The Biblical Illustrator
And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy!
The power of religion is best seen when it is exhibited in living reality. It is so as to its sanctifying energy. It is so, too, as to its efficacy in sustaining amid danger, and comforting in difficulty and sadness. It has always, therefore, been the plan of Providence to place good men, and sometimes the Church collectively, in such circumstances as to test, and thus to make manifest, the sustaining energy of religious principle in times of agitation and danger.
I. A storm in the Mediterranean. How powerless, or at least how feeble, man appears, and is, when contending with the mighty agencies of nature! The stoutest heart then quails. The most reckless are then often seen on their knees. Men almost instinctively call at such times on Him who “holds the winds in His fist and the waves in the hollow of His hand.” It is difficult to realise such a scene of terror in calmer days. But there is a great emblematic lesson in this. The fact that such changes do arise in nature--that the blue sky may become beclouded, that the bright sun may be hidden, that the sea, now so glassy and so clear, may be lashed into tempest, and that the mariner who now seems to be lord of the deep, subduing winds and waves into subserviency to his ends, may another day be contending with that same element roused into fierceness and storm, and made to feel how weak he is in that terrible conflict--is emblematic of other changes, which may, and must, one day arise. Life is not ever the calm, even flow of days and months and years. The brightest scene may be overcast, and to some extent is almost sure to be. Life’s autumn and life’s winter must be thought of as well as its summer days. All may know times of stormy wind and tempest, and all will one day be in the grasp of death, and have to face the near prospect of those things which abide when the shadows shall have passed away!
II. St. Paul amidst the storm.
1. We see the apostle’s repose of soul in this hour of peril, and the grounds of it. It was in his relation with God that he found restfulness. Our “times” are in His hand. St. Paul knew, too, that he was now here in God’s service.
2. We have here a striking example of Christian life and influence. Paul had resources of strength and comfort that those around him had not, and he becomes their comforter and adviser.
III. The beneficent working of Divine providence for the preservation of Paul and all who were with him. The promise of God was fulfilled, the perils of the deep having only made Divine protection the more evident and the more deeply felt. (E. T. Prust.)
The voyage and shipwreck
I. The narrative. “Thrice I suffered shipwreck: a night and a day I have been in the deep.” Thus St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians more than two years before. Of those earlier shipwrecks we have no record. But here we have a detailed account of a fourth shipwreck.
1. St. Paul’s long detention is now ended. One of those merchant vessels, on which even generals and princes had to depend for transit, was now in the harbour of Caesarea, bound for Adramyttium, where it was expected that an opportunity would be found of exchanging for a vessel directly bound for Italy. One day brought them to Sidon, and the courtesy of the centurion, interested thus early in his prisoner, allowed Paul the opportunity of visiting the place and the Church. What these glimpses of Christian friends were to him we might guess from his character, and we know from his letters.
2. Contrary winds began early to retard progress. It was necessary to change the usual direction, sailing along the east and north of Cyprus, and coasting along the shores of Cilicia and Pamphylia, until they reached the Myra. There they lighted upon an Alexandrian corn ship--driven, perhaps, by the same stress of weather out of its straighter course to Italy--and to this the passengers were transferred.
3. It was increasingly a tedious passage. The wind, west or northwest, compelled them, after leaving Cnidus, to take the less desirable eastern side of Crete and then along its southern shore as far as an anchorage which is still called Fair Havens. For the moment they were in safety; and now that season had set in which sailors knew to involve, in those seas, especial danger. “The fast was now already past,” i.e., the Day of Atonement, occurring (like our Michaelmas) at the end of September, and used, like it, as a common date of time. To advance further was an act of imprudence against which Paul ventured earnestly to remonstrate. The warning was unheeded. “The harbour was not so commodious to winter in,” and there was a better within forty miles, sheltered from those dreaded winds.
4. The decision to proceed was taken, and for the moment all seemed to favour it. Instead of the troublesome westerly and northwesterly winds, there blew from the south a gentle breeze, which enabled them to start with every advantage for the desired haven of Phoenix. Triumphant, no doubt, over the cowardly prudence of the apostle, they advanced a few miles, in good hope and high spirits, along the sheltering shore of Crete. But a sudden change came. A tempestuous wind (Euroclydon) from the northeast came down upon the ship, and there was nothing for it but to let her drive. It was with difficulty that they took up the boat which might become necessary for the safety of the crew. Then they passed cordage round, and other precautions were taken to avoid their being carried upon the quicksands of Syrtis. The next day they lightened the ship of a portion of its cargo; the day following of all its spare tackling.
5. And now it is impossible to imagine a more dreary and dispiriting scene than that which Luke presents. “No one,” writes Dr. Howson, “who has never been in a leaking ship in a long-continued gale can know what is suffered under such circumstances. The strain both of mind and body, the incessant demand for the labour of all the crew, the terror of the passengers, the hopeless working at the pumps, the labouring of the ship’s frame and cordage, the driving of the storm, the benumbing effect of the cold and wet, make up a scene of no ordinary confusion, anxiety, and fatigue. But in the present case these evils were much aggravated by the continued over clouding of the sky, which prevented the navigators from taking the necessary observations of the heavenly bodies.” To the gloom and despair was added the exhaustion of long abstinence. There was among them but one person now capable of command--the Christian prisoner, unheeded till danger pressed, but now the one leading and animating spirit. He reminds them of their disregard of his warning. The remembrance might make them listen now. And then be gives the solemn assurance, in the name of his God, that there shall be no loss of life.
6. For the time there was no respite. The fourteenth night of that tossing was now come, when some sounds, indicative of approaching land, struck upon the practised ear of the sailors. The first notice was soon confirmed; and now an imminent danger arose of being wrecked upon the rocks of some unknown shore. Nothing could be done save to throw a number of anchors from the stern of the vessel and then to wish for the day. Oh, how many a weary watcher through a long night of sickness of body or anguish of soul has had to do that, and could do nothing more--just to wish for the day!
7. Before dawn a new peril had shown itself. The selfish sailors had formed the project of seizing the boat and leaving the passengers to their fate. It was again the Christian apostle whose ready discernment and calm promptitude averted the danger (verse 31). As if he had said, “There is work before us which will need a mariner’s skill as well as a soldier’s courage.” The hint was enough. The soldiers cut the ropes of the boat before the sailors could enter it. Yet once more is St. Paul’s voice heard; and it is in the same calm and constant tone which has made him the commander of all who sail with him. He foresees that the last struggle will be trying, and that exhausted frames can ill meet it. He therefore prays them to take some food, in the assurance that, however imminent the peril, life is secure. By precept first, and then by example, he summons them to this humble duty. After this, in the prospect of a speedy end of their suffering, they threw overboard the remaining wheat, that the vessel might be lightened for its last grounding. Morning dawned upon an unknown shore, upon which the vessel was so driven that, while “the forepart stuck fast and remained immovable, the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves.”
8. At this last moment a formidable danger threatened the life of St. Paul. It was the counsel of the soldiers to kill the prisoners, lest in the confusion any of them should escape from custody; and the suggestion was only frustrated by the care of Julius for that one Christian prisoner who from the first appears to have awakened his interest, and who by his conduct during these trying scenes must have gained a firm hold upon his confidence and esteem. As it was, a more humane order prevailed.
II. The lessons. We have seen St. Paul in many positions, and noticed his activity, boldness, wisdom, faith, charity, devotion, skill, patience. But the point before us is a combination of them all.
1. Danger is always a test of character. One man is daunted, another bewildered, another irritated, another rendered selfish by it. Read the history of a sudden alarm of fire in a crowded building. The impulse of self-preservation is so strong as to defeat itself; and a heap of crushed or burnt corpses will attest both the predominance and the infatuation of a spirit of selfishness in the heart of man in a time of great and sudden jeopardy. There are three influences which may under given circumstances counteract it.
2. But how different are these things, at their highest point, from the sustained calmness and commanding wisdom of Paul! None but a Christian could have thus done and thus spoken! Notice--
It is impossible for a thoughtful and serious mind to contemplate the mighty ocean without being deeply impressed with its grandeur and sublimity. But if we are ourselves exposed to the fury of the conflicting elements, we become doubly sensible to their terror and our own insignificance. We feel an awe that cannot be described.
1. We may have to compassionate those who “do business in great waters.” Theirs is a life of great dangers, and familiarity with danger generally produces hardihood and presumption.
2. It is an unspeakable happiness, in times of peril, to possess a refuge and a hope when all human power fails and all hope of mortal succour is gone.
3. How precious are the promises of God in all storms, whether of the ocean or of the mind!
4. Let us adore that gracious Providence which sustained and guided this eminent apostle through so many scenes of peril and times of trial, which kept his heart steadfast in the faith of Christ and fervent in the love of souls, undismayed alike by the fury of the ocean and the ragings of the people.
5. We see what sacrifices men will make to save their natural lives. They cast into the sea the goods and tackling; but yet sinners will not give up their sins nor renounce the world.
6. The whole narrative announces to us the consolation which the gospel of Christ brings to all true believers. He is the Christian’s pilot; He guides us through every storm, and can protect amidst all dangers and distresses. (The Evangelist.)
I. Setting out.
1. The promises of God never fail. Having been told that he shall bear witness at Rome, Paul is in good time--in God’s time--transported thither.
2. The faithful spirit shown by Aristarchus is rewarded by a special designation of him by name.
II. Stormy without. The storm--
1. Frequently comes when it is least expected. This voyage of Paul’s began with a soft breeze and ended with a tempest.
2. Usually finds the world’s people unready and God’s people prepared. The sailors are surprised by the tempest; Paul knows and has spoken of this very tempest before.
3. Tests the comparative value of our possessions. Shall we cling to our gold and our other treasures and be lost, or throw them overboard and be saved?
4. May wreck us unless we are ready “with our own hands” to throw overboard the unnecessary burdens. Even God cannot save the soul that will not voluntarily part with its sins. We must cast away or be cast away.
5. May drive us before it for a time. God does not promise us uninterruptedly smooth sailing. He does not promise a voyage continually in the direction we should choose. All He does promise is that if we do our best we shall reach the right haven at last.
6. Causes discomfort to the believing Paul as well as to the unbelieving among the ship’s crew. Spiritual safety does not secure us from present bodily pain, but it makes us despise it for its practical harmlessness.
7. May blot out the light of material sun and stars, but there is one star which is never dimmed. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”
III. Calm within.
1. If the world would listen to the words of God’s children warning of the nearness of danger, many an “injury and loss” even worse than this would be avoided.
2. If there is any loss, it will only be a financial and temporal and comparatively insignificant one to those who commit themselves fully to God’s keeping.
3. If we as Christians lose anything in the storms of this world, it can at worst be nothing more than the loss of the ship in which we sail, the body in which we dwell. Our souls will be saved into God’s presence.
4. If we are ever so much adrift, God can still find us. Says Matthew Henry: “Paul knows not where he is himself, yet God’s angel knows where to find him out.”
5. If God has promised that we shall in the body stand before Caesar, we need not fear the blows of the tempest. We are immortal until that promise of God is fulfilled.
6. If there is a praying Paul on board, the fact may be worth more to the ship’s crew than all their labour at the pumps. Jonah, running away from duty, endangers the ship and its crew; Paul, pursuing the course of duty, is a saving companion to the ship’s crew.
7. If we believe God, we shall have little to dread even in such storms as this which shipwrecked Paul. We shall believe that God will bring us through just as He has promised. “Is not God upon the ocean, just the same as on the land?” (S. S. Times.)
I. The exposure of good and bad alike to storms and perils.
1. In this ship’s company there were, besides Paul and Luke and Aristarchus, criminals and the centurion, with his morally mixed band of soldiers. Paul was not permitted to choose his companions, nor are we. The wheat and the tares grow together.
2. In this instance the first day’s sailing was unhindered. But then the winds began to be “contrary,” and their course grew “dangerous.” Then came a little season of “soft south wind.” But close upon this they were struck by a hurricane which rendered the ship uncontrollable.
3. Here was rough experience. But it was not peculiar. Lands, too, have their cyclones. Ships are wrecked and towns are laid waste notwithstanding the wisdom of the wise; and these are but examples of ills in numerous forms--ills which oftentimes are nearest when we fancy we are safest (verses 13, 14). How stealthy the tread of the pestilence! How swift the stroke of the lightning!
4. Nor yet are outward assaults the worst to which we are exposed. There are foes and perils which assail the soul.
5. Is God, then, careless of our well-being? This we cannot believe. Certain it is that all these dark things have their side of light; and doubtless in due time this will appear.
II. The efforts and sacrifices men willingly make to escape outward ills.
1. Struck by the “tempestuous wind,” the first thing the seamen did was to secure the boat, by means of which some might be saved if worse came to worst. Then they “used helps, ungirding the ship”; next they “lightened the ship”; and, last of all, they cast out such gear and furniture as could be moved. All their wealth and means of comfort they willingly “counted but loss.” So much will men do to save the bodily life. Nor are they unwise; for what material good is there for which one could afford to exchange his life?
2. But these same men have an eternal life exposed to ruin. Sin, unresisted, works its destruction. What shall we say, then, of the unwillingness of so many to make efforts by which it may be saved?
III. The Christian’s advantage in times of peril and ill.
1. The seeker after spiritual salvation surely finds. Not so always with lower good. This is given or withholden as seems best. Despite their efforts the seamen had not ensured their safety. “Hope was taken away.”
2. And yet in this company of “famishing wretches in a fast-sinking ship” there was at least one who appeared calm and trustful. Not that Paul was without natural timidity. The assuring words, “Fear not!” indicate the contrary. The bravest soldier has his first moments of tremor. The Christian is still human. And yet how calmly the apostle now stands forth! What was the secret of this courage? Wherein, at such times, is the Christian’s advantage? In that he is in friendly relations with God, knows how to find Him, and can trustfully commit his whole case and being to Him.
3. There are two sentences to be noted--“Whose I am, and whom I serve,” and “I believe God.” Paul belonged to God by a personal consecration; and he had come to put implicit confidence in God’s word. He was not his own, and he trusted Him whom he served. If you try to be a Christian, and still to own yourself, or believe only what your reason can find out for itself, God will seem to be afar off. But try the other way, and then you shall say, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee!”
4. Moreover, God often bestows on such the very things they ask (verse 24; cf. Romans 1:15).
IV. The good which, at such times, may come from association with Christians.
1. The message the angel bore to Paul related not only to himself, but to his companions, for whom doubtless he had prayed. And so every man was to be saved just because of Paul’s presence. This is no solitary instance. Ten righteous men saved Sodom. Moses and Samuel often came between Israel and judgment. It was out of regard for a faithful remnant that God bore with His people. So now, the good of a land are its best defence. Two or three godly families will make a community better to live in. Cheerfully, then, support Christian institutions. And yet association with Christians will never spiritually save; for this one must have pardon, and this Jesus only can give. Make Him, then, your companion. That will not secure exemption from storms, but it will secure a safe arrival in port. (H. M. Grant, D. D.)
I. Paul a prisoner, yet the chief figure. The ship is a prison. “Paul and certain other prisoners.” When was Paul ever hidden in the crowd? He is still the chief figure. Here is sovereignty strangely shaded by humiliation. He was one of the herd; he was head of the mob; he was the accent of the anonymous. A singular thing is this admixture of the great and the small. We belong to one another, and are advanced by one another, and are kept back by one another; and a most singular and educative process of restraint and modification is continually proceeding amongst us.
II. Paul “courteously entreated” (verse 3). How is it that Paul always stood well with men of the world? There is a kind of natural kinship amongst gentlemen. How do we pick out one man from another and say, as if ringing him on the world’s counter, “That is good gold,” or “That is counterfeit silver”? Why run down what are called “men of the world”? They are so often the kings of men. Do not attempt to shake them off as an inferior race. What would they be if they were in the spirit of Christ! They would make the Church warm; they would turn it into a hospitable home; they would breathe a southwest wind through our ill-ventilated souls. Oh! pray for them!
III. Paul still inspiring confidence. His look and tone were his letter of recommendation. There are some men who might have a whole library of testimonials, and you would not believe a word they said; there are other men who need no endorsement. Paul inspiring confidence is Paul preaching in silence.
IV. Paul among his friends, still an object of affectionate interest (verse 3). Literally they rigged him out again, clothed him. Paul had been having a rough time of it, and now his friends saw, as only friends can, that Paul would be none the worse for a new coat. There are many persons who live so very high above the cloud line that they can take no notice of matters of such petty detail. But without saying a word to him they got all things ready, and the clothes were laid there as if they had been laid there by Paul himself and he had forgotten to put them on before. There is a way of doing things--a delicacy infinite as love.
V. Paul profited by delay. Thank God for delays. We should think much of the providence of postponement. Why not let God keep the time bill? This was exactly what Paul needed, and Paul was permitted to enjoy it by the providence of God--a good tossing on the water, a new kind of exercise, an abundance of fresh air. God giveth His beloved sleep; God giveth His beloved rest by keeping the ship at sea a long, long time. We do not like delay; that is because we are little and weak and unwise. You cannot get some men to sit down; they do not know how they are exciting and annoying other people. They call it energy, activity. It is the Lord’s delight to teach us that the universe can get along without the aid of the very biggest man that is in it.
VI. Paul proving his value in secular affairs (verse 10). What right had Paul to speak? The eternal right. Under ordinary circumstances the landsman has no right to speak on board ship. That is momentary etiquette or discipline; but there are eternal rights, and there come times when all human discipline is suspended and man must speak as man. There are occasions upon which a landsman speaking on board ship would be snubbed by the sailors; there are other times when the sailors would be thankful for any landsman to speak if he could utter one word of rational hope. These are the times the Christian is waiting for. For the Christian to speak when the ship is going merrily over the blue waves, would be impertinence; but the Christian waits. The ship comes into difficulty, the sailors begin to look despairingly at the whole situation. Now if any of you can say a word of comfort, do say it. Be wise, and do not speak before the time, or your words will be like good seed sown upon the fickle and noisy wind. The clock will strike for you; be ready when the hour beats. The word will keep, and when it is spoken after long delay it will come with the more penetrating emphasis. But Paul was disbelieved. Certainly; because the circumstances were not quite mature. But the religious man turned out to be right, as he must always turn out to be. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” All inspired history shows that the first communications were made to the piety of the day, to the prayer of the time. (J. Parker, D. D.)
I. The good as well as the evil cannot pass through this world without enduring much tribulation. We see on board a world in miniature. Stern law is represented by Julius the centurion, navigation by the captain, commerce by the merchants, labour by the sailors, the army by the stern-faced soldiers, science by Luke, literature by Paul, and law breaking by the prisoners. On board were all sorts and conditions of men. But there arose against them all the wave-stirring east wind, now called the “Levanter.”
1. Mark the impartiality of that tempest. They were all caught in it. Fire will burn the saint as well as the sinner; water will drown the missionary as well as the pirate; poison will kill an apostle as well as an apostate. The elements know no partisanship, unless these be a Divine interposition. We have found out long ere this that affliction is no respecter of persons. Even the best of men lose the stars for many days; and in their tribulation they strike the sail, cast out the wheat, and send for the doctor to “undergird” the ship. Sorrow will enter every home at some time or other; and this is a wise provision, for there is nothing like it to keep the heart tender and sympathetic. Mercies that are pain born are frequently the most precious.
2. Paul in an Euroclydon!--all this is mysterious; but we have full confidence that it is wisely ordained, for to the godly storms are soul strengtheners.
3. The storm may last “many days”; but the saint will always meet with an angel when the waves are highest. He may lose sight of the natural sun and stars for many days; but he never loses sight of the Divine Sun, and, through the blackest night, the Star of Bethlehem.
4. The good and evil in the same storm; but what a difference between them! Paul had the angel of good cheer at his side, but the godless voyagers had no helper.
5. Paul publicly gave thanks to God “for the bread.” How keen was his spiritual insight! He felt that the bread and the storm came from the same hand. Let us learn this profound lesson. The bread and the storm, the joy and the sorrow, the day and the night, come from the same Divine source. Think not so much of the storm as to forget the bread.
II. The foolish world is always prone to reject the sage advice of the man of God.
1. Paul advised them to steer the ship into the Fair Havens and winter there; but the centurion believed the master and owner, and the majority went with them. Paul saw the perils ahead, perhaps by prophetic foresight or by the prognosticating instinct. Anyhow, Paul’s words proved true to the letter. Yes, the majority were against the man of God in that first century. “What does a dry landsman like him know about the navigation of the Adriatic? Let him stick to that new gospel of his, and abstain from all things nautical!”
2. Is it not in the nineteenth century as it was in the first? The courageous truth speaker is still the despised and rejected of men. Souls steeped in carnality will not abide in the Fair Havens of piety and purity and love; they will make for some Phenice of their own choosing. We who stand in these pulpits are continually thundering out the warnings, “The wages of sin is death,” “The way of transgressors is hard,” “Be wise, and winter in the Fair Haven of the gospel of Christ”! But thousands despise the warnings. There are some who say, “Preachers should strictly confine themselves to theology. Parsons, who know nothing of the ins-and-outs of London business life, should not dictate to business men what they must do and how they must do it.” Yet Paul, the landsman, may give advice that even practised seamen would do well to follow.
III. The mocking world always discovers to its cost that it is dangerous to ignore the warnings of God-fearing men. Their ship left the Fair Havens, and it is quite probable that they said, “How this south wind gives the lie to Paul’s prognostications!” But in due time the Euroclydon rushed forth to prove that Paul was right. Better be in the humblest minority with the right than in the most aristocratic majority with the wrong. Do not allow the south wind to lead you to rash conclusions. Tell the young man that there is danger in dallying with his first temptations, and he will point you to the gentle south wind; but he may yet live to find that Paul is right, and to gladly place the helm in his hand. On a death bed you may send for the minister whose sermons you have laughed at.
IV. God honours His faithful servants by communicating with the world through their instrumentality.
1. If Caesar had a message to the crew, he would have spoken through the centurion; if the Board of Trade of that day, through the captain; if the Chamber of Commerce of that time, through the merchants; but when the Royal Court of Heaven had a message to the trembling souls on board, it spoke through Paul. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” “Them that honour Me I will honour.” If you wish to be God’s ambassador you must be God’s child, for His rule is not to employ aliens. “Whose I am, and whom I serve.” What noble self-obliviousness in these words! He was not his own; and if we felt this Divine ownership more, there would be infinitely greater sacrifice infused into our service.
2. Paul became, in a secondary sense, the saviour of the two hundred and seventy-five souls on board. Who can estimate the national and civic value of a good man? He is the salt that preserves society from total corruption. Turn all the good men out of the world, and Dante’s “Inferno” will not be a thing of fancy, but of fact. Take all the saints out of London, and it will become a Sodom, fit only for the flames. The religious element in English society is its best safeguard. A God-fearing democracy no power on earth can overthrow.
V. The sublime calmness of the good man in the face of danger. There is no revealer of character like a tempest. The storm revealed the cowardice and hypocrisy and selfishness of these seamen; but the same storm revealed the moral grandeur of Paul. A landsman calm in a sea-storm, and all the crew trembling like the aspen! His robust faith was the secret of his courage (verse 25). His calm assurance pacified the panic-stricken crew (verse 36). The good man is not the slave but the master of circumstances.
VI. No storms can prevent the successful issue of the purposes of Heaven. God’s “must” is mightier than all the storms of the centuries, even if gathered into one. In a very short time his magic words penetrated the royal palace, and several members of Caesar’s household were converted. The universal dissemination of the, gospel is somewhat unlikely, and yet we believe in its possibility, for God’s “must” will vanquish the Euroclydons. Rome must be reached! Our voyage to heaven has its innumerable perils. The reefs are deceptive, the currents are dangerous, and the haven is easily missed; but be of good cheer, for “there shall be no loss of any man’s life.” (J. Ossian Davies.)
Practical lessons from Paul’s voyage
I. “Man proposes, but God disposes.” The determination that Paul should sail to Italy was, on the human side, the result of Paul’s purpose to disappoint the murderous treachery of the Jews, but above this was God’s purpose--that the gospel should be more fully preached, not only in Rome, but in all the empire.
II. The fair weather and the softly blowing south wind allured the navigators from their safe but not sufficiently commodious harbour in the hope of finding a better one; and so men, dissatisfied with their moderate competence, strike out for wealth or honours, so risking and often losing the sufficiency already possessed. In times of prosperity they assure themselves that “tomorrow will be as this day, and more abundant,” presumptuously boasting of what they know not. In the heyday of hopefulness youth is deaf to the voice of wisdom, madly trusting that for them the skies will always be bright and the winds continue to blow gently. But man’s experience of the uncertainty of the most hopeful prospects has made the gentle winds and the smiling sea proverbs of treachery.
III. Very reluctantly, and only after three days of buffeting, the men consented to “lighten the ship.” Thus, in times of severe trials, our treasures often become our burdens; and he only is wise who, to save his soul, consents to give up all else. But how carefully is this done, lest the sacrifice should be greater than is necessary! At first the less valuable parts of the cargo are cast out; but another day’s perils made them willing even to dismantle the ship and cast out the furniture. So will men do in order to save their lives; but who will make such sacrifices for the saving of their souls? A striking illustration is given in the flight of Cortez from Mexico, when the Aztecs compelled the invaders to flee. Each man was allowed to take what he would, but their commander warned them, saying, “He travels safest in the dark night who travels lightest.” The experience of the conflict that ensued demonstrated the wisdom of the advice and the folly of those who failed to heed it, for all such became an easy prey to the lances of the Aztecs. Because men will trust in outward things so long as they have them, it is often a great mercy when God takes them away.
IV. Because the lessons of providence are not learned at once, the times of darkness and dismay are continued. “Neither sun nor stars in many days appeared.” And in such extremities men learn the folly of their self-confidence, and are the more ready to listen to instruction. “Before I was afflicted I went astray,” says the Psalmist, “but now [since I have been afflicted] have I kept Thy word.”
V. Until that dark night of the utter failure of hope except from God the apostle spoke only as a man--a wise and judicious counsellor; but now he spoke to them as from the mouth of God, and they could not gainsay his words. And so God is accustomed to reveal Himself with greatest clearness and in the richest consolations among the darkest and severest temptations. And even then the assurance of deliverance often reveals also the taking away of all earthly dependences. Though Paul was assured that he and his fellow voyagers would be saved alive, yet he was also shown that they must suffer shipwreck.
VI. Paul and the mariners and soldiers were exposed to the same perils; and by virtue of this forced association deliverance came to the latter. And as in their domestic and social relations unbelievers are sometimes closely associated with God’s people, so they are often delivered in times of calamity. And as we are all fellow voyagers through life, and God has made every man his brother’s keeper, so has He made it the duty of each by prayer and exhortation, and by all other available means, to seek the salvation of all men. The saved and rescued ship’s company were given to Paul. (D. Curry, D. D.)
The stormy voyage of life
The Christian’s means of comfort and safety are--
1. Prudent foresight in the uncertainty of earthly things (verses 9, 10).
2. Brotherly union in the time of need (verses 21, 24, 30).
3. Prompt renunciation of the possessions of this world (verses 18, 19, 38).
4. Courageous trust in God in the storms of temptation (verses 22-25).
5. Grateful use of the Divine means of grace (verses 34-36).
6. Hopeful regard toward the heavenly land of rest (verses 44). (K. Gerok.)
The voyage of life
The analogies between a ship sailing the high seas and a human being sailing the ocean of life are well-nigh endless.
I. In the navies of the world there are yachts for pleasure and merchantmen for business. So there are mere pleasure seekers and those who have serious work on hand. But while sailing to and fro for mere pleasure may be well enough for a yacht, it is a miserable thing for a man. Many a busy man is in reality a pleasure seeker; for he works only because he must, and as soon as the bow of forced labour is unbent he seeks pleasure. Even a coal scow is of more real utility in life than a yacht.
II. Every ship has a cargo. Paul’s ship had, and part of it they had to throw overboard to save the ship. So every man carries a cargo. A cargo of what? Many a young man has a full lading of sceptical opinions. These may seem harmless while all goes serenely in life. But as soon as the stress of weather comes, he may find that his beliefs are sinking him. He had better heave them overboard, then, as fast as he can. No ship would like to carry a cargo of nitroglycerine. But infidel faiths are just as dangerous.
III. Every ship has a captain. Some captains are good and some bad. The drunken captain who ran that steamer ashore and lost five hundred souls was a bad one. No one likes to sail with a captain who has wrecked two or three ships. Jesus is the Captain of salvation, Satan of damnation. Either Jesus or Satan is master of every human soul sailing the ocean of life. The one always saves, the other always wrecks. Who is yours?
IV. Sooner or later every ship must encounter storms. A ship built only for fine weather is not seaworthy. The Christian as well as the unbeliever must be ready for bad weather. There are December as well as June voyages to be made. Forewarned is forearmed; and he who calculates on and prepares for storms will not be overthrown. For a ship to sail into the teeth of a storm without captain or compass or ballast is folly. So for the human voyager it is no less folly to go forward to meet temptation and ridicule and affliction without due preparation.
V. Every ship goes into the doors once in a while to repair damages. So, too, it is good for the soul to go into the dock of private examination and prayer. Prayer and meditation and the study of God’s Word repair many damages which the storms of life inflict. From such hours the soul goes forth refreshed, and rejoices like a strong man to run a race.
VI. A ship in the water is good, but water in the ship is bad. To journey through this world is the Christian’s duty. But to have one’s heart filled with the world is to founder in mid-ocean. There are thousands of water-logged Christians. They make no headway, for the worldliness they carry weighs them down too heavily.
VII. Some ships sail more slowly than others. Often the cause is that their bottoms are covered with barnacles. These are out of sight, but they impede the ship’s progress. So some Christians grow in grace more slowly than others. The reason may always be found in the fact that spiritual barnacles are retarding them--lack of private prayer, neglect of the Bible, non-attendance at church, profane language, foul stories. When a ship’s bottom is thus fouled, the only remedy is to scrape off the unwelcome intruders. So, if a Christian is to make progress, he must cut off the evil thing, and, laying aside every weight, push forward.
VIII. Every ship needs a compass. So every human voyager needs the Word of God, given on purpose to direct his pathway across the trackless ocean of life. Guesswork is bad work on the ocean, and worse work on the ocean of life.
IX. Every ship makes a last voyage. It may be the last voyage ends in shipwreck; it may be it ends in a safe port, from which the good ship sails forth no more. So every human soul makes his last trip. What will yours end in? (A. F. Shauffler.)
The voyage of life
I. We have a great variety in our contemporaries. On board this vessel were souls of a very mixed character. Almost all the social forces of an age are in that vessel. There is labour represented in the sailors, war in the soldiers, commerce in the merchants, law in the men who hold the prisoners in custody, literature and science in Luke, religion in Paul and his companions. In the voyage of life we are thrown like Paul amongst numerous contemporaries, but there are only a few Lukes or Aristarchuses with whom we can have much intercourse. This suggests--
1. A characteristic of human nature distinguished from all other terrestrial life. Natural history shows that there is a perfect correspondence in taste, impulse, and habit, among all the members of any species of non-rational life. Not so with man. Each individual has the power of striking out an orbit for himself different from that in which anyone had ever moved before or will ever move again. All modes of life are possible to man. He can transmigrate into the grub, the seraph, or the fiend, into a beast like Nebuchadnezzar, a devil like Herod, or an apostle like Paul.
2. That mankind are not now in their original condition. To use the power to form different modes and spheres inconsistently with the royal law of benevolence is the essence of sin and the source of ruin. It can never be that God intended our moral energy to create such a variety of tastes, tendencies, and aims as to render social intercourse and harmony impossible. All souls should have a common centre, and in all their social radiations, should harmoniously combine.
3. The probability of a future social classification. Will such men as Paul, Luke, Aristarchus, be doomed forever to live with mercenary merchants, besotted seamen, and bloody soldiers? Are the Herods to continue kings, and the Johns prisoners? Are the Jeffreys to be on the bench and the Baxters at the bar forever? Man’s deepest intuitions, the prayers of the good, and the Bible say it shall not be. The tares and the wheat will one day be separated. We are only mixed while on board this earth ship: as soon as we touch the shore we separate on the principles of moral character and spiritual affinities.
II. The severest trials are common to all. The one trial common to all on board that barque was the danger of losing life (verse 20). They tried every expedient, but all failed; the lamp of hope for a time went out. Danger of life is universally felt to be the severest of trials. And to this all are exposed in a thousand different ways, and all must one day, like Paul and his companions, feel “all hope” of being saved from death taken away. For a short time, in healthy youth and vigorous manhood, you may flow on propitiously like this vessel in the first stage of its voyage, when “the south wind blew softly”; but farther on the sea will marshal its billows against thee; the sun will set, the moon go down, and every star disappear, and thou shall feel thyself only as a bubble on the breakers. The scene suggests that common trims--
1. Develop different dispositions. How different were the feelings of Paul from the others. Even the brave sailors were at their wits’ end; they sought “to flee out of the ship.” The soldiers, too, displayed their base and heartless selfishness, for they proposed to “kill the prisoners.” But none of these things moved Paul. His every word shows an unfaltering faith in Him to whom he had committed himself. His bearing, too, was calm and hope inspiring. His great nature was taken up with the sufferings of his companions (verses 33, 34). Trials test our principles as fire tries the minerals.
2. Show the indifference of nature to social distinctions. The centurion, his subordinates, Christians and heathens, were all treated alike. Old ocean cares no more for the boats with which Xerxes bridged the Hellespont than for any worthless log of timber. It heeds no more the voice of Canute than the cries of a babe. “Napoleon,” says a modern author, “was once made to feel his littleness in a storm at sea off Boulogne. His mighty fleet lay before him. Wishing to review it, he desired Admiral Bruyes to change the position of the ships. Foreseeing that a storm was gathering the admiral respectfully declined. But Napoleon, in a rage, peremptorily demanded obedience. Vice-Admiral Magon obeyed the order. The threatened storm burst. Several sloops were wrecked, and above two hundred poor soldiers and sailors were plunged in the raging waves. The Emperor instantly ordered the boats out to the rescue. He was told, ‘No boat could live in such a sea.’ He then ordered a company of his grenadiers to man the boats, and as he sprang in, exclaimed, ‘Follow me, my brave fellows!’ They had scarcely entered the boat, before a huge wave dashed over the emperor. ‘Onward! onward!’ he cried; but the daring effort was vain; progress in such a sea was impossible. ‘Push on! push on!’ cried Napoleon; ‘do you not hear those cries? Oh, this sea! this sea! it rebels against our power, but it may be conquered!’ At this moment a mighty billow struck the boat with tremendous force, and drove it back, quivering, to the shore. It seemed as though this were the ocean’s answer; or rather the answer of the God of the ocean, to the proud monarch’s boast! Napoleon was cast ashore by the spurning billows of the stormy sea, like a drifting fragment of dripping seaweed.” Nature’s indifference, however, to mere secular distinction is not so strange as her want of respect to the moral. Nature treats apostles and apostates alike. Our character and moral position are not to be estimated by nature’s aspect towards us. “The tower of Siloam” may fall on the good as well as on the bad; children may be “born blind” of righteous parents as well as of wicked. The ground of wicked men may bring forth plenteously, while the soil of the good man be struck with barrenness. “All things come alike to all,” etc. She has her own system of laws; he who attends to them most loyally shall enjoy most of her bounties. In this respect she is an emblem of the moral system. Both are impartial. Both treat their subjects according to their conduct towards them, not according to their conduct towards anything else.
III. Special communications from God are mercifully vouchsafed (verses 24, 25). God knew the dire perils to which Paul was exposed, and interposed. He knows our difficulties and dangers on our voyage to eternity, and makes the necessary communications for our relief. Note some points of resemblance. The Divine communication to the men on board this vessel.
1. Came through the best of the men. Not through one of the merchants, or the centurion, but through Paul, the prisoner. But notwithstanding his secular abjectness, he was a good man. God has ever spoken to the world through the best man. It matters not how poor they are if good. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him,” and He will show them His covenant. The Bible consists of communications from God through holy men, “who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
2. Were the final and effective means of meeting the emergency. Maritime genius and energy were all in vain, and just when in a hopeless state the communication came (verse 20). And so it was after human reason had tried every effort to guide the soul into the haven of peace that Christ came.
3. Their efficacy depended upon a practical attention to the directions (verses 22-31). The lesson is that every promise should be regarded as conditional, unless a most unequivocal assurance is given to the contrary. But what reason had Paul to regard this promise as conditional? There was no if in it. His instincts, experience, observation, and all analogy, satisfied him that Divine ends are always reached by means. God’s promises afford no pretext for carelessness. Has God promised knowledge? It implies study. Has He promised salvation? It implies faith in Christ.
IV. One morally great man however poor, is of immense service to his contemporaries. Note--
1. The characteristics of a truly great man as illustrated in Paul’s history on board the vessel.
2. The service which he rendered--
The voyage of life
I. The setting out.
1. The various changes of surrounding objects (verses 1, 2, 4-8).
2. The friendships (verse 3).
3. The first clouds (verses 9-15).
II. Fear and hope.
1. The fear of unbelief (verses 16-20).
2. The confidence of faith (verses 21-26).
III. The contest with adversities.
1. Trouble discloses hearts (verses 27-32).
2. Trouble leads to God (verses 33-38).
IV. The haven of rest.
1. The shipwreck and billows of death (verses 39-43).
2. The rescue and landing in an unknown country. (Lisco.)
Christ’s bark on the stormy ocean of this world
I. Its dangers.
1. Contrary winds (verses 4, 14).
2. Foolish guides (verses 11, 12).
3. Superfluous possessions (verses 18, 19).
4. Disunited associates (verses 30, 42).
5. Concealed rocks (verses 39, 41).
II. Its means of help.
1. The testimony of pious teachers (verses 9, 21).
2. The prophecies of the Divine Word (verses 23, 24).
3. The comforts of the holy sacraments (verse 35).
4. The blessing of believing prayer (verse 35).
5. The rescuing hand of Almighty God (verses 24, 34, 44). (K. Gerok.)
The narrative suggests that men in passing through life--
I. Have true and false counsellors. Paul here stands for the true (verse 10). “The master and the owner of the ship” stand for the false (verse 11). Thus there are ever counsellors; some pointing to the right path, and some to the wrong; some the apostles of God, and some the emissaries of hell. This fact urges on each--
1. The necessity of an independent inquiry into the question of duty. Let each use his own judgment. “Try the spirits,” etc.
2. The necessity of Divine guidance in the question of duty. “Guide me by Thy counsel,” etc.
II. Are ever disposed to follow the false rather than the true. The greater portion on board rejected the counsels of Paul, and followed those of the master and the owner. It may be that some of them considered it a piece of impertinence on Paul, a landsman, to give nautical advice. Men follow the false because it is--
1. More congenial.
III. Find that the false often appears at first to be the better course. When the vessel, contrary to the advice of Paul moved off from the Fair Havens, things looked propitious. Perhaps under the bright sky, and before favourable winds, many on board laughed at Paul on the first day. So it is; a false course frequently appears at first desirable. There are periods in our sinful life when the south winds blow softly.
IV. Discover that the false ultimately conducts to the most terrible disasters. The soft south wind gives way to the Euroclydon, which hurls the bark into the utmost distress. And then comes the period when all hope that they should be saved was taken away. Two circumstances greatly aggravated the ship’s distress.
1. The darkness. No sun or stars for many days appeared, not an unusual circumstance during a Levanter.
2. Hunger. The want of food led to the pain of exhaustion and the bitter gnawing of hunger. This is what following the false leads to. “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
They delivered Paul, and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus’ band.
Nothing is more remarkable to the student of the New Testament than the favourable impression which Roman officers make upon the mind. It may be that the military career is favourable to some attractive virtues, or that Scripture would remind us that they may be formed in spite of adverse circumstances in the military life.
1. In the centurion at Capernaum we have the exhibition of a very high type of character (Mark 8:10; Luke 7:9).
2. The centurion at the Cross by his memorable confession is sharply divided from the company around (Mark 15:39; Luke 23:47).
3. Cornelius again (Acts 10:1; Acts 11:18), is a pattern both before and after his conversion to Christians.
4. Paul was brought in contact with five centurions.
I. (Verse 3). “He courteously entreated Paul,” etc. The fact that he was a heathen enhances the favourable impression produced by his courtesy and kindness. Whether this arose from natural disposition, or from some influence which Paul had gained over him from what he may have observed and heard, we cannot tell. Notice that it was not mere permission that he gave, which would have been something, considering that he had no guarantee that Paul would return, and implies a large and rapid growth of good feeling. But there was a remarkable display of consideration in the manner in which it was done. Then let all that is implied in two expressions be considered. Paul must have needed refreshment for his health and spirits. He was of delicate constitution, and had undergone great trials. And of all refreshment the most acceptable Would be the society of Christian friends.
II. At Myra (verse 5) Julius and his prisoners changed ships and set out again in a gale which drove them to the Fair Havens of Crete (verse 8), where they stayed for a time, and were recommended by Paul to stay longer. But the centurion preferred the counsel of the master and the owner of the ship, and naturally. The one had experience of the sea, the other the best possible reasons for consulting the ship’s safety, and besides were in the majority. Prom a worldly point of view, therefore, Julius deserves credit for his good sense. But Paul was right, and Julius wrong, as events proved, and this was one of the circumstances which gradually raised Paul to a position of commanding influence. And it is worthy of note that Julius took no offence at Paul’s honest opposition.
III. The centurion is next mentioned when the ship was at anchor, but in danger of going on to the rocks (verse 29). The sailors, consulting their own safety, were for lowering the boat. Paul saw the peril, but acted with consummate judgment. He said nothing to the sailors, but spoke at once to the centurion, who had now implicit confidence in the apostle, and dealt with the matter promptly. Thus the sailors were kept on board to do what they only could do, and thus the lives of nearly three hundred were saved through the good understanding established between the heathen and the Christian.
IV. When daylight came this friendly feeling led in a still more remarkable way to similar results. Lest the prisoners should escape in the break up of the vessel the soldiers suggested their execution inasmuch as they were answerable with their lives for the prisoners. They forgot, however, they owed their own lives to Paul. And now, in this imminent danger, comes out the peculiar feeling of Julius towards him (verses 42, 43). Had Paul not been of the party, and had Julius been of a different disposition, the prisoners would have been killed. That they were all saved was due to the friendship between the two.
V. The last mention of the centurion is in Rome (Acts 28:16). His duty was done, and he proceeds to obey whatever new orders were laid upon him. Conclusion:
1. It is probable that Paul, Felix, and Julius were for some time in Rome together, but not very likely that they ever met again. A large city is like a large forest, where different paths may be pursued again and again without any chance of meeting. Each man in such a city, however, has his own history and carries with him the results of his past experience and opportunities. Felix was what he became after his procrastination; and Julius what he became after close companionship with Paul. Whether this ripened into Christianity or not we do not know.
2. We have followed the biographical thread with little mention of religion. There is no mention of Christ in all this long chapter. The duty of an expositor, however, is to deal fairly with the sacred volume, feeling assured that there is some Christian lesson even where Christ is not named. And it is instructive to find such variety of teaching as we go through Scripture. In these later chapters we have two of the early points of contact between Christianity and heathenism. In the one case there is reference to the salvation of the soul, in the other the incidents of friendly intercourse as regards affairs of the world. In the one we have advice to the unconverted, in the other advice to the converted about the duty and advantages of courtesy, and the force of the example is increased by the fact that Julius was a heathen. Parallel cases are when our Lord singles out Samaritans as examples of benevolence and gratitude. For the importance that the New Testament attaches to courtesy (see Matthew 5:5; Matthew 5:7; Matthew 5:9; Matthew 5:41; Romans 12:10; Philippians 2:3-5; Ephesians 4:31-32; 1 Peter 2:17; 1 Peter 3:8). Let it not be said that in the midst of our boasted civilisation the lesson is obsolete. Rudeness is common to and often encouraged in boyhood, and no rank is exempt from it. How it prevails in political and ecclesiastical partisanship! (Dean Howson.)
And Julius courteously entreated Paul.--
Effect of courteous treatment
In a certain town a new minister had been called and settled. In that town was a “God-forsaken” old reprobate, whom nobody respected or spoke to who could avoid it. He had never been known to go inside a place of worship. He only worked when driven by necessity to do so, and leafed about the town a common nuisance. A few days after the minister came to the town he met the old man on the street, and bowing spoke a pleasant “good morning,” and passed on. The old man turned and looked after him, and made inquiry of someone as to who he might be. The same thing happened a day or two afterward, and again during the space of a week or two. Some one told the minister that he had made a friend of the old man, and laughingly told him that he was wasting politeness on the reprobate. “Never mind,” said the minister, “it does not cost much to be polite, and no more to an old reprobate than to the squire of the town.” It was not long till old Blank was noticed creeping into the corner of the church farthest from the pulpit and nearest to the door. He had come in late and was the first to leave the church. He came again and again, and was finally brought to Christ, and during the rest of his life lived a consistent and earnest Christian life. He said the minister’s bow was what did it.
The winds were contrary.--
The voices of God’s providence
Among the voices of God’s providence are the howling storm and the roaring sea. A pious chaplain, detained by contrary wind at the Isle of Wight over the Sunday, preached that day in one of the churches of the island. In the congregation there was a thoughtless girl who had come to show her fine clothes. The Word of God arrested her, and she was converted. The story of her conversion is the narrative of the “Dairyman’s Daughter,” which has gone all round the world, and the fruit of the sermon is a hundredfold.
And when we had sailed slowly many days.
As on board our ships, one has not always a favourable wind, and does not always proceed quickly forward, so the Christian in his journey through life has often to wait. (K. Gerok.)
Came unto a place which is called The fair havens.--
The fair havens of moderation and content
I. In the voyage of life we are brought into many a fair haven.
1. Life does not consist only of storms. These havens are of various kinds, satisfying the desires of rest, ambition, pleasure. But as these havens were not what these sailors were wishful for, and as they were ready to leave them, we are reminded of one fair haven in which men are not too willing to rest--moderation and content.
2. There were no noble features about these Fair Havens--no stupendous breakwater at Caesarea, no town near, no roadstead full of merchantmen. It was just a refuge for the storm-driven and hindered elsewhere. And so moderation and content form a haven of rest from many of the opposed ambitions of life.
3. There are other harbours which are no true havens. Look at that picture of the death of Chatterton. Through the open window we have vision of a better rest than of despair. Heaven is the last abiding harbour, but moderation, contentment, form a little fair haven on the way.
4. When we are driven to this haven let us be content. It is a fair haven if we have grace to know it.
II. Very often these fair havens will seem to be inconvenient for wintering in. We shall be willing to be content for a little time, but not for long. And so real content is not found. We imagine the demands of our life are not met by these quiet places of moderation. “Give me neither poverty nor riches,” said a wise man; but many risk the former for the mere chance of the latter. They will have all or none.
III. When the fair havens are being tried and doubted, we shall be surrounded by many kinds of counsellors. There was one here who never withheld his words if he could help others (Acts 27:10), but he was only a parson--what did he know about ships? Besides, he was a prisoner, and delay might be an advantage. Further, in the opinion of Festus he was mad. What was his opinion against the advice backed by the skill, experience, and interest of the captain and owner? And then the vast majority (Acts 27:12) were for going on. But vox populi was not vox Dei here. And generally the infallibility of the majority is on the same level as the infallibility of the Pope or that of conceited minorities. So do not listen to tempting voices because they are numerous. There may be one counsel advising keeping in good ways; but then it is only dear old mother’s counsel, who knows nothing of the ways of the world, or that of interested parsons, or crazed fanatics. Those who advise me to seek pleasure, wealth, etc., have had long experience.
IV. If at these times we give heed to the false counsel we shall often think we have gained our purpose, but soon find that we have lost it. The south wind blows softly on many a tempted soul. The ways of sin are easy, and unattended by evil consequences. There is no intention of losing heaven. A religious old age shall follow a worldly manhood. But the haven of Phoenix was never reached by this ship, and Malta was only reached after the destructive storm. (T. Gasquoine, B. A.)
Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous,… Paul admonished them.
Sphere of the Christian minister
Paul was a landsman. What did he know about navigation? And so the centurion said--just as you would have said--“This is a matter that I would rather take the testimony of the shipmaster and the owner about, than yours.” And the voyage went on, and it all came as Paul had declared, and he had that sweet opportunity that everybody longs for, of saying, “I told you so.” So that Paul, at the end of the voyage, commanded the captain, and the owner, and the crew, and the soldiers, and the centurion, and had charge of everything on board, and finally of the islanders themselves, when they were wrecked. A true man shows that he is true at that very point where other men break down. There are two points of sensitiveness among men.
I. Men are jealous and indignant often at ministers meddling with the affairs of society. And when ministers are associated in a class with arrogant pretensions, men ought to resent their intrusion. But a true minister is a man moved by the grace of God to be the teacher of moral ideals in a community, and being a citizen has all the rights of a citizen to deal with public affairs. Now a judgment formed by a clear head upon any course from high moral grounds, is likely to be sounder, wiser, and more cogent than judgments which are formed from mere practical grounds. Moral intuition may be, and often is, wiser than practical experience itself. An outsider is very useful to an insider. As the engineer cannot steer, being down below among the machinery, he is very much helped by the man who is on the lookout; and men that are buried in the hull of their affairs ought to be thankful if there is anybody on deck that can keep a good look out, and tell which way the ship is going. All kinds of business, all professions, all courses in social life, stand in relation to the moral welfare of the whole community. And we have a right, with or without ordination, to meddle with the moral relations of every course and calling. Many and many a voyage has been disastrous because when Paul has said, “Ye will come to harm,” the centurion said, “We have the shipmaster and the owner, and we will listen to them rather than to this Paul. What does he know about it?” In many and many a case it has turned out that the stranger, whose advice was rejected with scorn, knew more than all on board put together. This has been Christ’s quarrel from the beginning. As it was said on one occasion, so it is said now, “What have we to do with Thee? Art Thou come to torment us before our time?” And when Christian teachers begin to apply the larger principles of criticism to the evil courses of society: “Ye meddlers, why do you not attend to your business, and let us attend to ours? Stay thou at home and preach Christ, and do not touch grog-shops or lotteries. What hast thou to do with Wall Street? ‘Follow the meek and lowly Jesus.’” I do follow Him--precisely that; for He said, “I came not to send peace, but a sword,” etc. The men especially who follow Christ and His apostles are the men who turn the world upside down. The minister has a right to go into every part of society and give advice, and no man can say, “It is none of your business.” It is my business. Everything that is done under God’s sun is my business. When I stand and look upon those things which are of common interest to you and to me, and say, “Such courses jar against the integrity at large,” it is precisely my business.
II. There is a popular impression that every man understands his own business best and complaint is often made of ministers that they meddle with things that they do not understand. But when ministers meddle with practical life they are meddling with just what they do understand, or ought to. Look at this matter. I admit that there is a truth in the contention that a man generally understands his own business best. The printer, the lawyer, the machinist, etc., understand the technicalities of their crafts better than I do. But does it follow that a man understands the general relations of his business to other businesses, the moral relations of his business, the relations of his business to political economy, better than an outsider does? So far from that, experience shows that no man is so blind as a man that is immersed in his own business. It is not often the case that any department of life is reformed of its own accord. It always is forced upon it ab extra. It does not follow that the miller understands bread better than I do. He knows more about the process than I do; but when it is done, and I take the loaf, and eat it, then I am as good a judge of bread as he is. It is not for me, perhaps, to say how a judge shall discharge his function; but it is for me to say when he discharges his function wrongly. It is not for me to say what is the special province of an advocate; but the moment he so conducts his profession that it touches the question of right and wrong, he comes into my sphere. Do you suppose that, because a man is an apothecary, he does not know how to catch trout? He has studied the nature of trout on purpose to amuse himself. Does it follow that, because a man is an able lawyer, he cannot be a skilful hunter? Experience shows that he can, though he may not have made it the sole business of his life to hunt. Do you suppose that I study old musty books when I want to preach? I study you! When I want to know more about the doctrine of depravity, I study you! When I want to know what is right and what is wrong, I see how you do; and I have abundant illustrations on every side! The same is true of the career of commerce, and all the instruments of commerce. There are a thousand things in these that a man cannot well and perfectly understand who does not devote himself to them. There are a thousand questions that no man would meddle with who was not inside of these things. Pan! did not say to this man, “You ought to hoist this sail, or that sail.” That was not his business. But he did say to them, “You must not make this voyage.” He knew that the season was unfavourable. He had some knowledge of the great courses of nature as well as other men. And the fact that he was an apostle did not take away his power of judging of these things. So I stand and say, “There are certain courses in the great commercial world that are sure to bring damage to those that pursue them.” And you shall not revile me, saying, “You are nothing bat a minister.” There are certain courses in banking that I know to be atrocious. I know that there are operations in railway management that outrage every law of prudence. I know that where a fraternity of villainous capitalists are joined together they shall be able to swamp legislators, and sweep whole communities to destruction, and it is my business to sound the alarm, and to say to men, “There is no prosperity to society so long as such gigantic swindles as these are going on.” And when I say it, they say to me, “Are you a railroad man?” No, but I am after railroad men. “Do you understand this business?” No, but I know the men who are in this business. And when it is said, “Nobody can give advice in regard to the affairs of any given department unless he belongs to those affairs,” I say that a cock does not need to be in bed with you to know that the morning has come, and crow! It is because he is out of doors, and sits aloft, and sees when the sun is coming up, that he becomes the clarion of the morning, and gives you the signal for waking up. That which is true of these departments is just as true of political affairs. It is an evil day when patriotism is considered to be too foul for a minister, when the formation of the laws is considered to be a business in which righteous men should not dabble, when the policy of the state, which carries with it the welfare of the whole mass of men--their joy or their sorrow, their weal or their woe--is such that a man of a pure heart cannot touch it. And I say, that, as long as I love my country--so long I am concerned in all these things, and so long I will be concerned in them. Therefore, if men say, “What do you understand of the mechanism of politics?” I say, “The machinery of politics I know very little about; but I know what courses tend toward rectitude, intelligence, liberty; and I know these thing better than men do who dabble in politics. For, when a man forgets God, country, manhood, that he may go down and mould his nefarious plans, I know more than he does, because I stand out in the Upper light.” Do you say, “Is not this strange to be talking on Sunday night and in a church about these things”? What then! do you not believe that men are corrupt? that the young men are perverted in their ambition? that the bottom is falling out of honesty and patriotism? And is there to be nobody to say anything about these things? Have you a church that is like a boy’s toy? and am I to stand and play on my trumpet for the amusement of the nursery? Am I to see humanity damaged, the nation shaken, God’s cause in imminent peril, and must I remember that I am a minister, and not talk about these things? Is that your idea of a minister’s business? Was that the cause that made Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul, martyrs, confessors, and every reformer who was hated in his own age and worshipped in the ages that followed? I tell you, it is the business of every man to whom God gives the opportunity, the understanding, the courage, and the impulse; and it is my business. And if the centurion says, “I would rather believe the shipmaster and the owner,” and he goes out, and will not take my advice, it will not be long before I shall have the chance to say to him after the desolating storm, “You ought to have heard my words.” (H. Ward Beecher.)
When the south wind blow softly.--
A fair wind
As far as Rhegium the ship had a comparatively prosperous voyage; but the cargo which was for that port having been discharged, the captain looked in vain for a favouring breeze. Either a calm prevailed at that time which prevented them getting out of the harbour, or else a north wind was blowing, which would be dead ahead. Anxiously did the skipper trace the sky for signs of an approaching breeze, or for indications that the rude north blast would change into a southerly zephyr. I do not know if the mariners in those days had learned to whistle for the wind. Perhaps they were so employed; but then, as now, whistling was waste of breath. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and whistles when it pleases, whether we whistle or no. By and by, in God’s good providence, not because the captain wished it, nor because the sailors whistled for it, but because Heaven’s order had gone forth, the wind veered round to the south, or else the calm became disturbed by a breeze, which seemed to be made on purpose for the north-bound craft. You may be sure that all was bustle immediately; up came the anchor, up went the sails, and away the galley flew before the favouring breeze. The passage was a quick one, too, for they came the next day to Puteoli. But it is my purpose to speak not so much of ships and sailors, as of Christians and of their trials.
I. The wind was at first unfavourable. I do not see what right we have, as men and women, much less as Christian men and women, to expect everything to favour us. My dear brother, remember that thou art a man, and that man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and consequently frail. But, further, thou art a sinful man. Sin is itself the greatest trouble, and the fruitful cause of every grief. Perhaps you are a seeker after Christ, longing for peace and crying for pardon, and you say to yourselves sometimes, “I am on a good errand, why should I find it so difficult? Why is the road so rough? Conscience speaks against me: the devil roars upon me: God’s people do not always favour and encourage me: sometimes God’s Word looks as black as midnight, and the preaching of the gospel has no sounds of love and mercy for me.” Why, dear friend, thou art wind-bound in the harbour of Rhegium, so to speak; but, believe me, the prize is so well worth having that you may be well content to seek it long and earnestly. It is no easy matter to be saved. In one sense it is simplicity itself--“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved”; but to believe is not mere child’s play. All things are possible to him that believeth, but to believe is impossible to the unregenerate heart. Christ Himself has said, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate,” and again, “The kingdom of God suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” “Ye shall seek Me,” saith the Lord, “and find Me when ye shall search for Me with all your heart.” Do not despair because of discouragement, but believe that the Lord is only drawing you to Himself, and longs as much as you do that He and you should be reconciled. But you are a Christian man: you have already trusted Christ and been baptized--at least I hope so--and joined the Church. And did you fancy that when you became identified with the Lord’s people you would be beyond the bounds of trouble? This is not true of the arms of the Church, for though it is a fold, its hurdles can be leaped by the devouring lion, and Christ’s disciples are sent forth “as sheep in the midst of wolves.” The inventory of the Christian’s possessions is not complete if “with persecutions” be omitted. God has the ruling of the winds and waves, and if He should sometimes send adverse currents and contrary breezes, tarry in the harbour of resignation till the time is fulfilled and His will accomplished. Note next that a headwind to us may be favourable to other people. Perhaps there was a calm in this case, and God was making rain for future days, and by evaporation forming the clouds to shelter tender fruit from excessive sunshine. Perhaps the north wind was blowing. Well, that was just the thing for the vessels that were bound south, was it not? However would they have got on if the south wind had sprung up before they got to their desired haven? Oh to have that spirit always which will say, “Lord, if I had my choice I would have the south wind, for I want to go right away north; but then there is somebody who wants to come south, so, Lord, I leave the wind, as well I may, in Thy hand. It shall be good for me though it does not seem so. The Lord will withhold no good thing from those that walk uprightly.” The winds are proverbially fickle. Who can manage them? God can! We speak of the laws by which the winds are governed, and science is constantly showing plainer proofs that there are such laws, but, mind you, they are not nature law’s, but those of nature’s God. “He causeth His wind to blow and the waters flow.” “He bringeth His wind out of His treasuries. He rode upon a cherub and did fly: yea He did fly upon the wings of the wind.” Now, if the winds, more fickle than anything and everything besides, are governed and controlled by the Master maker’s hand, every coincidence so called, every circumstance, every accident, is just as much under the gracious influence of a faithful Creator. Oh what joy it is to leave everything in the hands of God, to let Him cast the lot into the lap as well as to dispose of it. It is recorded of Napoleon Bonaparte that having spoken boastfully in the presence of friends about his projected invasion of Russia, and being rebuked by a good lady, who ventured to say, “Sire, man proposes, but God disposes,” the haughty emperor replied, as angrily as he well could to a lady, “I dispose as well as propose.” Thereupon he marched his millions into Russia, but never brought them back again; and all the snowy plains were incarnadined with Frenchmen’s blood; while he himself tasted the bitterness of defeat, and already felt his throne tottering beneath him. How powerless we are to direct our own affairs! The ship of which we speak was named the Castor and Pollux, and these two sons of Jove were supposed to have power over winds and waves. Why, then, did they not turn the wind round to suit their purpose? “Surely it is an easy matter for you, O sons of Jove, to make the breezes favourable! What means your name if you cannot help yourselves in this emergency? What’s in a name indeed?” It is interesting to recall the names of some vessels that have been wrecked--The Happy Return never came back again; The Success was a terrible failure; and The Prosperous never paid a dividend. Just before I left the harbour of Auckland, I saw floating in the harbour, with a yawing gap in her bows, a steamer named The Triumph. What a misnomer to be sure for a vessel that ran upon a rock right under the rays of a lighthouse and was with the greatest difficulty floated again. So they call their ships, but the winds and the waves triumph over them, and play with them like toys. And so we name our schemes and resolutions, and dote upon them, forgetting that God can break our ships and bring our counsels to nought. Well is it for us that; He does sometimes, yet we do not always think so. I like the spirit of the man who, having a large vane to tell which way the wind blew, cut in the zinc, “God is love.” Oh, to learn this lesson well I If the wind blows from the north, “God is love.” If it blows from the south, “God is love.” If it comes from the west, “God is love.” Aye, and if we have that bitter cold east wind, that is good for neither man nor beast, “God is love” just the same.
II. The north wind presently became fair. “It is a long lane that has no turning.” All things come to the man that can wait; and as to the Christian, why it ought to be his pleasure to wait. And was it not worth waiting for? When the breeze did spring up it was one of the best the skipper had ever experienced. It blew from exactly the right quarter, was neither too light or too stiff, and, if I mistake not, the Castor and Pollux made the fastest passage on record from Rhegium to Puteoli, for it is recorded in the apostolic log book, “We came the next day to Puteoli.” The Lord was waiting to be gracious. God was brewing the south wind while the passengers and crew were vexing themselves about the north wind. And so while I am waiting and longing, and wishing, and perhaps fretting and grumbling, God is getting my blessing ready for me--waiting to be gracious. My soul, wait thou only upon God! And this applies to the seekers of whom I spoke just now. You are crying, “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him,” and while you are yet speaking God is preparing a south wind. Do you not already feel its breath? Listen to this. It comes like a zephyr from the south--“Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” Does not that blow your way, and fit your case, and swell your sails? Oh that you would spread the canvas and catch the breeze.
III. As soon as it did become fair the sailors seized the opportunity. “Of course they did,” say you. Well, I do not know why “of course,” except that they were men of common sense. I would to God that all had common sense about spiritual things, and then I believe that all would “of course” be saved. Have you not heard many a sermon after which you have said, “I cannot understand how anyone could go away unconverted. How Could they help trusting in the Lord Jesus after that invitation, and after so sweet and plain a proclamation of the way of life?” The only reason is that the mind is darkened and the heart is hardened by unbelief. There is no “of course” about it till God makes His people willing in the day of His power. But see what these mariners did. Perhaps there was quite a flotilla of vessels in that port, and as soon as the wind changed the anchor chains began to click, and the sails to flap, but being once filled with the breeze, away sped each north-bound craft, through the harbour heads, while onlookers on the shore said one to another, “There go the ships! There go the ships!” The wind said “Go,” and they obeyed its voice. And we may do likewise in temporal and spiritual matters. ‘Tis said that “There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” However this may be, I am convinced that many an opportunity is lost by people who, for want of confidence in themselves, or more often through want of trust in God, do not set sail till the breeze is gone. It is sadly so in spiritual matters. Repentance is too often delayed till death; and the foolish virgins come to the supper when the door is shut. We will suppose that the harbour is full of little vessels, all bound north. The south wind springs up, but, strange to say, there is no movement in all the fleet. Each ship remains as still as if it were a painted ship upon a painted ocean. I saw a woodcut the other day of a vessel in full sail but with her anchor holding fast to the rocks beneath. Never was such an absurdity practised in seafaring life, but I know many people who, when the gospel is preached and impressions are being made, instead of pulling the anchor up and yielding to God’s good Spirit, run out yet another lest they should be converted. One man told me to my face that he did not come to chapel because he was afraid he should be converted. I pray you act not thus. There is another vessel on which the crew and the skipper are fast asleep. They “turned in” as soon as the south wind blew. These are they who are unconcerned about their salvation. They are asleep. Not they are dead--“Dead in trespasses and sins.” Oh, man, wake up, put up thy sails and work thy vessel, for God will never save thee else. There must be some desire on thy part as well a power on His part. There is another vessel on board of which the most peculiar performance possible is going on. Mark you, there is a splendid wind blowing--what the sailors call a “spanking breeze”; and yet these men are actually endeavouring to move their craft with artificial airs. One of them has a blow pipe in his hands, with which he tries to blow the vessel along. Another uses a pair of bellows for the same purpose. Several of them are waving fans and seeking to waft their ship towards Puteoli. Fools that they are. God’s breath is better than the little breeze they make. And who are these? These are the self-righteous, who say, “You tell us that there is a righteousness provided by God, but we are above taking that.” They want to work out a righteousness of their own, and they are puffing and blowing, and try to speed their barques towards heaven. What supreme folly it is! Fellow sinner, thou hast but to seize the helm, or, better still, hand it over to the captain of thy salvation. There is yet another ship to notice. No one appears on the deck, for the sailors and officers are poring over maps, and parchments, and charts. They seem to have forgotten that there is a fair breeze blowing, and possibly do not mean to set sail till they have mastered their geometry and geography. These are they who say, “No, I want to understand everything fully before I believe anything at all. I must know how I am going to round the promontory of election, and how I can reconcile the current of God’s sovereignty with the counter-current of man’s responsibility!” I cannot blame anyone for wishing to comprehend the deep things of God, nor would I dissuade you from inquiring about predestination, but such inquiries must not prevent the use of the means of grace, or the acceptance of the truth as it is in Jesus. For the present it suffices me that God’s mercy is for all and upon all them that believe. Notice, lastly, that they came ere long to Puteoli. There were wells at Puteoli, and palms and fountains, and doubtless weary travellers rejoiced in these. There, too, the apostle “found brethren.” Oh, if thou wilt come to Christ thou shalt find a well of living water, a bath of precious blood that washes white as snow, a fountain which will be in your heart like a well of water springing up unto everlasting life. And there are brethren too--the Elder Brother, God’s dear Son, and all the children of the family, who will welcome you into the Church and go with you hand-in-hand to glory. But Paul did not stop at Puteoli. He had to go overland then to Rome; and, as you know, at Rome he laid down his life for Jesus’ sake. But Rome was not the terminus of his journey. That is where the red line on the map stops, but we want a celestial map to show his real resting place. No, I forgot; he has not stopped yet, for he is journeying on and on, ever making progression, ever getting nearer to the Saviour’s face. And I believe that every Christian, though he be shipwrecked at Melita--though he be delayed three days at Syracuse--though he become wind-bound at Rhegium--though he tarry seven days at Puteoli with the brethren, aye, and though he suffer persecution and martyrdom at Rome--will land at last in glory through the grace of God. (Thos. Spurgeon.)
Seafaring people have, as if by common consent, divided the ocean off into regions, and characterised them according to the winds; e.g., there are the “trade-wind regions,” the “variables,” the “horse latitudes,” the “doldrums,” etc. The “equatorial doldrums,” besides being a region of calms and baffling winds, is a region noted for its rains and clouds, which make it one of the most oppressive and disagreeable places at sea. The emigrant ships from Europe for Australia have to cross it. They are often baffled in it for two or three weeks; then the children and the passengers who are of delicate health suffer most. It is a frightful graveyard on the wayside to that golden land. In crossing the equatorial doldrums the mariner has passed a ring of clouds that encircles the earth. And do not these doldrums illustrate a class of influences to which we are all subject? Are we not all certain in our journey to have days of deep melancholy, when all is dismal, when our hopes are baffled, when we make no progress and yet have no calm? Then, indeed, we suffer; and depression clouds the sky of all its light. Take courage, drooping heart, and remember that thou too hast a golden land in view! (Scientific Illustrations.)
The prognosticating instinct
Great are the advantages which are possessed by that man who is blessed with the prognosticating instinct; for thereby he is enabled to observe the signs of the times, prepare prudently for the things which are looming in the future, and to be ready to perform his part discreetly, when the man who is not similarly endowed is in all the tumult of surprise and confusion. But this instinct is not confined to man; it has a far wider range. And the individual who has not yet seen the advantages of being ready in season and out of season will do well to investigate this matter. He will be surprised at the state of constant preparedness in which even creatures far inferior to himself are to be found. The actiniae throw out their feelers and expand themselves when a continuance of fine weather is to be expected, but withdraw and contract themselves, even in a room, when a change is impending. The mussels, before the approach of a storm, spin several new threads to secure their hold on the rocks; and leeches rise to the surface of the water before rain. Spiders enlarge their webs during fine weather, but spin only short threads, work seldom, or hide themselves in corners during rain. Many beetles, by their active flight and humming sounds, give tokens of the morrow’s brightness. Before rain, bees remain either in their hives or in the neighbourhood of them; and ants convey deep into the hills the pupae which they expose to the sun in fine weather. If the atmosphere be lowering in the morning, pigeons feed rapidly, and return to their cots, and the hare hides itself; but the mole comes to the surface of the ground, and the squirrel seeks its nest and shuts its entrance. (Scientific Illustrations.)
But not long after there arose … a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon.
Paul in the storm
No landsman who has never been in a storm at; sea can truly picture one. The description in our lesson is allowed by those who know to be one of the best ever written. It is on record that Lord Nelson read this chapter on the morning of the battle of Copenhagen, and it is a fact that the ships at that battle, as well as others in which Nelson had the command, were anchored by the stern (an unusual thing), as was the ship in our lesson. From this thrilling narrative we may gather some useful lessons.
1. God’s particular knowledge of the whereabouts of His people.
2. His power to bless under all circumstances. See Paul’s courage and self-possession. Contrast with sailors. The reason, his faith in God and his confidence in His word.
3. The value of real religion. It gives rest of soul in times of trial. Ensures final safety. Enables its possessors to be benefactors and comforters to others. Let us have Jesus as our Pilot, then always safe in our voyage of life. (Christian Age.)
Paul in the storm
Or, if God be for us, who can be against us?
I. Not winds and waves with their violence; for winds and waves must obey the Almighty.
II. Not men with their designs and plans; for the Lord says, Resolve, and it will come to nothing.
III. Not our own heart, with its doubts and anxieties; for comfort comes from above: fear not. (K. Gerok.)
Paul tested in the storm
1. In his faith in God.
2. In his pastoral fidelity.
3. In his undaunted courage. (K. Gerok.)
Paul and Jonah
1. Jonah flees from the presence of the Lord; Paul journeys in the service of the Lord.
2. Jonah brings the wrath of God on his fellow passengers; Paul becomes the comfort and safety of his.
3. Jonah is rescued from the jaws of death; Paul brings 276 souls to land.
4. Jonah goes to Nineveh to preach repentance; Paul goes to Rome to proclaim the gospel with the sacrifice of his own life. (K. Gerok.)
The storm and the deliverance
No other storm has become so famous as this. Of no other shipwreck has so much been written. Yet every year a storm has swept the Adriatic, and unnumbered ships have sunk beyond the reach of tempests; but this one, whose name we know not, is alone historic. It was not a cargo of gold--only wheat! and wheat was plentiful. It was not a ship of the line with honoured guests. Upon that great stormy sea, a century before, the great Caesar warned the pilot, “Steer boldly; thou cattiest Caesar and his fortune.” The historic ship carried Paul, and grim humour hath it that the great missionary was carried at Nero’s expense.
I. The storm.
1. It may be compared to the equinoctial gale, coming with the force of a hurricane. The description reminds us of Psalms 107:25-27. Terror seized the crew and soldiers; “all hope was taken away.” The compass was not yet invented, and the sailor’s chart depended upon their observation of the stars, or the course of the sun. No rift in the clouds by night or day gave any knowledge. The whistling tempest, the moaning waves, the roaring breakers--these were the parts in the minor music of their despair.
2. Yet God was there. That storm, like every other since, had its meaning. A seeming evil is not the hiding of God’s face. All is not dark which seems dark. Above the tempest; the sun shone every day in all his glory, and at night every star stood out as clear and beautiful as though their light were seen everywhere. In all this scene of despair an angel of God had come upon the deck of the ship (verses 23, 24).
3. In the midst of that awful gale the apostle, pale and weakened from long fasting, stood up. It was he who had made Felix tremble. The voice which had almost persuaded king Agrippa was heard above the raging of the sea (verses 21-25). The prisoner was from henceforth the captain. The centurion, accustomed to speak with authority, became the obedient servant of his prisoner.
4. Although he had thus spoken, there was no abatement in the tempest. They drifted at the mercy of the gale until midnight of the fourteenth day, when they awoke in the midst of the breakers. But even in that place “all were of good cheer.” No other event; more clearly mirrors the power of the apostle over men; or, shall we not rather say, “Christ, who had dispelled all fears in the storm on Genessaret, wrought good cheer in that ship upon the Adriatic through His apostle”?
5. The tent maker, who could pray while he worked, could work while he prayed. He who, in the beginning of the voyage, had shown his interest in every preparation, would not leave the post of danger in the hour of trial. We are to pray for the Sick; but when the hour has come for us to give the medicine, we must give the medicine, and we can pray while we are giving it. The fireman can pray as he ascends the ladder to save the child. The citizen can pray while he cares for his neighbour’s goods. Judging from what we know of his nature, the most active man on that ship was Paul; and this active man prayed without ceasing.
6. The promise was, “Lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.” It was not at all necessary for God to save the whole ship’s company in order to prolong Paul’s life that he might stand before Nero; but it was on Paul’s account that the rest were saved. It was as when Lot by his presence kept back the impending fiery storm from Sodom. No real disciple can ever know the full extent of his influence upon the ungodly.
II. With this storm as a background, and the promise given, we accept the great fact; namely--
1. The decreed certainty of their salvation. The sailors disbelieved, as they showed by endeavouring to escape in the boat. The centurion and his company may have feared, but Paul never doubted. The scene declares his unbounded faith. When morning had come, they could partially see the land before them through the rain and fog. “And it came to pass that,” by swimming, and floating upon pieces of the wreck, “they escaped all safe to land.” The Divine promise was as much of a fact as the salvation itself. Whatever God declares shall come to pass will come to pass. Around this shipwreck has arisen the question, Was the promise based solely upon the Divine will, or upon the Divine foreknowledge? In answer, we point to--
2. The condition embraced in the decree. Paul never ceased his vigilance. If they were to be saved without a condition, surely all this watching was in vain. The Divine promise was based on the free efforts of those on board. Thus the sailors were preparing to leave the ship when he, who had declared the certainty of their coming to land safely, said, “Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.” There was reason in these words. The sailors understood managing the ship, the soldiers could have done nothing. The Divine account took in the skill of the crew. (D. O. Mears.)
In the storm
It is an interesting confession that Mr. Moody makes, that when the Spree, on which he made his passage home, was thought to be sinking, “it was the darkest hour of his life.” “My thoughts,” he says, “went out to my loved ones at home--my wife and children, anxiously awaiting my coming--my friends on both sides of the sea--the schools and all the interests so dear to me--and realised that perhaps the next hour would separate me forever from all these, so far as the world was concerned: I confess it almost broke me down … I could not endure it. I must haze relief, and relief came in prayer.” A good deal of unreal talk is indulged in about the Christian taking no heed of death, and welcoming it under any form in which it may come. If a man did get into such a state, he would simply have attained to a state of supreme selfishness. He would be cruelly and callously careless of the pain to all who loved him, and would resemble a man who rejoiced simply because he was going to exchange a post of arduous, earthly service for his Master for a life of pure, spiritual enjoyment. Is that Christianity? It was not Paul’s idea of it. He looked for the “far better,” but he wanted still more greater opportunities of present service, and he was prepared to sacrifice his hopes of heaven, if need be, for his work’s sake. Paul was not particularly cheerful at Ephesus, when, with the presentiment of early death upon him, he took a final farewell of his friends. The true Christian loves his life, and shudders at the “figure clothed in grey,” though he does not dread death “as one that has no hope.” (Christian World.)
The calmness of faith
On shipboard a few years ago, when the passengers crowded on deck from the cabin and saloon in a sudden panic of fear that a terrible accident was imminent, a lady and gentleman started the hymn, “My faith looks up to Thee, Thou Lamb of Calvary.” The singing of this hymn was after a moment taken up by the whole company assembled on the ship. Not only were fears allayed, presence of mind displayed, but noble testimony was borne to the Lord Jesus and His power in the most natural manner possible. The lady and gentleman were the Earl and Countess of Aberdeen.
Rising above the storm
The frigate bird (Figata)
spreads its wings to the extent of three yards, and its power of flight is, therefore, very great. When a hurricane arises it mounts up far above the storm, and remains in these empyrean regions until the tempest is overpast. In consequence of their immense expansion of the wing they can sustain themselves in the air for days together without taking or requiring rest. The human soul, like the frigate bird, possesses a power to rise above its storms. Upon the pinions of faith it can ascend above the tempests of time, and calm itself in the prospects of immortality. No storms can beat it down, for it possesses a spirituality which, as Dr. Croley says, enables it to rise higher and higher with every fresh wave of its wing. (Scientific Illustrations.)
And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind.--In the Greek, Could not eye the wind. This directs attention to a peculiarity of ancient Oriental ships. In the Egyptian sculptures, the war galleys have often at the prow a lion’s head or a ram’s head, with the eyes clearly represented, and looking ahead of the ship. In the Khorsabad sculpture copied by Layard in “Nineveh and its Remains,” the ship is in the form of a sea monster, with a horse’s head as the prow, a nondescript body forming the bulk of the vessel, and a fish tail forming the elevation at the stern. The Oriental ship was thus conceived of as an animal: its figure head was really the head of the animal form; and the figure head at the prow was balanced by the figure tail at the stern. This conception of a ship as a sea animal was not alien to the sailors of the Mediterranean at the time of Paul. In the paintings on the walls of Herculaneum we see several ships, not only with swan-head prows, but with gigantic eyes painted on either side of the swelling bulk beneath the swan necks. The vessel thus had two pairs of eyes--the small eyes in the swan’s head, and the large eyes on the bow. In other cases, the whole bow was a gigantic human head; but even in such instances a well-defined tail is sometimes shown in the paintings. It is worth noting that a relic of this custom still survives on the Mediterranean, many of the vessels still having large eyes painted on the bow; and the swift Turkish skiffs, with long and high prows and sterns, which recall the form of the ancient animal ships, are still called “swallows.” Chinese junks are always supplied with eyes on their bows, and the traveller who asks the significance of the custom is told, “Junk no have eyes; no can see.” (S. S. Times.)
We let her drive.--
Waiting and trusting
In the financial panic of 1857, when the best business management on the part of Christian merchants was insufficient to enable them to stem the tide of commercial disaster, the Rev. Dr. Bushnell published, in the Hartford Courant, a “Weekday sermon to the business men of Hartford,” based on this text. The lesson of it was obvious. There are many times when, in the providence of God, there is nothing for us to do but to stand still and wait till a storm has blown itself out. It may be a financial storm. It may be a gale of popular fanaticism. It may be an attack of disease. It may be a new flurry of temptations. There may seem to be nothing for the believer to do hopefully. At all events he can wait--and trust. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared.
I. There are many ways in which we may account for this state of mind.
1. It may be due in part to nervous and physical exhaustion. To the speed of modern life we do not add an increased proportion of rest. And to all our haste, telling on the finely adjusted nature with which God has endowed us, there comes inevitable reaction. The liver, or digestion, or nervous system, suddenly collapses under the exacting strain, and refuses to perform, or performs sluggishly, the behests of the will. It is at that time that one is apt to lose the vision of the unseen. Elijah, overtired, asks to die.
2. It may be due to mistakes in the previous education of the soul. Suppose we have received our religion simply upon hearsay or on tradition from our fathers, without much of that inner experience which authenticates it to the soul; or suppose we have mistaken creeds, formularies and acts as constituting religion, thinking when these are assailed or shown to be valueless, that we have lost the essence of religion; or suppose we have suddenly come into collision with the ruthless spirit of criticism, which, in the professed interest of truth, tears asunder the most delicate flowers to learn the secret of their manufacture, and refuses that we should enjoy a flower unless we can tell exactly how it came to be. In any of these cases the soul arrested in the enjoyment of unquestioning faith, and unable in the tumult to discriminate between the transitory and the eternal, the form and the substance, cries out as if it were bereaved of everything, when in point of fact it is only shedding the cerements of the grave as it passes into the fuller life, and leaving its baby clothes for those of youth and developing growth.
3. It may be due to moral declension. Only as the eye is single is the body full of light. Only the pure in heart can see God, Only those who do His will know. It is not always so, of course; but more often than not it is they who yield to the spell of Circe and are turned to swine, that lose the power of recognising the true Man, and appreciating those subtle influences from the unseen and spiritual world, which proves its existence no less certainly than did the spice-laden breath of the land, bearing in its current the land birds, prove to Columbus that the continent of his dreams was about to break on the vision of himself and his discontented sailors.
4. It may be due to the direct temptation of evil spirits. Often Satan, unable to secure his object by solicitations addressed to the senses, directs his attack on some of the nobler attributes. Sometimes he arouses the senses to hold the spirit in thrall, as some slave girl, with castanet and dance, may subjugate a Caesar to her will. At other times he suggests through days and months together, that there is no need for the spirit to maintain its upright attitude, because there is no eye watching it, no hand waiting to reward it. “There is no God.” Why, then, be so careful? Eat and drink, tomorrow you will die and end as a brute.
5. Sometimes it is due to the necessity for that preparation of the soul to help others, which can only be acquired through the discipline of trial. So often God has to wean us from our sensible enjoyment of Him, that we may learn to live by faith. God permits thee to go this desolate path in order to explore it and become a Greatheart, beneath whose guidance Mr. Fearing, Miss Much-afraid, and Mr. Despondency will come safely to the celestial city.
II. What should we do under these circumstances?
1. Be of good courage. Do not begin to say either that there is no such thing as truth, or that you will never behold it again. Do not get into a panic. If you walk in darkness and have no light, stay yourself on God; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart. Wait: be strong, fear not.
2. Go on obeying the better impulses of your soul. Go on doing what is right, because it is right. Be pure and sweet, gentle and true, unselfish and forgiving, keep your hand upon the thread of conscience, it traverses the darkest mines, and leads out into the perfect day.
3. Keep your difficulties to yourself. There is nothing gained by talking of them; and you have no right to sow the seeds of your own difficulties in the hearts of others.
4. Put away all known evil. There is a mote or a beam in your eye that must come out, ere you can see clearly. Be cleansed in the blood of Jesus, and delivered by the power of the Holy Spirit.
5. Put your will on God’s side. Keep your face towards the east. Struggle through the slough to that further side which is next the celestial city. Remember how Thomas, though he seemed fast closed against faith, mingled with the rest in their gatherings in the upper room, as if he could not abandon the precious hope of seeing the risen Lord. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
A compass was, of course, not included in the outfit of an ancient Oriental ship; and, in that respect, modern Oriental navigation resembles the ancient. Except in cases, increasingly more frequent, where the principles of Western European navigation have been adopted, the Oriental coasting vessels carry no compass; but the sailors are dependent upon sun and stars, and upon their knowledge of the characteristic features of the coast, to guide them in their voyage. The typical Oriental captain is a man skilled in weather signs, familiar with the limited range of coast along which he plies, and somewhat too ready to run his craft into a safe inlet at the approach of a storm. The captains of the grain ships plying between Egypt and Rome were men of more capability; but even they had hardly any resources when they were out of sight of land, and sun and stars were long hidden. (S. S. Times.)
All hope that we should be saved was then taken away.--
Wrecked, but not reckless
I. Sometimes I have been glad to hear that cry. Multitudes of persons are sailing in what they think to be the good ship of self-righteousness: they are expecting that they shall get to heaven in her. But she never did carry a soul safely into the haven, and she never will. Now, this vessel manages to keep on her way against all the good advice of Scripture. I am glad, therefore, when some terrific tempest overtakes this vessel; and when men’s hopes through their own doings and their own feelings are utterly wrecked. It must end in destruction, and it is therefore a thousand mercies when they find it out soon enough to get another and a better hope of being saved rather than this. Yet it is really wonderful how self-righteous persons will do their best to preserve their self-righteousness as long as they can. Like these mariners--
1. They have got a boat behind the vessel. There are some who have not only good worlds enough, but a few to spare. They have hauled this in very soon under stress of weather, and got the boat on deck for fear of losing it altogether. “If we cannot be saved by good works,” they say, “we will get under the lee of some church and get ceremonies to help us out.” And when the hurricane has blown them out to sea, and they have found that there is no defence for a soul in ordinances; that only the precious blood can cleanse away sin, and even that must be applied through the Holy Ghost by faith to give the conscience peace--alas! poor souls, their hope of being saved has become more slender than before.
2. They undergird the ship; gird their self-righteousness together; pray more, read the Bible more, go to a place of worship oftener--by any means they will endeavour to keep together the timbers that the storm has begun to loosen. But the storm blows too severely; the vessel cannot be preserved by such appliances as these.
3. They cut down all that might hamper them. They cry, “We cannot boast any longer; we acknowledge we have transgressed in some respects, but, Lord, accept our confessions; put away our sin, because we have repented of it.” They have given up a good deal, but they still cling to the old ship as long as they can. She must go to pieces, or you cannot get them out of her; so the Lord sends the wind, and the storm again breaks over them.
4. They go to the Word of God for comfort, but, like the mariners, they get no food, for there are no consolations for those who can save themselves.
5. We find that the sailors with Paul laboured hard; they tried to pump the vessel. Meanwhile, neither sun, nor moon, nor stars appeared. They were all in the dark: and that is just the condition of a self-righteous soul when the Spirit of God blows with His rough north wind upon it, and it comes to see that “By the works of the law there shall no flesh be justified.” It is an awful condition to be in, in some respects; it is a most blessed one in others. Oh, for such a storm as would that vessel wreck which is sailing under the flag of self-righteousness, that all hope of being so saved might be taken away from you.
II. Sometimes I have deplored it. I have heard some such lamentation as this from men who had no self-righteousness certainly, but who had fallen into despair, or had been guilty of stifling conscience, or had grown careless while hearing the Word, and they had gradually wrought themselves into the belief that they must be lost.
1. I am sorry for these reasons.
2. But you must not give way to that feeling that there is no hope.
III. I have sympathised with it, because many a time have I felt the same. Children of God do not always find it smooth sailing to heaven. Even in the good bark of Christ crucified there are storms. Christ may be in the vessel, but He may be asleep, and the ship may be tossed with the tempest. I have introduced this subject because there are many young believers who get into such a squall, and do not know what to make of it. They say, “Why, had I been a child of God, I could not have drifted into this frightful tempest.” How sayest thou so? Did not David go through it? He said, “All Thy waves and Thy billows have gone over me.” You cannot expect to be upon these seas and not have tossings to and fro sometimes. The strongest faith that ever was in this world has sometimes faltered. The old story tells us of Caesar in the storm, when he said to the trembling captain, “Fear not! Thou carriest Caesar and all his fortunes!” Now, Christ is in the same boat with all His people. If one of His members perish, He must perish too. “Because I live ye shall live also.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s dealing with man in his extremity
I. He begins by aggravating the distress (Acts 27:21). You have brought all this distress upon yourselves. How would this reproof aggravate for the moment the agony of that dark hour! It would call up conscience. When a man is made to feel that his suffering is not merely a calamity, but a crime, it comes on him with new intensity and weight. Thus God ever deals with men. The first thing that He does to help a world in misery is to convince it that its misery is self-produced. “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself.” And He goes on to convince it of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
II. He proceeds to mitigate the distress (Acts 27:22). After the wound comes the salve. After sinners have experienced the workings of genuine repentance, there comes the message of Divine comfort. After the tempest the still small voice.
III. He does both through His servants (Acts 27:23-24). Three things are here to be noticed.
1. The essential character of God’s servants. What is indispensable in the character of a true servant?
2. Their high privilege. Communication from the heavenly Father. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.”
3. Their social value. “God hath given thee all them that sail with thee,” Paul was the temporal saviour of all on board. The world is preserved for the sake of the good. Every righteous man is a bulwark to his city and his country. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Paul’s voyage to Rome considered in connection with his faith
I. The perilous circumstances in which the apostle was placed. What calamity excites more painful sensations than a storm at sea?
II. The apostle is the exercise of a lively faith. His faith appears--
1. In the strength of its exercise. This was manifested in the ready regard which he paid to the testimony of the angel, although circumstances at the time seemed directly opposed to its fulfilment.
2. In the support which it yielded to his mind. While the tempest was so awful that despondency took possession of the crew, the apostle came forth to cheer their hearts, as his own was cheered, by declaring that no man’s life should be lost.
3. In influential connection with the use of the ordinary means of safety and success (Acts 27:10; Acts 27:21; Acts 27:31). Unhappily for us, we carry the feelings of presumption into our religious concerns to an extent unknown in our worldly occupations.
4. In its promotion of the glory of God. There was no attempt to magnify himself by concealing the source of his prophetic assurance. He attributed nothing to his own wisdom or power; he ascribed the honour entirely to God.
Conclusion: The subject may teach us--
1. The tender care which God exercises over those who love and serve Him, and sometimes over others for their sake. Not only was the apostle saved himself from the threatened destruction, but the crew also.
2. When under the mysterious dispensations of Providence not to think that the purposes of God are changed. If we make present appearances the rule or index by which we judge the love of God, we shall often be deceived and perplexed. A lengthened trial, therefore, a dark and awful calamity, should not be viewed by a Christian as implying a change in God’s intention to do him good, but as involving various, and some of them painful, means by which that good is to be effected.
3. The necessity of the possession of solid peace and hope, of our being what Paul denominated himself, “a servant of God.” (R. Burls.)
Paul in the storm and his celestial visitant
Certain spots will be forever sacred as places of contact between earth and heaven. Bethel, Penuel, Midian, Sinai, Bethlehem, Jerusalem. But except those spots made holy ground by contact with our Lord, none surpass in sacred associations this unknown spot in the Adriatic. I see three dazzling rays gleam from it.
I. Earthly sublimity. A storm at sea; a crowded ship driven helplessly; provisions gone; all hope taken away from 276 souls. While we shudder at it, let us think of the more sublimely fearful scene around us. It is a stormy voyage we are making from port to port between the two eternities. If the storm has not struck us in the calm harbour of youth, we know that the sea is treacherous. After this disappointments drench us; great billowy griefs go over us; sudden temptations almost capsize us; we go into the trough of the sea in wretched habits and circumstances; we see daily some rock on which someone is wrecked. We undergird our lives with expediencies--property, friends, culture, formalities of religion. But soon the crash comes. The ship of earthly estate is lost. One event cometh alike to all. Thank God if the soul--the man in the ship--be saved. But alas! the shores are strewn with not only waifs of fortunes, of reputations--the lumber and cargoes of life--but with soul wrecks.
II. The celestial sublimity. A light shines through that black storm, and above the howling a supernatural voice is heard by one man. What did it signify? Have you elevation of mind sufficient to believe that the angel of the Lord stands by our storm-tossed humanity? The sailors knew not where they were; but the angel knew. So when we are shut down under the hatches of perplexity and despondency, the Lord knows where we are. He found Hagar in utter despair. To Abraham, when his faith wavered, He came with promise. To Jacob, when his resolution faltered, He came with strength and confirmation. To Moses, seeking light for duty, He came in a flame. To Joshua, David, Christ. The sublimity deepens as me hear the infinite voice--“Lo I am with you alway,” etc.
III. The human sublimity. One alone is undismayed. The sailors’ experience and the officers’ skill gave them no such confidence as his. He cries to the crew, “Be of good cheer,” etc. The angel has filled him with his own bright spirit. I have seen a few such men who have a solar radiance, a partial transfiguration, as if Christ lived in them.
1. They are sinners, but they have heard the voice of the angel saying, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.”
2. They have been sorely bereaved, but they have heard the angel saying, “Be of good cheer: I have overcome the world.”
3. They are nearing dissolution, but they have heard “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Conclusion: Have you heard the voice?
1. Faith is hearing. “I believe God.”
2. The secret of the angelic assurance was “Whom I am and whom I serve.” He was the Divine protege, because he had given himself to the Divine keeping. (J. M. Ludlow, D. D.)
Religion in a storm
After all true religion is not a thing to be sneered at. That which could make a landsman calm and confident in the midst of a storm which overwhelmed the oldest sailors must have been something more than fancy; and that which could make a man talk and act as Paul did must have been something more than blind enthusiasm. Note--
I. Faith’s composure in the midst of life’s tempests. “I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.” This after “all hope that we should be saved was taken away.” Think of the contrast on board that ship. There were old sailors there; veterans who had fought in the foremost ranks of Rome; merchants who had travelled through many lands; but of all the “two hundred threescore and sixteen souls” there were none who could with composure look this danger in the face, save the prisoner and the one or two Christians who were companions with him in his bonds. He stood alone, amid all that hopeless company, and declared his confidence; and he, who knew the ground of his own composure best, said it was because he believed God. If nautical experience could have inspired such fearlessness, then, surely, the sailors should have been more composed than Paul; and if it had been merely a question of nerve or temperament, then the soldiers, who had dared a thousand deaths, ought certainly to have been as cool as the tentmaker. As it was on board that ship, so it is in the voyage of life. Amidst the surging waters, faith alone can keep us steady. With the sailors we may have much life experience; with the soldiers we may possess a large share of natural courage; with the merchants we may enjoy much wealth and influence; but unless with Paul we can say, “I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me,” we shall be the victims of every tempest and the sport of every wave.
II. Faith’s work in the midst of life’s tempest. One man’s faith may be a means of blessing to others. “I believe God,”--“wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer!” One chief end of our mission is to seek each other’s happiness. How can this be done? Paul did it--
1. By declaring the Word of God! Paul did not begin to calculate and explain the ship’s position, neither did he try to weigh the probabilities of escape by this or that procedure; but he assured them, on the strength of what God had spoken, that “not an hair should fall from the head” of any of them.
2. By avowing his own faith. “I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.” Don’t profess that which you don’t possess; but if you want to do good in the world, don’t go about theorising and philosophising as to whether or not God has spoken, or whether or not He is likely to do what He has said! Either be silent altogether, or declare your unbounded faith in God’s Word.
3. By setting a good example. To make others happy, you must yourself wear a cheerful face. It is useless to cry, “Be of good cheer,” when, to your own soul, you are crying, “Why art thou cast down?” True faith will be detected no sooner by the emphasis of your word than by the genuineness of your smile. “Rejoice in the Lord always!”
III. Faith’s honour in the midst of life’s tempests. What honour faith confers! It makes the child a man, and it makes the man a very giant. When Paul stepped on board that vessel no man was more despised than the great apostle; but when the Euroclydon beat upon the ship, and all hope of being saved was gone, he arose a prince amongst men. Faith made him the master of the ship; and though a prisoner in charge of Julius the centurion, Julius the centurion sought the advice and obeyed the commands of his own captive. And true faith will ever thus assert itself. A ship was on her beam ends in the Atlantic, and all hope was taken away. The captain had warned his men to prepare for death. But there was one clinging to the shrouds who saw no danger, and the praying cabin-boy became the champion of faith in the midst of the tempest. “God will save us yet, sir,” said the lad; and, while hanging to the helpless vessel he sought to cheer the crew, his youthful prayers were heard in heaven. Soon after a tremendous sea came rolling on towards them, which they quite expected would carry them down, but, to their astonishment and joy, it so struck them as to “right” the ship, and they continued their voyage, and entered New York in safety. “Them that honour Me I will honour.”
IV. Faith’s support in the midst of life’s tempests. “There stood by me this night the angel of God,” etc. “O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted,” read Paul’s narrative. What Paul had to comfort him, that every child of God has.
1. Paul was remembered all through the storm. Unbelief often says hard things about God when darkness and tempest for a long time distress. “Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me,” etc. But what saith the Lord? “Can a woman forget her sucking child,” etc.
2. Paul was watched all through the storm. Though the sun and the stars had not been able to pierce the storm clouds, the eye that never slumbers had watched over Paul, and the angel of Adria knew just where to find him. “I will guide thee with Mine eye.” “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.”
3. Paul was sustained all through the storm. All through that trying time God’s word was a source of unspeakable consolation; but that special love visit of the angel raised him to the highest pitch of Christian happiness. And thus God comforts His people by His word still. (W. H. Burton.)
For there stood by me this night the angel of God.
The angel of God
I. Paul’s consolations.
1. The visit of the angel. Once it would have alarmed him. Rut then he was in the service of the prince of darkness! Now he has changed masters; and he can say of the Father of lights, “Whose I am, and whom I serve.” How it must have chased away Paul’s weariness to feel that the God of angels cares for me--an angel comes down to keep me company!
2. The assurances of his personal preservation.
3. The benefit he would confer on others. “And, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.” Hear this, captain! It is not your seamanship that will preserve your life. Hear this, centurion! It is not your uniform that will carry you to Italy in safety--you will owe it to one of the prisoners. There is a servant of God on board this vessel, and he has work to do in Rome. Courage, then, sailor! Be of good cheer in spite of all appearances. You are carrying with you more than Caesar and his fortunes!
II. Lessons for Christ’s servants now.
1. Are you passing through trial? No strange thing has happened to you. You are only proving yourself of apostolical succession. But do you know nothing of Paul’s strong consolations? Jacob had no easy couch at Bethel; but he dreamed of angels of God, and when he woke, he knew that the dream denoted a reality and said, “This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Peter was imprisoned, and yet at midnight an angel of the Lord came upon him. It is not when most at ease in outward circumstances, or in our own souls--nay, sometimes, when most ready to say, “All these things are against me”--that we gain such a view of our Helper, as enables us to say with the prophet, “Greater is He that is for us, than all that are against us.”
2. Are you eager for service? God summons all His people to become fellow workers with Him. There is some ignorance we can enlighten, some sorrow we may soothe; and all the talents entrusted to us are intended for this end. Now how do we regard our work? Is it dignity? is it privilege? Or--are we trying to find out how little we can do? The Lord preserve us from the doom of wicked and slothful servants!
3. Why should not you be a blessing to all about you? Well, you say, How little I can do! Do that little and God can make it an instrument of more. In the stormy voyage of the present world, when the wisdom of the wisest and the power of the mightiest are at fault, a poor Christian may have given to him all them that sail with him. (F. Tucker, B. A.)
Wiring the stars
They determined to sail into Italy. And the Judge marked it down in His notebook; and the skipper of the vessel marked it down in his; and the sailors and the soldiers marked it down in theirs: they had an “engagement to sail into Italy.” So you--you have got a little book in your vest pocket, and opposite a certain date you have a certain engagement. Did you every think, man, that you may never fulfil that engagement? What are you that you put down any engagement without, in big letters, a “God willing,” or “weather permitting,” or “if spared,” I shall do this? God heard the determination, and He raised the winds, and He raised the waves, and they were caught in a storm; and now comes a scene. The sailors hurry to their bunks, and they get out the little heathen god that they forgot about in calm weather. Paul and Luke and Aristarchus are also putting requests to their God; but there is no visible presence, there is no image seen, and the sailors think they are very irreligious, they think them Jonahs, and have brought the storm. But now Paul stands up: “I have got it. I have got the answer; I have got the pledge of safety from my God.” What is it? It is a promise: “There stood by me this night a messenger with a promise, and that is the comfort.” “Ah, but I can’t see your promise,” says an old salt; “I would like to see those waves get less noisy in their dash; I would like to hear the fall into softness of those howling winds; the promise, where is it?” What is a promise? It depends on the promiser. A promise is either great or little, everything or nothing, according to the promiser. Oh, but this is a promise not of a man! or we would not accept it at all; this is a promise of God, and God is not a man that He should lie, neither the son of man that He should Change. Hath He said, and shall He not do it? Hath He spoken it, and shall He not make it good? Ye’re right, Paul; to hide in the strongbox of your heart this promise of safety--for it is God’s. Now in this text, you notice, Paul declares--what every minister should be able to declare as the kernel of his work, as the spirit in which he does it--Paul declares his connection with God, that he has a grip of infinity, that he is a man that lives not in the seen but in the unseen: “There stood by me this night”--not a man, but--“the angel of God,” a messenger from heaven. So the road is open from heaven to Paul’s soul. In the House of Commons in London a heated debate was taking place. It was about our Eastern policy. Gordon was out, and there was little fear as to his success, when a telegram was handed in, a despatch of the last news; and what is it? Just two words, says the cable, just two words, and they make that heat of that debate get calm and cool; it makes the noise die away. What is it? “Nile open.” What does that mean? How has that changed the agitated feelings of Parliament? “Nile open.” It was closed before; the Mahdi’s hordes were round about the river, Khartoum was far away, but our soldiers and marines were out there for the very purpose of forcing a passage up the Nile to Khartoum; and this is the result. It is done! Our arms are once more victorious, Britannia yet rules the waves and the waters of the Nile; the Nile is open. So in this messenger of God coming to Paul we read a history. The way is open. Is it open to you? Have you got an open route to God? Preacher, hearer, minister, elder, deacon, is the road open? Can there come to us in all verity an angel of God with the soft light of this morning? Are we converted? Have we connection with God? Is the road open? Look for a moment at the special nature of this vision. The angel “stood by me,” says Paul. He claims a special relationship with heaven. We believe, and rightly, in--and woe to us if the day come when we let slip belief in--special Providence, special relationship to heaven, special claim, special result, special prayer, special answer--everything is special with the child of God. Sometimes you notice from the main wires of our telegraph system a single wire following this hedge road. It strikes off from the city communication, and it goes up the avenues right to this mansion. Who is this presumes to insert into his house a special wire of the nation’s electricity? He is my lord duke; he has got influence enough, he has got standing enough, he is a Minister of the Government, and he has got a special wire and a special dial and a special clerk and a special power for controlling that single wire for his messages. You have got this morning, child of God, a special wire of communication with heaven have you heard in the heart of you the click of the needle, have you this morning sent a message up to the stars of God’s abode by that special wire? Is it ever used? Is it magnetised by use with the full energy of action? The crowd knowing nothing about it. You can see the wires in our Glasgow streets, but there are tubes immaterial, spiritual, that are one gigantic network in this commercial capital of Scotland, and they are reaching up to God; and if we had spiritual eyes we would see the contact with you, and with you, but alas! none with you, Christless, prayerless soul, none with you. The communication is with the Christian alone. We are all, if children of God, specially connected, and we can call up God, we can summon attention in the courts on high. We can wire the stars. Then there is a peculiarity in this to be noticed--the angel “stood by me.” Ah, the angel felt choked in this atmosphere. It was a hard commission he had to perform, and he came down, down, where the Master felt it hard to live, and he stood by Paul. “Won’t you stay, holy angel?” “No.” “Won’t you sit down.” “No.” The angel “stood,” and the very wings of him never stopped rustling, so eager were they for their flight again to the purity above. That was a lesson for Paul, and it is a lesson for you. If Paul had had this vision every day of his life, he would be an unhealthy Christian type for you and for me; he would have had the privileges that would have shut us out from the throbbing humanity in his Epistles. The fact is, it doesn’t matter what you and I have seen, whether God has taken us up to the top of the mountain and shown us His glory, so that we have come down with the light streaming from us; it doesn’t matter whether He has hidden us in the cleft of the rock and passed by, proclaiming His name, the Lord, the Lord God: it doesn’t matter what your feelings are, what you have seen, what is your past; it matters this: is the will regenerated? Is the will remade and reset? That is the question, and that is communion with God. It is the operation of Heaven’s will on the will of man. It is the unseen suction, it is the power of the current that keeps it pointed to God. “Whose I am,” says Paul. He says to himself, “Now is the time to give a word for the Master. Jupiter, what is he? what is Venus? what is Juno? what is Neptune?” God hears the testimony. “Whose I am”--right in the teeth of the heathen sailors, right in the teeth of the stoical, sceptical centurion, right in the teeth of all men--“I belong to God!” Paul takes pride in that. You notice that the very first word in his every epistle after his own name is doulos--“Paul, doulos,” slave; he glories in it. The Romans fastened a little slip of brass on the ankle of the slave, and on his wrist, and on the slip of brass on the wrist was the name of the owner and the word “slave” with it; and in the forum, in the market place, the slave with the glitter of that slip of brass had to step aside to the slaves’ quarters, and the proud, haughty Roman drew in his toga as the slave went by: “My slave, keep to thine own side of the pavement, please!” Ah, but Paul took a pride in the glitter of that piece of brass; it was his cherished honour. He once had aimed at a high priesthood; he once had aimed at and won the senior wranglership of Jerusalem; but Paul prided himself, boasted himself, in being the slave of the Master. Do you? “Whose I am” rings out in this loud, stunning tide of human care and crime to the Christian worker. “Whom I serve.” I have to do with Christ, not with you; I have to do with the Master, not with you; not with man, but with God. Oh, get a hold of that! We need it today. We need in the holy independence of spirit, in the keen, manly tramp along the pavement of time, to repudiate all shackling. I belong to Christ, I get my orders from on high, and the strength to carry them out. “Whom I serve.” And what is the hardest work we get? Salvation work. If we were more taken up with the work that is to be done here, we would have less time to pay attention to others’ work. There is a great deal to be done, and the sun is getting low in our own souls. You have to draw the sword, man; you have to let it flash in the sun as you thrust, in your own God-given strength, the Canaanites and Perizzites from the land. That is your work, and if you do that work well you will do every work well. It is sore work, salvation work; first get it, and then “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” “Whom I serve.” But oh, this sorrowful service! Are you going to end that way, preacher? Are you going to end with sorrow and dole and doom and woe? Service! I can find no comfort there. Ah! but do you find it here, then? That’s a little bit of mistranslation, sir! It is “Whom I worship.” That is the service; not outward service, not the sweat following on active toil, but the worship, the adoration of the heart--that is the service that God wants. As M’Cheyne says, “God gets more glory from an adoring look of a believer on a sick bed than from the outward labour of a whole day.” It is “Whom I worship.” It is this, and this is the blessed service. (John Robertson.)
Life worth living
I. To whom the believer righteously belongs. Our time, talents--all we have and are belong to Him. The words, “Whom I serve,” teach us--
II. For whom the believer rejoicingly labours. The apostle had a high and noble idea of service.
(a) He did not consult his own pleasure or will.
(b) He gave up all other masters.
(c) He acted constantly as in his Master’s presence.
(d) He subordinated everything to the smile of his Master. (F. W. Brown.)
The Christian man, God’s property and servant
I. He is the property of God. Man is God’s--
II. He is the servant of God. “Whom I serve.” This supreme service, of which God’s possession of us is the motive, thus has a motive--
God’s true servants
Observe here three things concerning God’s true servants.
I. Their essential character.
1. A practical consciousness of God’s absolute claim to our being. “Whose I am.” I am not the proprietor, but the trustee of myself.
2. A constant working out of God’s will in our being. “Whom I serve.”
II. Their high privilege. What is that? Communication from the heavenly Father. “There stood by me this night the angel of God.”
III. Their social value. “God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.” Paul was the temporal saviour of all on board. The world is preserved for the sake of the good. (Homilist.)
The vision and its consequences
1. “There stood by me this night the angel of God” (verse 2). An angel at night seems to be a double blessing because of the surrounding darkness. There are innumerable instances in which the angels have come in the night season. Some of our earliest recollections are of angels wrestling with us, when we could see no light in the nightly sky. Yet it takes a courageous man to say, in a materialistic age, that an angel has spoken to him. He will be called mad. But when we come to think of it, that will not make him mad. Madness is a relative term. There is a madness of insensibility, of unpardonable stupidity amongst the appealing and exciting sublimities of things.
2. Paul says of God, “whose I am, and whom I serve.” So the revelation was not made to a fanatic, but to a servant. Thus we come down into cold reason.
3. The all-including thought arising out of this consideration is, that God’s revelations are made, not to genius, but to character; not to the greatest intellects, but to the tenderest and purest hearts. “To this man will I look”--God never changes the point of vision--a broken-hearted, humble, contrite soul. In other words, “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” We should know more if we loved more; we should be greater theologians if we were better Christians. When our eyes are shut in prayer, the vision of our soul is opened that we may behold the sublimest realities of truth. If you would grow in knowledge, you must first grow in grace.
4. Then mark a wonderful characteristic of Paul, in that he pledges God. This is not a salvation that is to be worked out in the dim and unknown future. With a valour--singularly characteristic of himself, he pledges, in all its immeasurable infiniteness, the power of God to do this thing. How he will be covered with confusion presently if it be not so! A great mystery is this, that the child may pledge the Father to work out certain issues. As to detail, we know nothing; but as to broad, substantial issue, we know everything. “Say unto the wicked man, Thou shalt surely die.” “Say unto the righteous, It shall be well with thee.”
5. What a wondrous picture of life then follows! We seem to have been in those very circumstances. Have we not seen how great providences are affected by human action? “Except these abide in the ship, you cannot be saved.” This is a continual wonder to us, that life should go upon such little hinges; that the small wheels should, in their place, be just as important as the large one. We sometimes come into such close quarters with God that great issues depend upon shutting the door, looking out of the window, keeping the eyes open, speaking one word. Thus are little things lifted up into importance, and details made part of the worship of life. There is nothing unimportant to Omniscience: the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
6. What a wonderful confirmation is given to the truth that the world is saved because of its good men. “God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.” At a certain point the soldiers’ counsel was to kill the prisoners. But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept the soldiers from their purpose. So the prisoners were twice saved on Paul’s account. The centurion did the very thing that God did, without knowing it. We are ruled by strange emotions; thoughts, impulses suddenly seize us, and we do things for the sake of others which we would not have done but for the presence of these personalities; and thus we show--ruined, shattered, lost, as we are--that at first we were made in the image and likeness of the Creator.
7. Why this value set upon life? Why do not men give up life? No home, no friend, no fire in the grate, and yet they hug the life that is reduced to agony. “They lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea.” When it comes to a contest between life and wheat, the wheat must go; and in the end we read “some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship”--nothing saved; everything lost but life. What is the meaning of this? Why not lighten the ship by throwing out the men? Do not treat the question as trivial. Learn from it the dignity of life; the Divine origin of life; the possible destinies of life. And whilst these great problems are at once agitating and comforting the mind, you may see some explanation of the coming of the Son of Man into the world. He came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. I seem to understand that when I study the value which has been put upon life by men under all circumstances. Why struggle with the deep? Why not give in? What is the meaning of it all but that we did not come up out of the dust, but that our spirit is from the Living God? It is the witness of God in the soul. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Fifth vision of Paul
I. Paul as the teacher of providence. He stood up calmly and faithfully in the presence of those Pagan sailors and criminals, to teach that the world was governed by Providence, and not by fate. The vision, and the facts connected with it, lead to three truths--
1. There is an absolute certainty that God will accomplish His designs.
2. God sometimes employs unexpected and unlikely means to accomplish His designs. Paul wished to go to Rome, but how? perhaps he had no definite plan, but God had. No sooner had the apostle and his friends left Sidon, to sail unto Italy, than perils commenced--“Because the winds were contrary,” the perils increased--“All hope that we should be saved was taken away.” What about Rome, Paul? we see Crete, and Clauda, and Malta, but no Rome.
3. That genuine faith in the certainty of Divine Providence stimulates and directs the free action of man. There is one verse in this chapter which is beautifully illustrative of this truth--“Paul said to the centurion, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.” He believed that God had ordained a certain end, but not as detached from means adapted to secure that end.
II. Paul as the servant of Divine providence. After looking upon the character of the apostle as given here during the voyage, we are struck with--
1. His deep sense of Divine responsibility. “For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve.” This is the foundation of Christian excellence in all, an intelligent feeling that we are God’s.
2. He maintained a high Christian character. In his intercourse with the crew and passengers, there are two features of character worthy of imitation--
3. He exerted a beneficial influence. Paul was the means of saving 276 lives, and was that a little thing? (C. Morris.)
Paul’s intercourse with heaven
I. The party employed--an angel. This was often the privilege of the saints in the Old Testament, and sometimes in the New. Angels are employed to serve for the good and benefit of those that are the Lord’s (Psalms 34:7; Hebrews 1:14). And the angels being invisible, we know not how much we are indebted to them for their ministry; we will know it better afterwards. Note, then, the dignity and advantage of the children of God. King’s children have honourable attendants. These angels will attend thee--
1. During thy life (Psalms 91:11-12). As a father of a family charges the elder children with the care of the younger ones, so does God the angels with the young heirs of glory.
2. At thy death (Luke 16:22).
II. The peculiarity of this manifestation. “The angel stood by me.” They were all in the same ship, but none knew what passed but Paul himself.
1. There were many strangers to God in the ship; but Paul was His own, and with him God keeps communion. Whence observe that there is secret conveyance of intercourse with heaven to those who are the Lord’s, in the midst of a crowd who know nothing of the matter. Many a time matters go on betwixt God and the soul, as betwixt Jonathan and David, when they only knew the matter (1 Samuel 20:39). The Lord knoweth who are His, and who are not, however mixed the multitude (2 Timothy 2:19). Intercourse with heaven lies in inward, not in external things. Every one may see at Communion who received the bread and wine; but who received Christ into their hearts is a secret betwixt God and the soul itself. Learn--
2. How may a person know whether he has had communion with God or not? Mark--
3. There is real communion with God--
III. The posture of the angel. He stood, he did not sit down, because he was not to stay. This was an extraordinary visit to Paul, he was not to look for this as his ordinary entertainment from heaven. Extraordinary manifestations are what we cannot expect to be continued while we are here. God will have a difference betwixt heaven and earth. And as two summers are not to be looked for in one year, so a lasting heaven of comfort upon earth will not be found. Let Christians then lay their account with a struggling and wrestling life, with the clouds returning after the rain.
IV. The time of this manifestation: “This night.” It was a sad night in that ship, all hopes of being saved were lost, and then the Lord appeared to help. When things are brought to an extremity this is a special opportunity which the Lord takes to appear for those that are His (Deuteronomy 32:36). By this--
1. The hand of God appears most eminent in deliverance. The more desperate the case, the love, wisdom, and power of God appear the more conspicuous (Isaiah 33:10). He has the greater revenue of glory by curing the disease when past hope.
2. It brings greater advantage to the saints (John 11:15). (T. Boston, D. D.)
Whose I am.--
The saint God’s property
There are four things implied in this.
1. A comfortable view of God’s special interest in him. Whoever others belonged to, he belonged to God.
2. A recognising God’s special interest in him. He had said it at his first accepting of the covenant, “I am the Lord’s”; and he did not repent the bargain, but repeated it, “I am His.”
3. An open profession of his special relation to God. He was not ashamed of his proprietor, but he gloried in Him.
4. A rejoicing in it, particularly in this season of distress. The waves threaten us with death; but this is my happiness, I am the Lord’s, in whose hands all these are. From this subject I deduce that it is the duty and interest of those who have truly given themselves away to the Lord, to look on themselves as His. I shall--
I. Confirm the doctrine. This is evident if you consider--
1. The laudable practice of the saints. They go over the bargain again, hold by it, and look upon themselves as the Lord’s (Psalms 116:16; Psalms 119:94; Song of Solomon 2:16).
2. The Spirit of God instructs them so to do (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
3. The Lord looks on such to be His by a special relation (John 17:9-10; Jeremiah 3:4).
4. The nature of the thing requires it, for they are His indeed (2 Corinthians 8:5).
II. Show in what respects those who have given themselves away to the Lord are to look upon themselves as His.
1. In opposition to all His competitors (Isaiah 26:13; Psalms 45:10).
2. Universally, without exception or reserve in anything.
3. For evermore, not merely for a time (Psalms 72:23; Psalms 72:26). You must then be His--
III. Give some reasons why it is the duty of those who have given themselves to the Lord thus to look on themselves as His.
1. Because they are His, in a manner the rest of the world are not. Our Lord has a peculiar title and interest in them (John 17:9-10). They are His--
2. The honour of God requires it. Those who are servants to persons of high rank are usually subject to bear the badge of their master; and those who are the Lord’s are in the same manner bound (Revelation 14:1).
3. Our standing to the covenant requires it (Psalms 119:94).
IV. Show how it is their interest to look on themselves as the Lord’s.
1. In respect of sanctification.
2. In respect of consolation. You may say--
Whom I serve.--
The saints God’s servants
I shall show--
I. What is that service of God which is the business of those who are the Lord’s.
1. As to the matter of it. This is as wide and broad as is the broad law of God; therefore serving God and keeping His commandments are joined together.
(a) Salvation work (Philippians 2:12).
(b) Generation work (Acts 13:36; Galatians 6:10).
(a) A service with the outward man (1 Corinthians 6:20). Our ears must be employed to hear His Word, our eyes to read it, our tongues to speak to Him in prayer and praise; to speak of Him and for Him to men; our hands and all our members to act for Him in the world.
(b) Internal service (John 4:24). This is the soul of religion, and the chief part in the service of God, without which the other is but a lifeless, unacceptable carcase (Philippians 3:3).
(a) Stated. The least you can do is to pay thy homage to Him by thyself in the morning, when He gives thee a new day; and at evening, when thou art to enter into the darkness of the night. And if yourselves be the Lord’s you will also devote your houses to Him, and pay Him your homage in a family capacity (Joshua 24:15). And then there is the Lord’s weekly service on His own day (Psalms 26:8).
(b) Continual. A Christian must never be out of His Master’s work, he serves God in the intervals of duties as well as in duties. Hence we are ordered to pray always, and not to faint.
(a) Doing. The Lord calls His people to act for Him (Acts 9:6; Luke 6:46).
(b) Suffering (Philippians 2:17; Luke 9:23).
(a) Ordinary. There are pieces of work which are every day’s task, as the bearing of ordinary trials (Luke 9:23), and doing of the ordinary duties of religion.
(b) Extraordinary, which God only sometimes calls His people to in holy providence (Genesis 22:1-24).
2. As to the manner of it. And unless it be performed in the right manner, God will not account it service to Him, though ever so costly.
(a) The faith of God’s command, requiring the duty (Romans 14:23).
(b) The faith of the promise of strength for the duty.
(c) The faith of acceptance through Christ.
II. What is to make God’s service our business, or when a person may be said to be thus employed.
1. God’s service is His grand design in the world; He may have many works on the wheel, but this is the chief one (Psalms 27:4). But how may a person know whether this is so? I answer--
2. That he serves God with the whole man (1 Corinthians 6:20). He not only lends his hand to the work, as a person would do who passes by accidentally, but sets his heart to it as a person whose business it is.
3. He serves Him in all things--that is, whatever be his business to which he is called, he strives to act in it as serving the Lord (Psalms 116:18; Proverbs 3:6; Colossians 3:17). But how may a person serve the Lord in managing his worldly affairs? Answer:
4. He scruples at no piece of service which God puts in his hand, but makes conscience of universal obedience (Psalms 112:6).
5. He is constant and persevering in the service of God (Psalms 119:112). They are constant in two respects.
Inspiring knowledge and exalted service
I. Inspiring knowledge. “Whose I am.” The Christian is inspired with the knowledge that he is God’s property.
1. By redemption. Cyrus, after a famous victory, took prisoner a noble prince with his wife and children, to whom Cyrus said, “What will you give me to set you at liberty?” The prince replied, “Half that I possess.” Cyrus exclaimed, “And what if I release your children?” “All that I possess.” “But what if I set your wife at liberty?” “Then I will lay down my life.” Cyrus, won by the true nobility of the man, immediately set them at liberty without any recompense whatever. That evening, when the prince and his wife were rejoicing together over their freedom, he said, “Did you not think Cyrus a very handsome man?” His wife replied, “I did not notice him sufficiently well to tell.” The prince exclaimed, “Why, where were your eyes?” She answered, “I had eyes only for him who said he would lay down his life for me.” Likewise, we are the Lord’s because He has already laid His life down for us.
2. By Divine grace. When those who are good judges of pictures see a valuable painting, they can tell us who was the artist, because every painter has somewhat of the same mind running through his productions; and in the true Christian, the Master has reproduced the image and likeness of God. In some of us the outline may be very faint, just as the first mark of the brush is upon the canvas; but, nevertheless, it is an outline of what by and by shall be perfect.
3. By spiritual union. There are many alliances, but the holiest and the sweetest is not when merely the man and the woman are legally joined in marriage, but when two pure and loving spirits living in these bodies become united in one. But a far more ecstatic joy is when God kisses the spirit of His children, and they become one in Him. Like as the newly placed graft in the wild tree becomes one with it, and causes it to bring forth good fruit, so Christ the perfect Spirit becomes one with us, and enables us to yield the fruit of self-sacrifice.
II. Exalted service. The Christian can truthfully adopt the motto of the Prince of Wales, “I serve.” He serves--
1. With intelligence. In olden times, armies were treated as mere machines. “Do this! go there!” but in modern warfare the general often gives his soldiers the reason. They, therefore, obey him intelligently, and take an interest in their service. Likewise God explains His will to the Christian. The general may not declare to his army all that is in his mind, but, knowing all that is necessary and having full confidence in their captain, the soldiers march bravely to the fight. The Christian, also having the mind of God in the Scriptures, marches on at Christ’s command without stooping to cavil at that which it is impossible for him to comprehend until after the battle of life is won.
2. With trustfulness. When Alexander the Great’s physician came to him with a cup of medicine, one of the courtiers whispered, “It contains poison.” Alexander moved the man away, and looking with unshaken confidence at his physician, he held out his hand for the cup and drank the whole. He must have been a noble man who could thus be trusted! And the Christian knows that God loves him too much to deal unkindly towards him. The medicine may be bitter, he is a wise and loving physician who brings it.
3. With willingness. The workman understands his employer’s will, and he performs it well, but he would not do it were he not compelled to earn wages: it is a compulsory service. But, behold the devoted wife and the loving mother, who for the whole of her life gives herself to bless and to work for her husband and her children! Such a mother exhibits the willingness with which the Christian serves God--it is without any bribe of fee or reward, but because he loves the master who died for him.
4. With faithfulness. Charles II used to say that every man had his price, but were you to offer the Christian all the world, he would spurn it rather than depart from the law of his God.
5. At all times. Not only when religious people are looking at him. I once saw in a nobleman’s grounds a place for a waterfall; the water was never put on unless his lordship was there. Is not that like many people?
6. With honesty. He acts upon principle. He says, “That is right; and because it is right I do it.”
7. Without complaint. (W. Birch, jun.)
The believer’s confidence
I. Paul’s portrait. Almost as quickly as the sun can make a photograph the apostle draws a living portrait of himself. “Whose I am, and whom I serve.” That brief motto has got in it all the essentials of Christian faith and practise.
1. “Whose I am!” He used to consider himself his own. And of all the masters that Paul served, his own proud, pharisaic self was chief. Now, self is uncrowned, every other rule is broken and Paul takes God for his Master. The Word of God is the rule of his life.
2. “Whom I serve!” Hand to do--foot to go--tongue to speak--heart to beat--brain to think--all His; for him to live was Christ. When I look at a tree full of sap and beauty, I say the life is in the root. When I see youth, hale, strong, and elastic, I say the life is at the heart. When I see the telegraph or telephone perform their wonders, I say the secret is in the battery. When I see the mighty engine driving ponderous wheels, drawing tremendous loads, or ploughing the waves, I say the secret’s in the piston chamber. And when I see grey-haired Paul stand on the reeling deck amid the storm--grand, majestic, strong--I say the secret’s here--“Whose I am, and whom I serve.”
II. Paul’s peril and confidence. Look on board that ship which is in such grievous straits. There are rough, rude sailors there who have weathered many a storm, brawny soldiers who have borne the brunt of many a battle, traders who have dared much for greed and grain, vagrant wanderers of no fixed habitation, criminals on the way to Nero’s bar. It is a motley crew. Amid the terror of those dreadful days there are opposing counsels, passions, blasphemies, prayers, to vain idols, and cries of fear and despair, I see Paul, the way-worn prisoner of Christ, standing erect and calm; within him is a peace no wrathful winds can ruffle, a sense of security that no wild waves can destroy. His voice rings out the hearty call, and thus he forces his strong self-confident spirit into those from whom all hope had fled. God was his strength. He felt himself the ward of Omnipotence and felt no fear! You and I may join company with him in this. Whatever Euroclydons may assail us, we may cry in triumph, “Because the Lord is at my right hand I shall never be moved!”
III. Paul’s prayer. While commotion wakes the awful night on board that ship, Paul is holding communication with heaven. I have heard of storms that break the telegraphic wires and stop communication between distant parts; of captains shouting vainly through their speaking trumpets, the winds carrying the sound mockingly away; the hoarse signal of distress failing to reach the distant shore of help by reason of the tempest’s roar. But never yet was wind let loose that could arrest a heartfelt prayer despatched by faith up to the throne of God. I have heard it said that, amid the din of a pealing organ, the crash of orchestral brass, and the rolling volume of a thousand lifted voices, one clear note of finest tension can be heard to overtop them all. Such a note shall thy prayer be, my friend and brother, that cometh not out of feigned lips.
IV. Paul’s vision. “An angel stood by me!” Little recked the panic-stricken crew of the sacred visitor. I have heard of kings’ messengers and their despatches thwarted of their mission; I have read of floods that have swept the railway track and stopped the iron steed midway upon its journey with the mails; I have heard of simooms which have buried totting caravans in desert sand--but never storm was brewed that could check the downward sweep of a celestial ambassador! Said the angel, “Thou must be brought before Caesar! That is enough. When God says must, no power, no combination of powers, can say nay!”
IV. Paul’s message. The vision is over; the angelic messenger flies back; but Paul has got the message. He hastens upon deck. He holds by rail or rope; then, flinging his arm around the broken mast, he shouts, “Be of good cheer! Not a life shall perish! The ship shall sink; the crew shall live!” Did they wonder if the awful strain on mind and body had sent him mad? He tells them of the angel’s visit. Did they greet it with a despairing laugh of incredulity? He plants his foot firmly on the reeling deck; and, regardless of blackened skies, thunderings winds, creaking timbers, he shouts, “I believe God! It shall be even as He hath told me!” His confidence is contagious; the crew catch something of his spirit. Hope dawns, and they set down amid the hurly-burly to eat bread! I counsel you to take that as your motto--I believe God! He says of sin, I will pardon; of sorrow, I will comfort; of peril, I will deliver; of weakness, I will support; of storms, I will protect; of thy soul, I will save! Believe God! for it shall be even as He hath told thee! (J. Jackson Wray.)
God hath given thee all them who sail with thee.
What Paul was in that ship, Christianity seeks to be in the vessel of the world. What was that?
I. He took upon himself the direction of common affairs. The master of the ship gave way, the centurion was no longer the centurion but in name, and the apostle stood forward at the front and took upon himself the responsibility of the whole situation. That is what Christianity wants to do in the world--to be the senior member in every firm, to be the director of every company, to be the head of every family, to be the one lamp in the dark night time, and to assume the leadership and be the benediction of the world. Christianity says, “I will go to business with you; I will keep your books for you; I will issue all your papers--sign and stamp them every one,” and that is precisely what the hottest Christian on earth respectfully declines. Do we wonder, then, that the Church is empty, that the infidel is laughing, and that the great enemy is feasting himself at the table of prosperity? We have come under the dominion of the sophism that Christianity is a set of theological views, or ritualistic forms. There are Christian people who say, “Leave to men of the world the direction of the world.” No. As soon say, “Leave to agriculture the lighting of the stars.”
II. He maintained the supremacy of God. “I believe God.” Christianity seeks to utter the word “God” in a tone that will amount to argument, with a pathos that will ensure conviction. It seeks to remind the world every day of the existence, government, personal superintendence, fatherly love, and motherly care of God. If any man really and truly believed God, he could never be in fear, he could never commit sin, he could never be unhappy. Do we believe God? No. We do not disbelieve Him, and our want of disbelief is so complete as to amount to a kind of intellectual assent to the proposition that there is a God; but if we believed God, our joy would be too great for time and earth. There is a religion in the world that proclaims God--personal, living, near, redeeming. That religion, by the very energy of its declaration, is keeping right the balance that would soon lose its equipoise.
III. He cheered the distracted and helpless (Acts 27:22). That is what Christianity would do in the world: it would make us all glad: it would have us sing songs in the night time. Christianity never said it wished to darken any man’s window, silence the singing birds which he had in his house, put out his fire, limit his food, and make his life into a pain or a fear. When Christianity meets men, it says, “All hail! This is Sabbath day; the bitterness of death is past: be glad.” The glad heart can never go far wrong. Joy is a protective influence. Christianity is the religion of joy. Who would think it to look upon Christian countenances? What wonder if people run away from us, and little children are glad when we are gone? Why are we not more glad? In so far as we carry any other spirit with us--I care not how we pray or preach--we are not lying unto men, we are lying unto God.
IV. He blessed the food of men (Acts 27:34-36). It is but a little food we need, but the blessing may be immeasurable. Eating and drinking are religious acts. We have lost the sacramental idea. We have allowed the world to debase everything we do, and to take out of it dignity and music and hope. The crust is a feast when Christ breaks it for us: the little table, with room for only two, becomes a great banqueting board when Jesus lays His hands upon it. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The Church the world’s hope
Paul had given some very good advice, which was rejected. What then? Now some of us in a similar ease would be in a huff, and never offer advice more, and feel some sort of pleasure in seeing those persons get into mischief. Not so the apostle. After he had prudently abstained for some time from saying anything, he at length gave proof of his unabated affection. Let us take a lesson from him.
I. A Godly man may often be thrown into an ill position for the good of others.
1. If they were not so placed they would not be like their Lord. Why was Christ on earth at all but for the good of sinners?
2. Moreover, is not this just the reason why the saints of God are on earth at all? Why does He not send an express chariot to take them at once to heaven?
3. There have been special cases in Scripture where the putting a person into an unpleasant condition has been a great boon to his fellow men--Joseph, Jeremiah, Naaman’s captive maid, etc.
4. As regards these positions--
II. Wherever we are cast we should anxiously ask of God all the souls that sail with us.
1. God says He gave the souls to Paul; therefore I conclude Paul had asked Him. How many were they? Some two hundred and seventy. Father, some seven or eight make up your family; do not in your prayers leave out one child, nor one connection. Now they will be of all sorts. Let me describe those that sailed with Paul. There was one good one, Luke. You have got one pious child; perhaps you have one courteous passenger, like Julius, etc., etc.
pray for all.
2. Notice that the apostle did not pray for the ship. Now, the ship is like your family name--like your family dignity. Do not be praying about that.
3. Nor did he pray about the cargo. He let them fling the wheat out, and never cared for that. So you need not pray about your wealth.
4. Nor did he make any condition. He did not tell the Lord when or how the people should be saved.
5. He did not ask God to save them without means; nor did it please God to do so either, for though the means were contemptible, yet they were means--“Boards, and broken pieces.”
III. As we should ask for all, so we should labour for the conversion of all that sail with us. There were two Athenians who were to be employed by the republic in some great work. The first one had great gifts of speech; he stood up before the populace and addressed them, describing the style in which the work should be done, and depicting his own qualifications and the congratulations with which they would receive him when they saw how beautifully he had finished all their designs. The next workman had no powers of speech, so he said, “I cannot speak, but all that So-and-so has said, I will do.” They chose him, and wisely, believing he would be a man of deeds, while the other might probably be a man of words. He that only prays for a thing, but does not work for it, is like the workman that could talk well.
1. You can begin early with good advice. Paul gave his advice before they set sail. As soon as ever your children can understand anything, let them know about Christ. But after having given this early advice you must not think the work is done. Your boy may forget it. He may turn out a wild youth, and run quite away from you; but continue in prayer, continue in family prayer.
2. Then remember, if you would have your children saved, there is something you must not do. If Paul had prayed for these people, and then had gone down below, and had begun boring holes in the ship, you would have said, “Oh, it is no use that scoundrel praying, for see, he is scuttling the ship; he is praying to God to save them, and then going straight and doing the mischief.” You parents that are inconsistent--you mothers that don’t keep your promises--you fathers that talk as you ought not to talk--especially careless, prayerless parents, I do not ask you to pray for your children. Pray for yourselves first.
3. And as Paul was very anxious to point them the way in which they might be saved, telling them that the sailors must abide in the ship, and they must do this and that, so we should be very careful to explain to our children, neighbours, and connections, the way of salvation; and I think we ought to do this as much as possible, in private ways.
4. Still, never be satisfied without clinching the whole work with prayer. You see, Paul did not get those that were in the ship by his works. God gave them to him. Everything is of grace. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
An impression prevailed among heathens of antiquity that there was danger in the company of wicked men, and especially of the impious. The Deity, says Horace, often involves the man of integrity in the punishment of the depraved. And the risk which they apprehended in an immediate visitation of Divine power, we may equally apprehend in the course of those laws by which the Almighty uniformly governs the universe. What they dreaded in the shipwreck, the fire, and the long catalogue of accidents, we find accomplished in the contamination of evil, the proneness to assimilate habits of thought and conduct, and the perplexities that harass a man who ventures to stand by while that is done which he disapproves. On the other hand, the text is an instance of the influence that a good man may have to save his associates from impending ruin. Two hundred, threescore, and fifteen persons were preserved for the godliness of one prisoner! The unrighteous are saved for the sake of the righteous; and over those who know not God, His faithful servants throw the shield of their fidelity, when they are associated together. Abraham interceded for the cities of the plain, “And the Lord said, If I find in Sodom ten righteous men, then will I spare all the cities for their sakes.” It was not Lot alone who was rescued from destruction; but the angel said to him, “Hast thou here any besides?” etc. It was not Joseph alone who was prosperous; but “the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house,” etc. It was not Elijah only who was fed by the handful of meal and a little oil many days during the famine; for the widow of Zarephath also, and her son, with whom he lodged, the barrel of meal wasted not, and the cruse of oil did not fail. And it was not St. Paul alone, the ambassador of the Cross to the capital of the Western world, who was rescued from the waves not only his comrades, Luke and Timothy, or the kind centurion, who was saved for the apostle’s sake; but the selfish mariners also, and the brutal soldiers, all were included in the general protection one good man afforded: “God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.” The tares are mingled with the wheat in this world, and Christ Himself has told us, why the very angels may not root them out until the time of gathering both at the great harvest; lest with the tares ye root out the wheat also. The briar that obstructs our path, and the poisonous hemlock, obtains a share of the dew and sunshine which nourishes the food that supports our life. Such are the relations of things, such is the mutual dependence of mankind, in spiritual attainments as well as earthly welfare, that great blessings cannot be bestowed on one, without the participation of others; and an individual cannot be visited with great calamities without his fellows being afflicted or corrupted by them. In the affairs of every day we must have partners in our joy and woe. Obscure as we may be in station, retired and humble as maybe the scene on which we act our part in life, we cannot hoard up happiness, as the miser his pelf, for ourselves alone; we cannot hide our depravity, or conceal our degradation, so that it shall deprave or degrade no others. Who inflicts more fatal injury on society, or drags along with him accomplices to more certain ruin, than the thief lurking in the dark corners of the city, and dwelling in holes and cellars of the earth, lest the light of day should discover him to his pursuers? Who offers more victims on the shrine of her own wretchedness and infamy than the outcast driven from her parent’s roof, lest she should corrupt her own kindred? What is it imparts harshness and suspicion, that turns a deaf ear to a tale of woe, so much as fraud practised on those who should relieve distress? The depravity or debasement of the multitude soon eats its way to the heart of the few; and he who has seen the slave ignorant, timid, false, malignant, sensual, and trodden under foot of man, has discovered the master also to be not only an oppressor and cruel, but irritable, intemperate, violent, unscrupulous, profligate, divested of natural affection as a parent, a husband, or a brother, a greater slave to evil passions, than the object at his feet is to him. Corruption at the foundation rises to every pinnacle of the social structure, pervades its fluted columns, and plants its rottenness in ornamental capitals, and brings down the proudest and the firmest fabric crumbling into dust. There is a contagion in sin and suffering, if we enter into its vicinity; the disease is catching and the moral canker spreads, and he that was whole becomes infected, and feels unwonted pains. That the errors of princes involve their people in disaster is a maxim of the world’s experience; and that the sins of fathers shall be visited on their children is the assurance of the Word of God. How much guilt and misery is wrought by one wicked man! Not, indeed, that the ship is tossed by the storm because an infidel walks her deck. Not that a timber falls from the house top because the ungodly is beneath its roof;--but that the whole family within is made wretched by the father’s vice: that the whole circle of friends is ruined by intimacy with a spendthrift: that neighbours and dependants, unsuspecting youth and guileless innocence, are brought to wretchedness and infamy by the intrusion of a heartless profligate to their company: that honesty is branded with dishonour, and generous confidence reduced to beggary by association with a rogue. But let us turn to a more grateful subject, the deliverance the good man effects for all around in working out his own, and the happiness he imparts to others, as surely as he obtains it for himself. How many families are made prosperous and happy by the industry, temperance, frugality, and good nature of one member! How do his virtues diffuse themselves throughout his home, and bring a blessing on all around! And contentment ever smiles, where he does not find a want: and variance obtains no place, where he is gentle and conciliating: and children, and servants, the whole household, are impressed with the love and fear of God, who is the object of his daily worship, and their own. Nor is it only at the domestic hearth that the good man saves his fellow creatures with himself. How many little ones in Christ borrow the tone, and build the structure of principles that will govern life, from their master in that larger family, the school! How much again may the minister of the sanctuary shed a holy influence over the little flock committed to his care, himself a pattern, as well as teacher of what is good! How may whole cities and principalities and nations be saved by one man’s wisdom, or another’s splendid example! (G. D. Hill, M. A.)
Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.
A cheery word in troublous times
The presence of a brave man in the hour of danger is a very great comfort to his companions. You must have seen in history that it is the one man, after all, that wins the battle. Recollect, Christian man, that wherever you are placed you are to be the one man, that you may comfort those around you who are of the weaker sort. If you are to do this, you must be strong yourself. Nothing can come out of you that is not in you. The reason why Paul was able to embolden his companions was that he had encouraged himself in his God.
I. Paul was strong because he believed. Faith makes men strong. When mistaken there is a power in faith for mischief; for good if the right thing be believed.
1. Paul’s faith was faith in God. “I believe God.” That was something more than saying “I believe in God”: this many do and derive but slender comfort. But “I believe God, believe Him, believe His truthfulness, His mercy, and His power.” This made Paul calm, peaceful, strong.
2. Believing God, he believed God’s message and was revived by it. He was sure that no hair of any man’s head would be harmed.
3. And he did that when there was nothing else to believe in. He might have said, “I do not believe in the sailors: they are evidently nonplussed, and are plotting to leave the ship.” He did not say, “I believe that the centurion can maintain military discipline, and so we shall have a better opportunity of escaping.” No, the ship was breaking up, but he calmly said, “I believe God.” It is a grand thing to believe God when the winds are out. The common run of men’s faith is fair-weather faith.
4. Since Paul believed God he was not ashamed to say so. Now, it is not so easy to thrust out your faith and expose it to rough weathers, and to the hearing of rough men. Under the name of prudence there lurks an unbelieving selfishness. Genuine faith in God speaks out and says, “God is true, and I will stake everything on His word.” I would to God all Christians were prepared to throw down the gauntlet, and to come out straight; for if God be not true let us not pretend to trust Him, and if the gospel be a lie let us be honest enough to confess it. But if it be true, wherefore should we doubt it and speak with bated breath?
II. Paul being strong, spake words of cheer to others. So must we.
1. You will meet with seeking souls who are saying, “Oh that I knew where I might find Him!” You that believe God are bound to say, “Be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.” “Seek and ye shall find.”
2. You will meet with those who are pleading daily for mercy, and seemingly to no effect. Speak up and say, “Be of good cheer, for I believe God, and He told me this--‘Ask, and it shall be given you.’“
3. You will meet with those who are venturing upon Christ, but whose confidence is feeble. Tell them that Jesus has said, “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out,” and then say, “Be of good cheer: for I believe God.”
4. You will find those whose fear arises from their strong passions and evil habits. Go and say to them that Christ has come to bring liberty to the captives, and that you believe God, that it will be even as He has told you.
5. Now, there are the Little-faiths, and I want you strong-faith people to encourage them, by telling them that you believe God that it shall be even as it was told you. Some of these Little-faiths are conscious of very great inward sin, others are vexed with outward temptation, others whose lamentation is, “I am so weak.” There is much work for happy believers amongst the Feeble-minds, and the Miss Much-afraids, and the Mr. Despondencies, and the like.
6. I commend to your attention those who are greatly tried. Tell them that God has said, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.”
7. We have some Christian people about who tremble greatly for the ark of the Lord. I occasionally meet with brethren who are tempted to commit the sin of Uzzah; as if God could not protect His own cause.
8. Those who are labouring for Christ. Sometimes workers for the Lord get cast down. “I have taught a class for years,” says one, “and seen no fruit.” “I have been preaching for months, but have never heard of a conversion,” says another. Well, do you think that you have preached Jesus Christ, and nothing has come of it? I do not believe it for a moment. I believe God, that it shall be even as He has told me, and He has said, “My word shall not return unto Me void.” Be not so cowardly as to say, “I will leave the work.” You are not to win a battle in a moment, or reap a harvest as soon as you sow the seed. Keep on! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. Faith is here shown to be the acceptance of what God says to us as true and final. The angel of the Lord assured Paul that the lives of all those on the ship would be spared, and he believed the statement in spite of the storm which was threatening to destroy them, in spite of the despair of all on board, and in spite of his own opinion, previously expressed (Acts 27:10). So also should it be with our attitude toward God’s words as revealed in Scripture, and especially towards His chief revelation, the witness which He has borne to His Son (John 3:33; John 5:37). Acceptance of that testimony is the faith which constitutes us Christians.
II. Christian faith must be exercised in the face of difficulties. It shines in the dark. When the difficulties disappear, faith becomes sight. For example, Paul on this voyage was the victim of injustice. He was innocent, his persecutors themselves being judges. Then, this guiltless prisoner was made to encounter perils which seemed to strike at the very roots of God’s promises. He had not only hoped to have a prosperous journey by the will of God, that he might preach the gospel in Rome (Romans 1:10-15), but the Lord had definitely promised him the privilege of preaching there (Acts 23:11). Such things as these are hard for human nature to bear. Yet it is just such things that usually form the soil in which faith must grow. The difficulties of our life are the opportunities of our faith, So, while his unbelieving associates on shipboard fall into despair, Paul is kept calm and confident by the promise of God, which he hears and trusts. They experience an unrelieved sense of danger and loss; he waits for the compensations of Divine love. They have no future, and impending death fills them with hopelessness; but he, fearing not death but sin, is assured of eventual safety through his eternal Friend in heaven.
III. Those who have Christian faith are sustained by God as their actual needs require. He does not suffer them to fail. In the climax of his sufferings Paul still possessed many helps and comforts. He had two Christian companions, whose friendship must have been a source of solace. Divine providence was likewise friendly. Sheltering Clauda had been set in its place by God’s foresight. “The sea is His, and He made it.” Even Euroclydon was a “stormy wind fulfilling His Word” (Psalms 148:8). “All things work together for good to them who love God.” Accordingly, there came to Paul one of His “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation,” who announced that Paul’s desire and God’s promise were both to be fulfilled in Paul’s safe arrival at Rome. So does revelation explain and supplement the mysterious works of God. As that angel spoke to Paul the New Testament speaks to us. If we have attentive and reverent ears to hear it, we shall find it an anchor in the storm, a compass in the darkness, a herald of hope in the hour of despair. For providence is God’s gloved hand, and Scripture is His open heart.
IV. Faith vigorously uses all the means of self-help. It is no supine influence in life. Consider, e.g., the course of Luke, who wrote this narrative. He displays learning here, particularly in a most skilful use of nautical terms and in the grouping of geographical facts. The same spirit of activity is manifest in St. Paul. If all that sailed with him were granted to him, it must have been in answer to his prayers--a chief instrument of faith in securing her objects. He and St. Luke seem to have helped with their own hands in doing what they could to fight the storm. Like James, then, Paul also holds that “faith without works is dead, being alone.” In this connection observe that it is faith, and not doubt, that yields all the positive elements of virtue. Faith is the tap root of morality. Doubt is paralysing; faith is vitalising. In particular, notice the superiority which it gave to the character of Paul.
1. It filled him with resolute fortitude, while even the sailors fell into despair.
2. Paul showed the true dignity of Christian character. Prisoner as he was, faith gave him authority over all on board.
3. Despised as he has been also, he feels and shows the tenderest sympathy with them all, and he pleasantly exhorts them to be of good cheer. Many a lowly disciple of Christ, after being contemned by careless souls in the days of prosperity, becomes suddenly welcome in the hour of critical danger.
V. The first object which believers set before themselves is to glorify God by saving souls. Paul turns the minds of the suffering ship’s company away from himself to God, “whose,” he says, “I am, and whom I serve.” The chief part of his revelation is not so much that their lives are to be spared, as that they are all to be granted to him as a disciple of Christ. Would we be able to forget the perils of the sea to preach the gospel to drowning men? (S. J. McPherson, D. D.)
From this passage we learn--
I. That a special communication from heaven is amongst the surest foundations for faith (verses 23, 24). Of that communication we may remark--
1. That it comes to man in his greatest extremity. They had tried many plans of escape, and all had proved vain. It was when intellect had done all it could that Christ came.
2. That it is adapted to all men’s spiritual wants. The communication made to Paul was suited to the circumstances, and told them what they must do to be saved. The Divine message to man is adapted to all the moral necessities of our nature, and makes known a salvation for lost humanity.
3. That its Divine origin is most evident. The apostle knew that it was no dream--no fancy of a heated imagination, but a true and indubitable revelation of the Divine will. The Christian has the evidence of his own consciousness, of the power and efficiency of the gospel of the ever-blessed God.
II. That the character of God inspires the believer with confidence in His Word. Paul was on the shattered deck of a sinking ship, and yet felt confident of safety. God had said they should be saved if they obeyed His will, and that was enough for Paul. There is the same reason for the Christian’s confidence now; because--
1. What God says He wills. God’s Word assures us that it is His will that all who obey the gospel shall be saved. “This is the will of Him that sent me,” etc.
2. He is able to do what He promises. God was greater here than the storm. There are mighty obstacles in the way of men’s salvation; but “Christ is able to save to the uttermost.”
3. His mind is unchangeable. Paul felt that he had to do with the word of One whose purposes were not vacillating. The purposes of God, made known to us for our salvation, are those of One “with whom there is no variableness neither the shadow of turning.”
III. That the value of faith is best seen in difficult and trying circumstances. What a difference there was between Paul and those around him! The value of faith appears--
1. In the calmness of mind it produces. The seamen, used as they were to plough the deep, were terrified; the soldiers paralysed with fear. Not so Paul. Faith gives peace to the soul amidst the wildest storms.
2. In the final safety it ensures. Had that vessel gone down with all on board, Paul would still have been safe.
3. In the honour it puts upon God. “I believe God,” etc. He was a noble witness for God amidst those godless beings. When the Christian is “strong in faith,” then does he most effectually “give glory to God.”
IV. That the possessor of Christian faith may be a great blessing to others.
1. By directing their thoughts to God. “I believe God.”
2. By enabling him to cheer the downcast. “Be of good cheer.”
3. By effecting their salvation. (S. A. Browning.)
The Polar Star was carrying troops to New Zealand in 1854. When one thousand miles from land, with the sea running mountains high, she took fire. All efforts to master the flames proved hopeless, and there was no chance of reaching land by the boats. In their worst extremity, when the pitch was melting in the seams of the deck, a man just relieved from the pumps drew a Prayer book from his pocket, and shouted aloud, with confidence, the first words on which his eyes rested. They were the opening words of Psalms 46:1-11. “God is our refuge and strength.” He read the whole psalm in the same joyful strain. The lookout had long been scanning the horizon with a powerful telescope in vain, but at six o’clock the same evening the deliverance which this Christian so boldly anticipated came in sight, and while still standing on the burning deck, the shout of one man’s faith gave place to the thanksgiving of many in the words, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)
But when the fourteenth night was come … about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country.
I. Men possess that which tells them there is land ahead. “The shipmen deemed,” etc. There is, universally, a consciousness in man, that beyond this there is “some country.” What that country may be we may not be able to define, and our feelings, in prospect of the landing, may widely differ; but to those who are sailing in the Gospel ship, and are being guided by the inspired chart, under the direction of the Heavenly Pilot, the land beyond is a glorious reality, and the prospect of the landing is a source of daily comfort. Let us, standing on the deck of the grand old ship, look out across the wide watery waste for some sign of the country to which we are bound, and make use of the helps to that discovery which our Heavenly Pilot has provided.
1. By the telescope land is discovered when the unaided eye sees nothing but water. As the Bible is a chart, so is it a telescope by which we discover what otherwise would be unseen. Sailors, use your telescopes! Don’t use them for looking at the waves, as many do, to magnify their troubles; but for looking beyond the waters, that the sight of the land may assuage your sorrows, and fill your souls with joy. And what a blessed contrast there is between this definiteness and the hazy uncertainty which pervades all human theories and infidel fancies! Yes, there is a country beyond, and the prospect of standing on its shore helps us to rejoice in spite of “our light affliction, which is but for a moment.”
2. By the telescope the land is defined, when without it its character would be uncertain. Men feel that there must be “another shore”; but revelation discovers to us much of what that shore is. As soon as the captain, by the aid of his telescope, has discovered the distant hills, every glass in the ship is brought into requisition. Little by little, as the vessel approaches the shore, the dim outline develops into hills and dales; the haven itself is sighted, the tall masts of the ships which lie in the harbour are plainly discerned, while here and there the very people are distinguished who are waiting on the shore. And so, by the aid of our telescope, much may be discovered concerning the Land of Best. By it we discover that it is “a better country, that is, an heavenly”; that there are “many mansions” for weary voyagers. And here lies the great difference between natural and revealed religion. The one makes us feel that there is “some country”; while the other reveals to us where and what that country is. The two may be seen illustrated on board that very ship; for while the sailors “deemed that they drew near to some country,” Paul could speak most positively and say, “We must be cast upon a certain island.” To make these discoveries, the telescope must be properly used. You are not to look at it, nor merely to look into it, nor to take it to pieces and criticise it, nor to strut about with it under your arm merely to display it. The Bible is the most ill-used book in the world, With its gilt edges it is admired by those who never look into it; thumbed to death, it is looked into by those who never look through it; it is pulled to pieces by the would be critic; and the would be pious carry it in their hands, while it never reaches their hearts. Now, by such use of the Bible as this no glimpse of the “better country” will ever be obtained. If the sailor wouldn’t look through his telescope until he understood the laws of light, and all the various relations of the lenses which constitute that work of art, he would never see the land at all. To take out one glass and look through it, and then, because he couldn’t make wonderful discoveries, throw it and all the rest into the sea, would be an act of supreme folly. But thus many treat the Bible! If you would see the country, take up the glass, just as it is, put it, not to the blind eye of prejudice, as Nelson, when he did not want to see a signal; but to the clear eye of living faith, and you shall see that “life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel.”
II. Men are daily reminded that they are nearing the “land ahead.” The sailors had a terrible conviction that they were drawing very near to “some country.” And without the aid of revelation we are not ignorant of the fact that the end of our voyage will soon be reached. The sailor knows when he is nearing land.
1. By soundings (Acts 27:28). As long as men are out on the wide ocean, no line carried by ordinary ships is long enough to reach the deep sea bottom, and therefore they never trouble themselves to take soundings; but as they draw near the land, and are able to take the depth of the water by the ordinary lead lines, they take soundings day by day, as they go.
(a) Can you not see how shallow the water is becoming? Look at those who were boys and girls with you. What havoc time has wrought with them! So-and-So is getting old. Do you not see in all this that you yourselves are nearing the shallows? Time has not spared you.
(b) See what death has done! Go to the churchyard and take soundings there! Be honest with your own souls! You may die at twenty, thirty, or forty years of age; but at whatever age the call may come, you are nearing the shore, and you ought to be prepared for the landing.
2. By observation. It was this that helped Columbus to persevere in his westward course till he had sighted the Western World. The sea bird is not an unwelcome visitor; but should a songster from the land fly for refuge towards his vessel, the sailor hails it with delight, and listens to its welcome song as to that of the “cherub that sits up aloft.” And thus many an aching heart has been cheered in the voyage over the sea of life. Often, like some bright bird of paradise, thoughts of heaven, and music as of eternal love, have cheered the Christian soul, and told him that land was very near. Keep you the vessel’s head towards the golden sunset. Land is ahead, and near!
3. By experience. As people know, by its influence on the atmosphere, when they are near to the sea; so men may sometimes know, on the sea, when they are drawing near to the land. As the land breeze comes out across the waters, the Christian turns his face towards his rest. Though he cannot see it, he seems to feel the influences of a “better country.” Much of heaven may be known before we reach the harbour. As the sailors, long before they have sighted America, actually drink of the fresh streams which flow from the western mountains; so, before we reach the haven of rest, we may drink rich, deep draughts of bliss from the eternal hills of life.
III. Men have special seasons which remind them of the “land ahead.” “About midnight the shipmen,” etc. Times of midnight make us think of “home,” and all men have such times. “Through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of God.” Midnight times are needful. “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you.” It is necessary to make us think of home. If God had not stirred up their nests in Egypt, the Israelites would never have longed for Canaan. It was when on the brink of starvation in a far-off land that the prodigal thought of his father’s house, and wished to be there. Your business fails, to make you think of your heavenly treasure; your beloved ones are taken away, that you may look forward to the time when the family circle, eternally complete, can ne’er be broken; and pain and sickness lay you low, to remind you that “this is not your rest.” Then think of home always! Lay up your treasure there!
IV. Men have overwhelming inducements to prepare for the “land ahead.” It is an awfully solemn fact that millions of our fellow men are living utterly regardless of these things. (W. H. Burton.)
A sermon to sailors
How did they know that at last they had neared land? Well, you must be a sailor to understand that. No doubt there was something in the run of the water, or in the breeze, or in the noise of the waves that appealed to the sailor’s instinct. Hearing the billows breaking, they dropped the four anchors out of the stern. That seems a very unsailor-like proceeding, say some critics. Perhaps, if they knew a little more they would not be so surprised, for that is just how Admiral Nelson put them out at the battle of the Nile; and when the ships were formed for action at Copenhagen, we are told that they were all anchored by the stern (Nelson had been reading this chapter that morning). There is a picture in Herculaneum contemporary with Paul’s time, in which you will see vessels with provision made for anchoring by the stern; and I am told that in Greece they still frequently adopt this plan. But if they had lowered the anchor at the bows, she would have swung round and perhaps on to the rocks, as they did not know how much sea room they had. Four were lowered, and when it was found that they held, the sailors had a prayer meeting--they prayed for the day to break. I will throw what I have to say under three headings, which shall have a little rhythm in them, so that you may remember them the better.
I. Land ahead. “The shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country.” That is very vague. They were not quite sure whether it was Europe or Africa; but there was something which said, “It won’t be long before we are aground.” There had been land ahead all the fourteen days; for how was it possible for any ship to be going about in Adria without having land ahead? But they never thought about it until they got uncomfortably close to it. The moment a tiny little craft is launched on the ocean of life, there is land ahead, and whether it be an hospitable one, or an iron-bound coast on which the craft goes to pieces, depends upon what sort of a voyage it has made and who is its captain. With some of us, it is a long time before we realise that we are coming to some country. Oh, it is a grand thing when there steals over a man’s mind, “This life is not the end of everything; the time is not far off when my craft shall touch some country or another!” What is leading many a man to realise that he is drawing near some country? Sometimes it is a memory or a word; I have known it come through a dream. When Columbus was searching for the Western country, what kept up his brave heart was that every now and then he saw floating on the water either a stick or a leaf, that he knew must come from the land. Anon he would see flying overhead a bird, which he was certain had left the shore not many hours before. Ay, and there comes a time when a man will look round and see this, that, and the other all saying to him, “You are bound for another country.” There starts up to his memory that which he has not thought of for many a long year--the word, perhaps, that mother spoke; that address given in the Sunday school; but all of a sudden something says to the man, “There is another world; you are drawing near to it.” It may be that the warning does not bring very much comfort, as in the case before us. To cry, “Land ahead!” does not necessarily bring joy. It just depends on the circumstances of the person who hears it. It is one thing to know that you have land ahead when you see the harbour right in front of you; but it is another thing altogether when the night is dark and you are pitching and tossing, ignorant of your latitude and longitude. Tell a man then that there is land ahead, and he will say, “It is the worst news I could possibly hear.” Some time ago, a brother preached here who was not very well up in nautical matters. In a very vivid manner he described such a storm as never blew. Eventually he asked, “Now, what does the captain do? Why, he keeps as near the shore as ever he can.” An old tar who was listening, said, “Bosh! turn her nose and beat to wind’ard.” Now, when the news of “Land ahead!” strikes a man’s ear in a storm, it is no comfort to him if he does not know what land it is. And so is it with the soul. Tell some of us that there is land ahead, and we say, “Thank God! for I know what it is.” But oh, if it were rung out in the ears of some of you, would it be good news or evil? A little while ago I had the privilege of helping to send a young wife out to her husband in the colonies. I can imagine that young wife standing on the ship’s deck with her three little ones by her side, and looking anxiously before her as the vessel nears its destination. By and by the man perched aloft sings out, “Land ahead”! How that young wife’s face lights up at the sound! how her eyes drink in that cloud-like object, which very soon will develop into the land she has come so far to reach! But on board that same ship there is a felon, who is being taken back through the Extradition Treaty. “Land ahead!” It is heard right down in his cell on board the ship, and he says, “Curse it! that means the gallows for me.” We are all on board the ship of life, and the day is coming when the cry will be heard, “Land can be seen now.” It will be with no dim eye, unless it be filled with tears of joy, that I trust we shall all be able to say, “Lord, that is the best news I heard for many a year.”
II. Heave out the lead. When those ship men took soundings they found twenty fathoms of water. Why did they sound? Because they knew they were getting nearer and nearer, and wanted to be sure of their position. Those men were wonderfully like some of us; they did not begin to sound until they were in danger. They found twenty fathoms, which is a good deal of water; but directly after “they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms.” What, shoal off five fathoms so quickly! There can be no doubt now of danger. Oh, you dear fellows, I want you to heave out the lead. Have you realised how far your ship has got? Perhaps you could if I were to put a line into your hands. Take sounding by this--
1. The change that you can see in others. When you arrived home, after a long absence, and went to look at your old chums, you were astonished to see how they had grown. That bit of a boy is now as tall as yourself; and of another you said, “What an old chap he is getting!” But remember that you look as old in his eyes as he does in yours. Is it not strange how we can all mark alterations in others which we do not notice in ourselves? Take soundings, man.
2. Or, if you cannot realise your position in heaving out the lead in that way, call to mind the names of the ships you have sailed in and the crews you once belonged to. Where are they? How many captains have you sailed under? Any of them dead? Call up to mind those you have voyaged with, and I think, as you look along the list, and put a mark against those whose ships have touched the shore, you will come to the conclusion, “Shallowing fast! Twenty fathoms!--fifteen!”
3. And are there not signs in yourself that you are drawing near some country? Some of you will say that ships’ sides are not so easy to climb as they were twenty years ago, and that it seems a longer way up the mast than it used to do. You have not the legs and hands you once had; your sight is not so clear as it was once. Your wife says, “I am going to pull out all those grey hairs”; but you say that if she does you will not have many left. Go and look in the mirror tonight, and, if you are a sensible man, it will be like heaving the lead. “Yes,” you will say; “I cannot be far off some shore.” Ah, life is shoaling fast with us all. Come, is it twenty fathoms--fifteen? Some of you are much nearer than that. Let down the lead again, and you will find that it is shoaling off to ten fathoms, five fathoms--less than that! Heave out the lead, then, those of you who are still a little way off. Do not go drifting on to the rocks like a fool. If you will not believe our testimony that there is land ahead of some sort, then heave out the lead for yourselves, and you will find, beyond all doubt, that your life is shoaling rapidly.
III. Down with the anchor in the ocean’s bed. After those sailors had let down the lead it was no use their saying that they did not believe the tale that it told, for it said, very plainly, “In a few minutes you will be on that rocky gridiron.” There was only one thing to be done now--to drop anchor, and pray God that they might grip. So out went the four. That must have been a very anxious moment; for they did not know whether there was good anchorage or not. Captain Smith tells us that the very best possible anchorage is in St. Paul’s Bay, and another nautical book says, if only the cable do not give way, no anchor will ever drag there. They were in the right place, though they did not know it. For a moment they asked themselves, “Will the cables snap? Will the anchors drag?” But, thank God! they held; and now the ship is stopped. There is hope for them now, though they are not saved yet; and so they go down on their knees and pray for the day. This scene reminds me of a far different one; but there Paul also was throwing out his anchors. He is in Damascus. The Lord has stricken him down; he is blind--in the dark; but he confesses his sin--and then out go the anchors of prayer, and hope, and faith. Out with the anchors, and let your prayer be that of these men, who “prayed for the day.” They got their answer. They had conscious salvation brought to them, for when the day dawned, Paul came to them and said, “Be of good cheer; not a hair shall fall from the, head of any one of you.” They are not out of the ship yet, but prayer is answered; there is light in the sky, and God says they shall all be saved. “And when it was day” they saw a little creek right in front of them, and letting go the anchors they steered right for it. True, the ship went to pieces; but every one of the two hundred and seventy-six on board got safe to land. Look you, the poor ship of man’s human body has to go to pieces; but that need not trouble us much so long as the passengers are all right--as long as the soul is secure, never mind the old ship. We shall all get “into a place where two seas meet” before long. If we are called to die Christ will show us a creek where we can die safely. And the Lord will do for our old ship what was not done with that of which we have been speaking--He will put it all together again on the Resurrection morning; and it will be a better ship than before. (Archibald G. Brown.)
Then, fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern.--
Fitted for sea
In the town of Landport there stands a monument of Sir Charles Napier, the particular feature of which is, that it says nothing whatever of the admiral, but bears underneath his name the simple inscription, “ready, aye ready.” This exactly portrays the character of the man. The sailor became admiral through being always prepared. Be like him. Though these men would not heed Paul, they were not careless men; for when the danger came it found them prepared. “They cast four anchors out of the stern.” “Be ye also ready!” See to your anchors, because, as with the sailor--
I. The anchor will be your preparation for the storm. When a ship is leaving the docks, little heed is given by the landsman to any preparation which has been made for emergencies. As long as she is nicely painted and well dressed out with bunting, she is admired by the crowd, and pronounced “ready for sea.” You can never judge of a ship by merely outward appearances, and so men cannot be known by that which is merely external. The casual observer sees as much religion in the formalist as he does in the most sincere worshipper. Because Eliab was a fine handsome fellow, Samuel thought he was the man whom God bad chosen to be a king. “But the Lord said, Look not on his countenance … the Lord looketh on the heart.” How about your heart? To me you all appear alike. Together you bow in the attitude of prayer. Like the ships leaving the docks for the voyage, I see you all drifting down the river to the ocean. Are you ready for the dangers that will come? God knows, and you know. In what do you trust? “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” alone can be your sheet anchor when trials come. There is as much difference between a man who is “without hope,” and one who has “a good hope through grace,” as there is between a ship that has no anchor, and one that is well provided. When the storm comes, the one has no alternative but to be dashed to pieces on the rocks, while the other can cast her anchors and hopefully wait for the day.
II. The anchor should be the object of your solicitude in the storm. With many of us the storms are already felt. We are driven up and down on life’s Adria, and sometimes “wishing for the day.” Like the sailor, let us stand by our anchors. Take care of your hope! These men were ready to cast everything into the sea; all might go; but the anchors, heavy and cumbrous as they were, they must be guarded as dear life. The extremity to which they were driven may he gathered from the fact that even the “tackling,” the very thing which would be needed for the working of the ship, was cast into the sea. What will men not do to save their lives? “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.” But though these men gave up so much, their anchors were retained. A landsman, knowing nothing about the use of anchors, would have been puzzled to know why those ugly, heavy things were spared, when all that merchandise was being thrown into the sea. Does somebody question whether such a fool could be found? I submit that, spiritually, this is ever the way of the world. Let men be placed in a position which demands the giving up either of their bales or of their Bible, and there are thousands who would be ready to counsel the throwing overboard of the anchor and the saving of the goods. Christian, take care of your hope! How can you proceed on the voyage of life without it? If today you are “without hope,” let me entreat you, at once search for your lost treasure. As we were cruising in the Solent, we noticed a large ship “lying to,” with two or three boats “dragging” around her. Being curious to know what hindered her, we found that she had let her cable slip and had lost her anchor. Of course the captain could not think of going to sea without his anchor. Not long after, however, before the shades of evening had gathered around her, we saw that the anchor had been found, that all sail was being crowded upon the vessel, and, as though glad to be gone, she was running away before the breeze. Hopeless Christian, imitate that shipmaster. Regain your hope. Do you ask how?--where? Drag for it. Go to the place where it was lost. Remember where the mistake was made which cost you your peace. At any cost recover your hope. You may have to cast your wares into the sea your money, your friends; but if your anchor is safe, even though “all his waves and his billows” should go over you, like David in similar distress, you will be able to exclaim, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?…Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”
III. The anchor will be the source of your confidence through the storm. Christian and Hopeful suffered much in Doubting Castle simply through forgetfulness. The key which was found in Hopeful’s bosom would have let them out the first night as well as the last. When the emergency came, these men knew how to use their anchors. Whether they felt quite easy is open to doubt. A sailor, to feel happy, requires to know--
1. That his anchor itself is trustworthy.
2. That the anchorage into which he has cast it is good. A good anchor is useless with a bad ground, and a good ground is equally useless with a bad anchor. Now, these men doubtless knew their anchors well, but they were ignorant of the anchorage to which they were moored. It is possible, as in this case, to have good anchors and anchorage, and yet, through ignorance, to be all the time in suspense; and it is equally possible, as many have proved to their destruction, to have a false confidence in that which is bad. Sailors have often ridden out a gale, expecting every moment to find their anchor “gone”; while others have been suddenly alarmed to find that very anchor upon which they could have staked their lives has “come home.” And so in the religious world, there are many who have a “good hope,” but who fear it is bad; while there are also many who have a useless hope, and who believe it to be good. The whole question is set before us in the words of Paul, “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil.” Have we this anchor and this anchorage? Or are we ever saying, “I know what I do,” or “what I feel,” or “what I try to be”? Legality, Formality, and “Experience” have been the ruin of millions. As anchors they have been tried, and they have utterly failed. What, then, is the “hope” which “maketh not ashamed”? It is the fruit of faith in Christ. Talk to any ordinary man, and he will tell you that he hopes to get to heaven; but if you ask him to give you “a reason for the hope” that he indulges, he will be totally unable to supply one. Our wishes are not hopes. For a ploughman to say that he hoped one day to be the King of England would be absurd and false; but for the heir-apparent, who had reason to expect, as well as to desire, the exalted position, the expression would be justifiable. Then don’t say you hope to get to heaven unless you have good reason to expect it. Don’t pillow your soul on a lie. A bad hope is infinitely worse than none at all. As long as men have something they can call a hope, they do not concern themselves about the “good hope through grace.”
IV. The anchor will be the means of your deliverance from the storm. But for their good anchors, humanly speaking, they would never have seen the day for which they wished. So, Christian, if your anchor is good, it will be the means of your deliverance. Storms of afflictions will come, but, by “a good hope,” you shall be held until the calm of blessing shall succeed. In the Rapids of Death, when your vessel is altogether beyond your control, and you seem to be thrown about by the troubled waters, even then Hope shall find that the anchorage is good, and you shall outride the danger. (W. H. Burton.)
Wished for the day.--
Wished for day
If “‘tis double death to die in sight of shore,” as Shakespeare says, it is also, or nearly, double death to die in the dark. Some would almost say, Surely the bitterness of death is past, if light be vouchsafed to the dying, and so the shadows flee away. Well can they understand a pregnant symbolism in that incident of patriarchal days, when a deep sleep fell upon Abram as the sun was going down; and, lo! a horror of a great darkness fell upon him. With something of a shuddering sympathy can they connect the fact that, on the day whence all Good Fridays take their name, there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour, with that other fact that about the ninth hour there was heard a wailing cry, whose echo reverberates through all space and time, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!” Ever memorable in classical lore is the supplication of the Greek warrior in Homer, not to die in the dark. Let him see his foe and see his end, however imminent, however inevitable. Frequent in historical narrative are instances like that of Labedoyere, who, when brought out to be shot, refused to have his eyes bandaged, and looking straight at the levelled muskets, exclaimed in a loud voice, “Fire! my friends.” Marshal Ney, a week or two later, also refused to have his eyes bandaged. “For five-and-twenty years,” he said, “I have been accustomed to face the balls of the enemy.” Then taking off his hat with his left hand, and placing his right upon his heart, he too said in a loud voice, fronting the soldiers, “My comrades, fire on me.” Murat fell in a like manner, after a like request--but gazing to the last on a medallion which contained portraits of his wife and children. Dr. Croly applied the Homeric prayer of Ajax to an incident in the long war with France, when twenty-seven thousand British were eager, under Abercrombie and the Duke of York, to attack the French lines, and at the first tap of the drum a general cheer was given from all the columns. But the day, we read, had scarcely broke when a dense fog fell suddenly upon the whole horizon, and rendered movement almost impossible. “Nothing could exceed the vexation of the army at this impediment, and if our soldiers had ever heard of Homer there would have been many a repetition of his warrior’s prayer, that ‘live or die, it might be in the light of day.’” It has been observed of a certain railway catastrophe, where the crash and collision occurred in a tunnel--in that very place which nobody, even on ordinary occasions, passes through without a slight shudder and an undefined dread of some such disaster as the one in question--that “Ajax’s prayer has been muttered by many who never heard of Ajax; and if we are to die, it is at least mitigation of the hour of fate when it overtakes us in daylight.” In tracing, psychologically, the development within us of the sense of awe, Professor Newman attributes to the gloom of night more universally, perhaps, than to any other phenomenon, the first awakening of an uneasy sense of vastness. A young child, as he says, accustomed to survey the narrow limits of a lighted room, wakes in the night, and is frightened at the dim vacancy. “No nurse’s tales about spectres are needed to make the darkness awful.” “Nor,” he adds, “is it from fear of any human or material enemy: it is the negation, the unknown, the unlimited, which excites and alarms; and sometimes the more if mingled with glimpses of light.” The last words audible of Goethe were, “More light!” The final darkness grew apace, in the words of his ablest biographer, and he whose eternal longings had been for more light, gave a parting cry for it as he was passing under the shadow of death. (F. Jacox, B. A.)
And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship.
I. Its hideous character.
1. Its cowardice. They sought to flee out of the ship.
2. Its cunning. “Under colour,” pretending “as though they would have cast anchors,” they let down the boat into the sea. Selfishness has always a disguise. In all the trades, professions, and interests of life it works under a hypocritical garb. It dares not show itself.
3. Its cruelty. All on board were in the same danger; but what cared they though all perished, so long as they were saved?
II. Its manly exposure (Acts 27:31). There was one on board whose keen eye penetrated the motives of these men, and exposed their base conduct. Paul was one of those to whom, through the purity of their own motives, and the clearness of their own moral intuitions, it is given to discern spirits. It would be well for selfish men to remember that there are men who can see through them.
III. Its ultimate frustration. With that short sword with which the Roman legions cleft their way through every obstacle to victory, they “cut the ropes,” and the boat fell off. Thus all selfishness must ultimately be confounded. “He that seeketh his life shall lose it.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.
A lesson in valuation
A ship is in peril, and in estimating the worth of the passengers, the palm must be given to those who can save it. There are distinguished men on board. The centurion invested with the power and prestige of a Roman officer; the soldiers who have never marched but to conquer; Luke the trained physician and writer; the enterprising and wealthy merchants; the inspired Paul. If it were a question as to the safety of a province, Julius and his warriors could soon settle it; if it were a matter of health or knowledge, it might be confidently left to the beloved physician and evangelist; if it were a matter of food and clothing, none were more competent than the merchants; if it were a matter of doctrine or morals, none could deal with it like the apostle. But it was a matter of getting the ship to land, and here arms, medicine, literature, commerce, theology, each powerful in its own sphere, were at fault. How, then, shall nautical safety be secured? By the sailors? But they were only a few, they were cowardly, they had no knowledge of medicine, literature, business, or religion. True, but they knew how to manage the ship; and if they had all the valour, genius, cleverness, and goodness of those that were left behind, would never get the ship to land. They would have been impotent to fight a battle, prescribe a medicine, write a book, conclude a bargain, or preach a sermon; but they were the only men who understood the one thing needful on this occasion. Apply this to--
I. Physical life. The requirements of human health are few and simple. A little food, drink, exercise, sleep, shelter, clothing. Add to these, and you have striking luxuries, indulgences, adornments; but these are all superfluities. “Except” the fewest and simplest matters “abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.”
II. Intellectual life. A few good books thoroughly digested, quiet and systematic habits of study, are alone requisite to intellectual culture. Sumptuously furnished and well-stocked libraries are all very well to those that can afford them, but you cannot say, “Except these abide in the ship,” etc.
III. Social life. How little, comparatively speaking, is necessary to the happiness and prosperity of a community. Obligingness, fairness, affability, so much farther than titles, equipages, and fashionable customs.
IV. National life. A few good laws, impartially administered, make more for national prosperity than all the trappings of majesty or oratory of statesmen.
V. Spiritual life. Whatever else may be added, except “faith, hope, charity” abide, ye cannot be saved. (J. W. Burn.)
Then the soldiers cut off the ropes.
1. By casting off the boat--the apparent means of safety--true safety in this case was secured. Thus many a soul is saved by giving up what it may have once esteemed most precious.
2. By assuming command, Paul on this occasion saved his companions. Let not the Christian shrink from taking the lead, when he can thereby bring others unto safety.
3. By partaking of food at such a time, Paul showed that eating may sometimes become a duty. God takes good care of our souls--He wants us to take good care of our bodies.
4. By giving thanks before he broke bread, on this occasion, Paul showed that there is always time to ask a blessing before even the most hurried meal. If we have time to eat at all, we have time to ask God’s blessing on what we eat. At the worst, bodily dyspepsia is better than spiritual dyspepsia.
5. By trusting Paul, the ship’s company was saved. By trusting Paul’s Saviour, we may be saved. If we sail with Christ, and abide with Christ, we shall not see death. Because He lives, we shall live also.
6. By stopping when they bad “eaten enough,” Paul’s companions showed their good sense. By not stopping when they have eaten enough, many Christians show their bad sense of how to use God’s blessings.
7. By casting overboard what they did not need, Paul’s companions set a wise example of self-restriction. If to eat is a duty, to stop eating may become a duty. Even throw away the bodily supplies, if need be, that the soul may not suffer. (S. S. Times.)
And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat.
Day after day had they been at the mercy of the pitiless winds and waves; night after night had added its darkness to their helplessness. Surely it was a time for prayer, for commending their souls to God, and imploring Divine protection. Yes; and I doubt not that Paul prayed most earnestly. But it was a time for more than prayer. He deemed it a time for paying heed to physical wants as well as for pious devotion. They lay there, held by the four anchors, and longing for the coming of day. There was little that they could do then. Yet they could do something. They could do what, in the excitement and fear and violent motion of the vessel, they had not suitably attended to for many days. They could repair in some slight measure the physical waste which each had suffered. They could do the thing best adapted to secure a favourable answer to their petitions: they could take food. And this Paul urges them to do. We are very much in the habit of thinking that the Bible is for soul culture simply; and hence men are liable to consider it strange if it is quoted as endorsing and requiring the care of the body. But we are to remember that religion is not simply soul culture: it is man culture. Some may say that religion aims to teach men to glorify God. But how can we glorify One whose gifts we are contemning and abusing? And the body is as much a gift of God as is the soul. To knowingly violate the Divine order written in the physical constitution is as really to rebel against God as it would be if one violated a law of the Decalogue. Therefore, by this definition of the purpose of religion--that it is intended to teach us to glorify God--we are required to attend to the preservation of the body. But, further, upon this definition there is much misapprehension as to the way in which God is glorified. Our blessed Master in religion has taught us that this is done not simply by psalm singing; for He has told us, “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.” Therefore God cannot be glorified by anything which needlessly dwarfs the faculties, or cramps the energies, or incapacitates man for doing his full measure of work. Therefore we are again brought back to our conclusion: that, if religion is intended to fit us to promote God’s glory, it necessarily has to do with the care of the body. But is it to define religion more accurately to say that its purpose is to advance men in holiness? Holiness ought not to be limited to a certain reverent attitude of the mind, or to sanctity, or to purity of heart and freedom from sin. We pronounce it “hol-i-ness”: we perhaps should more readily realise its early significance if we pronounced it “hol-ness” (wholeness)
; and undoubtedly we should do well if we added to the ideas of purity and freedom from sin which it now conveys to us the idea of the symmetrical development of the whole being. While we remain here, the body is a part of our being, and an exceedingly important part. And now permit me, as I go on, to be a little more definite. If we are called to make our lives valuable to any persons on earth, certainly those nearest us have the first claim. If any one of us has a right (which I deny) to throw himself away physically, he has no right to throw away his child. If he has a right, by imprudence or excess, to bring sickness upon himself, he has no right to prepare beforehand an inheritance of feebleness or disease for his unborn offspring. On a certain day in the past you may have felt most profoundly the truth that neither fame nor position nor wealth can compensate for lack of health. And yet it may be that a moment’s reflection would reveal to you that you are now daily, in the general conduct of your life, sacrificing the greater for the less--saying (and that very often), “I know that this will hurt me, but still I am going to eat a little of it”; or, “I know that this is dangerous, but still I’ll do it this once and run the risk.” The care of health is a duty. Those of us who mean to fulfil our obligations need often to enlarge our ideas of the breadth of the field of duty. We despise what we know about the value of oxygen; and, if compelled for present comfort to live during the summer chiefly in the fresh air, still do not, except on extraordinary occasions, suffer any of it to reach the bottom of the lungs. We treat cleanliness as a matter of decency, and not as a matter vital to health. Those cooks who are deemed among the best seem to pay little regard to the healthfulness of the viands they prepare. Many are utterly unacquainted with the sanitary usefulness of society, good cheer, merry amusements, and a hearty laugh. All these things should be made studies by us, as parts of the great whole of duty which we wish lovingly to perform. (J. E. Wright.)
O wise Paul!--how many ills of the mind can be met, how many perils faced, how many sorrows tided over, by due and rational attention to the claims of the stomach and the equilibrium of the nervous system! How many cases which come to the vestry of the clergyman are more fit for the doctor’s consulting room! How often in the house of death to the bereaved, to the watcher, might the clergyman, instead of overloading the patient with spiritual consolation, instead of feeding the wasting fire of grief with too much oil of sympathy, more wisely say to the exhausted and overwrought and weary friends and relatives, in the simple and homely words of Paul, “I pray you to take some meat, for this is for your health.” And even as Paul spake he began to eat before them--his courage, good sense, example were infectious. A change passed over the trembling crew. “There shall not a hair of your head fall,” continued the great missioner; and he pointed heavenwards to the source of his prophetic consolation and good hope, “giving thanks to God in the presence of them all!” “Then were they all of good cheer.” (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)
The leading attributes of a great character
I. Social considerateness. The emaciated appearance of all on board, through lack of food, touched Paul’s generous heart (Acts 27:33). The alarm and anxiety of the past fourteen days and nights had, according to a physiological law, deadened their appetite. Paul, with the tact of a practical philosopher, sought to resuscitate their inclination for food by allaying their fears: “For there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you.” This social considerateness Paul often displayed in his conduct and teaching, and it is an essential attribute of Christianity. “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
II. Calm self-control. He was in the midst of the most agitating scenes--the furious hurricane--the reeling, plunging, shattered ship--the 276 terror-stricken men--yet how sublimely calm this man is (Acts 27:35)! A finer picture of moral majesty can scarcely be conceived. The philosophy of his tranquillity was faith in that God whose he was and whom he served.
III. Practical religiousness. “He gave thanks to God in presence of them all.” This was according to the Christian practice (Matthew 15:36; Matthew 26:27; John 6:11-23; Romans 14:6; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Corinthians 11:24; 1 Corinthians 14:17; Ephesians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:18).
IV. Commanding influence. What he said and what he did struck new energy into the heart of all (Acts 27:36). He animated all with the energy of hope. A soul strong with goodness can energise others. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Bodily health to be maintained
Nothing that God has made is to be despised; least of all this body that now holds us. It has in it all the wonder and glory of creation, and is an epitome of all previous creations--a harp of more than a thousand strings; it is so strong it can level mountains; so fine that in its automatic skill it almost thinks; so nearly spiritual that we cannot see where sense joins thought; so coarsely material that chemical law runs riot in it; a mere forge for the fire of oxygen, yet so delicate that it reflects in every turn and gesture the spirit and temper of the mind; so one with us that if it is sound we can hardly fail of being happy, and if it is weak we can hardly fail of being miserable; so one with us that we cannot think of ourselves as separate from it, yet are conscious that it is no part of us--such a thing as this is not to be despised or treated otherwise than as sacred. We have hardly any more imperative work than to secure for the body its highest possible vigour and health. How to feed and clothe and house it; how to use it; how to keep it safe from weakening and poisoning gases; how to secure that rhythmic action of its functions that turns physical existence into music--this is the immediate question before civilisation, the discussion of which will drive out much of the vice of society and revolutionise its systems of education. The gospel of the body is yet to be heard and believed. (T. Munger, D. D.)
And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship.
Food and work
What is the use of gaining strength by eating, unless we are to put our strength to some practical service? We might as well starve for lack of food as to live worthless lives while we have bread enough and to spare. It is of less importance that we have our breakfast than that we do something worth doing after breakfast. If any man will not work, neither let him eat. What if you do go to school? What if you have been to college? What if you are a great reader? What if you listen to the best sermons ever preached? What if you study the Bible week days and Sunday? What is to come of your having this full fare? When you have eaten enough, what work are you going to do on shipboard--or on shore? (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
The process of salvation
1. Here was a great multitude in the direst peril needing salvation. The good and the bad, the learned and the ignorant, the aristocrat and the plebeian, the rich and the poor, were all represented here, and were all alike in danger. Sin reduces all men to the same level, and annihilates all social and other distinctions. “God be merciful to me a sinner,” is a prayer appropriate to prince or pauper.
2. This multitude is strengthened for the impending effort by the supply of immediate wants. A great struggle was at hand, for which they would have been unequal but for that physical strength which food only can give and maintain. So the sinner convinced of his need of salvation, and “without strength” in himself, needs a Divinely imparted strength for all the sacrifice and effort required for the renunciation of self and sin and consecration to Christ. This is supplied by the Divine promises, and by grace for the time of need.
3. Being strengthened, as the first requirement for safety, the crew lightened the ship by throwing every superfluity overboard. The cargo was a valuable one; but in comparison with life what was it, or the “whole world”? So wealth, learning, social position, etc., of great value under certain circumstances, may be hindrances in the way of salvation, and must be abandoned. What things are gain to us must be counted loss for Christ and His salvation.
4. Light came and revealed the only means of safety. They knew not the land, but they saw the way of escape, and, like sensible men, they availed themselves of it (Acts 27:39). What cared they for the geological formation of a “certain creek”? What cared they whether it were constructed according to the accepted principles of harbour architecture? “If it were possible” they would “thrust in the ship” there. And so the light of the Spirit is thrown on the Cross. He takes of the things of Christ and shows them. What has the sinner to do with their conformity to his own opinion, or the opinion of others, of what should constitute the means of salvation? As it is gloriously possible let him thrust in his ship there without asking any questions, and trust to the result.
5. Like rational creatures they availed themselves of the only means of escape at all risks. That which might have been useful elsewhere they unceremoniously abandoned, and taking up anchors, and loosing rudder bands, simply hoisted the mainsail, committed themselves to the sea, and made for shore. Let the convinced sinner thus, cutting himself off from his past, simply yield to the movements of the Spirit who not only enlightens but impels. Loose the moorings! Hoist the mainsail of faith! there is now nothing for it but that--and the Spirit who bloweth where He listeth will fill the sail.
6. The ship ran aground, and the passengers were exposed to tremendous hardship (Acts 27:41). Not a few have experienced spiritually what was suffered here. Faith laying hold of Christ renders the soul safe, but the “hinder part” is “broken by the violence of the waves.” And nowhere more than just here is the malignity of Satan exhibited (Acts 27:42. Cf. Christian at the Wicket Gate). But the Christian need fear not the violence of the waves of this troublesome world on his bark, nor the machinations of the adversary, for he knows that no weapon that is formed against him shall prosper.
7. Salvation, however, comes at last (Acts 27:44). They lost everything but their lives, and man can afford to lose everything but his soul. (J. W. Burn.)
And when they had taken up the anchors, they … hoisted the mainsail.--
Anchors and sails
Anchors are very well so long as you want to keep from going ahead; but if you want to reach the shore, one sail is worth more than four anchors. It is a great thing to know when to use anchors and when to use sails. If a young man is asked to follow evil companions in evil ways he needs anchors. If he is urged to go ahead in the path of duty and in the service of Christ, a sail is the thing for him. When the breakers of warning are sounding through the night on the rocks of error and unbelief just ahead of us, we ought to pray God that the anchors may hold. When we see by the clear light of God’s truth that the harbour of spiritual peace is open before us, we may cut loose from the anchors, and hoist all sail to the breeze of Divine grace which shall speed us to the shore. (H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)
And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground.
(Children’s sermon):--It is a sad sight to see a noble vessel stranded and going to pieces; but it is sadder far to see a soul which ought to be sailing over the sea of time to heaven stuck fast in the things of this world. If we would avoid this we must--
I. Keep a steady course. How often on a sea-bound steamer going through some intricate channel do we hear the word “Steady!” The pilot cannot go by any course he pleases; if he tries experiments, disregards the chart, and sails on the wrong side of the buoys, he must be prepared for running aground. A captain once left his vessel in charge of a man, whom he ordered to steer towards a certain star, while he retired for rest. Presently the man’s attention was attracted by some object, and he let go the tiller. When he took it again the star was behind. By and by the captain came on deck, and seeing the position of affairs, exclaimed, “Why, Jim, where are you steering her to? The star I told you to keep ahead of the mainmast is now astern!” “Oh,” said Jim, “we sailed by him an hour ago.” The fact was the boat had swung round. And much in the same way we trifle with the helm, for the sake of looking at something about us, and forget to keep our eyes on the star; and many who think they have sailed past the star have simply turned their back upon it. It is common for people to think they have advanced far ahead of the Bible, their ancestral faith, etc., and before they know it they are aground.
II. Know our soundings. When the Atlantic went ashore on the coast of Nova Scotia it was because the captain, thinking he was miles from the coast, neglected to take soundings. So many a life is wrecked through ignorance of the proximity of shoals and rocks, and negligence to ascertain its position. How necessary, then, to examine ourselves, to watch for temptations, so that we may know where we stand!
III. Beware of cross currents. It was the opposite tides which did the work for Paul’s ship. We all meet with cross currents in life, and how hard it is to keep out of them! We want to study, and yet to play; to serve Christ and to please ourselves; to gain heaven and yet keep earth. This is a sure way to wreck our souls.
IV. Trust our pilot. When the pilot comes aboard he takes full command, and the crew must not mind the old captain. And so when we have taken Christ as our Commander we must obey Him in everything. (W. Newton.)
And the soldiers’ counsel was to kill the prisoners.--
I. The brutalising tendency of a military life. One might have thought that common trials would have made every heart sympathetic; but these soldiers meditated the cold-blooded murder of men who had saved their lives. Why? Because they were trained to bloody deeds. Human life to them was cheap.
II. The social value of a good man. “The centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose,” etc. The salvation of passengers must, under God, be ascribed to Paul, and the other prisoners were saved from massacre because of him. No one but God can tell the value of one good man in a neighbourhood or nation. Ten righteous men would have saved Sodom, etc.
III. The faithfulness of the Divine word. God had said that no life should be lost, that they should be cast upon a certain island, and that the ship should be destroyed. And here is the fulfilment. “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” etc.
IV. The necessity of human effort. Although the safety attained had been promised by God, yet the human agency was indispensable. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Those who get us into trouble will not stay to help us out
These shipmen got Paul out of Fair Havens into the storm; but as soon as the tempest dropped upon them, they wanted to go off in the small boat, caring nothing for what became of Paul and the passengers. Ah me! human nature is the same in all ages. They who tempt that young man into a life of dissipation will be the first to laugh at his imbecility, and to drop him out of decent society. Gamblers always make fun of the losses of gamblers. They who tempt you into the contest with fists, saying, “I will back you,” will be the first to run. Look over all the predicaments of your life, and count the names of those who have got you into those predicaments, and tell me the name of one who ever helped you out. They were glad enough to get you out from Fair Haven, but when with damaged rigging you tried to get into harbour, did they hold for you a plank or throw to you a rope? Not one. Satan has got thousands of men into trouble, but he never got one out. He led them into theft, but he would not hide the goods or bail out the defendant. The spider shows the way over the gossamer bridge into the cobweb; but it never shows the way out of the cobweb over the gossamer bridge. I think that there were plenty of fast young men to help the prodigal spend his money; but when he had wasted his substance in riotous living, they let him go to the swine pastures, while they betook themselves to some other newcomer. They who take Paul out of Fair Havens will be of no help to him when he gets into the breakers of Melita. Hear it, young man! hear it. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship.
And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.
Safe to land
They were all saved notwithstanding--
I. Their fears to the contrary. You have feared--
1. The power of the Evil One.
2. The subtlety of your own heart.
3. The world.
II. The play of the elements.
1. The soft south wind of flattery.
2. The contrary wind of the world’s opposition.
3. The fierce Euroclydon of adversity.
III. The poor helps they had. Every one had to shift for himself.
IV. Their great variety of character. Soldiers, sailors, landsmen. (Biblical Museum.)
Safe to land
I. Those are safe whom God has pledged Himself to save. We are constantly asking questions as to the numbers of the saved and the lost, and often rather try to make out a case for the smallest number. Some are fond of calling the Church “a Zoar”--“a little one”--we contract salvation to the dimensions of our own heart--“and my soul shall live!” let the rest be lost so that I am saved. On the contrary, how much there is in Scripture which, amidst the promises of the illimitable grace of God, points to the vast multitude of the redeemed! The law in all ages is that the heavens attract to themselves their own. When the world gets too wild in its will, God shuts up His own and bears them over. We often have our minds sorely perplexed by the residue of the vast populations. We are convinced that some are safe; but for the rest, where will they be found? I believe we need never despair, except for the hardened rend the hopelessly impenitent. We often behold the poor creature, ignorant and dark, and we say, “shall that be lost?” Or that heathen, “is there no hope?” or, amidst those superstitions which shock and shame religion, “is there no hope?” I know that there are hard religious creeds which affect to say so; but they are in harmony neither with the tone and structure of the Bible, the mission or the words of our Saviour, or the words of Paul. Why, how few comparatively are they who have what we call “an abundant entrance”! Here and there we behold a vessel in fall sail borne in upon the triumphant wave; but, on the contrary, what multitudes find, when they come to die, that all that was preserved to them was “the plank” of some promise--some “broken piece” of the ark of their hope. What shall I do with innumerable heretics, labouring over the waves, on their “broken pieces of the ship”? What shall I do with the Fearings, and Much-afraids, and Despondencys, which float together over the black sea, muttering their mournful elegies, who can see but little, but fall in despair on the character of God and His promises--who hold even those with a timid grasp? Well, I will believe that, “on boards” and “broken pieces of the ship,” they escape “safe to land.”
II. All means are good means which save. In the matter of salvation how much we elevate conditions above grace! Yet no man is saved by ideal systems of salvation any more than ideal systems ever governed nations. Harrington’s “Oceana,” and More’s “Utopia,” and Plato’s “Republic,” and Bacon’s “Atlantis,” and Machiavelli’s “Prince,” are very healthful and pleasant reading, and they enlarge and strengthen the mind; but they never assist in the government of nations. And it is so with ideal systems of salvation. Men lay down as authoritatively the exact limits to which God can go in the provision for the salvation of a sinner, as they would lay down rules of arithmetic. These persons are like those who deny the possibility of miracle, and tie the Creator to the very creatures He has created. We must not confound our necessities with the necessity of the Divine procedure. It is true God has revealed Himself to us as conditioned by the laws of His own holiness; but how unconditioned He is in His provinces and arrangements of mercy we do well know. Some religious people have a religion full of symmetry. Every proposition grows out of the previous proposition. One would suppose, to hear them talk, that men are saved because they are able to reason correctly. How many make the reception of the gospel a mere matter of nomenclature, affixing the very conditions of salvation to the assent to terms not even understood. A minister once called upon a poor dying lad to console him in his last moments. He asked him if he had taken Christ in all His offices, and had for reply, “No, he’d never been taken by any officers.” We smile at the poor lad, yet “the foolishness of preaching” saves. Words that fill scholars with contempt are the great powers of God unto salvation. “Boards” and “broken pieces of the ship” become the means for some small minimum of grace which supports the soul, and they are safe, while many a stately craft goes down by their side. I know a poor sister, whom the Lord dearly loves, although He has chastened her very sore. She was talking with me about her sons, who had very wickedly neglected her, and told me how she had agonised with God for them. She opened her Bible, and the first words she read were these, “I will contend with him that contendeth with thee: and I will save thy children.” And if she dies tomorrow, she will trust their salvation on that plank. Oh, over the world there are thousands wrecked utterly, but for the “board” or “the broken piece of the ship.”
III. All means are good means which save. My friend, poor Becky Williams, sailed into heaven on a plank. To her, in her loneliness, one text had come, and that text was a glorious raft--it was one of Luther’s little Bibles--“All that the Father hath given Me, shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” She knew nothing of theological casuistry. Sometimes she was sneered at when she talked of faith, and was asked for a description of it. She could only give “All that the Father hath given Me,” etc. Some people who had all creeds at their fingers’ ends told her her faith was not clear. “No,” she said, “I often feel that; but it is not the clearness or the darkness of my faith, it’s in Him--it’s in Him--‘All that the Father giveth Me,’“ etc. The incumbent of the parish went out of his way to call upon her: told her that grace came through the sacraments--that she could not partake of grace without them. “I don’t mind,” said she, “how often I remember my dying Lord; but grace does not come only so--‘All that the Father giveth Me,’“ etc. When she lay dying, they asked her if she had clear ideas of sin. She did not know well what they meant; but she repeated her text. “Do you feel safe?” “How can I be other than safe, ‘All that the Father hath given Me,’“ etc. “And if I speak about you in the church next Sabbath, after your funeral,” said her minister, “what message shall I give?” “Only, ‘All that the Father hath given Me,’“ etc. And I say what comfortable words there are in Scripture (Isaiah 50:10). In the storm of darkness and unbelief it seems as if all is shipwrecked in thee, broken in pieces; and yet see what scattered glimpses, what broken, imperfect discoveries of Jesus Christ float up and down, and do at any time appear in thy spirit. Thou wilt see some if thou wilt look and watch for them. Cast thyself upon them; these are the broken planks, the most imperfect, darkest, narrowest glimpses of Christ. Such intimations are better than the most symmetrical body of theology. There are words which transcend definition. Such words are often the planks upon which the spirit floats in much fear and trembling into rest--safe to land: or light shines through some little chink of speech opening up to large and settled manifestations of Christ. Thus God has been saving multitudes never heard of. Thus many a sacred text has been the “board,” the “broken piece of ship,” on which souls have “escaped safe to land.”
IV. God is a good Captain. If the ship is lost, He saves the crew. There is land, and all who sail in the ship are safe. I often seem to walk along the shore, and I see the wild waves of life, and time, and death, casting at my feet some spent swimmers. The other evening, after I had been preaching near where I spent all my first days, a young man came and gave me his card. It was the name of one of my oldest friends--the superintendent then of a school where I was first a Sabbath school teacher. And I said, “How’s your father?” to the young man. “Oh, he has been dead two years.” Dead two years! I knew him so well; and I never knew him out of trouble. And I walked away, and said to myself, “He is safe to land. One more dropped down on the way--one memory more--one presence less--but ‘safe to land.’” Pace with me the shores of the great ocean of death. How they are cast up by every tide, flung out from innumerable wrecked vessels. Here is an infant: its pretty lips closed; and all those pretty ways forever lost to us. What a mistake! No, no mistake--“safe to land.” Here, at my feet, are the lovely tresses of one before whom there seemed to spread a life so redolent of every charm--the light of the home--those fingers will wake the keys no more--the eye has lost its light, and the lip its witchery. Precious life to be wrecked so soon! No, not wrecked--“safe to land.” And here, see here is a veteran--a body broken in how many wrecks and seas; but the last breath and the last good-bye was a triumph he is “safe to land.” The other day a sailor died. One who was waiting upon him said, “How is it with you?” “How! I see land ahead!” said he--“I see land ahead!” And he fell back--“safe to land.” Gather up all the promises which, like so many planks, have floated over and sustained on death’s waves, and you would build a ship to hold the Church. Oh, sinner, how wilt thou do without a plank? No “board”--no “broken piece of the ship.” Wave on wave sucking thee in, and sucking thee down, engulfed within the triumphant wave. (E. Paxton Hood.)
I. Of the common experiences of human life which the Christian is bound to meet and share with all the world resides. If you open the Bible, you will find that, in the thought of Jesus Christ, life was to be a rough and rugged thing, even for hearts stayed on Him. You will find there passages meant to warn the disciple of the Euroclydon which was before him, and to show how he might take advantage of that Euroclydon, for the eternal welfare of his soul. We have made a long stride in our Christian life when we come to understand that, in giving our hearts to God, we have made no trade with Him whereby we shall be exempt from the experiences of common life. If you have taken your money and invested it, and the market rises, your little all will increase; but if the market falls, it will decrease in value. If you have set your heart upon a single thing in life to be realised in this world, and there are circumstances which you are able to command and control, you will have it; but if circumstances set in the opposite direction, you will have it not. One thing that the Christian finds early in life as he journeys toward the celestial city is this: that he is often placed by stress of circumstances in a position which he knew beforehand would be adverse to his temporal interest, but out of which he has no power to disentangle himself. Did not Paul know when in the peaceful harbour of Crete that that soft south wind would increase and become a Euroclydon? There are exterior circumstances that rule the day and carry the boat, so that Paul, Christian though he was, had no option but to go forward to meet these circumstances which he knew would be disastrous. This is an experience of us all. There is a common human life which you and I must lead; there are circumstances governing our lives--circumstances which, even if we know they mean certain disaster, we cannot avoid, but must embrace. That is the plane of commonality on which we stand, the position which we occupy with relation to all the world besides.
II. Uncommon Christian experiences. While it is true that we must face many a Euroclydon, it is also true that there is an uncommon experience as we meet and welcome that Euroclydon which is denied to the man whose soul is not stayed on Him. It is very curious and interesting to see how soon the captive on this weather-beaten ship becomes the comforter. Whenever a large ship goes to sea it is deemed advisable to have someone in the forecastle who can play an instrument. When on one of our exploring vessels it is necessary to send off a boat which shall become detached from the ship, to make inquiry or in search of information, there is always placed with that brave little band someone who can play an instrument. It is not necessary that he should be an adept or a professor of music; it is simply necessary that he should be able some way to lend cheer to the natural despondency of those who find themselves in the grip of an emergency out of which they see no way of release. Paul was the only man who could play the instrument among those two hundred and seventy-five weary and dejected souls--the only man who was himself. His alliance with God gave him his uncommon opportunity, his uncommon experience. You cannot tell much about a man when the sky is bright and blue over his head; but let the clouds gather, and then the manhood stands resplendent. You have no difficulty in estimating the manhood of Paul, on the one hand, and the sailors on the other, in their common experience. You cannot tell much about a man when the stars are bright; but once let the soft south wind ripen into the Euroclydon, once put a man into the adversity of human life, and then if there is that in his soul that has made connections with heaven; if there is a hope that has over-reached that fearful river which you and I call death; if there is a sense of immortality in his heart--all the manhood that is in him will leap to the front and you will have no difficulty in discriminating him. The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, impresses this simple truth; shows how, when the south wind is blowing softly, we may enfold our hearts in the love of God, so that no matter how fierce the Euroclydon, how many anchors are out at the stern, no matter how imminent the peril a sense of security and deliverance will sustain and comfort.
III. For the disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ there is reserved the sense of the ultimate experience. We have been talking about the common experience which we share With the world beside, and the uncommon experience which differentiates us and gives us the advantage in the troubled hour; now a single word about the ultimate experience. The disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ has no question about the ultimate experience; he knows that he is held in the hollow of the Divine hand; knows there is no bark so fragile that it can sink beneath the wave and carry with it his immortal soul; knows that all the powers in the world above and in the world beneath are absolutely powerless to delay the ongoing of that soul of his to the pert and haven which Jesus Christ has destined for it. And this is his comfort, this is his cheer, his joy, the reason why he is willing to walk by faith when he cannot walk by sight; this is the reason why he can sing songs in the darkness of the blackest night. Be a practical Christian. Expect to meet life’s Euroclydon, to master it, and let the uncommon experience as it comes to your life cheer your immortal soul with the thought that the ultimate experience shall be yours; that, after having met every storm and weathered every cape, because of your fidelity and devotion and Christlikeness, you shall find an entrance at last into the harbour of the city of God. (Nehemiah Boynton.)
This is an account of real experience, the record of a great soul in a great crisis. As such, it illustrates the dealings of God with men, and emphasises certain fundamental truths of revelation.
I. The first impression one receives in the study of this fascinating story is that of the apostle’s unique personality, perfectly adapted to the Divine purposes. From the beginning, the singular influence of his character is felt on all who surround him. The farther he goes and the more exigent the circumstances, the more distinctly does Paul loom into prominence and leadership. Captain, owner, centurion, and historian all do him obeisance. The captive Hebrew is master of every situation. This brief narrative is in some sense an epitome of the great apostle’s entire life. It was not often or ever for long that “the south wind blew softly” over the seas on which he sailed. There were many other days in his career “when neither sun nor stars appeared and no small tempest lay upon him.” He weathered more than one Euroclydon. His soul entered into peace at last only through the wreck of his buffeted and broken body. Of St. Paul’s character and influence we cannot hope to say here anything new, but his demeanour amidst the scenes here described illustrates certain facts and truths of Scripture that we are impelled to notice briefly two of them.
1. The first is the reality of the spiritual world. Paul’s insight reaches beyond the sensuous. “There stood by me this night an angel of God, whose I am and whom I serve.” The voice of God penetrates his soul. His message from the “Holy of Holies” is no cunningly worded oracle, susceptible of many interpretations, concealing thought rather than expressing it. It is clear, terse, absolute: “I have seen an angel.” “Thou must stand before Caesar.” “God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.” “There shall not a hair of your heads perish.” There is a holy dogmatism which befits the Souls to whom God and angels and the world to come are actual entities. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.” To His friends He reveals all the mysteries of His love and grace.
2. The second thought suggested by the part which the apostle plays in this story is the old yet ever new one of the power of God’s grace in man’s heart and life. Grace loses nothing by having an inherently great nature for the basis of its work. Paul would have been a ruling spirit anywhere. In choosing Saul of Tarsus for the accomplishment of His purposes, God chose one of the mightiest of the sons of men, yet was there on this account no less but far greater opportunity for grace to work its marvels and its triumphs. Such was the man’s natural greatness that grace had in him a wider sweep than in the case of smaller mortals. No doubt God can utilise not only relative but absolute weakness and ignorance for the accomplishment of His plans, yet He does not prefer weakness to strength. His choice of instruments and agencies proves this. His glory does not suffer by the use of greatest talent, ripest culture, most indomitable energy. As a rule the most powerful men in His kingdom have been men of great intellectuality, of magnanimous spirit, of high and resolute purpose. God has never, either by His choice of agents or by any supernatural endowment of weakness or ignorance, put a premium on mediocrity and indolence.
II. This narrative makes it evident that the force occasioning and shaping the events which it records was the purpose and providence of God. The keynote of the story is sounded in those words to Paul, “Thou must stand before Caesar.” Apparent hindrances to that plan had no real effect in delaying its consummation. The contrary winds, the multiplied landings, the transfer from ship to ship, the boisterous seas, the utter wreck “on a stern and rock-bound coast,” and the tedious wintering in Malta, were all tributary to the fulfilment of a gracious and far-reaching design. It was none the less a single and controlling purpose, because of its complexity. “God fulfils Himself in many ways.” We may not be able to define the exact relation of Paul’s work in Rome to the subsequent spread of the gospel and the strengthening of the kingdom of Christ. And he was there by predestination, by design, in the direct providence of God. He kindled his fires not on the summits of the hills, like the Greeks when they announced the downfall of Troy, but in the crowded cities of the empire, from Jerusalem to Rome. Amid all the intricacies and cross activities and apparent in harmonies of his career, the purpose of God, vital, intelligent, and unconquerable, is the “spirit of life within the wheels.”
III. This history also vividly illustrates the province of the human in the execution of the Divine plans. The zigzag course of the vessel during much of the voyage, shows us, as in diagram, the purpose of God as affected by human action, apparently deflected, modified, halted entirely amidst the breakers in “St. Paul’s Bay,” yet in reality, unchanged, unarrested, and always steadily moving to its destiny at Puteoli. Within the bounds of the Divine decree there is ample scope for all legitimate human action. It has been shown by competent sailors acquainted with the seas traversed by Paul, that all three of the ships which bore him were skilfully navigated; that soundest judgment was exercised from first to last in handling them. God’s sovereignty and the free agency of man have occasioned no end of controversy. How God and the creature are united in operation is doubtless known and knowable only to God. Free beings are ruled but are ruled as free and in their freedom. The two co-exist, each in its integrity. Any doctrine which does not allow this is false to Scripture and destructive of religion. For practical purposes we may emphasise the function of the human. It is not irreverent to say that Paul must plant and Apollos must water if God is to give the increase. The purpose of God embraces the volition of the man. Three attitudes are possible in relation to that purpose. The creature may antagonise it, as the sailors unwittingly did when, under cover of casting out anchors, they would have slipped away to land, leaving the rest to go down with the ship. Man may stop short of the purpose of God, as the captain and the centurion doubtless did. The aim of the captain was simply to reach port in safety and unload his ship. The controlling purpose of the centurion was to deliver his distinguished prisoner to the praetorian guard. Or, lastly, the plan of the creature may be coincident with the providence of God, as was Paul’s. “After I have been to Jerusalem,” he says, “I must also see Rome.” In all his prayers for the Church he desired that it might be God’s will that he should visit them. “I longed to see you that I might impart unto you some spiritual gift.” “I purposed to come unto you but was hindered hitherto.” Paul’s purpose was God’s purpose. The lesson which we have studied enforces many important and practical truths. It suggests the use and rewards of consecrated gifts. It affirms the futility of every life which is in conflict with the Divine will. It teaches that the largest freedom for the soul is found within the bounds of the Divine purpose. It magnifies that grace which is essential to the salvation of great and lowly alike. It reveals how God’s purpose is sometimes accomplished by deliverance from trial and sometimes by its patient endurance. To the true believer both deliverance and defeat are alike success. All things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose. (W. S. Apsey, D. D.)
If there is anything which will make a man thoughtful of himself above everything else it is danger of losing his life. Set before a man the probability that in a short time he will be dead, and his thoughts will most likely be divided between terror and a desperate planning of escape. Especially will it try his soul if those circumstances be lacking which conduce to heroism, if the manner of exit from life which presents itself seems wholly wasteful--as by a shipwreck. When a man dies for his country there seems a degree of compensation to himself as well as others; but when a man dies by accident it seems a sad dissipation of vital energy. How did Paul act under such circumstances? He gives to us a truly heroic picture of an unselfish man in a selfish world. Let us see first how Paul’s companions behaved under the stress of the immediate probability of death.
I. The selfishness of Paul’s companions.
1. The sailors. They were men accustomed to the sea, best able of all on board to take care of themselves in the event of the ship’s going to pieces, charged moreover with the care of the lives with them.
2. The soldiers. They had already made a decision to kill the prisoners whom they were guarding “lest any of them should swim out and escape” (verse 42). They as well as the sailors showed themselves to be directed only by selfish motives.
II. We turn now to the beautiful and noble story of the unselfishness of Paul. The very same circumstances outwardly were at work upon him as upon the soldiers and sailors. The same thing revealed shame in them and glory in him.
1. The way in which Paul’s unselfishness was exhibited.
2. The cause of Paul’s unselfishness as thus exhibited.
3. The result of his unselfishness.
III. Final lessons.
1. Faith in God should be the most vigorous element in our emotional being. It is the centre of all the Christian’s life. On it rests his eternal salvation. On it rests his conduct of every day.
2. Let us believe in our safety from accident. We are perfectly safe until God’s time for us to die has come. And then we should be unwilling to live.
3. Life is best spent in helping others. A self-centred soul becomes uncentred. We become what is best by giving out of that which is best in us. The way of the Cross, which is the way of supreme success, is the way of giving up. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
Now, by considering this voyage of the apostle and the saints with him, as an emblem of the passage of God’s people through this world to heaven, there will present themselves two things for our consideration, which are--
I. Their difficulties and dangers. This part of my subject may be illustrated by attending to the difficulties and dangers which Paul and his fellow Christians met with on their voyage to Rome; for--
1. We have reason to believe that the number of Christians who were in the ship with the apostle was very small, when compared with the number of men that the ship contained, which we are informed was two hundred, threescore, and sixteen souls (verse 37). And so also the number of the children of God, in any one period of time, is but small when compared with the rest of the world (Luke 12:32).
2. The apostle and his companions had but very indifferent company, which consisted of other prisoners, a band of soldiers, and the sailors which belonged to the ship: and thus it is with the Church of Christ while passing through this world; for they are as u lily among thorns (Song of Solomon 2:2), and like righteous Lot of old, are frequently vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked (2 Peter 2:7); with whom, to the grief of their souls, they are sometimes obliged to keep company.
3. That Paul and the rest of his fellow Christians met with contrary winds while on their passage, as appears by the fourth verse of this chapter: and thus it is sometimes with the Christian while on his passage through this world, for he meets with many things to oppose him, and which also may be compared to contrary winds, because they have a tendency to stop or drive him back while on his passage through this world to another.
4. We are informed also, in the ninth verse of this chapter, that the sailing of Paul and his companions was at this time dangerous: and thus it is with the saints while sailing through this world; for they are in danger through the abounding of iniquity, as they are also from the errors and heresies which are spreading around them.
5. That the apostle and the rest of his companions met with a great storm on their voyage (see verses 14 and 18), and this also applies to the Christian, who meets with many storms on his voyage to heaven; and it is well for him that Christ is a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest (Isaiah 32:2); and that he is built on such a foundation that the most violent storms cannot move or destroy.
6. That while on their passage they lost sight of both sun and stars for many days, as appears from the twentieth verse of this chapter; which not only added to their danger, but also made their voyage uncomfortable to them; and thus it is sometimes with God’s dear children while on their passage through this world to heaven, Christ the Sun of Righteousness is not seen by them for many days following each other, on account of the clouds which interpose between Him and them. The stars, moreover, or the ministers of the gospel are removed from them, so that their eyes cannot behold their teachers; which situation not only makes their voyage through this world the more dangerous, but also the more uncomfortable to them.
7. That so great was this storm, that all hope of salvation was gone (Psalms 69:2).
8. In the midst of their dangers and distress we are informed that Paul stood forth and said, “I exhort you to be of good cheer, for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you” (verse 22). And thus also says the Redeemer concerning His Church and people, “they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of My hands” (John 10:28). For though the Christian’s enemies come against him as a storm against the wall, yet the Lord will be their Strength, their Refuge, and their Shadow from the blast of the terrible ones (Isaiah 25:4). And--
9. Notwithstanding Paul was informed that not a life should be lost, but that God had given him all them that sailed with him, yet he made use of every prudent means for the preservation of their lives, as appears from verses 17, 18, 19, 31, and 38 of this chapter. And thus it is also with God’s people in a spiritual point of view, for although Christ hath said that they shall never perish, yet that promise does not set aside the use of those means which God hath appointed, in order to bring their salvation about. But, having taken notice of the difficulties and dangers of God’s people on their passage to heaven, I proceed to take notice--
II. The certainty of their arrival there--which is emblematically set forth in these words: and so it came to pass that they escaped all safe to land. And thus it shall be with all God’s children, for notwithstanding the various difficulties and dangers to which they are exposed, they shall none of them prevent their safe arrival at the land of eternal rest, the certainty of which is built or founded upon--
1. The absolute promise of a faithful and unchangeable God, who hath said by the prophet Isaiah, “Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation” (Isaiah 45:17), and as it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18).
2. The certainty of the saint’s arrival at glory is built also on their redemption by Christ, who hath redeemed them from the curse of a broken law, from all iniquity, and from wrath to come: and we are told that the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing to Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads (Isaiah 51:11); therefore it shall come to pass that they shall all surmount their difficulties and escape their dangers, and get safe landed at the last.
3. That the certainty of the saint’s arrival at glory is built moreover on the perfection of the work of God the Spirit; concerning which the apostle says, being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). And if so, then it shall come to pass that they shall all escape their dangers, and get safe landed on Zion’s sacred shore. (From an old Author.)
The papers describe the welcome and ovation given to the captain of the steamer Missouri when she landed at Philadelphia on the 22nd of April. Some weeks before, this steamer came upon the Danmark in mid-ocean in a sinking condition. At once, with much labour and sacrifice, the passengers of the sinking ship were transferred to the Missouri. Everything was done for their comfort, and after much anxiety the vessel with her precious freight came safely to landing at Philadelphia. “Hundreds of voices blended in a great shout, and cheer upon cheer rent the air as the Missouri, with her precious cargo, which she had so gallantly rescued, arrived safely at her dock. Ferryboats and tugs which were passing added to the enthusiasm with their steam whistles. Brave Captain Murrell, who stood on the bridge of the steamer, was the cynosure of all eyes. He was at once surrounded by a great crowd, all bent on paying a tribute to his gallant services in saving so many lives.” But there is a grander welcome than this awaiting that one who shall conduct some soul safe to the shores of heaven. And all heaven will rejoice over the fact of your rescuing that soul from death and bringing it with you to heaven.
Saved men may have different experiences
Two ships come into New York harbour. One has crossed the ocean with a favouring breeze. She had all sails set, everything below and aloft spread to the pleasant wind, and not one hindrance was in her way. But another soon enters, and everybody hastens to board her. The captain of the fortunate craft is one of the first to greet his brother captain. “How came you in such a plight? Did you have a storm?” he says. “Storm!” repeats the other, “I guess we did. I’ve been upon the ocean forty years” (you know with captains the last storm is the worst that they ever saw), “and I never saw a time like the one we’ve just passed--we’ve been near foundering a dozen times. We’ve lost our topmasts and our bowsprit, our sails are torn into ribbons, our bulwarks are stove in, we’ve lost our boats; I’ve lost all I had and my men are nearly worn out. It has been hurricanes one side or another all the way across, and we have but just got into port alive.” (H. W. Beecher.)
The plank bears
Some years ago a ship was caught in a storm off the coast of Wales. After battling with the tempest for some time, she got among the breakers and went down, all on board descending with her to the depths of the sea to lie down in a dark watery grave, except one young sailor, who was dashed, by the fury of the foaming billows, upon the beach, in a very exhausted and almost lifeless condition. He was carried to the nearest house, where he was carefully and kindly treated, and eventually restored. During his recovery, one day a minister called upon him, and discovered that he was very anxious about his soul and the life that is beyond death. He was seeking a sure haven for his troubled spirit, but finding none. The minister, realising the condition of the young sailor, said, “Suppose, when you were in the sea, tossed about by the waves, that a plank had been thrown within your reach, and you had laid hold of it, would it not have borne you up and saved you from perishing? Well, then, if you lay hold of Jesus Christ, He will save you. He bore your sins, He died to save you.” The young man’s face beamed with joy and satisfaction as he said, “I’m saved.” Many years passed away; the minister went to spend the evening of life in a town in the North of England. The sailor went to sea, and visited many a land and many a shore, and when his life was drawing to a close, came home, and settled in the same town. One day the aged silver-haired man of God was asked to visit a man who was evidently passing away. He sat down by the bedside of the aged tar, and spoke to him of Jesus and the land that is fairer than day. The dying man was struck with the sweetness of the speaker’s voice. Memory rushed back to the cottage where he had first heard the voice, and recognising his old friend just before he went home, he exclaimed, with delight and joy, “Thank God, the plank bears me.”
Thanksgiving for deliverance in peril
When the late William M. Thackeray was returning from America and had arrived within a few hours of Liverpool, a Canadian minister on board was, after dinner in the saloon, referring to the happiness which the passengers had enjoyed together and the solemnity of parting from each other never to meet again until the Day of Judgment, and when he had ceased, Thackeray took up the strain, saying that what the reverend gentleman had spoken was very proper, and was, he was sure, responded to by the hearts of all present. But there was something else which he thought they should do before they separated. In his opinion they should join in expressing their thanks to God for His goodness to them during the last ten days upon the deep, and for bringing them in safety to their destination; and at his request the minister was called on by the company to lead their prayers as together they poured out their gratitude to Him who is “the confidence of them that are afar off upon the sea.” I like to think of this in connection with the name of Thackeray; and the story, which is well authenticated, blooms in my eyes like an immortelle upon his grave. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Acts 27". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25