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Acts 9

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Verses 1-43

We are now arrived at a turning-point in the history, not merely of the church, but of the unfolding of the truth of God, and the manifestation of His ways. The death of Stephen, therefore, has in various points of view a great significance. And no wonder. His was the first spirit that departed to be with Christ after the Holy Ghost was given. But it was not merely one who departed to be with the Lord, which was far better; it was by the act of the Jews in the infuriate spirit of persecution. The very same people had done it who had so lately received with the utmost favour (not the truth, nor the grace of God, which is inseparable from His truth, but), at any rate, the mighty impress of the grace as well as of the truth which had produced unwonted largeness of heart, unselfishness of spirit, and joy and liberty, that struck the minds of the Jews accustomed to the coldness of death in their own system.

But now all was changed. What was most sweet soon became bitter, as it often is in the things of God. And when they understood the bearing of that which God had wrought here below that it judged man; that it gave no countenance to the religiousness in which they boasted; that it showed most convincingly, and so much the more bitterly because convincingly, what God all through His testimony with them had expressly intimated, by the prophets as well as in the types of the law itself, that He had deeper purposes; that nothing on earth could satisfy Him; that it was in His mind, on the proved ruin of Israel, to bring in heaven and its things for a heavenly people even while here below: now that this was made manifest, above all, in the testimony that Stephen had rendered to the very man that they had rejected and crucified, seen in glory at the right hand of God, it was unbearable. Could it be otherwise, when, spite of proud unbelief and conceit of distinctive privilege, they were forced to feel that they were none the less the constant resisters of the Holy Ghost like their fathers, who had been guilty themselves, and suffered the consequence of their guilt in their prostration to the Gentiles; to feel now that they themselves were no better, but rather worse; that there was the same unbelief bringing out its effects even more tremendously; that they were guilty of the blood of their own Messiah, who was now risen and exalted in the highest seat of heaven? All these things were pressed home by Stephen; indeed, I have simply touched on a very small part of his most telling address.

But the close lets us see more than this. There was the revelation now of Christ as an object for the Christian in heaven, and the revelation of Him too in a way entirely outside the narrow boundaries of Judaism. Stephen speaks of Him as Son of man. This is an essential feature of Christianity. Unlike the law, it addresses all; there is no narrowness in a rejected heavenly Christ. By the Holy Ghost there is imparted all the firmness of a divine bond, and all the intimacy of a real living relationship of the nearest kind. At the same time, along with this is seen universality in the going out of both the truth and grace of God, which could not but be foreign to the law. And although its character had to be yet more brought out by another and far greater witness of divine things who was still in the blindness of Jewish unbelief at this very moment himself taking his own miserable part, though with a good natural conscience, in the death of Stephen, all told powerfully upon the Jews, but lacerated their feelings to the utmost.

I have already touched upon the practical effects, and therefore will not enlarge on these now. My object, of course, is simply to give a sketch of the important book now before us, endeavouring to connect (as, indeed, evidently the chapter does connect) what was coming with what was past. Saul was consenting unto Stephen's death, and Saul was the expression of Jewish feeling in its best aspect. It was now guilty of resisting unto blood, not merely as their fathers had done, but the heavenly testimony of Jesus. Nevertheless the God that vindicated the honour of the crucified Jesus did not forget the martyred Stephen; and though there was an outburst of persecution, which scattered abroad throughout the region of Judea and Samaria all the believers that were in Jerusalem except the apostles, devout men were not wanting who carried Stephen to his burial. Clearly they were not Christians; but God has all hearts in His keeping. And they "made great lamentation over him." This was suitable to them. Theirs was not the joy that saw into the presence of God. They felt in a measure, and justly, the tremendous deed that had been done. And as there was reality at least in their feeling, they made suitable lamentation. But "as for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and dragging off men and women, committed them to prison." Religious persecution is invariably ruthless and blind even to the commonest feelings of humanity.

"Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word;" for the God who not only has hearts at His command, but controls all circumstances, was now about to accomplish that which He had always at heart, making the disciples to be witnesses of Jesus to the very ends of the earth, though first of all to Judea and Samaria. Accordingly we find, as the testimony had gone forth throughout Jerusalem at least, so now the old rival of Jerusalem comes within the dealings of God. Philip, who had been appointed by the apostles at the choice of the multitude of the disciples to care for the distribution to the poor, goes down to the cities of Samaria preaching Christ. This did not at all flow from his ordination. His appointment was to take care of the tables. His preaching Christ was the fruit of the Lord's call. Where man chooses for human things, we have the Lord recognising it. He would have His people, where they give, to have a voice. He would meet them in grace, stopping complaints, and showing that He honours and confides in their suitable choice. But not so in the ministry of the word or testimony of the Lord. Here the Lord alone gives, alone calls, alone sends forth. Philip, besides being one of the seven, was an "evangelist," as we are told expressly in another part of this very book (Acts 21:8). It is important to distinguish between the two things one, the charge to which man appointed him; the other, the gift which the Lord conferred. (Ephesians 4:1-32) I merely make the remark in passing; though it will not be needed for most here, it may be for some.

Philip goes down, then, preaching Christ; "and the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did." But the testimony of miracles is apt to act upon the flesh. They are, indeed, a sign to unbelievers, and that such is the result we find shown us by the Spirit of God in the chapter before us. However graciously given of the Lord as a token to attract the careless minds of men, they are dangerous when they are made the resting-place and the object of the mind; and this was the fatal mistake made then, and not merely there but by many millions of souls from that day to this. Faith never rests on any other ground than God's word. All else is vain, and apt to accredit. as well as entice man. There was indeed the unmistakable action of the Spirit of God on this occasion the power that cast out unclean spirits and healed the sick, as well as the means of spreading joy throughout that city for the souls of men. Evidently it was power in external display, then so richly manifested, which acted on the fleshly mind of Simon, himself having the reputation of a great one, and before this the vessel of some kind of demoniacal power the miserable power of Satan, with which he dazzled the eyes of men. But now finding himself eclipsed, like a wily man, his object was to avail himself of this superior energy if it were possible. His aim was not Christ; it was all for himself. He wished to gain fresh influence, not to lose his old: why not, by this new method, if possible, turn things to his own account?

Accordingly, among the train of those that received the gospel and were baptized, Simon is found. Philip had not the discernment to see through him: evangelists are apt to be sanguine. It may be that the Lord had not allowed the true character of Simon to be manifested to every eye at that moment. It did not escape the discerning eyes of Peter a little afterward. But as we are told here, "When they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized both men and women; and Simon himself believed also." Scripture does show, though it does not sanction as divine, a faith that is founded on evidence. And it continues still. So John often speaks of it; and the very one that tells us most of the divinely given character of true faith who most of all lets us into its secret power and blessedness, even eternal life as bound up with it, that same John is the one who more than any other furnishes instances of a mere humanly produced faith. Such was the faith of Simon. The gospel of Luke also describes what is similar; that is to say, a faith not insincere but human, not wrought of the Spirit but founded on the mind yielding to reasons, proofs, evidences, which are to it overpowering; but there is nothing of God in it: there is no meeting between the soul and God. Without this, faith is good for nothing, nor is God Himself honoured in His own word. Power was what struck Simon's mind himself a devotee of power, who in times past had sunk indeed low, even to the enemy of God and man in order from any source to be the vessel of a power beyond man. He could not deny the might that proved itself without effort superior to anything he had ever wielded. This was what attracted him; and, as it is said here, "he continued with Philip" (there was no other bond of connection), "and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done." A believer would have wondered more at the grace of God, and bowed in adoration before Him. Conscience would have been searched by the truth of God; and the heart would have been filled with praise at the grace of God. Neither one nor other ever entered into the thoughts or feelings of Simon.

And "when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John." It was of the greatest importance that unity should be kept up practically, not merely that there should be proclaimed the truth that there is unity, but that there should be the maintenance of it in practice. Accordingly Peter and John, two of the chiefs among the apostles, come down from Jerusalem. But there was another reason too. It was so ordered of God that the Holy Ghost should not at first be conferred on the disciples at Samaria: I do not mean merely on such as Simon or false brethren, but even on those that were true. Undoubtedly they could not have believed the gospel, had there not been the quickening operation of the Holy Ghost; but we must distinguish between the Holy Ghost giving life and the Holy Ghost Himself given.

Another thing too let me again and again remark: the gift of the Holy Ghost never means those mighty wonders of power which had acted on the greedy and ambitious mind of Simon Magus. The gift of the Spirit is not at all the same thing as the gifts. These gifts, at least such as were of an extraordinary sort, were the outward signs of that gift in early days; and it was of great importance that there should be a decisive palpable testimony to it. The presence of the Holy Ghost was a new and quite unexampled thing even among believers. Hence it is there were mighty powers that wrought by those who were employed by the Holy Ghost; as, for instance, by Philip himself; afterwards also by the disciples, when Peter and John came down and laid their hands upon them with prayer. The Holy Ghost came upon them, not merely, it will be observed, certain spiritual powers, but the Holy Ghost Himself. They had not those powers only, but this divine person given to them. Scripture is clear and unequivocal as to the truth of the case. I can understand difficulties in the minds of believers; and no one would wish to force or hurry the convictions of any; nor would it be of the slightest value to receive even a truth without the faith that is produced, and exercised, and cleared by the word of God. But at the same time to my own mind it seems to be only homage to God's word to affirm positively that of which I am sure.

I therefore must say that the gift of the Holy Ghost here is, in my judgment, clearly distinct from anything in the way of either a spiritual gift for souls or a miraculous power, as it is called. There followed also such signs, or outward powers; but the Holy Ghost was given Himself, according to the Lord's word the promise of the Father, a promise which, as all know, was in the first instance assured to those who were already believers, and which was made good to them because they were believers, not to make them so. When redemption was accomplished, it was the seal of the faith and the life which they already had. There can be no doubt that the facts at Samaria were analogous; but this remarkable feature is to be noticed, that the Holy Ghost was here conferred by (not, as at Jerusalem, apart from) the laying on of the hands of the apostles. Of this we heard nothing in the divine history of the day of Pentecost; and I think that scripture is abundantly plain that there could have been nothing of the kind then and there. First of all, the apostles and the disciples themselves received it as they were waiting. The Holy Ghost came down upon them suddenly, with no previous sign whatever, except that which was suitable to the Holy Ghost when sent down from heaven the mighty rushing wind, and then the tokens of His presence upon each were manifested. Yet there was no such requirement as imposition of hands in order to be the medium of it. But it would seem that special reasons operated at Samaria to make it necessary there. It was of all moment to keep up the links practically between a work which might have looked to many there, as now, not a little irregular. It was wrought not by those that had previously been always the great spiritual witnesses; for we hear of none ministering but the apostles, and indeed not even of all the apostles speaking, though it may be that they did. But here we have clearly a man who had been chosen for another and an external purpose by the church, but whom the Lord uses elsewhere for a new and higher purpose, for which He had qualified him by the Holy Ghost.

Nevertheless, care was taken to hinder all appearance of independence or indifference to unity. There was the freest action of the Holy Ghost, sovereignly free, and it is impossible to maintain this too stringently; and there was the utmost care that all should be left open for the Holy Ghost to act according to His own will, not only within the church, but also by evangelizing outside. For all that God took precaution to bind up together the work at Samaria with that which He had wrought at Jerusalem. Hence though Philip might preach and they receive the gospel, the apostles come down, and with prayer lay their hands upon them, and then they receive the Holy Ghost. To a reflecting believer it will be plain that the reasons for this do not hold at the present time. I merely make this remark lest any should draw from this the inference that there is a necessity for men commissioned from God to lay on hands now in order to confer such a spiritual blessing.

The fact is, that the notion of imposition of hands being a universal medium of conveying the Holy Ghost is certainly a mistake. On the greatest occasions, when the Holy Ghost was given, we have no ground to believe that hands were laid on any. There were two exceptional occasions on which one or more of the apostles so acted, but at times of more general interest and importance nothing of the sort was heard of. Take, as the most solemn moment of all, the day of Pentecost. Who that honours scripture can pretend that hands were laid on any then? Yet the Holy Ghost was given in especial power on that day. But what is more to the purpose for us Gentiles, when Cornelius and his household were brought in, not only no appearance of it is visible, but positive proof to the contrary. Peter was present, but he certainly laid no hand of his on a single soul that day before the Holy Ghost was given. So far from it, as we shall find by and by inActs 10:1-48; Acts 10:1-48, the Holy Ghost was given while he was yet speaking, before they were so much as baptized. On the day of Pentecost they were baptized first, and then they received the gift of the Holy Ghost. At Samaria they had been baptized for some time, as we know. On believing they were baptized, as we are told in Acts 8:1-40; but they received the Holy Ghost after an interval, through the action of the apostles.

I refer to this just to show how far scripture is from countenancing the cramped ideas of men, and that the only way of truth is to believe all the word of God, searching out the special principle of God by which He instructs us in the different characters of His action. Surely He is always wise and consistent with Himself. It is we who by confounding matters lose consequently the blessedness and beauty of the truth of God.

Now the reason, as it appears to me, why divine wisdom led to this striking difference at Samaria, was the necessity of hindering that independence to which even Christians are so liable. There was special exposure to this evil which called for so much the greater guard against it at Samaria. How painful must it be to the Spirit of God if the old pride of Samaria were to rise up against Jerusalem! God would cut off the very appearance of this. There was the free action of His Spirit towards Samaria without the apostles, but the Holy Ghost was given by the laying on of their hands. This solemn act was not merely an ancient sign of divine blessing, but of identification also. Such, I suppose, therefore, was the principle that lay at the bottom of the difference of the divine action on these two occasions.

Then we find Simon struck not so much by an individual's endowment with miraculous power, as by the fact that others received it by the apostles' laying on of hands. At once, with the instinct of flesh, he sees a good 'opportunity for himself, and, judging of others' hearts by his own, presents money as the means of acquiring the coveted power. But this detects the man. How often our words show where we are! How continually too where we least think they do! It is not only in cases of our judgment (for there is nothing that so often judges a man as his own judgment of another); but also where the desire goes out after that which we have not got. How all-important for our souls that we should have Christ before us, and that we should have no desire but for His glory! Not a ray of the light of Christ had entered the heart of Simon, and so Peter at once detects the false heart. With that energy which characterized him he says, "Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God." At the same time there is the pity that belongs to one who knew the grace of God, and saw the end of all in His judgment. "Repent, therefore, of this thy wickedness, and pray God if, perhaps, the thought of thy heart may be forgiven thee; for I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity." God has no pleasure in the death of a sinner. Simon can only answer, "Pray ye to the Lord for me." He had no confidence in the Lord for himself not a particle; for just as those who have confidence in the Lord have not an atom in man, his sole hope of blessing for his soul lay in the influence of another man, not in Christ's grace. "Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of those things which ye have spoken come upon me."

The apostles then, after preaching in the various villages of the Samaritans, return to Jerusalem. But not so the word of God. The gospel goes forth elsewhere; it is in no way bound to Jerusalem. On the contrary, the grand bearing of this chapter is that now the tide of blessing is flowing away from Jerusalem. The holy city had rejected the gospel. It was not enough that they had rejected the Messiah, nor even that He was made Lord and Christ on high. They refused utterly the Holy Ghost's testimony to the Son of man glorified in heaven, and slew or scattered the witnesses, Who then was specially used as the instrument of the free action of the Holy Ghost elsewhere, without plan, without thought of man, and apparently the simple result of circumstances, but in truth God's hand directing all? Philip is told by the angel of the Lord to arise and go towards the south towards "Gaza, which is desert." "And he arose and went." Strikingly, beautiful it is to see the devoted simplicity with which he answers to the call of his Master. I will not pretend to say that it cost him little, but am sure it would have been a heavy trial to many a man of God to leave that which was so bright, where He had wrought powerfully in using himself for His own glory. But he is truly a bondman, and at once is ready to go at the bidding of the Lord, who had given him to reap in joy where He had Himself tasted the firstfruits in the days of His own ministry here below. Samaria, which had held out against the truth, was now yielding the harvest that a greater than Philip had sown; and there was joy in that very Samaria where greater works were now done according to His own word.

But this was not enough for God. A man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under the queen of the Ethiopians, was returning after having gone up to Jerusalem to worship. He was going, back without the blessing that his earnest heart yearned after. He had gone up to the great city of solemnities, but the blessing was no longer to be found there. Jehovah's house had been left doubly desolate; Jerusalem had this added to her other sins that, when the blessing had come down from heaven, she would not have it. She despised the Holy Ghost as she had despised the Messiah; and no wonder therefore that he who had gone up to Jerusalem to worship was returning with the yearnings of his heart still unsatisfied. And not the angel but the Spirit guides now. The angel had to do with providential circumstances, but the Spirit with that which directly deals with spiritual need and blessing. So says the Spirit to Philip, "Go near and join thyself to this chariot." Philip acts at once, with alacrity hears the eunuch read the prophet Isaiah, and puts the question whether he understood what was read. The answer is, "How can I, except some man should guide me?" Thereon Philip is invited to come up and sit with him, Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 53:1-12 being, as we know, the portion in question; and the eunuch asks of whom the prophet spoke these words "of himself or some other man?" so gross was his darkness even as to the general point of the chapter. "Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the very same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus." It was enough. That one name, through faith in it, what could it not accomplish? The facts were notorious; but of this we may be sure, that never had they been put together before the mind of the Ethiopian as then, never connected with the living Word and His grace. They were now put in contact with his wants, and all was instantly light in his soul. Oh, what a blessing it is to have and know such a Saviour! What a joy to be warranted to proclaim Him to others without stint, even to a soul as dark as the Ethiopian, who was then and there baptized!

Remember that verse 37 is only an imaginary conversation between him and Philip. The man just now so ignorant is not the channel that God was about to use for bringing out the remarkable confession that is introduced prematurely here. It was reserved for another of whom we shall read in the next chapter. This scene does show the stranger discovering the predicted Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah suffering, no doubt, but accomplishing atonement. Certainly the Ethiopian received the truth; but verse 37 had better be passed by in your minds, at least in this connection. All who are informed in these matters are aware that the best authorities reject the entire verse.

"He went on his way rejoicing." Though the Spirit of the Lord catches away Philip, so full is his heart of the truth that we may be sure all that occurred confirmed it in his eyes. How could anything seem too great and good to him whose heart had just made the acquaintance of Jesus? Did he not feel so much the more settled in Jesus as there was no other object now before his soul? It was the Lord that had brought Philip, and it was His Spirit that bad taken him away; but it was He too who had given him and left him Jesus for ever. Philip is found at Azotus, and passing through he preaches elsewhere.

At this point we come to the history of the call of another and yet more honoured witness of divine grace and Christ's glory. Saul of Tarsus was yet breathing out his threats and slaughter when the Lord was pursuing His onward gracious work among the Samaritans and strangers. The returning treasurer of Queen Candace was a proselyte, I suppose, from the Gentiles, living among them, not as a Gentile himself, but practically a Jew, whatever the place of his birth and residence. The time for the call of the Gentiles strictly was not yet come, though the way is being prepared. The Samaritans, as you know, were a mongrel race; the stranger may have been possibly a proselyte from among the Gentiles; but the apostle of the Gentiles is now to be called. Such is the unfolding of the ways of God at this point.

Acts 9:1-43. Saul in his zeal had desired letters giving him authority to punish the Christian Jews, and was found on his way journeying near the Gentile city that he sought. "Suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord?" All depended upon this. "And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." What a revolution this word caused in that mighty heart! Confidence in man, in self, was overthrown to its foundations all that his life had been zealously building up. "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." It was the Lord undoubtedly, and the Lord declared He was Jesus, and Jesus was Jehovah. He dared not doubt longer: to him it was self-evident. If Jesus was Jehovah, what then had his religion been? what had high priest or Sanhedrim done for him? Was it not then God's high priest, God's law? Unquestionably it was. How then could so fatal an error have been committed? It was the fact. Man, Israel, not merely Saul, was altogether blinded: the flesh never knows God. The despised and hated name of Jesus is the only hope for man, Jesus is the only Saviour and Lord. His glory burst on the astonished eyes of Saul, who surrenders immediately. It was not without the deepest searching of heart, though smitten down at once; for how could there be a question as to the divine power? How could its reality be doubted? As little could there be a question as to the grace exercised toward him, though the manner was not after that of man. The light that shone suddenly on him was from heaven. But it was God's way. The voice that said, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" was from Jesus. "Who art thou, Lord?" he cried, and hears, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." How could he resist the heavenly vision?

Observe that, although the next words are beyond a question scriptural, and so far the case differs from verse 37 referred to in the last chapter, the last clause of verse 5 and the first of verse 6 belong properly speaking to two other chapters (Acts 22:1-30, Acts 26:1-32) rather than to this. I do not therefore comment upon these additions here: they will remain for their own real and suitable places. But Saul does arise from the earth. "And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man." But he had heard the voice of His mouth, and His words were spirit and life, eternal life, to his soul. Three days and nights he neither eats nor drinks. The profound moral work of God proceeded in that converted heart. Nevertheless even he, apostle though he were, must enter by the same lowly gate as another. And so we have the story of Ananias, and the ways of the Lord, not of some great apostle, nor even of Philip, but a disciple at Damascus named Ananias, to whom the Lord spoke in a vision. And he goes, the Lord communicating another vision to the apostle himself, in which he sees Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him that he might receive his sight.

The Spirit puts us in presence of the freedom of the servant, as he pleads with the Lord, for neither man nor even the child of God ever reaches up to the height of His grace. Ananias, wholly unprepared for the call of such an enemy of the gospel, slow of heart to believe all, expostulates, as it were, with the Saviour. "Lord," says he, "I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name." But the Lord said unto him, "Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel."

Even here the intimation is sufficiently plain that the Gentiles were in the foreground of the work designed for Saul of Tarsus. But this was not all. It was to be emphatically a witness of grace in suffering for Christ's name: "For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake." And so it was. Ananias goes, puts his hand on him, addresses him by the sweet title of relationship Christ began, consecrated, and has given, telling him how the Lord, even Jesus, had appeared unto him. How confirmatory it must have been to the apostle's heart to learn that Ananias was now sent by the same Lord Jesus, without the slightest intimation from without, whether of Saul himself or any other man! "The Lord hath sent me that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost." And every word was made good. "Saul arose and was baptized, and when he had received meat he was strengthened, and remained with the disciples for some time."

In due time follows the further development of the truth as to Christ in testimony. "He preached in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God." Such was the emphatic and characteristic presentation of His person assigned to the apostle, and this at once. It was not that Peter did not know the same, we are all aware how blessedly he confessed Him to be (not Messiah only, but) the Son of the living God while Jesus was here below. Nor is it that the other disciples had not the same faith. Surely it was true of all who really believed and knew His glory. Nevertheless "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh;" and he who loves to present the Lord in the depth of His personal grace, and the height of His glory, has surely a spiritual fitness for the expression of the heart's joy in that which faith has created within. Thus, although the others no doubt had the same Saviour taught them by the Holy Ghost, still there was not in every case the same measure of entrance or appreciation. Paul had it not more suddenly than with a heavenly splendour which was peculiar to himself; and thus there was a vast work soon wrought. There was a bringing out of that which belonged to Christ, not merely the place which Christ took, but that which He is from all eternity, consequently that which is most of all intrinsically precious. He preached Him, and this boldly in the synagogue too, "that he is the Son of God." All that heard were amazed. "But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews that dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ." The doctrine of His Sonship did not in the smallest degree, of course, set aside the Messiahship. This remained; but he preached Him rather in His own personal glory, not as the Son of David, the servant, which was the great burden of Peter's preaching, made Lord and Christ; not that He was the Son of man in heaven, as Stephen witnessed; but that this Jesus, the Christ, is the Son of God, clearly therefore more particularly bound up with the divine nature, or godhead glory of Himself.

After this comes no slight discipline for Saul. As the Jews watched the gates to kill him, the disciples took him by night and let him down the wall in a basket. Thus we find the utmost simplicity and quietness. There is no show of doing great things; nor do we read of daring in any way: what is there of Christ in the one or the other? Contrariwise, we see that which outwardly looks exceedingly weak; but this was the man that was in another day to say that he gloried in his infirmities. He acts on that of which he afterwards wrote. He was led of God.

Then we learn another important lesson. "When Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple." God did not clothe him with such overwhelming influence that doors were thrown open to him though the greatest of the apostles. Oh why should any confessor of Christ why should any child of God shrink from rendering godly satisfaction to those that seek it? Why so much haste and impatience? Why should there be unwillingness to meet and submit to others when it is a question of reception? What earnest desire should there not be to bow to all that which is. due to the church of God? Here we find not even the apostle Paul was above it.

Not on the other hand that there ought to be a spirit of suspicion or distrust in the church or any Christian. I am far from saying that it was comely on their part to indulge in hesitation touching this wondrous display of divine grace. But what I want to press for our profit, beloved brethren, is that at any rate he who is the object of grace can afford to be gracious. Nor is there a more painful want of it than that kind of restiveness which is so ready to take offence at the smallest fear or anxiety on the part of others. Surely to shrink from their enquiries is nothing but self on our part. If Christ were the object of our souls, we should bow as one did called of God with incomparably better tokens of the Lord's favour than any other, this blessed man, Saul of Tarsus. But if the church were distrustful, the Lord was not unmindful, and knew how to give courage to the heart of His servant. There was among them a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, of whom we have had a happy report before, as we shall hear many (though not altogether unmingled) good tidings to the end. For indeed he was but man. Nevertheless, being a good man and full of the Holy Ghost, he seeks out and takes Saul to the apostles when others stood aloof, and declared unto them "how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus; and he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem." Grace can credit grace easily, understands the ways of the Lord, and disarms suspicion. it is beautiful to see how the Lord thus, even in the history of that which was unprecedented and might seem to lie outside Christian wants, provides in His blessed word for the every day difficulties we have to prove in such a day of weakness as ours.

After this wonderful working of God the church had rest. I say, "the church; " for there need be no doubt, I think, that such is the true form* of what is given us in verse 31. The common text and translations have "the churches;" but I believe that this faulty form crept in here, because the sense of the oneness of the church so speedily passed away. Hence people could not understand that it was one and the same church throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria. It was plain enough to see the Christian assembly in a city, even if it were as numerous as in Jerusalem, where it must have met in not a few different localities and chambers. The church, not merely in a city but in a province or country, is intelligible enough to man; but it soon became more difficult to see its unity in various and differing provinces. The change of reading here seems to prove it was too much for the copyists of this book. The reading sanctioned by the best and most ancient authorities is the singular not the churches, but "the church." "Then had the church rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria." Undoubtedly throughout these districts churches existed; but it was all one and the same church too, and not different bodies.

* The external authority is very decidedly for the singular against the plural. Thus all the first-rate Uncials, the Sinai, Vatican, Alexandrian, and Palimpsest of Paris, supported by some of the best cursives and all the best ancient versions, oppose the vulgar reading.

The following extract from the late Dr. Carson's Letters in reply to Dr. John Brown's Vindication of Presbyterianism will show how far an able and excellent man went astray in defending Congregationalism through not knowing that his argument was based, not on God's word, but on man's corruption of it. I quote from the original edition (Edinburgh, 1807): "Acts 11: 31. 'Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria,' etc.

Here I would be glad to know how this can be interpreted upon any other principle than that church in the single number was solely appropriated to a single congregation, when applied to an assembly of Christ's disciples. It is not the church of Judea, the church of Galilee, and the church of Samaria, but the churches of Judea, etc. Way, more, had these been Presbyterians, all under the same government, the phraseology would not have been even the church of Judea, and the church of Galilee, and the church of Samaria, but all these would have been in one church, and even then but a small part of a church. This phraseology would have been somewhat like this, 'The church had rest throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria,' i.e., the part of the church that lies in these countries." (p. 378.) How startled this good man but excessively keen controversialist must have been, had he learnt that, beyond all just question, the only tenable text here is destructive of the notion of independent churches, and in reality gives the appellation to the entire body of the disciples throughout these regions, as standing on one common ground, and enjoying full intercommunion, though in these different districts. But that branch of criticism which consists in a full knowledge of the sources, a nice discrimination of the various readings, and a sound judgment in deciding the preferable text, as it is rarely found, so it certainly was not the forte of Dr. C. One hundred and fifty years ago, Dr. E. Wells, in his "Help for the more easy and clear understanding of the Scriptures" (Oxford, 1718), not only adopted the singular in his Greek text and his English paraphrase, but pointed out in his Annotations the great weakness of the argument drawn by dissenters from the plural ἐκκλησίαι , as if it favoured their system of separate churches.

The end of the chapter shows us the progress of Peter. He visits round about. It was no longer a question of Jerusalem only even for Peter, but without being called to the same largeness of work practically as the apostle Paul, he nevertheless passes throughout "all quarters" of Palestine, and comes down to the saints at Lydda, and is seen by those of Saron. At Joppa too was wrought a still more striking miracle of the Lord in Tabitha's case, already dead, than in that of Eneas, who had been paralysed for years. On these I need only remark how grace used them for the spread of the testimony. "All that dwelt in Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord." "It was known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord." But at this point a still more important step was about to be taken; and the Lord enters on it with due solemnity, as we shall see in the following chapter. (Acts 10:1-48)

Little did the great apostle of the circumcision anticipate what was before him as he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner. For hence the Lord called him to a new sphere a task which, to a Jewish mind, was beyond measure strange. It would be a mistake to suppose that God had not wrought on the heart of Gentiles. We see such in the gospels. Cornelius was one of those who, among the Gentiles, had abandoned idolatry; but more than this was sometimes found. There were Gentiles who truly looked to the Lord, and not to self or man; who had been taught of Him to look for a coming Saviour, though they quite rightly connected that Saviour with Israel; for such was the burden of the promise. As there was a Job in the Old Testament, independent of the law and perhaps before it, so we find a Cornelius before the glad tidings in the New Testament had been formally sent to the nations. All know that there were Jews waiting for the Saviour. It is of interest to see, and should be better known, that among the Gentiles were not wanting such as worshipped no idols but served the true and living God. No doubt their spiritual condition was defective, and their outward position must have seemed anomalous; but Scripture is decisive that such godly Gentiles there were.

It is a fallacy then to suppose that Cornelius had no better than merely natural religion. He was assuredly, before Peter went, a converted man. To regard him as unawakened at that time is to mistake a great deal of the teaching of the chapter. Not that one would deny that a mighty work was then wrought in Cornelius. We must not limit, as ignorant people do, the operation of the Holy Spirit to the new birth. No man in his natural state could pray, nor serve God acceptably, as Cornelius did. One must be born again; but, like many others who had really been quickened in those days (and it may be even now, I presume), a soul might be born again, and yet far from resting in peace on redemption, far indeed from a sense of deliverance from all questions as to his soul. There is this difference, no doubt, between such cases now and that of Cornelius then, that, before the mission of Peter, it would have been presumptuous for a Gentile to have pretended to salvation; now it is the fruit of unbelief for a believer to question it. A soul that now looks to Jesus ought to rest without question on redemption; but we must remember that at this time Jesus was not yet publicly preached to the Gentiles not yet freely and fully proclaimed according to the riches of grace. Therefore, the more godly Cornelius was, the less would he dare to put forth his hand for the blessing before the Lord told him to stretch it out. He did what, I have no doubt, was the right thing. He was truly in earnest before God. As we are told here and the Spirit delights to give such an account "he was a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway."

Such was the man to whom God was about to send the gospel by Peter. Thus we must carefully remember that the gospel brings more than conversion to God. It is the message of life, but it is also the means of peace. Before the gospel was preached to every creature, a new nature was communicated to many a soul; but till then there was not and could not be peace. The two things are both brought us in the gospel life brought to light, and the peace preached that was made by the blood of the cross. At the same time scripture shows there might be and often was an interval after the gospel did go forth. So from experience we know there is many a man that you cannot doubt to be truly looking to the Lord, yet far from resting in the peace of God. Cornelius, I apprehend, was just in this case. He would no more have perished, had it pleased God to have taken him away in this state, than any Old Testament saint, whether Jew or Gentile. No believer could be so ignorant of God and His ways of old as to imagine there ought to be any doubt about those who nevertheless were full of anxieties and troubles, and through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

Even now, although it is the gospel that God sends out, we know well how many, through a misuse of Old Testament teaching, plunge themselves into distress and doubt. God does not suggest a doubt of His own grace to them, or of the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice for them: unbelief does. It was not so with Cornelius. He was not entitled to take the peace of the gospel till God warranted Peter to bring it to him. This was precisely what God was now doing; and the remarkable fact appears, that God did not wait for the apostle of the Gentiles to bring the good news to Cornelius. Is not this interlacing after a divine sort? It was not to be done by mere systematic rule of a human pattern. But just as the great apostle of the Gentiles was the one that wrote the final word of testimony to the Christian Jews in the epistle to the Hebrews, so the great apostle of the Jews was the one sent to fling open the door to the Gentile. It was Peter, not Paul, who was sent to Cornelius. The chapter itself proves that he had to be forced to go. He seems to have lost sight of the words of the Lord Jesus that he was told by Jesus risen from the dead to preach the gospel to every creature. There was to be a testimony to an the nations. The promise was not merely to them and to their children, but to all "afar off, as many as the Lord their God should call." At any rate, the Lord now graciously interferes, and as he gives Cornelius to see a vision most instructive to him, so next day also there is to Peter another vision from the Lord.

Answering to the vision, messengers bring the apostle to the household of Cornelius, and Peter opens his mouth to the following effect: "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:) that word, I say, ye know." I call your attention to this. Cornelius was not in ignorance of the gospel going out to the children of Israel, but it was precisely because he was a lowly-minded believer that he did not therefore arrogate the blessing to himself. The very essence of faith is that you do not run before God, but receive what and as He sends to you. God had published it already to the sons of Israel, and the good man rejoiced in it. But for himself and his household, what could he do but pray till the rich blessing came? He valued the ancient people of God; nor is he indeed the only centurion that loved their nation. We are told of another who also built for the Jews their synagogue. Thus Cornelius was aware that God had sent the gospel to the Jews; but there was precisely where he necessarily stopped short. Was that word for him?

"That word ye know," says Peter, "which was published throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him . . . whom they slew and hanged on a tree: him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly" (not to all the people, but) "unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people." Clearly the Jew is meant. "He commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever," etc.

Here comes the telling word for him that feared the Lord and bowed to His word, though he was a Gentile. "Whosoever believeth on him shall receive remission of sins." Peter had not long learnt it himself. Had he not read or heard those words in the prophets? No doubt he had read them many a time, but no better than we have read them, and many other words likewise; and how little we understood any of them to profit until the mighty power of God gave it efficacy in our souls! In this case Peter had God's own direct warrant in the vision, not of the church (for this was not the meaning of the sheet let down from heaven), but decidedly of the call of the Gentiles. It was the obliterating of mere fleshly distinction between Jew and Gentile. God was meeting sinners as such, whatever they might be, giving no doubt a heavenly character to what had a heavenly source with a heavenly result. But there is not yet the revealed truth of the body, though involved in the word of the Lord to Saul of Tarsus when he said, "Why persecutest thou me?" Here it is not this, but simply the indiscriminate. grace of God to sinners of the Gentiles as certainly as to the Jews to those who, in the judgment of the Jews, were nothing but refuse, vile, and unclean.

Peter then, with this new-born conviction in his soul, reads the prophets with entirely fresh light and other eyes. Full of the truth himself, he speaks with the utmost simplicity to Cornelius, who with his household hears the blessed word. "To him give all the prophets witness." It was one concurrent evidence. "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him." There is no question of a Jew, but "Whosoever believeth in him." Alas! the Jews did not believe in Him; but whosoever did, let him be Jew or Gentile, "shall receive remission of sins." This precisely Cornelius had not known, nor could any one have known it till the work of redemption was done. The Old Testament saints were just as safe before the work of Christ as they were afterwards, but this work put them on a ground of conscious salvation before God. It was not a question of being saved in the day of judgment; nor is this the meaning of the term "salvation" in the New Testament. Salvation means that the heart enters into deliverance by grace as a present known public standing in the world. Nobody could have this till the gospel, and even after its publication God Himself sent specifically to the Gentiles; for He has His ways, as well as His times and seasons. God will always be Himself, and cannot be other than Sovereign.

Thus we see God had allowed things apparently to take their course. Israel had the truth presented to them as it was afterwards to all. It was their responsibility now as ever to accept the gracious offer of God. If Israel would have received, the Lord would have given. It was even, and urgently, pressed on them, but they refused with disdain the message, and rejected the messengers to blood. Accordingly the rejection of the very witness of Christ, speaking by the Holy Ghost the rejection of Him to heaven becomes the turning-point; and then by the Lord from heaven is now called forth the witness of grace as well as of the glory of Christ. Finally, after the call of Saul of Tarsus, Peter himself (as well for other reasons as in order to cut off the semblance of discord in the various instruments of His grace) is brought in to show the perfect balance of divine truth and the wonderful harmony of His ways. Thus the church would still retain its substantial character, and the testimony of God still bear the same common likeness, while room was left for whatever speciality of form God might be pleased to give the truth, and the unfolding of the ways in which God might employ one or another. Peter was the one then, not Paul, that announced the gospel to Cornelius, who by the Holy Ghost received it, and was not merely safe but saved. It was no longer simply a cleaving to a God of goodness who could not deceive and would not disappoint the soul that hoped in His mercy, "but the conscious joy of knowing his sins all one, and himself distinctly put on the ground of accomplished redemption as a known present thing for his own soul in this world. Such is salvation.

"While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost." Thus on the great Gentile occasion, as before on the Jewish at Pentecost, the medium of man completely disappears. It was as thoroughly according to God that the apostle should not lay his hands on any this day, as it was according to His wisdom that they should lay their hands on the Samaritans. It is granted that man sees difficulty in this: there is what he cannot reconcile; but be assured that the great point is, first, to believe. Settle it invariably that God is wiser than we. Is this too much to ask? After all, though it seems so simple as to be a truism, though nothing can well be conceived more certain; nevertheless, practically it is not always the plainest and surest truth that carries all before it in our souls. But to believe is the secret of real growth in the revealed wisdom of God.

On this occasion they of the circumcision see that the Gentiles receive the gift of the Holy Ghost; for they hear them speak with tongues and magnify God, and they were astonished. Then Peter says to them, "Can any man forbid water?" It was a public privilege he was warranted to confer on the Gentiles thus baptized of the Spirit. Water baptism is neither slighted nor is it put forward as a command or condition. The previous gift of the Spirit without the intervention of any human hand was the most effectual stopper on the mouths of the brethren of the circumcision who were ever prone to object, and would surely have forbidden water, if God had not undeniably given them the unspeakable gift of the Spirit. But this manifestation and fruit of gracious power silenced even the unruly and hard spirits of the circumcision. "And he commanded them to be baptized."

It may be observed passingly, that thus plainly baptizing is in no way a necessarily ministerial act. It may be all right and in perfect keeping that one preaching the gospel should baptize; but occasion might well arise where he who preached would avoid it himself. We know that Paul thanked God that so it was with himself at Corinth; and we see that Peter here did not baptize, but simply "commanded them to be baptized." God is always wise. It is too familiar how soon human superstition perverted this blessed institution of the Lord into a sacramental means of grace, duly administered by one in the line of succession.

The next chapter (Acts 11:1-30) shows us Peter having to give an account of himself before those who had not witnessed the effects of the mighty power of God in the house of Cornelius. When the matter is rehearsed, the great argument is this, "Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God?" This brought the question to a simple issue; but here again, let it be noticed that the gift of the Holy Ghost belongs to those that believe. It is not His operation in enabling souls to believe, but a precious boon given to such as believed. "When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." The Spirit of God alone quickens a person by faith in Christ. Without the action of the Holy Ghost faith is impossible; but this capacitating power and the gift of the Holy Ghost are two very different things, and the latter consequent on the former. If God had given them the Holy Ghost, as was manifest in sensible results, it was very evident that they must have by God's grace had repentance unto life. The Spirit given to the believer was a privilege over and above faith, and supposed, therefore, their repentance unto life.

Then follows another grave fact. It appears that the scattered men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who had gone in consequence of the persecution everywhere, and among other places to Antioch, preaching the word to none but the Jews, took courage now and spoke (not to the Grecians - for this had been done long ago, but) unto the Greeks, preaching the Lord Jesus." Those to whom they addressed themselves were really Gentiles. The word "Grecians" does not mean "Greeks," but rather Greek-speaking Jews; to whom the gospel had been preached long before, as the cases of Stephen, for instance, and Philip clearly testify. Acts 6:1-15; Acts 6:1-15 shows us the party in question murmuring. They were in the church already. But the point here is lost in our English version. There is a mistake, not only in our vernacular Bible, but also in the common Greek text which is equally faulty as the authorized version. The true text,* which has sufficient if not the most ancient authority, tells us that they spoke to Greeks or Gentiles. Thus we see the Lord was working, and, as so constantly happens, it was not only that He called out Paul for the Gentiles; it was not only that He sent Peter to a Gentile; but now these men, who might have been despised as irregular labourers, were in the current of the same work of God, even if they knew nothing of it, save by divine instinct.

*The copyists of old seem to have confounded in writing, as the Latin and most other ancient translators did in rendering, Ἕλληνας (Greeks) and Ἑλληνιστὰς (Hellenists), here and elsewhere. Thus it might seem incredible, if it were not the notorious fact, that the only two known manuscripts in favour of that which is here most certainly requisite are the Alexandrian and the Cambridge Graeco-Latin of Beza. The Vatican and all others, uncial and cursive (as far as collated and known), support the error. Of the fathers, Eusebius among the Greek, and Cassiodorus among the Latins, are in favour of the true; others are in strange conflict, their text having the wrong reading (perhaps through mistaken scribes), and their comment correcting it. The reading of the Sinai MS. ( εὐαγγελιστὰς ) is a mere blunder, not uncommon in that most ancient but not very accurate document, arising from confusion through a contiguous word; it would give the sense of "unto the preachers, preaching the Lord Jesus." But the correction confirms the true reading.

The importance of closer attention to the text is well shown by Calvin's remarks on this verse. He was led into no small perplexity by the reading current in his day, and, to the shame of Christendom, still tolerated as the received reading. Yet his masculine good sense held to the truth, though he did not know the solid basis on which it here stands. I cite from the Calvin Tr. Society's edition of his Comm. on the Acts, i. pp. 466, 467. "Luke doth at length declare that certain of them brought this treasure even unto the Gentiles. And Luke calleth these Grecians not Ἑλληνες but Ἑλληνισται [?]. Therefore some say that those came of the Jews, yet did they inhabit Greece [and these would be right if the reading had been really Ἑλληνιστὰς and not Ἑλληνὰς ]; which I do not allow. For seeing the Jews, whom he mentioned a little before, were partly of Cyprus, they must needs be reckoned in that number, because the Jews count Cyprus a part of Greece. But Luke distinguisheth them from those, whom he calleth afterward Ἑλληνιστας [this is precisely where he is mistaken; his reasoning is sound, but his knowledge defective]. Furthermore, forasmuch as he had said that the word was preached at the beginning only by the Jews, and he meant those who, being banished out of their own country, did live in Cyprus and Phenice, correcting this exception, he saith that some of them did teach the Grecians. This contrariety doth cause me to expound it of the Gentiles." Quite right: only the true text delivers from the need of wresting the force of a word, and is as simply as possible Greeks, not Grecians, and means Gentiles without the smallest difficulty or discussion.

But it is still more strange as evidence of the slipshod criticism of the Reformers that Beza, who was more of a scholar than his predecessors, uniformly edits Ἑλληνιστὰς , and writes a blundering note to the effect that it is here used in the sense of Ἑλληνάς . And yet he had in his possession that famous Graeco-Latin Uncial (D) which he presented to the University of Cambridge in 1581, which MS. supports the Alexandrian.

How blessed it is to see the free activity of the Holy Ghost without any kind of communication of man! It is always thus in the ways of God. It is not only that God uses one and another: this He does and we may bless Him that so He does; but the God who employs means is also above them, and He needs now only to draw out by circumstances the souls of some simple Christian men who had faith and love to seek the Gentiles without requiring the same vigorous and extraordinary means, under His mighty hand, as even the apostle did. Great workman as Peter was, he required the intervention of God in a vision to send him to do a work that these unnamed brethren undertook in their confidence of His grace, without any vision or sign whatsoever. It seems to have been the working of divine grace in their souls, and nothing else. At first they were more timid; they spoke only to Jews. By and by the power of the gospel and the action of the Holy Ghost fill their souls with desires as to the need of others. The Gentiles were sinners: why should they not dare to speak to the Gentiles? "And the hand of the Lord was with them," as we are told, "and a great number believed and turned unto the Lord." But what a rebuke is this to those that would make the church to be merely a creature of government, or in any wise to be of man's will, which is still worse, How blessed to see that it is a real organic whole, not only a living thing, but that He who is the spring of its life is the Holy Ghost Himself a divine person, who cannot but answer to the grace of the Lord Jesus whom He is come down to glorify.

Next we find Barnabas stirred up to another and a characteristic enterprise. He had before this delivered Saul from the effects of undue anxiety and distrust in the minds of the disciples. He would have Saul to return good for what I may venture to call a measure of evil towards him. As there was need in the church at Antioch, he goes and finds him. He had a conviction that this was the instrument the Lord would use for good. Thus we see that, while we have the angel of the Lord in certain cases, the Spirit of the Lord expressly in others, we have also simply the holy judgment of the gracious heart. This is all quite right. It is not to be treated as mere human arrangement. It was not only right, but recorded of God that we might see and profit by it. Barnabas was quite justified in seeking Saul. "And it came to pass that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." The place once so famous for its nicknames was now to give a name that will never perish a name of incalculable sweetness and blessing, connecting Christ as it does with those that are His. It was, no doubt, a Gentile title. There would be no particular force in giving it to Jews, for all Jews professed to be looking for Christ. What a wonderful change for these poor Gentiles to know Christ for themselves, and to be called after Christ! All was ordered of God.

Then we find that if the church at Jerusalem had become impoverished, the Gentiles minister of their carnal things to them. Saul (as he is still called) and Barnabas are made the channels of bringing the contributions to the elders not named before. How these elders were appointed, if indeed they were so formally, does not appear. Among the Gentiles we know that they were installed, as we shall see a little later, by apostolic choice. Whether this was the ease among the Jews scripture does not say; but that there were persons who had this responsible place among them, as among the Gentile churches afterwards, we see clearly.

Finally, and in few words (for I do not intend to say more on Acts 12:1-25 tonight), we have the completing of this second part of our narrative in this chapter. We are given a striking prefiguration of the evil king that will be found in the latter day; he that will reign over the Jews under the shadow and support of the Gentiles as Herod was, and not less but more than his prototype bent on the murder of the innocents, and with his heart full of evil for others who will be rescued by the goodness of the Lord.

James sheds his blood, as Stephen had before; for this Peter was destined by man, but the Lord disappointed him. The disciples gave themselves to prayer, yet they little believed their own prayers. Nevertheless we learn hence that they had prayer-meetings in those days; and so they gave themselves up to this special prayer for the servant of the Lord, who did not fail to appear by an agent of His providential power. All this confirms its having a Jewish aspect, regarded as a type, and was very natural in James and Peter, who had to do specially with the circumcision.

It is needless now to dwell on the scene, more than just to point out that which is familiar, no doubt, to many that are here the manner in which the Lord judged the apostate; for Herod owned shortly after by the people whom he had sought to please, disappointed in one place, but exalted in another was hailed as a god; and at that moment the angel of the Lord deals with his pride, and he is devoured of worms a sad image of the awful judgment of God that will fall upon one who will sit "in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God."

In the portion which follows we shall see the manner of the Spirit of God's working by the great apostle of the Gentiles.


It may be interesting to many readers to read as follows from Mr. Edward A. Litton's work on "The Church of Christ in its Idea, Attributes, and Ministry; with a particular reference to the Controversy between Romanists and Protestants." There are, of course, imperfect expressions, inasmuch as the truth itself is but partially apprehended; but one is glad to see views so decidedly in advance of ordinary evangelicalism, with equal decision against more churchism.

"In the opening chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, the Christian dispensation is seen in actual operation; for that with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost that dispensation properly commences will probably be admitted by all parties. Moreover, in these chapters the Church of Christ is first spoken of as in actual existence. What in our Lord's discourses is a matter of anticipation or prophecy, here appears as a matter of fact. Though not at first fully aware of the great change which had taken place in their religious standing, still less of its ultimate consequences, the first believers at once formed a separate community in the bosom of the Jewish theocracy; a community having, for its distinctive marks, adherence to the twelve Apostles, baptism in the name of Christ, and the celebration of the Lord's Supper.* Thenceforth the Church becomes a matter of history; and its history is nothing less than that of the vicissitudes, prosperous and adverse, which the kingdom of God upon earth has in the lapse of ages passed through.

*Is it not distressing to find, in this thoughtful production of one in much above the traditions of men and the bias of party, the palpable omission of the grandest and most momentous distinction of the church, namely, the presence of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven? Unbelief here is alas! characteristic of Christendom.

"It has already been remarked that, far from intending to establish a mere invisible fellowship of the Spirit, our Lord contemplated His Church as having a visible existence, His followers as collected into societies [that society called the Church or assembly of God]. With this view He Himself instituted certain external badges of Christian profession, to come into use when they should be needed, and took measures to qualify a small and select company of believers, by attaching them constantly to His person while His earthly ministry lasted, and giving them a formal commission with extraordinary powers, when He left the world, to preside over the affairs and direct the organisation of Christian societies. These essential conditions of the existence of any regular society we find from the very first in being in the Church: the Apostles were the officers, and, collectively, the organ of the community; members were admitted into it by baptism; and they testified their continuance therein by participating in the sacrament of Christ's body and blood. As we advance farther in the inspired history, we find additions made to these simple elements of social fellowship; the organisation of the Christian society becomes more complex and systematic; questions of polity and order occupy no small portion of the apostolic epistles; and we have every reason to believe, if not from Scripture alone, yet from the unanimous voice of authentic history, that towards the close of the apostolic age Christianity had almost everywhere crystallised itself into a certain, definite, and well known form of ecclesiastical polity" (pp. 192, 193).

"St. Paul, in chap 14 of the first epistle to the Corinthians, presents us with a graphic picture of the mode in which Christians in the first age of the Church celebrated public worship. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper constituted the visible symbol of their profession, and the pledge of their union with Christ and with each other; but the governing function in the assembly was the ministry of the Word, whether it assumed the extraordinary forms of 'tongues' or a 'revelation,' or 'prophecy,' or 'the interpretation of tongues,' or consisted of the stated instruction of regular pastors and teachers. Among the various spiritual gifts then common in the Church, the chief place was to be assigned to prophecy; 'for he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.' Of any typical or sacrificial element, St. Paul makes no mention: the whole service, with the exception of the Lord's Supper, was manifestly homiletic or verbal. That the gifts mentioned in the chapter were, for the most part, extraordinary, and in process of time were to cease, makes no difference as regards the argument; for it is the essential character of Christian worship, not the particular vehicle of its expression, that is the point now under consideration" (pp. 256, 257),

"The Church of Christ was not properly in existence before the day of Pentecost; much less did she, before that era, go forth on her mission to evangelize* the world. A body of believers indeed had been by Christ gathered out of the Jewish people to be the first recipients of the Pentecostal effusion; but before that event, this body could not be called distinctively His Church. It is, then, nothing but the fact, that the invisible Church, or rather that which in the Church is invisible, preceded that which is visible. The spiritual power which wrought so wonderful a change in the Apostles must first descend from heaven, and give to the Church its inner form as its spiritual characteristic! afterwards the Apostles preach and organize. First, there are saints, or men in whom Christ is formed by an invisible operation of His Spirit, whose origin, however, is not unknown; then these saints proceed to execute their appointed mission" (p. 272).

* It is well to avoid a figure which churchism has ever turned to its own aggrandisement and the Lord's dishonour. The Church neither preaches nor teaches, but Christ sends those who evangelize the world and teach the Church.

"Were the question put to a person of plain understanding, unacquainted with the controversies which have arisen on the subject, What, according to the Apostolic Epistles, is a Christian Church, or, how is it to be defined? he would probably, without hesitation or difficulty, reply, that a Christian Church as it appears, for example, in St. Paul's epistles is a congregation or society of faithful men or believers, whose unseen faith in Christ is visibly manifested by their profession of certain fundamental doctrines, by the administration and reception of the two sacraments, and by the exercise of discipline. He would direct attention to the fact, that the ordinary greeting of St. Paul, at the beginning of each epistle, is to the 'saints and faithful brethren' constituting the Church of such a place, fellow-heirs with himself of eternal life; and that throughout these compositions, the members of the Church are presumed to be in living union with Christ, reasonings and exhortations being addressed to them, the force of which cannot be supposed to be admitted, except by those who are led by the Spirit of God; in short, that the members of the Corinthian or the Ephesian Church are addressed as Christians; and a Christian is one who is in saving union with Christ."

"In proportion to the apparent simplicity of the question, would be his surprise to hear it affirmed that he is mistaken, and that, in addressing a Christian society as a congregation of Christians, St. Paul merely regards it as a society of men professing the same faith, and participating outwardly in the same sacraments (it being immaterial to the idea whether they possess saving faith or not); a society invested with spiritual privileges, but not necessarily realizing those privileges, and that, consequently, we must lower the import of the terms, 'saints' and 'faithful in Christ Jesus,' to signify outwardly dedicated to God, and professing with the lips the doctrines of Christianity . . . . . That the mode of interpretation alluded to involves a deviation from the obvious meaning of the New Testament phraseology is not, indeed, sufficient reason for at once rejecting it; but it does warrant us in requiring that the necessity for such deviation shall be clearly made out. And in the present case this requirement is the more reasonable from the circumstance that the Apostles uniformly identify themselves, as regards their Christian standing and hopes, with those to whom they write. 'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ;' 'that I may be comforted by the mutual faith both of you and me;' did St. Paul, when he thus wrote, regard himself as but nominally interested in the blessings of redemption? Was his faith nothing more than a profession of Christian doctrine? If he must have meant something more than this; if his own faith and his own sanctity were living and real, the effect of the Holy Spirit's operation; then, inasmuch as he makes no distinction as regards this point between himself and those whom he addresses, we must suppose that he looked upon them also as real saints and believers. The language of the inspired writers of the New Testament is the expression of that Christian experience, or conscious participation in the blessings vouchsafed through Christ, which the Holy Ghost had shed abroad in their hearts: their idea therefore of a saint, or a believer, being derived from their own spiritual consciousness, must have been the highest of which the words will admit. But in the sense in which they supposed themselves to be Christians, do they, to all appearance, apply that title to those to whom they write" (pp. 280-283).

To the argument drawn from the use of similar terms under the Mosaic covenant in a merely national and external sense to prove that they mean the same, and nothing more, under the gospel., our author answers, "Here, in fact, is the real source of the error. While the typical character of the Mosaic institution in general is recognised, it has not been sufficiently borne in mind that the Jewish nation itself in its external or political aspect, was a type, and nothing more, of the Christian Israel . . . . . . We have only to extend this undoubted principle of interpretation to the Jewish people itself in its national that is, its legal-character, to perceive that the terms by which, in the Old Testament, its privileges are expressed, assume, when applied to Christians, a different meaning, or rather betoken the spiritual realities of which the former were but the types" (pp. 286, 287).

"To all this, however, it will be replied, that the nature of a visible church, which we know must in all cases be a body of mixed character, as well as the actual state of several of the churches to whom St. Paul addressed his epistles, forbid the supposition that, in terming them communities of saints and believers, he could have used these words in their highest signification. This is the second difficulty which it is conceived lies in the way of our interpreting the apostle's language literally. But a moment's reflection will show that the difficulty is only imaginary. We must recollect that in the Apostolic Church an effective discipline the very idea of which seems to be lost amongst us existed. By means of this discipline, they having been separated from the society whose overt acts were contrary to their Christian profession, the apostle, not being endowed with the divine prerogative of inspecting the heart, was compelled to take the rest at their profession, and to deal with them as real Christians so long as there was no visible, tangible proof to the contrary . . . . . Without pronouncing upon the state of individuals in the sight of God, he assumed the whole body to be what they professed to be a body of real Christians. For it must be remembered that, however far his profession may be from being a true one, every professor of Christianity professes to be a true, not a mere nominal, Christian. Except on this assumption the apostle could not have proceeded to enforce Christian duties by Christian motives" (pp. 298, 299).

"Nor is there any weight in the objection that many of these primitive Churches were very defective in doctrine or in, practice, or in both; that St. Paul speaks of the Corinthians as being, on account of their divisions, 'carnal,' and not 'spiritual,' as 'babes in Christ,' and sharply reproves them for their laxity of discipline in the case of the incestuous person, and their want of discipline in the celebration of the Lord's Supper. For it is not maintained that the first Christians, any more than those of our own day, were or could be perfect; and all that can be fairly gathered from what St. Paul says of the Corinthians is, that they were imperfect and inconsistent. In the remarks sometimes made upon this subject it seems to be assumed that there is no medium between our affirming of persons that they are not perfect Christians, and that they are not Christians at all; whereas in fact there is no Christian, however holy, who comes up to the ideal of Christian practice. . . . To return to the case of the Corinthians: on what principle, let us ask, did St. Paul reprove them for their inconsistencies? Did he address them as absolutely destitute of the vital principle of grace, or as possessing it, but needing exhortation to walk conformably thereto? The latter is, unquestionably, the ground which he takes" (pp. 302, 303).

"Christianity, as it appears in the New Testament, knows nothing of the atomistic theory of modern independentism. There can be little doubt that, even in the apostolic age, the church of each considerable city such as Rome or Ephesus consisted, not of one congregation, but of several, who were collectively styled the church of that place; certain it is that such was the case towards the close of the first century. It could not be otherwise. The expansive power of Christianity called it to break forth on all sides; and speedily the original congregation, or in modern language the mother church, of each city gave birth to other societies of Christians in the surrounding neighbourhood. . . . No notion is more at variance with the spirit of apostolic Christianity than that of societies of Christians existing in the same neighbourhood, but not in communion with each other, and not under 'common government'" (pp. 449, 450).

It is a perilous mode of reasoning and likely to lead to universal scepticism, to maintain, for the sake of theoretical consistency, that the visible fruits of the Spirit do not possess a sufficiently distinctive character to enable us to pronounce where they are and where they are not: not to mention that the sin of denying the evident operation of the Holy Spirit is spoken of by our Lord in terms far too awful not to make us tremble at the thought of verging towards it. The fruits of the Spirit, whether they be produced within our own inclosure or beyond it, are always the same, and always to be recognized; otherwise our Lord would never have given us the simple test whereby we are to distinguish false from true prophets 'by their fruits ye shall know them.' If men profess themselves not to be able to do so, they simply profess that they have neither consciences nor moral sense." [Alas! the power of the Spirit to this end is lost sight of.] . . .

"One visible manifestation, then, of the sanctity of the Church is the holy walk and conversation of individual Christians; but there is another, and more formal, mode in which she professes herself to be holy, and that is, by the exercise of discipline. The personal holiness of the Christian is a property of the individual, not of the society as such; hence a professing Christian society, however large a proportion of holy men it may contain, does not predicate of itself that it is a part of Christ's holy Church as long as it exercises no formal official act implying that assumption. The exercise of discipline is the true and legitimate expression of the sanctity of a visible Church considered as a society. Hence the great importance of discipline. It is not merely that the absence of it operates injuriously upon the tone and standard of piety within the Church; it affects the claims of the society as such to be a legitimate member of the visible Church Catholic. A Christian society which should openly profess to dispense with discipline, and tolerate on principle open and notorious evil doers [or still worse heretics, Antichrists, or their abettors] within its pale, would thereby renounce its title to one of the essential attributes of the Church; it would sever all ostensible connection between itself and the true Church [or rather Christ and His sacrifice: see1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 ], of which sanctity is an inseparable property; in short, it would unchurch itself. For every particular church is so, called on the supposition of its being a manifestation, more or less true, of the one holy Church the body of Christ. . . . How essential to the idea of a Church the exercise of discipline is, may be seen from the embarrassing contrarieties between theory and practice which the virtual suspension of it in the Church of England is constantly occasioning" (pp. 515-517).

Bibliographical Information
Kelly, William. "Commentary on Acts 9". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/wkc/acts-9.html. 1860-1890.
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