All things for all , A.V.; how that for how, A.V.; a door for the door, A.V. A door . The door is preferable, because "the faith" limits the door to one kind of opening. In Colossians 4:3 the case is a little different both in the A.V. and the R.V., though in the latter "the door of the Word" would be a truer rendering. Observe how the leading idea of the narrative is the conversion of the Gentiles. (See Introduction to the Acts.)
The Word and the miracle.
In the advancement of the kingdom of God on earth, whether by our Lord himself in the days of his flesh, or by the apostles after his ascension, two great instruments were in constant and simultaneous use—the preaching of the Word of God and the working of miracles. In the Gospels it is difficult to say which was the most prominent feature of our Lord's life—his preaching the Word or his mighty works of power. He himself places them side by side in his description of his own course: "The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised up," and "the poor have the gospel preached to them" ( Luke 7:22 ). Many reasons may be assigned for this. The miracle gave authority to the Word before the Word had time to assert its own authority in the conscience and reason of the hearer. The miracle awakened attention by its irresistible surprise. The miracle was a witness to confirm the doubtful and the wavering. Then again the miracle, having matter for its seat, testified to the sovereignty over all nature—the body, the sea, the air, the fruits of the earth, the grave—of him whose word was preached. Again, being that evil had set its two feet, one upon the body, the other upon the soul of men, producing in the one pain, sickness, infirmity, and death, and in the other sin, sorrow, and guilt, the double action of the miracle, healing, restoring, raising, the body, and of the Word, justifying, purifying, and sanctifying the soul, exhibited the true nature of the kingdom of God as the destruction of evil and the establishment of eternal joy and life. So that the miracle, besides its other functions, was a necessary complement of the Word in holding up a true picture of that kingdom of God which Jesus Christ was sent to found and to establish forever. But now, having seen the common work of the Word and the miracle, let us note certain important differences in their respective functions. The miracle does not sanctify. It does not renew the inner man after the image of God. It does not prick the conscience, or soften the hard heart, or give wisdom, or produce love. It surprises, it alarms, it evidences, it displays power and goodness, it corroborates the Word, but it is not in itself a spiritual power. Hence of the number who saw Christ's miracles, how very few became his disciples! Of the ten lepers that were cleansed only one gave glory to God. Nearly ten thousand ate of the loaves and fishes; how many ate of that bread which came down from heaven? The whole Sanhedrim knew of the lame man who was healed at the beautiful gate of the temple, but they were only the more eager to silence the voices of those who spake of Jesus and the Resurrection. The priests of Jupiter and the whole populace of Lystra were ready to worship Barnabas and Paul because of the healing of the cripple, but they were as ready immediately afterwards to atone them and cast them out of their city. But the Word of God is a creative, quickening power in the soul. its entrance gives light; its action gives life; its fruit is love; it does sanctify; and it saves. At Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra, and at Derbe, the Word preached by Paul brought faith, and life, and joy, and salvation, both to Jews and Greeks. By the Word which they heard and believed they were brought to God, begotten unto life, quickened with Christ, made heirs of the Resurrection -and of the kingdom of God. Everything that can enrich, and beautify, and comfort, and exalt a human being, is wrought by the Word of God received unto the heart. Let us, then, prize the Word of God; let us love it; let us cherish it in our bosoms; let us yield ourselves to its teaching, its action, its power; let us hide it in our secret soul; let us never be content till it has brought forth fruit a hundredfold in our lives to the glory of God the Father.
The work of God.
This first famous missionary tour had some features quite peculiar to itself and is, in some respects, inimitable by us. Bat in other aspects it may be regarded as a typical work of God.
I. IT was BEGUN IN GOD . It was
II. IN HIS STRENGTH IT WAS CARRIED ON AND COMPLETED . In his strength. The entire account, from beginning to end, conveys the idea that the apostles sought and found their strength in a Divine source; indeed, nothing less would have sustained them under the difficulties and sufferings of their mission. It was carried on and completed. It was a work " which they fulfilled"
III. IT WAS CROWNED BY A RECITAL TO THOSE WHOM THEY REPRESENTED . Paul and Barnabas were undoubtedly sent of God; but they also went as members of the Church at Antioch. That Church regarded them as its representatives, followed them with its sympathies, sustained them by its prayers, and received them back with its warmest welcome. And to that Church, gathered together for the purpose, they recounted" all that God had done with them "—a most suitable crown to a noble work. With eager, sympathetic, rejoicing spirits the assembly must have received the narrative. How grateful must have been the psalms, how fervent the prayers, how heartfelt the congratulations, that followed! A work is not crowned until its story has been told to those who had a real and living part in its initiation and its procedure.
IV. IT WAS FOLLOWED BY INVIGORATING REST (verse 28)—the rest of
"The door of faith."
When may it be said that God has "opened the door of faith" through which men may enter? This is true, as described in the text when—
I. THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IS FIRST PRESENTED TO THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN BROUGHT UP IN SOME FORM OF ERROR . It was opened, through the hand of Paul, to the Gentiles, and multitudes entered in thereat. This may be said when—
II. THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IS TAUGHT TO CHILDREN . Then it is gradually widened as their intelligence opens; it is not long before it is sufficiently open for the soul to pass through and hold intimate and living converse with the Divine Friend.
III. THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IS FIRST PRESENTED TO THE MIND IN AN APPRECIABLE FORM . Always essentially and fundamentally the same, the truth may be represented in such form as to be wholly inappreciable by some minds; but, on the other hand, it may be unfolded in such wise as exactly to meet the needs and satisfy the cravings of the soul. Then there is an opening through which the satisfied intellect can pass, and where the soul may feed and be sustained. Or when—
IV. THE CHRISTIAN FAITH IS FIRST URGED ON THE CONSCIENCE WITH DIVINE POWER . When all material considerations Rink into insignificance and the soul feels, profoundly, that the living truth of God as revealed in Jesus Christ is the one supreme and sovereign thing, then the door is opened wide, through which the soul should pass without delay, for on the inner side of it is
Return to Antioch: a picture of apostolic activity.
The scene quickly changed at Lystra. The multitude, wrought upon by Jews from Antioch and Iconium, rise up against Paul, and stone their late hero and god. Fickle world, which now brings garlands and now stones! "Every generation stones by-and-by its own gods, but every time has its own method of stoning." The boldest antagonists of the kingdom of darkness arouse most foes; Paul is stoned, not Barnabas. Perhaps his own act comes back upon him in stoning Stephen; certainly it must be present to his mind. God makes of our own past evil acts whips to scourge us or stones to pelt us. But Paul rises from the ground. "Rejoice not, O mine enemy, for though I fall I shall rise again." The story is told of Numidicus at Carthage, in the time of Cyprian, that, half burned and stoned, he lay as dead. His daughters came to bury him, whereupon he arose and went into the city. The next day, following the marching orders, "When they persecute you in one city, flee into another," Paul goes forth with Barnabas to Derbe. Now comes a rapid sketch of busy labor.
I. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CHRISTIAN PREACHER ,
1. He is not to be cast down by disappointment nor defeated by opposition. Faith, tried by fire, proves its enduring quality. The more the apostle suffers, the more glowing becomes his love. He returns, as if by irresistible attraction, to the scene of defeat. It is just those souls which resist us that we must mark out for conquest; they will be well worth perseverance to gain.
2. He is ever seeking for new worlds to conquer for the kingdom of Christ. Ever planting and propagating the Word in virgin ground, the motto of the missionary is, "To-morrow to fresh fields and pastures new."
3. His cares and duties are manifold. This is suggestively brought out by the different words employed. He "evangelizes;" i.e. he announces the good news of the kingdom; he proclaims, or preaches, in the proper sense, Christ. Next, he "instructs" ( μαθητεύειν ) the converts, so that they become disciples, i.e. men taught and ever learning more of Christian truth. He also "strengthens," or "confirms," Christian believers, by calling to mind and applying the old truths. He "exhorts," bringing the force of personal love and suasion to bear on the will, "speaking from the heart to the heart." To keep men in the faith is no less an anxiety than to bring them into it.
4. He is the comforter, He sheds a light upon man's troubles, by showing that it is through them the path lies to the kingdom of God.
"The path of sorrow, and that path alone,
Leads to that land where sorrow is unknown."
Christianity glorifies suffering; apart from it, we sink amidst them into a cheerless pessimism or a blind resignation,
5. He has to take part in the government and guidance of communities, The appointment of officers ever the different Churches is here mentioned. Christianity is a social as well as an individual life, and social life must have its organization. If we carefully study this short passage ( Acts 14:21-23 ), we find in it a compendium of the Christian minister's duties. Truly—
"'Tis not a cause of small import,
The pastor's care demands."
II. THE BLESSINGS ATTENDANT ON THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL .
1. Reflex blessings on the mind and heart of the preacher; assurance through suffering and trial and experience of Divine help. Even if a man sees but little present fruit of his labor, he has reason to thank God for the effect upon his own spirit and character of a work so holy on the souls of others. Discimus docendo. We learn by teaching; and he that watereth is watered himself.
2. To those who receive the message. Instead of the wild irregularity of passion and fancy, Christian order and sobriety takes possession of the soul. Idle fables are driven out by the Divine Word.
3. To the supporters and messengers of missionary work. Joyous was the welcome, great the thanksgiving at Antioch when the missionaries came back. And so ever; refreshment of faith, broadening of sympathies, quickening of intelligence, ever follows upon the receipt of good news from the fields of Christian work, and opening of new doors to the free passage of the Word.—J.
Dangers and successes.
The unstable multitude open to rapid changes of feeling. " Hosanna! " to day; "Crucify him!" to-morrow. Paul's miraculous escape a great help to the faith of disciples. Possibly his suffering a reason for speedy return to Antioch.
I. THE EXPERIENCE OF THE FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY A PREPARATION FOR THE FUTURE .
1. The necessity of patience.
2. The importance of making the work thorough and confirming the weak.
3. The relation of aggressive work to orderly Church life. Both in the new Churches elders appointed, and at Antioch all rehearsed.
II. The preciousness of RISING FAITH REQUIRES A JEALOUS WATCHFULNESS , even at the risk of personal suffering. It was dangerous for Paul and Barnabas to visit the same places again, but "the souls of the disciples" were more in their eyes than their own comfort or even safety.
1. True confirmation is a recognition of present grace.
2. The experience of the more advanced should help the new converts and the young. The Church has ranch neglected this duty.
3. Trouble must always attend faith. The blessings which we care not to fight for we shall soon lose.
4. The appointment of superintending elders is apostolic. They were doubtless from among the new Churches themselves, but chosen with discretion and in dependence on the blessing of God. All done with prayer and self-denial. The presence of the Lord the one true sanction.
III. THE REHEARSAL OF SPIRITUAL SUCCESSES a great encouragement to God's people.
1. In the gathered Church, not merely in private; for the Church is the true center from which all proceeds and to which all is brought.
2. The true missionary work is that which the Church maintains in its united capacity. Individual and isolated efforts are not so likely to be blessed.
3. The special importance of the mission of Paul and Barnabas in showing the open door of faith to the Gentiles. Such a fact could not have wielded the same influence had it not been rehearsed thus solemnly to the assembled brethren. Antioch was now the pledged source of light to the Gentile world.—R.
The return home.
The furthest limit of the mission of Paul and Barnabas is not reached till their visit is paid to Derbe. After the recovery by miracle of Paul from his stoning, the next day he advances with Barnabas to Derbe. And after some time spent there and much work done, of which no details are given, the two apostles set their face homeward. And it is evident that the Spirit still leads them. For—
I. WITH THOROUGH KNOWLEDGE OF THE GROUND , THEIR COURAGE FAILS THEM NOT . The apostles return by the route and the towns and cities by which they had come. It is wonderful, and indeed it is often of the merciful consideration of Heaven, how brave men may be toward unforeseen dangers and difficulties. How often, however, does courage vanish after a taste of real work and real difficulty! Not so now. The apostles will face again, if necessary, all which they had before encountered.
II. THEIR MINISTRY IS STILL RICH IN FRUITFULNESS . The object of the apostles follows closely in the tracks of the very well-ascertained needs of new converts. They would:
1. Confirm them.
2. Exhort them to steadfastness and endurance "even unto the end."
3. They would tarry to instruct them in aspects among the deepest of the Divine life—that men "must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." There were "musts" in the lilt, the journeys, the sufferings, the death of the great Captain of our salvation himself. And " musts " there must be in the life and work and discipline of his followers.
4. They would also begin to organize Church life in place after place, and " ordain elders" in the new Churches.
5. They show an example of their faith in prayer and fasting and " commending " individuals and Churches to the Lord, of their faith and of their life. All these activities of thought, speech, affection, and deed were tokens and were the trustworthy tokens of men who were still led by the Spirit, and who were still following that lead.
III. THEY BRING THEIR MISSION TO ITS CLOSE , AND THEMSELVES HOME TO THEIR STARTING - POINT , IN SO EXEMPLARY A MANNER .
1. They honor the Church of God's appointment, by calling it together on their return to receive their report. Next to being the servants of Christ, we are the servants of the Church, and ought to hold ourselves so far forth answerable to it.
2. They do not carelessly forget or only slightingly remember how by the prayers and fasting of that very Church, they also, months and years before, had been commended to the grace of God.
3. They give, in some instructive, impressive, and reassuring detail, a rehearsal of
4. There awhile, in the holy fellowship of that Church, they rest from their harder labors. They recruit their souls in the healthy air and the genial comfort of that society, after years of fierce conflict and almost perpetual anxiousness and keen persecution. Happy servants, happy Church, "in the midst of whom God" is present, shedding light, peace, joy, upon all!—B.
"The door of faith."
The narrative of the returned missionaries, as given to the assembled Church at Antioch, took two forms—in part it was a personal narrative of what they had done and suffered; and in part it was a report of the acceptance which the gospel message had received in the countries they had visited. And in this part of their account, one thing appeared to them to be of peculiar interest—God had manifestly "opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles." The expression is a sufficiently striking one to be made the subject of earnest meditation. Two ways of explaining it may be suggested.
1. God had given them large and free access to the Gentiles for the preaching of the faith in Christ.
2. God had manifestly made faith, not circumcision, the ground of admission to his kingdom; and so the Gentiles could be saved. Gospel privileges were offered to everyone that believed. For St. Paul's use of this figure of the "door" variously applied, see 1 Corinthians 16:9 , 2 Corinthians 2:12 ; Colossians 4:3 ; and comp. Revelation 3:8 . The figure is a suggestive one. The special favor of God had been enjoyed by the Jews, and in a manner limited to them. They had been, as it were, shut up with God in his house; none else might come in, for the door was shut. But now, in the greatness of God's mercy to men, he had opened the door, made a new and most gracious condition of admission, and invited "whosoever would" to enter in. The grace of this was too surprising to the Jewish mind, and it was a long time ere it could receive the truth. Such testimonies as Barnabas and Paul brought from Gentile lauds did much to establish the free right of all believing men to enter the one Father's house, through his graciously opened door.
I. THE CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES FOUND FREE ACCESS TO THE GENTILES . They had gone forth fully understanding that the door was open to preach the gospel to the Jews. They knew that, wherever they went, they could enter the synagogues, expound the Scriptures, and preach Christ; but events that happened brought home to them the conviction that Jewish privileges were no longer exclusive, and that God had "granted unto the Gentiles also repentance unto life." Recall the incidents which brought to the missionaries this conviction. They found Divine providence leading them to speak to Gentile audiences. They found that Divine grace had been before them, creating in the Gentile mind a preparedness for and a susceptibility to the gospel message. And they found that the condition of entrance into the new gospel standing and gospel privileges was one which the Gentiles could meet, since faith is common to human nature, and in no sense special to any one race. It would even seem that the missionaries felt their work among the Gentiles to be more hopeful than that among the Jews. And it led them to cherish serious thoughts about the vast work to be done among the Gentile nations, now God had so evidently opened the door to them all. Illustrate from the way in which the Church of Christ has been led on to preach the gospel to one nation after another, by the opening of providential doors; especially illustrating from China, and more recently Central Africa. The inspiration of Christian missions is this fact, "God has opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles."
II. THE CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES HAD LEARNED TO DECLARE THAT FAITH , AND FAITH ALONE , WAS THE GROUND OF ADMISSION INTO GOD 'S KINGDOM , They addressed an audience that was still largely under Jewish mental bonds. Even the early disciples seem for a long time to have cherished the idea that Christianity was only a reformation of Judaism. The very apostles could not readily accept the truth of salvation by faith alone. They thought that at least the Jewish requirement of circumcision must be made. But Barnabas and Paul rendered their testimony to the fact of their finding the "faith-condition" quite sufficient. They had required no other of their Gentile converts, and God had sealed them by the gift of his Spirit, and they had manifested every sign of the true Christian life. Faith is the only door into the kingdom, but there is no entrance save by this door. Still the gospel message is, " Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."—R.T.