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The planting of the Church in Iconium :-the miracle at
May God, for the sake of Jesus Christ, give me the Holy Spirit, that I may understand this portion of His Holy Word, and profit by it.
ACTS, chap. XIV. verses 1 to 20.
And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of 2 the Jews and also of the Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews 3 stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the brethren. Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and 4 wonders to be done by their hands. But the multitude of the city was 5 divided and part held with the Jews, and part with the apostles. And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the 6 Jews with their rulers, to use them despitefully, and to stone them, they were ware of it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and 7 unto the region that lieth round about: and there they preached the gospel.
8 And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a 9 cripple from his mother's womb, who never had walked: the same heard Paul speak: who stedfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had 10 faith to be healed, said with a loud voice," Stand upright on thy feet." 11 And he leaped and walked. And when the people saw what Paul had
done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, "The 12 gods are come down to us in the likeness of men." And they called
Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief 13 speaker. Then the Priest of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacri14 fice with the people. Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, 15 and saying, "Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, 16 and all things that are therein: who in times past suffered all nations to 17 walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without
witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful
seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." And with these 18 sayings scarce restrained they the people, that they had not done sacrifice unto them.
And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who 19 persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead. Howbeit, as the disciples stood round 20 about him, he rose up, and came into the city.
Paul and Barnabas arrived at Iconium, the principal city of that part of Asia. Their experience of the conduct of the Jews at Antioch, did not prevent their obedience to the instructions of their Master, as to the order in which they were to deliver their message-first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. Upon their arrival, they went together into the Jewish synagogue; and there preached the gospel with so much power, that by the blessing of the Holy Spirit, a great number both of Jews and heathen inhabitants of Iconium received the truth. But those Jews who rejected the gospel in unbelief were greatly exasperated, and embittered the minds of the Gentiles against the missionaries, and those who had joined them. The apostles however were not daunted, but continued for a considerable time preaching with great boldness and power in the Spirit of Christ, who gave evidence of His presence; both by the effects of the preaching on the hearts of the hearers, and in the miracles of various kinds which He enabled his servants to perform.
The subject agitated almost all the inhabitants of the city, who held different opinions, some taking part with the Jews, and some with the apostles; and the excitement grew to such a height, that the Gentiles were rising and joining with the Jews, under the direction of their rulers, with the intention of falling upon the apostles, and stoning them to death. As soon however as Paul and Barnabas came to know of this tumult, they escaped from the city, and took the road to Lystra and Derbe, situated in the province of Lycaonia; and as they went through the country, they preached the gospel to the people.
The apostles arrived at Lystra, and Paul preached to the people. Among the hearers was a cripple, who had been born with a deformity in his feet, and had never been able
to walk. Upon looking at this man attentively, Paul being gifted with the power to discern his spirit, knew that he had that faith by which the word to heal him would be received effectually. He therefore called out to the cripple to stand upright upon his feet; upon which the man leaped up, and began to walk. As soon as this miracle had been performed at the word of Paul, the people cried out in their language-"the gods in the shape of men have descended amongst us." Barnabas the people took to be Jupiter; while they looked upon Paul, who had taken the lead in speaking, as being Mercury, their god of eloquence. The city of Lystra was considered to be under the particular guardianship of Jupiter; and there was an image of that heathen god placed outside the gates. The priest who conducted the worship of this image, hastened to bring oxen as victims to be sacrificed, and garlands of flowers to be offered, in order to express the divine honors they would have paid the apostles. But as soon as Barnabas and Paul found that they were preparing for this act of worship, they shewed signs of the greatest grief, tearing their clothes according to the Jewish custom of mourning. They ran amongst the crowd to hinder the people from making the preparations, intreating them not to do such things. They assured the people that they were men like themselves, who were come to preach to them, and to turn them from the vain and empty worship of idols, to the living God, the creator of the heaven, and of the earth, and of the sea, and of all things that are in them. This Almighty God had indeed in past time permitted mankind to go on in the darkness of their own imaginations; yet he had continually given evidence of his power and goodness, by sending the rain from heaven, and making the earth fruitful in due course-thus nourishing and gladdening all mankind. Even by such efforts and such words as these, the people could hardly be prevented from offering divine worship to the Apostles.
This effect of the miracle which had been wrought by Paul, was however very different from a work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart, through the preaching of the gospel. This was proved very shortly after, upon the arrival of some of the Jews who had followed Paul and
Barnabas from Antioch and Iconium. They exerted all the influence they could use to turn the people at Lystra against the apostles; and they succeeded so completely, that a number of them fell upon Paul, and cast stones at him, until they thought they had killed him; and they dragged his body through the gates of the city, leaving it unburied outside. But the preaching of the gospel had been blessed at Lystra, to the conversion of some of its inhabitants; and these disciples of Christ went to take up the corpse of their beloved teacher. As however they were standing round the body, Paul rose up alive, and went with them into the city. (2 Cor. xi. 25. 2 Tim. iii. 11.)
1. Nothing can appease the violence of indulged resistance against the truth. The envious Jews of Iconium and of Antioch pursued the apostles of Jesus with a keen and active hatred; and it has ever been found that those who resist the power of the gospel, and continue in their opposition, go on from one degree to another, until they can not rest without employing active persecution against those to whom they listened at first at least with patience. But while we have so many proofs of this unhappy growth in evil, there are not wanting abundant evidences of the increased firmness of those who, by divine grace, faithfully maintain the cause of Christ. No opposition overcame the persevering boldness of Paul and Barnabas-no dangers dismayed them, or induced them to think for one moment of giving up their purpose of preaching Christ and his salvation, "to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile." They counted not even their lives so dear to them, as this object; and when their lives were about to be sacrificed to the rage of the Lord's enemies, they only took means to preserve them, in order to devote those lives to the same service, in the face of similar dangers. Such are the effects of the principles which lie at the bottom of every person's heart, either of one kind or of the other. Comparatively few indeed are placed in circumstances which draw out their principles into such extremes of action as in the case before us; few are led to such violence of persecution, and few are called upon to confess Christ under such peril
of life. But according to the principle within each person, would be the result, if the occasion should occur; and therefore, in the sight of Him who searcheth the heart, each must be classed of the one character or of the other. How important then must it be, that every one should discover for himself, to which class God knows him to belong!
If I were led on by circumstances, should I be driven to persecute the preachers of the gospel, or to suffer persecution for the gospel's sake?—that is, do I at this time secretly dislike the doctrines of evangelical truth? or do I find comfort in them?
2. There can scarcely be a more remarkable proof of the insufficiency of impressions of wonder, or mere conviction of mind, to produce a saving effect upon the heart, than the conduct of the inhabitants of Lystra. The miracle wrought at the word of Paul was received as testimony of a divine power; and according to the notions of these poor idolaters, the workers of such a wonder were considered to be gods. But when these preachers referred the power to the true God, and explained to them His character, the impression passed away from their minds; and these same people were presently led into the extreme of violence against those very men, whom they had been willing to receive as gods. Such is the inveterate corruption in which human nature lies by sin, that no dependence can be placed upon the present feelings of persons who seem to be influenced for good, unless such feelings are really the effect of divine grace, working in them a spiritual change, by the power of the Holy Ghost. When this is the case, the spiritual motives which gave rise to the conduct upon one occasion, will be drawn into action in a consistent course on any other occasion; and the effect produced by contemplating the miracles of God's mercy at one time, will not be reversed by the persuasions of God's enemies at another.
Do I remember any time in my life, when I was excited to much religious feeling under particular circumstances ?