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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Acts 14

 

 

Verse 14-15

EXPEDIENCY OR PRINCIPLE

‘Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, and saying, Sirs, why do ye these things?’

Acts 14:14-15

After healing the lame man, St. Barnabas and St. Paul were to be worshipped as gods by the populace. They refused the homage; they rejected it with horror. Of course they did; how could they do otherwise, how could they commit such a sin against God, against the very principle they were come to teach, as to accept it? How, indeed, except on the principle of expediency?

I. The principle of expediency.—How much they might have gained by accepting it. How, on the principle of seeing good in things evil, they might have recognised in the shout ‘The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men,’ a glimmering idea of the Incarnation; by joining themselves on this broad platform, how they might have conciliated a hearing for the great Christian doctrine. Then again by keeping the people in good humour, how great an influence they might have retained over them, and led them to a willing and pleasant intercourse, nay, even more directly, what influence they might have held over them, and ordered them to receive the new doctrines and practise the new rites of worship. And how easy to argue that there was no sin when they themselves inwardly rejected the worship, or pleaded that it was only accepted by them representatively for the God Whom they served. How easy, in fact, to argue that to do a great right, they might do a little wrong, and without any surrender of the truth in their own hearts might ally themselves with the people, and in the bond of universal brotherhood lead them by means of their own errors to the knowledge and the practice of the truth. The temptation was just to accept for the moment a little offering of homage, and in so doing to win the whole city to their way of thinking.

II. What should be our answer when the strife of tongues is fierce; when the glare of infidelity fixes its glance of hate upon the Cross; when friends seem few, and the faith is assaulted, and men’s hearts wax cold in love, and the voice of popular opinion speaks of universal brotherhood at the expense of the Fatherhood of God, or of general agreement on condition of renouncing everything that is positive enough to make a bulwark or a bond; when we are told we dare not speak of orthodoxy, and that truth is exactly what every one of the millions of men chooses to think it is; when, on the other hand, we are wooed softly to surrender and to retain our popularity at the expense of our principles; when we are told that we shall win more souls by surrendering disputed points; or when within ourselves our own weaknesses beg us not to forfeit our character for liberality and good-nature, not to put before our people, if we are priests, doctrines which are unpalatable, and not to practise, if we are laymen, observances which provoke scorn or dislike, when the temptation is to surrender a little truth that we may gain a great deal in the eyes of men—what must our answer be? The answer in effect of St. Barnabas and St. Paul at Lystra, the answer of our Lord in the wilderness, ‘Get thee behind Me, Satan, for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.’

Rev. G. C. Harris.

Illustration

‘Ignorant of the native dialect, the Apostles did not know what the crowd were saying, and withdrew to their lodging. But meanwhile the startling rumour had spread. Lycaonia was a remote region where still lingered the simple faith in the old mythologies. Giving ready credence to all tales of marvel, and showing intense respect for any who seemed invested with special sacredness, the Lycaonians eagerly accepted the suggestion that they were once more favoured by a visit from the old gods. Before the gate of the town was a Temple of Zeus, their guardian deity. The priest of Zeus rose to the occasion. While the Apostles remained in entire ignorance of his proceedings he had procured bulls and garlands, and now, accompanied by festive crowds, came to the gates to do them sacrifice. St. Paul and St. Barnabas were the last to hear that they were about to be the centres of an idolatrous worship, but when they did hear it they were horror-stricken to an extent which a Gentile could hardly have understood. Rending their garments, they sprang out with loud cries among the multitude, imploring them to believe that they were but ordinary mortals like themselves, and that it was the very object of their mission to turn them from these empty idolatries to the one living and true God.’


Verse 17

GOD’S GIFTS TO MEN

‘[God] left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.’

Acts 14:17

These words come from one of St. Paul’s sermons. He was preaching to heathens, who, until then, had never heard of the true God. He was telling them that though they had never heard of God, yet they might have known what God was like because of the good things which were sent to them from God.

What good things does St. Paul tell them of?

I. God’s gifts to men.—The rain from heaven, the fruitful seasons, these are what he mentions. The rain and the harvest, the food which these things bring, and the gladness of heart which men feel when they have all their wants supplied: these things, says St. Paul, are God’s gifts to men, and from them men might have known, if they had cared to think, that God was good, and took a delight in making people happy. But the verse tells us more than this. It is not only that it is God that gives them, but that God intends us to take them as examples of His goodness. He intends us to see from these gifts how good He is, so that if a man had never heard anything about God, he might say, ‘I am sure there is a God, I am sure He is a good God, and I am sure that He takes care of me, for all the good things of life are His gift to me, the rain, and the fruitful seasons, and the food and gladness of my life.’

II. If they are God’s gift, we should acknowledge them to be so.—It is a rule in the Christian life that whatever we believe in our heart, we should confess with our month, and act on in our conduct. So the question is, How are we to acknowledge the gifts of Nature to be God’s bounty? The answer is twofold:—

(a) We must thank God for them, and

(b) We must also ask God for them. In every harvest thanksgiving we do confess with the mouth, and publicly act on the belief that it is God Who of His great goodness has given us the rain and the fruitful season, and filled our hearts with food and gladness. This part of the duty we do now, in most places, perform with some degree of care. We must ask for God’s gifts as well as thank Him for them; and I fancy that, in the case of the good gifts of Nature, this has been even less thought of than the thanksgiving. And yet God says to us through His Apostles—‘in everything, let your requests be made known unto God.’

III. This is what Rogation Days mean.—Rogation is only another word for praying or making petitions. And the particular petitions for which the Rogation Days were set apart were those for a fruitful season and a sufficient harvest. God has promised that, while the world lasts, ‘seed-time and harvest shall not fail.’ And God also intends that every seed-time and every harvest shall put us in mind of Him, and lead us to acknowledge His power and His goodness. It does us good to be reminded of Him. Ask yourselves when do you lead the best lives? When are your life, and mind, and thoughts and words, the best? Is it not when you remember God? And when does your conscience tell you that you have the most to be ashamed of? that you have lived the worst and fallen into sin the most? Is it not when you have got into the way of forgetting God, of thinking of Him only now and then, or not at all, of saying your prayers as a mere form, and then giving yourself up wholly to the affairs of this world? You know this, and God knows it too. And, therefore, God sends us reminders of Himself; things which will make us think of Him, speak to Him, remember Him.

Illustrations

(1) ‘Unless the harvest festival be accompanied by some real self-denial, it is apt to be somewhat unreal. A harvest festival is a pleasant thing. There may be a good deal of merely worldly excitement about it. It is pleasant to attend a bright, cheerful service in a gaily decorated church. It is at a time of year, too, when people are at leisure. All this is otherwise at Rogation time. To come to church and make prayers to God that His rain may be given in due season, and that the harvest which is to make food plentiful for the toiling millions of the poor, to whom a little more or a little less in the price of bread makes all the difference between health and something like starvation—this must be genuine. There is no self-deception here, It is sure to be true and sincere. This is sure to be a real acknowledgment of God’s power and God’s goodness, and God knows this, and this is why God looks for it. A harvest thanksgiving may be in some measure outside show. The Rogation prayer time is sure to be real and genuine.’

(2) ‘No one can read this speech of St. Paul without once more perceiving its subtle and inimitable coincidence with his thoughts and expressions. The rhythmic conclusion is not unaccordant with the style of his most elevated moods; and beside the appropriate appeal to God’s natural gifts in a town not in itself unhappily situated, but surrounded by a waterless and treeless plain, we may naturally suppose that the “filling our hearts with food and gladness “was suggested by the garlands and festive pomp which accompanied the bulls on which the people would afterwards have made their common banquet. Nor do I think it impossible that the words may be an echo of lyric songs sung as the procession made its way to the gates. To use them in a truer and loftier connection would be in exact accord with the happy power of seizing an argument which St. Paul showed when he turned into the text of his sermon at Athens the vague inscription to the unknown God.’


Verse 22

TRIAL, A HELP HEAVENWARD

‘That we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.’

Acts 14:22

There are few things in the spiritual history of the child of God more really helpful heavenward than sanctified trial. He treads no path in which he finds aids more favourable to advancement in the Divine life, circumstances which more contribute to the development and completeness of Christian character—the teaching, the quickening, the purifying—than the path of hallowed sorrow—sorrow which a covenant God has sent, which grace sanctifies, and which knits the heart to Christ.

I. Trial is a time of spiritual instruction, and so a help heavenward. It is not blindly, but intelligently, that we walk in the ways of the Lord, and are travelling home to God. Great stress is laid by the Holy Ghost in the writings of the Apostle upon the believer’s advance in spiritual knowledge. St. Paul ‘counted all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord.’ Now the school of trial is the school of spiritual knowledge.

(a) We grow in a knowledge of ourselves, learning more of our superficial attainments, shallow experience and limited grace. We learn, too, more of our weakness, emptiness, and vileness, the ploughshare of trial penetrating deep into the heart, and throwing up its veiled iniquity.

(b) Trial, too, increases our acquaintance with Christ. We know more of the Lord Jesus through one sanctified affliction than by all the treatises the human pen ever wrote. Christ is only savingly known as He is known personally and experimentally. Books cannot teach Him, sermons cannot teach Him, lectures cannot teach Him; they may aid our information and correct our views, but to know Him as He is, and as we ought, we must have personal dealings with Him.

II. Trial quickens us in prayer, and so effectually helps us heavenward. God often sends affliction for the accomplishment of this one end—that we might be stirred up to take hold of Him. To whom in sorrow do we turn, to whom in difficulty do we repair, to whom in want do we fly but to the Lord? If in prosperity we have ‘grown fat and kicked,’ if when the sun has shone upon us we have walked independently and proudly and distantly, now that affliction has overtaken us we are humbled and prostrate at His feet; retrace our steps, return to God, and find a new impulse given to, and a new power and meetness and soothing in, communion with God.

III. Trials are necessary to wean us from the world.—Perhaps nothing possesses so detaching, divorcing an effect in the experience of the Christian as affliction. The world is a great snare to the child of God. Its rank is a snare, its possessions are a snare, its honours are a snare, its enterprises are a snare, the very duties and engagements of daily life are a snare, to a soul whose citizenship is in heaven. When the heart is chastened and subdued by sorrow, when the soul is smitten and humbled by adversity, when death bereaves, or sickness invades, or resources narrow, or calamity in one of its many crushing forms lights heavily upon us, how solemn, earnest, and distinct is the voice of our ascended Redeemer, ‘If ye be risen with Me, seek those things which are above, where I sit at the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth. I am your Treasure, your Portion, your All.’

IV. The moral purity of heart which chastened trial produces must have a distinct and prominent place in this enumeration of helps heavenward. Holiness, as it is an essential element of heaven, becomes an essential element in our spiritual meetness for its enjoyment. To this end let us welcome God’s purifying agent—sanctified trial. When He causes us to walk in the midst of trouble, let us be submissive, humble, obedient. Resignation to the Divine will secures the end God intends to accomplish—our personal and deeper holiness.

—Rev. Dr. Octavius Winslow.

Illustration

‘Jesus,’ tis my aim divine,

Hence to have no will but Thine;

Let me covenant with Thee,

Thine for evermore to be:

This my prayer, and this alone,

Saviour, let Thy will be done!

Thee to love, to live to Thee,

This my daily portion be;

Nothing to my Lord I give,

But from Him I first receive:

Lord, for me Thy blood was spilt,

Lead me, guide me, as Thou wilt.

All that is opposed to Thee,

Howsoever dear it be,

From my heart the idol tear,

Thou shalt have no rival there;

Only Thou shalt fill the throne:

Saviour, let Thy will be done.

Wilt Thou, Lord, in me fulfil

All the pleasure of Thy will;

Thine in life, and Thine in death,

Thine in every fleeting breath,

Thou my hope and joy alone:

Saviour, let Thy will be done.’

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Acts 14:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/acts-14.html. 1876.

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