The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.Chapter 85
Almighty God, hast thou not said, "What is thy petition? and what is thy request? and it shall be granted unto thee"? We answer thy challenge of love by telling thee somewhat of our painful need. We cannot tell thee all our want, for our life is one long necessity. Thou alone canst understand the mystery of our continual void. Our heart aches for something not born of time; our soul hath a desire which space cannot satisfy. We pray without words; we look great wonders and expectations which we cannot put into speech. We are groping for something; we are in the dark and cannot tell the beginning or the end. We listen if we may hear a sound going in the wind; we look as if we might perhaps see some gentle presence in the cloud. We cannot tell what we are; we affright ourselves. The Lord come to us in his own way, and the light will come with him, and, though for one moment the glory may strike us blind, we shall afterwards feel his fingers upon our closed eyelids; then shall they be opened and we shall see clearly. In the name of Jesus Christ, thy Son, loved of God, dying for men, grant unto us to know that this is thy purpose concerning us—to open our eyes that we may see thyself. May all sights lead up to thee. When we are charmed by beauty, may it be a preparation for the Origin of all that is lovely; when we pause to listen to sweet strains, may we know that one day we shall see the Chief Musician, and delight ourselves in the music of his blessing. Teach us through Jesus Christ, thy Son, that all these things round about us and above us are but so many dim symbols trying to be what they can never be. May we accept them as signs pointing towards the Great Light and the Perfect Being. We thank thee for all hints that lift themselves towards the opened heaven; we thank thee for every finger pointed upwards. We accept as from thyself every man in whose voice there is some unearthly tone. Deliver us from the custody of time and space; give us to feel that, being in Christ Jesus, his unsearchable riches are ours, every one, and that poverty of soul cannot be known by those who inherit the kingdom of heaven. Thou hast done so much for us; we did not know that the common dust could have been breathed into this immortality. We are thy miracles; we are thy proofs and epistles—may we read ourselves every line, and see thy writing in all the sacred message. Thou hast built a house for us which we call home—it is not little if our hearts be grateful; it is not too large if our love of God throw it into contempt. Thou hast made a business for us whereby bread comes plentifully and honestly—there is so much of it that we are surprised by the quantity; it is so sweet that we are pleased by the honesty that won it. Thou hast created for us a thousand centres of delight—the soil is full of wells which we never dug; the night-time glitters with lights that want to say something; and as for what we call the latter end, it is our mistake to call it by such a name, there are no ends in God; there is no death in Christ; all things are ours. We have come to praise thee, be cause in pain and in trouble thou hast healed us and comforted us, and out of sorrow thou hast brought joy. Again, by thy good hand upon up, we see the holy place. If thou hast shut us out of it for a time, truly the gates look wider than they ever looked, and there is a light in the house so pleasant, so hospitable! we never saw the like before. How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul hath a desire and a longing to enter into the house of the Lord. The accident in the family thou hast turned into a blessing; thou dost save us from the greater accidents by the little ones. We leave ourselves quite in thine hands. We would not sigh even in token of resignation; rather would we be quite breathless lest our very breathing should be a sin known to thyself alone. We put ourselves right in front of thee, not with the boldness of self-approval, but with the simple, loving trust of great sinners who have a great Saviour. Send us east or west—only point the direction. Give us the message, see that it is well wrought into our hearts, and then go with us and bring us back again. Lift us above all fear. What if the marketplace be murkier and noisier than ever before? it is as a fool's wrath, and will cry itself to peace like a great wind. What if we have not quite so much in the right hand this year as we had last? it is nothing to us; we are fools to have reckoned the sum; we ought to have lived in love. The Lord make us good warriors of his own—great soldiers, strong fighting men, alway remembering that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. The Lord keep us in his own way. May we be ready for war whilst we are still praying for peace. The Lord work out the mystery of our life, until we so see it as to praise God, from whom all blessings flow, praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
1. And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.
2. And the high-priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.
3. Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?
4. And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high-priest?
5. Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high-priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.
6. But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.
7. And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided.
8. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.
9. And there arose a great cry: and the Scribes that were of the Pharisees' part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.
10. And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.
11. And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.
12. And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul.
13. And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy.
14. And they came to the chief priests and elders and said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul.
15. Now therefore ye with the council signify to the chief captain that he bring him down unto you tomorrow, as though ye would enquire something more perfectly concerning him: and we, or ever he come near, are ready to kill him.
16. And when Paul's sister's son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle, and told Paul.
17. Then Paul called one of the centurions unto him, and said, Bring this young man unto the chief captain: for he hath a certain thing to tell him.
18. So he took him, and brought him to the chief captain, and said, Paul the prisoner called me unto him, and prayed me to bring this young man unto thee, who hath something to say unto thee.
19. Then the chief captain took him by the hand, and went with him aside privately, and asked him, What is that thou hast to tell me?
20. And he said, The Jews have agreed to desire thee that thou wouldest bring down Paul tomorrow into the council, as though they would enquire somewhat of him more perfectly.
21. But do not thou yield unto them: for there lie in wait for him of them more than forty men, which have bound themselves with an oath, that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him: and now are they ready, looking for a promise from thee.
22. So the chief captain then let the young man depart, and charged him, See thou tell no man that thou hast shewed these things to me.
23. And he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Cæsarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night;
24. And provide them beasts, that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor.
25. And he wrote a letter after this manner:
26. Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix sendeth greeting.
27. This man was taken of the Jews, and should have been killed of them: then came I with an army, and rescued him, having understood chat he was a Roman.
28. And when I would have known the cause wherefore they accused him, I brought him forth into their council:
29. Whom I perceived to be accused of questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bonds.
30. And when it was told me how that the Jews laid wait for the man, I sent straightway to thee, and gave commandment to his accusers also to say before thee what they had against him. Farewell.
31. Then the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul, and brought him by night to Antipatris.
32. On the morrow they left the horsemen to go with him, and returned to the castle:
33. Who, when they came to Cæsarea, and delivered the epistle to the governor, presented Paul also before him.
34. And when the governor had read the letter, he asked of what province be was. And when he understood that he was of Cilicia;
35. I will hear thee, said he, when thine accusers are also come. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod's judgment hall.
We sometimes pay compliments when we are not aware that we are paying them. We are made to pay tributes to power in the very act of appearing to despise it. Truly this man Paul disturbs and upsets everything. I do not know that he ever appeared to be socially greater than when he was sent to Cæsarea with "two hundred soldiers," "and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred"—so small a man, so "blear-eyed" that he could hardly see the high-priest in the council, so poor, with a back lacerated, with limbs bent with weariness. Yet now he begins to trouble governors and captains and kings; and to be made such a stir about. And they could not help it. When they laid their hands upon him he was not there; when they sent for him at night he had gone the night before; when they looked for him in the morning they found nothing in the prison but his footprints. This was a moth they could not crush. We have entered now into a new region of Apostolic history; we shall sometimes be almost amused by certain aspects of it—such great courts and such a small prisoner. Yet they can do nothing with the man—some little mouse always bites the net and lets the lion loose. We have been accustomed to great preaching and great missionary tours, great theological arguments; now we come into another kind of controversy. And yet there is just the same mystery about the man; he is like his Master—the only quiet man in all the tumult. Had he been noisier, they could have done more with him at their own will and fancy; but that ghostly serenity was very mocking and baffling. Paul had himself once been a member of the very council which he now addressed. What changes there are in life! He who was once one of the seventy-two now stood before the council a prisoner! He looks quite as well in the dock as he ever looked on the bench; but the remembrance of his once having been on the bench gives him his first sentence—"Men and brethren," that sentence began. Think of the criminal addressing the judge as a brother! Think of the criminal, as we know him nowadays, using any kind of familiar and endearing expression towards the incarnate Justice seated upon the bench! There is a mystery even in these things. The quality of men comes out at unexpected places. Paul was never less than the chief of the Apostles; in no company was there a greater man; wherever he came he was the cynosure of all eyes.
How proud his beginning with a humble pride! "I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day." He means to be great. Earnest speakers reveal themselves in their first sentence; they do not dally, grope about, hesitate, but swiftly and precisely come to the key-note which is to rule their music, however sublime its variation, however daring its vocal enterprise.
But goodness always awakens wickedness. The man presiding over the council was the embodiment of every crime that could defile personal character and debase official dignity. Josephus paints his portrait, and the portrait is one mass of darkness, and no later historian has ventured to add one touch of light to the infinite density. Hearing a man claim a good conscience, he was reminded of his own evil career; and we often seek to make ourselves virtuous by punishing what we believe to be, or apparently conceive to be, the claim of any other man to a good standing and spotless reputation. "Ananias commanded them that stood by Paul to smite him on the mouth." That is the only thing the bad man can do. He has no other shot in his locker; he can only strike, abuse, defame, and cause the innocent to suffer. It is the least power—it is not power; it is the weakness of fury and the fury of weakness.
Now we see quite a new aspect of Paul. He has borne so much that we thought he would bear everything right through to the last; but there was a priestism which Paul could not bear, so he exclaimed, "God shall smite thee, thou whited wall"—a mass of clay chalked over; that white robe is not a white character; the linen is fine, but it clothes a ferocious nature. Nor was this mere anger. Paul has been blamed for this little ebullition by men who themselves become angry seven days a week. But I would be found amongst those who applaud the sublime indignation. It was inspired by moral emotion and conviction. The reason of this anger is given: "For sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?" We are bound to defend eternal rectitude; sometimes in defending it we may only seem to be overtaken by human infirmity. It is right to be angry; it is a sin sometimes to appear to be satisfied when the heart is filled with a conviction that things are wrong. Always notice the reason of the anger, and you will find that reason to be not a merely personal one, as if personal pride had been made to suffer, but a moral one, and, therefore, a comprehensive one, and, therefore, the anger not of a man, but of the race of men. Paul speaks here not for himself only, but for every man, time through and the world over, who suffers wrongfully. The prophecy was fulfilled: the beast was slain; he was dragged out not long afterward and killed by vengeful hands.
It is curious to notice, and most instructive, how religious some people suddenly become. "They that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high-priest?" Hypocrites, every one! Ananias rose and fell in their estimation according to circumstances, which Ananias could not control. He was high-priest when it suited them; he was a common man when it suited their purpose to treat him so. They were conventionalists; they simply accepted the spirit of office and of ceremonialism, and did not care to inquire how far it connected itself with personal holiness and expressed personal worth.
In what follows Paul has been severely condemned. Some commentators even think that now Paul has proved himself to be but a man; great and good commentators have endeavoured to throw their robes over Paul, as if to screen him from the sight of those who would be only too anxious to discover a flaw in such fine porcelain. They need not have done so from my point of view; Paul needs no defence of mine. Said he, "I wist not, brethren, that he was the high-priest." We may read: "I did not sufficiently reflect that he was the high-priest." Or we may read it, as I think better still, ironically: "The high-priest breaking the law! The high-priest commanding something to be done which is contrary to the law! This cannot be the high-priest! I see a crowd of men dressed in white robes, and I hear a voice, but surely this cannot be, or it ought not to be, the voice of the high-priest. When high-priests break law, law must cease to be operative, or it will cease to be respected." Again Paul advances a moral reason—for that was the great battering-ram with which he delivered his most terrific blows. "For it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people." Mark the intellectual composure, the intellectual ability, and the courtliest gentlemanliness. Up to this point Paul has the best of it. They have made no impression upon him yet. They have struck him upon the mouth; they have resented his supposedly untimely rebuke, but he comes out of this fray without the smell of fire having passed upon him. Surely some one must be standing at his right hand whom we cannot see. There are mystic as well as palpable companionships in life. We also are compassed about. Hereafter Paul may say, "But the Lord stood by me." We must wait.
In Paul's action in the course of this trial and the subsequent proceedings, two things are clear. First, that it is lawful to break up unholy truces. What is the case? The Pharisees and the Sadducees have combined in a common cause, whereas the Pharisees and the Sadducees are themselves divided by the greatest possible differences. This we call an unholy compromise. Paul says, "I will break this up; I will divide this council and assembly; I will show that I am not the only person who has controversies with his contemporaries." "When Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he said, Of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question." This suggestion was effectual. The Pharisees and the Sadducees fell upon one another, and the Pharisees said, "We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God." It was a master-stroke; it was well delivered. We should not forget it in modern conflicts and impending controversies. We have in this country what is known as an Established or National Church—remember that on the one hand. On the other hand, we have a great number of Christian communions known as Nonconformist Churches. They hold that religion is personal, and is between man and his Maker; that no man should be compelled to support the religion of any other man; that men should be left at perfect liberty to obey the inspiration of individual conscience and individual love, in matters purely and unchangeably spiritual and moral. The Nonconformists, therefore, would be willing to disestablish the National Church, relieve it from State patronage and control, and would follow it with warmest prayer for enlarged spiritual success. Am I going to accept the help of an infidel, an atheist, an agnostic, or a blasphemer, in carrying out this sacred purpose? No. I will not be a party to the unholy truce, because the men who would assist in this work would not only disestablish the Church, but disestablish Christianity; therefore I say, "I will not have any common object with you that has in it any religious conviction or responsibility; I decline your co-operation; we cannot pray together, and therefore we cannot work together. Not only would you tear down the Church in its political and imperial aspects, you would deface the altar, you would burn the Bible, you would take down and hew to pieces the sacred Cross." Men vitally divided ought not to have any nominally common ends. If questions are merely political, the whole controversy will be settled accordingly; but where questions are first religious and then political, I decline to accept the co-operation of any man in such work with whom I cannot first pray. There is no Church, Established or Non-Established, holding the Deity of Christ and the infinite necessity and preciousness of the Atonement, to which I do not wish God-speed. There may be false relations, unhappy and undesirable arrangements as between some of those Churches and political facts, governments, and histories; but I for one will have nothing to do with the help of any hand which would tear the crown from my Master's head, if he could reach it. There arc those who can accept such aid, and I am not called upon to pronounce judgment upon them.
Secondly, that it is lawful to defeat unholy conspiracies. Forty men had bound themselves together neither to eat nor drink until they had slain Paul, and those forty men were eating and drinking all the time. Never believe in the oath of a bad man; his taking it dispossesses it of all that is solemn. Bad men cannot take an oath; it is the holy word. Have no confidences with bad men. If you have overheard their plots, go and publish them. You may not receive confessions of murder and say nothing about it. Confidence is a limited term. There is an eternal confidence that overrules all momentary compacts and promises. We owe something to the individual man; we owe more to the entire race of men. There are confessions and confidences we may, and must, gladly hide away in the heart, but they have no relation to policies and courses which would unhinge society and throw down civilization. Put every possible obstacle in the way of bad men; let them feel the hook in their jaw; let them feel that they are fighting against an infinite pressure; give them to know that the scorn of every noble man and every holy woman burns against them; give them to feel that they have no right to be in decent society; whenever they lift a hand may they feel a great weight upon it; report their doings; throw an intense focalized light upon the hell they are building. "My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not" Have no part or lot or memorial with them. Bring the ghostly element to bear upon bad men. Imagine the forty Jews baffled in their design and not knowing how they had been baffled! Said they, "Who knew about this? You have told!" "No; I never told," one of their number suddenly accused might reply. "The oath has been broken by some traitor," and nine-and-thirty voices reply to the fortieth, "No." "Then how is this?" There is the mysterious element in life, the anonymous force, the mischief that upsets our mischief. This is always God's purpose. The bad man lights his candle to be ready about the first hours of the morning, and when he awakes the candle is blown out and turned upside down! Says he, "Who did this?" And the midnight has no answer; the clock ticks on as if nothing had occurred; the bad man looks round and sees nought but emptiness. "How did this happen?" That is God's plan; we do not know how things happen. The great, heavy end of government is in God's hand. But something always does happen. How is that? We cannot tell.
Chapter 86 Prayer
Almighty God, we are thy guests today. Thou hast spread the table and sent forth thy messages of love and welcome, and we have answered them, and today we sit under thy roof, and thy banner over us is love. We would have no thought that is not becoming the house; we would be lifted up in spirit that we may praise the Lord in a fit song and worthily magnify his holy name. Thou knowest our need, and thou hast answered it in the Gospel of thy Son. Thou hast provided abundantly for us. In thy welcome there is no reserve; it is as broad as our necessity, as deep as our guilt; it is more than we can express in our poor words—an infinite love. We bless thee that we have any desires towards thyself, for they do us good. Their very passage through the soul cleanses it; they lift us up, they warm us with a new fire, they open our nature towards the best influences, they set the soul towards all the light of heaven. These desires are thy miracles; these impulses are heaven-born. This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. We might have turned wholly to the dust, and have sought under our feet the rest of beasts; instead of this we lift up our heads and thrust our hands out into the sky, aiming at great things as men struggling upward with noble endeavour, if, haply, we may attain the height of heaven. This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts. We would bless his name; we would ascribe praise without break or flaw to the great Three-One. Send into our hearts the Holy Ghost—"Come, Holy Ghost, our hearts inspire." Give us to feel the pentecostal glow; let us know what is meant by an unction from the Holy One. Fill our hearts until they overflow. Let thy truth be precious to us beyond rubies, beyond all things accounted precious by men. May we seek for wisdom as for silver that is hidden, and for understanding as for gold that can only be had for much labour. Thus shall our life, though little, be great, and, though short, be long, and the grave shall but begin our higher being, the dark place shall be the starting-point of our bright and immortal career. The Lord send Christmastide into our hearts. May Christ be born in us the hope of glory; may every heart be Bethlehem; may every life know the shining of the star to be swiftly succeeded by the brighter shining of the sun. Then shall our lives know jubilee; then shall our spirits break into gracious liberty; then shall we feel no shame in the fellowship of the angels, being made pure as they are through the blood of the living, dying, rising Son of God. We bless thee for all family mercies. We thank thee that the children are at home again, that the fireside is complete, that on the hearth there is no coldness by reason of absence, or break, or distress. Where there is such break we will not chide the Hand that made it; if we cannot praise, we will at least be silent with religious awe; where there is a great gap we will say, "The hand of the Lord did it, and it is well;" where there is great joy we will say, "This is the light of heaven—a candle set here by the hand divine;" where there is great darkness there shall be great resignation. The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh, the Lord reigneth. Let us kiss the rod, and put out our hand inquiringly and prayerfully towards him who uses it. We send our prayers and blessings after those who have gone from us for awhile. We will not account this a break-up; it is but the momentary separation that is made up for by redoubled love. Go with our friends to their homes here and there and yonder and far away, and make others glad as well as we, and throughout all the land may there be Christmas song, Christian psalm, utterance of praise and love, because he was born who cannot die, and in whose immortality we find our security of heaven. As for those who have no Christmas—to whom the year is one long winter—thou canst stand by them and speak to them in the night season, and in the prison thou canst cheer them with great visions, thou canst delight them with great satisfactions. They know not why they were born, nor can we tell them; we are dumb at the sight of their pain, we feel our own weakness when we touch their distress. But we neither began nor can we end the system of things in which we live—the Lord reigneth. As we stand at the manger-cradle we also stand at the Cross, for they are truly one—the incarnation is the atonement; the birth is the death; the death is the birth—the Life is one. So, come to us as we need thee, and make the day long; command the sun to stand still till we fight up to victory our great war with every enemy of the soul; and at night, after a long, strenuous battle, may we sleep like good knights of God. Amen.
Christian Consciousness: The Basis of Christian Argument
We have just looked at this incident from the purely human standpoint; let us now regard it from the Divine side. So regarding it, we must be instantly struck by the dark fact that in the most saintly lives there are moments of apparent desertion by God. Throughout these exciting events, where is the living Lord? The Apostle is brutally entreated; he is smitten on the mouth; he is thrust into prison; he is sent away as a criminal; he is tossed to and fro like a thing that has no friend. How is this? Is this the poor return for all the labour we have traced, for all the sorrow we have watched these many days? An angel in the dark heavens just now would be a sight that would confirm our faith. Some bright dazzling vision, making the great sky tremble with light, would have a happy effect upon our little souls. We feel the need of something; the reading is cold; the line wants the curve of beauty; the events need to be flushed with a new colour. Yet this is common history. We ourselves have been in exactly those spiritual circumstances. The trappings change—the incidents, the outer garments—but the inward fact abides as one of the unchangeable quantities in Christian consciousness and Christian education. God does stand afar off sometimes; he stood afar off in the olden time, and the Psalmist asked him why he stood there, millions of miles away, so far off as almost to cease to be in existence for all practical purpose and effect. Why does he not always stand close to the heart that has never struck but in his praise? Why does he turn his back upon the house in whose every room there is an altar built to him with most pious hands? We are Christian students, and we cannot deny the desertion. We have no wish to alter facts. There are times when we have no God; there are great empty hours in life in which the enemy might house himself with some comfort; there are whole days in which we cannot pray. There may be a year at a time almost when the Christian minister is no minister at all—only a dumb suppliant, only a man groping in darkness without hope of finding anything. If he be steadfast in those gloomy hours, he may come out suddenly quite renewed in strength, quite invincible in will and immortal in hope. What is this desertion? It may only be the sleep of the soul. Physiologists tell us the heart sleeps at every extreme of its oscillation. This desertion may only be the winter time in which God is giving the life deep rest, sweet sleep, and a time of recruital and renewal. Sleep is not death—the conscious absence of God is not atheism. We must learn to bear these vacancies; we cannot always be upon the mountain-top. It is part of our larger education that we should submit to these great yawning gaps, in which we have no fellowship with God that can be expressed in terms of joy. We are not Christians because we are in high moods, or in great raptures of soul, in ecstasies that outrun all speech and mock all articulate and coherent utterance. We may be silent Christians, dazed, bewildered, afflicted, deserted Christians. I am speaking now of broad effects; presently the relieving light will come—meanwhile, the great challenge is to memory, and the great appeal is to the hope that is not extinguished, but only moderated in its brightness. Do not hurry over the empty hours as if they were full—you lose a great deal by indecent haste. Why not take the hours that are in the hand and look at them and say, "These are empty of God as I usually understand that term; they are the trial of my life; they are the cold places in the course through which I pass; they may be open doors through which the devil may approach my soul"? We should be men enough in Christ Jesus to pass our gloomiest hours with a faith which, though it cannot sing, can even yet mutter some inarticulate prayer. Let us own that on the face of this chapter the enemy seems to have the advantage.
We are entitled to say, in the next place, that the desertion is apparent, not real; or temporary, not final. There is one verse, even in this dark chapter, that shines over all the rest like a lamp. That verse is the nth: "And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul." There are nights and nights. Tomorrow night is coming; this night is not the final darkness. Here begins what might be carried out into the strongest defence of some of the most precious truths in the theology of Christianity. This verse brings us face to face with the fact that Christian consciousness is the beginning of Christian argument. We do not understand the full range of the term consciousness as it is used in Christian speech. Consciousness is an individual term—that is to say, it describes personal, inward experience and knowledge. That is not a matter to be debated outside any other man, as if it were a question of terms and figures and symbols ascertainable and expressible to the eye of the body. You cannot complete any argument either for Christianity or against it if you ignore individual consciousness. Before you can destroy Paul's argument, you have to destroy Paul's character. That is the unanswerable defence of spiritual Christianity. We have not spent all these months in tracing the history of Paul without being able now to see that he is a man of great mental capacity, of distinct logical faculty, of almost unexampled practical common-sense; a great demonstrator; a great leader, a great soldier, and, as such, standing on the basis of that indisputable character, he says, "The Lord stood by me." Consider the character of the witness. You are not entitled to call such a man either false or mistaken without being able to produce evidence which will leave no doubt as to the correctness of your knowledge. The Christian argument is not a matter that can be settled upon paper. The Christian consciousness, which often has no words fit for its adequate expression, is the sanctuary in which these solemn questions, regarding the Christian evidences, must be determined. Elisha had the inner vision which saw the nearer army. Jesus Christ combined both the statements upon which we are now dwelling in one sublime utterance—said he, "I am alone, yet not alone: for the Father is with me." Of what avail is our contradiction of that statement? We must destroy the character before we can destroy the testimony. This is a good answer to all attacks upon the altar of prayer. You cannot say upon paper, or as mere logicians and question-answerers, whether prayer is answered or not; you must ask the suppliant, and he is the only witness who can be heard upon the question: "Has your prayer been answered?" When the suppliant can say "Yes," that settles the question. The appeal is not—believe me—to your little scholarship, or to your little criticism; you are not addressed at all upon this subject; you are in the outer circle of things; you are not. in the court at all; you have no locus standi. Here the man—the well-known man, the man with the solid character, and the sensible, penetrating mind—says, "My prayers have been answered." You could flippantly deny it; but you could as flippantly deny ten thousand assertions made by honest men. There is no argument in denial; you never can set a denial against the testimony of a Christian known to be thoroughly sound and good. We have been now so long with Paul that we have come to know somewhat about him. He has never been a weak man; he may have been, from the worldly point of view, self-careless, reckless, daring beyond what we should call the point of prudence: but a weak man—never. There has been no quiver in the emphasis of his voice; there has been no uncertainty in the tone of his declarations; he, therefore, steps into the witness-box and says, "The Lord stood by me." What is our answer? We are not asked for an answer; we are not invited to be critically clever in relation to that man's testimony. Perhaps we have neglected this department of the Christian evidences—namely: the department of Christian consciousness, inward spiritual conviction, communion and trust. We have listened to the tongue of the body, uttering with uncertain emphasis uncertain words; we have not listened to the tongue of the soul, speaking firmly, clearly, and with the penetration of personal conviction.
Here also we find, not only illustrations of the supreme argument for prayer, but illustrations also of the supreme argument for immortality. That is not a question to be determined by words and sentences, by logical fencing and by historical research; we must go by the instinctive nature as well as by the logical faculty. We cannot help to pray; we are bound to pray. As for our immortality, we know it; it is graven upon the very substratum of our life. We were immortal before we were mortal, and we are only mortal as a part of our immortality. These are contradictions in mere words, in narrow letters, but they admit of the completest reconciliation in that sacred consciousness which is the strongest defence of every Christian position.
We cannot look at this incident without seeing, in the next place, that the enemy is made to serve the cause he would destroy: "Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome"—and the enemy shall pay the expenses. The enemy is always forced into servitude; he thinks he is overturning the kingdom at the very moment he is unwittingly strengthening it in all its time-relations. God maketh the wrath of man to praise him. God has many servants, as well as those who were openly anointed on the plain, or secretly ordained in the high places of the hills. God has black servants; God has messengers, errand-bearers, menial attendants of every name and kind and size. A great host is God's; verily, he is the Lord of hosts. Everything is working for Christ, if we could only see it so; all secular progress is simply making a wider road for the chariot of Immanuel. The Christian cause had great difficulties at first—there is a shorter way from Jerusalem to Rome now than there was in the days of Paul. Paul did not go from Jerusalem to Cæsarea at his own charges. The invention of steam was an incident in the development of Christian progress. Christians ought to keep their eyes open. The moment there is a new way of travelling invented, the first traveller should be a missionary. The instant you can find a shorter way of communicating with the distant parts of the earth, you should send a Christian message through the new medium. That is done ceremonially on some great occasions—for example: when the cable is laid from Great Britain to any great country, the monarch of the one sends the first message to the monarch of the other, wishing, "God speed and God bless you, even you and your land." That is symbolical of what ought to take place. The ships are Christ's, and you have let other people use them first for merchandise, and the missionary has been stowed away somewhere as a thing not wholly welcome. "The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light." You can now travel what once took fourteen days in seven; what use is the Church making of that progress now? The Church has taken to merchandise, to ship-loading, to money-trafficking. There lies under the ocean a mysterious thread; what use is the Church making of that black thing? None. That is for politics, for stocks and shares—that thing so near being not a thing, but a thought—that separating line between the material and the spiritual. The Church is making no use of it; the Church is a dead carcase. I would have the Church buy up all the bad houses in London, and in the world, and make good places of them; I would have the Church advertise Gospel services in every newspaper in the kingdom; I would have the Church—alive! There is no deader thing unburied, in many respects and in many places, than the professing Church of Christ. It pursues its way, will stand still for anything, hide its head on any pretence, mumble its little hymn, hasten through its perfunctory prayer, and go home to forget it all. The Church is not the heroic force of this day, saying, "I must see Rome also." When the Church goes to see Rome, the Church goes in a tweed suit, in holiday attire, and chokes out of itself every trace and sign of its being a Church; the Church travels incog. Would God we were alive! We should buy up all the bad places, fill up all the rat holes; we should be alive, we should be mad! Yet some ministers have told me that they really dare hardly propose to publish even a small hand-bill announcing some special service. Who fails in that case? Not the man who wanted to publish the bill, but the men who prevented its publication. Let us know them, name them, blame them, point them out, and say, "These are the men that hinder the Christian cause." We have fallen into lackadaisical tempers and moods; we are not abreast of the age. If a man should now get a drum or trumpet, or tambourine, or anything with which to beat the devil on his own ground, he is called by unfriendly names. What is our calling in Christ? Is it to fall asleep, or to be the first force in society? If you make your Christianity a respectability, you are crucifying the very Lord you profess to adore. Let me call younger men to heroic temper and force and holy courage in this matter. Never mind the charge of madness; in his own day they said that Jesus had a devil, and that he was mad; and later on they said that Paul was beside himself. If we have fallen upon the cold and monotonous days, in which our religion is but a performance, and our worship but a ceremony an hour long, we are not advancing, we are retrograding; we are not awake, we are asleep. Let me say again and again—for herein would I find the very refrain of my ministry were I closing it today—if Christianity is not a passion supreme in the soul, it is the greatest mistake ever perpetrated by intellectual men. All the roads are being made for Christ. See the patent spade, and patent mattock, and patent roller, and patent steam engine—they say these things are being used for certain definite purposes; they know not what they say. Every turnpike is being made for Christ; every horse is being saddled for Christ; every mighty throb of steam is preparing to carry Gospel news to far-away places. Would God we had the sense of the children of this world!