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 he 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.