Philip and the Ethiopian

And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert— Act_8:26

God Removed Philip from the Middle of Evangelistic Success

Philip was in the full tides of work for Christ when the message came from God that he must leave it. He had been preaching in Sebaste, the old city of Samaria, and his preaching had been crowned with wonderful success when suddenly there came the angel of the Lord with this summons to get southward towards Gaza. It was a strange command, swiftly and well obeyed. There was nothing of the spirit of Jonah about Philip. Perhaps Philip remembered Jesus in the desert and thought he was going to meet his Master there. Then came the hour when the chariot rolled by. It was a very picturesque and lordly equipage. Its occupant was the chancellor of the Nubian exchequer, and he was reading aloud, as the Eastern custom is. A few broken syllables fell on Philip’s ear in the brief respite of the jolting and the jarring, and Philip (to whom the Old Testament was doubly precious now) recognized the priceless chapter of Isaiah. Did he remember the prophecy of the psalms, Ethiopia soon shall stretch out her hands to God” (Psa_68:31). Here was the stretched-out hand of Ethiopia, and God had so ordered it that it was not stretched in vain. Philip ran up to the side of the chariot— it was going very slowly on that rough desert road. He asked the courtier if he understood the chapter. The answer came, “How can I, without a guide?” And the passage closes with the preaching of a Savior, and with the conversion, baptism, and joy of this true seeker from afar for God.

From Crowds to an Individual: the Value of an Individual

Note then the value of a single soul. It must have seemed very strange and dark to Philip that he should be summoned from his Samaritan work. The tide was with him; enthusiasm was heightening vast crowds were moved by the preaching of Christ crucified. It would have been hard to leave all that through sickness; it was doubly hard to do it when well and strong. Could no one else be found for that desert work? Was it right to leave the thousands in Samaria for the single chariot of a southern courtier? I am sure that Philip had many a thought like that, for he was a man of like passions with ourselves. Then gradually it would grow very clear to him that a single soul must be very dear to God. He would remember how the shepherd had left the ninety and nine that the one sheep in the desert might be found. From that hour on to the day he died, Philip held fast in all his work for Christ to the infinite worth, in the eyes of Christ, of one. We must never forget that in a busy city. Where God is, we are not lost in any crowd. We are separately precious and separately sought. In the love of Jesus we all stand alone. One by one we are found and led and humbled till the day break and the shadows flee away.

Disappointed in Jerusalem, the Courtier Did Not Quit

Again observe that the earnest do not despair when disappointed. There is something very noble in this courtier. There is a touch of true greatness in the man. In a heathen court and with everything against him, his life had grown into a great cry for God. Somehow, he had got his hands on the Old Testament. Never a Jewish trader came to Meroe but the chancellor had earnest converse with him until at last nothing would ease his heart but the resolve to journey to Jerusalem. The Temple was there, and the priests and scribes were there—would he not learn all that he craved for there? And now he is returning homeward, a weary, baffled, disappointed man. He had craved for bread— they had given him a stone. He had cried, like Luther when he first saw Rome, “Hail, Holy City“; and the holy city had brought no solace to him. How many a man, in such a disappointment, would have cast his Scripture to the winds of heaven? But the eunuch was of another mould than that. His was too great a heart to nurse despair. He must still seek; he must still read; he must still study. He was deep in Isaiah on that desert road. And it was in that hour when his journey seemed so useless and his hope was quenched and his heart was sick and weary— it was then that he stepped into the light of Christ. We must remember there are disappointments in all seeking  There come times when we all seem baffled in our quest. We are tempted to ask,  What is the use of it? Is it worth while? Had we not better give in? We are often brought to the point of losing heart. In such moods recall the Ethiopian. He would still hold to it in spite of all failure. And on the day when everything seemed vain, the footsteps of the dawn were on the hills.

God Ordained What He Thought a Chance Meeting

Then lastly, God is behind many a chance meeting. I think that the driver of this Nubian chariot was not a little startled to see Philip; it was an unlikely place to light on any traveler. And when he got home to the stables of his master and told the story by the fire at night, all would agree that this accidental meeting had been one of the strange chances of the road. But we know that the meeting was not that. The hand of God had ordered and prepared it. It had been arranged for in the plans of heaven, though it seemed an accident to the dusky charioteer. We must believe that it is often so. Our friendships and comradeship’s do not begin haphazard. We seem to be thrown across each other’s path, but the hand of God has been ordering the way. Two people meet— we call the meeting chance. But life will be different evermore for both. It were well to strike out chance from our vocabulary, and in its place to put the will of God.

The Revelation of Duty

Conversion of St Paul on the Road to Damascus

Conversion of St Paul on the Road to Damascus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.— Act_9:6

Sudden Conversion but Gradual Revelation

The first thing we learn in these words is how duty is gradually revealed. Our blessed Lord, in His knowledge of our hearts, never overloads His revelations. It is characteristic of the great apostle that he should instantly react on his experience. Vitality is measured by reaction— when we fail to react, then we are growing old—and Paul, vital to his fingertips, instantly reacted to the Lord— “Lord, what wouldst Thou have me to do? Tell me now. Make my future plain. Show me the service I can render Thee, and I shall do it even to the death.” And it was then that Jesus answered him, “Arise and go into the city, and it shall be told thee there what thou must do.” Suddenly was Paul converted. Gradually he learned what that involved. Paul found that illumination of the soul is different from illumination of the future. Step by step, duty after duty, each faithfully taken and performed, was the road to his service and his victory.

Obey As to Your Next Duty

That lesson which the apostle learned is one secret of victorious living still. The next duty is the key to everything. When the future is dark to us as it was dark to him, when we cannot discern the larger will of God, when we want to be used and cannot find the road, when we are dubious of our capacities, always for us as for this great apostle there is a present and commanded duty on the doing of which everything shall hinge. Often it is a very lowly duty, and that is where so many people fail. Dreams may be spun upon the looms of God, but remember that dreams may be our traitors. We dream of voices, heavenly voices, crying to us, “Arise, do big things worthy of your powers”; and the voice on the Damascus road is crying, “Arise and go into the city.” Had Paul not gone, he would never have learned his mission. He learned it by obedience. He learned it by unquestioning acceptance of the first dull thing that was demanded. And whatever the particular service be that God has in store for anyone of us, we learn it just as the apostle did. Service is gradually given. Duty is gradually shown. Do the thing that is demanded now, and out of that the vision shall emerge. It was a poor, dull thing for that illumined soul to go tramping on another mile or two, but it led him to the service of his life.

New Vision for the Old Environment

The other profound lesson of the words is that new vision is for old environment. Converted, changed in his whole being, Paul has to step out on the old road. To Damascus the apostle had been journeying when he set out to persecute the Church. Then came the flood of new life within him and the overwhelming experience of conversion. And the beautiful and Christlike thing is this, that Paul was not swept into any new surroundings but bidden to hold on the old road. Wert thou making for Damascus, Paul? To Damascus thou art still to go. There is no new path for thee across the hills. There is nothing but the old familiar highway. Resume it. Set thy face to it again. Take up and prosecute thy interrupted journey. The new vision is for the old environment.

Shining in the Familiar Environment

Now that is a lesson we do well to learn if we want to handle life aright. For the old roads never seem so dusty as after some great stirring of the heart. There are long periods when we are content. We are happy in the daily round. We are satisfied with our nutshell, unlike Hamlet, because we have no dreams. But then some day to us there comes the vision— the light that never was on sea or land— and there is born the passion to escape. It may come when the glow of youth is burning, or when the beauty of the world has caught us, or when love has wakened with its divine unsettlement, or when the chair is empty and the grave is full. Who has not felt in seasons such as that the longing that arises in the heart to have done with the road that is leading to Damascus? It is not easy to go quietly on then. It is not easy to get back to duty. We hate the drudgery— it is intolerable— we crave a more congenial environment. And it is then that to our restless hearts Christ comes as He came that noonday to St. Paul, saying, “Arise and go into the city.” He does not offer us a new environment. Vision is not given for new environment. It is given that we may take the glory of it and shine it on the old and the familiar. It is given that the common round, the irksome and unceasing drudgery, may be illuminated and transfigured.

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