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whether men see or do not see; patient labour for Him, coming out of a
heart purged of all envy and jealousy of those who have been called to
larger and more conspicuous service.

May we not take these many days of quiet converse in Philip's house,
when the pioneer and the perfecter of the work talked together, as
being a kind of prophetic symbol of the time when all who had a share
in the one great and then completed work will have a share in its joy?
No matter whether they have dug the foundations or laid the early
courses or set the top stone and the shining battlements that crown the
structure, they have all their share in the building and their portion
in the gladness of the completed edifice, 'that he that soweth and he
that reapeth may rejoice together.'



AN OLD DISCIPLE

'... One Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should
lodge.' - ACTS xxi. 16.

There is something that stimulates the imagination in these mere
shadows of men that we meet in the New Testament story. What a strange
fate that is to be made immortal by a line in this book - immortal and
yet so unknown! We do not hear another word about this host of Paul's,
but his name will be familiar to men's ears till the world's end. This
figure is drawn in the slightest possible outline, with a couple of
hasty strokes of the pencil. But if we take even these few bare words
and look at them, feeling that there is a man like ourselves sketched
in them, I think we can get a real picture out of them, and that even
this dim form crowded into the background of the Apostolic story may
have a word or two to say to us.

His name and his birthplace show that he belonged to the same class as
Paul, that is, he was a Hellenist, or a Jew by descent, but born on
Gentile soil, and speaking Greek. He came from Cyprus, the native
island of Barnabas, who may have been a friend of his. He was an 'old
disciple,' which does not mean simply that he was advanced in life, but
that he was 'a disciple from the beginning,' one of the original group
of believers. If we interpret the word strictly, we must suppose him to
have been one of the rapidly diminishing nucleus, who thirty years or
more ago had seen Christ in the flesh, and been drawn to Him by His own
words. Evidently the mention of the early date of his conversion
suggests that the number of his contemporaries was becoming few, and
that there were a certain honour and distinction conceded by the second
generation of the Church to the survivors of the primitive band. Then,
of course, as one of the earliest believers, he must, by this time,
have been advanced in life. A Cypriote by birth, he had emigrated to,
and resided in a village on the road to Jerusalem; and must have had
means and heart to exercise a liberal hospitality there. Though a
Hellenist like Paul he does not seem to have known the Apostle before,
for the most probable rendering of the context is that the disciples
from Caesarea, who were travelling with the Apostle from that place to
Jerusalem, 'brought us to Mnason,' implying that this was their first
introduction to each other. But though probably unacquainted with the
great teacher of the Gentiles - whose ways were looked on with much
doubt by many of the Palestinian Christians - the old man, relic of the
original disciples as he was, had full sympathy with Paul, and opened
his house and his heart to receive him. His adhesion to the Apostle
would no doubt carry weight with 'the many thousands of Jews which
believed, and were all zealous of the law,' and was as honourable to
him as it was helpful to Paul.

Now if we put all this together, does not the shadowy figure begin to
become more substantial? and does it not preach to us some lessons that
we may well take to heart?

I. The first thing which this old disciple says to us out of the misty
distance is: Hold fast to your early faith, and to the Christ whom you
have known.

Many a year had passed since the days when perhaps the beauty of the
Master's own character and the sweetness of His own words had drawn
this man to Him. How much had come and gone since then - Calvary and the
Resurrection, Olivet and the Pentecost! His own life and mind had
changed from buoyant youth to sober old age. His whole feelings and
outlook on the world were different. His old friends had mostly gone.
James indeed was still there, and Peter and John remained until this
present, but most had fallen on sleep. A new generation was rising
round about him, and new thoughts and ways were at work. But one thing
remained for him what it had been in the old days, and that was Christ.
'One generation cometh and another goeth, but the "Christ" abideth for
ever.'

'We all are changed by still degrees;
All but the basis of the soul,'

and the 'basis of the soul,' in the truest sense, is that one God-laid
foundation on which whosoever buildeth shall never be confounded, nor
ever need to change with changing time. Are we building there? and do
we find that life, as it advances, but tightens our hold on Jesus
Christ, who is our hope?

There is no fairer nor happier experience than that of the old man who
has around him the old loves, the old confidences, and some measure of
the old joys. But who can secure that blessed unity in his life if he
depend on the love and help of even the dearest, or on the light of any
creature for his sunshine? There is but one way of making all our days
one, because one love, one hope, one joy, one aim binds them all
together, and that is by taking the abiding Christ for ours, and
abiding in Him all our days. Holding fast by the early convictions does
not mean stiffening in them. There is plenty of room for advancement in
Christ. No doubt Mnason, when he was first a disciple, knew but very
little of the meaning and worth of his Master and His work, compared
with what he had learned in all these years. And our true progress
consists, not in growing away from Jesus but in growing up into Him,
not in passing through and leaving behind our first convictions of Him
as Saviour, but in having these verified by the experience of years,
deepened and cleared, unfolded and ordered into a larger, though still
incomplete, whole. We may make our whole lives helpful to that
advancement and blessed shall we be if the early faith is the faith
that brightens till the end, and brightens the end. How beautiful it is
to see a man, below whose feet time is crumbling away, holding firmly
by the Lord whom he has loved and served all his days, and finding that
the pillar of cloud, which guided him while he lived, begins to glow in
its heart of fire as the shadows fall, and is a pillar of light to
guide him when he comes to die! Dear friends, whether you be near the
starting or near the prize of your Christian course, 'cast not away
your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.' See to it that
the 'knowledge of the Father,' which is the 'little children's'
possession, passes through the strength of youth, and the 'victory over
the world' into the calm knowledge of Him 'that is from the beginning,'
wherein the fathers find their earliest convictions deepened and
perfected, 'Grow in grace and in the knowledge' of Him, whom to know
ever so imperfectly is eternal life, whom to know a little better is
the true progress for men, whom to know more and more fully is the
growth and gladness and glory of the heavens. Look at this shadowy
figure that looks out on us here, and listen to his far-off voice
'exhorting us all that with purpose of heart we should cleave unto the
Lord.'

II. But there is another and, as some might think, opposite lesson to
be gathered from this outline sketch, namely, The welcome which we
should be ready to give to new thoughts and ways.

It is evidently meant that we should note Mnason's position in the
Church as significant in regard to his hospitable reception of the
Apostle. We can fancy how the little knot of 'original disciples' would
be apt to value themselves on their position, especially as time went
on, and their ranks were thinned. They would be tempted to suppose that
they must needs understand the Master's meaning a great deal better
than those who had never known Christ after the flesh; and no doubt
they would be inclined to share in the suspicion with which the
thorough-going Jewish party in the Church regarded this Paul, who had
never seen the Lord. It would have been very natural for this good old
man to have said, 'I do not like these new-fangled ways. There was
nothing of this sort in my younger days. Is it not likely that we, who
were at the beginning of the Gospel, should understand the Gospel and
the Church's work without this new man coming to set us right? I am too
old to go in with these changes.' All the more honourable is it that he
should have been ready with an open house to shelter the great champion
of the Gentile Churches; and, as we may reasonably believe, with an
open heart to welcome his teaching. Depend on it, it was not every 'old
disciple' that would have done as much.

Now does not this flexibility of mind and openness of nature to welcome
new ways of work, when united with the persistent constancy in his old
creed, make an admirable combination? It is one rare enough at any age,
but especially in elderly men. We are always disposed to rend apart
what ought never to be separated, the inflexible adherence to a fixed
centre of belief, and the freest ranging around the whole changing
circumference. The man of strong convictions is apt to grip every
trifle of practice and every unimportant bit of his creed with the same
tenacity with which he holds its vital heart, and to take obstinacy for
firmness, and dogged self-will for faithfulness to truth. The man who
welcomes new light, and reaches forward to greet new ways, is apt to
delight in having much fluid that ought to be fixed, and to value
himself on a 'liberality' which simply means that he has no central
truth and no rooted convictions. And as men grow older they stiffen
more and more, and have to leave the new work for new hands, and the
new thoughts for new brains. That is all in the order of nature, but so
much the finer is it when we do see old Christian men who join to their
firm grip of the old Gospel the power of welcoming, and at least
bidding God-speed to, new thoughts and new workers and new ways of work.

The union of these two characteristics should be consciously aimed at
by us all. Hold unchanging, with a grasp that nothing can relax, by
Christ our life and our all; but with that tenacity of mind, try to
cultivate flexibility too. Love the old, but be ready to welcome the
new. Do not invest your own or other people's habits of thought or
forms of work with the same sanctity which belongs to the central
truths of our salvation; do not let the willingness to entertain new
light lead you to tolerate any changes there. It is hard to blend the
two virtues together, but they are meant to be complements, not
opposites, to each other. The fluttering leaves and bending branches
need a firm stem and deep roots. The firm stem looks noblest in its
unmoved strength when it is contrasted with a cloud of light foliage
dancing in the wind. Try to imitate the persistency and the open mind
of that 'old disciple' who was so ready to welcome and entertain the
Apostle of the Gentile Churches.

III. But there is still another lesson which, I think, this portrait
may suggest, and that is, the beauty that may dwell in an obscure life.

There is nothing to be said about this old man but that he was a
disciple. He had done no great thing for his Lord. No teacher or
preacher was he. No eloquence or genius was in him. No great heroic
deed or piece of saintly endurance is to be recorded of him, but only
this, that he had loved and followed Christ all his days. And is not
that record enough? It is his blessed fate to live for ever in the
world's memory, with only that one word attached to his name - a
disciple.

The world may remember very little about us a year after we are gone.
No thought, no deed may be connected with our names but in some narrow
circle of loving hearts. There may be no place for us in any record
written with a man's pen. But what does that matter, if our names, dear
friends, are written in the Lamb's Book of Life, with this for sole
epitaph, 'a disciple'? That single phrase is the noblest summary of a
life. A thinker? a hero? a great man? a millionaire? No, a 'disciple.'
That says all. May it be your epitaph and mine!

What Mnason could do he did. It was not his vocation to go into the
'regions beyond,' like Paul; to guide the Church, like James; to put
his remembrances of his Master in a book, like Matthew; to die for
Jesus, like Stephen. But he could open his house for Paul and his
company, and so take his share in their work. 'He that receiveth a
prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward.' He
that with understanding and sympathy welcomes and sustains the prophet,
shows thereby that he stands on the same spiritual level, and has the
makings of a prophet in him, though he want the intellectual force and
may never open his lips to speak the burden of the Lord. Therefore he
shall be one in reward as he is in spirit. The old law in Israel is the
law for the warfare of Christ's soldiers. 'As his part is that goeth
down to the battle, so shall his part be that abideth by the stuff:
they shall part alike.' The men in the rear who guard the camp and keep
the communications open, may deserve honours, and crosses, and
prize-money as much as their comrades who led the charge that cut
through the enemy's line and scattered their ranks. It does not matter,
so far as the real spiritual worth of the act is concerned, what we do,
but only why we do it. All deeds are the same which are done from the
same motive and with the same devotion; and He who judges, not by our
outward actions but by the springs from which they come, will at last
bracket together as equals many who were widely separated here in the
form of their service and the apparent magnitude of their work.

'She hath done what she could.' Her power determined the measure and
the manner of her work. One precious thing she had, and only one, and
she broke her one rich possession that she might pour the fragrant oil
over His feet. Therefore her useless deed of utter love and
uncalculating self-sacrifice was crowned by praise from His lips whose
praise is our highest honour, and the world is still 'filled with the
odour of the ointment.'

So this old disciple's hospitality is strangely immortal, and the
record of it reminds us that the smallest service done for Jesus is
remembered and treasured by Him. Men have spent their lives to win a
line in the world's chronicles which are written on sand, and have
broken their hearts because they failed; and this passing act of one
obscure Christian, in sheltering a little company of travel-stained
wayfarers, has made his name a possession for ever. 'Seekest thou great
things for thyself? seek them not'; but let us fill our little corners,
doing our unnoticed work for love of our Lord, careless about man's
remembrance or praise, because sure of Christ's, whose praise is the
only fame, whose remembrance is the highest reward. 'God is not
unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love.'



PAUL IN THE TEMPLE

'And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia
when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid
hands on him. 28. Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man,
that teacheth all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and
this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath
polluted this holy place. 29. (For they had seen before with him in the
city Trophimus an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought
into the temple.) 30. And all the city was moved, and the people ran
together: and they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple: and
forthwith the doors were shut. 31. And as they went about to kill him,
tidings came unto the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was
in an uproar. 32. Who immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran
down unto them: and when they saw the chief captain and the soldiers,
they left beating of Paul. 33. Then the chief captain came near, and
took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and demanded
who he was, and what he had done. 34. And some cried one thing, some
another, among the multitude: and when he could not know the certainty
for the tumult, he commanded him to be carried into the castle. 35. And
when he came upon the stairs, so it was, that he was borne of the
soldiers for the violence of the people. 36. For the multitude of the
people followed after, crying, Away with him. 37. And as Paul was to be
led into the castle, he said unto the chief captain, May I speak unto
thee? Who said, Canst thou speak Greek? 38. Art not thou that Egyptian,
which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the
wilderness four thousand men that were murderers? 39. But Paul said, I
am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no
mean city: and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the
people.' - ACTS xxi. 27-39.

The stronger a man's faith, the greater will and should be his
disposition to conciliate. Paul may seem to have stretched
consideration for weak brethren to its utmost, when he consented to the
proposal of the Jerusalem elders to join in performing the vow of a
Nazarite, and to appear in the Temple for that purpose. But he was
quite consistent in so doing; for it was not Jewish ceremonial to which
he objected, but the insisting on it as necessary. For himself, he
lived as a Jew, except in his freedom of intercourse with Gentiles. No
doubt he knew that the death-warrant of Jewish ceremonial had been
signed, but he could leave it to time to carry out the sentence. The
one thing which he was resolved should not be was its imposition on
Gentile Christians. Their road to Jesus was not through Temple or
synagogue. As for Jewish Christians, let them keep to the ritual if
they chose. The conciliatory plan recommended by the elders, though
perfectly consistent with Paul's views and successful with the Jewish
Christians, roused non-Christian Jews as might have been expected.

This incident brings out very strikingly the part played by each of the
two factors in carrying out God's purposes for Paul. They are
unconscious instruments, and co-operation is the last thing dreamed of
on either side; but Jew and Roman together work out a design of which
they had not a glimpse.

I. Note the charge against Paul. The 'Jews from Asia' knew him by
sight, as they had seen him in Ephesus and elsewhere; and possibly some
of them had been fellow-passengers with him from Miletus. No wonder
that they construed his presence in the Temple into an insult to it. If
Luther or John Knox had appeared in St. Peter's, he would not have been
thought to have come as a worshipper. Paul's teaching may very
naturally have created the impression in hot-tempered partisans, who
could not draw distinctions, that he was the enemy of Temple and
sacrifice.

It has always been the vice of religious controversy to treat
inferences from heretical teaching, which appear plain to the critics,
as if they were articles of the heretic's belief. These Jewish zealots
practised a very common method when they fathered on Paul all which
they supposed to be involved in his position. Their charges against him
are partly flat lies, partly conclusions drawn from misapprehension of
his position, partly exaggeration, and partly hasty assumptions. He had
never said a word which could be construed as 'against the people.' He
had indeed preached that the law was not for Gentiles, and was not the
perfect revelation which brought salvation, and he had pointed to Jesus
as in Himself realising all that the Temple shadowed; but such teaching
was not 'against' either, but rather for both, as setting both in their
true relation to the whole process of revelation. He had not brought
'Greeks' into the Temple, not even the one Greek whom malice multiplied
into many. When passion is roused, exaggerations and assumptions soon
become definite assertions. The charges are a complete object-lesson in
the baser arts of religious (!) partisans; and they have been but too
faithfully reproduced in all ages. Did Paul remember how he had been
'consenting' to the death of Stephen on the very same charges? How far
he has travelled since that day!

II. Note the immediately kindled flame of popular bigotry. The always
inflammable population of Jerusalem was more than usually excitable at
the times of the Feasts, when it was largely increased by zealous
worshippers from a distance. Noble teaching would have left the mob as
stolid as it found them; but an appeal to the narrow prejudices which
they thought were religion was a spark in gunpowder, and an explosion
was immediate. It is always easier to rouse men to fight for their
'religion' than to live by it. Jehu was proud of what he calls his
'zeal for the Lord,' which was really only ferocity with a mask on. The
yelling crowd did not stop to have the charges proved. That they were
made was enough. In Scotland people used to talk of 'Jeddart justice,'
which consisted in hanging a man first, and trying him leisurely
afterwards. It was usually substantially just when applied to
moss-troopers, but does not do so well when administered to Apostles.

Notice the carefulness to save the Temple from pollution, which is
shown by the furious crowds dragging Paul outside before they kill him.
They were not afraid to commit murder, but they were horror-struck at
the thought of a breach of ceremonial etiquette. Of course! for when
religion is conceived of as mainly a matter of outward observances, sin
is reduced to a breach of these. We are all tempted to shift the centre
of gravity in our religion, and to make too much of ritual etiquette.
Kill Paul if you will, but get him outside the sacred precincts first.
The priests shut the doors to make sure that there should be no
profanation, and stopped inside the Temple, well pleased that murder
should go on at its threshold. They had better have rescued the victim.
Time was when the altar was a sanctuary for the criminal who could
grasp its horns, but now its ministers wink at bloodshed with secret
approval. Paul could easily have been killed in the crowd, and no
responsibility for his death have clung to any single hand. No doubt
that was the cowardly calculation which they made, and they were well
on the way to carry it out when the other factor comes into operation.

III. Note the source of deliverance. The Roman garrison was posted in
the fortress of Antonia, which commanded the Temple from a higher level
at the north-west angle of the enclosure. Tidings 'came _up_' to the
officer in command, Claudius Lysias by name (Acts xxiii. 26), that all
Jerusalem was in confusion. With disciplined promptitude he turned out
a detachment and 'ran down upon them.' The contrast between the quiet
power of the legionaries and the noisy feebleness of the mob is
striking. The best qualities of Roman sway are seen in this tribune's
unhesitating action, before which the excited mob cowers in fright.
They 'left beating of Paul,' as knowing that a heavier hand would fall
on them for rioting. With swift decision Lysias acts first and talks
afterwards, securing the man who was plainly the centre of disturbance,
and then having got him fast with two chains on him, inquiring who he
was, and what he had been doing.

Then the crowd breaks loose again in noisy and contradictory
explanations, all at the top of their voices, and each drowning the
other. Clearly the bulk of them could not answer either of Lysias'
questions, though they could all bellow 'Away with him!' till their
throats were sore. It is a perfect picture of a mob, which is always
ferocious and volubly explanatory in proportion to its ignorance. One
man kept his head in the hubbub, and that was Lysias, who determined to
hold his prisoner till he did know something about him. So he ordered
him to be taken up into the castle; and as the crowd saw their prey
escaping they made one last fierce rush, and almost swept away the
soldiers, who had to pick Paul up and carry him. Once on the stairs
leading to the castle they were clear of the crowd, which could only
send a roar of baffled rage after them, and to this the stolid
legionaries were as deaf as were their own helmets.



Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 46 of 57)