In Lystra sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked.
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.
And there sat a certain man at Lystra.I. THE INCIDENT.
1. The case of the cripple resembles that of the man at the gate Beautiful; and a particular statement of it is given, to show the reality and the greatness of the miracle. It was not an incidental, but a radical infirmity which was removed. He had been lame from his birth. His cure, therefore, would appear to all to be the effect, not of superior skill, but of supernatural power. Thus the design of the miracle would be gained, which was not only to relieve the patient, but to demonstrate that God was present with Paul and Barnabas, and consequently that their doctrine was true. Miracles are a sign "to them that believe not." They are not merely prodigies intended to raise wonder. To the Jews the argument from prophecy was sufficient; and accordingly, we find the apostles insisting much upon it in their discourses to that people. But to the Gentiles it would not have been addressed with propriety, because they were not acquainted with the prophecies. Miracles, however, were an obvious and easy species of evidence.
2. Paul perceived that the lame man had "faith to be healed." This faith seems to signify either a general belief of the power of Barnabas and Paul, or rather of Jesus Christ, whose ministers they were, to cure his infirmity; or a persuasion that a cure would be performed upon himself in particular. In the former case, his faith was founded on the account which he had heard of the character and miracles of Christ, and of the gifts of healing which He had bestowed on His apostles; in the latter it was the effect of a supernatural impression on his mind. This faith Paul perceived by the power of discerning spirits. "Paul therefore said, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked," and the cure instantly followed the command.
3. Paul said, "with a loud voice." The circumstances in which the miracles of the gospel were performed leave no room for suspecting that they were dexterous impositions on the credulity of mankind. They were not done in a corner, but in the chief places of concourse. The juggling tricks of heathenism need only to be strictly examined to be rejected with contempt; whereas the miracles of Christianity are displays of omnipotent power, which will be the more admired the more closely they are considered.
4. The evidence of miracles is not irresistible, but may be counteracted by the power of prejudice. The Jews attributed those of our Saviour to Satanical influence; the Gentiles believed that those of the apostles were operations of magic; and the inhabitants of Lystra were disposed to turn this miracle into an argument in favour of their own idolatrous religion (ver. 11, etc.). As soon as the idea was adopted, that Paul and Barnabas were gods, the people assigned to them their respective names. If the gods had condescended to visit the city of Lystra, religion required that they should be received with appropriate honours; but the sacrifice was prevented by the zeal of Barnabas and Paul, who "ran in among them, saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We are fellow mortals." Their being of "like passions" with themselves would not have appeared a good reason why Paul and Barnabas should not be worshipped: for Jupiter and Mercury, and all the rest, if history might be credited, had given many shocking displays of them. But if they were fellow mortals, beings subject, like others, to disease and death, it was evident that they were not gods. Mortals, indeed, there have been, who demanded religious honours; and base flatterers have not been wanting to comply with the extravagant request. Some of the Roman emperors were deified during their lives. But, surely, the worshippers and the worshipped must have secretly regarded one another with mutual contempt. Jealous of the glory of the true God, the apostles rejected, with abhorrence, any honour offered to themselves which intrenched on His prerogative.
5. In the Old Testament the heathen gods are frequently styled vanities. Of the deities, whom the blinded nations adored, some had no existence except in the imagination of their worshippers; and the rest were dead men and women, whom the gratitude and admiration of posterity had consecrated. Their images, in which a Divine virtue was supposed to reside, were alike unworthy of religious honours and incapable of doing good or evil, as inanimate matter in any other shape (Psalm 135:16-18). These pretended gods, and their unprofitable service, the apostles call upon the men of Lystra to forsake, and henceforward to worship "the living God" — Jehovah, the self-existent Being, the source of life to all who breathe.
6. But if the God, whom Paul and Barnabas preached, was the true God, why was He so late in asserting His claim to their homage? To obviate this objection against the Christian doctrine as a novel system, the apostles add, "Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways." Although He did not leave Himself altogether without a witness, yet He employed no extraordinary means to stem the torrent of apostacy. No prophet arose among them to reprove their errors and restore the knowledge and service of the Creator. "The times of this ignorance He winked at," seeming to take no notice of it, as a man closes his eyes that he may not observe what is passing around him. Every nation was suffered to adopt whatever form of religion was most agreeable to its taste. Idolatry seems to have begun early after the flood. It was practised in the family of Abraham prior to his call (Joshua 24:2).
7. But this idolatry was inexcusable, because "God did not leave Himself without a witness," etc. No man, who consults his reason, can consider the productions of the earth as the result of chance, because chance signifies no cause of any kind, but merely expresses bur ignorance. It is not less irrational to imagine that vegetation is the effect of certain independent qualities or powers of matter. Wherever we observe design, reason and experience point to an intelligent agent. The process by which "our hearts are filled with food and gladness," consists of so many steps all conducting to a specific termination, that no person can survey them without an immediate conviction of the existence and providence of God, The heathens, amidst all their ignorance, were not so atheistical as some modern philosophers. They erred only in overlooking the true Author of their enjoyments, and returning thanks for their fruitful seasons to Jupiter, and Ceres, and Pomona, instead of acknowledging the various productions of the earth to be the work of one God, "from whom cometh down every good and perfect gift."
II. ITS LESSONS.
1. We learn from this passage that the contemplation of nature should be rendered subservient to the purposes of piety. Man is delighted with the view of what is sublime and beautiful, and with instances of curious contrivances and exquisite workmanship; but the ultimate design of this delight is to conduct him to the knowledge and love of its Author. Philosophy will afford us much entertainment by unfolding the secret operations of nature; but the pleasure of the unlettered Christian is incomparably greater when he traces, in the grand outlines of creation, the footsteps of his Father, and the smiles of His goodness.
2. Let us give thanks to God for our deliverance from idolatry. It is not to reason that we are indebted for this deliverance. We indeed find no difficulty in proving that there is only one God, who ought to be worshipped; but to demonstrate a truth already known is a much easier task than to discover a truth buried under the rubbish of prejudice and superstition. The wisest and greatest men of antiquity were polytheists. Were Christianity banished, the absurd and exploded systems of Paganism would be restored. No sooner had the French nation renounced the religion of Christ than they began to worship the Goddess of Reason.
3. As we profess to be the servants of the living God, let us remember that it is a pure and spiritual worship which He requires. He must not be treated as one of the idols of the Gentiles, to whom their votaries presented the empty homage of ceremonies and oblations. Then only do we serve Him when we present to Him the offering of our hearts, commit ourselves to the direction of His wisdom, submit to His authority, and regulate our thoughts and actions by His law.
(J. Dick, D. D.)1. This man would not be admitted into a drawing room; he would be a spot on any feast of high conviviality; but Christianity always begins with the cripples. It will begin anywhere. Its one cry is, "Give me a man," and in reply to this the cripple has always been given. This is the defence of the Church, that it shuts out no man, but finds a seat even for the cripple who cannot stand.
2. Paul perceived "that he had faith to be healed." That man is here; don't tell me you are not a Christian; your being here means Believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. What you want is the faith to use faith, confidence to use the power you have. The great, kind sea waits for you. It is a great easy nurse, and says, "Come, throw yourselves right upon me, and you shall not sink." Who can tell but that some poor soul now may say, "Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief"? If so, this will be the day of miracle.
3. I wish we could be as sure that Paul is here as that the cripple is. You have here an illustration of Paul's insight into character. Not long since we noticed that Barnabas "saw the grace of God." What eyes those men had. They knew faith when it was only a light in the face, a gleam in the eye. There is more faith in the world than the preachers have yet conceived. We make great mistakes in confounding one character with another, and in mistaking the symptoms that are offered in order to deceive the very elect. Many a man laughs to keep you off the scent; whilst under his assumed gaiety his heart is suffering from the bite of an adder. Many a man is silent who wants to speak. You have thought him cold, distant, indifferent, whereas in his heart he has been saying, "Would God I knew how to begin." Let us pray for the spirit of discerning, and so use that spirit as to bring men who have taken one step on the right road forward on their journey.
4. Why did Paul speak "with a loud voice"? Some people object to loud voices — they say they could hear quite well if the preacher did not exert himself so. It is not enough to hear — you must overhear. An utterance must not deliver its own syllables only, but take with it heart, fire, life. If you had spoken with a sublimer audacity you would have elicited a nobler reply. People knew that Christ spoke with authority, and Paul's heart went with his voice, and his every syllable was glorified into a power.
5. Not only had Paul keen insight into the character of others, he had also keen insight into his own spirit. That kept him right. The high priest of Jupiter was prepared to offer sacrifice to him; but he cried, "We also are men of like passions with you." Their self-knowledge was, humanly speaking, their salvation. If we knew ourselves we could not so inhale the incense of adulation as to lose our balance. Let all men know themselves to be but men, and then eulogium will bring with it honest encouragement, and instead of offering sacrifices, we shall offer the nobler homage of confidence and love.
6. This narrative throws some light upon Christianity itself. Christianity makes people do what they never did before. The man had never walked. Christianity does not make us do things a little better than we did them before; it makes us do things we and the world thought it impossible for us ever to do. When the priest of Jupiter saw what was done, he was prepared to put the knife to Jupiter's own throat. Christianity must vindicate itself by the men it makes. Convince the priests of Jupiter, not by eloquent reasoning, but by noble manhood.
7. The man "leaped and walked." You cannot leap long — the law of gravitation is against that — but you can walk all your lifetime. A man leaping always is beside himself; a man walking has serious business, and he is going to do it. We cannot live in raptures, but we must leap at first. Those who have seen God, and have received of His strength, mount up as on the wings of eagles: then they run, then they walk. It would be pleasant to see some of us leaping a little. Without enthusiasm, what is the Church? It is Vesuvius without fire; it is Niagara without water; it is the firmament without the sun.
(J. Parker, D. D.)I. MAN WORSHIP. Look at —
1. The great miracle.(1) The cripple. His condition was, humanly speaking, hopeless. So the sinner (Romans 7:18; Psalm 51:5).(2) The cure. Look at the steps.(a) "The same heard Paul speaking." The gospel came with healing to the soul before healing was given to his body.(b) Perceiving how undoubting was the man's faith in Christ as a Saviour, Paul saw that he would have just as much faith in Him as a healer.(c) "Stand upright on thy feet." To that clarion call all the energies of the lame man's being responded. The sense of impotence gave place to a sense of power. There was a second miracle in the leaping and walking; for with man walking and leaping are the result of many trials and failures.
2. The great mistake. The miracle set the people reasoning. By no mere human power could such a wonder be performed; therefore these men must be gods. Even the priest of Jupiter himself came to do priestly homage.
II. TRUE WORSHIP. Some would have let the people suppose for a time that their surmise was true. It would give them influence, and gradually, they could turn attention away from themselves to Christ, etc. But the false never can represent the true. How did Paul and Barnabas act?
1. Self-worship rejected.(1) The apostles' horror. Evidently no such temptation had appealed to them.(2) The apostle's declaration. "We also are men," etc. Capable of suffering, and hence unlike gods.(3) The apostles' mission. "Bring you good tidings, that ye should turn from these vain things unto the living God." The worship of the living God is the only one that brings returns. All other worship is empty of results — a waste of time, of means, of energy — an eternal disappointment.
2. True worship enjoined. The sermon of the apostles is short, but it presents God —(1) As Creator. "Who made the heaven," etc. God was "living," while their gods were of stone, or of their own imagination. He was self-existent — their gods were "vanities."(2) As Father.(a) Indulgent. "Who suffered all nations to walk in their own ways." He would not compel their adoration, but left it to themselves to find out that evil was hurtful, idolatry nothing but vanity, and that the wages of sin is death,(b) Faithful. "Yet He left Himself not without witness, in that He did good." The apostacy of the nations did not cause God to turn away from them. With infinite patience, born of infinite love, He continued to treat them as though they were His children.(c) Provident. "And gave you from heaven rain," etc. With wonderful kindness our Father "maketh His sun to rise on the evil and the good," etc. His love and goodness continually plead with men to repent. "And with these sayings scarce retained they," etc. The heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. It is as hard sometimes to turn them as it is to turn the course of a river.
(M. C. Hazard.)
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