Click here to get started today!
And when they were escaped then they knew.
Tomorrow, a revealer
A great many things are clearer today than they were last night. Tomorrow will clear up some of the mysteries of today. Weird shapes of the darkness take a matter-of-fact form when the sun rises. Doubts and fears which oppress us during the storm are found to be baseless after the clouds are scattered. This ought to comfort us when we most need cheer. What we do not know now, we shall know hereafter. If now we see as in a glass darkly, we shall then see face to face; we shall then know even as we are known. In our patience possess we our souls. “Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.” (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
That the island was called Melita.
Paul at Malta
I. The value of hospitality.
1. Esteemed and practised even by the heathen.
2. Much more suitable and blessed among Christians.
II. The perniciousness of superstition.
1. How it is united with all manner of uncharitableness.
2. How it leads to all manner of idolatrous worship.
III. The home that the Christian finds everywhere. Everywhere--
1. He experiences the love of God.
2. He finds loving hearts.
3. He has the opportunity of doing good.
4. He is respected and honoured. (Lisco.)
Paul at Malta
I. The apostle surviving. Lessons: The Christian worker--
1. Often receives better treatment from the lowly than from the great. Paul was assaulted by the Jews, and assisted by the barbarians; Christ was accepted by many of the people and rejected by their rulers.
2. May be called to testify before kings; again, he may be called to pick up sticks to build a fire: and circumstances may make the two tasks equally noble in God’s sight. “Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws, makes that and the action fine.”
3. Must expect that vipers of opposition will come out to fasten upon his hands so soon as those hands are occupied in earnest Christian work.
4. Must shake off these vipers of sinful opposition even as Paul shook off this viper. And he must be careful even as Paul was to shake the viper into the fire, where it can do no further harm.
5. Will be misjudged by appearances, just as Paul was. Happy is that Christian whose righteousness is attested by the fact that the vipers of sin cannot harm him!
6. Who in this sinful world shakes off the deadly vipers of sin and feels no harm, need assuredly feel no harm from the petty bites of those who call him “murderer,” or “bigot,” or “fanatic.”
7. Wins final respect, if he is faithful. The world will in the end call him godly, even as it called Paul “a god.”
II. The sufferers reviving.
1. Blessings come through association with the godly.
2. Blessings come beyond our expectation when they come from God’s hand.
3. Blessings come in no sense as a repayment, but in a certain sense as a remembrance, of righteousness. Publius befriended Paul, and was in turn himself abundantly blessed.
4. As Paul prayed for the fever-smitten body of Publius’s father, we should pray for the sin-sick souls about us.
5. As Paul brought new life to these island dwellers, so we should endeavour to bring a new spiritual life to all those with whom we come in contact.
6. As the islanders honoured him who brought them bodily healing, so should we honour those who make it their special effort to bring spiritual renewal--the ministers, the missionaries, all the devoted workers for Christ. (S. S. Times.)
Paul at Malta
1. It is an ill wind which blows nobody good. Here is a case in point. The sailors regarded it an ill wind that wrecked their ship, but had it sunk them in mid-ocean it would have been a worse wind. It blew good to the islanders, for they got healing for the body and gospel for the soul. It blew good to the apostle, for he was received with an angel’s welcome and became a dispenser of rich blessings. Indeed, can we call any wind an ill one? The stormy wind is ever fulfilling God’s word. It is better than the south wind blowing softly, but often bringing peril. “Mysterious providences” is a phrase we ordinarily affix to unpleasant things, but in the light of accomplished facts our view of what is good or ill may be corrected. Our partial knowledge leads us to misjudgments. Wait till tomorrow. All will be well. Impatience is rebuked by the revelations of Providence.
2. Luke speaks here of “barbarians,” a people who did not speak Greek. We Englishmen have something of this feeling towards aliens, but we call it “patriotism.” Worst of all is this clannish spirit when shown by some portion of the Church who say, “The temple of the Lord are we!” The Lord Jesus requires us to put away such exclusiveness. “No common kindness” was shown by these “barbarians,” who were really friends, aye, Christians in a large sense, for did they not realise the Spirit of the Master? “I was ahungered,” etc. I’d rather stand with them, at last, than with many robed and titled ones.
3. To feed the welcome fire and strengthen the blaze, Paul gathers wood in his hands. Those hands were always ready for service: to gather golden coin to the coffers of the Church, or to make tents for his own support; to raise the dead, or gather converts to Christ; to quell a mob, or, “beckoning,” hold an audience with a wizard’s spell. He now gathered sticks, for he was all things to all men, and had no respect for the “blue blood” which looks disdainfully on meaner men. He flung the faggots on the fire, and soon a frozen viper warmed by the heat, leaped forth and fastened itself on the apostle’s hand.
4. The bystanders infer that Paul is a criminal, saved from the flood to die by the viper’s fang. Notice, that even heathen have a conviction of the retributive justice of God. It is only the civilised fool who says, “No God,” and he says it in his heart. How ready people are to jump at conclusions. Paul’s chain settled the fact that he was a guilty criminal, and so we unjustly judge the accused and arrested before he is proved culpable. The innocent are often overshadowed. Charity “believeth all things.” The proverb is, “We guess eggs when we see egg shells,” but there is a barn-door fowl as well as a cockatrice. Isaac Watts advises us always to “Endeavour to believe a story to be wrong which ought to be wrong.” Remember the moral effect upon ourselves of the judgment we pass upon others.
5. The viper on Paul’s hand produced no fatal harm. Paul “must stand before Caesar.” Neither the high priest, the Jewish Parliament, the conspirators, the devil himself, the storm-lashed Mediterranean Sea, nor the venomous viper, can prevent his going to Rome. So we are going to heaven, and God is our continual guard. All nature is used by Him for our good and we need not fear.
6. There are different classes of vipers. Ingratitude is one. Its fangs are sharp, but may be shaken off. Slander is another. It would be venomous if its power were as good as its will.
7. But integrity comes out unharmed. The barbarian cried out, “He is a god!” It would have been truer to say, “He has a God.” That was the secret of his safety. Have you one? If God be for us, who or what can be against us? (J. Jackson Wray.)
Paul at Malta
I. The nature and rewards of hospitality. It is a comfort to find that all races do not art the part of plunderers. This event occurred before the civilising influences of Christianity had been felt.
1. Hospitality is called forth by misfortune. A feast spread for those who daily sit at one is little worth as a token of regard. It is all well enough to bid our rich neighbours now and then, if not thinking thereby to show a noteworthy virtue. But the world is full of the wretched and the hungry. Stranded at our very doors we cannot but see them. These, and not the full, elicit everything that deserves to be known as charity.
2. The hospitable provides for the needy of what he himself has. In this instance it was the cheering, invigorating warmth of a great fire, and the gathering of the drenched and shivering castaways around it. Afterwards, it was doubtless the bringing food and clothing, and providing shelter. The grace of hospitality is within the exercise of all. Few homes are so barren that from them relief may not go forth to brighten some wan face, some famished body, some cheerless spirit. The street gamin, sharing his crust and tattered blanket with his mate, who is not so rich, illustrates the virtue. It is an old proverb, “When one poor man relieves another, God Himself laughs for joy.”
3. Hospitality is bestowal without thought of return. It is self-forgetful. What gain could these islanders expect from the impoverished mariners? The fact of inability to repay begets in the donor the greatest satisfaction. Jesus pointed out, “those who cannot recompense thee,” for us to seek with saving offerings.
4. There are, however, rewards in waiting for all who obey the noble prompting. The father of the governor was seriously ill. Paul, hearing of it, went to him with remedies of which no medical school knew. The cure was immediate and complete. The news spread. The diseased from every quarter flocked about the wonder worker, and went away healed. To save the ill-fated boat’s company was to save themselves, though ignorantly. So always, by methods we could never predict, the return for any deed of real hospitality is made. The cup of cold water given in a disciple’s name, insures the reward.
II. The folly of human judgment. A viper fastens on to the apostle’s hands, “He is a murderer,” say the bystanders, “No, see he shakes it off unhurt--he is a god.” People are still under the impression that signal calamity finds its deserving victim, and ask, “What has he done to merit it?” Equally true is it, when by some unparalleled act one seems to be lifted out of the sphere of ordinary life, the multitudes are ready to bow down before him. The successful general, politician, merchant, scholar, is gazed at as if the secret of his mastery lay in supernatural gifts. The mistake of trusting the common opinion is plain. We rely more than we know upon our prejudices. Our tribunals are seldom fair. Often the impartial verdict of history shows how fallible the earlier judgment was. Hence modesty, rather than assurance, is becoming when we pronounce upon another’s doing or purpose, when all the details have not been open to us. (D. S. Clark.)
Paul at Malta
Here we have:--
I. Men getting out of one trouble only to get into another. There is a mysterious law of succession in the difficulties of human life. “It never rains but it pours.” There is a mystery of grace also in this succession. We do not know the best side of trouble until we have had a great deal of it. One trouble is of no use. You must get into the rhythm of sorrow, the rise and fall of the melody of discipline. It is marvellous how trouble can make the house comfortable with a strange sense of its being there at Heaven’s bidding and under Heaven’s order. It is not so with the first trouble--that always upsets a man. The second trouble is accepted in rather a better spirit; then the third comes like an expected guest. “It is better”--when trouble has wrought out its most sacred mystery--“to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting.” Different nationalities have different salutations. The Greek would say, “Rejoice”! He lived in the region of the senses; he delighted in high art, in high feasting. The Hebrew spoke in a nobler bass; he said, “Peace be with you”! The Hebrew was the man of soul, the man of tragic experience. So trouble leads us into these deeper mysteries of experience; it takes away the merry shout, but fills the mouth with a nobler salutation. So Christ, in all His sorrows, said, “My peace I give unto you.”
II. The rough judgments which men are always prone to pass upon men. When the viper fastened on Paul’s hand, the simple Punic people said, “No doubt this man is a murderer,” etc. Alas! how many murderers there would be if we had to judge of sin by apparently penal circumstances! How ready we are to form the ungracious judgment of one another Who ever failed in business, even in the most honourable way, without some friends knowing that this very collapse would take place, and without their taking morals from it intended to magnify their own better business capacity? Who ever pitied the man upon whom the viper fastened? Be more discriminate in judgment. Christ would see in the very worst man something to recognise, in a way that would give him another chance. There is no man quite so bad as he appears to be, even though the viper be on his hand. But some men do not look out for the mitigating qualities. Circumstances are sometimes against men. We have seen the viper of a false accusation fastening upon the hand that never did mischief to a human creature. I would pray for the spirit that pities the hand, rather than praises the viper; that would rather be deceived than willingly accept the ungenerous judgment. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
III. The mystery of intuitive religion. It would seem as if religion were born in the human mind and heart. Here is a sense of a Presence in the universe that means righteousness. The heart instinctively says when wrong is done, “This must be punished.” Christianity never uproots that, but sanctifies it. Who wrote that law? It is written upon the tablets of the mind by an invisible penman. The universe is against murder. We cannot give up the thought that the bad man will one day have the worst of it. The universe would fall to pieces if we could relinquish that doctrine.
IV. A point of progress in the religion of these barbarians. They who could not understand a sermon could comprehend the treatment of a viper, and reason upon it. They were observant people: they made religious deductions from ordinary facts (verse 6). What was this? A direct contradiction of so-called experience. Here was the greater law setting itself in noble sovereignty over the common daily law. They were a frank people; they had attained a high point in education, in being able to shake out of the mind prejudices which opposed themselves to the startling fact which immediately appealed to their vision. If we could persuade modern nations to act in the same way, we should have no unbelievers. If every viper shaken off the hand proved the nobleness of the character so destroying it, and led to the higher reasoning that such a character is a Divine creation, we should have no theological controversy. All Christian history may be summed up in this one line: that the Christian hand has always shaken off the viper and flung it into the fire. It is part of the great original mystery; “the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.” The viper is on us now; the poison has touched the red current of the blood; but, by the grace of Christ, we will shake it off, and it shall be destroyed. (J. Parker, D. D.)
an expressive representation of the heathen world.
I. In their need of redemption.
1. Their dark superstition (verses 4-6).
2. Their manifold misery (verses 8, 9).
II. In their capability of redemption.
1. Their friendly hospitality (verse 2).
2. Their dim knowledge of God (verse 4).
3. Their lively susceptibility for the impressions of the Divine (verse 6).
4. Their earnest desire of assistance (verse 9).
5. Their childlike gratitude (verse 10). (K. Gerok.)
The world’s judgments foolish
The world is foolish--
1. In its uncharitable judgments (verse 4).
2. In its favourable judgments (verse 6).
3. Therefore, undisturbed by the judgments of the world, do thy duty, and be not weary in well doing (verses 7-10). (Lisco.)
Good in heathendom
It is common to regard all men outside of Christendom as utterly destitute of goodness. This is untrue to fact, and a libel on human nature. Observe in these barbarians:--
I. A sympathy with human suffering (verse 2, 9).
1. This social love dwells in men of every colour and clime. How can this be maintained, it may be said, in the presence of cannibalism, human sacrifices, bloody wars, etc.?
(1) These cruelties are perversions of this very social sympathy.
(2) The very existence of tribes implies it; men could not exist at all in unity without this social and kindly affection.
(3) Cruelties exist even in Christendom, where this goodness is patent to all.
2. That this kindly sympathy does, as a rule, exist in all hearts, however deeply sunk in ignorance and depravity, is proved--
(1) By modern travellers. Livingstone found it in the dark regions of South Africa.
(2) By the Bible. The Bible is a revelation of love, and unless men have the element of love in them they would be as incapable of understanding it or feeling its power as the ravenous beast. You may as well bring the magnet to clay as take the gospel to men who have no love in them.
II. A sense of retributive providence (verses 3, 4). Here is a fine subject for a picture. This sense of the connection between crime and punishment is so universal that it must be regarded as instinctive. It is a feeling that underlies all religions. Their mistakes were--
1. That punishment for crime came in a material form. Men have ever thought thus. The fall of the tower of Siloam was thought to be a judgment, and so now is the burning down of a theatre: whereas nature in her operations pays no attention to moral distinctions. Vipers will sting apostles as well as apostates.
2. That it followed flagrant crimes only. “This man is a murderer.” But there is a spirit which often possesses men, that calls for greater punishment even than a material murder.
III. A faith in a supreme being (verses 5, 6). The rapidity with which these men changed their opinion concerning Paul is only an example of that fickleness of soul which ever characterises the uncultured. The most noteworthy point, however, is, that what brought up to them the idea of God was the marvellous. The natural tendency of the viper’s sting was death. Because Paul did not die, they thought him “a god.” They felt that the laws of nature could only be counteracted by God. It was in the wonderful, not in the good, that they saw God. Thus men generally feel. Conclusion: Several things may be fairly deduced from this subject:--
1. The identity in authorship of human souls and Divine revelation. The grand rudimental subjects of the Bible are love, retribution, God; and these are written on the human heart. What Christ put into His book, he put first into the soul, and thus He is “the Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”
2. The impossibility of atheism ever being established in the world. Systems that are inconsistent with the intuitions of the human soul can never stand. The human soul is essentially religious.
3. The responsibility of man wherever he is found. The heathens, with this inner light of goodness, are bound to walk according to their light.
4. The duty of missionaries in propagating the gospel. Let them not ignore the good in the human heart, but--
(1) Recognise it.
(2) Honour it.
(3) Appeal to it.
(4) Develop it. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Twice St. Paul came in contact with barbarians--twice he was counted as a god. Once at Lystra--once here at Melita. It is the Carthaginian or Phoenician religion which moulded the barbarian life that we examine.
I. Barbarian virtues.
1. Two errors have been held on the subject of natural goodness.
(1) That of those who deny to fallen man any goodness at all. This is the effect of a system. No man in his heart believes it. Men are better than their creed. We find here the natural barbarian virtues of hospitality and sympathy. And a Christian contemplating this, gave this distinct testimony, “The barbarous people showed us no little kindness.”
(2) That of placing too high a value on the natural virtues. We hear much of early unsophisticated times, “when wild in woods the noble savage ran.” According to this, civilisation is the great corrupter. But the truth is, the natural good feelings of human nature are only instincts: no more moral than a long sight or a delicate sense of hearing. You may travel among savages who treat you, as a stranger, with courtesy: but yet feed on the flesh of their enemies. And these Melitans, “who showed no little kindness,” belonged to a stock who, in the most civilised days of Carthage, offered human sacrifice.
2. The advent of Christ brought a new spirit into the world. “Love your neighbour, hate your enemy.” Carthaginians obeyed that. Christ said, “Love your enemies.” Remark, too, the principle on which this is taught. “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh,” etc. So He converted rude barbarian instincts into Christian graces, by expanding their sphere and purifying them of selfishness--causing them to be regulated by principle, and elevating them into a conscious imitation of God in His revealed character.
II. The barbarian idea of retribution.
1. Paul was one of those who are formed to be the leaders of the world. Foremost in persecution--foremost in Christianity--foremost in the shipwreck--foremost too, when all was over, in gathering the sticks to make the fire. From those sticks a viper sprung and fastened on his hand, and the first impression of the barbarians was, “No doubt this man is a murderer,” etc. This is the basis of all natural religion, and underlies all mythologies. The Nemesis who presides over retribution--the whips and scorpions of the Furies--it seems the first instinct of religion. In the barbarian conception of it, however, there was something gross and dangerous; because--
(1) They misinterpreted natural laws into vengeance. There is a proneness in man to judge so. We expect that nature will execute the chastisements of the spiritual world. Hence all nature becomes to the imagination leagued against the transgressor. The walls of Siloam fell on guilty men. On this conviction nations constructed their trial by ordeal. The guilty man’s sword would fail in the duel: and the foot would strike and be burnt by the hot ploughshare. Some idea of this sort lurks in all our minds. We picture the spectres haunting the bed of the tyrant. But experience corrects all this. The tyrant’s sleep is often as sweet and sound as the infant’s. The viper stings the innocent turf cutter. Only in poetry does the fire refuse to burn the innocent, and Purity lay her band on the fawning lion’s mane. If we ask where these Melitans got their idea of retribution, the reply is, out of their own hearts. They felt the eternal connection between wrong-doing and penalty.
(2) They expected vengeance for flagrant crime only. “This man is a murderer.” There is a common feeling now to that effect, “Murder will out.” The truth is, we think much of crime, little of sin. There is many a murderer executed whose heart is pure compared with those of many a man who lives a respectable life. David was a murderer. The Pharisees had committed no crime; but their heart was rotten at the core.
2. As information increased, this idea of retribution disappears. Natural laws are understood, and retribution vanishes. Then often comes Epicureanism or Atheism. “All things come alike to all: there is one end to the righteous and to the sinner.” If so, then the inference suggests itself--“Let us eat and drink”--it is all the same. Or the sceptical feeling comes thus: “Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.” Therefore why do right instead of wrong?
3. The Advent of Christ brought deeper and truer views. It taught what sin and suffering are. It showed the Innocent on the Cross bearing the penalty of the world’s sin, but still the Son of God, with whom the Father was “well pleased.” The penal agonies of sin are chiefly those which are executed within. “Vengeance,” said the Melitans, “suffereth not the murderer to live.” “Whosoever slayeth Cain,” said God, “vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” Cain the murderer lives--Christ, the holy, dies. Cain is to us the dread type of hell. To live! that is hell, to live when you would fain die. You may escape the viper and the wreck. You may by prudence make this world painless, more or less. You cannot escape yourself. Go where you will, you carry with you a soul degraded, its power lost, its finer sensibilities destroyed. Worse than the viper’s tooth is the punishment of no longer striving after goodness, or aspiring after the life of God. Just as the man cannot see through the glass on which he breathes, sin darkens the windows of the soul. You are safe, go where you will, from the viper: as safe as if you were the holiest of God’s children. The fang is in your soul.
III. The barbarian conception of deity.
1. When the viper fell off, and Paul was left uninjured, they changed their mind and said that he was a god.
(1) This implied a certain advance in religious notions. Man finds himself helpless among the powers of nature, and worships them. The highest is the worship of the host of heaven. With some it is the adoration of lifeless things. Evidently there can be no holy influence in this. Men worship by fear, and fortify themselves by charms and incantations: do not try to please God by being holy, but defend themselves from danger by jugglery. The Christians of the early ages carried about bits of consecrated bread to protect themselves from shipwreck. Besides this men have worshipped brute life. It is quite clear that the Melitans were beyond all this. It is a step when men rise from the worship of lifeless things to that of animals--another when they rise to worship human qualities; for they are nearest the Divine.
(2) But this worship of the human was the adoration of the marvellous--not the reverence for the good. It was not Paul’s character to which they yielded homage. It was only his miraculous escape. So too at Lystra. It was the miracle which they chiefly saw. All that would pass away when they knew that he was a man of like passions with themselves, or when they were informed that it was a providential escape which might have happened to any ordinary man. When the savage sees the flash of European firearms, he kneels as to a god; but when he has learned its use, his new religion is gone. And thus science is converting the religion of mere wonder into atheism. As you teach laws, you undermine that religion. Men cease to tremble. The Laplander would no longer be awed by the eclipse if he knew how to calculate it with accuracy. The savage’s dread of lightning as the bolt of God is over when he sees the philosopher draw it from the clouds, and experimentalise on it in his laboratory. And the Romanist, whose flesh creeps when he sees a miracle in the consecration of the sacraments, ends in infidelity, when reason has struck the ground of false reverence from beneath his feet.
2. Therefore has the Redeemer’s advent taught a deeper truth to man. Paul spoke almost slightingly of the marvellous. “Covet earnestly the best gifts: yet show I unto you a more excellent way,” etc. Love is diviner than all wondrous powers. So too the Son of God came into this world, depreciating the merely mysterious. “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign,” etc. It was not the supernatural in His miracles which proved them Divine. It was their goodness, their love, which manifested Deity. Faith stands serenely far above the reach of the atheism of science. It does not rest on the wonderful, but on the eternal wisdom and goodness of God. The revelation of the Son was to proclaim a Father, not a mystery. No science can sweep away the everlasting love which the heart feels. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Paul at Malta; or, the insufficient creed of natural religion
The most important subject in our paragraph is what we may call the Creed of Natural Religion, as it may be inferred from the judgments of the barbarians about Paul--first judging him to be a murderer when they saw the viper fastening on him, then going to the other extreme of judging him to be a god because it did him no harm. But, before we come to speak of this, I wish to call your attention to one or two points of practical interest. The first of these is the kindly hospitality which these islanders showed to the shipwrecked men who had been cast so destitute on their shore. This was in very marked contrast to what has frequently happened on the coasts of Great Britain--where men who, I suppose, would call themselves Christians, have held out false lights to a ship labouring in a storm, in order to lure her on to destruction, so that the wreckers, as they are called, may plunder the dead bodies cast ashore, and share the spoil of the wreck. Such diabolical conduct has not unfrequently been displayed by so-called Christian men in Christian Britain, while these barbarians, who never heard of the name of Christ, or of the gospel of kindness and charity which He preached, showed uncommon kindness to the victims of the shipwreck east upon their shores. We admire them, do we not? And why? Just because, after all, kindness, notwithstanding much of the selfishness and cruelty which is in our world, is one of those touches of nature which makes the whole world kin. It is a plant in the heart of the natural man of God’s own planting; part of our nature which shows that, after all, we are children of the heavenly Father, bearing still some traces of the Divine image in which we were created. But while we thus admire and rejoice in kindness as displayed by others, and while we do so because it speaks of the brotherhood of man and the Fatherhood of God, and while we recognise it as a plant of the Heavenly Father’s planting, we must remember that if it is to thrive in our nature, in our homes, in our congregations and Churches, in our communities and social life, like all other plants, it must be cultivated or it dies. The only true way to cultivate any moral plant, whether good or evil, is by exercising it. We often meet with men and women who, in ‘sailing over life’s sea, have been shipwrecked by misfortunes which they could no more have helped than Paul could have helped the storm which blew him and his companions on the shores of Malta. We meet with others whom the wild assault of temptation, or whom the strong storm of their own passions, had driven to moral ruin and shipwreck. What is our attitude towards these? Is it not too often the case that the cruelty and selfishness of our hearts have smothered up the natural kindness which God had implanted in us, so that instead of pitying and helping and showing kindness--a kindness which might be their salvation at last--we stand aloof from them, blaming them unsparingly, judging them harshly, and condemning them fiercely, taunting them with their folly, and accusing them with their sin--so that instead of helping them by our kindness, we, by our cruelty and heartlessness, drive them back to perish in the angry, all-devouring sea of misfortune and sin from which they sought to escape. Shall the conduct of the barbarians of Malta shame us Christians of today? And now to turn for a moment to Paul’s conduct on this occasion. We are told he had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire. Instead of standing whining and complaining, and expecting all help from others when misfortune overtakes him, he, with the true manliness which was so characteristic of him, sets about to help himself. Some people, when misfortune comes to them, seem to think that all that they should do is merely to appeal to the kindly compassion and help of others. These are the people whom kindness, charity, help makes paupers of--to whom help is more often a curse than a blessing, for it takes away all manliness and self-respect--whereas the truest and surest way to win the kindly feeling and help of others is that men in misfortune even should do what they can to help themselves, for I do not suppose anyone comes so low in means or in morals but that he can put forth, Paul-like, some effort of self-help, which shall be more effective to raise him back to that position from whence he has fallen, than all the help and kindness which can be shown him. Again, Paul shows that it is never beneath true dignity to stoop to any useful service. If Paul had been like many of us, he would have stood on his dignity as the great apostle, and would expect others to stoop to the menial service of gathering sticks for the fire. But he had the spirit of his Master, who did not think it beneath His dignity to stoop to wash the feet of the fisherman of Galilee--who did not think it beneath His dignity to stoop lower still, and not only wash away the dust stains from His disciple’s feet with water, but to wash away the infinitely foul stain of men’s sins with His blood. There are some people who are quite willing to do open public service, if only they can win applause to themselves, and they think they have been serving Christ, or the cause of their fellow men, but they will not condescend to do an humble obscure act for Christ or for men, because it does not attract to them the applause or notice of others. These must be told they are mere hollow-hearted servants, men pleasers, rendering only eye service, and that their prominent services are not services for Christ or man, but for low, paltry, mean, selfish ends, serving self only; and Christ, aye, and men too, will value their service accordingly. Let us, Paul-like, Christ-like, serve not only in what brings glory and praise and eclat and popularity to ourselves, but let us be willing to serve in what is obscure and insignificant, then we shall prove that we are not self-seekers, but truly Christ’s servants. And now an incident occurred which opens up a wider train of thought than I have time to devote to the following of it fully out today. When Paul had cast his bundle of sticks on the fire, a viper, which had been lying torpid being revived by the heat, fastens on his hand, but he shakes it off as does a healthy bodily constitution shake off the disease which fastens with deadly effect on others, or as the man who is morally sound at the heart can throw off the deadly temptation which seeks to fasten itself upon him, but can easily spit its poison into the veins of others less morally sound. The more superstitious barbarians came to the usual conclusion in such cases. “This man is a murderer, whom vengeance had pursued on the sea, but failed to overtake, but whom vengeance now shall not let escape.” After watching for some time and not seeing any symptoms of harm--not seeing, as they expected, that he should drop down dead--they rushed to the opposite extreme, and said, “He is a god.” Now, underlying this superstition there was this solemn, awful, and eternal truth, that guilt will, sooner or later, by some means or other, be overtaken by punishment. That, as the Scriptures put it, “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished.” This is the creed, or at least a part of the creed, of natural religion. An element in the religious belief of all men in all ages, in all stages of civilisation, is the faith that sin shall not go unpunished. It is belief as natural to the human heart, and as keenly felt in the conscience, as that wrong is wrong and right is right. So that the conviction which lay at the bottom of their false judgment of Paul was a true conviction. But there is a deeper truth underlying this conviction--that sin is always followed by punishment. For that conviction assumes that the world must therefore be governed by righteousness--that a universal law of righteousness rules the world when men believe because they see it and feel that it is right, that sin is always followed by punishment--punishment, mind you, not in the world to come only, but in this world of ours. The creed of natural religion is right so far, but then, as exhibited by these barbarians, it was accompanied by the false idea that every accident that befalls a man, every misfortune that comes to him, is punishment for sin. Even at the present day there is a false idea abroad that such accidents as the Tay Bridge disaster was a judgment from God for travelling on Sunday--instead of looking at the true facts that it was bad engineering and bad workmanship--the real cause of the disaster. Many an innocent, good, upright man suffers misfortune and what; we call evils because of the evil doings of others, while many a rogue and scoundrel thrives and is prosperous, and seems to have peace and happiness, notwithstanding his evil-doing. But it is eternally true, as God is true, that sin is followed by punishment, by the inward debasing and demoralising of the man, by the gnawings of a biting remorse, by the eating into his secret heart and life of the worm that never dieth, by the burning in his soul of the hell fire that may never be quenched. While again the good man, the godly man, though outward circumstances may be against him, though he may be in poverty and sickness and sorrow often, aye, even though the viper tongue of slander may fasten on him, and men may suspect him to be a murderer or worse, yet in his innermost being he enjoys the peace of God--“the peace that passeth all understanding.” He carries about with him the peace of a pure conscience, the consciousness of God’s favour, the grand feeling that he has wronged no man, and the assurance that, notwithstanding his many faults and failings, which no one knows so well, or blames so keenly as he does himself, yet that through the all-pervading mercy of God in Christ, through the infinite merit of Christ’s great sacrifice--he will be at last received into God’s ever lasting habitation. (J. A. Fletcher.)
And the barbarous people showed us no little kindness; for they kindled a fire.
Glad surprises for Christian workers
God has glad surprises at every turn for those who trust Him, and who walk confidently in the path of duty. People who are called barbarous, or sordid, or cold-hearted, are found ready to show unlooked for kindness to the followers of Jesus. Every faithful mission school worker in the slums of a great city, every sensible Bible reader, or tract distributor, or street preacher, can bear witness to this fact. So also can anyone who has found himself sick, or with a sick friend among strangers. He can never forget the kindness then shown to him by those from whom he expected least. Every heart is human, and everything human is likely to show its humanity unexpectedly. The rudest people, as well as the people of Christian culture, may be trusted to show kindness to those who go among them in the name and in the spirit of Jesus. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
1. Here was an early Shipwrecked Mariner’s Society.
2. Among rough people there is much of genuine kindness. Let not people of a gentler mould, greater education, and larger possessions, come behind them.
3. Their kindness was thoroughly practical. We have too much of “Be ye warmed,” and too little kindling of fires.
4. There may be spiritual as well as physical cold, and for this last the kindling of a fire is needed. This is our present subject.
I. That we are very apt to be cold.
1. The world is a cold country for gracious men.
2. By reason of our inbred sin, we are cold subjects, and far too apt to be lukewarm, or frozen.
3. Cold seasons also come, when all around lies bound in frost. Ministers, churches, saints, are too often cold as ice.
4. Cold corners are here and there, where the sun seldom shines. Some good men live in such cold harbours.
5. Chilling influences are now abroad. Modern thought, worldliness, depression in trade, depreciation of prayer, etc. If we yield to the power of cold, we become first uncomfortable, next inactive, and then ready to die.
II. That there are means of warmth.
1. The Word of God is as a fire. Heard or read, it tends to warm the heart.
2. Private, social, and family prayer. This is as coal of Juniper.
3. Meditation and communion with Jesus (Psalms 39:3; Luke 24:32).
4. Fellowship with other Christians (Malachi 3:16).
5. Doing good to others (Job 42:10).
6. Returning to first love and doing first works would bring back old warmth (Revelation 2:4-5). Let us get to these fires ourselves, lest we be frost-bitten and benumbed.
III. That we should kindle fires for others. We need the fire of revival, seeing so many are washed upon our shores in dying circumstances. Concerning a true revival, let it be remembered that it both resembles the fire in the text, and differs from it.
1. It must be lighted under difficulties--“because of the present rain.” The sticks are wet, the hearth is flooded, the atmosphere is damp. It is not easy to make a fire in such circumstances; and yet it must he done.
2. The fire we need cannot, however, be kindled by barbarians: the flame must come from above.
3. Once get the flame, the fire begins with littles. Small sticks are good for kindling.
4. It is well to nourish the flame by going down on your knees, and breathing upon it warm and hearty supplications.
5. It must be fed with fuel. Think of the great Paul picking up a bundle of sticks. Let each one bring his share.
6. This fire must be kindled for “everyone.” We must not be content till all the shivering ones are comforted.
7. The fire will be of great service, and yet it may warm into life more than one viper. Thank God, the fire which revived the creature into venomous life will also destroy it.
1. What can we each do towards this fire? Can we not each one either kindle or feed the fire? Bring a stick.
2. Let no one damp the flame.
3. Let us pray. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
How to maintain spiritual warmth
Philip Henry’s advice to his daughter was: “If you would keep warm in this cold season (January, 1692), take these four directions:
1. Get into the sun. Under his blessed beams there are warmth and comfort.
2. Go near the fire.” “Is not My Word like a fire?” How many cheering passages are there!
3. Keep in motion and action--stirring up the grace and gift of God that is in you.
4. Seek Christian communion. How can one be warm alone? (C. Spurgeon.)
The benignant soul
The benignant soul possesses a vital energy and an ubiquity which resembles the moss. It matters not to the healthy action of the mosses’ functions whether the surrounding air be stagnant or in motion, for we find them on the mountain top amid howling winds and driving storms, and in the calm, silent, secluded wood, where hardly a breeze penetrates to ruffle their leaves. The range of flowering plants is circumscribed by conditions of light, temperature, elevation above the sea, geological character of the district, and various other physical causes; but the wonderful vital energy with which the mosses are endowed, enables them to resist the most unfavourable influences, to grow freely and luxuriantly even in the bleakest circumstances, and to acclimatise themselves, without changing their character, in any region of the earth, and every kind of situation upon its surface. They symbolise the benignant soul. It is found in connection with every form of religion, and where there is no form of religion at all. In the fierceness of a world’s persecution it maintains its place, yet graces the humble secluded paths of private life. It is found in men of all colours and climes; and, in various forms, dwells wherever there is suffering which needs solacing, or calamities which demand heroism. (Scientific Illustrations.)
The reward of kindness
A young lady residing in Russellville once showed some kindness to an aged tramp. A few days afterwards the tramp sought her, and asked her for her name. He said: “You are a good girl and I like you. Don’t you know that you are the only person that has treated me with any kindness for years? They say I am old and crazy, but don’t you believe ‘em. I have got lots of money, and I am going to leave it all to you.” The lady’s mother coming in at this point, he repeated his remarks to her, and shaking hands with both ladies, left. Recently a letter was received by the lady to the effect that the man was dead, and that on his body a paper was found directing all his money, amounting to several thousand dollars, should be sent to her.
And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire.
How to keep up the fire
If a man wants a fire kept up, he must do his share in supplying its fuel. It will not burn long unless it is replenished. Those who need its warmth, “because of the present rain, and because of the cold,” are the ones to gather sticks for it. It was down on the coast of Florida, in war time. A little band of Christian soldiers held a weekly prayer meeting in a church building, deserted of its ordinary congregation. One evening a new voice was heard there. An officer who had been in frequent attendance, but who had not before taken part in the exercises, said: “I am not accustomed to speak in prayer meetings. I do not feel competent to that service. But I have so greatly enjoyed these meetings, week after week, that I have thought it was hardly fair for me to be always warming myself by this Christian fire without ever furnishing an armful of fuel; so I rise to tell you that your Saviour is my Saviour, and that I am very grateful for all the help and cheer you have been to me in His service, at these week night prayer meetings.” And as that little “bundle of sticks” was thrown into that army prayer meeting fire, the flame flashed up there in new light and warmth, and more than one soldier present rejoiced afresh in its glow. When did you gather the last bundle of sticks for the fire of your church or neighbourhood prayer meeting? It may be by timely words of exhortation or prayer, that you supply your share of the fuel. It may be by a part in the service of song. Or it may be by the responsive look in your face, which helps him who leads, through its assurance that one at least of those before him is all aglow with love for the truth he emphasizes. In one way or another, you ought to supply “a bundle of sticks” to keep your prayer meeting fire a-going. (H. Trumbull, D.)
There came a viper out of the heat and fastened on his hand.
Vipers and hands
There are certain hands that the viper does not mind to fasten upon. It pays little heed to the idle, greedy, or prayerless hand; it has poisoned these already, and can leave them alone. Let us look at--
I. The viper and the busy hand. It was when Paul’s hand was busy that the viper fastened on it. “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do,” or rather allows them to find mischief for themselves. But he hates the busy hand and tries to poison it and make it idle. When you are diligent at any task look out for the viper. Whenever you say, “Oh I what’s the use!” or, “Never do today what can be done tomorrow,” beware of the viper on the busy hand. Shake it off! It will sting you into idleness, and then Satan will have no difficulty in getting you to do what he likes.
II. The viper and the open hand. Satan likes close-fistedness; but when he sees an open, generous hand, the “old serpent” fastens on it. I will tell you how you may know when it is there. Here is a lad who yesterday got his week’s wages. When in church he hears the minister pleading on behalf of some heathen children, he begins to ask, “What have I to do with them? The money is my own.” Or on your way to the Sabbath school you may be tempted to halve the penny you had determined to put into the mission box. Satan does not wish you to give anything to carry the gospel to your brothers and sisters afar off. He knows that you are helping Christ to bruise his head. There is a beautiful legend of an old English open-handed king. After King Oswald learned Christ, he was feasting one day with Aidan the Bishop, when he was told that a hungry multitude waited around his door. He sent out to them the untasted feast, and divided among them the silver dishes, so that Aidan blessed his hand, saying, “May this hand never grow old.” Some time afterwards Oswald fell in battle, and, as his limbs were cruelly cut up and hung upon stakes by the enemy, it was observed that the hand that Aidan had blessed--the open hand of Oswald--remained white and uncorrupted. God loves the open hand, but the viper fastens on it. Look to God and shake it off!
III. The viper and the praying hand. We are told to lift up “holy hands” of prayer “without wrath and doubting.” Satan hates the hands of prayer. The praying boy or girl keeps so near Christ that Satan can scarcely do any harm. He wishes you to stop praying, in order to get the better of you. Have you never felt weary, or heard a voice saying to you, “What does God care for a boy or girl like you?” or, “How can He hear you in the heavens?” The viper has fastened on your hand. Pray all the more earnestly for power to shake it off! (W. Dickie, M.)
The shipwrecked apostle
Luke puts the personality of Paul before us with great vividness. He was the foremost of the apostles.
1. Notice this conspicuousness of Paul in its many features.
2. The personal qualities of Paul. He was a born leader, a many-sided man. Again, we notice that with this promptness, readiness and power of controlling circumstances there is also a cheerfulness of spirit. Some look only on the dark side. They seem unwilling to admit that the moon itself has a bright side. Paul’s cheerfulness is contagious. He tells the men that they will be saved. The face of Keats wore the radiance of an angel. Lord Holland each morning looked as if he had just received good news. I think that they must have prayed, “Lord, lift Thou the light of Thy countenance upon us.” Though smarting, bleeding, hungering, and oppressed, Paul was always rejoicing in hope and making others glad.
3. The usefulness of St. Paul is seen in his building a fire. He gathers a bundle of sticks. He is foremost in service. He does not say that this is the work of a servant. The higher a man is, the more a minister he comes to be. Nobility obliges. He does not preach to them, but gathers fuel. He is useful when away from home. See how this usefulness worked out. The barbarians--that is, “the bearded people,” as the shaven Greek looked on the unshaven foreigner--“showed us no common kindness.” Paul healed the sick among them, and yet said that he was debtor to them. In doing good you reap a benefit.
4. Finally, see the terrible irony of life. The hands are stretched out for warmth, and poison enters. We look for good, and behold evil is ours. This is the sarcasm of life. Hezekiah has the added years he prays for, and finds in them added sorrow. Samson carries off the gates of Gaza that vainly held him, but comes eyeless and woful into a Philistine prison at the end. Abraham has a son, but is told to slay him. David has the crown, but weeps over the treason of Absalom and finally over his dishonourable death. (H. Gallaher, D.)
The deadly viper
There are a great many vipers with deadly poison in their fangs, ready to fasten on the hand of any Christian man or woman who “gathers a bundle of sticks,” i.e., has to do with secular affairs. There are--
I. The viper to which the business man is exposed. How many hands, busy in trade, that old serpent fastens on, and will not let go! If he does not kill them outright with his poisonous principles and temptations, he at least wounds their honour, peace, usefulness, and Christian standing. Shake off the viper into the fire, man of business! Hesitate not, or you are a dead man!
II. The viper of indifference has fastened itself on the hand of very many nominal Christians. “Woe unto them that are at ease in Zion!” And how many there are, and what peril they are in! “I would thou wert cold or hot,” etc.
III. The viper of unbelief. To reject and cast away God’s Word, as many do, is to uncover a nest of vipers and lie down in the midst of them.
IV. The viper of prejudice. This, when it gets firm hold of a man, is a terrible power, a most malign influence, and if he do not shake it off into the fire, it will poison his life, warp his judgment, and kill his influence. How intense is the power of prejudice in social life, in politics, in matters theological and ecclesiastical!
V. The vipers of evil habits, such as gambling, drunkenness, tippling, Sabbath desecration, social dissipation at the theatre, are of the deadliest sort. Few escape on whom they once fasten. Their sting is deadly. Shake off into the fire that venomous serpent which has wriggled out of “the bundle of sticks you have gathered”; or, as sure as the wages of sin is death, you are doomed, and that speedily! (Homiletic Monthly.)
The viper’s dart
I. Everywhere in the pursuit of duty we must expect the viper or the serpent to dart out upon us. Everywhere in the path of obedience to the higher calls of life we shall find ourselves beset by difficulties and assaults which will probably succeed too well in doing what the viper failed to do to the apostle. We shall find ourselves often wounded in the hand, at any rate according to the old prophecy, in the heel. Well for us if we are on our guard and ready instinctively to shake off the attacks and, God-protected by Divine grace, to feel no harm!
1. Professional life, business life, trade, or work well illustrates what I mean. It is one of the most necessary things in the world. It supplies the needs of human life. It is the method by which the members of the human family perform their duties as members one of another. It creates some of the most valuable parts of human character. Energy, quickness, power of organisation, invention, discovery, method, calculation, experience, soberness of mind--these are some of its results on character. But how often do we see the viper dart out from the midst, and fasten on a man’s hand! How often do we see trade or business blunting the higher and nobler faculties of human life, blinding the soul to the spiritual world, exhausting all the natural energies in merely material interests, and sometimes--alas! too often--undermining the uprightness and honesty of a hitherto spotless character! How often do we see the hand or the heel wounded, while all power to shake off the venomous beast seems to have deserted the soul!
2. Or look at knowledge in its many branches. What is more fascinating or delightful? It moves at will up and down the history of the world, entering into all great events, revealing the motives and actions of the greatest of mankind, making the past almost as real as the present. It penetrates into the deepest and closest recesses of man’s being--his instincts, his motives, his intellectual powers, his loves, his joys, his sorrows. But even here, my friends, be on your guard; even here the viper darts out and is ready to fasten on the hand. For there are spheres of truth which reason can only enter hand in hand with faith, and reason is apt to rise in rebellion, and flash scorn on that which is beyond its ken, and glory in its ignorance or, as it prefers to phrase it, its agnosticism.
3. Or is there anything more beautiful than friendship in its many forms? It is on its widest score the bond of society, and without society of some sort life would be intolerable. It is in narrower limits the bond of that home life of which we in England are so justly proud. In its deepest and intensest forms it is one of the dearest bonds we know on earth. Grow on, dear friends, deeper and deeper into the joys of friendship and of love; make your homes more homelike; let society be worthy of the name; but still beware of the trail of the serpent. Under the guise of friendship and of love how many evil influences are at work, you all know too well. Too often the viper has fastened on the hand, and desolate homes and ruined lives and wasted love have been the last results.
4. The serpent has penetrated paradise, and all man’s life is henceforth lived in his presence. The Church is the paradise of God on earth; the nearest meeting place of man with God; the home of grace; the refuge of penitent sinners; the resting place of God’s revelation; the soul’s best and truest home. It is here that you can do the greatest works for God; that you can lead others to know the happiness which you have found. It is here that you may be “the light of the world,” and “the salt of the earth.” It is here that you may be God’s band of labourers, “fellow workers with God.” Yet here, too, beware the dart of the serpent. Here he fastens upon and wounds the hand. Here sometimes narrowness, and bitterness, and obstinacy, and self-will, and proud contemptuousness, and prejudice, and jealousy, and littleness of spirit may mar and spoil what God intended.
II. St. Paul shook off the venomous beast into the fire, and felt no harm, because he did it instinctively the moment the dart was made, and because he was God-protected by the last promise of our Lord to His disciples. It is only by the religion of Jesus Christ that we can cast off the serpent. It can only he through high communion with God and a constant sense of His loving presence that you and all can dwell safely and have the blessings of life. (J. Weston Townroe.)
Paul and the viper
Or the servant of God, the conqueror of serpents in the power of his Lord (Mark 16:18). He casts from him,
1. The venomous serpent of slander (verses 3, 4).
2. The shining adder of flattery (verse 6).
3. The dangerous reptile of worldly anxiety and cares (verses 8, 9).
4. The old serpent of sin (with application to verse 4, “a murderer”). (K. Gerok.)
Paul bitten by a viper, and uninjured
I. In what light it was viewed by the people present.
1. As a judgment for a heinous crime.
2. As an evidence that he was a god.
II. In what light it should be viewed. It was intended by God as--
1. A means to awaken their attention to the gospel.
2. A standing memorial of His care over His faithful servants.
Conclusion: Learn from hence--
1. Justice to man.
2. Confidence in God. (C. Simeon.)
They said … no doubt this man is a murderer whom … vengeance suffereth not to live.--
How easy it is to be sure that other people deserve punishment, and are getting it. If we are in trouble, we wonder why God afflicts us. At all events, we are not to blame for our misfortunes. If the trouble is at our next-door neighbour’s, it is plain enough where the fault lies. If their house is robbed, there is “no doubt” that they were very careless in leaving their doors and windows unfastened. If their children are disobedient or graceless, there is “no doubt” that the parents sadly neglected them. If those neighbours lose their property, there is “no doubt” that they are always extravagant or shiftless. With what guileless simplicity the disciples came to Jesus, asking about the blind man, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” After all, those Maltese barbarians were not so different from the rest of us. “It is good enough for him,” or, “It is what we might have expected,” is the judgment we too often pass upon one whom, without good reason, we esteem “smitten of God, and afflicted.” “Who art thou that judgest another?” (H. Trumbull, D.)
The general belief in justice and retribution
I. There is a general sense of divine justice among men.
1. This conviction exists, often imperfect and perverted, but still so manifesting itself, as it did on this occasion, as to show that it lies deep in the human mind. There are things remaining in fallen man--perceptions of what is right, and promptings to what is right, which show what he originally was, and which show also the character of the government under which he is placed. These things resemble the half-effaced inscriptions found on ancient tombs and monuments. The letters and dates are half-obliterated; but skill may enable us to fill up the inscription; to put in a letter here, and a figure there, so as to leave no doubt that the true words are restored. In like manner, there are in the soul, half-effaced records of man’s original nature and dignity. From them alone we never could know entirely what man originally was. Yet when they are filled up with the knowledge imparted by revelation, the record becomes complete. Among these traces left upon the hearts of men, are--
(1) The belief in some form of a Divinity, or Divine government, as was indicated in the case of these islanders.
(2) A sense of justice, and a feeling that the guilty deserve to be punished.
2. Whenever men have embodied their sentiments in codes of morals, it has been done in accordance with this view. There are no books on morals, in any language, or age, which do not make a distinction between right and wrong; and for the most part, in regard to the same actions.
3. The same views are found in a community before there are regular laws in regard to the administration of justice. There never has been a nation or tribe which had not some notions that the guilty should be punished, and especially that a murderer ought not to escape. In the earliest ages it was a universal conviction that the duty of avenging the blood of the slain devolved on the “nearest of kin” (Numbers 35:19, seq.; Deuteronomy 19:6; Deuteronomy 19:12; Joshua 20:3; 2 Samuel 14:11). Such a person was recognised in all Oriental nations, and among American savages. The “avenger of blood” was the minister of justice--one who represented that every man felt to be a carrying out of the Divine purpose in the infliction of vengeance.
4. The same thing is true in regard to the laws of men. As the world advances in civilisation, arrangements for the punishment of crime enter into all laws.
II. There is an arrangement under the divine government by which crime will be detected and punished. This was evidently the belief of these islanders; and it was founded on a state of things which was then open to observation, and which exists everywhere. This might be proved in reference to all forms of guilt. The boy at school who does a wrong on the supposition that it will be undiscovered, or the boy who robs an orchard at night, is often surprised to find that there was some observer, or that some circumstance of which he was not aware has brought his deed to light. But it will be more appropriate to illustrate this in reference to murder. These islanders believed that the “goddess of vengeance” would not suffer the murderer to go unpunished, although he had survived one peril. They were in error in supposing that this particular thing was proof; but they were in the right in believing that there is an arrangement designed to find out the murderer. “Murder will out.” There is--
1. The awakened vigilance in every community, making every man feel that he has a personal responsibility in securing, it he can, the punishment of the murderer.
2. The difficulty of concealing the crime. In itself considered, it would not seem to be difficult to obliterate all traces of a murder; to place the knife where it could not be found; to burn a garment so that it should not reveal the stain; or to dispose of the body so that no traces of it could be found. Yet nothing is more difficult.
3. The slight circumstances through which detection occurs--a lock of hair, a footprint, an unguarded remark, the possession of some article of little value, etc.
4. The madness of him who has committed the crime. Remorse, compelling him to confess; troubled dreams; the fear of every man.
III. There is a general conviction that it is proper and right that this should be so. These islanders acquiesced in the arrangement, and saw in the fastening of the viper on Paul’s hand that which was right in the case. On no subject have the sentiments of men been more decided and unanimous than on this. We may observe here that punishment is not primarily for the reformation of the guilty, nor for the mere security of a community against the commission of crime. There is a higher idea, which is founded on the fact that justice demands it; and when punishment is inflicted--when the murderer dies, the world at large acquiesces in it as right. Conclusion:
1. These things have been written in the human heart by the hand of God Himself.
2. The sinner lives in a world over which a just Being presides, and where justice demands punishment.
3. Wherever the sinner goes, this demand will follow him.
4. The universe will assent to the final punishment of the sinner.
5. There is a way in which the guilty may escape from impending judgment (Isaiah 53:4-6). In Christ the guilty may find pardon; through Him the pardoned sinner will be safe on sea or land; whoso believeth on Him will be no more exposed to wrath in this world or in the world to come. (A. Barnes, D.)
Why we suffer
I. For sin.
1. This exclamation would not have been less impressive or natural had these Maltese been “barbarians” in our sense of the word. But they were barbarians only in the sense in which we should be barbarians in France or Germany if we did not understand the language. The conviction they expressed was universal. Neither barbarism nor civilisation had anything to do with it. A Jew, no less than a pagan, a Roman, or a Greek, would have jumped to the same conclusion. The very apostles themselves, over a much less striking and dramatic instance, asked: “Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” And no modern advance of thought has eradicated, or will eradicate, the stubborn instinct which teaches men to connect suffering with guilt. Even the most advanced thinkers admit, not only that there is some connection between sin and suffering, but also that the connection is one of cause and effect. It is a natural and primitive instinct, and it is only by a resolute use of our reasoning faculty that we have been able to control it.
2. Admitting the instinct, we ought also to admit its testimony. We are so made and bred that we cannot, without a supreme effort, attribute the ordering of events to chance or accident. We feel instinctively that a Divine Nemesis manifests itself both in the order of the world at large and in the lot of individual men. Before a man can get rid of this wholesome religious conviction he must both unmake and remake himself: and then he will be very apt, despite the prevalent petticoat positivism, to revert to his original type.
3. For the conviction is a true one, though it often assumes questionable forms. It is true that all suffering springs from sin and bears witness against it, though it is not true either that we can always trace the suffering to its cause, or that the effects of a sin are always confined to the person who commits it. St. Paul traces death, e.g., to sin; yet not every man’s death to every man’s sin. On the contrary he argues--one sinned, all died. And it is at this point that men have always been apt to go wrong. The broad fact is true, but men have commonly misinterpreted it. They have assumed that they can invariably trace the physical effect to its immediate ethical cause, and that the cause is invariably to be found in the conduct of those who suffer the effect. You know how impossible it proved for our Lord Himself to dislodge these assumptions from the minds of the men of His own day. “Suppose ye,” He said, “that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans,” etc. An hour before the tower of Siloam fell, many of them, I dare say, would have shrunk from placing themselves high above those on whom it crashed down. But the moment the tower fell, that question was settled for them by God Himself, and their escape was a most gratifying proof of their moral superiority, though of course they were very sorry for the poor people who had been killed. Let us learn, then, that suffering, either personal, domestic, or national, is not always the result of sin; Job suffered many calamities; yet Job was a perfect man and an upright. If men always suffered for or in proportion to their sins we should be driven to the intolerable conclusion that the Greatest Sufferer was also the Greatest Sinner; that He who knew no sin was the very Chief of Sinners!
II. For our good. We are “purged,” not because we do not bring forth fruit unto holiness, but that we may bring forth more fruit. The greater welfare of Job, e.g., was both an intention, and an effect, of the sufferings inflicted on him. In like manner St. Paul long writhed on “the stake in his flesh,” in order that the unsuspected resources both of his own nature and of the grace of God might be developed in and upon him. And, still in the like manner, we are taught that the Man Christ Jesus “learned by the things which He suffered”; and that He was the more highly exalted because He humbled Himself to pain, and grief, and death.
III. For the good of others.
1. If Christ suffered more than other men, it was that He might become the Saviour of all men. If St. Paul long writhed in agony, it was that the power and grace of God might shine the more conspicuously through him on the world around. The affliction of Job was designed for the teaching of his friends and neighbours, and for ours. The blind man about whose sin the disciples were perplexed suffered that the works of God should be made manifest in him--not because he was a sinner, but that he might first open his eyes on the Friend and Saviour of sinners, and get sight for his spirit as well as for his body. And through this man the enlightening and redeeming power of Christ has been set forth, in an impressive figure, to all the world.
2. By calling our attention to him, Christ has taught us to look, in all our own sufferings, for some similar Divine intention and work. They may, or may not, be the consequences of, or the correction for, our sins. But they are always designed for the manifestation of some work of God Which will promote our welfare and that of those around us.
3. Now we all see, I think, that if, when we suffer, we were to fling away, as St. Paul flung off the venomous beast, all that is evil in suffering, all in it that tempts us to distrust or complaint, and to recognise the loving work and intention of God in it, we should be the gainers by it. And we can also see that, were we to take our suffering patiently, bravely, cheerfully, we should be teaching a valuable lesson and giving valuable help to others; that even those who once thought we were sinners above other men because we suffered such things would come to think we were braver and better because we suffered them so patiently, and be led to ask whence we got our patience and our courage.
4. This suffering for the good of others is, indeed, demanded of all who follow Christ. For if any man will follow Him, he must take up his cross, etc. Now the very commonest form of affliction is the pain we feel at the loss of those whom we love. Is it love, is it not rather self-love, which makes us so bitterly regret our loss that we refuse to be comforted? If, for them, to die is gain, shall we grudge them the gain because it involves loss for us, and yet call ourselves the servants and friends of Christ, who loved not Himself, but lived in and for others? If we had more of the spirit of Christ, love would teach us a joy in our friend’s gain which would more than counterbalance our grief for their own loss. And common as this kind of affliction is, it affords us a rare opportunity of bearing witness to the power and grace of God. (S. Cox, D.)
Howbeit … after they … saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said he was a God.--
Heathen conclusions from portents
This was quite in accordance with heathen modes of thought. The whole story of the wanderings of the wine god, Dionysus, is little more than a record of how the god came to this or that place and was received as a man, till, astounded by some portent, the people “changed their minds, and said that he was a god.” Thus, when he came to Argos, the people would not acknowledge him; but, after he displayed his divine powers in the punishment of certain offenders, they hailed him as a god, and erected temples in his honour. How large a place was occupied in heathen thought by portents is shown in the list given for Dionysus’s voyage from Icaria to Naxos. The sailors decided to sell him as a slave, and so abandoned the proper route. Thereupon the masts and oars became serpents, ivy grew up around the vessel, the sound of invisible flutes was heard, Dionysus transformed himself into a lion, and the sailors, struck with madness, flung themselves into the sea. The people would also have a certain selfish element in their recognition of Paul as a god. Doubtless many of them remembered how Jupiter and Mercury came down to earth as men, and how those who refused to receive them were destroyed by an inundation, while only Philemon and Baucis, their kindly host and hostess, were saved. (S. Times.)
The fickleness of popular opinion
When a good man is roundly abused by the public, he may find comfort, if he needs it, in the conviction that the pendulum of popular opinion will doubtless soon swing as far toward the other extremity of its are as it now swings toward this. Illustrations of this truth are innumerable. If the ten Americans of our first century, who in their day had most of denunciation from press and platform, were now to be designated, it would perhaps be found that bronze statues of no less than six of them are already in our public parks, and that the names of at least as many are popularly counted synonyms of political pretty or of personal integrity. But, after all, popular opinion is as likely to be extreme and unfair in one direction as in another. We may well hesitate to believe that a political candidate, a representative official, or a religious teacher, is either a murderer or a god--merely because editors or other people say so. (H. Trumbull, D.)
In the same quarters were possessions of the chief man of the island, whose name was Publius.
I. An obscure man made famous. History says nothing about Publius. As far as the Roman annalists are concerned, such a man might not have lived. They were busy with the Neros, Felixes, Agrippas--names whom the world would willingly let die. Yet the obscure governor of Melita is a personage known and reverenced in thousands of households. Why? Because he was brought into contact with that sect which was then “everywhere spoken against,” and secured a record in its sacred book. What he did would have been utterly beneath the notice of writers whose office it was to record the scandals of courts or the horrors of war. He only lodged a few poor Christians for three days and courteously. What he received as recompense was what no existing medical journal thought fit to record--the cure of his father’s fever. But He whose ways are higher than our ways, and who said that a cup of cold water given to a needy disciple should in no wise lose its reward, has ordained that this man should have a memorial when most of his illustrious contemporaries should have sunk in oblivion. Learn that true immortality is only to be obtained by connection with or service to the Christian cause. Better to receive by and by the “Well done,” than now to wear the most glittering coronet.
II. A chief man condescending. Monarchs, governors, statesmen, are usually concerned only or chiefly with their dignity. How difficult it is to secure even a momentary interview from the chief man of a given place. Or if they do stoop, as candidates for parliamentary honours, it is only for their own purposes. These achieved, the distance between them and the vulgar herd is as wide as ever. Here, however, we have the governor of Melita, with no ulterior purposes, and from motives of pure humanity, receiving shipwrecked prisoners, and receiving them courteously. Noblesse oblige. Whatever the opinions and practices of the world, the truest nobility is to use power and station for the purpose of doing good. Thank God, we have had, and have, many modern Publiuses--e.g., the Earl of Shaftesbury. If we had more of them, the aristocracy would have little to fear from the democracy.
III. A potentate impotent. Publius had authority to secure and money to buy what can be bought and secured in the way of human happiness. He had command of the island, with all its resources, and the state was not niggardly in the remuneration of its officers. But a trouble entered the precincts of the governor’s palace, that neither power nor wealth could grapple with. His father was ill, and Publius was as impotent as the poorest and the weakest in the island to make him well. The limitations which condition the greatest should make them humble. All alike are powerless in the presence of disease and death.
IV. A Roman indebted to a Christian. There was one man on the island who could help this helpless potentate, and that was the shipwrecked prisoner Paul. And Paul was not slow to render the help required. Fair type of the services Christianity renders to the world. Even in a secular sense, in matters relating to the accumulation of wealth, the cure of bodily disease, the management of public affairs, Christians are the salt of the earth. Learn--
1. The emptiness of mere earthly dignities. “‘Tis only noble to be good.” This ensures immortality.
2. The reward of hospitality. Like “mercy,” and the other virtues to which it is allied, it is twice blessed. Many, as here, have entertained angels unawares.
3. The value of the meanest ministries. The advice of a prisoner rejected led to shipwreck; this taken, it led to the saving of a life.
4. The supremacy of Christianity in times of trouble. Paul was the last man whom Publius would have consulted under ordinary circumstances; but he was glad of him now. Christianity may be despised in times of prosperity; but it can afford to wait. Its time will assuredly come. (J. Burn.)
Five remarkable things
I. That Paul should have healed and not Luke. Luke was a physician; Paul was a tent maker and preacher. Yet Luke healed none; he kept the diary, and said nothing about his own professional talent. This is exactly what is taking place today. It is religion that heals; the medicines are grown in God’s garden. The physician has to go out of himself for his remedy, and he does you good in proportion as he leads you out of yourself. We are healed by God. Christianity so nourishes the fountain of life, and renews the springs of energy, as to touch the particular through the general. If we were hidden in God, we should have no disease in the sense of burden and trouble. The black visitant would still darken our dwelling; but we should have joy in tribulation, and know that death was abolished. When you take Christianity out of your civilisation, you do not know what a vacancy you leave behind.
II. That the poorest should have rendered help to the richest. Publius was the first man in the island, and Paul the poorest; yet he, the penniless apostle, healed the father of the first man. That is what sanctified poverty is always doing. Do not pity the poor: pity the rich. What folly is spoken about the poor!--God’s chosen ones, the very elect of His household, the crowned ones in His kingdom. Remember, I speak about disciplinary poverty! not thriftless want. The world would not be worth living in but for its poor people. “The Son of Man had not where to lay His head.” What, then, did He give? Himself! We have not begun to give. He gives who gives life. That is what Paul did here: he gave life; virtue went out of him. What healing influence the poorest are continually exercising! The poor mother has done more for the world than her rich son can ever do. The poor people are keeping the world sweet and wholesome.
III. That the ministry upon the island was all healing and no preaching (verse 9). That is the glory of the Christian ministry--it can begin anywhere, at any time, and with any man. Christianity has no dignities to put on, no ceremonies or processes of etiquette through which to pass. It meets men everywhere and says, “All hail! What is your burden, your sorrow, your most urgent need?” It will be a long time before people can have the prejudice cleansed out of them that the church building is only for distinctively doctrinal and spiritual purposes. The Father’s house is for everything good. There is no reason why this church should not be a hospital, a school house, a reading room, a place for music and conversation, and instruction in all high and useful knowledge. The Church sends men to school to become preachers; I would have the Church send men to hospitals to become doctors, to academies to become musicians, to trades to become honest tradesmen. We are too narrow. Find a man in need anywhere and say, “All hail! we want you”; and I am doing God’s will as truly in sending an honest-hearted boy to learn a trade, by which he can do good work, as in sending him to be a missionary. One day with Paul would do much towards rearranging and enlarging Christian influence. Did Paul not preach, then, when he healed? Every healing is a sermon; every visit to the poor, paid in the right spirit, is a prayer. Whatever good you do in the name and for the sake of Christ, is a proclamation of Christ.
IV. The grateful response which was made by the islanders (verse 10). How musically the verse reads! Mark the redundance of the thankfulness! It was not a fee that was claimed; it was a benefaction that was conferred under the inspiration of gratitude; and that spirit continues unto this day. There will always be some ungrateful people; but we must not speak of the exceptions. The great human heart is, after all, a grateful heart, and it will honour those that try to the best of their ability to do good.
V. The inspiring influence of friendship (verse 15). Reading between the lines, we wonder if Paul’s courage had given way for one little moment. It would seem as if the lion himself might have been affected with momentary depression. We might never have heard of it but for the returning courage. Some men never tell us they have been ill until they tell us that they are quite well again. We get nearer to Paul when we feel that he has been in the valley. It was the habit of the ancients to go out to meet princes, and to stand on the road to wait for the great one, and to accompany him. The brethren went to where the road forked. They would have gone farther, but not knowing whether they might come by the right road or by the left, they stood at the point and waited for their prince. When Paul saw them he knew them. How is it that we know some men at once, and fall almost instantly into common masonry? When Paul saw the Christians up went his hands in thanksgiving; and having thanked God, he became a great lion again, full of courage. “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” We need human associations and cheering. The day is very short; let us do no unkindness in it, but make it glow with deeds of noble friendship and make it sing with the music of truest Christian love! (J. Parker, D.)
Good in Christianity
The conduct of the Maltese towards Paul manifested the good in heathenism, and now the conduct of Paul gives an insight into the good in Christianity. Here is--
I. The supernatural. Paul cured Publius’s father; but he only did that which was part of his apostolic mission. “They shall take up serpents … they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” The supernaturalness of Christianity may be argued--
1. From the history of Christ and His apostles.
2. From the manifest incapacity of human nature to evolve such a system.
3. From the utter insufficiency of good in any natural form to produce the results which Christianity has achieved.
II. The restorative. “Paul entered in and prayed,” etc. The supernatural power with which Paul was endowed was not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. In all the miracles of Christ, there is only one of destruction. Christianity--
1. Redeems men from moral diseases -- error, carnality, selfishness, impiety.
2. By redeeming men from moral diseases, it redeems them from all others, bodily, social, political. Its grand consummation will be the redemption of the entire man, body and soul, from all evil.
III. The impartial and universal (verse 9). The healing of Publius’s father was only the beginning. Paul treated all alike, and knew of no distinction of birth, influence, or position. Christianity is no respecter of persons, but offers salvation to all--barbarian, Scythian, bond, and free. (D. Thomas, D.)
Prayer with the sick
Prayer with and for the sick is always in place. Sometimes the sick one may be unconscious to all around, and it may be thought prayer would not be beneficial; but who can tell? At any rate, God hears. A minister on one occasion had visited a man upon his death bed who was delirious, and, returning home, met the great Dr. Thomas Chalmers. “Well,” said Dr. Chalmers, “did you pray with him?” “No, he was delirious; but I prayed with the family.” “Ah! you did wrong, sir! Who knows but that some old strain of thought might have been stirred up by the tones of a familiar voice? You did very wrong, sir!” There is instruction in that.
And after three months we departed in a ship of Alexandria.
The journey to Rome
1. After a delay of three months--i.e., when winter was past and spring approaching--the party put to sea again. Castor and Pollux, the tutelary deities of seafaring men, constituted the figurehead of the ship in which they sailed, and gave it its name. The fact that this vessel, trading between Alexandria and Puteoli, passed the winter in Melita is clear proof that it was not Meleda, in the Gulf of Venice, where Paul was shipwrecked. Then, again, she called at Syracuse on the way, which lay in the course from Malta, but not from Meleda.
2. Syracuse was the great seaport of Sicily, and by far the most renowned of the cities founded by Greek emigrants on the western coasts of Europe. It occupied an important position in the struggles between the Greek republics, and also in the quarrel between Rome and Carthage. Perhaps no ancient city was so often besieged. There is a tradition that its Church was founded by Paul, and it is possible that Julius permitted him to go ashore and preach.
3. From Syracuse the Castor and Pollux fetched a compass and came to Rhegium, on the Italian shore, in the Sicilian straits--the place where Garibaldi landed after he had subjugated Sicily, and proceeded with a handful of men to deliver a fair country from the double tyranny of priest and king, and to introduce Italy into the community of nations.
4. After a halt here of a single day, the wind became fair, and they reached Puteoli, the great mercantile seaport of Rome. Here Paul found “brothers.” The family is multiplying and spreading. The fire of Christian life is going, like the lightning, against the wind; the sect is everywhere spoken against, yet it is increasing like the breaking forth of waters. The seven days’ stay is a Christian, not a Roman, measurement, and points, on the one hand, to the weekly Sabbath, and on the other to the confirmed ascendency of Paul. Julius seems by this time to have fallen into the habit of shaping his course by the advice of his prisoner.
5. “So we went to Rome,” along the much celebrated and frequented Appian Way. The brothers at Puteoli must have sent express to Rome to advise their fellow disciples of Paul’s arrival, and a deputation started to meet him. The arrival of Paul was a great event. The Roman Christians had been longing for him, and he for them. Messages went round convening a meeting--at the house of Aquila probably--at which those who had never seen the great missionary would demand of those who had what his appearance was and wherein his power seemed to lie.
6. A large deputation was resolved upon, for he should have a royal welcome. Some started who seem to have been hardly fit for the journey, for they halted at “Three Taverns,” only seventeen miles away, while the rest went on to “Appii Forum,” ten more. The apostle and his company meanwhile pushed northward. For the last nineteen miles a canal ran alongside the highway, partly for the drainage of the marshes, partly for navigation. Appii Forum was the terminus of the canal, a rough spot, swarming with low tavern keepers and bargemen. At that disreputable place the front rank of the deputation met Paul, and the two ends of the coil were joined, and Jerusalem brought into contact with Rome. There the spirit of the kingdom passed out of the one into the other. Christ has come to the world’s great head, and Paul is the chosen vessel used to bear Him thither. (W. Arnot, D.)
The journey to Rome
1. In a heathen ship, with a pagan name, the gospel was borne to Rome. God frequently employs earthly forces to work out heavenly results.
2. In God’s way, Paul was brought to Rome, according to the promise. In God’s way, if we are faithful, we shall be brought to heaven at last. Paul passed through storms and dangers on the way; so must we.
3. In God’s care, Paul was perfectly protected against all perils by sea or by land. In that same care we are safe.
4. In Rome Paul received a joyful welcome from those who had waited long for his coming; in heaven we shall be joyfully greeted by the loved ones there.
5. In the hour of his deliverance, in the moment of his assured arrival, in the joy of safety, Paul remembered to thank God for it all. Let us remember to do likewise, for God as surely leads us as he led Paul, and we are as dependent on God as Paul was. (S. Times.)
The journey to Rome
I. The finding of good men where least expected. Little did the apostle expect to find Christians at Puteoli, or hastening to meet him from Rome. There is more goodness in the world than even charity will venture to believe. Elijah once thought he was alone, but God showed him there were seven thousand more.
II. The power of the gospel to fraternalise men. Though Paul had never seen these men before, and belonged to a different class, Christianity made the strangers brothers. Sin has broken the brotherhood of humanity; Christianity restores it. It binds the diverse races into oneness by--
1. Centring affection in a common Father.
2. Exhibiting energies in a common cause.
III. The Divine purposes realised under immense improbabilities. God had long ago revealed His purpose that Paul should visit Rome (chap. 23:11), but how many circumstances intervened to suggest the improbability of Paul ever seeing the imperial city. Trust God. His Word must come to pass. Apply this to--
1. The universal triumphs of the gospel. How unlikely, at present, does the universal reign of truth appear; yet it will come.
2. The universal resurrection of the dead. How unlikely that the buried myriads of the race shall arise; yet it will be.
IV. The spirit of the godly in relation to their history.
1. Gratitude for the past. What a past was his!
2. Courage for the future. What a future was now before him through his ministry at Rome. (D. Thomas, D.)
…The brethren … came to meet us as far as Appii Forum, and The three taverns: whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage.
The meeting at Appii Forum and The Three Taverns
The effect of this meeting on Paul requires explanation. He found brethren at Puteoli, but no such feelings were aroused there. What was there then in this incident to so powerfully and beneficially affect the apostle’s mind? He regarded it--
I. As expressive of the sympathy of the Christian Church in Rome. Sympathy is solace and help. Like the oil and wine of the good Samaritan--it heals and strengthens. It would be thoroughly appreciated by Paul, who told the Romans to “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” This sympathy was--
1. Timely. Think of Paul’s circumstances.
2. Practical. It travelled further than mere sentiment and words--even thirty-three and fifty miles of hard road.
3. Noble. Paul was a prisoner, but they did not despise his chain; he was a Christian about to answer for his life, yet they dared to identify themselves with him.
II. As a token of God’s providential care. His elation on these occasions implies a previous corresponding depression. As the angel who stood by him in the night season made him of good cheer, so these brethren constrained him “to thank God and take courage.” But how trivial is the event mentioned! Not in the estimation of faith. It indicated the hand of God. The cloud seen by the servant on Carmel was in itself a little thing, but it was of great moment to Elijah. By no means could Paul be more effectually cheered than by a vivid realisation of God’s care for him. “If God be for us, who can be against us?”
III. As prophetic of the universal triumph of Christianity. Doubtless the chief cause of depression was apprehension in reference to the gospel. He was deprived of his liberty; his life was in jeopardy. Alas! for the Churches he had planted; alas! for the progress of the Word of life. But, lo! brethren arrive from Rome. The gospel has taken firm hold on Rome, and from thence it shall diffuse itself to the ends of the earth! He could not serve the gospel better than he did during those “two whole years” which he spent here. Conclusion: The subject teaches us further--
1. That the most eminent of God’s servants may be discouraged.
2. That God will opportunely interfere in their behalf.
3. That such interpositions should work in them gratitude and confidence. (Homilist.)
Thankfulness and courage
I. Thankfulness for the past. The Bible is full of exhortations to thankfulness, which leads us to regard it--
1. As a duty--
(1) To ourselves. Gloom and despondency are injurious, while a merry heart doeth good like medicine. Sunshine is good for health as medical men know, for they are careful to put all the patients they can in the sunny rooms of hospitals. Why, then, put children in a shady back room, when the best room is in the front, with the blinds down for fear of spoiling the carpet. Better pay for a new carpet than pay for doctors’ bills. Value the sunshine, for no one grows strong in Doubting Castle. It is in Beulah, where the sun always shines, that men grow strong; and the more sunshine the better, for sunshine here prepares us for God’s sunshine hereafter.
(2) To others. No man liveth to himself. Every one must cheer or depress, help or hinder those around him.
(3) To the Church. It is a blunder that the good God has given as a religion of gloom. Let the services of the Church be cheerful. Take your doubts and fears to the Mercy Seat in private, and don’t air them at fellowship meetings.
(4) To the world. Religion was created to make the world happy. To be gloomy is to say that religion is a failure.
(5) To God. Thankfulness glorifies Him, and that is the great business of life.
2. As a reasonable service. Reasons for thankfulness abound on every side.
(1) Look at the evils escaped. There is a tendency to look at those who have more than ourselves; the bright thing is to look at those who have less. It is common to look at a splendid equipage and envy the possessor; why not look instead at the poor invalid?
(2) Look at the blessings received.
(a) Temporal--life, health, home, etc.
(b) Spiritual--sonship with God, hope of heaven, etc.
II. Courage for the future. When Paul thanked God and took courage, imprisonment awaited him. Every one will have trouble, but--
1. We should be on our guard not to make troubles. Trouble making is the oldest manufacture in the world, and the largest trade going. The Jews had home-made sorrow after sorrow. Obadiah made a trouble when Elijah sent him to Ahab. Some people carry on a wholesale business, making troubles for others as well as for themselves. There are the newspapers which draw pictures of invasion and what-not which fills people with misery. There are people whose children cannot be a few minutes late from school but they imagine they are run over; whose husbands cannot be detained by business but they think of railway accidents.
2. Then there are some who go to meet troubles. They can never enjoy the present for fear of the future. They cannot go for a holiday in the sunshine without remembering that the Americans had telegraphed a storm, and so they darken the sky with troubles before they come. The storm might never come at all. Men commit suicide or die of broken hearts in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred because they bring sorrow out of the future into the present. Sufficient for the day is the strength. The builder of a railway truck marks it to carry seven tons. He knows what it can bear, and God knows what we can bear. If we bring tomorrow’s trouble into today we shall have too heavy a load to carry.
3. Real trials will come, and it is well to look at the encouragements.
(1) Nothing can happen without the permission of Him who loves us best.
(2) All things will work together for our good. There will be no grumbling at the last day when we shall see the end from the beginning, and sing, “My Jesus has done all things well.”
(3) Recall the enterprise of those before us, a cloud of witnesses.
(4) Remember the promises. When the sun goes down, the stars come out. The stars are never visible till the sun has gone down. Out of the night of sorrow the promises shine.
(5) Our best Friend will never leave us. (Charles Garrett.)
Gratitude and encouragement
He who visits Rome, and drives along the Appian way between the ruined tombs and towards the Alban hills, cannot but recall this memorable scene. For, though emperors, commanders, statesmen, and scholars have passed by this road into the seven-hilled city, never did there enter by this famous approach a Roman citizen so great as the apostle Paul.
I. The occasion of these emotions.
1. So far as Paul’s position was concerned, there seemed to be little human ground for gratitude. He was a prisoner who was accompanied to the imperial tribunal by the hatred of his countrymen; and his future appeared dark and threatening. He knew that he might have come to die.
2. But at this conjuncture he was cheered by “the brethren” of Rome, who, hearing of the apostle’s approach, came thus far on the road to greet him. This was acting like brethren; it was a practical exhibition of Christian sympathy and love.
II. The emotion awakened by the retrospect of the past and the experience of the present. Paul thanked God for His past faithfulness, for the honour put upon him, in that he had been suffered to labour and to endure hardship and persecution for Christ’s sake; and especially because God had put it in the hearts of His people to show the kindness to His servant.
III. The emotion aroused by the prospect in the future. Paul took courage. Why? Because his friends were by his side; and better still, the Lord Himself was with him. In entering the metropolis of the world as a prisoner, Paul had need of some encouragement, lest his brave heart should shrink within him. And here we see that Divine grace was sufficient for him. (Family Churchman.)
The old and the new year
I. The devout spirit in which the past should be reviewed. “He thanked God.” As we review the year which has just closed, we are reminded of--
1. Temporal mercies.
2. Spiritual supplies.
3. Victories achieved.
4. Work accomplished.
5. Sins forgiven. The text also indicates--
II. The heroic spirit in which the future may be anticipated. “And took courage.” There are many things calculated to discourage us as we endeavour to prosecute the work of the Lord--such as our consciousness of the feebleness of our powers; the magnitude, importance, and solemnity of our work; the malignity and multitude of our foes; the inveterateness of evil; the seeming slowness of the progress of truth; the brief and fleeting character of our lives, etc. But there is much to encourage. There are--
1. Inspiring memories.
2. Christian sympathy. But the most inspiring thought for the future is--
3. God is with us.
God’s purposes are on our side; His promises are on our side, no good thing will be withheld from us. God’s presence is with us, to cheer, defend, sustain, deliver. Courage gives strength, just as cowardice debilitates, and doubt paralyses. Courage gives gladness, it inspires hope, and anticipates, as well as helps to ensure victory. Courage is contagious; just as fear will strike panic into the breasts of others, so pluck will enkindle enthusiasm, and propagate ardour. (F. Brown.)
The thought which this story emphasises is the blessedness of Christian sympathy. It is illustrated under special circumstances, but it applies to all the experiences of our Christian life. Christians are marked out for this fellow feeling.
I. This Christian sympathy of which so much is said, what is it? Clearly it is something more than the compassion which a man of kindly heart, in the full consciousness of the blessings which Divine mercy has assured him, must feel for one who is buffeted by the sorrows and trials of life. It is more, too, than the pity with which we may look upon one who has been overcome by temptation. Nor is it even that tenderness of soul and readiness to extend a helping hand which are natural in all who have been brought into a loving communion with Christ in the presence of affliction and sorrow. Sympathy means very much more than this. It is a fellow feeling which makes the burdens of another our own, which shares his anxieties and cares, but shares also his successes and his joys. In its completeness it means the effacement of the ordinary self, for we cannot fully identify ourselves with others so long as we nurture some selfish passion in our own hearts.
II. We pass on to inquire how this sympathy is to be attained? In its perfection it will not be realised by us here. The ideal may float before our faith as an object of holy ambition; but it will remain an ideal in our present imperfect state. That is no reason why it should not be kept constantly before the heart to be desired, pursued, sought. Much has to be done in all of us before we are freed from the varied forms of selfishness. In some it is the hard self-complacency of the bigot; in others, the arrogance and isolation of the proud; in others, the self-indulgence and luxury of the idle; in others, the unsympathetic indifference of the self-absorbed; and, alas! in some the resentful passion which finds it impossible to forgive an injury, and forgets the solemn and terrible condemnation which the Lord Himself has pronounced on this unforgiving temper. It remains then only that we should be continually advancing. Yea! The heart grows rich by giving. Of it it is more true than of almost anything beside--there is that withholdeth more than is meet, and it tendeth only to poverty. It is said that a limb may lose some power it once possessed by disuse, and, indeed, we are familiar with the fact that exercise strengthens the muscles on which stress is laid, while a failure to employ them at all is followed by a steady degeneracy and loss of power. Give the heart free play for all its generous impulses, its lofty aims, its loving thoughts; let it be accustomed to thoughts of gentleness and deeds of self-sacrifice. The more it yields to the inspirations of faith and love the greater will become its capacities for trusting and loving. Then sympathy is a gift which none are too poor to bestow.
III. Is it then to be said that this is the Christlike spirit, and that to have the Christlike spirit is to be a Christian? Unquestionably. (J. Rogers, B.)
The sight of Christian friends enlivening
The narrative teaches us--
I. That characters the most distinguished in the church of God may sometimes need encouragement. What made the apostle now droop we cannot determine. Perhaps he had heard what a tiger Nero had lately become; or felt some melancholy thoughts as to the result of his trial. But whatever was the cause, it seems that even his courage failed, who, in writing to these Romans, could say, “if God be for us, who can be against us?” People often imagine that Scripture saints were a race entirely different from modern Christians. This is a mistake. Our case is not peculiar--we neither sigh nor tremble alone.
II. The benefit that is to be derived from intercourse with Christian friends. When Paul saw these brethren, he was inspired with new life. “Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart, so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel. Iron sharpeneth iron, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” In no condition is it “good for man to be alone.” Religion, instead of destroying the social principle, refines and strengthens it. Our Saviour promised that, “where two or three are gathered together in His name, He will be in the midst of them.” To cheer and animate each other, “He sent forth His disciples two and two.” “Two are better than one.” Have you ever been in distress? How soothing was the presence of a tender and a pious friend! Have you ever been in spiritual darkness and perplexity?--you sighed, “No one was ever like me!” But a Christian related his experience, and announced the same feelings, and you were set at liberty. Or have you, in a scorching day, been ready to perish for thirst? Like another angel, in the case of Hagar, “He opened your eyes and showed you a well”--and you “went on your way rejoicing.” How pleasing is it, when travelling to heaven, to overtake those who will be “our companions in tribulation.” What a glow of satisfaction does a man, called by Divine grace, diffuse in a Church when he enters to ask for communion and fellowship with them. “They that fear Thee will be glad when they see me, because I have hoped in Thy Word”! How desirable is the Lord’s day, and the Lord’s house, in which we see so many of our brethren! How charming will heaven be, where we shall see “a multitude which no man can number,” etc.!
III. That we may be edified by those who are below us in station and in talents and in grace. Thus these private Christians helped an inspired apostle. Apollos was an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures; but he was “taught the way of the Lord more perfectly,” by two of his hearers, Priscilla and Aquila. Naaman the Syrian was a mighty man; but he was indebted for his cure to a little maid. “The king is served by the labour of the field.” There is no such thing as independence--that there is a connection among men which embraces all ranks and degrees--and a dependence founded upon it; so that no being is above the want of assistance, and no being is useless or unimportant. It is in the world, and it is in the Church, as it is in the human frame. “The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee,” etc.
IV. All the comfort and advantage we derive from creatures should awaken gratitude to God. It is said, “he thanked God.” Doubtless the apostle was sensible of his obligations to these brethren, and thanked them. But says Paul, “Who made these Christian friends, and rendered them the means of restoring my soul?” God uses channels to convey blessings to us, but all our springs are in Him. (W. Jay.)
The force of Christian sympathy
We have here an illustrious example of--
I. Christian sympathy under trying circumstances. This sympathy was--
1. Practical. Some of the brethren had come thirty and some fifty miles.
2. Unselfish. Paul was a poor prisoner; he had nothing to give.
3. Reasonable. They had previously been benefited by Paul’s labours. It is our duty to sympathise with troubled Christian brethren, and it should be esteemed a privilege to render them assistance. Mutual help is a Divinely appointed necessity. Sympathy, like the sun, gladdens life and awakens force in the heart. Christ was the great Sympathiser.
II. Christian gratitude under trying circumstances. This is not a conqueror going to be crowned, but a prisoner going to confinement and perhaps death. A man has reason for joy in prosperity, but Paul is grateful in adversity and bonds. He thanked God, not man. Man’s life is in God’s hands. God is the disposer of all events. What reasons had the apostle for thanking God? He was grateful--
1. For the sympathy the gospel had excited.
2. For the zeal the gospel had awakened.
3. For the triumphs the gospel had gained.
4. For the consolation the gospel afforded.
No man’s condition is so dark and distressing as to exclude all cause for gratitude. We have homes, friends, health, life, the promise of heaven. A thankless man is the most contemptible thing in God’s universe.
III. Christian heroism under trying circumstances. Courage--
1. Is the impulse that enables us to endure suffering, and to accomplish arduous achievements.
2. Carries a man beyond the attainments of habit or selfish impulses.
3. Has opportunities for development in every sphere in life.
4. Never seeks to report itself. We may be called upon to evince our heroism,
(1) An easy but dishonourable path may be opened.
(2) Persecution for religion may be accompanied by loss.
(3) Temptation, poverty, and bereavement may enter our homes.
Let us be courageous. One Being can sustain--God. One hope can cheer us--heaven. We each need courage, counsel, and help. What the Three Taverns were to the apostle, the Sabbath, the sanctuary, the Scriptures, the Church, may be to us. (J. Woodhouse.)
A new year’s sermon
I. Let us thank God for the old year.
1. For lives preserved. During the year tens of thousands have fought the last battle and been laid in the dust who entered upon it with as little expectation of it being their dying year as we did. We are spared. Throughout another year the pendulum of life has given its noiseless beats, the pulse has throbbed without a pause, the silver cord has borne the strain.
2. For health enjoyed. To multitudes this year has been a living death; yea, death itself has often been desired as a friend. Not so has it been with us. Passing pains and transient sickness may have fallen to our share, but most of them are now forgotten. They were but noticed through their contrast with our general days. How few Sabbaths have many of us lost through sickness: not half so many as we have by our soul’s worldliness. Thank God, then, that not only has the life current flowed, but that it has flowed strongly.
3. For prosperity granted. Not only has there been the strength to work, but there has been the work to employ the strength. Perhaps the year was entered with many a dark foreboding thought. Difficulties seemed closing around you, and you prophesied that this year the storm must burst. Well, how is it now? God has been to you a Jehovah Jireh. Though far from wealthy, you find you can spare something for the poorer brethren, and give your little to the work of God.
4. For home mercies. Among all the gifts of heaven there is none more beautiful or worthy of praise than a home where kindness, love, and cheerfulness abide. To Adam, Paradise was home, and to the holy among his descendants home is Paradise. And how has it been in the home during the year? “Thank God,” many of you can reply, “it has been well.” The same faces that smiled upon you on last new year’s day smiled upon you with as fresh a smile this morning. If it be so, I charge you “thank God.” There are this morning homes yet wrapt in gloom, and a gloom that is deepened by the very season of the year. In other homes, a deeper shade than ever bereavement casts, hangs heavily; for if home be not the source of purest joys, it is of deepest misery. Think of home with all its mercies, and “thank God” again and again.
5. For national blessings. There is enough in the providential dealings of our God with all to give a thankful heart. True, we have all had our sorrows and our disappointments. But what have been the number of our trials compared with the multitude of our mercies? And contrasted with our deserts, how light will the heaviest become!
6. For God’s mercies to the soul.
(1) We have been kept from falling. With no feeling of pride, but only grateful love, you may exclaim, “Having obtained help of God, I continue unto this day.” Our thankfulness may well be intensified by the sad remembrance that some have fallen during the year, and lost their power for testimony. With a nature like ours so dangerously quick to sin, and living, amid a very shower of fiery temptations, how great the grace that has preserved us thus far. “Thank God.”
(2) Our spiritual life has been maintained and increased. The two things do not always go together. It is possible to be free from any great and open fall, and yet have the painful consciousness that inwardly there has been a declusion. Great then is the cause for thankfulness if we can express the hope that the inward experience has corresponded with the outward appearance.
(3) What times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord have we often had?
(4) Some of you have been converted during the year. What a transformation scene has taken place in you since last New Year’s Day. The stones of this building might well cry out in judgment, if above all other voices yours is not heard, crowning the year with, “Thank God, thank God.”
7. We have Church mercies to thank God for.
(1) The spirit of hearing is still maintained.
(2) The work of conversion has been carried on.
II. Look forward with courage to the new. We now turn our eyes to the time to come. How different the view! A thick veil shrouds all in impenetrable gloom. In vain we strain our eyes to pierce the curtain dark. We enter on the year by faith and not by sight. The hand of mercy only clears the darkness as step by step we enter in it. The new year is yet a land uninhabited and unknown. With what feelings shall we enter it? Let our text give the answer. Having thanked God for the past, let us now “take courage” for the future. “Because Thou hast been our help, therefore under the shadow of Thy wing will we trust.” Doubtless, there are some looking forward with dread. Although ignorant of the particular forms their troubles may assume, they reckon rightly that troubles of some sort they are sure to meet, and the very indefiniteness of them serves to magnify their greatness. Possible loss, disappointment, and grief cast their shadow on the spirit. They did on Paul. Yet he took courage. I will therefore mention a few thoughts calculated to inspire courage.
1. We shall have the same God with us. The change of year brings no change in Him who is our Rock and our Defence. “Our God, our help in ages past,” may well be “our hope for years to come.”
2. The same promises will be your support. Round about you, like the mountains round Jerusalem, or the chariots of fire round the prophet, are the same “precious promises” that have glittered like stars in your darkest night. “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” “My grace is sufficient for thee.”
3. The same hope which has cheered the old year accompanies you into the new. The hope of either your going to Jesus, or Jesus coming to you. (A. Brown.)
The welcome at Appii Forum
Here was an unexpected joy. St. Paul no longer felt friendless and alone! He was cheered up, and the path seemed brightened. He realised that though dark shadows of affliction and persecution were round the path, yet God was comforting His servant by giving him the sympathy and friendship of his fellow Christians. For these mercies, unexpected yet cheering, “he thanked God,” and accepted them as tokens of his Heavenly Father’s care, and pledges that the hand of Jesus would help and support him in the future, therefore “he took courage” to meet with calm and earnest faith what might be still in store for his coming years! Often the Christian finds himself surrounded with cares and disappointments. It is the characteristic of many worries in life to be quite disproportionate in the pain they give to their importance, the smallest wound on the hand or finger, being in constant friction, gives more pain than a far more serious injury somewhere else. When we meet with disappointments, worries, and perhaps worse trials, it is the wise and Christian course to strive and see the bright side of them. They are part of the appointed discipline of life. May not we regard the lesser troubles of daily life to be like the gravel and stones on the path, which, when pressed down by patient endurance, become a firm path? The Christian, who takes patiently the discipline of lesser evils, learns gradually to train himself to higher things. It was a remarkable saying of a heathen sage that a good man bearing adversity patiently was a sight pleasing to the gods! But ofttimes God has been pleased in a wonderful way to reward the patience and confidence of His children. One winter a lonely widow and her family were much oppressed with anxiety and dread. Not only was food and fuel scarce and dear, but the whole land was in peril from fierce foes, and bands of armed men marched from village to village. There was no strong arm to defend the widow’s door, nor any plentiful stores to satisfy the rapacity of armed men. All she could do was to cast all her cares on her Heavenly Father. That night the rumour spread through the village that the foemen were near. Her cottage stood at the entrance of the village and near the high road. When she last looked out the snowflakes were falling fast, and the winter winds howling round the thatch. Next morning the December dawn seemed darker than usual, and she looked abroad, a huge snowdrift had almost blocked up the house, and did not melt for many hours, but when she was able to venture forth she found that the enemy’s army had indeed marched through the village and plundered every other house, but had never noticed her humble homestead concealed behind its protecting snow shield! Even so our Father defends those who place their trust in Him. God bestows on us abundant earthly blessings, and best of all, He has given His dear Son to be our Saviour and Redeemer. Let us, then, with heart and life serve and adore Him, and taking courage, give thanks. (J. Hardman, LL.)
Soul inspiration from human sympathy
I. The sympathy of God is here manifested through the sympathy of man. Paul saw the disciples and thanked God.
II. The sympathy so manifested inspires the soul with ennobling feelings.
1. Paul thanked God. Here is gratitude for the past and present.
2. He took courage. Here is help for the future.
III. The lesser may inspire and strengthen the greater. Paul, the greatest of the apostles, was helped by these humble Christians. Even Christ was once strengthened from a similar source (Matthew 11:25). (W. Harris.)
Give him a cheer
Many a man fails in a good but difficult effort because he receives criticism when he needs and ought to have encouragement. A fireman was trying to reach from the top of a ladder a poor woman who was imploring help at the window of a burning house. One among the crowd below cried, “You can’t do it, come down.” He was already somewhat burned, and almost choked by the smoke. He began to descend, and was leaving the woman to her fate, when a man shouted, “Give him a cheer.” The vast crowd made the air ring with their encouragement, whereupon the fireman stopped, again ascended towards the window, and, aided by the cheering of the multitude, brought the woman safely to the ground. If you know a timid brother who is weak and liable to fall, help him all you can and God will bless you. “Give Him a cheer.”
In enforcing the duty of the congregation to encourage their minister, Dr. Dale said: “There are times when the most buoyant sink into despondency, when a great, chilly mist creeps over the soul of those who have the largest happiness in the service of God, and they feel as if all their strength was gone. Not very long ago--if I may venture once more to speak of myself--one of these evil moods was upon me; but as I was passing along one of the streets of Birmingham a poor but decently dressed woman, laden with parcels, stopped me and said, ‘God bless you, Dr. Dale!’ Her face was unknown to me. I said, ‘Thank you. What is your name?’ ‘Never mind my name,’ was the answer, ‘but if you only knew how you have made me feel hundreds of times, and what a happy home you have given me! God bless you!’ she said. The mist broke, the sunlight came, I breathed the free air of the mountains of God.”
No part of the world affords a more difficult or dangerous navigation than the approaches of our northern coast in winter. Before the warmth of the Gulf Stream was known, a voyage at this season from Europe to New England, New York, and even to the capes of the Delaware and Chesapeake, was many times more trying, difficult, and dangerous than it now is. In making this part of the coast vessels are frequently met by snowstorms and gales which mock the seamen’s strength and set at naught his skill. In a little while his bark becomes a mass of ice; with her crew frosted and helpless, she remains obedient only to her helm, and is kept away from the Gulf Stream. After a few hours’ run she reaches its edge, and almost at the next bound passes from the midst of winter into a sea at summer heat. Now the ice disappears from her apparel; the sailor bathes his stiffened limbs in tepid waters; feeling himself invigorated and refreshed with the genial warmth about him, he realises out there at sea the fable of Antseus and his mother Earth. He rises up and attempts to make his port again, and is again as rudely met and beat back from the northwest; but each time that he is driven off from the contest he comes forth from this stream, like the ancient son of Neptune, stronger and stronger, until, after many days, his freshened strength prevails, and he at last triumphs and enters his haven in safety. His experiences bear a resemblance to those of the man who is tempest tossed upon the sea of social life. This man, struggling in what Shakespeare designates “a sea of troubles,” has to brave great billows of adversity and to face the chilling blasts of misfortune. He is well-nigh hopeless and powerless, when he suddenly encounters the warm stream of human sympathy which flows even in society’s most icy regions. Under its vitalising influences the horrors of his despair melt away; his heart glows with renewed hope; he is nerved with fresh strength for a successful struggle against his calamities, so that he is able at length to accomplished his destined purpose. (Scientific Illustrations.)
And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard.
Rome as seen by Paul
Within a circuit of little more than twelve miles more than two millions of inhabitants were crowded. In this prodigious collection of human beings, there were of course all the contrasts which are seen in a modern city--all the painful lines of separation between luxury and squalor, wealth and want. But in Rome all these differences were on an exaggerated scale, and the institution of slavery modified further all social relations. The free citizens were more than a million; of these, the senators were so few in number as to be hardly appreciable; the knights, who filled a great proportion of the public offices, were not more than 10,000; the troops quartered in the city may be reckoned at 15,000; the rest were the plebs urbana. That a vast number of these would be poor is an obvious result of the most ordinary causes. But in ancient Rome the luxury of the wealthier classes did not produce a general diffusion of trade, as it does in a modern city. The handicraft employments, and many of what we should call professions, were in the hands of slaves; and the consequence was that a vast proportion of the plebs urbana lived on public or private charity. Yet were these pauper citizens proud of their citizenship, though many of them had no better sleeping place for the night than the public porticoes or the vestibules of temples. They cared for nothing beyond bread for the day, the games of the circus, and the savage delight of gladiatorial shows; manufactures and trade they regarded as the business of the slave and the foreigner. The number of slaves was perhaps about a million. The number of the strangers or peregrini was much smaller; but it is impossible to describe their varieties. Every kind of nationality and religion found its representative in Rome. (Dean Howson.)
The arrival of Paul at Rome in its decisive importance
I. For the apostle; the aim of his life is fulfilled, and the end of his life is determined.
II. For the Gentile world; it becomes serious with its gracious invitation, but serious also with the setting of its glory.
III. For Judaism; in Rome the apostle turns himself for the last time to his people; the kingdom now comes to the Gentiles, and Rome supplants Jerusalem.
IV. For Christianity; in Rome bloody contests await it, but also most glorious victories. (K. Gerok.)
Paul at Rome
How did Paul reach Rome? The answer will yield us--
I. Encouragement for faith. Paul reached Rome--
1. In answer to prayer (Romans 1:9-10; Romans 15:23; Romans 15:30-32). God knew the longing of his heart, and had promised him that to Rome he should go (Acts 23:11; Acts 27:24).
2. By an answer long delayed. He had been praying for it “many years,” and the years of prayer were followed by years of weary suspense. I can imagine the Tempter in the apostle’s prison in Caesarea saying with a taunting smile, “Fine progress this, Paul, on your way to Rome!”
3. By strange and unexpected paths. At last he reached Rome; but how? As a prisoner, in company with a gang of criminals, after shipwreck, viper stings, etc. A strange way this of answering his prayers! And yet his prayers were answered. Every plot of his enemies, every outrage upon justice, every blast of the tempest, brought him nearer Rome. Did Paul know what he was praying for? If he had he would not have shrunk back. Our faith must not fail because our prayers seem for years to be in vain, nor when the answer is different from what we expected.
4. In complete fulfilment of the promises of God. Though he came as he never expected, as “an ambassador in bonds,” yet he reached the court to which he was commissioned by Christ. The promise of God was more than fulfilled. Paul reached Rome better fitted, through his trials, for his work, and to find his work itself made easier. For--
(1) He came well advertised. The whole story of his long imprisonment had gone before him. The sympathy of the disciples was drawn out in his behalf. He had been brought to the notice of powerful officials. Julius, the centurion, had conceived for him a great regard, and we can easily believe that he committed him to Burrus, the prefect of the praetorians of Rome, with warm words of praise. It is not surprising that Burrus separated him from the other prisoners, suffered him to “dwell by himself,” “in his own hired house, and to receive all who came in unto him.”
(2) With a strengthened faith. God had sent him trials, but great deliverances and precious visions too. No doubt now that he was where God wanted him to be--a mighty addition to any man’s power. Once fairly within the walls, I seem to hear him say, “Rome at last! Assassins, prisons, storms, vipers--all defeated! My God can do anything for me. I will never be afraid again.”
II. Instruction as to duty. He is an example to us--
1. In his missionary zeal. We have already quoted passages which show his strong desire to visit Rome. The same deep desire appears at other points in the history (Acts 19:21). What is the reason of this earnest “longing” (Romans 1:13-15)? Rome was a Gentile, i.e., a heathen city which needed the gospel. This was enough for Paul. More work is the working Christian’s reward.
2. In his use of God’s promises. He makes them a spur to effort, and not an excuse for his own slackness and delay. The same promise of God which forbids us to worry commands us to work.
3. In his use of present opportunities. Paul, while he had that great mission to Rome on his heart and in his eye, did not fail to do all the good he could on the way. The ship in which he sailed was a small parish, and he looked after it well. And it was a hard parish--that wet, foul, crowded, half-mutinous ship. Ministers who think themselves too large for small parishes God will think too small for large ones. He has no use at Rome for men who are too fine to gather sticks and teach barbarians at Malta, or who cannot compel respect for their religious manliness even on a dirty ship, in dreary storms, with a cross, discouraged, heathen crew. (A. Mitchell, D. D.)
Paul at Rome
I. Why did Paul visit Rome?
1. Because God willed it (Acts 9:15; Acts 23:11).
2. But Providence is always correlated with individual choice.
(1) Paul was anxious for his fellow Christians exposed to the dangers of that proud centre of paganism (Romans 1:11).
(2) Paul knew the value of Rome as a strategic point, in the work of bringing the world to Christ. Jerusalem and Rome were the centres from which went out the world’s transforming forces--the one the home of Divine government; in the other, the god of this world was enthroned. Resting his two hands upon them, he would sway the whole world to the foot of the cross. It is also interesting and instructive to notice how the strong arm of paganism, in its stability and justice, was Paul’s refuge from the murderous intent of the Jews. As God raised up Cyrus, so he raised up the Caesars; and in Paul appealing to Caesar we have an instance of the service rendered by the enemies of the gospel to its thorough establishment.
II. When was Paul at Rome? He arrived in the spring of A.D. 61, and he “dwelt two whole years in his own hired house.” Evidently when those two years had been completed Paul was still in active labours, or his beheading would have been mentioned. In this abrupt ending of the inspired account we have conclusive proof that the Church is to live, not mainly by the light of her history, however privileged, but in the presence and strength of Him who said, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”
III. How was Paul employed when at Rome? What could he do, a prisoner constantly chained by the hand to a Roman soldier (Ephesians 6:20)?
1. Despite the weariness of his journey by sea and by land, he allowed only three days to pass before he called the chief brethren of the Jews together, explained his position, reaffirmed his loyalty to the hope of Israel, and held a further meeting with a somewhat disappointing result.
2. As “the care of all the churches” still pressed upon him, letters were written to Philippi, Colossae, Ephesus, and to Philemon.
3. Then came the long-looked-for trial, and as Roman justice was not yet dead, the imperial verdict brought an acquittal.
4. Thus released, in the spring of A.D. 63, for five years to come, his hands, freed from fetters, were eager in the work of his Master.
5. In the spring of A.D. 68, he is again a prisoner at Rome, from which he wrote one more epistle (the second) to Timothy, whom he summons, bidding him use all “diligence to come before winter.” He needs the cloke and parchments. What a suggestion of prison damps! Yet bodily weakness did not enfeeble the pure flame of his intellect and soul. The parchments were probably copies of the Old Testament, and possibly some of his own inspired epistles.
6. On a summer day--May or June A.D. 68--a sword glistens for a moment in the sunlight, and then that form, worn by weary marches, by frequent stoning, by cruel stripes, by shipwreck, by fastings, by repeated incarceration, is at rest. (S. L. B. Spears.)
St. Paul at Rome
I. What a world of thought is opened when we think of St. Paul and Rome together! The first is among the most prominent characters in God’s history of the world; the second is a representative of the might and majesty of earthly dominion. There is moral beauty on one side, material grandeur on the other. The spiritual teacher shows us what goodness could do, witnessing for God in the midst of an evil world; the conquering nation, aiming at universal empire, shows us what could be accomplished by strong wills and daring enterprise, combined with favouring opportunities and political sagacity of the highest kind. We hear of Rome, and think at once of crushing power, well symbolised by the beast which Daniel saw, “exceeding dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, which devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet.” We hear of St. Paul, and think at once of a suffering man, beset by enemies and persecutors, yet in his feebleness, with no weapons but truth and charity, casting down many a stronghold, and winning blessed triumphs over the powers of this world and the powers of darkness. He entered Rome a prisoner. Its streets were busy with life; citizens were abroad on business or pleasure. In that vast assemblage of untold multitudes human society would be presented in all its various aspects, from the patrician who had a hundred slaves drudging in his halls, to the captive soldier who had walked in procession behind some general’s car of triumph, and might soon be called to make sport for the populace, while he fought for his life against fearful odds. Along those peopled highways St. Paul would travel, and look around him at all that was new and wonderful, not like one who came to feed an eager curiosity, but with the inward feeling that God hath sent him thither; and that there, among those teeming multitudes, were some whom God’s word might reach. There was nothing of fear, we are sure, and nothing, probably, of sadness, in his countenance as he paced those endless streets. He came charged with a message from the King of kings.
II. Little does man’s judgment, as the tide of events rolls on, accord with God’s. The first have become last, and the last first, since then. Nero has gone down to his grave with shame. And what is proud Rome itself? A city of ruins. And if we ask where her successor is to be found, we can name no other than London; and if the stranger who catches a first glimpse of its distant outline, asks what is the dome that towers over every meaner edifice, the answer itself marks the strange revolution of which I have been speaking--the lifting up of some, the casting down of others. Never let us think that contrasts of this kind are things of the past only. How little, often, are our great men, and how great our little men! What base, earthly, mammon-loving selfishness is seen in high places, and what heroic virtues are found often among those who drudge for a bare living.
III. Mark the diligence and promptitude of the apostle in his new sphere of action (verses 17-24).
1. For two whole years, which had elapsed when the history was finished, St. Paul’s preaching work was continued. He was bound, but not silenced; and so little jealous, at this period, were Nero or his officers of any rival creed that the man who said that other religions were lies, and that only by the name of Christ could men be saved, spake “with all confidence, no man forbidding him,” and with much success. So “the kingdom of God,” often, “cometh not with observation.” Thus the wheat groweth while men sleep. It was not strange that St. Paul should be brought to Rome; but, assuredly, we should not have expected that he would be brought thither in chains, and then have liberty to preach to all comers. Had he been at large, his zeal might have prompted him to preach in the Forum, as it prompted him to preach on Mars’ hill. In that case, short work might have been made with this troubler of the peace of Rome; but, as God ordered it, His servant was guarded without being positively secluded. His hired house was his castle, and it was kept by one of Caesar’s soldiers, and numbers resorted thither from day to day; and soon, in the very household of the emperor, some were found who became obedient to the faith. Never let us think that nothing can be done for Christ but in some way that shall fix upon us the gaze of our fellow men. Godly zeal need not stand upon the public highways, nor lift its voice among the throng; it may love the shady nook, and work effectually in some secluded sphere. Only let us not plead modesty when our real feeling is deadness of heart towards spiritual things, and the reason why nothing is ever attempted for God is just this--that we are sinfully pleased and contented with the world as it is.
2. But Paul’s spoken words in Rome are for the most part lost. Other words, however, are recorded, which shall never perish. Read the Epistles to the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians, and think what a treasure that was for the Church of his day, and ours to gain from his captivity. How would the distant brethren be stirred up to holy zeal and diligence when the words of so brave a captain charged them to be “strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might!” How would some learn to bear their crosses when, after years of captivity, while he longed to be astir, yet was willing, if God so willed it, to be “an ambassador in bonds,” they received the welcome letter, and met with those comforting words, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content;” “I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me!” (J. Hampton Gurney, M. A.)
Paul at Rome
Our study is the study of a single character.
I. Paul the prisoner. Captivity was to Paul nothing new. He had been “in chains oft.” He had just come out of a long bondage at Caesarea. We must note the unswerving faith of the prisoner. Doubt sometimes gets into the heart of the Christian. Environment will have its effect. And many, applying the inductive method to an oppressed and harassed life, conclude: No God; or a God who is ignorant; or a God who does not care. Others interpret obstruction as a providential closing of a chosen way, and turn aside to easier paths. But with Paul doubt had no chance. He knew that he was an apostle not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father. No one could convince him that he was not called to preach the gospel of the Crucified. And in all the events of his life, however mysterious, he saw the moving of a Divine hand. For Paul the prisoner, then, there was no fainting, no failure of faith, no shifting of his convictions, no trimming of his message. “For the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.” That hope, as Paul saw it, was the living and dying Jesus. There was another chain which bound Paul. It was the invisible chain of love which linked him to his Lord. The chain on his wrist was a symbol of captivity. The chain on his heart was a token of freedom.
II. The prisoner as a preacher. Doubtless his preaching began with the first guard to whom he was bound. But his public preaching seems to have begun with this appointed meeting. The substance of his message is compressed into the twenty-third verse, though we need to put with this the last two verses of the lesson. The kingdom of God, that was his theme. He preached it, we may be sure, with all the energy of his soul. They were not abstract ideas hard to be grasped which he put before them, but truths vitalised with the life of the incarnate God. The kingdom of God was no new invention. Its foundations had been laid long before the birth of the Babe. He had come to reveal to men the nature of God and the eternal principles on which the kingdom should be builded. It was Paul’s high mission to connect old systems with new. So he goes back to Moses and the prophets. His theme was the sublimest which ever gained possession of the mind of man, but it was by no means easy to overcome the prejudices which had been growing and strengthening for generations. From morning until evening the work went on. Here was the preacher, right in the heart of the Roman capital, the centre of earthly power. But the resplendent name of Rome wrought no spell on Paul. His thought was busy with the splendour of a kingdom which should be universe-wide and eternity-long.
III. The prisoner as a prophet. Prophecy in its narrower range is foretelling; in its wider range it is teaching. To preach Jesus was a high privilege to Paul in prison. But he was granted a privilege infinitely higher than that. Paul thanked God for his chains. Many of his hearers thanked God for his chains. And we of today are blind and dumb and our heart is waxed gross if we do not thank God for the chains of Paul. Some of the sublimest truths of revelation are ours because the chains were his. Here was the mysterious Providence through which God worked out the fulfilment of His plan for a completed revelation. Four of the immortal Epistles of Paul were written at just this time. (J. H. Masom.)
Paul at Rome
I. We see Paul preparing the ground for his work.
1. He began, in his last efforts as in his first, with the Jews. He was one of them and understood them. They were at least part way to Christianity because they believed in the true God. But in their case, as in every man’s, opportunity does not settle destiny, but rather the action of man’s will upon opportunity.
2. Conciliation characterised Paul’s approach to his own nation. He did not know what rumours concerning him might have come across the sea, so he felt it necessary to begin with a personal explanation and defence. Paul was not a scheming sophist who used a shrewd tact wherever he went simply to gain a hearing, concealing his antecedents and real character. Candour was the very soul of his being.
3. Prejudice at once confronted him. They probably told the truth when they said they had had no communication concerning Paul with the men of Judaea (verse 21). But they knew more probably than they said concerning Christianity. There was a Christian Church in Rome of some years’ standing. That they had no relations with it shows they were hostile to it. The sneering generality concerning Christianity’s ill-repute was more definite in their minds than they cared to have Paul guess.
4. Hardness of heart is thus brought to view again as the condition of the Jews before the preaching of Paul.
II. The first meeting, which Paul had thus tried to use to prepare the way pleasantly for a plain Christian talk, was followed by a second, which Paul used for the presentation of the gospel.
1. His doctrine is set before them in unmistakable form. He wishes to conciliate them, but he must tell them the plain truth.
(1) The kingdom of God is the subject of his testimony.
(2) Jesus was set forth as the centre of this kingdom in Paul’s address (verse 23). To understand it is to understand Him, and vice versa. Christ is interpreted to us by our study of the meaning of the kingdom of God.
(3) The Scriptures formed the foundation of Paul’s argument with these Jews (verse 23).
2. The reception of Paul’s address is chronicled (verses 23, 24).
(1) There was interest evidently, for they stayed to listen “from morning to evening.”
(2) The gospel now as always acted in two ways--it was a savour of life or a savour of death. “Some believed the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved” (verse 24). The magnet draws or it does not draw. There is no third possibility.
3. Paul’s warning (verses 26, 27). They all departed. The gospel had not conquered them as a company, though some believed. Paul makes one more attempt to reach them as they go, using the words of their well-known Scriptures.
(1) These were words for them to remember.
(2) These were harsh words. Paul had reasoned quietly and in a conciliatory way, without success, humanly speaking. Severity remained to him and he employed it. Harsh as they were, they were really beneficent. So Paul wished they might be to his Jewish auditors. It is no kindness to withhold from men the knowledge of the penalty of unbelief.
(3) Paul warns the Jews that God will pass them by and give His salvation to the Gentiles if they do not accept it (verse 29).
III. Paul’s life at Rome is described.
1. He had--
(1) A considerable amount of freedom (verse 30).
2. Misfortune was thus turned into good fortune (see Philippians 1:12-18).
IV. We have here the conclusion of the Book of Acts. It has sometimes been called abrupt. But--
1. The gospel is shown to have been preached apostolically from Jerusalem to Rome. Representatively the whole world had been evangelised. The type was complete of the actual proclamation of the Cross to all the nations. This is the object of the Acts. The book is not a life of Paul.
2. The cause is everything, the instrument is nothing. Rome hears about Jesus Christ. No matter about Paul.
V. Closing thoughts.
1. The kingdom is infinitely greater than any who serve it. The message is more than the messenger. Let us lift up the Cross and hide ourselves.
2. The gospel is world-conquering. Rome hears and heeds not. But she shall heed yet.
3. Blessed are those who, with Paul, have a share, however humble, in spreading the kingdom of God. Is life worth living? A thousand times yes, when spent in this glorious service. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
Paul at Rome
This brief summary of Luke is significant, however, for it reveals the man marching up to the gates of martyrdom at Rome with the same steady step and magnificent courage with which he faced Corinth and Ephesus and Jerusalem, only as the candle gets nearer the socket the flame lifts higher and the light grows brighter. We note some clear lessons which gather about this Roman visit.
I. It prints large the factor of Providence in all Christian work and life. Providence is “a seeing before” and the consequent care and control over life and eveners which this Divine prevision makes possible. A doctrine, therefore, that carries the might-giving truth that the world in all its activities and powers is interpenetrated with a great, single, Divine plan which, in ordinary and extraordinary ways, is being wrought out under a plan which is not only indivisible but universal, reaching every force in nature, every event in history, and following the lives of men from the beginning to the end. But it is the unusual and the notable experience that fastens the mind upon this great omnipresent law of Divine superintendence in the affairs of men, and so we come out into the recognition and comfort of this law in all lives and in all Christian work. Seldom, however, is this factor of Providence so clearly seen as in this Roman visit of St. Paul. The great ambition of his life--to preach the gospel in the capital of the world--seemed doomed to disappointment, when, suddenly, through agencies unthought of, Paul, the prisoner, is transferred to Rome, where his residence for two years is under the protection of the empire against the bitter assaults of his countrymen and the violence of his enemies. Such privilege and care and his final acquittal before the court of the emperor reveal not only a hand of iron in a velvet glove, but that ever and always there “standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.” This lesson of God’s providence and presence is timely for the nineteenth century of the Christian faith.
II. This Roman visit also reveals the power of chained hands and lives in their possibilities of Christian service. This spectacle of Paul, chained by his right hand to the left arm of a Roman soldier--a captive in his own lodgings--suggests a release from all his missionary obligations and the overthrow of all his plans. For what can such an one do against the paganism of Rome? “Now I would have you know, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the progress of the gospel; so that my bonds became manifest in Christ throughout the whole praetorian guard, and to all the rest; and that most of the brethren in the Lord, being confident through my bonds, are more abundantly bold to speak the word of God without fear.” What a testimony to that factor of Providence in Christian work, whereby the obstacles of life become the forwarding agents of God’s truth! We all know sick rooms that are the spiritual clearing houses for the neighbourhood in which they are; for when the heart is filled with the love of God and the brotherhood of man there will be not only songs in the night watches, but ceaseless and beneficent ministries by day. Are we bound with a chained or prisoned with the limitations of life? Be of good cheer; it may be for the larger hope of the world, and it can be for the glory of God.
III. Finally, this Roman visit reveals the tremendous odds against which the Christian faith is matched in the conquest of the Roman empire. (William H. Davis.)
Paul at Rome
I. In the fact of his being at Rome, a desire and purpose long cherished was accomplished.
1. That desire was to preach the gospel there, and was in accordance with a general plan. The Saviour commanded His apostles to begin at Jerusalem (Luke 24:46-47), the place in which was concentrated more of learning, wealth, and power than in all Palestine. Then, as now, great cities were centres of influence, and as that influence was mostly evil, it was important that they should be made centres of light. There was a tendency, therefore, always towards Rome. Before Paul went there the gospel had been carried there, and a church had been founded. The closing chapter of Romans contains numerous salutations to its members, and it is remarkable that a large number consisted of those who had been in some way connected with Paul (Romans 16:3-15). Paul, too, had sent to that church one of the most important of all his epistles.
2. The accomplishment of this desire was brought about in a manner which he did not anticipate. He had hoped to take Rome on his way in the carrying out of another purpose (Romans 15:24); but still he was in Rome, and he had the opportunity which he had desired. In like manner, often, our wishes are accomplished, and our prayers heard, in a manner altogether different from what we should have chosen, and in a way which leads us through many trials; but still the prayer is heard, and the desire is granted.
II. The nature of Paul’s employments in Rome. Many good men, in such circumstances would have felt that there was nothing for them but patiently to await and prepare for their trial. What could Paul now do in regard to the great purpose of his life? The field of usefulness which he saw open to him pertained to--
1. The Church. With not a few members of that church he had been elsewhere acquainted, and they would regard him with an interest which they would feel for no other man, and it was the natural prompting of affection which led them to go out to meet him (verse 15), and to show him the highest honour. Paul found himself at home in their midst; and could cooperate with them in diffusing the gospel (Philippians 1:14).
2. His own countrymen. His conduct in seeking the earliest opportunity to lay his case before them, and his frank statement that he had nothing to accuse his own nation of (verse 19), their honest avowal that they had not been prejudiced against him, and their willingness to learn his views, evince a high degree of sincerity on both sides, and might have promised the most happy results from the interview. But the result was as elsewhere--a part believed, a part blasphemed, a few were converted. To them, therefore, Paul uttered language such he had elsewhere used (verse 28, cf. Acts 13:40).
3. The Roman people as such. His advantages for acting on such a population were indeed few. He could not occupy the Forum as he had Mars’ hill; he had no direct access to Caesar’s palace. He could only preach to those who came to his own hired house (Acts 28:30-31). Yet his influence was felt more or less in the very place where he would most desire that it should be felt (Philippians 1:12-13; Philippians 4:22).
4. The Churches. Four of his letters--that to Philemon, that to the Colossians, that to the Ephesians, and that to the Philippians--were written while he was awaiting his trial.
III. The spirit which he manifested. Note--
1. His forbearance towards those who had wronged him (verse 19). We may advert here, also, to his kind feelings towards those who had perverted his doctrines, and had sought to propagate their own views, taking advantage of the fact that, being a prisoner, he could not openly counteract their statements (Philippians 1:16-18).
2. The manner in which he turned all that had occurred to good account. He saw the hand of God in it all, and felt assured that events, apparently most disastrous, had been overruled to the promotion of Christianity. (A. Barnes, D. D.)
Panel’s visitors at Rome
All who took an interest in Christianity in Rome, both Jews and Gentiles, gathered to him. Perhaps there was not a day of the two years of his imprisonment but he had such visitors. The Roman Christians learned to go to that room as to an oracle or shrine. Many a Christian teacher got his sword sharpened there; and new energy began to diffuse itself through the Christian circles of the city. Many an anxious father brought his son, many a friend his friend, hoping that a word from the apostle’s lips might waken the sleeping conscience. Many a wanderer, stumbling in there by chance, came out a new man. Such an one was Onesimus, a slave from Colossae, who arrived in Rome as a runaway, but was sent hack to his Christian master, Philemon, no longer as a slave, but as a brother beloved. Still more interesting visitors came. At all periods of his life he exercised strong fascination over young men. They were attracted by the manly soul within him, in which they found sympathy with their aspiration or inspiration for the noblest work. These youthful friends, who were scattered over the world in the work of Christ, flocked to him at Rome. Timothy and Luke, Mark and Aristarchus, Tychicus and Epaphras, and many more came, to drink afresh at the well of his ever-springing wisdom and earnestness. And he sent them forth again to carry messages to his churches, or bring him news of their condition. Of his spiritual children in the distance he never ceased to think. Daily he was wandering in imagination among the glens of Galatia and along the shores of Asia and Greece; every night he was praying for the Christians of Antioch and Ephesus, of Philippi and Thessalonica and Corinth. Nor were gratifying proofs a wanting that they were remembering him. Now and then there would appear in his lodging a deputy from some distant church, bringing the greetings of his converts or, perhaps, a contribution to meet his temporal wants, or craving his decision on some point of doctrine or practice about which difficulty had arisen. These messengers were not sent empty away: they carried warm-hearted messages or golden words of counsel from their apostolic friend. Some of them carried far more. When Epaphroditus, a deputy from the church at Philippi, which had sent to their dear father in Christ an offering of love, was returning home, Paul sent with him, in acknowledgment of their kindness, the Epistle to the Philippians, the most beautiful of all his letters, in which he lays bare his very heart and every sentence glows with love more tender than a woman’s. When the slave Onesimus was sent back to Colossae, he received as the branch of peace to offer to his master the exquisite little Epistle to Philemon, a priceless monument of Christian courtesy. He carried, too, a letter addressed to the church of the town in which his master lived, the Epistle to the Colossians. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
The new sphere
The words are connected with a wonderful chapter of Providence in the history of the apostle. There is also an application of its lessons to modern life.
I. The accomplishment of a long-cherished purpose. His heart had been set on visiting the Imperial city from an early date in his ministry. Why? His ambition was to comfort and strengthen the little company of believers in Christ. He recognised in Rome the great heart of the world, and was eager to take that for Christ. He never wasted his strength in places of small importance. He felt the importance and use of great cities. He had received the gospel in trust for his fellow men, and he must redeem that obligation in the most effectual manner. God opens to those faithful in the least the widest spheres of usefulness.
II. Paul’s purpose was not attained in the way in which he expected it would be realised. The Epistle to the Romans shows that he never expected to enter the imperial city as a prisoner. We set our hearts on some enterprise or some post of usefulness, and get it ultimately, but accompanied by something else of which we had no thought. It comes in a way which might sink us in despair. Why is this? It is to keep us all through our efforts at the feet of Jesus, and to impel us to depend entirely on Him. All through Paul’s difficulties and trials God had been near him, and at each crisis had shown him special favour. When our opportunity comes it appears in a way to humble us in our own estimation and to increase our trust in Divine wisdom and love.
III. While Paul’s entrance into Rome was not quite what he expected, it really accomplished all he desired (Philippians 1:12-14). He had not all the opportunities he hoped and desired, but he did not commit the mistake of doing nothing. He knew the men then in the Praetorium might some day receive orders to go into Parthia, Germany, or Britain, and he endeavoured to enable them to act as missionaries, and carry the gospel wherever they went. Thus he spoke to each soldier chained to him, and thus was begun that great work which went on until the Thundering Legion became as famous in the martial annals of Rome as Havelock and his saints during the Indian Mutiny. Conclusion: there is a lesson of instruction and encouragement. God is answering our prayers when we think He is blighting our prospects. If we will but use our opportunities, we may find that our influence has gone round the globe with blessing. In Longfellow’s poem the arrow and song were found again as they were sent out. But nobody can tell the history of impulses given, changes wrought, work of self-sacrifice and devotion suggested by fitting words dropped into human minds and human hearts. Let the struggling struggle on. Rome, or something better, will be reached at last. The Master never mocks us when He answers our requests. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
With a soldier that kept him.--
Not much privacy there. The constant presence of one whom we love may be very pleasant. A child seldom wants to be alone. There are friends who are never so contented apart as together. But to be always under the eye of an enemy, or of one who watches us with suspicion, is intolerable. A young man of upright character, in the service of a great corporation, found himself--as was every other of the employees--shadowed by a detective, after a robbery from the office of the company. Wherever he went he was watched, although quietly, and at a distance. He would hurry along the crowded street in the hope of getting out from under that eye; but when he looked back or across the way, he would find he had not escaped it. As he left his home in the morning, he saw that he was still under surveillance. When he looked out from the window of his darkened room before retiring, he would catch a glimpse, by the street lamp, of the man who never deserted him. The consciousness of this unfailing companionship became torture. He went to the superintendent of the company, and told him that while he was innocent of any wrong-doing, and was willing to be put to any fair test, he could not stand being always watched in this way. It was more than human nature could bear. No one of us is ever alone. There is an eye always on us (see Psalms 139:7-12). Is it the eye of an enemy, or of a friend? Are we under the constant watch of One whom we love and trust, or of One against whom we have offended, and from whose presence we have reason to shrink?
After three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together.
Paul’s first conference with the Jewish chiefs
I. His address. In justifying himself he states--
1. That his captivity was not due to any crime against Israel or its religious customs.
2. That he had been compelled to appeal to Caesar through the protest of the Jews against his liberation, although the Roman authorities judged that liberation to be just.
3. That his object in appealing to Caesar was not to bring any charge against the Jews, but simply for his own protection.
4. That it was only on account of the Messianic hope of Israel that he was a prisoner and wished to have an interview with them.
II. Their reply. Note--
1. Their avowal of ignorance of the whole matter. This may seem strange, but it must be remembered that intercourse between Rome and Judaea was frequently interrupted by the disorders of the times.
2. Their desire for information respecting the unpopular sect. Justin Martyr says: “The Jews of Jerusalem sent messengers to their brethren in every part of the world to prejudice them against the disciples of Christ.” These men had heard of the sect, but every word that came to their ears was loaded with reproach. This was what Simeon had predicted. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Paul’s farewell to the Jews
1. A last testimony to his innocence (Acts 28:17-20).
2. A last confession of Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 28:23).
3. A last effusion of love towards his people (Acts 28:17; Acts 28:19-20).
4. A last stroke of the hammer on hardened hearts (Acts 28:25-28). (K. Gerok.)
For the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.
The chain of Paul
1. A disgraceful monument for his blinded people.
2. An honourable sign for the faithful servant of God.
3. A precious comfort for all who suffer on account of the truth. (K. Gerok.)
The chain and the hope
I. The chain.
1. It was painful to flesh and blood.
2. It involved no disgrace to Paul.
3. It manifested the hatred of the Jews to Christ.
4. While Paul wore it he was saved, as a Roman prisoner, from the murderous intentions of his enemies.
II. The hope. It was--
1. The Scriptural and Christian realisation of the expectation of the Jews.
2. The sustaining motive of his own life.
3. The chief source of comfort to his heart.
1. You may have bonds, affliction, poverty, etc.
2. Have you a good hope? (Biblical Museum.)
The chain and the hope
I. The chain. This was the most immediately noticeable thing about the apostle. He was ever conscious of it. He lifted it as he spoke. He refers often to his bonds. As a Roman citizen, he felt the indignity of wearing them. As a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, he rejoiced in them. His chain was a hindrance--
1. To his work among the Jews. He felt obliged to explain why he came to them in fetters. He spoke with great carefulness, and yet with the deepest earnestness, for he well knew that in the eyes of the Jews, let him plead as he would, that chain, and the Roman guard to whom its other end was locked, made a most powerful argument against him and the gospel.
2. To his work as the apostle to the Gentiles. He was here in the centre of the pagan world. He had seen the paganism of Antioch and Ephesus and Athens and Corinth. It had made his heart sink. It is touching to read the effect upon his heavy heart of the coming to him of the little delegation of Christians from Rome. “He thanked God and took courage.” How much underlies here! Paul was reminded that, notwithstanding all obstacles, Christianity had succeeded in planting itself even in Rome. But now, arrived in the capital, how his despondency must have returned upon him. He gained such a view as he had never had of the wealth and power and majesty of the pagan world. And where were the Christian forces to array against this omnipotence of the world? A little hidden Church, and a man with a chain.
II. The hope. Paul reminded his visitors of the Messianic hope.
1. It was the hope of Israel. As he spoke of it to King Agrippa, it was “the hope of the promise of God made to the fathers,” etc. The only difference was that they looked for His first coming, whereas Paul believed that He had come once, and so was looking for His second coming and the completed redemption of Israel.
2. The hope of the world. There is no other hope for a sinful man or a sinful world; but in the Cross is hope. It is the world’s light in darkness.
III. The chain and the hope. Let us not look at the hope apart from the chain, or at the chain apart from the hope.
1. Paul sought to be led by the Spirit. Whithersoever He should direct, the servant of the Lord would go. The Spirit had led him to his chain, which fact gave him a peculiar feeling. His chain was sacred. He was the prisoner of the Lord. The Roman blacksmith had clinched the rivets; but an unseen presence had superintended the work. Was he not, then, in the best possible place to declare his message of hope--in Caesarea, on shipboard, in Rome? He who binds the messenger releases the message, for the Word of the Lord is not bound.
2. It is the hope that makes the chain bearable and serviceable. Paul had proved that a man chained can do as much as he can unchained, if he is the Lord’s prisoner. His chain had not narrowed his influence on shipboard. So soon, at Rome, he was already at work. If he could mot go to others, they could come to him. Thus he was sure of at least one man, day and night, to whom he could hold up Christ as the hope of the Roman as well as the Jew. He improved the opportunity to such purpose that his bonds fell out to the furtherance of the gospel. Blessed bonds, when the Lord had bound him.
3. If we only have the hope of the gospel, and make it our purpose in life to declare it, it will matter very little to us that we are led sometimes to chains. Is it not a privilege if we may lift a chain and testify, “For the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain”?
1. The world is enchained by sin, and doomed to chains of darkness.
2. In Christ is the true hope for men in sin.
3. That sinners in chains may be delivered, Christians must be willing to be in chains. (G. R. Leavitt.)
And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging.
Paul’s second conference with the Jews
I. The interesting character of his preaching. It was--
1. Evangelical. His theme was the “kingdom of God”--the reign of the Messiah as predicted by the prophets. Christ here, as everywhere, was his grand subject.
2. Earnest. He “expounded,” “testified,” “persuaded” from morning to evening.
II. The effect of his preaching (Acts 28:24). They were different, which is such a common occurrence as to excite no wonder. Even the discourses of Christ were far from commanding uniform impressions. This diversity may be accounted for without calling in the unscriptural doctrine of the partiality of the Divine influence. Man’s power to think upon the subject presented to him or not, to think upon it in this aspect or that, with this intention or that, is sufficient to explain the diversity.
III. The terrible warning of his preaching (Acts 28:26-27). This must not be regarded as teaching that God exerts any influence to morally blind and stupefy men. Such a work would be--
1. Unnecessary. Men are already in that condition.
2. Incompatible with the Divine character. His holiness and love render such a work eternally impossible.
3. Opposed to the whole tenor of Scripture. “Let no man say when he is tempted, he is tempted of God.”
4. Denied by universal consciousness. No sinner ever felt that the Creator exerted any influence in making him sinful. On the contrary, universal conscience charges sin on the sinner. All that the passage teaches is--
(1) That men may fail into an unconvertible moral condition. They may become so blind, insensitive, and obdurate, as to exclude all hope of recovery.
(2) That the ministry of Divine truth may promote this condition. As the heart of Pharaoh grew hard under the ministry of Moses, the hearts of thousands in every age are hardened under the ministry of the gospel, which is either a savour of life unto life or of death unto death.
(3) That a ministry that may fail with some will succeed with others. This comes out of Paul’s warning, “Be it known unto you,” etc. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Paul’s address to the Jews at Rome
1. Paul had not to make a personal defence, as at Jerusalem and Caesarea. He had to speak of the hope of Israel. It was a subject which had occupied his thoughts for many years, and which he had thoroughly mastered. So he entered on a full exposition of the writings to which all his hearers attached sacred authority.
2. But we find to our regret that St. Luke has not reported the address, just as he has left our Lord’s on the same subject unreported (Luke 24:27; Luke 24:44-46.) This seems to indicate that God did not wish His Church to be furnished once for all with an authorised interpretation of Scripture which should supersede study of the holy oracles by successive generations of Christian scholars. This consideration bears severely on the claim of authority which is made for the voice of tradition and of the Church as entitled to fix the sense of Holy Writ. If it was right to deprive the early Church of any exposition of the Old Testament which was delivered by the Lord Jesus, or by St. Paul, how can it be maintained that an authorised interpretation is good and necessary now? So saying, we do not disparage all traditional interpretation or deny the respect due to Christian antiquity. But neither ancient fathers nor modern clergy have a right to claim such authority for their expositions.
3. Though we have not St. Paul’s speech, we know the great themes on which he spoke while supporting all his statements from Moses and the prophets.
I. He “testified the kingdom of God” now and during the “two whole years” of his imprisonment.
1. He was at Rome, the seat of empire. But the spirit of the apostle occupied itself far more with thoughts of a greater kingdom--one which makes very little of the things on which the Roman Empire rested, but very much of “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Caesar’s kingdom was soon to dwindle, but the kingdom of God was to extend to “regions Caesar never knew.” It was easy for St. Paul to show to his Jewish audience that the prophets had foretold such a kingdom--a reign of God over men, not in little Palestine only, but in every region under heaven.
2. This kingdom the apostle testified and preached. He announced that already it was among men.
II. He persuaded his hearers “concerning Jesus,” and we can easily conjecture the course which the apostle followed. He showed from the Scriptures, as at other times, that the Messiah was destined to be rejected and slain, and thereafter to be raised from the dead. Then he told how all this was fulfilled in Jesus, who was consequently exalted as Lord and Christ. So the earnest apostle taught the livelong day in that primitive St. Paul’s cathedral--“his own hired house”; and the day’s labour was not in vain. Some of the Jews were persuaded, and cast in their lot with the Christians. But some were not convinced; and in the evening the assembly broke up with discordant views and feelings, not, however, before the apostle pronounced a heavy reproof on the blindness of the Jews, recognising that Israel was surpassing all its former inveteracy by closing its eyes and hardening its heart against the gospel of Christ. The woe he pronounced on his nation has now lasted more than eighteen hundred years. So far as Judaism is religious now, it is a dry, sapless thing, pervaded by a tone of monotony and melancholy, with no power or desire to propagate itself. But, to a large extent, it is an irreligious and unspiritual thing in the modern world--its heart made gross by worldliness, and its influence closely allied with the growth of rationalism. A sad sight this after St: Paul’s all-day teaching--hearers going hardened away! A rather mournful close to our study of the apostolic speeches! But it really is a sight which too probably the angels see at the close of every public discourse on the truth of the gospel. (D. Fraser, D. D.)
He expounded and testified the kingdom of God.--
The apostolic ministry
I. Its subjects.
1. The kingdom of God--the fulfilment of the Old Testament theocratic hopes. This kingdom--
(1) Is spiritual, and must be distinguished from its external manifestations. It would still exist were its buildings, rites, etc., to perish.
(2) Rests on the Messiah, who is its sole sovereign, and is invested with all legislative and administrative power.
(3) Has conditions which it enforces on all its subjects. The external condition under the Old Testament was circumcision, under the New baptism; but under both the spiritual condition is faith.
2. Jesus. Note that while Paul expounded and testified concerning the kingdom, he persuaded concerning the King. Christ was not merely proposed doctrinally, but urged on their heartfelt acceptance as Saviour and Lord. This persuasion is necessary in view of the--
(2) The indifferent.
(3) The worldly.
(4) The young.
(5) The despondent.
3. Both as resting on the law and the prophets. He reasoned this out that their faith might rest, not on the wisdom of man, but on the Word of God. The Scriptures are the only rule of faith and conduct.
II. Its effects.
1. Believing, some entered into the enjoyment of the privileges of the gospel; and others, not believing, continued in the guilt of their sin.
2. Believing, some admitted the truth and grace of God, and passed into a regenerate state; others, not believing, continued under the dominion of carnal passions.
3. Believing, some possessed the power of obedience; others, not believing, continued in a state of moral incapacity.
4. Believing, some attached themselves to the kingdom of Christ and shared its glories; some, not believing, continued attached to those things that were waning away and perished with them. (J. Dixon, D. D.)
From morning to evening.--
If a subject has a man’s heart, he never tires of talking about it. If his soul is bent on convincing others of its truth, he will take time for his work. Merchants will talk all day long about buying and selling; so will politicians about politics. Many a lawyer gives more than one day to his argument in a single lawsuit. Yet how rarely do men give an entire day to the serious consideration of religious truth. It would seem, however, as if one day were not too long a time for the settling of a question which involves the interests of eternity. Paul evidently was of that opinion. So were some of the Jews who came to his lodgings at Rome. Were they mistaken? (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.--
The gospel at Rome
I. The gospel itself prepares us for its own disappointment. It is at least remarkable that a religion which speaks so authoritatively, and claims a Divine origin, should yet declare itself to be come into the world, not for triumph, but for division. We say of such a religion that at least it has taken the sting out of the argument from failure, and uttered a true prediction as to the degree and measure of its own success. Here, as elsewhere, we recognise that transparent truthfulness which is one of the distinctive badges of the pure original gospel.
II. On the other hand, it cannot be said that Christianity regards with indifference this chequered result. Some represent the gospel simply as an offer, and speak and act as though it were a good thing to be a Christian if you can, but not a fatal loss to be incapable of that attainment. The gospel is the luxury of the few, not the necessity of all. But the gospel does not thus offer itself as for the equal alternative of acceptance or rejection; does not stand amongst men under the form of an inviting suppliant, having nothing but smiles and caresses wherewith to win the devotion of an admiring but thoughtless multitude. It predicts wrath as well as promises mercy: it misleads if there be not as really an everlasting punishment as a life eternal. The gospel is not indifferent, though it be distinctly prescient, as to this believing and believing not.
III. When we strive to discover why one believes and another believes not; why that proof which is equal for all should convince one and fail with another; why it is that God’s rain and God’s sunshine fertilise this spot and leave that barren; we are in the midst at once of those secret things which belong to the Lord our God. But in the midst of many speculations there is one thing practical. I would ask each whether there is not a close connection between his faith and his life. There are indeed cases in which men of blameless lives, of honest endeavours after truth, nay, even of earnest prayers for the Divine teaching, cannot lay hold--or, worse still, have lost their hold--upon the distinctive revelations of the gospel. But these are cases which do not often occur in common life. They belong to the seclusion of learned study: perhaps that seclusion itself may more than half explain them. Perhaps, if these doubts had been early dragged into action; if they had been brought face to face with the stern realities of a poor man’s cottage, still more of sorrow and death; even they might have been dissipated, and the theoretical doubter might have become a practical Christian. This rare case is not yours. You, if you answer the question truthfully, will say this: “There is a connection in me between unbelief and sin. When I am neglecting duty, when I am yielding to some besetting temptation, then it is that I put from me the faith of Christ. In short, when I am not good, then it is that I believe not.” If there be this practical connection between faith and virtue, then we may at least understand how, for ourselves, not to believe is to be in peril, and to die unbelieving is to perish and to be condemned.
IV. In the face of these differences we come more and more to rest, simply and trustingly, upon the declaration of scripture that faith itself is God’s gift, the work of His Spirit, and commonly the direct answer to persevering prayer. We believe it to be at present impossible to state or to define to ourselves the logical coherence of the two fundamental doctrines of grace and responsibility. But, whatever may be the logical difficulty, there is little or no difficulty of practice or of the heart. If God gives, man must ask: if God promises to give to him that asks, he who asks not cannot complain if he has not. And thus, for all practical purposes, it is enough to rest the case here. I do not believe in unanswered prayers. I can understand a man’s being kept waiting for a bright light and for an assured hope. But I do not believe in a man dying an unbeliever who has constantly and patiently prayed for faith.
V. Even among professed Christians there are still believing men and unbelieving. When the Scripture says, “Some believed,” etc., it does not speak of that sort of believing which consists only in an assent of the understanding. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” It is not everyone who does that. Therefore it is still with us, as it was in the first days of the gospel, an anxious inquiry, Do we yet believe? If we do, we cannot sleep in indifference, we cannot rest in the world, we cannot live in sin. To believe is to see ourselves lost by nature, and redeemed by the blood of Christ. To believe is to live no longer to ourselves, but to Him who died for us and rose again. (Dean Vaughan.)
The minister’s stock taking
The only proper way to calculate the results of our ministry is to have an account book ruled with two columns. On one side we must put down the some that believe not, and on the other the some that believe. We must not estimate the good that is done by the number of those--
1. Who listen. Instead of its being of any advantage for the persons who have heard the gospel, but have not believed, it will rather increase their doom.
2. Who have been pleased with our ministry. When a man has to die, this shall give him no comfort. A sermon often does a man most good when it makes him most angry.
3. Who have been impressed with serious convictions.
I. Under the best ministry the results will be diverse. Paul was a model preacher--
1. As to matter.
(1) There are some persons who greatly admire a doctrinal preacher. Mere appeals to the passions they do not care about; they want to have their minds enlightened. Well, a doctrinal preacher is an exceedingly useful man, and the apostle’s discourses were full of the most important truth; but even under Paul there were some that believed not!
(2) Some prefer an experimental preacher. But Paul was a perfect model in this respect. Be it so, and I can fully approve their choice. Yet even under him there were some that believed not.
(3) Then there is the practical preacher, and some men greatly admire him. So do I if he urges holiness upon the people of God from evangelical motives. But who ever did this so well as Paul? Yet under him some believed not.
2. As to manner.
(1) He was a bold preacher. He never feared the face of man.
(2) He was an eloquent preacher. Perhaps the concluding part of the eighth chapter of the Romans is the most remarkable piece of human language ever known.
(3) When occasion required, his thunders could make Felix tremble; and his persuasive appeals could wring confessions from Agrippa; but as a teacher in the Church of God he was proverbially plain spoken. He spoke like a child, and babes in grace were fed under his ministry as with pure milk.
(4) Then the apostle was very affectionate. He loved the souls of men. He felt sometimes such a passionate longing to save souls, that he was almost ready to lose his own if he might but save others. “Oh!” says one, “I wish I sat under such a minister!” Yes, but I am not sure that you would be saved if you had Paul himself for a pastor, for with all his boldness, etc., some believed not.
II. The two sorts of people, and the reason why some believed, and why some believed not.
1. There were some that believed.
(1) Shall I describe them? I will sketch one, and that will suffice for all. He dropped in one Sunday morning and listened; it did not attract his attention much; but all of a sudden the truth dropped right into his heart. He now listened with interest. Another sentence came, and another. He began to tremble. “What must I do to be saved?” was the language that was in his heart. He went home into his chamber, and breathed out living desires after the living God. In the evening he went to the house of God again. It seemed as if the preacher prepared a sermon on purpose for him, and the great hammer of God broke his flinty heart, and he could not help feeling that there was no hope for him. He was very quiet that week; he could not go out with his friends to places of amusement as he had been accustomed to do. I do not know how long it was that this went on; in some cases it is only a few minutes, in others it is a long, long time. But eventually Christ was seen to be accepted cordially as his Saviour. He believed and went on his way rejoicing, From that day all that knew him could but marvel at the change.
(2) Why did some believe? It was not any difference in the preacher, for the same preacher addressed both. It was not any difference in the sermon, for the same sermon was preached. It was not the power of persuasion, for there were some that were persuaded and some that were not by the very same address. I only know of one answer: Because God willed it.
2. There were some that believed not.
(1) They are of different characters. Some have been brought up at a Sunday School, and have attended a place of worship all their lives; others spend their Sundays in dissipation or frivolity. Some try to quiet their conscience by pretending that they do not believe the Bible to be true; others assent to all the truths of revelation. Some that believe not are very moral; others are debauched and go very far astray. We must put you all down together. There are no third parties. You either do believe or you do not.
(2) Why do you not believe? Some will be ready to say, “Hear what contradictory doctrine is preached!” I cannot help it. The only reason why you do not believe in Christ is because you will not. It is not that you have not heard the gospel; nor because it is unworthy of your credence; nor because it does not deserve your faith; nor because you have never been aroused. The reason is contained in Christ’s own words, “Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life.” If your soul shall perish, it shall perish as suicide. “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself.” Conclusion: I must close by dividing this house. Suppose this aisle to represent the great division, and that the some that believe had to stand on this side, and the some that do not believe on that side. There would soon be a change of seats. There would be a great number that would say, “Well, I cannot go on this side; I dare not say I do believe in Christ. And yet I cannot go to the other side; let me stand here.” No, no; there are only two places, heaven and hell, and there are only two sorts of people, the righteous and the wicked. There is no neutral ground. Think not to halt between two opinions. Now will you do me this favour? I asked it once, and it was blessed to the conversion of several. Take a paper and pencil, and after you have honestly weighed your own condition, if you feel that you are not a believer write down “Condemned,” and if you are a believer write down the word “Forgiven.” Do it, even though you have to write down the word condemned. We lately received into Church fellowship a young man, who said, “Sir, I wrote down the word condemned, and I looked at it; there it was; I had written it myself--‘Condemned.’” As he looked the tears began to flow, and ere long he fled to Christ, put the paper in the fire, and wrote down “Forgiven.” This young man was about the sixth who had been brought to the Lord in the same way. Remember you are either one or the other; you are either condemned or forgiven. Do not stand between the two. Let it be decided, and even if you are condemned today, there is hope yet. Whosoever believeth on Christ shall not perish, but have everlasting life. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The necessity of faith
It makes no difference who is the preacher, or what or how long is his sermon--he cannot make his hearers believe him. The declaration of the truth is his duty; the accepting or rejecting of his message rests with them. We may warn a child of the danger of leaning out of a window, or of going on to thin ice; we may tell a young man of the peril of using intoxicating drinks, or of disregarding the laws of health in his eating, sleeping, or working; we may show plainly to an unwise parent the inevitable consequences of his neglect or mistraining of his children; but unless he whom we address believes us, our words are wasted, and our efforts are of no avail. In the pressing of any truth, we can only make sure of faithful preaching. The belief of the hearers is not for us to force. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand.
The passage from which the apostle quotes is Isaiah 6:1-13, where the prophet received a special commission and was forewarned that he would address his message to a hardened, unbelieving people--the effect of the message on the people’s minds is described as if it were the express design of the message. It would be easy to adduce other examples, in which the prophets are said to do that which they predict. The passage is quoted--
1. In Matthew 13:14, to illustrate the design of the parabolic mode of instruction which the Saviour adopted. By this application of the passage we learn that it not merely foretold the unbelief of the Jews, but its judicial consequence. Slighted privileges were to be diminished. Despised instructions were to be rendered more obscure (cf. Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10)
2. In John 12:37-41, where the Jews having, disregarded the miracles of Christ it is said, “Therefore they could not believe, because Esaias had said again, He hath blinded their eyes.” It cannot mean that the prediction prevented their believing; but that it could not have been falsified by fact. Yet the additional idea of judicial abandonment seems to be conveyed. Not merely is the message, in just retribution, obscure; but the unbelieving mind is left to its perversity, which is equivalent to judicial hardening.
3. In Romans 11:7-8. There the unbelieving Jews are said to be “blinded”; and God is said to have “given them the spirit of slumber.” Here we discover, also, the sentiment of judicial abandonment issuing in hardened unbelief. The text--
I. Describes the character of such as are the subjects of judicial hardness. Note--
1. The examples of this sad and guilty state Chat we may learn what are its characteristics.
(a) The Israelites of the prophet’s day. It was the lot of Isaiah to prophesy during the period of Israel’s degeneracy. From the time of Solomon the worship of God had begun to be polluted by idolatry, which now had become prevalent. At this juncture Isaiah was raised up, but though his lips were touched with the living coal, his messages fell upon rebellious ears. Their hearts were hardened. The prophet retired, saying, “Who hath believed our report?” At length the threatened judgment came; idolatrous Judah was carried captive into Assyria.
(b) Pass on to the times of Jesus. Kings and prophets desired to see His day, and died without the sight. How hallowed was His ministry! how privileged were His auditors! Who could hear Him, and not be convinced? Alas! even from Him the people turned away in hardened unbelief, and then they crucified Him.
(c) Next came the apostles with their offer of a full salvation, but many believed not. Their prejudices were inveterate.
(d) The spirit Of the ancient Jews has descended upon their descendants (2 Corinthians 3:14-15; Romans 11:10).
(2) After this examination of instances, we see the principal elements of judicial hardness. It is in one word--spiritual stupidity. While sufficiently perspicacious in regard to everything worldly, they were blind, and deaf, and insensible to Divine things. In characterising such a state of mind, I must point out--
(a) Its perversity. Evidence might amount to demonstration; they would not believe.
(b) Its prejudice. They scarcely deigned to examine, because they had already formed their conclusion.
(c) Its wilfulness. Though the gleamings of conviction might glance on their minds they would not yield to it.
(d) Its infatuation. That which had been long, repeatedly, and resolutely rejected seemed at last unworthy of a moment’s investigation.
(e) Its obstinate malignity.
2. Having, by an induction of Scripture instances, ascertained the elements of judicial hardness, we may now apply the test to living character.
(1) Ignorance is one form of it. Not a few who attend an evangelical ministry find all its messages a parable. They are not obtuse in intellectual faculty, yet the gospel of Christ is to them an unintelligible mystery. You go to them determined that, at least, they shall not mistake your meaning, you speak to them as little children; but, after all, they know not whereof you affirm.
(2) Error is another form. Scepticism is but a form of judicial hardness. The truth is distasteful; the mind, preoccupied with its own distaste, turns away from evidence, and eagerly seizes on difficulty and objection.
(3) But the form which is most prevalent is the unbelief or insensibility of orthodoxy. Its subjects are persons who are not ignorant of the doctrines we preach, nor disposed to deny them. Yet they come and go at ease, whilst living without God in the world. Is not this a case of amazing stupidity? It is as if the dead should come forth from their graves, and clothe themselves anew in the habiliments of this world, and with eyes unclosed, and ears unstopped, should sit in this place, beholding and listening, yet uniting, with the recovery of sensation, a soulless insensibility to the purport of all which they should see and hear.
II. Exhibits the righteous retribution involved in the case of judicial hardness.
1. This will appear, when you observe how mercy, slighted, becomes the means of developing depravity. Had no prophet arisen in Judah, we might have mourned the seduction of the idolatrous tribes, rather than have denounced their criminality. When judgment at length descended upon them, no plea was left them, for ample warning had been given, and had tended but to demonstrate their perversity (2 Chronicles 36:14-16). When Jesus was upon earth the unbelief of the Jews demonstrated the hardness of their hearts and became an aggravation of guilt (John 15:22-24). When apostles conveyed the gospel to their countrymen, and they rejected the message, those heralds of mercy shook off the very dust of their feet as a witness against them (Luke 10:12). In every age the faithful ministers of Christ have to say, “We are the savour of death unto death,” etc. (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). Thus does mercy itself become the occasion of demonstrating depravity. It is not, however, the cause of that aggravated depravity, although it becomes the means of developing it. “For judgment,” said the Saviour, “I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.” Their blindness was not, however, the effect of the light; the light was but the occasion of demonstrating it. It is thus that Jesus Himself expounds His own words (John 9:39; John 9:41).
2. When mercy has thus been slighted and insulted it may be withdrawn; the hardened hearer may be removed beyond the sound of the gospel; and he that trifled with impression may be debarred of the means of impression. God may say to His minister, “Thou shalt be dumb,” etc. (Ezekiel 3:26).
3. But the more ordinary course of Divine retribution is to leave the hardened heart to its own hardness. Hence, as the hardening of our nature is the consequence of Divine withdrawment, God is Himself said to harden the heart. And God has but to abandon us to ourselves, and then the most fearful characteristics will be developed. “My Spirit shall not always strive with man” (Genesis 6:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:19; Hebrews 10:29). The soul from which God has withdrawn is like the barren soil on which no rain descends, ever becoming more sterile; like the body from which life has passed, every day yielding more and more to corruption.
4. Under such a state the soul is becoming daily more meet for wrath. It is, in itself, the most fearful token of wrath ever to be experienced. It is death to the soul, the commencement of death eternal, even in this world. But the doom is not yet sealed. For the text--
III. Constitutes an alarm calculated to awaken from the slumbers of judicial hardness. The whole dispensation of Divine government towards us is a dispensation of mercy. Even the severest denunciations of wrath are uttered in merciful warning, and the flames of the pit are made a beacon to arrest our attention and awaken our alarms. When the prophet was sent to the people of Israel, it was that he might arouse them. After Jesus had wept over Jerusalem as lost He charged His disciples to begin their ministry at Jerusalem. When Paul described the hardness and abandonment of the Jews he did so that he “might save some of them” (Romans 11:14). And in the case of our text he called back the unbelieving Jews to say this one word, with the hope that the faithful warning he gave them might haply be the means of awakening them. (J. Ely.)
At this moment when I am beginning to preach there are many persons dying. There is the last breath, the last sharp pang, the last sore struggle, and now they are dead. Let us follow the course their souls have taken; and think that, in this minute, some souls are entering heaven. Now, even now, some are enjoying the beatific vision of Christ. And at this moment also some who were living when I began to speak to you are now in woe, feeling for the first time what is meant by losing the soul. But why is it that this tremendous fact does not strike us more forcibly? If we saw one drowning man, that sight would disturb our waking hours and haunt our sleep. And why should it be, then, that the thought of a matter incomparably more striking and weighty should wake in us no feeling that will last? It is that hearing we can hear and not understand, and seeing we can see and not perceive. The monster evil of our fallen nature is this want of power to realise spiritual things. The misery is that we know such things are, but cannot make it seem as if they were. We know that Moses and the prophets are enough if men would but hear them; we know that Christ, lifted up from the earth, exerts a force that ought to draw all men to Him; yet men will not hear, and will not come, and will not be saved. And will nothing serve to waken men up from this sleep of ruin? Do not we sometimes think, like the rich man in woe, that if one went to them from the dead men would repent? Ah, but what could he tell them that they do not know already? It is no news that “the wicked shall be turned into hell,” and that is the sum of what he could say. I shall point out some of the leading truths and realities in regard to which our souls are affected by this wretched dulness of perception.
I. The constant presence and inspection of God. Every man knows, and is ready to acknowledge, that God is everywhere, and therefore of course is here; but is there one man in a million who will venture to say he realises what is meant by this? Unless you feel the presence of God just as forcibly as if the flames of Sinai shone on your face, or the still small voice that spoke to Elijah fell thrilling on your ear, you are hearing without understanding, and seeing while you do not perceive. And if it be that even in this solemn place, and with all the advantage of having your thoughts specially directed to the subject your minds labour in vain to bring it home to them that God is here as much as you, how little realised must have been the thought that He was your constant Companion in the long hours of common life. Now, why should this be? If some dimly seen form, a being from another world, should haunt your steps, you think that that would be something whose presence you would feel as something real and true. And why, then, should it be, that the constant presence of the Infinite Spirit should be so often forgot, and so faintly felt when it is remembered best? A man whose blood would be chilled and his tongue palsied by even the suspicion of the presence of an apparition of a human being, hears us tell with absolutely no emotion how there is beside him forever the King Eternal, Immortal, Invisible. And the only explanation is that to believe a thing and to realise it are wide as the poles asunder.
II. The reality of the future life. Almost every man will confess that all the millions who have lived on this earth are living yet; and that he him self, when he dies, will be only going into another world. But the vast majority of those who profess to believe all this do not realise it. Their conduct proves this. Very many live as if they were to live on earth forever. Think of the worldly prudent man who is content to wear away the best years of his life in constant toil and pinching privation, that he may surround his declining years with comfort. And think you that this prudent man would live on without making the least provision for life hereafter, if he really felt, what he professes to believe, that after-years in this world are not half so sure to come to him, as endless ages are in a state of being for which earthly riches make no provision? Or, think of the regardless sinner who goes on in the path of guilt and shame, though he has read of the worm that never dies and the fire that is never quenched, and though he never doubts that these things are somewhere. Yes, he believes it, but he does not feel it; he hears without understanding, and he sees without perceiving. For, if he could call up the black picture of the place of woe, would he live one hour more in the path which must lead thither?
III. A need of a saving interest in Christ. This seems a simple thing. A man perishing for thirst knows thoroughly his need of that water which will quench it; and every sinful creature’s need of the Saviour is just as pressing and as real. Ask any thoughtful professing Christian what it is he most needs. It requires no deliberation to answer such a question. Many firings are desirable, but one thing is needful; and that is a saving interest in Christ. Well, then, if a thing be truly felt to be the thing we most need, there are two consequences which will follow--the desire we feel for that thing so needful, and the exertion we put forth to gain it, will be incomparably greater than we ever felt or put forth in the case of anything else. Is all this so? Let me ask what you have been most earnestly desiring for the last few days? The thing you most need? If not, then you have not realised your need of the Saviour. If you feel that you are more anxious to get on in life, then you are not realising that need. Again, look back and consider what it is you have spent most pains on. Most of us have worked hard in our day. Did we work hardest to get the one thing needful? Or is it not rather true that we have spent the best part of our strength upon our worldly affairs; and given only jaded powers, and any odd scraps of time to doing that which we profess to believe is the great thing we have to do on earth? (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles.
The salvation of God
I. The salvation of the gospel is “the salvation of God.”
1. It emanates from God. It is the product of His power and wisdom. It is the great display of His holiness and of His justice. It stands eternally secure in His unchangeableness and in His truth. It is the stream of mercy that floweth from the God of mercy.
(1) There was everything in man, to check the stream of God’s mercy. If we look at him as falling in the first Adam, it was so. But besides the fall, in which we were all involved, there was man’s own personal sin. It is no right view of sin, to look at it merely as a disease, as a source of misery. It is rebellion against God; it is opposition to His holiness; it is provocation to His justice.
(2) There was much in God to check it. One knows not of any one perfection belonging to Jehovah, that did not close the door of mercy, save only His love. But it is His grace that opened the door; and it is His grace that keeps that door open.
2. It is the gift of God. He gives it “without money and without price.” It is His munificent, magnificent gift in Christ Jesus, to the very chiefest of sinners.
3. It is the salvation of God in our nature; who, if He had not been man, could never have suffered--and if He had not been God, could never have merited; in whose atonement there is all the glory of Deity, and in whose humanity there is all the perfection of obedience.
4. It is “the salvation of God,” and the Spirit of God can alone convey it to our hearts. It is not education, reason, argument, the tears of parents, moral influence, but the Spirit of God.
II. This salvation is worthy of God.
1. God never can act below Himself. All that He does, He does worthily. His Book of creation is a Book in which He manifests forth His glory; so with His Book of Providence. But it is in “the salvation of God,” we read that glory in the most distinct and wondrous characters.
(1) There we see perfections that never would have been known but for this salvation. Man might have guessed, imagined, that there was that goodness in God that would blot out sin; but never could he have known it, in all the mysteries of creation, and in all the wonders of Providence.
(2) There we find the perfections of God in all their harmony. A note may be beautiful; but how much more a chord! Many chords may be beautiful; but how much more all those chords in one grand chorus! And what is the glory of that chorus, that doth unite God’s glorious perfections in one song--“Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men!” See how it meets all the varied cases of sinners. Not one so vile, but there is a pardon in Jesus enough for him. None so unrighteous, but there is enough in Jesus for his righteousness. No case so hopeless, but there is hope here.
2. But this salvation is worthy of God as being most just.
(1) This is its peculiarity, and sets it apart from all false religions in the world.
(2) It is infinitely holy. The doctrines, the promises, the precepts, are all holy. If God’s people are chosen “to be holy.” If they are redeemed, it is that they may be “redeemed from all iniquity.”
(3) The only source of all solid happiness? (J. Harrington Evans, M. A.)
Salvation etymologically considered
There are few things which distinguish the gospel as the spiritual power and significance which it has been able to infuse into the common possessions of human nature. The revelations of God have not been so much creative as adaptive, taking the things which already exist, and giving to them a fresh meaning and force. Nothing illustrates this more than the way in which the truth of the gospel has infused itself into human vocabularies. It brought new ideas which the apostles clothed in the old words to which they gave a fresh meaning. Human speech would have been weakened, and would have lost its wealth, but for what the gospel has done for the dictionary. Take the word salvation.
I. Salvation is safety. A man rescued from imminent peril is safe, saved, has found salvation. Jesus Christ has come to make us safe.
1. The peril from which salvation delivers us is that of the penalties of broken law, and that of the inner results of the nature which has been abused by sin.
2. Christ brings salvation because--
(1) He has so acted in relation to external law, in respect of guilt, that we are delivered from the penalty and are safe.
(2) But there is not only this justifying of man in the sight of God. Christ has set man right in his internal relations by delivering him from sin.
II. Salvation is health. The word is connected with “salutary” and “heal.” Jesus Christ is called the Great Physician, not simply because He went about healing the body, but because He is the Physician of the soul. The former is the symbol of the latter. He takes away sin which is the soul’s disease, and restores the proper condition of our spiritual nature. How little do we feel the power of this full salvation! We want to escape hell. What we need to escape is the sin sickness of the soul, that restlessness, that feverishness, that wild disturbing passion of our lower nature.
III. Salvation is wholeness. When a man was healed the old English version says he was “made whole.” And Christ went about making men whole.
1. There is no health if there be no wholeness. There is no perfect cure of the nature if Christ does not restore it to its completeness. Sin is a maimed condition of our nature. Christ comes as the Minister of mind, soul, and body.
2. Let us be careful in our application of this gospel to the wants of our times, to the growth of our Church, to our individual character, to our families, to the life of society and of the State, that we do not present a maimed gospel.
IV. Salvation is happiness. The word was employed as a greeting. Salve. It is a salutation, a wish for joy. We have not come to its full meaning until it has swung itself round this whole sphere of human nature in blessedness and gladness. There is a place for sorrow, but if the gospel does not take you beyond sorrow you have only partly learned Jesus. God is the God of joy and not of sadness. (Ll. D. Bevan, D. D.)
The Churches warned
I. These Jews, like us, had long been in possession of exclusive privileges, and accustomed to survey without emotion the great mass of mankind deprived of them. They were in exclusive possession of the Scriptures, a pure worship, and an authorised ministry. So are Christians now, as compared with millions of heathen, and the Protestant Churches, in comparison even with millions of nominal Christians. But let us not, in looking at the resemblances, overlook the marked points of diversity. The exclusive privileges of the ancient Jews were theirs by an express Divine appointment. Their adherence to the old restrictions, after the set time for their removal had arrived, was indeed an act of flagrant unbelief and disobedience; but until that time came they were shut up to the necessity of standing aloof. Does our situation correspond with this? The enclosures which have shut us in are human structures, reared by selfishness and cemented by apathy, and differ wholly from the walls by which the ancient Zion was encompassed.
II. Note the influence of long-continued and exclusive privileges on the opinions and belief of those enjoying them. Advantages possessed by a few for the good of the many may easily come to be regarded as prerogatives belonging to the few, to the entire exclusion of the many. This was the case with the Jews, and it could not fail to produce a general distortion in their doctrinal views. They who could not be persuaded, that “the law must go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem,” could never be expected to appreciate the truth, that the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul. They who believed that the truth or mercy of Jehovah existed for themselves alone, could surely never have obtained a glimpse of what His truth and mercy are. Because they were favoured, for a time, with an exclusive revelation, they forgot the very end for which they had received it, and forgetting this, were naturally led to take distorted views of that religion which they thus regarded as exclusively their own forever. So may we, so have we, reaped precisely the same fruit from precisely the same seed, so far as we have sown it. But more specifically take--
1. The great doctrine which divided the apostle of the Gentiles from his Jewish hearers. Common to both was a professed belief in Moses and the prophets, and in the promises of Messiah as the Saviour of His people. But they fatally diverged at an essential point. Paul believes that the Messiah has already come, and that Jesus of Nazareth is He, and as a necessary consequence, that the restrictions of the old economy are at an end, and the diffusion of the true religion through the world the first great duty of God’s people. They, on the contrary, regard the advent of Messiah as still future, and the barrier between Jews and Gentiles as still standing; which indeed led them to look for a Saviour who had never been promised, and could never come. Instead of one who should destroy all national restrictions, they expected a national deliverer. This dream of national advancement could be verified only at the cost of other nations. Their mistake as to the Messiah, therefore, tended directly to cherish a spirit of national exclusiveness, and to suppress all rising of a Catholic charity. And the same connection still exists, and will betray itself between a Jewish doctrine and a Jewish practice. For, although it is impossible that any Christian should embrace the very error of the old Jews, it is easy to embrace one of a similar description by inadequate conceptions of the Christian system. There is great danger of our looking through the wrong end of the telescope, and seeing that diminished which we ought to have seen magnified, the world reduced to a nut shell, and our own house or village swelled into a world. We must begin as the apostles did with the idea of a world to be converted, and from this descend to the particulars included. And then remember that, unlike the Jews, Christians are not intrusted with the oracles of God as an exclusive deposit, even for a time. We have them that we may diffuse them. A great and effectual door into the heathen world is opened, and the voice of God is calling us to enter it. Everything, both at home and abroad--in the teachings of God’s Word, and in the leadings of His providence--in the condition of the heathen and our own--makes us as free to think and act for their conversion, as the old Jews were paralysed and crippled with respect to it. And yet, with all this difference in our favour, may we not be still too Jewish in our spirit and our conduct, with respect to those less favoured than ourselves? The old middle walls of partition have fallen at the blast of the trumpet, but may we not rear up others in their stead?
2. The resemblance which may possibly exist between the cases, with respect to providential retributions. What means that solemn and repeated declaration of the great apostle, that he turns away from the Jews to the Gentiles? That his personal ministry should now take that direction, or that the Gentiles should, in spite of Jewish prejudice and bigotry, become partakers of their once exclusive privileges? This is not enough. There is an evident allusion, not only to a change, but to an interchange of character and state--not only to the culture of the desert, but to the desolation of the vineyard. Left to his cherished notions of hereditary sanctity and safety, and his dreams of a Messiah yet to come, Israel has vanished from his place among the living, to haunt the nations as the restless ghost of a departed people, or to glide about the graveyard where his hopes lie buried, while the dry bones of many nations, who appeared to slumber without hope, have been raised again and clothed with flesh, and new life breathed into their resurrection bodies. To apply this let us dwell on the map of Christendom, as it was at the death of the last apostle, or even fourteen hundred years ago--looking particularly at the western coast of Asia Minor and the northern coast of Asia--not only with their present desolation, but with the actual state of Christianity in Britain and in those climes which have neither name nor place upon the chart of ancient knowledge, is it certain that this process of rotation has been finally arrested? Is it not possible, to say the least, that the vicissitudes yet future may sustain the same relation to extraordinary privilege and culpable abuse of it, as those which are already past? I see not, therefore, why we should refuse to apply the last words of the text to ourselves, in the way of warning. If we are conscious of inadequate exertions and of cold affections in this great cause, let us think of Israel according to the flesh, and of what he was and what he is--remember that if we do not value Christianity enough to share it with the heathen, they may yet become possessed of it at our expense. (J. W. Alexander, D. D.)
The design of the Acts
The last testimony of the apostle throws light on the structure and design of this book. The history is designed to exhibit the transition of the kingdom from Israel to the whole human family. When this transference has been completed, the historian’s work is done. Here, accordingly, the record abruptly closes. The final note, as in other melodies, is the keynote; Christ rejected by Israel to whom He came, is offered to the Gentiles. Henceforth all distinctions are levelled except one, the distinction between those who believe and those who believe not in the Son of God. There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, bond or free. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house.
Paul’s two years’ ministry in his own hired house
Here his biographer takes leave of Paul. The curtain falls on the great actor. The greatest life has a close. These verses suggest--
I. The essence of Christianity.
1. “Those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ”--not the things which concern religious speculations or organisations.
2. The reign of God over the human soul, “the kingdom of God.” The grand aim of Christ’s mission was to establish this, and nothing lay so near His heart. This was what He urged men to seek and to pray for, and what He illustrated in His parables. For this He works now, and will work until “the kingdoms of this world shall be the kingdoms of our God.”
II. The trials of its disciples.
1. That the best of us are not to expect exemption from trials. Let us not murmur. Paul felt that his were for his good, and “gloried in tribulations.”
2. That the most useful minister is not essential to Christ. He who laboured more than all is now under restraint. Let no man overrate his services.
III. The mission of Christ’s ministers.
1. Paul’s “preaching” was “teaching”--not declamation, or a repetition of platitudes however logically or rhetorically put. This implies learning on the part of the hearer, and superior intelligence on the part of the minister.
2. His teaching was the indoctrinating of men in Christian essentials.
IV. The force of its influence.
1. Of its soul sustaining influence--“With all confidence”--in the midst of enemies.
2. Of its aggressive influence (Philippians 1:12-14; Philemon 1:10). (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Christ’s finished and unfinished work
(with Acts 1:1-2):--So begins and so ends this book. I connect the commencement and the close, because I think that the juxtaposition throws great light upon the purpose of the writer, and suggests some very important lessons. The reference to “the former treatise” (which is, of course, the Gospel according to Luke) implies that this book is to be regarded as its sequel, and the terms of the reference show the writer’s own conception of what he was going to do in his second volume. “The former treatise have I made … of all that Jesus began both to do and teach until the day in which He was taken up.” Is not the natural inference that the latter treatise will tell us what Jesus continued “to do and teach” after He was taken up? So, then, the name “the Acts of the Apostles,” which is not coeval with the book itself, is somewhat of a misnomer. Most of the apostles are never heard of in it. There are, at the most, only three or four of them concerning whom anything in the book is recorded. But our first text supplies a deeper reason for regarding that title as inadequate, and even misleading. For, if the theme of the story be what Christ did, then the book is, not the “Acts of the Apostles,” but the acts of Jesus Christ through His servants. That conception of the purpose of the book seems to me to have light cast upon it by, and to explain, the singular abruptness of the conclusion which must strike every reader. The historian lays down his pen, possibly because he had brought his narrative up to date. But a word of conclusion explaining that it was so would have been very natural, and its absence must have had some reason. It is also possible that the arrival of the apostle in the imperial city, and his unhindered liberty of preaching there, in the very centre of power, the focus of intellectual life, and the hot bed of corruption for the known world, may have seemed to the writer an epoch which rounded off his story. But I think that the reason for the abruptness of the record’s close is to be found in the continuity of the work of which it tells a part. It is the unfinished record of an incomplete work. The theme is the work of Christ through the ages, of which each successive depository of His energies can do but a small portion, and must leave that portion unfinished, the book does not so much end as stop. It is a fragment because the work of which it tells of is not yet a whole.
I. First, then, we have here the suggestion of what Christ began to do and teach on earth. Now, at first sight, the words of our text seem to be in strange and startling contradiction to the solemn cry which rang out of the darkness upon Calvary. Jesus said, “It is finished! and gave up the ghost.” Luke says He “began to do and teach.” Is there any contradiction between the two? Certainly not. It is one thing to lay a foundation; it is another thing to build a house. And the work of laying the foundation must be finished before the work of building the structure upon it can be begun. The former is the work of Christ which was finished on earth; the latter is the work which is continuous throughout the ages. “He began to do and teach,” not in the sense that any should come after Him and do--as the disciples of most great discoverers and thinkers have had to do: systematise, rectify, and complete the first glimpses of truth which the Master had given. “He began to do and teach,” not in the sense that after He had passed into the heavens any new truth or force can for evermore be imparted to humanity in regard of the subjects which He taught and the energies which He brought. But whilst thus His work is complete His earthly work is also initial. And we must remember that whatever distinction my text may mean to draw between the work of Christ in the past and that in the present and the future, it does not mean to imply that when He ascended up on high He had not completed the task for which He came, or that the world had to wait for anything more, either from Him or from others, to eke out the imperfections of His doctrine or the insufficiencies of His work.
II. But then, secondly, we have to notice what Christ continues to do and to teach after his ascension. I have already suggested that the phraseology of the first of my texts naturally leads to the conclusion that the theme of this book of the Acts is the continuous work of the ascended Saviour, and that the language is not forced by being thus interpreted is very obvious to anyone who will glance even cursorily over the contents of the book itself. For there is nothing in it more obvious and remarkable than the way in which, at every turn in the narrative, all is referred to Jesus Christ Himself. He only is the Actor; men are His implements and instruments. The same point of view is suggested by another of the characteristics of this book, which it shares in common with all Scripture narratives, and that is the stolid indifference with which it picks up and drops men, according to the degree in which, for the moment, they are the instruments of Christ’s power. As long as God uses a man the man is of interest to the writer of the Scripture. When God uses another one, they drop the first, and have no more care about him, because their theme is not men and their doings, but God’s doings through men. On us, and in us, and by us, and for us, if we are His servants, Jesus Christ is working all through the ages. He is the Lord of providence, He is the King of history, in His hand is the book with the seven seals; He sends His Spirit, and where His Spirit is He is; and what His Spirit does He does. And thus He continues to teach and to work from His throne in the heavens. Now these truths of our Lord’s continuous activity in teaching and working from heaven may yield us some not unimportant lessons. What a depth and warmth and reality the thoughts give to the Christian’s relation to Jesus Christ! What a sweetness and sacredness such thoughts impart to all external events, which we may regard as being the operation of His love, and moved by the hands that were nailed to the Cross for us, and now hold the sceptre of the universe for the blessing of mankind. What a fountain of hope they open in estimating future probabilities of victory for truth and goodness!
III. Lastly, we note the incompleteness of each man’s share in the great work. As I said, the book which is to tell the story of Christ’s continuous work from heaven must stop abruptly. There is no help for it. If it was a history of Paul it would need to be wound up to an end and a selvage put to it, but as it is the history of Christ’s working, the web is not half finished, and the shuttle stops in the middle of a cast. The book must be incomplete because the work of which it is the record does not end until He shall have delivered up the kingdom to the Father, and God shall be all in all. So the work of each man is but a fragment of that great work. Every man inherits unfinished tasks from his predecessors, and leaves unfinished tasks to his successors. It is, as it used to be in the middle ages, when the men that dug the foundations, or laid the first courses of some great cathedral, were dead long generations before the gilded cross was set on the apex of the needle spire, and the glowing glass filled in to the painted windows. Enough for us if we lay a stone, though it be but one stone in one of the courses of the great building. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Paul’s two years in Rome
By this time we ought to be independent of the historian and to be able to write Paul’s diary with our own hand. There are some friends we need not consult because we know exactly how they would address themselves to every embarrassment. The historian pays us a compliment in condensing into two little verses the industry of two years in Rome, as if he should say, “You know how the years would be occupied.” A prisoner who has a case on appeal, how will he occupy himself during that period of waiting? If you inquire about a stranger, you will say, “He will spend his time in setting up his case.” Is Paul occupied in getting up his case? Read verse 31. At the last as at the first--just the same. In other cities Paul went about finding opportunities, opening doors and boldly entering in. Is he doing that now during those two years in Rome? Observe the construction of the sentence and make your own inference. “Paul dwelt”--Paul “received all that came in unto him.” But Paul occupied his two years in doing something more than preaching. He would have been but a name today had he not occupied his time in writing his immortal epistles. Only a few can ever hear the living voice; but the writing lives. What should we have known of Paul but for the Epistles?
I. Let us look into Philippians. What an insight that gives us into his life at Rome.
1. In Acts 1:12 we read: “I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me”--he makes nothing of them where we should have made a great moan--“have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel.” In prison or out of prison Paul was occupied with one theme. Read verse 28, “in nothing terrified by your adversaries,” etc.” The encouragement comes from the man with whom we were about to sympathise. Read Acts 4:4. When we opened the letter we said: “Where is there a man amongst us with voice plaintive enough to read the minor music?” Read, again, Acts 1:21, and you will find the basis line upon which the whole is built. There is not a word about the appeal; the only reference is to Christ and to the Church. Was there not great basis of doctrine under all this high sentiment? Read Acts 2:5-11. But was Paul speaking after the manner of a man who had counted the cost of this? Did he really know what he was doing? Read Acts 3:7-11. But was he one who had nothing to lose? Hear him in the same chapter: “If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more,” etc. Reading this letter, I have no hesitation in saying that men with such views cannot be in prison. The views themselves are like a great firmament. Such men cannot want (Acts 4:11, etc.). Nero is a poor man compared with his prisoner, and such men cannot die (Acts 3:20-21). Do you admire Paul in these circumstances? Paul was only Paul because Christ was Christ. When Paul receives our homage he points us in one direction, and says, “God forbid that I should glory,” etc.
II. Let us now look into Ephesians. In Acts 3:1 he describes himself as “the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,” in Acts 4:1 as “the prisoner of the Lord,” in chap. viz 20 as “an ambassador in bonds.” This is the way in which to use a chain, an infirmity of any kind. Paul does not whine about himself being a prisoner; but says, “It is the Lord’s chain.” He is not a prisoner of Caesar, but a prisoner of Christ. Look at his care of souls (Ephesians 1:16-23). He asked no mean gifts for the Christian soul, but all heaven’s riches. Then his care for the Church as a whole (Ephesians 4:32). He lays an infinite line even upon social relations, differences, and controversies, and rules them into order by the very grandeur of his appeal. People have admired the apostle’s logic; my own feeling is that none could love like Paul. Next we have his care for the family. Not one member of the household is omitted (Ephesians 5:25, etc.).
III. Let us now look into Colossians. In the last line he says, “Remember my bonds.” A word is enough to those whose hearts are in right tune. How did the great apostle regard his fellow labourers? Did he so tower above them as to be unconscious of their existence? (Read Acts 4:10; Acts 4:12; Acts 4:14.) Paul did not forget anybody. No touch of a gentle hand ever escaped his notice, who stands next to Christ in the wisdom and penetration of his love. And if the servant does not forget, can He forget who is Master? The Lord is not unrighteous to forget your work of faith and labour of love.
IV. Let us look into Philemon. Paul entreats Philemon as “Paul the aged.” Cunning writer! He was not “Paul the aged” when labour was to be done, when suffering was to be undergone, when tyrants were to be faced; but when a slave was to be reinstated, Paul thought that if he represented himself as an old man, it would have a happy effect upon the sensibilities of Philemon. I do not know that Paul would have cared to have been called “Paul the aged,” yet he is willing to describe himself as such, because that might count for something and moisten the eyes of Philemon. Talk about the equality of men, and the over getting of social difficulties; read verse 17. This is said about a runaway, penitent slave! Why, he could not have given a nobler introduction to Caesar. This is what Christianity would do today: bring back every man that had wronged you, bring back every wanderer and reconstruct the household circle. Christianity harmonises the classes, not by dragging any class down, but by lifting all classes up. Paul said, with the audacity of an invincible faith, “If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee aught, put that on mine account”--a man who had not where to lay his head! But he knew he could pay all such obligations as that: “Albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.” Yes, these are the great debts that exist between man and man--not a debt of gold, but the debt of self. This is the debt which people owe to the great authors, thinkers, and preachers of the day. Conclusion: These are the letters; is the writer a fanatic? I will believe it when fanatics reason as he does. Is he a self-seeker? I will believe it when self-seekers suffer as he did. When you want to know what Christians are, do not look at us, but look at Paul. We ought to follow him as he followed Christ. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Paul’s two years’ residence at Rome
I. The time which the apostle spent at Rome. Two years complete.
1. The emperor was too much occupied with his guilty pleasures to be in haste to attend to this serious business, and the officers of state were not authorised to dismiss untried an appellant to Caesar; while the chiefs of the Jewish nation durst not appear as prosecutors.
2. So long an abode at Rome, with liberty of action, whatever indignity was put upon his person, was a high privilege. There were at Rome so many men of inquisitive minds, and abundant leisure, that his house must have been thronged. “He received all that came,” with open arms and heart.
3. The Church, however, I conclude, continued to meet in its former place; its own pastor or bishop, and other officers. Of Paul’s being bishop there is not the most distant hint. The apostles are never called bishops; for they held a higher office, incompatible with that of bishop or pastor, and to call an apostle a bishop, was as left-handed a compliment as it would be to call a king a mayor. Had any apostle been bishop of Rome, unquestionably it was Paul; but, strange to tell, Peter has been paraded as such. Had he been there, he would have been out of his diocese, for he was the apostle--not of the Gentiles, which was Paul’s office--but of the Jews. Accordingly, the last time Peter is seen he is pursuing his vocation to the twelve tribes, “scattered abroad through Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” Nor is it recorded in Scripture that he ever was at Rome. Numerous circumstances make it incredible that he had been there up to this. Paul had, a few years before, written to the Romans, but no mention is made of Peter. Paul gave this reason for longing to see them, “that he might impart to them some spiritual gift,” which Peter, had he been there, must have imparted. Paul arrives at Rome, and the Christians come out to meet him; but not a word is said then, or during the two years he spent there, of Peter. Letters were written from Rome by Paul, but not one of them contains a salutation from Peter. What! was he such a nonentity that his coming to Rome was so unimportant that of this the Divine oracles are dumb, while Paul’s voyage and journey thither form the most conspicuous portion of the inspired history? The world is filled with Paul’s letters from Rome; but it never hears a word from Peter, except from the Church at Babylon! Verily, Peter may say to the Romans, “Save me from my friends.” I have, however, asserted nothing concerning Peter’s suffering martyrdom at Rome, which is just barely possible. But that he did not found the “Apostolic See” is certain, for he was engaged in Syria till near the time when Aquila and Priscilla, members of that Church, were driven from Rome by Claudius. The “strangers from Rome,” who were at Jerusalem at the day of Pentecost, seem to have carried the first tidings of the gospel to Rome; and, therefore, it was no apostolic see, even if Peter and Paul, on a visit, presided there; for this apostles did at many places which are never called apostolic sees.
II. The employment of the apostle.
1. It was that of a herald proclaiming, as the original signifies, the kingdom of God. For the Sovereign of that kingdom sent forth His apostles to proclaim His ascension to the throne, and to call upon all nations to bow to His sceptre. A dangerous theme at Rome, under the eye of Nero! But it should be recollected that the apostle had already taught the Roman Church obedience to civil government. The Romans had learned from the Stoics, and especially Nero, from Seneca, that a good man is a king. Pilate, having received Christ’s good confession, “I am a King,” showed no jealous alarm, but said, “I find no fault in Him.” Such a kingdom as Paul preached could create no fear of its being “hurtful to governors and kings.” Civil government will be rendered more easy and more safe, as it certainly will be more equitable and more beneficial, by the universal prevalence of the kingdom of God. But had Paul’s proclamation of the kingdom included such a domination as popes afterwards set up at Rome, he would never have been permitted to act as its herald, where Nero reigned.
2. But he was “teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ.” While he was on this theme, a prison was to him a paradise.
3. That he spake “with all boldness,” or freedom, we are assured. A chain on his arm, and a soldier by his side, would have intimidated some men. It is a shame to us to speak of the Lord Jesus as if we were ashamed of Him. (J. Bennett, D. D.)
Paul at Rome: the preacher in chains, or the Word of God not bound
It is bound--
I. To no place. Thrust out of Jerusalem, the old city of God, the apostle erects his pulpit in the Gentile capital of the world.
II. By no power. The might of Rome was as little able as the hatred of the Jews to close the mouth of the apostle.
III. To no man. After Paul had finished his course, and sealed his testimony with his blood, the preaching of the Cross proceeded victoriously over the earth. (K. Gerok.)
Paul a prisoner at Rome today as he was eighteen hundred years ago
1. Paul the herald of evangelical liberty, bound by the fetters of human ordinances.
2. Paul the preacher of justification by faith, bound under the law of external righteousness of works.
3. Paul the man of apostolic poverty and humility, bound beside the splendour and pomp of the Popish dominion. (K. Gerok.)
It is obvious that he would not have been allowed to seek a lodging in the Jewish quarter beyond the Tiber, since he would be obliged to consult the convenience of the successions of soldiers who kept guard over him; and it is most likely therefore that his “hired apartment” was within close range of the Praetorian camp. Amongst the prisoners there he might have seen the Jewish priests who had been sent to Rome by Felix, and who won from their nation so much approval by their sufferings through abstinence from unclean meats. Here, too, he may have seen Caradoc, the British prince whose heroic resistance and simple dignity extorted praise even from Roman enemies. Considering that he was a prisoner his life was not dull. He had to put up with “the law’s delays,” perhaps through the loss, during shipwreck, of the eulogium of Festus, the non-appearance of his accusers, or the inhuman carelessness of Nero. But he was safe from the perils and tumults of the past twenty years, and exempt from the hard necessity of earning his daily bread. And if he was neglected by Jews he was acceptable to many Gentiles; if his gospel was mutilated by unworthy preachers, still Christ was preached; if his bonds were irksome they inspired others with zeal and courage; if one form of activity had been restrained, others were still open to him, and while he was strengthening distant Churches by his letters and emissaries, he was making God’s message known more and more widely in imperial Rome. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
The quiet disappearance of Paul at the close of the apostolic history
It points to--
1. The exalted Lord of the Church who abides, although His servants disappear.
2. The blessed rest into which God’s faithful servants are permitted to enter after the well-concluded day of work.
3. The work of faith and labour of love left behind to us from these first chosen witnesses.
4. The great day which will bring to light all that is now dark in the history of the kingdom of God. (K. Gerok.)
“The Acts” no fragment
The conclusion indeed comes to us too early; there are many things we would wish to know, yet we have enough. We have--
1. The laying of the foundation stone of the Church against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.
2. The mighty acts of the Saviour, who is with His people always, even unto the end of the world.
3. A mine of wholesome doctrine, secure comfort, and impressive example for the Church of all ages. (K. Gerok.)
The close of “the Acts”
I. The eras of a wonderful history.
1. The close of one chapter in Church history. The book began with Peter’s sermon at Jerusalem, and now closes with Paul’s ministry in Rome. What a marvellous history it is. “The course of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome,” says Lange, “is--
(1) A painful course, full of shame and persecution.
(2) A heroic course, full of the power of faith and love.
(3) A victorious course, full of mighty acts and Divine wonders.
(4) A blessed course, full of salvation and grace for ‘the present and the future.’”
2. The beginning of a new chapter in Church history. From Rome the gospel starts on a new course, and fulfils the promise at the commencement of the book. “Ye shall be My witness both in Jerusalem and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, unto the uttermost parts of the earth.”
II. The mightiness of a Christ-inspired man. Who can read this account of Paul without feeling that he was animated by a spirit, not of earth, nor of any human school of religion or morals, but by the Spirit of Him who gave His life a ransom to save the lost? He acknowledged this. “The love of Christ constraineth me.” “I live, yet not I, but Christ that liveth in me.” By sin we have lost our manhood; we are mean and cowardly. The Spirit of Christ can alone restore the true heart of humanity.
III. The mysterious method of Divine working. It was God’s purpose that the gospel should be preached in Rome. But how was this purpose fulfilled?
1. By one man. One might have expected an army of messengers. Numbers, however, in moral campaigns are secondary considerations. The one true man does the work.
2. One man, who is a prisoner. One might have thought that the Almighty Master would have guarded His messenger, and made his path straight and illustrious. But “God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts.”
IV. The fragmentary character of sacred history. Here the curtain drops upon the unfinished life of Paul. Curiosity craves for minute information concerning the closing scenes in the life of this wonderful man, but Scripture offers no gratification. Fuller details are--
1. Unnecessary. Luke has given sufficient memoranda of this man’s life to enable us to judge how sublimely he passed through the last scenes. The acts of a man’s daily life, and not the details of his death bed, are the best criteria of his soul life.
2. Would, perhaps, have been inexpedient. God is as kind in concealing as He is in revealing. Were the Bible to give us a full account of all the men it refers to, it would be a volume of unreadable dimensions, and would rather pander to the curiosity than advance the culture of humanity. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The prison literature of the Christian Church
To Paul’s prison life in Rome we owe some of the most important and consolatory Epistles. And he is not the only Christian prisoner who has been busy for God and man. Savonarola wrote his commentaries on Psalms 31:1-24; Psalms 51:1-19 during his month of imprisonment before his execution, which show that though he had much spiritual conflict, neither his faith nor his comfort yielded. The gentle Anne Askew, who was burnt at Smithfield , wrote the night before she suffered--
“Like as an armed knight appointed to the field
With this world will I fight, and faith shall be my shield.
Faith is that weapon strong which will not fail at need,
My foes therefore among therewith will I proceed.
I now rejoice in heart, and hope bids me do so,
That Christ will take my part, and ease me of my woe.”
Tyndale, to whom more than any other we owe our English Bible, wrote, during his imprisonment at Vilvorde, to the governor of the castle, asking for some articles of dress in a style that reminds us of Paul’s request that Timothy should bring his cloak from Troas; and then goes on to say: “But above all I entreat and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the procureur that he may kindly permit me to have my Hebrew Bible, Grammar, and Dictionary, that I may spend my time with my study.” Ridley wrote in the interval between his condemnation and execution, a long “farewell to all his true and noble friends in God,” which contains these sentences: “I warn you all, my well-beloved kinsfolk and countrymen, that ye be not amazed or astonished at the kind of my departure and dissolution, for I assure you I think it is the greatest honour that ever I was called unto in my life. For you know I no more doubt but that the causes whereof I am put to death are God’s causes and the causes of truth, than I doubt that John’s Gospel is the gospel of Christ, or that Paul’s Epistles are the very Word of God.” And only a short time before Lady Jane Grey, in sending, on the eve of her execution, her Greek Testament to her sister, wrote: “I am assured that I shall for the losing of a mortal life find an immortal felicity, the which I pray God grant you and enable you of His grace to live in His fear and die in the true Christian faith, from the which, in God’s name, I exhort you that you never swerve, neither for hope of life nor fear of death.” The hymn “Jerusalem, my happy home,” was, in one of its versions, composed by Francis Baker while a prisoner in the Tower, and in the same fortress Sir Walter Raleigh composed his “History of the World,” and wrote poems, of which the following is a specimen:--
“Rise my soul, with thy desires, to heaven,
And with divinest contemplation use
Thy time, where time’s eternity is given.
And let vain thoughts no more thy thoughts abuse,
But down in midnight darkness let them lie;
So live thy better, let thy worse thoughts die
And thou, my soul, inspired with sacred flame,
View and review, with most regardful eye,
Thy holy Cross, whence thy salvation came;
On which thy Saviour and thy sin did die;
For in that sacred object is much pleasure,
And in that Saviour is thy life, thy treasure.”
Everybody knows that Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” was the fruit of his labours in Bedford Gaol; and as the joy bells of the new Jerusalem kept ringing in his ears he forgot the vileness of the “cage” wherein he was confined. Not so well known are the letters of Samuel Rutherford, so unique for their unction and holy rapture, yet many of them were written from Aberdeen, to which city he had been confined by the Court of High Commission. George Wither, the Puritan poet, whose quaint motto was, “I grow and wither, both together,” had a chequered career, and many of his best pieces were composed in prison. His “Prison Meditation” has preserved his experiences for us:--
“While here I bide, though I unworthy be,
Do Thou provide all needful things for me,
And though friends grow unkind in my distress,
Yet leave not Thou Thy servant comfortless.
So, though in thrall my body must remain,
In mind I shall some freedom still retain;
And wiser made by this restraint shall be
Than if I had, until my death, been free.”
Who, having read, can ever forget the lines of Madam Guyon under similar circumstances?--
“My cage confines me round, abroad I cannot fly,
But though my wing is closely bound, my heart’s at liberty.
My prison walls cannot control the flight, the freedom of the soul.”
James Montgomery, wrote a whole volume of “Prison Amusements” while he was confined in York Castle, the victim of political injustice; and the hymn beginning “Spirit, leave thy house of clay” was composed in the same place on the occasion of the death of one of his fellow prisoners, who with seven others had suffered the loss of all worldly goods for conscience’ sake. And to mention no more, what an interesting record is that of the imprisonment in Burma of the sainted Judson for two years, during which he composed the beautiful paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer, commencing, “Our Father God, who art in heaven.” Now compare all this with the melancholy lines of Ovid and the letters of Cicero during their exile. The latter discover a pusillanimity humiliating to contemplate, and it would have been better for the orator’s reputation if they had been destroyed. The same thing has come out in the prison experiences of many others who, being without God, were also without hope in the world, Now how shall we account for the difference? Simply by the sustaining grace of the Lord Jesus. One of the greatest triumphs of modern horology is the construction of a chronometer with a compensation balance which keeps it moving at the same rate in every temperature. What that balance is to the timepiece, the grace of God is to the believer’s heart. It gives him equanimity in all experiences. It makes prosperity safe and adversity salutary. It puts for him a rainbow in every cloud, opens a fountain in every wilderness, and gives a song for every night. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Acts 28". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25