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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Acts 27

 

 


Verses 1-20

Chapter97

Prayer

Almighty God, the morning is thine. It is full of light and hope; it is the seal of thy presence; it is the smile of thy love. Thou delightest in light: God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. Thou hast called us, in Christ Jesus, to be children of the light and of the day; and to walk in paths that are lighted up with heaven"s glory; and to let our light shine before men, and draw them to the Father of lights. May we answer this Divine appeal with all the haste of love, with all the ardour of earnestness. Then shall our life be an open vision, and we shall see the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. We bless thee for all cheering words, for all tender encouragements, for every Gospel that can break the door and give liberty to the captive soul. These ministries we have in thy Son. He is our Saviour, our All in All; Beginning and Ending; Inexplicable, immeasurable, Infinite. We rest in Christ: we are calm in his tranquillity; we are mighty in his power; he is our one Defence; he is our blessed Lord. We thank thee that he has opened heaven. We now see it; even now we overhear its music; yea, more, by high faith, by unquestioning and undivided love, we are already in the city of God. Thou hast caused us to triumph in all places in the power of the Cross of Christ; Song of Solomon , even now, there is no more sorrow, nor pain, nor death. These things are but in the letter, they are incidents to be encountered and passed; but their bitterness is gone and their triumph is impossible. This is the joy of thy people,—blood-washed, baptized with fire; having undergone all the mystery of the new birth and become adopted into the family of God; invested with eternal privileges and enriched with unsearchable riches. We do not always seize the inheritance. We own before thee that our rapture (ails us; the flesh for the moment triumphs, and there is no strength left in the soul whose hymns and psalms have been forgotten. But this is momentary; we come to ourselves again by quick inspirations from on high; we are lifted up into nobler manhood, and we triumph again and again in the Lord of all victories, whose battles can end but in one way. May we live often in this spirit; and if we must needs be bowed down because of the cloudiness of time and the weakness of the flesh, yet give us periods of renewed youth, great Sabbatic spaces in the life, in which we shall be more in heaven than on earth; and by the frequent coming again of such seasons of liberty and light, we shall know that we are not forgotten in heaven. Thou knowest us altogether—our darkness and burden, our sin and shame, our selfishness and worldliness, our want of enthusiasm, our distrust of the very God whose name we breathe. Thou knowest, too, our penitence—the tears of our heart, the contrition of our souls, the utter brokenness and self-renunciation of our will. Pity us; bind us up again; cleanse us from all sin—yea, with thine own hands wash us in the fountain of cleansing. We pray for one another always—it is the heart"s best gift. We pray for the blind, that they may see; for the perplexed, that the right road may be chosen out of the many converging paths; for the heavy-laden, that if they may not have less burden, they may have more strength. We pray for the coming generation, that they may be better than we have been—manlier, greater, truer; that they may see Christ"s revelation more broadly and answer it with a completer loyalty. We pray for the sick, that they may forget their sickness in their approaching immortality. We pray for the traveller in the far-off land, for the voyager on the troubled deep, for all men far away from home and kindred and known speech and custom. We pray for all mankind—the black and the white, the barbarous and the civilised; the great king and the poorest serf. "The earth is the Lord"s, and the fulness thereof." We cannot understand this mystery, but we can commit it and commit ourselves to the keeping of the only wise God, redeeming all men with blood and sending upon all men an impartial light. Thou wilt explain thyself in due time. We are impatient because we are weak; we are in haste because our wisdom is imperfect. Would God we might in Christ, the Song of Solomon , the Priest, rest quietly and hope confidently in God! Amen.

Acts 27:1-20

1. And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus" band.

2. And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us.

3. And the next day we touched at Sidon. And Julius courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself.

4. And when we had launched from thence, we sailed under Cyprus, because the winds were contrary.

5. And when we had sailed over the sea of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia.

6. And there the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing into Italy; and he put us therein.

7. And when we had sailed slowly many days, and scarce were come over against Cnidus, the wind not suffering us, we sailed under Crete, over against Salmone;

8. And, hardly passing it, came unto a place which is called The fair havens; nigh whereunto was the city of Lasea.

9. Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them.

10. And said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives.

11. Nevertheless the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship, more than those things which were spoken by Paul.

12. And because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the more part advised to depart thence also, if by any means they might attain to Phenice, and there to winter; which is an haven of Crete, and lieth toward the south-west and north-west.

13. And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete.

14. But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon.

15. And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive.

16. And running under a certain island which is called Clauda, we had much work to come by the boat:

17. Which when they had taken up, they used helps, undergirding the ship; and, fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands, strake sail, and so were driven.

18. And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship;

19. And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship.

20 And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.

The Discipline of Delay

The ship is a prison. The list of prisoners is not a long one: "Paul and certain other prisoners." When was Paul ever hidden in the crowd—tailed off in the dim distance? He is still the chief figure; put him where you will, he comes naturally to the head and naturally assumes the sovereignty, what ever the occasion may be. A marvellous thing is this destiny. It is a pressure which cannot be explained in words; it is the inexplicable force by which our life is compacted together. It cannot be ruled; it cannot be modified; it cannot be transferred; it cannot be sold for mountains of silver. A man can only get rid of destiny as he gets rid of God. "Paul and certain other prisoners." Here is sovereignty strangely and subtly shaded by humiliation. The very fact that the others were not named throws a kind of shadow upon Paul himself. He was one of the herd; he was head of the mob; he was the accent of the anonymous—the mere emphasis that gave it boldness and articulateness. A singular thing is this admixture of the great and the small, the light and the cloud, the sovereignty and the abjectness of position. We belong to one another, and are advanced by one another, and are kept back by one another; and a most singular and educative process of restraint and modification is continually proceeding amongst us.

"Julius courteously entreated Paul." How is it that Paul always stood well with men of the world? They took to him. There was a kind of natural kinship between them; there is amongst gentlemen. How do we pick out one man from another and say, as if ringing him on the world"s counter, "That is good gold," or "That is counterfeit silver"? A wonderful thing this magic of recognition, this masonry of friendship, this brotherhood old as creation. Why run down what are called "men of the world"? They are so often the kings of men. I would never speak against men of the world who have "courteously entreated" me, to whom on some occasions I have owed my life, my progress, my enjoyment Do not attempt to shake them off as an inferior race. They are only less bigoted than I Amos , less troubled by technicalities and distinctions and metaphysical ideas and divisions. They represent a broader judgment, a glowing, generous human nature. What they would be if they were in the spirit of Christ! Why, they would be kings of men, not dwindling, withered bigots whose blood has lost all its wine; they would make the Church warm; they would turn it into a hospitable home; they would breathe a south-west wind through our ill-ventilated souls. Oh, pray for them!

Here is Paul still inspiring confidence. His look was his certificate; his tone was his letter of recommendation. There are some men who might have a whole library of testimonials, and you would not believe a word they said, notwithstanding the huge burden of stationery. There are other men who need no card or letter or endorsement; honesty lives in their eyes, breathes from their lips, warms in their hearty grip. Paul inspiring confidence is Paul preaching in silence. His Christianity is now eloquent. For the moment he is deposed from the platform which he made a throne; but his moral qualities, his spiritual elements, his inborn and sanctified forces of mind and heart, are continuing and completing the ministry of speech. Paul was allowed "to go unto his friends to refresh himself"—a very happy English expression, but not really giving all the meaning of Paul"s purpose or of his friends" hospitality. They really rigged him out again, clothed him. He was in sad plight. He was no particular patron of the clothier. Paul had been having a rough time of it as a prisoner, and now that he had the chance of running on shore for a little while at Sidon, his friends saw, as friends only can, that Paul would be none the worse for a new coat. There are many persons who live so very high above the cloud-line that they can take no notice of matters of such petty detail. But without saying a word to him, they got all things ready, and the clothes were laid there as if they had been laid there by Paul himself and he had forgotten to put them on before. There is a way of doing things—a delicacy infinite as love. Paul never had occasion to speak ill of his friends in these matters: he said, "I have too much; if one Church did not give it to me, another did, and upon the whole I have an abundance; but whether I have or not, I have learned in all things to be content."

Thus we have Paul in three aspects: Paul a prisoner, but the chief figure; Paul courteously entreated, still inspiring confidence; Paul amongst his friends, still an object of affectionate interest. He has not much now to stand upon, not much in superficies, but, oh! so much in depth; only a foothold, but what he stands upon stands itself upon the core of the universe. Do not always take the superficial measure; see what your position cubes up to, for figures do not all lie on one line.

We come now to say that the voyage was delayed. Thank God for delays. We should think much of the providence of postponement, hindrance, baffled project, and time apparently wasted. Why not let God keep the time-bill?—much better in his hands than in ours. This was exactly what Paul needed, and Paul was permitted to enjoy it by the providence of God—a good tossing on the water, a new kind of exercise, an abundance of fresh air "Oh, rest thee!" would seem to be the voice of every wind that kept the ship back on her course. God giveth his beloved sleep; God giveth his beloved rest by keeping the ship at sea a long, long time. There is nothing like it; great nurse water, great mother-ocean, beautiful, blessed ministry of the rocking winds! It is all right. Why so impatient, little fool? Why all this racket and noise and wish to be on shore? The shore can do well without thee two weeks longer. Believe me, the shore will be as grand and quiet in thine absence as it would be if thou wert standing upon it—rest. Delays are not lost time when properly accepted, when sanctified by prayer. We do not like delay; that is because we are little and weak and unwise. We could do with some men if they were less impatient. They fret us by their eternal fever. You cannot get some men to sit down; nor are they to be converted by lecture, philosophy, or religious exhortation. They pine to be up again; they do not know their restlessness; they do not know how they are exciting and annoying other people. They call it energy, activity; they tell lies to themselves and eat the bad confectionery as if it were solid food. It is the Lord"s delight to teach us that the universe can get along without the aid of the very biggest man that is in it. The Lord is continually showing us that however long our bill of mortality, the solar system swings on as if we had never dug a grave. Take your bafflings, your hindrances, your delays, your postponements—often so puzzling and vexatious—as parts of a mysterious but beneficent providence, the purpose of which is the complete education and the final refinement of the human soul.

Paul, in the next place, ventured to speak upon subjects other than religious. In the tenth verse we read: Paul said, "Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives." Paul was observing, putting one day to another, running a silent process of logic through his own mind; and when he had completed the reasoning he spoke out. What right had Paul to speak? The eternal right. Under ordinary circumstances, the landsman has no right to speak on board ship. But what are ordinary circumstances? Affairs which may be measured by a tape line, little incidents that occur within the scoop of the hand. That is momentary etiquette or discipline; but there are eternal laws, eternal rights, and there come times when all human discipline is suspended and when man must speak as man. These are the critical times when our education takes great leaps; these are the occasions which make heroes, martyrs, leaders. There is a law of time, but it is involved in the greater law of eternity; there is a law of custom, which must be respected within given limits, because it is necessary to the momentary convenience and the incidental progress of society; but there is an eternal law which overrides, supersedes, or destroys it. One must enter into the mystery of the higher life to understand this. There are occasions upon which a landsman speaking on board ship would be snubbed by the whole company of sailors; there are other times when the sailors would be thankful for any landsman to speak if he could utter one would of rational hope. These are the times the Christian is waiting for. For the Christian to speak when the ship is going merrily over the blue waves, it would be impertinence, it would be fanatical piety; but the Christian waits. The ship comes into difficulty, the sailors begin to look despairingly at the whole situation; illness is about; the air is troubled; fortune is vexed, and has lost her way to the old quarters where she stored her gold—now, if any of you can say a word of comfort, do say it. The Christian is waiting for those times. The moment the door stands on jar, he is in; the moment the opportunity shadows itself, he seizes it. Be wise and do not speak before the time, or your words will be like good seed sown upon the fickle and noisy wind. The clock will strike for you—be ready when the hour beats. The word will keep, and when it is spoken after long delay it will come with the more thundering resonance, with the more penetrating emphasis. Know, ye swearing sailors, rioting mariners, that the time will come when you will be glad to hear another voice than your own! For that time the Christian apostle waits. But Paul was disbelieved. Certainly; because the circumstances were not quite mature. But the religious man turned out to be right, as he must always turn out to be. The theologian—mock him as you like—is by necessity the greatest man in the universe. Why? Because being true to his own philosophy—not a dabbler in words and a mechanician in arrangements and adaptations—he lives in God. That is my definition of the theologian; not a learned pedant, not a man who knows a hundred languages and never says anything worth hearing in any of them, but the man who lives in God, in heaven, who hears the first intimation of the Divine movement. He must be the greatest adviser, the truest counsellor of society; otherwise the word which we believe to be inspired is a lie: it says: "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." All inspired history shows that the first communications were made to the piety of the day, to the prayer of the time. The first intimations of Divine movement were made at the altar, when men of obedient heart shut their eyes, clasped their hands, bent down before the holy stone and waited for God; they heard the going of the Most High in the wind, and they were the first to report what they were the first to hear. All true wisdom is with the theologian. He knows more about sailing than captains who do not pray can ever know. He may not always have the faith that would make him master, but he has the spirit which makes him wise. These are questions not to be settled within little limits. Things may look large because they are near; may seem to be different because of their closeness; but when looked at from lofty heights they sink into insignificance, and their dissimilarities are blurred in the common cloud. Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him; and he will give thee thine heart"s desire. Even the prisoner shall have his sovereignty; even a man in outwardly trying and discouraging circumstances may have the confidence of those who are appointed to watch over him; and even the man who is supposed to know nothing but religion may turn out to be in the long run the comforter of men who live in mere technicalities. Paul in trouble—when was he out of it? Paul in danger—it was from his Christian birth his native air. For Paul to have been in luxury and in comfort would have been a puzzle which even his religious genius could not have penetrated. Paul in the storm-tossed ship—yes; so was Jesus Christ. The servant can never get in front of the Master. Paul can never say to Jesus, "Lord, I can surprise thee by a new suffering; I have been where even thy footprint could not be discovered."

This is the marvel of the history of Christ: that though so short in time, it covers all spaces. There is not a possible experience of the Christian life which was not anticipated by the experience of the Son of God. That is a mystery which amounts to an argument. Show me one thing we have done in the way of duty or endured in the way of suffering unknown to the experience and excluded from the lines of the history of Christ. How is it with your ship? Is it much tossed about? That is an inferior question as compared with the inquiry—"Is Christ on board?" How is it with your vessel? Steaming strongly and steadily towards the desired haven? Are you all well? Have you food enough and fire enough for the voyage? You return a hearty "Ay! Ay!" Be careful how you speak: boast not yourselves of tomorrow, for ye know not what a day may bring forth. You may be glad some time of an old rope thrown out to you. Do not boast. Do not forget the altar even in the ship. Do not turn away your thought from God. Even in the time of sunshine and rapid homeward movement, you cannot tell what may yet transpire. This will I do: I will leave my ship, myself, my destiny with God. He made me, shaped me, inspired me, has led me, fed me, until now; and if it be his will to dash me to pieces within a mile of home—But, oh, it cannot be!


Verses 1-44

Chapter101

Prayer

Almighty God, may we, being crucified with Christ, also rise with him, and prove our resurrection by setting our affections on things above and not on things on the earth. We would live in the spirit of the resurrection; we would be as men who have already passed the gates of death, and would live in the light of thy countenance, and walk all day in the strength of thy favour. This miracle thou canst work, thou God of wonders. Even now, so full may our heart be of Christ"s own life, that the bitterness of death may be passed. Enable us to feel the mystery we cannot understand. May we walk as men over whom death has no more power, saying, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" Show us these things day by day that we be no longer in bondage through fear of death, but enjoy the peace, the gladness, the holy inspiration of immortality. We bless thee for Easter Day,—day of triumph, day of trumpeting and singing on earth and in heaven. Thy Song of Solomon , our Saviour, made every day he touched into a holy time. When he was born, the universe was Revelation -created; when he died, creation became a sanctuary of darkness; when he rose again, the morning stars sang together for joy, and all heaven quivered with infinite rapture. This is the day of tender memory, compassion, grief, of the shining and speaking angels, of the heavens rent that we may see into the larger liberties. May we enter into the spirit of the day and be no longer sore of heart, or heavy of spirit; but, shaking off the clay, and ordering the common body to stand back, may we, in the power of the Spirit, join the songs of heaven. We entreat thee, on our own behalf, that as death was conquered, so sin may be overthrown; when the cause is destroyed the effect will cease. Abolish, by the mysterious power of the Cross of Christ, the presence and the dominion of evil in our hearts; then every morning will be resurrection-day, every noontide will be heaven. As for the few days we have to be on this side the golden gates, help us to be industrious, patient, large of mind, noble in charity. Knowing that at any moment the great golden portals may swing back for our entrance, may we be ready, washed in the blood of the Lamb, purified by the fire of the Holy Ghost, made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light; may we hold the world with a light hand, letting it slip without sense of loss or pain, the momentary deprivation being overcome and lost in the infinite realisation of heavenly bliss. Help us to bear the burden, to toil up the last hill; and at the end may our only ailment be weariness that will soon be healed. May there be no sin to heal, no guilt to cure, no unholiness to destroy; but, at the last, may we be simply weary, outworn, quite tired, the journey all behind us, and our eyelids trembling because we want to sleep. Then will come the one touch of peace that will make us forget our weariness for ever. Amen.

Christian Pilotage

Acts 27

(Continued)

The idea which I wish to make clear Isaiah , that as Paul was in that ship, so Christianity seeks to be in the world. We have spent a tempestuous month with all the sailors and prisoners, and we feel that the very spirit and destiny of the voyage are in us. We have seen what part Paul played in the tremendous tempest. What Paul was in that ship, Christianity seeks to be in the vessel of the world. The picture is a definite one: so definite that a child can follow its vivid lines. It is hung up before our vision now, and it will be for us to see, and having seen, to declare, that as Paul was in that storm-tossed ship, so Christianity seeks to be in the great ship of the earth.

What was Paul in that ship, tossed in Adria? He took upon himself the direction of common affairs; the master of the ship gave way, the centurion was no longer the centurion but in name, and the Apostle stood forward at the front and took upon himself the responsibility of the whole situation. That is what Christianity wants to do in the world,—to be the senior member in every firm, to be the director of every company, to be the head of every family, to be the one lamp in the dark night time, and to assume the leadership and the benediction of the world; and that is what its own believers won"t allow it to be and to do. They are willing to make an idol of it. The idol may choose the substance in which it will be represented, so far, so condescending does the patronage go. It says to the thing that is to be represented, "Shall it be ivory, white ivory, without stain or flaw, the dear little creature would like? or gold, pure, refined? Or shall it be some figure in diamonds and precious stones of every hue and water? You can choose the form in which you will be imaged to the eye; only express your wish, and to the last syllable it shall be realised." That is the very thing that Christianity declines to be and declines to do. Christianity says, "I will go to business with you; I will keep your books for you; I will issue all your papers—sign and stamp them every one," and that is precisely what the hottest Christian on earth respectfully declines. Do we wonder then that the Church is empty, that the infidel is laughing, and that the great enemy is feasting himself at the table of prosperity? We have come under the domain of the unutterably evil sophism that Christianity is a set of theological views. Theological views cannot live long. Nobody wants them; there is nothing in them by themselves, limited to themselves, made to talk a metaphysical language which the earth and its children cannot understand. Christianity wants to take the captaincy of the world-ship. Can Christianity conduct the world-ship across the sea of space and time and bring it into the haven of rest? Yes; and. that is the only captaincy under which the happy issue can be realised. What is the use of your saying your prayer in a few curt words in the morning and leaving your Christianity behind you while you put on an atheist"s hat and go down to town leaning upon an infidel"s staff?

It is a lie—black, flat, blasphemous. There are Christian people who say, "Leave to men of the world the direction of the world." No. As soon say, "Leave to agriculture the lighting of the stars." Men of the world are the most ignorant of men, the most impotent of men, the lamest, feeblest of men. In their mind there is no background, no perspective; there is no horizon in their thinking. Christians are the true statesmen, the true politicians, the true merchants; only they have never realised their calling and election of God. They have allowed themselves to be dwarfed and humiliated into certain chatterers of pious phrases; they have not seized the captaincy and proved that they were meant to lead the world. Behold the Apostle—prisoner, yet captain; standing uppermost in the ship; exerting a mysterious and other-world influence upon rough men; doing just what he pleases. That is where Christianity should be in the navigation of the world. Christianity understands everything. The praying man is the great man—he who sees God, and grasps in his all but infinite vision the petty details that make up what we call earthly life. The master of the ship and the centurion at first edged Paul back into the stern, but they were obliged at the last to allow him to come forward. So it will be in the end of things: the captain that will take the ship in is Christianity, or the ship will never go in.

What did Paul do in that ship, tossed and torn by the rough and angry wind? He maintained the supremacy of God. In the twenty-fifth verse, he says, "I believe God." That is what Christianity seeks to be and to do in the world—to utter the word God in a tone that will amount to argument, with a pathos that will ensure conviction. The danger is that we pronounce the word God as if it were part of a common language and not a whole vocabulary in itself. We can degrade any word by the manner of its pronouncement. You can say the word "heaven" so flippantly as to take all the light out of it and quench all its thundering of music. You can pronounce the word "father," or "mother," or "home," so lifelessly that nobody will know you have uttered the sacred term. The meaning is in the pronunciation. The printer lags behind the speaker, trying to do the impossible, for soul will not be printed. Do we pronounce the word God just as an infidel would pronounce it? No wonder we lose the argument. The word is nothing if it be not full of soul, passion, fire, blood. The utterance of the word should be a sacrifice. Christianity seeks to remind the world every day of the existence, government, personal superintendence, fatherly love, and motherly care of God. God is not an Old Testament word only. It is curious to observe how some words hardly carry themselves into the new covenant writing. They were noble words in the old book, they were part of it, they belonged to it, there was a kind of nativity about their position and relationship; but they could not transfer themselves into the new music; but the word God came right across from Judaism into Christianity. "The peace of God," "the love of God," "the God of Zion" became intelligible to Christian students under the definition of Love—"God is Love." If any man really and truly believed God, he could never be in fear, he could never commit sin, he could never be unhappy. Do we believe God? No. We do not disbelieve him, and our want of disbelief is so complete as to amount to a kind of intellectual assent to the proposition that there is a God; but if we believed God our joy would be too great for time and earth. Still we must maintain the ideal. We expect the preacher for the moment to be the ideal man and to maintain the ideal doctrine; but no man can fulfil his own prayers, no man can live up to his own sermons. Still there is the ideal. We cannot touch the sun, or lodge in his infinite effulgence, but we can walk in his light and rejoice in his splendor. So with the great ideal God; we cannot realize it to the full extent of its meaning, or we should ourselves be gods; but we can behold its effect, we can enjoy its comfort, we can respond to its inspiration. There is a religion in the world that proclaims God—personal, living, near, redeeming. That religion, by the very energy of its declaration, is keeping right the balance that would soon lose its equipoise. Let us be thankful for every testimony of a higher life; for every man that gives us to know that the earth has a sky above it, and that the little known is meant to be but a syllable towards the whole world unknown. So I welcome every book that enlarges my thought. I do not care to agree with it. Who am I that I should agree with any other Prayer of Manasseh , or any other man agree with me? What I want is intellectual enlargement, spiritual enthusiasm, a daily baptism of the imagination, continual leading forth into the wonder-spaces where I am filled with an astonishment that must pray and with a rapture that must sing. When any man amongst us writes a book that shows us that things are larger than we have imagined, he is sent of God with a gospel. The gospel never shows us that things are less than we have supposed them to be: the Gospel always shows us that our dream is but a little hint, our highest imagining a dim questioning of things, and that as the heaven is high above the earth, so is God"s purpose above our wit and thought.

What did Paul do in the ship? He cheered the distracted and helpless. Said Hebrews , in the twenty-second verse: "And now I exhort you to be of good cheer." That is what Christianity would do in the world: it would make us all glad; it would have us sing songs in the night time. Christianity would have us regard the raging of the sea with perfect equanimity; when the sea roars and is troubled Christianity would have us rise and fall with the rhythm of the hurrying tempest. Christianity never said it wished to darken any man"s window, silence the singing birds which he had in his house, put out his fire, limit his food, and make his life into a pain or a fear. When Christianity meets men, it says, "All hail! This is Sabbath day; the bitterness of death is past: be glad." The glad heart can never go far wrong. The great, big soul that guests the angel of joy, that has in it the singing one, can never do anything unworthy. Joy is a protective influence; gladness sends men home to sing their loudest, sweetest song. Christianity is the religion of joy. Who would think it to look upon Christian countenances?—for if there is a dreary-looking set of men on the face of the whole earth, you will find those men in the various places of worship today. A more pitiful-looking set of persons it would be impossible for earth and time to produce. What wonder if people run away from us and little children are glad when we shut the gate and are gone for the day? What wonder if all the little folks at home watch the old man totter down the garden path and clang the little iron gate behind him and then feel as if the day of jubilee had come? Why are we not more glad? Why do we not breathe the very spirit of joy wherever we go? In so far as we carry any other spirit with us—I care not how we pray or preach or otherwise profess—we are not lying unto men, we are lying unto God. Faith comes to take away the burden; the mission of Christianity is to destroy night and fear and the accusing voice. Christianity always wants to kill another fatted calf, light another lamp, strike the drum with a stronger force, and increase the music until it affrights the Pharisees and makes the earth a sympathising listener.

What did Paul do in the ship? He blessed the food of men: "Paul besought them all to take meat, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that we have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing.... And when be had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all." It is but a little food we need, but the blessing may be immeasurable. You have mistaken this matter of eating and drinking: you thought it was a merely bodily exercise. Eating and drinking are religious acts. When you brake bread this morning, at your table, if you did it in the right spirit, you brake the Lord"s body. When you drank to quench your thirst this morning, if you did it in the right spirit, you drank the Lord"s blood. We have lost the sacramental idea. We have allowed the world to debase everything we do, and to take out of it dignity and music and hope. When you washed yourself this morning, you did in symbol what the soul must do in faith—be washed in the blood of the Lamb. Why do we allow everything to be depleted, impoverished, and to have all its holy thought and suggestion torn out of it? Christianity would bless the food of every man; and being so blessed, it becomes the nutritious food. The crust is a feast when Christ breaks it for us; the little table, with room for only two, becomes a great banqueting-board when Jesus lays his hand upon it. There is no poverty, there is no want to them that fear him; the little is much, the bitter is sweet, and the whole occasion is so enlarged and glorified by an invisible but felt Presence, that even the earth becomes none other than the house of God. With Christ in the house, we have blessed bread, a table lighted by the Song of Solomon , water better than all the wine of all the vineyards of the earth; and when we lay down to sleep, the pillow itself will receive us as with a mother"s benediction.

In the last part of the chapter, do we not see, in some sense, a picture of the final salvation of the human race? "The centurion commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land: and the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land." May it be so with us! May no wanderer be lost! It is of little matter how we come as to mere method and circumstance, compared with the great matter of reaching shore, touching land. Some of us will get in with difficulty, but, thank God! we will get in. Some will swim, some will seize boards, others will clutch broken pieces of the ship; but if we only all land! That is my heart"s desire and prayer to God. "Would you not like to see some of your enemies drowned?" Not one of them. "Are you willing that all should go into port?" Yes, every soul of man. Some would like to go in under a full sail, with strains of music and singing, songs of triumph floating in the blue and sunny air. But I fancy that our going in will be very much like this escape from the sea—some swimming, some on boards, some on broken pieces of the ship; the old earth-ship broken up, every soul saved; the old vessel gone, but no life lost. That is the inquiry we always make when great catastrophes occur; though we may be sorry that property is destroyed, and that certain temporary relations are shattered, yet when we know that no sacrifice of life has taken place, we experience a grateful relief. Poor old earth-ship! We like it, we are friends even of the ship; but it must go. It was made for a temporary purpose; it was never meant to stand for ever; it will be broken up, burned; it shall pass away, but no life lost. Poor prodigal, thou must be saved; hopeless Prayer of Manasseh , the Captain wants to save you. We do not want any life lost. Towers and palaces and temples may fall, the earth itself be torn in pieces and destroyed; but we want every human creature to escape safe to land!


Verses 20-24

Chapter98

Prayer

Almighty God, thou knowest where we are on the sea of life; we cannot tell ourselves. The nights are weeks long; we hear no voices in the roar of the wind; we are verily driven. Then the sunshine comes, and the smooth water, and the lulling, dreamy wind; then we take heart again and sing the song of joy, and look the look of hope, radiant as morning dawn. Then, again, the darkness: black night coming down like an infinite burden upon the world too small to carry it. Thus are we in sore tumult, and our heart is vexed with fear; we are torn asunder, one part of the life from the other, so that we have not the use of our whole strength; we are divided men, and our souls are without their own consent and force. Behold, this is life—strange life, short life, yet within it so much space for trouble. But this is not all. Thou hast meanings of grace and love yet to be revealed, and when we know thy purpose in all its fulness we shall forget the earth as we forget the night that is gone. Thou meanest to redeem the earth, to take us to thyself; having bought us with blood and cleansed us in the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness, and educated us by all the providence of life"s eventful day, thou dost mean to set us among the saints who walk in white and whose delight it is to serve thy throne. We will look on to the larger time; we will not consider this little feverish day the whole span of being, but will lay hold of the endless life, and in its sublime power rule the fear and vexation of the present moment. This is the victory of faith; this is the triumph of thy saints; this is the miracle of grace! Lead us in this direction. Bid us look up when the stars are all out and the whole host of heaven is glittering with delight; and as we gaze upon the infinite pomp tell us that it is nothing but a symbol of what it cannot adequately express of power and wisdom and love, all of which is ours in Christ Jesus. Thou art good: full of tenderness and lovingkindness and saving health. Thou dost not delight in the destruction of men, in the overthrow of human purpose, and in the confounding of natural desire; thou dost mean to sanctify us, build us up, complete in us some beneficent purpose, and shape the ruin of our life into a temple of worship, into a palace for a king. We are poor and needy; we cannot bear much prosperity; it drives us beyond the right centre; it unsettles our thought; it prostrates us before our own ability. We say, "This is our doing," and, "Behold the result of our cleverness and the harvest of our genius"; and thus we forget thee, the Giver of every good and perfect gift. Give us what we can bear. If we can bear poverty rather than wealth, we shall be rich in our destitution. The Lord undertake our whole life for us, every whit of it and every day. May we never deceive ourselves into the delusion that we can manage the concerns of one moment, or do without God for one breath. Keep us steady, constant, steadfast, noble, true. May our ruling purpose always be right; then, though we slip in the detail and are found faulty and unworthy here and there, yet the great column of our life shall be perpendicular and strong, pointing straight up to God"s light and God"s throne. The Lord help us as we need to be helped. Show every man that he has more mercy in his life than he has yet counted. Give us that eye of love which seeks for the goodness of thy providence, and take away from us that evil eye which delights in finding out the crookedness and the gloom of life. Take up all the little children and baptize them with the dew of the morning. Bring forth all the parents to the altar and baptize them with fire. Take out thy whole Church into wilderness or fair garden and baptize thy host with the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Acts 27:20-24

20. And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.

21. But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss.

22. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man"s life among you, but of the ship.

23. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I Amos , and whom I serve,

24. Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Csar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.

The Teachings of Impoverishment

"And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away." What have we to do with sun and stars? Is not one world sufficient at a time? We are travellers, and it is enough for us to mind the road without caring for the sun; we are mariners, and surely it is enough for us to keep the ship right without troubling our heads about the stars. This is the vain and empty talk of persons who mistakenly call themselves secular and practical. When we come to adapt things and to look at them in all their bearing and their totality we find that really the earth is the very smallest thing we have to do with. Surely we can get along through the water, though it be tossed and vexed, without heeding the far-away stars—little glints of yellow light? It so happens that we cannot safely move without them. We have to consult them; we have to inquire where the moon Isaiah , or the sun, or the Pole-star; and sometimes one brief glimpse of a planet will tell us exactly where we are on the earth. Why, even cursing sailors have to be, in a sense, religious—even men who say they have got enough to do with the ship without troubling their heads about anything else are obliged to confess that the ship is in the leash of the planets, part of the great astronomy belonging to an infinite compactness and grandeur of things. Song of Solomon , from a thousand points and in a thousand unsuspected ways, there comes upon us the sweet Gospel doctrine: "The very hairs of your head are all numbered." They are foolish who think they have only to do with one world. They are ineffably, infinitely foolish who suppose that things are what they seem, and that they can see everything exactly as it is. Again and again, by many a dream, by many an inexplicable touch, God shows us that this earth, so far away from all its kindred sparks, is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven. I know it is possible to belittle the occasion, to take the earth as a flat and immovable surface, to neglect the stellar lights and let them glitter in ghostly unmeaningness, and to rake and scrape in the mud; but we do not choose to avail ourselves of that narrow possibility. We believe in getting into the rhythm of things, committing ourselves to the great astronomic movement; not in creating little spaces for ourselves, but in inhabiting our Father"s house and submitting to his gracious domination.

"All hope that we should be saved was then taken away." This is what God has to do with every one of us before he can get a hearing. If you leave a man a walking-stick, he will believe he can do something with it; if you leave him with one blade of grass, you make an atheist of him. He must be stripped—without crumb or speck or atom, without light or strength or hope; he must have nothing in him but the last breath before God can get a hearing from his own image and likeness; so stubborn is the human will, so self-reliant is human vanity, so mad is unregulated reason. Trace your best thoughts back to their origin, find out the day when you gave yourself away to Christ at the holy altar, and you will find it was upon a day when all other hope was dead. I looked for one to save, and there was none; for some to pity, and there was no eye to shed a tender tear; then his own eye pitied, his own arm brought salvation. This is a mysterious thing, incredible if it were a suggestion, only credible because it is an appalling and indisputable fact. Any devil can lure us away from the sacred altar; it seems as if we wanted to go. Is that not the experience of every heart? It takes all heaven"s chains of gold to bind us to the altar; it takes but the beckoning finger of some mocking imp to bid us leave it in glad haste. We have to be argued into religion, watched whilst we are in the very church lest we should escape by crevice unknown to every sense but the acuteness of the desire that longs to leave the sacred fane. We require to have all kinds of considerations brought to bear upon us to make us pray, talk to our Father, speak upward into the light; but on the smallest provocation we turn fool again and hug the earth, forgetting that we are but embracing a grave. It is good of God to take away all we have; it is kind of condescending Heaven to conceal all the stars and leave us to sit down at the black table of darkness to eat what we can of the roaring wind. These providences have meaning. Poverty is not an accident which any clever economist can arrange or remove: poverty is part of the mystery of the human economy, as is blindness, as is sin. They are not reformers, they are self-seeking empirics, who take down their little instruments with a view to sweeping poverty off the face of the earth. Poverty is God"s agent. Civilisation without poverty would be poor civilisation. There is a mystery in these things not to be laughed at, easily mitigated, quickly dispelled. Poverty may be the true wealth. Do then we find the ship in a state of hopelessness, given up to the gloom, eleven nights crowding their black darkness into one horrible density, and on that ship—poor, undergirded thing, held and strung up in every possible way—there lies the dead, white-faced angel—Hope? It is a corpse the ship carries: the dead thing is Hope. Some hearts are now carrying that dead angel: all hope gone; the doctor said last night, regarding the sufferer, "There is no hope." The letter that came yesterday morning reporting the condition of affairs at a distance said, "There is no hope." Yea, the last daring little prayer was so short of faith that it fell dead back from the clouds and said to the heart that misconceived it, "There is no hope." We now want a Gospel voice—sweet, clear, ringing voice—from some blue cloud; we shall hear it, or this house has ceased to be the house of God.

The whole situation is now given up to religious direction. That is how the world-ship will be some day, the earth vessel. Ail the captains and mates and other officers—the statesmen, economists, philosophers—will stand back and let the praying men speak. We are waiting for that day. Then the necromancer will strike his tent to go home and mope in sullenness; then they who plied the ear with sounds that had no sense in them will cease their empty noise; then all the little tricksters who said they would set the world right by programmes and investments will skulk out of any door or window that may be available; and then we shall hear God"s Gospel and wonder we never listened to it before, so unapproachable in majesty, so ineffable in tenderness, so infinite in hospitality, Christ"s day is coming. Before its full dawn many men will have proposals to make and new ventures with which to dupe the generation. Paul is now the master of the ship. You cannot keep back the true primacies of life. For a time you snub them, undervalue them, pour contempt upon them; but their hour comes, and they assert themselves in the name and grace of heaven. Paul began as a prisoner; he ended as the captain. He went upon the ship quite humbly; now he stands up, as it were, four-square, and all the men are at his feet. There is a prophecy in these things, a sublime forecast, a subtle and most sacred omen. How will he speak in the darkness? "Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss." It is difficult for the noblest man to keep back all rebuke. Paul is rather smaller there than we have been accustomed to see him. He would have been a greater man if he had not said those words; but who can be. more than man? Just a little reproach, just a gentle reminder of your folly, just one little touch to bring to your recollection how you played the fool about a fortnight ago. It would have been better if he had not said this from some points of view; and yet who are we that we should rebuke the great soul—we who deal in reproaches, who never allow the four-and-twenty hours to complete themselves without stinging somebody by an unkind reference to the past? We had better drop such criticism and get into broader and more welcome pasture.

Paul, therefore, said, "Be of good cheer." Now he is himself. That is the voice we wanted to hear. We did not care for the rebuke—the thing was past and gone; a mistake was made and never could be unmade—we want to hear Gospel words; we hear them in this exhortation, "Be of good cheer.". That is the pastor"s heart, the great shepherdly love, the glorious leading voice. That voice is amongst us today in Christ"s Gospel. We might spend long hours in rebuking ourselves for having loosed from Crete. There are some men who never can let you alone without reminding you what you might have done a month since. We wonder that such persons are permitted to live, for there is no room on this little earth for wisdom so illimitable. How stinging their tongue! How unkind every remark! "If you had listened to me last week, you would not have been in this position today." What a marvellous thing that so wise a man can be spared from heaven! "If you had done what I advised you to do seven years since—" What amazing rivalry with Omniscience! Is there no man who can tell me what to do now? Is there no great kingly soul, O Father! O Shepherd! that will say, "But be of good cheer"? There is. This is Gospel day; this is Christian sunlight; this is our Father"s house. Let us admit that we got wrong in loosing from Crete; as a matter of fact, we did loose from Crete, and the question is now: What is to be done? and whilst we are asking that question a Gospel-voice answers us, "Be of good cheer. This is the way; walk ye in it." Oh for the spirit of obedience to spring, in instantaneous reply, saying, "Thy will be done"!

So far this speech of Paul"s is a remarkable instance of human sagacity. Will Paul limit his address to lines that are purely sentimental? He never did so before; he will not do so now. "For," said he—that is the word of the logician, the solid and continuous reasoner, the man who builds his life-house upon rocks—"For"—now we shall have the reason—"there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I Amos , and whom I serve." He will preach, he must preach, he cannot help preaching. He will bring good into that ship; he is not going to play the amateur sailor, he is going to be faithful to this religious call and election. How the men listened!—men who had never heard a sermon in their lives; men who did not know the meaning of the word "God," as Paul then pronounced it. What an eager audience! That is what we want now: an audience all ear; not men lazing in the house if haply they may catch some sound that pleases them, but intent, stretched forward, drawing out of the speaker an eloquence not his own, because born of inspiration Divine.


Verses 20-44

Chapter100

Prayer

Almighty God, thou hast said unto each of us, "What is thy petition? and what is thy request? and it shall be granted unto thee." Lord, teach us what to say in reply. This is the challenge of thy love. Thou dost tempt our powers to ask great things of thee, knowing that giving doth not impoverish thee, nor withholding enrich thee. Thou art able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. We have no words equal to the treasures of God. Do thou give unto us the faith which is its own answer, its own peace, as it is its own inspiration. Faith is the gift of God; but having given unto us faith, thou hast given unto us all things. If we had faith even as a grain of mustard-seed, we could remove mountains, and turn back seas out of our way, and make the desert blossom as the rose. Lord, increase our faith! When it comes to us we know it by a great uprising of the soul into nobler life, into wider domination and power. We would have more of it: we would live by faith and not by sight. We would thus have the larger life. Lord, increase our faith! Thou dost call us to trust in thee, and to have no fear. Thou alone canst give us the perfect love which casteth out fear and settleth the soul in infinite calm. Every good gift is thine. We have nothing that we do not receive. We live upon thy bounty; we are guests at thy table; we shelter ourselves in thy house. The Lord"s mercy be multiplied unto us, and the Lord"s comfort encourage and strengthen our souls! We come before thee because with the Lord is abundance of pardon and plenteous forgiveness, that he may be sought unto and feared with all the sacred reverence of love. Pardon our sin. Cleanse us in the holy blood of Christ; yea, wash away all guilt, and give us the sanctification which is the miracle of the Holy Ghost. Sanctify us—body, soul, and spirit. Subdue our whole nature to thy government. Create in us the spirit of obedience. Lead us to see that our faith means sacrifice, or it is void of meaning. Regard us all. How many our frailties; how countless our sins; how varied our needs! But thou knowest us every one: our frame, our nature, our opportunities, our temptations, our engagements. Thou dost count us up and understand us wholly, and there is nothing in us that is hidden from the searching of thine eye. Have mercy upon us! Lord, pity us! Lord, come to us through the way of the Cross, mighty to save, with great answers to great questions, with the infinite fulness of God, in reply to the prayers of men. Let the old traveller feel that it is better farther on. Give the young worker to know that to build below the skies is to build without foundation and without power of completion. Show the youngest that there is no safety out of thy movement and beyond thy law. Comfort the discouraged. Give unto the disappointed soul new hope and new opportunities. Let all the past be turned into a school, and, learning its lessons, bowing under its discipline, may we begin tomorrow with a new heart and a new hope, having behind us yesterdays full of experience and full of teaching; and thus may our mistakes become the beginnings of our Wisdom of Solomon , may our failures contribute to our successes, and may all the scorning and the trial, the tempting and the scourging, of time and life bring us nearer to thyself, thou holy Christ of God. Amen.

Acts 27:20-44

20. And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.

21. But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss.

22. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man"s life among you, but of the ship.

23. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I Amos , and whom I serve,

24. Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Csar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.

25. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.

26. Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island.

27. But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country;

28. And sounded, and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms.

29. Then fearing lest they should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day.

30. And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship,

31. Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.

32. Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off.

33. And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing.

34. Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health: for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you.

35. And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat.

36. Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat.

37. And we were in all in the ship two hundred threescore and sixteen souls.

38. And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea.

39. And when it was day, they knew not the land: but they discovered a certain creek with a shore, into the which they were minded, if it were possible, to thrust in the ship.

40. And when they had taken up the anchors, they committed themselves unto the sea, and loosed the rudder bands, and hoisted up the mainsail to the wind, and made toward shore.

41. And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the forepart stuck fast, and remained unmoveable, but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves.

42. And the soldiers" counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out, and escape.

43. But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose; and commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land:

44. And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.

The Supreme Value of Life

"There stood by me this night the angel of God" ( Acts 27:23). That is just when we need the angel most; and the angel is never kept back when we really need him. An angel at night seems to be a double blessing because of the surrounding darkness. Words of sympathy are always good, but they are the very balm of heaven when the heart is sore, and, so to say, opening its lips with great thirst that it may drink of the water of life. Did the angels ever come in the daytime? We cannot answer that question without consideration, but memory supplies innumerable instances in which the angels have come in the night season. Some of our earliest recollections are of angels wrestling with us, when we could see no light in the nightly sky,—nameless angels; angels that could have crushed us, but only bruised us; angels that could have torn us to pieces, but only put out one joint to show their omnipotence. The night has a story all its own. Any vulgar pen can write the story of the day; but the night, with its distances, its mysteries, its half-voices, its almost things, must be a troubled dream in the affrighted imagination. Yet some nights we want to live over again. There was joy in the agony, there was friendship in the ghostliness, there was a music in the going, that we want to hear just once more, if haply we might take hold of something with both hands, until the noise was over. I would not live without this supplementary life, this ensphering and comforting life, these hints of worlds that make the sun a mere speck. I am tired of the little bigness of the sun; I am thankful to hear of flames that blind him, and of sizes that reduce him to insignificance. God thus appeals to the fancy which he stuns, and turns imagination itself into a religious faculty, and makes wonder go for prayer. Yet it takes a courageous man to say, in a materialistic age, that an angel has spoken to him. He will be called mad. But to call a man mad Isaiah , when we come to think of it, not to make him mad. What is madness? It is a relative term. There is a madness of insensibility, a madness of indifference, a madness of unpardonable stupidity amongst the appealing and exciting sublimities of things. Why should we call the unseeing beast sober, and the burning, flying poet mad? We must rectify our standards. Tomorrow, or even today, we must take our balances into the sanctuary and have them tested by the Divine weights. But this is a ladder whose foot is upon the earth, though its head be lost in the high light; so we will come down the ladder, round by round; and, mayhap, when we descend it fully, we may find that it rests on logic and lifts itself up into rapture. Let us see if this be not so.

Paul says of God, "whose I Amos , and whom I serve." So the revelation was not made to a fanatic, but to a servant, a toiling Prayer of Manasseh , one who had set his hands to the Gospel plough. Thus we are coming down into cold reason. This is not foam, this is not mere glitter of words, this is not the completion of a phrase; it is at once the beginning and the end of an argument. "Whose I am—" But all men are God"s. Yes, in a sense; but there is another ownership, an inner life, a warm, comforting, all protecting, sacred sonship and fatherhood and mystery of communion. Paul was always God"s; the centurion and the sailors were God"s—where is the specialty of the claim "whose I Amos , and whom I serve"? We must enter into this spiritual mystery. We are twice God"s: we are "born again"—yea, truly, as it were, again and again and every day—born to some higher life, into some nobler power, into some tenderer love, into some wider ownership of truth and life. It is a mystery; no words fit it; we must live it to know it.

"Whom I serve." Now we come lower down still into the region of what is termed reason and fact. Did Paul serve God? Let his life answer. If he did not serve God, his life since that Damascus journey has no explanation, no meaning. Verily, from our reading, we would be the first to say to the inquiry "Did Paul serve God?" "Yes, night and day; in every thought, in every pulse, in every upheaving and strenuous energy of the soul." Common fairness demands this tribute. We should lie to ourselves if we did not unanimously and affectionately say, "Yea, verily, Paul, mistaken, mayhap, a fanatic perhaps, wild and mad as judged by Festus" rules and customs, but, O man! bent, withered, impoverished, despised, thou hast with both hands served God."

The all-including thought arising out of this consideration Isaiah , that God"s revelations are made, not to genius, but to character; not to ability, but to disposition; not to the greatest intellects, but to the tenderest and purest hearts. "To this man will I look"—God never changes the point of vision; the focus is never altered. "To this man will I look"—a broken-hearted, humble, contrite soul. In other words, "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." Paul does not say, "The revelation was made to me because mine is the highest mind represented in this assembly, mine the brightest intellect, mine the loftiest reason, mine the noblest power of thought." "The secret was revealed to me by him whose I am in every fibre of the body, every thought of the soul, every passion of the heart, and whom I serve with all the resources with which he has entrusted me, and with all the fire that burns in my being." We should know more if we loved more; we should be greater theologians if we were better Christians. To the praying soul the revelation comes; when our eyes are shut in prayer, the vision of our soul is opened that we may behold the sublimest realities of truth. If you would grow in knowledge, you must first grow in grace.

Then mark a wonderful characteristic of Paul, in that he pledges God. This is not a salvation that is to be worked out in the dim and unknown future. With a valour—shall we say an audacity?—singularly characteristic of himself, he pledges, in all its immeasurable infiniteness, the power of God to do this thing. How he will be covered with confusion presently if it be not so! In a few brief hours this boast will be reduced to confusion and dismay. There is a touch of prophetic knowledge in this pledging to God. "If it be not Song of Solomon ," said the old Prayer of Manasseh , "then the Lord hath not spoken by my mouth. If that man die an ordinary death, I should be found a liar, in that I have said God has revealed the contrary to me." A great mystery is this, that the child may pledge the Father to work out certain issues and complete them in happy fruition—a wondrous miracle; yes, it is even so. As to detail, we know nothing; but as to broad, substantial issue, we know everything. "Say unto the wicked Prayer of Manasseh , Thou shalt surely die." "Say unto the righteous, It shall be well with thee." We know nothing as to time, mode, circumstance, changing phase and incident; but the issue is revealed in light.

What a wondrous picture of life then follows! We seem to have been in precisely those very circumstances. Have we not seen how great providences are affected by human action? "Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved." This is a continual wonder to us, that life should go upon such little hinges; that the small wheels should, in their place, be just as important as the large one. "The shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship"; and Paul stopped them with this assurance: "Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved." There must be no tempting of God: there must be complete obedience. Sometimes the fight, so to say, between God and Prayer of Manasseh , is brought down to the very narrowest and simplest incident. The battle is not always a grand one, or fought out upon a great field. We sometimes come into such close quarters with God that great issues depend upon shutting the door, looking out of the window, keeping the eyes open, speaking one word. Thus are little things lifted up into importance, and details made part of the worship of life. There is nothing unimportant to Omniscience: the very hairs of your head are all numbered. There is nothing confused or indiscriminate and undiscriminating in the providence of Heaven. There is not a colour on an insect"s wing that does not represent some thought of eternity. Do not take the view which would depreciate that which is matter of detail and comparative insignificance, for a great argument is founded upon God"s care in these matters. Wherefore, if God so clothed the grass of the field; so cared for the sparrows; so looked after the daintiness of the lily, so that no hand but his own may paint its white purity; how much more—? Then the argument opens until it becomes wide as the firmament and bright as the aggregated light of the universe. Is it not so in our own life, that often we fail at the little point, the comparatively insignificant thing, the incident that may be thrown into the sum total? Are we not lost because our balances are not fine enough and because we do not work down to the minutest line, making obedience not a rough service, but a detailed and complete sacrifice?

What a wonderful confirmation is given to a truth which seemed to astound us in our last study! We then dwelt upon the thought that the world is saved because of its good men. "God hath given thee all them that sail with thee." We were not quite sure of this. All the historical allusions seemed to be good and sound; but how the world should be kept sailing on through the great sea of space because of its ten righteous men we hardly understood. But singularly here is the very same truth stated within lines with which we are perfectly familiar. At a certain point in the voyage "the soldiers" counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out and escape. But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept the soldiers from their purpose." So the prisoners were twice saved on Paul"s account. The centurion did the very thing that God did, without knowing it. We are ruled by strange emotions; passions, thoughts, impulses suddenly seize us, and we do things for the sake of others which we would not have done but for the presence of these personalities; and thus and thus, on scales small and in ways unintended, we repeat the mystery of God, and show—ruined, shattered, lost, as we are—that at first we were made in the image and likeness of the Creator. So the world is governed today. We are doing things to others for the sake of some peculiar personalities or special lives; and so we could find our theology in our daily life, and proofs of Christian revelation in many an out-of-the-way field. Why this value set upon life? The men engaged in this stormy voyage did exactly what we are doing, did exactly what all the world has always been doing: they showed the supreme value of life. Why do not men give up life? Why do not the abject poor throw themselves into the river and there lose for ever their consciousness of misery and want? What is it that keeps some men alive? No home, no friend, no fortune, no joy, no light, no music, no fire in the grate, no summer tor them, and yet they hug the life that is reduced to a burning agony. Surely there is some mystery in this circumstance, and surely some religious explanation of it. When the men had partaken of food on Paul"s exhortation "they lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea." When it comes to a contest between life and wheat, the wheat must go; and in the end we read "the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship"—no property, nothing saved; everything lost but life. What is the meaning of this? I would force the question upon myself. Why not lighten the ship by throwing out the men? Do not treat the question as trivial: behind it there is a solemn mystery. Learn from it the dignity of life; the sublime, the Divine origin of life; the marvellous compass and possible destinies of life. And whilst these great problems are at once agitating and comforting the mind that studies them, you may see some explanation of the incoming of the Son of man into the world. He came not to destroy men"s lives, but to save them. I seem to understand that when I study the value which has been put upon life by men under all circumstances. Why struggle with the deep? Why this wrestling with the winds? Why not give in? Why not jump into the storm, and let it devour us? Why this eternal fight? Why these prayers that break through the agony and seem to say, "Life is very dear; life is unspeakably precious; everything for life. Better live in misery than die"? What is the meaning of it all but that we did not come up out of the dust, but that our spirit is from the Living God? It is the witness of God in the soul; it is life itself in a grand endeavour to explain its own mystery; and there is no explanation but the Gospel one. That covers the whole ground and brings to harmonious conclusions all the inner controversies of the soul, and all the vexations incident upon our discipline. God made us: God speaks in us. In the very least, poorest, meanest little child in London today God speaks through the agony of a life the child cannot part with and which the earth cannot satisfy. Thank God for these natural mysteries! They help us so much when we come to ponder the profounder secrets which relate to God and to eternity.


Verses 23-31

Chapter99

Prayer

Almighty God, thou art the Giver of all gifts that are good and perfect. Thou art always giving; thou dost love to give. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. Thou hast set up in him the centre of hope and truth and faith. He is All in All. He is the Beginning without beginning; the End without end; the Mystery; Immanuel. If we may but touch the hem of his garment, we shall be made whole. Surely thou wilt not forbid us to touch that healing hem. Nay, more, thou dost call upon us to touch his very heart and feel the tender efficacy of his blood. Thou dost not exclude, but include, the sons of men. Thy love is a great height; thy love is a great depth. No line is to be laid upon it. It is like thyself, beginning with thy beginning and continuing with thy duration. The Lord"s mercy abideth for ever. It is a light that cannot be blown out, a glory that no cloud can conceal. We live and move and have our being, not in thy power only, but in thy mercy and thy love. Thou dost fill us with great wonder. Surely sometimes thou dost almost mock us by condescensions that seem to be Revelation , and then gather themselves up into great mysteries. But thou art training us so that we may at last see the light and face it with all the steadiness of such qualification as thou alone canst give. We believe in the end of thy processes, though we cannot understand the manner; nor can we explain the daily detail. All things work together, and they work together for good. Thou art building a temple amid all the wind and dust and cloud of tumultuous time; and thou wilt not leave it until the top-stone is brought on with great shoutings of "Grace! Grace unto it!" inasmuch as thy purpose is completed. Here we stand in the righteousness of God, in the judgment and decree of Heaven. We are not tossed about with every wind of doctrine: we believe God; we rest in the Lord, we wait patiently for him. He will come; his tarrying is only according to our impatience; his word is not forgotten. May we rest in thee, though the night be long and the lights all gone, and the wind quite high, and the sea white with wrath. May our vessel be a sanctuary; may the darkness be the Divine cover, and after the storm may we hear the still small voice. We want to make the most and best of our little life. It is but a breath after all; we waste it in using it; we die whilst we live. May we make the most of the hours, counting them with scrupulous care, using each as if it were a solitary gem, and writing down the story of each as for the perusal of the Divine eye. Call us every morning from our slumber. Give us peace every night after our labor. As the years grow and multiply, may they but bring immortality nearer and hasten us to our eternal youth. Remember those for whom we ought to pray—the prayerless, the dumb that never spoke at thy altar; the heart speechless because faithless. We pray for the wanderer that he may see in what a maze he is laboring—returning always upon himself; making no progress, only wasting strength. For the sick we pray—the solitary, the lonely, the sad. The earth is thine, and every living thing is a pulse of thine eternity. Let thy pity go out after it like a gospel, and speak comfortably to it, and refresh every heart with a new blessing. Speak to those who are in utter dejection, and whose despair has left faith far behind. Thou canst recover the shattered life; thou canst build again the mind that has been thrown down. All things are possible with God. Hear us in our daily prayer. Enrich it with daily inspiration of thought and desire, and may we feel so assured that our prayers are Divine creations that in their very utterance we may find Divine replies.

We say our prayer at the Cross: otherwhere it would be but an empty wind; but uttered at the Cross, in the sight of the Holy One, in the presence of the Atoning Blood, the feeblest word becomes a mighty plea, and the sighing of the heart is heard in heaven as a prevailing voice. Hear us and astonish us with a great answer. Amen.

Acts 27:23-31

23. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I Amos , and whom I serve,

24. Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Csar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.

25. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.

26. Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island.

27. But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country;

28. And sounded, and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms.

29. Then fearing lest they should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day.

30. And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under color as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship,

31. Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.

Paul Professes a Creed

This is a remarkable saying: "God hath given thee all them that sail with thee" ( Acts 27:24). That is the philosophy of society. The whole ship was saved for Paul"s sake. Your house is saved because of some one life that is in it. Any ship that carries you and me might be broken up by the storm—thrown away as an evil thing—because we are so bad and unworthy. But for the child"s sake—the praying soul"s sake—the old mother"s sake—the pastor"s sake—the timbers are kept together, and we shall yet touch land. How little is this vicarious principle understood! We speak much about vicarious suffering; that is only half a truth. We speak of others suffering for us; how little we speak of being saved because of the goodness of others! This is the way in which prayer is often answered, that unworthy lives are enriched with new chances of repentance and return and adoption. God would wither the barren tree away, or cut it down, but for the husbandman"s prayer. It is part of the mystery of his grace that he should say to the gardener, "If you wish it, you may keep it another year." Omnipotence allows itself to be moulded by prayer; Almightiness is willing to be softened by human tears. This is not to be explained in words. If it were less than Almightiness, it would consume itself by its own fury; but being Almightiness, we find in its repose the bloom of its power. It is hard sometimes to hear the bad man"s mockery of things, and to hear the wicked man boast that he can get along very well without religion, or Bible, or church. The poor fool is so insane as to be beyond the reach of immediate reason. He sees only points, not lines; he does not understand the philosophy, or grasp the totality, of the case; he does not know that he owes the extension of his privileges to the very religion which he despises. Who, on that ship, thought that he was indebted for his life to the prisoner Paul? Not a soul on board was aware that he owed his existence, his salvation from danger, to the prisoner who was in chains. We do not know our creditors; we cannot tell where our obligation begins or ends. This is a mystery in which there is infinite joy. It sets my life in new relations, and enriches it with new hopes. For what I know, a thousand ministries may be operating upon it that I cannot name or measure. Why should I attempt to estimate all things by my sight or by any sense I have? It is more joyous to throw myself into the astronomic sweep and roll of things and be rocked in an infinite strength. That is faith. Every flower that grows in my garden is an answered prayer; every beam of morning light that plays on the paper on which I set down my thought is the result of a ministry long since passed away from the earth. If you like, you can receive flowers and lights and dawns, mornings and middays as accidents without root or meaning, or far away explanation; but if you so receive them, they will be as guests that call upon you when you are not at home. Better take your life as an answer to prayer—a thing spared because some one prayed for it—than receive it as an accident, or treat it as a mechanical course. If this were an isolated incident, we might seem to be making too much of it; but it is a golden thread that runs through the whole Biblical story, and that continues its gracious extension through our own consciousness and experience. In Genesis we read that God blessed the house of Potiphar "for Joseph"s sake." Trace that same thought through every page of Biblical history, and you will find that it is God"s method of working—namely: to bless one man for the sake of another. That historical fact reaches the fulness of its significance in the gift and priesthood of the Son of God; and so our prayers are taken up from the region of weary helpless words into prevalent eloquence by the expression, "for the sake of thy dear Son." He is the Joseph for whose sake the whole world is kept together, even in its present patched and dangerous condition; he is the Paul for whose sake the storm-smitten ship is kept upon the water and not under it; it is for his sake that time is lengthened and that opportunities are multiplied. This is the Christian faith; this is the Christian life.

Let us hear Paul in this great darkness. There may be light in his words: some men speak light. Maybe, Paul"s words will light up the black heavens, and make the unquiet sea peaceful. What did Paul say? "I exhort you to be of good cheer.... For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I Amos , and whom I serve." There is personal character, religious qualification, a right set and attitude of the soul in relation to things unseen and forces Divine. The expression is not "whose I am" only—that would but indicate the fatal and the inevitable. All things are God"s. The young lions roar and seek their bread and their meat from God. Paul adds, "and whom I serve." Thus his own consent was secured. He was one with God—one in sympathy, one in purpose. He had no will but God"s. He never did anything for himself: he toiled in the field of Another for the glory of its great Proprietor. That was a bold word to say. It drove the darkness off like a frightened thing. It was the very word we wanted—the great solar word, that plunged into the infinite gloom and scattered it. How nobly it sounds under certain circumstances! If we speak it pithlessly, it takes rank with any words short and empty; but if we pronounce the word God with the energy of conviction, with the graciousness of gratitude, with the pathos of helplessness, it soon disbands the hosts of darkness and sets a great light in the centre of things. Men can never pronounce aright the word God until they feel aright the doctrine of God.

The angel said, "Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Csar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer." That is the effect of a glad soul. One life set in the right key makes a whole house merry. Do not wait for the unanimous consent of all parties in order to make the house ring again with song and vibrate with sacred and rapturous dance. One cheerful soul, one glad spirit, one mind that sees things aright and grasps them in their unity, will find the music; and when a tune is once begun, how comparatively easy it is to take it up! We are waiting for the leader in the Church; we are waiting for the soul that dare advance within the family circle; and when the master-spirit gives the key-note, a thousand voices will take up and continue the expression of its exultation.

Only the religious man can be truly glad. Believe me, there is no joy out of rectitude with God; there is laughter, there is noise, there is uproar, there is tumult, there is an ecstasy that will not bear tomorrow"s reflection; but as for gladness, health of soul, real, true, rational abiding, as much awake at midnight as at midday and at midday as at midnight, this gladness is the child of righteousness. There may be the deepest joy in what is apparently the deepest melancholy. A man is not necessarily unhappy because he is silent; he is the more likely to be happy when his tongue is quiet and his tears express his rapture. The religious man has his enjoyments in the very midst of his distresses. I know hardly any sentence of the Apostle Paul"s which has filled me with so much true ecstasy and rapture as a sentence he wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians. In the seventh chapter of that letter he says, "I am filled with comfort; I am exceeding joyful," or literally, "I rejoice exceedingly in all our tribulation." What a marvellous force was that which could turn distress into joy, which could transform tribulation into delight! What a miracle to take in all the black messengers of evil, set them down in the house, and see them gradually whiten into radiant angels of God! No other religion than the religion of Christ can produce such miracles—not the miracles of an ancient time, but the marvellous surprises of our own life.

In the midst of all this darkness, Paul professed a creed. We talk about "the Apostles" Creed," and the words are not ill-chosen. What is this but the Apostles" creed? Paul said, "Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God." A short creed, but a pregnant one. He risks everything upon it. There is not room in it for qualification, reserve, or for all subtle suppressions which destroy the energy and the pith and the mystery of faith. This is a dewdrop holding within its comparative smallness of form all the mystery and all the meaning of the sea. When did Paul say this? Paul said it in extremity, when there appeared to be no God. Paul said it in an empty house, nothing left but the bare walls, and the walls reeling, trembling, quaking under an infinite shock of uncontrollable strength. That is the time to profess your creed. We cannot speak our true creeds at the library window, up to which there rolls the velvet lawn upon which blossom the vernal trees, within which repose all the masters of knowledge and the wizards of genius. Under such circumstances, what creed can a man have? Under such circumstances, a man does not hold himself: he is a doll on the lap of luxury. It is when he is torn limb from limb, mocked, spat upon, cursed, held over hell"s fire, that he knows what he really believes. Here it is that Christianity has lost power: it has become a fine threadlet of argument, a subtle conundrum, a department of transcendental metaphysics, a thing which only cunning minds can comprehend and trained tongues can adequately express. It is no longer a heroic faith, a great utterance of conviction, a heart so full that it cannot speak, a mind so mad that it cannot settle itself down to the prison of logical and pedantic forms. We will begin to discuss what was never meant for discussion. If the wolf were nearer, we should have a good deal less argument and a great deal more prayer. What would be thought of your children if they made it their business to write essays upon their father every week, and if they were to justify their essay-writing by the protestation that it was needful to have "intelligent conceptions of fatherhood"? Would not the grey-haired old father smile to see his little child commencing an essay on "the psychology of my father"; on "the marvellous methods adopted by my father in the government of his family"; on "the various faculties of my father, and the mystery of their exercise"? His old, wrinkled face would smooth itself out to a great smile when he saw the poor little toiler dipping his pen to round off into rhetorical completeness a sentence that would precisely describe "the method of father"s government." He would rather have one big hug than all the essays the infant scribe could write, one great all-round hug than the finest metaphysical analysis which the infantile psychologist could perpetrate. But this is how we do with our great Father; and when we do it, we call it "obtaining an intelligent"—that"s a word that will ruin some men—"conception of God." The "intelligent conception" is faith, love, the great morning kiss on heaven"s face, the great nightly hug round heaven"s neck. Argument—what is argument? A confession of dissonance and want of unanimity, a battle of words. When shall we learn that no one man can contain all the truth—that no one mind is roomy enough to hold the entire revelation of God? We see God as we see the universe: one man sees the geology of the earth, another its geography; a third searches with eager quest the chambers of the lights above. It is the same universe, and we need all the views of all the men in order to combine into one massive totality the complete meaning of things. Beware of those teachers who pin you down to definitions in words. For example, a pedantic mind will say to you, "What do you mean by God?" Say you mean what you cannot tell. A God that can be explained is a God that can be abandoned, or patronised, or kept in the house for occasional purposes. Others will say, "What do you mean by belief?" You mean all the actions of the soul in one sublime and inexplicable effort. You have not to account to the pedants for your creed, but to account to God, by loving service, for your faith. We have words on the road, but the end will be Song of Solomon , just as in the training of the young mind. Consider the imbecility of teaching a child to pronounce words of two letters! But is that the end of your instruction? If it were, it would not be worth doing. It is part of a process: first the letter, then the two letters, then the three; the syllable, the two syllables, and the whole word; and then the rhythm of words, so that they are not pronounced singly, as if they had no relation to one another, but with the fluency which is rhythm, the intermingling and gliding which is true eloquence; and then the music that says to speech: "We are much obliged to you for what you have done, but your mission is over: now let us praise God." So we go in earthly training from letter to syllable, from syllable to word, from word to eloquence, from eloquence to music; and that is but an analogue by which we may see the larger process, the grander culture, which shall end in the song of the hundred and forty and four thousand, and thousands of thousands, and a number which no man can number—the anthem that fills the universe and satisfies its infinite Creator. So Paul did not descend to analysis, nor did he vex the minds of his fellow-passengers by definitions: he uttered a short, terse phrase as his sublime faith, and founded upon it a gospel for all the world that was with him. Paul did not say that he had invented this hope; he said rather that it was granted to him by a revelation—an angel stood by him and gave him a message. That is the only ground on which we can stand in religious matters. Consciousness has its value, so has impression, so has reasoning; but the Word is the only rock on which we can. securely build. We are saved by the outward, not by the inward—that Isaiah , by something beyond ourselves, not by something in ourselves. We are instructed by others, we are trained by others, we are corrected by others; why this infinite mystery about being Saved by others? It is the culmination of processes with which we are familiar, and which ought not to be turned into a theological riddle. In all the great crises of life, when vital questions are uppermost, when great results are impending we want an authoritative voice. We are then impatient with any man who says, "I have an impression," or "It occurs to me," or "I venture to suggest." We want a voice from heaven, an assurance from God. As Christians, we believe that such a word is in the Bible. "What is written in the law? how readest thou?" "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee."

Let us rest here awhile. Let us think of this in our own dark nights. Let us call it to mind in our own little ship when strained and creaking sorely as if in pain. God"s sea is great; our boat is small. It is never God"s way to thrust his great power against our weakness—to batter down with his thunder the reed that is bruised.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 27:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/acts-27.html. 1885-95.

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Thursday, December 3rd, 2020
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