And there sat a certain man at Lystra, weak in his feet, being a cripple from his mother's womb, who never had walked:…
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother's womb, who never had walked: