Acts 27:32
The episode comprised in these few verses is full of startling effect. It displays human nature - that which is alike so one and so manifold - in this its latter aspect, rather than in the former. It invites us to look, to wonder, and, if wise, to be warned and learn in time. Let us notice the manifestation of human nature as made now by three varieties of people -

I. BY THE SHIPMEN. That is, by the "master and owner" of the ship (ver. 11), and evidently the officers and crew (ver. 27) of the ship. Every sentiment of honor, every plain demand of duty, called upon them to stand by their ship to the last, and to be the last to leave it. They now try to do all the reverse of this, competent to purpose it, and taken in the attempt to do it by craft, "under color" of doing something else. They reveal:

1. Cowardice. That they should fear was natural and a sign that nature had not gone callous in them. But cowardice began when they did not face to the end what had now some days been a common danger, one for which they were in part themselves answerable, which they could best meet, and which others must meet.

2. Selfishness. They try to save themselves,

(1) regardless of others who belonged to them, as if only so much freight;

(2) and yet worse, doubling the risk of them, by

(a) withdrawing their own professional help, and

(b) withdrawing the boat.

3. The unfaithfulness of the hireling. Seldom could there be found a more typical instance of this (John 10:11-13). They were hired, they "cared nothing" for the lives of those entrusted to their charge, and they did attempt to "flee."

4. The "wisdom in its generation" of human nature. For, baulked of their purpose, and baulked in a most transparent and peremptory manner, they are too "wise" to court lynch law; and they appear to follow the policy at once of saying nothing, and making the best of it. They fall into their places, and do whatever is to be done. So versatile can human nature be when it suits her.

II. BY PAUL. Paul under any showing was the character and the hero of the boat. We should not be content without knowing anything of him that opens to our view. A great deal does open to our view. He steps out not now for the first time since the storm began. It would be very far from the truth to say now that it was only human nature that we have the opportunity of seeing. No; the subordination of human nature was, perhaps, not yet perfect. Yet there was no willing strife (Romans 7:15-25), no great strife, no very distorting strife, between the human and the Divine in him.

1. Paul was the one calm watcher of everything that transpired.

2. His was the eye that read and that was then engaged in reading nature in others. It was in very deed, at any time, part of his office to do this very thing.

3. His was the eye that, so clear itself, detected the fraud, the would-be fraud of others.

4. His was the unfaltering tongue that declared it, though probably with no addition of safety to himself.

5. His was the mind conscious in its own rectitude and confident in God's truth and providence, that does not for a moment hesitate to expose itself to being taxed with certain theological inconsistency. Most positively and publicly had he committed himself to the statement that God had promised him himself and "all them that sailed with him." And yet he brings to the fore a condition, a new sort of proviso, and that one that postulated the help and co-operation of a number of godless and inhuman hirelings. These things all show, not only that the truest Christian need be no less a true man, but rather that it is only the true Christian who touches at all sufficiently the possibilities of the true man. For Paul the prisoner, on the way to trial, of many the despised, is nevertheless the man in every essential respect, in that boat, and succeeds in commanding not only a professed respect, but a practical obedience from all the rest.

III. BY THE ROMAN CENTURION AND SOLDIERS.

1. So soon as Paul has had his say, they see quickly, because their eyesight is keen by reason of the instinct of self-preservation.

2. They are not nice as to the source from which they derive their clue. Extreme peril has done a great deal to strip off from them all unnecessary artificiality, all dignified ceremony, all officialism and mere sense of authority. Nature itself stares them in the face, and puts not lispingly the alternative - Where may all these be very soon?

3. They act, act at once, and act trenchantly too. They cut off escape from the coward and the knave and the supremely guilty. Let what may be said to them, let what may be threateningly looked at them, they act, for so it is given to human nature to do in the last resort. And those who do not act in the presence of the solemn, supreme dangers of life, cutting off escape from the evil-doers, though these be themselves, are the men who will be left yet more "without excuse" for what is written in the book, in this threefold illustration of human nature in the presence of peril. - B.







Then the soldiers cut off the ropes.
S. S. Times.
1. By casting off the boat — the apparent means of safety — true safety in this case was secured. Thus many a soul is saved by giving up what it may have once esteemed most precious.

2. By assuming command, Paul on this occasion saved his companions. Let not the Christian shrink from taking the lead, when he can thereby bring others unto safety.

3. By partaking of food at such a time, Paul showed that eating may sometimes become a duty. God takes good care of our souls — He wants us to take good care of our bodies.

4. By giving thanks before he broke bread, on this occasion, Paul showed that there is always time to ask a blessing before even the most hurried meal. If we have time to eat at all, we have time to ask God's blessing on what we eat. At the worst, bodily dyspepsia is better than spiritual dyspepsia.

5. By trusting Paul, the ship's company was saved. By trusting Paul's Saviour, we may be saved. If we sail with Christ, and abide with Christ, we shall not see death. Because He lives, we shall live also.

6. By stopping when they bad "eaten enough," Paul's companions showed their good sense. By not stopping when they have eaten enough, many Christians show their bad sense of how to use God's blessings.

7. By casting overboard what they did not need, Paul's companions set a wise example of self-restriction. If to eat is a duty, to stop eating may become a duty. Even throw away the bodily supplies, if need be, that the soul may not suffer.

(S. S. Times.)

And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat.
Day after day had they been at the mercy of the pitiless winds and waves; night after night had added its darkness to their helplessness. Surely it was a time for prayer, for commending their souls to God, and imploring Divine protection. Yes; and I doubt not that Paul prayed most earnestly. But it was a time for more than prayer. He deemed it a time for paying heed to physical wants as well as for pious devotion. They lay there, held by the four anchors, and longing for the coming of day. There was little that they could do then. Yet they could do something. They could do what, in the excitement and fear and violent motion of the vessel, they had not suitably attended to for many days. They could repair in some slight measure the physical waste which each had suffered. They could do the thing best adapted to secure a favourable answer to their petitions: they could take food. And this Paul urges them to do. We are very much in the habit of thinking that the Bible is for soul culture simply; and hence men are liable to consider it strange if it is quoted as endorsing and requiring the care of the body. But we are to remember that religion is not simply soul culture: it is man culture. Some may say that religion aims to teach men to glorify God. But how can we glorify One whose gifts we are contemning and abusing? And the body is as much a gift of God as is the soul. To knowingly violate the Divine order written in the physical constitution is as really to rebel against God as it would be if one violated a law of the Decalogue. Therefore, by this definition of the purpose of religion — that it is intended to teach us to glorify God — we are required to attend to the preservation of the body. But, further, upon this definition there is much misapprehension as to the way in which God is glorified. Our blessed Master in religion has taught us that this is done not simply by psalm singing; for He has told us, "Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." Therefore God cannot be glorified by anything which needlessly dwarfs the faculties, or cramps the energies, or incapacitates man for doing his full measure of work. Therefore we are again brought back to our conclusion: that, if religion is intended to fit us to promote God's glory, it necessarily has to do with the care of the body. But is it to define religion more accurately to say that its purpose is to advance men in holiness? Holiness ought not to be limited to a certain reverent attitude of the mind, or to sanctity, or to purity of heart and freedom from sin. We pronounce it "hol-i-ness": we perhaps should more readily realise its early significance if we pronounced it "hol-ness" (wholeness); and undoubtedly we should do well if we added to the ideas of purity and freedom from sin which it now conveys to us the idea of the symmetrical development of the whole being. While we remain here, the body is a part of our being, and an exceedingly important part. And now permit me, as I go on, to be a little more definite. If we are called to make our lives valuable to any persons on earth, certainly those nearest us have the first claim. If any one of us has a right (which I deny) to throw himself away physically, he has no right to throw away his child. If he has a right, by imprudence or excess, to bring sickness upon himself, he has no right to prepare beforehand an inheritance of feebleness or disease for his unborn offspring. On a certain day in the past you may have felt most profoundly the truth that neither fame nor position nor wealth can compensate for lack of health. And yet it may be that a moment's reflection would reveal to you that you are now daily, in the general conduct of your life, sacrificing the greater for the less — saying (and that very often), "I know that this will hurt me, but still I am going to eat a little of it"; or, "I know that this is dangerous, but still I'll do it this once and run the risk." The care of health is a duty. Those of us who mean to fulfil our obligations need often to enlarge our ideas of the breadth of the field of duty. We despise what we know about the value of oxygen; and, if compelled for present comfort to live during the summer chiefly in the fresh air, still do not, except on extraordinary occasions, suffer any of it to reach the bottom of the lungs. We treat cleanliness as a matter of decency, and not as a matter vital to health. Those cooks who are deemed among the best seem to pay little regard to the healthfulness of the viands they prepare. Many are utterly unacquainted with the sanitary usefulness of society, good cheer, merry amusements, and a hearty laugh. All these things should be made studies by us, as parts of the great whole of duty which we wish lovingly to perform.

(J. E. Wright.)

O wise Paul! — how many ills of the mind can be met, how many perils faced, how many sorrows tided over, by due and rational attention to the claims of the stomach and the equilibrium of the nervous system! How many cases which come to the vestry of the clergyman are more fit for the doctor's consulting room! How often in the house of death to the bereaved, to the watcher, might the clergyman, instead of overloading the patient with spiritual consolation, instead of feeding the wasting fire of grief with too much oil of sympathy, more wisely say to the exhausted and overwrought and weary friends and relatives, in the simple and homely words of Paul, "I pray you to take some meat, for this is for your health." And even as Paul spake he began to eat before them — his courage, good sense, example were infectious. A change passed over the trembling crew. "There shall not a hair of your head fall," continued the great missioner; and he pointed heavenwards to the source of his prophetic consolation and good hope, "giving thanks to God in the presence of them all!" "Then were they all of good cheer."

(H. R. Haweis, M. A.)

I. SOCIAL CONSIDERATENESS. The emaciated appearance of all on board, through lack of food, touched Paul's generous heart (ver. 33). The alarm and anxiety of the past fourteen days and nights had, according to a physiological law, deadened their appetite. Paul, with the tact of a practical philosopher, sought to resuscitate their inclination for food by allaying their fears: "For there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you." This social considerateness Paul often displayed in his conduct and teaching, and it is an essential attribute of Christianity. "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."

II. CALM SELF-CONTROL. He was in the midst of the most agitating scenes — the furious hurricane — the reeling, plunging, shattered ship — the 276 terror-stricken men — yet how sublimely calm this man is (ver. 35)! A finer picture of moral majesty can scarcely be conceived. The philosophy of his tranquillity was faith in that God whose he was and whom he served.

III. PRACTICAL RELIGIOUSNESS. "He gave thanks to God in presence of them all." This was according to the Christian practice (Matthew 15:36; Matthew 26:27; John 6:11-23; Romans 14:6; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Corinthians 11:24; 1 Corinthians 14:17; Ephesians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:18).

IV. COMMANDING INFLUENCE. What he said and what he did struck new energy into the heart of all (ver. 36). He animated all with the energy of hope. A soul strong with goodness can energise others.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

Nothing that God has made is to be despised; least of all this body that now holds us. It has in it all the wonder and glory of creation, and is an epitome of all previous creations — a harp of more than a thousand strings; it is so strong it can level mountains; so fine that in its automatic skill it almost thinks; so nearly spiritual that we cannot see where sense joins thought; so coarsely material that chemical law runs riot in it; a mere forge for the fire of oxygen, yet so delicate that it reflects in every turn and gesture the spirit and temper of the mind; so one with us that if it is sound we can hardly fail of being happy, and if it is weak we can hardly fail of being miserable; so one with us that we cannot think of ourselves as separate from it, yet are conscious that it is no part of us — such a thing as this is not to be despised or treated otherwise than as sacred. We have hardly any more imperative work than to secure for the body its highest possible vigour and health. How to feed and clothe and house it; how to use it; how to keep it safe from weakening and poisoning gases; how to secure that rhythmic action of its functions that turns physical existence into music — this is the immediate question before civilisation, the discussion of which will drive out much of the vice of society and revolutionise its systems of education. The gospel of the body is yet to be heard and believed.

(T. Munger, D. D.)

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