And they gave him audience to this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth…
The most inspiring subjects for the artist's pencil have come from the Bible narrations, and but few equal the occasion upon which our text was uttered. Upon a staircase leading from the temple stands a venerable apostle, chained between two soldiers. Around him is the Roman guard; beneath are scowling, bloodthirsty Jews; violent hands and feet join with raging tongues, so that a cloud of dust and garments thrown off obscure the sunlight. Why this uproar in such a place? Its sole cause is a recital of Christian experience. The witness is one well known to be competent and trustworthy — once Saul, breathing out threatenings and slaughter, now Paul, ready to die for that Master whom he had madly persecuted.
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live.