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ACTS, viii. 8.
And there was great joy in that city.
THIS chapter commences with an account of a grievous persecution, raised against the church of Christ, which was at Jerusalem, in which, young Saul, afterwards the holy Apostle Paul, was a principal instrument. By this persecution there was a dissension of the saints who dwelt in Jerusalem. From this place Philip went down to Samaria, and preached the gospel unto them; and great and wonderful were the effects. “For the people with one consent gave heed unto those things which were spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did; for unclean spirits crying with a loud voice came out of many who were possessed with them, and many taken with palsies, and that were lame were healed.” Then follows the text, as the consequence, And there was great joy in that city. The occasion of this great joy was, they had heard and embraced the gospel. They not only heard the gospel with their ears; but they had attended to it, and received it into their hearts, and become conformed to it. Not that we are to suppose
that this was true of every individual; but this was the case with a great number, or the greater part.
The doctrine which I shall illustrate from these words is this.
The conversion of sinners is a sufficient reason for great joy.
This was manifestly the great joy of the Samaritans. The gospel came to them not in word only; but accompanied with the power of the Holy Ghost. He opened their hearts to receive the truth in the love of it. Before this they were idolaters. The city of Samaria was settled long before the days of the apostles, with a people whom the king of Assyria transplanted there, when he carried away the ten tribes captive. To this people, the disaffected Jews attached themselves; and this country became a receptacle for those Jews who exposed themselves to public censure. Then in combination with those heathen, erected a temple upon mount Gerizim in opposition to the temple at Jerusalem ; and unitedly worshipped the God of Israel in conjunction with the gods of those countries, from whence these transplanted people came. This occasioned the question by the woman of Samaria to our Saviour; whether the proper place of worship was in this mountain, or at Jerusalem ? She supposed Christ a prophet, and therefore capable of deciding this long religious controversy. On this and other accounts, the Jews and Samaritans hated each other, and had no dealings together. Until this visit to them by Philip, they were a faithless, deceitful people, sometimes pretending they were Jews, at others, when Israel was invaded by their enemies and in trouble, disclaiming all kindred with them; for which they were so despised and hated by the Jews, that by a law, they made it criminal for a Jew eveni to trade with a Samaritan. But when Philip preached the gospel to them, great multitudes of them were truly converted ; and from being the worshippers of the gods of the heathen, they became the humble worshippers of the only living God. This occasioned the joy spoken of in the text. For the illustration of the doctrine, I shall show how it appears that the conversion of sinners is a reason for great joy. It will be necessary to show in a few words what conversion is.
Conversion is a change of heart, from sin to holiness; and is an effect produced by the spirit of God, attending the plain preaching of the gospel. This was precisely the case with the people of Samaria. They were a company of Idolaters in heart, and but little better in the external form of their worship. But the spirit of God attending Philip's preaching, their hearts were detached from the love of sin, to love and obey the true God. For we are not at liberty to suppose, that they or any other people were truly converted, and renewed in the spirit of their minds, by the word, without the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit. I said we were not at liberty to suppose
this, because it is the voice of inspiration, that Paul may plant, and Apollos may water to no purpose, unless God give the increase. This increase however is not to be expected, where the gospel is not heard, and even if heard, not regarded. Because conversion, according to the method of divine operation, follows true conviction, which is founded upon a knowledge of God, and our own sinful, lost state. Both these discoveries are made to us in the gospel; and we accordingly find, that revivals of religion, in all ages of the church, have taken place in consequence of attending to the gospel. And where the gospel has not been preached, or has not been attended to, nor regarded, there se: curity in sin has universally prevailed. This would appear clearly by considering the state of mankind, when destitute of, or inattentive to the gospel. So that, though the conversion of sinners, from the love of sin to the love of holiness, is the work of the Spirit of God; yet this is not to be expected, where the mind is not first enlightened by the gospel. By the gospel I mean divine revelation. That such a moral change in the state of sinners is a reason for great joy, may appear from the persons who rejoice in it. These are angels in heaven, and saints on earth. We are expressly and repeatedly taught by inspiration, that, “there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth ;" that “there is joy in the presence of angels over one sinner that re. penteth.” All holy beings rejoice in the conversion of the sinful, lost children of men. This proves that their conversion is an event in its own nature highly desirable and joyful. For wise and good beings re
joicë only in those events, which are joyful and desirable; and the universal attention and joy of holy beings, even the inhabitants of heaven, at the conversion of one sinner, proves that this is a very joyful event. We may certainly infer, that those things are important and desirable, on which the attention of the heavenly world is fixed, and in which they rejoice. They estimate things according to their worth and importance. Hence great joy in them, on account of any event, is an evidence of its desirableness. The conversion of sinners, not only gives joy to angels, but to saints on earth. This appears from the text, and many other passages of scripture. These observations may be sufficient to show, that the conversion of sinners is a joyful event.
We shall now point out the reasons which excite this joy.
1. God is glorified in the conversion of sinners. God is the most glorified in that work, in which his perfections are the most clearly exhibited to the view of intelligent creatures. God is a being of infinite excellence; and it is of the highest importance, that these perfections of Deity, which constitute his character, should be displayed, seen and admired. But the perfections of God are no where seen with such clearness, as in the work of redemption, considered in its principles and effects. The way of salvation by Christ is the effect of infinite Wisdom, Holiness, Justice and Mercy, and the conversion and salvation of sinners presented an occasion for the display of all these perfections, in such a manner as they never before were exhibited.