Acts

F W Grant.

Division 2. (Acts 8 — 12.)

Israel rejecting, but the Church enlarging; the barriers between Jew and Gentile broken down.

The death of Stephen was the definite rejection of Christ on the part of the nation. It closed on God's side the last attempt to get fruit from the fig-tree of the vineyard, according to the parable (Luke 13:8, 9). There was no remedy now, nor hope of averting the sentence pronounced, that it should be cut down; and for this the Roman axe had long been sharpening. There remained still — and remain — the promises of God to be made good to a future generation; which grace will fulfil, but of which no particular one can claim fulfilment. Meanwhile He has other purposes, for the accomplishment of which even the blessing of the earth (inseparably bound up with Israel's) may well wait, — purposes which are to show forth the exceeding riches of His grace in Christ, and His manifold wisdom, to the principalities and powers in heavenly places (Eph. 2:7; Eph. 3:10).

Thus the setting aside of Israel only leaves room for the increase and development of the Church already formed, but needing yet to know itself as the vessel of this display. The unfolding begins now at once; although with a slowness, for which the history of all previous revelations might well have prepared us. Successive communications, and by various instruments, have always been the method which God has employed, as Scripture, in every part of it, is witness to us. We may be able to see but little the reason of this; although we may be sure that there is profoundest wisdom in it. Nor is this the place to enquire as to the general meaning of the divine ways in this respect. In the case before us, however, we may easily discern how gently, one by one, the bonds are broken which held the people of God to a system such as Judaism was; a system of divine institution, although in accommodation to the need — in fact the self-sufficiency — of man, and not the expression of what was in His own heart. These ties to it are therefore hindrances, which a deeper apprehension of God, or even of themselves, would bring deliverance from, and which the lack of deliverance will make formidable, and yet, with their apparent sanctions they cannot be too rudely broken through. We shall see how thoroughly yet how tenderly this is done; although the history here does not complete the deliverance; above all, does not give the full spiritual account of it, for which we must go to the epistles.

The present division shows the breaking down of the partition wall between Jew and Gentile, by the reception of Gentiles into the assembly; although questions will come up for settlement afterwards, as we find in the fifteenth chapter with regard to the observance of the law of Moses. We see too the freer action of the Spirit of God, in those outside the original apostles. There is another reason for this in the need of the initiative being plainly taken by God Himself, in some sort even apart from these, who are very plainly under the influence of Jewish prejudices which the younger disciples, and perhaps less weighted with the responsibilities of their position, are the more ready to break through.

Subdivision 1. (Acts 8:1-25.)

The free choice of the Spirit: individuality and independence.

The Spirit, as we know, has come, and in signs and miracles of power is testifying to the Risen Christ. But until Stephen, and apart from speaking with tongues and prophesying, these seem to have been confined to the apostles themselves (Acts 2:43; Acts 5:12). With Stephen, who is used of God to give the final testimony to the rulers of the Jews, and in whom appears the anticipation of the impending change, the "wonders and great signs" seem more the fruit of faith and grace with which he is filled. Yet even in Stephen there might appear to be a connection of these with the office given to him, to which he had been set apart by apostolic hands. Now this is to be quite manifestly altered; the time for the free action of the Spirit has come; and He is to be seen as the true Vicar of Christ upon earth, not only energizing, but disposing and directing. Although there has been no doctrine of it yet, the Body of Christ is formed; and the various gifts which this implies manifest themselves under the constraint of divine love, in the various ability of which their possessors become conscious in the ministry to which love moves. For the possession of the gift brings the responsibility to use it; — a responsibility which is, first of all, to God. The gift is a "manifestation;" and "the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal" (1 Cor. 12:7). The simple rule, intelligible to all, of imparting for the need anywhere what each might have to supply it with, — the adaptation in spiritual things of the rule with which they began in temporal things, — this they found amply sufficient, under the Spirit's guidance, as the general principle of service; which the apostle formulates for them afterwards in the exhortation that "as every one has received the gift," they were "so to minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1 Peter 4:10). This is the principle of a "body," — a living organism; in which there is no useless member, but the individuality of each one is maintained; individuality without independency, — things which are contradictory of one another: to affirm the latter, as to deny the former, is equally to destroy the thought of the body altogether.

There was no doctrine of the body of Christ as yet. The love that united these disciples to one another taught them the practice doubtless; just as it taught them in temporal things not to say that anything was their own. There was no law to prohibit such ministry as any one was capable of; and they would no doubt have thought such a law as unreasonable in one case as in the other.

While all were thus free to minister, there was of course an inspired teaching which was carefully distinguished from all other. "They continued," it was said of these early disciples, "in the apostles' doctrine." There were men accredited as appointed and qualified of the Lord to lay the foundations on which, and according to which, all the building was to be. As yet there were probably not even the rudiments of any New Testament Scriptures; although one could not say that there was no beginning of such attempts at relation of things most surely believed as Luke afterwards refers to, encouraging his more perfect account. Who can say when Matthew began to write? But all must be the merest conjecture as to this. While yet at Jerusalem, with so many living witnesses as were around them, the need for written records would not be felt as afterwards; and yet it is hard to think that with the intense interest attaching to events then fresh in so many memories, there would be even then no effort to preserve these with the accuracy that writing alone could ensure.

But God had taken care that "scriptures" the infant Church should possess from the beginning; scriptures by which the words of the primitive evangelists would be, and were (with the emphatic approbation of the inspired historian) carefully tested. These Old Testament Scriptures had, as we know, been opened by the Lord Himself after His resurrection to others beside the apostles, and their understandings also opened to understand them. Under such teaching, and with this divine assistance, how much of New Testament truth would they be able to anticipate in those "living oracles" of which Stephen speaks, and which, all through His life on earth, the Lord so constantly referred to and upheld. It is not even yet needless to insist upon the honor which God has always put upon His written Word, even in days in which there were inspired teachers in the Church; who themselves, as we see, constantly referred to it. The Church never taught: it was rather that which was to be profited by teaching. It was at all times in subjection to Scripture, not above it; as were also its inspired teachers. What cause have we for thanksgiving for that which puts into every hand that by which alone the apostolic rule can be observed, to "prove all things, hold fast that which is good!"

1. At this juncture, when the Church is beginning, (as yet, one may say, unconsciously,) her exodus from the Jewish limitations in which, as yet, she had been held, God manifests His overruling power in a very striking way. The tiger-spirit in people and rulers, which had been restrained hitherto, that the new-born child might gather strength, is permitted now to manifest itself; and having tasted blood in Stephen's martyrdom, rages against the followers of the Lord. The Church at Jerusalem is scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, with the notable exception of those whom the priests and rulers had most cause to dread! The apostles, guided of God, no doubt, alone remain. The seed of the gospel is thus scattered abroad, presently to spring up with plentiful fruit; while the absence of the apostles necessitates the rising up of new leaders in these various movements. All are cast with more simplicity upon God alone, to learn as the unfailing consequence, each for himself, the resources that are in Him. The weaning-time of Isaac is fairly begun; though unbelieving Ishmael may mock the more; all which will only hasten the casting out of the bondwoman and her seed.

On the other hand Saul is seen in the very forefront of the persecution, ravaging the flock. Who could have foreseen that here the great apostle of the Gentiles was also getting his education in the omnipotent wisdom of God? But so it was. A Pharisee of the Pharisees was learning in himself, in the most effectual way possible, the spirit of Pharisaism; while he was sharpening the axe which was to smite his self-righteousness to the ground, and prepare him as the chief of sinners to be the humblest of scholars in Christ's school of grace. Thus God works! How marvelous are His workings! How well we may trust Him to carry out His purposes for the glory of Christ! Saul is already helping to scatter the seed which by and by he will be foremost in sowing. Now he is in agreement with Stephen's being taken away; yet the glory in Stephen's face is to have its part in his own transformation into another witness to the Son of man at the right hand of God; himself converted by the gospel of that glory!

The martyr too is buried by devout men, who without being as yet Christians, are penetrated with the sense of the mockery of all justice in his cruel death, and are thus brought into indignant opposition to the heads of their own nation. We may see in them how the blood of the martyrs will be the seed of the Church, as after-generations have proved abundantly. Here too God is working: defeat is victory, and the dead are workers still. They have not failed, who have fertilized the soil of the gospel with their life-blood. The Church is scattered; and those who are thus sent abroad proclaim, with all the emphasis of their suffering undergone for Him, the value to them of the Christ to whom they testify. Who could bribe these tongues to silence, when the Spirit of glory and of God rested upon the confessors of His Name, the more endeared to them? How could the "glad tidings of the Word" find better evangelists?

2. It is in this connection that another of the Seven comes before us, Philip, next named after Stephen, whom we find now, his office at Jerusalem having come to an end by reason of the persecution, preaching Christ in Samaria, among a people with whom (as another has said) law had failed utterly as always. The Gospel of John has shown us the Lord already there, and many believing through His word; while in the beginning of the Acts itself He names distinctly, after Jerusalem and Judea, Samaria as a place in which the apostles were to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). Hitherto, however, it had not been visited by them; and we can understand how the reception of disciples from that schismatic region, with which the Jews had not even ordinary dealings, as the woman of Sychar reminded the Lord, would have created difficulty which it might have been hard for Jews to meet. Now, when driven out from Jerusalem, the opposition there seemingly hopeless to be surmounted, these circumcised worshippers of the One God could hardly fail to be among the first thought of, with the Lord's example and His word before them. Samaria accordingly is the first place now to be evangelized.

"The opinion," says Lechler, "that this Philip was one of the twelve, was entertained already by Polycrates in the second century, by the authors of the Apostolical Constitutions, in the third century, and by others; it was suggested not only by the sameness of the name, but probably also by the special character of the labors of Philip, since these appear to be such as the apostles exclusively performed. This latter view seems, indeed, to be sustained by the expression, he preached (ekerusse) the Christ; inasmuch as it was originally applied to the proclamation of a herald, and denotes therefore here that a public declaration was made in a more than ordinarily solemn manner, and by special authority, while in the case of others, merely the terms euangelizesthai [evangelizing] (Acts 8:4; Acts 11:20) and lalein ton logon [speaking the word] were employed. The evangelizing labors of Philip, therefore, undoubtedly seem to be of a different kind from those of the latter. But they do not on this account assume a decidedly apostolical character, in which case didaskein or didache [teach, teaching] would have been the term employed, as in 4:2, 18; 5:25, 28, 42; comp. 2:42. The word kerussein, in the present verse, constitutes, as it were, an intermediate grade, or occupies a position between the specifically apostolical didaskein and the general Christian euangelizesthai, or lalein ton logon. This view is in the strictest accordance with the opinion that Philip was one of the Seven, as these men really did occupy an intermediate position in their respective relations to the apostles, and to the disciples in general." (See Lange's Commentary the Acts).

If such, indeed, is the language of the Word, it is right that we all should understand it. We must agree with Lechler that the Philip here spoken of is not the apostle, and for the double reason that the connection shows that the apostles were at this time all at Jerusalem, and because the visit of Peter and John to Samaria afterwards is inexplicable if Philip were of the same standing with themselves. As to the rest, there is no ground for the attempted distinction. Apostles "taught" indeed, and with peculiar authority; but they also "preached" (Acts 9:20; Acts 10:42; Acts 20:25, etc.), "evangelized" (Acts 8:25; Acts 14:7, 15, 21, etc.), and "spoke the Word" (Acts 8:25; Acts 14:25, etc). The word used with regard to Philip here, and which means "to publish, or proclaim," is used with regard to those who preached Christ of envy and strife, supposing to add affliction to Paul's bonds (Phil. 1:16); and also with regard to the leper's publication of his leprosy which the Lord had healed, but where assuredly he had no "special authority" to do so, but on the contrary, was expressly forbidden by the Lord (Mark 1:45). While as for the "teaching," said to be "specifically apostolical," it is the word used when Christians generally are exhorted to be "teaching and admonishing one another" (Col. 3:16). It seems even impossible to believe that Lechler means to assure us that there were no rightful teachers except the apostles! Yet his words seem to have no meaning, if they do not mean this.

The whole interest of such arguments clearly is in support of the claim which used to be more openly advocated than at present, that all preaching should be in the hands of a special class of men ordained for this, to which Philip could be then assigned, because of apostolic hands laid upon him; ignoring the fact which is so plain in the history here, that Philip was set apart, with the rest of the Seven, to "serve tables," and that there is no such thought as that of ordaining to preach or teach, — by apostles or any other, — in all the New Testament. We are not going out of our way now, to take this up; but we must not shun what purport to be arguments from the word of God, as to this or any other matter.

The signs which accompanied Philip's preaching were never granted to all; and as intended to bear witness to the Risen. Lord, naturally would go with the proclamation of the Word. At first, they seem, for the same reason doubtless, to have been confined to the apostles, to whom was confided a special testimony to the Resurrection. The wider sphere in which now this testimony was going out would imply a corresponding enlargement in the range of such conferments. There is nothing apparently in this which demands very special explanation. God was acting in all this for the glory of Christ, and in behalf of the gospel of His grace which was now about to shine out in deeper, fuller, sweeter significance than it had ever exhibited before.

The miracles at once gain the attention of the people; but only as making way for the Word, which holds them. The power over unclean spirits is marked; and Samaria appears in more than this respect as largely under the power of the enemy, spite of its professed worship of the true God. It may well be that the truth which had begun to work among them had stirred up special resistance on the part of one who knew its power; and Simon the sorcerer had been his special agent to distract and turn away the minds of the Samaritans from the truth. He had dazzled them with a wonder-working, the source of which he was content mysteriously to hint at as some preternatural greatness in himself, which left their imaginations to go further than his cautious claim. For them he came to be "The power of God which is called great;" but before the true power of God all this collapsed, and a great mass of the people followed Christ, and were baptized, both men and women.

A more notable thing follows. The stronghold of Satan's power is itself shaken, and Simon the sorcerer becomes by conviction and profession a disciple of Christ! Simon also himself believed, and having been baptized, remains constantly with Philip, as much astonished as he had astonished others, beholding the signs and great works of power taking place. So, apparently, the gospel had triumphed everywhere; in a sense, had done so; but it had to be realized that even victories of the truth in a world fallen away from God, are not always or wholly the triumphs that they seem.

3. Spite of the power manifested, and the joyful reception of the gospel in so many hearts, there was still a lack among these baptized believers which must have been felt greatly. The testimony at Jerusalem had been, "Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." And so it came to pass. But at Samaria, where the conditions then announced had been evidently fulfilled, the effect did not follow: "as yet the Spirit was not fallen upon any of them." It was not simply an absence of the signs that then followed those who believed. It was not only that the gifts failed, but the "Gift." Manifestations of the Spirit regularly declared the Spirit's presence; but here they were absent; and the inconceivably greater Gift — that of the Spirit itself, — had not been conferred.

That this was the Pentecostal gift none can surely doubt; and the Lord Himself defines this as the Baptism of the Spirit (Acts 1:5). The apostle Paul assures us that by this we are brought into the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). This is certainly neither the effect nor the accompaniment of water baptism, as with the ritualists: for at Pentecost the hundred and twenty were not baptized with water, and the converts here in Samaria had all both faith and baptism, yet had not the Spirit. Moreover, while in Jerusalem baptism was a prerequisite, in the case of the Gentiles afterwards the Spirit fell on them before the baptism (Acts 10:47). Thus every way there have been distinguished for us things which should never have been confounded. The analogy between them manifestly is, that as water-baptism introduces into the outer sphere of profession, so that of the Spirit introduces into the inner circle of the Church of God.

With new birth or conversion it would again seem almost impossible to confound the Pentecostal Gift. The apostles were neither converted nor born again at Pentecost, but long before; and the Samaritan believers were likewise, as in every other case, converted first.

Finally, the gifts received for testimony were quite distinct from that indwelling of the Spirit personally which the Lord emphasizes for us in the Gospel of John as that which would be the result of His going to the Father (John 14:20; John 16:7). Signs and works of power the disciples had been commissioned to do before (Matt. 10:8), and many others had done them in Old Testament times.

It only remains to enquire why the gift of the Spirit should be delayed in the case of the Samaritans, and why it should have been communicated by means of the apostles. We have not heard of the latter at Jerusalem, nor do we in the case of Cornelius and his friends; a thing which again quite overthrows the ideas which ritualism has associated with it. We find nothing like an ordinance which could only thus be administered, but on the contrary, a quite exceptional dealing with the Samaritans, repeated, as far as we know, but in one case (Acts 19:6). The rule among Gentiles seems to have been different (Gal. 3:5). And if apostles' hands were indeed necessary for such a communication, where are the apostles, authenticated as the early apostles were, by whose hands alone it can be effected? Thank God that He has not tied His grace to anything of this kind!

With regard to Gentiles also, the necessity of baptism as a prerequisite is done away. Who will assert that in the very first case of their admission to the Church the link between things which God intended to be kept united could be thus broken through? Baptism for those who had openly rejected the Lord as come to them would be there an open reception of Him, — the fit accompaniment of that repentance which was now preached to them in His Name. Here also, where there had been a long schismatic denial of the city and house of God at Jerusalem, that this should be ended by the acknowledgment on their part of Jerusalem in those who had to come from Jerusalem to communicate the Gift which they so imperatively needed, seems in keeping with His ways. For, as the Law pointed forward to the gospel, the necessity of which it so distinctly showed, so does the gospel in its turn confirm the Law. God's dispensations have one common Author, who is to be acknowledged in them all. The Gentiles were a people "without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12), but a circumcised and orthodox nation must own the institutions of the God they worshiped. All seems here consistent and in place.

4. But the wondrous Gift, while perfecting the true disciples in what they lacked, unveils the unhappy Simon as still in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity. Wondering at this new power displayed, he covets for himself the ability to bestow it, and would make merchandise of the divine vouchsafement; it was in full reality, — even in the extremest form of it, — the "trader in the House of the Lord" (Zech. 14:21), — the sin of which Christ had indignantly purged His Father's House, and of which Judas himself was but the highest expression. What was afterwards called "simony" was necessarily a feebler manifestation of the same spirit, which may take forms, moreover, not covered by this word. The carnal mind intruding into divine things will necessarily seek to use them for fleshly advantage; — necessarily, for it knows nothing better: the only full victory over it is with him who has found in Christ Himself the satisfaction which frees him from self-enslavement, and makes it a delight henceforth to pour out upon His feet its most precious ointment.

The fervid heart of Peter bursts forth at this offer on the part of a professed disciple, and he denounces it with terrible severity, as if to prevent the possibility of any recurrence of so great a crime. "Thy money go with thee to destruction," he says, "because thou hast thought that the Gift of God might be obtained with money." It was indeed a bold attempt on the part of Satan, if it were not too foolish to be taken as one of his, to regain the ground that he had lost in Samaria. He had in fact insulted the Lord in as evil a fashion in the temptation in the wilderness; and in his worst malice his utter folly is most manifested too. And this poor tool of his, who had seemed to have escaped from his hand, had only demonstrated now how near it was possible to come to the Saviour and His salvation without ever having really "part or lot in the matter" of the Holy Spirit at all. The apostle urges upon him, therefore, repentance and supplication to God, if perhaps the thought of his heart might be forgiven. The doubt arises, not from the limitation of divine mercy, but rather from the hardened condition of the man himself, whom he cannot but regard as in the bitterness of gall itself, and as in the bond (some would say, "bundle") of iniquity. Nothing of all that he had seen and owned as to the power of God manifest there, and bowing so many souls before God, had changed him from the sorcerer he had been before, who would now but use the wondrous power he was witness to, to bring men under his own control and make himself to others the centre which he was to himself! This is man still, with the devil's deceit clinging to him, "Ye shall be as God;" — which was in this way, that, as there cannot be two Gods, man must displace God, and feign himself in the empty throne! Antichrist at the end will be the full exemplification of this; and, as the Lord intimated to the Jews, for those who refuse Him who comes in His Father's Name, the alternative must be that they will receive Antichrist. He is only the incarnation of their own desires, although like Saul of old he may be a head and shoulders taller than any of his followers.

Simon's answer to the apostle shows that, though alarmed, there is no repentance with him. He asks that they would supplicate the Lord that nothing of the things of which they have spoken may come upon him. He is alarmed as to what may come, and that is all; there is no consciousness of his great inward need, no confession that we read of Like the devils, he believes and trembles, but he does not turn to God on his own account. And so he passes out of the inspired history. There is a legendary one about him, which speaks of him as returning to his old arts as a magician, but with inveterate hatred of that from which he has turned; but there is no certainty about anything beyond what is written here.

The apostles help on the work in Samaria with their own testimony, and themselves evangelize many other villages; but there is no record given as to the success of their labors. The work is confirmed by their visit to Samaria, and fellowship established between this and what has been the headquarters of the Jewish work. A great step forward has plainly been accomplished.

Subdivision 2. (Acts 8:26-40.)

The Word still going further, and the Old Testament conducting to the New.

We are carried off to other scenes, in company with the fruitful preacher at Samaria; who is taken from the work in which he has been blessed and honored, upon a journey which would seem naturally a strange one, announced to him as it is beforehand as to an indefinite place upon a desert road, — the road to a Philistine city. But God claims obedience as a first requisite for blessing; which surely follows it: the labor of believing simplicity shall not go unblessed. In fact he is to be now the evangelist of far-off lands.

A man of Ethiopia has been to Jerusalem to worship, and is returning by that desert road. We may be confident that Jerusalem had not much at that time to reward a pilgrimage. The road might well be to him a dreary one. With a heart for God, such as he surely had, the contact with priests and rulers of the stamp of Caiaphas and his Sadducean company must have thrown a shadow upon his soul. He was besides an outcast religiously, spite of a high position and his heart for God. As a eunuch, (if we are to take that literally, as I doubt not,) he could not come into the congregation of the Lord (Deut. 23:1); whatever precious assurances there might be for him of future blessing (Isa. 56:3-5). Sitting in his chariot, on his return from the city of hollow forms and barren solemnities, he turns naturally to the pages of the prophets, and of Isaiah most of all, to find consolation; but here too he was met by sorrow, and of a kind also that he could not penetrate, — the sorrows of One from whom Israel, it seemed, had turned, of One led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb dumb before its shearers, His judgment taken away, His life from the earth. He is reading this aloud as he overtakes Philip upon the road, as if he would impress himself with something which should have significance for him, but has not; the cloud is over it hopelessly, as it seems to him, without some guide; and he has none. How could he think of finding an interpreter upon that desert way, his back upon Jerusalem, and after his useless visit there?

How the voice of the evangelist, cheery with its message ready, the Voice of the Spirit astir in him to deliver it, must have made his heart leap in response to the question which penetrated already with a ray of light the gloom of his perplexity, "Understandest thou what thou readest?" "How should I?" he answers simply; "except some one should guide me?" And immediately there springs up in his soul the eager hope that in this unknown stranger, God may have sent him help. He asks Philip, therefore, to sit with him in his chariot, and soon is an enwrapt hearer of the gospel of Christ.

Philip's text has been already found for him: from the prophet's picture of the Servant of Jehovah he begins to preach Jesus as the fulfilment of Old Testament prediction; and the good seed sinks into soil prepared. The eunuch finds that he too can have his place in the congregation of the Lord; and he finds One who can do for him what Jerusalem and the law have been unable to do. He takes his place without hesitation as owning in baptism Jesus as his Lord; and, Philip being immediately caught away by the Spirit of the Lord, he goes upon his way with the living Saviour, who is to be henceforth his Guide and Friend, rejoicing.

This story closes here too soon to satisfy the interest that has been awakened in it. We would fain follow this simple-hearted traveler, and learn whether he is permitted to become the evangelist of the land to which he is returning, — whether, or in what measure, Ethiopia will now stretch out her hands towards God: but nothing of all this is made known to us. If we find in it a hint of the gospel now to go out to the nations afar off, yet it is but a hint, and not an assurance. The apostle of the Gentiles is not yet raised up, and it is his work that we are to pursue in this connection, though there are preliminaries, as we are now to see. But if this be the purport of the story here, it does not seem completed as we might expect. There must be, one would say, another purpose in it; and we are naturally led to look at it again, to see if we may not discover this.

And here at once it strikes us, that this is a child of the old dispensation, in whom its necessary limitations and failure to satisfy those to whom it ministered are plainly set forth, and to whom it is but a hand pointing forward to Him who alone can do this. It is, in short the Old Testament leading on its disciples to the New, that we have before us here; an important point in the history of these times we are considering. We have but just now seen in Samaria how the New Testament takes care to vindicate the Old. Now we have the converse of this; it is the Old Testament seen awakening the longings of the heart after that which it cannot itself supply, while it does testify to the Living Source of it. With this meaning all the details of the story agree: the appearance of the angel of the Lord — that is, of Jehovah* — to Philip, to make known to him his commission. When his work is accomplished, again, it is "the Spirit of Jehovah" who snatches away the messenger. This is both Old Testament speech and action. The Spirit of Jehovah occurs once in the Gospels (Luke 4:18), and once before in the Acts (Acts 5:9); it never occurs in the New Testament again. Jehovah also, or what stands for it here, the Name for Israel's covenant God, is naturally found also in Old Testament connection, or in that part of the New in which it is not yet decided whether Israel is or is not to be the special people of God. The Gospels have it frequently, and the first eight chapters of the Acts; after this, except for special reasons in the twelfth chapter, it occurs but twice, or possibly thrice (Acts 13:10, 11; Acts 15:17). The Old Testament has in fact handed over its disciples to the New; and in the Epistles we find it only in such references as before mentioned, or two or three times in those written to believers of the circumcision, as in James and Peter. A very few times (again most naturally) it occurs in Revelation. The significance here is therefore plain.

{*In the Septuagint, as in our common version of the Old Testament, from which (with the apparent vindication of it in the New) the practice is derived, "the Lord" is commonly substituted for the "Jehovah" of the Hebrew. It is distinguished in the New from the general reference to the Lord Jesus (except where it is a direct quotation from the Greek version) by the omission of the article, bracketed in our text, — "[the] Lord."}

The eunuch is a man in high position, a man of wealth, and of an earnest heart. He is therefore one in whom the character of the Old Testament can be most conspicuously seen; while we see also the care of God for His own to relieve the darkness for those who in their perplexity sought to Him. The Psalms illustrate abundantly both the darkness and the relief. Now the dawn of a brighter day had begun; and the Old Testament hails with gladness its coming so long delayed. It was yet but the dawn, though how bright a one!

Philip is caught away; the mere human teacher is not to take the place of the Divine. His coming and his departure are both well fitted to assure the new disciple how safely he may rest in the all-sufficiency that has thus met and ministered to him. Philip on his part is found at Azotus, the Philistine Ashdod; and from thence, with the joy in his heart of one who is taking the spoil* from the strong one whom a Stronger has overcome, he evangelizes all the cities as far as Caesarea.

{*Ashdod means "spoiler."}

Subdivision 3. (Acts 9:1-30.)

The Gospel of the Glory of Christ.

In perfect order of development, we are now to see the conversion of the apostle of the Gentiles; who receives grace and apostleship front the ascended Lord. We have noticed already the connection between Stephen's witness and that of Paul. In Stephen Israel has definitely rejected the Messiah, and thus put from her the blessing to be brought in by Him; the blessing for the earth at large being identified with that of the earthly people. But God has other and higher purposes, — the display of a fuller grace which shall both stoop lower and lift up higher. Man having been thoroughly shown out, not merely impotent and rebellions under law, but in the cross of Christ the mind of the flesh being manifested as enmity against God, He will now act for Himself, to display Himself; and since He is Love, it must be in love that He is displayed, — love in answer to enmity; which is, therefore, grace: of which the messenger is in himself also the perfect exponent. Saul has shared in the national sin of Christ's rejection, is of the party that could be quoted as to an individual in opposition to Him (John 7:48), was in agreement with the murder of Stephen, and is only roused by it to greater violence; he is the apostle of Jewish malignity, pursuing the disciples even to strange cities, at the very time when he is smitten down by the light from an open heaven, and transformed from the persecutor of Christ into His most devoted follower, — ever afterwards the apostle of the grace that has transformed him. Here, where there could:be no possible thought of claim, heaven, closed to man's righteousness, opens to its central, infinite glory, to display in the midst of it, whence the light came, the One whom as yet Saul knew not, but who identified Himself with His suffering saints on earth. The gospel of the glory of Christ was henceforth his gospel.

It is evident that here the meaning of Stephen's radiant face is now made plain. Heaven is really opened, — a Man gone in there, but occupying a place that no mere man could occupy. Paul preaches Him from the first, that He is the Son of God (ver. 20). Yet he sees Him none the less the Representative of His people, and the bringing men to see and fill their place in Him is henceforth to be his effort, — that for which the Spirit of God has taken him up and uses him. We may not find it come fully out in the Acts, but the necessary first consequence is that Jew and Gentile have no more any separate standing. It is not a Christ after the flesh that he sees, but a Christ in heaven; and that is not the place of a Jew's blessings, nor one from which, if grace bestow it, he can exclude the Gentile. The apostle of the Gentiles is here prepared.

1. Grace is the foundation of all, — free, sovereign grace. Of what use his privileges as a Jew to one taken red-handed on his mission of blood, as Saul is now! It is not a mere repentant sinner suing for and finding mercy. He is an enemy, when as such he is reconciled to God. Legality is an impossibility to one in his position. He cannot dream of any of those half-gospels with which men delude themselves first, and then their hearers. He, at least, had not done his best, save to be lost. His Pharisaism tumbled in one rag-heap at his feet, his cry was now that he was "chief of sinners;" and under no legal system whatever could the chief of sinners possibly have hope. But he, met and conquered by divine love, was given no room to dishonor it by a single question. And "in me," he says, "did Christ Jesus show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them that should hereafter believe on Him, to life everlasting." (1 Tim. 1:16). Thus was Paul's doctrine prepared for him at the start; and he also, even in his unconverted state, for it.

"Concerning zeal, persecuting the Church," was Paul's own account afterwards of the state in which divine grace found him (Phil. 3:6). It did not alter his conviction that he was the chief of sinners; "the least of the apostles," he says elsewhere, and "not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God" (1 Cor. 15:9). A man's religion may be the worst thing about him; and his sincerity in it will not hinder its effect upon him, but rather make it the more sure. In this case, how solemn to realize that Saul's religion was zealous law-keeping; the law being that which God Himself had given: it was one of Moses, disciples, of whom they could rightly say, "We know that God spake by Moses," who was in that character attacking Christ!

"Touching the righteousness of the law, blameless;" this is another thing that, looking back at himself with full Christian enlightenment, he says of his unconverted state. That was what his conscience said: it did not condemn or accuse him; and that was undoubtedly what in his case made him the zealous persecutor that he was: he had a zeal for God and for that law under which he had fared so well, and deserved so well of Him who gave it! Thus all that seemed so favorable in Saul's case was what was most against him: his own good character, his zeal for law, and, as he allows with regard to his nation at large, his zeal for God even (Acts 22:3); and that God was the true God, not a false one: whom yet he was bitterly against, and knew it not, and who was therefore, in so far, against him, even while He pursued in His love this zealous antagonist. What confusion is here! And this is the confusion which springs out of all self-justifying efforts: "for they, being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God "(Rom. 10:3). Paul will tell us himself in his first epistle, how the scales fell from his eyes in this respect. At present it is with the consequences that God faces him; and on the road to Damascus he suddenly finds himself smitten down by the light of a glory shining in the face of Him against whom the full current of his legal prejudices, with his traditionalism and his strong passion for his nation, all combined to carry him.

It is striking that, while we know from Paul's own statements afterwards, and even from the words of Ananias to him in the present chapter, that Jesus Himself appeared to him, we hear in this first account only of the Light and of the Voice; light out of heaven, in which, certainly for the first time, he stood revealed to himself; a Voice along with it, which fastened his eyes upon himself, even then to raise with himself the question, rather than to accuse, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou ME?"

There could, of course, be no answer. Under the power of that glory which had transfigured Stephen, the very throb of the heart must have been hushed, called to expectant stillness in the presence of God. No need for answer! Had he not helped to batter out that glory from a human face with stones? Now a Human Voice from the midst of that glory was appealing to him, claiming these persecuted ones as His own — Himself! Yet he is drawn, — not repelled. Even now he can seek from Him who is speaking the anticipated answer which condemns — but HE has not condemned — him: "Who art Thou, Lord?" And the Royal Voice answers, "I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest."

Thus they come together — Lord and follower; never to be separated more! How grand and wonderful is the simplicity of it all! The chief of sinners and the Lord of saints come together in a manner which has cost how great a price to effect; and the grace shown is as implicit as it wakes up implicit confidence to receive it. Has not this smitten sinner been in the outshining glory of God, unsmitten? — in the radiance shining on Stephen himself? There are other accounts, but they do not alter this; one can only say, the grace of it is perfect: and when we learn that he is to be the teacher of grace to others, we realize how completely fitted for such a purpose is that of which the history is recorded here. But it is the same grace which meets all of us.

We can see too, that the identification of Christ with His people is here, which is to be developed on two sides, as "ye in Me and I in you." And in this Jew and Gentile disappear, and the way for the mystery of the Church is prepared. Heaven is opened: God has come out to men; and Man — how glorious a MAN! — has gone in to God. Who that knows what was committed to Paul to teach us, but must see how the Pauline truths begin to appear in Paul's conversion? We must not expect to reach their development in the Acts; and it is not yet, therefore, the time to follow their development. We must wait for Romans, Ephesians, Corinthians, Hebrews, to have the working out.

The words that follow, in the common version, this declaration of Himself upon the Lord's part are borrowed from the other accounts of what is here. Luke gives us in this place only the direction to the new disciple to enter into the city, and there it shall he told him what he is to do. The men accompanying him stand speechless, hearing the sound of the voice, but nothing more; the significance is for Paul. He on the other hand remains blinded by the light, and has to be led by the hand into Damascus; in which condition he continues three days without food or drink. He needs this, doubtless, for the tempest aroused within him to subside, — for the review of the now terrible past, and the realization of the new beginning. The resurrection number may well have its significance here in the apprehension of the old things now for him passed away, and all things become new. Shut up in darkness, amid his now uncongenial associates, he is made to realize his entire dependence upon God to bring him forth, and to accomplish in him the purposes of His marvellous grace.

2. We have now a lovely picture of the free intimacy between our Lord and His disciples in those yet unclouded days of early freshness. Saul is to take his place among the followers of the Crucified in the lowly way of baptism at the hands of those who had preceded him as such. A disciple named Ananias ("Jah has shown grace") is chosen by the Lord for the introduction of Saul. He is simply termed a "disciple," and yet is chosen, not only for the administration of baptism, which is in keeping with all that we have elsewhere in relation to this, but also for that which at Samaria just now required a special visit of apostles from Jerusalem — the communication of the Spirit. We have not yet come to this, however, here; but simply to consider the choice of Ananias to minister in the way we see him do to one designed to be the special apostle of the Gentiles. In Paul we see, as he himself declares to us, any Jewish thought of succession from the original twelve broken through. Paul is an "apostle, not of men, nor through man;" and on this account confers not with flesh and blood, nor even goes up to Jerusalem in the first place, to those who were apostles before him, but to Arabia, to the "backside of the desert" (Gal. 1:16, 17). The living and abiding Spirit is to be Himself the Source of supply; and the warrant for what is said is, first of all, the truth of it, intertwining with, confirmed by and confirming, all that is truth elsewhere.

Ananias is therefore, as a simple disciple, all the more suited to be sent to Saul; and the Lord accordingly appears to him in a vision, bidding him go and seek in the house of Judas this man who has seen him in a vision, in answer to his prayer, laying his hands upon him, that he may receive his sight. Thus he who is to be in such a large and blessed way, the minister to others is to learn himself, first of all, his own need of ministry, and to receive it. How suited a messenger must this Ananias, with his significant name have seemed to the thankful and humbled man! "Grace" was, indeed, his new found joy. But Saul's reputation has gone before him, and Ananias shrinks from his task, and ventures even to remonstrate with his Lord. Do we, who perhaps wonder at his foolish faint-heartedness, never imitate it, and reason with Omniscient Love as to His ways with us? But the Lord replies by letting him know that Saul was a chosen vessel unto Him, to bear His Name in testimony of the widest range, — to Gentiles and to Jews both; but the Gentiles here come before the Jews. That which he is to suffer also is proportioned to the breadth of his testimony; to bear the Name of Jesus implies suffering; witness and martyr are to be the same word.

3. There can be no more demur, but Ananias departs upon his errand; and entering the house, lays his hands upon Saul, acquainting him with his commission. It is remarkable that Ananias here joins his being filled with the Spirit as that for which he is sent, while yet it is not mentioned when, or in connection with what, Saul receives the Spirit. With Jews, as having openly rejected Christ, the order elsewhere was that they owned him in baptism, by which they received public remission of their sins, and then they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost nothing is said of the laying on of hands for this, which is first recorded as done in Samaria; but at Ephesus also John's disciples are first baptized, and then they still wait for the Spirit until Paul's hands are laid upon them. In the case of Cornelius and his friends, there is no previous baptism, and no laying on of hands at all. Was there any laying on of hands for this by Ananias? Two things would argue for it, — the words of Ananias himself, and the case of John's disciples. On the other hand, on the imposition of hands all we hear of as following is the healing of Saul's blindness; there is nothing said of the Spirit being given at that time; nor of any imposition of hands at a later time. The insistence upon baptism first in the case of the Jew seems likewise against it though the apostle of the Gentiles is so exceptional a case, and seems so to reflect the gospel that he carries, and the change in regard to the Gentile is so marked, that one is inclined to read his saying, "Christ sent me not to baptize," back into his own history here. In this unsatisfactory way, it seems, we have to leave it.

"Filled with the Holy Spirit," however, he is indeed; immediately preaching in the synagogues to which his letters of authorization are addressed that very Jesus, whose followers he is commissioned to destroy. He preaches Him also as yet the twelve, as far as the history goes, have not done, in the very character in which Israel had rejected Him, as Son of God. This is the fullest reversal of his own mad unbelief, and the completest challenge of that of Israel. The missionary of their own enmity is suddenly become the very champion of the "Way" he persecuted. Astonishment, which for the moment must have been dismay, falls upon those who hear him and know that which has wrought this change; to which his companions on the road could but bear witness as far as that strange interruption of their journey was realized by them. And Saul increased more and more in strength, and confounded the Jews dwelling at Damascus, proving that the One whom he confessed was indeed the Christ.

The preaching of Jesus as the Son of God we should naturally have expected to have heard in the first place from the lips of John, whose writings are, as we know, so full of this. In Paul's epistles, if Hebrews is, as I doubt not, to be included among these; we have the Lord spoken of in this character twenty-nine times; but in John's epistles (of only seven chapters) there are twenty-three occurrences. In one passage alone in the rest of the General Epistles, where Peter quotes the Voice from the "excellent glory" (2 Peter 1:17), do we find this title; this, although Peter is in the Gospels the first of the inspired writers to own Christ openly in this way. The kinship between Paul and John is thus plainly declared. The connection with Paul's doctrines we must consider later, as we take up his epistles.

4. The visit to Arabia, of which the epistle to the Galatians speaks, takes place evidently during those "many days" at the end of which the persecution breaks out, in which first Saul has to taste of the same cup of which he had been compelling others to drink in the dark days forever ended. At first the wonder of his conversion had discomfited the adversaries; but this naturally terminates in a violent reaction on the part of those who have not been brought by it to God; and now they join together in a plot to slay him: but He who in so extraordinary a way had brought him to Himself had no intention of leaving him in the hands of his enemies. The plot became known to Saul; and the gates being watched day and night, the disciples let him down in a basket through a window in the wall by night, and he escapes their hands.

So ends Saul's testimony at Damascus; nor is he rescued by a miracle from the death designed for him, but escapes in a lowly manner enough, more suited to the way of the Cross which he had begun to tread. It is but the beginning of those many sufferings which the Lord had said that He would show him that he was to endure for His sake. The Glory which was henceforth his guiding star did not light up the earth for him, but drew him out of it. His was to be in a peculiar sense a heavenly testimony, and the power of it that by which the world was crucified to him, and he unto the world.

Driven from Damascus, Saul goes up to Jerusalem, according to his own statement to see Peter (Gal. 1:18); for what purpose we are not told; but he abode there only fifteen days. Although three years had elapsed from the time of his conversion, the report of it which had reached the disciples there had yet found no credit in the scene of his former "ravages" upon the flock of Christ. In Arabia he had been for some time probably away from observation, and his recent testimony again in Damascus seems not to have been known. Thus when he essayed to join himself to those whom he had helped to scatter, and who had, no doubt, many of them, vivid remembrances of those unhappy days, there was a general recoil. "They were all afraid of him, not believing him to be a disciple." At this juncture the future companion of his labors,Barnabas, appears as mediator. He took and brought him to the apostles; that is, as Paul himself tells us, to Peter and James, the Lord's brother, and represents to them the whole matter. The cloud is cleared away, and Saul remains with them going in and out at Jerusalem, and speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.

He takes up now the work of the first martyr, disputing with the Hellenistic Jews, who go to work to give him Stephen's portion; but in an ecstasy (Acts 22:17, 18) the Lord appears to him, and bids him depart from the city, assuring him that they will not hear his testimony, and that he is to be sent far off to the Gentiles. The brethren thereupon bring him down to Caesarea on the sea-coast, and send him forth to Tarsus, his native city. There for awhile we leave him.

Subdivision 4. (Acts 9:31-43.)

Remnant mercy in Israel.

Israel is thus casting out the messengers sent to her, and filling full for herself the cup of wrath, which at a later time we know that she drank to the uttermost. But God is slow to anger, and of great mercy; and while the threatened judgment lingers, His long suffering is salvation to a remnant, in whom may be seen the promise yet abiding of final blessing to Israel as a whole. This remnant is as the sap of a cut down tree, in which is the hope of revival for the tree. The history of the development of the divine ways in the Church pauses for awhile here; to give us such an intimation of the faithfulness of a Saviour God.

1. We have first, as the result of the dealing of God with the chief persecutor, peace to the assembly throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria; — the whole extent, as far as yet enjoyed, of Israel's land. It is but a remnant, this assembly, as already said, and the mass are rejecting; and so it will be even in the last days: a remnant will become the nation; God having to purge out the obstinate rejectors from among the people, as prophecy shows abundantly. Here it is only a hint of what will be; yet we see in it Judea and Jerusalem maintained in their central place; Samaria owning it, in Galilee of the Gentiles God's heart towards His scattered ones. Outwardly there is peace; inwardly the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. How blessed to realize when for Israel at last all this shall be fulfilled!

Let us notice what are here put together for us: first of all, not the comfort, but the fear of the Lord, — hearts in subjection to the Ruler of His people. With Him, if grace reigns, as it does, the reign is not less absolute, but more. When grace has not for its effect the fear of the Lord, in the same proportion is grace really unknown, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit will be unenjoyed. The Spirit is here to glorify Christ; and, as the Holy Spirit, refuses absolutely all touch of evil; legality and license are both in uttermost extreme from Him, and further by far than they are from one another. The slave may at times make up for his slavery by license; the child's happy service needs no compensation for its offering of love.

Here in a soil like this the seed of divine truth will fructify; for it is love that edifieth; and the assembly walking in such a spirit will be surely multiplied. Where an opposite spirit exists, multiplication will be but a multiplication of the evil; it is a good law that forbids such unhappy growths to go on, whose sap, against nature, is poisonous to themselves.

2. We now follow Peter, who with the growth of the work is no more confined to Jerusalem, but is passing through the land. He comes down to the saints who dwell at Lydda, a still existing town in the plain of Sharon, and finds there a certain man, who from the description and the apostle's words to him seems not yet to be a disciple; named Aeneas, eight years paralyzed. Immediately, upon Peter's declaration, "Jesus the Christ healeth thee, arise, and make thy bed," he is healed and rises up; and "all that dwelt in Lydda and the Sharon" (the Plain, stretching from Joppa to Caesarea on the sea-coast), "saw him, and turned to the Lord."

Conversion so widespread shows indeed that God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew (Rom. 11:1); and Lydda well fulfills its name, as the "birthplace" of so many souls. We naturally ask ourselves, Is this all that we are intended to find in it? or is there here, as in so many other cases, a hidden meaning? If the Lord is assuring us in this of what the apostle declares that Israel's remnant according to election preaches to us, would it be strange to find in it a further assurance as to God's purposes towards His ancient people? Here too, would be the very place in which we might expect to find this: here, where we are just at the point at which, the natural branches being broken off for unbelief, the Gentiles are being graffed into the olive. Certainly all is in harmony in this way. Aeneas means "praise"; and in the case of Israel, a paralysis of praise is truly come upon her. She is a reproach instead of praise, but is yet to be a people formed for Himself, to show forth His praise. Aeneas is thus yet to be healed, and as it were in a moment, by Jesus the Christ; and Lydda may well speak of a new "birth" by which this will be effected. Nothing else will accomplish it; for the nature of man is fallen, and the Lydda of natural birth is in the "plain," — the common level of humanity. Christ alone can renew it; so that in the end Sharon shall be a fold of flocks (Isa. 65:10), a type of which this remarkable ingathering of converts there may speak. For when Israel is that praise to God which she never yet has been, then will the time have come for such a turning to God as the earth has not yet witnessed. Israel's eighth year will have come, — her new covenant time.

3. If this, then, be the deeper view of the healing of Aeneas, the raising up of Dorcas must, one would say, be in the same line of application, and have its own story to tell, different, yet connected. And here one thing is plain: Aeneas presents to us the healing of a sinner Dorcas, on the other hand, the resurrection of a saint. If both of these speak of Israel, it must be in these contrasted ways: and in both ways it is clear that Israel may be spoken of, or her history would be a very different one from what we know it to be. Israel as astray from God is how the centuries long have known her, the enemy of Christ and of His cause, and for many this has almost blotted out the remembrance of the long debt we owe her, and of the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles that have sprung from her. But God does not forget: "I remember thee," He says, "the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holiness unto the Lord, and the firstfruits of His increase: all that devour him shall offend evil shall come upon them, saith the Lord (Jer. 2:2, 3). And for us, how is it possible to forget that from Israel we have obtained, through the mercy of God, almost the whole of the precious volume of inspiration, out of which we have; so to speak, been fed and clothed, not for centuries merely, but for the life that is to come? Here as a picture of Israel, this woman full of good works and alms-deeds is surely no unfitting one. The more we consider, the more we shall realize its perfect appropriateness.

It is in Joppa, anciently Japho, that we find her. — a name which means, as I take it, "fair to Him." (See notes on Joshua 19:46.) This agrees entirely with that view of Israel which is presented to us here. Tabitha's name is given us in two languages, as if there were importance in it, and means "beauty," in Daniel (Dan. 11:16, 41), twice applied to the land of Israel, "the glorious land." Its secondary meaning, in which we are to take it here; is "gazelle," so named from its beauty, one of the clean animals of Scripture; both chewing the cud and dividing the hoof (Lev. 11 see the notes). If we realize the typical meaning of these, we shall understand its application to one who "ruminates" upon the Word, the walk corresponding to this. Israel as represented by the psalmists, and especially the writer of the 119th psalm, answers fully to the name and in this character they were suited to be vessels of inspiration, as in fact they were. The double name gets in this way its significance for these two languages, Hebrew and Greek, were those of the Old and New Testaments, for both of which we are indebted to the Jew.

Tabitha is dead, and there is no human hope of recovery for her. We may weep and lament, but she is gone from us; yet those possessed with the spirit of Peter may still pray, not without hope, for Israel's resurrection. It will surely come, as it did in the case before us here, and Israel live in far more than all the glory of her past. The effect too, as in the healing of Aeneas, will be the bringing many more to faith. Joppa or Japho will again fulfill its name; and "the Lord of hosts shall be for a crown of glory and for a diadem of beauty unto the residue of His people" (Isa. 28:5).

How fitting and comforting an assurance with which to turn to see the incoming of the Gentile, as we find it now in the pouring out of the Spirit on Cornelius and his company at Caesarea!

Subdivision 5. (Acts 10, 11.)

The Gentile brought to God.

The quiet and gradual way in which preparation has been made for the disappearance of the barrier between Jew and Gentile must be apparent to all. Israel has had full and patient trial, all possible proof given her of its being God who was appealing to her, God whom she was resisting, fully displayed in goodness ready to forget all past offences, — the very death of His Son, if only now at last, they would turn to Him. When it is manifest that they will not, then the door is opened to Samaria, a circumcised people, not without Jewish admixture, partially obedient to the law, and who are compelled to own Jerusalem in the reception of the distinct characteristic of the new faith that has gladdened them. Then God Himself leads on in a special way to the reception of the eunuch, with whom the grace of Christ goes out to lands afar off. After this it is that the apostle of the Gentiles is raised up, although only very slowly does his mission become known; he himself only slowly awaking to it; himself a "Hebrew of the Hebrews," yearning over his kinsmen after the flesh, and but now a rigid Pharisee. But even so, he is not to lead in the admission of the Gentiles; but an unexceptionable instrument is provided for this, — no less than the foremost of the apostles of the circumcision, Peter himself.

In this also now God manifests His will with unmistakable plainness in the double vision, at Joppa and Caesarea; then by the outpouring of the Spirit in view of all who came with Peter: those who are ready to oppose at Jerusalem have to own that God has granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life.

After this the way is opened by which certain disciples without any prominence of gift or position can speak at Antioch to the Gentiles, and gather an assembly there; and this becomes a new point of departure from which the first direct mission to the Gentiles is sent out; but this by a special revelation of the Spirit, which sets apart Barnabas and Saul for the new work.

1. The first section here manifestly takes in the work at Caesarea, by which the principles are established which henceforth govern the Assembly. It is in effect constituted by them as now outside the Jewish fold. The exodus is really complete, though there may be an effort afterwards really to undo this, and bring all the disciples under the law of Moses. This is resisted, however, on the very ground of what has been established here.

(1) All through this fresh movement, as already said, God is Himself the Mover. He begins, with the care which we see manifested all through, with an unexceptionably good example of the Gentile, a man "borne witness to by the whole nation of the Jews," and therefore, not perplexing the matter by any extraneous question. He is moreover a devout man, a worshiper of the true God, and one that truly fears Him, all his house participating with him also in this. Although not outwardly united in any way to Israel, yet his heart necessarily united him to the people of Him he worshiped, and he manifested this by his alms-giving. He was a man of prayer; praying to God continually. But all this, true as it was, and the fruit of faith, (without which it would not have been true, nor could God, as He presently does, have owned it,) had not sufficed to set him where grace sets the believer now, in conscious salvation. God was now "preaching peace by Jesus Christ"; and to those far off, and to those that were nigh, He had to preach it (Eph. 2:17).

At the ninth hour of the day, the Jewish third hour of prayer, God owns and answers the man that seeks Him, and an angel of God visits him. The fear that falls on men so naturally in the presence of the supernatural, falls upon him, but the message is one of grace alone; and he is assured that his prayers and alms have come up for a memorial before God. He is directed therefore to send for Peter from Joppa, who shall tell him words (it is added in the account afterwards given at Jerusalem), whereby be and all his house shall be saved.

In such a declaration, if we are to understand it aright, we must remember that we are here in the overlapping of two dispensations. It is as evident, on the one hand, that Cornelius was already a believer, as that, on the other, he had not yet the faith of Christ. In the midst of Christendom today, such a condition would be perfectly anomalous and unintelligible; and so for most it would he to talk of a soul having life and being still unsaved. Cornelius undoubtedly had life; he was one of those sheep not of the Jewish fold, of which the Lord had spoken, whom He would bring and unite with those of Israel, and there should be one flock, one Shepherd (John 10:16). He was in fact now causing these to hear His voice, and this accounts for what is strange apparently in the Gentile here; but which is at once intelligible when we consider his position between the dispensations. And though Cornelius was a believer of that which was passing away, yet for final salvation he needed to receive the Christ who had come; and would do so if the Shepherd's voice fairly reached him: for His sheep hear His voice. If it be final salvation that is spoken of here; all difficulty disappears as to the words used. Of a present salvation Judaism, as a legal system, could know nothing; much less, if possible; a Jewish proselyte, or one like the Roman centurion, converted to God, and yet outside the law. Into the precious assurance of this nothing but Christianity could bring him.

Let us notice, before we pass on, the blessed announcement, "who shall tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved." They are in fact the paschal announcement of Christianity. Of the Jewish feasts, as we have them given in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus, only those of the seventh month, in their typical significance; belong to Israel nationally, — the number seven being, as we know, the sign of completion — the complete time reached. Passover, the Sheaf of Firstfruits, Pentecost, were all offered to Israel, but rejected by them, and are become the peculiar Christian feasts, a silent gap of time intervening between these and the national seasons — the Blowing of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Tabernacles — of the seventh month.

Passover is not national, in the sense in which the offerings of the Day of Atonement covered all Israel. It was kept by families, and might be held a second time by those who were hindered by defilement or a journey at the first celebration: just as now it is not nations that are contemplated, but believers from among the nations; however freely the gospel is addressed to all. Yet here nevertheless God would assure us of a grace that would not forget the links of relationship by which He has bound us together. "Thou and thy house" reminds us still of the family ordinance; though unbelief, in a dispensation whose principle is, "Thou standest by faith," may make all this void. For there is, of course; no possible reason for so wild an imagination as that the comforting promise to Cornelius' house; or any other, is "irrespective of faith." Rather, if faith be in any sense the gift of God, are we assured by this, and the general thread of such intimations woven into Scripture; that He is ready to bless the households of His people still, wherever the Abrahamic faith shall be accompanied with that Abrahamic diligence of heart which seeks God's blessing in His appointed ways. However much the gospel might be preached to Cornelius' household, such an assurance would mean very much for him. We all have the comfort of knowing that it is the same gracious God with whom we have to do today, who has given us too, as some of us have the consolation of believing, in other ways, an assurance akin to that here vouchsafed the centurion; but which only faith can have and plead with Him aright. Here is not the place further to enlarge upon it.*

{*The name Cornelius is no doubt significant as all is here, though we may not see its significance. It was the name of a prominent Roman family — the Cornelian — and this, with his being the centurion of the Italian band, seems to emphasize the fact of his being absolutely a Gentile. The word Cornelius means, "pertaining to a horn." S.R.}

The angel does not preach the gospel to Cornelius, but sends Peter to him for this; so thoroughly does the Lord cleave to His own methods and appointments. Peter moreover, as we have seen, is specially needed here; and that need is seen the more in the means taken to prepare the apostle for what is before him. The Lord goes in advance of the messengers from Caesarea to the house of Simon the tanner* by the seaside; and that house is the lowly birthplace of a wide and far-reaching movement in His ways with men.

{*The occupation of tanner was considered unclean by the Jews. A large part of the tanning was the preparation of skins for water bottles. May there not be a suggestion here of the passing of that ceremonial uncleanness which is brought out in the history of Cornelius? Peter was already lodging at the house of this Simon, a preparer of unclean things to be vessels for holding pure water. That his house was by the seaside seems also to suggest the sea of the Gentiles, — a familiar thought in Scripture — upon whose border Peter indeed was. S.R.}

The vision sent to Peter is founded on that distinction of clean and unclean meats which operated so largely in keeping the Jew apart from the Gentile. The Gentile was himself in fact the unclean liver with whom the one who sought conformity to the mind of God could not indeed go far without danger of pollution. The law, entirely apart from the typical significance in which so much of the interest attaching to it is found by us today, served as a useful barrier to unlimited intercourse with the idolatrous world around, which in these very things had upon it, as we know, the stamp of its idolatry. The question of meats offered to idols could in this way become a serious one for Christians themselves, though now for the uninstructed only (1 Cor. 8). But Judaism as a rule for a people in the flesh, externally rather than spiritually set apart to God, was of necessity negative and prohibitory in its requirements, — a fold shutting in, rather than a principle of liberty: for liberty would be in their case concession, instead of victory over opposing forces. Christianity with its spiritual power alone could permit liberty. It was a sign of weakness for Judaism that it had no missions, preached no evangel: how could the word, "No man can see My Face and live," be this? So the Jew went beyond the law in his restrictions, built the fence higher and higher, but found none sufficient.

With Christianity a new power had come; Godward and manward there was a significant change. The Jew himself was gone morally: what use of a fence to keep from contamination the crucifiers of the Son of God? It was not merely that the mind of the flesh was not subject to the law of God; it was enmity to God Himself. And what the end of this long experiment proved as to the Jew, it proved really as to man at large; there was nowhere any betterness. Jew and Gentile had been united at the Cross; they had no need to separate after this: for the believer in Christ, the world was crucified by it, and he crucified to the world.

From that side the fence had gone; but from God's side it was gone also. For those who had crucified Christ, it must be now either judgment wholly, or else pure grace. But Christ need not have died to ensure man's condemnation; nor would He have died to increase man's doom. Thus, if there is to be any fruit of His death whatever, it must be grace. If God then means by it to show His grace, how great will that grace be!

In fact man by the murder of the Son of God has consummated his sin, and demonstrated his condition; but on the other hand Christ gave Himself for our sins, and grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life. Thus the fence is down from God's side; the veil that hid His blessed face is rent from top to bottom, and to all men, guilty alike; and with no pretension to title, Jew or Gentile, God has come out, and whosoever will is welcome in.

In such light as this, then, the contention of Jew with Gentile is at an end; to maintain it is mere self-righteousness. The vessel that Peter sees comes down from heaven; and as seen thus the distinctions made by Judaism are ended and over. "He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life." "He" too "that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God overcometh the world;" there is a new power, and with it a new liberty: the true Shepherd is calling His sheep out of the sheep-fold, and with Him, His hand over them, His voice in their ears, liberty is safe.*

{*The unclean beasts and creeping things contained in the net were forbidden in Leviticus (Lev. 11). The food of a clean people must be clean. But as man is assimilated to that upon which he feeds, we see here the character of all men — no doubt Jew as well as Gentile, though prominently the latter. The heavenly vessel is seen to be full of that which is represented by these unclean beasts and creeping things, the foul, vile, violent sinners — cleansed by grace and made meet for heaven. "And such were some of you." S.R.}

The vessel comes down from heaven and returns again there: it is the Church, heavenly in origin, and heavenly in destination; and those within it are alike those whom God has cleansed, and who must not be called common.

But Peter still doubts the meaning of the vision, until the three men sent by Cornelius are at the door, inquiring after him, and the Spirit bids him rise and go with them, for He has sent them.

(2) Upon all this history the inspired writer dwells, not heeding repetition, for the heart of God is pouring itself out in this getting back to it now of those so long self banished. The Gentile is truly the prodigal here restored; and we as Gentiles may well be touched at the interest displayed in those for whom the ring and robe are waiting. Things are told out at length, and we realize the response upon the other side, as we learn of the company which without prompting, save of a heart opening to the grace that greets him, Cornelius gathers to hear what, if he know not yet, he knows, so heralded, is good news from God. Upon all these, gathered up in the stretched out Arms, the Father's kiss is pressed in the Spirit presently outpoured, — the Spirit of adoption! What a scene to melt the last bit of legal ice out of the soul of Peter, as he realizes how impossible it is for him to withstand God! Truly it is impossible! the flood-gates are giving way, and all the fulness of divine love, long kept back by the requirements of divine righteousness, is hastening to manifest itself. The ages to come are to bear witness of the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. Nothing can keep back now what all the sin of man in its worst display has only shown in its supreme and glorious power.

Arrived at Caesarea, Peter rebukes his would-be successors of today by raising up him who had fallen at his feet as the messenger of God; and having explained how God had delivered him from his Jewish prejudices, preaches Jesus as Christ and Lord to those assembled. He now fully realizes that in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is acceptable to Him. How could He indeed ignore what is but the fruit of His own work in the soul, wherever found?

They were not unaware of the word which He had sent to Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ. As a word to Israel they had only as yet known of it; but He is Lord of all; and as that they were also now to have to say to Him. Of His mighty works they could not indeed be ignorant, who through all Judea and Galilee went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil. How plain was it that in all this God was with Him! Yet what they had done to Him was as well known also; they had slain and hung Him on a tree! There for the nation He had disappeared: they indeed had seen Him no more; but God had raised Him up the third day, and manifested Him to chosen witnesses, who (as the one who stood before them now) had eaten and drunk with Him after He was risen from among the dead. From Him had these commission to proclaim Him to the people; and that as One divinely appointed to be Judge of the living and the dead.

There was a breach, then, as to the nation; Israel had rejected the Lord: God had answered it by setting Him high above all, and putting judgment into His hands; yet the testimony of it was already an intimation of grace. How far, and in what manner would that grace be shown? Here Peter brings in the witness of the prophets, by whom from the beginning God had been speaking to men. It could not be; in fact, that such things should take place without having been anticipated and announced in the ages of which they were the consummation. That which affected the whole world could not be isolated from all its previous history. Central in their relation to all human things, the Cross and the Resurrection are in reality their explanation. With the testimony of the ages the glory of the miracle was only in harmonious correspondence. Its exceptionality was its fitness for the place it occupied.

They knew (the men whom the apostle was addressing) the testimony of the prophets, which, just as being Gentiles, would have for them an attraction of a special kind. Did it not speak of nations upon whom the Lord's name would be called? (Amos 9:11, 12.) And in Abraham's Seed were not all the families of the earth to be blessed? But Peter more definitely interprets and applies the gospel of their predictions, that through the name of Jesus whosoever believed on Him would receive remission of sins. According to such a principle; the Gentile who believed had equal assurance of this with the Jew. If even to the Jew acceptance were by faith alone; then for the Gentile who had faith there was acceptance also.

(3) Thus far had the apostle reached, — and he tells us himself, that it was but the beginning of what he intended to say (Acts 11:15) — when he was arrested by a sign of precious significance: without the administration of baptism, as with the pentecostal audience, — without the imposition of apostles, hands, as at Samaria, — the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word! God again was the Mover; and in anticipation of every question that might be raised, setting aside all thought of human succession, or of sacramental endowment, — "by the hearing of faith" alone (Gal. 3:2), the Gentiles received the Spirit, and were thus gathered into the assembly. The barrier between Jew and Gentile had been removed by the hand of God Himself, and the Church had assumed the character it was hereafter to retain. In Christ there was to be now neither Jew nor Gentile. The bond was not to be that of nationality nor of legal observance, but of the One Spirit uniting into one body. Not that the body of Christ was yet known doctrinally; nor even of the House of God have we yet heard, though the indwelling of the Spirit would give rise to a growing consciousness of this which would soon find support in the Lord's words to Peter, with the name given to him. In his first epistle we have the development of this, to which Paul, however, gives completeness. The fact anticipated the doctrine; and that which hindered the development of this had now given way (Eph. 2:14, 15).

Baptism takes here, therefore, another place from that which it had before this. It follows, instead of preceding, the reception of the Spirit. Peter makes this a manifest reason why baptism cannot be denied them: "Can any one forbid water," he asks, "that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we?" It was not necessarily the place which this was to take henceforth; for after this we find the Jewish disciples of the Baptist (Acts 19:5, 6), having not only to be baptized, but to have the imposition of hands, in order that they may receive the Spirit. The Gentiles, on the other hand, having had no legal status hitherto, are dealt with in pure grace alone; the ground upon which they are met is manifestly this, and this only: hence God can give way to His love with more simplicity; and He does so, to the astonishment of "those of the circumcision," who find all their own scruples and hesitation set aside with a decisive authority, against which they have no power to protest. To do aught but accept it would be plainly to "withstand God," as Peter himself says. He commands, therefore; that they should be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ, and, accepting frankly all the consequences of this, stays with them at their desire for some days.

(4) The history is pursued further, and with the same carefulness of detail, to the recognition of this place given to the Gentiles at Jerusalem itself, notwithstanding the objections on the part of the disciples there. In fact, the eating with men uncircumcised seems to have been heard of, before the way of the grace of God. Peter gives an account of all, therefore, from the beginning; and all resistance is silenced by the simple narration. The question with which he ends it is quite unanswerable. They needs must glorify God that He has granted to the Gentiles repentance unto life. Not even a breath is heard about the need of circumcising them to keep the law of Moses; the act of God is too conspicuous; He is so completely in it from end to end. And thus the all-important transformation is effected without a dissenting voice.

2.(1) The principle being now established, the free action of the Spirit is seen in raising up at Antioch what becomes characteristically a Gentile assembly. For this there is not even the putting forth of a man like Philip. None are allowed to be conspicuous in this work, for the eye to fasten upon: God would make it manifestly His own. Scattered by the same persecution which had been already made to minister to the need of Samaria, Phenicia, Cyprus and Antioch are visited by those whose hearts, filled with the grace which they have themselves experienced, lead them out to minister to the need of others. But at first it is to Jews only that the good news is proclaimed; the effect also is not apparent, — certainly seems in marked contrast with the success among the Greeks, to whom at last they turn. The hand of the Lord is with them, and a great number of converts is the result of their evangelistic labor. It is remarkable how officialism is discredited in all this. We do not know the name of a single person used in the work. The great apostle of the Gentiles is yet in comparative obscurity in his native city; Barnabas is not yet upon the scene: God is acting in conspicuous sovereignty by what instruments He will; and this in the case of the first Gentile assembly is surely designed to attract our notice. Antioch is to "stand over against" Jerusalem, as even its name may imply, as identified with such freer action; and it is noticeable that the disciples are first called Christians here in Antioch. In Jerusalem they were but "the sect of the Nazarenes."

(2) Still the new work is not to drift into independence of the old, but to be acknowledged and accepted at Jerusalem itself, as in the case of the reception of Cornelius and his company at Caesarea. The report, therefore, reaching the Jewish capital, Barnabas is sent forth to go as far as Antioch, — a well-chosen representative. He does not go with authority, nor seek to exercise it; nor has be in hand, as the apostles in their visit to Samaria, to supply any deficiency in the condition of these Syrian brethren, who have evidently received the Spirit, as they did at Caesarea, without need of apostles, or of imposition of hands. Barnabas sees the grace of God in them, and is glad, and simply exhorts them all, that with purpose of heart they should cleave to the Lord; — a word never uncalled for. It is his character that is dwelt upon in this connection, not his office: "he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit, and of faith;" and this is seen in its effect, doubtless, in the progress of the work there: "a great multitude was added to the Lord."

It is Barnabas who is the means of introducing Saul into this field of labor. We may naturally suppose that he recognized in him a special fitness for the great work now beginning; but we see how simply his connection is brought about with the field to which from the commencement of his apostleship he is destined. God is not in haste, and His purposes are worked out often in what we may call the homeliest ways. The man who had introduced him to the apostles at Jerusalem, and who there had been witness to his energy and power, now seeks him out at Tarsus, no great distance off, and Saul returns with him to Antioch. There the work still progresses; and there the Christians get what is henceforth their distinctive name. We are not told whence it came; but the argument is just that Jews who refused Jesus as the Christ could not have given it to them; and that we only find it elsewhere, either in the mouth of those outside; as king Agrippa, or where the thought is of one suffering as such from the hands of unbelievers, as Peter uses it (1 Peter 4:16). It was therefore given by men outside, as one would infer, and in connection with the notable work accomplished at this time. The disciples were no more looked at as a mere Jewish sect. The weaning-time of Isaac was accomplished; and, while the children of the bondwoman "mocked" at the feebleness of the true heirs of grace; and cast them out, it was really they themselves who were being cast out. The Church's unity in Christ was being proclaimed, even by the lips of unbelievers; the One Name covering alike Jew and Gentile, while it separated them from all, whether Jew or Gentile; who did not confess Him.

(3) The Spirit of God gives a little glimpse, in closing this portion, of the recognition on the part of the assembly at Antioch of their relationship and obligation to those from whom they had received spiritual blessings so great. Indeed it is from a prophet from Jerusalem that they have warning of the approach of the famine which occasions this ministry, and which seems especially to have affected the province of Judea. It is the first time that Christian prophets are mentioned in the New Testament; although they seem not to have been few in number, and are placed second only to the apostles themselves in the enumeration of gifts bestowed by Christ upon the Church. Prophecy also, as we shall find elsewhere; is in a special way characteristic of Christianity. Unsuccessional, springing out of close intercourse and communion with God, the disclosure of His mind so as to bring souls into His Presence, — it should be and is, in closest relation with the rent veil of the Sanctuary and the ability to draw near to God which mark the present period. Prediction was never more than a comparatively small and variable part of it; although this is what we find in the prophesying of Agabus upon the only two occasions in which he appears in the history. Indeed he is a prophet of sorrow at both times, although of that which God overrules for good; but then, of what sorrow may not this be said?

The disciples do not think little of this ministry of means, when they choose the two most prominent among them to administer it; and Barnabas and Saul, on the other hand, do not think it a matter that they should not be burdened with. Indeed, we know from the epistles of the latter what he thought upon the subject. In those fresh days, when it could be said that every one gave "according to his ability," how much love — divine love — was there not expressed in it! How different when it would have rather to be said, as in many of the sad days of decline since then, "every one a little of his superfluity, and the richest in proportion least of all!" Everything is degraded or spiritualized by the heart that is in it, — or is not in it.

We hear, too, for the first time; of "elders" in the Jewish assemblies, who, though doubtless an adoption from what was an immemorial custom in Israel (for we have no account of any distinct origin), yet seem from the epistle of Peter to be hardly officially appointed (1 Peter 5:1), but rather the natural result of wisdom and experience attaching to age, which would make the "elder" the natural leader in the counsels of a people. In the Gentile assemblies we read of their appointment afterwards, where (and perhaps because) the patriarchal custom did not have the same recognition; and there with some restrictions which were only necessary to right "oversight," which (and not preaching) was that which was their work. The incidental notice here hardly requires the examination of the subject of eldership which it must receive when we come to the epistle to Timothy. It is well to note; however, that neither was it a gift, nor did it need one for qualification, which was almost wholly moral; while for preaching or teaching there needed no authorization from man, but the gift entailed the responsibility of using it, and manifested itself wherever there was an ear to hear. But all this must wait for its development elsewhere.

Subdivision 6. (Acts 12.)

Israel in full unbelief under their apostate king; but with God's hand over it.

1. While the Church is thus being enlarged, unhappy Israel becomes only more hostile to the followers of Him whom they have crucified, and a new king (Herod Agrippa I.) rises up to give their enmity effect. Though we may be little able to interpret the details, yet the circumstances undoubtedly suggest an anticipation of the last days, when the lawless king will exalt himself against God, assuming for himself divine honors. We have here, also, in effect, the slain and the spared remnant represented in the opposite lot of James and Peter: the one given up, as it might seem, so strangely, his service but begun, to a violent death, while for the other an angel must be sent from heaven, to rescue him in a wonderful manner "from all the expectation of the people of the Jews," about to glut their evil desire with the death of another apostle of Jesus. Yet James was one of the three specially in the Lord's confidence, along with John and Peter. His life is to us a blank, and his day went down at noon! How little can we see of the divine ways! and, if we judge a course merely by its results, how surely shall we misjudge! In the events to which we seem to be looking forward here, those that are martyred under the beast have their part in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4-6); while the spared remnant has but its portion on earth: and thus will eternity reverse our present apprehension of how many things!

The story of Peter's deliverance is told vividly and in detail; but while it yields much food for meditation, it scarcely requires an interpreter. It may appear even too far out of the usual course of God's ways to find ready application to our common lives; yet it is the same God with whom we have to do; and, if we had but skill to trace His ways with us more; we might find more reason to wonder at the essential resemblances than to be perplexed at the apparent differences. The veil is over His governmental dealings, for it is a dispensation of faith and not of sight; but it is yet the part of faith to take away the veil, and through all disguises to recognize the well-known features of the Love that seeks to be apprehended by those who are the objects of it; and that before the veil is drawn away, as soon it shall be, and we shall know, even as we are known.

The angels too are still "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to those who shall inherit salvation;" and we easily remember how in Elisha's day the eyes that God opened could see the "chariots and horses of fire" round about the man who to common sight looked absolutely unprotected. Did we seek with more longing that intercourse with the unseen which surely we may attain, how would our spiritual vision gain in clearness, what recompense should we have from Him, who still as of old, "satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness"! There are other prison-doors, and better guarded than these that could not hold Peter, which may need to be loosed for us, that we may go forth into the great spiritual world around us! and the prison perhaps is one out of which, in reality, we have hardly been, or not been, — then most secure, of course, when we scarcely recognize that we are shut in at all, or, therefore, think of deliverance! Perhaps the gates would open to us of their own accord, if we on our part were not so well satisfied to have them shut.*

{*For some reason, the Spirit gives the name of the damsel who announces Peter's deliverance. It is Rhoda — a rose.

Peter's angel is evidently to be understood as his spirit, without his body. They thought he had been put to death. S.R.}

2. Israel, as we see; is going onward to doom; yet they have a king under whom now the whole land is once more united. They will in fact have a political revival at the end, when all will seem to be theirs except the life from God without which all is death still, and only worse corruption. The picture of the wilful king is, no doubt, here; as has already been remarked, though it may be slightly drawn. Solemn it is to see, that whether faintly or plainly to be seen, wherever Christ is rejected Antichrist appears. So it ever is: "I have come in My Father's Name; and ye receive Me not; if another come in his own name, him ye will receive." In every individual case; such is the spiritual law: and there is nothing arbitrary or strange about it; in it men are but a law to themselves, in fact: there are but these two alternatives; not to choose the one is in itself to choose the other.

Of all this one can say little; however, as to its bearing upon what is before us in the Acts. It is easy to see that we have in this part the divergence of two roads that never can meet. Israel and the Church here part. Save for a moment to reaffirm the freedom of the Gentile from the legal yoke; the history returns no more to Jerusalem, until the last sad days of Paul's arrest and imprisonment from which he escapes only by the appeal to Caesar, which carries him eventually to Rome itself. Jerusalem and Rome are alike the prisons of the gospel, however much it be true nevertheless, that "the word of God is not bound." But this lies yet a good way before us.

3. This portion does not close with the death of Herod, but with the increase and multiplication of the word of God; which in fact is now not merely to have large fruit among the Gentiles, but to expand into a glorious revelation of things hitherto kept secret — the manifold wisdom and the marvelous love of God, which is to make the Church for all eternity the temple of His praise.

It is Paul, as we know, who is to be in this respect the "completer" of the word of God (Col. 1:25); and it is Paul whose course we are now especially to follow, himself the most perfect display of grace towards the "chief of sinners," and now to proclaim that grace in an unequalled manner, the record of which we have in his fourteen epistles. The Acts does not give us indeed, in any sufficient manner, the doctrine of Paul. It presents us rather with the character of his work, as we shall see; together with the reception given it by the legalist and by the world, — a lesson for the days since then, by which we must seek to profit, as God may give.

From Jerusalem Barnabas and Saul now return. The ministers of Gentile love to their brethren of the circumcision, the opposition that we shall but too soon see springing up comes from no failure upon the part of him who once wished himself accursed from Christ for his kindred according to the flesh (Rom. 9:3). That they would not receive his testimony he had been already warned (Acts 22:18); yet his heart could not be kept back in its overflowing affection for them. We are to see how it was repaid, — alas! and yet no wonder; was it not Christ, and Him crucified, whom Paul proclaimed? and to the people who had crucified Him? Such is man! and in the sovereign grace of the God of grace alone is there hope for any.

The mention of Mark as accompanying the return to Antioch has a moral with it, which develops later. He was sister's son to Barnabas (Col. 4:10); and this touch of nature prevails in the end to separate the two zealous laborers with whom he is for the present united. And yet Mark — here the failing servant — is by and by the one who records the Lord's own unfailing service in the second Gospel; and of whom the untiring Paul will one day say, "He is profitable to me for the ministry" (2 Tim. 4:11). How will grace triumph at the last over all our failures!