And I think that there again, by laying hold of that simple principle, Because Christ is the Object of Faith, therefore Faith must be trust, we get bright and beautiful light upon the grandest truths of the Gospel of God. If we will only take that as our explanation, we have not indeed defined faith by substituting the other word for it, but we have made it a little more clear to our apprehensions, by using a non-theological word with which our daily acts teach us to connect an intelligible meaning. If we will only take that as our explanation, how simple, how grand, how familiar too it sounds,—to trust Him! It is the very same kind of feeling, though different in degree, and glorified by the majesty and glory of its Object, as that which we all know how to put forth in our relations with one another. We trust each other. That is faith. We have confidence in the love that has been around us, breathing benedictions and bringing blessings ever since we were little children. When the child looks up into the mother's face, the symbol to it of all protection, or into the father's eye, the symbol to it of all authority,—that emotion by which the little one hangs upon the loving hand and trusts the loving heart that towers above it in order to bend over it and scatter good, is the same as the one which, glorified and made divine, rises strong and immortal in its power, when fixed and fastened on Christ, and saves the soul. The Gospel rests upon a mystery, but the practical part of it is no mystery. When we come and preach to you, 'Trust in Christ and thou shalt be saved,' we are not asking you to put into exercise some mysterious power. We are only asking you to give to Him that which you give to others, to transfer the old emotions, the blessed emotions, the exercise of which makes gladness in life here below, to transfer them to Him, and to rest safe in the Lord. Faith is trust. The living Person as its Object rises before us there, in His majesty, in His power, in His gentleness, and He says, 'I shall be contented if thou wilt give to Me these emotions which thou dost fix now, to thy death and loss, on the creatures of a day.' Faith is mighty, divine, the gift of God; but Oh! it is the exercise of a familiar habit, only fixed upon a divine and eternal Person.
And if this be the very heart and kernel of the Christian doctrine of faith—that it is simple personal trust in Jesus Christ; it is worthy of notice, how all the subsidiary meanings and uses of the word flow out of that, whilst it cannot be explained by any of them. People are in the habit of setting up antitheses betwixt faith and reason, betwixt faith and sight, betwixt faith and possession. They say, 'We do not know, we must believe'; they say, 'We do not see, we must have faith'; they say, 'We do not possess, we must trust.' Now faith—the trust in Christ—the simple personal relation of confidence in Him—that lies beneath all these other meanings of the word. For instance, faith is, in one sense, the opposite and antithesis of sight; because Christ, unseen, having gone into the unseen world, the confidence which is directed towards Him must needs pass out beyond the region of sense, and fix upon the immortal verities that are veiled by excess of light at God's right hand. Faith is the opposite of sight; inasmuch as Christ, having given us assurance of an unseen and everlasting world, we, trusting in Him, believe what He says to us, and are persuaded and know that there are things yonder which we have never seen with the eye nor handled with the hand. Similarly, faith is the completion of reason; because, trusting Christ, we believe what He says, and He has spoken to us truths which we in ourselves are unable to discover, but which, when revealed, we accept on the faith of His truthfulness, and because we rely upon Him. Similarly, faith is contrasted with present possession, because Christ has promised us future blessings and future glories; and having confidence in the Person, we believe what He says, and know that we shall possess them. But the root from which spring the power of faith as the opposite of sight, the power of faith as the telescope of reason, the power of faith as the 'confidence of things not possessed,' is the deeper thing—faith in the Person, which leads us to believe Him whether He promises, reveals, or commands, and to take His words as verity because He is 'the Truth.'
And then, again, if this, the personal trust in Christ as our living Redeemer—if this be faith, then there come also, closely connected with it, certain other emotions or feelings in the heart. For instance, if I am trusting to Christ, there is inseparably linked with it self-distrust. There are two sides to the emotion; where there is reliance upon another, there must needs be non-reliance upon self. Take an illustration. There is the tree: the trunk goes upward from the little seed, rises into the light, gets the sunshine upon it, and has leaves and fruit. That is the upward tendency of faith— trust in Christ. There is the root, down deep, buried, dark, unseen. Both are springing, but springing in apposite directions, from the one seed. That is, as it were, the negative side, the downward tendency—self-distrust. The two things go together—the positive reliance upon another, the negative distrust of myself. There must be deep consciousness not only of my own impotence, but of my own sinfulness. The heart must be emptied that the seed of faith may grow; but the entrance in of faith is itself the means for the emptying of the heart. The two things co-exist; we can divide them in thought. We can wrangle and squabble, as divided sects hare done, about which comes first, the fact being, that though you can part them in thought, you cannot part them in experience, inasmuch as they are but the obverse and the reverse, the two sides of the same coin. Faith and repentance—faith and self-distrust—they are done in one and the same indissoluble act.
And again, faith, as thus conceived of, will obviously have for its certain and immediate consequence, love. Nay, the two emotions will be inseparable and practically co-existent. In thought we can separate them. Logically, faith comes first, and love next, but in life they will spring up together. The question of their order of existence is an often-trod battle-ground of theology, all strewed with the relics of former fights. But in the real history of the growth of religious emotions in the soul, the interval which separates them is impalpable, and in every act of trust, love is present, and fundamental to every emotion of love to Christ is trust in Christ.
But without further reference to such matters, here is the broad principle of our text. Trust in Christ, not mere assent to a principle, personal dependence upon Him revealed as the 'Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world,' an act of the will as well as of the understanding, and essentially an act of the will and not of the understanding—that is the thing by which a soul is saved. And much of the mist and confusion about saving faith, and non-saving faith, might be lifted and dispersed if we once fully apprehended and firmly held by the divine simplicity of the truth, that faith is trust in Jesus Christ.
III. Once more: from this general definition there follows, in the third place, an explanation of the power of faith.
'We are justified,' says the Bible, 'by faith.' If a man believes, he is saved. Why so? Not, as some people sometimes seem to fancy, as if in faith itself there was any merit. There is a very strange and subtle resurrection of the whole doctrine of works in reference to this matter; and we often hear belief in the Gospel of Christ spoken about as if it, the work of the man believing, was, in a certain way and to some extent, that which God rewarded by giving him salvation. What is that but the whole doctrine of works come up again in a new form? What difference is there between what a man does with his hands and what a man feels in his heart? If the one merit salvation, or if the other merit salvation, equally we are shut up to this,—Men get heaven by what they do; and it does not matter a bit what they do it with, whether it be body or soul. When we say we are saved by faith, we mean accurately, through faith. It is God that saves. It is Christ's life, Christ's blood, Christ's sacrifice, Christ's intercession, that saves. Faith is simply the channel through which there flows over into my emptiness the divine fulness; or, to use the good old illustration, it is the hand which is held up to receive the benefit which Christ lays in it. A living trust in Jesus has power unto salvation, only because it is the means by which 'the power of God unto salvation' may come into my heart. On one side is the great ocean of Christ's love, Christ's abundance, Christ's merits, Christ's righteousness; or, rather, there is the great ocean of Christ Himself, which includes them all; and on the other is the empty vessel of my soul—and the little narrow pipe that has nothing to do but to bring across the refreshing water, is the act of faith in Him. There is no merit in the dead lead, no virtue in the mere emotion. It is not faith that saves us; it is Christ that saves us, and saves us through faith.
And now, lastly, these principles likewise help us to understand wherein consists the guilt and criminality of unbelief. People are sometimes disposed to fancy that God has arbitrarily selected this one thing, believing in Jesus Christ, as the means of salvation, and do not distinctly see why and how non-belief is so desperate and criminal a thing. I think that the principles that I have been trying feebly to work out now, help us to see how faith is not arbitrarily selected as the instrument and means of our salvation. There is no other way of effecting it. God could not save us in any other way than that, salvation being provided, the condition of receiving it should be trust in His Son.
And next they show where the guilt of unbelief lies. Faith is not first and principally an act of the understanding; it is not the mere assent to certain truths. I believe, for my part, that men are responsible even for their intellectual processes, and for the beliefs at which they arrive by the working of these; and I think it is a very shallow philosophy that stands up and says—(it is almost exploded now, and perhaps not needful even to mention it)—that men are 'no more responsible for their belief than they are for the colour of their hair.' Why, if faith were no more than an intellectual process, it would still be true that they are responsible for it; but the faith that saves a man, and unbelief that ruins a man, are not processes of the understanding alone. It is the will, the heart, the whole moral being, that is concerned. Why does any one not trust Jesus Christ? For one reason only: because he will not. Why has any one not faith in the Lamb of God? Because his whole nature is turning away from that divine and loving Face, and is setting itself in rebellion against it. Why does any one refuse to believe? Because he has confidence in himself; because he has not a sense of his sins; because he has not love in his heart to his Lord and Saviour. Men are responsible for unbelief. Unbelief is criminal, because it is a moral act—an act of the whole nature. Belief or unbelief is the test of a man's whole spiritual condition, just because it is the whole being, affections, will, conscience and all, as well as the understanding, which are concerned in it. And therefore Christ, who says, 'Sanctified by faith that is in Me,' says likewise, 'He that believeth not, shall be condemned.'
And now, brethren, take this one conviction into your hearts, that what makes a man a Christian—what saves my soul and yours—what brings the love of Christ into any life, and makes the sacrifice of Christ a power to pardon and purify,—that that is not merely believing this Book, not merely understanding the doctrines that are there, but a far more profound act than that. It is the casting of myself upon Himself, the bending of my willing heart to His loving Spirit; the close contact, heart to heart, soul to soul, will to will, of my emptiness with His fulness, of my sinfulness with His righteousness, of my death with His life: that I may live by Him, be sanctified by Him, be saved by Him, 'with an everlasting salvation.' Faith is trust: Christ is the Objeet of faith. Faith is the condition of salvation; and unbelief is your fault, your loss—the crime which ruins men's souls!
'BEFORE GOVERNORS AND KINGS'
'Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: 20. But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judsea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. 21. For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. 22. Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come; 23. That Christ should suffer, and that He should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles. 24. And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. 25. But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. 26. For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner. 27. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. 28. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. 29. And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost and altogether such as I am, except these bonds. 30. And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them: 31. And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds. 32. Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.' —ACTS xxvi. 19-32.
Festus was no model of a righteous judge, but he had got hold of the truth as to Paul, and saw that what he contemptuously called 'certain questions of their own superstition,' and especially his assertion of the Resurrection, were the real crimes of the Apostle in Jewish eyes. But the fatal wish to curry favour warped his course, and led him to propose a removal of the 'venue' to Jerusalem. Paul knew that to return thither would seal his death-warrant, and was therefore driven to appeal to Rome.
That took the case out of Festus's jurisdiction. So that the hearing before Agrippa was an entertainment, got up for the king's diversion, when other amusements had been exhausted, rather than a regular judicial proceeding. Paul was examined 'to make a Roman holiday.' Festus's speech (chap. xxv. 24-27) tries to put on a colour of desire to ascertain more clearly the charges, but that is a very thin pretext. Agrippa had said that he would like 'to hear the man,' and so the performance was got up 'by request.' Not a very sympathetic audience fronted Paul that day. A king and his sister, a Roman governor, and all the elite of Caesarean society, ready to take their cue from the faces of these three, did not daunt Paul. The man who had seen Jesus on the Damascus road could face 'small and great.'
The portion of his address included in the passage touches substantially the same points as did his previous 'apologies.' We may note how strongly he puts the force that impelled him on his course, and lays bare the secret of his life. 'I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision'; then the possibility of disobedience was open after he had heard Christ ask, 'Why persecutest thou Me?' and had received commands from His mouth. Then, too, the essential character of the charge against him was that, instead of kicking against the owner's goad, he had bowed his neck to his yoke, and that his obstinate will had melted. Then, too, the 'light above the brightness of the sun' still shone round him, and his whole life was one long act of obedience.
We note also how he sums up his work in verse 20, representing his mission to the Gentiles as but the last term in a continuous widening of his field, from Damascus to Jerusalem, from Jerusalem to Judaea (a phase of his activity not otherwise known to us, and for which, with our present records, it is difficult to find a place), from Judaea to the Gentiles. Step by step he had been led afield, and at each step the 'heavenly vision' had shone before him.
How superbly, too, Paul overleaps the distinction of Jew and Gentile, which disappeared to him in the unity of the broad message, which was the same to every man. Repentance, turning to God, works worthy of repentance, are as needful for Jew as for Gentile, and as open to Gentile as to Jew. What but universal can such a message be? To limit it would be to mutilate it.
We note, too, the calmness with which he lays his finger on the real cause of Jewish hate, which Festus had already found out. He does not condescend to rebut the charge of treason, which he had already repelled, and which nobody in his audience believed. He is neither afraid nor angry, as he quietly points to the deadly malice which had no ground but his message.
We further note the triumphant confidence in God and assurance of His help in all the past, so that, like some strong tower after the most crashing blows of the battering-ram, he still 'stands.' 'His steps had wellnigh slipped,' when foe after foe stormed against him, but 'Thy mercy, O Lord, held me up.'
Finally, Paul gathers himself together, to leave as his last word the mighty sentence in which he condenses his whole teaching, in its aspect of witness-bearing, in its universal destination and identity to the poorest and to loftily placed men and women, such as sat languidly looking at him now, in its perfect concord with the earlier revelation, and in its threefold contents, that it was the message of the Christ who suffered, who rose from the dead, who was the Light of the world. Surely the promise was fulfilled to him, and it was 'given him in that hour what he should speak.'
The rustle in the crowd was scarcely over, when the strong masterful voice of the governor rasped out the coarse taunt, which, according to one reading, was made coarser (and more lifelike) by repetition, 'Thou art mad, Paul; thou art mad.' So did a hard 'practical man' think of that strain of lofty conviction, and of that story of the appearance of the Christ. To be in earnest about wealth or power or science or pleasure is not madness, so the world thinks; but to be in earnest about religion, one's own soul, or other people's, is. Which was the saner, Paul, who 'counted all things but dung that he might win Christ,' or Festus, who counted keeping his governorship, and making all that he could out of it, the one thing worth living for? Who is the madman, he who looks up and sees Jesus, and bows before Him for lifelong service, or he who looks up and says, 'I see nothing up there; I keep my eyes on the main chance down here'? It would be a saner and a happier world if there were more of us mad after Paul's fashion.
Paul's unruffled calm and dignity brushed aside the rude exclamation with a simple affirmation that his words were true in themselves, and spoken by one who had full command over his faculties; and then he turned away from Festus, who understood nothing, to Agrippa, who, at any rate, did understand a little. Indeed, Festus has to take the second place throughout, and it may have been the ignoring of him that nettled him. For all his courtesy to Agrippa, he knew that the latter was but a vassal king, and may have chafed at Paul's addressing him exclusively.
The Apostle has finished his defence, and now he towers above the petty dignitaries before him, and goes straight at the conscience of the king. Festus had dismissed the Resurrection of 'one Jesus' as unimportant: Paul asserted it, the Jews denied it. It was not worth while to ask which was right. The man was dead, that was agreed. If Paul said He was alive after death, that was only another proof of madness, and a Roman governor had more weighty things to occupy him than investigating such obscure and absurd trifles. But Agrippa, though not himself a Jew, knew enough of the history of the last twenty years to have heard about the Resurrection and the rise of the Church. No doubt he would have been ready to admit his knowledge, but Paul shows a disposition to come to closer quarters by his swift thrust, 'Believest thou the prophets?' and the confident answer which the questioner gives.
What was the Apostle bringing these two things—the publicity given to the facts of Christ's life, and the belief in the prophets— together for? Obviously, if Agrippa said Yes, then the next question would be, 'Believest thou the Christ, whose life and death and resurrection thou knowest, and who has fulfilled the prophets thereby?' That would have been a hard question for the king to answer. His conscience begins to be uncomfortable, and his dignity is wounded by this extremely rude person, who ventures to talk to him as if he were a mere common man. He has no better answer ready than a sarcasm; not a very forcible one, betraying, however, his penetration into, and his dislike of, and his embarrassment at, Paul's drift. His ironical words are no confession of being 'almost persuaded,' but a taunt. 'And do you really suppose that it is so easy a matter to turn me—the great Me, a Herod, a king,' and he might have added, a sensual bad man, 'into a Christian?'
Paul met the sarcastic jest with deep earnestness, which must have hushed the audience of sycophants ready to laugh with the king, and evidently touched him and Festus. His whole soul ran over in yearning desire for the salvation of them all. He took no notice of the gibe in the word Christian, nor of the levity of Agrippa. He showed that purest love fills his heart, that he has found the treasure which enriches the poorest and adds blessedness to the highest. So peaceful and blessed is he, a prisoner, that he can wish nothing better for any than to be like him in his faith. He hints his willingness to take any pains and undergo any troubles for such an end; and, with almost a smile, he looks at his chains, and adds, 'except these bonds.'
Did Festus wince a little at the mention of these, which ought not to have been on his wrists? At all events, the entertainment had taken rather too serious a turn for the taste of any of the three,—Festus, Agrippa, or Bernice. If this strange man was going to shake their consciences in that fashion, it was high time to end what was, after all, as far as the rendering of justice was concerned, something like a farce.
So with a rustle, and amid the obeisances of the courtiers, the three rose, and, followed by the principal people, went through the form of deliberation. There was only one conclusion to be come to. He was perfectly innocent. So Agrippa solemnly pronounced, what had been known before, that he had done nothing worthy of death or bonds, though he had 'these bonds' on his arms; and salved the injustice of keeping an innocent man in custody by throwing all the blame on Paul himself for appealing to Csesar. But the person to blame was Festus, who had forced Paul to appeal in order to save his life.
'THE HEAVENLY VISION'
'Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.' Acts xxvi. 19.
This is Paul's account of the decisive moment in his life on which all his own future, and a great deal of the future of Christianity and of the world, hung. The gracious voice had spoken from heaven, and now everything depended on the answer made in the heart of the man lying there blind and amazed. Will he rise melted by love, and softened into submission, or hardened by resistance to the call of the exalted Lord? The somewhat singular expression which he employs in the text, makes us spectators of the very process of his yielding. For it might be rendered, with perhaps an advantage, 'I became not disobedient'; as if the 'disobedience' was the prior condition, from which we see him in the very act of passing, by the melting of his nature and the yielding of his will. Surely there have been few decisions in the world's history big with larger destinies than that which the captive described to Agrippa in the simple words: 'I became not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.'
I. Note, then, first, that this heavenly vision shines for us too.
Paul throughout his whole career looked back to the miraculous appearance of Jesus Christ in the heavens, as being equally availably as valid ground for his Christian convictions as were the appearances of the Lord in bodily form to the Eleven after His resurrection. And I may venture to work the parallel in the inverse direction, and to say to you that what we see and know of Jesus Christ is as valid a ground for our convictions, and as true and powerful a call for our obedience, as when the heaven was rent, and the glory above the midday sun bathed the persecutor and his followers on the stony road to Damascus. For the revelation that is made to the understanding and the heart, to the spirit and the will, is the same whether it be made, as it was to Paul, through a heavenly vision, or, as it was to the other Apostles, through the facts of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, which their senses certified to them, or, as it is to us, by the record of the same facts, permanently enshrined in Scripture. Paul's sight of Christ was for a moment; we can see Him as often and as long as we will, by turning to the pages of this Book. Paul's sight of Christ was accompanied with but a partial apprehension of the great and far-reaching truths which he was to learn and to teach, as embodied in the Lord whom he saw. To see Him was the work of a moment, to 'know Him' was the effort of a lifetime. We have the abiding results of the lifelong process lying ready to our hands in Paul's own letters, and we have not only the permanent record of Christ in the Gospels instead of the transient vision in the heavens, and the unfolding of the meaning and bearings of the historical facts, in the authoritative teaching of the Epistles, but we have also, in the history of the Church founded on these, in the manifest workings of a divine power for and through the company of believers, as well as in the correspondence between the facts and doctrines of Christianity and the wants of humanity, a vision disclosed and authenticated as heavenly, more developed, fuller of meaning and more blessed to the eyes which see it, than that which was revealed to the persecutor as he reeled from his horse on the way to the great city.
Dear brethren, they who see Christ in the word, In the history of the world, in the pleading of the preacher, in the course of the ages, and who sometimes hear His voice in the warnings which He breathes into their consciences, and in the illuminations which He flashes on their understanding, need ask for no loftier, no more valid and irrefragable manifestation of His gracious self. To each of us this vision is granted. May I say, without seeming egotism to you it is granted even through the dark and cloudy envelope of my poor words?
II. The vision of Christ, howsoever perceived, comes demanding obedience.
The purpose for which Jesus Christ made Himself known to Paul was to give him a charge which should influence his whole life. And the manner in which the Lord, when He had appeared, prepared the way for the charge was twofold. He revealed Himself in His radiant glory, in His exalted being, in His sympathetic and mysterious unity with them that loved Him and trusted Him, in His knowledge of the doings of the persecutor; and He disclosed to Saul the inmost evil that lurked in his own heart, and showed him to his bewilderment and confusion, how the course that he thought to be righteousness and service was blasphemy and sin. So, by the manifestation of Himself enthroned omniscient, bound by the closest ties of identity and of sympathy with all that love Him, and by the disclosure of the amazed gazer's evil and sin, Jesus Christ opened the way for the charge which bore in its very heart an assurance of pardon, and was itself a manifestation of His love.
In like manner all heavenly visions are meant to secure human obedience. We have not done what God means us to do with any knowledge of Him which He grants, unless we utilise it to drive the wheels of life and carry it out into practice in our daily conduct. Revelation is not meant to satisfy mere curiosity or the idle desire to know. It shines above us like the stars, but, unlike them, it shines to be the guide of our lives. And whatsoever glimpse of the divine nature, or of Christ's love, nearness, and power, we have ever caught, was meant to bow our wills in glad submission, and to animate our hands for diligent service and to quicken our feet to run in the way of His commandments.
There is plenty of idle gazing, with more or less of belief, at the heavenly vision. I beseech you to lay to heart this truth, that Christ rends the heavens and shows us God, not that men may know, but that men may, knowing, do; and all His visions are the bases of commandments. So the question for us all is, What are we doing with what we know of Jesus Christ? Nothing? Have we translated our thoughts of Him into actions, and have we put all our actions under the control of our thoughts of Him? It is not enough that a man should say, 'Whereupon I saw the vision,' or, 'Whereupon I was convinced of the vision,' or, 'Whereupon I understood the vision.' Sight, apprehension, theology, orthodoxy, they are all very well, but the right result is, 'Whereupon I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.' And unless your knowledge of Christ makes you do, and keep from doing, a thousand things, it is only an idle vision, which adds to your guilt.
But notice, in this connection, the peculiarity of the obedience which the vision requires. There is not a word, in this story of Paul's conversion, about the thing which Paul himself always puts in the foreground as the very hinge upon which conversion turns—viz. faith. Not a word. The name is not here, but the thing is here, if people will look. For the obedience which Paul says that he rendered to the vision was not rendered with his hands. He got up to his feet on the road there, 'not disobedient,' though he had not yet done anything. This is to say, the man's will had melted. It had all gone with a run, so to speak, and the inmost being of him was subdued. The obedience was the submission of self to God, and not the more or less diligent and continuous consequent external activity in the way of God's commandments.
Further, Paul's obedience is also an obedience based upon the vision of Jesus Christ enthroned, living, bound by ties that thrill at the slightest touch to all hearts that love Him, and making common cause with them.
And furthermore, it is an obedience based upon the shuddering recognition of Paul's own unsuspected evil and foulness, how all the life, that he had thought was being built up into a temple that God would inhabit, was rottenness and falsehood.
And it is an obedience, further, built upon the recognition of pity and pardon in Christ, who, after His sharp denunciation of the sin, looks down from Heaven with a smile of forgiveness upon His lips, and says: 'But rise and stand upon thy feet, for I will send thee to make known My name.'
An obedience which is the inward yielding of the will, which is all built upon the revelation of the living Christ, who was dead and is alive for evermore, and close to all His followers; and is, further, the thankful tribute of a heart that knows itself to be sinful, and is certain that it is forgiven—what is that but the obedience which is of faith? And thus, when I say that the heavenly vision demands obedience, I do not mean that Christ shows Himself to you to set you to work, but I mean that Christ shows Himself to you that you may yield yourselves to Him, and in the act may receive power to do all His sweet and sacred will.
III. Thirdly, this obedience is in our own power to give or to withhold.
Paul, as I said in my introductory remarks, puts us here as spectators of the very act of submission. He shows it to us in its beginning—he shows us the state from which he came and that into which he passed, and he tells us, 'I became—not disobedient.' In his case it was a complete, swift, and permanent revolution, as if some thick-ribbed ice should all at once melt into sweet water. But whether swift or slow it was his own act, and after the Voice had spoken it was possible that Paul should have resisted and risen from the ground, not a servant, but a persecutor still. For God's grace constrains no man, and there is always the possibility open that when He calls we refuse, and that when He beseeches we say, 'I will not.'
There is the mystery on which the subtlest intellects have tasked their powers and blunted the edge of their keenness in all generations; and it is not likely to be settled in five minutes of a sermon of mine. But the practical point that I have to urge is simply this: there are two mysteries, the one that men can, and the other that men do, resist Christ's pleading voice. As to the former, we cannot fathom it. But do not let any difficulty deaden to you the clear voice of your own consciousness. If I cannot trust my sense that I can do this thing or not do it, as I choose, there is nothing that I can trust. Will is the power of determining which of two roads I shall go, and, strange as it is, incapable of statement in any more general terms than the reiteration of the fact; yet here stands the fact, that God, the infinite Will, has given to men, whom He made in His own image, this inexplicable and awful power of coinciding with or opposing His purposes and His voice.
'Our wills are ours, we know not how; Our wills are ours, to make them Thine.'
For the other mystery is, that men do consciously set themselves against the will of God, and refuse the gifts which they know all the while are for their good. It is of no use to say that sin is ignorance. No; that is only a surface explanation. You and I know too well that many a time when we have been as sure of what God wanted us to do as if we had seen it written in flaming letters on the sky there, we have gone and done the exact opposite. I know that there are men and women who are convinced in their inmost souls that they ought to be Christians, and that Jesus Christ is pleading with them at the present hour, and yet in whose hearts there is no yielding to what, they yet are certain, is the will and voice of Jesus Christ.
IV. Lastly, this obedience may, in a moment, revolutionise a life.
Paul rode from Jerusalem 'breathing out threatenings and slaughters.' He fell from his warhorse, a persecutor of Christians, and a bitter enemy of Jesus. A few moments pass. There was one moment in which the crucial decision was made; and he staggered to his feet, loving all that he had hated, and abandoning all in which he had trusted. His own doctrine that 'if any man be in Christ he is a new creature, old things are passed away and all things are become new,' is but a generalisation of what befell himself on the Damascus road. It is of no use trying to say that there had been a warfare going on in this man's mind long before, of which his complete capitulation was only the final visible outcome. There is not a trace of anything of the kind in the story. It is a pure hypothesis pressed into the service of the anti-supernatural explanation of the fact.
There are plenty of analogies of such sudden and entire revolution. All reformation of a moral kind is best done quickly. It is a very hopeless task, as every one knows, to tell a drunkard to break off his habits gradually. There must be one moment in which he definitely turns himself round and sets his face in the other direction. Some things are best done with slow, continuous pressure; other things need to be done with a wrench if they are to be done at all.
There used to be far too much insistence upon one type of religious experience, and all men that were to be recognised as Christians were, by evangelical Nonconformists, required to be able to point to the moment when, by some sudden change, they passed from darkness to light. We have drifted away from that very far now, and there is need for insisting, not upon the necessity, but upon the possibility, of sudden conversions. However some may try to show that such experiences cannot be, the experience of every earnest Christian teacher can answer—well! whether they can be or not, they are. Jesus Christ cured two men gradually, and all the others instantaneously. No doubt, for young people who have been born amidst Christian influences, and have grown up in Christian households, the usual way of becoming Christians is that slowly and imperceptibly they shall pass into the consciousness of communion with Jesus Christ. But for people who have grown up irreligious and, perhaps, profligate and sinful, the most probable way is a sudden stride out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son. So I come to you all with this message. No matter what your past, no matter how much of your life may have ebbed away, no matter how deeply rooted and obstinate may be your habits of evil, no matter how often you may have tried to mend yourself and have failed, it is possible by one swift act of surrender to break the chains and go free. In every man's life there have been moments into which years have been crowded, and which have put a wider gulf between his past and his present self than many slow, languid hours can dig. A great sorrow, a great joy, a great, newly discerned truth, a great resolve will make 'one day as a thousand years.' Men live through such moments and feel that the past is swallowed up as by an earthquake. The highest instance of thus making time elastic and crowding it with meaning is when a man forms and keeps the swift resolve to yield himself to Christ. It may be the work of a moment, but it makes a gulf between past and future, like that which parted the time before and the time after that in which 'God said, Let there be light: and there was light.' If you have never yet bowed before the heavenly vision and yielded yourself as conquered by the love which pardons, to be the glad servant of the Lord Jesus who takes all His servants into wondrous oneness with Himself, do it now. You can do it. Delay is disobedience, and may be death. Do it now, and your whole life will be changed. Peace and joy and power will come to you, and you, made a new man, will move in a new world of new relations, duties, energies, loves, gladnesses, helps, and hopes. If you take heed to prolong the point into a line, and hour by hour to renew the surrender and the cry, 'Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?' you will ever have the vision of the Christ enthroned, pardoning, sympathising, and commanding, which will fill your sky with glory, point the path of your feet, and satisfy your gaze with His beauty, and your heart with His all-sufficing and ever-present love.
'ME A CHRISTIAN!'
'Then Agrlppa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.'—ACTS xxvi 28.
This Agrippa was son of the other Herod of whom we hear in the Acts as a persecutor. This one appears from other sources, to have had the vices but not the force of character of his bad race. He was weak and indolent, a mere hanger-on of Rome, to which he owed his kingdom, and to which he stoutly stuck during all the tragedy of the fall of Jerusalem. In position and in character (largely resulting from the position) he was uncommonly like those semi-independent rajahs in India, who are allowed to keep up a kind of shadow of authority on condition of doing what Calcutta bids them. Of course frivolity and debauchery become the business of such men. What sort of a man this was may be sufficiently inferred from the fact that Bernice was his sister.
But he knew a good deal about the Jews, about their opinions, their religion, and about what had been going on during the last half century amongst them. Or grounds of policy he professed to accept the Jewish faith—of which an edifying example is given in the fact that, on one occasion, Bernice was prevented from accompanying him to Rome because she was fulfilling a Nazarite vow in the Temple at Jerusalem!
So the Apostle was fully warranted in appealing to Agrippa's knowledge, not only of Judaism, but of the history of Jesus Christ, and in his further assertion, 'I know that thou believest.' But the home-thrust was too much for the king. His answer is given in the words of our text.
They are very familiar words, and they have been made the basis of a great many sermons upon being all but persuaded to accept of Christ as Saviour. But, edifying as such a use of them is, it can scarcely be sustained by their actual meaning. Most commentators are agreed that our Authorised Version does not represent either Agrippa's words or his tone. He was not speaking in earnest. His words are sarcasm, not a half melting into conviction, and the Revised Version gives what may, on the whole, be accepted as being a truer representation of their intention when it reads, 'With but little persuasion thou wouldst fain make me a Christian.'
He is half amused and half angry at the Apostle's presumption in supposing that so easily or so quickly he was going to land his fish. 'It is a more difficult task than you fancy, Paul, to make a Christian of a man like me.' That is the real meaning of his words, and I think that, rightly understood, they yield lessons of no less value than those that have been so often drawn from them as they appear in our Authorised Version. So I wish to try and gather up and urge upon you now these lessons:—
I. First, then, I see here an example of the danger of a superficial familiarity with Christian truth.
As I said, Agrippa knew, in a general way, a good deal not only about the prophets and the Jewish religion, but of the outstanding facts of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul's assumption that he knew would have been very quickly repudiated if it had not been based upon fact. And the inference from his acceptance without contradiction of the Apostle's statement is confirmed by his use of the word 'Christian,' which had by no means come into general employment when he spoke; and in itself indicates that he knew a good deal about the people who were so named. Mark the contrast, for instance, between him and the bluff Roman official at his side. To Festus, Paul's talking about a dead man's having risen, and a risen Jew becoming a light to all nations, was such utter nonsense that, with characteristic Roman contempt for men with ideas, he breaks in, with his rough, strident voice, 'Much learning has made thee mad.' There was not much chance of that cause producing that effect on Festus. But he was apparently utterly bewildered at this entirely novel and unintelligible sort of talk. Agrippa, on the other hand, knows all about the Resurrection; has heard that there was such a thing, and has a general rough notion of what Paul believed as a Christian.
And was he any better for it? No; he was a great deal worse. It took the edge off a good deal of his curiosity. It made him fancy that he knew beforehand all that the Apostle had to say. It stood in the way of his apprehending the truths which he thought that he understood.
And although the world knows a great deal more about Jesus Christ and the Gospel than he did, the very same thing is true about hundreds and thousands of people who have all their lives long been brought into contact with Christianity. Superficial knowledge is the worst enemy of accurate knowledge, for the first condition of knowing a thing is to know that we do not know it. And so there are a great many of us who, having picked up since childhood vague and partially inaccurate notions about Christ and His Gospel and what He has done, are so satisfied on the strength of these that we know all about it, that we listen to preaching about it with a very languid attention. The ground in our minds is preoccupied with our own vague and imperfect apprehensions. I believe that there is nothing that stands more in the way of hundreds of people coming into real intelligent contact with Gospel truth than the half knowledge that they have had of it ever since they were children. You fancy that you know all that I can tell you. Very probably you do. But have you ever taken a firm hold of the plain central facts of Christianity—your own sinfulness and helplessness, your need of a Saviour, the perfect work of Jesus Christ who died on the Cross for you, and the power of simple faith therein to join you to Him, and, if followed by consecration and obedience, to make you partakers of His nature, and heirs of the inheritance that is above? These are but the fundamentals, the outlines of Gospel truth. But far too many of you see them, in such a manner as you see the figures cast upon a screen when the lantern is not rightly focussed, with a blurred outline, and the blurred outline keeps you from seeing the sharp-cut truth as it is in Jesus. In all regions of thought inaccurate knowledge is the worst foe to further understanding, and eminently is this the case in religion. Brethren, some of you are in that position.
Then there is another way in which such knowledge as that of which the king in our text is an example is a hindrance, and that is, that it is knowledge which has no effect on character. What do hundreds of us do with our knowledge of Christianity? Our minds seem built in watertight compartments, and we keep the doors of them shut very close, so that truths in the understanding have no influence on the will. Many of you believe the Gospel intellectually, and it does not make a hairsbreadth of difference to anything that you ever either thought or wished or did. And because you so believe it, it is utterly impossible that it should ever be of any use to you. 'Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.' 'Yes, believest the prophets, and Bernice sitting by thy side there— believest the prophets, and livest in utter bestial godlessness.' What is the good of a knowledge of Christianity like that? And is it not such knowledge of Christianity that blocks the way with some of you for anything more real and more operative? There is nothing more impotent than a firmly believed and utterly neglected truth. And that is what the Christianity of some of you is when it is analysed.
II. Now, secondly, notice how we have here the example of a proud man indignantly recoiling from submission,
There is a world of contempt in Agrippa's words, in the very putting side by side of the two things. 'Me! Me,' with a very large capital M—'Me a Christian?' He thinks of his dignity, poor creature. It was not such a very tremendous dignity after all. He was a petty kinglet, permitted by the grace of Rome to live and to pose as if he were the real thing, and yet he struts and claps his wings and crows on his little hillock as if it were a mountain. 'Me a Christian?' 'The great Agrippa a Christian!' And he uses that word 'Christian' with the intense contempt which coined it and adhered to it, until the men to whom it was applied were wise enough to take it and bind it as a crown of honour upon their head. The wits at Antioch first of all hit upon the designation. They meant a very exquisite piece of sarcasm by their nickname. These people were 'Christians,' just as some other people were Herodians—Christ's men, the men of this impostor who pretended to be a Messiah. That seemed such an intensely ludicrous thing to the wise people in Antioch that they coined the name; and no doubt thought they had done a very clever thing. It is only used in the Bible in tike notice of its origin; here, with a very evident connotation of contempt; and once more when Peter in his letter refers to it as being the indictment on which certain disciples suffered. So when Agrippa says, 'Me a Christian,' he puts all the bitterness that he can into that last word. As if he said, 'Do you really think that I—I—am going to bow myself down to be a follower and adherent of that Christ of yours? The thing is too ridiculous! With but little persuasion you would fain make me a Christian. But you will find it a harder task than you fancy.'
Now, my dear friends, the shape of this unwillingness is changed but the fact of it remains. There are two or three features of what I take to be the plain Gospel of Jesus Christ which grate very much against all self-importance and self-complacency, and operate very largely, though not always consciously, upon very many amongst us. I just run them over, very briefly.
The Gospel insists on dealing with everybody in the same fashion, and on regarding all as standing on the same level. Many of us do not like that. Translate Agrippa's scorn into words that fit ourselves: 'I am a well-to-do Manchester man. Am I to stand on the same level as my office-boy?' Yes! the very same. 'I, a student, perhaps a teacher of science, or a cultivated man, a scholar, a lawyer, a professional man—am I to stand on the same level as people that scarcely know how to read and write?' Yes, exactly. So, like the man in the Old Testament, 'he turned and went away in a rage.' Many of us would like that there should be a little private door for us in consideration of our position or acquirements or respectability, or this, that, or the other thing. At any rate we are not to be classed in the same category with the poor and the ignorant and the sinful and the savage all over the world. But we are so classed. Do not you and the men in Patagonia breathe the same air? Are not your bodies subject to the same laws? Have you not to be contented to be fed in the same fashion, and to sleep and eat and drink in the same way? 'We have all of us one human heart'; and 'there is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.' The identities of humanity, in all its examples, are deeper than the differences in any. We have all the one Saviour and are to be saved in the same fashion. That is a humbling thing for those of us who stand upon some little elevation, real or fancied, but it is only the other side of the great truth that God's love is world-wide, and that Christ's Gospel is meant for humanity. Naaman, to whom I have already referred in passing, wanted to be treated as a great man who happened to be a leper; Elisha insisted on treating him as a leper who happened to be a great man. And that makes all the difference. I remember seeing somewhere that a great surgeon had said that the late Emperor of Germany would have had a far better chance of being cured if he had gone incognito to the hospital for throat diseases. We all need the same surgery, and we must be contented to take it in the same fashion. So, some of us recoil from humbling equality with the lowest and worst.
Then again, another thing that sometimes makes people shrink back from the Gospel is that it insists upon every one being saved solely by dependence on Another. We would like to have a part in our salvation, and many of us had rather do anything in the way of sacrifice or suffering or penance than take this position:
'Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy Cross I cling.'
Corrupt forms of Christianity have taken an acute measure of the worst parts of human nature, when they have taught men that they can eke out Christ's work by their own, and have some kind of share in their own salvation. Dear brethren, I have to bring to you another Gospel than that, and to say, All is done for us, and all will be done in us, and nothing has to be done by us. Some of you do not like that. Just as a man drowning is almost sure to try to help himself, and get his limbs inextricably twisted round his would-be rescuer and drown them both, so men will not, without a struggle, consent to owe everything to Jesus Christ, and to let Him draw them out of many waters and set them on the safe shore. But unless we do so, we have little share in His Gospel.
And another thing stands in the way—namely, that the Gospel insists upon absolute obedience to Jesus Christ. Agrippa fancied that it was an utterly preposterous idea that he should lower his flag, and doff his crown, and become the servant of a Jewish peasant. A great many of us, though we have a higher idea of our Lord than his, do yet find it quite as hard to submit our wills to His, and to accept the condition of absolute obedience, utter resignation to Him, and entire subjection to His commandment. We say, 'Let my own will have a little bit of play in a corner.' Some of us find it very hard to believe that we are to bring all our thinking upon religious and moral subjects to Him, and to accept His word as conclusive, settling all controversies. 'I, with my culture; am I to accept what Christ says as the end of strife?' Yes, absolute submission is the plainest condition of real Christianity. The very name tells us that. We are Christians, i.e. Christ's men; and unless we are, we have no right to the name. But some of us had rather be our own masters and enjoy the miseries of independence and self-will, and so be the slaves of our worse selves, than bow ourselves utterly before that dear Lord, and so pass into the freedom of a service love-inspired, and by love accepted, 'Thou wouldst fain persuade me to be a Christian,' is the recoil of a proud heart from submission. Brethren, let me beseech you that it may not be yours.
III. Again, we have here an example of instinctive shrinking from the personal application of broad truths.
Agrippa listened, half-amused and a good deal interested, to Paul as long as he talked generalities and described his own experience. But when he came to point the generalities and to drive them home to the hearer's heart it was time to stop him. That question of the Apostle's, keen and sudden as the flash of a dagger, went straight home, and the king at once gathered himself together into an attitude of resistance. Ah, that is what hundreds of people do! You will let me preach as long as I like—only you will get a little weary sometimes—you will let me preach generalities ad libitum. But when I come to 'And thou?' then I am 'rude' and 'inquisitorial' and 'personal' and 'trespassing on a region where I have no business,' and so on and so on. And so you shut up your heart if not your ears.
And yet, brethren, what is the use of toothless generalities? What am I here for if I am not here to take these broad, blunt truths and sharpen them to a point, and try to get them in between the joints of your armour? Can any man faithfully preach the Gospel who is always flying over the heads of his hearers with universalities, and never goes straight to their hearts with 'Thou—thou art the man!' 'Believest thou?'
And so, dear friends, let me press that question upon you. Never mind about other people. Suppose you and I were alone together and my words were coming straight to thee. Would they not have more power than they have now? They are so coming. Think away all these other people, and this place, ay, and me too, and let the word of Christ, which deals with no crowds but with single souls, come to you in its individualising force: 'Believest thou?' You will have to answer that question one day. Better to face it now and try to answer it than to leave it all vague until you get yonder, where 'each one of us shall give account of himself to God.
IV. Lastly, we have here an example of a soul close to the light, but passing into the dark.
Agrippa listens to Paul; Bernice listens; Festus listens. And what comes of it? Only this, 'And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man hath done nothing worthy of death or of bonds.' May I translate into a modern equivalent: And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, 'This man preached a very impressive sermon,' or, 'This man preached a very wearisome sermon,' and there an end.
Agrippa and Bernice went their wicked way, and Festus went his, and none of them knew what a fateful moment they had passed through. Ah, brethren! there are many such in our lives when we make decisions that influence our whole future, and no sign shows that the moment is any way different from millions of its undistinguished fellows. It is eminently so in regard to our relation to Jesus Christ and His Gospel. These three had been in the light; they were never so near it again. Probably they never heard the Gospel preached any more, and they went away, not knowing what they had done when they silenced Paul and left him. Now you will probably hear plenty of sermons in future. You may or you may not. But be sure of this, that if you go away from this one, unmelted and unbelieving, you have not done a trivial thing. You have added one more stone to the barrier that you yourself build to shut you out from holiness and happiness, from hope and heaven. It is not I that ask you the question, it is not Paul that asks it, Jesus Christ Himself says to you, as He said to the blind man, 'Dost thou believe on the Son of God?' or as He said to the weeping sister of Lazarus, 'Believest thou this?' O dear friends, do not answer like this arrogant bit of a king, but cry with tears, 'Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief!'
TEMPEST AND TRUST
And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete. 14. But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon. 15. And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive. 16. And running under a certain island which is called Clauda, we had much work to come by the boat: 17. Which when they had taken up, they used helps, undergirding the ship; and, fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands, strake sail, and so were driven. 18. And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship; 19. And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship. 20. And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away. 21. But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss. 22. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship. 23. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, 24. Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. 25. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. 26. Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island.'—ACTS xxvii. 13-26.
Luke's minute account of the shipwreck implies that he was not a Jew. His interest in the sea and familiarity with sailors' terms are quite unlike a persistent Jewish characteristic which still continues. We have a Jew's description of a storm at sea in the Book of Jonah, which is as evidently the work of a landsman as Luke's is of one who, though not a sailor, was well up in maritime matters. His narrative lays hold of the essential points, and is as accurate as it is vivid. This section has two parts: the account of the storm, and the grand example of calm trust and cheery encouragement given in Paul's words.
I. The consultation between the captain of the vessel and the centurion, at which Paul assisted, strikes us, with our modern notions of a captain's despotic power on his own deck, and single responsibility, as unnatural. But the centurion, as a military officer, was superior to the captain of an Alexandrian corn-ship, and Paul had already made his force of character so felt that it is not wonderful that he took part in the discussion. Naturally the centurion was guided by the professional rather than by the amateur member of the council, and the decision was come to to push on as far and fast as possible.
The ship was lying in a port which gave scanty protection against the winter weather, and it was clearly wise to reach a more secure harbour if possible. So when a gentle southerly breeze sprang up, which would enable them to make such a port, westward from their then position, they made the attempt. For a time it looked as if they would succeed, but they had a great headland jutting out in front which they must get round, and their ability to do this was doubtful. So they kept close in shore and weathered the point. But before they had made their harbour the wind suddenly chopped round, as is frequent of that coast, and the gentle southerly breeze turned into a fierce squall from the north-east or thereabouts, sweeping down from the Cretan mountains. That began their troubles. To make the port was impossible. The unwieldy vessel could not 'face the wind,' and so they had to run before it. It would carry them in a south-westerly direction, and towards a small island, under the lee of which they might hope for some shelter. Here they had a little breathing time, and could make things rather more ship-shape than they had been able to do when suddenly caught by the squall. Their boat had been towing behind them, and had to be hoisted on deck somehow.
A more important, and probably more difficult, task was to get strong hawsers under the keel and round the sides, so as to help to hold the timbers together. The third thing was the most important of all, and has been misunderstood by commentators who knew more about Greek lexicons than ships. The most likely explanation of 'lowering the gear' (Rev. Ver.) is that it means 'leaving up just enough of sail to keep the ship's head to the wind, and bringing down everything else that could be got down' (Ramsay, St. Paul, p. 329).
Note that Luke says 'we' about hauling in the boat, and 'they' about the other tasks. He and the other passengers could lend a hand in the former, but not in the latter, which required more skilled labour. The reason for bringing down all needless top-hamper, and leaving up a little sail, was to keep the vessel from driving on to the great quicksands off the African coast, to which they would certainly have been carried if the wind held.
As soon as they had drifted out from the lee of the friendly little island they were caught again in the storm. They were in danger of going down. As they drifted they had their 'starboard' broadside to the force of the wild sea, and it was a question how long the vessel's sides would last before they were stove in by the hammering of the waves, or how long she would be buoyant enough to ship seas without foundering. The only chance was to lighten her, so first the crew 'jettisoned' the cargo, and next day, as that did not give relief enough,'they,' or, according to some authorities, 'we'—that is passengers and all—threw everything possible overboard.
That was the last attempt to save themselves, and after it there was nothing to do but to wait the apparently inevitable hour when they would all go down together. Idleness feeds despair, and despair nourishes idleness. Food was scarce, cooking it was impossible, appetite there was none. The doomed men spent the long idle days— which were scarcely day, so thick was the air with mist and foam and tempest—crouching anywhere for shelter, wet, tired, hungry, and hopeless. So they drifted 'for many days,' almost losing count of the length of time they had been thus. It was a gloomy company, but there was one man there in whom the lamp of hope burned when it had gone out in all others. Sun and stars were hidden, but Paul saw a better light, and his sky was clear and calm.
II. A common danger makes short work of distinctions of rank. In such a time some hitherto unnoticed man of prompt decision, resource, and confidence, will take the command, whatever his position. Hope, as well as timidity and fear, is infectious, and one cheery voice will revive the drooping spirits of a multitude. Paul had already established his personal ascendency in that motley company of Roman soldiers, prisoners, sailors, and disciples. Now he stands forward with calm confidence, and infuses new hope into them all. What a miraculous change passes on externals when faith looks at them! The circumstances were the same as they had been for many days. The wind was howling and the waves pounding as before, the sky was black with tempest, and no sign of help was in sight, but Paul spoke, and all was changed, and a ray of sunshine fell on the wild waters that beat on the doomed vessel.
Three points are conspicuous in his strong tonic words. First, there is the confident assurance of safety. A less noble nature would have said more in vindication of the wisdom of his former advice. It is very pleasant to small minds to say, 'Did I not tell you so? You see how right I was.' But the Apostle did not care for petty triumphs of that sort. A smaller man might have sulked because his advice had not been taken, and have said to himself, 'They would not listen to me before, I will hold my tongue now.' But the Apostle only refers to his former counsel and its confirmation in order to induce acceptance of his present words.
It is easy to 'bid' men 'be of good cheer,' but futile unless some reason for good cheer is given. Paul gave good reason. No man's life was to be lost though the ship was to go. He had previously predicted that life, as well as ship and lading, would be lost if they put to sea. That opinion was the result of his own calculation of probabilities, as he lets us understand by saying that he 'perceived' it (ver. 10). Now he speaks with authority, not from his perception, but from God's assurance. The bold words might well seem folly to the despairing crew as they caught them amidst the roar of tempest and looked at their battered hulk. So Paul goes at once to tell the ground of his confidence—the assurance of the angel of God.
What a contrast between the furious gale, the almost foundering ship, the despair in the hearts of the sleeping company, and the bright vision that came to Paul! Peter in prison, Paul in Caesarea and now in the storm, see the angel form calm and radiant. God's messengers are wont to come into the darkest of our hours and the wildest of our tempests.
Paul's designation of the heavenly messenger as 'an angel of the God whose I am, whom also I serve,' recalls Jonah's confession of faith, but far surpasses it, in the sense of belonging to God, and in the ardour of submission and of active obedience, expressed in it. What Paul said to the Corinthians (1 Cor. vi. 19) he realised for himself: 'Ye are not your own; for ye were bought with a price.' To recognise that we are God's, joyfully to yield ourselves to Him, and with all the forces of our natures to serve Him, is to bring His angel to our sides in every hour of tempest and peril, and to receive assurance that nothing shall by any means harm us. To yield ourselves to be God's is to make God ours. It was because Paul owned that he belonged to God, and served Him, that the angel came to him, and he explains the vision to his hearers by his relation to God. Anything was possible rather than that his God should leave him unhelped at such an hour of need.
The angel's message must have included particulars unnoticed in Luke's summary; as, for instance, the wreck on 'a certain island.' But the two salient points in it are the certainty of Paul's own preservation, that the divine purpose of his appearing before Caesar might be fulfilled, and the escape of all the ship's company. As to the former, we may learn how Paul's life, like every man's, is shaped according to a divine plan, and how we are 'immortal till our work is done,' and till God has done His work in and on and by us. As to the latter point, we may gather from the word 'has given' the certainty that Paul had been praying for the lives of all that sailed with him, and may learn, not only that the prayers of God's servants are a real element in determining God's dealings with men, but that a true servant of God's will ever reach out his desires and widen his prayers to embrace those with whom he is brought into contact, be they heathens, persecutors, rough and careless, or fellow-believers. If Christian people more faithfully discharged the duty of intercession, they would more frequently receive in answer the lives of 'all them that sail with' them over the stormy ocean of life.
The third point in the Apostle's encouraging speech is the example of his own faith, which is likewise an exhortation to the hearers to exercise the same. If God speaks by His angel with such firm promises, man's plain wisdom is to grasp the divine assurance with a firm hand. We must build rock upon rock. 'I believe God,' that surely is a credence demanded by common sense and warranted by the sanest reason. If we do so believe, and take His word as the infallible authority revealing present duty and future blessings, then, however lowering the sky, and wild the water, and battered the vessel, and empty of earthly succour the gloomy horizon, and heavy our hearts, we shall 'be of good cheer,' and in due time the event will warrant our faith in God and His promise, even though all around us seems to make our faith folly and our hope a mockery.
A SHORT CONFESSION OF FAITH
'...There stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve.'—ACTS xxvii. 23.
I turn especially to those last words, 'Whose I am and whom I serve.'
A great calamity, borne by a crowd of men in common, has a wonderful power of dethroning officials and bringing the strong man to the front. So it is extremely natural, though it has been thought to be very unhistorical, that in this story of Paul's shipwreck he should become guide, counsellor, inspirer, and a tower of strength; and that centurions and captains and all the rest of those who held official positions should shrink into the background. The natural force of his character, the calmness and serenity that came from his faith—these things made him the leader of the bewildered crowd. One can scarcely help contrasting this shipwreck—the only one in the New Testament— with that in the Old Testament. Contrast Jonah with Paul, the guilty stupor of the one, down 'in the sides of the ship' cowering before the storm, with the calm behaviour and collected courage of the other.
The vision of which the Apostle speaks does not concern us here, but in the words which I have read there are several noteworthy points. They bring vividly before us the essence of true religion, the bold confession which it prompts, and the calmness and security which it ensures. Let us then look at them from these points of view.
I. We note the clear setting forth of the essence of true religion.
Remember that Paul is speaking to heathens; that his present purpose is not to preach the Gospel, but to make his own position clear. So he says 'the God'—never mind who He is at present—'the God to whom I belong '—that covers all the inward life—'and whom I serve' —that covers all the outward.
'Whose I am.' That expresses the universal truth that men belong to God by virtue of their being the creatures of His hand. As the 100th Psalm says, according to one, and that a probably correct reading, 'It is He that hath made us, and we are His.' But the Apostle is going a good deal deeper than any such thoughts, which he, no doubt, shared in common with the heathen men around him, when he declares that, in a special fashion, God had claimed him for His, and he had yielded to the claim. 'I am Thine,' is the deepest thought of this man's mind and the deepest feeling of his heart. And that is godliness in its purest form, the consciousness of belonging to God. We must interpret this saying by others of the Apostle's, such as, 'Ye are not your own, ye are bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your bodies and spirits which are His.' He traces God's possession of him, not to that fact of creation (which establishes a certain outward relationship, but nothing more), nor even to the continuous facts of benefits showered upon his head, but to the one transcendent act of the divine Love, which gave itself to us, and so acquired us for itself. For we must recognise as the deepest of all thoughts about the relations of spiritual beings, that, as in regard to ourselves in our earthly affections, so in regard to our relations with God, there is only one way by which a spirit can own a spirit, whether it be a man on the one side and a woman on the other, or whether it be God on the one side and a man on the other, and that one way is by the sweetness of complete and reciprocal love. He who gives himself to God gets God for himself. So when Paul said, 'Whose I am,' he was thinking that he would never have belonged either to God or to himself unless, first of all, God, in His own Son, had given Himself to Paul. The divine ownership of us is only realised when we are consciously His, because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Brethren, God does not count that a man belongs to Him simply because He made him, if the man does not feel his dependence, his obligation, and has not surrendered himself. He in the heavens loves you and me too well to care for a formal and external ownership. He desires hearts, and only they who have yielded themselves unto God, moved thereto by the mercies of God, and especially by the encyclopaediacal mercy which includes all the rest in its sweep, only they belong to Him, in the estimate of the heavens.
And if you and I are His, then that involves that we have deposed from his throne the rebel Self, the ancient Anarch that disturbs and ruins us. They who belong to God cease to live to themselves. There are two centres for human life, and I believe there are only two—the one is God, the other is my wretched self. And if we are swept, as it were, out of the little orbit that we move in, when the latter is our centre, and are drawn by the weight and mass of the great central sun to become its satellites, then we move in a nobler orbit and receive fuller and more blessed light and warmth. They who have themselves for their centres are like comets, with a wide elliptical course, which carries them away out into the cold abysses of darkness. They who have God for their sun are like planets. The old fable is true of these 'sons of the morning'—they make music as they roll and they flash back His light.
And then do not let us forget that this yielding of one's self to Him, swayed by His love, and this surrendering of will and purpose and affection and all that makes up our complex being, lead directly to the true possession of Him and the true possession of ourselves.
I have said that the only way by which spirit possesses spirit is by love, and that it must needs be on both sides. So we get God for ourselves when we give ourselves to God. There is a wonderful alternation of giving and receiving between the loving God and his beloved lovers; first the impartation of the divine to the human, then the surrender of the human to the divine, and then the larger gift of God to man, just as in some series of mirrors the light is flashed back from the one to the other, in bewildering manifoldness and shimmering of rays from either polished surface. God is ours when we are God's. 'And this is the covenant that I will make with them after these days, saith the Lord. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.'
And, in like manner, we never own ourselves until we have given ourselves to God. Each of us is like some feudatory prince, dependent upon an overlord. His subjects in his little territory rebel, and he has no power to subdue the insurgents, but he can send a message to the capital, and get the army of the king, who is his sovereign and theirs, to come down and bring them back to order, and establish his tottering throne. So if you desire to own yourself or to know the sweetness that you may get out of your own nature and the exercise of your powers, if you desire to be able to govern the realm within, put yourself into God's hands and say, 'I am Thine; hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe.'
I need not say more than just a word about the other side of Paul's confession of faith, 'Whom I serve.' He employs the word which means the service of a worshipper, or even of a priest, and not that which means the service of a slave. His purpose was to represent how, as his whole inward nature bowed in submission to, and was under the influence of, God to whom he belonged, so his whole outward life was a life of devotion. He was serving Him there in the ship, amidst the storm and the squalor and the terror. His calmness was service; his confidence was service; the cheery words that he was speaking to these people were service. And on his whole life he believed that this was stamped, that he was devoted to God. So there is the true idea of a Christian life, that in all its aspects, attitudes, and acts it is to be a manifestation, in visible form, of inward devotion to, and ownership by, God. All our work may be worship, and we may 'pray without ceasing,' though no supplications come from our lips, if our hearts are in touch with Him and through our daily life we serve and honour Him. God's priests never are far away from their altar, and never are without, somewhat to offer, as long as they have the activities of daily duty and the difficulties of daily conflict to bring to Him and spread before Him.
II. So let me turn for a moment to some of the other aspects of these words to which I have already referred, I find in them, next, the bold confession which true religion requires.
Shipboard is a place where people find out one another very quickly. Character cannot well be hid there. And such circumstances as Paul had been in for the last fortnight, tossing up and down in Adria, with Death looking over the bulwarks of the crazy ship every moment, were certain to have brought out the inmost secrets of character. Paul durst not have said to these people 'the God whose I am and whom I serve' if he had not known that he had been living day by day a consistent and godly life amongst them.
And so, I note, first of all, that this confession of individual and personal relationship to God is incumbent on every Christian. We do not need to be always brandishing it before people's faces. There is very little fear of the average Christian of this day blundering on that side. But we need, still less, to be always hiding it away. One hears a great deal from certain quarters about a religion that does not need to be vocal but shows what it is, without the necessity for words. Blessed be God! there is such a religion, but you will generally find that the people who have most of it are the people who are least tongue-tied when opportunity arises; and that if they have been witnessing for God in their quiet discharge of duty, with their hands instead of their lips, they are quite as ready to witness with their lips when it is fitting that they should do so. And surely, surely, if a man belongs to God, and if his whole life is to be the manifestation of the ownership that he recognises, that which specially reveals him—viz., his own articulate speech—cannot be left out of his methods of manifestation.
I am afraid that there are a great many professing Christian people nowadays who never, all their lives, have said to any one, 'The God whose I am and whom I serve.' And I beseech you, dear brethren, suffer this word of exhortation. To say so is a far more effectual, or at least more powerful, means of appeal than any direct invitation to share in the blessings. You may easily offend a man by saying to him, 'Won't you be a Christian too?' But it is hard to offend if you simply say that you are a Christian. The statement of personal experience is more powerful by far than all argumentation or eloquence or pleading appeals. We do more when we say, 'That which we have tasted and felt and handled of the Word of Life, declare we unto you,' than by any other means.
Only remember that the avowal must be backed up by a life, as Paul's was backed up on board that vessel. For unless it is so, the profession does far more harm than good. There are always keen critics round us, especially if we say that we are Christians. There were keen critics on board that ship. Do you think that these Roman soldiers, and the other prisoners, would not have smiled contemptuously at Paul, if this had been the first time that they had any reason to suppose that he was at all different from them? They would have said, 'The God whose you are and whom you serve? Why, you are just the same sort of man as if you worshipped Jupiter like the rest of us!' And that is what the world has a right to say to Christian people. The clearer our profession, the holier must be our lives.
III. Last of all, I find in these words the calmness and security which true religion secures.
The story, as I have already glanced at it in my introductory remarks, brings out very wonderfully and very beautifully Paul's promptitude, his calmness in danger, his absolute certainty of safety, and his unselfish thoughtfulness about his companions in peril. And all these things were the direct results of his entire surrender to God, and of the consistency of his daily life. It needed the angel in the vision to assure him that his life would be spared. But whether the angel had ever come or not, and though death had been close at his hand, the serenity and the peaceful assurance of safety which come out so beautifully in the story would have been there all the same. The man who can say 'I belong to God' does not need to trouble himself about dangers. He will have to exercise his common sense, as the Apostle shows us; he will have to use all the means that are in his power for the accomplishment of ends that he knows to be right and legitimate. But having done all that, he can say, 'I belong to Him,' it is His business to look after His own property. He is not going to hold His possessions with such a slack hand as that they shall slip between His fingers, and be lost in the mire. 'Thou wilt not lose the souls that are Thine in the grave, neither wilt Thou suffer the man whom Thou lovest to see corruption.' God keeps His treasures, and the surer we are that He is able to keep them unto that day, the calmer we may be in all our trouble.
And the safety that followed was also the direct result of the relationship of mutual possession and love established between God and the Apostle. We do not know to which of the two groups of the shipwrecked Paul belonged; whether he could swim or whether he had to hold on to some bit of floating wreckage or other, and so got 'safe to land.' But whichever way it was, it was neither his swimming nor the spar to which, perhaps, he clung, that landed him safe on shore. It was the God to whom he belonged. Faith is the true lifebelt that keeps us from being drowned in any stormy sea. And if you and I feel that we are His, and live accordingly, we shall be calm amid all change, serene when others are troubled, ready to be helpers of others even when we ourselves are in distress. And when the crash comes, and the ship goes to pieces: 'so it will come to pass that, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship, they all come safe to land,' and when the Owner counts His subjects and possessions on the quiet shore, as the morning breaks, there will not be one who has been lost in the surges, or whose name will be unanswered to when the muster-roll of the crew is called.
A TOTAL WRECK, ALL HANDS SAVED
'And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship, 31. Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. 32. Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off. 33. And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing. 34. Wherefore I pray you to take some meat; for this is for your health; for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you. 35. And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all; and when he had broken it, he began to eat. 36. Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat. 37. And we were in all in the ship two hundred threescore and sixteen souls. 38. And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea. 39. And when it was day, they knew not the land; but they discovered a certain creek with a shore, into the which they were minded, if it were possible, to thrust in the ship. 40. And when they had taken up the anchors, they committed themselves unto the sea, and loosed the rudder-bands, and noised up the main-sail to the wind, and made toward shore. 41. And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground: and the fore part stuck fast, and remained unmoveable, but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves. 42. And the soldiers' counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any-of them should swim out, and escape. 43. But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose: and commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land: 44. And the rest some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.'—ACTS xxvii 30-44.
The Jews were not seafaring people. Their coast had no safe harbours, and they seldom ventured on the Mediterranean. To find Paul in a ship with its bow pointed westwards is significant. It tells of the expansion of Judaism into a world-wide religion, and of the future course of Christianity. The only Old Testament parallel is Jonah, and the dissimilarities of the two incidents are as instructive as are their resemblances.
This minute narrative is evidently the work of one of the passengers who knew a good deal about nautical matters. It reads like a log- book. But as James Smith has well noted in his interesting monograph on the chapter, the writer's descriptions, though accurate, are unprofessional, thus confirming Luke's authorship. Where had the 'beloved physician' learned so much about the sea and ships? Did the great galleys carry surgeons as now? At all events the story is one of the most graphic accounts ever written. This narrative begins when the doomed ship has cast anchor, with a rocky coast close under her lee. The one question is, Will the four anchors hold? No wonder that the passengers longed for daylight!
The first point is the crew's dastardly trick to save themselves, frustrated by Paul's insight and promptitude. The pretext for getting into the boat was specious. Anchoring by the bow as well as by the stern would help to keep the ship from driving ashore; and if once the crew were in the boat and pulled as far as was necessary to lay out the anchors, it would be easy, under cover of the darkness, to make good their escape on shore and leave the landsmen on board to shift for themselves. The boat must have been of considerable size to hold the crew of so large a ship. It was already lying alongside, and landsmen would not suspect what lay under the apparently brave attempt to add to the vessel's security, but Paul did so. His practical sagacity was as conspicuous a trait as his lofty enthusiasm. Common sense need not be divorced from high aims or from the intensest religious self-devotion. The idealist beat the practical centurion in penetrating the sailors' scheme.
That must have been a great nature which combined such different characteristics as the Apostle shows. Unselfish devotion is often wonderfully clear-sighted as to the workings of its opposite. The Apostle's promptitude is as noticeable as his penetration. He wastes no time in remonstrance with the cowards, who would have been over the side and off in the dark while he talked, but goes straight to the man in authority. Note, too, that he keeps his place as a prisoner. It is not his business to suggest what is to be done. That might have been resented as presumptuous; but he has a right to point out the danger, and he leaves the centurion to settle how to meet it. Significantly does he say 'ye,' not 'we.' He was perfectly certain that he 'must be brought before Caesar'; and though he believed that all on board would escape, he seems to regard his own safety as even more certain than that of the others.
The lesson often drawn from his words is rightly drawn. They imply the necessity of men's action in order to carry out God's purpose. The whole shipful are to be saved, but 'except these abide ... ye cannot be saved,' The belief that God wills anything is a reason for using all means to effect it, not for folding our hands and saying, 'God will do it, whether we do anything or not.' The line between fatalism and Christian reliance on God's will is clearly drawn in Paul's words.
Note too the prompt, decisive action of the soldiers. They waste no words, nor do they try to secure the sailors, but out with their knives and cut the tow-rope, and away into the darkness drifts the boat. It might have been better to have kept it, as affording a chance of safety for all; but probably it was wisest to get rid of it at once. Many times in every life it is necessary to sacrifice possible advantages in order to secure a more necessary good. The boat has to be let go if the passengers in the ship are to be saved. Misused good things have sometimes to be given up in order to keep people from temptation.
The next point brings Paul again to the front. In the night he had been the saviour of the whole shipload of people. Now as the twilight is beginning, and the time for decisive action will soon be here with the day, he becomes their encourager and counsellor. Again his saving common sense is shown. He knew that the moment for intense struggle was at hand, and so he prepares them for it by getting them to eat a substantial breakfast. It was because of his faith that he did so. His religion did not lead him to do as some people would have done— begin to talk to the soldiers about their souls—but he looked after their bodies. Hungry, wet, sleepless, they were in no condition to scramble through the surf, and the first thing to be done was to get some food into them. Of course he does not mean that they had eaten absolutely nothing for a fortnight, but only that they had had scanty nourishment. But Paul's religion went harmoniously with his care for men's bodies. He 'gave thanks to God in presence of them all'; and who shall say that that prayer did not touch hearts more deeply than religious talk would have done? Paul's calmness would be contagious; and the root of it, in his belief in what his God had told him, would be impressively manifested to all on board. Moods are infectious; so 'they were all of good cheer,' and no doubt things looked less black after a hearty meal,
A little point may be noticed here, namely, the naturalness of the insertion of the numbers on board at this precise place in the narrative. There would probably be a muster of all hands for the meal, and in view of the approaching scramble, in order that, if they got to shore, there might be certainty as to whether any were lost. So here the numbers come in. They were still not without hope of saving the ship, though Paul had told them it would be lost; and so they jettison the cargo of wheat from Alexandria. By this time it is broad day and something must be done.
The next point is the attempt to beach the vessel. 'They knew not the land,' that is, the part of the coast where they had been driven; but they saw that, while for the most part it was iron-bound, there was a shelving sandy bay at one point on to which it might be possible to run her ashore. The Revised Version gives a much more accurate and seaman-like account than the Authorised Version does. The anchors were not taken on board, but to save time and trouble were 'left in the sea,' the cables being simply cut. The 'rudder-bands'—that is, the lashings which had secured the two paddle-like rudders, one on either beam, which had been tied up to be out of the way when the stern anchors were put out—are loosed, and the rudders drop into place. The foresail (not 'mainsail,' as the Authorised Version has it) is set to help to drive the ship ashore. It is all exactly what we should expect to be done.
But an unexpected difficulty met the attempt, which is explained by the lie of the coast at St. Paul's Bay, Malta, as James Smith fully describes in his book. A little island, separated from the mainland by a channel of not more than one hundred yards in breadth, lies off the north-east point of the bay, and to a beholder at the entrance to the bay looks as if continuous with it. When the ship got farther in, they would see the narrow channel, through which a strong current sets and makes a considerable disturbance as it meets the run of the water in the bay. A bank of mud has been formed at the point of meeting. Thus not only the water shoals, but the force of the current through the narrows would hinder the ship from getting past it to the beach. The two things together made her ground, 'stem on' to the bank; and then, of course, the heavy sea running into the bay, instead of helping her to the shore, began to break up the stern which was turned towards it.
Common peril makes beasts of prey and their usual victims crouch together. Benefits received touch generous hearts. But the legionaries on board had no such sentiments. Paul's helpfulness was forgotten. A still more ignoble exhibition of the instinct of self- preservation than the sailors had shown dictated that cowardly, cruel suggestion to kill the prisoners. Brutal indifference to human life, and Rome's iron discipline holding terror over the legionaries' heads, are vividly illustrated in the 'counsel,' So were Paul's kindnesses requited! It is hard to melt rude natures even by kindness; and if Paul had been looking for gratitude he would have been disappointed, as we so often are. But if we do good to men because we expect requital, even in thankfulness, we are not pure in motive. 'Looking for nothing again' is the spirit enforced by God's pattern and by experience.
The centurion had throughout, like most of his fellows in Scripture, been kindly disposed, and showed more regard for Paul than the rank and file did. He displays the good side of militarism, while they show its bad side; for he is collected, keeps his head in extremities, knows his own mind, holds the reins in a firm hand, even in that supreme moment, has a quick eye to see what must be done, and decision to order it at once. It was prudent to send first those who could swim; they could then help the others. The distance was short, and as the bow was aground, there would be some shelter under the lee of the vessel, and shoal water, where they could wade, would be reached in a few minutes or moments.
'And so it came to pass, that they all escaped safe to the land.' So Paul had assured them they would. God needs no miracles in order to sway human affairs. Everything here was perfectly 'natural,' and yet His hand wrought through all, and the issue was His fulfilment of His promises. If we rightly look at common things, we shall see God working in them all, and believe that He can deliver us as truly without miracles as ever He did any by miracles. Promptitude, prudence, skill, and struggle with the waves, saved the whole two hundred and seventy-six souls in that battered ship; yet it was God who saved them all. Whether Paul was among the party that could swim, or among the more helpless who had to cling to anything that would float, he was held up by God's hand, and it was He who 'sent from above, took him, and drew him out of many waters.'
AFTER THE WRECK
'And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita. 2. And the barbarous people showed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold. 3. And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. 4. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. 5. And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. 6. Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god. 7. In the same quarters were possessions of the chief man of the island, whose name was Publius: who received us, and lodged us three days courteously. 8. And it came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever, and of a bloody flux: to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid his hands on him, and healed him. 9. So when this was done, others also, which had diseases in the island, came, and were healed: 10. Who also honoured us with many honours: and when we departed, they laded us with such things as were necessary. 11. And after three months we departed in a ship of Alexandria, which had wintered in the isle, whose sign was Castor and Pollux. 12. And landing at Syracuse, we tarried there three days. 13. And from thence we fetched a compass, and came to Rhegium: and after one day the south wind blew, and we came the next day to Puteoli; 14. Where we found brethren, and were desired to tarry with them seven days: and so we went toward Rome. 15. And from thence, when the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum, and The three taverns: whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage. 16. And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him.' —ACTS xxviii. 1-16.