Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. AN ADMIRABLE ARGUMENT. Paul, at the inspiration of the moment, made a powerful defense of his position. He showed:
1. That no one could enter into their feelings more perfectly than himself. Was he not a Jew by birth (ver. 3)? Had he not received a thoroughly Jewish education, at the feet of a Jewish master (ver. 3)? Had he not been absolutely possessed by a devotedness to the Law, and a corresponding hatred of the new "Way" (ver. 4)? Had they not the evidence in their own hands of the bitter and unrelenting persecution of which he had been the eager and active agent (ver. 5)? If, then, he was found advocating this hated "Way," it was not because he did not understand Jewish sympathies, nor because he had always been one of its votaries; quite the contrary.
2. That no one could possibly have weightier reasons for changing his mind than he had. First came a heavenly vision, arresting him in his path of persecution, and forbidding him to continue (vers. 6-11). Then came a powerful confirmation, in a miracle of healing of which he himself was the subject and of which a most honorable and estimable Jew was the instrument (vers. 12, 13); and a further confirmation in the message with which he was charged (vers. 14-16). Then came a third influence of a powerful character in the shape of another manifestation, and a command, against which he vainly strove, to go out and work among the Gentiles (vers. 18-21).
II. A SENSELESS AND SUICIDAL EXASPERATION. (Vers. 22, 23.) Such was the violent antipathy in the minds of his audience to any fellowship with the Gentile world that all Paul's arguments went for nothing. This was such an opportunity as was little likely to recur, of having the facts of the case placed plainly and forcibly before their minds; it was a day of grace to them. But so utterly prejudiced were they that one word filled them with a senseless exasperation which stole from them the golden chance they had of learning the truth, and which riveted the chains of error and exclusiveness they wore upon their souls. This defense of the apostle and this exasperation of his audience may suggest to us:
1. The fullness of the Divine argument. God "reasons with" us. He does so
(1) in proof of his own presence and providence in the world;
(2) in proof of the heavenly origin of the gospel of his grace; and
(3) in furtherance of our personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of our soul. The Divine arguments and inducements are very strong, and they are very varied. They include the miraculous and the ordinary; they appeal to the human consciousness, to history, and to daily observation; they are based on well-attested facts; they appeal to our hopes and to our fears, to our sense of what is due to our Creator and of what we owe to ourselves, of obligation and of wisdom. They are mighty, urgent, convincing, one would say - but for sad facts which argue to the contrary - overwhelming.
2. The foolish and fatal anger which it sometimes excites. There are those who, when God speaks to them in nature, providence, or privilege, instead of lending their ear to his word and bowing their spirit to his will, are only angered and exasperated; they go still further away from him in increased alienation, in still more determined rebelliousness of soul. But so doing
(1) they aggravate their guilt; and
(2) they cut down the bridge by which they might cross to the heavenly kingdom. - C.
I. THE PERIOD BEFORE CONVERSION. (Vers. 3-5.) He speaks throughout of himself; but in the background of his thought is the providence and the grace of Him who had called him out from darkness into his marvelous light. He was a Jew, strictly educated in the Law, and a zealot for God. And yet a persecutor. A lesson for us all against the over-valuation of learning and of orthodoxy. He had tried the way of zealotry and persecution, as Luther had tried that of monkery, sincerely seeking salvation, but without success. The memory of his earlier time is one mingled with thankfulness and penitence, as indeed all our memories must be. In his good education and in his unhappy errors he could trace the hand of God. Boasting is in every case excluded.
II. HIS CONVERSION. (Vers. 6-15.)
1. The great light from heaven on the way to Damascus. It disclosed the dark ways of sin and error in which the heart had been wandering; and at the same time lighted up the ways of Divine grace by which the convinced soul was to be led, and the path of duty the new-born soul was to follow. He is led by the hand, as into a mystery, which only the Divine wisdom shall gradually unfold. Jesus, still lead on! Like led children ever we enter the kingdom of heaven.
2. The ordination by the hands of Ananias. A pious man according to the Law. God knows all his servants, and the work for which each is best fitted. Here is a mirror for all preachers. They should bring to the office knowledge and experience of the working of God's grace upon the heart. They must in their office be like St. Paul - witnesses before all men, by word and conversation, of that which they have seen and heard. And their comfort may in like manner be that he who has called will strengthen, edify, and support them in their calling.
III. HIS COMMISSION. (Vers. 17-21.) He is praying in the temple, his soul overwhelmed by the weight of those Divine communications. The voice says, "Hasten, and go quickly out of Jerusalem!" Paul meets the call with reluctance. This struggle is among the incidents of the strife of the Spirit of God with our spirit. We would stay when he bids to go. "Lord, I will follow thee, but - " Sometimes it is fear, as in Jonah's case; sometimes it is modesty, as with Moses and Jeremiah; or conscientiousness, as with Peter (Acts 10:14); or compassion, as with Abraham at Sodom, and Paul with Israel. Over against all our buts stands the firm command of God, "Go hence!" Only he who overcomes his hesitation in full trust in the perfect right and wisdom of that command will be enabled by-and-by to say, "He has done all things well." - J.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES.
1. On the castle stairs.
2. Addressed to a tumultuous mob, full of passionate, murderous feeling, quelled for the moment by Paul's self-control and the captain's influence, showing that they feared Rome, though they feared not God, and had no desire to know the truth.
3. The magic of the Hebrew tongue, that is, the Syriac or Aramaic Hebrew, which touched their national sympathies, and at once laid to rest any suspicions that Paul was a foreigner desecrating the temple.
II. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE SPEECH. Facts speak for themselves. Once I was blind as you; now I see. The convert relating his experience. Power of such testimonies when simply and faithfully narrated. The evidence that Jesus was the Christ. The reason for Paul's mission to the Gentiles.
III. THE DOOM OF JERUSALEM FORESHADOWED. "They will not receive of thy testimony concerning me." Resistance to the Holy Ghost. Stephen's blood was crying out, and now they would have Paul's. The messenger sent from heaven unto the Gentiles betokened the Divine judgments about to be poured out on Jerusalem, and the blessing taken from them and given to those who would return faithfully the fruits of the vineyard.
IV. THE HOLY BOLDNESS OF THE MAN who could speak thus to an infuriated mob. His confidence in truth, in his own mission, in the works of the Spirit, in the future of the Christian Church; and his fearlessness of man. - R.
Acts 9.). The repetition is valuable for several reasons. It both adds and omits some particulars. It gives us Paul's own version in his own words, instead of what must still have been essentially his own version, but which was probably rehearsed in the historian's words. It gives us the advantage also of comparison in those parts which exhibit slight differences, and we gain a fuller impression of Paul's experience. We may imagine that Paul bad been almost tremblingly anxious the past hour or two for this opportunity; and the moment that the lashed and angry waves were hushed was a proud moment for him had he been merely the human orator, but much rather a prized moment as he was the Christian orator. He has heard wild and baseless accusations passionately hurled at him, and just so long as might were right, he might be supposed to hold himself answerable to unjust earthly judges, as well as to the one true Judge and one merciful Master. But beyond a doubt something else than personal defense was in his heart, and his eye spied a grand opportunity. For this "defense" it may be claimed that it is -
I. THE DEFENSE OF A MAN. For:
1. It must be held to be the outcome of, not craven fear, but the rising spirit of a true man. Very certain it is that not one out of a hundred would have risen to the occasion. Disheartenment, despair, perhaps disdain, would have locked close the lips of most men. But Paul does not consent to "give up," or to show anything in the shape of temper answering to the intolerant spirit of the multitude.
2. It was the acknowledgment (however undeserved in the individual case) of the respect naturally due in the society of human life from one man to his fellows. Such respect is all the more to be honored in the observance by the man who, whether Paul or Galileo, may be confessedly making a "new departure" of wide significance. History shows that it has been the lot of such men, not in religion only, to be made sufferers. The noblest examples of martyrs have been of those who have done nothing to bring it upon themselves by any manifestation of the defiant spirit.
3. Every word of it was the utterance of conscious rectitude.
4. It was a noble, typical example of the strength "in its glory" of the individual conscience against the senseless strength and intolerance of a mob.
II. THE DEFENSE OF A CHRISTIAN. For:
1. This defense was through the whole length of it a connected confession to a change wrought by Christ. The change was a great one. The pride of man offered every conceivable hindrance to it. The surrender was one that meant the profoundest acknowledgment of the opponent's victory. And Christ was the victor's Name. When Paul, therefore, defends his altered self and his altered course of life, his altered faith and hopes and methods, there is not an aspect of the defense which can be described as other than Christian.
2. The defense of himself was forthwith transmuted by Paul into a testimony for Christ. This was the mark and very stamp of both Christian design and Christian method. With manifest fire of zeal, he seizes the favorable and welcomed opportunity. He gives us the impression that this is the thing that has been in his eye of late. Paul may have been answerable in some degree for the commotion of the day. If so, now his task, embraced with all the energy that the very spirit of fidelity can throw into it, is to proclaim Christ. And when a man will so even vindicate himself as yet more to testify Christ, his self-vindication merits at least the title of the defense of a true Christian man.
3. This defense was perfect in its temper, and free from all betrayal of irritation; it makes its statement of facts with the utmost simplicity, but with unwavering confidence.
4. Lastly, at the point of supreme danger, it does not turn aside. The fact which Paul well knew was intolerable to the ears of his hearers, but vital to the truth, is steadily pursued, is arrived at, and then is distinctly announced, without an attempt at qualifying it or softening its effect. This was "not shunning to declare the whole counsel of God." And it marked the quality of the Christian hero; it spoke the firmness of the Christian martyr; perhaps best of all it established conclusively the title of Paul to the name of the true Christian man. - B.
I. IT AMOUNTS TO A FORCIBLE TESTIFYING TO THE FACT OF THE WORKING AND FORCE OF GOD'S PRESENCE IN HUMAN LIFE.
II. IT IS A STIMULUS OR OTHERWISE AN ABIDING REBUKE TO OTHER MEN WHO OWN TO NO LIVING CONSCIOUSNESS OF THAT PRESENCE OR CO-OPERATION WITH IT.
III. IT IS HELPFUL GUIDANCE IN MANY DIRECTIONS TO THOSE "WHO BELIEVE" IN THEIR OWN RELIGIOUS COURSE.
IV. IT FREQUENTLY OFFERS AMAZING INSTANCES OF THE GOODNESS, LOVE, AND POWER OF GOD AND OF CHRIST AND OF THE SPIRIT.
V. IT ABOUNDS IN EXEMPLIFICATIONS OF HUMAN NATURE UNDER CERTAIN MOST SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES AND TREATMENT, AND OF ITS BEHAVIOUR UNDER SUCH TREATMENT.
VI. IT IS NOT ONLY HONORING TO GOD AND A GLORIFYING OF HIM, BUT IT IS USEFUL TO MEN, TO BIND THEMSELVES BY SOLEMN OBLIGATION OF PUBLIC PROFESSION BEFORE MEN. - B.
(1) the scene;
(2) the audience;
(3) the orator.
1. The scene. Dean Plumptre has the following suggestive note: - "The position was one which raised him (St. Paul) above the people, and the characteristic gesture commanded instant attention. And he spoke, not as they expected, in the Greek, which belonged to one who fraternized with the Gentiles, but in the Hebrew, or Aramaic, which he had studied at the feet of Gamaliel. It was a strange scene for that Feast of Pentecost. The face and form of the speaker may have been seen from time to time by some during his passing visits to Jerusalem; but there must have been many who had not heard him take part in public action since the day when, twenty-five years before, he had kept the garments of those who were stoning Stephen. And now he was there, accused of the selfsame crimes, making his defense before a crowd as wild and frenzied as that of which he had then been the leader."
2. The audience. Notice that it was largely composed of foreign Jews, who were present at the feast; and that those foreign Jews were often more intensely bigoted than the Jerusalem Jews, - they would certainly have more knowledge of St. Paul, and more personally antagonistic feelings against him. Some of them had recognized him, and raised the excitement which nearly led to his death. Show how utterly unreasonable such a mob becomes; no appeal can be made to their intelligence; usually they can only be dispersed by force, or their excitement must be allowed to spend itself and wear itself out.
3. The orator; a weak, frail man, with a personal presence which men called contemptible, but with the natural gift for swaying an audience. As soon as he spoke men were hushed to listen, as they always are when the born orator stands before them. Perhaps St. Paul's gifts as a writer have filled our thought, so that we have not duly recognized what a splendid "command of men" he had in his great gift of speech. The point which he sought to impress on his audience on this occasion was the "sincerity of his Judaism." That was the thing impugned. He was declared to be such an unworthy Jew that he had defiled the temple by bringing an Ephesian Gentile into it. The proper answer was a full declaration of his honest and complete loyalty to Judaism. This he made -
I. BY ADDRESSING THEM IN THE HEBREW TONGUE. Not in Gentile Greek. "It might be that he did this simply because they understood it better, but it may have been also because, as the language showed him to be a countryman of their own, they were disposed to think him less guilty than the Asian Jews had represented him to be" (F. Bungener). "One who spoke in Hebrew was not likely to blaspheme the sacred Hebrew books."
II. BY ASSURING THEM OF HIS LIFELONG LOYALTY TO HEBREW PRINCIPLES. His birth was unquestionably Jewish. His education was most distinctly Jewish; for he was even educated at Jerusalem, and by their most honored teacher. His Judaism was so sincere and so intense that he had been the most active and energetic persecutor of the Nazarenes. And Ananias, the well-known devout Jew, had brought God's commands to him (ver. 12).
III. BY AFFIRMING THAT, IF HE SEEMED TO HAVE TAKEN A NEW LINE, HE HAD ONLY OBEYED JEHOVAH, THE GOD OF THEIR HEBREW FATHERS. This is the point of St. Paul's advance. Jehovah had appeared to him, had given him special directions, and, as a loyal Jew, he could only obey those directions. Jehovah had shown him that Jesus was Messiah. Jehovah had sent him forth on his mission among the Gentiles. He had never dishonored Judaism, never broken with it. He was still the same "born Jew" as ever (ver. 14). - R.T.
I. PERSONAL DIVINE REVELATIONS HAVE COME IN EVERY AGE. Distinguish between the ordinary inspirations which may direct a man's preaching and writing, and the special occasions on which God may tell his mind and purpose, or give some trust and some work to an individual. Such personal revelations do not necessarily affirm the superiority in character, or in Divine favor, of the person communicated with; but they always declare the Divine recognition of a special fitness and adaptation for the work assigned; and our attention should be fixed on the fitness and the work rather than on the privilege that may be involved in having such a trust. Illustrations of personal revelations may be taken from
(1) the patriarchal age;
(2) the times of the judges;
(3) the prophets. It should be shown how well the selection of individuals, and direct communication with them, fits in with the idea of a theocracy. God, as actual and ever-present Sovereign of the nation, has the right to ask for any man's service, and to address himself directly to whomsoever he pleases. And nothing is more reasonable than to expect he will do so. Coming to later times, we get illustration
(4) from John the Baptist;
(5) from the Lord Jesus Christ regarded as a man called to a special mission; and
(6) from the apostles, e.g. St. Peter in the matter of Cornelius. What is called the conversion of St. Paul, but is more properly his call, is a case in perfect harmony with all that had gone before in the history of the nation. The God of the fathers, Jehovah, the theocratic King, had, by a gracious manifestation of himself and of his will, called the apostle to his service. This was the sole and all-sufficient explanation of his life and conduct; and this became his entire defense - "A revelation from God, the God of my fathers, has come to me, and I must obey it." Compare the main argument of Stephen's speech, which is this - God has not only spoken to our own nation in the Mosaic system, he has spoken directly to individuals age after age, but it has always been characteristic of the Jewish nation that they have resisted these prophet-revealers of God's will. Theoretically, they would admit that God might send messages directly to individuals; practically, they refused to recognize such messengers. This was proved once again in the case of St. Paul.
II. PERSONAL DIVINE REVELATIONS MAY COME NOW. This truth it may be difficult for us to receive; and, indeed, it needs to be stated with careful limitations and qualifications. Under the ministration of the Spirit, and with the Spirit actually witnessing in our hearts, it would seem that we can expect no direct Divine communications. Yet they do surely come to open hearts. It may be shown that they are granted:
1. In the spheres of truth. We cannot conceive of finality in the written revelation we have, but we may be sure that all further revelations will be in perfect harmony with that we have. We may, however, rather look for new apprehensions of truth than new truth.
2. In the spheres of duty. In the perplexing circumstances of life, hearts that are really open to God, and dependent on him, do receive direct Divine guidance.
3. In the spheres of work. God still speaks directly to the souls of his servants, calling some to the missionary field, some to the ministry, some to service for the children, and some to philanthropic labors. And, still, none of us may be "disobedient unto the heavenly vision." - R.T.
I. DIVINE ELECTION. "The God of our fathers hath chosen thee" (ver. 14). It will always be a difficulty to know what to think of the electing grace of God. But we are on safe ground when we say:
1. That God desires the well-being of every member of his human family. We may surely argue that it must be so; we may boldly affirm that it is so. Is it not written that God is one "who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4; see Ezekiel 18:23; Ezekiel 33:11; 2 Peter 3:9).
2. That he bestows special favors and privileges on some men; to some as not to others he gives intellectual faculty, material resources, educational advantages, domestic influences, providential guidance, knowledge of Christian truth in its purity and integrity, etc. These he "elects," or "chooses;" on them he confers distinguishing goodness.
II. A VISION OF THE RIGHTEOUS SAVIOR. "That thou shouldest... see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth" (ver. 14). To Saul there was vouchsafed a very special and peculiar manifestation of the risen Lord. In such wise as we do not, he saw the Just One himself and heard his voice. But Christ does present himself now to the sons of men, and he manifests himself as the Just One, as the Lord of righteousness. By a spiritual act we recognize Jesus Christ as:
1. That Being who is in himself the Holy and Righteous One, in whom is no trace of sin.
2. That Divine One who summons us to a new life of holiness and sacred service.
3. That Just One who, by his atoning death, has made the way open to our immediate justification, who has made it possible for us to attain to "the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Philippians 3:9). In the presence of him, the Just One, we are filled with shame; but by faith in his finished work we have acceptance with God and are accounted righteous (or, just) in his sight; and we yield ourselves to him and his service that his righteousness may be reproduced in us and in our human lives. Thus we come to do -
III. THAT WORK OF MAN WHICH IS THE WILL OF GOD. Paul was to "know his will" (ver. 14), and was to do that will by the accomplishment of his life-work, viz. by "being his witness unto all men." This, too, in our way and measure is to be our lifework, even as it was our Lord's (John 18:37). We are to bear witness of Christian truth by
(1) exemplary behavior;
(2) a devout and generous spirit;
(3) the word of testimony and exhortation, - this latter is to be experimental, such as is suggested by our own actual experience. Every Christian life is a failure if it be not an epistle read and known of all who are there to read it. - C.
I. THE SCRIPTURE HISTORY OF THE EPITHET, "THAT JUST ONE," AS APPLIED TO CHRIST. Six occasions in the historical portions of the New Testament illustrate its use, namely, when it comes from the lips of Pilate's wife and afterwards of Pilate (Matthew 27:19, 24); from the lips of the Roman centurion (Luke 23:47); of Peter (Acts 3:14); of Stephen (Acts 7:52); and of Ananias in the special quotation of Paul now (ver. 14). These testimonies are noticeable for the directness of their language, for the special identification of Christ as "this just Man," or "that just Man," or "the Just One," and for the character in each case of those who uttered them.
II. THE DEEPER SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SAME EPITHET AS APPLIED TO CHRIST.
1. Christ is the perfectly "righteous" One, and the only perfectly righteous One. All others have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. No other has kept the Law entirely - kept it in deed, in word, in thought, in affection, in zeal.
2. Christ's perfect righteousness is the qualification of the Mediator, that real, solemn, thrilling relationship which he sustained as between God and man.
3. Christ's perfect righteousness constituted the essential qualification of the propitiatory sacrifice. He "suffered for sins, the just for the unjust" (1 Peter 3:18). The "Advocate with the Father, and the Propitiation for out' sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world, is Jesus Christ the Righteous" (1 John 2:2)
4. Christ's perfect righteousness constitutes the perfection of his fitness to be Teacher and Exemplar to men on earth.
5. Christ's perfect righteousness is the stability of his throne of judgment, to be ere very long beheld and approached by every man who is or ever has been. He is "the Lord, the righteous Judge" (2 Timothy 4:8). - B.
Romans 11:29) of" the gifts and the calling of God;" and of them he says that they "are without repentance." The glorious occasion to which he gives prominence in the words of these verses exhibits the "calling" first, and the "gifts" next. At the same time, this same passage describes the calling of God (separate and sovereign act though it be in itself) as introductory to responsibilities, privileges, and gifts that followed upon it. There is not such a thing as a calling of God, to lie dormant. There is not such a thing as a calling of God, to terminate in the mere use or enjoyment of the person called. A calling of God infers a commission consequent upon it - nay, nothing less than involved in it under any circumstances. Here, however, it is not implied only, it is expressed as well, and that in a very significant mode. For immediate upon the mention of the calling or choosing comes that of -
I. A GREAT QUALIFICATION.
1. The Christian apostle, minister, teacher, must be one who "knows the will" of God.
2. He must be one who knows it very directly from the fountain-head. Hearsay will not suffice, imagination will not suffice, reason will not suffice.
II. A GRAND PRIVILEGE IN CONNECTION WITH THAT QUALIFICATION. Though Paul "was as one born out of clue season," these things are vouchsafed to him, namely, to "see" and to "hear" the "Just One." Some think Saul had seen Christ in the flesh. This passage may contribute something confessedly inconclusive to the disadvantage of the supposition. It is overwhelmingly improbable, in that Paul never speaks of it, as surely he would have done if it had been the case, even as he speaks of having seen Stephen and assisted at his martyrdom. This great grace, however, is now vouchsafed to Saul, that with vision of thousandfold force he is given to see the very Jesus ascended, and that with a keenness to hear beyond anything that he had experienced before he is granted to hear the own voice of the glorified Man Jesus. It is not that Saul had earned the gift - nay, it is not that to the end of a devoted life of fullest self-surrender he will ever be able to earn the gift. Paul is the disclaimer of merit. Nor is all the grace for Paul. How many lesser successors to him have taken their share of benefit, and the whole Church its share, when these have recalled that Jesus teaches:
1. How near a connection is necessary between himself and his servant-pioneers of the truth and heralds of salvation.
2. To this end how near he is willing to condescend to come to those servants.
3. And how he would embolden them to draw near to him in most believing faith and most loving trust of the heart, when the times should be such that he would no longer come in vision to them.
III. A VAST RESPONSIBILITY. It needs an angel intellect and an archangel heart to set an estimate at all equal to the truth upon the work committed into human hands when the ministry of Christ is accepted by them. They are then "witnesses for Christ to men." And three features of their great responsibility are here shadowed forth.
1. They are witnesses to a living One, a Personage, and not to a mere truth.
2. They are witnesses to him of the things that they know of "the Word of life" (1 John 1:1), through having seen him, heard him, looked upon him, and handled him, all in the deepest sense.
3. They are witnesses" to all men," as far as they can possibly in any way reach all men, and under any circumstances to all impartially. Deep was the impression that these communications (unmentioned elsewhere) had made on the mind of Paul. The words of Ananias, inspired most freshly as he was from the source, had dwelt deep-stored in his memory. And now, some twenty-five years afterwards, at a crisis most opportune, they come to the surface, they are full-charged with their own vitality; and are practically commended by Paul as embodying the charter of all who should be "witnesses for Christ." - B.
I. A CAREER OF UNTOLD POSSIBILITIES OF USEFULNESS AND HONOR IN THE MOTHER CITY JERUSALEM CUT SHOUT FOR PAUL.
1. We could imagine reasons why Paul would have felt his highest ambition fired by testifying, working, suffering, and dying for Jesus in Jerusalem, as;
(1) The mother city of the land and of God's favored people, renowned with ancient and special renown,
(2) The place at the very heart of Jewish life, where he would have longed to recant most publicly his one-time errors of creed, and retrieve whatever it were possible to retrieve of the effects of those errors. This would have been of what was most noble among the characteristics of Paul.
(3) The place which held the same relation to the religious world that Rome did to the heathen world.
(4) The place where the Master bore the grandest testimony of all his course, and suffered and died.
2. It needs little imagination to see that, let alone any sense of a noble ambition, Paul would feel that it would be one of the grandest opportunities of usefulness, at the very center of typical and peculiar risk and danger. From all this Paul is interdicted by a voice of sovereign authority, and on the plain ground of his own past of error.
II. A REMEDY IN CHRIST AGAINST ABJECT HOPELESSNESS, AGAINST SETTLED DESPAIR, AGAINST REMORSEFUL THROWING UP OF ENDEAVOR, IN THE PRESENCE OF THE RETRIBUTIVE ASPECTS OF HUMAN LIFE. The veto of Jesus Christ, spoken with authority to Paul, is nothing else than linked with a summons to other work and another sphere, that may turn into all equal usefulness and probably usefulness far greater. Notice the method of that summons.
1. Though to state the ground of it might be pain and might give pain, it is not wrapt in vague mystery and unsatisfying innuendo. It is, on the other hand, a grand instance of "Faithful are the wounds of a friend."
2. The summons exhibits a very distinct and emphatic value set upon the life and the useful employment of the servant somewhere or other. Twice, nay, thrice repeated is the direction to depart with "haste," "quickly," and unquestioningly. Men may depart like Jonah. But also they may depart for
(1) Christ's own command, announced in the individual conscience or by the living Spirit; and
(2) for greater toil and exposure, instead of for ease and hiding from work.
3. The summons announces, by a most gracious anticipation, an highly important substitute career. The man who has incapacitated himself by follies, by errors, even by sins, for some of the noblest of Christian service shall still not be cast away as useless. He is still good to do something; yes, to do much. The Master does not refuse the love or the service of the fallen, when they return, nor does he consent to treat with them only through others. First he saves them and protects them, and suggests his care and love of them. Then he gives them their work, though "far hence." And lastly, he does not withhold from their car to hear his own voice, "2' will send thee." What trust, what love, what forgivingness, and what streams of hope Jesus has to give - and gives to his own! - B.
Acts 9:15 this command is said to have come direct to Ananias, and to have been by him communicated to St. Paul. Of the direct message to St. Paul himself subsequently, at Jerusalem, this appears to be our only account (comp. the narrative in Acts 26:17). It is to be noticed that, though St. Paul thus distinctly knew what his mission was, he waited patiently until Divine directions or Divine providence clearly opened the way for him. And, while he waited, he cheerfully did the work which came to his hand. We proceed to dwell on three points:
(1) the sphere to which St. Paul was sent;
(2) the fitness of St. Paul for work in this particular sphere; and
(3) the influence which work in this sphere had upon St. Paul's own apprehensions of the truth. Noticing first what a strain upon his own Jewish feelings it must have involved for him to undertake this work, and how his doing so proves the sincerity and completeness of his conversion.
I. THE SPHERE TO WHICH THE APOSTLE WAS SENT. "The Gentiles." Jews divided the whole world into Jews and Gentiles; so St. Paul's mission was to all outside the Jewish nation. Illustrate how the prevalence of the Greek tongue, and the wide supremacy of the Roman rule, at this time opened the whole world to the gospel. Illustrate what variety of classes and of people the apostle met with in traveling, as he did, from Jerusalem and round about unto Illyricum. Recall the circumstances under which the apostle came to leave the synagogues and devote himself exclusively to the Gentile populations. And show what preparation there was for the gospel in Gentile spheres,
(1) in the common religious wants of men; and
(2) in the sense of dissatisfaction with idolatry which then so widely prevailed. As representative of the various Gentile spheres, give some account of Lystra, Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome.
II. THE FITNESS OF THE APOSTLE FOR WORK IN THIS PARTICULAR SPHERE. Find the fitnesses in:
1. His birth as a Grecian Jew.
2. His knowledge of the Greek language, and partial Greek education. All the other apostles were Aramaic Jews. St. Paul's early associations prepared him to take larger and more comprehensive views of Christian truth, when once his strong Jewish prejudices were overcome.
3. His unquestioning sense of a Divine call.
4. The permanent influence exerted on him by Stephen's death, and probably by Stephen's teachings.
5. The clear apprehension he had of Christian truth, in its distinction from, but full harmony with, the principles of Judaism. 6. Further fitness may be found on a careful estimate of St. Paul's peculiarities of mind, disposition, and character.
III. THE INFLUENCE WHICH WORK IN HIS SPHERE HAD UPON THE APOSTLE'S OWN APPREHENSIONS OF THE TRUTH. This is a difficult subject to treat, and involves a very close study of St. Paul's doctrinal position at different points of his ministry. To open it out wisely, the Epistles must be chronologically arranged and fitted into the record in the Acts, and compared with the apostle's speeches. An illustration may be taken from the Epistle to the Ephesians, which clearly shows that the mystical and superstitious people of Ephesus exercised such an influence on St. Paul as led him to consider some great speculative questions, and, we may say, tended to exercise and develop his mystical faculty. The influence of work among the Gentiles may be illustrated in relation:
1. To doctrine. It led to the first attempts at a philosophy of the Christian religion.
2. To practical Christian life. St. Paul had to find out how to adjust Christian principles to Gentile life and manners, and so he was led to develop a system of Christian ethics. Impress that the work to which God calls us will also be
(1) our service to others; and
(2) our own personal culture. - R.T.
I. DANGER INCURRED IN WITNESS FOR THE TRUTH, (Vers. 22-27.) The wild force of fanaticism has to be encountered again and again. These scenes are a warning against fostering it. It dishonors God, under the pretext of jealousy for his honor; ill treats the innocent; disgraces itself, turning men into wild beasts.
II. DIVINE DELIVERANCE OF THE SERVANT OF GOD.
1. It is brought about by the right feeling of the Roman captain, together with the civil privileges of the apostle. And he obtains a new opportunity for self-justification.
2. It tends to illustrate his character. The violence offered to him elicits a gentle and lowly reply (ver. 25; John 18:23). Outwardly ill treated, he remains inwardly unhurt. Momentarily trodden in the dust, he rises to eternal honors.
III. THE NOBILITY OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD. It is acquired by the new birth. It is sealed by the Spirit of God. It is proved by trial, conflict, and affliction. It appears in full glory in the heavenly state. Their privileges are - exemption from fear in the presence of the powers of this world; inviolate safety from the violence of evil men; independence of the judgment of the world. "Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be." - J.
I. THE POWER OF PREJUDICE. The very word "Gentile" exasperates Jews, yet they were separated from Gentiles, not to hate them, but to save them.
II. The close connection between IGNORANCE AND VIOLENCE. Knowledge helps patience; patience promotes knowledge.
III. THE CRUELTY OF POWER when it is exercised without righteousness. Torture was at once a confession of weakness and a violation of the rights of man. Law can need no cruelty to support it. It must be based upon truth and benevolence, or it is not righteous law. While the noisy tumult of the mob showed the corrupt state of the Jewish nation, the scene in the castle revealed the imperfection and worthlessness of mere human rule. Both facts were the cries of the world for the kingdom of God.
IV. THE INFLUENCE OF TRUE RELIGION in enlightening the mind, calming the feelings, strengthening the will, and preparing the man for trials. The example of Paul one of exalted self-possession and heroism, together with astonishing intelligence and discernment of character. The thought of using his Roman citizenship at that moment was doubtless a suggestion of God's Spirit.
V. PROVIDENCE in the government of the world. The Roman state needed to prepare the way for the gospel. The two citizenships - of the earthly kingdom, of the heavenly, compared in the two men, Lysias and Paul. Little the parents of the apostle could have anticipated how that Roman privilege would work into his history. We should give our children all we can to prepare them for future life. Grace and providence work together. The world's alarm opens the way for the gospel.
VI. THE REAL CONFLICT, not between Christianity and political power, but between true and false religion. The chief priests and the council face to face with the representative of Christ. A corrupted Judaism must be swept out of the way. After that is done, then Christianity will be ready for its still greater mission to evangelize the whole world, beginning with the Roman empire. The three parties represented - the Christian, the rabbinical, the heathen. - R.
throwing dust into the air, at the same time demanding justice. The king, upon hearing these cries, sends to know the occasion of them. The people deliver their complaint in writing, upon which he lets them know that he will commit the cognizance of the affair to some one by whom justice is usually done them" (Paxton). Compare the excitement of the multitudes assembled in the Ephesian theatre (Acts 19:29-34).
I. THE PERILOUS INFLUENCE OF POPULAR SENTIMENT. Masses readily take up prejudices and give way to mere feeling, and so are led to do terrible things. Illustrate from the riots of country towns in the older election-times, when the people were excited by political sentiment; or by the violent scenes of the French Revolution. It is usually true of all mobs that "the more part knew not wherefore they were come together." Sentiment is valuable as giving tone and feeling to action, but sentiment alone can never be allowed to decide and control action, because it tends to make a man at once passionate and weak. There is no wise decision, no calm judgment, no definite purpose, no solid strength of will, and so sentiment leads men to do things of which they are afterwards ashamed, to forget the reasonable claims of others, and to commit great social wrongs. The Christian man's duty, wherever his lot may be cast, is:
1. To strive against yielding to popular sentiments on
(3) religious subjects, as injurious to his own spiritual life, and likely to make him unjust toward others.
2. To use his influence to check public excitement, and to disseminate right principles. In religious spheres, yielding to "sentiment" has often been the cause of public and private persecution. In common life, reason is the proper check of sentiment. In religious spheres, the revelation given us in God's Word, and the direct illuminations of God's Spirit, are the proper checks. Illustrate how, in religious spheres, untempered sentiment has often developed into "mania."
II. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF ALL POPULAR LEADERS. They gain their power by appeal to sentiment. Illustrate from the incidents of the text. The leaders of the Judaic party knew perfectly well that they had no case against the apostle, but they appealed to the prejudice of the people, and excited their feeling into passion, which might have led to St. Paul's death within the temple courts. Opportunity is here given to speak of the valuable work done by the revivalist and the missioner, and at the same time of the responsibility of such workers, in the influence they gain over masses of people. So far as their work is merely an appeal to sentiment, it can exert but a passing, and only too possibly a mischievous, influence. So far as they become teachers of the truth and persuaders of men to duty, their work will be permanent and blessed. The Crusades illustrate the sway of the masses by sentiment; the Reformation the sway of the masses by truth.
III. THE HOPELESSNESS OF REASONING WITH EXCITED CROWDS. St. Paul tried, but he found it vain: they were carried away by the mere sound of the word "Gentiles." Compare the scheme of the town-clerk at Ephesus. Excited masses can only be interested until their passion dies down, or dispersed by physical force. Reasoning is of no use until men have become reasonable. Show that Christ never works upon the mere crowd. He and his servants make their appeal to men who have their power of reason. They use emotion and affection, but in subordination to reason. They work by the enthusiasm of numbers, but subordinate this influence to the enforcement of the saving truth. - R.T.
I. THE INHUMANITY OF HEATHENISM. "The chief captain... bade that he should be examined by scourging; that he might know," etc. (ver. 24). What an inhuman and brutal procedure to extract evidence or confession by scourging - by cruel, relentless laceration of the body! It is painful to think how, in this as in many another respect, departure from God meant distance from all justice and benignity. It is, indeed, all too true that pagan law passed on many of its usages to Christian legislature, and that down to even recent times harsh and stern things have dishonored the statute-books of Christian lands; but these have been
(1) diametrically opposed to the spirit of Jesus Christ,
(2) implicitly condemned by his words, and
(3) have been (or are being) disowned and disestablished by his followers.
II. THE EXCELLENCY OF HUMAN LAW AND DISCIPLINE. Utterly defective as Roman law was, it shone in brilliant contrast with Jewish frenzy. How pitiable, not to say contemptible, the crowd crying out, rending their clothes, flinging dust in the air, in their uncontrollable passion (ver. 23)! Excellent, indeed, as compared with this, the rate custody of the Roman soldiery (ver. 24), the immediate regard paid to his claim of citizenship (vers. 26-29), the determination of the chief captain to bring Paul before the council in a legitimate and orderly way (ver. 30). With all defects and severities, law and discipline are immeasurably superior to the violent excitements of an incensate and ungovernable mob.
III. THE RECTITUDE OF CLAIMING INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS. The man who is perpetually asserting his rights is a man as far, in spirit, from the likeness of Jesus Christ as he is far, in fact, from the enjoyment of the esteem of man. God blesses him as little as man loves him. But obviously there are times when it is not only our right but our duty to assert our claims. Paul did so here (ver. 25), and most justifiably; there was no reason why he should suffer and be weakened by suffering when he could escape by making a lawful claim. We do well to be self-assertive so long as we do not acquire the spirit of selfishness and do not give the impression of being self-centered. We do well, when we act thus with a distinct view to the benefit of others, to our own spiritual well-being, or to the extension of the kingdom of Christ.
IV. THE EARTHLY AND HEAVENLY CITIZENSHIP. (Vers. 27, 28.) Paul acceded to the citizenship in virtue of his birth; he was free born. The chief captain obtained it by purchase. Others gained it by valuable military or civil service, or by favor of some illustrious man. Entrance into the kingdom of God cannot be gained thus.
(1) Not by birth (John 1:13),
(2) nor by purchase (Acts 8:20),
(3) nor by the favor of man (John 1:13),
(4) nor by meritorious behavior (Ephesians 2:9),
do we become citizens of the spiritual kingdom and heirs of eternal life. It is rather by the influence of the Spirit of God upon and within us (John 3:5), and by our appropriate and corresponding action in response - by penitence of spirit and humble faith in a Divine Savior (Acts 20:21), that we become true subjects of the great King, and have our names entered on that blessed roll which is the Book of Life. - C.
Acts 16:37). Remember the familiar passage, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
I. CHRIST'S CALL TO SUFFER. Of St. Paul Christ had said, "I will show him how great things he must suffer for my Name's sake" So to his early disciples Christ spoke of persecution and suffering as part of his disciples' necessary lot. Compare his teachings in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:10-12) with John 15:18-21.
1. As an historical fact, the earlier apostles found, suffering attend on fulfilling Christ's mission; and the Apostle Paul had a life full of peril and of pain.
2. As a fact of present observation, suffering is very largely the Christian's lot. It comes partly by reason of his conflict with evil in himself and in the world, and partly as a Divine arrangement for his moral testing and training.
3. As a doctrine of the Divine Word, suffering is
(1) a means of sanctifying to the believer," Tribulation worketh patience," etc.;
(2) a means of witnessing to the world the power of God's sustaining grace and the beauty of the Christian virtues. God has such witnesses in his great sufferers, in every age and in every sphere of life.
II. CHRIST'S CALL TO AVOID SUFFERING. See his instructions as given to the apostles and the "seventy," when he sent them on their trial mission. If persecuted in one city, they were to flee to another. Nay, in this avoidance of suffering, our Lord set us his own example; for, on more than one occasion he went away from a neighborhood which had become perilous, and escaped from those who would cast him from the hill-top. So St. Paul, in connection with our text, felt justified in avoiding and resisting suffering. The practical difficulty we find is to know when we should bear and when we should resist; and the following suggestions may be fully illustrated: -
1. When we can recognize an immediate good in our sufferings, either a blessing of men or the glory of God, we should be prepared cheerfully to bear.
2. When the suffering plainly comes in the orderings of God's providence, we ought to bear it.
3. When we find that we can, by patient suffering, make a needed witness for the Christian truth or the Christian spirit, we should be willing to suffer.
4. When we find ourselves among strangers and enemies we may use our influence to avoid suffering.
5. And when our suffering plainly comes from the mere willfulness or the pure ignorance of men, we do right to resist. It may also be urged that we must always follow along the line of "conscience" and "duty," whatever consequences may follow. Therefore the "three Hebrew youths" dare not shrink from the fiery furnace, nor Daniel from the den of lions. Impress that we have an inward leading of God's Spirit, even as St. Paul had; and that, if we will follow the lead in all simplicity, we shall be able to decide, in the circumstances of life that arise, whether it is our duty to suffer or to avoid suffering. Whether we bear or whether we refuse to bear, we must seek to glorify Christ, and do all things as part of our loving life-service rendered to him. - R.T.
acquired rights and natural rights; but a far higher value is set on the rights of birth than on those which can be obtained in any other way. We fix attention on the fact that St. Paul was twice free born. He held right of birth into Roman citizenship, and right of the new Divine birth into the kingdom of Christ and of heaven.
I. THE PRIVILEGES OF HUMAN BIRTH.
1. Illustrate what positions their birth puts some men in, and what consequent trusts and responsibilities come upon them.
2. Show that such privileges are not to be despised by Christian people, because they may give them noble opportunities of serving Christ.
3. Point out that any envy of those born to high station is unworthy of all who feel aright the honor of having any kind or degree of trust from God.
4. And impress that the greater the trust of position and privilege which a man may have, the heavier will be his judgment if he misuses his powers and privileges. "Of him that hath much will be required."
II. THE PRIVILEGES OF DIVINE BIRTH. Explain the Scripture figures of" new birth," "being born again," and "regeneration." Illustrate that no man can acquire a place in Christ's kingdom by any
(3) or effort.
The only entrance is by a Divine birth: "Ye must be born again;" the only possible right of the Christian is his birthright. This kind of right excludes all pride and self-satisfaction. "We are saved by grace." It gives to God all the glory; for we are "born of God." It changes all the aspects and relations of our lives, so that we seem to have wakened up into a new world with new powers. It lays us under serious obligations, appoints for us high and holy duties, and holds out before us a glorious future. If the Roman citizen was bound to walk worthily of his citizenship, and honor the Roman name wherever he might go, much more should those who are born of God "walk as children of light," "walk worthy of the vocation by which they are called." See St. Paul's statement, "Our citizenship is in heaven." - R.T.
I. THE SIMPLICITY AND SINCERITY OF A GOOD CONSCIENCE.
1. This gives manly courage and confidence.
2. It acts as a touchstone upon his foes, exposing their injustice, bringing those passionate and unfair in spirit to light. Ananias's answer to Paul's dignified statement is a blow on the mouth.
3. At the same time, it imparts childlike humility. Great was the provocation to a high spirit like that of Paul. His first passionate answer contrasts with that of Jesus on the same occasion (John 8:23). But on the remonstrance of the bystanders, he apologizes for the exclamation. Either he did not recognize Ananias for the presiding high priest; or, recognizing, he meant to intimate that, while he had all respect for the office, he had none for the person who thus abused it. "If Paul," says Luther, "thus assails the priest who was ordained according to the Law of Moses, why should! dread to assail the painted bishops and ghosts who come from the pope, without any command from God and man?"
4. Self-possession and prudence, with sincerity (ver. 6). Paul is the sheep among the wolves (Matthew 10:16). There was both tact and truth in this confession. He was a Pharisee by birth and education, and also by present position, as he upheld the authority of the Divine Law in opposition to the frivolity of the Sadducees. That was the common ground on which he and the Pharisees Stood. Paul says what is simply true. It is only self-control, sincerity, and simplicity which can give tree firmness and consistency.
II. THE INCONSISTENCIES OF DISHONESTY. (Vers. 7, etc.) There was a split in the assembly, occasioned by Paul's confession. It is a picture of what is ever going on in the world. Sects and parties fall asunder, and make free space and passage for the truth of God. Party spirit drew the Pharisees over to Paul; yet God's wisdom reaches its end by this means. He makes the wrath of man to praise him. The Roman officer takes, as usual, the part of an indifferentist, and orders the removal of the prisoner. Thus the contending parties are silenced, and their objects are defeated by their own passion and violence, while the cause of right prevails.
III. THE VOICE FROM HEAVEN. Great need brings great comfort. God is content with the witness he has borne. Greater than the trials from foes are those which arise from the self-doubts of a sensitive conscience. Have we said and done our best? The disappointment of the result reflects itself in the trouble of the conscience. But the results are not of our command; the purpose is. We cannot command success; but we may deserve it, and enjoy the testimony of a good conscience. The "comfort wherewith I am comforted of God." It compensates for the unjust judgment of the world; for the insults to one's office; for the griefs of self-condemnation. Above all, it strengthens for the conflicts of the future. It is a laurel on the brow of the hero of God, the word: "Thou shalt bear witness again." Henceforward the apostolic history turns upon the witness which Paul is to fulfill at Rome. Lessons: The true Christian witness must have, first of all, the good conscience within his breast. The violence of the foes of truth will then be a certificate in his favor; he will enjoy the sympathy of the honest and unprejudiced on earth, and the assurance of the Divine Judge in heaven. - J.