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'And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of His
grace....' - ACTS xx. 32.

I may be pardoned if my remarks now should assume somewhat of a more
personal character than is my wont. I desire to speak mainly to my own
friends, the members of my own congregation; and other friends who have
come to give me a parting 'Godspeed' will forgive me if my observations
have a more special bearing on those with whom I am more immediately
connected.

The Apostle whose words I have taken for my text was leaving, as he
supposed, for the last time, the representatives of the Church in
Ephesus, to whom he had been painting in very sombre colours the
dangers of the future and his own forebodings and warnings.
Exhortations, prophecies of evil, expressions of anxious solicitude,
motions of Christian affection, all culminate in this parting
utterance. High above them all rises the thought of the present God,
and of the mighty word which in itself, in the absence of all human
teachers, had power to 'build them up, and to give them an inheritance
amongst them that are sanctified.'

If we think of that Church in Ephesus, this brave confidence of the
Apostle's becomes yet more remarkable. They were set in the midst of a
focus of heathen superstition, from which they themselves had only
recently been rescued. Their knowledge was little, they had no
Apostolic teacher to be present with them; they were left alone there
to battle with the evils of that corrupt society in which they dwelt.
And yet Paul leaves them - 'sheep in the midst of wolves,' with a very
imperfect Christianity, with no Bible, with no teachers - in the sure
confidence that no harm will come to them, because God is with them,
and the 'word of His grace' is enough.

And that is the feeling, dear brethren, with which I now look you in
the face for the last time for a little while. I desire that you and I
should together share the conviction that each of us is safe because
God and the 'word of His grace' will go and remain with us.

I. So then, first of all, let me point you to the one source of
security and enlightenment for the Church and for the individual.

We are not to separate between God and the 'word of His grace,' but
rather to suppose that the way by which the Apostle conceived of God as
working for the blessing and the guardianship of that little community
in Ephesus was mainly, though not exclusively, through that which he
here designates 'the word of His grace.' We are not to forget the
ever-abiding presence of the indwelling Spirit who guards and keeps the
life of the individual and of the community. But what is in the
Apostle's mind here is the objective revelation, the actual spoken word
(not yet written) which had its origin in God's condescending love, and
had for its contents, mainly, the setting forth of that love. Or to put
it into other words, the revelation of the grace of God in Jesus
Christ, with all the great truths that cluster round and are evolved
from it, is the all-sufficient source of enlightenment and security for
individuals and for Churches. And whosoever will rightly use and
faithfully keep that great word, no evil shall befall him, nor shall he
ever make shipwreck of the faith. It is 'able to build you up,' says
Paul. In God's Gospel, in the truth concerning Jesus Christ the divine
Redeemer, in the principles that flow from that Cross and Passion, and
that risen life and that ascension to God, there is all that men need,
all that they want for life, all that they want for godliness. The
basis of their creed, the sufficient guide for their conduct, the
formative powers that will shape into beauty and nobleness their
characters, all lie in the germ in this message, 'God was in Christ
reconciling the world unto Himself.' Whoever keeps that in mind and
memory, ruminates upon it till it becomes the nourishment of his soul,
meditates on it till the precepts and the promises and the principles
that are enwrapped in it unfold themselves before Him, needs none other
guide for life, none other solace in sorrow, none other anchor of hope,
none other stay in trial and in death. 'I commend you to God and the
word of His grace,' which is a storehouse full of all that we need for
life and for godliness. Whoever has it is like a landowner who has a
quarry on his estate, from which at will he can dig stones to build his
house. If you truly possess and faithfully adhere to this Gospel, you
have enough.

Remember that these believers to whom Paul thus spoke had no New
Testament, and most of them, I dare say, could not read the Old. There
were no written Gospels in existence. The greater part of the New
Testament was not written; what was written was in the shape of two or
three letters that belonged to Churches in another part of the world
altogether. It was to the spoken word that he commended them. How much
more securely may we trust one another to that permanent record of the
divine revelation which we have here in the pages of Scripture!

As for the individual, so for the Church, that written word is the
guarantee for its purity and immortality. Christianity is the only
religion that has ever passed through periods of decadence and purified
itself again. They used to say that Thames water was the best to put on
shipboard because, after it became putrid, it cleared itself and became
sweet again. I do not know anything about whether that is true or not,
but I know that it is true about Christianity. Over and over again it
has rotted, and over and over again it has cleared itself, and it has
always been by the one process. Men have gone back to the word and laid
hold again of it in its simple omnipotence, and so a decadent
Christianity has sprung up again into purity and power. The word of
God, the principles of the revelation contained in Christ and recorded
for ever in this New Testament, are the guarantee of the Church's
immortality and of the Church's purity. This man and that man may fall
away, provinces may be lost from the empire for a while, standards of
rebellion and heresy may be lifted, but 'the foundation of God standeth
sure,' and whoever will hark back again and dig down through the
rubbish of human buildings to the living Rock will build secure and
dwell at peace. If all our churches were pulverised to-morrow, and
every formal creed of Christendom were torn in pieces, and all the
institutions of the Church were annihilated - if there was a New
Testament left they would all be built up again. 'I commend you to God,
and to the word of His grace.'

II. Secondly, notice the possible benefit of the silencing of the
_human_ voice.

Paul puts together his absence and the power of the word. 'Now I know
that you will see my face no more' - 'I commend you to God.' That is to
say, it is often a good thing that the voice of man may be hushed in
order that the sweeter and deeper music of the word of God, sounding
from no human lips, may reach our hearts. Of course I am not going to
depreciate preachers and books and religious literature and the thought
and the acts of good and wise men who have been interpreters of God's
meaning and will to their brethren, but the human ministration of the
divine word, like every other help to knowing God, may become a
hindrance instead of a help; and in all such helps there is a tendency,
unless there be continual jealous watchfulness on the part of those who
minister them, and on the part of those who use them, to assert
themselves instead of leading to God, and to become not mirrors in
which we may behold God, but obscuring _media_ which come between us
and Him. This danger belongs to the great ordinance and office of the
Christian ministry, large as its blessings are, just as it belongs to
all other offices which are appointed for the purpose of bringing men
to God. We may make them ladders or we may make them barriers; we may
climb by them or we may remain in them. We may look at the colours on
the painted glass until we do not see or think of the light which
strikes through the colours.

So it is often a good thing that a human voice which speaks the divine
word, should be silenced; just as it is often a good thing that other
helps and props should be taken away. No man ever leans all his weight
upon God's arm until every other crutch on which he used to lean has
been knocked from him.

And therefore, dear brethren, applying these plain things to ourselves,
may I not say that it may and should be the result of my temporary
absence from you that some of you should be driven to a more first-hand
acquaintance with God and with His word? I, like all Christian
ministers, have of course my favourite ways of looking at truth,
limitations of temperament, and idiosyncrasies of various sorts, which
colour the representations that I make of God's great word. All the
river cannot run through any pipe; and what does run is sure to taste
somewhat of the soil through which it runs. And for some of you, after
thirty years of hearing my way of putting things - and I have long since
told you all that I have got to say - it will be a good thing to have
some one else to speak to you, who will come with other aspects of that
great Truth, and look at it from other angles and reflect other hues of
its perfect whiteness. So partly because of these limitations of mine,
partly because you have grown so accustomed to my voice that the things
that I say do not produce half as much effect on many of you as if I
were saying them to somebody else, or somebody else were saying them to
you, and partly because the affection, born of so many years of united
worship, for which in many respects I am your debtor, may lead you to
look at the vessel rather than the treasure, do you not think it may be
a means of blessing and help to this congregation that I should step
aside for a little while and some one else should stand here, and you
should be driven to make acquaintance with 'God and the word of His
grace' a little more for yourselves? What does it matter though you do
not have nay sermons? You have your Bibles and you have God's Spirit.
And if my silence shall lead any of you to prize and to use _these_
more than you have done, then my silence will have done a great deal
more than my speech. Ministers are like doctors, the test of their
success is that they are not needed any more. And when we can say,
'They can stand without us, and they do not need us,' that is the crown
of our ministry.

III. Thirdly, notice the best expression of Christian solicitude and
affection.

'I commend you,' says Paul, 'to God, and to the word of His grace.' If
we may venture upon a very literal translation of the word, it is, 'I
lay you down beside God.' That is beautiful, is it not? Here had Paul
been carrying the Ephesian Church on his back for a long time now. He
had many cares about them, many forebodings as to their future, knowing
very well that after his departure grievous wolves were going to enter
in. He says, 'I cannot carry the load any longer; here I lay it down at
the Throne, beneath those pure Eyes, and that gentle and strong Hand.'
For to commend them to God is in fact a prayer casting the care which
Paul could no longer exercise, upon Him.

And that is the highest expression of, as it is the only soothing for,
manly Christian solicitude and affection. Of course you and I, looking
forward to these six months of absence, have all of us our anxieties
about what may be the issue. I may feel afraid lest there should be
flagging here, lest good work should be done a little more languidly,
lest there should be a beggarly account of empty pews many a time, lest
the bonds of Christian union here should be loosened, and when I come
back I may find it hard work to reknit them. All these thoughts must be
in the mind of a true man who has put most of his life, and as much of
himself as during that period he could command, into his work. What
then? 'I commend you to God.' You may have your thoughts and anxieties
as well as I have mine. Dear brethren, let us make an end of solicitude
and turn it into petition and bring one another to God, and leave one
another there.

This 'commending,' as it is the highest expression of Christian
solicitude, so it is the highest and most natural expression of
Christian affection. I am not going to do what is so easy to do - bring
tears at such a moment. I do not purpose to speak of the depth, the
sacredness of the bond that unites a great many of us together. I think
we can take that for granted without saying any more about it. But,
dear brethren, I do want to pledge you and myself to this, that our
solicitude and our affection should find voice in prayer, and that when
we are parted we may be united, because the eyes of both are turned to
the one Throne. There is a reality in prayer. Do you pray for me, as I
will for you, when we are far apart. And as the vapour that rises from
the southern seas where I go may fall in moisture, refreshing these
northern lands, so what rises on one side of the world from believing
hearts in loving prayers may fall upon the other in the rain of a
divine blessing. 'I commend you to God, and the word of His grace.'

IV. Lastly, notice the parting counsels involved in the commendation.

If it be true that God and His Word are the source of all security and
enlightenment, and are so, apart altogether from human agencies, then
to commend these brethren to God was exhortation as well as prayer, and
implied pointing them to the one source of security that they might
cling to that source. I am going to give no advices about little
matters of church order and congregational prosperity. These will all
come right, if the two main exhortations that are involved in this text
are laid to heart; and if they are not laid to heart, then I do not
care one rush about the smaller things, of full pews and prosperous
subscription lists and Christian work. These are secondary, and they
will be consequent if you take these two advices that are couched in my
text: -

(_a_) 'Cleave to the Lord with full purpose of heart,' as the limpet
does to the rock. Cling to Jesus Christ, the revelation of God's grace.
And how do we cling to Him? What is the cement of souls? Love and
trust; and whoever exercises these in reference to Jesus Christ is
built into Him, and belongs to Him, and has a vital unity knitting him
with that Lord. Cleave to Christ, brother, by faith and love, by
communion and prayer, and by practical conformity of life. For remember
that the union which is effected by faith can be broken by sin, and
that there will be no reality in our union to Jesus unless it is
manifested and perpetuated by righteousness of conduct and character.
Two smoothly-ground pieces of glass pressed together will adhere. If
there be a speck of sand, microscopic in dimensions, between the two,
they will fall apart; and if you let tiny grains of sin come between
you and your Master, it is delusion to speak of being knit to Him by
faith and love. Keep near Jesus Christ and you will be safe.

(_b_) Cleave to 'the word of His grace.' Try to understand its
teachings better; study your Bibles with more earnestness; believe more
fully than you have ever done that in that great Gospel there lie every
truth that we need and guidance in all circumstances. Bring the
principles of Christianity into your daily life; walk by the light of
them; and live in the radiance of a present God. And then all these
other matters which I have spoken of, which are important, highly
important but secondary, will come right.

Many of you, dear brethren, have listened to my voice for long years,
and have not done the one thing for which I preach - viz. set your
faith, as sinful men, on the great atoning Sacrifice and Incarnate
Lord. I beseech you let my last word go deeper than its predecessors,
and yield yourselves to God in Christ, bringing all your weakness and
all your sin to Him, and trusting yourselves wholly and utterly to His
sacrifice and life.

'I commend you to God and to the word of His grace,' and beseech you
'that, whether I come to see you or else be absent, I may hear of your
affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving
together for the faith of the Gospel.'



THE BLESSEDNESS OF GIVING

'...It is more blessed to give than to receive.' - ACTS xx. 35.

How 'many other things Jesus did' and said 'which are not written in
this book'! Here is one precious unrecorded word, which was floating
down to the ocean of oblivion when Paul drew it to shore and so
enriched the world. There is, however, a saying recorded, which is
essentially parallel in content though differing in garb, 'The Son of
Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.' It is tempting to
think that the text gives a glimpse into the deep fountains of the pure
blessedness of Jesus Himself, and was a transcript of His own human
experience. It helps us to understand how the Man of Sorrows could give
as a legacy to His followers 'My joy,' and could speak of it as abiding
and full.

I. The reasons on which this saying rests.

It is based not only on the fact that the act of giving has in it a
sense of power and of superiority, and that the act of receiving may
have a painful consciousness of obligation, though a cynic might
endorse it on that ground, but on a truth far deeper than these, that
there is a pure and godlike joy in making others blessed.

The foundation on which the axiom rests is that giving is the result of
love and self-sacrifice. Whenever they are not found, the giving is not
the giving which 'blesses him that gives.' If you give with some
_arriere pensee_ of what you will get by it, or for the sake of putting
some one under obligation, or indifferently as a matter of compulsion
or routine, if with your alms there be contempt to which pity is ever
near akin, then these are not examples of the giving on which Christ
pronounced His benediction. But where the heart is full of deep, real
love, and where that love expresses itself by a cheerful act of
self-sacrifice, then there is felt a glow of calm blessedness far above
the base and greedy joys of self-centred souls who delight only in
keeping their possessions, or in using them for themselves. It comes
not merely from contemplating the relief or happiness in others of
which our gifts may have been the source, but from the working in our
own hearts of these two godlike emotions. To be delivered from making
myself my great object, and to be delivered from the undue value set
upon having and keeping our possessions, are the twin factors of true
blessedness. It is heaven on earth to love and to give oneself away.

Then again, the highest joy and noblest use of all our possessions is
found in imparting them.

True as to this world's goods.

The old epitaph is profoundly true, which puts into the dead lips the
declaration: 'What I kept I lost. What I gave I kept.' Better to learn
that and act on it while living!

True as to truth, and knowledge.

True as to the Gospel of the grace of God.

II. The great example in God of the blessedness of giving.

God gives - gives only - gives always - and He in giving has joy,
blessedness. He would not be 'the ever-blessed God' unless He were 'the
giving God.' Creation we are perhaps scarcely warranted in affirming to
be a necessity to the divine nature, and we run on perilous heights of
speculation when we speak of it as contributing to His blessedness; but
this at least we may say, that He, in the deep words of the Psalmist,
'delights in mercy.' Before creation was realised in time, the divine
Idea of it was eternal, inseparable from His being, and therefore from
everlasting He 'rejoiced in the habitable parts of the earth, and His
delights were with the sons of men.'

The light and glory thus thrown on His relation to us.

He gives. He does not exact until He has given. He gives what He
requires. The requirement is made in love and is itself a 'grace
given,' for it permits to God's creatures, in their relation to Him,
some feeble portion and shadow of the blessedness which He possesses,
by permitting them to bring offerings to His throne, and so to have the
joy of giving to Him what He has given to them. 'All things come of
Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee.' Then how this thought puts
an end to all manner of slavish notions about God's commands and
demands, and about worship, and about merits, or winning heaven by our
own works.

Notice that the same emotions which we have found to make the
blessedness of giving are those which come into play in the act of
receiving spiritual blessings. We receive the Gospel by faith, which
assuredly has in it love and self-sacrifice.

Having thus the great Example of all giving in heaven, and the shadow
and reflex of that example in our relations to Him on earth, we are
thereby fitted for the exemplification of it in our relation to men. To
give, not to get, is to be our work, to love, to sacrifice ourselves.

This axiom should regulate Christians' relation to the world, and to
each other, in every way. It should shape the Christian use of money.
It should shape our use of all which we have.



DRAWING NEARER TO THE STORM

'And it came to pass, that, after we were gotten from them, and had
launched, we came with a straight course unto Coos, and the day
following unto Rhodes, and from thence unto Patara: 2. And finding a
ship sailing over unto Phenicia, we went aboard, and set forth. 3. Now
when we had discovered Cyprus, we left it on the left hand, and sailed
into Syria, and landed at Tyre: for there the ship was to unlade her
burden. 4. And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said
to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem. 5.
And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way;
and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we
were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed. 6.
And when we had taken our leave one of another, we took ship; and they
returned home again. 7. And when we had finished our course from Tyre,
we came to Ptolemais, and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one
day. 8. And the next day we that were of Paul's company departed, and
came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the
evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. 9. And the
same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy. 10. And as we
tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet,
named Agabus. 11. And when he was come unto us, he took Paul's girdle,
and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost,
So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle,
and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. 12. And when we
heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not
to go up to Jerusalem. 13. Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and
to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to
die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. 14. And when he would
not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done. 15.
And after those days we took up our carriages, and went up to
Jerusalem.' - ACTS xxi. 1-15.

Paul's heroic persistency in disregarding the warnings of 'bonds and
afflictions' which were pealed into his ears in every city, is the main
point of interest in this section. But the vivid narrative abounds with
details which fill it with life and colour. We may gather it all round
three points - the voyage, Tyre, and Caesarea.

I. The log of the voyage, as given in verses 1-3, shows the leisurely
way of navigation in those days and in that sea. Obviously the coaster
tied up or anchored in port at night. Running down the coast from
Miletus, they stayed overnight, first at the small island of Coos, then
stretched across the next day to Rhodes, and on the third struck back
to the mainland at Patara, from which, according to one reading, they
ran along the coast a little further east to Myra, the usual port of
departure for Syria. Ramsay explains that the prevalent favourable wind
for a vessel bound for Syria blows steadily in early morning, and dies
down towards nightfall, so that there would have been no use in keeping
at sea after sundown.

At Patara (or Myra) Paul and his party had to tranship, for their
vessel was probably of small tonnage, and only fit to run along the
coast. In either port they would have no difficulty in finding some
merchantman to take them across to Syria. Accordingly they shifted into



Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 44 of 57)