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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

Acts 8

 

 

Verses 1-8

Chapter20

Prayer

Almighty God, thy hand is very strong. Make bare thine arm in the midst of the nations, and show us that thou art still the King. Men forget themselves, and with much rioting of weakness they rebel against thy will, but when thou dost arise in thy great strength the nations shall know themselves to be but men. They are a wind that cometh for a little time then vanisheth away. There is none abiding like thyself. Thou only art the same yesterday, today, and for ever. All else is changing. Thou hast said of thyself, "I am the Lord, I change not." May we hide ourselves in thy unchangeableness, and know that our eternity is secured not by ourselves, but by thy Almightiness. Lift us up this day from the dust, and give us an outlook over the wider world. Deliver us from the prison of darkness, and from the river of trouble, and lift us up into the holy hills whence we can see the morning glory, and where we can overhear the songs of the better land. This, our desire, we breathe at the Cross. At the Cross we learn how to pray. Is not the Cross the open door into heaven? Without it we have no access to the Father. Lord, help us to cling to the Cross with our whole strength, and may the fire of our life renew itself every day in sight of the Cross of Christ. Our life is wasting away. Its days are becoming fewer. The most of them may possibly be behind us. May we now be children of the day, walking in the light, doing heartily thy will, the eyes of our understanding being enlightened. And may our heart glow with a new expectation. We humbly pray thee show us thy goodness in the future, as thou hast shown it unto us in the past. Keep back nothing of thy mercy. One drop the less, and we shall die of thirst. We need all thy help. We are so weak, so poor, so empty of all goodness and strength, that we need God the Father, God the Song of Solomon , and God the Holy Ghost to sustain and keep us in the right path, and feed us with the bread of heaven.

We bring our Psalm into thine house, great, holy, noble Psalm. It is meant to express our love. Thou wilt receive it in this meaning, and send back still nobler music in reply. We put ourselves every day into thy keeping. Rock the cradle, make the bed of the afflicted, deal out bread to the hungry, and send a gospel to him that is in despair. Let the heavens make the earth glad today. The heavens are older than the earth. Let eternity send out its benediction so that time may be crowned as with a blessing from God. Thou knowest what we need most. Do not withhold it. For Christ"s sake, give it to every man. When we stumble, see that we fall not utterly, and when the darkness is thickest, let the pressure of thy hand be tenderest. Make a way for us where there is no path. Melt the stones that hinder our progress, and as for the mountains that would keep us back, touch them with thy finger, and they shall arise like smoke. Be a buckler to us in the day of battle. Give us the sword, and the shield, and the helmet, and cover us in the day of danger.

Make us like the One Perfect man. Yea, make us like the Son of God. Is he not the brightness of thine image? has he not revealed to us the glory of thy person? May we be, as he was, pure, true, full of loving, meek, all-enduring self-sacrifice—marred more than any Prayer of Manasseh , but victorious even in sorrow.

The Lord hear our prayer for the little child, for the sick life, for the weary traveller, for the absent one, for the wandering prodigal, for the sinner who dare not look back lest he should see nothing but darkness, and sword, and penalty. Send thou messages over the sea to our dear ones in the far-away home who are wondering about us, and returning our prayer with many supplications. Help us to live the few years that may yet remain, nobly, wisely, and well. Work in us all the good pleasure of thy will, and the work of faith with power. Strengthen our hold upon things eternal. May we be right, so that whether the Lord come now or then, at midnight, or at the crowing of the cock, or in the broad noontide, we may all be more than ready. Amen.

Acts 8:1-8

1. And Saul was consenting (same Greek word in Luke 11:48) unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad [foretold by Christ; Acts 1:8] throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria [the teaching of the apostles must have been with great power to break through the long-standing prejudices of their Jewish converts against the Samaritans] except the apostles.

2. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation [implying beating on the breast] over him.

3. As for Saul, he made havoc [like the ravages of wild beasts; Psalm 80:13], of the church, entering into every house [making search everywhere], and haling men and women committed them to prison.

4. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word [evangelizing the word].

5. Then Philip [mentioned only in this chapter, and in chapter Acts 21:8] went down to the city of Samaria, and preached [proclaimed] Christ unto them.

6. And the people [the multitudes] with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.

7. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.

8. And there was great joy in that city.

Three Great Figures In the Church

IN this part of the narrative the name of Saul occurs three times. In the seventh chapter and fifty-eighth verse we read, "The witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man"s feet, whose name was Saul." In the first verse of the eighth chapter we read, "And Saul was consenting unto his death." In the third verse of the same chapter we read, "As for Saul he made havoc of the Church, entering into every house, and haling men and women he committed them to prison." He was an apt scholar. He made rapid progress in his bad learning. Observe how quick is the development and how sure! First of all, he watched the clothes of the men who stoned Stephen; then he expressed in every feature of his face satisfaction and gladness on account of the death of Stephen; and in the third place, he took up the matter earnestly himself with both hands, being no longer a negative participator but an active worker. He struck the Church as it had never been struck before; he made havoc of the Christian society; women were as men to him, and men as women; and having secured the keys of the prison, he crowded the dungeons with Christian suppliants. The taste for blood is an acquired taste, but "it grows by what it feeds on." This man Saul began as he ended. There was nothing ambiguous about him. He was positive, well defined in purpose, resolute in will, invincible in determination. A tremendous foe, a glorious friend!

We see from this part of the narrative what we have seen often before—the power of the Christian religion to excite the worst passions of men. It is a "savour of life unto life, or of death unto death." It is like Saul himself; for Saul was a true man whether persecuting the Church or defending it. Christianity either kills or saves. It is either the brightness of day, or the darkness of night in a man"s life. I am afraid we have become so familiar with it externally as to cast by our own spirit and demeanour a doubt upon this veritable proposition. Set it down as the most melancholy of facts that it has become possible for nominal Christian believers to care nothing about their faith. They have degraded it, so that it now chaffers with infidels, doubters, and even mockers. The faith that used to hold no parley with unbelievers is now fagged with much walking on the common road begging, asking leave to hold discussion, and apologizing for suggesting its own revelation. The age has been seized with what is known as a horror of dogmatism. But Christianity is nothing if it is not dogmatic. It has no reason for its existence if it be not positive. If it be one of many, saying, "You have heard the others, will you be good enough to hear me?" it is not what it professes. Poetry may hold parley with prose fiction, because they belong to the same category. They are dreaming, guessing, shaping thoughts into aptest forms. Daintily selecting dainty words for dainty thinking. But arithmetic can hold no parley with poetry. Arithmetic does not say, "If you will allow me, I may venture to suggest that the multiplication of such and such numbers may possibly result in such and such a total." Poetry admits of malleability, it may be moulded and shaped into new forms; but arithmetic admits of no manipulation of that kind. It is complete, final, positive, and unanswerable. Now, in proportion as any religion is true, can it not stoop to the holding of conversation with anybody. It reveals, proclaims, announces, thunders. It is not a suggestion—it is a revelation. It is not a puzzle, to which a hundred answers may be given by wits keen at guessing; it is an oracle, and every syllable is rich with the gold of wisdom. Clearly understand what is meant. The dogmatism of truth is one thing, and the dogmatism of the imperfect teacher is another. The dogmatism of the priest is to be resisted, if it be justified only by official descent or official relation, but truth must be dogmatic, that Isaiah , positive, absolute without ambiguity. Clear in its own conception, clear in its positive demands, clear in its rewards and its punishments. Can you wonder, then, that a religion—namely, the Christian faith—which claimed to be the very voice and glory of God, should have encountered this unpitying and most malignant hostility? If it could have come crouchingly, or apologetically, and have said, "I think, I suggest, I hope," it might have been heard at the world"s convenience. But it came otherwise. It came with angels" songs in the upper air, a miraculous conception, a voice saying, "This is My beloved Song of Solomon , hear ye Him." Being true, it could not have come otherwise, but so coming it raised the world into antagonism and deadly conflict. So will every true life. We have no enemies because we have no Gospel. We live in a humble and respectable obscurity, because we say nothing. We pass along pretty easily, because we annoy no man"s prejudices, or naughtinesses, or indulgences. We dash no man"s gods to the ground; we stamp on no man"s idolatries; and so we have no martyrs. In olden times Christianity attacked the most formidable citadels of thought, prejudcice, and error, and brought upon itself the fist of angry retaliation.

In this part of the narrative we see that the success of the enemy was turned into his deadliest failure. Read the fourth verse in proof. "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word." They did not go everywhere with shame burning on their cheek, nor did they go everywhere with a leaden weight upon their once nimble tongues, nor did they go everywhere whining and moaning and complaining that they were doomed to a useless life. They were taught eloquence by persecution. They were made Evangelists by suffering. That is the true way of treating every kind of assault. When the pulpit is assailed as being behind the age, let the pulpit preach better than ever and more than ever, and let that be its triumphant reply. When Christianity is assailed, publish it the more. Give it air, give it liberty, give it a wider constituency. Evangelization is the best reply to every form of assault. How do we treat our little and very tepid persecutions say of an intellectual kind? We retire to consider the case. We ask for a year"s leave of absence from the pulpit, that we may revise our theological position. Do you wonder that such a method of encountering intellectual opposition should leave the field almost wholly in the hands of the enemy? When will we learn Christ"s method and the Apostles" method of meeting such hostility? More hostility should be more preaching; more persecution should be more prayer. We have mistaken the method wholly. We have been wanting in resoluteness and directness. Do not let us be driven away by mockery, or silenced by flattery, or overweighted by prejudice, or deterred by fear. Christianity has one answer to every assault, and that is another statement of its claim, a louder and clearer utterance of its heavenly authority! "They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word." The seed shaken out by the wind was carried by the wind to other fields. It dropped into open soil, and grew up a hundred-fold.

In this part of the narrative we see Christianity followed by its proper result. You find that result stated in the eighth verse, "And there was great joy in that city." Joy was a word that was early associated with Christianity. Said the Angel, "I bring you good tidings of great joy." Where is that singing, holy joy? Not in the Church. We are gloomy, despairing, uncertain. We have lost the music, we have retained the tears. The Church ought to be a very fountain of joy, delight, triumph. Instead of that the Church is a valley of tears. The Church looks upon death and sighs. The Church is gifted in sighing. The Church that used to have a voice like a band of music, that used to lift its blood-red banner high in the air, and shake it with the defiance of already attained and unchangeable victory. There ought to be no death in the Church: Christ hath abolished death. And tears should be but dew, to be exhaled in the sun and carried up to enlarge and beautify the rainbow of promise. Why this sighing, fainting, doubting? The revelling is now in the other house. It used to be in our Father"s House that there was music, and dancing, and feasting, and great festival of joy. We have lost the trumpet, and the cymbals, and the dances, and the holy merriment, and now we are languishing like men who are simply waiting the coming of the executioner.

Looking at the narrative from another point of view, we may say that already there are two graves in the early Church. Since we began this reading of the Acts of the Apostles, we have seen two graves opened. In the one grave lie Ananias and Sapphira, in the grave opened today there lies Stephen, over whom devout men made great lamentation. Already the old story writes its record in the documents of the Apostolic Church! In one or other of these graves we must be buried! Which shall be our resting-place? Over the first there was no lamentation, no tears were shed, no hearts broke in pity and in grief. The occupants of that grave were shot with the lightning of God! Sad grave! Pit deep, black, hopeless! The liars" retreat, the hypocrites" nameless hiding-place! No loving one goes thither to lay a white flower on the black sod. Will you be buried there? Lightning-struck, blasted from heaven with God"s bolt of anger in your heart; will you be buried there? Then there is the good man"s grave, which is not a grave at all, it is so full of flowers, and so full of peace and promise—those vows spoken by Christ Himself—will you be buried there? The road to it is rough, but the rest is deep and sweet, and the waking immortality! Will you so live that you will be much missed for good doing? So that men shall say, "Alack, the world is very poor today, for the noblest of hearts beats no more?" Will you be missed in the haunts of poverty, and by the bedside of suffering, and in the church of activity, and in the school of education and discipline? How shall we go? Buried without prayers, or buried in showering tears of regret, and love, and thankfulness?

Here is the persecuting Saul testing the sincerity of the Church. We know what we are made of, when the fire of persecution tries us! You do not know your best friend until you have been in trouble. For want of knowing this many men are today living on a false reputation. Your friends are nice, amiable, pleasant, fond of hand-shaking, and salutation, and courteous remark. Always cordial, always sunny, always agreeable. Have you ever needed them? Have you ever sent for them to come to you through some bitter cold night-wind? If not, you do not yet know them. They may be nobler than you suppose, they may be meaner than your friendly dream. It is when we are in poverty, and straits, and difficulties that we know our friends. The persecution which Saul inflicted upon the Church tested the Church"s reality and sincerity, and it is under such circumstances, according to their degree, that we ourselves are to know what we are made of.

Here is the evangelist Philip extending the influence of the Church. "Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them." Not Philip the Apostle, but Philip the deacon—Philip one of the seven. Stephen dead, Philip taking his place—that is the military rule! The next Prayer of Manasseh , Forward! "Who will be baptized for the dead?" When Stephen was killed the remainder of the seven did not take fright and run away in cowardly terror, but Philippians , the next Prayer of Manasseh , took up the vacant place, and preached Christ in Samaria. Who will take up the places of the great men and the good men? Who will fill the vacant pulpits? Who will undergo the Song of Solomon -called drudgery of the Church? Who will consent to be nothing in name that he may be everything in helpfulness? Is the Church to be a broken line, or a solid and invincible square?

These three great figures are still in the Church—the dead Stephen, the persecuting Saul, the evangelistic Philip. Our Stephens are not dead. We see them no more in the flesh, but they are mightier than ever since they have ascended to heaven, having left behind them the inspiration of a noble example. John Bunyan is more alive today than he was when he wrote the Pilgrim"s Progress. John Wesley is more alive today than he was when he began to preach the Word in England. Richard Baxter is more alive today than when he wrote the Saint"s Everlasting Rest. Your child is not dead when the memory of the dear little creature leads you to do some kindness to some other child. Our fathers, heroic and noble, are not dead, when we are able at their graves to relight torches and go on with our sacred work. We cannot peruse a narrative of this kind without feeling that we are in a great succession, and that we ought to be in proportion great successors.


Verses 9-13

Chapter21

Prayer

Almighty God, come to our waiting hearts and give us the light and the comfort which are alone in thy gift. We come in the name of Jesus Christ. If we forget it, may our right hand forget its cunning, and our tongue cleave to the roof of our mouth. It is the Name above every name. It is "the Name to sinners dear." Write it upon our heart and continually draw towards it all the passion of our love. Save us for Christ"s sake. Draw us away from all bondage into the infinite liberty of thy dear Son. With him thou wilt also freely give us all things. Thou delightest to give. Thou dost live to give. Every good gift and every perfect gift cometh down from heaven. We have nothing that we have not received, and upon everything that is in our lives is written thine own name. Continue to give unto us according to the need of every day. Refresh us with the dew of the morning. Find honey for us in the flowers that open in the noonday sun. At eventide do thou spread our table, and make our bed that we may rest. We would give ourselves to thee, thou God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we are wise we are foolish. When we are strong we are weak. When we would seek our life we lose it. Lord, help us to understand these things, and to throw ourselves with completest faith upon the Infinite Arm of thy Providence, and the Infinite heart of thy love. Few and evil, but a handful at the most, are the days of our pilgrimage. May we know to what goal we are moving, and with steadfast eye and continual progress, ever leaning upon the strong for strength, may we move onward to our destiny in thy providence. Thou dost rebuke us with many humiliations. Out of our voice thou dost take the boastful tone. Thou dost smite us for our healing; and that we may be solidly enriched thou dost first make us very poor. When we are weak then truly we are divinely strong. Feed us with the bread of life, which is Jesus Christ the Son of God. We would eat his flesh, we would drink his blood, that we might have life abiding in us. Show us the mystery of eating and drinking the flesh and blood of thy dear Son. Help us to distrust ourselves. Enable us to give the lie to our own senses, and to order them behind when they would attempt to penetrate the mystery of God. Thou art constantly showing us that we know nothing as it really is until our eyes are opened, and we do not hear the wondrous, the subtle, and ineffable music until thou dost anoint and inspire our ears. Sometimes we are ashamed of our wisdom. It is not what it looks. It is but a furbished lie. Our reckoning is one long line of mistakes, and so busy are we in putting the figures together, and looking as if we could handle them, that the humiliation thou dost inflict upon us becomes intolerable. Lord, teach us how to pray. Lord, increase our faith. Lord, take us from the alphabet of the senses into the deep reading of the spirit. Lord, spare not thy light, thy light in Christ, but let it drive every shadow away for ever. Bless the hearts that mourn with a little release from their distress. Dry the tears, lest they blind the eyes that are looking for thee. Put thine arms around all the little children, that in thine arms they may find perpetual security. Number our hairs when they are grey and white, that in old age men may know how to find in Christ the beginning of youth. As for those who are in prosperity, and who have no pain in head, or heart, or limb, on whose whole road the broad sunshine lies day by day—men who have pulled down the altar and hidden thy Book away—the Lord send a serpent to bite them and a great affliction, not for their destruction, but for their conversion. Amen.

Simon the Sorcerer

Acts 8:9-13

LOOK first of all at the condition in which Philip found the city or the region of Samaria. You find there the condition of the whole world represented in one pregnant sentence. Samaria was (1) diseased, (2) possessed, and (3) deluded. These are the conditions in which Christianity has always to fight its great battle. Christianity never finds any town prepared to cooperate with it. All the conquests of Christianity imply a long siege, stubborn hostility, inveterate prejudice, and the victory of right over wrong. We are none of us by nature prepared to give the Christian teacher a candid hearing. We "hate the fellow, for he never prophesies good of us." If he could prophesy good of us he would have nothing to tell our soul that could do it vital and lasting good. The first thing a Christian teacher has to do is to tear us, morally, to pieces! There is nothing in his favour. The literary lecturer pays homage to his audience, but the preacher rebukes it, humbles it, pours upon it holy despite and contempt. The early preachers did not trim, and balance, and smooth things. They spoke thunderstorms, and the very lifting of their hand was a battle half won. It was because they did fundamental work that they made progress so slow, but so sure. The world is no better today than Samaria was when Philip went down. And these three words, whole categories in themselves, include the moral condition of the race. Diseased,—there is not a man in this house who is thoroughly and completely well, nor in any house, nor in all the world. If he suppose himself to be Song of Solomon , he is so only for the moment; he was ill yesterday, or will be to-morrow, and presently the oldest oak will be lightning struck and laid flat down on the cold earth. The world is a great lazar-house. The world is dying. You stand up in the mere mockery of strength; it is when we lie down that we assume the proper and final attitude of the body. How ill we are, what aches and pains! What sharp shootings, what burnings in the head, what throbbings in the heart!

The world is not only diseased, it is possessed. Possessed with demons, possessed with unclean spirits, possessed with false ideas. Why make a marvel or a mystery about demoniacal possession, when we are all so possessed? Why push this idea back some twenty centuries or more, as if it were an ancient anecdote? We are all insane! We are all devil-ridden. We had better give the right names to our mental conditions, lest we be attaching the wrong label and mistaking ourselves utterly. Out of Christ, out of the Cross, self-centred, self-poised, self-seeking, we are mad! Of course we are as usual the victims of the vulgarer interpretation of words. We do not account persons mad who are not shut up in confinement. Until we get a clearer conception of that word we shall be reading in the dark, and the Bible will be to us but a rock of stumbling and offence. Diseased, possessed—these are the terms we must understand in their spiritual meaning. To these terms we must add a third, for Samaria was not only diseased and possessed, Samaria was also deluded. She was bewitched. The sorcerer had flung his charms upon her mind, and she was led as the sorcerer"s will suggested or desired. Understand that somebody has to lead the world. In Republicanism there is a Sovereignty. In a mob there is a captaincy; somebody must lead the world. And the question is who, Christ or Barabbas? There is only one question worth discussing so far as the future is concerned, and that is who is to rule, from whom is the future to receive its law and inspiration and its best rewards? To-day you find men making churches for the future. You might as well make clothes for the future: for ages unborn! There are those who are anxious to know which will be the Church of the future. Personally I am not interested in the inquiry. It may be elaborately answered. The reply may be as magnificent as a cipher would be if it were the size of the firmanent. Personally I do not care. My question Isaiah , who is to be the man of the future, the life, the Sovereign, the King of the future? This Prayer of Manasseh , Christ, or Barabbas? As Christians we have no difficulty about the result. We believe that Jesus of Nazareth, marred more than any Prayer of Manasseh , shall come up out of his weakness and humiliation, and sit upon the throne of glory. We do not sing only, or say, we believe—

If this were a sentiment only we might despise it. It is a faith which lifts up the whole life along with it to a noble level, and charges it with the function of a larger beneficence. It is not as if we could depose Christ, and then all be upon a level. There remains the historic certainty that some one man must lead. Who shall that one man be? Simon or Christ? Superstition or faith? Wrong or right?

As we are all diseased and all possessed, so we are all deluded. And who can encounter a delusion? None but God the Holy Ghost. There are no fingers dainty enough to take hold of a delusion and pull it out of the nest of the mind. This kind goeth forth only by the ministry of the Holy Ghost. A delusion belongs to the same class as a prejudice, and prejudice has no shape, no form, no hiding-place, that we can penetrate. It can only be dislodged by that which takes up all room, and yet leaves all space at liberty—Light. Wondrous light! Filling all things and burdening none! Occupying all space, yet not encroaching on the little sphere of the meanest insect!

It is marvellous what delusions the mind can acquire, and most truly humbling is it to hear the deluded man"s tale about his personal suffering—what he sees, what he hears, what he suspects, what he thinks he knows. That man is yourself, is myself, in one phase and aspect of our possible experience. Do not stand back from him as if you had nothing to do with his humanity. When he withers, you also wither. We are "members one of another." From the weak we may learn our weakness; from the strong, the imperial, we may learn how mighty we too may become. Again, therefore, would I say, we are "members one of another."

Superstition is not to be laughed at. I would rather laugh at the merely arithmetical man who never had a dream in his life. Were I disposed to mock, I would choose him as the butt of my bitter taunt. Even you who supposedly have the clear head and practical mind, without a single whim or fancy disturbing the equal balance of your intellectual monotony, what Gospel there can be for you it hath not entered into my mind to conceive. Show me a man who has dreams, fancies, visions of the night, and who is following invisible leaders, and out of him there may come a very apostle of the everlasting kingdom of Jesus Christ. He has the making of a man in him. And yet I would not despise the other Prayer of Manasseh , simply because we do occasionally require to eke out the structure with stones that have only a burden to carry and with pillars that are covered by the painter"s trick. Christianity has to encounter all the false faiths of the world. There is a strong man already in possession of the citadel, and he will not easily give way. It is not an easy thing for the missionary to persuade the most barbarous of his hearers to throw away the piece of wood or stone, which the barbarian hugs as his god. It is a long way from the physical eye to the spiritual light! The barbarian likes a god that he can finger well. He knows then that he has a god. To be told that God is Unseen and Invisible, "God is a Spirit," "No man hath seen God at any time," "No man can see God and live," is a Gospel that requires time to make its way in the world—the world that wants to make the globe a factory and human life a toil! Christianity must continually startle its students by showing them how very little there is in its Book that is literal. You put the water into the firkin and it comes out wine! You peruse the letter, and it turns into a spirit! There is the difficulty to men who live an intellectually jaunty life, who touch things with their fingers, count things up to ten, then add, multiply, and subtract, and divide at pleasure, and who suppose that they have in this way settled the whole case. I can ask the strongest-sighted man in the world to look at a piece of glass and tell me if there is anything upon it, And his necessary answer must be, if he limit his judgment by his sight, that the glass is absolutely vacant. I can hand to him a magnifier, and say, "Look at the glass now, for whatever is upon it that magnifier will increase one hundred fold." He takes the glass, he looks at the object, and he says, "I still adhere to my judgment and declare that this piece of glass is absolutely void, there is literally nothing upon it." I like his emphasis, because presently it will be turned into contrition. I encourage him to be very emphatic, and when he has reached the very limit of his emphasis, and almost taken his stand upon his dignity, I bring the proper microscopic power to bear upon the glass which he declared to be vacant and void, then imagine his look! He sees that within the thousandth part of an inch there is written the sublimest prayer ever offered to God! What was wanting? A medium. What was absent? The necessary help to the eye! Yet there are those amongst us who say, "Seeing is believing." Truly say I, but what is seeing? Where does it begin, where does it end? And what do we know now about sight, or light, or anything as it really is? This being so in the lower realms of thinking and inquiry, I am enabled to move upward to the higher regions, and to believe that "God is a Spirit."

It is very instructive to watch Philip"s course in Samaria, because first of all he took no notice of Simon. There are some persons who think we ought to send missionaries to argue down the infidels. Do not let us belong to that extremely foolish class of persons. There is nothing to be argued down. Argument is the weakest of all weapons. If occasion should naturally arise for the answering of some sophistical argument, avail yourselves of it, but do not imagine that Christianity has to go down to Samaria to fight a pitched battle, face to face with Simon Magus. What then did Philip do? Philip preached CHRIST. Simon had been preaching himself. Philip never mentioned himself, all the while he talked only about Christ. Thus Philip did not argue down Simon, he superseded him. The daylight does not argue with the artificial light. The sun does not say, "Let us talk this matter over, thou little, beautiful, artificial jet. Let us be candid with one another, and polite to one another, and let us treat one another as gentlemen talking on equal terms. Let us thus see which of us ought to rule the earth." The sun does nothing but SHINE! What then! Men then sneakingly put the gas out! "Let YOUR light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." Lift is the unanswerable logic. Holiness is the invincible argument. Charity, love, beneficence, chivalry, self-sacrifice, these form the shining host that will chase all competitors away!


Verses 14-25

Chapter22

Prayer

Almighty God, though we have multiplied words against thee, yet hast thou made a flock of us, and thou art thyself our Shepherd. Jesus Christ thy Son is the Good Shepherd who gave, and ever gives, his life for the sheep. We were lost once, but we have returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. Once we were in the wilderness and could find no pasture, nor home, no sweet security, but now we are enfolded upon the high mountains of Israel, and daily dost thou feed us and lead us forth. When the sun is hot at noon, thou dost cause us to lie down in the cool shade. Thou leadest us beside the still waters, so that we may drink, without trouble or fear, of the living stream. And into rich pastures dost thou lead us, that we may not know the pain of hunger. What shall we say unto thee? There are no fit words for the utterance of our heart"s great love. Thou hast gone beyond all words, and left them behind, unable to touch the majesty of thy tenderness and the glory of thy power.

Thou wilt still permit us to speak what we feel. In Christ thou hast made us new creatures. We would praise thee and magnify thee, and hallow thy name, because of this thy new creation. Through thy Song of Solomon , our Saviour, we have received the Holy Ghost, the wondrous Spirit, the Paraclete, the Abiding Comforter, the Leader into all truth! May we not fear as we enter in. As the firmament of thy truth heightens above our heads, may we behold with astonishment and joy this display of thy spiritual riches; and as the horizon, which we thought the limit, goes away in ever-widening circles, may we know that thy truth is greater than our imaginings, and thy creation infinitely more than our thought. Save us from all uncharitableness. Deliver us from the prison of littleness, and bigotry, and supposed finality. By thy Spirit show us that the riches of Christ are unsearchable, without beginning, without ending, without measure, infinite riches of light and Wisdom of Solomon , of grace, and truth. Feed us with thy word. We have forgotten most of it; have mercy upon us! We ought to have hoarded it, and guarded it with our whole strength from worldly encroachment and corruption, yet have we forgotten it! We have allowed the noises of the world to interrupt the music of heaven. God be merciful unto us in Christ the Atoning Saviour, because of this our great transgression.

Now come to us, as we need thee most. Some of us have brought summer flowers to offer thee. Flowers of joy, and praise, and new delight, and recovered hope. Lord, take them every one in thy hand, and they will never wither. Others have come with pained heads, and heavy hearts, and darkened eyes. The light of hope has been blown out. The staff of dependence has broken in the hand that leaned upon it. The fair-looking garden was but a pit covered with flowers. The Lord cheer such with wine from heaven, and with bread which is angels" food. Others know not why they are here. Some of them little children brought by other hands. Some who do not know what the house Isaiah , or the day. Lord, cause a new light to enter the mind of such, and make them glad. The Lord speak a word in season to him that is weary. The Lord show the strongest man that his strength is but the boast of a moment, and show the weakest one that his weakness may be made the beginning of eternal strength. Dry our tears when they flow like a river; and when our joy would lead us away from the trust that is the strength and the glory of life, the Lord dash it with bitterness that we may be made to think and pray.

And now shall this day be thine, thou King of saints, thou leader of battles, thou man of war? The morning is upon us now, and the night will soon be here, and we would that thy banner might float over a conquered field. Ride forth in thy strength, thou whose chariots are twenty thousand, and thousands of thousands. Make thy ministers a flame of fire, and thy house a doorway into heaven, and let thy Gospel be heard in all its ineffable sweetness; and may all rivals flee away before the advancing light of thy glory, and leave thee King of kings and Lord of lords, the only Potentate! Amen.

Acts 8:14-25

14. Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God [the whole sum and substance of the Gospel] they sent unto them Peter and John:

15. Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost [not regeneration only, but the Pentecostal gift]:

16. (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)

17. Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

18. And when Simon saw [so visible and conspicuous was the change] that through laying on of the apostles" hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money [χρημάτα—riches],

19. Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost.

20. But Peter said unto him, thy money perish with thee [be together with thee for perdition], because thou hast thought [the Greek verb has a transitive not a passive sense] that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

21. Thou hast neither part nor lot [ Colossians 1:12] in this matter: for thy heart is not right [ 2 Peter 2:15] in the sight of God.

22. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps [implying a latent doubt] the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee [Peter himself neither condemns nor forgives].

23. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.

24. Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.

25. And they, when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord [implying a stay of some duration], returned to Jerusalem, and preached the gospel [announced the glad tidings] in many villages of the Samaritans.

The Deputation to Samaria

"WHEN the Apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John." This must have been a most instructive experience to the Apostle John. There was a time when that Apostle did not conceal his feelings respecting a village in Samaria. Jesus Christ wished to enter into a village of the Samaritans and to remain there a little while. The villagers did not understand this desire; they saw that his face was hardened in the direction of Jerusalem, and because he looked so steadfastly towards that city they did not receive him; and when James and John saw this they said, "Lord, wilt Thou not command fire to come down from heaven and consume them even as Elias did?" John could not brook the insult, he did not know what spirit he was of. Little by little Jesus Christ brings us to understand his purpose, and to enter into the meaning of his life; and then the John who would have prayed for destructive fire is himself sent down to Samaria to invoke the falling of another flame that burns but does not consume! We cannot tell what we may yet do in life. Amongst our old enmities we may yet find our sweetest friendships. Do not seek to destroy any Prayer of Manasseh , however much he may reject you or misunderstand you. A time may come when you can render him the service of prayer. The text is now easy reading, but there was a day when it was a grand story. "When the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God "—that is nothing to us; we read it as if it were a commonplace. In reality it is the dawning of a new day, the winning of a great battle, the opening of a beneficent revelation; that day the Gentiles were admitted into the Kingdom of Christ, openly and by a glad celebration. We lose so much by forgetting the circumstances of the case which is before us. This is a verse now read as if it had no atmosphere. What is it that we lose in history? It is the atmosphere that we lose. And what is it that gives the novelist or the dramatist supremacy over the historian, or the dry, technical, and most learned annalist? It is that he creates, or recalls, the atmosphere, and thus his fictions become the real facts. We are now, let us suppose, standing upon a great stretch of land, and between us and another stretch of country quite as large there rolls a broad, deep river. We cannot cross it at this point. We travel by its edge mile by mile until we come to a great stone bridge, and it is over that bridge that the commerce between the two countries is continually maintained. That bridge we find in the fourteenth verse of this chapter. The bridge was built at Samaria, between old Judaism and despised Gentilism, by which these noble Christian prophets and apostles went from one side to the other, and thus Jerusalem became in the apostles" eyes as the mother city of the world, when they heard that the Gentiles had so received the music of the redeeming Word. We do not care for this miracle now. The dreariest part of every missionary meeting to many persons in the excited assembly is the reading of the report—a reading which should bring all the Church together in its noblest enthusiasm; a reading under which strong men should stand and never stir till the last syllable had throbbed upon the hot air—then there should arise a shout as of a conquering host—"Praise God, from whom all blessings flow." Such is not our way now. Miracles have become commonplaces, and reports have succumbed to the rhetoric that never suffered.

When this report was made in Jerusalem, the apostles sent down Peter and John. Was Peter then really "sent down?" So it would certainly appear from the text. We thought that Peter would have sent down other men! It is evident, however, that that thought is misconceived. Peter himself was a messenger. Yet how delicate the tribute to his undoubted primacy of love and enthusiasm! He it was who was selected to go down. His name appears first, and yet he was but a deputation! There is nothing papal here. The Pope is not "sent down," he sends down. Peter and John were sent down into Samaria to make inquiry and to do whatever might appear needful under the novel circumstances. Our greatest men should always be sent down to the villages under circumstances such as these related in the text. Our very grandest preachers ought to be our missionaries. A missionary is now, unhappily, a despised man. If I wanted to empty this church I have only to announce that a "returned missionary" would preach here. What a desolation he would make in the earth! The man who has suffered, who has not counted his life dear to him that he might preach Christ, would be left to tell his story to vacant air! He might not tell it in dainty language, in choice music of eloquence; he might have no deftness of speech, no cunning skill in the stringing of sentences, and in the utterance of expressive accents; he might have no genius of emphasis; but he has come to tell of battles being won, and if we were in Christ, as very parts of his soul, we would not mind the manner of the narrative; we would be as soldiers whose noblest pride was touched to hear that the Master"s banner floated over all the earth in sign of beneficent victory!

When Peter and John were come down to Samaria what did they do? This will reveal the right aspect of apostolic influence and office. Let us read the text in a way of our own, and then it will stand in some such fashion as this, "Peter and John , when they were come down, sat upon a great and high throne, and waved over the astounded Gentiles a staff that was supposed to have singular power in it, and the amazed and wonder-struck villagers of Samaria fell back before such dazzling dignity and bewailed their own unworthiness." That would be poor Scripture! That would be Scripture without inspiration from heaven. How does the text really read? It reads in this way: When they were come down, they PRAYED for the villagers, that they might receive the Holy Ghost. Pray for your friends; do not affright them. Pray for inquirers; do not overpower them. Pray in great religious crises, and thus magnify the event, and do not lessen it. Say, this is an affair which must be lifted up into the light of God"s countenance, and God himself must order and rule in such an instance. Do we PRAY now? The question is not, do we use the terms of prayer, or fall into the attitude of supplication, but do we PRAY? Do we ask as if we meant to have what we ask? The question is too solemn to be answered by any one man in the name of others. For what did the Apostles pray? That Samaria might receive the Holy Ghost. Then what had Samaria already received? Samaria had only received the first baptism. Water will do you no good. It was meant to be a beginning, not an end. Whether you have received drops of water, drops of dew, upon your infantile brow, or whether you have been plunged of men in the deep river, it matters not, if you have not gone further. We have believed, but have we received the Holy Ghost? As a matter of fact, we have not, in many instances as we well know. People seem to imagine that when they have believed, the work is done. As well tell me that when you have put the fuel into the grate the fire is lighted. We have believed, the fuel has been received into our mind, we know the truth, what we want is the burning spark! Now, have we received the Holy Ghost? There is no mistaking it. We have had occasion already to say that no man can mistake fire. You may paint it, but you cannot warm your hands at the flame on the canvas. Fire is like nothing but itself. It separates man from Prayer of Manasseh , yet unites man to man. It burns up selfishness. It purifies, it glorifies. It is the secret of the universe. They who truly worship fire are not far from the kingdom of God. What is that there is not in fire? It is even so with the Holy Ghost. It gives a man individuality. It detaches him from the common crowd and gives him a singularity of his own. What if it be true that we do not know what is meant by the words, the HOLY GHOST? We are reasoners, debaters, metaphysicians, theologians, essayists, learned men—all these we may be with the water still upon our faces! When the Church has received the Holy Ghost, the Church will be unlike every other community. When the pulpit has been baptized by the Holy Ghost, it will stand alone in the supremacy of its power. At present it is not a Sinai, it is a reading-desk. It is the retreat of the mumbler, it is the living of the essayist. The pulpit should be but a pedestal from which a man cries with the shout of thunder, and with the energy of the refreshing and purifying breath of heaven. Lord baptize us with the Holy Ghost! Our religion is at present an argument; our desire is that it may become a PASSION!

Simon the Sorcerer, hearing that through laying on of the Apostles" hands the Holy Ghost was received, offered them money. It is easy to abuse this man known as Simon, but he acted a most natural and rational part. Consider his training, his surroundings, his particular avocation, and the great influence he had acquired, and then say if he did not take the very course open to a keen and penetrating observer. He had lived all his life in the market-place. He had always been behind the counter; he had never breathed a purer air; he knew but one world, and one language. When, therefore, he saw by laying on of the Apostles" hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered the Apostles money, saying, "Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands he may receive the Holy Ghost." Simon saw only the outside—which of us sees any further? We ourselves think because we have been to church we have been good, or that because we have bowed at the name of Jesus, or sung a Christian hymn, or heard a Christian discourse, that therefore we are Christians. That is precisely the reasoning of Simon. There has grown up in some sections of the Christian Church a custom which is known as Simony. The meaning is that this or that particular spiritual function has been turned into a marketable commodity. The custom derived its name from the name of the Sorcerer, and from the circumstance recorded in this text. He who would buy a pulpit is guilty of what is called simony. He who would hold his place in this Church or any other by virtue of having bought it is guilty of simony. But the simony of the Christian Church is not in the pulpit alone. We may buy or try to buy influence, status, and authority in the Church by the use of money. Who is there that does not imagine that everything can be bought? Yet how little in reality can we buy with money! Can you buy sound judgment? What is the price of it? Can you buy wisdom? Tell me the value of it in plain money. You can buy diamonds for the finger—can you buy lightning for the eyes? You can buy musical instruments—can you make your tongue so eloquent as to be a tabernacle of thunder? What can you buy? Can you buy poetic fire? Can you buy perfect insight? Can you buy any form of spiritual and enduring power? Know ye that money has but a little world to operate in, and that the highest gifts are not to be purchased with gold. Seek Wisdom of Solomon , seek knowledge, seek instruction—the price of it is above rubies. If we could rightly lay hold of this idea it ought to open great worlds of possibility to us. God hath chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and strong in power. "He doeth as he will among the armies of heaven and amongst the children of men." To the poorest man he says, "Take this Gospel and preach it." A manger will do for a cradle when there is in it the Saviour of the world. Do you suppose that because you have little money you have little power, little life, little responsibility? What have you? You may have the power of prayer! You may be able to put into words at God"s throne thoughts that burn in me, but for which I myself have no speech. You may be able to "speak a word in season to him that is wear)." You may have the gift of hope and the faculty of music, and you may be able to lift the load from many a burdened heart. Poorest Prayer of Manasseh , do not despair! You may be rich in ideas, rich in sympathies, rich in suggestion, and rich in all the noblest treasures that can make men wealthy with indestructible possession.

Chapter23

Prayer

Almighty God, the earth is thine and the fulness thereof. Thine is also the fulness of the sea. Thou lookest upon all things, and in them thou dost behold a purpose all thine own. Thy day of explanation is coming, and then will be the full shining of the light upon all the way which we have taken; and in that hour of thy shining glory we shall truly know how good thou hast been, and how evil has been our life in the light of thy holiness. Thou hast redeemed us with an infinite price. We see what value thou dost place upon our souls by the ransom which thou hast paid for their redemption. We are redeemed not with corruptible things as silver and gold, but with precious blood of the Son of God. We are not our own; we are bought with blood; we are purchased with life; thou thyself in thy son didst die that we might live. For these holy thoughts we bless thee. They lift the soul above the things of time, and all the weariness of earth, and bring us into the calmness and peace of thine own quietude. We rejoice in all spiritual impulse, and aspiration, and sacred desire. We would not live in the earth, but would draw our life from the sun. Enable us, therefore, to fix our whole affections upon the Son of God, our one Redeemer and Saviour, and Priest, and in the fixing of that love may we find the only steadfastness and security of our life. Save us from all the weary, and all the exciting processes of self-trust and self-idolatry, and lead us into the infinite rest of faith in thy Fatherhood. We would rest in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We would abide in him as the branch abideth in the vine. We have no life in ourselves. Our life is hidden with God in Christ. Enable us, we humbly pray thee, to know this in all the breadth of its meaning and in all the completeness of its comfort, that we be no more children tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, without a home for the heart, and without a refuge for the wounded spirit. In thy house we expect to see thy light. There is a light above the brightness of the sun. We would walk in that light, feeling all its warmth, and answering with unspotted piety the challenge of its sacred glory. Reveal thyself to us in the sanctuary. Thou hast a beauty which the world doth not and cannot see; the beauty of love, of grace, of tenderness. Thou canst walk with men, and talk in whispers to their listening hearts. Thou canst cause their trouble to arise like dew of the morning, to be fashioned into the bow of new promise and hope in the blue heavens. Thou canst comfort thy children with tenderest solaces. Have pity upon the broken heart, spare the reed that is already bruised, and send a Gospel this day to hearts that are longing for it. As the mother would save the child, as the father would bring back the wanderer, and sink the past in eternal oblivion, wilt thou not much more call us every one to thy love and grace in Christ Jesus, and make for our feet a new earth, and for our eyes a new heaven.

We remember the absent. Those who are travelling upon the land or sea, whose return we are expecting with thankfulness and joy. We cannot forget the sick at home and in the hospital. Everywhere on the wide earth is sickness to be found. We thank thee for all the care that is bestowed upon the sick and dying. We pray that thou thyself wilt be the Physician of those who are in deepest suffering. Send messages of comfort to all homes of sickness, whether private or public, and let the healing power of the Gospel of Christ be felt in every suffering heart.

Thy word is truth, let us hear it as such. May we not listen to it as other than the voice of God"s eternity. Touch our ears that they may hear the faintest whisper of thy love; open our understanding that we may understand the Scriptures; and by the ministry of the Holy Ghost, God the Spirit, prepare us to receive the truth with all humbleness and meekness, and teachableness of mind. Dismiss the world from our thought and time from our anxiety, and give us thy tender peace, thou that dwellest in the quietness of Eternity. Amen.

The Deputation to Samaria

(continued)

LET us now see what Simon the Sorcerer did when he saw that through laying on of the Apostles" hands the Holy Ghost was given to the people. The expression now reads as a very common one, yet there is hidden under it a very far-reaching and most subtle and potent meaning. Simon offered the Apostle money. There was probably no fixed sum in the mind of Simon. If such a bestowal as that of the Spirit could be effected upon him, money should not stand in the way. The text does not read that Simon asked the price, or that Simon fixed the sum: Simon was a great man in his own line, and a man who had been most successful in business, and therefore he offered money, and not any particular or defined sum of money. This was the hour of Apostolic temptation. They had no money. To the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, Peter had said, "Silver and gold have I none." Money is always a powerful temptation to the empty pocket. Where is the man in this congregation who can say, No, to every form of temptation which money can assume? "The love of money is the root of all evil." It is very easy for us, when no temptation is troubling the ear, to say what we should do under such and such circumstances; but when the money is actually in the hand of the tempter, and when in one moment more it may be in our own possession, and when the thing asked for in exchange is itself a good thing, where is the man in the Church who can return a denial with the emphasis of thunder, and, so to say, with the accent of lightning? We are not to suppose that Jesus Christ"s temptation was confined to Himself. He was tempted symbolically for us as well as really tempted in himself. The way to the Kingdom always lies through the gate of the wilderness. To enter heaven is to win a battle. We do not dream ourselves into heaven. We do not fall asleep as in the darkness of earth, and quietly and joyously open our eyes upon the summer of heaven. The way to the upper places is a way through temptation, suffering, discipline, and disappointment—a long way, so crooked, so weary, with hardly a well upon the wayside to rest upon and to drink at. That is the upward and most difficult way! When the Baptist had his great temptation, in a moment of excitement, when he seemed to sum up in himself all prophecy and noble speech of the ancient seers, the people came to him in their most influential classes, and said, "Art THOU He that should come?" Do not read these words as if they contained nothing. They were a temptation of the subtlest kind, addressed not consciously, to vanity, to ambition, and to some of the lower forms of patriotism. The principal seat upon the chariot was then suggestively offered to John the Baptist; he might have mounted, and said, "Yes, come with me; I am your deliverer and prince!" Every man has his own temptations. Temptation is not always explained or always explicable in words. There are battles in secret. There is a Gethsemane in every noble life. Ministers will prove themselves to have been anointed with the true and pure oil of the upper sanctuary when they do not smooth over life as if it were a kind of summer dream, but when they recognize trouble, temptation, and inexplicable weakness, and lead the way by noble sympathy, by the lure of a manly and noble example, and by the power that is in spiritual contagion. The Church is always tempted in this same way, namely, by the offer of money. We must always reject the unholy patronage. Do I address a minister who preaches to the moneyed pew? Your ministry will be blighted with well-merited condemnation. Do I minister to a Church that could accept secular patronage in order to preach a settled and determined theology? Such a Church would have sold its birthright for a contemptible price. Does any power say to the religion of the Nazarene, "I will patronize, and pay thee, and see thy bill discharged all the way through?" Every thorn in that crown of thorns would answer with angry resentment an offer so detestable. Faith must spread its own daily board. Love must pay its own way. If the Church, be it but two or three in number, has not energy enough, love enough, to pay all that requires to be paid, it is not a church, it is a speculative club. Do I speak to some who represent very feeble communities? My friends, your weakness is your strength. Do not ask any man to help you, unless his help be the inspiration of love—not a taxation, but the outgoing of a noble spirit of obedience to the crucified and now throned Christ. It is not necessary for you to be rich in order to be a Church. There are, perhaps, only some five or six of you in the little village; what then? As two of the disciples walked together and held converse upon Christian themes, "Jesus Himself drew near." And in this drawing near the Church was formed. Where He Isaiah , the Church is. Do not therefore accept any bribe or any challenge, or kneel before any temptation to be rich, and great, and influential. Be you more zealous in prayer, more intense in love and in enthusiasm; in thai line let your victories lie! Never be bribed into silence. Never keep back the truth of God, lest you should forfeit status or income. Again and again have I said, and the conviction grows upon me that the saying is true—It is not necessary for any man to LIVE, but it is necessary for every man to be LOYAL to Christ"s truth. The lesson comes to us from very ancient times. When the king came to meet Abram, and offered him great hospitality and patronage, Abram said, "No; lest thou say, I have made Abram rich." The chief power is spiritual, not financial. But the Church has wonderfully fallen under the delusiveness of the fallacy which teaches that the Church ought to be socially respectable. It would make the heart cry its hottest tears to read the phrases that are now popular: Such and such a man ministers to a" most respectable congregation." Such and such a congregation "has hardly one poor person in it." Other congregations are notable for the considerable number of "common people" that degrade the pews. To such a plight has the religion of Christ been brought by those who have been offered money and have accepted the unholy bribe!

How was it that the Apostles were enabled to escape the subtle influence of this potent temptation? The answer is given in the narrative. The Apostles had a true conception of the spiritual election and function of the Church. "Thy money," said Peter to the sorcerer, "perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money." The Church had not then become a machine. Ordination was not then a thing to be arranged. It was inspiration. It was the sudden seizing of the mind, and its transformation into spiritual dignity and majesty. We do not understand this now. Men are now "prepared" for the ministry. Now we "educate" men for the pulpit. By all means be educated, be instructed; but educate the Prayer of Manasseh , and the citizen, and let the pulpit alone. You do not educate the poet. You educate the man; and too much education we cannot have; there is no virtue in ignorance; ignorance is always weakness; therefore would I uphold strenuously the education of the citizen, the subject, the Prayer of Manasseh , the individual, but let the pulpit receive the gift of God. We are not to come to this work by arrangement of man. The ministry ought not to be a class, or clique, or sect of its own by any man"s arrangements. It should be elect of God. A minister should wear his credentials openly, and they should be so written that none could dispute their authenticity. Educate men for the ministry! "Thy education perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God" could be purchased by schooling. Get all the education you can; be the best informed man of your circle, so far as is possible; encourage intellectual ambition, and satisfy it even to satiety; but inspiration makes a minister! And inspiration makes the Church. In such a sense as we rarely realize is that word true. "Not by might, and not by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord." When the Church learns that lesson, the Church will have no need to cry out for more ministers, for the Church will by such a feeling utter a prevailing prayer to heaven that "labourers maybe thrust into the harvest." Are you, young Prayer of Manasseh , considering whether you will enter Christ"s ministry or not? Then pray God you may never enter it; for it is not a question for consideration. There are those, shame on their grey hairs, who are telling us that if the Church would offer more money to the young men of our "better families," they might possibly give themselves to the ministry! A malediction from heaven be upon such thoughts! Does Christ want the members of our "better families" to be kind enough to accept position as his ambassadors, and expositors, and friends? He was always despised and rejected of men. He will choose his own ministers. He will see to it that the pulpit is never silent. It may change its form of utterance, and its attitude towards the whole necessity of civilized life; but Christ will find His own ministers, and inspire them with his own spirit.

Peter spoke in his own characteristic tone when he said to Simon the magician, "Thy money perish with thee, thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter; for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee." Peter"s speech was not a mere denunciation. If you merely denounce men you discourage them. Learn here how to preach! You need nothing more on this part of your mission than this speech to Simon Magus. Nothing is wanted in the emphasis with which Peter speaks; his moral dignity is positively sublime, and yet, having uttered the word of malediction he shows that the true object of the denunciation of wrong is to save the wrong-doer. Here is the gospel in an unexpected place. After such a thunderstorm who could have expected this voice of lute and harp? Re. pent! Forgive! It is weakness merely to abuse, or denounce, or rebuke. Reproach acquires its dignity and its usefulness by the tenderness which eventually flows out of it. Your reproof of the age in which you live will derive nearly all its force from the opening up of the way of possible forgiveness and restoration to those whose wickedness you have denounced. Give up no man. Do not spare his sin; hold the fiercest light over it, but point the wrong-doer himself to the possibility of forgiveness through repentance and supplication. Hear this as a gospel, oh, wrong-doing man! About your wrong doing we cannot have two opinions. Upon the wickedness we would rain fire and brimstone from God out of heaven, but you yourselves REPENT, "if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven."

Simon did not—nor could he be expected to do—seize the spiritual idea which ruled the Apostle"s thinking. His reply is most natural, though often condemned. "Then answered Simon, and said, Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me." He asked for Apostolic prayer, so far he was not wrong. He suggested the Apostolic prayer "that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me." There he failed to see the right meaning of prayer. We must not go to God in supplication merely to escape judgment, or wrath, or penalty, but to escape sin. Yet let a man come through any gate that first opens, only let him COME! We cannot all be metaphysicians in this respect; we cannot all be theologically correct as to our way of approaching our Infinite Father. If one man should come through hatred of sin, through such a high spiritual nature that he feels the evil of sin and wishes to escape it; if another man of lower mould should say, "I fear hell, I fear fire, I fear the worm that dieth not; God have mercy upon me." Let him also come. Every man must pray as he can. You cannot send the heart to school to teach it how to pray. It will pray from the point where the burden presses. How instinctively the child lays its hand upon the place where the pain is! So my prayer to heaven will come out of that wound that bleeds most copiously. Where the pain Isaiah , the prayer should be. If the pain is spiritual because of the sinfulness of sin, I will pray some lofty prayer; and if I be troubled with the fear of eternal night, God will not despise even the penitential cry of fear and dread.


Verses 26-40

Chapter24

Prayer

ALMIGHTY God, how great is thy truth! We cannot understand it all, but in Jesus Christ, Thy Song of Solomon , we see what we can lay hold of with our mind and with our heart. Thou art revealed in thy Song of Solomon , who is the brightness of thy glory. We would, therefore, sit at his feet every day, and listen with the attention of our love to all the music of his sacred voice. Give us the hearing ear, and the understanding heart, and may nothing of all the Gospel escape our reverent attention. We need it all. We need thy Son in his body, soul, and spirit. Yea, verily, we need, because of our sinfulness, the blood of his very heart. We would behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world; with our love would we behold him; with our inmost desire would we lay hold of him; with all the pain of our sin would we cry unto him, that he may be our Deliverer, our one Redeemer. We rejoice in the Cross of Christ. It means to us the whole affection of God. We see in that Cross all thy love, thou Ever-loving One. Nowhere else do we see that love in all its infinite tenderness. At the Cross we tarry; by the Cross will we be found when the sun ariseth; and at the setting of the sun we will still be there. In the Cross is pardon; in the Cross is peace. God forbid that we should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We put ourselves into thy keeping; we know not what is best for us, nor do we know which way to take when the ways are many and mostly distasteful. Save us from judging by appearances. Teach us our ignorance. May we begin at the point of self-distrust, and gradually move onward by the guidance of the Holy Ghost to perfect faith in the Son of God. We would live the faith-life: we would live, and move, and have our being in the Spirit. We would be no longer content with the earth, but would despise it, with an infinite scorn, as a final resting point. We accept it as a beginning—a school, an opening into the eternal future. Help us to use it as such; enable us to use the world as not abusing it, and to sit so lightly to all its attractions, that at thy bidding we may rise with a good heart, and a glad hope, to go whithersoever thou dost lead. Our life is thine. It is not ours. Our head and our heart are enlightened and warmed by thy glory and by thy love.

Take care of us every one, we are so foolish, and so easily led away from the light and the beauty of thy holiness. Never forsake us; take hold of both our hands, and surround us with fire that cannot be broken through. Thou knowest all the circle of our life. The old pilgrims, who have but a mile or two at the most still to go until they reach the end—their lives are behind them, they cannot do any mighty works because of the feebleness of age, and the brevity of time. The Lord comfort such; the Lord himself send tender Gospels to hearts long-tired and greatly enriched with Christian experience. Remember, too, the little ones, for they are all thine. Baptize them with the dew of the morning, and baptize them with the fire of noontide; when they come towards the evening of life may their recollection be turned into a prophecy of still brighter revelation. Be kind unto the sick, the weary, the long-ailing, whose days are nights, and whose nights are a burden of darkness. The Lord himself give patience to those who watch, and hope to those who suffer.

We commend the whole world to thee. It is but a little one, a mere speck in thy firmament, but what tragedies has it not seen! Thou dost in little spaces reveal thine own infinitude. This is the miracle of God; this is the wonder of life; this is the revelation of light. Save the world in every land and every place, and by the mighty power of the Holy Ghost work upon the nations until they shall all bow down before the uplifted Cross, and cry unto thy Son for the baptism of all-cleansing blood. Amen.

Acts 8:26-40

26. And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philippians , saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza [one of the five chief cities of the Philistines], which is desert.

27. And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia [now called Nubia and Abyssinia], an eunuch of great authority under Candace [the usual name of Ethiopian queens] queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship [as proselytes did as well as Jews].

28. Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. [Probably a copy of the Greek translation.]

29. Then the Spirit said unto Philippians , Go near, and join thyself to his chariot [doubtless followed by a numerous retinue].

30. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?

31. And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.

32. The place of the Scripture which he read was this, he was led as a sheep to the slaughter: and like a lamb dumb before his shearers, so opened he not his mouth.

33. In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.

34. And the eunuch answered Philippians , and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?

35. Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same Scripture, and preached unto him Jesus,

36. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?

37. And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. [The whole of this verse is omitted in the oldest MSS.]

38. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

39 And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip [ 1 Kings 18:12], that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.

40. But Philip was found at Azotus [Asdod, another of the five cities]: and passing through he preached in all the cities till he came to Csarea [the chief city in Palestine under the Roman rule].

The Ethiopian Convert.—A Typical Man

HOW did Philip know what the Ethiopian traveller was reading? If we saw a chariot passing along our street, and a man engaged in reading a book, we could not by any possibility know what he was reading or what was his condition of mind. How then did Philip know? Here we are reminded that it was the habit of the Jews, and of other Eastern people, not only to read, but to read aloud, and accompany their reading oftentimes by vehement gesticulation. There is no difficulty therefore about this matter of Philip knowing what the Ethiopian eunuch was reading. The great Jewish teachers insisted in many instances upon their scholars reading aloud: they would say, in effect, "If you wish this word to abide in you, you must speak it aloud." And in the Proverbs we have a sentiment to the effect that the words of truth give life to them that utter them forth. We know something about this experience in our own life. Some men could never commit anything to memory if they could not speak the lesson aloud. It is more easy for some minds to learn by the ear than by the eye; their minds require both the eye and the ear to cooperate in the act of memory. I speak to the experience probably of many when I say that utterance aloud is often a very powerful aid to mental retentiveness.

Let us look upon this Ethiopian as a typical man. This is not an instance so many hundreds of years old: it falls easily within our accustomed method of viewing Biblical history. The Ethiopian still lives amongst us. We have not overpassed him on the earth. He is yet in his chariot, he is yet reading ancient Scripture, and he is yet waiting for the one man that can lead him onward from morning twilight to noontide glory. Let us look at this man as an enquirer. He was in a bewildered state of mind. I do not visit with rebuke the bewilderment of honest enquiry. In the realm of spiritual revelation things are not superficial, easy of arrangement, and trifling in issue. Who can wonder that a man in reading the Old Testament should feel like a traveller making his uneasy way through a land of cloud and shadow? Do not be distressed because you are puzzled and bewildered by religious mystery. The most advanced minds in the Church have had to pass through precisely your experience. But the path of the just shineth more and more unto the perfect day. Do not make idols of your perplexities. Do not make a boast of your bewilderment. You know that there is a subtle temptation in that direction—to talk about your doubts and difficulties in a tone which suggests that yours is so critical and so judicial a mind that it is not to be put off with the easy solutions that have satisfied intellects of an inferior order. Be honest in your bewilderment, and be simple and true-hearted. The eunuch was not only bewildered: he was teachable. He said, "I wonder what this means; would that some man could join me in this study and throw light upon this mystery; I feel lonely; the voice of a teacher would now gladden me; I would that God would send some director to show me the meaning of this and lead me into the light." Teachableness is one of the first characteristics of honesty. There is no religious honesty that is not adorned by the spirit of docility. If you are self-trustful, if you walk by your own lights, if you contend, even silently and passively, that it lies within the compass of your power to find out everything for yourself, then you are not a scholar in the school of Christ; you are stubborn, you are dogmatical, and, as such, you deprive yourself of all the gifts of Providence. Yet how few people are teachable! So many of us go to the Bible and find proofs of what we already believe. Is this not solemnly true? Whatever your form of Church government Isaiah , you go to the Bible and find a text to vindicate it. Whatever your particular theology Isaiah , you open the Scripture with the express purpose of finding in it a proof that you are right. This is not the spirit of Christ. The true believer goes with an unprejudiced mind, truly humble, honestly desirous of knowing what is true. No matter who lives or dies, who goes up or goes down, what is truth must be, and ever Isaiah , the supreme enquiry of honest and teachable spirits. The danger is that we become mere traditionalists. This was the great blemish in Jewish education. Men believed what was handed on to them from one generation to another, without personal enquiry into the foundations and roots of the doctrines they were required to accept. Do not call such acceptance by the noble name of faith. You who accept doctrines in that fashion are not students, or scholars, or enquirers: you are merely passive and indifferent custodians, uttering words which have in them no rays of life, and no pith of pathos and reality. Would that we could all come to the Bible afresh, divesting the mind of everything we ever heard, and reading the Scriptures through from end to end, turning over every page with the breath of this prayer—"Spirit Divine, show me what is truth." We might lose a good deal of our present possession, but we should be enlarged with other and better treasures. Every man would then have the Bible dwelling richly in him, not as a series of separate and isolated texts, but as a spirit, a genius, a Revelation , a guardian angel.

Being bewildered and yet teachable, there can be no surprise that as an enquirer the ennuch was, in the third place, obedient. The Gospel does not ask us to set up our little notions against its revelation. A revelation cannot afford to be argumentative upon common terms. Any Gospel that comes to me with a quiver in its voice, with a hesitancy or a reserve in its tone, vitiates its own credentials, and steps down from the pedestal of commanding authority. The eunuch, having heard the sermon preached to him by Philippians , obeyed. "Here is water, what hindereth me to be baptized?" He would have the whole thing completed at once. So many persons are afraid that they are not fit, or they are not prepared. They have heard the Gospel a quarter of a century or more, but still they are wondering about themselves. Such people are not humble, they are dishonest; they are trifling with themselves and with others; they have not reached the point of teachableness, but are still lingering with selfish delight in the land of bewilderment. What hindereth him? No man should hinder you from coming to Christ. I fear sometimes that the function of the modern Church is to get up hindrances, to make fences, and boundaries, and lines, over which men have to step, and hills over which they have to climb. These are men-made hindrances. In the Gospel I find but one word for all honest, teachable men, and that one word is—Welcome! Hindrances are man"s inventions. As to the form of baptism, please yourself. It is not a matter of form; it is a matter of meaning and spirit. Some believe in adult baptism, others believe in what is termed believers baptism; and I believe in LIFE-baptism. So that wherever I find human life in this blood-redeemed world, I would baptize it in the Triune Name. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. Baptism is greater than any form of baptism.

For a moment or two, regard this treasurer of the Ethiopians not only as an enquirer, but as a hearer, and then note his personal characteristics. First of all, as a hearer, he was prepared; he was already seriously perusing the mysterious volume. He had not to be called from afar. Already he was in the sanctuary. Where are prepared hearers nowadays? Where are those who come to Church from the Bible itself; full of the prophets, their steps to the sanctuary beating time to the noble music of the Psalm? What is the work of Philip nowadays? It is to persuade, to plead, to break through iron-bound attention and fix it upon spiritual realities. Philip has now to deal with men who are reading the journals of the day, the fiction of the hour, and the exciting discussions of the passing time, and from any one of these engagements to the Scriptures of God there may lie unnumbered thousands of miles! So we get so little in the Church. We do not lift up our heads from the prophetic page and turn a glowing face and an eager eye upon the Philip whom God has sent to teach us. Our ear is full of the hum of the world. Our mind is dazed by many cross lights; our attention is teazed by a thousand appellants. Could we have prepared hearers, as well as prepared preachers, then in five minutes a man might preach five hours, because every word would be a Revelation , and every tone a call to higher life. A prepared pulpit fights against infinite odds when it has to deal with an unprepared pew.

Not only was the Ethiopian a prepared hearer, he was a responsive one. He answered Philip. His eye listened, his attitude listened, his breath listened. His head, his heart, his will, all listened. Who can now listen? To hear is a divine accomplishment. Who hears well? To have a responsive hearer is to make a good preacher. The pew makes the pulpit. It is possible to waste supreme thought and utterance upon an indifferent hearer. But let the hearer answer, and how high the dialogue, how noble the exchange of thought, how possibly grand the issues of such high converse! Do not suppose that a man is not answering his teacher simply because he is not audibly speaking to him. There is a responsive attitude, there is an answering silence, there is an applauding quietude, there is a look, which is better than thunders of applause! Let us study the eunuch"s conduct in this matter, and endeavour to reproduce it. He was prepared, he was responsive; what wonder if in the long run he became a new creature? He helped Philip; he preached by listening.

We might pass on now from looking at the eunuch as an enquirer, and as a hearer, to regard him for a moment as a convert. As a convert he was an enlightened one. He had passed from the prophetic to the evangelic, he had seen the Cross, he knew on whom he had believed, and he pronounced his name with sublimest emphasis. "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." Then Philip must have been preaching this doctrine. You know the sermon by the hearer. Say ye, "It was a beautiful sermon, an exquisite piece of reasoning, a model of persuasiveness?" When you blaspheme after hearing it, and serve the devil with double industry after having passed an hour in God"s house,—that is wrong, that is lying! Show the solidity, the Scripturalness, the power, the practical tendencies of the discourse by living it! Being an enlightened convert, the eunuch was a convert deeply convinced in his own mind. There are hereditary Christians, nominal Christians, halting Christians, merely assenting, and non-enquiring Christians. "And they because they have not much deepness of earth soon wither away." There are also convinced Christians, men who have fought battles in darkness and have dragged the prey to the mountains of light. They are those who have undergone all the pain, the happy pain, the joyous agony, of seeking for truth in difficult places, and, proving it, have embraced it at the altar as if they had wedded the bride of their souls. These will make martyrs if need be. These are the pillars of the Church; men not tossed to and fro, but abiding in a noble steadfastness. In the use of this incident there is another point connected with the eunuch"s experience as a convert which we must not overlook,—he was enlightened, he was convinced, and in the third place he was exultant. "He went on his way rejoicing." You have not seen Christ if you are not filled with joy. You have seen him in a cloud; you have seen a painted mask that professes to represent him; you have seen some ghastly travesty of the beauty of Christ. Had you seen God"s Song of Solomon , the Saviour of the world, every dreary note would have been taken out of your voice; you would have forgotten the threnody of your old winter, and have begun to sing with the birds of summer. See the eunuch, oblivious even of Philip"s presence. He does not know probably that Philip was gone. He was lifted up in sublime ecstasy and divine enthusiasm. He saw divine things, new heavens, a new earth, bluer skies, greener lands, than he had ever seen before, and in that transfiguration he saw Jesus only. Philippians , miraculously sent, was miraculously withdrawn, but there sat in the chariot now "one like unto the Son of Man." It is thus that intermediate preachers prepare the way for the incoming of their Master. And so preacher after preacher says, as he sees the radiant vision coming—" He must increase, but I must decrease."

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 8:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/acts-8.html. 1885-95.

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