The Biblical Illustrator
And it came to pass that after we were gotten from them.
Paul going to Jerusalem
I. The soul’s itinerary. The daily journeying of this company of God’s folk was a matter for record.
1. The details give a good test of the authenticity of the narrative. One soon trips in many and complicated details unless he is speaking the truth. Now the writer of the Acts is never found tripping even amid the most varied incidents. This journey has often been gone over, and the results verify the accuracy of St. Luke’s account. There are those who belittle (as there are also those who exaggerate) the value of geographical, historical, archaeological and other studies that tend to uncover the social, political, and natural environments of Biblical peoples. But in such studies, as in natural history, the most trifling things may prove vastly important as necessary links in a chain of evidence. If the Divine Spirit thought it worth while to record them, it is worth our while to look into them. It will be well if, like St. Luke, we keep our eyes open as we go through life, and learn the art of telling what we see.
2. The soul’s itinerary through the world is a matter of record before God and men. Perhaps it did not occur to any in that company that the incidents of their trip would be conned by millions. Yet such was the purpose of God. Is it not somewhat so with every man’s life journey?
II. A story of brotherly love and sympathy. “After we were gotten from them” means having been torn from them--a painful and reluctant separation. The reference is to Acts 20:37. A somewhat similar scene occurred at Tyre, where the company found “disciples.” Such demonstrations must have cheered the heart of Paul and given him new strength. Men are so used to turn to the Christian minister for comfort and sympathy that they often forget that he needs the words of good cheer. Note that the “children” of Tyre had part in these demonstrations. Teach the young to love and reverence those who are their spiritual guides. How pleasant to contrast the conduct of these Christian children with that of the young roughs who insulted Elisha. The same honour and sympathy greeted Paul at every stopping place until the hospitable home of Philip received him. No doubt the four daughters were quite as ready for the ministry of home duties as for the public work of the Church. How much more of Divine sweetening the world would have if the Church would return to this simple and primitive life!
III. Submission to God. The stay at Philip’s house was marked by the advent of a prophet--Agabus (see Acts 11:27-30), who was deeply imbued with the spirit of the Old Testament prophets, and used the symbolical method so commonly practised by them. Then followed the beseeching remonstrance which brought out that noble utterance, “I am ready not to be bound only,” etc. Paul knew but one law--the will of God. He would do his duty, even though bonds and death awaited him. Would that all Christians might catch this spirit of the great apostle! Luther had it when, being warned not to go to the Diet of Worms, he made the memorable answer, “Even should there be as many devils in Worms as tiles on the housetops, still I would enter it!” So, again, when his friends said, “They will burn you as they did John Huss,” he replied, “Though they should kindle a fire all the way from Worms to Wittemberg, the flames of which reached to heaven, I would walk through it in the name of the Lord Jesus.” “The will of the Lord be done!” Thus at last reluctant friends exclaimed. They, too, learned the lesson of submission. They gave their friend up to Him who called to the sacrifice. Those who thus give up their friends to the path of self-sacrifice have often the harder lot. Women who have given husbands and sons to their country’s service in the hour of need have felt a keener pain than those who wrought and marched and fought. The parents of those who go far hence unto the Gentiles have not unfrequently felt profounder grief than the devoted missionaries themselves. (H. C. McCook, D. D.)
Paul going to Jerusalem
I. A friendly warning.
1. Paul and his companions immediately looked up the Christians in the cities they visited. It is easy to learn a man’s character from the sort of people he prefers to associate with--especially when he is away from home.
2. Paul, like every other Christian worker, received a large amount of well-meant advice that he could not well heed. It is sometimes as needful to say “No” to one’s friends as it is to one’s enemies.
3. Paul said “No” when his friends wished him to turn back, but he said so courteously, tenderly, prayerfully. He could refuse a man without insulting him.
4. Paul and his companions were not ashamed to kneel down on the open beach in sight of everybody and pray. Secret prayer is helpful and precious, but there are times when public praying becomes a duty.
5. Paul and his companions and the disciples bade each other farewell with prayers and benedictions. When we say, “Good-bye” to our friends, let us remember that we are in form at least breathing a prayer over them, for “Good-bye” means “God be with you.”
II. A prophetic warning.
1. It is instructive to note that the evangelist Philip who now entertained the Christ-loving Paul had years before been driven from Jerusalem to escape the fury of the Christ-hating Saul. See Acts 8:1-5.
2. It is evident that “there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” The disciples and Agabus advised Paul wisely so far as they knew, but he was better informed than they.
3. It is apparent that Paul did wisely to seek his marching orders directly from headquarters. So doing, he was sure of avoiding all mistakes.
4. It sometimes emphasises advice to accompany it with action. Thus Agabus, binding himself with Paul’s girdle, spoke to the eyes, as his voice did to the ears, of the apostles.
5. It is always true that the bonds most to be feared are those a man puts upon himself. Agabus may well shudder at the bonds with which he binds himself, Paul may well disregard the fetters with which hostile Jews threaten him.
6. It was true, as Agabus prophesied, that bonds awaited Paul in Jerusalem. Whatever awaited him, Paul went on just the same. It is always best for one to follow the straight line of duty, even though it lead him inside of prison walls.
III. An unheeded warning.
1. A man may have the firmest kind of a will, and yet the tenderest sort of a heart. Paul was such a man.
2. A man of the right sort is more moved by the tears of his friends than by the assaults of his enemies.
3. A man who is ready to be bound for Christ ought certainly not to fear being freed for Christ. And what is death but being set free from the bondage of this world?
4. A man who would do the most for the good will not throw away his life. Paul was careful to have it understood that he was risking his life “for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
5. A man having fully determined to risk his mortal life to save the immortal lives of others, it is the right thing for that man’s friends to cease their dissuading talk about missionary dangers, and missionary hardships, and the unhealthfulness of foreign climates.
6. A man having fully determined to do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way at home or abroad, it is the part of a friend and a Christian to say, “The will of the Lord be done.” (S. S. Times.)
Paul going to Jerusalem
I. Reasons Paul should not go to Jerusalem.
1. The needs of the churches. These churches were still in the mission stage, small and weak. Church organisation was so imperfect that it still required a constant apostolic oversight. On the face of it, God would not raise up a man by such a wonderful experience as Paul had had, and take him away when to all human judgment he had before him the best ten or fifteen years of his life.
2. The appeals of the brethren. These were hard to bear. Paul was a man of tender feelings. All the arguments to show why he should save himself for their sakes were tearfully urged. And these were his children.
3. The warning of the Holy Spirit.
II. Reasons Paul went to Jerusalem.
1. The purpose of his life. He had before him his ministry for Christ, Everything was for that. His calling was to testify of Him whose name was called Jesus, because He should save His people from their sins. He believed that the next service for the name of the Lord Jesus was going to Jerusalem, whatever should befall him there. Therefore he went.
2. The law of self-sacrifice. Paul had laid himself on the altar as a voluntary offering, to live and to die for his Saviour. He was not a rash man; but he knew that there are ends which sacrifice can accomplish, and which can be accomplished by no other means. It was not certain that his life was needed any longer. The death of Stephen had proved an occasion of a wonderful enlargement of the gospel. These churches which Paul had been visiting probably owed their existence to the sacrifice of the life of that glorious deacon whose mantle had fallen upon the shoulders of Paul. Could Paul make a better use of his life than to die for the name of the Lord Jesus, if he could do as much by dying as Stephen had done? If a Christian would accomplish anything worthy for God, he must understand this Divine law. Our suffering, like that of our Saviour, has its place in the price of the world’s redemption.
3. The leading of the Spirit. The disciples were led by the Spirit. So was Paul. Their leading did not conflict with his, though it seemed to do so. The warning voice said: “If you go on you will be imprisoned and slain.” But the voice within said: “Go on, though you are imprisoned and slain.” The two voices were of the same Spirit. The interpretation of the voices was for Paul to give. Every man has the voice of the Spirit for himself. Listen to the voice of the Spirit within you; yield yourself to His influence. You can tell whether you are following Him. (G. R. Leavitt.)
Paul’s journey to Jerusalem
I. We may find a stimulus to our flagging zeal as we contemplate the apostle’s search for and improvement of opportunities for usefulness. He had one end in view--Pentecost at Jerusalem, and from this no entreaties could divert him. But while moving steadily forward he filled in every interval with service, e.g., at Troas, Miletus, Tyre, Caesarea. Men speak with enthusiasm of Caesar’s devotion to literary pursuits during his military journeys, and of Cicero, who amid the multiplicity of his judicial and political engagements found time for philosophical discussions; and the younger Pliny tells with glowing admiration the industry of his uncle, who dedicated every fragment of time to study. But we have in Paul a devotion to work not less remarkable. Well might he have excused himself had he spent the pauses of his journey in taking rest. Is he then less worthy of admiration because in him the love of souls took the place of love of literature, etc.? But his example is also worthy our imitation. Success is only to be had by the means he employed. Ponder this journey, and you will cease to marvel that in one brief life so much was accomplished. Take that inflexible firmness which held him to what he believed to be right; add to that his quickness to perceive and his readiness to improve an opportunity; then let these be vitalised and sustained by love to Christ, and it becomes easy to account for his perseverance and success.
II. We may ascertain the true source of moral courage. That Acts 8:13 was not an idle utterance we know from Paul’s calm self-possession in the Temple. There is such a courage as is merely muscular, which in its place is good, but which is mostly involuntary and instinctive. He who has it is brave in the presence of danger because not sensible of anything of which to be afraid. But it is quite different with him who is of a delicately nervous temperament. His tendency is to fear physical danger; and there is need of an effort of will, and as sustaining his will there is need of enthusiasm for some sublime cause. The soldier who feels fear, but who holds himself at his post by a supreme devotion to duty, is more courageous than he who, with an instinct like that of the warhorse, “mocketh at fear.” The latter was the case with Paul, who had two considerations which made him ready to brave every danger.
1. Love to Christ. We know what great things love for a fellow mortal will defy, as in the case of wives and mothers; and love to Christ will fire a man with an enthusiasm which will sustain him through the fiercest opposition.
2. Confidence in God. Like Moses “he endured as seeing Him that is invisible.” Like Elisha, he saw with his faith’s eye the hosts of the Lord encamping round about him. He knew that he was doing God’s work, and had the most implicit trust that the Lord would uphold him till his work was done. If it were His will that he should perish at Jerusalem, then he would only be the sooner with Christ; or, if it were His will that he should testify before tribunals and in prisons, God would give him grace. Thus he possessed his soul in peace in spite of his natural susceptibility.
III. We may see how man proposes but God disposes. The course suggested by James (verse 20, etc.) was admirably adapted to conciliate all parties; but see how it was frustrated. In spite of all their efforts at conciliation, nay, in consequence of them, something occurred which defeated their end. Paul’s safety was imperilled by the course suggested for the good of the Church. Yet what good came out of it after all. The most carefully laid plans may be frustrated by unforeseen circumstances, but God will work out His will notwithstanding. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Paul on his journey to Jerusalem
I. The power of love to Christ.
1. It brings the unacquainted near.
2. It forewarns of possible danger.
3. It gladly cultivates fellowship.
4. It humbles itself before God in mutual prayer.
II. Paul’s readiness to suffer for the cause of Christ.
III. The Christian’s pilgrimage to his home.
1. Faith holds forth to him the glorious end.
2. Love helps him to accomplish the difficult journey. (Lisco.)
Paul’s last journey to Jerusalem
(Children’s Sermon):--Suppose you were travelling from Edinburgh to London, and at every station you stopped at, at Carlisle, Leeds, Leicester, friends were waiting to beg you not to go any further, because they had learnt that bad men would ill use you. It would have to be a very good reason that would make you still go on. This was something like St. Paul’s situation now. Still he went straight on. Why?
1. Because he felt that, although he was going into great danger, he was going to his duty. A true Christian always feels so. When arrested, Cranmer’s friends tried to persuade him to escape. But Cranmer said “No; it is quite right for you to get away, but I ought to stay and stick to my colours.” So St. Paul (verse 13). And if we want to be good soldiers of Jesus, we shall have to learn so to love Him as to be ready to do and bear anything for Him.
2. He knew that God had not yet done with him, and that no one could kill him till God gave them leave. God had said that Paul should bear his name “before kings,” and the apostle was sure his Lord would not be baulked of His purpose by wicked men. But do people never get hurt when they are doing God’s service? Did not John Bunyan suffer any hurt when he was thrown into, and for long months kept in, Bedford jail? Yes; but he wrote the “Pilgrim’s Progress” there. And did not that more than make up for the sufferings of the prison? And so with Paul. So, after all, not harm came of it, but good.
3. Look at another thing. There are some strong brave men who are not very pleasant to deal with, because they always will do things in just the way they like, and can’t give way to others. St. Paul was not like that. He was strong and bold in going into danger, but he did not try to make the danger any greater than was necessary. The other apostles told him that they would like him to do something he did not much care for, but they thought if he would do it, it would please the people and save all disturbance (verses 20-40). And he did it at once. To the Jews he became as a Jew. There is a great difference between firmness and stubbornness. Always be firm for the right, but be willing to give way in small matters.
4. It is a matter for regret that though Paul tried to please he failed (verses 27-40). But he could not help that. They had got into a bad temper, and therefore could not judge him fairly (verses 28, 29). Rage makes people fancy things that never happened. If we try to do what is right, as gently as possible, and people won’t be pleased, we must quietly leave it to God, asking Him to turn their hearts. (J. Taylor, M. A.)
I. The social love generated by the gospel. There is an affection which man has for man, an affection of animal sympathy, personal interests, mental reciprocities. But the social love generated by Christianity is of a higher character. It is--
1. Strong. So strongly did it bind Paul and the Ephesians together, that they had to “tear themselves asunder.” The parting scene on the Tyrian shore, and the tears wept on leaving Caesarea, also indicated the strength of Christian love. The love which genuine Christians have for each other is not the thread of a passing sentiment, but a golden chain which binds all in an indissoluble unity of thought, aspiration, interest, and pursuit.
2. Hospitable. Paul a guest in Philip’s house! This is one of the Divine marvels which sometimes occur in the history of men. The name of Saul at one time was a terror to the heart of Philip (Acts 8:3-5). What a change the gospel has accomplished. He from whose presence he rushed as from a fiend, he now entertains as a brother.
3. Tender. Christianity quickens the sensibilities. In nearly all the partings recorded in these verses there were tears.
4. Religious (verse 5). Christian love turns to God as the open flower to the sun. The best way of serving one’s friends is to commend them “to God,” as Paul did, and to “the word of His grace.”
II. The fallibility of human affection. The good men of Tyre loved Paul, yet they sought to dissuade him from duty; so also did the good men of Caesarea. So urgent and powerful were they that Paul exclaims, “What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart?” In both cases they quoted the Holy Spirit’s influence. Paul was deeply moved, but not mastered. All their arguments were the arguments of mistaken love. The mistaken kindness of parents has ever proved the greatest curse to children. Never does the devil act so mightily as when his errors are urged by the arguments of those who love us most. Let us learn to act in relation to this as Christ acted in relation to Peter (Matthew 16:23).
III. The unconquerableness of a Christ-inspired purpose. Mighty as was the influence which love brought to bear upon Paul, it could not break his purpose (verse 13). This was not a caprice, wish, intention formed in haste, a resolution based on expediency, but a determination based on the strongest convictions of his judgment, backed by the whole current of his sympathies, and deeply rooted in him by the Spirit of Christ. Such a purpose cannot be broken; it defies opposition, it removes mountains.
IV. The sublimest victory over soul (verse 14).
1. “The will of the Lord be done,” does not mean, “We must bow to necessity.” Many men are brought to do this who have no Christianity. The ungodly father, when life has fled from his child; the reckless speculator, when he has wrecked his fortune; the criminal in the hand of justice, say, when all hope is gone, “The Lord’s will be done.” In their case it means despair. But here it is a cordial acquiescence, and implies a belief--
2. This is the sublimest conquest over souls. It is a conquest over--
The quiet interval
1. There are some endings which seem to be final Such an ending we found in the last words of the apostle to the elders of Ephesus. After such agony there is only one possibility--silence. Whether things will ever come into natural course and shape again gracious time will reveal. Blessed silence! blessed time! Have periods of silence in your life; remit many of the controversies and difficulties to the adjustment and healing of silent, gracious, patient time. You will only spoil its purpose by your impatience. Let Paul alone for a time; let him have his sail out. Bless God for the alternative of the water for the land; of the night for the day. By these alternatives we are rested and quieted and made young again.
2. In verse 3 we read, “We landed at Tyre: for there the ship was to unlade her burden.” Poor ship! she must have rest, too, in a way. Whilst the ship stands still Paul is on the alert. Business arrangements are turned into spiritual opportunities. The sail has done him good, and now he turns a necessity of the ship into an opportunity for Christian aggression. Is there not a lesson here for us--the sailors of today? The place of business is closed--why not inquire of an opportunity of doing religious good? The stop of one course should be the beginning of another. He never lacks opportunity who looks for it. What was done at Tyre? We read, “And finding disciples.” It should be, “And seeking out disciples.” Why not seek out beautiful scenery? Because Paul’s purpose was to advance the kingdom of Christ. Paul and his company sought out the disciples--not an easy thing then and there; not always an easy thing here and now. You wait for them to turn up. You, who could ask if there were artists, authors, poets, men of business, dare not ask if there were any praying people in the locality; and yet the man sitting next you at this moment would thank God if he could have an opportunity to speak concerning spiritual things.
3. Leaving Tyre, they “came to Ptolemais, and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day.” Make the most of religious opportunities. What a day it was! Only one; but so crowded, so many questions to ask. What eager listening! “The apostle will be gone tomorrow; now is our opportunity; let him speak and pray and bless and comfort.” That is the case always; we have never more than one day together with any certainty; we should look upon every opportunity as the last. But we allow our opportunities to pass: when the man is gone, then we begin to whine about his greatness, and the opportunities we had of praying with him in his mighty intercession. So the hearts of men are broken every day. Paul is still here; his great epistles are with us; his written soul lies in our houses neglected. Let us not add to our lies by whining over his personal absence!
4. “And the next day--” Oh that there should be any next day to festivals of the soul! Mocking word! speak of it as some other day, a million centuries off. Yet not so, because other people must have the festival as well as we. Paul is advancing in his course, and scattering blessings as he goes. “The next day we came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip.” If we had our choice of any day which we might spend with Paul, I think some of us would choose this particular day. What a meeting that was! Philip might not have been there at all but for the very man who was now visiting him; it was owing to Paul’s persecution that Philip fled away. May our meetings with old enemies be as sweet and gracious! You cannot escape from your old self. Sometimes our reminiscences are of the most joyful kind, and we bury twenty years in one grip of the hand. Sometimes those reminiscences are of the other sort, and a look doubles our age. The solemn fact to remember is that we meet men again. Life is not closed today. Let us take care how we live. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
5. Now Paul was besought not to go forward; but he said nothing to the daughters of Philip, nor to Agabus. But in verse 12 we read, “And when we heard these things, both we--” That was the sting. When a man’s nearest comrades fail him, then, poor soul, what can he do but break right down (verse 13)? There the Roman spoke--the Christian Roman. We are told that for a Roman to fear danger was treason, but for a Lacedaemonian to hesitate was treason. Here is a man in whose tone you can find no hesitancy. Having consecrated the life first, all the details of suffering which led up to the last oblation were mere trifles. (J. Parker, D. D.)
And finding disciples,…who said to Paul, through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.
How timid is man, how fearless is God, about Scripture contradictions! The disciples at Tyre “say to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.” Yet he goes. And when he goes, those who have heard the prohibitory voice of inspiration, say, “The will of the Lord be done.” The one was the Divine voice of prudence; the other was the Divine voice of courage. Who shall say that either of these voices is not Divine? Would Paul have been guilty if he had followed the one? Was Paul guilty because he followed the other? Some great principles are here illustrated.
I. The communications of God are never designed to supersede man’s thought or judgment. “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets,” i.e., the man is responsible for the management of his own inspiration. He must so order it, that its utterance shall not provoke ridicule nor cause confusion. The principle is very clear and comprehensive. Whether it be a point of doctrine or duty, God never so speaks as to take the matter out of the hands of the man himself, as an intelligent and responsible being.
1. St. Paul has to decide whether he shall go or not to Jerusalem. God puts before him the suggestion of prudence. “There is special peril in this journey. It will cost thee years of imprisonment, and imminent risk of death. Go not.” God “proposes” the alternative of caution. Counsels of prudence are from the Lord. Words of loving friends, bidding you spare yourself over-exertion, premature decay, may be from the Lord, and, like the words of these disciples, have a right to be pondered and to be prayed over.
2. But let no man say, God has but one voice. Having proposed counsels of prudence by the voice of man, God proposed counsels of courage to the inward ear of His soldier. “This journey, though it be full of peril, has in it, also, the fulfilment of thy desire to preach Christ in Rome. This journey, though it cut thee off from other evangelistic journeys, yet has, in its undiscovered future, epistles which shall make thee the theologian of generations yet unborn. Judge thou if thou hast courage for it, and if thou knowest Me to be faithful--go.” In these things, “God proposes, man disposes.”
3. How often is this alternative propounded; the same suggestion of love, the same suggestion of heroism--and both from God. Could we but realise to ourselves the alternative voices, Go, and Go not--the loving permission to forego toils and perils too great for us; and then the grander instinct, “What is life but a moment? up, and be doing--live for God, live for eternity”--could we but realise these alternative voices as alike voices of the Spirit, how should we rid ourselves, in a moment, of that which makes our decisions so unhappy--the idea, namely, that God has but one voice, and that if we mishear that one, we shall be “beaten with many stripes.”
II. This inspiration of conduct is also the inspiration of Scripture. Can a man open his Bible at random, and draw, from the first text which he lights upon, the very truth of God concerning any one doctrine? Is there not a “saying through the Spirit,” which yet, taken alone, would be both misleading and contradictory to another “saying”? Who will pretend that the utterances of the Bible are always and everywhere absolutely uniform? Where is the heresy which cannot fortify itself by a text? Where is the reader who might not err, if he stayed not to compare scripture with scripture? True theology is the residuum of these comparisons; pondered for ages, and at last agreed upon by the churches. Yet, even now, not so agreed upon as that an individual man can dispense with the pondering. We must go through the process, each for himself; listen for the first, for the second, and for the third voice of the Spirit; and not till then, nay not even then, be so certain of the conclusion as to condemn him who thinks that he has heard a fourth voice or a fortieth. Revelation is not a thing of exact definitions and stereotyped formulas. It is God speaking through men, to men, variously constituted and circumstanced, and each speaking in his own character, through the medium of his own faculties, and in all the movements and activities of a real and changing life. (Dean Vaughan.)
And we kneeled down on the shore and prayed.
The seaman’s farewell
The scripture is an excellent pattern for all who go down to do business in the great waters. It is true Paul’s business was not to get an estate, but to witness to the truth of Jesus, with the hazard of his life. Many discouragements he met with in this voyage, and not the least at Tyre, where certain disciples said to him, that he should not go to Jerusalem; but like that noble Roman, and upon a more noble account, he judged it necessary to go, but not to live. The disciples, seeing his unalterable resolution, express their affections to him at parting, by bringing him to the ship, and that with their whole families (Acts 21:5). In this farewell, their Christian affections are mutually manifested by two sorts of actions.
1. Prayers; the best office one Christian can do for another; in which we may note--
2. As their affections were mutually manifested by this sacred action, prayer, so by civil ones too, affectionate embraces and salutations. Hence note: Those that undertake voyages by sea, had need not only to pray earnestly themselves, but also to engage the prayers of other Christians for them. They that part praying, may hope to meet again rejoicing; and those designs which are not prefaced with prayer, cannot wind up with a blessing.
I. What those special mercies are that seamen should pray for, when they are to undertake a voyage.
1. The pardon of sin. Guilt is that Jonah in the ship, for whose sake storms, shipwrecks, and ruin pursue it (Psalms 148:8; Numbers 32:23). If sin be pardoned, you are safe, you need fear no storms within, whatever you find without. But woe to him that finds at once a raging sea and a roaring conscience; ship and hope sinking together.
2. That the presence of God may go, with you (Exodus 33:15). If that be graciously with us, it will guard the heart against terror in the most imminent distress (Psalms 23:4). And indeed there is no room for fear; for with whomsoever God is present, these three mercies are secured.
3. That you may be kept from the temptations to sin you will meet with when you are abroad in the world.
4. That you may have Divine protection in all the dangers and hazards to which you shall be exposed (James 4:13-14).
5. That you may have direction in all your undertakings, and lean not to your own understandings (Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 3:6).
6. That you may have success upon your lawful employments and designs, and own it to be from the Lord (Genesis 24:12).
II. What influence prayer hath as to those mercies you are to pray for.
1. It is a proper and effectual means to obtain and procure them. God will have everything fetched out by prayer (Ezekiel 36:37). Though prayer be altogether needless to His information, yet it is very necessary to testify our submission (Jeremiah 29:11-12).
2. As prayer hath an influence into the procuring of our mercies, for it hath a singular influence into the sweetening of them.
3. Prayer hath a sanctifying influence upon all our enjoyments, and therefore no wonder it makes them so sweet (1 Timothy 4:5). One mercy of this kind is better than ten thousand promiscuously dispensed in the way of common providence.
III. What aid the prayers of others may give to the procurement of the mercies we desire. It was the united prayers of the disciples with Paul, that on this occasion was judged necessary. There may be much zeal and strength in the prayer of a single saint; Jacob alone may wrestle with God, and as a prince prevail; but if one can do much, many can do more.
1. This may serve sharply to reprove the generality of our seamen, who mind everything necessary to their voyage except prayer, the principal thing. And here three sorts of persons fall under rebuke.
2. This may serve to persuade all men, and particularly seamen, to be men of prayer; to imitate that noble pattern in the text.
The voyage to heaven
After long dreaming of foreign lands, I am about to leave you to satisfy that desire. You have come to see me off; but before I go I would like to see you all embark for heaven.
I. The Church is the dry dock where souls are to be fitted out for heaven.
1. In making a vessel for this voyage, the first need is sound timber. For the want of it, vessels when caught in a storm have been crushed like a wafer. The truths of God’s Word are sound timbers. Away with your lighter materials.
2. You must have Love for a helm, to guide and turn the craft. Neither Pride, nor Ambition, nor Avarice will do for a rudder.
3. There must also be a prow, arranged to cut and override the billow. That is Christian perseverance. For lack of this, many have put back and never started again. It is the broadside wave that so often sweeps the deck and fills the hatches; but that which strikes in front is harmless. Meet troubles courageously and you surmount them. Let all your fears stay aft. The right must conquer.
4. Have a good, strong anchor--hope; but do not use it wrongfully. Do not always stay in the same latitude.
5. You must have sails--faith. Hoist that, and the winds of heaven will drive you ahead. Sails made out of any other canvas will be slit to tatters by the first northeaster.
6. You must have the running rigging--prayer. Unless you understand this tackling you are not spiritual seamen. By pulling on this, you hoist the sails of faith and turn them every whither.
7. One more arrangement, and you will be ready for the sea. You must have a compass--which is the Bible. Look at it every day, and always sail by it, as its needle points towards the Star of Bethlehem.
II. Rules for the voyage.
1. Do not allow your appetites and passions to come up on the promenade deck. Never allow them anything better than a steerage passage. Let watchfulness walk the deck as an armed sentinel, and shoot down with great promptness anything like a mutiny of riotous appetites.
2. Be sure to look out of the forecastle for icebergs. There are cold Christians floating about in the Church. The frigid zone professors will sink you.
3. Keep a log book during all the voyage--an account of how many furlongs you make a day. Bound, as we are, toward eternity, ought we not often to try the work of self-examination?
4. Keep your colours up! You know the ships of England, Russia, France, etc., by the ensigns they carry. Let it ever be known who you are, and for what port you are bound. Let “Christian” be written on the very front, with the figure of a cross, a crown, and a dove; and from the masthead let float the streamers of Emmanuel. Then the pirate vessels of temptation will pass you unharmed as they say, “There goes a Christian bound for the port of heaven. We will not disturb her, for she has too many guns aboard.” Conclusion: Before you gain port you will smell the land breezes of heaven; and Christ, the Pilot, will meet you as you come into the Narrows of Death, and hasten to you and say, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee.” (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
On the shore
What a new world opens out for us in the Word of God! The commonest objects seem transfigured by the glory of that Word--the grass beneath our feet, the very dust we shake from off us, the leaves that are whirled about on every side, everything seems to be a sacrament to remind us of Christ. Today let us go forth upon the shore and gaze upon that great sweep of sand stretching away on every side.
1. Take up a handful of sand and try to count the grains as they trickle through your fingers; you will give it up in despair before you have counted the hundredth part. Then cast your eye over the great sweep of sand, and your imagination will be overcome in your endeavour to estimate the possible number of grains of which that immense stretch of sand is composed. And yet God gave this promise to Abraham (Genesis 22:17).
2. But the sand speaks to me not only of number, but of variety. Take your stand upon the shore of Palestine, and picture to yourself the origin of all those grains of sand which are lying round about you. Some have come from the great granite gates of the Nile, and have been swept down to the Mediterranean; others have been washed up on to the strand from the gates of the Atlantic; some have been torn from rocks by avalanche or storm, and ground down to the minute particles we behold by the ceaseless action of the waves. The sand, therefore, reminds us of that great multitude (Revelation 7:9). They have come from very diverse experiences on earth; but now they are united in their worship before the throne.
3. One more lesson we may learn as we stand by the seaside--the power of little things. You see the storm and the tempest; you see how it foams against the rock so ceaselessly, until the rock is undermined and falls with a crash into the water; or else you see some triumph of man’s endeavour and skill utterly unable to stand against those raging waves. But yonder waves, though tempestuous in the distance, as they approach the sandy beach come in very quietly, though curling and lashing the rocks as it were with disappointment. Still it is of no avail--they have to come up quietly; and they come in, as you might say, almost whispering their allegiance to their recognised queen; and then they have to retire backwards, subdued and overcome. “Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further.” Ah, brethren, not all the triumph of human power and skill can keep those waves within bounds; but when the waves of sin are tossing around the true child of God--around him whose soul has been trained by sorrow and trial, and who is content to fill a humble place and do the duty God has assigned to him--when the waves of sin are tossing around him he will be enabled to say with confidence, “Hitherto shalt thou come,” etc. (E. A. Stuart, M. A.)
And the next day we … came to Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the Evangelist.
Paul at Caesarea
I. Paul visits Philip. Learn--
1. That fidelity in our present calling is the highway to promotion to a more important one. Philip had acquitted himself well in the lowest ecclesiastical office, that of deacon, and was now promoted to one of the highest, that of evangelist--the founder of new churches, and the stimulater of existing ones.
2. That every converted daughter should be at work in endeavouring to bring others to the Saviour. Philip’s daughters were decided Christians, and engaged in active service for Christ. In the Apostolic Church women did great service in the gospel cause. See Paul’s list of useful women in Romans 16:1-27.
II. Agabus visits Paul. We have here--
1. An instance of intense human love and sympathy; beautiful traits of sanctified human nature; but mark, these must not be carried so far as to interfere with our friends’ calls to duty.
2. Paul’s tenderness of heart. He was an intellectual giant, but he had a woman’s tenderness of heart. Every tear and sob went to his soul. Illustrate further by other instances of his compassion and tears.
3. Paul’s unalterable determination. Duty called and he obeyed. Wherever duty called he went, despising all toil and danger. He was a man. He could say No. Imitate. “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” (Christian Age.)
St. Paul in Philip’s family
1. Philip, at the conclusion of the missionary tour which succeeded the conversion of the eunuch, had settled at Antioch, which, from its being the centre of political influence, and from the extensive commerce facilitated by its harbour, was a most important sphere of missionary operations. Caesarea, too, was the place where, by the conversion of Cornelius, the door of faith was first opened to the Gentiles.
2. In this last notice of Philip, the evangelist falls into the background, and the eye of the reader is fixed on Paul. Planetoids, many of which are wandering about in space, sometimes come within the attraction of a comet, and are drawn in towards the larger body; and here the evangelist is drawn into the apostle’s orbit and quenched there.
3. It was natural that Paul should go to the house of Philip--a man like-minded with himself; and there was another who would take as much delight in Philip’s company--Luke, the writer of the Acts, for which history he was now collecting materials; and we cannot doubt that he here obtained the narrative of the conversion of the eunuch. How remarkable this gathering. Paul and Luke wrote the greater part of the New Testament; Philip had taken the place of Stephen, to whose death Paul had consented; yet here are the colleague and the murderer each emulating the martyr’s example, We can well understand the refreshment and nerve for future effort which must have been gained by such intercourse.
4. Philip had four daughters, in whom Joel’s prediction had received a literal accomplishment (Joel 2:18), and who may have given the first intimation of the disasters which threatened the apostle. Thus the fourfold ministry of Ephesians 4:12 was here represented--the apostle Paul, the evangelist Philip, the teacher Luke, the prophetesses Philip’s daughters.
5. Whether these women made the prediction or not, it was certainly made under the same roof by Agabus, who began with one of those symbolic actions which the old prophets were accustomed to use, by which the senses were impressed with the truth they were commissioned to convey. A religion wholly devoid of symbolism would not be a religion adapted to the wants of man. Man, though a spiritual being, is not a purely spiritual being, and is more vividly affected by a truth exhibited to the eye than spoken in the ear. To meet this constitution of our nature God has made the sacraments an essential part of Christianity, and chosen the Incarnation as His mode of manifestation to the senses of men. But on the other hand this principle, as all Church history shows, may be easily carried to mischievous lengths. The limits are admirably traced in the discourse “Of Ceremonies” prefixed to the Prayer Book.
6. The prophecy of Agabus aroused great anxiety, and Paul was entreated by those instigated by the Spirit to alter his purpose. Yet the apostle persisted. And not from obstinacy, for on two occasions, at Damascus and Ephesus, he had yielded to the solicitations of the brethren. Nor was he a man of stoical insensibility (verse 13). The reason for the apostle’s persistency is indicated in Acts 19:21; and to this obligation he adverts in Acts 20:22. He was not going to Jerusalem without the direct sanction of the Spirit, by which Agabus had spoken. He must, then, act upon his own light, Nor was Agabus’s prediction without its attraction for the apostle (Acts 9:16; Philippians 3:10). If he was to be bound at Jerusalem, etc., was there not here the closest conformity to the fate of his Master? His friends eventually desisted, not doubting that he had made up his mind under the influence of the Spirit. They had been praying that if it were possible the cup might pass from their beloved apostle. Now, in the spirit of their Divine Master, they added, “Nevertheless, not our will, but Thine be done.”
7. From this explanation of the motives of Paul in declining to listen to the advice of his friends, we may gather the important practical lesson that in matters of duty every man must be guided by the light which his conscience affords. He must take every method of enlightening his conscience, but he must never defer to the conscience of another when it prescribes a course at issue with his own convictions. (Dean Goulburn.)
And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.
Teachers possessing in a special manner the inspiration of the Spirit of God indicated in some peculiar supernatural gift as that of healing or of foretelling. Observe that in the Apostolic Church women are not only teachers (Acts 18:26), as in the Jewish Church (Acts 22:14), but also inspired teachers. The prophet was not necessarily a foreteller. The Hebrew word is derived from a root signifying to boil or bubble over, and simply conveys the idea of the bursting forth, as of a fountain of truth, with which God has inspired the soul. The early English kept tolerably near this original idea. Thus Jeremy Taylor, in the reign of Elizabeth, wrote a treatise on the “Liberty of Prophesying”--i.e., of preaching. In the classics the Greek word is used to describe those who interpreted the unintelligible oracles, and, metaphorically, the poets as interpreters of the gods or muses. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament the prominent idea in prophecy and prophesying is not prediction, but inspiration--not telling before what is to happen, but delivering messages of warning, instruction, comfort, helpfulness--such as are commissioned by or given under the inspiration of the Divine Spirit. This characteristic of prophecy appears very clearly from the titles given to the prophet in the Scriptures. He is called “the interpreter,” “the messenger of Jehovah,” “the man of Spirit,” “the man of God”; and it is declared that the “Spirit of Jehovah “ enters into him, or “clothes him,” or, as here, that he speaks “by the Spirit.” In the New Testament Paul gives some detailed description of prophesying, which is distinguished from what we should call preaching only in that the presence and power of God is, perhaps, more prominent. (E. Abbott, D. D.)
There came down from Judaea a certain prophet named Agabus; and when he was come to us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet.--
The girdle of Paul
An admonitory memorial for all his successors, to remind them of the--
I. Apostolic fidelity, with which he was bound to the Lord, even to death.
II. Apostolic bonds, in which he must experience the hatred of the world.
III. Apostolic zeal, with which he was at all times girt, to hasten to the combat appointed to him. (K. Gerok.)
The only bonds by which a servant of God feels himself to be indissolubly bound
I. Not the bonds of his own flesh and blood, which he has torn asunder by the power of the Spirit.
II. Not the bonds of human force and enmity (Paul bound at Jerusalem), which cannot injure him contrary to the will of God.
III. Not the bonds of brotherly love and friendship: for whosoever loveth brethren and sisters more than the Lord is not worthy of Him.
IV. But only the bonds of love to the Lord, to whom he is bound in grateful love and childlike fidelity even unto death (K. Gerok.)
I. Instances of--
1. Joseph warning Pharaoh (Genesis 41:32-33).
2. Moses warning the Israelites (Exodus 4:29-31).
3. Moses warning Pharaoh (Exodus 9:29-30).
4. Joshua warning Israel (Joshua 3:9-13).
5. Nathan warning David (2 Samuel 12:7-10; 1 Kings 1:22-25).
6. A prophet warning Ahab (1 Kings 20:38-39).
7. Elisha warning Jehoshaphat (2 Kings 3:11-13).
8. Jonah warning the Ninevites (Jonah 3:4; Matthew 12:41).
9. John the Baptist warning the Jews (Matthew 3:1-2; Luke 3:3).
10. Agabus giving warning of a famine (Acts 11:28-29).
11. Agabus warning Paul of danger (Acts 21:10-11).
II. Inspired by--
1. The visions of God (2 Chronicles 26:5; Ezekiel 1:1).
2. The writing of God (1 Chronicles 28:19).
3. The Word of God (Luke 3:2).
4. The words of God (Jonah 3:1; Habakkuk 2:2).
5. The Spirit of God (1 Samuel 10:6; Joel 2:28; Acts 2:4).
6. The various agencies of God (Hebrews 1:1).
III. Nature of--
1. A gift of Christ (Ephesians 4:11; Revelation 11:3).
2. Christ usually the subject of (Acts 10:43; 1 Peter 1:10-11).
3. Concerning the need of repentance (Mark 1:4).
4. Regarding present safety (Acts 21:11).
5. Concerning eternal salvation (Revelation 14:13).
6. Regarding future events (Genesis 49:1; Numbers 24:14). (S. S. Times.)
And when we heard these things … we … besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.--
The poorest advice in the world to a man in time of danger is, counsel to shun the path of duty. If he is a pliable man, it may work his ruin. If he is a determined man, the foolish entreaty only tends to break his heart, or to increase his trial. If duty points a man to Jerusalem, let all who love him point in the same direction. Let the mother tell her son to be truthful and honest, if he starves. Let the wife urge her husband to pay his debts, if his family must be turned into the streets because of his fidelity. Let the teacher commend his scholars for their purpose of daring everything for the right. Let every Christian man and woman speak words of cheer to every other Christian who must face danger at the call of God. Let none beseech a brother not to go where he ought to go; but let the word sound in heartiness, “Be thou strong, and show thyself a man.” And if friends try to swerve us from a right purpose, let us be firm against their strongest persuasions. If they weep, and our hearts break in consequence, let us keep our faces as a flint towards the right, and if we fall, let it be in the path in which God has called us to be. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break my heart?
I. The bravery with which he persisted in it.
1. He reproves his friends for dissuading him.
2. Not withstanding their entreaties he repeats his resolution.
II. The patient acquiescence of his friends in his decision. They submitted to--
1. The wisdom of a good man.
2. The will of a good God. (Matthew Henry.)
I. The occasion.
1. Paul was now at Caesarea, in Philip’s house (Acts 21:8). Philip, that was injured by Paul (Acts 8:4-5) a persecutor, is easily reconciled with Paul a convert. We should not be strange to those whom Christ has accepted.
2. There Agabus prophesieth of Paul’s bonds. Agabus was ever a prophet of evil tidings (Acts 11:28). God will be glorified by all manner of dispositions. Some, like Agabus, come always with a sad message in their mouths; and yet these have their use (1 Kings 22:8). That may be true which is not pleasing. But what needs Paul so often to be warned of his bonds? (Acts 20:22-23). That he might be thoroughly prepared. God doth not love to take His children unprovided. If a sudden and unexpected flood of miseries break in upon us, it is not because we want warning, but because we will not take warning.
II. The carriage of the saints upon this occasion.
1. Their entire affection to Paul (Acts 21:12). This entreaty did not proceed from self-love, for they were resolved to go with him (Acts 21:15), but zeal for God’s glory. The lives and liberties of those that are eminent instruments of God’s glory are very dear and precious to God’s faithful people. But was this well done to persuade him? Yes; for we know of no command they had to the contrary. All desires against God’s secret will are not unlawful, when we afterwards submit to His revealed will (1 Kings 8:18). Satan often laboureth to take us off from our duty by the persuasion of our loving friends, who mean us well in what they say to us (Matthew 16:22-23).
2. Paul’s firm resolution: “He would not be persuaded.” Did Paul do well in this? How doth this agree with James 3:17? I answer--In our duty it is praiseworthy to be easy to be entreated, but not from our duty. Paul went bound in the spirit to Jerusalem.
3. Their discretion, “when he would not be persuaded, they ceased.” It is the disposition of humble spirits not to be peremptory of their own conceits, but to submit to those that are wiser than themselves (Matthew 3:15; Acts 11:18).
4. Their piety, the ground of their discretion: “The will of the Lord be done.”
Submission is required--
1. To God’s intended will, while it is yet kept secret. In every business we should ask--
2. To His determination. Submitting all things to God’s will after the event is patience, and before the event is a notable piece of faith (James 4:15; 1 Corinthians 4:19). This was a truth evident to the heathens. Plato brings in Alcibiades asking Socrates how he should speak of future events, and in what manner he should express himself; and Socrates answers, Even as God will.
3. Our purposes and desires must be so moderated that we may be forearmed for all events (2 Samuel 15:25-26). Such a holy indifferency should there be upon our spirits, that we should be like a die in the hand of Providence, to be cast high or low according as it falls.
4. When the event depends upon a duty, we must do the duty, and refer the event to God (1 Corinthians 9:16). It is a base principle to say we must be sure of success before we will engage for God.
5. In a dubious case observe the leading of Providence. The Israelites were not to remove but as they saw the pillar of cloud before them (chap. 16:10). But when the event is declared in God’s providence, then we have nothing to do but plainly to submit, and that very quietly and contentedly, with hope and encouragement in the Lord. (T. Manton, D. D.)
The sacrifices which Paul was willing to make in the cause of Christ
I. His ease and comfort.
1. Had Paul travelled in the fashion of modern tourists many might have envied him the pleasure of visiting some of the loveliest regions. But when we hear him saying of himself, “we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place,” etc.; and when we hear him enumerate the catalogue of his sufferings, “In labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft”; and still farther when we contemplate his strenuous efforts to save souls, we feel that we live in the age of little men.
2. What are the sacrifices of ease and comfort, and what the exertions which we ought to make for the honour of Christ’s name? Some can give their labour, some their time, some their talents, some their wealth, some their influence, some their example, some their prayers; some may give all of these, some two or more of them; and there is not one of you but who may at least live and suffer, and pray for the honour of Christ’s name.
II. Earthly friendships.
1. Could the endearments of the tenderest friendship have restrained Paul from the performance of his duty, such were not wanting. He was loved with no common affection. Our text is one proof of it, and so is chap. 20:36-38. “What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart?” is not the language of cold unfeeling rebuke? His own heart was wrung by this proof of affection Here, then, is the nobleness of Paul’s sacrifice. He loved his friends well, but he loved his Saviour better.
2. Beware lest earthly friendships wean your hearts from Jesus, and rob Him of His due. An excessive attachment is very apt to cool the ardour of Christian zeal. The love of a husband, of a father, have often proved serious obstacles to an avowal and defence of the gospel. Was not Samson shorn of his strength through a blind love for Delilah? and was it not from the wife of his bosom that Job received the dreadful counsel to curse God and die? Said Christ, “He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me,” etc. It was a noble display of heroism made by the daughter of Knox, and the wife of John Welch, in an interview with King James. When she humbly craved permission for her husband, who was far gone with consumption, to return to Scotland for the benefit of his native air, she was rudely denied it by the tyrant. At last, however, he told her that if she would persuade her husband to submit to the bishops, he would allow him to return. Mrs. Welch, lifting her apron and holding it towards the king, replied in the true spirit of her father, “Please your Majesty, I’d rather keep his head there.”
III. His liberty. “I am ready not to be bound only,” etc.
1. In every place to which Paul had lately come, the testimony was repeated, that bonds and imprisonments awaited him; and he knew well what imprisonment was, for he had already, for the sake of his religion, been a prisoner. What then? Did Paul undervalue liberty? No! His history warrants me to say, that the love of freedom burned as ardently in Paul’s bosom as ever it did in that of a Brutus or a Tell, and might in other circumstances have bled to defend it. What then is the solution of this enigma? It was for the honour of Him, who, in the form of a slave, was led to prison, to judgment, that men might be no longer the oppressed thralls of sins, of Satan, and of hell.
2. At this stage of our subject, we would glance at the benefit which accrued from the imprisonment of Paul.
3. Every Bible reader is well aware what benefits flowed to God’s Church from Joseph’s imprisonment in Egypt; from Esther’s exile in Persia; from the confinement of Jeremiah; from Daniel’s captivity; from Peter’s imprisonment; and from John’s banishment. Nor is modern history wanting in illustrations. For ten months Luther was shut up in the castle of Wartzburg; but there he translated great part of the New Testament, wrote his notes on the Evangelists, composed many treatises which were eminently useful to the work of the Reformation. It was in a lonely monastery on the Rhine that John Huss wrote several useful works for the benefit of the Church. It was in prison that Buchanan wrote his beautiful version of the Psalms of David; that Grotius produced his treatise “On the Truth of the Christian Religion”; that Bunyan wrote his allegory. And if God is blessing us with the sweets of liberty, let them only be the more gratefully improved to the honour of the Giver.
IV. His life. Paul lived exclusively for Christ. If the glory of Jesus could be best promoted by living, then, though hardships unutterable should be his lot, he was willing to live; but if, by dying, he could honour Jesus the more, then to die was he willing (Acts 20:24). (J. French.)
Love for Christ
1. Paul’s immediate object in going to Jerusalem was to come to some understanding with those Christian Jews who were “zealous for the law,” and so to put an end to controversies which impaired the development of some of the nobler forms of the Christian life; and impeded the progress of Christian missions. To put an end to these troubles, Paul was willing “not to be a prisoner only, but also to die.”
2. But the way in which the apostle speaks of his readiness to meet the dangers which menaced him is characteristic of his temper and spirit. It was Christ who was chiefly concerned in the evils of the schism. The Churches which were being divided by it were Christ’s Churches: He had died for them. The work among the heathen which was being impeded was Christ’s work: Paul was only His “slave.” And so the apostle says that he is ready to become a prisoner and even to die “for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
3. Paul was on fire with love for Christ, and the passion became more fervent as his life went on. That cooling in the ardour of our “first love” which some imagine to be inevitable, is not found in the life of Paul. Our question then is--How is a great love for Christ created in a Christian heart?
I. Perhaps the first answer will be by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The answer is profoundly true; but it may be suggested by indolence. We may say that therefore there is nothing for us to do, and let things take their course. If this is our temper, this noble devotion will never be kindled in our souls. It is not by any magical process that the Divine Spirit achieves His great work; without our concurrence He will do nothing.
II. Perhaps the second answer will be that we must learn from the four gospels all that can be known of Christ. This answer falls in with one of the strongest tendencies of modern religious thought. The Church has become weary of the problems of theology, and has turned to the earthly life of Christ. And the story contained in the four Gospels is the enduring wonder and glory of the history of our race. But how many have come to love Christ like Paul through simply reading the four Gospels? It is quite possible to read them and to feel their infinite charm; for the heart to be drawn strongly to Christ by what they tell us about Him, and to recognise Him as God manifest in the flesh, and yet not to love Him like Paul did. Has it ever occurred to you to ask whether, for you, the interest of Christ’s history, like the interest of the history of ordinary men, closes with His death? If so, the kind of devotion which He inspired in Paul is impossible. Christ may be to us the grandest, the fairest, the most glorious of historic characters. We may believe that in Him the very life of God was expressed in a human character and history. But if the ties which during Christ’s earthly life united the Divine and the human were dissolved at His death, then God was nearer to man while Christ was visibly present in the world than He has been since; and the awful, the infinite distance between God and ourselves remains what it was before Christ became man. The resurrection of Christ is for the Church as great a fact as the incarnation. But for the resurrection the incarnation would have been a mere passing wonder. I think that there are some of us who forget that Christ is living still. He is a memory with which we would not part for a thousand worlds, but still a memory, and nothing more. He was more than this to Paul. Paul declared that Christ was “alive.” If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith also is vain.
III. We must know that Christ has not merely a glorious place in the history of mankind, but that he is still “alive,” that He is still the same Christ that delivered the Sermon on the Mount, etc., “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” But we may believe and know that Christ is alive and yet think of Him with only wonder and reverence, or with only a faint affection, without any depth and energy in it. We may be so hot and eager to make sure of the blessings which Christ has revealed, that we hurry past Christ in order to grasp them; we think of Him a little, but we think most of them; just as a starving man might think of the bread and meat which a friend has brought, and forget the friend who brought them; just as a drowning man might think of his safety when lifted into the lifeboat, and forget the gallant men whose daring and skill have saved him from the wreck; or as an ardent student, excited by the teaching of some great master, might forget the master by whose genius End labour all his joy has been inspired. I also mean that we may be so zealous in good works as to forget who it is for whom we are working. And if we do not think much of Christ, it is certain that we shall not love Him much.
IV. It was to the death of Christ that the apostles most frequently recurred to deepen the intensity of their devotion to him, and it is generally of His death that they are speaking when their love for Him flames out into expressions of vehement passion. There are comparatively few persons who, at the beginning of their Christian life, have any keen sense of sin; and apart from this, there can be no deep impression of the unique power of the death of Christ, through which we have remission of sin. This development of conscience is, however, certain to come if we persist in the endeavour to obey the law of Christ faithfully. And then the Divine forgiveness will not seem a matter of course, but something surprising and almost incredible, and we shall begin to see, as we never saw before, the infinite love and mercy of Christ in becoming a sacrifice for our sins. After this discovery has been made, every confession of sin and every prayer for pardon recalls to us afresh the infinite love of Christ in dying for us. The supreme proof of Christ’s love takes possession of the soul, and we begin to think more of Him than even of the blessings which He promises in this world, or in the world to come. We love Christ. We find a keener interest and a deeper joy in learning and keeping His commandments. Then we receive--at first with great hesitation, then with increasing courage--those assurances, “The Father Himself loveth you because ye have loved Me.” “If a man love Me he will keep My words,” etc. God’s great love for us is “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.” There is a blessedness in being forgiven for Christ’s sake. There is a deeper blessedness in knowing that the Divine love for us is so generous that it finds in us something to approve as well as much to pardon.
V. We have not yet mastered Paul’s secret. While we are thinking of Christ’s love for all men, we may know nothing of His love for us as individuals. The world is very large and we are lost in the crowd. But Paul was not merely one of a crowd that Christ loved. He knew of Christ’s love for himself individually, and a similar knowledge is necessary to us if we are to be inspired with a similar devotion. We must leave it to Him to manifest Himself to us when He sees fit, and in the ways which seem to Him wisest and best. These manifestations vary with the different circumstances of men, with their different temperaments, and with their different characters.
1. Some men as they look back upon their personal history, can recall decisive proofs that Christ has answered their prayers. And just as a man might sit down over a packet of letters which he had received at intervals during many years from his father or mother, and as he turned them over and recalled the circumstances in which they were written, might come to realise more vividly than he had ever realised before the warmth, the intensity, the endurance of his father’s or his mother’s love for him--so the remembrance of the special proofs that Christ has heard and answered our prayers produces sometimes what may be described as a revolution in our thoughts about Him.
2. The discovery may come to us in other ways. I suppose that there are times when to some of us it is a great surprise that we are still doing the will of God. Christ’s personal, individual care for us is the only explanation of the continued existence of our higher life. In Him, not in ourselves, we see the root of whatever constancy we have shown in God’s service; and so we learn that there is in Christ not only a love for the world for which He died--not only a love for all who keep His commandments, but a love for ourselves individually--a love which must have bad a depth, an energy, a tenderness in it--which fill us first with wonder, and then with an affection for Him, such as His love for all mankind and His love for all who are loyal to Him could not have inspired.
3. There is still another way in which our sense of the personal love of Christ is deepened as the years go on. We know that He is one with us in our endeavours to overcome sin and live righteously; that He is our closest and most constant ally; that in our severest conflicts He stands by us. We know that He has a large stake in the issue of every struggle. He does not merely stand by us; He is our comrade, and it is in His strength, not in our own, that we win all our real victories. Conclusion: When this supreme discovery of Christ’s love for us is once made, it remains. There may be times when the sky is clouded, but we know that the splendour of the sun has not been extinguished. Christ has made, not our house, but our very selves His home. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)
A Hindoo woman applied to the Rev. Mr. Sutton (Baptist missionary) for Christian baptism. He set before her the sufferings which must necessarily follow a renunciation of her heathenish creed; but she replied, “I am willing to bear it all; I am ready to sacrifice all to my Lord. Surely, sir, I cannot endure anything in comparison to what He suffered for me.”
Devotion to Christ
When Richard Cameron, a noble Scotch martyr, had fallen mortally wounded on Airdsmoss, he said, “I am dying, happy--happy; and if I had a thousand lives, I would willingly lay them all down one after another for Christ. Oh! He is near me; I think I see Him! I am just coming, Lord Jesus.” And he added, “Tell my parents not to weep, but continue steadfast in the faith, and not to fear a suffering lot for Christ.”
Courage and submission
I. Courage is, in some senses, a natural gift. No timid man by any effort of will can make himself physically brave. Men differ in their sensibility to pain. Great men--men whose career was singularly bold as politicians--have been found incapable of bearing an operation: they bare died with a wound unprobed. It was not cowardice: it was nervous temperament. There have been soldiers who lacked physical courage; they have had to lash themselves to a battle by the bare sense of duty or by the less noble dread of disgrace. We ought to respect tenfold a man who has triumphed over such obstacles. I respect even more the man who recanted his true creed to avoid the fire, and then in the death which at last he faced held his right hand separately in the flame as though to punish its weakness, than the readier and more instant resolution of his brave fellow martyrs, who “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame” for truth. Paul said, “I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.” And yet when did Paul ever shrink from danger? What a catalogue is that in 2 Corinthians 11:1-33. If Paul was not made for courage, at least he had learned it. And how learned it? The secret is told in a few words of the text. We have all heard of the strength which a weak woman will put forth in saving a loved child from flood or fire; of the bravery with which a wife will encounter perils for a husband, when his life or his honour is jeopardised. Such examples are not instances of changes of character: but they show the force of circumstances in raising character above its common level. Yet suppose now that this transforming cause were constant in its operation: would that love which has wrought wonders under sudden impulse be less powerful, if the demand upon it were perpetual? Love is stronger than death, than the fear of death, than the present sense of any pain however depressing or however agonising. Just such was that motive which St. Paul here indicates--that motive of which his life was the result--when he speaks of being ready to be bound and to die “for the name of the Lord Jesus.” “The love of Christ constrained him.” We are not called, in these calm easy days, to feats of bodily courage, but to moral courage. And where is it? Where, amongst us, is that ability to stand alone, to face an adverse world for the love of the Lord Jesus? Alas! in this aspect the brave are cowards, the strong weak, and the great little. We had rather “follow a multitude to do evil,” than bear a taunting reproach or a disdainful smile.
II. The apostle was brave, and therefore the disciples were submissive. “The will of the Lord be done.” The words might be read either as a prayer or as an acquiescence. And it is only they who can use them as the one, who can rightly utter them as the other. It is a very common ejaculation, when all efforts are vain, “God’s will be done.” So speaks the mourner, when all hope of restoration has fled; the bankrupt, when his last card is played; the convicted criminal, when sin is found out. But in these cases it is not a prayer at all It means only, “Woe is me! for I am undone.” Therefore let us try to pray the words. We have them in the Lord’s Prayer. But who honestly wishes that God’s will should be entirely done in him and by him? The same is a perfect man. What? No place left for that crooked practice, for that perverse temper, that pastime which I so much enjoyed, for that sin which I so much loved? No; I did not mean that: I did not quite wish that! Therefore out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thine own prayer--that prayer which thou hast said ten times this one day--condemns thee and finds thee out. Resignation is no virtue except so far as it is the product of obedience. (Dean Vaughan.)
Readiness to die
If a man is not ready to die, he is not ready to live. He who is unready to lay down his life at the call of duty, will not use his life to advantage while it is spared to him. It is a great mistake to suppose that it is a man’s first duty to take care of his life, or to preserve his health, or to look out for his own interests, or to protect or support his family. His first duty is to do right. His second duty is to do right. His last duty is to do right. If the responsibility is upon him for the hour to risk his health, or his life, in behalf of his family, or of a stranger or of any trust committed to him, he ought to take the risk, and push ahead at any cost. Living is a good business for a man only when a man is as ready to die as to live. But it was “for the name of the Lord Jesus” that Paul was ready to be bound or to die. There is no true discipleship of Jesus which does not reach thus far. He who would not die for his Saviour does not live for his Saviour. Unless the disciple gives his Saviour the first place in his affections, his discipleship is only an empty name. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
Preparedness for death
I. Death detaches a man from depending on what is material. He who is dependent on business, home, pleasures, etc., is not ready to die. For if these are all to him, all will go from him. Jesus delivers us from the spell of materialism.
1. He makes matter itself a parable of the spiritual.
2. He gives us spiritual views and attachments that are more to us than any matter yields. Love, duty, heaven.
II. Death involves an experience of utter loneliness. Can we endure that? Can we in bearing our sorrows, holding our convictions, spending many epochs of our life, stand alone. If not, we are not ready to die. Jesus, by His example and spirit, teaches us to say, “I am alone, yet not alone.” Learning that, we are ready to die.
III. Death brings us into the most vivid realisation of God’s presence. Do we dread that? or has Jesus taught us to say, “Our Father”? If so we can say, I am ready to die. (Homiletic Monthly.)
Faith, hope, and love, the attending angels of the Christian in his journey to the heavenly Jerusalem
I. Childlike faith, which on dark paths resigns itself to the will of God in doing and suffering (verses 13-15).
II. Brotherly love, which communicates and receives comfort in cordial fellowship amid the toils of the journey (verses 4-6, 12 13).
III. Victorious hope, which, unmoved in joy and suffering, looks forward to the heavenly termination (verses 13-15). (K. Gerok.)
The power of Christianity
Paul’s conflict of feeling suggestive of very noble and comprehensive character. Some have strength and no tenderness; others tenderness and no strength. Paul had both; notwithstanding he felt the kindness shown, he felt it his duty to be steadfast.
I. Its absorbing power.
1. As to its evidences.
2. Sense of adaptation.
3. Great personal influence made to bear. Love of Christ.
II. Its impelling power. Paul was to go to Jerusalem in fulfilment of his mission, so in--
1. A profession of discipleship.
2. Consecrations of a life of godliness.
3. Active efforts on behalf of the truth. Luther would go to Worms though as many devils there as tiles on houses.
III. Its assuring power. The apostle’s calm and confidence striking. In view of all possibilities, prison, death, he was composed.
1. We can never go wrong with God as our Guide.
2. No trial too great if resting on Him.
3. In view of death the Christian has the loftiest hopes.
Polycarp, Latimer, and Ridley at Oxford. Application: What Christianity enables us to do for it is the measure of its hold upon us. In serving God we have a resource and confidence most sustaining and sublime. Christ is Christianity, admit Him to your soul. (G. McMichael, B. A.)
And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.
Submission to the will of God
I. The revealed will of God lies upon two pages--the page of Scripture and the page of providence. There were three trials pressing upon the men of Caesarea when they meekly folded their hands and said, “The will of the Lord be done.”
1. There was defeat, for they were beaten in an argument into which they had evidently thrown all their power; consequently there was--
2. Disappointment, everything went contrary to their hopes and expectations; and--
3. There was grief, the bitter grief of a painful bereavement. What is the secret of rest in all these things? I see nothing but a profound and adoring sense of God--to look away till we see only Him, His counsel ordaining, His love presiding, His hand guiding, His Spirit sanctifying, His glory crowning. “The will of the Lord be done.”
II. But I turn to the unrevealed will. After all this was the main thought of the company of Caesarea. “We cannot tell which is right, Paul or we. The Lord will show in His own time. What He decides must be best. The will of the Lord be done.” It is a hard thing to sit and watch one I love, and to school my heart to receive, I do not know what, and I am afraid to ask what. But all the while, far above all this, over the perplexity, and over the mystery, and over the dread, there is reigning the high will of God, and that will is bearing on to its own destined purpose, and it must prevail. And here is faith’s large field--the unrevealed will of God. Unite yourself with it, throw yourself upon it absolutely. Let it bear you where it will; it can only bear you home. “The will of the Lord be done.” (J. Vaughan.)
Acquiescence in the Divine will
A rare spirit of acquiescence in the Divine will was recently displayed by a poor woman in Atlanta, Georgia. She was supported entirely by charity, she had scarcely any education, but had learned a lesson many highly-cultured people have failed to learn. Having endured great bodily affliction for many years, her disease reached its last stage, and she lay apparently at the point of death for four or five weeks. Every day, and almost every hour, was thought to be the last, but to the astonishment of all she continued to breathe. Her sufferings were very severe, and knowing her to be ready for the great change, her friends were almost hoping for the moment of her release. One of them said to her, “Well M--, are you ready to go?” “Yes,” said she, “ready to go but willing to wait!”
Submission to the Divine will
Payson was asked, when under great bodily affliction, if he could see any particular reason for this dispensation. “No,” replied he, “but I am as well satisfied as if I could see ten thousand; God’s will is the very perfection of all reason.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s way the best
Driven by an instinct which neither we nor they can comprehend, the swallows pass with the changing seasons from clime to clime. Over miles of weary plain, over lofty mountain walls, across leagues of sea, into lands unknown before, they follow with gladness and trust the Hand that guides them. We, too, have a journey to make into lands unknown to us: we, too, have a Hand to guide us in that long journey. Shame is it for us if we follow the leadings of that Hand with less of gladness and of trust than the unreasoning birds of heaven. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
Resolution in service
Henry Townley, a fashionable and sceptical lawyer, whose conversion, followed by that of his brother and mother, was spoken of by a missionary, just returned from Africa, as one of the two most startling pieces of news he heard on his arrival in England, the other being the downfall of Buonaparte, determined to become a missionary to India at his own expense. All his friends, including his pastor, sought to dissuade him, as his health was extremely delicate. His mother came up to London to remonstrate with him, and with the directors of the London Missionary Society. Having used with her son all possible argument and persuasion, she left him for the night, and the next morning finding him unmoved, she said, “It is as certainly the will of God that you should go to Calcutta as if an angel came from heaven to tell you so, for had it been otherwise you had never endured the test of yesterday, but would have given up the design. Now go, and the Lord be with you.” (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)
And after those days we took up our carriages and went to Jerusalem.
Carriages to Jerusalem
(Children’s Sermon):--This would read like a scene at a railway station only for the fact that carriages are not taken up, but take up. But in the Bible, the word “carriage” means the act of carrying, and carriages what is carried ( 18:21; 1 Samuel 17:22; Isaiah 10:28); just as luggage means what has to be lugged about.
I. We have all got bundles to carry. You know how it is in travelling. A good many things can be packed away in trunks, but some must be carried in the hand. How many things we have to carry in life--as children our toys, when bigger our school books, when men things for family comforts, etc., and he is a poor creature who is ashamed to be seen carrying a bundle home to his Jerusalem. Then think how much ships have to carry, and armies. The word “impediment“ comes from impedimenta, the baggage belonging to a Roman army. And what a lot of things have to be carried when we move from one house to another. But besides all these we have duties and responsibilities--big and little--which must be carried; and it seems as though some people had more than their share, while others dodge their duties, as “leaders” in a stage coach seem to do, leaving all the hard work to the “wheelers.” But never shirk a duty when once it has been made plain.
II. Every man must carry his own bundle. St. Paul says, “Bear ye one another’s burdens,… for every man shall bear his own burden”--i.e., we ought to help others because when we have done our utmost in this way we shall have enough to do to answer for ourselves. When we are out on a large party each has his own umbrella, handbag, etc.; but there are packages containing things belonging to all. Now it would not be right to simply carry our own things and refuse a helping hand to the rest. Yet sometimes you see selfish people leaving everything, even their own bundles, to others; now Paul was not like this. He was too self-reliant, too generous, too courteous. When seemingly utterly overburdened with his own duties and troubles, he said, “Look not every man on his own things, but also on the things of others,” and himself set the example.
III. We must carry our bundles in spite of temptations to lay them down. It is very easy to discourage and to be discouraged. When you have been on an errand and were carrying things home, have you never met with companions who said, “Wait a bit and have a game”? Or when you have had a hard lesson have you not heard a voice saying, “You will never learn it in time; why then trouble?” Bunyan tells us how much Christian was discouraged by the report of Timorous and Mistrust about lions in the path. So it was with Paul. On this journey to Jerusalem he was constantly meeting with people who said, “Don’t go.” And how many people there are who would have replied, “Perhaps you are right,” and have laid down their bundles. Never do that, but persist in carrying your bundle to your journey’s end, in doing your duty until it is completely done. (Wilberforce Newton.)
Mnason of Cyprus, am old disciple.
Mnason, the aged Cypriote
I. How that with increasing years should come an increasing delight in learning of Christ. Mnason was a disciple still, although there is a tradition that he was one of the seventy, and there was much for him yet to learn, which was probably his motive for meeting Paul. His name is suggestive in this light--diligent seeker, exhorter, or one who remembers. Those who begin early to runt often slacken their pace as the journey lengthens. Time is the test of true piety, and Mnason’s stood this test. Some live only on a past experience; years ago they were justified by faith, and yet they have not passed far on from the entrance to Christianity. But Mnason appears to have been known as a disciple rich in experience and knowledge, and still progressing.
II. How that with added years should come increasing desire to be helpful to others. Readily Mnason seems to have placed his house at Paul’s disposal and to have undertaken a long journey to meet him. Nor was it without risk, as subsequent events prove. Many are ready to help only when it colts nothing but words or a small coin. And then the aged are not always of a helpful spirit. Their sympathies are with the past, and their antipathies with the present, and so their influence is depressing. Old age often brings moroseness, but the spirit of this old man must have not only cheered St. Paul and doubtless others, but have been a joy to himself in advancing years (Psalms 92:14).
III. That a good old age is suggestive of immortality. Surely there is something beyond, some further use for, the matured knowledge and experience, and the high attainments of Mnason and such as he. Those who come to the grave as shocks of corn fully ripe will be re-sown to give a larger, richer harvest in eternity. Conclusion:
1. In some aged men the results seem unworthy of the length of life. Days have come and gone like the tides that ebb and flow, and there is no more change in them than in the water-worn rock.
2. Some aged men are not “old disciples,” but old sinners. Yet thank God even then old men by penitence and faith may become disciples. (F. Hastings.)
There is not a nobler sight in the world than an aged and experienced Christian who, having been sifted in the sieve of temptation, stands forth as the confirmer of the assaulted, testifying from his own trials the reality of religion, and meeting by his warnings and directions and consolations the cases of all who may be tempted to doubt it. (R. Cecil, M. A.)
Piety in the aged
1. Confirms and illustrates the promise which God has made of long life to those who fear His name.
2. Crowns those who possess it with especial honour.
3. Commends religion to others.
4. Furnishes a beautiful illustration of the maturity and ripeness of Christian character. (L. H. Reid.)
An old disciple
There is something that stimulates the imagination in these mere shadows of men. What a strange fate to be made immortal by a line in this book. The figure is drawn with a couple of hasty strokes, but even this dim form has a word to say to us. His name and birthplace show that he was a foreign Jew speaking Greek--a Hellenist like Paul. He comes from Cyprus, where he may have been a friend of Barnabas.
1. He was an old disciple--“a disciple from the beginning,” i.e., one of the original and now rapidly diminishing group who, thirty years or more ago, had seen Christ and been drawn to Him. And the way in which he is mentioned suggests that there was a certain honour conceded by the second generation of Christians to the first.
2. He must have been advanced in life. He had emigrated to Jerusalem, and there must have had the means and heart to exercise a liberal hospitality. He does Hot seem to have known Paul, for the most probable rendering is “brought us to Mnason,” implying that this was the first introduction. But the old man had full sympathy with the apostle, and his adhesion would carry no small might.
I. Hold fast to your early faith and to the Christ whom you have known.
1. Many a year had passed and how much had come and gone--Calvary, Olivet, Pentecost--and he had changed from buoyant youth to sober old age. His feelings and outlook were different; his old friends had mostly gone, but one thing remained and that was Christ, the one God-laid foundation, on whom whosoever buildeth need never change with changing time.
2. There is no happier experience than that of the old man who has around him the old loves, confidences, joys. But who can secure that blessed unity if he depend on the love and help of even the dearest. There is but one way of making all our days one, and that is by taking the abiding Christ for ours and abiding in Him.
3. Holding fast by early convictions does not mean stiffening in them. There is plenty of room for advancement in Christ. “Grow in grace,” etc.
II. The welcome that we should be ready to give to new thoughts and ways.
1. It would have been very natural for this “original disciple” to have said, “I do not like your new-fangled ways. Is it not likely that we should understand the gospel without this new man coming to set us right? I am too old to go in with these changes.” All the more honourable is it that he should have been ready to shelter the great champion of the Gentiles. It was not every old disciple that would have done as much.
2. Does not this flexibility of mind when united with constancy in the old creed make an admirable combination? It is hard to blend them, but the fluttering leaves and bending branches need a firm stem and deep roots.
III. The beauty that may dwell in an obscure life. There is nothing to be said about this old man but that he was a disciple; and is not that enough? The world may remember very little about us a year after we are gone; but what does that matter if our names are written in the Book of Life with this epitaph--a disciple? What could he do? Not go into the regions beyond, like Paul; not guide the Church, like James, etc.; but he could receive a prophet in the name of a prophet, and so receive a prophet’s reward. The old law in Israel holds good, “As his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that abideth by the stuff.” Conclusion: So this old disciple’s hospitality is made immortal, and the record of it reminds us that the smallest service done for Jesus is treasured by Him. “God is not unrighteous to forget your labour of love.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
An old disciple
I. The character of Mnason.
1. In examining the account here given of Mnason, we behold, in the first place, a person of long-standing in the Church. The epithet attached to him leads us to suppose that he was one of our Lord’s first followers and disciples. How many things had occurred to try his attachment to the gospel! Yet, in spite of all, he kept the faith. But there was another trial of his steadfastness which he had nobly sustained. Cyprus was a place noted for the dissolute manners of its inhabitants. There unblushing wantonness was exhibited by all classes; and the young were taught to regard sensual pleasure as the chief happiness of man. In embracing the gospel he had professed his resolution to crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts; and irksome to nature as the mortifications and the rigid temperance of the first Christians must have appeared, amidst the remembrance of the scenes of his early days, he persisted in the strictest sobriety, as well as in taking up his cross daily, and in following Christ.
2. In Mnason we see one who had been long a student of the gospel revelation, and who was still devoted to the study of it. He had been led to count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord, and that sacrifice he had never regretted. In old age the faculties decline, and the study of other subjects is felt irksome; but the great salvation can brighten the failing eye and raise the sinking heart. Mnason still waited at wisdom’s gates--still lifted up his voice to God for understanding--still had his delight in the law of the Lord, and meditated in it day and night.
3. In Mnason we see one who has been long distinguished by the graces of the Christian character, and who still exercises them. Attachment to all Christian ordinances, self-denial, humility, and charity.
4. In Mnason we behold an old man still actuated by public spirit, and still eager to show kindness and hospitality. What a beautiful sight is it to mark the courtesies of the aged, and to find persons at that period mild, frank, and obliging, whom we dreaded to see cold, peevish, and austere; to behold the head flowing in compassion, not frozen in selfishness; the smile of cheerfulness on a faded countenance, and the offices of hospitality felt as a pleasure amidst their many infirmities!
II. Those objects of peculiar interest which are to be seen in an old disciple.
1. We see in him a striking proof of God’s gracious care. “Hitherto hath the Lord helped.” The frail bark which has accomplished a long and perilous voyage, and which is stored with the most valuable commodities of the different ports at which it has touched, which has weathered many a storm, and which is now drawing near its harbour, we mark with deep interest. Such is the old disciple. And we trust that when the days are short and gloomy, and the noise of the breakers heard from afar indicates that the ship is approaching a coast where lauding is difficult through the swell of the ocean, or the rockiness of the bottom, the Pilot who hath guided her so far will not abandon her now, but will secure to her an abundant entrance into Emmanuel’s haven.
2. We see in an old disciple a satisfying proof of the reality and the power of religion. How completely are the old disgusted with other pursuits, even those in which they once engaged with the greatest eagerness, and to which they were allured by the gayest promises. Such they now pronounce to be vanity and vexation of spirit. But how different is the ease with the old disciple! The objects which first excited his attention appear as estimable to him as ever, and so far from regretting any sacrifice he has made for their sake, he would make it still if he was called to it. What once filled him with rapture, when his fancy was bright and his affections were glowing, is still his solace; he hath not discovered the least insecurity in the basis on which he builds, the least uncertainty in the promises on which God hath caused him to hope, or the least oppression in the yoke which the Lord required him to take. While few worldlings have been able to recommend it to the young to devote themselves as they did to earthly things, the old disciple can say to them, “Oh taste and see that God is good!”
3. We see in the old disciple precious stores of experience. How instructive is his review of the course of Providence! Who can hear him talk of the families which were flourishing in the days of his youth, but whose estates and palaces are now the property of others, without feeling how foolish it is to trust in uncertain riches? Who can hear him tell how God enlarged him when he was in distress, showed him the way in which he should go, in answer to his earnest prayers for relief and for guidance, without feeling the value and acknowledging the power of prayer?
4. In the old disciple we behold a most striking contrast to the character and state of the aged transgressor. The one is like the long stagnant pool, in whose dark waters venomous creatures have been multiplying, and whose rank weeds and noxious exhaltations make it the object of disgust and terror. The other is like the stream purifying in its course, and rushing to the sea with a current clear, yet majestic.
5. In the old disciple we behold an object to whom many important offices are due from us. To such a man we owe high veneration. If we are to rise up before the old man, peculiar deference is certainly due to the old disciple. The hoary head is a crown of glory if it is found in the way of righteousness. The infirmities of age have a claim on our pity, whatever be the character of the individual in whom we trace them; but they have peculiar claims on our kindness when they are seen in those who have served their generation according to the will of God, and when they may have been hastened or aggravated by the exertions they have made in the cause of piety and humanity. In them you will meet with the grateful feeling which is so encouraging in any kind ministrations, and the sagacity and the patience which will make them yield more extensive and substantial relief. Solicit their counsels. The difficulties which now distress you once harassed them--the opposition from which you are ready to shrink they braved--the disappointment under which your hearts are sinking tried their fortitude, and they found it salutary in its elevating their hearts to God, and they are thus qualified for directing you in the season of perplexity, and for reanimating your failing courage.
6. We see in the old disciple much solemn instruction as to death and heaven. The old disciple we see standing on the verge of the grave. Useful as his course hath been it must terminate; but, instead of murmuring at this, let us bless God that it has been prolonged to such an extent. (H. Belfrage, D. D.)
A ripe old age
There is many an old philosopher, like Franklin, whose last hours are so serene, and sweet, and beautiful, as to almost make one wish to exchange youth for old age. Man should stand in the horizon of life as sometimes in summer we see the sun stand as if it had forgotten to move, lying so in vapour that it is shorn of its excessive brightness--large, round, red-looking as if it waited to cast back one more love glance on the earth. So I have seen the aged linger, so round, and rich, and bright, and beautiful, as to make youth seem poor in treasure when compared with old age. It is a great thing so to have lived that the best part of life shall be its evening. October, the ripest month of the year, and the richest in colours, is a type of what old age should be. (H. W. Beecher.)
Conversion in old age
When men grow virtuous in their old age, they are merely making a sacrifice to God of the devil’s leavings. (Dean Swift.)
Faithfulness in old age
“Eighty and six years,” was Polycarp’s answer when required to deny the truth, “have I served my Saviour, and He hath never done me any harm; and shall I deny Him now?”
Happiness of old age
As ripe fruit is sweeter than green fruit, so is age sweeter than youth, provided the youth were grafted into Christ. As harvest time is a brighter time than seed time, so is age brighter than youth; that is, if youth were a seed time for good. As the completion of a work is more glorious than the beginning, so is age more glorious than youth; that is, if the foundation of the work of God were laid in youth. As sailing into port is a happier thing than the voyage, so is age happier than youth; that is, when the voyage from youth is made with Christ at the helm. (J. Pulsford, D. D.)
Useful old age
Wilberforce remarked, “I can scarcely understand why my life is spared so long, except it be to show that a man can be as happy without a fortune as with one.” And soon after, when his only surviving daughter died, he writes, “I have often heard that sailors on a voyage will drink, ‘Friends astern!’ till they were half way over; then, ‘Friends ahead!’ With me it has been ‘Friends ahead!’ this long time.”
Hopeless old age
There is not a more repulsive spectacle than an old man who will not forsake the world, which has already forsaken him. (J. Tholuck.)
And when we were come to Jerusalem the brethren received us gladly.
Paul at Jerusalem
I. The early conquests of the gospel. During the quarter of a century which had elapsed since Paul’s first introduction to the Church at Jerusalem, what wonders Christianity had wrought! The historic sketch which he now presented caused his hearers to glorify the Lord, and they tell him that “many thousands of Jews believed.” These triumphs serve to demonstrate--
1. The genuineness of gospel facts. There were ample opportunities of testing their truth.
2. The amazing force of Christian truth. What other system could have effected such revolutions?
3. The zeal with which the apostles prosecuted their ministry.
II. The tenacity of early prejudice. Those Christian Jews could not give up the ritualism in which they had been brought up. “They were still zealous of the law.” Early prejudices, especially in religion, warp the judgment, exclude the entrance of new light, impede the progress of the soul in intelligence, manly independency, and power. Prejudices give a colour to the glass through which the soul looks at truth, and thus prevents her from appearing in her own native hue.
III. The slanderousness of religious bigotry. (Acts 21:21). Paul not only acted indulgently towards the scrupulous (Acts 16:3; Romans 1:4; 1 Corinthians 8:7; 1 Corinthians 10:27), but in general disapproved of Jews relinquishing the observance of the law, and observed it himself (1 Corinthians 7:18; 1 Corinthians 9:20). All he insisted upon was, that no prerogative or claim to salvation should be built on legal observance, and that it should not be imposed upon Gentile believers. Who fabricated the slander? The bigoted Jews. Religious bigotry now, as ever, maligns the men whose doctrines transcend its narrow notions--in its pulpits, platforms, and press.
IV. The conciliatory genius of Christianity.
1. James and the elders perceive that a schismatic spirit is rife, and they are anxious to promote concord. Hence their question (verse 22), How shall this false impression, be removed? And they proposed the expedient of verses 23, 24. He who does not strive to harmonise social discords has not the true love within him. Love is ever bearing the olive branch over the tumults of the world.
2. This conciliatory spirit of Christianity is further developed in the conduct of Paul. “Paul is among the Nazarites,” says Lange--
Paul at Jerusalem
I. Met by friends.
1. Paul was glad to visit Jerusalem, and the brethren were glad to receive him. They and he were too good Christians to raise a loud lament because immortal duty doing had led the apostle into a place of mortal danger.
2. Paul rehearsed the things which God had wrought, humbly making of himself a mere instrument in God’s hand. Naturally, then, the brethren glorified not Paul, but God.
3. Paul spoke much of results, and but little of difficulties and dangers and privations. It matters more to the true missionary what God does by him than what God does with him.
4. Paul worked abroad--and the brethren worked at home, etc., and rejoiced in each other’s successful efforts. The cause of Foreign Missions and the cause of Home Missions should have the fullest mutual sympathy and support.
II. Misrepresented by enemies.
1. No earnest Christian but meets with misrepresentation, and it usually increases just in proportion as his earnestness does.
2. No earnest Christian but will find that “they have been informed” of all sorts of imaginary errors in his teaching.
3. No form of opposition is more difficult for the earnest Christian to face than this anonymous misrepresentation. “They have been informed,” and they--in the church or outside of it--hasten to spread the warning that Paul does not believe in the Old Testament.
4. Anonymous contributions are not everywhere rejected if they assail the teachings of a good and earnest man. Therefore the devil usually chooses to do his work anonymously.
III. Misrepresentation met.
1. It was well for Paul to vindicate himself for the Master’s cause suffers so long as there is an imputation upon the servant.
2. It is well for the servant of Christ to concede a point provided no principle is sacrificed.
3. It is well for one to vindicate himself from a false charge as Paul did, by deeds rather than by words.
4. It is well to treat different men differently. There is a way in which to reach a Jew, and a way in which to reach a Gentile, and the two ways are not identical.
5. It is well to subordinate minor questions of Church polity, individual preference, denominational peculiarities to the great paramount object of soul saving. “All things to all men, that I may by all means save some.” (S. S. Times.)
Paul at Jerusalem
I. The importance of order in the Church. Paul was an apostle, but he respects the officers of the local church, consults their feelings, respects their judgment, and strengthens their hands. Under the specious statement that the work of God is the main thing, many belittle Christian organisation, as if it were not the very way to do the work of God. “Free lances “ are often an hindrance to the Christian army, and their “freeness “ is all too often mainly in the liberties they take with Christian truth and agencies. God’s work is best done in God’s way.
II. How dextrous the enemies of the truth are in misrepresenting Christian action. This policy need not surprise us. If men allege that we undervalue good works because we deny their saving power; that our views of God’s sovereignty mean “fatalism”; that we have no Church because we do not hold “apostolical succession”--they are only misrepresenting us as Paul was misrepresented.
III. That it is fit that God’s people should in all fitting ways clear themselves and their testimony of such injurious imputations. We are of little account personally, but the truth is great. There is a silly weakness that revolts from honest defence of the truth, and wants nothing but conventional commonplace.
IV. That there is something due to the honest readers of Scripture, even if we interpret differently. When men set up fashion, antiquity, aesthetics, “Christian consciousness,” or the like, it is one thing; when they honestly defer to the Divine Word as they understand it, it is another. So it was with these. So it is with good men who think David’s psalms the only fitting material for praise; with “Friends “ as to forms and titles; with Baptists who believe themselves bound to immerse.
V. The importance of Christian graces in promoting and preserving peace. Paul is modest and forgetful of self. The elders rejoice over him; at the same time they frankly tell him the facts of the case. Honesty and frankness are great conservators of harmony. Christian forbearance triumphing over selfishness is a grace of a high order. There are many who will go all lengths to meet the world, who look with lofty scorn on Christians who take different methods. Between believers “weak in the faith “ and worldliness with no faith at all, there is a wide difference. In all things harmless let us go a long way to meet the one class and satisfy them; they are Christ’s friends and ours. Concession to the others is not to be made of one “jot or tittle,” because they are not friends, but enemies. (J. Hall, D. D.)
Paul among the brethren at Jerusalem,
or what appertains to bearing the infirmities of the weak:--
I. Christian love which is willing to bear them, while it has a tender feeling for the wants of the weak, and exercises a noble self-denial in condescending to them in word and deed.
II. Christian strength, which is able to bear them, possesses freedom of spirit to distinguish between form and essence, the shell and the kernel, and has strength of character not to surrender with subordinate matters the chief thing, and not to deny the Lord from love to man. (K. Gerok.)
I. Necessary. As such--
1. Practised by our Lord Himself.
2. Employed by His apostles.
3. Indispensable to us.
1. Without God’s forbearance the world would be lost.
2. By the apostle’s forbearance much weakness was gained;
3. By Christian forbearance, we do not indeed gain all, but we promote peace, and thus the kingdom of God in general. (Lisco.)
The beginning of the end
1. “The brethren received them gladly.” I am not sure about that; they never before have been received gladly, and the gladness now admitted of being stated in one half-line. I have no particular faith in that sort of gladness. When did Paul content himself with half a line when he was recognising his friends? Read his letter to the Philippians! The fact is they never liked Paul at Jerusalem. He was too big for them.
2. Then it is said that when they heard Paul “they glorified the Lord.” Presently we shall know the meaning of that. They might have said something to Paul. There is a way of turning from a man that you may pray, when you ought first to have thrown your arms around him and said, “God bless thee, grand old soldier of the Cross; come, let us pray together.” A little more humanity at Jerusalem would have done no harm; but Jerusalem is forgotten: Paul remains. A little humanity would do the Church no harm. A little recognition of merit, a kindly reference to loving service done by man to man, helps the wheel of life to run round more smoothly. It would be so at home if you would say how pleased you are with what has been done for you.
3. They could not have been so greatly occupied with the glory of God, for they instantly proposed to Paul a compromise, and said with such whining voices, “Thou seest, brother,” etc. There the Church goes down. That spirit is still abroad, and we are saying of men of free spirit and Pauline heart, and as for us, we are all right with regard to them; but there is a general impression abroad that they are not orthodox.” “Be quiet, or say something, or attend a service.” Was there ever such a craven-hearted thing as a Church with this note in its throat? The men who are buried in a crowd were to dictate the policy of the world’s greatest Christian prince and hero! But James had lived a long time in the metropolis; he seldom went from home; he could not bear a noise, and he would offer on the altar of prejudice this oblation. It was not right, but Paul will not hinder the great cause; he was willing to become “all things to all men,” that he might by any means save some. We can imagine the smile of the heart as he consented to be “one of five,” to go through certain customs and ceremonies in order to prove himself orthodox. Orthodoxy does not consist in doing certain things, but in doing something in the soul.
4. Now mark what follows. The Jews which were of Asia laid hands on him, crying, “This is the man that teacheth all men everywhere against the law,” etc. In the very act of attempting to prove himself orthodox, to people who had no right to judge his orthodoxy, he was seized as a hypocrite. The temple was no protection. It suits some men to believe others to be hypocrites rather than to give them credit for good intentions, instead of saying, “We have been misinformed about this man; here he is submitting to the law of Moses.” You cannot satisfy blackmailers; pay them what you like today, they will return tomorrow. There are blackmailers in the Church as well as in the world. You can never live holy enough to put an end to their diabolism of spirit. Never treat with them; stand upon the eternal right and say, “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” What applies to character applies also to argument. When you have satisfied Aristotle with your logic, you have not begun to touch the blackmailer; he does not want the logic, he wants to torment the logician.
5. It will go badly with Paul then but for the State. James and the elders will not do much for Paul now, for, dear old gentlemen, they did not like noise! There is a time when the State must assert its authority. And when the mob “saw the chief captain and the soldiers, they left beating of Paul.” Cowards! And these were the men that Paul was asked to conciliate! To be recognised by them was an intolerable patronage. “Then the chief captain came near, and took him,” etc. The State knows nothing about Christian ministers. It seems comical to hear the chief captain. “Art thou not that Egyptian,” etc. You don’t suppose the chief captains know anything about prayer meetings, or ministers’ or deacons’ prayer meetings? There is no rebuke perhaps more humbling than an inquiry as to your identity by men whom you thought respected you, and knew all about you. It would be amusing to Paul to be mistaken for an Egyptian. He, who had not been ashamed of the gospel of Christ; he who died daily for Christ, coming back from the wars, was mistaken by the State for an Egyptian, which had led out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers. Never mind; Paul owed the State a good deal in this instance. The State will see justice done to us. The State will not allow this property with which we ourselves are associated to be diverted from its proper purpose. So with human life. Thank God for civilised States. (J. Parker, D. D.)
And when he had saluted them.
The brotherly salutation between Paul and James
1. A victory of love which seeks not its own in carnal narrowness and self-will.
2. An earnest of the future union of Israel and the Gentile world under the Cross of Christ.
3. A triumph of the wonderful ways of God in the spread of His kingdom, and in the realisation of His plan of salvation. (K. Gerok.)
They are informed of thee.--
In every scandal there is the warp and the woof; it is seldom that some ground cannot be had to work upon. The woof may be a fact wholly perverted, but upon it the liar may weave his warp, his figure of detraction and scandal; and it comes out all in one piece, and no man can say that there is not some truth in it, though if the truth were picked out, the lie would stand by itself, a clean and absolute lie. Mr. Wilberforce relates an instance regarding himself. He found himself held up to public ridicule in an unfriendly journal, the author of the slander having given the following instance of Mr. Wilberforce’s Phariseeism. “He was seen lately walking up and down the Pump Room reading his prayers like his predecessors of old who prayed at the corners of streets to be seen of men.” Wilberforce remarks, “As there is generally some light circumstance which perverseness turns into a charge of reproach, I began to reflect, and I soon found the occasion of the calumny. I was walking in the Pump Room in conversation with a friend: a passage was quoted from Horace, the accuracy of which was questioned; and as I had a Horace in my pocket I took it out and read the words. This was the bit of wire which factious malignity sharpened into a pin to pierce my reputation.” (G. B. Cheerer, D. D.)
The tongue of the slanderer is a devouring fire, which tarnishes whatever it touches; which exercises its fury on the good grain equally as on the chaff, on the profane as on the sacred; which, wherever it passes, leaves only desolation and ruin; digs even into the bowels of the earth, and fixes itself on things the most hidden; turns into vile ashes what only a moment before had appeared to us so precious and brilliant; acts with more violence and danger than ever in the time when it was apparently smothered up and almost extinct; which blackens what it cannot consume, and sometimes sparkles and delights before it destroys. (J. Massillon.)
Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow upon them.
Paul and the Nazarite vow
Hardly had Paul’s glowing words of passionate love to Christ--his plea for a flee pulpit, as it were, a common Christianity--ceased when James cuts in severely and dryly enough with what he has heard. And then--as every word fell like an ice drop on Paul’s fervent spirit, and he was wondering whether humiliation could go any further--he had to listen to the crowning proposal, that he should take four beggars who had a vow, pay for them himself, and see to their head shaving, etc., before all the people! Paul, who had taught throughout Asia that such usages were foolish or indifferent, was to go nigh eating his own words to allay the fears and gratify the narrow minds of those who called themselves Christ’s disciples! The burning question, in fact, in Jerusalem, seemed to be not the love of Christ, or the conversion of the heathen, or fellowship between Christian teachers, but how to keep in with the orthodox laity, how stand firm by the old organisation. As Paul listened and read acutely, as he so well could, between the lines, a bitter, terrible, choking feeling must have come over him. There he stood, having toiled for years to get them money, amongst other things, for their poor, yearning above all for their sympathy, if only a friendly word, for him and his converts--first fruits of the new world he was conquering for them--and they met him with a stare and a rebuke. He was wretchedly disappointed, almost personally insulted; his offerings slighted--his sentiments ignored--his opinions and arguments misunderstood or disregarded. Last indignity; he was to be heavily fined, to be forced to eat his own words, and undergo openly a test of suspicion in the temple. It was an awful moment, the fate of his Gentile Churches seemed hanging in the balance. But the grandeur of Paul’s mission prevailed. At all costs this rupture between him and the apostles must not take place--and of all places in the world not at Jerusalem; the party of the Church must be saved somehow--the aegis of those who had seen the Lord must be spread over the Gentiles. Paul rose to the occasion. Statesman, diplomatist, man of ideas, man of action, man of heart; where shall we find such qualities combined? They met in Paul. Concession and consistency for one moment seemed at war within him. But with a flash of true spiritual genius, he harmonised them, by appeal to a principle higher than either, Charity. That Divine formula enabled him now, not for the first and not for the last time, to stoop to conquer. Paul accepts. He appears in the temple; he is “at charges” with four beggars; he keeps the law of Moses. (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)
Paul among the Nazarites
1. Not as a slave of human ordinances, but in the might of evangelical liberty, which has power over all things that promote the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:12).
2. Not as a dissembler before the people, but in the ministry of brotherly love, which bears the infirmities of the weak (Romans 15:1).
3. Not as a fugitive from the Cross, but in the power of apostolic obedience, which knows to deny itself from love to the Lord (Luke 9:23). (K. Gerok.)
And when the seven days were almost ended the Jews which were of Asia … stirred up all the people.
Paul in the temple
1. Unholy zeal is more easily occasioned than good works (Acts 21:27-30).
2. Religious accusations are frequently the result of excitement, and thus liable to be unjust. Giving a new, spiritual interpretation to old rites, customs, etc., is by many stamped as desecration and unbelief (Acts 21:28).
3. Enthusiastic devotion to duty may entail misapprehension and inconvenience (verse 27-30).
4. By their endorsements of the deeds of the past men show themselves the “children of their fathers” either for good or for evil (Acts 21:36).
5. In the best of causes one may be sometimes mistaken for an agent of the worst (Acts 21:38; Matthew 12:24).
6. Political indifference may be more equitable than ecclesiastical jealousy and rancour (Acts 21:31-40).
7. God overrules all events in the lives of His servants for the highest purposes. (A. F. Muir, M. A.)
Paul in the storm at Jerusalem
The apostle, at a later period, had to encounter a great storm on the open sea; but that was hardly more violent than what now arose against him on dry land, within the secure walls of Jerusalem, among his own people. Yet here, as there, the almighty arm of God protects and rescues him.
I. The outbreak of the storm. Suddenly and not to be reckoned on, as often a storm occurs in nature, this storm breaks out among the people. The tempest which Paul had seen from a distance at Miletus, and which was predicted to him on the way in a more and more threatening manner, discharges itself on a sudden, and in a place least to be expected, in the temple, while Paul sought to satisfy the zealots of the law.
II. The raging of the storm. The storm of the passions increases continually, the popular fury heaves and swells as a raging sea, and threatens to swallow up the servant of God.
III. The stilling of the storm. He who formerly rebuked the wind and waves on the Lake of Gennesareth, so that there was a great calm, speaks to the raging sea--“Hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther.” The Roman tribune has to open the harbour of refuge to the apostle; and he himself with calm composure beckons to the people so that they become still. (K. Gerok.)
Paul accused of the Jews
I. The accusation brought against Paul.
1. Its nature.
2. The agents.
II. Its reasons.
1. The ostensible.
2. The real.
III. Its resemblance to the charge preferred against Christ--polluting the temple.
IV. Its results. Conclusion:--Learn--
1. That there are always persons ready to attack the servants of God.
2. That these attacks are made on any pretext however slight.
3. That we should Hot be dismayed, but rely on God for protection. (J. H. Tasson.)
Paul again in trouble! What a magnetism he had to draw to himself distresses. Nature felt the strange attraction, and gave him her perils, storms, and shipwrecks. All kinds of men hastened with all kinds of mischief. This trouble presents some new elements. It came not from preaching Christ, but through conciliating Jews. It took place in the temple, not in some foreign synagogue or market place. The events of this passage are the riot, the rescue, the plea. Looking for practical suggestions, we note--
I. The divisions in the Church. As we get a pitiable sort of comfort in finding that even prophets and apostles were men of like passions with ourselves, so with the failures of the early Church. We have no hindrances which they did not overcome. That fair picture of brotherly love and self-forgetfulness which we saw at Pentecost is spoiled by a clique determined to rule or ruin. The Judaising party are chargeable with Paul’s captivity in Cesarea, his shipwrecks, his imprisonment at Rome, and ultimately his death. The dangers of heresy and innovations are understood, but less is said of the mischiefs of an unwise conservatism--a dogged obstinacy in clinging to old methods and resisting those who long to bring the work of the Church to the demands of the times. Usually they are a minority who oppose; they alone have feelings to be considered, convictions to be respected; and usually they have their way, to the injury of the Church and the honour of those who sacrifice feeling and judgment to the desire for peace. Yet even peace can be purchased too dearly.
II. An overruling providence. Since God has chosen to conduct His kingdom on earth through men, He must continually be at hand to wrest some advantage out of their inevitable errors. The nation’s sin had brought it under the Roman power; but had there been only Jewish authority in Jerusalem that day there had been no rescue for Paul. Heathen Rome is under the King of kings. Its power protects His apostle, gets the gospel a hearing before rulers, and gives the preacher his desired opportunity to visit the world’s capital.
III. The strength of believers. They glory in tribulation. This whole scene rebukes the thought that we can judge God’s feelings toward us, by the ease or painfulness of our life. We want an ungodly world to act in the ways of the millennium. What are we, that when disaster comes we sit down and cry despairingly, God has forgotten me? Have we fared like the chief apostle? Have we been smitten like Christ? We are nearest the Saviour in our sorest need, and rest absolutely on the everlasting arms only when all other help has given way. Then come peace and assurance which we have vainly tried to gain in easier times. Then, too, our own resources get a fresh power. The most beset and helpless man of all here is the apostle; but do what they will to him, he is the one calm, masterful soul there. His knowledge, his experience of mobs, a bearing both courteous and dignified, give him control of the stolid and furious alike. (C. M. Southgate.)
I. Suffering assault.
1. When religion degenerates into a matter of rites and ceremonies, there is manifested very great zeal for forms, and very little zeal for truth.
2. When the Jews planned to convict Paul of false teaching, they indulged in a great deal of falsehood that they might accomplish their object.
3. When the Jews merely “supposed” that Paul had brought Trophimus into the temple, they accused the apostle before the people without the least hint that they were basing their charge on a mere supposition.
4. When the people heard, they “ran together” without further invitation. Meetings called for the worst purposes usually need the least advertising.
5. When Paul was dragged out, the doors Were shut. The murderous bloodthirsty Jews were so afraid that some microscopic temple ordinance might be polluted.
6. When the mob had beaten Paul, and attempted to kill him, the tidings speedily reached the police station that something was the matter. The ancient police officer seems not to have slept as serenely as the modern police officer does.
7. When it is only a poor persecuted apostle, or street preacher, or member of the Salvation Army, who is being assaulted, it is unusual for the world’s police forces to be so quick in learning of the disturbance.
II. Suffering arrest.
1. One may wear chains, and still not be a felon or a slave.
2. One may be compelled to wear chains, not to keep him from escaping, but to help him to escape. Thus Paul wore them.
3. One may enter prison walls, and not be a convict. Paul was never convicted of anything worse than of utter fearlessness in duty doing.
4. One may be protected from two classes of enemies by their mutual hatred of one another. Thus was Paul saved from the hostile Jews by the indifferent Romans.
5. One may be hustled into safety by the very violence of the attacks upon him. Thus the mob crowded Paul, borne in the soldiers’ arms, within the castle.
6. One and the same evil cry meg the ears of the Divine Master and of His great apostle--“Away with him.”
III. Suffered to speak.
1. After the world’s police forces do learn of a disturbance, they are prone to rush out and mistake the harmless, defenceless, unresisting apostle as the dangerous leader of four thousand bloodthirsty assassins!
2. After all, the Apostle Paul is not as defenceless as he seems. He has all the resources of Christian bravery, and God is on his side.
3. After he has been roughly treated by the foes of Christ, the true disciple of Christ still shows no disposition to run away, but remains to address the rabble.
4. After a fully consecrated heart, nothing is more desirable in a Christian worker than a clear head and steady nerves.
5. After Paul had done his duty, he let God take care of the consequences, and he evidently cared more for the safety of the cause than he did for his own security. (S. S. Times.)
Here we see--
I. The genius of religious intolerance. Three things come out which always characterise this:--
1. Cunning--indicated in the watchword, “Men of Israel, help! “ hereby naively intimating that Paul was an enemy to Israel, and that all should make a common cause in crushing him. Religious bigotry ever works by artifice and insinuation.
(a) Did Paul “teach all men everywhere against the people”? It is true he denounced their bigotry, and exclusiveness; but never their race, and their high distinctions.
(b) Did he ever disparage “the law”? He taught that its ceremonies were not binding upon Gentile disciples, nor of eternal obligation even unto the Jew; but always displayed a profound regard for it as a Divine institution, the glory of the ancient world.
(c) Did he ever speak “against this place”? He taught that God dwelt not “in temples made with hands”; but never a word did he utter in dishonour of the temple.
(d) Did he ever bring “Greeks into the temple, and pollute the holy place”? No; they only “supposed” that he did--they perhaps saw Paul walking in the streets with Trophimus, and rushed to this conjecture.
(a) Notoriety. “This is the man”; implying that he is well known, and that none require any further particulars. This Paul has in a few years painted his image on the imagination of the Jewish people.
(b) Industry. “He taught all men, everywhere.” Thus, they unwittingly confirmed the apostle’s own description of his labours, and also his biographer’s account of his marvellous activity.
(c) Power. Had he been obscure and of feeble influence, they would have spoken and acted differently. They felt, he was a man of such colossal influence as required the force of a whole nation to confine.
3. Violence. Religious intolerance does not argue, for it lacks an intelligent faith in its own cause. It has, therefore, ever had recourse to fraud and force.
II. The genius of a mob assembly. Men are pretty well the same in all ages. The mob gathered in the streets of Jerusalem evinced just those things which mobs show now in Paris, New York, or London. Here is--
1. Credulousness. The false charges were accepted without any inquiry. “All the city was moved.” Man is naturally a credulous animal, and this propensity gets intensity in association with numbers. Hence what even a credulous man will not believe when alone, he readily accepts from the lip of a demagogue. Men accept creeds in churches which they repudiate in private discussion. Mobs will swallow whatever is offered.
2. Senselessness. “Some cried one thing, and some another.” The mob at Ephesus (Acts 19:32) acted in the same way. A sad sight this. It is this senselessness that makes the opinions of mobs so worthless, their movements so reckless, and their existence so dangerous.
3. Contagiousness. “The people ran together,” and when they came together their hearts surged with the same common passions. One man’s thought, whether good or bad, may influence a nation. Conclusion. Note--
1. The great mixture of characters in social life. Here are Evangelical Christians, Asiatic Jews, Romans, Paul.
2. The great advantage of civil government.
3. The antagonism of the depraved heart to Christianity. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Paul at Jerusalem
Paul’s fifth and final visit to Jerusalem, a chief scene of which this passage depicts, was in the highest degree dramatic. He now saw the Jewish capital for the last time. He had come with the noble object of carrying a contribution from the Gentile Christians in Macedonia and Achaia to the poor among the Jewish mother Church. One of the three leading Hebrew festivals, Pentecost, was in progress. He now met James the brother of Jesus. He magnanimously took upon himself the Nazaritic vow. He conspicuously showed his remarkable tact in addressing a frenzied mob. In a most picturesque situation he declared his Roman citizenship. The scene with which we particularly have to do was the meeting place of Roman power, of Jewish bigotry, and of Christian consecration. The passage that we are to study introduces us to Paul when he was about completing the seven days of the Nazaritic vow, which he had willingly entered into for the sake of mollifying the prejudice against him of the believing Jews in Jerusalem. “The Jews from Asia “ had, from their point of view, abundant reason for attacking Paul. Asia, in its New Testament use, was a narrow strip of Asia Minor that bordered on the AEgean Sea. Of this district Ephesus was the chief city, and in Ephesus Paul had recently closed a most astonishing three years’ ministry. He “turned the world upside down” there. In the best meaning of the word his preaching was sensational. It was no wonder, then, that the Jews from Asia, stung by the recollection of the triumphs of that Ephesian ministry from which their ranks had so seriously suffered, were swift to wreak their vengeance upon the hated offender now that they had opportunity. This experience of Paul at Jerusalem emphasises two or three lessons of permanent value, which we shall now consider.
I. An aggressive Christianity encounters afflictions. If Jesus Christ has made anything clear it is surely this, that the loyalty of His disciples to Himself will provoke persecution. With a noble frankness, worthy of all admiration, He warned all would be disciples of this inevitable fact. “I came not to send peace but a sword.” “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.” If His precepts were thus writ large and clear in His own example, why should His disciples expect to escape? Paul followed his Lord in both teaching and precept. He wrote, “All that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” Persecution has been the common lot of pronounced ambassadors of Christ, and, with shame be it said, that persecution has in many cases had origin with the so-called people of God themselves. Chrysostom, Savonarola, Huss, Wycliffe, Luther, Wesley, Whitefield, Edwards, Hannington, the Waldenses, the Huguenots, the Covenanters, the Pilgrims: how ample was their heritage of persecution, and with what sublime heroism did they receive it! The suffering of affliction for Christ’s sake is inevitable. Why it is so Jesus clearly stated to His unbelieving brothers, as He was about to start to Jerusalem to attend the last Feast of Tabernacles in His earthly ministry. “The world cannot hate you, but Me it hateth, because I testify of it that its works are evil.” This was the real reason of Paul’s terrible treatment at Jerusalem at the hands of the unbelieving Jews from Asia, and it has been the spring of all the persecution of Christ’s followers the Christian ages through. Persecution is as irrational as it is inevitable. Those Asiatic Jews incited the multitude against Paul on wholly false charges. Listen to them. “This is the man that teacheth all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place; and moreover he brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath defiled this holy place.” Every count in this indictment was untrue. At the very moment in which they preferred it Paul’s course as to the Nazarite vow proved its utter falsity.
II. Afflictions manifest the depth of Christian happiness. God’s people are a happy people. Christ’s disciples sing for joy in the night of their tribulations, since Christ Himself, who is their Life, possessed a serene joy that no afflictions could ruffle. So strong was His faith in His Father and His love for Him, that these yielded Him a peace whose tranquil deeps the cruel and unrelenting persecution of Pharisee and Sadducee had no power to disturb. “The kingdom of God is joy and peace in the Holy Ghost.” Paul’s experience of his Lord’s love was yet so delightful that he yearned to tell the glad tidings to his very murderers, saying to the commander, “I beseech thee, give me leave to speak unto the people.”
III. Afflictions prove the strength of Christian purpose. They both put it to the test and make it evident. “Tribulation worketh patience, and patience approvedness or tried character, and tried character hope.” The crowning glory of Jesus was a glory of the will in the face of a relentless persecution that finally sent Him to the Cross. How strikingly this appears in Luke’s description of Him, “He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus’ reign over a human soul culminates in the will. Unless He is king there He is no king at all. The history of His influence over men has shown how splendidly He has commanded the will energy of His true disciples in the development of such traits of character as fortitude, endurance, heroism, those virtues which are essentially martial in their temper and make their possessors “terrible as an army with banners.” These soldierly qualities thrive under persecution. They seem unable to come to their best quality without it. Paul’s last journey to Jerusalem and its climax in the scene in the temple were among the most convincing evidences of will triumph in the midst of crushing afflictions that the annals of heroism furnish. The real heroes of the world are not the Alexanders, the Hannibals, the Caesars, the Napoleons, but Jesus, Paul, Ambrose, Augustine, Simeon, Brainerd, Carey, Mackay. These, and such as these, display the most exalted courage, confronting foes more invincible and threatening than any those great military chieftains ever faced on field s of carnage. The lesson for us of our study of Paul at Jerusalem is this: It sounds out a clarion call to the disciples of Jesus in this generation, in all Christian lands, for fidelity. In our time the love of temporal comfort is almost sovereign. Our sense life is in sore peril of becoming insubordinate by the encouraging environment in which it passes its days. Our civilisation is a selfish civilisation. It is very easy to live a luxurious life. It is very hard to live a self-denying life for Jesus Christ’s sake. The apostle Paul, that “good soldier of Jesus Christ,” thus owned his loyalty to the Captain of his salvation, “I am ready to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (J. M. English, D. D.)
Paul at Jerusalem
Paul’s attitude towards the Jewish law must be taken into account in order to understand the reason for the tumult at Jerusalem and the injustice of those who led it. Paul spoke as vigorously as one could speak against the law as a means of salvation. At the same time Paul was a Jew with the most intense national feeling. So much did he love his brother Israelites that he could almost have wished himself accursed from God if thereby they might be saved. So far as his fellow Christians were concerned, Paul held that their relation to the law should be determined by their own antecedents. If a man were born a Gentile, Paul would not counsel him to learn Jewish religious habits. If a man was born a Jew, however, there was no harm in his keeping the old law so long as it was understood not to have saving power. When Paul came to Jerusalem in the year 58 A.D., he found he had been preceded by a report that he was utterly opposed to Jewish Christians observing any of the old Jewish habits, and that he tried to turn them from them. The episode suggests study in four directions.
1. He was truly a lover of his own people. Wherever he went he sought them out first, not only because strategically this was wisest, but because he truly liked to be with them. He was never above feeling satisfaction in the thought that he had been born a Jew. He loved to go to the feasts at the capital. Undoubtedly Paul had more real sympathy with Jewish religious ideas than many of those in the crowd who condemned him.
2. There was a possibility, we might safely say a certainty, that Paul’s position would be misunderstood. For while he kept up his Jewish habits it was not because he thought (as the Jews thought) that they had saving power. They were external matters connected chiefly with ways of living and ways of worshipping. They were not really essential to the religious life, but only helpful in it, if one thought them helpful and used them aright. Among Gentiles Paul did not observe them. The Jews looked upon them as necessary for all. In a certain limited sense Paul stood by Jewish habits. And yet his removing them from the class of necessaries to the class of things optional was undoubtedly the first step towards their abolition. Paul’s position thus had such complex relations that it was difficult to be understood and pretty certain to be misrepresented.
3. His immediate intention in the matter which brought him into difficulty was good. He had no intention towards the Jews. He was not trying to conciliate them. His mind was upon the thousands of Jews who had become Christians (verse 20) who were still zealous for the law, i.e., kept up faithfully Jewish habits of living. For them Paul held that this was perfectly right (so long, of course, as they did not ascribe saving power to such habits). He bad been reported as taking the position that they were wrong. In order to put himself into cordial relations with them and to reassure them concerning himself, he undertook the open performance of a vow. His design in the matter was wholly honourable and kind.
II. The disturbers.
1. Their motive was hatred towards Paul. They came down from Ephesus full of their experiences of Paul’s troubles there. At Ephesus they had been thwarted. It was not a Jewish city. At Ephesus Paul had some chance of justice, and the Jews were hopeless of thwarting him. At Jerusalem the tables were turned. There Jewish sentiment was not only enormously preponderant, it was also intense beyond words.
2. They carried out their purpose by spreading skilful misrepresentations of Paul’s position. This charge was a deft combination of truth and falsehood, For the wickedest lie is not that which is downright, for that can easily be disproven, but that which is subtly, insinuatingly exaggerative, where the admission of the innocent element of truth which lies at its foundation puts the man who is repelling it in the attitude of a culprit. Paul had not taught against the Jews by any means; he had honoured them everywhere; he had proclaimed himself a Jew. But of course he had said that being a Jew would not save one. The things alleged against Paul had back of them something which he would have had to admit as true. But it was exaggerated, misinterpreted, and supplemented by an absolute lie.
3. The strength of the attack against Paul lay in its appeal to the religious feelings of the crowd. That which was best in them was used for the lowest ends. Nothing is more awful in human nature than the possibility of crime in the name of religion; and how frequently it has darkened the page of history. And some people are so indiscriminating as to lay the blame of all this upon religion. It is as just to condemn the real coin for the existence of the counterfeit.
III. The crowd.
1. They accepted as true the lies of the Ephesian Jews. They had courts whose business it was to investigate such offences as were alleged against Paul. Without investigation, without so much as a question, they accepted as true what might easily have been shown to be false.
2. Just as readily they accepted the motives of the Ephesian Jews as honourable. What sanctity! What zeal for the temple of the Lord! And all the time the real motive of these scheming Ephesians was nothing more than vile, unscrupulous hatred.
3. They were already prejudiced against him. The words of the Ephesians, “This is the man” (verse 28), shows that Paul was known by reputation. The people had their minds already made up concerning him. They did not want investigation upon his case. Again, as often before, Jerusalem knew not the day of her visitation. In her sinful prejudice she was ready, consistently with her attitude all through history, to slay the best of her sons.
IV. The outcome.
1. God was a factor at work upon which the Jews were not counting. “Those whom neither the majesty of God nor pious respect for the temple could restrain from madness, respect for a profane man now subdues” (Calvin). And in the conduct of that man the God whom they so impiously disregarded was at work. Thus far could their madness go and no farther. His word, which can check the mighty ocean, put its restraint upon the wrath of men.
2. An immediate result for good was brought about, in that Paul had an opportunity to address the multitude. Such an opportunity he might have sought long and in vain.
3. The riot in the temple had a bearing far off in the future. The testimony at Rome was made possible by the riot at,Jerusalem. And so the wrath of man ministered to the praise of God. The Jews sought to kill Paul, and they succeeded in giving him opportunity to hold up the Cross before the Lord of the world.
V. Final lessons.
1. Our failures as well as our successes have their place in God’s plan. Paul was trying to conciliate some of his fellow Christians when he fell into trouble. God not only exchanges our failures for success, He makes them means of success.
2. Inferences from others’ actions are always dangerous. The Jews imputed to Paul motives that did not belong to him. They were too sure of the accuracy of their own reasoning ability. Let us be careful how we put meanings into others’ conduct.
3. A multitude is a dangerous leader. It is good advice to keep always out of crowds. Beware of the multitude. Serve thou God and Him only. (D. J. Burtell, D. D.)
Paul at Jerusalem
The Church at Jerusalem sheltered in its bosom a Pharisaic faction which continually strove to turn Christianity into a sect of Judaism. A large proportion of its membership was very weak and imperfect. The law had a strong hold upon them, and they were only beginners in the gospel. They could be easily prejudiced against Paul. Hence Paul’s attempt to forestall prejudice by accompanying four Jewish Christians, who were under a Nazaritic vow, to the temple, and paying for them the expenses attendant upon the termination of their vow. As he proceeded with the four Christian Nazarites into the temple, doubtless his course was wholly successful, so far as concerned the great body of the Church at Jerusalem; but the great annual feasts attracted multitudes from every land. Many of these had known Paul as the eloquent preacher of Christ who had successfully met them in many a field of argument and won hundreds to his following. Malice and revenge are swift to find opportunity. They are not careful to learn all the facts. A great soul on an errand for God does not lose self-possession, however great the commotion. Paul at once saw the chief captain’s command of the situation and the way to his respect. He knew how to avail himself of the resources for safety in his own scholarship, his birth place, and nationality. One moment he stands before the chief captain clothed with dignity, despite his chains; the next, his frenzied murderers are hushed as he calmly looks down upon them from the castle stairs.
I. The unconscious ministry of the powers of this world. Rome knew nothing of Jesus save as a peasant disturber of the peace and something of a fanatic. It knew nothing of Paul, and cared nothing for the heroism and devotion of his splendid apostleship. Rome was bound, hand and foot, by debasing idolatry; but a bodyguard of invisible angels could not have done more to save the great apostle for continued ministry, for those inspired epistles from Nero’s dungeons, and for an honourable martyrdom which should set its seal of dignity to an unparalleled life. So, in all the years, human schemes, with a horizon wholly confined to earth, are unfailing servitors of Divine plans which span the ages.
II. Force has an indispensable place in the divine economy. What could persuasion have done with those Jewish zealots, fired with murderous purpose? They had doomed Paul to death. They are typical cases of men hurried by one passion or another beyond the pale of conscience or reason. It is well to rely upon persuasion for the most part in dealing with our fellows for their good and our own safety, as individuals and communities; but there are many times when, and persons for whom, nothing is sufficient but brute force--meaning by this a compulsion which shall be inevitable and overpowering. The Roman empire was raised up to give gospel messengers their needed safeguard until their work was done. The Church needs substantially the same safeguard today--not herself using force to bring about spiritual results; but Christ’s disciples must have civil guardianship and, in free governments, they must act well their part to provide it for themselves. Force must meet force.
III. The easy currency of false charges in time of excitement. Paul had not brought Greeks within the sacred and guarded precincts of the temple; but it was enough for the frenzied Jews that, somewhere in the outside city, they had seen an Ephesian with him. At once they jumped to the conclusion that his associates in the sacred courts were heathen. Doubtless many in the excited mob were strangers to Paul, but they had caught the contagion and unthinkingly condemned him as bitterly as long time enemies could do. How obvious the duty of prudence and deliberation when excitement blinds the populace and hardens the heart! Excitement is almost incapable of justice.
IV. The courage of a divine mission. Paul measured the deadly purpose of his countrymen far more adequately than the Roman captain could have done, and at first view we would think the security of Antonia’s inner wards would have been eagerly sought by him; but no; he faces the throng and heroically tries to capture their attention, judgment, and esteem. He was steadied in heart and cleared in thought by his conscious apostleship. He was engaged in His Master’s work. He could not despair, whatever the crisis or obstacle. The Christian warrior does not believe in mere defensive warfare; he feels the urgency of an imperilled cause, the brevity of his opportunity, and he must be on the aggressive, whatever the opposition.
V. The faith and loving perseverance of Christlike service. Why did not Paul throw over his murderous fellow countrymen as hopeless, upon whom he would not waste another word? Behind him were years of unwearied toil and sacrifice on their behalf. But, like the loving physician dealing with deadly disease, he leaves nothing undone to befriend his worst assailants as long as a fraction of opportunity remains. Here, again, the great missionary to the Gentiles is a pattern for a large following. Pastors may be requited with indifference, or worse, after most unselfish devotion; but in no case must the mission of Christ be abandoned or its continuance enfeebled in plan or spirit.
VI. Everything good in this world is only an approximation. These maddened Jews bent on murder were the outcome of Divine plans and processes for centuries. They represented people who had been in training for the glad star of Bethlehem. How great the apparent failure of prophetic vision and Divine agency! But it was not all a failure. In the early Christian Church were multitudes of Jews born again in Christ. The Christian worker will save himself discouragement and loss of energy, if he keeps in mind the insufficiency of man at his best, and copies the patience of the Divine Master workman when hedged about with difficulties and success seems meagre and imperfect.
VII. The mountains of difficulty encountered and levelled by Christianity. Is the gospel ship storm-tossed? Do obstacles tower and the future seem full of deadly peril? We need only to recall those days when, in her infancy, the Church was confronted by the powers of earth and darkness in their greatest might and hate. It comes to our notice, in this lesson, as one of the three mountains of difficulty encountered by Jesus and His followers--Roman force, Greek philosophy, and Jewish ecclesiasticism. The three were to be vanquished, and all by love’s compulsion; but, of the three, the last was not the least formidable. The momentum of ages was behind it. But Paul, like his Master, proposed the most difficult of achievements--a reform that was an apparent destruction--a new life perpetuating all that was true and good in the old life--fulfilling, indeed, instead of destroying, but causing so much of abandonment of time-honoured ritual and rich perquisites as to seem like an overwhelming deluge. To human view, how impregnable the entrenchments of Judaism! The unseen was mightier than the seen, however imposing the latter. Let church builders and soul winners take courage today. Difficulties do not cease. They take new form and enlist a strong following; but Christ’s cause now has a momentum of conquest sweeping through long ages; it has readjusted life’s economy so that worldlings unwittingly give it aid and comfort from general impulses of benevolence and enlightenment; it has so helped governments and science and inventions that they return valuable service from dictates of expediency. (S. Lewis B. Speare.)
True Christian toleration
This was, to all intents and purposes, a council; of course, not exactly what we call a council in our day, because there were no such churches then as we have now, in practice, or in organisation even. This was, however, a body composed of the authoritative men among the Christian people of Jerusalem. The elders were all gathered together. And it will amuse you to hear what the reason was. Paul was on trial for want of orthodoxy! Dr. Dwight, whom we now bow the knee to, was very much suspected, during his lifetime, of want of orthodoxy; Jonathan Edwards, whom all our theologians swear by, in his day suffered a great deal of disrepute for want of orthodoxy; every man, all the way up, who has laid the Church under obligation--Calvin, Luther, Melancthon, Zwinglius, and others--have suffered in their day as being disturbers, unsettling the belief of men. Christianity was not a new religion that came drifting against the wind, as one might say, right up to a battle with Judaism. It was not a new revelation that gradually came up to quench the old one, and take its place; as in growth, the lower stem shoots out another, which surpasses it in organisation; and gradually out of that shoots another, until we come to the blossoming top, and from that to the fruit. Now, if you reflect, you will perceive that where such a state of facts takes place, there will be a great many things in the form of antecedent beliefs and institutions, which will be only relatively important, and that the weak will stick to everything, that the unreasoning will hold on to everything which has existed in the past, simply because it has been useful; but that there will be other intelligent ones who see that the new includes the old, and a good deal besides. And all such persons, while they will tolerate the old, will accept the new. They will say, “The old was right, but it was relative. It is not superseded: it is fulfilled, and is carried, in another form, higher.” The blossoming of a stem does not destroy the plant, but fulfils it. Jesus Christ did not come to destroy the law, as He Himself said, but to fulfil it, to give it a spiritual form, a full, final growth--a free, glorious development. And when that time comes in which men are beginning go take their first steps away from the old and fixed, and towards the new, the free, and the large, there must of necessity be great division, great diversity. And here is the place where the old and new schools always set in. The old school wants to hold the old things as they were; the new school wants to hold the old things, and wants to hold them just as they ought to be. On the one hand there are influences at work which tend to drive the old school into a kind of superstitious adhesion--into a conservatism which has in it no growth and no respectability. On the other hand, the tendencies are to drive the new school entirely away from the old school into something different--something that shall not resemble it. But in point of fact, the old is the father of the new, and the new should always have filial relations to the old. Conservatism is the stalk out of which the progressive rises; and the progressive should always have a good stem under it to stand on when the wind blows, and its limber branches wave therein: Paul, standing before this council, was obliged to defend himself against the Jewish prejudices, for not believing in Moses; for not believing in the Mosaic customs; for teaching a new doctrine. It was an absolute departure from the religion of the Jews. Now, he had not wholly abandoned the system of his fathers. He believed in it enough to use it when circumstances required it; but he was set free from it in its absolute form. There are two kinds of scepticism; one is measured by the mathematical sign of “minus,” that doubts and disbelieves, and go back, and back; and the other is designated by the mathematical sign of “plus,” which disbelieves in old forms, because they are not large enough; because they are not fruitful enough. The scepticism “minus” is deteriorating; but the scepticism “plus” is ennobling. If there is to be change and growth, there must be in every generation times when men shall doubt the past in order to build larger. So Paul stood before this council, suspected of irregularity because he insisted on adapting his labour, not according to the old Jewish forms, but according to the exigencies of the work he found to do, in the providence of God, in the field s where he went to preach the gospel. (H. W. Beecher.)
This is the man that … brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.
Polluting the holy place
When Professor Vambery came to Meshed, in the course of his Asiatic journeyings, he met, in the street, a Jew whom he had known at Bokhara. To his astonishment the Jew passed him without recognising him. Vambery called out to him; whereupon, says Vambery, “he hurriedly came up to me, and said confidentially, in a low voice, ‘For God’s sake, Haji, do not call me a Jew here. Beyond these walls I belong to my nation, but here I must play the Moslem.’” This Jew’s fear of persecution well illustrates the Oriental feeling towards those of other faiths. The presence of an unbeliever pollutes the very city whither he comes; much more so the holy place into which he might enter. It is not so very long ago that the discovery of a European in any Mohammedan mosque would have been the signal for his murder; and there are still holy places which Europeans can only visit at the risk of their lives. Vambery, disguised as an Oriental, visited several of these sacred places in Central Asia; but he saved his life only by the boldness with which he denied that he was a Frank, and by the show of indignation with which he denounced those who would call a true believer an infidel. Burton’s journey to Mekkeh was accomplished at the risk of his life; and, afterwards, when Mr. Cole, the British vice-consul at Jeddah, made a joking reference there to Button’s exploit, he found that the Mohammedans were so enraged over it, that any further allusion to it would be dangerous. (S. S. Times.)
For … they supposed.--
They did not know, but “they supposed,” and they wouldn’t wait to find out the facts. They were all wrong, but they acted as though there were no doubt about the case. A large share of all the misrepresentation and all the injustice in the world comes from people “supposing” that this thing, or that thing, or the other thing, has been done, when a little honest inquiry would have shown the charge or the rumour to be baseless. We “suppose” that if one public official is dishonest, another one is; that if there is an error in giving change to us, when we make a purchase, the dealer meant to cheat us; that if a friend fails to be as cordial as usual, he intends to give us a slight; that if a speaker or writer is inaccurate in any statement, he purposely lies; that if a man with a character for uprightness, or purity, or fairness, comes from any cause under suspicion, he is--“no better than he should be.” Oh, the wrong which has been done by those who “supposed” that somebody else had done wrong, and who acted on their supposition! (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
And all the city was moved.--
The inconsiderate mob
We see by experience that dogs do always bark at those they know not, and that it is their nature to accompany one another in those clamours; and so it is with the inconsiderate multitude who, wanting that virtue which we call honesty in all men, and that especial gift of God which we call charity in Christian men, condemn without hearing and wound without offence given, led thereunto by uncertain report only, which King James truly acknowledgeth for the father of all lies. (Sir Walter Raleigh.)
Religion as the occasion of evil
By universal consent religion is man’s greatest blessing; and water is the greatest boon of the thirsty all the world over. Yet what a confirmation both religion and water afford of the fact that the greatest good may occasion the greatest evil! Take, first of all, the illustration supplied by the water, and in the words of Oliver Goldsmith. In those burning countries where the sun dries up every brook for hundreds of miles round, when what had the appearance of a great river in the rainy season becomes, in the summer, one dreary bed of sand, a lake that is never dry, or a brook that is perennial, is considered by every animal as the greatest convenience of Nature. As to food, the luxuriant landscape supplies that in sufficient abundance; it is the want of water that all animals endeavour to remove, and inwardly parched by the heat of the climate, traverse whole deserts to find out a spring. When they have discovered this, no dangers can deter them from attempting to slake their thirst. Thus the neighbourhood of a rivulet in the heart of the tropical continents is generally the place where all the hostile tribes of Nature draw up for the engagement. On the banks of this little envied spot thousands of animals of various kinds are seen venturing to quench their thirst, or preparing to seize their prey. The elephants are perceived in a long line, marching from the darker parts of the forest; the buffaloes are there, depending on numbers for security; the gazelles, relying solely upon their swiftness; the lion and tiger, waiting a proper opportunity to seize; but chiefly the larger serpents are upon guard there, and defend the accesses of the lake. Not an hour passes without some dreadful combat; but the serpent, defended by its scales, and naturally capable of sustaining a multitude of wounds, is of all others the most formidable. Ever on the watch until their rapacity is satisfied, few other animals will venture to approach their station. Now take the illustration which religion supplies of the fact that the greatest good may occasion the greatest evil. The splendid anthem of Spohr only tells us, in beautiful music, the fact which history in unmusical language proclaims--that as the hart pants after the water, so all souls seek after God. Here, then, is admitted to be the great source of all good. How have men approached that source? Do you find peace, love, charity, and all happiness characterising their proceedings? Look at the religions of the world, with their cruelties and barbarisms; listen to the brayings of cant and the howlings and ravings of sectaries and bigots; and notice the insidious craft and poisonous malice with which some of the smooth zealots do their work! Behold how fiercely they fight among one another; how eagerly they pounce upon any who are not of their number, but whom they descry afar off, eagerly seeking after the source of All-purity; and how desperately they struggle, each with each, for the mastery and capture of the anxious, humble seekers of living water! What brings all these rampant men together, and occasions this hoarse clamour of coarse voices where we anticipated gentle forms and loving sounds? The banks of the river of life have brought them there, and by their presence they occasion the greatest evil where we have a right to expect the greatest good. (Scientific Illustrations.)
Some cried one thing and some another.--
The mob--divided though one
Unity of action does not always indicate unity of purpose. Men often work together when they have little in common. In a mob, there will be some who want to gain concessions from those in power; others who seek revenge for real or fancied injuries; others, again, who would merely overthrow the established order of things; and yet others who look alone for opportunities of plunder. And this confusion of purpose is the weakness of a mob. Men must have a common object of pursuit to be strong in a common effort. They must be united in heart, as well as in endeavour, to carry everything before them. As Bishop Hall quaintly says, “The multitude is a beast of many heads; every head hath a several mouth, every mouth a several tongue, and every tongue a several accent; every head hath a several brains, and every brain thoughts of their own; so it is hard to find a multitude without some division.”
An angry mob
A man in anger is like a chariot without a driver, or a ship in a storm without a pilot, or a scorpion which stings itself as well as others.
The persecuting spirit
1. It is an intolerant spirit (verses 27, 28). These “Jews of Asia” had refused to give careful, candid thought to Paul’s teachings, but judged them by their own narrow standards.
2. It is a perverting spirit (verses 28, 29). “They had seen … and they supposed.” These Jews deftly mingled facts with falsehoods, and cast false lights on true statements.
3. It is often a spirit of formalism (verse 30). They were a company of worshippers in the rites of service, yet they were ready to murder an unoffending man.
4. It is a spirit of cruelty (verse 31). “They went about to kill him.”
5. It is an ignorant spirit (verse 34). They could not tell why the tumult had arisen, nor what was the crime charged upon the victim. Such is the blind, unreasoning hatred in the heart of persecutors.
Notice in contrast with these Jews the traits of the Christian under persecution.
1. While they were law breaking he was law abiding. He was obeying the very laws and conforming to the very usages which they accused him of violating, at the very moment while they were seeking his life.
2. While they were furious he was calm. His perfect faith gave him perfect peace.
3. While they were cowardly he was courageous. He was brave, for only a man with a heart like a lion would have thought to address the crowd clamouring for his blood.
4. While they were full of hate he was full of love. (J. L. Hurlbut, D. D.)
Paul said, I am a man which am … a citizen of no mean city.
1. Paul might well be proud of his birthplace, for historically, geographically, intellectually, and commercially it was “no mean city.” All that could be said about Tarsus can be said of many a modern town, and if as much cannot be said about that in which we live, still surely there are some features which may fill us with honourable pride. If this pride is at times chastened by the thought of its evils, let it be no fault of ours that we cannot claim to be citizens of no mean city.
2. This love of city has characterised and been the inspiration of some of the noblest of minds. Think how Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, were loved, and what this love wrought in their citizens--not to speak of modern instances.
3. We owe much to our city. It provides us with a home, means of subsistence, society, culture; all its trade, thought, and activity, in one way or another make for our good. Let us pay our debt--
I. By knowing our city. The crass ignorance of the average citizen of the place in which he lives is proverbial. Features which strike a stranger at once, names which challenge curiosity, historical facts which have contributed to the making of the nation, the great men who have lived or died in the vicinity--of all this he usually knows next to nothing. Of facts which have transpired, men who have flourished, things which command attention elsewhere, he has read and perhaps has seen in his travels. He can tell you what is worth seeing and what has happened in a continental city--but you inquire in vain about these if they lie within a few yards of his own door. This is not fair to our city, nor ourselves, nor our friends who come to visit us. Let us explore our city, study its history, inspect its ecclesiastical or secular monuments or institutions, examine into its relations past and present with other places, trace the origin of its customs, and thus many an evening will, without much effort, be spent in a pleasant and profitable way.
II. By working for our city.
1. By industry in our own business. Every article we sell enlarges by so much the area of its trade. This may not be a very powerful motive, since there is already one sufficiently strong. But it is an elevating one, and will lift trade out of the sordid selfishness into which it is so prone to sink.
2. By encouraging its trade. The habit of sending for nearly everything elsewhere is not a commendable one. Our fellow citizens have to live, and it is only by dealing with them that they can live. “But things are dearer.” Let there be more buyers at home and that will make them cheaper.
3. By interesting ourselves in its government. The number of citizens who fail here is appalling. No wonder, then, that the management of our towns falls into incompetent or unworthy hands. Not everyone, of course, can aspire to civic honours, but everyone can help to prevent those honours falling where they will be abused. Just think what depends on apathy or interest, on an unintelligent or enlightened public opinion--disease or health through bad or good drainage and water supply; inconvenience or comfort through the state of the roads, domestic appointments, etc.; heavy or light rates through waste or economy in finance.
4. By the support of intellectual or humanitarian institutions. Libraries, art galleries, baths, hospitals, etc.
III. By promoting religion in our city. This is the salt without which every other improvement will be but as a covering for corruption. We may promote this--
1. By personal piety, without which all religious effort will be deprived of a good deal of its value. The mere example which a Christian citizen sets at home, behind the counter, in the council chamber or elsewhere, is of incalculable worth.
2. By the godly upbringing of the citizens of the future. What is seen and heard in the nursery today will determine the character of our town five-and-twenty years hence.
3. By cordial support of and cooperation, with our own Church. Here principles are inculcated, the adoption of which makes our city mean or noble; and here bad citizens may be influenced for good.
4. By generous union with other Churches. It is the combined force of Christianity in any given town that tells. There should be no isolated or discordant voices when flagrant wrong is to be rectified, or obvious good to be encouraged. (J. W. Burn.)
Caesar boasted of his native Rome; Lycurgus of Sparta; Virgil of Andes; Demosthenes of Athens; Archimedes of Syracuse; and Paul of Tarsus. I should suspect a man of base heartedness who had no feeling of complacency in regard to the place of his residence; who gloried not in its arts, behaviour, prosperity, embellishments, and its scientific attainments. Men never like a place where they have not behaved well. Swarthout did not like New York; nor Dr. Webster, Boston. Men who have free rides in prison vans never like the city that furnishes the vehicle. When I see in history Argos, Rhodes, Smyrna, Chios, Colophon, and several other cities claiming Homer, I conclude that Homer behaved well. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Paul stood on the stairs and beckoned with the hand.
Beckoning with the hand
Paul’s object was to gain silence. The man who has to address a noisy crowd does not begin by howling out “Silence!” that would be an affront, but he lifts up his hand to its extreme height, and begins to beckon with it, i.e., to move it backward and forward; and then the people say to each other “Pasathe, pasathe” (“Be silent, be silent”). (J. Roberts.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Acts 21". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25