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ACTS VIII. 5-8.
THEN PHILIP WENT DOWN TO THE CITY OF SAMARIA AND PREACHED CHRIST UNTO THEM, AND THE PEOPLE WITH ONE ACCORD GAVE HEED UNTO THOSE THINGS WHICH PHILIP SPAKE, HEARING AND SEEING THE MIRACLES WHICH HE DID. FOR UNCLEAN SPIRITS, CRYING WITH LOUD VOICE, CAME OUT OF MANY THAT WERE POSSESSED WITH THEM: AND MANY TAKEN WITH PALSIES, AND THAT WERE LAME, WERE HEALED. AND THERE WAS GREAT JOY IN THAT CITY.
THIS chapter opens with the account of the part which the apostle Paul, then known by the name of Saul, had in the martyrdom of Stephen; that he "was consenting unto his death." To this he himself refers, in his remarkable speech to his assembled countrymen, in which he tells them that "when the blood of the martyr Stephen was shed, he also was standing by and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him.”1 It would seem that the share which he had thus indirectly in this work of cruelty, whetted his appetite for destruction; for the 3d verse of this chapter informs us that he "made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women, committed them to prison." He refers to
1 Acts xxii. 20.
this in the 15th chapter of the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians when, speaking of himself as one of those to whom the Lord had vouchsafed to manifest himself, he says, "and last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time, for I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God; but by the grace of God I am what I am."2 Full indeed of admonition and of encouragement is the case of the apostle of admonition, since we see in it how quickly "the whole course of nature is set on fire;" how soon the indulgence of a spirit opposed to the spirit and mind of Christ, may be carried onward to the most appalling crimes: and of consolation, even to the chief of sinners, if he will but hear and receive the gospel message of pardon and peace; for the apostle himself tells us that this was one cause of the mercy he received, that in him the grace of God might be magnified. "This is a faithful saying, (he declares,) and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them who should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting." O what mercy that he should have endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, and what an encouragement to every sinner here present to fly without delay to that Saviour, and to believe that he is still willing to embrace him in the arms of his mercy, and to 21 Cor. xv. 9, 10.
3 James iii. 6.
41 Tim. i. 15.
enable him to adorn and promote that gospel which he before neglected or reviled! But while, in the instance of St. Paul, we see the bowels of compassion of the gracious Saviour, and hear his sweet and tender call to turn to him without delay, in the full assurance of acceptance and forgiveness; we also see, in the incidents related in this chapter, the over-ruling providence of God, bringing light out of darkness, and causing the "wrath of man to praise him." For "at that time, (we read,) when there was this great persecution against the church at Jerusalem, its members were all scattered abroad, except the apostles ;"5 "therefore they (the believers) who were scattered abroad, went every where preaching the word." How vain and impotent are the attempts of men against God! how utterly confounded are they in their own devices! The subtlety of the devil or man worketh against the Lord and his people in vain. The very means which they, in their short-sighted wisdom, adopted to crush his people and utterly destroy his truth, became the most effectual instrument of sowing that truth far and wide, and of carrying it where, humanly speaking, but for this it would never have reached. Had rest been allowed to the church at Jerusalem, perhaps the members of it would have been contented to enjoy themselves the privileges with which they were blessed, and would not have thought of others who were sitting in darkness. And perhaps, my brethren, the rest and peace
which we have so long enjoyed, has inclined us to
5 Acts viii.1.
6 Acts viii. 4.
settle down upon our lees, and that we may need some such external impulse as this, both to make us feel the value of our blessings, and to cause us to communicate them beyond ourselves. I fear that no church at ease, sitting under her own vine and under her fig tree, none making her afraid,” has felt, as she ought, the imperative duty of "going forth, bearing the precious seed" of God's truth. And if, at this moment, the clouds of affliction and persecution seem to be gathering over ourselves, it may be for the double purpose of making us feel our own long abused mercies, and of leading us to extend them. Of this, however, let us be persuaded, that neither against the church of God collectively, nor against any portion of that church, shall the gates of hell prevail. "The kings of the earth may set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder and cast away their cords from us; but he that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh, the Lord shall have them in derision."9 Let us rest assured of this, that "the Lord knoweth them that are his; that not a hair of their heads shall perish; but that God will be guiding all things according to his own purpose, and overruling all for the good of his people, the spreading of his truth, and the glory of his own great name.
So it was evidently in the case under our con
7 Micah iv. 4.
8 Ps. cxxvi. 6.
9 Ps. ii. 2-4.
2 Luke xxi. 18.
2 Tim. ii. 19.
sideration. We have in this chapter the account of the proceedings of one of those that were thus scattered abroad, and we may naturally conclude that the same effects followed the exertions of others, who went forth with the same message, and under the same protection. Philip, we find, took the direction of Samaria; and two remarkable instances of his success are given in the chapter before us the one as regarded the inhabitants of the city of Samaria, the other as regarded a single individual, the treasurer of the Ethiopian queen; showing that God is not less mindful of individuals than of communities; that the Lord knows where his own are, and will surely send the message of life and peace to them, and will both "search his sheep and seek them out."3 This latter case has been considered on a former occasion: I purpose, therefore, with God's blessing, to set the circumstances of the other before you this morning. And may God the Holy Ghost, who caused it to be written for our instruction, apply it usefully to our hearts, and teach both me who speak and you who hear, a lesson from it suited to our respective wants. We are led to notice from the words which I have read to you,
I. THE PREACHING OF PHILIP.
II. THE RECEPTION WHICH IT MET WITH,
III. THE RESULTS BY WHICH IT WAS FOLLOWED. I. As to THE PREACHING OF PHILIP. It is spoken of in connexion with that of the rest who were driven
3 Ezekiel xxxiv. 11.