Alexander Maclaren.

Expositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts online

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have some people who look up to us, and to whom small kindlinesses from
us are precious. We do not 'render to all their dues,' unless we give
gracious courtesy to those beneath, as well as 'honour' to those above,
us. But the captain could clothe himself too with official reserve and
keep up the dignity of his office. He preserved an impenetrable silence
as to his intentions, and simply sealed the young man's lips from
tattling about the plot or the interview with him. Promptly he acted,
without waiting for the Council's application to him. At once he
prepared to despatch Paul to Caesarea, glad enough, no doubt, to wash
his hands of so troublesome a charge. Thus he too was a cog in the
wheel, an instrument to fulfil the promise made in vision, God's
servant though he knew it not.

A LOYAL TRIBUTE [Footnote: Preached on the occasion of the Jubilee of
Queen Victoria.]

'...Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness, and that very worthy
deeds are done unto this nation by thy providence, 3. We accept it
always ... with all thankfulness.' - ACTS xxiv. 2-3.

These words were addressed by a professional flatterer to one of the
worst of the many bad Roman governors of Syria. The speaker knew that
he was lying, the listeners knew that the eulogium was undeserved; and
among all the crowd of bystanders there was perhaps not a man who did
not hate the governor, and would not have been glad to see him lying
dead with a dagger in his breast.

But both the fawning Tertullus and the oppressor Felix knew in their
heart of hearts that the words described what a governor ought to be.
And though they are touched with the servility which is not loyalty,
and embrace a conception of the royal function attributing far more to
the personal influence of a monarch than our State permits, still we
may venture to take them as the starting-point for two or three
considerations suggested to us, by the celebrations of the past week.

I almost feel that I owe an apology for turning to that subject, for
everything that can be said about it has been said far better than I
can say it. But still, partly because my silence might be
misunderstood, and partly because an opportunity is thereby afforded
for looking from a Christian point of view at one or two subjects that
do not ordinarily come within the scope of one's ministry, I venture to
choose such a text now.

I. The first thing that I would take it as suggesting is the grateful
acknowledgment of personal worth.

I suppose the world never saw a national rejoicing like that through
which we have passed. For the reigns that have been long enough to
admit of it have been few, and those in which intelligently and
sincerely a whole nation of freemen could participate have been fewer
still. But now all England has been one; whatever our divisions of
opinion, there have been no divisions here. Not only have the bonfires
flared from hill to hill in this little island of ours, but all over
the world, into every out of the way corner where our widely-spread
race has penetrated, the same sentiment has extended. All have yielded
to the common impulse, the rejoicing of a free people in a good Queen.

That common sentiment has embraced two things, the office and the
person. There was a pathetic contrast between these two when that
sad-hearted widow walked alone up the nave of Westminster Abbey, and
took her seat on the stone of destiny on which for a millennium kings
have been crowned. The contrast heightened both the reverence due to
the office and the sympathy due to the woman. The Sovereign is the
visible expression of national power, the incarnation of England,
living history, the outcome of all the past, the representative of
harmonised and blended freedom and law, a powerful social influence
from which much good might flow, a moderating and uniting power amidst
fierce partisan bitterness and hate, a check against rash change. There
is no nobler office upon earth.

And when, as is the case in this long reign, that office has been
filled with some consciousness of its responsibilities, the recognition
of the fact is no flattery but simple duty. We cannot attribute to the
personal initiative of the Queen the great and beneficent changes which
have coincided with her reign. Thank God, no monarch can make or mar
England now. But this we can say,

'Her court was pure, her life serene.'

A life touched with many gracious womanly charities, delighting in
simple country pleasures, not strange to the homes of the poor, quick
to sympathise with sorrow, especially the humblest, as many a weeping
widow at a pit mouth has thankfully felt; sternly repressive of some
forms of vice in high places, and, as we may believe, not ignorant of
the great Comforter nor disobedient to the King of kings, - for such a
royal life a nation may well be thankful. We outsiders do not know how
far personal influence from the throne has in any case restrained or
furthered national action, but if it be true, as is alleged, that twice
in her reign the Queen has kept England from the sin and folly of war,
once from a fratricidal conflict with the great new England across the
Atlantic, then we owe her much. If in later years that life has
somewhat shrunk into itself and sat silent, with Grief for a companion,
those who know a like desolation will understand, and even the happy
may honour an undying love and respect the seclusion of an undying
sorrow. So I say: 'Forasmuch as under thee we enjoy great quietness, we
accept it with all thankfulness.'

II. My text may suggest for us a wider view of progress which, although
not initiated by the Queen, has coincided with her fifty years' reign.

In the Revised Version, instead of 'worthy deeds are done,' we read
'_evils are corrected_'; and that is the true rendering. The double
function which is here attributed falsely to an oppressive tyrant is
the ancient ideal of monarchy - first, that it shall repress disorders
and secure tranquillity within the borders and across the frontiers;
and second, that abuses and evils shall be corrected by the foresight
of the monarch.

Now, in regard to both these functions we have learned that a nation
can do them a great deal better than a sovereign. And so when we speak
of progress during this fifty years' reign, we largely mean the
progress which England in its toiling millions and in its thinking few
has won for itself. Let me in very brief words try to touch upon the
salient points of that progress for which as members of the nation it
becomes us as Christian people to be thankful. Enough hosannas have
been sung already, and I need not add my poor voice to them, about
material progress and commercial prosperity and the growth of
manufacturing industry and inventions and all the rest of it. I do not
for a moment mean to depreciate these, but it is of more importance
that a telegraph should have something to say than that it should be
able to speak across the waters, and 'man doth not live by bread alone,
but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.' We who live
in a great commercial community and know how solid comfort and hope and
gladness are all contingent, in millions of humble homes, upon the
manufacturing industry of these districts, shall never be likely to
underrate the enormous expansion in national industry, and the
consequent enormous increase in national wealth, which belongs to this
last half century. I need say nothing about these.

Let me remind you, and I can only do it in a sentence or two, of more
important changes in these fifty years. English manners and morals have
been bettered, much of savagery and coarseness has been got rid of;
low, cruel amusements have been abandoned. Thanks to the great Total
Abstinence movement very largely, the national conscience has been
stirred in regard to the great national sin of intoxication. A national
system of education has come into operation and is working wonders in
this land. Newspapers and books are cheapened; political freedom has
been extended and 'broadened slowly down,' as is safe, 'from precedent
to precedent,' so that no party thinks now of reversing any of the
changes, howsoever fiercely they were contested ere they were won.
Religious thought has widened, the sects have come nearer each other,
men have passed from out of a hard doctrinal Christianity, in which the
person of Christ was buried beneath the cobwebs of theology, into a far
freer and a far more Christ-regarding and Christ-centred faith. And if
we are to adopt such a point of view as the brave Apostle Paul took,
the antagonism against religion, which is a marked feature of our
generation, and contrasts singularly with the sleepy acquiescence of
fifty years ago, is to be put down to the credit side of the account.
'For,' he said, like a bold man believing that he had an irrefragable
truth in his hands, 'I will tarry here, for a great door and an
effectual is opened, and there are many adversaries.' Wherever a whole
nation is interested and stirred about religious subjects, even though
it may be in contradiction and antagonism, God's truth can fight
opposition far better than it can contend with indifference. Then if we
look upon our churches, whilst there is amongst them all abounding
worldliness much to be deplored, there is also, thank God, springing up
amongst us a new consciousness of responsibility, which is not confined
to Christian people, for the condition of the poor and the degraded
around us; and everywhere we see good men and women trying to stretch
their hands across these awful gulfs in our social system which make
such a danger in our modern life, and to reclaim the outcasts of our
cities, the most hopeless of all the heathen on the face of the earth.
These things, on which I have touched with the lightest hand, all taken
together do make a picture for which we may be heartily thankful.

Only, brethren, let us remember that that sort of talk about England's
progress may very speedily become offensive self-conceit, and a
measuring of ourselves with ludicrous self-satisfaction against all
other nations. There is a bastard patriotism which has been very
loud-mouthed in these last days, of which wise men should beware.

Further, such a contemplation of the elements of national progress,
which we owe to no monarch and to no legislature, but largely to the
indomitable pluck and energy of our people, to Anglo-Saxon persistence
not knowing when it is beaten, and to the patient meditation of
thoughtful minds and the self-denying efforts of good philanthropical
and religious people - such a contemplation, I say, may come between us
and the recognition of the highest source from which it flows, and be
corrupted into forgetfulness of God. 'Beware lest when thou hast eaten
and art full, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that
thou hast is multiplied, then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget
the Lord thy God... and thou say in thine heart, My power, and the
might of mine hand, hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember
the Lord thy God, for it is He that giveth thee power to get wealth.'

And the last caution that I would put in here is, let us beware lest
the hosannas over national progress shall be turned into 'Rest and be
thankful,' or shall ever come in the way of the strenuous and
persistent reaching forth to the fair ideal that lies so far before us.

III. That leads me to the last point on which I would say a word, viz.,
that my text with its reference to the correction of evils, as one of
the twin functions of the monarch, naturally suggests to us the thought
which should follow all recognition of progress in the past - the
consideration of what yet remains to be done.

A great controversy has been going on, or at least a remarkable
difference of opinion has been expressed in recent months by two of the
greatest minds and clearest heads in England; one of our greatest poets
and one of our greatest statesmen. The one looking back over sixty
years sees but foiled aspirations and present devildom and misery. The
other looking back over the same period sees accomplished dreams and
the prophecy of further progress. It is not for me to enter upon the
strife between such authorities. Both are right. Much has been
achieved. 'There remaineth yet very much land to be possessed.'
Whatever have been the victories and the blessings of the past, there
are rotten places in our social state which, if not cauterised and
healed, will break out into widespread and virulent sores. There are
dangers in the near future which may well task the skill of the bravest
and the faith of the most trustful. There are clouds on the horizon
which may speedily turn jubilations into lamentations, and the best
security against these is that each of us in his place, as a unit
however insignificant in the great body politic, should use our little
influence on the side that makes for righteousness, and see to it that
we leave some small corner of this England, which God has given us in
charge, sweeter and holier because of our lives. The ideal for you
Christian men and women is the organisation of society on Christian
principles. Have we got to that yet, or within sight of it, do you
suppose? Look round you. Does anybody believe that the present
arrangements in connection with unrestricted competition and the
distribution of wealth coincide accurately with the principles of the
New Testament? Will anybody tell me that the state of a hundred streets
within a mile of this spot is what it would be if the Christian men of
this nation lived the lives that they ought to live? Could there be
such rottenness and corruption if the 'salt' had not 'lost his savour'?
Will anybody tell me that the disgusting vice which our newspapers do
not think themselves degraded by printing in loathsome detail, and so
bringing the foulness of a common sewer on to every breakfast-table in
the kingdom, is in accordance with the organisation of society on
Christian principles? Intemperance, social impurity, wide, dreary
tracts of ignorance, degradation, bestiality, the awful condition of
the lowest layer in our great cities, crushed like some crumbling
bricks beneath the ponderous weight of the splendid superstructure, the
bitter partisan spirit of politics, where the followers of each chief
think themselves bound to believe that he is immaculate and that the
other side has no honour or truth belonging to it - these things testify
against English society, and make one almost despair when one thinks
that, after a thousand years and more of professing Christianity, that
is all that we can show for it.

O brethren! we may be thankful for what has been accomplished, but
surely there had need also to be penitent recognition of failure and
defect. And I lay it on the consciences of all that listen to me now to
see to it that they do their parts as members of this body politic of
England. A great heritage has come down from our fathers; pass it on
bettered by your self-denial and your efforts. And remember that the
way to mend a kingdom is to begin by mending yourselves, and letting
Christ's kingdom come in your own hearts. Next we are bound to try to
further its coming in the hearts of others, and so to promote its
leavening society and national life. No Christian is clear from the
blood of men and the guilt of souls who does not, according to
opportunity and capacity, repair before his own door, and seek to make
some one know the unsearchable riches of the Gospel of Christ.

There is no finality for a Christian patriot until his country be
organised on Christian principles, and so from being merely a 'kingdom
of the world' become 'a Kingdom of our God and of His Christ.' To help
forward that consummation, by however little, is the noblest service
that prince or peasant can render to his country. By conformity to the
will of God and not by material progress or intellectual enlightenment
is a state prosperous and strong. To keep His statutes and judgments is
'your wisdom and understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall
hear all these statutes and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and
understanding people.'


'Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned unto him to speak,
answered, Forasmuch as I know that thou hast been of many years a judge
unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself: 11.
Because that thou mayest understand, that there are yet but twelve days
since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship. 12. And they neither found
me in the temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people,
neither in the synagogues, nor in the city: 13. Neither can they prove
the things whereof they now accuse me. 14. But this I confess unto
thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God
of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in
the prophets: 15. And have hope toward God, which they themselves also
allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just
and unjust. 16. And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a
conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men. 17. Now after
many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings. 18.
Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple,
neither with multitude, nor with tumult 19. Who ought to have been here
before thee, and object, if they had ought against me. 20. Or else let
these same here say, if they have found any evil-doing in me, while I
stood before the council, 21. Except it be for this one voice, that I
cried standing among them, Touching the resurrection of the dead I am
called in question by you this day. 22. And when Felix heard these
things, having more perfect knowledge of that way, he deferred them,
and said, When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will know
the uttermost of your matter. 23. And he commanded a centurion to keep
Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of
his acquaintance to minister or come unto him. 24. And after certain
days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he
sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. 25. And as
he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix
trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a
convenient season, I will call for thee.' - ACTS xxiv. 10-25.

Tertellus made three charges against Paul: first, that he incited to
rebellion; second, that he was a principal member of a 'sect'; third
(with a 'moreover,' as if an afterthought), that he had profaned the
Temple. It was more clever than honest to put the real cause of Jewish
hatred last, since it was a trifle in Roman eyes, and to put first the
only thing that Felix would think worth notice. A duller man than he
might have scented something suspicious in Jewish officials being so
anxious to suppress insurrection against Rome, and probably he had his
own thoughts about the good faith of the accusers, though he said
nothing. Paul takes up the three points in order. Unsupported charges
can only be met by emphatic denials.

I. Paul's speech is the first part of the passage. Its dignified,
courteous beginning contrasts well with the accuser's dishonest
flattery. Paul will not lie, but he will respect authority, and will
conciliate when he can do so with truth. Felix had been 'judge' for
several years, probably about six. What sort of a judge he had been
Paul will not say. At any rate he had gained experience which might
help him in picking his way through Tertullus's rhetoric.

The Apostle answers the first charge with a flat denial, with the
remark that as the whole affair was less than a fortnight old the truth
could easily be ascertained, and that the time was very short for the
Jews to have 'found' him such a dangerous conspirator, and with the
obviously unanswerable demand for proof to back up the charge. In the
absence of witnesses there was nothing more to be done about number one
of the accusations, and a just judge would have said so and sent
Tertullus and his clients about their business.

The second charge Paul both denies and admits. He does belong to the
followers of Jesus of Nazareth. But that is not a 'sect'; it is 'the
Way.' It is not a divergence from the path in which the fathers have
walked, trodden only by some self-willed schismatics, but it is the one
God-appointed path of life, 'the old way,' the only road by which a man
can walk nobly and travel to the skies. Paul's whole doctrine as to the
relation of Judaism to Christianity is here in germ and in a form
adapted to Felix's comprehension. This so-called sect (ver. 14 takes up
Tertullus's word in ver. 5) is the true Judaism, and its members are
more truly 'Jews' than they who are such 'outwardly.' For what has Paul
cast away in becoming a Christian? Not the worship of the God of
Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, not the law, not the prophets, not
the hope of a resurrection.

He does not say that he practises all the things written in the law,
but that he 'believes' them. Then the law was revelation as well as
precept, and was to be embraced by faith before it could be obeyed in
practice; it was, as he says elsewhere, a 'schoolmaster to bring us
unto Christ.' Judaism is the bud; Christianity is the bright consummate
flower. Paul was not preaching his whole Gospel, but defending himself
from a specific charge; namely that, as being a 'Nazarene,' he had
started off from the main line of Jewish religion. He admits that he is
a 'Nazarene,' and he assumes correctly that Felix knew something about
them, but he denies that he is a sectary, and he assumes that the
charge would be more truly made against those who, accusing him,
disbelieved in Christ. He hints that they did not believe in either law
or prophets, else they would have been Nazarenes too.

The practical results of his faith are stated. 'Herein'; that is in the
faith and hope just spoken of. He will not say that these make him
blameless towards God and men, but that such blamelessness is his aim,
which he pursues with earnest toil and self-control. A Christianity
which does not sovereignly sway life and brace its professor up to the
self-denial needful to secure a conscience void of offence is not
Paul's kind of Christianity. If we move in the circle of the great
Christian truths we shall gird ourselves to subdue the flesh, and will
covet more than aught else the peace of a good conscience. But, like
Paul, we shall be slow to say that we have attained, yet not afraid to
say that we strive towards, that ideal.

The third charge is met by a plain statement of his real purpose in
coming to Jerusalem and frequenting the Temple. 'Profane the Temple!
Why, I came all the way from Greece on purpose to worship at the Feast;
and I did not come empty-handed either, for I brought alms for my
nation' - the contributions of the Gentiles to Jews - 'and I was a
worshipper, discharging the ceremonial purifications.' They called him
a 'Nazarene'; he was in the Temple as a 'Nazarite.' Was it likely that,
being there on such an errand, he should have profaned it?

He begins a sentence, which would probably have been an indignant one,
about the 'certain Jews from Asia,' the originators of the whole
trouble, but he checks himself with a fine sense of justice. He will
say nothing about absent men. And that brings him back to his strong
point, already urged, the absence of proof of the charges. Tertullus
and company had only hearsay. What had become of the people who said
they saw him in the Temple? No doubt they had thought discretion the
better part of valour, and were not anxious to face the Roman procedure.

The close of the speech carries the war into the enemy's quarters,
challenging the accusers to tell what they had themselves heard. They
_could_ be witnesses as to the scene at the Council, which Tertullus
had wisely said nothing about. Pungent sarcasm is in Paul's closing
words, especially if we remember that the high officials, like Ananias
the high-priest, were Sadducees. The Pharisees in the Council had
acquitted him when they heard his profession of faith in a
resurrection. That was his real crime, not treason against Rome or
profanation of the Temple. The present accusers might be eager for his
condemnation, but half of their own Sanhedrim had acquitted him. 'And
these unworthy Jews, who have cast off the nation's hope and believe in
no resurrection, are accusing me of being an apostate! Who is the
sectary - I or they?'

II. There was only one righteous course for Felix, namely, to discharge

Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 49 of 57)