By J.R. Miller
Stephen was gone; his voice was hushed--but another worker rose up and took his place. "God buries his workmen--but carries on his work." It is instructive to study the character of Philip, as it comes out of this story.
He must have lived near the heart of Christ, for we see him here in communication with heaven. Those who are far away, are not called for important work. Bonar says, "God always uses the vessel that is nearest to him."
Another good thing in Philip, was his promptness in obeying the voice of God. God cannot use those who loiter and take their own time to do His errands. He must have servants who will go instantly, "minute men," ready at an instant's call to go to the end of the earth.
Another good point was Philip's self-denial. He was doing a great work in Samaria. He was popular. People gathered about him, throngs flocked to hear him. It was not easy to leave his great field in Samaria, with so much of encouragement and success, and go away into a desert, alone, with nothing definite marked out for him to do there. Yet Philip went as cheerfully on his long, lonesome journey--as he would have gone to preach to the largest crowd in Samaria. We should never raise the question of what is pleasant to us, when God gives a command. Our only desire should be to do his will. We do not know what is large or small in the work of the Lord. The desert call seemed small, only a desert road, and one man--but Ethiopia was behind it, and it may be, that the results of that one bit of obscure work surpassed all the other work of Philip's whole life. In any case, that is not, is never, the question. The only matter is, What does God bid?
Philip was also tactful. It required considerable courage and skill for this plain evangelist to speak to the great man riding in the chariot. Many a person with zeal lacks wisdom and blunders so in God's work as to do harm, rather than good in trying to win men.
Philip also knew his Bible. When he found the noble traveler puzzled over a text, he did not have to take time to look up its meaning. He had himself studied the Bible before, and knew its teachings, and was ready, therefore, at a moment's call to make plain the meaning of the difficult passage. Those who would do Christ's work--must know Christ's Book.
A man was wanted for an important errand, and an angelic messenger came to Philip and bade him to drop his work in Samaria. The incident suggests the close connection between heaven and earth. The Christian work in this world is directed from heaven. If we are living as we may, as we should--we are always receiving messages from Christ, bidding us to go here or there--and do this or that. "Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip: Go south to the road--the desert road--that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." Why did not the angel go himself, instead of calling Philip away from his important work? The answer is that angels are not sent on such errands. They are ministering spirits, doing Christ's bidding in the great work of redemption--but they do not preach the gospel. How could they preach? They have not been redeemed, and how could they tell the lost of the love of Christ and the blood of redemption?
Christ makes His redeemed ones the messengers of the gospel to others. They know what sin is, and understand the need of salvation. They know what Christ has done for them, and can tell others what He will do for them. We should be ready every moment to speak to others of Christ and His love. If we are led to think of another, to be anxious for his salvation, and to pray for him--it is certain we have an errand to that person and that God wishes us to be the messenger to carry the very blessing we are asking Him in our prayers to send. We should hasten with our message. There may not be a moment to spare. Christ's errands are exactly timed. If Philip had loitered he would have missed the Ethiopian. It seems strange that Philip should be called away from the great work he was doing. Multitudes were awaiting upon his ministry, and his work was very successful. It certainly was a trial of Philip's faith. But he was not careless in his obedience. He went where the Master bade him to go--and he went immediately. He asked no questions and made no objections. God often sends His servants on what may seem to them strange errands--but He always has some purpose in doing so. No errand of God is useless.
At last Philip found his work. His sealed orders were opened. "Go to that chariot and stay near it." He had been sent to explain a text of Scripture. Did it not seem a mistake, however, to call him away from hundreds--to speak to one? One answer is that individual souls are dear to God. Another is that this one man was from the "uttermost parts," and if he himself had the gospel, he would carry it back to his own land, thus becoming a missionary. We never can know what is our most important work any day. Perhaps more may come from a five minute casual talk with some stranger, when we think we are wasting our time--than from a sermon preached to a thousand people. The true thing, is to put ourselves into God's hands--to do whatever He may send us to do!
Philip was eager now to do what he had been sent to do. "Philip ran to him." Philip was not afraid to open up the subject of religion even with a stranger. This man in the chariot was a man of high rank, and Philip was a plain man. The traveler was busy reading, too, and might not care to be interrupted. Yet when Philip was bidden to join himself to the chariot, he promptly obeyed. We should be ready always to obey the impulses of the Spirit of God in our hearts. Suppose had excused himself, on the ground that he was not acquainted with this man, or that the man might not welcome him, or because of his own shyness; what an opportunity would have been lost! We should ever keep ourselves ready for instant service wherever God may send us. The destiny of other souls may depend upon our prompt obedience, and they may be lost through our failure.
"Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" Now we see why Philip was sent away along this lonely road. Here was a human soul crying out for light. God heard the man's cry and took him away from a great work, sending him to answer a heart's wish. God always knows when there is a soul anywhere longing for salvation, and in some way He will send the blessing. This noble traveler is an example of a sincere seeker. He went to the right place when he opened his Bible to seek light. He was a humble seeker, for he was not ashamed to confess that he could not understand the Scriptures and to ask a plain wayfarer to tell him. He was teachable, for he was ready to receive the explanation Philip gave to him. He was a believing seeker, also, for the moment he understood the text and learned who the Messiah was; he accepted Him and began to follow Him!
"And Philip ... beginning from the Scripture, preached unto him Jesus."
The picture of Christ lay in this ancient prophecy in all its beauty--but the Ethiopian prince could not see it until the evangelist had stripped off the veils and coverings, when it burst upon him in all its tenderness and grace. The Bible needs explanation. That is the teacher's work--to show Jesus in the Scriptures to the pupils who bend with eager interest over the holy page.
The traveler was intelligent and quickly understood Philip's explanation. He had a good teacher, too, and at once wanted to confess Christ. "The eunuch said, Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" He did not propose to be a secret disciple--but desired to make open confession. The moment the vision of Christ is opened to any soul, there should be, first, instant acceptance, and then, at the earliest possible moment, public confession. Some people imagine they can be good Christians without taking an open stand. But confession is a large part of faith. We should wait for nothing. Fuller instruction will come afterwards.
"He went on his way rejoicing." He did not give up his journey and go back among the other Christians because he was now a Christian. He went on the way to his own country, and probably continued in his place as the queen's treasurer. A newborn Christian is not to give up his pursuit in life, because he has given himself to Christ. Of course, if the pursuit is a wicked one--it must be given up; but if one's occupation is right, he is usually to stick to it, carrying Christ with him into it. A carpenter when converted is ordinarily to continue to be a carpenter with Christ.
Another thought suggested here, is that Christ gives joy. Some people think religion would rob them of joy. Certainly it did not have this effect upon this Ethiopian. Life was all changed for him after he had received Christ. He went on his way--but his heart was full of song. He was like one of those clocks with a music box hidden in it that plays a sweet tune each time the clock strikes the hour. The clock does not stop to give the music--but keeps ticking on and making music at the same time. The Christian goes on in his work--but while he works his heart sings, and the songs make the way shorter and burdens lighter. At the same time they give cheer to others on whose ears they fall.