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And after the uproar was ceased, Paul called unto him the disciples, and embraced them, and departed for Macedonia.
Reading between the lines
There does not seem to be much in this section of the apostolic history. We must not, however, judge by appearances. Paul is still here, and wherever you find the great man you find the great worker. Paul does nothing like any other man. Look at--
I. The variety of personal movement.
1. Paul “embraces” the disciples--a word which hides in it the pathos of a farewell. Paul will often now say “Farewell.” He is not quite the man he was. Sometimes he straightens himself up into the old dignity and force, and we say, “Surely he will last many a long year yet”; but, nevertheless, we see age creeping upon his face, and taking the youth out of his figure and mien.
2. Then he “departed to go into Macedonia.” We like to go back to old places, to see that the old flag is still flying--yes, and to the green grave to see if it is still there. Paul will go back to Thessalonica, Berea, and Philippi. Who can tell what happened in those visits? At first, when we go to a place, there is nothing but that which is common to other places; but having worked there, when we return we talk over old themes, quote old sayings, and ask for old friends with a doubtful tone lest we should rip up old wounds and tear open the deepest graves of the heart. These are the things that make life sacred and precious.
3. Next Paul “came into Greece,” and it is just possible looked in upon Athens once more. Certainly he went to Corinth, but Corinth was changed. The decree which made many exiles had been annulled, and Aquila and Priscilla were no longer there. The friends are the town; and if they are not there, we are mocked by masonry. There is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother; Aquila and Priscilla will leave the city, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, always at home.
4. Paul “abode” in Greece three months. The word “abode” misleads us. Paul cannot merely abide. But what is he doing? That we cannot always tell. Have confidence in faithful men. If you have only confidence in your friend so long as you can see every action, you have no confidence in him at all. What, then, has history shown that Paul was doing amidst all this commonplace movement? Within this period Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians, and probably his great letter to the Galatians. There is a written ministry. It is beautiful to read what Luke has to say about Paul, but how infinitely better to read Paul’s own words. We do not always want to hear about a man, we long to hear the man himself; one sight of him, and we understand much that can never be explained; one utterance of his voice, and we are able to fill up gaps that vexed us. What we would give for the writing of some men!
II. A period of waiting. Paul had written a letter to the Corinthians and wished to know its effect, and Titus was charged to hasten back to Troas with a report. Paul is now waiting at Troas. How did he wait? Read 2 Corinthians 2:12-13. That is the same spirit we found at Athens; he soon fell into restlessness. Read 2 Corinthians 1:8. I thank God for those words and for that trouble. It brings Paul down amongst us. Read 2 Corinthians 12:7. See how Paul was being educated. Conclusion: Where is the commonplace now? The narrative is full of gaps, but when they are filled up by Paul’s own records, we find that within a framework of sentences that merely indicate locomotion we have experiences of the most intensely spiritual nature. We cannot tell all we are doing. There is a public life that the neighbours can see and read and comment upon; but there is a within life, that fills up all the open lines and broken places, and only God sees that interior and solemn existence. You go amongst men as worldly; there may be those who “do not know how you spend half your time.” They have no right to know. You will one day hand in your own account to the only Judge who has a right to overlook your life. Fill up your days well; do not ask human criticism to approve you; live ever in the great Taskmaster’s eye. (J. Parker, D. D.)
From Ephesus to Troas
Note here, the apostle--
I. Helping in the way (verse 2; Acts 2:40; Colossians 1:28; 1 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:1).
II. Threatened in the way (verse 3; Acts 9:23; Act 23:11; 2 Corinthians 11:26; Acts 16:19).
III. Accompanied in the way (verse 4; Acts 19:29; Acts 16:1; Ephesians 6:21; Acts 21:29).
IV. Prospered in the way (verse 6; Acts 16:8; 2 Timothy 4:13). Lessons:
1. Paul found time, in the course of his travels, for much exhortation to Christian service and encouragement to Christian work.
2. Paul was a great traveller, but he never planned his tours with the idea of amusing himself, or of improving his health, or of seeing the greatest possible number of interesting ruins.
3. Paul was a traveller, but the only one of his journeys that he talked a great deal about was of his coming to the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. Paul was a great preacher, and a proof of the fact is the fierce opposition he so frequently met from Jews and Gentiles. That fierceness is a measure of the work he was doing.
5. Paul was wise enough to change his plans, when persistence in them would have brought disaster. The wise Christian will always go by land through Macedonia if it would be incurring needless danger for him to go by sea to Syria. (S. S. Times.)
From Ephesus to Troas
These verses bring under notice--
I. The fragmentary character of gospel history. These few sentences extend over a period of nearly twelve months, during which what wonderful things have occurred, what privations endured, perils braved, discussions conducted, souls converted! We almost wish there had been journalists in those days to have chronicled all the items in Paul’s wonderful life.
II. The mystery of difficulties in connection with duty. Antecendently one might have thought that the Divine Father would have provided that a man like Paul should have no thorns in his path, no clouds in his sky. Herein is mystery, and we must patiently await the great explaining day.
III. The unconquerableness of a Christ-like love. Mark it--
1. In Paul’s remaining at Ephesus until the “uproar” ceased. He did not abandon the vessel in the storm, but, like a brave captain, remained until it was secure in the haven.
2. In the spirit with which he withdrew--not with the fire of indignation. He calls the disciples together and “embraced them.” No amount of trial could cause Paul to relinquish his blessed mission. “The love of Christ constraineth” him. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
From Ephesus to Troas
Among the many things to be learned from Paul’s journeys, not the least are the intimations respecting the methods and usages of the apostolic Church. Look at the more prominent of these which appear in this narrative.
I. Evangelistic work was prosecuted by a number, who were associated for the service (verse 4). After Churches were organised, regular pastors were placed over them; but the preparatory work called for special effort, and in this a number were wisely enjoyed. Thus early was recognised the distinction between evangelists and pastors; and no doubt the Churches which became centres of Christian influence in Asia were the result of God’s blessing, not alone on Paul’s preaching, but also on the labours of the believers who with Paul carried the gospel unto the regions beyond.
II. The Christian Sabbath.
1. Was the first day of the week (verse 7). This mention of the day is significant because it is casual, and the inference is that they habitually assembled then; and the instance becomes authority when the great apostle gave his sanction to this transfer of holy time from the Sabbath to the Lord’s Day. It is sometimes said that had God purposed such a change He would have distinctly commanded it. Yet an oft-repeated statement that the Church did observe the first in place of the seventh day may be taken as evidence that they were instructed so to do; and the sanction of the change by the inspired apostles, who had been in personal conference with the Lord, confirms and continues the usage. The argument is the same as that which establishes the unity of the Church, the substitution of baptism for circumcision, the membership of women in the Church, or any other accepted feature of the Christian dispensation which had become so universal and so undisputed that no doubt was suggested concerning it.
2. Was observed chiefly as a day of worship. A number of hours were spent in devotional exercises. There was no complaint because the meeting was protracted, nor did any present consult their watches to learn how much more than half an hour Paul was preaching. Notice of this has special value to us because of the disposition manifested to devote it largely to work rather than to worship. Other days may give opportunity for this, but the Lord’s Day is appointed especially for that renewal of strength which is gained by those who wait on the Lord. Experience makes known the wisdom of the early Christians in this particular, and it is possible that the most constant work may make us feeble, that the most ardent zeal may become religious dissipation.
III. The purpose of the Eucharist. In the first place, the occasion was one--
1. Of high spiritual enjoyment. The visit of Paul must have awakened delight, and excited gratitude.
2. Of special Christian communion.
3. Of special stimulus and cheer. In these circumstances we find them celebrating the Eucharist; and for us it should be a time of spiritual joy, not of depression; of inspiring, whole-souled communion; of cheer and confidence which will make us certain of success.
IV. The manner of conducting public worship. The assembly does not seem to have been governed by any special habits beyond those which would secure comfort and decorum. The room was probably in some private house. The preaching of Paul was not according to any prescribed standard, but was probably simple and expository and adapted to the audience. The necessity that he should care for Eutychus did not so much disturb the apostle’s sense of propriety that he was unable to go on with his discourse, and it is likely that the incident added to the interest and practical character of his remarks. An upper room, an all-night service, the simplest observance of the Lord’s Supper, the possible disturbances which would drive away all sanctity from some modern, more aesthetic Christian assemblies--all these were features of worship led by the most prominent of the apostles.
V. The predominance of the missionary spirit in all the Churches (verse 4). Here we have the secret of the success of the gospel in those days. Those who accepted it considered themselves as trustees of the blessed treasure for those who had it not. As soon as a Church was established, it assumed obligation respecting the outlying region, and thus other centres of evangelising power were formed. And so it should be today. (J. E. Ells, D. D.)
From Ephesus to Troas
Diligent service of Christ--
I. Exerts wide and varied influences. Not all noble lives become famous, but any determined man, fully possessed by great truths, may move the world. No purpose was ever so sublimely conceived or more nobly realised than the one which Paul was carrying out by this journey. In accomplishing his task Paul--
1. Shrunk from no physical exertion. The Divine enthusiasm possessed his body as well as his soul.
2. Delivered his message constantly and confidently (verse 2). He could not help it. Once, at least, he talked all night. To speak interestingly men must be filled with great themes. The most trying talkers about religion are those whose thoughts cling mainly about their own experiences.
3. Studied as faithfully as he preached, Men who make progress in teaching must grow in knowledge. No books give evidence of more close and masterful mental toil than the letters written during this tour (2 Corinthians, Romans, Galatians). It is a common mistake to suppose that scholarship is confined to the seclusion of the study. Preaching and teaching and a wide acquaintance with men are as essential as the study of books in attaining the scholarship which leads to a clear and profound comprehension of Divine truths.
II. Develops special gifts and graces of character in the Churches. Among those cultivated by Paul we notice--
1. Systematic giving. It is comparatively easy now to raise money to carry the gospel to the heathen. But we find Paul exciting the practical interest of the new Churches on missionary ground in the needs of the Christians in the home field. He sent forth the choicest men, such as Titus and Timothy, to be collecting agents; and, so far from regarding them as beggars, he called them “the glory of Christ.” He sought by this to bring about unity between bodies of Christians separated by distance, race, language, and prejudice.
2. Christian love (verse 7). Through the love of one man, begetting love in all the rest, the Churches of Achaia, Thessaly and Judaea joined as one Church in acts of mutual affection in efforts to spread the gospel through the world.
III. Establishes permanent institutions. Wherever Paul journeyed he established Churches. Then he revisited and strengthened them. He also encouraged the institutions which would give the Churches permanence. He observed the Lord’s Supper, and taught by example the observance of the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath.
IV. Forms and confirms its own character in likeness to Christ. Paul was ripening himself as he was building up the Churches. (A. E. Dunning.)
And when the Jews laid wait for him as he was about to sail.
Why was it safer for Paul to travel by land through Macedonia than to go down to the seaport, Cenchrea, to take ship there? The reason is, that the Jews, with their keen trading instincts, had settled chiefly in the great seaports and emporia of trade throughout the civilised world. Paul thus, in entering a seaport, would find himself in the midst of a large body of Jews, who had both the ability and the will to execute any plot against him; while in the inland and provincial towns the Jews formed a comparatively insignificant portion of the population. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
Paul’s prudence rewarded
The hope of reaching Jerusalem by the Passover had, of course, to be abandoned: the only chance left was to get there by Pentecost. It was doubtless overruled for good that it should be so; for if Paul had been in the Holy City at the Passover, he would have been mixed up by his enemies with the riot and massacre which about that time marked the insane rising of the Egyptian impostor who called himself the Messiah. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
Paul’s moral courage
It is a great thing to know when to run from evil, and when to stand and meet it. Often more courage is needed to run than fight. A bulldog knows just enough to be always ready for a fight. It takes more than a bulldog’s character to decide when not to fight, and to stand by one’s decision--even if one has to run in order to stand. In a community where duelling is still tolerated, it requires more the spirit of Paul, and less of the spirit of the bulldog, to decline a challenge. In a community where duelling is not tolerated, but where unnecessary and irritating discussion is, it is easier to conform to the bulldog’s standard, than to Paul’s, in times of temptation to such a discussion. It is not easy to say in advance just when a man should run rather than fight; but it is something for us all to bear in mind, that running often shows courage where fighting would show cowardice. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
And there accompanied him into Asia Paul’s companions.
Paul accompanied by friends
I. They were not deterred by persecutions.
II. They accompanied Paul because of--
1. Their love to Christ.
2. Their love to him.
3. Their desire to see Christianity spread through the world.
III. Their love and kindness was rewarded.
1. By peace of mind.
3. Heaven. (Biblical Museum.)
…Troas, where we abode seven days.
Paul at Troas
I. The “first day of the week” appears to have been the usual period of assembly, and no doubt was selected and consecrated by apostolical authority.
1. It was held--
(1) In honour of the Saviour’s resurrection--that event which proved His mission Divine, His mediation effectual, and His combat with death and hell victorious.
(2) Being the day of the Lord’s resurrection, it was noted as “the Lord’s day,” when His people meet for His worship and His truth is expounded, His name chanted, His Spirit poured down, His presence enjoyed, and His death showed forth.
2. The place of meeting in Troas would be an humble one, with no architectural decorations, the private dwelling of some large-hearted disciple, in whose upper chamber the sacred feast was observed.
3. It would appear that at first in Jerusalem, when the disciples kept free table, or “had all things common,” every meal was a sacramental feast, or that it was connected with every meal, as it had been with the paschal banquet. Out of this old practice may have sprung its early division into a love feast and a sacrament.
4. The disciples must have rejoiced at their privilege, and eagerly embraced it. What could keep any of them back from enjoying Paul? Alas! that so many in modern times regard so little the first day of the week. And how many stay away for reasons which would never keep them from a scene of secular enjoyment, or ordinary business.
II. Paul preached.
1. It was the high office to which he had been set apart by Him whom he preached. Moses enacted statutes; Samuel judged; David sang; Elijah battled for God; Solomon embodied his experience in pithy and pointed sentences. The prophets foretold Messiah, but did not preach Him: But the apostle preached.
2. It was his usual mode of address. Wherever he found himself, no matter who composed his audience, he preached. You do not discover him admiring works of art, or mingling with the populace for the sake of amusement. No; he saw man as Christ saw him--a being, guilty and helpless, to whom salvation might be offered, and by whom it should be accepted--saw his soul in its value and destiny, and urged him to accept Christ and His Cross. What else could he do? Necessity was laid upon him. What other substitute for preaching can be devised? Ceremonial will not do; souls may perish amidst genuflections and music. Satire will not suffice. What effect had Juvenal and Martial on their age, or on the world? Paul’s was a nobler world. It is no gospel to tell men what they are, without showing them what they might be. If preaching was the presentation of the good news, what else could the apostle do than preach?
3. What better could he do? He might have done many things--might have prelected on Jewish history, Greek philosophy, morality, his own travels, etc. But with such employment never could he have saved a soul, or gathered a Church. (Prof. Eadie.)
Paul at Troas
I. An earnest preacher (Acts 20:7, Acts 9:20; Acts 17:2; Romans 15:20; 1 Corinthians 9:16; Galatians 1:16).
II. An inattentive listener (Acts 20:9).
1. His condition--“borne down with”…sleep (John 1:5; Matthew 26:40; Mark 13:36).
2. His destruction (Act 20:9; 1 Kings 17:17; Mark 9:26; Acts 14:19).
III. A healing touch (Act 20:10; 1 Kings 17:21; 2 Kings 4:35; Matthew 9:25; John 11:43-44).
IV. A sacred service (Acts 20:11).
V. Lessons (Matthew 26:26; Act 2:42; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:26).
1. One’s place for preaching need not be a city church, nor his time of preaching eleven o’clock Sunday morning, yet he may speak very well for Christ. Paul preached earnestly in an upper room at midnight.
2. One doubtless needs a fair amount of sleep, but during the sermon is not the time to seek such refreshment. The house of God was never intended for a dormitory.
3. One’s danger in sleeping through God’s service now is none the less real because no such evident disaster at present attends it as overtook Eutychus.
4. One may preach or teach with all the eloquence of a Paul, and yet come who ought to heed will only nod and doze.
5. One can hope for no such re-awakening from spiritual death as came to this young man upon whom his own inattention had brought bodily death.
6. One does well to observe the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper at the stated time, regardless of interruptions. (S. S. Times.)
Paul at Troas
We have here religious institutions--
I. Sanctioned by Christianity.
1. “The first day of the week.” This is the first account we have of the observance of this day, and from that time to this it has been observed for religious purposes (1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10).
2. The Lord’s Supper, which has also been observed ever since, and so has--
3. The preaching of the gospel.
II. Intruding on the claims of nature. “Paul continued his speech until midnight.” Night is the time for rest, not for labour; but many reasons would perhaps justify Paul. The people were ignorant, he had much to communicate, and had to depart on the morrow. Still, a result occurred which marked such long services as an evil. Religious institutions intrude on the claims of nature--
1. When they are employed for the purposes of inordinate excitement. Some so-called revivals furnish many sad examples.
2. When they are protracted beyond a certain period. Long sermons are a sin against nature.
III. Associated with supernatural power (Acts 20:10). This was an undoubted miracle, performed in somewhat She same manner as that in 2 Kings 4:33-35, and may be regarded as emblematical of the Divine power of restoration associated with the preaching of the gospel.
1. Man is the organ of it. God could have raised Eutychus directly, but He worked through Paul; so in quickening dead sinners now, He employs the ministry of the Word.
2. Man is the subject of it. Eutychus was raised. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread.--
A primitive Sunday
I. A Sunday at Troas. What is Sunday? Not the Jewish Sabbath; not a day of gloom and bondage, of restrictions and penalties, of meritorious observance or sanctimonious austerity. It is the weekly, as Easter is the annual, festival of our Lord’s resurrection. The very place of the fourth commandment, standing in the midst of moral rules, proves conclusively that there is a moral principle involved; that man needs a periodical rest, and that God requires of him the separation and the religious observance of such a periodical rest. Man’s restlessness, selfishness, and irreligion, being what they are, how should man have invented it? Little does the working man know his own interest when he secularises the Sunday! Once destroy the sacredness of the day, and the liberty of the day will follow; and, depend upon it, irreligious employers will soon find reasons for engrossing it, till God’s gift perishes through the ingratitude of those to whom He gave it. It may not be true that the day of the Sabbath was ever formally changed from the seventh to the first; but this I say, that the moral law prescribes a day of religious rest, and that Sunday is, for us, the day so prescribed, and living where we live, and when, Sunday is a necessity of existence, if we are ever to win or fight our way through this world to a better. And this I say, too, that, as it is a necessity, so it is also a duty. The fourth commandment enforces itself still: so long as it is a sin to swear, to kill, or to steal--so long the consecration of a portion of time to special religious purposes will be a duty, and its desecration a sin; and he who profanes the Sunday by business, dissipation or frivolity, will be guilty of sin against God, and of cruelty towards the best and highest interests of man.
II. The employments of this day. Sunday is our periodical rest, but it is not designed to be a day of mere inactivity. The body rests by repose, the soul by action. Therefore that day of rest which body and mind want for relief from labour, the soul wants rather for that occupation which is at once its business, its food, and its repose; intercourse with God; expatiation in the things of God; communion with the people of God. The congregation at Troas came together--
1. For worship. They did not forget that special promise which is attached to united prayer. We need to be brought back to the simplicity of common prayer. I often wonder whether we are praying in common. Two things go to this--
(1) That each one pray, and
(2) That each one pray as one among many; pray, that is, not his own selfish prayers, but his part in the prayers of the congregation.
2. To hear preaching. I know you will say, It would be easy to listen if St. Paul were the preacher; it is because the preacher has nothing interesting or new that we find his words wearisome and his sermons long. A sermon has become in these days synonymous with dullness, and every newspaper has its jest at it. Nevertheless, there are those who believe that preaching is still, as of old, an ordinance of God; that the gospel, familiar as its central truth is to us, still needs enforcement; that the earnest words of a faithful man have instruction in them and carry a blessing from on high after them. There are those who have found by experience that they are the better for preaching. The humble and earnest hearer does not go away ashamed; nor will he go away to scoff at that instrumentality by which the instructions of Christ are ministered afresh to the congregation.
3. “To break bread.” In the first instance the reception of the Lord’s Supper was a daily act of the congregation (chap. 2.). Long did it continue the badge and the privilege of Christians to partake of that sacred bread and that Divine cup once in each week, on its first, its consecrated day. How shall we dare to touch on this subject in a modern congregation? How many suffer months and years to slip by without one participation in the ordinance. Worship is disregarded by many, and sermons by many more, but even worship, even preaching, is practically honoured far above Communion; the church may be half empty for worship, it is emptied again before Communion. These things ought not so to be. (Dean Vaughan.)
Paul taking leave of the brethren at Troas
As far as mortal may be compared with immortal, Paul, after his conversion, may be likened to the angel (Revelation 14:6-7). Of this apostle the Fathers have spoken in the highest terms, styling him “the trumpet of the gospel,” “the roaring of the lion of the tribe of Judah,” “the river of Christian eloquence,” “the teacher of the universe,” “to whom,” says Chrysostom, “God had committed the whole dispensation of His mysteries.” He had made an extensive circuit, allowing himself but few intervals of repose; he had visited many Churches, giving them much exhortation, and at length he arrived at Troas.
I. The nature of this meeting. “The disciples came together.” It was not a meeting of philosophers, of senators, of literary men. Such had been passed over by the inspired penman. It was a meeting of the disciples of Christ. They were assembled for a devotional purpose. If there be a society on which the eye of Heaven rests with complacency it is a society of this nature. Devout associations draw after them great advantages. What scene can be more delightful than that of a company of Christians engaged in acts of sacred worship? Happy will it be for us, if, in the day of persecution, of affliction, of disease, and of death, when we can no longer thus associate, we can say, “I never turned away from the ordinances of the Lord, never absented myself without just reason from His house; I never deemed religious instruction unnecessary, and never slighted the opportunity of obtaining it; ‘Lord, I have loved the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thine honour dwelleth.’”
II. The time of this meeting. They came together “upon the first day of the week.” Thus they celebrated the institution of the Christian sabbath. It was on the first day of the week that Christ rose from the dead and accomplished the work of redemption. From that period the apostles and primitive Christians assembled on the first day instead of the seventh. The meetings of the apostles and first Christians, on this day, were sanctioned by the presence of their Master, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit; and in the annals of Christian experience, from their time to ours, this day will be found to have received particular notice and distinction. If the banished saint in the Isle of Patmos was favoured with a peculiar elevation of mind, and with extraordinary revelations on “the Lord’s day,” how many Christians in every succeeding age have, on the returns of the same day, been blessed with similar enjoyments! Christians should embrace all suitable opportunities of assembling together, but especially those presented on “the Lord’s day.”
III. The place of their meeting. They came together in an “upper chamber.” This reminds us of the persecuted state of the first Christians. Our forefathers were no strangers to this kind of affliction; they worshipped God in dens, and holes, and caverns of the earth. But happier times are afforded unto us: “We sit under our own vine, and under our own fig tree, none daring to make us afraid.” May the commonness of our privileges never render us insensible of their value! The worship of God is everywhere conducted most agreeably to the Christian plan, when conducted with simplicity. Christianity requires no splendid edifices; it asks for nothing to charm the senses. It says, “God is a spirit, and they who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Let us, therefore, neither despise a place because it is unadorned, nor imagine a place to be more acceptable to God because it exhibits elegance and splendour. Yet ought we not to forget the liberality of those who devote a portion of their worldly substance for the erection of commodious places for religious worship. It is the decree of our God that “all things be done decently and in order.” We ought not to be solicitous about our own dwelling, and indifferent about a place for His service.
IV. The design of this meeting. “They came together to break bread.” This phrase refers to their celebration of the Lord’s Supper--a service in which they appear to have been engaged the more frequently, as being doubtful whether they would be permitted to assemble for such a purpose much longer. They availed themselves of every opportunity to obey the last injunction of their Saviour--“Do this in remembrance of Me.” That Christian who, believing in the perpetuity of this ordinance, habitually neglects it, refuses to do his part towards keeping up in the world the remembrance of Christ’s death, and the expectation of His second coming. But it is not a simple remembrance of His death; it is the enjoyment of fellowship with Him, and communion with each other; that, as there is one Head, so we may be all as one body. To the disciples at Emmaus, Jesus was known in the breaking of bread; and how often has He manifested Himself to His disciples at the sacramental table, in a way most satisfactory and delightful! (O. A. Jeary.)
Points in Paul’s preaching
I. This was the close of a ministry.
1. Is there anything more pathetic than the conclusion of a spiritual intercourse and fellowship? Paul is now leaving, and cannot leave. He began in the morning, and he was so filled with the spirit of grace that he never looked at the time. When was love ever patient with the clock? There is no long preaching so long as the thought continues. There are no long prayers so long as the heart has another desire to express. It is when we have said all that is in us, and then begin again that long preaching and prayer sets in. When was love ever quite done? When did love ever write a letter without a postscript? And love hearing is just the same as love preaching. Give me the attention of the heart. The mystery of the hearing ear is that it hears tones that do not utter themselves to inattentiveness. It magnifies the hint into a revelation. Give it one dawning ray of light, and out of that it will make a whole heaven of glory. The hearers were attentive; Paul was eloquent; the opportunity was closing; and the miracle was how to make the sun stand still until love put in another appeal. “What long days the old Churches had! They had but one joy, and that was in doing their work. When preaching becomes one of a hundred other engagements; when church going becomes the amusement of Sunday, then they will be compared with what was seen yesterday and what will probably be heard tomorrow.
2. How hard it is in many cases to say “Good-bye”! When a friend leaves, he never says “Good-bye” less than six times! He begins early, then says a little more, and then says, “Well, good-bye,” and then begins again. Another object attracts his attention, a few moments more are spent, and then he says “he must go.” Not he. He will see some other object, stoop to bless some hitherto unseen little child, and then say, “Now I must go.” Not he. He waits at the gate, he shuts it twice, but it will not easily bolt, so he opens it again to see the reason why; then he waves “Good-bye,” then takes a few steps and turns round and says “Good-bye.” Why this delay? Do not ask; it is the mystery of love, the secret of heart tearing itself from heart. That, indeed, is the sweet secret of living; but for it death would be better.
II. The preaching was interrupted (verse 9). Eutychus was not in the congregation. He was in the room, and yet not in it, as is the case with many. When a man is not in the sweep and run of the great thought and the inspiring revelation, he is asleep. Well for some of us if we were now in a deep slumber! Somnolence due to physical weariness may be forgiven, “For God knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust.” But there is a deadlier sleep. It makes the heart sad to see how men strip themselves of enthusiasm when they come into the church. Do not blame the child that lays upon its mother’s lap and falls into a church sleep; but blame the soul that leaves the body in the church whilst itself goes out to turn six days’ business into seven. But there is no successful truancy from the church. We leave stealthily, but we are followed as quickly as we go, and the record is completed, though we know it not.
III. There were many lights in the chamber. Christianity has no dark seances; it is a mighty challenge to the attention of the universe. It only asks for silence that its speech may be heard the better. The magician wants arrangements made to suit him, but Christianity can preach anywhere. Paul preaches as eloquently in the upper chamber as he would preach on Mars’ Hill. That is the test of reality always.
IV. Paul stopped his service to look after one injured man. In that particular he followed the example of Jesus Christ. Every life is of importance to God. Eutychus was not a great man; as his name implies, he was of the freedmen class. He belonged to the plebeian side of life, but to God there are no plebeians, except men who never pray, never love, never do works of mercy. But as for those who love Him and serve Him, though they have not bread to eat, and no pillows to lay their heads upon, they are of the very quality of heaven. (J. Parker, D. D.)
And continued his speech until midnight.--
A memorable nocturnal service
I. An instructive example of zeal for God’s Word.
1. On the part of the apostle who is not weary of preaching.
2. On the part of the congregation who are not weary of hearing.
II. A warning example of human weakness and sloth.
1. The sleep of Eutychus.
2. His fall. “Watch and pray,” etc.
III. A consolatory example of Divine grace and faithfulness.
A very long sermon
This is an unpardonable sin in modern preaching; nor is it very strange after all. Everything moves rapidly now, and everybody is restless. Any Church liturgy which cannot be curtailed, is commonly read prodigiously fast. Even political speeches are not nearly so long as they used to be, and long editorials seldom get read. Besides, very long sermons never were common. What is published as a single discourse was often preached in several parts. We have no reason to believe that Christ and His apostles were long preachers. Paul’s sermon at Troas was exceptional, and will help us to discern the conditions which may justify a long sermon. A long sermon may be justified--
I. By an extraordinary occasion. Paul was at Troas at the last service of a protracted meeting, and gave a solemn farewell address, for he felt assured that they would see his face no more.
II. By a great fulness and variety of thought. Paul’s mind must have been full of the great doctrines he had so recently addressed to the Galatians and Romans. He would wish to impress upon them the need of justification by faith, and that justification is not an encouragement to sin, but offers the only entrance upon a life of holiness. He would warn them against the Judaisers, and insist that Gentile Christians must stand fast in their Christian liberty. He doubtless gave them exhortations, such as he had addressed to the Corinthians. They must beware of party spirit. They must conduct their worship decently and in order. They must not be jealous of brethren who possessed shining gifts. They must cling to the great and blessed hope of the resurrection, and so be assured that their labour was not in vain in the Lord.
III. By the preacher’s extraordinary zeal. Paul felt himself to be debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians (Romans 1:14). He felt that there was a woe upon him if he did not preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:16). And daily there pressed upon him an anxiety for all the Churches (2 Corinthians 11:28). Such a soul as his, so filled with love to Christ and men, at such a farewell service, would naturally multiply his appeals and warnings. When he paused, one or another of the brethren would have a song or a prayer, or all together would chant some psalm or hymn, and then the apostle would begin again. Conclusion: But however justified by exceptional circumstances, a very long sermon cannot expect to set aside the laws of human nature. We may be sure that Eutychus was not the only one who grew sleepy. It is manifest that the apostle did not consider his as an inexcusable fault. Differences in constitution, in states of bodily health, in the habit of fixed attention, etc., must always be borne in mind in passing judgment under such circumstances. (J. A. Broadus, D. D.)
Preaching too long
After having long spent much strength and labour to little purpose, I was one day lamenting before God, as I walked to church, the little fruits of my exertions. As I went along I was overtaken by a vine dresser, who was going the same way. I took an opportunity of asking him how the missions were liked. “Sir,” replied the peasant, “we all feel obliged to you for your kind intentions; we are all likewise sensible that everything you tell us is good, but you preach too long. We ignorant boors are just like our own vine vats; the juice must have plenty of room left to work; and once filled to the brim, if you attempt to pour in more, even if it were the very best juice in the world, it will only be spilt on the ground and lost.” (M. Vincent.)
One day I was hurrying along Argyle Street to keep an appointment when a friend stopped me and said, “Mr. Scott, you sometimes preach?” “Yes, often.” “Well, I’ll tell you a story for your own benefit. In the country side from which I come there lives a woman called Mrs. Thomson, who had the name of making the best porridge in the country, in fact she was quite famous for her porridge, the flavour was so fine, and it was so smooth and free from knots. Her neighbours began to be anxious, and after a deal of talk decided to go in a body and ask the secret. This was the reply, ‘Take care that your guests are hungry and that you don’t give them too much; if you stop while they have an appetite for more, they will say, “How good the porridge is,” but if you give them too much they will say, “a little of that is plenty.” I try to take the advice always when I am preaching, and when I do, I find it successful. Long sermons are a weariness--the message of salvation is sweet, short, and simple, and it is for this the people are hungering. (J. Scott.)
And there were many lights in the upper chamber.--
The common Oriental lamp was, and is, a shallow, oblong vessel of clay, containing oil, with handle at one end, and a lip for the wick to rest on, or a small aperture for it to pass through at the other. The illuminating power of these lamps is very small, and their power of defiling the atmosphere is great. Hence the need of many lamps; hence, also, perhaps, the heavy stupor which fell upon Eutychus. To this day one of the things which surprises a stranger on entering a Mohammedan mosque is the great number of suspended lamps which he sees. This is necessary from the small illuminating power of the lamps, and the great spaces which they have to illuminate. (S. S. Times.)
The upper room
Not all Oriental houses have “upper rooms” for many of them are only one storey high. Where, however, the house is two or three stories high, the “upper room” is the large and airy chamber beneath the roof. In many cases this room projects three or four feet into the street, the projection being formed chiefly of wood, with large latticed windows on its three sides, through which a cooling breeze blows. This seems to have been the kind of room in which Paul’s meeting was held. Eutychus was probably sitting in one of the windows in this projection when he fell asleep. Losing his balance here, his fall from the oriel would be unbroken until he reached the pavement. (S. S. Times.)
The sin and folly of unventilated places of worship
Heat and smoke in a close and crowded room are solid obstacles to an intelligent hearing of the gospel, even with an inspired apostle for a preacher. Ventilation is often an important means of grace. That young man who sought it in the window was doing his best to keep awake, even at the risk of his life. It is not fair to ask so much as that of any man--young or old; or of any woman either. Remember that, preacher and teacher; and see to it that your hearers have fresh air as a help to keeping awake, while you are giving them the gospel. I knew a minister who had the valves to all the ventilating pipes in his church centre right under his pulpit, and when he noticed sleepy hearers in any part of the house while he was preaching, he would turn on fresh air to their neighbourhood, and so fit them to be wide-awake, if not profoundly interested, hearers. His example is worthy of mention, as over against the warning we get from the dangers of that badly ventilated room in Troas. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus.--
Eutychus an instructive warning to the unsteadfast
I. By his dangerous sleep. The heart may be overpowered by the sleep of a false security--
1. In the midst of the assembled congregation.
2. During the hearing of the Divine Word.
II. By his terrible fall--an admonitory representation of that from a height of imaginary faith to sin and perdition.
III. By his miraculous deliverance. In the arms of a Paul who penetrates him with his power of life and warmth of love, even the deeply fallen and dead may by the grace of God again become living. But it remains a miracle of which even the Scripture does not relate many similar. Let us not run the risk. Be sober and vigilant. (K. Gerok.)
Eutychus--a three-fold warning
I. To preachers. Half the blame for the sleep and fall of Eutychus has attached to Paul, because he preached long. And the man who, by making too great a demand on the physical endurance of his congregation, preaches them to sleep, is a great sinner. For he defeats the very ends of his ministry. But it is much to be doubted whether this is very frequently the ease. For the longest services rarely exceed two hours, and consist for the most part of worship; and to say that three quarters of an hour of Christian teaching is too great a strain on constitutions which can endure a two hours’ political speech or a three hours’ dramatic entertainment, is manifest absurdity and hypocrisy. The real ground of complaint is not the quantity, but the quality of the discourse. The real tax is not on the strength, but on the patience of the audience. People tire of one man in ten minutes; another they could “listen to forever.” The most popular preachers have not been short preachers; witness Chrysostom, Henry Smith, Whitefield, James Parsons, Punshon, Liddon, Spurgeon, Knox-Little, etc. And considering who Paul was, and what his message was, it is scarcely supposable that Eutychus was wearied with either him or it. Let the preacher make his sermons interesting and his congregation will be oblivious to considerations of time. Yet it is to be added that a wise man will respect the domestic arrangements, and the after religious engagements of his people in the Sunday school and elsewhere.
II. To hearers. The other half of the blame is attached to Eutychus. Yet the narrative contains no hint that Paul thought him blameworthy. However, there are sleepy hearers who are to blame.
1. Those who bring a body and mind already exhausted to the house of God. People who have been up half Saturday night, or who have spent the Saturday afternoon in laborious dissipation, are to blame if they succumb to the spirit of slumber.
2. Those who are indifferent to the main object which should bring them to the house of God; who have no sense of the awfulness of God’s presence, and their need of instruction in His Word. Such would go to sleep over business, but for their sense of its overwhelming importance. Let them but take the same interest in higher concerns and they will be wide awake enough.
III. To Church managers. These are most to blame and yet get the least. Paul must have been an interesting preacher and it is quite possible that Eutychus may have had a deep interest in Paul. His somnolence was most probably due to the conditions of the atmosphere. The many, badly smelling lamps, and the vast congregation must have vitiated the air, and Eutychus, higher up than the rest, was in the worst position for keeping his eyes open. Instead of blaming the preacher or the hearer let church managers look after the ventilation. Any theatre would be doomed if as badly constructed or attended to as many of our churches. Let the most interesting play be performed in the atmosphere breathed by many of our congregations, and it would be repeated to an empty theatre. The preacher himself is often lifeless, not from any lack of natural or Divine enthusiasm, but from lack of oxygen. Let, then, our church managers exercise the same common sense as our theatre managers. A congregation starved with cold in the morning and suffocated with heat in the evening will be a diminishing one, even if Paul himself occupied the pulpit. A little less expenditure on the aesthetic and a little more on the sanitary would awaken many a drowsy congregation, and fill many a deserted sanctuary. (J. W. Burn.)
Sleeping in the kirk
Of all the “ills that flesh is heir to,” insomnia is one of the worst. This desperate disease requires a desperate cure, and Hugh Latimer tells of an afflicted lady who had, without avail, tried everything in the whole range of the medical pharmacopoeia, and at last, in this desperation spirit of “Physic, I’ll no more of it!” cried out, “Oh, do take me to the parish church! I’ve slept soundly there the last forty years, and I think I could sleep again!” Taken to the parish church she was, and to be sure sleep soundly she did! Some of us ministers “thank God and take courage” when we see here that churchly somnolence is not to be always laid at the door of our prosy preaching, for here the doughty Paul was the preacher. Andrew Fuller did right well that day in Kettering when, observing several in his congregation give way almost at the beginning of the service, he flung consternation into their heavy-headed midst by bringing down the big Bible three times on the desk, and exclaiming, “What! asleep already! I often fear I preach you asleep, and grieve over it; but the fault cannot be mine today, for I have not yet begun!” Ah! but there is in the Church today a sleep worse a million times than this excusable napping of the lad Eutychus--the slumber inexcusable and profound of the unsaved soul! Asleep in the arms of the sleepless devil, who keeps cuddling and crooning over you as the anxious mother does over the starting, nervous child lest the slumber should be anywise broken. Around you now, unconverted Church member, are ease, and comfort, and prosperity. A cosy position brings drowsiness, and it has brought it to you. You are asleep now, asleep in the never-dying soul of you, asleep in the Kirk of God! How to arouse you from this slumber, how to awaken you from this sleep of the spirit, is the problem that presses for immediate solution. Oh, to lift the knocker of your slumbering soul chamber, and give one mighty house-quivering crash this day! Why, I heard of a man on whom this awful sleep of indifference had stolen till nigh shaken to pieces in a carriage collision, who remarked as he drew a long breath at the very thought of it, “Ay, God knocks hard sometimes. Before I would awake, He knocked me fifty feet down a railway embankment!” A hard knock indeed, because a loving one! And such may be yours. “Sleeper, arise and call upon thy God!” for “now it is high time to awake out of sleep.” “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” Awake! awake!
I. The sleeper is insensible. Tick-tack, tick-tack goes the clock in the still muffled chamber of sleep; you hear it not. Eyes closed, limbs motionless, you are unconscious. So with the spiritual sleeper. The soul is unconscious and insensible. The mighty movements of God are unheard. Up and down the Bethel ladder do the angels go, but the rustle of the garments of glory never touches the ear; the great daily traffic from heaven to earth passing by your very door, and shaking every casement in the house, affects you not the slightest. Oh, the multitude of slumbering souls in the gospel Kirk of this gospel day! The pulpit is taken as a matter of course, with the tang and gust of a penance about it. Oh, the bitter waste of preaching Sabbath after Sabbath, year after year, the sweat and toil for nothing! Oh, what will arouse the masses of the sleeping in the Holy Sanctuary? Can nothing he done with them? Wake! awake! Some years ago a minister, sad at heart with this pulpit sadness, at the close of a heavy Sabbath day flung himself down, as Elijah did under the juniper tree, collapsed: “O Lord, let me die!” He fell asleep, and in his sleep he dreamed, and this was his dream: His own people, his own pulpit, himself the preacher. Never before had he felt so near to God, so conscious of the powers of Eternity. His heart overflowed in holy yearning, his lips had been touched by the live coal, and the words like flowing lava burned as they came. Unction, fire, melting, beseeching “even to tears,” his that day. And in this minister’s dream, how did the congregation appear? Never before had they been so listless and inattentive; heads swaying in somnolence from side to side; yawning to right of him, yawning to left of him, gaping from gallery to floor, and from floor to gallery; watches fumbled out on all sides to see when this weary plish-plash harangue would come to a close. This the only response to the pulpit, and as the vessel’s thermometer suddenly sinks to zero before that polar iceberg swept along on the ocean way, so suddenly sink to despair did this poor preacher’s heart before the arctic heartlessness of his flock. Just as he is closing one moving appeal to be reconciled unto God, and to come to Christ in that day of fleeting grace, the door of the church opens, and a stranger walks up the aisle, and seats himself right in front of the pulpit, and listens to it all. Every eye is turned upon him as he slowly rises. Hush! he addresses the heart-broken preacher! “Oh, sir, come you to hell with that offer of mercy, and you’ll not have an unmoved congregation!” And the minister stops and looks at the stranger and he is the devil! That the dream, but this the fact. Ah! if I could go down to the black mouth of the, bottomless pit with this gospel of Christ, if I could take this offer of mercy, and make the gloomy caverns echo with this call to the Saviour, all hell would arise in delirious joy; the very devil would leap from his throne, and come to be saved!
II. The sleeper is inactive. There is no increase to the wealth of the world from a sleeper. The work is done by active hands fingering along the looms and the distaffs of production, by busy feet erranding the goes and comes of the market’s fluctuations, by broad brows throbbing hot with the fling-off of swarming thought, the mental electricity that is to pulse through humanity and gird the very ends of the earth together. But the sleeper there lies his lazy length; nothing he takes, nothing he makes, an inert useless log of unconscious flesh. Some time ago, at Falkirk Station, I read this notice of the railway company: “Wanted to dispose of thirty thousand old sleepers!” No longer can they uphold the rattling rails of the country’s rolling traffic, outlived their usefulness, their day done, sell them for firewood for what they will bring! As I read that, I thought, “Well, I know some congregations very like that railway company, surplus stocked with a lot of ‘old sleepers’ they’d better dispose of!” If you are unconverted, the whole of your keen activity, dear organising worker for the Church, is just the galvanised twitching of a ghastly corpse. It has no value at all in God’s sight; nay, unconverted labour has been rated by the Master at the minus figure of His complete disallowing and disapproval. “The ploughing of the wicked,” God says, “is sin.” There is a certain kind of congregational activity very much in vogue, in which all vagaries of outward commotion and hop-step-and-leap exercises are gone through in the most genteelly pious fashion. But you may visit till your legs bend, you may sew till your Dorcas needle evaporate through ceaseless friction, you may spend and be spent, give and be given till you melt with fatigue, and all the time it is just for self; it is that “zeal of God’s house that hath eaten up” the Christ. You are asleep in nature’s sleep; and, worker, till you come to Jesus and give Him your heart all your labour is but beating the air. It is like the child’s rocking horse, motion indeed, but no progress. You remember Luther’s parable about this? A council is held in hell, the devil presides, and the fiends are competing for a prize for the best infernal service. “I,” says one--“I saw a caravan of human beings crossing the desert. I called on the sirocco with its hot, foul breath, I whirled the sandy masses to the blotted-out heavens, and I buried them all, and their bones lie whitening on the surface flats.” “Well done,” says the devil, “but a greater work than this can be done.” “I,” speaks another competitor--“I beheld a gallant life-laden vessel skimming the surface of the glassy sea. I hissed afar for the roaring tempest; I piled the mountains of foaming surge on the deck, and the ship went down with a sullen plunge, and the ooze and the tangle of the deep are their unburying grave.” “Well done,” says the devil, “but a greater work than this can be done.” “I,” and this last demon voice has the grim chuckle of conscious triumph in it--“I witnessed a congregation in a gracious revival. Souls were flocking to Christ, and our kingdom of hell was suffering defeat. For spiritual fervour I substituted material good; I multiplied the funds and collections; I filled the pews to overflowing; I flung enchantment round the voice in the pulpit--outward prosperity I brought with a rush to everything, ease, and comfort, and success, and along with it I soothed them all to slumber; and now, minister and members they are all asleep!” “The prize is thine, for this is the greatest work!” shouts the Infernal Arbiter, and hell’s rafters rang with approving applause!
III. The sleeper is in danger. Here is a sleeper. The couch is enveloped in a mass of flimsy inflammable gauze curtains. A table stands ready to topple, and right on the edge of the table a naked candle is burning to its socket. Danger, is it not here? Ay, it is, and the red flames roaring out at yon windows will summon in desperate haste the rush and rattle of the fire engines in the dead of night. A matter of life or death it is; danger is here indeed. Unconverted soul, you are the sleeper. The curtains of a delusive dreamland have wrapped your couch in an inflammable cloud, and the candle of time, alit with eternity, is spluttering in its holding bracket before the final flare-up and the never-ending, conflagration of the awful “Too late! too late!--die! damned!” The sleeper is in danger because entirely defenceless. Yonder the whole armed camp has succumbed to slumber, the picket has fallen asleep at his post. Hist! a low, soft, rustling noise out there in the forest, the momentary gleam of the moonlight on a glistening tomahawk! Silently, like tigers crouching and crawling for their mesmerised prey, dark forms are wriggling and gliding through the bush to that camp of doom. Still they slumber within half a minute of their destruction. A war-whoop that brings the double echoes back from the far-off Rocky Mountains! Yells on yells rending the midnight lift! The work of blood has begun, and in a few minutes all the reeking scalps are dangling at the chuckling redskin’s girdles! To a man that slumbering regiment has been annihilated. Sleep has done its fateful work. It always does. In sleep there is, too, the danger of all dangers, destruction incipient, death actually begun. It is a wild night on this Highland moor. Masses of powdery, feathery snow are whirled and hurled in continuous gusts from mountain tops to every nook of the glens. And that poor, faithful shepherd, with the icicles hanging at his shaggy beard, wearily wandering after his strayed sheep, is beginning to feel drowsy and dazed with that ceaseless beat of the icy avalanche from the frowning sky. It will be only for a moment or two and he will start up from his slumber refreshed for the search. Here is the very shelter, the bield side of a crag! Asleep! Ay, forever! “The Ice Maiden,” as they say in Danish song, “has kissed him,” and the press of that kiss on the cheek pledges to him the never awaking! Sleeper, sleep on, but the sleep slips into a frozen death! To sleep is to die, and he is asleep, and he is dead, and the other shepherds will tenderly lift him up in the clear calm of the fury-spent morning, a glazed corpse, a lump of lifeless ice! So, unconverted soul, sleeper in the Kirk of God, in this sleep of yours death has already begun. You have been kissed by the Ice Maiden of a lost eternity. You have given way to spiritual drowsiness, and you are already in the grip of the grave, and that cursed burial yours, of them who “have come and gone from the place of the holy.” O gospel tampering, temporising soul, fear this and flee. If you refuse Christ now, will your dead heart be moved to accept Him at your any time nod, at your mere wish? I trow not. Recently in an extreme case of comatose sleep, of stupor “trance,” when everything else failed, a famous doctor managed to awake the sleeper by focussing a beam of light into the upturned eyeball. Yours is this extreme case of trance, you Christ-rejector for years, your heart hardened with the crust of misused gospel privilege, you are dead. Yet here, blessed be God, is the famous Physician, the Lord. “Wherefore He saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” (John Robertson.)
Sleeping in church
The weakness to which poor Eutychus succumbed is not altogether unknown in our modern churches, though all those who slumber in their pews cannot plead the excuse of having been kept up all night to listen to a sermon several hours in length; but perhaps if everyone who went to sleep in church fell down three stories and got picked up half dead, people would think twice before they indulged in a nap. When Paul noticed the irreverent taking of the Eucharist at Corinth, where each seemed bent on getting as much bread and wine for himself as he could snatch, he exclaimed, “What, have ye not houses to eat and drink in?” And when I see people mistaking their pews for dormitories, I have often felt inclined to say, “What, have ye not beds and sofas at home to sleep on, that you thus profane the house of God with your indolence?” If people are too tired on Sunday morning with the week’s work, they should rest their jaded bodies at home, rather than come jaded to church. Why give to God a worn-out brain and body, not good enough for man? Come rested and fresh, but don’t forget to come. If you will listen to Paul you should try and get to church once on the Lord’s Day. “Forsake not,” so he pleaded, “the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is”; but remembering Eutychus, perhaps we may add, “Whenever you come, try to keep awake.” (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)
Fell down from the third loft and was taken up dead.--
A sudden death
We have here the record of--
I. A sudden death.
1. How this affects the individual himself.
2. The consequences to survivors.
II. The sudden death of a man in the prime of life.
III. A sudden death under peculiarly awful circumstances. He was asleep. Is your soul asleep in--
1. Carnal security?
3. Satan’s arms.
Conclusion: May the Holy Spirit--
1. Show you your danger.
2. Make you safe. (Biblical Museum.)
And they brought the young man alive and were not a little comforted.
Young men and the Church
I. Young men need to be brought to life.
1. “Ye must be born again” applies to them as to all.
2. Yet, of all men, the young are most apt to overlook this necessity. For what is more suggestive of vigorous life than a young man? He is alive all over--thoughts, affections, physical energies.
3. All this, however, may be dead to God and righteousness, and be dead to his true interests, his high duties, and his immortal destiny.
4. There is but one method by which young or old can be brought to life--union with Christ through faith. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life,” etc.
II. Young men when brought to life should be all alive. Spiritual life should quicken and animate all their powers for God. This effect is not invariably seen. Many of our young people are not fully consecrated. We miss in the Church the “go” which is so palpable in the world. This may arise from the discouraging way in which they are received by the Church. It is strange but true that in too many communities the young are looked upon with suspicion, and their new enthusiasm thus receives an early chill. Hence--
III. The Church should bring its young men alive. They are God’s gift to the Church which should--
1. Take them under its protection.
2. Give them the benefit of its experience.
3. Encourage the full exercise of all their powers.
4. Give them a share in its work or government.
Young life is of the greatest value to the Church, and if repressed what will become of the Church a few years hence? Let the elders, then, train the young for those offices which must soon become vacant. A sure test of a Church’s strength or weakness is the way it treats its young men.
IV. Young men alive should minister to the comfort of the Church. Often suspicion arises from the restlessness and impulsiveness which irritate older men. Respect the aged; remember their services; do not rush reforms; bide your time, it is surely coming and you can afford to wait. And in the meantime go as far with the elders as you can, and endeavour to allay prejudices by thoughtful consideration for others, and by humility before God. (J. W. Burn.)
And we went before to ship and sailed unto Assos.
Analysis of service
1. These arrangements were under Paul’s own hand. He himself would Lake the twenty miles’ walk and make a religious exercise of the journey. He wanted no human companion; Jesus Himself would draw near. There are times when human companionship becomes a burden, when we must be left alone; and walking is an appointed means and help of intellectual and spiritual study. Locomotion helps the processes of thought. Do we walk alone and “meditate in the field at the eventide”--the tired day taking its rest, the battle halting awhile?
2. Paul joined the ship, passed on with his companions to Miletus, and saw the white palaces of Ephesus, which, perhaps, tempted him to go back to the old battlefield. Therein he knew his weakness. It was never safe to show Paul the marks of an old controversy, unless he had ample time to return and complete the purpose of the sacred fray. A trait of his character reveals itself in this comparatively trivial incident (Acts 20:16). He had a vow to discharge, or some hidden purpose to carry out, and therefore he felt safest on board ship. Yet he could not pass by wholly; so here the mastermind comes out again (Acts 20:17). He must have a few words with them, not new, but old, words spoken in new tones. We can never hope to preach a new gospel, but we can always preach the old gospel in a new accent. Every man has his own tone, has his own tears and emphasis. So the gospel is the same and not the same--unchangeable yet changing with all the varying phases of daily pilgrimage, and taking upon itself the newness of the present necessity.
3. Paul is about to make his greatest speech. Intellectually he may have stood higher, but he is not going to be intellectual now; his heart is going to speak. Some people have failed to find a heart in Paul, and have found nothing but heart in John. Did John, or any other man, ever deliver such a speech as this? If any man wishes to know what Paul was, he can find the whole man in these pathetic sentences.
4. Listen to the now veteran speaker (verse 18). Paul lived a public life, and was able to appeal to the life he had led. Paul was a great preacher, because he was a great man. He calls attention not to particularly prepared utterances, by which he said he was now ready to abide, but he says, “Look at the whole life; I am willing to be judged by that.” Will it not be so at the last? We judge a man a day at a time. But life is not a question of single days; you must judge the supreme purpose of a man, and so judged, some of us will be better than we have ever been accounted to be, and some may be much worse. We must take in the “all seasons,” and leave to God the complete judgment, because He knows what we have done, what we have resisted, what we would have done if we could. He will connect our prayers with our service, our aspirations with our attempts, and within the continual tumult of contradictions He will find the real man, and crown him, or sentence him to a great distance from the light.
5. Paul says he has served “the Lord with all humility of mind,” etc. Some people would call this egotism; but there are two egotisms--the little egotism that thinks about itself, and the unconscious and heroic egotism which never thinks about itself, even whilst apparently speaking only in its own name. “With all humility of mind”--that is the root of spiritual genius. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant.” “The meek will He guide in judgment,” “but the proud He knoweth afar off.” Where there is humbleness of soul there is great expository power. If we were better men, we would be better students; if we were humbler, we would be more learned; if we were less, we would be more.
6. “With many tears.” Tears are good readers. They may stumble over the letter, but they have great skill in seeing the spirit. We see most when our eyes are shut, so our hearts see most when they have no eyes but tears. A ministry baptized with tears must help us. It comes down amongst the people, and speaks to their immediate life, and shows the worst how he may be better, and the best how he may improve. Let us have ministers who can sympathise. We shall then find that the highest argument is clothed with the supremest tenderness, and that the man who stands upon rocky heights speaking great words of might can also come down to pray by the cradle’s side, and plant the flowers of intercession around the edge of the open tomb.
7. “And many temptations.” This is quite an outline of ministerial education! An untempted minister will never do us any good; an untried man will talk over our heads. My great preacher must be a man who can say, “I have fought a severer fight than you are fighting; I know the devil better than you know him; and now, my brother--crushed, bruised, nearly gone--you and I must, in God’s strength, fight out this whole thing, and in the grace of the Cross get back again the manhood we have lost.” To speak so is to be sure of a good hearing, for the poor, self-distressing heart knows the voice of experience. (J. Parker, D. D.)
For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus.
1. It is sometimes necessary for the Christian worker to sail right by the Asia that seems so much to need his presence in the pursuance of his duty doing elsewhere.
2. He is a wise Christian who is ready to modify his plans when their efficiency will be increased by such modification. He is a wise enthusiast in the cause of foreign missions who also turns his attentions sometimes to the needs of the home missionary field.
4. It is a wise procedure sometimes to hasten home from effort in the needy field s of Asia and Greece to cheer by one’s presence the workers in one’s own Jerusalem. (S. S. Times.)
For he hasted, if it were possible for him to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.--
Resolution and submission
It is right to make our plans for the future, and to do the best we can to carry out those plans, even though we are ready to give them all up at any moment at the call of God. Resignation is not shiftlessness. Submission of the will implies having a will which can be submitted. The Christian who is readiest to stop work, and to lay down his life, when God would have him quit working and living, is the Christian who is most zealous and determined in his life work, while he is at it. A locomotive can run over a downgrade faster than a gravel car can; and it can come to a dead stop half-way down, as the other cannot. The very steam which enables the locomotive to stop, is the force which gives it its added propelling power. Look ahead to your Jerusalem, and plan to be there in time, even while you are stopping, or running, by the way, as Providence indicates to be your duty. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the Church.
Paul at Miletus
I. The testimony of faithfulness.
1. Serving faithfully (Acts 20:19).
(1) With humility (Rom 7:13; 1 Corinthians 15:9 : Ephesians 3:8; Philippians 4:12; 1 Timothy 1:15).
(2) In the face of opposition (Acts 9:23; Acts 23:11; 2 Corinthians 11:26).
2. Teaching faithfully (Acts 20:21).
(1) To everybody (Acts 18:4; Romans 1:14; 1 Corinthians 1:23).
(2) The whole truth (Mark 1:15; Acts 3:19; Ephesians 3:17; Hebrews 12:2).
(1) “Ye yourselves know.” Happy is the Christian whose life has been so manifestly consecrated to Christ, that he can begin his address with so confident a statement as this.
(2) “From the first day.” Wise is that Christian who shows his true colours just as soon as he comes among strangers. It took less than one day for the Ephesians to find out that Paul was a Church member before he went West.
(3) “With all lowliness.” The chief of apostles and the greatest of preachers, thought so much of Christ that he thought very little of himself.
(4) “With tears.” This bravest of apostles wept. The Son of God wept. To weep then need be no sign of weakness. Tears are not fears.
(5) “With trials.” When we think we have a monopoly of Christian sufferings, let us pause and consider what lay behind these two words of Paul’s (2 Corinthians 11:23-33).
(6) “That was profitable.” Would Paul have thought it was “profitable” for a minister of God charged with a message of life to dying men, to puzzle them instead over questions of the “higher criticism”?
(7) “Repentance … and faith.” Could the essentials of Christianity have been more completely set forth by any form of words whatsoever?
II. The testimony of fearlessness.
1. Fearless Christian determination.
(1) To seek Jerusalem (verse 22; Luke 9:51; Acts 19:21; Romans 15:25; Galatians 2:1).
(2) Despite the dangers (verse 23; John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 3:3).
2. Fearless Christian resignation (verse 24; Act 21:13; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:20; Revelation 12:11; Colossians 3:16).
3. Fearless Christian separation (verse 25; Acts 20:38; John 16:16; Timothy 4:7).
(1) Paul was bound in the spirit to go to Jerusalem, and he was bound in the body after he got there.
(2) Paul knew, and still he did not know. He knew that dangers were before him, but he did not know or care exactly what they were.
(3) Paul preached of faith, and Paul had faith, and therefore Paul went on to Jerusalem without a doubt that the Lord would watch over him when he got there.
(4) Paul doubtless loved life, but he loved the Lord Jesus Christ a great deal more, so he proceeded to do his Christian duty regardless of consequences.
(5) Paul taught by word and deed that life is good for something only as it is put to some good use. He knew that he who loses his mortal life in Christ’s service finds thereby the life immortal.
(6) Paul emphasised the fact that he received the gospel he preached, directly from the Lord. He evidently appreciated the sacredness of the trust.
III. The testimony of guiltlessness.
1. Freed from responsibility (verse 26; Ezekiel 3:19; Acts 18:6; 2 Corinthians 7:2).
2. Through faithful admonishing (verses 20, 27, 31; 1 Corinthians 4:14; Jeremiah 42:19).
(1) We can save no man; we can warn him, and counsel him, and point out to him the way of safety. So much we are bound to do.
(2) We shall never free ourselves from responsibility by urging the old plea of the first murderer, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
(3) We shall never be free from responsibility for others’ salvation until we free ourselves. We must with our own hands wave the danger signal. It is not enough to pay the minister or missionary to act as flagmen in our stead.
(4) We can be free if we set about it vigorously and boldly, and are careful to declare the whole counsel of God.
(5) We can be free if we will. Do you as a Sunday school teacher feel that by your faithfulness you are freeing yourself from responsibility for your scholars’ salvation? (S. S. Times.)
Paul at Miletus
The successive scenes in Paul’s life are fine studies in character. Paul at Athens shows us the man of adaptation; Paul at Corinth, the man of affairs; Paul before Agrippa, the man of opportunity; Paul shipwrecked, the man anchored; Paul in prison, the man free. Here at Miletus we have the man with a good record. Let us look at--
I. His privileges.
1. He can look his old friends in the face (verse 17). There was not a man in Ephesus who could make him hang his head.
2. He can fearlessly refer to his past (verse 18). There is no braggart air. It is the honest confidence of a man content to have his record scrutinised, in the full belief that it will be his ample vindication.
3. He can confidently forecast his future (verse 22). The goodly retrospect justifies a goodly prospect. His past is prophetic of his future. “A good record” tied to our past does not give us title to heaven. Jesus Christ alone can do that. But it is a mighty help to confidence in the genuineness of the title.
II. His fidelities.
1. To the Lord (verse 19)--to Him first of all. There is no fidelity to other interests while there is infidelity to Christ. It was his Master first, men afterward, himself last and least.
2. To the truth (verses 20, 27). He was as unswervable in his devotion to the truth of Christ as to the person of Christ. We may dream of fidelity to Jesus with a quiet rejection of some truth of Jesus, but it will be only a dream. The Son of God and the truth of God are one.
3. To men. Fidelity to Christ and truth ensure fidelity to men. Paul could call these elders to witness that he was pure from the blood of all. It will pay to get these three fidelities unmistakably into our record. Christ without truth is a phantom Christ. Truth without Christ is a body without a soul. Duty to men with no Christ and no truth of Christ is keeping to the low level of the moralities.
III. His characteristics. We will find them balanced and harmonised in couplets.
1. Faith and action. Paul entered Ephesus trusting in God. For three years he withstood its idolatry and its rage, and turned the city upside down, living the life he lived in the flesh “by the faith of the Son of God.” With the same trust he was ready to go to Jerusalem, unmoved by the “bonds and afflictions” that awaited him. But how he tied his faith to deeds! James wrote that “faith if it hath not works is dead, being alone.” And this is sometimes quoted as if he and Paul were not agreed. But look at this restless, ceaseless, mighty toiler at Ephesus, Corinth, Athens, Rome, Jerusalem, harnessing “works” to faith.
2. Humility and courage (verse 19). When humility is at its best it most magnifies God. When courage is at its best it most magnifies God. That is the Divine secret of their harmony. They come together at the foot of the cross.
3. Tenderness and conscientiousness. There was a wonderful pathos in this man’s nature. He has been misjudged by the sentimentalists who count him cold and harsh because he would tell the whole truth. But how did he tell it? Like his Master, “with many tears.” And yet his conscience kept his tenderness from mawkish weakness--kept him from mutilating truth through mistaken notions of love. He told men, even weeping, “that they were the enemies of the Cross of Christ.”
1. A good record is rather to be chosen than great riches. “He left a large property,” is one comment on the dead; “he left a good record,” is another comment. There is an infinite difference between them. Let us not wait for the practical recognition of this truth till we come to look death in the face. It will be too late then.
2. Some things must be in the man before the best things can go down in his record. The quality of doing depends on the quality of being. Every man is the artificer of his own fortune, because every man is the builder of his own character.
3. To have our record worth looking at, a joy in memory, a welcome prophet of the future, and something we need not blush for when confronted with it either here or hereafter, we must have it stamped with fidelity to Christ, to truth, to men--these three. Treachery to either is treachery to all. (Herrick Johnson, D. D.)
St. Paul’s address to presbyters at Miletus
This charge is the first specimen of the kind. If anyone had a right to admonish his brethren it was St. Paul, both on account of his well-established apostolic dignity, and his devoted labours, which in no place had been more abundant than in Ephesus. This speech is full of St. Paul’s finest traits--his sensitiveness, tenderness, faithfulness, and firmness.
I. He appealed to their knowledge of his life and ministry.
1. He did so with a frankness as far removed from foolish pride as from strained humility:--
(1) So that they should not permit his name and authority to be disparaged in his absence;
(2) To give moral force to his exhortations;
(3) To set before them an example which they ought to follow. In those days there were no books on the Christian life or pastoral care. Paul himself had to be a book and a model.
2. He first appealed to their knowledge of his life, and then reminded them of his doctrine. Teaching, if unsupported by the life, carries but a faint and doubtful impression.
3. Tears are mentioned three times in this interview. It was quite consistent with his energy and courage, and a mark of the true greatness of the man, that he had a sensibility passing the tenderness of women. So he speaks of the tears--
(1) Occasioned by his trials, and especially by the deadly hatred of the Jews;
(2) Of pastoral anxiety;
(3) Of the elders when they learned that the apostle was now leaving them for good.
4. The apostle laid stress on his disinterestedness. His epistles show how keenly sensitive he was to any imputation of self-seeking motives. Those who love money are still fond of insinuating that those who teach religion do so merely to get a living. To silence such calumnies the apostle had provided for himself and his companions. It is scarcely necessary for ministers today to take such steps for the vindication of their motives. Intelligent congregations know that they would be the sufferers if their pastors were to occupy themselves with worldly business.
5. He also reminded them of the great theme of his public and private ministry. It was the same gospel which he had everywhere delivered. Not a word did he say of “special miracles,” for such signs and wonders were not permanent accompaniments of the gospel; but he was emphatic on these two indispensable things--repentance and faith--for these brought salvation home, and were themes to be handled by the elders.
II. He explained the reason of this interview. He was on his way to Jerusalem, and knew that he would be in peril of his life. Note the apostle’s conformity to the sufferings of his Lord (Luke 9:51). The Master did not consult even His most intimate friends, but simply assured them “that He must go unto Jerusalem” etc. (Matthew 16:21). His apostles were most unwilling that He should cast Himself into such danger. But Jesus replied by a prompt rebuke, Nothing could shake His purpose (Mark 10:32). So also Christ’s servant, Paul, went “bound in the spirit”; and only told his settled purpose. Many tried to dissuade him, but in vain. Such intrepid persistence as this was made possible to St. Paul simply through his intense devotion to Christ. All that he wished for was to accomplish his course, to fulfil that ministry which he had received, not from man, but from the Lord Jesus.
III. He joined exhortation and warning to the presbyters. He minded them that the same Holy Ghost whose guidance he felt bound to obey, had the direction of their duty also (verse28). Such was the high estimate of the spiritual office in the primitive Church. It did not allow those bishops to lord it over God’s heritage, but it required them to bear themselves as the organs of a heavenly power.
1. “Take heed to yourselves!” Oversight of one’s self is the first requirement for a judicious oversight of others.
(1) Their acknowledged religious position tempts them to take their spiritual health for granted, and to relax that vigilance which other Christians find so indispensable.
(2) While they neglect introspection, and yet perform their public functions, they tend to become mere religious hacks, and grow more and more unfit to be the real channels of spiritual guidance to others.
(3) Because of their position, coldness, or inconsistency, does double injury to the cause of Christ. In modern times this counsel needs to be given also to amateur directors of religious effort, and to the countless critics who are ready, at the shortest notice, to pass an opinion--generally an unfavourable one--on the religion of their neighbours. It were better that they should take heed to themselves, and reserve their strict censures for their own faults.
2. “Take heed to all the flock” etc., “feed the Church of God.” The Church was not the flock of those bishops. It was forbidden to bishops to “draw away disciples after them”; and it would be well for modern shepherds to avoid such expressions as--“My church,” “my flock,” “my congregation.” The redeemed people of God in any definite place form the flock of God.
3. As the shedding of tears is mentioned three times, so also we read three times of the shedding of blood, or laying down of the life, the physical basis which is the blood.
(1) His own life the apostle was willing to yield up at Jerusalem if it was required for the service of Christ and the Church.
(2) From the blood of all men he kept; himself pure by so preaching the gospel, that if any heard and refused it, their blood would be on their own heads.
(3) The Church of God has been purchased by Christ’s blood.
4. The apostle counselled the elders to follow his own example as to self-support. At Ephesus, where it had been so common to practise pseudo-spiritual arts for filthy lucre’s sake, it was eminently advisable that the chiefs of the Christian community should prove themselves thoroughly disinterested. It was well too that they should show an example to others in Christian giving (verse 35).
5. He also dropped a word of warning which must have added alarm to the sorrow of the assembled bishops. He foresaw that teachers of error would appear at Ephesus, and even in their own ranks some would play the part of wolves. He did not expatiate on the subject, but sounded the alarm--“Watch!” From the message of the Lord we learn that the evil here spoken of did arise (Revelation 2:1-7). We also gather that Paul’s warning had not been without good effect.
IV. He commended these brethren to God and to the word of His grace. By God and the gospel the Church at Ephesus would be built up. How forcibly must the language have been recalled to the minds of the elders, when, in course of a few years, they read (Ephesians 1:2). (D. Fraser, D. D.)
Paul at Miletus
Paul is ending his third missionary journey. Jerusalem is his destination, and his ship must needs wait a few days at Miletus. Ephesus is only a few miles away, and a messenger is dispatched to the elders of the Church in that city asking them to meet the apostle for a farewell interview. The invitation is eagerly accepted, and the meeting is one of deep sadness for the reason that it is probably the last time they will be together.
I. We are reminded of the loving fellowship in Christian service. These elders were very dear to Paul and he to them. They had worked together, he as leader, they as faithful aids. One aim had demanded their energies, namely, the building up of the Ephesian Church. Their united labours and prayers had welded them together in trust and love. One of the rewards of Christian service is the fellowship growing out of it. This fellowship is based on enduring foundations. Friendships in the world grow out of very thin soil often. Physical beauty is one bond; neighbourhood is another: people are friendly because they live side by side. The social status often determines our friendships. Business, intellectual pursuits, travel, draw people together in relationships more or less permanent. But these are not to be compared with that deeper fellowship enjoyed by those who are doing the Lord’s work. There is something about gospel service that brings out the truest and best side of character. People of the most diverse tastes and dissimilarity of culture are found side by side in loving relation in the Church of Christ who could not be induced into such unity on any other basis.
II. Another consideration suggested by Paul’s address is the courage required in Christian service. “The Holy Ghost witnesseth … that bonds and afflictions abide me.” Nothing but a complete consecration to Christ could have carried him forward in view of such a future. Our life is good for what it will bring to Christ and for the truth it will establish in men’s hearts. Beyond that our life is of small account. The future therefore can threaten no affliction severe enough to thwart a Christian in his duty. There need be no comparison of different periods of the world’s history to illustrate this law. Every age brings its peculiar perils to the performance of duty. The quality of fearlessness is a prime one in living for Christ. Fearlessness to the degree of making nothing of one’s life for Christ’s sake is often supposed to be an unnecessary thing. There is always another consideration forcing itself upon us, namely, the economy of life. The natural impulse is to save it rather than to sacrifice it. “Even unto death” is a degree of devotion not believed necessary, but it is just that willingness to die that underlies devotion to the most trifling duty. The physician and nurse take that possible alternative into consideration when they begin the practice of their profession. It may mean death. The engineer says, “It may be death to take out this express tonight, but I must do my duty, no matter what comes.” Instead of lessening the ardour of living, the facing of the perils of service increases that ardour. We desire to do the best work possible before the end comes. Instead of being absorbed in a depressing contemplation of his coming troubles, Paul avails himself of his opportunity to gather the elders of the Ephesian Church in one more conference at the seaport Miletus. Perchance he can say one more helpful word.
III. This address also sets forth the responsibility involved in service. “I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” Paul considered himself bound to be absolutely faithful to all who came under his charge. There are parts of God’s message to men peculiarly pleasant to utter. There are phases of truth adapted to win the attention of unbelievers without stirring their consciences or molesting their indifference. But there are other parts of the “counsel of God” that arouse opposition and forbid admiration. Some truths enter the soul like sharp irons, and the impenitent regard them often as the personal opinions of the preacher or ward them off as the antiquated forms of a dead theology. It is so easy to say that the past generations believed such and such things, but we have outgrown them! The temptation assails the Christian teacher to slur over or suppress the parts of the message that are for the time unpopular. Paul no doubt felt that temptation. A symmetrical ministry was to be a chief care. May we not take heed to that advice now? What preacher and teacher does not feel that he has his favourite lines of truth which he emphasises to the exclusion of others just as necessary? There are Churches suffering from a lack of variety in the spiritual and doctrinal food served to them from their pulpits. For the “counsel of God,” as contained in His Word, pertains to the whole life of man. Every human interest is therein treated, and no one, if he means to reach all sorts and conditions of men, has the time to harp upon one string. He will always be fresh as a new morning.
IV. Paul hints at the hindrances the best service will encounter. “After my departure shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things.” Although he and the elders had laboured three years in that Church, and though they might strive never so faithfully in the future to feed the flock of God, yet all that care and labour would not insure perfect loyalty to the gospel. The uncertain equation is the instability of human hearts. No apostle was ever able to keep an entire Church true to the faith. The faithful worker will always find a shrinkage in his results. Peter already has discovered “false teachers among you,…denying the Lord that bought them.” John warns his hearers against “the Antichrist, who has already come.” Jude writes to the sanctified “to earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares … denying … our Lord Jesus Christ.” The cause of this condition in the early Church may have been that they were too near the great facts of the gospel to get their full meaning.
V. The close of Paul’s address suggests the spirit of service: “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. I have showed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak.” He was speaking to men who lived in a commercial centre and were used to measuring values in gold and silver. They could appreciate, therefore, the unselfishness of a man who had no regard for the precious things of trade. It is possible to have a low motive even in the highest service, for there is no work which self-seeking may not spoil. But a continued service for others, the helping of the weak or sinful, begets the habit of subordinating selfishness. The kind of unselfishness which the world likes to see is that which gives up the things the world prizes best. Self-assertion the world understands, but it is nonplussed before self-denial. Our influence as labourers for the kingdom must result in the degree of our unselfishness. We cannot get an indifferent world to accept a gospel of the cross while we are avoiding crosses in our daily living. It was because the elders knew that the cross was the centre principle in Paul’s life that they regarded him with so much affection. (E. S. Tead.)
Paul at Miletus
We too have loved and have said farewell. Yes, we know. Paul is one of us. This touch of nature makes us kin.
I. The duties of Christian service. Paul’s address is primarily applicable to officers in the Christian Church, yet most of the matters treated of concern all who are trying to do any work for the Lord.
1. The first duty which, as our passage suggests, is expected of a servant of Christ is to endure hardness. Wherever Paul went the Holy Ghost testified to him through some of his fellow Christians that he was to find bonds and afflictions (verse 23). The thorn road and none other is the way we must go. Courage is one of the most essential Christian virtues.
2. It is a Christian’s duty to live faithfully in the present (verse 22). Paul knew not what was in store for him beyond the general fact that it was trial. But his ignorance of the future did not trouble him. He had been through a stormy past and had found God in it, and he knew he would find Him in the future. Therefore he had no need to worry.
3. It is our duty to accomplish our appointed work (verse 24). The important matter to Paul was not whether he had “a good time,” whether he suffered or not, but whether he did the Lord’s work set for him to do. Paul’s work was “to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” Is that not the sum and substance of the life work of every true Christian? What is Christian experience but an increasingly deeper appropriation of the truth of God in Christ? And what is Christian activity but an increasing manifestation in conduct of the fact that we have so received Christ? And we must not put God off by contenting ourselves with the silent testimony of good Christian lives. This is much as an offering to Christ. But He expects also the testimony of the lips, and this especially Paul had in mind when he spoke of his ministry. When last did we testify openly for Christ?
4. In testifying or teaching it is our duty to declare the whole counsel of God (verse 27). This is something one may hesitate to do, but Paul did not shrink from it. He let God decide what truth is, and on his part accepted it, all of it, and proclaimed it, all of it.
5. It is our duty to feed the flock (verse 28). If God gives us anything that is good, shall we keep it to ourselves? How much Christian experience is wasted, that is, how much knowledge of His grace God is giving us all the time, in our trials and joys, in our study and in our business, which we do not impart to anyone else, but keep wholly to ourselves.
6. We are to watch against the enemy (verses 29-31). The destroyer of souls never deserts his office. Paul is not referring here to those Jews and heathen who antagonised the gospel wherever it went. He refers to evil men who hypocritically came into the Church (verses 29, 30) with the deliberate purpose of doing harm. Any man who knows more about truth than the Bible, or can show a better way than the way of Christ, or tries to weaken the uprightness of his fellows, had better be watched and guarded against.
7. A Christian ought to be unselfish (verses 33-35).
8. It is our duty to help the weak (verse 35).
9. In all our doing we should remember the words and example of our Lord (verse 35). He is our pattern.
II. We turn now to the blessings of Christian service. Duty is not for blessing’s sake, it is for its own sake. But according to a beneficent arrangement of God, it is never without its blessing.
1. It is a blessing to suffer for Christ (verse 23). It is not blessed in itself to suffer. Pain is painful everywhere and always. But “for Christ” transforms pain into joy. This is Christianity’s triumph. Life brings its agonies to God’s people as well as to others; but they have the joy, which no others have, of being able to say truthfully to themselves, “I know that all things work together for good.”
2. The love of Christian fellowship (verses 25, 31). We can almost imagine we hear Paul’s voice trembling with emotion, as we can see the tears springing to his eyes while he tells these Ephesian friends how he has tried to serve them. There are many pleasant relations possible in this life, through God’s kindness to us, but none is more lofty, more wholly worthy, than that of friendship in Jesus Christ. Other friendships are sweet while they last, but these alone are eternal.
3. A good conscience (verse 26). There is no peace of mind to him who, when he thinks at all, must remember duties unaccomplished.
4. Helping others spiritually (verse 28). If one has money, it is pleasant to use it in relieving others’ sufferings. If he has ability of mind, it is a joy to help others in the difficulties of their thinking. But better than these is it to know Jesus Christ and lead others to accept Him as their Saviour.
5. It is a blessing to know that we are carrying on the worthy work of the past (verse 31). Paul had laboured among the Ephesians. He had done a good work. These elders were to have the privilege of carrying it on after he was gone.
6. We are specially under God’s care (verse 32). Paul commended his dear friends at Ephesus to God, and he knew God would take care of them. Surely they were comforted by this when the perplexing hours came when they missed Paul most. They knew a better friend even than Paul was with them.
7. One blessing of the Christian life is to be built up in all that is good (verse 32). God is able to do this, and we believe, nay, we know, He does it. We feel as Augustine felt, that poor as his life Was, whatever good there was in it was due to the grace of God.
8. We have an inheritance among all them that are sanctified (verse 32). This may refer to the reward of Heaven. But it is likely that it refers to the reward of earth also (similarly Acts 26:18; Ephesians 1:18). In both respects we have a blessed estate.
9. Last of all, but not least, comes the blessedness of self-denial (verse 35). (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
The pastor’s farewell
In his speech we may observe--
I. Paul’s vindication of himself. Ministers are bound not only to look to their consciences, but also to their credits. When the name of a minister is contemptible, his doctrine will be the less acceptable. The apostle vindicateth himself--
1. As to the integrity of his life (verses 18, 19).
2. As to his fidelity in his doctrine (verse 20).
II. His exhortation to them. As he taught them before by his pattern, so now by his precepts (verse 28). This counsel the apostle urgeth upon a three-fold ground.
1. From the person who committed to them this charge. That unfaithfulness which is but felony against the charge of a subject may be treason when it is against the charge of a sovereign.
2. From the price paid for them (verse 28). Things of the greatest cost call for our greatest care. If God thought them worth His blood we may well esteem them worth our tears and sweat.
3. From the peril their flock was in (verses 29-31). If wolves will watch to devour, shepherds must watch to defend the sheep. Those commanders who are entrusted with a garrison when they are sure to have their quarters beaten up, had need to be ever upon their guard.
III. His prediction of his future sufferings.
1. Propounded (verses 22, 23). Christians of all men must bear their crosses; ministers of all Christians must look to undergo misery. The fuller the tree is laden the more cudgels will be thrown at it; the most fruitful meadows bear oftenest in the year of the scythe.
2. Amplified from the liberty it thereby denied them of ever seeing Paul again (verse 25). Sad news to honest hearts upon a double ground; partly--
(1) Their lack of him. He had told them of wolves entering in among them; now at such a time for the flock to be without a guide; when the storm arose for the vessel to be without a pilot; when the soldiers were to engage in hot service with enemies, for their expert commander to be wanting; must needs be woful. That the nurse should be taken away before the children could go alone did much affect and afflict their spirits.
(2) Their love to him. As Paul was a Christian, and their spiritual parent who had begotten them, brought them up in the nurture of the Lord, and upon all occasions advised and assisted them, they could not but love him in a high degree, and therefore much lament his loss.
IV. His valediction to them (verse 32). Before he had given them a command from God, and now he commends them to God. The words contain the legacy which Paul bequeaths to his Christian friends. He taketh his farewell of them, and wisheth a welfare to them. (G. Swinnock, M. A.)
The ministry of St. Paul
This address contains very much instruction for Christian ministers, and therefore for Churches. For ministers are very largely what Churches make them. It is hard for the strongest man to resist the current of opinion and feeling among those with whom he is in constant association. If in some Churches the ministers have become priests, it has been because the people first transferred to the ministers all spiritual responsibilities, who belonged to the sacred “order” were regarded as having a nearer access to God. St. Paul--
I. Kept back nothing that was profitable. He never considered what it would please them to hear; he told them everything that it was well for them to know. He did not shrink from declaring to them “all the counsel of God.” Paul was not among those who think that it is necessary to cajole men into faith and righteousness by concealing truth which might repel them. He was frank and open, and asserted that he was “clear from the blood of all men,” because he had concealed nothing, in every age of the Church there have been strong inducements to follow another course.
1. When the Reformation began, good and wise men must have been sorely tempted to a policy of reserve. The religious faith of millions rested on the authority of the Roman Church and priesthood; to challenge the authority was to loosen the foundations of religious belief. The errors--so it might have been urged--were not altogether mischievous. Superstitious fears might restrain some from evil courses who were not likely to be restrained by a purer faith. An undue reverence for the priests might draw some to the services of the Church who would not be drawn by reverence for the invisible God. Even if the institutions were corrupt and the beliefs erroneous, it would be well to use a little “management” in reforming them. Now no doubt the Reformation loosened in some countries, while it strengthened in others, the foundations of morality and of faith. There is more than plausibility in the contention that the revolt of Germany against the authority of the Church prepared the way for the revolt of France against the authority of Christ. But the catastrophe might have been averted if wiser teachers had had the courage to expose error and to resist its growth in earlier generations.
2. Do you suppose that we, in our days, are quite free from the cowardice, treachery, and unbelief of the good men who lived, in the ages before the Reformation? Some excellent persons are seriously afraid that the new translation of the Bible will give a great shock to the faith of “simple-minded Christians.” Well, if the faith of “simple-minded Christians” is disturbed, the responsibility lies with those who have always known that the sacred text was imperfect; and that, even with a perfect text, no translation can be faultless. But there are people in our congregations who do not want to have their minds cleared of mistakes; and ministers may be tempted to conceal the truth because some of their hearers do not wish to know it. There are some truths which have become part of the very substance of our moral and religious life. But unhappily there are many Evangelical Christians who are in a panic if any of the human definitions of these truths are impeached and condemned. They do not ask for “all the counsel of God,” but only for as much of it as will confirm their traditional beliefs, and leave their minds undisturbed. They clamour against every man that is not of the same mind with themselves. They follow the same line in dealing with those who are in doubt. If a man begins to question any part of their system, they say that he is on the high road to infidelity.
3. The only remedy is to be found in a more courageous faith in truth. Let Evangelical Christians be loyal to Him who is the Light as well as the Life of men; let them remember that the Spirit of Truth has come to lead us into “all the truth”; let them desire to know “all the counsel of God,” and then we need have no fear of the ultimate result of the troubles and perplexities through which we are now passing; the victory of the evangelical faith would be assured.
II. The tone of the address suggests that the Ephesian Church had relied very largely on himself. Now that they are to “see his face no more,” he commends them “to God and to the word of His grace.” This reminds us of another quality which should distinguish the work of every minister, and which congregations should encourage and honour, viz., to lead people to rely on God, not on himself. Whenever he comes between the people and God he is in a false position, and he is doing permanent harm. But in all Churches there is a craving for this illegitimate exercise of ministerial power. Romish priests discharge two functions. As confessors they absolve from sin; as directors they assume the guidance of the spiritual life. Even in Protestant Churches, though confession and absolution are abhorred, there is sometimes a craving for “direction.” That the counsel of a minister may occasionally he of service is obvious; but something more than counsel of this kind is desired. There is a readiness to charge the minister with the responsibility of the conduct of the religious life. This disposition is the result of a want of moral and spiritual vigour; if yielded to, it increases moral and spiritual weakness. It obstructs the free development of conscience. It impairs faith in God. When Christ was in the world, who would have dared to come between any of His apostles and Him? who would have dared to assume the “direction” of their religious life? There is equal presumption in coming between the humblest and most ignorant of Christian men and the Spirit of Christ, who now dwells with the Church. “I commend you to God and to the word of His grace”; this should be the reply of every Christian minister to those who seek from him what they should seek direct from God. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)
Characteristics of Paul’s ministry
Paul’s ministry was--
I. Loyal: “serving the Lord” (verse 19). It is the word used for slave service. There was nothing of the spirit of a slave--base subjection, or angry opposition to service forced. But there was the idea of absolute surrender. Paul regarded himself the property of Jesus--to live and labour for Him alone. And this was a joyful voluntary surrender, and so was “perfect freedom.” Let us in our ministry not be secretly serving ourselves; making popularity, admiration, power, pelf, our aim; nor let us serve? the state, or the world, or the Church, or any society, for the purpose of pleasing, but only to do good, remembering that in religion we are to be “serving the Lord.”
II. Humble. “With all humility.”
1. Humility towards our Divine Lord--following His counsels, and not our own fancies--teaching His truth and not our own speculations; doing the work He prescribes, and not that which we might prefer; content to go anywhere, do anything, suffer any affliction which He ordains, with meek submissiveness, with cheerful alacrity.
2. Towards others. They who teach and preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus should exhibit His spirit, and cultivate sweetness, gentleness, courtesy: not aiming at supremacy, emulating others, striving for the higher place, assuming airs of superiority, but acting as those who knew themselves unworthy to occupy the lowest station in the Church, who have nothing which they have not received, and who may, in the judgment of the Searcher of Hearts, be far below some whose gifts and position are inferior, but who may illustrate the saying, “Many that are last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” If the ministry of such a one as Paul was “with all humility,” how much more should ours be!
III. Tender. “And with many tears.” True manliness is tender. It is not unmanly to weep. Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus, and when He contemplated the sin and approaching suffering of Jerusalem. Paul was among the strongest of men, and therefore among the tenderest (2 Corinthians 2:4; Philippians 3:18). How different this from the hard sternness, even the jubilant fervour, with which sin and sinners have sometimes been denounced! How solemn, yet how tender, was Jesus! We should be the most tender and tearful when most faithful in reproof (verse 31).
IV. Faithful (verse 20). He would not prophesy “smooth things.” A self-seeker, a coward, a man pleaser, would “shun” (verse 27) many topics opposed to the prejudices and self-interest of his hearers. We can imagine the case of slave owners, or distillers and rum sellers, or Sabbath traders, or coveteous people in a congregation, and the inducement to “keep back” what would be profitable, but unpleasant, and a shunning to declare the “whole counsel of God.” (Newman Hall, D. D.)
Paul’s conscious fidelity in the discharge of his ministry
I. Humbly. “With all humility of mind.”
II. Tenderly. “With many tears.”
III. Fully. “How I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you.”
IV. Indefatigably. “Have taught you publicly from house to house.”
V. Unrestrictedly. “From house to house.”
VI. Evangelically. “Repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
I. The difficulties. The expression “many tears and temptations” proves beyond a doubt that he had serious difficulties to contend with, especially from his own nation. The Jews, zealous for the traditions of the fathers, looked upon him as a renegade, and lay in wait for an opportunity to kill him. There are seasons of reflection in the life of every right-minded man, in which the outflow of “many tears” would be a relief, because “the misery of man is great upon him.” Now the “temptations” of difficulties which befell the apostle come to the lot of every good minister of Jesus Christ in some form or another. There is--
1. The hostile state of the parties between whom he negotiates. The Bible declares that “God is angry with the wicked every day,” and also that the “carnal mind is enmity against God.” Reconciliation is the keynote of the gospel ministry. The invitation to the feast, now as of old, is rejected on very trivial grounds. One buys a piece of land, another five yoke of oxen, and another marries a wife, and all beg to be excused. Another difficulty is that of--
2. Meeting the demands of a mixed assembly. It is one of the wonders of creation that there are no two countenances formed exactly alike. Could we but see, we should probably discover that there are no two souls exactly alike in all things. Add to this the diversity of position, education, temper, training, and character, and you will see how difficult it is to interest and instruct all. Another difficulty is that of--
3. Pecuniary support. “Yea, ye yourselves know that these hands have ministered to my necessities, and to them that were with me.” Another thing to which the text points in relation to the gospel minister is--
II. The duties. There should be--
1. A faithful declaration of the whole counsel of God. “I kept back nothing that was profitable to you.” Mark this: it is not what is pleasant, but what is profitable. He adopted two methods in the performance of his work--
(1) Public teaching. “And have taught you publicly.” Paul’s ministry was a thoughtful ministry; it made the people wiser and holier than they were before.
(2) Private visiting. “And from house to house.” Another thing which the text points to in relation to the gospel minister is--
III. The doctrines. “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1. He is to show man’s relation to his Maker. “Repentance toward God.”
2. He is to show man’s relation to Christ. (Homilist.)
St. Paul: his Christianity in his tears
Among the many features of Paul’s Christianity as here depicted there is one which shines above the rest and gives a unity to the whole--his tears. Jesus had the same tears of sorrow when He wept in Gethsemane; tears of charity when He wept over the destiny of Jerusalem; tears of tenderness when He wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus. Note, then, St. Paul’s--
I. Tears of sorrow. He is a Christian, not a Stoic; he does not pretend, nor did his Master, to stifle the expression of a pain he could not but feel, and which it would be affectation to disguise. Paul’s whole ministry is a ministry of tears, in the sense of the Psalmist, when he says, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy,” etc. By the strength of his faith Paul anticipates the days of harvest, and triumphs in the midst of his tears. Here he weeps in the anticipation of “finishing his course with joy.” What a picture of sorrows is that abridgment of his life written by his own hand (2 Corinthians 11:23-29), and He from whom no future event is concealed, has united, in a single expression, the sufferings and the apostleship of Paul (Acts 9:15-16). The abundant tears with which the apostle was to bedew his path would not water the earth in vain. We lend an attentive ear to an advocate who has suffered in the cause which he defends. And further, sorrow and physical pain have a power over the heart of man, and obtain a respect peculiar to themselves. In order savingly to touch the heart of the most unbelieving amongst you, I should wish that there might stand in this pulpit the suffering Paul. But it is written, “Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after Me, cannot be My disciple”! Well, your cross, where is it? What are the sacrifices and afflictions which your faith calls you to bear? Neither a frivolous nor a luxurious life can ever agree with the Christian course. We need men, not like Jabez, whose prayer is, “That thou wouldest enlarge our coasts and keep us from evil”; but men like St. Paul, who “always bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.”
II. Tears of charity (verse 31). Place yourselves in the position of those whom Paul thus warned. Imagine yourselves to be one of those who are beginning to attend to the gospel, or have not yet seriously considered it. The apostle does not give you any more rest than he does himself; he urges you during the day, he detains you far on in the night. Be will not let you go until he has obtained--what? Some favour? Ah! the greatest favour which you can show him is that of being converted to Jesus, or of serving Him with greater faithfulness. You resist his entreaties; but before you part with him, look at him: he weeps over the sins in which you continue--over the harm which your conduct does to the Church--over the stumbling block which you place before the world--above all, over the future which you are preparing for yourself! Do not these tears which you cause him to shed enable you to see into the very soul of his Christianity? I discover in them a whole body of Christian theology and morality; nay, truth and charity--truth, so clearly beheld, that it leads him to foresee that a dreadful misfortune will befall you if you persist in rejecting it; charity, so intense, that by it your salvation becomes almost as necessary to him as his own: what is this but his beautiful definition of Christian faith--“the truth in love,” exhibited as a practical reality? I would ask, What is gospel truth, according to this man who entreats you with tears to receive it? Is it simply a refined Deism? You need not stop to examine his epistles and discourses, which are overflowing with the “good news”--you need only see him weeping at your feet. Is it only an interpretation, more or less sound; an opinion, more or less well established, which we must modestly defend without peremptorily affirming facts for fear of being guilty of pride and intolerance? Explain to me those tears of St, Paul if he has not before his eyes “a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries!” Now I will suppose that you have listened to the most urgent, the most eloquent, the most pathetic exhortations, and have not yielded. But that Christian orator entered your closet, and there, alone with you, without the slightest motive of human praise, entreated you to take pity on yourself, and at last, at the sight of your obstinate resistance, unable either to prevent your being lost, or to suffer you to be the cause of your own ruin, melts into tears; say, could you do otherwise than yield? Alas! we must not expect too much; many have seen these tears and have not yielded; but to resist a gospel thus preached, must there not be a heart of stone?
III. Tears of tenderness (verses 37, 38). By a rare gift--of nature, shall I say, or, of grace?--St. Paul, uniting, as he did, opposite qualities, and tempering strength with gentleness, had one of the tenderest hearts that ever beat. What can be more affectionate than the language of the apostle to his Thessalonian brethren, his spiritual children? (1 Thessalonians 2:6-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-2). But this love has its special attachments. There is not enough attention paid to the position which friendship occupied in St. Paul’s life and apostleship. I only bring forward in proof the large number of brethren and sisters who are spoken of by name at the end of most of his epistles, and greeted, one by one, with the delicate tenderness of the deepest Christian love. Nor is this all. Amongst the many Christian friends who surround him, Paul has some to whom he is most deeply attached. Luke, Barnabas, Philemon, Epaphroditus, Epaphras, Tychicus, and, above all, Timothy and Titus, his supporters and helpers in his gospel labours. What mother ever wrote to her son a letter more full of solicitude than the 2nd Epistle to Timothy? The brightness of Paul’s holiness might dazzle our eyes and seem unreal, could we not discover, throughout it all, traces of his human nature. But the character revealed by these tears forms also a main strength of his apostleship. This power operates in more ways than one. It operates by gaining hearts to the apostle himself. Every one feels himself drawn towards a man in whom the principle of love is so strongly developed; and, since the greatest obstacles to the gospel lie in the inclinations of men, by interesting the hearers in favour of him who proclaims the gospel you interest them in favour of the gospel itself. It operates by enlarging the apostle’s sphere of action. This brotherly family, who surround such a loving master, form around him, as it were, a sacred phalanx, in which everyone, being placed at his post by this able general, furnishes his share towards the common resistance to the enemy. But it operates in yet a deeper manner. The warmth and fervour of the apostle’s affections give to the gospel which he proclaims a simplicity, an air of truth, which greatly contributes to subdue the minds of men. Conclusion: The tears of the apostle have explained him to us. The strength of his apostleship arose from his personal Christianity, and his Christianity was a Christianity of tears. Weeping from sorrow, he subdued others by gaining their sympathy; weeping from charity, he won others by love; weeping from tenderness, he carried others along with him by the simplicity of his gospel. (A. Monod, D. D.)
How should a Christian minister govern his Church
I. He is to live among his people.
1. His life is to be devoted to their service, (verse 19).
2. He is to enter into the circle of their life, as a friendly sympathiser in their joys and sorrows (verse 18).
3. He is to enlighten them by his example, and yet to continue humble, conscious of his own weakness (verse 19).
II. He is to impart to them the whole truth.
1. To communicate the whole truth--repentance and faith (verse 21).
2. To do so in living application to the necessities of the times (verse 20).
3. To everyone in particular, that so he may account to God for every soul (verses 20, 26, 27).
III. He is to suffer for them.
1. He looks courageously forward in faith to the threatening storms (verses 22, 23).
2. He joyfully gives up even his life for Him who gave Himself for us all (verses 24, 25).
3. He confidently commends himself and his flock, in life and death, to the grace of God (verse 32). (Lisco.)
There are two sides to the question of quitting ourselves of responsibility for those whom we have set to a special work. On the one hand, we may err by meddling with their work and worrying over it; on the other hand, we may err by failing to show our continued interest in that work, and in those who have it in charge. Paul committed neither error. He laid responsibility on the Ephesian elders, and had no thought of attempting to take it from them; but he wanted them to consider that responsibility in all its bearings, and to be assured of his loving and prayerful sympathy with them in its discharge. Here is a pattern for all those who have set others at work, in the church, in the Sunday school, in the place of business, in the home. Do not worry yourself, nor worry those who have the thing in immediate charge, by your close attention to the details of their business--which is not yours. But do not fail to show them that you consider them lovingly and prayerfully, and that you commend them “to God and to the word of His grace” in their life and work--before their Master and yours. (H. C. Trumbull.)
Ye know … after what manner I have been with you.
Example better than precept
Words are cannonballs. Example is the powder that gives the words their force. Many men may be able to say, “Heed what I tell you,” but not many could so confidently say, “Follow my example.” Yet this was what Paul said to the Ephesian elders, and what he wrote to the disciples at Philippi (Philippians 4:9). Example is always better than precept, because talk is cheap, but deeds are dear. To preach the gospel can be done in a moment, but to practise the gospel is a very different thing. If we can have only one of these things, we prefer practice to preaching. Much of our profession goes for nothing, because we profess one thing with our lips and then deny our profession by our deeds. But since actions speak louder than words, our actions drown our speech. A man who walks to church one day in the week, and to queer places six days in the week, must not be surprised if people call him a hypocrite. (A. F. Schauffler.)
Serving the Lord with all humility of mind.--
I. Its nature. All Christian graces are products of truth. So humility is the state of mind which the truth concerning our character and relations ought to produce. It includes--
1. A sense of insignificance, because we are both absolutely and relatively insignificant. We are as nothing before God, in the universe, in the hierarchy of intelligences, in the millions of mankind. We are insignificant in capacity, learning, influence, and power, compared to thousands of our predecessors and contemporaries. Humility is not only the consciousness of this insignificance, but the recognition and acknowledgment of it, and acquiescence in it. Pride is the denial of or forgetfulness of this fact, the assertion of our own importance.
2. A sense of weakness. Humility stands opposed to pride as including self-confidence, and especially pride of intellect, either as consisting in Rationalism, or the refusal to submit to the teaching of God; or in a sense of superiority to others. No man can be a Christian without becoming as a little child.
3. A sense of guilt. Humility stands opposed to self-righteousness. When we consider the number and aggravations of our sins we are lost in wonder that men can be so infatuated as to arrogate merit to themselves. The parable of the Pharisee and the publican shows that a moral man propped up with a sense of his good desert is more offensive to God than an immoral man bowed down with a sense of guilt.
II. Its importance appears from--
1. Its nature, as the want of it implies ignorance or disbelief of the truth concerning our true character.
2. The frequent declarations of Scripture; that God resisteth the proud but showeth grace to the humble; that those who exalt themselves shall be abased, etc.
3. Its connection with the whole economy of redemption, which is intended to humble man. Men must stoop to enter heaven.
4. Its influence on our fellow men. As nothing is so offensive as pride, so nothing is so conciliating as humility.
5. Its influence on ourselves. The humble only are peaceful.
III. Its cultivation.
1. Bring your mind under the operation of truth.
2. Especially live in the presence of God.
3. Never act from the impulse of pride.
4. Humble yourselves by not seeking great things.
5. Seek the indwelling of the Spirit, and the aid of Christ. (C. Hodge, D. D.)
I. Its comprehensiveness. Serving the Lord not only with humility, but with all humility.
1. There are many sorts of pride, and you will be able, by looking at the contrast, to see that there must be also many kinds of humility. There is the pride of--
(1) The heretic, who will utter false doctrines, because he thinks his own judgment to be better than the Word of God; he is a disputant but not a disciple. Now Paul never had this. So willing was he to sit at the feet of Jesus that he counted all the learning which he had received at the feet of Gamaliel to be of no value in itself, but became a fool that he might be wise.
(2) The Papist, who attaches merit to his own works, and hopes to win heaven by them. From this Paul was totally free. He learnt to count his righteousness as filthy rags.
(3) The curious. He would if he could climb to the Eternal Throne, and break the seven seals of the book of destiny. Paul was never curious; he was perfectly content to take his doctrine from his Master’s spirit, and leave endless genealogies and questionings to those who had no better guests to entertain.
(4) The persecutor. The pride which suggests that I am infallible, and that if any man should differ from me, the stake and the rack would be the due deserts of so great a sin. But Paul had the humility of a man of generous spirit.
(5) The impenitent man who will not yield to God. Not so our apostle. He was ever filled with a sense of his own unworthiness.
2. To give you a clearer view of this comprehensiveness I will put it in another shape. There is humility--
(1) Before serving God. When a man lacks this he proposes to himself his own honour and esteem in serving God. How little too many Christians have of that humility. They will pick that position in the Church which will give them most honour. But it never was so with the apostle. I think I see him now, working long past midnight making his tents. Then I see that tent maker going into the pulpit with his hands all blistered with his hard work. You would say of him at once, “That man never proposes to himself the praises of his hearers.”
(2) During the act. That is a splendid psalm which begins, “Not unto us.” David thought it needful to say it twice. Then he deals the death blow with the other sentence, “But unto Thy Name be all the glory.” To sing that song when you are reaping the great harvest, when you are going on from strength to strength, will prove a healthy state of heart.
(3) After the service is done. In looking back upon success achieved, upon heights attained, it is so easy to say, “My right hand and my mighty arm hath gotten me the victory.” Christian workers, see to it that never when your work is done you speak of yourselves or of your work.
II. Its trials, or the dangers through which it has to pass.
1. The possession of great ability. When a man hath seven talents he must recollect that he hath seven burdens of responsibility; and therefore he should be bowed down. Let a man feel that he possesses more power than another, more learning, and he is so apt to say, “I am somebody in the Church.” It is so ridiculous; for the more we have the more we owe, and how can there be any ground for boasting there? Great talents make it hard for a man to maintain humility. Yet little talents have precisely the same effect. “There,” says one, “I have but a trifle in the world, I must make a flare with it. I have but one ring, and I will always put the finger that wears that outwards so that it may be seen.” If you have little talents, do not swell and burst with envy. The frog was never contemptible as a frog, but when he tried to blow himself out to the size of the ox then he was contemptible indeed. It is just as easy for a man to be proud in his rags as my Lord Mayor in his gold chain. There is many a costermonger riding in his little cart, quite as vain as my lord who rides in a gilded coach. You may be a king and yet be humble; you may be a beggar and yet be proud.
2. Success. Great success is like a full cup it is hard to hold it with a steady hand. It is swimming in deep waters, and there is always a fear of being drowned there. But want of success has just the same tendency. Have you not seen the man who could not get a good congregation, and who insisted upon it, that it was because he was a better preacher than the man who did?
3. Long enjoyment of the Master’s presence. To walk all day in the sunlight brings us in danger of a sunstroke. If we have nothing but full assurance, we may come to be presumptuous. When you have long-continued joys, fear and tremble for all the goodness of God. But long-continued doubts also will breed pride. When a man has long been doubting his God, and mistrusting His promise, what is that but pride? He wants to be somebody and something. He is not willing to believe his God in the dark; he thinks he always ought to have joy and satisfaction, and so it comes to pass that his doubts and fears are as ready parents of pride as assurance could have been. There is not a position in the world where a man cannot be humble if he have grace; there is not a station under heaven where a man will not be proud if left to himself.
III. The arguments by which we ought to be provoked to it.
1. From ourselves. What am I that I should be proud? I am a man. An angel--how much he surpasseth me, and yet the Lord charged His angels with folly. How much less, then, should the son of man exalt himself? Verily, man at his best estate is altogether vanity. But there is a yet stronger argument. What are you but depraved creatures? When the child of God is at his best he is no better than a sinner at his worst, except so far as God has made him to differ. “There goes John Bradford--but for the grace of God.” A sinner saved by grace and yet proud! Out on such impudence!
2. In Christ. Our Master was never exalted above measure. He condescended to men of low estate, but in such a way that there was not the appearance of stooping. “And shall the servant be above his Master, or the disciple above his Lord?” Ye that are purse proud, or talent proud, or beauty proud, I beseech you, think how unlike you are to the Master. “He made Himself of no reputation,” etc. Look at that strange sight, and never be proud again.
3. In God’s goodness towards us. What was there in you that Christ should buy you with His precious blood? What in you that you should be made the temple of the Holy Ghost? What is there in you that you should be brought to heaven? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The energy of humility
The little and the lowly may be found in combination with wondrous energy. The coralline (Corrallina officinalis), which only be found most abundantly on any of our coasts, growing in greatest perfection near low watermark, is a small plant seldom exceeding five or six inches in height, and not even reaching that size. However, it compensates refits low stature by its luxuriant growth, being usually found in dense masses wherever it can find a convenient shelter. If the vital force of this plant had shot upwards, pushing out numerous and majestic branches in the air, and covering itself with abundant leafage and blossom, it would have attracted more attention and admiration, but it would not have gained force, or perhaps usefulness, thereby. Thus with human minds. Those whose powers shoot upward by some splendid feat of genius in literature or battle, arrest public attention and win public plaudits. Whereas possibly they neither gain more strength nor achieve more usefulness than those less showy men who work modestly for the common good in the obscurer regions of human life, and who, like the coralline plant, are always accessible to those who seek them at the low watermark of life’s affairs. (Scientific Illustrations.)
Humility leads to usefulness
See yon evening star, how bright it shines! how pure, how gentle are its rays! But, look, it is lower in the heavens than those that sparkle with a restless twinkling in the highest regions of the sky. God keeps you low that you may shine bright. Where do the rivers run that fertilise our soil? Is it in the barren top of yonder hill? No; in the vales beneath. If you would have the river, whose streams make glad the city of our God, to run through your hearts, and enrich them to His glory, you must abide in the vale of humility. (Rowland Hill.)
Humility of the truly great servants of Christ
Canon Auriol was invited on one occasion to preach an ordination sermon, at Carlisle, by the late Bishop Waldegrave. On the Sunday morning, as a large party, consisting of the Bishop’s family, the chaplains, and the candidates for holy orders, were sitting round the breakfast table at the Bishop’s residence, the Bishop repeated a text of Scripture suited to the occasion, and then called on each of those present do the same. This being a well-known weekly custom at Rose Castle, everyone was prepared, and as each text was repeated it was most interesting to remark what was the uppermost feeling in the minds of the several young men about to be ordained, some expressing bright hope as to their future, such as “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,” some rather breathing a prayer for grace and guidance, such as “Hold up my goings in Thy paths that my footsteps slip not.” But when it came to Mr. Auriol’s turn there was a pause of a moment or two; and then it was seen that the old veteran was overcome by emotion. At last he began “Unto me who am less than the least of all saints,” here his voice faltered and his eyes moistened, but recovering himself, he went on, his voice gaining strength as he proceeded, “is this grace given that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” The effect was most impressive. It was felt that if such are the feelings of one who has spent so many years in the Master’s service, and who has been so highly honoured of Him as His minister in holy things, what ought to be the humility and the casting away of high-mindedness on the part of younger men. His words produced a hush of reverential awe.
Humility aided by sorrow
About the ruins of an ancient castle, abbey, or cathedral, green moss and incidental flowerets break out from the rifts and rents as if they would beautify the ruin. So it is amid the wrecks of a broken heart that the sweet flowerets of humility, and lowliness, and love, and peace begin to germinate and grow, refreshed by God’s sun and watered by His dews, and adorning the character that His grace has created, and making it the admiration of others and acceptable to Himself. (J. Cumming.)
And how I kept back nothing that was profitable.
The verb is one which belongs to the vocabulary of sailors, and was used for taking in or reefing sails. He, St. Paul seems to say of himself, had used no such reticence or reserve, but had gone on his course, as it were, before the wind, with all his canvas spread. (Dean Plumptre.)
St. Paul’s ministry
I. Its nature--Testimony. He laid no claim to originality: he was simply a witness to tell just what he knew, no more, no less, and in such a way as to create conviction.
1. This testimony was--
(1) Complete--“I kept back nothing”: “I shunned not to declare all,” etc.
(2) Profitable. It is worth man’s while to listen to it. “Godliness is profitable,” etc.
(3) Clear--“Showed you.”
(4) Educational--“Sought you.”
2. This testimony was delivered--
II. Its objects--“Jews and Greeks.”
1. To all men as generally typified by those two great races. The gospel is an universal remedy for an universal need.
2. To those whom Jews and Greeks specially represent.
(1) The Jews as representing the Pharisaism, Sadduceeism--the formalism and religious freethinking of all time.
(2) The Greeks as representing the culture, science, art and worldliness of every age.
III. Its themes.
1. Repentance--the afterthought which is the result of the discovery and sense of sin. Hence it is--
(1) Self-knowledge--coming to one’s self.
(3) Hatred of that which has made self what it is.
(4) Penitential sorrow before God.
(5) Change of life.
2. Faith. Repentance is of no value in itself and cannot atone for sin nor avert sin’s consequences. The object of faith is Christ who has borne our sins. The penitent sinner trusts Him and is saved. (J. W. Burn.)
The man and the doctrine
1. Paul considered his hearers; he acted as a wise physician; he studied each individual case and gave to each a portion of meat in due season. There are great public utterances to be made, and private individual messages to be attended to. The gospel is not to be delivered with want of discrimination; but is to speak to every soul as if it were the solitary occupant of the universe--the one creature in the presence of the Creator.
2. In recounting his ministry, Paul said, “I have taught you publicly, and from house to house.” One would like a record of his house-to-house talk. To have heard Paul speak on great themes in a little sphere would have been an education. What child has not been fascinated by seeing what appeared to be the whole sun inside a frail dewdrop? And what traveller has not paused a moment to see some kind star condescending enough to hide itself in the depth of a crystal well, as if it were shining in two heavens at once? To have seen Paul at the fireside, or to have heard him talking to some little child, or to have watched him at some bedside near the dying sufferer--to have heard his voice when it was attuned to the hearing of one listener alone! Men are seen in little things, on small occasions. This great gospel will go anywhere, and be just the same whether drawn on a large scale or a little one. Do not be discouraged because you can only discharge a public ministry; and do not you be discouraged because you can only discharge the house-to-house ministry. Each man has his own gift of God. Happy he who works his own gift and not another man’s, and wise the people who, recognising the one gift, do not bemoan the absence of other accomplishments.
3. What did the apostle say both “publicly and from house to house”? (Acts 20:21). The one thing that cannot be changed is the message which the gospel has to deliver to the human heart, and that message cannot be expressed in more significant terms than “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” If your religion rested upon other foundations, I wonder not that it has been much troubled by contemporary assault, but if your religion finds its foundations in Acts 20:21, it cannot be touched. Where is there a heart that can say in its most serious moments that it has no need of repentance? What man is there that does not feel, under the pressure of his own guilty memories, that he needs a help other than his own? If that man has to be delivered, he must be delivered by another hand than his own, and that action is best represented by the words “faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
4. Having laid down some outline of his manner of life and doctrine, the apostle comes to a point of departure (Acts 20:22-23). It was a dark outlook; how is the darkness relieved? In this case as in all others: by an immediate and definite reference to Divine providence. “I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem.” When a man lives in this doctrine, he may go forward into darkness, but he goes forward with a solid and solemn step. Not one ray of hope in all the outlook! “In every city--bonds--afflictions.” What a tribute to the sustaining power of the doctrine he had taught! The bonds were many, the afflictions were heavy; what outweighed them all? The sense of God’s presence and God’s favour. If one thing above another has been demonstrated by Christian history, it is that the Christian spirit may be so vital in a man as to make him forget all care and pain and labour and sorrow, and make him triumph and glory in tribulation also. What comforted Paul will comfort us. This is the eternal quantity of the gospel--never changing, never lessening. There are amongst us men who can rise in the Church today and say, “But for the grace of God, I would not have been a living man this day.” The men who would render such testimonies are men whose intellectual sagacity has been tested and proved in the market place, in the realm of politics, along the lines of ordinary social life. I have buried the child of a man who had no consciousness of God, and I have seen that man reel back from his child’s open grave mad with hopeless grief. I have also buried the child of parents who have lived in God, and as the little coffin has been let down, they have been enabled to say, “It is well with the child.” In such extremities we find out the value of man’s religion. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Testifying to the Jews and also to the Greeks repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.--
The apostle’s testimony
From the nature of this testimony we see--
I. The genuineness of Paul’s conversion.
II. The impartiality of his ministry. “Jews and also the Greeks.”
III. The purely evangelical nature of his doctrine. Repentance and faith.
IV. The objects and two-fold exercise of the sinner’s salvation.
1. Repentance toward God. Thus admitting that the law has been broken, and thereby expressing the need of a Saviour.
2. Faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus accepting Him as a sufficient Redeemer from the curse of the broken law. (T. Colclough.)
Repentance and faith
Here are mentioned two qualities, repentance and faith, which are requisite to the profitable entrance upon Christian life. We are not mere pieces of machinery, but responsible creatures, with a mind to think, a soul to feel, a heart to be susceptible, and a will to determine.
I. Repentance toward God. Take a glance, with your mind’s eye, at the bearing of God toward us, and see whether it correspond with our bearing toward Him. Creation, preservation, redemption--these mark His mind and dealings: forgetfulness, neglect, sin--these things mark ours. What concord is there between his goodness and repulsive ingratitude? What agreement between acts of love, kindnesses promised; and, on the other hand, a distant dislike of that God’s presence, an anxiety to keep away from Him, and an almost studied absence from His worship and service? Were it, then, on account of ingratitude alone, we have ample motive for repentance. Now, repentance is something more than a passing feeling. Unless we are doing our best to shake off the power of iniquity, it is useless to say that we repent. Our repentance needs to be repented of. Our sorrow is but skin deep.
II. The second element of the apostolic preaching remains to be considered, viz., faith. Repentance towards God was a feature of Old Testament holiness; but faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ is the eminent characteristic of the new. In the gospel the two are combined, and the due exercise of repentance gathers force and stimulus from its union with the process of faith. The Son of God is the object of faith. “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid; but let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.” Let us, therefore, cultivate such a faith as we believe in our hearts to be prescribed and enforced in holy writ--faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Reconciler and Author of peace. (E. Jacox, B. A.)
Paul’s method of preaching
Let us consider--
I. How the apostle preached the gospel.
1. He always made a point of explaining the gospel. He knew that it would be preposterous to call upon men to embrace it before it had been made clear.
2. After he had explained the gospel, he taught them what it was to embrace it. In repentance, the sinner fixes his eye and his heart upon God, whose law he has broken, and whose displeasure he has incurred. In faith he fixes his eye and his heart upon Christ, and loves Him for doing that which renders it consistent with all the perfections of God to pardon and save the penitent.
3. He urged them to repent and believe immediately. As soon as he had taught sinners the nature, design, and terms of the gospel, he exhorted them to embrace it without delay.
II. The propriety of the apostle’s urging sinners to embrace the gospel immediately.
1. Because sinners are capable of embracing the gospel as soon as they understand it. Though the moral depravity of sinners has weakened their intellectual powers, yet it has by no means destroyed them. All men act upon this principle in their common conduct. The legislator, the officer, the parent, the master first instructs, and then commands. After any person has instructed another in duty, there is a propriety in his exhorting him to an immediate compliance. This holds in regard to religious instruction as well as to any other.
2. Because it was agreeable to the directions which Christ had given to His ministers.
3. Because it was in conformity with the example of all the sacred instructors who went before him. He addressed sinners in the same manner in which the ancient prophets addressed them. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
Two necessary things for all
I. Repentance. A ladder of sorrow, by which we descend into the depths of our own hearts: it has three steps.
1. Knowledge of sin.
2. Sorrow for it.
3. Desire of salvation from it.
II. Faith. A heavenly ladder, on which we mount to God and eternity; it has also three steps.
1. Knowledge that the Redeemer has come.
2. Holy joy that He has taken up His abode with us.
3. Unshaken confidence in His saving grace. (Lisco.)
Repentance and faith
The gospel of Jesus Christ began with the Baptist preaching repentance along with faith (Matthew 3:2). Jesus began His preaching with the same themes; and here we find them the staple doctrines of Paul’s ministry (Matthew 4:17). These two are not the highest of the graces. Repentance was not required of man in paradise, nor is it enjoined upon angels and saints in heaven. There is a higher grace than faith, viz., charity. Repentance and faith are the lowest steps of the ladder by which we must ascend; the two-leaved gates by which we enter the temple. The teacher does not begin with science but with rudiments. The physician does not say to his patients, Be healthy; he requires them to submit to a course of medicine. It is after this manner that our Lord deals with man, and this in thorough accordance with our nature. As sinners we have to start from the low ground of repentance and faith, that we may rise to love, obedience, holiness, and heaven.
I. Repentance towards God.
1. If men have sinned, it needs no argument to prove the necessity of repentance. Should some proud formalist or self-righteous Pharisee demur, I affirm that such have the greatest need to have their hearts melted.
2. As to the nature of repentance it is--
(1) A true sense of sin; not a mere fear of the consequences of sin, as when a man gets himself into trouble by a wrong act, and is vexed with himself for being so foolish. One may do all this, and yet love the sin as much as ever. Cain was not a penitent when he said, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” The true penitent regards sin as disobedience to the law of love, and grieves over it as giving offence to God who has shown him such kindness. He sees it to be injurious to his own best interests and those of his fellow men. Sometimes the repentance begins in a sense of some particular sin; but it does not stop there. Show the physician an outward symptom, and he may have to follow it to its source in a deeply seated distemper. In other cases, penitence begins in a deep sense of the evil of sin generally, and the depravity of our nature.
(2) An apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ. Despondency, or despair, is not repentance. The showers are always lightened by sunshine from heaven, and the tears run down the furrows made by smiles. The proper attitude of the penitent is that of the woman who was a sinner--not mourning in empty solitude, but seeking out Christ, coming to Him in holy boldness, pouring out his sorrows to Him, and laying his sins upon Him.
(3) Earnest and determined purpose to give up sin. This is μετανοία--the change of mind in which true penitence is consummated. There are other and lower kinds of repentance, such as Pharaoh’s, when the plagues were upon him; but when they passed away, his repentance also passed away. Such as Judas’s, who returned the thirty pieces, but who went out and hanged himself. Genuine repentance always carries with it reformation. At this point faith joins on to penitence. We turn to God through faith, and obtain strength to accomplish our end.
II. Faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. There is an idea that faith is a very mysterious exercise--visionary, unreal, inexpressible, and inexplicable. But there is no operation of mind more simple in itself, or which man is called on more frequently to employ. The boy believes in the love of his father, the pupil in the knowledge of his teacher, the youth in the trustworthiness of his friend, the farmer in the seasons, the patient in his physician, the merchant in the correspondence between demand and supply, and the scholar in the value of research. Now change the object: let it be a faith, not in an earthly but a heavenly Father; not in an erring human teacher, but a Divine and infallible one, etc., and it becomes the faith that saves.
2. What is faith as an exercise of the soul? Is it an act of the head, or the heart, or of both? I answer that these phrases need to be explained. “With the heart man believeth” (Romans 8:10), but in Scripture the word stands for inward thought and feeling of every kind, and includes all the purposing and sentiment which pass through the mind prior to action. The Old Testament word for faith is “trust” or “confide.” The faith that saves is more than a mere intellectual judgment--it is trust, it is confidence, i.e., an exercise of the will, choice. So then faith consists of a consent of the will to the assent of the understanding--the two in combination raising feeling according to the nature of the truths apprehended and believed in.
3. It is the fundamental truth of the gospel and of all Scripture that the sinner is justified by faith. It is belief in Christ that brings relief to the soul of the sinner. The condemnation is felt to be lying upon it; the curse of God, revealed against all disobedience. But here in Christ is obedience, to meet our case as having no righteousness; here is suffering, to stand for the suffering which we have deserved: “There is therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” But it does more than deliver us from condemnation. What a power there is even in our earthly faiths--as when men sow in the assurance that they will reap after a long season, and labour in the confidence of a distant reward! What an efficacy in the trust which the child reposes in the parent, which the scholar puts in his teacher, which the soldier places in his general! As it walks on courageously, faith discovers an outlet where sense feared that the way was shut in and closed. To it we owe the greatest achievements which mankind have effected in art, in travel, in conquest. But how much more powerful is faith in God! It is no doubt weak, in that it leans; but it is strong, in that it leans on the arm of the Omnipotent. It is a creature impotency, which lays hold of the Creator’s power. “We are justified by faith” (Romans 5:1); “It purifies the heart” (Acts 15:19); “It worketh by love” (Galatians 5:6); “It overcometh the world” (1 John 5:4). It is by it we are lifted above the trials of this world and prepared for death and heaven.
III. The relation of repentance and faith to each other. Theologians have disputed as to whether faith or repentance comes first. It is urged that there can be no repentance till the soul has turned to God by faith, and, on the other hand, that there cannot be forgiveness, which implies faith, without repentance. Really the two come together; there is never faith without repentance, nor repentance without faith. Each tends to produce, and in fact implies, the other. The sinner will not be apt to have faith till he sees his sins; and, on the other hand, faith in the holy God will constrain him to repent. Sometimes the one of these is the stronger, and sometimes the other. There are cases in which the sense of sin is so deep that the person has difficulty in appropriating by faith the mercy of God--has only, as it were, a glimpse of the sun through a thick cloud. In other cases faith looks so intently on the light that it does not notice the darkness.
2. The difference between them is indicated in the text. Repentance is “toward God”; faith is “toward the Lord Jesus Christ.” Both are toward God; but the one looks more toward God, whose law has been broken; the other toward God in Christ, who is reconciling the world unto Himself. Repentance looks primarily and mainly to the sin; faith to the salvation provided. The one looks down to the sins in the soul, like as Israel, when bitten by serpents, may have looked to the wounds in their prostrated bodies; the other looks to the Saviour lifted up, as Israel looked to the serpent of brass. The one looks back upon the past, mourns over it, and turns away from it; the other gazes forward into the future, and prompts us to go on in the path which leads to purity and to heaven.
3. Each serves a purpose. Faith brings us to the mercy seat; but it is to confess our sins and to find relief in consequence. Repentance acknowledges the guilt, and would break the hardness of the heart, which, however bruised, will not be melted except under the beams of the Sun of Righteousness. Repentance is the ploughing of the ground which needs to be torn up, while faith sows the living seed which strikes out roots and grows in the pulverised soil. If either were alone, it would not accomplish its intended end. Repentance by itself would be despair, and would prostrate the energies. Faith, if alone, might be tempted into vainglory, and land us in difficulties and inconsistencies, and we should fall into the mistake of the person mentioned in ancient fable, who in looking up to the stars fell into the ditch. Faith is the sail that catches the breath of heaven, while repentance is the ballast which gives us stability in the voyage; and by the two we are made to pursue the steady course. The Christian character is the strongest when the two are happily combined--when the firm and the flexible are united; when the bones are clothed with muscle and flesh. It is the most lovely when the darker hues of penitence run through the brighter colours of faith. (J. M’Cosh, D. D.)
And now, behold I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem.
(New Year’s sermon):--The text presents the future as something--
I. We are Bound to face. Paul was under the pressure of no bodily compulsion, yet he had to go.
1. All men are under this necessity.
(1) Many would like to stand still--like children who would have their holidays last forever.
(2) Others would like to go back--to repair mistakes. Embrace lost opportunities, etc.
(3) But this is now impossible. The law of progress is written on our lives.
2. But impotent as is the will to decide the direction of life it can in a measure shape that direction. The future is fixed by God: its character and issues are to be determined by ourselves.
(1) We may let ourselves drift.
(2) We may resolve to live for self.
(3) We may subordinate our will to God’s as Paul did. He was going to Jerusalem to serve God’s Church and to bear testimony to God’s gospel.
II. To be encountered with fortitude.
1. Paul was not perplexed by the uncertainties of the future. He practised what he taught, “Be careful for nothing,” etc.
2. He was not appalled by the certainties of the future. Prophetic intimations from city to city told him that bonds and imprisonments awaited him (chap. 21). Analogous presentiments are not unknown now. But apart from these “old experiences doth attain to somewhat of prophetic strain.” Past difficulties and sorrows, growing infirmities, and gray hairs here and there, are but shadows of coming events.
3. But Paul was neither perplexed by the one nor appalled by the other, because he knew he was being led by the will of God.
(1) Guided by God’s counsel, he knew that the way he was going was the right and best way.
(2) Sustained by God’s arm, he knew that God’s grace would be sufficient.
(3) And thus, to his great joy, he knew that the will of the Lord would be done. When he reviewed the circumstances it was without regret (Philippians 1:20).
III. To be welcomed with joy (Acts 20:24).
1. Life is a course which is desirable to finish--not simply to close. Life may be prolonged and yet not be complete. There is nothing sadder than physical development unaccompanied by intellectual and moral growth. The racer may run long and yet break down, or his laggard steps may leave him in the rear: so we may run in vain. Long life is not so much to be wished for as a complete one.
2. In order to finish the course it is necessary to compass the ministry of life--to testify the gospel of the grace of God.
3. This double consummation will be crowned with joy.
(1) The sense of completeness will bring joy. So will--
(2) The benediction of a blest humanity.
(3) The approval of a satisfied conscience.
(4) The Master’s “Well done.”
4. To achieve this joy we must be willing to surrender what men usually most value. “I hold my life of no account.” (J. W. Burn.)
The Christian’s onward course
I. In meeting and passing by “things that hinder.”
1. At Miletus the farewell to the elders. The purpose of a great love to be no hindrance in Christ’s work. Separations incidental to service.
2. At Tyre certain disciples who told him “by the Spirit” that he should not go up to Jerusalem. Contradictory voices and perplexities. The ultimate decision is thrown on a man’s own responsibility.
3. At Caesarea “Agabus took Paul’s girdle,” etc. A Divine prophecy of danger is to be of less force than a Divine inspiration of duty. The bondage of the Spirit in the cause of right mightier than the bonds of men.
4. Intense emotion to be no restraint in the activities of service--“What mean ye to weep and break mine heart?” Conscience is to be supreme over feeling. Paul a magnificent example to us in the journey of life. A man going straight on under the overmastering impulse of the right.
II. In uncertainty of the future. “Not knowing,” etc. The next step is in shadow. Tomorrow is behind the veil.
III. In knowledge of the future. These are not contradictory; we know not and yet we know. He who takes service with Christ may see in the light cast on life by His prophetic words, outlines of the narrow way. Like mountains rising through the mist, he can see from afar the heights he has to climb. “Bonds and afflictions abide with me.” Whatever there is not, there will be a fellowship of suffering with the Master; and the closer the companionship, the more severe the suffering may be.
IV. Under the guidance of a controlling principle.
1. Following the spiritual lead the Christian is able to deal with unexpected events. New circumstances come with the new hours; they master the ordinary man, as the drift and the gale have their way with the rudderless ship. The man under spiritual subjection has sovereignty over the varying events of life, and uses them as helps to the right course.
2. In this experience faith must follow where reason can but dimly see. The Spirit of God is an all-sufficient guide to the spiritual man.
3. In this experience the Right will become clearer in the progressive Light. Nor will the right be determined by the removal of difficulties; “bonds and afflictions” may come, but in them and with them the inner peace.
4. The consistency of Paul’s course. This is the outcome of the initial act (Acts 9:6).
5. The bondage of the Spirit the truest liberty. Contrast with this Divine power the forces under which men put themselves in subjection--the money power, the world power, the self power. These promise liberty. Service on the one side leads to lordship; on the other, imaginary freedom conducts to bonds and affliction unto death.
V. As characterised by a grand stability. “None of these things move me.” It is the strong motive power that leads right on through waves and storms. Then the glorious end--“that I may finish my course with joy.” Every man’s course will finish, but will he finish it? Under subjection to death or triumphing over it? (W. K. Lea.)
The spirit of duty is
I. A binding spirit. “I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem.” Urged by the force of his convictions of obligation to Christ, not merely to renew old associations. The binding does not imply reluctance. To be bound by the spirit of duty is to be self-bound, is to be free. The necessities of souls, the claims of Christ, demand my presence in Jerusalem; just as Peter and John said, “We cannot but speak,” etc., and himself, “Necessity is laid upon me.” The Divine spirit of duty will listen to no excuses based upon inconveniences, or apparent inexpediences. It makes me feel I must be faithful, honest, spiritual; I must teach and do good.
II. A heroic spirit. He was not afraid of--
1. Threatened persecutions. He looked at them with a fearless heart: “None of these things move me.”
2. Death itself: “Neither count I my life dear.” Life is a precious thing, yet duty is far more precious to a Christ-inspired soul. Like Christ, the truly good have ever been ready to sacrifice life for duty. This conduces in every way to our well-being. But the sacrifice of duty for the preservation of life conduces to our degradation and ruin.
III. An abiding spirit. “So that I might finish,” etc. These words give us a view--
1. Of the life of man. Paul regarded life--
(1) As a course. The allusion is to the Grecian race (2 Timothy 4:7 : 1 Corinthians 9:24). It is in truth a race, measured, so long and no longer--withal very short.
(2) As a course which would have an end--“finished.”
(3) As a course that should be finished with “joy”--not with terror, amazement and anguish, but “joy.” It is Heaven’s wish that we should all meet with a happy end.
2. Of the life of a minister. The life of a minister is that of--
(1) A most responsible trustee. The gospel is committed to his charge.
(2) A solemn witness “to testify the gospel.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Advancing by faith into the future
In the dungeons of ancient castles there was often a dark winding stair called the oubliette which terminated suddenly in a treacherous opening through which the unwary captive was precipitated into a deep abyss, and dashed in pieces on the rocks beneath. The future is, to some of us, in imagination such an oubliette. We tremble to take another step lest we should leap into sudden calamity, or into the jaws of death. But if we could only look at the matter aright, from the standpoint of faith, the tremors of apprehension would give place to the complacency of hope and trust. I have met somewhere with the anecdote of a father who, desiring to illustrate to his little daughter the nature of faith, concealed himself in a dark chamber in the basement of the house, and called upon the child to jump down into the darkness, assuring her that he would catch her in his arms. For a moment or two she hesitated, but the tones of the familiar and well-loved voice reassured her, and making one bold leap, she found herself the next instant clasped and caressed in her father’s embrace. A kiss was all the harm she got by her venture. The heart of the darkness was her father’s bosom. So will it be with us who have grace to trust God for the future. Let us advance, not tremblingly, but confidingly. That advance, if a leap in the dark, is not a leap into the dark. We shall find ourselves safe in a Father’s arm, and feel a Father’s heart beating next our own. (J. Halsey.)
But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself.
Paul’s devotedness to his work
We note here--
I. Calm determination.
1. As to himself. He is greatly concerned as to the conduct of his own life. He has a great work to perform, and he is most anxious that nothing should mar it, or reflect discreditably upon the great purpose of the gospel. He looks well to the end, but is vigilant all along the road. To finish as he would desire he must keep his loins well girded. He anticipates the crown, but meanwhile he is ready to bear the Cross unmoved.
2. His ministry. About this he was most jealous. Since he had first asked, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” he had been “instant in season and out of season” in the pursuit of that one grand work of “testifying the gospel of the grace of God.” Such determination could not be changed, such preaching none could silence.
II. Ready sacrifice. “Neither count I my life clear,” etc.
1. This was no empty boast. Paul had already suffered. His Lord to him was ever more than his own life.
2. It was a spiritual appraisement. What was his life in comparison with that ministry with which he bad been put in trust? What his convenience or comfort? He could willingly “suffer the loss of all things,” and even “count them but dung,” that the great cause might be served (Romans 8:18).
III. Simple steadfastness. He who exhorted others to be steadfast was a consistent exponent of his own teaching. This would have great influence now with the elders of Ephesus.
1. Outward circumstances had no tendency to draw him aside. “None of these things move me.” He could say, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep,” etc. There was firm conviction, solid faith, calm rest, simple steadfastness.
2. His words stretched away into the future. As to themselves, see Acts 20:29-30. As for himself, he would finish his course with joy. He had put his hand to the plough and would not look back. The prize was infinitely worthy of the work, the race, the fight. (E. M. Houchin.)
Paul’s faithful determination
Paul betrays in these words several valuable characteristics.
I. Firmness. “None of these things move me.” What things?
1. Excitement of travelling. How weary and tired.
2. Love of the Churches. Ephesus (chap. 20.); Tyre (Acts 21:4-5).
3. Personal friendship (Acts 20:8-13). Philip, Timothy, Luke, Silas, etc.
II. Self-sacrifice. “Neither count I my life dear,” etc. (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16)
. His life was daily self-sacrifice, and death would be but short pain. But Paul’s life was not his own; hence his Master would take care of His own property; and Paul could say, Philippians 1:23-24.
III. Perseverance. “So that I might finish my course,” etc. Paul was now on his way to Jerusalem with the offerings of the Gentile Churches to the poor in that city. It was a part of his “ministry”; he could not turn aside, whatever the result.
IV. Gratitude. “To testify the gospel of the grace of God” (verse 13). “For the name of the Lord Jesus” (Galatians 2:20), “who loved me.” Yet he loved earthly friends too; how hard to grieve them! “If you weep thus you will break my heart, though you cannot divert me from my work.” (Homilist.)
I. The fact that a man was able to say of all the afflictions of life, “None of these things move me.” We have here--
1. Calmness. It is a great gift of God, to think deliberately, to speak discreetly, to act wisely. Self-possession is a great secret of life; and I know no road to real self-possession but true religion. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you.”
2. Elevation. He looks down upon “these things,” and says, “None of them move me.” For so it is with a spiritual mind, as it is with the natural senses--when we get up high, things, which looked before so large, grow so diminutive. Elevation--getting nearer to the grandnesses of eternity--makes the things of this little world seem what they really are.
3. Independence. The man who wishes to be independent of external circumstances must be dependent upon God.
II. That Paul connects “None of these things move me” with “Neither count I my life dear unto myself.” The less is in the greater. If what man calls “life” is “not dear to him,” then, undoubtedly, all the circumstances of life could not be very great to him. But then the question comes, How is a man to be able to say this? By having a deep inner life which supersedes that outer life, which to every natural man is everything. But it is not only so--for he who has the life of grace is always looking on, through it, to the life of glory; and this life becomes, in the balance, very little, because he is always living on, by faith, in that life of glory, to which he is hastening.
III. He goes on, “So that i might finish my course with joy.” To him life was a race, and, like a good runner, he thought of the goal as the recompense for all the difficulties of the way. And what is it to “finish the course with joy”? To hold on a consistent life, through God’s grace, to the end; and when that end comes, to put no shame on our profession; but to be able to “testify the grace of God,” and glorify a dying hour; and then, as we pass away, to see the crown waiting in our Saviour’s hand, and to have the full and confident expectation that we are going to receive the recompense. If you can see that end all that stands in the way will “not move you.”
IV. He looked at his work: “And the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” The great remedy for affliction is work; and, being Christian work, it is sure to be the antidote of trial. Now, St. Paul turned away from “the bonds and the afflictions,” and he thought of his “ministry”; and, if so be he could only work at this, it was enough for his consolation. And what is this work? Is not it always to be “living witnesses” by our life--by our words--by our works--to the gospel--the great, gladdening process--the perfect goodness and free favour of God. And, if only you can realise that work, you will be able to say of “this life,” “it is not dear to you”! (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The true value of life
Life is a matter of very small account to anyone in comparison with duty doing; whether a man realises this truth or not. Whatever is worth living for is worth dying for, if dying be an incident to its pursuing. When the Roman general, Pompey, was warned against the danger of his returning from Egypt to Italy, to meet a new trouble in his own land, his heroic answer was: “It is a small matter that I should move forward and die. It is too great a matter that I should take one step backward and live.” Life is never well used when it is held dearer than duty. He who would tell a lie in order to live is willing to pay a great deal larger price for his life than that life is worth to himself--or to others. Richard Baxter has Paul’s idea when he sings, “Lord, it belongs not to my care,” etc.
Not counting life dear
John Penry, one of the noblest sons of Wales, offered up his life in the cause of his God and his country on the 29th of May 1593. In some of his last words to his countrymen he says, “The inhabitants of the city of Thasus being besieged by the Athenians made a law that whosoever would motion a peace to be concluded with the enemy should die the death. Their city began to be distressed, and the people to perish with the sword and famine. Hegetorides, a citizen, pitying the estate of his country, took a halter about his neck, came to the judgment place and spake, ‘My masters, deal with me as ye will; but in any case make peace with the Athenians, that my country may be saved by my death.’ My case is like this man’s: I know not my danger in these things. I see you, my dear native country, perish; it pitieth me. I come with a rope about my neck to save you. Howsoever it goeth with me, I labour that you may have the gospel preached among you. Though it cost my life, I think it well bestowed.”
Difficulties are God’s errands
In times of war, whom does the general select for some hazardous enterprise? He looks over his men, and chooses the soldier whom he knows will not flinch at danger, but will go bravely through whatever is allotted to him. He calls him that he may receive his orders, and the officer, blushing with pleasure to be thus chosen, hastens away to execute them. Difficulties are God’s errands, and when we are sent upon them we should esteem it a proof of God’s confidence. The traveller who goes round the world prepares himself to pass through all latitudes and to meet all changes. So a man must be willing to take life as it comes, to mount the hill when the hill swells, and to go down the hill. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
Danger to be met
Ten years ago, whilst in college (if I may be forgiven a personal reference), I read what I thought then and think still, to be one of the noblest avowals ever made. I quote it because of its influence upon my own life then and since. “If” (said Francis Xavier) “those islands had scented woods and mines of gold, Christians would have courage enough to go thither, nor would all the perils in the world prevent them. They are dastardly and alarmed, because there are only the souls of men to be gained. And shall love be less hardy than avarice? ‘They will destroy me,’ you say, ‘by poison.’ It is an honour to which such a sinner as I am may not aspire. But this I dare to say, that whatever form of torture or of death awaits me, I am ready to suffer it ten thousand times for the salvation of a single soul.” The spirit that breathed in those words was the spirit of an utterly selfless love; and every man amongst us, who can even faintly echo them, has placed his hands upon the secret springs of power. (T. Longhurst.)
A Christian sense of honour
“If I served in the Queen’s army,” said John Bowen, when offered the Bishopric of Sierra Leone, “and on being appointed to a post of danger, were on that account to refuse to go, it would be an act of cowardice, and I should be disgraced in the eyes of men. Being a soldier of the Cross, I cannot decline what is now offered me because it exposes me to danger. I know it does, and therefore I must go. Were I offered a Bishopric in England, I might feel at liberty to decline it; but in Sierra Leone I must accept.”
We note the parallelism of the text with Luther’s famous declaration when warned by his friends not to go to Worms. “I will go thither though there should be devils on every housetop.” When Tyndale was told that the bishops had burnt all the copies of his New Testament on which they could lay their hands, he calmly wrote, with a too sure presage of his after fate, “In burning the New Testament, they did none other things than I looked for: nor more shall they do if they burn me also, if it be God’s will it shall be so”; and that he was prepared for that was amply proved that day at Vilvorde, when, standing at the stake, he cried, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!” So, too, when Calvin was menaced with violence, he grandly said, “If this is what we have deserved at the hands of men whom we have struggled to benefit--viz., to be loaded with calumny and stung with ingratitude--then this is my voice, ‘Ply your faggots!’ but we warn you that even in death we shall become the conquerors, not simply because we shall find, even through the faggots, a sure passage to that upper and better life, but because our blood shall germinate like precious seed, and propagate that eternal truth of God which is now so scorned and rejected by the world.” To come to more recent times, the records of the Indian Mutiny contain many instances of native Christians and English soldiers--some of them hardly out of their boyhood--who could not be moved to abjure Christ by the most exquisite tortures which savagism could devise; while the story of the Madagascar Church has chapters in it which, in point of Christian heroism, raise this century to a level with the first. Nor is this all. There are amongst ourselves martyrs in humble life who are daily exposed to sacrificial flames of which no one knows fully but Jesus: youths who brave all manner of insults rather than renounce their allegiance to their Lord; wives who bear meekly the bitterest taunts rather than be disloyal to Christ; husbands who carry in secret the weight of living crosses, whose burden is all the heavier, and whose nails are all the sharper because of their love to those who form them; workmen who face continually a whole battery of scorn rather than do what their Divine Master has forbidden. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Self-sacrifice must enter into all true work
Dr. Holland writes thus of one of our great modern toilers: “As I think of my old associate he seems to me like a great golden vessel, rich in colour and roughly embossed, filled with the elixir of life, which he poured out without the slightest stint for the consumption of this people. We did not know when we tasted it and found it so charged with zest that we were tasting heart’s blood. A pale man, weary and nervous, crept home at three o’clock in the morning, and while thousands were bending eagerly over the results of his night’s labour he was tossing and trying to sleep. Yet this work was the joy of his life.”
Faithful unto death
During the war of Independence Lord Rawdon had to send an express of great importance through a country filled with the enemy, which a corporal of the 17th Dragoons, of known courage and intelligence, was selected to escort. They had not proceeded far before they were fired upon, the express killed, and the corporal wounded in his side. Careless of his wounds, he thought but of his duty. He snatched the dispatch from the dying man, and rode on till, from loss of blood, he fell, when, fearing the dispatch would be taken by the enemy, he thrust it into the wound until it closed upon it. He was found next day by a British patrol, with a smile on his countenance, with only life sufficiently remaining to point to the fatal depositary of his secret. In searching, the wound was found to be the cause of his death; but the surgeon declared that it was not mortal, but was rendered so by the insertion of the paper. (W. Baxendale.)
So that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus.
An overcoming faith
I. The first infinitely important truth taught by our text is that to each of us a course has been prescribed, which each may call his course, and which each is to finish. “My course,” says the apostle; but how forgetful are we all here. How constantly do we find Christians pleading something in their present condition as an excuse for their unfaithfulness, and persuading themselves that in other circumstances they would be more holy and devoted. “Had I but other talents,” says the slothful servant, “I would be useful.” “For my part,” argues a second, “were I only free from these embarrassments, nothing would interrupt my zeal and charity.” Let us settle in our minds this proposition, that to each individual God assigns his own course, and that his piety, and happiness, and acceptance, depend not on the course itself, but on his fulfilling it--not on the sphere in which the Christian moves, but on his glorifying God in it. An angel, sent to live on this earth, would not be at all concerned whether he were seated on a throne of diamond, or toiled as a scavenger sweeping the streets. His only solicitude would be about occupying the place designated for him, and glorifying God there. And we, if we would be useful or happy, must cultivate the temper of that angel. It is recorded of John the Baptist, that he “fulfilled his course.” Paul says, “I have finished my course.” How different the courses of these remarkable men I need not tell you; each, however, completed his course, and this constituted his piety. And just so now; how diversified are our circumstances, our trials, and duties, and difficulties.
II. To every man a certain and definite time in given in which to finish his course: “His days are determined, the number of his months is with Thee, Thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass.”
III. What effect the truths I have been urging may have on your minds, I, of course, cannot tell. Upon Paul their influence was constant and powerful, as you see in the text. They filled him with ardour; they armed him for every event of life. They caused him to forget the past, to rise above the present, to fix his eye with an eagle gaze on the future, and to feel that the only object worthy of his cares, and toils, and sacrifices, was the glorious consummation, the joyful termination of his course. What, then, is the import of the language before us? I answer, it denotes plainly, that in the Christian’s estate the finishing his course with joy is the great concern of life. Other and indispensable duties engage his hands; but they are only by-work, they are not the grand object. This is another import of the language of the text. It expresses the earnestness and intentness of the Christian’s application to the course before him; and, once more, the words denote the constancy of that application.
IV. I place such a man, for example, amidst the temptations and allurements of the world; but for him how impotent their assaults and solicitations! Maxims of this world, how false are ye all in his eyes! Examples of this world, how pernicious do your unsearchable seductions appear! No, the world is unmasked. The pleasures he seeks are pure and celestial. Eternal riches inflame his avarice. True glory is the object of his competition. I place this man, again, amidst the fears and discouragements of the believer. Fears, discouragements, how many, and from how many sources! Ah! see, he is now exposed to shame. He is persecuted and seized and forsaken. If the world despise him, he knows how to despise the world in return. And he sternly pursues his career with a courage only strengthened by opposition. And what more shall I add? In his afflictions, in all his trials and conflicts and sufferings, what ineffable consolations does not such a man taste; with what holy firmness is he not armed? “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” I was right, then, when I affirmed that in view of the joyful termination of his course, the Christian can be prepared for every event of life. And I was equally right in saying that such a prospect can do more; that it can make the Christian intrepid, nay triumphant, in the last hour, the trying conflict with death itself. Death is not to him what it is to all others.
1. In the first place, such a man has formed a correct estimate of life.
2. In the next place, the very life which the Christian I am describing leads, must prepare him for death by weaning him from all earthly things. He dies daily to the world. (R. Fuller.)
Finishing the Christian course
I. His steadfast resolution and firmness of mind under present trials. And this lies in two things.
1. That he was not moved by them: he was immovable at the threatening prospect. The expression imports not only a fixed resolution, but a wise and rational determination of mind, upon a due weighing and comparing things together, and considering the reasons on either hand. Nor was this a vain boast; for we find him steady and unmoved, preserving a firmness and composure of mind, and expressing a noble triumph and joy, in the greatest trials he met with (Romans 5:3; 2 Corinthians 12:10; Romans 8:18).
2. He did not value his life. “Neither count I my life dear to myself.” I know the worst which can befall me, and the utmost my enemies can do; they can only kill the body, and take away my life; and I am so far from being afraid of suffering that I am not afraid of dying. My life is devoted to Christ, and ‘tis the same thing to me to lay it out or lay it down for Him, to spend it in painful service or lose it by violent suffering. And we find this was actually the case, and the temper he expressed upon the trial (Acts 21:13; Philippians 1:20; 2 Timothy 4:6).
II. His great desire and aim in it, or what he proposed to himself, and had in his eye, in this resolution of mind: “That I may finish my course,” etc.
1. To settle the sense and meaning of the expressions. “To finish my course,” to perfect my course, and bring it to an end; to run out my race: for the allusion is to racers who run within the lines marked out to the appointed goal. “And the ministry I have received of the Lord.” διακονίαν: If this word is agonistical, and signified the servants who attended in the race, the allusion is still preserved, and the expression the more beautiful. It plainly refers to the apostleship, or his extraordinary ministry immediately received from Christ. “To testify the gospel of the grace of God.” To testify was proper to the apostles, who were peculiarly the witnesses of Christ. It was the “gospel of the grace of God,” as it contained the greatest instance and display of the favour of God to the guilty world, and was bestowed upon any place by a special favour. “With joy,” with cheerfulness and satisfaction of mind. The sense is, that I may fully execute the extraordinary commission immediately received from Christ, and have the satisfaction of a faithful discharge of it. Now, the finishing our course, whether Christian or ministerial, may be considered to signify, either--
(1) The entireness and completeness of it, or the performing every part of our proper work. In this sense we finish our course when we perform all the work which is cut out for us, and fill up the several capacities and relations of life with answerable duty, according to the circumstances of our condition and abilities of usefulness and opportunities of good (Psalms 119:6; Luk 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 3:10; Colossians 4:12). We leave our course unfinished in this view of it when it is defective, and we live in the neglect of any part of the Christian duty, or suffer any Divine command or appointment to be disregarded. Or--
(2) Perseverance unto the end. It is not enough to enter upon the Christian state, or go a considerable way in it; but we must go through it and reach the end of it (Luke 1:15; Luke 8:15, Hebrews 12:1). Or else--
(3) The cheerfulness and pleasure which ought to attend it (2 Corinthians 1:2; 1 John 3:21; Romans 15:13).
2. I shall consider more largely the grounds of it, or the reasons of such a desire and aim in all the sufferings and troubles of life. I shall consider them as extending to the common case of Christians, and represent and urge them ill all the various views referred to in the Scripture, the more to impress and affect our minds.
(1) Our course is by the appointment and will of God. He is the Master of the race, who has marked out the ground, and prescribed the length and limits of the way we are to run. He has cut out our work and service in the stated duties of the Christian life, and the special services in which we are engaged. He has made it our duty by the appointment of His will, who is the sovereign Lord of the creature, and has a right to prescribe and to be obeyed. Besides, we are under the strongest obligations to God. We have taken the oath of allegiance and sworn fidelity to this great Lord. And our engagement in His service and acknowledgment of His authority is a standing obligation; as he who undertakes to run a race is obliged to exert himself and do his best to win the prize, or he who lists himself in the service is obliged to fight and obey orders.
(2) There is a great savour and grace attending it. The Christian course itself is a dispensation of grace, attended with singular privileges and great advantages, and vouchsafed to any place by special favour (Romans 6:14; 2 Corinthians 6:1). We have many merciful assistances of light and grace; clearer discoveries of the will of God, and more powerful influence and aids, than the religion of mere nature, or any former dispensation of God to the world. We have the outward helps of gospel ordinances, which are wisely fitted to reach their gracious ends, to enlighten and refresh our minds, and recruit our spiritual strength; and the inward succours of the Divine presence and spirit (Ephesians 3:16; Romans 8:26; Romans 5:5; Romans 15:13). And how reasonable is steadfastness and perseverance under such encouragements and advantages! We are concerned in gratitude to God, and from a sense of kindness, to perform the Christian duty and finish our course, which is not only a wise and reasonable service, but made easy under all its difficulties by Divine aids.
(3) The great danger we are in of failing and miscarrying. Our present graces and virtues are very imperfect, the appetites and passions of our natures are strong and unruly. There are many snares of sin round about us, many sensible objects, the baits of concupiscence, suitable to our various inclinations and temper of mind, and every circumstance and condition of life. And there is the old serpent the devil, the watchful adversary, who is always ready to deceive and ensnare us, to throw a false light upon things, to strike upon the weak side of our nature, to take the advantage of an unguarded moment, and make the best of every opportunity. And when these two things meet together, the weakness of our virtue and the strength of a well-timed and well-managed temptation, how great must our danger be! how easily are we drawn into sin and discouraged in the Christian course! The apostle uses this consideration in his own case (1 Corinthians 9:26). And upon this ground he often exhorts the Christians to caution and watchfulness (1 Corinthians 10:12; Hebrews 3:1; Heb 12:15; 2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:11).
(4) The honour of religion and of the Divine grace is very much concerned in it. It is the end crowns the work, and gives the glory and perfection to the whole. But now, on the other hand, when a Christian forsakes his profession and lets go his confidence; when the prevalence of sin and the power of temptation carry him off, and he is again entangled and overcome; how dishonourable is it to religion, what a reflection does it cast upon the Divine grace! It opens the mouth of insulting enemies, and ministers to their reproach and triumph, as if they had prevailed against all the succours of religion and aids of grace: so the name of God is blasphemed through them.
(5) Unless we finish our course, all we have done in the meantime will be lost and in vain. We had as good do nothing as not to do to the purpose. We lose all we have been doing, as well as all we expect.
(6) It will fare worse with us than if we had never begun. They who fall away after good beginnings, and forsake the profession and practice of religion after some trial and continuance, are in a more hazardous state, and of all others most difficulty recovered (Hebrews 6:4). And the reason is, they have laid waste their conscience, and are enslaved by sin, and have forfeited all friendly and gracious regards from God. Yea, and they fall under a greater displeasure from God, as they have abused a greater grace.
(7) It is necessary to the final reward. He who fights in a warfare must first overcome before he is crowned and triumphs. We must be good and faithful servants before we can receive the approbation of our judge.
(8) I would further suggest, especially to elder Christians, You are near finishing, and have not much of your course to run. You have held out a great while, perhaps through many trials of life; how sad would it be to miscarry at last! That would be like a ship richly laden, after a long and dangerous voyage from a far distant country, suffering shipwreck, or bulging upon a rock, in the harbour’s mouth.
(9) It will make our passage out of the world at last more easy, and our entrance into heaven joyful. To this purpose the apostle directs (Hebrews 6:11).
1. I infer from hence that every Christian has his course of service appointed by God. How cheerful and ready will all our obedience be when we are thoroughly satisfied of the right of the authority and the reason of the command?
2. We must be prepared and resolved against difficulties and trials in our way. We must cleave to the Lord with purpose of heart, and not be soon shaken in mind, if we hope to be steadfast and unmovable, and not to fall from our own steadfastness.
3. We must not grudge our lives in the service of Christ, or think much to lay them down for His sake.
4. We learn from hence what to think of those who have not yet begun the Christian course; who have never heartily set about the Christian life, or been in good earnest in it, but lived in ignorance and careless neglect, in a deep security and unconcern of mind, or under governing habits and customs of sin; who are taken up with the business or vanities of life, and pursue their pleasures and interests in it, but never made a personal surrender of themselves to God, or made it their daily endeavour to do His will or be approved of Him; who never made religion the care of their souls or the business of their lives. The longer you continue in this state the farther you are from your end. These two are direct extremes, and stand at the greatest distance from one another, the finishing our course, and not beginning it. And what if you should die in the meantime, and be called off the stage of the world, while you are only considering and designing, and before you begin to act a proper part in it, or have done anything in order to it?
5. It is not enough to begin well, but we must finish our course too. There will be always something to do as long as we live, though life were extended to never so great a length, towards finishing our course and coming off well at last. And it should be our daily endeavour that the longer we live the better we may be, more refined from all sinful and earthly allay, more improved and confirmed in the Divine life, and fitted for the heavenly state, that our last days may be our best days, and our last works more than the first.
6. How happy are they who have finished their course! The satisfaction and joy which arises in a Christian’s mind upon the finishing his course is unspeakable and glorious, and will recompense all the labour and sorrow he has met with in the way. And there is a great deal of reason for it, for when he has finished his course he is past all danger of miscarrying and being lost, and is placed out of the reach of temptation and snare and every envious and malicious power. And what reason have we of comfort, and not to sorrow as those who have no hope, for them who have finished their course and sleep in Jesus!
7. How much should it be our concern that present trials may not discourage us, and that we may finish our course with joy! Have you any work for God upon your hands or in your design? Leave it not neglected or unfinished, but make all proper dispatch. Is there any part of the Christian course, any ordinance of worship or duty of life, which lies neglected? See that it be immediately performed and attended to. Are there any of the graces of the Christian life remarkably defective, or any sins more than ordinary prevalent? Labour earnestly to have the one strengthened and improved and the other mortified and subdued, that what is lacking may be perfected, and that you may strengthen the things which remain. (W. Harris, D. D.)
A joyful termination
“Finish my course.” There is a solemnity about the completion of anything. It may he a triumphant success or a disastrous failure. “Finish my course.” All things must come to an end. No earthly being or object can go on forever. The river runs till it reaches the ocean, but it ceases then. “Finish my course.” How much does this presuppose! The end implies the beginning. The course implies all the incidental events and changing scenes of the journey. “Finish my course with joy.” All men finish their course and arrive at the goal. But how few there are who finish their course with joy! Too often the end brings grief, too often the arrival is at a miserable store of sorrow.
I. We have great DESIRE--“That I might,” etc. Joy is the great thing for which the human heart is always craving. And the joy here alluded to is not the transitory gratification of the moment, but the eternal joy of heaven. It is for this the Christian works, for this the Christian waits. This is his support through all the trials and difficulties of life. And this our Lord has taught us to desire. He Himself set us the example. “For the joy that was set before Him,” etc.
1. He will see that he is on the right road. It is impossible to finish the course with joy if we are on the wrong track.
2. He will see that he is exercising right methods. Among the many who would desire joy there is a large proportion who are mistaken in their ideas as to the method of obtaining it.
3. He will see that he is walking under right direction. He who trusts himself will fall, for he has no power to help himself. We must place ourselves under the entire direction of the revealed teaching of the Holy Spirit.
II. Anxiety. There is a fear lest the desire might not be gratified. It is well that this should[ be so. Pride goeth before all.
1. For, alas, it is possible to fail to realise this desire.
2. But the end, if attained, is all-important and momentous. It will make no difference whether a man has been born a king or a pauper, a merchant or a plough boy, if the end is peace and joy.
Two urgent thoughts are to be impressed on us here.
1. We cannot possibly anticipate a joyous end unless we live the life of the righteous, and the wish will be as vain as was the desire of Balaam.
2. We cannot possibly anticipate a joyous end unless that end is “in the Lord.” “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.” (Homilist.)
How can a servant of God finish his course with joy
1. When he has the peace of a good conscience, relying on the consciousness of faithful labour, and on the assurance of Divine grace (verses 18-20, 26, 27).
2. When he leaves behind him in the world the seed of the kingdom of God, which will spring up over his grave by the labour of his honest successors, and by the faithfulness of the Eternal God (verses 28-32).
3. When he ventures to hope in heaven for the gracious reward of his Lord (verse 24). (K. Gerok.)
How to finish life’s course with joy
I. By early consecration. Salvation may be found in advanced life, but one of the richest joys of salvation is that of being able to say in manhood and in old age, “I have feared the Lord from my youth.”
II. By consistent profession. It is a grand thing when a backslider is truly restored, but grander far when there is no backsliding from which to be restored. What joy in being able to say at life’s close, “My heart has not gone back, neither have my feet declined from Thy ways.”
III. By faithful, self-sacrificing service. This is rendered not only by missionaries and ministers, but by Christians in all spheres of life. In and for the Church, the school, and the world is a special work for each servant of the Lord. If it be done faithfully, cheerfully, lovingly, we shall finish our course with joy and have the abundant entrance, etc. (Andrew Bowden.)
Life’s course finished with joy
Speaking of the wreck of the steamer in which Dr. Armstrong, secretary of the American Board, perished, Dr. J. W. Alexander says: “They already expected to go to pieces at sunset, but they did not till 4 a.m. “All night in the howling storm, the fires all out, the cold insufferable, a few biscuits, but no drink, and the bell toiling all the while. The last time Dr. Armstrong is reported to have been seen, he was standing above, surveying the scene, perfectly calm; he then uttered these words, I think to a hearer of mine. ‘I entertain hope that we may reach the shore; but if not, my confidence is firm in that God who doeth all things in wisdom and love.’” Surely no man in the serenity of a dying chamber could be better employed. (Biblical Museum.)
Life’s course finished with joy
Mozart, the great German composer, died at Vienna, in 1691. He had been working, for weeks, upon the “Requiem,” an exquisite piece, his soul filled with inspirations of richest melody, and already claiming kindred with immortality. After giving to it the last touch, which breathed the undying spirit of sacred song, he fell into a sweet slumber, from which the gentle footsteps of his daughter awoke him. “Come hither, my child,” he said, “my task is done--the Requiem--my Requiem--is finished!” “Say not so, dearest father,” exclaimed the gentle girl, almost beside herself with alarm; “you must be better--you look better, for even now your cheek has a glow upon it. I am sure we will nurse you well again; let me bring you something refreshing.” “Do not deceive yourself, my love,” returned the dying man; “this wasted form can never be restored by human aid; from Heaven’s mercy alone do I look for aid, in this my last hour. You spoke of refreshment, my child--take these, my last notes--sit by my piano here--sing them with the hymn of your sainted mother.” The devoted daughter obeyed, and when the piece was ended, she turned from the instrument, and looked for her beloved father’s approving smile. It was the still, passionless smile which the rapt and joyous spirit had left--with the seal of death upon the placid face. (J. N. Norton, D. D.)
The course finished with joy
We may contemplate the apostle’s course as--
I. Appointed. “My times are in Thy hand”--the time of birth, death, prosperity, adversity, usefulness. The appointment is--
1. High in its authority.
2. Wise in its regulations.
3. Good in its designs.
1. Hence we have to admire the care of God in his preservation.
2. Then what opportunities for usefulness in so long a career.
III. Consistent. He was governed by--
1. Christian principle.
3. “Patient continuance in well-doing.”
4. Endurance to the end.
V. Finished with joy. (S. Eldridge.)
A mission accomplished
I. Every life has a mission.
1. Every life involves the highest powers in the universe. Their scope includes immortality as well as time. To build the soul within; to shape a graceful statue, or write a noble song, or construct a railroad, or send argosies across the seas are grand works, but not so grand as this.
2. Consecration to God’s service. To make our home life more sweet and tender and joyful, and through the forces of character in ourselves to bless society; by instruction, gift, and example.
3. No one lacks opportunity. Resources which seem feeble have a vital part in the accomplishment of our mission.
II. Whosoever accomplishes his errand with a steadfast purpose will finish it with joy.
1. He enjoys peace of conscience.
2. He rests in the consciousness of God’s approval.
3. He will be rewarded in the life to come.
4. The fruits of his fidelity will continue.
III. The acceptance of this Divine mission and its fulfilment is the secret of a joyous life. The Christian hastes onward to his goal with gladness as the ship speeding to the harbour unmindful of the spray which, because of its very speed, dashes across its deck.
IV. Here is the secret of victory. (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)
Of the gospel
I. The name and signification of it. The Greek word used for it signifies a good message, good news, glad tidings.
II. The author and origin of the gospel.
1. It is not of man; a device and invention of men (Galatians 1:11-12).
2. The gospel is from heaven. It is good news from a far country.
III. The effect of the gospel when attended with the power and Spirit of God.
IV. The properties of the gospel.
1. It is but one; there is another, as the apostle says (Galatians 1:6-7).
2. It is called, from the objects of it, the gospel of the circumcision, and the gospel of the uncircumcision (Galatians 2:7).
3. It is a glorious gospel; so it is called (2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 Timothy 1:11).
4. It is an everlasting gospel; which is the epithet given it (Revelation 14:6). (Theological Sketchbook.)
To testify the gospel of the grace of God.--
A gospel worth dying for
Paul says that, in comparison with his great object of preaching the gospel, he did not count even his life to be dear to himself; yet we are sure Paul highly valued life. In another place he said, “To abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” According to our text the apostle regarded life as a race which he had to run. Now, the one thought of a runner is how he can most speedily reach the winning post. So all Paul’s energies were consecrated to one object--namely, to bear testimony to the gospel of the grace of God; and the life he lived was only valued as a means to that end.
I. What was this gospel for which Paul would die?
1. It is not everything called “gospel” which would produce such enthusiasm, or deserve it. It is not worth while to die for a doctrine which will itself died out. I have lived long enough to see half a dozen new gospels rise, flourish, and decay. I have heard of one improvement upon the old faith and then of another; and philosophical divines are still improving their theology. I should like to ask them whether there is any positive doctrine in the Bible at all; and whether the martyrs were not fools to die for what the advance of thought has cast into disuse.
2. What is this gospel which Paul valued before his own life? That which most forcibly struck the apostle was that it was a message of grace, and of grace alone. In these days that word “grace” is not often heard; we hear of moral duties, and scientific adjustments, and human progress. But grace is the essence of the gospel, the one hope for this fallen world, the sole comfort of saints looking forward for glory.
2. The gospel is the good news of grace.
(1) It is an announcement that God is prepared to deal with guilty man on the ground of free favour and pure mercy. There would be no good news in saying that God is just; for that is not news--we know that God is just; and if it were news, yet it would not be good news, for we have all sinned, and upon the ground of justice we must perish. But it is news of the best kind, that the Judge of all is prepared to pardon transgression, and to justify the ungodly. This is a message worth dying for, that through the covenant of grace God can be just, and yet the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. That God is merciful and gracious, and is ready to bless the most unworthy, is a wonderful piece of news, worth a man’s spending a hundred lives to tell.
(2) In the gospel there is also revealed a motive for mercy which is in agreement with the grace of God. God, the highest of all intelligences, acts upon the highest reasons. He finds a motive in His own nature and mercy since He could not find it anywhere else. He will deal with guilty men according to the sovereignty of His will, “to the praise of the glory of His grace wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.”
(3) In order to the accomplishment of the designs of grace it was necessary further that a gospel message should be issued full of promise, encouragement, and blessing. It speaks on this wise: Sinner, just as you are, return unto the Lord, and He will receive you graciously and love you freely. God hath said, “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”
(4) That this gospel blessing might come within the reach of men, God’s grace has adopted a method suitable to their condition. “How can I be forgiven?” saith one. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” God asks of you no good works, nor good feelings, but that you be willing to accept what He most freely gives. Dost thou say, “But faith itself seems beyond my reach”? Then, in the gospel of the grace of God we are told that even faith is God’s gift, and that He works it in men by His Holy Spirit. “But I fear I should go back to sin; for I have no strength by which to keep myself for the future.” Hearken! the gospel of the grace of God is this, that He will keep thee to the end. I read in an old book a dream of one who was under concern of soul. He fell asleep and dreamed that he was out in the wilds in a terrible storm. He ran to the first house before him, but was denied admittance. He that dwelt there was named Justice, and he said in angry tones, “Get thee gone--I cannot shelter a traitor to his King and God!” He fled to the next house, the mansion of Truth. Truth said, “Thou art full of falsehood, thou canst not sojourn here.” He fled to the home of Peace; but Peace said, “Begone! there is no peace, saith my God, unto the wicked.” He could not then tell what to do, for the storm waxed yet more furious: when lo! he saw a portal over which was written “Mercy.” “Ay,” said he, “this is the place for me, for I am guilty.” The door was open and he was welcomed there. To that house come in and be at rest.
II. How can we live for this gospel of the grace of God? If anybody is to live for this gospel--
1. He must have received it from God, and he must have received a call to minister or serve for it, and feel himself under bonds to hold and keep it; not so much because he has chosen it, but because it has chosen him.
2. He must make it known. Wherever Paul went he published the gospel. “Oh,” says one, “I cannot make it known; people would pay me no respect.” Just what they said about Paul--“his personal presence is weak.” “Oh, but I am no speaker.” That also is what they said of Paul--“His speech is contemptible.” “Oh, but if I were to say anything, I could not adorn it.” But Paul says, “We use great plainness of speech.”
3. He must testify to the gospel--i.e., bear personal witness to it. Paul was specially qualified to testify, and how sweetly he told out the gospel of the grace of God when he said, “I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering for a pattern,” etc. Cannot you tell of your conversion, and let men know how free grace came to you when you looked not for it?
4. Nor would Paul end there; for he would often tell how, when he had been stoned and tried by false brethren, he had been upheld by the grace of God, and also what he had experienced of heavenly joys. My friend, if the gospel has done nothing for you, hold your tongue or speak against it; but if the gospel has done for you what it has done for some of us, tell it wherever you go; and make men know that even if they reject it, it is to you the power of God unto salvation, and will be the same to every man that believeth.
III. Why we should live to make known the gospel of the grace of God. Because--
1. It is the only gospel in the world. These mushroom gospels of the hour, which come and go like a penny newspaper, which has its day and then is thrown aside, have no claim on any man’s zeal. These changing moons of doctrine are alienating the mass of the people from going to any place of worship at all. Why should they come to hear uncertainties?
2. It is for God’s glory. It makes man nobody, but God is all-in-all.
3. Thus you will glorify Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The source of satisfaction
To feel that we have done what we could--that we have really done our best--brings rest and satisfaction. The surgeon who has a critical case in hand, the issue of which is uncertain; or the jurist who has great interests committed to his consideration, and who cannot tell what results may follow his action, feels undisturbed if he knows that he has done his best in the trust given him to guard. On the other hand, if there be a lurking suspicion that some details have been overlooked, some matters neglected, conscience has no satisfaction. The Christian at the close of life may be able humbly and gratefully to say, “I have done the best I could.” (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)
Living to purpose
Live for some purpose in the world. Act your part well. Fill up the measure of your duty to others. Conduct yourself so that you shall be missed with sorrow when you are gone. Multitudes of our species are living in such a selfish manner that they are not likely to be remembered after their disappearance. They leave behind them scarcely any trace of their existence, but are forgotten almost as though they had never been. They are, while they live, like one pebble lying unobserved amongst a million on the shore; and when they die, they are like that same pebble thrown into the sea, which just ruffles the surface, sinks, and is forgotten, without being missed from the beach. They are neither regretted by the rich, wanted by the poor, nor celebrated by the learned. Who has been the better for their life? Who has been the worse for their death? Whose tears have they dried up? Whose wants supplied? Whose miseries have they healed? Who would unbar the gates of life, to re-admit them to existence? or what face would greet them back again to our world with a smile? Wretched, unproductive mode of existence! Selfishness is its own curse; it is a starving vice. The man who does no good, gets none. He is like the heath in the desert, neither yielding fruit, nor seeing when good cometh; a stunted, dwarfish, miserable shrub. (J. A. James.)
And now … ye … shall see my face no more.
Wherefore I take you to record this day that I am pure from the blood of all men.
I. As deeply felt. Paul always felt it, but never more so than now, in addressing his audience for the last time. Every Sunday there are ministers who preach their last sermons, but they do not know it. If they knew it, how overwhelmed they would be with the sense of their responsibility. They would feel--It is the last time, therefore--
1. We must correct any wrong impressions that we may have made.
2. We must bring forward every vital truth that may have been too much overlooked.
3. We must use every argument in our power to effect the conversion of souls. It must be now or never. Ought we not ever to preach as dying men to dying men?
II. As terribly solemn (verse26). Two facts will throw light on this wonderful utterance.
1. That preaching may involve the contraction of enormous guilt, either on the part of the preacher, the hearer, or both. The preacher who makes an unfaithful representation of the gospel contracts guilt in every discourse; and the hearer who rejects the overtures of mercy increases his condemnation. “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel,” etc.
2. That the preacher who rightly discharges his mission dears himself of any participation in the guilt that may have been contracted. “I am pure” (clear), says Paul, “from the blood of all.” Why (Acts 20:27)? He kept nothing back that was profitable. In ministering the truth he did not study what was popular, but what was essential to their salvation. If there was blood, therefore, anywhere, it was not on him. He was clean.
III. As consciously discharged. The apostle had the sublime consciousness that he had faithfully discharged his duty amongst them. He looks them in the eye, and he appeals to them. “Wherefore I take you to record”--I summon you as witnesses this day--an expression very strong in the original, meaning this very day. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.--
Declaring all the counsel of God
I. What are we to understand here by the counsel of God and when may it be said that a minister of Christ declares all that counsel.
1. Matters of doctrine, which must be known, believed, and laid to heart. These are the foundation and source of all religion and morality, and are, therefore, first necessary to be declared. They comprehend the truths which concern the existence, perfections, creation, providence, and government of God; what man was and what he has become through sin; the person and offices of the Redeemer; the nature of the Holy Spirit and His saving operations; the future judgment, the resurrection, the blessedness of heaven.
2. Matters of grace and privilege. There are divers things which it is not sufficient to know in theory, but we must know them in experience: our sinfulness, repentance, faith and its fruits; adoption (Galatians 4:4), regeneration; a lively hope of eternal life (1 Peter 1:3); direction and help in all trials (Romans 8:14; Proverbs 3:16; Isaiah 41:10); all the graces of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23); communion with the Father and the Son by the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 6:16; John 14:22; 1 John 1:3; Revelation 3:20); and hereby an earnest of heaven.
3. Matters of duty and practice to be performed and done. This branch of “the counsel of God” includes the whole of piety and virtue, our duty to God, our neighbour, and ourselves. The decisions of the great day will turn on these evidences being produced or not (Romans 2:6-16). How sadly defective is their preaching who insist on doctrinal, or experimental, while they neglect practical religion!
II. How does it appear that it is of importance to declare this counsel at all. The counsel of God--
1. Is the chief subject of all the revelations made to the ancient patriarchs and prophets, and communicated by them to mankind (1 Peter 1:10-12).
2. The sole subject of the ministry of the apostles and evangelists (1 Peter 1:12). And to testify these things they were to sacrifice all things (Acts 20:22-24).
3. Engrosses the thoughts and engages the ministry of angels (1 Peter 1:12; Hebrews 1:14).
4. Was the object for which the Son of God became incarnate (Philippians 2:6-9), lived, suffered, died, rose, ascended.
4. God hath borne witness to the importance of these things (Hebrews 2:4), from the beginning under every dispensation: in Egypt, Canaan, Babylon, from Sinai, and Sion.
5. For the sake of these things, the Church, nay, the world, was built, and is supported. And whatever individual, or family, or town, or country, rejects, or even neglects these things, shall be destroyed, here or hereafter (Acts 3:23; Hebrews 12:25; Hebrews 2:1-3; Hebrews 10:26-31; Isaiah 55:12).
III. What is the duty of those to whom this counsel of God is declared.
1. They must “take heed unto themselves” that they neither reject nor neglect what is thus delivered to them, but--that they consider, understand, and believe these matters of doctrine--that they experience and enjoy these matters of grace and privilege--that they comply with, and perform, these matters of duty and practice.
2. They must be awake to a sense of the danger, lest their minds should be diverted from this “counsel of God,” by the temptations of the devil, the allurements of the world, the lusts of the flesh, the deceitfulness of sin, or by the “wolves that shall enter in among them” (Acts 20:29), or the “men” that shall arise “speaking perverse things” (Acts 20:30), and against this they must “watch.”
3. They must always “remember” (Acts 20:31) the vast importance of these things, as manifested by what patriarchs, prophets, apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers, saints, and martyrs, and especially what Jesus Christ Himself has done and suffered on account of them; all of whom made these things the great business of their lives.
4. They must be sensible of their own weakness, and must apply “to God,” by whose guidance, protection, and blessing, they can alone be preserved, and “to the word of His grace,” in the diligent and faithful use of which Divine grace is increased, and “built up” in true religion, and finally receive “an inheritance among them that are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). (J. Benson.)
The whole counsel of God
Here is one of those passages in the New Testament which make a forcible appeal to the conscience of every man who has undertaken or is undertaking to serve God in Holy Orders. The words are such as escape men at the turning points of life, at entering upon or taking leave of great responsibilities--compressed, fervid utterances of the deepest thought and of the strongest currents of feeling--of thought and feeling which for the moment will not, be pent up and restrained within the barriers of ordinary habit, or of studied reserve. St. Paul says that he had declared the whole mind--that is, the whole revealed mind--of God. Observe, of God. His language excludes that conception of religious truth which makes it merely the product of the truest, purest, deepest thoughts of the highest and largest minds among the sons of men. The whole counsel of God! It was God’s Word, not man’s; it was neither the result of a thoughtful speculation, nor yet an approximate guess, nor yet a cunningly devised fable. Being God’s Word, it was as a whole worthy of the best thought and love that His creature could give it. When St. Paul asserts that he has not “shunned” to declare it, the word must remind us that there are many motives and hindrances calculated to keep a man back from doing that which must be done, if he fears his God, if he cares for his own soul, if he has any true love for the souls of those to whom of his own free will he undertakes to minister.
1. Now one cause of failure in this primary duty would seem to lie in a lack of religious knowledge. It is much more easy to be deficient in essential knowledge of religious truth than we are apt to assume. May we not lapse into a habit of thinking and speaking of the doctrines of the gospel as if they were like soldiers in a regiment, so many units, each adding something no doubt to the collective bulk and area of doctrine, while yet in no way essential to its organic completeness, and therefore each capable of being withdrawn, without inflicting any more serious injury upon the entire truth than that of diminished size? Do we not hear persons talk of the articles of the Creed in this way, as if each article was a perfectly separate and new truth, as if each was, I might almost say, a new and gratuitous infliction upon the reluctant intellect of man, as if each was round and perfect in itself, and had no relations whatever to any truth beyond it? They fail to perceive the connection, the interdependence, the organic unity of all truth that rests on the authority of God. Their view is too superficial to enable them to do justice to that marvellous adjustment of truth to truth, of faculty to object, of result to cause, which is a direct and obvious perception to souls who gaze prayerfully and steadily at the complete revelation of Christ. The faith is, if I may say so with reverence, so marvellously compacted, so instinct with a pervading life, as to resemble a natural organism, I had almost said a living creature. No one truth can be misrepresented, strained, dislocated, much less withdrawn, without a certain, and frequently an ascertainable injury resulting to other truths which are supposed to be still unquestioned and intact. For there are nerves and arteries which link the very extremities of revealed doctrine to its brain and heart; and the wound which a strain or an amputation may inflict, must in its effects extend far beyond the particular doctrine which is the immediate seat and scene of the injury.
2. A second hindrance is lack of courage. To represent God as He is--as just no less than merciful, as punishing sin no less certainly than rewarding faith and holiness--this, to be done well and honestly, requires courage. Of old they understood this well, who went forth uplifting the Cross, while yet baring their breasts to death. They knew that the patient to whom they were carrying the medicine that would cure him would often refuse the draught, and would punish the physician who dared to offer it. But they loved man, and they loved and feared their God too sincerely and too well, to infuse new ingredients, or to withdraw any of the bitter but needful elements of cure. They accepted civil and social prescription; they endured moral and physical agony; they embraced, one after another, with cheerful hearts, the very warrants and instruments of their death, because they had counted the cost, and had measured too well the greatness of their task, and the glories of their anticipated eternity, to shrink sensitively back at the first symptoms of opposition, or of difficulty. St. Paul might have foreseen the conduct of Demetrius, and the tumult in the amphitheatre; but this was no serious reason for considering the worship of Diana as a sort of modified or imperfect revelation, or as anything short of a hateful lie. He did not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God.
3. The want of spirituality of heart and soul is a third cause of defective representation of doctrine. To speak for God to the souls of men, a man must himself, in his inmost soul, have consciously stood face to face with that truth of which he speaks. He must speak of God as one who has known at once His dread awfulness and His tender love; of sin, as that which he feels to be the one master evil, and with which as such he has struggled in good truth within his secret self; of Christ, His Person, His propitiatory and atoning death, His life-giving sacraments, as of the Person and acts of a dear Friend, loved with the heart’s warmest and best affection, which yet adored with the deepest homage and by the chiefest powers of his prostrate spirit; of eternity as of that for which he is himself making daily solemn preparation; of prayer and the care of conscience and the culture of purity and truth within, as of things of which he knows something by trial and exercise, perhaps even something more by failure. Himself a redeemed sinner speaking to sinners who need or who have found their Redeemer, he will speak in earnest.
4. Once more; here, as in the whole field of ministerial labour, let a man work and pray for the grace of an unselfish spirit. How often are not we, the representatives of Christ, constrained to rebuke ourselves, humble ourselves, condemn ourselves, by the words which we speak from the chair of truth! Or take another illustration of the need of an unselfish spirit. It is possible, nay, probable, that we may have what are called favourite doctrines, sections or sides of truth through which God has in a special sense spoken to us, moved us, sanctified us (as we trust), saved us. Of these, no doubt, we can speak with more power, because with more intimate perception of their bearing on the secret springs of life and death. But we also speak of such points with less of moral and intellectual effort than of others; and this greater facility is likely to be the real cause of our giving them an undue prominence in our cycle of teaching, while we endeavour to whisper to our consciences, and to persuade our friends that these points are the essentials of the gospel, and that all the rest is comparatively unnecessary. Thus men teach the Atonement, and ignore the sacraments; or they teach the need of faith, and ignore the need of love and holiness; or they teach the beauty of our Lord’s character, and forget His propitiatory and sacrificial death; or conversely, they insist upon the outward duties of religion, and do scant justice to the spiritual and internal forces of the soul. We must teach all that God has revealed, because He has revealed it, leaving it to Him to touch one soul by this, and another soul by that portion of His revelation. Nothing, however, but a spirit of genuine self-sacrifice, nothing but a true love of the souls of men, can enable a man so to forego his own predilections, so to throw himself into the state of mind, and points of view, and peculiar difficulties, and narrower or broader horizons of his hearers, as to lose himself, and the little history of his own spirit, in the mighty work of proclaiming in its perfectness the truth of God. We know how the great apostle combined this perfect consideration for others, with an unflinching, chivalrous loyalty to the claims of truth (1 Corinthians 9:19-22). (Cannon Liddon.)
Paul at Miletus
I. “All the counsel of God.” A subject so vast and yet so simple! One which “angels desire to look into.” Yet the gospel can be uttered in a single breath, and one short sentence which a child might speak would express the Divine counsel.
II. “Not shunned to declare.” How declared?
1. By the unreserved, full, faithful exposition of it in the public preaching of God’s Word. No trimming--no suppression of any portion of it.
2. By seeking personal contact, and speaking to individual men and women “from house to house.”
3. By setting it forth with the pen. What multitudes Paul has reached in this way! So did Luther and Calvin.
4. By showing it forth in the life. I have good faith in this method; sometimes it is the sole one at our command.
III. “Pure from the blood of all men.” The apostle had in mind, perhaps, that thirty-third chapter of Ezekiel, and those words so terrible which seem almost to chill the very marrow as we read them, or hear them read: “So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shall hear the word at My mouth, and warn them from Me … if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.” (F. Goodall, B. A.)
Declaring the counsel of God
I. That the gospel contains matters uncongenial to the human mind. The whole counsel of God is--
1. Humiliating. It proclaims sin and the fall, natural depravity.
2. Self-abnegating. It teaches that man can do nothing of himself.
3. Fear-inspiring. It tells us that, although God is love, He is above all things just. All these things the sinful man hates. They reveal him in an unpleasant condition and an undesirable state, and hold him up in the eyes of himself and of the world as lost, ruined, and worthless.
II. That those who preach the gospel are not to refrain from proclaiming these disagreeable truths. Many would do so--
1. From fear of wounding their hearers’ susceptibilities. It is not pleasant to cause pain.
2. From fear of depicting the Almighty as harsh and unkind. But God is very well able to maintain His own character.
3. From cowardice. They are either afraid or else do not desire to make themselves enemies of others. But, notwithstanding, the duty lies plain. The preacher is not a man pleaser. He has stern solemn duties to perform. And if these duties are not performed faithfully, the eternal life or death of souls will rest upon him--a burden greater than he can bear. (Preacher’s Analyst.)
Declaring the counsel of God
I. The subject of His attention--“the counsel of God.” Counsel now signifies advice, but when the Bible was translated it more commonly signified scheme, purpose. “His counsels of old are faithfulness and truth”: “My counsel shall stand, I will do all My pleasure”: “He worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.” Here it is to be taken in the latter sense. To bring sin into the world was an easy thing, to take it away was a work to which only God was equal. We have imperfect views of sin, and also of the holiness of God; and therefore we are not sufficiently struck with the difficulties in the way of our salvation: but God knows them perfectly, and His scheme for removing them and restoring us to Himself is contained in the gospel. This is what the apostle means by “the counsel of God”: and this the apostle declared, not human science, though he was a man of genius, not politics; he left human governments where he found them; not the petty interests of mortality; he looked “not at the things which were seen,” etc.
II. The manner in which he Announced it. It is clearly implied--
1. That there is in this subject a fulness of affluence and richness. Though it be a whole, yet it has a thousand parts.
2. That this subject may be abridged, contracted, and partially concealed. And this may be the case where it is not expressly denied, where it is not entirely rejected, and where the parts admitted and noticed are not mangled.
3. That it requires firmness and moral heroism to withstand and resist the temptations to this curtailment and separation. Sometimes there are temptations arising--
(1) From the preachers themselves. They should be clean, for they are the vessels of the Lord. But supposing they are not, what then does their arguing prove? Their example will paralyse all their endeavours.
(2) From the hearers. They often inspire the preacher with fear of giving offence; and the “fear of man bringeth a snare.” The man may shun to declare all the counsel of God--
(a) On the side of doctrine, from fear of a charge of antinomianism. This charge has always been brought against the doctrine of justification by faith.
(b) On the side of experience, afraid of the charge of enthusiasm.
(c) On the side of practice, afraid of the charge of legality.
4. Two things are essential to declare all the counsel of God.
(1) A consciousness of inability to do justice to the whole of the counsel of God. After all we have done we must exclaim, “O the depth of the riches,” etc. And what a proof is this of the Divinity of the Bible itself! What other book could bear, from age to age, to have thousands of persons of ability and learning to be always discussing it, and yet always finding something fresh, and nothing entirely exhausted!
(2) Enlarging more on some topics than on others. Everything equally true is not equally important: there are essential truths, and there are circumstantial truths. The railing is ornamental and useful, and therefore not to be dispensed with: still this is not to be compared with the foundation and the keystone; these are essential to the edifice. The omission or the concealment of certain doctrines always leads to spiritual death. On the other hand, where the leading truths of the gospel are preached, God gives testimony to the word of His grace, sinners are saved, and believers built up in their most holy faith.
III. The apostle’s consciousness of this. “As to cloth,” said Lord Bacon, “‘ a small pattern may enable us to judge fairly and safely of the whole piece: but the Bible is like a fine arras or tapestry, which though a remnant may assure us of the colours and the richness of the stuff, yet the hangings never appear to their true advantage but when displayed in their full dimensions, and seen together.” Let every minister remember this. Conclusion: Here is--
1. The rule to guide and justify ministers. Considering the mixture there is always in every congregation, it is probable that the preacher who declares all the counsel of God will give some offence. But must he on this account decline it? Is be to do anything by partiality? “If I seek to please men,” says the apostle, “I should not be the servant of Christ.” “It is a poor sermon,” says George Whitefield , “that gives no offence--that neither makes the hearer displeased with himself nor with the preacher.” It was a noble eulogium that Louis XIV passed on one of his preachers, Massillon: “I don’t know how it is: when I hear my other chaplains I admire them; but when I hear Massillon I always go away dissatisfied with myself.”
2. The duty of hearers. For if we are not to shun to declare all the counsel of God, you are bound to hear and to welcome all. However mysterious to your reason, however mortifying to your pride, however it may reprove you, you are not to deem the minister your enemy because he tells you the truth. (W. Jay.)
The whole counsel of God
Let us consider--
I. The fidelity of a minister, as consisting in a full and complete declaration of the counsel of God.
1. Without any exceptions.
2. In their full and just proportion.
3. In their proper order and connection.
4. In their proper season. The season may vary, and the propriety and necessity of insisting upon some truths, may arise from--
(1) The state of religion among a people.
(2) The aspect of Providence towards them.
5. Honestly and boldly, without respect of persons.
II. The difficulties which may lie in a minister’s way, and tempt him to shun any part of his work.
1. Sloth or worldliness, in ministers themselves.
2. The prejudices of their people.
3. The opposition of their enemies, which may tempt them--
(1) To conceal or pervert the truth to avoid contempt and derision.
(2) To sinful and cowardly silence for their own quiet.
(3) To sink out of their weak-mindedness under opposition.
(4) To give way to imprudence and passion. (J. Witherspoon.)
1. Trace the gospel to its original source and fountain head.
2. Preach the gospel in its full latitude and extent.
3. Preach the gospel in all its full and final effects.
4. Never lose sight of the gospel.
5. Dwell largely upon some particular doctrines which others silently pass over, or but rarely mention in their public instructions.
6. Are much more apt than others to irritate and displease men in their preaching.
7. Are weighty and powerful preachers.
8. Make the gospel appear as it really is, one great, comprehensive, and perfectly connected scheme, and so--
(1) Preach much more consistently.
(2) Distinguish themselves from false teachers, who corrupt the gospel, and destroy the souls of men.
(3) Convey the largest portion of knowledge to their hearers. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
Ministers must be faithful
When I go down to the village where I used to preach, and as I look upon the houses, I am apt to question myself--Was I as earnest with the people as I used to be? I can say I hope I never flinched from telling them all the truth, though sometimes it had to be very rudely and roughly spoken; but yet God knoweth I do sometimes smite myself to think I did not weep over them mere, and did not entreat them more to be won to Christ. And you, too, that sit in these pews so often, many of you are joyful converts to Christ, but numbers of you are still unsaved. What if any of you should be able to say at the last, “We trusted our minister; we hung upon his lips; we were never absent; we loved the Sabbath day, but oh, he did not tell us of our sin; he did not plead with us to be saved; he left us to ourselves; he was cold when his heart should have been hot; he was a man without tears, and had a heart without sympathy for us!” Oh! sirs, God grant ye may never be able to say that of me. God save you, for my soul longeth for you. He is my witness how earnestly I long for you all in the bowels of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! Come unto Him! Come unto Him! Let not your blood cry out against me! Oh, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and trust Him; trust Him now, that you may be saved, and that at last I may be able to say, “Here am I and the children whom Thou hast given me; Thou hast kept them through Thy power, and they are preserved even to the end; unto Thee be glory forever and ever!” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Rev. John Howe, having preached before Cromwell, so pleased the Protector that he was appointed his domestic chaplain. To some of Cromwell’s peculiar notions Mr. Howe could not assent, and in one instance had the boldness to preach against them in his presence, believing that they might lead to practical ill consequences. The friends of the preacher were alarmed, and predicted that he would find it difficult to regain the Protector’s favour. “I have,” said Mr. Howe, “discharged my conscience, and the event must be left to God.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Pope requests a Dominican bishop to repair to Florence and answer the abbot’s (Savonarola’s) sermons. “Holy Father, I will obey; but I must be supplied with arms.” “What arms?” “This monk,” replied the bishop, “says we ought not to keep concubines, commit simony, or be guilty of licentiousness. If in this he speaks truly, what shall I reply?” “What shalt we do?” said the Pope. “Reward him, give him a red hat, make a Cardinal and a friend of him at once.” Savonarola kindly receives the papal messenger, and for three days listens to his arguments, but is unconvinced. The tempting bribe is then offered. “Come to my sermon tomorrow morning, and you shall hear my answer.” How great was the emissary’s surprise at hearing more daring denunciations than ever from Savonarola, who exclaimed, “No other red hat will I have than that of martyrdom, coloured with my own blood.” (Newman Hall, D. D.)
The preacher must be honest
A farmer who is too tender-hearted to tear up and harrow the land will never see a harvest. Here is the failing of certain divines, they are afraid of hurting anyone’s feelings, and so they keep clear of all the truths which are likely to excite fear or grief. They have not a sharp ploughshare on their premises, and are never likely to have a stack in their rickyard. They angle without hooks for fear of hurting the fish, and fire without bullets out of respect to the feelings of the birds. This kind of love is real cruelty to men’s souls. It is much the same as if a surgeon should permit a patient to die because he would not pain him with the lancet, or by the necessary removal of a limb. It is a terrible tenderness which leaves men to sink into hell rather than distress their minds. It is a diabolical love which denies the eternal danger which assuredly exists and argues the soul into presumption, because it thinks it a pity to excite terror, and so much more pleasant to prophesy smooth things. Is this the spirit of Christ? Did He conceal the sinner’s peril? Did He cast doubts upon the unquenchable fire and the undying worm? Did He lull souls into slumber by dulcet notes of flattery? Nay, but with honest love and anxious concern He warned men of the wrath to come, and bade them repent or perish.
The whole counsel of God
Christ did not commit to the care of His Church any one class of truths and duties, or any number of classes of doctrines and obligations, but all of them. Christians are, therefore, to teach all the doctrines, and inculcate all the duties found in the Scriptures. There is no sectarianism in inspiration. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth, and of the entire body of truth “as it is in Jesus.” Sectarianism divides the doctrine of the Spirit into its various hues, and sects and parties are formed by good men attaching themselves to one class of colours, whereas “the true light” is made up of all colours. We would never live in an atmosphere of rainbows; it might appear more beautiful than clear daylight, but it would not be so useful for the world. In a lens, no one class of rays gathered into a focus will burn an object; this is done only by a concentration of all the rays. It was by exhibiting the whole counsel of God that Paul produced in his converts the kindlings of repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. If the Churches think it proper to put forth the vivid hues of beauty and splendour, in their respective creeds and theological systems, let them also exhibit them with all the blendings and softenings, the harmony and the symmetry of the bow in the cloud, the sign of peace and goodwill to the whole earth. (T. W. Jenkyn.)
All the gospel to be taken
Faith is a Divine faculty which grasps that which is revealed, on the authority of God, without criticising the substance of such revelation. To take one part of the revelation of God, and turn out another, is, in fact, to reject it all, because you are rejecting just what you dislike or misunderstand, and retaining just what you choose; and to accept God’s revelation rightly, is to bow, in disciplined obedience, on all points to God’s authority; in fact, to exercise faith, “as a soldier.” “The whole counsel of God,”--to accept it in its entirety, however difficult, mysterious, or opposed to our natural wishes--that is the exercise of the dominant faculty of faith. (Knox Little.)
Carlyle in narrating an instance of the preservation of etiquette at the court of Louis XVI, while the mob were demanding entrance into his private apartments, and the empire was going to pieces, compares it to the house cricket still chirping amid the pealing of the trump of doom. When trivial subjects are descanted upon from the pulpit, while souls are perishing for lack of knowledge, the same comparison may be used; as for instance, when a congregation is collected, and the preacher talks about the drying up of the Euphrates, or ventilates his pet theory for reconciling Moses and geology. Why cannot these things be kept for other assemblies? What can the man be at? Nero fiddling over burning Rome is nothing to it! Even the women knitting in front of the guillotine were not more coolly cruel. We tolerate the cricket for his incongruous chirp; but go to, thou silly trifler at the sacred desk, we cannot frame excuse for thee, or have patience with thee. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Take heed therefore unto yourselves and to all the flock.
I. To yourselves. To your--
II. To the flock. To its--
1. Divine dignity.
2. Human infirmity.
III. To the wolves. Those who--
1. Threaten without.
2. Look within its fold. (W. W. Wythe.)
The logic and the theology of the sentence are equally good. The first care of the spiritual shepherd is for himself, the next for the flock. In some parts they paint garden walls black, that they may absorb more of the sun’s heat and so impart more warmth to the fruit trees that lean on them. Those who in any sphere care for souls stand in the position of the garden wall. The more that the teacher absorbs for himself of Christ’s love, the more benefit will others obtain from him. It is not the wall which glitters most in the sunshine that does most for the trees that are trained against it: it is the wall which is least seen that takes in most heat for itself: and the wall that has most heat in itself gives out most for the benefit of the trees. So it is not the preacher who flashes out into the greatest flame himself that imparts most benefit to inquirers who sit at his feet. Those who drink in most of the Master’s spirit are most useful in the world. Those who first take heed to themselves will be most effective in caring for the spiritual weal of those who look up to them. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
Eastern shepherds and their flocks
The work of a shepherd in the East is in many respects different from a shepherd’s work among ourselves. The Oriental flock does not graze within fenced pasturages, but moves hither and thither through the wild pasture lands, following the lead of the shepherd, and often going to a great distance from inhabited places. It therefore takes all the shepherd’s vigilance to keep his flock together--to prevent one part of it from straying gradually, in search of pasturage, to the north, another to the south, another to the east, and another to the west. In these remote districts, too, attacks from wild beasts are not uncommon; a wolf or a bear will pounce suddenly upon an unsuspecting sheep, and the shepherd must risk his own life, as David did, to rescue the imperilled sheep. The shepherd, or overseer, is responsible to his employer for the safety of the sheep, and he must render a strict account of that which has been lost, or which has perished. Here is an extract from Oriental law on this point, as quoted by Paxton: “Cattle shall be delivered over to the cowherd in the morning; the cowherd shall tend them during the whole day with grass and water; and in the evening shall re-deliver them to the master, in the same manner as they were entrusted to him. If, by the fault of the cowherd, any of the cattle be lost or stolen, that cowherd shall make it good. When a cowherd has led cattle to any distant place to feed, if any die of distemper, in spite of the fact that the cowherd applied the proper remedy, the cowherd shall carry the head, the tail, the forefoot, or some such convincing proof taken from the animal’s body, to the owner of the cattle. Having done this, he shall be no further answerable. If he neglects to act thus, he shall make good the loss.” Paul, therefore, compares the Ephesian Church to a flock of sheep, seeking pasturage under the guidance of their shepherds, yet prone of themselves to wander, and constantly exposed to peril from wild beasts. The shepherds, he teaches, are answerable not only for the divisions which occur in the flock through their neglect, but also for the attacks of wild beasts, permitted by the same neglect. (S. S. Times.)
Over the which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers.
The minister in the flock
The word “over” should be rendered “in.” The minister is in the flock; he is in no sense extraneous to it. He is part of it. Some have read the word “over” violently and offensively, and have asserted rights of dominion over faith, practice, and ritual such as were contrary to the whole idea of the gospel. “One is your Master even Christ,” etc. The minister is “in the flock”--
I. As to his personal hope.
1. He is a sinner, and if conscientious feels himself even more so than others. Negligence in him is more serious, example for evil more influential.
2. He wants a Saviour, if possible more than his people. If he is to be the “overlooker,” he must first be the penitent and the forgiven. It is this which gives pathos, solemnity, and authority, to every part of his ministration--because he is in the flock and partakes with it of the refreshing streams and free pastures.
II. As to all the relations and responsibilities of his life. Before he is anything else he must be a good man. The ministry is not a separate caste, living its whole life by itself, having a tariff of habits, and rules quite different from the ordinary rules and duties of Christian men. The ministry is exemplary before it is episcopal. Its whole idea is that of going before and showing the way in all that is pure and beautiful and of good report.
III. As to sympathy. If the minister were “over” the flock he might be sorry for its distresses and sins. Sympathy there can only be where there is insideness to the flock. Even our Lord must incorporate Himself with us if He would make us know and feel that He can sympathise.
IV. As to comfort. Oh the comfort of being just one of the worshippers, of losing the official in the personal, the minister in the Christian--in communion, in prayer, in preaching. (Dean Vaughan.)
To feed the Church of God.--
The Church of God
Is here regarded as a society--
I. Of priceless value.
1. It is a flock, a name given to the Church of the Old Testament (Isaiah 40:11; Isaiah 63:11; Jeremiah 13:17; Jeremiah 23:2; Jeremiah 31:10; Ezekiel 34:3; Micah 7:14, etc., etc.), and which Christ also applied to His disciples (Luke 12:32). It was a favourite figure with the apostle Peter (1 Peter 5:2-3).
2. This flock is incalculably precious because it has been purchased with “the blood of God,” or rather of the Lord, referring to the Lord Jesus Christ. Other societies exist irrespective of Christ’s mediation--scientific, political, commercial--but the Church is acquired by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Had He not died, it never would have been.
II. Well guarded.
1. It is put in charge of earthly shepherds. There is here--
(1) Self-vigilance; “Take heed, therefore, unto yourselves.” The spiritual shepherd must take care of himself first. He must enlighten his own judgment, discipline his own heart, and train his own soul into Christian virtues first. He must save himself before he can save others (1 Timothy 4:14).
(2) Church vigilance. “And to all the flock.” They are to take heed of the Church, to instruct, guide, guard it, and in every way promote its spiritual welfare.
2. The earthly shepherds are appointed by the Holy Ghost.
III. Assailed by enemies (Acts 20:29).
1. Those who would come from without--worldly men, malignant persecutors.
2. Those who would spring up from within--professed members. The Church’s greatest enemies have sprung from her own bosom.
IV. Demanding the utmost attention. Paul’s labour was--
1. Incessant. “Night and day.”
2. Earnest. “With tears.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
I. The claims of the Church. These are founded--
1. In the language of Scripture upon the subject of the Church. The Bible ever speaks of the inward as above the outward, elevates the power of godliness above the mere form of it, and tells us of at least one who, without baptism or the Church, went into paradise. Still, the Bible has some very strong language on the subject. Take the statement of the text. Can you imagine that that for which such a price was paid, has no claim upon your allegiance? But take other testimonies (Isaiah 49:15-16; Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 5:22-27).
2. In the relation of Christ to the Church. It is true that there is much in the Church for which Christ gave no warrant. Church vestments and ceremonies, and the minute ramifications of Church creeds, all come under this head. As upon an old vessel, so upon the Church in her navigation of the sea of Time, many barnacles have fastened, and these, so far from being a necessary part of the Church, do but oppose her power and impede her progress. But we must take Christ’s idea of the Church. He called His followers out from among men into a special relationship to Himself and to each other. “One is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.” And by these words He constituted a Church. And this brotherhood, which He so organised in the world, He arranged to perpetuate, by inaugurating two rites, which, for all time, should separate His people from the world, and bind them together in a compact and visible body. Now the Church being Christ’s own arrangement, to reject it is to reject Him.
3. In the conduct of the apostles, who, under the direction of Christ, and in possession of the Spirit, at once set up the Church and began to use it as the school, the home, the sanctuary of the disciples whom they called. That little band in the upper room was the Church. And no sooner did others, through their words, believe on Christ than they were formally added to this organisation (Acts 2:47). And when Peter went to preach to Cornelius he baptized him. The believer in Jesus he enrolled as a member of the Church. So, when Paul kneeled to Jesus, he was also baptized. And so throughout all that early period. And shall anyone in view of this fact say, “I will be a Christian outside of the Church”? The apostles knew of no such thing as a Christian willingly outside the Church.
4. In the fact that there is nothing so distinctly characteristic of the Christian life as the spirit of obedience. “What wilt Thou have me to do?” is the voice which comes out of the very essence of every Christian life. “If ye love Me, keep My commandments.” And here is the duty of Church membership, about which the Bible speaks most plainly.
5. In the principle that Christ gains men through men. This is in its widest sense the ordinance of preaching. And the widest, the most continuous, and the most forcible preaching, is by example. But how can we thus testify for Christ if we refuse to place ourselves in a Christian attitude before the eyes of the world?
II. The objections with which it is common to meet these claims.
1. There are in the Church many who give no evidence of Christian character. This is sadly true. But--
(1) Christ never declared that His Church was to be a perfect body, but said that the tares would grow with the wheat until harvest.
(2) Because another makes a mock of duty it is no reason why you should neglect it.
2. I can live a good life outside the Church. Perhaps so. But if your hope for eternity is in Christ, then to despise the Church is to despise the blood with which it was purchased; and surely no one can do this, and, at the same time, rest upon Christ for salvation.
3. I cannot agree with all the doctrines of the Church. But no Church makes the reception of all the articles of its creed a condition of membership.. Trust in Christ for salvation and a Christian life, make up the one condition of Church membership. And what is there here which you cannot receive?
4. I am not fit to be a Church member. This--
(1) May be a fact. There are those who are determined to live just as they please, without regard to Christ or conscience, and who do not care what lies beyond. Such, of course, are fit only for membership with devils. In such communion they are even now.
(2) May be a plea of simulated humility in order to get rid of duty. The man says, “I am not fit,” because he is not willing.
(3) May be the expression of a true consciousness of imperfection. And here it is a mistake. Christ came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
1. The amazing character of men’s indifference here. Christ says, “Behold My Church, for which I gave My blood!” And men pass the Church by without notice.
2. These are words of invitation. Again the Church, through the blood by which she has been purchased, speaks unto you, asking for your attention, for your allegiance. What shall be your answer? (S. S. Mitchell, D. D.)
Which He hath purchased with His own blood.--
The infinite purchase
I. The Church of God.
1. The body of His people in all ages, whom He has called out and separated from the world.
2. Always has been, and always will be, represented by a visible organisation in the world.
3. In God’s apprehension not bounded by, nor identified with, the visible organisation by which it is represented.
II. The relation of the Church to God.
1. Belongs to Him as His purchased possession. His peculiar, not His odd or eccentric people, but the people who belong to Him.
2. Under His government and instruction through officers Divinely appointed. “Over which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers.”
3. To the Church God has committed the truth and treasure of the gospel, together with the sacraments, and all the means of grace, as instruments for the conquest of the world.
III. The price God paid for the Church even His own blood.
1. The blood of Christ is the blood of God.
2. In the person of Christ the Divine and human natures, though distinct, are so united, that His one Person may be designated and described by the attributes of either nature.
3. The sacrifice of Christ derives an infinite value from His Divine nature. It was “the Lord of glory” who was crucified (1 Corinthians 2:8). Application: We are bound to belong to the visible Church as the representative of the invisible; to love it, and to labour for its advancement. It is not the gospel, but the Church, by means of the gospel, which is to conquer and reform the world. (H. J. Van Dyke, D. D.)
I. The great responsibility (Acts 20:28). “To feed the Church of God.”
1. Nourish, strengthen, and build up the souls of men with the doctrines of grace. But before souls can be fed they must be converted. This can only be done by the Holy Ghost applying the atonement of Jesus Christ. The Church is composed of men and women who have been purchased with the “blood of the Lord.”
2. To do this work we must “Take heed”--
(1) To ourselves; our own souls must first of all each day be cared for.
(2) To the flock.
II. The reasons of the responsibility (Acts 20:29-30). There is great danger ahead. Grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
1. External foes--infidelity, intemperance, etc., are wolves.
2. Internal foes--black sheep in the flock--selfish, designing men, speaking perverse things. Oh how Sabbath schools and churches are destroyed by “grievous wolves” and black sheep!
III. The means by which this responsibility is to be discharged (Acts 20:31-38).
1. By watchfulness “Therefore watch.” “Watch and pray” was one of the Master’s greatest exhortations.
2. Perseverance--a night and day toil and anxiety (Acts 20:31).
3. An unswerving trust in God and in the Word of His grace (Acts 20:32).
4. Self-sacrifice--we must not covet money, fame, ease, or anything that man can bestow. We must be--like our Master and like Paul--givers, not receivers (Acts 20:33-35). The concluding verses (36-38) are most suggestive of the spirit we all need--prayer, love, gratitude, deep sorrow in parting with friends, and especially with those who have blessed us in the Lord! (A. H. Moment, D. D.)
I. Faithful counselling. Lessons: Take heed--
1. Unto yourselves, for you can do little for others until your own heart is set right.
2. To all the flock, for you cannot be a faithful shepherd of the Lord’s sheep unless you value their safety as your own.
3. To feed the Church of God. Christ was glad to purchase the sheep at the cost of His own life; ought you not willingly to make the slight sacrifice of caring for those whom He purchased at such a price.
4. Against the wolves. The bark of materialism and spiritualism and destructive criticism is a good deal worse than their bite, still you need to be watchful lest it drive some of the more timid souls out of the fold.
5. For from among yourselves men will arise with all sorts of perverse religious notions, and you will have to combat them. Do it discreetly.
6. And take courage, remembering how much easier is your testifying than was Paul’s, and that your helping words and deeds, as well as his, all receive God’s approval.
II. Trustful commending. Lessons:
1. Paul commended the Ephesians unto God, and God commended Paul for the zeal with which he laboured for the welfare of the Ephesians.
2. Paul did not covet gold or silver, but he did long for something vastly more precious. What could have exceeded his eagerness to save souls.
3. Paul laboured for the necessities, not for the luxuries of life.
4. Paul laboured not only for himself, but also for those who were with him. “Every one for himself” is a motto of the devil. “Bear ye one another’s burdens” is the law of Christ.
5. Paul gave to the Ephesians an active living example of what a Christian worker should be. So doing, he gave to his words a tremendous vital force.
6. Paul worked with his hands, and was rather proud than ashamed of the fact. Hands hardened by honest toil are a much nobler possession than a soft head, or a heart hardened by an empty pride of birth.
III. Prayerful parting. Lessons: Parting--
1. Loses half its bitterness when those who are about to be separated feel that they will remain united in love for the same Saviour.
2. With a beloved pastor is a sad trial, but it is one to be borne as cheerfully as possible, if Providence is evidently calling him elsewhere.
3. Becomes easier to those who approach the hour of separation on their knees.
4. Is greatly saddened if we feel that the bodily separation is to be forever, but there may be something bitterer than that.
5. Becomes well nigh despairing to those who must harbour the fear that it is final, bodily and spiritually. But such separations were very scarce among those with whom such as Paul have been labouring. (S. S. Times.)
The Persian had conquered here, and the story of his triumphs, as the tragedian pictured it, had caused an Athenian audience to burst into tears. There are wet eyes on this Miletian shore, over a capture far more significant than Darius ever made. Hearts have been won here and knit, so as no ties of relationship can unite. They are soon to be separated. Spite of the excitement of the scene, this servant of Jesus Christ is self-possessed; his vision is clear; his advice well considered. There is review and outlook. Lessons of humility, fidelity, courage, and charity are taught by a master here, in a few graphic sentences, which the Christian Church still needs to ponder. They are condensed Epistles. There is--
I. Admonition. These were prominent members of the Church, and very dear to him. Their trials had been his, as were their victories. Knowing that they were in the world, he can but be solicitous now that he can no longer personally aid them.
1. They must first “take heed unto themselves.” The Church is made up of individuals. Strength or weakness in them is power or feebleness in it. Christ had redeemed them, but they must each work out their own salvation. The Holy Ghost had renewed them, but they must each say with the apostle, “I am pure from the blood of all men.” Only the saved can save them that hear him. The prayerless cannot inspire others to pray; nor can the ignorant, sceptical, or trifling lead any to knowledge, faith and soberness. After the close of the service in which George Herbert was inducted into the charge of Bemerton Church, a friend, wondering at his delay in leaving the building, looked in at a window and found him prostrate on the ground before the altar. Then and there he made the vow, “I will be sure to live well, because the virtuous life of a clergyman is the most powerful eloquence, to persuade all that see it, to reverence and love, and at least to desire to live like him.” The more precious the treasure, the more does its keeper arm himself. The Church in its collective capacity must have guardianship. Our Lord’s figure for it is taken from the timid sheep. The shepherd is essential to the flock. Did these brethren realise the vast responsibility? Being right themselves, they might hope rightly to perform it. They were “to feed the Church.” This was to be with food adapted to it. No more than the shepherd is obliged to make the grass grow upon which the flock lives, were they to create spiritual supplies. The minister has never to produce the truth for his people. He has only to find it, in its richness and freshness, and bring them to it, or it to them. To try to satisfy the cravings of the soul with mere moralities, humanities, philosophies, speculations, socialities, amusements, is to enfeeble and make it ready to perish. The Church is sound and strong, only as it incarnates the Christ.
1. He saw not far away “grievous wolves.” Persecution and error were only biding their time to waste and destroy the flock. The bloody vision was realised when Aurelius and: Diocletian published the edict that the Christian name be blotted out; and before a century had passed, seducers appeared. If to be forewarned is to be forearmed, then might these Christians be secure.
2. Is it not still true that cruelty and sophistry are the enemy’s chosen methods of subverting the Church? Whenever it interferes with the schemes of wicked men they will attack it. Inquisitorial tortures are their resort when strong enough. Ostracism, slander, and ridicule are their milder weapons.
III. Confidence. Though such severe trials might be in store, he knew where they would be safe and prosperous. As was his habit he commends them unto One, by whom he himself in full view of bonds and affliction was able to say, “None of these things move me.” The “gracious Word” which He had given was the only means of their sanctification. Through this only did they get wisdom to read their title and secure the heavenly inheritance. Has the method changed? Over against all guesses and denials, changing as the lights and shadows of a spring day, stands now as then this rock of the truth, at once a refuge and an inspiration.
IV. Self-devotion. It is a brief rehearsal--how earnestly and honestly he had toiled, asking nothing of them in return. It had been reward enough for him to preach the gospel. And it had all been in full realisation of that matchless saying of the Lord, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Till so profound a law has been discovered and honoured by the Christian, the advance of the heavenly kingdom must be slow.
V. Prayer. Through this intercourse with God they had first really found each other. At His feet their partings must be made. How very like to that scene, sixteen hundred years after, on the shore of Holland, where another company of pilgrims were assembled, when, as the chronicler says, “Ye tide (which stays for no man) calling them away ye were thus loathe to departe, their Reverd pastor falling down on his knees (and they all with him) with watrie cheeks commended them, with most fervent prairers to the Lord and his blessing.” So do we clasp hands with our children, with our youth departing for their life work, with our missionaries, with our dying ones.
VI. Parting. Intelligent souls are alone capable of profound emotion. The more brutal men become, the more indifferent are they to the breaking of companionship; the more saintly the more sensitive. (D. S. Clark.)
What Paul leaves behind
1. When the apostle goes, will not the whole fabric which he seemed to represent and sustain go along with him? Is Christianity the heroism of one personality? If Paul’s estimation of himself had been that of an idolater or of a superstitious person, he would have reminded the Ephesian elders that in the removal of his personality they had themselves no longer any official standing, or any claim upon public attention.
2. When Paul goes, what will be left? The Church! and the Church is greater than any member of it; the Word! and the Word is infinitely greater than all the ministers that preach it. The blood that bought the Church! and that blood is alone in its meaning, energy, and grace. Then everything will be left when Paul goes. That is the mystery of Divine love. We can take nothing away from Christ’s Church. The firstborn dies, but the Church is as strong as ever; the most eloquent tongue is silent, but the music of the Cross loses no note of its enchantment. It is even good for us that the apostle should be taken away: it was expedient for us that Christ Himself did not remain upon the earth in visible presence. Christianity does not depend upon its great or its little men. Like its Lord, it is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
3. Paul’s charge is Paul himself, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves.” Paul was a severe disciplinarian. He was always undergoing the discipline of an athlete; he kept his body under lest he himself should become a “castaway.” Self-heed is the secret of public power. “Take heed unto yourselves,” and you will be gentle to other people. “Take heed” also “to all the flock.” That is the balancing consideration. The minister is not a monk, he is a public, a social man with a great shepherdly heart, that can understand and love a thousand varieties of men. Paul’s conception of the ministry was regulated and inspired by his conception of the Church. Was the Church a club, a little gathering of men called together for superficial purposes or for transient enjoyment? It was a flock; it was purchased with the blood of God. Then the Church makes the ministry. The ministry has no existence apart from the Church. The minister--be he Paul or Apollos or Cephas--is but an upper seat holder.
4. Paul uses language full of suggestion and pathos. “The Church of God which He hath purchased with His own blood.” What grander word is there than “blood”? Until we contaminated it, it stood next to “love.” “The blood is the life”; the life is the blood. God purchased the Church with His own life. When you understand sin you Will understand blood. When you see the hell which sin deserves you will see the Cross which God built.
5. Why should a man care anything about the world he is going to leave? That depends upon the quality of the man. There are those who want peace in their time, and want to leave all thorny questions to he determined by those who come after them. But Paul was anxious for the fortunes of the Church at Ephesus, though he would himself see that Church no more. Christianity is not a new way of sneaking out of responsibility; Christianity is not a cunning method of leaving posterity to take care of itself. Christian love claims all time, all ages, all lands. Paul--great economist, great statesman, supreme prince of the legions of Christ--could not leave Ephesus saying, “I am glad I shall suffer no more there”; but he cared for Ephesus as much as if he were going to spend the remainder of his days in the endeavour to convert its citizens. Paul knew that after his departing “grievous wolves” should enter into the Church, “not sparing the flock.” The “wolves” could not come in so long as Paul was there. God takes away from us our mighty men that He may train us as much by their absence as He did by their presence. Who would not long to have a whole year with John Bunyan, or the greater Milton, or the fiery Baxter, or the profound Howe and Owen? Yet God is training us by their withdrawal, and God’s greatest men are always the men who are still to come. The ages do not live backward. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Personal contact with souls
As I recall my own ministerial experience I can testify that nearly all the converting work done has been by personal contact with souls. For example, I once recognised in the congregation a newcomer, and at my first visit to his house was strongly drawn to him as a very noble-hearted, manly character. A long talk with him seemed to produce little impression; but before I left, he took me upstairs to see his three or four rosy children in their cribs. As we stood looking at the sleeping cherubs, I said to him, “My friend, what sort of father are you going to be to these children? Are you going to lead them towards heaven, or--the other way!” That arrow lodged. He gave himself to Christ, and at our next communion season he was at the Master’s table, and soon became a most useful officer in the church.” (T. L. Cuyler.)
The minister’s weeping time
Thomas Toller, of Kettering, exerted an extraordinary influence over the feelings of his audience, while he himself remained apparently unmoved. Being once asked, “How is it possible for you to remain calm yourself while the people are weeping before you?” he replied, with evident emotion, “My weeping time was yesterday.”
And now, brethren, I commend you to God.
St. Paul’s last advice to the Ephesian elders; or, a minister’s last counsel to his people
I. The apostle’s commendation.
1. The term “commend” is not unfrequently employed when we speak of any person in the way of praise or approbation; but this clearly is not the meaning of the word in this place. The apostle employs it to signify committing or entrusting, as when we commit any thing or person to another’s care; and perhaps in the sense of recommending or advising, as when we recommend or advise a person to pursue a certain line of conduct. To what and to whom he commends them--
(1) “To God.” The apostle commits his friends to the Almighty Governor of the world, the special Protector of the Church militant on earth, who, he knew, was ever ready to take charge of them, and to sustain and support them in all dangers and adversities. He was obliged to leave them; but the unslumbering eye of Providence was still over them.
(2) “To the word of God’s grace.” The expression, in this part of the text, considered in connection with what follows, is a little singular, and has given occasion to some slight difference of opinion. By the “word” some have understood the Lord Jesus Christ, who is emphatically styled the “Word.” Supposing this to be a legitimate interpretation, the apostle here commends the Ephesian elders more particularly to the Saviour, whose servants they were, and in whose holy cause they were engaged. Others, however, understand from this expression the gospel of Christ; that word of God’s grace which brings the knowledge of redemption, and contains tidings of Christ as the Saviour. Put your trust, not only in the power and providence of God, but also in the promises and assurances of His word.
II. The object here proposed by the apostle with reference to his friends. This we gather from the words, “Which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” Here, again, it is proper to observe that learned commentators are not agreed as to whether the apostle refers, in this part of the text, to the word “God” in the former part, or to the “word of His grace,” which stands in immediate connection with it. Happily, the difference is not very material in a practical point of view. Assuming the antecedent to be “God,” the truth of the sentiment, that He is able to build up His people, and give them an inheritance among the sanctified, is obvious. The same observation will apply, if the “Word,” as understood of Christ, be taken for the antecedent. Nor, if we understand it to be the “word of God’s grace,” or “the gospel,” is there any obscurity in the passage, or any truth involved at all inconsistent with the former supposition. For, when it is said of the word of the Gospel, that it is able to do for us what the apostle here describes, it is spoken of only as the instrument in the hands of God, whose word it is, and who is Himself the secret and almighty Worker under it. It should ever be borne in mind, that a Divine efficacy is not ascribed to the gospel separate and apart from Divine influence.
1. It is “able to build you up.” It is plain, then, that one part of his object, in commending his Ephesian fellow labourers to the word of the gospel of grace, was their edification. If they looked to this word, and drew their instructions and supports from its holy revelations, it would “build them up.” The Church of Christ is figuratively styled “God’s building”; and each true member is himself a “temple of God,” the “temple of the Holy Ghost.” But we require to be “built up,” and established in the faith.
2. It is “able to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” From this it is plain that the apostle aimed also at the future glorification of his friends in a brighter world. But how does it appear that the word of the gospel of Christ is able to confer upon the saints this glorious possession? The knowledge of this possession is imparted to the Church of God solely by the word or gospel of grace, which, we are told, has “brought life and immortality to light.” Moreover, by that word of grace, as the ordinary channel, the Spirit of Divine illumination is communicated. But, with reference to this glorious possession, one or two points may be briefly noticed.
(1) The kingdom of glory, in the heavenly world, is to be regarded by the faithful as their promised inheritance, to which they are the rightful heirs: it is an inheritance like that of the Israelites in Canaan.
(2) This inheritance is entailed upon none but those who belong to the number of the saints. I would make two or three short inferential remarks.
We may learn from its--
1. How immeasurably superior is the gospel of Jesus Christ to all other systems of religion. Suppose the apostle, when taking leave of the Ephesian elders, had met them for the last time merely as a teacher of pagan superstitions, or as a moral philosopher unacquainted with the discoveries of Divine revelation, what probably would have been the nature of his address to his friends in the prospect of separation? Could he have commended them with the same confidence to the Divine Protector of the universe? Could he have cheered them with the view of a future glorious inheritance?
2. How important is an intimate acquaintance with the gospel to every member of the Church of Christ.
3. How substantial and enduring is the friendship subsisting among those whose union and intercourse are based on genuine religion. (J. S. Jaques.)
Paul’s farewell discourse at Ephesus
I. Here is an endearing appellation which he gives them, “Brethren.” His gifts were, no doubt, far greater than theirs; and so was his office, being an extraordinary minister, an apostle of the Gentiles; and his usefulness abundantly exceeded theirs. Yet he does not treat them with a haughty and assuming air, but puts himself upon a level with them, and calls them brethren. Thus imitating his Lord and master; who, being of the same nature with us, is not ashamed to call us brethren, though He Himself is Lord of all.
II. Here is an instance of his regard unto them and affection for them; which appears in commending them to God, and to the word of His grace. We are not to suppose that, in this condemnation, the apostle intends the elders only, but the Church also. These were addressed, as being officers and representatives of the Church, and as men capable of delivering to it, what the apostle should say to them. There are three things to be considered in this commendation.
1. The persons to whom the brethren are commended: that is, “God, and the word of His grace.”
(1) They are commended to God; by whom is meant God the Father. The apostle, in commending them to Him, commends them to His grace, wisdom, and power. To His grace; to supply their need; to fit them for every duty He shall call them to, and for every trial He shall exercise them with. They are also commended to His wisdom, to counsel and direct them in all their ways. Likewise, the saints are commended to the power of God, to keep and preserve them. For it is by that alone they are kept; being weak and liable to daily backslidings. They, therefore, should commit themselves to Him, who is able to keep them from falling, and to present them faultless before the throne of His glory with exceeding joy.
(2) The apostle commandeth them to the word of Divine grace. By which I understand, not the gospel, or the written Word, but the Lord Jesus Christ, who is frequently in Scripture called λόγος, or the Word.
(a) Because the saints never commend themselves, or others, either in life or death, to any but a Divine Person. The word signifies the committing a person or thing to the care, charge, and protection of another. Now, none but a Divine Person is capable of taking the care and charge of the saints, neither will the saints trust any other.
(b) Because to put the written Word upon a level of the Divine Being does not appear agreeable. A commendation of the saints, equally to the written Word, as to God Himself seems to be a lessening of His glory, and ascribing too much to the written Word; but suits well with Christ, the essential Word, who, being in the form of God, thought it no robbery to be equal with God.
(c) Because, never in the whole book of Scripture, as far as I have observed, are the saints commended to the gospel; but rather that to them (see 2 Corinthians 5:19; 1 Timothy 1:11-18; 1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:14; 2 Timothy 2:2).
(d) Because what is here ascribed unto it suits better with Christ than with the gospel, viz., which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance, etc. Taking this to be the sense of the words, it will be proper to inquire these two things. Why Christ is called the Word: and why the Word of God’s grace.
1. Why He is called the Word.
(1) Because He spake for His people in the council of peace; and covenanted with His Father on their account.
(2) He is called the Word because He spake all things out of nothing, in the first creation.
(3) Because He is to us the interpreter of the Father’s mind; like as our words, or speech, is the interpreter of our minds.
(4) He is the Word, who now speaks for us in the court of heaven.
2. Why is He called the Word of God’s grace?
(1) Because in Him is highly displayed and revealed His Father’s grace to poor sinners.
(2) Because in Him it hath pleased the Father that all fulness of grace should dwell.
2. The act itself of commending them, which signifies to commit to the care, keeping and protection of another; depending upon his ability and fidelity. Thus the apostle must be supposed to commit the saints to the care and protection of God the Father and of God the Son, being well assured of the ability and fidelity of them both. And his commending them to both not only shows the equal esteem and regard he had for them, but also the greatness of his concern for the brethren here.
III. The motives which induced the apostle to commend the saints into the hands of those Divine persons.
1. Because He is able to build them up. Ministers are instruments in building up of saints. They ministerially lay the foundation, Christ. He is the chief Architect; and, except He, the Lord, build the house, they labour in vain that build it. The work is His. He only having begun the work, is able to finish it: and He will do it. We may be confident of it; for He is both the Author and Finisher of faith.
2. Another reason why the apostle commends the saints, not only to God, but also to the Word of His grace is because He is able to give them an inheritance among them that are sanctified.
(1) The inheritance which Christ gives. This is the heavenly glory.
(2) The persons among whom it lies. These are all them that are sanctified: which at once points out the persons to whom it belongs, and discovers the excellency of it. The persons to whom it belongs are all those that are sanctified--that is, who are set apart by Divine grace, and distinguished from others, by a sovereign act of love, for the enjoyment of this blessing. Or else by sanctified ones are meant such as are sanctified by the Spirit of God; have a principle of grace wrought in them: and are enabled by faith to deal with Christ for sanctification as well as righteousness. For much of a believer’s holiness lies in faith’s acting and living upon, dealing with, and receiving from Christ, grace for grace; and, therefore, in another text this inheritance is said to be among “them which are sanctified by faith, that is in Me.”
1. Hence it appears to whom souls should make application in their time of need; that is, to God, and to the word of His grace.
2. This evidently shows that those ministers have the greatest concern for souls who commend them to God, and to the word of His grace; who direct them to Christ and His fulness, and not to their own works or frames, but to the grace that is in Him.
3. It is also manifest that such commendations and directions as these are likely to meet with most success.
4. Let us adore boundless grace, that we have the God of all grace and the word of grace to apply to, and that we have any reason to believe that these Divine persons have taken the care and charge of us: we having been enabled, by an act of faith, to commit ourselves to them; believing that they are “able to build us up, and to give us an inheritance among all them that are sanctified.” (John Gill, D. D.)
The apostle was leaving, as he supposed, for the last time, the representatives of the Church in Ephesus, to whom he had been painting in very sombre colours the dangers of the future and his own forebodings and warnings. They were set in the midst of a focus of heathen superstition, from which themselves had only recently been rescued. Their knowledge was little, they had no apostolic teacher to be present with them; they were left alone there to battle with the evils of that corrupt society in which they dwelt. And yet Paul leaves them--“sheep in the midst of wolves,” with a very imperfect Christianity, with no Bible, with no teachers--in the sure confidence that no harm will come to them, because God is with them, and the “word of His grace” is enough.
I. The one source of security and enlightenment for the Church and for the individual. What is in the apostle’s mind here is the objective revelation, the actual spoken word (not yet written) which had its origin in God’s condescending love, and had for its contents, mainly, the setting forth of that love. Or, to put it in other words, the revelation of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, with all the great truths that cluster round and are evolved from it, is the all-sufficient source of enlightenment and security for individuals and for churches. And whosoever will rightly use and faithfully keep that great Word, no evil shall befall him, nor shall he ever make shipwreck of the faith. It is “able to build you up,” says Paul. In God’s gospel, in the truth concerning Jesus Christ the Divine Redeemer, in the principles that flow from that Cross and passion, and that risen life and that ascended Saviour, there is all that men need, all that they want for life, all that they want for godliness. “I commend you to God and the word of His grace,” which is a storehouse full of all that we need for life and for godliness. Whoever has that is like a man that has got a quarry on his estate, out of which at will he can dig stones to build his house. If you truly possess and faithfully adhere to this gospel, you have enough. Remember, these people to whom Paul thus spoke had no New Testament, and half of them, I dare say, could not read the Old. There were no written Gospels in existence. It was to the spoken word that he commended them. How much more securely may we trust one another to that permanent record of the Divine revelation which we have here on the pages of Scripture! As for the individual, so for the Church, that written Word is the guarantee for its purity and immortality. Christianity is the only religion that has ever passed through periods of decadence and purified itself again. They used to say that Thames water was the best to put on shipboard, because, after it went putrid, it cleared itself and became sweet again. I do not know anything about whether that is true or not, but I know that it is true about Christianity. Over and over again it has rotted, and over and over again it has cleared itself; and it has always been by the one process. Men have gone back to the Word and laid hold again of it in its simple omnipotence. And so a decadent Christianity has sprung up again into purity and power.
II. The possible benefit or the silencing of the human voice. Paul puts together his absence and the power of the Word. “Now I know that you will see my face no more”--“I commend you to God.” That is to say, it is often a good thing that the voice of man may be hushed in order that the sweeter and deeper music of the Word of God, sounding from no human lips, may reach our hearts. The human ministration of the Divine Word, like every other help to know God, may become a hindrance instead of a help; and in all such helps there is a tendency, unless there be continual jealous watchfulness on the part of those who use them, to assert themselves instead of leading to God, and to become not mirrors in which we may behold God, but obscuring media which come between us and Him. This danger belongs to the great ordinance and office of the Christian ministry, large as its blessings are, just as it belongs to all other offices, which are appointed for the purpose of bringing men to God. We may make them ladders or we may make them barriers, we may climb by them or we may remain in them. We may look at the colours on the painted glass until we do not see or think of the light which strikes through the colours. So it is often a good thing that the human voice, that speaks the Divine Word, should be silenced; just as it is often a good thing that other helps and props should be taken away. No man ever leans all his weight upon God’s arm until every other crutch on which he used to lean has been knocked from him.
III. The best expression of Christian solicitude and affection. “I commend you,” says Paul, “to God, and to the word of His grace.” If we may venture upon a very literal translation of the word it is, “I lay you down beside God.” That is beautiful, is it not? Here had Paul been carrying the Ephesian Church on his back for a long time now. He had many cares about them, many forebodings as to their future, knowing very well that after his departure, grievous wolves were going to enter in. He says, “I cannot carry the load any longer; here I lay it down at the Throne, beneath those pure eyes, and that gentle and strong hand.” For to commend them to God is in fact a prayer casting the care which Paul could no longer exercise upon Him. And that is the highest expression of, as it is the only soothing for, manly Christian solicitude and affection.
IV. The parting counsels involved in the commendation.
1. “Cleave to the Lord with full purpose of heart,” as the limpet does to the rock. Cling to Jesus Christ, the revelation of God’s grace. And how do we cling to Him? What is the cement of souls? Love and trust; and whoever exercises these in reference to Jesus Christ is built into Him, and belongs to Him, and has a vital unity knitting him with that Lord.
2. Cleave to “the word of His grace.” Try to understand its principles better; study your Bibles with more earnestness; believe more fully than you have ever done that in that great gospel there lies every truth that we need, and guidance in all circumstances. Bring the principles of Christianity into your daily life; walk by the light of them; and live in the radiance of a present God. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The pastor’s farewell
It is to be observed from these words--
I. That sanctity is no enemy to civility. The apostle being about to leave them, doth not abruptly turn his back upon them. “And now, brethren.” Some think that good works and good manners are inconsistent; but though Christianity pare off the luxuriant branches of courtesy, yet it doth not root it up. Civil language and a courteous carriage are, though no part of, yet an ornament to, Christianity. The holy apostle spendeth the greatest part of a chapter in courteous salutations, which he would not have done had it been either unlawful or unnecessary.
II. That grace will turn civil courtesy into serious Christianity. The apostle does not take a bare civil farewell of them, according to the custom of most men, but solemnly takes his leave of them by commending them to the blessed God. Wicked men debase actions that are sacred, and godly men advance actions that are civil. As the iron mine gives a tincture and relish of its own nature to all the waters which run through it, making them thereby more salubrious to our bodies; so grace gives a savour and taste of its own nature and property to all actions, and thereby makes them more healthful to our souls. It sanctifieth our very salutes (Romans 16:16).
III. That all Christians are brethren. Saints are all linked together in the bond of brotherhood. They are brethren if we consider--
1. Their relations; they have all the same Father, God (2 Corinthians 6:18). They are not only adopted, but regenerated, by the same God (John 1:12; James 1:21). They are all children of the same mother (Galatians 4:26). They suck the same breasts (Isaiah 66:11; 1 Peter 2:2); wear the same garments, and as they grow up, feed at the same table, and shall dwell together in the same house forever.
2. Their affection. The curtains of the tabernacle were joined together with loops, and so are true Christians with love; they love as brethren, seeking the good and welfare of each other. A saint’s talents are not an enclosure for his private profit, but a common for the advantage of others (Psalms 122:8). Every saint is a great merchant, who hath his factors in all parts of the world, trading for him at the throne of grace. (G. Swinnock, M. A.)
A faithful minister’s commendation of the people of God
I. The ground of their hope.
1. He commends them to God.
(1) To His providential agency.
(2) To His attributes as engaged for their welfare--to the wisdom of God, for direction; to the power of God, for defence; to the goodness and mercy of God, for comfort; to the all-sufficiency of God, for all exigencies; to the truth of God as the ground of confidence.
2. He commends them to the word of His grace, so called because--
(1) It originates in His grace.
(2) It records His grace.
(3) It is the instrument of His grace.
II. The extent of their privileges. “Which is able to build you up.” The word of God’s grace is given to instruct the ignorant--reclaim the wanderer--comfort the mourner--arouse the careless--confirm the wavering--and edify the Christian. The words here:--
1. Imply the commencement of a work. When we speak of building up, it naturally supposes a foundation is laid and a work begun. This is the case with every true Christian. In the work of conviction, the rubbish is taken away, all views of obtaining salvation by human merit are renounced. Christ is cordially embraced as all our salvation.
2. Insure its continuance. Christians are built up in--
(2) Faith (Jude 1:20).
III. The sublimity of their destinies. Notice here:--
1. The state of happiness expressed. “An inheritance.”
(1) It is a rich inheritance.
(2) It is a purchased inheritance--bought by the precious blood of Christ.
(3) It is reserved. Ready prepared for every believer.
(4) It is eternal.
2. The individuals who shall possess it. “Them which are sanctified.”
3. The mode of its conveyance. “To give you.” It is the free gift of God’s grace. (Ebenezer Temple.)
Commendation to God
I. How a minister can commend his brethren to God.
1. By prayer. As by preaching the minister commends God to his people’s acceptance, so by prayer he commends his people to God’s benediction. The apostle made prayer the Alpha and Omega, the preface and ending, of his epistles.
2. By faith. We commend our business to a friend when we cast on him the care of it, and trust him with it. Ministers commend their friends and affairs to God, by beseeching His favour towards them, and believing that He will be tender of them. Prayer is the key that openeth God’s treasury, but faith is the hand which takes His bounty. Prayer must have a promise, or else it is a vessel without a bottom; and that promise must have faith, or else the vessel lieth still, and cannot stir at all. When a full gale of faith fills the sails, then the vessel of prayer launcheth forth most hopefully, and returneth with its riches freight. He that prayeth for himself, and not for others, is fitly compared to a hedgehog, who laps himself within his own soft down, and turns his bristles to all the world beside. And he that prayeth for others without reliance on God through Christ for audience, works at the labour in vain, and, like Penelope, undoeth by night all that he wrought in the day. The truth is, we lie to God in prayer, if we do not rely on Him after prayer.
II. Why the pastor must commend his brethren to God. Because of--
1. God’s propriety in them. None so fit to take care of the child as its father. They are God’s by election; by redemption; by regeneration; by promise. Now, because they are His, therefore they go to Him for protection (Psalms 119:94), and therefore He affords them His special and gracious presence (Jeremiah 2:3).
2. The world’s enmity against them. They who have many and mighty enemies, surely want some faithful, able friend (John 17:14).
3. Their own impotency. Children which cannot go alone, need their mother’s helping hand. The strongest Christian is but a child, and except God hold him by his right hand, will every day get many falls and knocks. All our power for sacred performances is wholly from God (2 Corinthians 3:4). He must give us fresh supplies of His Spirit in every duty, or they cannot be rightly performed. The greatest fulness of a Christian is not the fulness of a fountain, but of a vessel, which, because always letting out, must be always taking in. The Christian’s disbursements are great and constant; therefore such must his incomes from God be, or he will quickly prove a bankrupt.
To proceed to the application of this point.
1. It informeth us of the piety of a true pastor. He commends his people to God; this is his character. When others curse their people, and commit them to the devil, he blesseth his parishioners, and commendeth them to God. The mouth of some indeed, like Rabshakeh’s, are full of railings, and their tongues are even black with blasphemies against God and His people; though their curses are but like false fire, which may flash a little, but will do no execution; but the faithful ministers of the gospel have learned other language--as they are blessed men, so they are blessing men.
2. It discovereth the great privilege of a gracious people. When they are deserted by man, they are commended to God.
III. What the pastor commends his brethren to.
1. To God’s special favour and affection. “I commend you to God.” The goodwill of God is such a lump of sugar as will sweeten the bitterest cup. His general love is like the ordinary beams of the sun, which convey light and heat for the refreshment of all the world. So the Lord is good to all; His mercy is over all His works; but His special love is like the beams of the sun united in a glass, which, passing by others, fires the object only. If a heathen could say, “I care not for those petty gods and demi-gods, so I can have but Jupiter’s goodwill”; surely a saint may say, I care not for men’s frowns, or devils’ fury, so I may obtain but the blessed God’s favour. This special favour is a pearl of such price, that it was bought with the blood of Christ, and none can beg a greater for themselves or others. Now to this God, in whose favour is life (Psalms 30:1-12), nay, whose loving kindness is better than life (Psalms 63:1-11), I commend you, and my prayer shall be, “God be merciful to you,” etc. (Psalms 67:1).
2. To His special care and protection. Angels are the Church’s guardians: “He shall give His angels charge over thee”; but God Himself is Captain of the saints’ lifeguard. He is Lord of hosts. He keepeth them diligently (Isaiah 27:4), and tenderly (Zechariah 2:8).
3. His universal benediction; to His blessings in all your undertakings and concernments; as to His grace to affect you in the midst of the world’s hatred, and to His power to protect you in the midst of all hardships, so to His presence to prosper you in all the works of your hands. The fruitfulness of the earth depends wholly upon the influence of heaven. If the sun withhold its heat, and the clouds their moisture, all things decay and wither. The success of all your actions depends on God’s benediction. If He deny His concurrence, nothing prospers (Psalms 127:1). It is said of David, that he prospered whithersoever Saul sent him (1 Chronicles 11:9); but what was the spring of the watch which caused all the wheels to move so regularly. For God was with him. It is His gracious presence alone which gives success to every enterprise. His blessing can turn not only water into wine, temporal mercies into spiritual benefits, but even poison into wholesome food, every stone thrown at you by your enemies into a precious stone. The scorching sun of persecution doth but ripen him for a glorious harvest.
4. For your further comfort, know that--
(1) God is the most able friend. To have a friend at court is a great courtesy, because such a one can command much; but what is it then to have God for your Friend, who can command all things? God is able to do more for you than you can ask or think. He is able to defend you from whatsoever is hurtful. A heathen asked a Jew how he and his countrymen could hope for any safety, “because,” saith he, “every one of you is a silly sheep compassed about with fifty wolves.” “Ay, but,” saith the Jew, “we are kept by such a Shepherd as can kill all those wolves when He pleaseth.”
(a) Are your dangers bodily? He can bear off those blows. No evil can arrest you without leave from this King. If afflictions be near, He will not be far off (Isaiah 43:2). If the Church be a burning bush, it will not be consumed, because God is in it.
(b) Are your fears spiritual? God is able to be your defence. The world is a slippery place, but He is able to keep you from falling (Jude 1:24). As He is able to defend you from what is hurtful, so to relieve you with what is needful. God’s estate is infinite, and therefore will bear a liberal provision for all His children.
2. He is the most loving Friend. Jonathan ventured far for David’s safety, and the reason was he loved him as his own soul. They who have God’s heart, are sure of His helping hand. God loves His people--
(1) As they are His eternal choice.
(2) As they are His own picture, like Him in grace and holiness. Men have loved others the more for resembling them in sin; God loves His children the more for resembling Him in sanctity.
(3) As they are His Son’s purchase. They which were so dearly bought, are not easily loathed.
(4) Above all the world besides. All others are dross; they are His gold. He loves them as His own Son (Joh 17:26-27). Hence it is that they are so happy who are committed to God’s keeping, because He is so loving a Guardian. All the while that His people suffer, He doth sympathise, and He will support them. As a tender Father He proportions the burden to the strength of His children’s back. He doth like a lutanist, who will not let the strings of his instrument be too slack, lest they mar the music, nor suffer them to be hard screwed up, lest they break. His love will set all His other attributes at work for His people’s good. His wisdom will contrive, His power will act, and His faithfulness will perform whatsoever He promiseth for the comfort of His Church, and all because He loveth them.
3. He is the most faithful Friend. He is constant in His love. Some are able, and loving also for a time; but their love, like a candle, though it burn a little in a close room and calm weather, is easily blown out by a stormy wind; but God is an everlasting Friend. His love, like the sun, can never be abated, much less extinguished, by the greatest tempest, but is always going forth in its full strength (Proverbs 17:17). When men are mutable, and appear all in changeable colours, use their friends as we do sundials, look no longer on them, nor regard them, than the sun shineth on them, “God is a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19); will be sure to mind the house that He hath built, and that most of all when it is out of repair and ready to fall. He is faithful to His promise (Joshua 23:14). God is usually better, but never in the least worse, than His word. His promise is equivalent to possession. (G. Swinnock, M. A.)
Commendation to God’s grace
It would be well for us in similar circumstances to follow Paul’s example. When we are in sorrow ourselves, let us lift our hearts to God; and when we know that others are in distress, then is the time to bespeak God’s favour for them. Especially is this true of those manifold partings from friends over which hangs the shadowy uncertainty that we may see their faces on earth no more. When, e.g., a lad leaves home, what can be more appropriate than this commendation? When again we tread the deck of the vessel, and are about to embrace for the last time the loved ones who are going to a foreign land, what can be more consoling to both than to whisper “I commend you to God,” etc.? When some dear friend is in deep waters, and we feel our impotence, what a relief to us, and what a benison to him, it is to be able to say, “I commend you,” etc. When Thomas M’Crie, the biographer of John Knox, was setting out as lad from his country home for Edinburgh University, his mother went with him for a portion of the way, and when at length they came to the place where they had to part, she took him into a field by the wayside, knelt down with him behind a stock of corn sheaves and fervently besought for him the blessing of the Lord. His son tells us that he never forgot that prayer; and that its influence for inspiration and strength was with him through life. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Commendation to the Word of God’s grace
I. To purify your affections. It is the usual pipe through which grace may be conveyed into the vessels of your hearts. The laws of men may reform your actions, but it is the gospel of God which can renew your affections. Some poets speak of musicians that by the force of their music can make stones leap into walls, and tame beasts, be they never so savage. The word of God’s grace will do much more--it will change the heart of stone into a heart of flesh; it will tame lions, and turn them into lambs (Isaiah 11:4-6).
II. To be the rule of your conduct.
1. It containeth not only promises for your consolation, but also precepts for your conversations; therefore it is called a royal law (James 2:8). A law, because it is to be the canon of our lives. A royal law, because given us by God, sovereign and dominion over all, and therefore power to command what He pleaseth. The gospel is a law of liberty, but not a law of licentiousness (James 1:25). It freeth us from the curse, but not from the commands, of the law. Look therefore to this royal law; expound it in your lives.
2. Let it be your rule for faith. The gospel is the only creed; he that believeth this is a true believer. As the Word--Christ--is the personal foundation, so the word of Christ is the doctrinal foundation for every Christian to build on (Ephesians 2:19-20).
3. Make it your rule for worship. To serve God according to your own inventions, or men’s prescriptions, is rebellion. As the moth eats out the garment, and the rust the iron, so doth an apocryphal worship in time eat out an evangelical worship (Matthew 15:7). All worship of God, without warrant, is like private coining money, high treason against the King of heaven (1 Kings 12:33). Till man can be his own maker, he may not be his own lawgiver (Isaiah 8:20).
4. In all things live by the gospel, and look to the gospel; let that be a light to your feet, and a lantern to your paths; keep the Word, and it will keep you, in an hour of temptation, from Binning, and in an hour of dissolution from sinking. The lawyer, in his doubts, consults with his Lyttleton or Coke; the physician prescribes by Galen or Hippocrates; the philosopher takes advice of his Aristotle; but the godly man must always take counsel of the gospel (Proverbs 4:26-27).
III. To be your buckler against opposition. The gospel is a magazine, out of which Christians may be furnished with spiritual weapons in their holy war against the kingdom of darkness.
1. It is a shield against evil principles (Matthew 22:29).
2. It is a shield against evil practices (Psalms 119:9).
3. Doth Satan assault you? (Ephesians 6:17) Use the gospel for your defence.
4. Is the world to you a place of thorns and briars? (2 Corinthians 10:4.) Get your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, and ye may walk comfortably through it.
IV. To be your cordial in all afflictions. Seneca, going about to comfort his friend Polybius, persuades him to bear his affliction patiently, because he was Caesar’s favourite. The word of grace affords you infinitely richer cordials, exceeding rich and precious promises, wherein ye are admitted to be the friends of God, the members of Christ, the temples of the Spirit, and the heirs of heaven. (G. Swinnock, M. A.)
The gospel the word of God’s grace
The word “grace” is taken in Scripture--
1. For favour or goodwill (Colossians 1:2).
2. For the effects and fruits thereof (Jude 1:4). The gospel in both respects is fitly termed the word of His grace--
I. Because it containeth the infinite grace and favour of the most high God to sinners. The law speaks in effect man’s bottomless misery, but the gospel speaks God’s boundless mercy; the law is a court of justice, but the gospel a throne of grace. Grace sits as commander-in-chief in the gospel, and, as Ahasuerus to Esther, holdeth out the golden sceptre of mercy, for poor condemned persons to touch with the hand of faith, and live. The substance of God’s love to man was never laid open to the view of mortals till the gospel was preached. Before it ran as a river underground; but in the gospel it bursts forth and showeth itself, to refresh us with its pleasant streams. The law is, as it were, a warrant under Heaven’s hand and seal for man’s execution; but the gospel, like the dove, comes flying swiftly to prevent it, with the olive branch of peace and pardon in its mouth. Choosing grace (Ephesians 1:5), calling grace (2 Timothy 1:9), justifying grace (Romans 3:24), and glorifying grace (1 Peter 3:7), are all discovered in the gospel; and therefore it may well be called the word of His grace.
II. Because the gospel is the effect and fruit of God’s grace or goodwill to men. Philosophers observe that dew never falleth in stormy, tempestuous weather: the dropping of the dew of the gospel on parched, scorched hearts, is a sign and fruit of serene, calm heavens: That our parts of the world, like Gideon’s fleece, should be wet with this dew when other parts are dry, this is merely from grace (Amos 4:7). This rain of the gospel, which cooleth heat, melloweth the hearts, and cleanseth the unholy, goeth by coasts (Psalms 147:19-20).
III. Because the gospel is the usual means of begetting grace. As manna fell about the Israelites’ tents with the dew, so grace is distilled and dropped down with the gospel.
1. Many of the Jews heard the threatenings of the law, and were not moved, but the Baptist wins their children with the songs of Zion, the promises of the gospel. The ice which is hardened by the cold, is melted with the sun. When the murderers of our Saviour heard the gospel, they were pricked to the heart (Acts 2:37). The hard flint is broken upon the soft pillow.
2. The gospel is effectual, not only for conversion, but also for edification. “Which is able to build you up.” The gospel doth not only bring forth souls to Christ, but likewise builds up souls in Christ (1 Peter 2:2).
3. It can carry men to glory. “And to give you an inheritance.” It doth, like Moses, lead the saint out of Egypt, deliver him from bondage to his lusts, conduct him through the wilderness of the world, and also, like Joshua, bring him into Canaan, the land of promise. It is called “the grace of God which bringeth salvation” (Titus 2:11). It bringeth salvation to man, and it bringeth man to salvation. (G. Swinnock, M. A.)
The well-being of man
I. The conditions on which man’s well-being depends.
1. Moral edification. The apostle desired his hearers now to be built up. The word is architectural. A house is built by plan, and by slow degrees. Paul often speaks of the moral culture of the soul under this figure (1 Corinthians 3:10; 1 Corinthians 12:14; Ephesians 2:20; Colossians 2:7). The soul in depravity is a temple in ruins. It requires to be built up upon the true foundation, and according to the true plan.
2. Holy fellowship. “Give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” The language implies--
(1) That there are sanctified ones. Who are they? All who have truly believed in Christ and experienced a moral renewal of the Holy Ghost are partially sanctified. There are millions who are perfectly sanctified in heaven. John saw them--“a multitude which no man could number.”
(2) That an inheritance with those sanctified ones is the grand desideratum. The sanctified ones dwell in social harmony, in unclouded intelligence, in spiritual purity, in Divine fellowship. What higher good is there than to have an inheritance with them, not as a matter of sufferance, but as a matter of right; not temporarily, but forever; to “sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” and with the great and good of all ages?
II. The agency by which these conditions are attained.
1. It works by the gospel: “The word of His grace.” The gospel originates in, reveals and produces grace. It is “able to build up” because of the power of God.
2. It is secured by prayer. (D. Thomas, D. D,)
I have coveted no man’s silver.
“Two men,” says Carlyle,” I honour, and no third. First, the toil-worn craftsman, that with earth-made implement laboriously conquers the Earth and makes her man’s. Venerable to me is the hard hand, crooked, coarse, wherein notwithstanding lies a cunning virtue indefeasibly royal, as of the sceptre of this planet. The second man I honour, and still more highly, is he who is toiling for the spiritually indispensable--not to say daily bread--but the bread of life. These two in all their degrees I honour; all else is chaff and dust, which let the wind blow whither it listeth. Sublimer in this world know I nothing than a peasant saint. Could such now anywhere be met with, such a one will take thee back to Nazareth itself. Thou wilt see the splendour of heaven spring from the humblest depths of earth like a light shining in great darkness.” In Paul you have these two labourers which the sage of Chelsea so greatly honours. The text leads us to consider labour in four aspects--
I. As a guard against dishonesty. “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel.” Covetousness is the soul of theft. The apostle did not covet because he worked for his livelihood. Such labour acts as a security against dishonesty in two ways.
1. It raises a man above the need of another’s property. The great Creator has given to every man, as a rule, that natural skill and strength which, when industriously used, will secure all the temporal good he needs.
2. It trains a man to respect another’s property. The man who toils for what he has alone knows the value of property. Laziness breeds covetousness. The industrious habits of a people are the safeguards of a nation’s property.
II. As a condition of independency. There is a sublime spirit of independency in these words: “Ye yourselves know that these hands have ministered unto my necessities and to them that were with me.” This feeling must have been heightened by the fact that he knew that he had a Divine claim to their temporal things (1 Corinthians 9:13-14), and also by the fact that on account of his influence over them, he might have extracted from them large portions of their property. Two thoughts are suggested here--
1. That it is a desirable thing for a minister to be secularly independent of his people. Why else does the apostle rejoice at it? The people who feel that their minister is dependent upon them are likely to take advantage of his poverty, and to misinterpret his acts of purest generosity; and the minister who feels his dependency may come under a strong temptation to humour their prejudices, and under a painful sense of his own humiliation.
2. That a secular independence, therefore, every minister should endeavour to obtain. Any man with two healthy hands can do it and ought to do it. Agriculture, mechanics, trade, literature, medicine, law--the minister who wishes to be secularly independent of his people may get his livelihood from some of these.
III. As a source of beneficence. His hands not only ministered to his necessities, but to them that were with him, so that they enabled him “to support the weak.” Industrious labour is socially beneficent. The industrious man--
1. Necessarily enriches society. He produces what would not have been without him, and thus adds to the common stock of wealth on which society lives. The lazy man, on the contrary, consumes without producing, and thus impoverishes society.
2. Generally becomes both able and willing to help society. Industry has the power, not only of supplying the means to alleviate the distress, but often generates the disposition to do so. Where Christianity is, as in the case of Paul, the disposition is.
IV. As a practice to be followed. “I have showed you all things.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
An unmercenary servant of God
When Pope Paul IV heard of the death of Calvin he exclaimed with a sigh: “Ah! the strength of that proud heretic lay in this--that riches and honours were nothing to him. Holy Virgin I with two such servants, our Church would soon be mistress of both shores of the ocean.” (J. F. B. Tinling.)
Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
The blessedness of doing good
I. That these words represent the character of our Lord. He was devoted to all the offices of humanity and good nature. The two general habits which filled the whole intenseness of His soul were unaffected piety towards God and charity to mankind. He had not any one affection in the blessed frame of His mind but what was Divinely exercised in constant acts of beneficence; for He scarce so much as ever indulged Himself in any one innocent pleasure of human life, but the going about continually to do good. And here observe that our Lord chose not the charity of almsgiving for His province, how blessed a part soever that be, for gold and silver He had none; neither had He the like obligations with us to lay a good foundation against the time to come. This part, therefore, He left for those principally whom He intended to honour with the sacred trust of being the immediate stewards of His providence; to whose commiseration and care He should commit the indigent creatures of His family. This part of liberality, I say, our Lord exercised not; but His Divine compassion was intent upon a charity much more exalted than this--the relieving the souls of men, and providing for their eternal welfare.
II. That they express the genius of his religion, the natural tendency whereof is to smooth and soften our harsh and unrelenting tempers, that thereby we might be perfectly disposed and furnished unto every good work.
III. That they declare to us wherein the peculiar blessedness of the Christian life doth consist, which is best promoted by giving and by doing good. For charity is not a solitary virtue, a single blessing, but the happy conspiration of all those tender passions from whence humanity, that is, the most perfect state of human nature, takes its name. Nay, all that we know of God, whereby He is in Himself the blessed for evermore, and to us, the great object of our love and adoration, is, that He is absolutely perfect in all the infinite varieties of goodness, wherein the several infirmities and wants and sins of all His creatures take their sanctuary and their refuge. Reflect, I beseech you, on all the various scenes of life which employ the sons of men. What part can we act upon this great theatre so delightful, so honourable, and so nearly allied to God, as that of a patron and friend of mankind! But how blessed it is to give! how much of the life of God there is in it! (G. W. Brooke, D. D.)
I. I am to explain the grounds upon which we are obliged to works of charity.
1. The principles of natural justice; and--
2. The light of revelation.
II. In what measure our charity is demanded by God.
1. That we are bound to give in proportion to the necessities of the poor. And as their numbers and wants increase, we are to be more liberal; as they lessen, by being set on work, or provided for otherwise, we are under no obligation of scattering unnecessary relief.
2. That every man is obliged to give in proportion to his own affluence and stated income; and between God and his own conscience to allot such a part of it for charity as may answer the general precepts concerning it.
III. Let us now consider upon what objects our charity is most usefully employed.
1. Such as suffer for the truth of the gospel, either against infidelity, or against idolatry and gross corruptions. And in them most properly Christ Himself is relieved.
2. In distinguishing objects of mercy let us regard those especially that are recommended to it by their own worth, or by that of their progenitors.
3. Such objects are well qualified for our compassion as fall into distress or decay by a sudden calamity overtaking them, or by the immediate hand of God; and not by idleness or vice, where the relief of a scourge is generally the fittest.
4. Such objects are very fit for our charity as will improve what is given them, and lay it as the foundation of their future livelihood.
5. From these who are bred up for the service of their country let us proceed to those who by serving it are maimed, and disabled from getting their own bread; and these certainly are worthy objects of public charity.
6. Whenever we are disposed for acts of mercy, they that have the most pressing wants to speak for them are always fittest for our present choice; for charity looks not barely at the man, but at his necessities.
And now upon review, I shall briefly annex five rules concerning the management of our alms.
1. Charity which prevents men from being oppressed with poverty is better than that which only supports them under it.
2. Charity which aims at the public service is better than that which is only for private relief.
3. Charity which is disposed of into a perpetual fund is better than that which is immediately melted and consumed.
4. Charity applied to the making of men virtuous is better than that which only refresheth the body.
5. Charity expended for correcting the idle, and forcing them to work, is better than that which gives them a present ease.
IV. And what need I say more for the encouragement of all these charities than to repeat the words of our Lord Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive”?
1. It is the advantage of works of charity that they are usually attended here with temporal and spiritual mercies. “If thou satisfy the afflicted soul the Lord shall guide thee continually, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden” (Isaiah 58:10-11).
2. The blessedness of charity is yet much greater in that it secures an endless inheritance in the next world (1 Timothy 6:18-19). And is not this abundant conviction that “it is more blessed to give than to receive”?
And to confirm us in this persuasion, I shall strengthen what has been said with two considerations.
1. That God will strictly inquire hereafter what the rich have done with all that plenty which He bestowed upon them. And therefore it behoves them to be well prepared for their answer to Him.
2. Let it be considered that the only way to make riches a blessing is to employ and manage them as God hath appointed. (Z. Isham, D. D.)
Receiving and giving
These words suggest three things in relation to Christ.
1. The unrecorded portions of His words.
2. The unworldly character of His teaching.
3. The unselfish character of His life. The text suggests--
I. That receiving and communicating are the two grand functions of life.
1. Man has acquisitive tendencies and powers. His desire for getting is ever active and ineradicable.
2. Man has the impartive tendencies and powers. His social and religious instincts urge him to give what he has attained.
II. That the eight discharge of both these functions is blessedness. This is implied by the word “more.” To receive in a right spirit, and for right ends, is a truly blessed thing.
1. Receiving as the reward of effort is blessedness. It is natural to feel happiness when the result laboured for has been reached.
2. Receiving as a consciousness of fresh power is blessedness. A conscious augmentation of our powers and resources is joy.
3. Receiving with religious gratitude is blessedness. Gratitude is joy; it is the inspiration of Heaven’s anthems.
III. That the blessedness of the right discharge of the communicating function is the greater. “It is more blessed,” etc., because--
1. It is more spiritualising. Every generous, disinterested act tends to detach the soul from the material and temporary, and to ally it with the spiritual and eternal. The man who is constantly gaining and not giving, becomes more and more the slave of selfishness, materialism, and time.
2. It is more socialising. In giving you awaken in the social sphere sympathy, gratitude, and admiration. The loving man awakens love, and happiness has been defined as loving and being loved.
3. It is more God-assimilating. God gives, but cannot receive. He gives all, and only gives. The nearer we approach to God the more blessed we are. Cicero says that “men resemble the gods in nothing so much as in doing good to their fellow creatures.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
It is more blessed to give than to receive
The few “words of the Lord Jesus” here preserved for us by St. Paul, are his crystallisation of a truth which is as deep as the nature of God, which penetrates his whole creation, and on which certainly Jesus’ own life turned. It forms a key to the whole disclosure of the Divine character which lies open to us in the mission of the Son. Yet it needs no more than a very moderate knowledge of human society to discover that mankind at large act on an opposite rule. That each should take all he can get and mind Number One, are the commonplaces of worldly wisdom. Gladly to take, but to give with reluctance, is, as we say, human nature. At the same time there are certain deeper facts of life which prove this Divine maxim not to be at variance with true human nature, but only with the present unnatural state of human character. In order to see this it is needful to attend to--
I. What these “words” do, or rather do not mean.
1. They do not mean that it is an unblessed thing to receive. God has made us all dependent upon His own giving, and also dependent mutually upon one another. We must receive before we can give; and whenever we begin to give someone must receive. The relation is blessed on both its sides. Service, therefore, like mercy, is twice blessed; “it blesseth him that gives and him that takes”; but of two blessednesses, saith Jesus, the higher is that of giving. Now, does not the human heart respond to this comparative estimate? Nearly all men will agree that the domestic relations form the happiest part of life. But this family blessedness turns far more on what we give than on what we get. The infant, for example, which receives everything and gives back nothing, has a blessedness infinitely feebler than that of its nursing mother. They do not mean that giving is more pleasant. Very often it is quite otherwise. Perhaps all giving means temporary loss and suffering. It is eminently so, at least, with the noblest sorts of giving, e.g., a mother’s devotion to her child; yet her giving is more blessed than its receiving because it expresses nobler affections, trains her to nobler habits. I ask again, does not the world echo this thought of Christ’s? In the articulations of society each one has something to give, and he must give it. But we count that man noble who gives to the general good the largest amount of costliest service.
III. The conditions on which giving brings blessedness. These conditions may be summed up in one brief law--That the act of giving is only blessed when it is moral; and always blessed in proportion to its moral pureness and nobleness.
1. There is an unconscious giving. This mutual ministry of help pervades creation. Earth gives of her strength to feed her inhabitants, and of her hidden treasures to enrich them. The beasts lend to man their skill and muscle, and bequeath to him their very bodies when they die. But it is needless to add that all this unconscious and involuntary exchange of benefits in dead or in brute nature, brings no blessedness. A child knows that there is no real worth, nor blessedness, in any giving which is not the intentional act of a conscious agent, which is not, in short, moral. When the human worker is content to work like an animal in the mere struggle for existence, his work may be ever so precious a gift to society, but he is no longer blessed in his giving, and--
2. There is reluctant giving. We make presents because they are expected; we entertain our friends that they may entertain us; we pay compliments for politeness’ sake; we subscribe to charities under the constraint of opinion; we lend to our neighbour wishing he had not asked us. Now, to whatever extent the wish retracts what the hand bestows, to that extent giving brings no blessedness, because it is immoral in motive. It brings rather cursedness, both because it is to that extent false, wearing a show of charity which is not genuine, and because it argues a division of the man against himself.
3. There is a giving which is not simply defective through the weakness of charity, but at bottom utterly base through the want of it. It is a mean thing to oblige a man with a slight accommodation in the hope of extorting or coaxing from him a greater return; to pay court to a great man, not from loyalty, but for the paltry vanity of being noticed, or the ignoble desire to profit by him; to use one’s influence for an importunate suitor, only to get rid of his importunity; to give handsome sums to public charity that one’s name may appear well in the advertisements. We must be simpler in our giving if we would be blessed in it. Evil is never so cursed as when it walks in the stolen white garb of good, nor selfishness ever so unblest as when it mimics charity.
III. Rising above human giving, let us gaze upon the Divine--the ideal after which men are to be remade in Christ. God has this solitary preeminence in blessedness, that He gives everything and receives nothing. On this account, as on every other, His is the noblest life, because He is forever imparting of His own to all, and gets in return only what He first has given. It utterly baffles imagination to conceive what streams of reflected gladness must pour back upon the heart of the Infinite Lover from even one small section of the world which He has made so happy. The sunshine and the field s delight us sometimes for a little; they delight God always; and when we, with our love and tenderness, sweeten each other’s life, that adds more sweetness to the life of God. The rarest joy granted to man below is the joy of leading a brother into the light and love of our common Father; but He, our Father, has the luxury of leading all of us into light, of teaching every child He has to know at least a little of the truth and to love the good a little. God has tasted a still deeper blessedness. When God made all things good, or when He makes His fair world glad, He gives only as rich men give stray coins away, feeling no loss. But can God feel loss? or touch the mysterious blessedness which underlies the pain of sacrifice? For us sinful men and for our salvation, God has--so to speak--drawn upon the resources of His moral nature, and expended not His thoughts, or strength, or pity only, but Himself. He left nothing ungiven when the Son gave Himself for us. Jesus’ life was one of giving. Because He received so little from His fellow men and gave them so much, His life reveals God. Just here there was realised the supreme blessedness of the Divine nature; for here the Divine character realised in act its supreme nobleness. Down through the mysterious anguish of giving Himself away in utter loss, and pain, and death, the Divine heart pierced to a blessedness than which nothing can be more blessed, the blessedness of daring to die for the saving of the lost. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
More blessed to give than to receive
An Irish schoolmaster who, whilst poor himself, had given gratuitous instruction to certain poor children, when increased in worldly goods began to complain of the service, and said to his wife he could not afford to give it any longer for nothing, who replied, “Oh, James, don’t say the like o’ that--don’t; a poor scholar never came into the house that I didn’t feel as if he brought fresh air from heaven with him--I never miss the bit I give them--my heart warms to the soft, homely sound of their bare feet on the floor, and the door almost opens of itself to let them in.” (Clerical Library.)
Wherefore is it more blessed to give than to receive
I. It delivers us from ourselves; from--
1. The bonds of selfishness.
2. The cares of superfluity.
3. The burden of dependence.
II. It unites us to the brethren.
1. By their friendly attachment.
2. Their active gratitude.
3. Their blessed intercession.
III. It brings us nearer to our God. We are permitted to be--
1. Similar to the image of the All-Good.
2. Sharers in the delight of the All-Loving.
3. Expectants of the reward of an Eternal Rewarder. (K. Gerok.)
To give more blessed than to receive
1. After this there was nothing more to be said; from such words there is no appeal. But the elders had heard them before, and were asked to “remember” what had become a proverb among them.
2. The saying is unequivocally in the style and manner of our Lord. It is another beatitude. As there were many things that Jesus did which could not be written, so with many things that He said.
3. Meanwhile this saying, like a flower from the early gospel time, floating down the stream of Church life, has been caught by an apostle’s hand, and because so caught is as fresh and fragrant as at the first. It comes to us, not increased in value, for it is already priceless, but recommended and enforced by the great apostle. The manner of quoting it is unmistakably St. Paul’s. “The Lord Jesus” is a designation he frequently uses, full both of reverence and tenderness.
4. The proverb has many sides, and touches human and Christian life at every point. It is true in reference to--
I. The production of happiness. We are blessed in doing good, even if we gain no reward. I knew a man of immense wealth, but his mind was always uneasy, his face always anxious. He was not without conscientious feelings in regard to his property; but he could not make up his mind to give largely. And then death came when his wealth ceased to be of use: but it might have been of use here, and then there would have been a reaction upon himself. Another I knew, far less wealthy; but his life was laid out in diffusing happiness, and there was a perpetual smile upon his face.
II. The formation of character. The highest qualities of heart and life can be acquired only through active exercise. A man is not really unselfish unless he acts unselfishly. By giving we obtain the power of giving. No natural object is more full of characters than a river; but it is by reason of its motion that it becomes beautiful and beneficent. The tree by putting forth its leaves in confident profusion this year grows firmer and larger for next year. The harvest suggests deeper analogies. The dying of the seed corn is set before us as the law of self-sacrifice; and how grandly Paul teaches this analogy from Psalms 112:1-10. (2 Corinthians 9:8, etc.).
III. The exertion of influence. If we desire to be great and godlike by exercising a power for good, it must be by the diffusive power of our religion. Our Lord says, “Ye are the salt of the earth,” etc., immediately after the beatitudes whose spirit is carried into these sayings also.
IV. The sustentation of Church work. True Church prosperity is secured by the perpetual habit of giving, and not simply our money, but our service, sympathy, time, etc. For the Church is a cooperative society in and for which each member is appointed to give out that which he has to give, and to find and create happiness in so giving. Many think they can be quite good Christians while they are mere recipients; but it is a great mistake. No one can be holy or happy without giving.
V. The vigour of missionary enterprise. Christianity is in its very conception an aggressive and converting religion. If not this, it is nothing. Who ever gave so much to the world as Paul, and received so little from it? And who has been more truly blessed?
VI. The standard and encouragement of the ministerial office. This office consists in perpetual giving, and hence must be preeminently blessed. This is a danger lest it should degenerate into the discharge of certain functions. But let there be a sincere self-consecration for Christ’s sake, and with all his anxieties no position is so really happy as that of a Christian minister. It is his very trade to do all the good he can. (Dean Howson.)
The comparative blessedness of giving and receiving
1. We might easily imagine occasions on which these words may have dropped from Christ’s lips. They may have checked the entreaties of His disciples that He would for once think more of Himself and less of others. They may have answered some kind and friendly remonstrance when He turned aside from an untasted meal to attend to the sorrows and sicknesses which ever thronged the doors within which He rested. They may have explained on any occasion the secret of His perpetual self-sacrifice.
2. Were they not indeed the key to His whole life? Was not this the secret of His humiliation? And when He had thus humbled Himself, did not the same principle originate every act and prompt every motion?
3. How bright a light does this one expression throw upon the whole character of Jesus, Suppose that He had been personally known to later generations but by this one brief sentence? Should we not all have framed to ourselves instinctively some conception of that character which thus expressed itself, of that life which this principle must have moulded? What an intuition must He have possessed, who thus spake, into the real secret of greatness, the true dignity of man, and the essential characteristic of God! More blessed to give than to receive? More blessed, asks the selfish old man, to have an empty coffer than a full one? More blessed, asks the young man of pleasure, to admit another than myself to the desired scene of gaiety? More blessed, asks the man of business, the statesman, or, the student, to stand aside and let others pass me than to reap the fruit of my own skill or perseverance? Nay, let me hear that, however painful, the loss must be submitted to; that it is a condition of the kingdom, and I can understand you: but say not that there is any blessedness in such a life of mortification. Such is ever the true feeling of a fallen and unrenewed nature: there was an inspiration in the words before us; and till He who spake also inspires, we shall hear them still as exaggerated or unmeaning words. And yet if “more blessed” means in other words, more Divine, more Godlike, is not the saying at once proved true? God, who possesses all things, cannot receive: God, who upholds all things, is ever giving. To receive is to be a creature: to give is to be so far a “partaker of the Divine nature.” We will illustrate the saying in two particulars.
I. Take the commonest and most obvious of all applications--money.
1. It has many uses; purchases many pleasures; has many powers. With limitations, it can even buy knowledge, rank, subservience. If it cannot buy love, it can buy some substitutes. The rich man is better off than the poor man. Not happier, necessarily, nor better: but better off; speaking of this life only. Now can we possibly say of money, these being its advantages, that “it is more blessed to give than to receive”? Few men seem to find it so. What an eagerness is there to get money! What a pleasure in finding it multiply! What a desire to die rich! At last it becomes a passion, a business, an appetite, a disease. It is too late, perhaps, then to gain an audience for this Divine saying.
2. But let us try it betimes. Is there nothing in human nature which responds to it? I can fancy a man of average virtue saying, My chief pleasure in money is in paying it away. I rejoice to feel that I owe no man anything; to think that that man, who has served me, is the better for me. Yes, I enjoy paying away at least as much as receiving. This is a poor and faint image of the glorious principle of the text: but it is well to show that Christianity is not all transcendental, but that it seizes upon something which is in all of us till we are utterly hardened, and raises it into a region where approval at least and admiration may follow it.
3. But I do not believe that hearts will ever be changed into the love of giving, save by the entrance of the Spirit of Christ. When the world is seen as it is, and heaven as it is; when we perceive that we “are not our own, but bought with a price”; when once the example of Christ, who left heaven for us, and the faith of Christ, who opened heaven to us, are felt by us as real motives; then we shall be “changed into the same image from glory to glory”; we shall value the wealth of this world chiefly for its power of relieving distress and spreading the gospel; we shall find that the Saviour’s saying is verified.
II. I pass from the basest to the highest of possessions; from money to love.
1. There are those amongst us whose nature is athirst for love. Life is a wilderness to them without it. If there were but one person who loved them they feel that they should be happy. And it comes not. Or they have love, but it is not the love which they desire.
2. We cannot but think that our Saviour has a word for these, and that the text speaks to them, and says, Little as you may think it, it is more blessed, in this respect, to give than to receive. Christ came unto His own, and His own received Him not. It is more blessed, because it is more Christlike, to love than to be loved. To love, and therefore to do good; to love, and therefore to be willing to “spend and be spent, though the more abundantly I love, the less I be loved.” This is what Christ did: and the disciple is not greater than his Lord.
3. One thing you can say even now, if you be His; that you would not exchange the lot of the unloved for the lot of the unloving. You would not part with the power to love; even for the sake of being free from its disappointments, free from its aching voids or its rough repulses.
4. Purify and refine your affection, more and more, by every argument and every motive of the gospel; wash out of it all, earthly stains, burn out of it all human corruptions: and then cherish it, give it, yea, lavish it. Give as your Saviour gave, without a bargain, and without an expectation, and without a repining, and without one backward look, and in the end you shall be able to echo His words. (Dean Vaughan.)
The blessedness of giving more than receiving
To be governed by this principle is an argument--
I. Of a more happy spirit and temper. Because--
1. It is the nearest resemblance of the Divine nature, which is perfectly happy.
2. It is a grateful acknowledgment of our obligations to God, and all that we can render to Him for His benefits.
3. It is an argument of great wisdom and consideration; for the reflection upon any good that we have done is a felicity much beyond that of the greatest fortune of this world; whereas the spirit contrary to this, is always uneasy to itself; but were our nature rectified and brought back to its primitive frame and temper, we should take no such pleasure in anything as in acts of kindness, which are so suitable and agreeable to our nature that they are peculiarly called humanity.
II. Of a more happy state and condition.
1. To receive from ethers plainly shows that we are in want. But to be able to benefit others is a condition of freedom and superiority, and the happiness which we confer upon others we in some sort enjoy, in being conscious to ourselves that we are the authors of it. And could we but once come to this excellent temper we need not envy the wealth and splendour of the most prosperous.
2. To depend upon another, and to receive from him, is the necessary imperfection of creatures; but to confer benefits is to resemble God. Aristotle could say, that by narrowness and selfishness, by envy and ill-will, men degenerate into beasts, and become wolves and tigers to one another; but by goodness and kindness, by mutual compassion and helpfulness, men become gods to one another.
3. The angels are, as it were, perfectly transformed into the image of the Divine goodness, and therefore the work which, with so much cheerfulness and vigour, they employ themselves in, is to be ministering spirits, to bring men to goodness, and to encourage, and assist, and comfort them in well-doing. And our blessed Lord, when He was upon earth, did in nothing show Himself more like the Son of God than in going about doing good.
III. Of a great reward. There is no grace which hath in Scripture the encouragement of more and greater promises than this.
1. Of happiness in general (Proverbs 14:21; Matthew 5:7; Luke 6:38; Job 25:12).
2. Of happiness in this life (Psalms 37:3; Proverbs 28:27; Psalms 41:1-3).
3. Of happiness in death (Proverbs 14:32; Isaiah 57:1).
4. Of happiness in the world to come (Luke 14:13-14; Luke 16:9; 1 Timothy 6:17-19). (Abp. Tillotson.)
The blessedness of giving
I. It is blessed to give because God Himself is the bountiful giver. He is the Author and Giver of all good things, and it is blessed be permitted in any measure to reflect His image and to be followers of Him. If it be the design of true religion to restore the moral image of God to the soul, it must indeed be blessed to act habitually in a spirit which is so harmonious with the Divine mind and will. If, then, we would prove ourselves to be the children of God, we must cultivate this grace, and give freely as God hath prospered us. We must give liberally of our substance for the service of God, for the advancement of true religion in the world, and for the relief of the poor and needy. Nay, more, we must do so not grudgingly or of necessity, nor because our circumstances or social position render it respectable to do so, but from purer and holier motives, because we would be followers of God as dear children, do as our Father in heaven does, and accomplish His will during the little day that we are on the earth.
II. It is also blessed to give because God has commanded us to do so, and blessed are they who do His commandments. He who deals so bountifully with us, and loads us with His benefits, has commanded us to acknowledge Him in the mercies which He bestows. In Old Testament times His people were forbidden to appear before Him empty. They were to honour Him by setting apart of their substance for His service and glory (Exodus 22:29; Exodus 23:19). Nor were they to forget the poor and needy (Deuteronomy 15:11). In studying the history of the Jewish Church nothing is more striking than the large proportion of their temporal blessings which they were required to consecrate to the service of God and to the relief of the poor. In the best days of their history their tithes and offerings, their thank offerings and free-will offerings, were on a scale of truly splendid munificence; nor were they losers thereby, for they found in their happy experience that the blessing of the Lord maketh rich, and that He addeth no sorrow with it. The whole spirit of the New Testament confirms and strengthens these commands. Hear what the great Teacher saith, “Freely ye have received, freely give”; “Give, and it shall be given unto you”; “Sell that ye have and give alms: provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth neither moth corrupteth.” Hear some of the many exhortations of His inspired apostles--“Charge them who are rich in this world, that they be ready to give and glad to distribute”; “To do good and to distribute forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased”; “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store as God hath prospered him”; “Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his compassions from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”
III. Giving is, moreover, a Divinely appointed way of acknowledging God’s mercies, and hence it is blessed. When filled with gratitude and love, the Psalmist asked, “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits?” Feeling that he had nothing to bestow, he replies, “I will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows unto the Lord now, in the presence of all His people.” We have indeed nothing to render that we have not received, yet is He pleased to accept our offerings as tokens of our gratitude and praise; nay, He has appointed them to be made in this spirit and accepted for this end. We are not as Israel were, waiting for the rising of the Sun of Righteousness, but are rejoicing in the brightness of His rays. We have to thank God not merely for salvation promised, but for salvation fully accomplished and freely offered to us all. What boundless gratitude and what large acknowledgments do these unspeakable mercies call for at our hands! If His ancient people offered so willingly unto Him that it was needful to restrain them from further offerings, shall we come before Him empty?
IV. Finally, it must be blessed to give, because great and precious promises are made to those who do so. We are told that “the Lord loveth the cheerful giver”; and many are the promises which He has given to those who give with a willing heart and a liberal hand--promises of a rich return for all that they have truly lent unto the Lord. Are we exhorted to “honour the Lord with our substance, and with the first-fruits of all our increase”? There is a great and precious promise connected with so doing: “So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.” Are we told to cast our bread upon the waters? We are assured that we shall find it after many days. Are we charged to give a portion to seven and also to eight? The reason given for it is that we know not what evil may be upon the earth, and we do know that the faithful Promiser has said, “Blessed is the man that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.” Did the Lord reprove the Jewish people because in a time of coldness and declension they had robbed Him in tithes and in offerings? Hear the gracious words of promise by which He sought to recall them to the path of duty (Malachi 3:10). No man ever regretted having been a cheerful giver, and many have been enriched thereby. We have often seen instances of this--of men who have conscientiously honoured God with their substance from their early days, and who have found by experience that godliness hath the promise of the life that now is as well as of that which is to come. There are doubtless exceptional cases. There is much discipline needed in the school of Christ, and hence we see good men overtaken by adversity and placed in the furnace of affliction. These are appointed trials, but the promise standeth sure: “Them that honour Me I will honour”; and he who, from love to Christ, has given to the least of His disciples a cup of cold water only, shall in no wise lose his reward. And what heart can conceive, what tongue can express, the joy of the cheerful givers in that day when the Lord Jesus shall come again in the glory of the Father and all the holy angels with Him, and when He shall say to them, “I was an hungered, and ye gave Me meat,” etc.! (W. Niven, B. D.)
The blessedness of self-giving
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Two principles of action are here contrasted. Egoism makes self the centre for inflowing streams. Altruism makes self a centre, but chiefly for distribution. And Jesus declares that action according to the latter principle offers to any moral being the more satisfactory results. We might argue this truth from the outcome of action to the contrary. The miser in his dreary counting-room, the self-lover torn with jealousy, the victim of overweening ambition, the spoiled child of luxury yielding to vice and perishing of ennui, the degraded recipients of misdirected charity, business rivals cutting each other’s throats in obedience to an iron law of competition, employers and employed fighting for what they call their rights, and the State estopped from its high destiny by parties intent only on the spoils of office, are not to be called blessed even by poetic license of speech. Only as intelligence and morality prevail over brute instincts do men discern common interests and seek the common well-being. If humanity ascends into the Divine, it must be along this pathway of self-giving. If’ God has ever drawn near to man, He has moved along the heavenly portion of the same blessed way. Was not creation itself a first step in “the royal way of the Cross,” as a Kempis names it? Has not the whole course of revelation been a continued giving as men could understand and themselves impart what they were themselves receiving? Note three significant incidents in the ministry of Jesus. In the wilderness incarnate self-seeking promised, “I will give Thee the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them if Thou wilt fall down and worship me.” Incarnate self-giving replied, “Get thee hence, Satan.” And angels ministered to the Victor. By the lake side His own people were ready to bestow on Him a crown; but the strong Son of Man again held Himself only to giving, fortifying Himself in this purpose by a night alone with His Father in the mountain solitude. Soon another mountain saw Him transfigured. The Altar that bore the offering for the sins of the world was glorified to dazzling whiteness by its self-offered burden. After some such fashion it is possible to argue the superiority of the rule of self-giving. But in the practical stir of daily business and pleasure it seems little more than a vision of the beautiful, a dream of the land that is very far off. Paul was a bolder, loftier spirit. Both in theory and in practice he accepted the Master’s opinion.
I. Paul’s theology was built about this principle of self-giving. The gospel as he conceived it was a story “of the grace of God.” Every man looks at the mission of Jesus from the standpoint of his own personal experience. The vision on the road to Damascus is the clue to Paul’s doctrine. That he, the violent persecutor of the followers of Jesus, should have been made to see in Jesus the perfect revelation of God’s love to men, was an unmerited favour for which he could find no parallel. God’s treatment of him, the chief of sinners, gave him a universal message. He might apply to the disciples’ relation to God through Jesus all the legal formularies of Jewish councils and Roman courts. He might find in the ritual of Israel the type of Jesus’ mediatorship. He might speak of the death of Jesus on the Cross after the fashion of the priests who delighted in the details of their bloody sacrifices. But all such special language was intended simply to describe the self-giving of God to His needy and sinful creatures. Symbols and comparisons of every kind were seized upon to convey this idea. He could even rise to the audacity of declaring that the Ephesian Church was part of “the Church of God, purchased with His own blood,” yet the boldest imagery was inadequate to describe his vision of “the exceeding riches of God’s grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” To this same “word of His grace” he turns as the last resort after all his care and reminiscence and exhortation. God might sanctify the Church by imparting new knowledge, by providential interference, by spiritual contact. But mainly he must work by the story of grace.
II. Side by side with this self-giving of God to man Paul maintains that this same principle must absolutely prevail in the Church. Great urgency characterises his repetition of this exhortation to the elders. “Take heed to all the flock,” he says. “The Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the Church.” “Watch ye.” “Help the weak.” “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” What but a thorough-going adoption of the principle of self-giving could answer to such a charge? Doubtless those poor elders of the Church felt their hearts sink again within them, if indeed they at all comprehended the meaning of his earnest words. The pressure of self-seeking invades the body of Christ and paralyses many of its best intentions. Shall we not say, then, that the Church exists for the manifestation of the spirit of Jesus, to be the corporate incarnation of the life of God? “This is obviously God’s method. When He would bring about an elevation of the world He never effects His purpose by a pull at once at the whole dead level of humanity. He has always set to work by giving special gifts to a few elect souls, and through their means leavening the whole of humanity by degrees.” The local Church is to be the constant expression of the mind of God for the world’s redemption. It is to be a centre of moral and spiritual health to the changing social organism. It is not a mutual benefit association, a moral insurance company, a religious creche, or even an organisation for the maintenance of public worship. It is all this by being more, a body of servants of Jesus pushing the kingdom of God’s grace intensively and extensively.
3. Our lesson contains illustration by practice as well as by theory and exhortation. Paul could declare with full sense of his responsibility that he was “pure from the blood of all men.” No person in Ephesus could rise up and say that Paul had not cared for his soul. With lowliness of mind, with tears, with trials, coveting no man’s silver or gold or apparel, but caring for himself and his companions by daily labour at his trade, he gave himself to teaching publicly and from house to house, going about preaching the kingdom. He shrank from nothing that was profitable to either Jew or Greek, declaring the whole counsel of God and admonishing everyone night and day with tears. How intense, too, the flame of his devotion still was that had burned so brightly in Ephesus for three years! He was going to Jerusalem under constraint of the Spirit. They should see his face no more. Just what was to befall him he did not know. Only as he went on clear warning came in every city that bonds and afflictions of some sort waited for him, and yet the course marked out for him in God’s grace allured him more than it frightened him. He would accomplish it at any cost. The spirit of self-giving utterly triumphed in him as in his Master. He gloried in his tribulations. He rejoiced in his sufferings in behalf of the disciples. One cannot but feel after this review of the apostle’s conception of the Christian faith and practice that the principle here commended is fundamental to Christianity. More than any other it voices the essential truth of the religion of Jesus. Herein the religions of the nations fail to stand the test. Strip them of their superstitions and falsehoods, and they are powerless to control the mighty passions of mankind. Christianity alone seizes upon the hearts of men and makes appeal to grateful love, because it is neither a philosophy nor an ethical code nor a scheme of life, but a simple story how God gives Himself to men, in intimate and loving ways, for the removal of their weakness and misery and rebellion. (J. R. Gow.)
The larger blessing and the less
1. This word, like the great apostle who has reported it, was born out of due time. It lay silent in loving hearts, or was whispered by loving lips, until spoken by Paul. In another sense it was like him--“not a whit behind the chiefest” of the Master’s sayings in preciousness and power.
2. Luke reports Paul’s speech, and Paul’s speech holds a priceless fragment. It is as when a seaman in a shipwreck has seized a servant, who, when she is raised, discovers in her arms an infant of the family she serves. We have here a word of Christ rescued from sinking into oblivion, with a word of Paul’s wrapped round it; the jewel and its setting.
3. These words were employed to stimulate the Ephesian Christians to charity; but if you limit them to that application you will miss their deepest meaning. A child sees in the stars only twinkling lights, but you know they are central suns. As the difference between the intrinsic greatness of the fixed stars, and their incidental usefulness at night, is the difference between these words in their origin and their application to Christian contributions.
4. The Redeemer here expressed His own experience. He who loves a cheerful giver is a cheerful giver. A penitent may encourage his soul with the fact that the cure of his disease will impart greater joy to the Physician than to himself. Forms of beauty may be thrown off by common workmen; but the one type grew in the secret of a greater soul. So off the experience of Jesus in His work of redemption from the beginning in the eternal purpose, till its finishing in the fulness of time, was this maxim taken. The love wherewith Christ loved us is the mould in which this practical rule was cast. And so all who have left a beneficent mark on the world have first practised what they preached. Nor has Christ’s giving ceased now that He is exalted (Ephesians 4:8).
5. This glimpse into the heart of the Redeemer is a salve for the greatest of all sores. Jesus, for the joy of giving us salvation, endured the Cross. Let us bear these words, then, on our hearts when we pray. He Himself counts it blessedness to give.
6. These words do not mean that it is unblessed to receive. When the receiver is needy, the gift good, and the giver generous, it is blessed to receive. Evidence that Christ delighted in the self-consecration of His disciples crops up everywhere--e.g., in the narratives of the woman with the alabaster box, and the one leper out of ten. It was kind of Him to let us know that He values our gifts, although we render to Him only what we have received. And now that He has gone beyond our reach, it is His express wish that we should consider the poor as receivers for Him. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
The greater blessedness of giving
1. When St. Paul visited Miletus, several of his most potent letters had been already penned. These were saturated with thoughts the origination of which we cannot fairly attribute to him, and for which we can find no adequate explanation in existing literature. Where can we find any explanation of this more rational than that Paul had been himself revolutionised by the “words of the Lord Jesus”?
2. Strange to say, from our modern standpoint, not one of the four Gospels had then been written. Nevertheless, the teaching of Jesus had gone forth into all lands. And neither Matthew, Mark, Luke, nor John gathered up a tithe of these Divine words, which spread like prairie fire round the whole seaboard of the Mediterranean.
3. We could more willingly part with many an ancient classic, whole sutras of Buddha, and the entire Vedic literature, than with this Divine utterance, which goes down to the very depths of human life, and stretches out to embrace the essential blessedness of God Himself. Small and bright as a dew drop, yet, as we watch, it swells into a veritable ocean of love, on whose placid surface are reflected all the glories of heaven and earth.
I. It is blessed to receive. There is no antithesis here between the blessedness of giving and the non-blessedness of receiving. Oriental mysticism, Buddhist legends, the hyperbole of self-sacrifice for its own sake, have stumbled into this pit of pessimism. Christ illumined the profoundest problems of ethic and the true secret of religious life, when He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
1. It is blessed simply to receive nature’s gifts.
(1) All the progress of man is measured by the degree to which he has received and appreciated these. When man first understood what nature had done for him in offering him the flower and fruit and seed of corn, then began the harvest of the world. When human intelligence apprehended what was involved in the chalk, coal, and mineral wealth at his feet; when he grasped the meaning of fire and lightning, and the contents of water and air; when he began to “receive” and utilise the energies which had been moulding the world for untold centuries--then science took its birth. If we refuse to receive the light of heaven, we stumble into pitfalls. If we refuse to receive our daily bread, we perish.
(2) Furthermore, nature lavishes upon us appeals to our higher and more subtle desires, and gives us the sense of beauty, truth, and goodness. The surpassing loveliness of much of nature’s work must be received by those who have the eyes and ears of the spirit opened to receive it. The great artists and poets, musicians and sculptors, have so embodied their strong emotions in abiding form and material, that others may learn from them the blessed secret of receiving the mystery of beauty, and accepting some of the truth and goodness of its eternal source.
2. All human love is a ministration of Divine love. Human tenderness is but a channel cut by Holy Providence through which the rivers of God’s pleasure flow. Now, it is blessed to receive human love and the gifts of love. See the child with its hands full of birthday gifts, intense joy lighting its eye, almost bursting the tiny heart. Only on this principle can the inequalities of human power and capacity be compensated, can the strong help the weak, the physician heal the sick, the wise instruct the foolish, the ignorant walk in the light of knowledge. Because it is “blessed to receive,” we can drink into the spirit of the mighty dead, and apply to our own case their hoarded wisdom. All beneficence would be dried at its source, if there were no blessedness in receiving the streams of living water which are always pouring forth from human hearts.
3. The most impressive illustration of the principle is the blessedness of receiving the grace of God. The secret of receiving from the living God what is neither earned nor merited, but which we have gracelessly forfeited, is a secret which some are slow to learn. It is blessed to receive what Jesus Christ gives to man, even though it smite down our pride and explode our self-sufficiency. It is blessed to receive the greatest gift, to receive into our very nature a new and endless life, to sit in the sunshine of the Divine Presence, to be satisfied with the grace of the Lord Jesus, to be filled with all the fulness of God, to be forever with the Lord.
II. But it is more blessed to give than to receive.
1. Can any reason be assigned for such a sweeping and comprehensive inversion of all ordinary maxims? Should we not tremble to put it to such a test here in this Christian England of ours? Let the race course and the stock exchange, the insurance office, Parliament, and the law courts answer! Let diplomacy, with its duties, let trade and speculation, let professional etiquette and social distinctions and cliques be submitted to the fire of this principle. The honest advocate of such a law of life would be branded with scorn, and hustled off any stage of human activity.
2. Is this the regal principle in what calls itself the very body of Christ? Individuals may occur to us whose whole being is one unceasing process of giving, and on whose brow there sits the dome of peace, and in whose eyes, which are full of tears of boundless sympathy, there gleams the light of heaven’s own joy. But is their experience a final proof? Can we take the Son of Man at His word?
3. The judgment of the Lord Jesus was authoritative for St. Paul. The saying of the text must be true, because He who is the truth uttered it. He put the principle to the most complete expression. He tested it, as no other could possibly do, by, on the one hand, a receptivity open to all the amplitude of the Holy Father’s love lavished upon Him from eternity; and, on the other, a sacrifice and gift of Himself which was practically and to our most vivid imagination infinite and absolute.
4. The eternal relation of the Father and the Son is the eternal interchange of giving and receiving love. In the text we see the very order of the Trinity. The Father’s giving greater than the Son’s receiving. Jesus says, “I and the Father are one”; but “the Father is greater than I.” From this principle we see some hint for the motive of the creation. The Lord called forth an object for the superfluity of His infinite love. Great is the joy of the Lord in the praises of His children, but greater still in bestowing upon them ever-abounding reasons for their praise.
5. The noblest and the most wonderful gift of the Lord God is the incarnation of the Son of God, and that great act of the Father is the blessedest of all. He gave His only-begotten, His well-beloved.
6. But we must adapt this great principle of blessedness to the smaller range of our own experience.
(1) Ye ought to remember and act upon the words of the Lord Jesus, because it is a truth you are, in the corruption and weakness of nature, in continual danger of forgetting. I grant you all the blessedness of receiving the gifts of nature and of the love of man: you must aim at the higher and greater blessedness of diffusing to others what you know to be worthy. The first believers stripped themselves utterly that they might yield themselves to this sublime impulse, and know something of the blessedness of Christ and of God.
(2) Ye ought to remember these words of the Lord Jesus when you are tempted to say, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years.” There is a question between the blessedness of buying a ring, or a picture, or a house, or a book, or a co, at for yourself, and the blessedness of giving to the sick, the helpless, the naked, and the fatherless.
(3) Most earnestly St. Paul counsels you to receive the grace of God. But art thou going to sit and sing thyself away to everlasting bliss? Nay, “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus.” There is a greater blessedness: you are to give yourself back to God in holy consecration. You are not your own, but His who has given Himself for you and to you. Conclusion: We shall find the truth of our Lord’s undying words when we enter into His joy. Not until we chant the endless hallelujah, not until we yield ourselves absolutely to our Lord God for eternity, having no will but His, shall we fully know how much more blessed it is to give than to receive. (Principal Reynolds.)
The superior blessedness of giving
It is more blessed to give than to receive, because it is--
I. Far higher privilege. To receive may be an advantage, but the very act implies dependence and want, and therefore is so far an irksome feeling. But to be so graciously advantaged by the Giver of all good that we can assume the attitude of bestowers, must at once be admitted to be far the most distinguished privilege.
II. More safe. To be a receiver of good is dangerous, because it is fitted to nourish that selfish yearning so innate in our souls. How many there are who, when they were poor and little exalted in this life, had a heart open to pity’s call, and a hand stretched out at pity’s claim; but just in proportion as they got more, they gave less, and, as “riches increased,” they “set their hearts upon them.” But giving has not this peril. It has, indeed, its attendant danger. Our giving, if it minister to self-complacency--if it lead us to put it in the stead of the free “gift of God,” which “is eternal life by Christ Jesus”--it will do us sad harm, and our very acts of charity maybe converted into splendid sins. Nevertheless, there is in Christian giving far less danger than in receiving; there is something in the very exercise that is fitted to keep humble, because he is reminded, “Who maketh me to differ from another? and what have I, that I have not received?” And then how few comparatively injure their souls by giving, while many and mournful are the examples of those who injure their souls by getting!
III. Happier. There is a pain too often in reception from man, and it requires a very lowly and submissive mind in a rightly constituted poor man to be a dependent upon the kindness of others. And whatever pleasure there may be in gratitude, there is far more pleasure in benevolence. God hath so made us, that our duty is our happiness; and those dispositions which are most pleasing in His sight are most pleasurable in themselves. There is a pleasure that the mother feels in feeding, etc., her child; and in the patriot, whose heart is most passionately attached to his country. And does not this show us that if even the natural exercises of the communicating spirit be its pleasures and its relish, how much more when it is baptized by the Spirit of God, and when it assumes its proper purpose--to glorify God and benefit His creatures! Then, indeed, in giving we get.
IV. More godlike. “God is love.” And what does His love delight in? Communicating its own beneficence to all. And that goodness hath shown itself infinitely more than all, in that God “spared not His own Son,” etc., and “how shall He not with Him also freely give all things” to them that are Christ’s? And shall we not contemplate the Godlike character of the spirit of benevolence, as it is manifested in God incarnate? Oh! then, would we be “imitators of God as dear children”? would we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”? would we be like “our Father in heaven”? would we be “partakers of the Divine nature,” and transformed into the Divine likeness? We must know and feel that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
V. We argue the same blessed truth from the approval and complacency with which God regards the giver. The promises to the receiver are few and not so direct; but the promises to the giver are rich and manifold and animating. Conclusion:
1. What a fatal mistake are most making in the way they set about to be happy! To get more wealth, admiration, power, influence, indulgence. What a mistake! Take a selfish heart to heaven, if it were possible, and it would be miserable; take a generous heart to hell, if that were possible, and it would be happy there.
2. Then what a stupendous change must pass upon our fallen nature I No marvel that it should be called a new birth, a resurrection from the dead. (Canon Stowell.)
The blessedness of giving
It is pleasant to hear people talk about things with which they are well acquainted; but if a person attempts to speak on a subject he knows nothing about, nobody wants to hear him. Suppose someone should lecture about the way houses are built in the moon, would you care about going to hear him? But suppose that a great explorer, after he had spent two winters up towards the North Pole, should lecture about the Polar regions, should not we all be anxious to hear him? Well, when Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” He knew all about it. It is more blessed to give than to receive because--
I. It is more like God. God is “the giver of every good and perfect gift.” Who gave us our hands to work with? our feet to walk with? our ears to hear, and our tongues to talk with? our minds to think, and our hearts to love with? these lungs to breathe with? God. Yes, God gives us our health, our strength, our clothes, our friends, our teachers, our parents, our homes, our churches, our ministers, our Bibles.
II. It is more useful. If God should stop giving for just one day, everything would perish.
1. It is more useful to ourselves. Suppose I want to have my arm become very strong. If I carry it in a sling, and do not use it all, after a while it will grow weak and thin. But if I use it all I can, the stronger it will grow. Look at the blacksmith! And what is true of the arm is true of the heart. Our hearts will grow larger, and stronger, and better, by proper exercise. And the proper exercise for the heart is giving. A good many people carry their hearts in a sling. And the consequence is that their hearts grow narrow and little, and good for nothing. If they would begin to exercise their hearts by giving, they would find that what Jesus said is true, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
2. It is more useful to others. If we keep our money without using it, what good will it do? There was once a Scottish nobleman--Lord Brace. He was very rich, but very miserly. He was so close and stingy, that one day when a farmer came to pay his rent, the money he brought was just one farthing short, and the man had to go all the way back to his home, a distance of several miles, and get that farthing before he would give him a receipt. Well, when it was all settled, the farmer said, “Now, Brace, I’ll give you a shilling if you’ll let me see all the silver and gold you’ve got.” “Agreed,” said the miserly lord. Then he took him into his vault, and opened the great iron chests full of gold and silver, so that he could see it all. Then the farmer gave him the promised shilling, and said, “Now, Brace, I’m as rich as you are.” “Ay, men,” said his lordship, “and how can that be?” “Because I’ve looked at your gold and silver, and that is all you will ever do with it.” Now let us take an example of a different kind. Some years ago a certain Sunday school was making up a box of things to send to a missionary station. One poor little girl was very anxious to send something. But all she had in the world to give was a single penny. So she bought a tract with that penny, and gave the tract to her teacher to put in the box. It was opened at Burdwan, in India. That tract fell into the hands of the son of one of the chiefs and led him to become a Christian. Then he was very anxious that others should become Christians too. In one year fifteen hundred of the natives of that part of the country gave up their idolatry and became Christians, through the labours of that young prince. And all this good resulted from the one tract bought by that poor little girl’s single penny. Now think of all this good being done by one penny, and then think of all Lord Brace’s gold and silver lying useless, and you must admit that it is more blessed to give than to receive or keep.
III. There is more happiness in it. Little Robert Manly thought a great deal about pleasing himself, and this is not at all the best way to be happy. One day a poor woman came to Robert’s mother to beg a little new milk for her sick baby. Mrs. Manly had none to spare, except what she had saved for her Robert’s supper; and at supper time his mother told him how she had given away his milk for the poor sick baby. Robert didn’t like this at all, and kept muttering about the milk being his, and nobody else having any right to it. The next day Robert was taken to see this poor family, and it made him shiver to look round on that cheerless home. The poor woman thanked Mrs. Manly over and over again for the new milk. “It kept the baby still all night,” she said. As they walked home, Robert did not say a word, though he was generally very talkative. At supper time his bowl of milk was set by his plate, but in a few minutes he went to his mother’s side and said in a whisper, “Mother, may I take my milk to the poor sick baby?” “Yes, my son,” said his mother. By and by he came bounding into the room covered over with snowflakes, and shouting cheerfully, “Mother, the baby’s got the milk. Her mother said, ‘God bless you, my child!’ and, mother, my milk tastes very good tonight (smacking his lips); I mean my no milk.” Yes, little Robert was proving the truth of our Saviour’s words. (Richard Newton, D. D.)
The pleasure of giving
It is sometimes hard for one who has devoted the best part of his life to the accumulation of money to spend it for others; but practise it, and keep on practising it, and I assure you it becomes a pleasure. (George Peabody.)
Glad of the opportunity of giving
A gentleman called upon Mr. H. to solicit his aid towards the erection of a Sunday school in a poor and populous district. Mr. H. contributed, and the gentleman began to thank him, when he said,
“I beg you will give me no thanks; I thank you for giving me an opportunity of doing what is good for myself. I am thankful to God for the experience I have had that “it is more blessed to give,” etc.
The blessedness of liberality
I. There is more real pleasure in giving than in receiving.
1. There is always a pleasure in receiving, and this pleasure is sometimes greatly heightened by the circumstances of the receiver, or the disposition of the giver.
(1) A seasonable gift is acceptable, because it is immediately beneficial.
(2) A necessary gift is still more acceptable, because it comes in a time of want.
(3) A great gift excites greater joy, because it not only gratifies the natural desire of property, but throws the mind into a state of pleasing surprise and admiration.
(4) Any gift never fails to afford a sensible pleasure to the receiver, when it comes as a mark of affection and esteem from the giver. But in these and all other cases the giver is more blessed than the receiver.
2. There is a higher and purer happiness in rejoicing in the good of others than in rejoicing in our own good.
(1) The receiver rejoices in his own happiness; and let his joy rise ever so high, it still terminates in himself. But the giver, instead of rejoicing in his own good, rejoices in the good of others.
(2) In receiving gratefully, there is a mixture of submission to our state of dependence; but in giving freely, there is a mixture of joy in being able to give. The receiver is laid under obligation to the giver; but the giver is laid under no obligation to the receiver. And who can doubt whether it be not more blessed to give than to receive an obligation?
II. More virtue; and therefore the giver is more happy than the receiver.
1. The receiver may, indeed, exercise virtue by evincing gratitude. But the virtue of the receiver principally consists in a suitable regard to himself; the virtue of the giver, however, altogether consists in a proper regard to others.
2. There are many circumstances which augment the virtue of giving that do not enhance the virtue of receiving.
(1) The poverty, the distress, and even the unworthiness of the receiver, augment the virtue of the giver. It is truly Godlike to bestow favours upon the evil and unthankful.
(2) The virtue of the giver is always equal to his design in giving. A man may give a Bible to a poor and vicious person, with a sincere design to promote his spiritual and eternal benefit; but he may have a mean or wicked design in receiving it.
(3) And it is generally true that the giver has much more noble and extensive views than the receiver. This our Saviour intimated in His observation upon the conduct of the poor widow.
(4) There is self-denial in giving, which is wholly absent from receiving.
III. God promises to reward the giver, but not the receiver. This distinction plainly intimates that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
1. There are but few things which God has promised to reward men for in this life; but He promises to reward acts of munificence with special tokens of His favour now. “Blessed is he that considereth the poor; the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.” “The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth shall be watered.” The alms as well as the prayers of Cornelius were had in Divine remembrance, and he was rewarded in his lifetime with peculiar tokens of the Divine favour.
2. But this is not all; He means to reward them more openly and fully at the great day of retribution. Hence our Saviour told the almsgiver to give secretly, “and thy Father, who seeth in secret, Himself shall reward thee openly.” He declared that the smallest act of charity to one of His followers should meet with a future recompense (Matthew 25:1-46) Conclusion: If it be more blessed to give than to receive, then--
1. We ought to entertain the most exalted ideas of the blessedness of the Supreme Being.
2. We may see why charity or beneficence holds the highest rank among all the moral and Christian virtues.
3. It is a great and peculiar favour to be made rich. Poverty is a real calamity in itself, and draws after it a long train of natural evils. It not only deprives men of the power and pleasure of giving, but subjects them to the disagreeable necessity of receiving alms.
4. We may learn what ought to be the supreme and governing motive of men, in pursuing their secular concerns, and seeking to increase their worldly interest.
5. None have any reason to think that they are real Christians who have never experienced this peculiar blessedness.
6. The covetous and parsimonious defeat their own design, and take the direct method to diminish rather than to increase their temporal interest.
7. Those who are able to give should esteem it a favour when Providence presents them with opportunities of giving. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
And they all wept sore … sorrowing most of all … that they should see his face no more.
I. The tears of the noble servants of God.
1. A painful tax of human weakness, which even the best have to pay in--
(1) External trials.
(2) Internal temptations.
2. A precious ornament of holy souls from which shines forth the faithfulness which follows the Lord in suffering, and the love which weeps over the misery of the world.
3. A fruitful seed for the beautiful harvest of joy, which shall ripen to those who weep--
(1) Not only in heaven, when those who have sown in tears will reap in joy; but also--
(2) Here, on the field of the heart, since their labour is not in vain in the Lord.
II. The saying of separating love (cf. John 16:16)
1. With its bitterness--sorrow of orphanage--reproaches of conscience, if we have neglected the hour of our merciful visitation.
2. With its sweet comfort.
(1) Continued uniting in the Lord.
(2) Reunion with the Lord. (K. Gerok.)
The sorrow of parting
Surely there is nothing so sad in life as the sadness of partings. I listened the other day to two little children talk--two little simple children--without any experience of the sorrows of life. They were about to part for a short time, and I overheard their words. “I am so sorry to leave you, dear,” said one, almost an infant. “And so am I, so sorry to part with you.” What was the meaning of such words from young lips? Dear innocent hearts! They knew little or nothing of the sorrows of life. For them all that was to come; if black the future, the present was in sunlight. It was the expression of one of those deep truths which lie buried in the very essence of our mortal nature. It was the expression of the pang of parting. Partings are the saddest things in life. Partings create sorrows whilst we are living; partings robe the beds of death in the deepest gloom; partings fill the eyes of the dying with looks of anguish; partings make our hearts ache as we gaze at those who lie before us loved and dead. (Knox-Little.)
Robert Moffat’s farewell
Robert Moffat laboured for more than fifty years in South Africa and chiefly at Kuruman. On Sunday, March 20, 1870, he preached for the last time in Kuruman church. In all that great congregation there were few of his own contemporaries. With a pathetic grace he pleaded with those who still remained unbelieving. It was an impressive close to an impressive career. On the Friday following the aged missionary and his wife took their departure. As they came out of their house and walked to their waggon they were beset with crowds of the Bechuanas, each longing for a handshake and another word of farewell, and as the waggon drove away it was followed by all who could walk, and a long and pitiful wail arose, enough to melt the hardest heart.
A sad parting
A Zulu missionary, the Rev. Daniel Lindley, D.D., died at Morristown, U.S. He sailed from Boston to South Africa in 1834. During eleven years he and his wife were not privileged to see a single soul brought to Christ. But when they left Zululand, in 1873, after labouring there for thirty-eight years, they left, as the fruit of the blessing of God on their work, a flourishing Christian Church at Inanda, with a native pastor. At their departure a farewell sermon was preached, at the close of which the native minister, Thomas Hawes, said that the Zulu Christians were left orphans; they had gathered to bury their father and mother. The missionary, he said, knew all, from the governor to the poorest man, and he is called by all “Unicwawes,” Father. His authority might have been greater than the chief’s, but he governed not. He was as meek as a little child. He added: “His wife has taught our wives and daughters, and has by precept upon precept, and an unwavering example of goodness and faithfulness, done her work for Christ.”
Parting, with the hope of reunion
It is the measure of hope which gives joy or sorrow to a parting. To part with a loved one in the morning, in the confident expectation of meeting again at the day’s close, hardly causes a twinge of sorrow to the most sensitive heart. A parting which looks forward to a reunion at the close of a summer’s vacation, or of a European tour, or on the return of an anniversary gathering, has more of brightness than of shadow in its firmament. But when the parting is with a soldier son or brother, who is starting out for active service at the front; or with a missionary worker who leaves his country with no thought of a return to it; or, when for any reason the hope of another meeting in this life is faint or is lacking--then its sadness is intensified. So it is when the parting is at the grave’s border. Even the brightest-hearted Christian has a right to have sorrow in parting with a loved friend, with no hope of seeing him again on earth. It is not that the friend is a loser by passing out from earth’s prison house; but it is that he who remains here shall see that friend’s face no more. But even in such a parting, believers in Christ can have hope of a meeting beyond the grave; and this hope it is which should encourage the believer to sorrow not as those who have no hope. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
The sorrow that arises at the departure of a Christian minister
Let us consider--
I. Its source.
1. The loss of a true friend. Next to the assurance that we have the best friend in heaven is the conviction that we have a true friend on earth. A Christian minister should be this, and felt to be this, by his people. The apostle evidently stood in this relation to these Ephesians.
2. The close of lengthened religious privileges.
3. The recollection of numerous changes which this death suggests.
II. Its comfort.
1. To him it is immeasurable gain. Our departed Christian friends have but entered on a farther voyage than that to which these Ephesians accompanied the apostle; but surely a more favouring one; for death is that ship into which the disciples received their Master, in the gloom of night, that He might scatter their fears, and still the waves for them, and bring them immediately to the land whither they went. They have not died; they have emigrated to the better country.
2. Results may still remain. No man can live and labour for Christ without bequeathing to the world such a legacy, which our eye may not be able to separate from the great whole, but which is still there, increasing the amount and hastening on the grand and glorious close. A man may scatter precious seed, and be called away; but if he has done his work faithfully and well, the green blade shall spring, and the yellow harvest shall wave, though the head of the sower be in the dust beneath.
3. Changes are preparing the way for a world that is immutable. “We look for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” Every good and perfect gift comes from above; but more, it departs thither also.
III. Its improvement. Christian sorrow for the departed should lead us--
1. To seek reunion with the object of our affection. This is the instinct of grief, wherever it is genuine--to be where the lost one is. The gospel does not destroy human grief with its natural longings; it comes to consecrate it to the noblest ends, and make a ladder of it that shall reach to heaven.
2. To cultivate what they had most at heart while with us. (J. Ker, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Acts 20". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29