CONVERSION OF THE ETHIOPIAN EUNUCH
The churches of Christ Greet You (Romans 16:16)
read with us from the eighth chapter of Acts, verses thirty‑six to
thirty‑nine: “And as they went on
their way, they came unto a certain water:
and the eunuch said, See, here is water;
what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest
thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said,
believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the
stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and
eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the
Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more:
went on his way rejoicing.”
A very large element, and an effective one, in modern revival preaching, consists in the recital of cases of conversion; and these are recited to the people for a double purpose: first, to show sinners by example, the way into the kingdom; and second, by the force of stirring and well selected examples, to stimulate sinners to the imitation of them. They have been found so effective that they make up a very large portion of the matter in the sermons of popular revivalists. Now the Lord knew, before men discovered it, the power there is in examples to make a matter plain and also to stimulate men to action; and consequently He devoted one book in the New Testament to such recitals.
The book of Acts is made up chiefly of accounts of the conversion of a great variety of persons in many different places. If you should take out of it everything that is closely connected with accounts of conversion, and of attempts at conversion where there was a failure, you would have very little left in that book. We have then, in these days, two classes of examples of conversion, between which we may choose those that shall guide us. We have this class written down in the book of Acts; and we have this other class, which transpire in our midst, before our eyes. In the present day the great majority of the people are guided chiefly by the latter, as they are so abundantly described by the preachers.
For our part we prefer to be guided by those that are written in the book of Acts; and for this choice we have two reasons. In the first place, all the conversions that took place in those early days occurred under the direction of inspired preachers; and consequently those early converts were not misled in anything that they did. Secondly, after a vast multitude ‑ thousands upon thousands of such conversions had taken place ‑ the Holy Spirit guided Luke to select a few of them for a permanent place in the Bible; so we may say that these cases of conversion have passed twice under the inspection of the Spirit of God.
It follows from these considerations that if we, in coming to the Lord Jesus Christ, imitate to perfection any one conversion that is recorded in the book of Acts, our conversion is genuine and without any defect about it. On the other hand, if, in comparing our supposed conversion with these, we find any material difference between our experience and that of any one of these persons, then ours is, to that extent, defective and wrong. A man who supposes himself a convert to Christ, can test the matter by comparing the particulars of his conversion with the particulars of these; and a man who has not found out the way to Christ, can find out the way by examining these. They serve as infallible guides to those who have not yet started in the way of life.
After these preliminary remarks, intended to show you the importance of the inquiry we are about to institute, we propose to look carefully at the details of the conversion of which we just read ‑ that of the Ethiopian nobleman who was baptized by Philip. These recitals of which we have spoken, so common in the present day, consist in telling the condition of the man before he was converted; then telling what he read, what he thought, what he felt, what was said to him, what was said by him and what he did, until the moment that he finds himself rejoicing in the forgiveness of his sins. Then the recital ends. These accounts in Acts furnish you the same material, and out of the one before us we will gather together and arrange these items according to the plan just laid out.
Let us inquire first, then, who this man was before his conversion. We are told in the text that he was the treasurer of Queen Candace. He appears certainly to have been a Jew, or a proselyte to the Jewish religion. This man had, by his integrity, industry and fidelity, raised himself to be the chief treasurer of the kingdom of Ethiopia. When he is introduced to us, he had just been up to Jerusalem to worship God. He had made a journey of more than a thousand miles on land in a chariot, traveling at the rate of three or four miles an hour, to go up to the city of the living God, to worship God there; and now he was returning home.
This man was traveling, riding along in his chariot over a rough road, and he held in his hand the book of Isaiah ‑ reading that. The text not only tells us this, but it tells the very passage he was reading, and what he was thinking about. He bad fallen upon the fifty‑third chapter of Isaiah, as now marked in our Bibles, and was reading that wonderful passage which begins, "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;" and he was reading it aloud. We suppose he had discovered what many others have, that if you read aloud you can keep your attention fixed on the subject better than by reading silently.
He was aiming to, learn all he could, and when he came to this passage he was puzzled about the meaning of it: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter"‑ all monosyllables nearly, the most familiar words in the language, but the puzzle on his mind was, "Of whom does the prophet write this? Of himself? Or of some other man?" It is impossible for any man who has never heard the story of the Lord Jesus Christ as written in the four gospels, to read that passage thoughtfully and not have the same question arise in his mind. Now the fact that he did not know and could not decide about whom the prophet was writing shows that he was not yet acquainted with the story of our suffering Savior. This, then, was the man's condition before his conversion.
We believe that whenever the Heavenly Father looks down on a man engaged as this one was, He is delighted to see the sight (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15). You go anywhere, and as you pass along keep your mind engaged in the study of God's word, He loves to see you; you are very near to God's hand stretched out to lay a blessing on you.
Notice he had been up to Jerusalem, where the apostles had been preaching some years, and in the midst of the land where churches had been established, but he was yet in darkness. He is going down into the darkness of heathenish, in his distant home, and if something is not done for him before he goes away, he may die without hearing the name of Jesus. When God saw him thus, He went deliberately to work to make a Christian of him; and we are able, by inspired guidance, to trace all the steps of the divine procedure which brought about his salvation.
At the beginning of the narrative, we find that God's first act was to dispatch an angel from heaven to earth (Acts 8:26). We are not surprised at this; for we read that all the angels of God are ministering spirits for them who shall be heirs of salvation (Hebrews 1:14). But this angel did not, as you might have supposed, visit the man who was reading the Bible ‑ did not appear to him or speak to him ‑ though he was sent from heaven to bring about that man's conversion. The angel landed in Samaria, and stood in the presence of Philip, an inspired “deacon,” and said to him: "Philip, arise and go south into the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza." Then the angel disappeared, and we suppose he went away to work for the salvation of some other sinner.
Philip, then, in obedience to the command, arose and went. We have often wondered how the angel of the Lord adjusted the time for the movements of Philip and those of the chariot. Philip had a journey of two or three days, to get down into that road; the chariot, only a run of two or three hours; so, in reality, Philip started before the chariot did; but when be came into the road, there was the chariot right before him. The angel had made no mistake in his calculation. In this, we see the first thing that the Lord did for the eunuch.
Observe, now, that all that the angel told Philip to do was to get into that road; and when he got into the road, there he would have stopped, we presume, and waited for some other command from the Lord. But just as he might have stopped, the Holy Spirit interposes and begins His part of the work of the man's conversion. He does not begin to work in the heart of the eunuch; He does not say anything to the eunuch; but, following up the action of the angel, the Holy Spirit speaks to Philip. He says: "Philip, go and join thyself to that chariot;" and receiving this command, Philip ran so as to overtake the chariot quickly.
Now, we have an angel working at the command of God for the salvation of that man; we have the Holy Spirit; but the effect of all that the angel and the Spirit did was only to bring the preacher side by side with the man who is to be converted. So, if the angel's action, or the Spirit's, is to have any effect on him, it will be through the WORDS which the preacher will speak when he gets there. Paul says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
When Philip got up to the chariot, the man was just then engaged in reading aloud the passage which is quoted in the text; for we are told that Philip heard him. Philip introduced himself in rather an abrupt and singular way, by asking him, "Do you understand what you are reading"? If a man were to come up to you when you are reading and ask you that question, you might be offended. Why then did Philip introduce himself, or rather, the conversation, in that way? For a very good reason. He knew that if the man was a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, he could not fail to know what that passage meant; but if not a believer, he could not understand it. Not an unbelieving Jew on earth today can explain that passage.
The eunuch inquires, "Of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself? or of some other man?" The text tells us that Philip began at that same scripture, and preached to him Jesus; and this was the answer to his question. It was not written about Isaiah himself, or any other man, but about Jesus, the Son of God. It could not have required a very great effort in argument or exegesis to enable that man to see that Philip was right. All required was to tell him the story of the birth, the life, and the death of the Son of God. It has been related that Voltaire, the great French infidel, said if he could be convinced that the fifty‑third chapter of Isaiah is genuine, he would concede that at least one prediction of the prophets was fulfilled. Philip had an easy task; the eunuch could not fail to see of whom the prophet wrote.
A great many of the conversions in apostolic times were the conversions of single individuals, as in the present case. Philip went on with his conversational sermon until the chariot drove up to a stream, or to some pool of water, when the eunuch said, "Here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" Did you ever stop and ask yourself how he happened to ask that question? We are told that Philip preached Jesus to the man; but while he was preaching Jesus, the man found out that he had to be baptized, and asked the question, “What hinders me”? He did not wait for the preacher to urge him to this duty; but he first put the matter before the preacher as the desire of his heart. How did that come about?
We have had people to say, "Brother preacher, I would like your preaching better if you would just preach Christ crucified, and not speak of baptism so often." Well, we would like to gratify our friends, but we can't get along that way. When Philip was preaching Christ to the man, it seems that baptism was a part of the sermon. Indeed, it is impossible to preach Christ fully to a sinner and leave baptism out of the sermon. You have to mention baptism early in the story of Jesus; for He was baptized by John; and at the end of the story; for then He commanded the disciples to go and baptize men in every nation. You have to leave out both these chapters in the history of Christ if you leave out baptism. It is a mutilated Gospel that leaves baptism out of the sermons addressed to sinners.
So then the eunuch had heard all this while he was listening to Philip, and he intensely desires to be baptized ‑ so intensely, that before Philip said a word of exhortation on the subject, "Here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" Philip's answered: "If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest" (Acts 8:37). Having heard the word, the eunuch obediently confessed his belief that Jesus is the Son of God. He then commanded his chariot to stand still, and they both went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch. While they were down in the water, Philip baptized him; then they came out, and the same Spirit that made Philip come and join the chariot, caught him away, and the eunuch went on his way rejoicing. Thus the brief story ends. The man has been brought to the forgiveness of his sins and he rejoices in the Lord.
We wish now to look at this case from another point of view. Suppose we meet the eunuch down the road ‑ we are old acquaintances of his ‑ and we say, why, my friend, what has come over you ‑ your face is radiant with joy? He answers, I have a right to rejoice. I have learned of the Redeemer, of the Messiah that was to come; and through Him who is the Redeemer of men I have obtained the forgiveness of my sins; this is what makes me so happy. Well, do tell us your experience. Certainly!
Will he begin by telling about the angel that came down from heaven? No, for of this he knew nothing. Will he begin by telling what the Holy Spirit did, in directing Philip to come to the chariot? No, for he knew nothing of this. Well, where will he begin? He must begin by telling of his own reading of God's word ‑ of coming to a passage which he could not understand, not knowing about whom it was written. He may say, “A man on foot came up to my chariot, while I was reading aloud, and asked if I understood what I was reading. He struck the nail on the head. It seems like a special providence that he came at the nick of time. He looked as if he knew, and I asked him how could I understand except some man should guide me. I invited him to a seat, and he explained the passage. As he did so, in that passage so dark, as dark as Egypt, I began to see a great light. I soon saw that the prophet spoke of a glorious Redeemer dying for the sins of men. He went on to tell me what that Redeemer had said that men like myself should do. While the man was still speaking I said, What hinders me from being baptized? There was nothing in the way, so I was at once baptized, and I arose from that water with my sins forgiven, according to the promise of the Lord. For this reason I am happy today.”
Now let me ask you who are servants of the Lord, does this experience agree with yours? We thank God that in all its essential points it agrees with mine. I am not sure that any divine power was exerted as in this case, to bring the preacher and me together; but I see no reason why it should not have been. Some of you reading or hearing this lesson had no thought a few days ago of learning about a eunuch of Ethiopia. Yet, you have been brought unexpectedly into an encounter with Jesus! God anticipated every impression made on this occasion, and how do you know but that angels were dispatched to earth to bring you and this preacher together? If the eunuch had been told what that angel did, it would have surprised him. If there were today some inspired writer giving an account of your life and mine, you do not know how many angels he would have to speak of in the story. In God's providence He brings you “face-to-face” with the preacher of the Gospel, and He does it for the purpose of your salvation.
One more question in regard to this interesting man. Why didn't he say: Philip, this is a new thing to me; I will be back here at the Passover next year, and if some of your kind will be in Jerusalem then, perhaps I will be able to decide about this new doctrine which you have brought to me. That is not the way a God‑approved man acts. A God‑approved man, when he sees a duty, hesitates not, but does it at once. This man went right down into the water. He did not wait for Philip to urge him to go. This is the kind of prompt and decisive obedience that God likes. If you want to please your God and bless your own soul, remember that the very hour in which you learn what your duty is, is the hour in which to act it out. “Today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
Did Stone do right?
man do right? If they did not, Philip and the eunuch did wrong. If you
same, will you do right? You must, if you have the right Book to guide
Will you do it at once, and rejoice in the forgiveness of sins? Or will
refuse and go on your way sad at heart from a guilty conscience?
Behold, now is
the accepted time. Behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians