And the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south to the way that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza…
From one of the most unwelcome exhibitions of human nature, we are led with grateful relief to an episode full of hope and the very suggestion of sunshine for the world. This alternate light and shade of a written record of human life, which exhibits alike the appearances of a compendious description and a crowded epitome, is so far a very faithful reflection of the tenor of human history. And the faithfulness of the reflection goes some way to tell whose hand held the pencil of such graphic effect. Incident abounds in the paragraph marked by these verses. But it is no disjointed, incoherent collection of incidents. They come together, "bone to his bone," "sinew and flesh come up upon them," and "skin covers them above," and they make into a most living whole. These incidents of our history group around two subjects. Let us notice -
I. WHAT IS RECORDED HERE OF A LIFE THAT WAS TRUE TO ITS LIGHT.
1. The subject of this fragment of biography is an Ethiopian. Though a fragment, it conducts to the most critical portion of life, and puts the key of it into our hand. He is a first fruits of the fulfillment of the prophecy that was written, "Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God" (Psalm 68:31); and in the desolacy too rapidly drawing on of Jerusalem, Zion was still to say," This man was born in her" (ver. 28; Psalm 87:5). The Ethiopian cannot "change his skin," but God can change a darkened heart, and this he is doing. By what route the Divine ray of light reached the Ethiopian's mind we know not, but that in man's deepest darkness that light oftentimes loves most suddenly to spring up, we do know. He was not one who had been brought up in the light of revelation, but was now following that which was given him.
2. The subject of this fragment of biography was a man of peace, doubtless of wealth also, "of great authority," and with near relations of office to royalty. Yet he is an instance of exception to the tyrannical entanglements of the "cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lust of other things entering in to choke the Word." He is not of those rich of whom it is said by unerring lips, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" He strives to enter in, and strives at the right time. He is not leaving it till too late - the "too late" of those who "shall seek... and not be able." This, again, was obeying and being very faithfully ruled by the light that was in him.
3. The subject of this fragment of biography is come upon using the advantages of his position, state, wealth, for direct religious ends. He has been to Jerusalem to worship. He is returning. He has by his resources of money and of influence possessed himself of the Scriptures, or a portion of them, comparatively so difficult to obtain; and while yet on his journey he is reading them. He is dwelling on what he has heard read in Jerusalem, and is referring to something that had fixed his attention and wakened his wonder. Air, and light, and sun, and movement of the chariot, and presumably voices of some attendants, are playing disregarded upon his senses, while his soul is communing with itself and the things written in that scarcely understood Scripture - all interested. He is scarcely outside; he is crossing the threshold in the very porch of the living Church - of God's own glorious temple and manifestation of truth to man. He is reading in "Esaias the prophet;" and is reading in "the place" of places, where "some soft hand invisible" has guided his eye. The sacred parable of some six centuries old - but which, within the last some six months, has, unknown to him, blossomed for a mission of perpetual youth - has arrested him. He reads and wonders and inquires, "Of whom speaketh the prophet this - 'He was led as a sheep to the slaughter: and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: in his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth'?" The man who has got to that "story," sacred story, sweet story, strange story, and can't pass it, won't pass it, but lingers over it, muses it, asks in the very spirit of prayer for its interpretation, looks very like a man who is not putting out his light, not dishonoring it, but is following it and on the way to improve it and find it brighter.
4. Arrived a very little further in knowledge, the subject of this partial biography is resolved without an unnecessary moment's delay to "make profession." Let him belong to what nation he may, let him wear what livery he may, let him jeopardize what splendid place of earthly promotion he may, he will take the Name of Christ. He has found the truth, and he recognizes it, and not an hour will he lose or risk his "part and lot in the matter." His "heart is right in the sight of God," and it is because God's light has come to be in him. What light he had he followed, and it "shone upon the road that led him to the Lamb;" and he was satisfied, and "went on his way rejoicing."
II. WHAT IS RECORDED HERE OF UNSEEN AND UTTERLY UNSUSPECTED AGENCIES AT WORK BEFRIENDING THE ETHIOPIAN. There were such agencies, and this is first to be noticed. It is plainly written where it can be written, that it may be the better understood and believed in the times innumerable when it cannot be written. Life flows on often apparently by itself; but what unthought of tributaries there are to its stream! Or, if they are thought of and even seen, how little is made of them, with how little faith or devoutness are they mused over! Nay, even when acknowledged as providences, the utterance of that word seems to discharge all debt connected with it. It is not treated as a sacred symbol of untold depth and breadth, and a mercy of meaning only thinly veiled beneath it.
1. We may be very sure that the eunuch would have been first to desire to acknowledge the help that he had received from Philip. What he may have thought of his sudden appearance, of his placing himself so as to overhear his reading of that sacred scroll, and of his addressing to him the somewhat gratuitous question, "Understandest thou what thou readest?" we know not, but evident it is that he both courteously and gladly received the proffered intrusion, nor regarded it as intrusion. He was well repaid. Philip expounds to him the Scripture, and "preaches to him Jesus;" and soon after is the minister to him of baptism, and nor asks nor takes fee or reward, but, so soon as his service is fulfilled, he has vanished. Was all this chance? If the Ethiopian thought it was, or did not think it was not, it may be in some measure forgiven alike to his education and want of education. But he does not strike us as the man certain to fail or likely to fail in matters of spiritual discernment. Be this as it may, we know that there was no chance about it, but distinct design and preparation: So this visible human contribution of help, gratefully received and no doubt unstintedly acknowledged in the heart of the Ethiopian, owned to an unseen friendly power. It was a notable instance of a "stranger" being" unawares an angel." And our human friends, and the visits of their sympathy, their voice to encourage, or to exhort, or to rebuke, may often be "angels' visits." Pity two things -
(1) that they are not in fact more often so; and
(2) that we do not oftener recognize them and use them as such, when they are in truth so ordained.
2. More remote still, there was friendly agency, unknown, unsuspected by the man who took all the benefit of it. Philip himself did not come; he was sent. And the Ethiopian's greater and devouter thanks belong to him who sent. So it was once that there was "no eye to pity, no arm to save." And the majesty and sovereignty and might of highest heaven interposed. And to these behind and above all means and methods and "instruments," belong the glory, gratitude, and endless praise. The "angel of the Lord" (ver. 26) appeared to Philip, and told him the way in which he should go; and Philip went, obedient, unquestioning, though there was room for two or three questions. Like Abraham, "he went," presumably (ver. 29), at present, "not knowing" why he went, though he did know the unpromising "desert" where. And this was no chance, nor was it what happened as a sign and wonder in the one solitary history of this Ethiopian. It is what often is taking place. It is in human life, not deserted, forsaken, "despised of God, to be also often befriended, and most graciously befriended by him.
3. A third friendly interference is vouchsafed in the behalf of the Ethiopian. Philip has reached the way from Jerusalem to Gaza;" and probably he knows the "desert" heat and drought, and the unrefreshing barrenness of the route. And he is going to cross the path of the traveler's chariot, or rather be left behind of it and miss it. We need not suppose that Philip was not wishful to be "instant in season and out of season." But for whatever reason, he needs the direction of "the Spirit" (ver. 29), and that Spirit interposes and instructs and commands. These are of the gracious Spirit's chiefest functions - to arrest, to inform, to command. And still it is all for the help of the unwitting Ethiopian traveling from the worship of Jerusalem, using well even travel-ling-time, and living true to such light as he had. The fuller day was near at hand for him. Long time, perhaps, had glimmering rays been straying in, and he had wondered what they meant, and they had made him long for more light and feel for it with many a groping. Thus" he that seeketh findeth." Full conviction, fall satisfaction, full faith and peace and joy arc his reward (ver. 39). - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.