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of the Holy Ghost, was multiplied.' - ACTS ix. 31 (R.V.).

A man climbing a hill stops every now and then to take breath and look
about him; and in the earlier part of this Book of the Acts of the
Apostles there are a number of such landing-places where the writer
suspends the course of his narrative, in order to give a general notion
of the condition of the Church at the moment. We have in this verse one
of the shortest, but perhaps the most significant, of these
resting-places. The original and proper reading, instead of 'the
Churches,' as our Version has it, reads 'the Church' as a whole - the
whole body of believers in the three districts named - Judaea, Galilee,
and Samaria - being in the same circumstances and passing through like
experiences. The several small communities of disciples formed a whole.
They were 'churches' individually; they were collectively 'the Church.'
Christ's order of expansion, given in chapter i., had been thus far
followed, and the sequence here sums up the progress which the Acts has
thus far recorded. Galilee had been the cradle of the Church, but the
onward march of the Gospel had begun at Jerusalem. Before Luke goes on
to tell how the last part of our Lord's programme - 'to the uttermost
parts of the earth' - began to be carried into execution by the
conversion of Cornelius, he gives us this bird's-eye view. To its
significant items I desire to draw your attention now.

There are three of them: outward rest, inward progress, outward
increase.

I. Outward rest.

'Then had the Church rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and
Samaria.'

The principal persecutor had just been converted, and that would
somewhat damp the zeal of his followers. Saul having gone over to the
enemy, it would be difficult to go on harrying the Church with the same
spirit, when the chief actor was turned traitor. And besides that,
historians tell us that there were political complications which gave
both Romans and Jews quite enough to do to watch one another, instead
of persecuting this little community of Christians. I have nothing to
do with these, but this one point I desire to make, that the condition
of security and tranquillity in which the Church found itself conduced
to spiritual good and growth. This has not always been the case. As one
of our quaint divines says, 'as in cities where ground is scarce men
build high up, so in times of straitness and persecution the Christian
community, and the individuals who compose it, are often raised to a
higher level of devotion than in easier and quieter times.' But these
primitive Christians utilised this breathing-space in order to grow,
and having a moment of lull and stillness in the storm, turned it to
the highest and best uses. Is that what you and I do with our quiet
times? None of us have any occasion to fear persecution or annoyance of
that sort, but there are other thorns in our pillows besides these, and
other rough places in our beds, and we are often disturbed in our
nests. When there does come a quiet time in which no outward
circumstances fret us, do we seize it as coming from God, in order
that, with undistracted energies, we may cast ourselves altogether into
the work of growing like our Master and doing His will more fully? How
many of us, dear brethren, have misused both our adversity and our
prosperity by making the one an occasion for deeper worldliness, and
the other a reason for forgetting Him in the darkness as in the light?
To be absorbed by earthly things, whether by the enjoyment of their
possession or by the bitter pain and misery of their withdrawal, is
fatal to all our spiritual progress, and only they use things
prosperous and things adverse aright, who take them both as means by
which they may be wafted nearer to their God. Whatsoever forces act
upon us, if we put the helm right and trim the sails as we ought, they
will carry us to our haven. And whatsoever forces act upon us, if we
neglect the sailor's skill and duty, we shall be washed backwards and
forwards in the trough of the sea, and make no progress in the voyage.
'Then had the Church rest' - and grew lazy? 'Then had the Church
rest' - and grew worldly? Then was I happy and prosperous and peaceful
in my home and in my business, and I said, 'I shall never be moved,'
and I forgot my God? 'Then had the Church rest, and was edified.'

Now, in the next place, note the

II. Inward progress.

There are difficulties about the exact relation of the clauses here to
one another, the discussion of which would be fitter for a lecture-room
than for a pulpit. I do not mean to trouble you with these, but it
seems to me that we may perhaps best understand the writer's intention
if we throw together the clauses which stand in the middle of this
verse, and take them as being a description of the inward progress,
being 'edified' and 'walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the
comfort of the Holy Ghost.' There are two things, then - the being
'edified' and 'walking'; and I wish to say a word or two about each of
them.

Now that word 'edified' and the cognate one 'edification' have been
enfeebled in signification so as to mean very much less than they did
to Luke. When we speak of 'being edified,' what do we mean? Little more
than that we have been instructed, and especially that we have been
comforted. And what is the instrument of edification in our ordinary
religious parlance? Good words, wise teaching, or pious speech. But the
New Testament means vastly more than this by the word, and looks not so
much to other people's utterances as to a man's own strenuous efforts,
as the means of edification. Much misunderstanding would have been
avoided if our translators had really translated, instead of putting us
off with a Latinised word which to many readers conveys little meaning
and none of the significant metaphor of the original. 'Being edified'
sounds very theological and far away from daily life. Would it not
sound more real if we read 'being built up'? That is the emblem of the
process that ought to go on, not only in the Christian community as a
whole, but in every individual member of it. Each Christian is bound to
build himself up and to help to build up other Christians; and God
builds them all up by His Spirit. We have brought before us the picture
of the rising of some stately fabric upon a firm foundation, course by
course, stone by stone, each laid by a separate act of the builder's
hand, and carefully bedded in its place until the whole is complete.

That is one emblem of the growth of the Christian community and of the
Christian individual, and the other clause that is coupled with it in
the text seems to me to give the same idea under a slightly different
figure. The rising of a stately building and the advance on a given
path suggest substantially the same notion of progress.

And of these two metaphors, I would dwell chiefly on the former,
because it is the less familiar of the two to modern readers, and
because it is of some consequence to restore it to its weight and true
significance in the popular mind. Edification, then, is the building up
of Christian character, and it involves four things: a foundation, a
continuous progress, a patient, persistent effort, and a completion.

Now, Christian men and women, this is our office for ourselves, and,
according to our faculty and opportunities, for the Churches with which
we may stand connected, that on the foundation which is Jesus
Christ - 'and other foundation can no man lay' - we all should slowly,
carefully, unceasingly be at our building work; each day's attainment,
like the course of stones laid in some great temple, becoming the basis
upon which to-morrow's work is to be piled, and each having in it the
toil of the builder and being a result and monument of his strenuous
effort, and each being built in, according to the plan that the great
Architect has given, and each tending a little nearer to the roof-tree,
and the time that 'the top stone shall be brought forth with the shout
of rejoicing.' Is that a transcript of my life and yours? Do we make a
business of the cultivation of Christian character thus? Do we rest the
whole structure of our lives upon Jesus Christ? And then, do we, hour
by hour, moment by moment, lay the fair stones, until

'Firm and fair the building rise,
A temple to His praise.'

The old worn metaphor, which we have vulgarised and degraded into a
synonym for a comfortable condition produced by a brother's words,
carries in it the solemnest teaching as to what the duty and privilege
of all Christian souls is-to 'build themselves up for an habitation of
God through the Spirit.'

But note further the elements of which this progress consists. May we
not suppose that both metaphors refer to the clauses that follow, and
that 'the fear of the Lord' and 'the comfort of the Holy Ghost' are the
particulars in which the Christian is built up and walks?

'The fear of the Lord' is eminently an Old Testament expression, and
occurs only once or twice in the New. But its meaning is thoroughly in
accordance with the loftiest teaching of the new revelation. 'The fear
of the Lord' is that reverential awe of Him, by which we are ever
conscious of His presence with us, and ever seek, as our supreme aim
and end, to submit our wills to His commandment, and to do the things
that are pleasing in His sight. Are you and I building ourselves up in
that? Do we feel more thrillingly and gladly to-day than we did
yesterday, that God is beside us? And do we submit ourselves more
loyally, more easily, more joyously to His will, in blessed obedience,
now than ever before? Have we learned, and are we learning, moment by
moment, more of that 'secret of the Lord' which 'is with them that fear
Him,' and of that 'covenant' which 'He will show' to them? Unless we
do, our growth in Christian character is a very doubtful thing. And are
we advancing, too, in that other element which so beautifully completes
and softens the notion of the fear of the Lord, 'the encouragement'
which the divine Spirit gives us? Are we bolder to-day than we were
yesterday? Are we ready to meet with more undaunted confidence whatever
we may have to face? Do we feel ever increasing within us the full
blessedness and inspiration of that divine visitant? And do these sweet
communications take all the 'torment' away from 'fear,' and leave only
the bliss of reverential love? They who walk in the fear of the Lord,
and who with the fear have the courage that the divine Spirit gives,
will 'have rest,' like the first Christians, whatsoever storms may howl
around them, and whatsoever enemies may threaten to disturb their peace.

And so, lastly, note

III. The outward growth.

Thus building themselves up, and thus growing, the Church 'was
multiplied.' Of course it was. Christian men and women that are
spiritually alive, and who, because they are alive, grow, and grow in
these things, the manifest reverence of God, and the manifest 'comfort'
of the divine Spirit's giving, will commend their gospel to a blind
world. They will be an attractive force in the midst of men, and their
inward growth will make them eager to hold forth the word of life, and
will give them 'a mouth and wisdom' which nothing but genuine spiritual
experience can give.

And so, dear friends, especially those of you who set yourselves to any
of the many forms of Christian work which prevail in this day, learn
the lesson of my text, and make sure of '_a_' before you go on to
'_b_,' and see to it that before you set yourselves to try to multiply
the Church, you set yourselves to build up yourselves in your most holy
faith.

We hear a great deal nowadays about 'forward movements,' and I
sympathise with all that is said in favour of them. But I would remind
you that the precursor of every genuine forward movement is a Godward
movement, and that it is worse than useless to talk about lengthening
the cords unless you begin with strengthening the stakes. The little
prop that holds up the bell-tent that will contain half-a-dozen
soldiers will be all too weak for the great one that will cover a
company. And the fault of some Christian people is that they set
themselves to work upon others without remembering that the first
requisite is a deepened and growing godliness and devotion in their own
souls. Dear friends, begin at home, and remember that whilst what the
world calls eloquence may draw people, and oddities _will_ draw them,
and all sorts of lower attractions will gather multitudes for a little
while, the one solid power which Christian men and women can exercise
for the numerical increase of the Church is rooted in, and only tenable
through, their own personal increase day by day in consecration and
likeness to the Saviour, in possession of the Spirit, and in loving
fear of the Lord.



COPIES OF CHRIST'S MANNER

'And Peter said unto him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole:
arise, and make thy bed.... 40. But Peter put them all forth, and
kneeled down and prayed; and, turning him to the body, said, Tabitha,
arise. - ACTS ix. 34, 40.

I have put these two miracles together, not only because they were
closely connected in time and place, but because they have a very
remarkable and instructive feature in common. They are both evidently
moulded upon Christ's miracles; are distinct imitations of what Peter
had seen Him do. And their likenesses to and differences from our
Lord's manner of working are equally noteworthy. It is to the lessons
from these two aspects, common to both miracles, that I desire to turn
now.

I. First, notice the similarities and the lesson which they teach.

The two cases before us are alike, in that both of them find parallels
in our Lord's miracles. The one is the cure of a paralytic, which pairs
off with the well-known story in the Gospels concerning the man that
was borne by four, and let down through the roof into Christ's
presence. The other of them, the raising of Dorcas, or Tabitha, of
course corresponds with the three resurrections of dead people which
are recorded in the Gospels.

And now, note the likenesses. Jesus Christ said to the paralysed man,
'Arise, take up thy bed.' Peter says to Aeneas, 'Arise, and make thy
bed.' The one command was appropriate to the circumstances of a man who
was not in his own house, and whose control over his long-disused
muscles in obeying Christ's word was a confirmation to himself of the
reality and completeness of his cure. The other was appropriate to a
man bedridden in his own house; and it had precisely the same purpose
as the analogous injunction from our Lord, 'Take up thy bed and walk.'
Aeneas was lying at home, and so Peter, remembering how Jesus Christ
had demonstrated to others, and affirmed to the man himself, the
reality of the miraculous blessing given to him, copies his Master's
method, 'Aeneas, make thy bed.' It is an echo and resemblance of the
former incident, and is a distinct piece of imitation of it.

And then, if we turn to the other narrative, the intentional moulding
of the manner of the miracle, consecrated in the eyes of the loving
disciple, because it was Christ's manner, is still more obvious. When
Jesus Christ went into the house of Jairus there was the usual hubbub,
the noise of the loud Eastern mourning, and He put them all forth,
taking with Him only the father and mother of the damsel, and Peter
with James and John. When Peter goes into the upper room, where Tabitha
is lying, there are the usual noise of lamentation and the clack of
many tongues, extolling the virtues of the dead woman. He remembers how
Christ had gone about His miracle, and he, in his turn, 'put them all
forth.' Mark, who was Peter's mouthpiece in his Gospel, gives us the
very Aramaic words which our Lord employed when He raised the little
girl, _Talitha_, the Aramaic word for 'a damsel,' or young girl;
_cumi_, which means in that language 'arise.' Is it not singular and
beautiful that Peter's word by the bedside of the dead Dorcas is, with
the exception of one letter, absolutely identical? Christ says,
_Talitha cumi_. Peter remembered the formula by which the blessing was
conveyed, and he copied it. 'Tabitha cumi!' Is it not clear that he is
posing after his Master's attitude; that he is, consciously or
unconsciously, doing what he remembered so well had been done in that
other upper room, and that the miracles are both of them shaped after
the pattern of the miraculous working of Jesus Christ?

Well, now, although we are no miracle-workers, the very same principle
which underlay these two works of supernatural power is to be applied
to all our work, and to our lives as Christian people. I do not know
whether Peter _meant_ to do like Jesus Christ or not; I think rather
that he was unconsciously and instinctively dropping into the fashion
that to him was so sacred. Love always delights in imitation; and the
disciples of a great teacher will unconsciously catch the trick of his
intonation, even the awkwardness of his attitudes or the peculiarities
of his way of looking at things - only, unfortunately, outsides are a
good deal more easily imitated than insides. And many a disciple copies
such external trifles, and talks in the tones that have, first of all,
brought blessed truths to him, whose resemblance to his teacher goes
very little further. The principle that underlies these miracles is
just this - get near Jesus Christ, and you will catch His manner. Dwell
in fellowship with Him, and whether you are thinking about it or not,
there will come some faint resemblance to that Lord into your
characters and your way of doing things, so that men will 'take
knowledge of you that you have been with Jesus.' The poor bit of cloth
which has held some precious piece of solid perfume will retain
fragrance for many a day afterwards, and will bless the scentless air
by giving it forth. The man who keeps close to Christ, and has folded
Him in his heart, will, like the poor cloth, give forth a sweetness not
his own that will gladden and refresh many nostrils. Live in the light,
and you will become light. Keep near Christ, and you will be
Christlike. Love Him, and love will do to you what it does to many a
wedded pair, and to many kindred hearts: it will transfuse into you
something of the characteristics of the object of your love. It is
impossible to trust Christ, to obey Christ, to hold communion with Him,
and to live beside Him, without becoming like Him. And if such be our
inward experience, so will be our outward appearance.

But there may be a specific point given to this lesson in regard to
Christian people's ways of doing their work in the world and helping
and blessing other folk. Although, as I say, we have no miraculous
power at our disposal, we do not need it in order to manifest Jesus
Christ and His way of working in our work. And if we dwell beside Him,
then, depend upon it, all the characteristics - far more precious than
the accidents of manner, or tone, or attitude in working a miracle - all
the characteristics so deeply and blessedly stamped upon His life of
self-sacrifice and man-helping devotion will be reproduced in us. Jesus
Christ, when He went through the wards of the hospital of the world,
was overflowing with quick sympathy for every sorrow that met His eye.
If you and I are living near Him, we shall never steel our hearts nor
lock up our sensibilities against any suffering that it is within our
power to stanch or to alleviate. Jesus Christ never grudged trouble,
never thought of Himself, never was impatient of interruption, never
repelled importunity, never sent away empty any outstretched hand. And
if we live near Him, self-oblivious willingness to spend and be spent
will mark our lives, and we shall not consider that we have the right
of possession or of sole enjoyment of any of the blessings that are
given to us. Jesus Christ, according to the beautiful and significant
words of one of the Gospels, 'healed them that had need of healing.'
Why that singular designation for the people that were standing around
Him but to teach us that wide as men's necessity was His sympathy, and
that broad as the sympathy of Christ were the help and healing which He
brought? And so, with like width of compassion, with like perfectness
of self-oblivion, with equal remoteness from consciousness of
superiority or display of condescension, Christian men should go
amongst the sorrowful and the sad and the outcast and do their
miracles - 'greater works' than those which Christ did, as He Himself
has told us - after the manner in which He did His. If they did, the
world would be a different place, and the Church would be a different
Church, and you would not have people writing in the newspapers to
demonstrate that Christianity was 'played out.'

II. Further, note the differences and the lessons from them.

Take the first of the two miracles. 'Aeneas, Jesus Christ maketh thee
whole: arise, and make thy bed.' That first clause points to the great
difference. Take the second miracle, 'Jesus Christ put them all forth,
and stretched out His hand, and said, Damsel, arise!' 'Peter put them
all forth, ... and said, Tabitha, arise!' but between the putting forth
and the miracle he did something which Christ did not do, and he did
not do something which Christ did do. 'He kneeled down and prayed.'
Jesus Christ did not do that. 'And Jesus put forth His hand, and said,
Arise!' Peter did not do that. But he put forth his hand _after_ the
miracle was wrought; not to communicate life, but to help the living
woman to get to her feet; and so, both by what he did in his prayer and
by what he did not do after Christ's pattern, the extension of the hand
that was the channel of the vitality, he drew a broad distinction
between the servant's copy and the Master's original.

The lessons from the differences are such as the following.

Christ works miracles by His inherent power; His servants do their
works only as His instruments and organs. I need not dwell upon the
former thought; but it is the latter at which I wish to look for a
moment. The lesson, then, of the difference is that Christian men, in
all their work for the Master and for the world, are ever to keep clear
before themselves, and to make very obvious to other people, that they
are nothing more than channels and instruments. The less the preacher,
the teacher, the Christian benefactor of any sort puts himself in the
foreground, or in evidence at all, the more likely are his words and
works to be successful. If you hear a man, for instance, preaching a
sermon, and you see that he is thinking about himself, he may talk with
the tongues of men and of angels, but he will do no good to anybody.
The first condition of work for the Lord is - hide yourself behind your
message, behind your Master, and make it very plain that His is the
power, and that you are but a tool in the Workman's hand.

And then, further, another lesson is, Be very sure of the power that
will work in you. What a piece of audacity it was for Peter to go and
stand by the paralytic man's couch and say, 'Aeneas, Jesus Christ
maketh thee whole.' Yes, audacity; unless he had been in such constant
and close touch with his Master that he was sure that his Master was
working through him. And is it not beautiful to see how absolutely
confident he is that Jesus Christ's work was not ended when He went up
into heaven; but that there, in that little stuffy room, where the man
had lain motionless for eight long years, Jesus Christ was present, and
working? O brethren, the Christian Church does not half enough believe
in the actual presence and operation of Jesus Christ, here and now, in
and through all His servants! We are ready enough to believe that He
worked when He was in the world long ago, that He is going to work when
He comes back to the world, at some far-off future period. But do we
believe that He is verily putting forth His power, in no metaphor, but
in simple reality, at present and here, and, if we will, through us?

'Jesus Christ maketh thee whole.' Be sure that if you keep near Christ,
if you will try to mould yourselves after His likeness, if you expect
Him to work through you, and do not hinder His work by self-conceit and
self-consciousness of any sort, then it will be no presumption, but
simple faith which He delights in and will vindicate, if you, too, go
and stand by a paralytic and say, 'Jesus Christ maketh thee whole,' or
go and stand by people dead in trespasses and sins and say, after you
have prayed, 'Arise.'

We are here for the very purpose for which Peter was in Lydda and



Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 21 of 57)