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Quality of Service
'No little kindness.' The Revised Version gives us another word, perhaps a richer: 'No common kindness' but a kindness to be remembered, specialising itself in our memory; we can never forget the attentiveness and civility of these barbarous people; truly to the end of the chapter we shall think of all their courtesy as no common kindness. This was not an everyday affair, but wholly special, finely and highly marked by Christian courtesy, as we should say; the marvel of it being that the people who showed it were not Christians. We must take care lest these barbarians get ahead of us. They tell me now that some people say there are better people outside the Church than there are in it. We have a hard fight to conduct, and a hard race to run. If you are kind to those who are kind to you, what of it? are not even the pagans the same? If you pray for those who pray for you, what of it? what does it amount to in spiritual and Christian quality? do not even the Gentiles the same thing? Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye cannot see the kingdom of God. It is matter of common report that there are good people who do not go to your church, or to mine, or to any other church. They are full of kind deeds, sweet thoughts, charities that do not wither in the east winds. There ought to be some difference between a man who is crucified with Christ Jesus and a man who never heard of Him. The power of Christian character over every other power is in its distinctiveness. Not where Christianity is part and parcel of a common civilisation, but where it stands out in an individuality of its own, do we find its power and its grace.
Who speaks of these barbarous people? The greatest man who ever spoke of any nation or kindred or tongue. The Apostle Paul speaks of the uncommon kindness of the barbarous people of an obscure island. My Lord said they shall come from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south, and ye yourselves shall be shut out. Let us take care how we roll our fur and silken and crimson robes about us, and think we are so much better than other people. What if at the last it should be found that the last shall be first and the first shall be last?
I. Here is an Apostle who has found an island where there is no need of missions. The people were greatly taken with their own opportunity of doing good; they showed us no common kindness. What do you think they did? 'They kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.' Surely they were not far from the kingdom of Him who said, Whoso shall give a cup of cold water to you in the name of a disciple shall in no wise lose his reward. Here is a people that have devised new plans and seized new opportunity. They have lighted a fire. Jesus spake about giving a cup of cold water to religious people; they seem to have made in some sort an advance on the idea of Jesus Himself.
II. We have, then, to do not with service, but with quality of service. There is service and service; there is a way of doing a thing so as to undo it; there is a reluctance that destroys all worthfulness and grace in deeds done to other people; there is, on the other hand, a way of doing a little thing which makes it great, a gracious, sweet, kindly way which multiplies the thing that is done, not only by increasing its quantity, but mainly and spiritually by refining its quality. Not what was said so much as how it was said, is an expression we often hear in some form or other. Not what he gave, but the way in which he gave.
III. It is reasonable to expect no common service from Christians because they are men and women of no common character. The Church is not a gallery of wax-works; the congregation is not a crowd of artistically made and framed bodies; the Church is a gathering of self-sacrificing souls. The character of the Christian is not a question of artifice or of fine manufacture or of school culture; the character of the Christian is a work of God, is a miracle of the Holy Ghost, is a jewel not made with hands. From such a character what do we expect? We expect no common kindness, no little, usual, offhand service; we expect service that means something, that conveys something, service that is red with an inner crimson, with the blood of Christ. We render no common service because we have no common Saviour. The saved man must in his own possible degree be of the same quality as the Saviour that redeemed him. We represent Christ. Sometimes by our misrepresentation we raise the question, Is this your Christianity? ha, ha! what do ye more than others? You say you represent Christ? Let it be so, then we have a right to examine and cross-examine you in order to know what stuff you are made of, because we want to find this Christ and to judge Him for ourselves: stand forth, witness of His, that we may vivisect and dissect you and discover your real quality.
Reference. XXVIII. 2. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 130.
The Viper on the Hand
The incident contains a lesson full of value and importance in the right guidance of all our life, social, religious, business, intellectual, or political. Everywhere in the pursuit of duty we must expect the viper to dart out upon us. Well for us if we are on our guard, and ready instinctively to shake off the attacks, and, God-protected, by Divine grace feel no harm. I. The Viper in Business Life. Business is one of the most necessary things in the world. It supplies the needs of human life. It creates some of the most valuable parts of human character. Energy, quickness, power of organisation, invention, discovery, method, calculation, experience, soberness of mind these are some of its results on character. Those engaged in such duties may well seem, like St. Paul, energetically and characteristically helping to do something in the rain and cold, easing and ameliorating the condition of human life. But how often do we see the viper dart out of the midst of the work, and fasten on a man's hand!
II. The Viper in Knowledge. Or look at knowledge in its many branches. What is more fascinating or delightful? It moves at will up and down the history of the world, entering into all the great events, revealing the motives and actions of the greatest of mankind, making the past almost as real as the present. It penetrates into the deepest and closest recesses of man's being. What more fascinating and delightful than knowledge as it opens up worlds on worlds, and makes us feel the truth of the Apostle's words, 'All things are yours'! But even here be on your guard! Even here the viper darts out and is ready to fasten on the hand. For there are spheres of truth which reason can only enter hand in hand with faith, and reason is apt to rise in rebellion, and flash scorn on that which is beyond its ken, and glory in its ignorance, or, as it prefers to phrase it, its agnosticism.
III. The Viper in the Church. The serpent has penetrated paradise, and all man's life is henceforth lived in his presence. The Church is the paradise of God on earth. It is the nearest meeting-place of man with God. It is the Home of Grace. It is the refuge of penitent sinners. It is the resting-place of God's revelation. It is the soul's best and truest home. It is here that you can do the greatest works for God. It is here that you can lead others to know the happiness that you have found. It is here that you may be 'The light of the world,' and 'the salt of the earth'. It is here that you may be God's band of labourers, 'fellow-workers with God'. Yet here, too, beware of the dart of the serpent Here he fastens upon and wounds the hand. Here sometimes narrowness, bitterness, obstinacy and self-will, proud contemptuousness, prejudice, jealousy, and littleness of spirit may mar and spoil what God has intended.
IV. To Shake off the Viper. St Paul shook off the venomous beast into the fire, and felt no harm, because he did it instinctively the moment the dart was made and because he was God-protected by the last promise of our Lord to His disciples. It is only by the religion of Jesus Christ that we can cast off the serpent.
References. XXVIII. 3. W. F. Shaw, Sermon-Sketches for the Christian Year, p. 105. XXVIII. 3-5. Church Family Newspaper, vol. xiv. p. 332. XXVIII. 5. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches, p. 216. XXVIII. 7. Expositor (4th Series), vol. in. p. 221.
We have here an illustration of a great principle of the Divine economy. The supernatural, the extraordinary may awaken, arouse, direct, and fix the attention; but it is the natural and the ordinary which cheers the heart and guides the conduct. St. Paul's sense of the overruling providence of God marked out for him the work that was to be done, the course that was to be pursued; but the sympathy of men like himself, and the sense of human companionship were necessary to endow him with perfect courage, and aroused a more heartfelt gratitude to God than did even the wondrous preservation of his life from danger.
I. There are manifest dangers in the way of an attempt to acquire or exercise sympathy. The evils of its defect are obvious: the evils of its excess are not so apparent. Yet every one will recognise that sympathy is useless unless it is entirely genuine. It will not bear unlimited demands. If excessive display of sympathy is to be guarded against for the sake of him who gives, it is equally to be avoided for the sake of him who receives. There is a class of moral invalids who clamour for sympathy, just as hypochondriacs try to cure their imaginary ailments by relays of quack medicines. We have to learn, sometimes by painful experience, that our well-meant efforts to heal are only feeding a moral malady. You must not be sympathetic at the expense of truth.
II. The consideration of these limitations leads to the conclusion that sympathy is not a quality which can be pursued by itself. Fellow-feeling is an emotion which owes its direction and its guidance to the principles which it expresses. What are those principles? I cannot answer better than by following the analysis of St. Peter: 'Be ye all like-minded, "sympathetic". Like-mindedness is the recognition of the truth of the brotherhood of man in Christ; sympathy is the expression of this truth in our daily conduct. The tendency of this our age is strongly towards philanthropy, towards grappling with the problems of our common life. I think that an observer would conclude that these efforts were effective in proportion as they embodied the Christian Spirit. Many movements, excellent in themselves, clearly fail to influence those for whom they are designed, because they do not rest on like-mindedness, because they are not set forth in terms of sympathy.
The late Bishop Creighton, The Heritage of the Spirit, p. 19.
References. XXVIII. 15. John Watson, The Inspiration of our Faith, p. 310. H. Win dross, The Life Victorious, p. 219. XXVIII. 16. F. D. Maurice? The Acts of the Apostles, p. 337. XXVIII. 17-28. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 416. XXVIII. 20. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. v. p. 220. XXVIII. 23. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiii. No. 1970. XXVIII. 24. D. C. A. Agnew, The Soul's Business and Prospects, p. 178. F. Bourdillon, Plain Sermons for Family Reading (2nd Series), p. 187. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix. No. 516. XXVIII. 28. C. S. Home, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 280. J. A. Alexander, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 195. XXVIII. 30, 31. A. Maclaren, The Wearied Christ, p. 9. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 277. XXVIII. 31. Bishop Drury, The Prison Ministry of St. Paul, p. 13.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Acts 28". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
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