« ZurückWeiter »
them, being alarmed lest the governor should be drawn away from his influence to the faith of the gospel. But the Holy Spirit filled Saul; and fixing his eye on Elymas with the power thus imparted, and speaking to him as one full of all cunning, falsehood, and fraud, a child of the devil, and one who opposed all truth, he asked him, as a Jew, whether he would not cease to pervert, and turn to falsehood, the true doctrines of Jehovah. He told him that God's judgment was coming upon him, and that he should lose the power of sight for some time. While Saul was speaking, his words came to pass; the sight of Elymas became dim, and then he was entirely blind; he wandered and groped about, trying to take the hand of some one that would lead him. This effect of the apostle's words, connected with the doctrine which he preached, greatly affected the proconsul; who at once believed the gospel, which had been explained to him as the word of the Lord.
In relating this circumstance, it is said that Saul was also called Paul. This is the first time that the name of Paul is applied to him, and the last that he is spoken of as Saul there have been several opinions concerning the reason for this change, none of which can be shewn to be on very clear grounds. It is probable, that as Saul was entering upon a mission which led him amongst the Greeks and Romans, he would adopt upon such an occasion a name more suited to the people amongst whom he travelled, than that which belonged to him as a Jew. It was the custom for persons to have different names, in the different languages commonly spoken; and perhaps the name of the eminent convert at Paphos, by its similarity with his own, may have suggested that by which he is ever afterwards called.
1. The renewed persecution of the people of Christ by the Jews aided by Herod, did not prevent the progress of God's word; and there must have been, in many places, a condition of the church similar to that which is spoken of as existing at Antioch. It was in this city, where the disciples were first called christians, that the first systematic
efforts were made to extend that blessed title amongst those who were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenant of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. (Eph. ii. 12.) We see here a strong evidence of the difficulty with which deeprooted prejudice is overcome, and of the forbearing compassion with which God regards such a state of infirmity in his people, that fourteen years were allowed to elapse after the issue of that great commission, which opened the gospel to all the world, before these systematic efforts were commanded to be made. Time was allowed for the church of Christ to obtain some standing in the world, and to assume that commanding position, which might enable the first missionaries to refer to the original churches, as bodies of men, from whom they came forth to impart the knowledge of the truth. God condescended to wait for this ripeness of circumstances; and then by his own special authority gave command that the waters of life should be made to flow over the spiritual desert of the Gentiles. How deep should be the feeling of gratitude, with which we of the Gentile division of the world should regard this beginning of missions from the Hebrew church; since in the course of its subsequent progress, our forefathers and through them we ourselves have been blessed with that precious knowledge which is able to save the soul.
Do I regard with gratitude the first opening of christian missions to the Gentiles, by which the gospel of salvation has been brought to my own knowledge? and how do I shew that this gratitude is in my heart?
2. It pleased God to indicate the persons whom he chose for the great work of missions to the Gentiles, by a distinct call of the Holy Ghost; which was recognised by the church, and sealed as it were to the individuals themselves, before the church, by the laying on of hands. Such in effect has ever been the course marked out in the appointment of the ministers of Christ's church. We know not in what particular manner the word of the Holy Ghost was expressed, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them;" but it was in
some way which conveyed a clear and undoubted understanding of the divine call. Such supernatural communications are not now made to the church; but the Holy Spirit's secret influence may be perceived by its effects on the mind and conduct of those who are enabled to say, that they trust and believe they" are moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon them the work of the ministry. The solemn imposition of hands on such as make this declaration, seals to them the warrant for exercising their ministry. And as the effectual call to this work is given by the Holy Spirit, every christian may be instrumental in advancing the gospel, by earnest prayer to God on behalf of the ministers of the gospel, and especially on behalf of those who are entering the ministry. This is one of our most important duties; and to its neglect may be attributed much of the careless indifference with which too many presume to receive the seal, upon an unfounded presumption that they are called by the Holy Ghost.
Do I make it a matter of earnest prayer, that God would be pleased to purify and bless his church, by giving the effectual call of the Holy Ghost to many ministers of the gospel? Do I offer up such prayers with hopefulness or coldly?
3. The first missionary effort made by the original church to carry out the work of the gospel, by the conversion of a people from amongst the Gentiles, was marked by such signal success as could not fail to afford great encouragement to the instruments employed in the work. God was pleased to give his testimony to their preaching, by a miraculous judgment on a great opposer of the gospel; and by the conversion of the ruler of the country first visited by the missionaries. Such an encouragement was mercifully adapted to the peculiar position of these first preachers amongst the heathen: it was an earnest of future success, given at a time when they were to be called upon to struggle against most violent opposition to their work; and it was a token of the victory which, in spite of every opposition, they were to obtain over the enemies of truth. It is thus that God in his wisdom and
mercy condescends to the infirmities of human feelings, and to work through the instrumentality of human motives. And it should be the earnest prayer of every member of the church, that those who are employed in missionary work may receive at the hands of their great master, similar condescension and mercy. It is not however only the missionaries to those who are confessedly in a heathen state, who stand in need of such mercy; wherever there are enquiring minds, like that of Sergius Paulus, there will not be wanting agents of Satan who, like Elymas, will endeavour to pervert the right ways of the Lord by subtle arguments. Elymas taught upon principles higher than those of gross idolatry, by which the people were kept in darkness: the enquiries of Sergius Paulus were tending towards truth, and therefore a more cunning device of false light was necessary to keep him in error. And such will often be found to be the way by which Satan adapts his devices to the condition of mind, by which God is preparing a sinner for receiving the gospel. The faithful teaching of Paul, and his bold denunciation of the false doctrine of Elymas, tracing it up to its source in Satan, points out to us the course by which God is honoured; and the help of his Spirit is obtained, to the glory of Christ's name, in settling upon the rock of truth, the minds of those who have been led by His grace honestly to seek for guidance in the right way.
Am I really interested in the progress of christian missions among the heathen? How far is this shewn by my prayers on behalf of missionaries, and my exertions on their behalf?
Glory be to thee, O gracious Father, who didst condescend to look upon us in our low estate, and to send forth the light of thy gospel to reach even unto us. me grace to shew forth thy praise, not only with my lips, but in my life. I beseech thee to impart thy wisdom from on high to all ministers of thy word, and especially to our bishops and chief pastors, that they may lay hands suddenly on no man, but faithfully and wisely make choice
of fit persons to serve in the sacred ministry of thy church. Help the infirmities of all whom thou sendest forth with the word of thy gospel to the people still lying in heathen darkness; encourage them with such success as is needful to support them. Give them the tokens of thy presence; and grant that with all boldness they may withstand the enemies of thy truth. Mercifully enlarge my charity, that I may not shrink from testifying concerning the devices of the great enemy, in seducing souls by subtle arguments, under the semblance of truth. Let me ever be earnest in promoting the glory of the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. AMEN.
The missionaries at Antioch in Pisidia.-Paul's sermon in the synagogue.
PLACE.-Antioch in Pisidia.
May God, for the sake of Jesus Christ, give me the Holy Spirit, that I may understand this portion of His Holy Word, and profit by it. AMEN.
ACTS, chap. XIII. verses 13 to 43.
Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to 13 Perga in Pamphylia and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.
But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, 14 and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down. And 15 after the reading of the law and the prophets the rulers of the synagogue sent unto them, saying, "Ye men and brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on." Then Paul stood up, and beckon- 16 ing with his hand said, "Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience. The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and 17 exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it. And about the time 18 of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness. And when 19 he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Chanaan, he divided their land to them by lot. And after that he gave unto them judges about 20 the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. And afterward they desired a king and God gave unto them Saul the 21