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man? A leader's execution is not a usual recipe for heartening his
followers, but it had that effect in this case, and the Peter who was
frightened out of all his heroics by a sharp-eyed, sharp-tongued
servant-maid, a few weeks after bearded the Council and 'rejoiced that
he was counted worthy to suffer shame for His Name.' It was not
Christ's death that did that, and it was not His life that did that.
You cannot understand, to use a long word, the 'psychological'
transformation of these cowardly deniers who fled and forsook Him,
unless you bring in three things: Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost.
Then it is explicable.

However the boldness came; these two men before the Council were making
an epoch at that moment, and their grand words are the Magna Charta of
the right of every sincere conviction to free speech. They are the
direct parent of hundreds of similar sayings that flash out down the
world's history. Two things Peter and John adduced as making silence
impossible - a definite divine command, and an inward impulse. 'Whether
it is right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God,
judge ye. We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.'

But I wish to use these words now in a somewhat wider application. They
may suggest that there are great facts which make silence and
non-aggressiveness an impossibility for an individual or a Church, and
that by the very law of its being, a Church must be a missionary
Church, and a Christian cannot be a dumb Christian, unless he is a dead
Christian. And so I turn to look at these words as suggesting to us two
or three of the grounds on which Christian effort, in some form or
another, is inseparable from Christian experience.

And, first, I wish you to notice that there is -

I. An inward necessity which makes silence impossible.

'We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard,' is a
principle that applies far more widely than to the work of a Christian
Church, or to any activity that is put in force to spread the name of
Jesus Christ. For there is a universal impulse which brings it about
that whatever, in the nature of profound conviction, of illuminating
truth, especially as affecting moral and spiritual matters, is granted
to any man, knocks at the inner side of the door of his lips, and
demands an exit and free air and utterance. As surely as the tender
green spikelet of the springing corn pushes its way through the hard
clods, or as the bud in the fig-tree's polished stem swells and opens,
so surely whatever a man, in his deepest heart, knows to be true, calls
upon him to let it out and manifest itself in his words and in his
life. 'We believe, and therefore speak,' is a universal sequence. There
were four leprous men long ago that, in their despair, made their way
into the camp of the beleaguering enemy, found it empty; and after they
feasted themselves - and small blame to them - then flashed upon them the
thought, 'We do not well, this is a day of good tidings, and we hold
our peace; if we tarry till the morning light, some evil will befall
us.' Something like that is the uniform accompaniment of all profound
conviction. And if so, especially imperative and urgent will this
necessity be, wherever there is true Christian life. For whether we
consider the greatness of the gift that is imparted to us, in the very
act of our receiving that Lord, or whether we consider the soreness of
the need of a world that is without Him, surely there can be nothing
that so reinforces the natural necessity and impulse to impart what we
possess of truth or beauty or goodness as the greatness of the
unspeakable gift, and the wretchedness of a world that wants it.
Brethren, there are many things that come in the way - and perhaps never
more than in our own generation - of Christian men and women making
direct and specific efforts, by lip as well as by life, to speak about
Jesus Christ to other people. There is the standing hindrance of love
of ease and selfish absorption in our own concerns. There are the
conventional hindrances of our canons of social intercourse which make
it 'bad form' to speak to men about anything beneath the surface, and
God forbid that I should urge any man to a brusque, and indiscriminate,
and unwise forcing of his faith upon other people. But I believe, that
deep down below all these reasons, there are two main reasons why the
practice of the clear utterance of their faith on the part of Christian
people is so rare. The one is a deficient conception of what the Gospel
is, and the other is a feeble grasp of it for ourselves. If you do not
think that you have very much to say, you will not be very anxious to
say it; and if your notion of Christianity, and of Christ's relation to
the world, is that of the superficial professing Christian, then of
course you will be smitten with no earnestness of desire to impart the
truth to others. Types of Christianity which enfeeble or obscure the
central thought of Christ's work for the salvation of a world that
needs a Saviour, and is perishing without Him, never were, never are,
never will be, missionary or aggressive. There is no driving force in
them. They have little to say, and naturally they are in no hurry to
say it. But there is a deeper reason than that. I said a minute ago
that a dumb Christian was an impossibility unless he were a dead
Christian. And _there_ is the reason why so many of us feel so little,
so very little, of that knocking at the door of our hearts, and saying,
'Let me out!' which we should feel if we deeply believed, and felt, as
well as intellectually accepted, the gospel of our salvation.

The cause of a silent Church is a defective conception of the Gospel
entrusted to it, or a feeble grasp of the same. And as our silence or
indifference is the symptom, so by reaction it is in its turn the cause
of a greater enfeeblement of our faith, and of a weaker grasp of the
Gospel. Of course I know that it is perfectly possible for a man to
talk away his convictions, and I am afraid that that temptation which
besets all men of my profession, is not always resisted by us as it
ought to be. But, on the other hand, sure am I that no better way can
be devised of deepening my own hold of the truths of Christianity than
an honest, right attempt to make another share my morsel with me.
Convictions bottled, like other things bottled up, are apt to evaporate
and to spoil. They say that sometimes wine-growers, when they go down
into their cellars, find in a puncheon no wine, but a huge fungus. That
is what befalls the Christianity of people that never let air in, and
never speak their faith out. 'We cannot but speak the things which we
have seen and heard'; and if we do not speak, the vision fades and the
sound becomes faint.

Now there is another side to this same inward necessity of which I have
been speaking, on which I must just touch. I have referred to the
impulse which flows from the possession of the Gospel. There is an
impulse which flows from that which is but another way of putting the
same thing, the union with Jesus Christ, which is the result of our
faith in the Gospel. If I am a Christian I am, in a very profound and
real sense, one with Jesus Christ, and have His Spirit for the life of
my spirit. And in the measure in which I am thus one with Him, I shall
look at things as He looks at them, and do such things as He did. If
the mind of Jesus Christ is in us 'Who for the joy that was set before
Him endured the Cross,' who 'counted not equality with God a thing to
be desired, but made Himself of no reputation,' and 'was found in
fashion as a man,' then we too shall feel that our work in the world is
not done, and our obligations to Him are not discharged, unless to the
very last particle of our power we spread His name. Brethren, if there
were no commandment at all from Christ's lips laying upon His followers
the specific duty of making His gospel known, still this inward impulse
of which I am speaking would have created all the forms of Christian
aggressiveness which we see round about us, because, if we have Christ
and His Gospel in our hearts, 'we cannot but speak the things which we
have seen and heard.'

And now turn to another aspect of this matter. There is -

II. A command which makes silence criminal.

I do not need to do more than remind you of the fact that the very last
words which our Lord has left us according to the two versions of them
which are given in the Gospel of Matthew, and the beginning of this
Book of the Acts, coincide in this. 'You are to be My witnesses to the
ends of the earth. Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to
every creature.' Did you ever think what an extraordinary thing it is
that that confident anticipation of a worldwide dominion, and of being
Himself adapted to all mankind, in every climate and in every age, and
at every stage of culture, should have been the conviction which the
departing Christ sought to stamp upon the minds of those eleven poor
men? What audacity! What tremendous confidence! What a task to which to
set them! What an unexampled belief in Himself and His work! And it is
all coming true; for the world is finding out, more and more, that
Jesus Christ is its Saviour and its King.

This commandment which is laid upon us Christian men submerges all
distinctions of race, and speech, and nationality, and culture. There
are high walls parting men off from one another. This great message and
commission, like some rising tide, rolls over them all, and obliterates
them, and flows boundless, having drowned the differences, from horizon
to horizon, east and west and south and north.

Now let me press the thought that this commandment makes indifference
and silence criminal. We hear people talk, people whose Christianity it
is not for me to question, though I may question two things about it,
its clearness and its depth - we hear them talk as if to help or not to
help, in the various forms of Christian activity, missionary or
otherwise, was a matter left to their own inclination. No! it is not.
Let us distinctly understand that to help or not to help is not the
choice open to any man who would obey Jesus Christ. Let us distinctly
understand - and God grant that we may all feel it more - that we dare
not stand aside, be negligent, do nothing, leave other people to give
and to toil, and say, 'Oh! my sympathies do not go in that direction.'
Jesus Christ told you that they were to go in that direction, and if
they do not, so much the worse for the sympathies for one thing, and so
much the worse for you, the rebel, the disobedient in heart. I do not
want to bring down this great gift and token of love which Jesus Christ
has given to His servants, in entrusting them with the spread of the
Gospel, to the low level of a mere commandment, but I do sometimes
think that the tone of feeling, ay! and of speech, and still more the
manner of action, among professing Christian people, in regard to the
whole subject of the missionary work of God's Church, shows that they
need to be reminded; as the Duke of Wellington said, 'There are your
marching orders!' and the soldier who does not obey his marching orders
is a mutineer. There is a definite commandment which makes indifference
criminal.

There is another thing I should like to say, viz. that this definite
commandment overrides everything else. We hear a great deal from
unsympathetic critics, which is but a reproduction of an old grumble
that did not come from a very creditable source. 'To what purpose is
this waste?' Why do you not spend your money upon technical schools,
soup-kitchens, housing of the poor, and the like? Well, our answer is,
'He told us.' We hear, too, especially just in these days, a great deal
about the necessity for increased caution in pursuing missionary
operations in heathen lands. And some people that do not know anything
about the subject have ventured to say, for instance, that the
missionaries are responsible for Chinese antagonism to Europeans, and
for similar phenomena. Well, we are ready to be as wise and prudent as
you like. We do not ask any consuls to help us. Our brethren are men
who have hazarded their lives; and I never heard of a Baptist
missionary running under the skirts of an ambassador, or praying the
government to come and protect him. We do not ask for cathedrals to be
built, or territory to be ceded, as compensation for the loss of
precious lives. But if these advisers of caution mean no more than they
say, 'Caution!' we agree. But if they mean, what some of them mean,
that we are to be silent for fear of consequences, then, whether it be
prime ministers, or magistrates, or mobs that say it, our answer is,
'Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye!
We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.'

So, lastly, there is -

III. The bond of brotherhood which makes silence unnatural.

I have spoken of an inward impulse. That thought turns our attention to
our own hearts. I have spoken of a definite command; that turns our
eyes to the Throne. I speak now of a bond of brotherhood. That sends
our thoughts out over the whole world. There is such a bond. Jesus
Christ by His Incarnation has taken the nature of every man upon
Himself, and has brought all men into one. Jesus Christ 'by the grace
of God, has tasted death for every man,' and has brought all men into
unity. And so the much-abused and vulgarised conception of
'fraternity,' and even the very word 'humanity,' are the creation of
Christianity, and flow from these two facts - the Cradle of Bethlehem
and the Cross of Calvary, besides that prior one that 'God hath made of
one blood all nations of men.' If that be so, then what flows from that
unity, from that brotherhood thus sacredly founded upon the facts of
the life and death of Jesus Christ, the world's Redeemer? This to begin
with, that Christian men are bound to look out over humanity with
Christ's eyes, and not - as is largely the case to-day - to regard other
nations as enemies and rivals, and the 'lower races' as existing to be
exploited for our wealth, to be coerced for our glory, to be conquered
for our Empire. We have to think of them as Jesus Christ thought. I
cannot but remember days in England when the humanitarian sentiment in
regard to the inferior races was far more vigorous, and far more
operative in national life than it is to-day. I can go back in
boyhood's memory to the emancipation of the West Indian slaves, and
that was but the type of the general tendency of thought amongst the
better minds of England in those days. Would that it were so now!

But further, brethren, we as Christian people have laid upon us this
responsibility by that very bond of brotherhood, that we should carry
whithersoever our influence may go the great message of the Elder
Brother who makes us all one. We give much to the 'heathen' populations
within our Empire or the reach of our trade. We give them English laws,
English science, English literature, English outlooks on life, the
English tongue, English vices - opium, profligacy, and the like. Are
these all the gifts that we are bound to carry to heathen lands?
Dynamos and encyclopaedias, gin and rifles, shirtings and castings?
Have we not to carry Christ? And all the more because we are so closely
knit with so many of them. I wonder how many of you get the greater
part of your living out of India and China?

Surely, if there is a place in England where the missionary appeal
should be responded to, it is Manchester. 'As a nest hast thou gathered
the riches of the nations.' What have you given? Make up the
balance-sheet, brethren. 'We are debtors,' let us put down the items: -

Debtors by a common brotherhood.

Debtors by the possession of Christ for ourselves.

Debtors by benefits received.

Debtors by injuries inflicted.

The debit side of the account is heavy. Let us try to discharge some
portion of the debt, in the fashion in which the Apostle from whom I
have been quoting thought that he would best discharge it when, after
declaring himself debtor to many kinds of men, he added, 'So as much as
in me is, I am ready to preach the Gospel.' May we all say, more truly
than we have ever said before, 'We cannot but speak the things which we
have seen and heard!'



THE SERVANT AND THE SLAVES

'Thy servant David...'; 'Thy Holy Servant Jesus...'; 'Thy
servants...' - ACTS iv. 26, 27, 29.

I do not often take fragments of Scripture for texts; but though these
are fragments, their juxtaposition results in by no means fragmentary
thoughts. There is obvious intention in the recurrence of the
expression so frequently in so few verses, and to the elucidation of
that intention my remarks will be directed. The words are parts of the
Church's prayer on the occasion of its first collision with the civil
power. The incident is recorded at full length because it is the
_first_ of a long and bloody series, in order that succeeding
generations might learn their true weapon and their sure defence.
Prayer is the right answer to the world's hostility, and they who only
ask for courage to stand by their confession will never ask in vain.
But it is no part of my intention to deal either with the incident or
with this noble prayer.

A word or two of explanation may be necessary as to the language of our
texts. You will observe that, in the second of them, I have followed
the Revised Version, which, instead of 'Thy holy child,' as in the
Authorised Version, reads 'Thy holy Servant.' The alteration is clearly
correct. The word, indeed, literally means 'a child,' but, like our own
English 'boy,' or even 'man,' or 'maid,' it is used to express the
relation of servant, when the desire is to cover over the harsher
features of servitude, and to represent the servant as a part of the
family. Thus the kindly centurion, who besought Jesus to come and heal
his servant, speaks of him as his 'boy.' And that the word is here used
in this secondary sense of 'servant' is unmistakable. For there is no
discernible reason why, if stress were meant to be laid on Christ as
being the Son of God, the recognised expression for that relationship
should not have been employed. Again, the Greek translation of the Old
Testament, with which the Apostles were familiar, employs the very
phrase that is here used as its translation of the well-known Old
Testament designation of the Messiah, 'the Servant of the Lord' and the
words here are really a quotation from the great prophecies of the
second part of the Book of Isaiah. Further, the same word is employed
in reference to King David and in reference to Jesus Christ. In regard
to the former, it is evident that it must have the meaning of
'servant'; and it would be too harsh to suppose that in the compass of
so few verses the same expression should be used, at one time in the
one signification, and at another in the other. So, then, David and
Jesus are in some sense classified here together as both servants of
God. That is the first point that I desire to make.

Then, in regard to the third of my texts, the expression is not the
same there as in the other two. The disciples do not venture to take
the loftier designation. Rather they prefer the humble one, 'slaves,'
bondmen, the familiar expression found all through the New Testament as
almost a synonym to Christians.

So, then, we have here three figures: the Psalmist-king, the Messiah,
the disciples; Christ in the midst, on the one hand a servant with whom
He deigns to be classed, on the other hand the slaves who, through Him,
have become sons. And I think I shall best bring out the intended
lessons of these clauses in their connection if I ask you to note these
two contrasts, the servants and the Servant; the Servant and the
slaves. 'David Thy servant'; 'Thy holy Servant Jesus'; us 'Thy
servants.'

I. First, then, notice the servants and the Servant.

The reason for the application of the name to the Psalmist lies, not so
much in his personal character or in his religious elevation, as in the
fact that he was chosen of God for a specific purpose, to carry on the
divine plans some steps towards their realisation. Kings, priests,
prophets, the collective Israel, as having a specific function in the
world, and being, in some sense, the instruments and embodiments of the
will of God amongst men, have in an eminent degree the designation of
His 'servants.' And we might widen out the thought and say that all men
who, like the heathen Cyrus, are God's shepherds, though they do not
know it - guided by Him, though they understand not whence comes their
power, and blindly do His work in the world, being 'epoch-making' men,
as the fashionable phrase goes now - are really, though in a subordinate
sense, entitled to the designation.

But then, whilst this is true, and whilst Jesus Christ comes into this
category, and is one of these special men raised up and adapted for
special service in connection with the carrying out of the divine
purpose, mark how emphatically and broadly the line is drawn here
between Him and the other members of the class to which, in a certain
sense, He does belong. Peter says, 'Thy servant David,' but he says
'Thy _holy_ Servant Jesus.' And in the Greek the emphasis is still
stronger, because the definite article is employed before the word
'servant.' '_The_ holy Servant of Thine' - that is His specific and
unique designation.

There are many imperfect instruments of the divine will. Thinkers and
heroes and saints and statesmen and warriors, as well as prophets and
priests and kings, are so regarded in Scripture, and may profitably be
so regarded by us; but amongst them all there is One who stands in
their midst and yet apart from them, because He, and He alone, can say,
'I have done all Thy pleasure, and into my doing of Thy pleasure no
bitter leaven of self-regard or by-ends has ever, in the faintest
degree, entered.' 'Thy holy Servant Jesus' is the unique designation of
_the_ Servant of the Lord.

And what is the meaning of _holy_? The word does not originally and
primarily refer to character so much as to relation to God. The root
idea of holiness is not righteousness nor moral perfectness, but
something that lies behind these - viz, separation for the service and
uses of God. The first notion of the word is consecration, and, built
upon that and resulting from it, moral perfection. So then these men,
some of whom had lived beside Jesus Christ for all those years, and had
seen everything that He did, and studied Him through and through, had
summered and wintered with Him, came away from the close inspection of
His character with this thought; He is utterly and entirely devoted to
the service of God, and in Him there is neither spot nor wrinkle nor
blemish such as is found in all other men.

I need not remind you with what strange persistence of affirmation, and
yet with what humility of self-consciousness, our Lord Himself always
claimed to be in possession of this entire consecration, and complete
obedience, and consequent perfection. Think of human lips saying, 'I do
always the things that please Him.' Think of human lips saying, 'My
meat is to do the will of Him that sent me.' Think of a man whose whole
life's secret was summed up in this: 'As the Father hath given Me
commandment, _so_' - no more, no less, no otherwise - 'so I speak.' Think
of a man whose inspiring principle was, consciously to himself, 'not My
will, but Thine be done'; and who could say that it was so, and not be
met by universal ridicule. There followed in Jesus the moral
perfectness that comes from such uninterrupted and complete
consecration of self to God. 'Thy servant David,' - what about
Bathsheba, David? What about a great many other things in your life?
The poet-king, with the poet-nature so sensitive to all the delights of
sense, and so easily moved in the matter of pleasure, is but like all
God's other servants in the fact of imperfection. In every machine
power is lost through friction; and in every man, the noblest and the
purest, there is resistance to be overcome ere motion in conformity
with the divine impulse can be secured. We pass in review before our
minds saints and martyrs and lovely characters by the hundred, and
amongst them all there is not a jewel without a flaw, not a mirror
without some dint in it where the rays are distorted, or some dark
place where the reflecting surface has been rubbed away by the
attrition of sin, and where there is no reflection of the divine light.
And then we turn to that meek Figure who stands there with the question



Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 12 of 57)