"BE OF GOOD CHEER, FOR THERE STOOD BY ME THIS NIGHT THE ANGEL OF GOD, WHOSE I AM, AND WHOM I SERVE, SAYING, FEAR NOT, PAUL, THOU MUST BE BROUGHT BEFORE CAESAR, AND LO, GOD HATH GIVEN THEE ALL THEM THAT SAIL WITH THEE."
What a ring there is in the words, "Whose I am, and whom I serve." How Paul delighted in the fact that he was the servant of God. Often he used to say, "Paul, a servant of God," or rather "Slave of God," for that is what it means. And is it not still true that
SERVICE IS THE BADGE OF SONSHIP?
A man has no right to call himself a child of God who does not work for Him. Was it not so with Christ himself? Did He not, even when a boy, say, "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" and the work of God is the delight of the heir of God. We do not join the church merely for what we can get, but for what we can do. How is it with you? Do you say, "What can I do?" That's the way Paul began -- "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" Too many of us think -- How can I enjoy myself? What can I do to increase my happiness? If we would prove that we are the legitimate children of God, we must find out the best way of carrying out the wishes of God. If we set Christ before us as our example -- and after all He was the best servant His Father ever had, for while He was in this world He went about doing good, and we could have tracked His footsteps by the cessation of suffering, and the increase of comfort -- let us set about the same work. It is our business, if we would live godly, to dry up tears, and make smiles take the place of groans. If you are not at this glorious employment, begin to doubt if after all you are one of the elect. There are numbers of low-spirited Christians who would soon be among those who dance for joy if only they would look out for the one nearest to them who is sad, and who requires sympathy and help.
What should you think of a man who wore the Queen's uniform, and yet who fought in the rank of her enemies; or if he did not fight against his own countrymen, assisted the foe to get provisions and ammunition? But this is the position of some who call themselves Christians. If they do not oppose Christianity in person, they help on the other side, and by the way they spend their money, and occupy their time, put all their influence in the wrong scale. Depend upon it when wages are paid, we shall find that each Master will claim those who served him. We know where Paul will be that day. Let us be in the same crowd!
While all this is true, we must not forget that
SERVICE BEINGS STORMS.
If Paul had been the kind of Christian some of us are, he would have had a much easier time of it. However, that was not what he looked for. He did not want his heaven in this world, and so he had a rough time. Depend on it we are not going to have too much heaven down here, if we are to be crowned with immortality some day. There were in Paul's day not a few who escaped peril by being polite to the devil and all his crew, but that is something you and I cannot afford to do. John Wesley might have become a "College Don," and have flourished at Oxford, and perhaps if he had been strong enough of body, become an authority as to the quality of port wine. Who knows? There was a suit of purple and fine linen for him, if he would have worn it, instead of the rusty black cassock he was obliged to wear. But, then, he chose affliction with the people of God, and won by hard work a place among the four-and twenty elders who sit nearest to the Lamb.
And it holds true yet that if we will only be quiet and give Satan a bit of peace he will let us alone. Why could not Paul have been still, he would have kept out of that doomed ship; and so with thee my brother, thou mayest have a quiet life if thou wilt only pray less and be content to allow sin to have its own way. What are you most like? A barge or a brig? For there are some Christians whose course through life is like a canal-boat's path, smooth and level, with nothing more exciting than a lock, while others have to put out to sea and run the risk of tempest and wreck. Yet who does not feel that there is a nobility about a sailor which a bargeman cannot claim? Besides there's no room for promotion aboard a "flat," no more than there is the likelihood of a storm.
As we read this story we feel that Paul was the true master-mariner that day. His angelic visitor lifted him to command, and this leads us to say,
"STORMS CANNOT SEPARATE US FROM HEAVEN."
"The angel stood by me." He made no mistake, he flew to the side of the real Commander, and it is sweet to know that come what will, nothing can come between us and the God we serve.
What a different man Moses was when he stood by the Red Sea, to what he was when he was before the burning bush. Here are the sheep patiently and quietly browsing, there is the angry mob crying out "Were there no graves in Egypt?" Here there is the sign of God from whence comes the voice, "I have surely seen the affliction of My people," but yonder is the pillar of cloud shewing the way over the waves of the yet undivided sea. How much more noble is the Moses of the people than the Moses of the sheep! It is true that he had to encounter the storm, but then there was the triumph waiting to succeed the tempest. He who fears the contest should not covet the crown, but let the man who means to wear the conqueror's diadem know that in the fiercest part of the struggle the Lord Himself shall cheer His man! Besides,
STORMS CANNOT ALTER THE PROGRAMME.
God meant Paul to appear before Caesar. He was a notable illustration of the saying of Solomon, "Seest thou a man diligent in his business, he shall stand before kings." Paul, the slave of God, made judges tremble, and his chained hands ruffled the imperial purple. If only we sail with Jesus, storms become our slaves. The Lord meant to have Christianity planted at Malta, and therefore Euroclydon must drive the wreck to that shore, but still en route to Rome. Take the so-called misfortunes out of the history of religion, and you put it back into commonplace. Persecution has pushed on the cause it has striven to hinder, and heroes are made by hindrances. "Why do the heathen rage? The Lord shall have them in derision." This was never so true as it was when the time came for Jesus to die. It seems as though Satan would have made a good Socinian. He saw not in the Scripture either the Saviour's Divinity or His atoning work, and so he hastened to have Him slain, and thereby carried out the programme of God. Have you ever noticed the prayer that was offered when the servants of God returned from jail? (See Acts iv.26 28). The enemy "gathered together to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done!" It shall yet be seen that no one has done so much for the truth as he who was a liar from the beginning!
IT PAYS TO RIDE WITH JESUS CHRIST'S MEN.
The angel brought the message, and Paul soon gave it out to all abroad: "GOD HATH GIVEN THEE ALL THEM THAT SAIL WITH THEE." It is yet true that religion is a great enemy to waste of life. Give us men who serve Christ to be our servants, and we need less police and a smaller fire brigade. Let Christ be King, and hospitals will not be needed as they are now. If Jesus is Lord, the alms-house would take the place of the Union. There is less peril where there is piety. Every man aboard the ship was to be saved, because Paul was there. Danger waits on the disobedient, but Providence yet says to the good, all shall come safe to land who sail with Paul.