When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices in the Lycaonian language: "The gods have come down to us in human form!"
I. THE SUFFERER AND HIS FAITH.
1. His complaint was congenital, and, according to ordinary ways of thinking, incurable. This brings all the more his faith into relief. It is the very power and property of faith to conquer what seems to reason unconquerable. It is impossible to show that any diseases are in themselves incurable; they may baffle human skill, but not the healing energy of God.
2. "Faith comes by hearing, and bearing by the Word of God." The sufferer seizes on the truth that God is a Savior, and that in him is to he found full, present, immediate salvation from passing ills. Faith realizes the unseen as if it were the seen.
3. Faith recognized by the minister of God. Paul sees that the lame man has faith to be healed. There is sympathy between souls in God. The minister of God's mercy, of Christ's saving energy, is directed to his object, and the object is directed to him. If God has entrusted us with a good to dispense, it will not be long before we find the soul who needs it. So Paul bids the sufferer arise; the word of authority is echoed by the consciousness of new power in the sufferer's breast: he rises, he walks, he bounds with joy. It is a representation of what ever will take place and does take place when true words are spoken to the souls of men. Oh, let us believe in the energies of the soul, by which we may lay hold on Divine power in our own weakness, both that we may receive good and impart it to others!
II. THE EFFECT ON THE MULTITUDE.
1. They thought that they were receiving a visit from the gods. The air of the ancient world was full of such stories. Doubtless the story of Zeus visiting Philemon and Baucis was well known to them. These so-called "myths contain a deep meaning; they are prophecies of the human heart, of that intercourse between God and man which the gospel declares to be the fact of facts in religion.
2. They were mistaken in the mode of the truth. Paul was not Zeus, nor was Barnabas Hermes. But they were not mistaken as to the substance of the truth. They were mistaken in offering worship to men like themselves, but not mistaken in the heart-instinct by which they recognized behind the healing power put forth the energy of God. The understanding may be in error when the heart speaks true. When this is the case, instruction, missionary effort, has always hopeful ground to work upon. The error and unbelief of the heart alone is invincible and fatal.
III. THE CONDUCT OF THE APOSTLES.
1. Their horror and indignation. They rend their garments, and rush into the crowd with exclamations of astonishment and anger. We must be capable of a holy anger if we are capable of a holy love. Worship belongs to the Divine alone. What would the apostles say now to the worship of their bones or other relics, real or pretended?
2. Their clear protest. "We too are men of like passions." Suffering, sorrowing humanity is no object of such honors. To accept them is to dishonor the Divine majesty, and to do injustice at the same time to ordinary humanity. The true teacher will never magnify himself, and will ask for nothing more than serious attention to his arguments and teachings. If the teacher shows that he considers himself on a level with ordinary humanity, the unconverted and self-humiliated will look up with hope of their own deliverance from misery; and the awakened are warned not to confound the imperfections of the teacher with the substance of his message. The treasure is in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
3. True views of God set forth.
(1) He is the living God; and all in the world not derived from him and resting on him is of no value. All worship directed to finite objects misses its supreme mark, and is a vanity, a "nothing." The idol itself is" nothing in the world." "All love is lost save upon God alone."
(2) He is the Creator. This is a thought brought into emphasis in the preaching and teaching of St. Paul, as in his Epistle to the Romans and his discourse on Mars' Hill. Having made all things, he contains all things in himself. Man is his creature; and if man offers even his whole self upon the altar to God, God but receives his own.
(3) He respects the freedom of man. The nations were suffered to walk in their own ways and to work out their own course of life. And in their aberrations they justified the truth and ways of God. Our freedom is our solemn heritage for weal or for woe. No explanation can be found for the dark facts of human sin, except that which goes back to the freedom of the soul to decide between good and evil.
(4) The unfailing goodness of God. The seasons fail not; food and enjoyment are provided out of the abundance of the earth. In every happy and healthy mood of mind the heart breaks into song, and thanks God for the boon of existence. In every sunny scene, every glimpse of pure and healthy happiness and domestic joy, there is the reflection of the "joy of God to see a happy world." "God is wisdom, God is love; " - this is the refrain of the heart true to itself; nor can the occasional discords of bodily pain or mental perplexity mar the sweetness of the music or obscure the clearness of the evidence. - J.
The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men.
I. THAT THE DIVINITY IS ALWAYS MANIFEST IN THE MIRACULOUS. Though logically, perhaps, it could not be proved, man everywhere believes it. Whenever anything extraordinary in nature occurs, the human spectators, as well in civilised as savage states, involuntarily feel that God is at work. This doctrine, thus held by the heart of depraved humanity, accords with the teachings of the Bible.
II. THAT THE DIVINITY ASSUMES HUMAN FORMS. "In the likeness of men." This was the general belief of heathendom. This may be regarded —
1. As a dim memory in the soul of paradise, where God held fellowship with man.
2. As a prophetic sentiment of that grand incarnation "when the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us."
III. THAT THE DIVINITY IS TO BE WORSHIPPED WHEN APPEARING IN THE HUMAN FORM. These heathens, believing that Barnabas was Jupiter, and Paul, Mercurius, began their worship, Now, the theology which comes out from the hearts of these heathens, and which is written in the souls of all, serves several important purposes.
1. As an eternal hindrance to the reign of atheism. Atheism is a contradiction to the profoundest faith of the human heart. Whatever system of doctrine is contrary to the intuitions of humanity cannot stand.
2. As indicating the responsibility of heathens. "There is a light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world." God has left no man without some measure of inner light.
3. As presumptive evidence in favour of the gospel. The gospel agrees with the primitive beliefs of human hearts.
4. As a guarantee for the spread of Christianity. The congruity of Christian theism with the theism of the soul is a pledge of its ultimate triumph. The gospel brings God to man in miraculous works and in a human form, and all this that he might worship.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
(H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius. — A well-known legend recounts how Jupiter and Mercury had once wandered through this region in quest of shelter and entertainment, which was everywhere refused until they came to the cottage of Philemon. When, then, the people saw the miracle, and heard the words of Paul and Barnabas, they thought that the gods of their old legend had again come down to them. In calling Barnabas Jupiter it is supposed that they were guided by the greater age, and probably the more dignified appearance of this apostle over his companion, whose bodily presence was weak, while the greater eloquence of Paul procured him the name of Mercury — the God of eloquence.
(W. Denton, M. A.)
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