It may be pleasant this evening to turn back to the case of the Ethiopian eunuch, for the sake of some practical considerations which, in the thoughtful mind, connect themselves with it, or arise from it.
Those considerations which pertain to the eunuch’s study of the Scriptures are the most important, as well as the most interesting; and they concern us most, for in this eunuch we have before us an example of those dispositions on which God likes to bestow more light, and from which He never eventually withholds it. These dispositions are indeed his gift; and He fails not in due time to honor the gifts of his own bestowing.
It is evident that dim and partial as the eunuch’s light was, he read the Scriptures with a real and lively interest, and not as a formal duty. If it had been so, he would have discharged that duty before he began the morning journey, or when he reached the evening rest. He would have duly read the allotted portion, and then have laid the sacred roll aside until the set time should again come round. But no; according to his light, he loved the word of God. In his measure it had become “his song in the house of his pilgrimage.” Its high and weighty matters were of deeper interest to him than are the papers and books, in red, yellow, and green, which our own time offers to those who travel by the way. Therefore he read the Bible in his chariot—and he read it with absorbed attention even in passing through a country, every brook, and hill, and valley in which might be supposed of special interest to a foreign Jew visiting the land. And was this labor all lost, this interest all wasted, this reading all profitless, because, as he confesses, he could not understand what he read? Not so. It is very evident that he read with an earnest desire to learn, and therefore he did learn—that he hoped to find some fruit from it, and therefore it was not barren to him. In confessing his ignorance, he meant not to say that there was no light for him, but only that he found many dark places—the full meaning of which eluded his grasp, and that this was especially the case with the place which then engaged his attention. But all was not dark. Had it been so, his interest in the study of the sacred book could hardly have been sustained. There are many things in Isaiah which need no interpretation; as when he sets forth the goodness and power of God, inviting the people to faith in Him, or urging them to a godly life. No one, therefore, can be so ignorant but that he may profit considerably by the reading of that book, even though he should scarcely understand more than every fourth verse. And this seems to have been the case of the eunuch; for since, according to his capacity and means, he gathered up those things that served for his edification, his studies in God’s word were in that measure profitable to him. And observe that, although he met with many difficulties, and was consciously ignorant of many things of which he read, he was not thereby discouraged, nor lost his interest in God’s word. He persevered in the search for that light, which he knew to be there, though as yet he could scarcely catch but some glimpses of it. Thus must we also read the Scriptures. We must greedily, and with readiness of mind, receive those things in which God plainly opens his mind to us; and as for those things that are hid, what have we to do but wait until more light is vouchsafed to us, resting assured that all needful light will, in God’s own time, be given, if we faint not. Let us not spoil all by agonizing after the hidden things, before we have fully mastered the plain—moaning after the mysteries, and neglecting the elements. If we do this in patient faith, the Scriptures will meanwhile become familiar by continual use; and this is a great gain—this is a mighty preparation for fuller light. It was so in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch—it was so in the case of Saul of Tarsus. It has been questioned by some—perhaps by many—in what degree it may be desirable to enforce an intimacy with Scripture in early life, upon the regardless or reluctant mind. But the more reluctant the mind is, the more it needs such replenishment. The mind must be filled with something, and with what on earth so good can the mind be filled? God’s word shall never return unto Him void—shall never fail to prosper in the thing whereto He sends it; and how often has not some holy text, some sacred verse, some Scripture example, come down like a conscience upon the soul wandering in the world’s ways, or lost in the dens of iniquity, and cast it in dust and ashes at God’s feet!
That other disposition also, such as this of the eunuch, which perseveres in the study of God’s word, even under discouragement, and goes on filling the soul’s treasury with its gems, although the exact value of each tone may not be known, shall at length find a day of reward and refreshing as he did; and the sooner shall it be found by those whose minds remain as humble and as teachable as his. He certainly knew something; he knew more than many, yet he confesses that he knows nothing—that he is altogether in need of instruction, and that he will rejoice to receive it from any, however low or humble, who may be able to impart it to him. This is the disposition the Lord delights to honor. And He often honors it signally; so that he who takes nothing upon himself, and who claims to know nothing but his own insufficiency and ignorance, may quickly, under the Divine teaching, and in the leadings of Providence, obtain more light of understanding than a life’s labor would enable him to realize by his own research or intelligence. “So,” as Calvin remarks, “the Lord will be unto us a Master, though we be but small, if acknowledging our ignorance, we be not lothe to submit ourselves to learn. And as the seed, covered with earth, lieth hid for a time, so the Lord will illuminate us by his Spirit, and will cause that reading, which being barren and void of fruit, causeth nothing but wearisomeness, to have plain light of understanding.”