The crowd listened to Paul until he made this statement. Then they lifted up their voices and shouted, "Rid the earth of him! He is not fit to live!"
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.
And they gave audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices.
I. IT IS CURIOUS TO OBSERVE IS THE NEW TESTAMENT THE POINTS AT WHICH AUDIENCES BREAK AWAY FROM THE SPEAKERS.
1. Take the case of Christ. In John 6:66, we read, "From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him" — the time of spiritual revelation. So long as there were parables to hear, and loaves and fishes to be divided, and miracles to be wondered at, there was no turning away; but when the Lord became intensely spiritual then they left Him. This is a point which is often forgotten. We are often told, "Preach like Jesus, and the people will hear you gladly"; whereas the truth is that the moment Christ left the elements of teaching and came to deal with the real and eternal purpose of His teaching, the people left Him. That must be the result of spiritual preaching everywhere. The world does not want spiritual preaching. If we were to speak spiritually, the churches would be empty: we are obliged to keep on the outside, and show the great stones of the temple; we dare not go inside and touch the altar.
2. The Athenians left Paul at another point. They listened to him with more or less interest when he made his great speech upon Mars' hill, but the moment he began to speak about the resurrection, "some mocked," etc. They did not want to hear about the resurrection; they wanted philosophy, speculation, high discourse, poetry.
3. In this particular instance another point of departure is chosen. The Jews listened to Paul so long as he confined himself to matters which were more or less of a purely Jewish kind, but the moment he said "Gentiles" they went mad.
II. THE GREAT TEACHING OF THIS REVIEW IS THAT ALL MEN PART COMPANY WITH THEIR TEACHERS AT CERTAIN POINTS. The point is not always the same: some remained with Jesus, notwithstanding the spirituality of His teaching; some heard about the resurrection of the dead with comparative interest; others could hear about the Gentiles with mental composure. But there are points at which we all fly off, which would dissolve this assembly in a moment. Men always like to listen to themselves preaching. Who dare speak the new word? Look at this particular case: the disease under which these people were suffering was the eternal disease of humanity — narrow-mindedness. The man who could entertain a kindly interest towards the Gentiles was a "fellow" "not fit to live." That was called religious earnestness, contention for the faith once delivered to the saints! Have we learned Christ's great lesson: "Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring"? Have we left the ninety-and-nine accepted ideas in the wilderness and gone out after that which is lost, until we find it? I do not ask for new truth, for there is none and can be none; I ask for great-heartedness that will listen to all kinds of people, hoping that they will drop one word which the great Teacher can take up and magnify into a gospel. If any man has a prophecy, let us hear it; if any man has a new reading of the old Book, let us hear him. A tone may be a lesson; an emphasis may be equal to a revelation. The only condition of mind which Jesus Christ can approve is a condition of all hopeful love.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
I. ONE "WORD" DESTROYED THE EFFECT OF A WHOLE DISCOURSE. "They gave him audience unto this word" — "Gentiles." Their prejudice was that Jews alone were the objects of Divine favour; that the Gentiles were reprobate. Hence they were roused to the greatest excitement. How often is this the case! Let the preacher in the course of a sermon filled with lofty truths utter a word that strikes against the prepossessions of some hearer, and the whole sermon goes for nothing. Let not the preacher who avoids striking at prejudices conclude, from the attention of his audience, that his sermon has been accepted. Had Paul concluded before he uttered that "word," he might have inferred that his audience was brought into sympathy with his views.
II. ONE "WORD" ROUSED THE MALIGNANT PASSIONS INTO FURY. This one word had hurled reason from the throne, opened the floodgates of passion, and made them the sport of a lawless rage. They roared like lions, they howled like wolves. In such a state of mind all argument fell powerless upon them.
III. ONE "WORD" TRANSFORMED THE BEST TEACHER INTO A WRETCH. "Away with such a fellow." Thus offended prejudice has always acted. Thus towards Christ, thus towards the martyrs, thus towards the true teachers of all times.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
I. COMPARE THE BLINDNESS OF THOSE WHO REJECT CHRIST TODAY WITH THAT OF THESE JEWS.
1. Had they not known all his life of persecution, the death of Stephen? Had they not just heard the marvellous story of his conversion? Did they not know his self-sacrifice and pure life of love and tenderness? Had they not overwhelming evidence in the fruits of his labours that God was with him? What a blindness must have enshrouded them!
2. Great, indeed, was the flood of evidence; but he who rejects Christ today closes his eyes to greater light. For —(1) Christianity is no longer of recent origin, or of sporadic appearance.(a) It has revolutionised the world's life. It has levelled the proudest thrones, dispelled the most tenacious superstitions, lighted up heathen darkness, civilised savagery.(b) Unlike all other religions which time disintegrates, Christianity is progressive.(c) For centuries the Bible has stimulated and rewarded closest study, and today its fulness and undeveloped wealth are more than ever conspicuous.(d) All life has been leavened by the purifying and quickening power of Christianity.(e) Paul's persecutors had seen thousands brought in loving abasement and gracious quickening to the Cross; but now, millions upon millions from all nations under the sun unite in a testimony substantially accordant. No testimony on earth is so cumulative, so inexplicable upon ordinary philosophy, so reinforced by lives of purity and self-sacrifice.(2) The unbeliever is today surrounded by transformations inexplicable upon any theory but that of a living Christ working by the power of the Holy Ghost. How can such blindness then and now be explained?
II. THOSE WHO REJECT CHRIST TODAY, LIKE THESE JEWS, ARE UNWILLING TO SEE THE LIGHT.
1. The Jews knew that if Paul was right, they were wrong; that the murders of Jesus and Stephen were criminal and damning. Their selfish interests clamoured. Their individual preeminence, and their worldly affluence, were endangered. Hence they would not look at the claims of the gospel, and hesitated at no extreme of fraud and violence.
2. So today, the unbeliever wilfully spurns light at which he would catch eagerly in any other pursuit, and rushes into blind persecution, or sits aloof in contempt or indifference. May not such stubbornness become so obdurate that character shall be fixed beyond repair? May not spiritual faculties become permanently fixed in wrong activities by continued distortion? In a word, may not man abdicate forever, though only for a mess of pottage, his Divine birthright of freedom of will? Judicial blindness may come upon all who misuse their spiritual faculties. Observation brings many cases to view where the will seems to have lost its flexibility, and, like a lashed rudder, steers the poor lost soul straight to the dark gulf of hell.
3. The explanation of this blind tenacity of will in a bad cause can be found in personal hatred. These Jews at Jerusalem and elsewhere hated Paul murderously; and that hate drowned all appreciation of his intellectual preeminence, his generous self-abnegation, and his noble spirit of conciliation so eager to win them to a better mind even now. But they are not alone in such hate.
III. UNBELIEF TODAY CHERISHES A PERSONAL HATE, THE SAME IN KIND THOUGH VARYING IN DEGREE AND MODE OF EXPRESSION. Personal relations are great formative factors of every life, and always evoke answering sympathies or antipathies.
1. Man is always in closest contact with God. Hence, by the laws of his being, he must respond to that relationship in obedience, or in opposition. It is a sad fact that such opposition is the first and certain attitude of the unrenewed soul. Let a personal God declare himself in nature's extent, and wondrous mechanisms, in processes that require design, and which slowly unfold themselves in minute adaptation to man's wants, then infidelity, claiming to be scientific, cries out, even of the God of nature, "Away with him!"
2. The Bible, in itself and in its triumphs, indicates God's personal presence. It therefore cannot escape the opposition of infidelity.
3. Organised Christianity — the visible Church — presses its claims upon the attention of a lost world; but such claims are, the signal for unflagging hostility. If the Church is right, the world is wrong: no truce is possible.
4. Our Lord Himself does not escape this hate of infidelity. Rome substitutes Mariolatry, works of supererogation, fires of purgatory, and sacerdotal agency. Unitarianism elevates the sinner above the need of redemption, and scouts at the blood of Calvary as offensive to cultivated sensibilities. Coarse blasphemy reserves the name of Jesus for its whitest heats and most violent outbursts.
(S. L. B. Spears.)
Scientific Illustrations.On entering the Gudarigby Caverns, near the Murrumbidgee River, New South Wales, you will see large numbers of the great-leaved horseshoe bat. If you proceed with torches they will become so eager to escape from your light that they will annoy you exceedingly by flapping against your face in their eagerness to escape into a congenial darkness. How much they remind one of those ignorant bigots who, when the torch of truth is carried into the recesses of superstition, dash in wild exasperation against the enlightener, and do their utmost to seek intellectual gloom!
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