From Attalia they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had just completed.
Acts 13:3 we learn in what this recommendation to the grace of God consisted: "And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away." We fix attention, then, on the point that we know what were the prayers of these Antiochene disciples. They were intercessory prayers, and they lovingly commended the Christian laborers to the grace of God. When prayer, for any reasons, cannot be precise and definite request for particular things, it can still be offered, and take this every-way satisfactory form, a commendation of those for whom we pray to the grace of God. We may show how
(1) such a kind of prayer may satisfy our love and our longing for the good of others; and
(2) how it may secure for them even better blessings than any precise requests, based only on our thought of their well-being. What can we do so well for our friends as bring down over them the hallowing shadow of the Father-God?
I. SUCH PRAYER MAY SATISFY OUR LOVE AND LONGING FOR THE GOOD OF OTHERS. For, after all, just the one thing we want for them is to have God for their portion. No requests for temporal blessings can adequately express our hearts' desires. Ask what we may, we feel that we have not asked enough or asked the best things. So we get no rest in prayer for others until we learn simply to commend them to the grace of God. The same may be shown by pointing out that our knowledge of cur friends' needs is never adequate, and we may make serious error by asking unsuitably. There can be no mistake if we ask for them God's grace.
II. SUCH PRAYER SECURES THE REST BLESSINGS FOR OUR FRIENDS. For in having God they have all. To be within the grace and keeping and supply of God is to have the best blessings, in fittest adaptations. Illustration should be taken from the first missionary journey of Barnabas and Paul. They were prospered and preserved because they were within the grace of God. - R.T.
And thence sailed to Antioch...And when they were come, and had gathered the Church together, they rehearsed all that God had done.
(J. S. Howson, D. D.)I. THERE IS GREAT NEED IN THE WORLD FOR MISSIONARIES.
1. There was great need for them in the days of the early Church.
2. There is much more need in the present day.
II. IT IS THE DUTY OF THE CHURCH TO TAKE UP the subject of foreign missions, because —
1. The Church of all earthly things is the most, and indeed only, capable.
2. The Church itself, having received the glad tidings, ought from gratitude to make them known to others.
III. THIS DUTY, IF RIGHTLY PERFORMED, WILL SURELY MEET WITH SUCCESS. Not necessarily at first, but eventually.
IV. IT IS THE SAVIOUR'S COMMAND THAT the gospel should be preached in all lands.
S. S. Times.1. It is well that missionaries should occasionally return. Their return will strengthen them, and again arouse the Churches to a new interest in the missionary cause.
2. The true missionary will report, not what he has done, but what God has done with him.
3. The true missionary will report holy God has opened the door of faith to those to whom he was sent.
(S. S. Times.)
I. THE OBJECT OF THE APOSTLES' MISSION.
1. You all know how ill any work must be done which has not a definite aim. What would a carpenter's, a builder's, a lawyer's, or a physician's work be without some end set before it? Too often in religious matters this is left out of sight. A clergyman, as it is said, "performs duty" — that is, he has gone through the public service, etc. But was that his end, or only the means to his end? A serious question. Far too often we do make these duties ends: if we can perform our duty (as it is sometimes said) creditably, we are ready to say, "I have done my duty; I have gained my end." But who does not see that no amount of labour thus accomplished necessarily implies the slightest sense of the real work of the ministry? Where is the end in all this? No builder would satisfy his employer by merely being seen so many hours each day at his work, if nothing came of it, or nothing but crooked walls, leaking roofs, etc. It is even so in things spiritual. He is not a good workman who has nothing to show for it but his toil. True, in these matters, unlike the other, men cannot by any skill or any devotion secure his object: God gives, and withholds; and he who thinks that his own labour or even his own prayer can guarantee success has not yet learned his first lesson in the school of Jesus Christ. St. Paul's object is forcibly expressed in his own words, "That ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God." Turning, conversion, was and still is the end of the ministry.
2. If this is indeed the meaning of our office, and its responsibility, can any exhortation be more needful than that which bids the congregation remember its object and so aid its work? If its end is to turn you to God, yours surely will be the chief loss and the chief misery if it fails.
II. ITS METHODS. We are struck by its unity, and we are struck also by its variety.
1. St. Paul appears to speak quite differently to the Jews at Antioch and to the idolaters at Lystra. With the one he argues from the Scriptures; with the other only from the book of nature. And how can it be otherwise if a man is in earnest? Does the physician proceed, without inquiry, to apply one mode of treatment everywhere, and expect the recovery of health, which is his object, to reward such unreasoning efforts? Even so it is with the physician of the soul. His first business is to ascertain where men stand, what men know and believe. Till he knows some. thing upon these points, he can only employ the bow at a venture. To speak to a man of salvation when he has never been conscious of danger, to offer a man forgiveness who has never trembled at sin, is to cover up the mischief instead of extirpating it, to comfort a man in his sins instead of rescuing him from them. Till the people of Lystra knew that there was one God, it was idle to say to them, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." On the other hand, those who already possessed the evidence also of a Divine revelation, those whose fault it was to count themselves safe because they had honoured God with a ceremonial worship, must be instructed out of that revelation itself as to the sinfulness of sin, as to the need and the promise and the coming of a Saviour, in the language of a prophet in whom they believed.
2. More than half the failures of our ministry arise from inappropriate teaching and from inappropriate hearing. There is a man here, as there once was when Jesus Himself was the Preacher, possessed by the spirit of an unclean devil. He comes hither, drawn perhaps by custom, perhaps by a wish to gloss over his lost state, perhaps by an instinctive longing to lull the disquietude of his soul. This man meets Jesus here. But too often it is only a hearing of the sound — something about guilt, about atonement, about the mercy of God — and the man goes away as he came; what he has understood he has misapplied; the unclean spirit is still there, soothed, calmed, lulled, like the surfeited snake till its next fit of hunger. That man ought to have been told of God in conscience before he was told of God in redemption. Till he has trembled at judgment to come, till he has cried out against himself as a sinner, he can scarcely profit, he may even be fatally injured, by the offer of a pardon which he wants not, or of a Saviour whom he will only crucify afresh.
3. What cannot be done by the preacher must be done for himself by the individual hearer. Let a man ask himself, "Is that word for me? Does that suit my case? God give me the spirit of wisdom in hearing, lest 'that which should be for my health be to me the occasion of falling.'"
III. IT HAD ALSO A CAREFUL REGARD TO THE CARRYING ON OF THAT WHICH WAS WELL BEGUN.
1. In the form of regular supervision. "They ordained elders in every congregation." He who is turned to God still needs training. It is a comfort to us to believe that our assemblies for worship and instruction had their origin in the institutions of the primitive Church. It is not the one reception of the one great truth which will secure us from the risk of falling away. The minister has to learn; and if he do not learn, his ministry will soon become a vain repetition, a barren and a wearisome form, both to himself and to those who hear him. Even so is it with the congregation. They too have need to learn in the school of God; and the services of this place ate designed to help them in learning.
2. In the form of well-instructed expectation (ver. 22). Neither our Saviour nor His apostles ever misled men as to the nature of the Christian life below — that it must be a conflict, and therefore a life of tribulation.
(Dean Vaughan.)I. WHAT DID THE APOSTLES REHEARSE IN THE EARS OF THE CHURCH? "All that God had done with them." Not all that they had done of themselves, by dint of their own efforts, by the power of their own persuasion. Not how many good sermons they had preached, what overflowing congregations were attracted to hear them, or what unbounded applause had been bestowed upon their ministry. Nor did they make their sufferings the theme of conversation: yet they were "destitute, afflicted, tormented" (Hebrews 11:37). "They related all that God had done with them." Not what the Almighty had performed by His own immediate agency, independent of all human instrumentality; but what He had done by their hands, as the servants of His will.
1. God had by them communicated instruction in Divine things to the people whom they addressed.
2. They not only taught many: they were also made the happy instruments of leading a great multitude to believe in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. God made them the instruments of confirming the souls of the disciples.
4. God had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
II. TO WHOM THE APOSTLES REHEARSED THE THINGS WHICH GOD HAD DONE BY THEIR INSTRUMENTALITY. "They gathered the Church together," etc. Let us inquire, what were the discriminating marks by which the primitive Churches were distinguished?
1. By their disunion with the world. The primitive Christians had their "conversation in the world" (2 Corinthians 1:12), and mixed promiscuously with human society, "working with their own hands" (1 Corinthians 4:12). They were not "slothful in business"; but "fervent in spirit, serving the Lord" (Romans 12:11). Notwithstanding, they held no unnecessary intercourse with ungodly men, never selecting them as companions; for "the friendship of the world is enmity with God" (James 4:4). Although they were in the world, they were not of it.
2. The members of the primitive Churches were distinguished by the sanctity of their characters, and the consistency of their conduct. Each of them could adopt the language of St. Paul (Galatians 2:20). The principles by which they were actuated were faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and love to His holy name.
III. WHAT WERE THE MOTIVES THAT INDUCED THE APOSTLES TO REHEARSE WHAT GOD HAD DONE WITH THEM?
1. We may conceive that it was done to express the warm and grateful effusions of their hearts.
2. The apostles rehearsed what God had done by their means, to gladden the hearts of others.
3. They rehearsed what God had done by them, as a public acknowledgment of the obligations under which they were laid to Him.
And how He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. —God opening doors: — He who has the keys of David can open all doors. No preacher must assume these keys to himself, but must pray that God, who only can use them effectually, will do so. And if anything is to be effected for the salvation of souls, God must open four doors — the door of the preacher's mouth, the doors of the hearer's ear and heart, the door of heaven.
(K. Gerok.)I. This metaphor sets forth that THE SIMPLE ACT OF TRUST IN GOD, AS REVEALED IN CHRIST, IS THE WAY BY WHICH WE PASS INTO THE HOUSE OF GOD. Christ says, "I am the Door," and faith is the means of access. This faith is the outer door, the vestibule which leads to the real opening by which we enter into all the mystery and the sweetness of the Divine home. It is a very little, low door. There are a great many much more pretentious ways to God held out to men. There are the doors of contemplation, of asceticism, of ceremonial, of a self-righteous, proud, purity of life; but a man cannot get more than a step inwards if he tries them. But there is a narrow portal yonder, and if a man will go down upon his knees, and if he will leave his sins outside, it will be like one of those narrow passages with a little tiny aperture in it, where a hunted race used to take up their abode, and which widened out into a broad apartment where a man could stand in safety and warmth and home. We go through this narrow door of trust, but we come out into the large room of our Father's house.
II. The other side of the metaphor suggests THE MEANS BY WHICH GOD CAN ENTER INTO US. The door into our hearts is faith. There is no possibility, in heaven or in earth, for God to come with His blessings into any man's heart except through the door of that man's faith. You take a flask, seal it hermetically, tie a bit of canvas over the mouth of it, pitch that with tar, and plunge it into the Atlantic; and the inside of it will be as dry as if it was in the midst of African deserts. And as long as a man's heart is hermetically sealed, which it is by the absence of faith, it is all one to him, as if there were no mercy. The ocean of mercy and love is all outside of him. Notice, in passing, how small a thing a door is — just a piece of timber worth a few shillings. Yes! but if a king comes in, there is a dignity about it. Faith in itself is nothing; it is precious because it is a means by which we lay hold upon precious things.
III. THIS DOOR IS TO BE KEPT OPEN BY OURSELVES. We read of Lydia's heart being opened by the Lord; and we read of Christ knocking at the door, waiting for our opening of it to Him. These are two halves of a great truth. Lydia's heart would never have been opened had she not willed. You are responsible for exercising and for continuing to exercise this act of faith. This is one of those doors that shut to in a moment if not clasped back. Day by day we must get rid of the world's rubbish that tries to choke up the doorway, by prayer, by effort to expel the evil. The Lord stands before each of us and summons us, "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors: and the King of glory shall come in." Let us answer, "Come in, Thou blessed of the Lord; wherefore standest Thou without!"
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
(H. W. Beecher.).
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