Almighty God, may we stand near thee. We stand in the name of Jesus Christ and in the grace of the Cross. We may not see thy glory, but we may look upon thy goodness. Thou hast made all thy goodness pass before us, and truly it is a wondrous procession. The Lord is good unto all, and his tender mercies are overall his works. God is love. It is our joy to know that love is at the heart of things. We are not trembling under a great power: we are appealing unto a great love. It shall be well with us. The battle means victory; the running is already completed in covenant; and even now we reach the goal and seize the prize. All things are done and established in the order and decree of God, and we are but carrying out the daily process, coming nearer and nearer to the happy end, closer and closer to the radiant home. All things are settled; the world is saved, and is in the mighty arms of Christ. Jesus, our Saviour, came to seek us, to save us: he can lose none but the son of perdition. Help us to believe in the finished work of Christ; help us to see that there is no accident in his ministry, no difficulty as to the end, but that already his foot is upon the serpent"s head, and already the kingdoms of the world are the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ. Thus would we see the end, and lay hold upon it, and stand in the sanctuary of its completeness, and feel within us the rising of sacred triumph, knowing that the Lord is God, and that in the answer of his fire there is the assured destruction of his foes. We bless thee for every hope we have. This hope is the summer of the soul. Having hope born within us of the Spirit of God, may we purify ourselves even as Christ himself is pure, so that our hope may be no mere sentiment, gratifying a subtle and unexpressed vanity, but a renewing, an invigorating, and a purifying power, that, answering all the music of its light and all the eloquence of its persuasion, we may be found waiting for our Lord, with all industry or with all patience, as he himself may determine. The whole world is thine,—the poor, little, sinful world. It has run away from the centre, it has endeavoured to find a way for itself; today it has returned to its Shepherd and its Bishop, and is now, in all spiritual meaning and hope, set amongst the family of the stars to go out no more for ever. For all Christian hope we bless thee. It is our daily inspiration; it is a light from heaven. It operates upon the soul as most tender music; it lifts us above the clouds and causes us to live in heaven. We come to worship God, to bow down before him; to bury our pride and vanity and self-sufficiency; to mourn our sin, to hate it, and to abandon it. We come to look upon the Saviour in the agony of his soul, in the priesthood of his ministry, in the infinite sacrifice of his suffering, that so looking, we may also believe, casting ourselves in simple and unqualified trust upon a mystery we cannot explain, upon a love which we humbly adore. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is sufficient for us. It is an answer mightier than the accusation of the enemy; it is our reply to angry and just law. The work of our Saviour we accept as the grace of God. We pray that we may be sanctified, body, soul, and spirit; that we may be living temples of the Holy Ghost, without sin, without fear, without pain of heart, wholly cleansed of unbelief and earthliness, and filled with the truth and grace and light of God. Surely to our prayer thou wilt send a great answer. We pray our prayer in the Saviour"s name. He takes up our little plea and expands it into his infinite intercession. Saviour of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of Prayer of Manasseh, Son of God, help us every one; feed us with thy flesh; quench our thirst with thy blood; lead us into the mystery beyond all words—"Except a man eat my flesh, and drink my blood, he hath no life in him." We do not know thy meaning; we would obey thy word. We would find in obedience our peace, and in our acceptance of the mystery of thy sacrifice our present and assured heaven. Physician of Prayer of Manasseh, Healer of all souls, bind up the broken heart, comfort the wounded spirit, speak peaceably to those whose souls are in tumult, and lead out by unexpected ways from difficulties which seem to bar in the pilgrim and to mock his every effort and his every hope. Amen.
1. And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita.
2. And the barbarous people shewed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.
3. And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand.
4. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live.
5. And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm.
6. Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.
This is an instance of getting out of one trouble only to get into another. There is a mysterious law of succession in the coming of sorrow and difficulty in human life; hence the proverb "It never rains but it pours." There is a mystery of grace also in this succession. We do not know the best side of trouble until we have had a great deal of it. One trouble is of no use. You must get into the music of trouble, the rhythm of sorrow, the rise and fall of the melody of discipline. There comes a time in the sufferer"s life when joy would be a kind of vexation to him; it would be in another key; it would be, so to say, a kind of foreign or forgotten language. It is marvellous how trouble can sit upon all the chairs in the house as if by right and how it can make the house happy, comfortable with a strange and weird sense of its being there at Heaven"s bidding and under Heaven"s decree and order. It is not so with the first trouble—that always upsets a man; vexes and irritates him, merely tries his temper, stops the smooth rolling of life"s common machinery; it exasperates, and frets, and annoys. The second trouble is accepted in rather a better spirit; then the third comes like an expected guest, and then the door is set wide open, as if a whole procession of black visitors must pass through the hospitable dwelling. "It is better"—when trouble has wrought out its most sacred mystery—"to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting." It has been pointed out that different nationalities have different salutations. The Greek would say, "Joy be with you!" The key-note of his salutation was "Rejoice! be happy! be glad! Joy be to you!" He lived in beauty, he lived in the region of the senses; he delighted in high art, in high feasting, in all social sensuousness, in the luxury of civilisation. The Hebrew never said so: he spoke in a deeper tone, in a nobler bass; he said, with mystery in his dark eyes and mystery in the minor key of his voice, "Peace be with you!" The Hebrew was the man of soul, the man of tragic experience—spiritual and political—the suffering Prayer of Manasseh, the man who had been torn in pieces, hunted as prey upon the mountains, whose nights had been full of the darkness of terror and whose days were but half-lighted by the timid sun. He said nothing of joy: he spoke the deeper word—"Peace be with you!" So trouble leads us into these deeper mysteries of experience; it takes away the laughter of childhood, the merry shout, "Joy be with you!"; it fills the heart and the mouth with a nobler salutation. Having seen what life is—how deep, how narrow, how full of pain, how fretted and exasperated by a thousand mockeries—it says, "Peace be with you!"—not indifference, not languor, but the reconciliation of all tumults, the great and final end of all controversy and friction, the harmonisation of all laws, fellowships, experiences, and relations; the mystery so deep that men mistake its depth, the mystery of peace. So Jesus Christ, in all his agonies and sorrows, which made his soul "exceeding sorrowful, even unto death," said, "My peace I give unto you." Peace is the greatest, richest, fullest gift of God. May the peace of God, that passeth understanding, keep your hearts and minds, watch over you in critical and gracious guardianship, and bind up all the elements of your manhood, lest they fall out of order and true relation and you be ruined and destroyed! A noble prayer which could be prayed only by him who was cast upon this island and subjected to these successive sorrows.
Here is an instance of the rough judgments which men are always prone to pass upon men. When the viper came out of the heat and fastened on Paul"s hand, the simple Punic people said, "No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live." Alas! how many murderers there would be if we had to judge of sin by apparently penal circumstances! How ready we are to form the rough and ungracious judgment of one another! Who ever failed in business, even in the most honourable way—for there are honourable failures as well as failures dishonourable—without some friends knowing that this very collapse would take place, without their having seen it all the while, and without their deploring it with hypocritical pretence, rejoicing in it all the time, and taking morals from it intended to magnify their own better business faculty and capacity? Who ever pitied the man upon whom the viper fastened? Observers knew that, sooner or later, it would come to this. Wise men have foreseen it all the time; even when they were silent they knew the judgment was coming; they had never spoken about it; they felt quite sure that one day the viper would spring out of the heat and fasten upon the unjust and unrighteous man. Do not make a man a murderer because you thus exhaust in one phrase all possible accusations. Be more discriminate in judgment. Surely no man is quite so bad as that. Surely some who have killed men are not murderers. There is one murderer that is a murderer from the beginning—from the very first psalm and fibre of him—the devil. Jesus Christ would see in the very worst man something to admire, or praise, or recognise, in a way that would give the bad man another chance or bring upon him the light and warmth of a new and inexplicable hope. There is no man quite so bad as he appears to be, even though the viper be in the very centre of his palm. But some men have no moderation in judgment; they do not look out for the beautiful, the mitigating, the redeeming qualities; they rush at conclusions which sometimes they have to modify, or utterly repudiate. Circumstances are sometimes against men. The venomous beast is upon that man"s hand at this moment. For a time even stigmas attach to good names. We have seen the most brilliant of men stigmatised, the viper of a false accusation fastening upon the hand that never did mischief to a human creature. But we are loath to believe this; we are born to believe in each other"s wickedness; we like it; it suits the palate. Why should this be so? You have only to charge a man with being a murderer, a. liar, a thief, or what you please, and somebody will stand up to say he saw the viper on his hand. I would pray for the spirit that pities the hand, rather than praises the viper; that believeth all things good; that would rather be deceived than willingly accept the ungenerous judgment, the condemning and ruinous accusation. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
Yet here, even in this very judgment, so rough and undiscriminating, we have a wondrous mystery, with which we cannot part, except under a sense of great spiritual deprivation. Here is the mystery of intuitive or instructive religion. It would seem as if religion were born in the human mind and heart. The features of this inborn religion are really grand. What are they as suggested by this graphic incident? Here is a sense of a Presence in the universe that means righteousness, honourableness. The heart instinctively says when wrong is done, "This must be punished." Christianity never uproots that intuitive perception, but ennobles it, sanctifies it, attempers it, and perfects it in holy meaning and utility. This is written in the human heart: "Murderers cannot live." Who wrote that law? It is written upon the tablets of the mind by an invisible penman. The universe is against murder. No part of the fair creation was constituted for the accommodation of the bad man. Where can he live? Into what quarter of the universe shall he be shut? The universe does not want him; all its beams of light are darts of punishment; its purest, holiest is to him as blackest perdition. We cannot give up the thought that the bad man will one day have the worst of it. That is intuitive religion; that is a good and honest faith. It is the kind of faith that is beyond argument, and yet that is always fortifying itself by innumerable historical instances. The universe would fall to pieces if we could relinquish that doctrine; it would be no longer safe to walk out under the blue heavens, so charged with the infinite weight of the stars. But our hearts tell us that the bad man will get the worst of it: he may escape the sea, he may escape the viper, he may escape the wilderness, he may seem to make fortunes out of other men"s ruin; but, at the last, the sword will strike him, and the fire of heaven will utterly destroy his place. We did not need a revelation to tell us that: somehow we felt that if a wall was built out of plumb, it must fall. We learn a great deal from the history of idolatrous and instinctive religions. These Song of Solomon -called barbarians were theologians in their way: they said, "We do not see everything." This was not a spontaneous or extemporaneous thought just struck off at the moment: behind this utterance lay a wonderfully large induction of facts. The Punic people had observed—though unable to speak Greek or Latin in the high and refined sense, which would have relieved them from the stigma of being called barbarians—that there was a Ruling Power; that the Ruling Power was on the side of right; that human life, widely and deeply read, was itself a religion, was itself a revelation. That is the corner-stone of a great argument on the Christian side. Read human life, study human ways, take in the great breadth of human history; do not judge by isolated incidents or solitary facts, but take in what you can of the horizon of things, and though you may not come to say the hated word "God," you will be constrained lo say "Mystery," "Secret," "Force," an "Unknowable Quantity," whilst Christian men say "Our Father which art in heaven." We prefer the latter position: it justifies itself to our reason, and it enters our hearts with all the cordiality and sufficiency of grace.
Here is also a point of progress in the religion of these barbarians. They who could not understand a sermon could comprehend the treatment of a viper, and reason upon it. They were observant people: they made religious deductions from ordinary facts. "They looked when" Paul should have become inflamed red as fire, or when he should have "fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god." What was this? A direct contradiction of Song of Solomon -called experience. Here was the greater law setting itself in noble sovereignty over the common daily law; and the people, observing it, paid homage to it. They were a frank people; they had attained a very high point in education, in being able to shake out of the mind lessons and prejudices which opposed themselves to the startling fact which immediately appealed to their vision. If we could persuade Western nations to act in the same way, we should have no unbelievers in all these Northern and Western quarters. If every viper shaken off the hand proved the nobleness of the character so destroying it, and led to the higher reasoning that such a character is a Divine creation, we should have no controversy amongst us as to many spiritual questions and mysteries. All Christian history may be summed up in this one line: that the Christian hand has always shaken off the viper and flung it into the fire. That is what the Church is always doing; that is what the individual Christian is always doing; that is what the growing part, undergoing the process of sanctification, is always doing. It is part of the great original mystery: the seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent. We belong to that lineage, by grace Divine. The viper is on us now; the bite is sharp and deep, the poison has touched the red current of the blood; but, by the grace of Christ, we will shake it off, and it shall be burned and destroyed. Do I speak to some poor sufferer who feels the viper at his heart? It is not in poor human strength to render the bite innocuous. Is it an unseen viper that is piercing you and poisoning the inner veins of your soul"s life? Then the mystery of deliverance will be as secret, but that mystery can culminate in perfect deliverance from the agony and the sorrow. Flee to the Saviour in humble, earnest crying and prayer. Is it a public viper—a viper clinging to the hand that everybody can see, that even barbarians can look upon and even barbarians can mock? The Lord will not leave his chosen ones—that is to say, his trusting and loving ones—long in that misery. Blessed are they whom the viper has seized only by the hand! It is an external difficulty; it is a matter that can be dealt with directly and simply. I am more concerned about the viper at the heart—the inner serpent, the venomous beast that is biting the soul. O thou who didst come from Bozrah, clothed with garments dyed, like blood, thou art mighty to save; tear out this venomous beast and set thy foot upon his head!
Almighty God, thy house is full of light. Thou hast called us to be children of the day and not of the night, and to walk as those who love the open day and the bright morning and the sunny place. We would answer that great call in the strength of thine own grace, for of ourselves we love the darkness, and we hide ourselves in vicious concealment; only by the power of thy grace can we come out into the full daylight, and walk as at midday in the sight of angels and of men. Work in us this great miracle of the love of light. May we dwell in light; may we be healed by light; may our whole soul be radiant with the presence Divine. That this may be Song of Solomon, in all the fulness of its meaning, grant unto us now, in answer to eager intercession, the precious gift of the Holy Ghost. He will work in us all the good pleasure of the Divine will; he will take of the things of Christ and show them unto us. In the Cross he will find deeper mysteries and tenderer compassions than we have yet realised, and in the blood of Christ he will find the cleansing of which every human soul is in need. So then we come to thee to work thine own miracles. Our hands are feeble, our eyes cannot see, our faculties are turned aside in a great perversion—thou alone canst work the miracle of restoration and perfect us in all the purpose of thy wisdom. Thou delightest to hear our prayer, though so poor, so wanting in range of thought and in depth and tenderness of feeling. Thou dost accept it as a struggle, as an endeavour which thou wilt bring to fruition, because of thine own love, and thou dost answer us because all our little prayers are magnified in the great intercession of our one Priest and Saviour. We come to sing our hymn, to unite in noble psalm of adoration and thanksgiving, and to take part in anthems of triumph and ecstasy, so that our souls may no longer be guilty of the sin of dumbness, but may be found uttering themselves in the Divine courts in all solemnity of praise and joyousness of thanksgiving, because thy tender mercies are over all thy works, and thou art spreading daily the table of thy great creation. We have come to read thy word, to see still more deeply into its sacred meaning, to hear with acuter attention all the finest tones of its celestial music, and to store the heart with answers to every temptation, and with statutes and precepts which shall guide and uphold our life. We have come to hear thy word in brotherly tones, translated into the sympathy of the day and the speech of the passing time. Into whatsoever speech thy word be translated, may no part of its substance be lost; may the variety be only in the expression; may we find the eternal quantity in the solemn and holy doctrine. May we be abased by thy Gospel messages, and then exalted; humbled and stripped of every pretence and plea, and then clothed with the riches unsearchable of the grace of Christ Jesus the Lord. Thus may we leave our burdens here, and our darkness, our frailty and our fear, and all our infirmity and littleness, and go out as from the presence of the Lord, with hearts renewed, with shining faces, with hands filled, and with faith enlarged and confirmed. Let thy mercy be given unto each of us according to individual condition and circumstance. Thou dost give impartial blessings, and thou dost not omit to give special benefactions where they are specially needed. Thou knowest the weariness of some, the heart-brokenness of others, the trial of human patience, the assault made upon frail temper; thou knowest the uncertainties of life; the continual battle and the nightly disappointment; thou knowest our whole situation, and all the discipline we have to undergo; thou knowest our hearts—their weaknesses, all their vulnerable points, and thou knowest the temptations that assail and beset us, like an army intent upon our overthrow. Knowing all these things, thou wilt not withhold from us the blessings special and individual which the struggling and needy heart requires. Keep our eyes from tears, our feet from falling, and our soul from death. Enlarge our spiritual outlook, increase our spiritual riches, confirm our spiritual desires, and satisfy our spiritual aspirations. Then shall the day be full of blessings—a right memorable time, a Sabbath of God in the days of men; and we shall live in the strength of it many days, and accomplish our pilgrimage with cheerful hearts, with undaunted courage, with sacred and immortal hope. To the Father, the Song of Solomon, the Holy Ghost,—One-Three, Three-One, Equal, Indivisible, United, Personal, Eternal, Redeeming—be all kingdoms and powers, all dominions and glories, all thrones and riches, time without end. Amen.
7. In the same quarters were possessions of the chief man of the island, whose name was Publius; who received us, and lodged us three days courteously.
8. And it came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and of a bloody flux: to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid his hands on him, and healed him.
9. So when this was done, others also, which had diseases in the island, came, and were healed:
10. Who also honoured us with many honours; and when we departed, they laded us with such things as were necessary.
11. And after three months we departed in a ship of Alexandria, which had wintered in the isle, whose sign was Castor and Pollux.
12. And landing at Syracuse, we tarried there three days.
13. And from thence we fetched a compass, and came to Rhegium: and after one day the south wind blew, and we came the next day to Puteoli:
14. Where we found brethren, and were desired to tarry with them seven days: and so we went toward Rome.
15.. And from thence, when the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii forum, and The three taverns: whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage.
Five Remarkable Things
There are five remarkable things in this statement. The first Isaiah, that Paul should have healed, and not Luke. Luke was a physician; but he does not mention any healing as having been done by his skill. Paul was a tent-maker and a preacher, and he healed the sick. Many scientific readers have ascribed to Luke great skill in the matter of description, acute precision in observation, and no one has been able to find fault with any statement which Luke has ever made regarding human suffering and healing. Yet Luke healed none. Luke kept the diary; Luke wrote the journal; Luke magnified the preacher and the intercessionist and said nothing about his own professional education and talent. This is exactly what is taking place today. It is religion that heals: the medicines are grown in God"s garden. The physician himself, in proportion as he is a great Prayer of Manasseh, will tell you that however skilful he may be in describing your disease, he has to go out of himself for the remedy that is to mitigate or to heal it. Everything is in Christianity. The doctor does you good in proportion as he leads you out of yourself, and that he can only do in proportion as he is led out of himself. We are healed by God; we are healed by faith. What men can do for us is of the nature of help. A very gracious and beneficent assistance—an assistance for which we can hardly be too grateful,—but beyond that is the mystery of faith, the miracle of hope, the wonder-working of confidence, the marvel and the mystery of spiritual operation and comfort. Christians are the greatest healers in the world. Christianity is nothing if not a healer. It does not deal with the detail always, but it so nourishes the fountain of life, replenishes and renews the springs of energy, as to touch the particular through the general. If we were Christians, we would not be sufferers; if we were hidden in God, we should have no disease in the sense of burden and trouble. The eater would still consume us, the biter would still close his teeth upon us, the black visitant would still darken our dwelling; but we should have joy in tribulation, we should know that death was abolished, that what was taking place was but a natural sequence, an inevitable process, the end of which was the better life, the brighter day, the sweet home known to us by the mysterious name of heaven. When you take Christianity out of your civilisation you do not know what a vacancy you leave behind. We are so familiar with its presence that we do not acknowledge its necessity; we are so aware that it is part of the very substance of our life that we do not uncover our heads in the presence of its ineffable dignity. Let us live in the faith that Christianity heals, that Christianity destroys death, that Christianity fills up the grave with flowers, and that all the healing of human disease is a miracle wrought not on earth, but in heaven. Bless the Lord, O my soul, who healeth all my diseases!
The second remarkable thing in this narrative Isaiah, that the poorest should have rendered help to the richest. Publius was the first man in the island, and his father "lay sick of a fever." Paul was a prisoner—a shipwrecked prisoner—who had nothing in his hand to give; who, therefore, from that point of view, was the poorest man in the island; yet he—the poor, penniless, garment-less Apostle—personally healed the father of the first man of the island. That is what sanctified poverty is always doing. So many mistakes are made about poverty. It is the richest thing in the whole world. It is—rightly accepted and used—about the grandest experience that man can have. I am not speaking of vicious poverty, criminal poverty, or poverty that is brought about by wilfulness and wantonness, but of the greater poverty, the subtle mystery of having nothing, of expressing the hunger and aspiration of contined necessity. Do not pity the poor: pity the rich. What folly is spoken about the poor!—God"s chosen ones, the very elect of his household, the crowned ones in his kingdom. Remember, in all these observations I speak about disciplinary poverty; not thriftless want, not sinful necessity—about that I have nothing good to say. I am speaking of that poignant appeal which Jesus Christ himself said we have always with us. The world would not be worth living in but for its poor people. Life would be an intolerable monotony but for the sick child, the old Prayer of Manasseh, the halting cripple, the cry at midnight. We want to plaster up the world, and new-stucco it, and call it happy. There is no happiness to be found in that way. So long as a man can pay you out of his hand, he does not touch the mystery of help at all: he must pay you out of himself—out of his soul—in great drops of blood; a mystery which the languid temperament, the cold mind, can only regard as an exaggeration and a romance. "The Son of man had not where to lay his head." What then did he give? Himself! We have not begun to give—it seems impossible for us to give. He gives who gives life. That is what Paul did in the island: he gave life; virtue went out of him. Christ was magnified in his body by life. Oh for that sacred touch that has resurrection in it, for that warm hand that cannot come near me without healing my disease! What healing power we might have! What healing influence you who are poorest amongst us are continually exercising! You do not know you are called of God. The poor mother has done more for the world than her rich son can ever do. We must not speak of the great men, the princes of this world, those who have it in their power to do so much good. That is false talk; it is without sense or honesty. The poor people are keeping the world sweet and wholesome. The poorest of the saints of God are chosen rich in faith, and he who has an abundance of faith cannot be poor. He cares not where he lives or what his dinner is: he has meat to eat that the world knoweth not of, and the whole week is one bright, glorious Sabbath day. Yet how the poor misunderstand themselves in this particular! Some of you have said, in my own hearing: "Would it were in our power to do more for the Church than we can do!" You have mistaken the point altogether. The Church is not a counter, it is an altar; and by your patience, sacrifice, quiet, silent, beautiful heroism, you may do more for the Church than can be done by the man who has the gift of tongues and the faculty of prophecy. We expect much from the poor: we expect the tenderest tone, the tenderest sympathy, the richest experience; we expect them to tell us—what strong men can never tell—of the mystery of Divine communion and the miracle of communication with heaven.
The third remarkable thing in this narrative is that the ministry upon the island was all healing and no preaching. "So when this was done, others also, which had diseases in the island, came, and were healed." That is the glory of the Christian ministry—it can begin anywhere. I wish to say something, in due time, upon the larger ministry. I will not now anticipate myself; enough to point the direction without traversing the ground. Christianity can begin everywhere, anywhere, at any time, and with any man. Christianity has no transformations to make, no dignities to put on, no ceremonies and processes of etiquette through which to pass. Christianity meets men everywhere and says, "All hail! What is your burden, what your necessity, what your sorrow, what your most urgent need?" It will be a long time before some people can have the prejudice cleansed out of them that the church-building is only for distinctively doctrinal and spiritual purposes. The Father"s house is for everything good. There is no reason, in the necessity of the case, why this church should not be a hospital, a schoolhouse, a reading-room, a place for music and conversation and instruction in all high and useful knowledge. It is the glory of Christianity that it can begin where I want it to begin. The Church sends men to school to become preachers; I would have the Church send men to hospitals to become doctors, to academies to become musicians, to trades to become honest tradesmen in the world. I would as certainly have a collection for the purpose of apprenticing a youth to a carpenter, as have a collection for sending a man to a religious college. We are too narrow. Find a man in need anywhere and say, "All hail! we want you;" and I am doing God"s will as truly in sending an honest-hearted boy with my money to learn a trade, by which he can do good work and through which he can speak good words, as in sending him to be equipped as a minister or as a missionary. All our medical students should be ours, and all our apprentices, in every trade and vocation, should go out from the Church, and all our musicians should be sweet singers in the sanctuary. Poor Church! little-headed, small handed Church!—living along one little line only and letting humanity go to the devil on the ground of ceremony. Would God I could build a Church after my own heart, and have a place I could work in just as I want to work in it! It should be all for Christ, and every poor soul in the place who wanted a stick to light a fire should find it in the Church, and every beggar shivering for want of coat or pining for want of bread should find it in the Church. It should be all Church—great, motherly, encompassing, redeeming Church. I would swallow up the State. One day with Paul would do much towards rearranging, redistributing, and enlarging Christian influence. Did Paul not preach then when he healed? Every healing is a sermon; every visit to the poor, paid in the right spirit, is a prayer. Why should we allow men who narrow every definition to lead the sentiment of the Church? Whatever good you do in the name of Christ and for the sake of Christ is a proclamation of Christ; a sermon without words—not spoken, but done like a miracle.
The fourth remarkable thing in this narrative is the grateful response which was made by the islanders. In the tenth verse we read, "Who also honoured us with many honours; and when we departed, they laded us with such things as were necessary." Gratitude is never done. How musically the verse reads! The islanders were not Christians, but the islanders were men, and having received healing at the hands of the Apostle, they honoured the whole little band of the disciples "with many honours." Mark the redundance of the thankfulness! There is always just one more little flower to give, and you must have that. This was a grateful response. It was not a fee that was claimed: it was a benefaction that was conferred under the inspiration of gratitude; and that spirit continues unto this day. If a man does not find his support in the ministry all the support he wants, it is a sign that he ought not to be in it. Is that a hard doctrine? I have reason to believe it, and therefore I do not hesitate to declare it. Every workman will have his wages. Trust the Christian heart. It may come in various ways, but come it will. That there will always be some ungrateful people is true enough, but we must not speak of the exceptions: they must not drag us down to their level. The great human heart is after all a grateful heart, and it will honour with many honours those that try to the best of their ability to do good in any way—not in preaching only, but in private and in divers ways. The honour will come, and the lading with such things as are necessary will take place. This word "necessary" one rather objects to. And yet we accept it, because "necessary" in this connection is a flexible and variable term, and is not always defined by the receiver, but by the giver. Reviewing my life—and I have passed more than the half of it, and am now in a position to review it with impartiality and without fear—I have to thank God for gratitude not to be explained by myself, but only to be accounted for by Divine inspiration. I look back upon the way in which I have been treated, in little places and in great places and by all sorts of people, and I find this tenth verse in the twenty-eighth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles to be a piece of genuine human history.
The fifth remarkable thing I find here is the inspiring influence of friendship: "And from thence, when the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii forum, and The three taverns: whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage." Reading between the lines, we wonder if Paul"s courage had given way for one little moment. It would seem as if the lion himself might have been affected with momentary depression. We might never have heard of it but for the returning courage. Some men never tell us they have been ill until they tell us that they are quite well again. Then we say, "Have you been in suffering? You did not tell us that you were in low condition of body or mind. We knew nothing about it until you told us you were well again." One wonders if Paul had passed through a season of depression and fear and discouragement. I hope he had. We should get nearer to him if we felt he had been in the valley. When he was always on the mountain-top and waving a great red banner in the air we were almost afraid of him. He was so high away from our poor level; but if he had seasons of fear when he could only pray in a whisper and only look as if he were half blind, then we can touch him and say, "Brother! Comrade!" It was the habit of the ancients to go out to meet princes—to go away for a mile or two or more and to stand on the road to wait for the incoming great one and to accompany him. The brethren went to where the road forked. They would have gone farther, but not knowing whether they might come by the right road or by the left road, they stood at the point and waited for their prince. When Paul saw them he knew them. How is it that we know some men at once? How is it that we fall almost instantly into common sympathy and masonry and fellowship, though we have never seen the men before in our whole life? That is the mystery of friendship; that is the mystery of love. When Paul saw the Christians, who had come out to meet him, up went his hands in sign of adoration and thanksgiving; and having thanked God, he became a great lion again, full of courage, every fibre attuned, his whole soul toned to its noblest music. "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." We need human associations, human cheerings and fellowships, kind speeches, terms of recognition, letters that make the house bright and warm. O my brothers! the day is very short: let us do no unkindness in it, but make it glow with deeds of noble friendship and make it sing with the music of truest Christian love!
Almighty God, we are living upon thy promises. We sing them to our souls and repeat them in all tones and forms until our spirit knows them well, and triumphs in their music, and is rich with their wealth. Thou wilt not permit us to live upon things that are false. Thou dost lead us by him, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, towards the whole truth of God. Little by little the light grows upon our eyes; word by word comes the great sweet Gospel, which we could not hear all at once because of its vastness and grandeur. Thou dost grant unto us thy truth as we are able to bear it. Thou art always stooping to our littleness and condescending to our weakness, and making us the standard and the measure of thine action. Thou wilt not distress us by thy great power, nor thunder upon us from the infinite heights; but with all gentleness and whispering tenderness and love, thou wilt come into our hearts and take up thine abode there and speak unto us things concerning Christ, until we become well instructed in the heavenly kingdom and made strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. This is thy way, and it is good; it is well; it is best. Thou art not moved by our impatience, but by our true necessity. Thou wilt come as thou dost please, but not to overburden us or blind us with excess of light, but to train us in heavenly ways and teach us heavenly truth and inspire us with heavenly animation. Thou hast made us, and thou knowest the whole mystery of our nature. We are instruments of thy fashioning. Behold! we spend a lifetime in studying ourselves without attaining fulness of wisdom. The generations have been studying themselves, and they died without the knowledge; and still we are in ardent quest, still pursuing, still inquiring, still comparing issues one with the other, and still our cry is the utterance of ignorance. We cannot tell what we are—mysteries of power, mysteries of weakness; able to pray, but more willing to blaspheme. We hold ourselves, as it were, in trust from God. We shall be glad to render up our stewardship, for it overweighs and distresses us day by day. We are never sure of our ground—now in triumph, now in despair; now with both arms locked round the altar in a great grasp of love, and now with both hands wildly serving the devil. Behold! what is this? Heaven—hell; a beginning—an end. We cannot tell at all times, or give account of ourselves in straight words; but we put ourselves into the keeping of the Lord"s Christ—Son of Prayer of Manasseh, Son of God, Victim of the Cross, yet Priest and Sacrifice in one, Save us from the evils of spiritual impatience. Help us to tarry, to wait as if we were serving, to suffer as if we were triumphing, and in all lowliness of mind may we say that the self has been put down and that God is on the throne of the heart. We would spend our life for thee; we would know no other master, obey no other orders, walk in no other way than thine. We know this to be the object and desire of our hearts at this moment, but the next moment we shall contradict our own speech. This it is that rends us; this is the schism in our own heart that fills us with infinite distress. We come to thy word for help. Read it to us thyself; we cannot spell it, much less pronounce the words; they chill upon our lips and fall down dead as we speak them. Oh, read the Book, thou who didst write it! Speak the reading in our hearts" hearing, and we shall be comforted by messages of music spoken to the soul. We have spoiled our few days. We thought they were so few we could surely get through them without spoiling any one, and, lo, the whole of the days are blotted and stained and perverted, and each of them is signed with the red signature of personal and continual guilt. God be merciful unto us, sinners! Wash us in the sacred blood; purify us through the ministry of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, and make us at the last, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, a glorious Church through the infinite mystery and blessedness of the Cross of Christ. Thou knowest us every one. Leave a blessing in each heart; give each some new song in thine house; divide the distressing cloud charged with thunder and storm, and let there be some bright shining of the sun that used to make us glad. Cover up the grave we can never fill; relight the fire which has been put out and is beyond our power of restoration; bring back the wanderer who has passed beyond the circuit of our poor prayers; grant unto the weak, the sick, the dying, those on whose lips the last farewell is forming, comforts, lights, messages from heaven. Be with us during the handful of our remaining days, and help us to make the four-and-twenty hours of each, bright, tender, pure, acceptable unto God. But this we cannot do unless thou dost work in us the miracle of the new heart, the clean heart, and the right spirit. God of the heavens, Glory of all light, and Saviour of all men, hear us, lift us up, give us vision of the invisible and comfort from the heavens! Amen.
16. And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him.
17. And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said unto them, Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.
18. Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me.
19. But when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto Csar; not that I had ought to accuse my nation of.
20. For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.
21. And they said unto him, We neither received letters out of Juda concerning thee, neither any of the brethren that came shewed or spake any harm of thee.
22. But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning his sect, we know that everywhere it is spoken against.
23. And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.
24. And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.
25. And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers,
26. Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive:
27. For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.
28. Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.
29. And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves.
First Impressions of Christianity
Though Paul has been in bonds for some time now, yet he has been so much in the open air and has taken an active part in so many stirring incidents that we have not fully realised his captive condition. Now that he is in Rome, we feel as if he had passed through some dark way, and that a heavy gate had suddenly and ominously closed upon him—a gate iron-bound and iron-riveted, a huge and ponderous door,—the key of which was upon the girdle of the young, vain, cruel Nero. We feel now, as we never felt before, that Paul is in very deed a prisoner, a caged eagle, a hero humbled and uncrowned.
"When we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard." Let us look at Paul"s position. Kindness was shown to him at the beginning of his sojourn in Rome. "Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him." Paul was chained to the guard. The soldier was always with him; and where there was a man there was a congregation. Paul entered upon a new ministry. The soldier was probably changed every day, or at short intervals; and Paul told his story day by day; and each soldier, fascinated by such speech as he had never heard before, went and told the story to others, so that presently the Gospel was known through the whole guard. Paul so preached that people must talk about what he had said, not speaking in a way that is so easy to forget, but driving the truth home, striking with a firm hand, speaking with a tone the soul cannot forget. Soldier after soldier went and told the story over again, so that it became quite a hope and prize who was to be the next soldier that was to guard the immortal preacher.
"It came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together." There were seven Jewish synagogues in Rome, and Paul called together the chiefs or elders of them. Mark his tact, his courtesy!—the features which made him what he was. Paul pays the chief of his nation deference; Paul connects himself with the people of his nation; Paul claims to be still a Jew. "For the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain." Paul would not have Christianity regarded as an accident, a new thought, a modern invention, a passing phase of popular thinking or superstition. He said: "Christianity is Judaism perfected and glorified." Paul was not the man to treat the ages as separate links. He saw God"s purpose in all the rolling time; he watched the development of truth and decree and sovereignty day by day, and he saw in Christ a culmination as well as a new beginning—the Ancient of Days and the Child of Bethlehem. So he is still great; he is never less than grand. One little line—"for the hope of Israel"—shows you the current of his mind, the strenuousness of his thought, the vastness of his spiritual comprehension. He says, in effect, "I am not following a will-o"-the wisp; I am not bounding over hill and dale after some new flickering light that may die in a moment. This Christianity is Judaism perfected, illuminated, glorified; this is the meaning of all the law and all the prophets, and all the history of ancient time. Fools indeed we are to have traced the root and the trunk and the branches and to have watched the whole growth and then to have turned our back upon the sunny and nutritious fruit." Such men are not easily shaken; they do not live in a day; they are not new men every morning, having no relation to their yesterdays. They stand upon great breadths of time; they take historical views; their keen far-seeing eyes take in horizons, and are enabled by that great vision to connect what would otherwise be unrelated, incoherent, and bewildering. To the last Paul will act in that spirit; when he dies, he will die as one who is the last birth of a great and noble life.
Here is an incidental view of the first impression created by Christianity. This sect is everywhere spoken against. A testimony of that kind is invaluable. This is not an accident, but a law. Point me to anything—any Prayer of Manasseh, any thought, any Church—that has come up to supremacy without having had to pass through obloquy, misunderstanding, false criticism, and bitter contempt. The difficulty is that so many people break away during the process. The sect must be everywhere spoken against if ever it is to rule the world. No man comes to immortal renown through the narrow and obscure lane of respectability. That is the lane that leads down to oblivion—a quiet, pretty, inviting lane; but it ends in nothing. All history is before us, and let history be our witness and our field of evidence. Show me one man in all history, whose name is united with the dead but sceptred monarchs whose spirits still rule us from their urns, who did not pass through exactly the same process as Christ and Paul. That is a matter worth inquiring into; that is a suggestion which should lead us to consideration, and to prayerful quest into far-reaching omens and meanings. This is not a matter of conjecture. The man who lay down that doctrine may be contradicted in a moment if he is wrong, and overwhelmed by a thousand instances. I have never met one. I have watched, as you have done, many men who were born, as Emerson says—born red and died grey, and nothing more was ever heard of them or known about them. There are men of true respectability, good time keepers, within narrow limits very admirable persons, who are walking decorously into oblivion. The same is true in the matter of doctrine. What great truth is there that has not had to fight its way as Paul had to fight his? Even your system of astronomy has its martyrs; even so small and trifling a question as to whether the sun moves, or the earth moves, and the action of each in relation to the other, has its blood-history. We are not confined to matters theological in proof and illustration of this marvellous doctrine: all human history goes in the same direction. How needful then to have men about us who will say, "Fight on, hope on, pray on; weary not in well doing; persevere; one more prayer, and Heaven comes down; one other stroke, and victory is realised." We cannot do without exhortation any more than we can do without exposition. Great heroic voices that bid us pray again and hope on and preach once more may not be voices that convey much instruction, or are charged with new Revelation, but they are needful to sustain and comfort and animate men whose hearts would fail because of the length and weariness of the toilsome way. This is the function of preaching. The preacher is not always to give new heavens and a new earth, a great revelation in every sentence that he utters; but, by shepherdly prayer, tender comfort, friendly monition, brotherly exhortation, he is to comfort, sustain, direct, and help in every way the men who listen to tones more persuasive than argument and to prayers more sustaining than formal reasoning. The sect was everywhere spoken against Who wonders? Who does not prefer the silvery eagles of Rome to the accursed Cross which has become the badge of Christianity? The Cross has a bad history; this was never in the masonry of respectability; it is a thing to be scorned and spat upon and pointed at with the left hand with disdain. Who wonders that Christianity is everywhere spoken against? It cannot be spoken about with mere respect, any more than Jesus Christ can be honestly spoken about as simply a good man. That doctrine cannot be true—namely: that Jesus was simply a good man. He was God or he was the devil. Christianity does not ask for compliments, for deference due to original power of thinking; nor does it ask to be on nodding terms with men who dream dreams and invent new ways to heaven. Christianity must have all or nothing. You cannot appoint one room in your house for Christianity and say, "This is your chamber; Beelzebub is in the next room, both guests of the same large-minded host." No! Christianity must have the key of the front door, and of the back door, and of every room in the house, or it cannot take up its abode in the dwelling. It makes the front door a cross and every window a cross, the table a cross and the whole light a cross, and the whole being a sacrifice. It must be everywhere spoken against or everywhere received. This will thin down the congregation very much in every church. Do you know what a Christian is? A burning man—all flame; a man of one thought, one love. Better stand in the footprints of the scorner and the unbeliever, than attempt to sit down amongst Christ"s people with an indifferent spirit, and a mind that can be operated upon either in this direction or in that, and whose faith is a question to be determined by barometers, or any kind of theological instrument varying with the hear of the air, or the current of the wind, or the condition of things round about. I would that men were either hot or cold, that they would either pray or blaspheme. The only man I have no hope about is the man who is indifferent, who is absolutely without conviction, and who does not know in what direction his feet are moving.
The sect is everywhere spoken against. That is part of the process, on the way to ultimate sovereignty and complete rule. Here we have some idea of Paul"s preaching and its issue. "Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it." It is a solemn thing to have had an offer made from heaven and to have declined the overtures of the Eternal. That will be our position if we turn away from Christianity. We have had the offer of it: man after man called pastor, teacher, spiritual friend, has offered us the Gospel; every man said he was commissioned from heaven to offer it; each voice said it had no other message to deliver; each messenger said he did not invent the terms of his message. We have had the offer; that is something. It has been thundered upon us and whispered to us; in every form and tone of speech, the thing has been pressed upon us. Some have preached as sons of the storm; some have wept their message in our presence, so that we have read it with our eyes rather than heard it with our ears. The old man has come, and in harmless tones pleaded with us; the young man has sprung up, and with all the strength of youth has implored us to accept it. We have had the offer; I have hope of the man who has rejected it in great violence, but what hope can any heart have of the man who listens to music as if it were noise, and to an offer from the heavens as if it were an invention of the earth? It will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for such a man! What did Paul say? The Gentiles will receive it. Then he did not say he would give it up? Never! Unbelief did not discourage Paul; desertion did not daunt Paul; the combined opposition of his countrymen did not take away one spark from the glowing heat which burned in his holy soul. Let that be said for Paul himself.
How characteristic is this expression: "after that Paul had spoken one word." What a word it was! They were going, and he said, as it were, "Stop! one final word"; and that was a word from the prophets. It was not a piece of merely Christian enthusiasm viewed in a merely local and historical light. "I was raised from the dead to make the peroration of this appeal;" but the dead heart cared not for the dead prophet. "After that Paul had spoken one word." How little of it was his own! Line by line from the prophets—only a finer accent his. But last words who can hear; last appeals who can hear, without movements of the soul full with distress and agony? And yet every appeal may be the last, every sermon may be the final discourse. We cannot tell what will be the one word that will close our opportunity. At the best the days are dwindling, the occasion is narrowing, the gate is closing—swaying towards the final position: it is not yet closed. The one word is being spoken to some of us; may we have ears to hear!
Almighty God, thou art our refuge and strength. They are strong who live in God; they are immortal who touch thine eternity with faith and love and hope. They cannot die: the sword cannot cut them to their destruction, nor can they be blown away by the great wind, nor can the lion devour them. Behold, they are hidden in God"s pavilion, and under the shadow of the wings Divine do they put their trust. We bless thee for the great strong ones who have led the way. We love their names; we love to think of their wonderful story and to read it until our hearts glow with the fire which made them hot. May we follow them as they followed Christ! May our hold upon Christ be complete! We do not now desire only to touch him: we would that he might dwell in us, abide with us, take up His abode with us, sup with us in lifelong festival. This desire is thy creation. This desire is not our own by origin, but it is now our own by adoption and conviction, and by all the delight that flows from its possession. Behold, this also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts. Fill us with this desire; may it be the supreme wish of our soul. Then shall it become its own answer, and the whole soul shall be filled with the light of God. We bless thee for all words that call us upward; we would answer all the challenges that draw our souls towards greater liberty and purer light. We know that these challenges are the voice of God in the soul. We bless thee that we are no longer deaf to thy calls. We hear them now as we never heard them before—not only their great tones, telling of thy majesty, but their gentle whisperings, breathing the very tenderness of thy love. Blessed are they whose ears can hear, whose faculties are not dead, but are alive with prayer and burning with expectation. Let thy word be unto us various as the need of our life. Thine is an infinite word, and truly ours is an infinite necessity. Let thy word come to us according as we are able to bear it. We expect more from it; it is a great word, and no man hath ventured to name it, nor can the tongue of man tell it, or the heart of man conceive it. Thou wilt surprise us with greater revelations; thou wilt astonish the eye with light; thou wilt make the heart fill itself with reverent amazement in gazing upon the wonders of thy love. Yet the darkness is thine as well as the light. Thou hast a purpose in keeping us ignorant a while. We are growing even in the darkness; we are preparing even when we are not being surprised; the quietness is a mission; the standing still is progress; the waiting for God is the winning of a battle. Dry our tears when we dare not touch them with our own hand; speak comfortably to us when the affliction is too sore; make our bed; give us a song in the night time; cause the springs of water to burst forth when our thirst is hottest; lead us by the way that is right; never explain thyself to us, but fill us with thy love. The Lord"s mercy be brighter than the summer light; the Lord"s word come to us with the pomp of its own eternity and with the condescension of its infinite friendliness. Fill the house with thy glory. Let the angels all come; let the spirits of the just made perfect have some relation to us which we can, how dimly soever, realise; and may we feel that we are not orphans, waifs, lost things blown by the heedless wind, but part of the whole family in heaven and on earth.
We pray this prayer at the Cross, and at the Cross we tarry till the answer come. Amen.
30. And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him,
31. Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.
A Retrospect and a Prospect
For further light upon the fate of the Apostle Paul, we must be indebted to the labours of learned inquirers. There are men who have made a special study of this subject, and to them we must look for fact and guidance. In the year63Paul was released, and returned to the East to continue his evangelistic and apostolic work. In July, 64, a great fire occurred at Rome, the fire being enkindled by the emperor himself, according to the testimony of the most learned historians and witnesses, but falsely charged upon the Christians. A great anti-Christian persecution thereupon arose. Christians were scattered everywhere; many were arrested and slain. Some think that the Apostle Paul visited the Britannic Isles, and that the great cathedral church of London—St. Paul"s—points to that fact. His name would certainly be well known in England. Soldiers who had guarded him at Rome were drafted to London, Chester, York, and other military centres in England, and they could not but speak of the most illustrious prisoner ever given to their charge. About these movements we have no certain record. Paul was probably apprehended at Ephesus and conveyed to Rome, where he wrote his last letter, the Second Epistle to Timothy—wrote it with his dying hand. It is something to have that last letter. It reads like the summary of a lifetime; it reads, too, like a will. A will!—what had the Apostle to leave? To that letter we must turn for distinct information regarding our saintly hero. The days are few and solemn now; the hour of home-going is now chiming. We had better listen to him now, for presently the voice will cease. He knew that he was writing as a dying man. In chapter 2 Timothy 4:6 of the letter he says, "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand"—"I am bound like a thing that is going to be laid upon the fire: my limbs are bound to one another; my arms are lashed round my body with iron hoops—I am just waiting to be flung." What will he say now to a young minister? He will frighten the young man; he will utterly appal the rising youth who is supposed to be nearest to him and to have some kind of right to his mantle. Surely he will adopt another tone: he would hide the afflictions, say as little as possible about them, and would endeavour to allure rather by tender promise the young man who is to succeed him in the Apostolic function.
Even whilst the shadows were gathering around our hero he had a clear view of what he had done. In the seventh verse of the fourth chapter he says, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." What an epitaph! Truly we ourselves are witnesses of all these things. We could not have come upon this testimony from the outside with any familiarity or sympathy or recognition of the infinite scope and pathos of its meaning; but coming to it from our study of the whole record, having been with the Apostle night and day and seen him month after month in the great labour, we feel that he has at last selected the very words which most profoundly and most graphically describe the wonderful course through which he has passed. That is something. Were we to come upon a text like this from the outside, we might call it boastful, self-conscious, deeply dyed with the spirit of egotism; but when we come upon it along the historical line, when we know the man in and out—intellectually, spiritually—when we understand somewhat of his genius, and have felt the wonderfulness of his gracious temper, and have seen the long continuance of his inexhaustible patience, we feel that this is an inspired summary, that it is God that speaks rather than the mere man himself. We can testify he has well fought a good fight. He never shrank away from the contest; he was never wanting when the opportunity shaped itself into a crisis; he never said, "Pity me and let the blows be fewer and weaker"; he never asked for quarter; he will die a victor. You cannot kill such men!
Best of all, he says, "I have kept the faith." That explains all the rest. But for the faith, the fighting would have been a squabble, a controversy without meaning, a conflict without dignity; the course would have been sentimental, romantic, extravagant, from the worldly point of view absurd; but having kept the faith, the fight is lifted up into a Divine battle, and the course takes rank with the movements of the planets—an infinite sweep, full of majesty, full of light. We cannot fight, or run, or do anything good and worthy except in proportion as we keep the faith. The courage is not in the hand; it is in the inner being. The explanation of life is not in circumstances; it is within that mysterious thing you call your self—a holy of holies into which even you cannot critically enter: you can only adoringly and wonderingly abide. Without the faith we may have huge pretensions, great and rushing cloud for a time, enthusiasm that looks as if it would last, but which really cannot last because of want of connection with Divine fountains and energies. Lord, increase our faith; our grip of doctrine do thou make stronger, our love of truth purer, our insight almost like thine own omniscience. This is how heroes die.
Then Paul had not only a retrospect, but a prospect. Heaven seemed to come down to meet him: "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord... shall give me." This world is not enough; the time comes when we want to lay hold upon another. This is the marvellous action of something within us which we cannot define, but which, being defined for us, we can realise, and say, "You have used the right word; you have put into articulate expression what I have been trying to say ever since I was born." That is what inspiration does, and that is how inspiration proves itself to be of heaven. It interprets us to ourselves; it finds us opening a kind of heart-mouth, trying to say something which we cannot say, and it then tells us the word we are wanting to utter, and which the moment we hear we recognise. We never could have found it, but being found for us, we say, "This is none other than the gift of God." So we have a supernatural language, a wonderful set of words which must be extremely foolish to people who do not live along the line which must necessarily complete itself in their meaning and brightness. Wonderful words they are!—"crown of righteousness"; "white linen of the saints"; "palms of victory""; "heaven"; "home"; "New Jerusalem"; a "mountain that may not be touched," "Zion" by name; "infinite"; "everlasting." We do not use these words in the marketplace. No, but the marketplace is a small corner; it is hardly in the universe at all; it is only a little piece of the little world in which it is a speck, or is recognised by a mere name. But there comes a time in life when we want a new language—great language: crowns, thrones, principalities, dominions, powers, heavens on heavens, infinite. O madness to the worldling—necessity to the soul fire-touched, fire-stung. Do not speak of heaven till you feel your want of it, otherwise you will speak great words with a faltering tongue, and in their utterance you will spoil their meaning.
Some wonderful sources of consolation Paul opens even in this farewell letter. In the second chapter, ninth verse, he speaks of his "trouble" and of his "bonds"; but he instantly lifts up the subject as he was wont to do, saying, at the close of the verse, "but the word of God is not bound." That is a Pauline expression; doubt the pastoral epistles as to their authenticity who may, every now and then there is a touch of the old master-hand; they are a splendid imitation—so splendid as to be no imitation, but a reality. In the twelfth verse also he lifts up the subject, saying, "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us." In the thirteenth verse he lays down the sovereign doctrine which redeems the whole situation of life: "He cannot deny himself." That is the ground we occupy. We know that preaching is a failure, we know that sermons often go for nothing, we are perfectly well aware that many appeals die in the air without ever reaching the ears to which they were directed by the ardent speaker; we are perfectly aware of all this—yet "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord," because the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. We stand upon the word eternal; we do not rest upon the transient accident. What will Paul say now to his son in the faith? Surely he will say, "Child, return, I have led thee a weary way; I have spoken words to thee which must have the effect of falsehoods; let my suffering be an example to thee: return to domestic quietude and to natural obscurity." What does the will say? Read the will! We applaud earthly heroes who dying bid men fight; we are proud of them; we call them great men, and we remember their name; we quote what they say and turn it into poetic form and recite it and applaud it.
Almighty God, speak unto us, for thou hast now given unto us the hearing ear and the understanding heart. This is thy holy gift; this, indeed, is the very miracle of grace. Our faculties are now of use; we begin to see the purpose of our creation. By thy grace in Christ Jesus, we are enabled to stand in thy light, and to see somewhat of the outline of thy truth. This is a great vision; for this we bless thee with ardent love. We knew not the great world before; but now we enter into larger spaces, and enjoy boundless liberties, and feel that we are no longer children of the earth and prisoners of time, but sons of God and born for eternity. So then we are lifted up with great elevation of thought and feeling; the world in all its littleness is far below us, and the great new sky revealed by thy grace heightens and brightens above us, and we are challenged to arise and take possession of the inheritance of the saints in light. We are no longer little in our thought and bounded in our feeling and hope: we have escaped the chain, we are captives no longer; we are out in God"s boundless firmament, yet are we centred to his eternal throne. The Son has made us free; therefore are we free indeed. Thou hast shown us the meaning of the letter and led us into the liberty of the spirit. It is a glorious liberty! We feel its inspiration; we would answer all its nobleness by larger service and deeper humility. Show us that thou art the Righteous One, tempering judgment with mercy. Thou wilt not overstrain us, for our strength is but weakness; thou wilt not flash upon us the intolerable glory, but reveal thyself unto us in growing light according to our growing capacity to receive it. God is Love. Thou dost remember that we are dust; thou wilt not oppress us with burdens grievous to be borne; thou knowest that our day here is a very short one, and thou hast caused it to be shorter still, by reason of the uncertainty of our possession of it. But we look onward to the other school, where the light is brighter, where the day is nightless, where the teaching is more direct; in thy light we shall there see light, and growing knowledge shall be growing humility, and growing power shall be growing service. This is our hope, and this our confidence, so that now we are but preparing for the great issue and the grand realisation. Meanwhile, let thy Book be unto us more and more precious, thy Sabbaths filled with a tenderer light, and every opportunity to know thy truth and study thy will more critical and more urgent. May we not reckon as those who have boundless time at their command, but rather as those who are uncertain of their next pulse, who are expecting the King and must be in readiness to meet him. Thus may we live under high discipline, in the enjoyment of great delight, eager with expectancy, calm with confidence, inspired by hope, yet resting in the completeness of Divine assurance. Thus shall our life be a mystery Divine, a creation of God, an infinite apocalypse. We have come from out-of-the-way places to one home this day. We represent many dwellings, but we cling to the one house which holds us all within its hospitable embrace. This is our Father"s house, where there is bread enough and to spare, where the servant may become a son and the son receive duly double assurance of his sonship. We would seize the opportunity; we would rise to the inspiration of this new hope; we would dwell within the security of thy Zion and know thy banner over us is Love. Thou hast led us by a strange way: thou hast often disappointed us, but only to enrich us with still brighter hopes; thou hast set mysteries in our families which terrified us because we found no solution of their meaning; thou hast cut the heart in two and made the life sore at every point by reason of the ingratitude of some, the stubbornness and selfishness of others; in some houses thou hast turned the day into night, and afflicted the night with sevenfold darkness. But thou art leading us all the time, chastening us, mellowing us, perfecting our hearts in the riches of thy grace and enriching us with the wealth of thy love. Others are wholly at ease: they have not known the weight of darkness, the sting of disappointment, the bitterness of unspeakable woe; and therein thou hast kept from them the highest joys. They know nothing of heavenly delights, of healing after disease, of joy after sorrow, of the song that comes in the morning which succeeds the long night of waiting. We would not change our places with them; our wounds have been the beginning of health, our distresses have been the roots of our purest joys, our disappointments have led us through crooked and thorny ways right into the light where stands the eternal throne. We will always tarry at the Cross: we can rest only there; we can read all its superscriptions, but high above them all the writing of God—"Behold the Lamb, that taketh away the sins of the world." That is the writing of thine own finger; that is the Gospel of thine own heart. We read it once, and again, and still again, and as we read the light grows and the music increases, and the Lamb descends from the Cross and ascends as Intercessor into the heavens, and begins the infinite prayer of his priestly love. These are the mysteries in which we hide our littleness; these are the doors at which we wait until, opened from within, we be admitted into the inner places, the sanctuary of the heavens. Amen.
Today we close the Acts of the Apostles. It is not, therefore, a happy day for me. We have lived so long in the company of the great men who fill this sacred portion of the Holy Scripture that we feel as if called upon to speak a very pathetic and sad farewell. This comes of reverent familiarity with things Divine. We have not allowed the familiarity to descend into frivolity; but, having kept the sacred line of true friendship all these many days, we feel as if turning our back upon a host of friends whose comradeship we should like to have continued in all its freshness and stimulus until we enter together into the common city which is our home. Thus we leave man after Prayer of Manasseh, church after church, and book after book. We no sooner begin than we end; our delight is cut off in its ecstasy, and just as our expectation begins to burn into that glad agony which the heart understands, behold, the vision ceases, and we are sent back into shadows and desert places.
Look at the Acts of the Apostles as a whole, supposing the little book to be in your hands in its unity. It is a living thing; it is like nothing but itself The Master is not in it visibly, and yet he is throbbing in every line of it influentially. It is a bush that burns. Strange looks we have seen come out of it, and voices above voices and under-voices—marvellous subtleties of tone only to be explained by the Divine and supernatural element. We have studied together the Gospel by Matthew and the Acts of the Apostles; putting the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles together, what a marvellous reproduction we have of the Pentateuch! These four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles together constitute the Pentateuch of the New Testament; and if you will take the Pentateuch of Moses with the Gospel Pentateuch and compare the one with the other, you will be struck with the marvellous analogies and correspondences between the two, which, being duly connected and interpreted, constitute an illustration of what is meant by the Divine inspiration of Holy Scripture. What have we in the second Pentateuch? How did the first Pentateuch begin? With creation. How does the second Pentateuch begin? With creation. What was the first creation? The moulding of matter, the settlement and distribution of vast spaces and lights and forces. What is the second creation? A Church, a living universe—men the planets; souls the burning suns, redeemed lives the great and immortal heavens. The Son is Creator as well as the Father; yea, the very old creation, the tabernacle of dust and light, the heavens and the earth—these were all made for the Song of Solomon, by the Son; he was before all things as he is above all things, so that in his creation—a spiritual, gracious human creation—he pales the little universe and puts it into its right place—a mere speck upon the infinite being of God. So then we have our New Testament Pentateuch, and we cannot do without it, because it is fall of history; and therein it resembles the first Pentateuch—full of anecdote, story, tragedy, change, movement, colour: a wonderful beginning and the only possible beginning from the highest standpoint, not a beginning in great doctrine, profound philosophies and metaphysics,—all these lie thousands of miles along the road; no man may fly after them, or plunge into them with heedless impetuosity. We begin with matter, we begin with light and force, with water and earth, with things that fly and things that swim; and then we pass into the human tragedy, and through all the marvellous evolutions of history, we come into doctrine, philosophy, spiritual thought, the inner meaning, the marvellous music of things. So it is in the New Testament. We begin with a little Child, to what he may grow we know not; great is his name—Immanuel: God—God with us, the great God, the great Man. Now we must go forward into historical movements, activities, collisions, contradictions; now we must be lost in the centre of dusty, cloudy battlefields and then emerge into wide spaces where the summer spreads her banquet, where the air is clear of all but sweetest music. That is God"s way of training the individual life. We all begin, so to say, Pentateuchally; we all have five books, or at least five chapters of history—creation, history, movement, activity, hardly knowing what we are doing—moved, touched, stung, led, and wondering how it will all issue, in what eventuation it will establish itself, and what it will prove when the process has been completed. It enriches one"s thought and establishes one"s heart in the tender grace of God to see how the lines of life correspond with one another: how things are matched today by things that happened yesterday; how one life is part of some other life, how one nation belongs to all the nations, and to mark how God has not been making detached links without connection or association, but has rather been fastening those links together into a great chain,—a golden chain—the first link fastened to his throne, the chain dropped down, link after link added, and, lo, it begins to rise again at the other end and comes back, and the links form a chain and the chain a circle and the centre the very throne of God. We cannot do without the historical line. Man must begin with history, he cannot begin with thinking; man must begin with toys, he cannot begin with ideas, abstract thoughts, and emotions that involve metaphysical mysteries. He must have a garden to work in, he must have a flock to keep, he must have a vineyard to dress; every night he must tell how the day has been spent; and thus he is led on into the great service, and into the fidelity that keeps no diary because it is so complete as to be beyond mere registration and beyond that book-keeping which is supposed to guarantee itself against the perfidies of felonious hands. But we must begin with the garden; man thinks he is doing something when he is tilling a garden. We must begin with objective work, outside work; it is adapted to us. The absorption, the speechless contemplation, the song without words—these are the after-comings, the marvellous transformations. Meanwhile, keep thy lamp burning, watch thy door with all faithfulness, and attend to thy little garden plot as if it were the whole of God"s universe; and afterwards thou shalt come to the higher studies the nobler culture, the richer, deeper peace.
Looking at the Acts of the Apostles as a whole, what a representative book it is! What varieties of character; what contradictions; what miracles of friendship; what bringing together of things that apparently are without relation and between which cohesion Isaiah, from our stand point, simply impossible! We have marked the characters as the panorama has passed before us these years; we wonder how ever they came together, how any one book can hold them; and yet, as we have wondered, we have seen men settle into relation and complement one another so as to furnish out the whole circle with perfect accuracy of outline. We belong to one another. The hand cannot say to the foot, "I have no need of thee"; nor can the ear say to the eye, or the eye to the ear, "I have no need of thee." All those men in the moving panorama Apostolic belonged, somehow, to one another, sphered one another out into perfectness of service and endurance. The human race is not one man; one man is not the human race. The difficulty we have with ourselves and with one another is the difficulty of not perceiving that every one of us is needful to make up the sum total of God"s meaning. Failing to see that, we have what is called "criticism," so that men are remarked upon as being short of this faculty, wanting in that capacity, destitute of such and such qualification, not so rich in mental gift as some other man; and thus we have such foolish talking and pointless criticism. Man is one. God made Prayer of Manasseh, not men; he redeemed Prayer of Manasseh, he became man. Your gift is mine; mine is yours. We are a total, not a fraction; not carping individuals, but one household built on one rock, a living temple raised upon a living Corner-stone. Why fix upon individuals and remark upon their imperfections and their shortcomings? They claim the virtues of their very critics; they leap up in the hands of their vivisectors and say, "Your life is ours; your strength should perfect our weakness." The world will not learn that lesson. The world is lost in selfishness. Christianity is now a game of selfishness, that is to say, resolving itself into "Who can get into heaven? who can safely escape into heaven?"—a question that ought never to be asked; it is the worst and meanest selfishness. Who can fight best, suffer best, give most, do most, wait most patiently?—these are the great questions which, being honestly asked by the soul, ennoble the soul that asks them, and challenge the life to the nobler services which the fancy contemplates. So the men in the Acts of the Apostles belong to one another. Think of Peter and Luke: Peter all fire; Luke quiet, thoughtful, contemplative, musing, taking observations and using them for historical purposes. Think of Paul and Barnabas; think of all the names that are within the record, and see how wondrous is the mosaic. There are only two great leaders. Were I to ask the youngest of my fellow students, now when we are closing the book, whose names occur most frequently in the Acts of the Apostles, hardly a child could hesitate in the reply—"Peter and Paul." They seem to overshadow everybody; their names burn most ardently and lustrously on the whole record. That is quite true; but where would they have been but for those who supported them, held up their arms, made up their following and their companionship? If they are pinnacles, the pinnacle only expresses the solidity and massiveness of the building that is below. You see the pinnacle from afar; but that pinnacle does not exist in itself, by itself, for itself; it is the upgathering of the great thought, and represents to the farthest-off places the sublime fact that the tabernacle of God is with men upon the earth. To be in the record at all is my ambition; to be on the first page or on the last, to be anywhere in it, that is the beginning of heaven. This is a representation of the Church of all time. You have your great names and your lesser names; you have Peter and James and John and Paul, and you have Philip and Thomas and James and Simon and Judas. To be in the list is enough. No man can write his own name in the list. Sometimes it is absolutely essential that a man should make his own signature, do it with his own finger, either in letters or by mark; his own living hand of flesh must have touched the page. In other records we are written down by consent. We are thankful for the honour of the registration; we have been invited to form a part of the commonwealth, and we have assented to the proposition. No man can write his name in the Lamb"s book of life. Every man must open the door of his heart to admit the knocking Saviour as his Guest. God works; man works. There is a marvellous commerce between the Divine and the human, the human and the Divine; the result of that commerce, being happily consummated, is sonship, is liberty, is heaven!
We cannot look at the book as a whole without being struck with its candour. Nothing is kept back; there is no desire to make men appear better than they really were; all the sin is here, all the shame, all the virtue, all the honour—everything is set down with an impartial and fearless hand. That is one of the strongest incidental proofs of the inspiration of the whole book. This is not a series of artificial curves or carvings; the men we have had to deal with are men of flesh and blood like ourselves wholly; about their humanity we can have no doubt. Here is a record of selfishness: the story of Ananias and Sapphira is not kept back. "How much better," some would have said, "to omit it." As well omit the story of Adam and Eve. In every book there is an Adam and Eve, if it be a faithful portraiture of human life; in every soul there is an Adam and Eve, a fall, an expulsion, a day of cherubic fire that asserts the sovereignty of outraged righteousness. These are not inventions, but they are representations of ourselves as we know ourselves, and therefore we can confirm the book. The accident varies, the substance is constant; the mere outside of color changes in every instance, but the heart is bad with selfishness throughout. Dissensions are reported: Paul and Barnabas separated; Paul withstood Peter "to the face, because he was to be blamed." Peter to be blamed! That was an honest book! There is no Prayer of Manasseh -painting here; there is no touch of merely exhibitional genius; there is no attempt to get up. a Christian exhibition in the Acts of the Apostles with the motto, "Behold the perfect men!" There is a stern reality about this that compels the attention which it charms. Christianity is not represented here as to its earthly lot in any very attractive way. Who would say, after reading the Acts of the Apostles, were we to judge by the fate of its apostles and teachers, "Let us also be Christians"? There was not a noble man in the fraternity; there was hardly a man in the whole brotherhood that could trace his ancestry beyond yesterday. If you wanted to join an unfashionable sect, the Christian sect would have presented to you innumerable and overwhelming advantages; if you wanted to suffer, Christianity would find the opportunity. It is a record of suffering, misrepresentation, persecution, terrible sorrow and agony; a record of cold and hunger and thirst and nakedness and night-travelling. The men of the Acts of the Apostles wandered about in deserts and in mountains, in dens and in caves of the earth; they had no festival, no banner, no music, no honour amongst men. We thought that towards the last surely we should hear some better account of it; but in the last chapter Christianity is represented as the sect which is everywhere "spoken against." All of these circumstances and instances illustrate the candour, the intense honesty and reality of the record. Human authors study probabilities. It is a canon amongst literary men that even in a romance nothing shall be put down—though it may actually have occurred—which exceeds the bounds of average probability. The circumstance you narrate you may have seen, but you are not allowed by literary criticism to put down anything that is merely phenomenal—so extraordinary as probably not to occur more than once in a thousand years. You must keep to probability if you would build according to technical rules. There is no study of parts, proportions, colours in the Acts of the Apostles; there is no poetry-making, no romance elaboration; things are put down every night as they occurred every day—there stands the record, with all blotches, blemishes, faults, all heroisms and nobilities, all endurances and glorious successes; nothing is extenuated; the whole tale is told exactly and literally as it occurred.
Reading the Acts of the Apostles through from beginning to end at one sitting—which is the only right way of reading any book in order to get into the swing of its thought and the music of its rhythm—reading the Acts of the Apostles straight through from the first verse to the last, I feel as if I had been present in a great and busy seed-time. I have come home, as it were, from a great field that has just been sown all over—sown with truth seeds, sown with buried men, sown with buried deeds. The seed thus sown does not look very beautiful. Tomorrow it will look like a desert, and for a week or a month there may be no change, but in a week or a month more there will be first the blade; by-and-by, the ear; by-and-by, the full corn in the ear; by-and-by, the flashing sickle in the hand of the angel; by-and-by, the harvest home; by-and-by, Christ"s contentment—the satisfaction of his soul.
This is the way to judge a book—namely: to judge it in its wholeness; and this is the way to judge of any Church, or of any institution, or of any man. I must not take your individual actions and attempt to find the whole character in any one conversation, or in any one little sentence; I must not take you at unawares, and when I see you in high temper say, "See how bad he is!" I must not find you in some act of apparent meanness and judge the whole character by it, saying, "See the man"s dishonourableness!" I must not find you in some solitary fault, or under the pressure of some tremendous temptation, and say, "See in that instance the whole man!" Society judges so. Harsh judgments are founded upon little detached instances of temper or of spirit; but when he comes who made us—made us so marvellously, made no two of us alike—when he comes who knows our ancestry, our birth, our physical constitution, our advantages and disadvantages, our trials and our sorrows; when he comes who knows us altogether, he will judge us in the totality of our life, and mayhap the worst of us may be recognised by the redeeming Son of God as having upon him the sprinkled blood which will save the life from the destroying stroke.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 28". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
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