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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary

Acts 16



Verse 9

Acts 16:9

Before every well-done work the vision comes. We dream before we accomplish. What is all our boyhood, that comes before our life, and thinks and pictures to itself what that life shall be, that fancies and resolves and is impatient—what is it but just the vision before the work, the dream of Europe coming to many a young life, as it sleeps at Troas, on the margin of the sea? The visions before the work; it is their strength that conquers the difficulties and lifts men up out of the failures, and redeems the tawdriness or squalidness of the labour that succeeds. The aspect of the man of Macedonia reveals the real state of the case with reference to the essential need of the human soul for the gospel.

I. The first need is a God to love and worship. If you are not to lose that highest reach of love and fear where, uniting, they make worship, must you not have God? Woe to the man who loses the faculty for worship, the faculty of honouring and fearing not merely something better than himself, but something which is the absolute best, the perfect good—his God! The life is gone out of his life when this is gone. There is a cloud upon his thought, a palsy on his action, a chill upon his love. Because you must worship, therefore you must have God.

II. But more than this. Every man needs not merely a God to worship, but also—taking the fact which meets us everywhere of an estrangement by sin between mankind and God—every man needs some power to turn him and bring him back, some reconciler, some saviour for his soul. There is an orphanage, a home-sickness of the heart which has gone up into the ear of God, and called the Saviour, the Reconciler, to meet it by His wondrous life and death.

III. Man needs spiritual guidance. The power of the Holy Spirit! an everlasting spiritual pressure among men! what but that is the thing we want? The power of the Holy Ghost, by which every man who is in doubt may know what is right, every man whose soul is sick may be made spiritually whole, every weak man may be made a strong man—this is God's one sufficient answer to the endless appeal of man's spiritual life.

Phillips Brooks, The Candle of the Lord, p. 91.

A Cry for Help.

I. Each one must have been struck with the beauty and the tenderness and the depth which there is in that word help. "Help us." It implies that there is, which I suppose there is in every living creature under heaven, a feeling consciously or unconsciously which looks out for help. Every one has his aspirations; in every one there is a standard higher than he can reach, a sense of something beyond him, which he sees and admires and wishes to be and cannot. It is the immortality of the man—it is the relic of the lost image—it is the cry of the void of a heart which once was filled. Weakness, miserable weakness, is the child of sin, and there are times when the hardest and the proudest feel it. You may assume it, every one who has not God sometimes has the thought, though it does not clothe itself in words—"Help us."

II. We hold that if a heathen man lives up to the light of his natural conscience, by that light of conscience he will be judged, and if he have obeyed it, he will not be condemned. But then the objection meets us, If this be so, is it not better to let the heathen alone? For if a man who follows the light of reason will not perish, and if to refuse Christ be the condemnation, and the responsibility therefore of knowing Christ so tremendous, surely they are safer as they are! If we, with all the assistance which we derive from education, from the piety of those about us, from the Bible, from the means of grace, find it so very difficult to do what is right, and to act out the dictates of our better mind, what must the difficulty be to a heathen, who has none of these, but all the counteracting influences of evil about him! Is not the gospel practically essential to the heathen, to enable him to fulfil the condition, on which alone he can escape eternal punishment? What the heathen want is help. There is a power abroad in the world to which nothing is really an antagonistic force but Christ only. Let us then obey the more than mortal voice by which the little good that is in everything everywhere in itself pleads silently, in Christ cries loudly, "Come over and help us."

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 2nd series, p. 51.

References: Acts 16:9.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv., No. 189; Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 115; J. Oswald Dykes, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv., p. 296; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 124. Acts 16:9-40.—New Outlines on the New Testament, p. 89. Acts 16:13, Acts 16:14.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix. No. 544. Acts 16:14.—J. Burton, Christian Life and Truth, p. 44; J. C. Postans, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 404; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 85.

Verse 14-15

Acts 16:14-15

The Conversion of Lydia.

I. Lydia was listening: "And a certain woman named Lydia, heard us." Great stress is laid in the Bible on hearing: "Faith cometh by hearing."

II. Lydia listened attentively. She paid heed—eagerly laid hold of the great truths enunciated by the Apostle. If you lay hold of the truth, the truth will lay hold of you. Once the hearers of the gospel reach this stage of close, anxious attention, this eager grasping of the truth, there is every reason to believe they will be led on to a full and saving knowledge of it.

III. She listened attentively in her heart: "Whose heart the Lord opened to attend." Life before light—hearts before heads: that is the fundamental principle of the gospel.

IV. Lydia was listening attentively with her heart opened.

V. Lydia listened attentively with her heart opened wide by the Lord. The text shows that the opening of her heart was (1) gradual, (2) gentle.

J. C. Jones, Studies in the Acts, p. 280.

Reference: Acts 16:16.—W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 227.

Verses 29-31

Acts 16:29-31


I. What a "manifold wisdom" is the wisdom of God! how infinitely various are His ways in the work of the conversion of souls and the bringing of sinners to Himself! One is never more struck with this than in comparing the two records of conversion which this chapter contains and which befel in the same city—the conversion of Lydia and the conversion of the Philippian jailer. The first, what a quiet work!—the evening dews do not light more gently, more imperceptibly on the earth than did the doctrine of the Lord light and distil upon her heart. He that hath the key of David with a touch of the key caused the chambers of her heart to fly open, so that she attended unto the things spoken of Paul, and almost without an effort, for so it would appear, was born into the kingdom of God. Contrast this with the mighty though brief birth-pang with which the jailer was born into the same kingdom, the earthquake of fear which shook his soul, the agony of terror out of which he cried, "What must I do to be saved?"

II. And what is the lesson which we may draw from this comparison and contrast? It is this. Let none of us make rules for conversion, either in our own case or in that of others; how it should come about, and what exactly are the successive stages of the process through which one who is brought to God must pass; so that if any has not passed exactly through these we will not believe that the work has been wrought in him at all. No man is in this matter in all things a pattern to others. God is greater than our rules; He refuses to be shut in by them. There is a boundless, inexhaustible originality in His methods of dealing with souls. All which concerns thee—and this does concern thee more than everything besides—is this, namely, that the thing itself shall have been done, and that thou shalt have indeed asked the great question, "What must I do to be saved?" and that thou shalt have received into thine heart of hearts the all-including, answer, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved," and shalt have so received it, that out of this there shall be now unfolding itself in thee a life of conformity to the will of God, thou walking in all those good works which He had prepared for thee to walk in.

R. C. Trench, Sermons in Ireland, p. 142.

References: Acts 16 Preacher's 30.—Monthly, vol. iii., p. 306; T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i., p. 1. Acts 16:30, Acts 16:31.—J. Burton, Christian Life and Truth, p. 146; J. Natt, Posthumous Sermons, p. 152; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 55. Acts 16:31.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi., No. 293; Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 127; vol. viii., p. 147; H. Robjohns, Ibid., vol. xvi., p. 280; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 233; E. Cooper, Practical Sermons, vol. ii., p. 47. Acts 16:32-34.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii., No. 1019.

Verse 40

Acts 16:40

The Gospel brought into Europe.

We have in this story:—

I. The old lesson of the power of small things, or rather the power of the earnest heart and steady purpose working by means of common things. Although the Apostle has come by Divine sanction to far-famed Philippi, he comes like an ordinary traveller, goes out quietly to the banks of the little stream, where he has heard that there is prayer, and even then he does not preach, but sits down and talks to the listening women. How many Christian people still have no other opportunity than just such as this, and could not use a greater if it were given. All they can do is to talk to a few simple folk, women or men, or young people. But how great the results may be! How one becomes many, and simplicity becomes grandeur! Call nothing little, call nothing common; if you can speak to fellow-mortals of Christ's grace and the Father's love, know that you are standing at the source of rivers of immortal life.

II. It is a notable thing that the first European convert is a woman. Lydia is a kind of personal Jerusalem—she is the mother of us all. She stands here at the gate of the Western continent, is the first to receive the blessing and to send it on. In that fact we have the pledge and actual beginning of woman's elevation. She is no longer to be drudge, slave, plaything to man. She is to enter the kingdom by his side. Christ's gospel is a kingdom of souls, of sacrifice, of virtues; and they stand highest in it who have the simplest faith, the largest charities, the tenderest hearts.

III. We have in the deliverance of the slave-girl another typical and prophetic circumstance. It would be almost universally allowed that the two most important social revolutions produced by Christianity are the amelioration of the condition of woman and the abolition of slavery. And here in Philippi we have the second as well as the first.

IV. The conversion of the jailer, who was probably a Roman soldier, points to the influence that the Christian religion was destined to exert over law and political institutions and prevailing idolatries and civil governments. This conquest over a soldier and servant of Rome is indicative of the subjection of the great empire herself under the sway of the Cross.

V. The order of the conversions is worthy of notice. The proselyte, the Greek, the Roman—that has been the order of the diffusion of Christianity throughout the world; and it is so in principle at this day. We expect our first successes among those who have had some religious advantages, our next among the susceptible around, and our last among the men of the world.

VI. Observe also the recognised importance of the family in this wonderful narrative. There are three converts, and two of them bring their households with them. The family is to be, in God's plan, one organic whole, not a number of separate and jarring individualities.

VII. Finally, Jesus Christ stands out here, as everywhere, to be worshipped, trusted, loved, and followed. Believe on Him, and thou shalt be saved. Honour Him, and He will give thee honour. Open to Him thy house, and He will fill it with the fragrance of His presence.

A. Raleigh, From Dawn to the Perfect Day, p. 265.


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Acts 16:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary".

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