As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people urged them to continue this message on the next Sabbath.
I. THAT IT IS A REAL MINISTERIAL GAIN TO EXCITE RELIGIOUS INQUIRY. (Vers. 42-44.) It was a considerable success to have called forth the interest of the Gentile audience, so that they begged to hear the same truths stated again (ver. 42). It was the beginning of "the grace of God" in their hearts (ver. 43); it resulted in the excitement of still more extensive inquiry, so that "the whole city" was agitated and solicitous (ver. 44). We may thank God for the commencement of religious life, for the sprouting of the seed, for the first signs of spiritual awakening; we need not hesitate to ascribe this to the hand of God on the heart of man.
II. THAT SUCH AWAKENING MUST BE FAITHFULLY FOLLOWED UP BY THE CHRISTIAN TEACHER. Paul and Barnabas "persuaded them to continue," etc. (ver. 43). We must not only plant, but water (1 Corinthians 3:6). We should watch for the first signs of religious earnestness, and promptly follow up what has been wrought by wise, earnest, devout encouragement.
III. THAT THE CHRISTIAN TEACHER SHOULD AVAIL HIMSELF OF EVERY PROVIDENTIAL OPENING. (Vers. 45-47.) The rejection of the gospel by the Jews might have led some half-hearted missionaries to abandon their work. But to those who were here at work it simply acted as an incentive to go forth into a wider field. They took the shutting of one gate to mean entrance through another; the blocking of one way to prove that the finger of God was pointing in another direction, where more ground was to be cultivated and larger harvests were to be reaped. So must we strive to gain good from apparent evil, and look on every adverse event as showing us what other and what better thing our Master would have us do.
IV. THAT GOD'S WORK WILL BE WROUGHT IN SPITE OF MAN'S ENMITY, AND EVEN BY MEANS OF IT. The violent and determined opposition of the Jews (ver. 45) led the apostles to a conclusion in favor of more extensive Christian labor earlier than they could otherwise have reached it. The language of Paul (ver. 46) indicates no little tension of feeling. The enemies of the truth urged onward the chariot of the kingdom, and it rolled forward at full speed. And the fervent words of the apostle met with a prompt and earnest response (ver. 48); the Gentiles "glorified God," and many of them yielded an intelligent, saving faith to the truths presented. So much of centrifugal force was there in the enmity of the Jews that the. gospel was carried far and wide, and "the Word of the Lord was published throughout all the region" (ver. 49). A happy thing it is for us that often "vaulting ambition o'er leaps itself and comes down on the other side," that the wrath of man does occasionally and incidentally work the righteousness and grace of God, that the industry of evil builds up the walls it is seeking to undermine.
V. THAT MINISTERIAL SUCCESS IS CERTAIN TO BE DASHED WITH SOME DISAPPOINTMENT, and that the Christian teacher must mingle reproach with invitation (vers. 50, 51).
VI. THAT FAITHFUL WORK MAY FILL THE MINISTER OF CHRIST WITH HOLY JOY. (Ver. 52.) There is a gladness, an exultation, which may find a home in the teacher's heart which is not holy, and when it cannot be said that he is "filled with joy and the holy Ghost;" that is, when he is congratulating himself with a satisfaction that is selfish, earthly, unspiritual. But when his joy is pure, disinterested, Christian; when he rejoices because Christ is being honored and men are being raised and blessed, then is his heart happy with a joy with which the Holy Spirit is closely associated, and which "sanctifies and satisfies the soul." - C.
And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words.1. There are always unexpected hearers arising to give encouragement to the preacher. Strangers are there, who spring up, and say, "This is the gate of heaven." The Gentiles hailed the Word as strangers might hail tidings of home. We know some things not by direct intellectual instruction, but by subtle and inexpressible sympathy. We feel that certain words are true. We may not know music technically, but surely the dullest man knows when the right tune is being sung. The Gentiles heard a strange speech that day, yet they knew it. The Lamb was slain before the universe was built. The gospel comes to a measure of preparation. Somehow in the most savage breast there rises up an answering voice, saying, "This is what I have been waiting for."
2. But preachers have to find out their hearers. Paul and Barnabas were no doubt amazed at the desire of the Gentiles. The invitation would have come naturally from the Jews. It would be a pleasant thing if our neighbours would invite us to this or that renewal of service, but they go away and leave us. But we are not alone; for God, who is able to raise up out of the stones children unto Abraham, raises up strange hearers, unknown hearts, and from them comes the cry which we cannot refuse to answer.
3. We think we have expressed the very last formula of science when we say the same causes produce the same effects; in all moral questions the axiom is not only doubtful but untrue. The Jews were "filled with envy," the Gentiles were "filled with joy." How do you account for that? It was the same Sabbath, preacher, doctrine, congregation. There the same cause did not produce the same effect. You are not dealing with cause and effect only in a case of this kind; you are dealing with the middle quantity, human nature. Like goes to like. The same preacher cannot minister to all people. A man may dislike this ministry or that solely because he may not understand it or be in sympathy with it, but to another man it is the very breath of heaven. Thanks be unto God, every true Paul has at least some few Gentiles who understand and love Him.
4. "Now, when the congregation was broken up" (ver. 43). Was it then all over? Congregations should never break up in the sense of terminating spiritual ministry. There were after meetings. Beza says that herein is a justification for mid-week meetings and lectures. "Now when the congregation was broken up, the people dispersed, and referred no more to the matter." Does the text read so? It would read so if it had been written today. I never hear anyone make reference to the solemn engagements of the sanctuary after they are over. It is a decency observed, a ceremony passed through, a fact accomplished. In the olden time Christian service used to be the be-all and the end-all of the life of those who engaged in it. Here is life in the olden time (vers. 44, 45). That was life I a man could preach then! Sermons were thunderbolts! Religious services were not opportunities for sanctified slumber; they were calls, as with the blast of a thousand trumpets, to the standard and to the sword of the Lord.
5. In the forty-sixth verse the ministers become new men. "Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold." There is history in these words; it was a critical moment; it was one of two things — the Jews by their blasphemy prevailing, or the apostles of Christ saying, "The day shall be ours." Some men are so easily put down. Paul and Barnabas were not made of such material; history is not made of such stuff! Somewhere, in symbol or in speech, you must find the heroic element in every true man. I know nothing of that marvellous love of Christ that never mentions His name; that never touches His memorial bread or wine; that never gives Him a cup of cold water. Be ours the Christianity that is heroic and self-sacrificing. Let the world know that we are followers of the Cross. When I read that Paul "waxed bold," I am not surprised; but when I read that Barnabas waxed bold, I wonder if he would have done so if Paul had not been there. Barnabas! take care that your strong brother is always nigh at hand when you go out to do Christian work, for in his strength you may be strong.
6. "As many as were ordained to eternal life believed." How many poor souls have stumbled there, as if a door had been shut in their faces, whereas there is no door but an open one to the heart of God! Never found what you call good theology upon bad grammar. Happily these words, the most learned men tell us, might be read, "And so many as set themselves in order" were saved; as many as took up this matter; as many as accepted the Word; as many as disposed themselves in soldierly order and array went on to victory and honour. There can be no more terrible blasphemy than for any man to think that God has a spite against him, and will not let him be saved. God would have all men to come unto Him and be saved.
7. Notice an extraordinary expression. In ver. 46 "the Jews were filled with envy"; in ver. 52 "the disciples were filled with joy." It is always so with the gospel; it is a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death; it makes a man a worse man, or a better man. But "My Spirit shall not always strive with man." The apostles said, "It was necessary that the Word of God should first be spoken to you"; but after that comes the withdrawal of the opportunity, the taking away of the light, the shutting of the hospitable door. This may be our last chance!" He that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."
(J. Parker, D. D.)I. A GENERAL SPIRIT OF RELIGIOUS INQUIRY (ver. 42). A sermon has done much when it has broken the monotony of thought, and excited the spirit of religious inquiry.
II. THE CONVERSION OF MANY OF THE HEARERS (ver. 43). The fact that Paul and Barnabas exhorted them to continue in "the grace of God" implies of course —
1. That they had received it. Had been converted.
2. That there was a danger of losing it.
III. A GREAT EXCITEMENT AMONGST ALL CLASSES (ver. 44). The words of Paul had struck into the heart of the population, and set the minds of all alive. During the previous week his sermon was the one subject of talk in all circles. All felt anxious to hear more; so that now, at the dawn of the Sabbath day, they gather in crowds to hear the wondrous truths again. The gospel breaks the stagnant atmosphere of the mind, and unchains the strong winds of thought.
IV. THE STIRRING UP OF A BITTER PERSECUTION (ver. 45). When the Jews saw the crowds of Gentiles flocking to the apostles, and treated by them as on terms of equality with the chosen people, their envy was kindled, the fiendish flame raged in their bosoms, and they began to contradict and blaspheme. They dealt in calumny, reviled them as heretics and false teachers. True and powerful sermons will excite antagonism as well as win converts.
V. THE INCREASED POWER OF THE APOSTLES IN THEIR WORK (ver. 46). Like all true men, they grew greater in the presence of difficulties, and braver as perils thickened around them. Opposition never intimidates great natures in a good cause. On the contrary, it brings out their manhood in defiant attitudes. In the text we have three things —
1. The gospel offered by a Divine plan. "It was necessary," etc. Why? Because Christ had commanded that the Jews should have the first offer. There were reasons for this. Their offer to the Jew "first" was —(1) The strongest proof of the sincerity of their own faith. The Jew lived on the very scenes where the great facts of Christianity occurred. They were eyewitnesses of the whole.(2) The strongest proof of the mercifulness of their system. The Jew was the greatest sinner; the Jews crucified the Lord of life and glory.
2. The gospel rejected by an unbelieving people. "Judge yourselves unworthy!" Is not this withering irony? The Jew thinks himself unworthy of eternal life! Proud spirits; they considered nothing too good in heaven or earth for them; they felt themselves worthy of heaven's choicest gifts.(1) Man's conduct is his true verdict upon himself. A man is not what he may think he is, or say he is, or what others may judge he is. His everyday life pronounces the true sentence upon himself.(2) Man's sentence upon himself when he rejects the gospel is terribly awful. "Unworthy of everlasting life." The man who rejects the gospel declares by the very act his thorough unfitness for eternal life. He dooms himself to eternal death.
3. The gospel promoted by earnest men. "Lo, we turn to the Gentiles." We have no time to lose. Souls by millions around us want the salvation we are commissioned to offer. We have offered it to you. You have rejected it. Adieu, we hasten to other spheres. Two things are suggested here —(1) A lamentable condition for a people. These unbelieving Jews are left — the apostles turn from them — the gospel is withdrawn. A greater calamity this than if the sun went down and left their heavens in sackcloth. Mercy will not always continue with a people. "My Spirit shall not always strive with man."(2) An obvious duty for a ministry. It was right for these gospel labourers to leave a rocky, sterile, and unproductive soil, and try elsewhere. Their field is the world. Ministers are justified and often bound to leave their sphere of labour. That ministry which is unsuccessful in one sphere is often prosperous in another. The apostles wrought wonders amongst the Gentiles.
4. The gospel designed for the world by the mercy of God. "For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying," etc. They assured them fruit of God's special kindness to them.
VI. A PRACTICAL ACCEPTATION OF THE GOSPEL BY A LARGE NUMBER OF THE GENTILES (vers. 48, 49). The idea is, that as many as were disposed unto eternal life — the gospel — believed in it; and this is evermore the case.
VII. THE EXPULSION OF THE APOSTLES FROM THEIR COASTS AND THEIR DEPARTURE TO ICONIUM (vers. 50-52). "Devout" in the sense of being proselytes, "honourable" in the sense of social rank. The persecuting Jews used the influence of these women to banish the apostles. Women have often been used as tools in the hands of persecutors. The persecutors so far succeeded that the apostles withdrew. "But they shook off the dust of their feet against them." The act does not mean indignation. No fires of revenge or resentment glowed in their bosoms. It was a dramatic act expressing abhorrence of their conduct in desecrating the most sacred of missions.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
Now when the congregation was broken upI. THE CONGREGATION.
1. It is a wonderful thing when we reflect upon it. It differs from every other gathering. It is a mixed assemblage. Persons of all ages and of all ranks are here. Persons who meet nowhere else meet here. The house of mourning and the house of feasting alike contribute their quota to this one gathering. In this one place there is silence, except from certain authorised speakers, or at certain prescribed points. To the words of a man, one of themselves, all are bound to listen in respectful silence.
2. The inference which all must draw from such a scene is that there is a consciousness of a great want — the want of the knowledge of God, communion with God, directions from God. Men cannot do without a religion, and that religion must have its exercises. It could scarcely be accounted for, except on the supposition that there is a God, whom to reverence is man's first duty, whom to know is life. And this supposition condemns us. We do not (it may be) know God, and we do not reverence Him. What the congregation does, the individual does not.
3. We may well form a high estimate of this great institution. What is done here tells upon the life; yea, upon the eternal life. Carelessness of thought, the entrance of the world and the devil into the heart here, does involve consequences of which none can set the limit. When we come together, as St. Paul says, in one place, it must be either for the better or for the worse.
II. THE BREAKING UP OF THE CONGREGATION.
1. He who sees the gradual emptying of this holy place, and pictures to himself the various scenes to which the worshippers are returning, may well look after them anxiously, and wonder where and how the seed sown is to have its development, if at all. Whither will the All-seeing eye track its dispersion? Shall there be any deed of darkness done by one who is now hearing the Word of God? Shall there be around any hearth thoughts of unkindness or words of dispute and bitterness? Or shall there be any lying down to sleep unblessed by prayer? Surely, if the sight of a congregation has its solemnity, the sight of its dispersion is more solemn and more anxious still. Ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table and of the table of devils.
2. In this case, an apostle had been the preacher, his topic was a new gospel, and the impression made had been such that the audience wanted to hear the same sermon again. And yet even when Paul preached, even when One greater than Paul preached, some believed the things that were spoken, and some believed not. It is even so now. Those who were satisfied with the hearing went away; those who desired to live by it stayed behind. Is there nothing now to correspond with this distinction? Where amongst us are the religious proselytes who follow the ministers when the congregation is broken up; use, in other words, the opportunities afforded them for a more private and personal instruction, link together the Sunday services by a chain of holy effort and assiduous devotion in the week between, and thus set themselves with all earnestness to grow in knowledge and in grace?
3. Paul and Barnabas felt that an attentive congregation, though a great blessing, is an ambiguous sign. They knew the precariousness, as well as the importance, of the spiritual life, and never rested satisfied with one symptom or evidence of a strong impression. They spoke to these new disciples, and persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. It is a great thing to set out well; it is more to run well: it is more still to end well.
And the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together;...but when the Jews saw the multitudes they were filled with envy
(J. A. James.)
I. AGAINST THE ENVIOUS.
1. Their secret pride.
2. Their evil conscience.
3. Their internal unhappiness.
II. FOR THE ENVIED. There must be something in it.
1. A truth which cannot be denied.
2. A good against which we cannot contend.
3. A blessedness which cannot be mocked away.
(K. Gerok.)1. They disclose their evil hearts (ver. 45).
2. They make themselves unworthy of eternal life (ver. 46).
3. They disgrace themselves by the bad weapons they employ (ver. 50).
4. They do not arrest the victorious course of truth (vers. 48-52).
Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said,...seeing ye put it from you, and Judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting lifeI. THAT CLEARLY WE ALL ARE, however exorbitant may be our estimate of our own excellencies. Finite merit can never entitle us to an infinite reward. If it were ordained that for each year lived in perfect virtue we were to have meted out to us one year more of heaven, he would be a rash man who would affirm that the reward was insufficient. But suppose that for each such year we were to have a thousand years in glory, who would dare to say that the reward was not far in advance of our deserts?
1. Try and form some idea of everlasting life, that you may be the better able to realise how little you can merit it.(1) It stands contrasted with all forms of life in this transient world. We read of some who seem to have lived to an extraordinary age in primitive times. Yet each record ends with the words, "And he died." Even Methuselah had to come to this at last. I have seen trees in England that possibly may have been growing in the time of Caesar, and there are trees in America that may have been young in the days of Moses, but even these have to die at last. Let your mind wander backwards until you reach the time when man first appeared, and back further through the long ages in which animal life assumed a thousand forms of wonder and beauty, while type after type appears only to pass away. Go back further still through those past ages whose history is written only in "scarped cliff and quarried stone," until you reach the period inconceivably remote, when the earliest forms of life began to exist. Look back beyond that to the time when the world was desolate and lifeless, and back beyond that to the time when it was but a stormy aggregation of gases and vapours, and back beyond that to a time when the planet had no separate existence; and as you contemplate these vast geological periods, which have to be measured by millions of years, reflect that all these are but as a watch in the night as compared with everlasting life, and then tell me who can merit such a destiny as that.(2) Try to present the wondrous vision of the future. Everlasting life! the glory of an age that has no period; a God-like life — a life in which existence itself must be an unmixed boon, because all that could interfere with its blessedness has passed away forever; and as you contemplate the wondrous object, pause and ask, "What can I do that I should win for myself such a prize?"
2. But now look at the other side. Although eternal life is so glorious, yet there is not a man in this congregation who can bring his own heart to be satisfied with the prospect of anything less. Promise to yourself, if you will, a thousand ages, or multiply that thousand by any number of figures, yet let it be understood that there is to come a term at last, sooner or later, and at once there is a bitter drop in your cup of pleasure.
3. But now place these two definite conclusions side by side — that we none of us can deserve eternal life, and that we cannot be satisfied with anything short of it. Bring these two facts together, and then you will find yourselves landed in one of two further conclusions — either that man is to be disappointed, and that human life is to be the victim of death, or else eternal life must become ours without our meriting it, that is to say, by deed of gift on the part of Him who alone has the power to impart it. Nothing can be more plain than the utterances of the New Testament upon this point (John 10:27, 28; Romans 6:23; 1 John 5:9-11).
4. But if God has given it, why is it that we do not possess it? The answer is, that a gift needs to be accepted as well as given. The gift has not been given to each sinner severally, but it has been treasured up in the Son for all. "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." Over and over again we are taught that our eternal life is dependent upon our faith in Christ as God's provision for our need. Now it is obvious that this faith is not an exhibition of merit, but rather a confession of helplessness. Hence clearly it follows that this life is only to become ours by deed of gift. We may receive a gift by an act of simple faith, but something more than faith is required to earn it. If, for instance, the condition had been prayer, we might have felt entitled to some sort of favourable consideration because we had struggled so long and so patiently. Or if the condition had been fasting, etc., we should have felt that our penances had established some sort of claim upon God's mercy. Or had the condition been almsgiving, should we not have felt as if we had paid a very considerable, if not a sufficient, price for this wondrous boon? But faith is at once the simplest and the least meritorious of conditions, and in ordaining this God has not only proved that eternal life is a gift, but that it is a gift that none need find it difficult to appropriate.
5. And this leads to the next point, that there is no excuse for us if we do not possess ourselves of eternal life. If we had to earn it we might well despair. But what have we to say for ourselves if we are so blind to our own interests as to refuse to accept everlasting life as a gift? Are you possessed of eternal life? You have no right to remain uncertain about this. It is not too much then to say that you may become possessed of this blessed gift today. Will you spurn such a splendid gift as this? And will you barter this for fleeting trifles, and thus judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life?
II. But you say, "HOW CAN WE AVOID JUDGING OURSELVES UNWORTHY OF ETERNAL LIFE IF, AS YOU HAVE YOURSELF SHOWN, THIS IS OUR REAL CONDITION? If We are unworthy of it, nothing is gained by our abstaining from judging ourselves to be so." This objection brings us to ask, "In what sense were these Jews judging themselves unworthy?" Obviously not in the sense in which we have used the words; had that been so, they would have been the more disposed to listen to the messengers who brought it as a gift. It is one thing to be absolutely unworthy of any particular benefit, and another to prove relatively unworthy of it when it is brought within our reach. If a benevolent man chooses to take a homeless street Arab and offer him the benefits of a comfortable home, it is clear that this fortunate boy is receiving treatment that he can lay no claim to; he is absolutely undeserving of it. If, however, his benefactor chooses to bestow all this kindness upon him, it is a deed of gift, and the unworthiness of the boy is no bar to his enjoying it. But suppose the silly boy does not know when he is well off, turns his back upon his benefactor, and prefers the gutter to the mansion — what do we say of him now? It is with quite a different meaning now that we affirm that he is unworthy of his benefactor's goodness; and so absolutely we are all unworthy of everlasting life. But when God brings this unspeakable gift within our reach, we judge ourselves relatively unworthy when we treat the priceless treasure as though it were not a thing worth having. Now this is the great sin of man. "Ye put it from you." All I that is how we pronounce sentence upon ourselves. Men put it from them —
1. When they are too busy with other concerns to pay any attention to this. The making of money, the improvement of our social position, the politics of the day, the claims of science or of art, these things are allowed to absorb the attention, while the great question, besides which all other things are mere trifles, How shall I inherit eternal life? remains unanswered and unconsidered.
2. When they endeavour to feel satisfied with a religion that does not impart this gift.
3. When they allow themselves to be blinded by prejudice, or held in bondage by the opinions of others. This was the way in which these Jews of Antioch put it from them. The first thing to be settled before we touch doctrines or party creeds is the question of life.
4. When they treat it with contempt, sneering at it as cant and hypocrisy, instead of examining carefully the nature of the spiritual phenomena occurring before their eyes.
5. By clinging to the sins and follies of which the apostle says so truly, "The end of those things is death." We cannot sow the seeds of death and reap the harvest of life.
(W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
Lo, we turn to the GentilesI. THE RESULTS of the apostles' labours are set before us in their variety.
1. We see their success. At Antioch "came almost the whole city together to hear the Word of God" (ver. 44). At Iconium "a great multitude, both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed (ver. 1). The quality of this success was, most encouraging.
2. This success was the cause of opposition. The Jews at Antioch, jealous over the impression made by Paul, contradicted what he said, and even cursed the name of Jesus and all concerning Him (ver. 45). Confront evil with the gospel, and you must expect an answer, as the sign that your challenge is satisfactory. A gospel which raised no opposition would be questionable.
3. Out of this opposition came failure. The apostles had to leave Antioch under the ban of the law with their work unfinished. Such is the mixed result of Christian work always. We know no place where the gospel has entered to convert every heart, where no opposition of any sort has arisen to check the peaceful conquest, where every soul has remained wholly true to the Lord Jesus Christ. No. The gospel wins its way by struggling with evil.
II. THE CAUSES of this variety of results are hinted at.
1. Man is shown to be responsible himself for his attitude toward the gospel. The Jews, to whom Paul preached first, rejected the gospel, and Paul told them that they had judged themselves unworthy of everlasting life (ver. 46). The Gentiles of Antioch, on the contrary, by their deeds, by their gladness at receiving the gospel and their glorifying God for it (ver. 48), showed that they were worthy of it in Paul's sense. So there is a curious paradox in the coming of the gospel to men: men think it comes before them to be tested as to its truth, whereas it comes to test them as to their character, whether they are worthy to receive it or not. The responsibility for the result therefore rests with them.
2. At the same time Paul points to the mysterious fact that God works in the choice of men. Man chooses; and God is choosing in man's choice. For God works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure. Therefore Paul says (ver. 48) that "as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." He shows us first the earthly stage, with the will of men directing events. Then he draws back the curtain and shows us God at work directing things His way, through the direction of men. But how shall we reconcile the two, the sovereignty of God with the freedom of the human will? They are irreconcilable to a finite mind.
III. THE CONDUCT OF THE APOSTLES in view of these diverse results should be noticed.
1. As opposition arose in the form of contradiction, the apostles "waxed bold" (ver. 46). They told the Jews of Antioch plainly that they were unworthy of everlasting life and showed it by their deeds. They were not afraid of men. The strength of Christian confidence needs opposition in order to be fully seen.
2. As they left Antioch they warned its inhabitants most solemnly: "they shook off the dust of their feet against them" (ver. 51). This was a common Jewish symbolical act.
3. But the apostles did not stay in hostile Antioch while other fields lay untouched; they went on to Iconium. And when this, too, showed itself hostile, they "fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about" (ver. 6). They were but human. They did what they could. When they could do no more they went to new places, and so on and on. In our Christian work we are to do the best we can, using our wisest judgment, going on from Antioch to Iconium, and from Iconium to Lystra, if need be. But in all we are to remember that God works in our presence and in our absence; and even by preventing our active work may do through us better things than we know.
4. For all their hardships the apostles had an abundant joy (ver. 52). And it was just when conscious of their failure that this joy was given. It takes the night time and the prison to bring out the best songs. Earthly disappointment is God's opportunity. Luther wrote his hymns of Christian exultation when his enemies were nearest to overcoming him.
IV. The GENERAL LESSONS of the passage are easily seen.
1. Humanity is a vast democracy in the presence of the gospel of Christ. There is no distinction of persons here. All fall short of the glory of God. All men are equal. The proclamation is to every creature. Let no man say ever that the gospel is not meant for him.
2. Salvation is of grace. The plan of it was formed away back in the counsels of eternity.
3. Every man is responsible to God for his relation to Christ. Our deeds are our own judges.
4. The Holy Spirit goes up and down the world seeking whom He may comfort.
I. THE DELIBERATE JUDGMENT OF THE JEWS. Theirs was no hastily formed opinion. They had learned what were the central truths of the gospel, and they deliberately said, "If the Gentiles are to receive this message, we put it away from us." Abraham saw Christ's day, and was glad. The ritual of the old covenant was typical of what should come. The life and death of the Redeemer fulfilled the words of their prophets. It was such a people, with such privileges, who, in rejecting the fulfilment of their own faith, judged themselves unworthy of everlasting life, or decreed their own sentence of condemnation. The fact, historic in their case, is repeated every day. By our own deeds we decree our own judgment, by accepting or rejecting the truths of the gospel. No one will be condemned who has not by his own deliberate choice condemned himself.
II. THE DECISION OF PAUL. It must be admitted that all his sympathies had been with the Jews. He too had once rejected Christ. He stood before the great crowd in Antioch, and heard their words of blasphemy. The Jews had formed their choice as between Christ and the Gentiles; the choice of Paul was made between Christ and the Jews. He chose Christ, and weaned himself from all his early associations. How keen a rebuke to many in all ages! Every one is called upon to choose between the gospel and its enemies. The question is not concerning family or business connections, how these would be affected by our choice. "He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me." Paul's foes were "they of his own household." Thus is Christian heroism the highest of all, never asking man's opinion in order to follow it, but doing what Christ enjoins, whether men will hear or forbear.
III. THE BLESSING OF THE GENTILES. It was the early dawn of the promised day. From henceforth there should be no difference between the children of men. "The light to the Gentiles" had come. It is no wonder, therefore, that "when the Gentiles heard this they were glad." No body of men can reject the Word and cover up its truths from others. Whom and what one class rejects, another class will receive. There is no faithful minister but can find work somewhere. Whom one Church refuses, another calls. But the Gentiles, among whom we belong, may exercise the same spirit in other ways. Christ came to seek and to save the lost. It is possible that many a disciple may forget those who live in the hedges, and for whom the gospel feast has been spread. It is possible for us to become so Jewish as to think God despises whom we, in our sinfulness, despise.
(D. O. Mears.)
1. First, then, it applies most awfully to the whole space of a man's life here, as a preparation for eternity. Here is his trial — his opportunity — extending over more or fewer years, as God may appoint; but, be it shorter or longer, forming altogether his only opportunity of preparing for eternity, and if lost, lost therefore forever.
2. But this principle applies not only to the whole of our lives here, as our only opportunity of preparing for eternity, but also to all the particular circumstances of life, through some of which we are every day passing; and it is this which I would desire you more especially to notice. Take a few of them as examples of the rest, and begin with the very first. When by baptism we are brought into the fold of Christ, some measure of God's most Holy Spirit is then doubtless given to us. Now here is a special opportunity; for, if these strivings of the Spirit of God be attended to — if the child, is a holy child, and does not, by resisting the Spirit, drive Him away, his heart is purified in an especial manner; the habits grow up pure, and there is a meekness, and gentleness, a purity and simplicity, a tenderness of heart, and a deep quiet delight in God's service, which is most rarely known in its entire fulness by those who have wandered from God, and lost the first opportunity of a religious childhood. Here, then, is an opportunity of gaining a blessing, which, of God's mercy, may last all our life through, and which if lost cannot be regained. And this early blessing is the type and earnest of others which, all our life through, are waiting upon unnumbered opportunities to pour upon us in all their fulness. From the greater occasions of our life — from our holy vows at confirmation — from the marriage blessing, and the funeral separation, down to every duty and temptation of our common days — from the monthly eucharist to the Sunday's worship. And now, from this view of the character and condition of our life, there flow many and most important lessons.Two or three of the chief of these shall be pointed out to you in conclusion.
1. And, first, this subject teaches all of us a lesson of habitual watchfulness. What a picture is this of life! how full is it of the seeds of things! how great a blessing or how great a loss lie hid continually under its most common opportunities!
2. Let us learn, secondly, another lesson — and that, one of humiliation. Let the most watchful look back upon his course, and how thickly will he see scattered all along his path the memorials of too frequent negligence — lost opportunities; each one, like broken urns, with its blessing spilled upon the ground and its grace wasted.
3. Lastly, with humiliation for the past, let us learn, for the time which yet remains, a lesson of earnestness and patience.
(Bp. Samuel Wilberforce.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
I. THE NARROWNESS OF ORTHODOXY. To be right in our opinions is immensely important; but history shows that orthodox people are apt to dislike the progress of opinions. Moreover, we are all apt to think ourselves orthodox; and so Protestants are apt to be grieved when they hear of the success of Popish missionaries, and vice versa. More is thought of the progress of the one or the other than of the overthrow of idolatry. So here the Jews instead of rejoicing that the Gentiles were leaving heathenism were envious at their becoming Christians.
II. THE POSSIBILITY THAT EXCELLENT PERSONS MAY BECOME THE TOOLS OF BAD MEN (ver. 50). Otherwise, in this case, the envious Jews would have been harmless. The Jews persuaded these ladies, and the ladies their husbands, that the apostles were dangerous men. Just as priests in Roman Catholic countries stir up excellent people to persecute Protestant teachers. Similar things happen in this country. Always suspect those who incite you to dislike your neighbours.
III. THE FATE OF THE BENEFACTORS OF MANKIND. We must not take it for granted that beneficence will be rewarded with gratitude, but that more often than not we shall meet with the fate of Paul and Barnabas.
IV. THE RIGHT METHOD OF DEALING WITH PREJUDICED AND OBSTINATE SCEPTICS. After having placed before them the considerations which ought to convince them, let us go to others who will listen more readily. To argue further with them will only inflame their self-conceit; and there are multitudes yearning for the truths these men reject. Life is too short to be wasted in duels with men who will not receive the truth.
V. THE GLORIOUS FACT THAT CHRIST IS THE SAVIOUR OF THE WORLD. Not of Jews only. Let this thought check us when we are inclined to be intolerant. He is the Saviour of all who believe — whatever their doctrines may be. Let this comfort us when we are suffering from intolerance; those who hate us may excommunicate us, but they cannot cut us off from Christ.
VI. CHRISTIAN JOY IS INDEPENDENT OF OUTWARD CIRCUMSTANCES (vers. 51, 52). The loss of the apostle had its compensations.
(R. A. Bertram.)1. Not the language of cowardly fear of men, but of resolute obedience to the intimations of the Lord.
2. Not an expression of proud contempt, but of commiserating pity towards the despisers of salvation.
3. Not a signal to a lazy retreat, but to a new field of labour.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)The Burman Missionary tells the story of an old man who, years ago, when a heathen, came in possession of a copy of the Psalms, in Burmese, which had been left behind by a traveller stopping at his house. He began to read, and before he had finished the book he had resolved to cast his idols away. For twenty years he worshipped the eternal God, revealed to him in the Psalms, using the fifty-first (which he had committed to memory) as a daily prayer. Then, having occasion to go to Rome, he fell in with a white missionary who gave him a New Testament. With joy unspeakable he read for the first time the story of salvation by the Lord Jesus Christ. "Twenty years I have walked by starlight," he said. "Now I see the sun."
(J. A. Macfadyen, D. D.)
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