Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE SENSE IN WHICH THEY MUST BE FALSE. It is certain that Paul did not intend to say that he had never been conscious of defect and guilt in his relation to God. The time had been when he might have said so. As a scrupulous Pharisee, who was, "touching the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless," he would consider himself without any reason for remorse. But "what things were gain to him," those he "counted loss for Christ" (Philippians 3:7). He had come to the conclusion that the "way of peace" was not by faultlessness, but by forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ; he had sought and found" the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Philippians 3:9). And there is no living man who can look back upon all that he has said and done, and look in on all that he has been, and declare that he is conscious of no defect and no guiltiness before God, - except, indeed, he is one whom sin has blinded, and who does not know how "poor, and blind, and naked" he is, in the sight of absolute purity. Comparing our conduct and examining our hearts in the light of God's" exceeding broad commandment," we are all included under sin. We have all to acknowledge much in the matter of positive transgression, and far more in that of unfulfilled obligation.
II. THE SENSE IN WHICH THIS MAY BE TRUE OF US ALL. It was true of Paul in this respect, that from the beginning of his Jewish course up to the time when he became a Christian, he had acted in accordance with his convictions; that his change of view was purely conscientious; and that from the beginning of his Christian career till that day he had steadfastly pursued the path in which God had directed him to walk. Every Christian man ought to be able to affirm this of himself, having regard to his entire Christian course. This conscious spiritual integrity:
1. Includes a sense of continued reconciliation and fellowship with God.
2. Includes unbroken uprightness of conduct, freedom from presumptuous and scandalous sin, and general conformity to the will of God in all the relations of life.
3. Admits of many failures and infirmities, which are acknowledged and resisted.
III. THE FULLEST SENSE IN WHICH THEY CAN BE TRUE OF ANY ONE. Paul may have been able to use these words of every period of his life; but they can only be applied to the earlier part with a reservation. He could only feel that he had been honestly and earnestly pursuing a mistaken course during those years. Happy are they who, when the end arrives, are able to look back on a whole life devoted to truth, to heavenly wisdom, to holy usefulness; who, from childhood to old age, have spent their powers in the service of Christ. These have not to set off one part of their career against another part, but can rejoice to feel that, from the beginning "until this day," they have, in the fullest sense, "lived in all good conscience before God." Here is an argument
(1) for beginning at the earliest point;
(2) for continuing through the special temptations of mid-life;
(3) for persisting through the infirmities of later years, in the beauty of a holy Christian life, in the excellency of earnest work. - C.
I. A SUGGESTIVE CONTRAST between corrupt ecclesiasticism and secular power. The bigotry, intolerance, personal animosity, unfairness, fanatical cruelty, all finding abundant confirmation in the history of the persecutions emanating from the papacy. Lysias was cruel because he was reckless and followed bad customs, but Ananias was cruel because he was spiteful and tyrannical.
II. THE MASTER'S PREDICTION FULFILLLED. Such a scene was what the servants of Christ were told to prepare for. The apostle's infirmity, compared with the Savior's perfect self-possession and patience, shows that the highest of merely human characters tall far below the Divine goodness in Christ. Yet the instant apology, so courteously expressed, shows that the ruffle was only on the surface. The mistake was a natural one, and the provocation was great.
III. THE CORRUPTION OF JUDAISM EXHIBITED. Whether Paul acted blamelessly in appealing to Pharisees against Sadducees may be an open question, but, as he was brought before the highest religious authority of Judaism, and the Jews of that time rejected the reformation which Christianity in the person of Paul presented to them, it was a challenge to Jewish orthodoxy to vindicate itself if it could. And all the apostle probably meant was that he had been brought up in the orthodox school, and that Christianity was no heresy to the substance of Jewish teaching. The discussion which followed revealed the utter decay of Judaism. The heart of it was eaten out with skepticism and pride. The orthodox had no moral influence. The heterodox were powerful enough to fight successfully their battle against the rulers, which was another proof, like the crucifixion of Jesus, that the Jewish state was ripe for judgment. The Messiahship of Christ rested on the facts of the Resurrection.
IV. THE HOLLOW HYPOCRISY OF UNBELIEF. The Sadducees were not open to conviction. Nor are unbelievers generally. Their professed love of truth is sincere. They will inquire in order to decry, but not to reach a conclusion contrary to their inclinations. No dogmatists are so bigoted and so tyrannical as the dogmatists of the Sadducean school. As in Paul's time, so still, worldly influence is called in to help unbelief. The Sadducees were the wealthy party. There was a root of faith in the Pharisaic school, but it was being destroyed by worldliness, and they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. Had the Sadducees been willing to hear Paul, they might have been convinced of their own error. Had the Pharisees not hoped for victory over their antagonists more than for light, the council might have been held. - R.
I. THE GREATNESS OF A GREAT IDEA AND RULE OF LIFE. There is no reason to think that Paul said what exceeded in the least degree the facts.
1. He owned to a conscience.
2. He owned to the principle that conscience ought to be accepted as guide.
3. He owned to the duty of accepting the governance of that conscience in things great and small - in "all things."
4. He glanced, to say the least, and very significantly, at the fact that conscience, too, had its Superior, its Master, its Judge - the living "God himself. A life led through the length of its intelligent period in obedience to conscience is a life that will have steadiness, consistency, strength, about it. Equally noticeable is it that human greatness, where it may most really touch the mark, will own, as it did notably in the case of Saul, to much mixture of imperfection, to much possibility of error, to grand oversights, even if conscience be its guide, unless that conscience is informed, is divinely informed, and is refreshed by the light of the Spirit of all true guiding.
II. THE GREATNESS THAT CANNOT PROVE STOICAL WHEN MORAL CONSIDERATIONS ARE AT STAKE.
1. Paul feels an intense scorn of the thing that Ananias does.
2. Though by exposing it, and trenchantly, in the face of open court, he exposed himself also to have it thought and said that personal resentment partly accounts for his conduct, yet Paul was content to run the risk of this. Many do now think that the conduct of Paul and his language here contrast unfavorably with what might have been, and detract something from the force of his righteous indignation-on a righteous occasion. Them is, however, such a thing as a noble disregard of fair fame, that a purer offering may be made to one thing - the hit fame of truth. Igor do we think that anything less than this is the truth here of Paul. If his utterance were the result of personal resentment simply, it certainly could not have had the remotest chance of working well for him personally. If the utterance were the child of personal resentment exclusively, the suppression of it would have been the suppression of an actual and legitimate instinct. But there is no evidence of this, nor even looking this way. For
(1) Paul's remonstrance is worded so as to exhibit the insult done to righteousness, not to himself. And
(2) not only is there not a trace of temper, but there is abundant indication immediately succeeding that Paul had himself under perfect control.
3. Paul expresses no wish for the punishment of Ananias, but he firmly declares the abundantly likely retribution of God. He certainly leaves his own case in the hands of him to whom judgment belongeth." And his language is no bitter retort, invective, or imprecation. It is no sign of either humility or greatness to hide out of sight our own strong convictions or our strong faith in God's moral government, just because the instance in question may arise in our own history. Therefore, while on the one hand the actual words employed by Paul receive unimpeachable justification from those of Jesus himself (Matthew 23:27), the spirit he manifested does not expose itself to censure in comparison with even that of Jesus (John 18:22, 23), for the simple reason that it does not offer to come into comparison with it, the occasions having their material points of difference as well as of resemblance. The wonderful and divinest meekness of Jesus is indeed ever imitable, but it does not follow that every possible occasion of meekness is a right occasion for it. It may be that stern duty shall allow no option, and its more painful behest be the word of crushing rebuke (as here) rather than the tones of mercy and meekness.
III. THE GREATNESS THAT WAITS, READY TO ADMIT THAT A THING DONE BY ONE'S SELF MIGHT HAVE BEEN BETTER LEFT UNDONE. There are many things that may aggravate or diminish the blame of error. Rare as they are, there are such things as genuine explanations of error, which leave no fault with the person who nevertheless has been the perpetrator of it. Possibly Paul may be justly credited with some blame in not knowing to whom he spoke before he spoke, just as the language which he used may possibly be liable to some censure. But, anyway, the occasion is a fit one to remind us of these things:
1. That it is one sign of a great disposition - other things being equal - to be open to acknowledge error.
2. That this is a much more effectual sign, when all the circumstances of an occasion (as now) make the admission one of peculiar difficulty.
3. That worth is added to any such acknowledgment when, after all, the error is one in manner only, and emphatically not in matter, and. when it lies in the accidents rather than in the merits of the subject. Though it were only such an error, Paul publicly admits it, and quotes chapter and verse, as it were, to his own disadvantage.
4. That this virtue is especially the growth of Christian teaching, Christian principles. The germ of this virtue so rare lies in the truth, the sincerity, the purity to which Christianity invites our supreme homage. - B.
(1) Is conscience a separate and independent power? or
(2) Is conscience our faculty of judgment exercised concerning our own actions? We approve of the second view, and regard it as "the secret judgment of the soul, which gives its approbation to actions that it thinks good, or reproaches itself with those which it believes to be evil." Here, in our text, St. Paul is not thinking of the absolute right and wrong, but of the ceremonial claims which rested on a pious Jew, and says that, in relation to the formal rules of his religion, he had a "good conscience," "a conscience void of offence," a sense of having always striven to be loyal and faithful. The word "good" is a general word, and we may understand St. Paul better if we try to see what it may be regarded as including.
1. AN ENLIGHTENED CONSCIENCE. For, apart from the bare distinction of the absolute right and absolute wrong, conscience must be dependent on knowledge. All its finer and more precise testimonies come out of its culture. Our advances in education and moral training involve the quickening and enlightening of the conscience. The advanced man finds it altogether a more subtle guard of his life and conduct. It becomes keenly sensitive to the "beautiful" and the "becoming," as well as to the "right. This is illustrated in the case of the apostle himself; at one time he verily thought within himself that he ought to do many thinest, contrary to the Name of Jesus of Nazareth." With the letters in his hand authorizing the persecutions of the Damascene Christians, his unenlightened conscience made no testimony of his wrongness, and offered no reproaches. By-and-by, when the revelation of the Messiahship of Jesus came to his understanding and heart, then conscience smote him, and he felt the exceeding shame of his past doings. It may be shown that all which cultures a man quickens and sensitizes conscience; but the greatest enlightener is the personal reception of Christ as our Savior. Then we begin to see ourselves, and to make the true estimate of conduct, spirit, and life. If we are responsible for making the best of our opportunities for self-culture, we may be said to be also responsible for the measure of enlightenment of our conscience.
II. A CLEAR CONSCIENCE, By which qualifying term we may mean:
1. One that can make decisions and testimonies in a firm, decided way, with no uncertainties or doubtings, no "maybe" or "perhaps." Conduct is greatly dependent on prompt, clear decisions of the judgment, and these follow simple witness of the conscience to the right and wrong, the true and the beautiful.
2. The term "clear" may mean free from the deteriorating influence of bad principles and fixed evil habits. A man may so live that his conscience has always a thick, foul atmosphere to speak through, and gets sadly defiled thereby. A man may come even to read his conscience in the light of his inclinations. "Keep conscience as the noon-tide clear."
III. AN APPROVING CONSCIENCE. One that commended his actions. It is well when the constant witness of conscience is favorable, He lives a hard life who knows the daily conflict of conduct and conscience, There can be no peace until the conscience may be quiet, or only give its approvals. Precisely the result of our gaining peace with God is our gaining peace with ourselves. Our wills regenerated, we are no longer disposed to resist the leadings of our conscience. In speaking of this subject we should remember that conscience "is not an infallible guide, but requires illumination, and therefore each man needs to pray for light; but it is never right to act against its dictates." - R.T.
I. THREE DOUBTFUL POINTS. It is uncertain:
1. What Paul meant by his apologetic remark (ver. 5; see Exposition).
2. Whether he was justified in administering such a scathing rebuke, "God shall smite thee," etc. It certainly looks much like the utterance of a man who for the moment has lost his self-control, and there seems to be ground for contrasting it with the calm dignity of the Master when he was smitten (John 18:22, 23). The apostle laid no claim to perfection (Philippians 3:13 "perfect," in Philippians 3:15, signifies mature, instructed, disciplined), and he may well have been provoked, at this time, into a resentment which he afterwards wished he had been able to master.
3. Whether he was right in classing himself with the Pharisaic party (ver. 6). Though with them in those respects in which they differed from the Sadducees, and though, therefore, his words were formally correct, his spirit was so different from theirs, his principles were so opposite to theirs, his energies were so spent in combating theirs, that there was (or at least seems to have been) more of falsity than truth in his declaration. It is always a doubtful thing to say under pressure what we should never dream of saying under ordinary circumstances. But we may look at -
II. THREE CERTAIN TRUTHS. It is certain:
1. That only intrinsic worth can long hold the honor of our fellow-men. If Paul was ready, as he was, to pay outward deference to "God's high priest" (ver. 4); if he was unwilling to "speak evil of the ruler of the people" (ver. 5); he certainly held in small honor the particular high priest then pre- siding. Kings, judges, statesmen, ministers, may enjoy a temporary deference and an outward tribute as public officers; but if they are corrupt, if they are self-seeking, if they are indulgent, they will soon sink into dishonor and even into contempt. Only the worthy will continue to enjoy the esteem of their kind. Possibly a few of the shrewdest and most cunning have carried their honors to the grave, though they have deserved public reprobation, but these have passed to a scene where the veil will be torn off, and the long-outstanding penalty be required; but these are the few and not the many. Usually the pretender is unmasked here, and the iron hand of indignation comes down on the guilty head.
2. That it is an honorable and excellent thing to explain or apologize when one or the other is demanded.
(1) It is the right thing; it is due to those who have been misled or injured.
(2) It is the manly thing; it requires more courage, and courage of a higher order, to withdraw with expressions of regret than to maintain with the appearance of rectitude.
(3) It is the Christian thing; though, indeed, our Lord needed not to do this himself, yet we are sure it is in perfect accordance with his will: "If thy brother sin against thee, and he repent, forgive him, etc.
(4) It is the peaceful thing; to defend one's position is to foment strife; to acknowledge error is to disarm resentment and promote peace.
3. That straightforwardness is the best course to pursue. It is very doubtful whether Paul gained anything by his adoption of this expedient; he was in the greatest danger of being "pulled in pieces" (ver. 10). Such expediency as that which he employed may sometimes be rewarded by a temporary success. But the deepest and the longest success is the reward of sincerity and unswerving truth: the deepest, because our own self-respect is preserved inviolate and our integrity strengthened; the longest, for that which is founded on truth is built upon a rock, and is likeliest to endure. - C.
I. The law of man rests on the Law of God.
1. In its aims.
2. In its execution.
II. The blessing of a faithfully kept and righteously administered system of justice, which, notwithstanding all human infirmities, can be maintained.
III. The bar of human law both a prediction and an evidence of the future judgment. Yet the imperfections of earthly justice remind us that God shall make up all inequalities, and show hereafter perfectly that all justice is love.
IV. The corruption of Jewish Law proved the necessity of a better law, the law of Christ, which is not a despotic law, but "peace, and righteousness, and joy in the Holy Ghost;" not smiting our neighbor, but "bearing one another's burdens." - R.
I. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF INDIGNATION. Distinguish between "anger," which is generally used for quick passionate temper, often both unreasoning and unreasonable, and "indignation," which is the proper uprising of our nature against wrong. We seldom do well to be "angry;" we always do well to be "indignant." Anger suggests feeling mastering judgment; indignation suggests judgment giving character to feeling. Every man ought to be sensitive to wrong, whether it be done to others or to himself. The question for him concerns, not the feeling of indignation, but the forms in which such indignation may find expression. St. Paul ought to be indignant at the offering of such an insult, by one who occupied the position of a judge. "St. Paul's prompt and stern utterance perhaps anticipated compliance with this direction, which was quite illegal in itself, and must have been considered to be aggravated as given against a Roman citizen, placed at a Jewish bar by the Roman commandant." For a similar insult offered to our Lord, see John 18:22.
II. THE NOBILITY OF THE MAN WHO CAN APOLOGIZE EVEN FOR HIS RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATIONS. At once, in the spirit of the Christian gentleman, as soon as the official position of the person whom he had answered was pointed out to him, he expressed his regret. Some have, indeed, thought that he meant to say such conduct as that of Ananias made it impossible to regard him as the high priest, but it is more simple to read in his words some sense of his having yielded to his sensitive and intense feelings. Impulsive men are usually quick to acknowledge their faults, and to remove any evil impressions which their conduct or language may have produced. The highest virtue is the self-mastery that keeps us from making such mistakes; but the next virtue is a cheerful and humble readiness to make amends when our mistakes, or our hasty language, have injured another.
III. THE HIGHER RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE MASTERY OF INDIGNATION BY THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTIAN FORBEARANCE, Just as there is a "righteousness which exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees," so there is a righteousness which exceeds the worldly maxims and moral rules which guide ordinary men. It may be right to resent insult, but, from the Christian standpoint, it is much more right to bear it, and be patient under it, and forgive it. And such righteousness is illustrated in the scenes of our Lord's trial, when contumely was heaped upon him. Show that few things offer a severer test of Christian virtue than unprovoked and unreasonable insult. By it even the watchful man may be taken at unawares, and be suddenly moved to passion. Only the constant habit of thinking before we speak, and letting the moments of thinking be moments of prayer, can keep us in the trying hour. St. Paul's reset for his hasty words would be more profound before God than before men. He found a serious and humbling lesson in this mistake. Impress how often we err, and disgrace our Christian profession, by the tone and temper in which we "answer back." - R.T.
I. THE HOPE HERE INTENDED. The expression may mean simply "the hope of Israel" (Acts 26:6-8; Acts 28:20). But if it do mean this, it is instanced as having for its chief implication the revelation of immortality in and by Jesus. Or it may mean more specifically Israel's "hope in and for the resurrection of the dead," though for obvious reasons Paul omits the word "Israel - a wider resurrection than that of Israel merely being deep in his heart (Acts 24:15). The expression says the hope," either absolutely or "of the dead. The ambiguity of expression is immaterial, because there is none of meaning. And grand indeed are the suggestions that come of the language employed.
1. The hope" must be universal. The laborious and far-fetched exceptions that possibly might be produced would be infinitely insignificant, and might be accounted for in, perhaps, every case by moral reasons, though the most disastrous.
2. "The hope" must be of the very chiefest that can stir human hearts.
3. "The hope" carries in it the highest argument and testimony of the Creator of those hearts.
4. "The hope" must determine the great leading tracks of our thoughts of God and thoughts toward him. If he is only our God up to the grave, the greatest feeders of human regard, awe, devotion, are ruthlessly cut off at one stroke. Wonder because of him, fear toward him, love for him, wither away rootless and profitless. According as we find ground for this hope or were to fail to find it, our notions of God must be trustful or doubting, loving or callous, aspiring or ruinously baffled, and our own life rearing itself to air and light or cruelly beaten down to earth. Yes, the hope of universal man, his deepest hope, his last hope, his highest kind of hope, his most governing hope, is the hope that those called "the dead" are not dead, but that they "all live." For "the dead" the living hope this, and they hope it for themselves, ere they, too, shall be numbered among that number. Upon the basis of this hope rises the superstructure of our leading views of God, as of our forecasts of self.
II. THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD HERE SPOKEN OF. The resurrection of the dead (in the sense of the resurrection in any tenable philosophical sense of the body) is, beyond doubt, the specific revelation of Christianity. The Christian revelation of the resurrection of the body avails:
1. To guide human thoughts as to the method of the transition from mortality to immortality. Whatever may be the facts as to the disembodied and intermediate state, the resurrection of the body sufficiently fixes for us the form of the immortal life, and gives definiteness to our conception of it.
2. This revealed method evidently guarantees the maintenance of individuality in the immortal life.
3. For quite similar reason it postulates the continuous identity of the individual.
4. It surely infers the responsibility of the individual. No one for one moment contends for human responsibility or for human irresponsibility in this poor lower life. That those who have known it for the years of life's brief span should ignore it, at the first moment when its commanding character would receive forcible illustration, is incredible.
5. The resurrection of the dead indefinitely enlarges the entire character of man. Were the truth now conceivably subtracted from the wealth of truth which is our present possession, it would condemn us to a poverty of distressing misery. No more appalling type of the truncated could be found the world around. When Paul introduced with powerful voice and distinctest of utterance this twofold expression of the grandest and the most fundamental fact of human nature, he threw, doubtless, the apple of discord into the midst of Pharisees and Sadducees, and he did it designedly. But he was gaining a hearing for the truth that carries humanity's highest outlook in it. He was making a fresh appeal to all that is greatest and deepest in human nature. He was reminding a hardened multitude of what should most raise them and endear the Christ who came from God to them. And he was preaching to them, not what could be construed into "a hard saying," but what was fitted to be perennial inspiration. Let us see to it that it may be to us what it should have been, but was not, to them. - B.
I. THAT THE JEWISH RESURRECTION WAS A DREAM OR A DOCTRINE, To the Sadducees a mere superstitious dream, to the Pharisees an important doctrine. Hints of it are found in the earlier Scriptures, but the Old Testament has no clear testimony on the subject. This is not really remarkable, because Mosaism did not take this point of view; it did not demand obedience upon the promise of the "life to come," but upon promise of "the life that now is." Thoughts of resurrection and eternal life do not properly come to a Jew as a Jew, only to a Jew as a personally devout, God-fearing man, with an individual spiritual life of fellowship with God. Therefore the psalmists and prophets alone give us hints of resurrection. See what helps come to the idea
(1) from the translations of Enoch and Elijah;
(2) from the resurrections to natural life wrought by Elijah and Elisha;
(3) from the expressions used in the Book of Job, and in the Psalms; and
(4) from allusions in the prophets. Exactly in what sense the Pharisees believed in resurrection it is difficult to say. Clearly they had no notion of that spiritual body in which Christ reappeared among men, and we also must appear. Probably they held the doctrine very much as we hold some of our doctrines, merely for a battleground. The Sadducees had not much difficulty in showing that such a resurrection was a mere dream.
II. THAT THE CHRISTIAN RESURRECTION IS A TRUTH AND A HOPE. St. Paul calls it here a hope, but it is really a truth upon which we may build our hopes. Illustrate by showing what St. Paul writes about it - about its foundations and about its vital importance to the Christian - in 1 Corinthians 15. To him it was no mere dividing doctrine, though among foes he ventured so to use it; to him it was infinitely sure and infinitely precious - the message to him of his Redeemer's own resurrection, He labored, if "by any means he might attain unto the resurrection of the dead."
III. WHEREIN MAY WE FIND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE JEWISH AND THE, CHRISTIAN IDEAS OF RESURRECTION? We only note one of the more important differences. Pharisees had only, as aids to their conception, cases of resurrection which were merely a temporary restoration of bodily life. All the risen ones they could know of died a natural death. Christians take their conception from the resurrection of their Lord, which was to a spiritual, incorruptible, and eternal life. - R.T.
I. THE MALEVOLENT HUMAN. (Vers. 12-15.) In this case human malevolence took a very violent and malignant form: it sought to compass Paul's death by a dark and shameless stratagem. More often it seeks to do us injury for which we shall suffer, but from which we may recover. The very worst form which it assumes is that of aiming at our spiritual integrity, leading us into sin and so into shame and death.
II. THE INDIFFERENT HUMAN. (Vers. 18-24.) The Roman-centurion, chief captain, soldier - took no special interest in Paul, and had no prejudice against him. He regarded the whole matter in a professional light, and acted in simple and strict accordance with his habits of obedience and command. Around us is human law, human custom, human society - with this we must lay our account. It will proceed on its usual course, like a train upon the lines laid down for it, with small concern for our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows. If we take heed, we may avail ourselves of its help; if we are indiscreet, it wilt dash against us unpityingly. So far as we may do so and can do so, we must order ourselves so as to benefit by its strong force.
III. THE BENIGNANT HUMAN. (Vers. 16-21.) Paul's sister induced her son to interpose, and the young man (or, youth) played his delicate and dangerous part well, intervening between these sanguinary schemers and their illustrious victim. We may hope for positive sympathy and active aid from
(1) those who are closely and tenderly related to us;
(2) those who are young, and therefore open to many admirable inspirations (obedience, pity, courage, aspiration, etc.);
(3) those who have spiritual affinities with us, to whom we are brethren or fathers "in the Lord."
IV. THE DIVINE. (Ver. 16.) At this troublous and anxious time, when Paul was cut off from fellowship with the disciples, the Master himself drew near to him. He came with his comforting presence and his cheering word. He did not fail his servant then; nor will he fail his faithful followers now. We may reckon upon
(1) his comforting presence with us;
(2) his word of promise and cheer;
(3) his summons to bear witness in the future as in the past: "As thou hast testified... so must thou," etc. While all these powers are acting upon us, we must play our own part manfully, or the issue will be unfavorable (ver. 17). When all is done for or against us, we must make our own choice, decide for ourselves which of the two paths we will pursue, at which gate we shall be found when the journey of life is over (.Galatians 6:4, 5). - C.
I. THE ASSURANCE GIVEN.
1. The strengthening of faith in the personal Redeemer. His resurrection; his sympathy; his approval of the apostle's life; the progress of his kingdom.
2. The certainty conveyed that all that would occur in Jerusalem would be overruled for good.
3. The prospect held out corresponding to the apostle's own aims and desires, that Rome would be visited - a prospect which emboldened him to appeal to Caesar, although it might lead to greater sufferings eventually.
II. THE LESSON TAUGHT.
1. In the darkest night the appearance of Jesus is new strength.
2. Faithful and heroic work is never left without encouragement.
3. Though visions of the night may not be granted to the Church now, except on very rare occasions, still there are foresights of the future which can be obtained by deep insight, prayerful vigilance, elevated faith and. study of events in the light of the Savior's words, and the facts of his past intercourse with his disciples.
4. Holy ambition is accompanied with the spirit of apostolic self*devotion, and is rewarded with the accomplishment of our desires. "Expect great things; attempt great things." Why not aim at Rome? James and John were not reproved by Christ for desiring a place beside him, but were reminded that they must purge all such desires of the sordid and selfish, and be prepared for the baptism of blood. If we take up the cross, we may sit with Jesus on the throne.
5. The highest description of a Christian's life is "bearing witness." Christ is all and in all we reflect his light. Even at Rome a simple testimony is enough. - R.
I. THE LORD HIMSELF APPEARS. What an honor! What a kindness! What a comfort!
II. THE LORD HIMSELF "STANDS BY" PAUL. What a condescension! What a really brotherly helping!
III. THE LORD HIMSELF SPEAKS WORDS OF GOOD CHEER. What a help for Paul, that voice! He had known different tones of voice of Jesus. What a gracious variety, this! What a close suggestion also of the faithful watching of the Lord over his faithful servant! He "had seen," he "had seen" the sorrowing, wearied, grieved spirit of Paul, and had come to stay his affliction by the direct exhortation, "Be of good cheer."
IV. THE LORD UTTERS A KINDLY SUGGESTION, BETOKENING KINDLY REMEMBRANCE OF PAUL'S PAST WITNESS AT JERUSALEM, THOUGH IT WAS EVEN HE WHO HAD PEREMPTORILY CUT IT SHORT, AND HAD SAID, "DEPART!"
V. THE LORD ASSURES HIM OF DISTINGUISHED FUTURE SERVICE FOR HIM.
1. This will put to flight all cares and anxieties as to the result of this trial, as to the fear of assassination, as to the uncertainty of his future career on earth.
2. It puts to flight all self-reproaching fears as to whether, "for his unworthiness," he was now to he cast aside. No; he is still a vessel meet for the Master's use - a weapon, polished, and not to be cast aside or laid aside.
VI. THE LORD MAKES A VERY SELECTION OF WORDS THAT CARRY COMFORT AND STRENGTH WITH THEM. "Thou must bear witness also at Rome." His Lord needs him and relies on him. And says he can depend on him who had done his work so well "in Jerusalem." - B.
miracles "and all special modes of Divine communication. They are conditioned as truly by what man can receive as by what God can grant; and this may sufficiently explain why we have no visions or miracles now. On St. Paul's sensitiveness to the Divine nearness, note
(1) that his Christian life began in a vision and revelation;
(2) that his labors had been directed in a special manner; and
(3) that the culture of his spiritual life involved the quick, clear vision of the "unseen." Show what an anxious day this had been to the apostle. He estimated the malice of the Jewish party, and knew well that nothing short of his death would satisfy these zealots. No doubt he spent much time in prayer, and, as a response, there came this vision of his glorified Lord, and the cheering and assuring message. Our Lord gave his personal cheerings to St. Paul - by manifestation and message - on all the great occasions of perplexity and danger in the apostle's career (see Acts 18:9; Acts 17:22-25, etc.). We may see that, in this instance before us, the grounds on which the apostle should be of "good cheer" were partly expressed and partly assumed.
I. "BE OF GOOD CHEER;" FOR YOU SHALL STILL WORK AND WITNESS. No joy to St. Paul could be compared with this, that he might be longer spared to work for his Divine Master. True, he could say that "to die is gain," but he could unfeigned]y rejoice with his disciples that he was "to continue with them all for their furtherance and joy in faith." On this occasion, taken back to the castle in the charge of the Roman guard, he might reasonably have felt despondent. "To human apprehension there was at this time nothing between the apostle and death but the shelter afforded in the Roman barrack." He might fear that his work was done. All earnest Christian workers know what times of depression and despondency mean. Even after successful work there may come the feeling of exhaustion, and we may say, like Elijah, "Let me die, for I am not better [more successful] than my fathers." To Elijah, to St. Paul, and to us, at such times, the best of all cheer is the message, "The Lord hath need of thee" yet awhile. With such cheer the clouds pass; we can smile again on life. We are lifted up above our difficult circumstances and our exceeding perils. We learn that if bearing and battling have to be our lot, it is but for a while; we shall battle through, and we shall even serve God in the battling. This is good cheer indeed. "Christ shall still be magnified in our body, whether it be by life or by death."
II. "BE OF GOOD CHEER;" FOR I AM WITH YOU. This is the comforting which is assumed rather than expressed. Christ "stood by" the apostle, but it was only his coming out of the invisible into the visible. St. Paul only saw what was the permanent fact. His Lord was always standing by him, always within the visions of his soul. And there is no cheer for us like this. Compare the intense anxiety of Moses to be sure that Jehovah was present in the camp. "If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence." it was perfect rest for anxious Moses to hear Jehovah respond, saying, "My presence shall go with thee." What is in this case assumed is actually expressed to St. Paul in some of his other visions. At Corinth Christ had said, "Be not afraid... for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee." Still, we know that trial is nothing, if Jesus is with us, helping us to bear; and work is nothing, if Jesus is with us, helping us to do. "I can do all things, and can bear all sufferings, if my Lord be there." Then impress what is for us the real cheer of life.
2. God's presence the inspiration and the strength of our working.
3. The inward consciousness that God's approval rests upon our work. In our text Christ did but assure St. Paul, what he also assures us, that "man is immortal until his work is done." No arrow can pierce any one of us until our last battle has been fought, and it is enough that our Lord knows when our bit of service for him is complete. - R.T.
I. "THE LORD IS MINDFUL OF HIS OWN. Recall the beautiful song in Mendelssohn's 'St. Paul.'
1. The craft of their foes. They conspire against the righteous with a zeal worthy of a better cause (vers. 12, 13); and cloak their designs under pious pretexts (vers. 14,15). 2. The Divine protection. He brings the counsels of wickedness to light (ver. 16). The young man, whoever he was, Christian Or otherwise, became, in Divine providence, a guardian angel of the apostle.
Nothing so fine is spun, II. THE GRACIOUS DELIVERANCE. (Vers. 23-35.) 1. They are withdrawn from the snares of their foes. Paul, surrounded by the military guard, seems a visible picture of the angels of God encamping about those who fear him. "Against forty bandits he sends five hundred protectors." 2. Testimony to the truth is furnished on their behalf (ver. 27, etc.). The honorable and straightforward dealing of the heathen Romans stands in contrast to that of the orthodox Jews. Better have the spirit of the Law without the letter than the letter without the spirit. The very indifferentism of the Romans becomes overruled for the deliverance of Paul. Guarded in the palace of Herod, Paul has time for reflection and prayer. The intervals el arduous labor, the moments of respite from toil and conflict, - in these we may find proofs of the nearness and tenderness of God. - J.
II. THE GRACIOUS DELIVERANCE. (Vers. 23-35.)
1. They are withdrawn from the snares of their foes. Paul, surrounded by the military guard, seems a visible picture of the angels of God encamping about those who fear him. "Against forty bandits he sends five hundred protectors."
2. Testimony to the truth is furnished on their behalf (ver. 27, etc.). The honorable and straightforward dealing of the heathen Romans stands in contrast to that of the orthodox Jews. Better have the spirit of the Law without the letter than the letter without the spirit. The very indifferentism of the Romans becomes overruled for the deliverance of Paul. Guarded in the palace of Herod, Paul has time for reflection and prayer. The intervals el arduous labor, the moments of respite from toil and conflict, - in these we may find proofs of the nearness and tenderness of God. - J.
must of the Lord's midnight message interpreted by events. Divine providence working. The Christian stands still and sees the salvation. The Word of God is instead of human calculations and predictions. How different from fatalism in such a case as Livingstone in the dangers of his African mission reminds us that there is a feeling of confidence in our weakness which is like a vision in the night. Notice -
I. THE GUILT OF FANATICISM. The forty conspirators thought that they were doing God service. They divulged the oath to the chief priests and elders. It was, by their silence, appropriated as the deed of the whole Sanhedrim. The blindness of their passion secured its own defeat.
II. THE DIVINE INTERPOSITION TO PROTECT. The sister of Paul probably not a Christian. The boy attached to his uncle, showing the affectionate nature of the apostle. A weak instrument chosen of God to accomplish a great work. The soldierly feeling of the captain aroused, and his sympathy with a fellow-citizen of Rome. Human agents controlled and directed by Divine influences.
III. ROMAN DESPATCH AND DISCIPLINE called, again, into the service of the gospel The promise of the Lord was being fulfilled, though in a way unanticipated by Paul. Caesarea revisited under very different circumstances. The lonely, persecuted Jew becoming important. Felix put on his mettle. The contrast between the two worlds - the world of Judaism and the world of imperialism. The prisoner going to Caesarea suggests what is wanted to deliver mankind from both - the cruelty of fanatics and the cruelty of despots and military ambition. The simplicity, heroism, all-conquering love of the Christian ambassador. got by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord." It was a significant change from Lysias's fortress at Jerusalem to Herod's palace at Caesarea. The gospel was challenging the world. - R.
providential deliverance. Both are Divine interventions on behalf of God's servants, and both are simply adaptations of the intervention to particular cases. When we can get a fuller and worthier conception of God's working in the natural," we shall probably lose sight of the distinction which we now make between the "natural and the supernatural. And this we shall do, not by losing the supernatural," but by losing the "natural," and seeing that all Divine workings are beyond mere "nature," beyond mere human energy. We shall find Divine energy in the flowers, and trees, and sunshine, and storms, and in the genius, art, and poetry of man. We shall not "level down," but "level up;" and, forgetting how men would drag us down to the operations of dead law, we shall find everywhere the working of the living God, and all life will seem to us God's great miracle. While we have to make a distinction between the "miraculous" and the "providential," we may notice that -
I. THE ONE IS AN EXTRAORDINARY, THE OTHER AN ORDINARY AGENCY. We know that our fellow-men, and we ourselves, have ordinary and regular methods of working, and that both we and they, under pressure of circumstances, sometimes transcend ourselves, and act with an energy, promptitude, skill, and power which quite surprises those who seem to know us most intimately. May not this suggest to us the distinction in God between the miraculous and the providential? The miraculous is the Divine working to meet sudden and unusual circumstances. Then we may see that there was no need for extraordinary intervention in St. Paul's case, because this was no sudden calamity, breaking in upon and interfering with the Divine order; it was but a step in the regular course of providential dealings with St. Paul, and ordinary resources of providence sufficed to overcome the seeming danger.
II. THE ONE IS A TEMPORARY, THE OTHER A PERMANENT AGENCY. God's providences have been working through all the ages, and they have sufficed to secure the safety of his servants under all kinds of perils. From the Old Testament numerous illustrations may be taken; e.g. notice how David was preserved while he was pursued by Saul; or see how events were providentially ordered for Joseph. Remarkable stories of wonderful providences are given in modern books; e.g. that of the man pursued by soldiers, who searched the house where he had found refuge, and quarreled outside the door of the room in which he was secreted, as to whether that room had been searched; the quarrel resulting in their going away and never entering it. God's miracles have been wrought in almost every age, but they have always been temporary phenomena, special occasions of necessity, and having some unusual testimony to make. By their very nature miracles must be occasional only.
III. ONE PRODUCES A SUDDEN IMPRESSION, THE OTHER APPEALS TO THOUGHTFUL. CONSIDERATION. Miracles are wonders. They are not, indeed, wonders only; they are works; they are signs and wonders. Still, it is their chief characteristic that they arrest, arouse, surprise, excite attention. On the other hand, God's providences need to be watched for and observed and thought about. "Whoso will observe these things, even he shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord." Then impress that, in life, human agencies that seem to bring about results for us, as his nephew's intervention brought about St. Paul's safety, must never take our interest merely for their own sake. We must ever look behind them and see that they are but working out the Divine plan and Divine will. God delivered St. Paul from peril by the aid of his nephew just as truly as if he had rescued him by the hand of an angel. - R.T.
I. THAT THE WORLD WANTS NO JUDGMENT ON MEN FOR THEIR OPINIONS. About opinions a Roman soldier could be supremely indifferent. With opinions human laws and magistracies have nothing to do. In opinions men may have the fullest liberty and toleration. Only when opinions influence conduct in a way that imperils social order, or the safety of the state, does the law or the magistrate concern himself with it. So we find that, in order to bring so-called heretics under the civil power, it has always been necessary to accuse them of rebellion against the law; the judge condemns them as anarchists, not as heretics. In these times we are beginning to learn more fully that opinion had better not be interfered with, and that every man may have full "liberty of prophesying," of persuading men to adopt his views. And all wrong teachings are to be met by right teaching, by the moral force of argument, and not by the physical forces of the law. Though still we properly keep the liberty to matters of simple opinion; when men express their views in their conduct, we are bound to consider whether their conduct tends to preserve the public peace and the social order.
II. SECTARIAN PREJUDICE ALONE WANTS TO PUNISH MEN FOR THEIR OPINIONS. Even the sectarian Jews knew that St. Paul had done no wrong. They trumped up a charge against him of defiling the temple, but they knew well enough that it was a groundless charge. They were offended with his opinions and teachings, as opposing their own. Illustrate from the assumptions of the Papal Church, and her efforts to crush all who held other opinions than she sanctioned. Modern illustrations of the bitterness of sectarian prejudice may be mentioned. A man may, like the apostle, have the truth of God, but he must be rejected unless his message rings in exact harmony with the received opinions. Show, in conclusion, that the strangers judgment of us is the only really important one. They ask what we are in character, conduct, life, and relations; and they can best judge about the value of our opinions by those things in which the opinions find their practical expression. Let, then, those outside our circles, the strangers, judge us as Christians. Will they say of us as the Roman officer said of St. Paul, "About their opinions we know little or nothing; but this we can say, They are good men and true"? - R.T.