The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Almighty God, thy house is full of light. There is morning in the tabernacles of the Most High—cloudless morning—dewy morning. Here our souls listen to music from above, and here our hearts are quieted with a holy peace. There is no house like thine; it is the soul"s great home; there is enough to feed us in our hunger and to quench our hearts" burning thirst. Here we have all things. We have all things here in Christ. This is the place of unveiling, so that we see almost the Invisible. Our souls are touched with high amazement as they look out into the shining beyond. We see across the river. We behold pinnacles glittering in the light of a higher sun. In the wind we catch tones of other voices, known, yet unknown, the old voices with new power, the old friends risen into nobler stature. We see heaven opened; we see the connecting ladder; we see the descending and climbing angels, and we know of a truth that thy creation is large—yea, to our imagining, infinite. The heaven, and the heaven of heavens, cannot contain thee; but thou wilt rest in the broken heart. Thou dost affright us sometimes, but only to comfort us with tenderer consolations. When thy judgments are abroad, men look towards the heavens who never looked in that direction in the time of bountiful harvest and quiet winds. When thou dost shake the rod of thy lightning over the heads of the people, they are quiet, they are dumb. Thou dost now and again show us our littleness and our helplessness; thou dost drive us before the furious storm, and we cry for rest. We bless thee for such chastening; it brings us to our knees; it lays us low in the lowest dust, and makes us hope for a protection we have so often disbelieved. Then thou dost comfort us in Christ thy Son with tender mercy, thou dost draw us near to thy heart. Thy love is the greater because of the tempest; the sky is bluer because of the infinite gloom which made it frown. Thou dost lift us up, gather us to thyself, fold us within the almightiness of thy love, and then send us forth again to do our work in Christ our Saviour, with renewed power, and with rekindled love. We bless thee that the storm has left us alive. But a handful of hours ago, and there was no spirit in us; but thy sanctuary was at hand; we saw its gates ajar; we yearned for their full opening that we might enter in and feel the sweet security of home. Thou wast a sanctuary in the tempest and a pavilion in the wilderness of desolation. Thou canst find honey among the rocks, and thou knowest where the wine and the oil and the milk abound, when in our hearts there is no hope. We will love thee more, thou Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We will always come to thee by the only way. We will not fret ourselves into vexation, and sting ourselves with cruel disappointment by seeking to climb the heavens by a way of our own. We will come to the cross; we will follow the path made red by blood; we will look up through the wounded Son of God and find the reconciled Father. Thus will we come, and as we come the way widens, the road brightens, the whole pathway is crowded with joyous companionships, and great and abundant is the entrance which thou dost grant to those who come by the appointed way. Our sins, which are many, thou canst with a word forgive; our disease, which is vital, thou canst with a smile heal for ever more; our helplessness, which is complete, thou canst turn into enduring strength by the blessing of thy right hand. Thou knowest us wholly. Blessed be God, thine eye searches into all things. Thou knowest our frame, thou rememberest that we are dust; thou art pitiful to us; thou dost apportion the burden according to the strength. Make our houses glad with new lights every day. Surprise us by new brightnesses of the old sun. Show us some new writing amid the flowers with which we are most familiar; and as for the odours which we love, send amongst them the fragrance of the better land. Rock the cradle, and the little one will sleep well. Make our bed, and we shall forget our affliction in slumber. Fasten our door, and we shall be left without anxiety. Spread our table. Find for us a staff. Comfort us in the dreary time, and bring us, life"s journey through, pilgrims glad to be at home, welcomed by old comrades and by angels now unknown. Then may our education begin in the higher light, and in the wider spaces. May our worship be then profounder, truer, tenderer; and remembering the little earth and its temporary tents, its transient joys and symbolic pleasures, may we thank God for all the little happinesses of the road, and find them in their infinite fruition in the heavens of thy light and peace. We say our prayer upon our knees; we put out our hands and clasp the sacred Cross; we know that we have not a moment to wait, for whilst we are yet speaking thine answer is in our hearts. Amen.
1. And after the uproar had ceased, Paul having sent for the disciples and exhorted them, took leave of them, and departed [according to his previous determination Acts 19:21] for to go into Macedonia.
2. And when he had gone through those parts, and had given them much exhortation, he came into Greece [ Acts 19:21, "Achaia," i.e, Corinth.
3. And when he had spent three months there, and a plot was laid against him by the Jews, as he was about to set sail for Syria [see Acts 19:21], he determined to return [to Asia] through Macedonia.
4. And there accompanied him as far as Asia Sopater [perhaps the Sosipater of Romans 16:21] of Berea, the son of Pyrrhus; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus, and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and of Asia, Tychicus [see Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7; 2 Timothy 4:12; Titus 3:12], and Trophimus [ Acts 21:29; 2 Timothy 4:20].
5. But these had gone before, and were waiting for us at Troas.
6. And we sailed away from Philippi [ Acts 16:40, Luke was left behind here] after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we tarried seven days.
Reading Between the Lines
There does not seem to be much in this section of the Apostolic history. It is one of the sections which any lecturer would gladly omit with a view of finding something more exciting and pathetic in richer pastures. We must not, however, judge by appearances. Paul is still here, and wherever Paul is there is much of thought and action. The personality is the guarantee. Wherever you find the great man you find the great worker. Even amongst this commonplace there seems to be something unusual. Paul does nothing like any other man. Look at the variety of personal movement: Paul "embraces" the disciples—a word which hides in it the pathos of a farewell salutation. It was not a mere good-bye; there was in it no hint of meeting again on the morrow. Whatever might happen in the way of reunion would happen as a surprise, and would not come up as the fulfilment of a pledge. Paul will often now say "Farewell." He is not quite the man he was when we first made his acquaintance. Sometimes he straightens himself up into the old dignity and force, and we say, "Surely he will last many a long year yet"; but in this narrative he crouches a good deal; he sits down more than has been his wont; he is tortured with a dumb discontent. I see age creeping upon his face, and taking out of his figure and mien the youth which we once recognized.
Having "embraced" the disciples, he "departed to go into Macedonia." We like to go back to old places. We cannot account for this longing just to see old battlefields, the marks of old footprints. We like to see that the old flag is still flying—yea, we, strange as it may appear, like to steal away to the green grave to see if it is still there. Paul will go back to Thessalonica, to Berea—the city of readers—to Philippi, where he was lacerated and thrust into the innermost prison. Who can tell what happened in those repeated visits? At first, when we go to a place, there is nothing to speak about but that which is common to all other places; but having worked there, having made our signature there, when we return we talk over old themes as if we were discoursing upon ancient history, and we quote old sayings and ask for old friends with a tender familiarity, with a questioning that has a doubtful tone in it, lest we may be treading upon sacred ground, and lest we may be asking for the living who have been long numbered with the dead. Before asking such questions we look as if we would read the answer before we put the inquiry. We listen, if haply we may hear some word that will guide us as to the manner of our interrogation, lest by one inquiry we should rip up old wounds and tear open the deepest graves of the heart. These are the things that make life sacred and precious; these are the influences that quiet us with religious dignity, and that make life no longer a little fussy game, but a sad, pathetic, yet noble, mystery.
When Paul had gone over the old parts "he came into Greece, and there abode three months." Some say that perhaps he did look into Athens a second time. It is not a matter of certain history, but, being in Greece, it is just possible that the Apostle looked in upon Athens once more. It was the city in which he had met with the most stubborn indifference that had ever hindered his mission. Certainly he went to Corinth, but Corinth was changed. The decree which made many exiles had been annulled, and Aquila and Priscilla, the tent-makers, the old companions, the teachers of Apollos, were no longer there. The friends are the town; the firesides are the city; the old walls are there; the old churches, the old towers; but, if the old friends are not there, we are mocked by mouldering masonry. Humanity lives in itself; man looks for man—not any Prayer of Manasseh, but the friend- Prayer of Manasseh, the companion-heart, the other self that completes the identity. This feeling, properly interpreted and enlarged religiously, becomes a species of prayer. When we return to the familiar city, and go in quest of a friend, what is it but a kind of praying? If the seeking were upward instead of lateral, it would be prayer; but may we not from human instances gather hints of Divine meaning? There is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother; there is a Friend immortal; Aquila and Priscilla will leave the city, will return to the native locality, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever, always at home, always accessible, always with us, until the end of the world. He alone makes a right use of human mutations and social histories who finds in them incitements towards the companionship that is immortal, and the history that goes for ever forward in an ascending line. From empty places turn to the ever-abiding heavens; from the empty Corinths let the soul go up to the metropolis of the universe, and find bread enough and to spare in the Father"s house.
Paul "abode" in Greece three months. The word "abode" misleads us; a man blind and deaf and dumb might abide in a city or in a country three months. The word which should have been there in place of "abode" throbs like a pulse, quivers and palpitates with tremendous life. Paul cannot merely abide—to be is to fight, to be is to suffer, where the personality of a man like Paul is concerned. The reading ought not to be of a negative kind. The word "abode" carries with it energy, service, work, activity, according to the measure and quality of the actor. We sometimes say of one another, "What is he doing now?" We might say that of Paul within the four corners of this narrative. He is moving about a good deal; he is staying in Greece three months; he was in Troas five days; he went over old ground. But what is he doing? That we cannot always tell. Have confidence in faithful men; it is not needful that we should know all that they are doing. If you have only confidence in your friend so long as you can see every action, you deceive yourself in supposing that you have any confidence in him at all. The confidence comes in where the sight fails. It is when we do not know what men are doing, and yet are sure that they are doing much, that we show our confidence in them. What, then, has history shown that Paul was doing amidst all this commonplace movement? Within this period Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians. How easy to say this! how impossible to measure it! Paul did more within the period of this narrative—he wrote his second letter to the Corinthians, and he probably wrote his great letter to the Galatians. There is a written ministry. It is beautiful to read what Luke has to say about Paul, but how infinitely better to read Paul"s own words, written by his own hand or spoken by his own tongue! We do not always want to hear about a Prayer of Manasseh, we long to hear the man himself; one sight of him, and we understand much that can never be explained; one utterance of his voice, and we are able to fill up gaps that vexed us by their mocking emptiness. What we would give for the writing of some men! It was better that Christ should write nothing: there he stands out as always, the one exception to the common rule. To have written something would have belittled Christ; he is the Word—the Living Word, the spoken Word, the mystery of Being. He wrote in the dust, and the common footprint obliterated the marvellous hieroglyphics; but he spoke, and spoke to every heart, so that every heart knows just what he said much better than if it had been put down in so many measurable lines and words. We know the words of Christ. Quote something that is not Christ"s, that is opposed to the Spirit of Christ, and the heart casts it out. Sometimes the apostles quote something that is not in the Gospels, and yet we instantly feel that it ought to have been in the Gospels, that it belongs to the Gospels, that it is a marble worthy of the temple. Take an instance: "Ye remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." The words are not found amongst the recorded sayings of Jesus, but in truth he never said anything else; that was the one thing he did say; that was the one thing he did do; he never did anything else. The quotation falls into the harmony of the massive music of his life, and belongs to it, and is at home in that alliance. The Acts of the Apostles would have been much impoverished but for the Pauline and other epistles which fill up and illustrate their highest and broadest meanings.
Not only is there great variety of personal movement, but there is in this narrative a period of waiting. Let us see once more how Paul "waits." We saw how he waited at Athens; whilst he waited "his spirit was stirred within him." Paul had written a letter to the Corinthians which is now lost; he wished to know the effect of that letter upon the Corinthian Christians, and Titus was charged to hasten back to Troas with a report. Paul is now waiting at Troas. How did he wait? Read 2 Corinthians 2:12-13 : "Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ"s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord, I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother." That is the same spirit we found at Athens; he soon fell into restlessness. Read 2 Corinthians 1:8 : "For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life." I thank God for those words and for that trouble. It brings Paul down amongst us; it shows that Paul was bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. Read 2 Corinthians 12:7 : "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the Revelation, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure." These are the experiences that occurred within the limits of a narrative which at first we supposed to be but a commonplace diary. See how Paul was being educated—educated by a thorn, a goad thrust into the flesh by impatient waiting, by longing for answers that seemed never to come, by pressure of the spirit, by disappointment with time, by discontent that made the soul ill at ease. Where is the commonplace now? The narrative itself is full of gaps, but when they are filled up by Paul"s own records, we find that within a framework of sentences that merely indicate locomotion we have experiences of the most intensely spiritual nature. Song of Solomon, men of business, among all your movements, anxieties, restlessnesses, and disappointments, who can tell what processes of education are going on? If we could read the letters you are now writing, we might find that after many a busy day"s work you write messages of comfort to the bereaved and the desolate. Perhaps you may snatch a moment from the very pressure of commercial engagements to write a brief line of healing and of hope to some broken heart. We cannot tell all we are doing. There is a public life, there is a life that the neighbours can see and read and comment upon; but there is a within life, an interstitial life, that fills up all the open lines and broken places, and only God sees that interior and solemn existence. You go amongst men as worldly, avaricious, devoted only to meanest pursuits and to commonest altars. You may have an answer to such calumny, but may not think it worth while to give it to such low-minded critics. There may be those who "cannot make you out," and "do not know how you spend half your time." They have no right to know; they were not appointed to investigate your life. What you have to do is to hold your life in trust; you are trustee, and steward, and servant, and will one day hand in your own account to the only Judge who has a right to overlook your life. Fill up your days well; do not ask human criticism to approve you; be up with the sun; work far into the darkness; seem as if you did not want to sleep; and live ever in the great Taskmaster"s eye; and at the last it may be found, that whilst others could not make out your busy life, and put its days together so as to make a continuous sum total of them, you have been amongst those servants so loyal as never to waste a moment, so industrious as to have deserved the rest which follows labour. Part of the life is seen, part is unseen; part is spoken, part is written. I have nothing to do with the way in which you spend your life when I cannot follow you into all the secret investigation of your career. We have one Master; to him we stand; he is Judge. At the last it will be seen who the sluggards were, and who were the industrious and faithful men that turned every moment into an opportunity, and found in every day a new field for action or a new altar for sacrifice.
Almighty God, may there be in us, as in thee, no darkness at all! May Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the world, reign in us! We would love the light; it is the robe of God. We would dwell in light, that we may see more and more of thy wonder and of thine almightiness. Fill us with the light of heaven. Men love darkness rather than light when they are in their natural state; we would love light rather than darkness, because in thy light we see light, and walking in the day, we are made strong. Take away from us everything that is not of the nature of light. May our understanding be as a lamp that burneth! May our heart be as a fire that cannot be put out! May our whole character burn and gleam with the presence of God! But this also cometh forth from the heavens; it is not the work of our hands, nor the issue of our vain imaginations. Thou alone canst work this miracle of light. We meet thee at the Cross to see the miracle consummated. There thou dost crown thy mighty works with mightier marvels. In the Cross of Christ thou hast accomplished all miracles in one stupendous sign. For Jesus Christ, how can we bless thee? He is a whole heaven of light and grace, sweetness and truth. He is red in his apparel. He cometh up from the eternities as a man of war to fight the great enemy of man; he has trodden the winepress alone, and of the people there was none with him. He is glorious in strength, as he is perfect in wisdom and infinite in pitying love. In him we rest; in him we grow; in him we begin to be; in him we complete our immortality. He is Alpha and Omega—the First and the Last—the Beginning and the End, and every point of the infinite line between. He is throned above all heaven. He is the Head over all things unto his Church. Not only does he give grace, but grace upon grace, like shower upon shower of pure rain from the fountains of eternity. May we, this day, be caught in the sacred baptism, and feel the holy dew falling upon us from infinite heights, but made no burden because of the hand which administers it. We have to bless thee without end, for there is no period to all the utterance of thy grace and love toward us. Were our hymn equal to thy gift, we should talk down the sun and speak through all the shining of the stars, and ask the loan of eternity in which to sing our noble psalm. We will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord. Thou wilt take a word for a sign; thou wilt receive a sigh in place of much speaking; one throb of the loving heart thou wilt accept as a whole liturgy. We give thee our poor love. It is a stained and ruined thing; but if thou wilt accept so bruised an offering, we would now tremblingly lay it upon the altar of the sanctuary. Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that we love thee. Even in the hell of our sin we are groping about for the forgiving One. Even in the pit of darkness our hearts would fain turn upward to the light, and, at least, try to pray. Lord, thou knowest all things. We bless thee for a love, how feeble and staggering soever, that can appeal to thine omniscience and rest upon the infiniteness of thy knowledge. For all thy care we bless thee. When we said we would die, behold, we began to be young again at that very moment. When we were about to fall into despair, thou didst open a great door of glory into light unimaginable and heavens without measure. When we said, "This is the end," thou didst lead us to see that it was but a new beginning. There is no end in almightiness; there is no conclusion in infinity. Were we, through Christ thy Song of Solomon, partakers of thy nature, we would triumph over all things, yea, set our feet upon all difficulties and obstacles; yea, we would glory in tribulation also, so great would be our love, so confident our faith. Now we give one another again to thee. The poorest may be the richest; the weakest may be the strongest; but be we what we may, with one accord we give one another into thy holy keeping. All the road is thine. Thou dost see what we ourselves cannot behold—the pathway which we make upon the great waters. The night is thine, and thou hast the key of every door hanging at thy girdle. Thou knowest where we are, what is our thought, our purpose, our supremest wish; so we will now, taking hold of hands, touching the Cross, give one another in sacred pledge into thy keeping, for the city is well kept which thou dost watch, and the men are safe who are within the folding of thine arms. We give the old, and the young, and the poor, and the friendless, we give those who have no other joy but in thy house, who cannot go far from home, but whose Sundays are green places in life"s broad desert—specially and lovingly we give these to thee. Thou canst work wonders even for them; the way is long, the discipline high; but they complain not, because they know that their days are in the hand of God, and the whole guiding of life is not from earth but from heaven. And if thou shouldst break in upon us during our separation, so that we cannot put the links together again quite in this shape, thou wilt take according to thy wisdom and according to thy love. Give us the resigned heart, yea, the thankful spirit. Wherein any man is setting up his house, do thou examine the foundations for him and keep the roof strong; the rest he may do himself. Wherein any man is beginning a new business, opening an untried career, attempting unfamiliar experiments, the Lord inspire him with wisdom and comfort him with hope. Wherein any man says he will—God helping him—turn right round in the black land and try to find the way back to the light, the Lord send more than twelve legions of angels to confirm him in his sacred vow. Oh, that we may live before thee a great, rich, joyous life! This we can do if Christ be in us the hope of glory. Even Song of Solomon, Lord Jesus, come quickly! Amen.
Points In Paul"s Preaching
This was the close of a ministry. Is there anything in human relationship more pathetic than the conclusion of a spiritual intercourse and fellowship? So many things may happen to prevent to taking up of the scattered threads, and the weaving of them into a complete fabric. Then there is no substitute for a deeply and intensely spiritual influence. Everything beside is a child"s toy offered to a man"s ambition; all other things fall not only into insignificance, but into positive contempt. To be lifted clear up above the cloud and fog, and to be set for a few shining hours high in heaven"s own quietness, and to hear voices not to be heard upon the earth"s surface, and to be caught in thrilling prayer which tells the soul itself what it wanted to say but could not, and which by that sacred mystery turns prayer itself into an answer—what can replace that infinite quantity? Thus we live in personal ministries. We chide ourselves and others chide us for doing Song of Solomon, but it is natural after all, and not wrong. Some men can speak to me and others cannot. It is precisely the same with every one of us. The very same words may be spoken, and yet they fall a few inches short of the target of the heart, because not delivered by the archer whom we love and trust. Paul is now leaving, and cannot leave. He began in the morning, and he was so filled with the spirit of grace that he never looked at the time; he took no note of it; he would have destroyed it. When was love ever patient with the clock? When did love ever turn upon the timekeeper anything but a suspicious or angry glance? For all things seem to have a grudge against it, and to run and fly with indecent eagerness. It is difficult for Paul to close. When the whole man is in the work, he ends often but only to begin again. He talks right down to midnight, and then thinks he may as well talk till the sun comes back, for it is better to walk in the daylight than in the cold darkness. There is no long preaching so long as the thought continues. There are no long prayers so long as the heart has another desire to express. It is when we have said all that is in us that the long preaching begins. It is when we have uttered our last wish, and then begin again to enumerate the desires we have already uttered, that long prayer sets in. When was love ever quite done? When did love ever write a letter without a postscript? When did love ever post a letter without some sign outside that it could begin again if it had the chance? When Jesus Christ ceased it was out of compassion to the weariness of the flesh, not because the Spirit of God had yielded its conclusion. And love-hearing is just the same as love-preaching. Give me the attention of the heart; then you hear so much more than I say. That is the mystery of the hearing ear. It hears tones that have not uttered themselves to inattentiveness. It makes as much of the voice as of the vocable. It magnifies the hint into a revelation. Give it one dawning ray of light, and out of that it will make a whole heaven of glory. The hearers were attentive; Paul was eloquent; the opportunity was closing; the ship was to sail next day, and the miracle was how to make the sun stand still until love wrote another line and put in another appeal. What long days the old churches had! They had but one joy, and that was in doing their work. The Church now is one of a hundred other institutions. We now set our claims in a row, and one is nearly equal to the other. In early times there was only one claim—the claim of prayer, the claim of love, the claim of sacrifice. Men prosper according to the intensity of their devotedness. When preaching becomes one of a hundred other engagements, it will go down. When church-going becomes the amusement or recreation of Sunday, then it will be compared with what was seen yesterday and what will probably be heard tomorrow. Religion will not stand up in independent uniqueness, having no rival, and putting down all envy, and reigning until all enemies are put under its feet.
How hard it is in many cases to say "Good-bye"! When was "Good-bye" said quite snappingly and briefly and with abruptness and without repetition? When a friend leaves a friend, he never says "Good-bye" less than six times! Have you noted that? He begins early, then says a little more, and then says, "Well, good bye," and then begins again. Another object attracts his attention, a few moments more are spent, and then he says "he must go." Not he; he will turn round again without reason for the evolution. Then he will see some other object, stoop to bless some hitherto unseen little child, look eagerly at some flower which has just attracted him, and then say, "Now I must go." Not he! Even when he has gone he has not gone. He waits at the gate, he shuts it twice, but it will not easily bolt, so he opens it again to see the reason why; then he waves "Good-bye," then takes a few steps and turns round and says "Good-bye." Why this delay? Do not ask; it is the mystery of love, the secret of heart tearing itself from heart, fibres, intertwined, disentangling themselves one from the other. That, indeed, is the sweet secret of living; but for it death would be better.
But the preaching was interrupted: "And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep; and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead." He was not in the congregation. I do not know exactly where he was; he was in the room, and yet not in it, as many persons are in the church building but not in the spiritual sanctuary. I do not blame Eutychus. When a man is not in the sweep and run of the great thought and the inspiring Revelation, he is asleep. Well for some of us if we were now in a deep slumber! That somnolence might be set down to physical weariness, and might be forgiven, "For God knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust." But there is a deadlier sleep, and we may be in that unholy slumber. How many of us now are really awake? Consider that inquiry, for there is more in it than may at first appear. Have I not seen some of you more awake in changing money, in making bargains, in investigating claims, covenants, and obligations? Have you not a church-look and a marketplace look? I want to see the eager look, the soul in the eyes; I do not want a mimicked saintliness, but your real intense self. Who ever is awake in church? It makes the heart cold with sadness to see how men strip themselves of energy and fire, and conquering enthusiasm, when they come into the church. Do not blame the little child that lays its little head upon its mother"s lap and falls into a church-sleep. God bless the little sleeper! It is a beautiful oblation on the altar, is that natural sleep; but blame the soul that leaves the body in the church whilst itself goes out to turn six days" business into seven, whilst itself steals out like a cunning felon to complete what it left unfinished yesterday in the marketplace. He is asleep who looks without seeing, who has but a body in the church, whilst his soul is in other places drinking forbidden wine, enjoying interdicted fruit, and will steal back so quietly as to suppose that it has deceived every observer, and got in again without ever having been missed. "Whence comest thou, Gehazi? And he said, Thy servant went no whither. And he said unto him, Went not mine heart after thee?" There is no successful truancy from the church. We leave stealthily, but we are followed as quietly as we go, and the record is completed, though we know it not.
Then there is an immoral attention. There is a profane way of listening; there is a wakefulness that is not godly. What are men listening for? For the truth—tuneful, pure, holy truth? Then they are listening well. But if for any other thing—I care not how strained may be their attention—their listening is an oblation on the altar of selfishness, and their attention is a compliment which they are paying to the vanity of their own imagination. Who can listen? Who can be quite awake—awake all over, and answer by fire the God that answers himself in flame? Awake! awake! put on thy beautiful garments, O Zion! Let it be a Sabbath day indeed. Get out the very best robe, and let us have a whole Sabbath, a long Sabbath, a cloudless Sabbath, a beginning of heaven itself!
In this incident there are two or three little circumstances worthy of a moment"s notice. "There were many lights in the upper chamber, where the disciples were gathered together." Christianity has no dark seances; Christianity has no dark meetings, no closed shutters and drawn curtains, and enforced and mysterious silencings; Christianity is not a piece of magic. "Light the lamp," it says. "Throw back the shutters, and let the sun come in." This thing was not done in a corner. There is morality in publicity. Christianity is a mighty challenge to the attention of the universe. It only asks for silence that its speech may be heard the better. The magician wants arrangements made to suit him; the light must be so much and no more; the curtain must be hung thus, and not otherwise; the ropes, and bells, and pulleys must be set in this order, and in no other. When a man makes stipulations of that kind with a view to give you a new Revelation, he is going to befool you. When did Christianity ask for curtains or screens, or the aid of artificial mechanisms and adaptations? Christianity can preach anywhere. Christianity can go up steps of glory and stand upon a floor of diamonds, or sapphire, and preach its infinite truth; or it can go up the meanest staircase ever laid by unskilful hands, and talk with the same divine eloquence. Paul preaches as eloquently in the upper chamber to the two hundred people who are hearing him as he would preach on Mars" Hill with all the gathered and cultured hosts of Athens or of Greece. That is the test of reality always. It is enough for the preacher to see one man in the house; he is only discouraged when there is not one soul present. Give him a soul, and you give him a universe! He is not—being a truly ardent messenger of God—able only to preach when the church is full; he does not see whether the church is full or not. The true preacher only sees one, but he is a host, an army, a whole heavenful or a whole hellful of human nature.
When Paul came down and stretched himself upon Eutychus, he said, "His life is in him." Christianity does not try to make a reputation for doing miracles where no miracles are to be done. What an opportunity for a magician! The people are panic-struck; they all believe that Eutychus is dead. Paul might say, "Yea, verily, he is stone-dead, cold through and through, and only by a mighty miracle on my part can the vitality be restored." He makes the least of the occasion. Nothing has occurred that need excite alarm, or beget for him an additional reputation. Christianity tells no lies. Christianity is awfully stern about having the bare truth. It is so real; it will have no covering, no false medium of observation, no adaptable standard of criticism. It will know the thing as it Isaiah, just as it Isaiah, and represent it Song of Solomon, and have nothing to do with manufactured statements.
Paul stopped his service to look after one injured man. In that particular he followed the example of Jesus Christ. The Saviour suspended the Sabbath day until he got the ox or the ass out of the pit. He said to the Sabbath sun, "Stand still! Here is a work of necessity to be done—we must have time." How can men reject such a Christianity, such a philosophy of life, such a religion, so stern, so tender, so rigorous, so bland, so ready, so redeeming? Let us say to its Author and Founder, "My Lord and my God." When did Christianity ever undervalue human nature? When did the Divine Founder of Christianity say, "Continue the service, and never mind the man"? On the contrary, he said, "The very hairs of your head are all numbered." Every life is of importance to God. Eutychus was not a great man; as his name implies, he was of the freedmen class. He and his ancestors had probably all been slaves, but he had become a freedman. He belonged to the plebeian side of life, but to God there are no plebeians, except men who never pray, never love, never do works of mercy, or perform acts of sacrifice; they are the commonalty, the plebeians. But as for those who love him, serve him, pray to him, ask to know his will, and try in his strength to do it, though they have not bread to eat, and no pillows to lay their heads upon, they are nobles, princes, jewels, kings; they are of the very quality of heaven.
Almighty God, the whole lot of our life is in thy disposal; the bounds of our habitation are fixed, and we have not liberty but within thy purpose. We accept thy kingdom; thy rule is full of grace, and thine intention concerning us is good only. Thou dost love us. We know thee not in relation to the other worlds. But about this little place which is our own, we know thou hast bought it with blood—the precious blood of thine only begotten Son. We do not know the meaning of this price; we can only speak it in words, but the thought which they tell fills all heaven and calls for greater space, spreads itself over the universe, and calls the room too small. We live in thy love as in a sure dwelling-place. Our habitation is in the rocks not made with hands, and therefore by hands never to be unmade. We hasten to the house of God; its doors are open; its angels are calling welcome; its banquet is spread with a liberal hand; there is a seat for every sinner, there is a welcome to every broken heart. Surely this is none other than the house of God, and the gate of heaven! We bless thee for every sacred memory, for every rising figure in the days that are gone that tells us of noble life and generous deed. We thank thee for every man who has spoken a word of deliverance to our imprisoned souls, for every hymn that has sung its sweet tune to us all the week long, from Sabbath evening to Sabbath morning back again. We praise thee for all blessings given noiselessly to the heart, as well as for all the great hospitalities and banquetings which we have enjoyed amid the noises of the thunders and the trumpets of the rejoicing skies. Thou dost make the heart rich. Thou dost not bring tears of sorrow into our eyes, but pure waters of joy, dews of heavenly grace. Thou dost not rend the heart with sharp pangs of agony, but causest it to beat with surprises of joy, with unexpected visions of light, with unlooked-for relations of the story of thy grace. How wondrous the way! How amazing the prospect! There seems now to be before us a glittering morning, a welcoming host, a prepared place, a waiting Saviour. May we know the meaning of the omens which challenge our religious attention, and arise like men who have to go a long way in a short time, and to answer questions which penetrate the core of the life. Regard us each as if an only child. We need to be caressed as well as recognized; we cannot live upon thy mere look of recognition, we must be taken up into thine arms like little children, and remember that our threescore years and ten, our four-score years, are but a handful of days—less than one little trembling moment compared with the age of God. Love us. Put thine arms around us. Look at us with the eyes of thy heart. Speak to us in the tones which the soul alone can hear. Comfort us with multiplied consolations, so that the littleness of our sorrow may be lost in the vastness of thy compassion. Tell the old man that he is yet hardly born. Show the busy man that the road which he chooses may end in death, and teach him to be busy with a right purpose, and to labour under an adequate inspiration. Speak comfortably to hearts that cannot tell all their woe. Be gentle to the weak; be gentlest to those that have no strength. Look upon the little children as the sunlight looks upon the budding flowers. Bless them every one this day, and give each to feel that there is no weariness in the brightest house of all the habitations of men. We cannot make our own sick-beds, but thou wilt make them, or the angels shall give skill to our hands, and the sweet watching ones will show us how to do the most delicate of all beneficent tasks. There are some that are near us, and yet mile on mile away from our strongest help. They are ready to perish; they are appointed to die. We see them, but they see not us, for their eyes are turning morning-ward to the uplands and the cities of the quiet and the pure. They are thine. We would follow them with our little prayers if we did not know that already they were hidden in the very heart of thy love. Make this day the gladdest of all Sabbaths we have ever known. Surprise us by visitations from heaven; and wherein we think we have before seen the Cross, and felt the power of the infinite Priest who died upon it, may the revelation of his love this day eclipse every former vision, and lead us first into exclamations of delight, and then to the speechless wonder of infinite amazement. Amen.
13. But we, going before to the ship, set sail for Assos, there intending to take in Paul [twenty miles by land, much farther by sea on account of the Cape Lectum]: for so had he appointed, intending himself to go by land [G, "to walk it"].
14. And when he met us at Assos we took him in, and came to Mitylene [capital of the island Sestos].
15. And sailing from thence, we came the following day [in their coasting voyages the ancients sought out a safe anchorage for each night] over against Chios; and the next day we touched at Samos; and the day after we came to Miletus [twenty miles by land, south of Ephesus].
16. For Paul had determined to sail past Ephesus, that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.
17. And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called to him the elders of the church.
18. And when they were come to him he said unto them [Paul"s Pastoral Mirror], Ye yourselves know from the first day that I set foot in Asia after what manner I was with you all the time.
19. Serving the Lord with all lowliness of mind, and with tears and with trials which befell me by the plots of the Jews.
Analysis of Service
Luke and his companions "went before to. ship, and sailed unto Assos, there intending to take in Paul." All these arrangements were under Paul"s own hand; he was not minister only, but leader, inspirer, and servant as well. He was as deeply interested in the detail as if he had nothing else to attend to. He himself would walk to Assos alone. He would take the twenty miles" walk and make a religious exercise of the journey. He went along the magnificent Roman road, sheltered by the great oak forests that grew by its side. And he wanted no human companion; all the angels would walk with him; Jesus himself would draw near. There are times when human companionship becomes a burden, when we must be left alone, not always to sit, for then the mind has not full swing, but to walk; and walking is an appointed means and help of intellectual and spiritual study. The mind treasures its riches. Locomotion helps the processes of thought; locomotion alone—the city, with its din, miles away; the work yet to be done lying far ahead. The soul feels that in silence there is a sanctuary, and that in solitude there is tender companionship. Do we walk alone? Do we go out, as the prophet was commanded to go, into the field that God may talk with us awhile? Do we "meditate in the field at the eventide"?—the tired day taking its rest, the battle lulling and halting awhile, the very air calmed down into a religious hush, as if expecting some new tone from heaven. In imagination, figure Paul walking his twenty miles down to the ship, not tired of his companions, or loving them one whit the less, but conscious of a yearning after quietness—yea, even silence, and after the solitude which of necessity means prayer.
Paul came, and joined the ship, and passed on with his companions. He came in due time to Miletus. From that point he might have seen the white palaces of Ephesus; and he might have been tempted to go back to the old battle-field. Therein he knew his great weakness. It was never safe to show Paul the marks of an old controversy, unless he had ample time to return to the situation and complete the purpose of the sacred fray. A trait of his character reveals itself in this comparatively trivial incident. "Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus... for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost." He had a vow to discharge, or an obligation to pay, or some hidden purpose to carry out, and therefore he felt safest on board ship. Yet he could not pass by wholly; so here the master-mind comes out again, even in this little arrangement of matters, for "Paul sent from Miletus to Ephesus, and called the elders of the Church," who came some thirty miles to see their great teacher and bishop. He must have a few words with them just at that time, not new words, but old words spoken in new tones. We can never hope to preach a new Gospel, but we can always preach the old Gospel in a new accent; we can always drop upon it a tear that never was shed before; we can always say it with the unction of additional experience, or with the emphasis of the added confidence which comes of steadfast continuance and faithfulness in Gospel doctrine and service. It is not enough to say the Gospel has been once preached, and there is an end of it. There may be an end of the mere words, or mere form in which the truth is expressed, but there can be no end of the revelation which is made to the speaker"s own heart, or to the inspiration which enables him to clothe the most familiar expressions with the witchery of a new elocution taught by the Spirit of the living God On this ground the Gospel will never cease to be preached. There may be those who, looking only at forms, say, "We have heard that before." So much the worse for you if you have not obeyed it, and that is a criticism that you can never pass if your heart be in a right state before God. But every man has his own tone, has his own tears, has his own weird, or sharp, or telling, or soothing voice, and emphasis. So the Gospel is the same and not the same—the same with a diversity; unchangeable, yet, as a matter of practical application, changing with all the varying phases of daily pilgrimage, and taking upon itself the newness of the present necessity.
Paul is about to make his greatest speech. Intellectually he may have stood head and shoulders above his present mental stature as he stands before the elders of Ephesus. He is not going to be intellectual now; his heart is going to speak. Some people have failed to find a heart in Paul, and have found nothing but heart in John. Did John, or any other Prayer of Manasseh, ever deliver such a speech as this episcopal charge to the overseers of the Christian Church of Ephesus? We have known Paul more argumentative, more brilliant, keen in retort, instantaneous and flashing in reply, adroit in answering unexpected assaults; but we have never known him so grandly emotional, as if he had ordered his mere intellectual genius to stand back while his heart arose to tell what it was then able only sobbingly to say of deepest Christian experience and noblest Christian exhortation. We can find Paul in the speech. Some speeches reveal the speaker; that we have already seen in our studies in this Apostolic story. Pre-eminently this is the case in Paul"s speech to the elders. It was not a speech delivered to a great multitude; it was not delivered in a high tone of voice, as if announcing new truths to multitudes of unaccustomed ears and strange hearers. The speech might have been spoken in an undertone. It falls into a kind of minor key; it is plaintive, pleading, tremulous, not with weakness, but with strength that wants to be stronger. Here is the Apostle Paul. If any man wishes to know what Paul was, he can find the whole man in these pathetic sentences. Listen to the now veteran speaker—veteran in service if not in age: "Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons." Paul lived a public life. That is the most difficult life of all to lead. People only see parts of it. There are great breaks and chasms which separate one part from another, and the public, unable to understand such gaps, are apt to make out an accusation of inconsistency where, under other circumstances, they would see the most massive and noble harmony. Paul was able to appeal to the life he had led. Paul was a great preacher, because he was a great man. It is in that direction that all great preaching must come. Enlarge the preacher if you would enlarge the sermon. Nourish the Prayer of Manasseh, give him wider teaching, larger experience of life, deeper and tenderer familiarity with all the sufferings of the people as well as with all the thoughts of the elect and leading few, and in proportion as you increase manhood generally will you increase preaching power in particular. Paul calls attention to his manner of life, not to his sermons only, not to particularly-prepared utterances, by which he said he was now ready to abide, but he says, "Look at the whole life; you have seen it; I have been no stranger amongst you; I am willing to be judged by that life." There is no reply to such reasoning. Sometimes a man"s reasoning is better than a man"s conduct. In the case of Paul the conduct was the reasoning, the reasoning was the conduct. He was a whole Prayer of Manasseh, and challenged attention, not to sections of his character, but to his whole personality and ministry. Notice how he does this. He refers to "all seasons." He was not going to be judged in separate or unrelated details; he would be taken for all in all. The hill and the dale, the wood and the water, make up the landscape. So Paul would not be judged by preaching only, or by suffering, or by quickly spoken words, or by personal controversies, as with Barnabas or Peter; he would be judged in the totality of his purpose and action. Will it not be so at the last? Will not the Judge of all the earth repeat this judgment in his final criticism of every one of us? We judge a man a day at a time; today we cry, Hosanna! because he pleases us; to morrow we crucify him, because he has excited our momentary anger; on some other occasion we vary our judgment because of some immediate and vexatious detail. But life is not a question of single days; you must judge the supreme purpose of a Prayer of Manasseh, and so judged, some of us will be better than we have ever been accounted to be, and some may be much worse. We must take in the "all seasons," the ever changing variety of circumstances attendant upon human development, and we must leave to God the final and complete judgment, because He knows what we have done, what we have resisted, what we would have done if we could. He will connect our prayers with our service, our aspirations with our attempts, our ambitions with our endeavours, and within the continual tumult of contradictions he will find the real Prayer of Manasseh, and crown him, or sentence him to a great distance from the light.
Paul says he has served "the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears and temptations which befell him by the lying in wait of the Jews." Some people would call this egotism, or self-praise. There are two egotisms—the little egotism that thinks about itself; and the unconscious and heroic egotism which never thinks about itself, even whilst apparently speaking only in its own name. Just as there are two prudences—the little prudence that attends only to little things, but misses the great ones; and the all but infinite prudence which forecasts totalities and upsummings, and is apparently negligent on some occasions which take upon themselves exaggerated importance because of their nearness. Paul was never egotistic, yet he was never ashamed of his own personality. "With all humility of mind"—that is the root of spiritual genius. Trust the humble mind for finding out God"s meaning. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant." "The meek will he guide in judgment," "but the proud he knoweth afar off." Where there is humbleness of soul there is great expository power. There may be little knowledge of mere words and phrases, etymologies and formalities of speech, but I will trust the humble mind, the broken heart, to go in unto God"s dwelling-place and bring me a hot coal from off God"s altar which the dainty fingers of the intellectually-proud could never touch. If we were better men, we would be better students; if we were humbler, we would be more learned; if we were less, we would be more; if we were broken-hearted—lost in rivers of self-accusation and contrition—we should have greater knowledge of the inner mysteries and spiritual meanings of the living God, who is the Saviour of all men.
"With many tears." Tears are good readers. They may stumble over the letter, but they have great skill in seeing the spirit. We see most when our eyes are shut, so our hearts see most when they have no eyes but tears. A ministry baptized with tears must help us: without the tears it might be brilliant or stern, or inspiring, or majestic; but with the tears it stoops, it lovingly condescends. It says to the sinning Prayer of Manasseh, "I know all about your sin, and I can show you how to get rid of it, every whit." It comes down amongst the people, and speaks to their immediate life, and shows the worst how he may be better; and the best, how he may improve what he thought was approaching perfection, and crown with superlative glory that which he has already built up with a strong and industrious hand. Let us have ministers who can sympathize; let us have ministers who can cry with their hearts. We shall then find that true rhetoric is logic well spoken, that the highest argument is clothed with the supremest tenderness, and that the man who stands upon rocky-heights speaking great words of might can also come down to pray by the cradle"s side, and plant the flowers of intercession around the edge of the open tomb.
"And many temptations." This is quite an outline of ministerial education! The word "temptations" may mean trials, agonies, provocations, allurements in the other direction. The word may mean an appeal to the merely carnal feelings to have nothing more to do with men who will shut their ears against heaven"s music, and turn away from the appeals of Calvary. An untempted minister will never do us any good; an untried man will talk over our heads. My great preacher must be a man who has carried heavier chains than I have strength to bear, who has fought lions the very shadow of which would be too much for me to look upon. He must preach more as one who can say, "I have fought a severer fight than you are fighting; I know the devil better than you know him; I have been a mile farther in the pits of hell than you have ever gone; and now, my brother,—crushed, bruised, nearly gone,—you and I must, in God"s sight and in God"s strength, fight out this whole thing, and in the strength and grace of the Cross get back again the manhood we have lost." To speak so is to be sure of a good hearing, for the poor, self-denouncing, self-distressing heart knows the voice of experience, and instantly answers a voice that has in it the tone of a deep practical learning, and yet that trembles with the mystery of sympathy.
These temptations befell Paul "by the lying in wait of the Jews." He calls them by that strange name! They were his countrymen, but they were no longer his kinsmen. We make strange changes in the relationships of life. They, who were his own nation, his own kindred according to the flesh, now, after this Christian experience, stand back from him, strangers, aliens, unknown, heathen men. Such separations may take place amongst ourselves. There is a time when prayer itself expires, when spiritual wrestling ceases, when the teacher will teach no more in that direction, because he is speaking unto the unanswering night, and getting back nothing from the land of darkness. There may come a time when our kinsfolk will be strangers, when our familiar acquaintances will be aliens, when children of the same mother will not know one another"s voices, and when the only relationship that can be acknowledged as vital and permanent will be a relationship founded upon position in the great commonwealth of Christian faith. Everything went down before Christianity in the experience of Paul; he became impatient with every claim that was not founded upon the Cross. As the day died in shadows around him, he would acknowledge no household but the household of faith, and he would have nothing to say to any man except in reply to that man"s earnestness about sin, salvation, and the destiny of the soul.
Here we must stop. We must often meet around this great charge, study almost its every letter, and get its music so much into our souls as to feel as if we ourselves had been there and heard the mighty speaker as he enthralled the attention and entranced the heart of the elders of Ephesus.
Almighty God, we would be swallowed up of love; we would be lifted up far beyond the earth and sense of time, and begin already to know somewhat of the tender mystery of eternal peace. Why this longing of the heart? Why this discontent with time and sense? This is the Lord"s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. Thou dost make us miracles unto ourselves. Thou dost write strange writing upon our heart and mind, and cause us to be sorely puzzled by its great meaning. Thou hast made man a revelation of God. Surely we may say, This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven, when we feel this sacred pressure after things not seen and eternal. This desire is no invention of ours; this longing after immortality is no earth-born inspiration. This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, wondrous in counsel and excellent in working. We know that we are made after the image and likeness of God when we thirst for the Living God as the hart panteth after the waterbrooks. We bless thee that all our questionings are answered by Jesus Christ, and that the gracious replies are written in his own blood as he dies upon the tree. Jesus Christ thou hast made our Saviour. He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross, that we might know release from sin, the pardon of guilt, and enter into the joy of our Lord. This mystery of love is our delight: we feel its sublimity; we respond to its infinite grandeur; we see the heavenly wisdom and the heavenly righteousness in the sacred Cross, and, being enabled to exercise faith in Christ Jesus, we now feel upon our awakening souls the tender, morning light of a land in which there is no death. Thou dost love us every one. Thy heart stands open like a great door night and day, and into it we may run and find love and safety, and assurance of adoption into thy family. This is the salvation that cometh down from above; there is no strain in its overflowing strength; there is no effort in its omnipotence; there is no endeavour simply to cover the extremity of our guilt; it is an abounding salvation, an overflowing grace, a redundant and infinite compassion and love. Where sin abounds grace doth much more abound. Who can overtake thy love? What sin can equal thy grace? Is not the great hell itself but a tiny spark in the infinite amplitude of thy radiant kingdom? Thou, O Christ, shalt reign over all hearts. The universe is thine in every light and shadow, and surely thou wilt have it all by right of ownership, or by right of redemption. Thy sceptre is an everlasting sceptre, and thy throne is for ever and ever. Every week we grow downwards and away from the light, because of the continual action of time upon us; but on the Lord"s Day are we not lifted up into newness of life, taken away to the tops of exceeding high mountains, whence we can see what lies beyond of beauty and life and comfort? May we thus from week to week make steady advance in upward paths, until dying shall be living, until the farewell to one world shall be the salutation of the next. We lay our sins before the Cross and see them melting away. We speak our contrite speech into the ear of Christ, and whilst we are talking to him in heart-brokenness and penitence, all the old light returns, and the assurance of adopting love is given again, so that we, who but yesterday were the bondsmen of our own guilt, are today the freemen of Christ"s love. We give one another to thee—friend prays for friend. Some have been surprised by great goodness; they have suddenly seen the angel of the Lord, and are glad; they knew not what to do with the chain until the angel touched it and the iron melted away. Some have seen light springing up in darkness. There was to them no earth, no sky, no beyond—only an all-enclosing and all-burdening darkness; and lo, suddenly, as the midnight hour paled, there struck through the darkness a gleam of light from heaven, and there was daylight in the very centre of the cloud. And some are still dejected of heart; their eyes are red with crying, and their limbs fail for want of strength. They are alway with us; we commend them to the great Friend and Healer of men—the honest worker, who is baffled at every turn; the heroic woman-heart that wants to do so much, but has no chance to do it; the brave soul that wants to be free and yet must live in servitude; the perplexed; the disappointed; the secretly sorrowing; those who are praying in whispers because they would be ashamed to be overheard, so halting and poor their prayer—we commend to thee for recognition, deliverance, and comfort, and pray that they may receive, according to their necessity and their pain, the great gift of the grace of God. Let this morning be a time of gladness to us; may hearts melt; may stubborn wills yield; may those who have hitherto been deaf hear for the first time Gospel music, and may all the appeals of heaven, made through the Cross of Christ, through the blood and priesthood of Christ, be answered by the whole congregation in dedicated hearts, in lives laid on the altar, with the only regret that the oblation is not complete. Amen.
20. How that I shrank not from declaring unto you anything that was profitable [cause of above tears and trials], and teaching you publicly and from house to house,
21. Testifying both to Jews, and to Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
22. And now, behold, I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there:
23. Save that the Holy Ghost testifieth unto me in every city [ Acts 13:2; Acts 21:4-11], saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.
The Man and the Doctrine
Paul considered his hearers; he acted as a wise physician; so far as was possible he studied each individual case and gave to each a portion of meat in due season. There are great public utterances to be made, and there are private interpretations, or secret comforts, or individual messages to be attended to. Paul considered the hearer: he seemed to say about every one, "What does this particular man most need? what is his peculiar temperament? what are his peculiar temptations? I must study every man as if he were the only Prayer of Manasseh, and thus minister the word of grace according to the singular characteristic and special necessity of each living soul." We know that to be impossible in detail; yet are we charmed by the loving and helpful spirit that would so study each case if it could. This Gospel is not to be roughly delivered, with want of discrimination as to particular soul-conditions and soul-developments. What the Gospel would do is to speak to every soul as if it were the solitary occupant of the universe—the one creature in the presence of the Creator. This kind of secret ministry, concentrated upon the one soul, comes out of continuous and devout reading of the Holy Book in the solitude of our own companionship. It is then we see the brightest gleams of heavenly light; it is then we feel the nearness to a Spirit that has no name adequate to the mystery of its operation, but which we signalize by temporary names for the purpose of assisting our recollection and fixing in our hearts great spiritual occurrences. Each preacher can consider his own congregation where he cannot consider each member of it. All congregations are not alike; what would be suitable to one congregation might be unsuitable to another. Where the congregation is composed of all classes and conditions of men, and in no small degree of men who are inquiring, of men who are religiously numbered with nobody, who are wondering, speculating, often sinning, often curiously praying—saying words unfamiliar to Christian atmospheres; rugged mem; daring men; men who are better often than they seem; men who try to laugh off their religion when they are feeling it most poignantly—then we must have a ministry adapted to such peculiarities, and overspreading them all with something like infinite sympathy and compassionateness, so that every soul may feel as if the preacher had no acquaintance but himself. This is the gift of God. The ruthless preacher who treats every soul alike will have no souls deeply attached to him. He who makes great allowances, who enlarges the church door to admit those for whom it would otherwise be too strait, may seem to be liberal, but his liberality is only in seeming, for no liberality can equal the love which has made all the firmament a great shining door that swings back at the penitential touch to allow the penitent to enter into his Father"s house. If there is not room for man in the Church of God, there is room for him nowhere. The largest house in the universe is God"s house; he never adds to the building, but he continually points out the mansions we, ourselves, had not yet discovered. There is no human case that is not considered by the Gospel, and provided for by the Gospel. I care not how strange the case, how vivid its peculiarities, how repellant some of its features, how crying and bitter its moral agony—there is provision for it in the great Gospel scheme, the sweet Gospel thought that cares as much for the little as for the great, for the poor as for the rich; nay, before it there can be no littleness, no greatness, no poverty, no wealth—all these distinctions are lost in the infiniteness of its own sublimity. So let no man stand outside the gate of heaven and say that he was not foreseen when the boundaries of heaven were established.
In recounting his ministry, Paul said, "I have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house." One would like a record of his house-to house talk, but the scribes have done little for us beyond tracing the main, broad outline of the Apostolic ministry. To have heard Paul speak on great themes in a little sphere would have been an education. What child has not been fascinated by seeing what appeared to be the whole sun inside a frail dewdrop? And what traveller has not paused a moment to see some kind star condescending enough to hide itself in the depth of a crystal well, as if it were shining in two heavens at once? To have seen Paul at the fireside, or to have heard him talking to some little child, or to have watched him at some bedside near the dying sufferer—to have heard his voice when it was attuned to the hearing of one listener alone! These opportunities we can never enjoy. We do not always get the full man even in the elaborate biography which has been written of him. When we have read all the biographer can say, perhaps in some stray letter which was never intended to be published we may find one little sentence which will throw more light upon the man"s character than the whole biography has thrown. Men are seen in little things, on small occasions; in one stoop to the ground we may get a better gauge of the condescension of the spirit than in more elaborate humility. So the Paul that is before us is only treading great broad lines—we want the house-to-house-preaching Apostle. Blessed be God, this great Gospel will go anywhere, and be just the same whether drawn on a large scale or a little one; it does not hide itself until an adequate theatre is prepared for its display; it is not a scenic Gospel; it is not part of some grand thing that has to be done by a large number of persons. It will preach under great roofs with modulated thunder which fills the house and makes every ear glad with its tunefulness, and it will be just as fascinating and thrilling when it drops its voice into a whispered prayer—gently insinuating doctrine to the listener as well as enlarging into copious prayer, special intercession for his comfort and illumination. The Apostle Paul could discharge both ministries. There is only one Apostle Paul. Do not be discouraged because you can only discharge a public ministry; and do not you be discouraged, rural pastor, or city shepherd, because you can only discharge the house-to-house ministry. The one ministry may be as important as the other, but do not expect that, taking ministers as a body, every one can be the same in public as in private, in private as in public. Each man has his own gift of God. Happy he who works his own gift and not another man"s, and wise the people who, recognizing the one gift, do not bemoan the absence of other accomplishments.
What did the Apostle say both "publicly and from house to house"? The same great doctrine he preached in both cases. This you find in the21st verse: "Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." That was the grand substantial doc trine; of how many modifications it admits only those who have gone carefully into its study and application can tell. This doctrine never changes; this holy substance can never be taken out of the volume. Why should we be unwilling if scholars rearrange the order of the Biblical books? Why should we moan if they correct our notions as to the chronology of the succession of the prophets? Why should we feel that the foundations are out of course because a complete and intelligent scholarship brings new light to bear upon old constructions? The one thing that cannot be changed is the message which the Gospel has to deliver to the human heart, and that message cannot be expressed in more symbolic and significant terms than "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." Who has ventured to change the terms? If your religion rested upon other foundations, I wonder not that it has been much troubled by modern scholarship and by contemporary challenge and assault, but if your religion finds its foundations in the21st verse—"repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ"—it cannot be touched. Where is there a heart that can say in its most serious moments that it has no need of repentance? Do not let us appeal to the flippant man upon this subject, but to the man who knows life, who has felt its temptations and its pressures of every kind. No such man will ever say that he lives beyond the necessity of repentance. He could detain you all day by a recital of his shortcomings and his sins. That he is dumb about them shows not the littleness of the list, but its endlessness. Why begin what can never be finished? Why not express by a bowed head what never can be uttered in the most elaborate confession? What man is there that does not feel, under the pressure of his own guilty memories, that he needs a help other than his own? He has no hand with which he can help himself, for his hand, as well as his head, is involved in the terrific and fatal paralysis. He cannot open an eye to see his way, for on his eyelids rests the accumulated darkness of self-accusation. If that man has to be delivered, he must be delivered by another hand than his own, and that action is best represented by the words "faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." Yet the faith is not in the Prayer of Manasseh, but in the Christ; but Christ works so mysteriously as to make us creditors in the matter of the faith, and says in the end, when the soul is delivered, and whitened with the purity of heaven, "Thy faith hath made thee whole." Yet faith is the gift of God; faith is the communication of God; faith is no merely human faculty, yet it pleases God, who wants to make more of us than we are if he can, to say that our faith hath made us whole. "Repentance" is a word which may be broken up according to the sinfulness of the individual sinner. Some men can never know the agony of repentance without great demonstration of feeling. Other souls pass through the same agony, but the observer is not allowed to trace the sacred pain. The repentance does not consist in the public demonstration, but in the inward and spiritual feeling. God must judge whether my repentance is sincere.
Having laid down some outline of his manner of life and doctrine, the Apostle comes to a point of departure. "And now," said Hebrews, "behold, I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me." It was a dark outlook; how is the darkness relieved? In this case as in all others: by an immediate and definite reference to Divine providence. "I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem." This is destiny; some men would call it Fate. "I move because I cannot help it, except in a sense which would involve positive and profane disobedience. To turn the other way would be to turn from myself, from my convictions, from a distinct and solemn conception of personal destiny." When a man lives in this doctrine, he may go forward into darkness, but he goes forward with a solid and solemn step. If you think that the cloud that is before you is of your own creation, you may well be dejected as you look upon its magnitude and density; but if you can say, "This also is part of the school discipline of God; this great breadth of darkness must be traversed inch by inch; this land of graves must be travelled over mile by mile; this wilderness of sand is the creation of a Providence that means by it my spiritual culture and noblest education," you will advance without laughter, but with a solemn joy, a grand, deep joy, full of melancholy, full of expectation: not a discipline undergone because the imposer of it is stronger than you are, but undergone with solemn cheerfulness because of the conscious assurance of your own heart that every stroke is meant for your good, and every loss is a contribution to your gain.
Not one ray of hope in all the outlook! "In every city—bonds—afflictions." No friend in any city; bound when I have done nothing worthy of bonds; afflictions heaped upon a man who ought to be hailed with hallelujahs and acclaims of thankfulness. Yes. What a tribute to the sustaining power of the doctrine he had taught! No man can "go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem" to face "bonds and afflictions in every city" merely for the sake of bearing such accumulated griefs and distresses. That were but a temporary bravado. That were an unremunerative sentiment that would soon be chastised and scourged out of a man. The bonds were many, the afflictions were heavy; what outweighed them all? The sense of God"s presence and God"s favor. The spiritual can outweigh the material. You can be in such a state of soul-wealth as to forget the poverty of earth and time; you can be so fed in the very soul as to be forty days and forty nights without food or lodging, and not to know that you have not been all the time in heaven. If one thing above another has been demonstrated by Christian history, it is that the Christian spirit may be so vital in a man as to make him forget all care and pain and labour and sorrow, and make him triumph and glory in tribulation also. Such feelings are not to be dismissed by being ascribed to fanaticism. We have had ample opportunity of judging the character of a man like the Apostle Paul, and we have always been bound to admit, however great his excellency, however high above us his spiritual ecstasy, he has shown an intellectual capacity, a mental sternness, a grip and force of mind that have compelled the admiration of those who have sometimes wondered about, if not questioned, his divine inspiration. What comforted Paul will comfort us. This is the eternal quantity of the Gospel—never changing, never lessening. There are amongst us men who can rise in the Church today and say, "But for the grace of God, I would not have been a living man this day"; "But for the grace of God, I should have been the victim or the dupe of temporary, but uncontrollable, insanity"; "But for the grace of God, this day my life would have been sunk in despair." The men who would render such testimonies are men whose intellectual sagacity has been tested and proved in the marketplace, in the realm of politics, along the lines of ordinary social life. There is no dispute about their mental soundness, and yet, with ardour and emphasis and gratitude, they can make this testimony about the sustaining and comforting power of the grace of God. I have buried the child of a man who had no consciousness of God, no realization of the presence of Christ in his life, and I have seen that man reel back from his child"s open grave mad with hopeless grief. I have also buried the child of parents who have lived in God, who have loved the Saviour, and humbly endeavoured to serve him, and as the little coffin has been let down and the farewell words have been spoken, they have been enabled to say, "It is well with the child." Be that religion mine! Let me live the life of the Christian; let me die the death of the righteous; let me, when pressed into close quarters, thrust upon by every spear in the armoury of the enemy, be able to say, "Into thy hands, Lord Jesus, I commend my spirit." In such extremities we find out the value of man"s religion. In cloud, in storm, in rough wind, in bare upland, in hot wilderness, in death"s own black night we find out what men"s faith really is; and tested by those tremendous tests, the faith of our Lord Jesus stands up this day the only faith that has sustained intelligent men, reason-loving men, all kinds and conditions of men—the faith that took them to the one end of the valley of the shadow of death, and never left them till it introduced them into the light at the other end, and received them from the waving hand of the delivered one—a tribute to a constancy that never failed, and to a grace that was always more than equal to the agony of the occasion.
Almighty God, thou art ever warning us. Our whole life is a warning of its own uncertainty and assured brevity. Give us understanding of these things, that we waste not golden hours. In the midst of life we are in death. Our house is built over our grave. Oh that men were wise, that they knew these things, that they would consider their latter end. Every day may be our last. Teach us so to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom; yet give us triumph in Christ Jesus over all fear. May we not be subject to bondage all our lifetime through fear of death. May the coming end be unto us as a new beginning. Show us that we are now in preparation for better things; yea, show us that what we have already seen is but the dim symbol of the infinite brightness. So may we live under inspiring hopes, knowing that, if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Enable us, by living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour, now to enter into the realization of eternal joy. By the power of an endless life, may we do the little work of the passing day. Then its burdens shall be light as shadows; its pains shall bring with them their own healing, and sorrow shall become the beginning of joy. May we not be bowed down by the things which are less than we ourselves are. May we stand back from them at a right distance, and see them exactly as they are, in magnitude, in weight, in importance; and, counting all things by the standard of the sanctuary, owning no other reference, trusting no other authority, we shall be able to keep at arm"s length the things that do not befit our immortality, and the fascinations that would mock us with their empty spells. We are in Christ Jesus this day. We are upon his Cross; we would be buried with him in the tomb that cannot be long sealed; we would enter into the victory and joy of his resurrection. We would undergo such inspirations of feeling as shall lift us above all fear and doubt, and already carry us beyond the narrow stream of death. We would now enjoy all the blessedness of realized immortality. We would be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; yea, through his grace we would enter into his glory, and in all spiritual realization we would even now walk with the saints in white, bearing palms in our hands, drinking at the upper fountains, and joining in the upper song. Surely that such delights might fill us hast thou given the days of the Son of man upon the earth. Today we would forget the battle in the victory, the temptation in the sublime reply, the difficulty in the assured rest. Our prayer is that Jesus Christ may, by the power of his priesthood, reign over us, subdue us wholly to his gracious will, sanctify all the events of Providence we cannot understand, prepare us for those higher fellowships which follow the discipline of earth. We would pray for one another. We would find words for the dumb; we would put into the lips of the silent fitting speech before God, to express pain for sin, contrition for iniquity, broken-heartedness for aggravated guilt. May we all unite in the one poignant cry, "God be merciful unto me a sinner." And may personal prayer be answered by personal forgiveness, and personal enjoyment of the living grace of God, revealed in Christ Jesus, in the reconstructed and comforted heart. May our prayers reach those who are out of the way. May we include in our intercession this day those who have escaped every other prayer. May we now appeal on behalf of those who have resisted every entreaty—or, are they cut off for ever? May they never, nevermore return? Thou knowest. Thy mercy endureth for ever. May we not yet be surprised into unutterable joy by seeing the most stubborn lay down his weapons of rebellion, and the most distant turning round with tears in his longing eyes? We would that all men might move in one direction, and be found at the end clustering lovingly around the Cross of Christ. Build us up in our most holy faith. Give us strength in the sanctuary; give us to feel that we are building our life-house upon eternal rocks, and help us to build diligently, rightly, wisely, so that when the test of fire is applied to our edifice it may stand approved of God.
The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ comfort us; the Holy Spirit be our light and peace and hope; the Father, Song of Solomon, and Holy Ghost—Three in one, One in Three—abide with us. Amen.
24. But I hold not my life of any account as dear unto myself [G, omits "as"; lit, "I make no account of my life (qua) dear unto myself." This awkward sentence appears more so in the original text, and there are grounds for supposing words to have been omitted. The Evangelist probably wrote, "Neither make I account of anything, nor think my life dear unto myself"], so that I may accomplish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God.
25. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, shall see my face no more.
26. Wherefore I testify unto you this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.
Paul"s Acceptance of Discipline
Referring to the20th verse, we find the employment of a very significant illustration: "I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you." The illustration implied in these terms, "kept back," is a nautical one. Paul had been sailing; he had watched the manner of the ship; he had seen the uses to which the sails and the tackling had been put, and in this expression he said, in the language which he employed, "I have put on all sail; I have given the ship the advantage of everything belonging to it; I have spared nothing, night or day; the sails have been spread, and the supreme endeavour of the captain has been to bring the ship to the desired haven." This was what Paul had done in his ministry. A little more sail, or all the sail together. Why put it out?—for display? No: the sails were not made for display, but for the assistance of navigation. Therefore whatever Paul did he did with the view of bringing the ship to port; he had no other object. He spared no strength; he counted no time ill-spent that was devoted to the interests and the security of the passengers committed to his charge.
Now we come to the22nd verse: "And now, behold, I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me." He knew the greater, but did not know the less: he knew the solemn total; he did not know the items which constituted its great sum. That is the method of God"s providence. He often shows us the end without showing the process; He is accustomed to speak to us in great words that need to be taken to pieces and searched into, and it will be found, in pursuing that quest devoutly, how wondrous much God can pile into one word. The word is only one, yet when it is taken to pieces, so to say, every letter becomes a Revelation, and the whole word spread itself out into a great discipline. Paul knew that he was going in the Spirit, and by the Spirit, and through the Spirit. That was a greater knowledge than any detailed information as to the separate items and particulars. Is there anything greater than truth? In a sense there is. It is more important that we should have the truthful spirit than the truth-quantity. The lave of truth is a greater force in life than the mere acquisition of truth. We only pray as we love prayer; the prayerful spirit is larger than any prayer that is possible to the human tongue. So the knowledge of God"s purpose, acquiescence in that purpose, docile, child-like, loving union with all the operations tending to the culmination of that purpose, is infinitely greater, better, than knowledge of each particular incident that is to befall us in the outworking and development of life. What I want to know, if my spirit is right with God, is the purpose of God concerning me. He tells me nothing, and yet he tells me everything. In other words, he tells me everything, and yet tells me nothing. How can that be? With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. He sends me out upon his battles and errands with this one assurance: "All things will work together for thy good, O sound heart." That is all we want to know. We do not want to forecast the "all things" in detail, and to enumerate them as if parts of a catalogue; it is enough for the devoted and loving heart to know that all things work together for good to them that love God. You do not know what tomorrow will bring forth, but you know it cannot surprise God, it cannot outwit omniscience, it cannot overlap the resources of almightiness. We stand in the sanctuary of assured conviction that, not being our own, we are being watched and secured by the One Proprietor. How happy should we be if, in the spirit of that apostolic consecration, we could not vex and worry ourselves about daily details, but simply fall on the almighty arms, completely trust the Eternal Oath, and lovingly expect the fulfilment of the exceeding great and precious promises! That is the end of faith. Paul knew that the result of the whole would be God"s approval, heaven"s rest, and therefore he took what he calls the "things" just as they came. He executed them; he set his table that he might play the host to sorrow and loss and pain; and if other guests came to eat the humble feast, the greater would be his surprise and joy.
What was the Apostle"s ground of triumph? It was that the Holy Spirit had undertaken the whole scheme and plan of his life. The "bonds and afflictions" that were foretold were foretold by Divine lips. The message is often made the better or the worse by the messenger who delivers it. There is a tone in which you can tell a man that sorrow is coming upon him which will multiply that sorrow sevenfold. There is also a tone in which you can announce the certainty of physical decay and social degradation that shall have in it the very music of the heart of God. We should take our life charge from the lips of the Holy Spirit; we should look upward for the map or chart by which we are to journey or to voyage. When the sketch of the road, or the sea, is handed us from above, the hand that drew the plan will secure the obedient outworking of it in completeness and joy. How could the Apostle Paul be apparently so reckless concerning the things that would befall him? This is not understood by those who do not grasp the greater prudence; it is a mystery to minds that only see the little prudence of self-security, self-care, or self-protection. What had the Apostle done that made him so callous to all human seeming, about "bonds and afflictions"? This he had done: he had first consecrated his whole life to Christ. If we give to Christ small portions of our life only, then the gift appears to be tedious, and. is of necessity painful. We must begin by giving all. Then the gifts in detail are only the out-carrying of a solemn step that involved the entire life. Have we yet entered into that mystery of self-immolation? Until we learn that lesson our Christianity will be a frequent vexation and a very infrequent enjoyment or peace. To cut off the right hand is much to him who has done nothing more, but to the man who has first cut down himself, root and branch, the whole Prayer of Manasseh, it is very little, it is a detail concerning the painfulness of which he speaks with gracious contempt. It is just here that we have to make the beginning of progress, and it is just here so many of us may possibly have made no beginning at all. You cannot give Christ any mere portions of yourself. You cannot say, "I will give him one day in seven, one hour in the day, one portion of my income, one tribute of my talent or influence." That, apparently so easy, is a moral impossibility. Could that lesson be got well into the thought and heart of all students of Christianity and all professors of the Gospel, we should have a vital and most beneficial revolution. We must begin by giving ourselves to Christ—not the right hand, not the single day in the week, not an assigned part or parcel of this or that property or resource, but the sum total, every whit of it; nothing kept back in the left hand by some subtle plan or skill of palming; but the whole Prayer of Manasseh, the whole ten strings of the heart; then away you go, praising God upon an instrument complete—the whole instrument of tuneful life. The result will be utter impossibility on the part of any detail to give you one moment"s concern. We live in totals; we are vexed by details. Hear the Apostle"s great, triumphant speech: "But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself." That is the explanation. Where the life is not dear the single finger cannot be much. Where the life is on the altar the suffering of a night"s sleeplessness cannot be a martyrdom. Where the whole man is pledged, as with sevenfold oath, to serve the Cross, then any detail, coming under that great category of self-transfer to the Cross of Christ, may be spoken of with the contempt of spiritual triumph. This is the Christian victory. Another consideration under this, yet entering into it and vitally belonging to it, is that Paul had a definite purpose in life. What was that purpose? His own words shall tell: "That I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God." There is no mistake about the directness of that speech. You do not wonder whether the man was an academician, a philosopher, a lecturer, an inventor of magic; you know what he was: a man with a cross, a man with a ministry, a man with a ministry he had received of the Lord Jesus, a man whose ministry was limited to testimony. You cannot burn him; you cannot slay him; you cannot imprison him; he is beyond your power. It is in these spiritual realizations, rising into holy ecstasies, that the Christian soul realizes at once its sonship and its freedom. Paul wished "to testify." If the ministry were more than that, who could stand its continual strain? If ministers were sent out to convert the people, who could take upon him the yoke and burden of the ministry? The ministry of the kingdom of heaven is a ministry of testimony. The minister must give the warning, speak the truth, offer the welcome, point to the Cross, show the way, and then await the issue of events. He must work as if everything depended upon him, and then rest as if he could do nothing; he must entreat men, persuade them, wrestle with them, more in sympathy than in argument; he must soften his reasoning with his tears; he must ennoble his eloquence by his pathos; he must cause his eloquence to be forgotten in his intercessions; and then, when this ministry is fulfilled, he must stand back and see the salvation of God.
"And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more." That is the spirit in which every sermon is to be preached; and that is the spirit in which every sermon is to be heard. This is the last time you and I will ever meet in this house exactly as the assembly is constituted at this moment. There can be no repetition of this event. It may be largely reproduced—possibly for years it may be reproduced in its largest and broadest features; we ourselves do not doubt or fear respecting that; yet here is the thing that gives accent to the immediate occasion—we shall never meet again just as we are meeting at this solemn moment. When we meet again the old man will not be just where he is now. We will look round and say, "Children sat in that pew; are they there now?" No. "An earnest, sympathetic listener sat quite close to me on that occasion; he will be here presently"? No; he is dead. This opportunity returns no more. Richard Baxter was wont to say that he preached as a dying man to dying men. That is the spirit that gives solemnity to every appeal, pathos to every entreaty, urgency to every welcome.
Now the noble challenge: "Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men." Is it a question of blood? Is it a matter of blood? Then how far wrong have we been who thought it was a matter of amusement, enjoyment, excitement, social delight, and comfort! "Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men." Might there have been spots of blood upon the preacher? Might he have been arraigned as a murderer of men? Might it have been that the angels could have pointed to the blood spots upon his skin and upon his robe, and said, "These are the witnesses against thee, thou faithless watchman"? Is it a question of blood? If, on the one hand, the ministerial, a question of blood, then just as surely, on the other hand, the congregational and the individual, a question of blood. This is no occasion for simple intellectual enjoyment, or theological gratification; this is a question of who is guilty—the preacher or the hearer? the watchman or the man warned of coming danger? The Apostle was not pure from the blood of "one" Prayer of Manasseh, or "many" men, but of "all" men. He had no fear of man; he spoke to the rich as well as to the poor, to the poor as well as to the rich. How stands the case between you and me today, seeing that we will never meet on earth exactly as we are meeting at this moment? We are keeping strictly within the lines of the text in putting this burning question to ourselves. Is there blood on me? Have I spared some men? Have I not given the Gospel welcome broadly enough, luminously enough? Have I delivered it with my lips only, or with my heart? Is there any one here under the impression that he is excluded from Christ"s Cross, from God"s forgiveness? This possible charge of blood makes me afraid. I am not speaking with the inimitable emphasis of the text, yet I cannot withhold the utterance of the yearning purpose of my heart, which has been that all men might be saved. I have not shut the door in the face of any man. To no applicant have I said, "You are too poor, too mean, too guilty, too low-born, too deeply sunk in sin." To contrition of heart no harsh word has been spoken; but, if in the unhappy and imperfect past I have not declared this Gospel of Christ with sufficent fulness and emphasis, may I endeavour to repair the omission in any individual case now before me, and say,
Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the living God and Saviour of all men, we come to thee with psalm and prayer, with adoration and intercession, and pour out of our hearts all our desire and all our purpose. We will keep back nothing. We will tell thee the tale of our life, and will utter it only within the circle of the Cross, that, there uttering it, grace may abound over sin, and light may drive darkness away, and peace make quiet in eternal restfulness the tumult of our memory and conscience. We will speak of thy lovingkindness, and call it great; of thy tender mercies, and regard them as without number. We will make our hearts familiar with thy love, as shown in the gift of thy Song of Solomon, and in all the wonders of his life and death and resurrection, before speaking of our sin, for then our hearts will utter themselves in hope, and our spirits shall be saved from the darkness of despair. We will think of the mountain clothed with light, of the throne of the heavenly grace, radiant with welcomes to sinful penitents; we will think of the cross, the light, the blood, the triumph; we will remember that there is a fountain opened in the house of David for sin and uncleanness. Then, when we come to tell thee of our guilt, we shall feel inspired and quieted by all the reality of thy grace. Thou hast loved us with an eternal love. Before the foundation of the world was the Lamb slain for the sins of men. Thou dost take no pleasure in the death of the wicked; thou dost take pleasure in life, in immortality, in the happiness of every creature of thy hand; thou wouldst that we might turn and live. We remember these gracious words and all the tender promises which accompany them; and so calling before our mind all the wonders of thy being, and all the tenderness of thy grace, and all thy readiness to pardon, we come, each crying in his own name and out of his own heart, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Thou dost stop the prayer in its utterance with a great answer; we may not pray out in words our broken-heartedness, for whilst we are yet praying thou dost send answers by the angels, and we who began to pray are constrained to conclude with praise. What joy have they to whose hearts thou dost immediately speak! The chains fall from off their hands; the darkness is no longer a weight upon their eyes; thou dost lead them forth to liberty, and establish their feet in secure places. May we enter into the mystery of this joy. May every one acknowledge that the house of God is the gate of heaven. Thou art drawing us nearer to the end without giving us to feel the violence of the motion. Day by day we approach the brink; night by night our pulses lessen their decreed beatings. We see the place of our final lying down; we feel gathering upon us the first shades of the great night. Yet dost thou lift us above all fear of the end, by Christ Jesus, thy Song of Solomon, our Saviour. Thou dost show us that the end is the beginning, that the night is the morning, and that whilst we pass from earth, clinging to him who is the resurrection and the life, we are already amongst the number of those upon whom death has no more power. Whilst we live may we live well; by our industry, may we double the hours of the day; by our passionate yearning for all the highest fellowship of souls, may we already enter into heavenly society. For all that comforts we bless thee; for the growing brightness of thy truth, shining upon our souls with added lustre every day, we thank thee. Continue thy wondrous grace and light and peace unto the end, and at the last may we say, though with failing breath, concerning all thy truth and light and comfort, "The half had not been told us." So whilst we grow in grace we shall grow in glory. Amen.
27. For I shrank not from declaring unto you the whole counsel of God.
28. Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in the which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops [denotes the official function of these elders. Had the word been translated shepherds, the sequence of thought with the following verb, etc, would have been obvious to the English reader], to feed the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood [Paul"s previous thought of his own death in connection with the ministry explains the unparalleled intensity of his language].
29. I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
What Paul Leaves Behind
We have just been moved with deepest emotion on hearing Paul say that we shall see his face no more. The question then arises. Since Paul is going, what will be left? When the Apostle goes, will not the whole fabric which he seemed to represent and sustain go along with him? Is Christianity the heroism of one personality? Is it a thing which belongs to the individual, like his incommunicable genius of mind, so that when he dies it will die with him? If Paul"s estimation of himself had been that of an idolater or of a superstitious person, he would have reminded the Ephesian elders that in the removal of his personality they had themselves no longer any official standing, or any claim upon public attention. We may learn something about the man"s faith—that is to say, about his doctrine, his theology, his outward and heavenward look—by studying his spirit in relation to the things that were round about him. By an almost infinite subtlety of thought he indicates his apostolic primacy amongst men. He could be lowly-minded, and he could put on his crown and show that no diadem was so radiant as the one which sparkled on his head. He could say that he was not meet to be called an apostle; he could also say that he was not a whit behind the very chiefest of the apostles. On this occasion he shows his greatness, yet his modesty; the almost supreme importance of his personal ministry, and yet the absolute independence of God of any man"s service. He does not talk of himself as of a little Prayer of Manasseh, a small factor in a great operation; he speaks of himself as of the highest social and religious consequence in the matter of advocacy and the protection and guidance of Christ"s Church. He seems to multiply himself into many when he gives the elders of the Church of Ephesus this charge, as if each of them were to be in his degree an Apostle Paul, and the whole were to constitute in their consolidation the influence and the energy which he embodied in himself. He does not say this in words, for then he would not truly and deeply say it; he subtly and spiritually suggests the idea, and thus throws over the whole occasion the mystery of spiritual colour, and leaves us to feel rather than to see how vast was the place he occupied. When Paul goes what will be left? The Church! and the Church is greater than any member of it; the Word! and the Word is infinitely greater than all the ministers that preach it. The blood that bought the Church! and that blood is beyond all rivalry and co-partnership of influence; it is alone in its meaning, its energy, and its grace. Then everything will be left when Paul goes? Yes, verily so. That is the mystery of Providence, the miracle of Divine and redeeming love. We can take nothing away from Christ"s Church. The first-born dies, but the Church is as strong as ever; the most eloquent tongue ceases its gracious utterance, but the music of the Cross loses no tone or note of its subtle mysterious enchantment. It is even good for us that the Apostle should be taken away; it was expedient for us that Christ himself did not remain upon the earth in visible presence. Christianity is not an idolatry of a preacher; Christianity is not a customary attendance upon a particular place of worship; Christianity does not depend upon its great men or its little men; it is a spirit, a truth, a redeeming force, sanctifying reality; it abideth for ever; no part of it is laid in the tomb which holds the head of its noblest apologist; the Church, like its Lord, is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.
Paul"s charge is Paul himself: "Take heed therefore unto yourselves." That was what Paul himself was always doing. He was a severe disciplinarian. He could not have spoken those words to other men if he had not himself first proved them. He was always undergoing the discipline of an athlete; Paul was every day under training for a great prize fight and prize race. He had no periods of intermission; he was always on the strain; he kept his body under, he struck himself in the eyes lest, having preached to others, he himself should become "a castaway." Self-heed is the secret of public power. Preparation of yourselves is the preparation of your sermon. Take heed unto yourselves, be severe upon yourselves, and you will be gentle to other people. Regard yourself as a sinner greater than any man that lives, and then you will preach with growing eloquence, because growing in human knowledge and human sympathy. Do not spare yourselves; do not live under your official clothing as if that made you better; if it has any influence upon you at all, it makes you worse. Watch your soul; watch the heart-gate; watch it as much at midnight as at midday. Give yourself no liberty, license, holiday, or periods of rioting, but lay grappling-irons upon your life, hooks of steel upon passion, desire, and every impulse within you. You must have no liberty but the law of Christ. How could a man talk so if he did not know the mystery of self-discipline? He did know it, and, therefore, we venture to repeat the assertion that Paul"s charge is Paul himself.
And "take heed" also "to all the flock." That is the balancing consideration. The minister is not a monk shut up in his far-away and all but inaccessible cell; he is a public Prayer of Manasseh, a social Prayer of Manasseh, a man with a great shepherdly heart, that can understand and love a thousand varieties of men. The true minister is the miracle of men. He has not the contemptible gift of loving only one kind or sort of men—the man who thinks as he does, who occupies his standpoint and calls it heaven. He loves all burning souls, all ardent, consecrated minds; erratic, heretic, eccentric, ordinary, conventional, stupid—intellectually, but morally consecrated, he takes them all within his shepherdly care, and is most a shepherd when he tarries longest for the weakest of the flock; not so much a shepherd when at the head of the flock he sings a ballad to himself, as when he waits to gather up the tired lamb and to give it a lift up the steep place, mayhap lay his great soft hand upon it in tender caress and benediction. We should be greater if we were less, mightier if we were tenderer, wiser if more "foolish" according to worldly and carnal definitions of wisdom. Paul"s conception of the ministry was regulated and inspired by Paul"s conception of the Church. What was that conception? Was the Church a club, a little gathering of men called together for superficial purposes, or for transient enjoyment? It was a flock; it was purchased; it was purchased with the blood of God. Why, then the Church makes the ministry; it is because the Church is so great that the ministry, properly understood, is so great. The ministry has no existence apart from the Church. The minister—be he Paul or Apollos or Cephas—is but an upper seat-holder. There is no ministry if there is no Church. We are members one of another; we must have no merely official discrimination and recognition; but One is our Master, and all the saints are the clergy of God.
Paul uses language full of intellectual suggestion and full of spiritual pathos. "The Church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood." We have often had occasion to say that the word "blood," in its highest spiritual connections, has been woefully misunderstood. It is the custom of men first to debase a word by vulgar usage, and then to deprecate its truest and highest references. What grander word is there than "blood"? Until we touched it, contaminated it, it stood next to "love." There are those who want to get rid of the word now, because of what they are pleased to consider its ignoble meanings and references. I charge them with first giving the term such references, and I would rescue the sacred word and apply it to its original uses. "The blood is the life"; the life is the blood. God purchased the Church with his own life. It is life for life. Take that view of the Church, and you instantly enter into the sanctuary of a great mystery; yet whilst you are wondering as those wonder who stand under a lofty roof, and in the midst of marvellous poetic pillars, tender suggestions insinuate themselves into the heart, surprising lights break upon the eyes, and the whole house becomes sacred with presences felt though unseen. "We are not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. Unto him that loved us and hath washed us in his own blood, unto him be all the heavens of light." This attempt to reduce the value of the word "blood," and all that belongs to it, is part of a wicked purpose to lessen the sinfulness of sin, the abominableness of iniquity. It is the trick of the devil; but "surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird." When you understand sin you will understand blood. When you see the hell which sin deserves you will see the Cross which God built.
Why should a man care anything about the world he is going to leave? That depends upon the quality of the man. There are those who want peace in their time, who want to leave all unsettled and thorny questions to be determined by those who come after them. The Apostle Paul was anxious for the fortunes of the Church at Ephesus, though he would himself see that Church no more. Christianity is not a new way of sneaking out of responsibility; Christianity is not a cunning method of leaving posterity to take care of itself. Christian love claims all time, all ages, all lands. It is the peculiar glory, because the characteristic tenderness, of Christianity, that it has no limits to its affection, no boundaries to the propositions of its holy philosophy. Even the Apostle Peter, ardent and, often mistakenly supposed, careless, said he would make such arrangements as would enable the Christians to whom he wrote to have holy things in their remembrance after his decease. The Apostle Paul—great economist, great statesman, supreme prince of the legions of Christ—could not leave Ephesus saying, "I am glad I shall suffer no more there"; but he cared for Ephesus as much as if he were going to spend the remainder of his days in the endeavour to convert its citizens. Paul knew that after his departing "grievous wolves" should enter into the Church, "not sparing the flock." There he gives you the subtle indication we spoke of concerning his own place in the Church, and his own protective power. The "wolves" could not come in so long as Paul was there. Our great souls do something for us; we must not reduce them to the humiliation of nonentity. They have their value; we ourselves feel the stronger because of their presence. We do not cultivate faith by proxy, or live in other men"s religion, yet we all feel the stronger when the strong man is there. Persons who are timid in a house by themselves are quite courageous when joined by others, and when the appointments are complete you would suppose that they had never felt a moment"s fear of any possible assault. They are then at their best; they have full control of themselves, and the full use of all their powers; the nervous strain is taken away, and in a state of equanimity they can go about their duties with satisfaction and success. It is so in the Church; yet God takes away from us our mighty men that he may train us as much by their absence as he did by their presence. Who would not long and desire, almost to the urgency of prayer, to have a whole year with John Bunyan, to know him, to have him in the house, to hear his very voice, to "pluck the good man"s gown and share his smile"? or the greater Milton, or the fiery Baxter, or the profound Howe and Owen? Yet God is training us by their withdrawal, and God"s greatest men are always the men who are still to come. The ages do not live backward; God did not show the fulness of his power, and then call the ages to behold its contraction. The way of God is "first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear," the whitening east, the purpling dawn, the growing day, the noontide splendour. We must look for greater things, thankfully and graciously recognize them when they come, and who knows but that today we may see sights which kings and prophets desired long, but died and never saw? If our prayer be great, God"s reply will be greater still.
Almighty God, thou takest away the sin of the world by Jesus Christ thy Song of Solomon, our Saviour. We cannot tell where thou dost take it Thou dost for ever bury it; thou dost plunge it into eternal forgetfulness; thou dost cast it behind thee, and no man evermore can find it. This is the miracle of the Cross; this is the very mystery, and the very glory of grace Divine. Thou dost magnify thy grace against our sin; the light of the one drives away the darkness of the other, so that it cannot be called back again. Thus are we called every day to rejoice in mercy—yea, to find in ourselves daily witness to the saving grace of God. We ourselves are heaven"s epistles. Our life is not written with pen and ink of man"s devising; our life is traced by the Divine finger, shaped by the Divine hands, and inspired by the Divine eternity. We are God"s workmanship; we are God"s husbandry. We are not the accidents of the time or the occasion; we express the fore-ordination and infinite sovereignty of God. We will look upon ourselves highly; we will rejoice in our princedom. We are not of the earth, earthy, when we are accepted in the Beloved; we are then heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ, as having equal share in the infinite light and peace of heaven. So we will not look downward and see the grave; we will look upward and see the immortality. We will think of the radiant heaven, pure angels, sanctified spirits, the one throne, the infinite light, the ineffable purity; and so filling our minds with things Divine, we shall triumph over present pain and aching necessity, and tumultuous trouble, and grim death itself. We are rich in Christ; we have all things and abound—yea, all truth, and light, and grace, and comfort, and peace—unsearchable riches, growing the more we use them, multiplying in our very hands—wondrous riches; riches of God; wealth of Christ. This is our possession through him who loved us and gave himself for us. We bless thee for these upliftings of soul, if even for but one day in the week. Surely we cannot fall back to the old level after such inspiration and benediction. Fall we shall, but not so far down as yesterday; even in the fall we rise; in returning from heaven to earth we find ourselves nearer heaven than before. Thus little by little, a step at a time, we rise toward purity, completeness, and consequent repose. We need the bread of life every day; Lord, evermore give us this bread. This is the true bread which cometh down from heaven. We know its taste; we are refreshed by its nutrition; we grow stronger by eating such heavenly food. Take us more entirely under thy care every day; obliterate our selfishness; give us to feel that though the smith may work hard and make long sharp weapons, they shall all rust in the very place where they were made if they were intended to hurt any child of thine. Save us from making weapons in our own defence; save us from the insanity of taking care of ourselves. Put thine arms around us. Let thy smile be our light and our cheer, and let some word of thine sound the heavenly music in our heart"s hearing, and then the angels will be nearer than the enemies, and our life shall have no sign of injury upon it, because of the infinite defence of God"s almightiness. Amen.
30. And from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.
31. Wherefore watch ye [another pastoral term], remembering that by the space of three years I ceased not to admonish every one night [ Acts 20:9, ff.; the figure of the wakeful shepherd still maintained] and day with tears [ 2 Corinthians 2:4; 2 Corinthians 11:29. Note the special pastoral care of "each one"].
32. And now I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you the inheritance among all them that are sanctified [G. "give you an allotment amid all the sanctified"].
33. I coveted no man"s silver, or gold, or apparel [for reason see Acts 20:35].
34. Ye yourselves know that these hands ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me.
35. In all things I gave you an example, how that so labouring ye ought to help the weak [in faith], and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
36. And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down and prayed with them all.
37. And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul"s neck and kissed him,
38. Sorrowing most of all for the word which he had spoken, that they should behold his face no more. And they brought him on his way unto the ship.
The Character In the Charge
Having this charge put into our hands to form a judgment of the speaker, what inferences regarding him and his work would be drawn? Do not let the mind travel beyond the four corners of this one particular charge. The evidence is before you; looking carefully at it, in all its aspects and relations, what opinion would you form respecting the man who delivered this particular speech to the elders of the Church at Ephesus? Evidently, in the first instance, here is a man over whom the spiritual has infinitely greater influence than the material. This man concerns himself burningly, and with passionateness and fanaticism, respecting things that are not of the earth and of time. He seems to see presences which are not patent to the eyes of the body. He is evidently ruled by considerations which are not limited by time and space. He speaks a strange language; he is more a ghost than a man. What is his meaning? Right or wrong, his meaning is intense; right or wrong, the subject which engages him burns in him like an inextinguishable fire. He is a fanatic, or an enthusiast; he is carried away by some spiritual extravagance. He speaks as a man might speak who is bound to an altar, and to whom the sacrificial fire was about to be applied. Surely he is operating under the influence of the wildest hallucination. But it is no hallucination to his mind; it has shape, features, expression, tone, colour, life; it is a Figure that puts out a more than human hand, and takes his hand lovingly in its almighty grasp. The speaker of this charge—be he whom he may—is full of it. He evidently believes that instincts are more divine than formal logic. He clearly believes that there is something in man that cannot be covered, fed, satisfied by anything that grows on earth or shines in the sky; call it feeling, imagination, passion, spirituality, divinity, it is something with an aching necessity that scorns the proffered aliment of time, and asks if there be no better food in all the spaces of the universe. The man is clearly superstitious, of a highly excitable temperament, quite a fanatic, wholly beside himself, not at all practical; a man—if we may so figure him—rather with great strong pinions with which to fly, than with strong and sturdy feet with which to walk the solid earth. Still he means it all. These are not artificial tones; there is what we know by the name of soul in them. We may pity the hallucination, but we must admire the earnestness. We may look on bewildered even to stupefaction as we gaze upon a noble soul following shadows, and chasing bubbles, and crying to eery ghosts to help him in life"s long travail. Still he is a noble soul. If he were less intense, we should despise him, or at least distrust him; but he is so whole-hearted that our pity is elevated by our admiration. Be he whom he may, and what in other respects he may, he Isaiah, on the face of this speech, an honest man.
Looking further into his unique and energetic eloquence, it is evident that this man counts his life as of less value than his work. "Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy." That is a new standard of valuation; that is a new mint and stamping of old words and venerable tradition. This man has so worked that his "course"—his "ministry"—has become to him a greater quantity than his very life. We may outlive ourselves; our work is our greater self; our ministry is our immortality. If the Church could learn this lesson, the Church would know the mystery of crucifixion with Christ. The Church would get rid of the idea that godliness is bound up with opinion and dogma only, and would pass into the glorious ecstasy which counts all things loss that Christ may be won. We speak of our lives being dearer than anything cur lives can contain. We reason superficially and sophistically; when we come to a right view of things we shall see that to do our duty bravely is a greater thing than to live many days upon the earth; to suffer heroically is the true solution of life"s holy mystery. This man will turn failure into success. When he has given up his life, all other gifts become easy; when he has given himself, all he has is contained in the complete and sacrificial donation. Christ gave himself, and we must present ourselves "living sacrifices." This man grows more fanatical. He has risen to the point at which life itself is despised as compared with what he superstitiously calls his "ministry," or fatalistically calls his "course." A ghostly power called destiny has got hold of him, and wrought in him a sublime contempt for all bribes, flatteries, and earthward allurements. He has gone from the tribe of practical men; he is the victim of a spiritual extravaganza. Poor soul! We would have detained him in our company if we could, but such passion would have burned down the walls of our prison; such sacrifice would have turned our cold prayers into blasphemies; such heroism would have made our little efforts contemptible in our own eyes. So he has gone to live an ideal life in ideal spaces. Peace be with his soul!
But a third view of the speech leads us to inquire whether, in thus regarding Paul as a superstitious and fanatical Prayer of Manasseh, we are not in error. Reading single lines of the speech, we feel that Paul is insane, in the sense of being unduly transported with what he believes to be spiritual realities; but reading the speech from end to end, he is really a man of wondrous mental grasp. It is a noble speech; it is a statesman"s eloquence. This man is no fanatic; he has power to walk upon the solid earth, and he looks well as he does so; there is no crouch in his royal gait. He is most tender, shepherdly, careful, practical. He does not want to have his work frayed away or overturned by the cruel strength of the enemy; he would have his work stand for ages; he speaks like a man who has been building from eternity. No honest reader can despise the intellectual force of the man who made the speech which is now our text. Read it through from the beginning to the end, and hear its solemn music; mark its massive strength; note its comprehensive grasp, and be quieted by its sublime repose. When we hear some men speak, we feel how rash a thing it would be to contradict them. They are not men likely to be misled by sophisms; they are not made of the material which easily yields to new experiments; they have a solid look; they are men one would like to consult upon practical questions; their very presence and manner of dealing with things would lead one to wish that in all the crises of life we could have them near to suggest, inspire, and strengthen. Reading this speech of Paul, such are my personal feelings regarding him. He is not a little man; he is no trifler. You may differ with him, but the very necessity of differing with him will involve you in a tremendous controversy. It is not a mere difference, a verbal diversity of judgment; it is root-and-branch work; you are either with him wholly or away from him entirely, and that very fact establishes by collateral and incidental evidence the greatness of the Prayer of Manasseh, the multitudinousness of the elements which make up his great personality.
So we begin to modify the first judgment we formed as to Paul"s fanaticism. He gradually comes nearer to us, and we feel that if we have mistaken his stature, our mistake was due to the distance which separated us from him. What appears to be a little speck in the far-away cloud may prove in reality to be a royal eagle, when the flight is over and the noble adventurer has returned from the gates of the sun.
Looking again at the charge, we cannot but see that what began in the sublimest theology concludes in the noblest beneficence. "So labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." We thought he was a fanatic; he now stands before us as the advocate of the poor, and the defender of those who have no helper. This is the complete orb of religious character: theology mounting to the very throne of God, beneficence stooping to the very lowest of the needy creatures amongst whom we live. The theology that is not sphered off by morality, beneficence, sacrifice, is a sublime lie. Now, our first impression about the man"s passionate fanaticism is wholly corrected, and we apologize to him for having for one moment thought that he was lost in spiritual ecstasies. Only men who are capable of such theological excitement are capable of lifelong and life-sacrificing beneficence. The charity that is not lighted at the fires of heaven will be blown out by the winds of earth. For a time it may seem to be beautiful, but, being without root, in the necessity and divinity of things it cannot live. Characterize it by what figure you may, whatever is not fixed in God cannot live as long as God.
So perusing the charge in its wholeness and unity, I bow before the great Apostle as before the noblest of his kind—the very prince of the Church; the supreme man amongst mortals; the favoured one who saw more of heaven"s light and more of heaven"s magnitude than any other man. We may well weep with the elders of the Church; we may well kiss our great teacher with our heart"s lips, for there are no farewells so tearing, so destructive, as the farewells of the soul. Other farewells may be made up, other vacancies can be supplied; but who can represent the man who has loved our souls, held fellowship with our spirits, spoken more tenderly than he supposes himself to our very inmost life, and who has stood for us when we ourselves were dumb, as advocate and intercessor before God, in the name of the Saviour of the world? There are no endearments so tender as the endearment created by religious understanding and sympathy. All other unions perish, all other associations are but for the passing moment; immortality, true kindred, absolute identity of spirit, thought, purpose, can be found in Christ alone.
We do not know our apostles until they tell us we shall see their faces no more. How kind of them to give us work to do which lies nearest to our hands! Paul did not conclude with some thunder-burst of theological eloquence which might have been variously interpreted, but he concluded with these words which a child can understand—which only God himself can fully illustrate—which the Cross alone entirely exemplifies—"It is more blessed to give than to receive."
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 20". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25