Acts 8:4
Therefore they that were scattered abroad, etc. It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save the world. Providence and grace work hand-in-hand. The Church needed to be taught by discipline. Jerusalem a natural center of religious life. But a center of radiation, not concentration.

I. PREACHING THE WORD the greatest function of the Christian Church.

1. The Word preached was the Word given. Apostles gave it. It was pre-eminently Christ's Word. It was given by the Holy Ghost with special gifts and wisdom - "confirmed" unto us.

2. The Word preached was the Word tried. Conversion proved it. Church life illustrated it. The attitude of the corrupt Jewish Church showed that it was a new Word that was required for the world. 3. Preaching preceded writing. Individual testimony. The baptism of persecution followed the baptism of inspiration. The world wants not speculative truth, but practical - the Word of life. "Taste and see," etc.

II. UNIVERSAL RESPONSIBILITY for the spread of truth.

1. The true conception of the Church - a body of believers. They believe and therefore speak. Possession of the Word is responsibility.

2. The state of the world demands activity in every believer.

3. The pastoral office quite consistent with the fulfillment of this universal duty. The primi inter pares should stimulate all to work.

III. THE LEADINGS OF PROVIDENCE are the true guidance of spiritual activity. "Scattered abroad" against their will. Doors opened. Opportunity enlarged. Trouble sanctified.

1. It is dangerous to anticipate Divine preparation.

2. Watch in the night, for the darkest hour precedes the dawn.

3. Keep a true and firm center from which to go and to which to return. Jerusalem still remains the seat of apostolic wisdom and authority. God is not the author of confusion. The greatest activity need not break up orderly religious life. Revivals and evangelistic aggression should always maintain a rallying-point. Seek out not "quiet resting-places," but spheres of labor. Let God appoint the peace. - R.







Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word.
That it is pre-eminently by aggressive movements that the Church is to prosper. By this means she is to maintain spiritual life in her own soul — cause religion to flourish at home, and extend its triumphs abroad.

1. The truth of this doctrine is suggested by the first impulses of the religious principle — the spirit of love in every Christian's bosom. False religionists, both among Pagans and nominal Christians, have, I know, taught that piety was a kind of dormant, contemplative spirit; that its power was to be manifested in patient endurance rather than holy action; in a voluntary withdrawment from the world to avoid its contaminations, rather than in resolute efforts to make the world better. The unsophisticated promptings of the new-born soul are always to active effort for God. This is strikingly exhibited in young converts. It is illustrated with great beauty in the conduct of Christ's earliest disciples. It conceives plans, it demands efforts, for the world's conversion. Every real Christian that lives in the spirit of religion may consult his own Consciousness on this subject. See the lives also of eminently holy men in later times — Baxter, Brainerd, Martyn, Payson, etc.

2. The doctrine I have stated further appears from the fact that truth is the grand instrument which God employs to overthrow the kingdom of Satan, and advance and establish the kingdom of His Son. The Word of God must not only be translated into all the languages of the earth, but it must be carried to every, man's door; nay, its great truths must be pressed home upon every man's conscience. What a mighty work here opens for Christians of every name! It is, moreover, eminently an aggressive work, a missionary movement. How are they to accomplish it by shutting themselves up in cloisters?

3. Both the necessity and the vital importance of the aggressive movements of the Church appears from the very attitude of a fallen world towards God. It is one of hostility to His character and opposition to His truth. The world will not come to the Church and crave instruction at her lips. As her Saviour sought her, so He requires her to seek sinners. In other words, she must make external and aggressive movements. She must not study so much her own comfort as her enlargement.

4. The whole current of Scripture precept and representation is in perfect accordance with this view of the subject. The Bible never instructs the Church that she is to conquer the world by her passive virtues — "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature."

5. The entire history of the gospel confirms this view of the subject. When has any signal advance been made in the work of human salvation, except by a movement similar to that described in the text? The Mosaic institution was peculiar. It was conservative rather than aggressive. Turn to a still later page in the history of the Church. How was it at the Reformation? How was it at the period when Whitefield and Wesley appeared? And just in proportion as any branch of the Christian Church, in the spirit of Christ, attempts spiritual aggression, in the same proportion its interests are prospered. It is seen fulfilling its high destiny.Remarks:

1. We see why the Church is organised.

2. This subject also indicates the grand object of all preaching to the Church.

3. This discussion throws light upon the providences of God towards the Church. Now, as in former days, He allows heresies, persecutions, schisms, and various forms of affliction, from time to time, to invade the Church. Missionary efforts formed no part of their original plan; they were the plan of Providence.

4. This subject throws light upon the melancholy fact, "known and read of all men," that many Churches which have numbers, and wealth, and much secular influence, have no corresponding moral power. Woe to Churches and to ministers who are thus "at ease in Zion."

(J. H. Tinsley, D. D.)

I. IT IS THE WILL OF GOD TO PROPAGATE HIS SON'S GOSPEL; and in all ways, through circumstances adverse or prosperous, He gives it free course. Sometimes it is by opening the commerce of nations, so that the messengers may occupy new fields; sometimes by some spark from a martyr's pile kindling a tire in a land or in a heart. Great as has been the effect of the patronage of kings, it has been as nothing in comparison with that constancy of faith even unto death, of which Stephen was its first instance, followed by those of whom our text speaks. This was all that remained of the effects of the first Christian persecution; an added testimony, a wider circulation, and a more decided devotion.

II. WHAT IS THIS GOSPEL?

1. It is called "the Word." A word is the utterance of a mind, reason communicating itself. Do we believe that the gospel is the expression of God's mind, the communication of His will? It is a glorious view which is thus opened. God has spoken concerning us, and to us. That mystery which for ages and generations had enveloped the ulterior designs of the Almighty Creator touching His rebellious creatures is at last revealed. God has announced to us the forgiveness of sins through a Mediator and a Sacrifice; the sanctification of sinners, their recreation in His own lost image, by means of an indwelling Holy Spirit; that prayer is the one connecting link between us and these two unspeakable gifts; that it is His intention to raise the dead to an immortal existence, the character of which, for happiness or misery, will depend upon the life here led by us. These things are amongst the disclosures embodied in that Word which these dispersed disciples preached, and which we, if we be faithful to our commission, are preaching still and still hearing.

2. But, as they preached the Word, so Philip preached Christ (ver. 5). There was no difference between the two. Christ is "the Word," and is so designated because He is the Revealer of God: "The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." To preach Christ, in His person, in His character, in His work, is to proclaim God's Word, in its simplicity, fulness, and strength.

III. THE CREDENTIALS OF THIS GOSPEL. When we preach the Word, or Christ, how do we establish it? No doubt we go back to the evidences: we speak of God's triple seal, of goodness, wisdom, and power, as set to the words and works of Christ: These arguments are never worn out; nor can it ever be safe to disuse them. But when our Lord said, "These signs shall follow them that believe," He taught us to look for more than a mere historical proof. When Philip preached, certain results followed (ver. 7). Thus he could appeal to effects, and say, Judge ye whether a doctrine which brings with it these infallible signs be of man or of God. These visible tokens do not now attend our preaching, and we ought not to want them; and "if we hear not Moses and the prophets," if we refuse the doctrine of Christ and the apostles, neither should we be influenced by any outward sign. But a changed life, an altered spirit, the formation of Christian habits, and the diligent use of Christ's ordinances these are the true proofs of the gospel Word in our days; by these things other men take knowledge of its power and of its virtue.

IV. THE EFFECT OF THE PROCLAMATION OF THE WORD (ver. 8). It is long, we may fear, since in any whole place there was joy on account of the gospel. Let me ask then as to the individual soul, Which of you knows what joy is in things spiritual? Who, in days of health and prosperity, finds his happiness simply in Christ? Who, in days of sickness and disappointment, does not find to his consternation that the light of heaven is gone out too? Joy is the overflowing of happiness, the exuberance of a comfort and a tranquillity habitually felt within. Oh where is such joy as that of which our Lord spoke, "These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full"? Levity there may be, and too much of it; cheerful spirits in some, domestic happiness in some, contentment and even thankfulness in a few; but where amongst us is that grace of Christian joy which seemed to flow so naturally, in other days, out of the very first reception of the tidings of a Saviour? And yet such joy lies nearer than we imagine: sin forgiven, the atonement believed in, the Holy Spirit cherished — it is the natural effect of these things to inspire joy. Ask of God the power to grasp them as realities, and joy will enter with them; a joy not of this world, a joy the very foretaste of heaven.

(Dean Vaughan.)

The great majority of the dispersed Christians held no ecclesiastical office whatever. Yet they preached wherever they came, without being called to do so by official duty or express commission, but entirely from the internal pressure of faith, which cannot but speak of that which affects the heart, from the impulse of the Spirit by whom they were appointed, and from love to the Saviour to whom they were indebted for the forgiveness, of their sins and for their blessed hopes. According to human ideas of Church government and office, it ought not to have been so. But the Lord of the Church does not so confine Himself even to the office of the apostolate established by Himself, as that everything must take place entirely through it in order to be lawful, pleasing to God, blessed, and full of promise. Christ thus shows that no man and no finite office is indispensable and absolutely necessary; only He Himself is ever and everywhere indispensable.

(G. V. Lechler, D. D.)

A Christian is one who knows and receives as true what Christ has revealed in His Word, whose inward state (religious consciousness) is determined by that knowledge, and whose life is devoted to the obedience and service of Christ. Christianity is therefore a system of doctrine, an inward life, a rule of action. When, therefore, we speak of the aggressive character of Christianity, we may mean the antagonism of truth to error, the expansive power of the principles of spiritual life, or the opposition of good to evil in the outward life; or, as the Scriptures call it, the kingdom of God. We may mean by the aggressive character of Christianity, its inherent force, by which it tends to gain more and more the complete control of the individual man and of human society; by controlling all the forms of human thought, the inward character of men, and their outward conduct.

I. CHRISTIANITY IS THUS AGGRESSIVE. It does tend and strive to subdue.

1. This is variously taught in the Scriptures. It is compared to a stone, cut out of a mountain, which gradually fills the whole earth; to a tree whose branches extend over all lands; to leaven; to a temple in the process of erection; to the sun in its course through the heavens.

2. It is deducible from its nature. Truth is necessarily antagonistic to error, and holiness to sin. The one must strive to overcome the other, both in the individual and the world. Besides being a religion suited to the necessities of all men, and absolutely essential to their well-being here and hereafter, it cannot be embraced by the individual without the consciousness on his part of the obligation to uphold and extend it. A Christian, from the nature of the case, is fired with zeal for the glory of Christ and with love for his fellow-men.

3. It is illustrated in the history of the Church. The original promise that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head has expanded into the whole system of Christian doctrine. The hundred and twenty disciples in Jerusalem occupied Syria, Egypt, Greece, Italy; and since then Christianity has gained the civilised world. It has banished idolatry, elevated man, and moulded human society.

4. It is proved in the experience of every Christian. His inward life is a progress. He passes from infancy to maturity. The truth becomes better known and more firmly believed. Indwelling sin becomes weaker, and grace stronger. Where this is not true, there is no true life.

II. TO WHAT IS THIS AGGRESSIVE POWER DUE?

1. Not to anything in itself as a system of truth. If revealed to the lost in the other world it would be powerless. If revealed to fallen men, sent in books or by living teachers to the heathen, it would, if left to itself, be universally rejected. The opposition of Satan and the evil heart would be too much for it.

2. Not to the subjective effect on the hearts of those who are led to embrace it. If nothing were done ab extra to induce the reception of the gospel, the inward effect and the outward agency would fade away.

3. But to the purpose of God and the co-operation of the Spirit. When a woman puts leaven into a measure of meal, she is sure that the whole will be leavened, because the effect is due to the operation of invariable physical laws. But when the gospel is introduced into a community, whether it will take root and extend, or not, depends on an ab extra sovereign working of Divine power. Hence a sense of dependence is to be acknowledged and cultivated. It is because Christianity is the life of God (i.e., of a present Christ) that it must prevail.

4. Although the gospel is thus dependent on supernatural agency for its preservation and extension, yet human co-operation is ordained as the means. Faith and love are the powers which we are to wield, depending on the Spirit of God.

(C. Hodge, D. D.)

The dispersed preached the gospel. Thus by the storm the seeds hitherto collected in one place are scattered hither and thither, and carried to a distance, where they germinate and bear fruit. Thus the Redeemer knows how to convert that into good which was intended only for evil; i.e., not only to hinder the contemplated wicked designs, but by means of them to obtain an unexpected furtherance of His kingdom.

(G. V. Lechler, D. D.)

The storms of persecution are only winds which fan the fire of faith in the Church, and carry the sparks of truth to a distance.

(K. Gerok.)

We spring up the thicker the oftener we are mowed down. The blood of the martyrs is their harvest-seed.

( Tertullian.)

As a tree on fire kindles a whole forest into a flame, so the apostles, burning with the fire of heaven, have set in a blaze the whole world, and have filled it with the light of truth and the warmth of charity.

( St. Augustine.)

The apostles were as burning coals, scattered throughout the nations, blest incendiaries of the world!

(Archbishop Leighton.)

I do not suppose that these good men stood up in pulpits and gave sermons. This also is good; but for this there would often be no time; the men must make haste — their enemies were close upon them — they must flee into the next village! But, before they went, "Just listen," they would say. "You ask why we are here, why we are in trouble and danger, what is the matter? We will tell you." Then would come the sad tale of Stephen. And the Name that Stephen had loved would again be spoken; with the glad tidings that Jesus who had died was risen again, and was at the right hand of God, to save from their sins those who repented and believed in Him. "And He has saved us!" those preachers would say; "and He is ready to save you!" They might not be, all of them, very wise, but they could tell as much as this. And to tell this truly and earnestly is to "preach the gospel." May not even a child, then, sometimes preach?

(S. G. Green, D. D.)

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