And many that believed came, and confessed, and showed their deeds.…
Deeds, not words, are the proofs of a man's sincerity. We may say what we will, and make what profession we will; but it is our conduct that must stamp the true value both upon what we say and what we profess. In this passage we have an account of a conversion, which, from the circumstances attending it, we have good reason to believe was real. "And fear fell on them all; and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified." This was the effect generally. People stood in awe of a religion which was attested by such evident tokens of Divine power, and were disposed to believe that there was something in what was told them of Christianity and its Founder. Thus far, however, people: may go, and often do go, without experiencing any real saving change in themselves. They have a sort of respect for religion; they would not slight it; but there they stop: they do not suffer it to take hold of their hearts. So, no doubt, it was at Ephesus with numbers. But it was not so with all. Many there were, who, as far as we have the means of judging, were savingly converted by what they heard and saw. They "believed, and came, and confessed, and showed their deeds." See here the proofs which these men gave of the sincerity of their conversion.
I. It is said, "THEY BELIEVED" — they believed the gospel which St. Paul preached, and, believing this, they betook themselves to Jesus, that they might be saved by Him. But we cannot betake ourselves to Jesus except we first renounce and forsake those ways and practices which are contrary to Him. This, then, these Ephesians did. They came to the apostle, and confessed their sins, and showed their evil deeds. They did not attempt to excuse themselves, to put a better face upon their past life than it deserved. And this everyone must do who would turn to God in good earnest. Remember, then, that confession is one of the very first steps to be taken, if we would obtain forgiveness and enjoy the blessing of a conscience at peace with God and at peace with itself. "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." Ordinarily we do best to begin with confession. And, no doubt, besides the greater and more heinous sins of our lives, which we have good need to acknowledge with shame, and as the Christian does come short hourly of that standard at which he aims, so it is his wisdom as; well as his duty to confess his shortcomings as minutely and particularly as he can. A man may confess in a general way that he is a sinner, and yet blind his eyes to this or that particular sin to which he is addicted, and so continue in it for all his confession. And this shows the importance of self-examination, as at other times, so especially before our set prayers. But, after all, even confession is not enough. It is, too, possible for a man to confess his sins and yet for all this to continue in his sins. In fact the confession may be used as a sort of cloak, by which a man persuades himself that he is penitent. These Ephesian converts not only confessed their sins, but they forsook them; nay, they not only forsook them, but they put away from them the occasions which led to them, and the instruments by which they practised them. And to show that it was no cheap sacrifice which they were making, the value of them, it was found, was no less than fifty thousand pieces of silver. Well, indeed, might the sacred writer add, after giving this account, "So mightily grew the Word of God and prevailed." It was a very strong testimony indeed to the sincerity of these converts, and to the power with which the Word of God had laid hold of them. Their conduct was an open confession of the change which had taken place in their views and feelings. But, further, the burning of their books shows the resolution which the Ephesian converts had formed never to return to the use of those arts again to which the books ministered. They had no misgivings in their minds; as though, after all, they might possibly at some future time take a different view of their former course and of the religion they had adopted from what they now did. Their minds were made up. Nor was this all. As far as in them lay they cut off the possibility of a return. It is said of a great captain of former times, that on one occasion when he went with his army to make war upon an enemy's country, he set fire to his ships as soon as his army was landed, that both he and they might feel that nothing was left for them but to conquer. They were not even to think of flight or escape. So did these Ephesians by their "curious arts." And in this respect, too, every sincere and earnest convert will tread in their steps. As far as in him lies he will cut off from himself the possibility of a return to his former courses. The things which used to minister to his evil practices he will as much as possible put away from him. If he was given to drunkenness, he will keep out of the way of those places and those companions which used to lead him on to that sin. If bad books or other writings were a cause of stumbling to him, putting into his mind bad thoughts and bad desires, he will put these from him for the future. But someone might have whispered to these Ephesians, "Why burn the books, after all? They cost a great deal of money. Is it not a pity to destroy them? If you do not want them, others may be glad of them, and glad to buy them of you. And, if they take damage in consequence, that is their look-out, not yours. Besides, if they do not get your books, they will most likely get others." But these good men did not allow any such thought to weigh with them. The books were bad books; they would not leave the possibility of their doing further mischief. They had done mischief enough already. People might remind them of the money which they paid for them, and tell them that at any rate it would be enough to lay them by. But they will feel that the true course is to put it out of their power to do further mischief.
II. ARE WE FOLLOWING CHRIST WITH LIKE SINCERITY? Are we forsaking and casting away whatever in former times led us astray from God, or served as an instrument of sin? Have we allowed ourselves in anything which God's Word forbids? I know how men are apt to plead for some of these things; how they say, "We cannot, circumstanced as we are, give them up. We have been used to them all our lives. Our living and maintenance depend upon them. If we give them up, yet others will still carry them on. We must trust in God's mercy, and hope that He will make allowance for us." But, no: whoever reasons thus, and casts about for excuses to justify himself in continuing in a course of sin, does by that very fact show that his heart is not right with God. He is not following the Lord fully. God will not own him, let him speak as he will of his faith, and make what profession he will. As Christians we are to give up everything that is contrary to God's law. However dear it may be to us, yea, though it be as a right hand, it is to be cut off, or as a right eye, it is to be plucked out: God can and will make amends for it.
(C. A. Heurtley, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.