Now they which were scattered abroad on the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch…
As there is in all living objects a reproductive capacity, so the gospel has in it a certain vitality which ensures its diffusion. Our Lord illustrates this in His parables of the wheat and the mustard seed. The incident of the text is a singular illustration of this wonderful potency. Note, here —
I. THE STIMULATING POWER OF THE GOSPEL.
1. These men of Cyprus and Cyrene continued without the least abatement of zeal to preach the gospel whilst in the very act of fleeing for their life. The storm of persecution seemed rather to fan the flame of their holy enthusiasm.
2. This enthusiasm is the Christian's normal condition. The religion of Jesus is a religion of love and gratitude, and where these emotions abound they never fail to kindle enthusiasm. In the face of this, an apathetic, unimpassioned Christian is an anomaly as incongruous in conception as a frozen sunbeam or a petrified flame. The sun floats in an atmosphere of flame, which is the source of its marvellous influence over scores of worlds, of its power to quicken their myriad forms of life. The true Christian is a moral sun surrounded by an atmosphere of enthusiasm.
3. This enthusiasm, born of love and gratitude, constitutes the gospel's most effective guarantee for its diffusion. For in nothing is this enthusiasm more assiduously manifested than in efforts to spread the story of the love which kindled it.
4. This enthusiasm the gospel is ever capable of awakening. So long as its power of benefiting men remains, so long will its power of awakening gratitude remain, and where this gratitude exists there will be enthusiasm ever impelling men to self-sacrificing labours for Christ.
5. This spirit should, however, be manifested not in the ministry alone, nor in the more official walks of Christian service, but should permeate equally all its humbler forms. Wherever present it illumines the most commonplace things, and invests the humblest service of God's house with sublime dignity.
II. ITS ASSIMILATIVE POWER — its power of raising men's minds into loving unison with its own spirit and aim. This comes out in relation to these men in the fact that they preached the gospel to the Greeks — uncircumcised heathen.
1. It was a course of action for which they had no precedent, and was opposed to all their previous notions. Such views came even to apostles only as the result of extraordinary training. Could it come to them otherwise than by the broadening and heart-expanding influence of the gospel itself? They rightly apprehended that a scheme so rich in grace and wisdom must comprehend all nations. As with the ancient Jews, so is it with many modern Christians. There is a tendency to regard the grace of God as the special monopoly of a sect. Such feeling will cramp every effort to extend its operations. The gospel must be viewed as a thing destined for humanity, and it is only in the measure that Christians rise to this conception that their hearts will receive that breadth which will bring them into sympathy with every institution having for its object the realisation of its world-embracing aims.
2. But this new departure involved considerably more than the breaking away from Jewish traditions. In preaching to the Jews, the utmost that they had had to encounter were Jewish prejudices regarding the Messiah. They both believed in the Scriptures; but in presenting the gospel to the Greeks they were brought face to face with idolatry — a foe which enlisted every element likely to secure the sympathy of corrupt human nature. They had also to confront philosophies commended by the highest culture. Before these men could have ventured to initiate such a stupendous campaign, they must have had the most unfaltering conviction that the gospel was fully adequate to grapple with every form of opposition that the heathen world could furnish. Have we not in the firm, unwavering faith of these men in the gospel a most fitting lesson for the times? There are still to be encountered prejudices as strong as Jewish intolerance, abominations as foul as ever characterised ancient heathendom, assumptions of science and philosophy far more daring and arrogant than those of apostolic times. Like these men, we must not only believe that the gospel is for all men, but, also, that it is a power capable of overcoming every opposition standing in the way of it reaching all men.
III. ITS UTILISING POWER. These persons were not recognised preachers, but men constrained to engage in the work by force of circumstances. Had they been persons of official standing their names would have been given. Philip, who was a deacon, is mentioned by name when his evangelistic labours are referred to. The lessons are —
1. That efforts to promote the spread of the gospel are not to be confined to those formally set apart. Offices are necessary. Christ has ordained them. This was essential to ensure order and steady systematic labour. Unofficial labour is subject to ebbs and flows, and hence the need of a duly appointed class to ensure regular and unbroken efforts. In countries subject to long droughts extensive systems of irrigation are provided to ensure a steady supply of moisture. But the falling rain, however intermittent, is no less welcome. Similarly the irregular services of voluntary workers are peculiarly acceptable to Christ, and He has not only sanctioned but enjoined such.
2. It is a great defect that ordinary Church members have come to regard all efforts to promote the cause of Christ as an obligation resting solely upon the official portion of the Church. Consequently —
(1) They make no personal effort to promote the salvation of their fellow men, and manifest the utmost indifference with regard to Sabbath school work and the operations of kindred agencies.
(2) The effect of this notion upon the official section of the Church is no less disastrous. It becomes the prolific source of some of the worst evils of priestism. The ministry becomes isolated from the people, and is lifted up with an undue sense of its authority, and surrounds itself with an air of cool official propriety.
3. The highest ideal of a Christian Church, and the one which is most in harmony with the primitive type, is that in which both official and voluntary agencies are found skilfully blended and wisely cooperating.
(1) Those spiritual energies and aspirations awakened by the influence of the gospel in the breast of every Christian would by voluntary labours obtain a proper channel for development and usefulness. Personal piety would gain considerably in breadth and depth by being called upon to act and interest itself on behalf of souls; and officers, looking on the results, would be "glad," and would work with redoubled ardour, and so many would be turned to the Lord.
(2) By these efforts Christianity becomes clearly recognised. "The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch."(3) Generous sympathies are evoked (vers. 27-30).
(4) Gifts are multiplied. This Church abounded in prophets and teachers.
(5) Spheres of usefulness are indefinitely widened. To this Church was allotted the great honour of being made the centre of the first systematic efforts to evangelise the world. It seemed fitting that a Church, thus composed of Gentile converts, should become the principal channel for communicating the blessings of the gospel to their own brethren in the flesh (chap. Acts 13:3).
(A. J. Parry.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only.