The Use of Opportunities of Grace
Acts 13:42-52
And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles sought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath.…

Such was the speech of the apostles Barnabas and Paul to the Jews who dwelt at Antioch, in Pisidia. That an opportunity had passed by them; that, being solemnly offered to them, they had rejected it; and now that it had left them. This was being fulfilled at that time all over the world, wherever the Jews had been scattered — to them "first was the news of this salvation sent" — they were first to be called into Messiah's kingdom. But the Jews would not hearken, and so these gracious purposes of God were defeated — the offer of salvation passed from them to the Gentiles; their birthright departed from them. The first blessing was lost; and this was a loss which they could not now repair. It is a leading principle of that rule under which we are living — I mean, that all through our lives God is setting before us, at certain times, certain opportunities, upon our employment of which our after life will depend; that we are continually beset by opportunities which may be used, and which may be lost — but which, if lost, are lost forever. And, first, see how this has always marked the dealings of God with man. Begin at the very first opening — when God created Adam and Eve, and blessed them, and placed them in paradise. They were placed there in a state of trial; they had the opportunity of obedience or of rebellion. If they obeyed, there were before them the choicest of God's blessings. We know that they transgressed, and that they lost this opportunity. And now look at God's dealings with the children of Israel, which we are told are expressly recorded to instruct us in His ways. God chose them to deliver them from their hard slavery in Egypt, and to plant them in the land of Canaan. Here was their trial, their opportunity; and if they had obeyed, doubtless they would have gone straight up into the land, and God would have prospered them so that they would at once have taken possession of it: but they rebelled, and they lost their opportunity. God threatened to destroy them; but upon their repentance, at the intercession of Moses, He spared and pardoned them. But to what were they admitted by this pardon on their repentance? Not to the same blessing which they would have had. This was lost, and lost forever. Now they were told that, though accepted, they should not enter into the land of promise, but that their children should enter in if they were obedient. And again, in the case of those children, when at last they got possession of Canaan; God promised to cast out at once all their enemies, if they made no alliance with them, nor spared them. Here was their opportunity, and if they had used it, they would have had ever after a peaceable possession of their land; but they neglected it, and what was the result? God forgave them, and told them their enemies should not overcome them; but they had lost the full blessing — He would not now cast out these remnants of the people of the land, but suffered them to remain to be a perpetual grief and trial to His people. And to take only one more instance from the Old Testament. We read in 2 Kings, chap. 2 Kings 13, that the prophet Elisha, just before his death, promised, by a sign to the king of Israel, certain victories over his enemies, the Syrians, and he bade him, in token of his trust in the promise, smite on the ground with his arrows. Here was his opportunity; but, being weak of faith and faint-hearted, he "smote thrice upon the ground and stayed." And what was the prophet's conduct? He told him that he had lost this opportunity — that it was gone. "Thou shouldst have smitten five or six times, then hadst thou smitten Syria until thou hadst consumed it: whereas now thou shalt smite Syria but thrice." And now, from the history of God's dealings with men in Holy Scripture, turn to what we see in life around us. Here we may mark on every side the constant action of the very same rule. We may see it in the growth and strengthening of our bodies — childhood and youth are the appointed opportunity for this growth; if there be then provided food, and exercise, and the like, and so the frame is kept healthful and vigorous, the body reaches its full strength and stature; and, on the other hand, a starved and sickly childhood and youth will lead surely to a stunted and weakly manhood, and this can never be wholly replaced; a certain measure of health and strength may be afterwards regained, but not the full measure — that is lost, because the opportunity of growth is gone. And so it is in all around us. Seed time comes but once in the year, and he who loses that, may weep in vain for a harvest, but he cannot reap. And so it is with a man's business and his fortune. See, then, how this principle runs through all of God's dealings with men; and now see how forcibly it applies to the higher and better life of our immortal souls.

1. First, then, it applies most awfully to the whole space of a man's life here, as a preparation for eternity. Here is his trial — his opportunity — extending over more or fewer years, as God may appoint; but, be it shorter or longer, forming altogether his only opportunity of preparing for eternity, and if lost, lost therefore forever.

2. But this principle applies not only to the whole of our lives here, as our only opportunity of preparing for eternity, but also to all the particular circumstances of life, through some of which we are every day passing; and it is this which I would desire you more especially to notice. Take a few of them as examples of the rest, and begin with the very first. When by baptism we are brought into the fold of Christ, some measure of God's most Holy Spirit is then doubtless given to us. Now here is a special opportunity; for, if these strivings of the Spirit of God be attended to — if the child, is a holy child, and does not, by resisting the Spirit, drive Him away, his heart is purified in an especial manner; the habits grow up pure, and there is a meekness, and gentleness, a purity and simplicity, a tenderness of heart, and a deep quiet delight in God's service, which is most rarely known in its entire fulness by those who have wandered from God, and lost the first opportunity of a religious childhood. Here, then, is an opportunity of gaining a blessing, which, of God's mercy, may last all our life through, and which if lost cannot be regained. And this early blessing is the type and earnest of others which, all our life through, are waiting upon unnumbered opportunities to pour upon us in all their fulness. From the greater occasions of our life — from our holy vows at confirmation — from the marriage blessing, and the funeral separation, down to every duty and temptation of our common days — from the monthly eucharist to the Sunday's worship. And now, from this view of the character and condition of our life, there flow many and most important lessons.Two or three of the chief of these shall be pointed out to you in conclusion.

1. And, first, this subject teaches all of us a lesson of habitual watchfulness. What a picture is this of life! how full is it of the seeds of things! how great a blessing or how great a loss lie hid continually under its most common opportunities!

2. Let us learn, secondly, another lesson — and that, one of humiliation. Let the most watchful look back upon his course, and how thickly will he see scattered all along his path the memorials of too frequent negligence — lost opportunities; each one, like broken urns, with its blessing spilled upon the ground and its grace wasted.

3. Lastly, with humiliation for the past, let us learn, for the time which yet remains, a lesson of earnestness and patience.

(Bp. Samuel Wilberforce.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And when the Jews were gone out of the synagogue, the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath.

WEB: So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.

The Severe Farewell
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