Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE PRIVILEGE OF PREACHING. The apostles at Iconium "so spake" (ver. 1), i.e. wit such force, persuasiveness, fidelity, that "a great multitude believed" (ver. 1); "they abode speaking boldly in the Lord" (ver. 3), i.e. they urged the truth with fearless vigor, their confidence being grounded on God's presence and support; "there they preached the gospel" (ver. 7). There is no vocation which any man can engage in which gives such scope for the exercise of his highest powers as that of the Christian minister or missionary. To preach the gospel of the grace of God as it should and may be proclaimed, is to do that in which the fullest intellectual energy, the utmost spirituality, the largest beneficence, the greatest strength of will, all the supreme faculties of redeemed and elevated manhood, should be lavishly poured forth.
II. THE DISCHARGE OF SUBSIDIARY DUTIES. It was an apostolic function to work miraculous cures: "signs and wonders were done by their hands" (ver. 3). This does not fall to our share, but it is always the missionary's and frequently the minister's office - as an auxiliary to his more spiritual work - to try to heal bodily complaints; and always is it his concern to devise and encourage those institutions and habits which tend to health, harmony, comfort, domestic peace.
III. THE JOY OF REAPING SPIRITUAL RESULTS. How deeply gratified must have been the hearts of the apostles as they saw that "multitude" of Jews and Greeks "acknowledging the truth and power of the gospel which they were preaching (ver. 1)! All the harvest is not to be reaped here; much of it "after many days;" much of it by other hands (John 4:38). But God does give increase for our own eyes to see and our own hands to reap. And of all the joys with which he fills our human hearts there are few, if any, comparable to that of seeing the pleasure of the Lord prosper in our hand (Isaiah 53:10).
IV. THE PAIN OF WITNESSING OPPOSITION. It must have been with a keen pang that Paul and Barnabas witnessed the evil machinations of those "unbelieving Jews" (ver. 2), hindering, as they must have done, the good work which was proceeding. Too often the Christian teacher has to look on at such scenes and grieve at the sad mischief which is being wrought. At such times he can only cast himself on God, fleeing to the Rock of his refuge, remembering that it is the work of the Infinite and Almighty One in which he is engaged.
V. THE DUTY OF PERSISTENCY. It is not by a slight obstacle that the Christian workman is to be daunted. He is to act like Nehemiah, whom neither the menaces nor the stratagems of his enemies could move. He is to act as Paul and Barnabas did, who "long time abode, speaking boldly in the Lord" (ver. 3). He is to show himself a faithful servant of his fearless Master, ready to encounter the contempt, or the ridicule, or the slander, or the turbulence of the evil-minded, so long as there is any good to be accomplished by his steadfastness. But it is not to be forgotten that there is -
VI. THE POSSIBLE NECESSITY FOR RETIREMENT. (Vers. 5, 6.) When the time comes that it is quite clear that persistency would only involve the one side in the guilt of murder and the other in the complete arrest of usefulness, then must the Lord's counsel be taken (Matthew 10:23). The hour comes when continuance in peril is not faithfulness, but foolhardiness; not commendable martyr-zeal, but censurable indiscretion. We must use our intelligence to discriminate between the two; but for retirement when persistency is useless and even mischievous, we have the example of our Lord himself (Matthew 12:15), and of his apostles here. - C.
I. FAITHFUL AND SUCCESSFUL PREACHING OF THE WORD. Many, Jews and Greeks, believed. This is the one test of true preaching. Is the truth "commended to the conscience"? Are great moral laws brought out distinctly, so that the heart of the people leaps up, in truth set free? He who preaches out of his heart alone reaches to the heart. The arguments that have convinced ourselves are the arguments that can alone be expected to convince others.
II. OPPOSITION AROUSED. Jewish prejudice still stands in the path of the gospel. But the gospel acquires force as it goes, and actually roots itself the more firmly in men's minds from the very fact that it is able to surmount opposition.
III. CONCURRENT DIVINE TESTIMONY. God gives his servants power to work and to effect good. Deeds of good done to the suffering body or mind are silent words; just as true words are spiritual deeds. We do not look for miracles, but we ought to look for "signs" that God is with us in the word we speak and the work we do for others.
IV. DIVIDED RESULTS. A split fakes place in the multitude: some siding with the Jews, some with the apostles. It is by opposition of opinions and feelings that the world is carried on. It does not follow, because division takes place, on the entrance of a new light, that it will be permanent. God's method seems to be to lead men through divisions to deeper unity; by experience of the futility of partial opinions to the deeper insight which reconciles and satisfies. These divisions were prophetic of what has ever to be in the history of the Church. Ever has there been division marked at every era of new light and progress. He is in the right who follows the light within; all who seek to follow the living Savior, and such alone, enjoy under every name that is supposed to divide, "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." - J.
I. The MAGNANIMITY of the preachers; though badly used by the Jews of Antioch, they still return good for evil.
II. THE FIRST SUCCESS OF THE WORD, when there was no decided attempt to thwart it, a powerful testimony to its adaptation both to Jews and Gentiles.
III. THE TENACITY AND ENDURANCE of the representatives of truth must be set over against the fickleness of their hearers and the obstinacy and envy of evil-minded men. The Lord bears witness to us when we speak boldly in his Name.
IV. There is A LIMIT TO ZEAL. It must not unnecessarily sacrifice life. Fly to other places when the testimony is persistently rejected. "Cast not pearls before swine." The true wisdom is seen exemplified in this instance. The preachers remained at their post until their lives were actually in danger, and God said clearly, "Go. - R.
apostles (ver. 4). It is noticeable also as substituting the expression, "preaching the gospel," for speaking "the Word of God" (ver. 7). But it is remarkable much more as giving us such a distinct impression of the way in which the new truth, "the gospel," bore itself amid many a variety of opposition and unexpected combinations of toes. Let us notice some of the groupings amid which the gospel made its way, either with their help or against their hindrance.
I. A LARGE NUMBER OF JEWS AND GREEKS BELIEVING FORM THE FIRST GROUP. As the gospel is still persistently first preached to the Jew and from the pulpit that the synagogue constituted, so it seems that generally some of the Jews (and of course not infrequently Greeks with them) believed. Not however, it is a great multitude of these. Probably the early and trenchant conquests of the gospel again availed to waken all the bitterest and more active hostility in the new scene, whatever it might be, of labor. The first group shows Jew against Jew therefore.
II. THE JEWS WHO DID NOT BELIEVE CONDESCEND TO ALLY TO THEMSELVES THE GENTILES, AND THIS IS THE SECOND GROUP. Jew and Gentile seldom worked together for good - at least not in any way directly or indirectly connected with religious matters. But now not only do they combine forces for evil, but it is at the instance of the Jew. "The same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together" (Luke 23:12). Very true it is any way that enmity against Christ and the gospel of his truth and love will need all the combined force possible, and will need to try every possible variety of combination, not then to succeed, but to prove to itself how vain its opposition and anger are.
III. THE WHOLE CITY ITSELF CONSTITUTES THE MATERIAL OF THE NEXT GROUPING. And this grouping is one that shows a whole city:
1. Not divided into its ordinary numerous civil, political, or ecclesiastical divisions. It owns to a very simple classification indeed. It is rent in just twain.
2. And the separating line, traversing all other considerations, is determined simply by men's attitude with regard to these two men, lately arrived at Iconium after expulsion from Antioch. The question has come to be - Who "hold" with these two men, or who do not hold with them? - for "holding with the Jews" is merely the converse of this. Whatever may be true of these two men and of their word, evident, it was in those days and in that city that they were forces that had to be reckoned with. And go where the gospel will, this at least has always been found.
IV. THE NEXT GROUP EXHIBITS A MULTITUDE OF GENTILES, JEWS, AND THEIR RULERS. They are not, indeed, openly and compactly and homogeneously massed together, but they are ready to sink all differences for twenty-four hours, and are preparing to do so, that in untrained multitude they may try the effect of brute force. These were meditating an assault upon the two unarmed defenseless preachers. They were organizing themselves, truly after very rough sort, for this purpose. And if the purpose be ever done, when it is done there will soon be an end of their harmony.
V. THE LAST GROUP CONSISTS OF THE TWO APOSTLES AND A THIRD WITH THEM, THOUGH INVISIBLE. These, passing from the midst of an angry people, went their way to preach the same gospel, serve the same Master, trust the same Savior, but to do these things elsewhere. They "flee," not for fear, not from cowardice, not from love of their own life, but from love of the life of their gospel and their mission, and in obedience to the plain command of the great Captain (Luke 10:23). How strong that gospel was! How strong their heart was! And these gave strength both to limb to go elsewhere and to voice to speak and preach elsewhere. Often must those apostles and their converts too of the Jews have thought of the old words of impassioned prophetic expostulation: "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed. 'For they are "broken as with a rod of iron;" they are dashed "in pieces like a potter's vessel." But Jesus and his gospel survive, and reign with a reign further and wider; they strew blessings their whole way along, and wake ten thousand voices of praise. - B.
1 Corinthians 16:9), "A great door and effectual is opened unto me, and. there are many adversaries." And we must still accept the fact that, if we will do any special work, or manifest in work any energy or individuality, we shall soon have persons opposing, misrepresenting, and hindering us. Here, in the very outset of St. Paul's missionary career, the influence of the "unbelieving Jews" is indicated, and this fanatical Jewish party persistently followed up the apostle wherever he went, trying to destroy his work and create prejudice against him. It may be said - What great things St. Paul would have accomplished if he had not been checked by these hinderers! But a deeper view of the influence permanently exerted on the Church by St. Paul's life and writings would rather lead us to say - What sublime things St. Paul did accomplish in spite of the hinderers, and even out of the very impulse excited by their opposition; for in this, too, God made "the wrath of man to praise him"! More and more clearly is it now seen that a man's moral nobility is gained, not by silent, unresisted growths, but by the steady, persistent, often imperiling, conflict with adverse influences and open foes. And that which is true in the individual life is true of the composite Church life. We may thank God that he has overruled, for the Church's permanent good, the hinderers, the opposers, the persecutors. We may consider
(1) the sources whence hindrances come, getting illustrations from the older times, and making applications to our own;
(2) the influences which hindrances may have upon the mind and feeling of the workers; and
(3) the influences which they have upon the growth and progress of Christ's Church.
I. THE SOURCES WHENCE COME THE HINDRANCES TO CHRISTIAN WORK, They have always come both from without and from within the Church; but our thought is new chiefly confined to hindrances coming from without. Hinderers are generally:
1. Persons of antagonistic disposition, who always take "the other side," are quick to imagine some evil in everything attempted, see no good in anything with which they are unassociated, and have a sort of natural horror of things that are new.
2. Or persons who have strong religious prejudices, which they feel the fresh thing tends to undermine, and for which they consequently fight as if they were the truth of God.
3. Or persons who cling to doctrinal forms or to ceremonial rites, and fail to see that God may send forth floods of new life, too mighty to be kept within their prescribed riverbanks, and so they vainly try to hold back God's floods.
4. Or persons who have no faith in the future, and cannot trust God to oversee and overrule the future, even as he does the present and has done the past.
5. Or persons whose temporal condition may be injuriously affected by the new enterprise; as illustrated by the shrine-makers of Ephesus. The phases which these hindrances take in modern life need to he carefully observed and thought out.
II. THE INFLUENCES WHICH HINDRANCES MAY HAVE UPON THE MIND AND FEELING OF THE WORKERS. Those influences, of course, differ according to the disposition of the workers. We may divide them into these classes.
1. Hindrances will dishearten and depress some. It is characteristic of some that they are sunshine workers, and give up easily when the least cloud-shadow passes across. These are usually weakly in body and nervously sensitive, and they need encouraging and the frequent kindly word.
2. Hindrances wilt keep up in some a "dogged persistency." This expression is not the most graceful one, but no other so well expresses their condition of feeling. Like Nehemiah, they simply keep on, let other men talk, send messages, or do what they will; and if they say anything to the hinderers, it is only this, "We are doing a great work, therefore we cannot come down."
3. And hindrances arouse some to new and nobler activity. The spirit of the soldier is in them, and the very presence of a foe, and the very difficulties of an enterprise, touch and awaken the noblest within them. Direct application to present-day Church-workers should be made, and the duty of resisting the undue influence of hinderers pressed home.
III. THE INFLUENCES EXERTED BY HINDRANCES ON THE GROWTH AND PROGRESS OF CHRIST'S CHURCH. Apply to:
1. Internal growth in spirituality, in development of doctrine, in practical application of principle to details of life.
2. External progress. Hinderers give publicity to the Christian Church, calling the attention of many who would otherwise not hear of it. Hinderers waken the natural sympathy of men for a resisted and persecuted thing.
3. Hinderers increase the evangelizing and aggressive fervor of the Church, and so, by means of the hinderers, Christ's kingdom steadily advances. Illustrate by the persecutions of the early Church, the history of English Protestantism, and the tale of Christian life in Madagascar. The Church may have "many adversaries," but she learns how to make their very enmity her inspiration. - R.T.
I. THE INSUFFICIENT.
1. The hand of God in nature does not suffice. "The living God which made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein," has "not left himself without witness" anywhere; everywhere he has "done good, and sent rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness" (vers. 15-17), pouring out, with the lavish hand of Divine beneficence, beauty and plenty, love and joy, peaceful memories and inspiring hopes, on to the path and into the heart of man. But what nations of the earth has this great gift of his hand saved from the most shameful and pernicious idolatry? How many thousands of hearts are there today that are not drawn by this to filial gratitude and holy service?
2. The miraculous does not avail (vers. 8-13, 18). The healing of the man who had been lame from his birth, so far from producing a favorable effect and leading to a general acceptance of the Divine message, led to an outburst of idolatrous zeal. The people immediately deified the human agents and set about to worship them. If we turn back to the pages in which the miraculous appears - to the times of Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha; or if we consider the treatment of our Divine Master himself, whose beneficent power reached so many human homes; or if we go on to the gifts (miraculous) enjoyed by the Corinthian Church, if indeed they can be truly said to have enjoyed them; - whithersoever we look, we see that the effect of the visibly supernatural was far less potent for good than we, in its absence, should have imagined it would be. Those who wait for the marked and unmistakable interposition of God before they take the one right step into the kingdom of Christ, before they "lay hold on eternal life," are most seriously imperiling their own souls (see Luke 16:31).
3. The exhibition of holy zeal is not sufficient (vers. 14-17). Though Paul and Barnabas energetically disclaimed any title to be treated as gods, and resolutely refused the proffered honors, and though they were laboring without remuneration, and giving every possible proof of their disinterested love, yet they did not succeed in winning the strong esteem of the Lycaonians; these men proved fickle and faithless. Very soon indeed the hands that were diligently employed in paying sacrifice to the apostles were busy in hurling stones at them. Enthusiasm and even holiest heroism will not of itself prevail against the prejudice and passion of unrighteousness.
II. THE EFFICACIOUS. We know that there were disciples gained at Lystra, for they stood round and sheltered Paul when he was murderously assailed (ver. 20). We also know that these disciples were gained by the preaching of the gospel (ver. 7). We are not told here, but we are abundantly assured elsewhere, that the preaching of the truth was made effectual by the agency of the Holy Spirit of God. So that we may say that
(1) Divine truth was the weapon,
(2) the Holy Ghost the agent,
(3) human faith (see ver. 9, illustration) the condition, of the successful work of the apostles at Lystra, as these will be of all efficacious ministry everywhere now. - C.
I. THE SUFFERER AND HIS FAITH.
1. His complaint was congenital, and, according to ordinary ways of thinking, incurable. This brings all the more his faith into relief. It is the very power and property of faith to conquer what seems to reason unconquerable. It is impossible to show that any diseases are in themselves incurable; they may baffle human skill, but not the healing energy of God.
2. "Faith comes by hearing, and bearing by the Word of God." The sufferer seizes on the truth that God is a Savior, and that in him is to he found full, present, immediate salvation from passing ills. Faith realizes the unseen as if it were the seen.
3. Faith recognized by the minister of God. Paul sees that the lame man has faith to be healed. There is sympathy between souls in God. The minister of God's mercy, of Christ's saving energy, is directed to his object, and the object is directed to him. If God has entrusted us with a good to dispense, it will not be long before we find the soul who needs it. So Paul bids the sufferer arise; the word of authority is echoed by the consciousness of new power in the sufferer's breast: he rises, he walks, he bounds with joy. It is a representation of what ever will take place and does take place when true words are spoken to the souls of men. Oh, let us believe in the energies of the soul, by which we may lay hold on Divine power in our own weakness, both that we may receive good and impart it to others!
II. THE EFFECT ON THE MULTITUDE.
1. They thought that they were receiving a visit from the gods. The air of the ancient world was full of such stories. Doubtless the story of Zeus visiting Philemon and Baucis was well known to them. These so-called "myths contain a deep meaning; they are prophecies of the human heart, of that intercourse between God and man which the gospel declares to be the fact of facts in religion.
2. They were mistaken in the mode of the truth. Paul was not Zeus, nor was Barnabas Hermes. But they were not mistaken as to the substance of the truth. They were mistaken in offering worship to men like themselves, but not mistaken in the heart-instinct by which they recognized behind the healing power put forth the energy of God. The understanding may be in error when the heart speaks true. When this is the case, instruction, missionary effort, has always hopeful ground to work upon. The error and unbelief of the heart alone is invincible and fatal.
III. THE CONDUCT OF THE APOSTLES.
1. Their horror and indignation. They rend their garments, and rush into the crowd with exclamations of astonishment and anger. We must be capable of a holy anger if we are capable of a holy love. Worship belongs to the Divine alone. What would the apostles say now to the worship of their bones or other relics, real or pretended?
2. Their clear protest. "We too are men of like passions." Suffering, sorrowing humanity is no object of such honors. To accept them is to dishonor the Divine majesty, and to do injustice at the same time to ordinary humanity. The true teacher will never magnify himself, and will ask for nothing more than serious attention to his arguments and teachings. If the teacher shows that he considers himself on a level with ordinary humanity, the unconverted and self-humiliated will look up with hope of their own deliverance from misery; and the awakened are warned not to confound the imperfections of the teacher with the substance of his message. The treasure is in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
3. True views of God set forth.
(1) He is the living God; and all in the world not derived from him and resting on him is of no value. All worship directed to finite objects misses its supreme mark, and is a vanity, a "nothing." The idol itself is" nothing in the world." "All love is lost save upon God alone."
(2) He is the Creator. This is a thought brought into emphasis in the preaching and teaching of St. Paul, as in his Epistle to the Romans and his discourse on Mars' Hill. Having made all things, he contains all things in himself. Man is his creature; and if man offers even his whole self upon the altar to God, God but receives his own.
(3) He respects the freedom of man. The nations were suffered to walk in their own ways and to work out their own course of life. And in their aberrations they justified the truth and ways of God. Our freedom is our solemn heritage for weal or for woe. No explanation can be found for the dark facts of human sin, except that which goes back to the freedom of the soul to decide between good and evil.
(4) The unfailing goodness of God. The seasons fail not; food and enjoyment are provided out of the abundance of the earth. In every happy and healthy mood of mind the heart breaks into song, and thanks God for the boon of existence. In every sunny scene, every glimpse of pure and healthy happiness and domestic joy, there is the reflection of the "joy of God to see a happy world." "God is wisdom, God is love; " - this is the refrain of the heart true to itself; nor can the occasional discords of bodily pain or mental perplexity mar the sweetness of the music or obscure the clearness of the evidence. - J.
I. A REAL TRIAL OF THE APOSTLES.
1. Of their faithfulness to the truth. Had they been willing, as the Church afterwards was, to mingle heathenism with Christianity, they might have accomplished more in captivating the minds of the people.
2. Of their humility and self-sacrificing zeal. They put aside men's worship that they might be free to serve God. What an example to their successors!
3. Of their inspired wisdom and discretion. They knew how to restrain an excited people whose homage might easily be turned into fury. They made the occasion an opportunity for preaching a gospel of love and purity.
II. AN EXAMPLE OF THE WORLD'S WANT OF THE TRUTH AS IT IS IN JESUS.
1. Gaping after wonders. Led by priests; worshipping men of like passions with themselves. Ignorant of the true character of God. Ungrateful in the midst of his abundant mercies. Unobservant of the witness which he bears to himself in nature and in the course of providence.
2. The glad tidings brought into the midst of such a world. At first not understood; but the preachers must follow the example of the apostles, and, beginning at the testimony which surrounds men in their own life, lead them to the higher truth of revelation. Missionaries should study the field in which they labor. - R.
I. THE FAITH OF THE CRIPPLE. It is to be assumed that he was not a Jew, but a heathen. He hears Paul, presumably therein for the first time hearing pure truth, whether Paul is speaking of the things of revealed religion or of natural religion. The incident may have helped Paul to his subsequent language: "So then faith cometh by heating, and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans 10:17). Paul speaks. The lame man listens. He listens more and yet more keenly. The "seed of the Word" is falling "into good ground." Paul's eye falls on him. Afterwards it is riveted by him. The interested, eager, imploring eye of the lame man is met by the divinely enlightened, divinely discerning, and divinely giving eye of Paul. Paul is led, as the consequence, to see that he has "faith to be healed." The question of a miracle lies with the omnipotence of God, but the question of when that omnipotence shall be exercised may lie (beyond what we think, and beyond what we can at present track) with the individual man. For this is in the deepest sense the mystery of human life and human accountability; nor can we even say where the line runs that distinguishes between the agency of God's Spirit, in the greatest miracles of all, the conversion of the heart, and the freedom of man's will. The language we have here may mean either
(1) distinctly that Paul saw that the lame man had the faith upon which the omnipotent Word would take effect, not by bare right of its omnipotence alone, but also by the more hidden harmony and sympathy of a sensitive, a quickened, a trusting, and an obedient heart; or
(2) that Paul saw that the lame man had already received the divinest gift of all the Word of God, and that he was therefore a fitter vessel to be "chosen" both to receive himself the lesser grace, and also to set forth to others the abundant grace of God. Meantime the less enlightened the nature and the less informed the actual mind of the lame man, the more are we conducted to some discrimination of faith's purest essence - its trustingness, its self-surrender, its clinging confessed dependence.
II. THE FAITH OF THE PEOPLE WHO BEHELD.
1. Their faith was of those who did believe, and did not either shut their eyes, or quibble, or blaspheme.
2. Their faith was of those who attributed the work of a miracle to powers distinctly higher. They were not of those who once said of Jesus himself, "He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils." Nor were they of those who set it down to sorcery and witchcraft, What highest they knew de facto, to that they gave or desired to give glory.
3. But their faith was of those who, believing, believed "ignorantly," believed absolutely wrongly, and believed far more wrongly (now by Scripture's most emphatic assertion) than could be justified in any way.
4. Their faith exhibited that leading mark of the lowest kind of faith which must link on the wonder done to the nearest manifest doer. It gets to a god, but it is its own god peculiarly. It gets to a god, but not to the Spirit and the Invisible, much less to the one invisible Spirit; nay, its way of getting to a god is by bringing its gods to itself" in the likeness of men." It has not reached to the conception of the great power, the great goodness, the great Being before all, who "giveth to all life and breath and all things," and, among those all things, knowledge of his own will, and power to execute it, betimes in the fullness of its majesty.
5. But when all has been justly said to the disparagement of the faith of these heathen men of Lystra, it may be put to their credit, that, even in nature's darkness, they did not believe in a faith barren of works; in which respect, at least, they may often be taken as rising up in judgment against the children of the light and of the day.
III. THE FAITH OF THE APOSTLES.
1. It was in the first place without doubt the pure faith that was wrought in them by the Holy Spirit. It was by this that Paul recognized the opportunity, and discerned in the cripple the real thing that was also in himself, and taught him to speak that word "with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet."
2. The "faith that dwelt in" the apostle was one that made the ignorance of the really Divine, now illustrated before their very eyes, and now taking advantage of their very persons, so harrowingly painful. Their impetuous rushing among the people, and rending of their clothes, and mingled expostulation and instruction addressed to the people, all prove the intensely exercised state of their own mind, almost to agony of anguish. And the anguish was the reflection of just this - an enlightened, a pure, a high faith. Many dark outer deeds had Barnabas and Paul too often seen, from which, nevertheless, their inmost soul took less wound than from this, when the enthusiastic heathen of Lystra would fain have sacrificed to them.
3. The faith of the apostles was that which struck horror into them at the very thought, if haply they should "rob God of his own" or seem to share his undivided honor. May they not be considered in this light as holding out an example to all their spiritual successors, to fear, as much as they would fear anything, lest they should be found at any time to "sacrifice unto their net, and to burn incense unto their drag" (Habakkuk 1:16), or lest they should accept the offerings of flattery to themselves which should be only offerings of praise to Christ. What a wonderful guide for the noblest life earth can know comes of the enlarged, developed, mature faith of an experienced Christian! - B.
1. The apostles wrought a miraculous healing.
2. Their act was seriously misconceived.
3. Pagan sentiments overwhelmed the Christian teaching.
4. The apostles most deeply felt the insult which the proposed sacrifice offered to the Divine honor and sole claim. Remember that the first and supreme truth to a Jew is the unity and spirituality Of God, and observe that this should be as firmly and jealously conserved by the Christian as by the Jew. One of the most marked features of the pious man in all ages is supreme jealousy of God's sole honor. In describing the miracle out of which the incidents grew, the necessity for a moral preparation before we can receive Divine intervention and deliverance may be pointed out. Men may be set so as to receive, or so as to be indifferent to, God's saving grace. Our Lord pleads thus, "Ye will not come unto me." "The evident eagerness of this cripple marked him out to the quick insight of the apostle as one on whom a work of power could be wrought. It is evident on the face of the narrative that it was not every cripple or every sufferer that Paul would have attempted to heal; it was only such as, so to speak, met half-way the exertion of spiritual power by their own ardent faith." Fixing attention on the serious error of the excited populace, and the earnest efforts of the apostles to correct it, we notice -
I. THE NATURAL ARGUMENT FROM MIRACLES. We mean the first impulsive idea of them likely to spring up in men's minds. Things that are evidently beyond human power must be wrought by Divine power, and persons by whom the wondrous work is wrought must be Divine persons. Such reasoning was strengthened by the legends and superstitions of heathenism, and it may be shown that there lingered in the particular district of Lycaonia, traditions of incarnations of the deity (see instances in the exegetical portion of this Commentary). But the first and natural argument from miracles cannot be sustained when knowledge is advanced and critical thinking gains power. That they are wrought by Divine power and signs of Divine presence is not the only possible explanation of them. Men properly test their so-called miraculous character, and then they test the agency by which they are wrought. Therefore God never bears upon men with the force of miracles alone, and we are led to consider.
II. THE RELATION OF MIRACLES TO TEACHING. This close and necessary connection the heathen could not see, and to this day many Christians do not see. A miracle is nothing standing by itself; it may be most valuable as related to, and the exposition or illustration of, some truth. Renan says rightly that the ancient heathen had no conception of a miracle as the evidence of a doctrine. And Archbishop Trench points out that our Lord's miracles are never called merely wonders, "because the ethical meaning of the miracle would be wholly lost were blank astonishment or gaping wonder all which they aroused. They are also signs' and pledges of something more than and beyond themselves." It may be urged that miracles are never wrought save for the sake of the truth. Even when they are at first sight attestations of a person, they confirm our faith in him only for the sake of the truth which he brings, and they only fulfill their mission when they produce in us receptivity to the truth taught. This is fully illustrated in the incidents connected with our text. The people stayed with what the miracle seemed to say concerning the persons Barnabas and Saul. The apostles earnestly urged that the miracle was but designed to open their hearts to the truth. Much of the difficulty felt concerning the miraculous, would be removed if we dwelt more fully on its moral use, as producing a receptivity for the truth.
III. THE TEACHING OF THIS MIRACLE CAME OUT MORE CLEARLY THROUGH THE MISTAKE MADE CONCERNING IT. It had been designed to aid in securing attention to the apostles' message as sent from God. It came to be a means of correcting men's fundamental error on the being of God. Ordinarily the truth received may be left to push out cherished error. Monotheism, conceived from the Christian standpoint, will of itself destroy all polytheistic conceptions. But sometimes fundamental doctrinal errors need to be resolutely dealt with. The apostles dare not dishonor their Master by permitting a vital error to be cherished. So, at the utmost Personal peril, they declare that there are no gods; there is only God; and that they themselves are only men, his servants, who are permitted to put forth gracious power, as a persuasion to men to receive his blessed message of pardon and life. - R.T.
I. GOD HAD "WAYS WITH THE NATIONS." A common sentiment has long prevailed that God altogether left the heathen nations alone, doing nothing for their intellectual or their moral life, and only preserving their physical being by his providence. It is a sentiment which can only be cherished so long as men do not think, and so long as they limit the teachings of the Divine Word by their prejudices. "The God of the whole earth must he be called," and "all souls are his." If they are his, he must be concerned in their well-being in every respect, and can never have stood aloof from their mental, moral, and spiritual needs. It pleased God to grant a special revelation to the Jews for the whole world's sake; but this does not assume that he gave no revelations at all to others. In comparison, God's ways with the nations may be called a "leaving them to their own devices;" but he watched over them while thus carrying out self-devised plans, and overruled even this to become a kind of preparation for that gospel revelation which could be made to the whole world. Each nation worked out a great experiment; we cannot always be sure what each experiment was, but we can see it precisely in some cases. It may have been - Can man's final good come through his imagination, or through his intellect, or through his artistic taste, or through his governmental faculties, or through his activities and energies? Put generally, we may say that God's ways with the nations were to let them be free to find out for themselves whether in man's own nature there was any power by which he could free himself from sin and secure the perfection of his being. Such an experiment or series of experiments had to be made in the interests of the whole race, and only when the failure of all such experiments was well proved could the revelation of salvation for men by a Divine intervention be made. Man must find out that he cannot save himself before he will be willing to look up and say, "Lord, help me!" The following passage from F. W. Robertson expresses the same view of God's ways with the nations in another and a suggestive form: - "Recollect that the Bible contains only a record of the Divine dealings with a single nation; his proceedings with the minds of other peoples are not recorded. That large other world - no less God's world than Israel was, though in their bigotry the Jews thought Jehovah was their own exclusive property - scarcely is, scarcely could be, named on the page of Scripture except in its external relation to Israel. But at times, figures as it were cross the rim of Judaism, when brought in contact with it, and passing for a moment as dim shadows, do yet tell us hints of a communication and a revelation going on unsuspected. We are told, for example, of Job; no Jew, but an Arabian emir, who beneath the tents of Uz contrived to solve the question to his heart which still perplexes us through life - the coexistence of evil with Divine benevolence; one who wrestled with God as Jacob did, and strove to know the shrouded Name, and hoped to find that it was love. We find Naaman the Syrian, and Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian, under the providential and loving discipline of God. Rahab the Gentile is saved by faith. The Syro-phoenician woman by her sick daughter's bedside, amidst the ravings of insanity, recognizes, without human assistance, the sublime and consoling truth of a universal Father's love in the midst of apparent partiality. The 'Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world' had not left them in darkness." How this may be applied to God's ways with heathen nations now requires to be thought out. The universal revelation in Christ Jesus yet requires to be universally made known.
II. GOD'S WAYS WITH THE NATIONS WILL BE ULTIMATELY VINDICATED. To their view and to our view there is much that seems to need vindicating. For instance,
(1) is there not much sign of favoritism in the Divine ways?
(2) do not multitudes of men morally perish while God withholds from them his revelation?
(3) however the experiment may serve the great interest of the race, it brings the ruin of the individual; and
(4) the darkness into which man sinks when left alone is so awful that even the gospel light seems powerless to dispel it. In such ways we find utterance for our questionings and doubts. And yet already God's ways are being justified.
1. We are getting fuller and worthier conceptions of the Divine Being himself, which bring a most restful assurance that what he does for all his creatures is more than right, is lovingly right.
2. Philosophy is helping us to a truer knowledge of the individual man, and of the purpose of race and climatic diversities of man, and enabling us to conceive how God may deal with humanity as a whole, and with each part in the interests of the whole.
3. The Christian revelation declares that the mystery of earth will be unfolded by-and-by, and will even pass out of our thought as we contemplate the exceeding glory of its perfected redemption.
4. Christian missions are spreading the one saving revelation of God amongst the nations in a way that assures of the coming fulfillment of our largest hopes. Till the day of vindication fully dawns, we must strive to understand better God's ways, and above all to make full present response to God's grace in Christ Jesus as revealed unto us. - R.T.
Romans 1:19, 20; Acts 17:28. It has been remarked that the Greek words here used by the apostle are "so distinctly rhythmical that they suggest the thought that St. Paul quotes from some hymn of praise which he had heard in a harvest or vintage festival, and which, as with the altar to the Unknown God at Athens, he claims as due to him whom men ignorantly worshipped." A sentence from Neander may give the key-note to the sermon. He says, "The whole creation, as a revelation of God, especially of his almightiness and goodness, is designed to arouse the spirit of man to a perception of the inward revelation of God." Introduce the subject by a picture of the scene connected with it. An occasion was made for declaring the relations of nature with religion. Fix thought on the one nature-scene of harvest, and apply St. Paul's teaching; first showing how fully in harmony with his views this representation was, and what support Holy Scripture gives to it.
I. GOD MAY SPEAK TO HIS CREATURES BY THE VOICE OF NATURE, AND HE DOES THUS SPEAK TO THEM ALL.
1. God must use some agency in revealing his mind to his creatures.
2. The agency he uses must be in relation to our bodily senses.
3. It need not be fashioned into precise words, because man's heart can be reached through the eye, the ear, the taste, as well as by verbal statements. Illustrate the impressions of beautiful landscape, music of the waters, thunderstorms, etc. Any of the things that man can feel God can use to convey his mind and message to him. The voices of God in nature are translated for us by our poets, who are - if they fit into their true mission - ministers of God's will to men, or rather, ministers revealing God himself to men. See how the psalmist recognizes the universal witness of this nature-voice: "Their sound is gone out through all the earth, their words to the end of the world;" and apply especially to the harvest-time of earth, which knits the millions of earth together in the joyful recognition of God's loving care and providing mercies.
II. WHAT OF THIS NATURE-WITNESS TO GOD MAY ALL MEN RECEIVE?
1. The truth of the Divine unity; for it is plain to all that nature is a design - some one person's design. Its perfect harmonies suggest this. And increasing knowledge corrects the notion of two agents, which men have been tempted to accept, when impressed with the seemingly injurious forces working in nature. Science, in making more plain the perfect harmony of all nature-forces, is giving her testimony to the unity of God. And then comes on us this consideration: if there be but one God, our supreme concern is to be in right relations with him.
2. The truth that he is infinite in power; for nature shows us that he is infinite in resources.
3. The truth that he is infinitely good; for nature shows him to us fitting all things together to secure the general well-being. Nature suggests the attractiveness and beautifulness of God.
III. WHAT MORE THAN THIS CAN NATURE WITNESS OF GOD TO THE CHRISTIAN? The Christian man comes back upon nature with the illuminations of that higher and fuller revelation which has for a time absorbed him - from the vision of God, manifest in Christ Jesus, which was so glorious as for a while to occupy his thought and feeling wholly. But coming back with these new thoughts of God, he finds Nature has new voices and new messages, and her provisions tell him:
1. Of God's care.
2. Of God's long-suffering and mercy; for he knows now that man has no deserts upon which he might claim, and positive ill deserts which might reasonably lead to the removal of his common every-day mercies.
3. Of God's great love to man's soul, which seems shown by its overflow in God's gracious provision in nature for all the wants of his body.
4. Of God's faithfulness to all his promises, which are assured in his yearly fulfillment of that earliest promise that "seed-time and harvest... shall not cease." Press, in conclusion, how St. Paul urges that the proper influence of nature is a constant and mighty persuasion to turn from all our vanities to the loving and hearty service of the one living God, and to accept of the full salvation which he has provided in the person of his Son Jesus Christ. - R.T.
Hosanna! to day; Crucify him!" to-morrow. Paul's miraculous escape a great help to the faith of disciples. Possibly his suffering a reason for speedy return to Antioch.
I. THE EXPERIENCE OF THE FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY A PREPARATION FOR THE FUTURE.
1. The necessity of patience.
2. The importance of making the work thorough and confirming the weak.
3. The relation of aggressive work to orderly Church life. Both in the new Churches elders appointed, and at Antioch all rehearsed.
II. The preciousness of RISING FAITH REQUIRES A JEALOUS WATCHFULNESS, even at the risk of personal suffering. It was dangerous for Paul and Barnabas to visit the same places again, but "the souls of the disciples" were more in their eyes than their own comfort or even safety.
1. True confirmation is a recognition of present grace.
2. The experience of the more advanced should help the new converts and the young. The Church has ranch neglected this duty.
3. Trouble must always attend faith. The blessings which we care not to fight for we shall soon lose.
4. The appointment of superintending elders is apostolic. They were doubtless from among the new Churches themselves, but chosen with discretion and in dependence on the blessing of God. All done with prayer and self-denial. The presence of the Lord the one true sanction.
III. THE REHEARSAL OF SPIRITUAL SUCCESSES a great encouragement to God's people.
1. In the gathered Church, not merely in private; for the Church is the true center from which all proceeds and to which all is brought.
2. The true missionary work is that which the Church maintains in its united capacity. Individual and isolated efforts are not so likely to be blessed.
3. The special importance of the mission of Paul and Barnabas in showing the open door of faith to the Gentiles. Such a fact could not have wielded the same influence had it not been rehearsed thus solemnly to the assembled brethren. Antioch was now the pledged source of light to the Gentile world. - R.
2 Corinthians 11:25). The brevity of the record of the incident of these verses may, perhaps, point to the modesty of Paul. Probably the historian of the Acts of the Apostles was not at this time with Paul and Barnabas at Lystra. Paul is his informant, therefore, of what now befell him. The event was treasured, as well it might be, among the great perils and sufferings, but also among the great deliverances of Paul's career. The event, as so briefly detailed, nevertheless teaches -
I. THE PERSISTENT OPPOSITION OF THE GREAT ENEMY. They of Iconium and Antioch are, after all, his agents, and, incited by him, pursue Paul and Barnabas here.
II. THE EARLY FORGETFULNESS OF GOOD AND THE DEEP-SEATED INGRATITUDE OF HUMAN NATURE. Those who were thus persuaded to stone Paul were of the very people who had offered, as it were the day before, to sacrifice to him as God. It is a repetition of the "Hosanna!" of yesterday being turned into the "Crucify, crucify!" of to-day.
III. THE HEIGHT OF HUMAN AND OF CHRISTIAN FAITHFULNESS MAY VERY POSSIBLY FOR A TIME INTENSIFY OR PRODUCE DANGER. Perhaps the people of Lystra would never have been "persuaded" to stone Paul, if Paul and Barnabas had not yesterday so faithfully sought to persuade them that they were but men like themselves. And probably the emissaries of Iconium and Antioch would not have dared to face the wild enthusiasm of Lystra, with their evil insinuation and malign attempts.
IV. GOD DOES NOT FORGET TO BE FAITHFUL TO THOSE WHO ARE FAITHFUL TO HIM. And Paul, who had wrought through the mighty power of God, miracles for the deliverance of others, is the subject of a miracle himself now. And it is the Divine favor, as no human minister of it served the occasion. Paul has been stoned, drawn out of the city; foe and friend take him for dead - nay, perhaps he was so; if not, there was but a little "step indeed between him and death." Yet he rises up, uncalled by human voice, unhelped by human hand, and comes into the city.
V. THE UNQUENCHED COURAGE OF PAUL. He does not now "flee to another city." He comes into that city. He could well trust the God who had delivered him and would deliver him "in deaths oft." And he was well prepared to echo the words of the psalmist, "This God is my God for ever and ever, and he will be my Guide even unto death."
VI. THAT AGAIN AND AGAIN THE ENEMY OF CHRIST MAKES A HUMILIATING FAILURE OF IT. The enemy's work is exposed and is undone. Christ triumphs with fresh manifestation. And his truth and glory are spread. - B.
I. THE FUNCTION OF THE CHRISTIAN LEADER in relation to the Christian novice. We gather from the action of the apostles on this occasion that it is the teacher's duty:
1. To be earnestly concerned for his young disciples, and to go out of his way to serve them. It would certainly have been the more desirable course, "after the flesh," to go through the Cilician Gates, and so home to Antioch, rather than return and face the enraged populace from whom they had been obliged to flee. But a deep sense of what was due to those whom they had induced to forsake their old faith and enter on a new and trying course constrained them to forego the inviting and to pursue the perilous path. To encourage those who are beginning to live the Divine life, and who will probably find themselves beset with unexpected and serious difficulties, we should hold ourselves ready to go far out of our way and to run some serious risks.
2. To impart additional instruction. The apostles not only repeated what they had said before, but they added sound Christian doctrine; especially they taught that we must expect to bear the burdens before we enter into the glory of our Lord; that it is through much tribulation we enter the kingdom (ver. 22). Christian truth is large and deep. It has its portion for the idolater, another for the novitiate, another for the matured. The true Christian leader is he who varies his instruction in accordance with the spiritual condition of his disciples.
3. To exert a powerful personal influence, The apostles "confirmed the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith" (ver. 22); i.e. they brought to bear on their minds and hearts all the moral influence which they could exert by the weight of their love and their urgent solicitation; they appealed to them by every consideration which would touch their souls to remain steadfast in the faith, loyal to the Lord their Savior.
4. To make permanent provision for Christian culture (ver. 23).
5. To make them the object of earnest prayer (ver. 23).
II. THE PART OF THE DISCIPLE. This is:
1. To recognize the earnestness of his spiritual guide, and to give him his best attention. We have no truer friend, none to whom we owe more, not one who has a greater claim on our reverent regard, than the teacher who has led us to God.
2. To expect a fair share of struggle and endurance. There is no kingdom, and certainly not the kingdom of God, to be entered without trying and even painful experiences. The Christian disciple must lay his account with this fact: he is to understand that whoever will follow Christ must take up his cross to do so (Matthew 16:24); that there will be ridicule to be endured, opposition to be overcome, disappointments to be surmounted, inward evils to be subdued, many things that will demand a holy and elevated fortitude.
3. To submit to those who are appointed to exercise authority - the "elders in every Church;" and to avail himself of those means of grace and growth which they may institute.
4. To keep in view the consummation of Christian hope, the blessed kingdom of God. When trials thicken and duties multiply, when the new and better life is shadowed with dark clouds, when the way is long and toilsome, then the disciple is to look on and up, beyond the plains and hills of earth to the heavenly Zion, beyond the sufferings of the present to the glory which is to be revealed. - C.
I. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CHRISTIAN PREACHER,
1. He is not to be cast down by disappointment nor defeated by opposition. Faith, tried by fire, proves its enduring quality. The more the apostle suffers, the more glowing becomes his love. He returns, as if by irresistible attraction, to the scene of defeat. It is just those souls which resist us that we must mark out for conquest; they will be well worth perseverance to gain.
2. He is ever seeking for new worlds to conquer for the kingdom of Christ. Ever planting and propagating the Word in virgin ground, the motto of the missionary is, "To-morrow to fresh fields and pastures new."
3. His cares and duties are manifold. This is suggestively brought out by the different words employed. He "evangelizes;" i.e. he announces the good news of the kingdom; he proclaims, or preaches, in the proper sense, Christ. Next, he "instructs" (μαθητεύειν) the converts, so that they become disciples, i.e. men tangier and ever learning more of Christian truth. He also "strengthens," or "confirms," Christian believers, by calling to mind and applying the old truths. He "exhorts," bringing the force of personal love and suasion to bear on the will, "speaking from the heart to the heart." To keep men in the faith is no less an anxiety than to bring them into it.
4. He is the comforter, He sheds a light upon man's troubles, by showing that it is through them the path lies to the kingdom of God.
"The path of sorrow, and that path alone, 5. He has to take part in the government and guidance of communities, The appointment of officers ever the different Churches is here mentioned. Christianity is a social as well as an individual life, and social life must have its organization. If we carefully study this short passage (vers. 21-23), we find in it a compendium of the Christian minister's duties. Truly - "'Tis not a cause of small import, The pastor's care demands." II. THE BLESSINGS ATTENDANT ON THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL. 1. Reflex blessings on the mind and heart of the preacher; assurance through suffering and trial and experience of Divine help. Even if a man sees but little present fruit of his labor, he has reason to thank God for the effect upon his own spirit and character of a work so holy on the souls of others. Discimus docendo. We learn by teaching; and he that watereth is watered himself. 2. To those who receive the message. Instead of the wild irregularity of passion and fancy, Christian order and sobriety takes possession of the soul. Idle fables are driven out by the Divine Word. 3. To the supporters and messengers of missionary work. Joyous was the welcome, great the thanksgiving at Antioch when the missionaries came back. And so ever; refreshment of faith, broadening of sympathies, quickening of intelligence, ever follows upon the receipt of good news from the fields of Christian work, and opening of new doors to the free passage of the Word. - J.
5. He has to take part in the government and guidance of communities, The appointment of officers ever the different Churches is here mentioned. Christianity is a social as well as an individual life, and social life must have its organization. If we carefully study this short passage (vers. 21-23), we find in it a compendium of the Christian minister's duties. Truly - "'Tis not a cause of small import, The pastor's care demands."
II. THE BLESSINGS ATTENDANT ON THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL.
1. Reflex blessings on the mind and heart of the preacher; assurance through suffering and trial and experience of Divine help. Even if a man sees but little present fruit of his labor, he has reason to thank God for the effect upon his own spirit and character of a work so holy on the souls of others. Discimus docendo. We learn by teaching; and he that watereth is watered himself.
2. To those who receive the message. Instead of the wild irregularity of passion and fancy, Christian order and sobriety takes possession of the soul. Idle fables are driven out by the Divine Word.
3. To the supporters and messengers of missionary work. Joyous was the welcome, great the thanksgiving at Antioch when the missionaries came back. And so ever; refreshment of faith, broadening of sympathies, quickening of intelligence, ever follows upon the receipt of good news from the fields of Christian work, and opening of new doors to the free passage of the Word. - J.
I. WITH THOROUGH KNOWLEDGE OF THE GROUND, THEIR COURAGE FAILS THEM NOT. The apostles return by the route and the towns and cities by which they had come. It is wonderful, and indeed it is often of the merciful consideration of Heaven, how brave men may be toward unforeseen dangers and difficulties. How often, however, does courage vanish after a taste of real work and real difficulty! Not so now. The apostles will face again, if necessary, all which they had before encountered.
II. THEIR MINISTRY IS STILL RICH IN FRUITFULNESS. The object of the apostles follows closely in the tracks of the very well-ascertained needs of new converts. They would:
1. Confirm them.
2. Exhort them to steadfastness and endurance "even unto the end."
3. They would tarry to instruct them in aspects among the deepest of the Divine life - that men "must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." There were "musts" in the lilt, the journeys, the sufferings, the death of the great Captain of our salvation himself. And "musts there must be in the life and work and discipline of his followers.
4. They would also begin to organize Church life in place after place, and ordain elders" in the new Churches.
5. They show an example of their faith in prayer and fasting and "commending individuals and Churches to the Lord, of their faith and of their life. All these activities of thought, speech, affection, and deed were tokens and were the trustworthy tokens of men who were still led by the Spirit, and who were still following that lead.
III. THEY BRING THEIR MISSION TO ITS CLOSE, AND THEMSELVES HOME TO THEIR STARTING-POINT, IN SO EXEMPLARY A MANNER.
1. They honor the Church of God's appointment, by calling it together on their return to receive their report. Next to being the servants of Christ, we are the servants of the Church, and ought to hold ourselves so far forth answerable to it.
2. They do not carelessly forget or only slightingly remember how by the prayers and fasting of that very Church, they also, months and years before, had been commended to the grace of God.
3. They give, in some instructive, impressive, and reassuring detail, a rehearsal of
(1) all that God had done with them," and
(2) how indisputably God "had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles."
4. There awhile, in the holy fellowship of that Church, they rest from their harder labors. They recruit their souls in the healthy air and the genial comfort of that society, after years of fierce conflict and almost perpetual anxiousness and keen persecution. Happy servants, happy Church, "in the midst of whom God" is present, shedding light, peace, joy, upon all! - B.
I. CONFIRMATION OF FAITH. Continue in the faith - both objective and subjective; not a creed alone, if that was given at all, but the real root or spiritual life. Faith was discipleship.
II. CONFIRMATION IN THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE CHURCH. "Ordained [or, 'appointed'] them elders in every Church." A settled ministry; an orderly maintenance of worship. Preparation for work in the neighborhood.
III. CONFIRMATION OF HOPE. The kingdom in view. Work towards the future. Tribulation prepares for higher life. - R.
"The path of sorrow, and that path alone, I. TRIBULATION AS PART OF OUR HUMAN LOT. "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward." It is often said that a world of sinners must be, and indeed had better be, a world of sufferers. Troubles take a variety of forms, but they come into every individual life and into every form of associated life. They are necessary results of: 1. The disorder which man's sin has produced in God's world. 2. The lost self-control which sin has occasioned to each man. 3. The willfulness which persists in adjusting human relations to man's idea and pleasure, rather than according to God's order. 4. The hereditary evils left from the past of men's iniquity. II. TRIBULATION AS TAKEN UP INTO THE DIVINE MINISTRY. This is at once sealed and explained by the word "tribulation," as the Christian synonym for earthly troubles. The Latin origin of the word, as taken from tribulum, the threshing-roller, should be explained. The SORROWS of life may seem but as the crushing of a great roller; they are but the separating of the chaff from the wheat, and the gracious means by which the sufferer is sanctified. The Christian system proposes no less a thing than the full recovery of a man from sin and his full confirmation in holiness, and it uses a variety of agencies for the perfecting of its work; but it should ever be a wonder and a joy to us that it should propose to take over the whole burden of human sorrow and trouble, and use even it for effecting its blessed design. So, though no affliction can, even to the Christian, seem other than grievous, not joyous, yet we may be sure that God's hand - God's good hand - is upon it all, and that "afterward it will yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness, if only we are duly exercised thereby." And at last it even comes to be the glory of the Christian that he is under God's tribulum; and the glory of the Christians by-and-by that "they have come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." III. TRIBULATION AS RELATED TO THE KINGDOM WE HOPE TO ENTER. Whether we conceive the kingdom as entered now or as to be entered when we pass from earthly spheres, the one essential feature of it is holiness, full deliverance from sin. That kingdom "nothing entereth that defileth or that maketh a lie." As a matter of actual experience, it may be urged and illustrated that the "meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light" can only be wrought out of trouble. Trials, testings, discoveries of secret sins, even the humiliations of affliction, bear directly on the fitness for the kingdom. When we feel what heaven is, we find out what a great work is to be done to meeten us for it. - R.T.
I. TRIBULATION AS PART OF OUR HUMAN LOT. "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward." It is often said that a world of sinners must be, and indeed had better be, a world of sufferers. Troubles take a variety of forms, but they come into every individual life and into every form of associated life. They are necessary results of:
1. The disorder which man's sin has produced in God's world.
2. The lost self-control which sin has occasioned to each man.
3. The willfulness which persists in adjusting human relations to man's idea and pleasure, rather than according to God's order.
4. The hereditary evils left from the past of men's iniquity.
II. TRIBULATION AS TAKEN UP INTO THE DIVINE MINISTRY. This is at once sealed and explained by the word "tribulation," as the Christian synonym for earthly troubles. The Latin origin of the word, as taken from tribulum, the threshing-roller, should be explained. The SORROWS of life may seem but as the crushing of a great roller; they are but the separating of the chaff from the wheat, and the gracious means by which the sufferer is sanctified. The Christian system proposes no less a thing than the full recovery of a man from sin and his full confirmation in holiness, and it uses a variety of agencies for the perfecting of its work; but it should ever be a wonder and a joy to us that it should propose to take over the whole burden of human sorrow and trouble, and use even it for effecting its blessed design. So, though no affliction can, even to the Christian, seem other than grievous, not joyous, yet we may be sure that God's hand - God's good hand - is upon it all, and that "afterward it will yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness, if only we are duly exercised thereby." And at last it even comes to be the glory of the Christian that he is under God's tribulum; and the glory of the Christians by-and-by that "they have come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
III. TRIBULATION AS RELATED TO THE KINGDOM WE HOPE TO ENTER. Whether we conceive the kingdom as entered now or as to be entered when we pass from earthly spheres, the one essential feature of it is holiness, full deliverance from sin. That kingdom "nothing entereth that defileth or that maketh a lie." As a matter of actual experience, it may be urged and illustrated that the "meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light" can only be wrought out of trouble. Trials, testings, discoveries of secret sins, even the humiliations of affliction, bear directly on the fitness for the kingdom. When we feel what heaven is, we find out what a great work is to be done to meeten us for it. - R.T.
I. IT was BEGUN IN GOD. It was
(1) prompted by his Spirit (Acts 13:2, 4);
(2) entered upon after seeking Divine guidance (ver. 26). Paul and Barnabas went forth, the conscious workmen of God himself. They felt that what would be done through their instrumentality would be done "by God with them." All was, as all should ever be, "begun in him."
II. IN HIS STRENGTH IT WAS CARRIED ON AND COMPLETED. In his strength. The entire account, from beginning to end, conveys the idea that the apostles sought and found their strength in a Divine source; indeed, nothing less would have sustained them under the difficulties and sufferings of their mission. It was carried on and completed. It was a work "which they fulfilled"
(1) spite of Mark's discouraging defection (Acts 13:13);
(2) notwithstanding the physical difficulties of traveling and the active animosity of the Jews;
(3) though every personal consideration would have led them to conclude it earlier (ver. 21). Undeterred by any checks, untempted by any inducements, they went quite through their work - God's work - and did not cease to toil and to endure until everything was done they could do, not only to introduce but to establish the Christian faith in the heart of the heathen land they visited. Well is it for the Christian workman when it can be said of him that he "fulfilled" or finished his work. Sometimes
(1) weariness, or
(2) timidity, or
(3) dissatisfaction, or
(4) dissension overtakes the laborer even in the field of holy love, and he lays down his weapon and forsakes his work. Not his is the crown and the "Well done!" at the hand and the lips of the Lord.
III. IT WAS CROWNED BY A RECITAL TO THOSE WHOM THEY REPRESENTED. Paul and Barnabas were undoubtedly sent of God; but they also went as members of the Church at Antioch. That Church regarded them as its representatives, followed them with its sympathies, sustained them by its prayers, and received them back with its warmest welcome. And to that Church, gathered together for the purpose, they recounted" all that God had done with them " - a most suitable crown to a noble work. With eager, sympathetic, rejoicing spirits the assembly must have received the narrative. How grateful must have been the psalms, how fervent the prayers, how heartfelt the congratulations, that followed! A work is not crowned until its story has been told to those who had a real and living part in its initiation and its procedure.
IV. IT WAS FOLLOWED BY INVIGORATING REST (ver. 28) - the rest of
(1) happy human fellowship and
(2) appreciated service. - C.
Acts 13:3 we learn in what this recommendation to the grace of God consisted: "And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away." We fix attention, then, on the point that we know what were the prayers of these Antiochene disciples. They were intercessory prayers, and they lovingly commended the Christian laborers to the grace of God. When prayer, for any reasons, cannot be precise and definite request for particular things, it can still be offered, and take this every-way satisfactory form, a commendation of those for whom we pray to the grace of God. We may show how
(1) such a kind of prayer may satisfy our love and our longing for the good of others; and
(2) how it may secure for them even better blessings than any precise requests, based only on our thought of their well-being. What can we do so well for our friends as bring down over them the hallowing shadow of the Father-God?
I. SUCH PRAYER MAY SATISFY OUR LOVE AND LONGING FOR THE GOOD OF OTHERS. For, after all, just the one thing we want for them is to have God for their portion. No requests for temporal blessings can adequately express our hearts' desires. Ask what we may, we feel that we have not asked enough or asked the best things. So we get no rest in prayer for others until we learn simply to commend them to the grace of God. The same may be shown by pointing out that our knowledge of cur friends' needs is never adequate, and we may make serious error by asking unsuitably. There can be no mistake if we ask for them God's grace.
II. SUCH PRAYER SECURES THE REST BLESSINGS FOR OUR FRIENDS. For in having God they have all. To be within the grace and keeping and supply of God is to have the best blessings, in fittest adaptations. Illustration should be taken from the first missionary journey of Barnabas and Paul. They were prospered and preserved because they were within the grace of God. - R.T.
I. THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IS FIRST PRESENTED TO THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN BROUGHT UP IN SOME FORM OF ERROR. It was opened, through the hand of Paul, to the Gentiles, and multitudes entered in thereat. This may be said when -
II. THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IS TAUGHT TO CHILDREN. Then it is gradually widened as their intelligence opens; it is not long before it is sufficiently open for the soul to pass through and hold intimate and living converse with the Divine Friend.
III. THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IS FIRST PRESENTED TO THE MIND IN AN APPRECIABLE FORM. Always essentially and fundamentally the same, the truth may be represented in such form as to be wholly inappreciable by some minds; but, on the other hand, it may be unfolded in such wise as exactly to meet the needs and satisfy the cravings of the soul. Then there is an opening through which the satisfied intellect can pass, and where the soul may feed and be sustained. Or when -
IV. THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IS FIRST URGED ON THE CONSCIENCE WITH DIVINE POWER. When all material considerations Rink into insignificance and the soul feels, profoundly, that the living truth of God as revealed in Jesus Christ is the one supreme and sovereign thing, then the door is opened wide, through which the soul should pass without delay, for on the inner side of it is
(4) eternal life. - C.
1. God had given them large and free access to the Gentiles for the preaching of the faith in Christ.
2. God had manifestly made faith, not circumcision, the ground of admission to his kingdom; and so the Gentiles could be saved. Gospel privileges were offered to everyone that believed. For St. Paul's use of this figure of the "door" variously applied, see 1 Corinthians 16:9, 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3; and comp. Revelation 3:8. The figure is a suggestive one. The special favor of God had been enjoyed by the Jews, and in a manner limited to them. They had been, as it were, shut up with God in his house; none else might come in, for the door was shut. But now, in the greatness of God's mercy to men, he had opened the door, made a new and most gracious condition of admission, and invited "whosoever would" to enter in. The grace of this was too surprising to the Jewish mind, and it was a long time ere it could receive the truth. Such testimonies as Barnabas and Paul brought from Gentile lauds did much to establish the free right of all believing men to enter the one Father's house, through his graciously opened door.
I. THE CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES FOUND FREE ACCESS TO THE GENTILES. They had gone forth fully understanding that the door was open to preach the gospel to the Jews. They knew that, wherever they went, they could enter the synagogues, expound the Scriptures, and preach Christ; but events that happened brought home to them the conviction that Jewish privileges were no longer exclusive, and that God had "granted unto the Gentiles also repentance unto life." Recall the incidents which brought to the missionaries this conviction. They found Divine providence leading them to speak to Gentile audiences. They found that Divine grace had been before them, creating in the Gentile mind a preparedness for and a susceptibility to the gospel message. And they found that the condition of entrance into the new gospel standing and gospel privileges was one which the Gentiles could meet, since faith is common to human nature, and in no sense special to any one race. It would even seem that the missionaries felt their work among the Gentiles to be more hopeful than that among the Jews. And it led them to cherish serious thoughts about the vast work to be done among the Gentile nations, now God had so evidently opened the door to them all. Illustrate from the way in which the Church of Christ has been led on to preach the gospel to one nation after another, by the opening of providential doors; especially illustrating from China, and more recently Central Africa. The inspiration of Christian missions is this fact, "God has opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles."
II. THE CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES HAD LEARNED TO DECLARE THAT FAITH, AND FAITH ALONE, WAS THE GROUND OF ADMISSION INTO GOD'S KINGDOM, They addressed an audience that was still largely under Jewish mental bonds. Even the early disciples seem for a long time to have cherished the idea that Christianity was only a reformation of Judaism. The very apostles could not readily accept the truth of salvation by faith alone. They thought that at least the Jewish requirement of circumcision must be made. But Barnabas and Paul rendered their testimony to the fact of their finding the "faith-condition" quite sufficient. They had required no other of their Gentile converts, and God had sealed them by the gift of his Spirit, and they had manifested every sign of the true Christian life. Faith is the only door into the kingdom, but there is no entrance save by this door. Still the gospel message is, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." - R.T.