afraid. Though Simon apparently did not take the road to pardon and to God, we see in Peter’s injunction what the road is. It is prayer to God. The heart needs His forgiving grace. That grace, through Christ’s sacrificial death for sin, fills the Divine reservoir, and is ready to be outpoured on every seeking soul. Prayer is that act of faith which makes the connection with this reservoir; the acceptance of the Divine power, which is waiting to be gracious to every sinner. (H. Crosby, D. D.)
A right state of the heart
I. By a man’s heart we are to understand his prevailing views, dispositions, and desires. When these are such, as his situation requires, then his heart is right in the sight of God. “Now man by sin has lost God’s favour and ruined his soul. But by grace he is placed in such a situation that he may recover God’s favour and save his soul. The offers of salvation are made to him. When therefore he accepts this offer, when his prevailing views, dispositions, and desires are such as, in this situation, they ought to be, then his heart is right in the sight of God.
II. What are the particulars in which this state of heart consists. When the heart is in a right state--
1. It is deeply humbled before God on account of its sinfulness. God sees that all men are great sinners, that sin is a dreadful evil. When a man, then, esteems himself to be a little sinner, or perhaps hardly a sinner at all; when he endeavours to excuse, or even to justify whatever he has done amiss, it must be clear that his heart cannot be right before God. In order to be right he must think of sin as God thinks of it, and feel his own depravity.
2. It thankfully believes in Christ for the pardon of his sins. God, who is rich in mercy, is not willing that sinners should die eternally. He hath, therefore, provided for them a way of salvation. So long, then, as a man rejects God’s offers of pardon and continues at enmity with his Maker, how is it possible that his heart can be right in the sight of God? It never can be right till he obey the gospel, and comply with the terms of it. And these terms are “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
3. It longs after holiness. God is holy and would have all men to be holy. How is it possible, then, for the heart to be right in His sight, if it does not love what He loves, and desire to be what He is?
III. The necessity of its being so. Till a man’s heart be thus right in the sight of God--
1. He can have no interest in the promises of the gospel. Call to mind what these promises are, as well as the persons to whom they are given. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” etc. “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” “Whoso confesseth and forsaketh his sins, shall find mercy.” “This is the promise which God hath given us, even eternal life,” etc. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” “Sin shall not have dominion over you,” etc. “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness,” etc. Now, how is it possible for a man to have any share or lot in the matter, whose heart is not right in the sight of God?
2. He cannot perform the duties of religion. This is not merely to go through the forms of religious worship. This a man may do irrespective of the state of his heart. To perform the duties of religion is to perform them in a spiritual manner, with a penitent, a believing, and an holy frame of mind. But how can this be done by those who are unhumbled in heart, who have no living faith in Christ, nor any real desire after holiness?
3. He cannot taste the pleasures of religion. Consider what they are. They spring from a sense of pardon; from God’s love shed abroad in the heart; from communion with Him. Now what can the man unhumbled, unbelieving, and unholy, know of these?
4. He can have no meetness for the enjoyment of heavenly happiness in the life to come. The things which constitute the happiness of the saints in light are that they see and serve God. They are with Christ, they behold His glory, and sing His praises. But to the unhumbled, the unbelieving, and the unholy, heaven then would not be heaven. They have no taste nor meetness for it, and consequently they have no part nor lot in the matter. (E. Cooper.)
As Sir Walter Raleigh laid his head on the block, the executioner, before lifting the dreadful axe, said, “Does your head lie right, Sir Walter?” Sir Walter turned his face to the headsman, saying, “You know, good friend, it matters-not how the head lies if the heart be right.” Then he laid his head on the block, and in another moment the head of the brave man rolled on the straw of the scaffold floor. Sir Walter’s last speech is an everlasting truth. Nothing comes amiss when the heart is right; but a man may have all the riches of England, yet if his heart be not right he will have fits of misery, which would make his friends avoid him if he were not rich. But you may find another man who lives at the top of a house in a back room, and chiefly on bread and weak tea; yet if that man’s heart be right in the sight of God, he rejoices evermore and in everything gives thanks. Have you a right heart? If you have not, it is the cause of all your trouble; it is making your life one long toilsome weariness. The language of a wrong heart is, “Oh, dear, is it always going to be like this?” Many and many a time you may hear a wrong heart sigh, “Oh, I am so tired of my life!” Men can do great things. We can draw down electricity and send our message on its wings across the ocean in a moment. We dig down into the bowels of the earth for our light and heat; we sail on the wings of the wind; we dive to the bottom of the sea for our pearls; we make spindles to pull out and twist a thread so fine as to excel that of a spider; we put together looms to weave the most beautiful and intricate patterns: and have made a hammer which can either crack an egg, or dash a piece of steel into powder. But there is one thing we cannot do; we cannot make a human heart right. If your watch should get out of order, you know that it can be set right; but some of us have tried many years to patch up our heart; but it is the one thing which humanity cannot do; it is the act of an Almighty Being to fix aright the human heart. What a blessed position if we could say, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed!” The French have a proverb, that if a man would enjoy a happy life, he must have good digestion and a hard heart. That may be a wise worldly proverb; but I will tell you a better, that if your heart be right in the sight of God, you may have a had digestion, and yet enjoy a happy life. It is a good thing to visit the hospital and see those still, pale, painful faces, and hear some of them say, “It’s all right!” What! with broken limbs, with crushed body, with cancer within and sores without, “all right”? Yes; when the heart is right with God, your life shall also be right at all times. Your heart cannot be right nor your life happy--
I. Unless you feel the presence of a loving, forgiving, and helpful God at all times. During a drought I noticed a mountain torrent pouring its stream ,of water from rock to rock. Whence this flow of water? It comes from the Creator’s reservoirs inside the mountains. Kneel down, put your ear on the heather, and in the stillness of the mountain solitude you will hear the water trickling beneath from God’s hidden reservoir to the torrent yonder. When the rain teems on the hills, the surface water flows into the streams, but a much larger quantity of water quietly sinks through the earth into great cisterns which God has provided there; and these cisterns pour themselves out through crevices in the rock by a natural syphon arrangement. Whenever I place my ear to the ground to listen to the quiet trickling of the underground water-supply, it reminds me of God! He is invisible, but near; and there is never a time when the flowing of His love is suspended. There are times of drought when the underground cisterns are emptied, and then, of course, if you put your ear to the mountain, you will hear no trickling of water; but there never is a time when a man can find a place in the world without God. Some people have an idea of the presence of God which they do not put into daily use. You have certain garments which you put away in summer and bring forth in winter. So, some people keep in their minds an idea of an ever-present God; but they do not make a daily practical use of this idea. When there is a fever, or a railway accident, or something terrible, they rush to their memory-box for the idea which has been kept wrapped up there, and cry, “O God, help me!” Such a life is miserable. The idea of a present God should be like garment which is always suitable and comfortable at all periods.
III. Unless we know that God is nigh at hand and not afar off. Here is a gentle girl earning her living amongst strangers. She is much tempted in her position, and longs for help; and feeling that if she does not get it, she may fall, she goes to the telegraph office to send a message to her father far away. While she waits there, it comforts her to know that the click of the instrument is a message coming from her father, saying, “My child, keep up your heart and do your duty!” The message cheers her, but she goes away to her lonely lodging saying, “Ah, if father were only nearer.” Likewise, the soul which is wearied with its trials and sins, needs a loving and forgiving God nigh at hand. A distant God cannot comfort us; we need a God to abide with us; such as we have in the heavenly Father who manifests himself to us in Jesus. See in that room, at midnight, lies a timid child, who in the darkness is afraid. But while she is trembling, she bears her father cough in the other room; and, in” a moment, the child is comforted. Likewise, when we are in the darkness of sorrow, or bereavement, or affliction unto death, we are always afraid unless we can feel that God is near. Some years ago, one of my children one night when I went to kiss her while she lay in bed, said, “Papa, are you going out to-night?” I replied, “No, dear!” She said, “What are you going to do?” I answered, “Going to write in the study.” She said, “Then will you put your hat on the chair, and when I am afraid, I shall see by your hat that you are at home, with me!” So the promises of Jesus are tokens to us of our heavenly Father’s love and care. But we need something nearer than the telegraph, closer than a cough in the other room, more tangible than a hat on a chair. It is comforting to have an idea of a God somewhere; but oh, how much more consoling to feel that He dwells in our heart! When we walk in a garden at night we can feel the sweet perfume of the silent flowers, and even in the darkness of night the flowers though silent speak to us. And he will probably exclaim:--“Oh, what lovely flowers; how delighted I am with this sweet garden!” The blind man cannot see the flowers, but they speak to him with the sweet odour of their fragrance and comfort. Most of us grope through life in the dark; but as we grope, we feel at times that God is touching our spirit, and we say, “Oh, blessed fact, God is speaking to me.”
III. Unless it is inspired with love to Jesus for laying down His life on the cross. A young English nobleman, an officer in the Life Guards, was charged with the serious offence of forgery; but he was not guilty. A younger brother had done the deed; and the brave soldier took the blame on himself, and bore the burden of a guilt that was not his own. He enlisted as a private soldier under the French, who were then at war in Algeria. While there, he won the admiration of the French and the respectful fear of the Arabs. But there was one French colonel who hated him. Why? A beautiful Arab princess was taken prisoner whom the colonel seized as his victim; and the English nobleman revealing his name and rank, threatened that if the Frenchman did not act righteously towards the lady, he would expose him. The colonel yielded, and sent the princess back to her father, but, after that, he hated the English nobleman, and sought an opportunity of disgracing him. One day, the colonel taunted the noble private, and stung him so keenly that he pulled the coward from his horse and dashed him to the ground. According to French military law, there was only one verdict for such an offence--death. Now it happened that this nobleman, unknown to himself, had won the heart of a pretty French girl, a vivandiere--a woman who sells to the soldiers provisions and liquors--whom he had treated with polite kindness. When she heard that he was condemned, she galloped off to headquarters and obtained a reprieve. Away she sped with the precious pardon, and when she came near the camp, she saw the signal that the last moment had arrived. A shrill cry was heard: “Wait! in the name of France.” But the stern word of command sounded out upon the silence, “Fire!” and the girl’s cry came too late. But while the volley was being fired, more fleet than the bullets, she had flung her arms about him, and then turned her head backward with her brave smile as the balls pierced her own bosom. She dropped on the ground, and he caught her up, saying, “My child! they have killed you! What am I worth that you should perish for me!” Looking up quickly at the sorrowing soldiers, he exclaimed, “Oh, that you had fired one moment sooner!” She heard him, and in an unspeakable look which revealed her secret, she said, “I cannot speak as I would. But I have loved you. All is said!” Then she gave a tired sigh and the brave, loving creature lay dead in his arms with her head on his breast. He obtained his release, and his younger brother having confessed his crime, he was reinstated in his old position. Years passed away, but whenever the name was mentioned of the young creature who had lain down her life for him, he would bow his head as before some sacred thing. I have told you this touching tale in order that you may be reminded of Jesus who laid down His life for you and me. Does not your heart bow in tenderness at the sound of His name? Then consecrate your life in return for that wondrous love which bled and died to save a wretch like you. Oh, that you would believe that Jesus died for you! See, here is a boy who in the darkness of night is playing by swinging on the teagle chain of a lofty warehouse. He is swinging in and out of the top room, when suddenly the break gives way, and the chain rattles over the wheel carrying the boy quickly down. It is quite dark, and the poor boy hangs there holding on with both hands; but he is getting tired, and he fears he will be dashed to pieces in the yard below. Now one arm drops helpless, and finding his strength giving way, he shrieks in terror, and falls; but instead of being dashed to pieces, he finds that he has dropped only two or three inches from the ground! In his fright in the darkness, he feared he might fall a hundred feet, when he was really close to the ground. Likewise, some of you are in dreadful misery on account of your sins; but if you would trust Jesus, you would find yourself at liberty. Drop into His arms! He is aa near! Believe that He died instead of you. Venture to think that He really loves you. The proverb is applicable in great things as well as small. “Nothing venture, nothing have.” (W. Birch.)
Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart be forgiven thee.
Peter’s admonition to Simon the sorcerer
I. The wicked intentions of men require pardon. “The thought of thine heart.” Simon did not obtain his wish; but it was in his heart. The essence of the sin was there. He laid the plan, and began its execution, but was foiled. Hence Peter lays stress upon what was in the man’s heart. He had been received into the fellowship of the saints; but this availed nothing so long as he was in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity. Something was out of order in the man, and that the main thing: “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter; for,” etc. The apostle would not allow him to console his conscience with the mere circumstance that he had failed in his attempt. In the new creation the Holy Ghost, therefore, makes the heart His first care. This is the citadel, which having been captured by grace, the whole man is gained for Christ. To be clean, we must be cleansed from secret faults; and not until the thoughts of our hearts are forgiven shall we stand justified before the Lord.
II. The means by which the wicked are to seek peace with God. “Repent … and pray.” The foundation of duty and privilege in the spiritual kingdom is the blood of the Lamb, but there is another vital fact involved in our rescue from sin. It is a moral being who has sinned, and who requires the sovereign remedy of grace. The activity of his moral nature must assert itself. Though only willing in the day of God’s power, he must not expect to be dragged like a stone to the fountain of cleansing, or like a brute to the altar of mercy. God’s Spirit meets him in the path of sin, and this is His charge: “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness.” The sacrifice of Christ has made an open door for penitence. “Him hath God exalted,” etc. If the sinner repents in an evangelical manner, he will be found in Christ.
III. The bare possibility of success should encourage the sinner to use this means of grace. “Pray God if perhaps,” etc. In what are called worldly adventures, men are not only willing, but eager, to take their chances, and though a thousand chances are against it, they bend every energy toward its attainment. Can it be that the soul is not worth a venture? “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Peter did not intend to deny the validity of the promises, or to cast doubt over the effectiveness of repentance or prayer. His misgiving arose from Simon’s own state. He may have thought it highly improbable that Simon would ever become at heart a better man. In accordance with the text we sing, “Venture on Him”; but we imply no venture of risk, but one of courage. The uncertainty of your salvation is, indeed, alarming, but it lies in your neglect of the means of grace. If there were but the slightest possibility of Christ’s being able to save you, it would be amazing stupidity in you to slight Him. It is not a possibility, but a certainty. “He is able also to save them to the uttermost,” etc. (H. R. Raymond, D.D.)
For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.--
The gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity
I. This man’s state. In a state of nature as evidenced by his covetousness, ambition, and hypocrisy. This state is called--
1. The gall of bitterness because it is bitter
(1) To God; which appears by the bitter sufferings of Christ (Isaiah 53:6; Matthew 26:38).
(2) To every good man as felt in their first awakenings, bitter remorse (Matthew 26:75), bitter reflections.
(2) To the impenitently wicked (Mark 9:44).
2. The bond of iniquity (Proverbs 5:22). This bond is--
(2) Reproachful (Proverbs 14:34).
II. How it was perceived. By its fruit (Matthew 12:33; Matthew 12:35). A man’s state may be discerned--
1. By his ignorance of Divine things.
2. By the company he keeps.
3. By the books he reads.
4. By his places of resort. (S. Barnard.)
Sin and salvation
How true and comprehensive this description of the sinner’s State! Our first parents thought the forbidden fruit of the sweetest, they found it of the bitterest, and this transgression involved in their miserable gratification involved bondage to evil. True parable and prophecy of the history of their sinful discendants. How sweet the intoxicating draught to the drunkard, but how bitter the consequences, especially the enslaved habit. So with all evil. Note here that--
I. SIN is--
1. The gall of bitterness. The term bitter is applied by us to--
(l) Disappointment. When a man makes a speculation which turns out badly, or transacts business that does not pay, centres his hopes on objects which elude him, he Buffers a “bitter disappointment.” Does sin turn out well? Does it pay? Has it ever fulfilled man’s aspiration?
(2) Hard circumstances. When a man is deplorably poor, or overtaxed, or afflicted, we say what a “bitter lot.” He then surely must suffer the quintessence of bitterness who is destitute of God’s riches, who groans under the devil’s burdens, and who suffers from the mortal malady of sin. “The way of transgressors is hard.”
(3) Ruin. When a man has made his last throw and lost, when he is hopelessly bankrupt, or when he suffers the fate of a felon, we exclaim, “How bitter!” What, then, must be the feelings of a man who has gambled away his life, who has become bankrupt in morals, who has soon to appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.
2. The bond of iniquity. Sin is the servitude of--
(1) The mind which it imprisons in the sphere of matter.
(2) The affections which it sets upon earthly things.
(3) The will which it paralyses for good.
1. Sweetens every bitter lot. It brings--
(1) Pardon to the sinful.
(2) Comfort to the wretched.
(3) Rest to the burdened.
2. Liberates the most enslaved. It gives freedom of thought, heart, and will. (J. W. Burn.)
And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go.
Man versus angel
Why didn’t the angel go himself? Because this was a mission where a man was worth more than an angel. In the Lord’s plan of salvation there is a place for redeemed sinners as witnesses for Christ, to do a work that no angel could accomplish. It is not for us to say that God could have had any better plan than this. As the plan stands, the man is needed for its prosecution. The best that an angel can do is to come as a messenger from God, and tell the man to arise and go. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D)
Toward the south … unto Gaza, which is desert.--
The history of the city so named (appearing at times in the English verson-- Deu 2:23; 1 Kings 4:24; Jeremiah 25:20 --as Azzah) goes even as far back as that of Damascus, in the early records of Israel. It was the southernmost or border-city of the early Cananites (Genesis 10:19), and was occupied first by the Avim, and then by the Caphtorim (Deuteronomy 2:23). Joshua was unable to conquer it (Joshua 10:41; Joshua 11:22). The tribe of Judah held it for a short time (Judges 1:18), but it soon fell into the hands of the Philistines (Judges 3:3; Judges 13:1), and though attacked by Samson, was held by them during the times of Samuel, Saul, and David (1 Samuel 6:17; 1 Samuel 14:52; 2 Samuel 21:15). Solomon (1 Kings 4:24), and later on Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:8) attacked it. It resisted Alexander the Great during a siege of five months, and was an important military position, the very key of the country, during the struggles between the Ptolemies and the Seleucidae, and in the wars of the Maccabees (1Ma 11:61). Its name, it may be noted, meant the “strong.” (Dean Plumptre.)
Unto Gaza, which is desert
1. When Philip is introduced to us, we find him engaged in promising work, and there was much still to do. Philip might justly have supposed that he would be allowed to remain in such a rich and suitable field until he had exhausted all its possibilities. And yet he was Divinely summoned to abandon it and go away to the desert. This place was at the extreme south, farthest removed from all the scenes and associations of Philip’s life, and if he had reasoned he would naturally have wondered much why he should be sent to such an out-of-the-way place. What good could he do there? And yet he immediately obeyed the Divine command. And as he did so the will of God was made known to him. He found there a more fruitful field of usefulness than even Samaria. Scientific men have shown us the wonderful arrangements by which insects and flowers are brought together in order to carry out the ends of the vegetable world. The blossom is furnished with a honey-cell, is painted with brilliant hues, enriched with fragrance, and shaped in a particular way, in order to attract and guide insects, by whose agency the plant may be fertilised and enabled to produce seed. More wouderful still are the providential arrangements by which God brings together the soul and the Saviour.
2. Some may say that it was not worth while to take Philip away from the great task of converting multitudes for the purpose of saving a single stranger. Bat such persons have not so learned of Christ, who said, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” and who told the parable of the lost sheep. But it was not the salvation of a single soul only that was involved. The Ethiopian eunuch was a great dignitary, next in rank to the Queen of Ethiopia; and the influence which the conversion of such a man might be expected to exercise would, in the nature of things, be immense and far-reaching, and tradition ascribes to him the conversion to his new faith of Candace and of many of her subjects, and he may have prepared the way for the wonderful work which took place among the Ethiopians at a later period, when the whole nation became Christian, and the ancient prophecies of Scripture, that Ethiopia would yet lift her hands to God, were fulfilled. The superiority in religious faith and in all the arts of life which the Abyssinians enjoy over all the benighted children of the sun may be attributed in the first instance to the work of the Ethiopian eunuch. We have a similar instance of the wise methods of Providence in Paul being obliged to abandon his large and important field of labour in Asia, and to go over into Europe, which seemed to him, in comparison, a desert place.
3. The scene of the eunuch’s conversion was admirably adapted for the purpose. When Jesus was about to cure the deaf and dumb man, He took him aside from the multitude; and when He was about to open the eyes of the man born blind, He took him by the hand and led him out of the town. Jesus isolated the men that, apart from the interruptions of the crowd, they might be made more receptive of deep and lasting impressions. And so was it with the Ethiopian eunuch. He had taken part in all the solemn services of the grandest of Jewish festivals. A proselyte of rank and influence like him, moreover, would receive much attention. But the atmosphere of the Holy City was unfavourable to the quiet meditation which clears the inner eye, develops the spiritual life, and opens the heart to receive the truth of God. And so what he could not obtain in the crowded city he found in the lonely desert. A spirit of inquiry had been stirred up within him; and here nothing would distract his thoughts. When Philip joined himself to him his mind was made plastic and his heart sensitive to spiritual impressions. Shut out from the world, alone with God and the works of His hands, reduced to their primitive simplicity, both the eunuch and the evangelist felt how dreadful was this desert-place. It was none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven. There the ladder was set up by which the benighted African climbed to the light and the joy of heaven. He found there not only water by which he was baptized as a Christian, but in his own soul a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
4. This incident is a type of what often happens in the experience of God’s people. Our Lord Himself on one occasion left the busy, crowded cities where He was carrying on a most beneficent ministry, for the lonely desert, in order that there He might cure the solitary demoniac, who, in his turn, was the means of a wonderful spiritual awakening among the people of Decapolis. Peter was sent from the large maritime city of Joppa, where he could preach to persons from all parts of the world, in order to instruct a single Gentile family in the small town of Caesarea. And so God bids His servants still leave the ninety and nine and go after the one lost sheep. We fancy that we need to get together large meetings in order to produce a deep and widespread impression. But crowds have not always been helpful in the matter of progress. Not unfrequently, by their distractions, they have placed hindrances in the way. A man has in a crowd no calmness of mind to think, but is swayed exclusively by the feelings of the moment. Our Lord’s own best work, so to speak, was not done in crowds; and the sayings of His that sink deepest into our hearts were uttered when conversing with a solitary woman beside well or near a tomb. The fickle crowds fell away from Him in His hour of need; but the solitary souls whom He called to Him one by one from the sea-shore and the receipt of custom, and the desolated home, clung faithfully to Him to the last.
5. But we may give a wider application to the lesson. Whatever outward circumstance or inward motive induces us to leave the crowd and go down unto “Gaza, which is desert,” for rest and meditation, we may be sure that it is the prompting of the angel of the Lord. We need to obey the Divine injunction more frequently, for our religious life is too social; it depends too much upon the excitement of meetings and associations, and is too often incapable of standing alone. It is urgently required, therefore, that not only in the enjoyment of the means of grace, but much more in their absence, we should work out our own salvation. We need more of the blessed solitude of prayer. It was at the back side of the mountain on which he fed his flock that the vision of the burning bush appeared to Moses. In the front he saw no door opened in heaven. And so, too, if we are to behold something of the sight which Moses beheld, and to be changed in some measure as he was changed, we must often retire to the background of the mountain on which we live and labour. If we refuse to go voluntarily unto “Gaza, which is desert,” God will providentially compel us. He will make a desert around us, so that under its bitter juniper-tree we may learn the true lessons of life. The gain to individuals themselves and to society by the training of enforced loneliness cannot be overestimated; and wanting in the best and highest qualities is that man or woman to whom Christ does not say, at one period or other of life, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert-place and rest awhile.” (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
Philip on his way to Gaza, a type of a true minister
1. The pious obedience with which he follows the impulse of the Spirit.
2. The apostolic courage with which he lays hold of a soul strange to him.
3. The evangelical wisdom with which he fans the spark into a flame.
4. The priestly unction with which he seals, at the proper moment, the saved soul to the Lord.
5. The Christian humility with which, after the work of salvation is completed, he steps behind the Lord. (K. Gerok.)
Philip and the Ethiopian
I. God’s providential direction in individual life. “And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip.” This meeting of Philip, and the Ethiopian was not the result of mere accident or chance. A species of pre-established harmony existed between these two souls before they were conscious of each other’s existence in this world. An angel messenger gives the directions by which they were to be brought together. Frequently we speak of accidents determining a man’s destiny, forgetting that in the vocabulary of God there is no such word as chance. It seemed a mere chance that Moses was discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter. “But Eternal choice that chance did guide.” A dusty pilgrim overtaken on the desert road by the chamberlain of a Pagan queen, that is all the world’s wise ones see in this incident of our lesson; but in this chance meeting there is the hidden fire of a Divine purpose. Behind all life’s varying scenes--its, joys, its sorrows, its social positions and its political ambitions, its individual cares, its national crises--there is the guiding hand of God. What comfort to shortsighted, burden-bearing pilgrims, to think that God’s angels are ministering spirits marshalled under King Jesus to guard and defend us against the assaults of our great adversary, the devil, who is continually striving for our destruction.
II. The willing and obedient servant. Notice the nature of the directions given by the angel, and what was involved in obedience thereto. Verse 26 gives us the text of the angel’s commission to Philip. In a sense Philip is to proceed under sealed orders. The directions are simple in terms as far as they go. Go to a certain road. Yet in a sense they are vague and indefinite. Sixty miles of desert highway, with the haughty, wicked city of Gaza at the southern terminus, was a command seriously requiring some more definite statements as to what duty was to be met, and where the field of future work was to be found. The angel had revealed to Philip just enough to indicate some of the difficulties in the way. To ordinary human nature such directions would make room for two or three questions of a very practical character just here. Natural, indeed, would have been the questions, Why limit the sphere of my ministry by taking this unfrequented way? Here I am in the populous city, multitudes are being stirred with the gospel message, converts coming every day. Because of this there is great joy in the city. Why, then, must I be side-tracked? why leave the city appointment to take the country charge?’ That was the voice of expediency, and we will always find crouching somewhere in the near neighbourhood of that voice the cowardly tempter. And thus the tempter speaks: A long desert journey on foot, a lone pilgrim, prowling wild beasts, night coming on, and no shelter! Philip, there is danger ahead, “lions are in the way.” Besides, if you reach Gaza, and it is revealed to you that there is your new field of work, consider what difficulties and dangers await you. Gaza is hardened in crime, bitter in its rebellion against God. It is one of the most ancient cities of the world. Joshua could not subdue it. It was assigned to Judah, but even that warlike tribe could not retain its possession. Yet to have yielded to his fears, to have doubted the Divine wisdom, would have been to have lost the opportunity of meeting the man for whose conversion Philip was the Divinely appointed instrument: “Only the willing and obedient shall eat of the good of the land.” We have heard inspiring sermons on that word “Come” of the gospel, and truly it is a blessed word, inviting weary hearts to the sweet asylum of rest found in Jesus Christ. But, as believers in the Cross of Christ, have we realised the blessed privilege of that other great word of the gospel, that small yet mighty word “Go”? “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in.” “Go, work to-day in My vineyard.” It was the inspiration of that great word that moved Philip to obedience. We dare not leave this thought of loving obedience to the commands of God without emphasising another fact in this connection, namely, that in proportion as we obey present revelations of God’s will, future and fuller revelations will appear. Philip had plainly revealed to him the direction he was to take, “Arise, and go toward the south, unto the way that … is desert.” This command was sufficient for prompt action at that hour. Philip had capital enough at that moment to go right to work for God in the new field. When the hour of opportunity came for other work than walking a desert highway, verse 29 informs us that another revelation was given. Philip is on the journey, he is overtaken by the chariot of the Ethiopian; “Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.” This higher revelation was given to Philip through obedience to the former revelation. God always furnishes revelations of duty in instalments according to the necessities of the hour and the measure of our faith. The way at first may seem dark. The commands of God may seem foolish to the demands of expediency. Human reason may stagger and fall and refuse to go farther. But to the eye of faith the “inventory of the universe is in heaven.” He will reveal place and method when the hour of opportunity strikes.
III. A bible-reading traveller. How seldom do we see the Word of God in the hands of travellers to-day! If you want to be conspicuous and regarded as a little “cranky,” take your Bible and read it on the railroad train. This Bible-reading traveller offered Philip a better chance to preach the gospel to him than the average hearer furnishes the preachers of to-day. He was prepared for the message. It is a significant statement in the lesson that Philip “opened his mouth, and began at the same Scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.” The eunuch had come from a period of profound meditation on the Word of God to hear the gospel sermon. Many times have we heard the casual remarks dropped from the lips of the careless hearer as he retired from church: “The preacher did not strike me to-day.” “He did not reach my need.” “I don’t think he prepared that sermon with his usual care.” Dear friend, what about your preparation as a hearer by an hour’s thought on the Word of God, or a few moments’ earnest meditation on the interests of your soul before you heard that sermon? You come from the wild clamour of the Stock Exchange; you come from the cankering cares of the business week, and expect the man in the pulpit to banish all this influence in the short hour of service, and feed you with the “bread of life,” without one moment’s preparation by earnest prayer or devout reading. Again, this Bible-reading traveller had some difficulties in the way of his receiving the truth as it is in Jesus. He had his doubts, as we all have. But he did not make an idol of his doubts and set it up as an object of worship. Almost in the same breath whereby the Ethiopian expressed his doubt he uttered the words of his confession of faith, “I believe that Jesus Christ” is the Son of God, and that moment the recording angel wrote his name in the Book of Life.
IV. The rejoicing christian. Our Bible story ends well. The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, and the eunuch went on his way rejoicing. Philip had been the instrument of converting the eunuch to Christ, not to the preacher. The soul that truly finds Christ does not backslide when the evangelist goes away, or when the minister changes his appointment. He is in possession of the Divine Comforter as Companion. The man has entered a life of trust whose elements are joy and peace in the Holy Ghost. (E. M. Taylor.)
Worker and seeker
I. The Earnest worker.
1. He is in full fellowship with the Spirit, quick to receive Divine influences, and living in the atmosphere of Divine companionship (verses 26-29).
2. He is obedient and self-denying, prompt to go wherever sent, ready to exchange a large field for a small one, Samaria for the desert (verses 26, 27).
3. He is aggressive, eager to get at his work, running to meet the one with whom he is to labour, and at once beginning the conversation without waiting for an invitation (verse 30).
4. He is skilful. He speaks kindly and cheerfully to the Ethiopian. “Philip’s only recorded words contain a pleasantry” (verse 30).
5. He is scriptural, taking the Word of God as his text, and showing how every page points to Christ (verses 30-35).
6. He is practical, leading to personal faith in Christ and to union with the Church (verses 35-37).
7. He is broad in his views, recognising the privilege of Gentile as well as Jew to be saved and baptized (verses 37, 38).
II. The sincere seeker It is hard to say whether the worker or the seeker in this lesson shines in the brighter light.
1. He is a noble seeker, a man of high rank and many public cares, yet a humble follower of God (verse 27). Christian politicians are not so numerous as they should be (verse 27).
2. He is a diligent seeker, living twelve hundred miles away, yet journeying to the temple and reading the Scriptures on the road (verses 28, 29).
3. He is a teachable seeker, eager to learn the truth, willing to be instructed by a layman far below him in social position, and ready to embrace any opportunity to learn the way of salvation (verses 30-34).
4. He is a believing seeker, exerting personal faith in Christ, and receiving Him as his Saviour (verse 37).
5. He is a confessing seeker, not ashamed to profess Christ in the presence of his company (verse 38).
6. He is a rejoicing seeker, going on his way happy in his new experience.
A special infusion
I. The practical care of God for the individual souls of men.
1. The object of all this whole transaction was one single conversion. Not only will God have all men to be saved, but He will have each man separately to be saved--showing the universality and the minuteness of His love and care.
2. Through such single agencies God’s chief and most abiding work is ever wrought in our world. Each soul that is really brought thus to God becomes in its turn a little centre of light and life. We must never count any time wasted that is spent upon one human being. And let no man count his own soul’s culture a thing of trifling moment. He, too, may be the evangelist, if not of a nation, yet of a family or of some one precious soul.
II. The importance of being always ready for duty.
1. Philip had to take a long journey in quest of one convert, and without knowing that he was to make one convert. Oh, what excuses should we have made! How should we have urged the disproportion between the means and the end; She distance, the difficulty, the improbability, the waste of strength and time; till we should have persuaded ourselves that we never were called to it.
2. God does not now speak to us by an angel, yet there is often something within which says, There is such or such a person whom you might benefit. And these inward promptings are easily resisted; but they are the tests of our Christianity. They say to us, Here is something which you might do for your Saviour. Perhaps it may fail; but there is a chance also of its succeeding. If you feel your debt to Him as you ought you will go and do it. If a man always find an excuse for putting it aside and is glad when something makes it impossible, he has upon him the mark of the unprofitable servant, who was satisfied to dig in the earth and hide his Lord’s money.
3. On the other hand, how frequently is an effort of this kind consciously rewarded! You have roused yourself to leave your warm fireside; you have walked through rain or snow to the poor man’s cottage, and you regarded it all as a penance; how often have you found that the visit was singularly seasonable; and it was your happiness to be an evident instrument in God’s hand for the refreshment or restoration of a soul.
III. The importance of being always in pursuit of good.
1. The Ethiopian was studying God’s Word: eager to hail a new teacher. To him that hath shall be given. This man had an Old Testament. Many of us would have said--for we say it now--I can make nothing of it; it only puzzles me; but the Ethiopian, like Simeon, like Nathanael, like older saints still, desired to look into the mysteries of the ancient Scriptures. And therefore they saw what to others was mere confusion. There is a growth in knowledge proportionate to a growth in grace.
2. Many of us err grievously in this respect. We have no patience in the things of God. We take it for granted that in God’s truth a thing must either be self-evident or unimportant. In this one, this greatest science of all, we consider study superfluous.
IV. The importance, both for strength and for comfort, of holding a simple gospel. Many of us pass through life without one single experience of the effect of the gospel upon this stranger. We are so mistaught, or else so slow to learn; we are so afraid of presumption, and so fond of adding something to the work and word of God, that we never reach anything that can call itself the glad tidings of Jesus, or send us forth on our way rejoicing. What Philip preached, what the Ethiopian received, was something which needed but one conversation for its statement, and but one hour for its reception. Out of this gospel flows all peace and all strength. (Dean Vaughan.)
Changing spheres: a word for workers
I. Arise, and go! And if the Church at Samaria was as unblieving as the Churches often are to-day, they said, “What a mistake!” To take Philip away just as he is getting to know us so well. And to Philip it must have seemed harsh. In the very midst of his successful work, there came Peter and John to take it out of his hands, and he is sent away to the desert--above all places! And so many towns and villages were pressing him to come and tell them of Jesus. Really, it seems a waste to send a man like that to such a place. That is certainly not what Philip would have chosen. So, then, the appointment of the worker needs be in wiser hands than his own. It is not what the Church would have chosen for him. So the worker must look to a higher authority than the Church. No; there is but one way of safety for us. We don’t know what we need for our own discipline or usefulness. This sphere may be attractive; but who can tell what condition of affairs will come about there? what particular gifts will be needed? what temptation the worker may find there? The Lord knows it all. And the only safety is to let Him have His own way with us. But our very practical age smiles at this religious weakness. “That sounds all very well, my dear sir, and was, no doubt, the right sort of thing in an age of miracles. But, depend upon it, nowadays--The Lord helps those that help themselves.” But the teaching of the Book of God is, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”
II. And he arose and went. There see the secret of the man’s power. There are no “buts,” no “Nay, Lord,” no loitering, no turning aside, like Jonah. God would not have used him in Samaria if there had not been this putting down of self that made him ready at a moment’s notice to be off to the desert. I watched an old man trout-fishing, pulling them out one after another briskly. “You manage it cleverly, old friend,” I said. “I have passed a good many who are doing nothing.” The old man lifted himself up, and stuck his rod in the ground. “Well, you see, sir, there be three rules for trout-fishing; and ‘tis no good trying if you don’t mind them. The first is, Keep yourself out of sight. And the second is, Keep yourself further out of sight. And the third is, Keep yourself further out of sight still. Then you’ll do it.” “Good for catching men, too,” I thought, as I went on my way. There was the secret of Philip’s usefulness. He kept himself out of sight. He dared not go picking and choosing for himself. The Master said, “Go the way that is desert.” That settled it. To Saul there comes the word of the Lord, Go, smite the Amalekites, and all that is theirs. But Saul spared of the best to sacrifice unto the Lord their God in Gilgal. A very thoughtful and pious arrangement, surely. No. Forth came Samuel with that dreadful inquiry and menace. Obedience is the secret of service. If we could go into the storehouse of our great Lord, whence His mighty men have fetched their gifts, what should we choose? Here are splendid gifts of intellect, eloquence With which to thrill men, deep knowledge of the human heart, courage that will not give in, faith that never wavers, hope never dimmed, and charity carrying her kind heart in every look and tone and manner. No, there is something higher and better than all these. “I am crucified with Christ.”
III. The desert becomes a fruitful field. Philip sets out. He reaches the dreary desert. What a place for this earnest worker I It is all right. The Lord has sent him here. Now afar off the dust rises, and a prince comes this way in his chariot. And here are some things which we shall do well to imitate.
1. Catching sight of the traveller, Philip did not rush off at once “to talk to him about his soul.” Not they that be zealous merely to win souls shall shine as the stars, but they that be wise. Philip waits for orders; he does not stir until he gets them: “Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.” Of course, idle folks will use this doctrine as an excuse. But never mind; they would do nothing if they had not the excuse, so there is nothing lost. The Master will net waste His special orders upon them that are not ready to obey. Only let a man live waiting for the Lord’s word, and near enough to hear Him, and that man shall not lack a plain direction. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” Uzzah dies because unbidden he stretches out his hand to steady the ark of God. How often thoughtless hands are reached out in the service of the Church, meaning well but really harmful, because not bidden of the Lord.
2. When the Lord bids him go, he does not hang back because it is a rich man in a carriage. He had been a plain man working amongst simple people. And as he caught sight of the trappings of this Ethiopian prince he might well have thought twice before he moved towards him. The intelligent foreigner watching our ways of working might come to the conclusion that rich people have no souls; or else that they are sure of getting to heaven. Tracts, City missionaries, out.door services, etc., are all for the poor. And yet the rich are just as far from the kingdom of heaven, and have more difficulty in getting there. To Philip it was nothing who this man was, or what: the Lord had sent him; that was enough.
3. And Philip ran--the arrow is loosed from the string. And well he might run. The opportunity would soon be lost. The chariot was speeding on its way, and a dignified loiterer would have missed it. “The King’s business requireth haste.” And that the King has sent him is enough; he need not wait until he can get an introduction, or is fit to be presented. So the simple evangelist bursts upon the nobleman and asks, “Under-standest thou what thou readest?” It was all right. How could it possibly be otherwise? God had sent him; and He always makes things fit in perfectly when we do but perfectly obey.
IV. When God sends us on His errands He makes a way for us. Philip found the nobleman in the middle of a passage that gave the opportunity of preaching Jesus. Perplexed and wondering, he was at the very point where Philip could step in to help him. “And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.” Think, if we had been sent on this errand how we should have come along nervous and afraid as to what our reception would be. And when it all opened up so, how we should wonder at it! Yet is it really so very wonderful that our great Father, who sets the stars their courses, and orders the coming of the seasons, should be able to time our affairs so as to make them fit? If the regulator of our going were not so often pointing to “fast” or to “slow,” instead of keeping God’s time exactly, we should wonder when things fell out otherwise. But turn aside for a moment to see a sight worth looking at. Philip has gone into the lonely desert at the Lord’s bidding--and he finds a “chariot” to ride in, and a prince, “of great authority,” for his travelling companion. He never had so much honour paid him in Jerusalem, or even in Samaria. And is it not always so? The moment we set foot in the wilderness we are the Lord’s guests, and He ever keeps His table right royally furnished. He has brought Israel into the wilderness--but it was a blessed change! No more the muddy water of the Nile, but the sparkling brook; no more the rank vegetables, but manna, fresh every morning. Elijah has got away into the wilderness, and the ravens brought him bread and flesh morning and evening. The thousands that followed Jesus into “a desert place, did all eat, and were filled.” John goes forth to the desert isle of Patmos, found his glorified Master, and the visions of the eternal city, and the fulness of joy at the Lord’s right hand. The Master Himself goes into the wilderness, but, “behold, angels came and ministered unto Him.” It is true still. That country toward the south hath a goodly aspect--it faceth heavenward. When the Lord bids us go the way to Gaza, it is no more desert; it is the garden of the Lord. As they rode on together, Philip preached Jesus to the nobleman. And he believed and was baptized, and “went on his way rejoicing”--went, most likely, to open a whole country to Christianity. So Philip never did a better day’s work than when he went forth at the Lord’s bidding unto the way--which is desert. (Mark Guy Pearse.)
Comparisons and contrasts
The conversion of the eunuch suggests a comparison of his case with that of present-day hearers of the gospel.
I. Compare the privileges enjoyed. What had he?
1. The Scriptures. But only the Old Testament. We have more, the New as well as Old.
2. He had a preacher, but, so far as we know, only one, and only heard one sermon. We have the constant ministration of the Word, line upon fine and precept upon precept.
3. He had the Holy Spirit, awakening and influencing his mind and heart. We have more, for He has striven often in our hearts.
II. Compare the responsibility sustained. Ours greater by as much as our privileges are greater. To whom much is given of him much shall be required.
III. Compare conduct which resulted.
1. He prized and read his Bible. To-day sadly neglected, even by those who profess to value it.
2. He was possessed of a sincere desire to know the way of life. How few to-day seem to concern themselves about the great question of salvation.
3. He paid earnest attention to the preacher’s words. How many careless, thoughtless hearers to-day, all eyes and ears for the sights and sounds of earth, but blind and deaf to all that pertains to heaven.
4. He applied to himself the truths he heard. Philip “preached unto him Jesus.” Many to-day hear for other people, or hear as though what they heard in no way concerned them. Surely, here the contrast is in favour of the eunuch.
IV. Compare experience which resulted. He went on his way rejoicing. Have we found any joy in the gospel? Some have, but many have not. Are we not bound to confess that with fewer privileges his conduct is such as to put to shame the indifferent and unbelieving hearers of the gospel to-day? (Homilist.)
A typical evangelist: A striking conversion
The first Christian labourer has fallen, but a great stride is now to be taken. Stephen is dead, but Philip takes his place. That is the military rule. There was no panic or running away in cowardly terror, but Philip, the next man, took up the vacant place, and “went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed unto them the Christ.” “And there was much joy in that city.” An electric shock went through it. And no wonder, for multitudes were blessed and led to faith in Christ. Our problem of to-day is the city--the city crowd, the city poor, the city criminals, the city multitude out of work--and that problem is to be solved on the lines of Philip. Let us see to it that we are content with nothing less. It was while Philip was in the midst of this great enterprise--changing the very face of the city, pulling down the strongholds of darkness--that the incident occurred which is narrated in this paragraph.
I. A typical evangelist.
1. Notice that the Lord directs His servants in the path of duty. “An angel of the Lord spake unto Philip.” But why an angel? Why this extraordinary method of guidance in this particular case? Why this unusual honour placed upon Philip? Dr. Goulburn suggests that this external message of the angel directing Philip where to go was here vouchsafed as God’s answer to the thoughts and doubts which were then springing up in His servant’s mind. For though Philip was doing a great work, yet he had received an unpleasant check which must have caused him some annoyance. Simon Magus’ wickedness had come to light, and it had met with an apostle’s censure. In the simplicity of his heart Philip had admitted this bad man into the fold of Christ, and it might easily have occurred to him that he ought to be more cautious, that his evangelistic zeal was too great. Then, had he been right in preaching to these Samaritans at all, and admitting to baptism a race hitherto held accursed? He had dared to brave the opinion of many good men, and one result had been that such a bad character as Simon Magus had crept into the Church. The Lord, who watches over His people and sees all their difficulties, comes therefore to his rescue, and, by one of His ministering spirits, conveys a message which assures His fainting servant of His approval and of His guidance. “An angel spake.” How often this is so! God’s servants are filled with a glorious discontent with the rate of progress they are making, and enter upon new and bold enterprises for Him; they try experiments in His service, they do and dare roach, and for a time perhaps see nothing but disaster and failure and opposition where it might be least expected. Then, when their hearts are cast down and perplexed, He sends His angel with a message of encouragement. Was it not so with Elijah? “As he lay and slept under the juniper tree, behold an angel touched him.” “An angel.” Was there a visible representation? We cannot tell. The text gives no hint as to the character of the messenger. Philip went on his journey under Divine direction--this is the great thing for us to remember--and that direction is within our reach; though the form may vary the fact remains. He is in full fellowship with the Spirit, quick to receive heavenly influences, and living in the atmosphere of Divine companionship. Such a man as this does not often miss his way. And when the way is made clear he proceeds with great confidence.
2. Notice His prompt obedience. “He arose and went.” “He went,” not knowing the purpose for which he was sent. He went forth with sealed orders. “He walked by faith, not by sight.” “He was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” Yet what a work he was doing in this great town of Samaria! What a wide door for usefulness! It was a great trial to his faith. It required a mighty effort of will to fall in with this Divine plan. That he knew it to be Divine did not make it more easy to flesh and blood. Duty is Divine, and we all know it; but knowledge of its Divineness does not remove our difficulties in the performance of it. Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe tells us that the first and last word uttered in the meeting-houses where she worshipped as a child was “submission.” And in this department of our Christian lives, that of service, this is the first and last word. Philip had learnt that all true spiritual power lies in submission to the Divine will. “If I do this, what will So-and-so say? And shall I not be putting myself in a disagreeable position?” When God meets with such an one who just says, “Lord, just glorify Thyself in me,” He can use him, and does use him.
3. He is aggressive and eager for work. “Behold a man of Ethiopia.” “And Philip ran to him.” Ethiopia was an influential kingdom south of Egypt, corresponding to what we know as Nubia and Abyssinia. And this traveller was making his way home after worshipping at Jerusalem. There were two great roads open to him leading to Gaza, and he had chosen the desert one, passing through districts inhabited then, as now, by only wandering Arabs. “And Philip ran thither to him.” There is no waiting, no hesitation, the work is there and it must be done. When God gives us a call, how many of us creep and limp instead of running to obey it.
4. Philip falls in with the Divine order in this respect, that much of our work lies in the personal dealing with individuals. “Behold, a man of Ethiopia.” In our aggressive zeal we are all liable to overlook the individual. Hitherto Philip’s labours had been among masses of people, but now, by Divine command, he is withdrawn from this large sphere of usefulness, and sent to deal with a single man, attended, probably, only by two or three retainers. It has been observed that this is the first instance on record of a private ministration of the gospel. The lesson is to be continually kept in mind. Even the apostles, who had a commission to “go and teach all nations,” and in virtue of that commission might have challenged the whole universe of immortal souls as their audience, did not think themselves exempt from the labours of private administration. Are we not all, as Christian workers, no matter what position we take in the campaign, too desirous of crowds and too little occupied with the units of which they are composed? Dr. Stalker, in his latest work to preachers, says: “Gentlemen, I believe that almost any preacher on reviewing a ministry of any considerable duration would confess that his great mistake had been the neglect of individuals. If I may be permitted a personal reference. When not long ago I had the opportunity, as I was passing from one charge to another, of reviewing a ministry of twelve years, the chief impression made on me, as I looked back, was that this was the point at which I had failed; and I said to myself that henceforth I would write “Individuals” on my heart as the watchword of my ministry.” Philip was now wisely engaged in individual work.
5. Philip, under Divine direction, went outside and beyond the ordinary methods. “And the Spirit said, ‘Go near and join thyself to this chariot.’” “And Philip ran to him.” What spiritual freedom characterises the whole incident--its scene not the temple, not a Christian congregation, but the wilderness; its time not a Sabbath but a workday, when men may harness horses to chariots and go a journey; the minister not an apostle, but one who had been designated to a more or less secular ministration. I heard a preacher say the other day: “We shut up our religion in churches; we limit it to days; we restrict it to services. And by shutting it in, we shut it out, and we shut others out too.” How true this is!
II. A striking conversion. Let us briefly turn our attention specially to the Ethiopian and his striking conversion.
1. He is “a man of great authority” seeking after truth. He was Chamberlain of the Queen, and held the post of First Lord of her Treasury. The Samaritans among whom Philip had just been labouring, and where he had great success, were a simple people, and the converts, as far as we can judge, were chiefly of the lower class, not persons of station and influence. But here is a man seeking light of large wealth and high position and of some education--the first minister at a Queen’s Court. “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God,” hardly because their possession entices the heart to trust in them for a contentment and a satisfaction which they never can bestow. But the man be[ore us is also a courtier and a politician. To judge from what we often hear of the political world, we might, for some countries at any rate, invent a new text, “How hardly shall they that are politicians enter into the kingdom of God.”
2. He is an earnest seeker after truth. Philip “heard him reading.” He was reading aloud after the manner of Eastern nations. It is more easy for some minds to learn by the ear than by the eye. Its attention may have been called to this portion of Holy Scripture during his visit to the temple, or he may have met the apostles. At any rate, he was making a diligent use of the means of grace. He used the light he had, and eagerly sought for more. What a contrast this man in high position presents to many in the upper ranks of society of to-day! “Agnostics” many label themselves, and when they have spoken this word they appear to think that they have done everything that can be rightly expected of a human being.
3. He is a perplexed seeker after the truth. “Understandest thou … ?” “How can I except some man should guide me?” The passage in Isaiah was a difficult one, as taught by Jewish instructors, to understand. It seemed almost impossible to put together the idea of Christ as a sufferer, as despised and slain, and the promise that He should be a glorious King, triumphing over the world. Only the facts could solve the problem. I would say to you, Do not be distressed if you meet with obscurities and are bewildered by religious mystery. Again and again every thoughtful man meets with “things hard to be understood.” Difficulties we shall always have which our finite minds cannot solve.
4. He is a teachable seeker of the truth. “And he besought Philip to come up and sit with him.” He made no idol of his perplexities. He welcomed help directly it was within his reach.
5. The truth being announced to him, he accepts it, confesses it, and rejoices over it. “And he baptized him.” “He went on his way rejoicing.” (A. Wood, B.A.)
And, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority, under Candace.
1. The visit of the eunuch could not have been at a more opportune moment. Jerusalem was still thrilling with the tremendous sacrifice that had just been consummated. During his stay the apostles had stirred all Jerusalem with their doctrine, and Stephen had died for the faith. Never was a soul thirsting for peace and truth so near to their source; and yet this Ethiopian passes whole days in Jerusalem without hearing the name of Christi How was this? Follow his steps and you will understand. He betook himself to the temple, for he came to worship, and of course met there priests and Pharisees, whose most strenuous desire was to conceal Christ and to silence His followers. Fools! They know not that at a little distance are assembled in an upper chamber some of those despised Galileans who hold the destinies of the world in their hands, and the fulfilment of the law and the prophets. Poor Ethiopian! why do you not know the way to that upper chamber? Blind leaders have misled him. One would say he is the plaything of an inexplicable fatality. But no! God is watching over this soul that seeks Him.
2. On leaving Jerusalem he takes with him the Holy Scriptures. That which Pharisees have so sedulously hidden from him, Isaiah will set before him. Fifteen centuries later, a German monk stirred, as was this Ethiopian, by profound aspirations, after having vainly sought peace in lacerations and penances, went to another holy city in order to adore the God of his fathers. Day after day he wandered through it, halting at every place of pilgrimage, meekly believing their legends. Rome was then governed by Julius II., the warrior pontiff; it was at the time when Machiavelli said that atheism went on increasing in measure as one neared Rome. Everywhere reigned the scandalous traffic in holy things. Luther went back terrified. “Rome,” said he, “is built upon a hell.” What was it which saved him? The Scriptures, which he found again in his monastery at Wittenberg. And so it has been with many since.
3. Queen Candace’s steward then went on his way reading the Scriptures. He read without understanding them, yet he persevered. Where, amongst us, are they who are willing to study the Scriptures in the spirit of this heathen? People often say, “We have sought truth, have read our gospel, but no light has come to us; our hearts have remained cold.” True! Study the gospel as a mere critic, and it will remain an object of study to you and nothing more. God does not reveal Himself to mere intellectual inquirers; those whom He promises to satisfy are they who, like the Ethiopian, are hungering and thirsting for righteousness and truth.
4. Philip was on the road taken by the stranger. Here we have one of those coincidences called fortuitous, but which, from our text, we see to be an intervention of God. There is no such thing as chance.
5. What strikes us in the first words of the Ethiopian is his good faith. He avows his ignorance. Is it such a difficult thing to avow ignorance? One would hardly think it, for nothing is more common than to hear, “I do not know,” in matters of religion. But there are two ways of saying those words. In the mouth of many they mean, “What does it matter to me? I do not want to know.” And why not? Because, to know God is to know His claims upon us. To know ourselves--O my brethren! who does not shrink from this painful knowledge? But that day when, anxious for truth, with heart dismayed before those dark mysteries of sorrow, sin, and death, you cry, “I do not know,” it will be in a very different spirit; those words will then be a prayer rising up to God. When a man, animated by the spirit of humility, says, “I do not know,” he is already very near the truth.
6. A singular abuse has been made of the next words. “How can I understand except some man should guide me? You see,” it has been said, “it is evident that by themselves the Scriptures are unintelligible. It is therefore necessary that an authority established of God have the sole mission to explain them.” Let us examine this; without doubt the Scriptures contain many mysteries. But a revelation without mystery were unheard of. In borrowing the language of men, Divine truth cannot find in it expressions capable of presenting it with sufficient lucidity. How can beings trammelled by time and space, e.g., and with no other means of reasoning save by recourse to these two mediums--comprehend a Being for whom time and space are not? But without taking such high ground, there are in Scripture difficulties of date, place, origin, grammar, translation, history, and science. Needless to say that here piety cannot take the place of learning; and that nothing would be more absurd than to see ignorance usurping doctoral authority. This reservation made, there is, however, one thing which has ever struck men of good faith, and that is the marvellous lucidity of the gospel upon everything that touches essential questions--those of grace, pardon, and salvation. I take it, therefore, that it is a positive act of treason to prohibit the free circulation of the Bible among the people, under pretext of its obscurities and the possible errors that may ensue from wrong interpretation. Look at those nations which have been nourished upon the generous milk of Holy Scripture. Is it not a certain fact that they are the only ones that are making steady progress towards light and liberty? This said, let us see what is the true idea contained in my text. “How can I understand,” cries the Ethiopian, “except some man should guide me?” Herein I see the confirmation of the Divine law which created the Church. We are not made to stand alone. “No man liveth to himself.” From our first steps we have been led by others; and the Church’s work in forming of our ideas and most personal convictions is immense. Like the Ethiopian, not one of us would have understood the greater part of those truths to which we are most attached if he had not had some guide to say to him, as did Philip to Nathanael, “Come and see.” The Church is the witness to, not the lord of, truth.
7. Here, then, we have Philip sitting beside the Ethiopian, explaining the Scriptures to him. His task was easy; for, by one of those coincidences in which there is an intervention of God, the eunuch’s eyes had lighted upon a passage of Isaiah which had deeply moved him. Hearken to the mysterious words uttered by the prophet so many ages before Christ, and say if they do not impress you by their startling, pregnant nature (Isaiah 53:1-12.). Gather together all the features of this mysterious picture, and you will understand tim exclamation of the Ethiopian’s (verse 34). Endeavour to explain this prophecy by the sole inspiration of nature. Suppose an Israelite, dreaming of the future greatness of his nation, had essayed to describe the hero who was to bring it about; is it not evident that he must have depicted him as a triumphant avenger? By what strange reversal of ideas is it that a totally different ideal is here presented to us? Weigh well the value of the expressions here employed; judge if one can conscientiously see in them merely the description of an Israelite who immolates himself in order to save his nation; see if this be not a spiritual work which is here predicted; if, above all, it be not sin which is here to be expiated.
8. We can understand the light cast upon this obscure text by Philip’s burning words, and his words, penetrating to the innermost depths of the man, stirs his soul and begins the work of conversion. One of those dramas takes place unknown of the world, but which the angels of God look upon. Looking only on the surface, who would ever have suspected its importance? The smallest public event, the most insignificant battle would have attracted far more attention. But the gospel, which does not even make mention of the successive Caesars who governed Rome, concentrates upon the destinies of a few people unknown to the world in whose hearts God has established His kingdom. There are hours that are as years; such are those moments when some great decision is being made.
9. The Ethiopian is now wholly gained for Christ, and he cries, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?” What hinders you, rash man, are all your future earthly prospects. Are you aware to what you are exposing yourself in becoming a follower of this new faith? Are you not taking for conviction what is but a passing sentiment? Do you know anything of this Philip? Can you, upon the faith of his words, take a step the consequences of which will affect your whole after-life? See the path you are to follow, already watered with the blood of martyrs. No matter; he will be baptized. Like a soldier who binds himself by a solemn oath, if need be, to die for his colours, so he desires, by this open act, to irrevocably bind himself to the service of Jesus Christ. He receives baptism, and goes on his way rejoicing. Conversions of such nature are now so rare that they are nowise believed in. People believe in a gradual change of heart; they are unwilling to give credence to the sudden manifestations of mercy which attest in too signal a manner the intervention of God. This mistrust is in part due to the spirit of the age, which is more given to calculation than to enthusiasm or to heroism. (E. Bersier, D. D.)
The Ethiopian convert: a typical man
The Ethiopian still lives amongst us. Let us look at this man as--
I. An inquirer.
1. He was in a bewildered state of mind. I do not rebuke the bewilderment of honest inquiry. In the realm of spiritual revelation things are not superficial, easy of arrangement, and trifling in issue. Do not be distressed because you are puzzled by religious mystery. The most advanced minds have had to pass through that experience. But the path of the just shineth more and more unto the perfect day. Do not make idols of your perplexities. You know that there is a subtle temptation to talk about your doubts as those of a man whose mind is not to be put off with solutions that have satisfied inferior intellects. Be honest in your bewilderment.
2. He was teachable. He said, “I wonder what this means; would that God would send some director to lead me into the light:” Teachableness is one of the first characteristics of honesty. If you are self-trustful and dogmatic you are not a scholar in the school of Christ, and deprive yourself of all the gifts of Providence. Yet how few are teachable! So many of us go to the Bible and find proofs of what we already believe, but the true believer goes unprejudiced, humble, honestly desirous of knowing what is true.
3. He was obedient. A revelation cannot afford to be argumentative. Any gospel that comes with hesitancy or reserve vitiates its own credentials, and steps down from the pedestal of commanding authority. The eunuch, having heard Philip, obeyed. “Here is water, what hindereth me to be baptized?” He would have the whole thing completed at once. So many persons are afraid that they are not fit, prepared. They have heard the gospel a quarter of a century or more, but still they are wondering about themselves. Such people are trifling. What hindereth him? No man should hinder you from coming to Christ. I fear sometimes that the Church makes fences, over which men have to climb, but in the gospel I find only one word for all honest, teachable men--welcome. Hindrances are man’s inventions. As to the form of baptism, please yourself. I believe in life-baptism. The spirit of baptism is greater than any form.
II. A hearer. He was--
1. Prepared; he was already seriously perusing the mysterious volume. He had not to be called from afar. Where are those who now come to church from the Bible itself? What is the work of Philip nowadays? It is to persuade, to plead, to break through iron-bound attention and fix it upon spiritual realities. Philip has now to deal with men who are reading the journals, the fiction, the exciting discussions of the passing time, and from any one of these engagements to the Scriptures of God there may lie unnumbered miles! A prepared pulpit fights against infinite odds when it has to deal with an unprepared pew.
2. Responsive. He answered Philip. His head, heart, will, all listened. Who can now listen? To hear is a Divine accomplishment. Who hears well? To have a responsive hearer is to make a good preacher the pew makes the pulpit. It is possible to waste supreme thought and utterance upon an indifferent hearer. But let the hearer answer, and how noble the exchange of thought, how grand the issues! Do not suppose that a man is not answering because he is not speaking. There is a responsive attitude, an answering silence, a look, which is better than thunders of applause!
III. A convert. As such he was--
1. Enlightened. He had passed from the prophetic to the evangelic. “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Then Philip must have been preaching this doctrine. You know the sermon by the hearer. Say ye, “It was a beautiful sermon”? Show the solidity, the Scripturalness, and the power of the discourse by living it!
2. Deeply convinced. There are hereditary, nominal, halting, merely-assenting, and non-inquiring Christians. “And they because they have not much deepness of earth soon wither away.” There are also convinced Christians--men who have fought battles in darkness, who have undergone all the happy pain of seeking for truth, and, proving it, have embraced it at the altar as if they had wedded the bride of their souls. These will make martyrs if need be. These are the pillars of the Church.
3. Exultant. “He went on his way rejoicing.” You have not seen Christ if you are not filled with joy. See the eunuch, oblivious even of Philip’s presence. He saw Divine things, new heavens, a new earth, bluer skies, greener lands, than he had ever seen before, and in that transfiguration he saw Jesus only. Philip, miraculously sent, was miraculously withdrawn, but there sat in the chariot now “one like unto the Son of Man.” And so preacher after preacher says, as he sees the radiant vision coming--“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
The converted nobleman
Here we have--
I. A model minister.
1. He was under Divine guidance (verse 29). The success of the gospel ministry will be always in proportion to our nearness to God, and the influence of the Holy Spirit on our hearts. Learning, eloquence, and organisation are useful handmaids of the truth, but, like the wire of a telegraph, they are only a medium over which the Divine fluid may pass.
2. He was personal in his appeal (verse 30). We speak too much about doctrines, doubts, and evidences, and too little to individual consciousness.
3. He was orthodox in his doctrine (verse 35). Christ is the centre and circumference of the gospel ministry.
II. A genuine truth-seeker. Men study for display, for discovery, to baffle an antagonist. The eunuch was in real mental distress whilst searching for the truth.
1. He was devout and earnest. He respected the outward rites of the old religion, and travelled scores of miles to be present at the passover. There he procured for himself a manuscript of the “Evangelical Prophet,” and perused it eagerly on his way home. It is a great thing for us to be on the path of duty. A parallel case may be found in the history of Luther discovering the Latin Bible at Erfurt. The earnest and devout inquirer never seeks in vain, as is proved in the history of Nicodemus, Cornelius, and Lydia.
2. He was frank and honest. He confessed his ignorance (verse 31). Seldom will human nature acknowledge its defects. Self-love prompts man to hide his faults from his dearest friends, yea, from Omniscience. That which is quite plain to us was to him an inscrutable enigma, because there was such discrepancy between public expectation and the description of the Prophet. The Jews expected a Prince, and the eunuch could not reconcile His humiliation with royal pomp and victory.
3. He possessed an unprejudiced mind. Men too often study the Word of God with pre-formed creeds--hence they warp the truth to support falsehood. The crew of a ship in distress are not over-scrupulous respecting the medium by which they are rescued--a raft, plank, rope, anything is welcomed that can bring them safe to land. Even so the man who traverses the boisterous sea of scepticism, if afraid of being engulfed in the yawning waves, he lays hold of the most insignificant medium, so as to reach the shore of truth safe.
4. Once convinced he did not procrastinate (verse 36). Thus he received one of the outward signs of discipleship. Thousands are satisfied that Jesus is the only Saviour of the world, still they procrastinate. These are like a somnambulist walking upon the verge of a precipice; or, like a man sleeping upon the rails, that shall soon be swept over by the ponderous wheels of the express train.
III. A true conversion. His conviction was instantaneous and enlightened.
1. He possessed faith. “I believe.” Faith is indispensable to salvation. The faith of the eunuch was in the right object--“Jesus Christ”--not in circumcision, nor in the Virgin Mary, nor in priestcraft, but in the God-man. The Jews stung by the fiery serpents could not be healed without looking upon the brazen serpent; even so, without looking up to a crucified Redeemer with the eye of faith, the wounds and bruises of sin cannot be healed.
2. He possessed a peaceful mind (verse 39). Well might he rejoice, for he was now delivered from guilt and condemnation; he had peace with God and joy in the Holy Ghost. (W. A. Griffiths.)
Philip’s audience of one
I. Those who watch for providential opportunities will find that Providence is watching for them. There was a chance of saving a fellow-man down in the desert; God offered it to this Christian preacher (Acts 8:26). If a man’s heart is alert, and his temper willing, some sort of an “angel” will be discovered looking for him for a good work.
II. No self-sacrifice is to be considered too great when a soul is to re saved. Here we find Philip starting out cheerfully to go sixty or seventy miles for a foreign convert (verse 27).
III. God’s kingdom of providence is subordinate to God’s kingdom of grace. Philip could not have known where he was going, except in a general way. Two persons might pass each other a hundred times in the trackless journey, and never know it. It was like starting out on the ocean to meet a ship, when nobody could tell the exact line of sailing. But Divine foreknowledge understood where the eunuch would be, and Divine sovereignty ordered that Philip should meet the traveller out in the sands, for the Divine purpose was to save that soul.
IV. Good men are to be found sometimes in the unlikeliest places. It is a great surprise to us to discover in this officer of an Egyptian queen a proselyte to the ancient religion. So we are told that Christ, even in “Caesar’s household,” had saints (Philippians 4:22). And we have a record of one Christian in Herod’s family (Luke 8:3).
V. It is worth while to put forth a creditable measure of effort to attend church. In the kingdom of God, “not many noble are called” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29), and whenever one out of those high ranks is visited by Divine grace, it is best to look up the man’s record somewhat. It offers a most suggestive comment on the laggardness of some Christian people, when we find this African stranger putting forth such supreme endeavours in order to render his spiritual obedience unto God as best he knew how.
VI. One may go through a most extraordinary season of the loftiest religious privilege and yet remain unenlightened. When we recall the unusual history which had been transpiring, we cannot help thinking how much had happened calculated to arrest both the mind and the heart of such a foreigner in Jerusalem. But even silent sorrow under the shadows of Calvary will not save a soul from death, just by itself. It is possible for one to pass through a whole revival of religion serious and sympathetic, and still remain unregenerate.
VII. Religious convictions are simply inestimable. The eunuch journeyed across the known world in fatiguing travel in order to find peace in the worship of the true God. He is going home, his soul not at rest. Still, though disappointed, he clings to his purpose; he shouts aloud, like the little schoolboys in Ethiopian schools, the verses of that pathetic old chapter in Isaiah, till Philip hears him and conies to his help (verse 29, 30). There is nothing like that impressive moment in which an aroused soul begins to ask, “What must I do to be saved?” If, in that crisis, those gracious feelings are stifled, or suffered to pass away, they may never arise again.
VIII. How unrighteous are the modern sneers about creeds and commentaries! We wonder what the eunuch could have done without that good deacon coming up.
IX. It is always best to be bold, but also to be polite, in offering truth to inquirers. Philip was unabashed, but you will look in vain for any discourtesy in his action. When “the Spirit” says, “Go near,” it is safe to approach any one in the name of Christ (verse 29). The Lord will never set a timid Christian at the task of speaking to a nabob or a politician like this, without going beforehand and, as it were, clearing the way of access.
X. So we see what can be done with an audience of only one. Dean Swift is said to have made a joke of it: “Dearly beloved Roger [his clerk], the Scripture moveth us.” Lyman Beecher is said to have preached his sermon right along, and his one hearer was converted. Jesus Christ gave almost all His supreme revelations to audiences of one, like Nicodemus, and the woman at the well. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Philip the evangelist
The little that is known about Philip, the deacon and evangelist, may very soon be told. His name suggests, though by no means conclusively, that he was probably one of the so-called Hellenists, or foreign-born and Greek-speaking Jews. This is made the more probable because he was one of the seven selected by the Church, and after selection appointed by the apostles to dispense relief to the poor. The purpose of the appointment being to conciliate the grumblers in the Hellenist section of the Church, the persons chosen would probably belong to it. He left Jerusalem during the persecution “that arose after the death of Stephen.” As we know, he was the first preacher of the gospel in Samaria; he was next the instrument honoured to carry the Word to the first heathen ever gathered into the Church; and then, after a journey along the seacoast to Caesarea, the then seat of government, he remained in that place in obscure toil for twenty years; dropped out of the story; and we hear no more about him but for one glimpse of his home in Caesarea.
I. We may gather a thought as to Christ’s sovereignty in choosing His instruments. Did you ever notice that events exactly contradicted the notion of the Church, and of the apostles, in the selection of Philip and his six brethren? The apostles said, “It is not reason that we should leave the Word of God and serve tables. Pick out seven relieving-officers--men who shall do the secular work of the Church.” So said man. And what did facts say? That out of these twelve, who were to give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word, we never hear that by far the larger proportion of them were honoured to do anything worth mentioning for the spread of the gospel. But, on the other hand, of the men that were supposed to be fitted for secular work, two at all events had more to do in the expansion of the Church, and in the development of the universal aspects of Christ’s gospel, than the whole of the original group of apostles. So Christ picks His instruments. Christ chooses His instruments where He will; and it is not the apostle’s business, nor the business of an ecclesiastic of any sort, to settle his own work or anybody else’s. The Commander-in-Chief keeps the choosing of the men for special service in His own hand. Christ says, “Go and join thyself to that chariot,” and speak there the speech that I shall bid thee. Brethren, do you listen for that voice calling you to your tasks, and never mind what men may be saying.
II. The next lesson that I would take from this story is the spontaneous speech of a believing heart. There came a persecution that scattered the Church. Men tried to fling down the lamp, and all they did was to spill the oil, and it ran flaming wherever it went. And so we read that, not by appointment, nor of set purpose, nor in consequence of any official sanction, nor in consequence of any supernatural and distinct commandment from heaven, but just because it was the natural thing to do, and they could not help it, they went everywhere, these scattered men of Cyprus and Cyrene, preaching the Word. And when this Philip, whom the officials had relegated to the secular work of distributing charity, found himself in Samaria, he did the like. So it always will be; we can all talk about what we are interested in. The full heart cannot be condemned to silence. Do you carry with you the impulse for utterance of Christ’s name wherever you go? And is it so sweet in your hearts that you cannot but let its sweetness have expression by your lips?
III. Another lesson that seems to me strikingly illustrated by the story with which we are concerned, is the guidance of a Divine hand in common life, and when there are no visible nor supernatural signs. Philip goes down to Samaria because he must, and speaks because he cannot help it, He is next bidden to take a long journey, from the centre of the land, away down to the southern desert; and at a certain point there the Spirit says to him, “Go! join thyself to this chariot.” And when his work with the Ethiopian statesman is done, then he is swept away by the power of the Spirit of God, as Ezekiel had been long before by the banks of the river Chebor, and is set down, no doubt all bewildered and breathless, at Azotus--the ancient Ashdod--the Philistine city, down on the low-lying coast. Was Philip less under Christ’s guidance when miracle ceased and he was left to ordinary powers? Did it seem to him as if his task in preaching the gospel in these villages through which he passed on his way to Caesarea was less distinctly obedience to the Divine command than when he heard the utterance of the Spirit, “Go down to the road which leads to Gaza, which is desert”? By no means. To this man, as to every faithful soul, the guidance that came through his own judgment and common sense, through the instincts and impulses of his sanctified nature, by the circumstances which he devoutly believed to be God’s providence, was as truly direct Divine guidance as if all the angels of heaven had blown the commandment with their trumpets into his waiting and stunned ears. And so you and I have to go upon our paths without angel voices, or chariots of storm, and to be contented with Divine commandments less audible or perceptible to our senses than this man had at one point in his career. There is no gulf for the devout heart between what is called miraculous and what is called ordinary and common. Equally in both did God manifest His will to His servants, and equally in both is His presence capable of realisation. We do not need to envy Philip’s brilliant beginning. Let us see that we imitate his quiet close of life.
IV. The last lesson that I would draw is this.--the nobility of persistence in unnoticed work. What a contrast to the triumphs in Samaria, and the other great expansion of the field for the gospel effected by the God-commanded preaching to the eunuch, is presented by the succeeding twenty years of altogether unrecorded but faithful toil! Persistence in such unnoticed work is made all the more difficult, and to any but a very true man would have been all but impossible, by reason of the contrast which such work offered to the glories of the earlier days. Philip, who began so conspicuously, and so suddenly ceased to be the special instrument in the hands of the Spirit, kept plod, plod, plodding on with no bitterness of heart. For twenty years he had no share in the development of Gentile Christianity, of which he had sowed the first seed, but had to do much less conspicuous work. He toiled away there in Caesarea patient, persevering, and contented, because he loved the work. He seemed to be passed over by his Lord in His choice of instruments. It was he who was selected to be the first man that should preach to the heathen. But did you ever notice that, although he was probably in Caesarea at the time, Cornelius was not bid to apply to Philip, who was at his elbow, but to send to Joppa for the Apostle Peter? Philip might have sulked, and said, “Why was I not chosen to do this work? I will speak no more in this Name.” It did not fall to his lot to be the apostle to the Gentiles. One who came after him was preferred before him, and the Hellenist Saul was set to the task which might have seemed naturally to belong to the Hellenist Philip. He cordially welcomed Paul to his house in Caesarea twenty years afterwards, and rejoiced that one sows and another reaps; and so the division of labour is the multiplication of gladness. A beautiful superiority to all the low thoughts that are apt to mar our persistency in unobtrusive and unrecognised work is set before us in this story. Boys in the street will refuse to join in games, saying, “I shall not play unless I am captain, or have the big drum.” And there are not wanting Christian men who lay down like conditions. “Play well thy part,” wherever it is. Never mind the honour. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Philip and the eunuch
I. Philip meeting the eunuch.
1. An “angel of the Lord spake unto Philip.” Whether there was a visible representation or not we cannot tell--very likely there was. But certain it is that he spake. The partition between men and angels is very thin--they can hear us talk, we can almost hear them. The two spheres of rational existence adjoin and seem sometimes to overlap each other. Angels, in the first century of our era, busily interested themselves in the affairs of the Church. Have they been withdrawn? No. “Are they not all ministering sprats,” etc. We believe that evil spirits insinuate wicked thoughts. Why, then, deny the same power to good spirits? We sit leisurely in the house, when suddenly a thought shoots through the mind that we must “go towards the south”--visit a certain street. It is not impulse, nor feeling, for both bid us remain where we are; but we have no rest--the thought continually recurs. At last we go; and lo! we discover that our presence and assistance were sorely needed. Alas! we are not equally obedient with Philip.
2. The angel said, “Go toward the south,” etc. One cannot help wondering at the angel’s knowledge; but Palestine is not the only country with whose geography angels are acquainted.
3. That the message would prove a trial to Philip’s faith is unquestionable. It required that he should deny his most cherished predilections. Succeeding so remarkably in a city of Samaria, no doubt he was much tempted to prolong his stay. He might, with a great show of reason, raise formidable objections, but did not. The unbeliever always raises objections, but the believer always puts them down. “He arose and went.”
4. As soon as he arrived in the unpromising neighbourhood, he saw a chariot occupied by a “man of Ethiopia”--probably the region now known as Nubia and Abyssinia. The eunuch, therefore, was one of the sable descendants of Ham. Human reason is much embarrassed that God should order His servant to forsake the populous city to preach to a foreign traveller in a desolate path. But God pays as much heed to the one as to the many. His government is special, attending to the minutest wants of individuals, as well as general, attending to the collective wants of the multitude. “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner,” etc. The “man of Ethiopia” was also an “eunuch.” Eunuchs were numerous in the East, but were forbidden in Israel. Divine religion never encourages the mutilation of the body. False religions do. Their only method of overcoming sin is to disable the body to commit it. But true religion inculcates subjugation. Wherefore the Ethiopian eunuch could only be an outsider--devout, pious may be, but still an outsider. He was employed under Candace, and was set over all her treasures, i.e., her Minister of Finance, the most important office of all under a despotism. But the Grand Vizier of Ethiopia discovered to the bitterness of his soul that earthly possessions, however vast, cannot satisfy the profound yearning of our humanity. That is why “he went to Jerusalem to worship.”
5. The best spirits of the nations turned at this period with loathing from heathen religions and superstitions. Some betook themselves to atheism; others to witchcraft. But the better disposed passed over to Judaism. They found in it what the other systems of religion failed to give--pure morality and strict monotheism. So the eunuch travelled to Jerusalem “to worship God.”
II. Philip preaching to the eunuch.
1. The eunuch was now returning, and humbly studied the Word of God on his way from the temple of God. We often erase all good impression received in the house of God by frivolous dissipating talk on our way home. But the eunuch, “sitting in his chariot, read Esaias the prophet.” People nowadays, going on a tedious journey, take with them frivolous and exciting books with a view to “kill” the time. Better I should imagine did they learn a lesson from the religious African and read the Bible not to “kill” the time but to improve it.
2. He was “reading aloud,” as was customary among Orientals. But the word also signifies to read to another. He was endeavouring to benefit his charioteer as well as himself. A truly generous man! The section of Scripture he was reading was singularly appropriate. It was the very section which treats of the close relation eunuchs were to sustain to the Church of God under the New Dispensation. Not by chance was he reading this portion of Holy Writ. No; he was studying it rather than any other that he might come to some definite conclusion respecting:his own chances of ultimate salvation.
3. The chariot was driving leisurely along when Philip, wearied and dust-stained, arrived in sight. The paths of the two men were now to intersect. At the beginning an angel spake; now that he has obeyed and his work is at hand, the “Spirit of God said unto him.” As a reward for cheerful and implicit obedience, the presence of the angel of God is superseded by the presence of the Spirit of God. The angel was adequate to bid “Philip arise and go”; but not to bring about the conversion of the traveller. Angels minister unto the heirs of salvation but cannot sanctify them. “The Spirit said unto Philip.” He did not speak, converse in audible tones, as the angel did, but expressed Himself distinctly in the inward voice of the soul. Angels can never speak in the soul, at best they can only speak to it. We cannot help wondering at the marvellous combination of distinct agencies: the Word, the Servant, the Angel and the Spirit of God all work together to effect the salvation of one soul!
4. Philip then “ran” and said unto the eunuch, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” “The eunuch answered,” dec. (verse 31). If he did not understand, he had the first qualification to do so, he knew he did not understand, and was candid enough to avow it. Many now are like him in their ignorance of the Scriptures, but very unlike him in their unconsciousness of that ignorance. They occupy exalted positions in science and literature, but they claim to understand theology likewise better than its professed students. Talk of the dogmatism of theology! Why, it has never been half so dogmatic as so-called philosophy. But the eunuch, humble as a little child, expressed his willingness to learn of the footsore pedestrian. Then he read over the passage again, and said, “Of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself or of some other man?” Forgetting his social superiority in his intense eagerness to solve the great problems of religion, he beseeches Philip to explain the prophetic riddle. The prophet speaks of the “Servant of the Lord.” But who is this Servant? “himself or some other man?” A right honest and thoughtful question--one still hotly debated between the rationalistic and the evangelistic schools. But of Philip’s answer there can be no doubt--he pointed him in plain unambiguous language to that “Other Man.” “Philip opened his mouth,” and delivered himself of his momentous message. Some people when they open their-mouths shut the Scriptures. They darken counsel with words without knowledge. But Philip “opened his mouth,” and thereby opened the Scriptures. “He began at the same Scripture,” but he did not finish there. That Scripture is the climax of the Old Dispensation, which never reached a higher strain. But the climax of the Old is the starting-point of the New. Where Esaias left off, there Philip began. The only way to expound the Bible is to preach Jesus. Omit Him, and it is a dark riddle which no human ingenuity can unravel. He is the key to unlock the prophecies.
5. In a city of Samaria, Philip “preached Christ”; but to the eunuch “he preached Jesus.” The Samaritans expected the Christ; and were full of theories respecting Him. Among them, therefore, Philip had to dwell principally on the Christhood of the Saviour. But the eunuch was not hampered with any preconceived notions. What he supremely desired was a personal Saviour. To him, therefore, Philip preached Jesus. But Philip was not content with a mere exposition of the prophecy. He pressed the Saviour on his acceptance. There is reason to fear that much of modern preaching is not personaI enough. You pick up a volume of sermons “preached before the University of Oxford.” Before, forsooth! Let the beams of the sun fall broadly on your hand, and you hardly notice it; concentrate them on one spot and they burn. And the gospel light shines fully and broadly on our congregations, but how few the conversions! We diffuse the light instead of focussing it.
III. Philip baptizing the eunuch.
1. Modern Churches require candidates to submit to a tedious process of probation. Prudence now counsels delay, but the eunuch was baptized immediately.
2. But he was baptized on making a confession of his faith. Whether verse 27 is genuine or not, the truth it contains will still remain intact. Only on a candid confession of faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God can a man be legitimately received into the Christian Church. Correct views on other doctrines are of great importance to a robust, vigorous, spiritual life; but they do not necessarily endanger our ultimate salvation. But a correct belief respecting the Person of the Saviour is an element absolutely essential to salvation--without it no man can be saved.
3. The eunuch, being baptized, “went on his way rejoicing.” Prior to his interview with Philip he was restless and unhappy. He carried a sorrow he could not explain. His profound grief found vent in the tearful strains of Isaiah lift. But Philip’s teaching dissipated the gloom. The strings of the burden snapped in sight of the Cross, and the eunuch was delivered from that which he feared. Many foolishly imagine that religion is a melancholy thing. A sad mistake! (J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)
Philip and the eunuch: a remarkable meeting
It was a meeting--
I. Of remarkable men. Each stood out amongst his contemporaries--the one distinguished by his political position, the other by his advocacy of a new faith. In appearance and worldly position they greatly differed, for Philip was poor and without status, whereas the eunuch was affluent and high in his country’s esteem. Philip was a footsore traveller, the eunuch wended his way home provided with all that the civilisation of the age could supply to make the journey pleasant.
II. Brought about by extraordinary circumstances.
1. The direction of Philip to Gaza by an angel of the Lord.
2. The occupation of the eunuch--reading Isaiah; if to relieve the tedium of the journey, how much better than our practice of devouring the trash sold at railway bookstalls! Or was it for the purpose of intellectual culture? Or to see if the character claims of the recently crucified Jesus corresponded with those of prophecy? It matters not. It was Bible reading that brought him in contact with Philip.
3. The Spirit’s impulse that prompted Philip to join the chariot. There was something more than human in this boldness.
III. Turned to rare spiritual account. Coming together, what did they do? Converse on politics? No, on the Scripture.
1. The eunuch was enlighted by Philip--for which work two things are necessary.
(1) On the part of the one a disposition to receive knowledge (verse 31).
(2) On the part of the other, a power to impart it. This Philip had.
2. The eunuch was baptized by Philip.
IV. Terminating blessedly.
1. For Philip. He was transferred to another sphere of usefulness.
2. For the eunuch. He went on his way rejoicing. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Philip and the Ethiopian
Simon the sorcerer and the Ethiopian officer are at contrast. In his seeking, Simon’s heart was not right in the sight of God, while the heart of the Ethiopian commended itself to Divine favour. Simon was after power--the Ethiopian was after truth. The thought of the one was only of self--the other had no thought of self at all. Simon was rebuked, but the Ethiopian was helped. Simon was filled with fear--the Ethiopian went on his way rejoicing. Note, then, the danger of approaching God with wrong motives, and the encouragement to every one who sincerely desires to know and do the will of God; how severely a selfish seeker may be rebuked, and how ready the Holy Spirit is to help an earnest inquirer after truth. Let us see what the Holy Spirit did to help such an one.
I. He sent to him a helper. Notice the instrumentalities employed--angelic and human--teaching us the value that in heaven is placed upon a single soul. There is here, too, a suggestion of the way that angels are made ministering spirits. The angel “spake” unto Philip, but he could not be the guide into the way of life. It needed a redeemed soul to speak of a Redeemer. The world is to be won to Christ, not by the testimony of angels, but by the witness of saved men.
II. He sent to him a successful helper. Philip has a good record as a Christian worker. He was the sort of instrument that the Holy Spirit could use. Though in the midst of a great work, he gives it up without even a query to go down to a desert. His faith accounts both for his obedience and his success. It takes great faith to give up a work for one that seemingly is small. But teaching one man in a desert may be of more importance than teaching a thousand in a city.
III. He directed the helper in his work. Philip not only was sent down, but was told what to do. The juncture was admirably timed. The Holy Spirit never inspires to unseasonable labours.
IV. He sent the helper to one who needed help. The Ethiopian was a man of station, and had made some progress in the right way. But that which brought him help was the cry of his soul for truth. That cry had been heard in heaven even before he had consciously called, and the answer was at hand!
V. He sent a helper of tact. The fact that one is sent by the Spirit should not cause him to be careless of methods, but should make him call to his aid all the skill and ability of which he is the master.
VI. He sent a helper conversant with the scriptures. Philip could fit the prophecy to the facts. And not merely that, he showed his familiarity with other prophecies. “Beginning from this scripture,” Philip preached Jesus. If one desires to be a power for Christ, he should become familiarly acquainted with the Word that bears witness to Him.
VII. He sent just the help that was needed. Having heard the Word explained, the Ethiopian joyfully accepted the truth, and desired immediately to have that rite performed that would seal him to Christ as a believer.
VIII. He caught away the helper when he was no longer needed. Naturally, both instructor and scholar would have liked to have kept company together indefinitely. But the purpose of Philip’s sending had been accomplished. There was work for the evangelist to do elsewhere, and work, it is to be presumed, for the Ethiopian to do at home. (M. C. Hazard.)
How the Ethiopian treasurer found the true treasure
I. The place where he found it. A solitary road through a waste.
II. The chest wherein it was hid. The Scripture with its dark saying and seals.
III. The key which he obtained. By the sermon eagerly received.
IV. The jewel which sparkled to him. Christ who died for our sins and rose for our justification.
V. The bight of possession which was acknowledged to him in baptism.
VI. The joy with which he carried the treasure home. (K. Gerok.)
Courtiers and conversion
Courtonne, a celebrated pastor of Amsterdam, notorious for the freedom of his preaching, was urged to preach at court. He consented on condition that the household of the Prince of Orange should be present, and that no one should be offended at his freedom of speech. When the time came, a great and distinguished audience assembled, and the preacher took for his text the present subject, which he said contained four subjects of astonishment, which increase one upon the other.
I. A courtier who reads the holy scripture, which is sufficiently surprising.
II. A courtier who owns his ignorance, which is more surprising still.
III. A courtier who asks his inferior to instruct him, which should cause a redoubling of the surprise.
IV. A courtier who is converted, which brings the surprise to a climax. (A. Coquerel.)
How all things co-operate to promote the salvation of a soul desiring to be saved
I. God, by His angel and Spirit.
II. Man. Philip, by his meeting and discourse.
III. Scripture. The prophecy of Isaiah.
IV. Nature. The water by the way. (K. Gerok.)
The Christian teacher’s work and its rewards
The Book of Acts contains a gallery of missionary portraits. One is inspired by studying them, but none leave an impression more distinct and abiding than Philip’s. He appears suddenly; the sketches given of his labours are very short; he quickly disappears. Like Elijah, when he is seen he moves with the Spirit, and is moved by the Spirit. He awakens joy wherever he goes; and his four daughters inherit his spirit and become prophetesses. Consider--
I. Certain characteristics of the Christian teacher’s work.
1. His implicit obedience to the Spirit. The angel said, “Arise and go.” He arose and went. Divine guidance to particular service is often accompanied by special evidence of its source. It is always in perfect accord with the Scriptures; there are providential circumstances pointing towards it; and often the call is emphasised by the counsel of God’s most devoted servants, though no unseen angel now brings His command.
2. His eagerness to impart the gospel. He see a distinguished foreigner on the road. Many a teacher would have said, “He is no scholar for me.” Only a heart full of love to men could have made him quick to obey the Spirit’s direction. Whatever openings we see, we must press into. No one lives where souls are still unsaved, where God does not open a way for him to carry the gospel. Take the first step, and God will point out the next.
3. His usable knowledge of the Scriptures. Strangers interested in the Scriptures meet on common ground. A Frenchman thrown into the company of a German, tried many ways to communicate with him; but neither could speak the language of the other. At last he took from his pocket a little Testament, and pointed to John 3:16. The German could not read the language, but the Word was the message dear to his heart. They each looked at the verse, then into each other’s eyes, then clasped hands across the book. Philip had made no immediate preparation, but he had prepared himself for such emergencies, both by experience and study. He could begin right there and preach Jesus.
II. Some of his rewards.
1. He finds a heart prepared to receive the truth. One who is filled with the love of Jesus finds intense delight in kindling that love in others. Philip expected immediate results. It was not his purpose to sow the seed and be content to leave it. He led the eunuch on from willingness to learn to eagerness to be a recognised disciple of Jesus. Such a reward is Divine. We never forget the triumphs of such moments.
2. He found new evidence of being a co-worker with God. What a reward is the evidence that God makes the efforts of His faithful servant effective!
3. Philip secured a witness for the gospel. That which he was so eager to make known would now be proclaimed by another also.
4. Philip filled a life with joy. The eunuch, like Zaccheus, like the Philippian jailor, like countless thousands more, rejoiced because he had found Christ as his Saviour. Wherever Philip goes, he leaves a trail of joy behind him. Samaria rejoices in his presence: so did also the desert. (Monday Club Sermons.)
Four noble guides to the way of salvation
I. The voice in one’s heart, which longs after God.
II. The intimation of scripture, which points to Christ.
III. The guidance of the ministry, which explains both the presentiments of the heart and the counsels of Scripture.
IV. The efficacy of the sacrament, which seals to us the Divine grace, and nourishes and strengthens within us the Divine life. (K. Gerok.)
Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.
If the eunuch followed the general custom of the East, he was not only reading to himself aloud, but so as to be heard easily and distinctly by any one in the immediate neighbourhood. The prayer, or praying, of the Orientals is not usually very noisy, but their reading is a continual sound. They study aloud, read their sacred books aloud, and rehearse their lessons aloud, to an extent that is not seen among the Occidentals, nor enjoyed by an Occidental listener. When there are many together, the babel is astonishing. The idea that it might disturb any one never enters their heads. But the Orientals do many things with noise which we of the west prefer to do with quietness. Our talking seems painfully low and still to them, as theirs seems painfully loud and noisy to us. Yet the Orientals are not very much beyond the ordinary Italians in that respect. (Prof. I. H. Hall.)
The Word of God, the best reading for a journey,
not only on the way from Jerusalem to Gaza, but on the way through time to eternity.
1. We forget thereby the hardships of the way.
2. We look not aside to forbidden paths.
3. We make thereby blessed travelling acquaintances.
4. we go forward on the right path to the blessed goal. (K. Gerok.)
Reading the Scriptures
I. Some remarks on this subject. It is a duty--
1. Incumbent upon all.
2. In accordance with the dictates of reason.
3. To be performed irrespective of rank and condition.
II. Instruction respecting it.
1. Before you read consider whose book it is.
2. Read with a teachable spirit.
3. Practise what you learn.
4. Never read without prayer. (J. Clayton, M. A.)
Reading the Scriptures: its advantage
The Word of God is the water of life; the more you lave it forth, the fresher it runneth: it is the fire of God’s glory; the more ye blow it, the clearer it burneth: it is the corn of the Lord’s field; the better ye grind it, the more it yieldeth: it is the bread of heaven; the more it is broken and given forth, the more it remaineth: it is the sword of the Spirit; the more it is scoured, the brighter it shineth. (Bp. Jewel.)
Method of Bible reading determined by need and purpose
Ah! the way a man reads the Bible--how much that depends upon his necessity. I have unrolled the chart of the coast many and many a time, particularly in these later days, since there has been so much interest attached to it. I have gone along down with my finger, and followed the shoals and depths in and out of this harbour and that, and imagined a lighthouse here and a lighthouse there that were marked on the chart, and have looked at the inland country lining the shore, and it has been a matter of interest to me, to be sure. But suppose I had been in that equinoctial gale that blew with such violence, and had had the command of a ship off the coast of Cape Hatteras, and the lighthouse had not been in sight, and my spars had been split, and my rigging, had been disarranged, and my sails had been blown away, and I had had all I could do to keep the ship out of a trough of the sea, and I had been trying to make some harbour, how would I have unrolled the chart, and with two men to help me to held it, on account of the reeling and staggering of the vessel, looked at all the signs, and endeavoured to find out where I was! Now, when I sit in my house, where there is no gale, and with no ship, and read my chart out of curiosity, I read it as you sometimes read your Bible. You say, “Here is the headland of depravity; and there is a lighthouse--born again; and here is the channel of duty.” And yet every one of you has charge of a ship--the human soul. Evil passions are fierce winds that are driving it. This Bible is God’s chart for you to steer by, to keep you from the bottom of the sea, and to show you where the harbour is, and how to reach it without running on rocks or bars. If you have been reading this book to gratify curiosity; if you have been reading it to see if you could mot catch a Universalist; if you have been reading it to find a knife with which to cut up a Unitarian; if you have been reading it for the purpose of setting up or taking down a bishop; if you have been reading it to establish or overthrow any sect; if you have been reading it so, then stop. It is God’s medicine-book. You are sick. You are mortally struck through with disease. There is no human remedy for your trouble. But here is God’s medicine-book. If you read it for life, for health, for growth in righteousness, then blessed is your reading; but if you read it for disputation and dialectical ingenuities, it is no more to you than Bacon’s “Novum Organum” would be. It is the book of life--it is the book of everlasting life--so take heed how you read it. In reading it, see that you have the truth, and not the mere semblance of it. You cannot live without it. You die for ever unless you have it to teach you what are your relations to God and eternity. May God guide you away from all cunning appearances of truth set to deceive men, and make you love the real truth! Above all other things, may God make you honest in interpreting it, and applying it to your daily life and disposition! (H. W. Beecher.)
Reading the Scriptures: unprofitable method of
To some the Bible is uninteresting and unprofitable, because they read too fast. Among the insects which subsist on the sweet sap of flowers, there are two very different classes. One is remarkable for its imposing plumage, which shows in the sunbeams like the dust of gems; and as you watch its jaunty gyrations over the fields and its minuet dance from flower to flower, you cannot he!p admiring its graceful activity, for it is plainly getting over a great deal of ground. But in the same field there is another worker, whose brown vest and business-like, straightforward flight may not have arrested your eye. His fluttering neighbour darts down here and there, and sips elegantly wherever he can find a drop of ready nectar; but this dingy plodder makes a point of alighting everywhere, and wherever he alights he either finds honey or makes it. If the flower-cup be deep, he goes down to the bottom; if its dragon-mouth be shut, he thrusts its lips asunder; and if the nectar be peculiar or recondite, he explores all about till he discovers it, and then having ascertained the knack of it, joyful as one who has found great spoil, he sings his may down into its luscious recesses. His rival of the painted velvet wing has no patience for such dull and long-winded details. But what is the end? Why, the one died last October along with the flowers; the other is warm in his hive to-night, amidst the fragrant stores which he gathered beneath the bright beams of summer. To which do you belong?--the butterflies or bees? Do you search the Scriptures, or do you only skim them? (J. Hamilton, D. D.)
Reading the Scriptures: motive for
Other books can nourish our minds, but only God’s Word can feed our souls.
The great prophecy
A few years ago a Brahmin of the highest caste, profound in all the history and language and religion of Brahma, came to England. By chance, or rather by special providence, a copy of the Scriptures fell into his hands. He devoured it with avidity; he did not consult any one to interpret for him a single passage, but the light broke upon him, and what produced the greatest effect upon his mind was that which converted Lord Rochester on his death-bed. He read Isaiah 53:1-12., and compared it with the account of the crucifixion, and became a profound Christian. That man is now in high favour with the Nizam of Hyderabad, and has founded a church which has several hundred Christian worshippers. (R. Bruce.)
Reading the Scriptures: fruits of
A Roman Catholic priest in Belgium rebuked a young woman and her brother for reading that “bad book,” pointing to the Bible. “Sir,” she replied, “a little while ago my brother was an idler, a gambler, and a drunkard. Since he began to study the Bible he works with industry, goes no longer to the tavern, no longer touches cards, brings home money to his poor old mother, and our life at home is quiet and delightful. How comes it, sir, that a bad book produces such good fruits?”
Reading: kinds of
The first class of readers may be compared to an hour-glass; their reading being as the sand: it runs in and runs out, and leaves not a vestige behind. A second class resembles a sponge, which imbibes everything, and returns it in nearly the same state, only a little dirtier. A third class is like a jelly-bag, which allows all that is pure to pass away, and retains only the refuse and dregs. The fourth class may be compared to the slave of Golconda, who, casting aside all that is worthless, preserves only the pure gems. (S. T. Coleridge.)
Reading: results of good and bad
Do not buy, do not borrow, do not touch bad books. One book may decide thy destiny. The assassin of Lord William Russell said he committed that crime as the result of reading the romance, then popular, entitled “Jack Sheppard.” George Law was made a millionaire by reading a biography in childhood. Benjamin Franklin became the good man and philosopher that he was by reading in early life Cotton Mather’s “Essays to do Good.” John Angell James, as consecrated a man as ever lived in England, stood in his pulpit and said: “Twenty-five years ago a lad loaned me a bad book for a quarter of an hour. I have never recovered from it. The spectres of that book have haunted me to this day. I shall not, to my dying day, get over the reading of that book for fifteen minutes.” A clergyman, travelling towards the West, many years ago, had in his trunk Doddridge’s “Rise and Progress.” In the hotel he saw a woman copying from a book. He found that she had borrowed Doddridge’s “Rise and Progress” from a neighbour, and was copying some portions out of it, so he made her a present of his copy of the “Rise and Progress.” Thirty-one years after, he was passing along that way and he inquired for that woman. He was pointed to a beautiful home. He went there. He asked her if she remembered him. She said, “No.” Then, he says, “Do you not remember thirty years ago a man gave you a copy of Doddridge’s ‘Rise and Progress’?” She said, “Yes; I read it, and it was the means of my conversion. I passed it round, and all the neighbours read it, and there came a revival, and we called a minister and we built a church. The church of Wyoming is the result of that one book which you gave me.” The reading of Homer’s “Iliad” made Alexander a warrior, and the reading of the “Life of Alexander” made Caesar and Charles XII. men of blood. It is well known that Rochester was, for many years of his life, an avowed infidel, and that a large portion of his time was spent in ridiculing the Bible. One of his biographers has described him as “a great wit, a great sinner, and a great penitent.” Even this man was converted by the Holy Spirit in the use of His Word. Reading the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, he was convinced of the truth and inspiration of the Scriptures, the Deity of the Messiah, and the value of His atonement as a rock on which sinners may build their hopes of salvation. On that atonement he rested, and died in the humble expectation of pardoning mercy and heavenly happiness.
Then said the Spirit to Philip, Go near.
Lessons from the desert ways
These two men were alike in a few respects, but in all others different. Both were travellers, both were stewards, and each had authority. But one was rich, the other poor. One was the steward of a great queen, and returning to her court and to the charge of all her treasure; but the other was going clown to Gaza which is desert, in trust with the gospel ministry and the commission of the Most High. Here is an instance to the point; men were feeling after Christ, in the unsatisfied hunger of the soul. Whatever impression that equipage may have made on Philip, as he looked, he was greatly in error if he thought, “Here is probably a haughty man of the world!” Appearances deceive. The humble and meek may be in kings’ courts; under the robe of wealth and state may beat a heart uncorrupt before God. This person, for example, had the charge of vast earthly treasure, and yet his thoughts are far away; he is meekly reading the Word of life, and seeking the pearl of great price. (Morgan Dix, D. D.)
Guidance in doing good
There was an unseen chance of serving a fellow-man down in a distant desert. Christ offered that chance to this Christian preacher. If a true believer’s heart is alert, and his temper willing, the Lord will surely put him and keep him in the way of doing good. Only he must watch for heavenly providences to summon him, and instantly obey.
I. No exertion should be considered too difficult, no prospect too discouraging, if doing good is our purpose. Philip cheerfully started to go sixty or seventy miles just to save a single soul. “He arose and went.” Sprang to meet the command. On the other hand the eunuch traversed more than half a continent to render God worship and find peace.
II. Sometimes the Holy Spirit chooses the best people in the unlikeliest places. Christ had saints in Caesar’s household and Herod’s family; so there was a seeker after truth in the court of Ethiopia.
III. Religious convictions are of inestimable value, and ought to be cherished as we would cherish life itself. The eunuch had been all the way, to Jerusalem without any helpful illumination of grace. Bat he will net give up without the blessing; so he searches the Scriptures on his way back, in spite of the tediousness of the journey.
IV. It is wrong to be fastidious about opportunities. Wherever souls are, in the desert or not, there let us try to save them.
V. We are never to despise the day of small things. Philip, like our Lord at Sychar, had an audience of one-but he preached notwithstanding.
VI. The measureless worth of a single chance of telling a fellow-being about Jesus Christ. Philip had not met this man before: there is nothing to show that he met him again. A moment lost might have been the loss of a soul.
VII. Courtesy is never lost on anybody in this uneasy and somewhat rough world. A churl would have told this stranger to move on and attend to his own concerns.
VIII. Notice the Ethiopian’s humility. He was ignorant and acknowledged it. To be conscious of ignorance is the first step to knowledge.
IX. Whoever desires to no good must find out where the Spirit is leaning him, and simply and humbly follow on.
X. Watch even chariots passing by. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Marriages, they say, are made in heaven; i.e., the steps of two, both being God’s dear children, are so directed that after each has passed over many windings, the two paths converge, and the two lives meet and melt into one like two rivers, flowing thenceforth one broader, deeper, stronger stream. Meetings that are of shorter duration, and partnerships that are less intimate, come under the same rule. “It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” If God’s purposes in creation require the meeting of two circling worlds, He will so arrange that the two shall touch at the very point of space and time which He has designed. The same might and wisdom have been at work to arrange a meeting wherever one earthen vessel charged bears Christ, and another empty receives Christ at a brother’s hand. This case is recorded as a specimen of the Lord’s way. Such meetings occur now, and ye know not the day nor the hour when the messenger sent by God to meet you may heave in sight--in church, street, lonely path, or home. Those who desire to meet him will not miss him. Though the place was desert and the path dimly traced, and the time not told at all, Philip and the Ethiopian met with all the exactitude of tides and seasons. These meetings, long prepared and wisely arranged, are sometimes lost through obstinate unbelief. What a meeting was that between Paul and Felix! How far up the lines of preparation for it ran; and how skilfully they were held by God until the missionary and the ruler met! Now, Felix, or never. “Go thy way,” etc. Fool! You will never get another. He thought he was only politely putting off the Christian: in reality he was rudely rejecting Christ. To lose such a meeting may be to lose your soul. Philip ran to meet the eunuch. Hitherto he had walked, perhaps slowly. So when two objects attract each other by hidden magnets, their mutual motion towards a meeting is scarcely perceptible at first; but when they have approached near the movement quickens, and they traverse the rest of the space at a rush. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
A providential meeting
At one of Mr. Moody’s meetings in Belfast, the Rev. Wesley Guard mentioned an incident of which he said the facts had just been related to him. It was to the effect that a farmer, living three miles out in the country, wanted to come into the meeting one day, but was unexpectedly detained, and did not know how he would get there in time. He started, and presently he heard a car coming behind him. When it came up the vehicle was stopped, and the man said to the driver, “Thank you, sir, for giving me a lift.” “I did not offer you a lift; but as the horse stopped you had better get up.” The farmer got up, and they drove on. After a little conversation the driver confessed that he was in great distress about his soul, and the tears began to fall. The good man told him the way of life, and there and then as they journeyed on the car the gentleman found salvation. Said he, “I can see now why the horse stopped; it was that I might get into the light.”
Little events leading to great
In walking across Alpine glaciers, travellers often come upon narrow and apparently insignificant fissures, that seem to be merely superficial cracks; while the guides know that, if one but sounds them, they shall be found sinking down, fathom after fathom, to the very bottom, and sometimes, though small to the eye externally, they are cavernous, and at the bottom torrents rush and roar in silence, for so far down are they, and so in covered, that their angriest noises are smothered. It is just so in human life. The most insignificant incidents often lead to great events. Often, if we hear God’s voice in the small matters of life, and obey His commands, we shall find that we are led on to great things. Philip was told in what direction to go, and by going in that particular direction he met the Ethiopian, and was able to lead him to Christ.
A timely visit
It is recorded of Mr. Dod, one of the Puritan ministers, that being one night late in his study, his mind was strongly inclined, though he could assign no reason for it, to visit a gentleman of his acquaintance at a very unseasonable hour. Not knowing the design of Providence, he obeyed and went. When he reached the house, after knocking a few times at the door, the gentleman himself came, and inquired if he wanted him upon any particular business. Mr. Dod, having answered in the negative, and signified that he could not rest till he had seen him, the gentleman replied, “Oh, sir, you are sent of God at this very hour, for I was just now going to destroy myself,” and immediately pulled the halter out of his pocket by which he had intended to commit the horrid deed, which was thus prevented.
And Philip ran … and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?
Understanding the Word
1. Notice the preliminary fact that the Scriptures challenge investigation. “Let us reason together,” says Isaiah. The Bible is a definite and positive force. You can no more eliminate it from the world’s life than you can take oxygen from its atmosphere, or Columbus and Constantine from history. The life and words of Jesus invite, demand intelligent study.
2. These Scriptures are a growth. The Word of God is not “dropped ready-made from heaven.”
3. Our understanding of the Word is a growth. We must get more and more the true perspective.
I. What rules of interpretation are we to adopt?
1. At the outset we assume the fact that the Word is not a sealed volume, but a plain book, in the study of which reason, common sense is needed. Rationalism enthrones reason above the Bible, we need not go to the other extreme and ignore it. We find necessary facts in the Scriptures. Things, indeed, there are which are hard to be understood, but we need not magnify difficulties into doubts. To recognise difficulties is not sinful, but doubt, at least, is not holy. We are to remember that God is not limited to our comprehension of Him. We cannot rule out all difficulties. Faith has its place as well as reason.
2. The Scriptures, in the next place, appeal to our moral nature, the conscience, affections, to hope and fear. Christ says, “I will tell you whom ye shall fear.” The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Love, too, lifts the veil from many a mystery. This is true in even human friendship, but in a grander sense love is an interpreter of God. We quarrel with the facts of His character and government until we learn to love Him. Then all grows plain. The Word of God meets the soul’s yearning for pardon. The conscience of Felix was appealed to, and he trembled. Christians need to make their consciences more discriminating and sensitive.
3. Again, we are to interpret the Word of God in its unity and rest upon it as God’s truth, not content with fragmentary facts. Our spiritual universe is more than one story high. We cannot leave our belief in a future existence. Deep and reverent scholarship shown in the study of Divine truth has always been honoured of God. We ought to be content only in a large outlook.
II. Perils in methods of interpretation.
1. Some come to the Scriptures for a purpose and bend it to a theory.
2. Others come to the Scriptures with a captious spirit to pick out faults and errors.
3. Some cultivate a merely intellectual, speculative knowledge, and know nothing of the gospel as the power of God unto salvation.
4. Others are literalists. They make a great deal about the horses in Revelation and their colour.
5. Others, still, go to the opposite extreme, and spiritualise everything.
6. The Bible advances as a positive revelation, definite and fixed, while science every year abandons one theory after another. (M. Burnham, D. D.)
A Persian philosopher being asked by what method he had acquired so much knowledge, answered, “By not allowing shame to prevent me from asking questions when I was ignorant.”
Philip had been summoned by the Spirit of God into the desert of Gaza. It may have been to save him from the intoxication of success. We all know how prone we are--when God gives to us success--to take the credit to ourselves. It may have been therefore on this account, to save Philip from being puffed up by pride by his popularity and power, that he was summoned thus into the wilderness by God. We do not say that he was so puffed up; if he were, Simon Magus would have a thorn to prick the bladder of pride on this account. But we do say that ofttimes in our own case, God sees fit to call us aside for awhile with Him. In Philip’s case it may rather have been to save him from the paralysis of despair: For now no sooner was his work tested, than the very best of his converts failed. Doubtless there would be heart-searching in the mind of Philip himself. “Was I too anxious to get that man?” “Did I soften the terms of the message so as to win him on my side?” “Was I sufficiently satisfied with the deepness of the work which he professed had taken place?” But God is a good Master, though this Simon Magus had so egregiously failed. God was about to give Philip another soul, one in whom he might indeed rejoice, and of whom--though perhaps he would never see him again--he might hear how gloriously he was carrying on the work of God in a distant land. Now there are four questions I think suggested here. In the first place, “What are you reading?” In the second place, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” And then the third question asked by the Ethiopian eunuch himself, “How can I understand?” And lastly, “What doth hinder me from obeying these precepts?”
I. What teariest thou? This is distinctly a reading age. Take heed what you read. Beware of any impure books which may vitiate the imagination. Beware of any flippant and frivolous books which may make you tired of the monotony of daily life. Beware of any sceptical books, which blasphemously and irreverently decry God and His Holy Word. I know that there are men who say that you must read both sides of a question. I don’t see why, if a man chooses to publish a libel upon my wife, I am obliged to wade through it on the plea of reading both sides of the question. How much is read which will scarcely bear inspection. Here this eunuch is travelling back to his own country. He had no need to be afraid of Philip asking him the question, “What readest thou?” There was no need for him to hide the book under his carriage cushion, and say, “Nothing”; no reason for a blush to come across his face. We know if he had lived in the nineteenth century, the Word of God would have been about the last thing that he, as a seeker after truth, would have considered it right to read. But not so in that century. It is as an earnest, honest seeker after truth he studied God’s own Word, and asked, “What saith the Scripture?” Ah, some of the heathen will rise up in judgment against us. We read of a wild Pathan giving one-third of his month’s pay in order to obtain a copy of the Word of God.
II. But Philip’s question is directed, not merely to what it was he was reading, but he asked him, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” This is very important. God deals with us, not as horse or mule that has no understanding, but He puts before us a Word that requires all the best efforts of our intelligence and reason. The first great requisite of good ground to receive the seed is this--that a man understand the Word.
III. Now comes the question, “how can I understand?” “How can I,” said the eunuch--how can I understand?” The first thing you can do is to ask the Author to explain it. If you were reading any book you could not quite understand, and the author is in the next room, it is very easy to go to the author of that book. The author of this book is God the Holy Ghost, and you can ask Him to explain it far better than any commentator.
IV. Then lastly comes the question, “what doth hinder you from being baptized?” The eunuch knew this: If it is true, I must come out and confess. (E. A. Stuart, M. A.)
Alacrity in God’s service
“Philip ran to him.” That is the way a man goes at the Lord’s work when he is full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom. He does not shuffle along in a half-hearted way, as if he were not sure whether to go or to hold back; or as if he thought that to-morrow or an hour hence would be as well as now for duty doing. He just runs as if everything depended on his not losing a minute. And if the man whom he is sent to is in a chariot, and has a fair start of him, he has need to run. A great many opportunities of doing the Lord’s work are lost because of delay. There are times when resting and waiting are in order; but when we know of a soul in need, and when we have had a prompting from the Holy Spirit to go to that soul, the one thing for us to do is--to run. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D)
A weighty question
I. It supposes that we read the Bible. Is this correct, or does this half heathen put us to shame?
II. It discloses our natural blindness. Is not our Bible reading often an unintelligent reading, our Bible a book not understood?
III. It excites us to seek the true Interpreter and Guide. He it is who spake by Philip--the Spirit of God, who always lives and operates in the Church. Lessons:
1. Readest thou what thou hast?
2. Understandest thou what thou teariest?
3. Obeyest thou what thou understandest? (K. Gerok.)
Understandest thou what thou readest?--
1. How this chamberlain came to be a proselyte we do not know. The book which he was so fond of reading may have been the means; certainly it has answered that purpose thousands of times. At any rate, he followed the light he had. Be true to truth as it comes to you. If God gives you only common candle-light, make good use of it. Those who are willing to see God by the moon of nature shall soon be illuminated by the sun of revelation.
2. Having become a proselyte, the eunuch made a long and perilous journey to Jerusalem. After he had enjoyed the solemn feast he returned; and while he travelled along he read the very best text that Philip could have selected. The like conjunction of Providence and the Holy Spirit constantly occurs in conversions. How often have the talks of young men by the wayside been reproduced by the preacher!
3. This nobleman is reading--a hopeful sign. In these days we need hardly exhort young men to read. But then Philip asked, “What readest thou?” and that suggests a necessary inquiry. Much that is read nowadays had far better be left unread. Souls have been ruined by reading a vile book. Young men, you will read--but Sake heed what you read! The best of reading is the reading of the best of books. I do not like to see in a lending-library all the works of fiction needing to be bound two or three times over, while the books of sober fact and solid teaching have never been read, since they have not even been cut.
4. It was a very sharp-pointed question that Philip put to this gentleman. We find it tolerably easy to put questions to a man who is poor, but how shall we approach the rich? We have sermons for the working classes, why not for the Houses of Parliament. Are there any bigger sinners anywhere than you might find in those two chambers?
5. The Bible was meant to be understood, and it benefits us in proportion as we get at the meaning of it. The mere words of Scripture passing over the ear or before the eye can do us little good. “I read a chapter every morning,” says one. Quite right; keep that up; but “Understandest thou what thou readest?” “Well, I learn the daily text.” Yes, but “Understandest thou what thou readest?” That is the main point. The butterflies flit over the garden, and nothing comes of their flitting; but look at the bees, how they dive into the bells of the flowers, and come forth with their thighs laden with the pollen, and their stomachs filled with the sweetest honey for their hives. This is the way to read the Bible. A thoughtful book needs and deserves thoughtful reading. If it has taken its author a long time to write it, it is due to him that you give his work a careful perusal. If the thoughts of men deserve this, what shall I say of the supreme thoughts of God?
I. What is the most important thing to be understood in this book? I believe that it is contained in the passage which the eunuch was reading. Already he had noted the words, “All we like sheep have gone astray,” etc. What is wanted is that we understand--
1. That we have all gone astray. He who does not know that will not care for the Shepherd who comes to fetch him back again.
2. That salvation is the gift of Divine mercy to the guilty, and is never the reward of human merit. Christ did not come to save you because you are good, for you are not good. I hear the doctor’s brougham rattling down the street at a great pace; but it never occurs to me that he is rushing to call upon a hale and hearty man. So Christ came not “to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
3. That “the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all”! Now every man who believes in Jesus may know that his sin was laid upon, borne by, and put away by Christ. A thing cannot be in two places at one time. You cannot bear it, but Christ bore it; you are to accept Christ as your Sin-bearer, and then you may know that your sins have gone.
II. What is the test of a man’s understanding his Bible?
1. That Jesus Christ is everything to him: for Philip, who did understand it, when he explained it, preached unto the eunuch Jesus and nothing else. I try to preach Jesus, and I love to meet with people who delight in this theme. Every young man, when he believes in Jesus, should give himself to Jesus, heart and soul, for ever. “That’s the kind of young man for my money, for he is O and O,” said a certain person, meaning, “Out and out for Christ.” Jesus was out and out for us; there should be no half-heartedness in our dealings with Him. If we have read Scripture aright, we ‘have not received the kind of Christianity which sanctifies us on Sunday, but enables us to he dishonest throughout the week. I like this eunuch for proposing that he should be baptized. He was not advised to do so, but he gave himself up to do the Lord’s bidding at once. Whichever way the Scripture bids you dedicate yourself to God, set to work about it, and let it be done at once.
2. That they made him glad, for this eunuch “went on his way rejoicing.” The man who from reading his Bible goes forth with a pious resolution that he will make everybody as miserable as he can, wants converting again.
3. That they make him care about the salvation of others; for this Ethiopian nobleman, when he got home, I have no doubt, spread the gospel throughout his native land, and was probably the founder of the Abyssinian Church. One of the holiest instincts born in a renewed man is that of longing to save others. Being saved, we wish to co-operate with the Saviour in His gracious work.
4. That his message to others is what the message was to him--Christ, Christ. You have nothing else to employ as the means of good, except the salvation of Jesus, and there is nothing else worth telling.
III. What can be done to obtain such a desirable understanding of the scriptures?
1. When you read a passage which you do not understand, read it until you do. Here is a little boy whose father is an artizan, and uses a great many technical terms. The boy is apprenticed, and wants to know all about it, and therefore he listens to his father, and when the day is over he says to himself, “I heard my father say a great deal, but I do not understand much of it.” “But you did understand a little of it?” “Oh, yes.” To that little he is faithful, and day by day he adds to his store of information, learning more by the help of that which he already knows, and at length he can talk like his father, using the same words with understanding. So when I do not comprehend a chapter, I say, I will hear my great Father speak, even if I do not understand at first what He may say to me, and I will keep on hearing Him until at last I grasp His meaning. Do as the photographer does, when he allows an object to be long before the camera until he obtains a well-defined picture. Let your mind dwell on a passage, till at last it has photographed itself upon your soul by the light of God.
2. Always read with a desire to understand. Have the crackers with you to crack the nuts, that you may feed upon their kernels.
3. Pray for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. When I cannot understand a book I write and ask the author what he means. Can we do that with the Bible? You may consult learned commentators, but that is not half so satisfactory as to go to the Author of the Book. Remember that you can also go to the Maker of your mind, and He can open it to receive the truth. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A personal question
At our meeting for prayer and fasting last Tuesday, a brother, who was, I think, the best man amongst us, made a confession of cowardice, and we all looked at him and could not understand how he could be a coward, for a bolder man I do not know. He told us that there was a man in his congregation who was a wealthy man. If he had been a poor man, he would have spoken to him about his soul; but, being a wealthy man, he thought it would be taking too much liberty. At last one of the members happened to say to him, “Mr. So-and-So, have you found a Saviour?” and bursting into tears, the man said, “Thank you for speaking to me; I have been in distress for months, and thought the minister might have spoken to me. Oh, I wish he had; I might have found peace.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Humility in an inquirer
“Understandest thou what thou readest?” asked Philip of the eunuch. And the great man candidly acknowledged that he understood it not at all. And therein he showed his real greatness, for an intellectual liliputian would have made believe that he understood it all. The most insufferable ignoramuses are the men that are omniscient. The writer well remembers that upon one occasion, in his early ministry, during a protracted meeting he approached an old sinner, who seemed to be thoughtful, and, sitting down beside him, undertook to open up to him the way of life, but the aged reprobate scornfully said, “Young man, you cannot tell me anything.” And after that we did not try, nor would it have been worth while. He was wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason. There is more hope of a fool than of such a man. A genuine inquirer is always humble, and ready to welcome truth from whatever quarter it may come. A lord treasurer, seated in his chariot, did not think it beneath him to be instructed by a travel-stained evangelistic tramp whom he picks up on the road. “How can I, except some man should guide me?” was a form of speech that did the distinguished Ethiopian infinite honour. A man possessed of such spirit has commonly not very far to seek. “To this man will I look,” saith the Lord, “who is of an humble and a contrite heart, and that trembleth at My word.” “The meek will He guide in judgment, and the meek will He teach His way.” While such a spirit is essential to every seeker after Christ, it should characterise followers of Christ at every stage of experience. Those who have taken the deepest sea soundings and have climbed the loftiest mountain heights realise most profoundly the limitations of their knowledge, and are evermore the most willing to learn. And he who thus acknowledges his ignorance is in a fair way to mend it, for like the Ethiopian eunuch he is ready to reach out for the guidance of a friendly hand, and commonly he has not far to seek. (Baptist Teacher.)
The Bible should be read--
I. Intelligently. Very often the time spent in Bible reading is time wasted, There is a certain sect in the East whose priests use a praying machine, and there are people who read the Bible every day, but they read like machines. Reading the Bible does us no good unless we understand what we read. I have met with people who have gone abroad to a beautiful country, just to be able to say that they had been there. They never noticed the beauties of the scenery, their one object was to get to a certain place and then get back again. So it is with many Bible readers. Their one object is to get through so many chapters or verses. Some of the first discoveries of gold in Australia were made by accident. A man saw a mass of rock, and struck it carelessly with a pickaxe and broke it, and found that it contained gold. Now some parts of the Bible may appear like the rock, hard and uninteresting, till we can work into them, then we find gold.
II. Prayerfully. We may make mistakes about the Bible as well as any other book. If you were to read some medical works, and had not received the education of a doctor, you would soon fancy that you had several different diseases; and if you were to try to treat yourself for them you would probably become really ill, or perhaps die. In the same way people may make mistakes about the Bible. A lady once came to me during a mission utterly miserable because she thought she had committed “the unpardonable sin,” without knowing what it was. John Bunyan nearly went mad at one time from the same mistake. We must have light to read the Bible by; light given directly by God in answer to prayer; and from the teaching and explanation of God’s Church. Men of science have just taught us how to store electricity, so that we can lay in a stock of it just as we lay in coals, sufficient to light our lamps for a given time. Well, we can store light to understand the Bible by; the more we pray over our Bible the more light we store in ourselves.
III. Meditatively. Food not digested is almost as bad as poison; and so many people get positive harm from their Bible reading because they do not digest what they read. As properly digested food makes our bodies what they are, flesh, and bone, and blood, and muscle, so God’s Word properly digested makes a member of the Church a Bible Christian; in the true sense of the term.
IV. To find Jesus there. You know how they collect gold dust? They take the soil which has been dug out, and wash it in running water, carefully watching for the sparkling grains. Well, we should take what we have dug out of the Bible by study, and examine it carefully, and look into it again and again till we find gold, signs of Jesus Christ. When we approach one of our English towns or villages, the most conspicuous object is the tower or spire of the church or minster rising above ell other buildings and casting its shadow over all. So when we approach our Bible reading we should see Jesus first, and His Cross rising above all other topics, and casting its shadow on every page.
V. With the aid of the spirit. There is an instrument called an AEolian harp, which is silent till placed where the wind can blow upon it, then its strings give forth sweet music. Your Bible will be silent to you till the breath of God blows upon it, then it will be the music of the gospel to you. Old legends say that when the rising sun shone upon the statue of Memnon, in Egypt, the figure uttered tuneful sounds. So when the sun of the Holy Spirit shines upon the pages of your Bible, God will send forth thence His voice, yea, and that a mighty voice. “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
VI. Personally. Do not try to fit the warnings and teachings and threats of the Bible on others, but on yourselves. People too often study God’s Word to find out their neighbour’s sins, instead of their own. They need the sharp message--“Thou art the man!” In the old days of Greece, they tell us of a philosopher who went about from place to place with a lantern, and when asked what he was seeking, he answered that he was looking for an honest man. We are too fond of taking the lantern of God’s Word, and examining our neighbours with it. Let us try to turn the light more strongly on ourselves.
VII. To revise what you read. I heard of a poor woman who heard the account of the Saviour’s sufferings read; she was very ignorant, and being told that these events happened long ago, and in a foreign land, expressed a hope that after all the account might not be true. I believe that many people read the Bible, or hear it read, and never feel it, never realise its truth. It is a custom in Greenland for a stranger, when knocking at the door, to ask, “Is God in this house?” If the answer, “Yes,” is given, he enters. Let the Bible ask you this question. When you read God’s Word, listen for God’s voice asking you the question--“Is God in this house?” Is it well with thee, is it well with the husband, is it well with the child? Let your Bible speak to your innermost heart, and let your answer be, “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” (H. J. W. Buxton.)
Fruitful Bible reading
A hint as to--
I. Casual perusal of the Bible. When a man employs his occasional leisure in endeavouring to master a subject we have no need to question his interest in it. The study of the Bible in a railway carriage is a course which any Christian would be glad to pursue if he could do it unostentatiously. Travellers like the eunuch are not numerous. Men prefer the novel. But the grand lesson is the use of passing opportunities for following up what we have learned of the Lord, and fitting us to hear more of Him.
II. The exercise of thought which the Bible demands. It cannot be “understood” without fixing the mind on its statements, arid trying to perceive what they mean. Many truths are perfectly clear, but others are so recorded as if God were aiming to make us search, pray, watch, and be humble. And so with the study of nature. We cannot understand it by mere gazing.
III. The instructors the spirit will provide for the thoughtful Bible student. The Spirit moved Philip. To warrant the expectation of spiritual help two conditions here illustrated must be fulfilled.
1. The eunuch was reading the Scriptures for himself. He was not taking the account from others, but was perusing the very words which “holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
2. He was conscious that help was needed. So help came in this unexpected way. It is not that teachers are few, but that our eyes are dull. The best helps, teachers, commentaries, etc., are useless without the Spirit of God.
IV. The great purpose of the Spirit that of leading readers of the Bible to Christ. The written Word is to tell of the living Word, and would never have been written but for that. (D. G. Watt, M. A.)
Intelligent reading of Holy Scripture
I. Many do not understand what they read. Through--
2. Lack of teachers.
3. Want of spiritual insight.
4. Prejudice. This is a great moral loss.
II. How we may understand what we read. By--
4. Aid of the Holy Spirit.
5. Help of friends and ministers.
III. Why should we understand what we read? The Bible is--
1. The Word of God.
2. The way of salvation.
3. The joy of the sanctified heart. Is the Bible an open book to us? (Family Churchman.)
The relations between Holy Scripture and the Church
1. This interview is a specimen of the private ministration of the gospel, and teaches us how such ministration should be opened and conducted. Philip fell in, not only with the eunuch, but with the train of thought his mind was pursuing. It is surprising how many good and even Scriptural words utterly fail to take hold of the mind, because not in a state which requires that particular counsel. Now as there is in nature a specific for every physical disorder, so there is in God’s Word a specific for every spiritual malady. If the right specific is offered to an individual, he appropriates it; it is what his conscience requires; but if the wrong, no effect or a bad one is produced, not because it has lost its virtue, or is essentially deleterious, but because there is no correspondence between it and the patient’s state. Now in order to offer men remedies to meet their case we must study the direction of their thoughts. And when we come upon them off their guard, and observe how they are occupied, we can obtain a clue to their thoughts. The Ethiopian was reading the Scriptures as if he took pleasure in them, which showed him to be a religiously minded man. What followed brought out his docility and willingness to be enlightened. So Philip, guided by Providence and by the turn of his bearer’s mind, spake a word in season.
2. Our Lord had instructed His disciples to “salute no man by the way.” In common intercourse men begin with trifles before they pass on to topics of importance. But trifles do not befit the character of God’s messenger. So Philip does not open the conversation by talk about the weather or the crops, but begins at once with the business of his mission. He was abrupt, judged by the standard of the world’s manners, but not as regards the Ethiopian’s state of mind, who therefore invites him up into his chariot. Alas that our thoughts, unlike his, should be exercised so much on secular things that spiritual remarks seem to us an intrusion and a want of tact!
3. The eunuch’s response, “How can I understand,” etc., intending to express nothing more than the sentiment of the moment, contains an important principle. The Scriptures are the Church’s law, they contain all principles of faith and duty, and are given by inspiration of God. Moreover the Church stands on them; for if the acts and the commission of Christ to His disciples did not exist the Church would have the ground cut from under her. In this point of view Scripture is paramount to the Church and prior in order of thought. Yet the Church is prior to Scripture in order of time. No book of the Old Testament was written before Moses, and yet from the time of Abel there were believers. No book of the New Testament had been composed at this time, yet there was a flourishing Church in Jerusalem. And each one of us, as we come into the world, is approached by the Church, e.g., in baptism, before he can be approached by the Scriptures. That is the principle on which godparents, who represent the Church, and on which religious teachers act. The child is taught by catechisms compiled by the Church, but gathered out of Scripture. Now, suppose a man competently educated, but whose mind has been left a blank on religion, were to sit down to compile a creed for himself out of the Bible, how many years would he take? The mind must proceed in the first instance upon human authority; but in after days, having been imbued with the faith, he can recognise it in Scripture, and see how it can be proved thereby. The Bible can be with none of us the original teacher of truth, but we must not shrink from the duty of testing by this infallible criterion what we first receive on human authority. We have no fear that the Catholic faith will be shaken by this examination if made in the spirit of prayer. Yet as regards lesser points of belief about which there are two opinions a word of caution is needed. Correct conclusions are scarcely likely to be arrived at if we discard the commentary drawn from the sentiments of the primitive Church. Take, e.g., infant baptism. There are passages from which it may be inferred that it is conformable to the mind of Christ. Yet it would be too much to say that it is proved from the Bible. But if you allow the usages of the early Church to be any evidence of what apostolic practice was, then the evidence is overwhelming. The relations between the Church and Scripture are illustrated by those between the judicial and the legislative power in the State. A judge has no authority to make the law: that is made by Parliament; he is only the interpreter and the administrator. On the one hand the judge is as much under the law as those whom he tries, and on the other, juries would often go wrong unless the judge directed them. Well, Scripture is the law; the Church is the judge; the individual soul is the jury. In interpreting the Scripture the individual soul needs the guidance of the Church, which if he rejects, he rejects the aid God has given him for arriving at a right conclusion, and kicks down the ladder by which he has risen to what he knows of Divine truth. And yet should the Church, as Rome has done, impose new articles of faith, he must break with such a society. Whenever the judge imposes new laws, it is time to side with the law against the judge. (Dean Goulburn.)
Directions for profitable study of the Word of God
I. Dost thou read the scriptures at all? Is such an inquiry necessary in a community professedly Christian? Yes, there are multitudes whom God continually solicits by the Bible in vain. Books that corrupt, or dissipate, or at best amuse, are read, to its exclusion. “I have written unto them the great things of My law, but they were counted as a strange thing.” The humble inquirer who asks, “What must I do to be saved?” needs the voice of the book of God to say, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Christian pilgrim needs its guidance to direct him to rest; and he who has grown in grace equally requires its help. It is like the line of the architect, as needful to lay the top stone as to lay the foundation. And yet how many professing Christians suffer the truth to solicit them in vain! Your own reason and human advisers can no more renew a lost soul than they can create a living man. And yet the voice of God in the Bible is too often unheard. Neither the terrors of the law compel, nor the love of the gospel allures. The unwise mariner may not feel the want of his chart or his compass while the sea is calm and his way apparently clear; but as he would feel his deadly error in leaving them behind him when the winds lash the waves into fury, and he knew not whither to turn for help, so the time of sorrow, darkness, sickness, death will come; and then what will ye do, when the redeeming God of the Bible is to you an unknown God?
II. “Understandest thou what thou readest?” “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God,” etc. He wants the sight, the hearing, the touch of faith. Many understand not because--
1. They read it with cold indifference. They may take it up occasionally, but it discloses nothing that meets their case, because they are ignorant of their want. Is it wonderful that they should see no beauty in Christ, and no merit in His atonement, who have never realised their sin?
2. It aims a death-blow at the pride of self-righteousness. The Abana and Pharpar of our own Damascus seem more efficient, as they are always more grateful to the natural man. The gospel will be understood as a remedial revelation, only when Divine grace shall make us willing to come, naked and empty handed, to Him who justifieth the ungodly.
3. It opposes the prejudices of unrenewed men. We approach it, too frequently, rather that we may find materials there on which to build up our own system than to find Christ and salvation. But God’s immutable truth will never adapt itself to the miserable shibboleth of our device.
4. It utterly condemns sin, and men love sin. “The carnal mind is enmity against God.”
III. In what manner the scriptures may be savingly read. The conduct of the Ethiopian will furnish us with a directory, by teaching us to study them--
1. With constancy and diligence. He beguiled his journey by reading the prophet Isaiah, who testified so wondrously of Christ. And Christ says, “Search the Scriptures,” etc. Be not contented with cold, formal, occasional reading; but look into them, as he who is in search of a mine digs deeply, follows each vein, and minutely examines every appearance of the gold which his heart covets.
2. Comparing spiritual things with spiritual. Thus Philip began with the passage in Isaiah, and preached unto the eunuch Jesus. Read your Bibles with their references; see how the law shadows forth the gospel, how the mind of God in one place corresponds to the same mind in another. Such an examination will assist you more surely than all the commentators; for the Holy Ghost will always be found the best Expounder of His own Word.
3. With prayer. As the dial bears all the hours of the day marked upon its surface, but will not show the time unless the sun shine upon it, so doth the Word of God disclose all His mind, but not to saving apprehension, unless by the light of the Eternal Spirit. To the worldly wise, the Bible is a letter written in cypher. The Holy Ghost interprets the writing by bringing His people to the secret of a sanctified experience, as a clue to those high and dear mysteries of grace which before were hid from their eyes.
4. Seeking the help of others, who have been taught of God. “And he desired Philip,” etc. Thus Apollos availed himself of the help of Aquila and Priscilla.
5. With humility. Imitate the teachableness of the Ethiopian. “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” “Learn of Christ, for He is meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (R. P. Buddicom.)
The seed sown and the harvest reaped
1. Sometimes a sermon is reported word for word, at others the substance only. The report of Philip’s sermon is the briefest, yet most complete. “He preached to him Jesus”--not only Jesus, but Jesus unto him, then and there. Here often our preaching fails. The gospel is fully declared; but Jesus is not pressed on the conscience of every man. The outspread rays make all the ground bright; but the concentration of the rays on a spot makes it burn. The Ethiopian understood the message, believed, and was baptized.
2. He went on his way. He is not instantly carried home. He pursues his journey under the hot sun, and on the hot sand. Christ prayed not that His disciples should be taken out of the world. The winter is as cold and the summer as warm to them as to others. The Ethiopian began that journey before he had accepted Christ; and now that he is a Christian he does not turn aside; and when he reaches his home he will attend to the duties of his office. So, Christian, if your business was lawful before, you need not desert it after you become a Christian. And, besides, the eunuch would do more good in Ethiopia than in following Philip northward. Everywhere the earth is corrupt, and needs salt.
3. He went on his way rejoicing. Surely it is not a sorrowful thing, whatever people may say, even in this world to know that the next is all your own.
4. Observe what power a thirsting soul exerts, not over earth, but over heaven. An empty human heart, longing for living water, can command all the fulness of the Godhead for its supply. The longing soul of this Ethiopian not only drew Philip from his successful ministry, but forgiving love from its fountain in God. In certain sandy tracks travellers sometimes fall in with a living plant, whose leaves when cut give off refreshing water. How comes this? Because that lowly herb has all the waters of the Atlantic at its disposal. A multitude of microscopic mouths open in every leaf. These suck from the air what moisture it contains, and the air, thus divested of a portion of its moisture, draws from the distant ocean to fill the void. Blessed are they that thirst, for they shall be satisfied. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
The conversion and baptism of the eunuch
1. Note the circuitousness of the method by which they were brought about. This man had just visited Jerusalem on an errand of devotion. The apostles still remained in the city, and frequented the temple. Why was it not arranged, therefore, that he should fall in with one of them? Instead of this, an angel is sent to an evangelist, bidding him travel in a distant region, where he falls in with the eunuch. Perhaps the answer is that this arrangement was most significant of the designs for His Church which God was then unfolding. The ministry of the deacons was the dawn of that of Paul--freer, wider than that of the apostles. It was far more conformable, therefore, with the then state of the Christian dispensation that, instead of receiving the gospel in the confined atmosphere of the holy city, the Ethiopian should hear “a voice crying in the wilderness,” the freer breezes of which were a symbol of the liberty with which God’s Word went forth to the ends of the earth.
2. Whatever the reason, the practical teaching is obvious. Men often find God where they least expect to meet Him. We may find Him in the desert, and miss Him in Jerusalem. There is a difference in this respect between the laws of nature and those of grace. In the one, the effect is tied to the means; in the other, good impressions are not limited to ordinances. The Spirit is often pleased to act independently of His ordained channels. A casual interview with a stranger, a book read on a journey, some striking incident or scene, has often proved a means of grace when sermons and sacraments have failed. The avenues by which God reaches the hearts of men are almost as various as their characters.
3. The reason for the eunuch pitching upon Isaiah lift may have been because it was part of a section which also embraces chap. 56., where such encouragement is given to eunuchs. But whatever his motives, the text, applying as it does only to the Christ he knew not, perplexed him, and gave Philip the opportunity of preaching Him in whom the prophecy was fulfilled--“Jesus,” not Christ the Messiah of the Jews, through whom he could offer an universal salvation.
4. The Ethiopian drank in the good news, and requested enrolment among the disciples of the new faith, and Philip could make no objection. Had not God brought him to the spot for this very purpose? Let us now turn to the practical reflections to which the passage gives rise. Note--
(1) The spiritual freedom which characterises the whole incident--its scene, not the temple, but the wilderness; its time, not the Sabbath, but a work-day; the minister, not an apostle, but an officer more or less secular. And yet the great features of this procedure of Divine grace are the same as those we find everywhere. Our Lord commissioned His Church to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, etc., and had said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water,” etc.; and St. Paul speaks of Christ as “sanctifying and clearing the Church by the washing of water by the Word.” Two elements, according to these passages, enter into the idea of admission into the Church--the action of the Word of God on the conscience, the outward sign of washing with water. Both these are found here. Philip, it is true, preached not in a church, but in a chariot; not to many souls, but to one; still, it was preaching, and then there was baptism. So that there was here a Church according to the definition, “a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments administered.” “A congregation!” you will say. Yes. “Where two or three are met together in My name,” etc. What a consolation to ministers whose congregations are thin! One good listener is better than one hundred indifferent ones.
(2) The immediate administration of baptism to one whose knowledge must have been immature. It was the same in the case of the Philippian jailer. No doubt the circumstances warranted the act, whereas now ordinarily a probation would be wise. Yet it must be remembered that baptism is only matriculation, not graduation, in the school of Christ; and in the great commission, the teaching which qualifies for baptism is distinguished from that which succeeds it. It is not the amount of a catechumen’s knowledge which is to be looked to, but his spiritual receptivity.
3. The passage which proved the means of the eunuch’s conversion is one which describes the meek and resigned passion of the Saviour, and was the means also of the conversion of the celebrated Lord Rochester. The subject with which it deals was the means of a mighty awakening in Greenland, after long and fruitless efforts, to get at the hearts of the people. Our Lord predicted that His Cross should prove the supreme attraction, and Paul determined to know nothing but it. (Dean Goulburn.)
The place of the Scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter … Then Philip … began at the same Scripture and preached unto him Jesus.
I. The text. “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter,” etc. Here is no difficulty, but there are two difficulties following which require explanation.
1. “In His humiliation His judgment was taken away.” He appeared in such a condition that Pilate, though convinced of His innocence, did not consider Him of importance enough to risk anything for His deliverance. “Taking away His judgment” means the denial of the rights of legal justice.
2. “And who shall declare His generation?” Some have referred this to His eternal generation from the Father; some to His being conceived by the Holy Ghost; others to His resurrection; others again to His spiritual seed. But there are only two probable meanings:
(1) Who shall declare the manner of His life? Before the execution of criminals, proclamation was made, “Will any one testify anything in favour of the condemned?” Sometimes they saw one hastening with a long white flag, and exclaiming, “A witness is come.” But there was no white flag on Calvary! “They all forsook Him and fled.”
(2) Who shall declare the generation of men in which He lived? Thus Luke says, “He shall suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.” Therefore there was no one in this sense to declare His generation, the wickedness of the men in whose day He lived, suffered, and was slain.
II. The sermon.
1. It was unpremeditated. The apostles were admonished not to meditate beforehand, for “it should be given them in that same hour,” etc. And ministers should never be at a loss to say something about Christ. Our Saviour says “Every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven, is like unto an householder,” etc. Ye would not deem him a good housekeeper who, if a friend calls suddenly, could not bring something to feed him. Sometimes a minister’s best thoughts will be those produced by present circumstances and present feelings. Baxter was once preaching, when there occurred a tremendous storm which threw his audience into great consternation. He paused and exclaimed, “My brethren, we are assembled this morning to prepare against that day when the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements melt with fervent heat; the earth and all the works that are therein shall be burnt up.” This hushed and calmed the audience. When Peter was preaching, a multitude exclaimed, “What shall we do?” but Peter was not disconcerted.
2. Its subject was Jesus, as it was in Samaria. This was his constant practice, nor was it peculiar to him. Paul said to the Corinthians, “I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” The Saviour, when He commissioned the apostles, instructed them to preach in His name. This is the subject which, though so old, is always so new; and not only a faithful saying, but “worthy of all acceptation.” In order to be useful to others we must preach the truth as it is in Jesus; “for “there is salvation in no other.”
3. This sermon was very Scriptural: “He began at the same Scripture,” and this was a good beginning; but we must extend the thing. According to Christ’s own testimony there are things concerning Him in all the Scriptures. “Search the Scriptures, for they are they that testify of Me.” Divide them, arrange them as you please, and you will find that He is “all in all.” Wherever, therefore, you step on this holy ground, immediately a star is in motion, going before you till it stands over where the young child is; wherever you listen, you hear a voice saying, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world”; wherever you open the leaves in this sacred book, “His name is as ointment poured forth.” (W. Jay.)
I. The subject of Philip’s preaching.
1. The “Scripture” here referred to was one of the most striking prophecies concerning Christ. It is very minute, and seems to unite the most opposite extremes; so that this Jewish proselyte might well inquire, “Of whom speaketh the prophet this?”
(1) The mysterious person mentioned by the prophet was to be treated with hatred and scorn (Isaiah 53:2; Isaiah 53:8).
(2) He was to suffer from God as well as from His countrymen (verse 10).
(3) He was to be free from sin (verse 9).
(4) He was to be an example of perfect meekness and submission under all His sufferings (verse 7).
(5) He was to be subjected to a violent death, with which some peculiar circumstances were connected (verses 8, 9)
(6) He was to rise from the dead (verse 10).
(7) He was to have a progeny, be invested with great power, and to carry on a prosperous work in the earth, under the Divine approval, and to His own satisfaction (verses 10, 12). Here, then, we have a prophecy most comprehensive in its range, most minute and singular in its details, which alone, in all its particulars, is fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. To what conclusion are we then brought by a comparison of the prophecy with the events of our Lord’s history? First, that the prophet was inspired; for no human sagacity could foresee, at a distance of more than seven hundred years, the facts which he has described: and, secondly, that Jesus is the Son and the Christ of God. None but a Divine person could endure the sufferings He underwent, could redeem, and govern, and save mankind; and Jesus was anointed of God to accomplish these momentous objects. Philip therefore preached Jesus to the Ethiopian, and when this subject was presented to his candid mind conviction immediately flashed upon his understanding and conscience; and being inspired with a love of the truth, he “received Christ Jesus the Lord.”
2. In this prophecy several of the leading truths of Christianity are explicitly asserted.
(1) The universal sinfulness of mankind. “All we like sheep have gone astray,” etc., and it is assumed not only that we have “infirmities” and “sorrows,” but also “sins,” “transgressions,” “iniquities.”
(2) The fact of Christ’s substitution in the place of sinners. His “ soul” was made “an offering for sin”; our “iniquities were laid upon Him”; “He bare the sin of many,” etc.
(3) The universality of Christ’s atonement. The remedy is as extensive as the evil. “The Lord hath laid upon Him the iniquity of us all.”
(4) The use which Christ makes of His atonement with regard to God. He “made intercession for-the transgressors.”
(5) The fruit of Christ’s atonement with regard to fallen man. The sufferings which He endured were “the chastisement of our peace “ (Romans 3:24-25).
II. The manner in which the Ethiopian received the evangelical message.
1. With deep seriousness and attention. The man who had renounced idolatry, who had become a worshipper of God, who had taken a long and dangerous journey that he might render to Jehovah the homage He required, was not a man to treat any question of religion with indifference. His heart was evidently deeply impressed with the things of God. The relations in which men stand to their Maker, the obligations which He has laid upon them, the provision which He has made for their salvation, the final happiness of the just, and the perdition of ungodly men--these are subjects which none but either the grossly ignorant or wicked will ever treat with levity. Every wise man will perceive that, if Christianity is true, it is worse than madness to neglect it, and will make it his first and most anxious concern to inquire into its nature and claims; that he may not run the terrible risk of neglecting that mercy which, when it is once passed away, will never return.
2. With exemplary meekness and humility. He did not resent the inquiry of Philip, abrupt as it might seem. No feeling of self-importance, as a man of office and rank, induced him to turn away. With the utmost frankness he at once confessed his ignorance, invited Philip into the chariot, solicited instruction, and assumed the character and.attitude of a learner. This is precisely the spirit in which Divine light is received. The wrangling disputant has a thousand objections to offer before he can admit one single principle of evangelical truth, and when all those objections have been met his dark and vain mind is as far from true wisdom as it was when he began his idle toil. The philosopher, full of his own speculations, has almost everything to unlearn before he can receive the truth as the instrument of his salvation.
3. In faith. That he trusted in Christ as his Redeemer and Saviour we have ample proof in the subsequent part of the narrative.
4. In the spirit of submission and obedience. As the Ethiopian was “swift to hear” and to understand, so was he prompt to obey. When his understanding was enlightened, the assent of his will was gained. Being instructed in “the doctrine of baptism,” he waited not to be earnestly and repeatedly urged to a compliance with the Lord’s command. He was the first to propose the immediate administration of the ordinance; that he might at once practically declare his subjection to Christ, and receive the salvation which the gospel reveals as the fruit of His passion.
III. The happy result of his conversion--“He went on his way rejoicing.” He was miraculously deprived of his teacher, but he was left in possession of a treasure which filled him with sacred joy.
1. He doubtless rejoiced that he had found the truth. To be ignorant of God, and of the things belonging to our peace, is one of the greatest calamities.
2. As a believer in Jesus Christ he rejoiced in the favour of God. The favour of God is better than life, as His wrath is more terrible than death.
3. The approbation of his own conscience would be another ground of rejoicing. Conscience is a powerful instrument both of happiness and of misery.
4. He rejoiced to be the bearer of good tidings to others. A regenerated heart yearns over men who are dying in their sins, and at the same time it burns with desire to promote the honour of the Lord Jesus, and the extension of His kingdom. Under the impulse of these feelings a believer cannot be silent on the subject of his religion. He who had so unexpectedly found mercy could not be indifferent to the spiritual wants and claims of his own countrymen.
5. In common with all true believers he rejoiced in hope of eternal life.
Conclusion: The subject forcibly reminds us--
1. Of the great benefit connected with the public worship of God. Bad not this noble Ethiopian attended the temple at Jerusalem the probability is that he would have remained a stranger to the Christian salvation.
2. That the great object at which we should aim in the use of God’s ordinances is the knowledge of Christ as our Saviour. The Ethiopian, with all his sincerity, failed in this grand point, and an angel was employed in providing for him the requisite instruction so that he might believe to the saving of his soul.
3. Of the necessity of missions to the heathen. (T. Jackson.)
Jesus and the Scriptures
I. The unity of scripture. And that “same Scripture,” while so eminently illustrious, is only one of many innumerable scriptures at which Philip might have begun and by which he might have sustained his proclamation of the Jesus. Gather into your hands, as so many threads, all “the same scriptures” from which Philip might have pursued his theme, and delightedly gaze on the Pattern into which the New Testament fashions them. Can the charm of their unity be surpassed?
II. The end of scripture. To set forth Christ, to attract human thought and fix it on Him, is the steadfast aim to which everything is subordinated. Many are the “voices of the prophets,” but they swell into only one chorus of which He is the song.
III. In the intensity of the converse of Philip and the eunuch we see the interest of scripture commended. No fact grows more patent than the world’s need of all that the Scriptures assure us of Jesus. There is no light from heaven if it does not shine in Him, no bread from heaven if He does not supply it.
IV. In the issue of this converse we see the power of scripture manifested. “He went on his way rejoicing.” The fulness, variety, and harmony of Scripture; the compassion, wisdom, steadfastness of God through all the preparatory measures which led up to the advent of Jesus; the power, grace, and life brought by Him; rest of mind in this truth, and of heart in this mercy; the new creation into which the receiver of Jesus passes and rises--these were some of the glorious elements of this man’s joy; and meditation, prayer, experience, would but deepen that joy, as he passed further and further away from the “old things,” and further and further into the “new things” prepared and ensured for ever to them that love Him. (G. B. Johnson.)
Preaching Jesus, not self
St. Bernard, preaching one day very scholastically, the learned thanked him, but not the godly; but another day he preached plainly, and the good people came blessing God for him, and gave him many thanks, which some scholars wondered at. “Ah,” said he, “yesterday I preached Bernard, but to-day I preached Christ.” ‘Tis not learning, but teaching; not; the wisdom of words, but the evidence and demonstration of the Spirit that is welcome to saints. (R. Venning.)
Preaching to one
I remember, years ago, one Sunday that I had to preach at the Chapel Royal; and in those days the old duke used to attend service there, and when he was in town the congregation may have numbered generally some seven or eight persons, but when he Was out of town perhaps two or three. And on this occasion he was out of town. Well, the morning prayer was over, and the clergyman who had said it had to leave for duty elsewhere; and by the time I had mounted the pulpit the clerk had gone into the vestry to stir the fire. I was left alone with the congregation! Under the circumstances it would have been ridiculous to have preached the sermon, and I went down to the congregation and told him so. He said--it was a young man I knew--“Oh! I have come a long way on purpose to hear you preach. I beg you will proceed.” “No!” I said, “I really can’t. Besides, how personal you would find the sermon. But I will walk across the park with you, and give you the heads of my sermon as we walk along.” Then I and Samuel Wilberforce, Esquire, walked across the park together. (Dean Hook.)
Preaching to one person
One very stormy Sunday Dr. Payson went to church more from habit than because he expected to find anybody there. Just after he had stepped inside the door an old negro came in, and asked if Dr. Payson was to preach there that day, explaining that he was a stranger in the town, and had been advised to go to his church. “Upon that,” said Dr. Payson, “I made up my mind to preach my sermon if nobody else came.” Nobody else did come, so the doctor preached to the choir and the negro. Some months afterward he happened to meet the negro, and stopping him, asked how he enjoyed the sermon that stormy Sunday. “Enjoy dat sermon,” replied the old man, “I ‘clare, doctor, I nebber heerd a better one. Yo’ see I had a seat pretty well up front, an’ whenebber you’d say somethin’s pretty hard like ‘gin de sins ob men I’d jess look all roun’ ter see who you’s a hittin’, and I wouldn’t see nobody on’y jess me. An’ I says to m’self, he must mean you, Pompey, you’s sech a dretful sinner. Well, ductor, dat ar sermon set me a thinking what a big sinner I war, an’ I went an’ jined the Church down home. I’se a deacon now.”
The eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
The baptizing of the eunuch
I. That to an obedient and cheerful hearer the word of God is never preached without success. This one discourse prevailed through God’s mercy to the enlightening of the eunuch’s mind; it wrought also upon his affections in such a measure that nothing was more desired of him than to show himself a Christian, and to have some pledge of the favour of God. The Word never is unprofitable where it meets with such an auditor. Learn, then, the true cause why there is no such profiting of the Word preached as there should be and was in purer times. Then one sermon won many; now, many sermons scarce prevail with one. Surely the cause is men want that ready, cheerful disposition, which the good people in those times had; then they sued to be taught, as the eunuch here, those at Pentecost, the Antiochians, and the jailer.
II. That where the heart is truly touched, and the soul indeed turned unto God, there is a desire to be partaker of the sacraments. The apostles urged the use of the sacrament upon the people yielding to the doctrine as a trial of them. If they had refused it, their hypocrisy had been soon discovered; if they embraced it, it was an evidence that their hearts were seasoned as was meet. Thus John Baptist bound his hearers to the sacrament (Matthew 3:1-17.), and Peter, “Amend your lives and be baptized”; and after that order did the rest proceed. There be just causes of desiring the sacrament in him that is enlightened.
1. He knows the use of the sacraments to be God’s ordinance, and therefore, in obedience to His will, he will make conscience thereof.
2. He conceives them to be “seals of the righteousness which is by faith,” assurances of society with Christ; for which cause they must needs be sweet unto his soul.
3. He apprehends them to be badges of his profession, and of his service unto Christ, and therefore he cannot but desire them.
4. He believeth them to be bands of the communion of saints, and in that respect he must needs affect them. In these days there is not that respect to the sacraments that there should be. Baptism we have received in our childhood, but what man of many laboureth to make the right use of it? And as for the Lord’s Supper, generally it is made no more reckoning of than some three-half-penny ordinary, save only at some season of the year. Certainly this is an argument of scantness of grace amongst men. There cannot but be a stomach to the sacrament, where there is felt sweetness in the Word.
III. That in whom there is any truth of Christianity, in him there is also a desire to make it known to the world that he is a Christian. It was an evidence of great resolution in this convert to return into his own country as one of that sect which was everywhere spoken against. This is the nature of true conversion, albeit, it may stir but weakly at the first, and seem almost not to dare to show itself, yet, when it is come to a fuller growth, then there will be a desire to show the colours of the Lord Jesus. So Nicodemus, when he was but a beginner, came to Jesus by night. Yet in time he joined with Joseph in the interring of our Saviour. This deserves to be commended to the care of all that fear God, that howsoever the vain applause of men be not to be hunted after, and it be hypocritical and pharisaical to practise the duties of godliness to be seen, yet it is necessary to make it appear what we are, and that we be not ashamed of it. Will some say, This is a needless exhortation, for we have done as much for the showing of ourselves to be Christians as this eunuch did? I answer, that albeit baptism might be a witness unto this man’s Christianity, among a people not esteeming it, yet some further thing is necessary to the end our sincerity may appear. There be some things as hateful among the men of this generation as the name of a Christian could be among the Ethiopians, as, namely, for a man to make conscience of his ways to show himself fearful to offend God, to follow after holiness.
IV. That he that administereth the sacrament ought to be careful to instruct the people in things necessary to the comfortable partaking of it. Every one that is entrusted with the dispensing of the sacrament is bound to acquaint the people carefully upon what conditions only they may receive it to their comfort. The doctrine appertaining to the right use of the sacrament is part of the counsel of God, and therefore not to be secreted by him that desireth to be pure from the people’s blood.
V. That since the coming of Christ there is no precedence of one place above another for the administration of holy things. Here is baptism administered by the wayside, and that in an ordinary river the sacrament had been no whit better to the eunuch if he had received it in some hallowed place, or in some consecrated vessel. Formerly the worship of God was limited to a certain place, but Christ being manifested, who was the Body of all former shadows, the distinction of places is abolished, and neither is God’s worship tied to Jerusalem, nor to Gerizim. Therefore Christ’s forerunner exercised his ministry openly in the wilderness, and baptized in the river Jordan; and our Saviour preached in mountains, by the seaside, and out of boats, anywhere where the audience was. So the apostles after, preached in houses, in fields, and baptized in any river which came next to hand. “Wheresoever two or three are gathered together in My name,” etc.; there is no exception of place, so that in other things the due form be observed. Conclusion: This may put us all in mind what use to make of our baptism.
1. So often as we think upon our baptism, it ought to be a spur to holiness. A servant to a great man, when he looketh upon his livery, cannot for shame be an enemy to him of whom he had received it; the sight of it is rather a common caller upon him to be faithful to him into whose service he is entered. So baptism is the cognizance of a Christian, and by it we have taken on us to wear the colours of our Captain; the very thought thereof should restrain us from doing the business of Satan, and work us by all means to the willing obeying of the Lord, to the studying, learning, and practising of His will. How excellent were it, if in doing of anything, which we rush upon without any scruple, we would say to ourselves, Is this according to promise, is this agreeing to the vow of baptism?
2. To those that thus make use of baptism as a motive to obedience, it is a storehouse of much comfort. When men’s titles to land be in question, they fall to perusing their sealed evidences; and so a Christian must often look to the will and deed of his heavenly Father sealed up in baptism, and by it he shall have comfort. (S. Hieron.)
The open door of the Church
As you read this story you get the impression that the way into the kingdom of heaven, in the days of our Lord and His apostles, was a very obvious and straightforward way to any willing to enter it. It might cost one an inward struggle to consent, but to one consenting, the way of entrance was plain, even if it was not easy. Such an one might find difficulties in himself; but he would have no hindrances put upon him in the name of the Lord--nothing but helps and encouragements. How wide open “the happy gates of gospel grace” did seem to stand in those days! And what a simple business they seemed to make of it! Not a word about a judicious deliberation and delay in the case of new converts. Not a word about preparing them by catechism, or taking them awhile on probation, or about examining them on their religious experience. “Here is water; what hinders me from being baptized’?” says this eunuch; as if to one who had learned about Jesus Christ and wished to be His disciple and follower, it was the most natural thing in the world. And at once the evangelist seems to answer, “Of course; why not?” And right then and there he baptized him.
I. Rites. Our Lord, providing for the need which His believing followers would have of some way of declaring their discipleship in visible form, named two ordinances. The commonest acts of daily life--the daily bath and the daily meal. The bath, by which one coming to Him signified his putting away, from that time forth, of the sinful, defiling service of the world, and his new, clean life of consecration to the:Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and the supper, in which he remembers his Master and Friend, declares his dependence and allegiance, and shows his Lord’s death until He comes.
II. Experiences. Needless, it should seem, to declare that the experience of other disciples was meant to be a help and encouragement to each one of us in one way into the heavenly kingdom. Looked at in any large and reasonable way, the lesson from the vast diversity in the spiritual history of true and holy Christians is a lesson of unbounded encouragement. He who is the Way, and the Door to the way, does not care by what path we come up to Him, if only we do come.
III. Doctrines. God’s truth is very plain; very easy; and oh, how helpful! What confidence it gives you toward Him! As He declares to us the great fact of the reconciliation of the world to Himself in Christ, how it wins us to trust in His plain, faithful promise, and to rest in the perfect peace of Him whose mind is stayed on God! (L. W. Bacon.)
Baptism, Water in
Some one sent to know whether it was permissible to use warm water in baptism? The doctor replied, “Tell the blockhead, that water, warm or cold, is water.” (Luther’s Table Talk.)
Baptism and the visible Church
One of the parish ministers preaching at Whitewell Chapel, Mr. Philip Henry and his family and many of his friends being present, was earnestly cautioning people not to go to conventicles, and used this as an argument against it, “that they were baptized into the Church of England.” Mr. Henry’s catholic charity could not well digest this monopolising of the great ordinance of baptism, and thought it time to bear his testimony against such narrow principles, of which he ever expressed his dislike in all parties and persuasions. Accordingly he took the next opportunity that offered itself publicly to baptize a child, and desired the congregation to bear witness “that he did not baptize that child into the Church of England, nor into the Church of Scotland, nor into the Church of the Dissenters, nor into the Church at Broad Oak, but into the Visible Catholic Church of Jesus Christ. (Whitecross.)
The Word and the Sacrament
There are two means of grace which mutually complete each other, and the one must not be valued over the other, or despised in comparison with the other. When the sacrament is despised, the body of the Church falls to pieces: when the Word is set aside its spirit dies. (K. Gerok.)
The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more.--
The rapture of Philip and the eunuch
The eunuch was the earliest first-fruits of the Gentile Church, his baptism was therefore authenticated by a remarkable operation of the Spirit of God, both on the part of its subject and its administrator.
1. The subject went on his way rejoicing, and in order to connect his joy with the Spirit we have but to remember that the first-fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace.”
2. The missionary was “caught away” by the Spirit--the same word as that of Paul, “caught up into the third heaven,” only there the region was invisible and heavenly, and the apostle knew not whether he was in or out of the body; here the transportation is merely to another spot of earth, and was clearly “in the body.” The same word is used of those who are alive at Christ’s coming, who shall be “caught up together” with the dead in Christ “in the clouds.” Hero the transport will be of the glorified body, not to another spot of earth, but into the air. The more complete parallel, however, is the case of Ezekiel, of whom we read on several occasions that “the Spirit took him up,” etc. And that the prophets underwent this kind of transport frequently may be gathered from the apprehensive words of Obadiah to Elijah (Kings 18:12), and from the petition respecting Elijah (2 Kings 2:16).
3. There is something striking in this instantaneous confirmation of baptism which reminds us of the descent of the Spirit on our Lord at His own, and we may parallel with it the old legend that at St. Augustine’s baptism, he and Ambrose, the administrator of it, were so filled with the Spirit that they burst forth alternately into the “Te Deum.” Note--
I. The bodily transport of the evangelist.
1. This was miraculous, but we may learn from it--
(1) That there may be an operation of the Spirit on the body of man. “I pray God that your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless.” “He that raised up Christ shall also quicken your mortal body.” We commonly regard the body as an encumbrance, and look to our disenthralment from it by death. But St. Paul, who felt painfully enough the infirmities of his body--“We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened”--yet cautions us against supposing that he wished to lay down his body at death, “not for that we would be unclothed,” etc. Nor while he felt the burden of the flesh did he ignore the possibility of the body’s consecration, and the noble uses it may serve (Romans 12:1). Let us, then, conform our view to Paul’s. Let us consecrate our eyes to God by mortifying their lusts, and by studying His words and works; our ears by turning them from flatteries and sinful enticements, and by opening them to His Word; our hands, by labouring in our vocation, and by giving alms; our feet, by making them carry us on errands of mercy, etc.
(2) That the minister’s ambition should be to lead men to Christ and leave them there. The Baptist pointed his disciples away from himself to the Lamb of God, and, without a single pang of envy, saw them following the Lamb, and thus fulfilled his own joy. So with Paul, “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.” But while the minister may not personally obtrude himself, it is quite possible to thrust his office into undue prominence. Christ did not send us to preach His ministry, but Himself.
2. Philip was found visiting the district afterwards traversed by Peter, thus again preparing the way for apostles. He had had a most interesting and refreshing conversation with the eunuch, and it must have occurred to him that thus it might please God to open a door for the evangelisation of Ethiopia. But now he was snatched away and planted down in a town full of heathen associations. The lesson is, that spiritual refreshment must be succeeded by work. The Christian must not expect to spend his life in delicious feeling.
II. The mental transport of the convert. The evangelist was carried away in one direction, the Ethiopian in another; which may be the force of “for” (A.V. “and”), or “for” may mean the convert’s ecstasy was so great that he did not notice Philip’s departure. This seems strange, and hardly the conduct due to so great a benefactor. But we must remember that the ordinary ministerial tie could scarcely exist between these two strangers who had only known each other for an hour. And then, again, a glorious field had been opened to the eunuch in the new light thrown upon the Scriptures. But like all such strong emotions, the joy would presently subside, when Philip s absence would be noted; and this, with his advent, so miraculous, would confirm the convert’s faith, as assuring him of a personal interposition of God. This joy, however, is the great evidence of having received Christ. It was so with the Samaritans (verse 8), and with the jailer. Have we this evidence? Do not let us deceive ourselves. In the sunshine of life it is possible to mistake happiness for joy. But happiness arises from circumstances, joy from an internal spring in God. (Dean Goulburn.)
He went on his way rejoicing.--
The rejoicing life
I. In what it consists. I have read of a man who, though possessing all the good things of this life, declared that he had never known one happy day. And here is one who “went on his way rejoicing.” What makes the difference? The one knew and loved his Saviour and Friend, the other had not so learned Christ. Of all secrets the best is the secret of a happy life. Some people imagine that it consists in having plenty of money, but money cannot cure a sick man or sweeten a bad temper; some that it lies in having good health, but a healthy man is not happy if he is discontented; others that it lies in great positions, but we know that many of the greatest statesmen and rulers have been haunted by fears and anxieties; others again that it may be found in scenes of continual amusement, but they are mistaken. There was once a famous comic actor whose appearance always created laughter. Once he went to consult a doctor who did not know him, and told him of his low spirits and bad health. The doctor advised him to go and see the famous clown, and his patient answered, “Alas! I am that unhappy man.” No, the secret of a happy life is to be found only in God. David, St. Paul, Mary, and others found it so.
II. Why is it that we have so many gloomy Christians? It is because they have not learned to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Friend. They believe in Him as some one else’s Saviour perhaps, but have not realised Him as their own. This is not because they have too much religion, as the scoffers say, but because they have not enough. Be sure of this, that if your religion does not make you go on your way rejoicing, you have not learned it aright. But why are we who come to church not equally happy? The same seed is sown in all our hearts, but our hearts are not all the same. I have got a stony plot in my garden, and however much good seed I sow there, it won’t grow. So it is with some of our hearts--they are not prepared, and the good seed falls as on a stone. Our first care, in learning the secret of happiness, should be to pray to God, the heavenly Husbandman, to prepare our hearts that we may receive the Word, and find the joy of that good part which no man taketh away from us. Sometimes people tell us that their food does them no good--they eat and drink, yet they waste away. Why? Because there is something wrong with their digestion. The food is good enough, but the mischief is in themselves. If religion does people no good, the fault is not in the religion, there is something wrong inside them, they cannot digest their spiritual food. They have lost a healthy taste for what is good; some sin is spoiling their taste for religion; they are like children whose appetite is clogged with unwholesome sweetmeats, so that they cannot enjoy honest food. You know that if you sow good seed in your field or garden, but suffer the thorns and thistles to grow, the good seed will have no chance. So it is with our lives--the good seed of God’s Word cannot grow if we allow the thorns to choke it. And how abundant those thorns are! There is the thorn of pride. A young girl or lad is reproved for doing wrong. Instead of expressing sorrow, the one who is in fault stiffens their neck. Religion cannot benefit such an one. Then there is the thorn of bad temper. Some people hear the message of Divine love, and go home and straightway fly into a passion, and so the good is lost.
III. How to lead the rejoicing life.
1. Let us be sure that we are on the right way; if our way be not a rejoicing way, it is not the right way; we must quit it, and start again. Have you ever seen a child which has lost its way, wandering along crying? Well, when you have put that child into the right road, all is changed. We who are not happy in our religion are the children who have lost their way. “Hold Thou up my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.”
2. If we are once on the right way we cannot help rejoicing, because we have so much to be thankful for. The man who takes all the good things which God sends him, and never feels thankful, cannot expect to be happy. I have read of a man who was once telling his religious experiences at a public meeting; he dwelt upon his trial, his troubles, and the hardness of the roar on which he had to travel. Presently another man spoke, and said, “I see our friend is living in Grumbling Street. I lived there myself once upon a time, and nothing prospered with me. I never had good health, the air was bad, the house was bad, the sun never seemed to shine there, and no birds ever sang in that street. I changed my residence. I moved into Thanksgiving Street, and now I have good health. The days are bright, the sun shines, the air is pure, and the birds sing oftener than anywhere else. I advise our friend to change his quarters, there is plenty of room in Thanksgiving Street.” One great secret of happiness is to be thankful--“in everything give thanks.” A woman who was too poor to cover her little boy with extra bedclothes to shelter him from the snow, which drifted through the broken wall, used to shelter him with boards. One night the little fellow asked, “Mother, what do the poor folks do who have no boards to cover their children with these cold nights?” That little child was thankful, even for a bit of board! But to be thankful we must be contented; that is another great secret of happiness. The poorest Christian has all that he needs, “as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” He has God for his Father, Jesus Christ for his Saviour, the Holy Spirit for his Guide, and heaven for his home.
3. You must love your brethren, and strive to help them along the road. If you would be happy yourselves, try to make others so, “learn the luxury of doing good.” There is a beautiful story of a woman who had met with many trials and sorrows, yet was always cheerful, as though she were always in the sunshine. When she was dying, a stream of golden sunlight streamed across her bed, and a butterfly lighted on her breast. As she breathed her last the beautiful insect flew upward into the sunshine. So passes away a Christian soul into the light of perfect day, and goes on its way rejoicing. (H. J. W. Buxton, M. A.)
Divine working in the unions and separations of man
I. Divinity bringing men together.
II. Divinity separating men from one another. They had to part, but who parted them? “The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip that the eunuch saw him no more.” Two thoughts are suggested.
1. Their attachment; was already strong. Christ brings souls together, and centralises them in Himself.
2. The separation was only bodily. Souls thus united cannot be separated--no distance, no time, no force can do it. Indeed, bodily separation often deepens and intensifies soul attachments.
III. Divinity uniting and separating men for the highest ends.
1. The eunuch departs with a new joy. “He went on his way rejoicing.”
2. Philip departs to prosecute his evangelic mission. “But Philip was found at Azotus, and passing through he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.” Thus the Divine Spirit that united and separated these men did it not only to bless them, but through them to bless undoubtedly countless throngs. Thus Divinity ever works for beneficent ends. (Homilist.)
I. The causes of this Ethiopian’s joy.
1. He had heard the best of all news.
2. He had seen the most glorious of all sights (Isaiah 35:1-2; Isaiah 35:5-6). He saw the glory of the wisdom of God, of the power of God, of the holiness of God, of the justice of God, of the faithfulness of God, of the grace and mercy of God, manifested in the salvation of men; therefore “he went on his way rejoicing.”
3. He had found the richest of all treasures. He could say, with an air of spiritual pleasure, as the two disciples did (John 1:41) I have found Him of whom Moses and the prophets wrote; I have found riches Of goodness, riches of grace, riches of glory, unsearchable riches, a kingdom that cannot be moved, a crown of life, a crown of righteousness, and a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
4. He had attained to the greatest of all honours. He was made a servant of the King of heaven; and some suppose that from this time henceforth he became a preacher of the gospel of His kingdom. Nay, “not only a servant, but a son; a son of God, by faith in Jesus Christ. If a son, then an heir; an heir of God, and a joint-heir with Christ.”
5. He had got his title-deeds to heaven and eternal glory ratified and sealed.
6. He was blessed with all spiritual blessings, and had obtained the most glorious prospects for time and for eternity.
II. The nature of this joy.
1. The Holy Spirit is the author of this joy. It is planted in the heart by the power of the Spirit, it is drawn forth into exercise by His Divine agency.
2. The knowledge of our interest in Christ and God as our reconciled God in Him is the source and spring of this joy.
3. All the tribulations to which the people of the Lord are subjected in this present state cannot extinguish this joy.
4. The Word and ordinances of God are the means of communicating joy to the souls of the people of the Lord, and they are the means of feeding this joy.
5. The Christian himself, when in the highest raptures of spiritual pleasures, cannot fully describe the excellence of this joy.
6. This joy is perfected at death, and prolonged to all the endless ages of eternity.
1. Learn that pure and undefiled religion is not a melancholy thing.
2. That the Lord knoweth them that are His.
3. From this subject at large see the danger of returning home from the ordinances of God without your proper errand.
4. From this subject learn that men may wait long on God in the ordinances of His grace before they meet with Jesus. The man who gets a saving sight of Christ, though not till the last day of the feast, though not till the time of the preaching of the last sermon, the presenting of the last prayer, the singing of the last praise, the pronouncing of the blessing--nay, though not till he be on the road to his habitation, he will nevertheless go on his way rejoicing.
5. Is there a broken-hearted believer, under painful apprehension, that though he has been seeking Jesus, he has not found Him, and now saying, in the bitterness of his soul, I must go on my way sorrowing? Godly sorrow is not only consistent, but is inseparably connected with this joy in the Lord (Isaiah 29:19). (John Jardine.)
Address after communion
Your condition is in several respects similar to that of this man, He had solemnly avouched the Lord to be his God: you, with equal solemnity, have this day done the same. He had just received one seal of the covenant of grace” you, this day, have received the other. He had a long journey before him: ye also are travellers through this wilderness, toward the promised land of rest. In these circumstances I take occasion to address you with a twofold exhortation.
I. Arise and go forward. Many who mistake the nature of this ordinance are very anxious and busy for a few days in making a sort of formal preparation for it. Then their countenances are demure, and their conversation is precise, and their attendance upon the most protracted services of devotion indefatigable; and this they call religion, and trust in its merit to absolve them from all the dishonest, worldly, uncharitable, and ungodly practices of which they are guilty in the other periods of their time. But I trust that ye have not so learned Christ. Let your present attainments, instead of satisfying you, only incite your zeal and ambition to rise still higher in the excellencies of the Divine life. Do not flatter yourselves with the prospect of uninterrupted ease and unclouded enjoyment; but consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself when at any time ye are weary or faint in your minds, and study to know Him in the power of His resurrection, and in the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death. Exercise yourselves daily in mortifying the deeds of the body; in crucifying the flesh, with its affections and lusts; and in opposing your inclinations as often as they oppose your duty. Thus labouring to be examples of patience, meekness, contentment, and to come behind in no good thing to which you are called; go on in the strength of the Lord.
II. Rejoice as you go on.
1. If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious, then rejoice that ye have passed from death to life, and that there is now no condemnation for them who are in Christ Jesus.
2. Rejoice that you are advanced to the dearest and most intimate relation to all the persons of the ever-blessed Godhead. By your new birth ye are become the sons of God, members of Christ, and temples for the Holy Ghost.
3. Rejoice that God has made with you an everlasting covenant, well ordered in all things and sure.
4. Rejoice that the life which is begun in you is an immortal principle that can never be extinguished.
5. Rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Even amidst our most sublime delights we are conscious of a certain blank in our feelings which reminds us that this is not our rest; but in the presence of God there is fulness of joy, and at His right hand are pleasures for evermore. (R. Walker.)
How is it that so few are like this eunuch is a very solemn and practical question. Some easily dispose of it.
1. They tell us, we are not now in days of persecution, and that when God tries His saints, He stands by His saints with peculiar consolations. No doubt He does so; but the Word of God that is written, not for that day, but for all days, sets before us this truth--that gladness of heart is the very element of our dispensation.
2. Neither do they dispose of this matter who account for it by the sovereignty of God--alleging that God has so appointed it, and that therefore we must be contented without it. What God’s secret purposes are we know not; but what His Word is, we know--“Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, Rejoice.” Note, then--
I. How the scripture describes the joy that is here spoken of. It is especially marked out as a “fruit of the Spirit.” If you turn to Philippians
1. it is described as the fruit of faith. “Your furtherance and joy of faith.” In Hebrews 3:1-19. rejoicing is said to be the fruit of hope. “The rejoicing of the hope”--that rejoicing that hope giveth. It is needful to lay some stress upon this description because some imagine of joy as if it were always some ecstatic state of mind. It is rather the highest exhibition of peace. High peace and low joy come so near to one another that it would be difficult to draw the line of distinction. But joy may still stop short of that which is ecstatic. A man may be “joyful in the Lord,” peacefully and quietly. And numbers imagine, too, that one who “rejoices in the Lord” is one who always rejoices in Him; as if there were no ebb and flow. But if this is a holy joy, it must be affected by sin; and you may be assured that that man’s joy that is not affected by sin never came from God. It is the joy of a sailor that has faith for his cable and hope for his anchor, but he is in the midst of the stormy ocean, and continually does he stand exposed to all the changes of the storm, tempest, and the treacherous calm. It is the joy of a traveller through a wilderness, which he finds to be a wilderness, for it would show a want of sensibility (and a want of holy sense too) not to feel it so; but a man may have the keenest sense of the desolation of the wilderness, and yet realise this joy in his soul. It is the joy of a penitent; one who knows what is the element of a broken heart and contrite spirit; for where faith is repentance is, and they that have “joy in believing” know it to be the joy of a penitent spirit. It is the joy of a returning prodigal, and they who know the most of what this holy joy is can understand the most of what that state of mind is--“Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” There are many things said concerning this joy which I cannot touch on. I would only say, “the stranger intermeddles not with it”; it is a joy that is “unspeakable, and full of glory.” It is a union of opposites. The more a man rejoices after this sort, the lower he walks before God; the lower he walks before God, the more he ascends in holy desires after Him.
II. The inducements which are given us to go on our way rejoicing.
1. God’s command. I do not object to its being called a high privilege; but the highest point of all is God’s command, “Rejoice in the Lord alway.” Do not trifle with this Word of God. It may be one of the holiest precepts if the Holy Ghost should lay this upon your soul. And if it leads us into a serious inquiry wherefore it is not so, it shall be one of the most sanctifying inquiries both as it regards the causes that lead to it and the effects that follow from it.
2. The example of the family of God (1 Thessalonians 1:6; Philippians 3:2).
3. The privileges of a believer. Does he look at God in the greatness of His perfections? All His perfections are the favour of God, the light of God’s countenance, the strength of God’s arm, the love of God’s heart, the hearing of God’s ear, and the omniscience of God’s mind (to say nothing of His justice, His holiness, His faithfulness), all surround His child day by day, night by night, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. Do we look at the covenant? All that I can want is there; the pardon of my sin, the acceptance of my person, the sanctification of my soul, the help to strengthen me in my hours of need.
III. Some of those hindrances that prevent the child of God from “going on his way rejoicing.” I do not speak now of those who have no right to joy. Ah! there are some whose joy I should be glad to see turned into heaviness. And there are numbers of God’s children that cannot rejoice. They are living at an uncertainty with regard to their “election to God.” But with regard to those who do know something of what joy is, let me give you a word of caution that you lose it not. Beware of--
1. Unbelief. It is the great hindrance (Psalms 77:1-20.). It led Asaph to write hard things, not only against himself, but against God.
2. Low views of Christ; In proportion as Christ sinks, everything sinks in you.
3. A hasty spirit in dark dispensations (Psalms 116:1-19.).
4. Worldly entanglements.
5. An uneven walk. Indulged sin, indulged neglect, the tampering with sin upon the conscience will quite prevent the joy of a man’s soul.
6. All selfishness in religion. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
I. The source. “He went on his way rejoicing,” because of--
1. The great discovery he had now made. He had found a Redeemer--Him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write.
(1) As a man awakened to a sense of spiritual danger, he must have felt the need of a Saviour prior to this.
(2) As a proselyte to the Jewish faith, he must have been expecting the “consolation of Israel”; all the faithful longed for the “coming one “ at this time. And nosy he discovers the deliverer in Jesus of Nazareth.
2. The great, change which he had now experienced. His mind was enlightened and his heart was changed. No thoughtful man could have reflected on what had now taken place within him without feeling grateful and happy. The joy of the bondman is great when delivered from the slavery of earth; but the joy of the emancipated is greater. We read of an ancient race who had been slaves for many years, and who were at last released; and when the great blessing of liberty was tasted by them they cried for several hours, “Liberty! liberty! liberty!” Some years ago we redeemed 800,000 of West Indian slaves, and we are told that when the night of their emancipation arrived the excitement among the poor slaves became most painful, and when the midnight hour came the shouts of gratitude and joy were utterly beyond description. The deliverance of the slave of sin is a greater source of joy still.
3. The clearer views he must have had of God’s nature, and the character of His dispensations. He was a worshipper of the living God before, but his views must have been very contracted in regard to the object and nature of worship. He confined his ideas of worship to one place far distant from his own home. He must have thought, too, that it was by becoming a proselyte to Judaism only he could be saved, “salvation being of the Jews.” But now his mind was expanded by Divine truth, and he has broader views of the Father of Spirits, and of the spirituality of his religion. The wilds of Gaza were now converted into a house of God, and the very gate of heaven.
4. The prospects of usefulness; the hope of doing good in his own country. Every good man is happy at this. Having tasted that the “Lord is gracious,” he is ever anxious to tell others of “what God has done to his soul.” When a true-hearted man has any good news to publish, he feels a burden resting on his soul and finds relief only when he accomplishes his mission. This is especially the feeling of a true Christian. Religion is expansive in its very nature. “She seeketh not her own.”
5. The glorious scenes opening before him in eternity. His views of futurity must have been unsatisfactory before he became a hearer of Philip. The heathen had but faint notions of a future life, and even among the Jews the idea of immortality was not clearly understood. Many of the saints of the Old Testament were “all their life subject to bondage through fear of death.” But now “life and immortality were brought to light through the gospel,” and the Ethiopian was filled with the “hope of the glory of God.”
II. The lessons. We find here--
1. A noble example of regular attendance on the means of grace, and the study of the Holy Scriptures.
2. That true happiness is connected only with true piety. Happiness is not found in wealth, honour, or worldly pleasure. This distinguished man possessed all these before his conversion; but till now he was not happy. Nor does true happiness consist in mere outward forms of worship, or mere profession of religion. The eunuch was a convert to the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish religion; yet never before this do we find him “going on his way rejoicing” from the great feasts. His soul was not satisfied with shadows. Now he finds the reality, and he finds “joy and peace in believing.” The path of duty is the path of safety, it is also the path of pleasure.
3. That the grand theme of the gospel ministry in all ages is Jesus and His Cross. (H. P. Bowen.)
Happiness and joy
Happiness, according to the original use of the term, is that which happens, or comes to one by a hap; i.e., by an outward befalling, or favourable condition. Some good is conceived, out of the soul, which comes to it as a happy visitation, stirring in the receiver a pleasant excitement. It is what money yields or will buy--dress, equipage, fashion, luxuries of the table; or it is settlement in life--independence, love, applause, admiration, honour, glory, or the more conventional and public benefits of rank, political standing, victory, power. All these stir a delight in the soul which is not of the soul, or its qualities, but from without. Hence they are looked upon as happening to the soul, and in that sense create happiness. But joy differs from this as being of the soul itself, originating in its quality. And this appears in the original form of the word, which instead of suggesting a hap, literally denotes a leap or spring. The Latin has exult, which literally means a leaping forth. The radical idea, then, of joy is this--that the soul is in such order and beautiful harmony, has such springs of life opened in its own blessed virtues, that it pours forth a sovereignty from within. The motion is outward not toward, as we conceive it to be in happiness. It is not the bliss of condition, but of character. The soul has a light in its own luminous centre, where God is, which gilds the darkest nights of external adversity--a music charming all the stormy discords of outward injury and pain into beats of rhythm and melodies of peace. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
The joy of the first Christian experiences
What delight there is to us in first things! The first primrose pushing through the clods telling of winter gone, and summer on the way; the first view of the sea in its wondrous expanse of power; the first sense of peace that came through faith in Christ as a Saviour. A certain authoress who became very famous, speaks of the exquisite sense of delight she felt when she began her first literary work in the reviewing of books: the opening of the first parcel was as the “bursting of a new world” on her eyes. Dickens describes how he dropped his first published paper stealthily one evening at twilight, with fear and trembling, into a dark letter-box up a dark court in Fleet Street, and his agitation when it appeared in all the glory of print--“on which occasion I walked down to Westminster Hall, and turned into it for half an hour, because my eyes were so dimmed with joy and pride that they could not bear the street, and were not fit to be seen there.” (H. O. Mackey.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Acts 8". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent