Acts 14Here we have an account of the fourth journey which Paul and Barnabas undertook in their travels, to plant and propagate the Christian faith, and that was to Iconium.
Where observe, 1. The unity of these two great apostles, both amongst themselves and in the work of God: They went both together into the synagogue.
O how happy is it for the ministers of Christ to walk and work together in unity! to go hand in hand together in the service of the gospel, and with united endeavours promote the glory of God, and the interest of souls!
Observe, 2. As their unity, so their great constancy in performing their duty, notwithstanding all their persecutors' fury and obstinacy. Though the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles against the apostles, yet they continue preaching in the synagogues.
Observe, 3. The great success with which it pleased God to crown the endeavours of the holy apostles: a great multitude of both Jews and Gentiles believed; and that which doth constantly attend the success of the ministry of the word, namely, the envy and opposition of wicked men: they exasperated, or made the Gentiles' minds evil-affected against the brethren.
Note here, 1. The manner of the apostles' preaching at Iconium: They spake boldly: that is, openly in the synagogues: and there with great freedom and plainness of speech asserted truth, condemned error, reproved sin, and denounced judgments against impenitent sinners; and this with a wise, but convincing boldness; with a meek, but zealous boldness; knowing, that if they had not now been bold for Christ, they could not at the great day be bold before him. That minister that is afraid to speak and plead for Christ now, will certainly be ashamed to look him in the face then. A serious thought of this, when we are going to preach, will make us shut all base fear out of the pulpit.
Note, 2. The time of their preaching at Iconium: it was not a single sermon or two, in transitu, but long time they abode, speaking boldly in the Lord. A constant course of preaching is needful to root that word which one or two sermons oft leaveth loose; the end of the ministry is to build up, as well as to bring in, and this is done by our constancy in preaching, and exemplariness in holy living.
Note, 3. How God honoured his word in the mouth of his ministers, confirming their doctrine by miracles: He gave testimony by the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands. The miracles, which the apostles wrought, were the convincing cause of the credibility of the apostles' testimony.
Observe here, 1. How upon the preaching of the gospel there follow great divisions; The multitude was divided. Not that the gospel is the cause of division, but the occasion only, and that by accident too. The sacred institutions and ordinances of Christ, are not to be quarrelled with, or objected against, because through man's corruption they breed differences, discords, and divisions.
Observe, 2. How this division was the cause of persecution: The city was divided, and an attempt was made to use the apostles despitefully, and to stone them.
Lord! what ill usage have thine ambassadors met with from the first publication of the gospel! The unkind world has treated them as if they were not fit to live, driving them from place to place, and persecuting them from city to city.
But observe, 3. The prudential care which the apostles use for their own preservation: They were ware of it, and fled to Lystra and Derbe: according to Christ's command, When they persecute you in one city, flee unto another. Christ allows his ministers a liberty of flight in time of persecution, that they may preserve their lives for future service. We must not expect safety by a miracle, when we may have it in the use of means; yet probably it might not be fear, or a desire to save their lives, which made the apostles flee; but because they were unwilling to lose time there, when their ministry was obstructed, and when they saw the gospel was rejected. Accordingly they fled to Derbe and Lystra, and there preached the gospel.
From whence note, How greatly persecution, by scattering, tends to the increasing of the gospel. Thousands had never heard of Jesus Christ, if persecution had not driven the ministers of the gospel unto them. The wisdom of God well knows how to order those things which are designed for the prejudice, to tend to the furtherance, of the gospel. Phil 1:12
Here we have an account of the fifth journey which the apostles Barnabas and Paul undertook in their travels to plant and propagate the Christian faith; and that was at Lystra and Derbe. Here their first work was to preach the gospel; which done, God honoured Paul to work a glorious miracle for the confirmation of what they had preached.
Where note, 1. The subject which this miraculous cure was wrought upon: a man that was a cripple, not by accident, but by nature, from his mother's womb, and consequently never had walked. They that are lame by causalty, may possibly be relieved by art and industry: but to cure one that is born lame, nothing less is required than a divine power: such defects as are from nature, can only be relieved by the God of nature.
Note, 2. What an extraordinary spirit of discerning was at some times, and upon certain occasions, found with the apostles: St. Paul perceived that this poor cripple had faith to be healed; that is, by that extraordinary gift of discerning spirits, which at this time the apostle had. The like had St. Peter also upon a special occasion; (for this gift of discerning spirits, was not at all times found with the apostles,) he discerned the hypocrisy and falsehood of Ananias and Simon Magus.
The gift of discerning spirits, were for a time conferred upon the apostles, for confirming their testimony, but are long since ceased in the church; the reason of their ceasing is, the gospel being sufficiently established and confirmed.
Note, 3. The reality of this miracle: it was not a lying wonder, but a real miracle: the man not only walked, but leaped for joy, to show that he was perfectly cured, and thoroughly recovered. All the works of God, especially his miraculous words, are perfect. Whom God cures, he cures effectually.
Note, 4. What influence the sight of this miracle had upon the minds of the people of Lystra: they ascribe the honour of this glorious miracle to their dunghill deities, not to the true God; they pay their rent to a wrong landlord. Such was the blind superstition of these poor Pagans, that believing their gods were come down to them in the likeness of men, they called Barnabas, Jupiter, who was their chief god; and Paul, Mercurius, whom they accounted the messenger and interpreter of the gods.
Lord! how blind are the principles of corrupt reason in fallen mankind! And how forcible is an evil custom and a vain conversation received by tradition from their forefathers! And how hard a matter it is to rectify such mistakes in religion, as time and general consent have rooted and riveted in the minds of men!
Observe, 1. How far Paganish superstition did transport and carry these men: they come to the gates of the house where the apostles had lodged, and bring oxen with them, trimmed with garlands of flowers, according to their heathenish rites, verily intending to offer sacrifice unto them.
Learn, How forward the devil is to put honour, much honour, yea, overmuch honour, upon the ministers of Christ, when it is to contradict their doctrine, and gain advantage to himself by it. The devil laughed to see the blind superstitious Lystrians adore the apostles, and adorn them with the names of their heathen gods, hoping to make advantage thereby to himself.
Observe, 2. With what indignation and disdain, detestation and abhorrence, the apostles reject this vile idolatry: telling them that they were men of like passions, and in the same condition of mortality with themselves, and that their business was to turn them from their idols which were mere vanities and nothing, compared with the living and true God, who made them and all the world.
Learn hence, 1. That the worshipping of idols is the most senseless and irrational vanity that ever the devil put into the stupified heart of man.
2. That all good men hate idolatry in others, and abhor to be idolized themselves.
Observe, 3. The description which the holy apostle gives of the true God, to draw the people off from worshipping idols: he styles him the living God, that made the glorious fabric of heaven and earth, the sea, and all things therein. A good God, that giveth rain and fruitful seasons, filling his creatures' hearts with food and gladness.
Intimating, 1. That whatsoever concerns the happiness and felicity of man in this life, is wholly derived from God.
2. That there is no nation nor person under heaven, to whom God exhibits not the evident tokens of his goodness: The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works.
Observe, 4. The character which the apostles give of the former times, in which the heathen world lived: In times past they were suffered to walk in their own ways. That is, of old God suffered all nations, except the Jewish nation to walk in their own ways; the meaning is, he did not check them in their sinful ways and courses, as he did his own people the Jews.
Yet we must not understand the apostle absolutely, but comparatively only; there never was any man, much less any nation, whom God suffered to go on in a course of sin without any stop. Every person and every nation, has had the stop of the light of nature at least; but every nation has not had the stop of the light of the gospel, the stop of ordinances, the preaching of the word, the motions of the Holy Spirit; these the Jews had, but the Gentiles had not.
In this sense God suffered all nations to walk in their own ways; he did not give them his word, his statutes, or his judgments, to show them his ways, or to hinder them walking in their own ways; and this was a sore judgment. To suffer either nation or person to walk without control or check, from word or rod, from ordinances or providences, in the ways of sin and wickedness, is a very dreadful and tremendous judgment: In times past he suffered all nations to walk in their own ways.
Note here, 1. The ill requital St. Paul had for his excellent discourse to these blasphemous idolators: They stoned him to death, in their own apprehension. The sharpest and keenest edge of persecution is usually turned against the ministers of Christ, and falls heaviest on the prophets of God. The devil will do his utmost to take away their lives, who are continually endeavouring the destruction of him and his kingdom.
Note, 2. The great constancy and incredible fickleness of the common people; who one day would sacrifice to the apostles as gods, and the next day stone them to death as malefactors. What wise man will value himself by the applause of the multitude, and live upon the breath of the people, (that contingent judge of good and evil,) which rather attend the vain than the virtuous? But thus the common people dealt with Christ himself, crying one day, Hosanna! and the next day, Crucify!
Note, 3. The miraculous recovery of the apostle, after his persecutors had stoned him: He rose up, and came into the city. His recovery seems to be miraculous, else his stoning would have disabled him from walking. God had farther work for this great apostle to do; and therefore neither the wrath of men, nor the rage of the devil, could at that time cut him off.
Observe here, The great and good use which the apostle makes of his miraculous recovery: he is no sooner upon his legs, but he travels to Derbe, to preach the gospel. Nothing do the faithful ministers of Christ more fervently desire, and more diligently endeavour, than to lay out their lives, their strength, their time, their all, for God, in his service, and to his glory.
Yet observe farther, That notwithstanding the apostles were persecuted at Lystra and Iconium, yet they returned thither again; having planted churches there, they go back to water their own plantations which they had newly made. It is not enough that the seed of the word be sown, it must be watered also, languish and die.
But what did the apostles do, when they returned to visit their newly-planted churches?
Ans. They confirmed and established them in the doctrine of the gospel; they exhorted them to steadfastness and perseverance in their holy religion, and armed them against their fears of affliction and persecution, for the sake of Christ and his holy religion; acquainting them, that they must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Afflictions like the waters of Marah, must be met with in their way to the heavenly Canaan; there is no coming at the crown but by the cross: the Head having been crowned with thorns, it is unsuitable that the feet should tread on roses.
Christianity is the doctrine of the cross, which the ministers of Christ ought to let their people understand and know, that they may not "think strange of the fiery trial, as if some strange thing had befallen them; but rather rejoice, inasmuch as they are partakers of the sufferings of Christ; that when his glory shall be revealed, they may be glad also with exceeding joy." 1Pe 4:12,13
Here we have two farther instances and evidences of the apostles' care of these new-planted churches; and the first was, to settle them in church order, ordaining elders in every church, to be the guides and teachers of the rest, and this with fasting and prayer, in regard of the great solemnity and importance of the work.
Hence learn, That ordination of ministers is a ministerial act; the officers of the church, and not of the people, must separate and set apart, consecrate and ordain, the persons who are to attend upon God and his church in holy things. When they, that is, Paul and Barnabas, had ordained them elders in every church.
Learn, 2. That this solemn action ought to be very solemnly performed by fasting and prayer: They ordained elders in every church, and prayed, with fasting.
The second instance of this apostolical care was, their, commending them to the Lord on whom they had believed. That is, they committed them as young converts to the power of Christ, to strengthen and confirm them, and they committed them as their treasure to the care of Christ, to preserve and keep them. The greatest and best thing that the ministers of God can do, either present with, or absent from their people, is to commit and commend them to the power and care of Christ, who is able to keep them from falling, and to present them faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.
This last paragraph of the chapter acquaints us with the return of Paul and Barnabas to Antioch in Syria, from whence they set out two years before, and where they were by the prayers of the church most affectionately recommended to the grace and assistance of God, for carrying on of that great work, to wit, the conversion of the Gentiles; which God had abundantly succeeded them in.
Learn thence, That the best provision and preparation for any business, especially any business of importance, wherein the glory of God is concerned, is fervent prayer. Thus the apostles here, being sent out from Antioch with prayer, they return with praise; the Lord granted them both safety and success; safety as to their persons, and success as to their labours.
Observe farther, Being returned to Antioch, they call the church together, and declare the great things which God had done with them and by them; to the intent, no doubt, the church might join with them in their praises and thanksgivings, who had before assisted them with their prayers and supplications: They rehearsed all that God had done with them, that he might have the entire praise and glory from them.
Observe lastly, The subject matter of that report which they joyfully made to the church of Antioch; namely, how God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles; that is, given them an opportunity to know, nd ability to believe, the gospel, which like a door was formerly shut to them, but now mercifully opened; and which was the far greater mercy yet, Almighty God did not only open the door of the gospel to them, by bringing his word amongst them, but he opened the door of their hearts to receive it, and entertain it when brought. The opening the heart and mind of sinners effectually to receive the truths of the gospel, is the special work of the Holy Spirit of God.
Lord! how insufficient are all external means, how excellent soever in themselves, to operate savingly upon men's minds, unless the Holy Spirit opens the understanding, as well as the ministers open the scripture! He that opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, opened the Gentiles' hearts to receive the doctrine of faith, and inclined their wills to the obedience of faith.
Eternally praised be God for the gracious illuminations, the sanctifying impressions, the powerful assistances, and the quickening influences, of the Holy Ghost, which worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
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