So Philip ran up and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked.
1. An inquirer.
2. A spiritually awakened inquirer, one who had come to see that his own personal relations with God were matters of extreme importance.
3. A wise seeker, who had found the revealed Word of God, and was searching it in full confidence that therein was the "eternal life." To such a seeker help will never be long withheld. "God waiteth to be gracious." Philip was divinely guided to meet the eunuch on his return from the holy city, and to join him in the chariot just when he was hopelessly puzzled with his reading. The passage which engaged his attention was one which opened up the applications of truth to sinful souls. The great chapter of the evangelical Isaiah deals with human sins, calling them transgressions; and it discloses that wonderful scheme of Divine wisdom and love by which those transgressions were vicariously borne, and borne away. Philip preached unto him Jesus, who "was wounded for our transgressions," on whom the "Lord laid the iniquity of us all," whose "soul was made an offering for sin;" who now saves his people from their sins; from the penalty of their sins, by the virtue of his great sacrifice, from the power of their sinfulness by the cleansing energies of his Holy Spirit. With opened soul the eunuch listened, and the truth dawned upon him; Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, was revealed to him. He believed the record, and longed at once to seal in baptism his faith and love to the crucified One. He thus simply declares his faith, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." What was this eunuch's faith? and can we learn from him what the saving faith is? Evidently it was a simple acceptance of and confidence in the testimony rendered by Philip to Christ, based as the testimony was upon the revealed Word of God. And that is faith still - receiving the record which God hath given us of his Son, and acting on the record. Faith is the great difficulty in the way of seekers, yet, when it is won, it seems strange that so simple a matter should have hindered. Some of the expressions and figures of Scripture may help us.
I. To BELIEVE IN CHRIST IS TO APPREHEND OR LAY HOLD OF HIM. AS St. Peter, sinking in the waters, put out his hand and grasped the offered hand of Christ, so our souls, sinking in sin and despair, by faith lay hold of the strong, rescuing Savior.
II. To BELIEVE IN CHRIST IS TO RECEIVE HIM. As the imprisoned debtor welcomes and receives the man who brings into his cell the money of his ransom, so our souls, by faith, welcome and receive him by whose precious blood we have been bought out of our prison-house of sin.
III. To BELIEVE IN CHRIST IS TO ROLL OUR BURDEN UPON HIM. To shift the weight of all the trouble and anxiety from our own shoulders, and let Christ bear it all for us; as one might do who had an important trial coming on, but trusted the whole matter to his skilful lawyer-friend.
IV. To BELIEVE IN CHRIST IS TO APPLY TO HIM. As the hungry and the thirsty apply for food and drink, so the hungry soul applies to Christ for the bread which, if a man eats, he lives for ever.
V. To BELIEVE IN CHRIST IS TO COME TO HIM. To flee to him as the villagers flee into the strongholds before invading armies; as the doomed man fled into the sanctuary to lay hold of the horns of the altar, or as the manslayer fled before the avenger of blood to gain the shelter of the city of refuge. So the soul enters the stronghold of Christ, takes sanctuary with Christ, passes within the gates of Christ, the Refuge for the sinner.
VI. To BELIEVE IN CHRIST IS TO LEAN UPON HIM, TO STAY UPON HIM, as we lean upon a staff for support. Christ is the strong Staff, on which the soul, with all its eternal interests, may safely lean; Christ is the healthy, strong Friend, on whom the sick, fainting, weary soul may wholly rely.
VII. To BELIEVE IN CHRIST IS TO ADHERE TO HIM, TO CLEAVE TO HIM. As the drowning man clutches so must we grasp, cling to, cleave to, the Lord Jesus, binding the soul to him as with everlasting bands. With so many and so simple illustrations, how well you may be urged now - even now - to believe on the Son of God, and find the pardon he speaks, the life he gives, and the love with which he will make you his own forever. - R.T.
And Philip ran... and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?1. Notice the preliminary fact that the Scriptures challenge investigation. "Let us reason together," says Isaiah. The Bible is a definite and positive force. You can no more eliminate it from the world's life than you can take oxygen from its atmosphere, or Columbus and Constantine from history. The life and words of Jesus invite, demand intelligent study.
2. These Scriptures are a growth. The Word of God is not "dropped ready-made from heaven."
3. Our understanding of the Word is a growth. We must get more and more the true perspective.
I. WHAT RULES OF INTERPRETATION ARE WE TO ADOPT?
1. At the outset we assume the fact that the Word is not a sealed volume, but a plain book, in the study of which reason, common sense is needed. Rationalism enthrones reason above the Bible, we need not go to the other extreme and ignore it. We find necessary facts in the Scriptures. Things, indeed, there are which are hard to be understood, but we need not magnify difficulties into doubts. To recognise difficulties is not sinful, but doubt, at least, is not holy. We are to remember that God is not limited to our comprehension of Him. We cannot rule out all difficulties. Faith has its place as well as reason.
2. The Scriptures, in the next place, appeal to our moral nature, the conscience, affections, to hope and fear. Christ says, "I will tell you whom ye shall fear." The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Love, too, lifts the veil from many a mystery. This is true in even human friendship, but in a grander sense love is an interpreter of God. We quarrel with the facts of His character and government until we learn to love Him. Then all grows plain. The Word of God meets the soul's yearning for pardon. The conscience of Felix was appealed to, and he trembled. Christians need to make their consciences more discriminating and sensitive.
3. Again, we are to interpret the Word of God in its unity and rest upon it as God's truth, not content with fragmentary facts. Our spiritual universe is more than one story high. We cannot leave our belief in a future existence. Deep and reverent scholarship shown in the study of Divine truth has always been honoured of God. We ought to be content only in a large outlook.
II. PERILS IN METHODS OF INTERPRETATION.
1. Some come to the Scriptures for a purpose and bend it to a theory.
2. Others come to the Scriptures with a captious spirit to pick out faults and errors.
3. Some cultivate a merely intellectual, speculative knowledge, and know nothing of the gospel as the power of God unto salvation.
4. Others are literalists. They make a great deal about the horses in Revelation and their colour.
5. Others, still, go to the opposite extreme, and spiritualise everything.
6. The Bible advances as a positive revelation, definite and fixed, while science every year abandons one theory after another.
(M. Burnham, D. D.)— A Persian philosopher being asked by what method he had acquired so much knowledge, answered, "By not allowing shame to prevent me from asking questions when I was ignorant."
I. WHAT teariest thou? This is distinctly a reading age. Take heed what you read. Beware of any impure books which may vitiate the imagination. Beware of any flippant and frivolous books which may make you tired of the monotony of daily life. Beware of any sceptical books, which blasphemously and irreverently decry God and His Holy Word. I know that there are men who say that you must read both sides of a question. I don't see why, if a man chooses to publish a libel upon my wife, I am obliged to wade through it on the plea of reading both sides of the question. How much is read which will scarcely bear inspection. Here this eunuch is travelling back to his own country. He had no need to be afraid of Philip asking him the question, "What readest thou?" There was no need for him to hide the book under his carriage cushion, and say, "Nothing"; no reason for a blush to come across his face. We know if he had lived in the nineteenth century, the Word of God would have been about the last thing that he, as a seeker after truth, would have considered it right to read. But not so in that century. It is as an earnest, honest seeker after truth he studied God's own Word, and asked, "What saith the Scripture?" Ah, some of the heathen will rise up in judgment against us. We read of a wild Pathan giving one-third of his month's pay in order to obtain a copy of the Word of God.
II. But Philip's question is directed, not merely to what it was he was reading, but he asked him, "UNDERSTANDEST THOU WHAT THOU READEST?" This is very important. God deals with us, not as horse or mule that has no understanding, but He puts before us a Word that requires all the best efforts of our intelligence and reason. The first great requisite of good ground to receive the seed is this — that a man understand the Word.
III. Now comes the question, "HOW CAN I UNDERSTAND?" "How can I," said the eunuch — how can I understand?" The first thing you can do is to ask the Author to explain it. If you were reading any book you could not quite understand, and the author is in the next room, it is very easy to go to the author of that book. The author of this book is God the Holy Ghost, and you can ask Him to explain it far better than any commentator.
IV. Then lastly comes the question, "WHAT DOTH HINDER YOU FROM BEING BAPTIZED?" The eunuch knew this: If it is true, I must come out and confess.
(E. A. Stuart, M. A.)
(H. C. Trumbull, D. D)I. IT SUPPOSES that we read the Bible. Is this correct, or does this half heathen put us to shame?
II. IT DISCLOSES our natural blindness. Is not our Bible reading often an unintelligent reading, our Bible a book not understood?
III. IT EXCITES US to seek the true Interpreter and Guide. He it is who spake by Philip — the Spirit of God, who. always lives and operates in the Church. Lessons:
1. Readest thou what thou hast?
2. Understandest thou what thou teariest?
3. Obeyest thou what thou understandest?
(K. Gerok.)1. How this chamberlain came to be a proselyte we do not know. The book which he was so fond of reading may have been the means; certainly it has answered that purpose thousands of times. At any rate, he followed the light he had. Be true to truth as it comes to you. If God gives you only common candle-light, make good use of it. Those who are willing to see God by the moon of nature shall soon be illuminated by the sun of revelation.
2. Having become a proselyte, the eunuch made a long and perilous journey to Jerusalem. After he had enjoyed the solemn feast he returned; and while he travelled along he read the very best text that Philip could have selected. The like conjunction of Providence and the Holy Spirit constantly occurs in conversions. How often have the talks of young men by the wayside been reproduced by the preacher!
3. This nobleman is reading — a hopeful sign. In these days we need hardly exhort young men to read. But then Philip asked, "What readest thou?" and that suggests a necessary inquiry. Much that is read nowadays had far better be left unread. Souls have been ruined by reading a vile book. Young men, you will read — but Sake heed what you read! The best of reading is the reading of the best of books. I do not like to see in a lending-library all the works of fiction needing to be bound two or three times over, while the books of sober fact and solid teaching have never been read, since they have not even been cut.
4. It was a very sharp-pointed question that Philip put to this gentleman. We find it tolerably easy to put questions to a man who is poor, but how shall we approach the rich? We have sermons for the working classes, why not for the Houses of Parliament. Are there any bigger sinners anywhere than you might find in those two chambers?
5. The Bible was meant to be understood, and it benefits us in proportion as we get at the meaning of it. The mere words of Scripture passing over the ear or before the eye can do us little good. "I read a chapter every morning," says one. Quite right; keep that up; but "Understandest thou what thou readest?" "Well, I learn the daily text." Yes, but "Understandest thou what thou readest?" That is the main point. The butterflies flit over the garden, and nothing comes of their flitting; but look at the bees, how they dive into the bells of the flowers, and come forth with their thighs laden with the pollen, and their stomachs filled with the sweetest honey for their hives. This is the way to read the Bible. A thoughtful book needs and deserves thoughtful reading. If it has taken its author a long time to write it, it is due to him that you give his work a careful perusal. If the thoughts of men deserve this, what shall I say of the supreme thoughts of God?
I. WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO BE UNDERSTOOD IN THIS BOOK? I believe that it is contained in the passage which the eunuch was reading. Already he had noted the words, "All we like sheep have gone astray," etc. What is wanted is that we understand —
1. That we have all gone astray. He who does not know that will not care for the Shepherd who comes to fetch him back again.
2. That salvation is the gift of Divine mercy to the guilty, and is never the reward of human merit. Christ did not come to save you because you are good, for you are not good. I hear the doctor's brougham rattling down the street at a great pace; but it never occurs to me that he is rushing to call upon a hale and hearty man. So Christ came not "to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
3. That "the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all"! Now every man who believes in Jesus may know that his sin was laid upon, borne by, and put away by Christ. A thing cannot be in two places at one time. You cannot bear it, but Christ bore it; you are to accept Christ as your Sin-bearer, and then you may know that your sins have gone.
II. WHAT IS THE TEST OF A MAN'S UNDERSTANDING HIS BIBLE?
1. That Jesus Christ is everything to him: for Philip, who did understand it, when he explained it, preached unto the eunuch Jesus and nothing else. I try to preach Jesus, and I love to meet with people who delight in this theme. Every young man, when he believes in Jesus, should give himself to Jesus, heart and soul, for ever. "That's the kind of young man for my money, for he is O and O," said a certain person, meaning, "Out and out for Christ." Jesus was out and out for us; there should be no half-heartedness in our dealings with Him. If we have read Scripture aright, we 'have not received the kind of Christianity which sanctifies us on Sunday, but enables us to he dishonest throughout the week. I like this eunuch for proposing that he should be baptized. He was not advised to do so, but he gave himself up to do the Lord's bidding at once. Whichever way the Scripture bids you dedicate yourself to God, set to work about it, and let it be done at once.
2. That they made him glad, for this eunuch "went on his way rejoicing." The man who from reading his Bible goes forth with a pious resolution that he will make everybody as miserable as he can, wants converting again.
3. That they make him care about the salvation of others; for this Ethiopian nobleman, when he got home, I have no doubt, spread the gospel throughout his native land, and was probably the founder of the Abyssinian Church. One of the holiest instincts born in a renewed man is that of longing to save others. Being saved, we wish to co-operate with the Saviour in His gracious work.
4. That his message to others is what the message was to him — Christ, Christ. You have nothing else to employ as the means of good, except the salvation of Jesus, and there is nothing else worth telling.
III. WHAT CAN BE DONE TO OBTAIN SUCH A DESIRABLE UNDERSTANDING OF THE SCRIPTURES?
1. When you read a passage which you do not understand, read it until you do. Here is a little boy whose father is an artizan, and uses a great many technical terms. The boy is apprenticed, and wants to know all about it, and therefore he listens to his father, and when the day is over he says to himself, "I heard my father say a great deal, but I do not understand much of it." "But you did understand a little of it?" "Oh, yes." To that little he is faithful, and day by day he adds to his store of information, learning more by the help of that which he already knows, and at length he can talk like his father, using the same words with understanding. So when I do not comprehend a chapter, I say, I will hear my great Father speak, even if I do not understand at first what He may say to me, and I will keep on hearing Him until at last I grasp His meaning. Do as the photographer does, when he allows an object to be long before the camera until he obtains a well-defined picture. Let your mind dwell on a passage, till at last it has photographed itself upon your soul by the light of God.
2. Always read with a desire to understand. Have the crackers with you to crack the nuts, that you may feed upon their kernels.
3. Pray for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. When I cannot understand a book I write and ask the author what he means. Can we do that with the Bible? You may consult learned commentators, but that is not half so satisfactory as to go to the Author of the Book. Remember that you can also go to the Maker of your mind, and He can open it to receive the truth.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. INTELLIGENTLY. Very often the time spent in Bible reading is time wasted, There is a certain sect in the East whose priests use a praying machine, and there are people who read the Bible every day, but they read like machines. Reading the Bible does us no good unless we understand what we read. I have met with people who have gone abroad to a beautiful country, just to be able to say that they had been there. They never noticed the beauties of the scenery, their one object was to get to a certain place and then get back again. So it is with many Bible readers. Their one object is to get through so many chapters or verses. Some of the first discoveries of gold in Australia were made by accident. A man saw a mass of rock, and struck it carelessly with a pickaxe and broke it, and found that it contained gold. Now some parts of the Bible may appear like the rock, hard and uninteresting, till we can work into them, then we find gold.
II. PRAYERFULLY. We may make mistakes about the Bible as well as any other book. If you were to read some medical works, and had not received the education of a doctor, you would soon fancy that you had several different diseases; and if you were to try to treat yourself for them you would probably become really ill, or perhaps die. In the same way people may make mistakes about the Bible. A lady once came to me during a mission utterly miserable because she thought she had committed "the unpardonable sin," without knowing what it was. John Bunyan nearly went mad at one time from the same mistake. We must have light to read the Bible by; light given directly by God in answer to prayer; and from the teaching and explanation of God's Church. Men of science have just taught us how to store electricity, so that we can lay in a stock of it just as we lay in coals, sufficient to light our lamps for a given time. Well, we can store light to understand the Bible by; the more we pray over our Bible the more light we store in ourselves.
III. MEDITATIVELY. Food not digested is almost as bad as poison; and so many people get positive harm from their Bible reading because they do not digest what they read. As properly digested food makes our bodies what they are, flesh, and bone, and blood, and muscle, so God's Word properly digested makes a member of the Church a Bible Christian; in the true sense of the term.
IV. TO FIND JESUS THERE. You know how they collect gold dust? They take the soil which has been dug out, and wash it in running water, carefully watching for the sparkling grains. Well, we should take what we have dug out of the Bible by study, and examine it carefully, and look into it again and again till we find gold, signs of Jesus Christ. When we approach one of our English towns or villages, the most conspicuous object is the tower or spire of the church or minster rising above ell other buildings and casting its shadow over all. So when we approach our Bible reading we should see Jesus first, and His Cross rising above all other topics, and casting its shadow on every page.
V. WITH THE AID OF THE SPIRIT. There is an instrument called an AEolian harp, which is silent till placed where the wind can blow upon it, then its strings give forth sweet music. Your Bible will be silent to you till the breath of God blows upon it, then it will be the music of the gospel to you. Old legends say that when the rising sun shone upon the statue of Memnon, in Egypt, the figure uttered tuneful sounds. So when the sun of the Holy Spirit shines upon the pages of your Bible, God will send forth thence His voice, yea, and that a mighty voice. "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear."
VI. PERSONALLY. Do not try to fit the warnings and teachings and threats of the Bible on others, but on yourselves. People too often study God's Word to find out their neighbour's sins, instead of their own. They need the sharp message — "Thou art the man!" In the old days of Greece, they tell us of a philosopher who went about from place to place with a lantern, and when asked what he was seeking, he answered that he was looking for an honest man. We are too fond of taking the lantern of God's Word, and examining our neighbours with it. Let us try to turn the light more strongly on ourselves.
VII. TO REVISE WHAT YOU READ. I heard of a poor woman who heard the account of the Saviour's sufferings read; she was very ignorant, and being told that these events happened long ago, and in a foreign land, expressed a hope that after all the account might not be true. I believe that many people read the Bible, or hear it read, and never feel it, never realise its truth. It is a custom in Greenland for a stranger, when knocking at the door, to ask, "Is God in this house?" If the answer, "Yes," is given, he enters. Let the Bible ask you this question. When you read God's Word, listen for God's voice asking you the question — "Is God in this house?" Is it well with thee, is it well with the husband, is it well with the child? Let your Bible speak to your innermost heart, and let your answer be, "Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth."
(H. J. W. Buxton.)
I. CASUAL PERUSAL OF THE BIBLE. When a man employs his occasional leisure in endeavouring to master a subject we have no need to question his interest in it. The study of the Bible in a railway carriage is a course which any Christian would be glad to pursue if he could do it unostentatiously. Travellers like the eunuch are not numerous. Men prefer the novel. But the grand lesson is the use of passing opportunities for following up what we have learned of the Lord, and fitting us to hear more of Him.
II. THE EXERCISE OF THOUGHT WHICH THE BIBLE DEMANDS. It cannot be "understood" without fixing the mind on its statements, arid trying to perceive what they mean. Many truths are perfectly clear, but others are so recorded as if God were aiming to make us search, pray, watch, and be humble. And so with the study of nature. We cannot understand it by mere gazing.
III. THE INSTRUCTORS THE SPIRIT WILL PROVIDE FOR THE THOUGHTFUL BIBLE STUDENT. The Spirit moved Philip. To warrant the expectation of spiritual help two conditions here illustrated must be fulfilled.
1. The eunuch was reading the Scriptures for himself. He was not taking the account from others, but was perusing the very words which "holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
2. He was conscious that help was needed. So help came in this unexpected way. It is not that teachers are few, but that our eyes are dull. The best helps, teachers, commentaries, etc., are useless without the Spirit of God.
IV. THE GREAT PURPOSE OF THE SPIRIT THAT OF LEADING READERS OF THE BIBLE TO CHRIST. The written Word is to tell of the living Word, and would never have been written but for that.
(D. G. Watt, M. A.)
Family Churchman.I. MANY DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY READ. Through —
2. Lack of teachers.
3. Want of spiritual insight.
4. Prejudice. This is a great moral loss.
II. HOW WE MAY UNDERSTAND WHAT WE READ. By —
4. Aid of the Holy Spirit.
5. Help of friends and ministers.
III. WHY SHOULD WE UNDERSTAND WHAT WE READ? The Bible is —
1. The Word of God.
2. The way of salvation.
3. The joy of the sanctified heart. Is the Bible an open book to us?
(Family Churchman.)1. This interview is a specimen of the private ministration of the gospel, and teaches us how such ministration should be opened and conducted. Philip fell in, not only with the eunuch, but with the train of thought his mind was pursuing. It is surprising how many good and even Scriptural words utterly fail to take hold of the mind, because not in a state which requires that particular counsel. Now as there is in nature a specific for every physical disorder, so there is in God's Word a specific for every spiritual malady. If the right specific is offered to an individual, he appropriates it; it is what his conscience requires; but if the wrong, no effect or a bad one is produced, not because it has lost its virtue, or is essentially deleterious, but because there is no correspondence between it and the patient's state. Now in order to offer men remedies to meet their case we must study the direction of their thoughts. And when we come upon them off their guard, and observe how they are occupied, we can obtain a clue to their thoughts. The Ethiopian was reading the Scriptures as if he took pleasure in them, which showed him to be a religiously minded man. What followed brought out his docility and willingness to be enlightened. So Philip, guided by Providence and by the turn of his bearer's mind, spake a word in season.
2. Our Lord had instructed His disciples to "salute no man by the way." In common intercourse men begin with trifles before they pass on to topics of importance. But trifles do not befit the character of God's messenger. So Philip does not open the conversation by talk about the weather or the crops, but begins at once with the business of his mission. He was abrupt, judged by the standard of the world's manners, but not as regards the Ethiopian's state of mind, who therefore invites him up into his chariot. Alas that our thoughts, unlike his, should be exercised so much on secular things that spiritual remarks seem to us an intrusion and a want of tact!
3. The eunuch's response, "How can I understand," etc., intending to express nothing more than the sentiment of the moment, contains an important principle. The Scriptures are the Church's law, they contain all principles of faith and duty, and are given by inspiration of God. Moreover the Church stands on them; for if the acts and the commission of Christ to His disciples did not exist the Church would have the ground cut from under her. In this point of view Scripture is paramount to the Church and prior in order of thought. Yet the Church is prior to Scripture in order of time. No book of the Old Testament was written before Moses, and yet from the time of Abel there were believers. No book of the New Testament had been composed at this time, yet there was a flourishing Church in Jerusalem. And each one of us, as we come into the world, is approached by the Church, e.g., in baptism, before he can be approached by the Scriptures. That is the principle on which godparents, who represent the Church, and on which religious teachers act. The child is taught by catechisms compiled by the Church, but gathered out of Scripture. Now, suppose a man competently educated, but whose mind has been left a blank on religion, were to sit down to compile a creed for himself out of the Bible, how many years would he take? The mind must proceed in the first instance upon human authority; but in after days, having been imbued with the faith, he can recognise it in Scripture, and see how it can be proved thereby. The Bible can be with none of us the original teacher of truth, but we must not shrink from the duty of testing by this infallible criterion what we first receive on human authority. We have no fear that the Catholic faith will be shaken by this examination if made in the spirit of prayer. Yet as regards lesser points of belief about which there are two opinions a word of caution is needed. Correct conclusions are scarcely likely to be arrived at if we discard the commentary drawn from the sentiments of the primitive Church. Take, e.g., infant baptism. There are passages from which it may be inferred that it is conformable to the mind of Christ. Yet it would be too much to say that it is proved from the Bible. But if you allow the usages of the early Church to be any evidence of what apostolic practice was, then the evidence is overwhelming. The relations between the Church and Scripture are illustrated by those between the judicial and the legislative power in the State. A judge has no authority to make the law: that is made by Parliament; he is only the interpreter and the administrator. On the one hand the judge is as much under the law as those whom he tries, and on the other, juries would often go wrong unless the judge directed them. Well, Scripture is the law; the Church is the judge; the individual soul is the jury. In interpreting the Scripture the individual soul needs the guidance of the Church, which if he rejects, he rejects the aid God has given him for arriving at a right conclusion, and kicks down the ladder by which he has risen to what he knows of Divine truth. And yet should the Church, as Rome has done, impose new articles of faith, he must break with such a society. Whenever the judge imposes new laws, it is time to side with the law against the judge.
(Dean Goulburn.)I. DOST THOU READ THE SCRIPTURES AT ALL? Is such an inquiry necessary in a community professedly Christian? Yes, there are multitudes whom God continually solicits by the Bible in vain. Books that corrupt, or dissipate, or at best amuse, are read, to its exclusion. "I have written unto them the great things of My law, but they were counted as a strange thing." The humble inquirer who asks, "What must I do to be saved?" needs the voice of the book of God to say, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ." The Christian pilgrim needs its guidance to direct him to rest; and he who has grown in grace equally requires its help. It is like the line of the architect, as needful to lay the top stone as to lay the foundation. And yet how many professing Christians suffer the truth to solicit them in vain! Your own reason and human advisers can no more renew a lost soul than they can create a living man. And yet the voice of God in the Bible is too often unheard. Neither the terrors of the law compel, nor the love of the gospel allures. The unwise mariner may not feel the want of his chart or his compass while the sea is calm and his way apparently clear; but as he would feel his deadly error in leaving them behind him when the winds lash the waves into fury, and he knew not whither to turn for help, so the time of sorrow, darkness, sickness, death will come; and then what will ye do, when the redeeming God of the Bible is to you an unknown God?
II. "UNDERSTANDEST THOU WHAT THOU READEST?" "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God," etc. He wants the sight, the hearing, the touch of faith. Many understand not because —
1. They read it with cold indifference. They may take it up occasionally, but it discloses nothing that meets their case, because they are ignorant of their want. Is it wonderful that they should see no beauty in Christ, and no merit in His atonement, who have never realised their sin?
2. It aims a death-blow at the pride of self-righteousness. The Abana and Pharpar of our own Damascus seem more efficient, as they are always more grateful to the natural man. The gospel will be understood as a remedial revelation, only when Divine grace shall make us willing to come, naked and empty handed, to Him who justifieth the ungodly.
3. It opposes the prejudices of unrenewed men. We approach it, too frequently, rather that we may find materials there on which to build up our own system than to find Christ and salvation. But God's immutable truth will never adapt itself to the miserable shibboleth of our device.
4. It utterly condemns sin, and men love sin. "The carnal mind is enmity against God."
III. IN WHAT MANNER THE SCRIPTURES MAY BE SAVINGLY READ. The conduct of the Ethiopian will furnish us with a directory, by teaching us to study them —
1. With constancy and diligence. He beguiled his journey by reading the prophet Isaiah, who testified so wondrously of Christ. And Christ says, "Search the Scriptures," etc. Be not contented with cold, formal, occasional reading; but look into them, as he who is in search of a mine digs deeply, follows each vein, and minutely examines every appearance of the gold which his heart covets.
2. Comparing spiritual things with spiritual. Thus Philip began with the passage in Isaiah, and preached unto the eunuch Jesus. Read your Bibles with their references; see how the law shadows forth the gospel, how the mind of God in one place corresponds to the same mind in another. Such an examination will assist you more surely than all the commentators; for the Holy Ghost will always be found the best Expounder of His own Word.
3. With prayer. As the dial bears all the hours of the day marked upon its surface, but will not show the time unless the sun shine upon it, so doth the Word of God disclose all His mind, but not to saving apprehension, unless by the light of the Eternal Spirit. To the worldly wise, the Bible is a letter written in cypher. The Holy Ghost interprets the writing by bringing His people to the secret of a sanctified experience, as a clue to those high and dear mysteries of grace which before were hid from their eyes.
4. Seeking the help of others, who have been taught of God. "And he desired Philip," etc. Thus Apollos availed himself of the help of Aquila and Priscilla.
5. With humility. Imitate the teachableness of the Ethiopian. "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble." "Learn of Christ, for He is meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls."
(R. P. Buddicom.)1. Sometimes a sermon is reported word for word, at others the substance only. The report of Philip's sermon is the briefest, yet most complete. "He preached to him Jesus" — not only Jesus, but Jesus unto him, then and there. Here often our preaching fails. The gospel is fully declared; but Jesus is not pressed on the conscience of every man. The outspread rays make all the ground bright; but the concentration of the rays on a spot makes it burn. The Ethiopian understood the message, believed, and was baptized.
2. He went on his way. He is not instantly carried home. He pursues his journey under the hot sun, and on the hot sand. Christ prayed not that His disciples should be taken out of the world. The winter is as cold and the summer as warm to them as to others. The Ethiopian began that journey before he had accepted Christ; and now that he is a Christian he does not turn aside; and when he reaches his home he will attend to the duties of his office. So, Christian, if your business was lawful before, you need not desert it after you become a Christian. And, besides, the eunuch would do more good in Ethiopia than in following Philip northward. Everywhere the earth is corrupt, and needs salt.
3. He went on his way rejoicing. Surely it is not a sorrowful thing, whatever people may say, even in this world to know that the next is all your own.
4. Observe what power a thirsting soul exerts, not over earth, but over heaven. An empty human heart, longing for living water, can command all the fulness of the Godhead for its supply. The longing soul of this Ethiopian not only drew Philip from his successful ministry, but forgiving love from its fountain in God. In certain sandy tracks travellers sometimes fall in with a living plant, whose leaves when cut give off refreshing water. How comes this? Because that lowly herb has all the waters of the Atlantic at its disposal. A multitude of microscopic mouths open in every leaf. These suck from the air what moisture it contains, and the air, thus divested of a portion of its moisture, draws from the distant ocean to fill the void. Blessed are they that thirst, for they shall be satisfied.
(W. Arnot, D. D.)1. Note the circuitousness of the method by which they were brought about. This man had just visited Jerusalem on an errand of devotion. The apostles still remained in the city, and frequented the temple. Why was it not arranged, therefore, that he should fall in with one of them? Instead of this, an angel is sent to an evangelist, bidding him travel in a distant region, where he falls in with the eunuch. Perhaps the answer is that this arrangement was most significant of the designs for His Church which God was then unfolding. The ministry of the deacons was the dawn of that of Paul — freer, wider than that of the apostles. It was far more conformable, therefore, with the then state of the Christian dispensation that, instead of receiving the gospel in the confined atmosphere of the holy city, the Ethiopian should hear "a voice crying in the wilderness," the freer breezes of which were a symbol of the liberty with which God's Word went forth to the ends of the earth.
2. Whatever the reason, the practical teaching is obvious. Men often find God where they least expect to meet Him. We may find Him in the desert, and miss Him in Jerusalem. There is a difference in this respect between the laws of nature and those of grace. In the one, the effect is tied to the means; in the other, good impressions are not limited to ordinances. The Spirit is often pleased to act independently of His ordained channels. A casual interview with a stranger, a book read on a journey, some striking incident or scene, has often proved a means of grace when sermons and sacraments have failed. The avenues by which God reaches the hearts of men are almost as various as their characters.
3. The reason for the eunuch pitching upon Isaiah lift. may have been because it was part of a section which also embraces chap. Isaiah 56., where such encouragement is given to eunuchs. But whatever his motives, the text, applying as it does only to the Christ he knew not, perplexed him, and gave Philip the opportunity of preaching Him in whom the prophecy was fulfilled — "Jesus," not Christ the Messiah of the Jews, through whom he could offer an universal salvation.
4. The Ethiopian drank in the good news, and requested enrolment among the disciples of the new faith, and Philip could make no objection. Had not God brought him to the spot for this very purpose? Let us now turn to the practical reflections to which the passage gives rise. Note —(1) The spiritual freedom which characterises the whole incident — its scene, not the temple, but the wilderness; its time, not the Sabbath, but a work-day; the minister, not an apostle, but an officer more or less secular. And yet the great features of this procedure of Divine grace are the same as those we find everywhere. Our Lord commissioned His Church to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, etc., and had said to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born of water," etc.; and St. Paul speaks of Christ as "sanctifying and clearing the Church by the washing of water by the Word." Two elements, according to these passages, enter into the idea of admission into the Church — the action of the Word of God on the conscience, the outward sign of washing with water. Both these are found here. Philip, it is true, preached not in a church, but in a chariot; not to many souls, but to one; still, it was preaching, and then there was baptism. So that there was here a Church according to the definition, "a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments administered." "A congregation!" you will say. Yes. "Where two or three are met together in My name," etc. What a consolation to ministers whose congregations are thin! One good listener is better than one hundred indifferent ones.(2) The immediate administration of baptism to one whose knowledge must have been immature. It was the same in the case of the Philippian jailer. No doubt the circumstances warranted the act, whereas now ordinarily a probation would be wise. Yet it must be remembered that baptism is only matriculation, not graduation, in the school of Christ; and in the great commission, the teaching which qualifies for baptism is distinguished from that which succeeds it. It is not the amount of a catechumen's knowledge which is to be looked to, but his spiritual receptivity.
3. The passage which proved the means of the eunuch's conversion is one which describes the meek and resigned passion of the Saviour, and was the means also of the conversion of the celebrated Lord Rochester. The subject with which it deals was the means of a mighty awakening in Greenland, after long and fruitless efforts, to get at the hearts of the people. Our Lord predicted that His Cross should prove the supreme attraction, and Paul determined to know nothing but it.
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