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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Acts 14

 

 

Verses 1-7

Chapter43

Prayer

Almighty God, do thou come to us as the light; make morning in our hearts; let the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings, and flood our souls with the dawn of heaven. Thou knowest how our eyes are filled with darkness, and how our feet stumble like those who walk in the night; but if thou wilt come to us, the gloom shall flee away, the whole sky shall burn with glory, and our life shall be a joyous advance amid the increasing splendours of day. Thy Son our Saviour is the Light of the world. In him is light, and there is no darkness at all. May he be amidst his saved ones, walking in their midst as their light, their salvation, and their defence. Recall by his presence all his ministry; then shall we hasten to Bethlehem to see the Child Jesus, and to the temple, and to all the way of the cities and the villages which he visited, and we shall find Golgotha, Calvary, the Cross, and see the blood and know its meaning, and watch by the grave until death is swallowed up in victory. Thus in the presence of his life on earth shall we see the meaning of his ministry in heaven, and great and elevating comfort shall lift up our souls to a new level of existence, and sacred joys shall drive away all earthly sorrows, until our hearts shall be as temples of God. If we breathe great prayers in thy hearing, it is because thou hast first breathed them into our hearts. Lord, thou dost teach us how to pray; thou dost not inspire the prayer and then deny it; thine answer is as large as thine inspiration. So are we comforted by replies from the throne of grace. We will not be downcast into despair by reason of our sin; we will rather be driven by it to penitence, to broken-heartedness, and to the contrition which brings sweet hope and tender grace; thus our sin shall open wider the door of thy love; where sin abounded, grace shall much more abound, and out of a bitter root shall there arise a tree the fruit of which shall be good. Thou art our Lord and God, the source of our being and the source of our regeneration; and because of this faith, we are strong today, looking upon all the incidents of time with a calm and patient contemplation, knowing that thou art sitting on the circle of the earth, that all things are in thy right hand, that not a sparrow falleth to the ground without thee; and comforted and strengthened by this deep and sacred trust, we wait and watch and sing in the night time, and above the morning glory we see a still brighter light. We come always to thee as thou wilt, and as our sin necessitates. By no golden stair of our own making do we climb—we come by the way of the Cross; we have not found any other way into the court of thy righteousness, or into the presence of thy mercy; in our right hand is blood, in our left hand is blood, upon our head is blood—the blood of Jesus Christ thy Song of Solomon , which cleanseth from all sin, answering every charge of the law, repelling every suggestion of despair, and drawing us into deeper and tenderer trust in the living God, the Saviour of all mankind. If all our days are few and evil, thou canst make them many and good. The disappointments of time thou canst sanctify, the losses of earth thou canst make up to us until we forget their distress—yea, the grave itself is the field on which thy greatest miracles can be seen. Thou who dost bring creation out of the void, thou who dost find order and beauty in the midst of tumult and shapelessness, wilt also bid death, cold and dumb, arise and stand up and forget itself in the glow of immortality. This is thy sweet Gospel, thou who once wast crowned with thorns and pierced with spears, Man of the Cross, Creator of the world; and we receive it and answer it, and will live in its spirit, and die in its light, by the mighty energy and tender and continual comfort of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Acts 14:1-7

1. And it came to pass in Iconium [fifty miles from Antioch] that they entered together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that [cf. "so that" in John 3:16] a great multitude both of Jews and of Greeks [i.e, uncircumcised proselytes of the gate, Acts 13:43] believed.

2. But the Jews that were disobedient [to this word] stirred up the souls of the [heathen] Gentiles, and made them evil affected against the brethren [literally: "stirred up and exasperated the souls," etc, Psalm 106:32. Jews excited all the persecutions of the Acts except two].

3. Long time therefore [because of the faith of some, and of the disobedience of others to the Gospel] they tarried there speaking boldly in the Lord, which bare witness unto the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.

4. But [the second, unfavourable, consequence of the faith and disobedience] the multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the Apostles.

5. And when there was made an onset [a "movement," not an actual onslaught] both of the Gentiles [ Acts 14:2] and of the Jews with their rulers [the conspiracy was Jewish in its organization, cf. Philippians 1:1] to entreat them shamefully, and to stone them,

6. They became aware of it, and fled unto the [minor] cities of Lycaonia [Pliny states that Iconium was still the capital of the "Lycaonian tetrarchy." The Gauls or Galatians who had dispossessed the former Phrygian owners of Central Asia Minor, in the third century before Christ, had divided themselves into12tetrarchies. Amyntas "fed his300 flocks" in Lycaonia, before becoming king of all Galatia. After his death Galatia was organized as a Roman province. This Lycaonian "region of Galatia" was revisited by Paul (as related in Acts 16:6, and Acts 18:23). To these Galatians Paul wrote his epistle], Lystra and Derbe, and the region [of Galatia] round about7. And there they preached the Gospel.

Persecution Turned Into Inspiration

THE Apostles had finished their work in the Antioch of Pisidia in a great storm. Can that be true, a sweet word of God, which so violently impassions men and divides quiet cities into hostile camps? It would seem as if the heavenly word would surely bring heavenly peace along with it, and seal its divinity by composing into enduring rest all controversy and discord. That is our narrow and sophistical reasoning. The Son of man came not to send peace on the earth, but a sword. Do not think that I have come to send peace on the earth; I have come to send fire. That is the idea which we have lost. Now that the Apostles have come to Iconium, they will act in a different manner. We correct ourselves by our mistakes, and thus we make today nobler than yesterday; but we find that such was not the case. There, in little beautiful Iconium, we have angry division, despiteful usage, and stoning! How is this? There must be an explanation beneath it all, otherwise we had better let Christianity alone. These histories throw some light upon what is called unanimity. We find that unanimity is now regarded as a virtue by some people. There is no more virtue in unanimity than there is in sincerity. If we have been thinking that sincerity is a virtue, we have been thinking on wrong lines. Unanimity is no virtue, sincerity is no virtue, earnestness is no virtue; we must ascertain what the unanimity is about, and what men are sincere in doing, and earnest in carrying out, because good fire may be used for the forging of bad instruments. Surely it was a pity for two wandering tent-makers to go from town to town, disturbing the unanimity of families and of townships! Why not let families and corporations alone? They are living peaceably, quietly, without controversy, without the spirit of hostility. Why not say, "Sleep on; yea in deeper slumber still take your rest"? Why this propagation of a fighting faith? Why this inauguration of controversy which brings with it stoning, imprisonment, fire and blood? This is the way of Christianity. It will not let people alone. Hence we find these histories throwing some light upon Christian doctrine, as well as upon unanimity. It was not a little puzzle to please the fancy, nor a pyrotechnic display around which the children gathered, and which they hailed with childlike pleasure and gratification. It was something very different. Christianity is not a suggestion; there is no "If you please" in the lips of Christianity; it saves, or slays. It builds high heaven, sunlighted and eternal, or it digs deep hell, and plunges into it all wickedness and unrighteousness, all rebellion and perverse disbelief. We are always open to suggestions if men will timidly whisper them and mealily refer to them circuitously, and in language which will admit of any number of modified interpretations; we are not the men to disdain them; but Christianity comes in and puts its foot down soundingly on the Church floor, and lifts itself up, and says, "What is this?" and then unfolds, in royal tone and noble speech, its revelation; and though smitten in the face, it lifts up a countenance, marred and broken, of indestructible beauty, and repeats the revelation which has thus been brutally received. What wonder if it came upon sleepy towns like the rushing of a thunderstorm, unparalleled, at midnight? Christianity is not a compromise; it does not come saying, "I can complete the line which you have drawn"; it does not propose to give a little and take a little, and make a quiet pacific arrangement with anybody; it comes with instruments that mean digging up and pulling down, and blowing all to pieces the proudest and strongest fortresses of man"s trust. We are always open to a compromise; we are willing to meet difficulties, and to adjust them by apparently fair and equitable concessions, but Christianity concedes nothing, admits nothing; Christianity insists upon having everything; it receives no suggestions, makes room for nothing else; it fills the whole space of the mind and heart. What wonder, then, that everywhere it broke up families, and set the father against the Song of Solomon , the mother against the daughter, and friend against friend? Seeing your hand locked in evil friendship, it does not hesitate to rend your hearts asunder; when all your papers are kept together in the same archives, and your secrets are whispered to one another in tender confidence, Christianity does not hesitate to set fire to the archives and the papers, and to blow the secrets away by a furious wind which cannot be stilled. Christianity says, "Behold, I make all things new." It will not say to a Prayer of Manasseh , "Hand me your work, and I will complete it; I will give the last touch of beauty to what you yourselves have been labouring upon successfully";—it comes with a mighty iron hammer, which it wields with an arm of omnipotence, and it shatters our brazen idols and all our best performances, smiting them in vital parts, and denouncing them with fierce righteousness. Then it must be a long time since we have seen anything of Christianity! So it is; we know nothing about it in these social aspects now—it is a name we sometimes conjure by. It is not the power of God—it is a theology, it is a controversy in words, it is a map of orthodoxy; if you will buy it, accept it, fold it up, and put it away—that is all that is often asked of you!

These histories throw some light upon Christian service. The ministry used to mean something—it means nothing heroic now. It is a profession. It is one of the learned professions! The ministry a profession! It was not much of a profession in the days of Paul and Barnabas, and their missionary visits and propagations of the faith. Christian service is the supreme passion: it puts out everything else, it has no partnerships, it has no relations except those which it can press into its own purpose and sacrifice. We must love the Sabbath more than the day that went before, or the day that comes after, if we arc truly in the Lord"s work, and bound to the altar hand and foot, head and heart. To us, then, there is only one day in the week, a seven-day-long Sunday,—Christ"s day, the Cross day, preaching day! It is not so sufficiently now. We mark off Sunday; we lock up the church; we attend to its business after all other business is done; we give our weariness where we ought to give our enthusiasm, and put out a stiff hand, cold and bloodless, where we ought to send forth a whole heart burning with the very heat of God"s own love. Christian service exposes to daily danger. If we have escaped the danger, it is because we have escaped the service. When did we ever rebuke a wrong-doer? We have talked about him when he was not there—that I admit; and that has proved our un-Christianity: about the latter there can be no doubt. When did we ever say to a man face to face—"You lie"? That would now be called discourtesy; but when were we ever licensed to be courteous to falsehood? Produce the charter which entitles you to treat a liar as a gentleman. Christianity is not a book of etiquette—it is a book of commandments, statutes, precepts, a gospel of righteousness as well as a gospel of compassion. When did we ever stand before a house, and say, "This house must come down if the price be fivefold what it will fetch in the market; it must come down, it is a trapdoor into hell, and it must fall"? Let a man say that, and he will soon see that England is like Antioch and Iconium, and all the other scenes of apostolic labour and sacrifice. But if we come into the church, pass through the services, hasten away home again, and lose ourselves in controversy that has no heavenly accent and no heavenly savour, I wonder not that we pass our days and nights very composedly, and that we are going to heaven, as we imagine, lulled by some theological narcotic. It is no heaven we are going to! It may have written heaven above its portals, but that inscription is a lie! You cannot speak the truth and be quiet; you cannot be true and have no trouble. "If any man will live godly in Christ Jesus, he shall, suffer persecution"; the persecution itself may change in form and method and tone, but righteousness can never confront unrighteousness without a battle.

Christian service divides public opinion. "A great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed, but the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren." "The multitude of the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the Apostles." That is how it ought to be always. It is pitiful to hear sundry self-indulgent persons talking against what they term religious sensationalism. They do not know what they speak about; Christianity is nothing if it is not the supreme sensation. It is not one of many. It takes its numerical order, as first, midst, last; and so is passed by if it be not fire, sword, uproar, tumult of a vital kind. There are those who say they do not believe in sensationalism. What do they believe in? Have they read the New Testament? Are they in sympathy with the ministry of their own professed Lord and Master? They cannot be! If Christianity were amongst the churches today, men, instead of criticising sermons which they hear, would go out and preach sermons themselves, would borrow any chair, or stand on any stone at the street corner, and if they could not preach the Gospel, they could at least read it. Fifty thousand men at the street corners today reading, with one voice, the third chapter of John!—why, Apostolic times would have come back again! That chapter needs no comment; it says, "Read me, and let me do my own work." Do not be frightened by the long word "sensationalism"; people who use it do not know its meaning, and they only seek to terrify you out of your newborn earnestness in the Christian cause. Nothing divides society like Christianity: its voice Isaiah , "Come out from among them, and be ye separate: the good to the right; the bad to the left." It is a tremendous righteousness; it does not sit in silken slippers, and in downy chairs, indulging itself with philosophical musings about nothing; it goes to roots and cores, to hearts and inmost lives, and there its law pierces like a sting, there its righteousness burns like an oven, there its Gospel sings like an angel.

Christian service survives all ill-treatment. The time had come when the Jews, with their rulers, began to use the Apostles despitefully; that Isaiah , with wanton malice and cruelty, and to stone them. And as soon as the Apostles became aware of this determination, they "fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about"; and then in one line in the seventh verse we read as if nothing had happened before, "and there they preached the Gospel." They preached better for their persecution. We should have wonderful preaching if we had more burning and stoning; marvellous preaching, great bursts of vital eloquence, cries that would pierce, and welcomes that would warm the heart. We should, too, have wonderful hearing as well as wonderful preaching! If we had to steal into the church by some backway, and had to listen in fear and trembling lest the oppressor should lay his iron grip upon us,—oh, how we should listen! How every word would become a jewel set in heavenly gold; how every promise would be a door straight opening upon the glory unseen; how the Bible would be like a sheet let down from heaven, fastened at the four corners, and containing all sweet messages from the skies! The loss of persecution is the loss of spiritual energy. Song of Solomon -called "peace" may be but mere indifference or cowardice. Do not say that Antioch was at peace until the Apostles visited it; peace is a composite term; it is not a simple sound. Peace means intelligence, purity, righteousness, trust in all good; then it cannot be broken. There is a Song of Solomon -called peace that is only a false name for death. How then can we enter into tumult and difficulty now the times of persecution have gone? No; as we have advanced from darkness, go from light to light. You will, pursuing that course, soon find out persecution!

We must in our Christian system make room for Song of Solomon -called heretics. The heretics may be Paul and Barnabas with modern names. If men come amongst us denying the Bible, flatly contradicting what we believe to be Revelation , then have no part or lot with them; but if men come amongst us, saying, "This is the right interpretation—hear it," then let us listen. If men of spotless character and sacred devotedness of spirit should arise in the Church, and say, "Men and brethren, we have found the interpretation of this Scripture, or of that," hear them, though many an old notion may be displaced, and many an old interpretation may have to give way before truer grammar and deeper exposition. We use heretics of that kind most basely! Who can tell where truth begins and where truth ends, or how much is involved in the word orthodoxy, or the word heterodoxy?—two words the history of which is a history of mischief. There be men in Christian cities today who have no dinner because they are supposed to be heretics. They may be the angels of God; they may be the Paul and Barnabas of their day; they love the Bible—they come to it as men come to fountains for water, to the sun for light; they think the Spirit has revealed to them some new interpretation, or entrusted them with some new light, but when they speak they are counted as evil persons, and when they write their writings are left unread. Let us make room for every man who, reverently accepting God"s Word, thinks a new interpretation has been entrusted to him. What was the fault of Paul? This: that he said a prophecy had been fulfilled—nothing more. Whilst men were looking for the fulfilment and realization of ancient prophecy, he said, "Men and brethren, the Word you expect to be fulfilled is fulfilled": that is all he said. The Jew said, "The prophecy is there—we are expecting its fulfilment, we are praying for its fulfilment"; and when the Apostles arose, and said, "The prophecy is fulfilled—it is a living fact," they were stoned, they were driven from house and home, they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy! And Christianity has its prophecies, Christian doctrine has yet its issues brighter than our fancy has measured; and if any Prayer of Manasseh , coming with Moses and the Prophets, and the Psalm and Christ, and the Apostles, shall say, "Men and brethren, let us sit down together, and read the Holy Word, and hear what I believe to be its true meaning," let us not take up stones to stone him, but listen, knowing, in the words of the Pilgrim Father, "that God hath yet more light and truth to break forth from His Holy Word."


Verses 8-18

Chapter44

Prayer

Almighty God, thou wilt not mock our hunger. Surely it is not in all the purpose of thy love to cause our hearts disappointment and grief in thine own house. Thou wilt not appoint the time, and the feast, and the place, and not be there thyself. Thou art thyself the feast; without thee we can hold no banquet; thou art the living One in whom our little lives are hidden. Thou art here, and thou art here to bless. This is thine own house, this is thine own day, this thine own Book, and we are thine own creatures, for thou didst make us, and not we ourselves. We have come up to offer common worship, that what is wanting in one way may be made up by another; and so by the blending of our voices, and the intermingling of our praise and of our prayer, there may arise from this altar sacrifice acceptable unto God. We know what thou dost require of us—to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thyself, but who can stretch himself around this infinite commandment? Not our energy only, but our love, fails in this tremendous task. But with the commandment thou hast also given strength and hope and grace that is infinite. Through Jesus Christ thy Son our Saviour—he is Lord of all—we can keep all thy commandments in the entireness of their breadth and claim; we can do all things through Christ strengthening us: he is out strength, he is our peace, he is our all in all. "Other refuge have we none." We are all before thee with broken life and threatened purpose, and grievous affliction because of sin. See thy providence in our history; read thyself in the story of our short life. Thou hast taken away the child where there was only one; thou hast made the survivor old by one stroke of thine hand; thou hast made the young man into an old traveller by one night of heart grief. Thou hast made our hearts very sore because of thy chastisement falling quickly and justly upon our sin. We can do nothing and say that of a certainty it will abide; we draw straight lines, and thou dost tie them into knots; we plant roots that are to bear fruits of pleasure, and, behold, they bear fruits of death; we say, We will do this, and complete in a triumph; we go out to accomplish it, and return no more. All things are verily in thine hands; we would deny it if we could, but thou dost silence us by the pressure of facts which cannot be gainsaid. Thou dost keep us from madness by drawing lines around our ambition; thou wilt not let us build above a certain line: if we do Song of Solomon , thou dost touch the tower at the base, and fling it upon the common earth. We are thine, we are but for a moment, but in this moment is a concentrated eternity, it is a moment of life, wondrous, measureless, boundless life! Regard us, then, with thy compassion, take us up into thine arms; yea, through thy love do thou be familiar and kind with us, pressing us to thy heart, giving us to feel that between us and ruin are the arms of Almightiness. Come back to us; return, O Holy Dove; bring our best memories before us so vividly that we shall take heart again, and with louder, bolder psalm than ever, praise thy holy name. Forgive us every day"s transgression by the blood of Christ; cleanse every moment from the defilement with which we have spoiled it. Our very breath is corruption; our walking is profanity, and our downsitting is blasphemy; our whole life is empoisoned in fountain and in stream. We pour out our hearts" complaints at the foot of the Cross, and, seeing the flowing blood, the dying but everlasting Priest, we say, God, be merciful unto us sinners. May we abound in the fruits of the Spirit. May our life be a tree bearing heavenly blossoms and heavenly fruits. By our conversation may men take knowledge of us that we have been with Christ; by our faith, our simplicity, our love, our self-denial, may we show that we have been born again. Give us the grace which results in joy. We would glory in tribulation, not accepting it meekly, but triumphing over it, and making wrath a root of praise and gladness. This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. "Lord, increase our faith." "Lord, we believe; help thou our unbelief." Amen.

Acts 14:8-18

8. And at Lystra there sat a certain Prayer of Manasseh , impotent in his feet, a cripple from his mother"s womb, who never had walked.

9. The same heard [G, "was listening to"] Paul speaking: who, fastening his eyes upon him, and seeing that he had faith to be made whole [G, "saved." Paul had done no miracle here before to give the lame man the idea of obtaining physical healing; but as the man listened believingly to the Word he felt within the "power of God unto salvation," and Paul saw that he possessed in this faith the subjective condition necessary for the accomplishment of the miracle. For the two objective conditions of salvation, see Acts 14:1, Acts 14:3],

10. said, with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped up and walked [G, "was walking"].

11. And when the multitudes saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voice, saying, in the speech of Lycaonia [which the Apostles did not understand. But all these Galatian tribes would understand Greek as the Welsh do English], The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.

12. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercury, because he was the chief speaker [see Ovid, Met8 , for the legend of a previous appearance of these divinities in this neighbourhood. Barnabas was probably of more venerable aspect than Paul, but there is no ground here for the tradition about Paul"s mean physique].

13. And the priest of Jupiter, whose temple was before the city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates [of the town; for these supposed divinities were there in the city], and would have done sacrifice with the multitudes.

14. But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul [Barnabas takes the lead], heard of it, they rent their garments [ Matthew 26:65. Ritualists put on garments at such times, that they may exploit the superstition of the masses], and sprang forth [out of the city] among the multitude, crying out,

15. and saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions [lit, "sympathetic"] with you, and bring you good tidings [the evangel versus ritual], that ye should turn from these vain things ["vanities": the imagined presence of these gods] unto the living God, who made [ch17] the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is:

16. who in the generations gone by suffered all the nations to walk in their own ways.

17. And yet [how mildly—Chrysostom says "secretly"—the charge is laid against them! See Romans 1:22, Romans 3:10, etc, for the way Paul writes of the same things to converted people. The model missionary is here!] he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness.

18. And with these sayings scarce restrained they the multitudes from doing sacrifice unto them.

Apostolic Service and Temptation

THIS [ Acts 14:8] is the kind of man who is always looking out for religious excitement or entertainment. He would not be admitted into a drawing-room; he would be a spot on any feast of high conviviality; he could not join in the whirling dance; he must find his dissipation in listening to speakers who have something novel to say. You find this man everywhere—he is the padding of every congregation; he seems to have a kind of hereditary right to be in the Church, and to take an interest in speakers of all kinds; we could not well do without him; he is a good make-up, and gives a base to the assembly. We begin with him everywhere. If we can advance to a higher social grade, well and good; but Christianity always begins with the cripples, with the poor, with the outcast, with the friendless. Christianity will begin anywhere. The one cry of Christianity Isaiah , "Give me a Prayer of Manasseh ," and in reply to this Prayer of Manasseh , the cripple has always been given. The rule seems to have been to say to the cripple, "You go in first, and we will see what effect it has upon you." There are those who have no comfort but in the house of God. Bless their old withered hearts, that house is always open! The lovers of excitement will not have you because you cannot walk, or run, or keep up the race: you would be in the way, but the Church, dear queenly mother, the great Heart, the sweet redeeming loving spirit, she will say, "I have come down to wait for the weak, to gather up those that are lame, and to speak a word in season to him that is weary." This is the defence of the Church of God properly understood, that it shuts out no Prayer of Manasseh , but finds a seat even for the cripple who cannot stand.

Paul, "steadfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed."—That man is also everywhere. He is here in great force this morning—the man who has not faith to use his faith; he is a believer, but he cannot say so. He does believe, he does love, he does pray, he is a very Simeon in expectation, but he needs some apostolic man to say to him, "Use your faith: be what you are." That is my speech to you. Don"t tell me that you are not a Christian—you are; your being here means a whole heartful of meaning. Do not let some notions, and theories, and words without shape, and ideas without authority, keep you out of your inheritance. "Dost thou believe on the Son of God?" Believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. What you want is the faith to use faith, the courage of your belief. You have wings, and you know that when you are in private—yea, in solitude; you do sometimes lift them; not for the world would you be seen doing Song of Solomon , but you do it. In solitude you fall down on your knees, and look up to heaven dumbly; not for the world would you have it known. Why? You want faith to use faith; you want confidence to use the power you have. The great, kind sea waits for you. It is not wrathful, destroying; it is a great easy nurse, a great giant mother, and says, "Come, throw yourselves right upon me, and you shall not sink." Who can tell but that some poor soul now hearing these words may say, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief"? If Song of Solomon , this will be the day of cure, of miracle, of resurrection, the day of the Son of man upon the earth, when the blue heaven comes down to our green sward, and the angels set foot upon the earth.

I wish we could be as sure that Paul is here as that the cripple is. You have here an illustration of Paul"s insight into character. "Perceiving that he had faith." Not long since we noticed that Barnabas "saw the grace of God." What eyes those men had: eyes that "wandered through eternity," that knew the Divine grace when they saw it! They knew faith when it was only a light in the face, a gleam in the eye, a new movement of the body. There is more faith in the world than the preachers have yet conceived. Preachers must be perceiving men; they must know one character from another; they must see without looking. There is no stare in the eye of true penetration. You have faith. Without faith you could not live. Why not call things by their right names? Your life is faith, your breath is belief, your action is doctrine. Why not eat and drink abundantly at your Father"s table, on your Father"s express invitation? We make great mistakes in confounding one character with another, and in mistaking the symptoms that are offered to view, in order to deceive the very elect. Many a man laughs who has no joy—he laughs to keep you off the scent; he is not laughing with his heart; he is gay with his father and mother, and they (dear unsuspecting souls!) think he is glad, and they rejoice in his gladness, whilst all the time his laugh has been a lie, and, under his assumed gaiety, his heart has been suffering from the bite of an adder. The wise preacher, whether in the pulpit or in the house, must perceive this: he must have the critical eye which is not deceived by mere symptoms, which pierces the reality and core of the case. Many a man is addicted to bantering who is not frivolous. We have known a man banter the preacher, and the professor, and the Church, whilst all the time he has been seeking by banter to elicit sympathy; he has thought that by this light raillery he would bring from you some further word, some other utterance, some deeper expression. If you had been gifted with apostolic insight, you would have seen under the banter a seriousness almost pathetic. Many a man is silent who wants to speak. All silence is not the same. There are men who have distressed themselves by their own silence, because all the while they have been endeavouring to frame the very first sentence, and it would not be framed. You have thought them cold, distant, indifferent, self-involved; you have complained of want of sympathy, want of speech, want of communion; and many a man has been misjudged in this way: in his heart he has been saying, "Would God I knew how to begin; if I got out one sentence, I could get out another; I want to speak, but my lips cannot be opened even by a two-edged instrument." Beware of rough and hard judgment upon men. No one man knows any other man through and through as that man knows himself. Let us, however, pray for the spirit of discerning, the spirit of judgment, and the spirit of penetration, and let us so use that spirit as to bring men who have taken one step on the right road forward on their journey.

Why did Paul speak "with a loud voice"? Some people object to loud voices—they say they could hear quite well if the preacher did not exert himself so. It is not enough to hear—you must overhear. An utterance must not deliver its own syllables only, but take with it heart, blood, fire, music, life. If you had spoken with a sublimer audacity, you would have elicited a nobler reply. People knew that Christ spoke with authority, and not as the Scribes, and Paul spoke with a loud voice; not in the sense of mere vocal loudness, but in the sense that his heart went with his voice, and every syllable that he uttered was thus transfigured and glorified into a power.

Not only had Paul keen insight into the character of others, he had also keen insight into his own spirit. That kept him right. Here, as in the case of John the Baptist, is the hour of temptation. Two men are in a heathen country, two men are associated with a miracle which excites the wonder of the pagan mind—enough has been done to excite faith in the deity of the men—the very high-priest of Jupiter was prepared to offer sacrifices unto the visitors. The oxen are in the streets, the garlands are at the gates, the knife is waiting that shall draw the blood from the oxen, and Paul and Barnabas, you shall be the gods of Lycaonia, and have what you ask for. Every life has its temptation, its forty days in the wilderness, its hand-to-hand fight with hell. Why did not Paul and Barnabas settle down upon this eulogium? They need not perform any other miracle; they have performed one, and on that one they may rest as long as they live: they could become the tyrants of the place, ordering and commanding what they please, and drawing to themselves the superstitious homage of minds wonder-struck and all-trusting. It was the devil"s hour—if they get over that bridge, the Apostles will be safe! They were over it! When Barnabas and Paul heard of what was going on, "they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, and saving, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you." Their self-knowledge was, humanly speaking, their salvation. If we knew ourselves, we could not be puffed up by any vanity, or so inhale the incense of adulation as to lose our balance and our reason. Let all men know themselves to be but men, let us be one in the common persuasion of our common origin; and then praise will not be flattery, eulogium will bring with it honest encouragement, and instead of offering sacrifices, we shall offer the nobler homage of confidence and love. Paul said, "We are men of like passions." Like, yet unlike. Preachers are examples as well as expositors: that is to say, they are to show in themselves what Christianity can do, as well as speak out of their spirit what Christianity really is.

This narrative throws some light upon Christianity itself. Christianity makes people do what they never did before. The man is described as one who had never walked. This is the peculiar prerogative and function of Christianity—it always makes us do what we never dreamed of doing before. What sacrifices we make, what devotion we offer, what journeys we accomplish, what insults we endure, what persecution we accept, even with joyful-ness—we who once resented injury now pray for the offender! Christianity does not make us do things a little better than we did them before; it makes us do things we had never done, and which the world thought it impossible for us ever to do. The attention paid to Paul and Barnabas was natural, it was only exaggerated; its root is right. But the preacher must never become the priest. Paul must never separate himself from the current of human sympathy. This is the danger of all class education, of all monastic withdrawment from all human activities, with a view to becoming prepared for the ministry. The temptation to the young man"s mind is this: I am not what I used to be; I now belong to a class. I have become separated from the common herd. I am different—I am a priest. That is the sophism that must be burned out of the Church. The preacher is only an upper pewholder; the preacher is one of us, or he cannot preach to us. Christ could not preach from Heaven; he must needs come down and be made like us, that he might save us. It is right that Paul should be recognized and honoured and blessed as a servant of God; but he must remember that he is a servant only. The effect of Christianity is to confound all rivals. Christianity will not live in the house with any other religion. Christianity will never allow itself to be stitched to some old rag of paganism. Christianity is a seamless robe woven throughout that cannot be improved and must not be rent. When the priest of Jupiter saw what was done, he said, "We have never beheld anything like this before!" Why the man was prepared to put the knife to Jupiter"s own throat. Said Hebrews , "This is unrivalled. This man has been coming backward and forward to these rites and ceremonies of ours a long while, and we could do nothing with him; here is a religion that comes and makes a man of him: this is the true faith." Christianity must vindicate itself by the men it makes—not by learning, not by eloquence, but by the men it makes. Convince the priests of Jupiter, not by metaphysical reasoning, but by noble manhood.

The man "leaped and walked." You cannot leap long—the law of gravitation is against that—but you can walk all your lifetime. A man leaping always is beside himself; a man walking-has serious business, and he is going to do it. We cannot live in leaping, we cannot live in raptures and in tumult of soul, but we must leap at first. Those who have seen God, and have received of His strength, mount up as on the wings of eagles: then they run, then they walk. It would be pleasant to see some of us leaping a little, running a little; it would do the preacher"s heart good to see some people trying to fly a little. Without enthusiasm, what is the Church? It is Vesuvius without fire; it is Niagara without water; it is the firmament without the sun.


Verses 19-28

Chapter45

Prayer

Almighty God, thou hast made the gate of tribulation the way into thy kingdom. It is a hard and narrow way, but the end thereof is everlasting life. Where we fear, thou dost cause us to hope. Where we expected to die, thou dost enable us to pray. Thou hast overruled all difficulty and battle and sorrow, and shown us how, through fields of severest controversy, we may pass into the land where there is no sorrow, nor crying, neither any more pain. The gates of hell shall not prevail against thy Church, thou crucified and risen Christ. Tribulation shall work patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and, thus, out of a black root thou wilt bring blossoming infinite in the tenderness of its beauty. All things work together for good to them that love God. Perfect love casteth out fear. We have no more cloud or doubt resting upon our life when it is hidden with Christ in God. Then the way is upward, and the light increases as we ascend, and heaven comes down to meet us on our upward pilgrimage. Put within us thine own Spirit, thou living Christ, thou mighty Priest, whose prayer carries its own conclusion and is its own beneficent reply. Then shall we know nothing of fear, or unrest, or trouble, but our heart shall be as water undisturbed in its depths of sacred and holy peace. Thou dost teach us by the events of time. Thou dost send messages to us from the houses of our neighbours. The dead man delivers thy letter to the living. We see by those who are falling around us that our turn may suddenly—and must surely—come. May we be among those who are wise servants—waiting, having their hearts stirred by a secret expectation that the Bridegroom may come at any moment, and complete his love. Show us thy way, O Lord, and enable us to walk therein steadfastly and lovingly. May thy way be our delight, and may thy statutes be our songs in the house of our pilgrimage. Thou dost take away one and another. Thou dost dig up the cedar, and the fir-tree howls because of the mighty fall. Thou dost also pluck off the blossom ere it is yet formed, or set in promise of fruit. The old thou dost call home, and the young thou dost take up in thine arms and suddenly transfer to the upper kingdom. It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth good in his sight. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. Our loved ones, who have died in Christ, are not lost, they have gone before, they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat; but they shall dwell in thy presence, and be led by the Lamb to living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. We will not, therefore, bow down in trouble and sorrow, but rather stand erect in the consciousness of an infinite triumph, and say, O death! where is thy sting? O grave! where is thy victory? We will not look to the grave of the body, but to the heaven of the spirit. We will comfort ourselves with the holy words, the Resurrection and the Life.

The Lord destroy everything in us that is evil, set up his kingdom in our heart, and perfect us in the grace and virtue of Christ Jesus. Amen.

Acts 14:19-28

19. But there came Jews thither [to this foolish, fickle Galatian mob] from Antioch and Iconium; and, having persuaded the multitudes [that if the Apostles were not gods, they were God"s foes], they stoned Paul [ 2 Corinthians 11:25], and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.

20. But [again], as the disciples stood round about him [so we learn he had not preached here in vain; Lois, Eunice, and Timothy probably were about him. Cf. Acts 16:1; 2 Timothy 1:5; and Galatians 3 , Galatians 4 , Galatians 5], he rose up [miraculously restored], and entered into the city: and on the morrow he went forth with Barnabas to Derbe.

21. And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, and to Iconium, and to Antioch [in Pisidia],

22. confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that through many tribulations we must [it is necessary, for God so wills it] enter into the kingdom of God.

23. And when they had appointed for them [gross Roman Catholic mistranslation. The Greek verb means to elect by holding up the hand in the ecclesia or church-meeting; rarely, as here, used of the president, in the sense of causing the assembly so to elect. When they had caused each church to elect its elders. Note the plurality of elders in these the first small-town churches], and had prayed with fasting [G. fastings], they commended them to the Lord [G. has no comma, i.e, they are referred to the Lord as the true Shepherd of each of these separate churches], in whom they had believed.

24. And they passed [from Antioch] through Pisidia, and came to Pamphylia.

25. And when they had spoken the word in Perga [ Acts 13:13], they went down to Attalia;

26. And thence they sailed to Antioch [in Syria], from whence they had been committed to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled [four or five years were thus occupied between44,51 a.d. The Apostles went not as Xavier or Livingstone, sustained by wealth and political influence, but like Socialist workmen go earning their bread as they pursue their propaganda from town to town].

27. And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all things that God had done with them [i.e, as their Helper], and how he had opened a [G. the] door of faith unto the Gentiles [hitherto only Gentile proselytes had passed on to Christianity from Judaism; now it was proved possible to found Christian churches, at once, among the pure heathen. Jew and Gentile henceforth entered abreast into the fold of Christ].

28. And they tarried no little time with the disciples [here, probably Titus was converted— 2 Corinthians 8:23].

Tribulation Accepted

THE Apostles Barnabas and Paul had wrought a great miracle at Lystra, and so astounded were the people that they wished to offer sacrifices unto the Apostles, and were hardly restrained from doing so by the stern and severe expostulation of the Apostles themselves. The enemy can be as active as the friend. Sometimes we are inclined to think that the enemy can outdo the friend in energy. Enemies seem to be more determined than friends. As a general rule friends are timid, and reluctant to move. They wish to live quietly, whereas enemies are not so restrained, they are fearless, desperate, resolute—nothing will stand in the way of the accomplishment of their base designs. Still one would rather lean toward the thought that love can outlive hate; but, truly, hate has a long life! We find that Paul and Barnabas were not allowed to go upon their journey without knowing that the enemy had them in full view. There came to Lystra "certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people" and turned their hearts against the very men whom but yesterday the Lystrenians would have deified! The Jews from the Pisidian Antioch and Iconium brought reports from these places concerning Paul and Barnabas, and turned the homage of the people into hatred. So Paul was stoned. The Jews had no easy work to get to Lystra. They also had to travel the hundred and thirty miles which separated the towns. But what is a distance of a hundred and thirty miles, even in an age so ancient as the time indicated in the text, when the heart is burning with hatred, and the life is aflame with sectarian indignation? The Jews did not travel the hundred and thirty miles under such disadvantageous circumstances merely as a luxury. They hated the new faith, they abominated the detestable democracy which would throw down sonship in Abraham, and make the Gentiles equal to the Jews, and so they, too, were missionaries, though animated by a different spirit. Paul was but once stoned, and he never forgot it! Writing an account of his experiences, he puts into the summary of them this line—"Once I was stoned." No man can forget that experience. In former years those who were engaged in stoning Stephen lay down their clothes at a young man"s feet whose name was Saul. The wheel of Providence turns round! There is no resentment in God, but there is justice at the very heart of things. When Paul himself is stoned it will not be to gratify a grudge, but to express the spirit of the eternal righteousness, without which the whole heaven of stars itself might fall in night. Justice keeps things together. Righteousness must hold the reins. Once let wickedness hold them and drive the steed of the universe, and in one night they will plunge into abysses out of which there is no extrication. "The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice," for the security of goodness is not in strength but in righteousness. They left Paul, "supposing he had been dead." That is a common mistake about Christianity itself. Many a time has Christianity been stoned and drawn out of the city, and thrown into the ditch "supposed to be dead." Paul recovered his consciousness. He was blinded and stunned, but not killed. Song of Solomon , to the joy of the little circle of weeping disciples, he got up, and stood upon his feet—a kind of resurrection before the time! Take it as a typical instance, and regard it as teaching the impossibility of killing truth. You may "suppose it to be dead," but the error is in the supposition. Whatever is true rises again. It may be thrown down; it may be kept upon bread and water; it may be spat upon; it may be thrust through with a dart; over it all hell may have a moment"s laugh,—but it finds its feet again! "Truth is great, and must prevail." These incidents, which we call personal and transitory, are in reality typical, and because of their interior meaning and suggestion, they are the strongest and broadest lines in history.

The next day Paul travelled twenty miles—he departed with Barnabas to Derbe; and the thought came to the two men that, instead of making a detour, and getting back to Antioch by any short cut that might be open, they would go, step for step, along the road they had come. They would have a return missionary journey. It is not enough to go once over a track. People do not know you on one visit. Life is a revelation. We see sections of one another, but we must live with one another—the year in and the year out, all the four seasons—to see really the depths that slumber in any genuine life. Paul and Barnabas, therefore, went back, "confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith"—with this line added: "and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." We cannot copy pathos. We must learn it by life. We may not write our sermons with ink, for then they would be but rhetorical emptiness. We must live them, gather fruit from trees that have grown around us, and return to the people week by week with some new blessing in the language, some deeper tone in the voice, some nobler appeal in the exhortation. How simply, and yet subtly, comes this line into the preaching!—namely, "that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." Paul was suffering when he said those words. His head had not recovered the stunning blows of the stoning at Lystra. There was a subdued sob in the man"s emphasis as he said this. Strangers might not detect it, but the speaker himself was conscious that a new thread—a golden one—was being run through the web of his eloquence as he exhorted the Christians at Derbe and Lystra and Antioch and Iconium to continue in the faith, and to accept tribulation, not as a discredit, but as an endorsement.

Paul and his colleague came back to Antioch after, some say, more than a year"s absence, and others calculate an interval of nearly two years, and the twenty-seventh verse would seem to contain the summary of all that was done, but it does not. "And when they were come, and had gathered the Church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles." Into no speech with which I am acquainted is so much meaning condensed. It is the penalty of speakers who have a condensed style that they do not get credit for all they say. There are minds that must have bulk as well as quality; minds that must have everything beaten out to the thinnest and widest possible surface before they can begin to think. They do not fly on the wind, or take two mountains at a time in their gigantic stride; they, therefore, say they cannot follow the writers who have written such a verse as the twenty-seventh, which is now before us. Look at it. "And when they had gathered the Church together." How easily we say these words! How much they may possibly involve! The Church did not live on the open street, or in the fine houses. The Church was a scattered people, a hidden little band, talking in whispers—perhaps often communicating secretly—despised amid the pomp and splendor of the Syrian Antioch. The Church had to be "gathered together." But why not tell the little missionary story on the open thoroughfare to the passers-by? Simply because it is useless to speak to men in an unknown tongue. Only the Church can understand the speech of the Church. Even those who can catch the English sentences do not catch the Christian sentiment, unless they be in the secret which unites and inspires Christian hearts. Having gathered the Church together, they "rehearsed ALL." But we want to hear the detail. The little word "ALL" is really the greatest word in human speech. In its three letters the whole universe is included. We want to take it to pieces, to go into analysis, into the separation and classification of events, to understand the entire case. But we are put off with an allusion instead of being gratified by a detailed rehearsal. "They rehearsed all"—and yet, perhaps, they did not. Who can tell all? You cannot write all you want to write. Having written what you think is a complete statement, you find that it is only a table of contents, and not a statement at all! After having elaborated the rehearsal until you think not one line can be added, you read the whole, and are appalled to find that you have referred to everything but the subject! Whatever is deep requires long time for its evolution. Whatever is spiritual requires all language for its expression. Not in a handful of words can you set forth the details of a lifetime. "They rehearsed all that God had done with them." They connected the whole story with God. What—the stoning? Yes! The statement does not read that, having called the Church together, Paul put his hand upon his head, and said, "Oh, what I have suffered for you!" Not a word of the kind is said. Stoning and hunger and peril and persecution—these things God has done! It is because we do not recognize that fact that we suppose ourselves to be the victims of circumstances and the butt of enemies. Get rid of that sophism. God sent the hunger to bite you. God spread the cloud in the face of the sun to shut you out in darkness. God allows your enemy to smite you on the head, and on the face, and to malign you, and misrepresent you—it is God"s doing! It is part of the Divine education. "Can there be evil in the city, and the Lord not have done it?" Done it!—not in the little narrow technical sense of hand-working, but in the larger sense of working up together in one complete massiveness—hells and devils, dangers and sorrows, into one sublime issue. "He maketh the wrath of man to praise him, and the remainder thereof will he restrain." The Lord reigneth. The wet days are his, as well as the days that are full of summer light and summer music. And the graves are his, as well as the flowers which grow upon their green sward. And hell is his, and the key of it is on his girdle, and he will know what to do with it in the upgathering and total issue of his providence. They left one impression upon the Church—what was it? How God "had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles." There is no whine in that tone! The Apostles, returning to the Syrian capital, said, "Brethren, the door is opened, the Gentiles are accessible. Arise: shine! for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee." They were very heroes of men! Instead of saying, "The way is very difficult," they said, "The door is open." Instead of saying, "If you go to the Gentiles, you may expect to be stoned by the Jews," they said, "Who are these that flock as doves to the windows?" These were the men that rocked the world in the storms of their sacred enthusiasm! All personal suffering was forgotten in the opened door. The stoning was a very little thing when the Apostles thought that the Gentile provinces were to be added to the empire of their Lord.

Nor was this all. There was an incident that happened which is not recorded in this verse. Twenty years afterward Paul wrote a letter to a man whom he called "my own son in the faith," and "my dearly beloved Song of Solomon ," and "my fellow-worker"; and in that letter he said, "But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions; afflictions which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra, what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me." How did Timothy come to know about the stoning at Lystra, and the persecution at Antioch and Iconium? Paul, writing to Timothy, said he greatly desired to see the youth, being mindful of his tears. "When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice, and I am persuaded that in thee also." Where did he make the acquaintance of the little family—grandmother and mother and Timothy? Why, at Derbe probably, on this very missionary journey. That was the proof that the Lord was with him. He brought up from the Lycaonian wilds—the dreary wolf-land—memories of Lois and Eunice and Timothy, which cheered him in his old age; and in the loving Timothy, who would carry on his own noble work, he found a compensation for the stoning at Lystra. We cannot tell what we are doing. Some men may be won to Christ by a discourse who will afterward vindicate the propriety of the argument which that discourse contained. Twenty years after we may hear of some young man who, being here this morning, was touched with a live coal from off the altar, and has gone out to declare that "this is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." Christ will find his own ministers. Christ will not let the Christian pulpit go down for want of capacity, ability, eloquence, learning, pathos, or sympathy. We do not always know what we are doing, but the Master knows, and that is enough.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 14:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/acts-14.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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