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193. Growing and Prevailing
And many that believed came, and confessed, and showed their deeds. (19) Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. (20) So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed. Acts 19:18-20
This last verse is a despatch from the seat of war announcing a glorious victory for the royal arms.
Past triumphs of the gospel may be used as encouragements. We, too, shall see the Word of God grow and prevail, for
The trophies of victory may be expected to be the same.
- The gospel is the same as ever.
- The human race is unchanged at heart.
- The sins to be overcome are the same.
- The Holy Spirit is just as mighty to convince and renew.
Men, magic, books, and the love of money shall all be subdued.
Let us turn aside to see
I. THE WORD OF GOD PLANTED.
Planted it was, or it could not have grown. The work proceeded in the following fashion
1. Certain disciples were further enlightened, aroused, and led to seek a higher degree of grace. This was an admirable beginning, and revivals thus commenced are usually lasting.
2. These became obedient to an ordinance which had been overlooked (verse 5), and also received the Holy Ghost, of whom they had heard nothing: two great helps to revival.
3. A bold ministry proclaimed and defended the truth.
4. Opposition was aroused. This is always a needful sign. God is not at work long without the devil working also.
5. Deceitful counterfeiting commenced, and was speedily ended in the most remarkable manner.
6. Paul preached, pleaded, made the gospel to sound forth, and on departing could say, "I am pure from the blood of all men."
Read this and the following chapter, and see how three years were well spent in planting the church at Ephesus.
II. THE WORD OF GOD GROWING.
"So mightily grew the word of God." The measure of it was seen
1. In a church formed with many suitable elders.
2. In a neighborhood fully aware of the presence of the gospel among them. It touched them practically, so much so, that important trades were affected.
3. In a people converted, and openly confessing their conversion.
4. In a general respect paid to the faith. Even those who did not obey it, yet yielded it homage and owned its power.
Here we see Paul's work and God's work. Paul labored diligently in planting, and God made it to grow, yet it was all of God. Is the word of God growing among us? If not, why not?
III. THE WORD OF GOD PREVAILING.
Growth arouses opposition; but where the word grows with inward vitality it prevails over outward opposition.
The particular proof of prevalence here given is the burning of magical books.
- It is a living seed, and should grow.
- It is a living seed, and will grow unless we hinder it.
1. Paul does not appear to have dwelt continually upon the evil habit of using magical arts; but gospel light showed the guilt of witchcraft, and providence cast contempt on it.
2. The sin being exposed, it was confessed by those who had been guilty of it, and by those who had commenced its study.
3. Being confessed, it was renounced altogether, and, though there was no command to that effect, yet in a voluntary zeal of indignation the books were burned. This was right because
4. Their destruction involved expense, which was willingly incurred, and that expense gave weight to the testimony.
No other proof of power in our ministry will equal that which is seen in its practical effect upon our hearers' lives.
- If sold, they would do harm.
- They were so detestable that they deserved burning.
- Their public burning lighted up a testimony.
Will you who attend our preaching see to it that you purge yourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit?
It's a blessed time in a soul, it's a blessed time in a family, it's a blessed time in a congregation, it's a blessed time in a country when the word of God grows mightily and prevails . . . . It's a blessed time when open sinners are seen leaving their sins and seeking the Savior; when men are seen giving up their unholy gains; when tavern-keepers take down their signs and burn them when they give up their licenses; and it's a blessed time when card-players throw away their cards and take the Bible instead. It's a blessed time when the lovers of gaudy dress take their gaudy dresses and destroy them. Robert Murray McCheyne
The gospel, like a plant of great vigor, will grow almost among stones. Thus have I seen it to grow among hypocrites, formalists, and worldlings; and I have seen it laying hold of one, and another, and indeed of many, however untoward the surrounding soil "So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed."
When the leaven of the gospel begins to work, there will be no need of a train of arguments to prove how inexpedient, how utterly unworthy it is for a Christian to turn aside after the vain amusements and trifling books used by the world: "Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?" What have I to do with black arts, or dealing with a lie? Those who first trusted in Christ were willing to forsake all and follow him. The grace of the gospel produces a new taste it alters everything about us our friends, our pursuits, our books, etc. Richard Cecil
Agesilaus, when he saw the usurer's bonds and bills blazing in the fire, said, "I never saw a better or a brighter fire in all my life!" and it were heartily to be wished that all scandalous, blasphemous, and seditious books and pamphlets were on the fire, too. John Spencer
Yes, God blessed the self-denial, and gave them compensation and a compensation, too, remarkably appropriate. They who burned books, obtained books. They burned books for Christ, and they received books from him. Have you never heard of Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians? Do you recollect no such letter as one from the Savior "to the Angel of the church at Ephesus"? T. R. Stevenson
The Earl of Rochester, of whom it has been said that he was "a great wit, a great scholar, a great poet, a great sinner, and a great penitent," left a strict charge to the person in whose custody his papers were, to burn all his profane and lewd writings, as being only fit to promote vice and immorality, by which he had so highly offended God, and shamed and blasphemed the holy religion into which he had been baptized.
Charles Hadden Spurgeon
194. The Ox and the Goad
Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?. It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. Acts 26:14
JESUS even out of heaven speaks in parables, according to his wont.
To Paul he briefly utters the parable of the rebellious ox.
Note the tenderness of the appeal: it is not, "Thou art harming me by thy persecutions," but, "Thou art wounding thyself." He saith not, "it is hard for me," but "hard for thee."
May the Lord thus speak in pity to those who are now resisting his grace, and thus save them from wounding themselves.
Listen attentively to the simple comparison, and observe
I. THE OX. A fallen man deserves no higher type.
1. You are acting like a brute beast, in ignorance and passion. You are unspiritual, thoughtless, unreasonable.
2. Yet God values you more than a man does an ox.
3. Therefore he feeds you, and does not slay you.
4. You are useless without guidance, and yet you are unwilling to submit to your Master's hand.
5. If you were but obedient you might be useful, and might find content in your service.
6. You have no escape from the choice of either to obey or to die, and it is useless to be stubborn.
II. THE OX-GOAD. You have driven the Lord to treat you as the husbandman treats a stubborn ox.
1. The Lord has tried you with gentle means, a word, a pull of the rein, etc.: by parental love, by tender admonitions of friends and teachers, and by the gentle promptings of his Spirit.
2. Now he uses the more severe means
- Of solemn threatening by his law.
- Of terrors of conscience and dread of judgment.
- Of loss of relatives, children, friends.
- Of sickness, and varied afflictions.
- Of approaching death, with a dark future beyond it.
3. You are feeling some of these pricks, and cannot deny that they are sharp. Take heed lest worse things come upon you.
III. THE KICKS AGAINST THE GOAD. These are given in various ways by those who are resolved to continue in sin.
1. There are early childish rebellions against restraint.
2. There are sneers at the gospel, at ministers, at holy things.
3. There are willful sins against conscience and light.
4. There are revilings and persecutions against God's people.
5. There are questionings, infidelities, and blasphemies.
IV. THE HARDNESS OF ALL THIS TO THE OX. It hurts itself against the goad, and suffers far more than the driver designs.
1. In the present. You are unhappy: you are full of unrest and alarm, you are increasing your chastisement, and fretting your heart.
2. In the best possible future. You will feel bitter regrets, have desperate habits to overcome, and much evil to undo. All this if you do at last repent and obey.
3. In the more probable future. You are preparing for yourself increased hardness of heart, despair, and destruction.
Oh, that you would know that no possible good can come of kicking against God, who grieves over your infatuations!
Yield to the discipline of your God.
He pities you now, and begs you to consider your ways.
It is Jesus who speaks; be not so brutish as to refuse him that speaks from heaven.
You may yet, like Saul of Tarsus, become grandly useful, and plow many a field for the Lord Jesus.
Did not Lord Byron feel the sharpness of the goad when he exclaimed, concerning the gospel, "The worst of it is, I believe it"?
You have heard of the swordfish. It is a very curious creature, with a long and bony beak, or sword, projecting in front of its head. It is also very fierce, attacking other fishes that come in its way, and tries to pierce them with its sword. The fish has sometimes been known to dart at a ship in full sail, with such violence as to pierce the solid timbers. But what has happened? The silly fish has been killed outright by the force of its own blow. The ship sails on just as before, and the angry sword-fish falls a victim to its own rage. But how shall we describe the folly of those who, like Saul of Tarsus, oppose the cause of Christ? They cannot succeed: like the sword-fish, they only work their own destruction. Illustrative Teaching
Dr. John Hall, in one of his sermons, compared the attacks of infidelity upon Christianity to a serpent gnawing at a file. As he kept on gnawing, he was greatly encouraged by the sight of the growing pile of chips; till feeling pain, and seeing blood, he found that he had been wearing his own teeth away against the file, but the file was unharmed.
Oh cursed, cursed Sin! Traitor to God,
And ruiner of man! Mother of Woe,
And Death, and Hell!
Cowper describes Voltaire as
"An infidel in health, but what when sick?
Oh, then a text would touch him at the quick."
Men complain of their circumstances and cry, "This is hard hard as for the bird of plumage to beat against the wires of its cage." Nay, harder far than that. It is hard for loss of time, for loss of temper, for loss of strength, for loss of trusting, loving obedience. And because no good can come of it, no success can be gained in the vain, Utopian, and worse than foolish struggle. Let every man struggle to improve himself; and he will not fail to improve his lot also. But let him never "kick" against his earthly lot; for so, if hurt at all, he hurts himself the more. He "kicks against the pricks." Pulpit Commentary
The Spirit of God can make use of any agency to bring sinners to repentance and faith in the Redeemer. Commenting once upon the words, "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider," the speaker sought to impress upon his people how strangely guilty the human heart is, despising the goodness of God, and forgetting his very existence. Three or four days after, a farmer, who had been present, was giving provender to his cattle, when one of his oxen, evidently grateful for his care, fell to licking his bare arm. Instantly, with this simple incident, the Holy Spirit flashed conviction on the farmer's mind. He burst into tears, and exclaimed, "Yes, it is all true. How wonderful is God's word! This poor dumb brute is really more grateful to me than I am to God, and yet I am in debt to him for everything. What a sinner I am!" The lesson had found its way to his heart, and wrought there effectually to lead him to Christ.
Charles Hadden Spurgeon
195. Kindling a Fire
And the barbarous people showed us no little kindness, for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold. Acts 28:2
HERE was an early Shipwrecked Mariners' Society. Among rough people there is much of genuine kindness.
Let not people of a gentler mold, greater education, and larger possessions come behind them in deeds of kindness.
Their kindness was thoroughly practical. We have too much of "Be ye warmed" and too little kindling of fires.
There may be spiritual as well as physical cold, and for this last the kindling of a fire is needed.
This is our present subject.
I. THAT WE ARE VERY APT TO BE COLD.
1. The world is a cold country for gracious men.
2. By reason of our inbred sin, we are cold subjects, and far too apt to be lukewarm, or frozen.
3. Cold seasons also come, when all around lies bound in frost. Ministers, churches, saints, are too often cold as ice.
4. Cold corners are here and there, where the sun seldom shines. Some good men live in such cold harbors.
5. Chilling influences are now abroad. Modern thought, worldliness, depression in trade, depreciation of prayer, etc.
If we yield to the power of cold, we become first uncomfortable, next inactive, and then ready to die.
II. THAT THERE ARE MEANS OF WARMTH.
1. The Word of God is as a fire. Heard or read, it tends to warm the heart.
2. Private, social, and family prayer. This is as coals of juniper.
3. Meditation and communion with Jesus. "While I was musing the fire burned" (Ps. 39:3). "Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way?" (Luke 24:32).
4. Fellowship with other Christians (Mal. 3:16).
5. Doing good to others. Job prayed for his friends, and then his captivity was turned (Job 42:10).
6. Returning to first love and doing first works, would bring back old warmth (Rev. 2:4-5).
Let us get to these fires ourselves, lest we be frost-bitten and benumbed.
III. THAT WE SHOULD KINDLE FIRES FOR OTHERS.
We need the fire of revival, seeing so many are washed upon our shores in dying circumstances.
Concerning a true revival, let it be remembered that it both resembles the fire in the text, and differs from it.
1. It must be lighted under difficulties "because of the present rain." The sticks are wet, the hearth is flooded, the atmosphere is damp. It is not easy to make a fire in such circumstances, and yet it must be done.
2. The fire we need cannot, however, be kindled by barbarians: the flame must come from above.
3. Once get the flame, the fire begins with littlest. Small sticks are good for kindling.
4. It is well to nourish the flame by going down on your knees, and breathing upon it by warm and hearty supplications.
5. It must be fed with fuel. Think of the great Paul picking up a bundle of sticks. Let each one bring his share.
6. This fire must be kindled for "every one." We must not be content till all the shivering ones are comforted.
7. The fire will be of great service, and yet it may warm into life more than one viper. Thank God, the fire which revived the creature into venomous life will also destroy it.
What can we each do towards this fire? Can we not each one either kindle or feed the fire? Bring a stick.
Let no one damp the flame.
Let us pray.
How to maintain spiritual warmth. Philip Henry's advice to his daughter was, "If you would keep warm in this cold season (January, 1692), take these four directions: (1) Get into the sun. Under his blessed beams there are warmth and comfort. (2) Go near the fire. 'Is not my word like a fire?' How many cheering passages are there! (3) Keep in motion and action stirring up the grace and gift of God that is in you. (4) Seek Christian communion. 'How can one be warm alone?"' Feathers for Arrows
"Ane stick'll never burn! Put more wood on the fire, laddie; ane stick'll never burn!" my old Scotch grandfather used to say to his boys. Sometimes, when the fire in the heart burns low, and love to the Savior grows faint, it would grow warm and bright again, if it could only touch another stick. What we need, next to earnest prayer to God and communion with Christ, is communion with each other. "Where two or three are gathered together," the heart burns; love kindles to a fervent heat. Friends, let us frequent the society of those who are fellow-pilgrims with us to Canaan's happy land. "Ane stick'll never burn," as a great generous pile will be sure to. Anonymous
I will tell you a story, which I have from very good hands, of two very eminent men, both for learning and piety, in the beginning of the last century, one of them a great prelate (indeed, a primate), and the other a Churchman of great note. These two eminent men often met together to consult upon the interests of learning and the affairs of the church; and when they had dispatched that business, they seldom parted from one another without such an encounter as this: "Come, good doctor," saith the bishop, "let us talk now a little of Jesus Christ;" or, on the other side, said the doctor, "Come, my lord, let me hear your Grace talk of the goodness of God with your wonted eloquence; let us warm one another's hearts with heaven, that we may better bear this cold world." Here is now an example of holy conference without a preface and yet without exception; a precedent easy to imitate wherever there is a like spirit of piety. A few such men would put profaneness out of countenance, and turn the tide of conversation. Goodman
See how great a flame aspires,
Kindled by a spark of grace!
Jesus' love the nations fires,
Sets the kingdoms in a blaze:
To bring fire on earth he came,
Kindled in some hearts it is:
Oh that all might catch the flame,
All partake the glorious bliss!
Charles Hadden Spurgeon