There arose on that day for at that time there was, A.V.; in for at, A.V. Saul was consenting to his death. St. Paul's repeated reference to this sad episode in his life is very touching (see Acts 22:2,0; 1 Corinthians 15:9; 1 Timothy 1:13). (For the word συνευδοκεῖν, to consent, see Acts 22:20; Luke 11:48; Romans 1:32; 1 Corinthians 7:12.) Arose on that day. The phrase is manifestly the Hebrew one, אוּההַ מוֹיּבַּ, so constantly used in Isaiah and the other prophets, not of a single day, but of a longer or shorter time, and means, as the A.V. has it, "at that time," not the particular Tuesday or Wednesday on which Stephen was killed. If St. Luke had meant to state that the persecution set in the very day on which Stephen was stoned, he would have expressed it much more pointedly, and used a different word from ἐγένετο. It is otherwise with Acts 2:41 and Luke 17:31, where the context defines the meaning, and confines it to a specified day; just as the equivalent Hebrew phrase is as commonly applied to a literal day as to a time or period. The context shows which is the sense in which it is used. Here the thing spoken of, the persecution, did not take place on a day. It lasted many days. Therefore ἡμέρα means here "time." They were all scattered. Just as the wind blows the seed to a distance to fructify in different places. Except the apostles. They, like faithful watchmen, remained at their post, to confirm the souls of those disciples who for one reason or another were unable to flee (for of course the word all must not be pressed strictly), and to exhort them to continue in the faith, as St. Paul did later at Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (Acts 14:22), and to keep up the nucleus of the Church in the metropolis of Christendom.
Buried for carried to his burial (the last three words in italics), A.V. Devout men; ἀνδρες αὐλαβεῖς. This word is applied to Simeon (Luke 2:25), and to the Jews who were assembled at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:5), and, according to the R.T., to Ananias (Acts 22:12); but occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is not certain, therefore, that these men were Christians, though they might be. If not, they were pious Jews, men who feared God, and still loved Stephen as being himself a devout Jew though he was a disciple. Buried. συγκομίζω occurs only here in the New Testament; but its common use for carrying corn to a barn or granary seems to indicate that "carrying to his burial" of the A.V. is the most exact rendering. The word is said also to be applied to the acts preparatory to burial—closing the eyes, washing, anointing the body, and so on; but this meaning is less certain than that of "carrying."
But for as for, A.V.; 'laid waste for he made havoc of,' A.V. From the dispersion of the disciples will flow the narrative in this present chapter. It is therefore mentioned first. From the persecution of Saul will flow the narrative in Acts 9:1-43 and to the end of the book. Stephen's burial completes the preceding narrative.
They therefore for therefore they, A.V.; about for everywhere, A.V. Went about; i.e. from place to place, and wherever they went they preached the Word. διέρχομαι here is used in the same sense as in Acts 8:40, and in Acts 10:38; Acts 17:23; Acts 20:25, and elsewhere.
And for then, A.V.; proclaimed unto them the Christ for preached Christ unto them, A.V. Philip; the deacon and evangelist (Acts 6:7; Acts 21:8), not the apostle. As regards Samaria, it is always used in the New Testament of the country, not of the city, which at this time was called Sebaste, from σεβαστός, i.e. Augustus Caesar (see Acts 25:21, Acts 25:26, etc.; John 4:5; and Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 15. John 7:9). Whether, therefore, we read with the T.R. πόλιν, or with the R.T. τὴν πόλιν, we must understand Samaria to mean the country, and probably the city to be the capital, Sebaste. Alford, however, with many others, thinks that Sychem is meant, as in John 4:5.
The multitudes gave heed with one accord for the people with one accord gave heed, A.V.; the for those (things), A.V. that were spoken by Philip for which -Philip spake, A.V.; when they heard and saw the signs for hearing and seeing the miracles, A.V. Note St. Luke's favorite word, with one accord (above, Acts 2:1, note).
From many of those which had unclean spirits, they came out crying with a loud voice for unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them, A.V.; that were palsied for taken with palsies, A.V. From many of those, etc. The R.T. is represented by the margin, but it is nonsense. The different rendering depends upon whether πνεύματα ἀκάθατα is taken as the subject to ἐξήρχετο, or as the object after ἔχοντα. In one case, πνεύματα or αὐτά must be understood after ἐχόντων, as in the A.V., which inserts with them in italics; in the other, the same word must be understood before ἐξήρχετο, as in the R.V., which inserts they. The latter construction seems right, but the sense is the same, and the A.V. is much the nearest rendering. That were palsied. The purpose and effect of miracles is here clearly shown, to attract attention, and to evidence to the hearers and seers that the workers of miracles are God's messengers, and that the Word which they preach is God's Word.
Much for great, A.V. and T.R. Much joy. The joy was caused partly by the healing of their sick, and partly by the glad tidings of the gospel of peace (comp. Matthew 13:20; 1 Peter 1:8).
Simon by name for called Simon, A.V.; the city for the same city, A.V.; amazed for bewitched, A.V. (here and in Acts 8:13). Amazed. In Luke 24:22 the same word ( ἐξίστημι) is rendered "made us astonished" in the A.V.; and in Acts 2:7, Acts 2:12, and elsewhere, in an intransitive sense, "were amazed." It has also the meaning of "being out of one's mind," or "beside one's self" (Mark 3:21; 2 Corinthians 5:13), but never that of "bewitching" or "being bewitched." As regards Simon, commonly surnamed Magus, from his magic arts, it is doubtful whether he is the same Simon as is mentioned by Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,'20. 7.2) as being employed by Felix the Procurator of Judaea, in the reign of Claudius (Acts 23:25), to bewitch Drusfila into forsaking her husband, King Azizus, and marrying him, which she did (Acts 24:24). The doubt arises from Josephus stating that Simon to be a Cypriot ( κύπριον γένος), whereas Justin Martyr says of Simon Magus that he was ἀπὸ κώμης λεγομένης γίττων, a native of Gitton, or Githon, a village of Samaria. It has been thought that Gitton may be a mistake of Justin's for Citium, in Cyprus. The after history of Simon Magus is full of fable. He is spoken of by Irenaeus and other early writers as the inventor or founder of heresy.
That power of God which is called Great for the great power of God, A.V. and T.R. That power of God, etc. The revised text inserts καλουμένη before μεγάλη. Origen says of Simon that his disciples, the Simoniaus, called him "The Power of God." ('Contra Cels.,' lib. 5:62, where see Delarue's note). According to Tertullian ('De Anima'), he gave himself out as the supreme Father, with other blasphemies. According to St. Jerome on Matthew 24:5, he speaks of himself in different writings as the Word of God, as the Paraclete, the Almighty, the Fullness of God.
They gave heed to him for to him they had regard, A.V.; amazed for bewitched, A.V.; his sorceries for sorceries, A.V.
Good tidings for the things, A.V. and T.R.
And for then, A.V.; also himself believed for himself believed also, A.V.; being baptized for when he was baptized, A.V.; beholding signs and great miracles wrought, he was amazed for wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. Contained with ( ἢν προσκαρτερῶν); see Acts 1:14; Acts 3:1-26 :46; Acts 6:4; Acts 10:1-48.7. St. Paul uses the word in Romans 12:12; Romans 13:6; Colossians 4:2; and the substantive formed from it ( προσκαρτέρησις) once, Ephesians 6:18. Elsewhere in the New Testament it occurs only in Mark 3:9. But it is found in Hist. of. Sus. 6. Amazed (see note on verse 9). In Simon we have the first example of one who, having been baptized into Jesus Christ, lived to disgrace and corrupt the faith which he professed. He was an instance of the tares sown among the wheat, and of the seed which sprang up quickly being as quickly destroyed. He is an instance also of the truth of our Lord's raying, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon."
The apostles (see Acts 8:1). They sent unto them Peter and John. The selection of these two chief apostles shows the great importance attached to the conversion of the Samaritans. The joint act of the college of apostles in sending them demonstrates that Peter was not a pope, but a brother apostle, albeit their primate; and that the government of the Church was in the apostolate, not in one of the number.
That they might receive the Holy Ghost. Why was it needful that two apostles should come down to Samaria and pray, with laying on of hands, for the newly baptized that they might receive the Holy Ghost? There is no mention of such prayer or such imposition of hands in the case of the first three thousand who were baptized. They were told by St. Peter, "Be baptized every one of you, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38), and they were baptized, and doubtless did receive the Holy Ghost, Neither is there any mention of such things in the case of the subsequent thousands who were baptized at Jerusalem on the apostles' preaching. Why, then, was it so in Samaria? To answer this question, we must observe the difference in the circumstances. The baptisms at Jerusalem were performed by the apostles themselves. The Holy Ghost was given upon their promise and assurance. But in Samaria the preaching and the baptizing were done by the scattered disciples. There was a danger of many independent bodies springing up, owing no allegiance to the apostles, and cemented by no bonds to the mother Church. But Christ's Church was to be one—many members, but one body. The apostolate was to be the governing power of the whole Church, by the will and ordinance of Christ. Hence there was a manifest reason why, when the gospel spread beyond Judaea, these visible spiritual gifts should be given only through the laying on of the apostles' hands, and by the intervention of their prayers. This had a manifest and striking influence in marking and preserving the unity of the Church, and in marking and maintaining the sovereignty of the apostolic rule. For precisely the same reason has the Catholic and Apostolic Church in all ages (Acts 19:5, Acts 19:6; Hebrews 6:2) maintained the rite of confirmation, "after the example of the holy apostles." Besides the other great benefits connected with it, its influence in binding up in the unity of the Church the numerous parishes of the diocese, instead of letting them become independent congregations, is very great. Observe, too, how prayer and the laying on of hands are tied together. Neither is valid without the other. In this case, as at Pentecost, the extraordinary gift of the Holy Ghost was conferred. In confirmation, now that miracles have ceased, it is the ordinary and invisible grace of the Holy Spirit that is to be looked for.
Had been for were, A.V.; into for in, A.V. Into the name. In seems preferable (comp. Matthew 10:41, Matthew 10:42). The use of the prepositions in the New Testament is much influenced by the Hebrew, through the language of the LXX. As regards baptism in the Name of the Lord Jesus, here and Acts 8:39, T.R.; Acts 10:48; Acts 19:5, we are not to suppose that any other formula was used than that prescribed by our Lord (Matthew 28:19). But as baptism was preceded by a confession of faith similar to that in our own Baptismal Service, so it was a true description to speak of baptism as being in the Name of Jesus Christ.
Now for and, A.V.; the laying for laying, A.V. Acts 8:19.—My hands for hands, A.V. Would to God that spiritual powers in the Church had never been prostituted to base purposes of worldly gain, and that all the servants of Christ had shown themselves as superior to "filthy lucre" as Peter and Elisha were! But the particular offence called simony has but a very faint analogy to the act of Simon.
Silver for money, A.V.; to obtain the gift of God for that the gift of God may be purchased, A.V. (rightly, κτᾶσθαι is the middle voice). Silver. This is a change of very doubtful necessity; ἀργύριον, like the French argent, is frequently used for "money" generally, without any reference to the particular metal of which it is made. Sometimes, indeed, it is used in opposition to "gold," as Acts 3:6 and Acts 20:33, and then it is properly rendered "silver." Here the Revisers' mason, doubtless, was to reserve "money" as the rendering of χρήματα (Acts 20:19, Acts 20:20). St. Peter's answer is remarkable, not only for the warmth with which he repudiates the proffered bribe, but also for the jealous humility with which he affirms that the gifts of the Spirit were not his to give, but were the gift of God (see Acts 3:12-16).
Before God for in the sight of God, A.V. Thou hast neither part nor lot. The "covetous shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:10; comp. Psalms 10:3; Luke 16:14; 1 Timothy 3:3). The phrase, ἐν τῷ λόγῳ τούτῳ, rendered in this matter, seems to be more fitly rendered in the margin, "in this Word," i.e. the Word of life, the Word of salvation, which we preach (see Acts 5:20; Acts 10:36; Acts 13:26).
The Lord for God, A.V. and T.R.; thy for thine, A.V.; shall for may, A.V. Repent. The terrible words, "Thy money perish with thee," had not expressed Peter's wish for his destruction. But they were the wounds of a friend speaking sharp things to pierce, if possible, a callous conscience. In the hope that that conscience had been pierced, he now urges repentance. And yet still, dealing skilfully with so bad a case, he speaks of the forgiveness doubtfully, "if perhaps." The sin was a very grievous one; the wound must not be healed too hastily. "There is a sin unto death."
See for perceive, A.V. In the gall of bitterness, etc. The passage from which both this expression and the similar one in Hebrews 12:15 are taken is manifestly Deuteronomy 29:18, where the Greek of the LXX. has, ῥίζα ἄνω φύουσα ἐν χολῇ καὶ πικρίᾳ. The context there also shows conclusively that the "gall and bitterness" ("wormwood," A.V.) of which Moses speaks is the spirit of idolatry or defection from God springing up in some professing member of the Church, and defiling and corrupting others, as it is expounded in Hebrews 12:15, Hebrews 12:16. This, as St. Peter saw, was exactly the case with Simon, whose heart was not straight with God, but "had turned away from him," as it is said in Deuteronomy. Though baptized, he was still an idolater in heart, and likely to trouble many. "The gall of bitterness" is the same as "gall and wormwood," or "bitterness." "Gall," or "bile," is in classical Greek and other languages a synonym for "bitterness," especially in a figurative sense (see Lamentations 3:15, Lamentations 3:19— πικρία καὶ χολή, LXX.). The uncommon phrase, the bond of iniquity, seems to be borrowed from Isaiah 58:6, where the LXX. have the same words, λύε πὰντα σύνδεσμον ἀδικίας, "loose the bands of wickedness," A.V. Simon was still bound in these bands.
And Simon answered for then answered Simon, A.V.; for me to the Lord for to the Lord for me, A.V.; the for these, A.V. Pray ye, etc.; addressed to both Peter and John, who were acting together, and whose prayers had been seen to be effectual (verse 15) in procuring the gift of the Holy Ghost. In like manner, Pharaoh, under the influence of terror at God's judgments, had asked again and again for the prayers of Moses and Aaron (Exodus 8:8, Exodus 8:28; Exodus 9:27, Exodus 9:28; Exodus 10:16, Exodus 10:17, etc.). But in neither ease was this an evidence of true conversion of heart.
They therefore for and they, A.V.; spoken for preached, A.V.; to many for in many, A.V.
But an angel for and the angel, A.V.; the same is for which is, A.V. An angel. "The angel," as in A.V., is right, just as ὄνομα κυρίου (Matthew 21:9; Matthew 23:1-39. 39; Luke 19:38, etc.) and הוָהֹיְ משֵׁ in Hebrew mean "the Name of the Lord," not "a Name" (see Acts 5:19; Acts 7:31, notes). The south, meaning that part of Judaea which was called "the south country;" Hebrew בגֶנֶּהַ (Genesis 20:1; Genesis 24:62; etc.). This is generally rendered in the LXX. by πρὸς λίβα or πρὸς νότον. But in 1 Samuel 20:41, in Symraachus, μεσηνβρία stands as the rendering of בגֶנֶּחַ. As regards the words, the same is desert, it is observable that in Numbers 31:1 and Deuteronomy 34:3 ἔρημος is the LXX. rendering of מבֶנֶחַ, and that part of the country is called "the wilderness of Judaea." The words of the angel, therefore, mean, not that Gaza is desert, nor that the read itself is desert, but that the country to which he was directing Philip's journey was part of that known as the desert; αὕτη does not refer to ὁδός or to γάζα, but to χώρα, understood as contained in ἔρημος. The meaning of the whole sentence I take to be as follows:—"Take thy journey in [or, 'by'] the south [comp. Luke 15:14; Acts 5:15; Acts 11:1; Acts 13:1-52. lids far as [ ἐπί, 'notans locum vel terminum ad quem' (Schleusner)] the road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza, where the country is desert." Philip was to proceed from Samaria along the south country till he came to where the Jerusalem road met his road. That district, he is reminded, was desert, part, i.e., or the desert of Judaea. The spot was probably selected for that very reason, as affording the privacy necessary for the eunuch to read in his chariot, and for Philip to join him and expound the Word of God to him. Chrysostom (followed by others) takes κατὰ μεσημβρίαν in the sense of "at noonday in the most violent heat," though he also renders it "southwards" (Hem., 19.).
Was over for had the charge of, A.V.; who for and, A.V. Candace. According to Pithy, the queens of Ethiopia, who reigned at Meroe, were so named through a long course of years ('Nat. Hist.,' Acts 6:2,Acts 6:5 -37). Dion Cassius speaks of a warlike Queen of Ethiopia of that name, who was brought to terms by Caius Petronius in the year A.U.C. 732 (54.5, 4). Eusebius says that the custom still continued in his day of the Ethiopians being governed by a queen. Had come to Jerusalem, etc. He was doubtless a proselyte of the gate. Eusebius, in the place above cited, speaks of him as the first Gentile convert, and as the first fruits of the faithful in the whole world. He adds, as Irenaeus before him had hinted (3. 12.8), that he is reported to have preached the gospel to the Ethiopians, by which the prophecy of Psalms 68:31 was fulfilled. Later traditions speak of Candace as baptized by him.
And he was for was, A.V.; was reading for read, A.V.; Isaiah for Esaias, A.V., the Hebrew for the Greek form. The diffusion of the Holy Scriptures among the Gentiles by means of the Jewish dispersion and the facility given to Gentiles for reading the Scriptures by their translation into Greek at Alexandria, and by the universal use of the Greek language through the conquests of Alexander the Great, are striking instances of the providence of God working all things after the counsel of his own will.
And for then, A.V.
Ran for ran thither, A.V.; reading-Isaiah the prophet for read the prophet Esaias, A.V. and T.R. Heard him. He was reading aloud. In Hebrew, the word for "to read" ( ארָקָ) means "to call," "to proclaim aloud." Hence the keri, that which is read, as distinguished from the cethib, that which is written. Reading Isaiah the prophet. The same providence which sent Philip to meet him in the desert doubtless directed his reading to the fifty-third chapter of the great evangelical prophet.
One shall for man should, A.V. and T.R.; he besought Philip to come up and sit with him for he desired Philip that he would, etc., A.V. He besought, etc. The humility and thirst for instruction of this great courtier are very remarkable, and the instance of the joint use of the written Word and the living teacher is noteworthy.
Now the place for the place, A.V.; was reading for read, A.V.; as a lamb … is dumb for like a lamb dumb, A.V.; he openeth not for opened he not, A.V. As a lamb … is dumb. The A.V. of this clause seems to me preferable as a rendering of the Greek, though the Hebrew has המָלָאֶןֶ, "is dumb." But this may be rendered "which is dumb." As regards the word περιοχή, rendered place, and considered as the antecedent to which, the use of it by Cicero ('Ad Attic.,' 13.25) for a whole paragraph, and the employment in the Syriac Version of this passage of the technical word which denotes a "section" or "paragraph," and the Vulgate rendering, Locus … quem (Schleusner), as well as the etymology of the word, which means "a circuit," or "circumference," within which something is contained—all strongly point to the rendering in the text. Meyer, however, and others make τῆς γραφῆς the antecedent to ἥν, and construe, "The contents of the Scripture which he was reading," and refer to 1 Peter 2:6.
His generation who shall declare? for and who shall declare his generation? A.V. and T.R. The preceding quotation is taken verbatim from the LXX., which, however, varies somewhat from the Hebrew. In this verse, for the Hebrew as rendered in the A.V., "He was taken from prison and from judgment," the LXX. has, "In his humiliation his judgment was taken away," having evidently read in their copy וֹטפָשְׁםִ וֹרצְעֹםֵ, or perhaps וֹרצְעבְ, "Through [or, 'in'] his oppression [humiliation] his judgment was taken away." Mr. Cheyne translates the Hebrew, "Through oppression and through a judgment [sentence] he was taken "away [to death]." For the Hebrew of the A.V., "He was cut off out of the land of the living," the LXX. has, "His life is taken from the earth," where they must have read וֹיחַ, "his life," as the subject of the verb, instead of מייִּחַ, the living, taken in construction with צרֶאֶ, the earth. The differences, however, are not material in regard to the general meaning of the passage. His generation who shall declare? The explanation of this difficult expression belongs tea commentary on Isaiah. Here it must suffice to say that the explanation most in accordance with the meaning of the Hebrew words ( חַחֵשׂיְ and וֹרוֹד), with the context, and with the turn of thought in Isaiah 38:10-12 and Jeremiah 11:19, is that given in the 'Speaker's Commentary:' "Who will consider, give serious thought to, his life or age, seeing it is so prematurely cut off?" which is merely another way of saying that Messiah should "be cut off" (Daniel 9:26)" from the land of the living, that his Name be no more remembered" (Jeremiah, as above). It was the frustration of this hope of Jesus being forgotten in consequence of his death that so troubled the Sanhedrim (Acts 5:28).
Other for other man, A.V. The eunuch's intelligent question gave Philip exactly the opening he required for preaching to him Jesus, the Messiah of whom all the prophets spake by the Holy Ghost (1 Peter 1:10, 1 Peter 1:11).
And for then, A.V.; beginning from this Scripture for began at the same Scripture, A.V.; preached for and preached, A.V.
The way for their way, A.V.; saith for said, A.V.; behold for see, A.V. Here is water. "When we were at Tell-el-Hasy, and saw the water standing along the bottom of the adjacent wady, we could not but remark the coincidence of several circumstances with the account of the eunuch's baptism. This water is on the most direct road from Belt Jibrin (Eleutheroplis) to Gaza, on the most southern road from Jerusalem, and in the midst of a country now 'desert,' i.e. without villages or fixed habitations. There is no other similar water on this road". There were three roads from Jerusalem to Gaza, of which the one above described still exists, "and actually passes through the desert". What doth hinder me to be baptized! This question clearly shows that the doctrine of baptism had formed part of Philip's preaching, as it had of Peter (Acts 2:18).
The whole of Acts 8:37 of the A.V. is omitted in the R.T., on the authority of the best existing manuscripts. But on the other hand, Irenaeus, in the third book against Heresies, Acts 12:8, distinctly quotes a portion of this verse. The eunuch, he says, when he asked to be baptized said, πιστεύω τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ εἴναι τὸν ιησοῦν χριστόν: and Cyprian, in his third book of Testimonies, 43., quotes the other part of the verse. In proof of the thesis that "whoever believes may be immediately baptized," he says, "In the Acts of the Apostles [when the eunuch said], Behold water, what doth hinder me to be baptized? Philip answered, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest." So that in the second and third centuries, long anterior to the oldest existing manuscripts, this entire verse must have been found in the codices both of the Greek and Latin Churches.
Both went down for went down both, A.V. Nothing can be more graphic than the simple narrative of this interesting and important baptism. Surely Luke must have heard it from Philip's own mouth (see Acts 21:8-10).
Came up for were come up, A.V.; and the eunuch for that the eunuch, A.V.; for he went for and he went, A.V. The eunuch made no attempt to follow Philip, but went on his road to Egypt, his whole heart filled with the new joy of Christ's salvation.
He preached the gospel to all the cities for he preached in all the cities, A.V. The sudden rapture of Philip by the Spirit, and his transportation to Azotus, or Ashdod, reminds us forcibly of 1 Kings 18:12, and of the successive journeys of Elijah just prior to his translation. In Philip's case we may suppose a kind of trance, which was not ended till he found himself at Azotus. Passing through. For διέρχομαι (there rendered "went about"), see 1 Kings 18:4, note. To Caesarea; where we find him domiciled (Acts 21:8). Such coincidences, appearing in the narrative without any explanation, are strong marks of truth. "He journeyed northward from Ashdod, perhaps through Ekron, Ramah, Joppa, and the plain of Sharon" (Meyer).
The fruits of persecution.
Persecution is Satan's instrument for checking and, if possible, destroying the truth of God. Our Savior reminds us, in the sermon on the mount, how the prophets, who spake to the people in the Name of God, had been persecuted of old; and foretold how the prophets and wise men and scribes whom he would send should, in like manner, be scourged and persecuted, killed and crucified. And the history of the Church, from the first imprisonment of the apostles related in Acts 4:1-37. down to the present day, shows the truth of the prediction. Some of the springs and causes of persecution were noted in the homiletics on Acts 4:1-31. Our attention shall now be turned to the fruits of persecution.
I. THE FIRST EFFECT OF THE PERSECUTION THAT AROSE UPON THE DEATH OF STEPHEN WAS THE DISPERSION OF THE DISCIPLES. In accordance with the Lord's directions (Matthew 10:23), they fled, to save their lives, from the city of Jerusalem to the neighboring cities of Judaea and Samaria. But wherever they went they preached the Word. Thus the immediate effect of the persecution raised at Jerusalem for the extirpation of the faith of Jesus Christ was that that faith was carried into cities and districts and countries where it might never have been heard of but for the persecutions. Samaria heard the gospel; it was deposited in the heart of the eunuch for dissemination in Ethiopia. From Azotus to Caesarea it was proclaimed aloud. It passed on to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch. It took deep root in Antioch, and was passed on from thence through all Asia and on into Europe.
II. ANOTHER EFFECT OF THE PERSECUTION WAS THE BREAKING DOWN OF OPPOSING BARRIERS OF HABIT, OPINION, AND PREJUDICE. If the rulers and priests, the scribes and Pharisees, had accepted the gospel, it might have been a very hard matter to separate it from circumcision and from the temple and from exclusive Judaism. It might have been very long before Jewish Christians would have turned in a spirit of love and brotherhood to their Samaritan neighbors, or sent a messenger to Ethiopia, or planted the first community who called themselves Christians in the great heathen city of Antioch. Endless scruples, hesitations, difficulties, would have barred the way. But persecution quickened with a marvelous impulse the logic of reason and benevolence, ay, and of faith too. By the force of circumstances, the persecuted disciples, expelled from country and home by their own flesh and blood, found themselves drawn into the closest bonds with those who were not Jews, and as it were compelled to tell them of the love of Jesus, and then to feel that that love made them both one. It would have taken generations, perhaps, to do what persecution did in a day. Persecution cut the Gordian knot which the fingers of human reason would, perhaps, never have untied; and the great persecutor himself might never have become the great chief and prince that he was in the Church of the Gentiles, had it not been fur the part that he had played in persecuting it in times past.
III. NOR MUST WE OVERLOOK THE INFLUENCE OF PERSECUTIONS WHEN ENDURED IN THE TRUE MARTYR'S SPIRIT, IN DEEPENING AND HEIGHTENING THE FAITH, THE ZEAL, AND THE LOVE OF THE DISCIPLE. The fire of the spiritual life in the soul of the saint burns brightest in the darkest hours of earthly tribulation. The love of Christ, the hope of glory, the preciousness of the gospel, are never, perhaps, felt in their living power so fully as when the lights and fires of earthly joy and comforts are extinguished. Then, in the presence, so to speak, of Christ's unveiled power and glory, charity and boldness, zeal and self-sacrifice, are at their highest pitch, and the making known to others the glad tidings of great joy seems to be the only thing worth living for. So that the fruit of persecution is to be seen in a noble army of martyrs and confessors, qualified to the very highest extent, and eager in the very highest degree, to preach far and wide the unsearchable riches of Christ, and in extraordinary accessions to the numbers of the persecuted Church.
IV. OTHER FRUITS OF PERSECUTION, SUCH AS EXHIBITING TO THE EYES OF THE WORLD THE REALITY OF THAT RELIGION WHICH THEY DESPISE, HOLDING UP TO ITS ADMIRATION THE TRUE CHARACTERS OF THOSE WHOM IT PERSECUTES, AND SHOWING THE HOPELESSNESS OF STAMPING OUT THAT FIRE WHICH IS FED FROM THE LIVE COALS OF GOD'S ALTAR IN HEAVEN, AND MANY MORE, IT WOULD RE EASY TO ENUMERATE.
But these must suffice to teach us that the malice of Satan is no match for the power of God; but that the Church will eventually shine forth in all the brighter beauty of holiness for the efforts that have been made for her disfigurement and utter overthrow.
The first heretic.
The appearance of Simon Magus in the list of the first converts to the faith, and his enrolment among the baptized members of the Church, must not be overlooked or passed hastily by, if we would profit by the exhaustive teaching supplied by the Acts of the Apostles for the use of the Church in all ages. When the student of Church history begins his studies expecting to find a record of faith and holiness, and to trace the triumphant victories of truth over falsehood through a succession of ages, and to feast his mind with the wise words and the righteous works of a succession of saints, he is soon disappointed and pained to find that Church history brings him into contact with some of the worst phases of human nature. The human mind never shows to greater disadvantage than when its contact with Divine truth stirs up all the foul sediment at the bottom of it, and suggests forms of deceit and duplicity, and varieties of impurity and dishonesty, and specialties of baseness and selfishness, which could have had no existence but for such contact with what is spiritual and heavenly. We might have been prepared for the rejection of truth by the children of the wicked one, and even for those acts of hatred and violence by which unbelief seeks to put out the light of truth. Apostles in prison, and Stephen lying lifeless on the ground, and a Sanhedrim of priests and scribes and elders solemnly forbidding the preaching of the gospel, are events that we might have anticipated, and which, though they shock, do not so much surprise us. But a reception of the truth of the gospel going so far as to lead the receiver to holy baptism, and yet immediately allied with sordid motives, and coexisting with imposture and sorcery, and issuing in a life devoted to the depravation of the gospel and to the hindering of men's salvation, is an unexpected and a perplexing phenomenon. And yet it is the history of most heresies. Even in those days when the profession of the faith of Christ subjected men to persecution, and when the Christian body was a comparatively small one with a strongly defined character of purity and holiness, we find men joining the Church's ranks only to pollute them, and then to separate themselves and to found some accursed heresy. Either the motive was vile from the first, or the restraints imposed by Christianity were found too severe for the half-converted heart, and the heresy was framed to reconcile the claims of the reason which was convinced with those of the passions which refused to be subdued. Simon appears to have been chiefly attracted and overawed by the miracles which he saw wrought in the Name of Christ. It then occurred to him that he might pursue his old career of sorcery more successfully than ever if he could obtain some partnership in the thaumaturgy which had astonished him. He anticipated richer harvests of gain as a Christian conferring spiritual powers by the laying on of hands than as a magician amazing men by his sorceries. And so he offered Peter money. The frothy levity of his nature was shown as much by his terror at Peter's rebuke as it had been by his offer of a bribe to the apostle. And this rapid succession of sorcery, belief, baptism, simony, confusion, was the sure index of a heart still held fast by the bonds of iniquity, and the natural prelude to a life of base cunning, using holy things for base purposes of unholy gain. The career of Simon, as of many of the early heretics whom the Fathers denounce with such terrible severity, seems to leave us this lesson—that contact with holy things, if it does not convert, hardens the heart; that the light of Christ, if it does not purify the soul, plunges it into deeper darkness; and that familiarity with spiritual powers, which does not subdue and sanctify, has a tendency to stimulate the intelligence only to give it access into lower depths of intellectual wickedness and more deadly sin.
The Word written preparing the way for the Word preached.
The conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch is a great text on missionary work. It illustrates with singular force and clearness the double need of the Bible and the preacher to bring men to the knowledge of Christ crucified. Without the evangelist to teach him, this seeker after truth might long have groped in vain after the meaning of the prophet; and if his mind had not been exercised by musings on the prophet, the evangelist would neither have had the opportunity to teach nor would his teaching have had such success. It was the concurrence of the two that brought this illustrious convert within the gates of the city of God. Hence the conclusion that the written Word and the preached Word are concurrent factors in the conversion of men to God; that both are necessary, and that neither of them can safely be dispensed with. The written Word, being "given by inspiration of God," is, as far as it goes, perfect and infallible, and yet it is not of itself sufficient. The preached Word, albeit far inferior, as being liable to error, imperfect and fallible, is yet necessary as the complement of the testimony of Scripture. The written Word stands immovable, the touchstone of truth, the standard of doctrine, the referee in doubt, the pattern and model, the crucible of error, the court of final appeal in all controversies of faith. The preached Word varied, modified, by circumstances of time and place, drawing its coloring, its clothing, its fashion, from its immediate surroundings, presents the eternal truth in the garb most suited to the wants and capacities of those with whom it deals. But in doing this it is liable to err. Then the sole appeal is to the written Word of God. All teaching not in accordance with it, however venerable for age and for the authority by which it is supported, must be mercilessly cut off. Blessed is that Church whose doctors explain but never darken the revelations of Holy Scripture. Blessed are the people whose teachers guide them into the meaning of Holy Scripture, but never turn them from it. Happy is that disciple whose mind, being deeply imbued with the truths of the Word of God, is aided by a faithful evangelist to adjust those truths in their true proportion and relation to each other, and to fill up their interstices with harmonious and homogeneous materials. As regards missionary work, the lesson is, sow the Bible broadcast to prepare the way for the foot of the missionary. Let the version of the Holy Scriptures given to each nation in his own tongue be to the modern world what the version of the LXX. was to the old; so that the evangelist may find the ground already ploughed, and ready to receive the seed of eternal life, when he preaches the salvation which is by Jesus Christ.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Perversion and restoration.
These verses suggest—
I. HOW FAR FROM RIGHT FEELING WILL WRONG THOUGHTS LEAD MEN ASTRAY.
"Saul was consenting [rejoicing] unto his death" (Acts 8:1). "Saul made havoc of [was ravaging] the Church," etc. (Acts 8:3). The death of the first martyr, which was so utterly shameful to those who compassed it, and so deeply regrettable from a human estimate, was, in the eyes of Saul, a thing in which to triumph with savage pleasure. And this dreadful satisfaction of his grew out of strong religious convictions—he hated Stephen so passionately because he clung to "the Law" so tenaciously. Nor was this his only manifestation of distorted feeling. He was not satisfied with the stoning of Stephen; he joined heartily in the persecution which broke up Christian families and caused their general dispersion (Acts 8:2), himself being the most prominent agent of the council; neither ordinary humanity, nor the gentleness which should come with a liberal education, nor the tenderness which is due to womanly feeling, laying any restraint upon him. Every wiser, kinder, more generous sentiment was lost in a violent, relentless, unpitying fanaticism. So does error pervert the mind and distort the impulses and abuse the energies of the soul. Before we lend ourselves to any cause, before we plunge into any strife, let us very carefully and devoutly weigh the question whether we are really right, whether our traditions are not leading us astray as men's inherited notions have led them astray from the truth, whether, before we act with a burning zeal, we must not alter our position or even change our side. Not till we have an intelligent assurance that we are in the right should we act with enthusiasm and severity; else we may be cherishing feelings and doing actions which are diabolical rather than Divine.
II. How MUCH HOLY EARNESTNESS MAY BE CALLED TO SUFFER, The Christians of those early times were called:
1. To sympathize, with painful intensity, with a suffering man. If Saul was consenting to his death, with what lacerated and bleeding hearts did his Christian friends see the first martyr die! They" made great lamentation over him" (Acts 8:2).
2. To be distressed for a bereaved and weakened Church. The cause of Christ could ill spare (so they would naturally feel) such an eloquent and earnest advocate as he whose tongue had been so cruelly silenced; they must have lamented the loss which, as men bent on a high and noble mission, they had sustained.
3. To endure serious trouble in their own circumstances. There was "great persecution … and they were all scattered abroad" (Acts 8:1). This must have involved a painful severance of family ties and a serious disturbance in business life. Holy earnestness has similar sufferings to endure now.
III. HOW WONDROUSLY GOD OVERRULES EVERYTHING. (Acts 8:4.) He:
1. How vain and foolish, as well as guilty, is it to fight against God!
2. How confidently may we who are co-workers with him await the issue! The angry and threatening storm which is on the horizon will perhaps only speed the good vessel of the truth and bring her sooner to the haven.—C.
Success and disappointment in Christian work.
I. A LARGE MEASURE OF SUCCESS. We must consider:
1. The special obstacles in the way, viz.
2. The means by which success was gained.
3. The magnitude of the success.
4. Confirmation of it, both human and Divine.
II. A SERIOUS DISCOURAGEMENT. There is no more disheartening blow which can fall on the heart of an earnest Christian worker than to find that his converts have not really changed their mind, but only their creed. Very bitter must have been the cup to the Christian community in Samaria when Simon made the miserable exhibition of himself recorded in the text (verses 18, 19). Either he had been utterly insincere throughout, or, as is more likely, he was convinced that Philip and the apostles were masters of some great powers he had not been able to gain; but completely mistook the character of their mission, thinking they were out on an errand of self-aggrandizement. Whether Simon's was a guilty simulation or a blasphemous error, it was rebuked with an almost terrible severity (verses 20-23), which evidently affected and even affrighted the sorcerer (verse 24). In tones of unwonted sternness, such as the occasion required, Peter rejected the infamous proposal to receive money for the impartation of Divine power, and assured Simon that he was still in the very depth of folly and of sin, from which nothing but repentance could deliver him.
1. We also may have a large measure of success in our work. We have all the materials of success, if we will use them: the needed saving truth; the beneficent agencies which spring from Christian sources, and which commend the Christian cause; the presence in the Church of the Holy Spirit of God.
2. We shall always be liable to disappointment. Some whom we believe to be possessed of the truth and to be brought beneath its vital power will prove to be only just touched by it, or to be mere pretenders and deceivers.
3. Spite of painful drawbacks, we may thank God for good work done. It was with joyous and grateful hearts, we may be sure, that the apostles "returned to Jerusalem" (verse 25). They had not forgotten Simon's defection; they would never forget that disappointing moment when he made his humiliating offer. But, after all, he was in the dark and far background; in front of him and in full view of their gladdened souls was the testimony they had borne for their Master, the Church they had gathered, the good work they had wrought in Samaria.—C.
The Christian teacher and disciple.
We have an interesting and instructive instance of one man submitting himself to the teaching of another, and deriving from him a sudden transforming influence which most beneficially affected his whole after-life. Such teaching might well come ultimately from God, as in truth it did; for we learn—
I. THAT THE CHRISTIAN TEACHER IS TO PLACE HIMSELF CONTINUALLY UNDER DIVINE DIRECTION. Philip had some advantages which we do not now enjoy. "The angel of the Lord spake unto him" audibly (Acts 8:26), and gave him definite instructions whither he should go: "Arise, and go toward the south," etc. "The Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself," etc. (Acts 8:29). When his work was finished here," the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip''" (Acts 8:39). But though we have, not now these outward, unmistakable manifestations, we have "the mind of Christ we may consult and know his will, if
II. THAT CHRIST HAS SUBJECTS TO SECURE FOR HIS KINGDOM OTHER THAN THOSE WE SHOULD HAVE EXPECTED. Which of the apostles would have imagined that the next convert to Christianity at this time would be "a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority," etc. (Acts 8:26)? Yet such was the mind of Christ. We are too apt to think we can tell whence the disciples will be drawn, by whom the table will be furnished with guests. But our Master has surprises for us here as elsewhere. We must not, in thought, limit the range of his redeeming love or converting power. It may not be the poor in need of some enrichment, but the rich in need of some higher wealth; not the lowly wanting some honor, but the honorable craving some truer dignity; it may not be the children of privilege familiar with the truth, but the sons of ignorance or superstition, or even the children of infidelity far from the wisdom of God;—it may be these and not those whom the Lord of love and power means to call and win and bless.
III. THAT GOD HAS MUCH ENLIGHTENMENT TO IMPART THROUGH HUMAN AGENCY. Here is human ignorance and misapprehension (Acts 8:30): a sense of utter helplessness without guidance from some friendly hand (Acts 8:31); invitation to him that knows and will explain (Acts 8:31). Without the enlightenment which some men have it in their power to impart, everything is dark, meaningless, obscure, perplexing,—facts in nature laws of God, utterances of the Divine Word. Then comes the illuminating flash, and the mists roll away, the objects are clear in the sunlight, the path is plain. How wise to seek, how excellent to render, the light which, by God's kind blessing, one human mind may shed on the highest of themes into the most troubled souls!
IV. THAT THE SACRIFICIAL SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST ARE THE GRAND THEME OF THE CHRISTIAN TEACHER. (Acts 8:32-35.) What passage in all the Hebrew Scriptures could Philip have preferred to this as a text for his teaching? This supreme fact in the history of our race is the theme on which to dwell, in which to find a deepening interest, from which to draw motive and inspiration, with which to fascinate the people, to which to be continually returning.
V. THAT THE CONVINCED DISCIPLE SHOULD FORTHWITH AVOW HIS CONVICTION IN THE APPOINTED WAYS. (Acts 8:36-38.)
VI. THAT THE FULL RECEPTION OF CHRISTIAN TRUTH WILL BE FOLLOWED BY DEEP AND ABIDING JOY. (Acts 8:39.) "He went on his way rejoicing."
VII. THAT THE CHRISTIAN TEACHER MAKES SUCCESS AN INSPIRATION TO FURTHER HOLY ACTIVITY. (Acts 8:40.)—C.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Incidents of persecution and dispersion.
I. A GLIMPSE OF SAUL THE PERSECUTOR. Though brief and passing, it is very significant. He was a party to the execution of Stephen. Saul was full of ignorance and blind passion. What he afterwards felt about his conduct is expressed in 1 Timothy 1:3. This example should be a standing warning to us against trust in mere feeling and enthusiasm. The fumes of anger and violence are no signs of pure glowing zeal for the truth, but rather of the spirit that is set on fire of hell. It is when we are most passionately excited in the cause of party conflict that we have most need to be on our guard. Bitter was the remorse of Saul of Tarsus for his complicity in the murder of Stephen. Hard was it for him to forgive himself. It was the triumph of Divine love in his heart when he could trust that through it he had been forgiven.
II. THE EFFECTS OF PERSECUTION. It leads to dispersion, and dispersion to the dissemination of the truth. Through the country of Judaea and Samaria the scattered ones went, leaving in every village, in every house and heart, stirring memories, new thoughts. And Saul, like a ravaging wolf, went on his blind course. There is a general historical lesson here. Persecution is ever the symptom of intellectual change. The old dragon is ever ready to devour the child of the woman. The hellish Python would wrestle with the glorious Apollo. Herod would put to death the child Jesus. Saul would slay the infant Church. But the victory of eternal light and love is not doubtful. "They that were scattered in different directions went in different directions evangelizing the world." How beautiful is this! The true weapon with which to meet the sword is the Word. The policy of the persecutor is of all the blindest. He stimulates the movement he aims to crush. In every manly spirit opposition rouses new energy. We love more dearly the truth for which we have to fight and suffer. It is in the laws of the spiritual world that persecutions should ever bring a violent reaction in favor of the principles of the persecuted. When Christianity is patronized it becomes corrupt. When through persecution it is thrown back upon the ground of its first principles, it springs up with new life and vigor.
III. THE WORK OF PHILIP. Well does it stand in contrast with that of Saul in this glimpse of early Christianity. Saul, the wolf amidst the fold, breathing out threats and slaughter; Philip, as the shepherd, feeding and healing and comforting. Again and again we have the repetition of the true effects of Christianity. Good words are spoken, which command attention and do good to the soul; good deeds are done to the suffering body, which are evident "signs" of a Divine presence and power to heal, and therefore of a Divine and loving will. And joy ever breaks out—the reflection of recovered freedom in the body and the soul—in every city. These, then, are the constant evidences of Christianity. No other "apologetic" can be needed, for this is invincible. Without it the subtlest arguments are unavailing.
IV. THE TRIUMPH OF CHRISTIAINITY OVER SUPERSTITION. Simon the Magus is the type of those who work upon the imagination of the people, as contrasted with the true Christian teacher who appeals to the conscience. What was to decide between the genuine teacher and healer and the eloquent and skilful quack? Close is the shadow to the light in all the course of the gospel. In the individual conscience lies the test. To that God speaks; that in every age is the mirror of the truth. And to the truth and to God the conscience of the impostor bears witness. Simon believed in the word of Philip, and became by baptism a professor of the new creed. It is said that he was astonished at the signs and peat wonders which occurred. What we call" sensationalism" in the mind, the craving for the wonder, is the spurious form of a true instinct. Men must see in order to be convinced; when conviction is attained, they can afterwards walk by faith in regions where sight is not possible. We never change the habit of our thought until we find something inexplicable where before all was plain and simple—something wondrous where we only recognized the commonplace. To ask for belief without giving evidence is to insult the conscience, to refuse belief when the evidence is clear is to deny to one's self the possibility of guidance when the evidence is not altogether clear. Let men take the evidence which is clear to them, and act upon it; that is safe for the time, and the rest will become clearer by-and-by. But the case of Simon shows how void is any kind of mere conviction unless it be followed by the corresponding act of will. Simon was convinced, but not converted. The light penetrated his intelligence, but failed to move his heart.—J.
Acts 8:24, Acts 8:25
The impostor unmasked.
I. THE MISSION OF PETER AND JOHN. Samaria—there is an emphasis on this word—had received the Word of God. There was something significant in this conversion. The gospel was already proving itself a power to reconcile and break down distinctions long rooted and deeply felt. So important an occasion called for the services of the two leading apostles, Peter and John. These go down and pray for the new converts, that they may receive the Holy Ghost. Power and purity, the joy and freedom of the Christian life, are associated with this baptism; as repentance or a preparatory change of life was associated with that of John the Baptist. It is difficult to understand how such gifts as those we associate with spiritual religion could be conveyed by the physical act of imposition of hands. Nor are we required to believe that the imposition of hands was in any way causally related to the spiritual result, or even instrumentally. It was an external association, an apparent not a real connection, such as might well deceive the unspiritual observer.
II. THE SELF-DECEPTION OF THE UNSPIRITUAL MAN. Simon perceives the solemn act of laying on of hands; he perceives that something follows—a spiritual power in the converts, and he mistakenly infers that the apostles are magicians, who can bestow at their pleasure supernatural gifts. What man can bestow may be bought from man Had the apostles been like Tetzel, the friar who went about in Luther's time selling indulgences, it would have been natural to offer them, and for them to receive payment for the communication of the power. But spiritual things are spiritually discerned; and "the carnal mind understands not the things of the Spirit of Gee" When the heart has not been awakened, when the man has not been born into the kingdom of God, there is constantly the danger of confounding things that differ. Money cannot buy thought, nor feeling, nor inward power; though it can buy action and the imitation of reality, but not reality itself. Simon confounds the outward phenomena of the Spirit with the essence and meaning.
III. THE UNSPIRITUAL MAN'S ERROR EXPOSED.
1. The sin of Simon is that of the money-loving man. His faith is in it; he believes that it "answers all things," not only in reference to this world, but in reference to the kingdom of God. He is the type of a class. There are those who secretly believe they can patronize the ministers of Christ, and purchase for themselves an interest in the kingdom of God. The power of wealth so subtly mingles with all Christian work, and profusely used may so readily acquire for its possessor the reputation of sanctity. But the immortal antipathy of the spirit of the gospel, as the free energy of the holy God in men's souls, casts off in one word of the apostle these vile counterfeits, which ever obtain currency side by side with it in the world. The apostle whose word has been in the very act of healing, "Silver and gold have I none," exclaims, "Thy money perish with thee!"
2. A bosom sin will separate a man from the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is within. It is a spiritual state and a spiritual system of motives. He has no part or lot in it who does not see that it aims at the fulfillment of our life by the subjugation of the lower motives and the instatement of the higher in the rightful empire of the soul. Simon's heart was not "straight" before God. He was trying to juggle with him who searches the heart; to keep the lower passions in full action, if possible, under the mask of piety. His is the type of perhaps the deadliest sin that Christianity has occasioned in the world. As the shadow follows the sun, so does hypocrisy follow close on the heels of genuine piety. Insincerity is the sin of sins. What filth is in the bodily habit, that untruth is in the soul. The man is aware of his sin. It is no blindness of passion, but the deliberate admission of an habitual lie to the feelings and the thoughts. It is a poison or gall infusing its influence into the whole life of the mind. It is a bondage, and no liberty is possible under the tyranny of inward falsehood. Thus is the character of the impostor exposed by the pure light of the truth. He is seen to pretend a faith of which his heart knows nothing; he regards the gifts of the Holy Spirit as the means of base gain; and he knows no higher motive to repentance than slavish fear of punishment. The spirit of the gospel is illustrated in St. Peter by the strong contrast. It sternly points out man's sins and tracks them to their source in the heart; chastises the sinner, but at the same time holds out the duty of repentance and the hope of forgiveness to the worst.—J.
Philip and the Ethiopian.
This incident teaches us—
I. THAT MEN IN THE WAY OF DUTY MAY RECEIVE UNUSUAL GUIDANCE. The angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, and gave him directions as to the course he should take in his missionary journey. How are we to understand the mode of this interference? We are told that rationalist expositors assume that the angel appeared to Philip in a dream; for the word "Rise!" is spoken. But then it is replied that there is no mention of the night-time nor of a couch. And in Acts 8:26 there is no mention of a vision. Avoid rationalism, which is the attempt to exercise clear intelligence upon things best left in a sacred obscurity, or chiaro-oscuro. The point is not so much to understand how the Divine intimation came, as to recognize the fact that it did come. Cases of sudden and irresistible impressions of the kind are not uncommon and are well attested. But there are a thousand coincidences in life which we do not notice, and which may nevertheless be equally real evidences of a higher intelligence directing the human will, and "a good man's steps are ordered of the Lord, and he delighteth in his way."
II. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS CHANCE IN LIFE. Two men meet on the road, the railway, in a foreign city, "casually," as they say; and something flows from the meeting which influences the after-life of one or both. In the present meeting, notice:
1. The stranger's nationality. He is from Ethiopia, from the south of Egypt. Some say of Jewish extraction; for he was reading the great Jewish prophet; but perhaps it was not so.
2. His rank. He was a "potentate" in his land, the grand treasurer of the queen, Candace being the official title of the queens of Ethiopia, as Pharaoh was that of the kings of Egypt.
3. His religious belief. Whether he was a "proselyte of the gate" or no cannot be decided. But his errand was to Jerusalem, to pray. Therefore in his African home he had learned to know and to worship the God of Israel. It looks like a case of independent conviction, and therefore the more interesting; somewhat like that of the Roman centurion in the Gospel. He was reading in all probability in a copy of the Septuagint, or Greek translation of the Scriptures. This version had been diffused from Alexandria through Egypt, and was doubtless well known to all the educated class. Philip receives an intimation, not this time from "an angel," but from "the Spirit," to go and join himself to the chariot of the Ethiopian.
III. THE WORD OF GOD A COMMON BOND OF INTEREST AND SYMPATHY. The teacher is led by Providence to the disciple, who is found beforehand prepared to receive the teacher's instruction, and craving it. The teacher and the disciple have need of one another. The teacher has much to impart, the disciple much to receive; and each in a way changes his part with the other, for we learn as we teach and teach in learning. The passage the Ethiopian was reading is one of the most significant of the Old Testament. It contains the picture of the Servant of Jehovah, the Representative of Israel. It is the embodiment of Israel's spiritual ideal. Meekness under injuries; lowly estate in the world and exposure to persecution; obscurity in the eyes of men; such are the traits of Israel's Hero, in the passage the Ethiopian is reading. Well may he ask, "Who is this unique figure portrayed by the prophet's pen?—the prophet himself or another?" Then Philip proceeds to unfold from this text the whole evangel, which centers in the person of Jesus. He is the Divine Figure, the living Embodiment of the prophet's meaning, the Fulfiller of Israel's long history.
IV. CONVERSION PRODUCED BY CONVICTION. We may notice:
1. The preparation for change in personal reflection. The serious mind, the attentive gaze fixed on the records of religion, the desire to learn, the willingness to be taught, precede conversion in this case, and are the more attractive traits in one of high rank like the Ethiopian. We can only profit by the teacher when we have first used our own spiritual energy to the utmost. "To him that hath shall be given."
2. The prompt decision. New thought ever impels to new action. The light comes that we may use it. "What shall I do?" is the question of the conscience so soon as it is aroused and quickened by the light. The Ethiopian at once "decides for Christ"—the Christ he has learned to know through the study of the prophet and the preaching of the evangelist. And as Philip vanishes, a blessing is left on the heart of his disciple never to be effaced. The whole yields an important lesson on the value of opportunity, and how it should be seized both by teacher and by disciple. In interviews like these, like angels' visits, God is revealed, truth is sown in the heart, and influences are set at work which never cease.—J.
HOMILIES BY R.A. REDFORD
The enemy coming in like a flood.
I. THE FLOOD OF INIQUITY CALLED FORTH BY THE OUTPOURING OF THE HOLY GHOST.
1. The corruption of the Jewish state. Instances in the case of Saul of Tarsus, assenting to the death of Stephen. The organized persecution as an answer to the gospel. The insincerity of those who pretended to accept Gamaliel's wise counsel. Their real cowardice in not venturing to lay hold of the apostles.
2. The persecution had now a leader in Saul. It was a more decided arraying of the priestly power against the new sect; a house-to-house visitation with assumed legal authority. This was to push forward the conflict between the two kingdoms as nothing else could. It was to give definite aim to the persecution, and so to prepare the way for the more decided lifting up of the standard against it by the Spirit of God in the conversion of Saul.
II. THE BREAKING UP OF THE FIRST FORM OF CHURCH LIFE, PREPARATORY TO A HIGHER, WIDER, AND MORE ACTIVE.
1. Fellowship is very precious, but activity still more so. Loving one another should prepare us to love the world. The temporary expedient of Christian communism gave way before the world's violence; it was a help to the realization of Church life, but not an abiding rule of action.
2. Stephen's funeral and the Church's lamentation would deeply impress upon all dependence, not on individual instruments, but on the Spirit of God. How little it was thought that the chief persecutor would soon himself be the chief preacher!
3. Those scattered abroad carried with them a body of facts, both the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles so far, which helped them to dispense with the immediate superintendence of the apostles. So the [New Testament would begin to be formed in that first persecution. The believers all over Judaea and Samaria, speaking to one another and to their neighbors of the things that they themselves most surely believed. How little Saul's "laying waste" the Church harmed it! Learn the lesson of confidence in the overruling Savior. "He maketh the wrath of man to praise him."—R.
The grave beside the Church.
"And devout men carded Stephen," etc.
I. Death the EXALTATION of Christian character. Devout men carried him. Their hope was the rainbow on the cloud of lamentation. The fellowship of Church life helps us to appreciate excellence. The greatest and best testimony when devout men feel the loss.
II. THE CONTRAST between the grave of the good man fallen asleep in Jesus and laid to rest by the hands of lamenting brethren, and the grave of:
1. The worldling.
2. The infidel.
3. The doubter.
4. The backslider.
5. The isolated and unbrotherly Christian, who has not lived in the hearts of devout men. Try to live so that you will be lamented when you die.
III. THE EFFECT on the world of a great Christian life. "He being dead yet speaketh." President Garfield. Great lamentation is often great proclamation of truth. The cross. The Book of Martyrs.—R.
The first flight of the Word.
"Therefore they that were scattered abroad," etc. It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save the world. Providence and grace work hand-in-hand. The Church needed to be taught by discipline. Jerusalem a natural center of religious life. But a center of radiation, not concentration.
I. PREACHING THE WORD the greatest function of the Christian Church.
1. The Word preached was the Word given. Apostles gave it. It was pre-eminently Christ's Word. It was given by the Holy Ghost with special gifts and wisdom—"confirmed" unto us.
2. The Word preached was the Word tried. Conversion proved it. Church life illustrated it. The attitude of the corrupt Jewish Church showed that it was a new Word that was required for the world. 3. Preaching preceded writing. Individual testimony. The baptism of persecution followed the baptism of inspiration. The world wants not speculative truth, but practical—the Word of life. "Taste and see," etc.
II. UNIVERSAL RESPONSIBILITY for the spread of truth.
1. The true conception of the Church—a body of believers. They believe and therefore speak. Possession of the Word is responsibility.
2. The state of the world demands activity in every believer.
3. The pastoral office quite consistent with the fulfillment of this universal duty. The primi inter pares should stimulate all to work.
III. THE LEADINGS OF PROVIDENCE are the true guidance of spiritual activity. "Scattered abroad" against their will. Doors opened. Opportunity enlarged. Trouble sanctified.
1. It is dangerous to anticipate Divine preparation.
2. Watch in the night, for the darkest hour precedes the dawn.
3. Keep a true and firm center from which to go and to which to return. Jerusalem still remains the seat of apostolic wisdom and authority. God is not the author of confusion. The greatest activity need not break up orderly religious life. Revivals and evangelistic aggression should always maintain a rallying-point. Seek out not "quiet resting-places," but spheres of labor. Let God appoint the peace.—R.
I. The STEPPING-STONE to work among the Gentiles. Half heathen.
II. THE PREPARATION FOR CHRIST. The Pentateuch. The false teaching of Simon and others. Mental and moral degradation.
III. A specimen of SPIRITUAL WANT AND PRIVATION. Unclean spirits. Palsied. Lame. The multitudes under the dominion of physical and spiritual disease. Adaptation of the new message to universal humanity.
IV. THE MEANS EMPLOYED. Preaching the Christ. Signs and wonders. The two great facts—a personal Redeemer the object of faith; a Divine power at hand able to lift up the fallen, to subdue the evil, to heal the sick, to change the world.—R.
Missions to the masses.
"And there was great joy in that city." City life, its two sides of good and evil the victims of ignorance. Vice. False teaching. Old enmities. Sorcery. Bodily disease. "The multitudes" pressing on one another. The world's joys ruinous, deceptive, consuming, filthy, degrading, hiding the light of truth. No remedy in civilization, science, social schemes, mere intellectual growth.
I. The gospel a proclamation of GREAT JOY to our cities.
1. To the individual heart.
2. To houses and families.
3. To communities.
Religion the only safe basis of social progress. The Christ preached as Redeemer of humanity. Illustrate from the actual results, both in our own cities and in heathendom. Indirect influence of Christianity on the physical condition. Healing ministry of Christ still continued. The life of man lengthened during the last three centuries, since the truth had fuller sway over the thoughts of men and their universal activity. Science the outgrowth of the civil and religious liberty obtained by the victories of spiritual heroes.
II. God works great results with SMALL INSTRUMENTALIES. Philip was one man among multitudes.
1. An encouragement to all mission work both at home and abroad.
2. A lesson as to method. "He proclaimed the Christ unto them." The people will "give head" when the message is adapted to their wants.
3. A manifestation of Divine energy. Philip alone was powerless. The Spirit wrought with him. Moral miracles still accompany faithful preaching. The signs may differ, but still be equally striking and convincing. Witness the work done by Wesley and Whitefield.
4. A prophecy of the future. Great joy in all cities. Samaria might recall the visit of Jesus to Sychar. Some work already done there. So in the world generally, a foundation on which Christian messengers can labor. The heathen world has its measure of light, though mingled with joyless gloom of superstition and falsehood. When the multitudes give heed to the preaching of the Christ, what may not be anticipated? "Great joy" instead of great wars and great famines and great desolation: the great joy of universal progress and a redeemed humanity acknowledging and glorifying Christ. What is our joy? What is the joy of our neighbors? Cast out the lies and let the Spirit of life come in.—R.
The spirit of lies cast out.
Simon an example of the kind of deceivers under whose spell the ancient world was taken captive. Samaria half heathen. "Salvation is of the Jews" (cf. John 4:1-54.). A striking instance showing that a dim twilight of knowledge is the condition favorable to the growth of falsehood and superstition. They would not have given heed to Simon had they studied the whole Scripture. Yet the gospel found a ready soil because the true wonders could be opposed to the false.
I. THE STATE OF THE WORLD APART FROM CHRIST. Given up to "strong delusion to believe lies."
1. Abuse of human learning and philosophy. Simon probably versed in ancient lore.
2. The distinction between sorcery and marc and true science, and the wonders of human progress, has been the fruit of Christian teaching and the development of the kingdom of God. 3. The signs of man's birthright still traceable in his degrading bondage. Subjection to the power of God. Readiness to worship. Idea of a Divine kingdom.
II. THE VICTORY OF THE TRUTH OVER THE FALSEHOOD,
1. Good tidings—liberty, peace, joy—" without money and without price."
2. Power manifested. This is the true kingdom, not such as Simon pretended to show.
3. Subjugation of all—even Simon himself. As in Egypt, the miracles of God are infinitely more wonderful than the deceits of the false teachers. So let us learn confidence in the gospel message. We may yet bring the very deceivers themselves to the feet of Christ. The world will be amazed as the gospel reveals its power. "Have faith in God."—R.
The spirit of mammon in the Christian Church.
Peter and John represented the apostolic authority, but not as something to be imposed on believers, but as linking them with the source of spiritual gifts. Simon represented the spirit of this world in the Church—the sins of ambition, covetousness, hypocrisy, priestcraft, intimately connected with the one fatal error of admitting the world's calculations into the Church. "He offered them money." The Church has listened to such offers far too much. The Simon-spirit, the mixture of sorcery and faith, has filled some portions of the professed Church with lies and mammon-worship. Notice—
I. THE TRUE APOSTOLIC SPIRIT manifested.
1. Dependence on prayer.
2. Separation of spiritual gifts from oil money considerations.
3. Detection and denunciation of the false and sordid.
II. The CHURCH'S DANGER from the laxness of discipline.
1. Those that have "neither part nor lot in this matter" must be kept out of the number of God's people.
2. Especially must the ministry be preserved from every form of simony.
3. The bold and fearless course on the part of those in office is much the safest. Hypocrisy is weakness. Simon will succumb to Peter, if Peter only speaks out the Word of God, and stands up for purity of faith and conscientiousness. Better a poor Church with spiritual gifts, than a treasury full of hypocrites' offerings and no Holy Ghost descending on the world.—R.
The second flight of the gospel.
Samaria evangelized both by Philip and the apostles, and both in the city and country districts—a preparation of the Church for yet greater expansion. Necessity that such a flight as from Samaria to the desert on the way to Ethiopia should be supernaturally commanded. The step-by-step process of opening the Jewish mind to the idea of a world-message. The eunuch was a proselyte of the gate, so would be regarded as holding an intermediate position. Contrast this childhood of the Church with our advanced knowledge of the Divine purposes. Moreover, at that time no New Testament. The work to be done must await the instruments. The gospel cannot be preached fully till the apostles have fulfilled their testimony.—R.
Jesus the Hope of the world.
"Then Philip opened his mouth," etc. The two lines meeting in the desert. The Ethiopian traveler led on by Providence; the evangelist led by the angelic message; ignorant of one another, yet both in their way following Divine guidance. The importance of that meeting-place to the world's future, both as opening the South and East to the gospel, and as helping the Church to look away to the ends of the earth. The underlying facts, the Old Testament and its work. Proselytes. Devout men. Isaiah preparing for Christ. "Of whom speaketh the prophet?" The world was ready and asking questions, and the Church was prepared to answer them. The Spirit presiding over all.
I. JESUS THE BEGINNING AND THE END OF ALL GOD'S REVELATIONS.
1. Atonement the great want of the world.
2. The gospel facts fulfillments of the Old Testament prophecies.
3. A personal Redeemer preached as an object of faith, the satisfaction of the heart.
II. THE PREACHING OF JESUS THE TRUE OPENING OF THE CHURCH'S LIPS TO THE WORLD.
1. In distinction from mere dry theology, vague sentiment, or barren speculation.
2. With no feeble or uncertain sound he opened his mouth. Boldness, directness, persuasiveness, faithfulness, he preached to him.
3. Scriptural preaching the great demand of the age. Beginning on a firm foundation of the written Word and the convictions of hearers.
III. DIVINELY GIVEN OPPORTUNITY NUMBLY USED PRODUCTIVE OF GREAT RESULTS.
1. Missionary work should recognize the preparation God makes in men's minds for his truth.
2. Individuals the objects of gracious communications, that messengers may be raised up who shall carry the Word into the strongholds of heathenism. We should always follow the Spirit.
3. Deserts rejoicing, prophecy of a recovered world. The nations shall be baptized. But we must see to it that we preach unto them Jesus.—R.
The way of pleasantness.
"He went on his way rejoicing."
I. A RETROSPECT.
1. Heathenism compared with Christianity.
2. A state of doubt and inquiry compared with knowledge, faith, decision, open dedication.
3. Loneliness changed into fellowship; some one helping and guiding; remembered instructions, and opened Scripture.
II. A PROSPECT. The way of rejoicing opened.
1. Sense of reconciliation. Inward peace. Joy "springing up as a well of water into everlasting, life."
2. Hopes for himself and for others. He was carrying the gospel to his home, to his duties, his anxieties, his sovereign, his fellow-countrymen.
3. A baptized man rejoicing in the sense of Divine approval of his conscience and a new position in life. We get rid of much difficulty both within and without by public confession of Christ. We draw round our souls the visible tokens of Divine presence and favor. We associate ourselves with God's people in every age, and feel that our way is—
"The way the holy prophets went—
God's highway from banishment."
Recognize the turning-point. Take the straight road that leads through a joyful obedience to glory.—R.
HOMILIES BY P.C. BARKER
Discordant elements obedient to the accomplishing of one purpose.
This short paragraph is not only full of incident, but of strangely contrary kind of incident. It seems at first a mere medley of facts, history's patchwork, or like some mosaic pretending to no harmony at all. This first impression, however, soon passes off, and each incident of the group assumes yet clearer outline and is seen to fit into its place. The fact still remains, however, that the materials are of very antagonistic kind, and the wonder still remains, broadening more and more clearly to view, that out of all the variety a sovereign power is working a certain unity of result. The martyrdom is at the center of the subject yet. It is the key of the position. It makes a landmark conspicuous far and wide, and a date forever memorable. And this paragraph develops to view a fivefold energy resulting from the martyrdom.
I. IT BRINGS OUT IN BROAD RELIEF OTHER THAN THE LATE HUMBLING ASPECTS OF HUMAN NATURE. (Acts 8:2.) Other hearts than those that beat in the breasts of the Sanhedrim are in Jerusalem, other hands than those that stone are at this very moment outside its walls. The triumph has not been an unqualified one. The contrast is a wonderful relief to the strain put on faith, a welcome restorer of hope for human outlook. And one and the same hour shows no doubtful sign of those sternest Works, those tenderest offices of which the angel of Christianity would through all the ages be witness. The storm is spent, and men seek in the morning to bury them—the dead washed ashore. The battle is over, and in the evening men gather their slaughtered to bury them. The cross has done its work, and the sacred body is "begged" and with tenderest care and service is buried. The stoning has finished, and devout men carry mangled limbs to honored burial. Christianity has her chivalry, and the chivalry of Christianity is that purest affection which, mingled with purest faith, before all reverences and mourns her fallen heroes and warriors, though she never excused them while they lived a duty, nor exempted them a pang while they struggled and fought. Most impressive is that which is left to our imagination to fill up. When the last stone had been thrown, and the echoes of howling murderers bad died away, and the mob had swept by,—then "devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him."
II. IT FINDS OUT THE TRUE DISCIPLES, AND SCATTERS THEM EACH WITH HIS FRUITFUL INFLUENCE FAR AND WIDE. (Acts 8:1.) Persecution—a thing of darkest deeds, a very word of dread—has ever had some crop of most beneficent results. Of it, it may emphatically be said, "Bow no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruits of righteousness unto them which are-exercised thereby." Persecution:
1. Tries the sincerity of character.
2. It ascertains the dominance of faith or its comparative weakness.
3. It gives faith much stronger hold on its proper object or objects.
4. It chases away vast quantities of vague thought, vaguer feeling, mists that have long misled, and a habit of doubt that has gone far to undermine the nobility of Christian life.
5. It exerts a vast benefit on others. If this be not part of its intention, it is a grand overruled use of it. The happy hour often is touched with the taint of selfishness. The members of happiest family are so united to one another that they render an unfairly small contribution to the happiness that should touch their borders too on all sides. And it has in point of fact often been so with the Church, till," when persecution arises", it is broken in upon, and those who composed it are separated and spread and many a missionary is made (Acts 8:1).
III. IT FINDS OUT THE "CALLED APOSTLES"—TRUE TO THEIR CALL. (Acts 8:1.) The believers were scattered. Some voice, some power, or some pure impulse tied the apostles. The post of duty remains so for them, though it become the post of danger. They are to remain yet in Jerusalem, to guide, to comfort, to keep together the lessened flock, and to face fearlessly the enemy. This word, "except the apostles," should be heard like a trumpet-call by the leaders of Christ's flock, at all times, in all places. And does it not indicate that leaders there ought to be, and in this sense, ranks of service—better so called than ranks of office and dignities—in the Church of Christ? The analogy of all nature says, "Yes," supported not only by the "call" and the special "inspiring" of apostles, but by such a fact as that which underlies this exception, "except the apostles." It is left meantime open to us to imagine only why this crisis was not used by those who persecuted to turn a fierce tide of opposition upon the apostles themselves. They must have been easy to find, and they must have been known to be at the root of the whole matter. The most probable account of the matter seems to us to be that the Sanhedrim had already had enough of them, and in interfering with them had been so humblingly worsted (see homilies on Acts 4:1-37., 5.).
IV. IT FINDS OUT SAUL, TO SET AN INDELIBLE MARK, NOT ON HIM, BUT RATHER IN HIM. It will seem to the reader at first, perhaps, that it is none but the historian who sets a mark on Saul, and that the mark which he sets is none but an outward mark, though he repeats it three times (Acts 7:58, Acts 7:60; Acts 8:3). Second thoughts will persuade him of something very different. As sure as ever sureness was, mark surer far than even Cain's mark is being set upon Saul, get where nothing can endanger its lasting depth. Ineffaceable memories are furnishing the secret cabinet of his mind; thoughts and resolutions and strong forces of conviction are being stored there, that no future crowd of cares, or throng of occupations, or tumults of mirth should avail to drive out. In the whole scene Saul takes three parts.
1. He takes a passive part, or what may seem mostly so (Acts 7:58), and then a picture was being photographed on an inner tablet in its stillness, accurate, full, safe, to be permanent also. It was destined for a while, indeed, to be overlaid by other images, fleeting and vain, but after a while to brighten out and become, perhaps, brightest of all except one.
2. Saul takes a consenting part (Acts 7:60). He says nothing against the martyrdom; he looks approval of it. Do they ask whether it is all right and to his mind?—his answer is in the affirmative.
3. Saul takes an active part. Full of zeal, full of fury, full of impetuous, imperious, intolerant determination, he "makes havoc of the Church, entering into every house, and haling men and women, commits them to prison" (Acts 8:3). He is mercilessly marking himself, unless you say that, with triple mark, another hand, a gracious one, is marking him for mercy—Jesus Christ's own "pattern of all long-suffering" (1 Timothy 1:15). Yes; the Saul of Stephen's martyrdom; the Saul who permitted the polluted garments of those that stoned that saintliest Stephen to lie at his feet for safety's sake; who made himself a consenting accomplice of the causeless murder, and who then girded himself up to the full stretch of his mighty energy to presume to "make havoc" of the flock of Jesus, will make a good pattern indeed, a pattern hard to improve upon—"pattern of the all long-suffering" of that same "Jesus."
V. IT FINDS UTTERANCES ABUNDANT, RINGING, FAR AND WIDE, FOR "PREACHING CHRIST," A THOUSAND-FOLD FOR THE ONE LOVING VOICE THAT HAD BEEN HUSHED. (Acts 8:4.) And no thought outside of the rapture of his own soul, delivered unto the glory of God, of Christ, of heaven, could have been more welcome than this to Stephen. His murderous, stoned death, he would have said, was already amply and blessedly revenged. The one thing, "preaching Christ" that caused his death, was multiplied immediately a thousand-fold by that very thing—his death. In his death Samson slew more than all he had slain while he lived in his mighty manhood. Unenviable achievement! Fame unblessed! His seed perish from the earth! But Stephen in his death becomes the means of the offer of life, and doubtless of life too to more, innumerably more than all whom he could reach with all his saintly force while he lived. Honored servant! Deathless renown! His seed" the noble army of martyrs," and converts exceeding the drops of morning dew! No unworthy pendant to the thrilling sacred tale of Scripture itself is the proverb that takes date from this one: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."—B.
"And there was great joy in that city." The gospel of Jesus begins now its own aggressive but beneficent march. Twice already has it passed through the most solemn baptism of blood. Its birth, its infancy, its home, its early struggles outside its own sacred home, and its baptisms can never be forgotten. Yet it is time for the young giant to essay his powers, and, without a weapon, to try what intrinsic force may count for. Apostolic preaching and achievement are still for a short time held in abeyance by the history. It is almost as though open ground were being prepared for the entrance of Saul into the great champion's place. Stephen, stricken down, is immediately replaced, not by an apostle, but by the second of those who had been specially set apart for the care of tables. Philip, who comes to be named Philip the Evangelist, is to the front. At the message of persecution, when many, apparently with no little concert and in no little order of movement, travel elsewhere, he goes "down to the city of Samaria." Whether it were he or they, it cannot be supposed that they imagined that they and their gospel were sure, by mere change of place, of escaping persecution. They probably saw very clearly and were very sure of the reverse of this—nor less sure that they carried with them what would again and again win for itself and for them the heartiest welcome, waken the truest joy, reap a harvest of unending gratitude. And such was now the earliest experience of Philip. How kindly came the brief sunshine in place of persecution's biting blast! So God often helps his faithful ones on another stage, and ordains that his own cause shall triumph through alternate storm and sunshine. The city of Samaria found great joy, after a short period of Philip's visit. Let us consider this joy, what account it can give of itself.
I. IT WAS A JOY THAT HAD FOUNDATION ON WHICH TO REST. It came of "Christ preached" and Christ proved among the people. Philip preached Christ, and this is clearly stated first. His preaching was attended with signs and wonders following. Notice:
1. That the exact nature of those signs and wonders—miracles of healing to the body—does not derogate from the great principle here forcibly illustrated. Some may think that because present ages are not ages of bodily miracles, neither the preaching nor the preacher of the gospel has a chance to compare with that of Philip's time. But the mistake is patent. The criterion is not that one bodily kind of miracle should be forthcoming, but that some practical fruit should certainly be found. Christ preached must have some result of a practical kind. Christ is not among men to be nothing among them, to be no force among them, to be an indifferent possession, or to be mere passing excitement. No time is to be wasted, with Christ as the pretence of it, as he never wasted any.
2. The practical effect of Christ preached must be, really and everything taken into account, good in itself and in its bearing. It is true that awhile much of what shall seem of an opposite character may be stirred up. It is true also that Christ preached and refused must be condemnation to those who refuse. And it is true that much of Christ's practical work, while it is in progress, lies in discriminating, in moral judgment of men, in separating and showing the infinite disparity there is between certain kinds "of ground" on which the seed of his Word falls. These things nothing hinder the fact that, if Christ has been at work, it may be shown and must be shown that good has been at work, and goodness come thereof.
3. The practical good effect of Christ preached is not disadvantaged in the present day by the absence of physical signs and wonders. These were the shadows, not the things that now purport to have succeeded them. They were but simple, elementary types compared with the substance of which they forewarned. It might with much more verisimilitude he said that the physical miracles of Jesus Christ and his apostles shared the class of disadvantages attendant upon his own personal presence in the flesh—when men might love the person rather than the character, the body rather than the soul, the limb restored rather than the soul saved. Where to-day, Christ being preached, sins are forsaken, hearts are changed, lives do different works and those the works of godliness, the miracle is not what makes men alone wonder and throng and be glad exceedingly, but it makes them and hosts of angels also wonder, throng, and be glad to Heaven's joyfullest music.
4. The practical good effect of Christ preached is bound to be efficacious in attracting "the people." We here read that they "with one accord gave heed" to the things that were spoken, because of the things that were done. Though many an individual has by one method or another shut himself, alas! too surely, too successfully, out of grace, this has never yet been found true of the mass of people (unless it be judicially the case for a while with the Jew) when the gospel has been preached amongst them. So soon as some real fruits have become apparent, standers-by, ay, and passers-by, not a few, look, and gaze, and ask, and move toward that truth that can act, and then they yield ere long in tumult of devotion and unbounded subjection to it. No work, no public movement, no sample of revolution even, ever showed more genuinely the signs of adaptation for spreading (ay, to the idea of "covering the earth, as the waters cover the seas") than" Christ preached" has shown. It offers us a grand idea of what the scene will be, what the rate of growth, what the grand transformation of scene, when the set conditions, the "set time" shall have come.
5. Christ's gospel does not only not disdain these conditions of its acceptance, but proposes them and gives prominence to them and desires to be itself tested by them.
II. It was A JOY THAT HAD THE ELEMENTS OF LIKELY DURATION IN IT.
1. Some joyed who received the full blessing themselves. If any were dispossessed of unclean spirits; if any palsied were thrilled with all the old energy and new added thereto; if the lame were made to walk and to leap;—these were substantial benefits, undoubted blessings, never "to be repented" or forgotten.
2. Some joyed whose chiefest joy, reached by the way of sympathy, was for those who were dear to them, those whom they knew though not dear to them, those whom perhaps they did not know at all nor had ever seen till they now see their joy. For in the wide circumference of a genuine human heart and in its capacious spaciousness there was room, and there is still room, for sympathy to find its sweetest, daintiest food in all these ways. And the joy of sympathy, some of the sacredest that fringes human life, dwells in a secret pavilion, which no profane fickleness shall easily molest, when Christ is the origin of it.
3. Many joyed by the stirring novelty of so new, so bright a hope, and that hope was neither delusive nor "for a while" only.
4. Some, perhaps many, possibly very many, genuinely knew the real dawn of celestial light, of spiritual health, of salvation for the soul. That was a joy incontestably of likely duration. It was deep and large and limitless.
III. IT WAS JOY THAT HAD IN IT THE EARNEST OF THE ETERNAL UPPER JOY. However little conscious "the people" might he of any such thought, not the less might it have strong hold on them. But it is not impossible that they were in some measure conscious of it, yet the possession of the present be so true, so welcome a good, that they do not stop to ask of the future or the upper. It matters not either way; there was surely such an earnest in the joy that filled them now.
1. Was it not an unparalleled scene and experience for them? Had they ever known anything on earth to surpass it or to parallel it?
2. Was it not a most genuine rehearsal of "the former things being passed away"? Were pain, and disease, and deprivation of strength, and deprivation of limb—and the tyranny of evil spirits—relaxing their various grasp, nay, resigning it; and did it not look far on to the time when God would also go so far as to wipe away every tear from every eye? Was the joy all round, every eye full of it, every tongue full of it, every ear full of it, every heart full of it; and did not this go far to make it a universal joy?
3. Was it a joy that came of any other parentage than heaven? Did science bring it, or art, or even the glowing glories of creation bathed in golden sunlight? No; God sent it, and Jesus brought it, and the Spirit made it flow full and abound. This answers to the heavenly joy. Though one and another individual fell short of the soul's real light and the heart's deepest joy, if the scene looked to be an end "of all our woe," it must have looked something like an end of all our "sin," and justly sends on our enraptured anticipations to the time when both shall hate vanished in the perfect and eternal joy.—B.
The type of one stricken with religion-blindness.
It may be at once allowed that it were difficult to measure with any exactness the amount of moral guilt in Simon Magus. Happily we are not called to do this. That we cannot do it will not hinder our noticing the phenomena of what may well strike upon our own knowledge and our own light as an amazing development of the very obliquity itself of moral or spiritual vision. Confessedly with most various amount and kind of effect does the glory of the natural sun strike on the profusion of the objects of nature. What brilliant effects some of these return! what rich and mellowed effects, others! How do some seem to give out all they have in gratitude's welcome, and others rest in their joy! till, when we come to the range of human life, we can by no means count upon any correspondingly uniform or correspondingly varying responses. Now something within asserts itself greater, more sullen, more given to contradiction and resenting of external force than the coldest granite, the gloomiest yew, the dreariest of scenery. Yet these things within men make no such stubborn and successful fight against a whole world's source of light and heat as they do often against the pure light of truth, the purer light of God in the face of Jesus Christ, the purest and most vitalizing force of light of all—God in the searching gaze of the Holy Spirit. An early type of this religion-blindness of human nature is before us. Wherever the slightest allowance may possibly be made for the individual in whom it is now illustrated so broadly and undisguisedly, there must the indictment press but the more heavily on the state of fallen nature itself. Let us notice respecting this religion-blindness—
I. IN WHAT IT STOOD SELF-CONVICTED.
1. It was in the presence of the greatest power of heaven that could be on earth, and (to begin with) did not stand in awe of it, nor recognized it as a presence to inspire awe. On occasions of far less direct manifestations of the like great power of God, it had been far otherwise with Peter, and often had it been far otherwise with the miscellaneous multitude; and in particular on occasion of a manifestation of strong resemblance to the present—on the day of Pentecost—it was far otherwise with such a multitude. But Simon, a picked man, a taught man, a man acquainted with "mysteries," is not cognizant of high emotions, of deep stirrings of the moral nature, as were they; but stands there still with covered head, with thoughts that run on business, and with a hand ready outstretched to do business!
2. It was in that presence, with moreover the strongest added symptoms that an unwonted holiness attached to it, and yet it was eager and was presumptuous to challenge intrinsic responsibilities in partnership with it. Forwardness to rush into responsibilities of the most sacred kind has always meant but one thing, and rarely enough led to any but one end. And yet the forwardness with which Simon may now be charged was not that of hasty impulse, of youth and its inexperience, of inconsiderate rashness. It has to be credited with a much worse and more ingrained genius. It was a calculating eagerness, an old and far too familiar impulse to be longer justly called impulse at all, the unaffected outcome of a heart indurate with self. This sort can surely no further go than when it intrudes its callous candidature for the most sacred partnership that Heaven itself has to name, nor suspects that it is at all specially to blame in doing so.
3. It was in that presence, and dares to offer money, that with it may be purchased a share of its most sacred prerogative or own nature. The "corruptible things" of "silver and gold" are proposed as an exchange value for the most incorruptible, living Holy Spirit! Once Judas, for the getting of money to himself, volunteers to be the betrayer of Jesus; but in real fact, human insolence of thought dared a higher flight of incredible audacity when it purposed to part with money for the attempted purchase of the gift of the Holy Ghost. Then not the leader of the rebel angels who kept not their first estate, more really affronted the holiness and the majesty and the sovereignty of God, than did Simon in that thought of his heart and word of his lip. In which lay implicit in part, and in part explicit,
4. It was in that presence, and did not humbly, earnestly pray for a personal experience of its mighty and gracious energy, but only to have the official dignity, the self-exalting dignity, or the literally gainful dignity of being the channel of conducting it to others. What could be more suspicious? What more unnatural? What more hollow, when the question once becomes a question of matter of the highest concernment? How can any man sincerely work for the salvation of another who has never found, never sought his own? How can any man purpose to be the servant of God and of God's Spirit in order to convey spiritual gift and spiritual grace and sanctification to others, if he is not himself in constant and living recipience of the same kind of gifts? Yet many propose this thing unconsciously which Simon proposed in so many most outspoken words. For how often are men glad to think of or even to see the devil cast out of others (Luke 10:20), who have never sought deliverance themselves, and never submitted to the humbling stroke that should break the chain of their own captivity to him! And how many with the lip speak patronizingly of Christianity and pray for the spread of true religion, who never illustrate the possession of it? Confessedly there are some outer things which one may be the means of conveying to others by the mere hand, and as the mere deputy of some original giver; but as certainly the attempt is as impious as it is impossible in other things. The higher you ascend in gift, the more absolute and patent is the inherent impossibility, until, after you have traversed all the ascending realms of mental bestowment and attainments, you reach that realm of pure spirit; crossing over into it, you cease for ever to assume to convey to others, except that "which you have heard … seen … looked upon, and your hand has handled" in the matter "of the Word of life." It might be that the blind man should pray if haply he might find the way to give sight to other blind—though still most strange if he pray not for himself, "Lord, that I might receive my sight." But if the case be that of a man spiritually blind, who prays and with his prayer offers money that he may be the "chosen vessel" for commanding spiritual light to others benighted as yet, yet prays not for spiritual sight himself, you say he is the most benighted of all, blind indeed, and, short of limiting God's power in the gift of repentance and the grace of his pardon thereupon, you say self-stricken, hopelessly blind! And of this there is every dread appearance in the instance of Simon.
II. IN WHAT IT FOUND ITS PREDISPOSING CAUSES.
1. In a long career of profession. Simon's very profession was to make profession. And it was of the very essence of dangerous profession, since it was profession about self. Self was the object as well as the subject. The ill odor in which self-assertion, as a mere individual act, is held is well admitted. But how much worse when this has become habit! worst of all when it has become the bread and livelihood of a man. "Giving out that himself was some great one," sounds the irony of biography. It was all that and more for him.
2. In a professional career that rested on the basis of deception. "Of long time he had bewitched the people with sorceries." Whatever reality there was in the sources from which he derived power to work "sorcery," there was no reality of benefit flowing to a deluded people from his works. When "they all gave heed to him, from the least to the greatest, saying; This man is the great power of God," they were "all" the victims of Simon's most purposed and systematic deception. And however much they were to blame, he more by far, who prostituted persuasive powers to mislead and to rob his fellow-creatures, instead of to guide and enrich them. By all this, whatever else, whatever harm he did to others, he was effectually branding his own conscience with a hot iron, and putting out his own inner light.
3. In the habitual recourse to methods which, so far as they were not mere deception, were the result of some sort of league with the powers of evil. Whether this were really so, and if so to what degree it obtained, may be held moot points still; but two things must be said on the subject.
4. Yet once more, however badly things were looking for Simon, one thing might have stayed the filling up of the full measure of his iniquities—might have stayed the utter extinction of the moral eyesight; namely, if he had kept well within the domain of his darkened self and career, and not tried that worst attempt, to ally his evil unrenounced to the good. Long had he known the pride, the flattery, the intoxicating effect of a large and enthusiastic following. The hour came when he saw all this slipping away from him, and he follows—follows those who once followed him. It is significantly said, that "then," i.e. in the rear, not in the van, "he himself believed also." But it was no "belief with the heart," and none "to righteousness." And every step that he took by the side of Philip, as he "beheld and wondered at the miracles and signs which were done" by him, was a calculating step. He beheld with envious stirrings within; he wondered, and not least, how by any means he might become a sharer of that which he eyed with envy. That moment marked his fall certain. It was the turning-point. This thought filled his sordid ambition, to keep his darkness and get some light to work it to better result. And it was the supreme insult, the last wound to his moral nature.
III. IN WHAT SORT OF CONDITION IT FOUND ITSELF IN THE END.
1. It found for the first part of its reward the most trenchant and unsparing denunciation. This denunciation was just as justice could be, but it was of the severest and most scathing that Scripture records (Acts 8:20).
2. It brought upon itself uncompromising exposure. The character is weighed and declared wanting. The heart is analyzed and is pronounced "not right." It is brought under "the eye of God" and is ruled wrong by that unerring estimate (Acts 8:21, Acts 8:23).
3. It courted the visitation of a humiliating exhortation (Acts 8:22). Simon had been "baptized," so that, though he might writhe under the spiritual inquisition made of him and this spiritual monition addressed to him, he had put himself where he could not refuse to bear stripes. That his submitting to baptism and his continuing with Philip made some demand on his pride, and would bear some traces of patronizing condescension, is very possible; but none the less has he placed himself where the stripe cannot be evaded.
4. It ended the scene in an unmasked acknowledgment of miserable insincerity. Simon vanishes from our view, unregretted under any circumstances, for we cannot say that he was "not far from the kingdom of God;" but none the less so for the unwelcome echoes of his latest voice left on the ear. No tide of "repentance" stirs him to the depth; no movement of sweet penitence begins to sway to and fro a yielding heart; no manly attitude in him wakens within us a particle of sympathy for an humbled career; no publican's prayer and broken-hearted petition for pity and the extended hand of mercy, "strong to save," part asunder his bloodless lips. All the contrary—a stranger still to his own guilt without a dawning or even dreaming conception of sin's exceeding sinfulness, he can only find it in him to beg with unreal tone and with cowardly simulation that those who have found him out will pray that his sins may not find him out. He would fain ask that they take on themselves the responsibility of praying the hypocrite's prayer, to pray the prayer which it is "an abomination" to pray—that his sins may not be reckoned against him, though unrepented their guilt, unpardoned their aggravation, and unsought any saving shelter for his own soul. Such a prayer never rose accepted; it never rose at all; it never had the wing on which to rise. It must needs drop out of view, as Simon now out of our view, into the uncovenanted, unknown.—B.
A life true to light led to the Light true to life.
From one of the most unwelcome exhibitions of human nature, we are led with grateful relief to an episode full of hope and the very suggestion of sunshine for the world. This alternate light and shade of a written record of human life, which exhibits alike the appearances of a compendious description and a crowded epitome, is so far a very faithful reflection of the tenor of human history. And the faithfulness of the reflection goes some way to tell whose hand held the pencil of such graphic effect. Incident abounds in the paragraph marked by these verses. But it is no disjointed, incoherent collection of incidents. They come together, "bone to his bone," "sinew and flesh come up upon them," and "skin covers them above," and they make into a most living whole. These incidents of our history group around two subjects. Let us notice—
I. WHAT IS RECORDED HERE OF A LIFE THAT WAS TRUE TO ITS LIGHT.
1. The subject of this fragment of biography is an Ethiopian. Though a fragment, it conducts to the most critical portion of life, and puts the key of it into our hand. He is a first fruits of the fulfillment of the prophecy that was written, "Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God" (Psalms 68:31); and in the desolacy too rapidly drawing on of Jerusalem, Zion was still to say," This man was born in her" (Acts 8:28; Psalms 87:5). The Ethiopian cannot "change his skin," but God can change a darkened heart, and this he is doing. By what route the Divine ray of light reached the Ethiopian's mind we know not, but that in man's deepest darkness that light oftentimes loves most suddenly to spring up, we do know. He was not one who had been brought up in the light of revelation, but was now following that which was given him.
2. The subject of this fragment of biography was a man of peace, doubtless of wealth also, "of great authority," and with near relations of office to royalty. Yet he is an instance of exception to the tyrannical entanglements of the "cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lust of other things entering in to choke the Word." He is not of those rich of whom it is said by unerring lips, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" He strives to enter in, and strives at the right time. He is not leaving it till too late—the "too late" of those who "shall seek … and not be able." This, again, was obeying and being very faithfully ruled by the light that was in him.
3. The subject of this fragment of biography is come upon using the advantages of his position, state, wealth, for direct religious ends. He has been to Jerusalem to worship. He is returning. He has by his resources of money and of influence possessed himself of the Scriptures, or a portion of them, comparatively so difficult to obtain; and while yet on his journey he is reading them. He is dwelling on what he has heard read in Jerusalem, and is referring to something that had fixed his attention and wakened his wonder. Air, and light, and sun, and movement of the chariot, and presumably voices of some attendants, are playing disregarded upon his senses, while his soul is communing with itself and the things written in that scarcely understood Scripture—all interested. He is scarcely outside; he is crossing the threshold in the very porch of the living Church—of God's own glorious temple and manifestation of truth to man. He is reading in "Esaias the prophet;" and is reading in "the place" of places, where "some soft hand invisible" has guided his eye. The sacred parable of some six centuries old—but which, within the last some six months, has, unknown to him, blossomed for a mission of perpetual youth—has arrested him. He reads and wonders and inquires, "Of whom speaketh the prophet this—'He was led as a sheep to the slaughter: and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: in his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth'?" The man who has got to that "story," sacred story, sweet story, strange story, and can't pass it, won't pass it, but lingers over it, muses it, asks in the very spirit of prayer for its interpretation, looks very like a man who is not putting out his light, not dishonoring it, but is following it and on the way to improve it and find it brighter.
4. Arrived a very little further in knowledge, the subject of this partial biography is resolved without an unnecessary moment's delay to "make profession." Let him belong to what nation he may, let him wear what livery he may, let him jeopardize what splendid place of earthly promotion he may, he will take the Name of Christ. He has found the truth, and he recognizes it, and not an hour will he lose or risk his "part and lot in the matter." His "heart is right in the sight of God," and it is because God's light has come to be in him. What light he had he followed, and it "shone upon the road that led him to the Lamb;" and he was satisfied, and "went on his way rejoicing."
II. WHAT IS RECORDED HERE OF UNSEEN AND UTTERLY UNSUSPECTED AGENCIES AT WORK BEFRIENDING THE ETHIOPIAN. There were such agencies, and this is first to be noticed. It is plainly written where it can be written, that it may be the better understood and believed in the times innumerable when it cannot be written. Life flows on often apparently by itself; but what unthought of tributaries there are to its stream! Or, if they are thought of and even seen, how little is made of them, with how little faith or devoutness are they mused over! Nay, even when acknowledged as providences, the utterance of that word seems to discharge all debt connected with it. It is not treated as a sacred symbol of untold depth and breadth, and a mercy of meaning only thinly veiled beneath it.
1. We may be very sure that the eunuch would have been first to desire to acknowledge the help that he had received from Philip. What he may have thought of his sudden appearance, of his placing himself so as to overhear his reading of that sacred scroll, and of his addressing to him the somewhat gratuitous question, "Understandest thou what thou readest?" we know not, but evident it is that he both courteously and gladly received the proffered intrusion, nor regarded it as intrusion. He was well repaid. Philip expounds to him the Scripture, and "preaches to him Jesus;" and soon after is the minister to him of baptism, and nor asks nor takes fee or reward, but, so soon as his service is fulfilled, he has vanished. Was all this chance? If the Ethiopian thought it was, or did not think it was not, it may be in some measure forgiven alike to his education and want of education. But he does not strike us as the man certain to fail or likely to fail in matters of spiritual discernment. Be this as it may, we know that there was no chance about it, but distinct design and preparation: So this visible human contribution of help, gratefully received and no doubt unstintedly acknowledged in the heart of the Ethiopian, owned to an unseen friendly power. It was a notable instance of a "stranger" being" unawares an angel." And our human friends, and the visits of their sympathy, their voice to encourage, or to exhort, or to rebuke, may often be "angels' visits." Pity two things—
2. More remote still, there was friendly agency, unknown, unsuspected by the man who took all the benefit of it. Philip himself did not come; he was sent. And the Ethiopian's greater and devouter thanks belong to him who sent. So it was once that there was "no eye to pity, no arm to save." And the majesty and sovereignty and might of highest heaven interposed. And to these behind and above all means and methods and "instruments," belong the glory, gratitude, and endless praise. The "angel of the Lord" (Acts 8:26) appeared to Philip, and told him the way in which he should go; and Philip went, obedient, unquestioning, though there was room for two or three questions. Like Abraham, "he went," presumably (Acts 8:29), at present, "not knowing" why he went, though he did know the unpromising "desert" where. And this was no chance, nor was it what happened as a sign and wonder in the one solitary history of this Ethiopian. It is what often is taking place. It is in human life, not deserted, forsaken, "despised" of God, to be also often befriended, and most graciously befriended by him.
3. A third friendly interference is vouchsafed in the behalf of the Ethiopian. Philip has reached "the way from Jerusalem to Gaza;" and probably he knows the "desert" heat and drought, and the unrefreshing barrenness of the route. And he is going to cross the path of the traveler's chariot, or rather be left behind of it and miss it. We need not suppose that Philip was not wishful to be "instant in season and out of season." But for whatever reason, he needs the direction of "the Spirit" (Acts 8:29), and that Spirit interposes and instructs and commands. These are of the gracious Spirit's chiefest functions—to arrest, to inform, to command. And still it is all for the help of the unwitting Ethiopian traveling from the worship of Jerusalem, using well even travel-ling-time, and living true to such light as he had. The fuller day was near at hand for him. Long time, perhaps, had glimmering rays been straying in, and he had wondered what they meant, and they had made him long for more light and feel for it with many a groping. Thus" he that seeketh findeth." Full conviction, fall satisfaction, full faith and peace and joy arc his reward (Acts 8:39).—B.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Providence making missionaries.
The disciples of the Lord Jesus were to be missionaries, going everywhere and preaching his gospel to every creature. But they were to begin at Jerusalem, and there wait for "the promise of the Father"—the Divine endowment of the Holy Ghost. Then they were simply to follow the openings of Divine providence and the impulses and leadings of the Divine Spirit. They evidently at first scarcely understood what their work was, or how it was to be begun. Prejudices hindered them; difficulties blocked their way; it would seem to them that their lives would be imperiled by exciting public attention to them; and on the day of Pentecost they wore simply borne beyond themselves and above their fears, and were led to speak, freely and bravely, all they knew of Christ's resurrection and power to save. At first their witness was rendered in Jerusalem, and they waited on Providence for further guidance. The way for more extended work presently opened, but it was in very strange and unexpected ways. Out of seeming disaster and discomfiture came the plain indication of what their missionary work was to be.
I. PERSONAL PERIL CAME. The Revised Version gives the better reading of Acts 8:1 : "There arose on that day a great persecution." It would seem "that the crowd which stoned Stephen outside the gate rushed back with its blood up, or, as Calvin says, like a wild beast which has once tasted blood, and threw itself there and then upon the company of brethren who, perchance, had met to pray secretly in their upper room for the brother who before men was playing so well his honorable and perilous part." The wild things which an excited mob will do have received abundant illustration in all ages, and recent illustration in the partial destruction of Alexandria. But the Christian disciples had more than this to fear. Such riotings of mobs last, at the most, but a few days. The Sanhedrim had now determined to persecute, and, if possible, destroy, the Nazarene sect; and from their systematic efforts, the disciples could only gain safety by flight. "A favorable juncture had come for the bigots," but it was, in the ordering of God's providence, the favorable juncture for commencing missionary work. We must always seek to judge, not what peril, suffering, persecution, or the arresting of our work may seem to be, but what they prove to be, when they have come fully under the Divine overrulings.
II. ESCAPE FROM THE PERIL SCATTERED THEM. Broke up the daily meals and the life in common; made the apostles hide away out of reach; and drove the disciples into the country districts—into Samaria, where Jewish fanatics would hardly venture, and even away as far as Damascus, where we subsequently find Ananias. It is remarkable that at this time the persecution does not seem to have reached the apostles, and it has been suggested that it was directed against that section of the disciples which followed Stephen, and attacked, in greater or less degree, the Mosaic system. Dean Plumptre says, "It was probable, in the nature of the case, that the Hellenistic disciples, who had been represented by Stephen, should suffer more than the others." Missionary records contain many illustrations of persecution making opportunity. The scattering was limited at first to the neighboring districts, but it started the missionary idea, and then the whole world was felt to be the sphere for the missionaries of the cross. Show how travel, migration, and commerce have scattered men over the world, and made providential openings for Christian works. "There is that scattereth and yet increaseth" is illustrated in these early disciples.
III. THEY TOLD OF CHRIST WHEREVER THEY WENT. The persecution opened their mouths, made them bold, filled them with fervor and zeal; the silent ones now preached the glad tidings. Persecution puts new life and energy into the persecuted. Things die out if left alone, that grow into power if we attempt to crush them. Men learn to value things which others would forcibly pluck from them. The weakness of our modern witness to Christ is mainly due to the general acceptance of our message. We should speak it nobly if we had to suffer or to die for it. Then the "lips of the dumb would speak." Trouble and calamity and difficulty made the first missionaries, and it has made the best ever since. Impress that the Christian law is this—wherever the providence of God may lead you or drive you, be therefore Christ.—R.T.
Intense against Christ may become intense for him.
The indications given in this verse of Saul's intensity should be noticed; he added personal cruelties to judicial severity, manifested almost an insane ferocity and wanton brutality, as he afterwards acknowledged (Acts 26:11). The grounds of Saul's prejudice against Christ and Christianity should be carefully traced, as the nature of his mistaken sentiments helps to explain the entire change of his thoughts and conduct when Christ spoke to him from heaven. A Pharisee such as Saul would have a general offence against Christ
I. THE INTENSITY OF AN IMPULSIVE CHARACTER. Illustrate from the Saul who was the first king of Israel; from incidents in the life of the Apostle Peter, and from the later story of Saul, or Paul. This intensity often does good service; it overleaps difficulties which hinder the quieter and calmer class of men. It bears others along on its own tide of impetuosity. It becomes holy boldness, wise enterprise, and steadfast endurance when it is duly toned, sanctified, and guided by the indwelling Holy Ghost. There is more or less of impulsiveness in each of the apostles of whom anything is narrated. James and John followed the impulse stirred by the Master's call, and left their fisher-work and fisher-folk, to become servants of Christ and fishers of men; and an impulsive spirit is sealed in the surname which our Lord fixed upon them. Matthew seems immediately to have obeyed, and left the receipt of custom, when the Master touched his heart with the call, "Follow me;" and it was evidently in the intensity of deep feeling that he gathered his friends to a parting feast. Thomas speaks impetuously, "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails … I will not believe;" and still more impetuously he cries, "My Lord and my God," when constrained to believe by the condescending grace of the Redeemer. Peter represents to us the exaggeration of impulsiveness; and he never reveals his character more fully than when smitten down, penitent and broken-hearted, because of the second cock-crowing and the Savior's reproachful look.
II. THE WEAKNESS OF THE IMPULSIVE CHARACTER. This finds expression in such things as:
1. A disposition to overvalue mere religious feeling.
2. To take up new ideas or new schemes, under the urgings of sentiment rather than sound judgment.
3. A tendency to give up schemes with as little thought as they were taken up.
4. A foolish expectation that every one must be as intense as the impulsive one is.
5. And an inability fairly to estimate the reasons that make slow progress alone safe and sure. In the Christian life, as in common life, seasons of undue elevation are sure to be followed by seasons of undue depression, and such seasons are very disappointing and humiliating. St. Peter illustrates the weaknesses of the impulsive. Our Lord had even to reprove him severely. From Saul, or Pan], may be shown the solid excellence of character which the naturally impulsive man may gain when piety, principle, and noble sentiments come to rule and guide and tone his impulses. Some of the grandest sentences of St. Paul's Epistles are the utterances possible only to a sanctified man of intensity and strong impulses; e.g. Philippians 1:21-23.—R.T.
The expression here used is a frequent one in the Acts of the Apostles; e.g. "preaching the gospel;" "preached the Word;" "preaching peace by Jesus Christ;" "ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ;" "preaching the Lord Jesus;" "Jesus whom Paul preached;" "according to the preaching of Jesus." The proper idea of preaching is "heralding," "proclaiming," declaring a message; and the old prophets of Judaism were true preachers; so were the angels at Bethlehem, and so was John the Baptist. Philip the evangelist went to Samaria, where there was quite as intense an expectation of the Messiah as could be found among the Jews, and to the Samaritans Philip proclaimed that Messiah, or Christ, had come, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and that his resurrection—which was abundantly proved—was the crowning attestation and proof that he was the Christ, the Son of the Most High God. What is involved and included in "preaching Christ may best be found by the consideration of a few illustrative cases.
1. Christ preached himself to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus; and his points were the necessity for the sufferings of Christ and his subsequent resurrection, and the absolute truth of the Messiahship and Lordship of Christ.
2. Christ's command," Go into all the world," etc., sends us back to the announcement of the angels at Bethlehem; they preached a Savior, not a salvation.
3. The apostles preached Christ at Pentecost, and at the healing of the lame man, and declared Jesus as both having died and risen again, and being exalted with present saving power.
4. Stephen preached, in his defense, the Messiahship and death of the Lord Jesus, closing with a firm declaration that he was risen.
5. Philip preached unto the eunuch, and his subject was Jesus the Key to the prophecies, suffering and triumphant.
6. St. Paul preached to the Philippian jailor, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." The peculiarity of the early preaching evidently was the presentation to men of a personal, living Savior, with whom men may have personal dealings for their full salvation. Then true preaching must present a living Christ to men as having
that the Man Christ Jesus reveals God to man, and man to himself;
II. ON HIS cross. Or, Christ in sacrifice, the Divine Sufferer. This is the mystery of Calvary. A suffering Savior shows:
1. The intensity of sin: its utmost effort crucified him.
2. The helplessness of sin. It did its worst, and was defeated. "It was not possible that he should be holden of it." A suffering Savior:
3. Attracts men. "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." No persuasions can so urge and win men as those that come from the cross where our Sin-bearer died.
4. Removes out of the way the hindrances to our fellowship with God. "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."
III. WITH HIS CROWN. Or, Christ in triumph, the Divine King. This is the mystery of Olivet. The kingly Jesus is:
1. The ἄρχηγον, Leader of his people, "the Captain of their salvation," their Bringer-on.
2. The Head and Lord of the new kingdom, "exalted to give repentance and remission." "Head over all things to his Church."
3. The Bestower of the Holy Spirit, which is his present inward agency, himself abiding with us and in us.
So we preach Christ, the Man; the Divine Man; ours, our Brother; and with this preaching we arouse interest in him. We preach Christ, the Sufferer, who draws us to himself in sympathy and love. "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow." We preach Christ the King, and bid you bow down now and submit to his gracious and holy reign.—R.T.
Warnings from Simon Magus.
"His name indicates a Jewish or Samaritan origin." He appears as the type of a class but too common at the time—that of Jews trading on the mysterious prestige of their race and the credulity of the heathen, claiming supernatural power exercised through charms and incantations. For other illustrations, give account of Etymas (Acts 13:6); the "vagabond Jews, exorcists," at Ephesus (Acts 19:13); the so-called Simon of Cyprus mentioned by Josephus; and Apollonius of Tyana. Explain the state of the times; men were thoroughly dissatisfied with the empty formalities of religion, and were sick of the routine demands of rabbinical traditions, and were more or less distinctly yearning and crying for the spiritual. Their thought and feeling laid them open to the influence of the sorcerer and juggler, who appeared to be possessed of mysterious and spiritual power. "All over the known world, the nations were at that critical hour in history agitated by a vague unrest and a feverish anticipation of some impending change. Everywhere men turned dissatisfied from their ancestral divinities and worn-out beliefs. Everywhere they turned in their uncertainty to foreign superstitions, and welcomed any religion which professed to reveal the unknown. Along with this came a strange longing to penetrate the secrets of the world, to communicate with the invisible. To persons in this expectant and restless condition there could be no lack of prophets. Asia bred them, Egypt ripened them, the West swarmed with them."
I. SIMON'S ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF A DIVINE FORCE IN CHRISTIANITY. The degree of his sincerity in professing belief and submitting to the rite of baptism needs careful consideration. He may have been carried away by feeling. He may have been guileful throughout, and only seen a higher force in the power of the apostles than he knew of, and designed to get the control of this force for his own purposes. Or the two may have blended. He may have been carried away. At first he may have sincerely taken up with Christianity, but soon yielded to a guileful spirit, which suggested that a splendid fortune could be made out of the new force. But whatever Simon's motives may have been, we have from him an important testimony to the genuine persuasion and power accompanying the early preaching, and to the truth of the miraculous powers exerted by the apostles. Simon well understood the ways of sorcerers and jugglers, and he knew and openly acknowledged that the apostles were not such. Show the importance of the testimony to Christ and Christianity rendered by those outside, and even opposed, such as Rousseau, Napoleon, J. S. Mill, etc.
II. SIMON'S MISTAKE IN PROFESSING BELIEF IN CHRISTIANITY. Because true discipleship is no mere profession, no sudden excited impulse, no vanishing sentiment, but a sober, calm judgment, a full and hearty surrender, an entire consecration of heart and life to Christ. Simon did not sit down first and count the cost. Simon had no idea of taking a lowly place in Christ's service. He wanted still to be "some great one." tie was "weighed in the balances, and found wanting," when Christ's testings came. "He that would be great among you, let him be your servant." "He that exalteth himself shall be abased." Show with what mistaken notions men take up the Christian profession now, and how certainly life tests and tries them, and they fail in the testing day. Simon's faith had not a moral, only an intellectual basis, tie expressed no compunction for having deceived the people and blasphemed God. The whole ethical side of Christianity, its power of bringing man into peace with God, and of making man like God, was shut against him. For that he had no ear. Against that his heart was closed. He believed, therefore, without being converted. Impress how the money-getting spirit had so hardened Simon's mind that it was difficult to gain access for the Christian truth and claims. "How hardly shall they that trust in riches enter into the kingdom of heaven!"—R.T.
The gift of the Holy Ghost.
There are signs of an impartation of the Spirit by the apostles which we do not appear to understand fully, because it differs from any impartation of the Spirit with which we have experience. The apostles were enabled to repeat for their disciples their own experience. They were first called to discipleship and then endowed for work. So those to whom apostles preached were first brought into the new kingdom by faith and confession, and then sealed and entrusted with particular gifts for service by the Holy Spirit of promise. The apostles were at first the only agents through whom this further gift of the Spirit came. How far they were permitted to pass this agency in the giving of the Spirit on to their successors has been a matter which the various sections of Christ's Church have regarded differently. Two things require study and consideration.
I. THE NATURE AND OBJECT OF THIS GIFT OF THE HOLY GHOST. It was evidently regarded as essential to the full standing of the Christian. A man must be converted and sealed. St. Paul found at Ephesus some disciples who knew only John's baptism, and he asked them this, as a searching, testing question, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" as if this alone could be accepted as the assurance of their full Christian standing. The gift or endowment may be regarded.
1. In relation to the apostles as agents. They never assumed that the gift came from them; it only came through them. God might have sent his Spirit directly and apart from any human agency. Probably he used the human means in order that the source whence the gift came should be recognized and men should not treat it as an accident, but as a trust; also that its connection with Christ should be recognized, and the use of the endowments in Christ's service should be realized. It was a bestowment entirely within the Christian limits.
2. In relation to the believers, who were the recipients of the gift. It was a sealing them as Christ's. It was a taking of them over to Christ's service. It was a solemn convincement that a new and Divine life was in them, and so a sublime urging to purity of life and an ennobling assurance of all-sufficient present grace for whatever they had to do and whatever to bear. It was a holy rest for personal feeling; they were plainly accepted of God. It was a holy urging to Christly labors; they had the powers, they must find their spheres.
3. In relation to the Church, which was benefited by the various endowments as calculated to meet all its various needs. These points assume that the indications of the Spirit's coming on the disciples were such as we find at Pentecost. There was some gift of tongues, or preaching, or praying—some outward sign which all could realize. Show that if the Spirit now comes to the believer in quieter modes, no essential difference is made in the purpose of his coming. He is with us now to comfort us with assurance of full salvation; and to inspire and guide us in the devotion of our powers to the service of others and of the Church.
II. THE MODE AND ORDER OF THIS IMPARTATION OF THE SPIRIT. Observe that it is never regarded, any more than the early Church miracles, as an independent act of the apostles. It is only effective:
1. After prayer, which puts the apostle in right frame to become the agent or medium, and which directs public attention away from the apostles to the real source whence the gift comes.
2. On the laying on of hands. A significant act, by which the vital force filling the apostle seemed to stream forth into the disciple, and the recipient shared in the Divine Spirit-life. If some indication of a gift, talent, or endowment appeared, as a consequence, it need not be anything new; it might be the characteristic quality or faculty infused with new life and energy. But in those days no man received the Spirit apart from some sign of force for service in the Church. This Simon noticed, and it set him upon evil thought. And still God's Spirit comes on prayer, is recognized by the spiritually minded, and is the energy for all holy labors.—R.T.
The inquiring proselyte.
Give some account of Ethiopia, of the queen of that day, of the office the eunuch occupied, and of the probable means by which he had been made a Jewish proselyte. He was one of those men among the heathen who had been awakened to spiritual anxiety by the ever-working Spirit of God. He may have had some Jewish connections, through whom he had come to know of Jehovah. We can recognize in him:
1. An inquirer.
2. A spiritually awakened inquirer, one who had come to see that his own personal relations with God were matters of extreme importance.
3. A wise seeker, who had found the revealed Word of God, and was searching it in full confidence that therein was the "eternal life." To such a seeker help will never be long withheld. "God waiteth to be gracious." Philip was divinely guided to meet the eunuch on his return from the holy city, and to join him in the chariot just when he was hopelessly puzzled with his reading. The passage which engaged his attention was one which opened up the applications of truth to sinful souls. The great chapter of the evangelical Isaiah deals with human sins, calling them transgressions; and it discloses that wonderful scheme of Divine wisdom and love by which those transgressions were vicariously borne, and borne away. Philip preached unto him Jesus, who "was wounded for our transgressions," on whom the "Lord laid the iniquity of us all," whose "soul was made an offering for sin;" who now saves his people from their sins; from the penalty of their sins, by the virtue of his great sacrifice, from the power of their sinfulness by the cleansing energies of his Holy Spirit. With opened soul the eunuch listened, and the truth dawned upon him; Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, was revealed to him. He believed the record, and longed at once to seal in baptism his faith and love to the crucified One. He thus simply declares his faith, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." What was this eunuch's faith? and can we learn from him what the saving faith is? Evidently it was a simple acceptance of and confidence in the testimony rendered by Philip to Christ, based as the testimony was upon the revealed Word of God. And that is faith still—receiving the record which God hath given us of his Son, and acting on the record. Faith is the great difficulty in the way of seekers, yet, when it is won, it seems strange that so simple a matter should have hindered. Some of the expressions and figures of Scripture may help us.
I. To BELIEVE IN CHRIST IS TO APPREHEND OR LAY HOLD OF HIM. AS St. Peter, sinking in the waters, put out his hand and grasped the offered hand of Christ, so our souls, sinking in sin and despair, by faith lay hold of the strong, rescuing Savior.
II. To BELIEVE IN CHRIST IS TO RECEIVE HIM. As the imprisoned debtor welcomes and receives the man who brings into his cell the money of his ransom, so our souls, by faith, welcome and receive him by whose precious blood we have been bought out of our prison-house of sin.
III. To BELIEVE IN CHRIST IS TO ROLL OUR BURDEN UPON HIM. To shift the weight of all the trouble and anxiety from our own shoulders, and let Christ bear it all for us; as one might do who had an important trial coming on, but trusted the whole matter to his skilful lawyer-friend.
IV. To BELIEVE IN CHRIST IS TO APPLY TO HIM. As the hungry and the thirsty apply for food and drink, so the hungry soul applies to Christ for the bread which, if a man eats, he lives for ever.
V. To BELIEVE IN CHRIST IS TO COME TO HIM. To flee to him as the villagers flee into the strongholds before invading armies; as the doomed man fled into the sanctuary to lay hold of the horns of the altar, or as the manslayer fled before the avenger of blood to gain the shelter of the city of refuge. So the soul enters the stronghold of Christ, takes sanctuary with Christ, passes within the gates of Christ, the Refuge for the sinner.
VI. To BELIEVE IN CHRIST IS TO LEAN UPON HIM, TO STAY UPON HIM, as we lean upon a staff for support. Christ is the strong Staff, on which the soul, with all its eternal interests, may safely lean; Christ is the healthy, strong Friend, on whom the sick, fainting, weary soul may wholly rely.
VII. To BELIEVE IN CHRIST IS TO ADHERE TO HIM, TO CLEAVE TO HIM. As the drowning man clutches so must we grasp, cling to, cleave to, the Lord Jesus, binding the soul to him as with everlasting bands. With so many and so simple illustrations, how well you may be urged now—even now—to believe on the Son of God, and find the pardon he speaks, the life he gives, and the love with which he will make you his own forever.—R.T.
Testing the impulse to confession.
The eunuch knew how his own proselytism had been sealed. When he accepted the Jewish faith, he made confession of it by the rite of baptism. So now, when he had accepted a new faith, his first impulse was the desire to seal it by a renewal of the rite, and the site of the water reminded him of the possibility of making his confession of Christ there and then. Though Acts 8:37 is not found in the Revised Version, and may be only an editor's explanation that has crept into the text, we may be quite sure that Philip would not baptize the eunuch in response to his impulsive request without some such test as this—a test which would bring out whether his faith was whole-hearted and sincere. He must know if his belief was belief with all the heart. On this test, which needs to be still put to would-be confessors, we may dwell.
I. BELIEF OF THE HEART IS THE BELIEF OF SINCERE CONVICTION. A man becomes intellectually convinced that Jesus Christ is the Savior. That conviction may come by very different agencies adapted to individuals. Mere ideas never urge to faith, convictions do.
II. BELIEF OF THE HEART IS THE BELIEF OF DEEP FEELING. The intellectual grasp of truth is not enough. The sense of sin and the gratitude for salvation urge the outgoing of trustful affections towards the Savior.
III. BELIEF OF THE HEART FINDS EXPRESSION IN PRACTICAL RESOLVE. First all entire decision for Christ; then a full and unreserved consecration to him; then a turning round of our whole life to his obedience, and a daily devotion of our powers and talents to his service. But this belief with the heart is no mere fitting association of the first act of confession; it needs to be daily maintained, growing knowledge of Christ giving fuller apprehensions of him, and our hearts lovingly responding to all we can learn and know. Heart-belief alone can ensure the active, noble, and self-denying Christian life.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Acts 8". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany