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lame man, and their words to him are, 'Do not think that our power or
holiness is any factor in your cure. The Name hath made this man
whole.' It is the Lord that appears to Paul and to Ananias, to the one
on the road to Damascus and to the other in the city. It is the Lord to
whom Peter refers Aeneas when he says, 'Jesus Christ maketh thee
whole.' It was the Lord that 'opened the heart of Lydia.' It was the
Lord that appeared to Paul in Corinth, and said to him, 'I have much
people in this city'; and again, when in the prison at Jerusalem, He
assured the Apostle that he would be carried to Rome. And so, at every
turn in the narrative, we find that Christ is presented as influencing
men's hearts, operating upon outward events, working miracles,
confirming His word, leading His servants, and prescribing for them
their paths, and all which they do is done by the hand of the Lord with
them confirming the word which they spoke. Jesus Christ is the Actor,
and He only is the Actor; men are His implements and instruments.

The same point of view is suggested by another of the characteristics
of this book, which it shares in common with all Scripture narratives,
and that is the stolid indifference with which it picks up and drops
men, according to the degree in which, for the moment, they are the
instruments of Christ's power. Supposing a man had been writing Acts of
the Apostles, do you think it would have been possible that of the
greater number of them he should not say a word, that concerning those
of whom he does speak he should deal with them as this book does,
barely mentioning the martyrdom of James, one of the four chief
Apostles; allowing Peter to slip out of the narrative after the great
meeting of the Church at Jerusalem; letting Philip disappear without a
hint of what he did thereafter; lodging Paul in Rome and leaving him
there, with no account of his subsequent work or martyrdom? Such
phenomena - and they might be largely multiplied - are only explicable
upon one hypothesis. As long as electricity streams on the carbon point
it glows and is visible, but when the current is turned to another lamp
we see no more of the bit of carbon. As long as God uses a man the man
is of interest to the writers of the Scriptures. When God uses another
one, they drop the first, and have no more care about him, because
their theme is not men and their doings, but God's doings through men.

On us, and in us, and by us, and for us, if we are His servants, Jesus
Christ is working all through the ages. He is the Lord of Providence,
He is the King of history, in His hand is the book with the seven
seals; He sends His Spirit, and where His Spirit is He is; and what His
Spirit does He does. And thus He continues to teach and to work from
His throne in the heavens.

He continues to teach, not by the communication of new truth. That is
finished. The volume of Revelation is complete. The last word of the
divine utterances hath been spoken until that final word which shall
end Time and crumble the earth. But the application of the completed
Revelation, the unfolding of all that is wrapped in germ in it; the
growing of the seed into a tree, the realisation more completely by
individuals and communities of the principles and truths which Jesus
Christ has brought us by His life and His death - that is the work that
is going on to-day, and that will go on till the end of the world. For
the old Puritan belief is true, though the modern rationalistic
mutilations of it are false, 'God hath more light yet to break
forth' - and our modern men stop there. But what the sturdy old Puritan
said was, 'more light yet to break forth from His holy Word.' Jesus
Christ teaches the ages - through the lessons of providence and the
communication of His Spirit to His Church - to understand what He gave
the world when He was here.

In like manner He works. The foundation is laid, the healing medicine
is prepared, the cleansing element is cast into the mass of humanity;
what remains is the application and appropriation, and incorporation in
conduct, of the redeeming powers that Jesus Christ has brought. And
that work is going on, and will go on, till the end.

Now these truths of our Lord's continuous activity in teaching and
working from heaven may yield us some not unimportant lessons. What a
depth and warmth and reality the thoughts give to the Christian's
relation to Jesus Christ! We have to look back to that Cross as the
foundation of all our hope. Yes! But we have to think, not only of a
Christ who did something for us long ago in the past, and there an end,
but of a Christ who to-day lives and reigns, 'to do and to teach'
according to our necessities. What a sweetness and sacredness such
thoughts impart to all external events, which we may regard as being
the operation of His love, and as moved by the hands that were nailed
to the Cross for us, and now hold the sceptre of the universe for the
blessing of mankind! What a fountain of hope they open in estimating
future probabilities of victory for truth and goodness! The forces of
good and evil in the world seem very disproportionate, but we forget
too often to take Christ into account. It is not _we_ that have to
fight against evil; at the best we are but the sword which Christ
wields, and all the power is in the hand that wields it. Great men die,
good men die; Jesus Christ is not dead. Paul was martyred: Jesus lives;
He is the anchor of our hope. We see miseries and mysteries enough, God
knows. The prospects of all good causes seem often clouded and dark.
The world has an awful power of putting drags upon all chariots that
bear blessings, and of turning to evil every good. You cannot diffuse
education, but you diffuse the taste for rubbish and something worse,
in the shape of books. No good thing but has its shadow of evil
attendant upon it. And if we had only to estimate by visible or human
forces, we might well sit down and wrap ourselves in the sackcloth of
pessimism. 'We see not yet all things put under Him'; but 'we see Jesus
crowned with glory and honour,' and the vision that cheered the first
martyr - of Christ 'standing at the right hand of God' - is the rebuke of
every fear and every gloomy anticipation for ourselves or for the world.

What a lesson of lowliness and of diligence it gives us! The jangling
church at Corinth fought about whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas was
the man to lead the Church, and the experience has been repeated over
and over again. 'Who is Paul? Who is Apollos? but ministers by whom ye
believed, even as the Lord gave to every man. Be not puffed up one
against another. Be not wise in your own conceits.' You are only a
tool, only a pawn in the hand of the Great Player. If you have
anything, it is because you get it from Him. See that you use it, and
do not boast about it. Jesus Christ is the Worker, the only Worker; the
Teacher, the only Teacher. All our wisdom is derived, all our light is
enkindled. We are but the reeds through which His breath makes music.
And 'shall the axe boast itself,' either 'against' or apart from 'Him
that heweth therewith'?

III. Lastly, we note the incompleteness of each man's share in the
great work.

As I said, the book which is to tell the story of Christ's continuous
unfinished work must stop abruptly. There is no help for it. If it was
a history of Paul it would need to be wound up to an end and a selvage
put to it, but as it is the history of Christ's working, the web is not
half finished, and the shuttle stops in the middle of a cast. The book
must be incomplete, because the work of which it is the record does not
end until 'He shall have delivered up the Kingdom to the Father, and
God shall be all in all.'

So the work of each man is but a fragment of that great work. Every man
inherits unfinished tasks from his predecessors, and leaves unfinished
tasks to his successors. It is, as it used to be in the Middle Ages,
when the hands that dug the foundations, or laid the first courses, of
some great cathedral, were dead long generations before the gilded
cross was set on the apex of the needlespire, and the glowing glass
filled in to the painted windows. Enough for us, if we lay a stone,
though it be but one stone in one of the courses of the great building.

Luke has left plenty of blank paper at the end of his second
'treatise,' on which he meant that succeeding generations should write
their partial contributions to the completed work. Dear friends, let us
see that we write our little line, as monks in their monasteries used
to keep the chronicle of the house, on which scribe after scribe toiled
at its illuminated letters with loving patience for a little while, and
then handed the pen from his dying hand to another. What does it matter
though we drop, having done but a fragment? He gathers up the fragments
into His completed work, and the imperfect services which He enabled
any of us to do will all be represented in the perfect circle of His
finished work. The Lord help us to be faithful to the power that works
in us, and to leave Him to incorporate our fragments in His mighty
whole!



THE FORTY DAYS

'To whom also He shewed Himself alive after His passion by many
infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the
things pertaining to the kingdom of God.' - ACTS i. 3.

The forty days between the Resurrection and the Ascension have
distinctly marked characteristics. They are unlike to the period before
them in many respects, but completely similar in others; they have a
preparatory character throughout; they all bear on the future work of
the disciples, and hearten them for the time when they should be left
alone.

The words of the text give us their leading features. They bring out -

1. Their evidential value, as confirming the fact of the Resurrection.

'He showed Himself alive after His passion by ... proofs.'

By sight, repeated, to individuals, to companies, to Mary in her
solitary sadness, to Peter the penitent, to the two on the road to
Emmaus. At all hours: in the evening when the doors were shut; in the
morning; in grey twilight; in daytime on the road. At many places - in
houses, out of doors.

The signs of true corporeity - the sight, the eating.

The signs of bodily identity, - 'Reach hither thy hand.' 'He showed them
His hands and His side.'

Was this the glorified body?

The affirmative answer is usually rested on the facts that He was not
known by Mary or the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and that He came
into the upper room when the doors were shut. But the force of these
facts is broken by remembering that Mary saw nothing about Him unlike
other men, but supposed Him to be the gardener - which puts the idea of
a glorified body out of the question, and leaves us to suppose that she
was full of weeping indifference to any one.

Then as to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Luke carefully tells us
that the reason why they did not know Him was _in them_ and not in
Him - that it was 'because their eyes were holden,' not because His body
was changed.

And as to His coming when the doors were shut, why should not that be
like the other miracles, when 'He conveyed Himself away, a multitude
being in the place,' and when He walked on the waters?

There cannot then be anything decidedly built on these facts, and the
considerations on the other side are very strong. Surely the whole
drift of the narrative goes in the direction of representing Christ's
'glory' as beginning with His Ascension, and consequently the 'body of
His glory' as being then assumed. Further, the argument of 1 Cor. xv.
goes on the assumption that 'flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom
of God,' that is, that the material corporeity is incongruous with, and
incapable of entrance into, the conditions of that future life, and, by
parity of reasoning, that the spiritual body, which is to be conformed
to the body of Christ's glory, is incongruous with, and incapable of
entrance into, the conditions of this earthly life. As is the
environment, so must be the 'body' that is at home in it.

Further, the facts of our Lord's eating and drinking after His
Resurrection are not easily reconcilable with the contention that He
was then invested with the glorified body.

We must, then, think of transfiguration, rather than of resurrection
only, as the way by which He passed into the heavens. He 'slept' but
woke, and, as He ascended, was 'changed.'

II. The renewal of the old bond by the tokens of His unchanged
disposition.

Recall the many beautiful links with the past: the message to Peter;
that to Mary; 'Tell My brethren,' 'He was known in breaking of bread,'
'Peace be with you!' (repetition from John xvii.), the miraculous
draught of fishes, and the meal and conversation afterwards, recalling
the miracle at the beginning of the closer association of the four
Apostles of the first rank with their Lord. The forty days revealed the
old heart, the old tenderness. He remembers all the past. He sends a
message to the penitent; He renews to the faithful the former gift of
'peace.'

How precious all this is as a revelation of the impotence of death in
regard to Him and us! It assures us of the perpetuity of His love. He
showed Himself after His passion as the same old Self, the same old
tender Lover. His appearances then prepare us for the last vision of
Him in the Apocalypse, in which we see His perpetual humanity, His
perpetual tenderness, and hear Him saying: 'I am ... the Living One,
and I became dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore.'

These forty days assure us of the narrow limits of the power of death.
Love lives through death, memory lives through it. Christ has lived
through it and comes up from the grave, serene and tender, with
unruffled peace, with all the old tones of tenderness in the voice that
said 'Mary!' So may we be sure that through death and after it we shall
live and be ourselves. We, too, shall show ourselves alive after we
have experienced the superficial change of death.

III. The change in Christ's relations to the disciples and to the
world. 'Appearing unto them by the space of forty days.'

The words mark a contrast to Christ's former constant intercourse with
the disciples. This is occasional; He appears at intervals during the
forty days. He comes amongst them and disappears. He is seen again in
the morning light by the lake-side and goes away. He tells them to come
and meet Him in Galilee. That intermittent presence prepared the
disciples for His departure. It was painful and educative. It carried
out His own word, 'And now I am no more in the world.'

We observe in the disciples traces of a deeper awe. They say little.
'Master!' 'My Lord and my God!' 'None durst ask Him, Who art Thou?'
Even Peter ventures only on 'Lord, Thou knowest all things,' and on one
flash of the old familiarity: 'What shall this man do?' John, who
recalls very touchingly, in that appendix to his Gospel, the blessed
time when he leaned on Jesus' breast at supper, now only humbly
follows, while the others sit still and awed, by that strange fire on
the banks of the lonely lake.

A clearer vision of the Lord on their parts, a deeper sense of who He
is, make them assume more of the attitude of worshippers, though not
less that of friends. And He can no more dwell with them, and go in and
out among them.

As for the world - 'It seeth Me no more, but ye see Me.' He was 'seen of
_them_,' not of others. There is no more appeal to the people, no more
teaching, no more standing in the Temple. Why is this? Is it not the
commentary on His own word on the Cross, 'It is finished!' marking most
distinctly that His work on earth was ended when He died, and so
confirming that conception of His earthly mission which sees its
culmination and centre of power in the Cross?

IV. Instruction and prophecy for the future.

The preparation of the disciples for their future work and condition
was a chief purpose of the forty days. Jesus spoke 'of the things
pertaining to the Kingdom of God.' He also 'gave commandments to the
Apostles.'

Note how much there is, in His conversations with them -

1. Of opening to them the Scriptures. 'Christ must needs suffer,' etc.

2. Of lessons for their future, thus fitting them for their task.

3. Mark how this transitional period taught them that His going away
was not to be sorrow and loss, but joy and gain, 'Touch Me not, for I
have not yet ascended.'

Our present relation to the ascended Lord is as much an advance on that
of the disciples to the risen Lord, as that was on their relation to
Him during His earthly life. They had more real communion with Him
when, with opened hearts, they heard Him interpret the Scriptures
concerning Himself, and fell at His feet crying 'My Lord and my God!'
though they saw Him but for short seasons and at intervals, than when
day by day they were with Him and knew Him not. As they grew in love
and ripened in knowledge, they knew Him better and better.

For us, too, these forty days are full of blessed lessons, teaching us
that real communion with Jesus is attained by faith in Him, and that He
is still working in and for us, and is still present with us. The joy
with which the disciples saw Him ascend should live on in us as we
think of Him enthroned. The hope that the angels' message lit up in
their hearts should burn in ours. The benediction which the Risen Lord
uttered on those who have not seen and yet have believed falls in
double measure on those who, though now they see Him not, yet believing
rejoice in Jesus with joy unspeakable and full of glory.



THE UNKNOWN TO-MORROW

_A New Year's Sermon_

'It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father
hath put in His own power.' - ACTS i. 7.

The New Testament gives little encouragement to a sentimental view of
life. Its writers had too much to do, and too much besides to think
about, for undue occupation with pensive remembrances or imaginative
forecastings. They bid us remember as a stimulus to thanksgiving and a
ground of hope. They bid us look forward, but not along the low levels
of earth and its changes. One great future is to draw all our longings
and to fix our eyes, as the tender hues of the dawn kindle infinite
yearnings in the soul of the gazer. What may come is all hidden; we can
make vague guesses, but reach nothing more certain. Mist and cloud
conceal the path in front of the portion which we are actually
traversing, but when it climbs, it comes out clear from the fogs that
hang about the flats. We can track it winding up to the throne of
Christ. Nothing is certain, but the coming of the Lord and 'our
gathering together to Him.'

The words of this text in their original meaning point only to the
ignorance of the time of the end which Christ had been foretelling. But
they may allow of a much wider application, and their lessons are in
entire consonance with the whole tone of Scripture in regard to the
future. We are standing now at the beginning of a New Year, and the
influence of the season is felt in some degree by us all. Not for the
sake of repressing any wise forecasting which has for its object our
preparation for probable duties and exigencies; not for the purpose of
repressing that trustful anticipation which, building on our past time
and on God's eternity, fronts the future with calm confidence; not for
the sake of discouraging that pensive and softened mood which if it
does nothing more, at least delivers us for a moment from the tyrannous
power of the present, do we turn to these words now; but that we may
together consider how much they contain of cheer and encouragement, of
stimulus to our duty, and of calming for our hearts in the prospect of
a New Year. They teach us the limits of our care for the future, as
they give us the limits of our knowledge of it. They teach us the best
remedies for all anxiety, the great thoughts that tranquillise us in
our ignorance, viz. that all is in God's merciful hand, and that
whatever may come, we have a divine power which will fit us for it; and
they bid us anticipate our work and do it, as the best counterpoise for
all vain curiosity about what may be coming on the earth.

I. The narrow limits of our knowledge of the future.

We are quite sure that we shall die. We are sure that a mingled web of
joy and sorrow, light shot with dark, will be unrolled before us - but
of anything more we are really ignorant. We know that certainly the
great majority of us will be alive at the close of this New Year; but
who will be the exceptions? A great many of us, especially those of us
who are in the monotonous stretch of middle life, will go on
substantially as we have been going on for years past, with our
ordinary duties, joys, sorrows, cares; but to some of us, in all
probability, this year holds some great change which may darken all our
days or brighten them. In all our forward-looking there ever remains an
element of uncertainty. The future fronts us like some statue beneath
its canvas covering. Rolling mists hide it all, except here and there a
peak.

I need not remind you how merciful and good it is that it is so.
Therefore coming sorrows do not diffuse anticipatory bitterness as of
tainted water percolating through gravel, and coming joys are not
discounted, and the present has a reality of its own, and is not
coloured by what is to come.

Then this being so - what is the wise course of conduct? Not a confident
reckoning on to-morrow. There is nothing elevating in anticipation
which paints the blank surface of the future with the same earthly
colours as dye the present. There is no more complete waste of time
than that. Nor is proud self-confidence any wiser, which jauntily takes
for granted that 'tomorrow will be as this day.' The conceit that
things are to go on as they have been fools men into a dream of
permanence which has no basis. Nor is the fearful apprehension of evil
any wiser. How many people spoil the present gladness with thoughts of
future sorrow, and cannot enjoy the blessedness of united love for
thinking of separation!

In brief, it is wise to be but little concerned with the future,
except -

1. In the way of taking reasonable precautions to prepare for its
probabilities.

2. To fit ourselves for its duties.

One future we may contemplate. Our fault is not that we look forward,
but that we do not look far enough forward. Why trouble with the world
when we have heaven? Why look along the low level among the mists of
earth and forests and swamps, when we can see the road climbing to the
heights? Why be anxious about what three hundred and sixty-five days
may bring, when we know what Eternity will bring? Why divert our
God-given faculty of hope from its true object? Why torment ourselves
with casting the fashion of uncertain evils, when we can enter into the
great peace of looking for 'that blessed Hope'?

II. The safe Hands which keep the future.

'The Father hath put in His own power.' We have not to depend upon an
impersonal Fate; nor upon a wild whirl of Chance; nor upon 'laws of
averages,' 'natural laws,' 'tendencies' and 'spirit of the age'; nor
even on a theistic Providence, but upon a Father who holds all things
'in His own power,' and wields all for us. So will not our way be made
right?

Whatever the future may bring, it will be loving, paternal discipline.
He shapes it all and keeps it in His hands. Why should we be anxious?
That great name of 'Father' binds Him to tender, wise, disciplinary
dealing, and should move us to calm and happy trust.

III. The sufficient strength to face the future.

'The power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you' is promised here to the
disciples for a specific purpose; but it is promised and given to us
all through Christ, if we will only take it. And in Him we shall be
ready for all the future.

The Spirit of God is the true Interpreter of Providence. He calms our
nature, and enlightens our understanding to grasp the meaning of all
our experiences. The Spirit makes joy more blessed, by keeping us from
undue absorption in it. The Spirit is the Comforter. The Spirit fits us
for duty.

So be quite sure that nothing will come to you in your earthly future,
which He does not Himself accompany to interpret it, and to make it
pure blessing.

IV. The practical duty in view of the future.

(a) The great thing we ought to look to in the future is our work, - not
what we shall enjoy or what we shall endure, but what we shall do. This
is healthful and calming.

(b) The great remedy for morbid anticipation lies in regarding life as



Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 2 of 57)