Acts 28:1
In these few verses we have a graphic picture of some of the experiences of our life and of the instincts or intuitions of our nature.

I. A PICTURE OF THE HUMAN.

1. Human suffering.

(1) Trouble. Doubtless the first sentiment on escaping death by shipwreck is intense gladness and gratitude, But the next is the consciousness of loss. The man who lands on the island after battling with the waves first congratulates himself and (if he be a devout man) thanks God that his life is preserved; then he realizes what he has left behind him; and he soon becomes conscious of the exposure to which he is subjected - he allows himself to be troubled "because of the present rain, and because of the cold" (ver. 2). It is not shipwreck only, but many other kinds of wreck which plunge men "into the cold," into adversity, into bereavement of the good which they had enjoyed.

(2) Sickness (ver. 8).

2. Unspoiled human nature. Such is the dire effect of long-continued, sin upon the soul, that it often happens that nearly every vestige of the goodness with which our Creator first endowed us disappears. As God made us, it was natural that we should compassionate our fellows in misery, and that we should be grateful to them for their help. Only too often, however, man is found pitiless and thankless. The shipwrecked mariner is murdered as he strikes the shore; the benefactor reaps no blessing, no honor for his kindness. Not so, however, here. Here was

(1) pity, "the barbarous people showed no little kindness" (ver. 2). Here, also, was

(2) gratitude (ver. 10).

3. An ineradicable human conviction. Underlying the conclusion to which these natives of Malta came (ver. 4), was the conviction, common to our kind, that sin merits punishment and will be overtaken by it. This is a fundamental and ultimate principle; we need not try to account for it or to "get behind it." It is sufficient in itself; it is a conviction that comes from the Author of our spiritual nature, which will not be dislodged, which itself accounts for much that we think, say, and do - that sin deserves penalty, and sooner or later must bear it.

4. A human error, common to the unenlightened. A narrow mind and one unillumined by the teaching of God makes a great mistake in applying the truth just stated; it infers that any particular misfortune is referable to some special sin (ver. 4; see John 9:3; John 7:24). It also falls into error of a similar kind, though conducting to an opposite conclusion - it infers that a man who has an extraordinary escape is a special favorite of Heaven (ver. 6). Taught of God, we know that, while sin brings penalty, inward and circumstantial, and while righteousness brings Divine regard and honor, God often permits or sends suffering and sorrow in fatherly love for the promotion of the highest well-being (Hebrews 12:5-11). We have also here -

II. THE MANIFEST PRESENCE OF THE DIVINE. Christ was present:

1. In the person of his apostle. That teacher of truth who had been so influential a passenger on board ship (Acts 27.), and who makes himself so useful now (vers. 3, 8, 9), is there in his Master's Name, and on his Master's work.

2. In the exercise of benignant power:

(1) protection from harm (ver. 5, and Mark 16:18);

(2) exercise of healing power (vers. 8, 9, and Mark 16:18). We may learn three special lessons.

(a) That true dignity is never above usefulness, even of the humblest kind; a Paul may gather sticks in time of emergency without losing honor.

(b) That Christian generosity must not be behind native kindness.

(c) That bodily benefit is an admirable introduction to spiritual help. Who can doubt that Paul used the gratitude and honor which he reaped (ver. 10) to find a way for the truth of Christ to the minds and hearts of the Maltese? - C.







And when they were escaped then they knew.
! — A great many things are clearer today than they were last night. Tomorrow will clear up some of the mysteries of today. Weird shapes of the darkness take a matter-of-fact form when the sun rises. Doubts and fears which oppress us during the storm are found to be baseless after the clouds are scattered. This ought to comfort us when we most need cheer. What we do not know now, we shall know hereafter. If now we see as in a glass darkly, we shall then see face to face; we shall then know even as we are known. In our patience possess we our souls. "Here is the patience and the faith of the saints."

(H. C. Trumbull, D. D.)

That the island was called Melita.
I. THE VALUE OF HOSPITALITY.

1. Esteemed and practised even by the heathen.

2. Much more suitable and blessed among Christians.

II. THE PERNICIOUSNESS OF SUPERSTITION.

1. How it is united with all manner of uncharitableness.

2. How it leads to all manner of idolatrous worship.

III. THE HOME THAT THE CHRISTIAN FINDS EVERYWHERE. Everywhere —

1. He experiences the love of God.

2. He finds loving hearts.

3. He has the opportunity of doing good.

4. He is respected and honoured.

(Lisco.)

S. S. Times.
I. THE APOSTLE SURVIVING. Lessons: The Christian worker —

1. Often receives better treatment from the lowly than from the great. Paul was assaulted by the Jews, and assisted by the barbarians; Christ was accepted by many of the people and rejected by their rulers.

2. May be called to testify before kings; again, he may be called to pick up sticks to build a fire: and circumstances may make the two tasks equally noble in God's sight. "Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws, makes that and the action fine."

3. Must expect that vipers of opposition will come out to fasten upon his hands so soon as those hands are occupied in earnest Christian work.

4. Must shake off these vipers of sinful opposition even as Paul shook off this viper. And he must be careful even as Paul was to shake the viper into the fire, where it can do no further harm.

5. Will be misjudged by appearances, just as Paul was. Happy is that Christian whose righteousness is attested by the fact that the vipers of sin cannot harm him!

6. Who in this sinful world shakes off the deadly vipers of sin and feels no harm, need assuredly feel no harm from the petty bites of those who call him "murderer," or "bigot," or "fanatic."

7. Wins final respect, if he is faithful. The world will in the end call him godly, even as it called Paul "a god."

II. THE SUFFERERS REVIVING.

1. Blessings come through association with the godly.

2. Blessings come beyond our expectation when they come from God's hand.

3. Blessings come in no sense as a repayment, but in a certain sense as a remembrance, of righteousness. Publius befriended Paul, and was in turn himself abundantly blessed.

4. As Paul prayed for the fever-smitten body of Publius's father, we should pray for the sin-sick souls about us.

5. As Paul brought new life to these island dwellers, so we should endeavour to bring a new spiritual life to all those with whom we come in contact.

6. As the islanders honoured him who brought them bodily healing, so should we honour those who make it their special effort to bring spiritual renewal — the ministers, the missionaries, all the devoted workers for Christ.

(S. S. Times.)

1. It is an ill wind which blows nobody good. Here is a case in point. The sailors regarded it an ill wind that wrecked their ship, but had it sunk them in mid-ocean it would have been a worse wind. It blew good to the islanders, for they got healing for the body and gospel for the soul. It blew good to the apostle, for he was received with an angel's welcome and became a dispenser of rich blessings. Indeed, can we call any wind an ill one? The stormy wind is ever fulfilling God's word. It is better than the south wind blowing softly, but often bringing peril. "Mysterious providences" is a phrase we ordinarily affix to unpleasant things, but in the light of accomplished facts our view of what is good or ill may be corrected. Our partial knowledge leads us to misjudgments. Wait till tomorrow. All will be well. Impatience is rebuked by the revelations of Providence.

2. Luke speaks here of "barbarians," a people who did not speak Greek. We Englishmen have something of this feeling towards aliens, but we call it "patriotism." Worst of all is this clannish spirit when shown by some portion of the Church who say, "The temple of the Lord are we!" The Lord Jesus requires us to put away such exclusiveness. "No common kindness" was shown by these "barbarians," who were really friends, aye, Christians in a large sense, for did they not realise the Spirit of the Master? "I was ahungered," etc. I'd rather stand with them, at last, than with many robed and titled ones.

3. To feed the welcome fire and strengthen the blaze, Paul gathers wood in his hands. Those hands were always ready for service: to gather golden coin to the coffers of the Church, or to make tents for his own support; to raise the dead, or gather converts to Christ; to quell a mob, or, "beckoning," hold an audience with a wizard's spell. He now gathered sticks, for he was all things to all men, and had no respect for the "blue blood" which looks disdainfully on meaner men. He flung the faggots on the fire, and soon a frozen viper warmed by the heat, leaped forth and fastened itself on the apostle's hand.

4. The bystanders infer that Paul is a criminal, saved from the flood to die by the viper's fang. Notice, that even heathen have a conviction of the retributive justice of God. It is only the civilised fool who says, "No God," and he says it in his heart. How ready people are to jump at conclusions. Paul's chain settled the fact that he was a guilty criminal, and so we unjustly judge the accused and arrested before he is proved culpable. The innocent are often overshadowed. Charity "believeth all things." The proverb is, "We guess eggs when we see egg shells," but there is a barn-door fowl as well as a cockatrice. Isaac Watts advises us always to "Endeavour to believe a story to be wrong which ought to be wrong." Remember the moral effect upon ourselves of the judgment we pass upon others.

5. The viper on Paul's hand produced no fatal harm. Paul "must stand before Caesar." Neither the high priest, the Jewish Parliament, the conspirators, the devil himself, the storm-lashed Mediterranean Sea, nor the venomous viper, can prevent his going to Rome. So we are going to heaven, and God is our continual guard. All nature is used by Him for our good and we need not fear.

6. There are different classes of vipers. Ingratitude is one. Its fangs are sharp, but may be shaken off. Slander is another. It would be venomous if its power were as good as its will.

7. But integrity comes out unharmed. The barbarian cried out, "He is a god!" It would have been truer to say, "He has a God." That was the secret of his safety. Have you one? If God be for us, who or what can be against us?

(J. Jackson Wray.)

Observe here —

I. THE NATURE AND REWARDS OF HOSPITALITY. It is a comfort to find that all races do not art the part of plunderers. This event occurred before the civilising influences of Christianity had been felt.

1. Hospitality is called forth by misfortune. A feast spread for those who daily sit at one is little worth as a token of regard. It is all well enough to bid our rich neighbours now and then, if not thinking thereby to show a noteworthy virtue. But the world is full of the wretched and the hungry. Stranded at our very doors we cannot but see them. These, and not the full, elicit everything that deserves to be known as charity.

2. The hospitable provides for the needy of what he himself has. In this instance it was the cheering, invigorating warmth of a great fire, and the gathering of the drenched and shivering castaways around it. Afterwards, it was doubtless the bringing food and clothing, and providing shelter. The grace of hospitality is within the exercise of all. Few homes are so barren that from them relief may not go forth to brighten some wan face, some famished body, some cheerless spirit. The street gamin, sharing his crust and tattered blanket with his mate, who is not so rich, illustrates the virtue. It is an old proverb, "When one poor man relieves another, God Himself laughs for joy."

3. Hospitality is bestowal without thought of return. It is self-forgetful. What gain could these islanders expect from the impoverished mariners? The fact of inability to repay begets in the donor the greatest satisfaction. Jesus pointed out, "those who cannot recompense thee," for us to seek with saving offerings.

4. There are, however, rewards in waiting for all who obey the noble prompting. The father of the governor was seriously ill. Paul, hearing of it, went to him with remedies of which no medical school knew. The cure was immediate and complete. The news spread. The diseased from every quarter flocked about the wonder worker, and went away healed. To save the ill-fated boat's company was to save themselves, though ignorantly. So always, by methods we could never predict, the return for any deed of real hospitality is made. The cup of cold water given in a disciple's name, insures the reward.

II. THE FOLLY OF HUMAN JUDGMENT. A viper fastens on to the apostle's hands, "He is a murderer," say the bystanders, "No, see he shakes it off unhurt — he is a god." People are still under the impression that signal calamity finds its deserving victim, and ask, "What has he done to merit it?" Equally true is it, when by some unparalleled act one seems to be lifted out of the sphere of ordinary life, the multitudes are ready to bow down before him. The successful general, politician, merchant, scholar, is gazed at as if the secret of his mastery lay in supernatural gifts. The mistake of trusting the common opinion is plain. We rely more than we know upon our prejudices. Our tribunals are seldom fair. Often the impartial verdict of history shows how fallible the earlier judgment was. Hence modesty, rather than assurance, is becoming when we pronounce upon another's doing or purpose, when all the details have not been open to us.

(D. S. Clark.)

Here we have: —

I. MEN GETTING OUT OF ONE TROUBLE ONLY TO GET INTO ANOTHER. There is a mysterious law of succession in the difficulties of human life. "It never rains but it pours." There is a mystery of grace also in this succession. We do not know the best side of trouble until we have had a great deal of it. One trouble is of no use. You must get into the rhythm of sorrow, the rise and fall of the melody of discipline. It is marvellous how trouble can make the house comfortable with a strange sense of its being there at Heaven's bidding and under Heaven's order. It is not so with the first trouble — that always upsets a man. The second trouble is accepted in rather a better spirit; then the third comes like an expected guest. "It is better" — when trouble has wrought out its most sacred mystery — "to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting." Different nationalities have different salutations. The Greek would say, "Rejoice"! He lived in the region of the senses; he delighted in high art, in high feasting. The Hebrew spoke in a nobler bass; he said, "Peace be with you"! The Hebrew was the man of soul, the man of tragic experience. So trouble leads us into these deeper mysteries of experience; it takes away the merry shout, but fills the mouth with a nobler salutation. So Christ, in all His sorrows, said, "My peace I give unto you."

II. THE ROUGH JUDGMENTS WHICH MEN ARE ALWAYS PRONE TO PASS UPON MEN. When the viper fastened on Paul's hand, the simple Punic people said, "No doubt this man is a murderer," etc. Alas! how many murderers there would be if we had to judge of sin by apparently penal circumstances! How ready we are to form the ungracious judgment of one another Who ever failed in business, even in the most honourable way, without some friends knowing that this very collapse would take place, and without their taking morals from it intended to magnify their own better business capacity? Who ever pitied the man upon whom the viper fastened? Be more discriminate in judgment. Christ would see in the very worst man something to recognise, in a way that would give him another chance. There is no man quite so bad as he appears to be, even though the viper be on his hand. But some men do not look out for the mitigating qualities. Circumstances are sometimes against men. We have seen the viper of a false accusation fastening upon the hand that never did mischief to a human creature. I would pray for the spirit that pities the hand, rather than praises the viper; that would rather be deceived than willingly accept the ungenerous judgment. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

III. THE MYSTERY OF INTUITIVE RELIGION. It would seem as if religion were born in the human mind and heart. Here is a sense of a Presence in the universe that means righteousness. The heart instinctively says when wrong is done, "This must be punished." Christianity never uproots that, but sanctifies it. Who wrote that law? It is written upon the tablets of the mind by an invisible penman. The universe is against murder. We cannot give up the thought that the bad man will one day have the worst of it. The universe would fall to pieces if we could relinquish that doctrine.

IV. A POINT OF PROGRESS IN THE RELIGION OF THESE BARBARIANS. They who could not understand a sermon could comprehend the treatment of a viper, and reason upon it. They were observant people: they made religious deductions from ordinary facts (ver. 6). What was this? A direct contradiction of so-called experience. Here was the greater law setting itself in noble sovereignty over the common daily law. They were a frank people; they had attained a high point in education, in being able to shake out of the mind prejudices which opposed themselves to the startling fact which immediately appealed to their vision. If we could persuade modern nations to act in the same way, we should have no unbelievers. If every viper shaken off the hand proved the nobleness of the character so destroying it, and led to the higher reasoning that such a character is a Divine creation, we should have no theological controversy. All Christian history may be summed up in this one line: that the Christian hand has always shaken off the viper and flung it into the fire. It is part of the great original mystery; "the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head." The viper is on us now; the poison has touched the red current of the blood; but, by the grace of Christ, we will shake it off, and it shall be destroyed.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

an expressive representation of the heathen world.

I. IN THEIR NEED OF REDEMPTION.

1. Their dark superstition (vers. 4-6).

2. Their manifold misery (vers. 8, 9).

II. IN THEIR CAPABILITY OF REDEMPTION.

1. Their friendly hospitality (ver. 2).

2. Their dim knowledge of God (ver. 4).

3. Their lively susceptibility for the impressions of the Divine (ver. 6).

4. Their earnest desire of assistance (ver. 9).

5. Their childlike gratitude (ver. 10).

(K. Gerok.)

The world is foolish —

1. In its uncharitable judgments (ver. 4).

2. In its favourable judgments (ver. 6).

3. Therefore, undisturbed by the judgments of the world, do thy duty, and be not weary in well doing (vers. 7-10).

(Lisco.)

It is common to regard all men outside of Christendom as utterly destitute of goodness. This is untrue to fact, and a libel on human nature. Observe in these barbarians: —

I. A SYMPATHY WITH HUMAN SUFFERING (ver. 2, 9).

1. This social love dwells in men of every colour and clime. How can this be maintained, it may be said, in the presence of cannibalism, human sacrifices, bloody wars, etc.?(1) These cruelties are perversions of this very social sympathy.(2) The very existence of tribes implies it; men could not exist at all in unity without this social and kindly affection.(3) Cruelties exist even in Christendom, where this goodness is patent to all.

2. That this kindly sympathy does, as a rule, exist in all hearts, however deeply sunk in ignorance and depravity, is proved —(1) By modern travellers. Livingstone found it in the dark regions of South Africa.(2) By the Bible. The Bible is a revelation of love, and unless men have the element of love in them. they would be as incapable of understanding it or feeling its power as the ravenous beast. You may as well bring the magnet to clay as take the gospel to men who have no love in them.

II. A SENSE OF RETRIBUTIVE PROVIDENCE (vers. 3, 4). Here is a fine subject for a picture. This sense of the connection between crime and punishment is so universal that it must be regarded as instinctive. It is a feeling that underlies all religions. Their mistakes were —

1. That punishment for crime came in a material form. Men have ever thought thus. The fall of the tower of Siloam was thought to be a judgment, and so now is the burning down of a theatre: whereas nature in her operations pays no attention to moral distinctions. Vipers will sting apostles as well as apostates.

2. That it followed flagrant crimes only. "This man is a murderer." But there is a spirit which often possesses men, that calls for greater punishment even than a material murder.

III. A FAITH IN A SUPREME BEING (vers. 5, 6). The rapidity with which these men changed their opinion concerning Paul is only an example of that fickleness of soul which ever characterises the uncultured. The most noteworthy point, however, is, that what brought up to them the idea of God was the marvellous. The natural tendency of the viper's sting was death. Because Paul did not die, they thought him "a god." They felt that the laws of nature could only be counteracted by God. It was in the wonderful, not in the good, that they saw God. Thus men generally feel. Conclusion: Several things may be fairly deduced from this subject: —

1. The identity in authorship of human souls and Divine revelation. The grand rudimental subjects of the Bible are love, retribution, God; and these are written on the human heart. What Christ put into His book, he put first into the soul, and thus He is "the Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world."

2. The impossibility of atheism ever being established in the world. Systems that are inconsistent with the intuitions of the human soul can never stand. The human soul is essentially religious.

3. The responsibility of man wherever he is found. The heathens, with this inner light of goodness, are bound to walk according to their light.

4. The duty of missionaries in propagating the gospel. Let them not ignore the good in the human heart, but —

(1)Recognise it.

(2)Honour it.

(3)Appeal to it.

(4)Develop it.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

Twice St. Paul came in contact with barbarians — twice he was counted as a god. Once at Lystra — once here at Melita. It is the Carthaginian or Phoenician religion which moulded the barbarian life that we examine.

I. BARBARIAN VIRTUES.

1. Two errors have been held on the subject of natural goodness.(1) That of those who deny to fallen man any goodness at all. This is the effect of a system. No man in his heart believes it. Men are better than their creed. We find here the natural barbarian virtues of hospitality and sympathy. And a Christian contemplating this, gave this distinct testimony, "The barbarous people showed us no little kindness."(2) That of placing too high a value on the natural virtues. We hear much of early unsophisticated times, "when wild in woods the noble savage ran." According to this, civilisation is the great corrupter. But the truth is, the natural good feelings of human nature are only instincts: no more moral than a long sight or a delicate sense of hearing. You may travel among savages who treat you, as a stranger, with courtesy: but yet feed on the flesh of their enemies. And these Melitans, "who showed no little kindness," belonged to a stock who, in the most civilised days of Carthage, offered human sacrifice.

2. The advent of Christ brought a new spirit into the world. "Love your neighbour, hate your enemy." Carthaginians obeyed that. Christ said, "Love your enemies." Remark, too, the principle on which this is taught. "That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh," etc. So He converted rude barbarian instincts into Christian graces, by expanding their sphere and purifying them of selfishness — causing them to be regulated by principle, and elevating them into a conscious. imitation of God in His revealed character.

II. THE BARBARIAN IDEA OF RETRIBUTION.

1. Paul was one of those who are formed to be the leaders of the world. Foremost in persecution — foremost in Christianity — foremost in the shipwreck — foremost too, when all was over, in gathering the sticks to make the fire. From those sticks a viper sprung and fastened on his hand, and the first impression of the barbarians was, "No doubt this man is a murderer," etc. This is the basis of all natural religion, and underlies all mythologies. The Nemesis who presides over retribution — the whips and scorpions of the Furies — it seems the first instinct of religion. In the barbarian conception of it, however, there was something gross and dangerous; because —(1) They misinterpreted natural laws into vengeance. There is a proneness in man to judge so. We expect that nature will execute the chastisements of the spiritual world. Hence all nature becomes to the imagination leagued against the transgressor. The walls of Siloam fell on guilty men. On this conviction nations constructed their trial by ordeal. The guilty man's sword would fail in the duel: and the foot would strike and be burnt by the hot ploughshare. Some idea of this sort lurks in all our minds. We picture the spectres haunting the bed of the tyrant. But experience corrects all this. The tyrant's sleep is often as sweet and sound as the infant's. The viper stings the innocent turf cutter. Only in poetry does the fire refuse to burn the innocent, and Purity lay her band on the fawning lion's mane. If we ask where these Melitans got their idea of retribution, the reply is, out of their own hearts. They felt the eternal connection between wrong-doing and penalty.(2) They expected vengeance for flagrant crime only. "This man is a murderer." There is a common feeling now to that effect, "Murder will out." The truth is, we think much of crime, little of sin. There is many a murderer executed whose heart is pure compared with those of many a man who lives a respectable life. David was a murderer. The Pharisees had committed no crime; but their heart was rotten at the core.

2. As information increased, this idea of retribution disappears. Natural laws are understood, and retribution vanishes. Then often comes Epicureanism or Atheism. "All things come alike to all: there is one end to the righteous and to the sinner." If so, then the inference suggests itself — "Let us eat and drink" — it is all the same. Or the sceptical feeling comes thus: "Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency." Therefore why do right instead of wrong?

3. The Advent of Christ brought deeper and truer views. It taught what sin and suffering are. It showed the Innocent on the Cross bearing the penalty of the world's sin, but still the Son of God, with whom the Father was "well pleased." The penal agonies of sin are chiefly those which are executed within. "Vengeance," said the Melitans, "suffereth not the murderer to live." "Whosoever slayeth Cain," said God, "vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold." Cain the murderer lives — Christ, the holy, dies. Cain is to us the dread type of hell. To live! that is hell, to live when you would fain die. You may escape the viper and the wreck. You may by prudence make this world painless, more or less. You cannot escape yourself. Go where you will, you carry with you a soul degraded, its power lost, its finer sensibilities destroyed. Worse than the viper's tooth is the punishment of no longer striving after goodness, or aspiring after the life of God. Just as the man cannot see through the glass on which he breathes, sin darkens the windows of the soul. You are safe, go where you will, from the viper: as safe as if you were the holiest of God's children. The fang is in your soul.

III. THE BARBARIAN CONCEPTION OF DEITY.

1. When the viper fell off, and Paul was left uninjured, they changed their mind and said that he was a god.(1) This implied a certain advance in religious notions. Man finds himself helpless among the powers of nature, and worships them. The highest is the worship of the host of heaven. With some it is the adoration of lifeless things. Evidently there can be no holy influence in this. Men worship by fear, and fortify themselves by charms and incantations: do not try to please God by being holy, but defend themselves from danger by jugglery. The Christians of the early ages carried about bits of consecrated bread to protect themselves from shipwreck. Besides this men have worshipped brute life. It is quite clear that the Melitans were beyond all this. It is a step when men rise from the worship of lifeless things to that of animals — another when they rise to worship human qualities; for they are nearest the Divine.(2) But this worship of the human was the adoration of the marvellous — not the reverence for the good. It was not Paul's character to which they yielded homage. It was only his miraculous escape. So too at Lystra. It was the miracle which they chiefly saw. All that would pass away when they knew that he was a man of like passions with themselves, or when they were informed that it was a providential escape which might have happened to any ordinary man. When the savage sees the flash of European firearms, he kneels as to a god; but when he has learned its use, his new religion is gone. And thus science is converting the religion of mere wonder into atheism. As you teach laws, you undermine that religion. Men cease to tremble. The Laplander would no longer be awed by the eclipse if he knew how to calculate it with accuracy. The savage's dread of lightning as the bolt of God is over when he sees the philosopher draw it from the clouds, and experimentalise on it in his laboratory. And the Romanist, whose flesh creeps when he sees a miracle in the consecration of the sacraments, ends in infidelity, when reason has struck the ground of false reverence from beneath his feet.

2. Therefore has the Redeemer's advent taught a deeper truth to man. Paul spoke almost slightingly of the marvellous. "Covet earnestly the best gifts: yet show I unto you a more excellent way," etc. Love is diviner than all wondrous powers. So too the Son of God came into this world, depreciating the merely mysterious. "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign," etc. It was not the supernatural in His miracles which proved them Divine. It was their goodness, their love, which manifested Deity. Faith stands serenely far above the reach of the atheism of science. It does not rest on the wonderful, but on the eternal wisdom and goodness of God. The revelation of the Son was to proclaim a Father, not a mystery. No science can sweep away the everlasting love which the heart feels.

(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

The most important subject in our paragraph is what we may call the Creed of Natural Religion, as it may be inferred from the judgments of the barbarians about Paul — first judging him to be a murderer when they saw the viper fastening on him, then going to the other extreme of judging him to be a god because it did him no harm. But, before we come to speak of this, I wish to call your attention to one or two points of practical interest. The first of these is the kindly hospitality which these islanders showed to the shipwrecked men who had been cast so destitute on their shore. This was in very marked contrast to what has frequently happened on the coasts of Great Britain — where men who, I suppose, would call themselves Christians, have held out false lights to a ship labouring in a storm, in order to lure her on to destruction, so that the wreckers, as they are called, may plunder the dead bodies cast ashore, and share the spoil of the wreck. Such diabolical conduct has not unfrequently been displayed by so-called Christian men in Christian Britain, while these barbarians, who never heard of the name of Christ, or of the gospel of kindness and charity which He preached, showed uncommon kindness to the victims of the shipwreck east upon their shores. We admire them, do we not? And why? Just because, after all, kindness, notwithstanding much of the selfishness and cruelty which is in our world, is one of those touches of nature which makes the whole world kin. It is a plant in the heart of the natural man of God's own planting; part of our nature which shows that, after all, we are children of the heavenly Father, bearing still some traces of the Divine image in which we were created. But while we thus admire and rejoice in kindness as displayed by others, and while we do so because it speaks of the brotherhood of man and the Fatherhood of God, and while we recognise it as a plant of the Heavenly Father's planting, we must remember that if it is to thrive in our nature, in our homes, in our congregations and Churches, in our communities and social life, like all other plants, it must be cultivated or it dies. The only true way to cultivate any moral plant, whether good or evil, is by exercising it. We often meet with men and women who, in 'sailing over life's sea, have been shipwrecked by misfortunes which they could no more have helped than Paul could have helped the storm which blew him and his companions on the shores of Malta. We meet with others whom the wild assault of temptation, or whom the strong storm of their own passions, had driven to moral ruin and shipwreck. What is our attitude towards these? Is it not too often the case that the cruelty and selfishness of our hearts have smothered up the natural kindness which God had implanted in us, so that instead of pitying and helping and showing kindness — a kindness which might be their salvation at last — we stand aloof from them, blaming them unsparingly, judging them harshly, and condemning them fiercely, taunting them with their folly, and accusing them with their sin — so that instead of helping them by our kindness, we, by our cruelty and heartlessness, drive them back to perish in the angry, all-devouring sea of misfortune and sin from which they sought to escape. Shall the conduct of the barbarians of Malta shame us Christians of today? And now to turn for a moment to Paul's conduct on this occasion. We are told he had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire. Instead of standing whining and complaining, and expecting all help from others when misfortune overtakes him, he, with the true manliness which was so characteristic of him, sets about to help himself. Some people, when misfortune comes to them, seem to think that all that they should do is merely to appeal to the kindly compassion and help of others. These are the people whom kindness, charity, help makes paupers of — to whom help is more often a curse than a blessing, for it takes away all manliness and self-respect — whereas the truest and surest way to win the kindly feeling and help of others is that men in misfortune even should do what they can to help themselves, for I do not suppose anyone comes so low in means or in morals but that he can put forth, Paul-like, some effort of self-help, which shall be more effective to raise him back to that position from whence he has fallen, than all the help and kindness which can be shown him. Again, Paul shows that it is never beneath true dignity to stoop to any useful service. If Paul had been like many of us, he would have stood on his dignity as the great apostle, and would expect others to stoop to the menial service of gathering sticks for the fire. But he had the spirit of his Master, who did not think it beneath His dignity to stoop to wash the feet of the fisherman of Galilee — who did not think it beneath His dignity to stoop lower still, and not only wash away the dust stains from His disciple's feet with water, but to wash away the infinitely foul stain of men's sins with His blood. There are some people who are quite willing to do open public service, if only they can win applause to themselves, and they think they have been serving Christ, or the cause of their fellow men, but they will not condescend to do an humble obscure act for Christ or for men, because it does not attract to them the applause or notice of others. These must be told they are mere hollow-hearted servants, men pleasers, rendering only eye service, and that their prominent services are not services for Christ or man, but for low, paltry, mean, selfish ends, serving self only; and Christ, aye, and men too, will value their service accordingly. Let us, Paul-like, Christ-like, serve not only in what brings glory and praise and eclat and popularity to ourselves, but let us be willing to serve in what is obscure and insignificant, then we shall prove that we are not self-seekers, but truly Christ's servants. And now an incident occurred which opens up a wider train of thought than I have time to devote to the following of it fully out today. When Paul had cast his bundle of sticks on the fire, a viper, which had been lying torpid being revived by the heat, fastens on his hand, but he shakes it off as does a healthy bodily constitution shake off the disease which fastens with deadly effect on others, or as the man who is morally sound at the heart can throw off the deadly temptation which seeks to fasten itself upon him, but can easily spit its poison into the veins of others less morally sound. The more superstitious barbarians came to the usual conclusion in such cases. "This man is a murderer, whom vengeance had pursued on the sea, but failed to overtake, but whom vengeance now shall not let escape." After watching for some time and not seeing any symptoms of harm — not seeing, as they expected, that he should drop down dead — they rushed to the opposite extreme, and said, "He is a god." Now, underlying this superstition there was this solemn, awful, and eternal truth, that guilt will, sooner or later, by some means or other, be overtaken by punishment. That, as the Scriptures put it, "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished." This is the creed, or at least a part of the creed, of natural religion. An element in the religious belief of all men in all ages, in all stages of civilisation, is the faith that sin shall not go unpunished. It is belief as natural to the human heart, and as keenly felt in the conscience, as that wrong is wrong and right is right. So that the conviction which lay at the bottom of their false judgment of Paul was a true conviction. But there is a deeper truth underlying this conviction — that sin is always followed by punishment. For that conviction assumes that the world must therefore be governed by righteousness — that a universal law of righteousness rules the world when men believe because they see it and feel that it is right, that sin is always followed by punishment — punishment, mind you, not in the world to come only, but in this world of ours. The creed of natural religion is right so far, but then, as exhibited by these barbarians, it was accompanied by the false idea that every accident that befalls a man, every misfortune that comes to him, is punishment for sin. Even at the present day there is a false idea abroad that such accidents as the Tay Bridge disaster was a judgment from God for travelling on Sunday — instead of looking at the true facts that it was bad engineering and bad workmanship — the real cause of the disaster. Many an innocent, good, upright man suffers misfortune and what; we call evils because of the evil doings of others, while many a rogue and scoundrel thrives and is prosperous, and seems to have peace and happiness, notwithstanding his evil-doing. But it is eternally true, as God is true, that sin is followed by punishment, by the inward debasing and demoralising of the man, by the gnawings of a biting remorse, by the eating into his secret heart and life of the worm that never dieth, by the burning in his soul of the hell fire that may never be quenched. While again the good man, the godly man, though outward circumstances may be against him, though he may be in poverty and sickness and sorrow often, aye, even though the viper tongue of slander may fasten on him, and men may suspect him to be a murderer or worse, yet in his innermost being he enjoys the peace of God — "the peace that passeth all understanding." He carries about with him the peace of a pure conscience, the consciousness of God's favour, the grand feeling that he has wronged no man, and the assurance that, notwithstanding his many faults and failings, which no one knows so well, or blames so keenly as he does himself, yet that through the all-pervading mercy of God in Christ, through the infinite merit of Christ's great sacrifice — he will be at last received into God's ever lasting habitation.

(J. A. Fletcher.)

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