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Expositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts online

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him; and when he gets lights, and sees the two whom he had made fast in
the stocks standing there free, and yet not caring to go forth, his
rough nature is broken down. He recognises his superiors. He remembers
the pythoness's testimony, that they told 'the way of salvation.'

His question seems 'psychologically impossible' to critics, who have
probably never asked it themselves. Wonderful results follow from the
judicious use of that imposing word 'psychologically'; but while we are
not to suppose that this man knew all that 'salvation' meant, there is
no improbability in his asking such a question, if due regard is paid
to the whole preceding events, beginning with the maiden's words, and
including the impression of Paul's personality and the mysterious
freeing of the prisoners.

His dread was the natural fear that springs when a man is brought face
to face with God; and his question, vague and ignorant as it was, is
the cry of the dim consciousness that lies dormant in all men - the
consciousness of needing deliverance and healing. It erred in supposing
that he had to 'do' anything; but it was absolutely right in supposing
that he needed salvation, and that Paul could tell him how to get it.
How many of us, knowing far more than he, have never asked the same
wise question, or have never gone to Paul for an answer? It is a
question which we should all ask; for we all need salvation, which is
deliverance from danger and healing for soul-sickness.

Paul's answer is blessedly short and clear. Its brevity and decisive
plainness are the glory of the Gospel. It crystallises into a short
sentence the essential directory for all men.

See how little it takes to secure salvation. But see how much it takes;
for the hardest thing of all is to be content to accept it as a gift,
'without money and without price.' Many people have listened to sermons
all their lives, and still have no clear understanding of the way of
salvation. Alas that so often the divine simplicity and brevity of
Paul's answer are darkened by a multitude of irrelevant words and
explanations which explain nothing!

The passage ends with the blessing which we may all receive. Of course
the career begun then had to be continued by repeated acts of faith,
and by growing knowledge and obedience. The incipient salvation is very
incomplete, but very real. There is no reason to doubt that, for some
characters, the only way of becoming Christians is to become so by one
dead-lift of resolution. Some things are best done slowly; some things
best quickly. One swift blow makes a cleaner fracture than filing or
sawing. The light comes into some lives like sunshine in northern
latitudes, with long dawn and slowly growing brightness; but in some
the sun leaps into the sky in a moment, as in the tropics. What matter
how long it takes to rise, if it does rise, and climb to the zenith?



THE GREAT QUESTION AND THE PLAIN ANSWER

'He brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 31.
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be
saved.' - ACTS xvi. 30, 31.

The keeper of a Macedonian jail was not likely to be a very nervous or
susceptible person. And so the extraordinary state of agitation and
panic into which this rough jailer was cast needs some kind of
explanation. There had been, as you will all remember, an earthquake of
a strange kind, for it not only opened the prison doors, but shook the
prisoner's chains off. The doors being opened, there was on the part of
the jailer, who probably ought not to have been asleep, a very natural
fear that his charge had escaped.

So he was ready, with that sad willingness for suicide which marked his
age, to cast himself on his sword, when Paul encouraged him.

That fear then was past; what was he afraid of now? He knew the
prisoners were all safe; why should he have come pale and trembling?
Perhaps we shall find an answer to the question in another one. Why
should he have gone to Paul and Silas, his two prisoners, for an
anodyne to his fears?

The answer to that may possibly be found in remembering that for many
days before this a singular thing had happened. Up and down the streets
of Philippi a woman possessed with 'a spirit of divination' had gone at
the heels of these two men, proclaiming in such a way as to disturb
them: 'These are the servants of the Most High God, which show unto us
the way of salvation.' It was a new word and a new idea in Philippi or
in Macedonia. This jailer had got it into his mind that these two men
had in their hands a good which he only dimly understood. The panic
caused by the earthquake deepened into a consciousness of some
supernatural atmosphere about him, and stirred in his rude nature
unwonted aspirations and terrors other than he had known, which cast
him at Paul's feet with this strange question.

Now do you think that the jailer's question was a piece of foolish
superstition? I daresay some of you do, or some of you may suppose too
that it was one very unnecessary for him or anybody to ask. So I wish
now, in a very few words, to deal with these three points - the question
that we should all ask, the answer that we may all take, the blessing
that we may all have.

I. The question that we should all ask.

I know that it is very unfashionable nowadays to talk about 'salvation'
as man's need. The word has come to be so worn and commonplace and
technical that many men turn away from it; but for all that, let me try
to stir up the consciousness of the deep necessity that it expresses.

What is it to be saved? Two things; to be healed and to be safe. In
both aspects the expression is employed over and over again in
Scripture. It means either restoration from sickness or deliverance
from peril. I venture to press upon every one of my hearers these two
considerations - we all need healing from sickness; we all need safety
from peril.

Dear brethren, most of you are entire strangers to me; I daresay many
of you never heard my voice before, and probably may never hear it
again. But yet, because 'we have all of us one human heart,' a
brother-man comes to you as possessing with you one common experience,
and ventures to say on the strength of his knowledge of himself, if on
no other ground, 'We have all sinned and come short of the glory of
God.'

Mind, I am not speaking about vices. I have no doubt you are a
perfectly respectable man, in all the ordinary relations of life. I am
not speaking about crimes. I daresay there may be a man or two here
that has been in a dock in his day. Possibly. It does not matter
whether there is or not. But I am not speaking about either vices or
crimes; I am speaking about how we stand in reference to God. And I
pray you to bring yourselves - for no one can do it for you, and no
words of mine can do anything but stimulate you to the act - face to
face with the absolute and dazzlingly pure righteousness of your Father
in Heaven, and to feel the contrast between your life and what you know
He desires you to be. Be honest with yourselves in asking and answering
the question whether or not _you_ have this sickness of sin, its
paralysis in regard to good or its fevered inclination to evil. If
salvation means being healed of a disease, we all have the disease; and
whether we wish it or no, we want the healing.

And what of the other meaning of the word? Salvation means being safe.
Are you safe? Am I safe? Is anybody safe standing in front of that
awful law that rules the whole universe, 'Whatsoever a man soweth, that
shall he also reap'? I am not going to talk about any of the moot
points which this generation has such a delight in discussing, as to
the nature, the duration, the purpose, or the like, of future
retribution. All that I am concerned in now is that all men, deep down
in the bottom of their consciousness - and you and I amongst the
rest - know that there _is_ such a thing as retribution here; and if
there be a life beyond the grave at all, necessarily in an infinitely
intenser fashion there. Somewhere and somehow, men will have to lie on
the beds that they have made; to drink as they have brewed. If sin
means separation from God, and separation from God means, as it
assuredly does, death, then I ask you - and there is no need for any
exaggerated words about it - Are we not in danger? And if salvation be a
state of deliverance from sickness, and a state of deliverance from
peril, do we not need it?

Ah, brethren, I venture to say that we need it more than anything else.
You will not misunderstand me as expressing the slightest depreciation
of other remedies that are being extensively offered now for the
various evils under which society and individuals groan. I heartily
sympathise with them all, and would do my part to help them forward;
but I cannot but feel that whilst culture of the intellect, of the
taste, of the sense of beauty, of the refining agencies generally, is
very valuable; and whilst moral and social and economical and political
changes will all do something, and some of them a great deal, to
diminish the sum of human misery, you have to go deeper down than these
reach. It is not culture that we want most; it is salvation. Brethren,
you and I are wrong in our relation to God, and that means death
and - if you do not shrink from the vulgar old word - damnation. We are
wrong in our relation to God, and that has to be set right before we
are fundamentally and thoroughly right. That is to say, salvation is
our deepest need.

Then how does it come that men go on, as so many of my friends here now
have gone on, all their days paying no attention to that need? Is there
any folly, amidst all the irrationalities of that irrational creature
man, to be matched with the folly of steadily refusing to look forward
and settle for ourselves the prime element in our condition - viz., our
relation to God? Strange is it not - that power that we have of refusing
to look at the barometer when it is going down, of turning away from
unwholesome subjects just because we know them to be so unwelcome and
threatening, and of buying a moment's exemption from discomfort at the
price of a life's ruin?

Do you remember that old story of the way in which the prisoners in the
time of the French Revolution used to behave? The tumbrils came every
morning and carried off a file of them to the guillotine, and the rest
of them had a ghastly make-believe of carrying on the old frivolities
of the life of the _salons_ and of society. And it lasted for an hour
or two, but the tumbril came next morning all the same, and the
guillotine stood there gaping in the _Place_. And so it is useless,
although it is so frequently done by so many of us, to try to shut out
facts instead of facing them. A man is never so wise as when he says to
himself, 'Let me fairly know the whole truth of my relation to the
unseen world in so far as it can be known here, and if that is wrong,
let me set about rectifying it if it be possible.' 'What will ye do in
the end?' is the wisest question that a man can ask himself, when the
end is as certain as it is with us, and as unsatisfactory as I am
afraid it threatens to be with some of us if we continue as we are.

Have I not a right to appeal to the half-sleeping and half-waking
consciousness that endorses my words in some hearts as I speak? O
brethren, you would be far wiser men if you did like this jailer in the
Macedonian prison, came and gave yourselves no rest till you have this
question cleared up, 'What must I do to be saved?'

There was an old Rabbi who used to preach to his disciples, 'Repent the
day before you die.' And when they said to him, 'Rabbi, we do not know
what day we are going to die.' 'Then,' said he, 'repent to-day.' And so
I say to you, 'Settle about the end before the end comes, and as you do
not know when it may come, settle about it now.'

II. That brings me to the next point here, viz., the blessed, clear
answer that we may all take.

Paul and Silas were not non-plussed by this question, nor did they
reply to it in the fashion in which many men would have answered it.
Take a specimen of other answers. If anybody were so far left to
himself as to go with this question to some of our modern wise men and
teachers, they would say, 'Saved? My good fellow, there is nothing to
be saved from. Get rid of delusions, and clear your mind of cant and
superstition.' Or they would say, 'Saved? Well, if you have gone wrong,
do the best you can in the time to come.' Or if you went to some of our
friends they would say, 'Come and be baptized, and receive the grace of
regeneration in holy baptism; and then come to the sacraments, and be
faithful and loyal members of the Church which has Apostolic succession
in it.' And some would say, 'Set yourselves to work and toil and
labour.' And some would say, 'Don't trouble yourselves about such
whims. A short life and a merry one; make the best of it, and jump the
life to come.' Neither cold morality, nor godless philosophy, nor wild
dissipation, nor narrow ecclesiasticism prompted Paul's answer. He
said, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.'

What did that poor heathen man know about the Lord Jesus Christ? Next
to nothing. How could he believe upon Him if he knew so little about
Him? Well, you hear in the context that this summary answer to the
question was the beginning, and not the end, of a conversation, which
conversation, no doubt, consisted largely in extending and explaining
the brief formulary with which it had commenced. But it is a grand
thing that we can put the all-essential truth into half a dozen simple
words, and then expound and explain them as may be necessary. And I
come to you now, dear brethren, with nothing newer or more wonderful,
or more out of the ordinary way than the old threadbare message which
men have been preaching for nineteen hundred years, and have not
exhausted, and which some of you have heard for a lifetime, and have
never practised, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.'

Now I am not going to weary you with mere dissertations upon the
significance of these words. But let me single out two points about
them, which perhaps though they may be perfectly familiar to you, may
come to you with fresh force from my lips now.

Mark, first, whom it is that we are to believe on. '_The Lord_,' that
is the divine Name; '_Jesus_,' that is the name of a Man; '_Christ_,'
that is the name of an office. And if you put them all together, they
come to this, that He on whom we sinful men may put our sole trust and
hope for our healing and our safety, is the Son of God, who came down
upon earth to live our life and to die our death that He might bear on
Himself our sins, and fulfil all which ancient prophecy and symbol had
proclaimed as needful, and therefore certain to be done, for men. It is
not a starved half-Saviour whose name is only Jesus, and neither Lord
nor Christ, faith in whom will save you. You must grasp the whole
revelation of His nature and His power if from Him there is to flow the
life that you need.

And note what it is that we are to exercise towards Jesus Christ. To
'believe on Him' is a very different thing from _believing Him_. You
may accept all that I have been saying about who and what He is, and be
as far away from the faith that saves a soul as if you had never hoard
His name. To believe on the Lord Jesus Christ is to lean the whole
weight of yourselves upon Him. What do you do when you trust a man who
promises you any small gift or advantage? What do you do when dear ones
say, 'Rest on my love'? You simply trust them. And the very same
exercise of heart and mind which is the blessed cement that holds human
society together, and the power that sheds peace and grace over
friendships and love, is the power which, directed to Jesus Christ,
brings all His saving might into exercise in our lives. Brethren, trust
Him, trust Him as Lord, trust Him as Jesus, trust Him as Christ. Learn
your sickness, learn your danger; and be sure of your Healer and
rejoice in your security. 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou
shalt be saved.'

III. Lastly, consider the blessing we may all receive. This jailer
about whom we have been speaking was a heathen when the sun set and a
Christian when it rose. On the one day he was groping in darkness, a
worshipper of idols, without hope in the future, and ready in
desperation to plunge himself into the darkness beyond, when he thought
his prisoners had fled. In an hour or two 'he rejoiced, believing in
God with all his house.'

A sudden conversion, you say, and sudden conversions are always
suspicious. I am not so sure about that; they may be, or they may not
be, according to circumstances. I know very well that it is not
fashionable now to preach the possibility or the probability of men
turning all at once from darkness to light, and that people shrug their
shoulders at the old theory of sudden conversions. I think, so much the
worse. There are a great many things in this world that have to be done
suddenly if they are ever to be done at all. And I, for my part, would
have far more hope for a man who, in one leap, sprung from the depth of
the degradation of that coarse jailer into the light and joy of the
Christian life, than for a man who tried to get to it by slow steps.
You have to do everything in this world worth doing by a sudden
resolution, however long the preparation may have been which led up to
the resolution. The act of resolving is always the act of an instant.
And when men are plunged in darkness and profligacy, as are, perhaps,
some of my hearers now, there is far more chance of their casting off
their evil by a sudden jerk than of their unwinding the snake by slow
degrees from their arms. There is no reason whatever why the soundest
and solidest and most lasting transformation of character should not
begin in a moment's resolve.

And there is an immense danger that with some of you, if that change
does not begin in a moment's resolve now, you will be further away from
it than ever you were. I have no doubt there are many of you who, at
any time for years past, have known that you ought to be Christians,
and who, at any time for years past, have been saying to yourselves:
'Well, I will think about it, and I am tending towards it, but I cannot
quite make the plunge.' Why not; and why not now? You can if you will;
you ought; you will be a better and happier man if you do. You will be
saved from your sickness and safe from your danger.

The outcast jailer changed nationalities in a moment. You who have
dwelt in the suburbs of Christ's Kingdom all your lives - why cannot you
go inside the gate as quickly? For many of us the gradual 'growing up
in the nurture and admonition of the Lord' has been the appointed way.
For some of us I verily believe the sudden change is the best. Some of
us have a sunrise as in the tropics, where the one moment is grey and
cold, and next moment the seas are lit with the glory. Others of us
have a sunrise as at the poles, where a long slowly-growing light
precedes the rising, and the rising itself is scarce observable. But it
matters little as to how we get to Christ, if we are there, and it
matters little whether a man's faith grows up in a moment, or is the
slow product of years. If only it be rooted in Christ it will bear
fruit unto life eternal.

And so, dear brethren, I come to you with my last question, this man
rejoiced, believing in the Lord; why should not you; and why should not
you now? 'Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.' A
look is a swift act, but if it be the beginning of a lifelong gaze, it
will be the beginning of salvation and of a glory longer than life.



THESSALONICA AND BEREA

'Now, when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came
to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: 2. And Paul, as his
manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath-days reasoned with
them out of the scriptures, 3. Opening and alleging, that Christ must
needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this
Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. 4. And some of them believed,
and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great
multitude, and of the chief women not a few. 5. But the Jews which
believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of
the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an
uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out
to the people, 6. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and
certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have
turned the world upside down are come hither also; 7. Whom Jason hath
received; and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying
that there is another king, one Jesus. 8. And they troubled the people
and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things. 9. And when
they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go.
10. And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto
Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11.
These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received
the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily,
whether those things were so. 12. Therefore many of them believed; also
of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.' - ACTS
xvii. 1-12.

'Shamefully entreated at Philippi,' Paul tells the Thessalonians, he
'waxed bold in our God to' preach to them. His experience in the former
city might well have daunted a feebler faith, but opposition affected
Paul as little as a passing hailstorm dints a rock. To change the field
was common sense; to abandon the work would have been sin. But Paul's
brave persistence was not due to his own courage; he drew it from God.
Because he lived in communion with Him, his courage 'waxed' as dangers
gathered. He knew that he was doing a daring thing, but he knew who was
his helper. So he went steadily on, whatever might front him. His
temper of mind and the source of it are wonderfully revealed in his
simple words.

The transference to Thessalonica illustrates another principle of his
action; namely, his preference of great centres of population as fields
of work. He passes through two less important places to establish
himself in the great city. It is wise to fly at the head. Conquer the
cities, and the villages will fall of themselves. That was the policy
which carried Christianity through the empire like a prairie fire.
Would that later missions had adhered to it!

The methods adopted in Thessalonica were the usual ones. Luke bids us
notice that Paul took the same course of action in each place: namely,
to go to the synagogue first, when there was one, and there to prove
that Jesus was the Christ. The three Macedonian towns already mentioned
seem not to have had synagogues. Probably there were comparatively few
Jews in them, and these were ecclesiastically dependent on
Thessalonica. We can fancy the growing excitement in the synagogue, as
for three successive Sabbaths the stranger urged his proofs of the two
all-important but most unwelcome assertions, that their own scriptures
foretold a suffering Messiah, - a side of Messianic prophecy which was
ignored or passionately denied - and that Jesus was that Messiah. Many a
vehement protest would be shrieked out, with flashing eyes and abundant
gesticulation, as he 'opened' the sense of Scripture, and 'quoted
passages' - for that is the meaning here of the word rendered
'alleging.' He gives us a glimpse of the hot discussions when he says
that he preached 'in much conflict'(1 Thess. ii. 2).

With whatever differences in manner of presentation, the true message
of the Christian teacher is still the message that woke such opposition
in the synagogue of Thessalonica, - the bold proclamation of the
personal Christ, His death and resurrection. And with whatever
differences, the instrument of conviction is still the Scriptures, 'the
sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.' The more closely we
keep ourselves to that message and that weapon the better.

The effects of the faithful preaching of the gospel are as uniform as
the method. It does one of two things to its hearers - either it melts
their hearts and leads them to faith, or it stirs them to more violent
enmity. It is either a stone of stumbling or a sure corner-stone. We
either build on or fall over it, and at last are crushed by it. The
converts included Jews and proselytes in larger numbers, as may be
gathered from the distinction drawn by 'some' - referring to the former,



Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 38 of 57)