Another lesson that seems, to me, strikingly illustrated by the story with which we are concerned is the guidance of a divine hand in common life and where there are no visible nor supernatural signs.
Philip goes down to Samaria because he must and speaks because he cannot help it. He is, next, bidden to take a long journey from the center of the land away down to the southern desert and, at a certain point, the Spirit says to him, “Go, join this chariot.” And, when his work with the Ethiopian statesman is done, then he is swept away by the power of the Spirit of God, as Ezekiel had been long before by the banks of the river Chebar, and is set down, no doubt all bewildered and breathless, at Azotus – the ancient Ashdod, the Philistine city on the low-lying coast.
Was Philip less under Christ’s guidance when miracle ceased and he was left to ordinary powers? Did he feel as if deserted by Christ because, instead of being swept by the strong wind of heaven, he had to tramp wearily along the flat shore with the flashing Mediterranean on his left hand reflecting the hot sunshine? Did it seem, to him, as if his task in preaching the gospel in these villages was less distinctly obedience to the divine command than when he heard the utterance of the Spirit, “Go down to the desert road which leads to Gaza”? By no means. To this man, as to every faithful soul, the guidance that came through his own judgment and common sense, through the instincts and impulses of his sanctified nature by the circumstances which he devoutly believed to be God’s providence was as truly direct divine guidance as if all the angels of heaven had blown a commandment with their trumpets into his waiting and stunned ears.
And so, you and I have to go upon our paths without angel voices or chariots of storm and to be contented with divine commandments less audible or perceptible to our senses than this man had at one point in his career. But, if we are wise, we shall hear Him speaking the word. We shall not be left without His voice if we wait for it, stilling our own inclinations until His solemn commandment is made plain to us and, then, stirring up our inclinations that they may sway us to swift obedience. There is no gulf, for the devout heart, between what is called miraculous and what is called ordinary and common. Equally, in both, does God manifest His will to His servants. And equally, in both, is His presence perceived by faith. We do not need to envy Philip’s brilliant beginning. Let us see that we imitate his quiet close of life. – Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), from a meditation on Acts 8.40.