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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Acts 13

 

 

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Verse 2-3

SEPARATION AND ORDINATION

‘As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work where-unto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.’

Acts 13:2-3

Barnabas and Saul were at Antioch with other prophets and teachers, and while the Church was engaged in a solemn service of prayer and fasting, the Holy Ghost intimated to those present that two of their number were to be solemnly dedicated to the apostolic office. ‘Separate them for the work,’ mark them as by a boundary line from the others. The command was obeyed; a special ordination service was held of prayer and laying on of hands for these two men who were to start on a momentous missionary journey. We generally speak of this journey as St. Paul’s first missionary journey. These men were not only inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon them this voice of ministration, but they were solemnly consecrated to the ministry of apostleship by the outward ordination by the then rulers of the Church.

These words suggest just two or three points:—

I. The beginning of missionary work among the Gentiles.—These men are commissioned by the Holy Ghost to go forth and carry the Name and Gospel of Jesus, the salvation of Jesus to the world, and the results are everywhere. If there are any in this church to-day who are not really interested in mission work, I would say begin to be so at once. Think, and fight, and pray. Do something for the Lord Jesus outside just your own immediate work—something in return for the effort of those who laboured to give the message of salvation to the world, to you and me.

II. Inward call and outward order.—Even the express designation of the Holy Ghost does not supersede the outward form of ordination. The ministry is a work, a business, and it needs the authority of the accredited representatives of the Church of Christ. Just as the Church at Antioch fasted and prayed, and laid on hands in solemn benediction before they sent forth the new Apostles to their work, so the Church of England, with its historic and spiritual claim to follow the teaching of the Apostles, acting under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, offers prayers for those to be ordained. Read the Ember Collects and try to realise that at every ordination we do just what the Church at Antioch was doing years ago. Remember, too, how much we of the ministry require your prayers. How great is our responsibility; how can we undertake such a wonderful work without a definite calling and express commission? ‘Separate Me Barnabas and Saul.’ With all our weakness and temptations, and all the secular work with which we are so mixed up, we are indeed separated men. It may be that it is just your prayers, your sympathy, and your support which will keep us up to this high calling.

III. The unction of the Holy One.—There is no department of our life, individual or corporate, which is not ruled over and controlled by the mighty influence, the unction of the Holy Ghost. Every one may not be called to a sacred office; yet there are hundreds called to offices which man does not regard as sacred, but which really are so. To those who have eyes to see, God’s Spirit is everywhere. Do we believe that God has appointed us to our several duties, and that He has also conferred the gifts to ensure their execution? Would it not help us to reverence any little task that falls to our hands if, as we set out to our little daily task of ministration, we should have such trust as to pray that we might be able ministers of whatever we have to do; that our sufficiency might be of God?

Illustration

‘When we think of the noble usefulness and sacred benefit of the ministerial Office, we recall that a deacon, a successor in the long historic chain to Stephen and to Philip, is set apart to an office which is called indeed as its primary duty to aid the higher ministries in a round of often prosaic and almost secular assistance, but yet which left a Philip free to evangelise a city and to found, by a conversion in the wilderness, the first of national Churches, the Ethiopian; and which left Stephen free to witness with seraphic fire for Christ and to see Him, in the hour of martyrdom, rise from the throne above to lift him home to heaven. Is not the office great in these its magnificent first examples? And is it the less spiritual because it in an office? Shall we look for the power of the Holy Ghost everywhere except where the old order of the Church comes in? God forbid! Look at the experience of Antioch. The great missionaries were summoned forth from Antioch by a call from the free and eternal Spirit, it is true; they were sent forth by the Holy Ghost and departed. But none the less the believing Church had to give them her subordinate mission also, secondary, but sacred. The Spirit called, and led, and filled, and used. The Church prayed, and laid hands on the called ones, and sent them forth, authentic missionaries at once of the Bridegroom and the Bride.

(SECOND OUTLINE)

AN EARLY MISSIONARY INCIDENT

They ‘sent them away.’

I. A missionary church.—The first point which the incident suggests is that the Mother Church of the Gentile world manifested on this occasion its fresh and vigorous life by the very fact that it put forth its power as a missionary church. It recognised the duty laid upon it and upon all Churches by its Divine Head, and took its part in that great onward movement, which, through all the centuries, from the Ascension of our Lord down to the present time, has been going on for the evangelisation of the world.

II. A continuous work.—Nothing is more remarkable, and nothing has a greater evidential force of its own, than that at no epoch since these early Ember Days of the Church of Antioch has the fire of missionary enthusiasm been entirely quenched, or the continuity of the line of the heralds of the Cross been absolutely broken. History has justified the unbounded confidence wherewith the lonely speaker of Olivet looked forward to the rise of a succession of heralds who should undertake the unique task of making the proclamation of His Gospel a distinct and direct work.

II. The best men.—The example of the Church of Antioch is of the utmost importance. The Mother Church of these Gentiles did not say, when the call came to her, as not a few in these days would have had her say, ‘when there is no longer one neglected spot, or one vicious life, in our own city, then, if we can, we will send those whom we can best spare.’ No. She sent forth at once the best men ready to her hand. Of the typical group assembled in that oriental Rome, ‘the flower and crown’ undoubtedly were Barnabas of Cyprus and Saul of Tarsus. Of these the Church of Antioch sent forth not one, but both. She grudged neither to the great cause. She kept neither back for herself. Obedient to the leading of the Spirit, she freely gave both for the work unto which they were summoned.

Rev. Canon Maclear.

Illustration

‘The Church at home must be prepared to give up, without a murmur, not her meanest, but her mightiest, for the work in India, “that living epitome of the races, the revolutions, and the creeds of the East,” and other parts of the foreign field. Does not the retrospect of the last fifty years teach us that, in giving the best men for work abroad, we take the very step which most intensifies the vigorous action of Church life at home? When was it more significantly proved than during this period that the intensive and extensive work of the Church always go hand in hand?’

(THIRD OUTLINE)

THE MISSIONARY WORK OF THE CHURCH

The words of the text, taken in conjunction with their context, are a remarkable illustration of the truth that God’s ways are not as our ways, nor God’s thoughts as our thoughts. Remembering (1) the way in which Barnabas and Saul had been brought to Antioch; (2) the work they had been permitted to do there; and (3) the work which still remained to be done, most of us, had we been living at Antioch in those days, would have felt inclined to say, By all means let Barnabas and Saul remain where they are; but ‘the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.’

I. The way in which Barnabas and Saul had been brought to Antioch.—Notice then (Acts 11:19-26) that the Gospel had been brought to Antioch by Christians driven away from Jerusalem by persecution; that God had blessed their words, so that ‘a great number believed and turned unto the Lord’; that news of the good work going on at Antioch had reached Jerusalem, where Christians, unlike many in our own time, thought the intelligence of real importance, and—instead of saying ‘we are a poor, persecuted Church, few in numbers, needing sympathy and help ourselves rather than able to give them to others’—so fully sympathised with this far-off missionary work that they sent to Antioch one of their ablest and most devoted ministers, Barnabas. Barnabas rejoices when he sees ‘the grace of God.’ How could he see it? Just as we can see the springtime by the effects which it produces. Every tree, every hedge, every garden bears witness to the effect when spring has really come. So at Antioch every Jew who now trusted to Jesus for his salvation, every Gentile who now worshipped the true God, every one—Jew or Gentile—who was leading a holy life, bearing persecution and scorn and neglect joyfully for Christ’s sake, bore witness to ‘the grace of God.’ But Barnabas does more than rejoice in grace already given. He sees great possibilities in this city. He knows one eminently qualified to work in such a field. He goes, therefore, ‘To Tarsus, for to seek Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch.’ Was not God’s guiding hand clearly manifested in every step by which these men were brought to this city?

II. The work done.—Evidently God blessed them in their work. ‘A whole year they assembled themselves with the Church, and taught much people.’ Their ministry, then, was fully appreciated. Perhaps, too, we may see proof of the great progress made at Antioch in the fact that there ‘the disciples were first called Christians.’ What need of a new name, derisive or otherwise, unless there were a considerable number to whom that name would apply?

III. The work remaining.—Did nothing remain to be done? Antioch was a magnificent city. Luxurious Romans retired to it, attracted by the beauty of its climate and the way in which the inhabitants laid themselves out for the pleasure of their visitors. It is said that there was at Antioch one street where for four miles you might have walked under covered colonnades. Had you marked the tide of life, as it ebbed and flowed along that splendid thoroughfare, you would have seen sights and heard sounds which would have told you that here were gathered together people from all parts of the known world. What a glorious centre for missionary work! And oh! how few were yet brought into the fold of Christ! Could it be right for Barnabas and Saul to leave a place to which they had been so clearly guided by God’s hand, where so great a work was being done, where so much remained still to be done! Man would have said, No; but ‘the Holy Ghost said, Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ What would have been the effect on the Church at Antioch itself had this command been disobeyed? Would there not have been something like paralysis of the work? Would the grace of God have been seen in the future as it had been in the past! Can we ever set up our judgment against God’s and not suffer loss? Is not obedience to His command an absolute essential to the well-being of the Church?

IV. The call to missionary work now is just as clear as when Barnabas and Saul were sent upon their first missionary journey from Antioch.

—Rev. Canon Sutton.

Illustrations

(1) ‘It is always a good sign when we truly sympathise with God’s work. If we know in our own hearts what God’s grace can do for sinners, we shall not be slow to believe that the same grace can produce like effects in hearts which are by nature no harder than our own. Does not much of the scepticism so many feel with regard to the results of missionary work spring from the fact that they themselves have not yet known the blessed influence of “the grace of God”? Who are the men who bring back an ill report of the work done in India, and Africa, and China? Are they such men as Edwards, McLeod, and Gordon? Are these men less worthy of belief, because they happen to be earnest Christians, than others who—perhaps little interested in God’s work anywhere—can easily enough find fault with the way in which that work is carried on in the mission-field? At any rate, if we know what God has done for us; if we have found “the peace which passeth all understanding”; we shall rejoice whenever satisfactory proof is given that God’s grace has been manifested to others. Our readiness or otherwise to thus sympathise is no bad test of our own spiritual condition.

(2) ‘It was not till 1813 that the missionary could openly labour in India. It was many years after that before missions received support to any extent from European residents there. Now in every part of India the missionary is welcomed. Government Blue-books bear testimony to the value of missionary work, considered merely as an aid to good government, education, and material improvement. Africa was comparatively a terra incognita when the C.M.S. began its work. Till 1842 China was closed to missionary effort. By the Treaty of Nanking (1842) five Chinese ports were opened to missionaries. Subsequent treaties and conventions in 1858, 1860, and 1876, gave opportunities of travelling in China hitherto denied; and in 1887 the Chinese Government issued a decree “calling on the people to live at peace with Christian missionaries and converts, and explaining that the Christian religion teaches men to do right, and should therefore be respected.” The case of Japan is a striking illustration of the way in which God is opening the world to the Gospel. Exactly the same results follow obedience to the Divine call as followed it in apostolic times. Now, as then, churches are founded; elders are ordained; witness Africa, New Zealand, India, N. W. America, China, and Japan.’

(FOURTH OUTLINE)

REFLEX BENEFIT OF MISSIONS

True to the law of its origin, the Church of Antioch was impelled by a Divine impulse, supernaturally conveyed but congenially received, to pour itself out in evangelisation into the outer world. It must have not only its ministers but its missionaries. And for its missionaries it must send out its best and greatest to the regions beyond.

I. Did the saints of Antioch grudge the sacrifice?—Did they plead that the central hearth so urgently needed more, not less, toil and tendance that the external circles of possible Christendom must wait? No; they were obedient to the heavenly call, and brought the sacrifice at once to the altar. They prayed, and fasted, and sent their two beloved leaders away to the West to begin, with a wonderful new departure, the evangelisation of the world.

II. Can we doubt that their obedience and surrender had its reward?—When in due time the missionaries returned, as they did, and recounted what God had done by them in Cyprus and in the highlands of Asia Minor, was not the spiritual life of Antioch powerfully reinforced by the electric virtue of the consciousness of the Gospel’s triumph in countries other than their own? Yes, beyond a question, so it was, and so it is.

III. In our own day it is always true that the Church which in faith and prayer, even at a heavy sacrifice, sends out its messengers of light and peace to the ends of the earth is sure, in God’s mercy, to feel a current of reflex blessing. The home that spares its son for Christ afar off gets new blessing by its own hearth-fire. The parish which really cares and gives, for the enterprise of Christ in another hemisphere, finds somehow that its own works in that district, school, and church have a new life rising in them. The diocese, the Church, in their larger circles, feel the like blessings, as they more and more consciously and willingly give, and send, and sacrifice for the Master’s mission to the world for which He died.

—Bishop H. C. G. Moule.

Illustration

‘“Missionaries,” it has been said, “will be what religious opinion at home expects them to be.” Water cannot rise higher than its source. What the parent Church is, such will be those whom she sends out to distant lands. If she expects little, they will give little. If with her the flame of sacred zeal burns low, theirs will burn lower still abroad. The impulse which creates a great mission comes from the Church at home; and no Church has exhibited the self-sacrificing trust shown by the brethren at Antioch but she has in time reaped a reward greater than any she asked or thought.’


Verse 30

THE GREAT TRUTH OF EASTER

‘But God raised Him from the dead.’

Acts 13:30

In these simple words, repeated again and again on all possible occasions, was the great truth of Easter first preached to the world. The Resurrection was ‘an eminent act of God’s omnipotency,’ as an old writer calls it, worked before the eyes of all in heaven and earth, and it has been the glory, the comfort, and the hope of the Christian world ever since.

I. Its glory.—It has been first the glory. To those of us who have been sounding or hearing the call of the Father all through Lent to our consciences, our wills, our hearts, our bodies, and our minds, and have been facing every week the cries of despair from human souls in sorrow, the bitter questionings from doubters, and the deep-drawn sighs from the suffering, there has been all the time one thing which we have been wanting—Where was the proof that the Father was victoriously strong? What we have been waiting for all through Lent, knowing of course it was coming, but looking forward to it as the keystone of our arch, the backbone of our justification of God, the crowning chapter in our story, was this great cry which, rang out by these first Apostles, rings through heaven and earth to-day, ‘God raised Him from the dead’! And this is our glory to-day. There is no service in the year quite like the Easter Eucharist, and this is the spring of all the exultation—Jesus was not left to die by God, unrecognised and unjustified; He was not left with all His promises unfulfilled and all the hopes that He had raised blasted. God let the foes do their very worst; He let them come in like a flood and seem to sweep Jesus away; but, just when the triumph seemed complete, there was God’s opportunity, and in the teeth of everything, in the face of the unbelief of to-day as much as of the malignity of two thousand years ago, God raised Him from the dead. And ‘now above the sky He’s King, Alleluia!’ and we echo on earth the triumph song of heaven, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive glory and honour and power, for Thou wast slain and hast redeemed us unto God by Thy blood’; and then, turning to God the Father, we pay the same glory to Him, ‘Glory be to Thee, O God Most High.’ ‘We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee, we glorify Thee, we give thanks unto Thee for Thy great glory, O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty.’ So the great Eucharist rolls on.

II. Its comfort.—It is also our comfort. The world wants comfort—it wants comfort in its sorrow, and it wants comfort in its struggle with sin. It is only, perhaps, those brought daily into contact with sorrow who realise at all what the sorrows of a great city are—the young wife that dies before the end of the first year of married life; the brother, loved and trusted by mother and sisters, who suddenly falls ill with fever with his regiment and passes away; the mother who has taken to drink; the widow’s only child entrapped and betrayed by a wicked man; the wife whose husband is untrue to her; and the thousands of souls heart-broken with a sense of unforgiven sin—here is a tangled story of sorrow and sin. What has the Easter refrain to say to sorrow and sin? ‘God raised Him from the dead,’ but what does that matter? It matters everything. It is the one ground for certainty, my brother, that you will see that young wife again. Jesus has her safe in His keeping, and you will find her safe with Him in Paradise; it is the one justification for thinking—and, therefore, beware of those who would belittle it and explain it away—that God will also raise that young brother from the grave. ‘Thy brother shall rise again.’ Yes, but why? Only because Jesus can say, ‘He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and he that liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.’ Again, it is the one chance that that mother may yet break the chain of drink—if God raised Jesus from the dead and broke the chains of death, He may yet break the chains of that terrible habit and raise her from what is worse than death. It is the one standing proof for that outraged child that villainy will not triumph for ever, and that ‘the poor shall not always be forgotten, and the patient abiding of the meek shall not perish for ever’; and as for the penitent sinner, if God raised Jesus from the dead, then the strength of His absolution must avail to sweep away the sins of the whole world. Wherefore lift up the hands that hang down and the feeble knees; if Jesus lay still in the grave, if there was no empty tomb, I have no comfort for you, no certainty of reunion with those you love, no triumphant expectation of the righting of wrongs, no ground for hoping for freedom from sin, no pledge of absolution. But lift up your heads on Easter Day. He was not left in the tomb! Lo! see the place where the Lord lay. ‘God raised Him from the dead.’

III. Its hope.—And, once again, if it is the spring of our glory and the source of our comfort, the truth of Easter Day is also the fountain of our hope—our hope, that is, for this poor humanity which, with all its faults, we know and love so well. We are full of hopes to-day of what may happen; we see visions and dream dreams, and long to make the world a better place for the children than it has been for us, and sweep away this isolation between class and class, and revive the latent religion in the apparently non-religious multitude, and give every man a decent home, and every child a real chance of life, and drive out the drink curse and the gambling curse and the sweating den, and make the whole round world again—

‘Bound with gold chains about the feet of God.’

And we shall find it hard enough to do it with all the faith which we may have in every revealed truth of the Christian Faith, but we shall never do it unless God raised Jesus from the dead. If the Incarnation, as Mr. Gladstone once said, ‘is the one central hope of our poor, wayward race,’ it is so only because the Incarnation was crowned by the Resurrection. And it is only in the power of a Risen Christ, Who careth ever for His people, to Whom all power has been given in heaven and in earth, and Who, however slowly He works, never fails, that there lies the hope of a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.

Bishop A. F. Winnington-Ingram.


Verse 32

GLAD TIDINGS!

‘We declare unto you glad tidings.’

Acts 13:32

In his Epistle to the Philippians St. Paul uses the word ‘joy’ no less than eighteen times—and yet he wrote that letter while he himself was chained to a soldier at Rome! The Apostle never let passing clouds obscure the blue of heaven. He had seen the vision of the Almighty; but what is more, he could help others to see it too. And is not that exactly what you want your preachers to-day to do for you? In his address, St. Paul emphasised three special points:—

I. The Resurrection of Christ.—In proof of this he quotes three texts from the Old Testament: Psalms 2:7; Isaiah 55:3; Psalms 16:10. Why is Christ’s Resurrection glad tidings? The Resurrection of Christ is an Evangel indeed, because He made this promise to His people—‘Because I live, ye shall live also.’ St. Paul writes his second Epistle to Timothy in a dungeon; outside, death awaits him, where is his comfort? ‘Remember that … Jesus Christ … was raised from the dead’ (2 Timothy 2:8).

II. The forgiveness of sin.—Read, Acts 13:38-39. And compare Acts 26:18; Ephesians 1:6-7; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 2:13; 1 John 2:12; Revelation 1:5-6 (R.V.). Christ carried the sins of all believers to the Cross, and left them behind Him in the grave. ‘The atoning work is done.’ The sacrifice has been offered. The veil has been rent. If I ask, How can my sins, which make me ashamed and make me afraid, be forgiven? The answer is ready—‘Through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.’

III. The happiness of faith.—Our Lord taught St. Thomas this: ‘Happy are they that have not seen, and yet have believed’ (John 20:29). When we try to explain to children the nature of faith we tell them it is trust.

—Rev. F. Harper.

Illustrations

(1) ‘I remember once walking in the long galleries of the Vatican, on the one side of which there are Christian inscriptions from the catacombs, and on the other heathen inscriptions from the tombs. One side is all dreary and hopeless, one long sigh echoing along the line of white marbles, Vale! Vale! in æternum vale! (Farewell, Farewell, for ever farewell.) On the other side, In Christo, in Pace, in Spe (In Christ, in Peace, in Hope).’

(2) ‘And just as the different members of a family, when the morning has dawned, come forth from their several sleeping-chambers, and greet one another, and enter upon the employments of a new day, so in the morning of the Resurrection, the great Easter of the world, the children of God come forth from their graves, the night is past, there are new songs, and fresh energy; and the onward march, the progress and high achievement, the restful communion and brotherly love of eternity has begun.’

(3) ‘A man seeking after God had a strange dream. He was on the edge of a precipice and fell over. As he was falling he caught hold of a twig hanging near the top. He thought he heard the voice of Christ calling, “Let go the twig and I will receive you in My Arms.” But he could not trust himself, and his strength growing feebler, he cried, “Lord, save me!” Again the Voice answered, “Let go the twig, and I will save you,” but still he would not let it go. In a few minutes more he cried again, “Oh, save me, save me!” Again the Voice said, “If you do not let go the twig I cannot save you; quit it, and you are safe in My Arms.” In despair he quitted his hold and fell into the Arms of Christ. And he awoke, and, behold, it was a dream. But he had learned that faith was trust.’

ST.


Verse 32-33

PAULS WITNESS

‘The promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that Be hath raised up Jesus again.’

Acts 13:32-33

‘And ye are witnesses of these things,’ are the closing words of the Gospel. How they were witnesses is shown in this chapter. Truly St. Paul was not one of those who were in the upper room when Jesus showed Himself to His disciples, but He saw the Lord after His Resurrection. ‘Have I not seen the Lord?’ This was the prerequisite to a true witness. His great theme here is the Resurrection of Christ. Notice three points about his witness to the Resurrection.

I. It is declarative of the innocence of Christ (Acts 13:28; Acts 13:31; Acts 13:33, ‘Thou art My Son’). St. Paul joins these things: ‘They found no cause of death in Him,’ yet He was slain; ‘But God raised Him.’

II. It is a fulfilment of the Divine promises (Acts 13:32-37).

III. In it lies the assurance of our salvation (Acts 13:26; Acts 13:35, ‘The sure mercies of David’).


Verse 36

DAVID’S SERVICE AND OURS

‘David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep.’

Acts 13:36

The Apostle is showing that certain declarations of Scripture could not refer to David or any mere man. ‘For David, after he had served his own generation, saw corruption; but He Whom God raised again saw no corruption.’ David’s ministry was in one generation, and directly for it; Christ’s for all time alike. David saw corruption; Christ did not.

I. Service.—From what is said of David, his work and end, we may learn that man’s life on earth is meant to be one of service. Even ‘the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.’

(a) Service, not plundering. A man who does not give fair value in the department of industry in which he is engaged, plunders society to that extent. The tradesman who adulterates, or gives deficient measure and weight, or misrepresents the quality of his goods; the professional man who does not give skill and honest application for his fee or salary; the servant who does not give conscientious work; the master who withholds just wages—all plunder in room of serving, or along with serving.

(b) Service, not exacting service. The great end should be to serve. ‘I am among you,’ said Jesus, ‘as one that serveth.’ The service we receive we ought to regard as in the interest of the higher service that we are to render. David, who had so many servants, served in his generation the will of God. The service which a true man receives is but the tools by which he can more effectually do his work.

(c) Service, not idling. A man may neither be dishonest, according to the ordinary standard, nor exacting; but that does not exhaust his obligations in the general economy of things. ‘Thou wicked and slothful servant’ may be the judgment passed on him. To be ‘slothful’ in a world where there is so much to do, and under a Master to Whom we owe so much, is to be ‘wicked.’

II. Effective service.—The only effective service that a man can render is the furtherance of the will of God. ‘David served the counsel of God’ (R.V.). ‘The counsel of the Lord, that shall stand’—nothing else. Seek to know God’s will, and let your activities move in a line with it, and you will be strong and efficient. Let our every effort be as the acted prayer, ‘Thy will be done.’

III. While it is day.—A certain limited time is given for rendering this service. ‘In his own generation.’ ‘Our fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live for ever?’ ‘The night cometh, when no man can work.’ The scaffolding still stands opposite the part of the wall that is given us to build, but it will soon be removed. The soul that is ready to perish may still be rescued, but it will soon be beyond our reach for ever.

IV. The rest that remaineth.—Ministering to God’s will brings this life to a satisfying close, and strengthens the assurance of awaking to a better life. David, after he had served his generation, ‘fell on sleep.’ Tired and thankful, he went to rest. So shall we if we are fellow-workers with God.

Illustration

‘God’s will and purpose runs through all the generations, but the kind of work and mode of working differ at different times and in changed circumstances. The farmer all through the year is working towards raising his wheat, but different processes must be carried on at different seasons; and the farmer who works in a different climate and with different soil must adapt his processes accordingly. That the wheat be successfully raised is the consideration that conditions all else. Now, many who plume themselves on being “faithful” are faithful only to modes and statements which have hardly any living, germinating power in the time and circumstances in which they live. “Become all things to all men that you may save some.”’


Verse 38

THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS

‘Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.’

Acts 13:38

This was St. Paul’s first public utterance since his conversion. He was the Barnabas of the Synagogue, and, as the custom of the Synagogue was, he was asked to speak, and up he got, and the Holy Ghost was upon him, and he poured out this most significant speech.

I. No agnosticism permissible.—‘Be it known unto you.’ That is, about this matter there is to be no agnosticism whatever. It is to be ‘known unto you.’ You must know this, that the Holy One being dead saw no corruption, that He was raised from the dead, and that through Him is preached the forgiveness of sins. That is the matter about which you and I must have no doubt whatever. There is no agnosticism permissible on this point.

II. The forgiveness of sin; not forgiveness of crime.—It is the forgiveness of sin that is preached in Christ’s Name. It is not forgiveness of crime. A great many make a mistake here. Crime can be appraised, and the punishment due to it meted out. Sin may be committed without crime, but crime can never be committed without sin. For instance, I can forgive a crime, but I have no power whatever to forgive sin, in myself. A man has committed a crime. It is expiated. For six months, say, he has been in prison. The doors are open, he is free because he has expiated his crime. If he has expiated his crime, society is bound to forgive him. But what about God? And then comes this Gospel, ‘Through this Man is preached unto you forgiveness of sins.’ He may say, ‘I can never forget that I did it, the consciousness of my guilt still remains.’ And it is to such an one that the Gospel comes home. Forgiveness of sins is through Jesus Christ complete. Our religion is not a metaphysical argument or archæological study. It is a Gospel—good news. To those who feel that they cannot forgive themselves, He comes as the Saviour Christ. We are forgiven of God.

III. Forgiveness must be with the consent of both parties.—So many make the mistake here that it is quite necessary to emphasise it. For instance, many think, and not a few say: ‘Why cannot God forgive us all, and make an end? If God is all-good and all-powerful, let Him forgive us all, at once, and let there be an end of the business.’ God can’t—you can’t—I can’t, for forgiveness means the consent of both parties. Both must hate sin. It is a moral impossibility that forgiveness can come only on one side. God hates sin, and you must, for forgiveness. Then comes in, you see, the Gospel of sin and its forgiveness. If we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us; faithful, because He has so promised; just, because the Lord laid upon Him the iniquity of us all.

IV. When God forgives sin, He forgets.—Without forgetting there can be no real forgiveness. We say, ‘Well, of course, I forgive you, but you know I can never forget; it is not possible.’ But the forgetfulness I speak of here is forgetfulness of the heart, not of the intelligence. The essence of God is love. God is love, and therefore, God being love, with Him forgiveness is forgetfulness. The Bible expression for this is, as you know, that God puts sin behind His back. How far is that? Where is that? As far as the east is from the west. How far is that? You cannot measure it; it means utter, complete, entire. ‘I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.’ You may say to me, ‘It is impossible that I can conceive such a thing.’ Yes, I admit, I cannot understand it, and you cannot; but we are not saved by understanding, we are saved by love.

‘Be it known unto you.’ If there were any other way we should know it; there is no other way whatever. This is the preaching which we declare unto you, that through this Man is preached unto you all remission of sin.

—Rev. A. H. Stanton.


Verse 39

JUSTIFICATION

‘By Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.’

Acts 13:39

Justification is an act of God’s free grace wherein He pardons our sin and reckons or accounts us righteous, for the sake of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith. It is therefore not an infusion of righteousness into us. We must clearly distinguish between justification and sanctification. Consider—

I. The Author of justification.—‘It is God that justifieth.’ It may seem strange that the Author of it should be the very Judge Who condemns us for our sin.

(a) It is God the Father Who contrived it, for ‘He was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself’ (2 Corinthians 5:19).

(b) It is God the Son Who provided it by His obedience and His death.

(c) It is God the Holy Ghost Who applies it, convincing us of the insufficiency of our own righteousness, enabling us by faith to lay hold upon it, and giving us the witness of our acceptance as the ground of it.

II. The ground of our justification.

(a) Not our works, our righteousness, or our holiness (Romans 3:24).

(b) Not our acceptance of, or our obedience to, a new and milder law set forth in the Gospel.

(c) Not even our faith, though it is said, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness’ (Romans 4:3). The force of the proposition is—‘it was counted to him unto righteousness,’ or, with the view of his becoming righteous. We are said to be justified by or through faith, but never on account of faith. Besides, the faith is always distinguished from the righteousness which it apprehends—‘the righteousness which is by faith’ (Philippians 3:9).

(d) It is the righteousness of Christ (Romans 5:18). It consists of Christ’s obedience to the law in our stead, and His suffering of death to satisfy the law’s penalty.

III. The form of justification—by imputation.

(a) The idea of imputation is scriptural (Philemon).

(b) The sinner has no righteousness of his own.

(c) He must be made righteous either by an inherent or an imputed righteousness. (Not inherent—‘not having mine own righteousness.’)

(d) The righteousness of Christ is to reach Him in the same manner as the sin of Adam—by imputation (Romans 5:19).

(e) Just in the same manner as our sins become Christ’s, so His righteousness becomes ours (2 Corinthians 5:21).

IV. The instrument of our justification is faith.

(a) Faith apprehends the righteousness of Christ (Romans 3:28). It is faith that makes it ours, and therefore the righteousness is said to be ‘by faith’ (Philippians 3:9).

(b) Not as if God accepts the act of believing as righteousness, nor as a condition, for Christ’s obedience is the condition. Faith justifies, as it is the bond of union between the soul and the Saviour.

V. The effects of justification.

(a) No condemnation (Romans 8:1).

(b) Peace with God (Romans 5:1).

(c) Access to God in Christ (Romans 5:2).

(d) Acceptance of our person and service in Christ (Ephesians 1:6).

(e) Adoption (Galatians 4:4-5).

(f) Sanctification (Romans 8:10).

(g) Glorification (Romans 8:17).


Verse 45

THE ENVY OF THE JEWS

‘When the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy.’

Acts 13:45

God summons us to co-operate in His eternal purpose. ‘As the synagogue broke up’ many, not only of ‘the Jews,’ but of ‘the devout proselytes, followed Paul and Barnabas.’ They had, for the first time, understood the meaning of the revelation made to them in their past history, ‘in the law, of Moses and the prophets, and the psalms.’ In the Lord Jesus, winning through the Passion and the Death the triumph of the Resurrection; in Him the Liberator from sins; in Him the source of a real inward righteousness—the Saviour Whom they expected stood revealed.

I. But such a king could not be only for Jews; ‘the grace of God,’ in which the Apostles bade them ‘continue,’ must be for all men. ‘The next Sabbath,’ Luke records, ‘almost the whole city was gathered together to hear the word of God.’ We might have expected to read of the joy of St. Paul’s fellow-countrymen in finding Gentiles ready to share the privileges of which they had been the guardians for the world’s future benefit. The sequel was very different. ‘When the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy.’ Bound up with the great promise was a solemn duty: the duty of witnessing to all mankind for a God ‘Whose loving-kindness and righteous faithfulness’ had given them salvation. In that witness, through a narrow, selfish outlook, they failed.

II. To us the warning is plain.—Unless we uphold, as vital, faith in historic facts, filled with vitalising power of truth and grace; unless we rely on the reality of the fulfilment of the promise, the charge laid upon us of witness to the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, unveiling the Divine fidelity and love, will not, and cannot be fulfilled. There is room here for much improvement. The grateful love which would spare no effort that, in obedience to the charge of the risen Lord, ‘repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name among all nations,’ is by no means so evident as the occasion demands.

(a) Even at home, many Churchmen are quite indifferent to efforts to gather in the ‘lapsed masses,’ or to restore the fallen and the outcast.

(b) Abroad, many Churchmen, who will even give a small subscription to foreign missions, by no means welcome the native converts in a colonial diocese, or the mission field, into the flock of Christ; are by no means willing to kneel with them before His altar, or join with them in worship and service.

III. Now is the opportunity for some bracing, definite resolution, and those vigorous efforts which control the future. And one way of showing gratitude to the King and Deliverer, Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and through death delivered us who, otherwise, had ‘all our lifetime been subject to bondage,’ is to take some practical step to share in the mission work of the Church which, through the Spirit, is filled with His Life. Most of us know little of that work; many of us care less. We may resolve to acquaint ourselves with its details as a duty: we may resolve to use our new knowledge in prayer that the work may be blessed; we may make a contribution that costs us something to extend it; we may, in witnessing to Jesus and the Resurrection, in some form or another which the Holy Spirit will reveal to us, share by personal service in making known to others the great revelation summed up in the King, Who ‘was dead, and is alive for evermore’ to break in pieces the bonds of sin and death.

—Rev. Chancellor Worlledge.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Acts 13:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/acts-13.html. 1876.

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