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and passes you by.

Mark sails away to Cyprus, he does not go back to Jerusalem; he and
Barnabas try to get up some little schismatic sort of mission of their
own. Nothing comes of it; nothing ought to have come of it. He drops
out of the story; he has no share in the joyful conflicts and
sacrifices and successes of the Apostle. When he heard how Paul, by
God's help, was flaming like a meteor from East to West, do you not
think he wished that he had not been such a coward? When the Lord was
opening doors, and he saw how the work was prospering in the hands of
ancient companions, and Silas filled the place that he might have
filled, if he had been faithful to God, do you not think the bitter
thought occupied his mind, of how he had flung away what never could
come back to him now? The punishment of indolence is absolute idleness.

So, my friends, let us learn this lesson, that the largest reward that
God can give to him that has been faithful in a few things, is to give
him many things to be faithful over. Beware, all of you professing
Christians, lest to you should come the fate of the slothful servant
with his one burled talent, to whom the punishment of burying it unused
was to lose it altogether; according to that solemn word which was
fulfilled in the temporal sphere in this story on which I am
commenting: 'To him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath
not, even that he hath shall be taken away.'

III. Again consider the process of recovery.

Concerning it we read nothing indeed in Scripture; but concerning it we
know enough to be able at least to determine what its outline must have
been. The silent and obscure years of compulsory inactivity had their
fruit, no doubt. There is only one road, with well-marked stages, by
which a backsliding or apostate Christian can return to his Master. And
that road has three halting-places upon it, through which the heart
must pass if it have wandered from its early faith, and falsified its
first professions. The first of them is the consciousness of the fall,
the second is the resort to the Master for forgiveness; and the last is
the deepened consecration to Him.

The patriarch Abraham, in a momentary lapse from faith to sense,
thought himself compelled to leave the land to which God had sent him,
because a famine threatened; and when he came back from Egypt, as the
narrative tells us with deep significance, he went to the 'place where
he had pitched his tent at the beginning; to the altar which lie had
reared at the first.' Yes, my friends, we must begin over again, tread
all the old path, enter by the old wicket-gate, once more take the
place of the penitent, once more make acquaintance with the pardoning
Christ, once more devote ourselves in renewed consecration to His
service. No man that wanders into the wilderness but comes back by the
King's highway, if he comes back at all.

IV. And so lastly, notice the reinstatement of the penitent renegade.

If you turn at your leisure to the remaining notices of John Mark in
Scripture, you will find, in two of Paul's Epistles of the captivity,
viz., those to the Colossians and Philemon, references to him; and
these references are of a very interesting and beautiful nature. Paul
says that in Rome Mark was one of the four born Jews who had been a
cordial and a comfort to him in his imprisonment. He commends him, in
the view of a probable journey, to the loving reception of the church
at Colosse, as if they knew something derogatory to his character, the
impression of which the Apostle desired to remove. He sends to Philemon
the greetings of the repentant renegade in strange juxtaposition with
the greetings of two other men, one who was an apostate at the end of
his career instead of at the beginning, and of whom we do not read that
he ever came back, and one who all his life long is the type of a
faithful friend and companion, 'Mark, Demas, Luke' are bracketed as
greeting Philemon; the first a runaway that came back, the second a
fugitive who, so far as we know, never returned, and the last the
faithful friend throughout.

And then in Paul's final Epistle, and in almost the last words of it,
we read his request to Timothy. 'Take Mark, and bring him with thee,
for he is profitable to me for the ministry.' The first notice of him
was: 'They had John to their minister'; the last word about him is: 'he
is profitable for the ministry.' The Greek words in the original are
not identical, but their meaning is substantially the same. So
notwithstanding the failure, notwithstanding the wise refusal of Paul
years before to have anything more to do with him, he is now reinstated
in his old office, and the aged Apostle, before he dies, would like to
have the comfort of his presence once more at his side. Is not the
lesson out of that, this eternal Gospel that even early failures,
recognised and repented of, may make a man better fitted for the tasks
from which once he fled? Just as they tell us - I do not know whether it
is true or not, it will do for an illustration - just as they tell us
that a broken bone renewed is stronger at the point of fracture than it
ever was before, so the very sin that we commit, when once we know it
for a sin, and have brought it to Christ for forgiveness, may minister
to our future efficiency and strength. The Israelites fought twice upon
one battlefield. On the first occasion they were shamefully defeated;
on the second, on the same ground, and against the same enemies, they
victoriously emerged from the conflict, and reared the stone which
said, 'Ebenezer!' 'Hitherto the Lord hath helped us.'

And so the temptations which have been sorest may be overcome, the sins
into which we most naturally fall we may put our foot upon; the past is
no specimen of what the future may be. The page that is yet to be
written need have none of the blots of the page that we have turned
over shining through it. Sin which we have learned to know for sin and
to hate, teaches us humility, dependence, shows us where our weak
places are. Sin which is forgiven knits us to Christ with deeper and
more fervid love, and results in a larger consecration. Think of the
two ends of this man's life - flying like a frightened hare from the
very first suspicion of danger or of difficulty, sulking in his
solitude, apart from all the joyful stir of consecration and of
service; and at last made an evangelist to proclaim to the whole world
the story of the Gospel of the Servant. God works with broken reeds,
and through them breathes His sweetest music.

So, dear brethren, 'Take with you words, and return unto the Lord; say
unto Him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously,' and the
answer will surely be: - 'I will heal their backsliding; I will love
them freely; I will be as the dew unto Israel.'


'Men and brethren, children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever
among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent. 27.
For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew
Him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every
Sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning Him. 28. And though
they found no cause of death in Him, yet desired they Pilate that he
should be slain. 29. And when they had fulfilled all that was written
of Him, they took Him down from the tree, and laid Him in a sepulchre.
30. But God raised Him from the dead: 31. And He was seen many days of
them which came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His
witnesses unto the people. 32. And we declare unto you glad tidings,
how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, 33. God hath
fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that He hath raised up
Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm. Thou art my
Son, this day have I begotten Thee. 34. And as concerning that He
raised Him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, He
said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. 35.
Wherefore He saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine
Holy One to see corruption. 36. For David, after he had served his own
generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his
fathers, and saw corruption: 37. But He, whom God raised again, saw no
corruption. 38. Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that
through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: 39. And
by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye
could not be justified by the law of Moses.' - ACTS xiii. 26-39.

The extended report of Paul's sermon in the synagogue at Antioch of
Pisidia marks it, in accordance with Luke's method, as the first of a
series. It was so because, though the composition of the audience was
identical with that of those in the synagogues of Cyprus, this was the
beginning of the special work of the tour, the preaching in the cities
of Asia Minor. The part of the address contained in the passage falls
into three sections, - the condensed narrative of the Gospel facts (vs.
26-31), the proof that the resurrection was prophesied (vs. 32-37), and
the pungent personal application (v. 38 to end).

I. The substance of the narrative coincides, as it could not but do,
with Peter's sermons, but yet with differences, partly due to the
different audience, partly to Paul's idiosyncrasy. After the preceding
historical _resume_, he girds himself to his proper work of proclaiming
the Gospel, and he marks the transition in verse 26 by reiterating his
introductory words.

His audience comprised the two familiar classes of Jews and Gentile
proselytes, and he seeks to win the ears of both. His heart goes out in
his address to them all as 'brethren,' and in his classing himself and
Barnabas among them as receivers of the message which he has to
proclaim. What skill, if it were not something much more sacred, even
humility and warm love, lies in that 'to _us_ is the word of this
salvation sent'! He will not stand above them as if he had any other
possession of his message than they might have. He, too, has received
it, and what he is about to say is not his word, but God's message to
them and him. That is the way to preach.

Notice, too, how skilfully he introduces the narrative of the rejection
of Jesus as the reason why the message has now come to them his hearers
away in Antioch. It is 'sent forth' 'to us,' Asiatic Jews, _for_ the
people in the sacred city would not have it. Paul does not prick his
hearers' consciences, as Peter did, by charging home the guilt of the
rejection of Jesus on them. They had no share in that initial crime.
There is a faint purpose of dissociating himself and his hearers from
the people of Jerusalem, to whom the Dispersion were accustomed to look
up, in the designation, 'they that dwell in Jerusalem, and _their_
rulers.' Thus far the Antioch Jews had had hands clean from that crime;
they had now to choose whether they would mix themselves up with it.

We may further note that Paul says nothing about Christ's life of
gentle goodness, His miracles or teaching, but concentrates attention
on His death and resurrection. From the beginning of his ministry these
were the main elements of his 'Gospel' (1 Cor. xv. 3, 4). The full
significance of that death is not declared here. Probably it was
reserved for subsequent instruction. But it and the Resurrection, which
interpreted it, are set in the forefront, as they should always be. The
main point insisted on is that the men of Jerusalem were fulfilling
prophecy in slaying Jesus. With tragic deafness, they knew not the
voices of the prophets, clear and unanimous as they were, though they
heard them every Sabbath of their lives, and yet they fulfilled them. A
prophet's words had just been read in the synagogue; Paul's words might
set some hearer asking whether a veil had been over his heart while his
ears had heard the sound of the word.

The Resurrection is established by the only evidence for a historical
fact, the testimony of competent eyewitnesses. Their competence is
established by their familiar companionship with Jesus during His whole
career; their opportunities for testing the reality of the fact, by the
'many days' of His appearances.

Paul does not put forward his own testimony to the Resurrection, though
we know, from 1 Corinthians xv. 8, that he regarded Christ's appearance
to him as being equally valid evidence with that afforded by the other
appearances; but he distinguishes between the work of the Apostles, as
'witnesses unto the people' - that is, the Jews of Palestine - and that
of Barnabas and himself. They had to bear the message to the regions
beyond. The Apostles and he had the same work, but different spheres.

II. The second part turns with more personal address to his hearers.
Its purport is not so much to preach the Resurrection, which could only
be proved by testimony, as to establish the fact that it was the
fulfilment of the promises to the fathers. Note how the idea of
fulfilled prophecy runs in Paul's head. The Jews had _fulfilled_ it by
their crime; God _fulfilled_ it by the Resurrection. This reiteration
of a key-word is a mark of Paul's style in his Epistles, and its
appearance here attests the accuracy of the report of his speech.

The second Psalm, from which Paul's first quotation is made, is
prophetic of Christ, inasmuch as it represents in vivid lyrical
language the vain rebellion of earthly rulers against Messiah, and
Jehovah's establishing Him and His kingdom by a steadfast decree. Peter
quoted its picture of the rebels, as fulfilled in the coalition of
Herod, Pilate, and the Jewish rulers against Christ. The Messianic
reference of the Psalm, then, was already seen; and we may not be going
too far if we assume that Jesus Himself had included it among things
written in the Psalms 'concerning Himself,' which He had explained to
the disciples after the Resurrection. It depicts Jehovah speaking to
Messiah, _after_ the futile attempts of the rebels: 'This day have I
begotten Thee.' That day is a definite point in time. The Resurrection
was a birth from the dead; so Paul, in Colossians i. 18, calls Jesus
'the first begotten from the dead.' Romans i. 4,'declared to be the Son
of God ... by the resurrection from the dead,' is the best commentary
on Paul's words here.

The second and third quotations must apparently be combined, for the
second does not specifically refer to resurrection, but it promises to
'you,' that is to those who obey the call to partake in the Messianic
blessings, a share in the 'sure' and enduring 'mercies of David'; and
the third quotation shows that not 'to see corruption' was one of these
'mercies.' That implies that the speaker in the Psalm was, in Paul's
view, David, and that his words were his believing answer to a divine
promise. But David was dead. Had the 'sure mercy' proved, then, a
broken reed? Not so: for Jesus, who is Messiah, and is God's 'Holy One'
in a deeper sense than David was, has not seen corruption. The
Psalmist's hopes are fulfilled in Him, and through Him, in all who will
'eat' that their 'souls may live,'

III. But Paul's yearning for his brethren's salvation is not content
with proclaiming the fact of Christ's resurrection, nor with pointing
to it as fulfilling prophecy; he gathers all up into a loving, urgent
offer of salvation for every believing soul, and solemn warning to
despisers. Here the whole man flames out. Here the characteristic
evangelical teaching, which is sometimes ticketed as 'Pauline' by way
of stigma, is heard. Already had he grasped the great antithesis
between Law and Gospel. Already his great word 'justified' has taken
its place in his terminology. The essence of the Epistles to Romans and
Galatians is here. Justification is the being pronounced and treated as
not guilty. Law cannot justify. 'In Him' we are justified. Observe that
this is an advance on the previous statement that 'through Him' we
receive remission of sins.

'In Him' points, thought but incidentally and slightly, to the great
truth of incorporation with Jesus, of which Paul had afterwards so much
to write. The justifying in Christ is complete and absolute. And the
sole sufficient condition of receiving it is faith. But the greater the
glory of the light the darker the shadow which it casts. The broad
offer of complete salvation has ever to be accompanied with the plain
warning of the dread issue of rejecting it. Just because it is so free
and full, and to be had on such terms, the warning has to be rung into
deaf ears, 'Beware _therefore_!' Hope and fear are legitimately
appealed to by the Christian evangelist. They are like the two wings
which may lift the soul to soar to its safe shelter in the Rock of Ages.


'For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God,
fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: 37.
But He, whom God raised again, saw no corruption.' - ACTS xiii. 36, 37.

I take these words as a motto rather than as a text. You will have
anticipated the use which I purpose to make of them in connection with
the Luther Commemoration. They set before us, in clear sharp contrast,
the distinction between the limited, transient work of the servants and
the unbounded, eternal influence of the Master. The former are
servants, and that but for a time; they do their work, they are laid in
the grave, and as their bodies resolve into their elements, so their
influence, their teaching, the institutions which they may have
founded, disintegrate and decay. He lives. His relation to the world is
not as theirs; He is 'not for an age, but for all time.' Death is not
the end of His work. His Cross is the eternal foundation of the world's
hope. His life is the ultimate, perfect revelation of the divine Nature
which can never be surpassed, or fathomed, or antiquated. Therefore the
last thought, in all commemorations of departed teachers and guides,
should be of Him who gave them all the force that they had; and the
final word should be: 'They were not suffered to continue by reason of
death, this Man continueth ever.'

In the same spirit then as the words of my text, and taking them as
giving me little more than a starting-point and a framework, I draw
from them some thoughts appropriate to the occasion.

I. First, we have to think about the limited and transient work of this
great servant of God.

The miner's son, who was born in that little Saxon village four hundred
years ago, presents at first sight a character singularly unlike the
traditional type of mediaeval Church fathers and saints. Their ascetic
habits, and the repressive system under which they were trained,
withdraw them from our sympathy; but this sturdy peasant, with his
full-blooded humanity, unmistakably a man, and a man all round, is a
new type, and looks strangely out of place amongst doctors and
mediaeval saints.

His character, though not complex, is many-sided and in some respects
contradictory. The face and figure that look out upon us from the best
portraits of Luther tell us a great deal about the man. Strong,
massive, not at all elegant; he stands there, firm and resolute, on his
own legs, grasping a _Bible_ in a muscular hand. There is plenty of
animalism - a source of power as well as of weakness - in the thick neck;
an iron will in the square chin; eloquence on the full, loose lips; a
mystic, dreamy tenderness and sadness in the steadfast eyes - altogether
a true king and a leader of men!

The first things that strike one in the character are the iron will
that would not waver, the indomitable courage that knew no fear, the
splendid audacity that, single-handed, sprang into the arena for a
contest to the death with Pope, Emperors, superstitions, and devils;
the insight that saw the things that were 'hid from the wise and
prudent,' and the answering sincerity that would not hide what he saw,
nor say that he saw what he did not.

But there was a great deal more than that in the man. He was no mere
brave revolutionary, he was a cultured scholar, abreast of all the
learning of his age, capable of logic-chopping and scholastic
disputation on occasion, and but too often the victim of his own
over-subtle refinements. He was a poet, with a poet's dreaminess and
waywardness, fierce alternations of light and shade, sorrow and joy.
All living things whispered and spoke to him, and he walked in
communion with them all. Little children gathered round his feet, and
he had a big heart of love for all the weary and the sorrowful.

Everybody knows how he could write and speak. He made the German
language, as we may say, lifting it up from a dialect of boors to
become the rich, flexible, cultured speech that it is. And his Bible,
his single-handed work, is one of the colossal achievements of man;
like Stonehenge or the Pyramids. 'His words were half-battles,' 'they
were living creatures that had hands and feet'; his speech, direct,
strong, homely, ready to borrow words from the kitchen or the gutter,
is unmatched for popular eloquence and impression. There was music in
the man. His flute solaced his lonely hours in his home at Wittemberg;
and the Marseillaise of the Reformation, as that grand hymn of his has
been called, came, words and music, from his heart. There was humour in
him, coarse horseplay often; an honest, hearty, broad laugh frequently,
like that of a Norse god. There were coarse tastes in him, tastes of
the peasant folk from whom he came, which clung to him through life,
and kept him in sympathy with the common people, and intelligible to
them. And withal there was a constitutional melancholy, aggravated by
his weary toils, perilous fightings, and fierce throes, which led him
down often into the deep mire where there was no standing; and which
sighs through all his life. The penitential Psalms and Paul's wail: 'O
wretched man that I am,' perhaps never woke more plaintive echo in any
human heart than they did in Martin Luther's.

Faults he had, gross and plain as the heroic mould in which he was
cast. He was vehement and fierce often; he was coarse and violent
often. He saw what he did see so clearly, that he was slow to believe
that there was anything that he did not see. He was oblivious of
counterbalancing considerations, and given to exaggerated, incautious,
unguarded statements of precious truths. He too often aspired to be a
driver rather than a leader of men; and his strength of will became
obstinacy and tyranny. It was too often true that he had dethroned the
pope of Rome to set up a pope at Wittemberg. And foul personalities
came from his lips, according to the bad controversial fashion of his
day, which permitted a licence to scholars that we now forbid to

All that has to be admitted; and when it is all admitted, what then?
This is a fastidious generation; Erasmus is its heroic type a great
deal more than Luther - I mean among the cultivated classes of our
day - and that very largely because in Erasmus there is no quick
sensibility to religious emotion as there is in Luther, and no
inconvenient fervour. The faults are there - coarse, plain,
palpable - and perhaps more than enough has been made of them. Let us
remember, as to his violence, that he was following the fashion of the
day; that he was fighting for his life; that when a man is at
death-grips with a tiger he may be pardoned if he strikes without
considering whether he is going to spoil the skin or not; and that on
the whole you cannot throttle snakes in a graceful attitude. Men fought
then with bludgeons; they fight now with dainty polished daggers,
dipped in cold, colourless poison of sarcasm. Perhaps there was less
malice in the rougher old way than in the new.

The faults are there, and nobody who is not a fool would think of
painting that homely Saxon peasant-monk's face without the warts and
the wrinkles. But it is quite as unhistorical, and a great deal more
wicked, to paint nothing but the warts and wrinkles; to rake all the
faults together and make the most of them; and present them in answer
to the question: 'What sort of a man was Martin Luther?'

As to the work that he did, like the work of all of us, it had its
limitations, and it will have its end. The impulse that he
communicated, like all impulses that are given from men, will wear out
its force. New questions will arise of which the dead leaders never
dreamed, and in which they can give no counsel. The perspective of
theological thought will alter, the centre of interest will change, a
new dialect will begin to be spoken. So it comes to pass that all

Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 31 of 57)