The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Almighty God, our heart is full of praise, and our tongues would bless thee in thine own house, in the morning light of thine own day. This is our joy in Christ thy Son; in him alone have we liberty, because in him alone we have pardon and purity. We would that our liberty might grow into our highest joy, so that, though standing in the decrees of God, we might feel upon us the warm sunshine of infinite love. We would be thine, and therefore truly our own. We would derive our proprietorship from God, and hold ourselves at thy gracious bidding; thou art Sovereign, but thou art also Father, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whom he revealed and represented, and to whom he called us by the words of his teaching and by the pathos of his death. By thy good Spirit we have accepted and obeyed the call, and now we are all here before God to acknowledge our sin, to mention our mercies by name, and to praise the Lord with a loud and unanimous hymn for all his tender compassions. Thou hast kept our house about us, our table has been spread, the birds have sung in our roof-tree, and the fire has gone up to heaven whence it came, as if consciously obedient; in our bed we have found sleep, and our tired eyes have been brightened again by rest; the staff is not broken, there is still meal in the barrel, and oil in the cruse; thou hast blessed us, and we will bless thee, yea, our whole life shall be a doxology never ceasing, always increasing. We are the guests of God, we eat at his table, we sleep in his arms, we awake within the circle of his love, and we go in and out because of his almightiness. Break our hearts where they are hard! Destroy our will where it is not thine own; put thy sword through every evil desire, and cut in two every purpose that is not rooted in wisdom and in love. May the weak man or woman become strong; to the perplexed give an unexpected answer of grace; to the heavy-laden give strength that shall carry the burden as a plaything; to those who are out of the way, burdened with darkness that has no limits, cold with winter wind blowing from all points of inclement heaven, send warmth from thine own hidden fire; to those who cannot pray in words send the spirit of supplication. Thou knowest us altogether, and in that fact we find our rest. We are here but for a little time. To-morrow we shall be gone, and the place that knoweth us now shall know us no more for ever; the air is full of farewells; the earth opens itself to offer the hospitality of death, and we are hastening like a post, flying like a shuttle, vanishing like a cloud; there is no figure in all thy universe to represent the instability of our present life! We now take hold of hands, and take hold of hearts, and as one Prayer of Manasseh, standing at the Cross, invoking the name that is above every name, we give ourselves to thee! Seal us, give us the spirit of adoption, help us to say with the heart, Father! let the last cruel link of Satan"s iron chain fall away from our life, and give us liberty! Amen.
1. And he came also to Derbe [reversing his former progress along the same road, which he now entered upon through the "Cilician Gates," a huge fissure in Taurus, 80 miles long] and to Lystra: and behold, a certain disciple was there [at Lystra, see Acts 14:19], named Timothy, the son of a Jewess [Eunice, 2 Timothy 1:5], which believed [G. a "female Jewish believer"], but his father was a Greek [G. "Greek"].
2. The same was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.
3. Him would Paul have to go forth with him [Silas for Barnabas and Timothy for young John Mark]; and he took and circumcised him [did it himself, as every Jew might, Luke 1:59], because of the Jews [the illiberal party among the Jews forbad Jewesses as well as Jews to marry Gentiles, and accounted the offspring of such as did illegitimate. They had therefore not circumcised Timothy, while those of their party who had joined the Jerusalem Church insisted upon the circumcision of the Gentile Titus. The liberal Jews, on the contrary, allowed Jewesses to marry Gentile husbands, and circumcised their male offspring on the principle "partus sequitur ventrem." These would be the kind of persons Paul hoped to convert. So far from being inconsistent, Paul was as emphatically opposed to Judaistic bigotry when he circumcised the Jewish youth Timothy as he was when he refused to circumcise the Gentile youth Titus [ Galatians 2:3] that were in those parts [see Acts 15:21]: for they all [both parties of the Jews] knew that his father was a Greek.
4. And as they went on their way through the cities, they delivered them the decrees [ Luke 2:1] for to keep, which had been ordained of the apostles and elders [cf. Acts 15:1 and Acts 15:2, with Acts 15:24] that were at Jerusalem.
5. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.
Incidental Aspects of Apostolic Life
PAUL took Silas with him, but still there was a sense in which he must have been alone. He could not give up a man like Barnabas and think no more about him; we cannot shake off our old associations and pay no heed to the sweet and tender memories of the time that is gone. He who can forget old friends is no Apostle of Jesus Christ. Besides, Paul was going, as he himself phrased it, "again" unto churches where he had ministered, and into churches which he himself had founded. The people would ask questions whatever he himself might resolve to do; they would wonder who the stranger was; they would ask about Barnabas. Here is a side of life that we may but indicate, and dare not attempt to reveal or exhaust. Awkward questions are asked about old friends, old service, and old associations. A man suddenly asks you how you like your church life now, and you have to say, perhaps, that you have given it up. The man is then sorry that he asked the question, nevertheless it cut you in your very soul like a sword with two edges, so that the drawing out of it was as cruel as the putting of it in. We ask questions that open graves and heart-wounds and memories we wish to seal up and leave until the fuller light shall come which shall bring warmth and comfort as well as revelation. The man who has not seen you for years asks you how that sweet little boy of yours Isaiah, and it seems to you incredible that a grief that filled your house with darkness had not made itself known to him who was your friend. You say he has passed through the gate into the city. Your friend is sorry that he touched your wound almost ruthlessly, but he meant it in love, and you excuse him. Paul could not go over the old ground without the Churches saying—"And Barnabas?" What must Paul"s answer have been? He was a faithful Prayer of Manasseh, true as steel, pure as gold refined: he knew not the genius of equivocation and the fine art of telling lies. In such questions and such answers he might find the chastening and correction needed by his fervid temper. We have to account for old associations being ruptured, we have to explain new faces and new relationships. Happy would Paul have been if he had said: "We have agreed to part, we thought it better for the interests of our common cause. Barnabas has gone in one way, and I have gone in another, and when we meet, will not the day be Sabbath day, and our conversation warm as the love of heaven?"
Paul came to Derbe and Lystra. "And behold, a certain disciple was there named Timotheus." Long ago we read in these pages that the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man whose name was Saul. Thus we begin. We begin in obscurity, we are pointed at as hardly to be identified, to be seen rather as men in the shape of clouds, than really living figures. A tree does not show its roots. If the foolish tree could be taking itself up in order to show its antecedents, it would soon be killed. Our root life must be hidden, and all that we have to do is so to lift ourselves up in God"s light and rain, as to bring forth leaf and bud and blossom and luscious strengthening fruit. "Herein is my father glorified, that ye bring forth much fruit." We may be now nothing more than" certain disciples" named without a name, revealing an unknown name to show that it was a name unknown. But we may still be disciples, scholars, learners, students, inquirers, eagerly waiting for more light, and sometimes almost irrationally impatient with the sun for not shining more brightly upon the page we are anxiously perusing. We can never be more than "disciples"; the saints are disciples, so are the angels, yea, the archangels that by Divine sovereignty were permitted to break up Divine solitude are still disciples! The point can never stretch itself across the whole line, the finite must ever be position without magnitude, sustaining no appreciable relation as to magnitude to the Infinite! We shall always be obscure in the universe. Timotheus attains to great fame in the little place that gave him birth, and becomes quite a well-known man in larger spaces; but in relation to the universe, the empire of stars and planets, the kingdom of constellations and of sky upon sky full of radiant cities of God, why, Paul himself is an unknown name! We find our joy in discipleship. It is enough for us to have the Book, to be reading it; and whenever we turn over a page we celebrate a birthday. Read on, poor old pilgrim; trim thy glasses, dull with the dew of tears, and look again; thou shalt have young eyes by-and-by, and begin to read quite freshly; there is no old age in heaven!
"The son of a certain woman which was a Jewess... but his father was a Greek." Happy Prayer of Manasseh, to stand between two civilizations! This was an honour which in his early years Timotheus could not appreciate; but could any relationship be sublimer? Greek for a father, and Jewess for a mother! What must the boy have been? Two such fires meeting in his blood; two such histories recounting themselves in articulate eloquence in his memory! What his inward ear must have heard! What stirrings there must have been in his soul! How able to look well round him and to understand, distantly and somewhat indistinctly, it may be, the mystery of Law and the mystery of Beauty! His religion might go up into superstition, his philosophy might develop into scepticism and sneering; if he touched Christ, he touched One who to the Jew was a stumbling-block and to the Greek foolishness, but to the believing Timothy the power of God and the wisdom of God. We ourselves know somewhat of this double relationship in life. Your mother prayed—your father never prayed; or your father was a believer and your mother had no faith. You are a child of the night and of the day, and you feel it, and sometimes you are plunged in the darkness of the one parentage, and sometimes you are away on the bright broad wings of the other into the light. To the world, not understanding that your mother was Jewish and your father Greek, you are a contradiction and a mystery. But is it possible that a Jewess could marry a Greek? I should have said, No, but for what you have done; you make it possible to believe that a Jewess may have married a Greek. I have know a religious man marry a woman who never prayed; that is a greater miracle than a Jewess marrying a Greek. I have known a Christian woman marry an alien who had sung her hymns in hypocrisy that he might impose upon her credulity. There Isaiah, therefore, no difficulty whatever, after English experience, in believing that long centuries since a woman who was a Jewess married a man who was a Greek.
Timothy "was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium." Character is very subtle. Timothy never asked any man to speak well of him, and yet no man could speak ill of the youth. We must not ask for characters, we must so live as to be indisputably trusted and honoured. Do not appeal to one another"s charitable judgment for a character, but so live that character will come. Character grows; character has its own seed in itself; character is not put on; it develops, increases, shows itself without ostentation, and throws a subtle claim upon confidence without ever pandering for patronage. Young Prayer of Manasseh, you who are as young as Timothy was at the time of the text, your character is known. Do not suppose you are living in darkness; men say of you, "We cannot account for it, but that young man excites suspicion"; we cannot lay our finger upon one thing he ever did, to our knowledge, that is wrong, but—" and then come the indications which cannot easily be put into words, but which are so expressive as to leave no doubt of the speaker"s deepest meaning. On the other hand, thank God, every hill has a sunny side. Men are regarding other youths one by one, saying, "He is true," "He is honest," "He is to be trusted," "He is energetic," "He is persevering"; "We cannot give you dates and facts, but our whole feeling about him is that he is sound as an oak." Live your character; do not be painted as good men, but paint your own character in your own blood. The true man cannot be hidden though he be in a bush; he will burn through it and attract the notice of wandering men and speak to them the Divine mysteries.
"Him would Paul have to go forth with him." Paul could not do without youth. Had not Paul Silas along with him? Yes; but he said, I must have a young voice near me; I like the ring of young speech. I wanted to bring Mark, who was young enough, but I could not bring myself to accept his association, any more than I could persuade myself to bring a staff that was broken in the middle; but I love youth. A young man can run, a young man is not burdened with a sense of his own respectability; a young man is here, and there, and yonder, and back again before we know well what instructions we have given to him. God bless the young life! Paul must have a boy with him, a disciple, one who was spelling out letters and words of one syllable, but whose young blood was aflame with sacred and sacrificial enthusiasm. He proved himself to be an Apostle by his love of the young. There are those who would snub the youthful soul, who would not permit him to be seen or to be heard. Paul loved the young, took them with him, and would never give them up so long as they were true; but if ever they began to shake in his hands and prove themselves fickle, he would give them up and their uncle Barnabas with them. He must have steadfastness, faithfulness, resoluteness; a soldier could not do with a coward; only be true, and Paul would be your lifelong friend.
He took and circumcised Timothy. This from Paul, who would not circumcise Titus! But the reason is given: "because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek." Timotheus was partially of Jewish descent; it was therefore no breach of the Apostle"s stern policy that, under circumstances so peculiar, he should respect a temporary prejudice. Now they start, Paul, and Silas, and Timotheus. "And as they went through the cities they delivered them the decrees for to keep that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem." Do not be afraid of the word "Decrees" in this connection. We have seen what those decrees were; they were decrees of liberty. What they signed was the Magna Charta of the Church; not a set of opinions, dogmas, superstitions, and decrees which were to bind down the human mind and fetter and overweight men"s aspirations, but they were decisions pointing in the direction of ever-widening liberty and light. It was freedom centred in God and in the Cross of Christ. Christ"s followers are not lawless; they have decrees to keep. The spirit of authority is the spirit of rest when it brings with it the assurance that the authority is not arbitrary but rational, not local but universal, not imperfect but Divine.
"So were the Churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily." These are the true results which must accompany every true mission. The results are two in number—edification first, and evangelization second. The word was established, the numbers increased. That is a true report of true work. Men must go from church saying, That is right; this Gospel is better than was at first imagined; this truth is larger, warmer, fuller than our awakened fancy had conceived it possible. Every Sabbath day must find us at its close a Sabbath day"s journey nearer home. "The number was increased." In every Christian discourse there should be some word of welcome to outsiders. The guest table is not yet filled; David"s place is empty. There is a chair for you; why do you not come to the King"s table? Hosea, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters. Why spend your strength for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Why try to feed upon the wind? Why sow seed upon the wide sea as if you could turn the troubled waters into a harvest-bearing field? Why attempt to do the impossible? Hear Christ"s great and sweet word, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Thus when the sun sets today and stars come trooping out one by one—an assembly of light—we shall be able to say, speaking to our reigning Lord in the high heavens, Thy saints are established, and their number is increased!
Almighty God, for the Sabbath day we bless thee. It is quiet, solemn; always lifting itself towards the heaven whence it came. May our spirits be lifted up and see the Lord with the vision of their love. This is the day the Lord hath made; thy finger-prints are upon it; thy smile is its light, thy love its seal and warranty of peace. This is the day of resurrection; today we think of death despoiled, of opened graves, of life and immortality, incorruption and heavenly triumph. To-day all mean thought is out of place. In such a light as this our souls would put on their beauty, and with the holiness given by Christ would shine out with a radiance above the brightness of the sun. Show us that this is Christ"s day, Gospel day, triumph day; time that might be envied of all other time. May we enter into the spirit of the golden day, and be ourselves full of light and grace and truth and love. Standing before God, near the Cross, by which alone we are saved, worshipping the Three-in-One, the One-in-Three, not to be understood, but to be loved with all the passion of the heart, sanctify the day again, and sanctify us to be worthy of its memories, and fill us with the Holy Spirit. May this house be unlike all others. May the speech we hear in this place have nothing in it of the accent of earth, or time or measurable things. May the music of the Spirit steal upon the listening soul, that we may be glad with sevenfold Sabbath—the deepest peace of God himself. If we have brought with us any of the stain of the week, if we are travel-worn, if even upon our sandals or our staff there be signs of earth, take away such debasement and make our feet clean as our head and our heart are pure. Read thy book to us, Father of all thought and spirit; we cannot read it except as we read common books; come thou and read it, even thou who didst write the eternal page, and let our souls hear thy reading and they shall never be grief-stricken any more. Regard us as burden-bearers, travellers, hard workers, suffering many things every day, to whom life is often only a pain, sometimes a weight we cannot carry, and occasionally a very ecstasy of Christian joy. Command thy blessing to rest upon us in every relation which we sustain. May the house be happy, yea, quite a home, sacred because of thy triune presence. Send light into every window, wherever it may look. Keep thou every door of the house, and let no enemy enter therein, and no friend go away. Make our bed in our affliction, and when human voices grate and jar upon our wounded hearing speak with thine own voice, thine own tender speech. Let the husband work harder than ev. Let the wife be filled with a new gladness. Let the little child sing song upon Song of Solomon, as if its very life were music, and may all the household, from the eldest to the youngest, from the highest to the lowest, be as a gathered Church singing doxologies and receiving benedictions. Go out with us when we go to business—hard, mocking, weary trade, full of lies and hypocrisy so often, sometimes nearly honest, rarely a thing that may be spoken of without shame. Help us to win what bread we want with an honest hand, and to eat it with the appetite of thankfulness, and enjoy it because it has passed through thy hands. Heal our sick ones; the poor child that is withering away, and to whom the parents tell lies of love every morning. The Lord give the physician wisdom and tenderness, that he may treat the case wisely and sympathetically. The Lord turn the mourning of the bereaved into the joy of the expectant; may they look across the little river which separates the spaces of thy universe, and see what is to be the Sabbath of immortality. Bless our friends every one, here and there, with us today, or not with us because of sickness, or travel, or divers arrangements of thine own providence. Bless the stranger within our gates. Look upon our friends from Madagascar who are worshipping with us. We thank thee for their Christian character and Christian steadfastness, and though they may not follow us in the unknown language of this prayer, behold their lifting up of heart, and let the turning of their eyes unto heaven be unto thee as a prayer. Prosper their good cause. In due time take them home again; and may England often be enabled to point to Madagascar as a miracle of the Cross of Christ. Regard all who are missionaries abroad—men who have hazarded their lives for the Lord Jesus. Make every land their home, and in every man may they find a Christian brother. God save the Queen, the best of her race and line! Establish her throne, and make her life begin again to-morrow, and continue it long and happily. Disappoint all her enemies; prosper all her counsellors that are inspired of God, and bring to naught the machinations and selfishness of corrupt and miserable men.
The Lord be with us this holy day, and at night may we be filled with a strange wonder, a singular joy, a gladdening of heart which will make us think of heaven more than of earth. Amen.
6. And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia [although Paul travels in the same direction, these names are introverted in Acts 18:23. Hence Galatia is the political, Phrygia an ethnographical term. The local name of this part of the region was Lycaonia (ch14); of the next, Pisidia (Antioch): the common people still spoke a Phrygian dialect ( Acts 14:11). Paul called these people Galatians when he wrote to them from a distance, Galatia being their province], having been forbidden of the Holy Ghost to speak the word in Asia [ Acts 2:9, Acts 6:9, and Acts 20:16. The west coast of Asia Minor. At Antioch the road branched off leading to Ephesus and South-western Asia. Farther on another road branched off to Northwestern Asia (Mysia). All Asia being forbidden, Paul and Silas were for keeping on to Bithynia];
7. and when they were come over against Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia; and the Spirit of Jesus [ Acts 20:6, Romans 8:9] suffered them not;
8. And passing by [G. "along the side of"] Mysia, they came down to Troas.
9. And a vision [ Acts 9:10, Acts 10:3, Acts 18:9; not a dream] appeared to Paul in the night. There was a man of Macedonia standing beseeching him, and saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.
10. And when he had seen the vision, straightway we [Luke joined Paul here at Troas, probably a circumstance of which Theophilus was well aware] sought to go forth into [looked out a vessel sailing for] Macedonia, concluding that God had called us for to preach the Gospel unto them [and so "help"].
11. Setting sail, therefore, from Troas, we made a straight course [ Acts 21:1] to Samothrace [ Acts 27:4, Acts 27:7], and the day following to Neapolis [then a Thracian town];
12. And from thence to Philippi, which [was their destination, as it] is a city of Macedonia, the first [in rank] of the district [milius Paulus had divided Macedonia into four districts], a Roman colony; and we were in this city tarrying certain days.
The Supernatural Element In Labour
HERE is the direct action of the Holy Ghost. In early Christian times men spoke with reverent familiarity of the ministry of the Spirit. There is nothing roundabout in their speech. The Spirit is mentioned by name, his action is described, responsibility is charged upon him, his inspiration and direction are familiarly and continually invoked. The Apostles and early Christians realized that they were living in the age of the Holy Spirit. Why should there be any difficulty in believing that spirit may affect spirit? We believe that matter affects matter. Is there no higher law, or no higher application of the same law, or no religious use of actual affairs, or parabolic suggestions? Let a child understand me here, for the theme is great, and the charm of it upon my own mind has for years amounted to a fascination and a spell—namely, this wondrous action of the Holy Ghost upon the individual mind. Here is a piece of metal lying quite at rest. I would ask the child who is following me to fix his eyes upon that metal. Is it stirring? "No." You are sure of that? "Perfectly sure." Now watch the action of my right hand. I will bring the piece of metal which I am holding nearer to the metal you are looking at as lying quite still. See! I think the metal that you said was lying quite still is now moving? "Yes." Am I touching it? "No." Are you touching it? "No." See how it trembles, palpitates—it will presently leap up and be, as it were, part of the magnet I am holding over it. I am told that it is quite a matter of science to believe that; yet to believe that mind can affect mind, that spirit can touch spirit, is fanaticism! I have not so learned life. Shutting out all merely technical theologies, with their various definitions, it is easy for me, having seen the action of metal upon metal, to believe that there may be a kindred action of soul upon soul, mind upon mind, God upon man. There is a spiritual magnetism. Let all scientific and mechanical operations be so many ladders, whose foot is on the earth, whose head is in the clouds. "If men, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto their children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit unto them that ask him?" Ask, and ye shall receive. Discoveries of material relations and operations are themselves a kind of outside Bible, which helps me to read the inner book inscribed by invisible fingers.
The action of the Spirit is as morally mysterious as it is personally direct. Why should the Holy Ghost forbid the Apostles to preach the word anywhere? That we cannot explain; but then you cannot explain yourself, your own nature, mind, thought, force, purpose. When you have settled the mysteries of selfhood, you may begin to consider the enigmas of Providence and grace. We are forbidden to do certain things. The things themselves are good, but the time is wrong, or the place is ill-chosen, or another opportunity is greater and ought to be absorbent It is not enough that your are in a good place, doing a good work; your object should be to live and move and have your being in the very Spirit of God, so that wherever he may point, your very heart may outrun your feet in attaining the appointed and sacred destination. The Holy Spirit is always to be consulted. Pray without ceasing; walk with God. Be so near him that a whisper will reach his heart. Be the friend of God; have no self; be sanctified wholly—body, soul, and spirit. Be quick all over, answering instantaneously with eagerest love every commandment of the Divine will. Do not be your own idol. Have no judgment, preference, prejudice, that you cannot take up and cut in two with a double-edged knife, if God should so will it. "Not my will, but Thine, be done." I will work here or there, on this side the sea or yonder side—both sides are thine. "Lead, kindly Light." Where that is the spirit, the life can never go wrong. Where life is bounded by programmes and outlines and purposes merely human, life will be a succession of mistakes and stinging disappointments. "O rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him, and he will give thee thine heart"s desire." The Apostles thus lived in the Holy Spirit; they walked in the very company of God; they knew no will but his; therefore their very breathing was a religion, their unuttered word was a conquest, and the lifting of their hand was a battle half won. It Isaiah, to our degenerate piety, quite difficult to believe that the early Apostles—yea, the prophets ages before them—could live so familiarly in the presence of the supernatural. They were not afraid when a door opened at midnight—they expected it! When a white figure dawned upon the darkness of night they did not cringe and shiver in great fear, as if God had forsaken them—they expected messages. We run to meet the letter-carrier now. In the olden time they seemed to expect letters, messages, from heaven to be brought by angels; yea, to be fetched by God! We cannot understand this; we muse about it, and find fault with it, and point out flaws in the crude philosophy which asserts it. Everything depends upon the level of your life. It is possible to live so high up in intellectual and spiritual companionship as to receive with grateful ease and friendly recognition appearances and communications which at one time would have afflicted us with the surprise of a miracle. We must ourselves be miracles; then every opening of Providence, how bright soever or startling, will be accepted as one of the assured blessings of daily life. Shall we so live? The stupendous rocks, ten thousand feet high, look infinite to the man who gazes at them from a low level. Could we be lifted up as on the wings of eagles, the rock so towering, so sublime, would be but a speck of dust in the dim distance! If we eat and drink until our very souls are buried within us, then the miracles of nature, the gracious surprises of the sky, will be lost upon us; there will be no apocalypse in the clouds and no special writing or message in the summer. But if we keep down the lower and exalt the higher, we shall come to know what is meant by Divine companionship, walking with God, having friendly intercourse with the Divine heart, and having only to ask that we may receive. To the blind, dumb, dead soul, to ask and receive is impossible; to the man almost in heaven it is the glad commonplace of a lofty experience.
What did Paul see, then, in his vision? It was quite a typical vision. He saw a man. Was that a common sight? Only to those who look upon it with a common eye. We do not always see one another; sometimes we see the man within the man—the inner man with marks of God upon him; the fallen king, the uncrowned, dethroned prince, in one flash of the eye we saw him, and he went back into depths we cannot penetrate! We should pray that we may see one another as we really are. He who truly sees a man must ever be moved by the pathetic sight. We do not see one another whilst we are in the crowd, jostling in the great multitude, passing from side to side, doing the day"s business, performing the day"s jugglery. We do not see the Prayer of Manasseh, but having once seen him under favouring lights, we must feel that man is a name high up in the register of life. Paul saw a man in earnest prayer, praying to a fellow-man. It was all, perhaps, the Macedonian suppliant could then do. We are allowed to pray at such altars as we can find. God does not say, "Build the altar seventy feet high and then begin to pray." If you fell down before the least flower, it would be altar enough. If you could bend before your mother"s old arm-chair, it would be shrine enough. And by-and-by you will want a whole heaven for a church and altar because of the unutterableness of your ecstatic joy! Begin where you can. Paul saw a man in earnest, and a man seeking help. The man said, "Come over into Macedonia and help us." There are cowards that run away when poor, ill-used people call for "help." There are men, women, and children calling all over the land today for "help," and we put our fingers in our ears, and go home and say, "Behold, we knew it not," "If thou forbear to deliver him that is drawn unto death, and say, Behold, I knew it not, doth not he that knoweth the heart understand, and will not he make inquisition for blood?" Christianity is "help" or it is nothing—active service, co-operation, sympathy, a common sacrifice for a common good. This is a typical instance. If the Church could have its eyes opened today, it would see every unevangelized country and every land in sore strait or difficulty typified in this Macedonian man. From every land "they call us to deliver their souls from error"s chain." The Macedonian man represents a large population. Let us regard him as a man who has heard of Christianity, or who is dissatisfied with Pagan teaching, or who feels the pain of a great void which the firmament itself could not fill with all its wealth of light—he cries for something more; that man is not far from the kingdom of God. Do not believe that Pagans who are struggling after virtue and calling for "Light, more light! Light, more light!" are far from the kingdom of heaven. "Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also must I bring." "In every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him." But that is a reason why those who believe they have the true light should hasten with it, that they may scatter the shadows and establish the day.
"And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured—" Luke here joins the company. Up to this time the narrative has been written in the third person; it will now be written in the first. Luke himself has joined the missionary band, and he will speak of things which he personally saw. We hasten to say that the missionaries came "to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia," and a colonial or military station. There is a city plan of evangelization; the Apostles followed that plan. They did not hide themselves in obscure places; we find great names in their record. What is the justification of these metropolitan names? This—and higher there is none—"Beginning at Jerusalem." So we shall find in these missionary records Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Philippi, Athens, Ephesus, name upon name of local eminence and dignity, yet all the names put together are not equal to London! Give us London, and we have the key of the world. Converted London would seem to mean converted England; and converted England—empress of nations!—converted England!—lady of the seas, majestic, all but omnipotent, with millions and hundreds of millions under her proud banner!—converted England: it would be almost equal to a converted world! Far be it from any of us to say a word that would be even apparently contemptuous of villages and hamlets and rural spots; they all belong to the great house. London is not our city, speaking as residents in the capital; it is the Imperial city; "it belongs to every shepherd on the mountain-side, to every ploughman ripping up his fields for the seed, to every one on the sea; it is the Mother City—the metropolis. Give us London Christianized—London praying—four millions of souls concurring in one appeal to Heaven, and surely there would dawn upon the whole world the day of jubilee and Christian festival.
Almighty God, wilt thou fill us with thy Spirit? We would not be filled with wine, wherein is excess, but with the Spirit of the Living God. We seek not to be exhilarated, but to be inspired. In thy Spirit is life, and in thy Spirit is rest. Baptize us, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, with the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Show us that we are indeed not our own, but that being bought with a price, we are thine—body, soul, and spirit; and may we glorify thee at every point of our life, shedding light and fire along the whole course through which we move. May the Spirit of our Master, Christ, be in us, chastening and softening our whole nature, lifting it up to the level of his own, and causing it to bring forth all heavenly fruit, and to enrich itself with all heavenly beauty. Thou didst make us out of the dust, but the breath that is in us came from thyself; a special gift, a pledge that we are not wholly of the earth, but have in us desires after God and capacities which time cannot fill. Being thine, we would live for thee. With the coming light of every day we would ask to know thy will, and with the growing day we would grow in strength to do it all cheerfully, lovingly, with patient industry, with tender and immortal hope. Show us the littleness of all things that are under our feet, and all things that can be measured by our hand and skill. Lead our inner nature forward from day to day, to that noble issue which finds its rest in God. May we, by the power of an endless life, triumph over the dying day. When we speak, or think, or Acts, may our immortality assume its rightful dominion. Then shall we not listen to the utterances of time, to the policies of the earth, or yield to the cunning of selfishness; but with noble faith and triumphing love we will weigh the world and find it wanting, and will seek a city out of sight.
For all these religious aspirations we bless thee. They bring gracious tears to our eyes; they soften the natural stubbornness of the heart; they lift us up into new regions; they fill us with unutterable gladness; under their gracious dominion we see new heavens and a new earth, and great golden doors opening into infinite opportunities. May we encourage such aspirations, and do thou sustain them by the inspiring ministry in which they originated. Then shall thy Book be a new Book every day; thy Word shall be the word of all time—the first and the last—bringing with it all history and all prophecy, the Word of the Lord which abideth for ever; speaking every language; taking upon itself every colour; going into every land, claiming every heart; under its gracious and infinite sovereignty the whole world from age to age shall find light and progress, and peace. Give us more light. Deepen our confidence in things not seen. May we cultivate the inner and imperishable man. Grant unto us the very spirit of the Cross of Christ, world-redeeming, self-sacrificing, rising eternally to God with uplifting and love not to be uttered, of soul, and thought, and force of purpose.
We bless thee for the Sabbath day; for the place where prayer is wont to be made; for every opportunity of Christian fellowship and deepest communion. These are thy gifts in Christ, the Priest and Sacrifice. We would now take them with both hands and with warm, loving hearts, and find in them new pledges of heaven and higher service. Destroy our sin; take away, by mighty blood of atonement, infinite in purity and grace, all our guilt. Bring forth the best robe and put it upon us; put a ring on our fingers and shoes on our feet; and make thy heavens glad and all thine angels joyful, because thy prodigals have returned. Amen.
13. And on the Sabbath day we went forth without the gate by a riverside [some affluent of the Strymon which is distant a day"s journey], where we supposed there was a place of prayer [the proseuchæ were sometimes mere open-air meeting-places, near water, where the hands could be washed before prayer]; and we sat down and spake unto the women [ Acts 16:1, Jewesses, who had married Greeks, were found in such cities much more frequently than Jews] which were come together. And a certain woman named Lydia [a common female name; she was also a Lydian], a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, one that worshipped God [proselyte, Acts 13:16, Acts 13:43], heard us: whose heart the Lord [the exalted Christ extending his kingdom] opened, to give heed unto the things which were spoken by Paul ["God"s opening her heart is one thing; Lydia"s attending another; so her salvation had both its Divine and its human side."—Chrys.]
15. And when she was baptized, and her household [ Acts 13:33, Acts 18:8, and 1 Corinthians 1:16; also the facts that Jews circumcised infants and Gentiles baptized them render it improbable the Apostles forbad infant baptism], she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house [ Acts 16:34] and abide there. And she constrained us [ Luke 24:29. This word denotes Lydia"s vehement urgency, not the Apostles" unwillingness].
The Many and the One
IN Acts 16:12 we read of "certain days." They were days which needed not to be named; they could be huddled together and spoken of in general terms. A rough and summary reference was all that was needed, for they were but days coming and going unmarked, without specialty of tone or colour—the ordinary process of time. In Acts 16:13 we read of "the Sabbath." The day that has a name; the one day into which all other days flow as streamlets and rivers flow into the sea. The Sabbath is never referred to as one of a number of days. It creates a space for itself. It builds its tent amid all the camp-field; there is none like it. Its banner is higher and redder, its lettering is more golden and distinct, and the silver trumpet which sounds from it makes all other music rough and earth-born. You need not bolster up the Sabbath by argument and theological preference or prejudice. You need not seek for proofs of the Divine authority and sanction and purity of the Sabbath day. All that is written in the heart, in the indestructible book of human consciousness and human love, and we shall see it to be so when once awakened and inspired by the Holy Ghost Any institution that requires to be kept up by skilful argument is a bad institution. Institutions must rest on the original logic of human necessity, human appreciation, and human sympathy. This is true also of Christian doctrine. If it needs to be supported by evidences, and defined and defended by cunning words of skilful tongues, it is not of God, whose name is Love, and whose heaven is as infinite as His own being. Christianity must be its own defence. The Sabbath must be its own argument. The benediction is higher than logic, and no controversial tumult can flutter or disturb its infinite calm.
"And on the Sabbath we went out of the city by the riverside." Church-hunting! A journey that was allowed. A walk that was constrained. To leave home thus on Sunday is to seek the greater home. You cannot stop at home on the Sabbath day. That were insult to the very home you profess to love. You do not know what home is if you think you are "staying at home" on the Sabbath day. To leave it is to seek it; to go from it is to get at it. Your house is the letter; the public sanctuary, a great, broad, common, warm home, is the spirit—the ideal meaning, the poetic completion of that which at the local fireside we have in mere typology. We must go out on the Sabbath day, if the Spirit of Christ be in us, in order to help to complete the family-gathering. Who would eat his festival alone? Who would have his little piece of bread cut out of the loaf, and hasten to some sequestered corner that he might eat his crumbs in the fellowship of himself? Festival means eagerness of spirit, hastening of feet, communion of heart, marching together with common unanimous consent to a common centre and a common table. Let us not be led away by the foolish fantasy which seeks to teach that a man can read the Bible at home, or have a Church at home, in some sense which dispenses with the festival-reading and the festival-music, and the common joy of kindred sympathy and soul. Christianity is a fellowship because Christianity is a feeling of common humanity. Christianity does not isolate men and set them up one by one as if they had no relationships. Christianity brings men together in sacred, sympathetic brotherhood, and carries up the feeling, passion, and rapture of the soul to "dancing, and music," and tumult of joy! "On such a theme "twere impious to be calm. Passion is reason; transport, temper here." We know what it is in strange places to seek the particular Church we know and love on the Sabbath day. We rise a little earlier; we inquire of passers-by. We know our own home when we see it, by its position, or form, or surroundings. We seek the well-trodden way. When we find it, a sense of homelike familiarity makes us quiet and glad. We know sympathetically the hymn, the tune, the whole way; escaping from local vexations and disappointments, we hold communion one with another, and the whole life becomes an organ of love.
"Where prayer was wont to be made." How singular is the cause of reputation or fame! There are famous battle-fields to which men make pilgrimages. How can a man be in Belgium"s capital without feeling some constraint towards famed Waterloo? He knows there is not much to see. He has heard of the flatness of the land. He knows, too, that kind, all-healing Nature has grown her greensward over the blood-pools, and over all the marks of hurrying and battling soldiers. Still, he says he would like to see the place. That is natural. That desire can be Christianized. There are men who would make long pilgrimages to see where John Bunyan was born. He is not there measurably, yet he is spiritually there for ev. There are those who love to see famous churches, and to walk stealthily and lovingly up the steps of famous pulpits, which have been towers of the Lord in the day of evil doings and corrupt counsels. The land through which the Apostles passed was not destitute of historic interest, but they cared but little for the histories which have beginnings and endings; they lived in the nobler history which began in eternity and which continues through the everlasting duration. They sought the place "where prayer was wont to be made"; where soul-battles had been fought; where the very wine of the heart of God"s love had been drunk; where angels came to take swift prayers swiftly up to heaven. A sacred place, with the invisible altar, with the Shechinah which shone only upon the vision of the pure heart, with the ever-present God. You might have known whither the men were moving; they were praying as they were going; wherever they were was a place "where prayer was wont to be made"; for they lived in it and had their being in it.
We must keep up the spiritual fame. Hirelings enough will sound the brazen trumpet, that can proclaim but momentary notoriety. It is for blood-redeemed and spiritually-enlightened men to keep for ever "a place called Calvary," and the mount of triumph, called by the sweet name of Olivet.
"The women which resorted thither." Were they all women? Probably so. Have men forsaken religion and left the women to keep it up? To some extent. Is it not the mocker"s taunt that "women keep up the Church "? It may be; but it is a fool"s gibe! The woman does keep up the Church—God bless her! But she keeps up more. Oh, thou blatant, mocking fool, to taunt the very saviour of society! Sweet, beauteous, noble woman! Thou unclean tongue! She does keep up the Church, but she also keeps up the love of the world; the patience of the world; the home that covers your unworthy head, mocker, fool, hard of heart! Yes, she keeps it all up. There be those who, with self-inflation that would be damnable if it were not contemptible, say that women fill our churches now; the men have given them all up. Yes, but only in the same proportion in which they have given up love, purity, patience, home! I hardly forgive myself for the momentary anger which I spent on the contemptible mocker. If I gave way to vehement scorning of the evil giber, I had forgotten that I was defending the pureness and the self-sacrifice of womanhood, which need no apology. They are not my friends who despise world-saving women. I would hate them if I had time to think about them. Woman keeps the roof over your head, you late-comer, you truant wanderer, you world-worshipper. Woman keeps the fire alight for you; she touches with tender hand your wound and pain; she cries bitter tears, long after your shallow waters of grief are exhausted; she denies slumber to her eyelids, long after your tired eyes have taken upon them the sleep of oblivion. She does keep up the Church, and God will in turn keep up her dear, great heart.
"And a certain woman named Lydia—" This is like the reading we have just perused about the "days." The days were spoken of, in Acts 16:12, in general terms; and in the thirteenth verse the Sabbath was particularized as the one day. Now we read of the women generally, and of a certain and particular woman named Lydia. What subtle little harmonies there are in this inspired Book! How part balances part! As there are days that may be mentioned in the plural number, so there are men and women who may be mentioned in their plurality; but as there is one day which is always named alone, so there are individuals who do not, so to say, mix with the common list, but which head, gleamingly and significantly, every catalogue; names which have whole lines to themselves. Look at the case of Lydia. She was first of all a business woman—"a seller of purple." Song of Solomon, then, women of business may be women of prayer. Women who sell purple one day may go to church to pray the next. We ought to have more women of business. It is a foolish conceit which forbids, in any degree, women to engage in honourable business. Such business enlarges and educates the mind, gives happy distraction to thought which would often turn to vexation if fixed upon unworthy centres. It is one thing for a woman to be a slave, and another for a woman to work and to love her work. The reason why your work appears to you to be slavery is that you do not like it. Hebrews, or she, who loves work, makes all the week a kind of introductory Sabbath to the great religious rest. I would that all women were Lydias in this respect of having something definite to do every day and doing it, and finding in industry a balance to piety. A piety that sells no purple will come to live upon itself, and eating its own vitals, it may end in religious melancholy and madness. Lydia was also a religious woman; she "worshipped God." There are many religious persons who are not Christians. It is one thing to be religious and another to be Christianized. Some people are born, so to say, with religious veneration. They must worship. They will turn a stone into a god; or they will imagine a god folded within the garments of the sun"s blazing light; it is easy for them to pray. Other people seem to be born destitute of the religious instinct; they are earthly, servants of time, grubbers, heapers together of dust that has no binding in itself, and must eventually be dried by the sun and fall away into the meanest particles, that have in them no self-cohesion and no abiding masonry. The fear is that the religious man may allow himself to be cooled by those natural atheists. It is so easy to cool a fire. It is so easy to discourage souls, that sometimes the hereditary atheist—born with a hollow place in his head where there ought to have been a mountain of veneration—it is so easy, I say, for such people to chill and discourage the ardent piety of others.
Lydia was not only industrious and religious, she became Christianized. Religion is a general term; Christianity is a specific form of religion. Beginning in sacrifice, in self-crucifixion, in suffering for Christ, in pardon through the mystery of sacrificial blood, it grows up into absolute sympathy with the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. It is not enough for you and me to be religious, we must take upon us by the mighty ministry of the Holy Ghost a particular form, and that particular form is Christianity. The Spirit of Christ makes us Christians, as the blood of Christ makes us saints or holy ones. In this respect Christianity is a heart-opening; a heart enlargement; a fire set to love; a marvellous transformation of being. When Lydia became thus the subject of Christian influence, what course did her thought take? At once she would have a Church in the house—"If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and abide there." In that suggestion there is a whole philosophy. That was impulse Divine. When the two travellers felt their hearts burn within them, by reason of the converse of the third Prayer of Manasseh, they said, "Abide with us." These are the impulses that are underlaid by whole rocks of logic and philosophy. Lydia would have a fellowship at once. Souls that are kindred must never leave one another. If any have gone out from us, it is because they were not of us. They were using us for their own convenience; it suited them for a while to play the false part, and to assume a kind of interest in our society and actions. But when they go out from us we know that they were never of us, in the true and deep sense of the term. Christians must abide together. In the olden time they that feared God met often one with another, and spake soul to soul, and the music entranced the attention of God, and the listening Father wrote their names in his book, and called them "Jewels."
Almighty God, thou hast shown us that there is an open way from earth to heaven, from darkness to light, from death to life. We find all this liberty and advancement in Christ Jesus, Son of God, God the Son. Once our foundations were in the dust, but now we see heavenly places and heavenly liberties beyond, so that all things are ours, and all spaces, and our souls have come into a great inheritance, and are rich with an infinite estate. This is the Lord"s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. Thou hast touched our souls with the pain of a deep discontentment. We are now dissatisfied with time, and earth, and sense, and all things that can be held in the hand; and we yearn for an inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, bright with thine own glory and imperishable as thine own duration. This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working. "These are thy glorious works, Parent of good." These are thy new creations, thy continual resurrections, thy triumphings over death and night, and thy setting up of life and light and glory infinite. Song of Solomon, then, we stand in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; and we stand as on a rock that cannot be broken or overthrown, and that will never crumble away. This is our Father"s house. This is the strong foundation. This is a place found for souls that scorn the temptations of time, and long with wordless, painful, joyous yearning for whole heavens of liberty and service. We know that we have passed from death unto life by these new impulses of the soul. These are not the inspirations of earth, for thorns cannot bring forth grapes, neither can the dust grow the fruits of heaven. Song of Solomon, then, we know that we have an unction from the Holy One, and are free men, and are standing upon the right of a new charter, written and signed with blood. We are the sons of God—astounding love! amazing grace! condescension Divine! that we who once wandered from God are brought back again amid the welcomings of angels and the trumpets of heaven! This is the Lord"s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. We have left the ground of the dead; we are no longer in the churchyard, but in the living sanctuary of the living God, and our mouth is opened every day with new hymn and psalm and shout of joy. The Lord continue his daily favor according to our daily need and pain, until the last little grey day of time shall vanish, and our souls shall pass, in the purity of infinite whiteness, into the inner places. Bless our daily bread, and it will do us good. Breathe upon us when we lie down to sleep, and we shall forget our sorrow for a while—and our weariness shall become young strength. Pity us when we think we see and yet are blind of soul. Save us from the embarrassments which vex and entangle every life. May ours be the spirit of righteousness, lofty honour, and noble fidelity and constancy to things commanded of God. Then shall we have no perplexing questions vexing the conscience with many a doubt, and clouding the life with many a fear; but ours shall be the path of the just, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. Remember our dear ones at home, so sick, so weak; longing to go, yet willing to stay; filled with wonder about the future, and pained with distress about the past. The Lord send comforting angels into chambers where human voices are lowered into whispers. The Lord himself be the Physician of those who need him most, and give them hope of soul where there cannot be recovery of body. Sit down beside the weary one and talk a while, and in listening to the voice Divine may human weariness be forgotten. Guide the young along the perilous road, where the tempters lie, where the mockers laugh, where the pits are deeply dug and well concealed. The Lord guide them, protect them, save them, and in old age give them a pure song. Be with us at home and abroad, in privacy, in public, everywhere a conscious, living, loving presence. So then our sins shall be forgiven in thy grace, and at the Cross of pain and blood and death we shall seal the covenant that saved us, and our hearts shall enter into a new joy. Hear thy people when they say from their hearts and with their voices, Amen and Amen.
16. And it came to pass, as we were going to the place of prayer, that a certain maid having a spirit of divination [G. a spirit, a Python. Python denotes (1) the Delphic dragon; (2) as here, any such soothsaying demon; (3) any ventriloquist. See lxx, Leviticus 19:31; Isaiah 8:19, etc.] met us, which brought her masters [the Philippian Divination Company; a common and most lucrative speculation in that sceptical and superstitious age, Acts 8:9; Acts 13:6; Acts 19:19] much gain by soothsaying.
17. The same following after Paul and us cried out, saying, These men are servants [slaves] of the Most High God [ Luke 4:41 and Mark 5:7], which proclaim unto you [the spurious "us" of the A.V. included the demon] the [G. "a"] way of salvation.
18. And this she did for many days. But Paul, being sore troubled [G. "worn out"], turned and said to the spirit, I charge thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her [ 1 Corinthians 10:20]. And it came out that very hour.
19. But when her masters saw that the hope of their gain was gone [note the motive of this the fir it Gentile persecution, 1 Thessalonians 2:2. The Greek has "come out" for "gone." The "hope of their gain" and the demon parted together], they laid hold on Paul and Silas, and dragged them into the market-place [where were the civil courts and the city (civil judges] before the rulers,
20. and when they had brought them unto the magistrates [G. "prtors." Those having Roman military authority, as Pilate, would be more properly styled "rulers," and the Greek city judges the "magistrates"], they said, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city [G. "our city, though they are Jews." The one subject race despises the other, and then is basely proud to call itself Roman],
21. and set forth customs which it is not lawful for us to receive, or to observe, being Romans.
22. And the multitude rose up together [with the masters and the city judges] against them: and the magistrates [the prtors, seeing this.] rent their garments off them, and commanded to beat them with rods [ 2 Corinthians 11:25].
23. And when they [i.e, the lictors at their command] had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely [the use of the imperfect tense in the Greek not only indicates Luke"s presence, but also the designed publicity of these proceedings, whereby the angry mob was appeased. See Acts 16:35]:
24. who, having received such a charge, cast them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks [his zeal exceeded his orders].
Violent Transitions of Experience
NONE can bear such testimony to the real nature of goodness as bad spirits. How the fallen angels could preach! How eloquent upon goodness and purity could Satan himself be! I speak not now of those who have never been in the sanctuary and have never known what a vision of purity really is; I am speaking of fallen souls; spirits that have left their communion with God and taken up with other fellowships. Such souls could tell much of the real nature of goodness. They see it from another standpoint. They did not know how bright the light was until they felt the burden of the darkness. They could speak with all the vividness which comes of conscious contrast. Could not he say much of friendship who has lost it and gone over to the ranks of the alien? Could not he speak tenderly of home who has abandoned it and wandered in the wilderness where there is no way? Memory would become a source of inspiration. Reflection would open whole heavens for a moment, and show their concealed but wondrous light. So with the spirit that has known God and wandered away from him; it could speak with a barren and mocking eloquence—not without soul-touching pathos—of salvation, redemption, pardon, and coming heaven. But Christianity will not have such service. The poor damsel cried truly and rightly, "These men are the servants of the Most High God, which show unto us the way of salvation"; but her co-operation was declined. The devil can have no part or lot in Christian service. He is not in it! Though his word be true, his tone is wrong: yea, though he reads God"s own Bible word by word, his spirit stains whatever it touches; and the very pureness of the Divine truth might run risks of attaintment if touched by diabolic powers. What Paul could have done with this aid! How he could have been master of the situation! How he could have turned upon all those who held in captivity the infatuated girl, and said to them, "She is our ally; she knows the truth, and is not afraid to proclaim it, nor is she ashamed of its representatives and servants; she is our co-minister, and we are thankful for her aid"! These temptations are not without force; they operate upon human attention and confidence today. We say: "The thing spoken is true, therefore the men speaking it may also be true." The logic is bad; all history condemns it. That is one of the instances of reasoning that ought to be true; but such is the subtlety of the human heart, and such its inconceivable depravity, that it is possible for the devil to speak truly regarding God and Christ, but the truth being devil-spoken, is not to be received upon such authority. Why not?—Because the authority would not stop there. Take one draught at the devil"s well, and you shall have another; and he is so cunning of wrist and finger, he can twist the vessel so as to be deceiving your eye and be drawing bitterness when you thought he was drawing sweetness—poison in vessels thought to be full of life. Have nothing to do with him. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." Apostolic character was beautifully developed under such temptations as these. We see from such incidents better than we could do from merely doctrinal statement the pureness and nobility of the apostolic mind and the magnificent independence of truth. In the hands of the Apostles the truth did not go a-begging for patronage. When the Apostles handled this mighty theme, they did not ask any one to bear a part of the burden whose hands were not as clean as the new-fallen and untrodden snow. When will the Church refuse the bad man"s money? When will God"s Church say, No! to patronage that is not inspired by prayer? The Church is craven. She will take money from men who are damning the world six days out of seven to the utmost of their ability. She will lay the foundations of her tabernacles and temples upon money which is devil-won and devil-rusted. She is not grand. She is afraid of being poor. The Apostles many a time might have received aid, such as that which is described in the text. The very same kind of aid was offered to Jesus Christ himself; but he would never accept it. What could be more helpful than to have a spirit as from another world saying day after day, "These men are the servants of the Most High God, which show unto us the way of salvation"? It would then seem as if the world had joined in chorus to attest the identity and authority of the men. But in apostolic days the Church was heroic in poverty and invincible in weakness. We have come to totally false ideas about the Church, its station and influence, and its relation to worldly helps and props, and such co-operation as comes from questionable quarters. No Church can be poor, nor can any Church be weak. If it is a Church, it has Christ"s presence; therefore poverty and weakness are impossible in its history. Now, what whining we have about our "poor" churches and our "weak" churches! There are no such things! You must get rid of that sophism, or you will be mere church-mongers and church-mechanicians, having lost the spirit of Divine pride, the heavenly, lofty haughtiness that disdains ill-gotten and ill-offered wealth or patronage.
"And when her masters saw—" They made a profit out of her. They were "her masters." One wonders that deluded people do not learn good lessons from the very language which is employed in describing them. One wonders that the poor drunkard does not learn wisdom from the mocking laugh that follows him when he totters out of the den where he lost his manhood. It is possible that some of ourselves may be under the influence of evil "masters." There are many kinds of intoxication; there is an intoxication of vanity, as well as of blood; there is a titillation of selfishness, as well as a gratification of the palate. We may be profitably used by crafty "masters"; we may be made a convenience of only, and we must protest against this. The selfish man would make slaves of us all. It is in the nature of selfishness to make slaves. Why do we not see these things and stand upon eternal principles? Sometimes this young Prayer of Manasseh, or that, may be put forward to ask questions or make impertinent statements, or, as it is called, "break the ice." Older and craftier men may be making experiments upon your green youthfulness. What is your position in society? Are you dupes or are you dupers? Tyrants in the sense of the text, or slaves, as was this poor soothsaying damsel? Christ would have us all free. "If the Song of Solomon, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." Christ offers liberty. He has a yoke, but it is easy; He has a burden, but it is light. He is Master, but by the right of purity and by the claim of redeeming grace. Christ"s is not the mastery of strength that cannot be resisted, but of almightiness so complete that it can be gracious. "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." The appeal of Christ is an appeal to reason; to the highest thought; to the noblest confidence; to the most unselfish impulses. Yes, a mastery; but by its completeness a benediction; a sovereignty Divine; not in strength only, but in tenderness.
"And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone—" The bad man has a larger sphere in which to make money than the good man has. The good man is limited; the bad man is unlimited. Think what they were doing! Living upon this brain-bewildered damsel; making merchandise of her; always there to take the money she made. These men would sell the altar! Such men would sell the very Church of God. Such men would defile the dead for money; yea, they would sell their fathers" bones for gold. Do not imagine that this is an ancient instance with a haze of romance about it, belonging to immemorial time; it is the work of today; the damnation of the present hour. There is no stopping-place in selfishness short of the very destruction of the universe. For selfish interests you cannot stop and say, "Enough." This horse-leech was ever sated with blood. Begin, therefore, early to resist the devil. "It is not all gold that glitters." There are some sovereigns that cannot be changed, and that burn the holder"s hand. There are some coins that honest fingers dare not touch. You may not have great wealth, but every penny is honest copper, and every sovereign honest gold, and it goes quite a long way in buying and selling. It has a peculiar power of multiplying itself under the touch of honest hands. Do not call yourself poor if you have today"s honestly gotten dinner waiting for you. That is a proof that you shall also dine to-morrow. No good thing shall be withheld from them that walk uprightly. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." "I have been young and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread." Crafty masters, dealers in superstition and quackery, may have their gain-bringing damsels taken away from them, but they who bank in heaven have effects inexhaustible.
Look at the spirit of the damsel"s masters. When Paul and Silas were brought into the market-place unto the rulers, the masters said, "These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, and teach customs which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans." What liars they were! Not a word did they say about the "gains." They were concerned for the "city"; they were honestly excited about the morals of the community! Not for the world would they have old traditions touched or old harmonies thrown into discord. What liars they were! Here is the crime of today, the miserable crime of working from one motive and trying to get credit for another. That is a contemporaneous offence. It is not a gray, historic, antiquated trick, but part and parcel of our own individual experience. It was practised yesterday; it is being practised today, and to-morrow the practice will be continued. The real motive of the masters was—they were angry with the Apostles who had taken away their "gains." The pretended motive of the masters was—"customs" were being taught which it was not lawful for Romans to observe. Do we not sometimes hate in our hearts a Prayer of Manasseh, and oppose him, and do all manner of evil to him, and then say that we have no personal envy or jealousy, but are concerned about some great question or public good? How professing Christians can tell lies! They can hunt a man to death, and over his cold bones can say they never had any personal ill-will to him, but they were concerned for customs and manners and traditions quite apart from all personal bearing and colour. This is human nature; and yet there are persons who quite disdain the idea of the doctrine of original sin or original depravity! They clasp their little babes in their arms and hug them and kiss them with the kisses of love and say, "No! No! Original depravity! Bless thee, no! No!" "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked." We must not judge by action, as the magistrates in this case judged; but by motive, by inner thought, by spiritual intent—may we so judge ourselves. A man wants to leave your service, or a particular neighbourhood, or a particular church, or a particular club, society, or fellowship. He will not tell the real reason, but he scourges his ingenuity to find some plausible reason for his action. Being so minded, he will find one; and he will speak it so loudly as to drown the inner voice, which is saying to him all the time, "Liar! liar!" The Gospel will have truth in the inward parts. The Gospel will have no pretence, mental reservation, or moral obliquity. It says, "Let your Yea be yea, and your Nay, nay, for whatsovever is more than these cometh of evil." This is a square Gospel; it will have all things at right angles. It will insist upon trying all our work by the square and plummet of heaven. It would revolutionize the work. Why do not men receive it as the mightiest moral disinfectant, the only spiritual emancipation, because the only Divine redemption? Search your hearts and see whether the tongue has not often been subpoenaed to tell many lies. See to it whether you have not been acting from one motive whilst trying to get credit for another. "Search me, O God, and try me, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." "Thy word is keen and sharp, keener than a two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow." I would live a life that asks to be tested and searched by the just criticism of Heaven. But this is impossible. So come to me, God the Father, God the Song of Solomon, and God the Holy Ghost, and take up thine abode with me, and make me more than conqueror in life"s daily fight. Thou, Triune God, knowest that I can look a lie. Make me so true of heart that the face and the voice may also be true. Why do not men receive this doctrine? It is because it is very hard; because it, first of all, breaks down selfishness, corruptness of will, perversity of imagination; because this doctrine will not only be our theologian, but our moralist; will not only talk to us on Sunday, but keep our books on Monday; will not only tempt the theological imagination to high metaphysical discussion, but test weights, scales, balances, measures; and have truth at home, in the shop, in the Church—everywhere. What wonder that its founder was torn limb from limb, and left a blasted thing upon a Roman cross!
Almighty God, we are still in the land of the living because of thy great mercy and most tender lovingkindness towards us. There is no death in God. Thou wouldst that we should be like thee altogether, living in thine own endless Evermore. Breathe into our souls the breath of life. Keep us near thee in Christ thy Song of Solomon, our Saviour, and let death have no more dominion over us. We know that our flesh is delivered up to the jailer; we cannot release the body from his hard grip; the condemnation of death is written upon every bone, and all our blood must be dried up in the dust. But for our souls we pray; we would that they might be hidden with Christ in God; that they might never die. Hast thou not cried unto us from thine home in heaven—"Why will ye die?" We would now, in the power of the Spirit, and by the grace of Christ, return unto the Lord, that he may have mercy upon us; and to our God, that he may abundantly pardon. If we could hear that sweet word in our souls, uttered by thine own voice, we should now while on earth be in the very heaven of eternal light. Speak comfortably unto us. Let our bruised and wounded condition of heart be its own plea; and let our hiding under the shadow of the Cross be its own argument, and cry unto us that our iniquity is pardoned, though our warfare is not yet accomplished. If thou wilt say this word "pardon," we shall spring up again, forgetting old age and gray hair; we shall reclaim our youth, and with the energy of morning hope and strength will lift still higher our hymn of Sabbatic praise. Fill us with thy love, thou loving One. Make us know in our hearts the tender mystery of the Cross. May the Cross of Christ show itself in new forms and bearings every day. May it lie over the whole length and stretch across the whole breadth of our life; and thus may we live in the Cross and rise from it to the crowns that are kept in heaven. We would speak of our sin, were not our memory flooded with the recollections of thy grace. Where sin abounds, grace doth much more abound; and we forget our sin as we forget the darkness of the past night in the lustre of the present day. Few and evil are our days—a child"s handful; like in their swiftness to a post, yea, even to a weaver"s shuttle—coming, shining, dying—yesterday, today, to-morrow—here now, gone whilst we are speaking. We are as grass that is cut down and that withereth in the noontide that was to have crowned our pride. Oh spare us, pity us, let us recover strength that we may pray some bolder prayer, and give us courage that we may weep some manlier tears. The Lord have mercy upon us; surround us with mercy; crown us with mercy; give us to feel the day and the night are filled with mercy. We can only live in mercy, we have no standing in the law; we dare not appeal to righteousness. We come before the Lord, whom we have offended, crying for mercy—free, boundless, unmerited mercy. Show us that in Christ Jesus thy Song of Solomon, thy mercy endureth for ev. Give unto us this day according to our need. Thou knowest the heart that is too sore to be touched; thou knowest the ear that is pained by listening; thou knowest the weakness that would feel the dew of the morning to be a burden. Thou knowest those who are crying in the spirit, and weeping bitter tears which the eyes conceal; thou knowest the grave that is in the garden; thou knowest the worm that is gnawing the root—yea, thou knowest us altogether. Wilt thou not pity us, and cause thy Spirit to dwell in us, ruling us wholly, until there be no disobedient thought, until our whole heart be a very temple seven times cleansed and beautified for the indwelling of God the Holy Ghost? We put ourselves into thy keeping, and pray for one another. When the road is slippery, take hold of both our hands; when the road is hard and long, find us a place where we may sit down a while, and when danger thickens, may Divine securities abound. The Lord take care of our friends—at home, abroad, on the great sea, in the far-away city; the mother, the father, the aching heart, the repentant prodigal. The Lord"s Sabbath day enclose as within arms of infinite love all, from the highest to the lowest, for whom it is our duty and our delight to pray. Amen.
25. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying [G. "worshipping"] and singing hymns unto God [ Psalm 107:10-16. Although in evil case, they might reasonably be thankful for life preserved], and the prisoners were listening to them;
26. and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened; and every one"s bands were loosed.
27. And the jailer being roused out of sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword, and was about to kill himself [ Acts 12:19, and Acts 27:42. Note also the suicides, here at Philippi, of Cassius, Titinius, and of Brutus, who "fled not with feet but with hands"].
28. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here [this word, so calm and kind, touched the jailer"s heart. Renan entirely ignores it, and accounts for the jailer"s changed behaviour by imagining that the Apostles "declared to him their quality" as Roman citizens!].
29. And he called for lights, and sprang in, and, trembling for fear [of God now, not of Prayer of Manasseh, Acts 27:27 and Acts 27:28],
30. fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, Sirs [G. "my lords"], what must I do to be [in order that I may be] saved ( Acts 16:17)?
31. And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus [they are not lords, but Jesus is Lord: they are not the Way of Salvation, but the Lord Jesus is that Way. Cf. John 1:36, John 1:37. The jailer"s faith is turned away from their persons to the Person of the Lord Jesus. This Exalted One is the only object of faith. They added not his Jewish title Christ (Messiah), which would have been misleading here, would have suggested Judaistic error to this Gentile. The word "Christ" and the Judaistic idea (the historic Christ) have been added by ecclesiastics], and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house [ Acts 8:25, an additional clause probably suggested by members of the household crowding around].
32. And they spake the word of the Lord unto him, with all that were in his house.
Disadvantages Made Useful
THIS ( Acts 16:25) is an instance of turning strange places into churches. If, in many cases, desecration has taken place, we are bound to admit as just critics and reviewers of history that many surprising instances of consecration have also occurred. Think of the prison at Philippi being turned into a church! Think of midnight being turned into midday! And think of an unexpected congregation gathering together at a moment"s notice! We might turn every place into praying-ground. There ought to be no difficulty in praying in the market-place. It ought to be quite an easy Christian miracle to turn the thoroughfares of the city into aisles of the church, through which we pass with reverent step and with expectant and solicitous hearts. Thus we might build churches by the thousand, and inexpensively and immediately, so that we need not take long and weary pilgrimages to special places upon urgent need, but might turn the enemy"s masonry into sacred fabrics and common places into consecrated sanctuaries. Every place should be holy unto the Lord. The outputting of a hand should be the finding of an altar; the uplifting of an eye should be the discovery of God. Pray without ceasing. Let your common meal in the house be a holy sacrament, and the drinking of your water be as the imbibing of the blood that vitalizes and saves. Paul and Silas could not be driven from church; they were, on the contrary, always taken to church. As unusual places can be turned into religious temples, so unusual circumstances can be turned into Christian sanctuaries. In all probability we shall never be in the merely stone prison, but is there a man amongst us who is not in a still stronger and darker prison every day? The stone prison may be a palace; but what of the soul"s despair, the heart"s necessity, the life"s keen hunger, the cold, so bitter that it chills our inmost life? Do not—let me say again and again—imagine that Holy Scripture records ancient instances of imprisonment, or necessity, or difficulty. By many a type, more or less historical and literal, it sets forth our own condition and experience. The teaching of this immediate lesson Isaiah, that as unfamiliar and unconsecrated places may be turned into sanctuaries, so may unique, distressing, harmful, and threatening circumstances be turned into ladders up to heaven. What are you doing in your unusual circumstances—moaning, groaning, complaining? Paul and Silas "sang praises." Such men, therefore, never could be in prison. Prison it might be called, but prison it was none in reality. It was only a valley on a highland journey—a valley very deep, and yet not deep at all, because only relatively deep to the infinite heights up which their souls often climbed to hold Divine communion in the purer light. Christians ought never to be in prison; Christians ought never to be in any circumstances which they cannot turn into sacramental occasions. "This is my body, this is my blood." I may take two views of the body and blood—the murderer"s view or the Saviour"s. The murderer says, "I have killed him"; the Saviour says, "I lay down my life; no man taketh it from me." Do not let us take the enemy"s view of our imprisonment, whatever that imprisonment may accidentally be; let us take God"s view of it, and then the stones, seven feet thick and more, shall vibrate under the resonance of an unaccustomed and startling song.
Here is an instance in which Christian thinkers and workers and worshippers may have unexpected observers and listeners. The text says, "and the prisoners heard them"; the Revised Version says, "and the prisoners were listening." It is always exactly so. You do not speak without being listened to; you do not go to church without being observed; you do not sing your hymn to yourself alone; the hymn has a beginning, but who can tell its end? It warms your own soul as it passes up to the hearing ear of God; but who can tell what it is doing on the way? Sometimes the hymn of the church is overheard by the passers-by, and they who go out to spend the Sabbath in some unknown way carry the hymn with them, and it hums in their memory and calls up recollections of other days, and sometimes brings the wanderer to the evening service. You cannot tell what you are doing. The preacher speaks to his immediate congregation, but he knows not who is listening in the vestibule. "And the prisoners were listening." They never heard such music before! They had been accustomed to profane language; to cursing and denunciation; to violent and complaining exclamations and reproaches; but here is a new spirit in the house—hark how the music rises, falls, plashes like a gracious rain upon dry ground! It is so at home. Passing the room door, we pause a moment to hear some sweet voice in prayer or praise. We say nothing, but receive it in sweet confidence and think about it, and it works wonders in the soul; it follows the life like a pleading angel. We cannot tell all we do. What is true on the one side is true on the other. The fierce word you spoke was heard. The unjust judgment you passed was listened to by your children, and they will grow up to repeat with broader, darker emphasis your sneering and your cynicism. Did you think the children were not listening when you used harsh words and passed unjust—not to say ungenerous—judgments, and when you ridiculed things that ought to be held sacred? The children heard every word and responded to every tone, and when they grow up to curse the altar you neglected, their blood will be required at your hands. Study this matter of indirect and unconscious influence. Let us remember as those that must give account that whatever we do has an immediate effect upon self, and also a relative and immeasurable influence.
This incident shows us how possible it is quietly and even thankfully to accept all the circumstances of life. Nothing must interfere with the religious sacrifice. Are we in prison? We may have to alter the hour of worship, but not the worship itself. Are we in an uncongenial atmosphere? We may have to wait until the company has broken up before we have our little quiet psalm and our deep and earnest communion with the Father; but it is only waiting; it is a mere change of time; there is no change in the substance, the reality, the sovereign purpose. That does not admit of change. You cannot injure the men who proceed as Paul and Silas proceeded. You cannot get in front of them. You cannot disappoint them. There is something about their whole spirit and force which rude hands cannot touch. If they do not pray in one place, they will pray in another; and if they do not pray at midday, they will have their prayer at midnight, and be all the better heard by human listeners for the silence which they considered was concealing their worship. What a lesson is this to us! Show me a Christian who does not complain. It would seem as if in some cases Christianity had done little for us but teach us the art of reproach. Where are the joyous Christians? the midnight-singing Christians? the Christians who turn night into day, who read the Bible by candle-light, and who wear out the paper by their eagerness of perusal of the Sacred Word? In old times Christians used to be irrepressibly glad; it was part of their very charter to be always joyous—not after a flippant and transient sort, but to have that deep joy which gathers to itself the tender shading of melancholy, that ineffable gladness which must of necessity be solemn. We are disputatious Christians; combative believers; great in argument, in hair-splitting, and in cunning use of words. Where is the ancient joy, the old delight, the Sabbath seven days long, the Church that spread its golden roof over all the hills and valleys of changing life? May the old days come again! When they come Christians will accept poverty or wealth, life or death, bleak March or warm June, with resignation, thankfulness, sweet and holy content, saying: "This is the best for me; here I stand in the midst of barns enlarged and harvests multiplied;" or, "Here I stand without a robe to cover my nakedness, without bread enough for the passing hunger, with nothing that I could lay my hands upon and turn to immediate use; yet, though the fig-tree shall not blossom, though there be no fruit in the vines, no herd in the stalls, yet I must not forget my prayer, my hymn, my worship; my circumstances must give accent and immediate expressiveness to my oblation of praise and dedication to God; I live, not in circumstance but in faith." This is a religious service of prayer and praise. "But there was no preaching," you say. Yes, there was for we may preach by singing. There would be no harm, but oftentimes great good, if there were no formal preaching; if the whole service were one of prayer and praise. Could we some morning sing twenty hymns straight off, connected only by brief invocation, we should most surely have preached the Word. "The prisoners were listening." So there was a congregation. But even in a more direct and literal sense preaching was added to prayer and praise. The earthquake took place, the foundations of the prison were shaken, all the doors were opened, every one"s bands were loosed, and the keeper of the prison, awaking out of his sleep (which he ought not to have indulged, and the penalty for which was capital punishment), seeing the prison door open, drew out his sword and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled; and Hebrews, with his house, became a congregation to which Paul and Silas did, in the literal sense of the term, preach. So that night they had a full service—prayer, praise, preaching, and conversion. How did the jailer know this word "saved"? We must call to memory the speech of the divining damsel, who followed Paul and Silas. She cried, saying, "These men are the servants of the Most High God, which show unto us the way of salvation." The soothsayer had made the sacred word salvation familiar in the speech of Philippi. "Salvation" was not an unknown term, but a term well known. As the hymn of the Apostles was heard by those whom they did not know were listening, so this word "salvation" rung out in the clear, silvery tones of the divining damsel was heard by others beside Paul and Silas and Luke. We cannot tell how we pick up our words; we do not always know so as to be able to explain the origin and authority of our information. There is a process of unconscious acquisition. Look at this conversion of the jailer. It took place under circumstances which may well be described as "exciting." Have we not been unjust to what is called "religious excitement"? Surely nothing could possibly have been more sensational than the circumstances we are now considering. They would shock us. But are the circumstances to blame or ourselves? We like quietness—deadness; we do not like to be "excited," disturbed, unsettled; because the devil has got both his arms around us and has chloroformed us into a state of insensibility. Jesus Christ did not rebuke the excitement which followed his ministry; when others would have had him rebuke them he said, "I tell you that if these held their peace, the very stones would cry out." I do not object to religious excitement, but I do object to religious cynicism and religious death. Happily the incident does not end here. To excitement was added the necessary element of instruction. In the thirty-second verse we read: "And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house." Excitement must be followed by instruction, if it is to be turned to highest and most enduring usefulness. We must know what we believe; the Word of God must dwell in us richly. Religion is not an excitement only, but a conviction, as deep as life, as lasting as the duration of the being which it has transformed. Religious emotion not followed by religious instruction becomes a harmful agent in human life. Tears in the eyes that are not followed by activities in the hand harden the very heart which for the moment they softened. We shall be the worse for every revival that ends in itself. That is to say, times of revival must be followed by times of study, with Bible-reading, comparing spiritual things with spiritual and getting into our hearts the very pith and marrow of the Divine revelation. We might get up such services as these almost every day in the week. If we prayed and praised in every prison into which our life is thrust, we should be heard by strange listeners, we should be interrogated by strange inquirers, and doors of usefulness would be opened in the very granite which apparently shut us in. There is a releasing power in life. Do not ask yourselves puzzling questions about earthquakes, the shaking of stony foundations and the loosing of iron bands, or you will fritter away the opportunity in a useless inquest into accidents that belong but to a moment. The great truth—all-including, everlasting, all-comforting—is that in the providence of life there is a releasing power against which nothing of human machination or malignity can stand. God will bring you forth. The Lord will shake the foundations of every prison for your sake. You have seen great and bitter afflictions, yet the Lord has delivered you out of six troubles; will the seventh be too much for him? Can omnipotence be weary? Can almightiness need sleep? Doth the Lord slumber because his eyelids are heavy? The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice. You are shut up in the prison of ill-health; and you are enclosed in the prison of poverty; and you are bound round with chains of circumstances which you cannot overcome, and you are thrust into the innermost dungeon, and your feet are made fast in the stocks, and you say, It is midnight upon midnight, and in the darkness there is no star. Recalling all Divine history, and all Divine promises, recalling the covenant and the oath of God, I have to say to you and to myself, "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper. For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with everlasting mercy will I gather thee. When the poor and the needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I, the Lord, will hear them; I, the God of Jacob, will not forsake them." Let God be true and every man a liar. Against all transient accidents and all momentary appearances I set up the oath of the Triune God.
Almighty God, our mouth is full of hymns and psalms and spiritual Song of Solomon, for thou hast done great things for us, whereof we are glad. Thou hast done all these things in Christ Jesus thy Son. He is the Head over all, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, without whom there is nothing that is good and beautiful and strong. Bring us all into Christ as the branches are in the vine. May we know that we have no life in ourselves, but only in Christ the Living One! He is come that we might have life, and that we might have it more abundantly; yea, like wave upon wave of life, until we are no longer in the little stream of time, but in the infinite ocean of his own eternity. His grace is our hope. To Moses we dare not speak, for the law is in his right hand and in his left, in two tables of hard stone; but to the Lamb we may come. He died for us: he tasted death for every man; he came to take away the sin of the world; Jesus Christ is the great burden-bearer; he bore our sins in his own body on the tree. We repent and cry out aloud for mercy, and we flee away from justice and the flaming sword, to find in the compassion of God our forgiveness and our rest. We love to think of the cross, because of what it is and because of what it will be. It will be a tree more beautiful than any oak in Bashan, or any cedar in Lebanon; the leaves of it shall be for the healing of the nations, and the fruit of it shall take away the world"s hunger for ev. Hallelujah! Glory and honour and majesty and dominion and all riches be unto the Lamb that was slain! Enable us to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we drink into his Spirit; for if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. May we be filled with his Spirit, and show it by our love of purity, truth, nobleness, and charity! May we be so filled with the love of Christ that night shall bring no darkness, winter no storm, and the Cross itself no hopeless death! We would triumph in Christ. By the power of the Spirit of Christ we would set our foot upon the whole earth, and keep it there in sign of spiritual mastery over all its temptations. Wilt thou not come to us through the gate of our necessity, and leave great riches behind thee, so that we shall forget our poverty, and be glad as those who enter into the joy of Christian festival? We are in great sorrow, but thou canst dry our tears, and make the grave the beginning of new joys, and find in our hearts new springs of sacred strength and joy. Hear thy servants who say, "The Lord"s hand has been heavy upon us," and "The Lord hath passed by the house and left a great cloud behind." Show them that thy mercy endureth for ever; that all things work together for good to them that love God; and may their sorrow but subdue their song and chasten it into a tenderer music. O thou who art the Resurrection and the Life, visit our bereaved ones this very day, and turn the hour of death into the hour of birth. If thy children have joy, they found it in heaven. Where there is gladness of soul may there be brightness of Wisdom of Solomon, breadth of character, solidity of conviction, so that the joy may not be for a moment, but for the whole space of life. We pray every day for comfort because we need it. We have to fight the world, the flesh, and the devil. They never sleep, they never tire, they are always able; and we, but for thyself, would be crushed before them with ease. Thank God! with God we have omnipotence. We can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth us; so that we, who are feeble in ourselves, are strong as angels in the force and comfort of truth Divine. Let thy ministry in this house be full of grace and truth—bright, tender, loving, human—touching life at every point, and bringing thy Gospel to bear upon the whole scope and pain and agony of this present existence. The Lord make our weakness strength, turn our ignorance into Wisdom of Solomon, and make the water of our feebleness into the wine of thine own almightiness; and at the last, may the old man be as the young child, and the young child a radiant angel in the heaven-house. There, in the sinless heaven, may we work without weariness, expect and receive the fulness of thy wisdom and the riches of thy grace; and through the long nightless day of eternity may we know one another better, and thyself more fully, and rejoice in widening spheres of activity. Then shall the sin and pain of earth be forgotten but for the Cross that made even them occasions of new light from heaven. Amen.
33. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, immediately.
34. And he brought them up into his house [the baptism being coupled with the washing before the meal is decisive against immersion. Nothing corresponding even to a modern bath in which persons can lie or sit was used by the Greeks, but always a round or oval basin, by the side of which the persons washing stood] and set meat before them, and rejoiced greatly, with all his house, having believed in God [in the Divine Lord Jesus, whose grace produced this love and joy].
35. But when it was day, the magistrates [prtors] sent the sergeants [lictors], saying, Let those men go.
36. And the jailer reported the words to Paul, saying, The magistrates have sent to let you go: now therefore, come forth, and go in peace [this "secret escape" with the night"s imprisonment, and, under the circumstances, even the scourging, was the praetors" rough mode of saving the Apostles, and themselves also, from the excited mob. Paul acquiesced to go, Matthew 10:23, but not secretly, Matthew 10:14, lest the Gospel be despised, and converts be scandalized].
37. But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us publicly uncondemned, men that are Romans [see Acts 16:20, and ch22. Tarsus, made by Augustus a "free city" (commercially), could not, however, confer upon Paul the Roman citizenship. The father or earlier ancestor of Paul must have acquired this as a reward of merit (magistracy) or by purchase], and have cast us into prison; and do they now cast us out privily? nay, verily, but let them come themselves and bring us out.
38. And the sergeants reported these words unto the [Roman] magistrates. And they feared when they heard that they were Romans ["It is a misdemeanour to bind a Roman citizen, a crime to beat him, almost parricide to kill him."—Cic. The Lex Valeria of b.c508, and the Lex Porcia of b.c300, had been violated by these prætors];
39. And they came and besought [G. "gave fair words to," 1 Corinthians 4:13] them; and when they had brought them out, they asked them to go away from the city.
40. And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of [the Philippian church, fairest and strongest of all in Paul"s memory, Philippians 1:3, etc, was only a weak "church in the house of"] Lydia. And when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed [Luke re. mained behind, and perhaps Timothy also].
THIS is another vivid and happy illustration of Christianity producing its inevitable and invariable results. The old cause produces the old effect. Analyze the instance, and see if this be not so. Here is a man converted, and he instantly seeks to do all that lies in his power to make up for the past. Wonderful industry touched with infinite pathos, this! "He took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, ... and brought them unto his house and set meat before them." What did it all mean? Exactly what our own repentance and consequent desire of amendment must do. He tried to rub out yesterday"s injury. It was yesterday that troubled him. Christianity always drives men back upon their yesterdays. The Christian can never do enough to show the reality and the inspiration of his repentance. He says, "I must pay the money that I am owing. I know that the Statute of Limitations would excuse me, but there is no statute of limitations in the regenerated and inspired heart." The penitent says, "I must find out the life that I once bruised and crushed, and I must wash it with my tears, and caress it and help to lift it up by the almightiness of love. That life is in the forest, in the far-away backwood—nay, that life is no longer on the earth; but there must be some descendants, even some far-off relatives; I will find them, and for David"s sake I will love Mephibosheth." The religion that does this proves its own inspiration. It does not need our eloquence, nor does it ask for the exercise of our intellectual patronage. It simply asks to be allowed to illustrate itself by itself, and its proud challenge is: The God that answereth by fire, let him be God! Why will not Christians write the evidence of Christianity, not in eloquent books, but in eloquent lives? Christianity always concerns itself with the past. As soon as Zacchæus felt the power of Christ in his heart, he said, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold." That is the kind of man which Christianity makes. If any other kind of man has come under your notice professing to be a Christian, he is a false spirit; he is not of Christ, and therefore you are entitled to reject his testimony. Wherever you see a man wanting to pay up his arrears, washing the wounds he inflicted, drying the tears he caused to start, you find a man who has been with Christ. He may be a poor theologian, but he is a very angel of a saint, and character is better than acquisition. We must stand upon this today. Any argument in words may provoke a more or less felicitous retort in words; but a jailer washing stripes undeserved, feeding hunger unmerited, comforting hearts plunged into hopeless disconsolateness by the intention of Prayer of Manasseh, and only saved from it by the grace of God, will carry the day. You cannot answer the argument of that man"s noble service; he is fighting a battle which cannot be lost. Let us not ask ourselves what we now believe, and muddle our heads with arguments we can never master; but do let us wash the stripes we have cruelly inflicted; do let us get people into the house and feed them, and comfort them, and turn night into day, if we would prove that our theology is Divine. This must not be regarded merely as an incident in the story, but as a necessary effect of the operation of Christianity upon the human heart. You must not forget the men you have smitten, the lives you have injured, the robberies you have committed, the lies you have told, the graves you have dug. If you cannot work resurrection of the dead, you can love and pity and help the living, and ask the injured man"s poor son to take full half your loaf, and tell him it is given not of charity, but of right. When the Christian professor does this Judas will fall backward in any Gethsemane where he may seek the modern representative of Christ. Your argument will but amuse, or at best perplex, but your self-sacrifice will persuade and win and heal, and cause Christ great joy in heaven.
The second natural result of receiving Christ into the heart is the experience of unutterable joy. This you find in the thirty-fourth verse: the jailer "rejoiced, believing in God with all his house." Christianity never brings gloom; it is a religion of light, morning, summer, fragrant flowers, singing birds, and ineffable delights of every noble name. There are three possible views of God. There is the view which afflicts the soul with a sense of terror. In that view we see God as holy, just, righteous, always judging the sons of men, seated upon a throne high and lifted up, and trying every act of human life by the essential light of his own holiness. Before that view criminal man must cower in abject shame and fear. There is another view, partaking of this nature but much modified—a view which elevates veneration without touching emotion. That is a view which shows God to be very great, illustrious, magnificent, grand; a Being before whom the head is to be uncovered, a noble Deity, a transcendent Power. The third view of God is the Christian one, and that always brings with it joy; the fruit of the Spirit is joy. "Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, rejoice." "The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice." Have we entered into this spirit of joy now, or are we only going to enter into it when we die? Have we now to walk through a narrow and dark tunnel, cheering ourselves with the imperfect and uncertain comfort that we will at the end of the tunnel enter into green meadows and places of summer beauty? We ought to enter into joy now; if we have not joy, we have not the Spirit; for where the Spirit of God is there is no bondage, there is no fear, and in the absence of bondage and of fear the soul must not be merely in a negative condition; it must be full of rapture, gladness, and sacred enthusiasm. Do not let us chide ourselves too severely upon this point, because of the diversity of temperament, and because of the complexity of physical circumstances, which operate in a subtle and often un-traceable manner upon our intellectual and spiritual constitution. If we can acknowledge with the consent of reason and heart that Christianity does bring joy, that is the next thing to our having the experience of the joy itself. Some of us seem born to be gloomy. Were some of us caught in an enthusiastic state, our friends would be alarmed, for we are not born to rapture; we speak in a low tone, in a feeble and uncertain manner; our very speech is a kind of groping in the dark. We want fulness and emphasis of utterance; we have a genius for doubting; we have a kind of inspiration for objecting; we do not throw ourselves with unconstrained confidence into the very arms of Omnipotence. In estimating ourselves and one another, therefore, we must take into account all these subtle and unique circumstances, and we need not afflict our souls with a double judgment if we cannot get so high up into the blue morning as bird-like souls can fly who seem to have some right and title to sit and sing at heaven"s gate.
These are not the only results of Christianity; for there are results on the other side; hence we find that the magistrates were afraid; they sent a message announcing their willingness that Paul and Silas should leave the city. The bad man has a ghost on the right hand and on the left, in front, behind, and many a spectral presence between. We know it to be true. There are "earthquakes" representing all kinds of physical difficulty; motions we cannot account for; lightning at unexpected times; rain when not wanted; storms howling down the black chimney in the blacker midnight; hands shaking the window frames; strange occurrences in the field—in withering roots or blighted blossoms, or harvests half-grown and damned in their youth. So the bad man has physical difficulties, material alarms and afflictions. Following these came the discovery that the Apostles claimed the protection of the Roman law. So the magistrates were frightened from the side of natural rights. The stars in their courses fought against the magistrates, and natural rights upon the earth fought against the same mean judges. The bad man has no peace. The very law which he attempted to lift like a rod turned to a serpent in his grip and stung his arm. The bad man is always getting hold of the wrong end; always mistaking the case; always prosecuting the wrong party; always flying past, saying, "I have touched fire; O, forgive me if you can! and say nothing about it, for I have burned every finger of the ten!" Poor bad man! The earth will give him no rest; it shakes under his feet, and makes him totter as if he were drunk, but not with wine. He lays his hand, as it were, judicially upon a victim, and the victim turns out to be an accuser! Then to earthquakes and to natural rights add all the fears which come from spiritual doctrine—deep, mysterious, far-reaching, all-involving doctrine—with the heavens above it, hell below it, an untouchable horizon round about it—flaming, shaking, glaring; and the bad man has a poor time of it! The earth was not made for bad men. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." No line in all the universe was laid for the comfort of evil. Wherever you find the bad man you find him in controversy with the earth, with the heavens, with the laws of nature, with the laws of society, with the mystic elements and forces which are called Christian doctrine; and the man is in hell already, and lifting up his eyes, being in torment, he would beg water of a beggar if he dare. "My Song of Solomon, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not." If they say, "Let us all have one purse," cast not in thy lot with them. Their way is a darkening road into sevenfold midnight. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from thee." There is no peace but in goodness; there is no rest but in righteousness. If thou hast turned away from thy Father in heaven, "acquaint now thyself with him and be at peace."
This incident throws some light upon the character of Paul. He did not tell at first that he was a Roman citizen; why did he keep back that fact? He kept it back until he could use it with the happiest effect. Paul was probably the only Roman citizen in the little band, and was Paul a man to get off and let the others go to prison? Suppose Silas and Luke had been put in prison alone; why, it would have been like putting a man"s coat in jail and letting the man himself go free! As long as Paul was out, what mattered it who was in prison? So Paul said, "We are all together; come weal, come woe, step for step, shoulder to shoulder, we go together"; and then when a time came that he could smite the magistrates as with a fist of iron, he said, "They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison." He knew how that message would bite all the soul such men had left. This is the way we should stand by one another; not running away upon the ground of individual exemption, but entering into the spirit of the unity of the kingdom of Christ, and the strong man making the weak man welcome to his power. Mark the dignity of his innocence. Paul said he would be "fetched out"; in effect he said, "Let the gentlemen themselves come down. As for you sergeants, we are much obliged to you for your message and civility, but let the gentlemen themselves put on their boots this cold morning and come down." Christianity can be haughty; O, but she can be very dainty! So the magistrates, what with earthquakes, and Roman citizenships, and converted jailers, and one thing added to another, came down and said in effect, "If you will be so kind, gentlemen, as to go, we shall be very deeply obliged to you." "The wicked fleeth when no man pursueth, but the righteous is bold as a lion." In former days they besought Christ himself to depart out of their coasts, did the bad people; and the bad world is always asking Christianity if it will be so kind as to leave the world. It will interfere with the world"s scales and weights and measures; with life at home and life in the market-place; with dress and speech, and with honesty of heart. It will meddle with all these things; so the wicked world says to it, "If you would but be so kind as to go away." Sooner would the rising sun go at the bidding of some poor insect, or the rising tide retire before the waving hand of some impotent Canute.
Being liberated, the Apostles did not take the shortest way out of Philippi; they said, "We must go and see our friends now," so "they entered into the house of Lydia"; they called the brethren together and "comforted them." The sufferer comforting those who have not suffered! The dying man praying himself that his survivors may not feel his death too much, or be swallowed up of overmuch sorrow! So having entered into the house of Lydia and seen the brethren and comforted their drooping hearts, they departed with the ineffable dignity of Christian uprightness.
So the Church of Christ was first established in Europe at Philippi—see what a hold Christianity has of Europe today. The beginning of that hold is in this very visit of Paul and Silas and their companions to the city of Philippi. I am aware of the perversions and corruptions of Christianity, but underneath all these will be found the truth, that the Christian idea has been the mightiest force in European civilization and progress. With the exception of one or two kingdoms, the nations of Europe are Christian nations. Take out of European cities the buildings which Christianity has put up, and those cities would in many instances lose their only fame. What is Cologne but the foreground of its infinite cathedral? Whose house is that? What would Milan be but for its august and overwhelming church—the very gate of a celestial empire? Take away St. Peter"s from Rome and Notre Dame from Paris, take away the edifices which Christianity has erected in every Christian kingdom, and see how frightful a mutilation would be made in the map of European grandeur. If you tell me that the great galleries of art would still be left, I would ask you to take away every Christian picture and every Christian statue, and then call for your estimate of the boundless cavity. If you tell me that the great centres of music will still remain, I would ask you to take away the productions of the Christian poets and musicians; and after you have removed Beethoven and Handel, Mendelssohn and Haydn, and all the stars amid which they shone like central suns, I will ask you to state in figures the stupendous and irreparable loss. When you call these things to mind, and then remember that Paul planted the first Christian Church at Philippi, you will see how important are the incidents recorded in the chapter, which is little better than an amplified index. We cannot tell what we are doing. He who plants a tree cannot forecast the issue of his planting. The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which is the least among all seeds; but when it is grown it is a tree in the branches of which the birds build—a great tree. The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till the whole was leavened. So we cannot tell what we are doing. The penny you gave to the little poor boy may be the seed of great fortunes. The love grasp you gave the orphan"s cold hand may be the beginning of an animation lasting as immortality. Let us—old men, business men, young men—be associated with the planting of Christian seed, which shall be like a handful of corn on the top of the mountains today, but in due time the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon. Do not associate yourselves with decaying causes, with institutions that have the condemnation of death written upon them, but with a kingdom that must swallow up every other kingdom, and with a music which must gather all other music into its infinite Hallelujah!
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 16". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25