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Good Words 1860
Bible Records of Remarkable Conversions

I. - The Story of the Ethiopian and Philip

One day, as our blessed Saviour returned from Judea to Galilee, He passed through Samaria, and at Jacob's Well He led a poor, ignorant, and guilty-heart to the fountain of living water; and as He looked at the fields, and saw them white already for the harvest, He thought of another harvest not far off, when, after His suffering and ascension, and the outpouring of the Spirit, the gospel of the kingdom would be believed and accepted by many humble and joyous hearts. Two days He remained in that city of Samaria, and many believed in Him.

Only a few years had passed, and wonderful events had taken place in Jerusalem. There the Lamb of God was led to the slaughter, there the Lion of the tribe of Judah rose victorious from the grave, and there, on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit of God descended, and thousands were converted, and brought to life eternal. They began at Jerusalem ; but it was the will of God that they should preach the Word to all nations, and therefore the tempest of persecution arose, the disciples were scattered, that the name of Jesus, as precious ointment poured forth, might fill the whole earth with its heavenly fragrance. Then Philip the evangelist went down to the city of Samaria, and •preached Christ unto them, and the people with one accord gave heed unto his message, and there was great joy in that city. "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace!"

And the word of the Lord came unto Philip— ''Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, that is desert." A strange command! To leave the populous city, where crowds listened eagerly to the preaching of divine truth, and to go to a desolate and desert place! To leave his useful and blessed work—the multitude of eager listeners, of anxious inquirers, of young converts, so dependent on him for guidance and instruction—and to go, whither? Where he could see no prospect of usefulness. But it is for the Lord to command and send, for the messenger to obey and go; it is a blessed thing to have a heavenly Master and an infallible Guide, and to know that in obeying Him we are safe, for His is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.

The Meeting.

And now imagine Philip on the lonely road, thinking and waiting. He looks around him—in the distance he sees a chariot. It is, doubtless, a man of riches and wealth. "How hardly shall they that be rich enter into the kingdom of God!" The chariot comes nearer. He perceives that it is not an Israelite, but a Gentile, an Ethiopian, one who belongs to a race sunk in darkness and idolatry. But the Spirit said unto him, "Go and join thyself to this chariot." What a wonderful meeting is this! Surely this is the hand of the everlasting Father, who from all eternity hath chosen us in the Beloved, and who, in His infinite wisdom and power, sends the call of mercy to all who are to be heirs of salvation.

A Successful Man, yet Unhappy.

In Ethiopia, at the court of Queen Candace, there lived a man of great authority, who had the charge of all the royal treasury. All the pleasures, comforts, and enjoyments which this world can offer were his. He possessed wealth, rank, influence. Men pointed him out as a successful man. But if the Spirit of God begins His work in a soul, all the riches and honours of this world are felt to be empty and unsatisfactory. The soul thirsts, and whoso drinketh of this water shall thirst again. The sold seeks goodly pearls, but the pearls of the world, gay and bright as they look, are not genuine and precious. The sold seeks a good part, which cannot be taken away.

You ask in what way had God made the Ethiopian feel this. God has many ways, and many messengers. Perhaps it was some joyous event, something he had ardently desired, hoped for, and striven after. It came. His ambition was gratified, his hopes and wishes were realised. "What his imagination had pictured out to him by day, by night, now it stood before him. But, after a short time, he said, ''Is this all? I thought this would make me happy—this would fill my soul with perennial sunshine—would give me peace and tranquillity. But, alas! it leaves me as before." Or, perhaps, it was some affliction, some bitter grief, some sore disappointment—the death of a beloved child or trusty friend, and the question, pent up in every human heart, broke forth—"Oh, who can shew me where I can find rest and blessedness?"

Broken Cisterns.

He tried, most likely, to find rest in the worship, the religious doctrines and rites of his country. He tried, most likely, to dissipate his fears and thoughts. But, thanks be to God, Samuel may return again and again to his slumber, but the Lord's voice is heard, until the soul responds—"I will hear what God the Lord will speak. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars, and shaketh the wilderness!"

"What is the matter with you, dear friend? Be thankful, and leave your melancholy. See how the gods have prospered you. What desire is unfulfilled? Besides, what a sphere of usefulness you have! Who so much honoured as you? Conscience—religion! Well, are you not religious? Who can charge you with injustice and unkind-ness? Death! The future! Well, can you not rest satisfied in the opinions of the most learned men of our priesthood, who have studied the wisdom of the ancients, and devoted themselves to meditation?"

Thus would they speak to him. But in vain. What can idols, thoughts, surmises, probabilities, human inventions, what can anything created, offer to a soul seeking life. I must have truth, not opinions—sunlight, not the fitful phosphorescence of human imagination—a Living One, even a Father, to forgive, love, and guide—not cold abstractions, which, after all, refer me to myself as my helper and saviour.

To Jerusalem!

They have nothing to give him in Ethiopia; but in Judah God is known. There they declare not what they think about God, but what God has revealed about Himself. In Jerusalem stands the temple of the living God. He has heard of it, and his heart feels irresistibly drawn to it. "What!" say the courtiers, ''to Jerusalem? What can you expect to find among the Jews? What are they in politics, in civilisation, in the estimation of powerful nations? Of all places in the world, to think of Jerusalem!" But though courtiers mock, and priests frown, and philosophero smile, though friends dissuade, and the journey be long and tedious, he is resolved—he goes. "As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee."

And now behold him in Jerusalem, in the temple. But in that august and splendid sanctuary ha found no peace. There he heard the voice of the Law; and while he listened to the holy, just, and true commandments of God, his conscience testified that the Law was good, but that he was sold under sin. And all the indistinct, vague fears and terrors which had been within his soul rose now before him with awful strength, distinctness, and power. Alas ! in the temple he heard what was able to smite and crush the proudest oak; but how to deal with the bruised reed, the priests and scribes understood not.

What he took with him from Jerusalem, besides a Broken and Contrite Heart.

Thus he returned to Ethiopia, his wound not healed, though probed—his fears not allayed, but quickened—his anxiety not removed, but deepened. But, blessed be God, he brought away from Jerusalem something more than his own feelings. Reader, from the house of God thou must bring away not merely thy sentiments, emotions, joys, and fears—they cannot give thee sure peace or lasting strength,; but thou must take with thee the revealed truth of God—His testimony concerning eternal life in Christ. Look at the Ethiopian ! Within—uncertainty, terror, anguish; at the same time humility, thirst, prayerfulness. In his hand —the message of God, bringing light, peace, and joy. He read the prophet Isaiah aloud, be it in order to take in every word, or to give an opportunity also to his charioteer and attendant.

The Gospel in Isaiah.

Philip asked him, ''Understandest thou what thou readest?" (On the word "understand," take the trouble to compare Matt. xiii. 19, 23, 51.) Mark the humility, the meek and docile spirit of the great and, probably, well-educated man—"How can I, unless some one guide me?" And now, reader, admire the wisdom and love of God. With motherly tenderness He had directed this poor, inquiring child to the very passage of the Old Testament which, with the greatest clearness and brightness, sets forth the way of life. In the fifty-third chapter of his prophecy, the evangelist of the Old Testament describes the Messiah's sufferings and glory as the ground of the sinner's acceptance with God. Blessed, precious chapter, how many of God's ancient covenant people have been led by thee to the foot of Christ's cross!—that cross over which was written, "Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews!" And oh, what a glorious commentary will be given of thee when, in the latter days, repentant and believing, Israel, looking unto Him whom they have pierced, will exclaim, ''Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted."

In the verses which the Ethiopian was reading, Christ is set before us as offered for our offences, and raised for our justification. We can have no solid peace until we see Jesus both as the Lamb of God and the Lion—the crucified Saviour and the exalted Priest-King—in His suffering and in His glory. As a lamb He was led to the slaughter. Pure, innocent, holy, undefiled, meek, gentle, perfect in His obedience—so He suffered and died. It pleased God to bruise Him. He who would not bruise willingly even the most insignificant worm, who is kind and merciful and tender to all that He hath made, who doth not afflict willingly, or grieve even the sinful children of men, it is said of Him, that it pleased Him to bruise the holy, righteous Jesus, His elect, His servant in whom He delight-eth. Oh, the infinite love of God—beyond our comprehension, but not beyond our acceptance and belief, if we seek God's Spirit—that He spared not His own Son!

And Jesus rose again, and ascended, and is the Lord our righteousness, our intercessor, surety, and representative.

A Snare of Satan in Connexion with this Gospel.

Stop here a moment, and ponder over these great truths. Jesus is both Lamb and Lion, Saviour and Judge, the Forgiver of sins and the Judge of sinners. Now Satan tempts us to think that Jesus is severe, and awful to approach now, whereas he makes us believe that on that great day Christ will be merciful and indulgent. Thus the sinner is afraid to meet Christ now, and banishes all fear of the judgment to come. Whereas the truth is exactly the reverse. Now Jesus is the Lamb. Be not afraid of going to Him, however guilty and sinful. He has not a harsh word for a sinner coming to Him now. His whole message is pardon and peace. What can be more gentle than a lamb? Even the youngest child will approach fearlessly and confidently, and put its tiny arm round the neck of the gentle lamb. Thus, O sinner, come boldly to Him whose name is Jesus, Saviour. But a day is coming when there shall be revealed the wrath of the Lamb—when the Saviour shall no longer say to His persecutors and enemies, "I am Jesus;" but will manifest Himself as the righteous Judge and King, and say to all who rejected and despised Him, "Depart from me." ''Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him."

How Faith came by Hearing.

Philip preached Jesus. As the Ethiopian listened eagerly to the marvellous tidings of joy, new light, new hope, rose in his troubled heart. He believes the good news, but still he is anxious to know assuredly that he may appropriate them. He has heard of Jesus; his earnest desire is now to call Him his Lord. And therefore as they came to a certain water, he asked, "What doth hinder me to be baptized?" May I also receive the sign and seal of His covenant, and be numbered among His people?

What doth hinder thee, O thou who hast heard not one, but a hundred gospel sermons—what doth hinder thee to be Christ's? Nothing, as far as Christ is concerned. He came to seek and save that which is lost. He calleth thee; His offers of pardon and peace are full and free, kind and urgent, tender and loving ; His work is finished ; His redemption perfect. What doth hinder thee ! Nothing as far as thou art concerned. Is it thy ignorance? If thou knowest thyself to be a sinner, and Christ to be a Saviour, thy knowledge is sufficient. Is it thy sin? "Christ died for the ungodly;" He calleth sinners to repentance. Is it thy past ingratitude and contempt of His offered mercy? Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Is it thy want of repentance? He is exalted a Prince and a Saviour to give repentance and remission of sins.

What doth hinder?

"Let not conscience bid you linger,
Or of fitness fondly dream,
All the fitness He requireth,
Is to feel your need of Sim.
This He gives you,—
'Tis the Spirit's rising beam."

And Philip answered, "If thou believest, thou mayest." If thou believest in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Divine Saviour of sinners; if thou canst put thy heart's confidence in Him, thou mayest assuredly receive also the outward sign and seal of the covenant of grace, in which thou art now living, into which thou hast entered, even by accepting it with a humble and thankful heart.

Who was Taken from the Ethiopian, and who Remained with him.

And after the eunuch was baptized, "the Spirit," we read, "caught away Philip." This seems a mysterious dealing of Providence. We may be sure that, though their acquaintance with each other had been brief, they had begun to love one another with intense affection. A wonderfully strong and tender bond knits together the hearts of evangelists and young Christians. Though we have and love many teachers in the Lord, yet are there not many whom we regard as fathers who have begotten us in the gospel. Philip was taken away, but Christ remained. The earthly teacher was removed; but the heavenly Teacher, even the Holy Spirit, is all-sufficient.

And the eunuch "went on his way rejoicing." Why should he not rejoice? God has delivered his soul from death, his eyes from tears, his feet from falling. The burden of guilt is removed, the clouds of darkness and suspicion are dispersed, his conscience is at ease, for he knows a just God and a Saviour; his heart lives, (Ps. xxii. 26,) for it is filled with the love of Christ. Rejoice and believe are synonyms. If the gospel means glad tidings, then to believe must needs be to rejoice. But is not our sin great, our faith weak, our love feeble? True, but we are to rejoice in the Lord, to delight ourselves in Him, to he glad in the Saviour, and withal to rejoice with trembling, and to walk humbly with the Lord our God
"He went on his way rejoicing." Though afflictions, trials, and temptations awaited him in the idolatrous city, in the God-estranged court, he knew that if Christ died for him while he was yet an enemy, much more will Christ be his strength, support, and consolation, now when he is His disciple and follower. Is not faith the victory which overcometh the world? Is not God a sun and shield? He will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.

"He went on his way rejoicing." This was the history of his life after his conversion. The believer goes on from strength to strength. Bright and ardent is the joy of his first love, when, with childlike humility and trust, ho beholds the crucified Redeemer! "I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals."

Afterwards we have to learn, by painful experience, that we are still weak and sinful, and that there is another law striving within our members ; and we are brought to a more humble, contrite, spiritual trust in God and the Saviour, and our joy is perhaps less bright, but not less deep, and holy, and safe. And then we are led through many waters of affliction, and the word sorrow becomes to us a reality; and we find that the petition, "Thy will be done," is not a smooth meadow across which we may easily run, but a steep, rough mountain, hard to climb. But when the Comforter opens to us the ocean of love, and tenderness, and sympathy, and strength, laid up for us in Jesus, the Man of Sorrows; when we realise the fourth Man in the furnace; when wo embrace, with the faith of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, the Consolation of Israel,—oh, though it be with tears and a countenance in which the world sees no mirth, we go on our way rejoicing!

Way of joy, whither leadest thou? Dark valley of the shadow of death, through thee, and past thee, we go on our way rejoicing, until we hear the blessed words, "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!"

That perfect joy is ours where there is no sin within us and no sin around us; where all is purity and holiness and love to God and God's Beloved; where there is no temptation to lead us astray, and no fear to cloud our peace; where, with transfigured and glorious bodies, in the society of holy angels and the ransomed Church of God, we serve Him day and night in His temple, seeing Jesus as He is, and inheriting what God has prepared for them that love Him.

Reader, is Jesus preached unto thee? Believe, and go on thy way rejoicing.

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