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´╗┐Title: Expositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts
Author: Maclaren, Alexander, 1826-1910
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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EXPOSITIONS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE

ALEXANDER MACLAREN, D.D., Litt. D.


THE ACTS



EXPOSITIONS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE

ALEXANDER MACLAREN, D.D., Litt. D.


THE ACTS

_Chaps. I to XII_ VERSE 17.



CONTENTS

THE ASCENSION (Acts i. 1-14)

THE THEME OF ACTS (Acts i. 1, 2; xxviii. 30, 31)

THE FORTY DAYS (Acts i. 3)

THE UNKNOWN TO-MORROW (Acts i. 7)

THE APOSTOLIC WITNESSES (Acts i. 21, 22)

THE ABIDING GIFT AND ITS TRANSITORY ACCOMPANIMENTS (Acts ii. 1-13)

THE FOURFOLD SYMBOLS OF THE SPIRIT (Acts ii. 2, 3, 17; 1 John ii. 20)

PETER'S FIRST SERMON (Acts ii. 32-47)

THE NAME ABOVE EVERY NAME (Acts ii. 36)

A FOURFOLD CORD (Acts ii. 42)

A PURE CHURCH AN INCREASING CHURCH (Acts ii. 47)

'THEN SHALL THE LAME MAN LEAP AS AN HART' (Acts iii. 1-16)

'THE PRINCE OF LIFE' (Acts iii. 14, 15)

THE HEALING POWER OF THE NAME (Acts iii. 16)

THE SERVANT OF THE LORD (Acts iii. 26)

THE FIRST BLAST OF TEMPEST (Acts iv. 1-14)

WITH AND LIKE CHRIST (Acts iv. 13)

OBEDIENT DISOBEDIENCE (Acts iv. 19-31)

IMPOSSIBLE SILENCE (Acts iv. 20)

THE SERVANT AND THE SLAVES (Acts iv. 25, 27, 29)

THE WHEAT AND THE TARES (Acts iv. 32; v. 11)

WHOM TO OBEY,--ANNAS OR ANGEL? (Acts v. 17-32)

OUR CAPTAIN (Acts v. 31)

GAMALIEL'S COUNSEL (Acts v. 38, 39)

FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT (Acts vi. 3, 5, 8)

STEPHEN'S VISION (Acts vii. 56)

THE YOUNG SAUL AND THE AGED PAUL (Acts vii. 58; Philemon 9)

THE DEATH OF THE MASTER AND THE DEATH OF THE SERVANT (Acts vii. 59, 60)

SEED SCATTERED AND TAKING ROOT (Acts viii. 1-17)

SIMON THE SORCERER (Acts viii. 21)

A MEETING IN THE DESERT (Acts viii. 26-40)

PHILIP THE EVANGELIST (Acts viii. 40)

GRACE TRIUMPHANT (Acts ix. 1-12; 17-20)

'THIS WAY' (Acts ix. 2)

A BIRD'S-EYE VIEW OF THE EARLY CHURCH (Acts ix. 31)

COPIES OF CHRIST'S MANNER (Acts ix. 34, 40)

WHAT GOD HATH CLEANSED (Acts x. 1-20)

'GOD IS NO RESPECTER OF PERSONS' (Acts x. 30-44)

PETER'S APOLOGIA (Acts xi. 1-18)

THE FIRST PREACHING AT ANTIOCH (Acts xi. 20, 21)

THE EXHORTATION OF BARNABAS (Acts xi. 23)

WHAT A GOOD MAN IS, AND HOW HE BECOMES SO (Acts xi. 24)

A NICKNAME ACCEPTED (Acts xi. 26)

THE MARTYRDOM OF JAMES (Acts xii. 2)

PETER'S DELIVERANCE FROM PRISON (Acts xii. 5, R.V.)

THE ANGEL'S TOUCH (Acts xii. 7, 23)

'SOBER CERTAINTY' (Acts xii. 11)

RHODA (Acts xii. 13)

PETER AFTER HIS ESCAPE (Acts xii. 17)



THE ASCENSION

'The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began
both to do and teach, 2. Until the day in which He was taken up, after
that He through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the Apostles
whom He had chosen: 3. To whom also He shewed Himself alive after His
passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and
speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: 4. And, being
assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not
depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which,
saith He, ye have heard of Me. 5. For John truly baptized with water;
but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. 6.
When they therefore were come together, they asked of Him, saying,
Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7.
And He said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the
seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power. 8. But ye shall
receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall
be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in
Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. 9. And when He had
spoken these things, while they beheld, He was taken up; and a cloud
received Him out of their sight. 10. And while they looked stedfastly
toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white
apparel; 11. Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up
into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven,
shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven. 12.
Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which
is from Jerusalem a Sabbath day's journey. 13. And when they were come
in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James,
and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew,
James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of
James. 14. These all continued with one accord in prayer and
supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with
His brethren.'--ACTS i. 1-14.

The Ascension is twice narrated by Luke. The life begun by the
supernatural birth ends with the supernatural Ascension, which sets the
seal of Heaven on Christ's claims and work. Therefore the Gospel ends
with it. But it is also the starting-point of the Christ's heavenly
activity, of which the growth of His Church, as recorded in the Acts,
is the issue. Therefore the Book of the Acts of the Apostles begins
with it.

The keynote of the 'treatise' lies in the first words, which describe
the Gospel as the record of what 'Jesus _began_ to do and teach,' Luke
would have gone on to say that this second book of his contained the
story of what Jesus went on to do and teach after He was 'taken up,' if
he had been strictly accurate, or had carried out his first intention,
as shown by the mould of his introductory sentence; but he is swept on
into the full stream of his narrative, and we have to infer the
contrast between his two volumes from his statement of the contents of
his first.

The book, then, is misnamed Acts of the Apostles, both because the
greater number of the Apostles do nothing in it, and because, in
accordance with the hint of the first verse, Christ Himself is the doer
of all, as comes out distinctly in many places where the critical
events of the Church's progress and extension are attributed to 'the
Lord.' In one aspect, Christ's work on earth was finished on the Cross;
in another, that finished work is but the beginning both of His doing
and teaching. Therefore we are not to regard His teaching while on
earth as the completion of Christian revelation. To set aside the
Epistles on the plea that the Gospels contain Christ's own teaching,
while the Epistles are only Paul's or John's, is to misconceive the
relation between the earthly and the heavenly activity of Jesus.

The statement of the theme of the book is followed by a brief summary
of the events between the Resurrection and Ascension. Luke had spoken
of these in the end of his Gospel, but given no note of time, and run
together the events of the day of the Resurrection and of the following
weeks, so that it might appear, as has been actually contended that he
meant, that the Ascension took place on the very day of Resurrection.
The fact that in this place he gives more detailed statements, and
tells how long elapsed between the Resurrection Sunday and the
Ascension, might have taught hasty critics that an author need not be
ignorant of what he does not mention, and that a detailed account does
not contradict a summary one,--truths which do not seem very recondite,
but have often been forgotten by very learned commentators.

Three points are signalised as occupying the forty days: commandments
were given, Christ's actual living presence was demonstrated (by sight,
touch, hearing, etc.), and instructions concerning the kingdom were
imparted. The old blessed closeness and continuity of companionship had
ceased. Our Lord's appearances were now occasional. He came to the
disciples, they knew not whence; He withdrew from them, they knew not
whither. Apparently a sacred awe restrained them from seeking to detain
Him or to follow Him. Their hearts would be full of strangely mingled
feelings, and they were being taught by gentle degrees to do without
Him. Not only a divine decorum, but a most gracious tenderness,
dictated the alternation of presence and absence during these days.

The instructions then given are again referred to in Luke's Gospel, and
are there represented as principally directed to opening their minds
'that they might understand the Scriptures.' The main thing about the
kingdom which they had then to learn, was that it was founded on the
death of Christ, who had fulfilled all the Old Testament predictions.
Much remained untaught, which after years were to bring to clear
knowledge; but from the illumination shed during these fruitful days
flowed the remarkable vigour and confidence of the Apostolic appeal to
the prophets, in the first conflicts of the Church with the rulers.
Christ is the King of the kingdom, and His Cross is His throne,--these
truths being grasped revolutionised the Apostles' conceptions. They are
as needful for us.

From verse 4 onwards the last interview seems to be narrated. Probably
it began in the city, and ended on the slopes of Olivet. There was a
solemn summoning together of the Eleven, which is twice referred to
(vs. 4, 6). What awe of expectancy would rest on the group as they
gathered round Him, perhaps half suspecting that it was for the last
time! His words would change the suspicion into certainty, for He
proceeded to tell them what they were not to do and to do, when left
alone. The tone of leave-taking is unmistakable.

The prohibition against leaving Jerusalem implies that they would have
done so if left to themselves; and it would have been small wonder if
they had been eager to hurry back to quiet Galilee, their home, and to
shake from their feet the dust of the city where their Lord had been
slain. Truly they would feel like sheep in the midst of wolves when He
had gone, and Pharisees and priests and Roman officers ringed them
round. No wonder if, like a shepherdless flock, they had broken and
scattered! But the theocratic importance of Jerusalem, and the fact
that nowhere else could the Apostles secure such an audience for their
witness, made their 'beginning at Jerusalem' necessary. So they were to
crush their natural longing to get back to Galilee, and to stay in
their dangerous position. We have all to ask, not where we should be
most at ease, but where we shall be most efficient as witnesses for
Christ, and to remember that very often the presence of adversaries
makes the door 'great and effectual.'

These eleven poor men were not left by their Master with a hard task
and no help. He bade them 'wait' for the promised Holy Spirit, the
coming of whom they had heard from Him when in the upper room He spoke
to them of 'the Comforter.' They were too feeble to act alone, and
silence and retirement were all that He enjoined till they had been
plunged into the fiery baptism which should quicken, strengthen, and
transform them.

The order in which promise and command occur here shows how graciously
Jesus considered the Apostles' weakness. Not a word does He say of
their task of witnessing, till He has filled their hearts with the
promise of the Spirit. He shows them the armour of power in which they
are to be clothed, before He points them to the battlefield. Waiting
times are not wasted times. Over-eagerness to rush into work,
especially into conspicuous and perilous work, is sure to end in
defeat. Till we feel the power coming into us, we had better be still.

The promise of this great gift, the nature of which they but dimly
knew, set the Apostles' expectations on tiptoe, and they seem to have
thought that their reception of it was in some way the herald of the
establishment of the Messianic kingdom. So it was, but in a very
different fashion from their dream. They had not learned so much from
the forty days' instructions concerning the kingdom as to be free from
their old Jewish notions, which colour their question, 'Wilt Thou at
this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?' They believed that
Jesus could establish His kingdom when He would. They were right, and
also wrong,--right, for He is King; wrong, for its establishment is not
to be effected by a single act of power, but by the slow process of
preaching the gospel.

Our Lord does not deal with their misconceptions which could only be
cured by time and events; but He lays down great principles, which we
need as much as the Eleven did. The 'times and seasons,' the long
stretches of days, and the critical epoch-making moments, are known to
God only; our business is, not to speculate curiously about these, but
to do the plain duty which is incumbent on the Church at all times. The
perpetual office of Christ's people to be His witnesses, their
equipment for that function (namely, the power of the Holy Spirit
coming on them), and the sphere of their work (namely, in ever-widening
circles, Jerusalem, Samaria, and the whole world), are laid down, not
for the first hearers only, but for all ages and for each individual,
in these last words of the Lord as He stood on Olivet, ready to depart.

The calm simplicity of the account of the Ascension is remarkable. So
great an event told in such few, unimpassioned words! Luke's Gospel
gives the further detail that it was in the act of blessing with
uplifted hands that our Lord was parted from the Eleven. Two
expressions are here used to describe the Ascension, one of which ('was
taken up') implies that He was passive, the other of which ('He went')
implies that He was active. Both are true. As in the accounts of the
Resurrection He is sometimes said to have been raised, and sometimes to
have risen, so here. The Father took the Son back to the glory, the Son
left the world and went to the Father. No chariot of fire, no
whirlwind, was needed to lift Him to the throne. Elijah was carried by
such agency into a sphere new to him; Jesus ascended up where He was
before.

No other mode of departure from earth would have corresponded to His
voluntary, supernatural birth. He  carried manhood up to the throne of
God. The cloud which received Him while yet He was well within sight of
the gazers was probably that same bright cloud, the symbol of the
Divine Presence, which of old dwelt between the cherubim. His entrance
into it visibly symbolised the permanent participation, then begun, of
His glorified manhood in the divine glory.

Most true to human nature is that continued gaze upwards after He had
passed into the hiding brightness of the glory-cloud. How many of us
know what it is to look long at the spot on the horizon where the last
glint of sunshine struck the sails of the ship that bore dear ones away
from us! It was fitting that angels, who had heralded His birth and
watched His grave, should proclaim His Second Coming to earth.

It was gracious that, in the moment of keenest sense of desolation and
loss, the great hope of reunion should be poured into the hearts of the
Apostles. Nothing can be more distinct and assured than the terms of
that angel message. It gives for the faith and hope of all ages the
assurance that He will come; that He who comes will be the very Jesus
who went; that His coming will be, like His departure, visible,
corporeal, local. He will bring again all His tenderness, all His
brother's heart, all His divine power, and will gather His servants to
Himself.

No wonder that, with such hopes flowing over the top of their sorrow,
like oil on troubled waters, the little group went back to the upper
room, hallowed by memories of the Last Supper, and there waited in
prayer and supplication during the ten days which elapsed till
Pentecost. So should we use the interval between any promise and its
fulfilment. Patient expectation, believing prayer, harmonious
association with our brethren, will prepare us for receiving the gift
of the Spirit, and will help to equip us as witnesses for Jesus.



THE THEME OF ACTS

'The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began
both to do and teach. 2. Until the day in which He was taken up.'--ACTS
i. 1, 2.

'And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received
all that came in unto him, 31. Preaching the kingdom of God, and
teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all
confidence, no man forbidding him.'--ACTS xxviii. 30, 31.

So begins and so ends this Book. I connect the commencement and the
close, because I think that the juxtaposition throws great light upon
the purpose of the writer, and suggests some very important lessons.
The reference to 'the former treatise' (which is, of course, the Gospel
according to Luke) implies that this Book is to be regarded as its
sequel, and the terms of the reference show the writer's own conception
of what he was going to do in his second volume. 'The former treatise
have I made ... of all that Jesus _began_ both to do and teach until
the day in which He was taken up.' Is not the natural inference that
the latter treatise will tell us what Jesus _continued_ 'to do and
teach' _after_ He was taken up? I think so. And thus the writer sets
forth at once, for those that have eyes to see, what he means to do,
and what he thinks his book is going to be about.

So, then, the name 'The Acts of the Apostles,' which is not coeval with
the book itself, is somewhat of a misnomer. Most of the Apostles are
never heard of in it. There are, at the most, only three or four of
them concerning whom anything in the book is recorded. But our first
text supplies a deeper reason for regarding that title as inadequate,
and even misleading. For, if the theme of the story be what Christ did,
then the book is, not the 'Acts of the _Apostles_,' but the 'Acts of
_Jesus Christ_' through His servants. He, and He alone, is the Actor;
and the men who appear in it are but instruments in His hands, He alone
being the mover of the pawns on the board.

That conception of the purpose of the book seems to me to have light
cast upon it by, and to explain, the singular abruptness of its
conclusion, which must strike every reader. No doubt it is quite
possible that the reason why the book ends in such a singular fashion,
planting Paul in Rome, and leaving him there, may be that the date of
its composition was that imprisonment of Paul in the Imperial City, in
a part of which, at all events, we know that Luke was his companion.
But, whilst that consideration may explain the point at which the book
stops, it does not explain the way in which it stops. The historian
lays down his pen, possibly because he had brought his narrative up to
date. But a word of conclusion explaining that it was so would have
been very natural, and its absence must have had some reason. It is
also possible that the arrival of the Apostle in the Imperial City, and
his unhindered liberty of preaching there, in the very centre of power,
the focus of intellectual life, and the hot-bed of corruption for the
known world, may have seemed to the writer an epoch which rounded off
his story. But I think that the reason for the abruptness of the
record's close is to be found in the continuity of the work of which it
tells a part. It is the unfinished record of an incomplete work. The
theme is the work of Christ through the ages, of which each successive
depository of His energies can do but a small portion, and must leave
that portion unfinished; the book does not so much end as stop. It is a
fragment, because the work of which it tells is not yet a whole.

If, then, we put these two things--the beginning and the ending of the
Acts--together, I think we get some thoughts about what Christ began to
do and teach on earth; what He continues to do and teach in heaven; and
how small and fragmentary a share in that work each individual servant
of His has. Let us look at these points briefly.

I. First, then, we have here the suggestion of what Christ began to do
and teach on earth.

Now, at first sight, the words of our text seem to be in strange and
startling contradiction to the solemn cry which rang out of the
darkness upon Calvary. Jesus said, 'It is finished!' and 'gave up the
ghost.' Luke says He 'began to do and teach.' Is there any
contradiction between the two? Certainly not. It is one thing to lay a
foundation; it is another thing to build a house. And the work of
laying the foundation must be finished before the work of building the
structure upon it can be begun. It is one thing to create a force; it
is another thing to apply it. It is one thing to compound a medicine;
it is another thing to administer it. It is one thing to unveil a
truth; it is another to unfold its successive applications, and to work
it into a belief and practice in the world. The former is the work of
Christ which was finished on earth; the latter is the work which is
continuous throughout the ages.

'He began to do and teach,' not in the sense that any should come after
Him and do, as the disciples of most great discoverers and thinkers
have had to do: namely, systematise, rectify, and complete the first
glimpses of truth which the master had given. 'He began to do and
teach,' not in the sense that after He had 'passed into the heavens'
any new truth or force can for evermore be imparted to humanity in
regard of the subjects which He taught and the energies which He
brought. But whilst thus His work is complete, His earthly work is also
initial. And we must remember that whatever distinction my text may
mean to draw between the work of Christ in the past and that in the
present and the future, it does not mean to imply that when He
'ascended up on high' He had not completed the task for which He came,
or that the world had to wait for anything more, either from Him or
from others, to eke out the imperfections of His doctrine or the
insufficiencies of His work.

Let us ever remember that the initial work of Christ on earth is
complete in so far as the revelation of God to men is concerned. There
will be no other. There is needed no other. Nothing more is possible
than what He, by His words and by His life, by His gentleness and His
grace, by His patience and His Passion, has unveiled to all men, of the
heart and character of God. The revelation is complete, and he that
professes to add anything to, or to substitute anything for, the
finished teaching of Jesus Christ concerning God, and man's relation to
God, and man's duty, destiny, and hopes, is a false teacher, and to
follow him is fatal. All that ever come after Him and say, 'Here is
something that Christ has not told you,' are thieves and robbers, 'and
the sheep will not hear them.'

In like manner that work of Christ, which in some sense is initial, is
complete as Redemption. 'This Man has offered up one sacrifice for sins
for ever.' And nothing more can He do than He has done; and nothing
more can any man or all men do than was accomplished on the Cross of
Calvary as giving a revelation, as effecting a redemption, as lodging
in the heart of humanity, and in the midst of the stream of human
history, a purifying energy, sufficient to cleanse the whole black
stream. The past work which culminated on the Cross, and was sealed as
adequate and accepted of God in the Resurrection and Ascension, needs
no supplement, and can have no continuation, world without end. And so,
whatever may be the meaning of that singular phrase, 'began to do and
teach,' it does not, in the smallest degree, conflict with the
assurance that He hath ascended up on high, 'having obtained eternal
redemption for us,' and 'having finished the work which the Father gave
Him to do.'

II. But then, secondly, we have to notice what Christ continues to do
and to teach after His Ascension.

I have already suggested that the phraseology of the first of my texts
naturally leads to the conclusion that the theme of this Book of the
Acts is the continuous work of the ascended Saviour, and that the
language is not forced by being thus interpreted is very plain to any
one who will glance even cursorily over the contents of the book
itself. For there is nothing in it more obvious and remarkable than the
way in which, at every turn in the narrative, all is referred to Jesus
Christ Himself.

For instance, to cull one or two cases in order to bring the matter
more plainly before you--When the Apostles determined to select another
Apostle to fill Judas' place, they asked Jesus Christ to show which 'of
these two Thou hast chosen.' When Peter is called upon to explain the
tongues at Pentecost he says, 'Jesus hath shed forth this which ye now
see and hear.' When the writer would tell the reason of the large first
increase to the Church, he says, 'The Lord added to the Church daily
such as should be saved.' Peter and John go into the Temple to heal the
lame man, and their words to him are, 'Do not think that our power or
holiness is any factor in your cure. The Name hath made this man
whole.' It is the Lord that appears to Paul and to Ananias, to the one
on the road to Damascus and to the other in the city. It is the Lord to
whom Peter refers Aeneas when he says, 'Jesus Christ maketh thee
whole.' It was the Lord that 'opened the heart of Lydia.' It was the
Lord that appeared to Paul in Corinth, and said to him, 'I have much
people in this city'; and again, when in the prison at Jerusalem, He
assured the Apostle that he would be carried to Rome. And so, at every
turn in the narrative, we find that Christ is presented as influencing
men's hearts, operating upon outward events, working miracles,
confirming His word, leading His servants, and prescribing for them
their paths, and all which they do is done by the hand of the Lord with
them confirming the word which they spoke. Jesus Christ is the Actor,
and He only is the Actor; men are His implements and instruments.

The same point of view is suggested by another of the characteristics
of this book, which it shares in common with all Scripture narratives,
and that is the stolid indifference with which it picks up and drops
men, according to the degree in which, for the moment, they are the
instruments of Christ's power. Supposing a man had been writing Acts of
the Apostles, do you think it would have been possible that of the
greater number of them he should not say a word, that concerning those
of whom he does speak he should deal with them as this book does,
barely mentioning the martyrdom of James, one of the four chief
Apostles; allowing Peter to slip out of the narrative after the great
meeting of the Church at Jerusalem; letting Philip disappear without a
hint of what he did thereafter; lodging Paul in Rome and leaving him
there, with no account of his subsequent work or martyrdom? Such
phenomena--and they might be largely multiplied--are only explicable
upon one hypothesis. As long as electricity streams on the carbon point
it glows and is visible, but when the current is turned to another lamp
we see no more of the bit of carbon. As long as God uses a man the man
is of interest to the writers of the Scriptures. When God uses another
one, they drop the first, and have no more care about him, because
their theme is not men and their doings, but God's doings through men.

On us, and in us, and by us, and for us, if we are His servants, Jesus
Christ is working all through the ages. He is the Lord of Providence,
He is the King of history, in His hand is the book with the seven
seals; He sends His Spirit, and where His Spirit is He is; and what His
Spirit does He does. And thus He continues to teach and to work from
His throne in the heavens.

He continues to teach, not by the communication of new truth. That is
finished. The volume of Revelation is complete. The last word of the
divine utterances hath been spoken until that final word which shall
end Time and crumble the earth. But the application of the completed
Revelation, the unfolding of all that is wrapped in germ in it; the
growing of the seed into a tree, the realisation more completely by
individuals and communities of the principles and truths which Jesus
Christ has brought us by His life and His death--that is the work that
is going on to-day, and that will go on till the end of the world. For
the old Puritan belief is true, though the modern rationalistic
mutilations of it are false, 'God hath more light yet to break
forth'--and our modern men stop there. But what the sturdy old Puritan
said was, 'more light yet to break forth from His holy Word.' Jesus
Christ teaches the ages--through the lessons of providence and the
communication of His Spirit to His Church--to understand what He gave
the world when He was here.

In like manner He works. The foundation is laid, the healing medicine
is prepared, the cleansing element is cast into the mass of humanity;
what remains is the application and appropriation, and incorporation in
conduct, of the redeeming powers that Jesus Christ has brought. And
that work is going on, and will go on, till the end.

Now these truths of our Lord's continuous activity in teaching and
working from heaven may yield us some not unimportant lessons. What a
depth and warmth and reality the thoughts give to the Christian's
relation to Jesus Christ! We have to look back to that Cross as the
foundation of all our hope. Yes! But we have to think, not only of a
Christ who did something for us long ago in the past, and there an end,
but of a Christ who to-day lives and reigns, 'to do and to teach'
according to our necessities. What a sweetness and sacredness such
thoughts impart to all external events, which we may regard as being
the operation of His love, and as moved by the hands that were nailed
to the Cross for us, and now hold the sceptre of the universe for the
blessing of mankind! What a fountain of hope they open in estimating
future probabilities of victory for truth and goodness! The forces of
good and evil in the world seem very disproportionate, but we forget
too often to take Christ into account. It is not _we_ that have to
fight against evil; at the best we are but the sword which Christ
wields, and all the power is in the hand that wields it. Great men die,
good men die; Jesus Christ is not dead. Paul was martyred: Jesus lives;
He is the anchor of our hope. We see miseries and mysteries enough, God
knows. The prospects of all good causes seem often clouded and dark.
The world has an awful power of putting drags upon all chariots that
bear blessings, and of turning to evil every good. You cannot diffuse
education, but you diffuse the taste for rubbish and something worse,
in the shape of books. No good thing but has its shadow of evil
attendant upon it. And if we had only to estimate by visible or human
forces, we might well sit down and wrap ourselves in the sackcloth of
pessimism. 'We see not yet all things put under Him'; but 'we see Jesus
crowned with glory and honour,' and the vision that cheered the first
martyr--of Christ 'standing at the right hand of God'--is the rebuke of
every fear and every gloomy anticipation for ourselves or for the world.

What a lesson of lowliness and of diligence it gives us! The jangling
church at Corinth fought about whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas was
the man to lead the Church, and the experience has been repeated over
and over again. 'Who is Paul? Who is Apollos? but ministers by whom ye
believed, even as the Lord gave to every man. Be not puffed up one
against another. Be not wise in your own conceits.' You are only a
tool, only a pawn in the hand of the Great Player. If you have
anything, it is because you get it from Him. See that you use it, and
do not boast about it. Jesus Christ is the Worker, the only Worker; the
Teacher, the only Teacher. All our wisdom is derived, all our light is
enkindled. We are but the reeds through which His breath makes music.
And 'shall the axe boast itself,' either 'against' or apart from 'Him
that heweth therewith'?

III. Lastly, we note the incompleteness of each man's share in the
great work.

As I said, the book which is to tell the story of Christ's continuous
unfinished work must stop abruptly. There is no help for it. If it was
a history of Paul it would need to be wound up to an end and a selvage
put to it, but as it is the history of Christ's working, the web is not
half finished, and the shuttle stops in the middle of a cast. The book
must be incomplete, because the work of which it is the record does not
end until 'He shall have delivered up the Kingdom to the Father, and
God shall be all in all.'

So the work of each man is but a fragment of that great work. Every man
inherits unfinished tasks from his predecessors, and leaves unfinished
tasks to his successors. It is, as it used to be in the Middle Ages,
when the hands that dug the foundations, or laid the first courses, of
some great cathedral, were dead long generations before the gilded
cross was set on the apex of the needlespire, and the glowing glass
filled in to the painted windows. Enough for us, if we lay a stone,
though it be but one stone in one of the courses of the great building.

Luke has left plenty of blank paper at the end of his second
'treatise,' on which he meant that succeeding generations should write
their partial contributions to the completed work. Dear friends, let us
see that we write our little line, as monks in their monasteries used
to keep the chronicle of the house, on which scribe after scribe toiled
at its illuminated letters with loving patience for a little while, and
then handed the pen from his dying hand to another. What does it matter
though we drop, having done but a fragment? He gathers up the fragments
into His completed work, and the imperfect services which He enabled
any of us to do will all be represented in the perfect circle of His
finished work. The Lord help us to be faithful to the power that works
in us, and to leave Him to incorporate our fragments in His mighty
whole!



THE FORTY DAYS

'To whom also He shewed Himself alive after His passion by many
infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the
things pertaining to the kingdom of God.'--ACTS i. 3.

The forty days between the Resurrection and the Ascension have
distinctly marked characteristics. They are unlike to the period before
them in many respects, but completely similar in others; they have a
preparatory character throughout; they all bear on the future work of
the disciples, and hearten them for the time when they should be left
alone.

The words of the text give us their leading features. They bring out--

1. Their evidential value, as confirming the fact of the Resurrection.

'He showed Himself alive after His passion by ... proofs.'

By sight, repeated, to individuals, to companies, to Mary in her
solitary sadness, to Peter the penitent, to the two on the road to
Emmaus. At all hours: in the evening when the doors were shut; in the
morning; in grey twilight; in daytime on the road. At many places--in
houses, out of doors.

The signs of true corporeity--the sight, the eating.

The signs of bodily identity,--'Reach hither thy hand.' 'He showed them
His hands and His side.'

Was this the glorified body?

The affirmative answer is usually rested on the facts that He was not
known by Mary or the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and that He came
into the upper room when the doors were shut. But the force of these
facts is broken by remembering that Mary saw nothing about Him unlike
other men, but supposed Him to be the gardener--which puts the idea of
a glorified body out of the question, and leaves us to suppose that she
was full of weeping indifference to any one.

Then as to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Luke carefully tells us
that the reason why they did not know Him was _in them_ and not in
Him--that it was 'because their eyes were holden,' not because His body
was changed.

And as to His coming when the doors were shut, why should not that be
like the other miracles, when 'He conveyed Himself away, a multitude
being in the place,' and when He walked on the waters?

There cannot then be anything decidedly built on these facts, and the
considerations on the other side are very strong. Surely the whole
drift of the narrative goes in the direction of representing Christ's
'glory' as beginning with His Ascension, and consequently the 'body of
His glory' as being then assumed. Further, the argument of 1 Cor. xv.
goes on the assumption that 'flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom
of God,' that is, that the material corporeity is incongruous with, and
incapable of entrance into, the conditions of that future life, and, by
parity of reasoning, that the spiritual body, which is to be conformed
to the body of Christ's glory, is incongruous with, and incapable of
entrance into, the conditions of this earthly life. As is the
environment, so must be the 'body' that is at home in it.

Further, the facts of our Lord's eating and drinking after His
Resurrection are not easily reconcilable with the contention that He
was then invested with the glorified body.

We must, then, think of transfiguration, rather than of resurrection
only, as the way by which He passed into the heavens. He 'slept' but
woke, and, as He ascended, was 'changed.'

II. The renewal of the old bond by the tokens of His unchanged
disposition.

Recall the many beautiful links with the past: the message to Peter;
that to Mary; 'Tell My brethren,' 'He was known in breaking of bread,'
'Peace be with you!' (repetition from John xvii.), the miraculous
draught of fishes, and the meal and conversation afterwards, recalling
the miracle at the beginning of the closer association of the four
Apostles of the first rank with their Lord. The forty days revealed the
old heart, the old tenderness. He remembers all the past. He sends a
message to the penitent; He renews to the faithful the former gift of
'peace.'

How precious all this is as a revelation of the impotence of death in
regard to Him and us! It assures us of the perpetuity of His love. He
showed Himself after His passion as the same old Self, the same old
tender Lover. His appearances then prepare us for the last vision of
Him in the Apocalypse, in which we see His perpetual humanity, His
perpetual tenderness, and hear Him saying: 'I am ... the Living One,
and I became dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore.'

These forty days assure us of the narrow limits of the power of death.
Love lives through death, memory lives through it. Christ has lived
through it and comes up from the grave, serene and tender, with
unruffled peace, with all the old tones of tenderness in the voice that
said 'Mary!' So may we be sure that through death and after it we shall
live and be ourselves. We, too, shall show ourselves alive after we
have experienced the superficial change of death.

III. The change in Christ's relations to the disciples and to the
world. 'Appearing unto them by the space of forty days.'

The words mark a contrast to Christ's former constant intercourse with
the disciples. This is occasional; He appears at intervals during the
forty days. He comes amongst them and disappears. He is seen again in
the morning light by the lake-side and goes away. He tells them to come
and meet Him in Galilee. That intermittent presence prepared the
disciples for His departure. It was painful and educative. It carried
out His own word, 'And now I am no more in the world.'

We observe in the disciples traces of a deeper awe. They say little.
'Master!' 'My Lord and my God!' 'None durst ask Him, Who art Thou?'
Even Peter ventures only on 'Lord, Thou knowest all things,' and on one
flash of the old familiarity: 'What shall this man do?' John, who
recalls very touchingly, in that appendix to his Gospel, the blessed
time when he leaned on Jesus' breast at supper, now only humbly
follows, while the others sit still and awed, by that strange fire on
the banks of the lonely lake.

A clearer vision of the Lord on their parts, a deeper sense of who He
is, make them assume more of the attitude of worshippers, though not
less that of friends. And He can no more dwell with them, and go in and
out among them.

As for the world--'It seeth Me no more, but ye see Me.' He was 'seen of
_them_,' not of others. There is no more appeal to the people, no more
teaching, no more standing in the Temple. Why is this? Is it not the
commentary on His own word on the Cross, 'It is finished!' marking most
distinctly that His work on earth was ended when He died, and so
confirming that conception of His earthly mission which sees its
culmination and centre of power in the Cross?

IV. Instruction and prophecy for the future.

The preparation of the disciples for their future work and condition
was a chief purpose of the forty days. Jesus spoke 'of the things
pertaining to the Kingdom of God.' He also 'gave commandments to the
Apostles.'

Note how much there is, in His conversations with them--

1. Of opening to them the Scriptures. 'Christ must needs suffer,' etc.

2. Of lessons for their future, thus fitting them for their task.

3. Mark how this transitional period taught them that His going away
was not to be sorrow and loss, but joy and gain, 'Touch Me not, for I
have not yet ascended.'

Our present relation to the ascended Lord is as much an advance on that
of the disciples to the risen Lord, as that was on their relation to
Him during His earthly life. They had more real communion with Him
when, with opened hearts, they heard Him interpret the Scriptures
concerning Himself, and fell at His feet crying 'My Lord and my God!'
though they saw Him but for short seasons and at intervals, than when
day by day they were with Him and knew Him not. As they grew in love
and ripened in knowledge, they knew Him better and better.

For us, too, these forty days are full of blessed lessons, teaching us
that real communion with Jesus is attained by faith in Him, and that He
is still working in and for us, and is still present with us. The joy
with which the disciples saw Him ascend should live on in us as we
think of Him enthroned. The hope that the angels' message lit up in
their hearts should burn in ours. The benediction which the Risen Lord
uttered on those who have not seen and yet have believed falls in
double measure on those who, though now they see Him not, yet believing
rejoice in Jesus with joy unspeakable and full of glory.



THE UNKNOWN TO-MORROW

_A New Year's Sermon_

'It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father
hath put in His own power.'--ACTS i. 7.

The New Testament gives little encouragement to a sentimental view of
life. Its writers had too much to do, and too much besides to think
about, for undue occupation with pensive remembrances or imaginative
forecastings. They bid us remember as a stimulus to thanksgiving and a
ground of hope. They bid us look forward, but not along the low levels
of earth and its changes. One great future is to draw all our longings
and to fix our eyes, as the tender hues of the dawn kindle infinite
yearnings in the soul of the gazer. What may come is all hidden; we can
make vague guesses, but reach nothing more certain. Mist and cloud
conceal the path in front of the portion which we are actually
traversing, but when it climbs, it comes out clear from the fogs that
hang about the flats. We can track it winding up to the throne of
Christ. Nothing is certain, but the coming of the Lord and 'our
gathering together to Him.'

The words of this text in their original meaning point only to the
ignorance of the time of the end which Christ had been foretelling. But
they may allow of a much wider application, and their lessons are in
entire consonance with the whole tone of Scripture in regard to the
future. We are standing now at the beginning of a New Year, and the
influence of the season is felt in some degree by us all. Not for the
sake of repressing any wise forecasting which has for its object our
preparation for probable duties and exigencies; not for the purpose of
repressing that trustful anticipation which, building on our past time
and on God's eternity, fronts the future with calm confidence; not for
the sake of discouraging that pensive and softened mood which if it
does nothing more, at least delivers us for a moment from the tyrannous
power of the present, do we turn to these words now; but that we may
together consider how much they contain of cheer and encouragement, of
stimulus to our duty, and of calming for our hearts in the prospect of
a New Year. They teach us the limits of our care for the future, as
they give us the limits of our knowledge of it. They teach us the best
remedies for all anxiety, the great thoughts that tranquillise us in
our ignorance, viz. that all is in God's merciful hand, and that
whatever may come, we have a divine power which will fit us for it; and
they bid us anticipate our work and do it, as the best counterpoise for
all vain curiosity about what may be coming on the earth.

I. The narrow limits of our knowledge of the future.

We are quite sure that we shall die. We are sure that a mingled web of
joy and sorrow, light shot with dark, will be unrolled before us--but
of anything more we are really ignorant. We know that certainly the
great majority of us will be alive at the close of this New Year; but
who will be the exceptions? A great many of us, especially those of us
who are in the monotonous stretch of middle life, will go on
substantially as we have been going on for years past, with our
ordinary duties, joys, sorrows, cares; but to some of us, in all
probability, this year holds some great change which may darken all our
days or brighten them. In all our forward-looking there ever remains an
element of uncertainty. The future fronts us like some statue beneath
its canvas covering. Rolling mists hide it all, except here and there a
peak.

I need not remind you how merciful and good it is that it is so.
Therefore coming sorrows do not diffuse anticipatory bitterness as of
tainted water percolating through gravel, and coming joys are not
discounted, and the present has a reality of its own, and is not
coloured by what is to come.

Then this being so--what is the wise course of conduct? Not a confident
reckoning on to-morrow. There is nothing elevating in anticipation
which paints the blank surface of the future with the same earthly
colours as dye the present. There is no more complete waste of time
than that. Nor is proud self-confidence any wiser, which jauntily takes
for granted that 'tomorrow will be as this day.' The conceit that
things are to go on as they have been fools men into a dream of
permanence which has no basis. Nor is the fearful apprehension of evil
any wiser. How many people spoil the present gladness with thoughts of
future sorrow, and cannot enjoy the blessedness of united love for
thinking of separation!

In brief, it is wise to be but little concerned with the future,
except--

1. In the way of taking reasonable precautions to prepare for its
probabilities.

2. To fit ourselves for its duties.

One future we may contemplate. Our fault is not that we look forward,
but that we do not look far enough forward. Why trouble with the world
when we have heaven? Why look along the low level among the mists of
earth and forests and swamps, when we can see the road climbing to the
heights? Why be anxious about what three hundred and sixty-five days
may bring, when we know what Eternity will bring? Why divert our
God-given faculty of hope from its true object? Why torment ourselves
with casting the fashion of uncertain evils, when we can enter into the
great peace of looking for 'that blessed Hope'?

II. The safe Hands which keep the future.

'The Father hath put in His own power.' We have not to depend upon an
impersonal Fate; nor upon a wild whirl of Chance; nor upon 'laws of
averages,' 'natural laws,' 'tendencies' and 'spirit of the age'; nor
even on a theistic Providence, but upon a Father who holds all things
'in His own power,' and wields all for us. So will not our way be made
right?

Whatever the future may bring, it will be loving, paternal discipline.
He shapes it all and keeps it in His hands. Why should we be anxious?
That great name of 'Father' binds Him to tender, wise, disciplinary
dealing, and should move us to calm and happy trust.

III. The sufficient strength to face the future.

'The power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you' is promised here to the
disciples for a specific purpose; but it is promised and given to us
all through Christ, if we will only take it. And in Him we shall be
ready for all the future.

The Spirit of God is the true Interpreter of Providence. He calms our
nature, and enlightens our understanding to grasp the meaning of all
our experiences. The Spirit makes joy more blessed, by keeping us from
undue absorption in it. The Spirit is the Comforter. The Spirit fits us
for duty.

So be quite sure that nothing will come to you in your earthly future,
which He does not Himself accompany to interpret it, and to make it
pure blessing.

IV. The practical duty in view of the future.

(a) The great thing we ought to look to in the future is our work,--not
what we shall enjoy or what we shall endure, but what we shall do. This
is healthful and calming.

(b) The great remedy for morbid anticipation lies in regarding life as
the opportunity for service. Never mind about the future, let it take
care of itself. Work! That clears away cobwebs from our brains, as when
a man wakes from troubled dreams, to hear 'the sweep of scythe in
morning dew,' and the shout of the peasant as he trudges to his task,
and the lowing of the cattle, and the clink of the hammer.

(c) The great work we have to do in the future is to be witnesses for
Christ. This is the meaning of all life; we can do it in joy and in
sorrow, and we shall bear a charmed life till it be done. So the words
of the text are a promise of preservation.

Then, dear brethren, how do you stand fronting that Unknown? How can
you face it without going mad, unless you know God and trust Him as
your Father through Christ? If you do, you need have no fear. To-morrow
lies all dim and strange before you, but His gentle and strong hand is
working in the darkness and He will shape it right. He will fit you to
bear it all. If you regard it as your supreme duty and highest honour
to be Christ's witness, you will be kept safe, 'delivered out of the
mouth of the lion,' that by you 'the preaching may be fully known.'

If not, how dreary is that future to you, 'all dim and cheerless, like
a rainy sea,' from which wild shapes may come up and devour you! Love
and friendship will pass, honour and strength will fail, life will ebb
away, and of all that once stretched before you, nothing will be left
but one little strip of sand, fast jellying with the tide beneath your
feet, and before you a wild unlighted ocean!



THE APOSTOLIC WITNESSES

'Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that
the Lord Jesus went in and out among us ... must one be ordained to be
a witness with us of His resurrection.'--ACTS i. 21, 22.

The fact of Christ's Resurrection was the staple of the first Christian
sermon recorded in this Book of the Acts of the Apostles. They did not
deal so much in doctrine; they did not dwell very distinctly upon what
we call, and rightly call, the atoning death of Christ; out they
proclaimed what they had seen with their eyes--that He died and rose
again.

And not only was the main subject of their teaching the Resurrection,
but it was the Resurrection in one of its aspects and for one specific
purpose. There are, speaking roughly, three main connections in which
the fact of Christ's rising from the dead is viewed in Scripture, and
these three successively emerge in the consciousness of the Early
Church.

It was, first, a fact affecting Him, a testimony concerning Him,
carrying with it necessarily some great truths with regard to Him, His
character, His nature, and His work. And it was in that aspect mainly
that the earliest preachers dealt with it. Then, as reflection and the
guidance of God's good Spirit led them to understand more and more of
the treasure which lay in the fact, it came to be to them, next, a
pattern, and a pledge, and a prophecy of their own resurrection. The
doctrine of man's immortality and the future life was evolved from it,
and was felt to be implied in it. And then it came to be, thirdly and
lastly, a symbol or figure of the spiritual resurrection and newness of
life into which all they were born who participated in His death. They
knew Him first by His Resurrection; they then knew 'the power of His
Resurrection' as a pledge of their own; and lastly, they knew it as
being the pattern to which they were to be conformed even whilst here
on earth.

The words which I have read for my text are the Apostle Peter's own
description of what was the office of an Apostle--'to be a witness with
us of Christ's Resurrection.' And the statement branches out, I think,
into three considerations, to which I ask your attention now. First, we
have here the witnesses; secondly, we have the sufficiency of their
testimony; and thirdly, we have the importance of the fact to which
they bear their witness. The Apostles are testimony-bearers. Their
witness is enough to establish the fact. The fact to which they witness
is all-important for the religion and the hopes of the world.

I. First, then, the Witnesses.

Here we have the 'head of the Apostolic College,' the 'primate' of the
Twelve, on whose supposed primacy--which is certainly not a
'rock'--such tremendous claims have been built, laying down the
qualifications and the functions of an Apostle. How simply they present
themselves to his mind! The qualification is only personal knowledge of
Jesus Christ in His earthly history, because the function is only to
attest His Resurrection. Their work was to bear witness to what they
had seen with their eyes; and what was needed, therefore, was nothing
more than such familiarity with Christ as should make them competent
witnesses to the fact that He died, and to the fact that the same Jesus
who had died, and whom they knew so well, rose again and went up to
heaven.

The same conception of an Apostle's work lies in Christ's last solemn
designation of them for their office, where their whole commission is
included in the simple words, 'Ye shall be witnesses unto Me.' It
appears again and again in the earlier addresses reported in this book.
'This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.' 'Whom
God hath raised from the dead, whereof we are witnesses.' 'With great
power gave the Apostles witness of the Resurrection.' 'We are His
witnesses of these things.' To Cornelius, Peter speaks of the Apostles
as 'witnesses chosen before of God, who did eat and drink with Him
after He rose from the dead'--and whose charge, received from Christ,
was 'to testify that it is He which was ordained of God to be the Judge
of quick and dead.' Paul at Antioch speaks of the Twelve, from whom he
distinguishes himself, as being 'Christ's witnesses to _the
people_'--and seems to regard them as specially commissioned to the
Jewish nation, while he was sent to 'declare unto you'--Gentiles--the
same 'glad tidings,' in that 'God had raised up Jesus again.' So we
might go on accumulating passages, but these will suffice.

I need not spend time in elaborating or emphasising the contrast which
the idea of the Apostolic office contained in these simple words
presents to the portentous theories of later times. I need only remind
you that, according to the Gospels, the work of the Apostles in
Christ's lifetime embraced three elements, none of which were peculiar
to them--to be with Christ, to preach, and to work miracles; that their
characteristic work after His Ascension was this of witness-bearing;
that the Church did not owe to them as a body its extension, nor
Christian doctrine its form; that whilst Peter and James and John
appear in the history, and Matthew perhaps wrote a Gospel, and the
other James and Jude are probably the authors of the brief Epistles
which bear their names--the rest of the Twelve never appear in the
subsequent history. The Acts of the Apostles is a misnomer for Luke's
second 'treatise.' It tells the work of Peter alone among the Twelve.
The Hellenists Stephen and Philip, the Cypriote Barnabas, and the man
of Tarsus--greater than them all--these spread the name of Christ
beyond the limits of the Holy City and the chosen people. The solemn
power of 'binding and loosing' was not a prerogative of the Twelve, for
we read that Jesus came where 'the _disciples_ were assembled,' and
that 'the _disciples_ were glad when they saw the Lord'; and 'He
breathed on _them_, and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever
sins ye remit, they are remitted."'

Where in all this is there a trace of the special Apostolic powers
which have been alleged to be transmitted from them? Nowhere. Who was
it that came and said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord hath sent me that thou
mightest be filled with the Holy Ghost'? A simple 'layman'! Who was it
that stood by, a passive and astonished spectator of the communication
of spiritual gifts to Gentile converts, and could only say, 'Forasmuch,
then, as God gave them the like gift, as He did unto us, what was I
that I could withstand God?' Peter, the leader of the Twelve!

Their task was apparently a humbler, really a far more important one.
Their place was apparently a lowlier, really a loftier one. They had to
lay broad and deep the basis for all the growth and grace of the
Church, in the facts which they witnessed. Their work abides; and when
the Celestial City is revealed to our longing hearts, in its
foundations will be read 'the names of the twelve Apostles of the
Lamb.' Their office was testimony; and their testimony was to this
effect--'Hearken, we eleven men knew this Jesus. Some of us knew Him
when He was a boy, and lived beside that little village where He was
brought up. We were with Him for three whole years in close contact day
and night. We all of us, though we were cowards, stood afar off with a
handful of women when He was crucified. We saw Him dead. We saw His
grave. We saw Him living, and we touched Him, and handled Him, and He
ate and drank with us; and we, sinners that we are that tell it you, we
went out with Him to the top of Olivet, and we saw Him go up into the
skies. Do you believe us or do you not? We do not come in the first
place to preach doctrines. We are not thinkers or moralists. We are
plain men, telling a plain story, to the truth of which we pledge our
senses. We do not want compliments about our spiritual elevation, or
our pure morality. We do not want reverence as possessors of mysterious
and exclusive powers. We want you to believe us as honest men, relating
what we have seen. There are eleven of us, and there are five hundred
at our back, and we have all got the one simple story to tell. It is,
indeed, a gospel, a philosophy, a theology, the reconciliation of earth
and heaven, the revelation of God to man, and of man to himself, the
unveiling of the future world, the basis of hope; but we bring it to
you first as a thing that happened upon this earth of ours, which we
saw with our eyes, and of which we are the witnesses.'

To that work there can be no successors. Some of the Apostles were
inspired to be the writers of the authoritative fountains of religious
truth; but that gift did not belong to them all, and was not the
distinctive possession of the Twelve. The power of working miracles,
and of communicating supernatural gifts, was not confined to them, but
is found exercised by other believers, as well as by a whole
'presbytery.' And as for what was properly their task, and their
qualifications, there can be no succession, for there is nothing to
succeed to, but what cannot be transmitted--the sight of the risen
Saviour, and the witness to His Resurrection as a fact certified by
their senses.

II. The sufficiency of the testimony.

Peter regards (as does the whole New Testament, and as did Peter's
Master, when He appointed these men) the witness which he and his
fellows bore as enough to lay firm and deep the historical fact of the
Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The first point that I would suggest here is this: if we think of
Christianity as being mainly a set of truths--spiritual, moral,
intellectual--then, of course, the way to prove Christianity is to show
the consistency of that body of truths with one another, their
consistency with other truths, their derivation from admitted
principles, their reasonableness, their adaptation to men's nature, the
refining and elevating effects of their adoption, and so on. If we
think of Christianity, on the other hand, as being first a set of
historical facts which carry the doctrines, then the way to prove
Christianity is not to show how reasonable it is, not to show how it
has been anticipated and expected and desired, not to show how it
corresponds with men's needs and men's longings, not to show what large
and blessed results follow from its acceptance. All these are
legitimate ways of establishing principles; but the way to establish a
fact is only one--that is, to find somebody that can say, 'I know it,
for I saw it.'

And my belief is that the course of modern 'apologetics,' as they are
called--methods of defending Christianity--has followed too slavishly
the devious course of modern antagonism, and has departed from its real
stronghold when it has consented to argue the question on these (as I
take them to be) lower and less sufficing grounds. I am thankful to
adopt all that wise Christian apologists may have said in regard to the
reasonableness of Christianity; its correspondence with men's wants,
the blessings that follow from it, and so forth; but the Gospel is
first and foremost a history, and you cannot prove that a thing has
happened by showing how very desirable it is that it should happen, how
reasonable it is to expect that it should happen, what good results
would follow from believing that it has happened--all that is
irrelevant. Think of it as first a history, and then you are shut up to
the old-fashioned line of evidence, irrefragable as I take it to be, to
which all these others may afterwards be appended as confirmatory. It
is true, because sufficient eye-witnesses assert it. It did happen,
because it is commended to us by the ordinary canons of evidence which
we accept in regard to all other matters of fact.

With regard to the sufficiency of the specific evidence here, I wish to
make only one or two observations.

Suppose you yield up everything that the most craving and unreasonable
modern scepticism can demand as to the date and authorship of these
tracts that make the New Testament, we have still left four letters of
the Apostle Paul, which no one has ever denied, which the very
extremest professors of the 'higher criticism' themselves accept. These
four are the Epistles to the Romans, the first and second to the
Corinthians, and that to the Galatians. The dates which are assigned to
these four letters by any one, believer or unbeliever, bring them
within five-and-twenty years of the alleged date of Christ's
resurrection.

Then what do we find in these undeniably and admittedly genuine
letters, written a quarter of a century after the supposed fact? We
find in all of them reference to it--the distinct allegation of it. We
find in one of them that the Apostle states it as being the substance
of his preaching and of his brethren's preaching, that 'Christ died and
rose again according to the Scriptures,' and that He was seen by
individuals, by multitudes, by a whole five hundred, the greater
portion of whom were living and available as witnesses when he wrote.

And we find that side by side with this statement, there is the
reference to his own vision of the risen Saviour, which carries us up
within ten years of the alleged fact. So, then, by the evidence of
admittedly genuine documents, which are dealing with a state of things
ten years after the supposed resurrection, there was a unanimous
concurrence of belief on the part of the whole primitive Church, so
that even the heretics who said that there was no resurrection of the
dead could be argued with on the ground of their belief in Christ's
Resurrection. The whole Church with one voice asserted it. And there
were hundreds of living men ready to attest it. It was not a handful of
women who fancied they had seen Him once, very early in the dim
twilight of a spring morning--but it was half a thousand that had
beheld Him. He had been seen by them not once, but often; not far off,
but close at hand; not in one place, but in Galilee and Jerusalem; not
under one set of circumstances, but at all hours of the day, abroad and
in the house, walking and sitting, speaking and eating, by them singly
and in numbers. He had not been seen only by excited expectants of His
appearance, but by incredulous eyes and surprised hearts, who doubted
ere they worshipped, and paused before they said, 'My Lord and my God!'
They neither hoped that He would rise, nor believed that He had risen;
and the world may be thankful that they were 'slow of heart to believe.'

Would not the testimony which can be alleged for Christ's Resurrection
be enough to guarantee any event but this? And if so, why is it not
enough to guarantee this too? If, as nobody denies, the Early Church,
within ten years of Christ's Resurrection, believed in His
Resurrection, and were ready to go, and did, many of them, go to the
death in assertion of their veracity in declaring it, then one of two
things--Either they were right or they were wrong; and if the latter,
one of two things--If the Resurrection be not a fact, then that belief
was either a delusion or a deceit.

It was not a delusion, for such an illusion is altogether unexampled;
and it is absurd to think of it as being shared by a multitude like the
Early Church. Nations have said, 'Our King is not dead--he is gone away
and he will come back.' Loving disciples have said, 'Our Teacher lives
in solitude and will return to us.' But this is no parallel to these.
This is not a fond imagination giving an apparent substance to its own
creation, but sense recognising first the fact, 'He _is_ dead,' and
then, in opposition to expectation, and when hope had sickened to
despair, recognising the astounding fact, 'He liveth that was dead';
and to suppose that that should have been the rooted conviction of
hundreds of men who were not idiots, finds no parallel in the history
of human illusions, and no analogy in such legends as those to which I
have referred.

It was not a myth, for a myth does not grow in ten years. And there was
no motive to frame one, if Christ was dead and all was over. It was not
a deceit, for the character of the men, and the character of the
associated morality, and the obvious absence of all self-interest, and
the persecutions and sorrows which they endured, make it inconceivable
that the fairest building that ever hath been reared in the world, and
which is cemented by men's blood, should be built upon the mud and
slime of a conscious deceit!

And all this we are asked to put aside at the bidding of a glaring
begging of the whole question, and an outrageous assertion which no man
that believes in a God at all can logically maintain, viz. that no
testimony can reach to the miraculous, or that miracles are impossible.

No testimony reach to the miraculous! Well, put it into a concrete
form. Can testimony not reach to this: 'I know, because I saw, that a
man was dead; I know, because I saw, a dead man live again'? If
testimony can do that, I think we may safely leave the verbal sophism
that it cannot reach to the miraculous to take care of itself.

And, then, with regard to the other assumption--miracle is impossible.
That is an illogical begging of the whole question in dispute. It
cannot avail to brush aside testimony. You cannot smother facts by
theories in that fashion. Again, one would like to know how it comes
that our modern men of science, who protest so much against science
being corrupted by metaphysics, should commit themselves to an
assertion like that? Surely that is stark, staring metaphysics. It
seems as if they thought that the 'metaphysics' which said that there
was anything behind the physical universe was unscientific; but that
the metaphysics which said that there was nothing behind physics was
quite legitimate, and ought to be allowed to pass muster. What have the
votaries of pure physical science, who hold the barren word-contests of
theology and the proud pretensions of philosophy in such contempt, to
do out-Heroding Herod in that fashion, and venturing on metaphysical
assertions of such a sort? Let them keep to their own line, and tell us
all that crucibles and scalpels can reveal, and we will listen as
becomes us. But when they contradict their own principles in order to
deny the possibility of miracle, we need only give them back their own
words, and ask that the investigation of facts shall not be hampered
and clogged with metaphysical prejudices. No! no! Christ made no
mistake when He built His Church upon that rock--the historical
evidence of a resurrection from the dead, though all the wise men of
Areopagus hill may make its cliffs ring with mocking laughter when we
say, upon Easter morning, 'The Lord is risen indeed!'

III. There is a final consideration connected with these words, which I
must deal with very briefly--the importance of the fact which is thus
borne witness to.

I have already pointed out that the Resurrection of Christ is viewed in
Scripture in three aspects: in its bearing upon His nature and work, as
a pattern for our future, and as a symbol of our present newness of
life. The importance to which I refer now applies only to that first
aspect.

With the Resurrection of Jesus Christ stands or falls the Divinity of
Christ. As Paul said, in that letter to which I have referred,
'Declared to be the Son of God, with power by the resurrection from the
dead.' As Peter said in the sermon that follows this one of our text,
'God hath made this same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and
Christ.' As Paul said, on Mars Hill, 'He will judge the world in
righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained, whereof He hath given
assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.'

The case is this. Jesus lived as we know, and in the course of that
life claimed to be the Son of God. He made such broad and strange
assertions as these--'I and My Father are One.' 'I am the Way, and the
Truth, and the Life.' 'I am the Resurrection and the Life.' 'He that
believeth on Me shall never die.' 'The Son of Man must suffer many
things, and the third day He shall rise again.' Thus speaking He dies,
and rises again and passes into the heavens. That is the last mightiest
utterance of the same testimony, which spake from heaven at His
baptism, 'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!' If He be
risen from the dead, then His loftiest claims are confirmed from the
throne, and we can see in Him, the Son of God. But if death holds Him
still, and 'the Syrian stars look down upon His grave,' as a modern
poet tells us in his dainty English that they do, then what becomes of
these words of His, and of our estimate of the character of Him, the
speaker? Let us hear no more about the pure morality of Jesus Christ,
and the beauty of His calm and lofty teaching, and the rest of it. Take
away His resurrection from the dead, and we have left beautiful
precepts, and fair wisdom, deformed with a monstrous self-assertion and
the constant reiteration of claims which the event proves to have been
baseless. Either He has risen from the dead or His words were
blasphemy. Men nowadays talk very lightly of throwing aside the
supernatural portions of the Gospel history, and retaining reverence
for the great Teacher, the pure moralist of Nazareth. The Pharisees put
the issue more coarsely and truly when they said, 'That deceiver said,
while He was yet alive, after three days I will rise again.' Yes! one
or the other. 'Declared to be the Son of God with power by the
resurrection from the dead,' or--that which our lips refuse to say even
as a hypothesis!

Still further, with the Resurrection stands or falls Christ's whole
work for our redemption. If He died, like other men--if that awful bony
hand has got its grip upon Him too, then we have no proof that the
cross was anything but a martyr's cross. His Resurrection is the proof
of His completed work of redemption. It is the proof--followed as it is
by His Ascension--that His death was not the tribute which for Himself
He had to pay, but the ransom for us. His Resurrection is the condition
of His present activity. If He has not risen, He has not put away sin;
and if He has not put it away by the sacrifice of Himself, none has,
and it remains. We come back to the old dreary alternative: 'if Christ
be not risen, your faith is vain, and our preaching is vain. Ye are yet
in your sins, and they which have fallen asleep in Christ' with
unfulfilled hopes fixed upon a baseless vision--they of whom we hoped,
through our tears, that they live with Him--they 'are perished.' For,
if He be not risen, there is no resurrection; and, if He be not risen,
there is no forgiveness; and, if He be not risen, there is no Son of
God; and the world is desolate, and the heaven is empty, and the grave
is dark, and sin abides, and death is eternal. If Christ be dead, then
that awful vision is true, 'As I looked up into the immeasurable
heavens for the Divine Eye, it froze me with an empty, bottomless
eye-socket.'

There is nothing between us and darkness, despair, death, but that
ancient message, 'I declare unto you the Gospel which I preach, by
which ye are saved if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, how
that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He
was raised the third day according to the Scriptures.'

Well, then, may we take up the ancient glad salutation, 'The Lord is
risen!' and, turning from these thoughts of the disaster and despair
that that awful supposition drags after it, fall back upon sober
certainty, and with the Apostle break forth in triumph, 'Now is Christ
risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept'!



THE ABIDING GIFT AND ITS TRANSITORY ACCOMPANIMENTS

'And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one
accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as
of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were
sitting. 3. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of
fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4. And they were all filled with
the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit
gave them utterance. 5. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews,
devout men, out of every nation under heaven. 6. Now when this was
noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded,
because that every man heard them speak in his own language. 7. And
they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are
not all these which speak Galileans? 8. And how we hear every man in
our own tongue, wherein we were born? 9. Parthians, and Medes, and
Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and
Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, 10. Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt,
and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and
proselytes. 11. Cretes, and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our
tongues the wonderful works of God. 12. And they were all amazed, and
were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? 13. Others,
mocking, said, These men are full of new wine.'--ACTS ii. 1-13.

Only ten days elapsed between the Ascension and Pentecost. The attitude
of the Church during that time should be carefully noted. They obeyed
implicitly Christ's command to wait for the 'power from on high.' The
only act recorded is the election of Matthias to fill Judas's place,
and it is at least questionable whether that was not a mistake, and
shown to be such by Christ's subsequent choice of Paul as an Apostle.
But, with the exception of that one flash of doubtful activity, prayer,
supplication, patient waiting, and clinging together in harmonious
expectancy, characterised the hundred and twenty brethren.

They must have been wrought to an intense pitch of anticipation, for
they knew that their waiting was to be short, and they knew, at least
partially, what they were to receive, namely, 'power from on high,' or
'the promise of the Father.' Probably, too, the great Feast, so near at
hand, would appear to them a likely time for the fulfilment of the
promise.

So, very early on that day of Pentecost, they betook themselves to
their usual place of assembling, probably the 'large upper room,'
already hallowed to their memories; and in each heart the eager
question would spring, 'Will it be to-day?' It is as true now as it was
then, that the spirits into whom the Holy Spirit breathes His power
must keep themselves still, expectant, prayerful. Perpetual occupation
may be more loss of time than devout waiting, with hands folded,
because the heart is wide open to receive the power which will fit the
hands for better work.

It was but 'the third hour of the day' when Peter stood up to speak; it
must have been little after dawn when the brethren came together. How
long they had been assembled we do not know, but we cannot doubt how
they had been occupied. Many a prayer had gone up through the morning
air, and, no doubt, some voice was breathing the united desires, when a
deep, strange sound was heard at a distance, and rapidly gained volume,
and was heard to draw near. Like the roaring of a tempest hurrying
towards them, it hushed human voices, and each man would feel, 'Surely
now the Gift comes!' Nearer and nearer it approached, and at last burst
into the chamber where they sat silent and unmoving.

But if we look carefully at Luke's words, we see that what filled the
house was not agitated air, or wind, but 'a sound as of wind.' The
language implies that there was no rush of atmosphere that lifted a
hair on any cheek, or blew on any face, but only such a sound as is
made by tempest. It suggested wind, but it was not wind. By that first
symbolic preparation for the communication of the promised gift, the
old symbolism which lies in the very word 'Spirit,' and had been
brought anew to the disciples' remembrance by Christ's words to
Nicodemus, and by His breathing on them when He gave them an
anticipatory and partial bestowment of the Spirit, is brought to view,
with its associations of life-giving power and liberty. 'Thou hearest
the sound thereof,' could scarcely fail to be remembered by some in
that chamber.

But it is not to be supposed that the audible symbol continued when the
second preparatory one, addressed to the eye, appeared. As the former
had been not wind, but like it, the latter was not fire, but 'as of
fire.' The language does not answer the question whether what was seen
was a mass from which the tongues detached themselves, or whether only
the separate tongues were visible as they moved overhead. But the final
result was that 'it sat on each.' The verb has no expressed subject,
and 'fire' cannot be the subject, for it is only introduced as a
comparison. Probably, therefore, we are to understand 'a tongue' as the
unexpressed subject of the verb.

Clearly, the point of the symbol is the same as that presented in the
Baptist's promise of a baptism 'with the Holy Ghost and fire.' The
Spirit was to be in them as a Spirit of burning, thawing natural
coldness and melting hearts with a genial warmth, which should beget
flaming enthusiasm, fervent love, burning zeal, and should work
transformation into its own fiery substance. The rejoicing power, the
quick energy, the consuming force, the assimilating action of fire, are
all included in the symbol, and should all be possessed by Christ's
disciples.

But were the tongue-like shapes of the flames significant too? It is
doubtful, for, natural as is the supposition that they were, it is to
be remembered that 'tongues of fire' is a usual expression, and may
mean nothing more than the flickering shoots of flame into which a fire
necessarily parts.

But these two symbols are only symbols. The true fulfilment of the
great promise follows. Mark the brief simplicity of the quiet words in
which the greatest bestowment ever made on humanity, the beginning of
an altogether new era, the equipment of the Church for her age-long
conflict, is told. There was an actual impartation to men of a divine
life, to dwell in them and actuate them; to bring all good to victory
in them; to illuminate, sustain, direct, and elevate; to cleanse and
quicken. The gift was complete. They were 'filled.' No doubt they had
much more to receive, and they received it, as their natures became, by
faithful obedience to the indwelling Spirit, capable of more. But up to
the measure of their then capacities they were filled; and, since their
spirits were expansible, and the gift was infinite, they were in a
position to grow steadily in possession of it, till they were 'filled
with all the fulness of God.'

Further, 'they were _all_ filled,'--not the Apostles only, but the
whole hundred and twenty. Peter's quotation from Joel distinctly
implies the universality of the gift, which the 'servants and
handmaidens,' the brethren and the women, now received. Herein is the
true democracy of Christianity. There are still diversities of
operations and degrees of possession, but all Christians have the
Spirit. All 'they that believe on Him,' and only they, have received
it. Of old the light shone only on the highest peaks,--prophets, and
kings, and psalmists; now the lowest depths of the valleys are flooded
with it. Would that Christians generally believed more fully in, and
set more store by, that great gift!

As symbols preceded, tokens followed. The essential fact of Pentecost
is neither the sound and fire, nor the speaking with other tongues, but
the communication of the Holy Spirit. The sign and result of that was
the gift of utterance in various languages, not their own, nor learned
by ordinary ways. No twisting of the narrative can weaken the plain
meaning of it, that these unlearned Galileans spake in tongues which
their users recognised to be their own. The significance of the fact
will appear presently, but first note the attestation of it by the
multitude.

Of course, the foreign-born Jews, who, from motives of piety, however
mistaken, had come to dwell in Jerusalem, are said to have been 'from
every nation under heaven,' by an obvious and ordinary license. It is
enough that, as the subsequent catalogue shows, they came from all
corners of the then known world, though the extremes of territory
mentioned cover but a small space on a terrestrial globe.

The 'sound' of the rushing wind had been heard hurtling through the
city in the early morning hours, and had served as guide to the spot. A
curious crowd came hurrying to ascertain what this noise of tempest in
a calm meant, and they were met by something more extraordinary still.
Try to imagine the spectacle. As would appear from verse 33, the
tongues of fire remained lambently glowing on each head ('which ye
see'), and the whole hundred and twenty, thus strangely crowned, were
pouring out rapturous praises, each in some strange tongue. When the
astonished ears had become accustomed to the apparent tumult, every man
in the crowd heard some one or more speaking in his own tongue,
language, or dialect, and all were declaring the mighty works of God;
that is, probably, the story of the crucified, ascended Jesus.

We need not dwell on subordinate questions, as to the number of
languages represented there, or as to the catalogue in verses 9 and 10.
But we would emphasise two thoughts. First, the natural result of being
filled with God's Spirit is utterance of the great truths of Christ's
Gospel. As surely as light radiates, as surely as any deep emotion
demands expression, so certainly will a soul filled with the Spirit be
forced to break into speech. If professing Christians have never known
the impulse to tell of the Christ whom they have found, their religion
must be very shallow and imperfect. If their spirits are full, they
will overflow in speech.

Second, Pentecost is a prophecy of the universal proclamation of the
Gospel, and of the universal praise which shall one day rise to Him
that was slain. 'This company of brethren praising God in the tongues
of the whole world represented the whole world which shall one day
praise God in its various tongues' (Bengel). Pentecost reversed Babel,
not by bringing about a featureless monopoly, but by consecrating
diversity, and showing that each language could be hallowed, and that
each lent some new strain of music to the chorus.

It prophesied of the time when 'men of every tribe, and tongue, and
people, and nation' should lift up their voices to Him who has
purchased them unto God with His blood. It began a communication of the
Spirit to all believers which is never to cease while the world stands.
The mighty rushing sound has died into silence, the fiery tongues rest
on no heads now, the miraculous results of the gifts of the Spirit have
passed away also, but the gift remains, and the Spirit of God abides
for ever with the Church of Christ.



THE FOURFOLD SYMBOLS OF THE SPIRIT

'A rushing mighty wind.' ... 'Cloven tongues like as of fire.' ... 'I
will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh.'--ACTS ii. 2, 3, 17.

'Ye have an unction from the Holy One.'--1 JOHN ii. 20.

Wind, fire, water, oil,--these four are constant Scriptural symbols for
the Spirit of God. We have them all in these fragments of verses which
I have taken for my text now, and which I have isolated from their
context for the purpose of bringing out simply these symbolical
references. I think that perhaps we may get some force and freshness to
the thoughts proper to this day [Footnote: Whit Sunday.] by looking at
these rather than by treating the subject in some more abstract form.
We have then the Breath of the Spirit, the Fire of the Spirit, the
Water of the Spirit, and the Anointing Oil of the Spirit. And the
consideration of these four will bring out a great many of the
principal Scriptural ideas about the gift of the Spirit of God which
belongs to all Christian souls.

I. First, 'a rushing mighty wind.'

Of course, the symbol is but the putting into picturesque form of the
idea that lies in the name. 'Spirit' is 'breath.' Wind is but air in
motion. Breath is the synonym for life. 'Spirit' and 'life' are two
words for one thing. So then, in the symbol, the 'rushing mighty wind,'
we have set forth the highest work of the Spirit--the communication of
a new and supernatural life.

We are carried hack to that grand vision of the prophet who saw the
bones lying, very many and very dry, sapless and disintegrated, a heap
dead and ready to rot. The question comes to him: 'Son of man! Can
these bones live?' The only possible answer, if he consult experience,
is, 'O Lord God! Thou knowest.' Then follows the great invocation:
'Come from the four winds, O Breath! and breathe upon these slain that
they may live.' And the Breath comes and 'they stand up, an exceeding
great army.' 'It is the Spirit that quickeneth.' The Scripture treats
us all as dead, being separated from God, unless we are united to Him
by faith in Jesus Christ. According to the saying of the Evangelist,
'They which believe on Him receive' the Spirit, and thereby receive the
life which He gives, or, as our Lord Himself speaks, are 'born of the
Spirit.' The highest and most characteristic office of the Spirit of
God is to enkindle this new life, and hence His noblest name, among the
many by which He is called, is the Spirit of life.

Again, remember, 'that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.' If there
be life given it must be kindred with the life which is its source.
Reflect upon those profound words of our Lord: 'The wind bloweth where
it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell
whence it cometh nor whither it goeth. So is every one that is born of
the Spirit.' They describe first the operation of the life-giving
Spirit, but they describe also the characteristics of the resulting
life.

'The wind bloweth where it listeth.' That spiritual life, both in the
divine source and in the human recipient, is its own law. Of course the
wind has its laws, as every physical agent has; but these are so
complicated and undiscovered that it has always been the very symbol of
freedom, and poets have spoken of these 'chartered libertines,' the
winds, and 'free as the air' has become a proverb. So that Divine
Spirit is limited by no human conditions or laws, but dispenses His
gifts in superb disregard of conventionalities and externalisms. Just
as the lower gift of what we call 'genius' is above all limits of
culture or education or position, and falls on a wool-stapler in
Stratford-on-Avon, or on a ploughman in Ayrshire, so, in a similar
manner, the altogether different gift of the divine, life-giving Spirit
follows no lines that Churches or institutions draw. It falls upon an
Augustinian monk in a convent, and he shakes Europe. It falls upon a
tinker in Bedford gaol, and he writes _Pilgrim's Progress_. It falls
upon a cobbler in Kettering, and he founds modern Christian missions.
It blows 'where it listeth,' sovereignly indifferent to the
expectations and limitations and the externalisms, even of organised
Christianity, and touching this man and that man, not arbitrarily but
according to 'the good pleasure' that is a law to itself, because it is
perfect in wisdom and in goodness.

And as thus the life-giving Spirit imparts Himself according to higher
laws than we can grasp, so in like manner the life that is derived from
it is a life which is its own law. The Christian conscience, touched by
the Spirit of God, owes allegiance to no regulations or external
commandments laid down by man. The Christian conscience, enlightened by
the Spirit of God, at its peril will take its beliefs from any other
than from that Divine Spirit. All authority over conduct, all authority
over belief is burnt up and disappears in the presence of the grand
democracy of the true Christian principle: 'Ye are all the children of
God by faith in Jesus Christ'; and every one of you possesses the
Spirit which teaches, the Spirit which inspires, the Spirit which
enlightens, the Spirit which is the guide to all truth. So 'the wind
bloweth where it listeth,' and the voice of that Divine Quickener is,

  'Myself shall to My darling be
    Both law and impulse.'

Under the impulse derived from the Divine Spirit, the human spirit
'listeth' what is right, and is bound to follow the promptings of its
highest desires. Those men only are free as the air we breathe, who are
vitalised by the Spirit of the Lord, for 'where the Spirit of the Lord
is, there,' and there alone, 'is liberty.'

In this symbol there lies not only the thought of a life derived,
kindred with the life bestowed, and free like the life which is given,
but there lies also the idea of power. The wind which filled the house
was not only mighty but 'borne onward'--fitting type of the strong
impulse by which in olden times 'holy men spake as they were "borne
onward"' (the word is the same) 'by the Holy Ghost.' There are
diversities of operations, but it is the same breath of God, which
sometimes blows in the softest _pianissimo_ that scarcely rustles the
summer woods in the leafy month of June, and sometimes storms in wild
tempest that dashes the seas against the rocks. So this mighty
life-giving Agent moves in gentleness and yet in power, and sometimes
swells and rises almost to tempest, but is ever the impelling force of
all that is strong and true and fair in Christian hearts and lives.

The history of the world, since that day of Pentecost, has been a
commentary upon the words of my text. With viewless, impalpable energy,
the mighty breath of God swept across the ancient world and 'laid the
lofty city' of paganism 'low; even to the ground, and brought it even
to the dust.' A breath passed over the whole civilised world, like the
breath of the west wind upon the glaciers in the spring, melting the
thick-ribbed ice, and wooing forth the flowers, and the world was made
over again. In our own hearts and lives this is the one Power that will
make us strong and good. The question is all-important for each of us,
'Have I this life, and does it move me, as the ships are borne along by
the wind?' 'As many as are impelled by the Spirit of God,
they'--_they_--'are the sons of God.' Is that the breath that swells
all the sails of your lives, and drives you upon your course? If it be,
you are Christians; if it be not, you are not.

II. And now a word as to the second of these symbols--'Cloven tongues
as of fire'--the fire of the Spirit.

I need not do more than remind you how frequently that emblem is
employed both in the Old and in the New Testament. John the Baptist
contrasted the cold negative efficiency of his baptism, which at its
best, was but a baptism of repentance, with the quickening power of the
baptism of Him who was to follow him; when he said, 'I indeed baptise
you with water, but He that cometh after me is mightier than I. He
shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.' The two words
mean but one thing, the fire being the emblem of the Spirit.

You will remember, too, how our Lord Himself employs the same metaphor
when He speaks about His coming to bring fire on the earth, and His
longing to see it kindled into a beneficent blaze. In this connection
the fire is a symbol of a quick, triumphant energy, which will
transform us into its own likeness. There are two sides to that emblem:
one destructive, one creative; one wrathful, one loving. There are the
fire of love, and the fire of anger. There is the fire of the sunshine
which is the condition of life, as well as the fire of the lightning
which burns and consumes. The emblem of fire is selected to express the
work of the Spirit of God, by reason of its leaping, triumphant,
transforming energy. See, for instance, how, when you kindle a pile of
dead green-wood, the tongues of fire spring from point to point until
they have conquered the whole mass, and turned it all into a ruddy
likeness of the parent flame. And so here, this fire of God, if it fall
upon you, will burn up all your coldness, and will make you glow with
enthusiasm, working your intellectual convictions in fire not in frost,
making your creed a living power in your lives, and kindling you into a
flame of earnest consecration.

The same idea is expressed by the common phrases of every language. We
speak of the fervour of love, the warmth of affection, the blaze of
enthusiasm, the fire of emotion, the coldness of indifference.
Christians are to be set on fire of God. If the Spirit dwell in us, He
will make us fiery like Himself, even as fire turns the wettest
green-wood into fire. We have more than enough of cold Christians who
are afraid of nothing so much as of being betrayed into warm emotion.

I believe, dear brethren, and I am bound to express the belief, that
one of the chief wants of the Christian Church of this generation, the
Christian Church of this city, the Christian Church of this chapel, is
more of the fire of God! We are all icebergs compared with what we
ought to be. Look at yourselves; never mind about your brethren. Let
each of us look at his own heart, and say whether there is any trace in
his Christianity of the power of that Spirit who is fire. Is our
religion flame or ice? Where among us are to be found lives blazing
with enthusiastic devotion and earnest love? Do not such words sound
like mockery when applied to us? Have we not to listen to that solemn
old warning that never loses its power, and, alas! seems never to lose
its appropriateness: 'Because thou art neither cold nor hot, I will
spue thee out of My mouth.' We ought to be like the burning beings
before God's throne, the seraphim, the spirits that blaze and serve. We
ought to be like God Himself, all aflame with love. Let us seek
penitently for that Spirit of fire who will dwell in us all if we will.

The metaphor of fire suggests also--purifying. 'The Spirit of burning'
will burn the filth out of us. That is the only way by which a man can
ever be made clean. You may wash and wash and wash with the cold water
of moral reformation, you will never get the dirt out with it. No
washing and no rubbing will ever cleanse sin. The way to purge a soul
is to do with it as they do with foul clay--thrust it into the fire and
that will burn all the blackness out of it. Get the love of God into
your hearts, and the fire of His Divine Spirit into your spirits to
melt you down, as it were, and then the scum and the dross will come to
the top, and you can skim them off. Two powers conquer my sin: the one
is the blood of Jesus Christ, which washes me from all the guilt of the
past; the other is the fiery influence of that Divine Spirit which
makes me pure and clean for all the time to come. Pray to be kindled
with the fire of God.

III. Then once more, take that other metaphor, 'I will pour out of My
Spirit.'

That implies an emblem which is very frequently used, both in the Old
and in the New Testament, viz., the Spirit as water. As our Lord said
to Nicodemus: 'Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he
cannot enter into the kingdom of God.' The 'water' stands in the same
relation to the 'Spirit' as the 'fire' does in the saying of John the
Baptist already referred to--that is to say, it is simply a symbol or
material emblem of the Spirit. I suppose nobody would say that there
were two baptisms spoken of by John, one of the Holy Ghost and one of
fire,--and I suppose that just in the same way, there are not two
agents of regeneration pointed at in our Lord's words, nor even two
conditions, but that the Spirit is the sole agent, and 'water' is but a
figure to express some aspect of His operations. So that there is no
reference to the water of baptism in the words, and to see such a
reference is to be led astray by sound, and out of a metaphor to
manufacture a miracle.

There are other passages where, in like manner, the Spirit is compared
to a flowing stream, such as, for instance, when our Lord said, 'He
that believeth on Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living
water,' and when John saw a 'river of water of life proceeding from the
throne.' The expressions, too, of 'pouring out' and 'shedding forth'
the Spirit, point in the same direction, and are drawn from more than
one passage of Old Testament prophecy. What, then, is the significance
of comparing that Divine Spirit with a river of water? First,
cleansing, of which I need not say any more, because I have dealt with
It in the previous part of my sermon. Then, further, refreshing, and
satisfying. Ah! dear brethren, there is only one thing that will slake
the immortal thirst in your souls. The world will never do it; love or
ambition gratified and wealth possessed, will never do it. You will be
as thirsty after you have drunk of these streams as ever you were
before. There is one spring 'of which if a man drink, he shall never
thirst' with unsatisfied, painful longings, but shall never cease to
thirst with the longing which is blessedness, because it is fruition.
Our thirst can be slaked by the deep draught of 'the river of the Water
of Life, which proceeds from the Throne of God and the Lamb.' The
Spirit of God, drunk in by my spirit, will still and satisfy my whole
nature, and with it I shall be glad. Drink of this. 'Ho! every one that
thirsteth, come ye to the waters!'

The Spirit is not only refreshing and satisfying, but also productive
and fertilising. In Eastern lands a rill of water is all that is needed
to make the wilderness rejoice. Turn that stream on to the barrenness
of your hearts, and fair flowers will grow that would never grow
without it. The one means of lofty and fruitful Christian living is a
deep, inward possession of the Spirit of God. The one way to fertilise
barren souls is to let that stream flood them all over, and then the
flush of green will soon come, and that which is else a desert will
'rejoice and blossom as the rose.'

So this water will cleanse, it will satisfy and refresh, it will be
productive and will fertilise, and 'everything shall live whithersoever
that river cometh.'

IV. Then, lastly, we have the oil of the Spirit.

'Ye have an unction,' says St. John in our last text, 'from the Holy
One.' I need not remind you, I suppose, of how in the old system,
prophets, priests, and kings were anointed with consecrating oil, as a
symbol of their calling, and of their fitness for their special
offices. The reason for the use of such a symbol, I presume, would lie
in the invigorating and in the supposed, and possibly real,
health-giving effect of the use of oil in those climates. Whatever may
have been the reason for the use of oil in official anointings, the
meaning of the act was plain. It was a preparation for a specific and
distinct service. And so, when we read of the oil of the Spirit, we are
to think that it is that which fits us for being prophets, priests, and
kings, and which calls us to, because it fits us for, these functions.

You are anointed to be prophets that you may make known Him who has
loved and saved you, and may go about the world evidently inspired to
show forth His praise, and make His name glorious. That anointing calls
and fits you to be priests, mediators between God and man, bringing God
to men, and by pleading and persuasion, and the presentation of the
truth, drawing men to God. That unction calls and fits you to be kings,
exercising authority over the little monarchy of your own natures, and
over the men round you, who will bow in submission whenever they come
in contact with a man all evidently aflame with the love of Jesus
Christ, and filled with His Spirit. The world is hard and rude; the
world is blind and stupid; the world often fails to know its best
friends and its truest benefactors; but there is no crust of stupidity
so crass and dense but that through it there will pass the penetrating
shafts of light that ray from the face of a man who walks in fellowship
with Jesus. The whole nation of old was honoured with these sacred
names. They were a kingdom of priests; and the divine Voice said of the
nation, 'Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm!' How much
more are all Christian men, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, made
prophets, priests, and kings to God! Alas for the difference between
what they ought to be and what they are!

And then, do not forget also that when the Scriptures speak of
Christian men as being anointed, it really speaks of them as being
Messiahs. 'Christ' means _anointed_, does it not? 'Messiah' means
_anointed_. And when we read in such a passage as that of my text, 'Ye
have an unction from the Holy One,' we cannot but feel that the words
point in the same direction as the great words of our Master Himself,
'As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.' By authority derived,
no doubt, and in a subordinate and secondary sense, of course, we are
Messiahs, anointed with that Spirit which was given to Him, not by
measure, and which has passed from Him to us. 'If any man have not the
Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.'

So, dear brethren, all these things being certainly so, what are we to
say about the present state of Christendom? What are we to say about
the present state of English Christianity, Church and Dissent alike? Is
Pentecost a vanished glory, then? Has that 'rushing mighty wind' blown
itself out, and a dead calm followed? Has that leaping fire died down
into grey ashes? Has the great river that burst out then, like the
stream from the foot of the glaciers of Mont Blanc, full-grown in its
birth, been all swallowed up in the sand, like some of those rivers in
the East? Has the oil dried in the cruse? People tell us that
Christianity is on its death-bed; and the aspect of a great many
professing Christians seems to confirm the statement. But let us
thankfully recognise that 'we are not straitened in God, but in
ourselves.' To how many of us the question might be put: 'Did you
receive the Holy Ghost when you believed?' And how many of us by our
lives answer: 'We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy
Ghost.' Let us go where we can receive Him; and remember the blessed
words: 'If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your
children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit
to them that ask Him'!



PETER'S FIRST SERMON

'This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33.
Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received
of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this,
which ye now see and hear. 34. For David is not ascended into the
heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on
My right hand, 35. Until I make Thy foes Thy footstool. 36. Therefore
let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that
same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. 37. Now when
they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter
and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
38. Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you
in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall
receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39. For the promise is unto you,
and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the
Lord our God shall call. 40. And with many other words did he testify
and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. 41.
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day
there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42. And they
continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in
breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43. And fear came upon every soul:
and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44. And all that
believed were together, and had all things common; 45. And sold their
possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had
need. 46. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and
breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness
and singleness of heart, 47. Praising God, and having favour with all
the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be
saved.'--ACTS ii. 32-47.

This passage may best be dealt with as divided into three parts: the
sharp spear-thrust of Peter's closing words (vs. 32-36), the wounded
and healed hearers (vs. 37-41), and the fair morning dawn of the Church
(vs. 42-47).

I. Peter's address begins with pointing out the fulfilment of prophecy
in the gift of the Spirit (vs. 14-21). It then declares the
Resurrection of Jesus as foretold by prophecy, and witnessed to by the
whole body of believers (vs. 22-32), and it ends by bringing together
these two facts, the gift of the Spirit and the Resurrection and
Ascension, as effect and cause, and as establishing beyond all doubt
that Jesus is the Christ of prophecy, and the Lord on whom Joel had
declared that whoever called should be saved. We now begin with the
last verse of the second part of the address.

Observe the significant alternation of the names of 'Christ' and
'Jesus' in verses 31 and 32. The former verse establishes that prophecy
had foretold the Resurrection of the Messiah, whoever he might be; the
latter asserts that 'this Jesus' has fulfilled the prophetic
conditions. That is not a thing to be argued about, but to be attested
by competent witnesses. It was presented to the multitude on Pentecost,
as it is to us, as a plain matter of fact, on which the whole fabric of
Christianity is built, and which itself securely rests on the
concordant testimony of those who knew Him alive, saw Him dead, and
were familiar with Him risen.

There is a noble ring of certitude in Peter's affirmation, and of
confidence that the testimony producible was overwhelming. Unless Jesus
had risen, there would neither have been a Pentecost nor a Church to
receive the gift. The simple fact which Peter alleged in that first
sermon, 'whereof we all are witnesses,' is still too strong for the
deniers of the Resurrection, as their many devices to get over it prove.

But, a listener might ask, what has this witness of yours to do with
Joel's prophecy, or with this speaking with tongues? The answer follows
in the last part of the sermon. The risen Jesus has ascended up; that
is inseparable from the fact of resurrection, and is part of our
testimony. He is 'exalted by,' or, perhaps, at, 'the right hand of
God.' And that exaltation is to us the token that there He has received
from the Father the Spirit, whom He promised to send when He left us.
Therefore it is He--'this Jesus'--who has 'poured forth this,'--this
new strange gift, the tokens of which you see flaming on each head, and
hear bursting in praise from every tongue.

What triumphant emphasis is in that 'He'! Peter quotes Joel's word
'pour forth.' The prophet had said, as the mouthpiece of God, '_I_ will
pour forth'; Peter unhesitatingly transfers the word to Jesus. We must
not assume in him at this stage a fully-developed consciousness of our
Lord's divine nature, but neither must we blink the tremendous
assumption which he feels warranted in making, that the exaltation of
Jesus to the right hand of God meant His exercising the power which
belonged to God Himself.

In verse 34, he stays for a moment to establish by prophecy that the
Ascension, of which he had for the first time spoken in verse 33, is
part of the prophetic characteristics of the Messiah. His demonstration
runs parallel with his preceding one as to the Resurrection. He quotes
Psalm cx., which he had learned to do from his Master, and just as he
had argued about the prediction of Resurrection, that the dead
Psalmist's words could not apply to himself, and must therefore apply
to the Messiah; so he concludes that it was not 'David' who was called
by Jehovah to sit as 'Lord' on His right hand. If not David, it could
only be the Messiah who was thus invested with Lordship, and exalted as
participator of the throne of the Most High.

Then comes the final thrust of the spear, for which all the discourse
has been preparing. The Apostle rises to the full height of his great
commission, and sets the trumpet to his mouth, summoning 'all the house
of Israel,' priests, rulers, and all the people, to acknowledge his
Master. He proclaims his supreme dignity and Messiahship. He is the
'Lord' of whom the Psalmist sang, and the prophet declared that whoever
called on His name should be saved; and He is the Christ for whom
Israel looked.

Last of all, he sets in sharp contrast what God had done with Jesus,
and what Israel had done, and the barb of his arrow lies in the last
words, 'whom ye crucified.' And this bold champion of Jesus, this
undaunted arraigner of a nation's crimes, was the man who, a few weeks
before, had quailed before a maid-servant's saucy tongue! What made the
change? Will anything but the Resurrection and Pentecost account for
the psychological transformation effected in him and the other Apostles?

II. No wonder that 'they were pricked in their heart'! Such a thrust
must have gone deep, even where the armour of prejudice was thick. The
scene they had witnessed, and the fiery words of explanation, taken
together, produced incipient conviction, and the conviction produced
alarm. How surely does the first glimpse of Jesus as Christ and Lord
set conscience to work! The question, 'What shall we do?' is the
beginning of conversion. The acknowledgment of Jesus which does not
lead to it is shallow and worthless. The most orthodox accepter, so far
as intellect goes, of the gospel, who has not been driven by it to ask
his own duty in regard to it, and what he is to do to receive its
benefits, and to escape from his sins, has not accepted it at all.

Peter's answer lays down two conditions: repentance and baptism. The
former is often taken in too narrow a sense as meaning sorrow for sin,
whereas it means a change of disposition or mind, which will be
accompanied, no doubt, with 'godly sorrow,' but is in itself deeper
than sorrow, and is the turning away of heart and will from past love
and practice of evil. The second, baptism, is 'in the name of Jesus
Christ,' or more accurately, '_upon_ the name,'--that is, on the ground
of the revealed character of Jesus. That necessarily implies faith in
that Name; for, without such faith, the baptism would not be on the
ground of the Name. The two things are regarded as inseparable, being
the inside and the outside of the Christian discipleship. Repentance,
faith, baptism, these three, are called for by Peter.

But 'remission of sins' is not attached to the immediately preceding
clause, so as that baptism is said to secure remission, but to the
whole of what goes before in the sentence. Obedience to the
requirements would bring the same gift to the obedient as the disciples
had received; for it would make them disciples also. But, while
repentance and baptism which presupposed faith were the normal,
precedent conditions of the Spirit's bestowal, the case of Cornelius,
where the Spirit was given before baptism, forbids the attempt to link
the rite and the divine gift more closely together.

The Apostle was eager to share the gift. The more we have of the
Spirit, the more shall we desire that others may have Him, and the more
sure shall we be that He is meant for all. So Peter went on to base his
assurance, that his hearers might all possess the Spirit, on the
universal destination of the promise. Joel had said, 'on all flesh';
Peter declares that word to point downwards through all generations,
and outwards to all nations. How swiftly had he grown in grasp of the
sweep of Christ's work! How far beneath that moment of illumination
some of his subsequent actions fell!

We have only a summary of his exhortations, the gist of which was
earnest warning to separate from the fate of the nation by separating
in will and mind from its sins. Swift conviction followed the
Spirit-given words, as it ever will do when the speaker is filled with
the Holy Spirit, and has therefore a tongue of fire. Three thousand new
disciples were made that day, and though there must have been many
superficial adherents, and none with much knowledge, it is perhaps not
fanciful to see in Luke's speaking of them as 'souls' a hint that, in
general, the acceptance of Jesus as Messiah was deep and real. Not only
were three thousand 'names' added to the hundred and twenty, but three
thousand souls.

III. The fair picture of the morning brightness, so soon overclouded,
so long lost, follows. First, the narrative tells how the raw converts
were incorporated in the community, and assimilated to its character.
They, too, 'continued steadfastly' (Acts i. 14). Note the four points
enumerated: 'teaching,' which would be principally instruction in the
life of Jesus and His Messianic dignity, as proved by prophecy;
'fellowship,' which implies community of disposition and oneness of
heart manifested in outward association; 'breaking of bread,'--that is,
the observance of the Lord's Supper; and 'the prayers,' which were the
very life-breath of the infant Church (i. 14). Thus oneness in faith
and in love, participation in the memorial feast and in devotional acts
bound the new converts to the original believers, and trained them
towards maturity. These are still the methods by which a sudden influx
of converts is best dealt with, and babes in Christ nurtured to full
growth. Alas! that so often churches do not know what to do with
novices when they come in numbers.

A wider view of the state of the community as a whole closes the
chapter. It is the first of several landing-places, as it were, on
which Luke pauses to sum up an epoch. A reverent awe laid hold of the
popular mind, which was increased by the miraculous powers of the
Apostles. The Church will produce that impression on the world in
proportion as it is manifestly filled with the Spirit. Do we? The
so-called community of goods was not imposed by commandment, as is
plain from Peter's recognition of Ananias' right to do as he chose with
his property. The facts that Mark's mother, Mary, had a house of her
own, and that Barnabas, her relative, is specially signalised as having
sold his property, prove that it was not universal. It was an
irrepressible outcrop of the brotherly feeling that filled all hearts.
Christ has not come to lay down laws, but to give impulses. Compelled
communism is not the repetition of that oneness of sympathy which
effloresced in the bright flower of this common possession of
individual goods. But neither is the closed purse, closed because the
heart is shut, which puts to shame so much profession of brotherhood,
justified because the liberality of the primitive disciples was not by
constraint nor of obligation, but willing and spontaneous.

Verses 46 and 47 add an outline of the beautiful daily life of the
community, which was, like their liberality, the outcome of the feeling
of brotherhood, intensified by the sense of the gulf between them and
the crooked generation from which they had separated themselves. Luke
shows it on two sides. Though they had separated from the nation, they
clung to the Temple services, as they continued to do till the end.
They had not come to clear consciousness of all that was involved in
their discipleship, It was not God's will that the new spirit should
violently break with the old letter. Convulsions are not His way,
except as second-best. The disciples had to stay within the fold of
Israel, if they were to influence Israel. The time of outward parting
between the Temple and the Church was far ahead yet.

But the truest life of the infant Church was not nourished in the
Temple, but in the privacy of their homes. They were one family, and
lived as such. Their 'breaking bread at home' includes both their
ordinary meals and the Lord's Supper; for in these first days every
meal, at least the evening meal of every day, was hallowed by having
the Supper as a part of it. Each meal was thus a religious act, a token
of brotherhood, and accompanied with praise. Surely _then_ 'men did eat
angels' food,' and on platter and cup was written 'Holiness to the
Lord.' The ideal of human fellowship was realised, though but for a
moment, and on a small scale. It was inevitable that divergences should
arise, but it was not inevitable that the Church should depart so far
from the brief brightness of its dawn. Still the sweet concordant
brotherhood of these morning hours witnesses what Christian love can
do, and prophesies what shall yet be and shall not pass.

No wonder that such a Church won favour with all the people! We hear
nothing of its evangelising activity, but its life was such that,
without recorded speech, multitudes were drawn into so sweet a
fellowship. If we were like the Pentecostal Christians, we should
attract wearied souls out of the world's Babel into the calm home where
love and brotherhood reigned, and God would 'add' to _us_ 'day by day
those that were being saved.'



THE NAME ABOVE EVERY NAME

'Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath
made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and
Christ.'--ACTS ii. 36.

It is no part of my purpose at this time to consider the special
circumstances under which these words were spoken, nor even to enter
upon an exposition of their whole scope. I select them for one reason,
the occurrence in them of the three names by which we designate our
Saviour--Jesus, Lord, Christ. To us they are very little more than
three proper names; they were very different to these men who listened
to the characteristically vehement discourse of the Apostle Peter. It
wanted some courage to stand up at Pentecost and proclaim on the
housetop what he had spoken in the ear long ago, 'Thou art the Christ,
the Son of the living God!' To most of his listeners to say 'Jesus is
the Christ' was folly, and to say 'Jesus is the Lord' was blasphemy.

The three names are names of the same Person, but they proclaim
altogether different aspects of His work and His character. The name
'Jesus' is the name of the Man, and brings to us a Brother; the name
'Christ' is the name of office, and brings to us a Redeemer; the name
'Lord' is the name of dignity, and brings to us a King.

I. First, then, the name Jesus is the name of the Man, and tells us of
a Brother.

There were many men in Palestine who bore the name of 'Jesus' when He
bore it. We find that one of the early Christians had it; and it comes
upon us with almost a shock when we read that 'Jesus, called Justus,'
was the name of one of the friends of the Apostle Paul (Col. iv. 11).
But, through reverence on the part of Christians, and through horror on
the part of Jews, the name ceased to be a common one; and its
disappearance from familiar use has hid from us the fact of its common
employment at the time when our Lord bore it. Though it was given to
Him as indicative of His office of saving His people from their sins,
yet none of all the crowds who knew Him as Jesus of Nazareth supposed
that in His name there was any greater significance than in those of
the 'Simons,' 'Johns,' and 'Judahs' in the circle of His disciples.

Now the use of Jesus as the proper name of our Lord is very noticeable.
In the Gospels, as a rule, it stands alone hundreds of times, whilst in
combination with any other of the titles it is rare. 'Jesus Christ,'
for instance, only occurs, if I count aright, twice in Matthew, once in
Mark, twice in John. But if you turn to the Epistles and the latter
books of the Scriptures, the proportions are reversed. There you have a
number of instances of the occurrence of such combinations as 'Jesus
Christ,' 'Christ Jesus,' 'The Lord Jesus,' 'Christ the Lord,' and more
rarely the full solemn title, 'The Lord Jesus Christ,' but the
occurrence of the proper name 'Jesus' alone is the exception. So far as
I know, there are only some thirty or forty instances of its use singly
in the whole of the books of the New Testament outside of the four
Evangelists. The occasions where it is used are all of them occasions
in which one may see that the writer's intention is to put strong
emphasis, for some reason or other, on the Manhood of our Lord Jesus,
and to assert, as broadly as may be, His entire participation with us
in the common conditions of our human nature, corporeal and mental.

And I think I shall best bring out the meaning and worth of the name by
putting a few of these instances before you.

For example, more than once we find phrases like these: 'we believe
that _Jesus_ died,' 'having therefore boldness to enter into the
holiest by the blood of _Jesus_,' and the like--which emphasise His
death as the death of a man like ourselves, and bring us close to the
historical reality of His human pains and agonies for us. '_Christ_
died' is a statement which makes the purpose and efficacy of His death
more plain, but '_Jesus_ died' shows us His death as not only the work
of the appointed Messiah, but as the act of our brother man, the
outcome of His human love, and never rightly to be understood if His
work be thought of apart from His personality.

There is brought into view, too, prominently, the side of Christ's
sufferings which we are all apt to forget--the common human side of His
agonies and His pains. I know that a certain school of preachers, and
some unctuous religious hymns, and other forms of composition, dwell, a
great deal too much for reverence, upon the mere physical aspect of
Christ's sufferings. But the temptation, I believe, with most of us is
to dwell too little upon that,--to argue about the death of Christ, to
think about it as a matter of speculation, to regard it as a mysterious
power, to look upon it as an official act of the Messiah who was sent
into the world for us; and to forget that He bore a manhood like our
own, a body that was impatient of pains and wounds and sufferings, and
a human life which, like all human lives, naturally recoiled and shrank
from the agony of death.

And whilst, therefore, the great message, 'It is Christ that died,' is
ever to be pondered, we have also to think with sympathy and gratitude
on the homelier representation coming nearer to our hearts, which
proclaims that 'Jesus died.' Let us not forget the Brother's manhood
that had to agonise and to suffer and to die as the price of our
salvation.

Again, when the Scripture would set our Lord before us, as in His
humanity, our pattern and example, it sometimes uses this name, in
order to give emphasis to the thought of His Manhood--as, for example,
in the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews, 'looking unto Jesus, the
Author and Perfecter of faith.' That is to say--a mighty stimulus to
all brave perseverance in our efforts after higher Christian nobleness
lies in the vivid and constant realisation of the true manhood of our
Lord, as the type of all goodness, as having Himself lived by faith,
and that in a perfect degree and manner. We are to turn away our eyes
from contemplating all other lives and motives, and to 'look off' from
them to Him. In all our struggles let us think of Him. Do not take poor
human creatures for your ideal of excellence, nor tune your harps to
their keynotes. To imitate men is degradation, and is sure to lead to
deformity. None of them, is a safe guide. Black veins are in the purest
marble, and flaws in the most lustrous diamonds. But to imitate Jesus
is freedom, and to be like Him is perfection. Our code of morals is His
life. He is the Ideal incarnate. The secret of all progress is,
'Run--looking unto Jesus.'

Then, again, we have His manhood emphasised when His sympathy is to be
commended to our hearts. 'The great High Priest, who is passed into the
heavens' is '_Jesus_' ... 'who was in all points tempted like as we
are.' To every sorrowing soul, to all men burdened with heavy tasks,
unwelcome duties, pains and sorrows of the imagination, or of the
heart, or of memory, or of physical life, or of circumstances--to all
there comes the thought, 'Every ill that flesh is heir to' He knows by
experience, and in the Man Jesus we find not only the pity of a God,
but the sympathy of a Brother.

When one of our princes goes for an afternoon into the slums in East
London, everybody says, and says deservedly, 'right!' and 'princely!'
_This_ prince has learned pity in 'the huts where poor men lie,' and
knows by experience all their squalor and misery. The Man Jesus is the
sympathetic Priest. The Rabbis, who did not usually see very far into
the depth of things, yet caught a wonderful glimpse when they said:
'Messias will be found sitting outside the gate of the city _amongst
the lepers_.' That _is_ where He sits; and the perfectness of His
sympathy, and the completeness of His identification of Himself with
all our tears and our sorrows, are taught us when we read that our High
Priest is not merely Christ the Official, but Jesus the Man.

And then we find such words as these: 'If we believe that _Jesus_ died
and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring
with Him': I think any one that reads with sympathy must feel how very
much closer to our hearts that consolation comes, 'Jesus rose again,'
than even the mighty word which the Apostle uses on another occasion,
'Christ is risen from the dead.' The one tells us of the risen
Redeemer, the other tells us of the risen Brother. And wherever there
are sorrowing souls, enduring loss and following their dear ones into
the darkness with yearning hearts, they are comforted when they feel
that the beloved dead lie down beside their Brother, and with their
Brother they shall rise again.

So, again, most strikingly, and yet somewhat singularly, in the words
of Scripture which paint most loftily the exaltation of the risen
Saviour to the right hand of God, and His wielding of absolute power
and authority, it is the old human name that is used; as if the writers
would bind together the humiliation and the exaltation, and were
holding up hands of wonder at the thought that a Man had risen thus to
the Throne of the Universe. What an emphasis and glow of hope there is
in such words as these: 'We see not yet all things put under Him, but
we see _Jesus_'--the very Man that was here with us--'crowned with
glory and honour.' So in the Book of the Revelation the chosen name for
Him who sits amidst the glories of the heavens, and settles the
destinies of the universe, and orders the course of history, is Jesus.
As if the Apostle would assure us that the face which looked down upon
him from amidst the blaze of the glory was indeed the face that he knew
long ago upon earth, and the breast that 'was girded with a golden
girdle' was the breast upon which he so often had leaned his happy head.

So the ties that bind us to the Man Jesus should be the human bonds
that knit us to one another, transferred to Him and purified and
strengthened. All that we have failed to find in men we can find in
Him. Human wisdom has its limits, but here is a Man whose word is
truth, who is Himself the truth. Human love is sometimes hollow, often
impotent; it looks down upon us, as a great thinker has said, like the
Venus of Milo, that lovely statue, smiling in pity, but it has no arms.
But here is a love that is mighty to help, and on which we can rely
without disappointment or loss. Human excellence is always limited and
imperfect, but here is One whom we may imitate and be pure. So let us
do like that poor woman in the Gospel story--bring our precious
alabaster box of ointment--the love of these hearts of ours, which is
the most precious thing we have to give. The box of ointment that we
have so often squandered upon unworthy heads--let us come and pour it
upon His, not unmingled with our tears, and anoint Him, our beloved and
our King. This Man has loved each of us with a brother's heart; let us
love Him with all our hearts.

II. So much for the first name. The second--'Christ'--is the name of
office, and brings to us a Redeemer.

I need not dwell at any length upon the original significance and force
of the name; it is familiar, of course, to us all. It stands as a
transference into Greek of the Hebrew Messias; the one and the other
meaning, as we all know, the 'Anointed.' But what is the meaning of
claiming for Jesus that He is anointed? A sentence will answer the
question. It means that He fulfils all which the inspired imagination
of the great ones of the past had seen in that dim Figure that rose
before prophet and psalmist. It means that He is anointed or inspired
by the divine indwelling to be Prophet, Priest, and King all over the
world. It means that He is--though the belief had faded away from the
minds of His generation--a sufferer whilst a Prince, and appointed to
'turn away unrighteousness' from the world, and not from 'Jacob' only,
by a sacrifice and a death.

I cannot see less in the contents of the Jewish idea, the prophetic
idea, of the Messias, than these points: divine inspiration or
anointing; a sufferer who is to redeem; the fulfiller of all the
rapturous visions of psalmist and of prophet in the past.

And so, when Peter stood up amongst that congregation of wondering
strangers and scowling Pharisees, and said, 'The Man that died on the
Cross, the Rabbi-peasant from half-heathen Galilee, is the Person to
whom Law and Prophets have been pointing,'--no wonder that no one
believed him except those whose hearts were touched, for it is never
possible for the common mind, at any epoch, to believe that a man who
stands beside them is very much bigger than themselves. Great men have
always to die, and get a halo of distance around them, before their
true stature can be seen.

And now two remarks are all I can afford myself upon this point, and
one is this: the hearty recognition of His Messiahship is the centre of
all discipleship. The earliest and the simplest Christian creed, which
yet--like the little brown roll in which the infant beech-leaves lie
folded up--contains in itself all the rest, was this: 'Jesus is
Christ.' Although it is no part of my business to say how much
imperfection and confusion of head comprehension may co-exist with a
heart acceptance of Jesus that saves a soul from sin, yet I cannot in
faithfulness to my own convictions conceal my belief that he who
contents himself with 'Jesus' and does not grasp 'Christ' has cast away
the most valuable and characteristic part of the Christianity which he
professes. Surely a most simple inference is that a _Christian_ is at
least a man who recognises the Christship of Jesus. And I press that
upon you, my friends. It is not enough for the sustenance of your own
souls and for the cultivation of a vigorous religious life that men
should admire, howsoever profoundly and deeply, the humanity of the
Lord unless that humanity leads them on to see the office of the
Messiah to whom their whole hearts cleave. 'Jesus is the Christ' is the
minimum Christian creed.

And then, still further, let me remind you how the recognition of Jesus
as Christ is essential to giving its full value to the facts of the
manhood. 'Jesus died!' Yes. What then? What is that to me? Is that all
that I have to say? If His is simply a human death, like all others, I
want to know what makes the story of it a Gospel. I want to know what
more interest I have in it than I have in the death of Socrates, or in
the death of any man or woman whose name was in the obituary column of
yesterday's newspaper. 'Jesus died.' That is a fact. What is wanted to
turn the fact into a gospel? That I shall know who it was that died,
and why He died. 'I declare unto you the gospel which I preach,' Paul
says, 'how that _Christ_ died for our sins, according to the
Scriptures.' The belief that the death of Jesus was the death of the
Christ is needful in order that it shall be the means of my deliverance
from the burden of sin. If it be only the death of Jesus, it is
beautiful, pathetic, as many another martyr's has been, but if it be
the death of Christ, then 'my faith can lay her hand' on that great
Sacrifice 'and know her guilt was there.'

So in regard to His perfect example. If we only see His manhood when we
are 'looking unto Jesus,' the contemplation of His perfection would be
as paralysing as spectacles of supreme excellence usually are. But when
we can say, '_Christ_ also suffered for us, leaving us an example,' and
so can deepen the thought of His Manhood into that of His Messiahship,
and the conception of His work as example into that of His work as
sacrifice, we can hope that His divine power will dwell in us to mould
our lives to the likeness of His human life of perfect obedience.

So in regard to His Resurrection and glorious Ascension to the right
hand of God. We have not only to think of the solitary man raised from
the grave and caught up to the throne. If it were only 'Jesus' who rose
and ascended, His Resurrection and Ascension might be as much to us as
the raising of Lazarus, or the rapture of Elijah--namely, a
demonstration that death did not destroy conscious being, and that a
man could rise to heaven; but they would be no more. But if '_Christ_
is risen from the dead,' He is 'become the first-fruits of them that
slept.' If _Jesus_ has gone up on high, others may or may not follow in
His train. He may show that manhood is not incapable of elevation to
heaven, but has no power to draw others up after Him. But if _Christ_
is gone up, He is gone to prepare a place for us, not to fill a
solitary throne, and His Ascension is the assurance that He will lift
us too to dwell with Him and share His triumph over death and sin.

Most of the blessedness and beauty of His Example, all the mystery and
meaning of His Death, and all the power of His Resurrection, depend on
the fact that 'it is _Christ_ that died, yea rather, that is risen
again, who is even at the right hand of God.'

III. 'The Lord' is the name of dignity and brings before us the King.

There are three grades, so to speak, of dignity expressed by this one
word 'Lord' in the New Testament. The lowest is that in which it is
almost the equivalent of our own English title of respectful courtesy,
'Sir,' in which sense it is often used in the Gospels, and applied to
our Lord as to many other of the persons there. The second is that in
which it expresses dignity and authority--and in that sense it is
frequently applied to Christ. The third and highest is that in which it
is the equivalent of the Old Testament 'Lord,' as a divine name; in
which sense also it is applied to Christ in the New Testament.

The first and last of these may be left out of consideration now: the
central one is the meaning of the word here. I have only time to touch
upon two thoughts--to connect this name of dignity first with one and
then with the other of the two names that we have already considered.

Jesus is Lord, that is to say, wonderful as it is, His manhood is
exalted to supreme dignity. It is the teaching of the New Testament,
that in Jesus, the Child of Mary, our nature sits on the throne of the
universe and rules over all things. Those rude herdsmen, brothers of
Joseph, who came into Pharaoh's palace--strange contrast to their
tents!--there found their brother ruling over that ancient and highly
civilised land! We have the Man Jesus for the Lord over all. Trust His
dominion and rejoice in His rule, and bow before His authority. Jesus
is Lord.

Christ is Lord. That is to say: His sovereign authority and dominion
are built upon the fact of His being Deliverer, Redeemer, Sacrifice.
His Kingdom is a Kingdom that rests upon His suffering. 'Wherefore God
also hath exalted Him, and given Him a Name that is above every name.'

It is because He wears a vesture dipped in blood, that 'on the vesture
is the name written "King of kings, and Lord of lords."' It is 'because
He shall deliver the needy when he crieth,' as the prophetic psalm has
it, that 'all kings shall fall down before Him and all nations shall
serve Him.' Because He has given His life for the world He is the
Master of the World. His humanity is raised to the throne because His
humanity stooped to the cross. As long as men's hearts can be touched
by absolute unselfish surrender, and as long as they can know the
blessedness of responsive surrender, so long will He who gave Himself
for the world be the Sovereign of the world, and the First-born from
the dead be the Prince of all the kings of the earth.

And so, dear friends, our thoughts to-day all point to this lesson--do
not you content yourselves with a maimed Christ. Do not tarry in the
Manhood; do not think it enough to cherish reverence for the nobility
of His soul, the gentle wisdom of His words, the beauty of His
character, the tenderness of His compassion. All these will be
insufficient for your needs. There is more in His mission than
these--even His death for you and for all men. Take Him for your Christ,
but do not lose the Person in the Work, any more than you lose the work in
the Person. And be not content with an intellectual recognition of Him,
but bring Him the faith which cleaves to Him and His work as its only
hope and peace, and the love which, because of His work as Christ,
flows out to the beloved Person who has done it all. Thus loving Jesus
and trusting Christ, you will bring obedience to your Lord and homage
to your King, and learn the sweetness and power of 'the name that is
above every name'--the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

May we all be able, with clear and unfaltering conviction of our
understandings and loving affiance of our whole souls, to repeat as our
own the grand words in which so many centuries have proclaimed their
faith--words which shed a spell of peacefulness over stormy lives, and
fling a great light of hope into the black jaws of the grave: 'I
believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord!'



A FOURFOLD CORD

'And they continued stedfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and
fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.'--ACTS ii. 42.

The Early Church was not a pattern for us, and the idea of its greatly
superior purity is very largely a delusion. But still, though that be
true, the occasional glimpses that we get at intervals in the early
chapters of this Book of the Acts of the Apostles do present a very
instructive and beautiful picture of what a Christian society may be,
and therefore of what Christian Churches and Christian individuals
ought to be.

The words that I have read, however, are not the description of the
demeanour of the whole community, but of that portion of it which had
been added so swiftly to the original nucleus on the Day of Pentecost.
Think, on the morning of that day 'the number of the names was one
hundred and twenty,' on the evening of that day it was three thousand
over that number--a sufficiently swift and large increase to have
swamped the original nucleus, unless there had been a great power of
assimilation to itself lodged in that little body. These new converts
held to the Apostolic 'doctrine' and 'fellowship,' and to 'breaking of
bread' and to 'prayers,' and so became homogeneous with the others, and
all worked to one end.

Now, these four points which are signalised in this description may
well afford us material for consideration. They give us the ideal of a
Church's inner life, which in the divine order should precede, and be
the basis of, a Church's work in the world. But, while we speak of an
ideal for a Church, let us not forget that it is realised only by the
lives of individuals being conformed to it.

I. The first point, which is fundamental to all the others, is 'They
continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine.'

An earnest desire after fuller knowledge is the basis of all healthy
Christian life. We cannot realise, without a great effort, the
ignorance of these new converts. 'Parthians and Medes and Elamites,'
and Jews gathered from every corner of the Roman world, they had come
up to Jerusalem, and the bulk of them knew no more about Christ and
Christianity than what they picked up out of Peter's sermon on the Day
of Pentecost. But that was enough to change their hearts and their
wills and to lead them to a real faith. And though the _contents_ of
their faith were very incomplete, the _power_ of their faith was very
great. For there is no necessary connection between the amount believed
and the grasp with which it is held. Believing, they were eager for
more light to be poured on to their half-seeing eyes. They had no
Gospels, they had no written record, they had no means of learning
anything about the faith which they were now professing except
listening to one or other of the original Eleven, with the addition of
any of the other 'old disciples'--that is, _early_ disciples--who might
perchance have equal claims to be listened to as 'witnesses from the
beginning.' We shall very much misunderstand the meaning of the words
here, if we suppose that these novices were dosed with theological
instruction, or that 'the Apostles' doctrine' consisted of such fully
developed truths as we find later on in Paul's writings. If you will
look at the first sermons that Peter is recorded as having delivered,
in the early chapters of the Acts, you will find that he by no means
enunciates a definite theology such as he unfolds in his later Epistle.
There is no word about the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ; His
designation is 'Thy holy child Jesus.' There is no word about the
atoning nature of Christ's sacrifice; His death is simply the great
crime of the Jewish people, and His Resurrection the great divine fact
witnessing to the truth of His Messiahship. All that which we now
regard, and rightly regard, as the very centre and living focus of
divine truth was but beginning to shine out on the Apostles' minds, or
rather to gather itself into form, and to shape itself by slow degrees
into propositions. 'The Apostles' teaching'--for 'doctrine' does not
convey to modern ears what Luke meant by the word--must have been very
largely, if not exclusively, of the same kind as is preserved to us in
the four Gospels, and especially in the first three of them. The
recital to these listeners, to whom it was all so fresh and strange and
transcendent, of the story that has become worn and commonplace to us
by its familiarity, of Christ in His birth, Christ in His gentleness,
Christ in His deeds, Christ in the deep words that the Apostles were
only beginning to understand; Christ in His Death, Resurrection, and
Ascension--these were the themes on the narration of which this company
of three thousand waited with such eagerness.

But, of course, there was necessarily involved in the story a certain
amount of what we now call doctrine--that is, theological
teaching--because one cannot tell the story of Jesus Christ, as it is
told in the four Gospels, without impressing upon the hearers the
conviction that His nature was divine and that His death was a
sacrifice. Beyond these truths we know not how far the Apostles went.
To these, perhaps, they did not at first rise. But whether they did so
or no, and although the facts that the hearers were thus eager to
receive, and treasured when they received, are the commonplaces of our
Sunday-schools, and quite uninteresting to many of us, the spirit which
marked these early converts is the spirit that must lie at the
foundation of progressive and healthy Christianity in us. The
consciousness of our own ignorance, of the great sweep of God's
revealed mind and will, the eager desire to fill up the gaps in the
circle, and to widen the diameter, of our knowledge, and the consequent
steadfastness and persistence of our continuance in the teachings--far
fuller and deeper and richer and nobler than were heard in the upper
room at Jerusalem by the first three thousand--which, through the
divine Spirit and the experience of the Church for nineteen hundred
years are available for us, ought to characterise us all.

Now, dear friends, ask yourselves the question very earnestly, Does
this desire of fuller Christian knowledge at all mark my Christian
character, and does it practically influence my Christian conduct and
life? There are thousands of men and women in all our churches who know
no more about the rich revelation of God in Jesus Christ than they did
on that day long, long ago, when first they began to apprehend that He
was the Saviour of their souls. When I sometimes get glimpses into the
utter Biblical ignorance of educated members of my own and of other
congregations, I am appalled; I do not wonder how we ministers do so
little by our preaching, when the minds of the people to whom we speak
are so largely in such a chaotic state in reference to Scriptural
truth. I believe that there is an intolerance of plain, sober,
instructive Christian teaching from the pulpit, which is one of the
worst signs of the Christianity of this generation. And I believe that
there are a terribly large number of professing Christians, and good
people after a fashion, whose Bibles are as clean to-day, except on one
or two favourite pages, as they were when they came out of the
bookseller's shop years and years ago. You will never be strong
Christians, you will never be happy ones, until you make conscience of
the study of God's Word and 'continue steadfastly in the Apostles'
teaching.' You may produce plenty of emotional Christianity, and of
busy and sometimes fussy work without it, but you will not get depth. I
sometimes think that the complaint of the writer of the Epistle to the
Hebrews might be turned upside down nowadays. He says: 'When for the
time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again
which be the first principles.' Nowadays we might say in Sunday-schools
and other places of church work: 'When for the time ye ought to be
_learners_, you have taken to teaching before you know what you are
teaching, and so neither you nor your scholars will profit much.' The
vase should be full before you begin to empty it.

Again, there ought to be, and we ought to aim after, an equable temper
of mutual brotherhood conquering selfishness.

'They continued in the Apostles' doctrine and in fellowship.'
'Fellowship' here, as I take it, applies to community of feeling. A
verse or two afterwards it is applied to community of goods, but we
have nothing to do with that subject at present. What is meant is that
these three thousand, as was most natural, cut off altogether from
their ancient associations, finding themselves at once separated by a
great gulf from their nation and its hopes and its religion, were
driven together as sheep are when wolves are prowling around. And,
being individually weak, they held on by one another, so that many
weaknesses might make a strength, and glimmering embers raked together
might break into a flame.

Now, all these circumstances, or almost all of them, that drove the
primitive believers together, are at an end, and the tendencies of this
day are rather to drive Christian people apart than to draw them
together. Differences of position, occupation, culture, ways of looking
at things, views of Christian truth and the like, all come powerfully
in to the reinforcement of the natural selfishness which tempts us all,
unless the grace of God overcomes it. Although we do not want any
hysterical or histrionic presentation of Christian sympathy and
brotherhood, we do need--far more than any of us have awakened to the
consciousness of the need--for the health of our own souls we need to
make definite efforts to cultivate more of that sense of Christian
brotherhood with all that hold the same Lord Christ, and to realise
this truth: that they and we, however separate, are nearer one another
than are we and those nearest to us who do not share in our Christian
faith.

I do not dwell upon this point. It is one on which it is easy to gush,
and it has got a bad name because there has been so much unreal and
sickly talk about it. But if any Christian man will honestly try to
cultivate the brotherly feeling which my text suggests, and to which
our common relation to Jesus Christ binds us, and will try it in
reference to _A_, _B_, or _C_, whom he does not much like, with whose
ways he has no kind of sympathy, whom he believes to be a heretic, and
who perhaps returns the belief about him with interest, he will find it
is a pretty sharp test of his Christian principle. Let us be real, at
any rate, and not pretend to have more love than we really have in our
hearts. And let us remember that 'he that loveth Him that begat, loveth
Him also that is begotten of Him.'

II. Another characteristic which comes out in the words before us is
the blending of worship with life.

'They continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine ... and in
breaking of bread.' Commentators who can only see one thing at a
time--and there are a good many of that species--have got up great
discussions as to whether this phrase means eating ordinary meals or
partaking of the Lord's Supper. I venture to say it means both,
because, clearly enough, in the beginning, the common meal was hallowed
by what we now call the Lord's Supper being associated with it, and
every day's evening repast was eaten 'in remembrance of Him.'

So, naturally, and without an idea of anything awful or sacred about
the rite, the first Christians, when they went home after a hard day's
work and sat down to take their own suppers, blessed the bread and the
wine, and whether they ate or drank, did the one and the other 'in
remembrance of Him.'

The gradual growth of the sentiment attaching to the Lord's Supper,
until it reached the portentous height of regarding it as a 'tremendous
sacrifice' which could only be administered by priests with ordained
hands in Apostolic succession, can be partly traced even in New
Testament times. The Lord's Supper began as an appendage to, or rather
as a heightening of, the evening meal, and at first, as this chapter
tells us in a subsequent verse, was observed day by day. Then, before
the epoch of the Acts of the Apostles is ended, we find it has become a
weekly celebration, and forms part of the service on the first day of
the week. But even when the observance had ceased to be daily, the
association with an ordinary meal continued, and that led to the
disorders at Corinth which Paul rebuked, and which would have been
impossible if later ideas of the Lord's Supper had existed then.

The history of the transformation of that simple Supper into 'the
bloodless sacrifice' of the Mass, and all the mischief consequent
thereon, does not concern us now. But it does concern us to note that
these first believers hallowed common things by doing them, and common
food by partaking of it, with the memory of His great sacrifice in
their minds. The poorest fare, the coarsest bread, the sourest wine, on
the humblest table, became a memorial of that dear Lord. Religion and
life, the domestic and the devout, were so closely braided together
that when a household sat at table it was both a family and a church;
and while they were eating their meat for the strength of their body,
they were partaking of the memorial of their dying Lord.

Is your house like that? Is your daily life like that? Do you bring the
sacred and the secular as close together as that? Are the dying words
of your Master, 'This do in remembrance of Me,' written by you over
everything you do? And so is all life worship, and all worship hope?

III. The last thing here is habitual devotion.

I suppose the disciples had no forms of set Christian prayers. They
still used the Jewish liturgy, for we read that 'they continued daily
with one accord in the Temple.' I am sure that no two things can be
less like one another than the worship of the primitive Church and the
worship, say, of one of our congregations. Did you ever try to paint
for yourselves, for instance, the scene described in the First Epistle
to the Corinthians? When they came together in their meetings for
worship, 'every one had a psalm, a doctrine, an interpretation.' 'Let
the prophets speak, by ones, or at most by twos'; and if another gets
up to interrupt, let the first speaker sit down. Paul goes on to say,
'Let all things be done decently and in order.' So there must have been
tendencies to disorder, and much at which some of our modern
ecclesiastical martinets would have been very much scandalised as
'unbecoming.' Wise men are in no haste to change forms. Forms change of
themselves when their users change; but it would be a good day for
Christendom if the faith and devoutness of a community of believers
such as we, for instance, profess to be, were so strong and so
demanding expression as that, instead of my poor voice continually
sounding here, every one of you had a psalm or a doctrine, and every
one of you were able and impelled to speak out of the fulness of the
Spirit which God poured into you. It will come some day; it must come
if Christendom is not to die of its own dignity. But we do not need to
hurry matters, only let us remember that unless a Church continues
steadfast in prayer it is worth very little.

Now, dear brethren, it is said about us Free Churchmen that we think a
great deal too much of preaching and a great deal too little of the
prayers of the congregation. That is a stock criticism. I am bound to
say that there is a grain of truth in it, and that there is not, with
too many of our congregations, as lofty a conception of the power and
blessedness of the united prayers of the congregation as there ought to
be, or else you would not hear about 'introductory services.'
Introductory to what? Do we speak to God merely by way of preface to
one of us talking to his brethren? Is that the proper order? 'They
continued steadfastly in the Apostles' teaching,' no doubt; but also
'steadfastly in prayer.' I pray you to try to make this picture of the
Pentecostal converts the ideal of your own lives, and to do your best
to help forward the time when it shall be the reality in this church,
and in every other society of professing Christians.



A PURE CHURCH AN INCREASING CHURCH

'And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.'--ACTS
ii. 47.

'And the Lord added to them day by day those that were being
saved.'--(R. V.)

You observe that the principal alterations of these words in the
Revised Version are two: the one the omission of 'the church,' the
other the substitution of 'were being saved' for 'such as should be
saved.' The former of these changes has an interest as suggesting that
at the early period referred to the name of 'the church' had not yet
been definitely attached to the infant community, and that the word
afterwards crept into the text at a time when ecclesiasticism had
become a great deal stronger than it was at the date of the writing of
the Acts of the Apostles. The second of the changes is of more
importance. The Authorised Version's rendering suggests that salvation
is a future thing, which in one aspect is partially true. The Revised
Version, which is also by far the more literally accurate, suggests the
other idea, that salvation is a process going on all through the course
of a Christian man's life. And that carries very large and important
lessons.

I. I ask you to notice here, first, the profound conception which the
writer had of the present action of the ascended Christ. 'The Lord
added to them day by day those that were being saved.'

Then Christ (for it is He that is here spoken of as the Lord), the
living, ascended Christ, was present in, and working with, that little
community of believing souls. You will find that the thought of a
present Saviour, who is the life-blood of the Church on earth, and the
spring of action for all good that is done in it and by it, runs
through the whole of this Book of the Acts of the Apostles. The keynote
is struck in its first verses: 'The former treatise have I made, O
Theophilus, of all that Jesus began to do and to teach, until the day
in which He was taken up.' That is the description of Luke's Gospel,
and it implies that the Acts of the Apostles is the _second_ treatise,
which tells all that Jesus continued to do and teach _after_ that He
was taken up. So the Lord, the ascended Christ, is the true theme and
hero of this book. It is He, for instance, who sends down the Spirit on
the Day of Pentecost. It is He whom the dying martyr sees 'standing at
the right hand of God,' ready to help. It is He who appears to the
persecutor on the road to Damascus. It is He who sends Paul and his
company to preach in Europe. It is He who opens hearts for the
reception of their message. It is He who stands by the Apostle in a
vision, and bids him 'be of good cheer,' and go forth upon his work.
Thus, at every crisis in the history of the Church, it is the
Lord--that is to say, Christ Himself--who is revealed as working in
them and for them, the ascended but yet ever-present Guide, Counsellor,
Inspirer, Protector, and Rewarder of them that put their trust in Him.
So here it is He that 'adds to the Church daily them that were being
saved.'

I believe, dear brethren, that modern Christianity has far too much
lost the vivid impression of this present Christ as actually dwelling
and working among us. What is good in us and what is bad in us conspire
to make us think more of the past work of an ascended Christ than of
the present work of an indwelling Christ. We cannot think too much of
that Cross by which He has laid the foundation for the salvation and
reconciliation of all the world; but we may easily think too
exclusively of it, and so fix our thoughts upon that work which He
completed when on Calvary He said, 'It is finished!' as to forget the
continual work which will never be finished until His Church is
perfected, and the world is redeemed. If we are a Church of Christ at
all, we have Christ in very deed among us, and working through us and
on us. And unless we have, in no mystical and unreal and metaphorical
sense, but in the simplest and yet grandest prose reality, that living
Saviour here in our hearts and in our fellowship, better that these
walls were levelled with the ground, and this congregation scattered to
the four winds of heaven. The present Christ is the life of His Church.

Notice, and that but for a moment, for I shall have to deal with it
more especially at another part of this discourse,--the specific action
which is here ascribed to Him. _He_ adds to the Church, not _we_, not
our preaching, not our eloquence, our fervour, our efforts. These may
be the weapons in His hands, but the hand that wields the weapon gives
it all its power to wound and to heal, and it is Christ Himself who, by
His present energy, is here represented as being the Agent of all the
good that is done by any Christian community, and the Builder-up of His
Churches, in numbers and in power.

It is His will for, His ideal of, a Christian Church, that continuously
it should be gathering into its fellowship those that are being saved.
That is His meaning in the establishment of His Church upon earth, and
that is His will concerning it and concerning us, and the question
should press on every society of Christians: Does our reality
correspond to Christ's ideal? Are we, as a portion of His great
heritage, being continually replenished by souls that come to tell what
God has done for them? Is there an unbroken flow of such into what we
call our communion? I speak to you members of this church, and I ask
you to ponder the question,--Is it so? and the other question, If it is
not so, wherefore? 'The Lord added daily,'--why does not the Lord add
daily to us?

II. Let us go to the second part of this text, and see if we can find
an answer. Notice how emphatically there is brought out here the
attractive power of an earnest and pure Church.

My text is the end of a sentence. What is the beginning of the
sentence? Listen,--'All that believed were together, and had all things
common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all
men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord
in the Temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their
meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having
favour with all the people. And the Lord added.' Yes; of course.
Suppose you were like these people. Suppose this church and
congregation bore stamped upon it, plain and deep as the broad arrow of
the king, these characteristics--manifest fraternal unity, plain
unselfish unworldliness, habitual unbroken devotion, gladness which had
in it the solemnity of Heaven, and a transparent simplicity of life and
heart, which knew nothing of by-ends and shabby, personal motives or
distracting duplicity of purpose--do you not think that the Lord would
add to you daily such as should be saved? Or, to put it into other
words, wherever there is a little knot of men obviously held together
by a living Christ, and obviously manifesting in their lives and
characters the likeness of that Christ transforming and glorifying
them, there will be drawn to them--by natural gravitation, I was going
to say, but we may more correctly say, by the gravitation which is
natural in the supernatural realm--souls that have been touched by the
grace of the Lord, and souls to whom that grace has been brought the
nearer by looking upon _them_. Wherever there is inward vigour of life
there will be outward growth; and the Church which is pure, earnest,
living will be a Church which spreads and increases.

Historically, it has always been the case that in God's Church seasons
of expansion have followed upon seasons of deepened spiritual life on
the part of His people. And the only kind of growth which is wholesome,
and to be desired in a Christian community, is growth as a consequence
of the revived religiousness of the individuals who make up the
community.

And just in like manner as such a community will draw to it men who are
like-minded, so it will repel from it all the formalist people. There
are congregations that have the stamp of worldliness so deep upon them
that any persons who want to be burdened with as little religion as may
be respectable will find themselves at home there. And I come to you
Christian people here, for whose Christian character I am in some sense
and to some degree responsible, with this appeal: Do you see to it
that, so far as your influence extends, this community of ours be such
as that half-dead Christians will never think of coming near us, and
those whose religion is tepid will be repelled from us, but that they
who love the Lord Jesus Christ with earnest devotion and lofty
consecration, and seek to live unworldly and saint-like lives, shall
recognise in us men like-minded, and from whom they may draw help. I
beseech you--if you will not misunderstand the expression--make your
communion such that it will repel as well as attract; and that people
will find nothing here to draw them to an easy religion of words and
formalism, beneath which all vermin of worldliness and selfishness may
lurk, but will recognise in us a church of men and women who are bent
upon holiness, and longing for more and more conformity to the divine
Master.

Now, if all this be true, it is possible for worldly and stagnant
communities calling themselves 'Churches' to thwart Christ's purpose,
and to make it both impossible and undesirable that He should add to
them souls for whom He has died. It is a solemn thing to feel that we
may clog Christ's chariot-wheels, that there may be so little spiritual
life in us, as a congregation, that, if I may so say, He dare not
intrust us with the responsibility of guarding and keeping the young
converts whom He loves and tends. We may not be fit to be trusted with
them, and that may be why we do not get them. It may not be good for
them that they should be dropped into the refrigerating atmosphere of
such a church, and that may be why they do not come.

Depend upon it, brethren, that, far more than my preaching, your lives
will determine the expansion of this church of ours. And if my
preaching is pulling one way and your lives the other, and I have half
an hour a week for talk and you have seven days for contradictory life,
which of the two do you think is likely to win in the tug? I beseech
you, take the words that I am now trying to speak, to yourselves. Do
not pass them to the man in the next pew and think how well they fit
him, but accept them as needed by you. And remember, that just as a bit
of sealing-wax, if you rub it on your sleeve and so warm it, develops
an attractive power, the Church which is warmed will draw many to
itself. If the earlier words of this context apply to any Christian
community, then certainly its blessed promise too will apply to it, and
to such a church the Lord will 'add day by day them that are being
saved.'

III. And now, lastly, observe the definition given here of the class of
persons gathered into the community.

I have already observed, in the earlier portion of this discourse, that
here we have salvation represented as a process, a progressive thing
which runs on all through life. In the New Testament there are various
points of view from which that great idea of salvation is represented.
It is sometimes spoken of as past, in so far as in the definite act of
conversion and the first exercise of faith in Jesus Christ the whole
subsequent evolution and development are involved, and the process of
salvation has its beginning then, when a man turns to God. It is
sometimes spoken of as present, in so far as the joy of deliverance
from evil and possession of good, which is God, is realised day by day.
It is sometimes spoken of as future, in so far as all the imperfect
possession and pre-libations of salvation which we taste here on earth
prophesy and point onwards to their own perfecting in the climax of
heaven. But all these three points of view, past, present, and future,
may be merged into this one of my text, which speaks of every saint on
earth, from the infantile to the most mature, as standing in the same
row, though at different points; walking on the same road, though
advanced different distances; all participant of the same process of
'being saved.'

Through all life the deliverance goes on, the deliverance from sin, the
deliverance from wrath. The Christian salvation, then, according to the
teaching of this emphatic phrase, is a process begun at conversion,
carried on progressively through the life, and reaching its climax in
another state. Day by day, through the spring and the early summer, the
sun shines longer in the sky, and rises higher in the heavens; and the
path of the Christian is as the shining light. Last year's greenwood is
this year's hardwood; and the Christian, in like manner, has to 'grow
in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Saviour.' So these
progressively, and, therefore, as yet imperfectly, saved people, were
gathered into the Church.

Now I have but two things to say about that. If that be the description
of the kind of folk that come into a Christian Church, the duties of
that Church are very plainly marked. And the first great one is to see
to it that the community help the growth of its members. There are
Christian Churches--I do not say whether ours is one of them or
not--into which, if a young plant is brought, it is pretty sure to be
killed. The temperature is so low that the tender shoots are nipped as
with frost, and die. I have seen people, coming all full of fervour and
of faith, into Christian congregations, and finding that the average
round them was so much lower than their own, that they have cooled down
after a time to the fashionable temperature, and grown indifferent like
their brethren. Let us, dear friends, remember that a Christian Church
is a nursery of imperfect Christians, and, for ourselves and for one
another, try to make our communion such as shall help shy and tender
graces to unfold themselves, and woo out, by the encouragement of
example, the lowest and the least perfect to lofty holiness and
consecration like the Master's.

And if I am speaking to any in this congregation who hold aloof from
Christian fellowship for more or less sufficient reasons, let me press
upon them, in one word, that if they are conscious of a possession,
however imperfect, of that incipient salvation, their place is thereby
determined, and they are doing wrong if they do not connect themselves
with some Christian Communion, and stand forth as members of Christ's
Church.

And now one last word. I have tried to show you that salvation, in the
New Testament, is regarded as a process. The opposite thing is a
process too. There is a very awful contrast in one of Paul's Epistles.
'The preaching of the Cross is to them _who are in the act of
perishing_ foolishness; unto us who are _being saved_, it is the power
of God.' These two processes start, as it were, from the same point,
one by slow degrees and almost imperceptible motion, rising higher and
higher, the other, by slow degrees and almost unconscious descent,
sliding steadily and fatally downward ever further and further. And my
point now is that in each of us one or other of these processes is
going on. Either you are slowly rising or you are slipping down. Either
a larger measure of the life of Christ, which is salvation, is passing
into your hearts, or bit by bit you are dying like some man with
creeping paralysis that begins at the extremities, and with fell,
silent, inexorable footstep, advances further and further towards the
citadel of the heart, where it lays its icy hand at last, and the man
is dead. You are either 'being saved' or you are 'perishing.' No man
becomes a devil all at once, and no man becomes an angel all at once.
Trust yourself to Christ, and He will lift you to Himself; turn your
back upon Him, as some of you are doing, and you will settle down,
down, down in the muck and the mire of your own sensuality and
selfishness, until at last the foul ooze spreads over your head, and
you are lost in the bog for ever.



'THEN SHALL THE LAME MAN LEAP AS AN HART'

'Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of
prayer, being the ninth hour. 2. And a certain man lame from his
mother's womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the
temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into
the temple; 3. Who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple,
asked an alms. 4. And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him, with John,
said, Look on us. 5. And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive
something of them. 6. Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but
such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth
rise up and walk. 7. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him
up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. 8. And
he leaping up, stood, and walked, and entered with them into the
temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. 9. And all the people
saw him walking and praising God: 10. And they knew that it was he
which sat for alms at the Beautiful gate of the temple: and they were
filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened unto him.
11. And as the lame man which was healed held Peter and John, all the
people ran together unto them in the porch that is called Solomon's,
greatly wondering. 12. And when Peter saw it, he answered unto the
people, Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so
earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made
this man to walk? 13. The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob,
the God of our fathers, hath glorified His Son Jesus; whom ye delivered
up, and denied Him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to
let Him go. 14. But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a
murderer to be granted unto you; 15. And killed the Prince of Life,
whom God hath raised from the dead, whereof we are witnesses. 16. And
His name through faith in His name hath made this man strong, whom ye
see and know; yea, the faith which is by Him hath given him this
perfect soundness in the presence of you all.'--ACTS iii. 1-16.

'Many wonders and signs were done by the Apostles' (Acts ii. 43), but
this one is recorded in detail, both because it was conspicuous as
wrought in the Temple, and because it led to weighty consequences. The
narrative is so vivid and full of minute particulars that it suggests
an eye-witness. Was Peter Luke's informant? The style of the story is
so like that of Mark's Gospel that we might reasonably presume so.

The scene and the persons are first set before us. It was natural that
a close alliance should be cemented between Peter and John, both
because they were the principal members of the quartet which stood
first among the Apostles, and because they were so unlike each other,
and therefore completed each other. Peter's practical force and eye for
externals, and John's more contemplative nature and eye for the unseen,
needed one another. So we find them together in the judgment hall, at
the sepulchre, and here.

They 'went up to the Temple,' or, to translate more exactly and more
picturesquely, 'were going up,' when the incident to be recorded stayed
them. They had passed through the court, and came to a gate leading
into the inner court, which was called 'Beautiful.' from its artistic
excellence, when they were arrested by the sight of a lame beggar, who
had been carried there every day for many years to appeal, by the
display of his helplessness, to the entering worshippers. Precisely
similar sights may be seen to-day at the doors of many a famous
European church and many a mosque. He mechanically wailed out his
formula, apparently scarcely looking at the two strangers, nor
expecting a response. Long habit and many rebuffs had not made him
hopeful, but it was his business to ask, and so he asked.

Some quick touch of pity shot through the two friends' hearts, which
did not need to be spoken in order that each might feel it to be shared
by the other. So they paused, and, as was in keeping with their
characters, Peter took speech in hand, while John stood by assenting.
Purposed devotion is well delayed when postponed in order to lighten
misery.

There must have been something magnetic in Peter's voice and steady
gaze as he said, 'Look on us!' It was a strange preface, if only some
small coin was to follow. It kindled some flicker of hope of he knew
not what in the beggar. He expected to receive 'something' from them,
and, no doubt, was asking himself what. Expectation and receptivity
were being stirred in him, though he could not divine what was coming.
We have no right to assume that his state of mind was operative in
fitting him to be cured, nor to call his attitude 'faith,' but still he
was lifted from his usual dreary hopelessness, and some strange
anticipation was creeping into his heart.

Then comes the grand word of power. Again Peter is spokesman, but John
takes part, though silently. With a fixed gaze, which told of
concentrated purpose, and went to the lame man's heart, Peter
triumphantly avows what most men are ashamed of, and try to hide:
'Silver and gold have I none.' He had 'left all and followed Christ';
he had not made demands on the common stock. Empty pockets may go along
with true wealth.

There is a fine flash of exultant confidence in Peter's next words,
which is rather spoiled by the Authorised Version. He did not say
'_such_ as I have,' as it it was inferior to money, which he had not,
but he said '_what_ I have' (Rev. Ver.),--a very different tone. The
expression eloquently magnifies the power which he possessed as far
more precious than wealth, and it speaks of his assurance that he did
possess it--an assurance which rested, not only on his faith in his
Lord's promise and gift, but on his experience in working former
miracles.

How deep his words go into the obligations of possession! 'What I have
I give' should be the law for all Christians in regard to all that they
have, and especially in regard to spiritual riches. God gives us these,
not only in order that we may enjoy them ourselves, but in order that
we may impart, and so in our measure enter into the joy of our Lord and
know the greater blessedness of giving than of receiving. How often it
has been true that a poor church has been a miracle-working church, and
that, when it could not say 'Silver and gold have I none' it has also
lost the power of saying, 'In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
walk'!

The actual miracle is most graphically narrated. With magnificent
boldness Peter rolls out his Master's name, there, in the court of the
Temple, careless who may hear. He takes the very name that had been
used in scorn, and waves it like a banner of victory. His confidence in
his possession of power was not confidence in himself, but in his Lord.
When we can peal forth the Name with as much assurance of its
miracle-working power as Peter did, we too shall be able to make the
lame walk. A faltering voice is unworthy to speak such words, and will
speak them in vain.

The process of cure is minutely described. Peter put out his hand to
help the lame man up, and, while he was doing so, power came into the
shrunken muscles and weak ankles, so that the cripple felt that he
could raise himself, and, though all passed in a moment, the last part
of his rising was his own doing, and what began with his being 'lifted
up' ended in his 'leaping up.' Then came an instant of standing still,
to steady himself and make sure of his new strength, and then he began
to walk.

The interrupted purpose of devotion could now be pursued, but with a
gladsome addition to the company. How natural is that 'walking and
leaping and praising God'! The new power seemed so delightful, so
wonderful, that sober walking did not serve. It was a strange way of
going into the Temple, but people who are borne along by the sudden joy
of new gifts beyond hope need not be expected to go quietly, and
sticklers for propriety who blamed the man's extravagance, and would
have had him pace along with sober gait and downcast eyes, like a
Pharisee, did not know what made him thus obstreperous, even in his
devout thankfulness. 'Leaping and praising God' do make a singular
combination, but before we blame, let us be sure that we understand.

One of the old manuscripts inserts a clause which brings out more
clearly that there was a pause, during which the three remained in the
Temple in prayer. It reads, 'And when Peter and John came out, he came
out with them, holding them, and they [the people] being astonished,
stood in the porch,' etc. So we have to think of the buzzing crowd,
waiting in the court for their emergence from the sanctuary. Solomon's
porch was, like the Beautiful gate, on the east side of the Temple
enclosure, and may probably have been a usual place of rendezvous for
the brethren, as it had been a resort of their Lord.

It was a great moment, and Peter, the unlearned Galilean, the former
cowardly renegade, rose at once to the occasion. Truly it was given him
in that hour what to speak. His sermon is distinguished by its
undaunted charging home the guilt of Christ's death on the nation, its
pitying recognition of the ignorance which had done the deed, and its
urgent entreaty. We here deal with its beginning only. 'Why marvel ye
at this?'--it would have been a marvel if they had not marvelled. The
thing was no marvel to the Apostle, because he believed that Jesus was
the Christ and reigned in Heaven. Miracles fall into their place and
become supremely 'natural' when we have accepted that great truth.

The fervent disavowal of their 'own power or holiness' as concerned in
the healing is more than a modest disclaimer. It leads on to the
declaration of who is the true Worker of all that is wrought for men by
the hands of Christians. That disavowal has to be constantly repeated
by us, not so much to turn away men's admiration or astonishment from
us, as to guard our own foolish hearts from taking credit for what it
may please Jesus to do by us as His tools.

The declaration of Christ as the supreme Worker is postponed till after
the solemn indictment of the nation. But the true way to regard the
miracle is set forth at once, as being God's glorifying of Jesus. Peter
employs a designation of our Lord which is peculiar to these early
chapters of Acts. He calls Him God's 'Servant,' which is a quotation of
the Messianic title in the latter part of Isaiah, 'the Servant of the
Lord.'

The fiery speaker swiftly passes to contrast God's glorifying with
Israel's rejection. The two points on which he seizes are noteworthy.
'Ye delivered Him up'; that is, to the Roman power. That was the
deepest depth of Israel's degradation. To hand over their Messiah to
the heathen,--what could be completer faithlessness to all Israel's
calling and dignity? But that was not all: 'ye denied Him.' Did Peter
remember some one else than the Jews who had done the same, and did a
sudden throb of conscious fellowship even in that sin make his voice
tremble for a moment? Israel's denial was aggravated because it was 'in
the presence of Pilate,' and had overborne his determination to release
his prisoner. The Gentile judge would rise in the judgment to condemn
them, for he had at least seen that Jesus was innocent, and they had
hounded him on to an illegal killing, which was murder as laid to his
account, but national apostasy as laid to theirs.

These were daring words to speak in the Temple to that crowd. But the
humble fisherman had been filled with the Spirit, who is the
Strengthener, and the fear of man was dead in him. If we had never
heard of Pentecost, we should need to invent something of the sort to
make intelligible the transformation of these timid folk, the first
disciples, into heroes. A dead Christ, lying in an unknown grave, could
never have inspired His crushed followers with such courage, insight,
and elastic confidence and gladness in the face of a frowning world.



'THE PRINCE OF LIFE'

'But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be
granted unto you; 15. And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath
raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.'--ACTS iii. 14, 15.

This early sermon of Peter's, to the people, is marked by a comparative
absence of the highest view of Christ's person and work. It is open to
us to take one of two explanations of that fact. We may either say that
the Apostle was but learning the full significance of the marvellous
events that had passed so recently, or we may say that he suited his
words to his audience, and did not declare all that he knew.

At the same time, we should not overlook the significance of the
Christology which it does contain. 'His child Jesus' is really a
translation of Isaiah's 'Servant of the Lord.' 'The Holy One and the
Just' is a distinct assertion of Jesus' perfect, sinless manhood, and
'the Prince of Life' plainly asserts Jesus to be the Lord and Source of
it.

Notice, too, the pathetic 'denied': was Peter thinking of the shameful
hour in his own experience? It is a glimpse into the depth of his
penitence, and the tenderness with others' sins which it had given him,
that he twice uses the word here, as if he had said 'You have done no
more than I did myself. It is not for me to heap reproaches on you. We
have been alike in sin--and I can preach forgiveness to you sinners,
because I have received it for myself.'

Notice, too, the manifold antitheses of the words. Barabbas is set
against Christ; the Holy One and the Just against a robber, the Prince
of Life against a murderer. 'You killed'--'the Prince of Life.' 'You
killed'--'God raised.'

There are here three paradoxes, three strange and contradictory things:
the paradoxes of man's perverted and fatal choice, of man's hate
bringing death to the Lord of life, and of God's love and power causing
life to come by death.

I. The paradox of man's fatal choice.

There occurs often in history a kind of irony in which the whole
tendency of a time or of a conflict is summed up in a single act, and
certainly the fact which is referred to here is one of these. Let us
put it as it would have seemed to an onlooker then, leaving out for the
moment any loftier meaning which may attach to it.

Peter's words here, thus boldly addressed to the people, are a strong
testimony to the impression which the character of Christ had made on
His contemporaries. 'The Holy One and the Just' implies moral
perfection. The whole narrative of the Crucifixion brings out that
impression. Pilate's wife speaks with awe of 'that just person.' 'Which
of you convinceth me of sin?' 'If I have done evil, bear witness of the
evil.' 'I find no fault in Him.' We may take it for granted that the
impression Jesus made among His contemporaries was, at the lowest, that
He was a pure and good man.

The nation had to choose one of two. Jesus was the one; who was the
other? A man half brigand, half rebel, who had raised some petty revolt
against Rome, more as a pretext for robbery and crime than from
patriotism, and whose hands reeked with blood. And this was the
nation's hero!

The juxtaposition throws a strong light on the people's motive for
rejecting Jesus. The rulers may have condemned Him for blasphemy, but
the people had a more practical reason, and in it no doubt the rulers
shared. It was not because He claimed to be the Messiah that they gave
Him up to Pilate, but because He would not meet their notions of what
the Messiah should be and do. If He had called them to arms, not a man
of them would have betrayed Him to Pilate, but all, or the more daring
of them, would have rallied to His standard. Their hate was the measure
of their deep disappointment with His course. If instead of showing
love and meekness, He had blown up the coals of religious hatred; if
instead of going about doing good, He had mustered the men of lawless
Galilee for a revolt, would these fawning hypocrites have dragged him
to Pilate on the charge of forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and of
claiming to be a King? Why, there was not one of them but would have
been glad to murder every tax-gatherer in Palestine, not one of them
but bore inextinguishable in his inmost heart the faith in 'one Christ
a King.' And if that meek and silent martyr had only lifted His finger,
He might have had legions of His accusers at His back, ready to sweep
Pilate and his soldiers out of Jerusalem. They saw Christ's goodness
and holiness. It did not attract them. They wanted a Messiah who would
bring them outward freedom by the use of outward weapons, and so they
all shouted 'Not this man but Barabbas!' The whole history of the
nation was condensed in that one cry--their untamable obstinacy, their
blindness to the light of God, their fierce grasp of the promises which
they did not understand, their hard worldliness, their cruel
patriotism, their unquenchable hatred of their oppressors, which was
only equalled by their unquenchable hatred of those who showed them the
only true way for deliverance.

And this strange paradox is not confined to these Jews. It is repeated
wherever Christ is presented to men. We are told that all men naturally
admire goodness, and so on. Men mostly know it when they see it, but I
doubt whether they all either admire or like it. People generally had
rather have something more outward and tangible. It is not
spiritualising this incident, but only referring it to the principle of
which it is an illustration, to ask you to see in it the fatal choice
of multitudes. Christ is set before us all, and His beauty is partially
seen but is dimmed by externals. Men's desires are fixed on gross
sensuous delights, or on success in business, or on intellectual
eminence, or on some of the thousand other visible and temporal objects
that outshine, to vulgar eyes, the less dazzling lustre of the things
unseen. They appreciate these, and make heroes of the men who have won
them. These are their ideals, but of Jesus they have little care.

And is it not true that all such competitors of His, when they lead men
to prefer them to Him, are 'murderers,' in a sadder sense than Barabbas
was? Do they not slay the souls of their admirers? Is it not but too
ghastly a reality that all who thus choose them draw down ruin on
themselves and 'love death'?

This fatal paradox is being repeated every day in the lives of
thousands. The crowds who yelled, 'Not this man but Barabbas!' were
less guilty and less mad than those who to-day cry, 'Not Jesus but
worldly wealth, or fleeting bodily delights, or gratified ambition!'

II. The paradox of Death's seeming conquest over the Lord of Life.

The word rendered 'Prince' means an originator, and hence a leader and
hence a lord. Whether Peter had yet reached a conception of the
divinity of Jesus or not, he had clearly reached a much higher one of
Him than he had attained before His death. In some sense he was
beginning to recognise that His relation to 'life' was loftier and more
mysterious than that of other men. Was it His death only that thus
elevated the disciples' thoughts of Jesus? Strange that if He died and
there an end, such a result should have followed. One would have
expected His death to have shattered their faith in Him, but somehow it
strengthened their faith. Why did they not all continue to lament, as
did the two of them on the road to Emmaus: 'We trusted that this had
been He who should have redeemed Israel'--but now we trust no more, and
our dreams are buried in His grave? Why did they not go back to Galilee
and their nets? What raised their spirits, their courage, and increased
their understanding of Him, and their faith in Him? How came His death
to be the occasion of consolidating, not of shattering, their
fellowship? How came Peter to be so sure that a man who had died was
the 'Prince of Life'? The answer, the only one psychologically
possible, is in what Peter here proclaims to unwilling ears, 'Whom God
raised from the dead.'

The fact of the Resurrection sets the fact of the Death in another
light. Meditating on these twin facts, the Death and Resurrection of
Jesus, we hear Himself speaking as He did to John in Patmos: 'I am the
Living One who became dead, and lo, I am alive for evermore!'

If we try to listen with the ears of these first hearers of Peter's
words, we shall better appreciate his daring paradox. Think of the
tremendous audacity of the claim which they make, that Jesus should be
the 'Prince of Life,' and of the strange contradiction to it which the
fact that they 'killed' Him seems to give. How could death have power
over the Prince of Life? That sounds as if, indeed, the 'sun were
turned into darkness,' or as if fire became ice. That brief clause 'ye
killed the Prince of Life' must have seemed sheer absurdity to the
hearers whose hands were still red with the blood of Jesus.

But there is another paradox here. It was strange that death should be
able to invade that Life, but it is no less strange that men should be
able to inflict it. But we must not forget that Jesus died, not because
men slew Him, but because He willed to die. The whole of the narratives
of the Crucifixion in the Gospels avoid using the word 'death.' Such
expressions as He 'gave up the ghost,' or the like, are used, implying
what is elsewhere distinctly asserted, that His death was His offering
of Himself, the result of His own volition, not of exhaustion or of
torture. Thus, even in dying, He showed Himself the Lord of Life and
the Master of Death. Men indeed fastened Jesus to the Cross, but He
died, not because He was so fastened, but because He willed to 'make
His soul an offering for sin.' Bound as it were to a rock in the midst
of the ocean, He, of His own will, and at His own time, bowed His head,
and let the waves of the sea of death roll over it.

III. The triumphant divine paradox of life given and death conquered
through a death.

Jesus is 'Prince' in the sense of being source of life to mankind, just
because He died. Hie death is the death of Death. His apparent defeat
is His real victory.

By His death He takes away our sins.

By His death He abolishes death.

The physical fact remains, but all else which makes the 'sting of
death' to men is gone. It is no more a solitude, for He has died, and
thereby He becomes a companion in that hour to every lover of His. Its
darkness changes into light to those who, by 'following Him,' have,
even there, 'the light of life.' This Samson carried away the gates of
the prison on His own strong shoulders when He came forth from it. It
is His to say, 'O death! I will be thy plague.'

By His death He diffuses life.

'The Spirit was not given' till Jesus was 'glorified,' which
glorification is John's profound synonym for His crucifixion. When the
alabaster box of His pure body was broken, the whole house of humanity
was filled with the odour of the ointment.

So the great paradox becomes a blessed truth, that man's deepest sin
works out God's highest act of Love and Pardon.



THE HEALING POWER OF THE NAME

'And His name through faith in His name hath made this man strong, whom
ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by Him hath given him this
perfect soundness in the presence of you all.'--ACTS iii. 16.

Peter said, 'Why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power
or holiness we had made this man to walk?' eagerly disclaiming being
anything else than a medium through which Another's power operated.
Jesus Christ said, 'That ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on
earth to forgive sins, I say unto thee, Arise, take up thy bed, and
walk'--unmistakably claiming to be a great deal more than a medium. Why
the difference? Jesus Christ did habitually in His miracles adopt the
tone on which Moses once ventured when he smote the rock and said, 'Ye
rebels! must _we_ bring the water for you?' and he was punished for it
by exclusion from the Promised Land. Why the difference? Moses was 'in
all his house as a servant, but Christ as a Son over His own house';
and what was arrogance in the servant was natural and reasonable in the
Son.

The gist of this verse is a reference to Jesus Christ as a source of
miraculous power, not merely because He wrought miracles when on earth,
but because from heaven He gave the power of which Peter was but the
channel. Now it seems to me that in these emphatic and singularly
reduplicated words of the Apostle there are two or three very important
lessons which I offer for your consideration.

I. The first is the power of the Name.

Now the Name of which Peter is speaking is not the collocation of
syllables which are sounded 'Jesus Christ.' His hearers were familiar
with the ancient and Eastern method of regarding names as very much
more than distinguishing labels. They are, in the view of the Old
Testament, attempts at a summary description of things by their
prominent characteristics. They are condensed definitions. And so the
Old Testament uses the expression, the 'Name' of God, as equivalent to
'that which God is manifested to be.' Hence, in later days--and there
are some tendencies thither even in Scripture--in Jewish literature
'the Name' came to be a reverential synonym for God Himself. And there
are traces that this peculiar usage with regard to the divine Name was
beginning to shape itself in the Church with reference to the name of
Jesus, even at that period in which my text was spoken. For instance,
in the fifth chapter we read that the Apostles 'departed from the
council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the
Name,' and we find at a much later date that missionaries of the Gospel
are described by the Apostle John as going forth 'for the sake of the
Name.'

The name of Christ, then, is the representation or embodiment of that
which Christ is declared to be for us men, and it is that Name, the
totality of what He is manifested to be, in which lies all power for
healing and for strengthening. The Name, that is, the whole Christ, in
His nature, His offices, His work, His Incarnation, His Life, His
Death, Resurrection, Session at the right hand of God--it is this
Christ whose Name made that man strong, and will make us strong.
Brethren, let us remember that, while fragments of the Name will have
fragmentary power, as the curative virtue that resides in any substance
belongs to the smallest grain of it, if detached from the mass--whilst
fragments of the Name of Christ have power, thanks be to Him! so that
no man can have even a very imperfect and rudimentary view of what
Jesus Christ is and does, without getting strength and healing in
proportion to the completeness of his conception, yet in order to
realise all that He can be and do, a man must take the whole Christ as
He is revealed.

The Early Church had a symbol for Jesus Christ, a fish, to which they
were led because the Greek word for a fish is made up of the initials
of the words which they conceived to be the Name. And what was it?
'_Jesus Christ_, _God's Son_, _Saviour_'; _Jesus_, humanity; _Christ_,
the apex of Revelation, the fulfilment of prophecy, the Anointed
Prophet, Priest, and King; _Son of God_, the divine nature: and all
these, the humanity, the Messiahship, the divinity, found their sphere
of activity in the last name, which, without them, would in its fulness
have been impossible--_Saviour_. He is not such a Saviour as He may be
to each of us, unless our conception of the Name grasps these three
truths: His humanity, His Messiahship, His divinity. 'His Name has made
this man strong.'

II. Notice how the power of the Name comes to operate.

Now, if you will observe the language of my text, you will note that
Peter says, as it would appear, the same thing twice over: 'His Name,
through faith in His Name, hath made this man strong.' And then, as if
he were saying something else, he adds what seems to be the same thing:
'Yea! the faith which is by Him hath given him this perfect soundness.'

Now, note that in the first of these two statements nothing appears
except the 'man,' the 'Name,' and 'faith' I take it, though of course
it may be questionable, that that clause refers to the man's faith, and
that we have in it the intentional exclusion of the human workers, and
are presented with the only two parties really concerned--at the one
end the Name, at the other end 'this man made strong.' And the link of
connection between the two in this clause is faith--that is, the man's
trust. But then, if we come to the next clause, we find that although
Peter has just previously disclaimed all merit in the cure, yet there
is a sense in which some one's faith, working as from without, _gave_
to the man 'this perfect soundness.' And it seems very natural to me to
understand that here, where human faith is represented as being, in
some subordinate sense, the bestower of the healing which really the
Name had bestowed, it is the faith of the human miracle-worker or
medium which is referred to. Peter's faith did give, but Peter only
gave what he had received through faith. And so let all the praise be
given to the water, and none to the cup.

Whether that be a fair interpretation of the words of my text, with
their singular and apparently meaningless tautology or no, at all
events the principle which is involved in the explanation is one that I
wish to dwell upon briefly now; and that is, that in order for the
Name, charged and supercharged with healing and strengthening power as
it is, to come into operation, there must be a twofold trust.

The healer, the medium of healing, must have faith in the Name. Yes! of
course. In all regions the first requisite, the one indispensable
condition, of a successful propagandist, is enthusiastic confidence in
what he promulgates. 'That man will go far,' said a cynical politician
about one of his rivals; 'he believes every word he says.' And that is
the condition always of getting other people to believe us. Faith is
contagious; men catch from other people's tongues the accent of
conviction. If one wants to enforce any opinion upon others, the first
condition is that he shall be utterly self-oblivious; and when he is
manifestly saying, as the Apostles in this context did, 'Do not fix
your eyes on us, as though we were doing anything,' then hearts will
bow before him, as the trees of the wood are bowed by the wind.

If that is true in all regions, it is eminently true in regard to
religion. For what we need there most is not to be instructed, but to
be impressed. Most of us have, lying dormant in the bedchamber and
infirmary of our brains, convictions which only need to be awakened to
revolutionise our lives. Now one of the most powerful ways of waking
them is contact with any man in whom they are awake. So all successful
teachers and messengers of Jesus Christ have had this characteristic in
common, however unlike each other they have been. The divergences of
temperament, of moods, of point of view, of method of working which
prevailed even in the little group of Apostles, and broadly
distinguished Paul from Peter, Peter from James, and Paul and Peter and
James from John, are only types of what has been repeated ever since.
Get together the great missionaries of the Cross, and you would have
the most extraordinary collection of miscellaneous idiosyncrasies that
the world ever saw, and they would not understand each other, as some
of them wofully misunderstood each other when here together. But there
was one characteristic in them all, a flaming earnestness of belief in
the power of the Name. And so it did not matter much, if at all, what
their divergences were. Each of them was fitted for the Master's use.

And so, brethren, here is the reason--I do not say the only reason, but
the main one, and that which most affects us--for the slow progress,
and even apparent failure, of Christianity. It has fallen into the
hands of a Church that does not half believe its own Gospel. By reason
of formality and ceremonial and sacerdotalism and a lazy kind of
expectation that, somehow or other, the benefits of Christ's love can
come to men apart from their own personal faith in Him, the Church has
largely ceased to anticipate that great things can be done by its
utterance of the Name. And if you have, I do not say ministers, or
teachers, or official proclaimers, or Sunday-school teachers, or the
like, but I say if you have a _Church_, that is honeycombed with doubt,
and from which the strength and flood-tide of faith have in many cases
ebbed away, why, it may go on uttering its formal proclamations of the
Name till the Day of Judgment, and all that will come of it will
be--'The man in whom the devils were, leaped upon them, and overcame
them, and said'--as he had a good right to say--'Jesus I know, and Paul
I know, but who are ye?' You cannot kindle a fire with snowballs. If
the town crier goes into a quiet corner of the marketplace and rings
his bell apologetically, and gives out his message in a whisper, it is
small wonder if nobody listens. And that is the way in which too many
so-called Christian teachers and communities hold forth the Name, as if
begging pardon of the world for being so narrow and old-fashioned as to
believe in it still.

And no less necessary is faith on the other side. The recipient must
exercise trust. This lame man, no doubt, like the other that Paul
looked at in a similar case, had faith to be healed. That was the
length of his tether. He believed that he was going to have his legs
made strong, and they were made strong accordingly. If he had believed
more, he would have got more. Let us hope that he did get more, because
he believed more, at a later day. But in the meantime the Apostles'
faith was not enough to cure him; and it is not enough for you that
Jesus Christ should be standing with all His power at your elbow, and
that, earnestly and enthusiastically, some of Christ's messengers may
press upon you the acceptance of Him as a Saviour. He is of no good in
the world to you, and never will be, unless you have the personal faith
that knits you to Him.

It cannot be otherwise. Depend upon it, if Jesus Christ could save
every one without terms and conditions at all, He would be only too
glad to do it. But it cannot be done. The nature of His work, and the
sort of blessings that He brings by His work, are such as that it is an
impossibility that any man should receive them unless he has that trust
which, beginning with the acceptance by the understanding of Christ as
Saviour, passes on to the assent of the will, and the outgoing of the
heart, and the yielding of the whole nature to Him. How can a truth do
any good to any one who does not believe in it? How is it possible
that, if you do not take a medicine, it will work? How can you expect
to see, unless you open your eyes? How do you propose to have your
blood purified, if you do not fill your lungs with air? Is it of any
use to have gas-fittings in your house, if they are not connected with
the main? Will a water tap run in your sculleries, if there is no pipe
that joins it with the source of supply? My dear friend, these rough
illustrations are only approximations to the absolute impossibility
that Christ can help, heal, or save any man without the man's personal
faith. 'Whosoever believeth' is no arbitrary limitation, but is
inseparable from the very nature of the salvation given.

III. And now, lastly, note the effects of the power of the Name.

The Apostle puts in two separate clauses what, in the case in hand, was
really one thing--'hath made this man strong,' and 'hath given him
perfect soundness.' Ah! we can part the two, cannot we? There is the
disease, the disease of an alienated heart, of a perverted will, of a
swollen self, all of which we need to have cured and checked before we
can do right. And there is weakness, the impotence to do what is good,
'how to perform I find not,' and we need to be strengthened as well as
cured. There is only one thing that will do these two, and that is that
Christ's power, ay, and Christ's own life, should pass, as it will pass
if we trust Him, into our foulness and precipitate all the
impurity--into our weakness and infuse strength. 'A reed shaken with
the wind,' and without substance or solidity to resist, may be placed
in what is called a petrifying well, and, by the infiltration of stony
substance into its structure, may be turned into a rigid mass, like a
little bar of iron. So, if Christ comes into my poor, weak, tremulous
nature, there will be an infiltration into the very substance of my
being of a present power which will make me strong.

My brother, you and I need, first and foremost, the healing, and then
the strength-giving power, which we never find in its completeness
anywhere but in Christ, and which we shall always find in Him.

And now notice, Jesus Christ does not make half cures--'this _perfect_
soundness.' If any man, in contact with Him, is but half delivered from
his infirmities and purged from his sins, it is not because Christ's
power is inadequate, but because his own faith is defective.

Christ's cures should be visible to all around. A man's own testimony
is not the most satisfactory. Peter appeals to the bystanders. 'You
have seen him lying here for years, a motionless lump of mendicancy, at
the Temple gate. Now you see him walking and leaping and praising God.
Is it a cure, or is it not?' You professing Christians, would you like
to stand that test, to empanel a jury of people that have no sympathy
with your religion, in order that they might decide whether you were
healed and strengthened or not? It is a good thing for us when the
world bears witness that Jesus Christ's power has come into us, and
made us what we are.

And so, dear friends, I lay all these thoughts on your hearts. Christ's
gift is amply sufficient to deliver us from all evils of weakness,
sickness, incapacity: to endue us with all gifts of spiritual and
immortal strength. But, while the limit of what Christ gives is His
boundless wealth, the limit of what you possess is your faith. The
rainfall comes down in the same copiousness on rock and furrow, but it
runs off the one, having stimulated no growth and left no blessing, and
it sinks into the other and quickens every dormant germ into life which
will one day blossom into beauty. We are all of us either rock or soil,
and which we are depends on the reality, the firmness, and the force of
our faith in Christ. He Himself has laid down the principle on which He
bestows His gifts when He says, 'According to thy faith be it unto
thee!'



THE SERVANT OF THE LORD

'Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless
you, In turning away every one of you from his iniquities.'--ACTS iii.
26.

So ended Peter's bold address to the wondering crowd gathered in the
Temple courts around him, with his companion John and the lame man whom
they had healed. A glance at his words will show how extraordinarily
outspoken and courageous they are. He charges home on his hearers the
guilt of Christ's death, unfalteringly proclaims His Messiahship, bears
witness to His Resurrection and Ascension, asserts that He is the End
and Fulfilment of ancient revelation, and offers to all the great
blessings that Christ brings. And this fiery, tender oration came from
the same lips which, a few weeks before, had been blanched with fear
before a flippant maidservant, and had quivered as they swore, 'I know
not the man!'

One or two simple observations may be made by way of introduction.
'Unto you _first_'--'first' implies second; and so the Apostle has
shaken himself clear of the Jews' narrow belief that Messias belonged
to them only, and is already beginning to contemplate the possibility
of a transference of the kingdom of God to the outlying Gentiles. 'God
having raised up His Son'--that expression has no reference, as it
might at first seem, to the fact of the Resurrection; but is employed
in the same sense as, and indeed looks back to, previous words. For he
had just quoted Moses' declaration, 'A prophet shall the Lord your God
raise up unto you from your brethren.' So it is Christ's equipment and
appointment for His office, and not His Resurrection, which is spoken
about here. 'His Son Jesus'--the Revised Version more accurately
translates 'His Servant Jesus.' I shall have a word or two to say about
that translation presently, but in the meantime I simply note the fact.

With this slight explanation let us now turn to two or three of the
aspects of the words before us.

I. First, I note the extraordinary transformation which they indicate
in the speaker.

I have already referred to his cowardice a very short time before. That
transformation from a coward to a hero he shared in common with his
brethren. On one page we read, 'They all forsook Him and fled.' We turn
over half a dozen leaves and we read: 'They departed from the council,
rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.'
What did that?

Then there is another transformation no less swift, sudden, and
inexplicable, except on one hypothesis. All through Christ's life the
disciples had been singularly slow to apprehend the highest aspects of
His teachings, and they had clung with a strange obstinacy to their
narrow Pharisaic and Jewish notions of the Messiah as coming to
establish a temporal dominion, in which Israel was to ride upon the
necks of the subject nations. And now, all at once, this Apostle, and
his fellows with him, have stepped from these puerile and narrow ideas
out into this large place, that he and they recognise that the Jew had
no exclusive possession of Messiah's blessings, and that these
blessings consisted in no external kingdom, but lay mainly and
primarily in His 'turning every one of you from your iniquities.' At
one time the Apostles stood upon a gross, low, carnal level, and in a
few weeks they were, at all events, feeling their way to, and to a
large extent had possession of, the most spiritual and lofty aspects of
Christ's mission. What did that?

Something had come in between which wrought more, in a short space,
than all the three years of Christ's teaching and companionship had
done for them. What was it? Why did they not continue in the mood which
two of them are reported to have been in, after the Crucifixion, when
they said--'It is all up! we trusted that this had been He,' but the
force of circumstances has shivered the confidence into fragments, and
there is no such hope left for us any longer. What brought them out of
that Slough of Despond?

I would put it to any fair-minded man whether the psychological facts
of this sudden maturing of these childish minds, and their sudden
change from slinking cowards into heroes who did not blanch before the
torture and the scaffold, are accountable, if you strike out the
Resurrection, the Ascension, and Pentecost? It seems to me that, for
the sake of avoiding a miracle, the disbelievers in the Resurrection
accept an impossibility, and tie themselves to an intellectual
absurdity. And I for one would rather believe in a miracle than believe
in an uncaused change, in which the Apostles take exactly the opposite
course from that which they necessarily must have taken, if there had
not been the facts that the New Testament asserts that there were,
Christ's rising again from the dead, and Ascension.

Why did not the Church share the fate of John's disciples, who
scattered like sheep without a shepherd when Herod chopped off their
master's head? Why did not the Church share the fate of that abortive
rising, of which we know that when Theudas, its leader, was slain,
'all, as many as believed on him, came to nought.' Why did these men
act in exactly the opposite way? I take it that, as you cannot account
for Christ except on the hypothesis that He is the Son of the Highest,
you cannot account for the continuance of the Christian Church for a
week after the Crucifixion, except on the hypothesis that the men who
composed it were witnesses of His Resurrection, and saw Him floating
upwards and received into the Shechinah cloud and lost to their sight.
Peter's change, witnessed by the words of my text--these bold and
clear-sighted words--seems to me to be a perfect monstrosity, and
incapable of explication, unless he saw the risen Lord, beheld the
ascended Christ, was touched with the fiery Spirit descending on
Pentecost, and so 'out of weakness was made strong,' and from a babe
sprang to the stature of a man in Christ.

II. Look at these words as setting forth a remarkable view of Christ.

I have already referred to the fact that the word rendered 'son' ought
rather to be rendered 'servant.' It literally means 'child' or 'boy,'
and appears to have been used familiarly, just in the same fashion as
we use the same expression 'boy,' or its equivalent 'maid,' as a more
gentle designation for a servant. Thus the kindly centurion, when he
would bespeak our Lord's care for his menial, calls him his 'boy'; and
our Bible there translates rightly 'servant.'

Again, the designation is that which is continually employed in the
Greek translation of the Old Testament as the equivalent for the
well-known prophetic phrase 'the Servant of Jehovah,' which, as you
will remember, is characteristic of the second portion of the
prophecies of Isaiah. And consequently we find that, in a quotation of
Isaiah's prophecy in the Gospel of Matthew, the very phrase of our text
is there employed: 'Behold My Servant whom I uphold!'

Now, it seems as if this designation of our Lord as God's Servant was
very familiar to Peter's thoughts at this stage of the development of
Christian doctrine. For we find the name employed twice in this
discourse--in the thirteenth verse, 'the God of our Fathers hath
glorified His Servant Jesus,' and again in my text. We also find it
twice in the next chapter, where Peter, offering up a prayer amongst
his brethren, speaks of 'Thy Holy Child Jesus,' and prays 'that signs
and wonders may be done through the name' of that 'Holy Child.' So,
then, I think we may fairly take it that, at the time in question, this
thought of Jesus as the 'Servant of the Lord' had come with especial
force to the primitive Church. And the fact that the designation never
occurs again in the New Testament seems to show that they passed on
from it into a deeper perception than even it attests of who and what
this Jesus was in relation to God.

But, at all events, we have in our text the Apostle looking back to
that dim, mysterious Figure which rises up with shadowy lineaments out
of the great prophecy of 'Isaiah,' and thrilling with awe and wonder,
as he sees, bit by bit, in the Face painted on the prophetic canvas,
the likeness of the Face into which he had looked for three blessed
years, that now began to tell him more than they had done whilst their
moments were passing.

'The Servant of the Lord'--that means, first of all, that Christ, in
all which He does, meekly and obediently executes the Father's will. As
He Himself said, 'I come not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him
that sent Me.' But it carries us further than that, to a point about
which I would like to say one word now; and that is, the clear
recognition that the very centre of Jewish prophecy is the revelation
of the personality of the Christ. Now, it seems to me that present
tendencies, discussions about the nature and limits of inspiration,
investigations which, in many directions, are to be welcomed and are
fruitful as to the manner of origin of the books of the Old Testament,
and as to their collection into a Canon and a whole--that all this new
light has a counterbalancing disadvantage, in that it tends somewhat to
obscure in men's minds the great central truth about the revelation of
God in Israel--viz. that it was all progressive, and that its goal and
end was Jesus Christ. 'The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of
prophecy,' and however much we may have to learn--and I have no doubt
that we have a great deal to learn, about the composition, the
structure, the authorship, the date of these ancient books--I take
leave to say that the unlearned reader, who recognises that they all
converge on Jesus Christ, has hold of the clue of the labyrinth, and
has come nearer to the marrow of the books than the most learned
investigators, who see all manner of things besides in them, and do not
see that 'they that went before cried, saying, Hosanna! Blessed be He
that cometh in the name of the Lord!'

And so I venture to commend to you, brethren--not as a barrier against
any reverent investigation, not as stopping any careful study--this as
the central truth concerning the ancient revelation, that it had, for
its chief business, to proclaim the coming of the Servant of Jehovah,
Jesus the Christ.

III. And now, lastly, look at these words as setting forth the true
centre of Christ's work.

'He has sent Him to bless you in turning away every one of you from his
iniquities.' I have already spoken about the gross, narrow, carnal
apprehensions of Messiah's work which cleaved to the disciples during
all our Lord's life here, and which disturbed even the sanctity of the
upper chamber at that last meal, with squabbles about precedence which
had an eye to places in the court of the Messiah when He assumed His
throne. But here Peter has shaken himself clear of all these, and has
grasped the thought that, whatever derivative and secondary blessings
of an external and visible sort may, and must, come in Messiah's train,
_the_ blessing which He brings is of a purely spiritual and inward
character, and consists in turning away single souls from their love
and practice of evil. That is Christ's true work.

The Apostle does not enlarge as to how it is done. We know how it is
done. Jesus turns away men from sin because, by the magnetism of His
love, and the attractive raying out of influence from His Cross, He
turns them to Himself. He turns us from our iniquities by the expulsive
power of a new affection, which, coming into our hearts like a great
river into some foul Augean stable, sweeps out on its waters all the
filth that no broom can ever clear out in detail. He turns men from
their iniquities by His gift of a new life, kindred with that from
which it is derived.

There is an old superstition that lightning turned whatever it struck
towards the point from which the flash came, so that a tree with its
thousand leaves had each of them pointed to that quarter in the heavens
where the blaze had been.

And so Christ, when He flings out the beneficent flash that slays only
our evil, and vitalises ourselves, turns us to Him, and away from our
transgressions. 'Turn us, O Christ, and we shall be turned.'

Ah, brethren! that is the blessing that we need most, for 'iniquities'
are universal; and so long as man is bound to his sin it will embitter
all sweetnesses, and neutralise every blessing. It is not culture,
valuable as that is in many ways, that will avail to stanch man's
deepest wounds. It is not a new social order that will still the
discontent and the misery of humanity. You may adopt collective
economic and social arrangements, and divide property out as it pleases
you. But as long as man continues selfish he will continue sinful, and
as long as he continues sinful _any_ social order will be pregnant with
sorrow, 'and when it is finished it will bring forth death.' You have
to go deeper down than all that, down as deep as this Apostle goes in
this sermon of his, and recognise that Christ's prime blessing is the
turning of men from their iniquities, and that only after that has been
done will other good come.

How shallow, by the side of that conception, do modern notions of Jesus
as the great social Reformer look! These are true, but they want their
basis, and their basis lies only here, that He is the Redeemer of
individuals from their sins. There were people in Christ's lifetime who
were all untouched by His teachings, but when they found that He gave
bread miraculously they said, 'This is of a truth the Prophet! That's
the prophet for my money; the Man that can make bread, and secure
material well-being.' Have not certain modern views of Christ's work
and mission a good deal in common with these vulgar old Jews--views
which regard Him mainly as contributing to the material good, the
social and economical well-being of the world?

Now, I believe that He does that. And I believe that Christ's
principles are going to revolutionise society as it exists at present.
But I am sure that we are on a false scent if we attempt to preach
consequences without proclaiming their antecedents, and that such
preaching will end, as all such attempts have ended, in confusion and
disappointment.

They used to talk about Jesus Christ, in the first French Revolution,
as 'the Good _Sansculotte_.' Perfectly true! But as the basis of that,
and of all representations of Him, that will have power on the diseases
of the community, we have to preach Him as the Saviour of the
individual from his sin.

And so, brethren, has He saved you? Do you begin your notions of Jesus
Christ where His work begins? Do you feel that what you want most is
neither culture nor any superficial and external changes, but something
that will deal with the deep, indwelling, rooted, obstinate self-regard
which is the centre of all sin? And have you gone alone to Him as a
sinful man? As the Apostle here suggests, Jesus Christ does not save
communities. The doctor has his patients into the consulting-room one
by one. There is no applying of Christ's benefits to men in batches, by
platoons and regiments, as Clovis baptized his Franks; but you have to
go, every one of you, through the turnstile singly, and alone to
confess, and alone to be absolved, and alone to be turned, from your
iniquity.

If I might venture to alter the position of words in my text, I would
lay them, so modified, on the hearts of all my friends whom my words
may reach now, and say, 'Unto you--_unto thee_, God, having raised up
His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you, _first_ in turning away every one
of you from his iniquities.'



THE FIRST BLAST OF TEMPEST

'And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the
temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, 2. Being grieved that they
taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the
dead. 3. And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the
next day: for it was now even-tide. 4. Howbeit many of them which heard
the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.
5. And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders,
and scribes, 6. And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and
Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were
gathered together at Jerusalem. 7. And when they had set them in the
midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?
8. Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of
the people, and elders of Israel, 9. If we this day be examined of the
good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; 10.
Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the
name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised
from the dead, even by Him doth this man stand here before you whole.
11. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is
become the head of the corner. 12. Neither is there salvation in any
other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men,
whereby we must be saved. 13. Now when they saw the boldness of Peter
and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they
marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with
Jesus. 14. And beholding the man which was healed standing with them,
they could say nothing against it.'--ACTS iv. 1-14.

Hitherto the Jewish authorities had let the disciples alone, either
because their attention had not been drawn even by Pentecost and the
consequent growth of the Church, or because they thought that to ignore
the new sect was the best way to end it. But when its leaders took to
vehement preaching in Solomon's porch, and crowds eagerly listened, it
was time to strike in.

Our passage describes the first collision of hostile authority with
Christian faith, and shows, as in a glass, the constant result of that
collision in all ages.

The motives actuating the assailants are significantly analysed, and
may be distributed among the three classes enumerated. The priests and
the captain of the Temple would be annoyed by the very fact that Peter
and John taught the people: the former, because they were jealous of
their official prerogative: the latter, because he was responsible for
public order, and a riot in the Temple court would have been a scandal.
The Saddueees were indignant at the substance of the teaching, which
affirmed the resurrection of the dead, which they denied, and alleged
it as having occurred 'in Jesus.'

The position of Sadducees and Pharisees is inverted in Acts as compared
with the Gospels. While Christ lived, the Pharisees were the soul of
the opposition to Him, and His most solemn warnings fell on them; after
the Resurrection, the Sadducees head the opposition, and among the
Pharisees are some, like Gamaliel and afterwards Paul, who incline to
the new faith. It was the Resurrection that made the difference, and
the difference is an incidental testimony to the fact that Christ's
Resurrection was proclaimed from the first. To ask whether Jesus had
risen, and to examine the evidence, were the last things of which the
combined assailants thought. This public activity of the Apostles
threatened their influence or their pet beliefs, and so, like
persecutors in all ages, they shut their eyes to the important
question, 'Is this preaching true or false?' and took the easier course
of laying hands on the preachers.

So the night fell on Peter and John in prison, the first of the
thousands who have suffered bonds and imprisonment for Christ, and have
therein found liberty. What lofty faith, and what subordination of the
fate of the messengers to the progress of the message, are expressed in
that abrupt introduction, in verse 4, of the statistics of the increase
of the Church from that day's work! It mattered little that it ended
with the two Apostles in custody, since it ended too with five thousand
rejoicing in Christ.

The arrest seems to have been due to a sudden thought on the part of
the priests, captain, and Sadducees, without commands from the
Sanhedrin or the high priest. But when these inferior authorities had
got hold of their prisoners, they probably did not quite know what to
do with them, and so moved the proper persons to summon the Sanhedrin.
In all haste, then, a session was called for next morning. 'Rulers,
elders, and scribes' made up the constituent members of the court, and
the same two 'high priests' who had tried Jesus are there, attended by
a strong contingent of dependants, who could be trusted to vote as they
were bidden. Annas was an _emeritus_ high priest, whose age and
relationship to Caiaphas, the actual holder of the post and Annas's
son-in-law, gave him an influential position. He retained the title,
though he had ceased to hold the office, as a cleric without a charge
is usually called 'Reverend.'

It was substantially the same court which had condemned Jesus, and
probably now sat in the same hall as then. So that Peter and John would
remember the last time when they had together been in that room, and
Who had stood in the criminal's place where they now were set.

The court seems to have been somewhat at a loss how to proceed. The
Apostles had been arrested for their words, but they are questioned
about the miracle. It was no crime to teach in the Temple, but a crime
might be twisted out of working a miracle in the name of any but
Jehovah. To do that would come near blasphemy or worshipping strange
gods. The Sanhedrin knew what the answer to their question would be,
and probably they intended, as soon as the anticipated answer was
given, to 'rend their clothes,' and say, as they had done once before,
'What need we further witnesses? They have spoken blasphemy.' But
things did not go as was expected. The crafty question was put. It does
not attempt to throw doubt on the reality of the miracle, but there is
a world of arrogant contempt in it, both in speaking of the cure as
'this,' and in the scornful emphasis with which, in the Greek, 'ye'
stands last in the sentence, and implies, 'ye poor, ignorant fishermen.'

The last time that Peter had been in the judgment-hall his courage had
oozed out of him at the prick of a maid-servant's sharp tongue, but now
he fronts all the ecclesiastical authorities without a tremor. Whence
came the transformation of the cowardly denier into the heroic
confessor, who turns the tables on his judges and accuses them? The
narrative answers. He was 'filled with the Holy Ghost.' That abiding
possession of the Spirit, begun on Pentecost, did not prevent special
inspiration for special needs, and the Greek indicates that there was
granted such a temporary influx in this critical hour.

One cannot but note the calmness of the Apostle, so unlike his old
tumultuous self. He begins with acknowledging the lawful authority of
the court, and goes on, with just a tinge of sarcasm, to put the vague
'this' of the question in its true light. It was 'a good deed done to
an impotent man,' for which John and he stood there. Singular sort of
crime that! Was there not a presumption that the power which had
wrought so 'good' a deed was good? 'Do men gather grapes of thorns?'
Many a time since then Christianity has been treated as criminal,
because of its beneficence to bodies and souls.

But Peter rises to the full height of the occasion, when he answers the
Sanhedrin's question with the pealing forth of his Lord's name. He
repeats in substance his former contrast of Israel's treatment of Jesus
and God's; but, in speaking to the rulers, his tone is more severe than
it was to the people. The latter had been charged, at Pentecost and in
the Temple, with crucifying _Jesus_; the former are here charged with
crucifying the _Christ_. It was their business to have tested his
claims, and to have welcomed the Messiah. The guilt was shared by both,
but the heavier part lay on the shoulders of the Sanhedrin.

Mark, too, the bold proclamation of the Resurrection, the stone of
offence to the Sadducees. How easy it would have been for them to
silence the Apostle, if they could have pointed to the undisturbed and
occupied grave! That would have finished the new sect at once. Is there
any reason why it was not done but the one reason that it could not be
done?

Thus far Peter has been answering the interrogation legally put, and
has done as was anticipated. Now was the time for Annas and the rest to
strike in; but they could not carry out their programme, for the fiery
stream of Peter's words does not stop when they expected, and instead
of a timid answer followed by silence, they get an almost defiant
proclamation of the Name, followed by a charge against them, which
turns the accused into the accuser, and puts them at the bar. Peter
learned to apply the passage in the Psalm (v. 11) to the rulers, from
his Master's use of it (Matt. xxi. 42); and there is no quaver in his
voice nor fear in his heart when, in the face of all these learned
Rabbis and high and mighty dignitaries, he brands them as foolish
builders, blind to the worth of the Stone 'chosen of God, and
precious,' and tells them that the course of divine Providence will run
counter to their rejection of Jesus, and make him the very 'Head of the
corner,'--the crown, as well as the foundation, of God's building.

But not even this bold indictment ends the stream of his speech. The
proclamation of the power of the Name was fitly followed by pressing
home the guilt and madness of rejecting Jesus, and that again by the
glad tidings of salvation for all, even the rejecters. Is not the
sequence in Peter's defence substantially that which all Christian
preaching should exhibit? First, strong, plain proclamation of the
truth; then pungent pressing home of the sin of turning away from
Jesus; and then earnest setting forth of the salvation in His name,--a
salvation wide as the world, and deep as our misery and need, but
narrow, inasmuch as it is 'in none other.' The Apostle will not end
with charging his hearers with guilt, but with offering them salvation.
He will end with lifting up 'the Name' high above all other, and
setting it in solitary clearness before, not these rulers only, but the
whole world. The salvation which it had wrought on the lame man was but
a parable and picture of the salvation from all ills of body and
spirit, which was stored in that Name, and in it alone.

The rulers' contempt had been expressed by their emphatic ending of
their question with that 'ye.' Peter expresses his brotherhood and
longing for the good of his judges by ending his impassioned, or,
rather, inspired address with a loving, pleading 'we.' He puts himself
on the same level with them as needing salvation, and would fain have
them on the same level with himself and John as receiving it. That is
the right way to preach.

Little need be said as to the effect of this address. Whether it went
any deeper in any susceptible souls or not, it upset the schemes of the
leaders. Something in the manner and matter of it awed them into
wonder, and paralysed them for the time. Here was the first instance of
the fulfilment of that promise, which has been fulfilled again and
again since, of 'a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall
not be able to gainsay nor resist.' 'Unlearned,' as ignorant of
Rabbinical traditions, and 'ignorant,' or, rather, 'private,' as
holding no official position, these two wielded a power over hearts and
consciences which not even official indifference and arrogance could
shake off. Thank God, that day's experience is repeated still, and any
of us may have the same Spirit to clothe us with the same armour of
light!

The Sanhedrin knew well enough that the Apostles had been with Jesus,
and the statement that 'they took knowledge of them' cannot mean that
that fact dawned on the rulers for the first time. Rather it means that
their wonder at the 'boldness' of the two drove home the fact of their
association with Him to their minds. That association explained the
marvel; for the Sanhedrin remembered how He had stood, meek but unawed,
at the same bar. They said to themselves, 'We know where these men get
this brave freedom of speech,--from that Nazarene.' Happy shall we be
if our demeanour recalls to spectators the ways of our Lord!

How came the lame man there? He had not been arrested with the
Apostles. Had he voluntarily and bravely joined them? We do not know,
but evidently he was not there as accused, and probably had come as a
witness of the reality of the miracle. Notice the emphatic 'standing,'
as in verse 10,--a thing that he had never done all his life. No wonder
that the Sanhedrin were puzzled, and settled down to the 'lame and
impotent conclusion' which follows. So, in the first round of the
world-long battle between the persecutors and the persecuted, the
victory is all on the side of the latter. So it has been ever since,
though often the victors have died in the conflict. 'The Church is an
anvil which has worn out many hammers,' and the story of the first
collision is, in essentials, the story of all.



WITH AND LIKE CHRIST

'Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that
they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took
knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.'--ACTS iv. 13.

Two young Galilean fishermen, before the same formidable tribunal which
a few weeks before had condemned their Master, might well have quailed.
And evidently 'Annas, the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and
Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest,' were
very much astonished that their united wisdom and dignity did not
produce a greater impression on these two contumacious prisoners. They
were 'unlearned,' knowing nothing about Rabbinical wisdom; they were
'ignorant,' or, as the word ought rather to be rendered, 'persons in a
private station,' without any kind of official dignity. And yet there
they stood, perfectly unembarrassed and at their ease, and said what
they wanted to say, all of it, right out. So, as great astonishment
crept over the dignified ecclesiastics who were sitting in judgment
upon them, their astonishment led them to remember what, of course,
they knew before, only that it had not struck them so forcibly, as
explaining the Apostles' demeanour--viz.,'that they had been with
Jesus.' So they said to themselves: 'Ah, that explains it all! There is
the root of it. The company that they have kept accounts for their
unembarrassed boldness.'

Now, I need not notice by more than a word in passing, what a testimony
it is to the impression that that meek and gracious Sufferer had made
upon His judges, that when they saw these two men standing there
unfaltering, they began to remember how that other Prisoner had stood.
And perhaps some of them began to think that they had made a mistake in
that last trial. It is a testimony to the impression that Christ had
made that the strange demeanour of His two servants recalled the Master
to the mind of the judges.

I. The first thing that strikes us here is the companionship that
transforms.

The rulers were partly right, and they were partly wrong. The source
from which these men had drawn their boldness was their being with
Christ; but it was not such companionship with Christ, as Annas and
Caiaphas had in view, that had given them courage. For as long as the
Apostles had His personal presence with them, there was no perceptible
transforming or elevating process going on in them; and it was not
until after they had lost that corporeal presence that there came upon
them the change which even the prejudiced eyes of these judges could
not help seeing.

The writer of Acts gives a truer explanation with which we may fill out
the incomplete explanation of the rulers, when he says, 'Then Peter,
_filled with the Holy Ghost_, said unto them.' Ah, that is it! They had
been with Jesus all the days that He went in and out amongst them. They
had companioned with Him, and they had gained but little from it. But
when He went away, and they were relegated to the same kind of
companionship with Him that you and I have or may have, then a change
began to take place on them. And so the companionship that transforms
is not what the Apostle calls 'knowing Christ after the flesh,' but
inward communion with Him, the companionship and familiarity which are
as possible for us as for any Peter or John of them all, and without
which our Christianity is nothing but sounding brass and tinkling
cymbal.

They were 'with Jesus,' as each of us may be. Their communion was in no
respect different from the communion that is open and indispensable to
any real Christian. To be with Him is possible for us all. When we go
to our daily work, when we are compassed about by distracting and
trivial cares, when men come buzzing round us, and the ordinary
secularities of life seem to close in upon us like the walls of a
prison, and to shut out the blue and the light--oh! it is hard, but it
_is_ possible, for every one of us to think these all away, and to
carry with us into everything that blessed thought of a Presence that
is not to be put aside, that sits beside me at my study table, that
stands beside you at your tasks, that goes with you in shop and mart,
that is always near, with its tender encircling, with its mighty
protection, with its all-sufficing sweetness and power. To be with
Christ is no prerogative, either of Apostles and teachers of the
primitive age, or of saints that have passed into the higher vision;
but it is possible for us all. No doubt there are as yet unknown forms
and degrees of companionship with Christ in the future state, in
comparison with which to be 'present in the body is to be absent from
the Lord'; but in the inmost depth of reality, the soul that loves is
where it loves, and has whom it loves ever with it. 'Where the treasure
is, there will the heart be also,' and we may be with Christ if only we
will honestly try hour by hour to keep ourselves in touch with Him, and
to make Him the motive as well as the end of the work that other men do
along with us, and do from altogether secular and low motives.

Another phase of being with Christ lies in frank, full, and familiar
conversation with Him. I do not understand a dumb companionship. When
we are with those that we love, and with whom we are at ease, speech
comes instinctively. If we are co-denizens of the Father's house with
the Elder Brother, we shall talk to Him. We shall not need to be
reminded of the 'duty of prayer,' but shall rather instinctively and as
a matter of course, without thinking of what we are doing, speak to Him
our momentary wants, our passing discomforts, our little troubles.
There may be a great deal more virtue in monosyllabic prayers than in
long liturgies. Little jets of speech or even of unspoken speech that
go up to Him are likely to be heart-felt and to be heard. It is said of
Israel's army on one occasion, 'they cried unto God in the battle, and
He was entreated of them.' Do you think that theirs would be very
elaborate prayers? Was there any time to make a long petition when the
sword of a Philistine was whizzing about the suppliant's ears? It was
only a cry, but it _was_ a cry; and so 'He was entreated of them.' If
we are 'with Christ' we shall talk to Him; and if we are with Christ He
will talk to us. It is for us to keep in the attitude of listening and,
so far as may be, to hush other voices, in order that His may be heard,
If we do so, even here 'shall we ever be with the Lord.'

II. Now, note next the character that this companionship produces.

Annas and Caiaphas said to each other: 'Ah, these two have been with
that Jesus! That is where they have got their boldness. They are like
Him.'

As is the Master, so is the servant. That is the broad, general
principle that lies in my text. To be with Christ makes men Christlike.
A soul habitually in contact with Jesus will imbibe sweetness from Him,
as garments laid away in a drawer with some preservative perfume absorb
fragrance from that beside which they lie. Therefore the surest way for
Christian people to become what God would have them to be, is to direct
the greater part of their effort, not so much to the acquirement of
individual characteristics and excellences, as to the keeping up of
continuity of communion with the Master. Then the excellences will
come. Astronomers, for instance, have found out that if they take a
sensitive plate and lay it so as to receive the light from a star, and
keep it in place by giving it a motion corresponding with the apparent
motion of the heavens, for hours and hours, there will become visible
upon it a photographic image of dim stars that no human eye or
telescope can see. Persistent lying before the light stamps the image
of the light upon the plate. Communion with Christ is the secret of
Christlikeness. So instead of all the wearisome, painful, futile
attempts at tinkering one's own character apart from Him, here is the
royal road. Not that there is no effort in it. We must never forget nor
undervalue the necessity for struggle in the Christian life. But that
truth needs to be supplemented with the thought that comes from my
text--viz. that the fruitful direction in which the struggle is to be
mainly made lies in keeping ourselves in touch with Jesus Christ, and
if we do that, then transformation comes by beholding. 'We all,
reflecting as a mirror does, the glory of the Lord, are transformed
into the same image.' 'They have been with Jesus,' and so they were
like Him.

But now look at the specific kinds of excellence which seem to have
come out of this communion. 'They beheld the _boldness_ of Peter and
John.' The word that is translated 'boldness' no doubt conveys that
idea, but it also conveys another. Literally it means 'the act of
saying everything.' It means openness of unembarrassed speech, and so
comes to have the secondary signification, which the text gives, of
'boldness.'

Then, to be with Christ gives a living knowledge of Him and of truth,
far in advance of the head knowledge of wise and learned people. It was
a fact that these two knew nothing about what Rabbi _This_, or Rabbi
_That_, or Rabbi _The Other_ had said, and yet could speak, as they had
been speaking, large religious ideas that astonished these hide-bound
Pharisees, who thought that there was no way to get to the knowledge of
the revelation of God made to Israel, except by the road of their own
musty and profitless learning. Ay! and it always is so. An ounce of
experience is worth a ton of theology. The men that have summered and
wintered with Jesus Christ may not know a great many things that are
supposed to be very important parts of religion, but they have got hold
of the central truth of it, with a power, and in a fashion, that men of
books, and ideas, and systems, and creeds, and theological learning,
may know nothing about. 'Not many wise men after the flesh, not many
mighty, are called.' Let a poor man at his plough-tail, or a poor woman
in her garret, or a collier in the pit, have Jesus Christ for their
Companion, and they have got the kernel; and the gentlemen that like
such diet may live on the shell if they will, and can. Religious ideas
are of little use unless there be heart-experiences; and
heart-experiences are wonderful teachers of religious truth.

Again, to be with Christ frees from the fear of man. It was a new thing
for such persons as Peter and John to stand cool and unawed before the
Council. Not so very long ago one of the two had been frightened into a
momentary apostasy by dread of being haled before the rulers, and now
they are calmly heroic, and threats are idle words to them. I need not
point to the strong presumption, raised by the contrast of the
Apostles' past cowardice and present courage, of the occurrence of some
such extraordinary facts as the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the
Descent of the Spirit. Something had happened which revolutionised
these men. It was their communion with Jesus, made more real and deep
by the cessation of His bodily presence, which made these unlearned and
non-official Galileans front the Council with calmly beating hearts and
unfaltering tongues. Doubtless, temperament has much to do with
courage, but, no doubt, he who lives near Jesus is set free from undue
dependence on things seen and on persons. Perfect love casts out fear,
not only of the Beloved, but of all creatures. It is the bravest thing
in the world.

Further, to be with Christ will open a man's lips. The fountain, if it
is full, must well up. 'Light is light which circulates. Heat is heat
which radiates.' The true possession of Jesus Christ will always make
it impossible for the possessor to be dumb. I pray you to test
yourselves, as I would that all professing Christians should test
themselves, by that simple truth, that a full heart must find
utterance. The instinct that drives a man to speak of the thing in
which he is interested should have full play in the Christian life. It
seems to me a terribly sad fact that there are such hosts of good, kind
people, with some sort of religion about them, who never feel any
anxiety to say a word to any soul concerning the Master whom they
profess to love. I know, of course, that deep feeling is silent, and
that the secrets of Christian experience are not to be worn on the
sleeve for daws to peck at. And I know that the conventionalities of
this generation frown very largely upon the frank utterance of
religious convictions on the part of religious people, except on
Sundays, in Sunday-schools, pulpits, and the like. But for all that,
what is in you will come out. If you have never felt 'I was weary of
forbearing, and I could not stay,' I do not think that there is much
sign in you of a very deep or a very real being with Jesus.

III. The last point to be noted is, the impression which such a
character makes.

It was not so much what Peter and John said that astonished the
Council, as the fact of their being composed and bold enough to say
anything.

A great deal more is done by character than by anything else. Most
people in the world take their notions of Christianity from its
concrete embodiments in professing Christians. For one man that has
read his Bible, and has come to know what religion is thereby, there
are a hundred that look at you and me, and therefrom draw their
conclusions as to what religion is. It is not my sermons, but your
life, that is the most important agency for the spread of the Gospel in
this congregation. And if we, as Christian people, were to live so as
to make men say, 'Dear me, that is strange. That is not the kind of
thing that one would have expected from that man. That is of a higher
strain than he is of. Where did it come from, I wonder?' 'Ah, he
learned it of that Jesus'--if people were constrained to speak in that
style to themselves about us, dear friends, and about all our brethren,
England would be a different England from what it is to-day. It is
Christians' lives, after all, that make dints in the world's conscience.

Do you remember one of the Apostle's lovely and strong metaphors? Paul
says that that little Church in Thessalonica rung out clear and strong
the name of Jesus Christ--resonant like the clang of a bugle, 'so that
we need not to speak anything.' The word that he employs for 'sounded
out' is a technical expression for the ringing blast of a trumpet. Very
small penny whistles would be a better metaphor for the instruments
which the bulk of professing Christians play on.

'Adorn the doctrine of Christ.' And that you may, listen to His own
word, which says all I have been trying to say in this sermon: 'Abide
in Me. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the
vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in Me.'



OBEDIENT DISOBEDIENCE

'But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in
the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. 20.
For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. 21. So
when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding
nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men
glorified God for that which was done. 22. For the man was above forty
years old, on whom this miracle of healing was shewed. 23. And being
let go they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief
priests and elders had said unto them. 24. And when they heard that,
they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, Thou
art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that
in them is: 25. Who by the mouth of Thy servant David hast said, Why
did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? 26. The kings
of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against
the Lord, and against His Christ. 27. For of a truth against Thy holy
child Jesus, whom Thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate,
with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together,
28. For to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to
be done. 29. And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto
Thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak Thy word, 30. By
stretching forth Thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be
done by the name of Thy holy child Jesus. 31. And when they had prayed,
the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were
all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with
boldness.'--ACTS iv. 19-31.

The only chance for persecution to succeed is to smite hard and
swiftly. If you cannot strike, do not threaten. Menacing words only
give courage. The rulers betrayed their hesitation when the end of
their solemn conclave was but to 'straitly threaten'; and less heroic
confessors than Peter and John would have disregarded the prohibition
as mere wind. None the less the attitude of these two Galilean
fishermen is noble and singular, when their previous cowardice is
remembered. This first collision with civil authority gives, as has
been already noticed, the main lines on which the relations of the
Church to hostile powers have proceeded.

I. The heroic refusal of unlawful obedience. We shall probably not do
injustice to John if we suppose that Peter was spokesman. If so, the
contrast of the tone of his answer with all previously recorded
utterances of his is remarkable. Warm-hearted impulsiveness, often
wrong-headed and sometimes illogical, had been their mark; but here we
have calm, fixed determination, which, as is usually its manner, wastes
no words, but in its very brevity impresses the hearers as being
immovable. Whence did this man get the power to lay down once for all
the foundation principles of the limits of civil obedience, and of the
duty of Christian confession? His words take rank with the
ever-memorable sayings of thinkers and heroes, from Socrates in his
prison telling the Athenians that he loved them, but that he must 'obey
God rather than you,' to Luther at Worms with his 'It is neither safe
nor right to do anything against conscience. Here I stand; I can do
nothing else. God help me! Amen.' Peter's words are the first of a long
series.

This first instance of persecution is made the occasion for the clear
expression of the great principles which are to guide the Church. The
answer falls into two parts, in the first of which the limits of
obedience to civil authority are laid down in a perfectly general form
to which even the Council are expected to assent, and in the second an
irresistible compulsion to speak is boldly alleged as driving the two
Apostles to a flat refusal to obey.

It was a daring stroke to appeal to the Council for an endorsement of
the principle in verse 19, but the appeal was unanswerable; for this
tribunal had no other ostensible reason for existence than to enforce
obedience to the law of God, and to Peter's dilemma only one reply was
possible. But it rested on a bold assumption, which was calculated to
irritate the court; namely, that there was a blank contradiction
between their commands and God's, so that to obey the one was to
disobey the other. When that parting of the ways is reached, there
remains no doubt as to which road a religious man must take.

The limits of civil obedience are clearly drawn. It is a duty, because
'the powers that be are ordained of God,' and obedience to them is
obedience to Him. But if they, transcending their sphere, claim
obedience which can only be rendered by disobedience to Him who has
appointed them, then they are no longer His ministers, and the duty of
allegiance falls away. But there must be a plain conflict of commands,
and we must take care lest we substitute whims and fancies of our own
for the injunctions of God. Peter was not guided by his own conceptions
of duty, but by the distinct precept of his Master, which had bid him
speak. It is not true that it is the cause which makes the martyr, but
it is true that many good men have made themselves martyrs needlessly.
This principle is too sharp a weapon to be causelessly drawn and
brandished. Only an unmistakable opposition of commandments warrants
its use; and then, he has little right to be called Christ's soldier
who keeps the sword in the scabbard.

The articulate refusal in verse 20 bases itself on the ground of
irrepressible necessity: 'We cannot but speak.' The immediate
application was to the facts of Christ's life, death, and glory. The
Apostles could not help speaking of these, both because to do so was
their commission, and because the knowledge of them and of their
importance forbade silence. The truth implied is of wide reach. Whoever
has a real, personal experience of Christ's saving power, and has heard
and seen Him, will be irresistibly impelled to impart what he has
received. Speech is a relief to a full heart. The word, concealed in
the prophet's heart, burned there 'like fire in his bones, and he was
weary of forbearing.' So it always is with deep conviction. If a man
has never felt that he must speak of Christ, he is a very imperfect
Christian. The glow of his own heart, the pity for men who know Him
not, his Lord's command, all concur to compel speech. The full river
cannot be dammed up.

II. The lame and impotent conclusion of the perplexed Council. How
plain the path is when only duty is taken as a guide, and how
vigorously and decisively a man marches along it! Peter had no
hesitation, and his resolved answer comes crashing in a straight
course, like a cannon-ball. The Council had a much more ambiguous
oracle to consult in order to settle their course, and they hesitate
accordingly, and at last do a something which is a nothing. They wanted
to trim their sails to catch popular favour, and so they could not do
anything thoroughly. To punish or acquit was the only alternative for
just judges. But they were not just; and as Jesus had been crucified,
not because Pilate thought Him guilty, but to please the people, so His
Apostles were let off, not because they were innocent, but for the same
reason. When popularity-hunters get on the judicial bench, society must
be rotten, and nearing its dissolution. To 'decree unrighteousness by a
law' is among the most hideous of crimes. Judges 'willing to wound, and
yet afraid to strike,' are portents indicative of corruption. We may
remark here how the physician's pen takes note of the patient's age, as
making his cure more striking, and manifestly miraculous.

III. The Church's answer to the first assault of the world's power. How
beautifully natural that is, 'Being let go, they went to their own,'
and how large a principle is expressed in the naive words! The great
law of association according to spiritual affinity has much to do in
determining relations here. It aggregates men, according to sorts; but
its operation is thwarted by other conditions, so that companionship is
often misery. But a time comes when it will work unhindered, and men
will be united with their like, as the stones on some sea-beaches are
laid in rows, according to their size, by the force of the sea. Judas
'went to his own place,' and, in another world, like will draw to like,
and prevailing tendencies will be increased by association with those
who share them.

The prayer of the Church was probably the inspired outpouring of one
voice, and all the people said 'Amen,' and so made it theirs. Whose
voice it was which thus put into words the common sentiment we should
gladly have known, but need not speculate. The great fact is that the
Church answered threats by prayer. It augurs healthy spiritual life
when opposition and danger neither make cheeks blanch with fear nor
flush with anger. No man there trembled nor thought of vengeance, or of
repaying threats with threats. Every man there instinctively turned
heavenwards, and flung himself, as it were, into God's arms for
protection. Prayer is the strongest weapon that a persecuted Church can
use. Browning makes a tyrant say, recounting how he had tried to crush
a man, that his intended victim

  'Stood erect, caught at God's skirts, and prayed,
    So _I_ was afraid.'

The contents of the prayer are equally noteworthy. Instead of minutely
studying it verse by verse, we may note some of its salient points.
Observe its undaunted courage. That company never quivered or wavered.
They had no thought of obeying the mandate of the Council. They were a
little army of heroes. What had made them so? What but the conviction
that they had a living Lord at God's right hand, and a mighty Spirit in
their spirits? The world has never seen a transformation like that.
Unique effects demand unique causes for their explanation, and nothing
but the historical truth of the facts recorded in the last pages of the
Gospels and first of the Acts accounts for the demeanour of these men.

Their courage is strikingly marked by their petition. All they ask is
'boldness' to speak a word which shall not be theirs, but God's. Fear
would have prayed for protection; passion would have asked retribution
on enemies. Christian courage and devotion only ask that they may not
shrink from their duty, and that the word may be spoken, whatever
becomes of the speakers. The world is powerless against men like that.
Would the Church of to-day meet threats with like unanimity of desire
for boldness in confession? If not, it must be because it has not the
same firm hold of the Risen Lord which these first believers had. The
truest courage is that which is conscious of its weakness, and yet has
no thought of flight, but prays for its own increase.

We may observe, too, the body of belief expressed in the prayer. First
it lays hold on the creative omnipotence of God, and thence passes to
the recognition of His written revelation. The Church has begun to
learn the inmost meaning of the Old Testament, and to find Christ
there. David may not have written the second Psalm. Its attribution to
him by the Church stands on a different level from Christ's attribution
of authorship, as, for instance, of the hundred and tenth Psalm. The
prophecy of the Psalm is plainly Messianic, however it may have had a
historical occasion in some forgotten revolt against some Davidic king;
and, while the particular incidents to which the prayer alludes do not
exhaust its far-reaching application, they are rightly regarded as
partly fulfilling it. Herod is a 'king of the earth,' Pilate is a
'ruler'; Roman soldiers are Gentiles; Jewish rulers are the
representatives of 'the people.' Jesus is 'God's Anointed.' The fact
that such an unnatural and daring combination of rebels was predicted
in the Psalm bears witness that even that crime at Calvary was
foreordained to come to pass, and that God's hand and counsel ruled.
Therefore all other opposition, such as now threatened, will turn out
to be swayed by that same Mighty Hand, to work out His counsel. Why,
then, should the Church fear? If we can see God's hand moving all
things, terror is dead for us, and threats are like the whistling of
idle wind.

Mark, too, the strong expression of the Church's dependence on God.
'Lord' here is an unusual word, and means 'Master,' while the Church
collectively is called 'Thy servants,' or properly, 'slaves.' It is a
different word from that of 'servant' (rather than 'child') applied to
Jesus in verses 27 and 30. God is the Master, we are His 'slaves,'
bound to absolute obedience, unconditional submission, belonging to
Him, not to ourselves, and therefore having claims on Him for such care
as an owner gives to his slaves or his cattle. He will not let them be
maltreated nor starved. He will defend them and feed them; but they
must serve him by life, and death if need be. Unquestioning submission
and unreserved dependence are our duties. Absolute ownership and
unshared responsibility for our well-being belong to Him.

Further, the view of Christ's relationship to God is the same as occurs
in other of the early chapters of the Acts. The title of 'Thy holy
Servant Jesus' dwells on Christ's office, rather than on His nature.
Here it puts Him in contrast with David, also called 'Thy servant.' The
latter was imperfectly what Jesus was perfectly. His complete
realisation of the prophetic picture of the Servant of the Lord in
Isaiah is emphasised by the adjective 'holy,' implying complete
devotion or separation to the service of God, and unsullied, unlimited
moral purity. The uniqueness of His relation in this aspect is
expressed by the definite article in the original. He is _the_ Servant,
in a sense and measure all His own. He is further _the_ Anointed
Messiah. This was the Church's message to Israel and the stay of its
own courage, that Jesus was the Christ, the Anointed and perfect
Servant of the Lord, who was now in heaven, reigning there. All that
this faith involved had not yet become clear to their consciousness,
but the Spirit was guiding them step by step into all the truth; and
what they saw and heard, not only in the historical facts of which they
were the witnesses, but in the teaching of that Spirit, they could not
but speak.

The answer came swift as the roll of thunder after lightning. They who
ask for courage to do God's will and speak Christ's name have never
long to wait for response. The place 'was shaken,' symbol of the effect
of faithful witness-bearing, or manifestation of the power which was
given in answer to their prayer. 'They were all filled with the Holy
Ghost,' who now did not, as before, confer ability to speak with other
tongues, but wrought no less worthily in heartening and fitting them to
speak 'in their own tongue, wherein they were born,' in bold defiance
of unlawful commands.

The statement of the answer repeats the petition verbatim: 'With all
boldness they spake the word.' What we desire of spiritual gifts we
get, and God moulds His replies so as to remind us of our petitions,
and to show by the event that these have reached His ear and guided His
giving hand.



IMPOSSIBLE SILENCE

'We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.'--ACTS
iv. 20.

The context tells us that the Jewish Council were surprised, as they
well might be, at the boldness of Peter and John, and traced it to
their having been with Jesus. But do you remember that they were by no
means bold when they were with Jesus, and that the bravery came after
what, in ordinary circumstances, would have destroyed any of it in a
man? A leader's execution is not a usual recipe for heartening his
followers, but it had that effect in this case, and the Peter who was
frightened out of all his heroics by a sharp-eyed, sharp-tongued
servant-maid, a few weeks after bearded the Council and 'rejoiced that
he was counted worthy to suffer shame for His Name.' It was not
Christ's death that did that, and it was not His life that did that.
You cannot understand, to use a long word, the 'psychological'
transformation of these cowardly deniers who fled and forsook Him,
unless you bring in three things: Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost.
Then it is explicable.

However the boldness came; these two men before the Council were making
an epoch at that moment, and their grand words are the Magna Charta of
the right of every sincere conviction to free speech. They are the
direct parent of hundreds of similar sayings that flash out down the
world's history. Two things Peter and John adduced as making silence
impossible--a definite divine command, and an inward impulse. 'Whether
it is right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God,
judge ye. We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.'

But I wish to use these words now in a somewhat wider application. They
may suggest that there are great facts which make silence and
non-aggressiveness an impossibility for an individual or a Church, and
that by the very law of its being, a Church must be a missionary
Church, and a Christian cannot be a dumb Christian, unless he is a dead
Christian. And so I turn to look at these words as suggesting to us two
or three of the grounds on which Christian effort, in some form or
another, is inseparable from Christian experience.

And, first, I wish you to notice that there is--

I. An inward necessity which makes silence impossible.

'We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard,' is a
principle that applies far more widely than to the work of a Christian
Church, or to any activity that is put in force to spread the name of
Jesus Christ. For there is a universal impulse which brings it about
that whatever, in the nature of profound conviction, of illuminating
truth, especially as affecting moral and spiritual matters, is granted
to any man, knocks at the inner side of the door of his lips, and
demands an exit and free air and utterance. As surely as the tender
green spikelet of the springing corn pushes its way through the hard
clods, or as the bud in the fig-tree's polished stem swells and opens,
so surely whatever a man, in his deepest heart, knows to be true, calls
upon him to let it out and manifest itself in his words and in his
life. 'We believe, and therefore speak,' is a universal sequence. There
were four leprous men long ago that, in their despair, made their way
into the camp of the beleaguering enemy, found it empty; and after they
feasted themselves--and small blame to them--then flashed upon them the
thought, 'We do not well, this is a day of good tidings, and we hold
our peace; if we tarry till the morning light, some evil will befall
us.' Something like that is the uniform accompaniment of all profound
conviction. And if so, especially imperative and urgent will this
necessity be, wherever there is true Christian life. For whether we
consider the greatness of the gift that is imparted to us, in the very
act of our receiving that Lord, or whether we consider the soreness of
the need of a world that is without Him, surely there can be nothing
that so reinforces the natural necessity and impulse to impart what we
possess of truth or beauty or goodness as the greatness of the
unspeakable gift, and the wretchedness of a world that wants it.
Brethren, there are many things that come in the way--and perhaps never
more than in our own generation--of Christian men and women making
direct and specific efforts, by lip as well as by life, to speak about
Jesus Christ to other people. There is the standing hindrance of love
of ease and selfish absorption in our own concerns. There are the
conventional hindrances of our canons of social intercourse which make
it 'bad form' to speak to men about anything beneath the surface, and
God forbid that I should urge any man to a brusque, and indiscriminate,
and unwise forcing of his faith upon other people. But I believe, that
deep down below all these reasons, there are two main reasons why the
practice of the clear utterance of their faith on the part of Christian
people is so rare. The one is a deficient conception of what the Gospel
is, and the other is a feeble grasp of it for ourselves. If you do not
think that you have very much to say, you will not be very anxious to
say it; and if your notion of Christianity, and of Christ's relation to
the world, is that of the superficial professing Christian, then of
course you will be smitten with no earnestness of desire to impart the
truth to others. Types of Christianity which enfeeble or obscure the
central thought of Christ's work for the salvation of a world that
needs a Saviour, and is perishing without Him, never were, never are,
never will be, missionary or aggressive. There is no driving force in
them. They have little to say, and naturally they are in no hurry to
say it. But there is a deeper reason than that. I said a minute ago
that a dumb Christian was an impossibility unless he were a dead
Christian. And _there_ is the reason why so many of us feel so little,
so very little, of that knocking at the door of our hearts, and saying,
'Let me out!' which we should feel if we deeply believed, and felt, as
well as intellectually accepted, the gospel of our salvation.

The cause of a silent Church is a defective conception of the Gospel
entrusted to it, or a feeble grasp of the same. And as our silence or
indifference is the symptom, so by reaction it is in its turn the cause
of a greater enfeeblement of our faith, and of a weaker grasp of the
Gospel. Of course I know that it is perfectly possible for a man to
talk away his convictions, and I am afraid that that temptation which
besets all men of my profession, is not always resisted by us as it
ought to be. But, on the other hand, sure am I that no better way can
be devised of deepening my own hold of the truths of Christianity than
an honest, right attempt to make another share my morsel with me.
Convictions bottled, like other things bottled up, are apt to evaporate
and to spoil. They say that sometimes wine-growers, when they go down
into their cellars, find in a puncheon no wine, but a huge fungus. That
is what befalls the Christianity of people that never let air in, and
never speak their faith out. 'We cannot but speak the things which we
have seen and heard'; and if we do not speak, the vision fades and the
sound becomes faint.

Now there is another side to this same inward necessity of which I have
been speaking, on which I must just touch. I have referred to the
impulse which flows from the possession of the Gospel. There is an
impulse which flows from that which is but another way of putting the
same thing, the union with Jesus Christ, which is the result of our
faith in the Gospel. If I am a Christian I am, in a very profound and
real sense, one with Jesus Christ, and have His Spirit for the life of
my spirit. And in the measure in which I am thus one with Him, I shall
look at things as He looks at them, and do such things as He did. If
the mind of Jesus Christ is in us 'Who for the joy that was set before
Him endured the Cross,' who 'counted not equality with God a thing to
be desired, but made Himself of no reputation,' and 'was found in
fashion as a man,' then we too shall feel that our work in the world is
not done, and our obligations to Him are not discharged, unless to the
very last particle of our power we spread His name. Brethren, if there
were no commandment at all from Christ's lips laying upon His followers
the specific duty of making His gospel known, still this inward impulse
of which I am speaking would have created all the forms of Christian
aggressiveness which we see round about us, because, if we have Christ
and His Gospel in our hearts, 'we cannot but speak the things which we
have seen and heard.'

And now turn to another aspect of this matter. There is--

II. A command which makes silence criminal.

I do not need to do more than remind you of the fact that the very last
words which our Lord has left us according to the two versions of them
which are given in the Gospel of Matthew, and the beginning of this
Book of the Acts, coincide in this. 'You are to be My witnesses to the
ends of the earth. Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to
every creature.' Did you ever think what an extraordinary thing it is
that that confident anticipation of a worldwide dominion, and of being
Himself adapted to all mankind, in every climate and in every age, and
at every stage of culture, should have been the conviction which the
departing Christ sought to stamp upon the minds of those eleven poor
men? What audacity! What tremendous confidence! What a task to which to
set them! What an unexampled belief in Himself and His work! And it is
all coming true; for the world is finding out, more and more, that
Jesus Christ is its Saviour and its King.

This commandment which is laid upon us Christian men submerges all
distinctions of race, and speech, and nationality, and culture. There
are high walls parting men off from one another. This great message and
commission, like some rising tide, rolls over them all, and obliterates
them, and flows boundless, having drowned the differences, from horizon
to horizon, east and west and south and north.

Now let me press the thought that this commandment makes indifference
and silence criminal. We hear people talk, people whose Christianity it
is not for me to question, though I may question two things about it,
its clearness and its depth--we hear them talk as if to help or not to
help, in the various forms of Christian activity, missionary or
otherwise, was a matter left to their own inclination. No! it is not.
Let us distinctly understand that to help or not to help is not the
choice open to any man who would obey Jesus Christ. Let us distinctly
understand--and God grant that we may all feel it more--that we dare
not stand aside, be negligent, do nothing, leave other people to give
and to toil, and say, 'Oh! my sympathies do not go in that direction.'
Jesus Christ told you that they were to go in that direction, and if
they do not, so much the worse for the sympathies for one thing, and so
much the worse for you, the rebel, the disobedient in heart. I do not
want to bring down this great gift and token of love which Jesus Christ
has given to His servants, in entrusting them with the spread of the
Gospel, to the low level of a mere commandment, but I do sometimes
think that the tone of feeling, ay! and of speech, and still more the
manner of action, among professing Christian people, in regard to the
whole subject of the missionary work of God's Church, shows that they
need to be reminded; as the Duke of Wellington said, 'There are your
marching orders!' and the soldier who does not obey his marching orders
is a mutineer. There is a definite commandment which makes indifference
criminal.

There is another thing I should like to say, viz. that this definite
commandment overrides everything else. We hear a great deal from
unsympathetic critics, which is but a reproduction of an old grumble
that did not come from a very creditable source. 'To what purpose is
this waste?' Why do you not spend your money upon technical schools,
soup-kitchens, housing of the poor, and the like? Well, our answer is,
'He told us.' We hear, too, especially just in these days, a great deal
about the necessity for increased caution in pursuing missionary
operations in heathen lands. And some people that do not know anything
about the subject have ventured to say, for instance, that the
missionaries are responsible for Chinese antagonism to Europeans, and
for similar phenomena. Well, we are ready to be as wise and prudent as
you like. We do not ask any consuls to help us. Our brethren are men
who have hazarded their lives; and I never heard of a Baptist
missionary running under the skirts of an ambassador, or praying the
government to come and protect him. We do not ask for cathedrals to be
built, or territory to be ceded, as compensation for the loss of
precious lives. But if these advisers of caution mean no more than they
say, 'Caution!' we agree. But if they mean, what some of them mean,
that we are to be silent for fear of consequences, then, whether it be
prime ministers, or magistrates, or mobs that say it, our answer is,
'Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye!
We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.'

So, lastly, there is--

III. The bond of brotherhood which makes silence unnatural.

I have spoken of an inward impulse. That thought turns our attention to
our own hearts. I have spoken of a definite command; that turns our
eyes to the Throne. I speak now of a bond of brotherhood. That sends
our thoughts out over the whole world. There is such a bond. Jesus
Christ by His Incarnation has taken the nature of every man upon
Himself, and has brought all men into one. Jesus Christ 'by the grace
of God, has tasted death for every man,' and has brought all men into
unity. And so the much-abused and vulgarised conception of
'fraternity,' and even the very word 'humanity,' are the creation of
Christianity, and flow from these two facts--the Cradle of Bethlehem
and the Cross of Calvary, besides that prior one that 'God hath made of
one blood all nations of men.' If that be so, then what flows from that
unity, from that brotherhood thus sacredly founded upon the facts of
the life and death of Jesus Christ, the world's Redeemer? This to begin
with, that Christian men are bound to look out over humanity with
Christ's eyes, and not--as is largely the case to-day--to regard other
nations as enemies and rivals, and the 'lower races' as existing to be
exploited for our wealth, to be coerced for our glory, to be conquered
for our Empire. We have to think of them as Jesus Christ thought. I
cannot but remember days in England when the humanitarian sentiment in
regard to the inferior races was far more vigorous, and far more
operative in national life than it is to-day. I can go back in
boyhood's memory to the emancipation of the West Indian slaves, and
that was but the type of the general tendency of thought amongst the
better minds of England in those days. Would that it were so now!

But further, brethren, we as Christian people have laid upon us this
responsibility by that very bond of brotherhood, that we should carry
whithersoever our influence may go the great message of the Elder
Brother who makes us all one. We give much to the 'heathen' populations
within our Empire or the reach of our trade. We give them English laws,
English science, English literature, English outlooks on life, the
English tongue, English vices--opium, profligacy, and the like. Are
these all the gifts that we are bound to carry to heathen lands?
Dynamos and encyclopaedias, gin and rifles, shirtings and castings?
Have we not to carry Christ? And all the more because we are so closely
knit with so many of them. I wonder how many of you get the greater
part of your living out of India and China?

Surely, if there is a place in England where the missionary appeal
should be responded to, it is Manchester. 'As a nest hast thou gathered
the riches of the nations.' What have you given? Make up the
balance-sheet, brethren. 'We are debtors,' let us put down the items:--

Debtors by a common brotherhood.

Debtors by the possession of Christ for ourselves.

Debtors by benefits received.

Debtors by injuries inflicted.

The debit side of the account is heavy. Let us try to discharge some
portion of the debt, in the fashion in which the Apostle from whom I
have been quoting thought that he would best discharge it when, after
declaring himself debtor to many kinds of men, he added, 'So as much as
in me is, I am ready to preach the Gospel.' May we all say, more truly
than we have ever said before, 'We cannot but speak the things which we
have seen and heard!'



THE SERVANT AND THE SLAVES

'Thy servant David...'; 'Thy Holy Servant Jesus...'; 'Thy
servants...'--ACTS iv. 26, 27, 29.

I do not often take fragments of Scripture for texts; but though these
are fragments, their juxtaposition results in by no means fragmentary
thoughts. There is obvious intention in the recurrence of the
expression so frequently in so few verses, and to the elucidation of
that intention my remarks will be directed. The words are parts of the
Church's prayer on the occasion of its first collision with the civil
power. The incident is recorded at full length because it is the
_first_ of a long and bloody series, in order that succeeding
generations might learn their true weapon and their sure defence.
Prayer is the right answer to the world's hostility, and they who only
ask for courage to stand by their confession will never ask in vain.
But it is no part of my intention to deal either with the incident or
with this noble prayer.

A word or two of explanation may be necessary as to the language of our
texts. You will observe that, in the second of them, I have followed
the Revised Version, which, instead of 'Thy holy child,' as in the
Authorised Version, reads 'Thy holy Servant.' The alteration is clearly
correct. The word, indeed, literally means 'a child,' but, like our own
English 'boy,' or even 'man,' or 'maid,' it is used to express the
relation of servant, when the desire is to cover over the harsher
features of servitude, and to represent the servant as a part of the
family. Thus the kindly centurion, who besought Jesus to come and heal
his servant, speaks of him as his 'boy.' And that the word is here used
in this secondary sense of 'servant' is unmistakable. For there is no
discernible reason why, if stress were meant to be laid on Christ as
being the Son of God, the recognised expression for that relationship
should not have been employed. Again, the Greek translation of the Old
Testament, with which the Apostles were familiar, employs the very
phrase that is here used as its translation of the well-known Old
Testament designation of the Messiah, 'the Servant of the Lord' and the
words here are really a quotation from the great prophecies of the
second part of the Book of Isaiah. Further, the same word is employed
in reference to King David and in reference to Jesus Christ. In regard
to the former, it is evident that it must have the meaning of
'servant'; and it would be too harsh to suppose that in the compass of
so few verses the same expression should be used, at one time in the
one signification, and at another in the other. So, then, David and
Jesus are in some sense classified here together as both servants of
God. That is the first point that I desire to make.

Then, in regard to the third of my texts, the expression is not the
same there as in the other two. The disciples do not venture to take
the loftier designation. Rather they prefer the humble one, 'slaves,'
bondmen, the familiar expression found all through the New Testament as
almost a synonym to Christians.

So, then, we have here three figures: the Psalmist-king, the Messiah,
the disciples; Christ in the midst, on the one hand a servant with whom
He deigns to be classed, on the other hand the slaves who, through Him,
have become sons. And I think I shall best bring out the intended
lessons of these clauses in their connection if I ask you to note these
two contrasts, the servants and the Servant; the Servant and the
slaves. 'David Thy servant'; 'Thy holy Servant Jesus'; us 'Thy
servants.'

I. First, then, notice the servants and the Servant.

The reason for the application of the name to the Psalmist lies, not so
much in his personal character or in his religious elevation, as in the
fact that he was chosen of God for a specific purpose, to carry on the
divine plans some steps towards their realisation. Kings, priests,
prophets, the collective Israel, as having a specific function in the
world, and being, in some sense, the instruments and embodiments of the
will of God amongst men, have in an eminent degree the designation of
His 'servants.' And we might widen out the thought and say that all men
who, like the heathen Cyrus, are God's shepherds, though they do not
know it--guided by Him, though they understand not whence comes their
power, and blindly do His work in the world, being 'epoch-making' men,
as the fashionable phrase goes now--are really, though in a subordinate
sense, entitled to the designation.

But then, whilst this is true, and whilst Jesus Christ comes into this
category, and is one of these special men raised up and adapted for
special service in connection with the carrying out of the divine
purpose, mark how emphatically and broadly the line is drawn here
between Him and the other members of the class to which, in a certain
sense, He does belong. Peter says, 'Thy servant David,' but he says
'Thy _holy_ Servant Jesus.' And in the Greek the emphasis is still
stronger, because the definite article is employed before the word
'servant.' '_The_ holy Servant of Thine'--that is His specific and
unique designation.

There are many imperfect instruments of the divine will. Thinkers and
heroes and saints and statesmen and warriors, as well as prophets and
priests and kings, are so regarded in Scripture, and may profitably be
so regarded by us; but amongst them all there is One who stands in
their midst and yet apart from them, because He, and He alone, can say,
'I have done all Thy pleasure, and into my doing of Thy pleasure no
bitter leaven of self-regard or by-ends has ever, in the faintest
degree, entered.' 'Thy holy Servant Jesus' is the unique designation of
_the_ Servant of the Lord.

And what is the meaning of _holy_? The word does not originally and
primarily refer to character so much as to relation to God. The root
idea of holiness is not righteousness nor moral perfectness, but
something that lies behind these--viz, separation for the service and
uses of God. The first notion of the word is consecration, and, built
upon that and resulting from it, moral perfection. So then these men,
some of whom had lived beside Jesus Christ for all those years, and had
seen everything that He did, and studied Him through and through, had
summered and wintered with Him, came away from the close inspection of
His character with this thought; He is utterly and entirely devoted to
the service of God, and in Him there is neither spot nor wrinkle nor
blemish such as is found in all other men.

I need not remind you with what strange persistence of affirmation, and
yet with what humility of self-consciousness, our Lord Himself always
claimed to be in possession of this entire consecration, and complete
obedience, and consequent perfection. Think of human lips saying, 'I do
always the things that please Him.' Think of human lips saying, 'My
meat is to do the will of Him that sent me.' Think of a man whose whole
life's secret was summed up in this: 'As the Father hath given Me
commandment, _so_'--no more, no less, no otherwise--'so I speak.' Think
of a man whose inspiring principle was, consciously to himself, 'not My
will, but Thine be done'; and who could say that it was so, and not be
met by universal ridicule. There followed in Jesus the moral
perfectness that comes from such uninterrupted and complete
consecration of self to God. 'Thy servant David,'--what about
Bathsheba, David? What about a great many other things in your life?
The poet-king, with the poet-nature so sensitive to all the delights of
sense, and so easily moved in the matter of pleasure, is but like all
God's other servants in the fact of imperfection. In every machine
power is lost through friction; and in every man, the noblest and the
purest, there is resistance to be overcome ere motion in conformity
with the divine impulse can be secured. We pass in review before our
minds saints and martyrs and lovely characters by the hundred, and
amongst them all there is not a jewel without a flaw, not a mirror
without some dint in it where the rays are distorted, or some dark
place where the reflecting surface has been rubbed away by the
attrition of sin, and where there is no reflection of the divine light.
And then we turn to that meek Figure who stands there with the question
that has been awaiting an answer for nineteen centuries upon His lips,
and is unanswered yet: 'Which of you convinceth Me of sin?' 'He is the
holy Servant,' whose consecration and character mark Him off from all
the class to which He belongs as the only one of them all who, in
completeness, has executed the Father's purpose, and has never
attempted anything contrary to it.

Now there is another step to be taken, and it is this. The Servant who
stands out in front of all the group--though the noblest names in the
world's history are included therein--could not be _the_ Servant unless
He were the Son. This designation, as applied to Jesus Christ, is
peculiar to these three or four earlier chapters of the Acts of the
Apostles. It is interesting because it occurs over and over again
there, and because it never occurs anywhere else in the New Testament.
If we recognise what I think must be recognised, that it is a quotation
from the ancient prophecies, and is an assertion of the Messianic
character of Jesus, then I think we here see the Church in a period of
transition in regard to their conceptions of their Lord. There is no
sign that the proper Sonship and Divinity of our Lord was clear before
them at this period. They had the facts, but they had not yet come to
the distinct apprehension of how much was involved in these. But, if
they knew that Jesus Christ had died and had risen again--and they knew
that, for they had seen Him--and if they believed that He was the
Messiah, and if they were certain that in His character of Messiah
there had been faultlessness and absolute perfection--and they were
certain of that, because they had lived beside Him--then it would not
be long before they took the next step, and said, as I say, 'He cannot
be the Servant unless He is more than man.'

And we may well ask ourselves the question, if we admit, as the world
does admit, the moral perfectness of Jesus Christ, how comes it that
this Man alone managed to escape failures and deflections from the
right, and sins, and that He only carried through life a stainless
garment, and went down to the grave never having needed, and not
needing then, the exercise of divine forgiveness? Brethren, I venture
to say that it is hopeless to account for Jesus Christ on naturalistic
principles; and that either you must give up your belief in His
sinlessness, or advance, as the Christian Church as a whole advanced,
to the other belief, on which alone that perfectness is explicable:
'Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ! Thou art the Everlasting Son of
the Father!'

II. And so, secondly, let us turn to the other contrast here--the
Servant and the slaves.

I said that the humble group of praying, persecuted believers seemed to
have wished to take a lower place than their Master's, even whilst they
ventured to assume that, in some sense, they too, like Him, were doing
the Father's will. So they chose, by a fine instinct of humility rather
than from any dogmatical prepossessions, the name that expresses, in
its most absolute and roughest form, the notion of bondage and
servitude. He is the Servant; we standing here are slaves. And that
this is not an overweighting of the word with more than is meant by it
seems to be confirmed by the fact that in the first clause of this
prayer, we have, for the only time in the New Testament, God addressed
as 'Lord' by the correlative word to _slave_, which has been
transferred into English, namely, _despot_.

The true position, then, for a man is to be God's slave. The harsh,
repellent features of that wicked institution assume an altogether
different character when they become the features of my relation to
Him. Absolute submission, unconditional obedience, on the slave's part;
and on the part of the Master complete ownership, the right of life and
death, the right of disposing of all goods and chattels, the right of
separating husband and wife, parents and children, the right of issuing
commandments without a reason, the right to expect that those
commandments shall be swiftly, unhesitatingly, punctiliously, and
completely performed--these things inhere in our relation to God.
Blessed the man who has learned that they do, and has accepted them as
his highest glory and the security of his most blessed life! For,
brethren, such submission, absolute and unconditional, the blending and
the absorption of my own will in His will, is the secret of all that
makes manhood glorious and great and happy.

Remember, however, that in the New Testament these names of slave and
owner are transferred to Christians and Jesus Christ. 'The Servant' has
His slaves; and He who is God's Servant, and does not His own will but
the Father's will, has us for His servants, imposes His will upon us,
and we are bound to render to Him a revenue of entire obedience like
that which He hath laid at His Father's feet.

Such slavery is the only freedom. Liberty does not mean doing as you
like, it means liking as you ought, and doing that. He only is free who
submits to God in Christ, and thereby overcomes himself and the world
and all antagonism, and is able to do that which it is his life to do.
A prison out of which we do not desire to go is no restraint, and the
will which coincides with law is the only will that is truly free. You
talk about the bondage of obedience. Ah! 'the weight of too much
liberty' is a far sorer bondage. They are the slaves who say, 'Let us
break His bonds asunder, and cast away His cords from us'; and they are
the free men who say, 'Lord, put Thy blessed shackles on my arms, and
impose Thy will upon my will, and fill my heart with Thy love; and then
will and hands will move freely and delightedly.' 'If the Son make you
free, ye shall be free indeed.'

Such slavery is the only nobility. In the wicked old empires, as in
some of their modern survivals to-day, viziers and prime ministers were
mostly drawn from the servile classes. It is so in God's kingdom. They
who make themselves God's slaves are by Him made kings and priests, and
shall reign with Him on earth. If we are slaves, then are we sons and
heirs of God through Jesus Christ.

Remember the alternative. You cannot be your own masters without being
your own slaves. It is a far worse bondage to live as chartered
libertines than to walk in the paths of obedience. Better serve God
than the devil, than the world, than the flesh. Whilst they promise men
liberty, they make them 'the most abject and downtrodden vassals of
perdition.'

The Servant-Son makes us slaves and sons. It matters nothing to me that
Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled the law of God; it is so much the
better for Him, but of no value for me, unless He has the power of
making me like Himself. And He has it, and if you will trust yourselves
to Him, and give your hearts to Him, and ask Him to govern you, He will
govern you; and if you will abandon your false liberty which is
servitude, and take the sober freedom which is obedience, then He will
bring you to share in His temper of joyful service; and even we may be
able to say, 'My meat and my drink is to do the will of Him that sent
me,' and truly saying that, we shall have the key to all delights, and
our feet will be, at least, on the lower rungs of the ladder whose top
reaches to Heaven.

'What fruit had ye in the things of which ye are now ashamed? But being
made free from sin, and become the slaves of God, ye have your fruit
unto holiness; and the end everlasting life.' Brethren, I beseech you,
by the mercies of God, that ye yield yourselves to Him, crying, 'O
Lord, truly I am Thy servant. Thou hast loosed my bonds.'



THE WHEAT AND THE TARES

'And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one
soul: neither said any of them that aught of the things which he
possessed was his own; but they had all things common.'--ACTS iv. 32.

'And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard
these things.'--ACTS v. 11.

Once more Luke pauses and gives a general survey of the Church's
condition. It comes in appropriately at the end of the account of the
triumph over the first assault of civil authority, which assault was
itself not only baffled, but turned to good. Just because persecution
had driven them closer to God and to one another, were the disciples so
full of brotherly love and of grace as Luke delights to paint them.

I. We note the fair picture of what the Church once was. The recent
large accessions to it might have weakened the first feelings of
brotherhood, so that it is by no means superfluous to repeat
substantially the features of the earlier description (Acts ii. 44,
45). 'The multitude' is used with great meaning, for it was a triumph
of the Spirit's influence that the warm stream of brotherly love ran
through so many hearts, knit together only by common submission to
Jesus. That oneness of thought and feeling was the direct issue of the
influx of the Spirit mentioned as the blessed result of the disciples'
dauntless devotion (Acts iv. 31). If our Churches were 'filled with the
Holy Ghost,' we too should be fused into oneness of heart and mind,
though our organisations as separate communities continued, just as all
the little pools below high-water mark are made one when the tide comes
up.

The first result and marvellous proof of that oneness was the so-called
'community of goods,' the account of which is remarkable both because
it all but fills this picture, and because it is broken into two by
verse 33, rapidly summarising other characteristics. The two halves may
be considered together, and it may be noted that the former presents
the sharing of property as the result of brotherly unity, while the
latter traces it ('for,' v. 34) to the abundant divine grace resting on
the whole community. The terms of the description should be noted, as
completely negativing the notion that the fact in question was anything
like compulsory abolition of the right of individual ownership. 'Not
one of them said that aught of the things which he possessed was his
own.' That implies that the right of possession was not abolished. It
implies, too, that the common feeling of brotherhood was stronger than
the self-centred regard which looks on possessions as to be used for
self. Thus they possessed as though they possessed not, and each held
his property as a trust from God for his brethren.

We must observe, further, that the act of selling was the owners', as
was the act of handing the proceeds to the Apostles. The community had
nothing to do with the money till it had been given to them. Further,
the distribution was not determined by the rule of equality, but by the
'need' of the recipients; and its result was not that all had share and
share alike, but that 'none lacked.'

There is nothing of modern communism in all this, but there is a lesson
to the modern Church as to the obligations of wealth and the claims of
brotherhood, which is all but universally disregarded. The spectre of
communism is troubling every nation, and it will become more and more
formidable, unless the Church learns that the only way to lay it is to
live by the precepts of Jesus and to repeat in new forms the spirit of
the primitive Church. The Christian sense of stewardship, not the
abolition of the right of property, is the cure for the hideous facts
which drive men to shriek 'Property is theft.'

Luke adds two more points to his survey,--the power of the Apostolic
testimony, and the great grace which lay like a bright cloud on the
whole Church. The Apostles' special office was to bear witness to the
Resurrection. They held a position of prominence in the Church by
virtue of having been chosen by Jesus and having been His companions,
but the Book of Acts is silent about any of the other mysterious powers
which later ages have ascribed to them. The only Apostles who appear in
it are Peter, John, and James, the last only in a parenthesis recording
His martyrdom. Their peculiar work was to say, 'Behold! we saw, and
know that He died and rose again.'

II. The general description is followed by one example of the surrender
of wealth, which is noteworthy as being done by one afterwards to play
a great part in the book, and also as leading on to an example of
hypocritical pretence. Side by side stand Barnabas and the wretched
couple, Ananias and Sapphira.

Luke introduces the new personage with some particularity, and, as He
does not go into detail without good reason, we must note his
description. First, the man's character is given, as expressed in the
name bestowed by the Apostles, in imitation of Christ's frequent
custom. He must have been for some time a disciple, in order that his
special gift should have been recognised. He was a 'son of
exhortation'; that is, he had the power of rousing and encouraging the
faith and stirring the believing energy of the brethren. An example of
this was given in Antioch, where he 'exhorted them all, that with
purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.' So much the more
beautiful was his self-effacement when with Paul, for it was the latter
who was 'the chief speaker.' Barnabas felt that his gift was less than
his brother's, and so, without jealousy, took the second place. He,
being silent, yet speaketh, and bids us learn our limits, and be
content to be surpassed.

We are next told his rank. He was a Levite. The tribe to which a
disciple belongs is seldom mentioned, but probably the reason for
specifying Barnabas' was the same as led Luke, in another place, to
record that 'a great company of the priests was obedient to the faith.'
The connection of the tribe of Levi with the Temple worship made
accessions from it significant, as showing how surely the new faith was
creeping into the very heart of the old system, and winning converts
from the very classes most interested in opposing it. Barnabas'
significance is further indicated by the notice that he was 'a man of
Cyprus,' and as such, the earliest mentioned of the Hellenists or
foreign-born and Greek-speaking Jews, who were to play so important a
part in the expansion of the Church.

His first appearance witnessed to the depth and simple genuineness of
his character and faith. The old law forbidding Levites to hold land
had gradually become inoperative, and perhaps Barnabas' estate was in
Cyprus, though more probably it was, like that of his relative Mary,
the mother of Mark, in Jerusalem. He did as many others were doing, and
brought the proceeds to the assembly of the brethren, and there
publicly laid them at the Apostles' feet, in token of their authority
to administer them as they thought well.

III. Why was Barnabas' act singled out for mention, since there was
nothing peculiar about it? Most likely because it stimulated Ananias
and his wife to imitation. Wherever there are signal instances of
Christian self-sacrifice, there will spring up a crop of base copies.
Ananias follows Barnabas as surely as the shadow the substance. It was
very likely a pure impulse which led him and his wife to agree to sell
their land; and it was only when they had the money in their hands, and
had to take the decisive step of parting with it, and reducing
themselves to pennilessness, that they found the surrender harder than
they could carry out. Satan spoils many a well-begun work, and we often
break down half-way through a piece of Christian unselfishness. Well
begun is half--but only half--ended.

Be that as it may, Peter's stern words to Ananias put all the stress of
the sin on its being an acted lie. The motives of the trick are not
disclosed. They may have been avarice, want of faith, greed of
applause, reluctance to hang back when others were doing like Barnabas.
It is hard to read the mingled motives which lead ourselves wrong, and
harder to separate them in the case of another. How much Ananias kept
back is of no moment; indeed, the less he retained the greater the sin;
for it is baser, as well as more foolish, to do wrong for a little
advantage than for a great one.

Peter's two questions bring out very strikingly the double source of
the sin. 'Why hath Satan filled thy heart?'--an awful antithesis to
being filled with the Spirit. Then there is a real, malign Tempter, who
can pour evil affections and purposes into men's hearts. But he cannot
do it unless the man opens his heart, as that 'why?' implies. The same
thought of our co-operation and concurrence, so that, however Satan
suggests, it is we who are guilty, comes out in the second question,
'How is it that _thou_ hast conceived this thing in thy heart?'
Reverently we may venture to say that not only Christ stands at the
door and knocks, but that the enemy of Him and His stands there too,
and he too enters 'if any man opens the door.' Neither heaven nor hell
can come in unless we will.

The death of Ananias was not inflicted by Peter, 'Hearing these words'
he 'fell down and' died. Surely that expression suggests that the stern
words had struck at his life, and that his death was the result of the
agitation of shame and guilt which they excited. That does not at all
conflict with regarding his death as a punitive divine act.

One can fancy the awed silence that fell on the congregation, and the
restrained, mournful movement that ran through it when Sapphira
entered. Why the two had not come in company can only be conjectured.
Perhaps the husband had gone straight to the Apostles after completing
the sale, and had left the wife to follow at her convenience. Perhaps
she had not intended to come at all, but had grown alarmed at the delay
in Ananias' return. She may have come in fear that something had gone
wrong, and that fear would be increased by her not seeing her husband
in her quick glance round the company.

If she came expecting to receive applause, the silence and constraint
that hung over the assembly must have stirred a fear that something
terrible had happened, which would be increased by Peter's question. It
was a merciful opportunity given her to separate herself from the sin
and the punishment; but her lie was glib, and indicated determination
to stick to the fraud. That moment was heavy with her fate, and she
knew it not; but she knew that she had the opportunity of telling the
truth, and she did not take it. She had to make the hard choice which
we have sometimes to make, to be true to some sinful bargain or be true
to God, and she chose the worse part. Which of the two was tempter and
which was tempted matters little. Like many a wife, she thought that it
was better to be loyal to her husband than to God, and so her honour
was 'rooted in dishonour,' and she was falsely true and truly false.

The judgment on Sapphira was not inflicted by Peter. He foretold it by
his prophetic power, but it was the hand of God which vindicated the
purity of the infant Church. The terrible severity of the punishment
can only be understood by remembering the importance of preserving the
young community from corruption at the very beginning. Unless the
vermin are cleared from the springing plant, it will not grow. As
Achan's death warned Israel at the beginning of their entrance into the
promised land, so Ananias and Sapphira perished, that all generations
of the Church might fear to pretend to self-surrender while cherishing
its opposite, and might feel that they have to give account to One who
knows the secrets of the heart, and counts nothing as given if anything
is surreptitiously kept back.



WHOM TO OBEY,--ANNAS OR ANGEL?

'Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which
is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation, 18.
And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common
prison. 19. But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors,
and brought them forth, and said, 20. Go, stand and speak in the temple
to the people all the words of this life. 21. And when they heard that,
they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the
high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council
together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the
prison to have them brought. 22. But when the officers came, and found
them not in the prison, they returned, and told, 23. Saying, The prison
truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without
before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within. 24.
Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief
priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would
grow. 25. Then came one and told them, saying. Behold, the men whom ye
put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people. 26.
Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without
violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been
stoned. 27. And when they had brought them, they set them before the
council: and the high priest asked them, 28. Saying, Did not we
straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and,
behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to
bring this man's blood upon us. 29. Then Peter and the other apostles
answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. 30. The God of
our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. 31. Him
hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for
to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32. And we are
His witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God
hath given to them that obey Him.'--ACTS v. 17-32.

The Jewish ecclesiastics had been beaten in the first round of the
fight, and their attempt to put out the fire had only stirred the
blaze. Popular sympathy is fickle, and if the crowd does not shout with
the persecutors, it will make heroes and idols of the persecuted. So
the Apostles had gained favour by the attempt to silence them, and that
led to the second round, part of which is described in this passage.

The first point to note is the mean motives which influenced the
high-priest and his adherents. As before, the Sadducees were at the
bottom of the assault; for talk about a resurrection was gall and
wormwood to them. But Luke alleges a much more contemptible emotion
than zeal for supposed truth as the motive for action. The word
rendered in the Authorised Version 'indignation,' is indeed literally
'zeal,' but it here means, as the Revised Version has it, nothing
nobler than 'jealousy.' 'Who are those ignorant Galileans that they
should encroach on the office of us dignified teachers? and what fools
the populace must be to listen to them! Our prestige is threatened. If
we don't bestir ourselves, our authority will be gone.' A lofty spirit
in which to deal with grave movements of opinion, and likely to lead
its possessors to discern truth!

The Sanhedrin, no doubt, talked solemnly about the progress of error,
and the duty of firmly putting it down, and, like Jehu, said, 'Come,
and see our zeal for the Lord'; but it was zeal for greetings in the
marketplace, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the other
advantages of their position. So it has often been since. The
instruments which zeal for truth uses are argument, Scripture, and
persuasion. That zeal which betakes itself to threats and force is, at
the best, much mingled with the wrath and jealousy of man.

The arrest of the Apostles and their committal to prison was simply for
detention, not punishment. The rulers cast their net wider this time,
and secured all the Apostles, and, having them safe under lock and key,
they went home triumphant, and expecting to deal a decisive blow
to-morrow. Then comes one of the great 'buts' of Scripture. Annas and
Caiaphas thought that they had scored a success, but an angel upset
their calculations. To try to explain the miracle away is hopeless. It
is wiser to try to understand it.

The very fact that it did not lead to the Apostles' deliverance, but
that the trial and scourging followed next day, just as if it had not
happened, which has been alleged as a proof of its uselessness, and
inferentially of its falsehood, puts us on the right track. It was not
meant for their deliverance, but for their heartening, and for the
bracing of all generations of Christians, by showing, at the first
conflict with the civil power, that the Lord was with His Church. His
strengthening power is operative when no miracle is wrought. If His
servants are not delivered, it is not that He lacks angels, but that it
is better for them and the Church that they should lie in prison or die
at the stake.

The miracle was a transient revelation of a perpetual truth, and has
shed light on many a dark dungeon where God's servants have lain
rotting. It breathed heroic constancy into the Twelve. How striking and
noble was their prompt obedience to the command to resume the perilous
work of preaching! As soon as the dawn began to glimmer over Olivet,
and the priests were preparing for the morning sacrifice, there were
these irrepressible disturbers, whom the officials thought they had
shut up safely last night, lifting up their voices again as if nothing
had happened. What a picture of dauntless persistence, and what a
lesson for us! The moment the pressure is off, we should spring back to
our work of witnessing for Christ.

The bewilderment of the Council comes in strong contrast with the
unhesitating action of the Apostles. There is a half ludicrous side to
it, which Luke does not try to hide. There was the pompous assembling
of all the great men at early morning, and their dignified waiting till
their underlings brought in the culprits. No doubt, Annas put on his
severest air of majesty, and all were prepared to look their sternest
for the confusion of the prisoners. The prison, the Temple, and the
judgment hall, were all near each other. So there was not long to wait.
But, behold! the officers come back alone, and their report shakes the
assembly out of its dignity. One sees the astonished underlings coming
up to the prison, and finding all in order, the sentries patrolling,
the doors fast (so the angel had shut them as well as opened them), and
then entering ready to drag out the prisoners, and--finding all silent.
Such elaborate guard kept over an empty cage!

It was not the officers' business to offer explanations, and it does
not seem that any were asked. One would have thought that the sentries
would have been questioned. Herod went the natural way to work, when he
had Peter's guards examined and put to death. But Annas and his fellows
do not seem to have cared to inquire how the escape had been made.
Possibly they suspected a miracle, or perhaps feared that inquiry might
reveal sympathisers with the prisoners among their own officials. At
any rate, they were bewildered, and lost their heads, wondering what
was to come next, and how this thing was to end.

The further news that these obstinate fanatics were at their old work
in the Temple again, must have greatly added to the rulers' perplexity,
and they must have waited the return of the officers sent off for the
second time to fetch the prisoners, with somewhat less dignity than
before. The officers felt the pulse of the crowd, and did not venture
on force, from wholesome fear for their own skins. An excited mob in
the Temple court was not to be trifled with, so persuasion was adopted.
The brave Twelve went willingly, for the Sanhedrin had no terrors for
them, and by going they secured another opportunity of ringing out
their Lord's salvation. Wherever a Christian can witness for Christ, he
should be ready to go.

The high-priest discreetly said nothing about the escape. Possibly he
had no suspicion of a miracle, but, even if he had, chapter iv. 16
shows that that would not have led to any modification of his
hostility. Persecutors, clothed with a little brief authority, are
strangely blind to the plainest indications of the truth spoken by
their victims. Annas did not know what a question about the escape
might bring out, so he took the safer course of charging the Twelve
with disobedience to the Sanhedrin's prohibition. How characteristic of
all his kind that is! Never mind whether what the martyr says is true
or not. He has broken our law, and defied our authority; that is
enough. Are we to be chopping logic, and arguing with every ignorant
upstart who chooses to vent his heresies? Gag him,--that is easier and
more dignified.

A world of self-consequence peeps out in that '_we_ straitly charged
you,' and a world of contempt peeps out in the avoidance of naming
Jesus. 'This name' and 'this man' is the nearest that the proud priest
will come to soiling his lips by mentioning Him. He bears unconscious
testimony to the Apostles' diligence, and to the popular inclination to
them, by charging them with having filled the city with what he
contemptuously calls '_your_ teaching,' as if it had no other source
than their own ignorant notions.

Then the deepest reason for the Sanhedrin's bitterness leaks out in the
charge of inciting the mob to take vengeance on them for the death of
Jesus. It was true that the Apostles had charged that guilt home on
them, but not on them only, but on the whole nation, so that no
incitement to revenge lay in the charge. It was true that they had
brought 'this man's blood' on the rulers, but only to draw them to
repentance, not to hound at them their sharers in the guilt. Had Annas
forgot 'His blood be on us, and on our children'? But, when an evil
deed is complete, the doers try to shuffle off the responsibility which
they were ready to take in the excitement of hurrying to do it. Annas
did not trouble himself about divine vengeance; it was the populace
whom he feared.

So, in its attempt to browbeat the accused, in its empty airs of
authority, in its utter indifference to the truth involved, in its
contempt for the preachers and their message, in its brazen denial of
responsibility, its dread of the mob, and its disregard of the far-off
divine judgment, his bullying speech is a type of how persecutors, from
Roman governors down, have hectored their victims.

And Peter's brave answer is, thank God! the type of what thousands of
trembling women and meek men have answered. His tone is severer now
than on his former appearance. Now he has no courteous recognition of
the court's authority. Now he brushes aside all Annas's attempts to
impose on him the sanctity of its decrees, and flatly denies that the
Council has any more right to command than any other 'men.' They
claimed to be depositaries of God's judgments. This revolutionary
fisherman sees nothing in them but 'men,' whose commands point one way,
while God's point the other. The angel bade them 'speak'; the Council
had bid them be dumb. To state the opposition was to determine their
duty. Formerly Peter had said 'judge ye' which command it is right to
obey. Now, he wraps his refusal in no folds of courtesy, but thrusts
the naked 'We must obey God' in the Council's face. That was a great
moment in the history of the world and the Church. How much lay in it,
as in a seed,--Luther's 'Here I stand, I can do none other. God help
me! Amen'; Plymouth Rock, and many a glorious and blood-stained page in
the records of martyrdom.

Peter goes on to vindicate his assumption that in disobeying Annas they
are obeying God, by reiterating the facts which since Pentecost he had
pressed on the national conscience. Israel had slain, and God had
exalted, Jesus to His right hand. That was God's verdict on Israel's
action. But it was also the ground of hope for Israel; for the
exaltatior of Jesus was that He might be 'Prince [or Leader] and
Saviour,' and from His exalted hand were shed the gifts of 'repentance
and remission of sins,' even of the great sin of slaying Him. These
things being so, how could the Apostles be silent? Had not God bid them
speak, by their very knowledge of these? They were Christ's witnesses,
constituted as such by their personal acquaintance with Him and their
having seen Him raised and ascending, and appointed to be such by His
own lips, and inspired for their witnessing by the Holy Spirit shed on
them at Pentecost. Peter all but reproduces the never-to-be-forgotten
words heard by them all in the upper room, 'He shall bear witness of
Me: and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with Me from
the beginning.' Silence would be treason. So it is still. What were
Annas and his bluster to men whom Christ had bidden to speak, and to
whom He had given the Spirit of the Father to speak in them?



OUR CAPTAIN

'Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince.'--ACTS v. 31.

The word rendered 'Prince' is a rather infrequent designation of our
Lord in Scripture. It is only employed in all four times--twice in
Peter's earlier sermons recorded in this Book of the Acts; and twice in
the Epistle to the Hebrews. In a former discourse of the Apostle's he
had spoken of the crime of the Jews in killing 'the Prince of life.'
Here he uses the word without any appended epithet. In the Epistle to
the Hebrews we read once of the 'Captain of Salvation,' and once of the
'Author of Faith.'

Now these three renderings 'Prince,' 'Captain,' 'Author,' seem
singularly unlike. But the explanation of their being all substantially
equivalent to the original word is not difficult to find. It seems to
mean properly a Beginner, or Originator, who takes the lead in
anything, and hence the notions of chieftainship and priority are
easily deduced from it. Then, very naturally, it comes to mean
something very much like _cause_; with only this difference, that it
implies that the person who is the Originator is Himself the Possessor
of that of which He is the Cause to others. So the two ideas of a
Leader, and of a Possessor who imparts, are both included in the word.

My intention in this sermon is to deal with the various forms of this
expression, in order to try to bring out the fulness of the notion
which Scripture attaches to this leadership of Jesus Christ. He is
first of all, generally, as our text sets Him forth, the Leader,
absolutely. Then there are the specific aspects, expressed by the other
three passages, in which He is set forth as the Leader through death to
life; the Leader through suffering to salvation; and the Leader in the
path of faith. Let us look, then, at these points in succession.

I. First, we have the general notion of Christ the Leader.

Now I suppose we are all acquainted with the fact that the names
'Joshua' and 'Jesus' are, in the original, one. It is further to be
noticed that, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which was
familiar to Peter's hearers, the word of our text is that employed to
describe the office of the military leaders of Israel. It is still
further to be observed that, in all the instances in the New Testament,
it is employed in immediate connection with the name of Jesus. Now,
putting all these things together, remembering to whom Peter was
speaking, remembering the familiarity which many of his audience must
have had with the Old Testament in its Greek translation, remembering
the identity of the two names Joshua and Jesus, it is difficult to
avoid the supposition that the expression of our text is coloured by a
reference to the bold soldier who successfully led his brethren into
the Promised Land. Joshua was the 'Captain of the Lord's host' to lead
them to Canaan; the second Joshua is the Captain of the Host of the
Lord to lead them to a better rest. Of all the Old Testament heroes
perhaps there is none, at first sight, less like the second Joshua than
the first was. He is only a rough, plain, prompt, and bold soldier. No
prophet was he, no word of wisdom ever fell from his lips, no trace of
tenderness was in anything that he did; meekness was alien from his
character, he was no sage, he was no saint, but decisive, swift,
merciless when necessary, full of resource, sharp and hard as his own
sword. And yet a parallel may be drawn.

The second Joshua is the Captain of the Lord's host, as was typified to
the first one, in that strange scene outside the walls of Jericho,
where the earthly commander, sunk in thought, was brooding upon the
hard nut which he had to crack, when suddenly he lifted up his eyes,
and beheld a man with a drawn sword. With the instinctive alertness of
his profession and character, his immediate question was, 'Art thou for
us or for our enemies?' And he got the answer 'No! I am not on thy
side, nor on the other side, but thou art on Mine. As Captain of the
Lord's host am I come up.'

So Jesus Christ, the 'Strong Son of God,' is set forth by this military
emblem as being Himself the first Soldier in the army of God, and the
Leader of all the host. We forget far too much the militant character
of Jesus Christ. We think of His meekness, His gentleness, His
patience, His tenderness, His humility, and we cannot think of these
too much, too lovingly, too wonderingly, too adoringly, but we too
often forget the strength which underlay the gentleness, and that His
life, all gracious as it was, when looked at from the outside, had
beneath it a continual conflict, and was in effect the warfare of God
against all the evils and the sorrows of humanity. We forget the
courage that went to make the gentleness of Jesus, the daring that
underlay His lowliness; and it does us good to remember that all the
so-called heroic virtues were set forth in supreme form, not in some
vulgar type of excellence, such as a conqueror, whom the world
recognises, but in that meek King whose weapon was love, yet was
wielded with a soldier's hand.

This general thought of Jesus Christ as the first Soldier and Captain
of the Lord's army not only opens for us a side of His character which
we too often pass by, but it also says something to us as to what our
duties ought to be. He stands to us in the relation of General and
Commander-in-Chief; then we stand to Him in the relation of private
soldiers, whose first duty is unhesitating obedience, and who in doing
their Master's will must put forth a bravery far higher than the vulgar
courage that is crowned with wreathed laurels on the bloody
battlefield, even the bravery that is caught from Him who 'set His face
as a flint' to do His work.

Joshua's career has in it a great stumbling-block to many people, in
that merciless destruction of the Canaanite sinners, which can only be
vindicated by remembering, first, that it was a divine appointment, and
that God has the right to punish; and, second, that those old days were
under a different law, or at least a less manifestly developed law of
loving-kindness and mercy than, thank God! we live in. But whilst we
look with wonder on these awful scenes of destruction, may there not
lie in them the lesson for us that antagonism and righteous wrath
against evil in all its forms is the duty of the soldiers of Christ?
There are many causes to-day which to further and fight for is the
bounden duty of every Christian, and to further and fight for which
will tax all the courage that any of us can muster. Remember that the
leadership of Christ is no mere pretty metaphor, but a solemn fact,
which brings with it the soldier's responsibilities. When our Centurion
says to us, 'Come!' we must come. When He says to us, 'Go!' we must go.
When He says to us 'Do this!' we must do it, though heart and flesh
should shrink and fail. Unhesitating obedience to His authoritative
command will deliver us from many of the miseries of self-will; and
brave effort at Christ's side is as much the privilege as the duty of
His servants and soldiers.

II. So note, secondly, the Leader through death to life.

Peter, in the sermon which is found in the third chapter of this Book
of the Acts, has his mind and heart filled with the astounding fact of
the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ, and in the same breath
as he gives forth the paradoxical indictment of the Jewish sin, 'You
have killed the Prince of Life'--the Leader of Life--he also says, 'And
God hath raised Him from the dead.' So that the connection seems to
point to the risen and glorified life into which Christ Himself passed,
and by passing became capable of imparting it to others. The same idea
is here as in Paul's other metaphor: 'Now is Christ risen from the
dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept'--the first sheaf
of the harvest, which was carried into the Temple and consecrated to
God, and was the pledge and prophecy of the reaping in due season of
all the miles of golden grain that waved in the autumn sunshine. 'So,'
says Peter, 'He is the Leader of Life, who Himself has passed through
the darkness, for "you killed Him"; mystery of mysteries as it is that
you should have been able to do it, deeper mystery still that you
should have been willing to do it, deepest mystery of all that you did
it not when you did it, but that "He became dead and is alive for
evermore." You killed the Prince of Life, and God raised Him from the
dead.'

He has gone before us. He is 'the first that should rise from the
dead.' For, although the partial power of His communicated life did
breathe for a moment resuscitation into two dead men and one dead
maiden, these shared in no resurrection-life, but only came back again
into mortality, and were quickened for a time, but to die at last the
common death of all. But Jesus Christ is the first that has gone into
the darkness and come back again to live for ever. Across the untrodden
wild there is one track marked, and the footprints upon it point both
ways--to the darkness and from the darkness. So the dreary waste is not
pathless any more. The broad road that all the generations have trodden
on their way into the everlasting darkness is left now, and the
'travellers pass by the byway' which Jesus Christ has made by the touch
of His risen feet.

Thus, not only does this thought teach us the priority of His
resurrection-life, but it also declares to us that Jesus Christ,
possessing the risen life, possesses it to impart it. For, as I
remarked in my introductory observations, the conception of this word
includes not only the idea of a Leader, but that of One who, Himself
possessing or experiencing something, gives it to others. All men rise
again. Yes, 'but every man in his own order.' There are two principles
at work in the resurrection of all men. They are raised on different
grounds, and they are raised to different issues. They that are
Christ's are brought again from the dead, because the life of Christ is
in them; and it is as 'impossible' that they, as that 'He, should be
holden of it.' Union with Jesus Christ by simple faith is the means,
and the only means revealed to us, whereby men shall be raised from the
dead at the last by a resurrection which is anything else than a
prolonged death. As for others, 'some shall rise unto shame and
everlasting contempt,' rising dead, and dead after they are risen--dead
as long as they live. There be two resurrections, whether simultaneous
in time or not is of no moment, and all of us must have our part in the
one or the other; and faith in Jesus Christ is the only means by which
we can take a place in the great army and procession that He leads down
into the valley and up to the sunny heights.

If He be the Leader through death unto life, then it is certain that
all who follow in His train shall attain to His side and shall share in
His glory. The General wears no order which the humblest private in the
ranks may not receive likewise, and whomsoever He leads, His leading
will not end till He has led them close to His side, if they trust Him.
So, calmly, confidently, we may each of us look forward to that dark
journey waiting for us all. All our friends will leave us at the
tunnel's mouth, but He will go with us through the gloom, and bring us
out into the sunny lands on the southern side of the icy white
mountains. The Leader of our souls will be our Guide, not only unto
death, but far beyond it, into His own life.

III. So, thirdly, note the Leader through suffering to salvation.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews it is written, 'It became Him for whom
are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto
glory, to make the Captain'--or the Leader--'of their salvation perfect
through sufferings.' That expression might seem at first to shut Jesus
Christ out from any participation in the thing which He gives. For
salvation is His gift, but not that which He Himself possesses and
enjoys; but it is to be noticed that in the context of the words which
I have quoted, 'glory' is put as substantially synonymous with
salvation, and that the whole is suffused with the idea of a long
procession, as shown by the phrase, 'bringing many sons.' Of this
procession Jesus Christ Himself is the Leader.

So, clearly, the notion in the context now under consideration is that
the life of Jesus Christ is the type to which all His servants are to
be conformed. He is the Representative Man, who Himself passes through
the conditions through which we are to pass, and Himself reaches the
glory which, given to us, becomes salvation.

'Christ is perfected through sufferings.' So must we be. Perfected
through sufferings? you say. Then did His humanity need perfecting?
Yes, and No. There needed nothing to be hewn away from that white
marble. There was nothing to be purged by fire out of that pure life.
But I suppose that Jesus Christ's human nature needed to be unfolded by
life; as the Epistle to the Hebrews says, 'He learned obedience, though
He were a Son, through the things which He suffered.' And fitness for
His office of leading us to glory required to be reached through the
sufferings which were the condition of our forgiveness and of our
acceptance with God. So, whether we regard the word as expressing the
agony of suffering in unfolding His humanity, or in fitting Him for His
redeeming work, it remains true that He was perfected by His sufferings.

So must we be. Our characters will never reach the refinement, the
delicacy, the unworldliness, the dependence upon God, which they
require for their completion, unless we have been passed through many a
sorrow. There are plants which require a touch of frost to perfect
them, and we all need the discipline of a Father's hand. The sorrows
that come to us all are far more easily borne when we think that Christ
bore them all before us. It is but a blunted sword which sorrow wields
against any of us; it was blunted on His armour. It is but a spent ball
that strikes us; its force was exhausted upon Him. Sorrow, if we keep
close to Him, may become solemn joy, and knit us more thoroughly to
Himself. Ah, brother! we can better spare our joys than we can spare
our sorrows. Only let us cleave to Him when they fall upon us.

Christ's sufferings led Him to His glory, so will ours if we keep by
His side--and only if we do. There is nothing in the mere fact of being
tortured and annoyed here on earth, which has in itself any direct and
necessary tendency to prepare us for the enjoyment, or to secure to us
the possession, of future blessedness. You often hear superficial
people saying, 'Oh! he has been very much troubled here, but there will
be amends for it hereafter.' Yes; God would wish to make amends for it
hereafter, but He cannot do so unless we comply with the conditions.
And it needs that we should keep close to Jesus Christ in sorrow, in
order that it should work for us 'the peaceable fruit of
righteousness.' The glory will come if the patient endurance has
preceded, and has been patience drawn from Jesus.

  'I wondered at the beauteous hours,
  The slow result of winter showers,
  You scarce could see the grass for flowers.'

The sorrows that have wounded any man's head like a crown of thorns
will be covered with the diadem of Heaven, if they are sorrows borne
with Christ.

IV. Lastly, we have Jesus, the Leader in the path of faith.

'The Author of faith,' says the verse in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
'Author' does not cover all the ground, though it does part of it. We
must include the other ideas which I have been trying to set forth He
is 'Possessor' first and 'Giver' afterwards. For Jesus Christ Himself
is both the Pattern and the Inspirer of our faith. It would unduly
protract my remarks to dwell adequately upon this; but let me just
briefly hint some thoughts connected with it.

Jesus Christ Himself walked by continual faith. His manhood depended
upon God, just as ours has to depend upon Jesus. He lived in the
continued reception of continual strength from above by reason of His
faith, just as our faith is the condition of our reception of His
strength. We are sometimes afraid to recognise the fact that the Man
Jesus, who is our pattern in all things, is our pattern in this, the
most special and peculiarly human aspect of the religious life. But if
Christ was not the first of believers, His pattern is wofully defective
in its adaptation to our need. Rather let us rejoice in the thought
that all that great muster-roll of the heroes of the faith, which the
Epistle to the Hebrews has been dealing with, have for their
Leader--though, chronologically, He marches in the centre--Jesus
Christ, of whose humanity this is the document and proof that He says,
in the Prophet's words: 'I will put My trust in Him.'

Remember, too, that the same Jesus who is the Pattern is the Object and
the Inspirer of our faith; and that if we fulfil the conditions in the
text now under consideration, 'looking off' from all others,
stimulating and beautiful as their example may be, sweet and tender as
their love may be, and 'looking unto Jesus,' He will be in us, and
above us--in us to inspire, and above us to receive and to reward our
humble confidence.

So, dear friends, it all comes to this, 'Follow thou Me!' In that
commandment all duty is summed, and in obeying it all blessedness and
peace are ensured. If we will take Christ for our Captain, He will
teach our fingers to fight. If we obey Him we shall not want guidance,
and be saved from perplexities born of self-will. If we keep close to
Him and turn our eyes to Him, away from all the false and fleeting joys
and things of earth, we shall not walk in darkness, howsoever earthly
lights may be quenched, but the gloomiest path will be illuminated by
His presence, and the roughest made smooth by His bleeding feet that
passed along it. If we follow Him, He will lead us down into the dark
valley, and up into the blessed sunshine, where participation in His
own eternal life and glory will be salvation. If we march in His ranks
on earth, then shall we

  'With joy upon our heads arise
  And meet our Captain in the skies.'



GAMALIEL'S COUNSEL

'Refrain from these men, and let them alone; for if this counsel or
this work be of men, it will come to nought: 39. But if it be of God,
ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against
God.'--ACTS v. 38, 39.

The little that is known of Gamaliel seems to indicate just such a man
as would be likely to have given the advice in the text. His was a
character which, on its good side and by its admirers, would be
described as prudent, wise, cautious and calm, tolerant, opposed to
fanaticism and violence. His position as president of the Sanhedrin,
his long experience, his Rabbinical training, his old age, and his
knowledge that the national liberty depended on keeping things quiet,
would be very likely to exaggerate such tendencies into what his
enemies would describe as worldly shrewdness without a trace of
enthusiasm, indifference to truth, and the like.

It is, of course, possible that he bases his counsel of letting the
followers of Jesus alone, on the grounds which he adduces, because he
knew that reasons more favourable to Christians would have had no
weight with the Sanhedrin. Old Church traditions make him out to have
been a Christian, and the earliest Christian romance, a very singular
book, of which the main object was to blacken the Apostle Paul, roundly
asserts that at the date of this advice he was 'secretly our brother,'
and that he remained in the Sanhedrin to further Christian views. But
there seems not the slightest reason to suppose that. He lived and died
a Jew, spared the sight of the destruction of Jerusalem which,
according to his own canon in the text, would have proved that the
system to which he had given his life was not of God; and the only
relic of his wisdom is a prayer against Christian heretics.

It is remarkable that he should have given this advice; but two things
occur to account for it. Thus far Christianity had been very
emphatically the preaching of the Resurrection, a truth which the
Pharisees believed and held as especially theirs in opposition to the
Sadducees, and Gamaliel was old and worldly-wise enough to count all as
his friends who were the enemies of his enemies. He was not very
particular where he looked for allies, and rather shrank from helping
Sadducees to punish men whose crime was that they 'preached through
Jesus a resurrection from the dead.'

Then the Jewish rulers had a very ticklish part to play. They were
afraid of any popular shout which might bring down the avalanche of
Roman power on them, and they were nervously anxious to keep things
quiet. So Gamaliel did not wish to have any fuss made about 'these
men,' lest it should be supposed that another popular revolt was on
foot; and he thought that to let them alone was the best way to reduce
their importance. Perhaps, too, there was a secret hope in the old
man's mind, which he scarcely ventured to look at and dared not speak,
that here might be the beginning of a rising which had more promise in
it than that abortive one under Theudas. He could not venture to say
this, but perhaps it made him chary of voting for repression. He had no
objection to let these poor Galileans fling away their lives in
storming against the barrier of Rome. If they fail, it is but one more
failure. If they succeed, he and his like will say that they have done
well. But while the enterprise is too perilous for him to approve or be
mixed up in it, he would let it have its chance.

Note that Gamaliel regards the whole movement as the probable germ of
an uprising against Rome, as is seen from the parallels that he quotes.
It is not as a religious teaching which is true or false, but as a
political agitation, that he looks at Christianity.

It is to his credit that he stood calm and curbed the howling of the
fanatics round him, and that he was the first and only Jewish authority
who counselled abstinence from persecution.

It is interesting to compare him with Gallio, who had a glimpse of the
true relation of the civil magistrate to religious opinion. Gamaliel
has a glimpse of the truth of the impotence of material force against
truth, how it is of a quick and spiritual essence, which cannot be
cleaved in pieces with a sword, but lives on in spite of all. But while
all this may be true, the advice on the whole is a low and bad one. It
rests on false principles; it takes a false view of a man's duty; it is
not wholly sincere; and it is one impossible to be carried out. It is
singularly in accordance with many of the tendencies of this age, and
with modes of thought and counsels of action which are in active
operation amongst us to-day, and we may therefore criticise it now.

I. Here is disbelief professing to be 'honest doubt.' Gamaliel
professes not to have materials for judging. 'If--if'; was it a time
for 'ifs'? What was that Sanhedrin there for, but to try precisely such
cases as these?

They had had the works of Christ; miracles which they had investigated
and could not disprove; a life which was its own witness; prophecies
fulfilled; His own presence before their bar; the Resurrection and the
Pentecost.

I am not saying whether these facts were enough to have convinced them,
nor even whether the alleged miracles were true. All that I am
concerned with is that, so far as we know, neither Gamaliel nor any of
his tribe had ever made the slightest attempt to inquire into them, but
had, without examination, complacently treated them as lies. All that
body of evidence had been absolutely ignored. And now he is, with his
'ifs,' posing as very calm and dispassionate.

So to-day it is fashionable to doubt, to hang up most of the Christian
truths in the category of uncertainties.

(_a_) When that is the fashion, we need to be on our guard.

(_b_) If you doubt, have you ever taken the pains to examine?

(_c_) If you doubt, you are bound to go further, and either reach
belief or rejection. Doubt is not the permanent condition for a man.
The central truth of Christianity is either to be received or rejected.

II. Here is disbelief masquerading as suspension of judgment.

Gamaliel talked as if he did not know, or had not decided in his own
mind, whether the disciples' claims for their Master were just or not.
But the attitude of impartiality and hesitation was the cover of rooted
unbelief. He speaks as if the alternative was that either this 'counsel
and work' was 'of man' or 'of God.' But he would have been nearer the
truth if he had stated the antithesis--God or devil; a glorious truth
or a hell-born lie. If Christ's work was not a revelation from above,
it was certainly an emanation from beneath.

We sometimes hear disbelief, in our own days, talking in much the same
fashion. Have we never listened to teachers who first of all prove to
their own satisfaction that Jesus is a myth, that all the gospel story
is unreliable, and all the gospel message a dream, and then turn round
and overflow in praise of Him and in admiration of it? Browning's
professor in _Christmas Day_ first of all reduces 'the pearl of price'
to dust and ashes, and then

  'Bids us, when we least expect it,
  Take back our faith--if it be not just whole,
  Yet a pearl indeed, as his tests affect it.'

And that is very much the tone of not a few very superior persons
to-day. But let us have one thing or the other--a Christ who was what
He claimed to be, the Incarnate Word of God, who died for our sins and
rose again for our justification; or a Galilean peasant who was either
a visionary or an impostor, like Judas of Galilee and Theudas.

III. Here is success turned into a criterion of truth.

It is such, no doubt, in the long run, but not till then, and so till
the end it is utterly false to argue that a thing is true because
multitudes think it to be so. The very opposite is more nearly true. It
in usually minorities who have been right.

Gamaliel laid down an immoral principle, which is only too popular
to-day, in relation to religion and to much else.

IV. Here is a selfish neutrality pretending to be judicial calmness.

Even if it were true that success is a criterion, we have to help God
to ensure the success of His truth. No doubt, taking sides is very
inconvenient to a cool, tolerant man of the world. And it is difficult
to be in a party without becoming a partisan. We know all the beauty of
mild, tolerant wisdom, and that truth is usually shared between
combatants, but the dangers of extremes and exaggeration must be faced,
and perhaps these are better than the cool indifference of the
eclectic, sitting apart, holding no form of creed, but contemplating
all. It is not good for a man to stand aloof when his brethren are
fighting.

In every age some great causes which are God's are pressing for
decision. In many of them we may be disqualified for taking sides. But
feel that you are bound to cast your influence on the side which
conscience approves, and bound to settle which side that is, Deborah's
fierce curse against Meroz because its people came not up to the help
of the Lord against the mighty was deserved.

But the region in which such judicial calmness, which shrinks from
taking its side, is most fatal and sadly common, is in regard to our
own individual relation to Jesus, and in regard to the establishment of
His kingdom among men.

'He that is not with Me is against Me.' Neutrality is opposition. Not
to gather with Him is to scatter. Not to choose Him is to reject Him.

Gamaliel had a strange notion of what constituted 'refraining from
these men and letting them alone,' and he betrayed his real position
and opposition by his final counsel to scourge them, before letting
them go. That is what the world's neutrality comes to.

How poor a figure this politic ecclesiastic, mostly anxious not to
commit himself, ready to let whoever would risk a struggle with Rome,
so that he kept out of the fray and survived to profit by it, cuts
beside the disciples, who had chosen their side, had done with 'ifs,'
and went away from the Council rejoicing 'that they were counted worthy
to suffer shame for His Name'! Who would not rather be Peter or John
with their bleeding backs than Gamaliel, sitting soft in his
presidential chair, and too cautious to commit himself to an opinion
whether the name of Jesus was that of a prophet or a pretender?



FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT

'Men ... full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.' ... 'A man full of faith
and of the Holy Ghost....' 'Stephen, full of faith and power.'--ACTS
vi. 3, 5, 8.

I have taken the liberty of wrenching these three fragments from their
context, because of their remarkable parallelism, which is evidently
intended to set us thinking of the connection of the various
characteristics which they set forth. The first of them is a
description, given by the Apostles, of the sort of man whom they
conceived to be fit to look after the very homely matter of stifling
the discontent of some members of the Church, who thought that their
poor people did not get their fair share of the daily ministration. The
second and third of them are parts of the description of the foremost
of these seven men, the martyr Stephen. In regard to the first and
second of our three fragmentary texts, you will observe that the cause
is put first and the effect second. The 'deacons' were to be men 'full
of the Holy Ghost,' and that would make them 'full of wisdom.' Stephen
was 'full of faith,' and that made him 'full of the Holy Ghost.'
Probably the same relation subsists in the third of our texts, of which
the true reading is not, as it appears in our Authorised Version, 'full
of faith and power,' but as it is given in the Revised Version, 'full
of grace and power.' He was filled with grace--by which apparently is
here meant the sum of the divine spiritual gifts--and therefore he was
full of power. Whether that is so or not, if we link these three
passages together, as I have taken the liberty of doing, we get a point
of view appropriate for such a day [Footnote: Preached on Whit Sunday.]
as this, when all that calls itself Christendom is commemorating the
descent of the Holy Spirit, and His abiding influence upon the Church.
So I simply wish to gather together the principles that come out of
these three verses thus concatenated.

I. We may all, if we will, be full of the Holy Spirit.

If there is a God at all, there is nothing more reasonable than to
suppose that He can come into direct contact with the spirits of the
men whom He has made. And if that Almighty God is not an Almighty
indifference, or a pure devil--if He is love--then there is nothing
more certain than that, if He can touch and influence men's hearts
towards goodness and His own likeness, He most certainly will.

The probability, which all religion recognises, and in often crude
forms tries to set forth, and by superstitious acts to secure, is
raised to an absolute certainty, if we believe that Jesus Christ, the
Incarnate Truth, speaks truth to us about this matter. For there is
nothing more certain than that the characteristic which distinguishes
Him from all other teachers, is to be found not only in the fact that
He did something for us on the Cross, as well as taught us by His word;
but that in His teaching He puts in the forefront, not the
prescriptions of our duty, but the promise of God's gift; and ever says
to us, 'Open your hearts and the divine influences will flow in and
fill you and fit you for all goodness.' The Spirit of God fills the
human spirit, as the mysterious influence which we call life permeates
and animates the whole body, or as water lies in a cup.

Consider how that metaphor is caught up, and from a different point of
view is confirmed, in regard to the completeness which it predicates,
by other metaphors of Scripture. What is the meaning of the Baptist's
saying, 'He shall baptise you in the Holy Ghost and fire'? Does that
not mean a complete immersion in, and submersion under, the cleansing
flood? What is the meaning of the Master's own saying, 'Tarry ye...
till ye be clothed with power from on high'? Does not that mean
complete investiture of our nakedness with that heavenly-woven robe? Do
not all these emblems declare to us the possibility of a human spirit
being charged to the limits of its capacity with a divine influence?

We do not here discuss questions which separate good Christian people
from one another in regard of this matter. My object now is not to lay
down theological propositions, but to urge upon Christian men the
acquirement of an experience which is possible for them. And so,
without caring to enter by argument on controversial matters, I desire
simply to lay emphasis upon the plain implication of that word,
'_filled_ with the Holy Ghost.' Does it mean less than the complete
subjugation of a man's spirit by the influence of God's Spirit brooding
upon him, as the prophet laid himself on the dead child, lip to lip,
face to face, beating heart to still heart, limb to limb, and so
diffused a supernatural life into the dead? That is an emblem of what
all you Christian people may have if you like, and if you will adopt
the discipline and observe the conditions which God has plainly laid
down.

That fulness will be a growing fulness, for our spirits are capable, if
not of infinite, at any rate of indefinite, expansion, and there is no
limit known to us, and no limit, I suppose, which will ever be reached,
so that we can go no further--to the possible growth of a created
spirit that is in touch with God, and is having itself enlarged and
elevated and ennobled by that contact. The vessel is elastic, the walls
of the cup of our spirit, into which the new wine of the divine Spirit
is poured, widen out as the draught is poured into them. The more a man
possesses and uses of the life of God, the more is he capable of
possessing and the more he will receive. So a continuous expansion in
capacity, and a continuous increase in the amount of the divine life
possessed, are held out as the happy prerogative and possibility of a
Christian soul.

This Stephen had but a very small amount of the clear Christian
knowledge that you and I have, but he was leagues ahead of most
Christian people in regard to this, that he was 'filled with the Holy
Spirit.' Brethren, you can have as much of that Spirit as you want. It
is my own fault if my Christian life is not what the Christian lives of
some of us, I doubt not, are. 'Filled with the Holy Spirit'! rather a
little drop in the bottom of the cup, and all the rest gaping
emptiness; rather the fire died down, Pentecostal fire though it be,
until there is scarcely anything but a heap of black cinders and grey
ashes in your grate, and a little sandwich of flickering flame in one
corner; rather the rushing mighty wind died down into all but a dead
calm, like that which afflicts sailing-ships in the equatorial regions,
when the thick air is deadly still, and the empty sails have not
strength even to flap upon the masts; rather the 'river of the water of
life' that pours 'out of the throne of God, and of the Lamb,' dried up
into a driblet.

That is the condition of many Christian people. I say not of which of
us. Let each man settle for himself how that may be. At all events here
is the possibility, which may be realised with increasing completeness
all through a Christian man's life. We may be filled with the Holy
Spirit.

II. If we are 'full of faith' we shall be filled with the Spirit.

That is the condition as suggested by one of our texts--'a man full of
faith,' and therefore 'of the Holy Ghost.' Now, of course, I believe,
as I suppose all people who have made any experience of their own
hearts must believe, that before a soul exercises confidence in Jesus
Christ, and passes into the household of faith, there have been playing
upon it the influences of that divine Comforter whose first mission is
to 'convince the world of sin.' But between such operations as these,
which I believe are universally diffused, wheresoever the Word of God
and the message of salvation are proclaimed--between such operations as
these, and those to which I now refer, whereby the divine Spirit not
only operates upon, but dwells in, a man's heart, and not only brings
conviction to the world of sin, there is a wide gulf fixed; and for all
the hallowing, sanctifying, illuminating and strength-giving operations
of that divine Spirit, the pre-requisite condition is our trust. Jesus
Christ taught us so, in more than one utterance, and His Apostle, in
commenting on one of the most remarkable of His sayings on this
subject, says, 'This spake He concerning the Holy Spirit which _they
that believed_ in Him were to receive.' Faith is the condition of
receiving that divine influence. But what kind of faith? Well, let us
put away theological words. If you do not believe that there is any
such influence to be got, you will not get it. If you do not want it,
you will not get it. If you do not expect it, you will not get it. If
professing to believe it, and to wish it, and to look for it, you are
behaving yourself in such a way as to show that you do not really
desire it, you will never get it. It is all very well to talk about
faith as the condition of receiving that divine Spirit. Do not let us
lose ourselves in the word, but try to translate the somewhat
threadbare expression, which by reason of its familiarity produces
little effect upon some of us, and to turn it into non-theological
English. It just comes to this,--if we are simply trusting ourselves to
Jesus Christ our Lord, and if in that trust we do believe in the
possibility of even _our_ being filled with the divine Spirit, and if
that possibility lights up a leaping flame of desire in our hearts
which aspires towards the possession of such a gift, and if belief that
our reception of that gift is possible because we trust ourselves to
Jesus Christ, and longing that we may receive it, combine to produce
the confident expectation that we shall, and if all of these combine to
produce conduct which neither quenches nor grieves that divine Guest,
then, and only then, shall we indeed be filled with the Spirit.

I know of no other way by which a man can receive God into his heart
than by opening his heart for God to come in. I know of no other way by
which a man can woo--if I may so say--the Divine Lover to enter into
his spirit than by longing that He would come, waiting for His coming,
expecting it, and being supremely blessed in the thought that such a
union is possible. Faith, that is trust, with its appropriate and
necessary sequels of desire and expectation and obedience, is the
completing of the electric circuit, and after it the spark is sure to
come. It is the opening of the windows, after which sunshine cannot but
flood the chamber. It is the stretching out of the hand, and no man
that ever, with love and longing, lifted an empty hand to God, dropped
it still empty. And no man who, with penitence for his own act, and
trust in the divine act, lifted blood-stained and foul hands to God,
ever held them up there without the gory patches melting away, and
becoming white as snow. Not 'all the perfumes of Araby' can sweeten
those bloody hands. Lift them up to God, and they become pure.
Whosoever wishes that he may, and believes that he shall, receive from
Christ the fulness of the Spirit, will not be disappointed. Brethren,
'Ye have not because ye ask not.' 'If ye, being evil, know how to give
good gifts to your children,' shall not 'your Heavenly Father give the
Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?'

III. Lastly, if we are filled with the Spirit we shall be 'full of
wisdom, grace, and power.'

The Apostles seemed to think that it was a very important business to
look after a handful of poor widows, and see that they had their fair
share in the dispensing of the modest charity of the half-pauper
Jerusalem church, when they said that for such a purely secular thing
as that a man would need to be 'full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.'
Surely, something a little less august might have served their turn to
qualify men for such a task! 'Wisdom' here, I suppose, means practical
sagacity, common sense, the power of picking out an impostor when she
came whining for a dole. Very commonplace virtues!--but the Apostles
evidently thought that such everyday operations of the understanding as
these were not too secular and commonplace to owe their origin to the
communication to men of the fulness of the Holy Spirit.

May we not take a lesson from that, that God's great influences, when
they come into a man, do not concern themselves only with great
intellectual problems and the like, but that they will operate to make
him more fit to do the most secular and the most trivial things that
can be put into his hand to do? The Holy Ghost had to fill Stephen
before he could hand out loaves and money to the widows in Jerusalem.

And do you not think that your day's work, and your business
perplexities, come under the same category? Perhaps the best way to
secure understanding of what we ought to do, in regard to very small
and secular matters, is to keep ourselves very near to God, with the
windows of our hearts opened towards Jerusalem, that all the guidance
and light that can come from Him may come into us. Depend upon it,
unless we have God's guidance in the trivialities of life, ninety per
cent., ay! and more, of our lives will be without God's guidance;
because trivialities make up life. And unless my Father in heaven can
guide me about what we, very mistakenly, call 'secular' things, and
what we very vulgarly call trivial things, His guidance is not worth
much. The Holy Ghost will give you wisdom for to-morrow, and all its
little cares, as well as for the higher things, of which I am not going
to speak now, because they do not come within my text.

'Full of grace,'--that is a wide word, as I take it. If, by our faith,
we have brought into our hearts that divine influence, the Spirit of
God does not come empty-handed, but He communicates to us whatsoever
things are lovely and of good report, whatsoever things are fair and
honourable, whatsoever things in the eyes of men are worthy to be
praised, and by the tongues of men have been called virtue. These
things will all be given to us step by step, not without our own
diligent co-operation, by that divine Giver. Effort without faith, and
faith without effort, are equally incomplete, and the co-operation of
the two is that which is blessed by God.

Then the things which are 'gracious,' that is to say, given by His
love, and also gracious in the sense of partaking of the celestial
beauty which belongs to all virtue, and to all likeness in character to
God, these things will give us a strange, supernatural _power_ amongst
men. The word is employed in my third text, I presume, in its narrow
sense of miracle-working power, but we may fairly widen it to something
much more than that. Our Lord once said, when He was speaking about the
gift of the Holy Spirit, that there were two stages in its operation.
In the first, it availed for the refreshment and the satisfying of the
desires of the individual; in the second it became, by the ministration
of that individual, a source of blessing to others. He said, 'If any
man thirst, let him come to Me and drink,' and then, immediately, 'He
that believeth on Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living
water.' That is to say, whoever lives in touch with God, having that
divine Spirit in his heart, will walk amongst men the wielder of an
unmistakable power, and will be able to bear witness to God, and move
men's hearts, and draw them to goodness and truth. The only power for
Christian service is the power that comes from being clothed with God's
Spirit. The only power for self-government is the power that comes from
being clothed with God's Spirit. The only power which will keep us in
the way that leads to life, and will bring us at last to the rest and
the reward, is the power that comes from being clothed with God's
Spirit.

I am charged to all who hear me now with this message. Here is a gift
offered to you. You cannot pare and batter at your own characters so as
to make them what will satisfy your own consciences, still less what
will satisfy the just judgment of God; but you can put yourself under
the moulding influences of Christ's love. Dear brethren, the one hope
for dead humanity, the bones very many and very dry, is that from the
four winds there should come the breath of God, and breathe in them,
and they shall live, 'an exceeding great army.' Forget all else that I
have been saying now, if you like, but take these two sentences to your
hearts, and do not rest till they express your own personal experience;
If I am to be good I must have God's Spirit within me. If I am to have
God's Spirit within me, I must be 'full of faith.'



STEPHEN'S VISION

'Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the
right hand of God'--ACTS vii. 56.

I. The vision of the Son of Man, or the abiding manhood of Jesus.

Stephen's Greek name, and his belonging to the Hellenistic part of the
Church, make it probable that he had never seen Jesus during His
earthly life. If so, how beautiful that he should thus see and
recognise Him! How significant, in any case, is it he should
instinctively have taken on his lips that name, 'the Son of Man,' to
designate Him whom he saw, through the opened heavens, standing on the
right hand of God! We remember that in the same Council-chamber and
before the same court, Jesus had lashed the rulers into a paroxysm of
fury by declaring, 'Hereafter ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at
the right hand of power,' and now here is one of His followers, almost,
as it were, flinging in their teeth the words which they had called
'blasphemy,' and witnessing that he, at all events, saw their partial
fulfilment. They saw only the roof of the chamber, or, if the Council
met in the open court of the Temple, the quivering blue of the Syrian
sky; but to him the blue was parted, and a brighter light than that of
its lustre was flashed upon his inward eye. His words roused them to an
even wilder outburst than those of Jesus had set loose, and with yells
of fury, and stopping their ears that they might not hear the
blasphemy, they flung themselves on him, unresisting, and dragged him
to his doom. Their passion is a measure of the preciousness to the
Christian consciousness of that which Stephen saw, and said that he saw.

Whatever more the great designation, 'Son of Man,' means, it
unmistakably means the embodiment of perfect manhood. Stephen's vision
swept into his soul, as on a mighty wave, the fact, overwhelming if it
had not been so transcendently strengthening to the sorely bestead
prisoner, that the Jesus whom he had trusted unseen, was still the same
Jesus that He had been 'in the days of His flesh,' and, with whatever
changes, still was 'found in fashion as a man.' He still 'bent on earth
a brother's eye.' Whatever He had dropped from Him as He ascended, His
manhood had not fallen away, and, whatever changes had taken place in
His body so as to fit it for its enthronement in the heavens, all that
had knit Him to His humble friends on earth was still His. The bonds
that united Him and them had not been snapped by being stretched to
span the distance between the Council-chamber and the right hand of
God. His sympathy still continued. All that had won their hearts was
still in Him, and every tender remembrance of His love and leading was
transformed into the assurance of a present possession. He was still
the Son of Man.

We are all too apt to feel as if the manhood of Jesus was now but a
memory, and, though our creed affirms the contrary, yet our faith has
difficulty in realising the full force and blessedness of its
affirmations. For the Resurrection and Ascension seem to remove Him
from close contact with us, and sometimes we feel as if we stretch out
groping fingers into the dark and find no warm human hand to grasp. His
exaltation seems to withdraw Him from our brotherhood, and the cloud,
though it is a cloud of glory, sometimes seems to hide Him from our
sight. The thickening veil of increasing centuries becomes more and
more difficult for faith to pierce. What Stephen saw was not for him
only but for us all, and its significance becomes more and more
precious as we drift further and further away in time from the days of
the life of Jesus on earth. More and more do we need to make very
visible to ourselves this vision, and to lay on our hearts the strong
consolation of gazing steadfastly into heaven and seeing there the Son
of Man. So we shall feel that He is all to us that He was to those who
companied with Him here. So shall we be more ready to believe that
'this same Jesus shall so come in like manner as He went,' and that
till He come, He is knit to us and we to Him, by the bonds of a common
manhood.

II. The vision of the Son of Man at the right hand of God, or the glory
of the Man Jesus.

We will not discuss curious questions which may be asked in connection
with Stephen's vision, such as whether the glorified humanity of Jesus
implies His special presence in a locality; but will rather try to
grasp its bearings on topics more directly related to more important
matters than dim speculations on points concerning which confident
affirmations are sure to be wrong. Whether the representation implies
locality or not, it is clear that the deepest meaning of the expression
'the right hand of God,' is the energy of His unlimited power, and
that, therefore, the deepest meaning of the expression 'to be at His
right hand,' is wielding the might of the divine Omnipotence. The
vision is but the visible confirmation of Jesus' words, 'All power is
given unto Me in heaven and on earth.'

It is to be taken into account that Scripture usually represents the
Christ as seated at the right hand of God, and that posture, taken in
conjunction with that place, indicates the completion of His work, the
majestic calm of His repose, like that creative rest, which did not
follow the creative work because the Worker was weary, but because He
had fulfilled His ideal. God rested because His work was finished, and
was 'very good.' So Jesus sits, because He, too, has finished His work
on earth. 'When,' and because 'He had by Himself purged our sins, He
sat down on the right hand of God.'

Further, that place at the right hand of God certifies that He is the
Judge.

Further, it is a blessed vision for His children, as being the sure
pledge of their glory.

It is a glorious revelation of the capabilities of sinless human nature.

It makes heaven habitable for us.

'I go to prepare a place for you.' An emigrant does not feel a stranger
in new country, if his elder brother has gone before him, and waits to
meet him when he lands. The presence of Jesus makes that dim, heavenly
state, which is so hard to imagine, and from which we often feel that
even its glories repel, or, at least, do not attract, home to those who
love Him. To be where He is, and to be as He is--that is heaven.

III. The vision of the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God, or
the ever-ready help of the glorified Jesus.

The divergence of the vision from the usual representation of the
attitude of Jesus is not the least precious of its elements. Stephen
saw Him 'standing,' as if He had risen to His feet to see His servant's
need and was preparing to come to his help.

What a rush of new strength for victorious endurance would flood
Stephen's soul as he beheld his Lord thus, as it were, starting to His
feet in eagerness to watch and to succour! He looks down from amid the
glory, and His calm repose does not involve passive indifference to His
servant's sufferings. Into it comes full knowledge of all that they
bear for Him, and His rest is not the negation of activity on their
behalf, but its intensest energy. Just as one of the Gospels ends with
a twofold picture, which at first sight seems to draw a sad distinction
between the Lord 'received up into heaven and set down at the right
hand of God,' and His servants left below, who 'went everywhere,
preaching the word,' but of which the two halves are fused together by
the next words, 'the Lord also working with them,' so Stephen's vision
brought together the glorified Lord and His servant, and filled the
martyr's soul with the fact that He not only 'worked,' but suffered
with those who suffered for His sake.

That vision is a transient revelation of an eternal fact. Jesus knows
and shares in all that affects His servants. He stands in the attitude
to help, and He wields the power of God. He is, as the prophet puts it,
'the Arm of the Lord,' and the cry, 'Awake, O Arm of the Lord!' is
never unanswered. He helps His servants by actually directing the
course of Providence for their sakes. He helps by wielding the forces
of nature on their behalf. He 'rebukes kings for their sake, saying,
Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm.' He helps by
breathing His own life and strength into them. He helps by disclosing
to them the vision of Himself. He helps even when, like Stephen, they
are apparently left to the murderous hate of their enemies, for what
better help could any of His followers get from Him than that He
should, as Stephen prayed that He would, receive their spirit, and 'so
give His beloved sleep'? Blessed they whose lives are lighted by that
Vision, and whose deaths are such a falling on sleep!



THE YOUNG SAUL AND THE AGED PAUL [Footnote: To the young.]

'...the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose
name was Saul.'--ACTS vii. 58.

'...Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.'--PHILEMON
9.

A far greater difference than that which was measured by years
separated the young Saul from the aged Paul. By years, indeed, the
difference was, perhaps, not so great as the words might suggest, for
Jewish usage extended the term of youth farther than we do, and began
age sooner. No doubt, too, Paul's life had aged him fast, and probably
there were not thirty years between the two periods. But the difference
between him and himself at the beginning and the end of his career was
a gulf; and his life was not evolution, but revolution.

At the beginning you see a brilliant young Pharisee, Gamaliel's
promising pupil, advanced above many who were his equals in his own
religion, as he says himself; living after its straitest sect, and
eager to have the smallest part in what seemed to him the righteous
slaying of one of the followers of the blaspheming Nazarene. At the end
he was himself one of these followers. He had cast off, as folly, the
wisdom which took him so much pains to acquire. He had turned his back
upon all the brilliant prospects of distinction which were opening to
him. He had broken with countrymen and kindred. And what had he made of
it? He had been persecuted, hunted, assailed by every weapon that his
old companions could fashion or wield; he is a solitary man, laden with
many cares, and accustomed to look perils and death in the face; he is
a prisoner, and in a year or two more he will be a martyr. If he were
an apostate and a renegade, it was not for what he could get by it.

What made the change? The vision of Jesus Christ. If we think of the
transformation on Saul, its causes and its outcome, we shall get
lessons which I would fain press upon your hearts now. Do you wonder
that I would urge on you just such a life as that of this man as your
highest good?

I. I would note, then, first, that faith in Jesus Christ will transform
and ennoble any life.

It has been customary of late years, amongst people who do not like
miracles, and do not believe in sudden changes of character, to allege
that Paul's conversion was but the appearance, on the surface, of an
underground process that had been going on ever since he kept the
witnesses' clothes. Modern critics know a great deal more about the
history of Paul's conversion than Paul did. For to him there was no
consciousness of undermining, but the change was instantaneous. He left
Jerusalem a bitter persecutor, exceeding mad against the followers of
the Nazarene, thinking that Jesus was a blasphemer and an impostor, and
His disciples pestilent vermin, to be harried off the face of the
earth. He entered Damascus a lowly disciple of that Christ. His
conversion was not an underground process that had been silently
sapping the foundations of his life; it was an explosion. And what
caused it? What was it that came on that day on the Damascus road, amid
the blinding sunshine of an Eastern noontide? The vision of Jesus
Christ. An overwhelming conviction flooded his soul that He whom he had
taken to be an impostor, richly deserving the Cross that He endured,
was living in glory, and was revealing Himself to Saul then and there.
That truth crumbled his whole past into nothing; and he stood there
trembling and astonished, like a man the ruins of whose house have
fallen about his ears. He bowed himself to the vision. He surrendered
at discretion without a struggle. 'Immediately,' says he, 'I was not
disobedient to the heavenly vision,' and when he said 'Lord, Lord, what
wilt Thou have me to do?' he flung open the gates of the fortress for
the Conqueror to come in. The vision of Christ reversed his judgments,
transformed his character, revolutionised his life.

That initial impulse operated through all the rest of his career.
Hearken to him: 'I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. To me to
live is Christ. Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we
die, we die unto the Lord. Living or dying, we are the Lord's.' 'We
labour that whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him.' The
transforming agency was the vision of Christ, and the bowing of the
man's whole nature before the seen Saviour.

Need I recall to you how noble a life issued from that fountain? I am
sure that I need do no more than mention in a word or two the wondrous
activity, flashing like a flame of fire from East to West, and
everywhere kindling answering flames, the noble self-oblivion, the
continual communion with God and the Unseen, and all the other great
virtues and nobleness which came from such sources as these. I need
only, I am sure, remind you of them, and draw this lesson, that the
secret of a transforming and noble life is to be found in faith in
Jesus Christ. The vision that changed Paul is as available for you and
me. For it is all a mistake to suppose that the essence of it is the
miraculous appearance that flashed upon the Apostle's eyes. He speaks
of it himself, in one of his letters, in other language, when he says,
'It pleased God to reveal His Son _in_ me.' And that revelation in all
its fulness, in all its sweetness, in all its transforming and
ennobling power, is offered to every one of us. For the eye of faith is
no less gifted with the power of direct and certain vision--yea! is
even more gifted with this--than is the eye of sense. 'If they hear not
Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose
from the dead.' Christ is revealed to each one of us as really, as
veritably, and the revelation may become as strong an impulse and
motive in our lives as ever it was to the Apostle on the Damascus road.
What is wanted is not revelation, but the bowed will--not the heavenly
vision, but obedience to the vision. I suppose that most of you think
that you believe all that about Jesus Christ, which transformed
Gamaliel's pupil into Christ's disciple. And what has it done for you?
In many cases, nothing. Be sure of this, dear young friends, that the
shortest way to a life adorned with all grace, with all nobility,
fragrant with all goodness, and permanent as that life which does the
will of God must clearly be, is this, to bow before the seen Christ,
seen in His word, and speaking to your hearts, and to take His yoke and
carry His burden. Then you will build upon what will stand, and make
your days noble and your lives stable. If you build on anything else,
the structure will come down with a crash some day, and bury you in its
ruins. Surely it is better to learn the worthlessness of a
non-Christian life, in the light of His merciful face, when there is
yet time to change our course, than to see it by the fierce light of
the great White Throne set for judgment. We must each of us learn it
here or there.

II. Faith in Christ will make a joyful life, whatever its circumstances.

I have said that, judged by the standard of the Exchange, or by any of
the standards which men usually apply to success in life, this life of
the Apostle was a failure. We know, without my dwelling more largely
upon it, what he gave up. We know what, to outward appearance, he
gained by his Christianity. You remember, perhaps, how he himself
speaks about the external aspects of his life in one place, where he
says 'Even unto this present hour we both hunger and thirst, and are
naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place, and
labour, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being
persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat. We are made as the
filth of the world, and as the offscouring of all things unto this day.'

That was one side of it. Was that all? This man had that within him
which enabled him to triumph over all trials. There is nothing more
remarkable about him than the undaunted courage, the unimpaired
elasticity of spirit, the buoyancy of gladness, which bore him high
upon the waves of the troubled sea in which he had to swim. If ever
there was a man that had a bright light burning within him, in the
deepest darkness, it was that little weather-beaten Jew, whose 'bodily
presence was weak, and his speech contemptible.' And what was it that
made him master of circumstances, and enabled him to keep sunshine in
his heart when winter bound all the world around him? What made this
bird sing in a darkened cage? One thing--the continual presence,
consciously with Him by faith, of that Christ who had revolutionised
his life, and who continued to bless and to gladden it. I have quoted
his description of his external condition. Let me quote two or three
words that indicate how he took all that sea of troubles and of sorrows
that poured its waves and its billows over him. 'In all these things we
are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.' 'As the sufferings
of Christ abound in us, so our consolation aboundeth also by Christ.'
'For which cause we faint not, but though our outward man perish, yet
our inward man is renewed day by day.' 'Most gladly therefore will I
rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon
me.' 'I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content.'
'As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as
having nothing, yet possessing all things.'

There is the secret of blessedness, my friends; there is the fountain
of perpetual joy. Cling to Christ, set His will on the throne of your
hearts, give the reins of your life and of your character into His
keeping, and nothing 'that is at enmity with joy' can either 'abolish
or destroy' the calm blessedness of your spirits.

You will have much to suffer; you will have something to give up. Your
life may look, to men whose tastes have been vulgarised by the glaring
brightnesses of this vulgar world, but grey and sombre, but it will
have in it the calm abiding blessedness which is more than joy, and is
diviner and more precious than the tumultuous transports of gratified
sense or successful ambition. Christ is peace, and He gives His peace
to us; and then He gives a joy which does not break but enhances peace.
We are all tempted to look for our gladness in creatures, each of which
satisfies but a part of our desire. But no man can be truly blessed who
has to find many contributories to make up his blessedness. That which
makes us rich must be, not a multitude of precious stones, howsoever
precious they may be, but one Pearl of great price; the one Christ who
is our only joy. And He says to us that He gives us Himself, if we
behold Him and bow to Him, that His joy might remain in us, and that
our joy might be full, while all other gladnesses are partial and
transitory. Faith in Christ makes life blessed. The writer of
Ecclesiastes asked the question which the world has been asking ever
since: 'Who knoweth what is good for a man in this life, all the days
of this vain life which he passeth as a shadow?' You young people are
asking, 'Who will show us any good?' Here is the answer--Faith in
Christ and obedience to Him; that is the good part which no man taketh
from us. Dear young friend, have you made it yours?

III. Faith in Christ produces a life which bears being looked back upon.

In a later Epistle than that from which my second text is taken, we get
one of the most lovely pictures that was ever drawn, albeit it is
unconsciously drawn, of a calm old age, very near the gate of death;
and looking back with a quiet heart over all the path of life. I am not
going to preach to you, dear friends, in the flush of your early youth,
a gospel which is only to be recommended because it is good to die by,
but it will do even you, at the beginning, no harm to realise for a
moment that the end will come, and that retrospect will take the place
in your lives which hope and anticipation fill now. And I ask you what
you expect to feel and say then?

What did Paul say? 'I have fought the good fight, I have finished my
course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a
crown of righteousness.' He was not self-righteous; but it is possible
to have lived a life which, as the world begins to fade, vindicates
itself as having been absolutely right in its main trend, and to feel
that the dawning light of Eternity confirms the choice that we made.
And I pray you to ask yourselves, 'Is my life of that sort?' How much
of it would bear the scrutiny which will have to come, and which in
Paul's case was so quiet and calm? He had had a stormy day, many a
thundercloud had darkened the sky, many a tempest had swept across the
plain; but now, as the evening draws on, the whole West is filled with
a calm amber light, and all across the plain, right away to the grey
East, he sees that he has been led by, and has been willing to walk in,
the right way to the 'City of habitation.' Would that be your
experience if the last moment came now?

There will be, for the best of us, much sense of failure and
shortcoming when we look back on our lives. But whilst some of us will
have to say, 'I have played the fool and erred exceedingly,' it is
possible for each of us to lay himself down in peace and sleep,
awaiting a glorious rising again and a crown of righteousness.

Dear young friends, it is for you to choose whether your past, when you
summon it up before you, will look like a wasted wilderness, or like a
garden of the Lord. And though, as I have said, there will always be
much sense of failure and shortcoming, yet that need not disturb the
calm retrospect; for whilst memory sees the sins, faith can grasp the
Saviour, and quietly take leave of life, saying, 'I know in whom I have
believed, and that He is able to keep that which I have committed to
Him against that day.'

So I press upon you all this one truth, that faith in Jesus Christ will
transform, will ennoble, will make joyous your lives whilst you live,
and will give you a quiet heart in the retrospect when you come to die.
Begin right, dear young friends. You will never find it so easy to take
any decisive step, and most of all this chiefest step, as you do
to-day. You will get lean and less flexible as you get older. You will
get set in your ways. Habits will twine their tendrils round you, and
hinder your free movement. The truth of the Gospel will become
commonplace by familiarity. Associations and companions will have more
and more power over you; and you will be stiffened as an old tree-trunk
is stiffened. You cannot count on to-morrow; be wise to-day. Begin this
year aright. Why should you not now see the Christ and welcome Him? I
pray that every one of us may behold Him and fall before Him with the
cry, 'Lord! what wilt Thou have me to do?'



THE DEATH OF THE MASTER AND THE DEATH OF THE SERVANT


'And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus,
receive my spirit. 60. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud
voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And, when he had said
this, he fell asleep.'--ACTS vii. 59, 60.

This is the only narrative in the New Testament of a Christian
martyrdom or death. As a rule, Scripture is supremely indifferent to
what becomes of the people with whom it is for a time concerned. As
long as the man is the organ of the divine Spirit he is somewhat; as
soon as that ceases to speak through him he drops into insignificance.
So this same Acts of the Apostles--if I may so say--kills off James the
brother of John in a parenthesis; and his is the only other martyrdom
that it concerns itself even so much as to mention.

Why, then, this exceptional detail about the martyrdom of Stephen? For
two reasons: because it is the first of a series, and the Acts of the
Apostles always dilates upon the first of each set of things which it
describes, and condenses about the others. But more especially, I
think, because if we come to look at the story, it is not so much an
account of Stephen's death as of Christ's power in Stephen's death. And
the theme of this book is not the acts of the Apostles, but the acts of
the risen Lord, in and for His Church.

There is no doubt but that this narrative is modelled upon the story of
our Lord's Crucifixion, and the two incidents, in their similarities
and in their differences, throw a flood of light upon one another.

I shall therefore look at our subject now with constant reference to
that other greater death upon which it is based. It is to be observed
that the two sayings on the lips of the proto-martyr Stephen are
recorded for us in their original form on the lips of Christ, in
_Luke's_ Gospel, which makes a still further link of connection between
the two narratives.

So, then, my purpose now is merely to take this incident as it lies
before us, to trace in it the analogies and the differences between the
death of the Master and the death of the servant, and to draw from it
some thoughts as to what it is possible for a Christian's death to
become, when Christ's presence is felt in it.

I. Consider, in general terms, this death as the last act of imitation
to Christ.

The resemblance between our Lord's last moments and Stephen's has been
thought to have been the work of the narrator, and, consequently, to
cast some suspicion upon the veracity of the narrative. I accept the
correspondence, I believe it was intentional, but I shift the intention
from the writer to the actor, and I ask why it should not have been
that the dying martyr should consciously, and of set purpose, have made
his death conformable to his Master's death? Why should not the dying
martyr have sought to put himself (as the legend tells one of the other
Apostles in outward form sought to do) in Christ's attitude, and to die
as He died?

Remember, that in all probability Stephen died on Calvary. It was the
ordinary place of execution, and, as many of you may know, recent
investigations have led many to conclude that a little rounded knoll
outside the city wall--not a 'green hill,' but still 'outside a city
wall,' and which still bears a lingering tradition of connection with
Him--was probably the site of that stupendous event. It was the place
of stoning, or of public execution, and there in all probability, on
the very ground where Christ's Cross was fixed, His first martyr saw
'the heavens opened and Christ standing on the right hand of God.' If
these were the associations of the place, what more natural, and even
if they were not, what more natural, than that the martyr's death
should be shaped after his Lord's?

Is it not one of the great blessings, in some sense the greatest of the
blessings, which we owe to the Gospel, that in that awful solitude
where no other example is of any use to us, His pattern may still gleam
before us? Is it not something to feel that as life reaches its
highest, most poignant and exquisite delight and beauty in the measure
in which it is made an imitation of Jesus, so for each of us death may
lose its most poignant and exquisite sting and sorrow, and become
something almost sweet, if it be shaped after the pattern and by the
power of His? We travel over a lonely waste at last. All clasped hands
are unclasped; and we set out on the solitary, though it be 'the
common, road into the great darkness.' But, blessed be His Name! 'the
Breaker is gone up before us,' and across the waste there are
footprints that we

  'Seeing, may take heart again.'

The very climax and apex of the Christian imitation of Christ may be
that we shall bear the image of His death, and be like Him then.

Is it not a strange thing that generations of martyrs have gone to the
stake with their hearts calm and their spirits made constant by the
remembrance of that Calvary where Jesus died with more of trembling
reluctance, shrinking, and apparent bewildered unmanning than many of
the weakest of His followers? Is it not a strange thing that the death
which has thus been the source of composure, and strength, and heroism
to thousands, and has lost none of its power of being so to-day, was
the death of a Man who shrank from the bitter cup, and that cried in
that mysterious darkness, 'My God! Why hast Thou forsaken Me?'

Dear brethren, unless with one explanation of the reason for His
shrinking and agony, Christ's death is less heroic than that of some
other martyrs, who yet drew all their courage from Him.

How come there to be in Him, at one moment, calmness unmoved, and
heroic self-oblivion, and at the next, agony, and all but despair? I
know only one explanation, 'The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of
us all.' And when He died, shrinking and trembling, and feeling
bewildered and forsaken, it was your sins and mine that weighed Him
down. The servant whose death was conformed to his Master's had none of
these experiences because he was only a martyr.

The Lord had them, because He was the Sacrifice for the whole world.

II. We have here, next, a Christian's death as being the voluntary
entrusting of the spirit to Christ.

'They stoned Stephen.' Now, our ordinary English idea of the manner of
the Jewish punishment of stoning, is a very inadequate and mistaken
one. It did not consist merely in a miscellaneous rabble throwing
stones at the criminal, but there was a solemn and appointed method of
execution which is preserved for us in detail in the Rabbinical books.
And from it we gather that the _modus operandi_ was this. The
blasphemer was taken to a certain precipitous rock, the height of which
was prescribed as being equal to that of two men. The witnesses by
whose testimony he had been condemned had to cast him over, and if he
survived the fall it was their task to roll upon him a great stone, of
which the weight is prescribed in the Talmud as being as much as two
men could lift. If he lived after that, then others took part in the
punishment.

Now, at some point in that ghastly tragedy, probably, we may suppose as
they were hurling him over the rock, the martyr lifts his voice in this
prayer of our text.

As they were stoning him he 'called upon'--not _God_, as our Authorised
Version has supplied the wanting word, but, as is obvious from the
context and from the remembrance of the vision, and from the language
of the following supplication, 'called upon _Jesus_, saying, Lord
Jesus! receive my spirit.'

I do not dwell at any length upon the fact that here we have a distinct
instance of prayer to Jesus Christ, a distinct recognition, in the
early days of His Church, of the highest conceptions of His person and
nature, so as that a dying man turns to Him, and commits his soul into
His hands. Passing this by, I ask you to think of the resemblance, and
the difference, between this intrusting of the spirit by Stephen to his
Lord, and the committing of His spirit to the Father by His dying Son.
Christ on the Cross speaks to God; Stephen, on Calvary, speaks, as I
suppose, to Jesus Christ. Christ, on the Cross, says, 'I commit.'
Stephen says, 'Receive,' or rather, 'Take.' The one phrase carries in
it something of the notion that our Lord died not because He must, but
because He would; that He was active in His death; that He chose to
summon death to do its work upon Him; that He 'yielded up His spirit,'
as one of the Evangelists has it, pregnantly and significantly. But
Stephen says, 'Take!' as knowing that it must be his Lord's power that
should draw his spirit out of the coil of horror around him. So the one
dying word has strangely compacted in it authority and submission; and
the other dying word is the word of a simple waiting servant. The
Christ says, 'I commit.' 'I have power to lay down My life, and I have
power to take it again.' Stephen says, 'Take my spirit,' as longing to
be away from the weariness and the sorrow and the pain and all the hell
of hatred that was seething and boiling round about him, but yet
knowing that he had to wait the Master's will.

So from the language I gather large truths, truths which unquestionably
were not present to the mind of the dying man, but are all the more
conspicuous because they were unconsciously expressed by him, as to the
resemblance and the difference between the death of the martyr, done to
death by cruel hands, and the death of the atoning Sacrifice who gave
Himself up to die for our sins.

Here we have, in this dying cry, the recognition of Christ as the Lord
of life and death. Here we have the voluntary and submissive surrender
of the spirit to Him. So, in a very real sense, the martyr's death
becomes a sacrifice, and he too dies not merely because he must, but he
accepts the necessity, and finds blessedness in it. We need not be
passive in death; we need not, when it comes to our turn to die, cling
desperately to the last vanishing skirts of life. We may yield up our
being, and pour it out as a libation; as the Apostle has it, 'If I be
offered as a drink-offering upon the sacrifice of your faith, I joy and
rejoice.' Oh! brethren, to die _like_ Christ, to die yielding oneself
to Him!

And then in these words there is further contained the thought coming
gleaming out like a flash of light into some murky landscape--of
passing into perennial union with Him. 'Take my spirit,' says the dying
man; 'that is all I want. I see Thee standing at the right hand. For
what hast Thou started to Thy feet, from the eternal repose of Thy
session at the right hand of God the Father Almighty? To help and
succour me. And dost Thou succour me when Thou dost let these cruel
hands cast me from the rock and bruise me with heavy stones? Yes, Thou
dost. For the highest form of Thy help is to take my spirit, and to let
me be with Thee.'

Christ delivers His servant from death when He leads the servant into
and through death. Brothers, can you look forward thus, and trust
yourselves, living or dying, to that Master who is near us amidst the
coil of human troubles and sorrows, and sweetly draws our spirits, as a
mother her child to her bosom, into His own arms when He sends us
death? Is that what it will be to you?

III. Then, still further, there are other words here which remind us of
the final triumph of an all-forbearing charity.

Stephen had been cast from the rock, had been struck with the heavy
stone. Bruised and wounded by it, he strangely survives, strangely
somehow or other struggles to his knees even though desperately
wounded, and, gathering all his powers together at the impulse of an
undying love, prays his last words and cries, 'Lord Jesus! Lay not this
sin to their charge!'

It is an echo, as I have been saying, of other words, 'Father, forgive
them, for they know not what they do.' An echo, and yet an independent
tone! The one cries 'Father!' the other invokes the 'Lord.' The one
says, 'They know not what they do'; the other never thinks of reading
men's motives, of apportioning their criminality, of discovering the
secrets of their hearts. It was fitting that the Christ, before whom
all these blind instruments of a mighty design stood patent and naked
to their deepest depths, should say, 'They know not what they do.' It
would have been unfitting that the servant, who knew no more of his
fellows' heart than could be guessed from their actions, should have
offered such a plea in his prayer for their forgiveness.

In the very humiliation of the Cross, Christ speaks as knowing the
hidden depths of men's souls, and therefore fitted to be their Judge,
and now His servant's prayer is addressed to Him as actually being so.

Somehow or other, within a very few years of the time when our Lord
dies, the Church has come to the distinctest recognition of _His_
Divinity to whom the martyr prays; to the distinctest recognition of
_Him_ as the Lord of life and death whom the martyr asks to take his
spirit, and to the clearest perception of the fact that He is the Judge
of the whole earth by whose acquittal men shall be acquitted, and by
whose condemnation they shall be condemned.

Stephen knew that Christ was the Judge. He knew that in two minutes he
would be standing at Christ's judgment bar. His prayer was not, 'Lay
not my sins to my charge,' but 'Lay not this sin to their charge.' Why
did he not ask forgiveness for himself? Why was he not thinking about
the judgment that he was going to meet so soon? He had done all that
long ago. He had no fear about that judgment for himself, and so when
the last hour struck, he was at leisure of heart and mind to pray for
his persecutors, and to think of his Judge without a tremor. Are you?
If you were as near the edge as Stephen was, would it be wise for you
to be interceding for other people's forgiveness? The answer to that
question is the answer to this other one,--have you sought your pardon
already, and got it at the hands of Jesus Christ?

IV. One word is all that I need say about the last point of analogy and
contrast here--the serene passage into rest: 'When he had said this he
fell asleep.'

The New Testament scarcely ever speaks of a Christian's death as death
but as sleep, and with other similar phrases. But that expression,
familiar and all but universal as it is in the Epistles, in reference
to the death of believers, is never in a single instance employed in
reference to the death of Jesus Christ. He did die that you and I may
live. His death was death indeed--He endured not merely the physical
fact, but that which is its sting, the consciousness of sin. And He
died that the sting might be blunted, and all its poison exhausted upon
Him. So the ugly thing is sleeked and smoothed; and the foul form
changes into the sweet semblance of a sleep-bringing angel. Death is
gone. The physical fact remains, but all the misery of it, the
essential bitterness and the poison of it is all sucked out of it, and
it is turned into 'he fell asleep,' as a tired child on its mother's
lap, as a weary man after long toil.

  'Thou thy worldly task hast done,
  Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages.'

Death is but sleep now, because Christ has died, and that sleep is
restful, conscious, perfect life.

Look at these two pictures, the agony of the one, the calm triumph of
the other, and see that the martyr's falling asleep was possible
because the Christ had died before. And do you commit the keeping of
your souls to Him now, by true faith; and then, living you may have Him
with you, and, dying, a vision of His presence bending down to succour
and to save, and when you are dead, a life of rest conjoined with
intensest activity. To sleep in Jesus is to awake in His likeness, and
to be satisfied.



SEED SCATTERED AND TAKING ROOT

'And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a
great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they
were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria,
except the apostles. 2. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial,
and made great lamentation over him. 3. As for Saul, he made havock of
the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women
committed them to prison. 4. Therefore they that were scattered abroad
went everywhere preaching the word. 5. Then Philip went down to the
city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them. 6. And the people with
one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and
seeing the miracles which he did. 7. For unclean spirits, crying with
loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many
taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. 8. And there was
great joy in that city, 9. But there was a certain man, called Simon,
which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the
people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: 10. To
whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This
man is the great power of God. 11. And to him they had regard, because
that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. 12. But when
they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of
God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and
women. 13. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized,
he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and
signs which were done. 14. Now when the apostles which were at
Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent
unto them Peter and John: 15. Who, when they were come down prayed for
them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: 16 (For as yet he was
fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the
Lord Jesus.) 17. Then laid they their hands on them, and they received
the Holy Ghost.'--ACTS viii. 1-17.

The note of time in verse 1 is probably to be rendered as in the
Revised Version, 'on that day.' The appetite for blood roused by
Stephen's martyrdom at once sought for further victims. Thus far the
persecutors had been the rulers, and the persecuted the Church's
leaders; but now the populace are the hunters, and the whole Church the
prey. The change marks an epoch. Luke does not care to make much of the
persecution, which is important to him chiefly for its bearing on the
spread of the Church's message. It helped to diffuse the Gospel, and
that is why he tells of it. But before proceeding to narrate how it did
so, he gives us a picture of things as they stood at the beginning of
the assault.

Three points are noted: the flight of the Church except the Apostles,
the funeral of Stephen, and Saul's eager search for the disciples. We
need not press 'all,' as if it were to be taken with mathematical
accuracy. Some others besides the Apostles may have remained, but the
community was broken up. They fled, as Christ had bid them do, if
persecuted in one city. Brave faithfulness goes with prudent
self-preservation, and a valuable 'part of valour is discretion.' But
the disciples who fled were not necessarily less courageous than the
Apostles who remained, nor were the latter less prudent than the
brethren who fled. For _noblesse oblige_; high position demands high
virtues, and the officers should be the last to leave a wreck. The
Apostles, no doubt, felt it right to hold together, and preserve a
centre to which the others might return when the storm had blown itself
out.

In remarkable contrast with the scattering Church are the 'devout men'
who reverently buried the martyr. They were not disciples, but probably
Hellenistic Jews (Acts ii. 5); perhaps from the synagogue whose members
had disputed with Stephen and had dragged him to the council. His words
or death may have touched them, as many a time the martyr's fire has
lighted others to the martyr's faith. Stephen was like Jesus in his
burial by non-disciples, as he had been in his death.

The eager zeal of the young Pharisee brought new severity into the
persecution, in his hunting out his victims in their homes, and in his
including women among his prisoners. There is nothing so cruel as
so-called religious zeal. So Luke lifts the curtain for a moment, and
in that glimpse of the whirling tumult of the city we see the three
classes, of the brave and prudent disciples, ready to flee or to stand
and suffer as duty called; the good men who shrunk from complicity with
a bloodthirsty mob, and were stirred to sympathy with his victims; and
the zealot, who with headlong rage hated his brother for the love of
God. But the curtain drops, and Luke turns to his true theme. He picks
up the threads again in verse 4, telling of the dispersal of the
disciples, with the significant addition of their occupation when
scattered,--'preaching the word.'

The violent hand of the persecutor acted as the scattering hand of the
sower. It flung the seeds broadcast, and wherever they fell they
sprouted. These fugitives were not officials, nor were they
commissioned by the Apostles to preach. Without any special command or
position, they followed the instincts of believing hearts, and, as they
carried their faith with them, they spoke of it wherever they found
themselves. A Christian will be impelled to speak of Christ if his
personal hold of Him is vital. He should need no ecclesiastical
authorisation for that. It is riot every believer's duty to get into a
pulpit, but it _is_ his duty to 'preach Christ.' The scattering of the
disciples was meant by men to put out the fire, but, by Christ, to
spread it. A volcanic explosion flings burning matter over a wide area.

Luke takes up one of the lines of expansion, in his narrative of
Philip's doings in Samaria, which he puts first because Jesus had
indicated Samaria first among the regions beyond Judaea (i. 8).
Philip's name comes second in the list of deacons (vi. 5), probably in
anticipation of his work in Samaria. How unlike the forecast by the
Apostles was the actual course of things! They had destined the seven
for purely 'secular' work, and regarded preaching the word as their own
special engagement. But Stephen saw and proclaimed more clearly than
they did the passing away of Temple and ritual; and Philip, on his own
initiative, and apparently quite unconscious of the great stride
forward that he was taking, was the first to carry the gospel torch
into the regions beyond. The Church made Philip a 'deacon,' but Christ
made him an 'evangelist'; and an evangelist he continued, long after he
had ceased to be a deacon in Jerusalem (xxi. 8).

Observe, too, that, as soon as Stephen is taken away, Philip rises up
to take his place. The noble army of witnesses never wants recruits.
Its Captain sends men to the front in unbroken succession, and they are
willing to occupy posts of danger because He bids them. Probably Philip
fled to Samaria for convenience' sake, but, being there, he probably
recalled Christ's instructions in chapter i. 8, repealing His
prohibition in Matthew x. 5. What a different world it would be, if it
was true of Christians now that they 'went down into the city of
So-and-So and proclaimed Christ'! Many run to and fro, but some of them
leave their Christianity at home, or lock it up safely in their
travelling trunks.

Jerusalem had just expelled the disciples, and would fain have crushed
the Gospel; despised Samaria received it with joy. 'A foolish nation'
was setting Israel an example (Deut. xxxii. 21; Rom. x. 19). The
Samaritan woman had a more spiritual conception of the Messiah than the
run of Jews had, and her countrymen seem to have been ready to receive
the word. Is not the faith of our mission converts often a rebuke to us?

But the Gospel met new foes as well as new friends on the new soil.
Simon the sorcerer, probably a Jew or a Samaritan, would have been
impossible on Jewish ground, but was a characteristic product of that
age in the other parts of the Roman empire. Just as, to-day, people who
are weary of Christianity are playing with Buddhism, it was fashionable
in that day of unrest to trifle with Eastern magic-mongers; and, of
course, demand created supply, and where there was a crowd of willing
dupes, there soon came to be a crop of profit-seeking deceivers. Very
characteristically, the dupes claimed more for the deceiver than he did
for himself. He probably could perform some simple chemical experiments
and conjuring tricks, and had a store of what sounded to ignorant
people profound teaching about deep mysteries, and gave forth
enigmatical utterances about his own greatness. An accomplished
charlatan will leave much to be inferred from nods and hints, and his
admirers will generally spin even more out of them than he meant. So
the Samaritans bettered Simon's 'some great one' into 'that power of
God which is called great,' and saw in him some kind of emanation of
divinity.

The quack is great till the true teacher comes, and then he dwindles.
Simon had a bitter pill to swallow when he saw this new man stealing
his audience, and doing things which he, with his sorceries, knew that
he only pretended to do. Luke points very clearly to the likeness and
difference between Simon and Philip by using the same word ('gave
heed') in regard to the Samaritan's attitude to both, while in
reference to Philip it was 'the things spoken by' him, and in reference
to Simon it was himself to which they attended. The one preached
Christ, the other himself; the one 'amazed' with 'sorceries,' the other
brought good tidings and hid himself, and his message called, not for
stupid, open-mouthed astonishment, but for belief and obedience to the
name of Jesus. The whole difference between the religion of Jesus and
the superstitions which the world calls religions, is involved in the
significant contrast, so inartificially drawn.

'Simon also himself believed.' Probably there was in his action a good
deal of swimming with the stream, in the hope of being able to divert
it; but, also, he may have been all the more struck by Philip's
miracles, because he knew a real one, by reason of his experience of
sham ones. At any rate, neither Philip nor Luke drew a distinction
between his belief and that of the Samaritans; and, as in their cases,
his baptism followed on his profession of belief. But he seems not to
have got beyond the point of wondering at the miracles, as it is
emphatically said that he did even after his baptism. He believed that
Jesus was the Messiah, but was more interested in studying Philip to
find out how he did the miracles than in listening to his teaching.
Such an imperfect belief had no transforming power, and left him the
same man as before, as was soon miserably manifest.

The news of Philip's great step forward reached the Apostles by some
unrecorded means. It is not stated that Philip reported his action, as
if to superiors whose authorisation was necessary. More probably the
information filtered through other channels. At all events, sending a
deputation was natural, and needs not to be regarded as either a sign
of suspicion or an act necessary in order to supplement imperfections
inherent in the fact that Philip was not an Apostle. The latter meaning
has been read--not to say forced--into the incident; but Luke's
language does not support it. It was not because they thought that the
Samaritans were not admissible to the full privileges of Christians
without Apostolic acts, but because they 'heard that Samaria had
received the word,' that the Apostles sent Peter and John.

The Samaritans had not yet received the Holy Ghost--that is, the
special gifts, such as those of Pentecost. That fact proves that
baptism is not necessarily and inseparably connected with the gift of
the Spirit; and chapter x. 44, 47, proves that the Spirit may be given
before baptism. As little does this incident prove that the imposition
of Apostolic hands was necessary in order to the impartation of the
Spirit. Luke, at any rate, did not think so; for he tells how Ananias'
hand laid on the blind Saul conveyed the gift to him. The laying on of
hands is a natural, eloquent symbol, but it was no prerogative of the
Apostles (Acts x. 17; 1 Tim. iv. 14).

The Apostles came down to Samaria to rejoice in the work which their
Lord had commanded, and which had been begun without their help, to
welcome the new brethren, to give them further instruction, and to knit
closely the bonds of unity between the new converts and the earlier
ones. But that they came to bestow spiritual gifts which, without them,
could not have been imparted, is imported into, not deduced from, the
simple narrative of Luke.



SIMON THE SORCERER

'Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not
right in the sight of God.'--ACTS viii. 21.

The era of the birth of Christianity was one of fermenting opinion and
decaying faith. Then, as now, men's minds were seething and unsettled,
and that unrest which is the precursor of great changes in intellectual
and spiritual habitudes affected the civilised world. Such a period is
ever one of predisposition to superstition. The one true bond which
unites God and man being obscured, and to the consciousness of many
snapped, men's minds become the prey of visionary terrors. Demand
creates supply, and the magician and miracle-worker, the possessor of
mysterious ways into the Unknown, is never far off at such a time.
Partly deceived and partly deceiving, he is as sure a sign of the lack
of profound religious conviction and of the presence of unsatisfied
religious aspirations in men's souls, as the stormy petrel or the
floating seaweed is of a tempest on the seas.

So we find the early preachers of Christianity coming into frequent
contact with pretenders to magical powers. Sadly enough, they were
mostly Jews, who prostituted their clearer knowledge to personal ends,
and having tacked on to it some theosophic rubbish which they had
learned from Alexandria, or mysticism which had filtered to them from
the East, or magic arts from Phrygia, went forth, the only missionaries
that Judaism sent out, to bewilder and torture men's minds. What a fall
from Israel's destination, and what a lesson for the stewards of the
'oracles of God'!

Of such a sort were Elymas, the sorcerer whom Paul found squatting at
the ear of the Roman Governor of Cyprus; the magicians at Ephesus; the
vagabond Jews exorcists, who with profitable eclecticism, as they
thought, tried to add the name of Jesus as one more spell to their
conjurations; and, finally, this Simon the sorcerer. Established in
Samaria, he had been juggling and conjuring and seeing visions, and
professing to be a great mysterious personality, and had more than
permitted the half-heathen Samaritans, who seem to have had more
religious susceptibility and less religious knowledge than the Jews,
and so were a prepared field for all such pretenders, to think of him
as in some sense an incarnation of God, and perhaps to set him up as a
rival or caricature of Him who in the neighbouring Judaea was being
spoken of as the power of God, God manifest in the flesh.

To the city thus moved comes no Apostle, but a Christian man who begins
to preach, and by miracles and teaching draws many souls to Christ.

The story of Simon Magus in his attitude to the Gospel is a very
striking and instructive one. It presents for our purpose now mainly
three points to which I proceed to refer.

I. An instance of a wholly unreal, because inoperative, faith.

'He believed,' says the narrative, and believing was baptized. It is
worth noting, in passing, how the profession of faith without anything
more was considered by the Early Church sufficient. But obviously his
was no true faith. The event showed that it was not.

What was it which made his faith thus unreal?

It rested wholly on the miracles and signs; he 'wondered' when he saw
them. Of course, miracles were meant to lead to faith; but if they did
not lead on to a deeper sense of one's own evil and need, and so to a
spiritual apprehension, then they were of no use.

The very beginning of the story points to the one bond that unites to
God, as being the sense of need and the acceptance with heart and will
of the testimony of Jesus Christ. Such a disposition is shown in the
Samaritans, who make a contrast with Simon in that they believed Philip
_preaching_, while Simon believed him _working miracles_. The true
place of miracles is to attract attention, to prepare to listen to the
word. They are only introductory. A faith may be founded on them, but,
on the other hand, the impressions which they produce may be
evanescent. How subordinate then, their place at the most! And the one
thing which avails is a living contact of heart and soul with Jesus
Christ.

Again, Simon's belief was purely an affair of the understanding. We are
not to suppose, I think, that he merely believed in Philip as a
miracle-worker; he must have had some notion about Philip's Master, and
we know that it was belief in Jesus as the Christ that qualified in the
Apostolic age for baptism. So it is reasonable to suppose that he had
so much of head knowledge. But it was only head knowledge. There was in
it no penitence, no self-abandonment, no fruit in holy desires; or in
other words, there was no heart. It was credence, but not trust.

Now it does not matter how much or how little you know about Jesus
Christ. It does not matter how you have come to that knowledge. It does
not matter though you have received Christian ordinances as Simon had.
If your faith is not a living power, leading to love and
self-surrender, it is really nought. And here, on its earliest conflict
with heathen magic, the gospel proclaims by the mouth of the Apostle
what is true as to all formalists and nominal Christians: 'Thou hast
neither part nor lot in this matter, _for_ thy heart is not right.' One
thing only unites to God--a faith which cleanses the heart, a faith
which lays hold on Christ with will and conscience, a faith which,
resting on penitent acknowledgment of sin, trusts wholly to His great
mercy.

II. An instance of the constant tendency to corrupt Christianity with
heathen superstition.

The Apostles' bestowal of the Holy Ghost, which was evidently
accompanied by visible signs, had excited Simon's desire for so useful
an aid to his conjuring, and he offers to buy the power, judging of
them by himself, and betraying that what he was ready to buy he was
also intending to sell.

The offer to buy has been taken as his great sin. Surely it was but the
outcome of a greater. It was not only what he offered, but what he
desired, that was wrong. He wanted that on 'whomsoever I lay hands, he
may receive the Holy Ghost.' That preposterous wish was quite as bad
as, and was the root of, his absurd offer to bribe Peter. Bribe Peter,
indeed! Some of Peter's successors would have been amenable to such
considerations, but not the horny-handed fisherman who had once said,
'Silver and gold have I none.'

Peter's answer, especially the words of my text, puts the Christian
principle in sharp antagonism to the heathen one.

Simon regards what is sacred and spiritual purely as part of his
stock-in-trade, contributing to his prestige. He offers to buy it. And
the foundation of all his errors is that he regards spiritual gifts as
capable of being received and exercised apart altogether from moral
qualifications. He does not think at all of what is involved in the
very name, 'the Holy Ghost.'

Now, on the other hand, Peter's answer lays down broadly and sharply
the opposite truth, the Christian principle that a heart right in the
sight of God is the indispensable qualification for all possession of
spiritual power, or of any of the blessings which Jesus gives.

How the heart is made right, and what constitutes righteousness is
another matter. That leads to the doctrine of repentance and faith.

The one thing that makes such participation impossible is being and
continuing in 'the gall of bitterness, and the bond of iniquity.' Or,
to put it into more modern words, all the blessings of the Gospel are a
gift of God, and are bestowed only on moral conditions. Faith which
leads to love and personal submission to the will of God makes a man a
Christian. Therefore, outward ordinances are only of use as they help a
man to that personal act.

Therefore, no other man or body of men can do it for us, or come
between us and God.

And in confirmation, notice how Peter here speaks of forgiveness. His
words do not sound as if he thought that he held the power of
absolution, but he tells Simon to go to God who alone can forgive, and
refers Simon's fate to God's mercy.

These tendencies, which Simon expresses so baldly, are in us all, and
are continually reappearing. How far much of what calls itself
Christianity has drifted from Peter's principle laid down here, that
moral and spiritual qualifications are the only ones which avail for
securing 'part or lot in the matter' of Christ's gifts received for,
and bestowed on, men! How much which really rests on the opposite
principle, that these gifts can be imparted by men who are supposed to
possess them, apart altogether from the state of heart of the would-be
recipient, we see around us to-day! _Simony_ is said to be the securing
ecclesiastical promotion by purchase. But it is much rather the belief
that 'the gift of God can be purchased with' anything but personal
faith in Jesus, the Giver and the Gift. The effects of it are patent
among us. Ceremonies usurp the place of faith. A priesthood is exalted.
The universal Christian prerogative of individual access to God is
obscured. Christianity is turned into a kind of magic.

III. An instance of the worthlessness of partial convictions.

Simon was but slightly moved by Peter's stern rebuke. He paid no heed
to the exhortation to pray for forgiveness and to repent of his
wickedness, but still remained in substantially his old error, in that
he accredited Peter with power, and asked him to pray for him, as if
the Apostle's prayer would have some special access to God which his,
though he were penitent, could not have. Further, he showed no sense of
sin. All that he wished was that 'none of the things which ye have
spoken come upon me.'

How useless are convictions which go no deeper down than Simon's did!

What became of him we do not know. But there are old ecclesiastical
traditions about him which represent him as a bitter enemy in future of
the Apostle. And Josephus has a story of a Simon who played a degrading
part between Felix and Drusilla, and who is thought by some to have
been he. But in any case, we have no reason to believe that he ever
followed Peter's counsel or prayed to God for forgiveness. So he stands
for us as one more tragic example of a man, once 'not far from the
kingdom of God' and drifting ever further away from it, because, at the
fateful moment, he would not enter in. It is hard to bring such a man
as near again as he once was. Let us learn that the one key which opens
the treasury of God's blessings, stored for us all in Jesus, is our own
personal faith, and let us beware of shutting our ears and our hearts
against the merciful rebukes that convict us of 'this our wickedness,'
and point us to the 'Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the
world,' and therefore our sin.



A MEETING IN THE DESERT

'And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go
toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza,
which is desert. 27. And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of
Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the
Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to
Jerusalem for to worship, 28. Was returning, and sitting in his
chariot, read Esaias the prophet. 29. Then the Spirit said unto Philip,
Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. 80. And Philip ran thither
to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest
thou what thou readest? 31. And he said, How can I, except some man
should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit
with him. 32. The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was
led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his
shearer, so opened He not His mouth: 33. In His humiliation His
judgment was taken away; and who shall declare His generation? for His
life is taken from the earth. 34. And the eunuch answered Philip, and
said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of
some other man? 35. Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same
scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. 36. And as they went on their
way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is
water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? 37. And Philip said, If thou
believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said,
I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. 38. And he commanded the
chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both
Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. 39. And when they were come
up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that
the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. 40. But
Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through, he preached in all the
cities, till he came to Caesarea.'--ACTS viii. 26-40.

Philip had no special divine command either to flee to, or to preach
in, Samaria, but 'an angel of the Lord' and afterwards 'the Spirit,'
directed him to the Ethiopian statesman. God rewards faithful work with
more work. Samaria was a borderland between Jew and Gentile, but in
preaching to the eunuch Philip was on entirely Gentile ground. So great
a step in advance needed clear command from God to impel to it and to
justify it.

I. We have, then, first, the new commission. Philip might well wonder
why he should be taken away from successful work in a populous city,
and despatched to the lonely road to Gaza. But he obeyed at once. He
knew not for what he was sent there, but that ignorance did not trouble
or retard him. It should be enough for us to see the next step. 'We
walk by faith, not by sight,' for we none of us know what comes of our
actions, and we get light as we go. Do to-day's plain duty, and when
to-morrow is to-day its duty will be plain too. The river on which we
sail winds, and not till we round the nearest bend do we see the course
beyond. So we are kept in the peaceful posture of dependent obedience,
and need to hold our communications with God open, that we may be sure
of His guidance.

No doubt, as Philip trudged along till he reached the Gaza road, he
would have many a thought as to what he was to find there, and, when he
came at last to the solitary track, would look eagerly over the
uninhabited land for an explanation of his strange and vague
instructions. But an obedient heart is not long left perplexed, and he
who looks for duty to disclose itself will see it in due time.

II. So we have next the explanation of the errand. Luke's 'Behold!'
suggests the sudden sight of the great man's cortege in the distance.
No doubt, he travelled with a train of attendants, as became his
dignity, and would be conspicuous from afar. Philip, of course, did not
know who he was when he caught sight of him, but Luke tells his rank at
once, in order to lay stress on it, as well as to bring out the
significance of his occupation and subsequent conversion. Here was a
full-blooded Gentile, an eunuch, a courtier, who had been drawn to
Israel's God, and was studying Israel's prophets as he rode. Perhaps he
had chosen that road to Egypt for its quietness. At any rate, his
occupation revealed the bent of his mind.

Philip felt that the mystery of his errand was solved now, and he
recognised the impulse to break through conventional barriers and
address the evidently dignified stranger, as the voice of God's Spirit,
and not his own. How he was sure of that we do not know, but the
distinction drawn between the former communication by an angel and this
from the Spirit points to a clear difference in his experiences, and to
careful discrimination in the narrator. The variation is not made at
random. Philip did not mistake a buzzing in his ears from the heating
of his own heart for a divine voice. We have here no hallucinations of
an enthusiast, but plain fact.

How manifestly the meeting of these two, starting so far apart, and so
ignorant of each other and of the purpose of their being thrown
together, reveals the unseen hand that moved each on his own line, and
brought about the intersection of the two at that exact spot and hour!
How came it that at that moment the Ethiopian was reading, of all
places in his roll, the very words which make the kernel of the gospel
of the evangelical prophet? Surely such 'coincidences' are a hard nut
to crack for deniers of a Providence that shapes our ends!

It is further to be noticed that the eunuch's conversion does not
appear to have been of importance for the expansion of the Church. It
exercised no recorded influence, and was apparently not communicated to
the Apostles, as, if it had been, it could scarcely have failed to have
been referred to when the analogous case of Cornelius was under
discussion. So, divine intervention and human journeying and work were
brought into play simply for the sake of one soul which God's eye saw
to be ripe for the Gospel. He cares for the individual, and one sheep
that can be reclaimed is precious enough in the Shepherd's estimate to
move His hand to action and His heart to love. Not because he was a man
of great authority at Candace's court, but because he was yearning for
light, and ready to follow it when it shone, did the eunuch meet Philip
on that quiet road.

III. The two men being thus strangely brought together, we have next
the conversation for the sake of which they were brought together. The
eunuch was reading aloud, as people not very much used to books, or who
have some difficult passage in hand, often do. Philip must have been
struck with astonishment when he caught the, to him, familiar words,
and must have seen at once the open door for his preaching. His abrupt
question wastes no time with apologies or polite, gradual approaches to
his object. Probably the very absence of the signs of deference to
which he was accustomed impressed the eunuch with a dim sense of the
stranger's authority, which would be deepened by the home-thrust of his
question.

The wistful answer not only shows no resentment at the brusque
stranger's thrusting himself in, but acknowledges bewilderment, and
responds to the undertone of proffered guidance in the question. A
teacher has often to teach a pupil his ignorance, to begin with; but it
should be so done as to create desire for instruction, and to kindle
confidence in him as instructor. It is insolent to ask, 'Understandest
thou?' unless the questioner is ready and able to help to understand.

The invitation to a seat in the great man's chariot showed how
eagerness to learn had obliterated distinctions of rank, and swiftly
knit a new bond between these two, who had never heard of each other
five minutes before. A true heart will hail as its best and closest
friend him who leads it to know God's mind more clearly. How earthly
dignities dwindle when God's messenger lays hold of a soul!

So the chariot rolls on, and through the silence of the desert the
voices of these two reach the wondering attendants, as they plod along.
The Ethiopian was reading the Septuagint translation of Isaiah, which,
though it missed part of the force of the original, brought clearly
before him the great figure of a Sufferer, meek and dumb, swept from
the earth by unjust judgment. He understood so much, but what he did
not understand was who this great, tragic Figure represented. His
question goes to the root of the matter, and is a burning question
to-day, as it was all these centuries ago on the road to Gaza. Philip
had no doubt of the answer. Jesus was the 'lamb dumb before its
shearers.' This is not the place to enter on such wide questions, but
we may at least affirm that, whatever advance modern schools have made
in the criticism and interpretation of the Old Testament, the very
spirit of the whole earlier Revelation is missed if Jesus is not
discerned as the Person to whom prophet and ritual pointed, in whom law
was fulfilled and history reached its goal.

No doubt much instruction followed. How long they had rode together
before they came to 'a certain water' we know not, but it cannot have
been more than a few hours. Time is elastic, and when the soil is
prepared, and rain and sunlight are poured down, the seed springs up
quickly. People who deny the possibility of 'sudden conversions' are
blind to facts, because they wear the blinkers of a theory. Not always
have they who 'anon with joy receive' the word 'no root in themselves.'

As is well known, the answer to the eunuch's question (v. 37) is
wanting in authoritative manuscripts. The insertion may have been due
to the creeping into the text of a marginal note. A recent and most
original commentator on the Acts (Blass) considers that this, like
other remarkable readings found in one set of manuscripts, was written
by Luke in a draft of the book, which he afterwards revised and
somewhat abbreviated into the form which most of the manuscripts
present. However that may be, the required conditions in the doubtful
verse are those which the practice of the rest of the Acts shows to
have been required. Faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God was the
qualification for the baptisms there recorded.

And there was no other qualification. Philip asked nothing about the
eunuch's proselytism, or whether he had been circumcised or not. He did
not, like Peter with Cornelius, need the evidence of the gift of the
Spirit before he baptized; but, notwithstanding his experience of an
unworthy candidate in Simon the sorcerer, he unhesitatingly
administered baptism. There was no Church present to witness the rite.
We do not read that the Holy Ghost fell on the eunuch.

That baptism in the quiet wady by the side of the solitary road, while
the swarthy attendants stood in wonder, was a mighty step in advance;
and it was taken, not by an Apostle, nor with ecclesiastical sanction,
but at the bidding of Christian instinct, which recognised a brother in
any man who had faith in Jesus, the Son of God. The new faith is
bursting old bonds. The universality of the Gospel is overflowing the
banks of Jewish narrowness. Probably Philip was quite unconscious of
the revolutionary nature of his act, but it was done, and in it was the
seed of many more.

The eunuch had said that he could not understand unless some man guided
him. But when Philip is caught away, he does not bewail the loss of his
guide. He went on his road with joy, though his new faith might have
craved longer support from the crutch of a teacher, and fuller
enlightenment. What made him able to do without the guide that a few
hours before had been so indispensable? The presence in his heart of a
better one, even of Him whom Jesus promised, to guide His servants into
all truth. If those who believe that Scripture without an authorised
interpreter is insufficient to lead men aright, would consider the end
of this story, they might find that a man's dependence on outward
teachers ceases when he has God's Spirit to teach him, and that for
such a man the Word of God in his hand and the Spirit of God in his
spirit will give him light enough to walk by, so that, in the absence
of all outward instructors, he may still be filled with true wisdom,
and in absolute solitude may go 'on his way rejoicing.'



PHILIP THE EVANGELIST

'But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all
the cities, till he came to Caesarea.'--ACTS viii. 40.

The little that is known about Philip, the deacon and evangelist, may
very soon be told. His name suggests, though by no means conclusively,
that he was probably one of the so-called Hellenists, or foreign-born
and Greek-speaking Jews. This is made the more probable because he was
one of the seven selected by the Church, and after that selection
appointed by the Apostles, to dispense relief to the poor. The purpose
of the appointment being to conciliate the grumblers in the Hellenist
section of the Church, the persons chosen would probably belong to it.
He left Jerusalem during the persecution 'that arose after the death of
Stephen.' As we know, he was the first preacher of the Gospel in
Samaria; he was next the instrument honoured to carry the Word to the
first heathen ever gathered into the Church; and then, after a journey
along the sea-coast to Caesarea, the then seat of government, he
remained in that place in obscure toil for twenty years, dropped out of
the story, and we hear no more of him but for one glimpse of his home
in Caesarea.

That is all that is told about him. And I think that if we note the
contrast of the office to which men called him, and the work to which
God set him; and the other still more striking contrast between the
brilliancy of the beginning of his course, and the obscurity of his
long years of work, we may get some lessons worth the learning. I take,
then, not only the words which I read for my text, but the whole of the
incidents connected with Philip, as our starting-point now; and I draw
from them two or three very well-worn, but none the less needful,
pieces of instruction.

I. First, then, we may gather a thought as to Christ's sovereignty in
choosing His instruments.

Did you ever notice that events exactly contradicted the intentions of
the Church and of the Apostles, in the selection of Philip and his six
brethren? The Apostles said, 'It is not reason that we should leave the
Word of God and serve tables. Pick out seven relieving-officers; men
who shall do the secular work of the Church, and look after the poor;
and we will give ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.'
So said man. And what did facts say? That as to these twelve, who were
to 'give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word,' we never
hear that by far the larger proportion of them were honoured to do
anything worth mentioning for the spread of the Gospel. Their function
was to be 'witnesses,' and that was all. But, on the other hand, of the
men that were supposed to be fitted for secular work, two at all events
had more to do in the expansion of the Church, and in the development
of the universal aspects of Christ's Gospel, than the whole of the
original group of Apostles. So Christ picks His instruments. The
Apostles may say, 'These shall do so-and-so; and we will do so-and-so.'
Christ says, 'Stephen shall proclaim a wider Gospel than the Apostles
at first had caught sight of, and Philip shall be the first who will go
beyond the charmed circle of Judaism, and preach the Gospel.'

It is always so. Christ chooses His instruments where He will; and it
is not the Apostle's business, nor the business of an ecclesiastic of
any sort, to settle his own work or anybody else's. The
Commander-in-Chief keeps the choosing of the men for special service in
His own hand. The Apostolic College said, 'Let them look after the
poor, and leave us to look after the ministry of the Word'; Christ
says, 'Go and join thyself to that chariot, and speak there the speech
that I shall bid thee.'

Brethren, do you listen for that voice calling you to your tasks, and
never mind what men may be saying. Wait till _He_ bids, and you will
hear Him speaking to you if you will keep yourselves quiet. Wait till
He bids you, and then be sure that you do it. Christ chooses His
instruments, and chooses them often in strange places.

II. The next lesson that I would take from this story is the
spontaneous speech of a believing heart.

There came a persecution that scattered the Church. Men tried to fling
down the lamp; and all that they did was to spill the oil, and it ran
flaming wherever it flowed. For the scattered brethren, without any
Apostle with them, with no instruction given to them to do so, wherever
they went carried their faith with them; and, as a matter of course,
wherever they went they spoke their faith. And so we read that, not by
appointment, nor of set purpose, nor in consequence of any
ecclesiastical or official sanction, nor in consequence of any
supernatural and distinct commandment from heaven, but just because it
was the natural thing to do, and they could not help it, they went
everywhere, these scattered men of Cyprus and Cyrene, preaching the
word.

And when this Philip, whom the officials had relegated to the secular
work of distributing charity, found himself in Samaria, he did the
like. The Samaritans were outcasts, and Peter and John had wanted to
bring down fire from heaven to consume them. But Philip could not help
speaking out the truth that was in his heart.

So it always will be: we can all talk about what we are interested in.
The full heart cannot be condemned to silence. If there is no necessity
for speech felt by a professing Christian, that professing Christian's
faith is a very superficial thing. 'We cannot but speak the things that
we have seen and heard,' said one of the Apostles, thereby laying down
the great charter of freedom of speech for all profound convictions.
'Thy word was as a fire in my bones when I said, I will speak no more
in Thy name,' so petulant and self-willed was I, 'and I was weary with
forbearing,' and ashamed of my rash vow; 'and I could not stay.'

Dear friends, do you carry with you the impulse for utterance of
Christ's name wherever you go? And is it so sweet in your hearts that
you cannot but let its sweetness have expression by your lips? Surely,
surely this spontaneous instinctive utterance of Philip, by which a
loving heart sought to relieve itself, puts to shame the 'dumb dogs'
that make up such an enormous proportion of professing Christians. And
surely such an experience as his may well throw a very sinister light
on the reality--nay! I will not say the _reality_, that would be too
uncharitable--but upon the depth and vitality of the profession of
Christianity which these silent ones make.

III. Another lesson that seems to me strikingly illustrated by the
story with which we are concerned, is the guidance of a divine hand in
common life, and when there are no visible nor supernatural signs.

Philip goes down to Samaria because he must, and speaks because he
cannot help it. He is next bidden to take a long journey, from the
centre of the land, away down to the southern desert; and at a certain
point there the Spirit says to him, 'Go! join thyself to this chariot.'
And when his work with the Ethiopian statesman is done, then he is
swept away by the power of the Spirit of God, as Ezekiel had been long
before by the banks of the river Chebar, and is set down, no doubt all
bewildered and breathless, at Azotus--the ancient Ashdod--the
Philistine city on the low-lying coast. Was Philip less under Christ's
guidance when miracle ceased and he was left to ordinary powers? Did he
feel as if deserted by Christ, because, instead of being swept by the
strong wind of heaven, he had to tramp wearily along the flat shore
with the flashing Mediterranean on his left hand reflecting the hot
sunshine? Did it seem to him as if his task in preaching the Gospel in
these villages through which he passed on his way to Caesarea was less
distinctly obedience to the divine command than when he heard the
utterance of the Spirit, 'Go down to the road which leads to Gaza,
which is desert'? By no means. To this man, as to every faithful soul,
the guidance that came through his own judgment and common sense,
through the instincts and impulses of his sanctified nature, by the
circumstances which he devoutly believed to be God's providence, was as
truly direct divine guidance as if all the angels of heaven had blown
commandment with their trumpets into his waiting and stunned ears.

And so you and I have to go upon our paths without angel voices, or
chariots of storm, and to be contented with divine commandments less
audible or perceptible to our senses than this man had at one point in
his career. But if we are wise we shall hear Him speaking the word. We
shall not be left without His voice if we wait for it, stilling our own
inclinations until His solemn commandment is made plain to us, and then
stirring up our inclinations that they may sway us to swift obedience.
There is no gulf, for the devout heart, between what is called
miraculous and what is called ordinary and common. Equally in both does
God manifest His will to His servants, and equally in both is His
presence perceived by faith. We do not need to envy Philip's brilliant
beginning. Let us see that we imitate his quiet close of life.

IV. The last lesson that I would draw is this--the nobility of
persistence in unnoticed work.

What a contrast to the triumphs in Samaria, and the other great
expansion of the field for the Gospel effected by the God-commanded
preaching to the eunuch, is presented by the succeeding twenty years of
altogether unrecorded but faithful toil! Persistence in such unnoticed
work is made all the more difficult, and to any but a very true man
would have been all but impossible, by reason of the contrast which
such work offered to the glories of the earlier days. Some of us may
have been tried in a similar fashion, all of us have more or less the
same kind of difficulty to face. Some of us perhaps may have had
gleams, at the beginning of our career, that seemed to give hope of
fields of activity more brilliant and of work far better than we have
ever had or done again in the long weary toil of daily life. There may
have been abortive promises, at the commencement of your careers, that
seemed to say that you would occupy a more conspicuous position than
life has had really in reserve for you. At any rate, we have all had
our dreams, for

  'If Nature put not forth her power
  About the opening of the flower,
  Who is there that could live an hour?'

and no life is all that the liver of it meant it to be when he began.
We dream of building palaces or temples, and we have to content
ourselves if we can put up some little shed in which we may shelter.

Philip, who began so conspicuously, and so suddenly ceased to be the
special instrument in the hands of the Spirit, kept plod, plod,
plodding on, with no bitterness of heart. For twenty years he had no
share in the development of Gentile Christianity, of which he had sowed
the first seed, but had to do much less conspicuous work. He toiled
away there in Caesarea patient, persevering, and contented, because he
loved the work, and he loved the work because he loved Him that had set
it. He seemed to be passed over by his Lord in His choice of
instruments. It was he who was selected to be the first man that should
preach to the heathen. But did you ever notice that although he was
probably in Caesarea at the time, Cornelius was not bid to apply to
_Philip_, who was at his elbow, but to send to Joppa for the Apostle
Peter? Philip might have sulked and said: 'Why was I not chosen to do
this work? I will speak no more in this Name.'

It did not fall to his lot to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. One who
came after him was preferred before him, and the Hellenist Saul was set
to the task which might have seemed naturally to belong to the
Hellenist Philip. He too might have said, 'He must increase, but I must
decrease.' No doubt he did say it in spirit, with noble self-abnegation
and freedom from jealousy. He cordially welcomed Paul to his house in
Caesarea twenty years afterwards, and rejoiced that one sows and
another reaps; and that so the division of labour is the multiplication
of gladness.

A beautiful superiority to all the low thoughts that are apt to mar our
persistency in unobtrusive and unrecognised work is set before us in
this story. There are many temptations to-day, dear brethren, what with
gossiping newspapers and other means of publicity for everything that
is done, for men to say, 'Well, if I cannot get any notice for my work
I shall not do it.'

Boys in the street will refuse to join in games, saying, 'I shall not
play unless I am captain or have the big drum.' And there are not
wanting Christian men who lay down like conditions. 'Play well thy
part' wherever it is. Never mind the honour. Do the duty God appoints,
and He that has the two mites of the widow in His treasury will never
forget any of our works, and at the right time will tell them out
before His Father, and before the holy angels.



GRACE TRIUMPHANT

'And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the
disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, 2. And desired of him
letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this
way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them hound unto
Jerusalem. 3. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly
there shined round about him a light from heaven: 4. And he fell to the
earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest
thou Me? 5. And he said, Who art Thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am
Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the
pricks. 6. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt Thou
have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city,
and it shall be told thee what thou must do. 7. And the men which
journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no
man. 8. And Saul arose from the earth: and when his eyes were opened,
he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into
Damascus. 9. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat
nor drink. 10. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named
Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said,
Behold. I am here, Lord. 11. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go
into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of
Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus; for, behold, he prayeth, 12. And
hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his
hand on him, that he might receive his sight.... 17. And Ananias went
his way, and entered Into the house; and putting his hands on him said,
Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way
as thou earnest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight,
and be filled with the Holy Ghost. 18. And immediately there fell from
his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and
arose, and was baptized. 19. And when he had received meat, he was
strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were
at Damascus. 20. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues,
that He is the Son of God.'--ACTS ix. 1-12; 17-20.

This chapter begins with 'but,' which contrasts Saul's persistent
hatred, which led him to Gentile lands to persecute, with Philip's
expansive evangelistic work. Both men were in profound earnest, both
went abroad to carry on their work, but the one sought to plant what
the other was eager to destroy. If the 'but' in verse 1 contrasts, the
'yet' connects the verse with chapter viii. 3. Saul's fury was no
passing outburst, but enduring. Like other indulged passions, it grew
with exercise, and had come to be as his very life-breath, and now
planned, not only imprisonment, but death, for the heretics.

Not content with carrying his hateful inquisition into the homes of the
Christians in Jerusalem, he will follow the fugitives to Damascus. The
extension of the persectution was his own thought. He was not the tool
of the Sanhedrin, but their mover. They would probably have been
content to cleanse Jerusalem, but the young zealot would not rest till
he had followed the dispersed poison into every corner where it might
have trickled. The high priest would not discourage such useful zeal,
however he might smile at its excess.

So Saul got the letters he asked, and some attendants, apparently, to
help him in his hunt, and set off for Damascus. Painters have imagined
him as riding thither, but more probably he and his people went on
foot. It was a journey of some five or six days. The noon of the last
day had come, and the groves of Damascus were, perhaps, in sight. No
doubt, the young Pharisee's head was busy settling what he was to begin
with when he entered the city, and was exulting in the thought of how
he would harry the meek Christians, when the sudden light shone.

At all events, the narrative does not warrant the view, often taken
now, that there had been any preparatory process in Saul's mind, which
had begun to sap his confidence that Jesus was a blasphemer, and
himself a warrior for God. That view is largely adopted in order to get
rid of the supernatural, and to bolster up the assumption that there
are no sudden conversions; but the narrative of Luke, and Paul's own
references, are dead against it. At one moment he is 'yet breathing
threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord,' and in
almost the next he is prone on his face, asking, 'Lord, what wilt Thou
have me to do?' It was not a case of a landslide suddenly sweeping
down, but long prepared for by the gradual percolation of water to the
slippery understrata, but the solid earth was shaken, and the mountain
crashed down in sudden ruin.

The causes of Saul's conversion are plain in the narrative, even though
the shortened form is adopted, which is found in the Revised Version.
The received text has probably been filled out by additions from Paul's
own account in chapter xxvi. First came the blaze of light outshining
the midday sun, even in that land where its beams are like swords. That
blinding light 'shone round about him,' enveloping him in its glory.
Chapter xxvi. (verse 13) tells that his companions also were wrapped in
the lustre, and that all fell to the earth, no doubt in terror.

Saul is not said, either in this or in his own accounts, to have seen
Jesus, but I Corinthians xv. 8 establishes that he did so, and Ananias
(v. 17) refers to Jesus as having 'appeared.' That appearance, whatever
may have been the psychological account of it, was by Paul regarded as
being equal in evidential value to the flesh-and-blood vision of the
risen Lord which the other Apostles witnessed to, and as placing him in
the same line as a witness.

It is to be noted also, that, while the attendants saw the light, they
were not blinded, as Saul was; from which it may be inferred that he
saw with his bodily eyes the glorified manhood of Jesus, as we are told
that one day, when He returns as Judge, 'every eye shall see Him.' Be
that as it may,--and we have not material for constructing a theory of
the manner of Christ's appearance to Saul,--the overwhelming conviction
was flooded into his soul, that the Jesus whom he had thought of as a
blasphemer, falsely alleged to have risen from the dead, lived in
heavenly glory, amid celestial brightness too dazzling for human eyes.

The words of gentle remonstrance issuing from the flashing glory went
still further to shake the foundations of the young Pharisee's life;
for they, as with one lightning gleam, laid hare the whole madness and
sin of the crusade which he had thought acceptable to God. 'Why
persecutest thou Me?' Then the odious heretics were knit by some
mysterious bond to this glorious One, so that He bled in their wounds
and felt their pains! Then Saul had been, as his old teacher dreaded
they of the Sanhedrin might be, fighting against God! How the reasons
for Saul's persecution had crumbled away, till there were none left
with which to answer Jesus' question! Jesus lived, and was exalted to
glory. He was identified with His servants. He had appeared to Saul,
and deigned to plead with him.

No wonder that the man who had been planning fresh assaults on the
disciples ten minutes before, was crushed and abject as he lay there on
the road, and these tremendous new convictions rushed like a cataract
over and into his soul! No wonder that the lessons burned in on him in
that hour of destiny became the centre-point of all his future
teaching! That vision revolutionised his thinking and his life. None
can affirm that it was incompetent to do so.

Luke's account here, like Paul's in chapter xxii., represents further
instructions from Jesus as postponed till Saul's meeting with Ananias,
while Paul's other account in chapter xxvi. omits mention of the
latter, and gives the substance of what he said in Damascus as said on
the road by Jesus. The one account is more detailed than the other,
that is all. The gradual unfolding of the heavenly purpose which our
narrative gives is in accord with the divine manner. For the moment
enough had been done to convert the persecutor into the servant, to
level with the ground his self-righteousness, to reveal to him the
glorified Jesus, to bend his will and make it submissive. The rest
would be told him in due time.

The attendants had fallen to the ground like him, but seem to have
struggled to their feet again, while he lay prostrate. They saw the
brightness, but not the Person: they heard the voice, but not the
words. Saul staggered by their help to his feet, and then found that
with open eyes he was blind. Imagination or hallucination does not play
tricks of that sort with the organs of sense.

The supernatural is too closely intertwined with the story to be taken
out of it without reducing it to tatters. The greatest of Christian
teachers, who has probably exercised more influence than any man who
ever lived, was made a Christian by a miracle. That fact is not to be
got rid of. But we must remember that once when He speaks of it He
points to God's revelation of His Son '_in_ Him' as its essential
character. The external appearance was the vehicle of the inward
revelation. It is to be remembered, too, that the miracle did not take
away Saul's power of accepting or rejecting the Christ; for he tells
Agrippa that he was 'not disobedient to the heavenly vision.'

What a different entry he made into Damascus from what he expected, and
what a different man it was that crawled up to the door of Judas, in
the street that is called Straight, from the self-confident young
fanatic who had left Jerusalem with the high priest's letters in his
bosom and fierce hate in his heart!

Ananias was probably not one of the fugitives, as his language about
Saul implies that he knew of his doings only by hearsay. The report of
Saul's coming and authority to arrest disciples had reached Damascus
before him, with the wonderful quickness with which news travels in the
East, nobody knows how. Ananias's fears being quieted, he went to the
house where for three days Saul had been lying lonely in the dark,
fasting, and revolving many things in his heart. No doubt his Lord had
spoken many a word to him, though not by vision, but by whispering to
his spirit. Silence and solitude root truth in a soul. After such a
shock, absolute seclusion was best.

Ananias discharged his commission with lovely tenderness and power. How
sweet and strange to speaker and hearer would that 'Brother Saul'
sound! How strong and grateful a confirmation of his vision would
Ananias's reference to the appearance of the Lord bring! How humbly
would the proud Pharisee bow to receive, laid on his head, the hands
that he had thought to bind with chains! What new eyes would look out
on a world in which all things had become new, when there fell from
them as it had been scales, and as quickly as had come the blinding, so
quickly came the restored vision!

Ananias was neither Apostle nor official, yet the laying on of his
hands communicated 'the Holy Ghost.' Saul received that gift before
baptism, not after or through the ordinance. It was important for his
future relations to the Apostles that he should not have been
introduced to the Church by them, or owed to them his first human
Christian teaching. Therefore he could say that he was 'an Apostle, not
from men, neither through man.' It was important for us that in that
great instance that divine gift should have been bestowed without the
conditions accompanying, which have too often been regarded as
necessary for, its possession.



'THIS WAY'

'Any of this way.'--ACTS ix. 2

The name of 'Christian' was not applied to themselves by the followers
of Jesus before the completion of the New Testament. There were other
names in currency before that designation--which owed its origin to the
scoffing wits of Antioch--was accepted by the Church. They called
themselves 'disciples,' 'believers, 'saints,' 'brethren,' as if feeling
about for a title.

Here is a name that had obtained currency for a while, and was
afterwards disused. We find it five times in the Book of the Acts of
the Apostles, never elsewhere; and always, with one exception, it
should be rendered, as it is in the Revised Version, not '_this_ way,'
as if being one amongst many, but '_the_ way,' as being the only one.

Now, I have thought that this designation of Christians as 'those of
the way' rests upon a very profound and important view of what
Christianity is, and may teach us some lessons if we will ponder it;
and I ask your attention to two or three of these for a few moments now.

I. First, then, I take this name as being a witness to the conviction
that in Christianity we have the only road to God.

There may be some reference in the name to the remarkable words of our
Lord Jesus Christ: 'I am the Way. No man cometh to the Father but by
Me,'--words of which the audacity is unparalleled and unpardonable,
except upon the supposition that He bears an unique relation to God on
the one hand, and to all mankind upon the other. In them He claims to
be the sole medium of communication between heaven and earth, God and
man. And that same exclusiveness is reflected in this name for
Christians. It asserts that faith in Jesus Christ, the acceptance of
His teaching, mediation and guidance, is the only path that climbs to
God, and by it alone do we come into knowledge of, and communion with,
our divine Father.

I do not dwell upon the fact that, according to our Lord's own
teaching, and according to the whole New Testament, Christ's work of
making God known to man did not begin with His Incarnation and earthly
life, but that from the beginning that eternal Word was the agent of
all divine activity in creation, and in the illumination of mankind. So
that, not only all the acts of the self-revealing God were through Him,
but that from Him, as from the light of men, came all the light in
human hearts, of reason and of conscience, by which there were and are
in all men, some dim knowledge of God, and some feeling after, or at
the lowest some consciousness of, Him. But the historical facts of
Christ's incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension are the
source of all solid certitude, and of all clear knowledge of our Father
in Heaven. His words are spirit and life; His works are unspoken words;
and by both He declares unto His brethren the Name, and is the
self-manifestation of, the Father.

Think of the contrast presented by the world's conceptions of Godhead,
and the reality as unveiled in Christ! On the one hand you have gods
lustful, selfish, passionate, capricious, cruel, angry, vile; or gods
remote, indifferent, not only passionless, but heartless, inexorable,
unapproachable, whom no man can know, whom no man can love, whom no man
can trust. On the other hand, if you look at Christ's tears as the
revelation of God; if you look at Christ's ruth and pity as the
manifestation of the inmost glory of the divine nature; if you take
your stand at the foot of the Cross--a strange place to see 'the power
of God and the wisdom of God'!--and look up there at Him dying for the
world, and are able to say, 'Lo! this is our God! through all the weary
centuries we have waited for Him, and this is He!' then you can
understand how true it is that there, and there only, is the good news
proclaimed that lifts the burden from every heart, and reveals God the
Lover and the Friend of every soul.

And if, further, we consider the difference between the dim
'peradventures,' the doubts and fears, the uncertain conclusions drawn
from questionable, and often partial, premises, which confessedly never
amount to demonstration, if we consider the contrast between these and
the daylight of fact which we meet in Jesus Christ, His love, life, and
death, then we can feel how superior in certitude, as in substance, the
revelation of God in Jesus is to all these hopes, longings, doubts, and
how it alone is worthy to be called the knowledge of God, or is solid
enough to abide comparison with the certainties of the most arrogant
physical science.

There never was a time in the history of the world when, so clearly and
unmistakably, every thinking soul amongst cultivated nations was being
brought up to this alternative--Christ, the Revealer of God, or no
knowledge of God at all. The old dreams of heathenism are impossible
for us; modern agnosticism will make very quick work of a deism which
does not cling to the Christ as the Revealer of the Godhead. And I, for
my part, believe that there is one thing, and one thing only, which
will save modern Europe from absolute godlessness, and that is the
coming back to the old truth, 'No man hath seen God' by sense, or
intuition, or reason, or conscience, 'at any time. The only begotten
Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.'

But it is not merely as bringing to us the only certain knowledge of
our Father God that Christianity is 'the way,' but it is also because
by it alone we come into fellowship with the God whom it reveals to us.
If there rises up before your mind the thought of Him in the Heavens,
there will rise up also in your consciousness the sense of your own
sin. And that is no delusion nor fancy; it is the most patent fact,
that between you and your Father in Heaven, howsoever loving, tender,
compassionate, and forgiving, there lies a great gulf. You cannot go to
God, my brother, with all that guilt heaped upon your conscience; you
cannot come near to Him with all that mass of evil which you know is
there, working in your soul. How shall a sinful soul come to a holy
God? And there is only one answer--that great Lord, by His blessed
death upon the Cross, has cleared away all the mountains of guilt and
sin that rise up frowning between each single soul and the Father in
Heaven; and through Him, by a new and living way, which He hath opened
for us, we have entrance to God, and dwell with Him.

And it is not only that He brings to us the knowledge of God, and that
He clears away all obstacles, and makes fellowship between God and us
possible for the most polluted and sinful of spirits, but it is also
that, by the knowledge of His great love to us, love is kindled in our
hearts, and we are drawn into that path which, as a matter of fact, we
shall not tread unless we yield to the magnetic attraction of the love
of God as revealed 'in the face of Jesus Christ.'

Men do not seek fellowship with God until they are drawn to Him by the
love that is revealed upon the Cross. Men do not yield their hearts to
Him until their hearts are melted down by the fire of that Infinite
divine love which disdained not to be humiliated and refused not to die
for their sakes. Practically and really we come to God, when--and I
venture upon the narrowness of saying, _only_ when--God has come to us
in His dear Son. '_The_ way' to God is through Christ. Have you trod
it, my friend--that new and living way, which leads within the veil,
into the secrets of loving communion with your Father in Heaven?

II. Then there is another principle, of which this designation of our
text is also the witness, viz., that in Christianity we have the path
of conduct and practical life traced out for us all.

The 'way of a man' is, of course, a metaphor for his outward life and
conduct. It is connected with the familiar old image which belongs to
the poetry of all languages, by which life is looked at as a journey.
That metaphor speaks to us of the continual changefulness of our mortal
condition; it speaks to us, also, of the effort and the weariness which
often attend it. It proclaims also the solemn thought that a man's life
is a unity, and that, progressive, it goes some whither, and arrives at
a definite goal.

And that idea is taken up in this phrase, '_the_ way,' in such a
fashion as that there are two things asserted: first, that Christianity
provides _a_ way, a path for the practical activity, that it moulds our
life into a unity, that it prescribes the line of direction which it is
to follow, that it has a starting-point, and stages, and an end; also,
that Christianity is _the_ way for practical life, the only path and
mode of conduct which corresponds with all the obligations and nature
of a man, and which reason, conscience, and experience will approve.
Let us look, just for a moment or two, at these two thoughts:
Christianity is _a_ way; Christianity is _the_ way.

It is a way. These early disciples must have grasped with great
clearness and tenacity the practical side of the Gospel, or they would
never have adopted this name. If they had thought of it as being only a
creed, they would not have done so.

And it is not only a creed. All creed is meant to influence conduct. If
I may so say, _credenda_, 'things to be believed,' are meant to
underlie the _agenda_, the things to be done. Every doctrine of the New
Testament, like the great blocks of concrete that are dropped into a
river in order to lay the foundation of a bridge, or the embankment
that is run across a valley in order to carry a railway upon it,--every
doctrine of the New Testament is meant to influence the conduct, the
'walk and conversation,' and to provide a path on which activity may
advance and expatiate.

I cannot, of course, dwell upon this point with sufficient elaboration,
or take up one after another the teachings of the New Testament, in
order to show how close is their bearing upon practical life. There is
plenty of abstract theology in the form of theological systems,
skeletons all dried up that have no life in them. There is nothing of
that sort in the principles as they lie on the pages of the New
Testament. There they are all throbbing with life, and all meant to
influence life and conduct.

Remember, my friend, that unless your Christianity is doing that for
you, unless it has prescribed a path of life for you, and moulded your
steps into a great unity, and drawn you along the road, it is
nought,--nought!

But the whole matter may be put into half a dozen sentences. The living
heart of Christianity, either considered as a revelation to a man, or
as a power within a man, that is to say, either objective or
subjective, is love. It is the revelation of the love of God that is
the inmost essence of it as revelation. It is love in my heart that is
the inmost essence of it as a fact of my nature. And is not love the
most powerful of all forces to influence conduct? Is it not 'the
fulfilling of the law,' because its one single self includes all
commandments, and is the ideal of all duty, and also because it is the
power which will secure the keeping of all the law which itself lays
down?

But love may be followed out into its two main effects. These are
self-surrender and imitation. And I say that a religious system which
is, in its inmost heart and essence, love, is thereby shown to be the
most practical of all systems, because thereby it is shown to be a
great system of self-surrender and imitation.

The deepest word of the Gospel is, 'Yield yourselves to God.' Bring
your wills and bow them before Him, and say, 'Here am I; take me, and
use me as a pawn on Thy great chessboard, to be put where Thou wilt.'
When once a man's will is absorbed into the divine will, as a drop of
water is into the ocean, he is free, and has happiness and peace, and
is master and lord of himself and of the universe. That system which
proclaims love as its heart sets in action self-surrender as the most
practical of all the powers of life.

Love is imitation. And Jesus Christ's life is set before us as the
pattern for all our conduct. We are to follow In His footsteps. These
mark our path. We are to follow Him, as a traveller who knows not his
way will carefully tread in the steps of his guide. We are to imitate
Him, as a scholar who is learning to draw will copy every touch of the
master's pencil.

Strange that that short life, fragmentarily reported in four little
tracts, full of unapproachable peculiarities, and having no part in
many of the relationships which make so large a portion of most lives,
is yet so transparently under the influence of the purest and broadest
principles of righteousness and morality as that every age and each
sex, and men of all professions, idiosyncrasies, temperaments, and
positions, all stages of civilisation and culture, of every period, and
of every country, may find in it the all-sufficient pattern for them!

Thus in Christianity we have a way. It prescribes a line of direction
for the life, and brings all its power to bear in marking the course
which we should pursue and in making us willing and able to pursue it.

How different, how superior to all other systems which aspire to
regulate the outward life that system is! It is superior, in its
applicability to all conditions. It is a very difficult thing for any
man to apply the generalities of moral law and righteousness to the
individual cases in his life. The stars are very bright, but they do
not show me which street to turn up when I am at a loss; but Christ's
example comes very near to us, and guides us, not indeed in regard to
questions of prudence or expediency, but in regard to all questions of
right or wrong. It is superior, in the help it gives to a soul
struggling with temptation. It is very hard to keep law or duty clearly
before our eyes at such a moment, when it is most needful to do so. The
lighthouse is lost in the fog, but the example of Jesus Christ
dissipates many mists of temptation to the heart that loves Him; and
'they that follow Him shall not walk in darkness.'

It is superior in this, further, that patterns fail because they are
only patterns, and cannot get themselves executed, and laws fail
because they are only laws and cannot get themselves obeyed. What is
the use of a signpost to a man who is lame, or who does not want to go
down the road, though he knows it well enough? But Christianity brings
both the commandment and the motive that keeps the commandment.

And so it is _the_ path along which we can travel. It is the only road
that corresponds to all our necessities, and capacities, and
obligations.

It is the only path, my brother, that will be approved by reason,
conscience, and experience. The greatest of our English mystics says
somewhere--I do not profess to quote with verbal accuracy--'There are
two questions which put an end to all the vain projects and designs of
human life. The one is, "What for?" the other, "What good will the aim
do you if attained?"'

If we look at 'all the ways of men' calmly, and with due regard to the
wants of their souls, reason cannot but say that they are 'vain and
melancholy.' If we consult our own experience we cannot but confess
that whatsoever we have had or enjoyed, apart from God, has either
proved disappointing in the very moment of its possession, or has been
followed by a bitter taste on the tongue; or in a little while has
faded, and left us standing with the stalk in our hands from which the
bloom has dropped. Generation after generation has sighed its 'Amen!'
to the stern old word: 'Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!' And here
to-day, in the midst of the boasted progress of this generation, we
find cultured men amongst us, lapped in material comfort, and with all
the light of this century blazing upon them, preaching again the old
Buddhist doctrine that annihilation is the only heaven, and proclaiming
that life is not worth living, and that 'it were better not to be.'

Dear brother, one path, and one path only, leads to what all men
desire--peace and happiness. One path, and one path only, leads to what
all men know they ought to seek--purity and godliness. We are like men
in the backwoods, our paths go circling round and round, we have lost
our way. 'The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, for he
knoweth not how to come to the city.' Jesus Christ has cut a path
through the forest. Tread you in it, and you will find that it is 'the
way of pleasantness' and 'the path of peace.'

III. And now, one last word. This remarkable designation seems to me to
be a witness also to another truth, viz. that in Christianity we have
the only way home.

The only way home! All other modes and courses of life and conduct stop
at the edge of a great gulf, like some path that goes down an incline
to the edge of a precipice, and the heedless traveller that has been
going on, not knowing whither it led, tilts over when he comes there.
Every other way that men can follow is broken short off by death. And
if there were no other reason to allege, that is enough to condemn
them. What is a man to do in another world if all his life long he has
only cultivated tastes which want this world for their gratification?
What is the sensualist to do when he gets there? What is the shrewd man
of business in Manchester to do when he comes into a world where there
are no bargains, and he cannot go on 'Change on Tuesdays and Fridays?
What will he do with himself? What does he do with himself now, when he
goes away from home for a month, and does not get his ordinary work and
surroundings? What will he do then? What will a young lady do in an
other world, who spends her days here in reading trashy novels and
magazines? What will any of us do who have set our affections and our
tastes upon this poor, perishing, miserable world? Would you think it
was common sense in a young man who was going to be a doctor, and took
no interest in anything but farming? Is it not as stupid a thing for
men and women to train themselves for a condition which is transient,
and not to train themselves for the condition into which they are
certainly going?

And, on the other hand, the path that Christ makes runs clear on,
without a break, across the gulf, like some daring railway bridge
thrown across a mountain gorge, and goes straight on on the other side
without a curve, only with an upward gradient. The manner of work may
change; the spirit of the work and the principles of it will remain.
Self-surrender will be the law of Heaven, and 'they shall follow the
Lamb whithersoever He goeth.' Better to begin here as we mean to end
yonder! Better to begin here what we can carry with us, in essence
though not in form, into the other life; and so, through all the
changes of life, and through the great change of death, to keep one
unbroken straight course! 'They go from strength to strength; every one
of them in Zion appeareth before God'.

We live in an else trackless waste, but across the desert Jesus Christ
has thrown a way; too high for ravenous beasts to spring on or raging
foes to storm; too firm for tempest to overthrow or make impair able;
too plain for simple hearts to mistake. We may all journey on it, if we
will, and 'come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon our heads.'

Christ is the Way. O brother I trust thy sinful soul to His blood and
mediation, and thy sins will be forgiven. And then, loving Him, follow
Him. 'This is the way; walk ye in it.'



A BIRD'S-EYE VIEW OF THE EARLY CHURCH

'So the Church throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria had peace,
being edified; and, walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort
of the Holy Ghost, was multiplied.'--ACTS ix. 31 (R.V.).

A man climbing a hill stops every now and then to take breath and look
about him; and in the earlier part of this Book of the Acts of the
Apostles there are a number of such landing-places where the writer
suspends the course of his narrative, in order to give a general notion
of the condition of the Church at the moment. We have in this verse one
of the shortest, but perhaps the most significant, of these
resting-places. The original and proper reading, instead of 'the
Churches,' as our Version has it, reads 'the Church' as a whole--the
whole body of believers in the three districts named--Judaea, Galilee,
and Samaria--being in the same circumstances and passing through like
experiences. The several small communities of disciples formed a whole.
They were 'churches' individually; they were collectively 'the Church.'
Christ's order of expansion, given in chapter i., had been thus far
followed, and the sequence here sums up the progress which the Acts has
thus far recorded. Galilee had been the cradle of the Church, but the
onward march of the Gospel had begun at Jerusalem. Before Luke goes on
to tell how the last part of our Lord's programme--'to the uttermost
parts of the earth'--began to be carried into execution by the
conversion of Cornelius, he gives us this bird's-eye view. To its
significant items I desire to draw your attention now.

There are three of them: outward rest, inward progress, outward
increase.

I. Outward rest.

'Then had the Church rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and
Samaria.'

The principal persecutor had just been converted, and that would
somewhat damp the zeal of his followers. Saul having gone over to the
enemy, it would be difficult to go on harrying the Church with the same
spirit, when the chief actor was turned traitor. And besides that,
historians tell us that there were political complications which gave
both Romans and Jews quite enough to do to watch one another, instead
of persecuting this little community of Christians. I have nothing to
do with these, but this one point I desire to make, that the condition
of security and tranquillity in which the Church found itself conduced
to spiritual good and growth. This has not always been the case. As one
of our quaint divines says, 'as in cities where ground is scarce men
build high up, so in times of straitness and persecution the Christian
community, and the individuals who compose it, are often raised to a
higher level of devotion than in easier and quieter times.' But these
primitive Christians utilised this breathing-space in order to grow,
and having a moment of lull and stillness in the storm, turned it to
the highest and best uses. Is that what you and I do with our quiet
times? None of us have any occasion to fear persecution or annoyance of
that sort, but there are other thorns in our pillows besides these, and
other rough places in our beds, and we are often disturbed in our
nests. When there does come a quiet time in which no outward
circumstances fret us, do we seize it as coming from God, in order
that, with undistracted energies, we may cast ourselves altogether into
the work of growing like our Master and doing His will more fully? How
many of us, dear brethren, have misused both our adversity and our
prosperity by making the one an occasion for deeper worldliness, and
the other a reason for forgetting Him in the darkness as in the light?
To be absorbed by earthly things, whether by the enjoyment of their
possession or by the bitter pain and misery of their withdrawal, is
fatal to all our spiritual progress, and only they use things
prosperous and things adverse aright, who take them both as means by
which they may be wafted nearer to their God. Whatsoever forces act
upon us, if we put the helm right and trim the sails as we ought, they
will carry us to our haven. And whatsoever forces act upon us, if we
neglect the sailor's skill and duty, we shall be washed backwards and
forwards in the trough of the sea, and make no progress in the voyage.
'Then had the Church rest'--and grew lazy? 'Then had the Church
rest'--and grew worldly? Then was I happy and prosperous and peaceful
in my home and in my business, and I said, 'I shall never be moved,'
and I forgot my God? 'Then had the Church rest, and was edified.'

Now, in the next place, note the

II. Inward progress.

There are difficulties about the exact relation of the clauses here to
one another, the discussion of which would be fitter for a lecture-room
than for a pulpit. I do not mean to trouble you with these, but it
seems to me that we may perhaps best understand the writer's intention
if we throw together the clauses which stand in the middle of this
verse, and take them as being a description of the inward progress,
being 'edified' and 'walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the
comfort of the Holy Ghost.' There are two things, then--the being
'edified' and 'walking'; and I wish to say a word or two about each of
them.

Now that word 'edified' and the cognate one 'edification' have been
enfeebled in signification so as to mean very much less than they did
to Luke. When we speak of 'being edified,' what do we mean? Little more
than that we have been instructed, and especially that we have been
comforted. And what is the instrument of edification in our ordinary
religious parlance? Good words, wise teaching, or pious speech. But the
New Testament means vastly more than this by the word, and looks not so
much to other people's utterances as to a man's own strenuous efforts,
as the means of edification. Much misunderstanding would have been
avoided if our translators had really translated, instead of putting us
off with a Latinised word which to many readers conveys little meaning
and none of the significant metaphor of the original. 'Being edified'
sounds very theological and far away from daily life. Would it not
sound more real if we read 'being built up'? That is the emblem of the
process that ought to go on, not only in the Christian community as a
whole, but in every individual member of it. Each Christian is bound to
build himself up and to help to build up other Christians; and God
builds them all up by His Spirit. We have brought before us the picture
of the rising of some stately fabric upon a firm foundation, course by
course, stone by stone, each laid by a separate act of the builder's
hand, and carefully bedded in its place until the whole is complete.

That is one emblem of the growth of the Christian community and of the
Christian individual, and the other clause that is coupled with it in
the text seems to me to give the same idea under a slightly different
figure. The rising of a stately building and the advance on a given
path suggest substantially the same notion of progress.

And of these two metaphors, I would dwell chiefly on the former,
because it is the less familiar of the two to modern readers, and
because it is of some consequence to restore it to its weight and true
significance in the popular mind. Edification, then, is the building up
of Christian character, and it involves four things: a foundation, a
continuous progress, a patient, persistent effort, and a completion.

Now, Christian men and women, this is our office for ourselves, and,
according to our faculty and opportunities, for the Churches with which
we may stand connected, that on the foundation which is Jesus
Christ--'and other foundation can no man lay'--we all should slowly,
carefully, unceasingly be at our building work; each day's attainment,
like the course of stones laid in some great temple, becoming the basis
upon which to-morrow's work is to be piled, and each having in it the
toil of the builder and being a result and monument of his strenuous
effort, and each being built in, according to the plan that the great
Architect has given, and each tending a little nearer to the roof-tree,
and the time that 'the top stone shall be brought forth with the shout
of rejoicing.' Is that a transcript of my life and yours? Do we make a
business of the cultivation of Christian character thus? Do we rest the
whole structure of our lives upon Jesus Christ? And then, do we, hour
by hour, moment by moment, lay the fair stones, until

  'Firm and fair the building rise,
    A temple to His praise.'

The old worn metaphor, which we have vulgarised and degraded into a
synonym for a comfortable condition produced by a brother's words,
carries in it the solemnest teaching as to what the duty and privilege
of all Christian souls is-to 'build themselves up for an habitation of
God through the Spirit.'

But note further the elements of which this progress consists. May we
not suppose that both metaphors refer to the clauses that follow, and
that 'the fear of the Lord' and 'the comfort of the Holy Ghost' are the
particulars in which the Christian is built up and walks?

'The fear of the Lord' is eminently an Old Testament expression, and
occurs only once or twice in the New. But its meaning is thoroughly in
accordance with the loftiest teaching of the new revelation. 'The fear
of the Lord' is that reverential awe of Him, by which we are ever
conscious of His presence with us, and ever seek, as our supreme aim
and end, to submit our wills to His commandment, and to do the things
that are pleasing in His sight. Are you and I building ourselves up in
that? Do we feel more thrillingly and gladly to-day than we did
yesterday, that God is beside us? And do we submit ourselves more
loyally, more easily, more joyously to His will, in blessed obedience,
now than ever before? Have we learned, and are we learning, moment by
moment, more of that 'secret of the Lord' which 'is with them that fear
Him,' and of that 'covenant' which 'He will show' to them? Unless we
do, our growth in Christian character is a very doubtful thing. And are
we advancing, too, in that other element which so beautifully completes
and softens the notion of the fear of the Lord, 'the encouragement'
which the divine Spirit gives us? Are we bolder to-day than we were
yesterday? Are we ready to meet with more undaunted confidence whatever
we may have to face? Do we feel ever increasing within us the full
blessedness and inspiration of that divine visitant? And do these sweet
communications take all the 'torment' away from 'fear,' and leave only
the bliss of reverential love? They who walk in the fear of the Lord,
and who with the fear have the courage that the divine Spirit gives,
will 'have rest,' like the first Christians, whatsoever storms may howl
around them, and whatsoever enemies may threaten to disturb their peace.

And so, lastly, note

III. The outward growth.

Thus building themselves up, and thus growing, the Church 'was
multiplied.' Of course it was. Christian men and women that are
spiritually alive, and who, because they are alive, grow, and grow in
these things, the manifest reverence of God, and the manifest 'comfort'
of the divine Spirit's giving, will commend their gospel to a blind
world. They will be an attractive force in the midst of men, and their
inward growth will make them eager to hold forth the word of life, and
will give them 'a mouth and wisdom' which nothing but genuine spiritual
experience can give.

And so, dear friends, especially those of you who set yourselves to any
of the many forms of Christian work which prevail in this day, learn
the lesson of my text, and make sure of '_a_' before you go on to
'_b_,' and see to it that before you set yourselves to try to multiply
the Church, you set yourselves to build up yourselves in your most holy
faith.

We hear a great deal nowadays about 'forward movements,' and I
sympathise with all that is said in favour of them. But I would remind
you that the precursor of every genuine forward movement is a Godward
movement, and that it is worse than useless to talk about lengthening
the cords unless you begin with strengthening the stakes. The little
prop that holds up the bell-tent that will contain half-a-dozen
soldiers will be all too weak for the great one that will cover a
company. And the fault of some Christian people is that they set
themselves to work upon others without remembering that the first
requisite is a deepened and growing godliness and devotion in their own
souls. Dear friends, begin at home, and remember that whilst what the
world calls eloquence may draw people, and oddities _will_ draw them,
and all sorts of lower attractions will gather multitudes for a little
while, the one solid power which Christian men and women can exercise
for the numerical increase of the Church is rooted in, and only tenable
through, their own personal increase day by day in consecration and
likeness to the Saviour, in possession of the Spirit, and in loving
fear of the Lord.



COPIES OF CHRIST'S MANNER

'And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole:
arise, and make thy bed.... 40. But Peter put them all forth, and
kneeled down and prayed; and, turning him to the body, said, Tabitha,
arise.--ACTS ix. 34, 40.

I have put these two miracles together, not only because they were
closely connected in time and place, but because they have a very
remarkable and instructive feature in common. They are both evidently
moulded upon Christ's miracles; are distinct imitations of what Peter
had seen Him do. And their likenesses to and differences from our
Lord's manner of working are equally noteworthy. It is to the lessons
from these two aspects, common to both miracles, that I desire to turn
now.

I. First, notice the similarities and the lesson which they teach.

The two cases before us are alike, in that both of them find parallels
in our Lord's miracles. The one is the cure of a paralytic, which pairs
off with the well-known story in the Gospels concerning the man that
was borne by four, and let down through the roof into Christ's
presence. The other of them, the raising of Dorcas, or Tabitha, of
course corresponds with the three resurrections of dead people which
are recorded in the Gospels.

And now, note the likenesses. Jesus Christ said to the paralysed man,
'Arise, take up thy bed.' Peter says to Aeneas, 'Arise, and make thy
bed.' The one command was appropriate to the circumstances of a man who
was not in his own house, and whose control over his long-disused
muscles in obeying Christ's word was a confirmation to himself of the
reality and completeness of his cure. The other was appropriate to a
man bedridden in his own house; and it had precisely the same purpose
as the analogous injunction from our Lord, 'Take up thy bed and walk.'
Aeneas was lying at home, and so Peter, remembering how Jesus Christ
had demonstrated to others, and affirmed to the man himself, the
reality of the miraculous blessing given to him, copies his Master's
method, 'Aeneas, make thy bed.' It is an echo and resemblance of the
former incident, and is a distinct piece of imitation of it.

And then, if we turn to the other narrative, the intentional moulding
of the manner of the miracle, consecrated in the eyes of the loving
disciple, because it was Christ's manner, is still more obvious. When
Jesus Christ went into the house of Jairus there was the usual hubbub,
the noise of the loud Eastern mourning, and He put them all forth,
taking with Him only the father and mother of the damsel, and Peter
with James and John. When Peter goes into the upper room, where Tabitha
is lying, there are the usual noise of lamentation and the clack of
many tongues, extolling the virtues of the dead woman. He remembers how
Christ had gone about His miracle, and he, in his turn, 'put them all
forth.' Mark, who was Peter's mouthpiece in his Gospel, gives us the
very Aramaic words which our Lord employed when He raised the little
girl, _Talitha_, the Aramaic word for 'a damsel,' or young girl;
_cumi_, which means in that language 'arise.' Is it not singular and
beautiful that Peter's word by the bedside of the dead Dorcas is, with
the exception of one letter, absolutely identical? Christ says,
_Talitha cumi_. Peter remembered the formula by which the blessing was
conveyed, and he copied it. 'Tabitha cumi!' Is it not clear that he is
posing after his Master's attitude; that he is, consciously or
unconsciously, doing what he remembered so well had been done in that
other upper room, and that the miracles are both of them shaped after
the pattern of the miraculous working of Jesus Christ?

Well, now, although we are no miracle-workers, the very same principle
which underlay these two works of supernatural power is to be applied
to all our work, and to our lives as Christian people. I do not know
whether Peter _meant_ to do like Jesus Christ or not; I think rather
that he was unconsciously and instinctively dropping into the fashion
that to him was so sacred. Love always delights in imitation; and the
disciples of a great teacher will unconsciously catch the trick of his
intonation, even the awkwardness of his attitudes or the peculiarities
of his way of looking at things--only, unfortunately, outsides are a
good deal more easily imitated than insides. And many a disciple copies
such external trifles, and talks in the tones that have, first of all,
brought blessed truths to him, whose resemblance to his teacher goes
very little further. The principle that underlies these miracles is
just this--get near Jesus Christ, and you will catch His manner. Dwell
in fellowship with Him, and whether you are thinking about it or not,
there will come some faint resemblance to that Lord into your
characters and your way of doing things, so that men will 'take
knowledge of you that you have been with Jesus.' The poor bit of cloth
which has held some precious piece of solid perfume will retain
fragrance for many a day afterwards, and will bless the scentless air
by giving it forth. The man who keeps close to Christ, and has folded
Him in his heart, will, like the poor cloth, give forth a sweetness not
his own that will gladden and refresh many nostrils. Live in the light,
and you will become light. Keep near Christ, and you will be
Christlike. Love Him, and love will do to you what it does to many a
wedded pair, and to many kindred hearts: it will transfuse into you
something of the characteristics of the object of your love. It is
impossible to trust Christ, to obey Christ, to hold communion with Him,
and to live beside Him, without becoming like Him. And if such be our
inward experience, so will be our outward appearance.

But there may be a specific point given to this lesson in regard to
Christian people's ways of doing their work in the world and helping
and blessing other folk. Although, as I say, we have no miraculous
power at our disposal, we do not need it in order to manifest Jesus
Christ and His way of working in our work. And if we dwell beside Him,
then, depend upon it, all the characteristics--far more precious than
the accidents of manner, or tone, or attitude in working a miracle--all
the characteristics so deeply and blessedly stamped upon His life of
self-sacrifice and man-helping devotion will be reproduced in us. Jesus
Christ, when He went through the wards of the hospital of the world,
was overflowing with quick sympathy for every sorrow that met His eye.
If you and I are living near Him, we shall never steel our hearts nor
lock up our sensibilities against any suffering that it is within our
power to stanch or to alleviate. Jesus Christ never grudged trouble,
never thought of Himself, never was impatient of interruption, never
repelled importunity, never sent away empty any outstretched hand. And
if we live near Him, self-oblivious willingness to spend and be spent
will mark our lives, and we shall not consider that we have the right
of possession or of sole enjoyment of any of the blessings that are
given to us. Jesus Christ, according to the beautiful and significant
words of one of the Gospels, 'healed them that had need of healing.'
Why that singular designation for the people that were standing around
Him but to teach us that wide as men's necessity was His sympathy, and
that broad as the sympathy of Christ were the help and healing which He
brought? And so, with like width of compassion, with like perfectness
of self-oblivion, with equal remoteness from consciousness of
superiority or display of condescension, Christian men should go
amongst the sorrowful and the sad and the outcast and do their
miracles--'greater works' than those which Christ did, as He Himself
has told us--after the manner in which He did His. If they did, the
world would be a different place, and the Church would be a different
Church, and you would not have people writing in the newspapers to
demonstrate that Christianity was 'played out.'

II. Further, note the differences and the lessons from them.

Take the first of the two miracles. 'Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee
whole: arise, and make thy bed.' That first clause points to the great
difference. Take the second miracle, 'Jesus Christ put them all forth,
and stretched out His hand, and said, Damsel, arise!' 'Peter put them
all forth, ... and said, Tabitha, arise!' but between the putting forth
and the miracle he did something which Christ did not do, and he did
not do something which Christ did do. 'He kneeled down and prayed.'
Jesus Christ did not do that. 'And Jesus put forth His hand, and said,
Arise!' Peter did not do that. But he put forth his hand _after_ the
miracle was wrought; not to communicate life, but to help the living
woman to get to her feet; and so, both by what he did in his prayer and
by what he did not do after Christ's pattern, the extension of the hand
that was the channel of the vitality, he drew a broad distinction
between the servant's copy and the Master's original.

The lessons from the differences are such as the following.

Christ works miracles by His inherent power; His servants do their
works only as His instruments and organs. I need not dwell upon the
former thought; but it is the latter at which I wish to look for a
moment. The lesson, then, of the difference is that Christian men, in
all their work for the Master and for the world, are ever to keep clear
before themselves, and to make very obvious to other people, that they
are nothing more than channels and instruments. The less the preacher,
the teacher, the Christian benefactor of any sort puts himself in the
foreground, or in evidence at all, the more likely are his words and
works to be successful. If you hear a man, for instance, preaching a
sermon, and you see that he is thinking about himself, he may talk with
the tongues of men and of angels, but he will do no good to anybody.
The first condition of work for the Lord is--hide yourself behind your
message, behind your Master, and make it very plain that His is the
power, and that you are but a tool in the Workman's hand.

And then, further, another lesson is, Be very sure of the power that
will work in you. What a piece of audacity it was for Peter to go and
stand by the paralytic man's couch and say, 'Aeneas, Jesus Christ
maketh thee whole.' Yes, audacity; unless he had been in such constant
and close touch with his Master that he was sure that his Master was
working through him. And is it not beautiful to see how absolutely
confident he is that Jesus Christ's work was not ended when He went up
into heaven; but that there, in that little stuffy room, where the man
had lain motionless for eight long years, Jesus Christ was present, and
working? O brethren, the Christian Church does not half enough believe
in the actual presence and operation of Jesus Christ, here and now, in
and through all His servants! We are ready enough to believe that He
worked when He was in the world long ago, that He is going to work when
He comes back to the world, at some far-off future period. But do we
believe that He is verily putting forth His power, in no metaphor, but
in simple reality, at present and here, and, if we will, through us?

'Jesus Christ maketh thee whole.' Be sure that if you keep near Christ,
if you will try to mould yourselves after His likeness, if you expect
Him to work through you, and do not hinder His work by self-conceit and
self-consciousness of any sort, then it will be no presumption, but
simple faith which He delights in and will vindicate, if you, too, go
and stand by a paralytic and say, 'Jesus Christ maketh thee whole,' or
go and stand by people dead in trespasses and sins and say, after you
have prayed, 'Arise.'

We are here for the very purpose for which Peter was in Lydda and
Joppa--to carry on and copy the healing and the quickening work of
Christ, by His present power, and after His blessed example.



WHAT GOD HATH CLEANSED

'There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of
the band called the Italian band, 2. A devout man, and one that feared
God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed
to God alway. 3. He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of
the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him,
Cornelius. 4. And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What
is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come
up for a memorial before God. 5. And now send men to Joppa, and call
for one Simon, whose surname is Peter: 6. He lodgeth with one Simon a
tanner, whose house is by the sea-side: he shall tell thee what thou
oughtest to do. 7. And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was
departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier
of them that waited on him continually; 8. And when he had declared all
these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa. 9. On the morrow, as
they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up
upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: 10. And he became very
hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a
trance, 11. And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto
him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let
down to the earth: 12. Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of
the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
13. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. 14. But
Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is
common or unclean. 15. And the voice spake unto him again the second
time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. 16. This was
done thrice: and the vessel was received up again into heaven. 17. Now
while Peter doubted in himself what this vision which he had seen
should mean, behold, the men which were sent from Cornelius had made
inquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate, 18. And called,
and asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there.
19. While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him,
Behold, three men seek thee. 20. Arise therefore, and get thee down,
and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.'--ACTS x.
1-20.

The Church was at first in appearance only a Jewish sect; but the great
stride is now to be taken which carries it over the border into the
Gentile world, and begins its universal aspect. If we consider the
magnitude of the change, and the difficulties of training and prejudice
which it had to encounter in the Church itself, we shall not wonder at
the abundance of supernatural occurrences which attended it. Without
some such impulse, it is difficult to conceive of its having been
accomplished.

In this narrative we see the supernatural preparation on both sides.
God, as it were, lays His right hand on Cornelius, and His left on
Peter, and impels them towards each other. Philip had already preached
to the Ethiopian, and probably the anonymous brethren in Acts xi. 20
had already spoken the word to pure Greeks at Antioch; but the
importance of Peter's action here is that by reason of his Apostleship,
his recognition of Gentile Christians becomes the act of the whole
community. His entrance into Cornelius's house ended the Jewish phase
of the Church. The epoch was worthy of divine intervention, and the
step needed divine warrant. Therefore the abundance of miracle at this
point is not superfluous.

I. We have the vision which guided the seeker to the light. Caesarea,
as the seat of government, was the focus of Gentilism, and that the
Gospel should effect a lodgment there was significant. Still more so
was the person whom it first won,--an officer of the Roman army, the
very emblem of worldly power, loathed by every true Jew. A centurion
was not an officer of high rank, but Cornelius's name suggests the
possibility of his connection with a famous Roman family, and the name
of the 'band' or 'cohort,' of which his troop was part, suggests that
it was raised in Italy, and therefore properly officered by Romans. His
residence in Judaea had touched his spirit with some knowledge of, and
reverence for, the Jehovah whom this strange people worshipped. He was
one of a class numerous in these times of religious unrest, who had
been more or less affected by the pure monotheism of the Jew.

It is remarkable that the centurions of the New Testament are all more
or less favourably inclined towards Christ and Christianity, and the
fact has been laid hold of to throw doubt on the narratives; but it is
very natural that similarity of position and training should have
produced similarity of thought; and that three or four such persons
should have come in contact with Jesus and His Apostles makes no
violent demands on probability, while there was no occasion to mention
others who were not like-minded. Quartered for considerable periods in
the country, and brought into close contact with its religion, and
profoundly sceptical of their own, as all but the lowest minds then
were, Cornelius and his brother in arms and spirit whose faith drew
wondering praise from Jesus, are bright examples of the possibility of
earnest religious life being nourished amid grave disadvantages, and
preach a lesson, often neglected, that we should be slow to form
unfavourable opinions of classes of men, or to decide that those of
such and such a profession, or in such and such circumstances, must be
of such and such a character.

It would have seemed that the last place to look for the first Gentile
Christian would have been in the barracks at Caesarea; and yet there
God's angel went for him, and found him. It has often been discussed
whether Cornelius was a 'proselyte' or not. It matters very little. He
was drawn to the Jews' religion, had adopted their hours of prayer,
reverenced their God, had therefore cast off idolatry, gave alms to the
people as acknowledgment that their God was his God, and cultivated
habitual devotion, which he had diffused among his household, both of
slaves and soldiers. It is a beautiful picture of a soul feeling after
a deeper knowledge of God, as a plant turns its half-opened flowers to
the sun.

Such seekers do not grope without touching. It is not only 'unto the
seed of Jacob' that God has never said, 'Seek ye Me in vain.' The story
has a message of hope to all such seekers, and sheds precious light on
dark problems in regard to the relation of such souls in heathen lands
to the light and love of God, The vision appeared to Cornelius in the
manner corresponding to his spiritual susceptibility, and it came at
the hour of prayer. God's angels ever draw near to hearts opened by
desire to receive them. Not in visible form, but in reality,
'bright-harnessed angels stand' all around the chamber where prayer is
made. Our hours of supplication are God's hours of communication.

The vision to Cornelius is not to be whittled down to a mental
impression. It was an objective, supernatural appearance,--whether to
sense or soul matters little. The story gives most graphically the
fixed gaze of terror which Cornelius fastened on the angel, and very
characteristically the immediate recovery and quick question to which
his courage and military promptitude helped him. 'What is it, Lord?'
does not speak of terror, but of readiness to take orders and obey.
'Lord' seems to be but a title of reverence here.

In the angel's answer, the order in which prayers and alms are named is
the reverse of that in verse 2. Luke speaks as a man, beginning with
the visible manifestation, and passing thence to the inward devotion
which animated the external beneficence. The angel speaks as God sees,
beginning with the inward, and descending to the outward. The strong
'anthropomorphism' of the representation that man's prayer and alms
keep God in mind of him needs no vindication and little explanation. It
substitutes the mental state which in us originates certain acts for
the acts themselves. God's 'remembrance' is in Scripture frequently
used to express His loving deeds, which show that their recipient is
not forgotten of Him.

But the all-important truth in the words is that the prayers and alms
(coming from a devout heart) of a man who had never heard of Jesus
Christ were acceptable to God. None the less Cornelius needed Jesus,
and the recompense made to him was the knowledge of the Saviour. The
belief that in many a heathen heart such yearning after a dimly known
God has stretched itself towards light, and been accepted of God, does
not in the least conflict with the truth that 'there is none other Name
given among men, whereby we must be saved,' but it sheds a bright and
most welcome light of hope into that awful darkness. Christ is the only
Saviour, but it is not for us to say how far off from the channel in
which it flows the water of life may percolate, and feed the roots of
distant trees. Cornelius's religion was not a substitute for Christ,
but was the occasion of his being led to Christ, and finding full,
conscious salvation there. God leads seeking souls by His own wonderful
ways; and we may leave all such in His hand, assured that no heart ever
hungered after righteousness and was not filled.

The instruction to send for Peter tested Cornelius's willingness to be
taught by an unknown Jew, and his belief in the divine origin of the
vision. The direction given by which to find this teacher was not
promising. A lodger in a tan-yard by the seaside was certainly not a
man of position or wealth. But military discipline helped religious
reverence; and without delay, as soon as the angel 'was departed' (an
expression which gives the outward reality of the appearance strongly),
Cornelius's confidential servants, sympathisers with him in his
religion, were told all the story, and before nightfall were on their
march to Joppa. Swift obedience to whatever God points out as our path
towards the light, even if it seem somewhat unattractive, will always
mark our conduct if we really long for the light, and believe that He
is pointing our way.

II. The vision which guided the light-bearer to the seeker.--All
through the night the messengers marched along the maritime plain in
which both Caesarea and Joppa lay, much discussing, no doubt, their
strange errand, and wondering what they would find. The preparation of
Peter, which was as needful as that of Cornelius, was so timed as to be
completed just as the messengers stood at the tanner's door.

The first point to note in regard to it is its scene. It is of
subordinate importance, but it can scarcely have been entirely
unmeaning, that the flashing waters of the Mediterranean, blazing in
midday sunshine, stretched before Peter's eyes as he sat on the
housetop 'by the seaside.' His thoughts may have travelled across the
sea, and he may have wondered what lay beyond the horizon, and whether
there were men there to whom Christ's commission extended. 'The isles'
of which prophecy had told that they should 'wait for His law' were
away out in the mysterious distance. Some expansion of spirit towards
regions beyond may have accompanied his gaze. At all events, it was by
the shore of the great highway of nations and of truth that the vision
which revealed that all men were 'cleansed' filled the eye and heart of
the Apostle, and told him that, in his calling as 'fisher of men,' a
wider water than the land-locked Sea of Galilee was his.

We may also note the connection of the form of the vision with his
circumstances. His hunger determined its shape. The natural bodily
sensations coloured his state of mind even in trance, and afforded the
point of contact for God's message. It does not follow that the vision
was only the consequence of his hunger, as has been suggested by
critics who wish to get rid of the supernatural. But the form which it
took teaches us how mercifully God is wont to mould His communications
according to our needs, and how wisely He shapes them, so as to find
entrance through even the lower wants. The commonest bodily needs may
become avenues for His truth, if our prayer accompanies our hunger.

The significance of the vision is plain to us, though Peter was 'much
perplexed' about it. In the light of the event, we understand that the
'great sheet let down from heaven by four corners,' and containing all
manner of creatures, is the symbol of universal humanity (to use modern
language). The four corners correspond to the four points of the
compass,--north, south, east, and west,--the contents to the swarming
millions of men. Peter would perceive no more in the command to 'kill
and eat' than the abrogation of Mosaic restrictions. Meditation was
needful to disclose the full extent of the revolution shadowed by the
vision and its accompanying words. The old nature of Peter was not so
completely changed but that a flash of it breaks out still. The same
self-confidence which had led him to 'rebuke' Jesus, and to say, 'This
shall not be unto Thee,' speaks in his unhesitating and irreverent 'Not
so, Lord!'

The naive reason he gives for not obeying--namely, his never having
done as he was now bid to do--is charmingly illogical and human. God
tells him to do a new thing, and his reason for not doing it is that it
is new. Use and wont are set up by us all against the fresh disclosures
of God's will. The command to kill and eat was not repeated. It was but
the introduction to the truth which was repeated thrice, the same
number of times as Peter had denied his Master and had received his
charge to feed His sheep.

That great truth has manifold applications, but its direct purpose as
regards Peter is to teach that all restrictions which differentiated
Jew from Gentile are abolished. 'Cleansing' does not here apply to
moral purifying, but to the admission of all mankind to the same
standing as the Jew. Therefore the Gospel is to be preached to all men,
and the Jewish Christian has no pre-eminence.

Peter's perplexity as to the meaning of the vision is very
intelligible. It was not so plain as to carry its own interpretation,
but, like most other of God's teachings, was explained by
circumstances. What was next done made the best commentary on what had
just been beheld. While patient reflection is necessary to do due
honour to God's teachings and to discover their bearing on events, it
is generally true that events unfold their significance as meditation
alone never can. Life is the best commentator on God's word. The three
men down at the door poured light on the vision on the housetop. But
the explanation was not left to circumstances. The Spirit directed
Peter to go with the messengers, and thus taught him the meaning of the
enigmatical words which he had heard from heaven.

It is to be remembered that the Apostle had no need of fresh
illumination as to the world-wide preaching of the Gospel. Christ's
commission to 'the uttermost parts of the earth' ever rang in his ears,
as we may be sure. But what he did need was the lesson that the
Gentiles could come into the Church without going through the gate of
Judaism. If all peculiar sanctity was gone from the Jew, and all men
shared in the 'cleansing,' there was no need for keeping up any of the
old restrictions, or insisting on Gentiles being first received into
the Israelitish community as a stage in their progress towards
Christianity.

It took Peter and the others years to digest the lesson given on the
housetop, but he began to put it in practice that day. How little he
knew the sweep of the truth then declared to him! How little we have
learned it yet! All exclusiveness which looks down on classes or races,
all monkish asceticism which taboos natural appetites and tastes, all
morbid scrupulosity which shuts out from religious men large fields of
life, all Pharisaism which says 'The temple of the Lord are we,' are
smitten to dust by the great words which gather all men into the same
ample, impartial divine love, and, in another aspect, give Christian
culture and life the charter of freest use of all God's fair world, and
place the distinction between clean and unclean in the spirit of the
user rather than in the thing used. 'Unto the pure all things are pure:
but unto them that are defiled... is nothing pure.'



'GOD IS NO RESPECTER OF PERSONS'

'And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and
at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before
me in bright clothing, 31. And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard,
and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. 32. Send
therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he
is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea-side: who, when
he cometh, shall speak unto thee. 83. Immediately therefore I sent to
thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we
all here present before God, to hear all things that art commanded thee
of God. 34. Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I
perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35. But in every nation
he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him.
35. The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching
peace by Jesus Christ: (He is Lord of all:) 37. That word, I say, ye
know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from
Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; 38. How God anointed
Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about
doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God
was with Him. 39. And we are witnesses of all things which He did both
in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on
a tree: 40. Him God raised up the third day, and shewed Him openly; 41.
Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to
us, who did eat and drink with Him after He rose from the dead. 42. And
He commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is He
which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. 43. To Him
give all the prophets witness, that through His Name whosoever
believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins. 44. While Peter yet
spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the
word.'--ACTS x. 30-44.

This passage falls into three parts: Cornelius's explanation, Peter's
sermon, and the descent of the Spirit on the new converts. The last is
the most important, and yet is told most briefly. We may surely
recognise the influence of Peter's personal reminiscences in the scale
of the narrative, and may remember that Luke and Mark were thrown
together in later days.

I. Cornelius repeats what his messengers had already told Peter, but in
fuller detail. He tells how he was occupied when the angel appeared. He
was keeping the Jewish hour of prayer, and the fact that the vision
came to him as he prayed had attested to him its heavenly origin. If we
would see angels, the most likely place to behold them is in the secret
place of prayer. He tells, too, that the command to send for Peter was
a consequence of God's remembrance of his prayer ('therefore,' verse
32). His prayers and alms showed that he was 'of the light,' and
therefore he was directed to what would yield further light.

The command to send for Peter is noteworthy in two respects. It was,
first, a test of humility and obedience. Cornelius, as a Roman officer,
would be tempted to feel the usual contempt for one of the subject
race, and, unless his eagerness to know more of God's will overbore his
pride, to kick at the idea of sending to beg the favour of the presence
and instruction of a Jew, and of one, too, who could find no better
quarters than a tanner's house. The angel's voice commanded, but it did
not compel. Cornelius bore the test, and neither waived aside the
vision as a hallucination to which it was absurd for a practical man to
attend, nor recoiled from the lowliness of the proposed teacher. He
pocketed official and racial loftiness, and, as he emphasises,
'forthwith' despatched his message. It was as if an English official in
the Punjab had been sent to a Sikh 'Guru' for teaching.

The other remarkable point about the command is that Philip was
probably in Caesarea at the time. Why should Peter have been brought,
then, by two visions and two long journeys? The subsequent history
explains why. For the storm of criticism in the Jerusalem church
provoked by Cornelius's baptism would have raged with tenfold fury if
so revolutionary an act had been done by any less authoritative person
than the leader of the Apostles. The Lord would stamp His own approval
on the deed which marked so great an expansion of the Church, and
therefore He makes the first of the Apostles His agent, and that by a
double vision.

'Thou hast well done that thou art come,'--a courteous welcome, with
just a trace of the doubt which had occupied Cornelius during the 'four
days,' whether this unknown Jew would obey so strange an invitation.
Courtesy and preparedness to receive the unknown message beautifully
blend in Cornelius's closing words, which do not directly ask Peter to
speak, but declare the auditors' eagerness to hear, as well as their
confidence that what he says will be God's voice.

A variant reading in verse 33 gives 'in thy sight' for 'in the sight of
God,' and has much to recommend it. But in any case we have here the
right attitude for us all in the presence of the uttered will and mind
of God. Where such open-eared and open-hearted preparedness marks the
listeners, feebler teachers than Peter will win converts. The reason
why much earnest Christian teaching is vain is the indifference and
non-expectant attitude of the hearers, who are not hearkeners. Seed
thrown on the wayside is picked up by the birds.

II. Peter's sermon is, on the whole, much like his other addresses
which are abundantly reported in the early part of the Acts. The great
business of the preachers then was to tell the history of Jesus.
Christianity is, first, a recital of historical events, from which, no
doubt, principles are deduced, and which necessarily lead on to
doctrines; but the facts are first.

But the familiar story is told to Cornelius with some variation of
tone. And it is prefaced by a great word, which crystallises the large
truth that had sprung into consciousness and startling power in Peter,
as the result of his own and Cornelius's experience. He had not
previously thought of God as 'a respecter of persons,' but the
conviction that He was not had never blazed with such sun-clearness
before him as it did now. Jewish narrowness had, unconsciously to
himself, somewhat clouded it; but these four days had burned in on him,
as if it were a new truth, that 'in every nation' there may be men
accepted of God, because they 'fear Him and work righteousness.'

That great saying is twisted from its right meaning when it is
interpreted as discouraging the efforts of Christians to carry the
Gospel to the heathen; for, if the 'light of nature' is sufficient,
what was Peter sent to Caesarea for? But it is no less maltreated when
evangelical Christians fail to grasp its world-wide significance, or
doubt that in lands where Christ's name has not been proclaimed there
are souls groping for the light, and seeking to obey the law written on
their hearts. That there are such, and that such are 'accepted of Him,'
and led by His own ways to the fuller light, is obviously taught in
these words, and should be a welcome thought to us all.

The tangled utterances which immediately follow, sound as if speech
staggered under the weight of the thoughts opening before the speaker.
Whatever difficulty attends the construction, the intention is
clear,--to contrast the limited scope of the message, as confined to
the children of Israel, with its universal destination as now made
clear. The statement which in the Authorised and Revised Versions is
thrown into a parenthesis is really the very centre of the Apostle's
thought. Jesus, who has hitherto been preached to Israel, is 'Lord of
all,' and the message concerning Him is now to be proclaimed, not in
vague outline and at second hand, as it had hitherto reached Cornelius,
but in full detail, and as a message in which he was concerned.

Contrast the beginning and the ending of the discourse,--'the word sent
unto the children of Israel' and 'every one that believeth on Him shall
receive remission of sins.' A remarkable variation in the text is
suggested by Blass in his striking commentary, who would omit 'Lord'
and read, 'The word which He sent to the children of Israel, bringing
the good tidings of peace through Jesus Christ,--this [word] belongs to
all.' That reading does away with the chief difficulties, and brings
out clearly the thought which is more obscurely expressed in a
contorted sentence by the present reading.

The subsequent _resume_ of the life of Jesus is substantially the same
as is found in Peter's other sermons. But we may note that the highest
conceptions of our Lord's nature are not stated. It is hard to suppose
that Peter after Pentecost had not the same conviction as burned in his
confession, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.' But in
these early discourses neither the Divinity and Incarnation nor the
atoning sacrifice of Jesus is set forth. He is the Christ, 'anointed
with the Holy Ghost and with power.' God is with Him (Nicodemus had got
as far as that). He is 'ordained of God to be the judge of quick and
dead.'

We note, too, that His teaching is not touched upon, nor any of the
profounder aspects of His work as the Revealer of God, but His
beneficence and miraculous deliverances of devil-ridden men. His death
is declared, but without any of the accusations of His murderers,
which, like lance-thrusts, 'pricked' Jewish hearers. Nor is the
efficacy of that death as the sacrifice for the world's sin touched
upon, but it is simply told as a fact, and set in contrast with the
Resurrection. These were the plain facts which had first to be accepted.

The only way of establishing facts is by evidence of eye-witnesses. So
Peter twice (verses 39, 41) adduces his own and his colleagues'
evidence. But the facts are not yet a gospel, unless they are further
explained as well as established. Did such things happen? The answer
is, 'We saw them.' What did they mean? The answer begins by adducing
the 'witness' of the Apostles to a different order of truths, which
requires a different sort of witness. Jesus had bidden them 'testify'
that He is to be Judge of living and dead; that is, of all mankind.
Their witness to that can only rest on His word.

Nor is that all. There is yet another body of 'witnesses' to yet
another class of truths. 'All the prophets' bear witness to the great
truth which makes the biography of the Man the gospel for all
men,--that the deepest want of all men is satisfied through the name
which Peter ever rang out as all-powerful to heal and bless. The
forgiveness of sins through the manifested character and work of Jesus
Christ is given on condition of faith to any and every one who
believes, be he Jew or Gentile, Galilean fisherman or Roman centurion.
Cornelius may have known little of the prophets, but he knew the burden
of sin. He did not know all that we know of Jesus, and of the way in
which forgiveness is connected with His work, but he did know now that
it was connected, and that this Jesus was risen from the dead, and was
to be the Judge. His faith went out to that Saviour, and as he heard he
believed.

III. Therefore the great gift, attesting the divine acceptance of him
and the rest of the hearers, came at once. There had been no confession
of their faith, much less had there been baptism, or laying on of
Apostolic hands. The sole qualification and condition for the reception
of the Spirit which John lays down in his Gospel when he speaks of the
'Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive,' was present
here, and it was enough. Peter and his brethren might have hesitated
about baptizing an uncircumcised believer. The Lord of the Church
showed Peter that He did not hesitate.

So, like a true disciple, Peter followed Christ's lead, and though
'they of the circumcision' were struck with amazement, he said to
himself, 'Who am I, that I should withstand God?' and opened his heart
to welcome these new converts as possessors of 'like precious faith' as
was demonstrated by their possession of the same Spirit. Would that
Peter's willingness to recognise all who manifest the Spirit of Christ,
whatever their relation to ecclesiastical regulations, had continued
the law and practice of the Church!



PETER'S APOLOGIA

'And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the
Gentiles had also received the word of God. 2. And when Peter was come
up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him,
3. Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with
them. 4. But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and
expounded it by order unto them, saying, 5. I was in the city of Joppa
praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as
it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it
came even to me: 6. Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I
considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts,
and creeping things, and fowls of the air. 7. And I heard a voice
saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay, and eat. 8. But I said, Not so,
Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my
mouth. 9. But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath
cleansed, that call not thou common. 10. And this was done three times:
and all were drawn up again into heaven. 11. And, behold, immediately
there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from
Caesarea unto me. 12. And the Spirit bade me go with them, nothing
doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered
into the man's house: 13. And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in
his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call
for Simon, whose surname is Peter; 14. Who shall tell thee words,
whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved. 15. And as I began to
speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. 16. Then
remembered I the word of the Lord, how that He said, John indeed
baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. 17.
Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as He did unto us, who
believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand
God? 18. When they heard these things, they held their peace, and
glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted
repentance unto life.'--ACTS xi. 1-18.

Peter's action in regard to Cornelius precipitated a controversy which
was bound to come if the Church was to be anything more than a Jewish
sect. It brought to light the first tendency to form a party in the
Church. 'They... of the circumcision' were probably 'certain of the
sect of the Pharisees which believed,' and were especially zealous for
all the separating prescriptions of the ceremonial law. They were
scarcely a party as yet, but the little rift was destined to grow, and
they became Paul's bitterest opponents through all his life, dogging
him with calumnies and counterworking his toil. It is a black day for a
Church when differences of opinion lead to the formation of cliques.
Zeal for truth is sadly apt to enlist spite, malice, and blindness to a
manifest work of God, as its allies.

Poor Peter, no doubt, expected that the brethren would rejoice with him
in the extension of the Gospel to 'the Gentiles,' but his reception in
Jerusalem was very unlike his hopes. The critics did not venture to
cavil at his preaching to Gentiles. Probably none of them had any
objection to such being welcomed into the Church, for they can scarcely
have wished to make the door into it narrower than that into the
synagogue, but they insisted that there was no way in but through the
synagogue. By all means, said they, let Gentiles come, but they must
first become Jews, by submitting to circumcision and living as Jews do.
Thus they did not attack Peter for preaching to the Roman centurion and
his men, but for eating with them. That eating not only was a breach of
the law, but it implied the reception of Cornelius and his company into
the household of God, and so destroyed the whole fabric of Jewish
exclusiveness. We condemn such narrowness, but do many of us not
practise it in other forms? Wherever Christians demand adoption of
external usages, over and above exercise of penitent faith, as a
condition of brotherly recognition, they are walking in the steps of
them 'of the circumcision.'

Peter's answer to the critics is the true answer to all similar hedging
up of the Church, for he contents himself with showing that he was only
following God's action in every step of the way which he took, and that
God, by the gift of the divine Spirit, had shown that He had taken
these uncircumcised men into His fellowship, before Peter dared to 'eat
with them.' He points to four facts which show God's hand in the
matter, and thinks that he has done enough to vindicate himself
thereby. The first is his vision on the housetop. He tells that he was
praying when it came, and what God shows to a praying spirit is not
likely to mislead. He tells that he was 'in a trance,'--a condition in
which prophets had of old received their commands. That again was a
guarantee for the divine origin of the vision in the eyes of every Jew,
though nowadays it is taken by anti-supernaturalists as a demonstration
of its morbidness and unreliableness. He tells of his reluctance to
obey the command to 'kill and eat.' A flash of the old brusque spirit
impelled his flat refusal, 'Not so, Lord!' and his daring to argue with
his Lord still, as he had done with Him on earth. He tells of the
interpreting and revolutionary word, evoked by his audacious objection,
and then he tells how 'this was done thrice,' so that there could be no
mistake in his remembrance of it, and then that the whole was drawn up
into heaven,--a sign that the purpose of the vision was accomplished
when that word was spoken. What, then, was the meaning of it?

Clearly it swept away at once the legal distinction of clean and
unclean meats, and of it, too, may be spoken what Mark, Peter's
mouthpiece, writes of earthly words of Christ's: 'This He said, making
all meats clean.' But with the sweeping away of that distinction much
else goes, for it necessarily involves the abrogation of the whole
separating ordinances of the law, and of the distinction between clean
and unclean persons. Its wider application was not seen at the moment,
but it flashed on him, no doubt, when face to face with Cornelius. God
had cleansed him, in that his prayers had 'gone up for a memorial
before God,' and so Peter saw that 'in every nation,' and not among
Jews only, there might be men cleansed by God. What was true of
Cornelius must be true of many others. So the whole distinction between
Jew and Gentile was cut up by the roots. Little did Peter know the
width of the principle revealed to him then, as all of us know but
little of the full application of many truths which we believe. But he
obeyed so much of the command as he understood, and more of it
gradually dawned on his mind, as will always be the case if we obey
what we know.

The second fact was the coincident arrival of the messengers and the
distinct command to accompany them. Peter could distinguish quite
assuredly his own thoughts from divine instructions, as his account of
the dialogue in the trance shows. How he distinguished is not told;
that he distinguished is. The coincidence in time clearly pointed to
one divine hand working at both ends of the line,--Caesarea and Joppa.
It interpreted the vision which had 'much perplexed' Peter as to what
it 'might mean.' But he was not left to interpret it by his own
pondering. The Spirit spoke authoritatively, and the whole force of his
justification of himself depends on the fact that he knew that the
impulse which made him set out to Caesarea was not his own. If the
reading of the Revised Version is adopted in verse 12, 'making no
distinction,' the command plainly referred to the vision, and showed
Peter that he was to make no distinction of 'clean and unclean' in his
intercourse with these Gentiles.

The third fact is the vision to Cornelius, of which he was told on
arriving. The two visions fitted into each other, confirmed each other,
interpreted each other. We may estimate the greatness of the step in
the development of the Church which the admission of Cornelius into it
made, and the obstacles on both sides, by the fact that both visions
were needed to bring these two men together. Peter would never have
dreamed of going with the messengers if he had not had his narrowness
beaten out of him on the housetop, and Cornelius would never have
dreamed of sending to Joppa if he had not seen the angel. The cleft
between Jew and Gentile was so wide that God's hand had to be applied
on both sides to press the separated parts together. He had plainly
done it, and that was Peter's defence.

The fourth fact is the gift of the Spirit to these Gentiles. That is
the crown of Peter's vindication, and his question, 'Who was I, that I
could withstand God?' might be profitably pondered and applied by those
whose ecclesiastical theories oblige them to deny the 'orders' and the
'validity of the sacraments' and the very name of a Church, to bodies
of Christians who do not conform to their polity. If God, by the gift
of His Spirit manifest in its fruits, owns them, they have the true
'notes of the Church,' and 'they of the circumcision' who recoil from
recognising them do themselves more harm thereby than they inflict on
these. 'As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of
God,' even though some brother may be 'angry' that the Father welcomes
them.



THE FIRST PREACHING AT ANTIOCH

'And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they ware
come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21.
And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed,
and turned unto the Lord.'--ACTS xi. 20, 21.

Thus simply does the historian tell one of the greatest events in the
history of the Church. How great it was will appear if we observe that
the weight of authority among critics and commentators sees here an
extension of the message of salvation to Greeks, that is, to pure
heathens, and not a mere preaching to Hellenists, that is, to
Greek-speaking Jews born outside Palestine.

If that be correct, this was a great stride forward in the development
of the Church. It needed a vision to overcome the scruples of Peter,
and impel him to the bold innovation of preaching to Cornelius and his
household, and, as we know, his doing so gave grave offence to some of
his brethren in Jerusalem. But in the case before us, some Cypriote and
African Jews--men of no note in the Church, whose very names have
perished, with no official among them, with no vision nor command to
impel them, with no precedent to encourage them, with nothing but the
truth in their minds and the impulses of Christ's love in their
hearts--solve the problem of the extension of Christ's message to the
heathen, and, quite unconscious of the greatness of their act, do the
thing about the propriety of which there had been such serious question
in Jerusalem.

This boldness becomes even more remarkable if we notice that the
incident of our text may have taken place before Peter's visit to
Cornelius. The verse before our text, 'They which were scattered abroad
upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled, ... preaching
the word to none but unto the Jews only,' is almost a _verbatim_
repetition of words in an earlier chapter, and evidently suggests that
the writer is returning to that point of time, in order to take up
another thread of his narrative contemporaneous with those already
pursued. If so, three distinct lines of expansion appear to have
started from the dispersion of the Jerusalem church in the
persecution--namely, Philip's mission to Samaria, Peter's to Cornelius,
and this work in Antioch. Whether prior in time or no, the preaching in
the latter city was plainly quite independent of the other two. It is
further noteworthy that this, the effort of a handful of unnamed men,
was the true 'leader'--the shoot that grew. Philip's work, and Peter's
so far as we know, were side branches, which came to little; this led
on to a church at Antioch, and so to Paul's missionary work, and all
that came of that.

The incident naturally suggests some thoughts bearing on the general
subject of Christian work, which we now briefly present.

I. Notice the spontaneous impulse which these men obeyed.

Persecution drove the members of the Church apart, and, as a matter of
course, wherever they went they took their faith with them, and, as a
matter of course, spoke about it. The coals were scattered from the
hearth in Jerusalem by the armed heel of violence. That did not put the
fire out, but only spread it, for wherever they were flung they kindled
a blaze. These men had no special injunction 'to preach the Lord
Jesus.' They do not seem to have adopted this line of action
deliberately, or of set purpose. 'They believed, and therefore spoke.'
A spontaneous impulse, and nothing more, leads them on. They find
themselves rejoicing in a great Saviour-Friend. They see all around
them men who need Him, and that is enough. They obey the promptings of
the voice within, and lay the foundations of the first Gentile Church.

Such a spontaneous impulse is ever the natural result of our own
personal possession of Christ. In regard to worldly good the instinct,
except when overcome by higher motives, is to keep the treasure to
oneself. But even in the natural sphere there are possessions which to
have is to long to impart, such as truth and knowledge. And in the
spiritual sphere, it is emphatically the case that real possession is
always accompanied by a longing to impart. The old prophet spoke a
universal truth when he said: 'Thy word was as a fire shut up in my
bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.' If we
have found Christ for ourselves, we shall undoubtedly wish to speak
forth our knowledge of His love. Convictions which are deep demand
expression. Emotion which is strong needs utterance. If our hearts have
any fervour of love to Christ in them, it will be as natural to tell it
forth, as tears are to sorrow or smiles to happiness. True, there is a
reticence in profound feeling, and sometimes the deepest love can only
'love and be silent,' and there is a just suspicion of loud or vehement
protestations of Christian emotion, as of any emotion. But for all
that, it remains true that a heart warmed with the love of Christ needs
to express its love, and will give it forth, as certainly as light must
radiate from its centre, or heat from a fire.

Then, true kindliness of heart creates the same impulse. We cannot
truly possess the treasure for ourselves without pity for those who
have it not. Surely there is no stranger contradiction than that
Christian men and women can be content to keep Christ as if He were
their special property, and have their spirits untouched into any
likeness of His divine pity for the multitudes who were as 'sheep
having no shepherd.' What kind of Christians must they be who think of
Christ as 'a Saviour for me,' and take no care to set Him forth as 'a
Saviour for you'? What should we think of men in a shipwreck who were
content to get into the lifeboat, and let everybody else drown? What
should we think of people in a famine feasting sumptuously on their
private stores, whilst women were boiling their children for a meal and
men fighting with dogs for garbage on the dunghills? 'He that
withholdeth bread, the people shall curse him.' What of him who
withholds the Bread of Life, and all the while claims to be a follower
of the Christ, who gave His flesh for the life of the world?

Further, loyalty to Christ creates the same impulse. If we are true to
our Lord, we shall feel that we cannot but speak up and out for Him,
and that all the more where His name is unloved and unhonoured. He has
left His good fame very much in our hands, and the very same impulse
which hurries words to our lips when we hear the name of an absent
friend calumniated should make us speak for Him. He is a doubtfully
loyal subject who, if he lives among rebels, is afraid to show his
colours. He is already a coward, and is on the way to be a traitor. Our
Master has made us His witnesses. He has placed in our hands, as a
sacred deposit, the honour of His name. He has entrusted to us, as His
selectest sign of confidence, the carrying out of the purposes for
which on earth His blood was shed, on which in heaven His heart is set.
How can we be loyal to Him if we are not forced by a mighty constraint
to respond to His great tokens of trust in us, and if we know nothing
of that spirit which said: 'Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto
me, if I preach not the gospel!' I do not say that a man cannot be a
Christian unless he knows and obeys this impulse. But, at least, we may
safely say that he is a very weak and imperfect Christian who does not.

II. This incident suggests the universal obligation on all Christians
to make known Christ.

These men were not officials. In these early days the Church had a very
loose organisation. But the fugitives in our narrative seem to have had
among them none even of the humble office-bearers of primitive times.
Neither had they any command or commission from Jerusalem. No one there
had given them authority, or, as would appear, knew anything of their
proceedings. Could there be a more striking illustration of the great
truth that whatever varieties of function may be committed to various
officers in the Church, the work of telling Christ's love to men
belongs to every one who has found it for himself or herself? 'This
honour have all the saints.'

Whatever may be our differences of opinion as to Church order and
offices, they need not interfere with our firm grasp of this truth.
'Preaching Christ,' in the sense in which that expression is used in
the New Testament, implies no one special method of proclaiming the
glad tidings. A word written in a letter to a friend, a sentence
dropped in casual conversation, a lesson to a child on a mother's lap,
or any other way by which, to any listeners, the great story of the
Cross is told, is as truly--often more truly--preaching Christ as the
set discourse which has usurped the name.

We profess to believe in the priesthood of all believers, we are ready
enough to assert it in opposition to sacerdotal assumptions. Are we as
ready to recognise it as laying a very real responsibility upon us, and
involving a very practical inference as to our own conduct? We all have
the power, therefore we all have the duty. For what purpose did God
give us the blessing of knowing Christ ourselves? Not for our own
well-being alone, but that through us the blessing might be still
further diffused.

  'Heaven doth with us as men with torches do,
    Not light them for themselves.'

'God hath shined into our hearts' that we might give to others 'the
light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus
Christ.' Every Christian is solemnly bound to fulfil this divine
intention, and to take heed to the imperative command, 'Freely ye have
received, freely give.'

III. Observe, further, the simple message which they proclaimed.

'Preaching the Lord Jesus,' says the text--or more accurately
perhaps--'preaching Jesus as Lord.' The substance, then, of their
message was just this--proclamation of the person and dignity of their
Master, the story of the human life of the Man, the story of the divine
sacrifice and self-bestowment by which He had bought the right of
supreme rule over every heart; and the urging of His claims on all who
heard of His love. And this, their message, was but the proclamation of
their own personal experience. They had found Jesus to be for
themselves Lover and Lord, Friend and Saviour of their souls, and the
joy they had received they sought to share with these Greeks,
worshippers of gods and lords many.

Surely anybody can deliver that message who has had that experience.
All have not the gifts which would fit for public speech, but all who
have 'tasted that the Lord is gracious' can somehow tell how gracious
He is. The first Christian sermon was very short, and it was very
efficacious, for it 'brought to Jesus' the whole congregation. Here it
is: 'He first findeth his brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have
found the Messias.' Surely we can all say that, if we have found Him.
Surely we shall all long to say it, if we are glad that we have found
Him, and if we love our brother.

Notice, too, how simple the form as well as the substance of the
message. 'They _spake_.' It was no set address, no formal utterance,
but familiar, natural talk to ones and twos, as opportunity offered.
The form was so simple that we may say that there was none. What we
want is that Christian people should speak anyhow. What does the shape
of the cup matter? What does it matter whether it be gold or clay? The
main thing is that it shall bear the water of life to some thirsty lip.
All Christians have to preach, as the word is used here, that is, to
tell the good news. Their task is to carry a message--no refinement of
words is needed for that--arguments are not needed. They have to tell
it simply and faithfully, as one who only cares to repeat what he has
had given to him. They have to tell it confidently, as having proved it
true. They have to tell it beseechingly, as loving the souls to whom
they bring it. Surely we can all do that, if we ourselves are living on
Christ and have drunk into His Spirit. Let His mighty salvation,
experienced by yourselves, be the substance of your message, and let
the form of it be guided by the old words, 'It shall be, when the
Spirit of the Lord is come upon thee, that thou shalt do as occasion
shall serve thee.'

IV. Notice, lastly, the mighty Helper who prospered their work.

'The hand of the Lord was with them.' The very keynote of this Book of
the Acts is the work of the ascended Christ in and for His Church. At
every turning-point in the history, and throughout the whole
narratives, forms of speech like this occur, bearing witness to the
profound conviction of the writer that Christ's active energy was with
His servants, and Christ's Hand the origin of all their security and of
all their success.

So this is a statement of a permanent and universal fact. We do not
labour alone; however feeble our hands, that mighty Hand is laid on
them to direct their movements and to lend strength to their weakness.
It is not our speech which will secure results, but His presence with
our words which will bring it about that even through them a great
number shall believe and turn to the Lord. There is our encouragement
when we are despondent. There is our rebuke when we are self-confident.
There is our stimulus when we are indolent. There is our quietness when
we are impatient. If ever we are tempted to think our task heavy, let
us not forget that He who set it helps us to do it, and from His throne
shares in all our toils, the Lord still, as of old, working with us. If
ever we feel that our strength is nothing, and that we stand solitary
against many foes, let us fall back upon the peace-giving thought that
one man against the world, with Christ to help him, is always in the
majority, and let us leave issues of our work in His hands, whose hand
will guard the seed sown in weakness, whose smile will bless the
springing thereof.

How little any of us know what will become of our poor work, under His
fostering care! How little these men knew that they were laying the
foundations of the great change which was to transform the Christian
community from a Jewish sect into a world-embracing Church! So is it
ever. We know not what we do when simply and humbly we speak His name.
The far-reaching results escape our eyes. Then, sow the seed, and He
will 'give it a body as it pleaseth Him.' On earth we may never know
the fruits of our labours. They will be among the surprises of heaven,
where many a solitary worker shall exclaim with wonder, as he looks on
the hitherto unknown children whom God hath given him, 'Behold, I was
left alone; these, where had they been?' Then, though our names may
have perished from earthly memories, like those of the simple fugitives
of Cyprus and Cyrene, who 'were the first that ever burst' into the
night of heathendom with the torch of the Gospel in their hands, they
will be written in the Lamb's book of life, and He will confess them in
the presence of His Father in heaven.



THE EXHORTATION OF BARNABAS [Footnote: Preached before the
Congregational Union of England and Wales.]

'Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and
exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto
the Lord.'--ACTS xi. 23.

The first purely heathen converts had been brought into the Church by
the nameless men of Cyprus and Cyrene, private persons with no office
or commission to preach, who, in simple obedience to the instincts of a
Christian heart, leaped the barrier which seemed impassable to the
Church in Jerusalem, and solved the problem over which Apostles were
hesitating. Barnabas is sent down to see into this surprising new
phenomenon, and his mission, though probably not hostile, was, at all
events, one of inquiry and doubt. But like a true man, he yielded to
facts, and widened his theory to suit them. He saw the tokens of
Christian life in these Gentile converts, and that compelled him to
admit that the Church was wider than some of his friends in Jerusalem
thought. A pregnant lesson for modern theorists who, on one ground or
another of doctrine or of orders, narrow the great conception of
Christ's Church! Can you see 'the grace of God' in the people? Then
they are in the Church, whatever becomes of your theories, and the
sooner you let them out so as to fit the facts, the better for you and
for them.

Satisfied as to their true Christian character, Barnabas sets himself
to help them to grow. Now, remember how recently they had been
converted; how, from their Gentile origin, they can have had next to no
systematic instruction; how the taint of heathen morals, such as were
common in that luxurious, corrupt Antioch, must have clung to them; how
unformed must have been their loose Church organisation--and
remembering all this, think of this one exhortation as summing up all
that Barnabas had to say to them. He does not say, Do this, or Believe
that, or Organise the other; but he says, Stick to Jesus Christ the
Lord. On this commandment hangs all the law; it is the one
all-inclusive summary of the duties of the Christian life.

So, brethren and fathers, I venture to take these words now, as
containing large lessons for us all, appropriate at all times, and
especially in a sermon on such an occasion as the present.

We may deal with the thoughts suggested by these words very simply,
just looking at the points as they lie--what Barnabas _saw_, what he
_felt_, what he _said_.

I. What Barnabas saw.

The grace of God here has very probably the specific meaning of the
miracle-working gift of the Holy Spirit. That is rendered probable by
the analogy of other instances recorded in the Acts of the Apostles,
such as Peter's experience at Caesarea, where all his hesitations and
reluctance were swept away when 'the Holy Ghost fell on them as on us
at the beginning, and they spake with tongues.' If so, what convinced
Barnabas that these uncircumcised Gentiles were Christians like
himself, may have been their similar possession of the visible and
audible effects of that gift of God. But the language does not compel
this interpretation; and the absence of all distinct reference to these
extraordinary powers as existing there, among the new converts at
Antioch, may be intended to mark a difference in the nature of the
evidence. At any rate, the possibly intentional generality of the
expression is significant and fairly points to an extension of the
spiritual gifts much beyond the limits of miraculous powers. There are
other ways by which the grace of God may be seen and heard, thank God!
than by speaking with tongues and working miracles; and the first
lesson of our text is that wherever that grace is made visible by its
appropriate manifestations, there we are to recognise a brother.

Augustine said, 'Where Christ is there is the Church,' and that is
true, but vague; for the question still remains, 'And where _is_
Christ?' The only satisfying answer is, Christ is wherever Christlike
men manifest a life drawn from, and kindred with, His life. And so the
true form of the dictum for practical purposes comes to be: 'Where the
grace of Christ is visible, there is the Church.'

That great truth is sinned against and denied in many ways. Most
chiefly, perhaps, by the successors in modern garb of the more Jewish
portion of that Church at Jerusalem who sent Barnabas to Antioch. They
had no objection to Gentiles entering the Church, but they must come in
by the way of circumcision; they quite believed that it was Christ who
saved, and His grace which sanctified, but they thought that His grace
would only flow in a given channel; and so do their modern
representatives, who exalt sacraments, and consequently priests, to the
same place as the Judaizers in the early Church did the rite of the old
Covenant. Such teachers have much to say about the notes of the Church,
and have elaborated a complicated system of identification by which you
may know the genuine article, and unmask impostors. The attempt is
about as wise as to try to weave a network fine enough to keep back a
stream. The water will flow through the closest meshes, and when Christ
pours out the Spirit, He is apt to do it in utter disregard of notes of
the Church, and of channels of sacramental grace.

We Congregationalists, who have no orders, no sacraments, no Apostolic
succession; who in order not to break loose from Christ and conscience
have had to break loose from 'Catholic tradition,' and have been driven
to separation by the true schismatics, who have insisted on another
bond of Church unity than union to Christ, are denied nowadays a place
in His Church.

The true answer to all that arrogant assumption and narrow pedantry
which confine the free flow of the water of life to the conduits of
sacraments and orders, and will only allow the wind that bloweth where
it listeth to make music in the pipes of their organs, is simply the
homely one which shivered a corresponding theory to atoms in the fair
open mind of Barnabas.

The Spirit of Christ at work in men's hearts, making them pure and
gentle, simple and unworldly, refining their characters, elevating
their aims, toning their whole being into accord with the music of His
life, is the true proof that men are Christians, and that communities
of such men are Churches of His. Mysterious efficacy is claimed for
Christian ordinances. Well, the question is a fair one: Is the type of
Christian character produced within these sacred limits, which we are
hopelessly outside, conspicuously higher and more manifestly Christlike
than that nourished by no sacraments, and grown not under glass, but in
the unsheltered open? Has not God set His seal on these communities to
which we belong? With many faults for which we have to be, and are,
humble before Him, we can point to the lineaments of the family
likeness, and say, 'Are they Hebrews? so are we. Are they Israelites?
so are we. Are they the seed of Abraham? so are we.'

Once get that truth wrought into men's minds, that the true test of
Christianity is the visible presence of a grace in character which is
evidently God's, and whole mountains of prejudice and error melt away.
We are just as much in danger of narrowing the Church in accordance
with our narrowness as any 'sacramentarian' of them all. We are tempted
to think that no good thing can grow up under the baleful shadow of
that tree, a sacerdotal Christianity. We are tempted to think that all
the good people are Dissenters, just as Churchmen are to think that
nobody can be a Christian who prays without a prayer-book. Our own type
of denominational character--and there is such a thing--comes to be
accepted by us as the all but exclusive ideal of a devout man; and we
have not imagination enough to conceive, nor charity enough to believe
in, the goodness which does not speak our dialect, nor see with our
eyes. Dogmatical narrowness has built as high walls as ceremonial
Christianity has reared round the fold of Christ, And the one
deliverance for us all from the transformed selfishness, which has so
much to do with shaping all these wretched narrow theories of the
Church, is to do as this man did--open our eyes with sympathetic
eagerness to see God's grace in many an unexpected place, and square
our theories with His dealings.

It used to be an axiom that there was no life in the sea beyond a
certain limit of a few hundred feet. It was learnedly and conclusively
demonstrated that pressure and absence of light, and I know not what
beside, made life at greater depths impossible. It was proved that in
such conditions creatures could not live. And then, when that was
settled, the _Challenger_ put down her dredge five miles, and brought
up healthy and good-sized living things, with eyes in their heads, from
that enormous depth. So, then, the savant had to ask, _How_ can there
be life? instead of asserting that there cannot be; and, no doubt, the
answer will be forth coming some day.

We have all been too much accustomed to set arbitrary limits to the
diffusion of the life of Christ among men. Let us rather rejoice when
we see forms of beauty, which bear the mark of His hand, drawn from
depths that we deemed waste, and thankfully confess that the bounds of
our expectation, and the framework of our institutions, do not confine
the breadth of His working, nor the sweep of His grace.

II. What Barnabas felt.

'He was glad.' It was a triumph of Christian principle to recognise the
grace of God under new forms, and in so strange a place. It was a still
greater triumph to hail it with rejoicing. One need not have wondered
if the acknowledgment of a fact, dead in the teeth of all his
prejudices, and seemingly destructive of some profound convictions, had
been somewhat grudging. Even a good, true man might have been
bewildered and reluctant to let go so much as was destroyed by the
admission--'Then hath God granted to the Gentiles also repentance unto
life,'--and might have been pardoned if he had not been able to do more
than acquiesce and hold his peace. We are scarcely just to these early
Jewish Christians when we wonder at their hesitation on this matter,
and are apt to forget the enormous strength of the prejudices and
sacred conviction which they had to overcome. Hence the context seems
to consider that the quick recognition of Christian character on the
part of Barnabas, and his gladness at the discovery, need explanation,
and so it adds, with special reference to these, as it would seem, 'for
he was a good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith,' as if nothing
short of such characteristics could have sufficiently emancipated him
from the narrowness that would have refused to discern the good, or the
bitterness that would have been offended at it.

So, dear brethren, we may well test ourselves with this question: Does
the discovery of the working of the grace of God outside the limits of
our own Churches and communions excite a quick, spontaneous emotion of
gladness in _our_ hearts? It may upset some of our theories; it may
teach us that things which we thought very important, 'distinctive
principles' and the like, are not altogether as precious as we thought
them; it may require us to give up some pleasant ideas of our
superiority, and of the necessary conformity of all good people to our
type. Are we willing to let them all go, and without a twinge of envy
or a hanging back from prejudice, to welcome the discovery that 'God
fulfils Himself in many ways'? Have we schooled ourselves to say
honestly, 'Therein I do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice'?

There is much to overcome if we would know this Christlike gladness.
The good and the bad in us may both oppose it. The natural deeper
interest in the well-being of the Churches of our own faith and order,
the legitimate ties which unite us with these, our conscientious
convictions, our friendships, the _esprit de corps_ born of fighting
shoulder to shoulder, will, of course, make our sympathies flow most
quickly and deeply in denominational channels. And then come in
abundance of less worthy motives, some altogether bad and some the
exaggeration of what is good, and we get swallowed up in our own
individual work, or in that of our 'denomination,' and have but a very
tepid joy in anybody else's prosperity.

In almost every town of England, your Churches, and those to which I
belong, with Presbyterians and Wesleyans, stand side by side. The
conditions of our work make some rivalry inevitable, and none of us, I
suppose, object to that. It helps to keep us all diligent: a sturdy
adherence to our several 'distinctive principles' and an occasional
hard blow in fair fight on their behalf we shall all insist upon. Our
brotherhood is all the more real for frank speech, and 'the animated
No!' is an essential in all intercourse which is not stagnant or
mawkish. There is much true fellowship and much good feeling among all
these. But we want far more of an honest rejoicing in each other's
success, a quicker and truer manly sympathy with each other's work, a
fuller consciousness of our solidarity in Christ, and a clearer
exhibition of it before the world.

And on a wider view, as our eyes travel over the wide field of
Christendom, and our memories go back over the long ages of the story
of the Church, let gladness, and not wonder or reluctance, be the
temper with which we see the graces of Christian character lifting
their meek blossoms in corners strange to us, and breathing their
fragrance over the pastures of the wilderness. In many a cloister, in
many a hermit's cell, from amidst the smoke of incense, through the
dust of controversies, we should see, and be glad to see, faces bright
with the radiance caught from Christ. Let us set a jealous watch over
our hearts that self-absorption, or denominationalism, or envy do not
make the sight a pain instead of a joy; and let us remember that the
eye-salve which will purge our dim sight to behold the grace of God in
all its forms is that grace itself, which ever recognises its own
kindred, and lives in the gladness of charity, and the joy of beholding
a brother's good. If we are to have eyes to know the grace of God when
we see it, and a heart to rejoice when we know it, we must get them as
Barnabas got his, and be good men, because we are full of the Holy
Ghost, and full of the Holy Ghost because we are full of faith.

III. What Barnabas said.

'He exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave
unto the Lord.' The first thing that strikes one about this
all-sufficient directory for Christian life is the emphasis with which
it sets forth 'the Lord' as the one object to be grasped and held. The
sum of all objective Religion is Christ--the sum of all subjective
Religion is cleaving to Him. A living Person to be laid hold of, and a
personal relation to that Person, such is the conception of Religion,
whether considered as revelation or as inward life, which underlies
this exhortation. Whether we listen to His own words about Himself, and
mark the altogether unprecedented way in which He was His own theme,
and the unique decisiveness and plainness with which He puts His own
personality before us as the Incarnate Truth, the pattern for all human
conduct, the refuge and the rest for the world of weary ones; or
whether we give ear to the teaching of His Apostles; from whatever
point of view we approach Christianity, it all resolves itself into the
person of Jesus Christ. He is the _Revelation_ of God; theology,
properly so called, is but the formulating of the facts which He gives
us; and for the modern world the alternative is, Christ the manifested
God, or no God at all, other than the shadow of a name. He is the
perfect _Exemplar_ of humanity! The law of life and the power to fulfil
the law are both in Him; and the superiority of Christian morality
consists not in this or that isolated precept, but in the embodiment of
all goodness in His life, and in the new motive which He supplies for
keeping the commandment. Wrenched away from Him, Christian morality has
no being. He is the sacrifice for the world, the salvation of which
flows from what He does, and not merely from what He taught or was. His
personality is the foundation of His work, and the gospel of
forgiveness and reconciliation is all contained in the name of Jesus.

There is a constant tendency to separate the results of Christ's life
and death, whether considered as revelation, atonement, or ethics, from
Him, and unconsciously to make these the sum of our Religion, and the
object of our faith. Especially is this the case in times of restless
thought and eager canvassing of the very foundations of religious
belief, like the present. Therefore it is wholesome for us all to be
brought back to the pregnant simplicity of the thought which underlies
this text, and to mark how vividly these early Christians apprehended a
living Lord as the sum and substance of all which they had to grasp.

There is a whole world between the man to whom God's revelation
consists in certain doctrines given to us by Jesus Christ, and the man
to whom it consists in that Christ Himself. Grasping a living person is
not the same as accepting a proposition. True, the propositions are
about Him, and we do not know Him without them. But equally true, we
need to be reminded that _He_ is our Saviour and not _they_, and that
God has revealed Himself to us not in words and sentences but in a life.

For, alas! the doctrinal element has overborne the personal among all
Churches and all schools of thought, and in the necessary process of
formulating and systematising the riches which are in Jesus, we are all
apt to confound the creeds with the Christ, and so to manipulate
Christianity until, instead of being the revelation of a Person and a
gospel, it has become a system of divinity. Simple, devout souls have
to complain that they cannot find even a dead Christ, to say nothing of
a living one, for the theologians have 'taken away their Lord, and they
know not where they have laid Him.'

It is, therefore, to be reckoned as a distinct gain that one result of
the course of more recent thought, both among friends and foes, has
been to make all men feel more than before, that all revelation is
contained in the living person of Jesus Christ. So did the Church
believe before creeds were. So it is coming to feel again, with a
consciousness enriched and defined by the whole body of doctrine, which
has flowed from Him during all the ages. That solemn, gracious Figure
rises day by day more clearly before men, whether they love Him or no,
as the vital centre of this great whole of doctrines, laws,
institutions, which we call Christianity. Round the story of His life
the final struggle is to be waged. The foe feels that, so long as that
remains, all other victories count for nothing. We feel that if that
goes, there is nothing to keep. The principles and the precepts will
perish alike, as the fair palace of the old legend, that crumbled to
dust when its builder died. But so long as He stands before mankind as
He is painted in the Gospel, it will endure. If all else were
annihilated, Churches, creeds and all, leave us these four Gospels, and
all else would be evolved again. The world knows now, and the Church
has always known, though it has not always been true to the
significance of the fact, that Jesus Christ is Christianity, and that
because He lives, it will live also.

And consequently the sum of all personal religion is this simple act
described here as _cleaving to Him_.

Need I do more than refer to the rich variety of symbols and forms of
expression under which that thought is put alike by the Master and by
His servants? Deepest of all are His own great words, of which our text
is but a feeble echo, 'Abide in Me, and I in you.' Fairest of all is
that lovely emblem of the vine, setting forth the sweet mystery of our
union with Him. Far as it is from the outmost pliant tendril to the
root, one life passes to the very extremities, and every cluster swells
and reddens and mellows because of its mysterious flow. 'So also is
Christ.' We remember how often the invitation flowed from His lips,
_Come_ unto Me; how He was wont to beckon men away from self and the
world with the great command, _Follow_ Me; how He explained the secret
of all true life to consist in _eating_ Him. We may recall, too, the
emphasis and perpetual reiteration with which Paul speaks of being 'in
Jesus' as the condition of all blessedness, power, and righteousness;
and the emblems which he so often employs of the building bound into a
whole on the foundation from which it derives its stability, of the
body compacted and organised into a whole by the head from which it
derives its life.

We begin to be Christians, as this context tells us, when we 'turn to
the Lord.' We continue to be Christians, as Barnabas reminded these
ignorant beginners, by 'cleaving to the Lord.' Seeing, then, that our
great task is to preserve that which we have as the very foundation of
our Christian life, clearly the truest method of so keeping it will be
the constant repetition of the act by which we got it at first. In
other words, faith joined us to Christ, and continuously reiterated
acts of faith keep us united to Him. So, if I may venture, fathers and
brethren, to cast my words into the form of exhortation, even to such
an audience as the present, I would earnestly say, Let us cleave to
Christ by continual renewal of our first faith in Him.

The longest line may be conceived of as produced simply by the motion
of its initial point. So should our lives be, our progress not
consisting in leaving our early acts of faith behind us, but in
repeating them over and over again till the points coalesce in one
unbroken line which goes straight to the Throne and Heart of Jesus.
True, the repetition should be accompanied with fuller knowledge, with
calmer certitude, and should come from a heart ennobled and encircled
by a Christ-possessing past. As in some great symphony the theme which
was given out in low notes on one poor instrument recurs over and over
again, embroidered with varying harmonies, and unfolding a richer
music, till it swells into all the grandeur of the triumphant close, so
our lives should be bound into a unity, and in their unity bound to
Christ by the constant renewal of our early faith, and the fathers
should come round again to the place which they occupied when as
children they first knew Him that is 'from the beginning' to the end
one and the same.

Such constant reiteration is needed, too, because yesterday's trust has
no more power to secure to-day's union than the shreds of cloth and
nails which hold last year's growth to the wall will fasten this year's
shoots. Each moment must be united to Christ by its own act of faith,
or it will be separated from Him. So living in the Lord we shall be
strong and wise, happy and holy. So dying in the Lord we shall be of
the dead who are blessed. So sleeping in Jesus we shall at the last be
found in Him at that day, and shall be raised up together, and made to
sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

But more specially let us cleave to Christ by habitual contemplation.
There can be no real continuous closeness of intercourse with Him,
except by thought ever recurring to Him amidst all the tumult of our
busy days. I do not mean professional thinking or controversial
thinking, of which we ministers have more than enough. There is another
mood of mind in which to approach our Lord than these, a mood sadly
unfamiliar, I am afraid, in these days: when poor Mary has hardly a
chance of a reputation for 'usefulness' by the side of busy, bustling
Martha--that still contemplation of the truth which we possess, not
with the view of discovering its foundations, or investigating its
applications, or even of increasing our knowledge of its contents, but
of bringing our own souls more completely under its influence, and
saturating our being with its fragrance. The Church has forgotten how
to meditate. We are all so occupied arguing and deducing and
elaborating, that we have no time for retired, still contemplation, and
therefore lose the finest aroma of the truth we profess to believe.
Many of us are so busy thinking about Christianity that we have lost
our hold of Christ. Sure I am that there are few things more needed by
our modern religion than the old exhortation, 'Come, My people, enter
into thy chambers and shut thy doors about thee.' Cleave to the Lord by
habitual play of meditative thought on the treasures hidden in His
name, and waiting like gold in the quartz, to be the prize of our
patient sifting and close gaze.

And when the great truths embodied in Him stand clear before us, then
let us remember that we have not done with them when we have _seen_
them. Next must come into exercise the moral side of faith, the
voluntary act of trust, the casting ourselves on Him whom we behold,
the making our own of the blessings which He holds out to us. Flee to
Christ as to our strong habitation to which we may continually resort.
Hold tightly by Christ with a grasp which nothing can slacken (that
whitens your very knuckles as you clutch Him), lean on Christ all your
weight and all your burdens. Cleave to the Lord with full purpose of
heart.

Let us cleave to the Lord by constant outgoings of our love to Him.
That is the bond which unites human spirits together in the only real
union, and Scripture teaches us to see in the sweetest, sacredest,
closest tie that men and women can know, a real, though faint, shadow
of the far deeper and truer union between Christ and us. The same love
which is the bond of perfectness between man and man, is the bond
between us and Christ. In no dreamy, semi-pantheistic fusion of the
believer with his Lord do we find the true conception of the unity of
Christ and His Church, but in a union which preserves the
individualities lest it should slay the love. Faith knits us to Christ,
and faith is the mother of love, which maintains the blessed union. So
let us not be ashamed of the _emotional_ side of our religion, nor deem
that we can cleave to Christ unless our hearts twine their tendrils
round Him, and our love pours its odorous treasures on His sacred feet,
not without weeping and embraces. Cold natures may carp, but Love is
justified of her children, and Christ accepts the homage that has a
heart in it. Cleaving to the Lord is not merely love, but it is
impossible without it. The order is Faith, Love, Obedience--that
threefold cord knits men to Christ, and Christ to men. For the
understanding, a continuous grasp of Him as the object of thought. For
the heart, a continuous outgoing to Him as the object of our love. For
the will, a continuous submission to Him as the Lord of our obedience.
For the whole nature, a continuous cleaving to Him as the object of our
faith and worship.

Such is the true discipline of the Christian life. Such is the
all-sufficient command; as for the newest convert from heathenism, with
little knowledge and the taint of his old vices in his soul, so for the
saint fullest of wisdom and nearest the Light.

It _is_ all-sufficient. If Barnabas had been like some of us, he would
have had a very different style of exhortation. He would have said,
'This irregular work has been well done, but there are no authorised
teachers here, and no provision has been made for the due
administration of the sacraments of the Church. The very first thing of
all is to give these people the blessing of bishops and priests.' Some
of us would have said, 'Valuable work has been done, but these good
people are terribly ignorant. The best thing would be to get ready as
soon as possible some manual of Christian doctrine, and in the meantime
provide for their systematic instruction in at least the elements of
the faith.' Some of us would have said, 'No doubt they have been
converted, but we fear there has been too much of the emotional in the
preaching. The moral side of Christianity has not been pressed home,
and what they chiefly need is to be taught that it is not feeling, but
righteousness. Plain, practical instruction in Christian duty is the
one thing they want.'

Barnabas knew better. He did not despise organisation, nor orthodoxy,
nor practical righteousness, but he knew that all three, and everything
else that any man needed for his perfecting would come, if only the
converts kept near to Christ, and that nothing else was of any use if
they did not. That same conviction should for us settle the relative
importance which we attach to these subordinate and derivative things,
and to the primary and primitive duty. Obedience to it will secure
them. They, without it, are not worth securing.

We spend much pains and effort nowadays in perfecting our organisations
and consolidating our resources, and I have not a word to say against
that. But heavier machinery needs more power in the engine, and that
means greater capacity in your boilers and more fire in your furnace.
The more complete our organisation, the more do we need a firm hold of
Christ, or we shall be overweighted by it, shall be in danger of
burning incense to our own net, shall be tempted to trust in drill
rather than in courage, in mechanism rather than in the life drawn from
Christ. On the other hand, if we put as our first care the preservation
of the closeness of our union with Christ, that life will shape a body
for itself, and 'to every seed its own body.'

True conceptions of Him, and a definite theology, are good and needful.
Let us cleave to Him with mind and heart, and we shall receive all the
knowledge we need, and be guided into the deep things of God. In Him
are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and the basis of all
theology is the personal possession of Him who is 'the wisdom of God'
and 'the Light of the world.' Every one that loveth is born of God and
knoweth God. _Pectus facit Theologum_.

Plain, straightforward morality and everyday righteousness are better
than all emotion and all dogmatism and all churchism, says the world,
and Christianity says much the same; but plain, straightforward
righteousness and everyday morality come most surely when a man is
keeping close to Christ. In a word, everything that can adorn the
character with beauty, and clothe the Church with glorious apparel,
whatsoever things are lovely and of good report, all that the world or
God calls virtue and crowns with praise, they are all in their fulness
in Him, and all are most surely derived from Him by keeping fast hold
of His hand, and preserving the channels clear through which His
manifold grace may flow into our souls. The same life is strength in
the arm, pliancy in the fingers, swiftness in the foot, light in the
eye, music on the lips; so the same grace is Protean in its forms, and
to His servants who trust Him Christ ever says, 'What would ye that I
should do unto you? Be it even as thou wilt.' The same mysterious power
lives in the swaying branch, and in the veined leaf, and in the
blushing clusters. With like wondrous transformations of the one grace,
the Lord pours Himself into our spirits, filling all needs and fitting
for all circumstances. Therefore for us all, individuals and Churches,
this remains the prime command, 'With purpose of heart cleave unto the
Lord.' Dear brethren in the ministry, how sorely we need this
exhortation! Our very professional occupation with Christ and His truth
is full of danger for us; we are so accustomed to handle these sacred
themes as a means of instructing or impressing others that we get to
regard them as our weapons, even if we do not degrade them still
further by thinking of them as our stock-in-trade and means of
oratorical effect. We must keep very firm hold of Christ for ourselves
by much solitary communion, and so retranslating into the nutriment of
our own souls the message we bring to men, else when we have preached
to others we ourselves may be cast away. All the ordinary tendencies
which draw men from Him work on us, and a host of others peculiar to
ourselves, and all around us run strong currents of thought which
threaten to sweep many away. Let us tighten our grasp of Him in the
face of modern doubt; and take heed to ourselves that neither vanity,
nor worldliness, nor sloth; neither the gravitation earthward common to
all, nor the temptations proper to our office; neither unbelieving
voices without nor voices within, seduce us from His side. There only
is our peace, there our wisdom, there our power.

Subtly and silently the separating forces are ever at work upon us, and
all unconsciously to ourselves our hold may relax, and the flow of this
grace into our spirits may cease, while yet we mechanically keep up the
round of outward service, nor even suspect that our strength is
departed from us. Many a stately elm that seems full of vigorous life,
for all its spreading boughs and clouds of dancing leaves, is hollow at
the heart, and when the storm comes goes down with a crash, and men
wonder, as they look at the ruin, how such a mere shell of life with a
core of corruption could stand so long. It rotted within, and fell at
last, because its roots did not go deep down to the rich soil, where
they would have found nourishment, but ran along near the surface among
gravel and stones. If we would stand firm, be sound within, and bring
forth much fruit, we must strike our roots deep in Him who is the
anchorage of our souls, and the nourisher of all our being.

Hearken, beloved brethren, in this great work of the ministry, not to
the exhortation of the servant, but to the solemn command of the
Master, 'Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of
itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in
Me.' And let us, knowing our own weakness, take heed of the
self-confidence that answers, 'Though all should forsake Thee, yet will
not I,' and turn the vows which spring to our lips into the lowly
prayer, 'My soul cleaveth unto the dust, quicken Thou me according to
Thy word.' Then, thinking rather of His cleaving to us than of our
cleaving to Him, let us resolutely take as the motto of our lives the
grand words: 'I follow after, if that I may lay hold of that for which
I am also laid hold of by Christ Jesus!'



WHAT A GOOD MAN IS, AND HOW HE BECOMES SO

'He was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith.'--ACTS
xi, 24.

'A good man.' How easily that title is often gained! There is, perhaps,
no clearer proof that men are bad than the sort of people whom they
consent to call good.

It is a common observation that all words describing moral excellence
tend to deteriorate and to contract their meaning, just as bright metal
rusts by exposure, or coins become light and illegible by use. So it
comes to pass that any decently respectable man, especially if he has
an easy temper and a dash of frankness and good humour, is christened
with this title 'good.' The Bible, which is the verdict of the Judge,
is a great deal more chary in its use of the word. You remember how
Jesus Christ once rebuked a man for addressing Him so, not that He
repudiated the title, but that the giver had bestowed it lightly and
out of mere conventional politeness. The word is too noble to be
applied without very good reason.

But here we have a picture of Barnabas hung in the gallery of Scripture
portraits, and this is the description of it in the catalogue, 'He was
a good man.'

You observe that my text is in the nature of an analysis. It begins at
the outside, and works inwards. 'He was a good man.' Indeed;--how came
he to be so? He was 'full of the Holy Ghost.' Full of the Holy Ghost,
was he? How came he to be that? He was 'full of faith.' So the writer
digs down, as it were, till he gets to the bed-rock, on which all the
higher strata repose; and here is his account of the way in which it is
possible for human nature to win this resplendent title, and to be
adjudged of God as 'good,' 'full of the Holy Ghost and of faith.'

So these three steps in the exposition of the character and its secret
will afford a framework for what I have to say now.

I. Note, then, first, the sort of man whom the Judge will call 'good.'

Now, I suppose I need not spend much time in massing together, in brief
outline, the characteristics of Barnabas. He was a Levite, belonging to
the sacerdotal tribe, and perhaps having some slight connection with
the functions of the Temple ministry. He was not a resident in the Holy
Land, but a Hellenistic Jew, a native of Cyprus, who had come into
contact with heathenism in a way that had beaten many a prejudice out
of him. We first hear of him as taking a share in the self-sacrificing
burst of brotherly love, which, whether it was wise or not, was noble.
'He, having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the
Apostles' feet.' And, as would appear from a reference in one of Paul's
letters, he had to support himself afterwards by manual labour.

Then the next thing that we hear of him is that, when the young man who
had been a persecuting Pharisee, and the rising hope of the
anti-Christian party, all at once came forward with some story of a
vision which he had seen on the road to Damascus, and when the older
Christians were suspicious of a trick to worm himself into their
secrets by a pretended conversion, Barnabas, with the generosity of an
unsuspicious nature, which often sees deeper into men than do
suspicious eyes, was the first to cast the aegis of his recognition
round him. In like manner, when Christianity took an entirely
spontaneous and, to the Church at Jerusalem, rather unwelcome new
development and expansion, when some unofficial believers, without any
authority from headquarters, took upon themselves to stride clean
across the wall of separation, and to speak of Jesus Christ to blank
heathens, and found, to the not altogether gratified surprise of the
Christians at Jerusalem, 'that on the Gentiles also was poured out the
gift of the Holy Ghost,' it was Barnabas who was sent down to look into
this surprising new phenomenon, and we read that 'when he came and saw
the grace of God, he was glad.' The reason why he rejoiced over the
manifestation of the grace of God in such a strange form was because
'he was a good man,' and his goodness recognised goodness in others and
was glad at the work of the Lord. The new condition of affairs sent him
to look for Paul, and to put him to work. Then we find him set apart to
missionary service, and the leader of the first missionary band, in
which he was accompanied by his friend Saul. He acquiesced frankly, and
without a murmur, in the superiority of the junior, and yielded up
pre-eminence to him quite willingly. The story of that missionary
journey begins 'Barnabas and Saul,' but very soon it comes to be 'Paul
and Barnabas,' and it keeps that order throughout. He was an older man
than Paul, for when at Lystra the people thought that the gods had come
down in the likeness of men; Barnabas was Jupiter, and Paul the
quick-footed Mercury, messenger of the gods. He was in the work before
Paul was thought of, and it must have taken a great deal of goodness to
acquiesce in 'He must increase and I must decrease.' Then came the
quarrel between them, the foolish fondness for his runaway nephew John
Mark, whom he insisted on retaining in a place for which he was
conspicuously unfitted. And so he lost his friend, the confidence of
the Church, and his work. He sulked away into Cyprus; he had his
nephew, for whom he had given up all these other things. A little fault
may wreck a life, and the whiter the character the blacker the smallest
stain upon it.

We do not hear anything more of him. Apparently, from one casual
allusion, he continued to serve the Lord in evangelistic work, but the
sweet communion of the earlier days, and the confident friendship with
the Apostle, seem to have come to an end with that sharp contention. So
Barnabas drops out of the rank of Christian workers. And yet 'he was a
good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith.'

Now I have spent more time than I meant over this brief outline of the
sort of character here pointed at. Let me just gather into one or two
sentences what seem to me to be the lessons of it. The first is this,
that the tap-root of all goodness is reference to God and obedience to
Him. People tell us that morality is independent of religion. I admit
that many men are better than their creeds, and many men are worse than
their creeds; but I would also venture to assert that morality is the
garment of religion; the body of which religion is the soul; the
expression of religion in daily life. And although I am not going to
say that nothing which a man does without reference to God has any
comparative goodness in it, or that all the acts which are thus void of
reference to Him stand upon one level of evil, I do venture to say that
the noblest deed, which is not done in conscious obedience to the will
of God, lacks its supreme nobleness. The loftiest perfection of conduct
is obedience to God. And whatever excellence of self-sacrifice,
'whatsoever things lovely and of good report,' there may be, apart from
the presence of this perfect motive, those deeds are imperfect. They do
not correspond either to the whole obligations or to the whole
possibilities of man, and, therefore, they are beneath the level of the
highest good. Good is measured by reference to God.

Then, further, let me remark that one broad feature which characterises
the truest goodness is the suppression of self. That is only another
way of saying the same thing as I have been saying. It is illustrated
for us all through this story of Barnabas. Whosoever can say, 'I think
not of myself, but of others; of the cause; of the help I can give to
men; and I lay not goods only, nor prejudices only, nor the pride of
position and the supremacy of place only at the feet of God, but I lay
down my whole self; and I desire that self may be crucified, that God
may live in me,'--he, and only he, has reached the height of goodness.
Goodness requires the suppression of self.

Further, note that the gentler traits of character are pre-eminent in
Christian goodness. There is nothing about this man heroic or
exceptional. His virtues are all of the meek and gracious sort--those
which we relegate sometimes to an inferior place in our estimates.
These things make but a poor show by the side of some of the tawdry
splendours of what the vulgar world calls virtues. It requires an
educated eye to see the harmony of the sober colouring of some great
painter. A child, a clown, a vulgar person--and there are such in all
ranks--will prefer flaring reds and blues and yellows heaped together
in staring contrast. A thrush or a blackbird is but a soberly clad
creature by the side of macaws and paroquets; but the one has a song
and the others have only a screech. The gentle virtues are the truly
Christian virtues--patience and meekness and long-suffering and
sympathy and readiness to efface oneself for the sake of God and of men.

So there is a bit of comfort for us commonplace, humdrum people, to
whom God has only given one or two talents, and who can never expect to
make a figure before men. We may be little violets below a stone, if we
cannot be flaunting hollyhocks and tiger lilies. We may have the beauty
of goodness in us after Christ's example, and that is better than to be
great.

Barnabas was no genius. He was not even a genius in goodness; he did
not strike out anything original and out of the way. He seems to have
been a commonplace kind of man enough; but 'he was a good man.' And the
weakest and the humblest of us may hope to have the same thing said of
us, if we will.

And then, note further, that true goodness, thank God! does not exclude
the possibility of falling and sinning. There is a black spot in this
man's history; and there are black spots in the histories of all
saints. Thank God! the Bible is, as some people would say, almost
brutally frank in telling us about the imperfections of the best. Very
often imperfections are the exaggerations of characteristic goodnesses,
and warn us to take care that we do not push, as Barnabas did, our
facility to the point of criminal complicity with weaknesses; and that
we do not indulge, instead of strenuously rebuking when need is. Never
let our gentleness fall away, like a badly made jelly, into a trembling
heap, and never let our strength gather itself together into a
repulsive attitude, but guard against the exaggeration of virtue into
vice.

Remember that whilst there may be good men who sin, there is One entire
and flawless, in whom all types of excellence do meet, and who alone of
humanity can front the verdict of the world, and has fronted it now for
nineteen centuries, with the question upon His lips, which none have
dared to answer, 'Which of you convinceth Me of sin?'

II. Secondly, notice the divine Helper who makes men good.

Luke, if he be the writer of the Acts, goes on with his analysis. He
has done with the first fold, the outer garment, as it were; he strips
it off and shows us the next fold, 'full of the Holy Ghost.'

A divine Helper, not merely a divine influence, but a divine Person,
who not only helps men from without, but so enters into a man as that
the man's whole nature is saturated with Him--that is strange language.
Mystical and unreal I dare say some of you may think it, but let us
consider whether some such divine Helper is not plainly pointed as
necessary, by the experience of every man that ever honestly tried to
make himself good.

I have no doubt that I am speaking to many persons who, more or less
constantly and courageously and earnestly, have laboured at the task of
self-improvement and self-culture. I venture to think that, if their
standard of what they wish to attain is high, their confession of what
they have attained will be very low. Ah, brother! if we think of what
it is that we need to make us good--viz. the strengthening of these
weak wills of ours, which we cannot strengthen but to a very limited
degree by any tonics that we can apply, or any supports with which we
may bind them round; if we consider the resistance which ourselves, our
passions, our tastes, our habits, our occupations offer, and the
resistance which the world around us, friends, companions, and all the
aggregate, dread and formidable, of material things present to our
becoming, in any lofty and comprehensive sense of the term, good men
and women, I think we shall be ready to listen, as to a true Gospel, to
the message that says, 'You do not need to do it by yourself.' You have
got the wolf by the ears, perhaps, for a moment, but there is
tremendous strength in the brute, and your hands and wrists will ache
in holding him presently, and what will happen then? You do not need to
try it yourself. There is a divine Helper standing at your sides and
waiting to strengthen you, and that Helper does not work from outside;
He will pass within, and dwell in your hearts and mould and strengthen
your wills to what is good, and suppress your inclinations to evil,
and, by His inward presence, teach 'your hands to war and your fingers
to fight.'

Surely, surely, the experience of the world from the beginning,
confirmed by the consciousness and conscience of every one of us, tells
us that of ourselves we are impotent, and that the good that is within
the reach of our unaided efforts is poor and fragmentary and
superficial indeed.

The great promise of the Gospel is precisely this promise. We terribly
limit and misunderstand what we call the Gospel if we give such
exclusive predominance to one part of it, as some of us are accustomed
to do. Thank God I the first word that Jesus Christ says to any soul
is, 'Thy sins be forgiven thee.' But that first word has a second that
follows it, 'Arise! and walk!' and it is for the sake of the second
that the first is spoken. The gift of pardon, the consciousness of
acceptance, the fact of reconciliation with God, the closing of the
doors of the place of retribution, the quieting of the stings of
accusing conscience, all these are but meant to be introductory to that
which Jesus Christ Himself, in the Gospel of John, emphatically calls
more than once '_the_ gift of God,' which He symbolised by 'living
water,' which whosoever drank should never thirst, and which whosoever
possessed would give it forth in living streams of holy life and noble
deeds. The promise of the Gospel is the promise of new life, derived
from Christ and maintained in us by the indwelling Spirit, which will
come like fresh reinforcements to an all but beaten army in some
hard-fought field, which will stand like a stay behind a man, to us
almost blown over by the gusts of temptation, which will strengthen
what is weak, raise what is low, illumine what is dark, and will make
us who are evil good with a goodness given by God through His Son.

Surely there is nothing more congruous with that divine character than
that He who Himself is good, and good from Himself, should rejoice in
making us, His poor children, into His own likeness. Surely He would
not be good unless He delighted to make us good. Surely it is something
very like presumption in men to assert that the direct communication of
the Spirit of God with the spirits whom God has made is an
impossibility. Surely it is flying in the face of Scripture teaching to
deny that such communication is a promise. Surely it is a flagrant
contradiction of the depths of Christian experience to falter in the
belief that it is a very solid reality.

'Full of the Holy Ghost,' as a vessel might be to its brim of golden
wine; Christian men and women! does that describe you? Full? A
dribbling drop or two in the bottom of the jar. Whose fault is it? Why,
with that rushing mighty wind to fill our sails if we like, should we
be lying in the sickly calms of the tropics, with the pitch oozing out
of the seams, and the idle canvas flapping against the mast? Why, with
those tongues of fire hovering over our heads, should we be cowering
over grey ashes in which there lives a little spark? Why, with that
great rushing tide of the river of the water of life, should we be like
the dry watercourses of the desert, with bleached and white stones
baking where the stream should be running? 'O! Thou that art named the
House of Israel, is the Spirit of the Lord straitened? Are these His
doings?'

III. And so, lastly, we are shown how that divine Helper comes to men.

'Full of the Holy Ghost, and of faith.' There is no goodness without
the impulse and indwelling of the divine Spirit, and there is no divine
Spirit to dwell in a man's heart without that man's trusting in Jesus
Christ. The condition of receiving the gift that makes us good is
simply and solely that we should put our trust in Jesus Christ the
Giver. That opens the door, and the divine Spirit enters.

True! there are convincing operations which He effects upon the world;
but these are not in question here. These come prior to, and
independent of, faith. But the work of the Spirit of God, present
within us to heal and hallow us, has as condition our trust in Jesus
Christ, the Great Healer. If you open a chink, the water will come in.
If you trust in Jesus Christ, He will give you the new life of His
Spirit, which will make you free from the law of sin and death. That
divine Spirit 'which they that believe in Him should receive' delights
to enter into every heart where His presence is desired. Faith is
desire; and desires rooted in faith cannot be in vain. Faith is
expectation; and expectations based upon the divine promise can never
be disappointed. Faith is dependence, and dependence that reckons upon
God, and upon God's gift of His Spirit, will surely be recompensed.

The measure in which we possess the power that makes us good depends
altogether upon ourselves. 'Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it.'
You may have as much of God as you want, and as little as you will. The
measure of your faith will determine at once the measure of your
goodness, and of your possession of the Spirit that makes good. Just as
when the prophet miraculously increased the oil in the cruse, the
golden stream flowed as long as they brought vessels, and stayed when
there were no more, so as long as we open our hearts for the reception,
the gift will not be withheld, but God will not let it run like water
spilled upon the ground that cannot be gathered up. If we will desire,
if we will expect, if we will reckon on, if we will look to, Jesus
Christ, and, beside all this, if we will honestly use the power that we
possess, our capacity will grow, and the gift will grow, and our
holiness and purity will grow with it.

Some of you have been trying more or less continuously, all your lives,
to mend your own characters and improve yourselves. Brethren, there is
a better way than that. A modern poet says--

  'Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control,
  These three alone lift life to sovereign power.'

Taken by itself that is pure heathenism. Self cannot improve self. Put
self into God's keeping, and say, 'I cannot guard, keep, purge, hallow
mine own self. Lord, do Thou do it for me!' It is no use to try to
build a tower whose top shall reach to heaven. A ladder has been let
down on which we may pass upwards, and by which God's angels of grace
and beauty will come down to dwell in our hearts. If the Judge is to
say of each of us, 'He was a good man,' He must also be able to say,
'He was full of the Holy Ghost and of faith.'



A NICKNAME ACCEPTED

'The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch'--ACTS xi. 26.

Nations and parties, both political and religious, very often call
themselves by one name, and are known to the outside world by another.
These outside names are generally given in contempt; and yet they
sometimes manage to hit the very centre of the characteristics of the
people on whom they are bestowed, and so by degrees get to be adopted
by them, and worn as an honour.

So it has been with the name 'Christian.' It was given at the first by
the inhabitants of the Syrian city of Antioch, to a new sort of people
that had sprung up amongst them, and whom they could not quite make
out. They would not fit into any of their categories, and so they had
to invent a new name for them. It is never used in the New Testament by
Christians about themselves. It occurs here in this text; it occurs in
Agrippa's half-contemptuous exclamation: 'You seem to think it is a
very small matter to make me--me, a king!--a Christian, one of those
despised people!' And it occurs once more, where the Apostle Peter is
specifying the charges brought against them: 'If any man suffer as a
Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this
behalf (1 Peter iv. 16). That sounds like the beginning of the process
which has gone on ever since, by which the nickname, flung by the
sarcastic men of Antioch, has been turned into the designation by
which, all over the world, the followers of Jesus Christ have been
proud to call themselves.

Now in this text there are the outside name by which the world calls
the followers of Jesus Christ, and one of the many interior names by
which the Church called itself. I have thought it might be profitable
now to put all the New Testament names for Christ's followers together,
and think about them.

I. So, to begin with, we deal with this name given by the world to the
Church, which the Church has adopted.

Observe the circumstances under which it was given. A handful of
large-hearted, brave men, anonymous fugitives belonging to the little
Church in Jerusalem, had come down to Antioch; and there, without
premeditation, without authority, almost without
consciousness--certainly without knowing what a great thing they were
doing--they took, all at once, as if it were the most natural thing in
the world, a great step by preaching the Gospel to pure heathen Greeks;
and so began the process by which a small Jewish sect was transformed
into a world-wide church. The success of their work in Antioch, amongst
the pure heathen population, has for its crowning attestation this,
that it compelled the curiosity-hunting, pleasure-loving, sarcastic
Antiocheans to find out a new name for this new thing; to write out a
new label for the new bottles into which the new wine was being put.
Clearly the name shows that the Church was beginning to attract the
attention of outsiders.

Clearly it shows, too, that there was a novel element in the Church.
The earlier disciples had been all Jews, and could be lumped together
along with their countrymen, and come under the same category. But here
was something that could not be called either Jew or Greek, because it
embraced both. The new name is the first witness to the cosmopolitan
character of the primitive Church. Then clearly, too, the name
indicates that in a certain dim, confused way, even these superficial
observers had got hold of the right notion of what it was that _did_
bind these people together. They called them 'Christians'--Christ's
men, Christ's followers. But it was only a very dim refraction of the
truth that had got to them; they had no notion that 'Christ' was not a
proper name, but the designation of an office; and they had no notion
that there was anything peculiar or strange in the bond which united
its adherents to Christ. Hence they called His followers 'Christians,'
just as they would have called Herod's followers 'Herodians,' in the
political world, or Aristotle's followers 'Aristotelians' in the
philosophical world. Still, in their groping way, they bad put their
finger on the fact that the one power that held this heterogeneous mass
together, the one bond that bound up 'Jew and Gentile, barbarian,
Scythian, bond and free' into one vital unity, was a personal relation
to a living Person. And so they said--not understanding the whole
significance of it, but having got hold of the right end of the
clue--they said, 'They are Christians!' 'Christ's people,' 'the
followers of this Christ.'

And their very blunder was a felicity. If they had called them
'Jesuits' that would have meant the followers of the mere man. They did
not know how much deeper they had gone when they said, not followers of
Jesus, but 'followers of Christ'; for it is not Jesus the Man, but
Jesus Christ, the Man with His office, that makes the centre and the
bond of the Christian Church.

These, then, are the facts, and the fair inferences from them. A plain
lesson here lies on the surface. The Church--that is to say, the men
and women who make its members--should draw to itself the notice of the
outside world. I do not mean by advertising, and ostentation, and
sounding trumpets, and singularities, and affectations. None of all
these are needed. If you are live Christians it will be plain enough to
outsiders. It is a poor comment on your consistency, if, being Christ's
followers, you can go through life unrecognised even by 'them that are
without.' What shall we say of leaven which does _not_ leaven, or of
light which does _not_ shine, or of salt which does _not_ repel
corruption? It is a poor affair if, being professed followers of Jesus
Christ, you do not impress the world with the thought that 'here is a
man who does not come under any of our categories, and who needs a new
entry to describe _him_.' The world ought to have the same impression
about you which Haman had about the Jews--'Their laws are diverse from
all people.'

Christian professors, are the world's names for each other enough to
describe you by, or do you need another name to be coined for you in
order to express the manifest characteristics that you display? The
Church that does not _provoke_ the attention--I use the word in its
etymological, not its offensive sense--the Church that does not call
upon itself the attention and interest of outsiders, is not a Church as
Jesus Christ meant it to be, and it is not a Church that is worth
keeping alive; and the sooner it has decent burial the better for
itself and for the world!

There is another thing here, viz.: this name suggests that the clear
impression made by our conduct and character, as well as by our words,
should be that we belong to Jesus Christ. The eye of an outside
observer may be unable to penetrate the secret of the deep sweet tie
uniting us to Jesus, but there should be no possibility of the most
superficial and hasty glance overlooking the fact that we _are_ His. He
should manifestly be the centre and the guide, the impulse and the
pattern, the strength and the reward, of our whole lives. We are
Christians. That should be plain for all folks to see, whether we speak
or be silent. Brethren, is it so with you? Does your life need no
commentary of your words in order that men should know what is the
hidden spring that moves all its wheels; what is the inward spirit that
co-ordinates all its motions into harmony and beauty? Is it true that
like 'the ointment of the right hand which bewrayeth itself' your
allegiance to Jesus Christ, and the overmastering and supreme authority
which He exercises upon you, and upon your life, 'cannot be hid'? Do
you think that, without your words, if you, living in the way you do,
were put down into the middle of Pekin, as these handful of people were
put down into the middle of the heathen city of Antioch, the wits of
the Chinese metropolis would have to invent a name for you, as the
clever men of Antioch did for these people; and do you think that if
they had to invent a name, the name that would naturally come to their
lips, looking at you, would be 'Christians,' 'Christ's men'? If it
would not, there is something wrong.

The last word that I say about this first part of my text is this. It
is a very sad thing, but it is one that is always occurring, that the
world's inadequate notions of what makes a follower of Jesus Christ get
accepted by the Church. Why was it that the name 'Christian' ran all
over Christendom in the course of a century and a half? I believe very
largely because it was a conveniently vague name; because it did not
describe the deepest and sacredest of the bonds that unite us to Jesus
Christ. Many a man is quite willing to say, 'I am a Christian,' who
would hesitate a long time before he said, 'I am a believer,' 'I am a
disciple.' The vagueness of the name, the fact that it erred by defect
in not touching the central, deepest relation between man and Jesus
Christ, made it very appropriate to the declining spirituality and
increasing formalism of the Christian Church in the post-Apostolic age.
It is a sad thing when the Church drops its standard down to the
world's notion of what It ought to be, and adopts the world's name for
itself and its converts.

II. I turn now to set side by side with this vague, general, outside
name the more specific and _interior_ names--if I may so call them--by
which Christ's followers at first knew themselves.

The world said, 'You are Christ's men'; and the names which were
self-imposed and are now to be considered might be taken as being the
Church's explanation of what the world was fumbling at when it so
called them. There are four of them: of course, I can only just touch
on them.

(_a_) The first is in this verse-'_disciples_.' The others are
_believers_, _saints_, _brethren_. These four are the Church's own
christening of itself; its explanation and expansion, its deepening and
heightening, of the vague name given by the world.

As to the first, _disciples_, any concordance will show that the name
was employed almost exclusively during the time of Christ's life upon
earth. It is the only name for Christ's followers in the Gospels; it
occurs also, mingled with others, in the Acts of the Apostles, and it
never occurs thereafter.

The name 'disciple,' then, carries us back to the historical beginning
of the whole matter, when Jesus was looked upon as a Rabbi having
followers called disciples; just as were John the Baptist and his
followers, Gamaliel and his school, or Socrates and his. It sets forth
Christ as being the Teacher, and His followers as being His adherents,
His scholars, who learned at His feet.

Now that is always true. _We_ are Christ's scholars quite as much as
were the men who heard and saw with their eyes and handled with their
hands, of the Word of Life. Not by words only, but by gracious deeds
and fair, spotless life, He taught them and us and all men to the end
of time, our highest knowledge of God of whom He is the final
revelation, our best knowledge of what men should and shall be by His
perfect life in which is contained all morality, our only knowledge of
that future in that He has died and is risen and lives to help and
still to teach. He teaches us still by the record of His life, and by
the living influence of that Spirit whom He sends forth to guide us
into all truth. He is the Teacher, the only Teacher, the Teacher for
all men, the Teacher of all truth, the Teacher for evermore. He speaks
from Heaven. Let us give heed to His voice.

But that Name is not enough to tell all that He is to us, or we to Him,
and so after He had passed from earth it unconsciously and gradually
dropped out of use by the disciples, as they felt a deepened bond
uniting them to Him who was not only their Teacher of the Truth which
was Himself, but was their Sacrifice and Advocate with the Father. And
for all who hold the, as I believe, essentially imperfect conception of
Jesus Christ as being mainly a Teacher, either by word or by pattern;
whether it be put into the old form or into the modern form of
regarding Him as the Ideal and Perfect Man, it seems to me a fact well
worthy of consideration, that the name of disciple and the relation
expressed by it were speedily felt by the Christian Church to be
inadequate as a representation of the bond that knit them to Him. He is
our Teacher, we His scholars. He is more than that, and a more sacred
bond unites us to Him. As our Master we owe Him absolute submission.
When He speaks, we have to accept His dictum. What He says is truth,
pure and entire. His utterance is the last word upon any subject that
He touches, it is the ultimate appeal, and the Judge that ends the
strife. We owe Him submission, an open eye for all new truth, constant
docility, as conscious of our own imperfections, and a confident
expectation that He will bless us continuously with high and as yet
unknown truths that come from His inexhaustible stores of wisdom and
knowledge.

(_b_) Teacher and scholars move in a region which, though it be
important, is not the central one. And the word that was needed next to
express what the early Church felt Christ was to them, and they to Him,
lifts us into a higher atmosphere altogether,--'_believers_,' they who
are exercising not merely intellectual submission to the dicta of the
Teacher, but who are exercising living trust in the person of the
Redeemer. The belief which is faith is altogether a higher thing than
its first stage, which is the belief of the understanding. There is in
it the moral element of trust. We believe a truth, we trust a Person;
and the trust which we are to exercise in Jesus Christ, and which knits
us to Him, is our trust in Him, not in any character that we may choose
to ascribe to Him, but in the character in which He is revealed in the
New Testament--Redeemer, Saviour, Manifest God; and therefore, the
Infinite Friend and Helper of our souls.

That trust, my brethren, is the one bond that binds, men to God, and
the one thing that makes us Christ's men. Apart from it, we may be very
near Him, but we are not joined to Him. By it, and by it alone, the
union is completed, and His power and His grace flow into our spirits.
Are you, not merely a 'Christian,' in the world's notion, being bound
in some vague way to Jesus Christ, but are you a Christian in the sense
of trusting your soul's salvation to Him?

(_c_) Then, still further, there is another name--'_saints_.' It has
suffered perhaps more at the hands both of the world and of the Church
than any other. It has been taken by the latter and restricted to the
dead, and further restricted to those who excel, according to the
fantastic, ascetic standard of mediaeval Christianity. It has suffered
from the world in that it has been used with a certain bitter emphasis
of resentment at the claim of superior purity supposed to be implied in
it, and so has come to mean on the world's lips one who pretends to be
better than other people and whose actions contradict his claim. But
the name belongs to all Christ's followers. It makes no claim to
special purity, for the central idea of the word 'saint' is not purity.
Holiness, which is the English for the Latinised 'sanctity,' holiness
which is attributed in the Old Testament to God first, to men only
secondarily, does not primarily mean _purity_, but _separation_. God is
holy, inasmuch as by that whole majestic character of His, He is lifted
above all bounds of creatural limitations, as well as above man's sin.
A sacrifice, the Sabbath, a city, a priest's garment, a mitre--all
these things are 'holy,' not when they are pure, but when they are
devoted to Him. And men are holy, not because they are clean, but
because by free self-surrender they have consecrated themselves to Him.

Holiness is consecration, that is to say, holiness is giving myself up
to Him to do what He will with. 'I am holy' is not the declaration of
my estimate 'I am pure,' but the declaration of the fact 'I am thine, O
Lord.' So the New Testament idea of saint has in it these
elements--consecration, consecration resting on faith in Christ, and
consecration leading to separation from the world and its sin. And that
glad yielding of oneself to God, as wooed by His mercies, and thereby
drawn away from communion with our evil surroundings and from
submission to our evil selves, must be a part of the experience of
every true Christian. All His people are saints, not as being pure, but
as being given up to Him, in union with whom alone will the cleansing
powers flow into their lives and clothe them with 'the righteousness of
saints.' Have you thus consecrated yourself to God?

(_d_) The last name is '_brethren_,'--a name which has been much
maltreated both by the insincerity of the Church, and by the sarcasm of
the world. It has been an unreal appellation which has meant nothing
and been meant to mean nothing, so that the world has said that our
'brethren' signified a good deal less than their 'brothers.' ''Tis
true, 'tis pity; pity 'tis, 'tis true.'

But what I ask you to notice is that the main thing about that name
'brethren' is not the relation of the brethren to one another, but
their common relation to their Father.

When we call ourselves as Christian people 'brethren,' we mean first
this: that we are the possessors of a supernatural life, which has come
from one Father, and which has set us in altogether new relations to
one another, and to the world round about us. Do you believe that if
you have any of that new life which comes through faith in Jesus
Christ, then you are the brethren of all those that possess the same?

As society becomes more complicated, as Christian people grow unlike
each other in education, in social position, in occupation, in their
general outlook into the world, it is more and more difficult to feel
what is nevertheless true: that any two Christian people, however
unlike each other, are nearer each other in the very roots of their
nature, than a Christian and a non-Christian, however like each other.
It is difficult to feel that, and it is getting more and more
difficult, but for all that it is a fact.

And now I wish to ask you, Christian men and women, whether you feel
more at home with people who love Jesus Christ--as you say that you
love Him--or whether you like better to be with people who do not?

There are some of you who choose your intimate associates, whom you ask
to your homes and introduce to your children as desirable companions,
with no reference at all to their religious character. The duties of
your position, of course, oblige each of you to be much among people
who do not share your faith, and it is cowardly and wrong to shrink
from the necessity. But for Christian people to make choice of heart
friends, or close intimates, among those who have no sympathy with
their professed belief about, and love to, Jesus Christ, does not say
much for the depth and reality of their religion. A man is known by the
company he keeps, and if your friends are picked out for other reasons,
and their religion is no part of their attraction, it is not an unfair
conclusion that there are other things for which you care more than you
do for faith in Jesus Christ and love to Him. If you deeply feel the
bond that knits you to Christ, and really live near to Him, you will be
near to your brethren. You will feel that 'blood is thicker than
water,' and however like you may be to irreligious people in many
things, you will feel that the deepest bond of all knits you to the
poorest, the most ignorant, the most unlike you in social position; ay!
and the most unlike you in theological opinion, who love the Lord Jesus
Christ in sincerity.

Now that is the sum of the whole matter. And my last word to you is
this: Do not you be contented with the world's vague notions of what
makes Christ's man. I do not ask you if you are Christians; plenty of
you would say: 'Oh yes! of course! Is not this a Christian country? Was
not I christened when I was a child? Are we not all members of the
Church of England by virtue of our birth? Yes! of course I am!'

I do not ask you that; _I_ do not ask you anything; but I pray you to
ask yourselves these four questions: Am I Christ's scholar? Am I
believing on Him? Am I consecrated to Him? Am I the possessor of a new
life from Him? And never give yourselves rest until you can say humbly
and yet confidently, 'Yes! thank God, I am!'



THE MARTYRDOM OF JAMES

'Herod killed James the brother of John with the sword.'--ACTS xii. 2.

One might have expected more than a clause to be spared to tell the
death of a chief man and the first martyr amongst the Apostles. James,
as we know, was one of the group of the Apostles who were in especially
close connection with Jesus Christ. He is associated in the Gospels
with Peter and his brother John, and is always named before John, as if
he were the more important of the two, by reason of age or of other
circumstances unknown to us. But yet we know next to nothing about him.
In the Acts of the Apostles he is a mere lay figure; his name is only
mentioned in the catalogue at the beginning, and here again in the
brief notice of his death. The reticent and merely incidental character
of the notice of his martyrdom is sufficiently remarkable. I think the
lessons of the fact, and of the, I was going to say, slight way in
which the writer of this book refers to it, may perhaps be most
pointedly brought out if we take four contrasts--James and Stephen,
James and Peter, James and John, James and James. Now, if we take these
four I think we shall learn something.

I. First, then, James and Stephen.

Look at the different scale on which the incidents of the deaths of
these two are told: the martyrdom of the one is beaten out over
chapters, the martyrdom of the other is crammed into a corner of a
sentence. And yet, of the two men, the one who is the less noticed
filled the larger place officially, and the other was only a simple
deacon and preacher of the Word. The fact that Stephen was the first
Christian to follow his Lord in martyrdom is not sufficient to account
for the extraordinary difference. The difference is to be sought for in
another direction altogether. The Bible cares so little about the
people whom it names because its true theme is the works of God, and
not of man; and the reason why the 'Acts of the Apostles' kills off one
of the chief Apostles in this fashion is simply that, as the writer
tells us, his theme is 'all that _Jesus_' continued 'to do and to teach
after He was taken up.' Since it is Christ who is the true actor, it
matters uncommonly little what becomes of James or of the other ten.
This book is _not_ the 'Acts of the Apostles,' but it is the Acts of
Jesus Christ.

I might suggest, too, in like manner, that there is another contrast
which I have not included in my four, between the scale on which the
death of Jesus Christ is told by Luke, and that on which this death is
narrated. What is the reason why so disproportionate a space of the
Gospel is concerned with the last two days of our Lord's life on earth?
What is the reason why years are leaped over in silence and moments are
spread out in detail, but that the death of a man is only a death, but
the death of the Christ is the life of the world? It is little needful
that we should have poetical, emotional, picturesque descriptions of
martyrdoms and the like in a book which is altogether devoted to
tracking the footsteps of Christ in history; and which regards men as
nothing more than the successive instruments of His purpose, and the
depositories of His grace.

Another lesson which we may draw from the reticence in the case of the
Apostle, and the expansiveness in the case of the protomartyr, is that
of a wise indifference to the utterly insignificant accident of
posthumous memory or oblivion of us and our deeds and sufferings. James
sleeps none the less sweetly in his grave, or, rather, wakes none the
less triumphantly in heaven, because his life and death are both so
scantily narrated. If we 'self-infold the large results' of faithful
service, we need not trouble ourselves about its record on earth.

But another lesson which may be learned from this cursory notice of the
Apostle's martyrdom is--how small a thing death really is! Looked at
from beside the Lord of life and death, which is the point of view of
the author of this narrative, 'great death' dwindles to a very little
thing. We need to revise our notions if we would understand how trivial
it really is. To us it frowns like a black cliff blocking the upper end
of our valley, but there is a path round its base, and though the
throat of the pass be narrow, it has room for us to get through and up
to the sunny uplands beyond. From a mountain top the country below
seems level plain, and what looked like an impassable precipice has
dwindled to be indistinguishable. The triviality of death, to those who
look upon it from the heights of eternity, is well represented by these
brief words which tell of the first breach thereby in the circle of the
Apostles.

II. There is another contrast, James and Peter.

Now this chapter tells of two things: the death of one of that pair of
friends; the miracle that was wrought for the deliverance of the other
from death. Why could not the parts have been exchanged, or why could
not the miraculous hand that was stretched out to save the one
fisherman of Bethsaida have been put forth to save the other? Why
should James be slain, and Peter miraculously delivered? A question
easily asked; a question not to be answered by us. We may say that the
one was more useful for the development of the Church than the other.
But we have all seen lives that, to our poor vision, seemed to be all
but indispensable, ruthlessly swept away, and lives that seemed to be,
and were, perfectly profitless, prolonged to extreme old age. We may
say that maturity of character, development of Christian graces, made
the man ready for glory. But we have all seen some struck down when
anything but ready; and others left for the blessing of mankind many,
many a day after they were far fitter for heaven than thousands that,
we hope, have gone there.

So all these little explanations do not go down to the bottom of the
matter, and we are obliged just to leave the whole question in the
loving Hands that hold the keys of life and death for us all. Only we
may be sure of this, that James was as dear to Christ as Peter was, and
that there was no greater love shown in sending the angel that
delivered the one out of the 'hand of Herod and from all the
expectation of the people of the Jews,' than was shown in sending the
angel that stood behind the headsman and directed the stroke of the
fatal sword on the neck of the other.

The one was as dear to the Christ as the other--ay, and the one was as
surely, and more blessedly, delivered 'from the mouth of the lion' as
the other was, though the one seemed to be dragged from his teeth, and
the other seemed to be crushed by his powerful jaws. James escaped from
Herod when Herod slew him but could not make him unfaithful to his
Master, and his deliverance was not less complete than the deliverance
of his friend.

But let us remember, also, that if thus, to two equally beloved, there
were dealt out these two different fates, it must be because that evil,
which, as I said, is not so great as it looks, is also not so bitter as
it tastes, and there is no real evil, for the loving heart, in the
stroke that breaks its bands and knits it to Jesus Christ. If we are
Christians, the deepest desire of our souls is fuller communion with
our Lord. We realise that, in some stunted and scanty measure, by life;
but oh! is it not strange that we should shrink from that change which
will enable us to realise it fully and eternally? The contrast of James
and Peter may teach us the equal love that presides over the life of
the living and the death of the dying.

III. Another contrast is that of James and John.

The close union, and subsequent separation by this martyrdom, of that
pair of brothers is striking and pathetic. They seem to have together
pursued their humble trade of fishermen in the little fishing village
of Bethsaida, apparently as working partners with their father Zebedee.
They were not divided by discipleship, as was the sad fate of many a
brother delivered by a brother to death. If we may attach any weight to
the suggestion that the expression in John's narrative, 'He first
findeth _his own_ brother, Simon,' implies that 'the other disciple'
did the same by _his_ brother, James was brought to Jesus by John, and
new tenderness and strength thereby given to their affection. They were
closely associated in their Apostleship, and were together the
companions of Jesus in the chief incidents of His life. They were
afterwards united in the leadership of the Church. By death they were
separated very far: the one the first of all the Apostles to 'become a
prey to Satan's rage,' the other 'lingering out his fellows all,' and
'dying in bloodless age,' living to be a hundred years old or more, and
looking back through all the long parting to the brother who had joined
with him in the wish that even Messiah's Kingdom should not part them,
and yet had been parted so soon and parted so long.

Ah! may we not learn the lesson that we should recognise the mercy and
wisdom of the ministry of Death the separator, and should tread with
patience the lonely road, do calmly the day's work, and tarry till He
comes, though those that stood beside us be gone? We may look forward
with the assurance that 'God keeps a niche in heaven to hide our
idols'; and 'albeit He breaks them to our face,' yet shall we find them
again, like Memnon's statue, vocal in the rising sunshine of the
heavens.

The brothers, so closely knit, so soon parted, so long separated, were
at last reunited. Even to us here, with the chronology of earth still
ours, the few years between the early martyrdom of James and the death
of the centenarian John seem but a span. The lapse of the centuries
that have rolled away since then makes the difference of the dates of
the two deaths seem very small, even to us. What a mere nothing it will
have looked to them, joined together once more before God!

IV. Lastly, James and James. In his hot youth, when he deserved the
name of a son of thunder--so energetic, boisterous, I suppose,
destructive perhaps, he was--he and his brother, and their foolish
mother, whose name is kindly not told us, go to Christ and say, 'Grant
that we may sit, the one on Thy right hand and the other on Thy left,
in Thy kingdom.' That was what he wished and hoped for, and what he got
was years of service, and a taste of persecution, and finally the swish
of the headsman's sword.

And so our dreams get disappointed, and their disappointment is often
the road to their fulfilment, for Jesus Christ was answering James'
prayer, 'Grant that we may sit on Thy right hand in Thy kingdom,' when
He called him to Himself, by the brief and bloody passage of martyrdom.
James said, when he did not know what he meant, and the vow was noble
though it was ignorant, 'we can drink of the cup that Thou drinkest.'
And all honour to him! he stuck to his vow; and when the cup was
proffered to him he manfully, and like a Christian, took it and drank
it to the dregs; and, I suppose, went silently to his grave. But the
change between his ardent anticipations and his calm resignation, and
between his foolish dream and the stern reality, may well teach us
that, whether our wishes be fulfilled or disappointed, they all need to
be purified, and that the disappointment of them on earth is often
God's way of fulfilling them for us in higher fashion than we dreamed
or asked.

So, brethren, let us leave for ourselves, and for all dear ones, that
question of living or dying, to His decision. Only let us be sure that
whether our lives be long like John's, or short like James', 'living or
dying we are the Lord's.' And then, whatever be the length of life or
the manner of death, both will bring us the fulfilment of our highest
wishes, and will lead us to His side at whose right hand all those
shall sit who have loved Him here, and, though long parted, shall be
reunited in common enjoyment of the pleasures for evermore which bloom
unfading there. 'And so shall we ever be with the Lord.'



PETER'S DELIVERANCE FROM PRISON

'Peter therefore was kept in the prison: but prayer was made earnestly
of the Church unto God for him.'--ACTS xii. 5 (R.V.)

The narrative of Peter's miraculous deliverance from prison is full of
little vivid touches which can only have come from himself. The whole
tone of it reminds us of the Gospel according to St. Mark, which is in
like manner stamped with peculiar minuteness and abundance of detail.
One remembers that at a late period in the life of the Apostle Paul,
Mark and Luke were together with him; and no doubt in those days in
Rome, Mark, who had been Peter's special companion and is called by one
of the old Christian writers his 'interpreter,' was busy in telling
Luke the details about Peter which appear in the first part of this
Book of the Acts.

The whole story seems to me to be full of instruction as well as of
picturesque detail; and I desire to bring out the various lessons which
appear to me to lie in it.

I. The first of them is this: the strength of the helpless.

Look at that eloquent 'but' in the verse that I have taken as a
starting-point: 'Peter therefore was kept in prison, _but_ prayer was
made earnestly of the Church unto God for him.' There is another
similarly eloquent 'but' at the end of the chapter:

'Herod ... was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost, _but_ the Word of
God grew and multiplied.' Here you get, on the one hand, all the
pompous and elaborate preparations--'four quaternions of
soldiers'--four times four is sixteen--sixteen soldiers, two chains,
three gates with guards at each of them, Herod's grim determination,
the people's malicious expectation of having an execution as a pleasant
sensation with which to wind up the Passover Feast. And what had the
handful of Christian people? Well, they had prayer; and they had Jesus
Christ. That was all, and that is more than enough. How ridiculous all
the preparation looks when you let the light of that great 'but' in
upon it! Prayer, earnest prayer, 'was made of the Church unto God for
him.' And evidently, from the place in which that fact is stated, it is
intended that we should say to ourselves that it was _because_ prayer
was made for him that what came to pass did come to pass. It is not
jerked out as an unconnected incident; it is set in a logical sequence.
'Prayer was made earnestly of the Church unto God for him'--and so
when Herod would have brought him forth, behold, the angel of the Lord
came, and the light shined into the prison. It is the same sequence of
thought that occurs in that grand theophany in the eighteenth Psalm,
'My cry entered into His ears; then the earth shook and trembled'; and
there came all the magnificence of the thunderstorm and the earthquake
and the divine manifestation; and this was the purpose of it all--'He
sent from above, He took me, He drew me out of many waters.' The whole
energy of the divine nature is set in motion and comes swooping down
from highest heaven to the trembling earth. And of that fact the one
end is one poor man's cry, and the other end is his deliverance. The
moving spring of the divine manifestation was an individual's prayer;
the aim of it was the individual's deliverance. A little water is put
into a hydraulic ram at the right place, and the outcome is the lifting
of tons. So the helpless men who could only pray are stronger than
Herod and his quaternions and his chains and his gates. 'Prayer was
made,' therefore all that happened was brought to pass, and Peter was
delivered.

Peter's companion, James, was killed off, as we read in a verse or two
before. Did not the Church pray for him? Surely they did. Why was their
prayer not answered, then? God has not any step-children. James was as
dear to God as Peter was. One prayer was answered; was the other left
unanswered? It was the divine purpose that Peter, being prayed for,
should be delivered; and we may reverently say that, if there had not
been the many in Mary's house praying, there would have been no angel
in Peter's cell.

So here are revealed the strength of the weak, the armour of the
unarmed, the defence of the defenceless. If the Christian Church in its
times of persecution and affliction had kept itself to the one weapon
that is allowed it, it would have been more conspicuously victorious.
And if we, in our individual lives--where, indeed, we have to do
something else besides pray--would remember the lesson of that eloquent
'but,' we should be less frequently brought to perplexity and reduced
to something bordering on despair. So my first lesson is the strength
of the weak.

II. My next is the delay of deliverance.

Peter had been in prison for some time before the Passover, and the
praying had been going on all the while, and there was no answer. Day
after day 'of the unleavened bread' and of the festival was slipping
away. The last night had come; 'and the same night' the light shone,
and the angel appeared. Why did Jesus Christ not hear the cry of these
poor suppliants sooner? For their sakes; for Peter's sake; for our
sakes; for His own sake. For the eventual intervention, at the very
last moment, and yet at a sufficiently early moment, tested faith. And
look how beautifully all bore the test. The Apostle who was to be
killed to-morrow is lying quietly sleeping in his cell. Not a very
comfortable pillow he had to lay his head upon, with a chain on each
arm and a legionary on each side of him. But he slept; and whilst he
was asleep Christ was awake, and the brethren were awake. Their faith
was tested, and it stood the test, and thereby was strengthened. And
Peter's patience and faith, being tested in like manner and in like
manner standing the test, were deepened and confirmed. Depend upon it,
he was a better man all his days, because he had been brought close up
to Death and looked it in the fleshless eye-sockets, unwinking and
unterrified. And I dare say if, long after, he had been asked, 'Would
you not have liked to have escaped those two or three days of suspense,
and to have been let go at an earlier moment?' he would have said, 'Not
for worlds! For I learned in those days that my Lord's time is the
best. I learned patience'--a lesson which Peter especially needed--'and
I learned trust.'

Do you remember another incident, singularly parallel in essence,
though entirely unlike in circumstances, to this one? The two weeping
sisters at Bethany send their messenger across the Jordan, grudging
every moment that he takes to travel to the far-off spot where Jesus
is. The message sent is only this: 'He whom Thou lovest is sick.' What
an infinite trust in Christ's heart that form of the message showed!
They would not say 'Come!'; they would not ask Him to do anything; they
did not think that to do so was needful: they were quite sure that what
He would do would be right.

And how was the message received? 'Jesus loved Martha and Mary and
Lazarus.' Well, did that not make Him hurry as fast as He could to the
bedside? No; it rooted Him to the spot. 'He abode,
_therefore_'--because He loved them--'two days still in the same place
where He was,' to give him plenty of time to die, and the sisters
plenty of time to test their confidence in Him. Their confidence does
not seem to have altogether stood the test. 'Lord, if Thou hadst been
here my brother had not died.' 'And why wast Thou _not_ here?' is
implied. Christ's time was the best time. It was better to get a dead
brother back to their arms and to their house than that they should not
have lost him for those dreary four days. So delay tests faith, and
makes the deliverance, when it comes, not only the sweeter, but the
more conspicuously divine. So, brother, 'men ought always to pray, and
not to faint'--always to trust that 'the Lord will help them, and that
right early.'

III. The next lesson that I would suggest is the leisureliness of the
deliverance.

A prisoner escaping might be glad to make a bolt for it, dressed or
undressed, anyhow. But when the angel comes into the cell, and the
light shines, look how slowly and, as I say, leisurely, he goes about
it. 'Put on thy shoes.' He had taken them off, with his girdle and his
upper garment, that he might lie the less uncomfortably. 'Put on thy
shoes; lace them; make them all right. Never mind about these two
legionaries; they will not wake. Gird thyself; tighten thy girdle. Put
on thy garment. Do not be afraid. Do not be in a hurry; there is plenty
of time. Now, are you ready? Come!' It would have been quite as easy
for the angel to have whisked him out of the cell and put him down at
Mary's door; but that was not to be the way. Peter was led past all the
obstacles--'the first ward,' and the soldiers at it; 'the second ward,'
and the soldiers at it; 'and the third gate that leads into the city,'
which was no doubt bolted and barred. There was a leisurely procession
through the prison.

Why? Because Omnipotence is never in a hurry, and God, not only in His
judgments but in His mercies, very often works slowly, as becomes His
majesty. 'Ye shall not go out with haste; nor go by flight, for the
Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel shall be your rereward.'
We are impatient, and hurry our work over; God works slowly; for He
works certainly. That is the law of the divine working in all regions;
and we have to regulate the pace of our eager expectation so as to fall
in with the slow, solemn march of the divine purposes, both in regard
to our individual salvation and the providences that affect us
individually, and in regard to the world's deliverance from the world's
evils. 'An inheritance may be gotten hastily in the beginning, but the
end thereof shall not be blessed.' 'He that believeth shall not make
haste.'

IV. We see here, too, the delivered prisoner left to act for himself as
soon as possible.

As long as the angel was with Peter, he was dazed and amazed. He did
not know--and small blame to him--whether he was sleeping or waking;
but he gets through the gates, and out into the empty street,
glimmering in the morning twilight, and the angel disappears, and the
slumbering city is lying around him. When he is _left_ to himself, he
_comes_ to himself. He could not have passed the wards without a
miracle, but he can find his way to Mary's house without one. He needed
the angel to bring him as far as the gate and down into the street, but
he did not need him any longer. So the angel vanished into the morning
light, and then he felt himself, and steadied himself, when
responsibility came to him. That is the thing to sober a man. So he
stood in the middle of the unpeopled street, and 'he considered the
thing,' and found in his own wits sufficient guidance, so that he did
not miss the angel. He said to himself, 'I will go to Mary's house.'
Probably he did not know that there were any praying there, but it was
near, and it was, no doubt, convenient in other respects that we do not
know of. The economy of miraculous power is a remarkable feature in
Scriptural miracles. God never does anything for us that we could do
for ourselves. Not but that our doing for ourselves is, in a deeper
sense, His working on us and in us, but He desires us to take the share
that belongs to us in completing the deliverance which must begin by
supernatural intervention of a Mightier than the angel, even the Lord
of angels.

And so this little picture of the angel leading Peter through the
prison, and then leaving him to his own common sense and courage as
soon as he came out into the street, is just a practical illustration
of the great text, 'Work out your own salvation with fear and
trembling, for it is God that worketh in you.'



THE ANGEL'S TOUCH

'And, behold, the angel of the Lord ... smote Peter.... 23. And
immediately the angel of the Lord smote him [Herod].'--ACTS xii. 7, 23.

The same heavenly agent performs the same action on Peter and on Herod.
To the one, his touch brings freedom and the dropping off of his
chains; to the other it brings gnawing agonies and a horrible death.
These twofold effects of one cause open out wide and solemn thoughts,
on which it is well to look.

I. The one touch has a twofold effect.

So it is always when God's angels come, or God Himself lays His hand on
men. Every manifestation of the divine power, every revelation of the
divine presence, all our lives' experiences, are charged with the
solemn possibility of bringing us one or other of two directly opposite
results. They all offer us an alternative, a solemn 'either--or.'

The Gospel too comes charged with that double possibility, and is the
intensest and most fateful example of the dual effect of all God's
messages and dealings. Just as the ark maimed Dagon and decimated the
Philistine cities and slew Uzzah, but brought blessing and prosperity
to the house of Obed-edom, just as the same pillar was light to Israel
all the night long, but cloud and darkness to the Egyptians, so is
Christ set 'for the fall of' some and 'for the rising of' others amidst
the 'many in Israel,' and His Gospel is either 'the savour of life unto
life or of death unto death,' but in both cases is in itself 'unto
God,' one and the same 'sweet savour in Christ.'

II. These twofold effects are parts of one plan and purpose.

Peter's liberation and Herod's death tended in the same direction--to
strengthen and conserve the infant Church, and thus to prepare the way
for the conquering march of the Gospel. And so it is in all God's
self-revelations and manifested energies, whatever may be their
effects. They come from one source and one motive, they are
fundamentally the operations of one changeless Agent, and, as they are
one in origin and character, so they are one in purpose. We are not to
separate them into distinct classes and ascribe them to different
elements in the divine nature, setting down this as the work of Love
and that as the outcome of Wrath, or regarding the acts of deliverance
as due to one part of that great whole and the acts of destruction as
due to another part of it. The angel was the same, and his celestial
fingers were moved by the same calm, celestial will when he smote Peter
into liberty and life, and Herod to death.

God changes His ways, but not His heart. He changes His acts, but not
His purposes. Opposite methods conduce to one end, as winter storms and
June sunshine equally tend to the yellowed harvest.

III. The character of the effects depends on the men who are touched.

As is the man, so is the effect of the angel's touch. It could only
bring blessing to the one who was the friend of the angel's Lord, and
it could bring only death to the other, who was His enemy. It could do
nothing to the Apostle but cause his chains to drop from his wrists,
nor anything to the vainglorious king but bring loathsome death.

This, too, is a universal truth. It is we ourselves who settle what
God's words and acts will be to us. The trite proverb, 'One man's meat
is another man's poison,' is true in the highest regions. It is
eminently, blessedly or tragically true in our relation to the Gospel,
wherein all God's self-revelation reaches its climax, wherein 'the arm
of the Lord' is put forth in its most blessed energy, wherein is laid
on each of us the touch, tender and more charged with blessing than
that of the angel who smote the calmly sleeping Apostle. That Gospel
may either be to us the means of freeing us from our chains, and
leading us out of our prison-house into sunshine and security, or be
the fatal occasion of condemnation and death. Which it shall be depends
on ourselves. Which shall I make it for myself?



'SOBER CERTAINTY'

'And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety,
that the Lord hath sent His angel, and hath delivered me out of the
hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the
Jews.'--ACTS xii. 11.

Where did Luke get his information of Peter's thoughts in that hour?
This verse sounds like first-hand knowledge. Not impossibly John Mark
may have been his informant, for we know that both were in Rome
together at a later period. In any case, it is clear that, through
whatever channels this piece of minute knowledge reached Luke, it must
have come originally from Peter himself. And what a touch of
naturalness and evident truth it is! No wonder that the Apostle was
half dazed as he came from his dungeon, through the prison corridors
and out into the street. To be wakened by an angel, and to have such
following experiences, would amaze most men.

I. The bewilderment of the released captive.

God's mercies often come suddenly, and with a rush and a completeness
that outrun our expectations and our power of immediate comprehension.
And sometimes He sends us sorrows in such battalions and so
overwhelming that we are dazed for the moment. A Psalmist touched a
deep experience when he sang, 'When the Lord turned again the captivity
of Zion, we were like unto them that dream.'

The angel has to be gone before we are sure that he was really here.
The tumult of emotion in an experience needs to be calmed down before
we understand the experience. Reflection discovers more of heaven and
of God in the great moments of our lives than was visible to us while
we were living through them,

There is one region in which this is especially true--that of the
religious life. There sometimes attend its beginnings in a soul a
certain excitement and perturbation which disable from calm realising
of the greatness of the change which has passed. And it is well when
that excitement is quieted down and succeeded by meditative reflection
on the treasures that have been poured into the lap, almost as in the
dark. No man understands what he has received when he first receives
Christ and Christ's gifts. It occupies a lifetime to take possession of
that which we possess from the first in Him, and the oldest saint is as
far from full possession of the unspeakable and infinite 'gift of God,'
as the babes in Christ are.

But, looking more generally at this characteristic of not rightly
understanding the great epochs of our lives till they are past, we may
note that, while in part it is inevitable and natural, there is an
element of fault in it. If we lived in closer fellowship with God, we
should live in an atmosphere of continual calm, and nothing, either
sorrowful or joyful, would be able so to sweep us off our feet that we
should be bewildered by it. Astonishment would never so fill our souls
as that we could not rightly appraise events, nor should we need any
time, even in the thick of the most wonderful experiences, to 'come to'
ourselves and discern the angel.

But if it be so that our lives disclose their meanings best, when we
look back on them, how much of the understanding of them, and the
drawing of all its sweetness out of each event in them, is entrusted to
memory! And how negligent of a great means of happiness and strength we
are, if we do not often muse on 'all the way by which God the Lord has
led us these many years in the wilderness'! It is needful for Christian
progress to 'forget the things that are behind,' and not to let them
limit our expectations nor prescribe our methods, but it is quite as
needful to remember our past, or rather God's past with us, in order to
confirm our grateful faith and enlarge our boundless hope.

II. The disappearance of the angel.

Why did he leave Peter standing there, half dazed and with his
deliverance incomplete? He 'led him through one street' only, and
'straightway departed from him.' The Apostle delivered by miracle has
now to use his brains. One distinguishing characteristic of New
Testament miracles is their economy of miraculous power. Jesus raised
Lazarus, for He alone could do that, but other hands must 'loose him
and let him go,' He gave life to Jairus's little daughter, but He bid
others 'give her something to eat' God does nothing for us that we can
do for ourselves. That economy was valuable as a preservative of the
Apostles from the possible danger of expecting or relying on miracles,
and as stirring them to use their own energies. Reliance on divine
power should not lead us to neglect ordinary means. Alike in the
natural and in the spiritual life we have to do our part, and to be
sure that God will do His.

III. The symbol here of a greater deliverance.

Fancy may legitimately employ this story as setting forth for us under
a lovely image the facts of Christian death, if only we acknowledge
that such a use is entirely the work of fancy. But, making that
acknowledgment, may we not make the use? Is not Death, too, God's
messenger to souls that love Him, 'mighty and beauteous, though his
face be hid'? Would it not be more Christian-like, and more congruous
with our eternal hope, if we pictured him thus than by the hideous
emblems of our cemeteries and tombs? He comes to Christ's servants, and
his touch is gentle though his fingers are icy-cold. He removes only
the chains that bind us, and we ourselves are emancipated by his touch.
He leads us to 'the iron gate that leadeth into the city,' and it opens
to us 'of its own accord.' But he disappears as soon as our happy feet
have touched the pavement of that street of the city which is 'pure
gold, as transparent as glass,' and in the midst of which flows the
river of the crystal-bright 'water of life proceeding out of the throne
of God and of the Lamb.' Then, when we see the Face as of the sun
shining in his strength, we shall come to ourselves, and 'know of a
surety that the Lord hath sent His angel and delivered' us from all our
foes and ills for evermore.



RHODA

'A damsel ... named Rhoda.'--ACTS xii 13.

'Rhoda' means 'a rose,' and _this_ rose has kept its bloom for eighteen
hundred years, and is still sweet and fragrant! What a lottery undying
fame is! Men will give their lives to earn it; and this servant-girl
got it by one little act, and never knew that she had it, and I suppose
she does not know to-day that, everywhere throughout the whole world
where the Gospel is preached, 'this that she hath done is spoken of as
a memorial to her.' Is the love of fame worthy of being called 'the
last infirmity of noble minds'? Or is it the delusion of ignoble ones?
Why need we care whether anybody ever hears of us after we are dead and
buried, so long as God knows about us? The 'damsel named Rhoda' was
little the better for the immortality which she had unconsciously won.

Now there is a very singular resemblance between the details of this
incident and those of another case, when Peter was recognised in dim
light by his voice, and the Evangelist Luke, who is the author of the
Acts of the Apostles, seems to have had the resemblance between the two
scenes--that in the high priest's palace and that outside Mary's
door--in his mind, because he uses in this narrative a word which
occurs, in the whole of the New Testament, only here and in his account
of what took place on that earlier occasion. In both instances a
maid-servant recognises Peter by his voice, and in both 'she constantly
affirms' that it was so. I do not think that there is anything to be
built upon the resemblance, but at all events I think that the use of
the same unusual word in the two cases, and nowhere else, seems to
suggest that Luke felt how strangely events sometimes double
themselves; and how the Apostle who is here all but a martyr is
re-enacting, with differences, something like the former scene, when he
was altogether a traitor. But, be that as it may, there are some
lessons which we may gather from this vivid picture of Rhoda and her
behaviour on the one side of the door, while Peter stood hammering, in
the morning twilight, on the other.

I. We may notice in the relations of Rhoda to the assembled believers a
striking illustration of the new bond of union supplied by the Gospel.

Rhoda was a slave. The word rendered in our version 'damsel' means a
female slave. Her name, which is a Gentile name, and her servile
condition, make it probable that she was not a Jewess. If one might
venture to indulge in a guess, it is not at all unlikely that her
mistress, Mary, John Mark's mother, Barnabas' sister, a well-to-do
woman of Jerusalem, who had a house large enough to take in the members
of the Church in great numbers, and to keep up a considerable
establishment, had brought this slave-girl from the island of Cyprus.
At all events, she was a slave. In the time of our Lord, and long
after, these relations of slavery brought an element of suspicion,
fear, and jealous espionage into almost every Roman household, because
every master knew that he passed his days and nights among men and
women who wanted nothing better than to wreak their vengeance upon him.
A man's foes were eminently those of his own household. And now here
this child-slave, a Gentile, has been touched by the same mighty love
as her mistress; and Mary and Rhoda were kneeling together in the
prayer-meeting when Peter began to hammer at the door. Neither woman
thought now of the unnatural, unwholesome relation which had formerly
bound them. In God's good time, and by the slow process of leavening
society with Christian ideas, that diabolical institution perished in
Christian lands. Violent reformation of immoralities is always a
blunder. 'Raw haste' is 'half-sister to delay.' Settlers in forest
lands have found that it is endless work to grub up the trees, or even
to fell them. 'Root and branch' reform seldom answers. The true way is
to girdle the tree by taking off a ring of bark round the trunk, and
letting nature do the rest. Dead trees are easily dealt with; living
ones blunt many axes and tire many arms, and are alive after all. Thus
the Gospel waged no direct war with slavery, but laid down principles
which, once they are wrought into Christian consciousness, made its
continuance impossible. But, pending that consummation, the immediate
action of Christianity was to ameliorate the condition of the slave.
The whole aspect of the ugly thing was changed as soon as master and
slave together became the slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel
has the same sort of work to do to-day, and there are institutions in
full flourishing existence in this and every other civilised community
as entirely antagonistic to the spirit and principles of Christianity
as Roman slavery was. I, for my part, believe that the one uniting bond
and healing medicine for society is found in Jesus Christ; and that in
Him, and that the principles deducible from His revelation by word and
work, applied to all social evils, are their cure, and their only cure.
That slight, girlish figure standing at the door of Mary, her slave and
yet her sister in Christ, may be taken as pointing symbolically the way
by which the social and civic evils of this day are to be healed, and
the war of classes to cease.

II. Note how we get here a very striking picture of the sacredness and
greatness of small common duties.

Bhoda came out from the prayer-meeting to open the gate. It was her
business, as we say, 'to answer the door,' and so she left off praying
to go and do it. So doing, she was the means of delivering the Apostle
from the danger which still dogged him. It was of little use to be
praying on one side of the shut door when on the other he was standing
in the street, and the day was beginning to dawn; Herod's men would be
after him as soon as daylight disclosed his escape. The one thing
needful for him was to be taken in and sheltered. So the praying group
and the girl who stops praying when she hears the knock, to which it
was her business to attend, were working in the same direction. It is
not necessary to insist that no heights or delights of devotion and
secret communion are sufficient excuses for neglecting or delaying the
doing of the smallest and most menial task which is our task. If your
business is to keep the door, you will not be leaving, but abiding in,
the secret place of the Most High, if you get up from your knees in the
middle of your prayer, and go down to open it. The smallest, commonest
acts of daily life are truer worship than is rapt and solitary
communion or united prayer, if the latter can only be secured by the
neglect of the former. Better to be in the lower parts of the house
attending to the humble duties of the slave than to be in the upper
chamber, uniting with the saints in supplication and leaving tasks
unperformed.

Let us remember how we may find here an illustration of another great
truth, that the smallest things, done in the course of the quiet
discharge of recognised duty, and being, therefore, truly worship of
God, have in them a certain quality of immortality, and may be
eternally commemorated. It was not only the lofty and unique expression
of devotion, which another woman gave when she broke the alabaster box
to anoint the feet of the Saviour which were to be pierced with nails
to-morrow, that has been held worthy of undying remembrance. The name
and act of a poor slave girl have been commemorated by that Spirit who
preserves nothing in vain, in order that we should learn that things
which we vulgarly call great, and those which we insolently call small,
are regarded by Him, not according to their apparent magnitude, but
according to their motive and reference to Him. He says, 'I will never
forget any of their works'; and this little deed of Rhoda's, like the
rose petals that careful housekeepers in the country keep upon the
sideboard in china bowls to diffuse a fragance through the room, is
given us to keep in memory for ever, a witness of the sanctity of
common life when filled with acts of obedience to Him.

III. The same figure of the 'damsel named Rhoda' may give us a warning
as to the possibility of forgetting very plain duties under the
pressure of very legitimate excitement.

'She opened not the door for gladness,' but ran in and told them. And
if, whilst she was running in with her message, Herod's quaternions of
soldiers had come down the street, there would have been 'no small
stir' in the church as to 'what had become of Peter.' He would have
gone back to his prison sure enough. Her _first_ duty was to open the
door; her _second_ one was to go and tell the brethren, 'we have got
him safe inside'; but in the rush of joyous emotions she naively forgot
what her first business was, 'lost her head,' as we say, and so went
off to tell that he was outside, instead of letting him in. Now joy and
sorrow are equally apt to make us forget plain and pressing duties, and
we may learn from this little incident the old-fashioned, but always
necessary advice, to keep feeling well under control, to use it as
impulse, not as guide, and never to let emotion, which should be down
in the engine-room, come on deck and take the helm. It is dangerous to
obey feeling, unless its decrees are countersigned by calm common sense
illuminated by Scripture. Sorrow is apt to obscure duty by its
darkness, and joy to do so by its dazzle. It is hard to see the road at
midnight, or at midday when the sun is in our eyes. Both need to be
controlled. Duty remains the same, whether my heart is beating like a
sledge-hammer, or whether 'my bosom's lord sits lightly on its throne.'
Whether I am sad or glad, the door that God has given me to watch has
to be opened and shut by me. And whether I am a door-keeper in the
house of the Lord, like Rhoda in Mary's, or have an office that people
think larger and more important, the imperativeness of my duties is
equally independent of my momentary emotions and circumstances.
Remember, then, that duty remains while feeling fluctuates, and that,
sorrowful or joyful, we have still the same Lord to serve and the same
crown to win.

IV. Lastly, we have here an instance of a very modest but positive and
fully-warranted trust in one's own experience in spite of opposition.

I need not speak about that extraordinary discussion which the brethren
got up in the upper room. They had been praying, as has often been
remarked, for Peter's deliverance, and now that he is delivered they
will not believe it. I am afraid that there is often a dash of unbelief
in immediate answers to our prayers mingling with the prayers. And
although the petitions in this case were intense and fervent, as the
original tells us, and had been kept up all night long, and although
their earnestness and worthiness are guaranteed by the fact that they
were answered, yet when the veritable Peter, in flesh and blood, stood
before the door, the suppliants first said to the poor girl, 'Thou art
mad,' and then, 'It is his angel! It cannot be he.' Nobody seems to
have thought of going to the door to see whether it was he or not, but
they went on arguing with Rhoda as to whether she was right or wrong.
The unbelief that alloys even golden faith is taught us in this
incident.

Rhoda 'constantly affirmed that it was so,' like the other porteress
that had picked out Peter's voice amongst the men huddled round the
fire in the high priest's chamber.

The lesson is--trust your own experience, whatever people may have to
say against it. If you have found that Jesus Christ can help you, and
has loved you, and that your sins have been forgiven, because you have
trusted in Him, do not let anybody laugh or talk you out of that
conviction. If you cannot argue, do like Rhoda, 'constantly affirm that
it is so.' That is the right answer, especially if you can say to the
antagonistic party, 'Have you been down to the door, then, to see?' And
if they have to say 'No!' then the right answer is, 'You go and look as
I did, and you will come back with the same belief which I have.'

So at last they open the door and there he stands. Peter's hammer,
hammer, hammer at the gate is wonderfully given in the story. It goes
on as a kind of running accompaniment through the talk between Rhoda
and the friends. It might have put a stop to the conversation, one
would have thought. But Another stands at the door knocking, still more
persistently, still more patiently. 'Behold! I stand at the door and
knock. If any man open the door I will come in.'



PETER AFTER HIS ESCAPE

'But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace,
declared unto them how the Lord had brought him forth out of the
prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the
brethren, And he departed, and went into another place.'--ACTS xii. 17.

When the angel 'departed from him,' Peter had to fall back on his own
wits, and they served him well. He 'considered the thing,' and resolved
to make for the house of Mary. He does not seem to have intended to
remain there, so dangerously near Herod, but merely to have told its
inmates of his deliverance, and then to have hidden himself somewhere,
till the heat of the hunt after him was abated. Apparently he did not
go into the house at all, but talked to the brethren, when they came
trooping after Rhoda to open the gate. The signs of haste in the latter
part of the story, where Peter has to think and act for himself,
contrast strikingly with the majestic leisureliness of the action of
the angel, who gave his successive commands to him to dress completely,
as if careless of the sleeping legionaries who might wake at any
moment. There was need for haste, for the night was wearing thin, and
the streets of Jerusalem were no safe promenade for a condemned
prisoner, escaped from his guards.

We do not deal here with the scene in Mary's house and at the gate. We
only note, in a word, the touch of nature in Rhoda's forgetting to open
'for gladness,' and so leaving Peter in peril, if a detachment of his
guards had already been told off to chase him. Equally true to nature,
alas, is the incredulity of the praying 'many,' when the answer to
their prayers was sent to them. They had rather believe that the poor
girl was 'mad' or that, for all their praying, Peter was dead, and this
was his 'angel,' than that their intense prayer had been so swiftly and
completely answered. Is their behaviour not a mirror in which we may
see our own?

Very like Peter, as well as very intelligible in the circumstances, is
it that he 'continued knocking,' Well he might, and evidently his
energetic fusillade of blows was heard even above the clatter of eager
tongues, discussing Rhoda's astonishing assertions. Some one, at last,
seems to have kept his head sufficiently to suggest that perhaps,
instead of disputing whether these were true or not, it might be well
to go to the door and see. So they all went in a body, Rhoda being
possibly afraid to go alone, and others afraid to stay behind, and
there they saw his veritable self. But we notice that there is no sign
of his being taken in and refreshed or cared for. He waved an
imperative hand, to quiet the buzz of talk, spoke two or three brief
words, and departed.

I. Note Peter's account of his deliverance.

We have often had occasion to remark that the very keynote of this Book
of Acts is the working of Christ from heaven, which to its writer is as
real and efficient as was His work on earth. Peter here traces his
deliverance to 'the Lord.' He does not stay to mention the angel. His
thoughts went beyond the instrument to the hand which wielded it. Nor
does he seem to have been at all astonished at his deliverance. His
moment of bewilderment, when he did not know whether he was dreaming or
awake, soon passed, and as soon as 'the sober certainty of his waking
bliss' settled on his mind, his deliverance seemed to him perfectly
natural. What else was it to be expected that 'the Lord' would do? Was
it not just like Him? There was nothing to be astonished at, there was
everything to be thankful for. That is how Christian hearts should
receive the deliverances which the Lord is still working for them.

II. Note Peter's message to the brethren.

James, the Lord's brother, was not an Apostle. That he should have been
named to receive the message indicates that already he held some
conspicuous position, perhaps some office, in the Church. It may also
imply that there were no Apostles in Jerusalem then. We note also that
the 'many' who were gathered in Mary's house can have been only a small
part of the whole. We here get a little glimpse into the conditions of
the life of a persecuted Church, which a sympathetic imagination can
dwell on till it is luminous. Such gatherings as would attract notice
had to be avoided, and what meetings were held had to be in private
houses and with shut doors, through which entrance was not easy. Mary's
'door' had a 'gate' in it, and only that smaller postern, which
admitted but one at a time, was opened to visitors, and that after
scrutiny. But though assemblies were restricted, communications were
kept up, and by underground ways information of events important to the
community spread through its members. The consciousness of brotherhood
was all the stronger because of the common danger, the universal peril
had not made the brethren selfish, but sympathetic. We may note, too,
how great a change had come since the time when the Christians were in
favour with all the people, and may reflect how fickle are the world's
smiles for Christ's servants.

III. Note Peter's disappearance.

All that is said of it is that he 'went into another place.' Probably
Luke did not know where he went. It would be prudent at the time to
conceal it, and the habit of concealment may have survived the need for
it. But two points suggest themselves in regard to the Apostle's
flight. There may be a better use for an Apostle than to kill him, and
Christ's boldest witnesses are sometimes bound to save themselves by
fleeing into another city. To hide oneself 'till the calamity be
overpast' may be rank cowardice or commendable prudence. All depends on
the circumstances of each case. Prudence is an element in courage, and
courage without it is fool-hardiness. There are outward dangers from
which it is Christian duty to run, and there are outward dangers which
it is Christian duty to face. There are inward temptations which it is
best to avoid, as there are others which have to be fought to the
death. Peter was as brave and braver when he went and hid himself, than
when he boasted, 'Though all should forsake Thee, yet will not I!' A
morbid eagerness for martyrdom wrought much harm in the Church at a
later time. The primitive Church was free from it.

But we must not omit to note that here Peter is dropped out of the
history, and is scarcely heard of any more. We have a glimpse of him in
chapter xv., at the Council in Jerusalem, but, with that exception,
this is the last mention of him in Acts. How little this Book cares for
its heroes! Or rather how it has only one Hero, and one Name which it
celebrates, the name of that Lord to whom Peter ascribed his
deliverance, and of whom he himself declared that 'there is none other
Name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.'



END OF VOL. I.



EXPOSITIONS OF HOLY SCRIPTURE

ALEXANDER MACLAREN, D. D., Litt. D.

THE ACTS

_CHAP. XIII TO END_



CONTENTS

TO THE REGIONS BEYOND (Acts xiii. 1-13)

WHY SAUL BECAME PAUL (Acts xiii. 9)

JOHN MARK (Acts xiii. 13)

THE FIRST PREACHING IN ASIA MINOR (Acts xiii. 26-39)

LUTHER--A STONE ON THE CAIRN (Acts xiii. 36, 37)

REJECTERS AND RECEIVERS (Acts xiii. 44-52; xiv. 1-7)

UNWORTHY OF LIFE (Acts xiii. 46)

'FULL OF THE HOLY GHOST' (Acts xiii. 52)

DEIFIED AND STONED (Acts xiv. 11-22)

DREAM AND REALITY (Acts xiv. 11)

'THE DOOR OF FAITH' (Acts xiv. 27)

THE BREAKING OUT OF DISCORD (Acts xv. 1-6)

THE CHARTER OF GENTILE LIBERTY (Acts xv. 12-29)

A GOOD MAN'S FAULTS (Acts xv. 37, 38)

HOW TO SECURE A PROSPEROUS VOYAGE (Acts xvi. 10, 11)

PAUL AT PHILIPPI (Acts xvi. 13, R.V.)

THE RIOT AT PHILIPPI (Acts xvi. 19-34)

THE GREAT QUESTION AND THE PLAIN ANSWER (Acts xvi. 30, 31)

THESSALONICA AND BEREA (Acts xvii. 1-12)

PAUL AT ATHENS (Acts xvii. 22-34)

THE MAN WHO IS JUDGE (Acts xvii. 31)

PAUL AT CORINTH (Acts xviii. 1-11)

'CONSTRAINED BY THE WORD' (Acts xviii. 5)

GALLIO (Acts xviii. 14, 15)

TWO FRUITFUL YEARS (Acts xix. 1-12)

WOULD-BE EXORCISTS (Acts xix. 15)

THE FIGHT WITH WILD BEASTS AT EPHESUS (Acts xix. 21-34)

PARTING COUNSELS (Acts xx. 22-85)

A FULFILLED ASPIRATION (Acts xx. 24; 2 Tim. iv. 7)

PARTING WORDS (Acts xx. 32)

THE BLESSEDNESS OF GIVING (Acts xx. 35)

DRAWING NEARER TO THE STORM (Acts xxi. 1-15)

PHILIP THE EVANGELIST (Acts xxi. 8)

AN OLD DISCIPLE (Acts xxi. 16)

PAUL IN THE TEMPLE (Acts xxi. 27-39)

PAUL ON HIS OWN CONVERSION (Acts xxii. 6-16)

ROME PROTECTS PAUL (Acts xxii. 17-30)

CHRIST'S WITNESSES (Acts xxiii. 11)

A PLOT DETECTED (Acts xxiii. 12-22)

A LOYAL TRIBUTE (Acts xxiv. 2, 3)

PAUL BEFORE FELIX (Acts xxiv. 10-25)

FELIX BEFORE PAUL (Acts xxiv. 25)

CHRIST'S REMONSTRANCES (Acts xxvi. 14)

FAITH IN CHRIST (Acts xxvi. 18)

'BEFORE GOVERNORS AND KINGS' (Acts xxvi. 19-32)

'THE HEAVENLY VISION' (Acts xxvi. 19)

'ME A CHRISTIAN!' (Acts xxvi. 28)

TEMPEST AND TRUST (Acts xxvii 13-26)

A SHORT CONFESSION OF FAITH (Acts xxvii. 23)

A TOTAL WRECK, ALL HANDS SAVED (Acts xxvii. 30-44)

AFTER THE WRECK (Acts xxviii. 1-16)

THE LAST GLIMPSE OF PAUL (Acts xxviii. 17-31)

PAUL IN ROME (Acts xxviii. 30, 31)



TO THE REGIONS BEYOND

'Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and
teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of
Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch,
and Saul. 2. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost
said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have
called them. 3. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their
hands on them, they sent them away. A. So they, being sent forth by the
Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to
Cyprus. 5. And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God
in the synagogues of the Jews; and they had also John to their
minister. 6. And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they
found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was
Bar-jesus: 7. Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus,
a prudent man, who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear
the word of God. 8. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by
interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from
the faith. 9. Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the
Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, 10. And said, O full of all subtilty
and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all
righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the
Lord? 11. And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou
shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there
fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to
lead him by the hand. 12. Then the deputy, when he saw what was done,
believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord. 13. Now when
Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in
Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.'--ACTS
xiii. 1-13.

We stand in this passage at the beginning of a great step forward.
Philip and Peter had each played a part in the gradual expansion of the
church beyond the limits of Judaism; but it was from the church at
Antioch that the messengers went forth who completed the process. Both
its locality and its composition made that natural.

I. The solemn designation of the missionaries is the first point in the
narrative. The church at Antioch was not left without signs of Christ's
grace and presence. It had its band of 'prophets and teachers.' As
might be expected, four of the five named are Hellenists,--that is,
Jews born in Gentile lands, and speaking Gentile languages. Barnabas
was a Cypriote, Simeon's byname of Niger ('Black') was probably given
because of his dark complexion, which was probably caused by his birth
in warmer lands. He may have been a North African, as Lucius of Cyrene
was. Saul was from Tarsus, and only Manaen remains to represent the
pure Palestinian Jew. His had been a strange course, from being
foster-brother of the Herod who killed John to becoming a teacher in
the church at Antioch. Barnabas was the leader of the little group, and
the younger Pharisee from Tarsus, who had all along been Barnabas's
_protege_, brought up the rear.

The order observed in the list is a little window which shows a great
deal. The first and last names all the world knows; the other three are
never heard of again. Immortality falls on the two, oblivion swallows
up the three. But it matters little whether our names are sounded in
men's ears, if they are in the Lamb's book of life.

These five brethren were waiting on the Lord by fasting and prayer.
Apparently they had reason to expect some divine communication, for
which they were thus preparing themselves. Light will come to those who
thus seek it. They were commanded to set apart two of their number for
'the work whereunto I have called them.' That work is not specified,
and yet the two, like carrier pigeons on being let loose, make straight
for their line of flight, and know exactly whither they are to go.

If we strictly interpret Luke's words ('I _have_ called them'), a
previous intimation from the Spirit had revealed to them the sphere of
their work. In that case, the _separation_ was only the recognition by
the brethren of the divine appointment. The inward call must come
first, and no ecclesiastical designation can do more than confirm that.
But the solemn designation by the Church identifies those who remain
behind with the work of those who go forth; it throws responsibility
for sympathy and support on the former, and it ministers strength and
the sense of companionship to the latter, besides checking that
tendency to isolation which accompanies earnestness. To go forth on
even Christian service, unrecognised by the brethren, is not good for
even a Paul.

But although Luke speaks of the Church sending them away, he takes care
immediately to add that it was the Holy Ghost who 'sent them forth.'
Ramsay suggests that 'sent them away' is not the meaning of the phrase
in verse 3, but that it should be rendered 'gave them leave to depart.'
In any case, a clear distinction is drawn between the action of the
Church and that of the Spirit, which constituted Paul's real commission
as an Apostle. He himself says that he was an Apostle, 'not from men,
neither through man.'

II. The events in the first stage of the journey are next summarily
presented. Note the local colouring in 'went _down_ to Seleucia,' the
seaport of Antioch, at the mouth of the river. The missionaries were
naturally led to begin at Cyprus, as Barnabas's birthplace, and that of
some of the founders of the church at Antioch.

So, for the first time, the Gospel went to sea, the precursor of so
many voyages. It was an 'epoch-making moment' when that ship dropped
down with the tide and put out to sea. Salamis was the nearest port on
the south-eastern coast of Cyprus, and there they landed,--Barnabas, no
doubt, familiar with all he saw; Saul probably a stranger to it all.
Their plan of action was that to which Paul adhered in all his after
work,--to carry the Gospel to the Jew first, a proceeding for which the
manner of worship in the synagogues gave facilities. No doubt, many
such were scattered through Cyprus, and Barnabas would be well known in
most.

They thus traversed the island from east to west. It is noteworthy that
only now is John Mark's name brought in as their attendant. He had come
with them from Antioch, but Luke will not mention him, when he is
telling of the sending forth of the other two, because Mark was not
sent by the Spirit, but only chosen by his uncle, and his subsequent
defection did not affect the completeness of their embassy. His
entirely subordinate place is made obvious by the point at which he
appears.

Nothing of moment happened on the tour till Paphos was reached. That
was the capital, the residence of the pro-consul, and the seat of the
foul worship of Venus. There the first antagonist was met. It is not
Sergius Paulus, pro-consul though he was, who is the central figure of
interest to Luke, but the sorcerer who was attached to his train. His
character is drawn in Luke's description, and in Paul's fiery
exclamation. Each has three clauses, which fall 'like the beats of a
hammer.' 'Sorcerer, false prophet, Jew,' make a climax of wickedness.
That a Jew should descend to dabble in the black art of magic, and play
tricks on the credulity of ignorant people by his knowledge of some
simple secrets of chemistry; that he should pretend to prophetic gifts
which in his heart he knew to be fraud, and should be recreant to his
ancestral faith, proved him to deserve the penetrating sentence which
Paul passed on him. He was a trickster, and knew that he was: his
inspiration came from an evil source; he had come to hate righteousness
of every sort.

Paul was not flinging bitter words at random, or yielding to passion,
but was laying the black heart bare to the man's own eyes, that the
seeing himself as God saw him might startle him into penitence. 'The
corruption of the best is the worst.' The bitterest enemies of God's
ways are those who have cast aside their early faith. A Jew who had
stooped to be a juggler was indeed causing God's 'name to be blasphemed
among the Gentiles.'

He and Paul each recognised in the other his most formidable foe.
Elymas instinctively felt that the pro-consul must be kept from
listening to the teaching of these two fellow-countrymen, and 'sought
to _pervert_ him from the faith,' therein _perverting_ (the same word
is used in both cases) 'the right ways of the Lord'; that is, opposing
the divine purpose. He was a specimen of a class who attained influence
in that epoch of unrest, when the more cultivated and nobler part of
Roman society had lost faith in the old gods, and was turning wistfully
and with widespread expectation to the mysterious East for
enlightenment.

So, like a ship which plunges into the storm as soon as it clears the
pier-head, the missionaries felt the first dash of the spray and blast
of the wind directly they began their work. Since this was their first
encounter with a foe which they would often have to meet, the duel
assumes importance, and we understand not only the fulness of the
narrative, but the miracle which assured Paul and Barnabas of Christ's
help, and was meant to diffuse its encouragement along the line of
their future work. For Elymas it was chastisement, which might lead him
to cease to pervert the ways of the Lord, and himself begin to walk in
them. Perhaps, after a season, he did see 'the better Sun.'

Saul's part in the incident is noteworthy. We observe the vivid touch,
he 'fastened his eyes on him.' There must have been something very
piercing in the fixed gaze of these flashing eyes. But Luke takes pains
to prevent our thinking that Paul spoke from his own insight or was
moved by human passion. He was 'filled with the Holy Ghost,' and, as
His organ, poured out the scorching words that revealed the cowering
apostate to himself, and announced the merciful punishment that was to
fall. We need to be very sure that we are similarly filled before
venturing to imitate the Apostle's tone.

III. The shifting of the scene to the mainland presents some noteworthy
points. It is singular that there is no preaching mentioned as having
been attempted in Perga, or anywhere along the coast, but that the two
evangelists seem to have gone at once across the great mountain range
of Taurus to Antioch of Pisidia.

A striking suggestion is made by Ramsay to the effect that the reason
was a sudden attack of the malarial fever which is endemic in the
low-lying coast plains, and for which the natural remedy is to get up
among the mountains. If so, the journey to Antioch of Pisidia may not
have been in the programme to which John Mark had agreed, and his
return to Jerusalem may have been due to this departure from the
original intention. Be that as it may, he stands for us as a beacon,
warning against hasty entrance on great undertakings of which we have
not counted the cost, no less than against cowardly flight from work,
as soon as it begins to involve more danger or discomfort than we had
reckoned on.

John Mark was willing to go a-missionarying as long as he was in
Cyprus, where he was somebody and much at home, by his relationship to
Barnabas; but when Perga and the climb over Taurus into strange lands
came to be called for, his zeal and courage oozed out at his
finger-ends, and he skulked back to his mother's house at Jerusalem. No
wonder that Paul 'thought not good to take with them him who withdrew
from them.' But even such faint hearts as Mark's may take courage from
the fact that he nobly retrieved his youthful error, and won back
Paul's confidence, and proved himself 'profitable to him for the
ministry.'



WHY SAUL BECAME PAUL

'Saul (who also is called Paul)' ...--ACTS xiii. 9

Hitherto the Apostle has been known by the former of these names,
henceforward he is known exclusively by the latter. Hitherto he has
been second to his friend Barnabas, henceforward he is first. In an
earlier verse of the chapter we read that 'Barnabas and Saul' were
separated for their missionary work, and again, that it was 'Barnabas
and Saul' for whom the governor of Cyprus sent, to hear the word of the
Lord. But in a subsequent verse of the chapter we read that 'Paul and
his company loosed from Paphos.'

The change in the order of the names is significant, and the change in
the names not less so. Why was it that at this period the Apostle took
up this new designation? I think that the coincidence between his name
and that of the governor of Cyprus, who believed at his preaching,
Sergius Paulus, is too remarkable to be accidental. And though, no
doubt, it was the custom for the Jews of that day, especially for those
of them who lived in Gentile lands, to have, for convenience' sake, two
names, one Jewish and one Gentile--one for use amongst their brethren,
and one for use amongst the heathen--still we have no distinct
intimation that the Apostle bore a Gentile name before this moment. And
the fact that the name which he bears now is the same as that of his
first convert, seems to me to point the explanation.

I take it, then, that the assumption of the name of Paul instead of the
name of Saul occurred at this point, stood in some relation to his
missionary work, and was intended in some sense as a memorial of his
first victory in the preaching of the Gospel.

I think that there are lessons to be derived from the substitution of
one of these names for the other which may well occupy us for a few
moments.

I. First of all, then, the new name expresses a new nature.

Jesus Christ gave the Apostle whom He called to Himself in the early
days, a new name, in order to prophesy the change which, by the
discipline of sorrow and the communication of the grace of God, should
pass over Simon Barjona, making him into a Peter, a 'Man of Rock.' With
characteristic independence, Saul chooses for himself a new name, which
shall express the change that he feels has passed over his inmost
being. True, he does not assume it at his conversion, but that is no
reason why we should not believe that he assumes it because he is
beginning to understand what it is that has happened to him at his
conversion.

The fact that he changes his name as soon as he throws himself into
public and active life, is but gathering into one picturesque symbol
his great principle; 'If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new
creature. Old things are passed away and all things are become new.'

So, dear brethren, we may, from this incident before us, gather this
one great lesson, that the central heart of Christianity is the
possession of a new life, communicated to us through faith in that Son
of God, Who is the Lord of the Spirit. Wheresoever there is a true
faith, there is a new nature. Opinions may play upon the surface of a
man's soul, like moonbeams on the silver sea, without raising its
temperature one degree or sending a single beam into its dark caverns.
And that is the sort of Christianity that satisfies a great many of
you--a Christianity of opinion, a Christianity of surface creed, a
Christianity which at the best slightly modifies some of our outward
actions, but leaves the whole inner man unchanged.

Paul's Christianity meant a radical change in his whole nature. He went
out of Jerusalem a persecutor, he came into Damascus a Christian. He
rode out of Jerusalem hating, loathing, despising Jesus Christ; he
groped his way into Damascus, broken, bruised, clinging contrite to His
feet, and clasping His Cross as his only hope. He went out proud,
self-reliant, pluming himself upon his many prerogatives, his blue
blood, his pure descent, his Rabbinical knowledge, his Pharisaical
training, his external religious earnestness, his rigid morality; he
rode into Damascus blind in the eyes, but seeing in the soul, and
discerning that all these things were, as he says in his strong,
vehement way, 'but dung' in comparison with his winning Christ.

And his theory of conversion, which he preaches in all his Epistles, is
but the generalisation of his own personal experience, which suddenly,
and in a moment, smote his old self to shivers, and raised up a new
life, with new tastes, views, tendencies, aspirations, with new
allegiance to a new King. Such changes, so sudden, so revolutionary,
cannot be expected often to take place amongst people who, like us,
have been listening to Christian teaching all our lives. But unless
there be this infusion of a new life into men's spirits which shall
make them love and long and aspire after new things that once they did
not care for, I know not why we should speak of them as being
Christians at all. The transition is described by Paul as 'passing from
death unto life.' That cannot be a surface thing. A change which needs
a new name must be a profound change. Has our Christianity
revolutionised our nature in any such fashion? It is easy to be a
Christian after the superficial fashion which passes muster with so
many of us. A verbal acknowledgment of belief in truths which we never
think about, a purely external performance of acts of worship, a
subscription or two winged by no sympathy, and a fairly respectable
life beneath the cloak of which all evil may burrow undetected--make
the Christianity of thousands. Paul's Christianity transformed him;
does yours transform you? If it does not, are you quite sure that it
_is_ Christianity at all?

II. Then, again, we may take this change of name as being expressive of
a life's work.

_Paul_ is a Roman name. He strips himself of his Jewish connections and
relationships. His fellow-countrymen who lived amongst the Gentiles
were, as I said at the beginning of these remarks, in the habit of
doing the same thing; but they carried _both_ their names; their Jewish
for use amongst their own people, their Gentile one for use amongst
Gentiles. Paul seems to have altogether disused his old name of Saul.
It was almost equivalent to seceding from Judaism. It is like the acts
of the renegades whom one sometimes hears of, who are found by
travellers, dressed in turban and flowing robes, and bearing some
Turkish name, or like some English sailor, lost to home and kindred,
who deserts his ship in an island of the Pacific, and drops his English
name for a barbarous title, in token that he has given up his faith and
his nationality.

So Paul, contemplating for his life's work preaching amongst the
Gentiles, determines at the beginning, 'I lay down all of which I used
to be proud. If my Jewish descent and privileges stand in my way I cast
them aside. "Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the
tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews, as touching the law, a
Pharisee,"--all these I wrap together in one bundle, and toss them
behind me that I may be the better able to help some to whom they would
have hindered my access.' A man with a heart will throw off his silken
robes that his arm may be bared to rescue, and his feet free to run to
succour.

So we may, from the change of the Apostle's name, gather this lesson,
never out of date, that the only way to help people is to go down to
their level. If you want to bless men, you must identify yourself with
them. It is no use standing on an eminence above them, and
patronisingly talking down to them. You cannot scold, or hector, or
lecture men into the possession and acceptance of religious truth if
you take a position of superiority. As our Master has taught us, if we
want to make blind beggars see we must take the blind beggars by the
hand.

The spirit which led the Apostle to change the name of Saul, with its
memories of the royal dignity which, in the person of its great wearer,
had honoured his tribe, for a Roman name is the same which he formally
announces as a deliberately adopted law of his life. 'To them that are
without law I became as without law ... that I might gain them that are
without law ... I am made all things to all men, that I might by all
means save some.'

It is the very inmost principle of the Gospel. The principle that
influenced the servant in this comparatively little matter, is the
principle that influenced the Master in the mightiest of all events.
'He who was in the form of God, and thought not equality with God a
thing to be eagerly snatched at, made Himself of no reputation, and was
found in fashion as a man and in form as a servant, and became obedient
unto death.' 'For as much as the children were partakers of flesh and
blood, He Himself likewise took part of the same'; and the mystery of
incarnation came to pass, because when the Divine would help men, the
only way by which the Infinite love could reach its end was that the
Divine should become man; identifying Himself with those whom He would
help, and stooping to the level of the humanity that He would lift.

And as it is the very essence and heart of Christ's work, so, my
brother, it is the condition of all work that benefits our fellows. It
applies all round. We must stoop if we would raise. We must put away
gifts, culture, everything that distinguishes us, and come to the level
of the men that we seek to help. Sympathy is the parent of all wise
counsel, because it is the parent of all true understanding of our
brethren's wants. Sympathy is the only thing to which people will
listen, sympathy is the only disposition correspondent to the message
that we Christians are entrusted with. For a Christian man to carry the
Gospel of Infinite condescension to his fellows in a spirit other than
that of the Master and the Gospel which he speaks, is an anomaly and a
contradiction.

And, therefore, let us all remember that a vast deal of so-called
Christian work falls utterly dead and profitless, for no other reason
than this, that the doers have forgotten that they must come to the
level of the men whom they would help, before they can expect to bless
them.

You remember the old story of the heroic missionary whose heart burned
to carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ amongst captives, and as there was
no other way of reaching them, let himself be sold for a slave, and put
out his hands to have the manacles fastened upon them. It is the law
for all Christian service; become like men if you will help them,--'To
the weak as weak, all things to all men, that we might by all means
save some.'

And, my brother, there was no obligation on Paul's part to do Christian
work which does not lie on you.

III. Further, this change of name is a memorial of victory.

The name is that of Paul's first convert. He takes it, as I suppose,
because it seemed to him such a blessed thing that at the very moment
when he began to sow, God helped him to reap. He had gone out to his
work, no doubt, with much trembling, with weakness and fear. And lo!
here, at once, the fields were white already to the harvest,

Great conquerors have been named from their victories; Africanus,
Germanicus, Nelson of the Nile, Napier of Magdala, and the like. Paul
names himself from the first victory that God gives him to win; and so,
as it were, carries ever on his breast a memorial of the wonder that
through him it had been given to preach, and that not without success,
amongst the Gentiles 'the unsearchable riches of Christ.'

That is to say, this man thought of it as his highest honour, and the
thing best worthy to be remembered about his life, that God had helped
him to help his brethren to know the common Master. Is that your idea
of the best thing about a life? What would you, a professing Christian,
like to have for an epitaph on your grave? 'He was rich; he made a big
business in Manchester'; 'He was famous, he wrote books'; 'He was happy
and fortunate'; or, 'He turned many to righteousness'? This man flung
away his literary tastes, his home joys, and his personal ambition, and
chose as that for which he would live, and by which he would fain be
remembered, that he should bring dark hearts to the light in which he
and they together walked.

His name, in its commemoration of his first success, would act as a
stimulus to service and to hope. No doubt the Apostle, like the rest of
us, had his times of indolence and languor, and his times of
despondency when he seemed to have laboured in vain, and spent his
strength for nought. He had but to say 'Paul' to find the antidote to
both the one and the other, and in the remembrance of the past to find
a stimulus for service for the future, and a stimulus for hope for the
time to come. His first convert was to him the first drop that predicts
the shower, the first primrose that prophesies the wealth of yellow
blossoms and downy green leaves that will fill the woods in a day or
two. The first convert 'bears in his hand a glass which showeth many
more.' Look at the workmen in the streets trying to get up a piece of
the roadway. How difficult it is to lever out the first paving stone
from the compacted mass! But when once it has been withdrawn, the rest
is comparatively easy. We can understand Paul's triumph and joy over
the first stone which he had worked out of the strongly cemented wall
and barrier of heathenism; and his conviction that having thus made a
breach, if it were but wide enough to let the end of his lever in, the
fall of the whole was only a question of time. I suppose that if the
old alchemists had turned but one grain of base metal into gold they
might have turned tons, if only they had had the retorts and the
appliances with which to do it. And so, what has brought one man's soul
into harmony with God, and given one man the true life, can do the same
for all men. In the first fruits we may see the fields whitening to the
harvest. Let us rejoice then, in any little work that God helps us to
do, and be sure that if so great be the joy of the first fruits, great
beyond speech will be the joy of the ingathering.

IV. And now last of all, this change of name is an index of the spirit
of a life's work.

'Paul' means 'little'; 'Saul' means 'desired.' He abandons the name
that prophesied of favour and honour, to adopt a name that bears upon
its very front a profession of humility. His very name is the
condensation into a word of his abiding conviction: 'I am less than the
least of all saints.' Perhaps even there may be an allusion to his low
stature, which may be pointed at in the sarcasm of his enemies that his
letters were strong, though his bodily presence was 'weak.' If he was,
as Renan calls him, 'an ugly little Jew,' the name has a double
appropriateness.

But, at all events, it is an expression of the spirit in which he
sought to do his work. The more lofty the consciousness of his vocation
the more lowly will a true man's estimate of himself be. The higher my
thought of what God has given me grace to do, the more shall I feel
weighed down by the consciousness of my unfitness to do it. And the
more grateful my remembrance of what He has enabled me to do, the more
shall I wonder that I have been enabled, and the more profoundly shall
I feel that it is not my strength but His that has won the victories.

So, dear brethren, for all hope, for all success in our work, for all
growth in Christian grace and character, this disposition of lowly
self-abasement and recognised unworthiness and infirmity is absolutely
indispensable. The mountain-tops that lift themselves to the stars are
barren, and few springs find their rise there. It is in the lowly
valleys that the flowers grow and the rivers run. And it is they who
are humble and lowly in heart to whom God gives strength to serve Him,
and the joy of accepted service.

I beseech you, then, learn your true life's task. Learn how to do it by
identifying yourselves with the humbler brethren whom you would help.
Learn the spirit in which it must be done; the spirit of lowly
self-abasement. And oh! above all, learn this, that unless you have the
new life, the life of God in your hearts, you have no life at all.

Have you, my brother, that faith by which we receive into our spirits
Christ's own Spirit, to be our life? If you have, then you are a new
creature, with a new name, perhaps but dimly visible and faintly
audible, amidst the imperfections of earth, but sure to shine out on
the pages of the Lamb's Book of Life; and to be read 'with tumults of
acclaim' before the angels of Heaven. 'I will give him a white stone,
and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that
receiveth it.'



JOHN MARK

'... John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem.'--ACTS xiii. 13.

The few brief notices of John Mark in Scripture are sufficient to give
us an outline of his life, and some inkling of his character. He was
the son of a well-to-do Christian woman in Jerusalem, whose house
appears to have been the resort of the brethren as early as the period
of Peter's miraculous deliverance from prison. As the cousin of
Barnabas he was naturally selected to be the attendant and secular
factotum of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. For
some reason, faint-heartedness, lack of interest, levity of
disposition, or whatever it may have been, he very quickly abandoned
that office and returned to his home. His kindly-natured and indulgent
relative sought to reinstate him in his former position on the second
journey of Paul and himself. Paul's kinder severity refused to comply
with the wish of his colleague Barnabas, and so they part, and Barnabas
and Mark sail away to Cyprus, and drop out of the Acts of the Apostles.
We hear no more about him until near the end of the Apostle Paul's
life, when the Epistles to the Colossians and Philemon show him as
again the companion of Paul in his captivity. He seems to have left him
in Rome, to have gone to Asia Minor for a space, to have returned to
the Apostle during his last imprisonment and immediately prior to his
death, and then to have attached himself to the Apostle Peter, and
under his direction and instruction to have written his Gospel.

Now these are the bones of his story; can we put flesh and blood upon
them: and can we get any lessons out of them? I think we may; at any
rate I am going to try.

I. Consider then, first, his--what shall I call it? well, if I may use
the word which Paul himself designates it by, in its correct
signification, we may call it his--apostasy.

It was not a departure from Christ, but it was a departure from very
plain duty. And if you will notice the point of time at which Mark
threw up the work that was laid upon him, you will see the reason for
his doing so. The first place to which the bold evangelists went was
Cyprus. Barnabas was a native of Cyprus, which was perhaps the reason
for selecting it as the place in which to begin the mission. For the
same reason, because it was the native place of his relative, it would
be very easy work for John Mark as long as they stopped in Cyprus,
among his friends, with people that knew him, and with whom no doubt he
was familiar. But as soon as they crossed the strait that separated the
island from the mainland, and set foot upon the soil of Asia Minor, so
soon he turned tail; like some recruit that goes into battle, full of
fervour, but as soon as the bullets begin to 'ping' makes the best of
his way to the rear. He was quite ready for missionary work as long as
it was easy work; quite ready to do it as long as he was moving upon
known ground and there was no great call upon his heroism, or his
self-sacrifice; he does not wait to test the difficulties, but is
frightened by the imagination of them, does not throw himself into the
work and see how he gets on with it, but before he has gone a mile into
the land, or made any real experience of the perils and hardships, has
had quite enough of it, and goes away back to his mother in Jerusalem.

Yes, and we find exactly the same thing in all kinds of strenuous life.
Many begin to run, but one after another, as 'lap' after 'lap' of the
racecourse is got over, has had enough of it, and drops on one side; a
hundred started, and at the end the field is reduced to three or four.
All you men that have grey hairs on your heads can remember many of
your companions that set out in the course with you, 'did run well' for
a little while: what has become of them? This thing hindered one, the
other thing hindered another; the swiftly formed resolution died down
as fast as it blazed up; and there are perhaps some three or four that,
'by patient continuance in well-doing,' have been tolerably faithful to
their juvenile ideal; and to use the homely word of the homely Abraham
Lincoln, kept 'pegging away' at what they knew to be the task that was
laid upon them.

This is very 'threadbare' morality, very very familiar and
old-fashioned teaching; but I am accustomed to believe that no teaching
is threadbare until it is practised; and that however well-worn the
platitudes may be, you and I want them once again unless we have obeyed
them, and done all which they enjoin. And so in regard to every career
which has in it anything of honour and of effort, let John Mark teach
us the lesson not swiftly to begin and inconsiderately to venture upon
a course, but once begun to let nothing discourage, 'nor bate one jot
of heart or hope, but still bear up and steer right onward.'

And still further and more solemnly still, how like this story is to
the experience of hundreds and thousands of young Christians! Any man
who has held such an office as I hold, for as many years as I have
filled it, will have his memory full--and, may I say, his eyes not
empty--of men and women who began like this man, earnest, fervid, full
of zeal, and who, like him, have slackened in their work; who were
Sunday-school teachers, workers amongst the poor, I know not what, when
they were young men and women, and who now are idle and unprofitable
servants.

Some of you, dear brethren, need the word of exhortation and earnest
beseeching to contrast the sluggishness, the indolence of your present,
with the brightness and the fervour of your past. And I beseech you, do
not let your Christian life be like that snow that is on the ground
about us to-day--when it first lights upon the earth, radiant and
white, but day by day gets more covered with a veil of sooty blackness
until it becomes dark and foul.

Many of us have to acknowledge that the fervour of early days has died
down into coldness. The river that leapt from its source rejoicing, and
bickered amongst the hills in such swift and musical descent, creeps
sluggish and almost stagnant amongst the flats of later life, or has
been lost and swallowed up altogether in the thirsty and encroaching
sands of a barren worldliness. Oh! my friends, let us all ponder this
lesson, and see to it that no repetition of the apostasy of this man
darken our Christian lives and sadden our Christian conscience.

II. And now let me ask you to look next, in the development of this
little piece of biography, to Mark's eclipse.

Paul and Barnabas differed about how to treat the renegade. Which of
them was right? Would it have been better to have put him back in his
old post, and given him another chance, and said nothing about the
failure; or was it better to do what the sterner wisdom of Paul did,
and declare that a man who had once so forgotten himself and abandoned
his work was not the man to put in the same place again? Barnabas'
highest quality, as far as we know, was a certain kind of broad
generosity and rejoicing to discern good in all men. He was a 'son of
consolation'; the gentle kindness of his natural disposition, added to
the ties of relationship, influenced him in his wish regarding his
cousin Mark. He made a mistake. It would have been the cruellest thing
that could have been done to his relative to have put him back again
without acknowledgment, without repentance, without his riding
quarantine for a bit, and holding his tongue for a while. He would not
then have known his fault as he ought to have known it, and so there
would never have been the chance of his conquering it.

The Church manifestly sympathised with Paul, and thought that he took
the right view; for the contrast is very significant between the
unsympathising silence which the narrative records as attending the
departure of Barnabas and Mark--'Barnabas took Mark, and sailed away to
Cyprus'--and the emphasis with which it tells us that the other partner
in the dispute, Paul, 'took Silas and departed, being recommended by
the brethren to the grace of God.'

The people at Antioch had no doubt who was right, and I think they were
right in so deciding. So let us learn that God treats His renegades as
Paul treated Mark, and not as Barnabas would have treated him, He is
ready, even infinitely ready, to forgive and to restore, but desires to
see the consciousness of the sin first, and desires, before large tasks
are re-committed to hands that once have dropped them, to have some
kind of evidence that the hands have grown stronger and the heart
purified from its cowardice and its selfishness. Forgiveness does not
mean impunity. The infinite mercy of God is not mere weak indulgence
which so deals with a man's failures and sins as to convey the
impression that these are of no moment whatsoever. And Paul's severity
which said: 'No, such work is not fit for such hands until the heart
has been "broken and healed,"' is of a piece with God's severity which
is love. 'Thou wast a God that forgavest them, though Thou tookest
vengeance of their inventions.' Let us learn the difference between a
weak charity which loves too foolishly, and therefore too selfishly, to
let a man inherit the fruit of his doings, and the large mercy which
knows how to take the bitterness out of the chastisement, and yet knows
how to chastise.

And still further, this which I have called Mark's eclipse may teach us
another lesson, viz., that the punishment for shirking work is to be
denied work, just as the converse is true, that in God's administration
of the world and of His Church, the reward for faithful work is to get
more to do, and the filling a narrower sphere is the sure way to have a
wider sphere to fill. So if a man abandons plain duties, then he will
get no work to do. And that is why so many Christian men and women are
idle in this world; and stand in the market-place, saying, with a
certain degree of truth, 'No man hath hired us.' No; because so often
in the past tasks have been presented to you, forced upon you, almost
pressed into your unwilling hands, that you have refused to take; and
you are not going to get any more. You have been asked to work,--I
speak now to professing Christians--duties have been pressed upon you,
fields of service have opened plainly before you, and you have not had
the heart to go into them. And so you stand idle all the day now, and
the work goes to other people that will do it. Thus God honours them,
and passes you by.

Mark sails away to Cyprus, he does not go back to Jerusalem; he and
Barnabas try to get up some little schismatic sort of mission of their
own. Nothing comes of it; nothing ought to have come of it. He drops
out of the story; he has no share in the joyful conflicts and
sacrifices and successes of the Apostle. When he heard how Paul, by
God's help, was flaming like a meteor from East to West, do you not
think he wished that he had not been such a coward? When the Lord was
opening doors, and he saw how the work was prospering in the hands of
ancient companions, and Silas filled the place that he might have
filled, if he had been faithful to God, do you not think the bitter
thought occupied his mind, of how he had flung away what never could
come back to him now? The punishment of indolence is absolute idleness.

So, my friends, let us learn this lesson, that the largest reward that
God can give to him that has been faithful in a few things, is to give
him many things to be faithful over. Beware, all of you professing
Christians, lest to you should come the fate of the slothful servant
with his one burled talent, to whom the punishment of burying it unused
was to lose it altogether; according to that solemn word which was
fulfilled in the temporal sphere in this story on which I am
commenting: 'To him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath
not, even that he hath shall be taken away.'

III. Again consider the process of recovery.

Concerning it we read nothing indeed in Scripture; but concerning it we
know enough to be able at least to determine what its outline must have
been. The silent and obscure years of compulsory inactivity had their
fruit, no doubt. There is only one road, with well-marked stages, by
which a backsliding or apostate Christian can return to his Master. And
that road has three halting-places upon it, through which the heart
must pass if it have wandered from its early faith, and falsified its
first professions. The first of them is the consciousness of the fall,
the second is the resort to the Master for forgiveness; and the last is
the deepened consecration to Him.

The patriarch Abraham, in a momentary lapse from faith to sense,
thought himself compelled to leave the land to which God had sent him,
because a famine threatened; and when he came back from Egypt, as the
narrative tells us with deep significance, he went to the 'place where
he had pitched his tent at the beginning; to the altar which lie had
reared at the first.' Yes, my friends, we must begin over again, tread
all the old path, enter by the old wicket-gate, once more take the
place of the penitent, once more make acquaintance with the pardoning
Christ, once more devote ourselves in renewed consecration to His
service. No man that wanders into the wilderness but comes back by the
King's highway, if he comes back at all.

IV. And so lastly, notice the reinstatement of the penitent renegade.

If you turn at your leisure to the remaining notices of John Mark in
Scripture, you will find, in two of Paul's Epistles of the captivity,
viz., those to the Colossians and Philemon, references to him; and
these references are of a very interesting and beautiful nature. Paul
says that in Rome Mark was one of the four born Jews who had been a
cordial and a comfort to him in his imprisonment. He commends him, in
the view of a probable journey, to the loving reception of the church
at Colosse, as if they knew something derogatory to his character, the
impression of which the Apostle desired to remove. He sends to Philemon
the greetings of the repentant renegade in strange juxtaposition with
the greetings of two other men, one who was an apostate at the end of
his career instead of at the beginning, and of whom we do not read that
he ever came back, and one who all his life long is the type of a
faithful friend and companion, 'Mark, Demas, Luke' are bracketed as
greeting Philemon; the first a runaway that came back, the second a
fugitive who, so far as we know, never returned, and the last the
faithful friend throughout.

And then in Paul's final Epistle, and in almost the last words of it,
we read his request to Timothy. 'Take Mark, and bring him with thee,
for he is profitable to me for the ministry.' The first notice of him
was: 'They had John to their minister'; the last word about him is: 'he
is profitable for the ministry.' The Greek words in the original are
not identical, but their meaning is substantially the same. So
notwithstanding the failure, notwithstanding the wise refusal of Paul
years before to have anything more to do with him, he is now reinstated
in his old office, and the aged Apostle, before he dies, would like to
have the comfort of his presence once more at his side. Is not the
lesson out of that, this eternal Gospel that even early failures,
recognised and repented of, may make a man better fitted for the tasks
from which once he fled? Just as they tell us--I do not know whether it
is true or not, it will do for an illustration--just as they tell us
that a broken bone renewed is stronger at the point of fracture than it
ever was before, so the very sin that we commit, when once we know it
for a sin, and have brought it to Christ for forgiveness, may minister
to our future efficiency and strength. The Israelites fought twice upon
one battlefield. On the first occasion they were shamefully defeated;
on the second, on the same ground, and against the same enemies, they
victoriously emerged from the conflict, and reared the stone which
said, 'Ebenezer!' 'Hitherto the Lord hath helped us.'

And so the temptations which have been sorest may be overcome, the sins
into which we most naturally fall we may put our foot upon; the past is
no specimen of what the future may be. The page that is yet to be
written need have none of the blots of the page that we have turned
over shining through it. Sin which we have learned to know for sin and
to hate, teaches us humility, dependence, shows us where our weak
places are. Sin which is forgiven knits us to Christ with deeper and
more fervid love, and results in a larger consecration. Think of the
two ends of this man's life--flying like a frightened hare from the
very first suspicion of danger or of difficulty, sulking in his
solitude, apart from all the joyful stir of consecration and of
service; and at last made an evangelist to proclaim to the whole world
the story of the Gospel of the Servant. God works with broken reeds,
and through them breathes His sweetest music.

So, dear brethren, 'Take with you words, and return unto the Lord; say
unto Him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously,' and the
answer will surely be:--'I will heal their backsliding; I will love
them freely; I will be as the dew unto Israel.'



THE FIRST PREACHING IN ASIA MINOR

'Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever
among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. 27.
For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew
Him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every
Sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning Him. 28. And though
they found no cause of death in Him, yet desired they Pilate that he
should be slain. 29. And when they had fulfilled all that was written
of Him, they took Him down from the tree, and laid Him in a sepulchre.
30. But God raised Him from the dead: 31. And He was seen many days of
them which came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His
witnesses unto the people. 32. And we declare unto you glad tidings,
how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, 33. God hath
fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that He hath raised up
Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm. Thou art my
Son, this day have I begotten Thee. 34. And as concerning that He
raised Him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, He
said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. 35.
Wherefore He saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine
Holy One to see corruption. 36. For David, after he had served his own
generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his
fathers, and saw corruption: 37. But He, whom God raised again, saw no
corruption. 38. Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that
through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: 39. And
by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye
could not be justified by the law of Moses.'--ACTS xiii. 26-39.

The extended report of Paul's sermon in the synagogue at Antioch of
Pisidia marks it, in accordance with Luke's method, as the first of a
series. It was so because, though the composition of the audience was
identical with that of those in the synagogues of Cyprus, this was the
beginning of the special work of the tour, the preaching in the cities
of Asia Minor. The part of the address contained in the passage falls
into three sections,--the condensed narrative of the Gospel facts (vs.
26-31), the proof that the resurrection was prophesied (vs. 32-37), and
the pungent personal application (v. 38 to end).

I. The substance of the narrative coincides, as it could not but do,
with Peter's sermons, but yet with differences, partly due to the
different audience, partly to Paul's idiosyncrasy. After the preceding
historical _resume_, he girds himself to his proper work of proclaiming
the Gospel, and he marks the transition in verse 26 by reiterating his
introductory words.

His audience comprised the two familiar classes of Jews and Gentile
proselytes, and he seeks to win the ears of both. His heart goes out in
his address to them all as 'brethren,' and in his classing himself and
Barnabas among them as receivers of the message which he has to
proclaim. What skill, if it were not something much more sacred, even
humility and warm love, lies in that 'to _us_ is the word of this
salvation sent'! He will not stand above them as if he had any other
possession of his message than they might have. He, too, has received
it, and what he is about to say is not his word, but God's message to
them and him. That is the way to preach.

Notice, too, how skilfully he introduces the narrative of the rejection
of Jesus as the reason why the message has now come to them his hearers
away in Antioch. It is 'sent forth' 'to us,' Asiatic Jews, _for_ the
people in the sacred city would not have it. Paul does not prick his
hearers' consciences, as Peter did, by charging home the guilt of the
rejection of Jesus on them. They had no share in that initial crime.
There is a faint purpose of dissociating himself and his hearers from
the people of Jerusalem, to whom the Dispersion were accustomed to look
up, in the designation, 'they that dwell in Jerusalem, and _their_
rulers.' Thus far the Antioch Jews had had hands clean from that crime;
they had now to choose whether they would mix themselves up with it.

We may further note that Paul says nothing about Christ's life of
gentle goodness, His miracles or teaching, but concentrates attention
on His death and resurrection. From the beginning of his ministry these
were the main elements of his 'Gospel' (1 Cor. xv. 3, 4). The full
significance of that death is not declared here. Probably it was
reserved for subsequent instruction. But it and the Resurrection, which
interpreted it, are set in the forefront, as they should always be. The
main point insisted on is that the men of Jerusalem were fulfilling
prophecy in slaying Jesus. With tragic deafness, they knew not the
voices of the prophets, clear and unanimous as they were, though they
heard them every Sabbath of their lives, and yet they fulfilled them. A
prophet's words had just been read in the synagogue; Paul's words might
set some hearer asking whether a veil had been over his heart while his
ears had heard the sound of the word.

The Resurrection is established by the only evidence for a historical
fact, the testimony of competent eyewitnesses. Their competence is
established by their familiar companionship with Jesus during His whole
career; their opportunities for testing the reality of the fact, by the
'many days' of His appearances.

Paul does not put forward his own testimony to the Resurrection, though
we know, from 1 Corinthians xv. 8, that he regarded Christ's appearance
to him as being equally valid evidence with that afforded by the other
appearances; but he distinguishes between the work of the Apostles, as
'witnesses unto the people'--that is, the Jews of Palestine--and that
of Barnabas and himself. They had to bear the message to the regions
beyond. The Apostles and he had the same work, but different spheres.

II. The second part turns with more personal address to his hearers.
Its purport is not so much to preach the Resurrection, which could only
be proved by testimony, as to establish the fact that it was the
fulfilment of the promises to the fathers. Note how the idea of
fulfilled prophecy runs in Paul's head. The Jews had _fulfilled_ it by
their crime; God _fulfilled_ it by the Resurrection. This reiteration
of a key-word is a mark of Paul's style in his Epistles, and its
appearance here attests the accuracy of the report of his speech.

The second Psalm, from which Paul's first quotation is made, is
prophetic of Christ, inasmuch as it represents in vivid lyrical
language the vain rebellion of earthly rulers against Messiah, and
Jehovah's establishing Him and His kingdom by a steadfast decree. Peter
quoted its picture of the rebels, as fulfilled in the coalition of
Herod, Pilate, and the Jewish rulers against Christ. The Messianic
reference of the Psalm, then, was already seen; and we may not be going
too far if we assume that Jesus Himself had included it among things
written in the Psalms 'concerning Himself,' which He had explained to
the disciples after the Resurrection. It depicts Jehovah speaking to
Messiah, _after_ the futile attempts of the rebels: 'This day have I
begotten Thee.' That day is a definite point in time. The Resurrection
was a birth from the dead; so Paul, in Colossians i. 18, calls Jesus
'the first begotten from the dead.' Romans i. 4,'declared to be the Son
of God ... by the resurrection from the dead,' is the best commentary
on Paul's words here.

The second and third quotations must apparently be combined, for the
second does not specifically refer to resurrection, but it promises to
'you,' that is to those who obey the call to partake in the Messianic
blessings, a share in the 'sure' and enduring 'mercies of David'; and
the third quotation shows that not 'to see corruption' was one of these
'mercies.' That implies that the speaker in the Psalm was, in Paul's
view, David, and that his words were his believing answer to a divine
promise. But David was dead. Had the 'sure mercy' proved, then, a
broken reed? Not so: for Jesus, who is Messiah, and is God's 'Holy One'
in a deeper sense than David was, has not seen corruption. The
Psalmist's hopes are fulfilled in Him, and through Him, in all who will
'eat' that their 'souls may live,'

III. But Paul's yearning for his brethren's salvation is not content
with proclaiming the fact of Christ's resurrection, nor with pointing
to it as fulfilling prophecy; he gathers all up into a loving, urgent
offer of salvation for every believing soul, and solemn warning to
despisers. Here the whole man flames out. Here the characteristic
evangelical teaching, which is sometimes ticketed as 'Pauline' by way
of stigma, is heard. Already had he grasped the great antithesis
between Law and Gospel. Already his great word 'justified' has taken
its place in his terminology. The essence of the Epistles to Romans and
Galatians is here. Justification is the being pronounced and treated as
not guilty. Law cannot justify. 'In Him' we are justified. Observe that
this is an advance on the previous statement that 'through Him' we
receive remission of sins.

'In Him' points, thought but incidentally and slightly, to the great
truth of incorporation with Jesus, of which Paul had afterwards so much
to write. The justifying in Christ is complete and absolute. And the
sole sufficient condition of receiving it is faith. But the greater the
glory of the light the darker the shadow which it casts. The broad
offer of complete salvation has ever to be accompanied with the plain
warning of the dread issue of rejecting it. Just because it is so free
and full, and to be had on such terms, the warning has to be rung into
deaf ears, 'Beware _therefore_!' Hope and fear are legitimately
appealed to by the Christian evangelist. They are like the two wings
which may lift the soul to soar to its safe shelter in the Rock of Ages.



LUTHER--A STONE ON THE CAIRN

'For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God,
fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: 37.
But He, whom God raised again, saw no corruption.'--ACTS xiii. 36, 37.

I take these words as a motto rather than as a text. You will have
anticipated the use which I purpose to make of them in connection with
the Luther Commemoration. They set before us, in clear sharp contrast,
the distinction between the limited, transient work of the servants and
the unbounded, eternal influence of the Master. The former are
servants, and that but for a time; they do their work, they are laid in
the grave, and as their bodies resolve into their elements, so their
influence, their teaching, the institutions which they may have
founded, disintegrate and decay. He lives. His relation to the world is
not as theirs; He is 'not for an age, but for all time.' Death is not
the end of His work. His Cross is the eternal foundation of the world's
hope. His life is the ultimate, perfect revelation of the divine Nature
which can never be surpassed, or fathomed, or antiquated. Therefore the
last thought, in all commemorations of departed teachers and guides,
should be of Him who gave them all the force that they had; and the
final word should be: 'They were not suffered to continue by reason of
death, this Man continueth ever.'

In the same spirit then as the words of my text, and taking them as
giving me little more than a starting-point and a framework, I draw
from them some thoughts appropriate to the occasion.

I. First, we have to think about the limited and transient work of this
great servant of God.

The miner's son, who was born in that little Saxon village four hundred
years ago, presents at first sight a character singularly unlike the
traditional type of mediaeval Church fathers and saints. Their ascetic
habits, and the repressive system under which they were trained,
withdraw them from our sympathy; but this sturdy peasant, with his
full-blooded humanity, unmistakably a man, and a man all round, is a
new type, and looks strangely out of place amongst doctors and
mediaeval saints.

His character, though not complex, is many-sided and in some respects
contradictory. The face and figure that look out upon us from the best
portraits of Luther tell us a great deal about the man. Strong,
massive, not at all elegant; he stands there, firm and resolute, on his
own legs, grasping a _Bible_ in a muscular hand. There is plenty of
animalism--a source of power as well as of weakness--in the thick neck;
an iron will in the square chin; eloquence on the full, loose lips; a
mystic, dreamy tenderness and sadness in the steadfast eyes--altogether
a true king and a leader of men!

The first things that strike one in the character are the iron will
that would not waver, the indomitable courage that knew no fear, the
splendid audacity that, single-handed, sprang into the arena for a
contest to the death with Pope, Emperors, superstitions, and devils;
the insight that saw the things that were 'hid from the wise and
prudent,' and the answering sincerity that would not hide what he saw,
nor say that he saw what he did not.

But there was a great deal more than that in the man. He was no mere
brave revolutionary, he was a cultured scholar, abreast of all the
learning of his age, capable of logic-chopping and scholastic
disputation on occasion, and but too often the victim of his own
over-subtle refinements. He was a poet, with a poet's dreaminess and
waywardness, fierce alternations of light and shade, sorrow and joy.
All living things whispered and spoke to him, and he walked in
communion with them all. Little children gathered round his feet, and
he had a big heart of love for all the weary and the sorrowful.

Everybody knows how he could write and speak. He made the German
language, as we may say, lifting it up from a dialect of boors to
become the rich, flexible, cultured speech that it is. And his Bible,
his single-handed work, is one of the colossal achievements of man;
like Stonehenge or the Pyramids. 'His words were half-battles,' 'they
were living creatures that had hands and feet'; his speech, direct,
strong, homely, ready to borrow words from the kitchen or the gutter,
is unmatched for popular eloquence and impression. There was music in
the man. His flute solaced his lonely hours in his home at Wittemberg;
and the Marseillaise of the Reformation, as that grand hymn of his has
been called, came, words and music, from his heart. There was humour in
him, coarse horseplay often; an honest, hearty, broad laugh frequently,
like that of a Norse god. There were coarse tastes in him, tastes of
the peasant folk from whom he came, which clung to him through life,
and kept him in sympathy with the common people, and intelligible to
them. And withal there was a constitutional melancholy, aggravated by
his weary toils, perilous fightings, and fierce throes, which led him
down often into the deep mire where there was no standing; and which
sighs through all his life. The penitential Psalms and Paul's wail: 'O
wretched man that I am,' perhaps never woke more plaintive echo in any
human heart than they did in Martin Luther's.

Faults he had, gross and plain as the heroic mould in which he was
cast. He was vehement and fierce often; he was coarse and violent
often. He saw what he did see so clearly, that he was slow to believe
that there was anything that he did not see. He was oblivious of
counterbalancing considerations, and given to exaggerated, incautious,
unguarded statements of precious truths. He too often aspired to be a
driver rather than a leader of men; and his strength of will became
obstinacy and tyranny. It was too often true that he had dethroned the
pope of Rome to set up a pope at Wittemberg. And foul personalities
came from his lips, according to the bad controversial fashion of his
day, which permitted a licence to scholars that we now forbid to
fishwives.

All that has to be admitted; and when it is all admitted, what then?
This is a fastidious generation; Erasmus is its heroic type a great
deal more than Luther--I mean among the cultivated classes of our
day--and that very largely because in Erasmus there is no quick
sensibility to religious emotion as there is in Luther, and no
inconvenient fervour. The faults are there--coarse, plain,
palpable--and perhaps more than enough has been made of them. Let us
remember, as to his violence, that he was following the fashion of the
day; that he was fighting for his life; that when a man is at
death-grips with a tiger he may be pardoned if he strikes without
considering whether he is going to spoil the skin or not; and that on
the whole you cannot throttle snakes in a graceful attitude. Men fought
then with bludgeons; they fight now with dainty polished daggers,
dipped in cold, colourless poison of sarcasm. Perhaps there was less
malice in the rougher old way than in the new.

The faults are there, and nobody who is not a fool would think of
painting that homely Saxon peasant-monk's face without the warts and
the wrinkles. But it is quite as unhistorical, and a great deal more
wicked, to paint nothing but the warts and wrinkles; to rake all the
faults together and make the most of them; and present them in answer
to the question: 'What sort of a man was Martin Luther?'

As to the work that he did, like the work of all of us, it had its
limitations, and it will have its end. The impulse that he
communicated, like all impulses that are given from men, will wear out
its force. New questions will arise of which the dead leaders never
dreamed, and in which they can give no counsel. The perspective of
theological thought will alter, the centre of interest will change, a
new dialect will begin to be spoken. So it comes to pass that all
religious teachers and thinkers are left behind, and that their words
are preserved and read rather for their antiquarian and historical
interest than because of any impulse or direction for the present which
may linger in them; and if they founded institutions, these too, in
their time, will crumble and disappear.

But I do not mean to say that the truths which Luther rescued from the
dust of centuries, and impressed upon the conscience of Teutonic
Europe, are getting antiquated. I only mean that his connection with
them and his way of putting them, had its limitations and will have its
end: 'This man, having served his own generation by the will of God,
was gathered to his fathers, and saw corruption.'

What _were_ the truths, what was his contribution to the illumination
of Europe, and to the Church? Three great principles--which perhaps
closer analysis might reduce to one; but which for popular use, on such
an occasion as the present, had better be kept apart--will state his
service to the world.

There were three men in the past who, as it seems to me, reach out
their hands to one another across the centuries--Paul, St. Augustine,
and Martin Luther, The three very like each other, all three of them
joining the same subtle speculative power with the same capacity of
religious fervour, and of flaming up at the contemplation of divine
truth; all of them gifted with the same exuberant, and to fastidious
eyes, incorrect eloquence; all three trained in a school of religious
thought of which each respectively was destined to be the antagonist
and all but the destroyer.

The young Pharisee, on the road to Damascus, blinded, bewildered, with
all that vision flaming upon him, sees in its light his past, which he
thought had been so pure, and holy, and God-serving, and amazedly
discovers that it had been all a sin and a crime, and a persecution of
the divine One. Beaten from every refuge, and lying there, he cries:
'What wouldst Thou have me to do, Lord?'

The young Manichean and profligate in the fourth century, and the young
monk in his convent in the fifteenth, passed through a similar
experience;--different in form, identical in substance--with that of
Paul the persecutor. And so Paul's Gospel, which was the description
and explanation, the rationale, of his own experience, became their
Gospel; and when Paul said: 'Not by works of righteousness which our
own hands have done, but by His mercy He saved us' (Titus iii. 5), the
great voice from the North African shore, in the midst of the agonies
of barbarian invasions and a falling Rome, said 'Amen. Man lives by
faith,' and the voice from the Wittemberg convent, a thousand years
after, amidst the unspeakable corruption of that phosphorescent and
decaying Renaissance, answered across the centuries, 'It is true!'
'Herein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.'
Luther's word to the world was Augustine's word to the world; and
Luther and Augustine were the echoes of Saul of Tarsus--and Paul
learned his theology on the Damascus road, when the voice bade him go
and proclaim 'forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are
sanctified by faith that is in Me' (Acts xxvi. 18). That is Luther's
first claim on our gratitude, that he took this truth from the shelves
where it had reposed, dust-covered, through centuries, that he lifted
this truth from the bier where it had lain, smothered with sacerdotal
garments, and called with a loud voice, 'I say unto thee, arise!' and
that now the commonplace of Christianity is this: All men are sinful
men, justice condemns us all, our only hope is God's infinite mercy,
that mercy comes to us all in Jesus Christ that died for us, and he
that gets that into his heart by simple faith, he is forgiven, pure,
and he is an heir of Heaven.

There are other aspects of Christian truth which Luther failed to
apprehend. The Gospel is, of course, not merely a way of reconciliation
and forgiveness. He pushed his teaching of the uselessness of good
works as a means of salvation too far. He said rash and exaggerated
things in his vehement way about the 'justifying power' of faith alone.
Doubtless his language was often overstrained, and his thoughts
one-sided, in regard to subjects that need very delicate handling and
careful definition. But after all this is admitted, it remains true
that his strong arm tossed aside the barriers and rubbish that had been
piled across the way by which prodigals could go home to their Father,
and made plain once more the endless mercy of God, and the power of
humble faith. He was right when he declared that whatever heights and
depths there may be in God's great revelation, and however needful it
is for a complete apprehension of the truth as it is in Jesus that
these should find their place in the creed of Christendom, still the
firmness with which that initial truth of man's sinfulness and his
forgiveness and acceptance through simple faith in Christ is held, and
the clear earnestness with which it is proclaimed, are the test of a
standing or a falling Church.

And then closely connected with this central principle, and yet
susceptible of being stated separately, are the other two; of neither
of which do I think it necessary to say more than a word. Following on
that great discovery--for it was a discovery--by the monk in his
convent, of justification by faith, there comes the other principle of
the entire sweeping away of all priesthood, and the direct access to
God of every individual Christian soul. There are no more external
rites to be done by a designated and separate class. There is one
sacrificing Priest, and one only, and that is Jesus Christ, who has
sacrificed Himself for us all, and there are no other priests, except
in the sense in which every Christian man is a priest and minister of
the most high God. And no man comes between me and my Father; and no
man has power to do anything for me which brings me any grace, except
in so far as mine own heart opens for the reception, and mine own faith
lays hold of the grace given.

Luther did not carry that principle so far as some of us modern
Nonconformists carry it. He left illogical fragments of sacramentarian
and sacerdotal theories in his creed and in his Church. But, for all
that, we owe mainly to him the clear utterance of that thought, the
warm breath of which has thawed the ice chains which held Europe in
barren bondage. Notwithstanding the present portentous revival of
sacerdotalism, and the strange turning again of portions of society to
these beggarly elements of the past, I believe that the figments of a
sacrificing priesthood and sacramental efficacy will never again
permanently darken the sky in this land, the home of the men who speak
the tongue of Milton, and owe much of their religious and political
freedom to the reformation of Luther.

And the third point, which is closely connected with these other two,
is this, the declaration that every illuminated Christian soul has a
right and is bound to study God's Word without the Church at his elbow
to teach him what to think about it. It was Luther's great achievement
that, whatever else he did, he put the Bible into the hands of the
common people. In that department and region, his work perhaps bears
more distinctly the traces of limitation and imperfection than anywhere
else, for he knew nothing--how could he?--of the difficult questions of
this day in regard to the composition and authority of Scripture, nor
had he thought out his own system or done full justice to his own
principle.

He could be as inquisitorial and as dogmatic as any Dominican of them
all. He believed in force; he was as ready as all his fellows were to
invoke the aid of the temporal power. The idea of the Church, as helped
and sustained--which means fettered, and weakened, and paralysed--by
the civic government, bewitched him as it did his fellows. We needed to
wait for George Fox, and Roger Williams, and more modern names still,
before we understood fully what was involved in the rejection of
priesthood, and the claim that God's Word should speak directly to each
Christian soul. But for all that, we largely owe to Luther the creed
that looks in simple faith to Christ, a Church without a priest, in
which every man is a priest of the Most High,--the only true democracy
that the world will ever see--and a Church in which the open Bible and
the indwelling Spirit are the guides of every humble soul within its
pale. These are his claims on our gratitude.

Luther's work had its limitations and its imperfections, as I have been
saying to you. It will become less and less conspicuous as the ages go
on. It cannot be otherwise. That is the law of the world. As a whole
green forest of the carboniferous era is represented now in the rocks
by a thin seam of coal, no thicker than a sheet of paper, so the stormy
lives and the large works of the men that have gone before, are
compressed into a mere film and line, in the great cliff that slowly
rises above the sea of time and is called the history of the world.

II. Be it so; be it so! Let us turn to the other thought of our text,
the perpetual work of the abiding Lord.

'He whom God raised up saw no corruption.' It is a fact that there are
thousands of men and women in the world to-day who have a feeling about
that nineteen-centuries-dead Galilean carpenter's son that they have
about no one else. All the great names of antiquity are but ghosts and
shadows, and all the names in the Church and in the world, of men whom
we have not seen, are dim and ineffectual to us. They may evoke our
admiration, our reverence, and our wonder, but none of them can touch
our hearts. But here is this unique, anomalous fact that men and women
by the thousand love Jesus Christ, the dead One, the unseen One, far
away back there in the ages, and feel that there is no mist of oblivion
between them and Him.

That is because He does for you and me what none of these other men can
do. Luther preached about the Cross; Christ _died_ on it. 'Was Paul
crucified for you?' there is the secret of His undying hold upon the
world. The further secret lies in this, that He is not a past force but
a present one. He is no exhausted power but a power mighty to-day;
working in us, around us, on us, and for us--a living Christ. 'This Man
whom God raised up from the dead saw no corruption,' the others move
away from us like figures in a fog, dim as they pass into the mists,
having a blurred half-spectral outline for a moment, and then gone.

Christ's death has a present and a perpetual power. He has 'offered one
sacrifice for sins for ever'; and no time can diminish the efficacy of
His Cross, nor our need of it, nor the full tide of blessings which
flow from it to the believing soul. Therefore do men cling to Him today
as if it was but yesterday that He had died for them. When all other
names carved on the world's records have become unreadable, like
forgotten inscriptions on decaying grave-stones, His shall endure for
ever, deep graven on the fleshly tables of the heart. His revelation of
God is the highest truth. Till the end of time men will turn to His
life for their clearest knowledge and happiest certainty of their
Father in heaven. There is nothing limited or local in His character or
works. In His meek beauty and gentle perfectness, He stands so high
above us all that, to-day, the inspiration of His example and the
lessons of His conduct touch us as much as if He had lived in this
generation, and will always shine before men as their best and most
blessed law of conduct. Christ will not be antiquated till He is
outgrown, and it will be some time before that happens.

But Christ's power is not only the abiding influence of His earthly
life and death. He is not a past force, but a present one. He is
putting forth fresh energies to-day, working in and for and by all who
love Him. We believe in a living Christ.

Therefore the final thought, in all our grateful commemoration of dead
helpers and guides, should be of the undying Lord. He sent whatsoever
power was in them. He is with His Church to-day, still giving to men
the gifts needful for their times. Aaron may die on Hor, and Moses be
laid in his unknown grave on Pisgah, but the Angel of the Covenant, who
is the true Leader, abides in the pillar of cloud and fire, Israel's
guide in the march, and covering shelter in repose. That is our
consolation in our personal losses when our dear ones are 'not suffered
to continue by reason of death.' He who gave them all their sweetness
is with us still, and has all the sweetness which He lent them for a
time. So if we have Christ with us we cannot be desolate. Looking on
all the men, who in their turn have helped forward His cause a little
way, we should let their departure teach us His presence, their
limitations His all-sufficiency, their death His life.

Luther was once found, at a moment of peril and fear, when he had need
to grasp unseen strength, sitting in an abstracted mood, tracing on the
table with his finger the words '_Vivit_! _vivit_!'--'He lives! He
lives!' It is our hope for ourselves, and for God's truth, and for
mankind. Men come and go; leaders, teachers, thinkers speak and work
for a season and then fall silent and impotent. He abides. They die,
but He lives. They are lights kindled, and therefore sooner or later
quenched, but He is the true light from which they draw all their
brightness, and He shines for evermore. Other men are left behind and,
as the world glides forward, are wrapped in ever-thickening folds of
oblivion, through which they shine feebly for a little while, like
lamps in a fog, and then are muffled in invisibility. We honour other
names, and the coming generations will forget them, but 'His name shall
endure for ever, His name shall continue as long as the sun, and men
shall be blessed in Him; all nations shall call Him blessed.'



JEWISH REJECTERS AND GENTILE RECEIVERS

'And the next Sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear
the word of God. 45. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were
filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by
Paul, contradicting and blaspheming. 46. Then Paul and Barnabas waxed
bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have
been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves
unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. 47. For so
hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of
the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the
earth. 48. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and
glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal
life believed. 49. And the word of the Lord was published throughout
all the region. 50. But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable
women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against
Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts. 51. But they
shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came unto Iconium.
52. And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost.

'And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the
synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the
Jews and also of the Greeks believed. 2. But the unbelieving Jews
stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds evil affected against the
brethren. 3. Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the
Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of His grace, and granted
signs and wonders to be done by their hands. 4. But the multitude of
the city was divided: and part held with the Jews, and part with the
Apostles. 5. And when there was an assault made both of the Gentiles,
and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use them despitefully, and
to stone them, 6. They were ware of it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe,
cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lieth round about: 7. And
there they preached the Gospel.'--ACTS xiii. 44-52; xiv. 1-7.

In general outline, the course of events in the two great cities of
Asia Minor, with which the present passage is concerned, was the same.
It was only too faithful a forecast of what was to be Paul's experience
everywhere. The stages are: preaching in the synagogue, rejection
there, appeal to the Gentiles, reception by them, a little nucleus of
believers formed; disturbances fomented by the Jews, who swallow their
hatred of Gentiles by reason of their greater hatred of the Apostles,
and will riot with heathens, though they will not pray nor eat with
them; and finally the Apostles' departure to carry the gospel farther
afield. This being the outline, we have mainly to consider any special
features diversifying it in each case.

Their experience in Antioch was important, because it forced Paul and
Barnabas to put into plain words, making very clear to themselves as
well as to their hearers, the law of their future conduct. It is always
a step in advance when circumstances oblige us to formularise our
method of action. Words have a wonderful power in clearing up our own
vision. Paul and Barnabas had known all along that they were sent to
the Gentiles; but a conviction in the mind is one thing, and the same
conviction driven in on us by facts is quite another. The discipline of
Antioch crystallised floating intentions into a clear statement, which
henceforth became the rule of Paul's conduct. Well for us if we have
open eyes to discern the meaning of difficulties, and promptitude and
decision to fix and speak out plainly the course which they prescribe!

The miserable motives of the Jews' antagonism are forcibly stated in
vs. 44, 45. They did not 'contradict and blaspheme,' because they had
taken a week to think over the preaching and had seen its falseness,
but simply because, dog-in-the-manger like, they could not bear that
'the whole city' should be welcome to share the message. No doubt there
was a crowd of 'Gentile dogs' thronging the approach to the synagogue;
and one can almost see the scowling faces and hear the rustle of the
robes drawn closer to avoid pollution. Who were these wandering
strangers that they should gather such a crowd? And what had the
uncircumcised rabble of Antioch to do with 'the promises made to the
fathers'? It is not the only time that religious men have taken offence
at crowds gathering to hear God's word. Let us take care that we do not
repeat the sin. There are always some who--

  'Taking God's word under wise protection,
  Correct its tendency to diffusiveness.'

It needed some courage to front the wild excitement of such a mob, with
calm, strong words likely to increase the rage.

'Lo, we turn to the Gentiles.' This is not to be regarded as announcing
a general course of action, but simply as applying to the actual
rejecters in Antioch. The necessity that the word should first be
spoken to the Jews continued to be recognised, in each new sphere of
work, by the Apostle; but wherever, as here, men turned from the
message, the messengers turned from them without further waste of time.
Paul put into words here the law for his whole career. The fit
punishment of rejection is the withdrawal of the offer. There is
something pathetic in the persistence with which, in place after place,
Paul goes through the same sequence, his heart yearning over his
brethren according to the flesh, and hoping on, after all repulses. It
was far more than natural patriotism; it was an offshoot of Christ's
own patient love.

Note also the divine command. Paul bases his action on a prophecy as to
the Messiah. But the relation on which prophecy insists between the
personal servant of Jehovah and the collective Israel, is such that the
great office of being the Light of the world devolves from Him on it
and the true Israel is to be a light to the Gentiles. These very Jews
in Antioch, lashing themselves into fury because Gentiles were to be
offered a share in Israel's blessings, ought to have been discharging
this glorious function. Their failure showed that they were no parts of
the real Israel. No doubt the two missionaries left the synagogue as
they spoke, and, as the door swung behind them, it shut hope out and
unbelief in. The air was fresh outside, and eager hearts welcomed the
word. Very beautifully is the gladness of the Gentile hearers set in
contrast with the temper of the Jews. It is strange news to heathen
hearts that there is a God who loves them, and a divine Christ who has
died for them. The experience of many a missionary follows Paul's here.

'As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.' The din of many a
theological battle has raged round these words, the writer of which
would have probably needed a good deal of instruction before he could
have been made to understand what the fighting was about. But it is to
be noted that there is evidently intended a contrast between the
envious Jews and the gladly receptive Gentiles, which is made more
obvious by the repetition of the words 'eternal life.' It would seem
much more relevant and accordant with the context to understand the
word rendered 'ordained' as meaning 'adapted' or 'fitted,' than to find
in it a reference to divine foreordination. Such a meaning is
legitimate, and strongly suggested by the context. The reference then
would be to the 'frame of mind of the heathen, and not to the decrees
of God.'

The only points needing notice in the further developments at Antioch
are the agents employed by the Jews, the conduct of the Apostles, and
the sweet little picture of the converts. As to the former, piously
inclined women in a heathen city would be strongly attracted by Judaism
and easily lend themselves to the impressions of their teachers. We
know that many women of rank were at that period powerfully affected in
this manner; and if a Rabbi could move a Gentile of influence through
whispers to the Gentile's wife, he would not be slow to do it. The ease
with which the Jews stirred up tumults everywhere against the Apostle
indicates their possession of great influence; and their willingness to
be hand in glove with heathen for so laudable an object as crushing one
of their own people who had become a heretic, measures the venom of
their hate and the depth of their unscrupulousness.

The Apostles had not to fear violence, as their enemies were content
with turning them out of Antioch and its neighbourhood; but they obeyed
Christ's command, shaking off the dust against them, in token of
renouncing all connection. The significant act is a trace of early
knowledge of Christ's words, long before the date of our Gospels.

While the preachers had to leave the little flock in the midst of
wolves, there was peace in the fold. Like the Ethiopian courtier when
deprived of Philip, the new believers at Antioch found that the
withdrawal of the earthly brought the heavenly Guide. 'They were filled
with joy.' What! left ignorant, lonely, ringed about with enemies, how
could they be glad? Because they were filled 'with the Holy Ghost.'
Surely joy in such circumstances was no less supernatural a token of
His presence than rushing wind or parting flames or lips opened to
speak with tongues. God makes us lonely that He may Himself be our
Companion.

It was a long journey to the great city of Iconium. According to some
geographers, the way led over savage mountains; but the two brethren
tramped along, with an unseen Third between them, and that Presence
made the road light. They had little to cheer them in their prospects,
if they looked with the eye of sense; but they were in good heart, and
the remembrance of Antioch did not embitter or discourage them.
Straight to the synagogue, as before, they went. It was their best
introduction to the new field. There, if we take the plain words of
Acts xiv. 1, they found a new thing, 'Greeks,' heathens pure and
simple, not Hellenists or Greek-speaking Jews, nor even proselytes, in
the synagogue. This has seemed so singular that efforts have been made
to impose another sense on the words, or to suppose that the notice of
Greeks, as well as Jews, believing is loosely appended to the statement
of the preaching in the synagogue, omitting notice of wider
evangelising. But it is better to accept than to correct our narrative,
as we know nothing of the circumstances that may have led to this
presence of Greeks in the synagogue. Some modern setters of the Bible
writers right would be all the better for remembering occasionally that
improbable things have a strange knack of happening.

The usual results followed the preaching of the Gospel. The Jews were
again the mischief-makers, and, with the astuteness of their race,
pushed the Gentiles to the front, and this time tried a new piece of
annoyance. 'The brethren' bore the brunt of the attack; that is, the
converts, not Paul and Barnabas. It was a cunning move to drop
suspicions into the minds of influential townsmen, and so to harass,
not the two strangers, but their adherents. The calculation was that
that would stop the progress of the heresy by making its adherents
uncomfortable, and would also wound the teachers through their
disciples.

But one small element had been left out of the calculation--the sort of
men these teachers were; and another factor which had not hitherto
appeared came into play, and upset the whole scheme. Paul and Barnabas
knew when to retreat and when to stand their ground. This time they
stood; and the opposition launched at their friends was the reason why
they did so. 'Long time _therefore_ abode they.' If their own safety
had been in question, they might have fled; but they could not leave
the men whose acceptance of their message had brought them into
straits. But behind the two bold speakers stood 'the Lord,' Christ
Himself, the true Worker. Men who live in Him are made bold by their
communion with Him, and He witnesses for those who witness for Him.

Note the designation of the Gospel as 'the word of His grace.' It has
for its great theme the condescending, giving love of Jesus. Its
subject is grace; its origin is grace; its gift is grace. Observe, too,
that the same connection between boldness of speech and signs and
wonders is found in Acts iv. 29, 30. Courageous speech for Christ is
ever attended by tokens of His power, and the accompanying tokens of
His power make the speech more courageous.

The normal course of events was pursued. Faithful preaching provoked
hostility, which led to the alliance of discordant elements, fused for
a moment by a common hatred--alas! that enmity to God's truth should be
often a more potent bond of union than love!--and then to a wise
withdrawal from danger. Sometimes it is needful to fling away life for
Jesus; but if it can be preserved without shirking duty, it is better
to flee than to die. An unnecessary martyr is a suicide. The Christian
readiness to be offered has nothing in common with fanatical
carelessness of life, and still less with the morbid longing for
martyrdom which disfigures some of the most pathetic pages of the
Church's history. Paul living to preach in the regions beyond was more
useful than Paul dead in a street riot in Iconium. A heroic prudence
should ever accompany a trustful daring, and both are best learned in
communion with Jesus.



UNWORTHY OF LIFE

'... Seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of
everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.'--ACTS xiii. 46.

So ended the first attempt on Paul's great missionary journey to preach
to the Jews. It is described at great length and the sermon given in
full because it is the first. A wonderful sermon it was; touching all
keys of feeling, now pleading almost with tears, now flashing with
indignation, now calmly dealing with Scripture prophecies, now glowing
as it tells the story of Christ's death for men. It melted some of the
hearers, but the most were wrought up to furious passion--and with
characteristic vehemence, like their ancestors and their descendants
through long dreary generations, fell to 'contradicting and
blaspheming.' We can see the scene in the synagogue, the eager faces,
the vehement gestures, the hubbub of tongues, the bitter words that
stormed round the two in the midst, Barnabas like Jupiter, grave,
majestic, and venerable; Paul like Mercury, agile, mobile, swift of
speech. They bore the brunt of the fury till they saw it to be hopeless
to try to calm it, and then departed with these remarkable words.

They are even more striking if we notice that 'judge' here may be used
in its full legal sense. It is not merely equivalent to _consider_, for
these Jews by no means thought themselves unworthy of eternal life, but
it means, 'ye adjudge and pass sentence on yourselves to be.' Their
rejection of the message was a self-pronounced sentence. It proved them
to be, and made them, 'unworthy of eternal life.' There are two or
three very striking thoughts to be gathered from these words which I
would dwell on now.

I. What constitutes worthiness and unworthiness.

There are two meanings to the word 'worthy'--deserving or fit. They run
into each other and yet they may be kept quite apart. For instance you
may say of a man that 'he is worthy' to be something or other, for
which he is obviously qualified, not thinking at all whether he
deserves it or not.

Now in the first of these senses--we are all unworthy of eternal life.
That is just to state in other words the tragic truth of universal
sinfulness. The natural outcome and issue of the course which all men
follow is death. But yet there are men who are fit for and capable of
eternal life. Who they are and what fitness is can only be ascertained
when we rightly understand what eternal life is. It is not merely
future blessedness or a synonym for a vulgar heaven. That is the common
notion of its meaning. Men think of that future as a blessed state to
which God can admit anybody if He will, and, as He is good, will admit
pretty nearly everybody. But eternal life is a present possession as
well as a future one, and passing by its deeper aspects, it includes--

Deliverance from evil habits and desires.

Purity, and love of all good and fair things.

Communion with God.

As well as forgiveness and removal of punishment.

What then are the qualifications making a man worthy of, in the sense
of fit for, such a state?

(_a_) To know oneself to be unworthy.

He who judges himself to be worthy is unworthy. He who knows himself to
be unworthy is worthy.

The first requisite is consciousness of sin, leading to repentance.

(_b_) To abandon striving to make oneself worthy.

By ourselves we never can do so. Many of us think that we must do our
best, and then God will do the rest.

There must be the entire cessation of all attempt to work out by our
own efforts characters that would entitle us to eternal life.

(_c_) To be willing to accept life on God's terms.

As a mere gift.

(_d_) To desire it.

God cannot give it to any one who does not want it. He cannot force His
gifts on us.

This then is the worthiness.

II. How we pass sentence on ourselves as unworthy.

It is quite clear that 'judge' here does not mean consider, for a sense
of unworthiness is not the reason which keeps men away from the Gospel.
Rather, as we have seen, a proud belief in our worthiness keeps very
many away. But 'judge' here means 'adjudicate' or 'pronounce sentence
on,' and worthy means fit, qualified.

Consider then--

(_a_) That our attitude to the Gospel is a revelation of our deepest
selves.

The Gospel is a 'discerner of thoughts and intents of the heart.' It
judges us here and now, and by their attitude to it 'the thoughts of
many hearts shall be revealed.'

(_b_) That our rejection of it plainly shows that we have not the
qualifications for eternal life.

No doubt some men are kept from accepting Christ by intellectual doubts
and difficulties, but even these would alter their whole attitude to
Him if they had a profound consciousness of sin, and a desire for
deliverance from it.

But with regard to the great bulk of its hearers, no doubt the
hindrance is chiefly moral. Many causes may combine to produce the
absence of qualification. The excuses in the parable'--farm, oxen,
wife'--all amount to engrossment with this present world, and such
absorption in the things seen and temporal deadens desire. So the
Gospel preached excites no longings, and a man hears the offer of
salvation without one motion of his heart towards it, and thus
proclaims himself 'unworthy of eternal life.'

But the great disqualification is the absence of all consciousness of
sin. This is the very deepest reason which keeps men away from Christ.

How solemn a thing the preaching and hearing of this word is!

How possible for you to make yourselves fit!

How simple the qualification! We have but to know ourselves sinners and
to trust Jesus and then we 'shall be counted worthy to obtain that
world and the resurrection from the dead.' Then we shall be 'worthy to
escape and to stand before the Son of Man.' Then shall we be 'worthy of
this calling,' and the Judge himself shall say: 'They shall walk with
Me in white, for they are worthy.'



'FULL OF THE HOLY GHOST'

'And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy
Ghost.'--Acts xiii. 52.

That joy was as strange as a garden full of flowers would be in bitter
winter weather. For everything in the circumstances of these disciples
tended to make them sad. They had been but just won from heathenism,
and they were raw, ignorant, unfit to stand alone. Paul and Barnabas,
their only guides, had been hunted out of Antioch by a mob, and it
would have been no wonder if these disciples had felt as if they had
been taken on to the ice and then left, when they most needed a hand to
steady them. Luke emphasises the contrast between what might have been
expected, and what was actually the case, by that eloquent 'and' at the
beginning of our verse, which links together the departure of the
Apostles and the joy of the disciples. But the next words explain the
paradox. These new converts, left in a great heathen city, with no
helpers, no guides, to work out as best they might a faith of which
they had but newly received the barest rudiments, were 'full of joy'
because they were 'full of the Holy Ghost.'

Now that latter phrase, so striking here, is characteristic of this
book of the Acts, and especially of its earlier chapters, which are
all, as it were, throbbing with wonder at the new gift which Pentecost
had brought. Let me for a moment, in the briefest possible fashion, try
to recall to you the instances of its occurrence, for they are very
significant and very important.

You remember how at Pentecost 'all' the disciples were 'filled with the
Holy Ghost.' Then when the first persecution broke over the Church,
Peter before the Council is 'filled with the Holy Spirit,' and
therefore he beards them, and 'speaks with all boldness.' When he goes
back to the Church and tells them of the threatening cloud that was
hanging over them, they too are filled with the Holy Spirit, and
therefore rise buoyantly upon the tossing wave, as a ship might do when
it passes the bar and meets the heaving sea. Then again the Apostles
lay down the qualifications for election to the so-called office of
deacon as being that the men should be 'full of the Holy Ghost and
wisdom'; and in accordance therewith, we read of the first of the
seven, Stephen, that he was 'full of faith and of the Holy Ghost,' and
therefore 'full of grace and power.' When he stood before the Council
he was 'full of the Holy Ghost,' and therefore looked up into heaven
and saw it opened, and the Christ standing ready to help him. In like
manner we read of Barnabas that he 'was a good man, full of the Holy
Ghost and of faith.' And finally we read in our text that these new
converts, left alone in Antioch of Pisidia, were 'full of joy and of
the Holy Ghost.'

Now these are the principal instances, and my purpose now is rather to
deal with the whole of these instances of the occurrence of this
remarkable expression than with the one which I have selected as a
text, because I think that they teach us great truths bearing very
closely on the strength and joyfulness of the Christian life which are
far too much neglected, obscured, and forgotten by us to-day.

I wish then to point you, first, to the solemn thought that is here, as
to what should be--

I. The experience of every Christian,

Note the two things, the universality and the abundance of this divine
gift. I have often had occasion to say to you, and so I merely repeat
it again in the briefest fashion, that we do not grasp the central
blessedness of the Christian faith unless, beyond forgiveness and
acceptance, beyond the mere putting away of the dread of punishment
either here or hereafter, we see that the gift of God in Jesus Christ
is the communication to every believing soul of that divine life which
is bestowed by the Spirit of Christ granted to every believing heart.
But I would have you notice how the universality of the gift is
unmistakably taught us by the instances which I have briefly gathered
together in my previous remarks. It was no official class on which, on
the day of Pentecost, the tongues of fire fluttered down. It was to the
whole Church that courage to front the persecutor was imparted. When in
Samaria the preaching of Philip brought about the result of the
communication of the Holy Spirit, it was to all the believers that it
was granted, and when, in the Roman barracks at Caesarea, Cornelius and
his companion listened to Peter, it was upon them all that that Divine
Spirit descended.

I suppose I need not remind you of how, if we pass beyond this book of
the Acts into the Epistles of Paul, his affirmations do most
emphatically insist upon the fact that 'we are all made to drink into
one Spirit'; and so convinced is he of the universality of the
possession of that divine life by every Christian, that he does not
hesitate to say that 'if any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is
none of His,' and to clear away all possibility of misunderstanding the
depth and wonderfulness of the gift, he further adds in another place,
'Know ye not that the Spirit is in you, except ye be reprobates?'
Similarly another of the New Testament writers declares, in the
broadest terms, that 'this spake he of the Holy Spirit,
which'--Apostles? no; office-bearers? no; ordained men? no;
distinguished and leading men? No--'_they that believe on Him_ should
receive.' Christianity is the true democracy, because it declares that
upon all, handmaidens and servants, young men and old men, there comes
the divine gift. The world thinks of a divine inspiration in a more or
less superficial fashion, as touching only the lofty summits, the great
thinkers and teachers and artists and mighty men of light and leading
of the race. The Old Testament regarded prophets and kings, and those
who were designated to important offices, as the possessors of the
Divine Spirit. But Christianity has seen the sun rising so high in the
heavens that the humblest floweret, in the deepest valley, basks in its
beams and opens to its light. 'We have _all_ been made to drink into
the one Spirit.'

Let me remind you too of how, from the usage of this book, as well as
from the rest of the New Testament teaching, there rises the other
thought of the abundance of the gift. 'Full of the Holy Spirit'--the
cup is brimming with generous wine. Not that that fulness is such as to
make inconsistencies impossible, as, alas, the best of us know. The
highest condition for us is laid down in the sad words which yet have
triumph in their sadness--'The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and
the Spirit against the flesh.' But whilst the fulness is not such as to
exclude the need of conflict, it is such as to bring the certainty of
victory.

Again if we turn to the instances to which I have already referred, we
shall find that they fall into two classes, which are distinguished in
the original by a slight variation in the form of the words employed.
Some instances refer to a habitual possession of an abundant spiritual
life moulding the character constantly, as in the cases of Stephen and
Barnabas. Others refer rather to occasional and special influxes of
special power on account of special circumstances, and drawn forth by
special exigencies, as when there poured into Peter's heart the Divine
Spirit that made him bold before the Council; or as when the dying
martyr's spirit was flooded with a new clearness of vision that pierced
the heavens and beheld the Christ. So then there may be and ought to
be, in each of us, a fulness of the Spirit, up to the edge of our
capacity, and yet of such a kind as that it may be reinforced and
increased when special needs arise.

Not only so, but that which fills me to-day should not fill me
to-morrow, because, as in earthly love, so in heavenly, no man can tell
to what this thing shall grow. The more of fruition the more there will
be of expansion, and the more of expansion the more of desire, and the
more of desire the more of capacity, and the more of capacity the more
of possession. So, brethren, the man who receives a spark of the divine
life, through his most rudimentary and tremulous faith, if he is a
faithful steward of the gift that is given to him, will find that it
grows and grows, and that there is no limit to its growth, and that in
its limitless growth there lies the surest prophecy of an eternal
growth in the heavens.

A universal gift, that is to say, a gift to each of us if we are
Christians, an abundant gift that fills the whole nature of a man,
according to the measure of his present power to receive--that is the
ideal, that is what God means, that is what these first believers had.
It did not make them perfect, it did not save them from faults or from
errors, but it was real, it was influential, it was moulding their
characters, it was progressive. And that is the ideal for all
Christians. Is it our actual? We are meant to be full of the Holy
Ghost. Ah! how many of us have never realised that there is such a
thing as being thus possessed with a divine life, partly because we do
not understand that such a fulness will not be distinguishable from our
own self, except by bettering of the works of self, and partly because
of other reasons which I shall have to touch upon presently! Brethren,
we may, every one of us, be filled with the Spirit. Let each of us ask,
'Am I? and if I am not, why this emptiness in the presence of such
abundance?'

And now let me ask you to look, in the second place, at what we gather
from these instances as to--

II. The results of that universal, abundant life.

Do not let us run away with the idea that the New Testament, or any
part of it, regards miracles and tongues and the like as being the
normal and chiefest gifts of that Divine Spirit. People read this book
of the Acts of the Apostles and, averse from the supernatural,
exaggerate the extent to which the primitive gift of the Holy Spirit
was manifested by signs and wonders, tongues of fire, and so on. We
have only to look at the instances to which I have already referred to
see that far more lofty and far more conspicuous than any such external
and transient manifestations, which yet have their place, are the
permanent and inward results, moulding character, and making men. And
Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians goes as far in the way of
setting the moral and spiritual effects of the divine influence above
the merely miraculous and external ones, as the most advanced opponent
of the supernatural could desire.

Let us look, and it can only be briefly, at the various results which
are presented in the instances to which I have referred. The most
general expression for all, which is the result of the Divine Spirit
dwelling in a man, is that it makes him good. Look at one of the
instances to which we have referred. 'Barnabas was a good man'--was he?
How came he to be so? Because he was 'full of the Holy Ghost.' And how
came he to be 'full of the Holy Ghost'? Because he was 'full of faith.'
Get the divine life into you, and that will make you good; and,
brethren, nothing else will. It is like the bottom heat in a
green-house, which makes all the plants that are there, whatever their
orders, grow and blossom and be healthy and strong. Therein is the
difference between Christian morality and the world's ethics. They may
not differ much, they do in some respects, in their ideal of what
constitutes goodness, but they differ in this, that the one says, 'Be
good, be good, be good!' but, like the Pharisees of old, puts out not a
finger to help a man to bear the burdens that it lays upon him. The
other says, 'Be good,' but it also says, 'take this and it will make
you good.' And so the one is Gospel and the other is talk, the one is a
word of good tidings, and the other is a beautiful speculation, or a
crushing commandment that brings death rather than life. 'If there had
been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness had
been by the law.' But since the clearest laying down of duty brings us
no nearer to the performance of duty, we need and, thank God! we have,
a gift bestowed which invests with power. He in whom the 'Spirit of
Holiness' dwells, and he alone, will be holy. The result of the life of
God in the heart is a life growingly like God's, manifested in the
world.

Then again let me remind you of how, from another of our instances,
there comes another thought. The result of this majestic, supernatural,
universal, abundant, divine life is practical sagacity in the commonest
affairs of life. 'Look ye out from among you seven men, full of the
Holy Ghost and of wisdom.' What to do? To meet wisely the claims of
suspicious and jealous poverty, and to distribute fairly a little
money. That was all. And are you going to invoke such a lofty gift as
this, to do nothing grander than that? Yes. Gravitation holds planets
in their orbits, and keeps grains of dust in their places. And one
result of the inspiration of the Almighty, which is granted to
Christian people, is that they will be wise for the little affairs of
life. But Stephen was also 'full of grace and power,' two things that
do not often go together--grace, gentleness, loveliness, graciousness,
on the one side, and strength on the other, which divorced, make wild
work of character, and which united, make men like God. So if we desire
our lives to be full of sweetness and light and beauty, the best way is
to get the life of Christ into them; and if we desire our lives not to
be made placid and effeminate by our cult of graciousness and
gracefulness, but to have their beauty stiffened and strengthened by
manly energy, then the best way is to get the life of the 'strong Son
of God, immortal love,' into our lives.

The same Stephen, 'full of the Holy Ghost,' looked up into heaven and
saw the Christ. So one result of that abundant life, if we have it,
will be that even though as with him, when he saw the heavens opened,
there may be some smoke-darkened roof above our heads, we can look
through all the shows of this vain world, and our purged eyes can
behold the Christ. Again the disciples in our text 'were full of joy,'
because 'they were full of the Holy Spirit,' and we, if we have that
abundant life within us, shall not be dependent for our gladness on the
outer world, but like explorers in the Arctic regions, even if we have
to build a hut of snow, shall be warm within it when the thermometer is
far below zero; and there will be light there when the long midnight is
spread around the dwelling. So, dear friends, let us understand what is
the main thing for a Christian to endeavour after,--not so much the
cultivation of special graces as the deepening of the life of Christ in
the spirit.

We gather from some of these instances--

III. The way by which we may be thus filled.

We read that Stephen was 'full of faith and of the Holy Spirit,' and
that Barnabas was 'full of the Holy Ghost and of faith,' and it is
quite clear from the respective contexts that, though the order in
which these fulnesses are placed is different in the two clauses, their
relation to each other is the same. Faith is the condition of
possessing the Spirit. And what do we mean in this connection by faith?
I mean, first, a belief in the truth of the possible abiding of the
divine Spirit in our spirits, a truth which the superficial
Christianity of this generation sorely needs to have forced upon its
consciousness far more than it has it. I mean aspiration and desire
after; I mean confident expectation of. Your wish measures your
possession. You have as much of God as you desire. If you have no more,
it is because you do not desire any more. The Christian people of
to-day, many of whom are so empty of God, are in a very tragic sense,
'full,' because they have as much as they can take in. If you bring a
tiny cup, and do not much care whether anything pours into it or not,
you will get it filled, but you might have had a gallon vessel filled
if you had chosen to bring it. Of course there are other conditions
too. We have to use the life that is given us. We have to see that we
do not quench it by sin, which drives the dove of God from a man's
heart. But the great truth is that if I open the door of my heart by
faith, Christ will come in, in His Spirit. If I take away the blinds
the light will shine into the chamber. If I lift the sluice the water
will pour in to drive my mill. If I deepen the channels, more of the
water of life can flow into them, and the deeper I make them the fuller
they will be.

Brethren, we have wasted much time and effort in trying to mend our
characters. Let us try to get that into them which will mend them. And
let us remember that, if we are full of faith, we shall be full of the
Holy Spirit, and therefore full of wisdom, full of grace and power,
full of goodness, full of joy, whatever our circumstances. And when
death comes, though it may be in some cruel form, we shall be able to
look up and see the opened heavens and the welcoming Christ.



DEIFIED AND STONED

'And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their
voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us
in the likeness of men. 12. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and
Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker. 13. Then the priest
of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and garlands unto
the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people. 14. Which
when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their
clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out. 15. And saying, Sirs,
why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and
preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living
God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are
therein: 16. Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their
own ways. 17. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that
he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons,
filling our hearts with food and gladness. 18. And with these sayings
scarce restrained they the people, that they had not done sacrifice
unto them. 19. And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and
Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him
out of the city, supposing he had been dead. 20. Howbeit, as the
disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city:
and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. 21. And when they
had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they
returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch. 22. Confirming
the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the
faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom
of God.'--ACTS xiv. 11-22.

The scene at Lystra offers a striking instance of the impossibility of
eliminating the miraculous element from this book. The cure of a lame
man is the starting-point of the whole story. Without it the rest is
motiveless and inexplicable. There can be no explosion without a train
and a fuse. The miracle, and the miracle only, supplies these. We may
choose between believing and disbelieving it, but the rejection of the
supernatural does not make this book easier to accept, but utterly
chaotic.

I. We have, first, the burst of excited wonder which floods the crowd
with the conviction that the two Apostles are incarnations of deities.
It is difficult to grasp the indications of locality in the story, but
probably the miracle was wrought in some crowded place, perhaps the
forum. At all events, it was in full view of 'the multitudes,' and they
were mostly of the lower orders, as their speaking in 'the speech of
Lycaonia' suggests.

This half-barbarous crowd had the ancient faith in the gods unweakened,
and the legends, which had become dim to pure Greek and Roman, some of
which had originated in their immediate neighbourhood, still found full
credence among them. A Jew's first thought on seeing a miracle was, 'by
the prince of the devils'; an average Greek's or Roman's was 'sorcery';
these simple people's, like many barbarous tribes to which white men
have gone with the marvels of modern science, was 'the gods have come
down'; our modern superior person's, on reading of one, is
'hallucination,' or 'a mistake of an excited imagination.' Perhaps the
cry of the multitudes at Lystra gets nearer the heart of the thing than
those others. For the miracle is a witness of present divine power, and
though the worker of it is not an incarnation of divinity, 'God _is_
with him.'

But that joyful conviction, which shot through the crowd, reveals how
deep lies the longing for the manifestation of divinity in the form of
humanity, and how natural it is to believe that, if there is a divine
being, he is sure to draw near to us poor men, and that in our own
likeness. Then is the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation but one
more of the many reachings out of the heart to paint a fair picture of
the fulfilment of its longings? Well, since it is the only such that is
alleged to have taken place in historic times, and the only one that
comes with any body of historic evidence, and the only one that brings
with it transforming power, and since to believe in a God, and also to
believe that He has never broken the awful silence, nor done anything
to fulfil a craving which He has set in men's hearts, is absurd, it is
reasonable to answer, No. 'The gods are come down in the likeness of
men' is a wistful confession of need, and a dim hope of its supply.
'The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us' is the supply.

Barnabas was the older man, and his very silence suggested his superior
dignity. So he was taken for Jupiter (Zeus in the Greek), and the
younger man for his inferior, Mercury (Hermes in the Greek), 'the
messenger of the gods.' Clearly the two missionaries did not understand
what the multitudes were shouting in their 'barbarous' language, or
they would have intervened. Perhaps they had left the spot before the
excitement rose to its height, for they knew nothing of the
preparations for the sacrifice till they '_heard_ of it, and then they
'sprang forth,' which implies that they were within some place,
possibly their lodging.

If we could be sure what 'gates' are meant in verse 13, the course of
events would be plainer. Were they those of the city, in which case the
priest and procession would be coming from the temple outside the
walls? or those of the temple itself? or those of the Apostles'
lodging? Opinions differ, and the material for deciding is lacking. At
all events, whether from sharing in the crowd's enthusiasm, or with an
eye to the reputation of his shrine, the priest hurriedly procured oxen
for a sacrifice, which one reading of the text specifies as an
'additional' offering--that is, over and above the statutory
sacrifices. Is it a sign of haste that the 'garlands,' which should
have been twined round the oxen's horns, are mentioned separately? If
so, we get a lively picture of the exultant hurry of the crowd.

II. The Apostles are as deeply moved as the multitude is, but by what
different emotions! The horror of idolatry, which was their inheritance
from a hundred generations, flamed up at the thought of themselves
being made objects of worship. They had met many different sorts of
receptions on this journey, but never before anything like this.
Opposition and threats left them calm, but this stirred them to the
depths. 'Scoff at us, fight with us, maltreat us, and we will endure;
but do not make gods of us.' I do not know that their 'successors' have
always felt exactly so.

In verse 14 Barnabas is named first, contrary to the order prevailing
since Paphos, the reason being that the crowd thought him the superior.
The remonstrance ascribed to both, but no doubt spoken by Paul,
contains nothing that any earnest monotheist, Jew or Gentile
philosopher, might not have said. The purpose of it was not to preach
Christ, but to stop the sacrifice. It is simply a vehemently earnest
protest against idolatry, and a proclamation of one living God. The
comparison with the speech in Athens is interesting, as showing Paul's
exquisite felicity in adapting his style to his audience. There is
nothing to the peasants of Lycaonia about poets, no argumentation about
the degradation of the idea of divinity by taking images as its
likeness, no wide view of the course of history, no glimpse of the
mystic thought that all creatures live and move in Him. All that might
suit the delicate ears of Athenians, but would have been wasted in
Lystra amidst the tumultuous crowd. But we have instead of these the
fearless assertion, flung in the face of the priest of Jupiter, that
idols are 'vanities,' as Paul had learned from Isaiah and Jeremiah; the
plain declaration of the one God, 'living,' and not like these
inanimate images; of His universal creative power; and the earnest
exhortation to turn to Him.

In verse 16 Paul meets an objection which rises in his mind as likely
to be springing in his hearers: 'If there is such a God, why have we
never heard of Him till now?' That is quite in Paul's manner. The
answer is undeveloped, as compared with the Athenian address or with
Romans i. But there is couched in verse 16 a tacit contrast between
'the generations gone by' and the present, which is drawn out in the
speech on Mars Hill: 'but _now_ commandeth all men everywhere to
repent,' and also a contrast between the 'nations' left to walk in
their own ways, and Israel to whom revelation had been made. The place
and the temper of the listeners did not admit of enlarging on such
matters.

But there was a plain fact, which was level to every peasant's
apprehension, and might strike home to the rustic crowd. God _had_ left
'the nations to walk in their own ways,' and yet not altogether. That
thought is wrought out in Romans i., and the difference between its
development there and here is instructive. Beneficence is the
sign-manual of heaven. The orderly sequence of the seasons, the rain
from heaven, the seat of the gods from which the two Apostles were
thought to have come down, the yearly miracle of harvest, and the
gladness that it brings--all these are witnesses to a living Person
moving the processes of the universe towards a beneficent end for man.

In spite of all modern impugners, it still remains true that the
phenomena of 'nature,' their continuity, their co-operation, and their
beneficent issues, demand the recognition of a Person with a loving
purpose moving them all. '_Thou_ crownest the year with Thy goodness;
and _Thy_ paths drop fatness.'

III. The malice of the Jews of Antioch is remarkable. Not content with
hounding the Apostles from that city, they came raging after them to
Lystra, where there does not appear to have been a synagogue, since we
hear only of their stirring up the 'multitudes.' The mantle of Saul had
fallen on them, and they were now 'persecuting' _him_ 'even unto
strange cities.'

No note is given of the time between the attempted sacrifice and the
accomplished stoning, but probably some space intervened. Persuading
the multitudes, however fickle they were, would take some time; and
indeed one ancient text of Acts has an expansion of the verse: 'They
persuaded the multitudes to depart from them [the Apostles], saying
that they spake nothing true, but lied in everything.'

No doubt some time elapsed, but few emotions are more transient than
such impure religious excitement as the crowd had felt, and the ebb is
as great as the flood, and the oozy bottom laid bare is foul. Popular
favourites in other departments have to experience the same fate--one
day, 'roses, roses, all the way'; the next, rotten eggs and curses.
Other folks than the ignorant peasants at Lystra have had devout
emotion surging over them and leaving them dry.

Who are 'they' who stoned Paul? Grammatically, the Jews, and probably
it was so. They hated him so much that they themselves began the
stoning; but no doubt the mob, which is always cruel, because it needs
strong excitement, lent willing hands. Did Paul remember Stephen, as
the stones came whizzing on him? It is an added touch of brutality that
they dragged the supposed corpse out of the city, with no gentle hands,
we may be sure. Perhaps it was flung down near the very temple 'before
the city,' where the priest that wanted to sacrifice was on duty.

The crowd, having wreaked their vengeance, melted away, but a handful
of brave disciples remained, standing round the bruised, unconscious
form, ready to lay it tenderly in some hastily dug grave. No previous
mention of disciples has been made. The narrative of Acts does not
profess to be complete, and the argument from its silence is precarious.

Luke shows no disposition to easy belief in miracles. He does not know
that Paul was dead; his medical skill familiarised him with protracted
states of unconsciousness; so all he vouches for is that Paul lay as if
dead on some rubbish heap 'without the camp,' and that, with courage
and persistence which were supernatural, whether his reviving was so or
not, the man thus sorely battered went back to the city, and next day
went on with his work, as if stoning was a trifle not to be taken
account of.

The Apostles turned at Derbe, and coming back on their outward route,
reached Antioch, encouraging the new disciples, who had now to be left
truly like shepherdless sheep among wolves. They did not encourage them
by making light of the dangers waiting them, but they plainly set
before them the law of the Kingdom, which they had seen exemplified in
Paul, that we must suffer if we would reign with the King. That 'we' in
verse 22 is evidently quoted from Paul, and touchingly shows how he
pointed to his own stoning as what they too must be prepared to suffer.
It is a thought frequently recurring in his letters. It remains true in
all ages, though the manner of suffering varies.



DREAM AND REALITY

'The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.'--ACTS xiv. 11.

This was the spontaneous instinctive utterance of simple villagers when
they saw a deed of power and kindness. Many an English traveller and
settler among rude people has been similarly honoured. And in Lycaonia
the Apostles were close upon places that were celebrated in Greek
mythology as having witnessed the very two gods, here spoken of,
wandering among the shepherds and entertained with modest hospitality
in their huts.

The incident is a very striking and picturesque one. The shepherd
people standing round, the sudden flash of awe and yet of gladness
which ran through them, the tumultuous outcry, which, being in their
rude dialect, was unintelligible to the Apostles till it was
interpreted by the appearance of the priest of Jupiter with oxen and
garlands for offerings, the glimpse of the two Apostles--the older,
graver, venerable Barnabas, the younger, more active, ready-tongued
Paul, whom their imaginations converted into the Father of gods and
men, and the herald Mercury, who were already associated in local
legends; the priest, eager to gain credit for his temple 'before the
city,' the lowing oxen, and the vehement appeal of the Apostles, make a
picture which is more vividly presented in the simple narrative than
even in the cartoon of the great painter whom the narrative has
inspired.

But we have not to deal with the picturesque element alone. The
narratives of Scripture are representative because they are so
penetrating and true. They go to the very heart of the men and things
which they describe: and hence the words and acts which they record are
found to contain the essential characteristics of whole classes of men,
and the portrait of an individual becomes that of a class. This joyful
outburst of the people of Lycaonia gives utterance to one of the most
striking and universal convictions of heathenism, and stands in very
close and intimate relations with that greatest of all facts in the
history of the world, the Incarnation of the Eternal Word. That the
gods come down in the likeness of men is the dream of heathenism. 'The
Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,' is the sober, waking truth
which meets and vindicates and transcends that cry.

I. The heathen dream of incarnation.

In all lands we find this belief in the appearance of the gods in human
form. It inspired the art and poetry of Greece. Rome believed that gods
had charged in front of their armies and given their laws. The solemn,
gloomy religion of Egypt, though it worshipped animal forms, yet told
of incarnate and suffering gods. The labyrinthine mythologies of the
East have their long-drawn stories of the avatars of their gods
floating many a rood on the weltering ocean of their legends. Tibet
cherishes each living sovereign as a real embodiment of the divine. And
the lowest tribes, in their degraded worship, have not departed so far
from the common type but that they too have some faint echoes of the
universal faith.

Do these facts import anything at all to us? Are we to dismiss them as
simply the products of a stage which we have left far behind, and to
plume ourselves that we have passed out of the twilight?

Even if we listen to what comparative mythology has to say, it still
remains to account for the tendency to shape legends of the earthly
appearance of the gods; and we shall have to admit that, while they
belong to an early stage of the world's progress, the feelings which
they express belong to all stages of it.

Now I think we may note these thoughts as contained in this universal
belief:

The consciousness of the need of divine help.

The certainty of a fellowship between heaven and earth.

The high ideal of the capacities and affinities of man.

We may note further what were the general characteristics of these
incarnations. They were transient, they were 'docetic,' as they are
called--that is, they were merely apparent assumptions of human form
which brought the god into no nearer or truer kindred with humanity,
and they were, for the most part, for very self-regarding and often
most immoral ends, the god's personal gratification of very ungodlike
passions and lust, or his winning victories for his favourites, or
satisfying his anger by trampling on those who had incurred his very
human wrath.

II. The divine answer which transcends the human dream.

We have to insist that the truth of the Incarnation is the corner-stone
of Christianity. If that is struck out the whole fabric falls. Without
it there may be a Christ who is the loftiest and greatest of men, but
not the Christ who 'saves His people from their sins.'

That being so, and Christianity having this feature in common with all
the religions of men, how are we to account for the resemblance? Are we
to listen to the rude solution which says, 'All lies alike'? Are we to
see in it nothing but the operation of like tendencies, or rather
illusions, of human thought--man's own shadow projected on an
illuminated mist? Are we to let the resemblance discredit the Christian
message? Or are we to say that all these others are unconscious
prophecies--man's half-instinctive expression of his deep need and much
misunderstood longing, and that the Christian proclamation that Jesus
is 'God manifest in the flesh' is the trumpet-toned announcement of
Heaven's answer to earth's cry?

Fairly to face that question is to go far towards answering it. For as
soon as we begin to look steadily at the facts, we find that the
differences between all these other appearances and the Incarnation are
so great as to raise the presumption that their origins are different.
The 'gods' slipped on the appearance of humanity over their garment of
deity in appearance only, and that for a moment. Jesus is 'bone of our
bone and flesh of our flesh,' and is not merely 'found in fashion as a
man,' but is 'in all points like as we are.' And that garb of manhood
He wears for ever, and in His heavenly glory is 'the Man Christ Jesus.'

But _the_ difference between all these other appearances of gods and
the Incarnation lies in the acts to which they and it respectively led,
and the purposes for which they and it respectively took place. A god
who came down to suffer, a god who came to die, a god who came to be
the supreme example of all fair humanities, a god who came to suffer
and to die that men might have life and be victors over sin--where is
he in all the religions of the world? And does not the fact that
Christianity alone sets before men such a God, such an Incarnation, for
such ends, make the assertion a reasonable one, that the sources of the
universal belief in gods who come down among men and of the Christian
proclamation that the Eternal Word became flesh are not the same, but
that these are men's half-understood cries, and this is Heaven's answer?



'THE DOOR OF FAITH'

'And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they
rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the
door of faith unto the Gentiles.'--ACTS xiv. 27.

There are many instances of the occurrence of this metaphor in the New
Testament, but none is exactly like this. We read, for example, of 'a
great door and effectual' being opened to Paul for the free ministry of
the word; and to the angel of the Church in Philadelphia, 'He that
openeth and none shall shut' graciously says, 'I have set before thee a
door opened, which none can shut.' But here the door is faith, that is
to say faith is conceived of as the means of entrance for the Gentiles
into the Kingdom, which, till then, Jews had supposed to be entered by
hereditary rite.

I. Faith is the means of our entrance into the Kingdom.

The Jew thought that birth and the rite of circumcision were the door,
but the 'rehearsing' of the experiences of Paul and Barnabas on their
first missionary tour shattered that notion by the logic of facts.
Instead of that narrow postern another doorway had been broken in the
wall of the heavenly city, and it was wide enough to admit of
multitudes entering. Gentiles had plainly come in. How had they come
in? By believing in Jesus. Whatever became of previous exclusive
theories, there was a fact that had to be taken into account. It
distinctly proved that faith was 'the gate of the Lord into which,' not
the circumcised but the 'righteous,' who were righteous because
believing, 'should enter.'

We must not forget the other use of the metaphor, by our Lord Himself,
in which. He declares that He is the Door. The two representations are
varying but entirely harmonious, for the one refers to the objective
fact of Christ's work as making it possible that we should draw near to
and dwell with God, and the other to our subjective appropriation of
that possibility, and making it a reality in our own blessed experience.

II. Faith is the means of God's entrance into our hearts.

We possess the mysterious and awful power of shutting God out of these
hearts. And faith, which in one aspect is our means of entrance into
the Kingdom of God, is, in another, the means of God's entrance into
us. The Psalm, which invokes the divine presence in the Temple, calls
on the 'everlasting doors' to be 'lifted up,' and promises that then
'the King of Glory will come in.' And the voice of the ascended Christ,
the King of Glory, knocking at the closed door, calls on us with our
own hands to open the door, and promises that He 'will come in.'

Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians 'that Christ may dwell in your
hearts through faith,' and there is no other way by which His
indwelling is possible. Faith is not constituted the condition of that
divine indwelling by any arbitrary appointment, as a sovereign might
determine that he would enter a city by a certain route, chosen without
any special reason from amongst many, but in the nature of things it is
necessary that trust, and love which follows trust, and longing which
follows love should be active in a soul if Christ is to enter in and
abide there.

III. Faith is the means of the entrance of the Kingdom into us.

If Christ comes in He comes with His pierced hands full of gifts.
Through our faith we receive all spiritual blessings. But we must ever
remember, what this metaphor most forcibly sets forth, that faith is
but the means of entrance. It has no worth in itself, but is precious
only because it admits the true wealth. The door is nothing. It is only
an opening. Faith is the pipe that brings the water, the flinging wide
the shutters that the light may flood the dark room, the putting
oneself into the path of the electric circuit. Salvation is not
arbitrarily connected with faith. It is not the reward of faith but the
possession of what comes through faith, and cannot come in any other
way. Our 'hearts' are 'purified by faith,' because faith admits into
our hearts the life, and instals as dominant in them the powers, the
motives, the Spirit, which purify. We are 'saved by faith,' for faith
brings into our spirits the Christ who saves His people from their
sins, when He abides in them and they abide in Him through their faith.



THE BREAKING OUT OF DISCORD

'And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and
said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be
saved. 2. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and
disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and
certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and
elders about this question. 3. And being brought on their way by the
church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the
conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the
brethren. 4. And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received
of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all
things that God had done with them. 5. But there rose up certain of the
sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to
circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. 6. And
the apostles and elders came together 'for to consider of this
matter.'--ACTS xv. 1-6.

The question as to the conditions on which Gentiles could be received
into Christian communion had already been raised by the case of
Cornelius, but it became more acute after Paul's missionary journey.
The struggle between the narrower and broader views was bound to come
to a head. Traces of the cleft between Palestinian and Hellenist
believers had appeared as far back as the 'murmuring' about the unfair
neglect of the Hellenist widows in the distribution of relief, and the
whole drift of things since had been to widen the gap.

Whether the 'certain men' had a mission to the Church in Antioch or
not, they had no mandate to lay down the law as they did. Luke
delicately suggests this by saying that they 'came down from Judaea,'
rather than from Jerusalem. We should be fair to these men, and
remember how much they had to say in defence of their position. They
did not question that Gentiles could be received into the Church, but
'kept on teaching' (as the word in the Greek implies) that the divinely
appointed ordinance of circumcision was the 'door' of entrance. God had
prescribed it, and through all the centuries since Moses, all who came
into the fold of Israel had gone in by that gate. Where was the
commandment to set it aside? Was not Paul teaching men to climb up some
other way, and so blasphemously abrogating a divine law?

No wonder that honest believers in Jesus as Messiah shrank with horror
from such a revolutionary procedure. The fact that they were
Palestinian Jews, who had never had their exclusiveness rubbed off, as
Hellenists like Paul and Barnabas had had, explains, and to some extent
excuses, their position. And yet their contention struck a fatal blow
at the faith, little as they meant it. Paul saw what they did not
see--that if anything else than faith was brought in as necessary to
knit men to Christ, and make them partakers of salvation, faith was
deposed from its place, and Christianity sank back to be a religion of
'works.' Experience has proved that anything whatever introduced as
associated with faith ejects faith from its place, and comes to be
recognised as _the_ means of salvation. It must be faith _or_
circumcision, it cannot be faith _and_ circumcision. The lesson is
needed to-day as much as in Antioch. The controversy started then is a
perennial one, and the Church of the present needs Paul's exhortation,
'Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us
free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.'

The obvious course of appealing to Jerusalem was taken, and it is
noteworthy that in verse 2 the verb 'appointed' has no specified
subject. Plainly, however, it was the Church which acted, and so
natural did that seem to Luke that he felt it unnecessary to say so. No
doubt Paul concurred, but the suggestion is not said to have come from
him. He and Barnabas might have asserted their authority, and declined
to submit what they had done by the Spirit's guidance to the decision
of the Apostles, but they seek the things that make for peace.

No doubt the other side was represented in the deputation. Jerusalem
was the centre of unity, and remained so till its fall. The Apostles
and elders were the recognised leaders of the Church. Elders here
appear as holding a position of authority; the only previous mention of
them is in Acts xi. 30, where they receive the alms sent from Antioch.
It is significant that we do not hear of their first appointment. The
organisation of the Church took shape as exigencies prescribed.

The deputation left Antioch, escorted lovingly for a little way by the
Church, and, journeying by land, gladdened the groups of believers in
'Phenicia and Samaria' with the news that the Gentiles were turning to
God. We note that they are not said to have spoken of the thorny
question in these countries, and that it is not said that there was joy
in Judaea. Perhaps the Christians in it were in sympathy with the
narrower view.

The first step taken in Jerusalem was to call a meeting of the Church
to welcome the deputation. It is significant that the latter did not
broach the question in debate, but told the story of the success of
their mission. That was the best argument for receiving Gentile
converts without circumcision. God had received them; should not the
Church do so? Facts are stronger than theories. It was Peter's argument
in the case of Cornelius: they 'have received the Holy Ghost as well as
we,' 'who was I, that I could withstand God?' It is the argument which
shatters all analogous narrowing of the conditions of Christian life.
If men say, 'Except ye be' this or that 'ye cannot be saved,' it is
enough to point to the fruits of Christian character, and say, 'These
show that the souls which bring them forth _are_ saved, and you must
widen your conceptions of the possibilities to include these
actualities.' It is vain to say 'Ye cannot be' when manifestly they are.

But the logic of facts does not convince obstinate theorists, and so
the Judaising party persisted in their 'It is needful to circumcise
them.' None are so blind as those to whom religion is mainly a matter
of ritual. You may display the fairest graces of Christian character
before them, and you get no answer but the reiteration of 'It is
needful to circumcise you.' But on their own ground, in Jerusalem, the
spokesmen of that party enlarged their demands. In Antioch they had
insisted on circumcision, in Jerusalem they added the demand for entire
conformity to the Mosaic law. They were quite logical; their principle
demanded that extension of the requirement, and was thereby condemned
as utterly unworkable. Now that the whole battery was unmasked the
issue was clear--Is Christianity to be a Jewish sect or the universal
religion? Clear as it was, few in that assembly saw it. But the parting
of the ways had been reached.



THE CHARTER OF GENTILE LIBERTY

'Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and
Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the
Gentiles by them. 13. And after they had held their peace, James
answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: 14. Simeon hath
declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of
them a people for His name. 15. And to this agree the words of the
prophets; as it is written, 16. After this I will return, and will
build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will
build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: 17. That the
residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon
whom My name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. 18.
Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world. 19.
Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among
the Gentiles are turned to God: 20. But that we write unto them, that
they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from
things strangled, and from blood. 21. For Moses of old time hath in
every city them that preach Him, being read in the synagogues every
sabbath day. 22. Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the
whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with
Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief
men among the brethren: 23. And they wrote letters by them after this
manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the
brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia:
24. Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us
have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be
circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: 25.
It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen
men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26. Men that have
hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27. We have
sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things
by mouth. 28. For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay
upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29. That ye
abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things
strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye
shall do well. Fare ye well.'--ACTS xv. 12-29.

Much was at stake in the decision of this gathering of the Church. If
the Jewish party triumphed, Christianity sank to the level of a Jewish
sect. The question brought up for decision was difficult, and there was
much to be said for the view that the Mosaic law was binding on Gentile
converts. It must have been an uprooting of deepest beliefs for a
Jewish Christian to contemplate the abrogation of that law, venerable
by its divine origin, by its hoary antiquity, by its national
associations. We must not be hard upon men who clung to it; but we
should learn from their final complete drifting away from Christianity
how perilous is the position which insists on the necessity to true
discipleship of any outward observance.

Our passage begins in the middle of the conference. Peter has, with
characteristic vehemence, dwelt upon the divine attestation of the
genuine equality of the uncircumcised converts with the Jewish, given
by their possession of the same divine Spirit, and has flung fiery
questions at the Judaisers, which silenced them. Then, after the
impressive hush following his eager words, Barnabas and Paul tell their
story once more, and clinch the nail driven by Peter by asserting that
God had already by 'signs and wonders' given His sanction to the
admission of Gentiles without circumcision. Characteristically, in
Jerusalem Barnabas is restored to his place above Paul, and is named
first as speaking first, and regarded by the Jerusalem Church as the
superior of the missionary pair.

The next speaker is James, not an Apostle, but the bishop of the Church
in Jerusalem, of whom tradition tells that he was a zealous adherent to
the Mosaic law in his own person, and that his knees were as hard as a
camel's through continual prayer. It is singular that this meeting
should be so often called 'the Apostolic council,' when, as a fact,
only one Apostle said a word, and he not as an Apostle, but as the
chosen instrument to preach to the Gentiles. 'The elders,' of whose
existence we now hear for the first time in this wholly incidental
manner, were associated with the Apostles (ver. 6), and the 'multitude'
(ver. 12) is most naturally taken to be 'the whole Church' (ver. 22).
James represents the eldership, and as bishop in Jerusalem and an eager
observer of legal prescriptions, fittingly speaks. His words
practically determined the question. Like a wise man, he begins with
facts. His use of the intensely Jewish form of the name Simeon is an
interesting reminiscence of old days. So he had been accustomed to call
Peter when they were all young together, and so he calls him still,
though everybody else named him by his new name. What God had done by
him seems to James to settle the whole question; for it was nothing
else than to put the Gentile converts without circumcision on an
equality with the Jewish part of the Church.

Note the significant juxtaposition of the words 'Gentiles' and
'people'--the former the name for heathen, the latter the sacred
designation of the chosen nation. The great paradox which, through
Peter's preaching at Caesarea, had become a fact was that the 'people
of God' were made up of Gentiles as well as Jews--that His name was
equally imparted to both. If God had made Gentiles His people, had He
not thereby shown that the special observances of Israel were put
aside, and that, in particular, circumcision was no longer the
condition of entrance? The end of national distinction and the opening
of a new way of incorporation among the people of God were clearly
contained in the facts. How much Christian narrowness would be blown to
atoms if its advocates would do as James did, and let God's facts teach
them the width of God's purposes and the comprehensiveness of Christ's
Church! We do wisely when we square our theories with facts; but many
of us go to work in the opposite way, and snip down facts to the
dimension of our theories.

James's next step is marked equally by calm wisdom and open-mindedness.
He looks to God's word, as interpreted by God's deeds, to throw light
in turn on the deeds and to confirm the interpretation of these. Two
things are to be noted in considering his quotation from Amos--its
bearing on the question in hand, and its divergence from the existing
Hebrew text. As to the former, there seems at first sight nothing
relevant to James's purpose in the quotation, which simply declares
that the Gentiles will seek the Lord when the fallen tabernacle of
David is rebuilt. That period of time has at least begun, thinks James,
in the work of Jesus, in whom the decayed dominion of David is again in
higher form established. The return of the Gentiles does not merely
synchronise with, but is the intended issue of, Christ's reign. Lifted
from the earth, He will draw all men unto Him, and they shall 'seek the
Lord,' and on them His name will be called.

Now the force of this quotation lies, as it seems, first in the fact
that Peter's experience at Caesarea is to be taken as an indication of
how God means the prophecy to be fulfilled, namely, without
circumcision; and secondly, in the _argumentum a silentio_, since the
prophet says nothing about ritual or the like, but declares that moral
and spiritual qualifications--on the one hand a true desire after God,
and on the other receiving the proclamation of His name and calling
themselves by it--are all that are needed to make Gentiles God's
people. Just because there is nothing in the prophecy about observing
Jewish ceremonies, and something about longing and faith, James thinks
that these are the essentials, and that the others may be dropped by
the Church, as God had dropped them in the case of Cornelius, and as
Amos had dropped them in his vision of the future kingdom. God knew
what He meant to do when He spoke through the prophet, and what He has
done has explained the words, as James says in verse 18.

The variation from the Hebrew text requires a word of comment. The
quotation is substantially from the Septuagint, with a slight
alteration. Probably James quoted the version familiar to many of his
hearers. It seems to have been made from a somewhat different Hebrew
text in verse 17, but the difference is very much slighter than an
English reader would suppose. Our text has 'Edom' where the Septuagint
has 'men'; but the Hebrew words without vowels are identical but for
the addition of one letter in the former. Our text has 'inherit' where
the Septuagint has 'seek after'; but there again the difference in the
two Hebrew words would be one letter only, so that there may well have
been a various reading as preserved in the Septuagint and Acts. James
adds to the Septuagint 'seek' the evidently correct completion 'the
Lord.'

Now it is obvious that, even if we suppose his rendering of the whole
verse to be a paraphrase of the same Hebrew text as we have, it is a
correct representation of the meaning; for the 'inheriting of Edom' is
no mere external victory, and Edom is always in the Old Testament the
type of the godless man. The conquest of the Gentiles by the restorer
of David's tabernacle is really the seeking after the Lord, and the
calling of His name upon the Gentiles.

The conclusion drawn by James is full of practical wisdom, and would
have saved the Church from many a sad page in its history, if its
spirit had been prevalent in later 'councils.' Note how the very
designation given to the Gentile converts in verse 19 carries
argumentative force. 'They turn to God from among the Gentiles'--if
they have done that, surely their new separation and new attachment are
enough, and make insistence on circumcision infinitely ridiculous. They
have the thing signified; what does it matter about the sign, which is
good for us Jews, but needless for them? If Church rulers had always
been as open-eyed as this bishop in Jerusalem, and had been content if
people were joined to God and parted from the world, what torrents of
blood, what frowning walls of division, what scandals and partings of
brethren would have been spared!

The observances suggested are a portion of the precepts enjoined by
Judaism on proselytes. The two former were necessary to the Christian
life; the two latter were not, but were concessions to the Jewish
feelings of the stricter party. The conclusion may be called a
compromise, but it was one dictated by the desire for unity, and had
nothing unworthy in it. There should be giving and taking on both
sides. If the Jewish Christians made the, to them, immense concession
of waiving the necessity of circumcision, the Gentile section might
surely make the small one of abstinence from things strangled and from
blood. Similarities in diet would daily assimilate the lives of the two
parties, and would be a more visible and continuous token of their
oneness than the single act of circumcision.

But what does the reason in verse 21 mean? Why should the reading of
Moses every Sabbath be a reason for these concessions? Various answers
are given: but the most natural is that the constant promulgation of
the law made respect for the feelings (even if mistaken) of Jewish
Christians advisable, and the course suggested the most likely to win
Jews who were not yet Christians. Both classes would be flung farther
apart if there were not some yielding. The general principle involved
is that one cannot be too tender with old and deeply rooted convictions
even if they be prejudices, and that Christian charity, which is truest
wisdom, will consent to limitations of Christian liberty, if thereby
any little one who believes in Him shall be saved from being offended,
or any unbeliever from being repelled.

The letter embodying James's wise suggestion needs little further
notice. We may observe that there was no imposing and authoritative
decision of the Ecclesia, but that the whole thing was threshed out in
free talk, and then the unanimous judgment of the community, 'Apostles,
elders and the whole Church,' was embodied in the epistle. Observe the
accurate rendering of verse 25 (R.V.), 'having _come_ to one accord,'
which gives a lively picture of the process. Note too that James's
proposal of a letter was mended by the addition of a deputation,
consisting of an unknown 'Judas called Barsabas' (perhaps a relative of
'Joseph called Barsabas,' the unsuccessful nominee for Apostleship in
chap. i.), and the well-known Silas or Silvanus, of whom we hear so
much in Paul's letters. That journey was the turning-point in his life,
and he henceforward, attracted by the mass and magnetism of Paul's
great personality, revolved round him, and forsook Jerusalem.

Probably James drew up the document, which has the same somewhat
unusual 'greeting' as his Epistle. The sharp reference to the Judaising
teachers would be difficult for their sympathisers to swallow, but
charity is not broken by plain repudiation of error and its teachers.
'Subverting your souls' is a heavy charge. The word is only here found
in the New Testament, and means to unsettle, the image in it being that
of packing up baggage for removal. The disavowal of these men is more
complete if we follow the Revised Version in reading (ver. 24) 'no
commandment' instead of 'no such commandment.'

These unauthorised teachers 'went'; but, in strong contrast with them,
Judas and Silas are chosen out and sent. Another thrust at the
Judaising teachers is in the affectionate eulogy of Paul and Barnabas
as 'beloved,' whatever disparaging things had been said about them, and
as having 'hazarded their lives,' while these others had taken very
good care of themselves, and had only gone to disturb converts whom
Paul and Barnabas had won at the peril of their lives.

The calm matter-of-course assertion that the decision which commended
itself to 'us' is the decision of 'the Holy Ghost' was warranted by
Christ's promises, and came from the consciousness that they had
observed the conditions which He had laid down. They had brought their
minds to bear upon the question, with the light of facts and of
Scripture, and had come to a unanimous conclusion. If they believed
their Lord's parting words, they could not doubt that His Spirit had
guided them. If we lived more fully in that Spirit, we should know more
of the same peaceful assurance, which is far removed from the delusion
of our own infallibility, and is the simple expression of trust in the
veracious promises of our Lord.

The closing words of the letter are beautifully brotherly, sinking
authority, and putting in the foreground the advantage to the Gentile
converts of compliance with the injunctions. 'Ye shall do well,'
rightly and conformably with the requirements of brotherly love to
weaker brethren. And thus doing well, they will 'fare well,' and be
strong. That is not the way in which 'lords over God's heritage' are
accustomed to end their decrees. Brotherly affection, rather than
authority imposing its will, breathes here. Would that all succeeding
'Councils' had imitated this as well as 'it seemed good to the Holy
Ghost, and to us'!



A GOOD MAN'S FAULTS

'And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was
Mark. 38. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed
from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.'--ACTS
xv. 37, 38.

Scripture narratives are remarkable for the frankness with which they
tell the faults of the best men. It has nothing in common with the
cynical spirit in historians, of which this age has seen eminent
examples, which fastens upon the weak places in the noblest natures,
like a wasp on bruises in the ripest fruit, and delights in showing how
all goodness is imperfect, that it may suggest that none is genuine.
Nor has it anything in common with that dreary melancholy which also
has its representatives among us, that sees everywhere only failures
and fragments of men, and has no hope of ever attaining anything beyond
the common average of excellence. But Scripture frankly confesses that
all its noblest characters have fallen short of unstained purity, and
with boldness of hope as great as its frankness teaches the weakest to
aspire, and the most sinful to expect perfect likeness to a perfect
Lord, It is a plane mirror, giving back all images without distortion.

We recall how emphatically and absolutely it eulogised Barnabas as 'a
good man, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith'--and now we have to
notice how this man, thus full of the seminal principle of all
goodness, derived into his soul by deep and constant communion through
faith, and showing in his life practical righteousness and holiness,
yet goes sadly astray, tarnishes his character, and mars his whole
future.

The two specific faults recorded of him are his over-indulgence in the
case of Mark, and his want of firmness in opposition to the Judaising
teachers who came down to Antioch. They were neither of them grave
faults, but they were real. In the one he was too facile in overlooking
a defect which showed unfitness for the work, and seems to have yielded
to family affection and to have sacrificed the efficiency of a mission
to it. Not only was he wrong in proposing to condone Mark's desertion,
but he was still more wrong in his reception of the opposition to his
proposal. With the firmness which weak characters so often display at
the wrong time, he was resolved, come what would, to have his own way.
Temper rather than principle made him obstinate where he should have
been yielding, as it had made him in Antioch yielding, where he should
have been firm. Paul's remonstrances have no effect. He will rather
have his own way than the companionship of his old friend, and so there
come alienation and separation. The Church at Antioch takes Paul's
view--all the brethren are unanimous in disapproval. But Barnabas will
not move. He sets up his own feeling in opposition to them all. The
sympathy of his brethren, the work of his life, the extension of
Christ's kingdom, are all tossed aside. His own foolish purpose is more
to him in that moment of irritation than all these. So he snaps the
tie, abandons his work, and goes away without a kindly word, without a
blessing, without the Church's prayers--but with his nephew for whom he
had given up all these. Paul sails away to do God's work, and the
Church 'recommends him to the grace of God,' but Barnabas steals away
home to Cyprus, and his name is no more heard in the story of the
planting of the kingdom of Christ.

One hopes that his work did not stop thus, but his recorded work does,
and in the band of friends who surrounded the great Apostle, the name
of his earliest friend appears no more. Other companions and associates
in labour take his place; he, as it appears, is gone for ever. One
reference (1 Cor. ix. 6) at a later date seems most naturally to
suggest that he still continued in the work of an evangelist, and still
practised the principle to which he and Paul had adhered when together,
of supporting himself by manual labour. The tone of the reference
implies that there were relations of mutual respect. But the most we
can believe is that probably the two men still thought kindly of each
other and honoured each other for their work's sake, but found it
better to labour apart, and not to seek to renew the old companionship
which had been so violently torn asunder.

The other instance of weakness was in some respects of a still graver
kind. The cause of it was the old controversy about the obligations of
Jewish law on Gentile Christians. Paul, Peter, and Barnabas all
concurred in neglecting the restrictions imposed by Judaism, and in
living on terms of equality and association in eating and drinking with
the heathen converts at Antioch. A principle was involved, to which
Barnabas had bean the first to give in his adhesion, in the frank
recognition of the Antioch Church. But as soon as emissaries from the
other party came down, Peter and he abandoned their association with
Gentile converts, not changing their convictions but suppressing the
action to which their convictions should have led. They pretended to be
of the same mind with these narrow Jews from Jerusalem. They insulted
their brethren, they deserted Paul, they belied their convictions, they
imperilled the cause of Christian liberty, they flew in the face of
what Peter had said that God Himself had showed him, they did their
utmost to degrade Christianity into a form of Judaism--all for the sake
of keeping on good terms with the narrow bigotry of these Judaising
teachers.

Now if we take these two facts together, and set them side by side with
the eulogy pronounced on Barnabas as 'a good man, full of the Holy
Ghost and of faith,' we have brought before us in a striking form some
important considerations.

I. The imperfect goodness of good men.

A good man does not mean a faultless man. Of course the power which
works on a believing soul is always tending to produce goodness and
only goodness. But its operation is not such that we are always
equally, uniformly, perfectly under its influence. Power in germ is one
thing, in actual operation another. There may be but a little ragged
patch of green in the garden, and yet it may be on its way to become a
flower-bed. A king may not have established dominion over all his land.
The actual operation of that transforming Spirit at any given moment is
limited, and we can withdraw ourselves from it. It does not begin by
leavening all our nature.

So we have to note--

The root of goodness.

The main direction of a life.

The progressive character of goodness.

The highest style of Christian life is a struggle. So we draw practical
inferences as to the conduct of life.

This thought of imperfection does not diminish the criminality of
individual acts.

It does not weaken aspiration and effort towards higher life.

It does alleviate our doubts and fears when we find evil in ourselves.

II. The possible evil lurking in our best qualities.

In Barnabas, his amiability and openness of nature, the very
characteristics that had made him strong, now make him weak and wrong.

How clearly then there is brought out here the danger that lurks even
in our good! I need not remind you how every virtue may be run to an
extreme and become a vice. Liberality is exaggerated into prodigality;
firmness, into obstinacy; mercy, into weakness; gravity, into severity;
tolerance, into feeble conviction; humility, into abjectness.

And these extremes are reached when these graces are developed at the
expense of the symmetry of the character.

We are not simple but complex, and what we need to aim at is a
character, not an excrescence. Some people's goodness is like a wart or
a wen. Their virtues are cases of what medical technicality calls
hypertrophy. But our goodness should be like harmonious Indian
patterns, where all colours blend in a balanced whole.

Such considerations enforce the necessity for rigid self-control. And
that in two directions.

(_a_) Beware of your excellences, your strong points.

(_b_) Cultivate sedulously the virtues to which you are not inclined.

The special form of error into which Barnabas fell is worth notice. It
was over-indulgence, tolerance of evil in a person; feebleness of
grasp, a deficiency of boldness in carrying out his witness to a
disputed truth. In this day liberality, catholicity, are pushed so far
that there is danger of our losing the firmness of our grasp of
principles, and indulgence for faults goes so far that we are apt to
lose the habit of unsparing, though unangry, condemnation of unworthy
characters. This generation is like Barnabas; very quick in sympathy,
generous in action, ready to recognise goodness where-ever it is
beheld. But Barnabas may be a beacon, warning us of the possible evils
that dog these excellences like their shadows.

III. The grave issues of small faults.

Comparatively trivial as was Barnabas's error, it seems to have wrecked
his life, at least to have marred it for long years, and to have broken
his sweet companionship with Paul. I think we may go further and say,
that most good men are in more danger from trivial faults than from
great ones. No man reaches the superlative degree of wickedness all at
once. Few men spring from the height to the abyss, they usually slip
down. The erosive action of the sand of the desert is said to be
gradually cutting off the Sphinx's head. The small faults are most
numerous. We are least on our guard against them. There is a
microscopic weed that chokes canals. Snow-flakes make the sky as dark
as an eclipse does. White ants eat a carcase quicker than a lion does.

So we urge the necessity for bringing ordinary deeds and small actions
to be ruled and guided by God's Spirit.

How the contemplation of the imperfection, which is the law of life,
should lead us to hope for that heaven where perfection is.

How the contemplation of the limits of all human goodness should lead
us to exclusive faith in, and imitation of, the one perfect Lord. He
stands stainless among the stained. In Him alone is no sin, from Him
alone like goodness may be ours.



HOW TO SECURE A PROSPEROUS VOYAGE

'And after [Paul] had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go
into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to
preach the gospel unto them. 11. Therefore ... we came with a straight
course.'--ACTS xvi. 10, 11.

This book of the Acts is careful to point out how each fresh step in
the extension of the Church's work was directed and commanded by Jesus
Christ Himself. Thus Philip was sent by specific injunction to 'join
himself' to the chariot of the Ethiopian statesman. Thus Peter on the
house-top at Joppa, looking out over the waters of the western sea, had
the vision of the great sheet, knit at the four corners. And thus Paul,
in singularly similar circumstances, in the little seaport of Troas,
looking out over the narrower sea which there separates Asia from
Europe, had the vision of the man of Macedonia, with his cry, 'Come
over and help _us_!' The whole narrative before us bears upon the one
point, that Christ Himself directs the expansion of His kingdom. And
there never was a more fateful moment than that at which the Gospel, in
the person of the Apostle, crossed the sea, and effected a lodgment in
the progressive quarter of the world.

Now what I wish to do is to note how Paul and his little company
behaved themselves when they had received Christ's commandment. For I
think there are lessons worth the gathering to be found there. There
was no doubt about the vision; the question was what it meant. So note
three stages. First, careful consideration, with one's own common
sense, of what God wants us to do--'Assuredly gathering that the Lord
had called us.' Then, let no grass grow under our feet--immediate
obedience--'Straightway we endeavoured to go into Macedonia.' And then,
patient pondering and instantaneous submission get the reward--'We came
with a straight course.' He gave the winds and the waves charge
concerning them. Now there are three lessons for us. Taken together,
they are patterns of what ought to be in our experience, and will be,
if the conditions are complied with.

I. First, Careful Consideration.

Paul had no doubt that what he saw was a vision from Christ, and not a
mere dream of the night, born of the reverberation of waking thoughts
and anxieties, that took the shape of the plaintive cry of the man of
Macedonia. But then the next step was to be quite sure of what the
vision meant. And so, wisely, he does not make up his mind himself, but
calls in the three men who were with him. And what a significant little
group it was! There were Timothy, Silas, and Luke--Silas, from
Jerusalem; Timothy, half a Gentile; Luke, altogether a Gentile; and
Paul himself--and these four shook the world. They come together, and
they talk the matter over. The word of my text rendered 'assuredly
gathering' is a picturesque one. It literally means 'laying things
together.' They set various facts side by side, or as we say in our
colloquial idiom, 'They put this and that together,' and so they came
to understand what the vision meant.

What had they to help them to understand it? Well, they had this fact,
that in all the former part of their journey they had been met by
hindrances; that their path had been hedged up here, there, and
everywhere. Paul set out from Antioch, meaning a quiet little tour of
visitation amongst the churches that had been already established.
Jesus Christ meant Philippi and Athens and Corinth and Ephesus, before
Paul got back again. So we read in an earlier portion of the chapter
that the Spirit of Jesus forbade them to speak the Word in one region,
and checked and hindered them when, baffled, they tried to go to
another. There then remained only one other road open to them, and that
led to the coast. Thus putting together their hindrances and their
stimuluses, they came to the conclusion that unitedly the two said
plainly, 'Go across the sea, and preach the word there.'

Now it is a very commonplace and homely piece of teaching to remind you
that time is not wasted in making quite sure of the meaning of
providences which seem to declare the will of God, before we begin to
act. But the commonest duties are very often neglected; and we
preachers, I think, would very often do more good by hammering at
commonplace themes than by bringing out original and fresh ones. And so
I venture to say a word about the immense importance to Christian life
and Christian service of this preliminary step--'assuredly gathering
that the Lord had called us.' What have we to do in order to be quite
sure of God's intention for us?

Well, the first thing seems to me to make quite sure that we want to
know it, and that we do not want to force our intentions upon Him, and
then to plume ourselves upon being obedient to His call, when we are
only doing what we like. There is a vast deal of unconscious
insincerity in us all; and especially in regard to Christian work there
is an enormous amount of it. People will say, 'Oh, I have such a strong
impulse in a given direction, to do certain kinds of Christian service,
that I am quite sure that it is God's will.' How are you sure? A strong
impulse may be a temptation from the devil as well as a call from God.
And men who simply act on untested impulses, even the most benevolent
which spring directly from large Christian principles, may be making
deplorable mistakes. It is not enough to have pure motives. It is
useless to say, 'Such and such a course of action is clearly the result
of the truths of the Gospel.' That may be all perfectly true, and yet
the course may not be the course for you. For there may be practical
considerations, which do not come into our view unless we carefully
think about them, which forbid us to take such a path. So remember that
strong impulses are not guiding lights; nor is it enough to vindicate
our pursuing some mode of Christian service that it is in accordance
with the principles of the Gospel. 'Circumstances alter cases' is a
very homely old saying; but if Christian people would only bring the
common sense to bear upon their religious life which they need to bring
to bear upon their business life, unless they are going into the
_Gazette_, there would be less waste work in the Christian Church than
there is to-day. I do not want less zeal; I want that the reins of the
fiery steed shall be kept well in hand. The difference between a
fanatic, who is a fool, and an enthusiast, who is a wise man, is that
the one brings calm reason to bear, and an open-eyed consideration of
circumstances all round; and the other sees but one thing at a time,
and shuts his eyes, like a bull in a field, and charges at that. So let
us be sure, to begin with, that we want to know what God wants us to
do; and that we are not palming our wishes upon Him, and calling them
His providences.

Then there is another plain, practical consideration that comes out of
this story, and that is, Do not be above being taught by failures and
hindrances. You know the old proverb, 'It is waste time to flog a dead
horse.' There is not a little well-meant work flung away, because it is
expended on obviously hopeless efforts to revivify, perhaps, some
moribund thing or to continue, perhaps, in some old, well-worn rut,
instead of striking out into a new path. Paul was full of enthusiasm
for the evangelisation of Asia Minor, and he might have said a great
deal about the importance of going to Ephesus. He tried to do it, but
Christ said 'No.' and Paul did not knock his head against the stone
wall that lay between him and the accomplishment of his purpose, but he
gave it up and tried another tack. He next wished to go up into
Bithynia, and he might have said a great deal about the needs of the
people by the Euxine; but again down came the barrier, and he had once
more to learn the lesson, 'Not as thou wilt, but as I will.' He was not
above being taught by his failures. Some of us are; and it is very
difficult, and needs a great deal of Christian wisdom and
unselfishness, to distinguish between hindrances in the way of work
which are meant to evoke larger efforts, and hindrances which are meant
to say, 'Try another path, and do not waste time here any longer.'

But if we wish supremely to know God's will, He will help us to
distinguish between these two kinds of difficulties. Some one has said,
'Difficulties are things to be overcome.' Yes, but not always. They
very often are, and we should thank God for them then; but they
sometimes are God's warnings to us to go by another road. So we need
discretion, and patience, and suspense of judgment to be brought to
bear upon all our purposes and plans.

Then, of course, I need not remind you that the way to get light is to
seek it in the Book and in communion with Him whom the Book reveals to
us as the true Word of God: 'He that followeth Me shall not walk in
darkness, but shall have the light of life.' So careful consideration
is a preliminary to all good Christian work. And, if you can, talk to
some Timothy and Silas and Luke about your course, and do not be above
taking a brother's advice.

II. The next step is Immediate Submission.

When they had assuredly gathered that the Lord had called them,
'immediately'--there is great virtue in that one word--'we endeavoured
to go into Macedonia.' Delayed obedience is the brother--and, if I may
mingle metaphors, sometimes the father--of disobedience. It sometimes
means simple feebleness of conviction, indolence, and a general lack of
fervour. It means very often a reluctance to do the duty that lies
plainly before us. And, dear brethren, as I have said about the former
lesson, so I say about this. The homely virtue, which we all know to be
indispensable to success in common daily life and commercial
undertakings, is no less indispensable to all vigour of Christian life
and to all nobleness of Christian service. We have no hours to waste;
the time is short. In the harvest-field, especially when it is getting
near the end of the week, and the Sunday is at hand, there are little
leisure and little tolerance of slow workers. And for us the fields are
white, the labourers are few, the Lord of the harvest is imperative,
the sun is hurrying to the west, and the sickles will have to be laid
down before long. So, '_immediately_ we endeavoured.'

Delayed duty is present discomfort. As long as a man has a conscience,
so long will he be restless and uneasy until he has, as the Quakers
say, 'cleared himself of his burden,' and done what he knows that he
ought to do, and got done with it. Delayed obedience means wasted
possibilities of service, and so is ever to be avoided. The more
disagreeable anything is which is plainly a duty, the more reason there
is for doing it right away. 'I made haste, and delayed not, but made
haste to keep Thy commandments.'

Did you ever count how many '_straightways_' there are in the first
chapter of Mark's Gospel? If you have not, will you do it when you go
home; and notice how they come in? In the story of Christ's opening
ministry every fresh incident is tacked on to the one before it, in
that chapter, by that same word 'straightway.' 'Straightway' He does
that; 'anon' He does this; 'immediately' He does the other thing. All
is one continuous stream of acts of service. The Gospel of Mark is the
Gospel of the servant, and it sets forth the pattern to which all
Christian service ought to be conformed.

So if we take Jesus Christ for our Example, unhasting and unresting in
the work of the Lord, we shall let no moment pass burdened with
undischarged duty; and we shall find that all the moments are few
enough for the discharge of the duties incumbent upon us.

III. So, lastly, careful consideration and unhesitating obedience lead
to a Straight Course.

Well, it is not so always, but it is so generally. There is a wonderful
power in diligent doing of God's known will to smooth away difficulties
and avoid troubles. I do not, of course, mean that a man who thus
lives, patiently ascertaining and then promptly doing what God would
have him do, has any miraculous exemption from the ordinary sorrows and
trials of life. But sure I am that a very, very large proportion of all
the hindrances and disappointments, storms and quicksands, calms which
prevent progress and headwinds that beat in our faces, are directly the
products of our negligence in one or other of these two respects, and
that although by no means absolutely, yet to an extent that we should
not believe if we had not the experience of it, the wish to do God's
will and the doing of it with our might when we know what it is have a
talismanic power in calming the seas and bringing us to the desired
haven.

But though this is not always absolutely true in regard of outward
things, it is, without exception or limitation, true in regard of the
inward life. For if my supreme will is to do God's will then nothing
which is His will, and comes to me because it is can be a hindrance in
my doing that.

As an old proverb says, 'Travelling merchants can never be out of their
road.' And a Christian man whose path is simple obedience to the will
of God can never be turned from that path by whatever hindrances may
affect his outward life. So, in deepest truth, there is always a calm
voyage for the men whose eyes are open to discern, and whose hands are
swift to fulfil, the commandments of their Father in heaven. For them
all winds blow them to their port; for them 'all things work together
for good'; with them God's servants who hearken to the voice of His
commandments, and are His ministers to do His pleasure, can never be
other than in amity and alliance. He who is God's servant is the
world's master. 'All things are yours if ye are Christ's.'

So, brethren, careful study of providences and visions, of hindrances
and stimulus, careful setting of our lives side by side with the
Master's, and a swift delight in doing the will of the Lord, will
secure for us, in inmost truth, a prosperous voyage, till all storms
are hushed, 'and they are glad because they be quiet; so He bringeth
them to their desired haven.'



PAUL AT PHILIPPI

'And on the sabbath day we went forth without the gate, by a river
side, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down,
and spake unto the women which were come together.'--ACTS xvi. 13
(R.V.).

This is the first record of the preaching of the Gospel in Europe, and
probably the first instance of it. The fact that the vision of the man
of Macedonia was needed in order to draw the Apostle across the straits
into Macedonia, and the great length at which the incidents at Philippi
are recorded, make this probable. If so, we are here standing, as it
were, at the wellhead of a mighty river, and the thin stream of water
assumes importance when we remember the thousand miles of its course,
and the league-broad estuary in which it pours itself into the ocean.
Here is the beginning; the Europe of to-day is what came out of it.
There is no sign whatever that the Apostle was conscious of an epoch in
this transference of the sphere of his operations, but we can scarcely
help being conscious of such.

And so, looking at the words of my text, and seeing here how
unobtrusively there stole into the progressive part of the world the
power which was to shatter and remould all its institutions, to guide
and inform the onward march of its peoples, to be the basis of their
liberties, and the starting-point of their literature, we can scarcely
avoid drawing lessons of importance.

The first point which I would suggest, as picturesquely enforced for us
by this incident, is--

I. The apparent insignificance and real greatness of Christian work.

There did not seem in the whole of that great city that morning a more
completely insignificant knot of people than the little weather-beaten
Jew, travel-stained, of weak bodily presence, and of contemptible
speech, with the handful of his attendants, who slipped out in the
early morning and wended their way to the quiet little oratory, beneath
the blue sky, by the side of the rushing stream, and there talked
informally and familiarly to the handful of women. The great men of
Philippi would have stared if any one had said to them, 'You will be
forgotten, but two of these women will have their names embalmed in the
memory of the world for ever. Everybody will know Euodia and Syntyche.
Your city will be forgotten, although a battle that settled the fate of
the civilised world was fought outside your gates. But that little Jew
and the letter that he will write to that handful of believers that are
to be gathered by his preaching will last for ever.' The mightiest
thing done in Europe that morning was when the Apostle sat down by the
riverside, 'and spake to the women which resorted thither.'

The very same vulgar mistake as to what is great and as to what is
small is being repeated over and over again; and we are all tempted to
it by that which is worldly and vulgar in ourselves, to the enormous
detriment of the best part of our natures. So it is worth while to stop
for a moment and ask what is the criterion of greatness in our deeds? I
answer, three things--their motive, their sphere, their consequences.
What is done for God is always great. You take a pebble and drop it
into a brook, and immediately the dull colouring upon it flashes up
into beauty when the sunlight strikes through the ripples, and the
magnitude of the little stone is enlarged. If I may make use of such a
violent expression, drop your deeds into God, and they will all be
great, however small they are. Keep them apart from Him, and they will
be small, though all the drums of the world beat in celebration, and
all the vulgar people on the earth extol their magnitude. This altar
magnifies and sanctifies the giver and the gift. The great things are
the things that are done for God.

A deed is great according to its sphere. What bears on and is confined
to material things is smaller than what affects the understanding. The
teacher is more than the man who promotes material good. And on the
very same principle, above both the one and the other, is the doer of
deeds which touch the diviner part of a man's nature, his will, his
conscience, his affections, his relations to God. Thus the deeds that
impinge upon these are the highest and the greatest; and far above the
scientific inventor, and far above the mere teacher, as I believe, and
as I hope you believe, stands the humblest work of the poorest
Christian who seeks to draw any other soul into the light and liberty
which he himself possesses. The greatest thing in the world is charity,
and the purest charity in the world is that which helps a man to
possess the basis and mother-tincture of all love, the love towards God
who has first loved us, in the person and the work of His dear Son.

That which being done has consequences that roll through souls, 'and
grow for ever and for ever,' is a greater work than the deed whose
issues are more short-lived. And so the man who speaks a word which may
deflect a soul into the paths which have no end until they are
swallowed up in the light of the God who 'is a Sun,' is a worker whose
work is truly great. Brethren, it concerns the nobleness of the life of
us Christian people far more closely than we sometimes suppose, that we
should purge our souls from the false estimate of magnitudes which
prevails so extensively in the world's judgment of men and their
doings. And though it is no worthy motive for a man to seek to live so
that he may do great things, it is a part of the discipline of the
Christian mind, as well as heart, that we should be able to reduce the
swollen bladders to their true flaccidity and insignificance, and that
we should understand that things done for God, things done on men's
souls, things done with consequences which time will not exhaust, nor
eternity put a period to, are, after all, the great things of human
life.

Ah, there will be a wonderful reversal of judgments one day! Names that
now fill the trumpet of fame will fall silent. Pages that now are read
as if they were leaves of the 'Book of Life' will be obliterated and
unknown, and when all the flashing cressets in Vanity Fair have smoked
and stunk themselves out, 'They that be wise shall shine as the
brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness
as the stars for ever and ever.' The great things are the Christian
things, and there was no greater deed done that day, on this round
earth, than when that Jewish wayfarer, travel-stained and
insignificant, sat himself down in the place of prayer, and 'spake unto
the women which resorted thither.' Do not be over-cowed by the loud
talk of the world, but understand that Christian work is the mightiest
work that a man can do.

Let us take from this incident a hint as to--

II. The law of growth in Christ's Kingdom.

Here, as I have said, is the thin thread of water at the source. We
to-day are on the broad bosom of the expanded stream. Here is the
little beginning; the world that we see around us has come from this,
and there is a great deal more to be done yet before all the power that
was transported into Europe, on that Sabbath morning, has wrought its
legitimate effects. That is to say, 'the Kingdom of God cometh not by
observation.' Let me say a word, and only a word, based on this
incident, about the law of small beginnings and the law of slow,
inconspicuous development.

We have here an instance of the law of small, silent beginnings. Let us
go back to the highest example of everything that is good; the life of
Jesus Christ. A cradle at Bethlehem, a carpenter's shop in Nazareth,
thirty years buried in a village, two or three years, at most, going up
and down quietly in a remote nook of the earth, and then He passed away
silently and the world did not know Him. 'He shall not strive nor cry,
nor cause His voice to be heard in the streets.' And as the Christ so
His Church, and so His Gospel, and so all good movements that begin
from Him. Destructive preparations may be noisy; they generally are.
Constructive beginnings are silent and small. If a thing is launched
with a great beating of drums and blowing of trumpets, you may be
pretty sure there is very little in it. Drums are hollow, or they would
not make such a noise. Trumpets only catch and give forth wind. They
say--I know not whether it is true--that the _Wellingtonia gigantea_,
the greatest of forest trees, has a smaller seed than any of its
congeners. It may be so, at any rate it does for an illustration. The
germ-cell is always microscopic. A little beginning is a prophecy of a
great ending.

In like manner there is another large principle suggested here which,
in these days of impatient haste and rushing to and fro, and religious
as well as secular advertising and standing at street corners, we are
very apt to forget, but which we need to remember, and that is that the
rate of growth is swift when the duration of existence is short. A reed
springs up in a night. How long does an oak take before it gets too
high for a sheep to crop at? The moth lives its full life in a day.
There is no creature that has helpless infancy so long as a man. We
have the slow work of mining; the dynamite will be put into the hole
one day, and the spark applied--and then? So 'an inheritance may be
gotten hastily at the beginning, but the end thereof shall not be
blessed.'

Let us apply that to our own personal life and work, and to the growth
of Christianity in the world, and let us not be staggered because
either are so slow. 'The Lord is not slack concerning His promises, as
some men count slackness. One day is with the Lord as a thousand years,
and a thousand years as one day.' How long will that day be of which a
thousand years are but as the morning twilight? Brethren, you have need
of patience. You Christian workers, and I hope I am speaking to a great
many such now; how long does it take before we can say that we are
making any impression at all on the vast masses of evil and sin that
are round about us? God waited, nobody knows how many millenniums and
more than millenniums, before He had the world ready for man. He waited
for more years than we can tell before He had the world ready for the
Incarnation. His march is very slow because it is ever onwards. Let us
be thankful if we forge ahead the least little bit; and let us not be
impatient for swift results which are the fool's paradise, and which
the man who knows that he is working towards God's own end can well
afford to do without.

And now, lastly, let me ask you to notice, still further as drawn from
this incident--

III. The simplicity of the forces to which God entrusts the growth of
His Kingdom.

It is almost ludicrous to think, if it were not pathetic and sublime,
of the disproportion between the end that was aimed at and the way that
was taken to reach it, which the text opens before us. 'We went out to
the riverside, and we spake unto the women which resorted thither.'
That was all. Think of Europe as it was at that time. There was Greece
over the hills, there was Rome ubiquitous and ready to exchange its
contemptuous toleration for active hostility. There was the unknown
barbarism of the vague lands beyond. Think of the established
idolatries which these men had to meet, around which had gathered, by
the superstitious awe of untold ages, everything that was obstinate,
everything that was menacing, everything that was venerable. Think of
the subtleties to which they had to oppose their unlettered message.
Think of the moral corruption that was eating like an ulcer into the
very heart of society. Did ever a Cortez on the beach, with his ships
in flames behind him, and a continent in arms before, cast himself on a
more desperate venture? And they conquered! How? What were the small
stones from the brook that slew Goliath? Have we got them? Here they
are, the message that they spoke, the white heat of earnestness with
which they spoke it, and the divine Helper who backed them up. And we
have this message. Brethren, that old word, 'God was in Christ
reconciling the world to Himself,' is as much needed, as potent, as
truly adapted to the complicated civilisation of this generation, as
surely reaching the deepest wants of the human soul, as it was in the
days when first the message poured, like a red-hot lava flood, from the
utterances of Paul. Like lava it has gone cold to-day, and stiff in
many places, and all the heat is out of it. That is the fault of the
speaker, never of the message. It is as mighty as ever it was, and if
the Christian Church would keep more closely to it, and would realise
more fully that the Cross does not need to be propped up so much as to
be proclaimed, I think we should see that it is so. That sword has not
lost its temper, and modern modes of warfare have not antiquated it. As
David said to the high priests at Nob, when he was told that Goliath's
sword was hid behind the ephod, 'Give me that. There is none like it.'
It was not miracles, it was the Gospel that was preached, which was
'the power of God unto salvation.'

And that message was preached with earnestness. There is one point in
which every successful servant of Jesus Christ who has done work for
Him, winning men to Him, has been like every other successful servant,
and there is only one point. Some of them have been wise men, some of
them have been foolish. Some of them have been clad with many puerile
notions and much rubbish of ceremonial and sacerdotal theories. Some of
them have been high Calvinists, some of them low Arminians; some of
them have been scholars, some of them could hardly read. But they have
all had this one thing: they believed with all their hearts what they
spake. They fulfilled the Horatian principle, 'If you wish me to weep,
your own eyes must overflow'--and if you wish me to believe, you must
speak, not 'with bated breath and whispering humbleness,' but as if you
yourself believed it, and were dead set on getting other people to
believe it, too.

And then the third thing that Paul had we have, and that is the
presence of the Christ. Note what it says in the context about one
convert who was made that morning, Lydia, 'whose heart the Lord
opened.' Now I am not going to deduce Calvinism or any other 'ism' from
these words, but I pray you to note that there is emerging on the
surface here what runs all through this book of Acts, and animates the
whole of it, viz., that Jesus Christ Himself is working, doing all the
work that is done through His servants. Wherever there are men aflame
with that with which every Christian man and woman should be aflame,
the consciousness of the preciousness of their Master, and their own
responsibility for the spreading of His Name, there, depend upon it,
will be the Christ to aid them. The picture with which one of the
Evangelists closes his Gospel will be repeated: 'They went everywhere
preaching the word, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word
with signs following.'

Dear brethren, the vision of the man of Macedonia which drew Paul
across the water from Troas to Philippi speaks to us. 'Come over and
help us,' comes from many voices. And if we, in however humble and
obscure, and as the foolish purblind world calls it, 'small,' way,
yield to the invitation, and try to do what in us lies, then we shall
find that, like Paul by the riverside in that oratory, we are building
better than we know, and planting a little seed, the springing whereof
God will bless. 'Thou sowest not that which shall be, but bare grain
... and God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him.'



THE RIOT AT PHILIPPI

'And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they
caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the
rulers, 20. And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men,
being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, 21. And teach customs,
which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being
Romans. 22. And the multitude rose up together against them: and the
magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. 23. And
when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison,
charging the jailer to keep them safely: 24. Who, having received such
a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast
in the stocks. 25. And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang
praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. 26. And suddenly there
was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were
shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's
bands were loosed. 27. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his
sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and
would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.
28. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for
we are all here. 29. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and
came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, 30. And brought
them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 31. And they
said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and
thy house. 32. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all
that were in his house. 33. And he took them the same hour of the
night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his,
straightway. 34. And when he had brought them into his house, he set
meat before them, and rejoiced, believing In God with all his
house.'--ACTS xvi. 19-34.

This incident gives us the Apostle's first experience of purely Gentile
opposition. The whole scene has a different stamp from that of former
antagonisms, and reminds us that we have passed into Europe. The
accusers and the grounds of accusation are new. Formerly Jews had led
the attack; now Gentiles do so. Crimes against religion were charged
before; now crimes against law and order. Hence the narrative is more
extended, in accordance with the prevailing habit of the book, to
dilate on the first of a series and to summarise subsequent members of
it. We may note the unfounded charge and unjust sentence; the joyful
confessors and the answer to their trust; the great light that shone on
the jailer's darkness.

I. This was a rough beginning of the work undertaken at the call of
Christ. Less courageous and faithful men might have thought, 'Were we
right in "assuredly gathering" that His hand pointed us hither, since
this is the reception we find?' But though the wind meets us as soon as
we clear the harbour, the salt spray dashing in our faces is no sign
that we should not have left shelter. A difficult beginning often means
a prosperous course; and hardships are not tokens of having made a
mistake.

The root of the first antagonism to the Gospel in Europe was purely
mercenary. The pythoness's masters had no horror of Paul's doctrines.
They were animated by no zeal for Apollo. They only saw a source of
profit drying up. Infinitely more respectable was Jewish opposition,
which was, at all events, the perverted working of noble sentiments.
Zeal for religion, even when the zeal is impure and the notions of
religion imperfect, is higher than mere anger at pecuniary loss. How
much of the opposition since and to-day comes from the same mean
source! Lust and appetite organise profitable trades, in which 'the
money has no smell,' however foul the cesspool from which it has been
brought. And when Christian people set themselves against these
abominations, capital takes the command of the mob of drink-sellers and
consumers, or of those from haunts of fleshly sin, and shrieks about
interfering with honest industry, and seeking to enforce sour-faced
Puritanism on society. The Church may be very sure that it is failing
in some part of its duty, if there is no class of those who fatten on
providing for sin howling at its heels, because it is interfering with
the hope of their gains.

The charge against the little group took no heed of the real character
of their message. It artfully put prominent their nationality. These
early anti-Semitic agitators knew the value of a good solid prejudice,
and of a nickname. 'Jews'--that was enough. The rioters were
'Romans'--of a sort, no doubt, but it was poor pride for a Macedonian
to plume himself on having lost his nationality. The great crime laid
to Paul's charge was--troubling the city. So it always is. Whether it
be George Fox, or John Wesley, or the Salvation Army, the disorderly
elements of every community attack the preachers of the Gospel in the
name of order, and break the peace in their eagerness to have it kept.
There was no 'trouble' in Philippi, but the uproar which they
themselves were making. The quiet praying-place by the riverside, and
the silencing of the maiden's shout in the streets, were not exactly
the signs of disturbers of civic tranquillity.

The accuracy of the charge may be measured by the ignorance of the
accusers that Paul and his friends were in any way different from the
run of Jews. No doubt they were supposed to be teaching Jewish
practices, which were supposed to be inconsistent with Roman
citizenship. But if the magistrates had said, 'What customs?' the
charge would have collapsed. Thank God, the Gospel has a witness to
bear against many 'customs'; but it does not begin by attacking even
these, much less by prescribing illegalities. Its errand was and is to
the individual first. It sets the inner man right with God, and then
the new life works itself out, and will war against evils which the old
life deemed good; but the conception of Christianity as a code
regulating actions is superficial, whether it is held by friends or
foes.

There is always a mob ready to follow any leader, especially if there
is the prospect of hurting somebody. The lovers of tranquillity showed
how they loved it by dragging Paul and Silas into the forum, and
bellowing untrue charges against them. The mob seconded them; 'they
rose up together [with the slave-owners] against Paul and Silas.' The
magistrates, knowing the ticklish material that they had to deal with,
and seeing only a couple of Jews from nobody knew where, did not think
it worth while to inquire or remonstrate. They were either cowed or
indifferent; and so, to show how zealous they and the mob were for
Roman law, they drove a coach-and-six clean through it, and without the
show of investigation, scourged and threw into prison the silent
Apostles. It was a specimen of what has happened too often since. How
many saints have been martyred to keep popular feeling in good tune!
And how many politicians will strain conscience to-day, because they
are afraid of what Luke here unpolitely calls 'the multitude,' or as we
might render it, 'the mob,' but which we now fit with a much more
respectful appellation!

The jailer, on his part, in the true spirit of small officials, was
ready to better his instructions. It is dangerous to give vague
directions to such people. When the judge has ordered unlawful
scourging, the turnkey is not likely to interpret the requirement of
safe keeping too leniently. One would not look for much human kindness
in a Philippian jail. So it was natural that the deepest, darkest, most
foul-smelling den should be chosen for the two, and that they should he
thrust, bleeding backs and all, into the stocks, to sleep if they could.

II. These birds could sing in a darkened cage. The jailer's treatment
of them after his conversion shows what he had neglected to do at
first. They had no food; their bloody backs were unsponged; they were
thrust into a filthy hole, and put in a posture of torture. No wonder
that they could not sleep! But what hindered sleep would, with most
men, have sorely dimmed trust and checked praise. Not so with them. God
gave them 'songs in the night.' We can hear the strains through all the
centuries, and they bid us be cheerful and trustful, whatever befalls.
Surely Christian faith never is more noble than when it triumphs over
circumstances, and brings praises from lips which, if sense had its
way, would wail and groan. 'This is the victory that overcometh the
world.' The true anaesthetic is trust in God. No wonder that the baser
sort of prisoners--and base enough they probably were--'were listening
to them,' for such sounds had never been heard there before. In how
many a prison have they been heard since!

We are not told that the Apostles prayed for deliverance. Such
deliverance had not been always granted. Peter indeed had been set
free, but Stephen and James had been martyred, and these two heroes had
no ground to expect a miracle to free them. But thankful trust is
always an appeal to God. And it is always answered, whether by
deliverance from or support in trial.

This time deliverance came. The tremor of the earth was the token of
God's answer. It does not seem likely that an earthquake could loosen
fetters in a jail full of prisoners, but more probably the opening of
the doors and the falling off of the chains were due to a separate act
of divine power, the earthquake being but the audible token thereof. At
all events, here again, the first of a series has distinguishing
features, and may stand as type of all its successors. God will never
leave trusting hearts to the fury of enemies. He sometimes will stretch
out a hand and set them free, He sometimes will leave them to bear the
utmost that the world can do, but He will always hear their cry and
save them. Paul had learned the lesson which Philippi was meant to
teach, when he said, though anticipating a speedy death by martyrdom,
'The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will save me into
His heavenly Kingdom.'

III. The jailer behaves as such a man in his position would do. He
apparently slept in a place that commanded a view of the doors; and he
lay dressed, with his sword beside him, in case of riot or attempted
escape. His first impulse on awaking is to look at the gates. They are
open; then some of his charge have broken them. His immediate thought
of suicide not only shows the savage severity of punishment which he
knew would fall on him, but tells a dreary tale of the desperate sense
of the worthlessness of life and blank ignorance of anything beyond
which then infected the Roman world. Suicide, the refuge of cowards or
of pessimists, sometimes becomes epidemic. Faith must have died and
hope vanished before a man can say, 'I will take the leap into the
dark.'

Paul's words freed the man from one fear, but woke a less selfish and
profounder awe. What did all this succession of strange things mean?
Here are doors open; how came that? Here are prisoners with the
possibility of escape refusing it; how came that? Here is one of his
victims tenderly careful of his life and peacefulness, and taking the
upper hand of him; how came that? A nameless awe begins to creep over
him; and when he gets lights, and sees the two whom he had made fast in
the stocks standing there free, and yet not caring to go forth, his
rough nature is broken down. He recognises his superiors. He remembers
the pythoness's testimony, that they told 'the way of salvation.'

His question seems 'psychologically impossible' to critics, who have
probably never asked it themselves. Wonderful results follow from the
judicious use of that imposing word 'psychologically'; but while we are
not to suppose that this man knew all that 'salvation' meant, there is
no improbability in his asking such a question, if due regard is paid
to the whole preceding events, beginning with the maiden's words, and
including the impression of Paul's personality and the mysterious
freeing of the prisoners.

His dread was the natural fear that springs when a man is brought face
to face with God; and his question, vague and ignorant as it was, is
the cry of the dim consciousness that lies dormant in all men--the
consciousness of needing deliverance and healing. It erred in supposing
that he had to 'do' anything; but it was absolutely right in supposing
that he needed salvation, and that Paul could tell him how to get it.
How many of us, knowing far more than he, have never asked the same
wise question, or have never gone to Paul for an answer? It is a
question which we should all ask; for we all need salvation, which is
deliverance from danger and healing for soul-sickness.

Paul's answer is blessedly short and clear. Its brevity and decisive
plainness are the glory of the Gospel. It crystallises into a short
sentence the essential directory for all men.

See how little it takes to secure salvation. But see how much it takes;
for the hardest thing of all is to be content to accept it as a gift,
'without money and without price.' Many people have listened to sermons
all their lives, and still have no clear understanding of the way of
salvation. Alas that so often the divine simplicity and brevity of
Paul's answer are darkened by a multitude of irrelevant words and
explanations which explain nothing!

The passage ends with the blessing which we may all receive. Of course
the career begun then had to be continued by repeated acts of faith,
and by growing knowledge and obedience. The incipient salvation is very
incomplete, but very real. There is no reason to doubt that, for some
characters, the only way of becoming Christians is to become so by one
dead-lift of resolution. Some things are best done slowly; some things
best quickly. One swift blow makes a cleaner fracture than filing or
sawing. The light comes into some lives like sunshine in northern
latitudes, with long dawn and slowly growing brightness; but in some
the sun leaps into the sky in a moment, as in the tropics. What matter
how long it takes to rise, if it does rise, and climb to the zenith?



THE GREAT QUESTION AND THE PLAIN ANSWER

'He brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 31.
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be
saved.'--ACTS xvi. 30, 31.

The keeper of a Macedonian jail was not likely to be a very nervous or
susceptible person. And so the extraordinary state of agitation and
panic into which this rough jailer was cast needs some kind of
explanation. There had been, as you will all remember, an earthquake of
a strange kind, for it not only opened the prison doors, but shook the
prisoner's chains off. The doors being opened, there was on the part of
the jailer, who probably ought not to have been asleep, a very natural
fear that his charge had escaped.

So he was ready, with that sad willingness for suicide which marked his
age, to cast himself on his sword, when Paul encouraged him.

That fear then was past; what was he afraid of now? He knew the
prisoners were all safe; why should he have come pale and trembling?
Perhaps we shall find an answer to the question in another one. Why
should he have gone to Paul and Silas, his two prisoners, for an
anodyne to his fears?

The answer to that may possibly be found in remembering that for many
days before this a singular thing had happened. Up and down the streets
of Philippi a woman possessed with 'a spirit of divination' had gone at
the heels of these two men, proclaiming in such a way as to disturb
them: 'These are the servants of the Most High God, which show unto us
the way of salvation.' It was a new word and a new idea in Philippi or
in Macedonia. This jailer had got it into his mind that these two men
had in their hands a good which he only dimly understood. The panic
caused by the earthquake deepened into a consciousness of some
supernatural atmosphere about him, and stirred in his rude nature
unwonted aspirations and terrors other than he had known, which cast
him at Paul's feet with this strange question.

Now do you think that the jailer's question was a piece of foolish
superstition? I daresay some of you do, or some of you may suppose too
that it was one very unnecessary for him or anybody to ask. So I wish
now, in a very few words, to deal with these three points--the question
that we should all ask, the answer that we may all take, the blessing
that we may all have.

I. The question that we should all ask.

I know that it is very unfashionable nowadays to talk about 'salvation'
as man's need. The word has come to be so worn and commonplace and
technical that many men turn away from it; but for all that, let me try
to stir up the consciousness of the deep necessity that it expresses.

What is it to be saved? Two things; to be healed and to be safe. In
both aspects the expression is employed over and over again in
Scripture. It means either restoration from sickness or deliverance
from peril. I venture to press upon every one of my hearers these two
considerations--we all need healing from sickness; we all need safety
from peril.

Dear brethren, most of you are entire strangers to me; I daresay many
of you never heard my voice before, and probably may never hear it
again. But yet, because 'we have all of us one human heart,' a
brother-man comes to you as possessing with you one common experience,
and ventures to say on the strength of his knowledge of himself, if on
no other ground, 'We have all sinned and come short of the glory of
God.'

Mind, I am not speaking about vices. I have no doubt you are a
perfectly respectable man, in all the ordinary relations of life. I am
not speaking about crimes. I daresay there may be a man or two here
that has been in a dock in his day. Possibly. It does not matter
whether there is or not. But I am not speaking about either vices or
crimes; I am speaking about how we stand in reference to God. And I
pray you to bring yourselves--for no one can do it for you, and no
words of mine can do anything but stimulate you to the act--face to
face with the absolute and dazzlingly pure righteousness of your Father
in Heaven, and to feel the contrast between your life and what you know
He desires you to be. Be honest with yourselves in asking and answering
the question whether or not _you_ have this sickness of sin, its
paralysis in regard to good or its fevered inclination to evil. If
salvation means being healed of a disease, we all have the disease; and
whether we wish it or no, we want the healing.

And what of the other meaning of the word? Salvation means being safe.
Are you safe? Am I safe? Is anybody safe standing in front of that
awful law that rules the whole universe, 'Whatsoever a man soweth, that
shall he also reap'? I am not going to talk about any of the moot
points which this generation has such a delight in discussing, as to
the nature, the duration, the purpose, or the like, of future
retribution. All that I am concerned in now is that all men, deep down
in the bottom of their consciousness--and you and I amongst the
rest--know that there _is_ such a thing as retribution here; and if
there be a life beyond the grave at all, necessarily in an infinitely
intenser fashion there. Somewhere and somehow, men will have to lie on
the beds that they have made; to drink as they have brewed. If sin
means separation from God, and separation from God means, as it
assuredly does, death, then I ask you--and there is no need for any
exaggerated words about it--Are we not in danger? And if salvation be a
state of deliverance from sickness, and a state of deliverance from
peril, do we not need it?

Ah, brethren, I venture to say that we need it more than anything else.
You will not misunderstand me as expressing the slightest depreciation
of other remedies that are being extensively offered now for the
various evils under which society and individuals groan. I heartily
sympathise with them all, and would do my part to help them forward;
but I cannot but feel that whilst culture of the intellect, of the
taste, of the sense of beauty, of the refining agencies generally, is
very valuable; and whilst moral and social and economical and political
changes will all do something, and some of them a great deal, to
diminish the sum of human misery, you have to go deeper down than these
reach. It is not culture that we want most; it is salvation. Brethren,
you and I are wrong in our relation to God, and that means death
and--if you do not shrink from the vulgar old word--damnation. We are
wrong in our relation to God, and that has to be set right before we
are fundamentally and thoroughly right. That is to say, salvation is
our deepest need.

Then how does it come that men go on, as so many of my friends here now
have gone on, all their days paying no attention to that need? Is there
any folly, amidst all the irrationalities of that irrational creature
man, to be matched with the folly of steadily refusing to look forward
and settle for ourselves the prime element in our condition--viz., our
relation to God? Strange is it not--that power that we have of refusing
to look at the barometer when it is going down, of turning away from
unwholesome subjects just because we know them to be so unwelcome and
threatening, and of buying a moment's exemption from discomfort at the
price of a life's ruin?

Do you remember that old story of the way in which the prisoners in the
time of the French Revolution used to behave? The tumbrils came every
morning and carried off a file of them to the guillotine, and the rest
of them had a ghastly make-believe of carrying on the old frivolities
of the life of the _salons_ and of society. And it lasted for an hour
or two, but the tumbril came next morning all the same, and the
guillotine stood there gaping in the _Place_. And so it is useless,
although it is so frequently done by so many of us, to try to shut out
facts instead of facing them. A man is never so wise as when he says to
himself, 'Let me fairly know the whole truth of my relation to the
unseen world in so far as it can be known here, and if that is wrong,
let me set about rectifying it if it be possible.' 'What will ye do in
the end?' is the wisest question that a man can ask himself, when the
end is as certain as it is with us, and as unsatisfactory as I am
afraid it threatens to be with some of us if we continue as we are.

Have I not a right to appeal to the half-sleeping and half-waking
consciousness that endorses my words in some hearts as I speak? O
brethren, you would be far wiser men if you did like this jailer in the
Macedonian prison, came and gave yourselves no rest till you have this
question cleared up, 'What must I do to be saved?'

There was an old Rabbi who used to preach to his disciples, 'Repent the
day before you die.' And when they said to him, 'Rabbi, we do not know
what day we are going to die.' 'Then,' said he, 'repent to-day.' And so
I say to you, 'Settle about the end before the end comes, and as you do
not know when it may come, settle about it now.'

II. That brings me to the next point here, viz., the blessed, clear
answer that we may all take.

Paul and Silas were not non-plussed by this question, nor did they
reply to it in the fashion in which many men would have answered it.
Take a specimen of other answers. If anybody were so far left to
himself as to go with this question to some of our modern wise men and
teachers, they would say, 'Saved? My good fellow, there is nothing to
be saved from. Get rid of delusions, and clear your mind of cant and
superstition.' Or they would say, 'Saved? Well, if you have gone wrong,
do the best you can in the time to come.' Or if you went to some of our
friends they would say, 'Come and be baptized, and receive the grace of
regeneration in holy baptism; and then come to the sacraments, and be
faithful and loyal members of the Church which has Apostolic succession
in it.' And some would say, 'Set yourselves to work and toil and
labour.' And some would say, 'Don't trouble yourselves about such
whims. A short life and a merry one; make the best of it, and jump the
life to come.' Neither cold morality, nor godless philosophy, nor wild
dissipation, nor narrow ecclesiasticism prompted Paul's answer. He
said, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.'

What did that poor heathen man know about the Lord Jesus Christ? Next
to nothing. How could he believe upon Him if he knew so little about
Him? Well, you hear in the context that this summary answer to the
question was the beginning, and not the end, of a conversation, which
conversation, no doubt, consisted largely in extending and explaining
the brief formulary with which it had commenced. But it is a grand
thing that we can put the all-essential truth into half a dozen simple
words, and then expound and explain them as may be necessary. And I
come to you now, dear brethren, with nothing newer or more wonderful,
or more out of the ordinary way than the old threadbare message which
men have been preaching for nineteen hundred years, and have not
exhausted, and which some of you have heard for a lifetime, and have
never practised, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.'

Now I am not going to weary you with mere dissertations upon the
significance of these words. But let me single out two points about
them, which perhaps though they may be perfectly familiar to you, may
come to you with fresh force from my lips now.

Mark, first, whom it is that we are to believe on. '_The Lord_,' that
is the divine Name; '_Jesus_,' that is the name of a Man; '_Christ_,'
that is the name of an office. And if you put them all together, they
come to this, that He on whom we sinful men may put our sole trust and
hope for our healing and our safety, is the Son of God, who came down
upon earth to live our life and to die our death that He might bear on
Himself our sins, and fulfil all which ancient prophecy and symbol had
proclaimed as needful, and therefore certain to be done, for men. It is
not a starved half-Saviour whose name is only Jesus, and neither Lord
nor Christ, faith in whom will save you. You must grasp the whole
revelation of His nature and His power if from Him there is to flow the
life that you need.

And note what it is that we are to exercise towards Jesus Christ. To
'believe on Him' is a very different thing from _believing Him_. You
may accept all that I have been saying about who and what He is, and be
as far away from the faith that saves a soul as if you had never hoard
His name. To believe on the Lord Jesus Christ is to lean the whole
weight of yourselves upon Him. What do you do when you trust a man who
promises you any small gift or advantage? What do you do when dear ones
say, 'Rest on my love'? You simply trust them. And the very same
exercise of heart and mind which is the blessed cement that holds human
society together, and the power that sheds peace and grace over
friendships and love, is the power which, directed to Jesus Christ,
brings all His saving might into exercise in our lives. Brethren, trust
Him, trust Him as Lord, trust Him as Jesus, trust Him as Christ. Learn
your sickness, learn your danger; and be sure of your Healer and
rejoice in your security. 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou
shalt be saved.'

III. Lastly, consider the blessing we may all receive. This jailer
about whom we have been speaking was a heathen when the sun set and a
Christian when it rose. On the one day he was groping in darkness, a
worshipper of idols, without hope in the future, and ready in
desperation to plunge himself into the darkness beyond, when he thought
his prisoners had fled. In an hour or two 'he rejoiced, believing in
God with all his house.'

A sudden conversion, you say, and sudden conversions are always
suspicious. I am not so sure about that; they may be, or they may not
be, according to circumstances. I know very well that it is not
fashionable now to preach the possibility or the probability of men
turning all at once from darkness to light, and that people shrug their
shoulders at the old theory of sudden conversions. I think, so much the
worse. There are a great many things in this world that have to be done
suddenly if they are ever to be done at all. And I, for my part, would
have far more hope for a man who, in one leap, sprung from the depth of
the degradation of that coarse jailer into the light and joy of the
Christian life, than for a man who tried to get to it by slow steps.
You have to do everything in this world worth doing by a sudden
resolution, however long the preparation may have been which led up to
the resolution. The act of resolving is always the act of an instant.
And when men are plunged in darkness and profligacy, as are, perhaps,
some of my hearers now, there is far more chance of their casting off
their evil by a sudden jerk than of their unwinding the snake by slow
degrees from their arms. There is no reason whatever why the soundest
and solidest and most lasting transformation of character should not
begin in a moment's resolve.

And there is an immense danger that with some of you, if that change
does not begin in a moment's resolve now, you will be further away from
it than ever you were. I have no doubt there are many of you who, at
any time for years past, have known that you ought to be Christians,
and who, at any time for years past, have been saying to yourselves:
'Well, I will think about it, and I am tending towards it, but I cannot
quite make the plunge.' Why not; and why not now? You can if you will;
you ought; you will be a better and happier man if you do. You will be
saved from your sickness and safe from your danger.

The outcast jailer changed nationalities in a moment. You who have
dwelt in the suburbs of Christ's Kingdom all your lives--why cannot you
go inside the gate as quickly? For many of us the gradual 'growing up
in the nurture and admonition of the Lord' has been the appointed way.
For some of us I verily believe the sudden change is the best. Some of
us have a sunrise as in the tropics, where the one moment is grey and
cold, and next moment the seas are lit with the glory. Others of us
have a sunrise as at the poles, where a long slowly-growing light
precedes the rising, and the rising itself is scarce observable. But it
matters little as to how we get to Christ, if we are there, and it
matters little whether a man's faith grows up in a moment, or is the
slow product of years. If only it be rooted in Christ it will bear
fruit unto life eternal.

And so, dear brethren, I come to you with my last question, this man
rejoiced, believing in the Lord; why should not you; and why should not
you now? 'Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.' A
look is a swift act, but if it be the beginning of a lifelong gaze, it
will be the beginning of salvation and of a glory longer than life.



THESSALONICA AND BEREA

'Now, when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came
to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: 2. And Paul, as his
manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath-days reasoned with
them out of the scriptures, 3. Opening and alleging, that Christ must
needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this
Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. 4. And some of them believed,
and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great
multitude, and of the chief women not a few. 5. But the Jews which
believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of
the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an
uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out
to the people, 6. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and
certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have
turned the world upside down are come hither also; 7. Whom Jason hath
received; and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying
that there is another king, one Jesus. 8. And they troubled the people
and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things. 9. And when
they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go.
10. And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto
Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11.
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received
the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily,
whether those things were so. 12. Therefore many of them believed; also
of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.'--ACTS
xvii. 1-12.

'Shamefully entreated at Philippi,' Paul tells the Thessalonians, he
'waxed bold in our God to' preach to them. His experience in the former
city might well have daunted a feebler faith, but opposition affected
Paul as little as a passing hailstorm dints a rock. To change the field
was common sense; to abandon the work would have been sin. But Paul's
brave persistence was not due to his own courage; he drew it from God.
Because he lived in communion with Him, his courage 'waxed' as dangers
gathered. He knew that he was doing a daring thing, but he knew who was
his helper. So he went steadily on, whatever might front him. His
temper of mind and the source of it are wonderfully revealed in his
simple words.

The transference to Thessalonica illustrates another principle of his
action; namely, his preference of great centres of population as fields
of work. He passes through two less important places to establish
himself in the great city. It is wise to fly at the head. Conquer the
cities, and the villages will fall of themselves. That was the policy
which carried Christianity through the empire like a prairie fire.
Would that later missions had adhered to it!

The methods adopted in Thessalonica were the usual ones. Luke bids us
notice that Paul took the same course of action in each place: namely,
to go to the synagogue first, when there was one, and there to prove
that Jesus was the Christ. The three Macedonian towns already mentioned
seem not to have had synagogues. Probably there were comparatively few
Jews in them, and these were ecclesiastically dependent on
Thessalonica. We can fancy the growing excitement in the synagogue, as
for three successive Sabbaths the stranger urged his proofs of the two
all-important but most unwelcome assertions, that their own scriptures
foretold a suffering Messiah,--a side of Messianic prophecy which was
ignored or passionately denied--and that Jesus was that Messiah. Many a
vehement protest would be shrieked out, with flashing eyes and abundant
gesticulation, as he 'opened' the sense of Scripture, and 'quoted
passages'--for that is the meaning here of the word rendered
'alleging.' He gives us a glimpse of the hot discussions when he says
that he preached 'in much conflict'(1 Thess. ii. 2).

With whatever differences in manner of presentation, the true message
of the Christian teacher is still the message that woke such opposition
in the synagogue of Thessalonica,--the bold proclamation of the
personal Christ, His death and resurrection. And with whatever
differences, the instrument of conviction is still the Scriptures, 'the
sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.' The more closely we
keep ourselves to that message and that weapon the better.

The effects of the faithful preaching of the gospel are as uniform as
the method. It does one of two things to its hearers--either it melts
their hearts and leads them to faith, or it stirs them to more violent
enmity. It is either a stone of stumbling or a sure corner-stone. We
either build on or fall over it, and at last are crushed by it. The
converts included Jews and proselytes in larger numbers, as may be
gathered from the distinction drawn by 'some'--referring to the former,
and 'a great multitude'--referring to the latter. Besides these there
were a good many ladies of rank and refinement, as was also the case
presently at Beroea. Probably these, too, were proselytes.

The prominence of women among the converts, as soon as the gospel is
brought into Europe, is interesting and prophetic. The fact of the
social position of these ladies may suggest that the upper classes were
freer from superstition than the lower, and may point a not favourable
contrast with present social conditions, which do not result in a
similar accession of women of 'honourable estate' to the Church.

Opposition follows as uniform a course as the preaching. The broad
outlines are the same in each case, while the local colouring varies.
If we compare Paul's narrative in I Thessalonians, which throbs with
emotion, and, as it were, pants with the stress of the conflict, with
Luke's calm account here, we see not only how Paul felt, but why the
Jews got up a riot. Luke says that they 'became jealous.' Paul expands
that into 'they are contrary to all men; forbidding us to speak to the
Gentiles that they may be saved.' Then it was not so much dislike to
the preaching of Jesus as Messiah as it was rage that their Jewish
prerogative was infringed, and the children's bread offered to the
dogs, that stung them to violent opposition. Israel had been chosen,
that it might be God's witness, and diffuse the treasure it possessed
through all the world. It had become, not the dispenser, but the
would-be monopolist, of its gift. Have there been no Christian
communities in later days animated by the same spirit?

There were plenty of loafers in the market-place ready for any
mischief, and by no means particular about the pretext for a riot.
Anything that would give an opportunity for hurting somebody, and for
loot, would attract them as corruption does flesh-flies. So the Jewish
ringleaders easily got a crowd together. To tell their real reasons
would scarcely have done, but to say that there was a house to be
attacked, and some foreigners to be dragged out, was enough for the
present. Jason's house was probably Paul's temporary home, where, as he
tells us in 1 Thessalonians ii. 9, he had worked at his trade, that he
might not be burdensome to any. Possibly he and Silas had been warned
of the approach of the rioters and had got away elsewhere. At all
events, the nest was empty, but the crowd must have its victims, and
so, failing Paul, they laid hold of Jason. His offence was a very
shadowy one. But since his day there have been many martyrs, whose only
crime was 'harbouring' Christians, or heretics, or recusant priests, or
Covenanters. If a bull cannot gore a man, it will toss his cloak.

The charge against Jason is that he receives the Apostle and his party,
and constructively favours their designs. The charge against them is
that they are revolutionists, rebels against the Emperor, and partisans
of a rival. Now we may note three things about the charge. First, it
comes with a very distinct taint of insincerity from Jews, who were, to
say the least, not remarkable for loyalty or peaceful obedience. The
Gracchi are complaining of sedition! A Jew zealous for Caeesar is an
anomaly, which might excite the suspicions of the least suspicious
ruler. The charge of breaking the peace comes with remarkable
appropriateness from the leaders of a riot. They were the troublers of
the city, not Paul, peacefully preaching in the synagogue. The wolf
scolds the lamb for fouling the river.

Again, the charges are a violent distortion of the truth. Possibly the
Jewish ringleaders believed what they said, but more probably they
consciously twisted Paul's teachings, because they knew that no other
charges would excite so much hostility or be so damning as those which
they made. The mere suggestion of treason was often fatal. The wild
exaggeration that the Christians had 'turned the whole civilised world
upside down' betrays passionate hatred and alarm, if it was genuine, or
crafty determination to rouse the mob, if it was consciously trumped
up. But whether the charges were believed or not by those who made
them, here were Jews disclaiming their nation's dearest hope, and, like
the yelling crowd at the Crucifixion, declaring they had no king but
Caesar. The degradation of Israel was completed by these fanatical
upholders of its prerogatives.

But, again, the charges were true in a far other sense than their
bringers meant. For Christianity is revolutionary, and its very aim is
to turn the world upside down, since the wrong side is uppermost at
present, and Jesus, not Caesar, or any king or emperor or czar, is the
true Lord and ruler of men. But the revolution which He makes is the
revolution of individuals, turning them from darkness to light; for He
moulds single souls first and society afterwards. Violence is always a
mistake, and the only way to change evil customs is to change men's
natures, and then the customs drop away of themselves. The true rule
begins with the sway of hearts; then wills are submissive, and conduct
is the expression of inward delight in a law which is sweet because the
lawgiver is dear.

Missing Paul, the mob fell on Jason and the brethren. They were 'bound
over to keep the peace.' Evidently the rulers had little fear of these
alleged desperate revolutionaries, and did as little as they dared,
without incurring the reproach of being tepid in their loyalty.

Probably the removal of Paul and his travelling companions from the
neighbourhood was included in the terms to which Jason had to submit.
Their hurried departure does not seem to have been caused by a renewal
of disturbances. At all events, their Beroean experience repeated that
of Philippi and of Thessalonica, with one great and welcome difference.
The Beroean Jews did exactly what their compatriots elsewhere would not
do--they looked into the subject with their own eyes, and tested Paul's
assertions by Scripture. 'Therefore,' says Luke, with grand confidence
in the impregnable foundations of the faith, 'many of them believed.'
True nobility of soul consists in willingness to receive the Word,
combined with diligent testing of it. Christ asks for no blind
adhesion. The true Christian teacher wishes for no renunciation, on the
part of his hearers, of their own judgments. 'Open your mouth and shut
your eyes, and swallow what I give you,' is not the language of
Christianity, though it has sometimes been the demand of its professed
missionaries, and not the teacher only, but the taught also, have been
but too ready to exercise blind credulity instead of intelligent
examination and clear-eyed faith. If professing Christians to-day were
better acquainted with the Scriptures, and more in the habit of
bringing every new doctrine to them as its touchstone, there would be
less currency of errors and firmer grip of truth.



PAUL AT ATHENS

'Then Paul stood In the midst of Mars-hill, and said, Ye men of Athens,
I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. 23. For as I
passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this
inscription, To the Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship,
him declare I unto you. 24. God, that made the world, and all things
therein, seeing that He is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in
temples made with hands; 25. Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as
though He needed any thing, seeing He giveth to all life, and breath,
and all things; 26. And hath made of one blood all nations of men for
to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times
before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; 27. That they
should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him,
though He be not far from every one of us: 28. For in Him we live, and
move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said,
For we are also His offspring. 29. Forasmuch then as we are the
offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto
gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. 30. And the
times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every
where to repent: 31. Because he hath appointed a day, in the which He
will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath
ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath
raised Him from the dead. 32. And when they heard of the resurrection
of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of
this matter. 33. So Paul departed from among them. 34. Howbeit certain
men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the
Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.'--ACTS
xvii. 22-34.

'I am become all things to all men,' said Paul, and his address at
Athens strikingly exemplifies that principle of his action. Contrast it
with his speech in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch, which appeals
entirely to the Old Testament, and is saturated with Jewish ideas, or
with the remonstrance to the rude Lycaonian peasants (Acts xiv. 15,
etc.), which, while handling some of the same thoughts as at Athens,
does so in a remarkably different manner. There he appealed to God's
gifts of 'rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons,' the things most
close to his hearers' experience; here, speaking to educated
'philosophers,' he quotes Greek poetry, and sets forth a reasoned
declaration of the nature of the Godhead and the relations of a
philosophy of history and an argument against idolatry. The glories of
Greek art were around him; the statues of Pallas Athene and many more
fair creations looked down on the little Jew who dared to proclaim
their nullity as representations of the Godhead.

Paul's flexibility of mind and power of adapting himself to every
circumstance were never more strikingly shown than in that great
address to the quick-witted Athenians. It falls into three parts: the
conciliatory prelude (vers. 22, 23); the declaration of the Unknown God
(vers. 24-29); and the proclamation of the God-ordained Man (vers. 30,
31).

I. We have, first, the conciliatory prelude. It is always a mistake for
the apostle of a new truth to begin by running a tilt at old errors. It
is common sense to seek to find some point in the present beliefs of
his hearers to which his message may attach itself. An orator who
flatters for the sake of securing favour for himself is despicable; a
missionary who recognises the truth which lies under the system which
he seeks to overthrow, is wise.

It is incredible that Paul should have begun his speech to so critical
an audience by charging them with excessive superstition, as the
Authorised Version makes him do. Nor does the modified translation of
the Revised Version seem to be precisely what is meant. Paul is not
blaming the Athenians, but recording a fact which he had noticed, and
from which he desired to start. Ramsay's translation gives the truer
notion of his meaning--'more than others respectful of what is divine.'
'Superstition' necessarily conveys a sense of blame, but the word in
the original does not.

We can see Paul as a stranger wandering through the city, and noting
with keen eyes every token of the all-pervading idolatry. He does not
tell his hearers that his spirit burned within him when he saw the city
full of idols; but he smothers all that, and speaks only of the
inscription which he had noticed on one, probably obscure and
forgotten, altar: 'To the Unknown God.' Scholars have given themselves
a great deal of trouble to show from other authors that there were such
altars. But Paul is as good an 'authority' as these, and we may take
his word that he did see such an inscription. Whether it had the full
significance which he reads into it or not, it crystallised in an
express avowal that sense of Something behind and above the 'gods many'
of Greek religion, which found expression in the words of their noblest
thinkers and poets, and lay like a nightmare on them.

To charge an Athenian audience, proud of their knowledge, with
ignorance, was a hazardous and audacious undertaking; to make them
charge themselves was more than an oratorical device. It appealed to
the deepest consciousness even of the popular mind. Even with this
prelude, the claims of this wandering Jew to pose as the instructor of
Epicureans and Stoics, and to possess a knowledge of the Divine which
they lacked, were daring. But how calmly and confidently Paul makes
them, and with what easy and conciliatory adoption of their own
terminology, if we adopt the reading of verse 23 in Revised Version
('What ye worship ... this,' etc.), which puts forward the abstract
conception of divinity rather than the personal God.

The spirit in which Paul approached his difficult audience teaches all
Christian missionaries and controversialists a needed and neglected
lesson. We should accentuate points of resemblance rather than of
difference, to begin with. We should not run a tilt against even
errors, and so provoke to their defence, but rather find in creeds and
practices an ignorant groping after, and so a door of entrance for, the
truth which we seek to recommend.

II. The declaration of the Unknown God has been prepared for, and now
follows, and with it is bound up a polemic against idolatry.
Conciliation is not to be carried so far as to hide the antagonism
between the truth and error. We may give non-Christian systems of
religion credit for all the good in them, but we are not to blink their
contrariety to the true religion. Conciliation and controversy are both
needful; and he is the best Christian teacher who has mastered the
secret of the due proportion between them.

Every word of Paul's proclamation strikes full and square at some
counter belief of his hearers. He begins with creation, which he
declares to have been the act of one personal God, and neither of a
multitude of deities, as some of his hearers held, nor of an impersonal
blind power, as others believed, nor the result of chance, nor eternal,
as others maintained. He boldly proclaims there, below the shadow of
the Parthenon, that there is but one God,--the universal Lord, because
the universal Creator. Many consequences from that fact, no doubt,
crowded into Paul's mind; but he swiftly turns to its bearing on the
pomp of temples which were the glory of Athens, and the multitude of
sacrifices which he had beheld on their altars. The true conception of
God as the Creator and Lord of all things cuts up by the roots the
pagan notions of temples as dwelling-places of a god and of sacrifices
as ministering to his needs. With one crushing blow Paul pulverises the
fair fanes around him, and declares that sacrifice, as practised there,
contradicted the plain truth as to God's nature. To suppose that man
can give anything to Him, or that He needs anything, is absurd. All
heathen worship reverses the parts of God and man, and loses sight of
the fact that He is the giver continually and of everything. Life in
its origination, the continuance thereof (breath), and all which
enriches it, are from Him. Then true worship will not be giving to, but
thankfully accepting from and using for, Him, His manifold gifts.

So Paul declares the one God as Creator and Sustainer of all. He goes
on to sketch in broad outline what we may call a philosophy of history.
The declaration of the unity of mankind was a wholly strange message to
proud Athenians, who believed themselves to be a race apart, not only
from the 'barbarians,' whom all Greeks regarded as made of other clay
than they, but from the rest of the Greek world. It flatly contradicted
one of their most cherished prerogatives. Not only does Paul claim one
origin for all men, but he regards all nations as equally cared for by
the one God. His hearers believed that each people had its own patron
deities, and that the wars of nations were the wars of their gods, who
won for them territory, and presided over their national fortunes. To
all that way of thinking the Apostle opposes the conception, which
naturally follows from his fundamental declaration of the one Creator,
of His providential guidance of all nations in regard to their place in
the world and the epochs of their history.

But he rises still higher when he declares the divine purpose in all
the tangled web of history--the variety of conditions of nations, their
rise and fall, their glory and decay, their planting in their lands and
their rooting out,--to be to lead all men to 'seek God.' That is the
deepest meaning of history. The whole course of human affairs is God's
drawing men to Himself. Not only in Judea, nor only by special
revelation, but by the gifts bestowed, and the schooling brought to
bear on every nation, He would stir men up to seek for Him.

But that great purpose has not been realised. There is a tragic 'if
haply' inevitable; and men may refuse to yield to the impulses towards
God. They are the more likely to do so, inasmuch as to find Him they
must 'feel after Him,' and that is hard. The tendrils of a plant turn
to the far-off light, but men's spirits do not thus grope after God.
Something has come in the way which frustrates the divine purpose, and
makes men blind and unwilling to seek Him.

Paul docs not at once draw the two plain inferences, that there must be
something more than the nations have had, if they are to find God, even
His seeking them in some new fashion; and that the power which
neutralises God's design in creation and providence is sin. He has a
word to say about both these, but for the moment he contents himself
with pointing to the fact, attested by his hearers' consciousness, and
by many a saying of thinkers and poets, that the failure to find God
does not arise from His hiding Himself in some remote obscurity. Men
are plunged, as it were, in the ocean of God, encompassed by Him as an
atmosphere, and--highest thought of all, and not strange to Greek
thought of the nobler sort--kindred with Him as both drawing life from
Him and being in His image. Whence, then, but from their own fault,
could men have failed to find God? If He is 'unknown,' it is not
because He has shrouded Himself in darkness, but because they do not
love the light. One swift glance at the folly of idolatry, as
demonstrated by this thought of man's being the offspring of God, leads
naturally to the properly Christian conclusion of the address.

III. It is probable that this part of it was prematurely ended by the
mockery of some and the impatience of others, who had had enough of
Paul and his talk, and who, when they said, 'We will hear thee again,'
meant, 'We will not hear you now.' But, even in the compass permitted
him, he gives much of his message.

We can but briefly note the course of thought. He comes back to his
former word 'ignorance,' bitter pill as it was for the Athenian
cultured class to swallow. He has shown them how their religion ignores
or contradicts the true conceptions of God and man. But he no sooner
brings the charge than he proclaims God's forbearance. And he no sooner
proclaims God's forbearance than he rises to the full height of his
mission as God's ambassador, and speaks in authoritative tones, as
bearing His 'commands.'

Now the hint in the previous part is made more plain. The demand for
repentance implies sin. Then the 'ignorance' was not inevitable or
innocent. There was an element of guilt in men's not feeling after God,
and sin is universal, for 'all men everywhere' are summoned to repent.
Philosophers and artists, and cultivated triflers, and sincere
worshippers of Pallas and Zeus, and all 'barbarian' people, are alike
here. That would grate on Athenian pride, as it grates now on ours. The
reason for repentance would be as strange to the hearers as the command
was--a universal judgment, of which the principle was to be rigid
righteousness, and the Judge, not Minos or Rhadamanthus, but 'a Man'
ordained for that function.

What raving nonsense that would appear to men who had largely lost the
belief in a life beyond the grave! The universal Judge a man! No wonder
that the quick Athenian sense of the ridiculous began to rise against
this Jew fanatic, bringing his dreams among cultured people like them!
And the proof which he alleged as evidence to all men that it is so,
would sound even more ridiculous than the assertion meant to be proved.
'A man has been raised from the dead; and this anonymous Man, whom
nobody ever heard of before, and who is no doubt one of the speaker's
countrymen, is to judge us, Stoics, Epicureans, polished people, and we
are to be herded to His bar in company with Boeotians and barbarians!
The man is mad.'

So the assembly broke up in inextinguishable laughter, and Paul
silently 'departed from among them,' having never named the name of
Jesus to them. He never more earnestly tried to adapt his teaching to
his audience; he never was more unsuccessful in his attempt by all
means to gain some. Was it a remembrance of that scene in Athens that
made him write to the Corinthians that his message was 'to the Greeks
foolishness'?



THE MAN WHO IS JUDGE

'...He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath
ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath
raised Him from the dead.'--ACTS xvii. 31.

I. The Resurrection of Jesus gives assurance of judgment.

(_a_) Christ's Resurrection is the pledge of ours.

The belief in a future life, as entertained by Paul's hearers on Mars
Hill, was shadowy and dashed with much unbelief. Disembodied spirits
wandered ghostlike and spectral in a shadowy underworld.

The belief in the Resurrection of Jesus converts the Greek peradventure
into a fact. It gives that belief solidity and makes it easier to grasp
firmly. Unless the thought of a future life is completed by the belief
that it is a corporeal life, it will never have definiteness and
reality enough to sustain itself as a counterpoise to the weight of
things seen.

(_b_) Resurrection implies judgment.

A future bodily life affirms individual identity as persisting beyond
the accident of death, and can only be conceived of as a state in which
the earthly life is fully developed in its individual results. The
dead, who are raised, are raised that they may 'receive the things done
in the body, according to that they have done, whether it be good or
bad.' Historically, the two thoughts have always gone together; and as
has been the clearness with which a resurrection has been held as
certain, so has been the force with which the anticipation of judgment
to come has impinged on conscience.

Jesus is, even in this respect, our Example, for the glory to which He
was raised and in which He reigns now is the issue of His earthly life;
and in His Resurrection and Ascension we have the historical fact which
certifies to all men that a life of self-sacrifice here will assuredly
flower into a life of glory there, 'Ours the Cross, the grave, the
skies.'

II. The Resurrection of Jesus gives the assurance that He is Judge.

The bare fact that He is risen does not carry that assurance; we have
to take into account that He has risen.

After such a life.

His Resurrection was God's setting the seal of His approval and
acceptance on Christ's work; His endorsement of Christ's claims to
special relations with Him; His affirmation of Christ's sinlessness.
Jesus had declared that He did always the things that pleased the
Father; had claimed to be the pure and perfect realisation of the
divine ideal of manhood; had presented Himself as the legitimate object
of utter devotion and of religious trust, love, and obedience, and as
the only way to God. Men said that He was a blasphemer; God said, and
said most emphatically, by raising Him from the dead: 'This is My
beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'

With such a sequel.

'Christ being raised from the dead, dieth no more,' and that fact sets
Him apart from others who, according to Scripture, have been raised.
His resurrection is, if we may use such a figure, a point; His
Ascension and Session at the right hand of God are the line into which
the point is prolonged. And from both the point and the line come the
assurance that He is the Judge.

III. The risen Jesus is Judge because He is Man.

That seems a paradox. It is a commonplace that we are incompetent to
judge another, for human eyes cannot read the secrets of a human heart,
and we can only surmise, not know, each other's motives, which are the
all-important part of our deeds. But when we rightly understand
Christ's human nature, we understand how fitted He is to be our Judge,
and how blessed it is to think of Him as such. Paul tells the Athenians
with deep significance that He who is to be their and the world's Judge
is 'the Man.' He sums up human nature in Himself, He is the ideal and
the real Man.

And further, Paul tells his hearers that God judges 'through' Him, and
does so 'in righteousness.' He is fitted to be our Judge, because He
perfectly and completely bears our nature, knows by experience all its
weaknesses and windings, as from the inside, so to speak, and is
'wondrous kind' with the kindness which 'fellow-feeling' enkindles. He
knows us with the knowledge of a God; He knows us with the sympathy of
a brother.

The Man who has died for all men thereby becomes the Judge of all. Even
in this life, Jesus and His Cross judge us. Our disposition towards Him
is the test of our whole character. By their attitude to Him, the
thoughts of many hearts are revealed. 'What think ye of Christ?' is the
question, the answer to which determines our fate, because it reveals
our inmost selves and their capacities for receiving blessing or harm
from God and His mercy. Jesus Himself has taught us that 'in that day'
the condition of entrance into the Kingdom is 'doing the will of My
Father which is in heaven.' He has also taught us that 'this is the
work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.' Faith in Jesus
as our Saviour is the root from which will grow the good tree which
will bring forth good fruit, bearing which our love will be 'made
perfect, that we may have boldness before Him in the day of judgment.'



PAUL AT CORINTH

'After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; 2.
And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from
Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded
all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. 3. And because he
was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their
occupation they were tent-makers. 4. And he reasoned in the synagogue
every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. 5. And when Silas
and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit,
and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ. 6. And when they
opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto
them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I
will go unto the Gentiles. 7. And he departed thence, and entered into
a certain man's house, named Justus, one that worshipped God, whose
house joined hard to the synagogue. 8. And Crispus, the chief ruler of
the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the
Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized. 9. Then spake the Lord
to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold
not thy peace: 10. For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to
hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. 11. And he continued
there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among
them.'--ACTS xviii. 1-11.

Solitude is a hard trial for sensitive natures, and tends to weaken
their power of work. Paul was entirely alone in Athens, and appears to
have cut his stay there short, since his two companions, who were to
have joined him in that city, did not do so till after he had been some
time in Corinth. His long stay there has several well-marked stages,
which yield valuable lessons.

I. First, we note the solitary Apostle, seeking friends, toiling for
bread, and withal preaching Christ. Corinth was a centre of commerce,
of wealth, and of moral corruption. The celebrated local worship of
Aphrodite fed the corruption as well as the wealth. The Apostle met
there with a new phase of Greek life, no less formidable in antagonism
to the Gospel than the culture of Athens. He tells us that he entered
on his work in Corinth 'in weakness, and in fear, and in much
trembling,' but also that he did not try to attract by adaptation of
his words to the prevailing tastes either of Greek or Jew, but preached
'Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,' knowing that, while that appeared to
go right in the teeth of the demands of both, it really met their
wants. This ministry was begun, in his usual fashion, very
unobtrusively and quietly. His first care was to find a home; his
second, to provide his daily bread; and then he was free to take the
Sabbath for Christian work in the synagogue.

We cannot tell whether he had had any previous acquaintance with Aquila
and his wife, nor indeed is it certain that they had previously been
Christians. Paul's reason for living with them was simply the
convenience of getting work at his trade, and it seems probable that,
if they had been disciples, that fact would have been named as part of
his reason. Pontus lay to the north of Cilicia, and though widely
separated from it, was near enough to make a kind of bond as of
fellow-countrymen, which would be the stronger because they had the
same craft at their finger-ends.

It was the wholesome practice for every Rabbi to learn some trade. If
all graduates had to do the same now there would be fewer educated
idlers, who are dangerous to society and burdens to themselves and
their friends. What a curl of contempt would have lifted the lips of
the rich men of Corinth if they had been told that the greatest man in
their city was that little Jew tent-maker, and that in this
unostentatious fashion he had begun to preach truths which would be
like a charge of dynamite to all their social and religious order! True
zeal can be patiently silent.

Sewing rough goat's-hair cloth into tents may be as truly serving
Christ as preaching His name. All manner of work that contributes to
the same end is the same in worth and in recompense. Perhaps the
wholesomest form of Christian ministry is that after the Apostolic
pattern, when the teacher can say, as Paul did to the people of
Corinth, 'When I was present with you and was in want, I was not a
burden on any man.' If not in letter, at any rate in spirit, his
example must be followed. If the preacher would win souls he must be
free from any taint of suspicion as to money.

II. The second stage in Paul's Corinthian residence is the increased
activity when his friends, Silas and Timothy, came from Beroea. We
learn from Philippians iv. 15, and 2 Corinthians xi. 9, that they
brought gifts from the Church at Philippi; and from 1 Thessalonians
iii. 6, that they brought something still more gladdening namely, good
accounts of the steadfastness of the Thessalonian converts. The money
would make it less necessary to spend most of the week in manual
labour; the glad tidings of the Thessalonians' 'faith and love' did
bring fresh life, and the presence of his helpers would cheer him. So a
period of enlarged activity followed their coming.

The reading of verse 5, 'Paul was constrained by the word,' brings out
strikingly the Christian impulse which makes speech of the Gospel a
necessity. The force of that impulse may vary, as it did with Paul; but
if we have any deep possession of the grace of God for ourselves, we
shall, like him, feel it pressing us for utterance, as soon as the need
of providing daily bread becomes less stringent and our hearts are
gladdened by Christian communion. It augurs ill for a man's hold of the
word if the word does not hold him. He who never felt that he was weary
of forbearing, and that the word was like a fire, if it was 'shut up in
his bones,' has need to ask himself if he has any belief in the Gospel.
The craving to impart ever accompanies real possession.

The Apostle's solemn symbolism, announcing his cessation of efforts
among the Jews, has of course reference only to Corinth, for we find
him in his subsequent ministry adhering to his method, 'to the Jew
first.' It is a great part of Christian wisdom in evangelical work to
recognise the right time to give up efforts which have been fruitless.
Much strength is wasted, and many hearts depressed, by obstinate
continuance in such methods or on such fields as have cost much effort
and yielded no fruit. We often call it faith, when it is only pride,
which prevents the acknowledgment of failure. Better to learn the
lessons taught by Providence, and to try a new 'claim,' than to keep on
digging and washing when we only find sand and mud. God teaches us by
failures as well as by successes. Let us not be too conceited to learn
the lesson or to confess defeat, and shift our ground accordingly.

It is a solemn thing to say 'I am clean.' We need to have been very
diligent, very loving, very prayerful to God, and very persuasive in
pleading with men, before we dare to roll all the blame of their
condemnation on themselves. But we have no right to say, 'Henceforth I
go to' others, until we can say that we have done all that man--or, at
any rate, that we--can do to avert the doom.

Paul did not go so far away but that any whose hearts God had touched
could easily find him. It was with a lingering eye to his countrymen
that he took up his abode in the house of 'one that feared God,' that
is, a proselyte; and that he settled down next door to the synagogue.
What a glimpse of yearning love which cannot bear to give Israel up as
hopeless, that simple detail gives us! And may we not say that the
yearning of the servant is caught from the example of the Master? 'How
shall I give thee up, Ephraim?' Does not Christ, in His long-suffering
love, linger in like manner round each closed heart? and if He
withdraws a little way, does He not do so rather to stimulate search
after Him, and tarry near enough to be found by every seeking heart?

Paul's purpose in his solemn warning to the Jews of Corinth was partly
accomplished. The ruler of the synagogue 'believed in the Lord with all
his house.' Thus men are sometimes brought to decision for Christ by
the apparently impending possibility of His Gospel leaving them to
themselves. 'Blessings brighten as they take their flight.' Severity
sometimes effects what forbearance fails to achieve. If the train is on
the point of starting, the hesitating passenger will swiftly make up
his mind and rush for a seat. It is permissible to press for immediate
decision on the ground that the time is short, and that soon these
things 'will be hid from the eyes.'

We learn from 1 Corinthians i. 14, that Paul deviated from his usual
practice, and himself baptized Crispus. We may be very sure that his
doing so arose from no unworthy subserviency to an important convert,
but indicated how deeply grateful he was to the Lord for giving him, as
a seal to a ministry which had seemed barren, so encouraging a token.
The opposition and blasphemy of many are outweighed, to a true
evangelist, by the conversion of one; and while all souls are in one
aspect equally valuable, they are unequal in the influence which they
may exert on others. So it was with Crispus, for 'many of the
Corinthians hearing' of such a signal fact as the conversion of the
chief of the synagogue, likewise 'believed.' We may distinguish in our
estimate of the value of converts, without being untrue to the great
principle that all men are equally precious in Christ's eyes.

III. The next stage is the vision to Paul and his consequent protracted
residence in Corinth. God does not waste visions, nor bid men put away
fears which are not haunting them. This vision enables us to conceive
Paul's state of mind when it came to him. He was for some reason cast
down. He had not been so when things looked much more hopeless. But
though now he had his friends and many converts, some mood of sadness
crept over him. Men like him are often swayed by impulses rising
within, and quite apart from outward circumstances. Possibly he had
reason to apprehend that his very success had sharpened hostility, and
to anticipate danger to life. The contents of the vision make this not
improbable.

But the mere calming of fear, worthy object as it is, is by no means
the main part of the message of the vision. 'Speak, and hold not thy
peace,' is its central word. Fear which makes a Christian dumb is
always cowardly, and always exaggerated. Speech which comes from
trembling lips may be very powerful, and there is no better remedy for
terror than work for Christ. If we screw ourselves up to do what we
fear to do, the dread vanishes, as a bather recovers himself as soon as
his head has once been under water.

Why was Paul not to be afraid? It is easy to say, 'Fear not,' but
unless the exhortation is accompanied with some good reason shown, it
is wasted breath. Paul got a truth put into his heart which ends all
fear--'For I am with thee.' Surely that is enough to exorcise all
demons of cowardice or despondency, and it is the assurance that all
Christ's servants may lay up in their hearts, for use at all moments
and in all moods. His presence, in no metaphor, but in deepest inmost
reality, is theirs, and whether their fears come from without or
within, His presence is more than enough to make them brave and strong.

Paul needed a vision, for Paul had never seen Christ 'after the flesh,'
nor heard His parting promise. We do not need it, for we have the
unalterable word, which He left with all His disciples when He
ascended, and which remains true to the ends of the world and till the
world ends.

The consequence of Christ's presence is not exemption from attacks, but
preservation in them. Men may 'set on' Paul, but they cannot 'hurt'
him. The promise was literally fulfilled when the would-be accusers
were contemptuously sent away by Gallio, the embodiment of Roman
even-handedness and despising of the deepest things. It is fulfilled no
less truly to-day; for no hurt can come to us if Christ is with us, and
whatever does come is not hurt.

'I have much people in this city.' Jesus saw what Paul did not, the
souls yet to be won for Him. That loving Eye gladly beholds His own
sheep, though they may be yet in danger of the wolves, and far from the
Shepherd. 'Them also He must bring'; and His servants are wise if, in
all their labours, they cherish the courage that comes from the
consciousness of His presence, and the unquenchable hope, which sees in
the most degraded and alienated those whom the Good Shepherd will yet
find in the wilderness and bear back to the fold. Such a hope will
quicken them for all service, and such a vision will embolden them in
all peril.



'CONSTRAINED BY THE WORD'

'And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was
pressed in the spirit, and testified.'--ACTS xviii. 5.

The Revised Version, in concurrence with most recent authorities,
reads, instead of 'pressed in the spirit,' 'constrained by the word.'
One of these alterations depends on a diversity of reading, the other
on a difference of translation. The one introduces a significant
difference of meaning; the other is rather a change of expression. The
word rendered here 'pressed,' and by the Revised Version 'constrained,'
is employed in its literal use in 'Master, the multitude throng Thee
and _press_ Thee,' and in its metaphorical application in 'The love of
Christ _constraineth us_.' There is not much difference between
'constrained' and 'pressed,' but there is a large difference between
'in the spirit' and 'by the word.' 'Pressed in the spirit' simply
describes a state of feeling or mind; 'constrained by the word'
declares the force which brought about that condition of pressure or
constraint. What then does 'constrained by the word' refer to? It
indicates that Paul's message had a grip of him, and held him hard, and
forced him to deliver it.

One more preliminary remark is that our text evidently brings this
state of mind of the Apostle, and the coming of his two friends Silas
and Timothy, into relation as cause and effect. He had been alone in
Corinth. His work of late had not been encouraging. He had been
comparatively silent there, and had spent most of his time in
tent-making. But when his two friends came a cloud was lifted off his
spirit, and he sprang back again, as it were, to his old form and to
his old work.

Now if we take that point of view with regard to the passage before us,
I think we shall find that it yields valuable lessons, some of which I
wish to try to enforce now.

I. Let me ask you to look with me at the downcast Apostle.

'Downcast,' you say; 'is not that an unworthy word to use about a
minister of Jesus Christ inspired as Paul was?' By no means. We shall
very much mistake both the nature of inspiration and the character of
this inspired Apostle, if we do not recognise that he was a man of many
moods and tremulously susceptible to external influences. Such music
would never have come from him if his soul had not been like an Aeolian
harp, hung in a tree and vibrating in response to every breeze. And so
we need not hesitate to speak of the Apostle's mood, as revealed to us
in the passage before us, as being downcast.

Now notice that in the verses preceding my text his conduct is
extremely abnormal and unlike his usual procedure. He goes into
Corinth, and he does next to nothing in evangelistic work. He repairs
to the synagogue once a week, and talks to the Jews there. But that is
all. The notice of his reasoning in the synagogue is quite subordinate
to the notice that he was occupied in finding a lodging with another
pauper Jew and stranger in the great city, and that these two poor men
went into a kind of partnership, and tried to earn a living by hard
work. Such procedure makes a singular contrast to Paul's usual methods
in a strange city.

Now the reason for that slackening of impulse and comparative cessation
of activity is not far to seek. The first Epistle to Thessalonica was
written immediately after these two brethren rejoined Paul. And how
does the Apostle describe in that letter his feelings before they came?
He speaks of 'all our distress and affliction.' He tells that he was
tortured by anxiety as to how the new converts in Thessalonica were
getting on, and could not forbear to try to find out whether they were
still standing steadfast. Again in the first Epistle to the
Corinthians, you will find that there, looking back to this period, he
describes his feelings in similar fashion and says: 'I was with you in
weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.' And if you look forward
a verse or two in our chapter you will see that a vision came to Paul,
which presupposes that some touch of fear, and some temptation to
silence, were busy in his heart. For God shapes His communications
according to our need, and would not have said, 'Do not be afraid, and
hold not thy peace, but speak,' unless there had been a danger both of
Paul's being frightened and of his being dumb.

And what thus brought a cloud over his sky? A little exercise of
historical imagination will very sufficiently answer that. A few weeks
before, in obedience, as he believed, to a direct divine command, Paul
had made a plunge, and ventured upon an altogether new phase of work.
He had crossed into Europe, and from the moment that he landed at the
harbour of Philippi, up to the time when he took refuge in some quiet
little room in Corinth, he had had nothing but trouble and danger and
disappointment. The prison at Philippi, the riots that hounded him out
of Thessalonica, the stealthy, hurried escape from Beroea, the almost
entire failure of his first attempt to preach the Gospel to Greeks in
Athens, his loneliness, and the strangeness of his surroundings in the
luxurious, wicked, wealthy Greek city of Corinth--all these things
weighed on him, and there is no wonder that his spirits went down, and
he felt that now he must lie fallow for a time and rest, and pull
himself together again.

So here we have, in this great champion of the faith, in this strong
runner of the Christian race, in this chief of men, an example of the
fluctuation of mood, the variation in the way in which we look at our
duties and our obligations and our difficulties, the slackening of the
impulse which dominates our lives, that are too familiar to us all. It
brings Paul nearer us to feel that he, too, knew these ups and downs.
The force that drove this meteor through the darkness varied, as the
force that impels us varies to our consciousness. It is the prerogative
of God to be immutable; men have their moods and their fluctuations.
Kindled lights flicker; the sun burns steadily. An Elijah to-day beards
Ahab and Jezebel and all their priests, and to-morrow hides his head in
his hands, and says, 'Take me away, I am not better than my fathers.'
There will be ups and down in the Christian vigour of our lives, as
well as in all other regions, so long as men dwell in this material
body and are surrounded by their present circumstances.

Brethren, it is no small part of Christian wisdom and prudence to
recognise this fact, both in order that it may prevent us from becoming
unduly doubtful of ourselves when the ebb tide sets in on our souls,
and also in order that we may lay to heart this other truth, that
because these moods and changes of aspect and of vigour _will_ come to
us, therefore the law of life must be effort, and the duty of every
Christian man be to minimise, in so far as possible, the fluctuations
which, in some degree, are inevitable. No human hand has ever drawn an
absolutely straight line. That is the ideal of the mathematician, but
all ours are crooked. But we may indefinitely diminish the magnitude of
the curves. No two atoms are so close together as that there is no film
between them. No human life has ever been an absolutely continuous,
unbroken series of equally holy and devoted thoughts and acts, but we
may diminish the intervals between kindred states, and may make our
lives so far uniform as that to a bystander they shall look like the
bright circle, which a brand whirled round in the air makes the
impression of, on the eye that beholds. We shall have times of
brightness and of less brilliancy, of vigour and of consequent reaction
and exhaustion. But Christianity has, for one of its objects, to help
us to master our moods, and to bring us nearer and nearer, by continual
growth, to the steadfast, immovable attitude of those whose faith is
ever the same.

Do not forget the plain lesson which comes from the incident before
us--viz., that the wisest thing that a man can do, when he feels that
the wheels of his religious being are driving heavily, is to set
himself doggedly to the plain, homely work of daily life. Paul did not
sit and bemoan himself because he felt this slackening of impulse, but
he went away to Aquila, and said, 'Let us set to work and make
camel's-hair cloth and tents.' Be thankful for your homely, prosaic,
secular, daily task. You do not know from how many sickly fancies it
saves you, and how many breaches in the continuity of your Christian
feeling it may bridge over. It takes you away from thinking about
yourselves, and sometimes you cannot think about anything less
profitably. So stick to your work; and if ever you feel, as Paul did,
'cast down,' be sure that the workshop, the office, the desk, the
kitchen will prevent you from being 'destroyed,' if you give yourselves
to the plain duties which no moods alter, but which can alter a great
many moods.

II. And now note the 'constraining word.'

I have already said that the return of the two, who had been sent to
see how things were going with the recent converts in the infant
Churches, brought the Apostle good tidings, and so lifted off a great
load of anxiety from his heart. No wonder! He had left raw recruits
under fire, with no captain, and he might well doubt whether they would
keep their ranks. But they did. So the pressure was lifted off, and the
pressure being lifted off, spontaneously the old impulse gripped him
once more; like a spring which leaps back to its ancient curve when
some alien force is taken from it. It must have been a very deep and a
very habitual impulse, which thus instantly reasserted itself the
moment that the pressure of anxiety was taken out of the way.

The word constrained him. What to do? To declare it. Paul's example
brings up two thoughts--that that impulse may vary at times, according
to the pressure of circumstances, and may even be held in abeyance for
a while; and that if a man is honestly and really a Christian, as soon
as the incumbent pressure is taken away, he will feel, 'Necessity is
laid upon me; yea, woe is me if I preach not the Gospel.' For though
Paul's sphere of work was different from ours, his obligation to work
and his impulse to work were such as are, or should be, common to all
Christians. The impulse to utter the word that we believe and live by
seems to me to be, in its very nature, inseparable from earnest
Christian faith. All emotion demands expression; and if a man has never
felt that he must let his Christian faith have vent, it is a very bad
sign. As certainly as fermentation or effervescence demands outgush, so
certainly does emotion demand expression. We all know that. The same
impulse that makes a mother bend over her babe with unmeaning words and
tokens that seem to unsympathetic onlookers foolish, ought to influence
all Christians to speak the Name they love. All conviction demands
expression. There may be truths which have so little bearing upon human
life that he who perceives them feels little obligation to say anything
about them. But these are the exceptions; and the more weighty and the
more closely affecting human interests anything that we have learned to
believe as truth is, the more do we feel in our hearts that, in making
us its believers, it has made us its apostles. Christ's saying, 'What
ye hear in the ear, that preach ye on the housetops,' expresses a
universal truth which is realised in many regions, and ought to be most
emphatically realised in the Christian. For surely of all the truths
that men can catch a glimpse of, or grapple to their hearts, or store
in their understandings, there are none which bring with them such
tremendous consequences, and therefore are of so solemn import to
proclaim to all the children of men, as the truth, which we profess we
have received, of personal salvation through Jesus Christ.

If there never had been a single commandment to that effect, I know not
how the Christian Church or the Christian individual could have
abstained from declaring the great and sweet Name to which it and he
owe so much. I do not care to present this matter as a commandment, nor
to speak now of obligation or responsibility. The _impulse_ is what I
would fix your attention upon. It is inseparable from the Christian
life. It may vary in force, as we see in the incident before us. It
will vary in grip, according as other circumstances and duties insist
upon being attended to. The form in which it is yielded to will vary
indefinitely in individuals. But if they are Christian people it is
always there.

Well then, what about the masses of so-called Christians who feel
nothing of any such constraining force? And what about the many who
feel enough of it to make them also feel that they are wrong in not
yielding to it, but not enough to make their conduct be influenced by
it? Brethren, I venture to believe that the measure in which this
impulse to speak the word and use direct efforts for somebody's
conversion is felt by Christians, is a very fair test of the depth of
their own religion. If a vessel is half empty it will not run over. If
it is full to the brim, the sparkling treasure will fall on all sides.
A weak plant may never push its green leaves above the ground, but a
strong one will rise into the light. A spark may be smothered in a heap
of brushwood, but a steady flame will burn its way out. If this word
has not a grip of you, impelling you to its utterance, I would have you
not to be too sure that you have a grip of it.

III. Lastly, we have here the witness to the word.

'He was constrained by the word, _testifying_.' Now I do not know
whether it is imposing too much meaning upon a non-significant
difference of expression, if I ask you to note the difference between
that phrase and the one which describes his previous activity: 'He
_reasoned_ in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade' the
Jews and the Greeks, but when the old impulse came back in new force,
_reasoning_ was far too cold a method, and Paul took to _testifying_.
Whether that be so or no, mark that the witness of one's own personal
conviction and experience is the strongest weapon that a Christian can
use. I do not despise the place of reasoning, but arguments do not
often change opinions; they never change hearts. Logic and
controversial discoursing may 'prepare the way of the Lord,' but it is
'in the wilderness.' But when a man calls aloud, 'Come and hear all ye,
and I will declare what God hath done for my soul'; or when he tells
his brother, 'We have found the Messias'; or when he sticks to 'One
thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see,' it is difficult for
any one to resist, and impossible for any one to answer, that way of
testifying,

It is a way that we can all adopt if we will. Christian men and women
can all say such things. I do not forget that there are indirect ways
of spreading the Gospel. Some of you think that you do enough when you
give your money and your interest in order to diffuse it. You can buy a
substitute in the militia, but you cannot buy a substitute in Christ's
service. You have each some congregation to which you can speak, if it
is no larger than Paul's--namely, two people, Aquila and Priscilla.
What talks they would have in their lodging, as they plaited the wisps
of black hair into rough cloth, and stitched the strips into tents!
Aquila was not a Christian when Paul picked him up, but he became one
very soon; and it was the preaching in the workshop, amidst the dust,
that made him one. If we long to speak about Christ we shall find
plenty of people to speak to. 'Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord.'

Now, dear friends, I have only one word more. I have no doubt there are
some among us who have been saying, 'This sermon does not apply to me
at all.' Does it not? If it does not, what does that mean? It means
that you have not the first requisite for spreading the word--viz.
personal faith in the word. It means that you have put away, or at
least neglected to take in, the word and the Saviour of whom it speaks,
into your own lives. But it does _not_ mean that you have got rid of
the word thereby. It will not in that case lay the grip of which I have
been speaking upon you, but it will not let you go. It will lay on you
a far more solemn and awful clutch, and like a jailer with his hand on
the culprit's shoulder, will 'constrain' you into the presence of the
Judge. You can make it a savour of life unto life, or of death unto
death. And though you do not grasp it, it grasps and holds you. 'The
word that I speak unto him, the same shall judge him at the last day.'



GALLIO

'And when Paul was now about to open his mouth, Gallio said unto the
Jews, If it were a matter of wrong: or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews,
reason would that I should bear with you: 15. But if it be a question
of words and names, and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no
judge of such matters.'--ACTS xviii. 14, 15.

There is something very touching in the immortality of fame which comes
to the men who for a moment pass across the Gospel story, like shooting
stars kindled for an instant as they enter our atmosphere. How little
Gallio dreamed that he would live for ever in men's mouths by reason of
this one judicial dictum! He was Seneca's brother, and was possibly
leavened by his philosophy and indisposed to severity. He has been
unjustly condemned. There are some striking lessons from the story.

I. The remarkable anticipation of the true doctrine as to the functions
of civil magistrates.

Gallio draws a clear distinction between conduct and opinion, and
excepts the whole of the latter region from his sway. It is the first
case in which the civil authorities refused to take cognisance of a
charge against a man on account of his opinions. Nineteen hundred years
have not brought all tribunals up to that point yet. Gallio indeed was
influenced mainly by philosophic contempt for the trivialities of what
he thought a superstition. We are influenced by our recognition of the
sanctity of individual conviction, and still more by reverence for
truth and by the belief that it should depend only on its own power for
progress and on itself for the defeat of its enemies.

II. The tragic mistake about the nature of the Gospel which men make.

There is something very pathetic in the erroneous estimates made by
those persons mentioned in Acts who some once or twice come in contact
with the preachers of Christ. How little they recognise what was before
them! Their responsibility is in better hands than ours. But in Gallio
there is a trace of tendencies always in operation.

We see in him the practical man's contempt for mere ideas. The man of
affairs, be he statesman or worker, is always apt to think that things
are more than thoughts. Gallio, proconsul in Corinth, and his brother
official, Pilate, in Jerusalem, both believed in powers that they could
see. The question of the one, for an answer to which he did not wait,
was not the inquiry of a searcher after truth, but the exclamation of a
sceptic who thought all the contradictory answers that rang through the
world to be demonstrations that the question had no answer. The
impatient refusal of the other to have any concern in settling 'such
matters' was steeped in the same characteristically Roman spirit of
impatient distrust and suspicion of mere ideas. He believed in Roman
force and authority, and thought that such harmless visionaries as Paul
and his company might be allowed to go their own way, and he did not
know that they carried with them a solvent and constructive power
before which the solid-seeming structure of the Empire was destined to
crumble, as surely as thick-ribbed ice before the sirocco.

And how many of us believe in wealth and material progress, and regard
the region of truth as very shadowy and remote! This is a danger
besetting us all. The true forces that sway the world are ideas.

We see in Gallio supercilious indifference to mere 'theological
subtleties.' To him Paul's preaching and the Jews' passionate denials
of it seemed only a squabble about 'words and names.' Probably he had
gathered his impression from Paul's eager accusers, who would charge
him with giving the name of 'Christ' to Jesus.

Gallio's attitude was partly Stoical contempt for all superstitions,
partly, perhaps, an eclectic belief that all these warring religions
were really saying the same thing and differed only in words and names;
and partly sheer indifference to the whole subject. Thus Christianity
appears to many in this day.

What is it in reality? Not words but power: a Name, indeed, but a Name
which is life. Alas for us, who by our jangling have given colour to
this misconception!

We see in Gallio the mistake that the Gospel has little relation to
conduct. Gallio drew a broad distinction between conduct and opinion,
and there he was right. But he imagined that this opinion had nothing
to do with conduct, and how wrong he was there we need not elaborate.

The Gospel is the mightiest power for shaping conduct.

III. The ignorant levity with which men pass the crisis of their lives.

How little Gallio knew of what a possibility was opened out before him!
Angels were hovering unseen. We seldom recognise the fateful moments of
our lives till they are past.

The offer of salvation in Christ is ever a crisis. It may never be
repeated. Was Gallio ever again brought into contact with Paul or
Paul's Lord? We know not. He passes out of sight, the search-light is
turned in another direction, and we lose him in the darkness. The
extent of his criminality is in better hands than ours, though we
cannot but let our thoughts go forward to the time when he, like us
all, will stand at the judgment bar of Jesus, no longer a judge but
judged. Let us hope that before he passed hence, he learned how full of
spirit and of life the message was, which he once took for a mere
squabble about 'words and names,' and thought too trivial to occupy his
court. And let us remember that the Jesus, whom we are sometimes
tempted to judge as of little importance to us, will one day judge us,
and that His judgment will settle our fate for evermore.



TWO FRUITFUL YEARS

'And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having
passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain
disciples. 2. He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since
ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard
whether there be any Holy Ghost. 3. And he said unto them, Unto what
then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. 4. Then said
Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto
the people, that they should believe on Him which should come after
him, that is, on Christ Jesus. 5. When they heard this, they were
baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6. And when Paul had laid his
hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with
tongues, and prophesied. 7. And all the men were about twelve. 8. And
he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three
months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of
God. 9. But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil
of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated
the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. 10. And
this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt
in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks. 11. And
God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: 12. So that from his
body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the
diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of
them.'--ACTS xix. 1-12.

This passage finds Paul in Ephesus. In the meantime he had paid that
city a hasty visit on his way back from Greece, had left his friends,
Aquila and Priscilla, in it, and had gone on to Jerusalem, thence
returning to Antioch, and visiting the churches in Asia Minor which he
had planted on his former journeys. From the inland and higher
districts he has come down to the coast, and established himself in the
great city of Ephesus, where the labours of Aquila, and perhaps others,
had gathered a small band of disciples. Two points are especially made
prominent in this passage--the incorporation of John's disciples with
the Church, and the eminent success of Paul's preaching in Ephesus.

The first of these is a very remarkable and, in some respects, puzzling
incident. It is tempting to bring it into connection with the
immediately preceding narrative as to Apollos. The same stage of
spiritual development is presented in these twelve men and in that
eloquent Alexandrian. They and he were alike in knowing only of John's
baptism; but if they had been Apollos' pupils, they would most probably
have been led by him into the fuller light which he received through
Priscilla and Aquila. More probably, therefore, they had been John's
disciples, independently of Apollos. Their being recognised as
'disciples' is singular, when we consider their very small knowledge of
Christian truth; and their not having been previously instructed in its
rudiments, if they were associating with the Church, is not less so.
But improbable things do happen, and part of the reason for an event
being recorded is often its improbability. Luke seems to have been
struck by the singular similarity between Apollos and these men, and to
have told the story, not only because of its importance but because of
its peculiarity.

The first point to note is the fact that these men were disciples. Paul
speaks of their having 'believed,' and they were evidently associated
with the Church. But the connection must have been loose, for they had
not received baptism. Probably there was a fringe of partial converts
hanging round each church, and Paul, knowing nothing of the men beyond
the fact that he found them along with the others, accepted them as
'disciples.' But there must have been some reason for doubt, or his
question would not have been asked. They 'believed' in so far as John
had taught the coming of Messiah. But they did not know that Jesus was
the Messiah whose coming John had taught.

Paul's question is, 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you
believed?' Obviously he missed the marks of the Spirit in them, whether
we are to suppose that these were miraculous powers or moral and
religious elevation. Now this question suggests that the possession of
the Holy Spirit is the normal condition of all believers; and that
truth cannot be too plainly stated or urgently pressed to-day. He is
'the Spirit, which they that believe on Him' shall 'receive.' The outer
methods of His bestowment vary: sometimes He is given after baptism,
and sometimes, as to Cornelius, before it; sometimes by laying on of
Apostolic hands, sometimes without it. But one thing constantly
precedes, namely, faith; and one thing constantly follows faith,
namely, the gift of the Holy Spirit. Modern Christianity does not grasp
that truth as firmly or make it as prominent as it ought.

The question suggests, though indirectly, that the signs of the
Spirit's presence are sadly absent in many professing Christians. Paul
asked it in wonder. If he came into modern churches, he would have to
ask it once more. Possibly he looked for the visible tokens in powers
of miracle-working and the like. But these were temporary accidents,
and the permanent manifestations are holiness, consciousness of
sonship, God-directed longings, religious illumination, victory over
the flesh. These things should be obvious in disciples. They will be,
if the Spirit is not quenched. Unless they are, what sign of being
Christians do we present?

The answer startles. They had not heard whether the Holy Ghost had been
_given_; for that is the true meaning of their reply. John had foretold
the coming of One who should baptize with the fire of that divine
Spirit. His disciples, therefore, could not be ignorant of the
existence thereof; but they had never heard whether their Master's
prophecy had been fulfilled. What a glimpse that gives us of the small
publicity attained by the story of Jesus!

Paul's second question betrays even more astonishment than did his
first. He had taken for granted that, as disciples, the men had been
baptized; and his question implies that a pre-requisite of Christian
baptism was the teaching which they said that they had not had, and
that a consequence of it was the gift of the Spirit, which he saw that
they did not possess. Of course Paul's teaching is but summarised here.
Its gist was that Jesus was the Messiah whom John had heralded, that
John had himself taught that his mission was preliminary, and that
therefore his true disciples must advance to faith in Christ.

The teaching was welcomed, for these men were not of the sort who saw
in Jesus a rival to John, as others of his disciples did. They became
'disciples indeed,' and then followed baptism, apparently not
administered by Paul, and imposition of Paul's hands. The Holy Spirit
then came on them, as on the disciples on Pentecost, and 'they spoke
with tongues and prophesied.' It was a repetition of that day, as a
testimony that the gifts were not limited by time or place, but were
the permanent possession of believers, as truly in heathen Ephesus as
in Jerusalem; and we miss the meaning of the event unless we add, as
truly in Britain to-day as in any past. The fire lit on Pentecost has
not died down into grey ashes. If we 'believe,' it will burn on our
heads and, better, in our spirits.

Much ingenuity has been expended in finding profound meanings in the
number of 'twelve' here. The Apostles and their supernatural gifts, the
patriarchs as founders of Israel, have been thought of as explaining
the number, as if these men were founders of a new Israel, or
Apostolate. But all that is trifling with the story, which gives no
hint that the men were of any special importance, and it omits the fact
that they were '_about_ twelve,' not precisely that number. Luke simply
wishes us to learn that there was a group of them, but how many he does
not exactly know. More important is it to notice that this is the last
reference to John or his disciples in the New Testament. The narrator
rejoices to point out that some at least of these were led onwards into
full faith.

The other part of the section presents mainly the familiar features of
Apostolic ministration, the first appeal to the synagogue, the
rejection of the message by it, and then the withdrawal of Paul and the
Jewish disciples. The chief characteristics of the narrative are Paul's
protracted stay in Ephesus, the establishment of a centre of public
evangelising in the lecture hall of a Gentile teacher, the unhindered
preaching of the Gospel, and the special miracles accompanying it. The
importance of Ephesus as the eye and heart of proconsular Asia explains
the lengthened stay. 'A great door and effectual,' said Paul, 'is
opened unto me'; and he was not the man to refrain from pushing in at
it because 'there are many adversaries.' Rather opposition was part of
his reason for persistence, as it should always he.

There comes a point in the most patient labour, however, when it is
best no longer to 'cast pearls' before those who 'trample them under
foot,' and Paul set an example of wise withdrawal as well as of brave
pertinacity, in leaving the synagogue when his remaining there only
hardened disobedient hearts. Note that word _disobedient_. It teaches
that the moral element in unbelief is resistance of the will. The two
words are not synonyms, though they apply to the same state of mind.
Rather the one lays bare the root of the other and declares its guilt.
Unbelief comes from disobedience, and therefore is fit subject for
punishment. Again observe that expression for Christianity, 'the Way,'
which occurs several times in the Acts. The Gospel points the path for
us to tread. It is not a body of truth merely, but it is a guide for
practice. Discipleship is manifested in conduct. This Gospel points the
way through the wilderness to Zion and to rest. It is '_the_ Way,' the
only path, 'the Way everlasting.'

It was a bold step to gather the disciples in 'the school of Tyrannus.'
He was probably a Greek professor of rhetoric or lecturer on
philosophy, and Paul may have hired his hall, to the horror, no doubt,
of the Rabbis. It was a complete breaking with the synagogue and a bold
appeal to the heathen public. Ephesus must have been better governed
than Philippi and Lystra, and the Jewish element must have been
relatively weaker, to allow of Paul's going on preaching with so much
publicity for two years.

Note the flexibility of his methods, his willingness to use even a
heathen teacher's school for his work, and the continuous energy of the
man. Not on Sabbath days only, but daily, he was at his post. The
multitudes of visitors from all parts to the great city supplied a
constant stream of listeners, for Ephesus was a centre for the whole
country. We may learn from Paul to concentrate work in important
centres, not to be squeamish about where we stand to preach the Gospel,
and not to be afraid of making ourselves conspicuous. Paul's message
hallows the school of Tyrannus; and the school of Tyrannus, where men
have been accustomed to go for widely different teaching, is a good
place for Paul to give forth his message in.

The 'special miracles' which were wrought are very remarkable, and
unlike the usual type of miracles. It does not appear that Paul himself
sent the 'handkerchiefs and aprons,' which conveyed healing virtue, but
that he simply permitted their use. The converts had faith to believe
that such miracles would be wrought, and God honoured the faith. But
note how carefully the narrative puts Paul's part in its right place.
God 'wrought'; Paul was only the channel. If the eager people, who
carried away the garments, had superstitiously fancied that there was
virtue in Paul, and had not looked beyond him to God, it is implied
that no miracles would have been wrought. But still the cast of these
healings is anomalous, and only paralleled by the similar instances in
Peter's case.

The principle laid down by Peter (ch. iii. 12) is to be kept in view in
the study of all the miracles in the Acts. It is Jesus Christ who
works, and not His servants who heal by their 'own power or holiness.'
Jesus can heal with or without material channels, but sometimes chooses
to employ such vehicles as these, just as on earth He chose to anoint
blind eyes with clay, and to send the man to wash it off at the pool.
Sense-bound faith is not rejected, but is helped according to its need,
that it may be strengthened and elevated.



WOULD-BE EXORCISTS

'...Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?'--ACTS xix. 15.

These exorcists had no personal union with Jesus. To them He was only
'Jesus whom Paul preached.' They spoke His name tentatively, as an
experiment, and imitatively. To command 'in the name of Jesus' was an
appeal to Jesus to glorify His name and exert His power, and so when
the speaker had no real faith in the name or the power, there was no
answer, because there was really no appeal.

I. The only power which can cast out the evil spirits is the name of
Jesus.

That is a commonplace of Christian belief. But it is often held in a
dangerously narrow way and leads to most unwise pitting of the Gospel
against other modes of bettering and elevating men, instead of
recognising them as allies. Earnest Christian workers are tempted to
forget Jesus' own word: 'He that is not against us is for us.' There is
no need to disparage other agencies because we believe that it is the
Gospel which is 'the power of God unto salvation.' Many of the popular
philanthropic movements of the day, many of its curbing and
enlightening forces, many of its revolutionary social ideas, are really
in their essence and historically in their origin, profoundly
Christian, and are the application of the principles inherent in 'the
Name' to the evils of society. No doubt many of their eager apostles
are non-Christian or even anti-Christian, but though some of them have
tried violently to pluck up the plant by the root from the soil in
which it first flowered, much of that soil still adheres to it, and it
will not live long if torn from its native 'habitat.'

It is not narrowness or hostility to non-Christian efforts to cast out
the demons from humanity, but only the declaration of a truth which is
taught by the consideration of what is the difference between all other
such efforts and Christianity, and is confirmed by experience, if we
maintain that, whatever good results may follow from these other
influences, it is the powers lodged in the Name of Jesus, and these
alone which can, radically and completely, conquer and eject the demons
from a single soul, and emancipate society from their tyranny.

For consider that the Gospel which proclaims Jesus as the Saviour is
the only thing which deals with the deepest fact in our natures, the
fact of sin; gives a personal Deliverer from its power; communicates a
new life of which the very essence is righteousness, and which brings
with it new motives, new impulses, and new powers.

Contrast with this the inadequate diagnosis of the disease and the
consequent imperfection of the remedy which other physicians of the
world's sickness present. Most of them only aim at repressing outward
acts. None of them touch more than a part of the whole dreadful
circumference of the dark orb of evil. Law restrains actions. Ethics
proclaims principles which it has no power to realise. It shows men a
shining height, but leaves them lame and grovelling in the mire.
Education casts out the demon of ignorance, and makes the demons whom
it does not cast out more polite and perilous. It brings its own evils
in its train. Every kind of crop has weeds which spring with it. The
social and political changes, which are eagerly preached now, will do
much; but one thing, which is the all-important thing, they will not
do, they will not change the nature of the individuals who make up the
community. And till that nature is changed any form of society will
produce its own growth of evils. A Christless democracy will be as bad
as, if not worse than, a Christless monarchy or aristocracy. If the
bricks remain the same, it does not much matter into what shape you
build them.

These would-be exorcists but irritated the demons by their vain
attempts at ejecting them, and it is sometimes the case that efforts to
cure social diseases only result in exacerbating them. If one hole in a
Dutch dyke is stopped up, more pressure is thrown on another weak point
and a leak will soon appear there. There is but one Name that casts a
spell over all the ills that flesh is heir to. There is but one Saviour
of society--Jesus who saves from sin through His death, and by
participation in His life delivers men from that life of self which is
the parent of all the evils from which society vainly strives to be
delivered by any power but His.

II. That Name must be spoken by believing men if it is to put forth its
full power.

These exorcists had no faith. All that they knew of Jesus was that He
was the one 'whom Paul preached.' Even the name of Jesus is spoiled and
is powerless on the lips of one who repeats it, parrot-like, because he
has seen its power when it came flame-like from the fiery lips of some
man of earnest convictions.

In all regions, and especially in the matter of art or literature,
imitators are poor creatures, and men are quick to detect the
difference between the original and the copy. The copyists generally
imitate the weak points, and seldom get nearer than the imitation of
external and trivial peculiarities. It is more feasible to reproduce
the 'contortions of the Sibyl' than to catch her 'inspiration.'

This absence or feebleness of personal faith is the explanation of much
failure in so-called Christian work. No doubt there may be other causes
for the want of success, but after all allowance is made for these, it
still remains true that the chief reason why the Gospel message is
often proclaimed without casting out demons is that it is proclaimed
with faltering faith, tentatively and without assured confidence in its
power, or imitatively, with but little, if any, inward experience of
the magic of its spell. The demons have ears quick to discriminate
between Paul's fiery accents and the cold repetition of them.
Incomparably the most powerful agency which any man can employ in
producing conviction in others is the utterance of his own intense
conviction. 'If you wish me to weep, your own tears must flow,' said
the Roman poet. Other factors may powerfully aid the exorcising power
of the word spoken by faith, and no wise man will disparage these, but
they are powerless without faith and it is powerful without them.

Consider the effect of that personal faith on the speaker--in bringing
all his force to bear on his words; in endowing him for a time with
many of the subsidiary qualities which make our words winged and
weighty; in lifting to a height of self-oblivion, which itself is
magnetic.

Consider its effect on the hearers--how it bows hearts as trees are
bent before a rushing wind.

Consider its effect in bringing into action God's own power. Of the
man, all aflame with Christian convictions and speaking them with the
confidence and urgency which become them and him, it may truly be said,
'It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh
in you.'

Here then we have laid bare the secret of success and a cause of
failure, in Christian enterprise. Here we see, as in a concrete
example, the truth exemplified, which all who long for the emancipation
of demon-ridden humanity would be wise to lay to heart, and thereby to
be saved from much eager travelling on a road that leads nowhither, and
much futile expenditure of effort and sympathy, and many
disappointments. It is as true to-day as it was long ago in Ephesus,
that the evil spirits 'feel the Infant's hand from far Judea's land,'
and are forced to confess, 'Jesus we know and Paul we know'; but to
other would-be exorcists their answer is, 'Who are ye?' 'When a strong
man armed keepeth his house, his goods are in peace.' There is but 'One
stronger than he who can come upon him, and having overcome him, can
take from him all his armour wherein he trusted and divide the spoils,'
and that is the Christ, at whose name, faithfully spoken, 'the devils
fear and fly.'



THE FIGHT WITH WILD BEASTS AT EPHESUS

'After these things were ended, Paul purposed in the spirit, when he
had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying,
After I have been there, I must also see Rome. 22. So he sent into
Macedonia two of them that ministered unto him, Timotheus and Erastus;
but he himself stayed in Asia for a season. 23. And the same time there
arose no small stir about that way. 24. For a certain man named
Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana, brought
no small gain unto the craftsmen; 25. Whom he called together with the
workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this craft
we have our wealth. 26. Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at
Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and
turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made
with hands: 27. So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set
at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should
be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia
and the world worshippeth. 28. And when they heard these sayings, they
were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the
Ephesians. 29. And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having
caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul's companions in
travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre. 30. And when Paul
would have entered in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not.
31. And certain of the chief of Asia, which were his friends, sent unto
him, desiring him that he would not adventure himself into the theatre.
32. Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly
was confused; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come
together. 33. And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews
putting him forward. And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would
have made his defence unto the people. 34. But when they knew that he
was a Jew, all with one voice about the space of two hours cried out,
Great is Diana of the Ephesians.'--ACTS xix. 21-34.

Paul's long residence in Ephesus indicates the importance of the
position. The great wealthy city was the best possible centre for
evangelising all the province of Asia, and that was to a large extent
effected during the Apostle's stay there. But he had a wider scheme in
his mind. His settled policy was always to fly at the head, as it were.
The most populous cities were his favourite fields, and already his
thoughts were travelling towards the civilised world's capital, the
centre of empire--Rome. A blow struck there would echo through the
world. Paul had his plan, and God had His, and Paul's was not realised
in the fashion he had meant, but it was realised in substance. He did
not expect to enter Rome as a prisoner. God shaped the ends which Paul
had only rough-hewn.

The programme in verses 21 and 22 was modified by circumstances, as
some people would say; Paul would have said, by God. The riot hastened
his departure from Ephesus. He did go to Jerusalem, and he did see
Rome, but the chain of events that drew him there seemed to him, at
first sight, the thwarting, rather than the fulfilment, of his
long-cherished hope. Well it is for us to carry all our schemes to God,
and to leave them in His hands.

The account of the riot is singularly vivid and lifelike. It reveals a
new phase of antagonism to the Gospel, a kind of trades-union
demonstration, quite unlike anything that has met us in the Acts. It
gives a glimpse into the civic life of a great city, and shows
demagogues and mob to be the same in Ephesus as in England. It has many
points of interest for the commentator or scholar, and lessons for all.
Luke tells the story with a certain dash of covert irony.

We have, first, the protest of the shrine-makers' guild or
trades-union, got up by the skilful manipulation of Demetrius. He was
evidently an important man in the trade, probably well-to-do. As his
speech shows, he knew exactly how to hit the average mind. The small
shrines which he and his fellow-craftsmen made were of various
materials, from humble pottery to silver, and were intended for
'votaries to dedicate in the temple,' and represented the goddess
Artemis sitting in a niche with her lions beside her. Making these was
a flourishing industry, and must have employed a large number of men
and much capital. Trade was beginning to be slack, and sales