And there sailed to Antioch, from where they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled.
This was the first missionary report ever presented. Of late years these rehearsals have been common. And it is well that it should be so, provided that the accounts are truthfully given and the results anxiously weighed. Let us observe —
I. THE OBJECT OF THE APOSTLES' MISSION.
1. You all know how ill any work must be done which has not a definite aim. What would a carpenter's, a builder's, a lawyer's, or a physician's work be without some end set before it? Too often in religious matters this is left out of sight. A clergyman, as it is said, "performs duty" — that is, he has gone through the public service, etc. But was that his end, or only the means to his end? A serious question. Far too often we do make these duties ends: if we can perform our duty (as it is sometimes said) creditably, we are ready to say, "I have done my duty; I have gained my end." But who does not see that no amount of labour thus accomplished necessarily implies the slightest sense of the real work of the ministry? Where is the end in all this? No builder would satisfy his employer by merely being seen so many hours each day at his work, if nothing came of it, or nothing but crooked walls, leaking roofs, etc. It is even so in things spiritual. He is not a good workman who has nothing to show for it but his toil. True, in these matters, unlike the other, men cannot by any skill or any devotion secure his object: God gives, and withholds; and he who thinks that his own labour or even his own prayer can guarantee success has not yet learned his first lesson in the school of Jesus Christ. St. Paul's object is forcibly expressed in his own words, "That ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God." Turning, conversion, was and still is the end of the ministry.
2. If this is indeed the meaning of our office, and its responsibility, can any exhortation be more needful than that which bids the congregation remember its object and so aid its work? If its end is to turn you to God, yours surely will be the chief loss and the chief misery if it fails.
II. ITS METHODS. We are struck by its unity, and we are struck also by its variety.
1. St. Paul appears to speak quite differently to the Jews at Antioch and to the idolaters at Lystra. With the one he argues from the Scriptures; with the other only from the book of nature. And how can it be otherwise if a man is in earnest? Does the physician proceed, without inquiry, to apply one mode of treatment everywhere, and expect the recovery of health, which is his object, to reward such unreasoning efforts? Even so it is with the physician of the soul. His first business is to ascertain where men stand, what men know and believe. Till he knows some. thing upon these points, he can only employ the bow at a venture. To speak to a man of salvation when he has never been conscious of danger, to offer a man forgiveness who has never trembled at sin, is to cover up the mischief instead of extirpating it, to comfort a man in his sins instead of rescuing him from them. Till the people of Lystra knew that there was one God, it was idle to say to them, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." On the other hand, those who already possessed the evidence also of a Divine revelation, those whose fault it was to count themselves safe because they had honoured God with a ceremonial worship, must be instructed out of that revelation itself as to the sinfulness of sin, as to the need and the promise and the coming of a Saviour, in the language of a prophet in whom they believed.
2. More than half the failures of our ministry arise from inappropriate teaching and from inappropriate hearing. There is a man here, as there once was when Jesus Himself was the Preacher, possessed by the spirit of an unclean devil. He comes hither, drawn perhaps by custom, perhaps by a wish to gloss over his lost state, perhaps by an instinctive longing to lull the disquietude of his soul. This man meets Jesus here. But too often it is only a hearing of the sound — something about guilt, about atonement, about the mercy of God — and the man goes away as he came; what he has understood he has misapplied; the unclean spirit is still there, soothed, calmed, lulled, like the surfeited snake till its next fit of hunger. That man ought to have been told of God in conscience before he was told of God in redemption. Till he has trembled at judgment to come, till he has cried out against himself as a sinner, he can scarcely profit, he may even be fatally injured, by the offer of a pardon which he wants not, or of a Saviour whom he will only crucify afresh.
3. What cannot be done by the preacher must be done for himself by the individual hearer. Let a man ask himself, "Is that word for me? Does that suit my case? God give me the spirit of wisdom in hearing, lest 'that which should be for my health be to me the occasion of falling.'"
III. IT HAD ALSO A CAREFUL REGARD TO THE CARRYING ON OF THAT WHICH WAS WELL BEGUN.
1. In the form of regular supervision. "They ordained elders in every congregation." He who is turned to God still needs training. It is a comfort to us to believe that our assemblies for worship and instruction had their origin in the institutions of the primitive Church. It is not the one reception of the one great truth which will secure us from the risk of falling away. The minister has to learn; and if he do not learn, his ministry will soon become a vain repetition, a barren and a wearisome form, both to himself and to those who hear him. Even so is it with the congregation. They too have need to learn in the school of God; and the services of this place ate designed to help them in learning.
2. In the form of well-instructed expectation (ver. 22). Neither our Saviour nor His apostles ever misled men as to the nature of the Christian life below — that it must be a conflict, and therefore a life of tribulation.
Parallel VersesKJV: And thence sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled.