CONVERSION TO GOD CHAPTER 15

BY

ALEXANDER BROWN

EDINBURGH

PRINTED BY H. & J. PILLANS & WILSON

1887


CHAPTER 15

LANGUAGE THE CHIEF MEANS OF CONVERSION.

Acts 14:1-22.

Iconium - Speaking in the Synagogue - Result - Opposition - Protracted effort - The Lord's testimony - The multitude divided - The missionaries again forced to flee - Lycaonia - Lystra - Good news proclaimed - A cripple cured - Attempt to worship the apostles - The sacrifice stopped - The living God proclaimed - Paul stoned - Resuscitation and departure - Derbe - Further preaching - Many taught - Return journey - Importance of speech

DRIVEN out of Antioch in Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas found their way to Iconium. "It was on the great line of communication between Ephesus and the western coast of the peninsula on one side, and Tarsus, Antioch, and the Euphrates on the other. Iconium was well chosen for missionary operations. ... It is now called Konieh." "Mountains covered with snow rise on every side, excepting towards the east, where a plain as flat as the desert of Arabia, extends far beyond the reach of the eye."

WHAT OCCURRED IN ICONIUM.

1. Paul and Barnabas went into the Jewish synagogue. The primitive missionaries acted throughout on the principle of "the Jew first." Their order not only was Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and then the uttermost parts of the earth, but even in a place where Jews and Gentiles were alike to be taught the gospel, the work was commenced among the Jews. So it had been in the Pisidian Antioch, and so it is here in Iconium.

2. They spoke in the synagogue. There was considerable freedom in those religious schools of the Jews. A cordial invitation to speak had been tendered to Paul and Barnabas in Antioch, and again in Iconium they find a similar opportunity of speaking to their countrymen. The Scriptures to be read might be pre-arranged, but there was wonderful freedom of speech.

3. They so spake as to produce faith. The careful reading of the Scriptures is of itself sufficient to cause faith, provided always the reading be by a mind open to learn. But human thoughts are apt to run in grooves. Succeeding generations often find it easier and more congenial to remain in ruts that have been made for them, than to put forth an effort to get out of these and search for better paths. The Jews regularly and religiously read their Scriptures, but they had been so long accustomed to jog on in the deep ruts of traditionalism that, what the Scriptures would have naturally and easily accomplished, if unencumbered by the fanciful expositions and supposed safeguards of religious tutors, they were unable to accomplish under the super-imposed load of those traditionary expositions. The Word of God had no free course. It was impeded on all hands by the erroneous notions of the Jews. To call attention to what the Scriptures did teach, an effort out of the usual course was requisite. The followers of Jesus were the only men who could effectually make such an effort, and the synagogue arrangements afforded suitable opportunities for the effort. The common-sense application of Old Testament writings by New Testament speakers, was the best possible antidote to traditionalism, as well as the effectual and God-appointed means to secure faith and cause conversion. Paul and Barnabas so spoke that a great multitude believed.

4. Combined opposition ensued. The unbelieving Jews were the leaders in opposing the speakers. But they were not content to oppose by themselves. They embittered the Gentiles, not only against the workers, but against the brethren generally. Wicked antagonism may sometimes so far succeed as to sour the public mind against Christians.

5. Opposition increased the efforts of the speakers. Long-continued speaking succeeded the incitement of the Jews. These two words - "long time" - are the only indications of time during the missionary tour of Acts 13-14.

6. The Lord showed approval. He enabled His servants to work miracles. These were of such a nature as to be recognised as evidence from heaven in favour of the visitors and their message.

7. The people divided. "Part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles." So it always has been, Truth is potent to move. Let it be plainly and earnestly spoken, and results will follow. The honest hearers who understand, will welcome the truth and rejoice in its propagation. But those who understand not, and those who have party interests to serve, are moved to deeds which amply demonstrate of what manner of spirit they are. When truth prevails, the devil roars. When Christianity is spread, anti-Christian spirits go mad. The more religious they are, the more foolishly do they act in opposing pure truth.

8. The last resource of wicked opposition is a combination of sneaking unmanliness and brute force. It is surprising what strange amalgamations are produced by hatred of truth and of truth-promoters. The Jews could hide their antipathy to the Gentiles, and make common cause with them against Christians. The Jewish rulers aided and abetted. A mean plot was hatched; the disciples were to be maltreated and stoned. In our blessed country, with its numberless privileges, they dare not stone us; but unmanly shuffling, unworthy combinations, and covert misrepresentations still characterise some religionists, who love themselves or their systems more than they love truth and God.

9. But the speakers flee. The plot was discovered to them. To have continued there would have been certain death. Fidelity did not require that sacrifice. Life must not be needlessly thrown away. The Jews had driven them from Antioch, and would fain have made short work in Iconium by stoning them to death. When first sending forth His apostles, Jesus had said, "When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another" (Matt. 10:23). Paul and Barnabas escape, and find their way to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the adjacent country.

LYCAONIA.

"The district of Lycaonia extends from the ridges of Mount Taurus and the borders of Cilicia, on the south, to the Cappadocian hills, on the north. It is a bare and dreary region, unwatered by streams, though in parts liable to occasional inundations. Strabo mentions one place where water was even sold for money. ... Of the whole district Iconium was properly the capital; and the plain round Iconium may be reckoned as its great central space, situated midway between Cilicia and Cappadocia. This plain is spoken of as the largest in Asia Minor.

"Lystra and Derbe stood on the great road leading from Cilicia to Iconium."

WHAT HAPPENED AT LYSTRA.

1. Good news was proclaimed. Paul and Barnabas were not to be silenced. If they had been hounded out of Antioch and Iconium, they had found an open fields in and around Lystra and Derbe. There they published Heaven's gladdening tidings.

2. A cripple was cured. The poor man, like the one cured by Peter in Jerusalem, had never walked; but he used his ears to good purpose. He so heard that his confidence in what he heard became discernible by the speaker. With that characteristic fixing of his eyes (Acts 13:9; 23:1), Paul in an authoritative voice commanded him to stand upright. "And he leaped and walked." There was no dubious prescription, no weary waiting, no long nursing, but an immediate and unmistakable cure.

3. The people became wild with excitement. A deed had been done which surpassed human power. The common sense of the Lycaonians taught them that the effect demanded a cause beyond man. What then was the supernatural power? Local tradition had it that once upon a time Zeus and Hermes had visited that region, and now the people rushed to the conclusion that these deities had returned. The gods had come down to them in human form. Zeus was "the father of the gods and men"; Hermes was his son and usual companion. Barnabas was Zeus, Paul was his herald or his interpreter. They would do homage worthy of the gods. Oxen were chosen, decorations provided, and priest and people were hurrying on to do sacrifice.

4. But Paul and Barnabas repudiated being gods. They showed as much dread as the people did enthusiasm. They were shocked at the bare idea of being worshipped. They rent their clothes, an old-fashioned and rude way of manifesting sorrow (Gen. 37:29-34), and rushed among the people to put a stop to the foolish sacrifice. In a few words they placed themselves on a level with their would-be worshippers, saying, we are human beings with the same feelings and impulses as yourselves.

5. The mission of Paul and Barnabas was declared. Their aim was to turn men's minds away from the creature to the Creator - to bring to pass among the Lystrians what had happened to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:9). They spoke of the living God to those who had been accustomed to worship dumb idols, lifeless blocks. That God was Creator of all things. He had long allowed the nations to follow their own devices, and to experiment by their own wisdom, alias folly. And yet by every returning season He had been giving an unbroken chain of evidence of His kind care over His creatures, so that men were without excuse in not honouring Him as God (Rom. 1:18-19). Though unseen and unacknowledged, and in some respects standing aloof from men, God had been supplying them with food and filling their hearts with joy. To lead men to know Him, and to induce them to worship Him, was the mission of the heroes of Lycaonia.

6. A strange reaction took place. One sentence informs us that it was with difficulty that Paul and Barnabas deterred the people from worshipping them as gods; but the next sentence makes known that the same people either themselves stoned Paul till they thought that he was dead, or they acquiesced in the Jews so treating him. It may be that some time, of which we have no notice, had elapsed between the attempt to worship and the attempt to murder, and it is certain that a blind, zealous, wicked, Jewish influence had meantime been introduced; but, after all, it was a strange fickleness, which does not speak well for the discernment, any more than for the stability, of mankind. It was a change of mind respecting Paul in the inverse order of the change of the people of Malta, who first adjudged him a murderer, and then a god (Acts 28: 3-6).

7. Paul's resuscitation and departure. The persecutors meant their work with Paul to be final; they thought him dead. But his life was yet in him. Ere the disciples had time to decide what to do, and while they stood around, he arose. What never-to-be-forgotten events must have crowded into that last day at Lystra! "Once was I stoned," afterwards found a place in a brief record of Paul's sufferings (2 Cor. 11:25). And in his old age, when writing probably the last letter of his that has been preserved to us, he reminded Timothy of his full acquaintance with the persecutions, and afflictions, which were endured by him at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra (2 Tim. 3:10-11). On the day after the stoning, Paul and Barnabas departed to Derbe.

EVENTS AT DERBE.

"Derbe was probably near the pass called the Cilician gates." "A few hours would suffice for the journey between Lystra and its neighbour city."

Here, again, the missionaries began to publish their good news. The recent experience of ungrateful and malicious treatment at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, hindered them not from telling the good news about King Jesus. With his body, perchance, still bruised and aching all over by the unmerciful stoning, Paul spread abroad the glorious gospel of the blessed God.

And many were taught. Teaching was coupled with preaching. In becoming Christians there is much to lean, and progress in learning is often slow. We need line upon line. The same lesson often requires frequent repetition, and the lessons are numerous.

But the Revised Version of the twenty-first verse should be noted. "And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had made many disciples," etc.

The farthest point of the journey was now reached. Paul and Barnabas retrace their steps. They shrink not from going back through the places in which they had been abused, and from which they had been chased. In these places they had left disciples, and these were dear to them. For their sakes "they went back, over the wild and dusty plain, the twenty miles from Derbe to Lystra, the forty miles from Lystra to Iconium, the sixty miles from Iconium to Antioch." Their work this time was chiefly one of confirmation; they consolidated their brethren by encouraging them to persevere, promising that when the suffering was all over, there would be a permanent residence in God's kingdom. They even taught that the tribulation was a condition of obtaining the kingdom; they must enter through much tribulation.

THE IMPORTANCE OF LANGUAGE.

There are numerous intimations in Acts 14 of speaking. Paul and Barnabas so spoke that a great multitude believed. They spoke boldly. They preached the gospel is affirmed twice. The cripple heard Paul speak. By speech the Lystrians were persuaded to desist from their sacrifice. Paul and Barnabas taught many. They exhorted. They commended them to the Lord. They preached the word. Speech was used mischievously by the Jews to persuade the Gentiles against Christianity; but it was constantly and effectually used by the heralds of Christianity to persuade men in the right direction.

Much was accomplished by means of language.

1. The gospel was spread.

2. Faith or belief was produced (verse 1).

3. Many were taught or disciples were made.

4. The disciples were confirmed by being spoken to, and not by the fingers of the bishop (verse 22).

5. Perseverance resulted from exhortation or speech.

Our chapter on "Preaching" is an illustration throughout of the inestimable value of speech in disseminating Christianity.

The Scriptures are prolific of statements declaring the worth of God's utterances for man's weal.

1. Conversion. God's Word produces conversion. "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul" (Psalm 19:7-8).

2. Wisdom. What God testifies makes us wise. "The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple."

3. Joy. God's commands, properly understood, are not grievous, but are a source of joy. "The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart."

4. Intelligence. What God enjoins is such enlightenment to the mind that it shows itself in the eyes. "The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes."

5. It is by the Word of God that the spiritual life is begun (James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23).

6. God's Word saves the soul (James 1:21).

7. God's Writings make wise to salvation through faith in Christ, and are profitable in many ways (2 Tim. 3:15-17).

8. God's Word is the means of edification (Acts 20:32).

Old Testament writers perceived that it was a blessed employment to study the Scriptures continually (Psalm 1:1-3); and New Testament writers recognised that the Word of God was living and powerful (Heb. 4:12).

Let us therefore avoid, with fear and trembling, that libel on God's Word which affirms or implies that it is a dead letter. On the contrary, let us thoughtfully read and prayerfully strive to understand His teaching, assured that it is His own appointed means for the conversion, enlightenment, and sanctification of humanity.

The free use of the Scriptures is the abiding means in the hands of believers for the conversion of mankind. The days of attempting to make Christians at the point of the bayonet are past. But the adding of forces other than those which the Word of God indicates is still in vogue. Numerous expedients are adopted which are not only additions to the New Testament, but also a contravention of its principles or a displacing of its commands. As it was in the days of the Saviour, so is it now; human devices take the place of divine teaching (Mark 7:7-13). All such expedients betray a lack of knowledge or a lack of faith in God's Word. Free promulgation of the truth is the Christian's weapon both of defence and of aggression. Freedom of speech is our cause of joy and hope. We have nothing to hide, and nothing of which to be afraid. Ventilation is an effectual condition of truth being spread and Christianity becoming triumphant. If we believe that the gospel is the power of God to salvation, we need trouble about nothing else than to get people to understand the gospel and its conditions. We should strive so to speak the truth that others may learn and believe. Paul and Barnabas so spoke as to effect that desirable end.

ALEXANDER BROWN INDEX