to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those sanctified by faith in Me.'
I. THE STATE OF THE WORLD WITHOUT CHRIST.
1. Darkness. Intellectual. Moral. No exceptions. The light of the Greek and Roman worlds turned by sin into grosser darkness. Superstition.
2. The rule of evil spirits. The power possessed by false teachers. The dominion of the senses. The reign of fear.
3. The condemnation of Divine righteousness. Impossibility that such ignorance should remain. The visitations of judgment. Awful calamities of the ancient world, the working out of sin.
II. THE DISPENSATION OF MERCY.
1. The preparation of light through the ages revealing the Divine purpose.
2. The advent of Jesus Christ and the lifting up of the light into the heavens.
3. The mission of the gospel through its preachers, so different from anything seen in the heathen world. "How shall they hear without a preacher?"
4. The fulfillment of the mission from age to age, add its prospects of speedy accomplishment. They are turning to the light, and all the world shall see the salvation. - R.
To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light.I. THE OPENING OF THE EYES TO LET IN THE TRUTH. The gospel shows us our dark, lost, and needy state, and the willingness and ample means of God to deliver us.
II. THE NEW BIAS OF THE SOUL, AS A CONSEQUENCE.
1. A turning away the mind from darkness and sin. "Men love darkness rather than light" in their natural state.
2. An opposite yearning towards God.
III. THE GRAND OBJECT OF THAT NEW BIAS IS THAT THE SOUL MAY RECEIVE ADDITIONAL BLESSINGS.
1. The forgiveness of sins — the crisis of the whole matter.
2. The gift of the inheritance.
(E. Craig, M. A.)
I. "TO OPEN THEIR EYES."
1. Any religion that proposes to open our eyes is presumptively a true religion. Superstition says, "Keep your eyes closed." Christianity, then, does not want to shut me up in some prison, priest-locked, roofed in with superstition, wound round with darkness.
2. There are no blind Christians. The Christian is a wide-awake man — all reason, all life. Christianity is rationalism because it opens the eyes.
3. Do not, however, suppose you understand it in a moment. This is a daily process in our education — namely, seeing things more clearly, noting their relations, proportions, and final issues.
4. There is no mission so sublime! It is almost like creating a man to give him sight. The greatest gift of man to man is the gift of idea, thought, new vision. To open the eyes is to give wealth. The poet cannot give me the acres of my lord, but he can give me the landscape that belongs to the poorest of the children of men.
II. "TO TURN THEM FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT." That is upon the same line of thinking? Not to open their eyes to see the darkness as seven fold greater than they dreamed it to be. Yet men will follow any demagogue who will delude and befool them, and turn their back upon the man who wants to lead them out of darkness into light. What a turning is this! Who can measure the distance from darkness to light? These are terms that transcend arithmetic.
III. There is another turning — namely, "FROM THE POWER OF SATAN UNTO GOD." Christianity is the upward movement of the world. "Nearer God!" is the watch cry. We know what is meant by "the power of Satan" — the power that victimises us, that gives us promises which end ever in disappointments; the power that unmans us, breaks upon our self-control, mocks our prayers, and points us to the grave as the sad end.
IV. So far this is in some sense negative. Now we come to what may be termed a blessing more positive: "THAT THEY MAY RECEIVE FORGIVENESS OF SINS." No man ever invented that! Man has invented forgetfulness of sins; but Christianity will not administer narcotic to me; it will fight the battle right out, and the end shall be "forgiveness." "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin." Conclusion: Is it worth our while trying to open men's eyes, etc. In this faith I would serve and count all other programmes mean as lies. Then will come the "inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me" — new character, new brotherhood, new riches. This is what Christianity wants to do; and when this work is done, earth will be heaven.
(J. Parker, D. D.)I. THE PURPOSES OF ST. PAUL'S MISSION. It was —
1. "To open their eyes."(1) The words, like those spoken of Christ's mission (Isaiah 42:7), refer to those spiritually blind, through inattention, unbelief (2 Corinthians 4:4), prejudice, superstition, love of the world, fleshly lusts, wicked habits.(2) Paul opened their eyes —(a) By means of his miracles, which tended to awaken their attention, and convince them that his mission was from God.(b) By his discourses, informing their understanding and conscience.(c) By his unblameable, holy, and useful life, overcoming their prejudices — partly by affecting their hearts, and exciting their sympathies with his sufferings.
2. "To turn them from darkness to light." The heathen, even the learned Greeks and Romans, were in a state of great darkness, i.e., ignorance and error, as to spiritual things. By the preaching of the gospel and the influences of the Spirit, men are translated from this darkness. In equal darkness are involved the present heathen, Mahomedans, Jews, Papists, and many Protestants! Now missionaries are sent abroad, and ministers are labouring at home to enlighten them.
3. "From the power of Satan unto God." Satan, who is "the prince of darkness," "the ruler of the darkness of this world" (Ephesians 6:12), obtains his power over mankind through their ignorance. Through ignorance of the true God, they worshipped false gods (Romans 1:21-23); through ignorance of His purity, mercy, truth, and righteousness, they were filthy, cruel, and false. Hence their dreadful corruption of manners (Romans 1:24-82). And why did the Jews crucify the Lord of glory? Because they knew Him not (Acts 3:17; 1 Corinthians 2:8). Why have so many nations embraced the Mahomedan delusions? From the errors with which their minds were blinded (Revelation 9:2, 3). Whence the superstitions of popery (1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-9). And whence is it that among almost all descriptions of persons, even among us, the body is preferred to the soul, earth to heaven, the world to God; sin, the greatest evil, to holiness, the greatest good; Belial, the worst master, to Christ, the best! All this is from darkness, and the power of Satan exercised thereby. The gospel, by enlightening men, rescues them from his power, and brings them to the experimental and saving knowledge of God.
4. Hence, being "turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God," they "receive the forgiveness of sins"; being delivered from the dominion of them, they are exempted from their penalty. They do not merit this as a reward or debt, but they receive it as the effect of Divine mercy and grace (Titus 3:4, 5); obtained through Christ's sacrifice and intercession (Romans 5:9, 10); received by faith in Christ (John 3:14-18; Galatians 2:16), and sealed on the heart and conscience by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13).
5. "And an inheritance among them which are sanctified." Sanctification is an internal change wrought by the Holy Ghost (1 Peter 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:13), by means of the Word (John 17:17), and faith in Jesus (see the text and Acts 15:9). This implies a deliverance from sin, and from the world, a dedication to God in heart and life, in soul and body, in our faculties and members, our all being employed for Him; a conformity to Him, a participation of the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:4); and hence walking with God (Genesis 5:24), and communion with Him, living and walking in His Spirit (1 John 1:3; Galatians 5:25). How great is this blessing! They obtain "an inheritance among the sanctified" here and hereafter. Thus they have a lot among the wisest, best, holiest, the most honourable and blessed of the human race in this world and another; yea, among angels with Christ and God.
II. THE INFINITE IMPORTANCE OF HIS MISSION. These ends never were, and never will be obtained in any other way, than by the preaching of the gospel. Some few of the heathen had a degree of knowledge and virtue (chap. Acts 10:35; Romans 1:19, 20), and might attain some degree of happiness after death, but not the proper Christian salvation as here set forth. Hence the command of Christ, that His gospel should be preached to every creature (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19; Luke 24:47). Hence this wonderful miracle wrought in the conversion of St. Paul (ver. 16; Acts 9:15). Hence the great sufferings to which he was exposed (Acts 9:16; 1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Corinthians 4:8-12). Hence, likewise, Christ requires all His disciples, and especially His messengers, to "deny themselves," etc. (Matthew 16:24; Matthew 10:37-39; Luke 14:26). Nay, the Lord Jesus Himself was born and came into the world, and lived and died to "bear witness to the truth."
III. INFERENCES. What, then, shall we think of —
1. Those Christians, so called, who, like the Jews in St. Paul's day, forbid the preaching of the gospel to the heathen (1 Thessalonians 2:15, 16)?
2. Those who are so attached to their worldly wealth that they cannot be induced to sacrifice a little of it to promote the salvation of the heathen? May not one properly use the words of Peter to such characters, and say, "Thy money perish with thee!"
3. Those pious young men, who have reason to think themselves called to missionary work, but are backward to offer themselves to this service?
4. Those, who, having set their hands to the plough, look back, and give up such a cause after they have undertaken it?
(J. Benson.)I. THE DIRECT WORK OF THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY. "I send thee to open their eyes." The work is described, and the power is in the sending. If Christ sends, He will also give the power.
1. So then, before Him who looks on it from heaven, humanity lies as it were sleeping. The eye is closed: the eye of the understanding, of the heart, of the soul. Very remarkable is the contrast between this and the tempter's promise. "Then your eyes shall be opened." He prevailed, and the eyes of them "both were opened — they knew that they were naked. That opening was to a consciousness of shame. To everything save wretchedness it was a closing. As Christ looks on from heaven, He sees man blind. He sends Paul "to open their eyes." It was the first thing done for Paul himself. "Brother Saul, receive thy sight." Look up, the word is, see again! What Saul needed man needs now.
2. The came eye may be opened to some things and closed to others. The very clearness of its vision for some things — say, for near objects — may be a mark of its dulness as to the mere distant. A man may be quick to discern his own rights, interests, pleasures, in the life that is; and yet utterly mistaken, or indifferent, as to his highest interest, happiness, duty, as a being born for immortality. Oh, how dull oftentimes is the man of business, politics, literature, or philosophy, when the thing presented to him is the work of Christ or the hope of heaven! He, too, needs to have his eyes opened.
3. And this is the office, we here read, of the Christian ministry. As Christ's witness, if he cannot say, as St. Paul could say, "Listen tome, for I have seen Jesus Christ"; at least he should be able to say, "Listen to me; for I know Jesus Christ; I have heard His voice, I have talked with Him in my soul, and He by His Spirit has set me free from the law of sin and death." It is here that we fail. We bring a hearsay message, but we have not felt it ourselves, and therefore we have no evidence to bring of facts known, of things seen. Alas! it is too much with us, as it was with the prophets of old, who "prophesied out of their own hearts, followed their own spirit, and had seen nothing."
4. In a true sense, all of us have at least seen the light. Light, the true light, is come into the world, but "some love darkness rather than light," etc.
II. THAT WORK HAS A FURTHER OBJECT; IN WHICH NOT THE MINISTER, BUT THE HEARER, MUST BE THE AGENT.
1. That they may turn. Turning, or conversion, follows upon the opening of the eyes. The communication of light, by the faithful preaching of the gospel, is the work of another; but this turning is (under God) a man's own work. A minister may enlighten, but he cannot convert. That is (under God) an act of the will, of the individual will, consequent upon conviction. "I see that this is true. Now therefore, seeing the light, I must turn to it. Therefore I awake and arise, and Christ shall give me light. I will walk in this light which He has brought to me. I will accept this two-fold blessedness which He offers me, of a forgiven past and a cleansed future." That is conversion. Oh, how unlike the dreams of many; who have mistaken the opening of the eyes for the turning to the light; more often a startled, feverish, fleeting feeling, for a deliberate self-surrender to a forgiving Saviour and a holy God!
2. But we must not exaggerate man's power, or forget the difficulty of that change. Satan has great "authority." Let a man honestly turn from darkness to light, and then, if never before, he will become conscious of the strong grip of evil. Habits of life, habits of mind, habits of feeling, are not changed in a day. Let him turn, then, not only from the darkness to the light, but also from the authority of Satan unto God. There is a Stronger than the strong man armed.
III. THE ULTIMATE OBJECT OF THE WORK IS THAT MEN MAY TURN TO GOD SO THAT THEY MAY RECEIVE —
1. Forgiveness of sins. I know how lightly sin can sit upon the conscience of a transgressor. He has only to keep out of the light, and he may travel smoothly enough along a considerable stage of life's journey. But let the light penetrate, let conviction come, and then see whether it is an easy thing to bear, or an easy thing to escape, that sense of sin! If it he true, as men say, that nature has no forgiveness; that the body and the life of man must still and forever be found out by iniquities long past, long repented of or forgotten; how much more does this magnify the unspeakable gift of God. He who heartily turns receives at once forgiveness, yea (for it is the very meaning of forgiveness) dismissal, of sins. Where, save in Christ, will you find this?
2. Dismissal of the past: and now an inheritance. Properly, a lot; and so an allotment; a portion falling to one by lot. It may remind us of those chapters of the Book of Joshua, in which we read of the assignment by lot to the tribes of Israel of their inheritance in the land of Canaan. And so in the Psalms, "The lot is fallen unto me in a fair ground: yea, I have a goodly heritage." The inheritance itself waits to be bestowed: but there is an earnest and a foretaste of it now.
3. Who are the sanctified? The consecrated; those whom God has taken to be His own; free from the contaminations of sin, and from the profanenesses of the world. This is not an attainment of man, but a gift of God. The word denotes not those who have made themselves holy, but those whom God has set apart for Himself by anointing them, as His kings and priests, with the Holy Ghost. We all have received the sign and pledge of this in baptism: which of us has the reality of it?
4. "By faith that is in Me." He who speaks from heaven, still, even as when He spake on earth, makes faith everything.
Faith that is in me1. It is commonly said that what are called the distinguishing doctrines of Christianity are rather found in the Epistles than in the Gospels, and the reason is that Christ came not to speak the gospel, but to be the Gospel. Yet if anybody asks us where did Paul get the doctrines which he preached, the answer is, Here, on the road to Damascus, when he saw his Lord, and heard Him speak. These words spoken then are the germ of all Paul's Epistles. Man's ruin, man's depravity, the state of darkness, the power of Satan, the sole redemptive work of Christ, justification by belief in that, sanctification coming with justification; and glory, and rest, and heaven at last — there they all are in the very first words that sounded upon the quickened ear of the blinded man when he turned from darkness to light.
2. To the one part of this comprehensive summary I turn. The word "faith" is so often on our lips that it has come to be almost meaningless in many minds. These keywords of Scripture meet the same fate as do coins that have been long in circulation. They pass through so many fingers that the inscriptions get worn off them.
I. THE OBJECT OF FAITH IS CHRIST.
1. Christianity is not merely a system of truths about God, nor a code of morality deducible from these, but the affiance and the confidence of the whole spirit fixed upon the redeeming, revealing Christ. True, the object of our faith is Christ as made known to us in the facts of His recorded life and the teaching of His apostles. Apart from them the image of Christ must stand a pale colourless phantom before the mind, and the faith which is directed towards such a nebula will be as impotent as the shadow towards which it turns. Thus far, then, the attempt which is made to establish a Christianity without doctrines on the plea that the object of faith is not a proposition, but a person, must be regarded as nugatory; for how can the "person" be an object of thought at all, but through the despised "propositions"? But notwithstanding this, it is He, and not the statements about Him, who is the object of faith.
2. Look at His own words. He does not merely say, Believe this, that, and the other thing about Me; but believe in Me! "He that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and He that believeth in Me shall never thirst." I think that if people rightly grasped this truth, it would clear away rolling wreaths of fog and mist from their perceptions of the gospel — that Christ is it, and that the object of faith is not simply the truths that are recorded here in the Word, but He with regard to whom these truths are recorded. The whole feeling and attitude of a man's mind is different, according as he is trusting a person, or according as he is believing something about a person.
3. What a strong inference with regard to the Divinity of Christ is deducible from this! In the Old Testament you find constantly, "Trust ye in the Lord forever"; "Put thy trust in Jehovah!" Religion has always been the same in every dispensation. It has always been true that it has been faith which has bound man to God, and given man hope. But when we come to the New Testament, the centre is shifted. With calm, simple, profound dignity, Christ lays His hand upon all the ancient and consecrated words, and says, "They are Mine — give them to Me! That ancient trust, I claim the right to have it. That old obedience, it belongs to Me. I am He to whom in all time the loving hearts of them that loved God have set. I am the Angel of the Covenant, in whom whoever trusteth shall never be confounded!" And I ask you just to take that one simple fact, that Christ steps into the place filled by Jehovah; and ask yourselves honestly what theory about Christ's nature and person and work explains that fact, and saves Him from the charge of folly and blasphemy? The object of faith is. Christ; and as object of faith He must needs be Divine.
II. THE NATURE AND THE ESSENCE OF THE ACT OF FAITH ITSELF.
1. If the object of faith were certain truths, the assent of the understanding would be enough; if unseen things, the confident persuasion of them would be sufficient; if promises of future good, the hope rising to certainty of the possession of these would be sufficient; but if the object be a living person, then it follows that faith is the personal relation of him that believes to the living Person its object, viz., trust.
2. By laying hold of that simple principle, we get light upon the grandest truths of the gospel. It is the very same kind of feeling, though different in degree, and glorified, as that which we all know how to put forth in our relations with one other. When the child looks up into the mother's face, the symbol to it of all protection; or into the father's eye, the symbol to it of all authority, that emotion by which the little one hangs upon the loving hand and trusts the loving heart is the same as the one which, glorified and made Divine, rises strong and immortal in its power, when fixed and fastened on Christ, and saves the soul. The gospel rest upon a mystery, but the practical part of it is no mystery.
3. And if this be the very heart and kernel of the Christian doctrine of faith, all the subsidiary meanings and uses of the Word flow out of that, whilst it cannot be explained by any of them. People are in the habit of setting up antitheses betwixt faith and reason, faith and sight, faith and possession. But the root from which springs the power of faith as the opposite of sight, as the telescope of reason, as the confidence of things not possessed, is the deeper thing — faith in the Person, which leads us to believe Him whether He promises, reveals, or commands, and to take His words as verity because He is "the Truth."
4. And then, again, if this personal trust in Christ be faith, then there come also, closely connected with it, certain other feelings in the heart. For instance, if I am trusting to Christ, there is inseparably linked with it self-distrust, and it will obviously have for its certain and immediate consequence, love.
III. THE POWER OF FAITH. If a man believes, he is saved. Why so? Not as some people sometimes seem to fancy — not as if in faith itself there was any merit. What is that but the whole doctrine of works in a new form? When we say we are saved by faith, we mean, accurately, through faith. Faith is simply the channel through which there flows over into my emptiness the Divine fulness, or the hand which is held up to receive the benefit which Christ lays in it.
IV. THE GUILT AND CRIMINALITY OF UNBELIEF. People are sometimes disposed to fancy that God has arbitrarily selected this as the means of salvation, but the principles that I have been trying to work out help us to see that it is not so. There is no other way of effecting it. God could not do it in any other way than that, the fulness being provided, the condition of receiving it should be trust in His Son. And next they show where the guilt of unbelief lies. Faith is not first and principally an act of the understanding; it is not the mere assent to certain truths. It is the will, the heart, the whole moral being, that is concerned. Why does a man not trust Jesus Christ? Because he will not; because he has confidence in himself; because he has not a sense of his own sins; because he has not love in his heart to his Lord and Saviour. Unbelief men are responsible for. Unbelief is criminal, because it is a moral act. And therefore Christ, who says, "Sanctified by faith that is in Me," says likewise, "He that believeth not, shall be condemned."
(A Maclaren, D. D.)
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