And there was great joy in that city.
And there was great joy in that city. The gospel of Jesus begins now its own aggressive but beneficent march. Twice already has it passed through the most solemn baptism of blood. Its birth, its infancy, its home, its early struggles outside its own sacred home, and its baptisms can never be forgotten. Yet it is time for the young giant to essay his powers, and, without a weapon, to try what intrinsic force may count for. Apostolic preaching and achievement are still for a short time held in abeyance by the history. It is almost as though open ground were being prepared for the entrance of Saul into the great champion's place. Stephen, stricken down, is immediately replaced, not by an apostle, but by the second of those who had been specially set apart for the care of tables. Philip, who comes to be named Philip the Evangelist, is to the front. At the message of persecution, when many, apparently with no little concert and in no little order of movement, travel elsewhere, he goes "down to the city of Samaria." Whether it were he or they, it cannot be supposed that they imagined that they and their gospel were sure, by mere change of place, of escaping persecution. They probably saw very clearly and were very sure of the reverse of this - nor less sure that they carried with them what would again and again win for itself and for them the heartiest welcome, waken the truest joy, reap a harvest of unending gratitude. And such was now the earliest experience of Philip. How kindly came the brief sunshine in place of persecution's biting blast! So God often helps his faithful ones on another stage, and ordains that his own cause shall triumph through alternate storm and sunshine. The city of Samaria found great joy, after a short period of Philip's visit. Let us consider this joy, what account it can give of itself.
I. IT WAS A JOY THAT HAD FOUNDATION ON WHICH TO REST. It came of "Christ preached" and Christ proved among the people. Philip preached Christ, and this is clearly stated first. His preaching was attended with signs and wonders following. Notice:
1. That the exact nature of those signs and wonders - miracles of healing to the body - does not derogate from the great principle here forcibly illustrated. Some may think that because present ages are not ages of bodily miracles, neither the preaching nor the preacher of the gospel has a chance to compare with that of Philip's time. But the mistake is patent. The criterion is not that one bodily kind of miracle should be forthcoming, but that some practical fruit should certainly be found. Christ preached must have some result of a practical kind. Christ is not among men to be nothing among them, to be no force among them, to be an indifferent possession, or to be mere passing excitement. No time is to be wasted, with Christ as the pretence of it, as he never wasted any.
2. The practical effect of Christ preached must be, really and everything taken into account, good in itself and in its bearing. It is true that awhile much of what shall seem of an opposite character may be stirred up. It is true also that Christ preached and refused must be condemnation to those who refuse. And it is true that much of Christ's practical work, while it is in progress, lies in discriminating, in moral judgment of men, in separating and showing the infinite disparity there is between certain kinds "of ground" on which the seed of his Word falls. These things nothing hinder the fact that, if Christ has been at work, it may be shown and must be shown that good has been at work, and goodness come thereof.
3. The practical good effect of Christ preached is not disadvantaged in the present day by the absence of physical signs and wonders. These were the shadows, not the things that now purport to have succeeded them. They were but simple, elementary types compared with the substance of which they forewarned. It might with much more verisimilitude he said that the physical miracles of Jesus Christ and his apostles shared the class of disadvantages attendant upon his own personal presence in the flesh - when men might love the person rather than the character, the body rather than the soul, the limb restored rather than the soul saved. Where to-day, Christ being preached, sins are forsaken, hearts are changed, lives do different works and those the works of godliness, the miracle is not what makes men alone wonder and throng and be glad exceedingly, but it makes them and hosts of angels also wonder, throng, and be glad to Heaven's joyfullest music.
4. The practical good effect of Christ preached is bound to be efficacious in attracting "the people." We here read that they "with one accord gave heed" to the things that were spoken, because of the things that were done. Though many an individual has by one method or another shut himself, alas! too surely, too successfully, out of grace, this has never yet been found true of the mass of people (unless it be judicially the case for a while with the Jew) when the gospel has been preached amongst them. So soon as some real fruits have become apparent, standers-by, ay, and passers-by, not a few, look, and gaze, and ask, and move toward that truth that can act, and then they yield ere long in tumult of devotion and unbounded subjection to it. No work, no public movement, no sample of revolution even, ever showed more genuinely the signs of adaptation for spreading (ay, to the idea of "covering the earth, as the waters cover the seas") than" Christ preached" has shown. It offers us a grand idea of what the scene will be, what the rate of growth, what the grand transformation of scene, when the set conditions, the "set time" shall have come.
5. Christ's gospel does not only not disdain these conditions of its acceptance, but proposes them and gives prominence to them and desires to be itself tested by them.
(1) Jesus Christ has been a wonderful Teacher in this world. The civilized world now gives him the teacher's chair. All other teachers pale their ineffectual light in his presence. And when they shine, shine only in proportion to the light they borrow from him.
(2) Jesus Christ has been also a wonderful Example of character - Pattern of patterns, Model of models; how perfectly sculptured! how adorably complete!
(3) But the one leading wonderful characteristic to which he lays claim, and justest claim, is that of Savior: not what he teaches; not what he instances and illustrates of surprising greatness, goodness, grace; but what he does and will do. Therefore no barren word, nor word of dialectic skill, nor word of elegant culture, nor of poetic fancy, nor of profoundest theologic theme, shall dare to offer to pass current for "Christ preached." This means false profession, audacious blasphemy, guiltiest tampering with sacredest things, unless it mean conviction for sin, contrition for guilty heart, conversion of nature, and unmistaken change of life! Then first would the gospel of Christ put off its glory, and he himself descend from his undisputed place, when any diminishment were made in the slightest iota, "one jot or one tittle," of these their unique and venerable and practical proffers. Well might there be "great joy in that city," when into it there graciously entered the presence which met the deep, the groaning, sighing, almost despairing and worn demand of "the people"! It carried in its very voice its evidence; in its deeds its attraction; in its varied rich message its circle of reward. And as with bountiful hand it strewed its blessings, a willing, grateful, jubilant crowd gathered round, and one filled with new joy.
II. It was A JOY THAT HAD THE ELEMENTS OF LIKELY DURATION IN IT.
1. Some joyed who received the full blessing themselves. If any were dispossessed of unclean spirits; if any palsied were thrilled with all the old energy and new added thereto; if the lame were made to walk and to leap ; - these were substantial benefits, undoubted blessings, never "to be repented" or forgotten.
2. Some joyed whose chiefest joy, reached by the way of sympathy, was for those who were dear to them, those whom they knew though not dear to them, those whom perhaps they did not know at all nor had ever seen till they now see their joy. For in the wide circumference of a genuine human heart and in its capacious spaciousness there was room, and there is still room, for sympathy to find its sweetest, daintiest food in all these ways. And the joy of sympathy, some of the sacredest that fringes human life, dwells in a secret pavilion, which no profane fickleness shall easily molest, when Christ is the origin of it.
3. Many joyed by the stirring novelty of so new, so bright a hope, and that hope was neither delusive nor "for a while" only.
4. Some, perhaps many, possibly very many, genuinely knew the real dawn of celestial light, of spiritual health, of salvation for the soul. That was a joy incontestably of likely duration. It was deep and large and limitless.
III. IT WAS JOY THAT HAD IN IT THE EARNEST OF THE ETERNAL UPPER JOY. However little conscious "the people" might he of any such thought, not the less might it have strong hold on them. But it is not impossible that they were in some measure conscious of it, yet the possession of the present be so true, so welcome a good, that they do not stop to ask of the future or the upper. It matters not either way; there was surely such an earnest in the joy that filled them now.
1. Was it not an unparalleled scene and experience for them? Had they ever known anything on earth to surpass it or to parallel it?
2. Was it not a most genuine rehearsal of "the former things being passed away"? Were pain, and disease, and deprivation of strength, and deprivation of limb - and the tyranny of evil spirits - relaxing their various grasp, nay, resigning it; and did it not look far on to the time when God would also go so far as to wipe away every tear from every eye? Was the joy all round, every eye full of it, every tongue full of it, every ear full of it, every heart full of it; and did not this go far to make it a universal joy?
3. Was it a joy that came of any other parentage than heaven? Did science bring it, or art, or even the glowing glories of creation bathed in golden sunlight? No; God sent it, and Jesus brought it, and the Spirit made it flow full and abound. This answers to the heavenly joy. Though one and another individual fell short of the soul's real light and the heart's deepest joy, if the scene looked to be an end "of all our woe," it must have looked something like an end of all our "sin," and justly sends on our enraptured anticipations to the time when both shall hate vanished in the perfect and eternal joy. -B.
Parallel VersesKJV: And there was great joy in that city.