The Biblical Illustrator
Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence.
1. Whether we consider the man, the circumstances, the speech, or the effect produced, this address is worthy to be ranked among the famous speeches of the ages. Yet it was not the address of a great political leader, but the defence of a poor, friendless, manacled prisoner.
2. Most men would have desired nothing so much as to be hurried out of sight of the crowd. Not so with Paul. Barely delivered from that most terrifying of all forms of danger, the murderous fury of masses, he addresses the densely thronging thousands, who were only kept from him by a little belt of Roman swords.
3. What surroundings could have been more unfavourable--a crowded stairway for a platform, a surging, hostile mob for an audience, a manacled arm to interfere with freedom of action. But a man was behind that speech; a life of suffering and heroism, an unwavering conviction of the truth spoken, an unfathomable love for the Saviour whose cause was defended, was behind that speech. Three elements made it great.
I. Its wisdom and moderation. He must have been terribly excited when he began. He had been struggling with the mob in a hand-to-hand conflict. He knew its desperate and despicable character, and that it was on a false and malicious charge that this uproar against him had been excited. Now we should expect some terrible invective. Curran, or Grattan, or Wendell Phillips, would have withered those Jews. By nature he was as hot-tempered as any, and you would expect him to begin, “Liars, hypocrites, whited sepulchres, hear my defence.” But no; even that hateful mob he addresses in terms of the highest respect. Then he conciliates them still farther by speaking in their own dialect, every syllable of which was music to their ears. There is a great deal for us to learn from this exordium. When you try to convince men, find out what you have in common with them. Enlist their sympathies by showing the marks of common humanity. And in order to show this sympathy feel this kinship. Go into the slums of any great city; go to the farthest heathen shore; go into the fashionable church--with all we have something in common. We are all men and immortal sinners for whom Christ has died. In comparison with these bonds of union what are other distinctions?
II. Its simplicity. There is no attempt at rhetoric. The simple story of his conversion is told without embellishment. After all, is not this simple direct experimental way of speaking for Christ the best? Did long words and involved sentences and high-sounding phrases ever convert anyone? When Abraham Lincoln used to plead before the juries of Illinois farmers, they would say to one another, “Lincoln can’t make a great oration, but he can somehow show us where the truth lies.” His Gettysburg address has been pronounced by the highest authority to be one of the three greatest speeches ever uttered in America, and yet there is not a word or a sentence which a boy cannot understand. No, eloquence does not consist of noise. The mob made a great deal more noise than Paul, but Paul made an address which will be read for a thousand years to come, while their wild, incoherent ravings have long since been lost in the surge of time. Is there not a thought of encouragement here? We are not equal to the eloquent oration, but we are equal to the simple recital of experience. In that may lie the most soul converting power.
III. Its truthfulness. It would have been very easy for him to colour or exaggerate the truth, and startle the superstitious fancies of his easily-excited audience. But he chose to appeal to their hearts with the simple truth. Here is a weapon which we all have for the beating down of error--the recital of a truth which we have experienced, and which has entered into our lives.
IV. Its courageous utterance. Paul concealed, modified nothing. He told his straightforward story, and left it to make its own impression. There was one word which he knew would fill his enemies with fury, that was the word “Gentiles.” Because of his carrying the gospel to the Gentiles this mad mob had been aroused. Now, should he declare that it was his mission to carry the gospel to them? By one word he can arouse all their passions, or, by avoiding it he can pose as an honoured and learned Pharisee. A warm abolitionist, speaking against human slavery in a Richmond slave market before the war, was never in a more perilous position than Paul if he declared or intimated any sympathy with the Gentiles. But we know what course Paul will take, and he took it. “They gave him audience unto this word, and then” (Acts 22:22). Conclusion: This was an entirely unpremeditated speech of the apostles. He was so pervaded and filled with the love of Christ, that when taken unawares he could do nothing less than tell the old, old story. And he could have done nothing more or greater. (J. Clark.)
I. Persecuting Christ’s Church.
1. A birthright among God’s chosen people did not keep Paul from early persecution of those who believed on God’s Son. We may have been born in a Christian land, and still not be Christians.
2. A most complete education did not restrain Paul from persecuting Christ’s followers. We may be college educated and still remain bigoted, ignorant, opposers of the truth.
3. A. consuming zeal only made Paul’s mistaken activity the more disastrous. We had better never be zealous than to have a zeal only for the wrong.
4. A relentless determination rendered Paul’s evil work of persecuting increasingly evil. We are so much the worse off for having a strong will, if it be a wrong will.
5. A hatred of the Way led Paul into the way of persecuting. If we do not love the Saviour, we shall soon find ourselves attacking those who do.
II. Hearing Christ’s voice.
1. The great light shone in the broad glare of noonday. The Divine glory overshadows any earthly radiance.
2. The Divine voice called the sinner by name. Christ addresses each personally, and it is a waste of time to plead that the message was intended for someone else.
3. It was Jesus who was persecuted. Our sins are chiefly not against our friends, ourselves, or our Church; but against our Saviour.
4. The true answer to the Divine warning is, “What shall I do, Lord?” What we have done, we may repent of--what we shall do tests the sincerity of our repentance.
5. The Lord sent Paul right on to Damascus, whither the apostle had been journeying before. Christianity doesn’t take a man out of his earthly surroundings; it sends him on to Damascus, but with a new purpose and new hope.
6. The beginning of the Christian life is in faith. We must trustfully wait until we reach Damascus for God’s plans regarding our life to be unfolded.
7. The new vision of heavenly things may well blind our eyes to the things of this world.
8. The reclaimed wanderer, the regenerated persecutor, the regained evil-doer, are all sure witnesses of what power there is in the Christian life.
III. Called to Christ’s service.
1. We need to make haste and get to our field of Christian labour--especially if, like Paul, we have spent the early years of our life in opposing Christianity.
2. We have a right to select the home mission field as our place of labour, but if God indicates that our place is among the foreign missions, it is our duty to go thither.
3. We shall always feel hampered by the record of opposition that preceded our acceptance of Christ, but we can do thorough work for Christ nevertheless.
4. We are responsible alike for our doing and for our consenting to what others do. We may become implicated in the murder of Stephen without having cast a stone.
5. We may rightfully pause and deliberate and consider regarding our future course until God cuts it short with a peremptory “Depart.” Then we must at once arise and go. (S. Times.)
The legitimacy of self defence
A man must not be always defending himself, or explaining his actions, to others. Life is too short, and time is too precious for that. But there are occasions when a man owes it to himself, to his friends, and to the cause of truth, to speak out, and to make clear what is now a tangle of inconsistencies, or a web of misconceptions. It is a great thing to know when to explain, and when to let things explain themselves. Paul had wisdom from above to enable him to do the right thing in this line. Any man with the faith of Paul can have wisdom on this point from the source of Paul’s wisdom. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
The defence and weapons of a man of God in troublous times
I. For himself--he has right and law which must protect him, as long as they have the power.
II. Within himself--he carries the equanimity of a good conscience, which remains undisturbed in the storm of the passions.
III. In himself--he exhibits the power of a Divinely consecrated personality, which does not fail to impress even brutal crowds.
IV. In God--he has a friend who says, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” (K. Gerok.)
Paul’s memorable sermon at Jerusalem
I. The preacher: in chains.
II. The pulpit: the stairs to the Roman barracks.
III. The deacons who conducted him: the soldiers.
IV. The psalms which preceded the discourse: murderous outcries.
V. The congregation: an excited people.
VI. The anointing which he brings along with him: the Spirit of the Lord, as a Spirit of faith, love, wisdom, and strength. (K. Gerok.)
Paul and the bigoted Jews
1. Christians may at any time be called upon for “a reason of the hope that is in them,” and ought to be “ready to give it, with meekness and reverence” (Acts 22:1; 1 Peter 5:1).
2. We ought to consider in the best light even the acts of enemies (Acts 22:3).
3. Prayers are often answered in ways we least expect. Not only are our greatest joys, but our keenest disappointments, experienced in Divine communion. Paul wished first to be an apostle to Jews. Even devotions must cease when the demands of duty are urgent. It is well to carry the zeal and consecration acquired in prayer into life and action. There are many tasks for which we are unprepared until we have been fired by devotion (Acts 22:17-18).
4. Men are not always the best judges as to how, when, and where they shall do the most good (Acts 22:19-20).
5. The distant purposes and preparations of Christianity prove its Divine character and power (Acts 22:21).
6. Where there is conscious rectitude, a narrative of facts is the best defence.
7. The hardness of the heart is as supernatural as its conversion. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)
Paul’s address on the stairs
In this address he--
1. Avows himself a Jew by birth and education (vers3).
2. Describes his persecuting zeal against the Christians (Acts 22:4-6).
3. Narrates his miraculous conversion (Acts 22:6-10).
4. Shows how his reception into the new body was by Jewish agency (Acts 22:12-16).
5. Gives an account of his apostleship among the Gentiles (Acts 22:17-21). In the address note that--
I. Self is criminated. Not one word is uttered in vindication of his conduct prior to conversion; on the contrary, he paints it in the darkest colours. What can any man discover in his history before conversion on which he can look with complacency?
II. Christ is honoured.
1. His conversion is ascribed to Him as it always is.
2. His commission is ascribed to Him; Christ became everything to the apostle after his conversion.
III. Conversion is memorable. Twenty-five years had passed away, and yet the incidents were fresh. So it is in all genuine cases of conversion. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Paul’s sketch of his life
or how a servant of God looks back upon his life course.
1. With grateful remembrance of human benefactors (Acts 22:3).
2. With penitent confession of his own erroneous ways.
3. With humble praise of the Divine gracious dealings (verse 6-16).
4. With clear consciousness of his life’s call (Acts 22:18-21). (K. Gerok.)
The apostle’s autobiography
The apostle’s life, as he here sketches it, may be divided into three parts.
I. Paul persecuting Jesus. For in persecuting the disciples, he really persecuted their Lord. He persecuted--
1. Intelligently. When this hated sect was broken up in Jerusalem after the martyrdom of Stephen, he saw in a moment that the scattered fragments must be annihilated before victory was complete. In this he showed the true genius of a general. So he deliberately laid his plans to harass the scattered bands of disciples.
2. Relentlessly. All women as well as men who loved Jesus, Paul hated. He gave no quarter to any. Nothing short of Stephen’s death would satisfy his bloodthirsty soul. Extermination is the goal which he means to reach.
3. Consecratedly. He gave himself to this work; not his means or his thoughts only, but himself. He scorned working by proxy. How the ecclesiastics in Jerusalem must have loved him! How the Christians must have dreaded him, even as the Saracens dreaded Richard the Lion-hearted.
II. Paul prostrate before Jesus. Yes, in the very dust, on the way to Damascus. Yes, before the very Jesus, whom with all his soul he had hated. In an instant all his cherished plans were dissipated, and he cries, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do”? Humanly speaking, the history of the world was more changed by that incident than by any of the “decisive battles of the world.” We love to tell of Platea, Thermopylae, Marathon, Tours, Waterloo, and Gettysburg, but all of these have not exerted so great an influence as this battle of Jesus with Paul his enemy. It lasted but a moment, and the Pharisee was conquered once and for all. Note: Certain sceptics explain this occurrence by Paul’s having been sunstruck, and that he mistook the blinding light of the sun for a Divine appearance. To which we answer, that if a sunstroke can make such preachers we had better close our theological seminaries, and set all their students out under a boiling sun. Such criticism is on a par with that of the German commentator, who says that when Jesus said to Martha, “But one thing is needful,” He meant, “Don’t cook too much, we really need only one dish.”
III. Paul praying to Jesus. When a man falls prostrate before Jesus, it will not be long before he begins to pray (Acts 9:11). In this prayer he evidently asked for guidance as to what he could do for Jesus. A good prayer that for a young convert. Too many merely ask for pardon, and stop. Paul also asked for orders. (A. F. Schauffler.)
1. We wonder what speech Paul wilt now make. Will he enter into some learned argument and confound his hearers by his heavenly eloquence? The audience is unlike any other audience he has ever addressed, and he is now in the metropolis of the land. What is his defence? He tells over again the story of his conversion, and nothing more. The sublimity of that act is without parallel. Here is no argument, criticism, erudition, but a simple statement of facts; the application being: “After this, what could I do”?
2. We wondered how the old story of the conversion was bearing the wear and tear of apostolic life; the answer is before us. Having gone down into the city and into the wilderness, and over the sea; having been beaten, stoned, imprisoned, the apostle ends just where he began: by telling the simple experience of his own soul. The story is just the same. Sometimes imagination plays havoc with memory; and throws its own colour upon the simplest facts of early life, and we begin to regard those facts as a dream. This is particularly the case with the religious imagination; it leads us to disown our early selves, to regard our first prayers as passionate and sentimental rather than as sober and vital. It is interesting, therefore, to find that Paul, after all the manifold experience of a missionary’s life, repeats the old story exactly as it occurred in the early part of his life. Paul laced and kept both his feet on the rock of facts which had occurred in his own knowledge.
3. Christianity is not to be defended by mere argument, by the able use of elegant terms and subtle phrases; it does not challenge the world to a battle of opinions. Christianity is an incarnation; it stands up in its own living men, and says, “This is my work; the controversy which I have with the world is this: produce your men and I will produce mine.” The tree is known by its fruit. If the Church would stand firmly to this one point, there need be no controversy. If in an unfortunate mood you refer to some other man’s case, you may be perplexed by some cross inquiry as to the order of the facts; but if you keep to your own self there is no answer.
4. The recital Paul called his “defence.” The defence of Christianity is not a book but a man--not an argument but a life. Of course we shall be told about the shortcomings of Christians. So be it; and still the truth remains that Christians are the defence of Christianity. You tell me that London is a healthy city! Come with me to the hospitals and I will show you every disease known in this climate. Come with me from house to house, and in nearly everyone I will find you someone sick. That kind of argument would not be admitted on sanitary questions; yet the very men who would probably reject it upon the ground of a physical kind, might be tempted to use it in relation to Christians. There are sick Christians, Christian cripples; and yet it remains true that even the weakest Christian may have about him the peculiar sign manual of heaven.
5. Here, then, is the plain line along which we must move when called upon for our defence. “Men, brethren, and fathers,” says some poor old mother in the Church, “hear ye my defence. I was left in difficulty and trouble and sorrow; I knew not where to turn: I sat down and felt the pain of utter helplessness, when suddenly I heard a voice saying unto me, ‘Pray to thy Father in heaven.’ I never had prayed just in the right way; but, at that moment, my eye brightened with hope, and I fell down, and asked the Lord to show me what He would have me to do. Suddenly there was a great light around me, and a hand took hold of mine, and ever since I have felt that I am not an orphan, but under fatherly superintendence.” Sweet old mother! sit down; the philosophers can never answer that. Have you no tale to tell about the dark and friendless days; the sudden suggestion that stirred the mind; the inspiration like a flash of light at midnight; the key which has unlocked every gate ever since? Stand up and tell your tale. Let me not hear your opinions and views and speculations--keep them to yourself; but when we call for your defence read out of the pages of your heart. Herein is the secret of ardent preaching.
6. A converted man is one who is completely turned right round in every act, motive, impulse, and purpose; one who was travelling east, but is now marching straight towards the west. You could tell what turned you round--it was a death, a grief, a reading of the Book, a sermon, a singular providence, the hearing of a hymn, the touch of a child, the feeling of an inward agony. That is your defence; it is not mine; it is not another man’s, probably. Every man has his own view of God, his own conception of the Cross.
7. We want more personal experience in the Church. Herein the idea of some Christian communions is sound: that we should meet one another periodically, and audibly say what God has done for the soul. And, judging by apostolic history and precedent, nothing is so convincing, so satisfactory, as for the soul to tell its own story, in its own words, and when the soul does that, the best of all sermons will be preached. Each can say, who has known Christ’s ministry in the soul, “Once I was blind; now I see.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
And when they heard that he spoke in the Hebrew tongue.
Paul’s method of quieting the mob
The Hebrew language was their dearest language. It touched them at the point of sympathy. Paul had a new hold on them when he spoke in that language. He knew that, and therefore he chose that language in speaking to them. Paul showed his wisdom and showed a kindly, loving spirit in the very words of his choice at this time. It is always better to choose points of agreement, rather than of difference, in any attempt to reach others for their good, or for the cause of truth. Yet there are those who will choose the points of difference as a starting point in such an effort, and then will count themselves “martyrs” when they experience the results of a conflict which they have needlessly brought about. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
Preachers should speak intelligibly
When the people heard Paul speak in an intelligible language, they became quiet and attentive. Many preachers are to blame for the inattention of their audiences. They speak affectedly, or above the comprehension of the people. A preacher whose object is to edify, should apply himself to present the truth in the simplest and most comprehensible manner, and to address himself to the heart. The teaching of Jesus is the most complete and blessed example. (Apostolic Pastor.)
I am verily a man which am a Jew.
The value of personal experience
A man’s experience is an element of power in his teaching and he has a right to make use of it for good. Whether he thinks the same now as formerly, or has changed his opinions, he speaks with added force to his hearers, when he shows them that he knows all about their way of looking at things, from having been in their place himself. “What do you know about it?” is a very common way of sneering at a wiseman’s wise counsel against conduct wholly at variance with his present course of living. “I’ve been through it all myself,” is a fair answer to that sneer. Paul understood the value of this sort of response; and it is well for us all to have it in mind also. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
Brought up … at the feet of Gamaliel.--
The advantages of a Rabbinical education to Paul
The course of instruction which a rabbi had to undergo was lengthened and peculiar. It consisted entirely of the study of the Scriptures and the comments of the sages and masters upon them. The words of Scripture and the sayings of the wise were committed to memory; discussions were carried on about disputed points; and by a rapid fire of questions, which the scholars were allowed to put as well as the masters, the wits of the students were sharpened and their views enlarged. The outstanding qualities of Paul’s intellect, which were conspicuous in his subsequent life--his marvellous memory, the keenness of his logic, the superabundance of his ideas, and his original way of taking up every subject--first displayed themselves in this school, and excited, we may well believe, the warm interest of his teacher. He himself learned much here which was of great moment in his subsequent career. Although he was to be specially the missionary of the Gentiles, he was also a great missionary to his own people. In every city he visited where there were Jews he made his first public appearance in the synagogue. There his training as a rabbi secured him an opportunity of speaking, and his familiarity with Jewish modes of thought and reasoning enabled him to address his audiences in the way best fitted to secure their attention. His knowledge of the Scriptures enabled him to adduce proofs from an authority which his hearers acknowledged to be supreme. Besides, he was destined to be the great theologian of Christianity, and the principal writer of the New Testament. Now the New grew out of the Old; the one is in all its parts the prophecy and the other the fulfilment. But it required a mind saturated not only with Christianity, but with the Old Testament, to bring this out; and, at the age when the memory is most retentive, Paul acquired such a knowledge of the Old Testament that everything it contains was at his command: its phraseology became the language of his thinking; he literally writes in quotations, and he quotes from all parts with equal facility--from the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Thus was the warrior equipped with the armour and the weapons of the Spirit before he knew in what cause he was to use them. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
Zealous toward God.--
I. Its nature--fervour--from a verb signifying “to boil.” It stands opposed to indifference or lukewarmness. Its object may be good or bad, a person or thing, truth or error. The Jews and Saul were zealous for the law and the tradition of their fathers; and through zeal persecuted the Church.
II. Its criteria.
(a) The source of false zeal is either some selfish interest, as in the ease of the Jews, the Romanists, etc.; or party spirit, national feeling, esprit de corps; or false doctrine, hatred of the truth.
(b) The source of true zeal--i.e., as a Christian grace--is the Holy Spirit, as the Author of all good, together with spiritual apprehension of the excellence of its object, whether God, truth, or the Church.
(a) False zeal is malignant; true is benevolent. The one is the fervour of the unrenewed; the other of the renewed mind--as illustrated by Jesus and the Jews.
(b) False zeal is proud; true is humble. The one arises from a sense of superiority which it seeks to assert and vindicate; the other from such views of God and things Divine as tend to produce humility.
(c) False zeal is irreverent; true is reverent.
(d) True zeal is connected with a holy life.
III. Its obligation. It is demanded by--
1. The infinite importance of the interests at stake--the glory of God, the progress of truth, the salvation of men. To be unconcerned about these is the greatest sin and peril. God therefore declares His special abhorrence of the cold and lukewarm.
2. Our relations to God and Christ. A child is zealous for its father, a subject for his sovereign, a soldier for his commander, a captive for his redeemer.
3. The fact that zeal is a chief source of spiritual power. This qualification in the absence of others can accomplish wonders.
IV. The means of its cultivation.
1. Avoid all pretence and affectation; all expression of more interest than you feel.
2. Gather warmth by continual intercourse with God, and cherish the influence of His Spirit.
3. Keep your minds filled with the subjects about which you should be zealous, and your attention devoted to them.
4. Remember that zeal being a gift of the Spirit, whatever grieves Him quenches our zeal. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
Dr. Bonar tells of a dream he once had. In his dream the angels weighed his zeal, and he was delighted with the result. It reached the maximum, and turned the scale at a hundred. Then they analysed it, and his delight vanished. For (out of the hundred) fourteen parts were pure selfishness, fifteen parts sectarianism, twenty-two parts ambition, twenty-three parts love for man, and twenty-six parts love to God. He awoke from his dream sobered and saddened, but resolved on a new consecration. How much religious zeal (if analysed) would prove even more corrupt! True zeal is consistent: it burns with a steady flame. It is humble: not puffed up nor vaunting itself. It is pure: shunning all evil methods. It is learnt from Christ, who was full of zeal, because He was love itself. Its secret is the love which Christ’s love kindles in human hearts. Let us seek, then, a zeal which is pure and undefiled, which will endure the searching test of God. (G. H. James.)
And it came to pass that as I made my journey and was come nigh unto Damascus.
The conversion of Saul
I. Saul’s misdirected energy. The immense energy of the man is apparent to us at once.
1. Energy is a splendid trait in any man’s character. It is great, and we love what is great. It is a grand thing to look upon the mighty sea, when the waves rise mountains high, and the great ocean breast is stirred with the wild commotion of the storm. There seems to be such Divine energy in it, and our hearts are filled with wonder and with awe as we gaze upon it. It makes us think of God. And it is a grand thing to see in a fellow man something of this great force of doing; a great soul full of active energy. We watch such a man battling his way through the host of opposing forces, overcoming every obstacle, trampling down every difficulty, until he reaches the point towards which he was striving. “There is energy,” we say; and we admire it from our hearts. We can never admire a man who altogether lacks this force of character; who is idle and listless; who never seems to have a definite object in view; who is never struggling for anything.
2. A distinction must be drawn between lovable energy and unlovable noise and show. Intense energy is often intensely quiet.
3. And so, although it is a splendid thing to have energy of character, it is withal a very dangerous thing.
4. See the unutterable importance for energetic souls of wise and holy guidance during their early years.
5. Think, too, how sad must be the closing days of a man of strong character who has never yielded himself to God.
II. God’s method of converting Saul’s misdirected energy. He was converted by--
1. A vision of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:8).
2. Hearing the voice of Jesus.
III. The energetic soul’s inquiry after his conversion--“What shall I do, Lord?” (J. Kirk Pike.)
The conversion of Paul: its genuineness
How orderly and exactly does Paul after so many years know how to relate all the circumstances! This is a proof not only that all things occurred when he was in the full possession of his faculties, but also that the grace which befel him made an indelible impression upon him. Certainly he who is snatched from death to life will never forget what the Lord has done. (Apostolic Pastor.)
Suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me.--
The heavenly light at Damascus
The bright light it casts upon the paths of our life. It illuminates--
1. The dark ways of sin which we have traversed.
2. The blessed ways of grace by which the Lord has come to us.
3. The Christian ways of duty in which we are to walk in the strength of the Lord. (K. Gerok.)
Paul’s vision near Damascus:--
I. The material and external.
1. The great light.
2. The appearance of Jesus Christ.
3. The voice that spoke.
II. The internal and spiritual.
1. The cardinal truth announced--“I am Jesus Christ,” etc. The solemn remonstrance--“Why persecutest thou Me?” Paul had certain qualifications to be an excellent persecutor.
III. The appointment to a grand commission. To be--
1. An apostle.
2. A teacher. (Caleb Morris.)
And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?--
I. That man is the object of Divine inspection. Though Christ was now in heaven, yet His eye followed Saul. Little did Saul know that He whose name he endeavoured to blot from the earth not only marked his every footstep, but saw his every passing thought and feeling. That God knows all about man individually is obvious--
1. From His omniscience. He who sees all things, see each thing--the minute as well as the vast.
2. From history. Hagar in the wilderness, Jacob at Bethel, Elijah in the cave, and now Saul on his way to Damascus.
3. From the teachings of the Bible (Psalms 139:1-24; Proverbs 15:3; Hebrews 4:13). This solemn fact should make us serious, circumspect, devout.
II. That Christ is the originator of moral reformation. What now gave the turning point to Paul’s life? The manifestation of Christ in the “light,” the “voice,” the address. Conversion does not originate with self; nor with the agency of man outside, but always with Christ. It is a resurrection. Who can raise the dead but He? It is a creation. Who can create but He? This fact agrees--
1. With the consciousness of the good. The good everywhere ascribe their goodness to Him. This is the burden of heaven’s anthem.
2. With the teachings of Scripture. “Of His own will begat He us,” etc. “When it pleased God to reveal His Son in me,” etc.
III. That humility is the condition of heavenly communion. Saul heard the voice of Jesus when he had fallen to the ground. Humility implies a deep sense of need, and without that the soul will never open its eye or ear to the Divine. We must take off the shoes from our feet, like Moses--fall to the dust, like Isaiah--smite our breast, like the publican, if we would hear what God has to say. “Unto that man will I look who is of a broken spirit,” etc.
IV. That union with Christ is the privilege of the good. “Why persecutest thou Me?” So dear are His disciples to His heart, that their sufferings are His. He bears their infirmities, and carries their sorrows, even in heaven. They are “members of His body,” and no part can be wounded without quivering to the sensorium (Matthew 25:40; Matthew 25:45). (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The conversion of Paul,
as reflecting the image of every converted heart.
I. The zeal and striving of the natural heart and the Lord’s voice. “Why persecutest thou Me?”
II. The question of the obstinate heart. “Who art Thou, Lord?” and the Lord’s answer, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.”
III. The question of the humbled heart. “What shall I do, Lord?” and the Lord’s reply, “Arise,” etc. (Gerlach.)
is like, entirely and wholly refitting an old ship, and employing it in the service of a new and better master. By nature, a man is full of vanity, sailing under the colours of the world. Now, when Christ meets a man, and apprehends him in conversion, He takes him off all the ends he had in himself, takes possession of the ship, puts in a new pilot, a new compass, and turns its prow another way; and all the lading the ship contains which He dislikes, He throws overboard, and fills it with a better cargo. (G. S. Bowes, B. A.)
The matchless work of God in conversion
None of the fanciful transformations of which Ovid sang of old could ever rival the matchless work of God when He displays His power upon the human mind. Oh, what a difference between a sinner and a saint! between “dead in trespasses and sins,” and quickened by Divine grace! If God should speak to Niagara, and bid its floods in their tremendous leap suddenly stand still, that were a trifling demonstration of power compared with the staying of a desperate human will. If He should suddenly speak to the broad Atlantic, and bid it be wrapped in flames, we should not even then see such a manifestation of His greatness as when He commands the human heart, and makes it submissive to His love. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Conversion, a total change
Conversion is no repairing of the old building; but it takes all down, and erects a new structure. It is not the putting in a patch, or sewing on a list of holiness; but, with the true convert, holiness is woven into all his powers, principles, and practice. The sincere Christian is quite a new fabric--from the foundation to the top stone all new. He is a new man, a new creature. All things are becoming new. Conversion is a deep work, a heart work; it turns all upside down, and makes a man be in a new world. It goes throughout with men--throughout the mind, throughout the members, throughout the motions of the whole life. (R. Alleine.)
The method of conversion
When grace subdues a rebel man, if I may so speak, the citadel first is taken, afterwards the city. It is not as in those great sieges which we have lately watched with such anxious interest. There, approaching with his brigades and cavalry and artillery, man sits down outside the city. He begins the attack from a distance, creeping like a lion to the spring, with trench and parallel and battery, nearer and nearer to the walls. These at length are breached; the gates are blown open; through the deadly gap the red, living tide rolls in. Fighting from bastion to bastion, from street to street, they pass onward to the citadel; and there, giving no quarter, and receiving none, beneath a defiant flag, the rebels, perhaps, stand by their guns, prolonging a desperate resistance. But, when the appointed hour of conversion comes, Christ descends by His spirit into the heart--at once into the heart. The heart won, she fights her way outward from a new heart on to new habits. A change without succeeds the change within. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Christ and Saul
I. Heaven and earth are here united in the person of Christ. The Saviour here identifies Himself with the world which He had left, calling Himself by His human name, and associating with it the Galilean village where He lived. The name which was His reproach here has gone with Him to His heavenly throne.
II. Jesus of Nazareth is Lord of heaven. Saul gave Him this title, and He accepts it as His right. Two things especially engendered the conviction that He was Lord while on earth: His miracles (John 9:36) and His teaching, both from its matter (John 6:38) and manner (Matthew 7:29). The miraculous light which shone forth upon Saul, with the rebuke of authority which accompanied it, convinced him of the dignity of the Person who addressed him.
III. Because the Lord of heaven is Jesus of Nazareth, He has a special sympathy with His people’s wrongs. The sympathy of Jesus arises not merely from His having while on earth passed through human suffering: His vital connection with His Church as its Head (Ephesians 5:23) makes Him now a sharer in their sufferings for Him. Lessons:
1. The powerlessness of death to destroy conscious identity. Christ has passed through death, yet is still “Jesus of Nazareth.”
2. The place where we have honestly toiled in this world will be remembered by us in the next. The carpenter’s shop at Nazareth was as much a part of the Saviour’s education (Hebrews 5:8) as His after experience. So is the scene of our lowliest work.
3. It is dangerous to harm a Christian, seeing his intimate relation with the Lord of glory.
4. The gentleness of the Saviour’s reproof of this bitter persecutor may encourage any who mourn over their past opposition. (W. Harris.)
I am Jesus of Nazareth.--
Jesus of Nazareth
This is the name by which our ascended Saviour would be remembered. It contains the gospel of condescension. Nazareth was our Lord’s early home, and remained His common abode until His personal ministry began. He might well say to startled Saul, “I am Jesus of Nazareth,” for with no other point on earth had He so close and continued associations. Twenty-one times was He styled Jesus of Nazareth--by His enemies in the garden, and in the Judgment Hall; by the people generally; by His disciples, both during His lifetime and after; by the angels at the sepulchre; by devils; yea, by Himself. We shall find in His name--
I. Precious doctrine.
1. The identity of Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth in heaven was unchanged from what He was below. But when you add to this the ability which He claimed on high to dispense the blessings received of the Father, how does the assurance of His sameness bridge the distance between earth and heaven!
2. The influence of His Nazareth experience upon His present condition. All the things through which He passed have made Him in the skies far different from that before His birth in Bethlehem. Before He was with God, then He was Emmanuel, God with us. Now is He with God and God with us; bringing God near unto each disciple, and bringing every disciple near to God. He had the crowns of creation, of providence, of kingly control, before He wore the crown of thorns; but in the redemption of man Jesus holds the sovereignty. The centre of all worship is a Nazarene, who has been exalted by the Father because of His Nazareth experience.
3. The basis of His work on high is His Nazareth experience. Whilst resting in triumph, He does not forget Nazareth. The least and the lowest are as much His care as the proudest and the most princely. An identity of experience has given a new, deep meaning to the word “sympathy.” But more, His qualifications, His plea in intercession, is in Nazareth. Our Advocate with the Father: “Jesus Christ the righteous,” and His righteousness was wrought out in the Nazareth life. Even so His kingly, His prophetical, His sustaining, His comforting offices are based upon this one experience which He sums up in the word “Nazareth.” Nazareth has long since become a ruin, but it is remembered in heaven.
II. Personal instruction. Doctrine is worthless unless it comes down to life. It is bread; let the poor man eat it. Stop talking about its chemistry. It is a house; the storm overtakes one while the admiring critic is telling about its architecture. Open the door and let the man in to the well-spread table. The true theologian is the living Christian. Here we have--
1. A warning to persecutors. “I am Jesus of Nazareth.” The wisdom and the hatred of men are this day in league against the Nazarene. An exalted Saviour, Himself maintaining a plea for men, is that which proud unbelief cannot endure. But let such listen. God hath thus exalted Him, and those who oppose Him will find it hard, as Saul did, “to kick against the pricks.” It will be hard in thy conscience; it will be hard, growingly hard, in thy experience; it will be harder for thee by and by.
2. Great comfort in perplexity. It is a perfect key to every lock of the Dungeon of Despair. It makes a full provision for every anxiety of the Christian. Art thou ignorant?--Jesus of Nazareth is thy Teacher. Art thou weak?--He is thy Strength. Art thou fearful?--He is thy Power. Art thou tempted?--He is thy Defender. Has the hour of death come?--now thou enterest into life. Tell me some want of the soul for which this Nazarene Jesus does not present Himself as a specific!
3. Assurance of our partnership in His triumph. The Head carries with Him the members. Where our Forerunner has entered, there shall everyone who trusts Him and loves Him at last appear. (S. H. Tyng, D. D., jun.)
A significant voice from heaven
Christ was in heaven when He spoke those words, and they were addressed to Saul on his way to Damascus. Nazareth was the early home of Jesus. Though not born there, yet there He was brought up.
I. That a change of worlds does not destroy the personal identity of man. Christ had died, ascended to heaven, and yet He says, “I am Jesus of Nazareth”; I am the same Being that was brought up in Nazareth. Sublimely encouraging to us is it that Jesus, who was here on earth, so full of tenderness and love, is the same Jesus now in heaven. Nor does the change of worlds destroy the identity of men. Abraham is the same as when he dwelt in the tents of Mature. A man once, a man forever. Conscious personality will always be preserved. The words suggest--
II. That great natures are never ashamed of their origin, however humble. “Jesus of Nazareth!” “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Christ, though amidst the highest aristocracy of the Creator, was not ashamed of His origin.
III. That the meanest spots on earth, when they become the scenes of holy lives, are famous in the universe. “I am Jesus of Nazareth.” No doubt sainted men talk of the varied scenes of their earthly life in the upper spheres of being. (Homilist.)
And they that were with me saw indeed the light … but they heard not the voice (Text in conjunction with Acts 9:7).
The sights and sounds of life
The little discrepancy between the occurrence as given by Luke in chap. 9, and as stated by the apostle here, instead of invalidating, confirms the authenticity of the accounts. Identity of statement by two different individuals, after an interval of about twenty-five years, might justly awaken serious suspicion of collusion. You have here two things--
1. A voice heard by all, but understood only by Paul. The voice vibrated on the ears of his companions, and so shocked their nervous system that they fell “speechless”; but it conveyed no idea. Whereas it conveyed a wonderful message deep into Paul’s soul.
2. A light seen by all, but revealing nothing except to Paul. It was mere dazzling brightness. But in that radiance “The Lord, even Jesus, appeared unto” Paul. Now, this extraordinary circumstance indicates what is common in human life. Everywhere there are men, hearing the same voice, but receiving different impressions; seeing the same lights, but observing different objects. A “voice” fraught with deep meaning to some, is mere empty sound to others. A “light” revealing the grandest realities to some, discloses nothing to others.
I. Men’s lives in relation to material nature shows this.
1. The “lights” of nature, to the thoughtless, reveal just what they reveal to the brute, and nothing more. To the superstitious they reveal hosts of unearthly existences, dreaded as demons or worshipped as gods; to the sceptical philosopher nothing but a system of forces, working by its own inherent impulse; to the Christian, a wise and loving Father.
2. The “voices” of nature convey to some nothing but mere sensation, to others superstitious awe, to others scientific intelligence, to others thoughts from God Himself.
II. Men’s lives in relation to human history show this. To some history--
1. Is without any governing law at all. Its social, mercantile, political movements are ascribed only to blind impulse and capricious passions. There is no law seen shaping or systematising the whole.
2. Has only the governing law of human might, viz., that the strong preys upon the weak. The progress and decline of commerce, the rise and fall of empires, the fate of many battles, are all ascribable to superior strength.
3. Is governed exclusively by evil. The devil is absolutely the god of the human world. He is in the schemes of the trader, the thunders of the orator, the edicts of the despot, the craft of the priest, the rage of the warrior.
4. Is governed by the mediatorial plan of God. The restorative purpose of Heaven, as revealed in the Bible, is seen running through the ages, stimulating, shaping, and subordinating all things. Even the bitterest sufferings of humanity are regarded as parturition throes giving birth to a higher order of things.
III. Men’s lives in relation to the inspired oracle show this. Ecclesiastical history, theological polemics, religious life, are fraught with illustrations. The sceptic and the believer, the Papist and the Protestant, the Calvinist and the Pelagian, the Socinian and the Trinitarian, the Churchman and the Nonconformist, are examples as to how the same “light” and “voice” of the one Book affect different men. What is the articulate voice of God to one is mere hollow sound to another. And what is “a light” to one is either darkness or stupefying brightness to another.
IV. Men’s lives in relation to the gospel ministry show this. The sermon which, as a Divine “voice,” speaks to the conscience of some, has no meaning to others; or which, as Divine “light,” flashes moral conviction and reveals Christ to some, is either not seen at all, or regarded as a mere glare of human genius or blaze of human enthusiasm. Conclusion: This subject--
1. Reveals a distinguishing attribute of human nature. Men have the power of hearing and seeing with the soul, which brutes have not. Ezekiel, Isaiah, John, Milton, etc., show what men can see with the organs of the soul. “The pure in heart shall see God.”
2. Explains the great difference between spiritually and carnally-minded men.
3. Presents an object after which all should strive. Each should get the eyes and ears of the soul quickened so as to see and hear the Divine everywhere. When the servant of Elisha had his eye and ear open, he saw and heard the supernatural. So it will be with us. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
And I said, What shall I do, Lord?
The great practical question
It is a brief one but very common: the question of the idler, the steward in the parable, the statesman. It is one of the standing proofs of its practical character that the Bible makes this the first question as soon as there is a movement towards heaven; the audience of the Baptist, the multitude On the day of Pentecost, the Philippian jailer, St. Paul. The latter adds one word which is vital to the sense - “Lord.” Two words are on record in connection with this crisis. “Who art Thou, Lord”; “What shall I do, Lord?” He must know who speaks; he must place himself in His hands. We must look upward as we ask the question; then wait for the answer that we may do it, thus combining the spiritual with the practical. The man who asks and means this question is well started in the race, for--
I. He has done the most difficult thing. He has apprehended the invisible God as his Master and Saviour. He no longer stands afar off saying, “Oh, that I knew where I could find Him;” he has grasped the gospel of free forgiveness, and can go in and out where God is and inquire in His temple. In each perplexing alternative, in the dark day of trouble, when no friend is near and life trembling in the balance, he can look up to God as his Counsellor and Helper. It was thus that Paul henceforth lived, and the maturity of the question is seen in his confidence, “The Lord stood by me and strengthened me.”
II. The question is of large compass.
1. It is the question which a young man asks in choosing his life vocation. Well is it when it has been asked in the fear of God. The addition of “Lord” would have altered in many cases the character of the question and the nature of the reply.
2. In forming an acquaintance, or taking a partner for life, what miseries, entanglements, sins, and crimes would be avoided if the Oracle were visited before determining on the course.
3. This is the question most appropriate to the penitent sinner. Witness the futility of the sinner to break the chain of evil habits without God.
III. The question earnestly asked is never left without an answer. The answer is adapted with the most discrimination to the circumstances of--
1. The man who has lost the light.
2. The man who has never had the light. (Dean Vaughan.)
The supreme problem
Analyse these words and you will discover four important elements of belief underlying the thoughts of the speaker.
I. A consciousness that something must be done in order to obtain salvation. A man cannot morally be saved by inaction. Effort is essential.
II. A consciousness that something must be done agreeable to the Divine will. “What wilt Thou have me to do?” The work to be done must be done, not by blind excitement or capricious act, but by the will of God. God’s will is to be consulted.
III. A consciousness that the thing to be done must be done by the man himself. “What wilt Thou have me to do?” No one can do the work that is necessary for me--no priest, preacher, or Church. I must do it.
IV. A consciousness of the need of Divine help in the work. “What wilt Thou have me to do? “I want Divine direction. As if he had said something must be done, whatever Thou teachest I will do. “Teach me Thy will.” (Homilist.)
The servant’s question to his Lord
These words bring before us--
I. The first and strongest instinct of a newborn soul. “How shall I express my gratitude and love? how let Thee and others know how thankful I am?” Saul’s heaviest punishment would have been consignment to a life of inactivity. The Master seemingly could hardly find work enough for him to do. It is not more natural for a fountain to flow, or a star to shine, or a seraph to sing, than it is for a new-born soul to work.
II. A man who had made an absolute surrender of himself to the Lord. From that hour on he was in the hands of the Master as clay is in the hands of the potter. Much that passes under the name of consecration is little more than a profane attempt to compound with the Master, giving up that which we do not care to keep, that we may retain that with which we cannot afford to part.
III. A man who, having made an absolute self-surrender, let the Lord choose his life work for him. When he heard the command to depart from Jerusalem (Acts 22:18), Paul ventured reverently to expostulate. He said, as it were, “Lord, it seems to me that this is the place, above all others, for me to preach the gospel. My past life will help me here. They know how I persecuted Thy people. And when I tell them of that great light which I saw on the way to Damascus; when they see the wonderful change which has come over me--they will have to lend me their ears. Let Peter go to the Gentiles, let John go, let James go; they will not listen to any of them as they will listen to me.” Now, if you and I had been there we should have taken the same view, and yet it was soon very evident that the Master was right and the servant wrong (verses 21, 22). Had Saul stayed at Jerusalem, his career would have been brought to an untimely end. It is a great thing to let the Lord choose our life work for us. Many in choosing their life consult their ease or their pride or their avarice or their ambition, and if they go to the Lord at all, it is after they have made their choice.
IV. Past life an element of inspiration. Paul felt that he had so much to undo. Can you think of anything more touching than his allusion to Stephen (verse 20)? Avenge my death, cries the blood of every martyr, by waging a war of extermination against sin. Is your past life an element of your inspiration? Does no ghost of a slighted opportunity, or a neglected duty, or an abused mercy, or a murdered moment summon thee to greater fidelity? Hast thou no lost time to redeem, no neglected work to make up? Does it not become thee to be about thy Master’s work? You cannot recall the past, but you may do much toward redeeming it. (J. B. Shaw, D. D.)
There is produced in a telescope an image of a star. There is produced in a soul an image of God. When does the image of the star start up in the chamber of the telescope? Only when the lenses are clear and rightly adjusted, and when the axis of vision in the tube is brought into exact coincidence with the line of the rays of light from the star. When does the image of God, or the inner sense of peace and pardon, spring up in the human soul? Only when the faculties of the soul are rightly adjusted in relation to each other, and the will brought into coincidence with God’s will. How much is man’s work, and how much is the work of the light? Man adjusts the lenses and the tube; the light does all the rest. Man may, in the exercise of his freedom, as upheld by Divine power, adjust his faculties to spiritual light, and when adjusted in a certain way God flashes through them. (Joseph Cook.)
And when I could not see for the glory of that light.
Too much light
There is such a thing as having too much light, as having so much light that we can see nothing. If God should send us all the light we ask for, we should all be blinded. What we need is not more light, so much as more faith--in a world where we must walk by faith rather than by sight. Light, in and of itself, is no guide to truth. Its glare is liable to bewilder, if not actually to blind, the human eye. Unless our faith keeps pace with--no, keeps ahead of--the light which we have, we are pretty sure to be worse off than if in darkness. That is the trouble with many a poor scientist--from the young medical student up to the agnostic philosopher--the light which has come into his eyes has dazed his sight, and he doesn’t know enough to ask someone to take him by the hand and lead him. “Lord, increase our faith!” is a better prayer, for most of us, than “Lord, increase the light!” (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
Brighter than we can bear
We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Think of the human eye, and all the machinery connected with it. And yet the eye has limits of its power. Let some unusual strain come upon it--some burst of heavenly radiance, and the marvellous mechanism gives way. Apply the text to--
I. The attributes of God.
1. His eternity. “The days of our years are threescore years and ten”: and my mind can easily take in the measurement of such a period. Nay, I can easily look back to the time when the first star was kindled. I have no difficulty with the most ancient of God’s creatures; only tell me that they are creatures, and once began to be. But a Being who never began to be--a river of life that never had a fountainhead, this is more than I have faculties to grapple with. “I cannot see for the glory of the light.”
2. His omnipresence. When the Psalmist says, “Whither shall I go from Thy spirit, or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?” etc., who is there that is not ready to cry with him, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me”? “I cannot see for the glory of the light!”
3. His other attributes: His omniscience--that there is nothing He doesn’t know; His omnipotence--that there is nothing He cannot do. We have no power of vision that can bear the strain. “We cannot see for the glory of the light.”
II. The discoveries of the gospel. It is a very pleasant thing to be able to say that there is not a little child that cannot understand it. But when you inquire into its origin, its spirit, its provisions, you soon find yourself diving in deep waters. The incarnation of Christ in our inferior nature--the substitution of Christ in the place of guilty men--the love of God, that provided such a substitute, and consented to such humiliation: these are things which, the more yon ponder them, the grander and more glorious do they appear.
III. The future blessedness of the world. You see at once that we must change the scene. Crosses and curses tell of a world that is not blessed. See how cruel men are to themselves and to one another! See the strifes of families, of neighbourhoods, of nations; the oppression of the weak, the envy of the strong. But now hear words like these, “The nations shall be glad and sing for joy.” Why? Because “none shall hurt and none destroy.” Nay, more! “The tabernacle of God is with men,” etc. These are not dreams, but true sayings of God. But what a picture do they raise! It is too bright--it is more than my eyes can bear! “I cannot see for the glory of the light.”
IV. The final heaven. This seems the appropriate close of all earth’s promised blessedness--indeed, the one seems to merge into the other, just as the distant sea seems to merge into the sky. Thus the last quotation is followed by “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death,” etc. Little does it matter where heaven shall be, if we may but be there! It is to be with Christ--to see His glory--to be conformed to His image: this must be heaven, wherever heaven may be. Nor can I doubt that in the world where the redeemed are to “sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” we shall meet beloved ones who have gone before. But, oh, glorious inheritance of the saints in light! They shall be glorious in body, in soul, in surroundings, society, service, life, love, joy! But it is not for me to sketch the outline of the scene, for “I cannot see for the glory of the light.” (F. Tucker, B. A.)
Blinded by excessive light
There are three distinct accounts of the conversion of Paul. In the first we are simply told that it was a light from heaven; in the second, that it was a great and glorious light; and in the third, that it was above the brightness of the noonday sun. It is of that light we desire to speak.
I. The excellence of thy light. We have nothing definitely recorded as to the nature of the light. To assert, as some have done, that it was a mere electric phenomenon is absurd. Equally unsatisfactory is the theory that it was only a vision peculiar to Paul (Acts 26:13). The “minute particulars” given of the light evince “the objective reality of this heavenly manifestation.” To us the most reasonable explanation is that which regards this light as the Shekinah--that visible and miraculous glory which was a symbol of the Divine presence. As Dr. Bonar has well said, “It appeared at sundry times and in divers forms for various purposes--now of mercy, now of judgment. It was the light that blazed out in the flaming sword; that appeared to Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees; that was seen by Moses in the burning bush; that shone out in the pillar of cloud and compassed the top of Sinai; that dwelt in the tabernacle and temple; that showed itself to Gideon’s father; that kindled the fire on Solomon’s altar; that was seen by Ezekiel departing, and by Daniel in his visions; that for four hundred years left the earth, but reappeared at Bethlehem to the shepherds and to the wise men; at Christ’s baptism; at the Transfiguration; at Pentecost; at Stephen’s martyrdom; and now at Saul’s conversion, and afterward at Patmos. Such is the history of this wondrous light--the representation of Him who is light, and in whom is no darkness at all.” Whatever that light may have been, we do know most certainly that at every conversion there is light--the light of the glorious gospel of Christ and the illumination of the Holy Ghost. “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus.” Between the visible glory that shone around Saul and the invisible brightness that shines in upon every converted soul there are several points of likeness.
1. It was a light from heaven. Not merely streaming from the firmament, but actually emanating from the dwelling place of the Divine Being. It shone from that city where they have no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it; for the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And so is it with gospel light. It proceeds alone from God. His wisdom devised and His grace first contrived the way to save rebellious man. “The Dayspring from on high hath visited us.” Our calling is in every way a heavenly one. We needed a Divine revelation. The light of such a revelation is far brighter than that of human reason. The light of reason is utterly insufficient to lead one soul in the way of holiness.
2. It was a light above the brightness of the sun. This is very remarkable. It was midday, the sun had reached its zenith. It was an Oriental sun, the heavens were ablaze with light. So the light of the gospel is superior to the brightest light of nature. Revelation exceeds Nature at her best.
3. It was a light which revealed Christ. This light revealed Christ. There is no doubt that Saul had an actual sight of Jesus. “It pleased God to reveal His Son in me.” “And last of all, He was seen of me also.” It was the greatest glory of the light that it brought Jesus into view. And this is the glory of the gospel, that it brings Jesus before us, and herein is its superiority not only to reason and nature, but also to the law of Moses. “For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.” The law makes known the spotless holiness and inflexible justice of God, and thereby renders us conscious of sin. But the light of the gospel tells of grace as well as truth, and mercy as well as righteousness.
II. The effect of the light. “I Could not see for the glory of that light.” A strange effect, surely! Yet there is such a thing as being dark with excess of light. And right through his Christian career he might constantly have said, “I could not see for the glory of that light.”
1. He was blinded to the world. He became blind to the world’s glory, pride, pomp, wealth, and pleasure. The light of heavenly glory was so dazzling that he could not see lesser lights. And thus it is with every converted soul. Earth has no attractions for such an one. Faithful walked through Vanity Fair with averted eyes, so does a true believer pass through the world.
2. He was blinded to his old views of religion. There was never a more remarkable change of opinion and creed than in his case. He preached the faith which once he destroyed. Oh, it is a blessed thing when the light of truth blinds us to error! There are people now embracing false ideas which seem to them wonderfully plain. They see certain things (as they imagine) with the utmost clearness. We cannot convince them that they are wrong. But let this heavenly light shine upon them, and what a transformation will be effected!
3. He was blinded to his own greatness and goodness. Before his conversion he had a capital opinion of himself. Now he is “less than least of all saints” and the chief of sinners. He cannot see that well-satisfied, boastful, righteous self. The glory of the Divine light has blinded him to his own glory.
4. He was blinded to his former companions. He could not see those with whom he journeyed. “He saw no man,” we read. And when his eyes were opened, the first face that greeted his regained vision was that of a follower of Jesus. He chooses the people of God, and bids farewell to those with whom he once consorted. (C. W. Townsend.)
Truths overlooked because of their obviousness
1. We need some light in order that we may see; but too much light prevents us from seeing at all. Bury a man in a dungeon to which no ray of sunshine ever comes, and he sees nothing. Bring him out into the full glare of the noonday sun, and he sees no more; and by long gazing at excessive light the power of vision becomes impaired or destroyed.
2. The self-same law which obtains in the external world has its types in the world of mind; and as regards spiritual things as well as visible ones, there is such a thing as over-much glory dazzling, instead of informing and enlightening the mind.
I. The first object concerning which it is true that for very glory we cannot see it clearly is God Himself. God is Light: the Father of Lights: that dwelleth in Light. And yet, is it not true that “we cannot see Him for the glory of that light”? “No man hath seen God at any time”; no man can see God and live. We cannot comprehend God; and the longer and more deeply we think upon the Almighty, the more humbly we say, “Verliy Thou art a God that hidest Thyself!” It is only when His glory is tempered down to our weak sight by coming through the medium of a human nature in the face of Jesus that we can understand it, at least in some degree. His eternity, His omnipresence, His reading of every thought of our heart: who can understand all that? You will remember the ancient fable of the sage, who was asked by his king, “What is God?” and who asked a day to consider his reply: and then at the end of the day a month; and at the end of the month a year; and at the end of the year said he never could answer the question at all, because mystery gathered on mystery the longer he dwelt upon the theme. Ah! it is the experience of every man who looks at God in any way but as revealed in Christ. “We cannot see for the glory of that light.”
II. Religious truths are very often overlooked, just because they are set in a light so thorough that reasoning about them is needless. We do not see them, for the very clearness of the light which shines upon them. If you are trying to impress upon any man some truth of great practical importance, but which is not quite apparent at the first glance, you make use of various arguments and illustrations to make it plainer and more obvious. But if a man doubts or denies a truth which is already so plain, what is the use of arguing with him? And the most real of all ways of denying any truth is to deny it practically. Now the evil and the difficulty is that almost all those religious truths which men practically deny are truths which are already so plain that no talking can make them plainer. Take the following truths:
1. The necessity of obtaining a part in Christ’s salvation before we leave this world. I know what to do if a man says, “But I do not believe in Christ; and so I seek no part or lot in Him.” I should seek to set before him the various reasons we have for believing Christ; and then I should hope that he would begin to act upon his belief. But what can you say to a man who believes that by turning to Christ he may gain heaven and escape hell, and yet who knows and confesses that he is living as though his creed were the atheist’s? You can tell him nothing he does not know. Argument and information have no effect upon him, just because he agrees with them so readily: as the strongest blast can make no permanent impression on the willow, just because the willow bends so readily before its breath.
2. The certainty of death and its possible nearness. It is a trite truism to say that “all must die.” Who doubts it? We all admit the truth, but who acts upon it? One would think that amid a world of many graves, we who have looked so often upon them would hardly be able to forget that in a little while we shall be laid where we have seen many laid before us. But how very little we realise the hour when we shall lie upon our bed of death! It was no wonder that David said, “Oh, that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end!” for if we could only every day keep that parting hour before us, and realise all it means, what earnest Christians we should be! There is no reason at all why such a remembrance should overcast our days with sadness. Those who think most of death, if they think in the way the Psalmist wished us, are those who will fear it least.
III. The way in which this evil may be remedied. The right course to take when we feel that any religious doctrine has grown too familiar to us, so that familiarity has taken from the effect it used to have upon our hearts, is to make it a subject of special prayer, that the Holy Spirit may open the eyes of our understandings to understand it better, and touch our hearts to feel it more. Many a Christian can tell you that in a season of prayer or of solemn meditation he has had glimpses of the Saviour’s value, and while thus musing the fire has burned--a fire which no earthly power kindled in his heart. And in all this the believer would trace the breathing of the enlightening Spirit of God. Now these influences are free to all believers: we have more confidence in praying for the Spirit than in asking for almost any other blessing. “If ye, being evil,” etc. And while we would bear it in our remembrance how much we need Him in many ways--as a Spirit of holiness, prayer, and comfort--let us ask for Him, too, as one whose special province it is to open the eyes of our understanding and make us see by uncreated light.
IV. The guilt of thus overlooking religious truths. God has said and shown enough to us; and it is our own fault if we will not see and hear. You remember the answer of Abraham to the rich man in woe, “They have Moses and the prophets.” If they would neglect and overlook all the warnings they had, they must do so at their own peril. It would be no answer at the day of judgment to say that they really had never noticed how much God had done to make them think of eternity. And there can hardly be a more awful thing in the appearance of the careless soul, when at last the hour of death draws near, than when first there breaks upon it the awful sense of how much light it had sinned against in its progress towards endless woe. We shall feel then, if not before, the tremendous force of the old reasons for going to Christ and believing on Him, which were pressed upon us a thousand times, till they grew so familiar to us that they produced no impression. (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
And one Ananias … said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee.
The Divine ordination of human life
The verb here translated, “chosen,” only occurs in this form in one other place (Acts 26:16), where it has the sense of “making,” or “appointing.” The idea here is ordination, or setting apart. This ordination is--
I. To an understanding of the highest subject. “That thou shouldst know His will.” God has a will in relation to all existences and to every individual man. It is the spring of all existence, the rule of all motion, the standard of all character. To understand it is to understand the philosophy of all being, the cause of all phenomena, and the science of all duty. All true subjects of thought are related to it, and lead into it as radia to their centre. It is, therefore, the sublimest subject of thought. It expresses the Divine nature, it reveals the universe. It is, therefore, the great theme for the study of eternity. To the study of this Paul was thus ordained. He began it then, he is at it now, he will continue at it forever.
II. To a vision of the highest existence. Not only to understand the will which is the law of the universe, but to see the Lawgiver Himself (chap. 3:14). Christ is called “that Just One,” not merely because, as God, He is absolutely just, nor merely because, as man, He “did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth,” but as Mediator who has engaged to make unjust men just to themselves, to their fellows, to the universe, to God. Paul wan ordained to Him in order--
1. To renovate him as a sinner. The vision of Christ is the soul transforming force. “Beholding, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, we are changed,” etc.
2. To qualify him as an apostle. One of the necessary qualifications of an apostle was that he should have a personal view of Christ. Hence he says, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord?”
3. To consummate his blessedness as a man. What is the heaven of souls? The beatific vision of Christ (Revelation 5:6; Revelation 5:12).
III. To a reception of the highest communications. “And shouldst hear the voice of His mouth.” To have a direct communication with Christ seemed necessary in order to put Paul on a level with the twelve apostles (Acts 13:3; Galatians 1:1). But whilst this was specially required for Paul as an apostle, it is the high privilege of all good men. “Never man spake like this man,” they said who heard Him when on earth, when He spoke only the few things that they could bear. But to listen to that voice in heaven, what an ecstasy of joy! What is the voice of your Plato’s compared with the voice of Christ?
IV. To a discharge of the highest mission. “Thou shalt be His witness,” etc. To bear witness--
1. Of the highest facts about the greatest Being.
2. Of the highest facts about the greatest Being to all mankind. How earnestly shall we aspire to such an ordination! (D. Thomas, D. D.)
From this we see--
I. What the preacher must bring along with him into the ministry.
1. The knowledge of the Divine will.
2. The experience of Divine grace.
II. What the preacher is to do in the ministry--to be a witness to all men in word and deed of what he has seen and heard.
III. On what the preacher may depend in his ministry--on the grace of God which has appointed him to the office and will strengthen him in it. (K. Gerok.)
For thou shalt be His witness.
Witnessing for Christ
I. A special department of Christian service. “Thou shalt be His witness.” Sometimes a Christian is designated a steward, and is left in trust for Christ; sometimes a shepherd, and is commanded to feed the flock of God; but here he is called a witness. A witness is one who bears testimony to that with which he is personally acquainted. The apostle was a competent witness--he was permitted to see and know Christ; he was a courageous witness--he was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; and he was a consistent witness--both by word and deed he declared the whole counsel of God. How can we witness for Christ?
1. By our self-denying labours. This is the very essence of the Christian religion. “Whosoever doth not bear his cross,” etc. The need of a spirit of self-abnegation is abundantly manifest. We are surrounded by the ignorant, who must be taught; by the careless, who must be awakened; and by the lost, who must be led to the Saviour.
2. By our holy deportment. The end of Christ’s death is the holiness of His people. The Christian is commanded to let his light so shine before men, that they may see his good works, and glorify his Father who is in heaven. Holiness is power. “Argument may be resisted, entreaty may be disregarded, and eloquence may be scorned; but the exhibition of an exalted piety has a might which nothing can withstand. It is truth embodied; it is the gospel preaching in the lives of its votaries. No sophistry can elude it, no conscience can ward it off, and no bosom wears a mail that can brave the energy of its attack.”
II. An extensive sphere of Christian service. “To all men.” If you examine a map of the countries through which the apostle travelled, you will be amazed at the extent of his labours. Distance did not damp his zeal, nor danger daunt his courage. Where can we witness for Christ?
1. In private. This is a far more important sphere of service than many persons think. Are we diligent in the time of service? Are we patient in the hour of suffering? Are we resigned in the season of bereavement? Then we are witnessing for Christ.
2. In public. This is not only a difficult, but a very delicate task. We may dishonour Christ by our silence, and we may displease men by our speech. But there is greater danger of grieving Christ by our indifference than of offending men by our imprudence. Our testimony must be constant and courageous. Wherever our lot may be cast, there we must be loyal to Christ.
III. An important qualification for Christian service. “Of what thou hast seen and heard.” An apostle must know the will and experience the grace of God. He had seen the “Just One,” and “heard His voice”; and you might as well have tried to reason him out of a belief in his own existence as to reason him out of his belief in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we have seen the glory of God, or enjoyed the fellowship of Christ, we must “witness to all men of what we have seen and heard.” (J. T. Woodhouse.)
And now why tarriest thou?--
In the New Testament all who came to Christ at all came straightway. The apostles, Saul of Tarsus, the jailer at Philippi, the eunuch of Ethiopia, Lydia. Those who hesitated never came. Rich young ruler, Agrippa, Felix. This teaches us in a striking manner the danger of delay. Men, however, urge the reasonableness of delay. They declare that a matter so important should be duly weighed. Its responsibilities must not be rashly assumed. On the other hand, there are solemn and pressing arguments for immediate action.
I. The position is one of peril. If your house was in flames, and you were awakened at the dead of night by the cries of firemen calling upon you to escape, would you reply that you must deliberate upon the situation? To use the wise man’s image (Proverbs 23:34), would you, if you were lying on the top of the mast when the vessel was rocking violently and the crew were calling you to come down, respond that you must duly weigh the matter?
II. The position is sinful. It is a sin against the authority of God, who commands you to come; against the love of God, who yearns for you; against Jesus Christ--a rejection of the Divine claims, of His mercy. If it were theft, would you say, “I will steal one year more, and then I will stop”? Why, then, should you say, “I will sin by rejecting Christ one year or one day more, and after that perhaps I will turn from this sin?”
III. It may be instantly performed. You cannot stop fighting God gradually. Will you fire a few less guns tomorrow, and only an occasional gun the day after? Is that making peace? “As the Roman ambassador drew a circle around the captive princes, and bade them accede to his terms before they passed its bounds, so God requires an immediate response to His overture of mercy.”
IV. You have the ability now to perform it. No doubt you think you would prefer to have deeper convictions, stronger desires and all that; but you must learn to act on what you have. A vessel may leave the harbour with a wind of fifteen knots, or ten, or five, or one knot an hour. “Act on what you have; think not of what might be. It is better to go out of the harbour of false ease and delusive security upon a wind that merely fills the flapping sails than not to go at all.”
V. The difficulties will not be lessened by delay. You remember the countryman in AEsop’s fable who sat down by a running stream, saying: “If this stream continues to flow as it does now for a little while, it will empty itself, and I will walk over dry shod.” He waited in vain! and so do you. The difficulties will never become less.
VI. The difficulties will increase. The purchase of heaven is like buying of the Sibyl’s prophecies--the longer you delay the dearer the price. Men think as they grow older they will grow more virtuous. This is contradicted by the law of habit. Late conversions are rare. “Old age is, of all the ages of life, the least fitted for the work of salvation.” Facility in goodness does not come from habitually ignoring Christ.
VII. The shortness and uncertainty of life. The vistas of life seen in the perspective of hope may seem long to us; youth may smile at the suggestions of the tomb, and, conscious strength, may repel the insinuations of mortality; but the resistless hand of time is drawing us on. Nature and life are full of reminders of the brevity and incertitude of human existence. “The eagle poising a moment on the wing, and then rushing at her prey; the ship that, throwing the spray from her bow, scuds before the wind; the shuttle, flashing through the loom; the shadow of the cloud sweeping the hillside, and then gone forever, not leaving a trace behind; the summer flowers that, vanishing, have left our gardens bare”; the falling of the autumn leaf; the rushing of the mountain torrent; the dispersion of the morning mist; the fading of the summer day; these, with many other fleeting things, are emblems by which God through nature is teaching us how frail we are; at the longest, how short our days! (E. S. Prout.)
Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins.--
An argument for baptism, and an appeal
I. Baptism is an ordinance of Christ. It has been a question whether the rite is of Jewish origin. Moses, indeed, ordained “divers washings,” to which the elders added many more. But these were essentially different from Christian baptism; they being “waters of separation,” this of initiation; they being repeated on any fresh pollution, this not being on any account repeated. Jewish proselyte baptism is more analogous, but is not mentioned until the Christian era. The baptism of John bears more resemblance to it, being, as he declared, the shadow of it. They certainly are not identical, or Paul would not have baptized again the disciples of John at Ephesus. So we conclude that baptism is exclusively Christian. How or why we can hardly tell, except it were gathered from a few such hints as that prediction of Isaiah--“So shall He sprinkle many nations.” There prevailed among the Jews an expectation that Christ should institute a new and peculiar baptism. This impression is evident from the question put by the Pharisees to John--“Why baptizest thou, then, if thou be not that Christ,” etc. It is, therefore, no wonder chat earnest men among them flocked to receive “the baptism of repentance,” nor Chat afterwards “Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John”; and from His own baptism, needful only for example’s sake, the Teacher from heaven acted out this prevailing idea--an idea which gave an evident and definite meaning to that saying of His to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water,” etc., which agreed exactly with the current expectation, and must be law as long as men have to be translated out of the kingdom of this world into the kingdom of our Lord; which further appears from the very last charge of the Saviour (Matthew 28:19-20).
II. Baptism represents the washing away of sins. Nothing can be clearer than this. Sin has ever been regarded as a defilement which required to be washed away to make a man fit to stand in the sight of God. When this purification became possible, through “the water and the blood” which flowed from the Saviour’s side, the fact was set forth by a rite in which water was employed; at the same time the Lord declared the Spirit of God, which He came to give, to be essential to that new birth without which there is no personal efficacy in baptism. Yet this is the matter upon which there has been most unaccountable and fatal confusion. The text says, “Be baptized, and wash away your sins”--two things as different as a sign, and the thing signified. Yet these two have been declared to he the same. If it were so, I myself should have been “a new creature in Christ Jesus” in virtue of it, without any conversion; but I know that I was not. If it were so, then Simon Magus must have been among the saved. The idea of baptism being the actual remission of sins, or regeneration, or anything whatever beyond a sign of these as needful and possible, is too groundless for argument. But it does show us, as clearly as any earthly image can, the necessity and the possibility of “the washing of regeneration.”
III. Baptism is of perpetual importance and obligation. Christianity and spirituality are all but synonymous terms, this being emphatically the dispensation of the Spirit. The ceremonial law of Moses was in itself very burdensome; but those who would prefer outward rites to true religion were always heaping up traditions upon it, until it became a yoke of bondage too heavy to be borne. Then the Saviour gave the very character of His economy when He said, “God is a Spirit,” etc.; in harmony with which He said also, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation,” etc., which Paul did but illustrate when he said, “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink,” etc. Now, from these and a hundred such Scriptures we might have argued that the pure Spirit of Christ, without any figure, was Christianity. But our conceits, however logical they may seem, are not Christianity; and seeing that the thoughts and ways of God are so immeasurably higher than those of men, and wiser, and kinder, it is ever better to inquire what He has decreed than to imagine what He would do. We have already proved that Christ did institute this rite. Its very institution proves its importance then; and if it had any then, it must have as much if not more now; for if ever the outward and visible sign could be dispensed with, it must be while the Divine Teacher was living in our world to explain and to enforce His doctrines. And the most spiritual men have confessed that the two sacraments have proved a real help to their faith. At the dedication of their offspring to God in Christ, as well as at the table of the Lord, they have felt and learnt what they never learnt before, becoming more spiritual than ever. Whether this were so or not, the Divinely attested fact that Jesus decreed the baptism of all nations in His very last words is the proof that it is to have a continuance unto the end of the world. If one may explain away the rites ordained by the Lord, another may explain away the doctrines which they were ordained to teach; and, alas! many do both this day. What the very apostles needed we cannot less need; and it must be a right and safe conclusion that Christ only can unmake any ordinance which He has made, and that until He does so it rests upon all His disciples as an unquestionable obligation.
IV. Baptism is to be administered to all who worship Christ. The last clause of the text is of all importance. It proves, even before it is expounded, that baptism alone, the rite as the outward action of another, cannot save, but that its efficacy depends upon the state of mind and heart in the subject; for there is something else to be done while it is being performed. What this is is now the question. Of course it does not mean the formal mention of His holy “name,” nor does it mean “calling,” without any wish or hope of answer. The phrase is one borrowed from the Old Testament, where it always intends the actual worship of God in the prayer of faith. In the Psalms it; is said, “I will offer to Thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord”; “O give thanks unto the Lord, call upon His name.” The phrase in question is also one of those which bind together the two Testaments. Joel says, “It shall come to pass that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered”--which prediction both Peter and Paul quote word for word; and whatever may have been the prophet’s idea, we know the apostle’s intention in “the name of the Lord.” These meant not the Lord Jehovah, but the Lord Jesus. So, then, what Ananias here required from Saul was that with the highest possible intention he should call Jesus “Master and Lord”; and if any man whatever do this with apparent honesty, and is yet unbaptized, to him every minister of Christ should say, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins.” (J. De Kewer Williams.)
Directions to the awakened sinner
There is this idea in the text, this Divine purport and meaning--All things are ready. A redemption is obtained. A kingdom is purchased;up and take possession.
1. “Arise,” that is, lift up your hearts to the Redeemer! “Lift up your eyes to the hill Calvary, whence cometh your help.” “Arise,” hang down and droop thy head no more as if no balm was in Gilead, or as if there were no Physician there that could heal thee; though thou art a poor prodigal child, and hast been feeding upon the husks, the pleasures and vanities of a sinful world, thou hast a Father that loves thee, arise and go to Him. Thou hast a dear Saviour whose wounds will heal thy spoiled and poisoned nature. Thou hast the “Holy Ghost, who will lead thee and comfort thee as a mother comforteth her only son.” “Arise,” leave thy sins, thy lusts, thy dangerous place, and venture to come to the sinner’s refuge, and it shall go well with thee.
2. “Be baptized,” be immersed and covered in the bloody sweat of Jesus, be baptized with the baptism wherewith He was baptized, those great drops which fell from Him in His agony shall wash away thy great crimes and frightful offences.
3. “Wash away thy sins,” that is, come to the blood of the Lamb. No Jordan, no pool of Siloam, no Bethesda is like it. Whoever comes to this laver, to this fountain, though his sins were more than the hairs of his head, or the sands upon the seashore, all shall be washed away and remembered no more: and though his crimes were the most vile and abominable, so that his heart failed him, yet the blood of Christ shall make him whiter than the snow in Salmon, and soften and melt his hard and icy nature, and speak peace and pardon to his guilty conscience.
4. “Calling upon the name of the Lord,” this is to direct you where to apply, to whom you may address yourselves and make your requests, namely, to the Lord Jesus that appeared to Paul in the way. He is the Friend of sinners. He is the Minister of the true sanctuary, who hears prayer, and has the tenderest heart. Ask of Him and He will give you, seek to Him and you shall find, knock at the door of the sheepfold, and you shall find entrance by the new and living way of His flesh and blood, into the holiest place of all. (John Cennick.)
Getting rid of sin
I. A possible work. “Be baptized, and wash away thy sins.” The Holy Word represents the sinful state of the soul under different figures--sleep, slavery, disease, death, pollution. Here pollution. The words imply that it is--
1. A cleansable pollution. It is not ingrained. It is something separable from the soul. It can be washed away. Baptism to Saul would symbolise moral cleansing. No water, of course, can wash the soul; all the waters of the Atlantic could not cleanse one moral stain. There is, however, a spiritual water, “the truth as it is in Jesus,” by which the Eternal Spirit does cleanse (Ezekiel 36:25; Ezekiel 36:27; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Titus 3:7; Ephesians 5:25-26; Revelation 1:5-6; Revelation 7:14).
2. A pollution of which man must cleanse himself: “Wash away thy sins.” No one can do it for us.
II. It is a praying work. “Calling upon the name of the Lord.” Christ’s name is Himself; to call upon His name is to call upon Him.
1. Christ is the efficient cleanser of human souls. His work is to wash away the sins of the world, to purify the moral garments of humanity.
2. Prayer is the ordained means of attaining His cleansing influence (Romans 10:13). The prayer addressed to Him in the upper room at Jerusalem brought down His cleansing influences on the day of Pentecost. You may get wealth by industry, intelligence by study, wisdom by experience, but moral purity only by prayer.
III. It is an urgent work. “Why tarriest thou?” Or, more literally, Why art thou about acting, instead of acting really? Do not hesitate a moment. Be prompt. The importance of promptitude may be argued--
1. From the greatness of the work. Eternity depends upon it.
2. From the time already lost. The whole life should have been given to it, but much has run to waste.
3. From the increase of difficulties. Disinclination, insensibility, force of habit--all increase by delay.
4. From the character of the future. It is--
And it came to pass that … while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance.
A common thing reaching the wonderful
I. A common thing--a man praying. Prayer is an instinct of the soul. Danger seldom fails to rouse this instinct even in the most depraved (Psalms 107:13). Volney, in a storm at sea, a striking example of this. All worthless prayer may be divided into two classes, prayer addressed--
1. To the wrong god.
2. To the right God in a wrong way.
The universal tendency of man to pray implies the soul’s innate belief in some of the leading facts of theology, such as the Being, Personality, Presence, and entreatability of God.
II. A common thing reaching the wonderful. The trance is the state in which a man has passed out of the usual order of his life, beyond the usual limits of consciousness and volition. To an “ecstasy” in Paul we owe the starting point of the Church, the command which bade him “depart far hence unto the Gentiles.” It is supposed by some that it is to this trance Paul refers (2 Corinthians 12:1-5) when he speaks of being caught up to the third heaven. Conclusion: Learn--
1. The sublime possibilities of the human soul. By a mysterious power of abstraction it can shut out the external universe, and transport itself into a world where there are scenes too grand for description and communications surpassing utterance. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, John, as well as Paul, were often transported to these supernal states.
2. The incomparable worth of true prayer. Prayer is the road into the celestial (Daniel 9:21-23; Acts 10:9). (D. Thomas, D. D.)
And saw Him saying unto me, Make haste and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem.
Paul’s vision in the temple
I. The place: “The temple.” This shows the catholicity of the new convert.
II. The season: “While he was praying.” There seems to be a natural, invisible, indissoluble connection between the offering of a prayer to God and the reception of spiritual blessings from God. The Bible teaches this by--
III. The form. We may become acquainted with the world of spirits by--
IV. The subject. Christ’s command to Paul suggests--
1. That He claims authority over the ministry.
2. His special providence over His own agencies and ministers. (Caleb Morris.)
Paul sent to the Gentiles
This passage has an interest and a solemnity of a peculiar kind. This interview is not previously recorded, and but for the special circumstances that now arose it might never have been mentioned at all.
2. Paul introduced it because he wished to convince his former co-religionists that just as he had become a Christian preacher because he could not help himself, so when his heart was set upon labouring among his people, he was obliged to undertake what otherwise he would have utterly shrunk back from. Which of them, if they had been in his position, could have dared to say, “No”? Observe--
I. The rejection of the gospel preparing the way for the withdrawal of it (verses 17, 18).
1. The narrative refers to Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion. He must have returned with very strange and mingled feelings. He left the Holy City the proud champion of Judaism; he came back to it the humble disciple of Christ. He left it with a heart full of hatred to the faith of Christ; he came back ready to lay down his life in defence of it. And yet, as by a kind of instinct, he betook himself to the old place of prayer; and it was fitted to impress his Jewish hearers in his favour that it was there that he received the charge that had given its colour and direction to all his afterlife.
2. I can fancy his Jewish hearers saying, “We can so far understand your own change of view and feeling, but what connection is there between that and your making common cause with the Gentiles?” “I did it,” says Paul, “by express revelation. He said to me, Hasten and go quickly out of Jerusalem, for they will not receive thy testimony about Me.”
3. Much might have been said in favour of his remaining. Were conversions not as important at Jerusalem as in Asia Minor and Europe? Should charity not “begin at home”? Was it not time enough to think of converting the heathen abroad when they had got all the people converted at home? Such considerations must have had weight then, as they have with some now.
4. But not only was there a perishing world outside, needing if not waiting for the good news, and who therefore had a right to the one remedy for its deadly ailment; there was another reason. The Jewish people had enjoyed their opportunity. If it could be said in Isaiah’s time, surely much more then, “What can I do for My vineyard more that I have not done in it?” But they would not have Christ nor His gospel. And now that a new witness was raised up, the charge to him is,” Don’t stay here. Jerusalem has had its day.” It was a terrible message. No wonder that Paul, who loved his people so intensely, was loath to obey it, and humbly argues against it.
5. And yet it is in keeping with what has been elsewhere and at other times. The light has shone brightly for a time among a people, and when they rejected or extinguished it, they were left in the darkness which themselves had chosen. Africa is witness to this, as are those lands in which Paul himself once held up the lamp of truth. It seems to be God’s way to give the opportunity, and if it is not improved to withdraw it. So it was, in more recent times, in France, Hungary, Bohemia, Italy, and Spain.
6. Our own country and Germany seem now to be on their trial. The light of Reformation truth has shone in both; yet what multitudes in both lands are rejecting Christ, and abandoning themselves to carelessness and unbelief and open sin! And, as Hosea said, “Yea, woe also unto them, when I depart from them!” there may be something analogous to this in our own case. But, short of this, there are some who think that there has been such an expenditure of effort in some parts of the home field, often with very little in the way of result, that, without neglecting home, the stream of effort might now be legitimately diverted to the great harvest field abroad.
7. Are there not some who have had every advantage of a spiritual kind that could well be? And they have put off the great decision, or they have resisted, and made it next to impossible to venture on any further advances to them. It may be that they have had their “day,” and that the Divine word regarding them is, “Make haste, and get thee quickly away, for they will not receive thy testimony concerning Me.”
II. The Divine call overriding our own views of duty (verses 19, 20). Paul could not silently acquiesce in this word. He thought that what had convinced him would convince others. How could they resist the force of such evidence as he had to bring? Did they not know his intense and inextinguishable hatred of the name and people of Christ? What did he need to do but just to present himself, as himself the best argument he could use? But there was one who knew human nature better than he. As He had once said to Ezekiel, so He now says to Paul, “But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee, for they will not hearken unto Me.” An analogous ease is familiar to everyone. When Melanchthon had the truth opened up to him he thought he could not fail to commend it to others, but soon he had to make the confession that “old Adam was too strong for young Melanchthon!”
III. The imperative claims of the heathen world on the Church of God (verse 21).
1. Paul stands at the head of the whole Christian army. Such a man would, of course, be set apart to the work which the Master regarded as most important. Just as in a great warfare our best general would be despatched to occupy what was the key to the whole position, so wherever we find Paul, there, we may conclude, the Church’s great battle is to be fought, the Church’s great work is to be done. Now, to human eye, such a man seemed supremely desirable at Jerusalem. Reason would say, “Above everything, make sure that the Church is strong at the centre. The best you can do for the extremities is to do the best that can be done for the heart. Do not, on any account, let Paul go. Anything will do for the outposts; anyone will do for a missionary.” But the very form in which the charge is given is enough to show that the Church’s greatest and most pressing work is the making known of Christ among the heathen; and so from that point Paul’s life was unceasingly devoted to this end.
2. That was the great work of the Church then, and it is the great work now. Every reason might have been urged for keeping Paul in Jerusalem then that could have been pleaded for retaining him in Christendom now. Say what you will about the needs and claims of home, the fact is undeniable that there are comparatively few at home who have not the opportunity of knowing Christ, while three-fourths of the world are as ignorant of Christ as they were then; and the inevitable inference is that the Lord, who left the sheep that were safe in the fold and went out after that which was lost, is saying to His Church now, “Depart, for I will send thee far hence unto the heathen.”
3. Has the Church been acting upon that conviction? What of the vast empire of China? What of India? How much have we given of thought, or heart, or trouble, or time, or means, or prayer, to the work that lies nearest to the heart of Christ? How many of us sympathise with a young Christian lady who, when a friend remarked that it was a far way to go to Japan, replied, “Yes, very far, if it was only to make money; but not too far to tell the heathen about Jesus!” (J. H. Wilson.)
Promptness in doing is as important in God’s service as patience in enduring. The sooner a duty is attended to, a danger is turned from, or an error is corrected, the better. If we are in the wrong place, we ought to “make haste” and get out of it. If we are engaged in a bad business, we ought to “make haste” and quit it. If we are pursuing an improper or an unwise course of conduct, we ought to “make haste” and do differently. If we are indulging a habit which we should not wish fastened upon us permanently, we ought to “make haste” and break away from it. If we have wronged another, we ought to “make haste” and repair the injury. If we have wounded another’s feelings, we ought to “make haste” and express regret for our conduct. We cannot be too prompt in meeting every responsibility which is upon us for the time being. We need never fear that it would have been better for us to bare delayed doing right. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
Depart, for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.--
The mission of Paul
I. When God has any great work to accomplish, he will not want proper means to execute it. The call of the Gentiles had been the purport of many a prophecy. The era was now arrived when it should be realised; and while the apostles, influenced by Jewish prejudice, neglected this enterprise, God raised up Paul. Men may often project gigantic enterprises, but want the means of executing them. Nay, man may not only be incompetent to provide the means, but be incapable of contriving them, or even of imagining what they should be. But God’s understanding and ability are infinite. If He contemplate the end, He can also command the means. He can construct the lever which shall move the world.
II. God often fits instruments prospectively for His purpose. Wisdom largely consists in improving means already prepared, and few men know how to do that effectually; but God can provide the means beforehand, and adapt them, with the most consummate skill, to the end in view. He had been previously fitting Paul by his training “at the feet of Gamaliel,” by his proficiency in the Greek tongue, and by his acquaintance with the learning of the heathen world. So was it in the cases of Moses, David, etc., and so it is still; and as that diamond is ripening silently in its bed, under the agency of the hidden processes of nature, which is afterwards to shine in the diadem of the prince and brighten the splendours of empire, so the servants of God are often, unconsciously to themselves, preparing for a destination which neither they nor their friends had before contemplated.
III. God never suffers the powers which He has conferred upon any of His servants to remain long unused. Men, if left to themselves, may suffer their talents to rust, their energies to slumber, and may not perceive when they ought to start in the career of usefulness. But when the time is come that God hath set, then the instrument He has prepared shall be introduced. No sooner, accordingly, was Paul converted than he cries out, “What shall I do?” So when Cornelius and his household had been prepared, Peter is sent for, and is found ready; and the vision “of the man of Macedonia” caused Paul to gather that the Lord had called him to preach the gospel in that unthought of region.
IV. It belongs to God to fix the scene of the ministry of each of His servants. He prescribed to Paul, when “He said unto him, Depart,” whither he should go in general: and in the course of his travels the great Master always guided the steps of this His missionary. And to Him this prerogative still belongs; and surely it well becomes a servant of God to consult His mind and will, and to submit with alacrity to the heavenly destination in such matters. Woe to him if he consults with secular and selfish interests! Should he, like Jonah, decline any service to which God calls him, he shall find that God can follow him.
V. The region to which a minister of God is destined may be greatly remote. Most frequently He allows His servants to labour in their own country. Thus the eleven apostles continued to minister in Judaea, while Paul went forth to the Gentiles. Nor in vain. His servant obeyed, and was blessed. So Abram, being called of God to follow Him to a land unknown, “by faith went out, not knowing whither he went,” and God prospered him greatly.
VI. With the Divine commission in his hand, no minister of the Lord Jesus need fear to go wherever his great Master shall send him. Far be it for us to make light of the difficulties connected with a mission of this character. Still the Lord is everywhere with His servants, and he who trusts Him shall not want support, even in a strange land, and amid an unknown people.
VII. The work to which God calls His servants everywhere, at home and abroad, is great and honourable--glorifying to Himself and beneficial to man (Acts 26:16-18). Think upon--
1. The character of the work: it is highly intellectual and spiritual, holy and heavenly.
2. The subject of it. “Should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
3. The object of it--to save perishing souls.
4. The issue of it. It leads to an acceptance the most honourable, to a commendation the most enrapturing, to rewards the most glorious.
VIII. Through Divine mercy, the success of such missionaries will be proportioned to the difficulty of the enterprise and the dignity of the work. When Paul began his course no instrument could appear more inadequate, no attempt more unpromising. Yet what mighty success attended the ministry of the devoted apostle! Conclusion: Learn--
1. The great and universal rule of Christian obedience. It is to comply in all things with the Divine will.
2. The glory of Divine grace as a practical principle. You see in the example of Paul what it will prompt a man to undertake and to achieve.
3. The best sphere of duty--that which God assigns, be it abroad or at home.
4. The blessed consequences of simple devotedness in a servant of God. (J. Mitchell, D. D.)
Call to the work of foreign missions
I. The work of foreign missions is not a distinct part of the general work of the Church. The commission under which the Church acts has equal reference to all parts of the field. The work of the missionary is therefore not different from the work of a minister. A man who enlists for a soldier goes wherever he is sent.
II. A call to the work of missions therefore can only be analogous to the question whether a minister is to be settled in one place rather than another. How is a man to decide this point? The question assumes that--
1. The Lord has a purpose in regard to the location of His ministers.
(a) The doctrine of providence, which teaches that God’s purpose extends to all things, and that He overrules all things to the accomplishment of His purpose. The place of our birth, our education, profession, and field of labour are all included in His plan.
(b) The doctrine of Christ’s headship and guidance of His Church by His Spirit, by which He dispenses gifts to each one according to His will, and leads His people in the way in which they should go.
2. He makes that purpose known.
3. How does God reveal His will to ministers as to where they shall labour?
(a) He furnishes them with gifts requisite to some special field of labour.
(b) He addresses their understandings, presenting the wants of different parts of the field; the facilities for usefulness; the demand for labourers.
(c) He addresses their conscience.
(d) He addresses their hearts, awakens an interest in particular portions of the field, and infuses into them a desire for the work.
(a) He removes obstacles out of the way, such as want of health, obligations to parents, etc.
(b) He sends messages to them by friends.
(c) He stirs up the Church to call them here or there.
III. The duty of candidates for the ministry.
1. To feel that they are bound to go wherever God calls them--that it is not for them to choose.
2. To feel perfectly submissive and say, “What shall I do, Lord?”
3. To investigate the subject, and use all the means to come to an intelligent decision.
IV. The blessedness of mission work, because--
1. Its results are so glorious.
2. It is so peculiarly unearthly.
3. The promises are so abundant to those who forsake houses, lands, friends, etc., for Christ’s sake. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
The Christian missionary
I. By whom he is sent? Who speaks in the text?
II. Whither is he sent? “Far hence.”
III. To whom is he sent? “The Gentiles.”
IV. For what end is he sent? His errand is not one of--
4. But to spread the gospel.
V. With what encouragement is he sent? The Lord commands; that is sufficient. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
God’s mercy independent of sects or Churches
Ah! there was no prejudice against having the Gentiles made--what? Jews: but to have the Jewish God given to the Gentiles without the instrumentality of the Jews; to have their God distributed outside of themselves by another instrumentality; to have other people enjoy the same right in Jehovah that they did, standing on the same level--this was what they could not endure. To carry the Jews’ God out from Judaea, and make Him a God of the Romans, and of the Greeks, and of the Scythians, and of the Parthians, and of the Assyrians--that was what offended them. National gods, in old times, were very valuable property. It used to be supposed that the gods of a nation were very much to it what armies and navies are to a nation nowadays. It was supposed that they defended it; that they took care of it; that they hated other nations that were its adversaries. The idea that Jehovah was a national God, and that He was the God of the Jews, who did not wish their enemies to participate in His power or in His protection, runs through all Jewish history. If one should come into your house, and take all your pictures, and books, and furniture, and provisions, and distribute them along the whole street, you would doubtless raise some objection; if one should come to my table, and receive hospitality at my hands, and then take all my property, and scatter it up and down the street, I should not like it; and men felt very much so about their religion in those old times. It was a part of their national household goods. The Jews’ idea was that God was their special property: and to give the world the same right in Him that they had, was just so much to defraud them. The Jews were peculiarly susceptible to these ideas of appropriation, because, for the sake of their faith, and in order to defend the name of Jehovah against idolatry, they had suffered much persecution, and undergone many hardships. Men appropriate truth to themselves; they make it personal, as if they owned it, as if it belonged to them; and so the Jews felt that, as they had defended Jehovah, doubtless He must be grateful to them; that as they had suffered for Him, they had a right to parcel Him out; that He ought to be a gift from them; and to use Jehovah as the property of all mankind was to level the Jew to the plane of other men. This would be humiliation and disgrace to them, since they felt themselves to be ineffably superior to the rest of the world; and they would not bear the degradation if they could help it. From the outbreak of religious intolerance and religious cruelty recorded in the text we may learn several lessons.
1. First, it is possible to hold religion in a malignant spirit. So long as religion is understood to be an external system of ceremonies, laws, usages, ordinances; so long as it consists of a series of beliefs; so long as it is an objective thing, embodied in usages and institutions, or in philosophical creeds; so long as it appeals to the outward senses--it is quite possible to cherish it at the same time with those feelings which belong to the bigoted partisan. Unfortunately, that which we have seen among the Jews we have never ceased to see among men who have held the great institutions of Christianity or institutions that have purported to be Christian--that they held them in rancour, pride, and selfishness, and defended them with bitterness. Christ was the loving, atoning Saviour. And what has been the history of the Church that represented His disinterested suffering, the bounty of His love, and His benignity to His enemies? The long record of Church history has been a record almost unvarying of arrogance, and pride, and violence, and persecution. Men have received the religion of Jesus Christ just as the Jews received the religion of the Old Testament, to hold it in carnal bonds with most malignant human passions. Is the same spirit existing now which broke out in this tumult among the Jews? Do men hold religion in the same malignant way that they did? Is there the same jealousy in respect to the partition of the benefits of Christ that there was in respects to the diffusion of the knowledge of Jehovah? What has been the history of the sects? and what is today the feeling of the sects? Is the Roman Catholic Church unwilling that all the world shall have all the benefits of the mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ? Oh, no. The Roman Catholic Church stands saying to all the world, “Come into our Church, and under our regulations, and you shall have the Saviour. But you cannot have the Saviour outside of our Church. Come to us and you shall have Him, but you cannot have Him and leave us out.” Are the derivative Churches, are the hierarchical Churches, are the Protestant Churches, in spirit, different from the Roman Catholics? Are good men, learned men, wise men, unwilling that Christ should be preached among the Gentiles--that is, among Dissenters? Oh, no. Is the Episcopal Church unwilling that the truth of Jesus should be made known to outsiders? Oh, no. It is more than desirous that they should all have the bounty and blessing that is in Christ; but then they must have it in the true Church. They must have it in the line of apostolicity. Well, let us take the great Calvinistic Presbyterian Church. May anyone have Christ’s atoning mercy and the hope of everlasting life? Yes, if he believes in the absolute sovereignty of God; in original sin, with enough of actual transgression added to it; in regeneration; in the efficacious compassion and suffering and death of Christ; in Divine penalty, and in the eternity of future punishment. “Come into our creed,” says that Church, “and you shall have the mercy and blessing of God.” It is the Jewish state of mind over again. It is the same spirit which they manifested who shook their raiment, and threw dust in the air, and clenched their hands, and gnashed their teeth, and cried out against Paul, and demanded that he should be torn in pieces. In this regard, human nature is pretty much the same all the way through. There is everywhere the same conceit, the same arrogance, the same exclusiveness. “What we have is right--of that there is no mistake. And for those who are outside our ecclesiastical connection, and are not of our way of believing, there is nothing but darkness.” What, then, is the truth? God, as He has taught both in the Old Testament and in the New, is God over all, blessed forever; and all men, from the rising of the sun until the going down of the same, have children’s rights in God as their Father. All men have a right to take part and lot in Him, and to hope in Him. God is the God of all the earth. He belongs to no sect, to no party. He has given to no class the right to appropriate Him. There is not a creature on the face of the earth that is not dear to God. There is not a man so imperfect, or so full of infirmity, that God does not care for him and sustain him; and the best men living are pensioners on Divine grace and bounty: If God takes the worthiest of His creatures, out of the fulness of His own graciousness, and not on account of their desert, can He not take the others also, out of that same graciousness? And does He not take them? The whole tide of the Divine thought through the world is a thought of goodness; the whole heartbeat of God along the earth is a heartbeat of mercy; and that thought, that heartbeat, is for all mankind. God is working for them; He is shaping His providences for their benefit, and that just as much when He chastises them as when He gives them pleasure. He is preparing them for something better than this life. “Well, then, do I understand,” you will say, “that an unconverted man is as good as a converted man?” No, I do not say that at all. But if you were to ask me, “Who owns the sun?” I should say, “Nobody owns it; it belongs to the globe, and everybody has a right to it.” Here are men who are surrounded by ten thousand climatic influences which may be turned to good account; but they never reap ample harvests. Why? Because they do not know how to make use of those influences in cultivating the soil. Those who do, sow their seed and reap abundant harvests. There is a vast difference in the results of these men’s farming; and yet, the sun stands offering as much to one as to another. Now, it is with God’s mercy as it is with the sunlight. What does the sunlight bless? It blesses industry, integrity, knowledge. It is ready to bless everybody who will partake of its bounty. The right to it is not conferred by magistrate, legislature, or government. Sunlight is everybody’s; and yet everybody does not get good out of it. It is shame to some; it is torment to others; it is rebuke to others; and it is blessing, endless and fathomless, to yet others. Whether it is beneficial to a person or not depends upon how he uses it. God’s love, and mercy, and bounty are universal, and men appropriating them find them personally useful; but rejected and excluded, they find them no good. Two men are walking in a garden. One walks in the alleys, and everywhere sweet and pleasant shade falls upon him; the fragrance of the orange greets him on every side; he enjoys all the beauty of prodigal luxuriance; he is surrounded by blossoming flowers and ripening fruits; and to him it is a garden of grand delights. The other man lies drunk under the shade of a tree. There are the same fruits, the same flowers, the same fragrance for him that there is for the other man, only he is not in a condition to appropriate them. One goes out of the garden full of gladness, and laden with its treasures. The other has no more of the garden than if he had never seen it. It is the nature of the men, and not any partiality in the garden, that makes the difference. We are prepared, then, to answer some questions. May an unconverted man pray to God? This is a question which has disturbed many persons. Some think that when they are Christians they have a right to pray, but not till then. But why may not anyone pray to God? And does a man need to go through a technical experience inside a church before he has a right to pray to God? There is no man that wants to pray who has not a right to pray. Take heart, then, sinning, wicked, desponding man! If there is nobody else that cares for you, God cares for you. If every tongue is out against you; if all manner of prejudices hedge up your way; if the Church has surrounded you with obstacles, God thinks of you, and will help you. You have an interest in the heart of Jesus; and if God be for you, who can be against you? Therefore, take courage. You are not a churchman? You are not much educated in matters of religion? Ah, but you know something of sin! You desire to be released from its grasp. A sinner no right in God! Think a moment. Has he not a right to a Saviour? May he not partake of Divine goodness? Especially has he not a right to invoke God’s blessing? It is because God is what He is that all men have rights in Him. It once used to be said that men had no rights which God was bound to respect. A better thought has come over the Christian community. Men have rights. God gave them, and they are at liberty to exercise them. Has not a child rights, because his parent is his superior, and has authority over him? The law says Yes; public sentiment says Yes; and the voice of Nature says Yes. And because a man is formed subordinate to God, and under His authority, has he not rights of mercy, of justice, of love, and of truth? May we hope, then, that the dissolute and the wicked shall have mercy? There is not a man who lives who has not a right to food, and, through food, to strength, and, through strength, to executive efficiency. Men also have the right to joy--manly joy. Yet, you say to me, “May a man have joy, though he be an old glutton, swollen with superabundance of blood?” Why, yes; but not as a glutton. If he will become temperate, and purge away his humours, and restrain himself to due moderation, he may. If I am cold, and wish to protect myself against the weather, I can, if I will seek the proper shelter. If I am shivering on the north side of a rock, I can get warm if I have a mind to, but not so long as I remain on the north side. There are infinite mercies of God toward men; and all are wicked, for there is not a man on earth who is righteous, perfectly so, not one. Every man is imperfect in this mortal state. Nevertheless, the bounty of God is proffered to each. And it is received and enjoyed by all who take it as it is to be taken. The condition of Divine favour, of pardon, and of salvation, is not that you shall be inside of any Church; is not that you shall be Jew or Christian in the sectarian sense; is not that you shall be in the Roman, or Episcopal, or Presbyterian, or Baptist, or Methodist, or Congregational, or Lutheran, or Unitarian, or Universalist, or any other Church. What you want is simple personal sympathy With God, who is above all Churches, and who is offered to men without any regard to Churches. It is true that a man may be more likely to come into an intelligent knowledge of God, and His requirements and promises, in the sanctuary than out of it. The help which we receive from God is a gift springing out of the infinite resources of His love. But there are external and incidental helps. Churches are helps--not masters; servants--not despots. You are free. God is the God of all the earth; He is the God of every human being; and nothing separates between you and God but--what? Your creed? No. Your ordinances? No. Your pride and selfishness? Do these turn God sour? No. Nothing separates between you and God but your own will. Here I stand, holding out a handful of gold; but can a man receive that gold unless he comes and puts out his hand and takes it? No. Still the hand is open and held out to him. So long as men clench their fists they cannot take it, but if they will open their hands and make the necessary movement they can. Much of God’s bounty, and forgiveness, and help, and succour, will come upon you, at any rate, through the incidental influence of Divine providence; but the personal mercies of God, the sweetness of His grace, the effluence of His love--these may be yours, they may succour you, restore you, strengthen you, inspire you, and build you up in time for eternity, if you will; but it all lies with you. (H. W. Beecher.)
God always has a place for His children. If they are not wanted in one sphere, they are in another. Their place may be “far hence,” far from the sphere which they long to fill, far from their present circle of companionship; in quite another profession and line of service from that which they have felt sure they were intended for; but wherever it is, it is the only place for them to be in. The far-off place which God chooses is better than any place nearer which is the disciple’s preference. God sometimes comes to a teacher in his class, to a superintendent at the head of his school, to a pastor in a delightful field of labour, to a father or a mother in a pleasant home, to a student in the middle of his college career, to a business man in a work for which he seems eminently fitted, and says to the surprised hearer, “I will send thee forth far hence.” When God speaks that word, no child of His may hold back from a prompt and hearty acquiescence. The only proper response to such an announcement is, “Even so, Father, for so it seems good in Thy sight.” (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
The answer of the Lord to the “but” of His servants
1. Even the sincere servants of God have often a “but” against the commands of the Lord: it may arise from fear as with Jonah, or from modesty as with Moses and Jeremiah, or from conscientiousness as with Peter, or from compassion as with Abraham toward Sodom, and Paul toward the Jews.
2. Yet in spite of these “buts,” the Lord remains firm to His command, “Depart”; and at length obtains the glory. “He has done all things well.” (K. Gerok.)
And they gave audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices.
The point of secession
Paul was listened to attentively until he came to the word “Gentiles.” How some words madden men! We are not offended by the word “Gentiles,” otherwise we should be offended by our own name; but the Jews were the enemies of the Gentiles, and they have written oaths that they themselves would rather not have any Messiah than one that had a kindly feeling towards the heathen; and their books are full of cursing against all men who were not Jews. This explains the fury of the mob: so long as Paul had a tale to tell they listened to him. Paul--a wise rhetorician--kept the burning word until the very last, but, like a man skilled in speech, he got it quite out. Its very place is a stroke of genius; it is the last word, but the moment it was uttered it was like a spark thrown into a magazine of gunpowder.
I. It is curious to observe is the New Testament the points at which audiences break away from the speakers.
1. Take the case of Christ. In John 6:66, we read, “From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him”--the time of spiritual revelation. So long as there were parables to hear, and loaves and fishes to be divided, and miracles to be wondered at, there was no turning away; but when the Lord became intensely spiritual then they left Him. This is a point which is often forgotten. We are often told, “Preach like Jesus, and the people will hear you gladly”; whereas the truth is that the moment Christ left the elements of teaching and came to deal with the real and eternal purpose of His teaching, the people left Him. That must be the result of spiritual preaching everywhere. The world does not want spiritual preaching. If we were to speak spiritually, the churches would be empty: we are obliged to keep on the outside, and show the great stones of the temple; we dare not go inside and touch the altar.
2. The Athenians left Paul at another point. They listened to him with more or less interest when he made his great speech upon Mars’ hill, but the moment he began to speak about the resurrection, “some mocked,” etc. They did not want to hear about the resurrection; they wanted philosophy, speculation, high discourse, poetry.
3. In this particular instance another point of departure is chosen. The Jews listened to Paul so long as he confined himself to matters which were more or less of a purely Jewish kind, but the moment he said “Gentiles” they went mad.
II. The great teaching of this review is that all men part company with their teachers at certain points. The point is not always the same: some remained with Jesus, notwithstanding the spirituality of His teaching; some heard about the resurrection of the dead with comparative interest; others could hear about the Gentiles with mental composure. But there are points at which we all fly off, which would dissolve this assembly in a moment. Men always like to listen to themselves preaching. Who dare speak the new word? Look at this particular case: the disease under which these people were suffering was the eternal disease of humanity--narrow-mindedness. The man who could entertain a kindly interest towards the Gentiles was a “fellow” “not fit to live.” That was called religious earnestness, contention for the faith once delivered to the saints! Have we learned Christ’s great lesson: “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring”? Have we left the ninety-and-nine accepted ideas in the wilderness and gone out after that which is lost, until we find it? I do not ask for new truth, for there is none and can be none; I ask for great-heartedness that will listen to all kinds of people, hoping that they will drop one word which the great Teacher can take up and magnify into a gospel. If any man has a prophecy, let us hear it; if any man has a new reading of the old Book, let us hear him. A tone may be a lesson; an emphasis may be equal to a revelation. The only condition of mind which Jesus Christ can approve is a condition of all hopeful love. (J. Parker, D. D.)
An audience too prejudiced to be convinced
These verses are a sad revelation of prejudice.
I. One “word” destroyed the effect of a whole discourse. “They gave him audience unto this word”--“Gentiles.” Their prejudice was that Jews alone were the objects of Divine favour; that the Gentiles were reprobate. Hence they were roused to the greatest excitement. How often is this the case! Let the preacher in the course of a sermon filled with lofty truths utter a word that strikes against the prepossessions of some hearer, and the whole sermon goes for nothing. Let not the preacher who avoids striking at prejudices conclude, from the attention of his audience, that his sermon has been accepted. Had Paul concluded before he uttered that “word,” he might have inferred that his audience was brought into sympathy with his views.
II. One “word” roused the malignant passions into fury. This one word had hurled reason from the throne, opened the floodgates of passion, and made them the sport of a lawless rage. They roared like lions, they howled like wolves. In such a state of mind all argument fell powerless upon them.
III. One “word” transformed the best teacher into a wretch. “Away with such a fellow.” Thus offended prejudice has always acted. Thus towards Christ, thus towards the martyrs, thus towards the true teachers of all times. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Paul and the bigoted Jews
The most inspiring subjects for the artist’s pencil have come from the Bible narrations, and but few equal the occasion upon which our text was uttered. Upon a staircase leading from the temple stands a venerable apostle, chained between two soldiers. Around him is the Roman guard; beneath are scowling, bloodthirsty Jews; violent hands and feet join with raging tongues, so that a cloud of dust and garments thrown off obscure the sunlight. Why this uproar in such a place? Its sole cause is a recital of Christian experience. The witness is one well known to be competent and trustworthy--once Saul, breathing out threatenings and slaughter, now Paul, ready to die for that Master whom he had madly persecuted.
I. Compare the blindness of those who reject Christ today with that of these Jews.
1. Had they not known all his life of persecution, the death of Stephen? Had they not just heard the marvellous story of his conversion? Did they not know his self-sacrifice and pure life of love and tenderness? Had they not overwhelming evidence in the fruits of his labours that God was with him? What a blindness must have enshrouded them!
2. Great, indeed, was the flood of evidence; but he who rejects Christ today closes his eyes to greater light. For--
(a) It has revolutionised the world’s life. It has levelled the proudest thrones, dispelled the most tenacious superstitions, lighted up heathen darkness, civilised savagery.
(b) Unlike all other religions which time disintegrates, Christianity is progressive.
(c) For centuries the Bible has stimulated and rewarded closest study, and today its fulness and undeveloped wealth are more than ever conspicuous.
(d) All life has been leavened by the purifying and quickening power of Christianity.
(e) Paul’s persecutors had seen thousands brought in loving abasement and gracious quickening to the Cross; but now, millions upon millions from all nations under the sun unite in a testimony substantially accordant. No testimony on earth is so cumulative, so inexplicable upon ordinary philosophy, so reinforced by lives of purity and self-sacrifice.
II. Those who reject Christ today, like these Jews, are unwilling to see the light.
1. The Jews knew that if Paul was right, they were wrong; that the murders of Jesus and Stephen were criminal and damning. Their selfish interests clamoured. Their individual preeminence, and their worldly affluence, were endangered. Hence they would not look at the claims of the gospel, and hesitated at no extreme of fraud and violence.
2. So today, the unbeliever wilfully spurns light at which he would catch eagerly in any other pursuit, and rushes into blind persecution, or sits aloof in contempt or indifference. May not such stubbornness become so obdurate that character shall be fixed beyond repair? May not spiritual faculties become permanently fixed in wrong activities by continued distortion? In a word, may not man abdicate forever, though only for a mess of pottage, his Divine birthright of freedom of will? Judicial blindness may come upon all who misuse their spiritual faculties. Observation brings many cases to view where the will seems to have lost its flexibility, and, like a lashed rudder, steers the poor lost soul straight to the dark gulf of hell.
3. The explanation of this blind tenacity of will in a bad cause can be found in personal hatred. These Jews at Jerusalem and elsewhere hated Paul murderously; and that hate drowned all appreciation of his intellectual preeminence, his generous self-abnegation, and his noble spirit of conciliation so eager to win them to a better mind even now. But they are not alone in such hate.
III. Unbelief today cherishes a personal hate, the same in kind though varying in degree and mode of expression. Personal relations are great formative factors of every life, and always evoke answering sympathies or antipathies.
1. Man is always in closest contact with God. Hence, by the laws of his being, he must respond to that relationship in obedience, or in opposition. It is a sad fact that such opposition is the first and certain attitude of the unrenewed soul. Let a personal God declare himself in nature’s extent, and wondrous mechanisms, in processes that require design, and which slowly unfold themselves in minute adaptation to man’s wants, then infidelity, claiming to be scientific, cries out, even of the God of nature, “Away with him!”
2. The Bible, in itself and in its triumphs, indicates God’s personal presence. It therefore cannot escape the opposition of infidelity.
3. Organised Christianity--the visible Church--presses its claims upon the attention of a lost world; but such claims are, the signal for unflagging hostility. If the Church is right, the world is wrong: no truce is possible.
4. Our Lord Himself does not escape this hate of infidelity. Rome substitutes Mariolatry, works of supererogation, fires of purgatory, and sacerdotal agency. Unitarianism elevates the sinner above the need of redemption, and scouts at the blood of Calvary as offensive to cultivated sensibilities. Coarse blasphemy reserves the name of Jesus for its whitest heats and most violent outbursts. (S. L. B. Spears.)
On entering the Gudarigby Caverns, near the Murrumbidgee River, New South Wales, you will see large numbers of the great-leaved horseshoe bat. If you proceed with torches they will become so eager to escape from your light that they will annoy you exceedingly by flapping against your face in their eagerness to escape into a congenial darkness. How much they remind one of those ignorant bigots who, when the torch of truth is carried into the recesses of superstition, dash in wild exasperation against the enlightener, and do their utmost to seek intellectual gloom! (Scientific Illustrations.)
The chief captain commanded him to be brought to the castle.
The Jews, the Boman, and the Christian
I. The Jews in their conduct, which necessitated the interference of the chief captain, illustrate--
1. The blindness of religious bigotry. They rushed to the conclusion that Paul was not fit to live, in the first instance, with no evidence whatever. They now rushed to the same conclusion against the clearest evidence that could be produced. Thus bigotry works everywhere, in Church and State. Let a man run counter to prevailing prejudices, and he is condemned unheard; and no vindication, however clear and cogent; is allowed to remove the prejudice.
2. The murderousness of religious hatred. Twice within an hour was Paul’s life in peril from the men with whom he differed in certain points. Let it be remembered that Paul’s attitude was not antagonistic to Judaism; he had simply advanced Christianity beyond the Judaic province. But to have any relations with Gentiles was an unpardonable offence. And differences which have been far removed from hostilities in religion, politics, temperance, and other reforms, have been occasions for aiming poisoned darts at character, business, influence, etc.
II. The roman officer represents--
1. The stern justice which would get at the facts. Lysias, like Gallio, cared neither for the Jews nor for Paul, but, unlike Gallio, he desired that strict justice should be done. Paul had twice created an uproar in a short space--a thing undesirable anywhere to that embodiment of order, a Roman official, but most undesirable in Jerusalem, where inflammable materials always existed in abundance. So if he could get at the facts he might allay the present agitation, and perhaps prevent future disturbances. This is all Christianity wants--a fair field and no favour.
2. The legality which is equitable in its ends bus unfair in its use of means. Three courses were open to the captain--
3. The officialism which, convicted of illegality, cowers in fear. When the chief captain discovered that he had bound, and nearly scourged, a Roman citizen, he was afraid, as he might well be (Acts 22:29). And so has many an ecclesiastic and statesman when he has done, or proposed to do, evil that good might come.
III. Paul is an example of--
1. The prudence which quietly bides its time. Instead of angrily protesting, while the clamorous mob sufficiently deafened the soldiery, thereby adding exasperation to confusion, and in vain, Paul waits till the clamour subsides at the sight of preparations for scourging. Then, as soon as there is a lull and he can be heard, he speaks. A lesson of patience and self-possession. Many a man has lost himself and his cause through premature speech or action.
2. The wisdom which discerns when its time is come. Ere the first humiliating lash descended, Paul speaks the word which made the Roman quail. Many have the prudence to wait, but fail to see and seize upon the “time to speak” or act when it comes. How many opportunities for Christian effort or social usefulness are allowed to pass by from the lack of this faculty!
3. The dignity which asserts its rights. There is a time to submit, and that often came to Paul. But now clearly was the time for Christ’s sake and his own to stand upon his dignity. And that time comes both to the individual and to the Church. (J. W. Burn.)
The moral cowardice of warriors
I. Fear of the people made the chief captain cruel towards Paul. Why did the Roman tribune command Paul to be brought into the castle to be scourged? Not because he could have been in any way convinced of his guilt, but because he wished to conciliate the raging mob. Here is base cowardice. The love of right should make the ruler superior to the fear of man.
II. Fear of the Roman power forced him to desist. While the indignities were being inflicted, Paul, with the heroism of a great man, said, “Is it lawful,” etc. From the conversation that took place, three things are observable--
1. Paul’s self-command. He speaks without rage or excitement to the bold Roman himself: “Is it lawful,” etc.
2. The apostle’s civic superiority. Paul was a “freeborn” citizen of Rome, the chief captain a citizen only by purchase.
3. The force of the Roman name. As soon as they heard that Paul was a Roman, the officer and the soldiers recoiled. Conclusion; This incident accords with Roman history. Cicero, against Verres, says, “It is a heinous sin to bind a Roman citizen; it is wickedness to beat him; it is next to parricide to kill him; and what shall I say to crucify him?” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman?--
Shortly before James I came to the throne of England, he set up a claim to all the small estates in Cumberland and Westmoreland, on the plea that the “statesmen” were merely the tenants of the Crown. The statesmen met, to the number of two thousand, at Batten Heath, between Kendal and Staveley, where they came to the resolution that “they had won their lands by the sword and were able to hold them by the same.” After that meeting no further claim was made. (H. O. Mackey.)
Take heed … for this man is a Roman.--
The prevailing plea
A man was captured in Cuba, in 1869, by the Spanish troops under suspicious circumstances, and he was condemned to be shot. English by birth and American by naturalisation, the consuls of these two nations interfered for his life, but in vain. The condemned man was brought out to be shot. The soldiers were drawn up in file with loaded guns, when the English and American consuls threw over the man their national flags; the Spanish authorities did not dare to fire upon the Cross of St. George or the Stars and Stripes, and the man was saved. “Take heed,” the consuls said, “this man is English, this man is an American.” So when a sinner trusts in Christ, and his soul is sprinkled with His precious blood, no power can harm. Christ says to Justice, “Take heed, this man is My brother”; and to the world, and to Satan, and to all the powers of evil, “Take heed, this man is a Christian.” (Christian Age.)
Paul said, But I was free born.--
Birthright goodness and goodness which we pay for
There are two kinds of goodness: that which comes of itself, and that which comes with effort and struggle; goodness born of nature, or made by will. Some people seem to be good by nature. They are free born. Children of a good blood, born in families educated during many generations to be true, just, generous, respectful; the stamp of the race appears in their habits of thought and action. But others are less fortunate. They come from a bad stock, and the poor blood of bad ancestors runs in their veins. They are by nature peevish, egotistical, vain, wilful, irritable, sensual. They are aware of their proclivities; they resist them with heroic courage. They succeed, with immense effort, in conquering this demon in their organisation, and contrive to become moderately good people. With a great sum they purchase this freedom from evil. They are emancipated by their own heroic efforts, and are not the slaves of sin, but have become the freemen of the truth. It is evident that those who have thus emancipated themselves by their own efforts deserve more credit than those who are born with the possession of all sweetnesses and all purities. This is the encouragement for those who find a great deal to contend against in their nature or their circumstances. When the spirit is willing, but the flesh weak; when the law in the member wars against the law of the mind; when some irresistible current seems to be setting you down, away from what is good and right; then remember that you need not despair; that you are not asked to do more than you can, but only what you can; that having little, you are to give diligence gladly to give of that little, and that your reward will be greater if you use your one talent aright, and improve it to the utmost, than those will obtain who, having a great endowment of power and faculty, make little use of it. All this is true; but it will not do to push this truth too far. If one deserves great credit who obtains his moral freedom with a great sum, expending time, effort, self-denial, self-control therein, it is also a great blessing to be free born. I am often asked, “Which kind of goodness is the best and highest, that of nature or that of effort?” If you say that the goodness of struggle is the best, because it has most temptations to conquer, then we must ask what temptations God has to resist? He “is not tempted with evil” at all. Moreover, if we say that that goodness is greatest which has most temptation to resist and most evil to conquer, then it would follow that as we grow better we grow worse. This is absurd. Therefore it follows that, while there is more moral merit in resisting evil, there is more moral beauty in not having any evil to resist. The life and character of Jesus is the best solution of this paradox. If we ask, “Which is the best kind of goodness, that which consists in struggle and effort, or that which comes naturally and easily without struggle?” we find that Jesus had both kinds of goodness in equal and harmonious union. His whole life, on one side, was a struggle and a battle. He was tempted on all points, like as we are; but without sin. Though a son, He learned obedience through the things which He suffered. Yet He was the well-beloved Son, dwelling in the bosom of the Father, pure from all stain of evil. He combined these two forms of goodness perfectly--that of nature and that of effort. This made Him complete and perfect. For though Jesus had this battle, it did not consist in any struggle with evil in Himself. He was born pure and free from stain. He was born of the Holy Spirit. No drop of black blood corrupted His heart. A great prophecy has lain hidden in human hearts from the beginning, of such a being as this. Seeing everywhere among men weakness, ignorance, sin, the human heart has cried out for someone to come who, while being a man like ourselves, should be an example of uncorrupt humanity. God, who made us with this longing and this prophetic hope, sent to us in Jesus Christ its answer and fulfilment. He showed us this one pure soul, in whose life the most searching criticism has never yet found a stain, and yet He was one who had to struggle, as we struggle, suffer as we suffer, resist temptation as we resist it, and whose whole life was not only growth, but also battle; in whom, therefore, we find the fulness of the Godhead by finding the fulness of manhood, since man was made in the image of God. Jesus stands as the central figure in history; the reconciliation of races, creeds, philosophies, and religions; the Son of God in holiness; the Son of man in goodwill and humility. There are, therefore, those two kinds of goodness: the goodness which comes from struggle, and that which comes from nature; but the life of Jesus shows that they are at heart one. This also appears from the fact that each tends to produce the other. The natural growth into good prepares us to struggle for it. Struggle and effort to do right at last consolidate into right habits and tendency. Mr. Darwin says that a long-necked horse by straining upward to get the leaves from the trees may, after a few thousand centuries, have been developed into a giraffe. About this we cannot be certain, but I do not doubt that a bad man after a while may become a good man. The goodness is incomplete which does not unite the virtue which struggles and the sweetness which grows. There are in all our lives a natural happy development, and hours of crisis. With Jesus the development came first, and prepared Him for the final crisis. With others the struggle comes first, and ripens into a calm and assured peace. We are made to inherit or attain both kinds of goodness; we are intended to grow up in all things into Him who is our Head, even Jesus. If He was perfect, He has said to us that we may also become perfect. “Be ye perfect even as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” If Jesus is thus far the exception, and if imperfection is thus far the rule, He came to reverse the law and to make that which is now the rule to become the exception. All the New Testament is full of calls and invitations to become like Jesus; to be grafted in Him, and so to produce much fruit; to grow up as He grew up, and to struggle manfully as He struggled, and so to inherit all His life and power; to be heirs with God and joint heirs with Christ, in this, and in all the worlds which are to come. (J. Freeman Clarke.)
The privileges of birth
1. Are not to be despised by Christians.
2. A wrong use of them, however, is worse than contempt for them.
3. There are times when they may be used as weapons of defence. (J. H. Tasson.)
The Christian’s birthright:--Every Christian is free born. Christ hath made him free. The new birth is a birth into freedom, freedom from sin, freedom from fear, freedom in love and in the truth, freedom in action as the natural outflowing of his soul, and yet at the beginning he has attained this freedom only in part. It. Independence Hall at Philadelphia there is the bell which in 1776 first rang out to the citizens who were awaiting the action of Congress, then sitting with closed doors, that the Declaration of Independence had been decided upon. Fifteen years before this, that bell was cast with these words upon it, “Proclaim liberty to all the land and to all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:15). Fifteen long years it rang--rang the hope of liberty, rang the prophecy of liberty; but at length it rang out liberty attained and the prophecy was fulfilled. So every Christian has liberty inwrought upon his soul at his new birth--partly a fact and partly a prophecy, but a prophecy becoming fulfilled; and at length, when the truth has done its work, no longer in prophecy but in reality shall the Christian know the glorious liberty of the sons of God. (Christian Age.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Acts 22". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25