CONVERSION TO GOD
AS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE
ACTS OF APOSTLES
A BOOK FOR ANXIOUS INQUIRERS
SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHERS
All who are in any way employed in instructing others in the
Way of Salvation
PRINTED BY H. & J. PILLANS & WILSON
1 Kenilworth Avenue
Reading, RG30 3DL
THE substance of the following chapters was delivered in a course of lectures in Glasgow a few years ago. The lectures were delivered from brief notes. These notes were subsequently expanded, and in some minor matters of form slightly altered, and published in The Christian Advocate. The present volume is a reprint of the articles as they appeared in that magazine.
The method of the work needs little explanation. Each point, as a rule, is as fully discussed in one place as is deemed sufficient for all after occurrences of it. For example, baptism, which is mentioned in connection with most of the conversions, is examined and discussed on its first occurrence, in Acts ii., and thereafter it is treated as understood by the reader. Of course, this does not preclude the consideration of additional information which transpires in subsequent conversions. The first discussion has chiefly to do with the meaning of the word and general import of the action, leaving further details to be dealt with in connection with the passages
in which they are found.
The questions discussed at the end of some of the chapters, entitled Queries or Objections, have all come before me in my intercourse with others, most of them at the close of public lectures.
I have endeavoured to so place the things discussed that God's own teaching may be understood or better appreciated. Others must now judge how far this endeavour has been realised. The reader is cordially invited to carefully test every statement in the light of God's Word.
The geographical descriptions are drawn from Whitney's Handbook of Bible Geography, Smith's Bible Dictionary, Conybeare and Howson, The Valley of the Nile, The Treasury Bible, Alford and Farrar.
I gratefully acknowledge indebtedness to Mr C. Greig, of Manchester, who has kindly given considerable assistance in the preparation of the matter for the press. Mr L. Oliver, of Glasgow, has also rendered much help by transcribing some of the sheets and compiling the Index.
The volume is now offered to God's people to circulate widely, in order to call attention to those Scriptures that are able to open men's eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them that are sanctified through faith that is in the Lord Jesus Christ.
CRAIGSTON VILLA, HART STREET,
SOUTHPORT, May 1887.
METHOD OF PROCEDURE AND FIELD OF INQUIRY.
Different methods of procedure - The Word of God the only source of information - Distinction
between Judaism and Christianity - And between Christ's earthly ministry, and the state of things
after His resurrection -The Acts of Apostles our text- book - Numerous conversions in Acts - From
all classes - Under different preachers - In places widely apart - In different circumstances . . . 1
THE NATURE OF CONVERSION.
Meaning of 'Conversion' - Varied translations of the two words rendered 'convert' - One meaning
belonging to both - Conversion a turning - Implying activity and responsibility on the part of the
convert - A turning from wrong-doing to serve God - Involving an employment of the whole man -
A suggestion to teachers of primitive Christianity . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
BEGINNING IN JERUSALEM.
Jerusalem - Waiting for power - Pentecost - Peter's audience - Strange phenomena - Great perplexity -
Serious charge against the apostles - Brief defence - Scripture explanation - Query and reply . . . 10
JESUS OF NAZARETH.
Jesus a man - Approved of God - Delivered - Crucified - Raised from the dead - David's prophecy of the resurrection - Jesus exalted - Sending of the Holy Spirit - Simplicity of the preaching - Concurrent
testimony to Jesus - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit co-operating - Jewish antagonism - Obvious warning 14
AN APOSTLE DEALING WITH INQUIRERS.
The earnest inquiry - Natural - The first inquirers under Christianity - What caused the inquiry Peter's
response - Repentance - Its place - What is it - From evil towards God - What causes it - In what way
it is God's gift - Baptism - The word not a translation - In a river - Many waters - Going into and
coming out of the water - Christ's baptism of suffering - Buried in baptism - Resurrected in baptism - Prominence and importance of a name - Remission of sins - The gift of the Holy Spirit - Many
unreported works - The blessed decision - Objections considered . . . . . . . . 18
Four of Peter's discourses - In Solomon's porch - Peter's speech an answer - How Peter addressed
his audience - A disclaimer - An explanation - Accusations - Witnesses for Jesus - Faith in His
name - Extenuation of the guilt of the Jews - Prophecy fulfilled - Comparison of commands and
promises given on two occasions - The second advent - Jesus before preached and appointed - Times
of restoration - The Prophet like Moses - Fatal consequence of neglecting the message of the
God-sent Prophet -The promise to Abraham fulfilled in the sending of Jesus -Summary of the
Pentecost address and the one in Solomon's porch - Two addresses before the rulers - Jesus Christ
the all-absorbing theme of discourse - Lessons . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
THE CONVERSION OF THE SAMARITANS.
Dispersion of the disciples - Samaria - The Samaritans - Philip - His preaching - His miracles -
Simon the sorcerer - His power over the Samaritans - Greater power of the truth - Belief and faith
are one - What faith is - Its sphere - Faith rests upon testimony - Derives its value from the things
believed - Leads to action - Baptism of women - Baptism into a name - Similarity of action in
Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost and in Samaria - Queries and replies. . . . . . . . 33
A MODEL INQUIRER.
Philip sent in the direction of Gaza - Why was Philip sent? - Why did not the angel or the Spirit
speak to the eunuch? - Whence the eunuch came - He was a worshipper of God - A thoughtful
student - Unassuming - Seeking instruction - Obedient - A contrast to many now - Why baptism
is now slighted - What the Ethiopian was reading - Summary of the passage - Parting confirmation -
Queries and replies. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
Subjects of preaching - Different words translated 'preach' - Other words descriptive of the same work - Difference between primitive and modern preaching - How Christians should act in the use of 'preach' . 43
THE CONVERSION OF THE APOSTLE TO THE GENTILES.
The young man Saul - Persecution by him - Damascus - A vision from heaven - Three days
anxiety - Ananias - Calling on the name of the Lord - Recapitulation of conditions of salvation -
Apparent discrepancies - Queries and replies. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
PETER AT LYDDA AND JOPPA, AND SAUL AT PAPHOS.
Prominence of Peter - Were the saints at Lydda Christians? - Lydda - The cure of Eneas - Effect
of the cure throughout Sharon - Much in little - Joppa - Tabitha - Restoration to life - Its influence -
Absence of preaching and teaching - Similarity of account of Saul at Paphos - Dissimilarity - The
Saviour's promise of miracle power - New Testament words for miracles - Miracles confirmatory of
teaching - Ought not Christians to have the power to work miracles still? . . . . . . 52
PETER AMONG THE GENTILES.
Cesarea - Character of Cornelius - Means employed to bring Cornelius and Peter face to face -Peter's
increase of knowledge - The known word - What Peter added - Similarity to Peter's Pentecost address -
Some points additional - Pouring out of the Holy Spirit -The possession of the Holy Spirit an argument
in favour of being baptised in water - Farewell to Peter - Objections considered. . . . . . 57
A SECOND CENTRE OF MISSIONARY ENTERPRISE.
Antioch - Who were the Grecians? What is the date of the preaching to the Greeks in Antioch? - The
hand of the Lord - Many conversions - Barnabas - Seeing the grace of God - Saul brought to Antioch -
A years teaching - Preparation for wider usefulness. . . . . . . . . . . . 63
NOTES OF AN ADDRESS BY PAUL.
From Antioch in Syria to Antioch in Pisidia - Paul's audience in Antioch of Pisidia - Summary of
God's dealings with the Jews from the Exodus until David - John the Baptist's preaching and
testimony - Treatment of Jesus by the Jews - His resurrection - Witnesses and proof of the
resurrection - Salvation - How obtained - Warning - Brief comparison of addresses of Stephen, Peter,
and Paul - Paul's hearers wanting to hear more - Both Jews and proselytes interested - Almost the whole
city assembled - Jealousy of the Jews - Turning to the Gentiles - Glorifying the word - "Ordained to
eternal life" - Two parties - The Word widely published - Persecution by devout and honourable
women - Shaking off the dust of the feet - Filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit - Query and reply. 66
LANGUAGE THE CHIEF MEANS OF CONVERSION.
Iconium - Speaking in the Synagogue - Result - Opposition - Protracted effort - The Lord's
testimony - The multitude divided - The missionaries again forced to flee - Lycaonia - Lystra -
Good news proclaimed - A cripple cured - Attempt to worship the apostles - The sacrifice stopped -
The living God proclaimed - Paul stoned - Resuscitation and departure - Derbe -Further preaching -
Many taught - Return journey - Importance of speech. . . . . . . . . . . . 72
FIRST CONVERSIONS IN EUROPE.
Divine guidance - Philippi - A colony - A prayer meeting - One of the worshippers - heard - Had
her heart opened - How opened - Attended to the things spoken - Was baptised - Hospitality -
Baptism of her household - A catechism for infant sprinklers. . . . . . . . . . 76
A NIGHT IN PRISON.
New experiences - The actors in Philippi - A spirit of Python - Slave-masters - Magistrates -Paul sore
troubled - Joy and love in a prison - The cause of joy in suffering - The jailor - A contrast - Causes of
the jailor's conversion - The word spoken to him - What must I do to be saved? An approved question. 80
PAUL'S DIFFERENT METHODS WITH JEWS AND GREEKS.
Macedonia - Thessalonica - The Thessalonians - The subject of Paul's discourse - The effect of
three weeks' arguing - Work of the speakers - Conduct of the converts - Assault versus argument -
Berea - Nobility of the Bereans - Athens - Paul conducted - His spirit stirred - Arguing - On the
Areopagus - The unknown God - Paul's address - Manner - Derision of the Athenians - Was Paul's
work in Athens a failure? - Brief notice of the Thessalonian, Berean, and Athenian converts - Paul's
different methods - The Christians' Textbook. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
PROLONGED EFFORTS IN CORINTH, EPHESUS, AND ROME.
Five and a half years evangelisation - Corinth - Paul's labours in Corinth - The fruit of his labour -
Conversion always the same - Why Paul baptised so few in Corinth - Unreasonable and evil men - Paul's fourth visit to Jerusalem - Apollos - Ephesus - Rebaptism - In the synagogue - The school of Tyrannus -
Special miracles - Baffled exorcists - Triumph of a name - Magic on the wane - Growth of the Word -
Speech by Demetrius - Ephesus in an uproar - Speech of the town clerk - Rome - Paul brought to Rome
a prisoner - In conference with the Jews - Expounding and warning - Two years at home. . . . 90
WHY SO FEW TURN TO THE LORD.
Many converts at first - Few now - What may reasonably be expected - Whose is the work of conversion? - The limits of hindrances to conversion - God supremely in earnest about the conversion of all - Christians hindering conversion - Inadequate teaching - Supreme authority of God's Word - Summary for inquirers.97
CONVERSION TO GOD
AS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE ACTS OF APOSTLES.
METHOD OF PROCEDURE AND FIELD OF INQUIRY.
Different methods of procedure - The Word of God the only source of information - Distinction between Judaism and Christianity - And between Christ's earthly ministry, and the state of things after His resurrection -The Acts of Apostles our text-book - Numerous conversions in Acts - From all classes - Under different preachers - In places widely apart - In different circumstances
IN attempting to inform ourselves on the theme of these chapters - conversion to God - different methods may be adopted. Any instance of conversion may be taken, its characteristic features noted, and our conception of conversion shaped accordingly. The sample chosen may be selected at random from any part of the Holy Book; from the Old Testament or the New; from Exodus or Jonah; from the Gospels or the Acts. And it need not be doubted that, in proportion as the example fixed upon is closely studied, and its essential points seized hold of, there will be just conceptions acquired and real progress made. The case selected may not be the most suitable, may be deficient in detail, or the farthest removed from the kind or circumstances in which we in this age are placed; but so far as it is an example of conversion, it cannot fail to guide us part of the way in the understanding of our subject.
In the choice of an example of conversion, however, a little more care may be exercised. The difference between the Old Testament religion and that of the New Testament may be taken into account. The query may be raised, whether in both dispensations the details of conversion are alike. Other queries naturally follow. Are we under Judaism, or under Christianity? If not under Judaism, but under Christianity, had we not better take our example of conversion to God from the times of Christ, that is to say, from the New Testament writings? And in selecting an instance of conversion from the records of Evangelists or Apostles, shall we look for one somewhat fully recorded; one in which we have particulars entered into and spread out in detail? A sample thus selected with discretion, and studied with care, will naturally give a more accurate comprehension of what constitutes conversion to God.
Again, a more comprehensive and inductive method may be acted upon. A number of conversions may be studied in succession and compared with each other. One by one they may be analysed, and the analysis of each laid by the side of the others. In one we may find a certain point specially prominent and clearly exemplified, while another point may come more into view in examining a second example. By a comparison thus of various cases, the real essence, the sum total, of conversion comes under consideration; the subject is seen in its several bearings, and is more deeply impressed upon the mind of the student.
How, then, shall we proceed in order to obtain a satisfactory answer to the question, What is conversion? Shall we take a solitary case, selected in haphazard fashion, the first that happens to come before us, and content ourselves with what it teaches, irrespective of further and more detailed teaching which may be found in other cases? Or, exercising more thought, shall we carefully select an example more likely to be fraught with the plainest instruction, and follow it exclusively? Or, once more, shall we proceed on the scientific and inductive method of examining each record in detail, comparing the several records, noting the special lessons of each, and collecting into one the lessons of all? Without hesitation the choice is made. We accept the profitable and pleasant employment of searching into the particulars of many conversions, gathering what truth is contained in each, and allowing our minds to expand to the comprehension of conversion to God as exemplified in numerous instances. It will demand much more of our time than the study of a single case would, and it will cost us greatly increased labour; but the time will be profitably employed and the labour abundantly repaid.
There is one thing tacitly implied in the preceding remarks, to which the reader's attention is now more specially invited.
THE BIBLE IS OUR ONLY AUTHORITY.
The Word of God is the only source whence we may learn what conversion is and how it is brought about. An English dictionary should help us to the commonly accepted meaning of any word in everyday use; but if we mean to be correctly informed as to what conversion is in God's employment of that term, we must turn to the usage of the word by those holy men of God, who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. Modern reports of work done by various sections of professing Christians, may enable us to discover what they severally understand by conversion; but it is to the Scriptures that we must have recourse, if our aim be to obtain well-grounded assurance as to what is God's presentation of conversion, its causes and its real ingredients. Nor need that necessity be deemed unnatural to Protestants, whose motto is, The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible. Without imagining it a restraint - on the contrary, rejoicing in an inestimable privilege - we turn to the Bible to learn whatever it discloses on our theme, pledging ourselves to abide by its representations, and to act under its guidance.
What instances, then, shall we select? How many conversions should be analysed and compared? From what parts of the Scriptures should they be taken? The remainder of this chapter will indicate the writer's choice and his reasons for that choice.
I. Judaism and Christianity require to be distinguished from each other.
JUDAISM, as the word partly suggests, was the religion of the Jews, the possession of one people. Jehovah had a delight in their fathers, and chose their seed after them above all people (Deut. x. 15). He promised to make them His peculiar treasure, and to constitute them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod. xix. 5-6). Their history exhibits one long severance of them from all others. As a means of making them a peculiar people their religion was a gift from Heaven pre-eminently for themselves. The giving of that religion, and the history of it, are preserved to us in the Old Testament writings. In these writings there are indeed many hints, and numerous rich prophecies, of blessing coming to the Gentiles, of those becoming God's people who had not before been known as such; but, then, in many cases these very prophecies point to something beyond Judaism - to a time when the ancient barriers would be broken down, when blood relationship would be no passport to special privilege; to a state in which old things would disappear and a new dispensation would be inaugurated.
CHRISTIANITY is our name for that new state of things. In it we recognise a universal religion, a religion intended for all. National distinctions are effaced; consanguinity brings no spiritual blessing; Christ is not known after the flesh. There is no longer a recognition of the Jew as different from Gentile; but out of the two formerly conflicting elements of Jew and Gentile there is constituted one body, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
If, therefore, we are in quest of records of conversion which will best guide us, not as Jews, nor as Gentiles exclusively, but irrespective of descent, or as descended from progenitors so related and inter-related that our pedigrees are untraceable; if, in short, we are seeking for conversions that can be taken as patterns to every human being in all the world, we must turn, not to the Jewish, but to the Christian Scriptures, not to the Old Testament, but to the New.
II. Christ's earthly ministry and post-resurrection teaching should in like
manner be distinguished.
JESUS LIVED AS A JEW. He was born under the law. His earthly ministry was under Jewish guise. He conformed to Judaism. He laboured among the Jews. He was not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. xv. 24). He spoke from the Jewish standpoint when He said to the Samaritan woman, "Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship; for salvation is of the Jews" (John iv. 22). While He was with them, He prohibited His apostles going among the Gentiles, or into any city of the Samaritans (Matt. x. 5, 6). They were only to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The Old Testament God-given limitations were still in force; Judaism was not yet discarded.
AFTER THE RESURRECTION it is different. The Jews had rejected and crucified their Messiah; and the Messiah, though not abandoning them, though not turning His back upon them, places all nations on the same level with them. It was after His resurrection that Christ gave authority to make disciples of all nations (Matt. xxviii. 19), to preach the Gospel to every creature in all the world (Mark xvi. 15), to proclaim repentance and remission of sins among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem (Luke xxiv. 45-49.) The Jews had forfeited their special privileges; under the Gospel all nations are alike before God.
Though thus between the resurrection and ascension of the Lord the apostles were instructed to preach to every one the same story on the same terms, they were not yet to begin. "Tarry ye," said Christ to them, "in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high." The power of the Father, the gift of the Holy Spirit, would be given them to equip them for their responsible work. They must not take a step from the Jewish metropolis, nor move a tongue in preaching the Gospel there, until they were filled with the Holy Spirit. We know when the promise was fulfilled. We have the account of the fulfilment in Acts ii. 1-4. Then they were endued with the promised power from on high, and thenceforward they acted under the provisions of the worldwide commission.
III. The Acts of Apostles contains the record of the outworking of the
commission to the world.
This book, as its name indicates, is specially a record of apostolic labours. It tells of the commencement of worldwide work, the turning of large numbers from among all nations to God, by leading them to have faith in His Son. The subject of report is not the progress of Judaism, the religion exclusively of one nation. What the writer of the Acts brings before us, is the establishing of Christianity. He records the first proclamation under the commission for the nations, the first conversions to God under the Christian system, and conversions thereafter in great abundance and in all quarters. From beginning to end this book tells of apostolic preaching and its results, preaching by the apostles or their co-labourers and its success, and of converts to Christianity or opposition to it. No other book records so wide-spread and persevering proclamation of God's truth, and so deep-rooted and far-reaching consequences. We turn to the Old Testament for a record of a national religion, Judaism; to the Gospels for particulars of the life of Christ, His sayings and doings; and to the Acts of Apostles for the records of conversion to Christianity - of the conversion of Jews themselves as well as Gentiles. The Gospels tell us of what "Jesus began both to do and teach" (Acts i. 1), while Luke, in Acts, goes on to tell us what He continued to do and teach by His Spirit through the apostles. Through them as agents He continued His work on a wider scale under laws applicable to all. We should look in vain in the Old Testament for much that is fully detailed to us in the Gospels. There would be an equally vain search in the Gospels for much that is clearly found in the Acts. It were useless to look in the Gospels for model conversions for us as Gentiles, the speeches and actions recorded there having transpired amid Jewish environment. Nor, indeed, need we look there for conversions to Christianity at all, Judaism still being in force. The Gospel history gives us an immovable groundwork in the life, death, and resurrection of Him who is the image of the invisible God; and the Acts shows to us how all classes turned to Him who had taken His seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
Inasmuch as the Acts of Apostles contains an account of conversions under Christianity as designed for all nations and all generations, and inasmuch as these conversions took place under the lead of inspired men - men breathed into and filled with the Holy Spirit, considerable confidence may be felt that by making this our text-book we are moving in the right direction to secure the most complete enlightenment on the subject of Conversion to God.
IV. A general survey of the conversions reported in Acts.
A brief glance at a few particulars of the conversions narrated in Acts will further confirm the conviction that the fifth book of the New Testament is our proper guide to an understanding of conversion under the Christian dispensation.
1. Observe the number of conversions recorded. "Then they that gladly received his word were baptised; and the same day there were added unto them about five thousand souls" (chap. ii. 41). "Many of them who heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand" (iv. 4). "And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women" (v.14). "The number of the disciples was multiplied" (vi. 1). "And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith" (vi. 7). "When they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women" (viii. 12). "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, were multiplied" (ix. 31). "And all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord" (ix. 35). "Many believed in the Lord" (ix. 42). "And the hand of the Lord was with them; and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord" (xi. 21). "And the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God." "And when the Gentiles heard" that there was salvation for them, "they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region" (xiii. 44, 48-49). "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" (xiv. 27).
In these quotations there is no attempt at naming every conversion recorded in Acts; there is only reference made to some by way of examples of the vast numbers who in different places and at different times accepted Christianity. The careful reader will observe that these citations are from only one half of the book, the first fourteen chapters. The references are, therefore, by no means exhaustive, rather are they merely suggestive - samples of what took place when that dispensation was introduced which is destined to save "a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues."
2. Note that the converts were from all classes. The Acts is not a book of Jewish conversions alone. Gentiles turned to the Lord as cordially and as numerously as Jews. The book is a report of the power of the truth among a great variety of people. On the first day of Christianity 3000 Jews owned Jesus as their Messiah and became His converts. Not long after, numerous recruits were gained from the Samaritans. Of them it is said, in the Revised Version, that "the multitudes gave heed with one accord unto the things that were spoken by Philip." Proselytes, too, supplied their share. Cornelius, a Gentile, was probably a proselyte. At any rate he was a worshipper of the true God. Among proselytes Paul seems to have found an entrance, and to have been heartily received, in Antioch of Pisidia. Nor were all the numerous converts from those who were previously worshippers of God. Idolaters also turned "from idols to serve the living and true God" (1 Thess. i. 9; Acts xvii. 1-4). Jews and Gentiles, Samaritans and Proselytes, worshippers of the true God and idolaters, are all found turning from their previous modes of life and conforming themselves to the teaching of Christianity.
Every station of life is represented. A great company of priests, as well as multitudes of the common people, were obedient to the faith. The polished Greek and the less cultivated inhabitants of Lystra and Derbe joined one brotherhood. Honourable women and others who were of less note became members of the one Christian Society. Every shade of society came so much under the influence of Christianity that Luke relates conversions from all.
These different classes contained a diversity of characters. We note the rigid Pharisee and bitter opponent in Saul; earnest students and willing learners in the Ethiopian Eunuch and the Bereans; devotion and benevolence in Cornelius; unfeeling coarseness in the Philippian jailor; and the cultivated interviewer in the Athenians.
3. The conversions were brought about under different preachers. The Acts of Apostles is so far an inaccurate name for the fifth book of the New Testament, inasmuch as the title is more comprehensive than the book to which it is given. We have here only some acts chiefly of two apostles, Peter and Paul. The labours of these two, however, are largely connected with conversions; so that their actions as apostles become a guide to us in our inquiry respecting conversion. We have thus ample opportunity of studying conversions effected under the ministry of Peter, to whom the keys of the kingdom had been given, and of Paul, the one born as out of due time; the former the apostle of the circumcision, the latter the apostle to the Gentiles; the one a disciple of Christ from the beginning, and characterised by an amount of impetuosity, while the other was a bitter opponent at first, only becoming a convert after Christianity had been fairly established, and characterised by indomitable adherence to whatever he espoused.
But there were other agents than apostles. Not a few were instrumental in producing conversions to God. Philip was the preacher in Samaria and in the desert, as reported in Acts viii. And he can scarcely be the apostle of that name; for the apostles were still in
Jerusalem. Ananias was the teacher and guide who, so far as human agency was employed, lifted Saul out of that distraction of mind which he had suffered for three days in Damascus, and led him into the way of peace and joy. Even Saul had many co-labourers, as Barnabas, and Silas, and Timothy, who acted an important part in converting others. In searching into and comparing the records of conversion in Acts we shall therefore meet with a considerable variety of ministry, and we shall have full opportunity of observing whether there be any difference in conversions effected under different agents.
4. The conversions recorded by Luke occurred in places widely apart. During the first months of Christianity we have no account of missionary work except in Jerusalem; but a great persecution arose, and the disciples "were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria," and "they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts viii. 1-4). From Judea they went into Samaria, Phenicia, Syria, Cyprus, Asia, Macedonia, Achaia, and Italy. Noting the places more in detail, missionary work was done and conversions produced in Jerusalem, Samaria, the Desert, Lydda, Saron, Joppa, Damascus, Antioch, Paphos, Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome. The disciples travelled northward from the cradle of Christianity to Damascus and Antioch (chaps. ix., xi.), and by and by from Antioch westward through Asia as far as Rome. Chapters xiii., xiv., xvi-xix. give some idea of the incessant labours of the preachers, the numerous places visited, and the results of the preaching. Conversions resulted in localities so far apart that they were almost completely beyond the influence of each other. The movement was not of a restricted local nature, but rather of world-wide fame. These wide-spread conversions, as we find them related in Acts, open up to us a means of comparing conversions in places the most distance and unlike.
5. The conversions took place in the most diverse circumstances. On the day of Pentecost the inquirers were suffering under a sense of enormous guilt. They were charged with resolute antagonism to One whom God had approved in the most signal manner. They had opposed, and crucified, and slain Jesus of Nazareth, though God had attested His mission by notable miracles. At their Passover Feast, seven weeks before, they had been the means of His crucifixion. They had given away, rejected, murdered their Messiah. What was now to be done? These murderers, pricked in their heart, writhing under their guilt, having the path of safety shown to them, became thorough converts to the Christ whom they had so blindly rejected.
Saul of Tarsus resembled those Jews on Pentecost. He, too, had been in battle array against the Anointed of God. In his bitter persecution of the disciples, he had attempted a wholesale suppression of the cause of Christ. When he realised, by the miracle in which Jesus appeared to him on the way to Damascus, that Jesus still lived, and that God was on His side, he was thrown into the utmost anxiety. For three days his distress was such that he ate nothing. While under a sense of deepest guilt he was turned into the path of safety and joy.
The circumstances were different in Samaria. Magic power was in such ascendancy as to be denominated the great power of God. For a long time Simon had amazed the Samaritans with his sorceries. But the means employed to produce conversion was of such a nature as to triumph over the magician's tricks, turning men away from the amazing deeds of the sorcerer, and leading them into trustful obedience to the Messiah. "The multitudes gave heed with one accord unto the things that were spoken by Philip, when they heard, and saw the signs which he did." "When they believed Philip preaching good tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women."
Similar magic power was employed by Elymas to pervert the ways of the Lord and prevent the conversion of the proconsul of Cyprus (chap. xiii. 6-12). Despite the effort of the magician to turn the proconsul aside from the faith, the truth conquered, and the ruler of Cyprus became a convert to Christianity.
If God's gracious arrangements resulted in conversion, not only when there was a heavy load of guilt to remove, but even when the inquirers were retarded by displays of magic power, it is not to be wondered at that we have records of the conversion of those who diligently studied the Word of God. The Eunuch was poring over Isaiah's ancient scroll when Philip joined him and enlisted him as a convert to the new cause (chap. viii. 26-28). The Bereans searched the Old Testament writings to test the accuracy of the things reported to them (xvii. 10, 11). Such open-minded earnest research into what of God's will had been written, was the best possible preparation for conversion to God's fuller scheme revealed through Christ and His apostles.
The honest, zealous worshippers in Jewish synagogues were, it might be thought at first glance, in favourable circumstances somewhat similar to those earnest students of the Jewish Scriptures referred to in the previous paragraph. But on more careful thought it will be seen that there were adverse circumstances often operating in the synagogues. Any appearance of change, any turning aside from the common current of thought, was apt to be resented with strong feeling. Hence such scenes as that at Antioch (xii. 44-52). Notwithstanding the untoward influence of synagogue rulers and blindly zealous Jews, the Messiah's cause prevailed, so that in synagogues, as well as elsewhere, conversions happened. We can trace these conversions as they transpired within the environment of these Jewish schools, and amid the keen religious rancour of badly instructed worshippers.
Even where there was idle curiosity, little removed or in no way to be distinguished from gaping, time-killing inquiry after the latest novelty, some conversions happened under faithful preaching. The Athenians spent their time in hearing and retailing the latest gossip (xvii. 21). But the power of the truth was felt and seen even among them. "Certain men clave unto Paul, and believed; among whom also was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them."
Conversions took place in the most varied circumstances; and Luke places so many of them on record that we can examine and compare them with full confidence that accurate knowledge is obtainable on the whole subject.
So much preaching, so many conversions, from all classes, under different preachers, in places widely apart, and in different circumstances, it would be impossible to find recorded in any other book. The Acts of Apostles promises, therefore, to be a rich field for the application of the inductive method to the subject of conversion. With all the examples before us there should be no serious difficulty in distinguishing what is essential from what is merely accidental; i.e., what belongs to conversion as such from what is merely incidental to a particular case.
THE NATURE OF CONVERSION.
Meaning of 'Conversion' - Varied translations of the two words rendered 'convert' - One meaning belonging to both - Conversion a turning - Implying activity and responsibility on the part of the convert - A turning from wrong- doing to serve God - Involving an employment of the whole man - A suggestion to teachers of primitive Christianity
FREQUENTLY much light is shed upon a subject by studying the word, or words, by which it is named. The meaning of a word, sometimes its etymology, and in all cases its usage by persons who employ it accurately, are at once interesting and instructive. What then is
THE MEANING OF CONVERSION?
'Convert' may be said to be a Latin word in English dress. Taking the root part of the word, 'vert,' we note its meaning as 'turn'. In numerous words 'vert' may be seen to have this meaning. To 'advert' is to 'turn to'; to 'revert,' to 'turn back'; to 'subvert,' to 'turn under',' i.e., upside down; to 'pervert,' to 'turn in a wrong direction.' So in 'convert' there is the idea of 'turning.' The prefix con denotes company, in conjunction with, as in congregate, to gather together; and in connect, to tie or fasten together. It is the same as co in co-operate, operating together, working harmoniously. 'Convert,' therefore, according to its component parts, indicates a turning in company with some one, a turning to go along with another. But con is often intensive, as in commotion. 'Convert' might hence mean a turning of a most complete or thorough nature.
It does not follow from anything we have yet before us, that the literal, etymological meaning is the meaning in actual use. Words, like persons, may change very much from what they were at birth. They may so far leave their early associations, and be transferred to such entirely new circumstances, that their origin and after life are far apart. They may be employed very differently in after life from what they were in youth. At the same time words, again like persons, generally retain something which is manifestly connected with early life. The origin and first meaning of a word are rarely entirely lost sight of or displaced. Supposing then that 'convert' retains something of its original and family meaning, the idea of a physical conversion might be presented thus. A stranger travelling along a road, asks some one whom he meets to tell him the way to a certain town. The answer is, 'You are going the wrong way; come with me and I will take you to the town.' The stranger turns and goes along with his newly found guide. It is a conversion according to the primary meaning of convert; it is a turning round to go in company with another. But whether this primary and literal meaning holds all through the history of the word is a point that can only be decided in view of its full usage; i.e., after an examination of the occurrences of the word in varied circumstances.
We have, however, to remember that Christ and New Testament writers spoke neither Latin nor English. We may have an accurate conception of the word in these two languages, and yet have no adequate representation of the New Testament word. Happily for us, by means of such a book as the Englishman's Greek Concordance, there is little difficulty in becoming acquainted with the proper English equivalents of most New Testament Greek words. On turning up 'convert' we find that it is used as a translation of two Greek words. These are strepho and epistrepho, the latter being manifestly a compound of the former. The lexicons say that the prefix epi adds the thought of towards, causing the compound word to mean to turn towards. But it may be doubted whether in actual use there is any noticeable difference in the meaning of the two words. The simple word occurs in Matt. v. 39, and xviii. 3. In the former passage the Authorised Version translates it 'turn'; in the latter, 'be converted.' The compound word is found in Matt. ix. 22, and Acts iii. 19. 'Turned him about,' and 'be converted,' are the translations given in the Authorised Version in these two passages. Turning the cheek to an enemy, and Jesus turning Himself round, present to us examples of the words employed of a bodily turning. These, so far, correspond to the meaning contained in the Latin-English word 'convert.' Turning is the radical idea, it would therefore seem, of the Greek words as well as the Latin.
But our translators did not confine themselves to the two words, 'convert' and 'turn'. They give a variety of translation of the two Greek verbs. Perhaps the most effectual way of bringing the facts respecting these words before the reader, is to give a summary of the various ways in which they are translated in the New Testament. Strepho, rendered 'be converted' in Acts iii. 19, is found thirty-nine times; and the noun 'conversion' - epistrophee - is only once used (Acts xv. 3). In all, then, there are fifty-eight instances, fifty-seven of which are translations of the two verbs. The fifty-seven occurrences may be presented in one view as follows:-
Strepho* is translated Epistrepho** is translated
"turn" 11 times. "turn" 16 times.
"turn herself" 2 times. "return" 6 times.
"turn him" 1 time. "turn about" 4 times.
"turn him about" 1 time. "turn again" 3 times.
"turn again" 1 time. "come again" 1 time.
"turn back again" 1 time. "go again" 1 time.
"convert" 1 time. "convert" 8 times.
* Strepho is represented by 'turn' in Matt. v. 39; xvi. 23; Luke vii. 44; ix. 55; xiv. 25; xxii. 61; xxiii. 28; John i. 38; Acts vii. 42; xiii. 46; Rev. xi. 6; 'turn herself,' John xx. 14, 16; 'turn him,' Luke x. 23; 'turn him about,' Luke vii. 9; 'turn again,' Matt. vii. 6; 'turn back again,' Acts vii. 39; 'convert,' Matt. xviii. 3.
** Epistrepho is represented by 'turn' in Luke i. 16, 17; Acts ix. 35, 40; xi. 21; xiv. 15; xv. 19; xvi. 18; xxvi. 18, 20; 2 Cor. iii. 16; Gal. iv. 9; 1 Thess. i. 9; 2 Pet. ii. 21; Rev. i. 12; 'return,' Matt. x. 13; xii. 44; xxiv. 18; Luke ii. 20; xvii. 31; 1 Pet. ii. 25; 'turn about,' Matt. ix. 22; Mark v. 30; viii. 33; John xxi. 20; 'turn again,' Mark xiii. 16; Luke xvii. 4; 2 Pet. ii. 20; 'come again,' Luke viii. 55; 'go again,' Acts xv. 36; 'convert,' Matt. xiii. 15; Mark iv. 12; Luke xxii. 32; John xii. 40; Acts iii. 19; xxviii. 27; James v. 19, 20.
A very cursory glance at the passages where we have these translations, will reveal three things. (1). To turn is the prominent thought; that idea being clearly present in all, unless we still except those where we have the foreign word convert. (2). Turn is freely employed, and convert never, when there is reference to any merely bodily change, turning round of the body, or the like. (3). Convert is frequently used, and turn rarely, when the change is of a spiritual nature, or has reference to man turning to God. That looks like putting plain every-day affairs in clear, intelligible, homely English, and hiding the far more important and spiritual under a Latin word. At the same time, it is evident that turn was deemed a fair representation of the original word, even when a spiritual change was spoken of. In Acts ix. 35, and in 1 Thess. i. 9, turn is employed to represent the strongest of the two Greek words previously named; and in both passages the turning is Godward, the change is what is elsewhere denominated conversion. If the Thessalonian believers, and all in Lydda and Saron, turned to the Lord, then, surely, whenever the same Greek word is found, and the same spiritual change is spoken of, we are warranted in calling it a turning; i.e., wherever in the New Testament we have convert, we may with much advantage substitute turn.
CONVERSION MEANS TURNING.
To turn is the evident thought throughout, the instances where convert is used being no exception. What we have already observed respecting the etymology of convert might suffice, by the side of the general translation turn, as proof that turn is everywhere the idea. We have seen that it is a word derived from Latin, and means to turn. We might, therefore, feel somewhat confident that in all the fifty-eight occurrences there is the one idea present, viz., that of turning. There is, however, no reason why any uncertainty should remain. We can examine the passages and see whether the thought of turning is borne out in each. Even this work is now largely done to our hands in the Revised Version. For in seven out of the nine cases where convert occurs in the Authorised Version, the Revised Version substitutes turn.* What King James's translators had already done in Acts ix. 35, and in 1 Thess. i. 9, the revisers have done in a few additional passages. The two companies of translators are thus seen to agree in bearing witness that turning is the thought of the Greek words, the earlier translators showing it in forty-eight instances out of fifty-eight, the revisers in fifty-five out of fifty-eight.
But what about the remaining three occurrences? They are James v. 19, 20, where the revisers still give 'convert,' and Acts xv. 3, where they retain 'conversion.' Why the two verses in James are left with 'convert' in them is a curious problem. It cannot be that turn is not suitable, for the verses would convey the most appropriate sense to be read thus: 'My brethren, if any among you do err from the truth, and one turn him; let him know, that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins.' That is certainly as sensible as the retaining of 'convert,' and much more likely to be intelligible to the majority of readers; and there can be no pretence that the Greek word does not warrant it, for the revisers themselves have translated the same word by 'turn' in many passages. Acts xxvi. 18 is an example, 'turn' being employed there to represent the word used in James v. The two passages are parallels. The former speaks of Paul as sent to turn men. See the Authorised Version and the margin of the Revised. If Paul can be spoken of as turning others, why not, especially when the same Greek word is employed, speak of other brethren turning sinners from the error of their ways?
Thus far, the study of the words has contributed a fair measure of light. Looking at all the passages, and all the words employed, we see the nature of conversion - conversion itself - standing out before us as a simple turning. When applied to the common affairs of life, such as a person turning round, or turning from one place to another, the translators made clear work of it; but when a spiritual change was spoken of, they sometimes used a Latin term. That error is largely rectified in the Revised Version. Almost without exception the Latin word is dismissed and plain English substituted, and the few exceptions are equally susceptible of the same treatment. The whole is simplified into a turning.
On the evidence, then, of every passage in which the verbs strepho and epistrepho are employed, and in view of considerable variety of translation by the two companies of translators, we are led to the
conclusion that there is one idea common to all the occurrences of these words, and that one idea is to turn.
The Revised Version presents another point belonging to this subject in its true light.
* Matt. xiii. 15; xviii. 3; Mark iv. 12; Luke xxii. 32; John xii. 40; Acts iii. 19; xxviii. 27.
. 'BE CONVERTED' HAS DISAPPEARED.
Compare the Authorised and the Revised in the seven passages already named. There is no longer 'be converted'; a form of speech which tends to convey the idea of mere passiveness. The thought now brought out rather is, Turn yourselves. Turn ye, turn again, addressed to man, throws upon him all responsibility. Man must see to the turning of himself, and not wait on a higher power to do it for him. It devolves on man to take action in the matter. His responsibility, and the need of activity, are both clearly involved in the later translation. This speaks volumes. At the same time, there is no ignoring of God's help and gracious means. God has given man the power to turn, and has provided all the means; but he calls on man to use what is thus made available - to exercise his power and turn into the proper path. He has provided man with needful power, information, and inducement to turn. His expostulation of old was, 'Turn ye, turn ye; why will ye die?" He put Himself upon oath that His pleasure consisted in the wicked turning from his way (Ezek. xxxiii. 11). Since that time, His manifestation of love in the gift of His Son, and His expostulation with men, are increasingly tender and affectionate. But such expostulation is the fullest possible recognition of man's obligation to employ the word - to turn into the path which the lamp of God illumines. Upon man devolves the duty of responding to Heaven's loving appeal to turn.
THE NATURE OF CONVERSION
we are now in a position to inquire into. What kind of turning is meant, when, in the Scripture sense, conversion is spoken of? It is not every turning that would be called a conversion. Our Latin friend, conversion, is restricted in application to a certain kind of turning. Men may turn round times without number, and yet not be converts to Christ. They may turn from one religion to another, and from one denomination to another, until they have been allied with all, and still have given no ground for others to believe that they are converts in the Scripture sense. What, then, is conversion in the Scripture, spiritual acceptation of that term?
Paul's language in 1 Thess. i. 9-10 sheds considerable light on our query. "Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven." There was a previous life turned from, and a new line of conduct turned to. They had been idolaters. In conversion they turned their back upon idolatrous customs. In the wider language of Acts xiv. 15, there was a turning from vanities. Whatever things were vain, empty, worthless, antagonistic to God, were left; and, whatever was revealed as the divine will they turned themselves to, engaged themselves in. It was not an engagement merely in contemplating God, studying His character, His ways, and His revelation, however useful and delightful that might be. It was a serving of God. A faithful servant carries out his master's will, does what he is bidden. In like manner the true convert has turned from wrong things, and is busy doing what God has commanded.
To do what God enjoins implies the possession of knowledge derivable only from revelation. The convert is acquainted with God's revealed will, and cheerfully does it. Hence Paul could speak of himself as sent to the Gentiles, "to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God" (Acts xxvi. 18). First, there is light imparted; then, acting according to the light, men are freed from sin and Satan's sway, and brought into the service and liberty of the truth and of God.
CONVERSION APPLIES TO THE WHOLE MAN.
What has been previously said implies that the whole man is engaged in conversion. The understanding is enlightened, the affections are entwined around a new object of attraction and love, the will is surrendered to the instructions of a new Master, and the body is an instrument through which knowledge, and love, and resolution, act. The entire man is engaged in the new service. Conversion is not a matter of the heart alone. Heart, and head, and life, all turn into a new course.
As we examine the records of conversion through Acts, we shall have frequent occasion to observe how the whole man is thus enlisted. The Gospel and its conditions are addressed to the understanding and to the heart; motives are presented and appeals made to move the will; and the commands are of such a nature as to require the activity of the body. In accepting the preaching of apostles, there was faith or belief; in resolving to act upon it, there was repentance; and in baptism, there was the first act of engaging the body in the divine service. Faith, repentance, and baptism, so much exemplified in the conversions recorded in the Acts, thus represent a complete turning to God, a thorough employment in His service. Conversion is a turning of the whole man to do service to God as His word directs.
A SUGGESTION TO TEACHERS OF PRIMITIVE CHRISTIANITY.
Avoid 'be converted,' 'are converted,' and all forms of the passive voice of this verb. In many cases the passive voice not only fails to convey the truth, it is positively misleading. It fosters and perpetuates the notion that men are passive in becoming Christians, and that they must therefore wait until God turns them.
It might be well also to avoid the verb even in its active form, both because of its bad association with a doctrinal error, and because of its unsuitableness to describe a person turning. We cannot say, 'Repent and convert,' nor, 'They converted to the Lord'; and probably most speakers would shrink from speaking of one converting himself, although truth is conveyed by that form of speech.
By the passive voice Scripture and truth are not properly presented; and in the active voice this verb is not used intransitively; i.e., it cannot be used so as to indicate that the turning is the action of the subject or person named.
'Convert,' as a noun, may be a useful designation of those who have turned, and 'conversion' may often be more convenient than 'turning'; but the verb in all its forms might be dismissed from the vocabulary of Christians, and much gain be effected thereby. The revisers have greatly helped us in this matter. Let us consistently carry it out.
Acts ii. 1-21.
BEGINNING IN JERUSALEM.
Jerusalem - Waiting for power - Pentecost - Peter's audience - Strange phenomena - Great perplexity - Serious charge against the apostles - Brief defence - Scripture explanation - Query and reply
JERUSALEM was the centre of holy association to devout Jews. Fully a thousand years prior to New Testament times, God had authorised the building of a temple there. David made preparation for the building, and it was erected during the reign of his son Solomon. From that time onward, Jerusalem was the centre of attraction to all pious Jews. There they gathered together from all quarters at the great Jewish feasts. Thither they brought their offerings; there their sacrifices were presented, the priests officiated, and God was worshipped. The absent Jews longed to stand within the gates of Jerusalem, and they prayed for peace and prosperity to their loved city (Psalm cxxii).
In Jerusalem, however, many dark and horrible deeds had been perpetrated. The pious people had often been strangely wicked. Idolatry had been cherished where there ought only to have been the worship of the living God. Heathen abominations had stalked unreproved by the side of the holy things of Jehovah; and interdicted marriages with the idolatrous nations around had been sanctioned in high quarters, and widely practised. Amid unblushing lawlessness in varied forms, the voice of the prophets was frequently heard, and almost as frequently unheeded or wickedly rejected. The call to reformation was often drowned in the blood of the faithful witnesses. The inhabitants of Jerusalem were notorious for the murder of their prophets (Matt. xxiii. 34, 35-37). Last of all they rejected their Messiah. They reverenced not the Son. They would have neither His teaching nor His rule. They killed the Holy and Just One.
Was it not now time to throw them completely off? Had they not now filled up their cup of iniquity? Should they not now be abandoned to their fate? Not yet, says Jesus. Let the proclamation of forgiveness be begun in Jerusalem. Give a crowning proof that Jehovah is long-suffering, abundant in mercy, and ready to pardon. Where sin had abounded let grace superabound. Where there has been the last and deepest sin, let there be the first display of Gospel pardon. Begin in Jerusalem (Luke xxiv. 45-49). The disciples were not to go home to their native Galilee, but to wait in Jerusalem and begin there; begin in the metropolis, at headquarters, at the very centre of Judaism, where the Lord of glory had been crucified.
The place in which to commence operations was resolved upon, but the time had not yet come. The apostles were to wait a little; they were to "wait for the promise of the Father." The work with which they were entrusted was of no ordinary nature, and they would need special preparation. They were to begin in the city where numerous God-sent teachers had sealed their testimony with their blood. The authorities had shown special antagonism and bitterness to Jesus; His followers might therefore reckon on rough treatment when they began to proclaim and vindicate His cause. What they had to say would necessarily involve a charge against the leaders of the people of shedding innocent blood. Their message, though one of peace and forgiveness, would nevertheless be against the current of thought and feeling. Nor was it a common everyday announcement they had to make. To them Jesus had said, "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained" (John xx. 23). The work they had to do was of far-reaching magnitude, the circumstances seemed untoward, and the apostles were not remarkable either in capacity or influence. There was need for careful preparation. The apostles were, therefore, to wait until all things were ready - wait until equipped with power from on high - wait until, filled with the Holy Spirit, they could speak with authority and without fear of error - wait until, breathed into by the Spirit, they could breathe out words of truth and soberness suitable to all occasions - wait until, being inspired, they could pronounce laws that had Heaven's ratification.
was the occasion when the needed help came. The word Pentecost is of Greek origin, and means fifty. It is a name given to one of the great yearly festive gatherings of the Jews. Lev. xxiii. 15-21 contains particulars of this joyous assembly. Counting from the day of the sheaf-offering, details of which are given in verses 10-14 of the same chapter, seven Sabbaths, i.e., seven weeks, were reckoned; and on the first day of the eighth week, i.e., on the fiftieth day, bread was offered. At the beginning of harvest there was the sheaf-offering; seven weeks afterwards, two loaves made from the new crops were presented before God. Notice the analogy. Reckoning from the Passover, when Jesus died, or, more exactly, from the day of His resurrection - the day when he became the first-fruits, corresponding to the first sheaf - the fiftieth day brings us to the first conversions under Christianity, the first-fruits of the new dispensation, corresponding to the two wave loaves. Notice, again, that while the sheaf was pure as God gave it, the bread had leaven in it. So Christ was all pure, but Christians are often a sad mixture, containing much leaven.
The fiftieth day found the apostles waiting according to the command of the Saviour. They were all with one accord in one place. What happened is related in Acts ii. 1-4. Being filled with the Spirit they forthwith began preaching and teaching.
Who were the first hearers of the new preaching? Jews, many of whom were from the very distant parts of the earth (verses 8-11). They had come from north, south, east, and west. Jerusalem and her harvest feast had drawn them together. They had come from as far as Pontus in the north, Egypt and Libya in the south, Media in the east, and Rome in the west. The Jewish nation may be said to have assembled in the capital. There is, moreover, a close connection between the assembled multitude we are now considering, and the assembly congregated in the same place seven weeks before. At the Passover season, though the multitude sang hosanna to Jesus of Nazareth, as the son of David, and as coming in the name of the Lord, and though many grateful hearts throbbed in sympathy with Him, the nation as such, through its representatives, publicly repudiated Him. The crucifixion of the Prophet of Nazareth was their act and deed; and there is no intimation that they wished to disown it. To those who had taken the life of Jesus, not two months before, the newly empowered apostles had first to preach.
Strange Phenomena were connected with that day and those preachers.
1. There was sound. "Suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting." It was not wind, but resembled the noise thereof. According to the Revised Version of the sixth verse the sound itself was heard, not a report about it. Was it heaven's bell ringing out an invitation to the people to come together? It was a sound, rather than, in itself, any actual blessing imparted to the waiting ones; but it was a sound which, coming from heaven, gathered round those who were patiently obeying their Lord's command to wait for the promise. The newly crowned King was calling attention to His faithful servants, whom He was about to endow. The close relationship existing between those few Galileans and the Occupant of heaven's throne was being indicated.
2. There was appearance. There was more than sound; there was something visible. "And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them." There was no fire; it was only like as of fire. There were symbolic tongues parting asunder, or distributing themselves. Language was to be the chief means employed in propagating the cause of King Jesus. The Word of God to be uttered by apostles was the sword of the Spirit (Eph. vi. 17). "Tongues like as of fire" may denote the potent nature of the word to be uttered. It would consume the chaff. Human traditions, hollow pretences, frivolous reasons and excuses, would all be scorched by the burning light of God's Word. Human evil ineffectually opposes. "Our God is a consuming fire." Each apostle had the same sign; "it sat upon each of them." All had the same acknowledgment and encouragement. The sound gathered around all, filled all the house where they were sitting, while what was seen was for each one separately.
3. They were filled. There was more than sound and appearance. "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit." Sound and appearance were, so to speak, but signs; the reality itself was there too. There was direct impartation; the promised Spirit was now given. Nor was it given with a niggard hand; they were filled. A great work was before them; a great preparation they now received.
4. They began to speak. The result of being filled with Spirit was immediately seen. They "began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." Their utterance was according to a power higher than their own judgment and natural gifts; they spoke as the Spirit gave them. The divine Spirit supplemented their powers and made them equal to the occasion. Their spirits, bathed in the divine Spirit, became fit instruments to report the wonderful works of God. They so spoke in other languages, the languages of the countries and districts of the people assembled there, that the audience could say, "We do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God."
The Result of these Phenomena next invites consideration.
There was great perplexity among the people. "They were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these who speak Galileans?" The speakers were known to be Galileans; they could have had no opportunity of learning these languages; and yet they were speaking so as to be understood, and so as to make their hearers take note of the wonderful works of God. It was beyond the power of the hearers to unravel the mystery.
A serious charge was made against the apostles. There were those who suggested that what was being done was to be traced to intemperance. "Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine." Such a charge circulated widely might have led to disastrous consequences. It might easily have been believed. It had some plausibility. The utterances of a foreigner, in a language which we do not know, seem often much akin to the mutterings of a drunken man. The one is about as intelligible as the other. While, then, an apostle spoke intelligibly to those whose language he was employing at the time, he might seem as an intoxicated man to others who knew not the language in which he was then speaking.
A brief reply is given to the serious charge. "These are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day." It must be owned that it is quite within the bounds of possibility to be drunk by nine o'clock in the morning. But at least it is unusual. It is at night that men get drunk, not in the morning; "they that be drunken are drunken in the night." It was an unlikely thing that twelve men would be drunk so early in the day. Further, it was "the first hour of prayer; before which no pious Jew might eat or drink."
A full Scripture explanation immediately follows. It is based upon a quotation from Joel. God had prophesied through Joel of an outpouring of the Spirit. The day of Pentecost was seeing the fulfilment. "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel," said Peter. And yet it must be acknowledged that there was not then a complete fulfilment of the prophetic words. The Spirit was to be poured out upon all flesh; but there was only the one nation present, and as yet only a dozen of them had received the heavenly boon. Sons and daughters were to prophesy; but prophetesses and handmaidens were not at work on the day of Pentecost. Young men were to see visions, and old men dream dreams; but visions are unreported, and dreaming found no place on that memorable occasion. Prodigies all around were to take place; but we know nothing of change in heaven or earth, sun or moon, nor of blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke. The day was quiet as usual; everything was regular in the workings of nature as on every other day. What had happened, however, was the beginning of the fulfilment of Joel's prophecy. The secret of the wonderful speaking of the few men was that God had begin to carry out the promise made long before through the prophet. He was pouring out of His Spirit upon them. The men were not drunk with wine, but they were filled with the Spirit; and the whole was in agreement with God's announcement hundreds of years before.
Eighteen hundred years have passed away, and the prophecy has not yet received its complete fulfilment. The great and notable day of the Lord has not yet arrived. Ere that day dawns every syllable of the comprehensive prophecy shall have its completest realisation.
Thus far Peter's remarks were explanatory of the linguistic power of himself and his colleagues. It was not by their own power or industry that they thus spoke. God was working with them. The people's perplexity might now be removed. The explanation was such as to commend itself to Jews. God had promised great things to them. Nor had He forgotten His promises. At one of the feats of His own appointment He was visiting them in mercy. He was fulfilling His own word. The hand of the Lord was among them.
QUERY AND REPLY.
Why restrict the receiving of the Holy Spirit, in the beginning of Acts ii., to the twelve? Were not all the one hundred and twenty, mentioned in chapter i. 15, filled with the Spirit?
There is no statement either asserting or implying that the whole one hundred and twenty were recipients and actors in what is reported in Acts ii. It is possible that they all had a share in these wonderful transactions; but it seems improbable for the following reasons:
1. The immediate connection points to the twelve. Read the last verse of the first chapter, and the first verse of the second chapter together. Matthias "was numbered with the eleven apostles. And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they" - Matthias and the eleven, i.e., the twelve apostles, - "were all with one accord in one place."
2. The writer of the Acts of the Apostles does not bring the numerous disciples into view after the election of Matthias; the twelve are thenceforward the actors.
3. The speakers on Pentecost were all recognised as Galileans (verse 7). It would be hazardous to assert that all the one hundred and twenty were Galileans.
4. Peter stood up with the eleven (verse 14). He did not stand up with the one hundred and nineteen, nor did he speak for them. He stood up with the eleven, and pleaded on their behalf that they were not drunk.
5. It was to the apostles that the promise was made (chap. i. 2-4).
6. The apostles specially required to be demonstrated as pre-eminently appointed and gifted by the Lord for their responsible work. The spirit was therefore given to them first, and in a most marked manner. But that does not preclude others from afterward receiving the Spirit, as promised in chapter ii. 38, 39, either directly from heaven (x. 44), or mediately through the onlaying of an apostle's hands (viii. 14-17).
JESUS OF NAZARETH.
Acts ii. 22-36.
Jesus a man - Approved of God - Delivered - Crucified - Raised from the dead - David's prophecy of the resurrection - Jesus exalted - Sending of the Holy Spirit - Simplicity of the preaching - Concurrent testimony to Jesus - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit co-operating - Jewish antagonism - Obvious warning.
THE chief part of Peter's address on Pentecost was respecting the Prophet of Nazareth. Having done what was needful; to remove misapprehension and doubt, he proceeded to what may be called the subject of his discourse -
JESUS OF NAZARETH.
His remarks thereon may be classified as follows:
1. Jesus a man. The opening words recognise the humanity of the Lord. It is not necessary to assume that Peter emphasised this thought. There was then no need. No one doubted that Jesus was a man. His birth, and growth, and dependence on the ordinary conditions of life, were all known as resembling that of others. His relatives were known to the people around as their own relatives were. The divine in Him was less known than the human. Divinity and humanity blended was a new idea, and difficult to grasp. The human was unmistakably visible; the divine was unrecognised. Many are now in a danger quite the reverse of the contemporaries of Christ. The divine is made so all-absorbing that the human seems sometimes lost sight of. It will increase our appreciation of the Saviour, and intensify our love to Him and fellowship with Him, to observe how intensely human he was. Jesus was a man.
2. A man approved of God. A Jewish teacher confessed that no one could do the signs which Jesus did, unless God were with him (John iii. 2). The miracles - the wonder-producing mighty deeds - which He performed, were sure signs of God's approving presence. Hence he could say, "The works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me" (John v. 36). Apart from any other testimony, the miracles of the Galilean Prophet testified with unfaltering voice to His divine mission. These deeds were a testimony respecting Him from God to the Jews that none of them needed to misunderstand or be in ignorance of. The miracles were neither few nor doubtful. Jesus was publicly and thoroughly accredited. The undeniable nature of His works, and the public knowledge of them, are borne out by Peter's home-thrust, "as ye yourselves also know." The arm of Jehovah was assuredly revealed in authentication of Jesus and His mission.
3. Delivered. Jesus was placed within the power of the Jews. He was not fenced off so that they could not approach Him and do with Him as they desired. Neither His miracles nor His extraordinary nature and character were made a means of shielding Him from anything the men of Israel chose to do with Him. He never rescued Himself from their hands by miracle, though an escape from their murderous intent on one occasion is sometimes unnecessarily assumed as a miracle (Luke iv. 3)). No: He was delivered to them, put within their power. This was according to God's "determinate counsel and foreknowledge." Here let us observe carefully. We have a counsel or plan which was determinate, fixed, marked out beforehand - a pre-determined plan; and we have foreknowledge, knowledge beforehand. To what have the plan and foreknowledge reference? Only to Jesus being put within the power of the Jews. There is no implication of their treatment of Him having been pre-determined. God foreknew what the Israelites would do with Jesus, but certainly had not foreordained it. They were free to use Him who was delivered to them in a tender or in a cruel fashion, to receive Him as a friend or denounce Him as a foe, to hail Him as a benefactor or reject Him as an impostor. Hence it is that they were held responsible for their conduct, and actually charged with the murder of the sinless One. The determinate counsel of God is here restricted to the putting of the Messiah within the power of His own nation.
4. Treatment by the Jews. Him "ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." Or, "Ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay" Him. When they got Jesus in their power, they hesitated not how to act. They remorselessly put Him to death; they cut Him off out of the land of the living. They had not at that time the power of life and death in their own hands; they were a subject people, and were more or less bound to abide by Roman decisions. But that did not prevent them from compassing their desire in reference to Jesus. They persuaded the Roman governor to gratify their blood-thirsty desire. They acted with a zeal and a pertinacity worthy of a nobler cause. The Son of God had visited them; but pre-conceptions and bitterness blinded them to the numerous credentials of His character and mission. Divine magnanimity was displayed in sending their Messiah to move among them as one of themselves, and thus be, in a sense, at their mercy; but they betrayed the high trust, and hesitated not to employ lawless men to put Him to death. Their conduct was rash, inhospitable, ignorant, and faithless.
5. Raised from the dead. The resurrection of Christ is the all-important fact in Peter's discourse. If the resurrection be established all else is clear. But such an event was alike unexpected and extraordinary. It is natural, therefore, that more space is devoted to the discussion of it than of any other point. It occupies verses 24-32. To the thirty-sixth verse may be included. Two kinds of proof are presented: the evidence of eye-witnesses, and the prophecy of the sixteenth Psalm. The former is affirmed, but not enlarged upon. "This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses." To the apostles, as specially chosen witnesses, Christ had shown Himself after the resurrection by many proofs (chap. 1. 1-3). Peter therefore claimed for them that they were witnesses of the fact that God had raised Jesus from the dead. But he laboured most to impress upon his audience that their own Scriptures contained intimations that the Messiah, having died, would rise again. He argued the impossibility of death retaining Him in its power. The Old Testament Writings clearly predicted His resurrection. The Spirit that inspired the writers knew what would occur. That the Messiah would immediately rise from the dead was, therefore, as certain as the knowledge of God was unerring.
In the four verses quoted from the Psalm and applied to Christ there are at least eight points for consideration.
(1.) Living as seeing the invisible One. He beheld Jehovah always near Him as His Helper. Hence it was that he was unmoved by any trial. It could be said of Him as of Moses, "He endured, as seeing Him who is invisible" (Heb. xi. 27).
(2.) His heart rejoiced.
(3.) His tongue was glad. The joy was of a nature that would express itself. It found utterance in words.
(4.) The grave was illumined with hope. His flesh would rest for a little in expectation of rising again. Though death should seem to end life, resurrection would supervene and prolong His days; He would rise from the grave to die no more.
(5.) His soul would not be left in Hades. That living principle which at death would be separated from the body, would not be left in the spirit world a disembodied spirit.
(6.) His flesh would not be long enough in the grave to cause corruption.
(7.) God had revealed to Him the paths out from death into endless life.
(8.) By being in God's presence, and remaining there, He would be filled with gladness.
The three first items tell of Messiah's own experience upon earth. He had God always in view, His heart was full of gladness, and His tongue gave utterance to it. The fourth item speaks of the time during which Christ lay in the grave, and indicates the hope with which even death was radiant. The fifth and sixth disclose the ground of His hopefulness; death could not keep Him, God would emancipate Him by resurrection. The seventh speaks of God revealing the pathway to never-ending life. And the eighth leads us to the contemplation of Christ's present position in God's presence, at His right hand, where there are pleasures for evermore.
Looking back over these eight points again, it will be seen that the last four are blessings attributed directly to God. The prophet, on behalf of Christ, addresses God as the deliverer from Hades and the grave, as the Revealer of the way to life, and the Source of endless pleasure. While the first four lay bare Christ's experience, the last four trace all to their origin in God.
The language of the Psalm is inapplicable to David. He had not been brought out of his grave, nor rescued from Hades, nor taken into the divine presence. But, urged on by the prophetic spirit, David had given utterance to truths respecting his son the Messiah. The resurrection of Jesus was thus clearly foretold.
6. Exalted. Peter affirms the exaltation of Jesus to God's right hand, and supports his affirmation by another quotation from the Psalms. David, in Psalm ex., speaks of some one as his Lord, whom Jehovah invites to sit at His right hand. That one is David's son, Jesus of Nazareth. God exalted Jesus high above every nameable being (Eph. i. 20-220). His power is supreme; foes will be made His footstool. God has constituted Him both Lord and Christ.
7. Sending the Spirit. In verse 33 the sending of the Spirit is attributed to Jesus. Being exalted He gave gifts to men (Eph. iv. 8). The crowned King sent down a substantial proof that He had not forgotten His humble followers. The explanation of the strange events of Pentecost was, therefore, to be found in the exalted position of Jesus. He had shed forth that which was seen and heard. Joel's prophecy was being fulfilled through the exalted Nazarene.
The preaching of Peter is of the simplest nature. Opinion finds no place here. There is no theorising. There is doctrine, i.e., teaching; but it is a simple narration of facts, or it is based thereon. Fact after fact is told in interesting and refreshing simplicity. The speaker begins by dealing with the question that was puzzling the onlookers, how these Galileans could speak so many languages. He then hastens on to facts respecting Jesus; and these constitute the remainder of the apostle's discourse. Jesus being thoroughly certified from heaven by beneficent miracles, being placed according to God's plan in the power of the Jews, their crucifixion of Him, God raising Him from the dead and exalting Him to His own right hand, and the consequent sending of the Holy Spirit, are facts named after each other in rapid succession. These facts are all the more interesting to us, seeing that they have reference to a being of like nature with ourselves. The presentation in human form of a living, loving Saviour, was the kind of preaching employed for the attracting of men into the service of God. One who lived as a man - whose conduct came under the observation of men, and with whom they could have some measure of fellowship - was the means used to magnetise them from their sin and bind them to the living God.
VARIETY OF EVIDENCE.
The concurrent testimony in favour of Jesus was varied and conclusive. Prophecy was laden with deep thoughts about the coming Messiah. The Spirit of Christ that was in the prophets, testified beforehand of the "sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow" (1 Pet. i.11). These prophetic utterances found fulfilment in Jesus. God was with Him, stood by Him, approved of Him, and showed His approval in the most signal manner. After a three years' attestation of Him, and after the Jews had crucified Him, God still further vindicated Him by raising Him from the dead and taking Him to His own right hand, giving Him all authority in heaven and upon earth. Prophets foretold, and in due time God gave ample attestation of the actual presence of the promised One. The Holy Spirit was in like manner a witness. He was to testify of Christ. No sooner did He come, on the day of Pentecost, than he guided the apostles to tell the wonderful works of God in connection with Jesus of Nazareth. The Spirit testified, not of Himself, nor of His own work, but of the work and place of Jesus. The apostles, too, rightly claimed to be witnesses. They had been eye-witnesses of His works, crucifixion, and resurrection life. Prophecy, and God's own hand in the extraordinary deeds of Christ's life, and the Holy Spirit through the apostles, and the apostles themselves, bore one united testimony to Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were co-operating. The Father sent the Son, and the Son after His coronation sent the Holy Spirit. Jesus came as at once the Revealer of God and the Saviour of mankind. His own character was a manifestation of the character of the Father. He that had seen Him had seen the Father. His teaching, works, and whole life brought to view, to an extent that man otherwise could not have learned, the exceeding love of Him who dwells in inaccessible light. By means of this exhibition of love Jesus sought to win hearts to God, and thereby turn sinners from the error of their ways. His love was the constraining power. Men were to be so won to the Saviour that they could say, "We love Him, because He first loved us." In continuance of that love, even in His departure from earth, he sent the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was promised to abide with the disciples, to be a Comforter to, and Advocate for them in the absence of their Master, to bring all things to their remembrance, to teach them, guide them, give them what was needful to say, and, dwelling in the, help them in their infirmities. Such a united and continuous presentation of heavenly love might well impress thoughtful hearts and induce them to become the servants of so loving a Master.
Thus far the Jews had withstood the combined testimony. When a good deed was done and could not be denied, there were attempts made to thwart its natural influence. They attempted to explain the works of Jesus on the hypothesis of a Beelzebub alliance. Unflinching opposition filled the place that ought to have been occupied by honest and careful examination. The testimony of their own prophets was unheard, being buried amid human traditions and foregone conclusions. The voice of the spirit in prophecy, i.e., the voice of God, and the words and teaching of Jesus, i.e., the words and teaching of God, were strenuously, though ignorantly, opposed. The Jews stood in antagonism to Jesus of Nazareth, to their own writings, to the Holy Spirit who dictated those writings, and to God who gave them and wrought with Jesus of Nazareth.
A NOTE OF WARNING.
The warning seems obvious. The Jews were religious, and their religion was from God. They were also in earnest; they had a zeal of God. They acted, too, as they were brought up by religious parents and teachers; they were zealous of the teaching of their fathers. Yet they went sadly astray; they were woefully opposed to the very God of whose religion they boasted, and they were antagonistic to the teaching of their own writings. Religiousness, nor possession of Heaven's revelation, nor earnestness itself, prevented them from egregious blundering and criminal antagonism to God's way. May not their experience be that of many nowadays? Should not their history be used as a warning? What they did others may do; wherein they failed others may fail.
Men are now satisfied if they belong to what is called an evangelical church; and that seems to mean a church generally approved. The Jews belonged to the approved national church; but while members thereof, they were also in mischievous opposition to God and His Christ. Men nowadays boast of being Protestants, in words saying, The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible. The Jews could boast, too, of possessing the Living Oracles; but their actions and their words were in conflict. While possessing the Scriptures, they knew not their testimony, and acted contrary to their plain teaching. So is it with many Protestants. They know not the writings of which they boast; and their speech and conduct are often the most humiliating caricature of the Scripture record. In zeal, too, there is a correspondence between the Jews in New Testament times, and many modern religionists. The Jews had a zeal for divine things, "a zeal of God" (Rom. x. 2); but not being according to knowledge, it led them into the most culpable blundering. In the same way today there is much ignorant zeal, which discloses itself in the first utterances and general behaviour of many professors. Many also blindly excuse themselves from searching the Scriptures by trusting to their predecessors and teachers. 'They were good people; if we follow them we cannot be far wrong.' Just what the Jews did, and how miserable was the end. The Jews failed, sinned, fell, notwithstanding their religious training, their possession of God's Word, and their excessive zeal; and in the same way, notwithstanding all our advantages, many are still failing.
What was their failure? A want of openness of mind. Their minds were made up. They deemed themselves right, and every one who disagreed with them wrong. Jesus pointed out many of their failures; but as they judged themselves right, they could not but decide that he was wrong. They were not prepared to search the Scriptures and re-examine the whole ground. They decided against Jesus without investigating the weighing the evidence. Precisely so is it in the Nineteenth century. Men have decided that their teachers must know, and that the system in which they have been brought up is right; and they do not take the trouble to examine God's own evidence with care. Some, perhaps, avoid examination lest they be found in the wrong. Any one outside their own little circle can see, that although they have zeal and much of God's teaching, their teaching and conduct in some things are in glaring conflict with God's Word. But it is of small moment to them how others see them. Like the Jews of old they have settled that they know, and that, to them, is an end of all inquiry. They do not go to the Scriptures to learn; when they go there it is to find proof for their pre-conceived notions. Oh that modern denominationalists would take warning from the blundering and bitter experience of Jews.
AN APOSTLE DEALING WITH INQUIRERS.
Acts ii. 37-41.
The earnest inquiry - Natural - The first inquirers under Christianity - What caused the inquiry - Peter's response - Repentance - Its place - What is it - From evil towards God - What causes it - In what way it is God's gift - Baptism - The word not a translation - In a river - Many waters - Going into and coming out of the water - Christ's baptism of suffering - Buried in baptism - Resurrected in baptism - Prominence and importance of a name - Remission of sins - The gift of the Holy Spirit - Many unreported works - The blessed decision - Objections considered
THE preaching of Peter was effectual. The assembled people were pricked in their heart. The simple narration of events, and the conclusive application of prophecy, could not be disputed. Jesus was Lord and Christ. In His humiliation they had opposed Him even to the taking of His life. What could they now expect from Him in His exalted position? What was to be done? There was for them a gloomy prospect. In anguish of soul, they asked instructions from the apostles.
Their inquiry was natural. They saw that they had grievously erred. They had overlooked the value of the most forcible evidence. They had not merely declined Jesus as the Messiah, they had taken an active part in the most decided rejection of Him, putting Him to a cruel death. What could now be done to rectify the mistake, and atone for the crime? Was there any hope for them? Could they do anything towards obliterating the past? What would be demanded of them to be on terms of peace and friendship with their Messiah, whom they had so shamefully maltreated? What shall we do? was the natural outburst of hearts torn with anguish by having cruelly, though in ignorance, taken the life of a dear Friend. The desire to put themselves right after so great an error - the desire, if possible, to undo the mischief, finds vent in these words. May we not also think of a longing to be engaged in the service of their rightful King?
Acts ii. clearly discloses who they were that eagerly asked what they should do. They were not only inhabitants of Jerusalem, but Jews from places far apart. Members of the one nation, brought together from various distances, were present on the day of Pentecost. But it is of more importance for us to note that they were
THE FIRST INQUIRERS UNDER CHRISTIANITY.
For the first time, under the commission for the whole world, we have anxious inquirers. Christianity was being introduced, and the first inquirers were asking guidance how to act. In all efforts for the conversion of others the inquiry-room is a place of grave responsibility. What answers shall be given to the inquirers? How can we set them safely at rest? How can we calm their troubles, and, at the same time, secure their salvation? This first meeting of inquirers under the Christian dispensation should be to all Christian teachers, and, indeed, to all Christians, a matter of earnest study. With an apostle to guide them, they must have been guided aright. His instructions were the instructions of the Spirit; for the apostles spoke as the Spirit gave them utterance. Peter's laws were Heaven's laws, for having received the Holy Spirit, whosesoever sins the apostles remitted, they were remitted. What they bound on earth was bound in heaven. Let us, therefore, follow with care all the movements - inquiry, instruction, and action - on that first occasion of conversions to Christ after His ascension.
Here it may be useful to take a retrospect of the cause, or causes, that resulted in the anguish of heart and inquiry what to do. It may be said that it was the work of the Holy Spirit. It may also be said that Peters address, or the facts which he adduced in his address, or the hearers reflection on these facts, produced the anguish and inquiry of Pentecost. If we think of these four as combined into one cause, we shall be near the truth. Apart from the language employed by Peter, the Spirit taught nothing, so far as is recorded. The facts were facts before Peter rehearsed them; but not until his hearers heard them could they think of their applicability to them and to their circumstances. It was when they heard that they were pricked in the heart. Human speech was employed to bring home conviction, and human ears were the channel through which the potent truth found an entrance to their understandings and hearts. Again, Peter's speaking had availed little, but for the cogent nature of the facts presented by him; and his earnest speaking and all his appropriate facts had been to no purpose in producing conviction, even though he was guided by the Holy Spirit, but for the reflection of the hearers and their application of the facts to their own case. The need of attentive hearing had been impressively taught by Christ in His oft-repeated words, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." He that desires to enjoy God's blessings, let him employ the means with which God has already blessed him. Reflection by Peter's hearers upon the things spoken led to a deep conviction of their antagonism to God, and caused their earnest inquiry.
What was Peter's response to the eager cry of the anxious ones? How did he guide them out of anxiety into safety? His answer is brief, and to the point. They want to know what to do; he gives them two commands. They are in dread alarm, and anxious for some assurance of safety; he gives them two promises. The commands are, repent and be baptised; the promises are, remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
To appreciate Peter's instruction, and to be in a position to benefit by it, we must trace the meaning of the words, so far, at least, as to have a moderate understanding of them.
is the first of the two things commanded. What is repentance? In order to make thoroughly sure work, let us assume nothing and search for everything. If we act on the definition of a modern dictionary, we may get an idea different from that of Scripture; and if we assume that we already know, we shall, in all probability, be thereby prevented from obtaining any additional light from the Word of God. Let us act, then, as if we knew nothing of repentance. Let us proceed as the reader of a letter who comes across a word that he does not understand, cannot make out, perhaps not even spell. How does he obtain the meaning? He looks at what goes before and at what comes after; and thus in most cases, even in a short letter, he will decipher the meaning. In the event of the word occurring several times, he will, without doubt, find out what the word is - he will discover what meaning fits into the difference places. He judges by the context. We now proceed to do the same with 'repentance.' We will examine, not one passage, but several and try to discover what one thought agrees with the context in all the different passages.
Glancing first at the passage before us, we are not much helped toward the actual meaning, but at least the place of repentance is partly indicated. We see that to repent is a command for an inquirer to attend to prior to being baptised. We proceed to another passage, the next where repent is found, Acts iii. 19. "Repent ye therefore, and turn again." Now, we observe that, as baptism follows repentance in the second chapter, turning or conversion follows it in the third. Repentance, then, is something going before both baptism and conversion. Chapter xxvi. 20 speaks to the same effect. Paul preached alike to Jew and Gentile, "that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance." Repentance, whatever it is, goes before turning; while repentance and turning are followed by works meet for, worthy of, suitable to, spring from repentance. The Revised Version translates thus: "They should repent and turn to God, doing works worthy of repentance.' The Revised Version is literal. But whether we adhere to the common Version or to the Revised, the meaning is the same as respects the connection with repentance. In either case, repentance is something which precedes baptism, precedes conversion, and precedes the works in a changed life that show repentance to be genuine. It thus seems to precede every public manifestation of a changed life. For whatever baptism is, and whoever should be baptised, it is an overt act, of which others are spectators. The place of repentance is prior to such an overt act. Conversion or turning is at least a change of conduct; it is a turning from vanities to serve God. Repentance pre-dates such a manifest change. Works meet for repentance imply a continuous practice of certain appropriate things. These works, however, are subsequent to repentance, and are consistent with, agreeable to, the repentance thus going before. Repentance must, therefore, be very early in the convert's experience, as it precedes baptism, conversion, and general Christian conduct.
Another passage marks off repentance more definitely. "Godly sorrow worketh repentance" (2 Cor. vii. 10). Sorrow works repentance, and is therefore both distinct from repentance, and prior to it. Not more distinct from each other, are the machine and the machinist who works it, than are repentance and the sorrow which causes it. The nature of the sorrow here named is noteworthy. It is not any kind of sorrow; it is godly sorrow. It is not a selfish sorrow, simply regret because sin has been discovered and will be punished; it is sorrow in God's sight, sorrow because of sin done against the Holy One. Even such commendable sorrow, however, is not repentance, or any part of it; but it works repentance, leads on to it. The way into a town is not the town; but following on in the road to the town, the traveller reaches it. So, following on in the pathway of godly sorrow repentance is reached. The place of repentance is subsequent to godly sorrow.
The order of events in the inquirer's experience may therefore be put together thus: - Convinced of sin, as were the Jews on the day of Pentecost, he is sorry for sin, not merely for its evil consequences to himself, but also because it is sin against God; godly sorrow is at work. This genuine sorrow produces, leads on to repentance; and repentance results in baptism, conversion, and the living of a life in harmony with repentance. Repentance is more than sorrow, and it is less than reformation. It springs out of sorrow and leads on to reformation.
What it is, then, that thus comes in between real sorrow for wrong-doing and the turning away from it to serve God? What is that which follows sorrow for sin, and precedes the giving of it up? What is repentance? Change of will is the only thing it can be. Between sorrow for wickedness and the abandonment of it, there is the resolve to abandon it, the I will. The man who is sorry for his conduct, who regrets his previous behaviour, is so far experiencing a change of mind respecting that conduct. He views it differently from what he did formerly. The intellect views it in a new light. When this change of mind and the accompanying sorrow go so far as to be changed of will, repentance is reached.
Perhaps the passage of Scripture which most clearly illustrates repentance is Luke xv., especially the parable of the prodigal. The young man was sorry for his former wasteful and sinful conduct, and resolved to give up entirely the course of life into which he had drifted. It was a right kind of sorrow; and when it reached the point where he said, "I will arise," there was repentance. When that resolution, that "I will arise," that repentance, led on to the going to the father, there was turning or conversion.
But it is not every mental resolution that can be denominated repentance. A man may resolve to do evil; that would not be repentance, but the very opposite. Repent of evil is the Scripture command. That they repent not of their evil deeds is a ground of sinners condemnation (Rev. ii. 21; ix. 20-21). Repentance is resolving to forsake evil, a determining to abandon a wrong course. It implies previous sin, a sorrowful viewing of it, and a resolution to forsake it. It looks backward toward evil, and forward toward God; it is from evil toward God (Acts xx. 21). It is a decision to be done with sin and to live for God.
There is more, however, than a command inducing to repentance. God's kindness is the real inducing power. This is implied in Paul's question in Rom. ii. 4: "Despisest thou the riches of His goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" Do you not know that the design of God's kindness is to cause repentance? It is not punishment, nor terror, so much as love, that is operative when one resolves to leave sin and serve God. Punishment, terror, law, might make men hate sin, but never could drive them to have trustfulness in God and to love Him. But love draws them. The kindness of God, the love of God in Christ Jesus, in His provision of mercy and grace, constrains inquirers to enlist in His service. It is with the sinner repenting as it was with the prodigal. Sorrow for wrong-doing and remembrance of his father's abundant care even over his servants, prompted him to say, "I will arise." In the same way, sorrow for past sin, and knowledge of God's love in His willingness to pardon, lead the sinner to resolve to turn from sin and become a servant of God. Divine kindness leads to repentance.
And perhaps this is the key to repentance being spoken of as God's gift (Acts v. 31); xi. 18). God in Christ gives the means and hence may be said to give the effect. He provides inducements to repentance, and thus He is the cause of repentance. To repent is man's act, but the love which constrains to repentance is of Christ's revealing. The power and the means are from God, and thus the thing itself is His gift.
is the second command. How shall we proceed in the investigation of it? We cannot obtain so much help from different translations as we did in tracing 'convert' in our second chapter. Translators have adopted a different course with the two words, 'convert' and 'baptise.' The Greek for 'convert' they translated by different words, the Latin word 'convert' being the most difficult to understand by the English reader. But for 'baptise' they have not even given a Latin equivalent; they have merely put the Greek word into English form. If they had done with other commands of the Lord as they have done with 'baptise,' we should have had a strange New Testament to read. The commission, as recorded by Matthew, would have read somewhat like this: Go, matheteuse all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, didasking them, etc. Who but a Greek scholar could then have made sense of it? And yet the revisers perpetuate the hiding of the meaning of 'baptise' by want of translation. King James' translators made five exceptions and the revisers four, translating the verb 'wash' and the noun 'washing' (Mark vii. 4, 8; Luke xi. 38: Heb. ix. 10). The revisers leave out the latter half of Mark vii. 8, and in the margin of Mark vii. 4 they give baptise and baptisings. But we need not suppose ourselves Greek scholars. We can act as we did with repentance; i.e., we can examine the occurrences of 'baptise,' note what goes before it and what comes after it - what are its accompaniments, and thereby learn what meaning agrees with the context in each case.
The first mention of baptism runs thus in the Revised Version: "Then went out unto him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan; and they were baptised of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins" (Matt. iii. 5-6). The persons baptised were sinners who confessed their sins, and the place in which they were baptised was the river Jordan. To baptise in a river does not suggest sprinkling. Do those who practise sprinkling go into a river to perform it? Has such a thing ever been heard of as sprinkling in a river? Pouring is about as unlikely. It is unnecessary and unnatural to be in the river for the purpose of pouring. That could be done more comfortably, and fully as well every way, on the bank of the river. But John baptised his candidates in the river. Whatever, therefore, baptism may be, it is highly improbable that it is either sprinkling or pouring. But washing and immersion agree with what is stated of John baptising in the river. He may have washed his applicants in the river, or he may have immersed, dipped, plunged them. His being in the river is accounted for on either supposition, but is in no way accounted for on the supposition of either sprinkling or pouring.
Nor was it an unusual thing for John thus to require a large supply of water when baptising. "John also was baptising in Aenon, near to Salim, because there was much water there; and they came, and were baptised" (John iii. 23). The reason of his baptising in Aenon was, that there was much water, or many waters. It was for baptism that he needed much water. Such a statement could never be made in reference to a sprinkler, no sprinkler ever selecting a place of many waters in order to his sprinkling; but it is at once intelligible and natural, on the supposition of immersion.
Acts viii. 38-39 teaches the same lesson. "And they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptised him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip." The men were both in the water, and between going in and coming out the one baptised the other. The idea of the one immersing the other is natural, as succeeding their going into the water, and preceding their coming out of it. Certain it is that no sprinkler goes into the water himself or puts his subject in it. For pouring, to be in the water is equally unnecessary. But to immerse in a river, or in any of nature's waters, it is a necessity that both baptiser and baptised go into the water.
Thus John and Philip, the one at the beginning of Christ's ministry, the other after his ascension, acted in baptising in such a way that, when the circumstances are recorded, the only reasonable conclusion is, that they must have either washed or immersed.
New Testament allusions to baptism speak to the same effect. "I have a baptism to be baptised with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished?" (Luke xii. 50.) It is generally agreed that this verse has reference to Christ's sufferings. They were such as to be denominated a baptism. Does any one venture to call them a sprinkling? Is there any semblance of truth or propriety in saying that Christ had a sprinkling of suffering to undergo? No one who values the propitiatory sacrifice of the Saviour, or reverently thinks of His agony as narrated by the evangelists, can contract His sufferings within the figure of a sprinkling. No; He bowed His sacred head under the overflowing waters. His whole being went under the billows. He was submerged in suffering. It was no sprinkling, but an overwhelming.
Paul is even more explicit. We were buried with Christ by baptism (Rom. vi. 4). There can be no burial apart from the complete covering over of that which is buried. The corpse may be carried into a cave, and a stone rolled on the mouth thereof; or it may be deposited in a sunken hole, and the hole filled up with soil; but in both cases the body is completely covered. A man or a railway train is buried by the fall of an embankment. There is a complete surrounding of the person or train by that which has fallen. In like manner, the entire person is surrounded by the baptismal waters. In the act of baptism there is an entire covering of the person baptised. What is there in sprinkling either resembling or suggesting a burial? Who that has been sprinkled could persuade himself to say, I was buried by sprinkling? On the other hand, every immersed one can say with intelligence and appreciation, I was buried by immersion. In immersion there is a burial.
John in the river Jordan, and among the many waters of Aenon, and Philip and the eunuch going into and coming out of the water, shut out all idea of sprinkling and pouring; and now Paul leaves us without any hesitation between washing and immersion. The fact of burial decides for immersion.
Another thought is added by Paul in writing to the Colossians: "Buried with Him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised" (ii. 12). Burial is here as in Rom. vi. To that is added resurrection. Both burial and resurrection are experienced in immersion. We are buried in a watery grave, and immediately raised therefrom to live a new and a holy life.
Need we trace the matter farther? The circumstances of New Testament baptisms, and the allusions to baptism, point unmistakably to immersion, and preclude all thought of sprinkling. As in the act of repentance there was the firm resolve to do the Lord's will, so now let the resolve be unhesitatingly adhered to. It cannot be doubted that baptism is enjoined in the same breath with repentance. These two - repentance and baptism - are linked together by 'and,' uttered in the same sentence, and are equally authoritative and binding. It would badly comport with any profession of repentance to hesitate about baptism. The man who resolves to serve God cannot consistently stop with resolving. Any repentance worthy of the name will lead on, not only to an investigation of what is meant by baptism, but also to the practice of it when understood. It is, therefore, to be expected that at this point honest inquirers will show their repentance by their baptism. Let the bad past be buried in the baptismal grave, and thence rise to live only for Christ.
THE PROMINENCE AND IMPORTANCE OF A NAME
merit attention. Peter's hearers were to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. This name was to be employed as a means for the removal of sin, as afterward it was found potent in the removal of bodily infirmity (Acts iii. 6, 16). Matt xxviii. 19 gives the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as that into which the taught ones were to be baptised. The name of the Son is central there, between Father and Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ may be said to be representative in Acts, representing the Godhead. Scripture proper names have a meaning. Jesus means Saviour. He saves His people from their sins. Christ means anointed. He was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power. The Saviour's names are comprehensive histories compressed into a few letters. His name is not so much that by which he is known as that which is known of Him. There was knowledge conveyed by His name. To publish His name was to publish what was known of Him. His character was revealed in His name, as by the name Jehovah the promise-keeping character of God was made known to the Israelites (Ex. vi. 2-8). To suffer for Christ's name is to suffer for Christ; His name represents His person. There is power, as well as appropriateness, in the name employed in baptism. The name in which we are baptised is of incomparable importance. There is no other name in which there is salvation, and no other name through which we have access to the throne of the universe (Acts iv. 10-12, 29-30).
"Upon the name of Jesus Christ" is the translation of Acts ii. 38 in the American Bible Union Version. 'Upon' implies leaning, trusting to. Faith is not asserted of the converts on the day of Pentecost; but it is seen to be involved. While attending to the ordinance, they were not to place their faith in it, but in the person in whose name they were baptised. Be immersed, trusting to the almighty name of the anointed Saviour.
REMISSION OF SINS
is a most encouraging promise to sin-burdened inquirers. Sins are remitted, sent away, dismissed from the person who committed them. He and they have no more connection. His sins are no longer charged against him. He is pardoned. And it has pleased the Redeemer to give this priceless boon of forgiveness on such simple and easy conditions as repentance and baptism. Remission of sins is promised to those who attend to the two commands. It is not baptism alone, but baptism preceded by repentance. Peter taught the baptism of repenting sinners, as John had done before him (Mark i. 4; Matt. iii. 6); and he promised Heaven's free pardon to all who obeyed.
These two things are thus seen to be involved in baptism - 1. There has been sin. 2. Sin is being abandoned. Baptism is not for sinless creatures, but for sinners. Hence John's hesitancy about baptising Jesus (Matt. iii. 14). John's baptism was for repenting, confessing sinners; but Jesus had no confession of sin to make, and nothing of which to repent. It was only as giving sinners a pattern to attend to every divine appointment, and not that baptism was a means of grace to Himself, that Jesus was baptised. Inasmuch as baptism is for repenting sinners, it is likewise unsuitable to infants. They do not confess sins, nor do they repent. Sin is not yet chargeable against them. But they who know they have sinned should confess their sin, repent of it, and be baptised upon the precious name, in order to obtain the salvation which is in that name.
THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
is the second promise. What is meant by this promise? Does it mean what is commonly called the indwelling of the Spirit in the believer? Is it the presence of the Spirit of God to strengthen and give needful help to all saints? Is it the common heritage of all Christians? Or does the promise refer to such a possession of miracle power as the apostles had shown they possessed in the speaking of languages they had not learned? Everything narrated points to miracle power. Peter spoke of the gift, something that was before his hearers, with which they were at least partly acquainted, that which, in short, had been perplexing them respecting the apostles. It was miracle power that Peter and his co-workers possessed. The Holy Spirit as the abiding Comforter with every believer was not before Peter's audience. You obey the Lord, says Peter, and you will obtain the same gift that we have. You will receive the Holy Spirit as a gift, showing His presence with you in miraculous powers.
A study of Joel ii. 28-32 leads to the same conclusion. Prophesying, dreaming, and seeing visions, belong not to all Christians, and are not received in the ordinary reception of the Holy Spirit. All is in the region of the miraculous. Neither in Joel ii. nor in Acts ii. is there any trace of any impartation of the Spirit other than the gift of miracle power.
The next occurrence of the same words - "the gift of the Holy Spirit" - confirms the conclusion to which Acts ii. and Joel ii. have led us. "On the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts x. 45). It is beyond doubt that on this occasion there was miraculous manifestation; for the recipients of the gift were heard to "speak with tongues," i.e., they spoke in other languages, as the apostles did on the day of Pentecost.
The exposition of the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts ii. 38 in no way precludes teaching from other portions of the Scriptures respecting the help of the Spirit to all Christians. But that is not taught in the passage under consideration, and I dare not import it.
MANY UNREPORTED WORDS
were spoken by Peter. "With many other words did he testify and exhort." Here, as so often, much was done that is not fully reported. Luke's account is far short of a verbatim report of Peter's speaking. But that is not of so much moment when we have the purport of the whole. The many words of exhortation were to this effect: "Save yourselves from this untoward generation." God had put it within their power to free themselves from surrounding impediments. Peter calls upon them to use that power.
THE BLESSED DECISION
speaks well for the power of the truth and the earnestness of the hearers. "They that gladly received his word were baptised." Whether they had committed an unpardonable sin might have occupied their thoughts. Forgiveness on any terms was an invaluable blessing. Forgiveness on the easy conditions of repentance and baptism might well be gladly received. Sensible men, convinced of their sin, could not do otherwise than, having their hearts filled with joy, thankfully act as they were instructed. They decided to be baptised, and thereby assume the divine name and the Redeemer's yoke. In putting on the name of Jesus, they undertook to be thenceforth His obedient servants, and they received His forgiveness. To them it was the entering upon the most comprehensive service and the receiving of the greatest of blessings. Who sees not that it was their only safe and wise course?
The way of salvation then revealed to the thousands remains unchanged. Remission of sins is obtainable on the same conditions today. The laws which the Spirit then gave through the apostle are still in force. Can any man who owns himself a creature, and feels the guilt and oppression of sin - who knows that he has sinned against God, and that God brings pardon to him - can any such one hold up his head and question the propriety of the terms upon which pardon is presented? The state of mind and heart of any one who declines the Lord's plain and easy way, is not to be envied.
1. Is not the promise to children a proof that infants should be baptised? Or, as Alford has put it, "Thus we have a providential recognition of Infant Baptism, at the very founding of the Christian Church."
A command is not a promise. A command may have a promise attached, but the command and the promise are two distinct things. Baptism is a command, having the promise of forgiveness connected with it; but that which is called a promise in Acts ii. 39, is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Again, children are not necessarily infants. See Acts xiii. 33 for an example of an audience being called children. They were of mature years, but they continued to be the children of their parents and progenitors. The promise of the Holy Spirit was not restricted to the people on the day of Pentecost; it was for their descendants also, and for the distant Gentiles, as many of them, at least, as the Lord should call to that special possession.
Instead of there being "a providential recognition of infant baptism," there is neither infant nor sprinkling named or alluded to in the whole context. I should have said that there is a providential reticence about infants, showing that baptism was not designed for them, and that there is a providential accompanying of repentance with baptism, proving the utter inapplicability of the ordinance to infants.
2. Could 3000 be immersed in one day?
Does it require any longer to immerse than to sprinkle? As a matter of fact sprinkling requires as long as immersion. The time occupied is in the utterance of the words, rather than in the act performed, and sprinklers have as many words to utter as immersers. But has any one who objects on the ground of insufficient time, ever taken the time to reckon it? One person can be immersed, without any haste, within one minute. That is, one person can immerse sixty in an hour. Suppose that the twelve apostles baptised at that rate for an hour, 720 would be baptised. After a few hours occupied with rest, further speaking, and preparation, suppose that 100 of the 720 were employed to baptise. How long would 100 men take to immerse the remaining 2280? At the rate of one each in a minute they would immerse 3000 in half-an-hour. In less than an hour-and-a-half the whole 3000 could be immersed. And this calculation takes no account of the 120, many of whom, as well as the twelve, would probably be available in baptising.
3. Where could they find water in Jerusalem to immerse 3000?
Are we bound to ransack Jerusalem for the water that was used eighteen centuries ago? If one inspired writer tells that 3000 were baptised, and another inspired writer declares that baptism is a burial, ought not that to suffice? But after so long a time the ruins of Jerusalem give ample evidence that there was abundance of water. The city of God, even in its desolation, corroborates the Word of God. The plentiful remains of pools, reservoirs, etc., suggest an almost endless supply of water. During all its sieges, Jerusalem is never reported to have been short of water.
4. Is baptism essential to salvation?
In the course of many years lecturing on Christianity, no question has been more frequently presented to me by objectors than this. Where any definite meaning has been attached to the words, it has been, 'Cannot we be saved without baptism?' The question does not mean, 'Is it certain that baptism is taught?' If that were meant, the query would be commendable. The meaning rather is, 'Granting that baptism is taught in Scripture, is it necessary? Cannot we do without it? Though I cannot deny it, may I not dispense with it?' One should avoid meddling with the motives of others; but it is impossible to avoid wondering why so many seem to be seeking an excuse to do without baptism.
Then, too, such a question is always put to the wrong party. A modern teacher of New Testament Christianity has no authority to say yea or nay to such an unqualified question. Our business is to deal with what is written. As it was with the Israelites, so is it with us - "Secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do" them (Deut. xxix. 29). We are only servants. It is the Master alone who can settle whether baptism can be dispensed with. He who appointed the baptism of believers is the only One who can rightfully set it aside. If the question may be put at all, it should be put to Him who said, "Go ... teach all nations, baptising them," and who declared, "He that believes and is baptised shall be saved." Even the apostles of Christ were only servants to teach what the Lord or the Holy Spirit taught them.
There is, moreover, a lack of fitness of things in a sinner asking if he cannot be saved without attending to such a simple ordinance. What? A sinner seeking after salvation stickling at a bath in water! It is difficult to imagine that any one in earnest about salvation will press such a question as, 'Cannot I be saved without baptism?' The natural intelligence and impulse of an earnest inquirer is to do whatever the Lord or any of His apostles enjoined.
But if the preceding question can be reasonably put, why not present another? 'Cannot I be saved without repentance?' Repentance, as well as baptism, is for the remission of sins. Peter said, "Repent and be baptised ... for the remission of sins." If it is defensible on any ground to ask an escape from baptism, it is logically defensible, from the construction of the sentence, to ask escape from repentance.
5. 'For' does not always mean 'in order to'; it may mean 'because,' as it often does. Be baptised 'because of' the remission of sins; i.e., because your sins are remitted.
If the subject were not one of too grave importance, it would be amusing to note the confusion herein displayed respecting the parts of speech, especially as the objection is given as it was first put before me by a schoolmaster. The preposition 'for' and the conjunction 'because' are made to change places as if equivalent. Wherever 'for' is a conjunction, 'because' can be substituted without any other change of the surrounding words. But that is impossible in the passage under consideration. The conjunction 'because' will not of itself suffice, and hence it is metamorphosed into 'because of'; or the whole structure of the sentence is change into 'because your sins are remitted.' The argument which is based on such a confusing of language is too limping and baseless to lean upon. The schoolmaster is requiring to learn the difference between a preposition and a conjunction.
But we cannot stop with what is argued for by the objector. If we concede what he wants, we must go farther. Repentance and baptism go together. If it is, 'Be baptised because of the remission of sins,' it must also mean, 'Repent because your sins are remitted.' One false step cannot be taken without entailing more mischief than was intended. Repentance because of remission is so palpably wrong that the exposition which leads to it should at once and for ever be abandoned. That is, if baptism because of forgiveness implies repentance because of forgiveness, we must dismiss 'because of,' and substitute 'in order to,' as the only admissible meaning of 'for.' Repent in order to obtain forgiveness, and be baptised with the same end in view. It is not repentance alone, nor baptism alone, but both these attended to by those who are trusting to the name of Jesus Christ.
'In order to' finds confirmation from another passage, where we have not only the same word, but the same phrase. "This is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. xxvi. 28). Christ's blood was shed in order to remission. The 'for' in both passages represents one Greek word. As Christ's blood was shed in order to pardon, so both repentance and baptism in Christ's name are commanded in order to pardon.
The inspired apostle has joined forgiveness with repentance and baptism; and the business of all who want to please God and be saved, is to gladly receive the word of Christ and His apostles and act on it.
6. Peter was speaking to Jews; there is no such teaching to Gentiles as baptism for remission of sins.
Yes: Peter was speaking to Jews; but in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek (Gal. iii. 28). There is one law for every creature in all the world (Mark xvi. 15-16). All nations are under the one set of conditions. To affirm that there are two lines of teaching - one for Jews and another for Gentiles - is to disclose ignorance of New Testament Christianity, and to represent God as if he were a respecter of persons.
7. To speak of baptism for the remission of sins, was a mistake of Peter.
Those who have reached that pinnacle of self-respect that they can deliberately condemn Peter, are not likely to be convinced of their folly by anything here said. More modest people are reminded that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, and spoke as the Spirit gave him utterance. The Spirit would not lead Peter astray; but a dozen of influences may be at work blinding the mind of any modern critic of Peter.
8. Is not the Holy Spirit promised to all believers when they are baptised?
Apart, for a moment, from Acts ii. 38, I do not know that the Holy Spirit was ever promised or manifestly received in the act of baptism. It is true that the Holy Spirit was given to them that obeyed (Acts v. 32). But repentance and attendance to the Lord's supper are as much acts of obedience as baptism. It may therefore be that through all these alike we obtain the Spirit. As respects miraculous gifts by the possession of the Spirit, the evidence is that these were received sometimes before baptism, sometimes after it, but never said to be in it. Acts x. 44-46, is a sample of receiving the Spirit before baptism; while Acts viii. 14-17.; xix. 1-6, record the reception of the Spirit after baptism. In the last passage named, the Revised Version teaches that Paul judged that the disciples in Ephesus would have received the Holy Spirit when they believed. And yet it was after baptism, and through the onlaying of Paul's hands, that the Holy Spirit was given.
The thought of receiving the Holy Spirit in baptism seems to be based on too cursory a view of Acts ii. 38. It is hastily assumed that the Holy Spirit is promised on the same conditions as remission. But the passage does not read, 'Repent and be baptised ... for the remission of sins and for the gift of the Holy Spirit.' "Ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" does not at all imply that the gift was received in being baptised. It might be after baptism by the laying on of an apostle's hands, as in two instances just named. Acts iii. 19-20 will serve as an illustration of the verse we are considering in the second chapter. "Repent ... and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and He shall send Jesus Christ." In the construction of the sentence the promise of the Lord's return is connected in precisely the same way with repentance, conversion, and forgiveness, as in the second chapter the gift of the Holy Spirit is with repentance, baptism, and forgiveness. If, in the one case, 1800 years have elapsed between the repentance, conversion, and forgiveness on the one hand, and the return of Christ on the other, there need be no difficulty that, in the other case, a few hours or days elapsed between baptism and the receiving of the Holy Spirit. The receiving of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost by the many believers may therefore have been through the instrumentality of the onlaying of apostles' hands, as in Acts viii. But, however it was received, it is mere assertion to tell an inquirer that he will receive the Holy Spirit in baptism, more than in any other act of obedience.
Four of Peter's discourses - In Solomon's porch - Peter's speech an answer - How Peter addressed his audience - A disclaimer - An explanation - Accusations - Witnesses for Jesus - Faith in His name - Extenuation of the guilt of the Jews - Prophecy fulfilled - Comparison of commands and promises given on two occasions - The second advent - Jesus before preached and appointed - Times of restoration - The Prophet like Moses - Fatal consequence of neglecting the message of the God-sent Prophet -The promise to Abraham fulfilled in the sending of Jesus -Summary of the Pentecost address and the one in Solomon's porch - Two addresses before the rulers - Jesus Christ the all-absorbing theme of discourse - Lessons.
THE comparison, which is proposed to be made in this chapter, is a comparison of Peter's addresses as reported in Acts ii. iii. iv. v. There are four addresses, which are contained in ii. 14-36; iii. 12-26; iv. 8-12; v. 29-32: to which must be added the instruction to inquirers in ii. 38-40. Will the reader look carefully through these portions of Scripture? It need not take long. There are only fifty verses in all, and twenty-six of these have already been examined in our three previous chapters. But there should be no hurry. Any length of time spent on them will be repaid. Having gathered what you can by your own perusal, we shall more profitably proceed together.
The first address of the group is the longest, in some respects the most important, and it was delivered on the most remarkable occasion. Having examined its contents in previous chapters, we need not linger upon it.
THE ADDRESS IN SOLOMON'S PORCH
now claims our consideration (iii. 12-26). This speech was an answer to the curiosity of the people. They were filled with wonder and amazement. They hastened together, greatly wondering at what had happened. The manner in which they were staring at Peter and John, and their general demeanour, eloquently spoke the questions that were in their minds. What is the meaning of this? How has it happened? By what means have these two men given walking power to a man who had never been able to walk? To these, and all such interrogatories, Peter answered in the first sentences of his short address.
Peter opened his address in a manner calculated to evoke their national sympathy - "Ye men of Israel." In his first speech he named his hearers by their land and by their city - men of Judea and inhabitants of Jerusalem. In this second speech he links them with the honoured name of him who had prevailed with God - Israel.
By his opening question Peter disclaims much that his hearers were already attributing to himself and John. "Why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?" We have indeed caused him to walk, but it is not by our own power; it is not by anything inherent in us. We are only agents. The real cause of the cure is high above us.
That cause was the great First Cause - the God of the Jews. "The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified His Son Jesus." The national and religious feeling is thus further wrought upon. God is mentioned as the God of their forefathers. It is more remarkable how skilfully in the first assertion Peter brings the God of their progenitors into closest proximity with Jesus Christ; the God of our fathers glorified Jesus Christ. Glorified is not a word employed by Peter on Pentecost. But resurrection and exaltation are there; and these in their completeness amount to glorification. Here all is couched in one expressive term - glorified, made glorious.
But what a contrast! He whom God, the God of their fathers, glorified, was by the men of Israel delivered up. Under their disapprobation and ban He was handed over to crucifixion. In Peter's former discourse he had asserted that God delivered Jesus to the Jews. In the keeping of His own people, He ought to have been safe and cared for. But when they delivered Him up to the mercy of uncircumcised and unsanctified heathens, they had done their utmost to dishonour Him.
The charges by Peter against his countrymen follow each other in rapid succession.
1. You delivered Him up.
2. You disowned Him before Pilate when that Governor was anxious to release Him.
3. It was the Holy One, the Just One, whom you thus denied. You preferred a murderer to such a One.
4. You became murderers. Nor was it either murderer or common person whom you deprived of life; you killed the Prince of Life.
The antithesis is marked throughout and must have been crushing to Peter's listeners. God glorified Jesus; the Jews gave Him away. Pilate was eager to release Him; the Jews clamoured for His crucifixion. The Holy and Just One and a murderer were placed before them; they chose to show their favour to the murderer. They killed; but it was the Author of Life whose life they took away.
If the resurrection and exaltation are passed over with briefer statements than on the previous occasion, the guilt of the Jews is more enlarged upon now. It is, however, a relief to observe what precedes and what follows the statements of their dark deeds. God has glorified His Son Jesus, goes before; God has raised him from the dead, follows. God's attitude to Jesus was of the utmost importance. The Son was vindicated and made triumphant throughout.
Self-assertion finds no place in the words of Peter; but there is no shrinking from claiming the true place of himself and John. "We are witnesses." Yet how briefly their own share of work is asserted. It is in as few words as possible, and it is in the same words which he had employed in his previous speech, with the exception of an additional word then to make it emphatically inclusive of the whole twelve - "whereof we all are witnesses." We were eye-witnesses of the unparalleled character and deeds of Jesus; we were witnesses that after having been put to death and having been buried, he was raised again; and we are here to testify of these things and of all we know about Him.
Peter's testimony to the name of Jesus, in his explanation of the cure of the lame man, is direct and emphatic. "His name through faith in His name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by Him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all." Three points may be noted.
1. His name. See Acts iii. 6.
2. Faith in His name. The mere use of the name would not suffice. That was afterwards tried, with results that would not soon be forgotten by those who made the experiment (Acts xix. 13-16). The word was not for unholy lips to charm with. Faith in the name was a condition of success in the use of it. Even men who were miraculously endowed, required to exercise faith in order to their utterance of the name being effectual. Said Peter, Our use of the name of Jesus, combined with our faith in that name, has produced this result.
3. Faith by Him. It almost looks as if Peter meant to qualify the faith which he had just asserted, or, at least, to divest it of any appearance of inherent merit. The faith is declared to be by, or through, Jesus Christ. The same thought is more fully expressed by the same writer in his first epistle, chap. i. 21. You "by Him do believe in God, that raised Him up from the dead, and gave Him glory, that your faith and hope might be in God." Christ, by His sayings and doings, had been the cause of their faith. Even for the faith in His name He was to be praised.
Peter had spoken condemnatory things of his countrymen before them. Such speaking could scarcely be without some visible effect. Did the speaker see a change come over his hearers while he was hurling forth his heavy charges against them? Had the look of wonderment and questioning given place to one of sadness or bitterness? For some reason Peter's tone at once changes. He must speak the truth, but he does it with as little cause of offence as possible. He finds the greatest possible extenuation of the reprehensible deeds of his countrymen. "Brethren, I know that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers." They did not mean to throw away their Messiah. They did not mean to oppose High Heaven. They were ignorant of what was involved in their action - ignorant of the importance of their murderous deed. They knew enough to make them veritably culpable, and with their opportunities they might have known much more, for the neglect of which they were also guilty. At the same time their ignorance was such as to have weight in mitigation of their guilt.
Their deeds had also been a fulfilment of prophecy. "Those things which God before had showed by the mouth of all His prophets, that Christ should suffer, He hath so fulfilled. By their deeds of ignorance the prophecies respecting Christ's sufferings had been carried into effect. Their action was of their own free choice, else there could have been no blame and no guilt; but God had prophesied what would be, and He allowed the Jews to carry out their own way, and thus He fulfilled what had been spoken by the mouth of all His prophets. All the prophets are so viewed as linked together, that what is the general tenor of the whole is attributed to all. Every Old Testament prophet has not written of Christ's sufferings; but each one is a part of a homogeneous whole, and all are credited with what is the testimony of some.
High purposes were served, prophecy was fulfilled; but that removed not the sin of the Jews who had killed the Lord of glory. Hence Peter added, "repent ye therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out." Considerately for them, he had made their ignorance a plea for extenuating their sin; but after all possible extenuation their guilt was great. There was need to resolve to give up their antagonism to Jesus and to turn right round and follow Him.
The Revised Version puts repentance and turning as a means to a threefold end: (1.) That sins may be blotted out; (2.) That so there may come seasons of refreshing; (3.) That Jesus Christ may be sent from heaven. Let us compare this portion with the parallel portion addressed to inquirers on the day of Pentecost.
Acts ii. 38 contains Acts iii. 19-20 contains
1. Repentance; 1. Repentance;
2. Baptism; 2. Conversion;
3. Remission; 3. The blotting out of sins;
4. The gift of the Holy Spirit. 4. Times of refreshing;
5. The return of Christ.
The first command in each - repent, and the first promise - forgiveness, are alike. But there is a difference in the second command in the two addresses - be baptised in one, be converted, or turn again, in the other; and there is a difference between the second promises - the gift of the Holy Spirit in one, times of refreshing in the other.
How can we account for conversion and baptism occupying the same place? Baptism is between repentance and forgiveness in the first instance, whereas conversion is between repentance and forgiveness in the second. It looks as if baptism and conversion were interchangeable terms. Are they so? Is baptism a synonym of conversion? Is one an explanation of the other? Conversion is the turning of a sinner from his evil ways into the practice of those things which Christ, or the apostles of Christ, commanded. Baptism is a burial, or immersion, of one who has confessed sin and expressed his determination to give it up. Every one so baptised is a convert. Nor is it too much to say that all who act according to the New Testament models of conversion, have thus repented and been baptised. Every repenting one who is baptised in the name of Jesus Christ is a convert to Christ; every convert has repented and been baptised. Conversion is a turning; baptism is an action in which the turning takes place. The old life is therein renounced; a new cause is therein espoused. While then conversion and baptism are not equivalent terms, they may, nevertheless, in some cases be exchanged, and the purposes of truth be served thereby.
The gift of the Holy Spirit and the times of refreshing are the two promises that seem to occupy the same place. Are they of equal import? Perhaps not. The gift of the Holy spirit is more definite than seasons of refreshing. By receiving the Holy Spirit, and thus being enabled to speak and act miraculously, seasons of refreshing, enlivening, invigorating, would ensue. Hence the prayer afterward presented, "Lord, behold their threatenings; and grant unto Thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak Thy Word, by stretching forth Thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of Thy holy child Jesus" (Acts iv. 29-31). By the possession and exercise of miracle power they were made more bold to speak. "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spake the Word of God with boldness." Thus it was that with great power the apostles gave witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus; and great grace was upon them all. It was such speaking and action that secured hearers and led to conversions. Seasons of refreshing naturally accompanied or followed the gift of the Holy Spirit.
It will be observed that both in the command to be baptised and in the promise of the Spirit there is something more specific than in the command to turn, and in the promise of refreshing seasons. Many might need ask how to turn, in what act they were to turn; but no one would need inquire how to be immersed. There might be reasoning and inquiry as to the seasons of refreshing; but what was meant by the gift of the Holy Spirit would be understood by those who saw the Spirit in operation through the apostles. When Peter was speaking to inquirers who in agony were asking guidance, he gave definite commands, and definite promises were appended; but his hearers in Solomon's porch had not reached that point of anxiety, and were consequently addressed in general terms.
Acts iii. 20-26 is all additional matter to what is recorded in Acts ii. It is a sample of the testifying which is averred in chap. ii. 40. It is an increase of the testimony respecting Jesus. The Lord of glory is the subject upon which Peter continued to speak.
The return of Jesus Christ is predicted in Acts iii. 20. In the record of Pentecost there is no mention of the second advent. Jesus, when on earth, had promised to His disciples to return for them. "I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John xiv. 3). At his ascension two men in white apparel had said to the apostles, "This same Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven" (Acts i. 11). And now Peter promises that Jehovah will send Jesus Christ. The time of His coming, and many matters connected therewith, may be untaught questions; but that He will return rests on clear evidence. For further testimony, see Phil. iii. 20-21; 1 Thess. i. 9-10; iv. 14-18; Tit. ii. 13.
That same Christ who was seen ascending, and who will certainly come a second time unto salvation, had been before preached unto the Jews. Abiding by the Authorised Version - "before was preached" - we might turn to the Old Covenant writings for samples of the preaching. Isa. liii. is a striking sample. Jesus is there spoken of in such plain language that it has caused Isaiah to be denominated the "fifth Evangelist." His words are more like a narrative than a prophecy. Past and present tenses are used as if part of the things were already history, and part speedily becoming so. But the future is also there. With a prophet's eye Isaiah looked through seven centuries, and saw as in living reality the life of the Redeemer; and he wrote of it in the vivid, varied-tense form of past, present, and future. To the eye of the seer it was all present.
But probably the Revised Version gives the accurate idea - He "hath been appointed for you." Jesus Christ had been appointed for His great mission of salvation, and the appointment was for the benefit of the Jews. The Saviour's mission for the Jews was pre-arranged by God. It is another way of asserting "the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" of chap. ii. 23, with an added thought in the words "unto you," to you, or for you. The Jews were specially, or, at least, first in view.
Christ had not only been appointed by the Father as the Saviour of the Jews - He had not only been preached to them - He had come and gone. He had come into the midst of His own possessions - the creatures that he had made, and His own people did not welcome Him (John i. 11). The Jews had rejected Him in His first and humble advent, and for long, weary years and generations, they would need wait before He returned in glory. Heaven must retain Him until the times of restitution. Men would not have Him, but God received Him.
On earth He humbled Himself to the position of a servant, and was despised and rejected; in heaven all authority in the universe is vested in Him - He is the anointed King. Temporary sufferings have been exchanged for enduring pleasures. The cross has given place to the crown. Heaven has already retained Him for eighteen hundred years. How long He will yet remain at God's right hand is one of God's unrevealed secrets (Mark xiii. 32).
But, assuredly, times of restitution are in store for our sin-cursed earth. The disobedience of Adam not only "Brought death into the world, and all our woe:" the earth itself has been placed under a curse. Unto Adam God said, "Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee" (Gen. iii. 17-18). The whole creation groans and travails in pain along with man. Creation is waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God which shall take place in the resurrection state. Then the creation itself shall partake of the liberty of the children of God (Rom. viii. 19-23). But the restoration of all things need not be expected in one moment, or hour, or day. These are times of restitution. The renovation will be by stages. It will be carried on in successive periods. It is on the principle of now a little and then a little. In this way God has always wrought. Creation was spread over six days. The promises respecting the coming of the Saviour were given one at a time, and the giving of them extended through the patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations. Those dispensations served their time and disappeared. Christianity has succeeded, and for eighteen centuries and a half has been in operation. But the times of restoration which are contemporary with the coming of Christ have not yet dawned. The history of man and of revelation is the history of successive phases of God's great plan. In due course will come complete restoration from the blight of sin; but it will come in successive steps, and not all at once.
The prophets have foretold the restoration, as they have foretold the sufferings of Christ. The sufferings and the subsequent glory are alike subjects of prophecy (1 Pet. i. 11).
Further testifying of Jesus, Peter gives a quotation from Deut. xviii. 15-19. "Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you." The 'for' which begins this verse (Acts iii. 22.), is omitted in the Revised Version. There is no immediate connection with the preceding verse such as would be implied by the presence of 'for.' It is not now of the yet future coming of Jesus Christ, and the restoration, that Peter is speaking; he has reverted to the coming of the Messiah which already has taken place. The Prophet like Moses had appeared. Moses and Christ resemble each other (1.) in being prophets; (2.) deliverers; (3.) lawgivers; (4.) in each introducing a new dispensation; (5.) in mediating between God and men. Both were to be heard and obeyed with the reverence due to a divine messenger.
The voice on the holy mount declared the authority of Christ. Said God, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him" (Matt. xvii. 5). New Testament teaching is replete with the thought of His unqualified authority. A heavy penalty is consequently attached to neglect of His words. "Every soul that will not hear that Prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people." In Deuteronomy the words are, "I will require it of him." In the more explicit language of the New Testament we have the following declarations:- "He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John iii. 18); "If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins" (John viii. 24).
Peter next applied the prophecies to the time then present, and then to the people there gathered. "These days" of the twenty-fourth verse, of which the prophets had spoken, were the days in which Peter and his listeners were living - the days of the preaching of the Gospel. And as the audience was composed of the descendants of those to whom the promises had been made, Peter asserts the fulfilment of the promises by God in the sending of the Saviour. The promise to Abraham, that all the nations would be blessed in him, was being realised in Jesus having come in the first place to the Jews with the comprehensive aim of rescuing them from the power of sin.
Peter and John had not finished their testimony concerning Jesus to the people in Solomon's porch when they were interrupted, not by the populace, but by the rulers - not by those who had been listening to them, but by those who were enraged because others listened. "As they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead" (chap. iv. 1-2). In the impotent custody of those unworthy leaders and rulers we must leave the two apostles, while we summarise the points of resemblance in Peter's two discourses - the one on the day of Pentecost and the other in Solomon's porch. The following five points at once suggest themselves:-
1. Defence (ii. 14-15: iii. 12). In the former address Peter defended himself and his companions against the charge of drunkenness; in the latter, it was a defence of their real position as men and servants of God, but it is by a repudiation of power that did not belong to them.
2. Explanation (ii. 16-21, 33; iii. 13-16). In both addresses the explanation was of something before the beholders that was perplexing them; and on both occasions it was a display of miracle power. On the former occasion it was the miraculous speaking of the apostles; on the latter, the miraculous cure of the lame man. The two explanations substantially coincide - the exaltation of Jesus in the one, the name of Jesus in the other.
3. The theme of preaching (ii. 22-36: iii. 13-26). Jesus Christ was the subject of discourse. In the defences made there was a preparation for the all-absorbing theme - Jesus of Nazareth; and in the explanations given the theme was entered upon - Jesus, or the glorification of Jesus, was the solution of the wonders. In the presentation of his theme the speaker represents Christ as between two opposing forces. The Jews were antagonistic to Him; the God of the Jews was His ally approving of Him and vindicating His claim from beginning to end.
4. Commands (ii. 38; iii. 19). 'Repent and be baptised' is represented in the second address by 'repent and turn.' The former is specific, in reply to eager inquirers; the latter is generic, explicit enough to give a general idea of what was required.
5. Promises (ii. 38; iii. 19-20). The remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit in the one, become blotting out of sins and seasons of refreshing in the other. Here, again, the difference is that between specific and generic. The gift of the Holy Spirit is a specific promise, and the seasons of refreshing generic. The promise of the Lord's return has nothing corresponding to it, either in the earlier address or in the instruction to inquirers.
The similarity of the two addresses throughout is such that we should be tempted to attribute both to one man, irrespective of the declaration to that effect.
THE TWO ADDRESSES BEFORE THE RULERS
were necessarily more brief. The rulers were not there to be taught, and teaching was not likely to profit them. They were sitting as judges; the apostles were on their defence. The aim of the rulers, moreover, was to suppress speech; they did not wish to elicit evidence. Their low nature was content to bolster up their own authority. Notwithstanding their brevity, the two addresses to the rulers, recorded in the fourth and fifth chapters of Acts, closely resemble the two earlier addresses to the people. The apostles defended themselves, gave explanations of what had taken place, and preached Jesus. These three things are accomplished in very few words. With skill and brevity more than human the three are blended into one. The authoritative name of Jesus is at once their defence, explanation, and theme of preaching.
1. To Christians. In public speaking and in other efforts to spread the truth, let Christians imitate Peter in the prominence given to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. There is no salvation in any other name, and there is no power to induce men to turn to God apart from the truths about Jesus. The world may count the story of the Nazarene stale, there may be a clamour for something novel, and Christians may be tempted to pander to unhealthy tastes by speaking on all kinds of subjects and discussing all kinds of doctrines. But Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God today as He was eighteen hundred years ago. He is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. Be careful not to veer away from Christ and Him crucified.
2. To opponents of Christianity. Be warned by the folly of the rulers never to attempt to suppress the truth or to evade it. Every effort of opposition which the rulers made only exposed the weakness of their own case and goaded themselves into desperation. God's Truth cannot be permanently suppressed. To attempt to smother it is as impracticable as it is foolish and wicked. Any apparent success must be followed by humiliating discomfiture. Success against the truth means eternal failure.
THE CONVERSION OF THE SAMARITANS.
Acts viii. 5-13.
Dispersion of the disciples - Samaria - The Samaritans - Philip - His preaching - His miracles - Simon the sorcerer - His power over the Samaritans - Greater power of the truth - Belief and faith one - What faith is - Its sphere - Faith rests upon testimony - Derives its value from the things believed - Leads to action - Baptism of women - Baptism into a name - Similarity of action in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost and in Samaria - Queries and replies.
THE apostles were instructed by their Master to commence the evangelisation of the world in Jerusalem. For a considerable time they must have been fully employed there, teaching the thousands who turned to the Lord. In view of the magnitude of the work that was being done in the holy city, we need not wonder that the apostles stayed longer than merely to make a beginning. Months must have elapsed to give time for all the events recorded in the first seven chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. But at last there came a time for dispersion. The rough hand of persecution scattered the church, and dispersed the members throughout Judea and Samaria. If the apostles were still required in Jerusalem, there were others now ready to spread the new evangel. The enemy outwitted himself; for wherever the disciples went they preached the word.
Luke, in his narrative, follows the tide of evangelisation in its northward movement to
We are taken from Judah to Israel, from the centre of the two tribes to the metropolis of the ten, from the southern kingdom to the northern, from the headquarters of the worship of Jehovah to the headquarters of Israelitish idolatry, and the seat of the composite worship of the mixed foreigners who colonised Samaria after the Israelites were taken into captivity.
But perhaps it was "a city of Samaria," and not the city called Samaria. The city had given its name to the whole district, and within the province of Samaria there was more cities than one. Kitto thought that it was Shechem or Sychar, where the Saviour had spent two days (John iv. 5, 40). It is unnecessary to decide which city Philip evangelised. The people and their environment must have been much alike throughout the whole province.
And yet, a few words about the origin and history of the city of Samaria may be useful. It derived its name from Shemer, who owned the hill on which it was erected. Omri, king of Israel, was its founder. He bought the hill from Shemer, built the city and called it Samaria, after the name of Shemer (1 Kings xvi. 23-24). The situation was good; the soil was fruitful, the surroundings were beautiful, and the fortifying of the place was easy. But the kings of Israel filled it with idolatry. Ahab, the son of Omri, built there an altar and a temple to Baal, and did more to provoke Jehovah than all the kings of Israel that preceded him (1 Kings xvi. 30-33). Others perpetuated the wickedness until the days of Jehu, who demolished the temple of Baal and made a treacherous slaughter of all the worshippers of that idol (2 Kings x. 18-28). The Israelites retained the city as their capital until the deportation by Shalmaneser, a period of two hundred years (2 Kings xviii. 9-12). Afterwards, Samaria had a chequered history. It was taken by Alexander the Great, and again by John Hyrcanus, who razed it to the ground. It came to life again, and was reckoned a Jewish city. It was afterwards again built by Gabinus, and still again by Herod, by whom it was called Sebaste, the Greek for Augusta, after his patron Augustus.
The siege of the capital of Israel by the king of Assyria, was long carried on, and at last was bitterly effectual. Not only was the city depopulated, the surrounding district shared the same fate. At a later period the neighbourhood and the city were occupied by colonists under Assyrian rule. "The king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof" (2 Kings xvii. 24-33). A priest of the Jews was sent back from Assyria to teach the new Samaritans the worship of Jehovah. Of them it was said, "They feared the Lord and served their own gods." A queer conglomerate was the religion of those settlers. From that time down to the introduction of Christianity the Samaritans were a mixed people possessing a mixed religion. Ezra speaks of "the Dinaites, the Apharsathchites, the Tarpelites, the Apharsites, the Archevites, the Babylonians, the Susanchites, the Dehavites, the Elamites, and the rest of the nations whom the great and noble Asnapper brought over, and set in the cities of Samaria" (iv. 9-10). Along with such a variety of foreigners there was a sprinkling of Jews. "Manasseh, a man of priestly lineage, on being expelled from Jerusalem by Nehemiah for an unlawful marriage," took up his abode in Samaria and fostered a wicked rivalry between Samaria and Jerusalem. Other malcontents may have done the same. Straggling Israelites still remained in the north of Palestine (2 Chron. xxxiv. 9), of whom probably some threw in their lot with the Samaritans. Then Alexander the Great placed a body of Syro-Macedonians in Samaria, and "Herod settled a colony of six thousand persons" in the city, "composed partly of veteran soldiers, and partly of people from the environs." How can the product of all these factors be described? It seems impossible to tell the nationality of the Samaritans in the time of Christ. They were a heterogeneous product, whose characteristic, as it had been in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, was enmity to the Jews. The woman at Jacob's well claimed Jacob as their father, (John iv. 12). The same claim had before been made by the Samaritans to escape paying tribute to Alexander the Great during the Sabbatic year. They lived in the centre of the land of the Jews, they possessed part at least of the Jewish writings, and their worship was modelled after the Jewish pattern; but by the Saviour they were distinguished from the Jews and classed with the Gentiles; or, more exactly, they were neither Jews nor Gentiles, but midway between them (John iv. 22; Matt. x. 5-6). The Saviour, however, had seen their fields white to harvest; many of the Samaritans believed on Him for the saying of the woman; and many more believed because of His own word. This was soil outside the circle of the orthodox Jews prepared for the evangelising visit of
There is a Philip in the list of the apostles (Matt. x. 2, 3); and one of the seven appointed to distribute the funds of the Jerusalem church among the needy was called Philip (Acts vi. 5). Was it Philip the apostle, or Philip one of the seven, that visited Samaria? Or was it another Philip of whom we know no more than the work recorded of him in Acts viii?
It could not be the apostle Philip, for the apostles remained in Jerusalem (chap. viii. 1). Moreover, when the apostles heard what had happened in Samaria under Philip's preaching, they sent thither two of their number to do something which, for some reason, the preacher there could not do. When Peter and John reached Samaria they prayed for the baptised believers, "that they might receive the Holy Spirit;" and "they laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit." Philip was a faithful disciple and an effective preacher. He had led men and women to believe, and he had baptised those who believed. But he was not a medium through whom the Holy Spirit was given. That was a prerogative of the apostles. The Philip that visited Samaria, and did such efficient work in turning others, was not an apostle.
Probably the preacher in Samaria was the Philip of the sixth chapter of Acts, one of the seven. He stands second in the list of the seven. Stephen is first. Stephen's speaking career is brought before the reader in the latter half of the sixth chapter, and is terminated with his martyrdom in the seventh. It is therefore natural that the work of him who stands next on the list be recorded in the eighth chapter.
A comparison of Acts viii. 40, with xxi. 8, confirms the thought that the Philip who ministered to the daily wants of the poor of the church, was the Philip who preached in Samaria. The last words of the eighth chapter leave our preacher in Cesarea; and it is in Cesarea where, by the light of the twenty-first chapter, we find "Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven." We conclude, then, that the Philip who was one of the seven, preached in Samaria, and in the desert to the eunuch, and became an evangelist, having his home in Cesarea.
Luke has not reported any of Philip's addresses. Nor has there been handed down to us one of those gospel conversations that must have been more frequent and often more beneficial that public addresses. We have not even brief notes. All that has been preserved to us is the subject. Nor is there is list of subjects such as modern evangelists sometimes announce. Philip has one theme, which the historian has recorded in two forms. First, there is a brief form - "Christ:" Philip preached Christ unto them. Second, there is an enlarged form - "The things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ" (verses 5 and 12). Luke has already narrated Peter's teaching respecting the name of Jesus Christ. That may sufficiently account for no notes being given of Philip's testimony on the same theme. "The things concerning the kingdom of God," as a phrase, now comes before us for the first time in apostolic preaching. The idea may have been present before; the phrase is new to us. What does it mean?
Kingdom in its fullness implies (1) ruler, (2) subjects, (3) laws, (4) territory. But all of these may not always be in view when a kingdom is spoken of. The idea of government may sometimes be so prominent that the territorial and geographical notion is overshadowed or entirely absent. The ruling, reigning, governmental, administrative concept is clearly paramount in many passages of Scripture. "The kingdom of heaven is at hand" did not mean that so many miles of territory was fast approaching the inhabitants of Palestine. It meant that the reign of Heaven was coming down to them - that a new phase of divine rule was about to be inaugurated - that Heaven's administration of affairs upon earth was about to assume at once a simpler and more spiritual aspect - that God was going to give a fresh revelation of Himself and His will. While on earth the Administrator of the new kingdom - the Lord Jesus Christ - was educating the people, especially His disciples, for what was coming. After His resurrection He spoke to them "of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts i. 3). On the day of Pentecost the laws of God's new reign began to be announced and practised. God had constituted Jesus both Lord and Christ, and in His name the principles and laws of heaven were administered. The kingdom was God's, the things concerning the kingdom of God were the things in operation under the apostles, and those things were all gathered round the name of Jesus Christ and appertained thereto. He was the God-appointed King in the new kingdom. He is the Administrator in the spiritual reign in existence in the present gospel dispensation. "The things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ," is a parallel to "God hath made that same Jesus ..... both Lord and Christ." Philip spoke of God's government as established and carried on by the Lord Jesus Christ.
"Unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them; and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed." By Philip's instrumentality evil spirits were cast out of those over whom they had been usurping; Paralytics were invigorated with fresh life; and the lame were made whole. The deeds were of a striking nature, calculated to elicit attention; and they were of a beneficial nature, filling the city with great joy. Nor was there simply one transient outflow of this useful power. The tense employed implies a continuing to do these mighty deeds, and a statement, in the
thirteenth verse, respecting Simon, declares the same thought. "He continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done." Miracles and signs were still being performed. Philip went on day after day dispossessing the spirits of the abodes of which they had taken illegal possession. He continued the practice of his healing power on the bodies of the impotent and the diseased. And these mighty deeds which were being performed were signs - indications that God was with the worker. No man could do such signs unless God were with him. Philip's preaching and signs were mutually supplemental. The signs confirmed the message; the message explained the signs. The preaching of the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, accompanied by such impressive and beneficial signs of the power and good-will of King Jesus, led to happy results, despite the wonderful power and long continued dominance of
SIMON THE SORCERER.
He "beforetime in the city used sorcery, and amazed the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one." The verb here translated 'used sorcery,' and the noun translated 'sorceries' in the eleventh verse, occur nowhere else in the New Testament. But the 'sorcerer' is found in Acts xiii. 6, 8. The word translated 'sorcerer' is translated 'wise men' in Matt. ii. 1, 7, 16. The persons so denominated possessed knowledge and skill beyond many around them. Those who used their knowledge for good have been called wise men; whereas those who used their knowledge to play on the ignorance and simplicity of others have been called sorcerers. The Greek includes both classes in 'magoi.' It is a different family of words in Gal. v. 20 (witchcraft), Rev. ix. 21; xviii. 23; xxi. 8; xxii. 15. Simon the magos, magician, or sorcerer, made great pretensions; and his tricks, whatever they were, evoked the wonder of the Samaritans. It is too much to say that he bewitched them. The same word is translated 'wondered' in the thirteenth verse, where it is affirmed of Simon himself, and 'amazed,' in chap. ii. 7, 12, where it is predicated of the Jews on the day of Pentecost. The Samaritans were not bewitched, but they were in great wonder - they were amazed. And the amazement was wide-spread. From the least to the greatest they were under Simon's spell. Nor was his influence confined to one city. The nation was amazed, according to the marginal and correct translation of the ninth verse in the Revised Version. And it had long been so. "They gave heed to him, because that of long time he had amazed them with his sorceries." By prolonged habit they had become submissive to his power. There was, therefore, a long-continued, deep-seated, and generally acknowledged power in Samaria, with which Philip had to cope. Simon had long possessed the sympathy of the people.
It speaks well for the cogency of Philip's miracles and the simplicity of his preaching and teaching, that in such circumstances he gained over the Samaritans. To heal diseases and control the actions of demons surpassed in manifest power and undeniable benefit all the displays of the conjurer. Simon might dazzle with his incantations and manipulations, but he imparted no boon; he might speak great swelling words, but he communicated no ennobling information. On the other hand, Philip's work and message were laden with blessing to all. The transparency of what he said and did must have contrasted favourably with the occult doings of the magos. Philip did good and spoke good. He gave the people experience of his power, and informed them that what they experienced was but a sample of what his Master had in store for them. Such ameliorating deeds, accompanied by a gospel agreeing therewith, gained the ear and the sympathy of the people. With one accord they gave heed.
The result of Philip's preaching and miracles, and of the attention given thereto by the Samaritans, was
They believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. In those portions of the Acts of the Apostles that we have already studied, we have not had a word about belief, at least on the part of the hearers. In Peter's instructions to inquirers on the day of Pentecost, and in his four addresses in the early chapters of Acts, there is nothing about the listeners believing. The historian, however, has several times asserted its existence in a remarkable way. He has spoken of "all that believed," and of "the multitude of them that believed:" and he has averred that "many of them who heard the word believed," and that "believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women" (ii. 44; iv. 4, 32; v.14). Belief was not commanded, and has not been explained; and yet it was so important that to say that so many believed was equivalent to saying that they had become Christians.
1. Belief and faith are one. They may not be synonymous in modern English, but they are in Scripture. Isaiah said, "Lord, who hath believed our report?" and Paul adds, "So then faith cometh by hearing" (Rom. x. 16-17). The 'believed' of one verse becomes 'faith' in the next - 'belief,' in the Revised Version. The equivalent of faith and belief is also seen in Heb. x. 38, 39; xi. 1. 'To believe,' in the thirty-ninth verse, is the same as 'faith' in the preceding verse and the first verse of the following chapter. Again the Revised Version simplifies, giving 'faith' in all three verses; as in Rom. x., they have given uniformity by substituting 'belief' for 'faith.'
2. Faith is explained by the writer to the Hebrews as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (chap. xi. 1). For 'substance' the Revised Version gives 'assurance,' and in the margin 'giving substance to.' For 'evidence' the Revisers give 'proving,' and in the margin 'test.' The American Committee suggest, "Faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction," etc.
(1.) There is assurance, conviction, substance, the giving substance to. All these imply confidence, a state of mind the opposite of doubt and uncertainty; substance - giving substance to, especially - implying that the unseen things have become so real as to have substance given to them - the invisible is felt to have a veritable reality.
(2.) There is evidence, proving, testing, or conviction. Faith, as descriptive of the state of mind, is conviction; but in its action it is the putting of unseen things to the proof - a testing of them.
3. Faith, in its Scripture usage, deals with unseen things. It is assurance respecting things not yet possessed, but hoped for. It is expectation that we shall receive what at present is not ours. It is a conviction of things not seen, whether these things be future, or past, or at present existing, but beyond vision. By touch we learn much of the tangible; by sight we become acquainted with the visible; by hearing we become acquainted with what is audible; and by faith we become acquainted with the intangible, invisible, and inaudible. Faith becomes eyes with which we see the unseen. We did not see the work of creation performed, but "through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God." We do not see the Saviour at God's right hand, but by faith we know that He is there. In like manner we know by faith that he will come a second time without a sin-offering unto salvation. We did not see the Redeemer die on the cross; but we have a deep conviction that He did bear our sins in His own body on the tree. Such conviction is faith.
4. Faith rests upon testimony. It is not every conviction that may be called faith in the Scripture sense. Men often have convictions for which they can produce no evidence. They think, opine, reason, conjecture, surmise, and all their deductions are called convictions; but they are not faith according to the Biblical meaning. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. God speaks, and from His speech man derives assurance - faith - respecting unseen things, of which otherwise he could know nothing. Faith in God and in God's revealed things, is thus acquired in the same way as we obtain faith or assurance about foreign countries and terrestrial things that we have never seen. We read reports, letters from friends, or books and descriptions by travellers, and we thereby become as assured of those unseen countries, their general outline, climate, inhabitants, etc., as if we had seen them with our own eyes. The reader should, therefore, carefully distinguish between faith and opinion. The former rests on testimony - clearly formulated evidence; the latter is but an inference.
That faith is a product of hearing is a truth inseparably interwoven with Scripture teaching. Without speech and hearing, faith was unattainable. "How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (Rom. x. 14). "Many of them who heard the word believed" (Acts iv. 4). "They so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed" (Acts xiv. 1). It was plain, easily comprehended, earnest speaking that produced faith. The Samaritans believed Philip. His manner of speaking was such as to produce conviction in the minds of the hearers.
5. Faith derives its value from the things believed. It is with faith as with eating. It is not the act of eating that makes us strong. Whether we derive strength or not from eating depends on what we eat. Let a man swallow unwholesome food or poison, and mischief inevitably accrues. Let a man believe a lie, as Eve did when she listened to the serpent's story, and faith will bring a curse instead of a blessing. If there be any mixture of error accepted - believed - there must be evil consequences. To believe the right things is of the greatest importance. Hence the need of careful searching of the Scriptures to obtain their exact meaning.
6. Faith naturally leads to action. All those heroes of faith mentioned in Heb. xi. did something. Abel offered, Enoch walked with God, Noah built a boat, Abraham left his fatherland; and so with all the others there was action springing from faith. Faith alone had then no defenders, and should have none now. "Faith without works is dead," useless, fit only to be consigned to oblivion. "By works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (James ii. 20-24). In like manner the believing of the Samaritans moved them to action. When they believed Philip they were baptised, both men and women. They showed their faith in Christ by carrying out the terms of His commission as taught by Philip. Women, as well as men, were immersed.
BAPTISM OF WOMEN.
This is the first mention of the immersion of women. But it does not thence follow that this is the first occasion on which women were immersed. In Acts v. 14, it is said that multitudes both of men and women were added to the Lord; and we know from chapter ii. 41, that the way in which they were added was by receiving the word and being immersed. Again, the mention of Sapphira in chapter v., and of the widows in chapter vi. 1, is clear evidence that women were in the church; but only repenting, baptised ones were received into the church. Women, therefore, must have been immersed before Philip left Jerusalem on his campaign in Samaria.
BAPTISM INTO A NAME.
The Revised Version of Acts viii. 16, gives another thought respecting baptism, which has not come before us in the conversions already examined. "Only they had been baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus." Their baptism was into the name of Jesus. This implies a covenanting to be His faithful servants. It may be illustrated by the baptism of the Israelites into Moses. They were baptised unto - into - Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Cor. x. 2). Not only was there an enveloping by the water of the sea on either side and the cloud above; the baptism thus experienced had a special reference to their following of Moses. They followed him into the sea, and thereby voluntarily acknowledged him as their adopted leader. So in baptism into the name of Jesus there is an acceptance of Him as Lord as well as Saviour; there is a vowing of allegiance to Him for life. The believer, in the act of baptism, promises to serve, and Christ promises to save.
SIMILARITY OF ACTION IN JERUSALEM AND SAMARIA.
Of those on the day of Pentecost belief is not affirmed. But it is implied in their anxious cry to "Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" It was their belief of what Peter had said to them that led to the earnest inquiry. Peter and the other apostles did not command faith when already it was in existence. They acted on the sensible fashion of indicating the next thing to be done. Peter's command to the believing inquirers was to repent and be baptised. Of the Samaritans no repentance is predicated - only hearing, seeing, believing, and being baptised. In the light of the believing declared of the Samaritans, we can understand that the glad reception of the word - the reception of the commands to be obeyed as well as the teaching about Jesus - by the dwellers in Jerusalem, was equal to belief; while the baptism of the Samaritans was an evidence that they had repented - change of will showed itself in obedience. Faith is included, if not distinctly named, in a glad receiving of the word which is followed by repentance and baptism; and repentance is included, though not named, between believing and acting, i.e., between faith and baptism. In Jerusalem and in Samaria, therefore, the things enjoined upon, and practised by, those who were becoming converts, were faith, repentance, and baptism - acceptance of the word of the Lord, resolution to do His will, and immersion into His name.
QUERIES AND REPLIES.
1. "Is it not a fact that faith is God's gift?"
This question is occasionally made the means of insinuating that man is helpless until God gives the needed faith - that man has not the means within his reach to acquire faith. Whether the question is made a cover for this innuendo, or the words are taken in their simple and natural meaning, it is briefly answered as follows:-
Yes; faith is God's gift, although the passage usually quoted in proof, does not prove it. I refer to Eph. ii. 8. It is not faith, nor grace, but salvation, that is God's gift in this Scripture. Faith, however, if God's gift; but it is through our use of means, as food is God's gift through our employment of means to obtain it. To acquire faith we must make good use of the Scriptures. We should diligently search them until we are convinced, assured, of the reality of the unseen things.
2. Did Simon's baptism do him any good?
The question has sometimes been asked with an evident intention to throw discredit on baptism. Hence, I reply, in the first instance, by asking another question. What if Simon's baptism did him no good? Does the abuse by one man of any of God's appointments, nullify the good of that appointment to others? If Simon misused the ordinance, that should warn us to use it properly, not to neglect it altogether.
But there is no Scripture intimation that Simon did abuse the ordinance. There is no implication that he did not secure the blessing ordinarily obtainable in the baptism of a believers. His belief and baptism are recorded in as unqualified a manner as the belief and baptism of others in Samaria; and no man coming after the historian has any right to discredit either of them, or to insinuate anything discreditable of Simon in connection with them. It is true that he afterwards committed a grievous blunder; but that in no way involves that he was hypocritical in being baptised. Was there ever man or woman baptised who did not sin afterward? Simon's great sin is at once and frankly acknowledged, but it is denied that there is any Scripture authority for impeaching his baptism.
A MODEL INQUIRER.
Acts viii. 26-40.
Philip sent in the direction of Gaza - Why was Philip sent? - Why did not the angel or the Spirit speak to the eunuch? - Whence the eunuch came - He was a worshipper of God - A thoughtful student - Unassuming - Seeking instruction - Obedient - A contrast to many now - Why baptism is now slighted - What the Ethiopian was reading - Summary of the passage - Parting confirmation - Queries and replies
PHILIP had broken through Jewish conventionality and prejudice in giving the Gospel and its blessings to the Samaritans. He is now called upon to do more of kindred work. A "mutilated alien," whom Deut. xxiii. 1 would debar from the congregation, is to be received as a Christian brother; and Philip is to be his instructor. One of the Lord's messengers gives Philip the preliminary information as to where he should go. He is to travel to the south of Jerusalem towards Gaza. The selected teacher was himself a fine sample of what a disciple should be: where he was told to go he went; what he was commanded to do he did with unquestioning obedience and alacrity.
It seems strange that Philip should be called away from his great and good work in Samaria for the sake of the conversion of one man. Could not one of the apostles have been sent from Jerusalem? They were nearer Gaza than Philip was. Or might not the eunuch have been spoken to before he left Jerusalem? We cannot now learn the reason of the choice of preacher. Perhaps Philip, having been much in company with the broad-minded and far-seeing Stephen, was more open to a full appreciation of the levelling comprehensiveness of the commission than were the apostles themselves at this time. Of this we may be certain, that the Lord's choice of an agent was wise. It should suffice to know that Philip was His choice. Nor can we do more than guess why the visitor was not spoken to until after he had left the Jewish metropolis. Probably his mind was in the most receptive state when he was busy trying to catch the meaning of Isaiah's prophecy, and God timed the appearance of an instructor to the state of mind of the pupil.
But why was a human instrument needed at all? Supposing that it was a superhuman intelligence who told Philip to go, could not such an angel as easily have gone himself as appear to Philip? And would not the good news proclaimed have been all the more entrancing and effective from angelic lips? Or might not the Spirit, who told Philip to join the chariot, Himself have joined and given infallible instruction to the eunuch? Would not this course have been more secure against the possibility of error, and at the same time more economical of agents? Why did not the Spirit teach without the intervention of man, and thereby leave Philip free to remain in Samaria and continue his successful work there?
It is sometimes argued that because the Lord Jesus had entrusted His Gospel to faithful men, He would not interfere with what had been left to them. Such an explanation only removes the difficulty one step farther back. Why did He commit His Gospel to men to be published by them? If angels and Holy Spirit were to take some part in producing conversion, why not leave the way clear for either angel or Spirit to tell the Gospel story and give the commands belonging thereto?
Let us reserve full consideration of this matter until we have examined the conversions of Saul and Cornelius, where there are similar supernatural appearances. At present let us note the fact that a human preacher was employed even when an angel delivered a message and the Spirit gave a command. Let us further note the work of each. It was to Philip, not to the eunuch, that angel and Spirit spoke. They exercised no influence upon the eunuch, save through Philip. They guided Philip where to go, and then Philip communicated the necessary teaching to the eunuch.
A MAN OF ETHIOPIA
was Philip's scholar in the desert. The prophecy of the Psalmist was having fulfilment: "Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God" (Psalm lxviii. 31). Our Ethiopian held a high office under Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians. "Candace is a name, not of an individual, but of a dynasty, like Aretas in Arabia, or like Pharaoh and Ptolemy. By Ethiopia is meant Meroe on the Upper Nile." "After the destruction of Thebes the inhabitants fled to Meroe, which again waxed strong and rich, and assumed a markedly Egyptian character. In the reign of Augustus it was captured by the Romans, and we read of one of its sovereigns, a Queen Candace, as his tributary." "A glance at the map of Nubia will show the reader that at Old Dongola, in latitude 18ø nearly, the Nile suddenly turns to the north-east, ascending above the 20th parallel, when it retraces its course in a southerly direction to its point of confluence with the Tacazze. The peninsular tract thus enclosed was the ancient kingdom of Meroe, whose capital, Napata, where Queen Candace held her state, is now represented by Old Dongola."
Whence the Eunuch came, and what was his sphere of life, are of less importance to us than the indications of his religious life. We now, therefore, turn our attention to
THE EXCELLENCIES OF THE MAN OF ETHIOPIA.
1. He was a worshipper of God. He had been to Jerusalem to worship. He knew the God of the Jews, and had been to the Jewish capital to do homage to Jehovah according to the Old Testament law. And it was no light matter for him to go to Jerusalem. He must have travelled somewhere about a thousand miles from his home in Old Dongola. A man is in earnest who takes such a journey for the purpose of worshipping.
2. He was a thoughtful reader. On his homeward journey he was busy reading a portion of Scripture. His worship of God was not ended when he departed from the temple. His mind was bent in reverent earnestness over the World of God. For his was no careless reading. He was reading aloud; Philip heard him. He was reading deliberately; paying such attention to what he was reading as to discover that he did not understand it. To find out difficulties by our own reading of Scripture is not so much a cause of discouragement as of encouragement. It is often the first step towards obtaining an accurate understanding of what is read. To take as much care in reading as to be able to put difficulties in question form, would be a means of subsequent enlightenment to many readers.
3. He was unassuming. When asked by Philip whether he understood what he was reading, he made no pretension to knowledge that he did not possess. Many people attempt to cloak their ignorance of Scripture, either by talking vague generalities and making orthodox assertions, or by more honest silence. This Scripture-reader frankly confessed his ignorance. How can I understand, he asked, unless some one shall guide me? The deplorable lack of exact knowledge of Bible teaching is often perpetuated by a foolish attempt to conceal ignorance. It may not be altogether our own fault that we do not accurately understand the Scriptures; but whether we be entirely or only partly to blame, it is always wise to lay ourselves open to learn. Without advertising our ignorance, or telling it to every one we meet, we may copy the disciple-like spirit of Queen Candace's chamberlain by frankly confessing ignorance wherever there is the least probability of obtaining information.
4. He asked instruction. Not content with confessing ignorance, the Ethiopian took steps to acquire knowledge. He became questioner, and asked Philip, "Of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?" The pointedness and simplicity of the question betoken at once a thinking and a teachable mind. There is no attempt to extract a certain meaning from Isaiah's words - no culpable bringing of a theory and striving to support it by the words of Scripture. The honest inquirer simply wanted to know that the prophet meant. This is the true child-like disposition that will never meditate on God's Word in vain.
5. He was obedient. When he knew the Lord's will there was prompt eagerness to practise it. The Lord had said, He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved. The eunuch having heard this, and seeing water, said, See, water, what hinders me to be baptised? In connection with this question two or three things merit attention.
(1.) The eunuch's mention of baptism. Luke does not tell us of Philip saying a word about it, and yet his disciple asked to be baptised. Our historian had adopted the same course in the narrative of the conversion of the Samaritans. Men and women were baptised, but there is not a word of Philip having spoken of baptism to them. Baptism must have been named and explained to the Samaritans and to the Ethiopian. They could not otherwise have known it to be their Saviour's will.
(2.) His question implies anxiety. What hinders me to be baptised? He saw it to be a privilege to attend to the ordinance, and he was consequently eager to attend to it. According to the teaching of Christ and His apostles, salvation was associated with baptism. To be baptised as a repenting believer was to make sure of Christ's promise of salvation given in Mark xvi. 16, and of the Holy Spirit's promise of salvation given in Mark xvi. 16, and of the Holy Spirit's promise through Peter of forgiveness, as recorded in Acts ii. 38. There is no wonder that the worshipping, studious, honest, humble, teachable, anxious foreigner longed to meet Christ in His own appointment.
(3.) The eunuch in his question is a contrast to many in modern times. He asked if he might at once obey the Lord's command. Many now struggle hard to find something to prevent them - an excuse for not being baptised. Why is it so? The reason is not far to seek. New Testament teaching on the place - the design - of this ordinance is not widely believed and is rarely taught. Teachers do not know, and inquirers are not taught the importance attached to obedience by Christ and inspired writers. On the contrary, there is constant teaching of the unimportance, the non-essential nature, of a "mere ceremony." Such anti-scriptural and unreasonable decrying of baptism produces the mischievous effect of indifference, and even antipathy, to the divinely commanded ordinance.
The eunuch chose the better part - that of obedience to the Lord. He had then the preacher's word, the Spirit's word, and the Lord's word, that he was saved. Such assurance filled him with joy. Having obeyed, he went on his way rejoicing. From first to last the man of Ethiopia is a bright exemplar to those who wish to be happy in the possession of salvation.
WHAT THE ETHIOPIAN WAS READING.
From a desire to have the excellencies of this inquirer presented as closely as possible in one view, we have passed over the Scripture he was reading. We now return to it. Isa. liii. 7-8 are the verses which Philip heard him utter. "He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living." These is a difference in the words as given in Acts. This is accounted for by the fact that Luke gives the quotation from the Septuagint translation of Isaiah, and not from the Hebrew. But the variation in the words of Isaiah and Acts does not affect the meaning, which may be summarised as follows:-
1. Unresisting innocence. The person spoken of was innocent and unresisting as sheep or lamb taken to shearing or to slaughter.
2. A mock trial. The harmless one had no just trial. It was a sham. He was wrenched from judgment, and obtained no justice.
3. Deprivation of life. The innocent one, ruthlessly deprived of the justice of a trial, was cruelly put to death; his life was taken from the earth.
4. A wicked generation. It is impossible adequately to depict the wickedness of the generation that so unrelentingly murdered an inoffensive man.
Some one was innocent, and unresisting amid enforced maltreatment; he was hurried off from a sham trial to execution by his wicked contemporaries. Who was he that was thus treated? asked the reader. He was Jesus of Nazareth, responded the preacher. Philip "beginning from this Scripture, preached unto him Jesus."
The man of Nazareth was the innocent One, against whom even His bitterest enemies could bolster up no indictment. He was the unresisting One, who did not strive, nor cry, nor lift up His voice in self-defence or in demolition of the paltry twaddle of His accusers. His was the mock trial. It was characteristically begun in the darkness of night, and a decision come to before break of day. His was the precious life that was sacrificed. And His contemporaries constituted the sinful generation that chose to liberate a notorious robber and murderer and to condemn to the ignominies of crucifixion Him against whom their most persistent and diabolical scrutiny and scheming were unable to find any material out of which to construct a charge that would stand the light of day.
Thus, a brief rehearsal of the life and death of Jesus would show that in Him Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled. The eunuch soon became satisfied that the prophet spoke of Jesus. For though we omit the thirty-seventh verse, as not found in some manuscripts, we have ample evidence left of the faith of the Ethiopian. Philip could not finish the story of Jesus without telling of the resurrection and the commission. His listener believed every word so heartily that he asked permission to act on his belief by being baptised. Both men went down into, not merely to, the water, and Philip buried his ardent disciple in the watery grave; he immersed him into the saving name.
And now their career together was ended. It had been brief, and it had been blissful. Seed was sown, and a beginning made, the full harvest of which no human mind can calculate. A good beginning had been made, but continuity was necessary, and something was done to leave the convert without a shadow of doubt. A concluding proof was given that the teacher was a man of God. The spirit of the Lord snatched away Philip, as Elijah had been taken from Elisha. Teaching and miracle were again hand in hand. Philip was taken to other spheres of labour, and the man of Ethiopia returned to his queen and country the possessor of wealth, compared with which all the treasures of his sovereign were but as dust and refuse. He had become an heir of glory and of God.
QUERIES AND REPLIES.
1. Is an inquirer now as dependent upon the presence of a human teacher as was the eunuch?
No; for a modern inquirer has in his possession not only Philip's teaching to the eunuch, and to the Samaritans, but Peter's to the Jews, and to Cornelius, and Paul's to the jailor, and to others. Inquirers in the days of apostles had no New Testament from which they could learn what the apostles of Christ taught. They had to learn from human lips. In some respects we are more favoured in having the record of much teaching and much apostolic practice that we can quietly study, and diligently compare. There is no living Philip ever brought to a reader by angel and Spirit; but the everlasting teaching which he and others gave abides with us in language that we can understand, even though we have no living voice to guide us. Every inquirer, therefore, who possessed a copy of the Acts of the Apostles, has the means of knowing the way of salvation; and if he remains in ignorance or disobedience, he has himself to blame.
But Christians should recognise the value of the living voice in disseminating truth. Many will listen who would not trouble to read. The melody of the voice, and the expressiveness of the countenance, may captivate; whereas the printer's type might repel or lull to sleep. Christians! scatter the Scriptures freely. Whosoever reads may understand. Combined therewith, however, employ every voice which is prompted by a heart filled with love to Christ, and accompanied by a life consecrated to Him.
2. Is there any reason for treating the separation of Philip from the eunuch as miraculous? "No doubt the influence of the Spirit by which Philip was caught away, was the same as that which had at first joined him to the chariot. It was that monition of the Spirit by which the movements of inspired men were frequently directed."
The writer from whom the previous quotation is made, has not done justice to himself nor his subject. He has substituted assertion for induction. His positive "no doubt" becomes, under careful examination, not only a doubt, but an inexcusable blunder. The evidence points to something differing widely from a monition. Monition, indeed! Is the catching of the sheep by the wolf simply a monition to the sheep to move on? Was it a monition that the Jews were contemplating when they "would come and take Jesus by force, to make Him King"? Was it by monition that some one, of whom Paul speaks, was caught up to the third heaven, and caught up to paradise? Will it be by monition that the resurrected saints and the living believers will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air? In these, and in every other passage where the same word is found in the original as that which is used of Philip being caught away, the idea of monition is unsuitable. The meaning of the word - "to seize, take away by force, snatch away" - and the usage of the word alike point to a miraculous removal of Philip.
Subjects of preaching - Different words translated 'preach' - Other words descriptive of the same work - Difference between primitive and modern preaching - How Christians should act in the use of 'preach.'
'PREACH' occurs more frequently in the eighth chapter than in any other chapter of the Acts of the apostles. I have found it only three times in the first seven chapters; and of the thirty-eight occurrences in the twenty-eight chapters seven are in the eighth. It may, therefore be appropriate to note a few things respecting preaching before we proceed to the consideration of the conversions recorded in Acts ix. Preaching occupies such a prominent place in connection with conversion that it will not be unsuitable to devote this chapter to it.
THE SUBJECTS OF PREACHING
appear numerous and varied. Occasionally it is affirmed that there was preaching, without any mention being made of what was preached, as in chapter viii. 40; but generally the theme of preaching is named. Here is a list of the subjects of preaching in the Acts of the Apostles.
1. The gospel, evangel, good news, or joy-producing tidings (chap. viii. 25; xiv. 7, 21; xvi. 10). 'Gospel' does not tell the subject-matter of the good message; it only declares that the nature of the message is such as to cause gladness, joy.
2. The kingdom of God (xx. 25; xxviii. 31). It is God's reign or government of the sons of men.
3. The things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ - those matters which pertain to the divine government as conducted by Jesus Christ (viii. 12; xxviii. 31).
4. Jesus (viii. 35; xvii. 3; xix. 13). The word means Saviour. It was given to the Son of God because of His mission being to save men from the practice of sin (Matt. i. 21; Acts iii. 26).
5. Christ (viii. 5). 'Messiah,' 'Christ,' and 'anointed' are one. They are from three different languages, but have one meaning. Philip preached the Christ - the specially anointed One. He was preached as the Son of God (ix. 20).
6. Jesus Christ (iii. 20; v. 42). The apostles preached that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the promised Messiah, the anointed Saviour.
7. Lord Jesus (xi. 20). Lord implies authority, rule sovereignty. Jesus is the theme of the gospel and the God-appointed King in the kingdom.
8. The resurrection (iv. 2). It is the still future raising of mankind from the grave. It is predicted to take place through Jesus.
9. Jesus and the resurrection (xvii. 18). The theme was Jesus having been raised from the dead, and the general resurrection through Him.
10. Forgiveness (xiii. 38). It is the pardon of all the black past, and this complete absolution is "through this man," Christ Jesus.
11. Peace (x. 36). There is quietness, tranquillity, harmony, the opposite of war and turmoil, sent from God through Jesus Christ. It is a development of the good news of peace on earth proclaimed at the Saviour's birth.
12. The word (viii. 4; xi. 19; xiv. 25; xvi. 6). It will be observed by the attentive reader that "the gospel" and "the word" are the phrases most frequently employed to describe the subject of preaching; and yet these two phrases only occur four times each. The two following have the added words "of God" and "of the Lord."
13. The word of God (xiii. 5; xvii. 13).
14. The word of the Lord (viii. 25; xv. 35, 36). "The doctrine of the Lord" seems another title for the word of the Lord (xiii. 12). It is the teaching given by the Lord, or the teaching respecting Him. "The faith" of chap. xiii. 8 is another description of the same thing. Faith is here applied to the evidence upon which faith rests - the things believed, as in Jude 3.
15. To turn (xiv. 15). The evangelistic message of Paul and Barnabas was, that the idolaters turn from their degrading worship to the worship of the living Creator. But it may be that what was spoken about was not alone or chiefly the turning, but good news designed to result in their turning. See Revised Version.
16. Baptism (x. 37; xiii. 24). It is the baptism taught and practised by John in both passages, explained in one of them as the baptism of repentance.
17. Moses (xv. 21). The verse seems to assert that Moses was preached by being read.
In the phraseology of these subjects there is marked variety, but it is a diversity amid unity. The two last subjects may be eliminated as having no direct bearing on the subject of preaching under the commission for all nations. The reading of Moses and the baptism of John were alike designed for the Jews, and were prior to the founding of Christianity. The other fifteen subjects belong to Christianity. A brief glance at these will satisfy the reader that they all have more or less reference to Jesus. In several of them he is distinctly named, and not one of them could be properly spoken upon without speaking of Him. The gospel, as it comes before us in our present study, is good tidings respecting Christ. In the kingdom of God the Lord Jesus Christ has all authority. Forgiveness, peace, and the resurrection are through Him. The word of God in the New Testament is concerning Him. And it is under His instruction and rule that men are enabled to turn from vanities to God. In the preceding list we have different phases of the one large many-sided theme - the Lord Jesus Christ: His salvation and kingship. The theme of apostolic preaching was one, but it included so much that in one book of the New Testament there are at least fifteen titles to it.
The reader should observe the limits within which the preceding list of subjects is contained. It is derived exclusively from the Acts of the Apostles, and only those passages in Acts which contain 'preach' have been included. Other subjects, or phases of the same subject, or titles, are found with other words denoting speaking. The following are named as examples:- "The wonderful works of God" (chap. ii. 11); "The words of this life" (v. 20); "The way of salvation" (xvi. 25). It will be a useful exercise to the reader to make a more complete list for himself.
The foregoing table of subjects, and the remarks thereon, are based upon the Authorised Version. The revisers have made some alterations. In seventeen instances they have replaced 'preach' by other words. They have substituted 'proclaim' in eight of these cases, 'speak' in five, 'discourse' in two, and 'bring good tidings' in one. In the remaining instance they adopted a different reading in Greek. The reason of the less frequent use of 'preach' is a commendable attempt on the part of the revisers to distinguish between
DIFFERENT WORDS TRANSLATED PREACH.
Seven Greek words had been occasionally translated by one word - 'preach.' Preachers, so called, are prone, perhaps pardonably, to talk about preaching. But in the translation of God's word there ought not to have been such a preference for one word as to make it a representative of seven from another language. These words have mostly an easily distinguished meaning.
Dialegomai, the word employed in Acts xx. 7, 9 means to discourse, reason, argue, dispute. It is the word from which we obtain 'dialogue.' In chap. xvii. 17; xix. 8, 9; xxiv. 12, 'dispute' represents the same word. We cannot think of disputing as ever confined to one person. There was exchange of thought between different parties. "Disputing with any man," in the last passage named, seems clearly to imply that more than one would take part in the reasoning spoken of. To 'reason' is the best rendering generally, but 'dispute' is a necessary rendering occasionally (Mark ix. 34; Jude 9). On that memorable night of dialoguing in Troas, while Paul was the chief speaker, it does not necessarily follow that he was the only speaker. It is much more natural to think of many questions being raised by the brethren, upon which Paul gave needful information. At any rate, 'preach' is an inappropriate translation.
Laleo simply means to speak. Out of sixty-two occurrences of this word in the Acts of the Apostles, forty-seven are translated 'speak,' ten to 'tell,' 'say,' or 'talk.' Why should the verb be translated by preach five times (chap. viii. 25; xi. 19; xiii. 42; xiv. 25; xvi. 6), when speak, say, tell, and talk, represent it in fifty-seven passages, and would suitably represent it in the other five? The revisers give 'speak' instead of 'preach' in these five passages.
Parreesiazomai means "to speak with freedom or boldness; to speak boldly." Of nine occurrences in the New Testament, seven of which are in the Acts of the Apostles, only once is 'preach' used as a translation (Acts ix. 27). That of itself invites a scrutiny. If 'preach' is required at all, why is it required only once? If it is only needed once, what is there special to necessitate it in that one instance? When we see that in the twenty-ninth verse of the same chapter we have the same Greek word, and another one which means 'to speak,' together rendered 'speak boldly,' it is difficult to imagine what rule guided the translators. It looks simply a whimsical variation to say that Paul preached boldly in Damascus and spoke boldly in Jerusalem, seeing that Luke employs one word to describe Paul's action in both towns. The revisers have made the two verses consistent, but in inserting 'preach' in these verses they have made a retrograde movement, and are inconsistent with their own translation in the other seven passages.
Evangelizomai is to declare good tidings (Acts xiii. 32). It is generally translated to preach, or to preach the gospel. It is so translated in fourteen of the fifteen occurrences in the Acts. But neither of these is an adequate representation of the meaning. 'To preach the gospel' is too definite. What gospel, or good news, was preached is not told by the word itself. The word only tells that good news about something was being told. On the other hand, 'to preach' is too vague. 'To bring good tidings' is much more accurate, expressive, and exhilarating than 'to preach.' Gabriel was sent 'to show glad tidings'; and the angel said to the shepherds, "I bring you good tidings" (Luke i. 19; ii. 10). To say that Gabriel preached to Zacharias, and that the angel preached to the shepherds, would be a sad impoverishing of the record. But if 'preach' as a translation of evangelizomai is weak, vague, and consequently inaccurate, when it represents the work of an angel, it is equally defective when it represents the work of mortals. When we have Jesus Christ, peace through Him, the word, the word of the Lord, Jesus and the resurrection, and the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, all spoken of as preached, without the slightest intimation that the historian employed a word which denotes that each of these themes was spoken of as good tidings, it looks like deliberately paying a higher price than is necessary for the transfer of thought from Greek to English. It seems a robbing of the English reader of the gladdening thought conveyed by the original word. The passages in which this is done in Acts are chap. v. 42; viii. 4, 12, 35, 40; x. 36; xi. 20; xiv. 15; xv. 35; xvii. 18. The fact of the verb being used transitively in most of these instances is not an insurmountable difficulty to accurate translation. 'To deliver the glad message' is Rotherham's translation in all these verses.
The remaining three Greek words may be translated 'preach' and 'proclaim,' as the revisers have generally done.
The distinction of the words, which has been pointed out in the preceding paragraphs, if faithfully observed in translating, would reduce the occurrences of 'preach,' in the Acts of the Apostles, from thirty-eight to ten. The precision thereby gained would be a great advantage. And as the usage of the word in translation ought thus to be restricted, so in our common speech respecting addresses on Scripture themes its employment might be advantageously diminished. Altogether it holds an unwarrantable monopoly. That its privileges and labour may be very much reduced and profit accrue therefrom, will be seen by taking note of
OTHER WORDS DESCRIPTIVE OF PREACHING
in the Acts of the Apostles. The apostles were witnesses (i. 8; x. 39, 41; xiii. 31; xxii. 15). They testified repentance, faith, the gospel of the grace of God, the kingdom of God, that Jesus was the Christ, and that he was the appointed Judge (x. 42; xviii. 5; xx. 21, 24; xxiii. 11; xxvi. 16). They were ministers of the word (vi. 4; xxvi. 16). They and their co-workers showed by the Scriptures that Jesus was Christ (xviii. 28), the way of salvation (xvi. 17), and that all should repent and turn to God (xxvi. 20). The disciples declared glad tidings (xiii. 32). They opened and alleged (xvii. 3); they expounded (xviii. 26; xxviii. 23), reasoned (xvii. 2), disputed (ix. 29), taught (v. 21, 25), and persuaded (xix. 8). They said, talked, told, spoke. By all these words, some of them of frequent occurrence, it is indicated that the word of the Lord was published (xiii. 49). With such a variety of words, all employed respecting the first Christian workers in their efforts to disseminate the gospel, there is no necessity to be restricted to 'preach,' or even to use it frequently. The desirability of curtailing its sphere is felt more forcibly, when there is taken into account
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PRIMITIVE AND MODERN PREACHING.
Preaching, in its modern acceptation, is restricted to public addresses from platform or pulpit; whereas New Testament preaching included the communicating of intelligence to one person - Philip preached to the eunuch. Modern preaching is a formal address at a fixed time; New Testament preaching consisted in going about and telling the news, as the common people today would circulate among themselves any piece of wonderful intelligence. Modern preaching is chiefly professional - carried on by trained and paid officials; whereas New Testament preaching was engaged in by the whole brotherhood, irrespective of remuneration - "they that were scattered abroad went about preaching the word." The practice of modern preachers is to speak from a text - a verse, a line, or a word; the first Christians gave a summary of what God had done. Modern preaching is characterised by theorising, often of the most fanciful nature; the first Christians rehearsed facts, and accompanied the rehearsal with clear injunctions respecting what should be done. Modern preaching is almost invariably in the interest of some denomination; the first disciples had no denominations to defend. Modern preaching is bewildering, partly owing to denominational divisions, partly owing to the theorising nature of the speaking, and partly to its being made a profession; the preaching of the early Christians set the minds of all classes immediately at rest in the enjoyment of salvation, by producing faith in the Son of God and obedience to His behests. It is difficult to estimate the difference - the positive contrast - between apostolic and modern preaching. It is of such a nature that the one word cannot accurately represent both. If we use 'preach' in the Scripture sense, we cannot, without great mental reservation, or a process of evolution which amounts to a change of the meaning of the word, employ it in the modern sense. If we employ it with the meaning attached to it in the Queen's English, we cannot carry back that meaning and graft it into New Testament phraseology without hiding something of the simplicity and divine effectiveness of New Testament preaching. In these circumstances what are we to do? It seems folly to talk antiquated English; it would not be understood. And yet it is worse than folly - it is unfaithfulness - to hide one iota of New Testament teaching, or even to speak in such a way that some part of the teaching is made obscure. I dare not use an ambiguous word, especially when the honour of God's teaching and the salvation of men are at stake. Without doubt 'preaching' is ambiguous. It may be intended to denote the ancient practice of Christians in speaking publicly or privately, in set address or by conversation, the facts of God's dealings with men; or it may be used to denote the formal address of a dogmatic theologian in defence of some opinion of his own or of his party. The ambiguity or inappropriateness of 'preach' comes further into view when we recognise that primitive preaching was a proclamation of a new message, whereas our business is not to announce anything new, but to reason from the Scriptures, and teach the people what we find therein.
What can be done to hold fast the form of sound words received from apostles, and to eschew the phantasies of polemical theologians? Use the term preach sparingly. Avoid it altogether, when there is any danger of being misunderstood; and when employing it, make sure by explanation or by clear implication that you are using it so as to elucidate the Word of God. Of other words and phrases, as we have seen, there is no scarcity. To those quoted from the Acts of the apostles may be added 'address,' 'lecture,' 'argue,' 'discuss,' 'converse,' 'interpret,' 'explain,' all capable of describing New Testament evangelising work.
THE CONVERSION OF THE APOSTLE TO THE GENTILES.
Acts ix. 1-19; xxii. 1-16; xxvi. 9-20.
The young man Saul - Persecution by him - Damascus - A vision from heaven - Three days' anxiety - Ananias - Calling on the name of the Lord - Recapitulation of conditions of salvation - Apparent discrepancies - Queries and replies
SAUL was a well-educated, rigid, Pharisee. At the death of Stephen he was a young man at whose feet the witnesses laid down their clothes (Acts vii. 58). He was a native of Tarsus, but educated in Jerusalem under the learned Gamaliel. He was taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the Jews. He made progress in Judaism beyond those of his own age (Gal. i. 14). He was zealous toward God, and exceedingly zealous of the traditions of his forefathers. As a Pharisee he differed in doctrine from the Sadducees in that he believed in spirit, angel, and resurrection (Acts xxiii. 6-8). The conduct of the Pharisees abounded in ceremony and punctiliousness (Matt. xxiii.); and Saul was of the strictest sect of the Pharisees. If any man might think himself safe because of his human connection, training, profession, and earnest integrity, Saul might. If good intentions were sufficient to secure salvation, then Saul of Tarsus was as safe as ever man could be. If thinking that he was right would serve as a substitute for being right, Saul had nothing to fear. We know nothing of Saul as an egotistic boaster; his whole nature recoiled from that. Yet from his stand-point, and with his clear vision, he could say, "If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Phil. iii. 4-6). With all his learning, piety, and zeal for God,
SAUL WAS A BITTER PERSECUTOR.
His opposition to the cause of Christ was of the most virulent nature. He consented to, and approved of, the death of Stephen. After Stephen's death Saul "made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and, haling men and women, committed them to prison" (Acts viii. 3). He continued "breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord." He "persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women." His self-accusations before Agrippa contain several severe charges. (1.) "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth." (2.) "Many of the saints did I shut up in prison." (3.) "When they were put to death, I gave my voice against them." (4.) "I punished them oft in every synagogue." (5.) I "compelled them to blaspheme." (6.) I was "exceedingly mad against them." (7.) "I persecuted them even unto strange cities." Even when writing an epistle to some extent in self-defence, he could not exclude the memory of his acrimonious and successful persecution - "Beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it" (Gal. i. 13). He deemed himself the least of the apostles, and unworthy to be called an apostle, because he had persecuted the church of God (1 Cor. xv. 9). Still later, in writing solemn injunctions to Timothy, he brings in the thought that he "was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious" (1 Tim. i. 13). It is difficult to estimate the crushing devastation produced by the untiring energy of such a religious zealot. In his persecuting zeal he besought the aid of the High Priest. He thereby became armed with an ecclesiastical commission to harass the Nazarenes even in the far off city of Damascus. He obtained inquisitorial authority to bring Christian men and women as prisoners from there to Jerusalem, a distance of 136 miles, to be punished.
is the oldest city in the world. "Its fame begins with the earliest patriarchs, and continues to modern times." It is one of the most important cities in Syria. "It lies on the eastern base of Anti-Libanus, in a well-watered, fertile plain, the beauty of which led the Orientals to call it one of the four terrestrial paradises." All who visit Damascus admire its charming beauty. It has been called "the eye of the East," and has been spoken of as resembling "an island of Paradise, in the green enclosure of its beautiful gardens." Julian describes it as "the great and sacred Damascus, surpassing every city both in the beauty of its temples and the magnitude of its shrines, as well as the timeliness of its seasons, the limpidness of its fountains, the volume of its waters, and the richness of its soil." "The desert is a fortification round Damascus. The river is its life. It is drawn out into watercourses, and spread in all directions. For miles around it is a wilderness of gardens, - gardens with roses among the tangled shrubberies, and with fruit on the branches overhead. Everywhere among the trees the murmur of unseen rivulets is heard. Even in the city, which is in the midst of the garden, the clear rushing of the current is a perpetual refreshment. Every dwelling has its fountain; and at night, when the sun has set behind Mount Lebanon, the lights of the city are seen flashing on the waters." The antiquity of the city is proved by Gen. xiv. 15: xv. 2: and the fame of its rivers comes down to us from the days of Naaman (2 Kings v. 12). As Saul approached that paradisical city he was suddenly stopped on his mad career by
A VISION FROM HEAVEN.
A heavenly light shone out with intense splendour, surpassing the brilliancy of an eastern sun at noon. It was overpowering; Saul and his companions fell prostrate to the earth. And out from the awful splendour there came, in the sacred language of the Hebrews, the searching question, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" Saul was confounded. Was he not doing God's service? Had he not taken that long weary journey in order to suppress the enemies of God? This vision could be nothing else than from heaven. The speaker in the midst of the shining glory must at least be one of God's messengers. Saul was in ignorance. He knew not that he was persecuting any heavenly being, or any one of whom God approved. "Who are thou, Lord?" was a question from one in total ignorance of the relationship existing between the Nazarenes, Jesus of Nazareth, and Jehovah. Who can imagine the effect produced upon Saul by the terrible flash of illumination that entered the mind of the poor, humiliated persecutor, as the Lord answered, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest"? If Saul had been zealous even to madness, he was nevertheless honest. True to the honesty of his noble nature, when light dawned he welcomed it, even if it laid bare the hideousness of his work, and the lamentable blundering of his judgment. "What shall I do, Lord?" is an everlasting monument to the greatness of soul of him who was to become the great apostle of the Gentiles. He was prepared to turn round on all his previous life now that he saw that he had been wrong. But notwithstanding the presence of the great Teacher, and the manifested eagerness of Saul to learn, he had
THREE DAYS ANXIOUS WAITING.
The Lord Jesus gave Saul his apostolic commission without delay, and without human intervention. "I have appeared unto thee," said Christ to His chosen apostle, "for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou has seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them who are sanctified by faith that is in me." But for anything of his own immediate duty as an anxious inquirer, Saul was directed to go into Damascus, and there it would be told him what he must do; and he had three days to wait for the needful instruction. Doubtless it was a kind Providence that gave him time to think. Christianity is not to be accepted without counting the cost. The issues involved were tremendous. Saul was on the verge of a new career, and it was a career that would be a contradiction to his previous life. It was needful calmly to review the past, and deliberately to decide respecting the future. It must have been a time of dreadful mental conflict and of weary suspense. Saul had not yet the enlivening joys of a new convert. He had not reached that stage. He was an anxious inquirer, not a convert; and his anxiety was acutely painful. Saul was not the man to do anything or be anything by halves. For three days he neither ate nor drank. Anguish which enforces abstinence for three days is of no ordinary kind. Never was anxious inquirer in more distracting circumstances, and never did anxious inquirer so realise the importance of knowing and doing the right. In his extremity he prayed. What else could be do? There was yet no record of the way of salvation. He could not study what was not in his possession. In his circumstances the only thing to do was to pray, and await the divine revelation. Prayer, always natural to anxious ones, was especially natural to Saul. The business of the instructor is to answer the prayer of the inquirer by giving the teaching for which he has been longing and praying. God set in motion the means of bringing to Saul the knowledge of the way of salvation, assigning as a reason for the sending of Ananias, that Saul was praying - "for, behold, he prayeth."
was "a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews who dwelt" in Damascus. To him the Lord appeared in a vision, instructing him to go to the house of Judas to Saul. Ananias had heard too much of Saul the persecutor to be easily persuaded to pay him a visit. He told the Lord his difficulty. Giving a command that was not to be gainsaid, and a reason that was all-sufficient, the Lord said, "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; for I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name's sake."
The Lord had appeared to Saul; a vision and oral instruction were given to Ananias, directing him to go to Saul, and Saul himself was encouraged by seeing in a vision Ananias coming to him; but amid all this employment of the miraculous, Saul required to learn what to do in an ordinary manner from a brother man. It is here as in the case of the eunuch. The miraculous interventions brought the pupil and the human teacher face to face.
On the arrival of Ananias, Saul received his sight, was promised the Holy Spirit, was baptised, and had his sins forgiven. Then his anxiety subsided, and his peace of mind was such that he received good, and was strengthened.
Ananias laid his hands on Saul, "and immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales, and he received sight forthwith."
The Holy Spirit was one of the blessings to be received by Saul. But by what means, and at what point of his experience, the Holy Spirit was received, the narrative does not say.
The baptism of Saul was immediately attended to. The words of Ananias permitted no further delay. "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptised, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord."
It will not be denied that washing away of sins is a figurative representation, equivalent to obtaining pardon. Two things are necessarily implied. (1.) Saul's sins were not forgiven prior to his baptism. His conversion was not accomplished when Christ appeared to him on the way. He was not then saved, else why should be now be told to wash away his sins? He was then convinced that Jesus was the Christ, and his will was changed - he was ready to learn; but the learning and the doing were effected through the help of Ananias. (2.) It rested with Saul to do what was requisite in order to obtain pardon. "Wash away thy sins," tells of baptism as his voluntary act, and as the Lord's appointed means of bestowing forgiveness.
Ananias does not put baptism more prominently, or in a more important place, than Christ had done when he said, "He that believeth, and is baptised, shall be saved." Peter had also similarly taught when he said, "Repent and be baptised ... for the remission of sins." Belief and baptism precede salvation; repentance and baptism precede remission of sins; and the washing away of Saul's sins was secured in his baptism. The Lord of glory, the apostle of the circumcision, and the Lord's chosen instructor for the apostle to the Gentiles, unite in giving the same lesson. Baptism, accompanied with faith and repentance, is a condition of salvation. To faith, repentance, and baptism is now added
CALLING ON THE NAME OF THE LORD.
'To call on' is not so specific as the commands to inquirers which we have already examined - to believe, to repent, and to be immersed. There is more flexibility, if not ambiguity, in the injunction to call on the name of the Lord than in these other commands. But seeing that the verb translated 'to call on' occurs thirty-two times in the New Testament, twenty-one of which are in the book we are studying, the Acts of Apostles, there ought to be no insurmountable difficulty in arriving at the meaning.
1. It may denote prayer, as when "they stoned Stephen, calling upon the Lord, and saying Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (chap. vii. 59).
2. It may denote being called by a name, as Christians are called by the worthy name of Christ (James ii. 7), having had that name called upon them (see margin of Revised Version).
3. To be 'surnamed' is the meaning given in eleven occurrences of the verb we are considering (Luke xxii. 3; Acts i. 23, etc.) The giving of Christian as a name to a disciple of Christ is not surnaming in our modern sense; and yet it comes so near thereto that both things are represented by one Greek word, and may be joined together as at least illustrations of each other in our own language. To surname means literally to name over and above. To be called Christians, because we are followers of Christ, is to have His name added to any other name by which we are called. It is in accordance with the etymological meaning to say that we are surnamed Christians.
4. To 'appeal' is the translation in six instances (Acts xxv. 11, 12, etc.) It is Paul's appeal to the Roman emperor in all six cases.
What, then, is the meaning in the command to Saul recorded in Acts xxii. 16? Was he told to pray to the Lord, appeal to the Lord, or be called by His name? These three things are not mutually exclusive. To pray at baptism does not preclude appealing, but rather includes it. The one who earnestly prays, appeals to God, reasons with Him. Nor does the praying appeal exclude assuming the divine name, and so being called by it. On the contrary, it is to be expected that he who earnestly appeals to God in prayer, either has already had the divine name called upon him or is wishful to have it. And each of these three has Scripture sanction. Prayer at baptism has the best of all authority, the example of the Lord. "Jesus also being baptised, and praying, the heaven was opened" (Luke iii. 21). The Lord Jesus is also an example of special appeal to God, as seen in His prayer reported in John xvii. And being called by the name of the Lord is warranted by baptism into the divine name, as well as by the direct assertion of disciples being called by the honourable name. As these three things are in no way contradictory, but harmonious, and even supplemental of each other; as they have each Scripture authority; and as they are each represented by one word, epikaleomai, may we not think of a combination of them in connection with baptism?
But who is the Lord whose name is called upon? Is it the Lord - the Jehovah - of the Old Testament, or is it the Lord Jesus Christ? The Revised Version gives a decisive answer in saying, "Arise, and be baptised, and wash away thy sins, calling on His name." His name! Whose name? Saul had seen the Righteous One; he had heard a voice from His mouth; he was to be a witness for Him; and in being baptised he was to call on His name. That the name of the Lord Jesus is meant, is put beyond reasonable doubt by the Revised Version. To pray to the Lord Jesus is what Stephen had done with his last breath. It is natural to appeal to Him to fulfil His own promise that he who believes and is baptised shall be saved. All authority has been given to Him, He has been exalted to give repentance and remission of sins, and He has promised forgiveness to every baptised believer. With humble, unwavering confidence the believing candidate can appeal to Jesus; and the baptismal formula, as it is uttered by the baptiser, calls the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit upon the baptised one; or in the shorter phraseology of Acts viii. 16, the believer is baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus. Prayer to Jesus does not preclude prayer to the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. All that is here argued for is that prayer to the Saviour is equally legitimate, being both Scriptural and appropriate, especially at baptism.
These three things - praying to the Lord Jesus, appealing to Him, and being called by His name - were natural accompaniments, if not essential ingredients, of baptism from the day of Pentecost onward. This understood, the assertion of Acts ii. 21, that "whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved," finds special application and appropriateness. It is not the mere cry of an alarmed soul that is meant. It is the intelligent utterance of a believer who is resolved to follow the Lord Christ, and who desires to accept His name and His yoke in His own appointment. To the same effect is Paul's reasoning. "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in Him, of whom they have not heard? and how shall they preach, except they be sent?" (Rom. x. 14-15.) And the preaching which Paul had in view was New Testament preaching - the preaching of the Lord Jesus Christ.
RECAPITULATION OF CONDITIONS OF SALVATION.
Looking back over the examples of conversion that have been examined, we conclude that in order to enjoy the Scripture assurance of forgiveness, inquirers should read and search the Scriptures until they have faith in Christ; that their faith should be of such a nature as to lead them to resolve to forsake sin and obey Christ; that this believing resolve should lead to a speaking to the Lord Jesus in prayer, an appealing to Him to accomplish all His promises and purposes, and an assuming of His name in immersion in water, thereby promising to wear that name until death.
1. Paul before Agrippa speaks of himself and co-travellers as having "all fallen to the earth" (chap. xxvi. 14); whereas Luke asserts that "the men who journeyed with Saul stood speechless" (ix. 7). How could they be fallen to the earth, and yet standing?
It is impossible that the same men could do the two things at once; but there is no difficulty in understanding that they did them in succession. When the blaze of light flashed across their pathway they all fell to the earth; but the men with Saul immediately arose, and stood in dumb amazement, while Saul remained in humble prostration, hearing what the Lord said. By the time that Jesus spoke, Saul's companions were standing; Saul himself did not arise until the close, or near the close, of the Lord's communication to him.
There is another way of satisfactorily solving this difficulty. 'Stood' is equal to 'came to a stand' - halted. Two examples of the same Greek verb from the same historian will be both illustration and evidence. On one occasion Jesus met a funeral procession. He touched the bier, and the bearers stood still (Luke vii. 14). It is not standing in contrast to falling that is meant, but standing in contrast to walking. Acts viii. 38 is another example. "He commanded the chariot to stand still." It is standing as distinguished from moving. So with Saul's companions. There is no need to think of more being implied, in the assertion that they stood, than that their progress was arrested. Instead of continuing to move forward, they stood. One assertion is that they halted; the other one that they fell to the earth. The latter is additional to the former.
2. Luke affirms that the men heard a voice (ix. 7); but he narrates that Paul on the castle stairs in Jerusalem declared that "they heard not the voice of him that spake (xxxii. 9). How could they hear and not hear?
There is nothing more common than to hear and not hear. It happens whenever we hear some one speaking, but do not know what he says. We hear the sound - the voice: but, because of indistinct utterance, or distance from the speaker, or our ignorance of the language spoken, it communicates no intelligence to us. We hear, and we do not hear. Saul's companions heard a voice of some one speaking, but they knew not what was said. That may have been because they did not understand Hebrew; Jesus spoke to Paul in the Hebrew language (xxvi. 14).
QUERIES AND REPLIES.
1. "Was not Saul converted when the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus?"
It will not be asserted that he was a convert until he was forgiven. But his sins were still unforgiven when, in Damascus, Ananias said to him, "Arise, and be baptised, and wash away thy sins." That he was unforgiven, unsaved, and unhappy, accounts for him being without food and drink for three days after the Lord had appeared to him. He was pardoned, saved, and became a Christian when he was immersed.
2. "Was not Saul miraculously converted?"
It is difficult to find a conversion in the Acts of the Apostles without a miracle; but the miracle by itself never produced conversion. In Saul's case the miracle was more striking than in some others, but, otherwise, Saul's conversion was in no way exceptional. On the day of Pentecost there was miraculous speaking; in Samaria there was miraculous healing; to the eunuch there was a miraculous appearing and disappearing of Philip; and to Saul there was the miraculous appearance of the Lord. But in all four cases there was teaching added. The miracles arrested attention, or confirmed the teaching. To distinguish Saul's conversion from others by calling it miraculous is as false in fact as it is misleading to inquirers.
PETER AT LYDDA AND JOPPA, AND SAUL AT PAPHOS.
Acts ix. 32-43; xiii. 4-12.
Prominence of Peter - Were the saints at Lydda Christians? - Lydda - The cure of Eneas - Effect of the cure throughout Sharon Much in little - Joppa - Tabitha - Restoration to life - Its influence - Absence of preaching and teaching - Similarity of account of Saul at Paphos - Dissimilarity - The Saviour's promise of miracle power - New Testament words for miracles - Miracles confirmatory of teaching - Ought not Christians to have the power to work miracles still?
PETER occupied a prominent place in the early days of the church in Jerusalem. He is the only one of the twelve whose address on the day of Pentecost has been preserved. He was then the spokesman on behalf of the twelve. His words then spoken, in reply to the anxious inquirers, are also recorded. He was the speaker in Solomon's portico. Afterward, in the company of John, he spoke in presence of the rulers. Along with John he taught in the temple courts. It was Peter who brought to light the deception of Ananias and Sapphira, and pronounced their dire sentence. Peter was so esteemed that his shadow was sought after for curative purposes. "They brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that, at the least, the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them" (Acts v. 15). Peter and John went to Samaria to impart the Holy Spirit to the baptised believers there. On the return journey they did their first recorded missionary work outside of Jerusalem. They announced good news in many villages of the Samaritans. Of the result of that evangelistic effort in Samaritan villages we know nothing. Nor do we know of Peter leaving Jerusalem on any other Christian mission until we reach what is recorded after the conversion of Saul. Now, however, we have it stated, that "as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints who dwelt at Lydda."
This may, or may not, have been an evangelising tour. It may have been with a view to confirm the churches, a mission such as Paul afterward undertook in connection with Silas (chap. xv. 36, 40-41). When Peter arrived at Lydda there were already saints there. Whether they were Christians may not be beyond doubt. 'Saints' is a word equally applicable to true worshippers of God under Judaism and under Christianity. "Many bodies of the saints that slept arose" after Christ's resurrection, is a statement in which 'saints' is applied to servants of God under Judaism, for Christianity was not then established (Matt. xxvii. 52). In Acts ix. 'saints' occurs three times, two of which are manifestly a description of the disciples of Christ (verses 13, 41). It is therefore probable that in the third instance (verse 32), disciples are also meant. This is the more likely, seeing that in most occurrences from the beginning of Acts onward, if not in all, 'saints' is applied to the followers of Jesus.
Lydda, the town in which Peter came to the saints, is the Old Testament Lod. It is situated some twenty miles north-west from Jerusalem. It was built by the descendants of Benjamin (1 Chron. viii. 12).
THE CURE OF ENEAS
is the only act of Peter in this ancient city which is recorded. Eneas is not denominated either saint or disciple; he is spoken of indefinitely as "a certain man." Whatever his belief or his unbelief, he was paralysed, and had been bedridden eight years. Peter's words were few. "Eneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole; arise and make thy bed." Though few, the words were potent. Peter had long been familiar with the almighty power of the name of Jesus Christ. Somewhat of the value of that name Eneas now learned; "he arose immediately."
Of the mental, moral, and spiritual effect on Eneas of the instantaneous cure of his long-standing debility, the historian is silent; but the influence upon others was extensive. "All that dwelt at Lydda and in Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord." Not only the inhabitants of Lydda, but those who lived in the surrounding district of Sharon, rightly attributed the cure to the Lord; and they became His worshippers, followers, converts. We need not press the word "all" to its utmost bounds. Without doing so there is involved a general turning to God of the people in the neighbourhood. Saron, or Sharon, is a district extending northward to Cesarea. At present the village of Ludd (Lydda) is said to contain about a thousand inhabitants. Including the surrounding region the number of conversions must have been great.
MUCH IN LITTLE.
How much of the transactions in and around Lydda is compressed in four brief verses will be seen by an enumeration of the statements. (1.) Peter passed through all parts. (2.) He came to Lydda. (3.) There were already saints there. (4.) There was at Lydda an invalid, called Eneas. (5.) He had suffered from palsy for eight years. (6.) He was cured instantaneously. (7.) Peter was the visible means of the cure. (8.) Jesus Christ was the actual Physician. (9.) The cure was known throughout all the surrounding neighbourhood. (10.) It led to very many becoming Christians.
How much more might have been said, had it been the historian's purpose to tell all and expatiate thereon, is suggested by the following questions. What parts had Peter visited before coming to Lydda? What work was he doing in his journey? Was he consolidating the churches or making converts? Or was he doing both things? Was there a Christian church at Lydda prior to Peter's visit? If so, who had founded it? What number composed it? How many turned to the Lord under the influence of the cure of Eneas? Was Eneas a Christian prior to Peter's visit? If not, did he become one after? Was the miracle the sole cause of the many conversions? Was there no preaching or teaching? If there was, who were the speakers? Did Peter do all, or had be co-labourers? How long did Peter stay there? Was the work carried on after he left? If so, by whom?
Whether the reader thinks of the amount of information conveyed in so small compass, or the many things that were tempting to report that have been omitted, he must be struck with the work of Luke as different from ordinary historians. In short, we have in Luke a Spirit-guided historian, who gives only what will make his history suitable to all, and avoids filling his pages and protracting his work with things which, although highly useful in themselves, would nevertheless be too much for the majority of readers, and might either bewilder them or divert them from that which is of the highest importance to themselves - conversion to God, what it is, and how effected. Luke had already been explicit as to Peter's teaching and commands leading up to conversion. Theophilus, therefore, did not require to be told what Peter would say and do to produce conversion. Nor does any other thoughtful reader of the early chapters of Acts. For the purposes of information and illustration of the causes and accompaniments of conversion under Peter's superintendent these chapters are abundant. That sufficiently accounts for Luke's brief narrative of the work at Lydda. Of that he only mentions special events, and records the results without rehearsing the whole process. There was an extraordinary cure, and many conversions ensured.
THE DISCIPLES OF JOPPA IN TROUBLE.
Joppa was ten or twelve miles distant from Lydda. It "was one of the most ancient and important seaport towns of Palestine, situated on the Mediterranean cost, about thirty geographical miles from Jerusalem, and nearly midway between Gaza and the promontory of Carmel. ... It became the port of Jerusalem when Jerusalem became the metropolis of the kingdom of the house of David." To the present day it "lingers on, like the Jewish people, dejected but not destroyed."
Tabitha, also named Dorcas, one of the disciples of Joppa, had died. She was one of those women whose death makes a felt breach in the social circle. She had not lived for herself. Her good works and benevolent deeds had been abundant. Her life was filled with self-denying work for those around. "This woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did." The life of Dorcas was one of charming grace. It was replete with moral beauty and true loveliness. But the life of grace had ended. The useful and loved one had gone to her long home, and sorrow filled the hearts of the disciples. In their bereavement they sent two of their number to Lydda requesting Peter to come immediately.
What did they expect Peter to do? They must have known something of the miracle power possessed by the apostles. It seems impossible to doubt that they had heard of the cures effected in Jerusalem. "By the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people" of Jerusalem. There had come "also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them who were vexed with unclean spirits; and they were healed every one" (chap. v. 12, 16). Some of the disciples of Joppa may have been among the cured ones. They may have visited Jerusalem and been cured, or they may have been inhabitants of Jerusalem driven thence by persecution. But whatever they had heard, or seen, or experienced, of miraculous cures, did they know anything of an apostle bringing the dead to life? The apostles had performed many miracles, healed every one brought to them; but had they ever brought back a departed spirit? Had they ever revivified a lifeless body? We know not. Nor do we know whether the disciples were expecting a miracle, or only desiring the consolatory presence and words of the apostle. Whether they had definite expectations, and whatever they were, or their thoughts had not assumed the definite shape of expectation, Peter at once acceded to their earnest desire for an immediate visit.
On his arrival Peter was taken into the death-chamber. Amid the lamentations of the sisters, the good deeds of Dorcas were rehearsed to him, and some of her work was shown. But weeping and talking over the past, however natural and appropriate, would not remove the cause of sorrow. Something else was necessary - a something of too great solemnity to come into existence in the presence of the laudation of many voices. The widows were requested to withdraw. When left alone with the lifeless body and with God, Peter bent the humble knee and imploringly addressed Him from whom all life comes. The circumstances remind us of Elijah and Elisha, the former raising the life the son of the widow of Zarephath, and the later the son of the Shunamite. For what did Peter pray? Did he expect the return of Tabitha to her earthly house? Or was he asking God whether there was to be a restoration to life? Here, as so often, we have to confess ignorance. God, however, fulfilled what must have been the wish of every heart, whether that wish had reached expectation and faith or not. Peter spoke to the dead body. How vain for us to address our dead! The chill silence of death would be our only answer. The unanswering silence would make us feel increasingly the relentless domination of death. What were Peter's thoughts in that moment of close connection with death, and spirit world, and God? Had his faith reached that point from which he could calmly expect the dead to respond to his call, and the spirit to return to its tenement of clay? We know that Tabitha heard, opened her eyes, and sat up: and that, calling the saints and widows into the room, Peter presented her alive. What were Peter's thoughts and feelings as he beheld the joy of which he had been an honoured instrument? What were the thoughts and feelings of Tabitha as she was welcomed back to life with grateful tears? What were the thoughts and feelings of the windows and saints as the chamber of death was made redolent with the fragrance of the resurrection morning? We may imagine, but cannot describe. We have only a passing view of the moving figures. Perhaps the scene is too pure and heavenly for our earth-dimmed eyes to rest upon. We are immediately hurried into the outer world. But the influence of the events of the upper room has gone abroad. What had happened "was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord." As the cure of Eneas had resulted in many conversions in and around Lydda, so the restoration to life of Tabitha resulted in many of the inhabitants of Joppa believing in the Lord. 'Turning to the Lord' in the one case, and 'believing in the Lord' in the other, although not equivalent phrases, are evidently employed as descriptive of the same experience - conversion to God.
THE ABSENCE OF PREACHING AND TEACHING
in the record of events in Lydda, Sharon, and Joppa, does not denote that there was no instruction given or needed in these places. The people could not know how to act unless they were taught. Inquirers needed instruction as in Jerusalem and Samaria. But what is reported on previous occasions leaves no doubt as to what Peter would say in the seaport of Joppa, and the district of Sharon. He would relate the same facts about Jesus, so far as they needed to be repeated, and he would give the same explanations of the source and intent of the mission of Jesus. He would so present the life of Jesus as to produce faith in Him, and he would enjoin repentance and turning as in Solomon's portico, or the more explicit repentance and baptism as on the day of Pentecost. His course being uniform, the details are not repeated in the narrative. The inspired writer avoids repetition.
In some respects there is a resemblance between the account with which we are engaged, and the account in chapter xiii. 6-12, of
SAUL AT PAPHOS.
Saul, accompanied by Barnabas, was on the first reported missionary tour. Starting from Antioch in Syria, the island of Cyprus was the first halting-place. Reaching Paphos in the western part of the island, the visitors were invited by Sergius Paulus, the proconsul, to declare their mission. There was one there who saw that his employment was endangered by the truth being published. Elymas the sorcerer was not likely to be employed any longer by the ruler, if the ruler accepted Christianity. Hence the base man did all in his power to thwart the missionaries, and prevent the conversion of the governor of Cyprus. Saul, guided by the Holy Spirit, fixed his eyes on that enemy of truth, portrayed his real character in a few master strokes, and pronounced upon him the sentence of temporary blindness. The sentence was immediately put into execution, and thereby the Roman ruler was convinced of the truth, and was led to decide for the Lord.
The resemblance in the report of what happened under Saul's ministry on an island in the Mediterranean, and what happened under Peter on the eastern seacoast of the Mediterranean, consists in (1.) the prominence given to miracle, and (2.) the absence of any sketch of teaching imparted.
But we cannot overlook the dissimilarity. The miracle on the island was punitive; Peter's miracles were ameliorating and life-giving. The miracles of the Saviour and His apostles were generally of a markedly benevolent character. In themselves they were desirable blessings. But the divine power which was mostly employed to impart a boon, could also be employed in inflicting punishment. If men perversely oppose truth and defy God, they may learn by the cursing of the fig-tree, the decease of Ananias and Sapphira, and the blindness of Elymas, that God will not be mocked, and that wilful opposition will not escape retribution.
There is another point of dissimilarity. It is the use of phrases implying speaking and teaching by Barnabas and Saul, whereas there is not even a word to hint any teaching by Peter. The phrases are "the faith," "the doctrine of the Lord," to which may be added "the right ways of the Lord." "The faith" denotes the things believed; "the doctrine" is the teaching of the Lord; and "the right ways" suggest the things spoken, to which the hearers were to attend. While, therefore, we have no outline of teaching given, these phrases are clear indications that there was teaching.
The prominence of miracles in the evangelistic efforts of the apostles is a fulfilment of
THE PROMISE OF MIRACLE POWER.
In giving His commission the Saviour said, "These signs shall follow them that believe: in My name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." The historian adds: "And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following" (Mark xvi. 17-18, 20). The extent of the promise of miracle may be best understood by observing the difference between the wording of it, and the wording of the promise of salvation. The promise of salvation is to each individual in these words: "He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved." The promise of miracle power is general; "These signs shall follow them that believe." Salvation is for every believer; miracles were for believers collectively, perhaps for every company of believers. We know from the New Testament that in some churches there were many miracle workers. Corinth is a striking example. It is probable that there was no community of believers in the days of the apostles which had not received a visit or visits from missionaries who wrought miracles among them; but there is no evidence, and no likelihood, that every believer in any church was endowed with miracle power. It is not said that miracles would be performed by every believer, but that they would follow the believers. Wherever believers were found there would be miracle workers. And so we have found that miracles were wrought in Jerusalem, Samaria, the desert, Damascus, Lydda, Joppa, and on the island of Cyprus. And in the conversions that follow, we shall have frequent opportunity of observing the accomplishment of the Lord's promise of miracles where His gospel was published.
The different words employed to denote this supernatural power are instructive. They are signs, wonders, miracles. These names do not represent different action, but different phases of one action or deed. The original word for miracle is far more frequently translated 'power' than 'miracle;' it denotes the power by which the miracle was wrought. The name of the cause is given to the effect; hence they are called "mighty works." 'Wonder' is the name of the effect produced upon the people, given to what produced it. 'Sign' indicates that the wonder-producing mighty deed was an indication of something else - a sign that God was with the worker, and approving of his work.
It was specially reserved for John to denominate Christ's miracles His 'works.' From his stand-point it was natural to view the most wonderful miracles of Jesus as works. They were the common, everyday, natural employment of the Word who was in the beginning with God, and was God.
The miracles were a confirmation of the word spoken. The Lord confirmed the word of His servants with signs following. God bore "witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will" (Heb. ii. 4). The miracles were God's sign-manual to the integrity and authority of the apostles of His Son.
CONTINUANCE OF MIRACLE POWER.
Are miracles to be expected still? Is it the fault of Christians that miracle power is not possessed? Or does the arguing for it by some arise out of a misapprehension of the extent of the promise and the design of miracles?
1. Miracle power was never promised to every believer.
2. The purpose for which miracles were wrought - the confirmation of the truth - does not now require them. Truth once established, and the truth and its vouchers put on record, it needs not miraculous confirmation in every century. In the New Testament Scriptures we have the record of the truth, and of its authentication. These writings take the place of living apostles and of miracles.
3. Miracle power was ordinarily bestowed by the onlaying of apostles' hands. When that generation passed away, upon some of whom apostles had laid their hands, miracles naturally ceased.
4. The cessation of at least some kinds of miracles was predicted (1 Cor. xiii. 8-10). Prophecies, miraculous speaking of languages, and miraculously obtained knowledge, ended when the system of Christianity was completed as we now have it in the New Testament. A new divine system is inaugurated and established by supernatural means, and afterward continued by natural means.
5. Miracles would cease to be miracles if they were continuous. The wondrous service performed by the human eye would be denominated miraculous, if it were not so common. As it is, however, it would be more likely to be reckoned a miracle if any human being were born without visual organs. A miracle necessarily partakes of the unusual. If every Christian possessed the power of healing, it would no more take rank in the region of the miraculous than the indwelling of the Spirit, or the sustaining power of the gospel.
6. Some events that are denominated miracles in modern times are no more than answers to prayer. Taking the accounts on their own showing, they are not miracles in the New Testament sense.
7. Many things talked of as miracles are more baseless in fact that the unaccountable aberrations of fancy in dreamland. Somebody knows somebody who has a relative that knows someone else, who had heard of someone who had been cured by miracle. But there is no satisfactory evidence adduced; nothing that can be traced or laid hold of. The address of the individual is not even given. Often he is nameless. The pretended miracles cannot be sifted or placed under a scrutiny. The absence of reliable evidence is the best possible evidence that there has been no miracle at all.
I conclude, therefore, that believers have now no power to work miracles, that there is no need for them, and that God did not intend them to abide as a lasting possession of the Church.
PETER AMONG THE GENTILES.
Cesarea - Character of Cornelius - Means employed to bring Cornelius and Peter face to face - Peter's increase of knowledge - The known word - What Peter added - Similarity to Peter's Pentecost address - Some points additional - Pouring out of the Holy Spirit - The possession of the Holy Spirit an argument in favour of being baptised in water - Farewell to Peter - Objections considered
ANOTHER example of conversion under the ministry of Peter we have yet to examine. Along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean he had been sowing the good seed, and reaping an abundant harvest. Sharon had resounded with joy because of the good tidings of great joy which he disseminated among the inhabitants. His labours had extended to Joppa. During his stay there, the way was opened for him travelling still farther north. An urgent call, in which there was a voice more authoritative than the invitation of disciples, summoned him to
"Strabo, in the reign of Augustus, describes at this part of the inhospitable coast of Palestine nothing but a landing-place with a castle called Stato's tower. Less than eighty years afterwards we read in Tacitus and Pliny of a city here, which was in possession of honourable privileges, which was the 'Head of Judea,' as Antioch was of Syria." Herod the Great "built on the shore between Dora and Joppa, where Strato's castle stood near the boundary of Galilee and Samaria, a city of sumptuous palaces in honour of Augustus Caesar. The city was provided with everything that could contribute to magnificence, amusement, and health. But its great boast was its harbour, which provided for the ships which visited that dangerous coast a safe basin." Herod having begun and completed the building of Cesarea in twelve years, made it "his residence, and this elevated it to the rank of the civil and military capital of Judea." Jerusalem was the centre of Judaism; Cesarea was the seat of Roman rule. Religion was predominant in Jerusalem; worldly power and magnificence in Cesarea. "Not only do we see here the residence of Roman procurators, the quarters of imperial troops, and the port by which Judea was entered from the west, but a Roman impress was ostentatiously given to everything that belonged to Cesarea. The conspicuous object to those who approached from the sea was a temple dedicated to Caesar and to Rome; the harbour was called the Augustan harbour; the city itself was Augustan Cesarea." But "its glory was short-lived. Its decay has been complete, as its rise was arbitrary and sudden." "Herod's magnificent city is a wreck on the shore." It "has perished, like the Roman Empire which called it into existence." "Nothing now remains of the former splendour of Cesarea: the supposed sites of the ancient edifices are mere mounds of indefinable form; the waves wash the ruins of the mole, the tower, and the port; the whole of the surrounding country is a sandy desert; and not a creature, except beasts of prey, resides within many miles of this silent desolation."
Philip visited Cesarea shortly after the conversion of the eunuch, and afterwards had his home there (Acts viii. 40; xxi. 8). Saul visited it on his way from Jerusalem through Syria to Cilicia (chap. ix. 30). But whether Philip or Saul had announced the good tidings of the Saviour, and gained any disciples prior to Peter's visit, we know not. There is no intimation of any company of disciples in Cesarea at the time that Peter received the call to proceed thither. On one of his journeys to Jerusalem, Saul landed at this seaport (xviii. 22); and afterwards he had a long stay there as a Roman prisoner, and spoke before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa (xxiii-xxvi).
was the one to whose house Peter had an invitation. Cornelius was a name of great fame among the Romans. This Cornelius was in command of a cohort of soldiers, whose name of Italian band probably denotes that the company was drawn from Italy. The character of the soldier is of more importance than Roman renown or his position of trust in the army.
1. He was devout; i.e. pious, religious, addicted to worship, having reverence. This quality is predicated alike of Cornelius and of Ananias, the "devout man according to the law," who instructed and baptised Saul.
2. Cornelius feared God. The object of his reverence was the living God. He stood in awe of Him who was the God of Abraham, and the Fear of Isaac. He had reverential fear towards the Creator. Such fear is the beginning of knowledge and of wisdom (Prov. i. 7; ix. 10).
3. His household was God-fearing. Some men, though themselves worshippers of God, utterly fail to infuse their religious spirit into their families and dependants. The religion of Cornelius was of so genuine a nature as to commend it to those who had the best opportunity of knowing him in his every-day life.
4. He was a just man. He was upright in his dealings with others.
5. Benevolence characterised the soldier of Cesarea. He gave much alms.
6. He was of good repute. Brief follies and comparatively small sins tarnish a good name. Even a good character is sometimes damaged by slander and false report. He of whom a whole nation speaks well, as the Jews did of Cornelius, occupies a place to be desired, and almost certainly possesses a character of worth.
7. He had a good influence over his friends. When Peter arrived in Cesarea, he "found many that were come together." Cornelius "had called together his kinsmen and near friends."
8. The centurion was a man of prayer. He "prayed to God alway." He was an illustration of what is meant by praying without ceasing.
9. He fasted. Whatever may be thought of fasting as a duty, there can be no reasonable doubt of the thorough earnestness of one who fasted, as Cornelius did, until three o'clock in the afternoon.
If any man has half the recommendations of Cornelius, he is hailed all round as a thorough Christian. But that only shows how sadly modern professing Christians have deflected from New Testament teaching; for Cornelius had still to learn words by which to be saved (chap. xi. 13-14). Peter had to be sent for to teach him the way of salvation.
MEANS EMPLOYED TO BRING TEACHER AND INQUIRER TOGETHER.
Natural and supernatural means were set in operation by God that Cornelius might learn the way of salvation from the lips of Peter.
1. An angel was sent to Cornelius. His prayers and alms which had ascended to God as a memorial, were acknowledged by an angel visiting him. The instruction given by the angel was where Peter was lodging, and that he was to be sent for.
2. Messengers were sent by Cornelius for Peter. Cornelius was prompt to obey the command of the angel. Three men - two of his household attendants and a devout soldier - were immediately despatched to travel the thirty miles which lie between Cesarea and Joppa. When the men arrived in Joppa, they informed Peter of the character of Cornelius, and the visit and message of the angel.
3. A vision was given to Peter. While the men were approaching his lodgings Peter was undergoing a process of education to fit him for the part he was to take in Cesarea. He is described as having been in a trance. His felt need of food was utilised by God to communicate a needed lesson. But his Jewish sentiments and susceptibilities were shocked by being told to appease his hunger by partaking of prohibited animals. He recognised the vision as from heaven, but it seemed so repugnant to a Jew to touch unclean animals that Peter's outspoken honesty, as occasionally to the Redeemer, ventured an objection, "Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." He received his answer, and was willing to accept it; but what did it mean? "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." There was a deeper lesson than Peter could yet perceive; and forasmuch as the lesson was of gravest importance, and required to be deeply planted in his mind, the impressive act was performed three times.
4. The Spirit spoke to Peter. But no explanation was yet offered; there was simply a mandate to go with the visitors. "Behold, three men seek thee. Arise, therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them."
The attentive reader will remember that this blending of the natural and the miraculous is as it was at the conversion of the eunuch and of Saul; and he will observe that there and here the showing of the way of salvation was left to be done by a man. In the co-operation of superhuman and human agency, it was left to the human agent to teach the way of salvation. Saul had three days to wait, and Cornelius four, for the coming of the human teacher. How to be saved was learned from human lips by the eunuch, by Saul, and by Cornelius. And it is not on record that the gospel and its conditions were ever taught in any other way than by human agency. Even when miraculous intervention was common there was the constant employment of human agents. The Spirit might speak, but it was to the disciple, not to the inquirer. Angels might appear, and visions and trances be given; but these only brought the teacher and the learner face to face. It was God's plan that man should learn by the aid of his fellow-man.
Then, too, there was a special fitness in the means employed in each case. Saul was to be an apostle. It was therefore needful that he should see the Lord and receive his apostolic commission direct. Hence the appearance to him of the Lord, not of an angel. Cornelius was praying. The angelic appearance was the beginning of the answer to his prayer. The eunuch was studying the Scriptures; God had already set the means in operation whereby he might learn the full meaning of what he was reading. These two seekers after truth had no ordinary means within their reach of learning the truth. God in His kindness supplied the means miraculously. With us it is different. We have the teaching of Peter, Philip, and others. It would be a useless display of the supernatural to give us angelic apparitions or trances. If men hear not apostolic teaching as recorded in the New Testament, neither would they hear though they had a visitant from the spirit world.
Accompanied with six Christian Jews, Peter started off to Cesarea. On his arrival, "Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet and worshipped him. But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man." This manly refusal of the genuine homage of Cornelius is a standing rebuke to the pompous assumptions of priestcraft and the sanctimonious airs of clericalism.
It required the rehearsal by Cornelius of his interview with the angel to conclude the chain of evidence that had been gradually gathering, and to ripen Peter for the work to be done. Our attention must now be turned to
The ten verses which contain what Peter said to Cornelius and his friends may be arranged under three heads.
I. What Peter had just learned.
Peter was a disciple as well as an apostle. His mind was open to expand under increased light. Nor was he unwilling to acknowledge progress. Immediately on his entering the house he had confessed to the whole company that God had shown him that he should not call any man common or unclean; and now, in opening his address, he further confesses a new perception. "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." This declaration may be viewed in two parts.
1. The impartiality of God. That was a great deal for a Jew to perceive. The Jews deemed themselves such favourites of Heaven, and the Gentiles so far off, that for Peter to learn and avow the truth of God's impartiality was to have made a great advance in three or four days.
2. The acceptance by God of every God-fearer who behaves rightly, no matter of what nationality. Acceptance with God cannot mean being saved; for, as we have already seen, Cornelius had still to learn how to be saved. But acceptance with God means much. It meant, in the case of Cornelius, that God took favourable notice of him, and adopted the necessary means to give him the knowledge of salvation. His nationality was of no moment, but his character was noted by God. That character, though neither a proof of salvation nor a condition of it, was nevertheless an evidence that he was ripe for learning and accepting the conditions of salvation.
II. What the inhabitants of Cesarea already knew.
They knew what had been published throughout all Judea about Jesus of Nazareth. Doing little more than enumerating the items, we note -
1. It was a message from God to the Jews.
2. It was a peaceful proclamation.
3. It was delivered by Jesus Christ.
4. The message was published throughout Palestine. It began from Galilee and spread throughout Judea.
5. It dated from the baptism which John taught.
6. It consisted of facts about Jesus, viz.:-
(1.) God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and with power. The anointing of the Old Testament was the emptying of a horn full of olive oil upon the head. Thus was Aaron anointed to be priest, Elisha to be prophet, and David to be king. Jesus was anointed, not by man, but by God; not with olive oil, but with the Holy Spirit and power. He was anointed, not merely to be a prophet, or priest, or king, but to be all these, and more than these. His anointing took place at His baptism. "And Jesus, when He was baptised, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. iii. 16-17). Thenceforth he was "full of the Holy Spirit."
(2.) Jesus did good deeds. By a brief sentence of two words Peter gave an apt description of the whole public life of Jesus. In our language it is expressed thus: He went about doing good.
(3.) Jesus cured all whom the devil oppressed. Diseases are here designated oppression by the slanderer. It reminds us of Heb. ii. 14, where it is asserted that the devil had the power of death. Christ's work is an antidote to the arch-enemy's mischief.
Within the three verses which contain the well-known report respecting Jesus, there are two statements which were probably made by Peter as explanatory, and are not to be reckoned as part of the known word. They are the last words of the thirty-sixth verse - "He is Lord of all;" and the last words of the thirty-eighth - "God was with Him.
III. What Peter added.
1. The claim of witnesses. "We are witnesses" probably includes the six brethren who had come with Peter from Joppa.
2. The death of Jesus. "Hanging Him on a tree" describes the dishonourable death to which He was subjected.
It is not asserted that these items were all alike unknown to Cornelius and his friends. They had probably heard of the crucifixion of Jesus. But the rumours respecting it would naturally be more conflicting than the testimony about His benevolent life, and the design and value of the death would be entirely unknown.
3. His resurrection.
4. His appearance after the resurrection to chosen witnesses, viz:-
(1.) Openly - manifestly. There was neither darkness nor dubiety in the Lord showing Himself to the disciples.
(2.) Unmistakably. They had ample opportunity of being thoroughly certain; they ate and drank with Him.
5. His command to the chosen witnesses to preach and to testify.
6. The subject to be testified - that Jesus is the God-appointed Judge both of the living and the dead. His dominion includes the spirit world.
7. The testimony of the prophets to Jesus as the sin-pardoner. "By His knowledge shall my righteous Servant justify many" (Isa. liii. 11).
This address differs from Peter's previous ones in that, on this occasion, he had no defence to make, and there was no explanation needed of anything that was perplexing the hearers. He was not under suspicion of being under the influence of wine, as on the day of Pentecost. Probably his true position as an authoritative representative of God was better appreciated in Cesarea that at first among his own countrymen. But the main points of Peter's previous addresses are here also. The theme of discourse is the same - Jesus Christ, Lord of all. The working of miracles, because God was with Him, corresponds to the 'man approved of God by miracles,' of Acts ii. There is also the appeal to what his hearers knew in the words "ye know," as in Acts ii., "ye yourselves also know." The antithesis between the attitude of God and the Jews towards Jesus is here, too. And here, as on former occasions, we have the work of the witnesses and the testimony of the prophets.
There are, however, fresh points for consideration. Anointing with the Holy Spirit and power has not before been named, and yet it is more a variation of expression than of thought. To be anointed was to be christed; in Jerusalem Peter had asserted that Jesus was made both Lord and Christ. The following things are additional:- (1) The agency of the devil; (2) the assertion of the forcible nature of the evidence for the resurrection; (3) Christ the Judge; (4) remission through belief.
CROWNING EVIDENCE OF GOD'S ACCEPTANCE OF THE GENTILES.
Whether Peter required, or did not require, more evidence than he already possessed, to induce him to accept the Gentiles freely and fully into the Church of Christ, there were many Jews who would afterwards scarcely be satisfied even with additional evidence. For their sake, as well as for the benefit of Cornelius and his friends, "the Holy Spirit fell on all them who heard the word" which Peter was speaking. It was not an inward, mysterious, irresistible influence upon the hearts of the hearers to turn them to God. It was a manifestation of miracle power - something that could be discerned by all present. They were heard to speak with tongues - speak in languages they had not learned - and magnify God. Peter and his companions recognised that there was being "poured out the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Peter had now before him irrefragable evidence that Gentiles should be received to all the privileges of the gospel. But he appeals to his companions. "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptised, who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we?" This question could only be put to the six Jews who had come with Peter. None of the audience were likely to object to their own baptism. But why was the question raised at all? Such a question had not been asked at any previous baptism. Why should the apostle ask it now? A new departure was about to be taken. Heretofore the Jews had no dealings with the Gentiles. It was deemed an unlawful thing for a Jew to keep company with, or to come unto one of another nation. A eunuch had been baptised, and Samaritans had been baptised; but the door had not been opened for Gentiles to walk into the Church of Christ without previous connection with the Jewish religion. Now Peter was called upon to open the door for all. The Jews were inside, the Gentiles outside. What did the Jews think, and what would they say? Peter asked those with him what they thought. Was there any objection to receiving the Gentiles? No one forbad. The indications of God's will were beyond dispute. The visit of the angel, the vision to Peter, the speaking of the Spirit, and now His manifested presence, were together enough to silence all objection, and even cause absent Jews, who afterwards were told these things, to say, "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life" (chap. xi. 18). Peter therefore commanded them to be immersed in the name of Jesus Christ.
It is not said that they were baptised, but it would be unaccountable if they were not. Cornelius had pledged all of them. He had said to Peter, "Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God." They were a company of genuine inquirers, anxious to learn and willing to do all that God commanded. We cannot doubt that when Peter told what to do they at once did it. They were baptised in the name of the Lord.
And now we must say farewell to Peter. We have had his company in Jerusalem, Lydda, Sharon, Joppa, and Cesarea. We have had full instruction from him about Jesus and the plan of salvation. If we have been attentive scholars, we know the history of Jesus and how to be saved; viz., by believing, repenting, and being baptised. We shall not again, in the study of the conversions recorded in Acts, have Peter as our guide. We record our thanks to God for what he has taught us, and we hope to act on what we have learned until we join him in the immediate presence of our Lord and our God.
1. Is not justification by faith alone taught by the promise that "whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins"?
Is confession alone taught by John, when he says, "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he is God" (1 John iv. 15)? If so, even faith is dismissed. That should convince us of the absurdity of interpolating 'alone' into any passage. The confession upon which life in God is predicated, is not confession alone; but a confession accompanied with faith and other Scripture conditions. So the belief of Acts x. 43 is not believing alone, but in company with other divinely-appointed conditions of salvation. it was believing which, in that very audience, resulted in baptism. The careful reader will also observe that the question omits three important words - "through His name." It is through Christ's name that whosoever believes receives remission. How through His name? In what way must His name be used? Believers are called upon to be baptised into His name, and thereby receive pardon. The verse itself, therefore, contains within it a refutation of faith alone.
2. The falling of the Holy Spirit on the audience in Cesarea reminded Peter of the promise of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Does not that show that pouring is baptism?
It was the Holy Spirit that was poured. If, therefore, the pouring were the baptism, the Holy Spirit was baptised. But the pouring and the baptism are affirmed of different parties. The Spirit was poured, and Peter's hearers were baptised; just as the water is poured into the baptistery, and believers are baptised in it. The pouring preceded the baptism, and was no part of it. Whenever 'pouring' and 'baptism' are made to exchange places, nonsensical and impossible assertions ensue, showing that pouring is not baptism.
3. I have been baptised with the Holy Spirit, and therefore do not need baptism in water.
It would not be difficult to disprove the statement of those who talk so confidently about having been baptised with the Spirit. But if we meet them on their own ground by supposing that they have been baptised with the Holy Spirit, we can at once show that they have learned their logic from a different teacher than Peter, and from a different text-book than the New Testament. The objection before us is a short-sighted excuse often urged in favour of neglect of believers' immersion. One glance at Peter's question by any one who believes that he was inspired, would lead to the opposite conclusion. "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptised, who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we?" Peter in effect says, 'Because these men have received the Holy Spirit, I argue that they should be immersed in water, and I therefore command them to be immersed.'
A SECOND CENTRE OF MISSIONARY ENTERPRISE.
Acts xi. 19-26.
Antioch - Who were the Grecians? What is the date of the preaching to the Greeks in Antioch? - The hand of the Lord - Many conversions - Barnabas - Seeing the grace of God - Saul brought to Antioch - A year's teaching - Preparation for wider usefulness.
WE have still to trace the movements of those who were driven from Jerusalem by the persecution that arose about Stephen. Philip had been evangelising in Samaria, and on the highway between Jerusalem and Gaza, and in all the cities from Ashdod north to Cesarea. Peter and John had also been on an evangelising tour in many villages of the Samaritans. Peter had further been doing Gospel work in Lydda, throughout Sharon, in Joppa and finally he also came to Cesarea. Phenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, were all visited by other scattered disciples. The men of Cyprus and Cyrene, whose steps we are now to follow, travelled as far as
This city "was founded by Seleucus Nicator three hundred years B.C., and named by him after his father Antiochus. It was on the banks of the Orontes, three hundred miles north of Jerusalem, and about thirty miles from the Mediterranean. It soon became a splendid town. The Syrian kings embellished it. Pompey made it a free city. Herod contributed to its adornment, and the Roman emperors added various structures." "Strabo, in the time of Augustus, describes the city as a Tetrapolis, or union of four cities. The two first were erected by Seleucus Nicator himself .... between mount Silpius and the river, on that wide space of level ground where a few poor inhabitants still remain by the banks of the Orontes. The river has gradually changed its course and appearance as the city has decayed. Once it flowed round an island which, by its thoroughfares and bridges, and its own noble buildings, became part of a magnificent whole." This new city on the island was "built by the second Seleucus and the third Antiochus. .... The fourth and last part of the Tetrapolis was built by Antiochus Epiphanes, where Mount Silpius rises abruptly on the south. .... At the rugged bases of the mountain, the ground was levelled for a glorious street, which extended for four miles across the length of the city, and where sheltered crowds could walk through continuous colonnades from the eastern to the western suburb. The whole was surrounded by a wall, which, ascending to the heights and returning to the river, does not deviate very widely in its course from the wall of the Middle Ages, which can still be traced by the fragments of ruined towers." "There was everything in the situation and circumstances of this city, to make it a place of concourse for all classes and kinds of people. By its harbour of Seleucia it was in communication with all the trade of the Mediterranean; and, through the open country behind the Lebanon, it was conveniently approached by the caravans from Mesopotamia and Arabia. It united the inland advantages of Aleppo with the maritime opportunities of Smyrna. It was almost an oriental Rome, in which all the forms of the civilised life of the Empire found some representative." The disciples of Christ not only found a sphere of usefulness in the flourishing city of Antioch, the commercial and political metropolis of Syria, and only second to Rome in importance, but also a suitable opening for the evangelisation of the Gentile world around.
WHO WERE THE GRECIANS?
They were the Greek-speaking Jews. The Jews who spoke the language of Palestine were called Hebrews, whereas those Jews who, living among Greeks, spoke the Greek language, were called Hellenists or Grecians. These two sections of the one nation were not always on the most friendly terms. Even in the brotherly fellowship of the same church they were prone to misunderstanding and suspicion, as is seen in the "murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration" (Acts vi. 1).
It is in no way remarkable that the travelling disciples should speak the word of the Lord to Grecians. They were Jews. Why not speak to them? Many Grecians were in the Jerusalem church. Why should the historian take note of Grecians being spoken to in Antioch? The Revised Version accounts for it. 'Greeks' is the correct reading, not 'Grecians.' They were not Jews at all, but foreigners. It was therefore a new departure for the men of Cyprus and Cyrene to give the Gospel to those of another nation. Some providential circumstances had transpired, and some causes unknown to us had guided them to overleap Jewish limitations in Antioch, as Peter had done in Cesarea.
It is not possible to ascertain the exact chronology of these events. Were the Greeks in Antioch receiving the Gospel at the same time that Cornelius and his friends were? Was Peter only one of a number who were being led in different places to realise that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek? In the absence of absolute certainty we cannot do better than take the order in which the different events are recorded in Acts as their probable chronological order. While Peter opened the door of faith and of the kingdom to the Gentiles, others who were not apostles were soon thereafter also bringing in converts from the Gentiles. Though coming after what Peter had done, it may have been entirely independent of it. Those who were speaking to the Greeks in Antioch may not have known of Peter's work in Cesarea. But they had the best of all encouragement in their work and corroboration of it. Working with them was
THE HAND OF THE LORD.
The hand is that by which we work. The hand of the Lord denotes His presence and working. He was co-operating with the disciples of His Son in Antioch, and thereby showing His approval of their work. Or, more probably, it was the hand of the Lord Jesus that was at work. It was happening to them as it is written of the apostles: "they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following" (Mark xvi. 20).
It is said that the hand of the Lord was with John the Baptist when he was a child. He "grew and waxed strong in spirit" (Luke i. 66, 80). A contrast is seen in the hand of the Lord being upon Elymas the sorcerer, striking him with blindness (Acts xiii. 11). It was a blessing to the nobles of the children of Israel that God laid not His hand upon them (Ex. xxiv. 11). The hand of the Lord was upon Ezekiel so as not to be shaken off (Ezek. i. 3: iii. 14).
With the hand of the Lord in blissful co-operation, while the disciples were setting forth the attractive claims of the Lord Jesus, the effect was sure to be notable. "A great number believed, and turned unto the Lord." Their belief was followed by turning to walk in the heaven-illumined path. They were a contrast to those who believed, but did not confess (John xii. 42-43).
How they turned to the Lord is not here explained. But we need not be in doubt. The missionaries in Antioch had gone from Jerusalem. They were in the Jewish capital until driven away by the iron hand of persecution. They had been under apostolic instruction in the city which was the cradle of Christianity, and now that they were planting the cause of Christ three hundred miles away in a city which immediately became a second great centre of evangelisation, what else could they teach than what they had learned? They would tell the same facts about Jesus of Nazareth as had been told on the day of Pentecost; and they would give the same commands to inquirers as Peter then gave. How to turn to the Lord - by what act of obedience they were to turn - would be explained as Peter had explained it. The Gentiles in Antioch would turn to the Lord as the thousands of Jews in Jerusalem had done; they would repent and be baptised upon the name of Jesus Christ.
We are led to the same conclusion by another route. Luke has on several occasions given examples of believers turning to the Lord. He now takes it for granted that his readers know what is meant by turning to the Lord. He leaves us to recall the details which he has previously given. We have seen from these previous examples that believers repented and were immersed, invoking at the same time the divine name. Thus also in Antioch they received remission of sins; thus they became converts, or turned to the Lord.
The mother church had a maternal interest in the establishing of the cause elsewhere. The news from Antioch, that a great number of Greeks having believed had turned to the Lord, would be a special source of interest in Jerusalem. After what had happened in Cesarea the report from Antioch would not be so startling; but the interest in it was evinced by the sending of
His name was Joses or Joseph. Barnabas was a name given to him by the apostles. It means son of consolation or exhortation. he probably excelled in exhorting, and by that means imparted consolation to many. He was a Levite, and a native of Cyprus, the island to which some of the speakers in Antioch belonged. He had possessed a field, but sold it, and brought the price thereof to the apostles for distribution among the needy (Acts iv. 36-37). "He was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith". Such a one was well fitted for the conciliatory work which was likely to be required in a church where, for the first time, Jews and Greeks were received together; and his known character was a sufficient guarantee to the most scrupulous Jews. Barnabas was sent from Jerusalem to go as far as Antioch.
THE GRACE OF GOD WAS SEEN
by Barnabas on his arrival in Antioch. To Titus Paul wrote of that grace of God having appeared which brings salvation for all. This salvation-bringing grave was manifest in Antioch. Barnabas saw it. God's plan of salvation showed His benign feelings - His gracious attitude - toward man. That plan of salvation was being declared, accepted, and enjoyed. It was all of grace - all from God.
As he saw the grace of God, how could a good man like Barnabas feel anything else than gladness! His glad heart moved his ready tongue. It was a fine opportunity to exercise his gift of exhortation, and no more suitable exhortation to new converts could have been given than that which he gave. 'Cleave to the Lord. Follow Him not at a distance. Be close to Him. Keep fast hold of Him. Do so with purpose, with resolution. And let the resolution carry with it the heart, the seat of sympathy and affection.' Such an exhortation was contagious. Not only were the recent disciples encouraged; "much people was added to the Lord."
The descriptive phrases employed by the historian give a vivid picture of the earnestness and thoroughness possessed by all. They are these: 'the hand of the Lord,' 'seeing the grace of God,' 'turning to the Lord,' 'added unto the Lord,' cleaving unto the Lord.' These phrases need only to be noted to make us appreciate the happiness of the disciples.
Was the joy too much for Barnabas to share alone? Or was he needing assistance in the great work? Or did he know something of Saul's destined mission to the Gentiles? For some cause he started off to Tarsus in search of Saul; "and when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch."
A whole year's work is summed up in one verse. "And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people." Is the "much people" another phrase for "the church"? Or does the teaching of much people denote tuition that was given to those who had not yet reached the point of being added to the Lord? Is it descriptive of evangelistic work? If not, how can we account for the additional words, "much people?" If only the church members were in view, it would have been sufficient to have said, "They assembled themselves with the church and taught." But when, in addition to assembling with the church, it is said, "and they taught much people," we are naturally led to think that "much people" refers to others than the church. Along with the consolidation of the church, evangelistic work was being prosecuted. Truth was being disseminated among the people.
Solid work was being done in Antioch, and good preparation was being made for visiting the regions beyond, although as yet even the chief workers might not be thinking of it. Meanwhile, they were diligently using their opportunities, and these multiply by use, on the principle of the parable of the talents. Nor was there energy alone. Benevolence was in healthy exercise. "Every man, according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren who dwelt in Judea; which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul" (verses 29-30). To say that they gave according to their ability, and that every man did so, is a brief but effective assurance of the thorough and Christian nature of their benevolence. Every man of them gave all in his power for the benefit of brethren three hundred miles distant. And there was more than energy and loving benevolence characterising the leaders of the movement in Antioch. Deep, earnest piety is disclosed by the ministering and fasting of chapter xiii. 1-3. In the midst of their self-denying devotions the Spirit spoke out, calling Barnabas and Saul to missionary work in other fields. In the following chapter we shall accompany them in that work.
NOTES OF AN ADDRESS BY PAUL.
Acts xiii. 14-52.
From Antioch in Syria to Antioch in Pisidia - Paul's audience in Antioch of Pisidia - Summary of God's dealings with the Jews from the Exodus until David - John the Baptist's preaching and testimony - Treatment of Jesus by the Jews - His resurrection - Witnesses and proof of the resurrection - Salvation - How obtained - Warning - Brief comparison of addresses of Stephen, Peter, and Paul - Paul's hearers wanting to hear more - Both Jews and proselytes interested - Almost the whole city assembled - Jealousy of the Jews - Turning to the Gentiles - Glorifying the word - "Ordained to eternal life" - Two parties - The Word widely published - Persecution by devout and honourable women - Shaking off the dust of the feet - Filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit - Query and reply
ACCOMPANYING Barnabas and Saul, we leave the new centre of evangelistic operations and travel westward to Seleucia, the port of Antioch. From Seleucia the vessel steers in a westerly direction to the island of Cyprus. In the east of the island Salamis is visited, and the word of God is proclaimed by our missionaries in the Jewish synagogues. We traverse the island westward to Paphos, and recall the events which we have previously noted as having happened there. From Cyprus we sail northward to Perga in Pamphylia. Here John Mark leaves the company. For some ignoble reason he returns to Jerusalem, and leaves Paul and Barnabas to ascend the rocky ravine and the mountain passes beset with robbers. Our first halting-place is
ANTIOCH IN PISIDIA.
It was "originally founded by the Magnetes on the Meander; was re-established, and named, like the Syrian city, by Seleucus Nicator. It was on a ridge of the Taurus. It became a colony under Augustus, and was named also Cesarea. .... The site of the city has lately been identified with the modern Yalobatch, where a few ruins yet remain."
Paul and Barnabas entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day. After a portion of the law of Moses and of the prophets had been read, the visitors were invited to speak to the people.
PAUL'S ADDRESS IN ANTIOCH
is more fully reported than any of the addresses we have had occasion to study. It was only on special occasions that our historian recorded much that was said. The longest report is indeed brief, and contains only leading points. Of addresses resulting in conversions we have hitherto only had two; both of them by Peter, one in Jerusalem and one in Cesarea. Now that a new worker is becoming prominent, and his work is more of a propagating nature than anything we have heard of Peter, Luke lingers a little and gives more particulars.
Who were Paul's hearers?
1. Children of the Abrahamic stock.
2. Men of Israel. Therefore were they called men and brethren. They were of the same nation as the speaker - Jews.
3. Fearers of God. "Ye that fear God," and "whosoever among you feareth God," are phrases aptly descriptive of proselytes.
Israelites and God-fearing Gentiles composed Paul's audience (verses 16, 26).
It will be useful to divide the address which Paul delivered.
I. God's doings for the Jews. Verses 17-24 give an epitome of God's dealings with the Jews from the Exodus until the time of John the Baptist.
1. He chose their fathers.
2. Exalted them in Egypt. He gave them a name and a fame, and a mastery over the Egyptians, before they left the land of bondage.
3. Delivered them in Egypt.
4. Suffered with them forty years in the wilderness. Addressing the Israelites on the borders of the promised land, Moses said, "In the wilderness thou hast seen how that the Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went, until ye came into this place" (Deut. i. 31).
5. Gave them Canaan. The seven expelled nations are named in Deut. vii. l.
6. Provided judges. See Revised Version.
7. Gave them their desire respecting a king.
8. Gave them a second king better than the first. Saul was their own choice; David was according to God's mind. David acted faithfully as a king for God over the children of Israel, however low he once fell in his private conduct.
9. Fulfilled His promise of a Saviour. The time of the fulfilment was during the ministry of John.
II. John's testimony to Jesus. Verses 24-25.
1. John's preaching the baptism of repentance. Peter to Cornelius and his friends, and Paul to the congregation in Antioch, alike declared that baptism was what John preached. Repentance was emphatically associated with the baptism. The plunging of his candidates in the river was a pledge of their repentance. They were forsaking sin and living in ready expectation of the Messiah's advent.
2. To whom John preached. His mission was for Israel - all Israel. He did not traverse the Holy Land like the Saviour, but his message was for all the inhabitants thereof. All classes went out to him and were baptised by him.
3. John's confession of inferiority. The high moral tone of John's teaching agreed well with the stern asceticism of his life. He had some thing pure for all classes to attend to. The common people were taught benevolence. The exacting publicans were curbed. The rude soldiers were encouraged to tender consideration of others. An adulterous king was rebuked to his face; and canting Pharisees and Sadducees were labelled a progeny of vipers, and warned to flee from impending wrath. John quaked before no man. But there was One before whom this greatest of the prophets bent in lowly reverence. John willingly confessed of Jesus, "He must increase, but I must decrease." He deemed himself unworthy to immerse Jesus, or to do the most menial service for Him. "There cometh One mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose."
To the priests and Levites John declared himself a "voice." His business was to cry aloud and spare not. He himself was willing to be lost sight of. His character was that of a witness. His preaching was preparatory, and his teaching all pointed to Jesus.
III. The treatment of Jesus by the Jews. Verses 27-29.
1. Ignorance of the Jews. They were ignorant of Jesus as their Messiah, and ignorant of the teaching of their own prophets. And their ignorance was inexcusable. The character and doings of Jesus were open to the knowledge of all, and their prophets were read in their synagogues every week.
2. Fulfilling of Scripture. This resembles Acts iii. 18. But Peter in that passage attributes the fulfilling of Scripture to God, whereas here it is ascribed to the ignorant conduct of the Jews. Isaiah had said, "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not." The Jews accomplished these words of their prophet, though they knew not their meaning.
3. Condemning of Jesus.
4. Begging that the faultless One be slain. Blundering and degradation to a fearful depth were displayed by the Jews when they gathered round the judgment-seat of a foreigner, and urged him to condemn to death one of their own nation against whom they could allege no crime.
5. Interment in a sepulchre. The death was a reality; Jesus was buried. Messiah was laid in the tomb.
IV. Resurrection of Jesus. Verses 30-37.
1. God raised Him. Here, as in Peter's addresses, there is the antithesis between the attitude of the Jews and that of God to Jesus.
2. Evidence of the resurrection. He was seen, not once and briefly, but many days by those who knew Him best. These witnesses were not easily convinced, because they were not expecting the resurrection. The evidence, however, removed all doubt. Their opportunities made it impossible for them to be deceived; and the circumstances shut out the possibility that they were deceivers. There was nothing to induce them to believe and declare the resurrection except its undeniable truthfulness.
3. The resurrection a fulfilment of prophecy. Paul gives three quotations from the Old Testament writings.
(1.) "Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee" (Psalm ii. 7). On first reading the Psalm one might not think of any applicability to the resurrection of Christ. But a closer examination confirms Paul's application to the resurrection as the primary meaning. It is after kings and rulers, Jews and Gentiles, have plotted against Jehovah and His anointed One, the Messiah; and it is after God has expressed His disapprobation of that rebellious conduct, and declared that, despite all the opposition, He has constituted His chosen One King, - it is after these things that the Son steps forward and says in effect, 'That is the decree which Jehovah made known to Me. He declared Me His Son by the resurrection from the dead.'
(2.) "I will give you the sure mercies of David" (Isa. lv. 3). "I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David." The promise was given to "every one that thirsteth." The invitation and the assurance of Isaiah were for all the needy of the nation. How the mercies of David were to be insured to all is best seen from the third quotation and Paul's reasoning thereon.
(3.) "Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption" (Psalm xvi. 10). This is part of the quotation which Peter used with much force on the day of Pentecost. Paul here introduces it as helpful to the understanding of the sure mercies of David. The promise respecting the blessings of David was not to be thought of as fulfilled either during his lifetime or by his resurrection. He had gone to sleep, "and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption." But Jesus Christ, the descendant of David, had seen no corruption; for God had raised Him on the third day after His death. In Him were the mercies that had been linked with the name of David made sure to humanity.
V. Salvation and how obtained. Verses 38-39.
1. Forgiveness. Paul's address throughout was of a nature calculated to elicit the interest of his audience. He began by speaking of the Jews as the people of God's choice, and four times in his speech he predicated good news for his audience. "Of this man's seed hath God according to His promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus." "To you is the word of this salvation sent." "We declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that He hath raised up Jesus again." "Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins." Jesus was a Saviour. The salvation which he brought was for them. It was insured to them by His resurrection. Its first element was pardon.
2. Deliverance beyond what Judaism could effect. "All that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses." The law of Moses condemned rather than justified. "No man is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident." The law said, 'There is a curse on every one who does not obey every command in the law.' No one kept all the commands; therefore every one was under the curse (Gal. iii. 10-12). The apostle now announced justification not only where the law could not give it, but even where it condemned.
3. Through Christ. He delivered from the curse of the law (Gal. iii. 13).
4. Through believing. Pardon and justification are restricted to believers. Without faith it is impossible to please God.
VI. Warning. Verses 40-41.
The plainest proofs may be overlooked, and pointed teaching may be unheeded. The Jews were a constant example of misunderstanding their own prophets. Paul knew by bitter experience how custom could blind, and how dark the blindness might be. He had spoken of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, even the rulers, condemning Jesus, because of ignorance of their prophets. He warns his hearers to beware of the same error. He cites a warning from God contained in Hab. i. 5, "Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish; for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you." The context in Habakkuk shows that the work of Jehovah there referred to, was the bringing of the Chaldeans against His own faithless people. It was a wonderful work of retribution, which the people believed not when it was told them. Paul's hearers had God's wonderful work of salvation through Jesus told them. It was possible for them to be the children of their fathers by doing as their fathers had done. It was not without cause that Paul cautioned them.
PAUL, STEPHEN AND PETER.
The early part of this address by Paul resembles Stephen's in chapter vii. Both speakers gave a brief summary of the history of their nation. Stephen's summary is more fully reported than Paul's, although Stephen was interrupted before he got beyond the recounting of their history, while Paul went on to speak of New Testament times, and to give teaching on Christianity. Both addresses are pre-eminently historic.
Paul's address also resembles Peter's addresses in some respects. Like Peter in Cesarea, Paul speaks of the baptism of John. He says a little more than Peter on the testimony of John. Like Peter in all his addresses, Paul gives the opposite attitude of God and Jews to Jesus. God approved and raised from the dead; they opposed. Peter and Paul alike make Jesus Christ the chief theme of remark. All else is subservient to this. And both apostles have a practical application - something to do and something to beware of. Peter had exhorted his hearers in Jerusalem to save themselves from a wicked generation; Paul urges his to avoid the folly of an earlier generation of Jews in disregarding the word of Jehovah.
RESULTS OF PAUL'S ADDRESS.
1. The hearers wanted to hear more. "And as they went out, they besought that these words might be spoken to them the next Sabbath." The Revised Version does not attribute this request to the Gentiles exclusively, as the Authorised Version does. Paul had secured the appreciative sympathy of his audience, and they wished him to return to their synagogue the following Saturday, and let them hear the same things again.
2. The forty-third verse is a corroboration of the Revised Version of the forty-second. Both Jews and proselytes were interested. Many of them followed Paul and Barnabas from the place of meeting. Their sympathies were already enlisted, and the speakers urged upon them the desirability of continuity.
3. The news spread throughout the city. New doctrine had been proclaimed in the synagogue, and those who heard it talked of it to others during the week. It is probable, too, that Paul Barnabas were themselves spreading the truth in quiet fashion. Therefore on "the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God."
4. The Jews were full of envy. It was not what they had heard the week before that filled them with jealousy; it was the sight of the multitudes that generated their spite. What! Were their privileges to be handed over without reserve to the unclean Gentiles? Was the light from heaven to be given to all alike? Was their boasted position as the custodians of revelation to be made the common property of others in their own hearing, and before their own eyes? It was too much for their small minds and bigoted natures to ensure. Irrespective of the truth, and solely out of jealousy of the multitudes, they "spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming." It was not blasphemy in our sense of swearing. They contradicted and railed. Opposition was their attitude, and antagonistic speaking of any kind was their weapon. How humiliating to see human nature setting itself against the truth from ignoble envy of others!
5. Paul and Barnabas grew more bold and declared in favour of the Gentiles. Unscrupulous opposition and brazen raillery need not frighten the promoters of truth. These things often fill them with holy energy. "Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles." The Jews had an offer of salvation; but if they chose to act so as to exclude themselves from being saved, the speakers had no time to throw away in fighting with such unprincipled stupidity. They had other work to do. They had Gentiles waiting with open ears and hearts to drink in the saving truth.
The commission of the Messiah to His apostles to make disciples of all nations is in agreement with Jewish prophecy, although the Jews had failed to grasp the thought. "So hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth." The prophecy, quoted from Isa. xlix. 6, speaks to the servant of Jehovah. He was appointed not only "to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel;" He was also to be a light to the Gentiles, and salvation to the end of the earth. This clear prediction of Messiah's universal work, was treated by Paul and Barnabas as a command to go to the Gentiles.
6. The Gentiles were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. To glorify is to make glorious, give honour to, magnify. The word of the Lord had free course and was glorified in Thessalonica (2 Thess. iii. 1). The Gentiles in Antioch put no block in the way of the divine word. On the contrary, they welcomed it. The word was honoured by them. It was the glorified means by which they learned of God's unparalleled love. They did the opposite of the Jews, who "thrust it from" them. And they acted more in accord with common sense and the assertions of the Scripture respecting its own value, than do those in modern times who describe the Word of God as a dead letter. It is a living power (Heb. iv. 12). It is light-giving (Psa. cxix. 130). It should be magnified today as it was in Thessalonica and Antioch.
7. They who were ordained believed. Because of its theological associations, 'ordain' is an unsuitable translation of the word here employed by Luke. The word primarily means to set in order, arrange. It is employed eight times in the New Testament. The Authorised Version translates these eight occurrences by five different words. But the idea of arrange is in each passage where the word is found. Jesus arranged that His disciples meet Him on a mountain in Galilee. The translators say that He "appointed" it. The centurion was arranged - placed in rank - under others. The translators say that he was "set" under authority. The brethren in Antioch arranged that Paul and Barnabas go to Jerusalem. The translators say that they "determined" it. It is a divine arrangement that in society there are rulers and ruled. The translators say that the powers that he "are ordained" by God. The members of the household of Stephanas had arranged, set themselves in order, or prepared themselves, for serviceable work in the Church. The translators say that they were "addicted" to the ministry of the saints. In like manner, as many as were arranged, set in order, prepared, for eternal life believed. It is not too much to say that neither fore-ordination by God, nor any other ordination either by God or man, is contained in Luke's word.
By whom, or by what were they prepared for eternal life? For it should not be overlooked that the verb is in the passive voice. Their own fear of God was the beginning of all that was acceptable to God, and the teaching by Paul and Barnabas operated on the reverential fear to the preparing of them for eternal life. They were made ready to enter upon the enjoyment of eternal life by what they had seen and heard. They were prepared, disposed, determined for eternal life. The antagonism of the Jews might add to influences at work to make them more resolute to lay hold on eternal life.
8. The audience divided itself into two parties. The Jews judged themselves unworthy of eternal life, and thrust the word from them. The Gentiles were ready for eternal life and believed the truths presented to them. This division into two parties was natural. Each man by taking one side or the other, disclosed his own state of mind. Such a division of an audience was common under apostolic preaching. The hearers, perhaps, never all turned to the Lord; and, perhaps, they never all rejected what they heard. Similar faithful and earnest teaching will today produce in some degree the same result. Lifeless speaking may soothe an audience into indifference, but cannot rouse into decision for or against. The leaving out of unwelcome truth, or the toning of it down, may be the means of escaping opposition; but it is equally ineffective in securing decision, and it is both a waste of time and a delusion. Truth should be spoken in all plainness and in all fullness, in intense earnestness and in unmistakable love. The hearers will then soon show what manner of men they are.
9. The word of the Lord was widely spread. It "was published throughout all the region." This may not have been accomplished that day; it may have been the work of many days. And many of those who had heard and believed may have helped, as much as Paul and Barnabas, to bring about the result.
10. Persecution by means of devout and honourable women ensued. The Jews had not power enough themselves to expel the two men they hated. But men who had been moved by unmitigated jealousy to contradict and rail against the truth were not the men to be very nice about what means they employed to accomplish their malignant desire. It looks like a line of scathing irony to tell us that "devout and honourable women" were the ones through whom the persecution was carried to its bitter end. Women! How could they take any part in persecuting? We thought their mission was all love. Honourable women! How could they be induced to such dishonourable work? Devout women! Could devoutness show itself in chasing from the city innocent men who were labouring to do others good? Human nature is a deplorable mixture of religion and irreligion, of honour and dishonour, of love and hatred, of tenderness and cruelty. 'Devout' suggests that the women were worshippers of God with the Jews. 'Honourable' probably denotes their position in society; they belonged to the higher social grade. On the one hand they were connected by their religion with the Jews; on the other hand they were connected socially with men of position who had the power to eject the missionaries. The Jews used their religious influence on the women, that they might use their social, perhaps in some cases, conjugal, influence over the rulers to induce them to expel Paul and Barnabas. In this way frequently the heartless religionist has incited the devoted zealot to bring in the power of the stated to crush earnest men of truth-loving natures and benevolent purposes. It is not religion, at least it is not God's religion, but the absence of it, that so acts. Such conduct has not the slightest resemblance to the Father of spirits and God of love. Rather does it bear the exact impress of the slanderer, the accuser of men; it is like him who was a liar and a murderer from the beginning.
11. The expelled men shook off the dust of their feet. Was it not a bit like childish spleen or impotent rage? From ordinary mortals it would be so. From men who had a direct commission from the Holy Spirit it was far otherwise. It was a testimony "against them" who had rejected the word of the Lord and the teachers of that word. It was a symbolic prediction of the doom of those who thrust God's mercy away from them, and it was an assertion that they were the cause of their own impending ruin. It was at once a last, solemn, merciful warning, and an outcarrying of the commission of Christ to His apostles (Mark vi. 11).
12. "The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit." Persecution did not prevent them from being full of gladness. The evil spirit without, which unjustly deprived them of the counsel and presence of Paul and Barnabas, did not shut out the Holy Spirit from being a guest in their hearts. They were rejoicing with unspeakable joy, even though there was a sadness through the trials of persecution. Circumstances of trial need not rob a Christian of joy. The grace of God is ever all-sufficient.
QUERY AND REPLY.
There is no baptism mentioned here either in command or in practice. Is not this a case of forgiveness without baptism?
This question might be answered by putting two other questions in precisely the same form. There is no repentance mentioned here either in command or in practice. Is not this a case of forgiveness without repentance? There is no prayer mentioned here either in command or in practice. Is not this a case of forgiveness without prayer? One would think that the reasoning which excludes repentance and prayer, as well as baptism, has too destructive a result to find any advocates.
If this were the only passage in which salvation and its terms were named, we could have known nothing of baptism as connected with salvation. And, on the same supposition, we could have known nothing of repentance, and nothing of prayer. But the absence of these in the record of one instance does not preclude their presence even in that instance. Silence is not negation. Our principle of action must not be one passage of Scripture versus every other passage. We are under law to every command of Christ and His apostles, in whatever passage found.
A literal translation of the thirty-ninth verse implies, if it does not name, more than believing. "By Him" is, literally, "In this one." So both Young and Rotherham render the words. "In this one - every one that has faith is being justified." And Alford translates:- "And in Him every one that believeth is justified from all things from which ye could not be justified under the law of Moses." There are two conditions of being justified - believing and being in the One who was preached, Christ Jesus. Gal. iii. 26-27 will be helpful to us in this matter. "Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ." In the act of baptism the believer puts on Christ, enters into Him. Every believer who is in Christ is justified. Acts xiii. 39 is, therefore, only another way of saying, "He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved."
LANGUAGE THE CHIEF MEANS OF CONVERSION.
Acts xiv. 1-22.
Iconium - Speaking in the Synagogue - Result - Opposition - Protracted effort - The Lord's testimony - The multitude divided - The missionaries again forced to flee - Lycaonia - Lystra - Good news proclaimed - A cripple cured - Attempt to worship the apostles - The sacrifice stopped - The living God proclaimed - Paul stoned - Resuscitation and departure - Derbe - Further preaching - Many taught - Return journey - Importance of speech
DRIVEN out of Antioch in Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas found their way to Iconium. "It was on the great line of communication between Ephesus and the western coast of the peninsula on one side, and Tarsus, Antioch, and the Euphrates on the other. Iconium was well chosen for missionary operations. ... It is now called Konieh." "Mountains covered with snow rise on every side, excepting towards the east, where a plain as flat as the desert of Arabia, extends far beyond the reach of the eye."
WHAT OCCURRED IN ICONIUM.
1. Paul and Barnabas went into the Jewish synagogue. The primitive missionaries acted throughout on the principle of "the Jew first." Their order not only was Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and then the uttermost parts of the earth, but even in a place where Jews and Gentiles were alike to be taught the gospel, the work was commenced among the Jews. So it had been in the Pisidian Antioch, and so it is here in Iconium.
2. They spoke in the synagogue. There was considerable freedom in those religious schools of the Jews. A cordial invitation to speak had been tendered to Paul and Barnabas in Antioch, and again in Iconium they find a similar opportunity of speaking to their countrymen. The Scriptures to be read might be pre-arranged, but there was wonderful freedom of speech.
3. They so spake as to produce faith. The careful reading of the Scriptures is of itself sufficient to cause faith, provided always the reading be by a mind open to learn. But human thoughts are apt to run in grooves. Succeeding generations often find it easier and more congenial to remain in ruts that have been made for them, than to put forth an effort to get out of these and search for better paths. The Jews regularly and religiously read their Scriptures, but they had been so long accustomed to jog on in the deep ruts of traditionalism that, what the Scriptures would have naturally and easily accomplished, if unencumbered by the fanciful expositions and supposed safeguards of religious tutors, they were unable to accomplish under the super-imposed load of those traditionary expositions. The Word of God had no free course. It was impeded on all hands by the erroneous notions of the Jews. To call attention to what the Scriptures did teach, an effort out of the usual course was requisite. The followers of Jesus were the only men who could effectually make such an effort, and the synagogue arrangements afforded suitable opportunities for the effort. The common-sense application of Old Testament writings by New Testament speakers, was the best possible antidote to traditionalism, as well as the effectual and God-appointed means to secure faith and cause conversion. Paul and Barnabas so spoke that a great multitude believed.
4. Combined opposition ensued. The unbelieving Jews were the leaders in opposing the speakers. But they were not content to oppose by themselves. They embittered the Gentiles, not only against the workers, but against the brethren generally. Wicked antagonism may sometimes so far succeed as to sour the public mind against Christians.
5. Opposition increased the efforts of the speakers. Long-continued speaking succeeded the incitement of the Jews. These two words - "long time" - are the only indications of time during the missionary tour of Acts xiii.-xiv.
6. The Lord showed approval. He enabled His servants to work miracles. These were of such a nature as to be recognised as evidence from heaven in favour of the visitors and their message.
7. The people divided. "Part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles." So it always has been, Truth is potent to move. Let it be plainly and earnestly spoken, and results will follow. The honest hearers who understand, will welcome the truth and rejoice in its propagation. But those who understand not, and those who have party interests to serve, are moved to deeds which amply demonstrate of what manner of spirit they are. When truth prevails, the devil roars. When Christianity is spread, anti-Christian spirits go mad. The more religious they are, the more foolishly do they act in opposing pure truth.
8. The last resource of wicked opposition is a combination of sneaking unmanliness and brute force. It is surprising what strange amalgamations are produced by hatred of truth and of truth-promoters. The Jews could hide their antipathy to the Gentiles, and make common cause with them against Christians. The Jewish rulers aided and abetted. A mean plot was hatched; the disciples were to be maltreated and stoned. In our blessed country, with its numberless privileges, they dare not stone us; but unmanly shuffling, unworthy combinations, and covert misrepresentations still characterise some religionists, who love themselves or their systems more than they love truth and God.
9. But the speakers flee. The plot was discovered to them. To have continued there would have been certain death. Fidelity did not require that sacrifice. Life must not be needlessly thrown away. The Jews had driven them from Antioch, and would fain have made short work in Iconium by stoning them to death. When first sending forth His apostles, Jesus had said, "When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another" (Matt. x. 23). Paul and Barnabas escape, and find their way to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the adjacent country.
"The district of Lycaonia extends from the ridges of Mount Taurus and the borders of Cilicia, on the south, to the Cappadocian hills, on the north. It is a bare and dreary region, unwatered by streams, though in parts liable to occasional inundations. Strabo mentions one place where water was even sold for money. .... Of the whole district Iconium was properly the capital; and the plain round Iconium may be reckoned as its great central space, situated midway between Cilicia and Cappadocia. This plain is spoken of as the largest in Asia Minor.
"Lystra and Derbe stood on the great road leading from Cilicia to Iconium."
WHAT HAPPENED AT LYSTRA.
1. Good news was proclaimed. Paul and Barnabas were not to be silenced. If they had been hounded out of Antioch and Iconium, they had found an open fields in and around Lystra and Derbe. There they published Heaven's gladdening tidings.
2. A cripple was cured. The poor man, like the one cured by Peter in Jerusalem, had never walked; but he used his ears to good purpose. He so heard that his confidence in what he heard became discernible by the speaker. With that characteristic fixing of his eyes (Acts xiii. 9; xxiii. 1), Paul in an authoritative voice commanded him to stand upright. "And he leaped and walked." There was no dubious prescription, no weary waiting, no long nursing, but an immediate and unmistakable cure.
3. The people became wild with excitement. A deed had been done which surpassed human power. The common sense of the Lycaonians taught them that the effect demanded a cause beyond man. What then was the supernatural power? Local tradition had it that once upon a time Zeus and Hermes had visited that region, and now the people rushed to the conclusion that these deities had returned. The gods had come down to them in human form. Zeus was "the father of the gods and men"; Hermes was his son and usual companion. Barnabas was Zeus, Paul was his herald or his interpreter. They would do homage worthy of the gods. Oxen were chosen, decorations provided, and priest and people were hurrying on to do sacrifice.
4. But Paul and Barnabas repudiated being gods. They showed as much dread as the people did enthusiasm. They were shocked at the bare idea of being worshipped. They rent their clothes, an old-fashioned and rude way of manifesting sorrow (Gen. xxxvii. 29-34), and rushed among the people to put a stop to the foolish sacrifice. In a few words they placed themselves on a level with their would-be worshippers, saying, we are human beings with the same feelings and impulses as yourselves.
5. The mission of Paul and Barnabas was declared. Their aim was to turn men's minds away from the creature to the Creator - to bring to pass among the Lystrians what had happened to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. i. 9). They spoke of the living God to those who had been accustomed to worship dumb idols, lifeless blocks. That God was Creator of all things. He had long allowed the nations to follow their own devices, and to experiment by their own wisdom, alias folly. And yet by every returning season He had been giving an unbroken chain of evidence of His kind care over His creatures, so that men were without excuse in not honouring Him as God (Rom. i. 18-19). Though unseen and unacknowledged, and in some respects standing aloof from men, God had been supplying them with food and filling their hearts with joy. To lead men to know Him, and to induce them to worship Him, was the mission of the heroes of Lycaonia.
6. A strange reaction took place. One sentence informs us that it was with difficulty that Paul and Barnabas deterred the people from worshipping them as gods; but the next sentence makes known that the same people either themselves stoned Paul till they thought that he was dead, or they acquiesced in the Jews so treating him. It may be that some time, of which we have no notice, had elapsed between the attempt to worship and the attempt to murder, and it is certain that a blind, zealous, wicked, Jewish influence had meantime been introduced; but, after all, it was a strange fickleness, which does not speak well for the discernment, any more than for the stability, of mankind. It was a change of mind respecting Paul in the inverse order of the change of the people of Malta, who first adjudged him a murderer, and then a god (Acts xxviii. 3-6).
7. Paul's resuscitation and departure. The persecutors meant their work with Paul to be final; they thought him dead. But his life was yet in him. Ere the disciples had time to decide what to do, and while they stood around, he arose. What never-to-be-forgotten events must have crowded into that last day at Lystra! "Once was I stoned," afterwards found a place in a brief record of Paul's sufferings (2 Cor. xi. 25). And in his old age, when writing probably the last letter of his that has been preserved to us, he reminded Timothy of his full acquaintance with the persecutions, and afflictions, which were endured by him at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra (2 Tim. iii. 10-11). On the day after the stoning, Paul and Barnabas departed to Derbe.
EVENTS AT DERBE.
"Derbe was probably near the pass called the Cilician gates." "A few hours would suffice for the journey between Lystra and its neighbour city."
Here, again, the missionaries began to publish their good news. The recent experience of ungrateful and malicious treatment at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, hindered them not from telling the good news about King Jesus. With his body, perchance, still bruised and aching all over by the unmerciful stoning, Paul spread abroad the glorious gospel of the blessed God.
And many were taught. Teaching was coupled with preaching. In becoming Christians there is much to lean, and progress in learning is often slow. We need line upon line. The same lesson often requires frequent repetition, and the lessons are numerous.
But the Revised Version of the twenty-first verse should be noted. "And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had made many disciples," etc.
The farthest point of the journey was now reached. Paul and Barnabas retrace their steps. They shrink not from going back through the places in which they had been abused, and from which they had been chased. In these places they had left disciples, and these were dear to them. For their sakes "they went back, over the wild and dusty plain, the twenty miles from Derbe to Lystra, the forty miles from Lystra to Iconium, the sixty miles from Iconium to Antioch." Their work this time was chiefly one of confirmation; they consolidated their brethren by encouraging them to persevere, promising that when the suffering was all over, there would be a permanent residence in God's kingdom. They even taught that the tribulation was a condition of obtaining the kingdom; they must enter through much tribulation.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LANGUAGE.
There are numerous intimations in Acts xiv. of speaking. Paul and Barnabas so spoke that a great multitude believed. They spoke boldly. They preached the gospel is affirmed twice. The cripple heard Paul speak. By speech the Lystrians were persuaded to desist from their sacrifice. Paul and Barnabas taught many. They exhorted. They commended them to the Lord. They preached the word. Speech was used mischievously by the Jews to persuade the Gentiles against Christianity; but it was constantly and effectually used by the heralds of Christianity to persuade men in the right direction.
Much was accomplished by means of language.
1. The gospel was spread.
2. Faith or belief was produced (verse 1).
3. Many were taught or disciples were made.
4. The disciples were confirmed by being spoken to, and not by the fingers of the bishop (verse 22).
5. Perseverance resulted from exhortation or speech.
Our chapter on "Preaching" is an illustration throughout of the inestimable value of speech in disseminating Christianity.
The Scriptures are prolific of statements declaring the worth of God's utterances for man's weal.
1. Conversion. God's Word produces conversion. "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul" (Psalm xix. 7-8).
2. Wisdom. What God testifies makes us wise. "The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple."
3. Joy. God's commands, properly understood, are not grievous, but are a source of joy. "The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart."
4. Intelligence. What God enjoins is such enlightenment to the mind that it shows itself in the eyes. "The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes."
5. It is by the Word of God that the spiritual life is begun (James i. 18; 1 Pet. i. 23).
6. God's Word saves the soul (James i. 21).
7. God's Writings make wise to salvation through faith in Christ, and are profitable in many ways (2 Tim. iii. 15-17).
8. God's Word is the means of edification (Acts xx. 32).
Old Testament writers perceived that it was a blessed employment to study the Scriptures continually (Psalm i.1-3); and New Testament writers recognised that the Word of God was living and powerful (Heb. iv. 12).
Let us therefore avoid, with fear and trembling, that libel on God's Word which affirms or implies that it is a dead letter. On the contrary, let us thoughtfully read and prayerfully strive to understand His teaching, assured that it is His own appointed means for the conversion, enlightenment, and sanctification of humanity.
The free use of the Scriptures is the abiding means in the hands of believers for the conversion of mankind. The days of attempting to make Christians at the point of the bayonet are past. But the adding of forces other than those which the Word of God indicates is still in vogue. Numerous expedients are adopted which are not only additions to the New Testament, but also a contravention of its principles or a displacing of its commands. As it was in the days of the Saviour, so is it now; human devices take the place of divine teaching (Mark vii. 7-13). All such expedients betray a lack of knowledge or a lack of faith in God's Word. Free promulgation of the truth is the Christian's weapon both of defence and of aggression. Freedom of speech is our cause of joy and hope. We have nothing to hide, and nothing of which to be afraid. Ventilation is an effectual condition of truth being spread and Christianity becoming triumphant. If we believe that the gospel is the power of God to salvation, we need trouble about nothing else than to get people to understand the gospel and its conditions. We should strive so to speak the truth that others may learn and believe. Paul and Barnabas so spoke as to effect that desirable end.
FIRST CONVERSIONS IN EUROPE.
Acts xvi. 9-15
Divine guidance - Philippi - A colony - A prayer meeting - One of the worshippers - heard - Had her heart opened - How opened - Attended to the things spoken - Was baptised - Hospitality - Baptism of her household - A catechism
for infant sprinklers
DIVINE guidance is very marked in bringing Paul and his co-travellers to Philippi. The Holy Spirit forbade them to speak the word in Asia, and he suffered them not to go into Bithynia, but a vision in the night called them on to Macedonia. Immediately therefore they endeavoured to reach the European shore. The reapers were divinely conducted to the ripe field. Supernatural guidance brought the teachers to the home of the Thyatiran purple-seller.
PHILIPPI A COLONY.
Philippi was "a noted city of Macedonia, situated in a plain on the banks of a deep and rapid stream called Gangistes, now Angista. The old name of the city was Krenides, and sometimes Datus. Philip, king of Macedon, having taken it from the Thracians, made it a frontier fortress and gave it his own name. ... The famous battle of Philippi, between Antony and Octavius and Brutus and Cassius, was fought B.C. 42. Augustus made Philippi a Roman colony in honour of his victory."
"A Roman colony was very different from anything which we usually intend by the term. It was no mere mercantile factory, such as those which the Phoenicians established in Spain, or on those very shores of Macedonia with which we are now engaged; or such as modern nations have founded in the Hudson's Bay territory or on the coast of India. Still less was it like those incoherent aggregates of human beings which we have thrown, without care or system, on distant islands and continents. It did not even go forth, as a young Greek republic left its parent state, carrying with it, indeed, the respect of a daughter for a mother, but entering upon a new and independent existence. The Roman colonies were primarily intended as military safeguards of the frontiers, and as checks upon insurgent provincials. Like the military roads, they were part of the great system of fortification by which the Empire was made safe. They served also as convenient possessions for rewarding veterans who had served in the wars, and for establishing freedmen and other Italians whom it was desirable to remove to a distance. The colonists went out with all the pride of Roman citizens, to represent and reproduce the city in the midst of an alien population. They proceeded to their destination like an army with its standards, and the limits of the new city were marked out by the plough. Their names were still enrolled in one of the Roman tribes. Every traveller who passed through a colonia saw there the insignia of Rome. He heard the Latin language, and was amenable, in the strictest sense, to the Roman law." The colonists "were entirely free from any intrusion by the governor of the province. Their affairs were regulated by their own magistrates. These officers were named Duumviri; and they took a pride in calling themselves by the Roman title of Praetors. The primary settlers in the colony were, as we have seen, real Italians; but a state of things seems to have taken place, in many instances, very similar to what happened in the early history of Rome itself. A number of the native provincials grew up in the same city with the governing body; and thus two (or sometimes three) co-ordinate communities were formed, which ultimately coalesced into one, like the Patricians and Plebians. Instances of this state of things might be given from Corinth and Carthage, and from the colonies of Spain and Gaul; and we have no reason to suppose that Philippi was different from the rest."
Arriving in this colonia, frontier city, or probably chief city, Paul and his companions waited until the Sabbath day.
A PRAYER MEETING
by the river side was the place and the occasion of their first evangelistic work in Europe. The heralds of the cross were not heralded by any war blast nor announced by blazing placards. The apostle of the Gentiles had no flourish of trumpets nor engaging of a public hall. In humble fashion, in a Jewish prayer meeting, they commenced the spread of the gospel.
ONE OF THE WORSHIPPERS
was the first convert. The historian speaks of her as "a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira." Coming from Thyatira, which was noted for the trade of dyeing, this merchant of purple was more of an Asiatic than a European. The gospel of Christ was thus first received by a foreigner, who had probably come to Europe to carry on her business. But she was a worshipper of God. In this she resembled several whose steps we have already traced from darkness to light - from uncertainty until they obtained the knowledge of forgiveness. The eunuch, Cornelius, and those in Antioch who were determined to have eternal life were all worshippers. Lydia was already looking Godward. She was worshipping.
And she heard. Hearing is a preliminary to everything in a Christian life. Knowledge of God - His character and will - follows hearing. Faith comes by hearing. To act acceptably to God we must learn what He has revealed. The Saviour summoned men to hear: "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." The members of the churches in Asia were invited to "hear what the spirit saith unto the churches" (Rev. ii. 7, 11, 17, 29, etc.). Lydia therefore was well employed when she was listening to God's messengers. It was while she was thus employed that the Lord opened her heart.
occupies a prominent place in Scripture. It is the seat of affection, attachment, love. The Lord should be loved with all the heart, as well as with all the soul, and mind, and strength (Mark xii. 30-33). Approved love must be from a pure heart, as well as from a good conscience, and unfeigned faith (1 Tim. i. 5). Honesty and goodness have their abode in the heart (Luke viii. 15). Purity and impurity grow there: the pure in heart shall see God (Matt. v. 8); and out of the heart all kings of wickedness proceed (Matt. xv. 18-20). Trouble and sorrow rankle there (John xiv. 1; xvi. 6); and joy takes deep root in the same soil (John xvi. 22).
Mental qualities are attributed to the heart, such as understanding, reasoning, thinking. The Jews were afraid to use their eyes and ears, lest they should understand with their heart (Matt. xiii. 15). Some unsympathising scribes reasoned in their hearts that Jesus was speaking blasphemies (Mark ii. 6-8). In Matt. ix. 4 the same process is denominated thinking in their hearts. A thing is said to be settled or purposed in the heart (Luke xxi. 14; Acts xi. 23). The heart condemns or acquits (1 John iii. 20). The heart has its desires (Acts vii. 23), counsels (1 Cor. iv. 5), intents (Heb. iv. 12), and imaginations (Luke i. 51). Melody (Eph. v. 19), belief and doubt (Rom. x. 9; Mark xi. 23); stupidity and hardness (Matt. xiii. 15; Mark iii. 5), and blindness (Eph. iv. 18), are associated with the heart. The heart is darkened, foolish (Rom. i. 21), hardened (Mark vi. 52), impenitent (Rom. ii. 5), sprinkled or cleansed (Heb. x. 22), and purified (Acts xv. 8-9).
The law was written in the heart (Rom. ii. 15: Heb. x. 16). God shone in the hearts of the apostles (2 Cor. iv. 6), and put earnest care for others in the heart of Titus (2 Cor. viii. 16); but Satan filled the heart of Ananias with a lie, and yet Ananias himself conceived the evil in his heart (Acts v. 3-4).
The heart, as the centre of man's being, is represented as the source and storehouse of all his qualities, and the originator and director of all his actions. Everything is closely connected with it. It is even said to be filled with food and gladness (Acts xiv. 17). It is, therefore, not to be wondered at, that the Lord's action upon the heart comes into view in connection with conversion. In this one instance, it is said that
THE LORD OPENED THE HEART.
A deaf man had his ears opened (Mark vii. 35); the disciples on the way to Emmaus had their eyes opened, and Jesus opened to them the Scriptures and their understanding (Luke xxiv. 31, 32, 45). So the Lord, probably the same Lord Jesus who is connected with all these openings, opened the heart of Lydia.
By what means was the heart opened? It was by miracle that Jesus opened the deaf man's ears; it was by clear exposition that He opened the Scriptures, for "beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself;" and that exposition which opened the Scriptures to the understanding of the disciples was adequate to the opening of their understanding. The means mentioned as employed was suited to the end which was attained. By explaining the Scriptures He opened their understanding. Was Lydia's heart opened by similar means?
Recall what has been previously noted respecting Lydia. She was a worshipper of God, and a listener of Paul and Silas. Her attitude and attention were such as to bring her under the influence of the truth. While she was listening her heart was opened.
Skilled workmen use means adapted to the end for which they are working. They do not employ a crowbar to open a watch, nor a hammer to move the ward of a lock. Neither would any sane man attempt to gain the loving confidence of another by an application of physical force; we do not win love by blows. Now, knowledge and love are suited to open the heart. Especially is the knowledge of the love of Christ calculated to open the hearts of all who already have their ears open to hear. Lydia was a devout hearer of apostolic preaching. That preaching was a presentation of One whose love for man was unsurpassed. The story told by Paul and Silas respecting Jesus was such as to open Lydia's heart, and win her affection and confidence. No other means was necessary, and no other means is mentioned. Let us not therefore drag in the unnecessary, nor attempt to be wise above what is written.
So far, then, as the action of the Lord upon the heart of Lydia is disclosed, it was action carried on by means of the speech of Paul and Silas; they pleaded their Master's cause. And so far as Lydia was concerned, she laid herself open to the divine influences of the word spoken by the Lord's messengers, by being in the receptive condition of a devout listener. Lydia worshipped and listened, Paul and Silas spoke, the result being that her heart was opened, and every one concerned cheerfully ascribed the work effected to the Lord.
Two lessons are obvious. 1. To have our hearts opened by the Lord, we must lay ourselves open to the Lord's teaching. 2. To open the hearts of others, we must employ the Lord's means - ply them with His own word. If we use the Lord's means, we are certain of the Lord's blessing. The same causes, under similar conditions, will produce the same result.
CONSEQUENCES OF AN OPENED HEART.
1. Lydia "attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul." 'To attend' may mean one of two things.
(1.) It may mean to practise. In 1 Tim. iii. 8 the same word is translated "given to," and in Heb. vii. 13 it is "gave attendance at." The deacons were not to be given to much wine - they were not to practise much drinking of wine; and the tribe of Judah provided no one to give attendance at the altar - to do service there. So far, therefore, as the word translated "attended" is concerned, Luke's statement respecting Lydia may mean that she practised what Paul taught.
(2.) The word, however, may not have been designed to convey more than that Lydia gave heed to what Paul said; she was an attentive listener. Acts viii. 6, 10, 11 contain examples of the word meaning to give heed. The Samaritans "gave heed" unto what Philip spoke. Before that, they "gave heed" and "had regard" to Simon. The same word is employed by Luke to describe the attitude of the Samaritans toward Simon and Philip as is employed to describe Lydia's attitude toward Paul. Lydia was interested in Paul's speaking and gave attention to what he said. This I judge to be the thought of the passage; Lydia was an interested, attentive hearer.
2. Lydia was baptised. Her baptism is related as a matter of course; "and when she was baptised," etc. Baptism was so invariably practised by those who became followers of Christ that the baptism of Lydia is not so much named by Luke as an item of news as it is incidentally mentioned in connection with what follows. "When she was baptised, and her household, she besought us, saying, if ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and abide."
3. Lydia was hospitable. Her house was opened as well as her heart. Her means were shared with those through whose instrumentality she had her heart opened. She "constrained" them to share the comforts of her home. One's Christianity is not worth much, if it does not open his purse to help on the cause he has espoused.
One statement is all that is made respecting Lydia's household; her household was baptised. Whether there were many or few in the house, whether they were male or female, and whether they were old or young, we are not informed. Our ignorance of the inmates, not only of Lydia's house, but of other New Testament households, has been supplemented by the most baseless assumptions, as will become apparent by the following
CATECHISM FOR INFANT SPRINKLERS.
1. Was Lydia married when Paul and Silas visited Philippi?
2. Was Lydia ever married?
3. Had Lydia any children?
4. Was there any one in Lydia's household under twelve years of age?
5. Was the Philippian jailor married when Paul and Silas visited Philippi?
6. Was he ever married?
7. Was he the father of any children?
8. Was there any one in his household under twenty years of age?
9. Was there any one under twenty years of age in the household of Cornelius, or among his kinsmen and friends who had assembled in his house, when Peter visited Cesarea?
10. Was there any one too young, in any of the instances of household baptism mentioned in the New Testament, to understand the teaching given?
11. Was there any one too young to become a believer in Christ?
The answer given to most of these questions, and to a few more of the same kind, by a Primitive Methodist minister, a champion of infant sprinkling, with whom the writer was discussing the subject of baptism, was, "I do not know, sir." And yet that gentleman had been arguing, as a great many more do, from the New Testament households, that infant baptism is Scriptural. People do not know that there were either infants or married people in these households, and yet they will drag them in to bolster up infant sprinkling. The climax of absurdity, or the depth of contemptibility, was reached by my Primitive Methodist opponent, respecting the household of Stephanas, as shown in his answers to the following questions:-
Do you know any other household in the New Testament? - Yes, sir.
Which? - The household of Stephanas.
Do you know that the household of Stephanas was addicted to the ministry of the saints? - Yes, sir.
Can infants minister to the necessity of saints? - Yes, sir.
In what way? - They minister to the comfort of their mothers.
It is quite certain that these answers do not minister anything to the defence of baby sprinkling; and it is equally certain that, when given, they did not minister to the comfort, but to the misery, of some who until then believed in infant sprinkling, but who since then have abandoned the defenceless practice, and have been immersed as the Lord commanded.
It is hopeless to try to shelter baby sprinkling under the roofs of New Testament households. Baptism as taught by Christ and His apostles was the baptism of repentant believers. To say that certain persons were baptised, therefore, naturally implied that these persons were believers, and that they had repented of their sins, and abandoned them. Young persons may so act; infants cannot.
A NIGHT IN PRISON.
Acts xvi. 16-40.
New experiences - The actors in Philippi - A spirit of Python - Slave-masters - Magistrates - Paul sore troubled - Joy and love in a prison - The cause of joy in suffering - The jailor - A contrast - Causes of the jailor's conversion - The word spoken to him - What must I do to be saved? An approved question
QUIETNESS characterised the commencement of the first evangelistic effort in Europe. The gospel of Christ was told in a prayer meeting. One woman and her household became converts. The proclaimers of the new gospel took up their abode in the house of their converts at the earnest request of one of the latter, and from thence continued their evangelistic work, attending also at the stated prayer meeting.
The work so quietly begun soon received a rude shock. Paul, accompanied by Barnabas, in the missionary journey narrated in Acts xiii.-xiv., had experienced rough treatment; but the experience in Europe was in some respects different from anything that Paul had previously undergone. New forces were set in operation against him. In Antioch and Iconium, and even at Lystra, his country men were the instigators of opposition, and rough and ready measures were adopted to silence the servants of Christ; but the notoriety of being the first, outside the Jewish capital, so far as is recorded, to have the preachers of Christ arraigned before them was reserved to the magistrates of Philippi. In this prominent city occurred one of those three beatings with rods which Paul; underwent, and the only one recorded (2 Cor. xi. 25); and here, too, began his prison experience. The magistrates, unceremoniously, and with as little of justice as dignity, tearing the clothes off the prisoners, ordered them to be beaten. Then were they thrust into the inner prison and made fast in stocks.
The group of actors in Philippi is composed of five parties. Paul and his company are the central figures, and stand out in bold relief from all the others. The slave maiden is by herself in the picture; she is unique. With startling voice and unmistakable mien she points to the messengers of salvation. Her selfish and avaricious masters form a dark background; their countenances being as expressive of lying slander as of greedy worldliness. By their side are the ignoble magistrates, possessing the insignia of authority, but devoid of magisterial nobility, common justice, or even manliness, and betraying, by their appearance, cruel ferocity. The jailor and his household complete the picture. He is of the true Roman type - stern and unfeeling, a fit executioner of unbending, iron law. Let us study these characters more in detail, commencing with
THE DAMSEL WITH A PYTHON SPIRIT.
"The heathens themselves attributed these phenomena to the agency of Apollo, the deity of Pythonic spirits; and such phenomena were of very frequent occurrence, and displayed themselves under many varieties of place and circumstance. Sometimes those who were possessed were of the highest condition; sometimes they went about the streets like insane imposters of the lowest rank. It was usual for the prophetic spirit to make itself known by an internal muttering or ventriloquism. We read of persons in this miserable condition used by others for the purpose of gain. Frequently they were slaves; and there were cases of joint proprietorship in these unhappy ministers of public superstition."
The testimony of the young woman to Paul and Silas was explicit. She was a slave; these men were also slaves, but they were the slaves of the most high God. She told the fortunes of dupes around; these men told the way of salvation. How much of intelligence was possessed by the witness it is impossible for us to conjecture. Common sense intelligence may have been reigning, or there may have been wild excitement and hazy dreaming. The spirit that possessed her, and the girl's mental activity, may have been interblended beyond our unravelling; but whatever the cause or causes that produced the testimony, the words uttered had a clear ring:- "These men are the servants of the most high God, who show unto us the way of salvation." Having met these servants of God once on their way to a prayer meeting, she not only turned round and shouted her testimony regarding them, but also continued to do so for many days. Before dealing with the important results of her conduct let us notice
THE PROPRIETORS OF THE PYTHON GIRL.
Their character is plainly portrayed. She was their property. The profit accruing to them was considerable. The public were willing to pay handsomely for her prognostications. Eager for any kind of glimpse of the future of their lives, they would supply in abundance the diviner's fee, and this the purse of the masters became filled.
But one day the value of the property dropped considerably. The girl was placed on a level with other mortals. Her ventriloquising, fortune-telling, divining, soothsaying powers and propensities had departed. Paul and Silas were the agents in bringing about this depreciation of their property. Against them, therefore, the masters wreaked their wrathful disappointment. What mattered it to the masters that the girl was restored to proper mental balance? They were touched in a sensitive part - the pocket. Someone must suffer for it.
Straightforward dealing, however, would not have served their purpose; and so, piloting their rage with diabolical skill, they manufactured the charge of illegality of teaching. "These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, and teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans." They gained the sympathy of the mob, and the wild clamour took effect upon
There seems nothing commendable to be said about these rulers. No semblance of evidence was presented in support of the charge against the prisoners, none was sought for, and no examination of the case took place. It was sufficient that the complainants could say that they were Romans, and the prisoners were Jews, and that these Jews were teaching something inconsistent with their boasted Roman citizenship. The magistrates did not even retain the dignity of passing sentence and leaving others to execute it. With ungoverned brutality they themselves rushed upon the prisoners, and tore off their garments, commanding that they be beaten.
A corresponding humiliation awaited them next morning. When they would fain have dismissed the prisoners in quietness, they had to come and act the suppliant, begging the men whom they had so cruelly wronged to leave. It must have been a bitter sop to the proud "justices" to come to the prisoners and beseech them to go away. Unjust and cruel men have often to lick the dust. In striking contrast to both the magistrates and the masters of the damsel, stand out
PAUL AND SILAS.
But why should Paul have been grieved? The revisers say that he was "sore troubled." Was it not a fine advertisement to be proclaimed throughout the city as messengers from God? Many religionists nowadays would deem such public testimony a splendid help, if not a providential occurrence. Not so Paul. There was danger of misapprehension. It might easily be believed, and become a prevalent idea, that there was an alliance between the evil spirit and the apostle. These must not be even the appearance of that. Perhaps unwilling to interfere, but fearing an undesirable result from a continued favourable testimony from such a source, Paul was at last roused to eject the spirit in the name of his Master. Said he, "I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour."
Most people in the circumstances of Paul and Silas would have concluded that there was more cause for grief a little later. They were hurried before the magistrates, a false charge trumped up against them, the true ground of opposition suppressed, an unjust sentence pronounced, and an ignominious flogging inflicted, followed by incarceration in the most secure, and probably the most uncomfortable part of the jail. With feet fast in the stocks, so that no relief could be found by change of posture, and with backs bleeding by the beating with rods, there was nothing in their condition to cause joy, but everything to cause sorrow or grief.
Christian reader, what would have been your thoughts had you been in Paul's place? Perhaps you would have felt yourself justified in sullen sadness to regret trying so much to do people good, and to resolve that, if only you were out of this difficulty, you would leave such thankless people to themselves. It is within the range of possibility that even Christians would have allowed the rough jailor, who thrust them into prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks, to take away his own life. Was it not what he richly deserved after his treatment of Paul and Silas? How should we have felt and acted after trying to do good and received such recompense?
Paul was sore troubled when the young woman was, day after day, speaking in his favour; but Silas and he, with lacerated backs and tightly fastened feet, sang praises in prison at midnight, and were so forgetful of their own sufferings and ill-treatment, that they were the first and only ones ready to prevent the jailor from committing suicide, and to take pains to instruct him what to do. The singing of praises is the employment of thankful and happy hearts. How could these men be happy? How could they be thankful? By what means were they able to cherish kind feelings towards the unkind jailor? What power enabled them at the hour of midnight and with their sufferings to become his patient tutors?
Their higher than human behaviour - their readiness to forgive and to continue to do good, even when suffering for it - their truly Christ-like conduct is accounted for, in brief form, by one of them when his life's journey was near its close. His words are, "I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day" (2 Tim. i. 12). Such knowledge and trust gave them closest intercourse with God, sustained them amid cruel suffering, fortified them against contumely, and filled them with love to their enemies. Living as seeing Him who is invisible dispelled all fear of tyrannical slave-masters, unjust magistrates, humiliating flogging, and painful imprisonment. With a consciousness of the divine presence they could calmly bear, joyfully hope, lovingly do good, and yet, at the proper time, demand an acknowledgment even from the proud Roman magistrates. The Lord was their refuge and their strength. This faith gave consistency to their conduct throughout.
THE CONDUCT OF THE JAILOR
contains more of contrast. We have two views of his character. The first one is immediately contradicted by himself. It represents him as unfeeling, perhaps cruel, and seemingly unconcerned about both the sufferings of his prisoners and his own salvation. He thrust Paul and Silas into the inner prison. What occasion was there to thrust them in? If the circumstances seemed to require the use of the inner prison, could be not have led them gently in? He must soon have gone to sleep, as at midnight he required to be awakened. Would anyone in sympathy with Paul and Silas, or in anxiety about his own salvation, have needed either the sound of praise or the tremor of an earthquake to awake him out of sleep? The second view is more inviting. The jailor is in trembling prostration before Paul and Silas. In anxious haste he has sprung in and thus humbled himself. He is there begging to be taught, asking to know the way of salvation from those servants of God. He even brings them out of the prison and takes them into his own house. He sets food before them, and, gentle as any nurse, he bathes their blood-clotted backs. The whole house is astir, and during the night-hours the plan of salvation is learned, and all in the house are baptised.
Not many hours has elapsed, but how great the change! What caused it? What roused him to the mad attempt at suicide, and then saved him from it? What elicited the interest of the jailor? What had inspired him with confidence in these men? What had overcome his indifference and made him hospitable? What induced a Roman soldier in such short time to become a Christian convert?
Three causes co-operated to bring about the great and sudden change.
1. The wonders of the earthquake. The shaking of the earth that night was from no ordinary cause, with no ordinary results. An earthquake had never before then opened all the doors of a house specially secured, nor removed the manacles from the inmates of a prison. Ordinarily, if an earthquake had severed the chains by which prisoners were bound, it must have wrenched their poor limbs, and added to their misery without affording any liberty. The authorities at Philippi were to be taught that bolts and bars, and prisons, and jailors, were all powerless to detain the servants of the most high God. They had been speaking to Him in prayer and praise. He answered them in a manner that might well startle everyone except themselves. The Lord was in the earthquake. Who would not have feared? The jailor at least was not only awakened out of sleep, but also out of his apathy and unconcern.
2. The conduct of Paul and Silas. They saved his life. That was more than ordinary prisoners would have done. It was rendering him good for evil. But it was the way to find an entrance into his heart, and to turn the current of his whole being.
And did he not know how these men had behaved during the day? If sound sleep prevented him from hearing the prayers and the praise, could he be ignorant of their gentle, unmurmuring fortitude under previous ill-treatment? The "many days" they had been in the city may have brought much to the ears of the jailor as to the true character of these men. But whether he knew much or little of these humble Jews, it was all such as to impress him favourably, and induce him to confide to them without reserve. The conduct of the preachers opened the way for
3. The preaching. The message to the jailor, so far as Luke has narrated it, is briefly expressed in these words: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." Evidently more was said than is reported; for it is added that "they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house." In what is recorded there is comprehended the nucleus of the whole life, character, and work of the Redeemer. He was Jesus or Saviour, Christ or anointed One - anointed with the Holy Spirit and Power - and Lord or Sovereign. If the Lordship of the Redeemer, His anointing and His great work of salvation for the human family be taken into account conjointly, there is a broad view of the mediatorial work of Jesus. It was such a view that was presented to the jailor in the small compass of the three words - Lord Jesus Christ.
Belief was commanded. But as belief can only be brought into existence by God's Word, Paul and Silas at once began to make the Word known. They ordered faith, and they gave the man the means of acquiring it.
The object of faith is important, especially in relation to salvation. There is something different from belief of a creed, however true; more than acceptance of a proposition, however well authenticated; there is trust in a living person - the Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we believe in God (1 Pet. i. 21). It was therefore natural, not only to teach the need of faith in Him, but also to provide the means of faith.
What was "the word of the Lord" which was then spoken? It may have been the word respecting the Lord Jesus; the story of His life's work, death, and resurrection. In brief form, it may have been the word which the Lord Jesus spoke - His commission to His chosen ones. According to Matthew it is: Go ye, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world (Matt. xxviii. 19-20). According to Mark it is: Go into all the world, and preach the good news to every creature. He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned (Mark xvi. 15-16). According to Luke it is: It behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead on the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name, beginning at Jerusalem (Luke xxiv. 46-47).
From a comparison of the three records it is evident that in becoming a Christian these three things were required - faith, repentance, and baptism; and this threefold requirement is exemplified in the conversion of the jailor.
(1.) He was taught to believe, and he and all his are reported as immediately becoming believers.
(2.) He repented, as is seen in his change of conduct.
(3.) He and all his were baptised.
It was with the jailor as with the Samaritans and the eunuch; there is no mention of the preachers preaching baptism. Not only his baptism, however, but also his belief and repentance are accounted for by the fact that the word of the Lord was spoken to him. The life of Christ formed the basis of his belief, and in his repentance and immersion he was obeying Christ's commands.
Miracle roused the jailor into attention and reflection; the conduct and known character of Paul and Silas opened his house to them, and his ears to what they had to say; and what they taught opened his heart, changed his will, and turned the whole course of his behaviour.
WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?
is before us for the third time in our study of the conversions in the Acts of Apostles. It was the question of the Jews on the day of Pentecost: "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" They thus indicated an ardent desire to do whatever would place them in a state of reconciliation with God.
Saul of Tarsus gave utterance to the same longing to take some active part in altering the past. When he discovered his sin in persecuting the followers of Jesus, he said, "What shall I do, Lord?" (Acts xxii. 10). Coming to a knowledge of his sad mistake, he at once requested information how to act.
The jailor was more explicit as to why he wanted to know what to do; it was to be saved. What could he do to insure salvation? How must he act to get into a safe state? What was there devolving on himself?
The same question has been asked times without number since. Was there ever earnest inquirer who did not ask it? In circumstances causing anxiety the question arises spontaneously. Realising ourselves in any danger, the first thought naturally is, What shall we do? How must we act to get into a more desirable condition? It is a law of our being to think of activity in order to rescue ourselves from danger, or redeem ourselves from difficulties. The greater the danger, and the more we realise it, the more anxiously do we feel that we must do something. To want to do, and to try to find out what is best to do, are natural and universal traits of those who find themselves in danger.
I have heard a Free Church minister tell his audience that the jailor made a mistake in asking what to do. Doing, he said, was altogether a wrong thing in connection with the obtaining of salvation. My free Church friend evidently knows something that was unknown to Peter, Ananias, Paul and Silas, and the Lord Himself. There is not a word of blame in the New Testament to those who asked what they must do to be saved. On the contrary, they were at once told what to do.
Oh that men would be content to be guided only by the teaching of the Scriptures!
PAUL'S DIFFERENT METHODS WITH JEWS AND GREEKS.
Macedonia - Thessalonica - The Thessalonians - The subject of Paul's discourse - The effect of three weeks arguing - Work of the speakers - Conduct of the converts - Assault versus argument - Berea - Nobility of the Bereans - Athens - Paul conducted - His spirit stirred - Arguing - On the Areopagus - The unknown God - Paul's address - Manner - Derision of the Athenians - Was Paul's work in Athens a failure? - Brief notice of the Thessalonian, Berean, and Athenian converts - Paul's different methods - The Christians' Textbook.
ACTS xvii. contains a brief account of Paul's work in three places - Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens. Between Philippi and Thessalonica, the distance is one hundred miles - "Philippi to Amphipolis, thirty-three miles; Amphipolis to Apollonia, thirty miles; Apollonia to Thessalonica, thirty-seven miles." Paul might, therefore, accomplish in three days the journey from Philippi, where he had been "shamefully entreated," but had been the means of saving two households, to Thessalonica, where he was to gather a church of converts as worthy as the worthy Philippians. "Before we follow Paul and Silas to Thessalonica, we may pause to take a general survey of the condition and extent of
in the sense in which the term was understood in the language of the day. It has been well said that the Acts of the Apostles have made Macedonia a kind of Holy Land; and it is satisfactory that the places there visited and revisited by Paul and his companions, are so well known that we have no difficulty in representing to the mind their position and their relation to the surrounding country. Macedonia, in its popular sense, may be described as a region bounded by a great semicircle of mountains, beyond which the streams flow westward to the Adriatic, or northward and eastward to the Danube and the Euxine." Under Roman rule "the whole of Macedonia, along with some adjacent territories, was made one province, and centralised under the jurisdiction of a proconsul, who resided at Thessalonica. This province included Thessaly, and extended over the mountain chain which had been the western boundary of ancient Macedonia, so as to embrace a sea-board of considerable length on the shore of the Adriatic.
divided the whole surface which extends from the basin of the Danube to Cape Matapan. All of them are familiar to us in the writings of Paul." These provinces are, Macedonia, Illyricum, and Achaia. "On the north-west, Macedonia was contiguous to Illyricum, which was spread down the shore of the Adriatic nearly to the same point to which the Austrian territory now extends, fringing the Mohammedan empire with a Christian border. A hundred miles to the southward, at the Acroceraunian promontory, Macedonia touched Achaia, the boundary of which province ran thence in an irregular line to the Bay of Thermopyl and the north of Euboea, including Epirus, and excluding Thessaly. Achaia and Macedonia were traversed many times by the apostle; and he could say, when he was hoping to travel to Rome, that he had preached the gospel 'round about unto Illyricum.'"
"Along the whole line" of the Roman road "from Dyrrhachium to the Hebrus, no city was so large and influential as
"The original name of this city was Therma; and that part of the Macedonian shore on which it was situated retained through the Roman period the designation of the Thermaic Gulf. Cassander, the son of Antipater, rebuilt and enlarged Therma, and named it after his wife Thessalonica, the sister of Alexander the Great. The name ever since, under various slight modifications, has been continuous, and the city itself has never ceased to be eminent. Saloniki is still the most important town of European Turkey, next after Constantinople." "Strabo, in the first century, speaks of Thessalonica as the most populous town in Macedonia. Lucian, in the second century, uses similar language. Before the founding of Constantinople, it was virtually the capital of Greece and Illyricum, as well as of Macedonia, and shared the trade of the Aegean with Ephesus and Corinth. Even after the Eastern Rome was built and reigned over the Levant, we find both Pagan and Christian writers speaking of Thessalonica as the metropolis of Macedonia, and a place of great magnitude. ... There probably never was a time, from the day when it first received its name, that this city has not had the aspect of a busy commercial town." Its geographical position accounts for its continuous pre-eminence. It was "situated on the inner bend of the Thermaic Gulf, - halfway between the Adriatic and the Hellespont, - on the sea-margin of a vast plain watered by several rivers." It "was the chief station on the great Roman Road, called the Via Egnatia, which connected Rome with the whole region to the north of the Aegean Sea;" and it was in connection with other Roman ways. This Via Ignnatia extended 500 miles, and Thessalonica was midway. No place could be better situated for the accomplish -ment of what Paul said to the Thessalonians: "From you sounded out the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad (1 Thess. i. 8).
who first heard Paul were mainly Jews. It was in the synagogue (of the district) that for three Sabbath days he reasoned. While "of the devout Greeks a great multitude" afterwards became disciples, the principal hearers in the first meetings were Jews.
But the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, written shortly after the formation of the church, implies the predominance of Gentiles. They are distinctly addressed as having turned from idolatry, and as having suffered from their "own countrymen," even as the Judean churches had suffered from the Jews (chap. i. 9; ii. 14-16); and there is an absence of reference to the Old Testament, such as we find in the epistle to the Hebrews, such as would be natural in any epistle by a church composed chiefly of Jews, and such as is affirmed by Luke of Paul's speaking in Thessalonica when he says that he reasoned out of the Scriptures.
in the synagogue of Thessalonica, contained three propositions: (1.) that the Messiah should suffer; (2.) that He should rise again; (3.) that Jesus was the Messiah. The burden of proof for the first and second propositions was drawn from the Jewish Scriptures, and the proof of the third was the undeniably exact fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies and types in Jesus of Nazareth. Like the Saviour, as seen in Luke xxiv, 27, 32, Paul so expounded the Old Testament writings as to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. Here, in Thessalonica, as in all other places mentioned in the Acts of Apostles where the first missionaries laboured, the theme of discourse was Jesus - Jesus as a sufferer, but triumphant over death, and the promised Messiah. Arguing on that theme for three weeks, from plain prophecies, and the well authenticated life of Jesus, produced
"Some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few." 'Some,' 'a great multitude,' and 'not a few,' disclose that Paul's reasoning had been finely effectual.
Summarising the brief intimations appertaining to the subject of conversion, we observe, first, the work of the speakers, and, second, the conduct of the converts.
1. Of the speakers we note
(1.) Their subject - Jesus, the suffering and risen Messiah.
(2.) The basis of their speaking - the Old Testament Scriptures.
(3.) Their manner of speaking - reasoning, arguing, and testifying. Their preaching and teaching were expository of God's Word, and a testifying to the facts in the life of Christ.
2. Of the converts only two things bearing on our theme are affirmed.
(1.) They believed, or were persuaded by what they heard.
(2.) They consorted with Paul and Silas. 'Consort' occurs nowhere else in the New Testament; but there is no difficulty as to the meaning. The persuaded hearers cast in their lot with the men who had brought the good news to them; they became the allies of the evangelists; they joined themselves to the men who showed that they had truth on their side.
In Thessalonica, however, as elsewhere, opposition developed with success. "The Jews, being moved with jealousy, took unto them certain vile fellows of the rabble, and gathering a crowd, set the city on an uproar; and assaulting the house of Jason, they sought to bring them forth to the people." The scum of the populace were fit agents for these zealous, jealous Jews. Uproar and assault tell their manner of meeting facts and argument.
The rioters were disappointed. Paul and Silas were in a safe retreat. Others must be made victims. "They drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city." Their complaint may be distributed into four statement. 1. Certain men had come among them who were turning the world upside down. 2. Jason had received these men. 3. The whole brotherhood, to which Jason and these men belonged, proclaimed Jesus as King. 4. Thereby Caesar decrees were nullified.
There was sufficient truth in the indictment to make it plausible. The apostles were causing commotion wherever them went, Jason had received them, and the whole of the disciples avowed the kingship of Jesus; but the deduction therefrom, that Caesar decrees were contradicted, is not evident. The people and the politarchs, as the rulers of the city were called, were troubled. Thessalonica had special privileges. Unfaithfulness to Rome would endanger these privileges. Security for the keeping of the peace was therefore taken from Jason and his company.
Paul and Silas were immediately sent away. It was unsafe to remain. The temper of the Jews and of the mob was such that at any moment there might have been a renewal of the disturbance. In haste and during night the brethren sent Paul and Silas off to
This city was some sixty miles south-west of Thessalonica. It was afterwards called Irenopolis, and is now known as Kara Feria or Verria, in Roumelia. It is a city of the second rank in European Turkey, containing from 15,000 to 20,000 inhabitants. In going thither Paul and Silas were withdrawing from the Roman road and the most public highways.
As in other places, so in Berea, the Jews were first visited; coming thither Paul and Silas "went into the synagogue of the Jews." Constant persecution by their own countrymen deterred them not from speaking "to the Jew first."
In Berea the Jews were unusually noble. It was the nobility which springs from an open-minded, teachable disposition. They were willing to learn, and to study in order to learn. They readily accepted the apostolic exposition of the Jewish writings, daily testing that exposition by means of their writings.
Such an attitude was certain to result in faith; "many of them believed; also of honourable women who were Greeks, and of men, not a few." In Thessalonica only "some" Jews believed; in Berea there were "many."
We are not permitted a further acquaintance with these noble Bereans. Beyond their belief we know nothing of them. Their Christian experience and church history are unrecorded. There must have been more to tell of them, for while the brethren sent away Paul, "Silas and Timothy abode there still;" but the faith of the Bereans is the last note respecting them that has reached us.
The zeal and search of the Thessalonian Jews were in another direction. "When the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the Word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people." Paul had again to flee. "The brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea:" but they that conducted him brought him to
This was a great change from Berea. Athens had been "the eye of Greece." It was the seat of learning, philosophy, refinement, poetry, art, sculpture, and religion; but it was a hot-bed of infamy. There was then little of grandeur remaining except its sculpture. Even that had been marred. Athens was in old age decrepitude, made loathsome by its festering sores of unblushing immorality.
to Athens, deserves special remark. Translating Luke's word 'to conduct,' has the appearance of a toning down of what he has said. The word occurs twenty-two times in the New Testament. It is translated 'make' fourteen times; e.g., His Lord hath made him ruler; he shall make him ruler, etc. (Matt. xxiv. 45, 47; xxv. 21, 23; Luke xii. 14, 42, 44, etc.). It is 'appoint' in Acts vi. 3, and 'ordain' in Tit. i. 5; Heb. v. 1; viii. 3. The companions of Paul appointed, ordained, determined where he should go; they planned for him; they were responsible for his arrival in Athens. For some reason Paul was not leader. Was he prostrate under suffering, unable to arrange for himself? After his arrival in Athens, was he still in a state of helplessness, causing him to send word back to Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed?
PAUL IN ATHENS.
1. His spirit was stirred. Whatever may have been the cause of his temporary subordination, it was uncongenial to Paul to be inactive, and so, previous to the arrival of his co-workers, his spirit was roused to do something. It was the prominence of the signs of idolatry which incited him to activity. Athens had the repute of containing more gods than men; it was said to be easier to find a god than a man there.
2. Paul commenced arguing. "therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with them." Jews, devout Gentiles, and visitors to the market were the three parties with whom Paul reasoned; and this he carried on daily.
The daily meeting with those who assembled in the market, was a new kind of work to Paul, at least so far as Luke's history goes. But we must remember that the details of many years of his Christian life are unknown to us. We know particulars of only a short period of the fourteen years of Galatians ii. 1.
The agora or market-place, where loungers, idlers, and gossips assembled, was a likely place for objectors to Paul's doctrine. Opposing schools assailed him, while some sneeringly inquired, And what will this "seed-pecker" say? They treated him as a picker-up of sundry scraps. Others imagined him a proclaimer of two new gods, under the names of Jesus and the Resurrection.
3. Paul was taken to the Areopagus. Interest was so far aroused that they took him to a more convenient place for an assembly hearing what he had to say. This was the Areopagus or Mars' Hill. There, from a rocky platform, in front of three sides of a quadrangle of stony seats, hewn out of the rock, to hearers with stony hearts, and heads almost as impenetrable, Paul delivered his famous Athenian address.
4. What did Paul say? His subject was an unknown God, the Creator of all things. It was unreasonable to think of Him as confined to their little temples, nor was human worship to be thought of as conferring any favour upon Him. He is independent of His creatures, but they are all dependent on Him. The beginning of life, and its continuity, are from Him. Men's blessings are Heaven's gifts. All men have one common origin, and are therefore brethren. It was on purpose that man was so related, and that he was situated under limitations. The Creator planned that His creatures, by their surroundings, should be led to grope after Him. Not that the Creator is far removed from the creature; He is nigh at hand. Life, movement, and existence are derived from Him. Even Greek poets had spoken of man as owing his origin to God. If God is our Father, it is folly to think of the work of the sculptor as at all corresponding to Him; the creature cannot create his Creator. But God had been merciful. He had graciously and long passed by such gross conceptions and idolatrous customs. A new era, however, had dawned. Under the new state of things God expected more. He called upon all men to resolve to be His servants. The universal demand for repentance was preparatory to the universal judgment. The certainty of the coming judgment was assured by the resurrection of the appointed Judge. As sure as Christ had been raised from the dead, so surely would He judge all. Hence the imperative and reasonable need to prepare.
5. Paul's manner was considerate and conciliatory. His opening sentence would please his hearers and secure their attention. He acknowledged that he saw that they were very religious. "Too superstitious" is not an accurate translation. Paul's remark would be taken as a compliment by the Athenians. They were much addicted to the worship of the deities, and they prided themselves in being so.
The text from which Paul spoke was one of their own inscriptions. They had gods many, and altars many; and as if they were afraid that they might not have included all the gods by special name, they had erected an altar to an unknown God. That unknown God Paul was prepared to make known to them.
Remarking on their religiousness, and selecting one of their own inscriptions as a basis for his remarks, with consummate skill Paul spoke to them of the living God. Their temples and statues, what were they? Cold and lifeless, the workmanship of man. The God whom confessedly they did not know was what they needed to know. The confession of ignorance implied in the inscription, and the gaping to hear anything new which characterised the Athenians, were alike utilised by Paul to convey to them the knowledge of the true God.
6. But Paul found it impossible to make the Athenians serious. "When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked." Paul had been accustomed to terrible earnestness on the part of the Jews; in their opposing zeal they chased him from place to place. But these Athenians only laughed. The preaching of Christ was to the Greeks foolishness. The gravity of the subject, combined with the winsome manner of the speaker, only produced mirth and led to jesting. There was no affinity between them and such spiritual teaching. There was nothing in them upon which the truth could lay hold. Some were cruelly polite, making a promise that was probably never realised; they would hear him at another time.
Paul's effort in Athens would by most be reckoned a failure. "Certain men clave unto him, and believed," and two of the believers are named - Dionysius and Damaris; but Athens was not evangelised, the Athenians did not turn from their idolatry nor from their gossip. And yet it is a mistake to treat any such effort as a failure. The few are ample recompense for the labour, and the many have had an offer and an opportunity. The Christian is fulfilling his mission when he spreads the truth, even if it prove a testimony against those who do not receive it, as well as the power of God to all who believe.
The information in Acts xvii., respecting the converts, is in small compass. Of the Athenians it is said that they clave unto Paul and believed; of the Thessalonians, that they believed and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the Bereans, that they readily received the Word, searched the Scriptures daily, and, in consequence, believed.
PAUL'S ACCOMMODATION TO HIS HEARERS
is forcibly illustrated in this chapter of Acts. In Thessalonica and Berea he was dealing chiefly with Jews. With them he argued from the Jewish Scriptures. In Athens he had to do with men who knew little of these Scriptures, and cared less for them. He therefore made no allusion to them. He took a text and drew his arguments from sources acceptable to his audience. In each case he met his hearers on their own ground. The teacher as it were sat down beside his pupils. He began where they were. He took them by the hand at the outset and endeavoured to lead them forward a little. Many teachers fail because they say the same things in the same way to all people at all times. The teacher should be elastic, not in the things which he teaches, but in his manner of introducing them. Like Paul, we should be ready to commence our theme from idol altars or from the Living Oracles. Like a greater than Paul, we should seek to draw lessons from seedtime or harvest, from flower or thorn, from all of the visible and the known.
THE CHRISTIAN'S TEXT-BOOKS
for the declaring and illustrating of the gospel of Christ may be presented as follows:-
1. The Gospels. In the recorded addresses of the apostles, the life of Christ occupied a prominent place. That life has been communicated to us by the four evangelists. Many teachers of Primitive Christianity begin and end their public teaching in the Acts of the Apostles. It would tend to enlivening variety if they would occasionally commence with incidents in the Gospel history. That would not prevent them, in dealing with inquirers, ending in the Acts of Apostles.
2. The Old Testament. Philip preached Jesus from Isaiah 1iii. Peter and Paul quoted and argued from the Jewish Scriptures. Why should not we use them with equal freedom? Since the Old Testament is, in some measure, fulfilled in the New, the bringing into juxtaposition of type and antitype, of prophecy and fulfilment, should always be refreshing, instructive, and strengthening to faith.
3. Nature is teeming with lessons and illustrations, simple and effective. During the last few months I have had frequent opportunities of listening to a public teacher of Christianity, who seldom takes a text in the ordinary way. He rarely selects a few words and speaks exclusively from them. But he frequently begins in nature and ends in revelation. At a time when all around is covered with snow, he may begin by calling attention to the beautiful snow, describing its formation, the variety of the flakes, its use, etc., and end by explaining to his audience how, though their sins are as scarlet, they may become white as snow. This style is a perfect treat as compared with the musty style of a theologian. From fruitful nature the Saviour was constantly teaching. Should not we?
4. All around may be brought under tribute. As Paul gave a lesson from Idolatrous altars, and the Saviour drew teaching from the custom of seeking the chief seats at feasts, so may we declare and illustrate truth from customs of others. Although we own no king but Jesus in things spiritual, and recognise no infallible teacher of Christianity save Christ and His apostles, we may nevertheless find illumination of the truth, or a background to a heavenly picture, in things which are of earthly mould.
Nor should the selection made be simply a matter of the speaker's own liking. The starting-point, illustrations, and manner, should be to suit the listeners - to arrest their attention or reach their understandings and hearts.
PROLONGED EFFORTS IN CORINTH, EPHESUS, AND ROME.
Acts xviii; xix; xxviii. 16-31.
Five and a half years' evangelisation - Corinth - Paul's labours in Corinth - The fruit of his labour - Conversion always the same - Why Paul; baptised so few in Corinth - Unreasonable and evil men - Paul's fourth visit to Jerusalem - Apollos - Ephesus - Rebaptism - In the synagogue - The school of Tyrannus - Special miracles - Baffled exorcists - Triumph of a name - Magic on the wane - Growth of the Word - Speech by Demetrius - Ephesus in an uproar - Speech of the town clerk - Rome - Paul brought to Rome a prisoner - In conference with the Jews - Expounding and warning - Two years at home.
THE plan of these chapters requires haste. The events associated with evangelisation by Paul in twelve different places have to pass quickly under review, and to be compressed into small compass. Nine of these places have already been visited: Paphos and Antioch, as related in Acts xiii.; Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, in chapter xiv.; Philippi in xvi.; Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens, in xvii. The three remaining to be visited are Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome. These three were influential centres, and not less than five years and a half were spent in them by Paul. He was eighteen months in Corinth, two years in Ephesus, and two years in Rome. In all three places, moreover, there seems an indication that a longer period was spent than what is named. May not the words of Luke - "And Paul after this tarried there yet a good while" - indicate a time beyond the eighteen months? Again, are the three months of chapter xix. 8 to be added to the two years of the tenth verse? And, lastly, was Paul's stay in Rome limited to the two years in his own hired house? But our review of these busy years must be restricted to one article. We begin by accompanying the apostle from Athens to
This city was only two short day's journey to the west from Athens. It was "a noted city of Greece, in the isthmus which joins Peloponnesus (the Morea) to the continent. On a vast rock rising abruptly about two thousand feet above the level of the sea, was the citadel, called the Acrocorinthus. Corinth had two harbours, Cenchrea, about eight miles distant on the Eastern or Saronic Gulf, and Lech um on the Western or Corinthian Gulf, a mile and a half away. Situated thus advantageously, Corinth became wealthy and strong. After suffering various reverses, the city was at length utterly destroyed by the Roman General Mummius, 146 B.C. For a century it lay waste, only some temples and the citadel remaining. In the year 46 B.C. Julius Caesar restored it, and made it the Roman capital of the province of Achaia. It was repeopled partly by freedmen from Rome. Its former beauty soon returned ... Its situation secured to it extensive commerce, and made it the post and highway of the natural and artistic products of the Orient and Occident. Becoming populous and very rich, Corinth also became luxurious and corrupt to a proverb."
"When Paul went from Athens to Corinth, he entered on a scene very different from that which he had left. It is not merely that his residence was transferred from a free Greek city to a Roman colony; as would have been the case had be been moving from Thessalonica to Philippi. His present journey took him from a quiet provincial town to the busy metropolis of a province, and from the seclusion of an ancient university to the seat of government and trade."
These quotations sufficiently indicate why Paul, especially in view of his cool reception at Athens, should go to Corinth. The opportunities of trade would insure the presence these of a large settlement of Jews, and the mercantile connection of Corinth with the whole civilised world, would lead to the wide dissemination of the good seed, if the gospel could be once established in Corinth.
THE LABOURS OF PAUL AT CORINTH
were at their commencement as full of difficulty and anxiety as they were afterwards full of encouragement. The effort in Athens has the appearance of being simply an effort by the way; but at Corinth Paul commences in a deliberate manner, which indicates his intention of making a prolonged and systematic effort. He first seeks a lodging and work, and he finds both with a Jew and his wife, Aquila and Priscilla, who had lately come from Italy. It is scarcely probable that Paul had even these two as his fellow-Christians; for if they had been, surely their common faith would have been mentioned as well as their common trade as a reason for Paul staying with them. It is not unlikely that Paul persuaded them that Jesus was the Christ while labouring with them during the week. However that may be, the close contact of Paul and this worthy paid led to one of those true friendships which are among the noblest fruits of the gospel. How deeply Aquila and his wife came to esteem Paul and his work may be seen in the words of Paul in the letter to the Romans. "Salute Prisca and Aquila my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life laid down their own necks; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles." While employed with them on week days, on the Sabbath Paul sought to persuade the Jews in the synagogue. Judging from analogy, we may be sure that opposition would at once begin to shape itself. Paul all alone might well be, as in his first letter to the Corinthians he say he was, with them "in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling."
But just then Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia. This would relieve Paul of his anxiety about the churches in Macedonia. He thereupon pressed the claims of Jesus with intense vigour, but, unhappily, with the usual result - the opposition of the Jews. Then he felt himself justified in turning to the Gentiles. Shaking his garments in solemn Jewish fashion, he left the synagogue, saying, "Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles."
Now a new phase of the work began. His efforts in the synagogue had not been altogether without fruit. Aquila and Priscilla, if they had not joined him before, we may suppose would do so now, and Titus Justus offered his house for the meetings of the disciples. As soon as this separation had taken place Paul began to reap a larger
INGATHERING FROM CORINTH.
"Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptised." "We derive some information from Paul's own writings concerning the character of these converts. Not many of the philosophers, - not many of the noble and powerful, but many of those who had been profligate and degraded were called" (1 Cor. i. 26; vi. 11). From Paul's language we infer that the Gentile converts were more numerous that the Jewish. But there was one signal victory of the gospel over Judaism in the conversion of Crispus, who with his whole family joined himself to the new community. Notice
THE HARMONY OF THESE CONVERSIONS
with those we have already studied. Although the writer of Acts does not in these later chapters go so fully into details about conversion, yet we have striking proofs that there was a uniform order observed. With that order the reader is now familiar, and upon it there is no need to linger. But it is interesting to note how clearly the brief statement, that "many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptised," coincides with what we have seen exemplified so often.
1. The Word of God was spoken.
2. The Corinthians heard.
3. They believed. Faith comes by hearing.
4. They were baptised.
It has sometimes been affirmed that the apostle in his allusion to these baptisms, contained in 1 Cor. i. 10-17, treats baptism as unimportant. On the contrary, an examination of the passage shows it to present baptism as so important that Paul forbore to baptise, lest the Corinthians should miss the signification of the ordinance. Just as the implied answer to the question, "Was Paul crucified for you?" is, No, Christ was; so the answer to the other question, "Were you baptised into the name of Paul?" is, No, but into the name of Christ. Baptism was a solemn initiation into a name. It was needful to fix the attention of the Corinthians on the right name - the name of Christ. Paul avoided all risk of an abuse of his name, not by slighting baptism, but by refraining from being the baptiser. Hands belonging to a less tempting party name could be usefully employed in baptising.
Paul's success was not unattended with difficulty. In the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, which was written from Corinth, as was also the First, the apostle asked them to pray that be might be delivered from
UNREASONABLE AND EVIL MEN.
We may be sure that such an event as the baptism of Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, and his family, would madden the Jews. It was probably the fears occasioned by extreme dangers which made it necessary for the Lord to encourage Paul in a vision, and assure him that no man should set on him to hurt him. This promise was abundantly fulfilled; for not only did Paul continue his teaching for eighteen months, but even when the Jews, under the proconsulate of Gallio, set on Paul, their attack, so far from hurting him or his work, led to their own disgrace, and probably gave an impetus to his work.
But though Paul was thus encouraged to stay there "yet many days, and though he does not appear to have been compelled to flee, as he was from so many places, yet the time came when considerations, of which we have only hints, led him to pay his
FOURTH VISIT TO JERUSALEM.
He was accompanied as far as Ephesus by his fast friends, Aquila and Priscilla, now his "fellow-labourers in Christ Jesus," as well as in test-making. Luke, after mentioning how the interest roused by Paul's visit to the synagogue at Ephesus led to his promising to come back, very rapidly narrates his saluting the church in Jerusalem, visiting Antioch, making a tour through the churches of Galatia and Phrygia, and so travelling through the upper country of Asia Minor fulfilled his promise by returning to Ephesus. But before we lose sight of Corinth we must take note of
THE HELP OF APOLLOS.
He was an Alexandrian Jew. He was eloquent, and mighty in the Scriptures; and he was as teachable as he was mighty, the latter being the natural result of the former. He was also fervent in spirit, diligent in teaching, and bold in speaking. His helpful work in Achaia is briefly described. "He helped them much who had believed through grace; for he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was Christ." Apollos used the Old Testament writings as we have seen that Peter, and Philip, and Paul did.
While Apollos was at Corinth Paul reached Ephesus on his return from Jerusalem.
"lay in a fertile alluvial plain south of the river Cayster, not far from the coast of the Icarian Sea, between Smyrna and Miletus. ... Under the Roman government Ephesus was a free city, with its own magistrates and other officers, and legal assemblies. Thus in Acts xix. 35, 38, we read of "the townclerk" and "deputies," that is, proconsuls. This city became the great emporium of trade for the Asiatic regions; and, consequently the inhabitants became luxurious and dissolute. Magic was studied and practised here. At the head of the harbour of Ephesus stood the magnificent temple of the goddess Diana. This was one of the seven wonders of the world. It was built by the most eminent architects, of the choicest marble, the cost being defrayed by all the Greek cities, aided by Croesus, king of Lydia. Many years were spent in its erection. It was burned by Herostratus in 355 B.C., on the same night that Alexander the Great was born. It was then rebuilt with still greater magnificence. Its length was 425 feet by 200 broad. The roof, which was of carved cedar, was supported by 127 Ionic columns of sixty feet high. The folding doors were of cypress, and the staircase, was formed of a single vine from the island of Cyprus. This wonderful temple was made the depository of the wealth of Western Asia." The sacred image of Diana, said to have fallen from heaven, though "freely idealised in many of the current representations, was in reality a hideous fetish, originally meant for a symbol of fertility and the productive power of nature." "The silver shrines, of which mention is made in Acts, were probably small models of this image and that part of the temple in which it stood. These shrines were eagerly purchased by visitors, who carried them home and set them up in their houses. There were games held in honour of Diana, and officers called Asiarchs superintended them. In our version these persons have the title of the chief of Asia." But see margin of the Revised Version. This city was, with the exception of Rome, the most important of the scenes of Paul's toils, and has been compared with some of them as follows: "It was more Hellenic than Antioch, more Oriental than Corinth, more populous than Athens, more wealthy and more refined than Thessalonica, more sceptical and more superstitious than Ancyra or Pessinus."
was the first event of this visit of Paul to Ephesus. There were about a dozen men who knew nothing of the distinction between the baptism taught by John, and that taught by Jesus. The fuller teaching of Jesus and His apostles, and the fuller blessing accruing, were unknown to them. They did not even know of the presence of the Holy Spirit as He had been manifested under Christianity. They had been baptised as John Taught. But when they were instructed by Paul respecting the name of Jesus, they were immersed into that sacred name.
Their second baptism differed in three ways from their first.
1. It was retrospective. It pointed back to the Messiah who had come, whereas the baptism of John looked forward to the expected Messiah.
2. It was into the name of the Lord Jesus. See Revised Version.
3. It was followed by the onlaying of an apostle's hands, which resulted in miracle power - speaking with tongues and prophesying.
IN THE SYNAGOGUE
was Paul's second sphere of activity in Ephesus. He went to the synagogue for three months. Luke has indicated
1. His work in the synagogue - he spoke.
2. His subject - the things concerning the kingdom of God. It was the same as Philip's in Samaria (Acts viii. 12).
3. His manner of speech.
(2.) Disputing - reasoning, arguing.
There was a threefold result.
2. Unbelief - disobedience in the Revised Version.
3. Antagonistic speaking.
When opposition thus developed, it was time for Paul, not only to leave the synagogue, but also to separate from such hopeless companions the disciples whom he had gained. Accordingly, we find him transferring his argumentations to
THE SCHOOL OF TYRANNUS.
Two years daily instruction was given here. This is the most lengthened and systematic effort that has come under our notice in accompanying these first missionaries of good news. Prior to visiting Corinth, Paul's stay at any one place seems to have been short. But even in Corinth we were not told of daily disputings, nor of the spreading of the word to the regions around. In all probability both things would, to some extent, take place in connection with Corinth; but in Ephesus they were so pronounced that the historian remarks thereon. Paul disputed "daily in the school of one Tyrannus. And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks." Ephesus was a centre of operation for the whole of Asia. Ephesus stands first of the seven churches of Asia addressed in Rev. ii-iii.
The published theme was "the word of the Lord Jesus," and reasoning was the method of teaching adopted by Paul.
The divine co-operation was very marked. "God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul; so that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them." The condition of Ephesus was so peculiar, the curious arts of the magicians were so prevalent, that it was needful that the proofs of Christianity be varied, plentiful, and beyond all reasonable doubt.
Success creates imitators. Such success as Paul's was specially tempting. Daring and unprincipled men ventured to set themselves up as
"Certain also of the strolling Jews, exorcists, took upon them to name over them who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth." Sceva, a Jew, had seven sons who thus presumed. They borrowed the name employed by Paul, but they possessed not the faith that made the name omnipotent. The consequence was an ignoble defeat. Even an evil spirit may sometimes render justice to dishonest tricksters. "The evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are yet? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded."
The encounter happened in a house, but the news of the defeat became wide-spread, and contributed to the triumph of Christianity. All in Ephesus heard, "and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified."
Nor was it fear without power, the name of victory with scant reality. Numerous trophies were gained in many becoming believers. And there were many voluntary confessions of the poor magic tricks by which the people had been duped. "The study of magic was prosecuted with such zeal at Ephesus, that the Ephesian letters, certain charms, or words used in incantation, became much celebrated." Books of the magicians were burned, valued at 50,000 pieces of silver, or £2000. The sacred name could not contain under its shadow these hollow pretences. The conflagration of the books was a sure sign of
THE GROWTH OF THE WORD.
"So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed." The declaration of the growth of the word gives a vivid picture. It is not the growth of revelation, in the sense of increased disclosure of the divine will. What is contemplated is the effect produced by God's word, the growth of it in the changed lives of numerous converts. The word was a living power, springing up in many lives, and triumphing over the gaudy, trifling customs heretofore prevalent.
A similar declaration is found in Acts xii. 24. "The word of God grew and multiplied." There, as here, it is the spread of the word, its acceptance by many, that is under consideration.
To the same effect is Acts vi. 7. "And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples; multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith."
The growth of the words was measured by its victory over evil.
During this triumph of the truth, and while Paul was contemplating revisiting Macedonia and Achaia, and an after journey to Jerusalem, there arose
A GREAT COMMOTION IN EPHESUS.
Demetrius was the leader of an antagonistic movement to Paul. His assault was on a two-fold ground.
1. A certain trade was endangered by Paul. In Ephesus there was carried on a lucrative trade in "shrines for Diana." The word translated shrines is the ordinary word for temple. As the number of Christians increased, and idolators decreased, there was less demand for these miniature temples of Diana. Paul was largely the cause of the reduction of sale. The tradesmen naturally joined Demetrius against Paul.
2. Diana might be despised. Paul's teaching was that the productions of men's hands were no gods at all. If Paul prevailed, Diana would be nowhere. Custom, association, popularity and superstition were operated upon; and these, combined with the decrease of trade, filled the people with wrath and the city with confusion.
The speech of Demetrius had the merit of presenting a clear issue, and it was finely effectual in enlisting the sympathies of those for whom it was spoken.
But there was more of kindred feeling than of either knowledge or sense; for "the more part knew not wherefore they were come together." The two Macedonians, Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's travelling companions, were in an awkward plight in the hands of the uproarious mob, and Alexander, a Jew, was howled down, the mob managing to agree in giving vent to their feelings by vociferating for two hours, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians."
Into the midst of this excited rabble, congregated in the theatre, Paul was wishful to enter; but the disciples prevented him, and some of the Asiarchs who were friendly to him specially requested him to refrain from the adventure.
It was left to the townclerk to quieten the populace. Judging from what has been preserved of his speech he accomplished his task with adroitness.
1. He assumed as indisputable that Ephesus was devoted to the worship of Diana.
2. His deduction therefrom was that they should be quiet; there was no occasion to become excited.
3. A mistake had been made in seizing some of the Christians. The apprehended men were neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers. While quieting the multitude the Ephesian townclerk was exonerating the Christians. He was striving to make peace all round.
4. If there was anything wrong, it should be rectified legally; the law courts could be employed, or a lawful assembly summoned.
5. The concourse and riot of that day were declared to be without reason.
The crowd was thus soothed and dismissed.
When the tumult had subsided, Paul left Ephesus. We cannot follow him in his subsequent journeys, as these do not shed any fresh light on the subject of these pages. Some years of his life intervene between our parting with him at Ephesus and our joining him in
"The renowned city of Rome stands on the river Tiber, about fifteen miles from its mouth, in the plain which is now called the Campagna. It was founded, according to tradition, in 753 B.C., by Romulus. .... By degrees the city was extended from the Palatine Hill, on which it was founded, so as to include within its limits six other hills. Rome was then called the City of the Seven Hills. .... The population has been computed to have been, in the time of Augustus, at least one million three hundred thousand; and in the reigns of Vespasian and Trajan, about two millions." At the dawn of Christianity Rome was at the zenith of its power.
PAUL IN ROME.
Paul had long purposed to see Rome (Acts xix. 21). It had been revealed to him that he was to go there (chap. xxiii. 11). Now, after more than two years imprisonment in Cesarea (chap. xxiv. 27), the last chapter of Acts tells of him arriving in Rome as a prisoner. Paul's wish was realised - he was in Rome, and his work there was to be productive of good (Phil. i. 12-14); but how complicated the net of events that had landed him there.
Bitter persecution and unreasonable imprisonment must have told on Paul's sensitive constitution. We need not therefore wonder that when the brethren of Rome came out of their city a few miles to meet him, he felt thankful and encouraged. "When the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum, and The Three Taverns; whom when Paul saw, he thanked God and took courage."
The events in Rome, as related in these last verses of Acts, may be summarised as follows:
1. Paul a privileged prisoner. While the other prisoners were delivered to the captain of the guard, "Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him." His innocence could scarcely be unknown, and he had acted a prominent part on the voyage in storm and shipwreck. His known innocence and general behaviour may account for the manner in which he was treated.
2. An invitation to the Jews. Paul lost no time; "after three days he called the chief of the Jews together."
3. Paul's address to the Jews. Addressing them as brethren, he briefly explained why he was there as a prisoner. He had nothing against his nation or their customs, and he had no wish to accuse them of anything before the Emperor. The Roman authorities had adjudged him innocent and would have liberated him; but the Jews had so opposed that he had been compelled to appeal to Caesar. After all, it was a Jewish hope that animated him, and had brought him into trouble. About that hope, therefore, he wished to speak to them.
The address is a marvel of considerateness for the Jews. The rancorous ill-will which had been persistently displayed toward Paul is passed over without a word of complaint, and everything which he says is calculated to win the attention of his countrymen in Rome. And, so far, he succeeds, as is seen in
4. The reply of the Jews. No accusation against Paul had come to their ears; and they were wishful to hear what he had to say about the sect of the Nazarenes, although they knew it to be everywhere spoken against.
5. Another meeting was accordingly arranged. "And when they had appointed a day, there came many to him into his lodging."
6. Paul's exposition. "He expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening." The theme is twofold, as at Ephesus - the kingdom of God and Jesus. So it is described as having been in Samaria. Indeed, so it seems to have been everywhere. God had constituted Jesus King in the new administration. On this exhilarating theme Paul expatiated the whole day - "from morning till evening."
7. Disagreement among the Jews. Some believed, some believed not.
8. Paul's warning to them. Isaiah had accurately described them. God-sent teachers might come to them, sounding plain teaching in their ears, and laying clear proofs before their eyes; but understanding and perception would not follow, for their hearts were not in sympathy with spiritual things, and their ears were not attuned to heavenly sounds, and they deliberately closed their eyes, being afraid lest anything should turn them from their previous course of life. Paul's last word to them was that God's salvation would be accepted by the Gentiles. The Jews departed, but they were not at rest; they "had great reasoning among themselves."
9. Paul two years in his own hired house. Was he still a prisoner, though in his own house, and not in the common prison? Within the compass of two verses is compressed a report of the uninterrupted, free teaching of all comers for two whole years. The unrecorded results are beyond all human calculation.
And during these years were penned the Epistles of the first imprisonment. They are: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.
The reader should observe the progress in lengthened and systematic teaching. Not only were there years spent in Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome, instead of months or perhaps weeks, in some of the places visited earlier, but also the work undertaken was conducted in a more definitely arranged method. In Corinth the synagogue was left, and regular assemblies were held in a house; in Ephesus every day for two years a school was employed; and in Rome Paul made his own house the seat of instruction.
WHY SO FEW TURN TO THE LORD.
Many converts at first - Few now - What may reasonably be expected - Whose is the work of conversion? - The limits of hindrances to conversion - God supremely in earnest about the conversion of all - Christians hindering conversion - Inadequate teaching - Supreme authority of God's Word - Summary for inquirers.
AFTER His ascension the first proclamation of Christ secured 3000 converts. It was not long until the number of men reached 5000. "A multitude," "many," "a great company," and "multiplied greatly," are the words descriptive of the additions subsequently made in different places.
It cannot be asserted that there is any such progress now. But if not, why not?
It may be utopian to expect all hearers to become converts. Even under inspired teaching it rarely was so, if ever. Despite the forcible and manifold evidence adduced by the apostles of Christ, opposition and persecution were as frequent as acceptance and friendliness. If men like Paul, with self-sacrifice and skill far beyond ordinary mortals, combined with the providential and supernatural care and co-operation of God, not only often failed to convert their hearers, but in most cases made enemies as numerous as friends, and persecutors as zealous as converts, there is not much ground for hope that uninspired and ordinary men will secure the conversion of all who hear them. We need not marvel if with less zeal, less skill, and less startling evidence, we accomplish considerably less than the first Christians.
But the Word of God endureth for ever. That Word is living and potent. While the generations have been dying, it has retained its vitality. The gospel is unchanged. It is the power of God to salvation today as much as it was 1800 years ago. The remedy never fails. Why then do so few employ it? Even if the ordinary spiritual doctors and nurses are bungling, ought we not to expect more general acceptance of the Great Physician's prescription? What prevents the universal application of Heaven's panacea?
Various causes are in operation making men unwilling to change. But so long as there are honest men, we may expect God's truth to prevail. It is reasonable to expect that every one who believes in God, and earnestly desires to be accepted by Him, will turn as the truth directs, whenever the truth is presented to him. All who hear are not honest. All who hear are not willing to change even to meet the demands of truth. But a large number may surely be reckoned on as desirous to be loyal to the truth. We should presume on the existence of such honest seekers after truth, and we should earnestly labour to discover them, in the sure and certain hope of their acceptance of it and submission to it. But if it is reasonable to think that there are many thus honestly desirous to know the truth, why do Christians find so few who are willing to turn to the Lord?
It will naturally moderate our expectations to remember that Christianity has already enlisted on its side many of these earnest seekers after truth. The greater the number already Christians, the fewer are left with the needful honesty and anxiety. But doubtless there are still many who, if the way was clearly before them, would become the Lord's saved ones. What is now preventing them?
In this inquiry it is needful to take into account how conversion is produced - what forces are in operation, what agents are at work.
WHOSE WORK IS CONVERSION?
1. Conversion is the work of God. All the means which lead on to conversion originate in Him.
The Father, in the depth of His great love, devised the reclamation of man, and freely gave His Son to achieve that great purpose.
The Son, moved also by intense love, left the glory which he had with the Father, assumed our nature, lived in poverty and toil, taught and exemplified the divine will, went about doing good, and died in order that a way of safety might be opened for man.
The Holy Spirit carried on the work after Jesus had ascended to heaven. The Spirit, dwelling in believers, helped them in their infirmities, comforted them, and provided them with manifold evidence of the divine origin of their religion. He brought former lessons of their Lord to the remembrance of the disciples, and He took of the things of Christ and showed to them. Towards the world His work was more of convincing. "When He is come, he will convict the world in respect of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment."
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit co-operated in turning men into the path of safety.
2. Scripture phraseology describes man as an agent in bringing about conversion. The mission of Saul was to turn men. James pronounces a special reward on him who converts a sinner.
As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit co-operate, so is man honoured to co-operate with God as His agent to produce conversion. God accomplishes His work through human agents. His children are His missionaries for the evangelising of the world.
3. The convert is voluntary is turning to the living God. That it is his own act and deed is implied both in the command to turn and in the active part taken by those who become converts. Apart from his own active consent, divine power does not convert man, and his neighbour cannot. Conversion is a voluntary turning of the individual from whatever has been engaged in that is contrary to the will of God, and it is an engaging in whatever is revealed as His will. It is an undertaking to carry out whatever Christ or the apostles of Christ enjoined. It is a co-operation of the individual with God, the basis of the co-operation being the Word of God.
Conversion may therefore be described as the work of three parties - God, a Christian worker, and the person who turns. When the three co-operate, conversion is inevitable.
It may be assumed as indisputable that there is no power in the universe able to prevent the conversion of a man who has God co-operating with him. There may be difficulties many and great to surmount, and there may be opponents in varied forms; but they will not retard the conversion of him who has God working with him. Granted the co-operation of God and man, and the conversion of the co-operating man is assured.
If no power can prevent the conversion of the one who co-operates with God; or, more exactly, if the one co-operating with God is already a convert, actual preventions of conversion can only be caused by one of the three parties concerned in conversion - God, Christians, or the person requiring conversion. Let us then carefully trace these hindrances to their source or sources.
DOES GOD RETARD CONVERSION?
Is there a semblance of ground for imagining that God has ever prevented a conversion? He wishes "all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. ii. 4). New Testament history confirms what was declared by God upon oath in the Old Testament, that He has no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but in his turning and living (Ezek. xxxiii. 11). The progressive revelation which God has given, and the whole mission of His Son, so unmistakably full of love, speak forcibly of His anxiety that all men turn to Him. Any hindering of conversion, by actual interference, or by the mere withholding of some necessary power, would be woefully inconsistent with all that is revealed of His love and character. Why should He swear that it would be a joy to Him if all turned, and yet keep back something needful? And why should the Son have tasted death for every man, if yet the divine arrangements precluded some from salvation? It ought to be understood, wherever the Bible is read, that God desires the salvation of all, and that he has done everything needful to secure it.
I have heard a religious teacher of wide renown, who is said to have done extraordinary things by faith, tell his audience that if the Saviour had wished it, He could have converted all the inhabitants of Palestine at the beginning of His ministry. That kind of talk is probably designed to magnify the power of God; but in reality it only bewilders. If it magnifies almightiness, it overlooks revelation and common sense. Common people cannot understand why God, if he has such power, and is so anxious for the conversion of all, does not convert them. Those at least who take upon them to speak on behalf of God, ought to know that there are some things that even almighty power cannot do. God cannot repent for man; He cannot believe for him; He cannot be baptised for him; He cannot turn for him. And it is impossible for man to remain a free, responsible being, and yet be forced to repentance, conversion, or any other religious act. Even God cannot govern man as a moral being by the laws that control inert matter. The two things are contradictories. Freedom and coercion are mutually exclusive. God has chosen to treat man as a free, responsible, moral being. That therefore precludes him being driven as a machine or moulded as a piece of clay. So long as God deals with man as a responsible and moral being he cannot coerce him to become a convert. If therefore conversions do not take place in abundance, we must not so talk as to imply that He who is supremely in earnest to secure conversion is keeping back something needful. God is true, whoever else is false; He is consistent, though many, blindly advocating His cause, are bristling with hoary inconsistencies.
If conversion is an accomplished fact in the experience of every one who co-operates with God, and if there is no possible blame attaching to God where conversion does not take place, the blame and the hindrances must all be traceable to man. Their source must be either in the Christian acting as agent for God to produce conversion, or in the persons in need of conversion, or in both. Let us first take into account
THE FAILURES OF CHRISTIANS.
They may be blamable in two ways - in teaching and in conduct.
1. God may be improperly represented in teaching.
His character is often exhibited in a distorted manner. He is spoken of as if he demanded impossibilities, and then punished with irrevocable severity those who failed.
His revelation is handled by its defenders as is no other book in the world. A verse, a line, or a word, is taken as a text, and, cut off from its connection, it is used to support the most fanciful and irreconcilable vagaries. Under that treatment, a book can be made to mean anything; there may be read into it whatever the speaker pleases.
Christian teachers generally betray such incompetency, and do their work in such an ineffective manner, that their dismissal would immediately ensue, were they teaching science, or any branch of secular education, under an efficient supervision.
The failure of professed teachers of Christianity to present God and the way of conversion in an intelligible light, goes a long way to explain why so few turn to the Lord. Thousands are in constant religious bewilderment, because of the incomprehensible and unbelievable character erroneously ascribed to God, and because of the unscientific, incoherent, and baseless talking upon the Word of God.
All Christians should aim at being so well acquainted with the Bible as to be able to converse freely upon its meaning. Whether in our sphere we be restricted chiefly to conversation, or we have the more responsible place of public teachers, there should be such a viewing of the connection of any passage remarked upon as to insure at once a correct and comprehensive view. Let the Bible be its own expositor. Gather the meaning of every words from its context and its general Scripture usage. Interpret every verse in full view of its context. And constantly bring the light of other Scriptures to bear on the one specially under consideration. By these means an earnest student, though illiterate, may put to shame a "Rev." who adheres to his fragmentary texts and tacked-on sermons.
2. Inconsistencies of Christians. The followers of Christ are the light of the world; but the light is often as darkness. They are an epistle of Christ, to be known and read by all; but the meaning is often sadly obscured, if the handwriting is not entirely illegible. For Christians not only at times follow Christ at a distance, but also sometimes turn aside; and their sins, not unfrequently, are causes of stumbling to those who study Christianity in Christians rather than in the Scriptures. The conduct of Christians should be a reflection of the character of their Master. If they fail to give a true portrait, onlookers are misled. All Christians have a responsibility so to live that they will recommend Christ and Christianity. Christian reader, are you doing your duty? Are you living Christ?
Earnestness in Christians would often secure the conversion of others; whereas the lack of it is a sad inconsistency. Inquirers cannot be convinced that Christians really believe that divine things are of primary importance while they continue to give paramount attention to earthly things.
If Christians would teach plainly, and live consistently, conversions would undoubtedly be much more numerous. But inquirers should search the Scriptures for themselves, and not be debarred form the enjoyment of salvation by the failures of others. For -
THE FINAL DECISION RESTS WITH THE SINNER.
God has supplied all the necessary means, and the Scriptures make know how man should act. Whether therefore Christians do their duty or not - despite, indeed, all the follies, inconsistencies, and sins of saints - inquirers may learn how to act, and decide to act as the Scriptures direct. But here again there are difficulties to surmount which demand deliberation and resolution.
1. Early religious training is often a hindrance. Impressions made upon us in early life, and by those whom we most esteem and love, cannot be thrown off as an old garment. Accurate impressions thus early acquired are invaluable. But if the impressions that have been learned are in any way aside from the truth, the mischief is incalculable, and the difficulty to become free is great. Both the mischief and the difficulty are greatly enhanced when one erroneously imagines himself to be in possession of the truth. The resultant lesson is that we should always be open to search, examine, compare and if need be, change.
2. Failing to recognise the supreme authority of Scripture deters many. In these days of civil, political, and religious freedom, there is a temptation to carry freedom beyond legitimate bounds. We are happily free, not only in having a say in the making of the laws of our country, but also in adopting any form of religion we please. We can expound the Scriptures, and, so far as the laws of the land are concerned, build any phase of religion thereon without restraint. But where God speaks we should listen, learn, and obey. We are going beyond our province, and are trenching on the prerogative of God, whenever we set aside, or in any way modify, the edicts of Scripture. The Word of God is of supreme authority. What it says should be an end of all dispute. Many fail to turn wholly to the Lord's way, simply because they presume to take the same liberty with God's Word that they would take in the affairs of our realm. Nay, they go farther; they set aside the laws of the heavenly kingdom without the sanction of the King. They would not dare to do so with the laws of the country. In this matter the teachable, obedient spirit of Cornelius requires fostering; i.e., we should pledge ourselves to all things commanded by God.
3. Restraint is irksome. Many practically say, even of the best of kings, "we will not have this man to reign over us." They are not prepared to render unreserved submission, and to give unqualified obedience. All such require to learn that they cannot be both servant and king. Christ is King; we should be servants, and do as we are told.
Honest searching of the Word of God, combined with such a recognition of its authority as leads to willing obedience, must invariably result in conversion. These simple means to secure such a happy result are cordially commended to the reader.
SUMMARY FOR INQUIRERS.
All that leads to conversion and constitutes it may be placed in a two-fold view.
1. What is revealed about Christ. His character, life, and work constitute the basis of conversion and the motive power to produce it. His character brings into view the character of the Father, and His work includes the sending of the Holy Spirit.
2. What is man's part in conversion.
(1.) He should hear. Hearing is implied in every conversion recorded. God speaks; man is called upon to listen. God has given a revelation, and man's business is to study it carefully.
(2.) Knowledge results from attentive hearing. It is needful to know what the Scriptures teach before we can act on them. The character of God, and his attitude toward man, are learned from revelation. So also is man's duty.
(3.) Faith also springs from a careful study of the Scriptures. The more we learn of God, especially as revealed in Christ, the more is the divine One seen to be altogether lovely. We trust Him, and love Him, because we discover Him to be trustworthy and lovable.
(4.) Repentance grows out of faith in Christ. Repentance is not often named in the accounts of conversion which we have been studying, but it is implied in every one. Man resolves to act as the Lord desires, being assured that it is the wisest and safest thing to do.
(5.) Confession also flows from faith. Nor is there only confession of sin, but rather confession of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is not formally named in the conversions of Acts, but is distinctly announced in Rom. x. 9-10. A new relationship is being entered upon, and an avowal of the saviour King is made.
(6.) Calling upon the saving name also ensues. Faith in the Lord Jesus naturally leads to an invoking of His name.
(7.) Immersion likewise accompanies faith. The baptism of believers is more frequently mentioned than any other condition of salvation. The reader should look back over the conversions that have been examined and note the prominence given to this divine ordinance. Under apostolic teaching all believers were immersed.
All immersed believers are converts.
Reader, have you turned to the Lord as the Word of God directs? The Lord's Word leads to the Lord. Deviation therefrom can never be well-pleasing to Him. Increasingly search that Word. Trustfully and lovingly practise it.
Absence of Preaching
Accommodation to Hearers
Actors in Philippi
Acts of Apostles
Addresses by Paul
Addresses by Peter
Antioch in Pisidia
Antioch in Syria
Assault versus Argument
Baptism into a name
Baptism of Women
Calling on the name of the Lord
Catechism for Infant Sprinklers
Cause of Inquiry
Cause of Joy
Causes of the Jailor's Conversion
Christ's earthly Ministry
Conditions of Salvation
Continuance of Miracles
Conversion of all desired by God
Conversion of the whole man
Conversion, Whose work is it?
Conversions from all Classes
Conversions in Acts
Conversions in different Circumstances
Conversions in different Places
Conversions under different Preachers
Convert and Equivalents
Derision of the Athenians
Early Religious Training
Farewell to Peter
Few Conversions now
God, An unknown
Hand of the Lord
Hindrances to Conversion by Christians
Hindrances, Limits to
Hospitality of Lydia
Jailor, The Philippian
Joy in a Prison
Magic on the Wane
Magistrates of Philippi
Manner of Paul
Meaning of Conversion
Means Employed by God
Method of Procedure
Much in Little
Name of Jesus Christ
Name, Triumph of a
Nature of Conversion
Ordained to Eternal Life
Paul and Silas
Paul a Prisoner
Paul at Home
Paul's different Methods
Paul's Fourth Visit to Jerusalem
Paul's spirit stirred
Paul with the Jews in Rome
Persecution by Saul
Primitive and Modern Preaching
Prophet like Moses
Queries and Replies
School of Tyrannus
Similarity in Jerusalem and Samaria
Similarity in Lydda, Joppa, and Paphos
Similarity of Conversion
Simon the Sorcerer
Slave-masters in Philippi
Spirit of Python
Spirit, The Holy
Subjects of Preaching
Summary for Inquirers
Text-Books for Christians
Town-clerk of Ephesus
Waiting for Power
Waiting three Days
What Conversion is
Why Paul baptised Few
Word of God
Word of God of Supreme Authority
Word, Growth of the
Word of the Lord
Words descriptive of Preaching
Words for Miracles
Words translated Preach
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