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THE person here spoken of is the Ethi
opian eunuch, who having been instructed by Philip the Evangelist in the nature and evidences of the gospel of salvation, had received it by faith, and had testified his faith by baptism in the name of Christ. The story, às related in the latter part of this chapter, may usefully employ our present meditations.
Philip, who had been preaching in Samaria with great success, was directed by an angel to "arise and go toward the south, unto the way which goeth down from Jerusalem to Gaza, which is desert." This Gaza was a town near the country of the Philistines, and sometimes possessed by them. It lay southwest from Jerusalem, in the way toward Ethiopia, a country which is south of Egypt, and is often mentioned in scripture. Philip, by travelling south from Samaria, would naturally cross the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. A part of the country_between Jerusalem and Gaza is called a desert. Philip, in
obedience to the heavenly command, arose and went. At this time, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch, or officer under Candace, the then reigning queen of Ethiopia-one who had the charge of all her treasures, and who had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning to his own country, and riding in his chariot.
God's wisdom orders the times and circumstances of men's conduct in such a manner, as will best accomplish the purposes of his goodness. Philip must set out on his journey at such a moment, as to fall in with this officer on the road, and communicate to him those instructions which concerned his salvation. Neither Philip, nor the officer contemplated the interview which took place, nor probably had any knowledge of each other. The interview and its consequences were ordered by divine providence, not by human contrivance. God sends us blessings, which we never sought, and sends them in ways, which we should never have devised. The first awakening, and the consequent conversion of sinners may be owing to some circumstance in the course of divine dispensations, which never entered into their thoughts. True religion in their hearts is wrought by the word of truth, which word is accompanied with the energies of the Holy Spirit : But their opportunity to hear a pertinent instruction or admonition, and their disposition to regard and apply what they hear, may be owing to a providential occurrence, or internal influence, which was not of their seeking. Some pious book may be put into their hands, some judicious advice may be given in their hearing, or some affliction may fall upon them, which awakens their attention, and brings them to a real amendment. Philip had cause to bless God for making him, without a previous design of his own, an instrument of eternal good to
the officer of Ethiopia. The officer had cause to acknowledge the grace of God in sending the Evangelist to teach him the way of salvation, when he himself had never applied to such a teacher, nor perhaps asked God to send him one.
This officer was a man of great authority-the chief treasurer under the queen of Ethiopia; a coun try, which, lying south of Egypt, must have been at a great distance from Jerusalem. But distant as it was, he had been up to Jerusalem to worship.→ He believed one God, received the Jewish scriptures, and embraced the religion taught, and observ. ed the festivals appointed in them. He was a Gen. tile proselyte, and therefore was permitted to wor ship at the temple. His wealth and dignity did not raise him above the thoughts of religion, and his distance from Jerusalem did not induce him to neglect the instituted ordinances of God. Would this man who took a journey of several days for the privilege of worshipping the true God in Jerusalem, have neglected the privilege, if it had been brought into Ethiopia, and placed within an hour's walk of his own door? Must not the Christian, who lives in habitual neglect of God's worship, or who attends it only occasionally, or is detained from it by trivial inconveniences, be made ashamed of himself, when he sees the diligence and zeal of this Gentile proselyte? Our Savior sasy to the Jews, "The queen of the south shall rise in udgment with the men of this generation; for she came from far to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold a greater than Solomon is here? May not many of the present generation draw a similar warning and reproof from the eunuch of the south? He came from far to hear the law and the prophets; But, behold, the instructions of Christ and his apostles are here. He came from far to attend on the legal worship: But, behold, a
more perfect, gracious and inviting dispensation is here.
"The Eunuch was now sitting in his chariot, and reading the book of Esaias."
In the Jewish festivals a part of the religious exercise was reading the law and the prophets. The lesson, which the Eunuch had heard, in his late at tendance at the temple, was probably taken from the prophet Isaiah. He might now, for his better information, be reviewing the portion of scripture, which had before been publicly read. This was wise and pious. We are not to imagine, that our attendance on the service of the sanctuary excuses us from the private exercises of devotion. We must attend to both in their time and place, and thus make each subservient to the usefulness of the other..
The Eunuch had a copy of the scriptures in his own possession for his private perusal; and this he carried with him, when he went abroad; and he spent some of his time in conversing with it. He had attendants in his charriot; for if he had guided it himself, he would not have been in a situation for reading. He read aloud; for Philip heard him as he walked by the chariot. He read for the benefit of his attendants, as well as for his own. The religious householder wishes to communicate the knowledge, and impress the sentiments of religion On those who are under his care. The Eunuch acted in conformity to that precept of the Mosaiac law, given to parents, but applicable to all heads of fami lies, "Thou shalt diligently teach my words to thy children, and talk of them, when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up."
"The Spirit said unto Philip, Go near and join thyself to this chariot; and Philip ran thither to him." The chariot had not reached the junction of VOL. IV. M
the roads, when Philip saw it; and, by running, he came into the Eunuch's road a little ahead of him. "And he heard him read the prophet Esaias. And he said, Understandest thou what thou readest?"
"Hear and understand," is a direction which Christ gives to all. The scriptures in general are plain. They who read them with serious attention and a practical design, will understand them in those things which immediately relate to their duty and salvation. "If any man desire to do God's will, he will know of Christ's doctrine, whether it be of God." There are << some things," however, which are "hard to be understood." These we must never interpret in a sense, which contradicts plain things, or which encourages vice, and weakens the obligations to duty. As long as we are guided by the things which we do, or may understand, we shall suffer no inconvenience from a few obscure passages; for the darker parts of scripture contain no essential doctrine or precept, but what we may find distinctly taught in the plainer parts.
The passage, which the Eunuch was reading, was a prophecy in Isaiah concerning the Savior. And prophecy is in its nature obscure, until it is explained by the event. He had just been at Jerusalem. He there had doubtless heard much said concerning one Jesus, who had been crucified by the rulers, and, according to the report of his disciples, had risen again, and ascended to heaven. Amidst the controversy at Jerusalem concerning this extraordinary person, he might be in perplexity, what opinion to form. He felt his need of instruction, and rejoiced in an opportunity to receive it. When Philip asked, if he understood the prophet, he modestly replied, "How can I, except some man should guide me?" He probably supposed this man to be one of the dis