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sin of the crusade which he had thought acceptable to God. 'Why
persecutest thou Me?' Then the odious heretics were knit by some
mysterious bond to this glorious One, so that He bled in their wounds
and felt their pains! Then Saul had been, as his old teacher dreaded
they of the Sanhedrin might be, fighting against God! How the reasons
for Saul's persecution had crumbled away, till there were none left
with which to answer Jesus' question! Jesus lived, and was exalted to
glory. He was identified with His servants. He had appeared to Saul,
and deigned to plead with him.

No wonder that the man who had been planning fresh assaults on the
disciples ten minutes before, was crushed and abject as he lay there on
the road, and these tremendous new convictions rushed like a cataract
over and into his soul! No wonder that the lessons burned in on him in
that hour of destiny became the centre-point of all his future
teaching! That vision revolutionised his thinking and his life. None
can affirm that it was incompetent to do so.

Luke's account here, like Paul's in chapter xxii., represents further
instructions from Jesus as postponed till Saul's meeting with Ananias,
while Paul's other account in chapter xxvi. omits mention of the
latter, and gives the substance of what he said in Damascus as said on
the road by Jesus. The one account is more detailed than the other,
that is all. The gradual unfolding of the heavenly purpose which our
narrative gives is in accord with the divine manner. For the moment
enough had been done to convert the persecutor into the servant, to
level with the ground his self-righteousness, to reveal to him the
glorified Jesus, to bend his will and make it submissive. The rest
would be told him in due time.

The attendants had fallen to the ground like him, but seem to have
struggled to their feet again, while he lay prostrate. They saw the
brightness, but not the Person: they heard the voice, but not the
words. Saul staggered by their help to his feet, and then found that
with open eyes he was blind. Imagination or hallucination does not play
tricks of that sort with the organs of sense.

The supernatural is too closely intertwined with the story to be taken
out of it without reducing it to tatters. The greatest of Christian
teachers, who has probably exercised more influence than any man who
ever lived, was made a Christian by a miracle. That fact is not to be
got rid of. But we must remember that once when He speaks of it He
points to God's revelation of His Son '_in_ Him' as its essential
character. The external appearance was the vehicle of the inward
revelation. It is to be remembered, too, that the miracle did not take
away Saul's power of accepting or rejecting the Christ; for he tells
Agrippa that he was 'not disobedient to the heavenly vision.'

What a different entry he made into Damascus from what he expected, and
what a different man it was that crawled up to the door of Judas, in
the street that is called Straight, from the self-confident young
fanatic who had left Jerusalem with the high priest's letters in his
bosom and fierce hate in his heart!

Ananias was probably not one of the fugitives, as his language about
Saul implies that he knew of his doings only by hearsay. The report of
Saul's coming and authority to arrest disciples had reached Damascus
before him, with the wonderful quickness with which news travels in the
East, nobody knows how. Ananias's fears being quieted, he went to the
house where for three days Saul had been lying lonely in the dark,
fasting, and revolving many things in his heart. No doubt his Lord had
spoken many a word to him, though not by vision, but by whispering to
his spirit. Silence and solitude root truth in a soul. After such a
shock, absolute seclusion was best.

Ananias discharged his commission with lovely tenderness and power. How
sweet and strange to speaker and hearer would that 'Brother Saul'
sound! How strong and grateful a confirmation of his vision would
Ananias's reference to the appearance of the Lord bring! How humbly
would the proud Pharisee bow to receive, laid on his head, the hands
that he had thought to bind with chains! What new eyes would look out
on a world in which all things had become new, when there fell from
them as it had been scales, and as quickly as had come the blinding, so
quickly came the restored vision!

Ananias was neither Apostle nor official, yet the laying on of his
hands communicated 'the Holy Ghost.' Saul received that gift before
baptism, not after or through the ordinance. It was important for his
future relations to the Apostles that he should not have been
introduced to the Church by them, or owed to them his first human
Christian teaching. Therefore he could say that he was 'an Apostle, not
from men, neither through man.' It was important for us that in that
great instance that divine gift should have been bestowed without the
conditions accompanying, which have too often been regarded as
necessary for, its possession.



'THIS WAY'

'Any of this way.' - ACTS ix. 2

The name of 'Christian' was not applied to themselves by the followers
of Jesus before the completion of the New Testament. There were other
names in currency before that designation - which owed its origin to the
scoffing wits of Antioch - was accepted by the Church. They called
themselves 'disciples,' 'believers, 'saints,' 'brethren,' as if feeling
about for a title.

Here is a name that had obtained currency for a while, and was
afterwards disused. We find it five times in the Book of the Acts of
the Apostles, never elsewhere; and always, with one exception, it
should be rendered, as it is in the Revised Version, not '_this_ way,'
as if being one amongst many, but '_the_ way,' as being the only one.

Now, I have thought that this designation of Christians as 'those of
the way' rests upon a very profound and important view of what
Christianity is, and may teach us some lessons if we will ponder it;
and I ask your attention to two or three of these for a few moments now.

I. First, then, I take this name as being a witness to the conviction
that in Christianity we have the only road to God.

There may be some reference in the name to the remarkable words of our
Lord Jesus Christ: 'I am the Way. No man cometh to the Father but by
Me,' - words of which the audacity is unparalleled and unpardonable,
except upon the supposition that He bears an unique relation to God on
the one hand, and to all mankind upon the other. In them He claims to
be the sole medium of communication between heaven and earth, God and
man. And that same exclusiveness is reflected in this name for
Christians. It asserts that faith in Jesus Christ, the acceptance of
His teaching, mediation and guidance, is the only path that climbs to
God, and by it alone do we come into knowledge of, and communion with,
our divine Father.

I do not dwell upon the fact that, according to our Lord's own
teaching, and according to the whole New Testament, Christ's work of
making God known to man did not begin with His Incarnation and earthly
life, but that from the beginning that eternal Word was the agent of
all divine activity in creation, and in the illumination of mankind. So
that, not only all the acts of the self-revealing God were through Him,
but that from Him, as from the light of men, came all the light in
human hearts, of reason and of conscience, by which there were and are
in all men, some dim knowledge of God, and some feeling after, or at
the lowest some consciousness of, Him. But the historical facts of
Christ's incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension are the
source of all solid certitude, and of all clear knowledge of our Father
in Heaven. His words are spirit and life; His works are unspoken words;
and by both He declares unto His brethren the Name, and is the
self-manifestation of, the Father.

Think of the contrast presented by the world's conceptions of Godhead,
and the reality as unveiled in Christ! On the one hand you have gods
lustful, selfish, passionate, capricious, cruel, angry, vile; or gods
remote, indifferent, not only passionless, but heartless, inexorable,
unapproachable, whom no man can know, whom no man can love, whom no man
can trust. On the other hand, if you look at Christ's tears as the
revelation of God; if you look at Christ's ruth and pity as the
manifestation of the inmost glory of the divine nature; if you take
your stand at the foot of the Cross - a strange place to see 'the power
of God and the wisdom of God'! - and look up there at Him dying for the
world, and are able to say, 'Lo! this is our God! through all the weary
centuries we have waited for Him, and this is He!' then you can
understand how true it is that there, and there only, is the good news
proclaimed that lifts the burden from every heart, and reveals God the
Lover and the Friend of every soul.

And if, further, we consider the difference between the dim
'peradventures,' the doubts and fears, the uncertain conclusions drawn
from questionable, and often partial, premises, which confessedly never
amount to demonstration, if we consider the contrast between these and
the daylight of fact which we meet in Jesus Christ, His love, life, and
death, then we can feel how superior in certitude, as in substance, the
revelation of God in Jesus is to all these hopes, longings, doubts, and
how it alone is worthy to be called the knowledge of God, or is solid
enough to abide comparison with the certainties of the most arrogant
physical science.

There never was a time in the history of the world when, so clearly and
unmistakably, every thinking soul amongst cultivated nations was being
brought up to this alternative - Christ, the Revealer of God, or no
knowledge of God at all. The old dreams of heathenism are impossible
for us; modern agnosticism will make very quick work of a deism which
does not cling to the Christ as the Revealer of the Godhead. And I, for
my part, believe that there is one thing, and one thing only, which
will save modern Europe from absolute godlessness, and that is the
coming back to the old truth, 'No man hath seen God' by sense, or
intuition, or reason, or conscience, 'at any time. The only begotten
Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.'

But it is not merely as bringing to us the only certain knowledge of
our Father God that Christianity is 'the way,' but it is also because
by it alone we come into fellowship with the God whom it reveals to us.
If there rises up before your mind the thought of Him in the Heavens,
there will rise up also in your consciousness the sense of your own
sin. And that is no delusion nor fancy; it is the most patent fact,
that between you and your Father in Heaven, howsoever loving, tender,
compassionate, and forgiving, there lies a great gulf. You cannot go to
God, my brother, with all that guilt heaped upon your conscience; you
cannot come near to Him with all that mass of evil which you know is
there, working in your soul. How shall a sinful soul come to a holy
God? And there is only one answer - that great Lord, by His blessed
death upon the Cross, has cleared away all the mountains of guilt and
sin that rise up frowning between each single soul and the Father in
Heaven; and through Him, by a new and living way, which He hath opened
for us, we have entrance to God, and dwell with Him.

And it is not only that He brings to us the knowledge of God, and that
He clears away all obstacles, and makes fellowship between God and us
possible for the most polluted and sinful of spirits, but it is also
that, by the knowledge of His great love to us, love is kindled in our
hearts, and we are drawn into that path which, as a matter of fact, we
shall not tread unless we yield to the magnetic attraction of the love
of God as revealed 'in the face of Jesus Christ.'

Men do not seek fellowship with God until they are drawn to Him by the
love that is revealed upon the Cross. Men do not yield their hearts to
Him until their hearts are melted down by the fire of that Infinite
divine love which disdained not to be humiliated and refused not to die
for their sakes. Practically and really we come to God, when - and I
venture upon the narrowness of saying, _only_ when - God has come to us
in His dear Son. '_The_ way' to God is through Christ. Have you trod
it, my friend - that new and living way, which leads within the veil,
into the secrets of loving communion with your Father in Heaven?

II. Then there is another principle, of which this designation of our
text is also the witness, viz., that in Christianity we have the path
of conduct and practical life traced out for us all.

The 'way of a man' is, of course, a metaphor for his outward life and
conduct. It is connected with the familiar old image which belongs to
the poetry of all languages, by which life is looked at as a journey.
That metaphor speaks to us of the continual changefulness of our mortal
condition; it speaks to us, also, of the effort and the weariness which
often attend it. It proclaims also the solemn thought that a man's life
is a unity, and that, progressive, it goes some whither, and arrives at
a definite goal.

And that idea is taken up in this phrase, '_the_ way,' in such a
fashion as that there are two things asserted: first, that Christianity
provides _a_ way, a path for the practical activity, that it moulds our
life into a unity, that it prescribes the line of direction which it is
to follow, that it has a starting-point, and stages, and an end; also,
that Christianity is _the_ way for practical life, the only path and
mode of conduct which corresponds with all the obligations and nature
of a man, and which reason, conscience, and experience will approve.
Let us look, just for a moment or two, at these two thoughts:
Christianity is _a_ way; Christianity is _the_ way.

It is a way. These early disciples must have grasped with great
clearness and tenacity the practical side of the Gospel, or they would
never have adopted this name. If they had thought of it as being only a
creed, they would not have done so.

And it is not only a creed. All creed is meant to influence conduct. If
I may so say, _credenda_, 'things to be believed,' are meant to
underlie the _agenda_, the things to be done. Every doctrine of the New
Testament, like the great blocks of concrete that are dropped into a
river in order to lay the foundation of a bridge, or the embankment
that is run across a valley in order to carry a railway upon it, - every
doctrine of the New Testament is meant to influence the conduct, the
'walk and conversation,' and to provide a path on which activity may
advance and expatiate.

I cannot, of course, dwell upon this point with sufficient elaboration,
or take up one after another the teachings of the New Testament, in
order to show how close is their bearing upon practical life. There is
plenty of abstract theology in the form of theological systems,
skeletons all dried up that have no life in them. There is nothing of
that sort in the principles as they lie on the pages of the New
Testament. There they are all throbbing with life, and all meant to
influence life and conduct.

Remember, my friend, that unless your Christianity is doing that for
you, unless it has prescribed a path of life for you, and moulded your
steps into a great unity, and drawn you along the road, it is
nought, - nought!

But the whole matter may be put into half a dozen sentences. The living
heart of Christianity, either considered as a revelation to a man, or
as a power within a man, that is to say, either objective or
subjective, is love. It is the revelation of the love of God that is
the inmost essence of it as revelation. It is love in my heart that is
the inmost essence of it as a fact of my nature. And is not love the
most powerful of all forces to influence conduct? Is it not 'the
fulfilling of the law,' because its one single self includes all
commandments, and is the ideal of all duty, and also because it is the
power which will secure the keeping of all the law which itself lays
down?

But love may be followed out into its two main effects. These are
self-surrender and imitation. And I say that a religious system which
is, in its inmost heart and essence, love, is thereby shown to be the
most practical of all systems, because thereby it is shown to be a
great system of self-surrender and imitation.

The deepest word of the Gospel is, 'Yield yourselves to God.' Bring
your wills and bow them before Him, and say, 'Here am I; take me, and
use me as a pawn on Thy great chessboard, to be put where Thou wilt.'
When once a man's will is absorbed into the divine will, as a drop of
water is into the ocean, he is free, and has happiness and peace, and
is master and lord of himself and of the universe. That system which
proclaims love as its heart sets in action self-surrender as the most
practical of all the powers of life.

Love is imitation. And Jesus Christ's life is set before us as the
pattern for all our conduct. We are to follow In His footsteps. These
mark our path. We are to follow Him, as a traveller who knows not his
way will carefully tread in the steps of his guide. We are to imitate
Him, as a scholar who is learning to draw will copy every touch of the
master's pencil.

Strange that that short life, fragmentarily reported in four little
tracts, full of unapproachable peculiarities, and having no part in
many of the relationships which make so large a portion of most lives,
is yet so transparently under the influence of the purest and broadest
principles of righteousness and morality as that every age and each
sex, and men of all professions, idiosyncrasies, temperaments, and
positions, all stages of civilisation and culture, of every period, and
of every country, may find in it the all-sufficient pattern for them!

Thus in Christianity we have a way. It prescribes a line of direction
for the life, and brings all its power to bear in marking the course
which we should pursue and in making us willing and able to pursue it.

How different, how superior to all other systems which aspire to
regulate the outward life that system is! It is superior, in its
applicability to all conditions. It is a very difficult thing for any
man to apply the generalities of moral law and righteousness to the
individual cases in his life. The stars are very bright, but they do
not show me which street to turn up when I am at a loss; but Christ's
example comes very near to us, and guides us, not indeed in regard to
questions of prudence or expediency, but in regard to all questions of
right or wrong. It is superior, in the help it gives to a soul
struggling with temptation. It is very hard to keep law or duty clearly
before our eyes at such a moment, when it is most needful to do so. The
lighthouse is lost in the fog, but the example of Jesus Christ
dissipates many mists of temptation to the heart that loves Him; and
'they that follow Him shall not walk in darkness.'

It is superior in this, further, that patterns fail because they are
only patterns, and cannot get themselves executed, and laws fail
because they are only laws and cannot get themselves obeyed. What is
the use of a signpost to a man who is lame, or who does not want to go
down the road, though he knows it well enough? But Christianity brings
both the commandment and the motive that keeps the commandment.

And so it is _the_ path along which we can travel. It is the only road
that corresponds to all our necessities, and capacities, and
obligations.

It is the only path, my brother, that will be approved by reason,
conscience, and experience. The greatest of our English mystics says
somewhere - I do not profess to quote with verbal accuracy - 'There are
two questions which put an end to all the vain projects and designs of
human life. The one is, "What for?" the other, "What good will the aim
do you if attained?"'

If we look at 'all the ways of men' calmly, and with due regard to the
wants of their souls, reason cannot but say that they are 'vain and
melancholy.' If we consult our own experience we cannot but confess
that whatsoever we have had or enjoyed, apart from God, has either
proved disappointing in the very moment of its possession, or has been
followed by a bitter taste on the tongue; or in a little while has
faded, and left us standing with the stalk in our hands from which the
bloom has dropped. Generation after generation has sighed its 'Amen!'
to the stern old word: 'Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!' And here
to-day, in the midst of the boasted progress of this generation, we
find cultured men amongst us, lapped in material comfort, and with all
the light of this century blazing upon them, preaching again the old
Buddhist doctrine that annihilation is the only heaven, and proclaiming
that life is not worth living, and that 'it were better not to be.'

Dear brother, one path, and one path only, leads to what all men
desire - peace and happiness. One path, and one path only, leads to what
all men know they ought to seek - purity and godliness. We are like men
in the backwoods, our paths go circling round and round, we have lost
our way. 'The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, for he
knoweth not how to come to the city.' Jesus Christ has cut a path
through the forest. Tread you in it, and you will find that it is 'the
way of pleasantness' and 'the path of peace.'

III. And now, one last word. This remarkable designation seems to me to
be a witness also to another truth, viz. that in Christianity we have
the only way home.

The only way home! All other modes and courses of life and conduct stop
at the edge of a great gulf, like some path that goes down an incline
to the edge of a precipice, and the heedless traveller that has been
going on, not knowing whither it led, tilts over when he comes there.
Every other way that men can follow is broken short off by death. And
if there were no other reason to allege, that is enough to condemn
them. What is a man to do in another world if all his life long he has
only cultivated tastes which want this world for their gratification?
What is the sensualist to do when he gets there? What is the shrewd man
of business in Manchester to do when he comes into a world where there
are no bargains, and he cannot go on 'Change on Tuesdays and Fridays?
What will he do with himself? What does he do with himself now, when he
goes away from home for a month, and does not get his ordinary work and
surroundings? What will he do then? What will a young lady do in an
other world, who spends her days here in reading trashy novels and
magazines? What will any of us do who have set our affections and our
tastes upon this poor, perishing, miserable world? Would you think it
was common sense in a young man who was going to be a doctor, and took
no interest in anything but farming? Is it not as stupid a thing for
men and women to train themselves for a condition which is transient,
and not to train themselves for the condition into which they are
certainly going?

And, on the other hand, the path that Christ makes runs clear on,
without a break, across the gulf, like some daring railway bridge
thrown across a mountain gorge, and goes straight on on the other side
without a curve, only with an upward gradient. The manner of work may
change; the spirit of the work and the principles of it will remain.
Self-surrender will be the law of Heaven, and 'they shall follow the
Lamb whithersoever He goeth.' Better to begin here as we mean to end
yonder! Better to begin here what we can carry with us, in essence
though not in form, into the other life; and so, through all the
changes of life, and through the great change of death, to keep one
unbroken straight course! 'They go from strength to strength; every one
of them in Zion appeareth before God'.

We live in an else trackless waste, but across the desert Jesus Christ
has thrown a way; too high for ravenous beasts to spring on or raging
foes to storm; too firm for tempest to overthrow or make impair able;
too plain for simple hearts to mistake. We may all journey on it, if we
will, and 'come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon our heads.'

Christ is the Way. O brother I trust thy sinful soul to His blood and
mediation, and thy sins will be forgiven. And then, loving Him, follow
Him. 'This is the way; walk ye in it.'



A BIRD'S-EYE VIEW OF THE EARLY CHURCH

'So the Church throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria had peace,
being edified; and, walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort



Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 20 of 57)