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Expositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts online

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ask you just to take that one simple fact, that Christ thus steps, in
the New Testament - in so far as the direction of the religious emotions
of faith and love are concerned - that Christ steps into the place
filled by the Jehovah of the Old; and ask yourselves honestly what
theory of Christ's nature and person and work explains that fact, and
saves Him from the charge of folly and blasphemy? 'He that believeth
upon Me shall never hunger.' Ah, my brother! He was no mere _man_ who
said that. He that spake from out of the cloud to the Apostle on the
road to Damascus, and said, 'Sanctified by faith that is in Me,' was no
mere _man_. Christ was our brother and a man, but He was the Son of
God, the divine Redeemer. The Object of faith is Christ; and as Object
of faith He must needs be divine.

II. And now, secondly, closely connected with and springing from this
thought as to the true object of faith, arises the consideration as to
the nature and the essence of the act of faith itself.

_Whom_ we are to trust in we have seen: what it is to _have_ faith may
be very briefly stated. If the Object of faith were certain truths, the
assent of the understanding would be enough. If the Object of faith
were unseen things, the confident persuasion of them would be
sufficient. If the Object of faith were promises of future good, the
hope rising to certainty of the possession of these would be
sufficient. But if the Object be more than truths, more than unseen
realities, more than promises; if the Object be a living Person, - then
there follows inevitably this, that faith is not merely the assent of
the understanding, that faith is not merely the persuasion of the
reality of unseen things, that faith is not merely the confident
expectation of future good; but that faith is the personal relation of
him who has it to the living Person its Object, - the relation which is
expressed not more clearly, perhaps a little more forcibly to us, by
substituting another word, and saying, Faith is _trust_.

And I think that there again, by laying hold of that simple principle,
Because Christ is the Object of Faith, therefore Faith must be trust,
we get bright and beautiful light upon the grandest truths of the
Gospel of God. If we will only take that as our explanation, we have
not indeed defined faith by substituting the other word for it, but we
have made it a little more clear to our apprehensions, by using a
non-theological word with which our daily acts teach us to connect an
intelligible meaning. If we will only take that as our explanation, how
simple, how grand, how familiar too it sounds, - to _trust_ Him! It is
the very same kind of feeling, though different in degree, and
glorified by the majesty and glory of its Object, as that which we all
know how to put forth in our relations with one another. We trust each
other. That is faith. We have confidence in the love that has been
around us, breathing benedictions and bringing blessings ever since we
were little children. When the child looks up into the mother's face,
the symbol to it of all protection, or into the father's eye, the
symbol to it of all authority, - that emotion by which the little one
hangs upon the loving hand and trusts the loving heart that towers
above it in order to bend over it and scatter good, is the same as the
one which, glorified and made divine, rises strong and immortal in its
power, when fixed and fastened on Christ, and saves the soul. The
Gospel rests upon a mystery, but the practical part of it is no
mystery. When we come and preach to you, 'Trust in Christ and thou
shalt be saved,' we are not asking you to put into exercise some
mysterious power. We are only asking you to give to Him that which you
give to others, to transfer the old emotions, the blessed emotions, the
exercise of which makes gladness in life here below, to transfer them
to Him, and to rest safe in the Lord. Faith is trust. The living Person
as its Object rises before us there, in His majesty, in His power, in
His gentleness, and He says, 'I shall be contented if thou wilt give to
Me these emotions which thou dost fix now, to thy death and loss, on
the creatures of a day.' Faith is mighty, divine, the gift of God; but
Oh! it is the exercise of a familiar habit, only fixed upon a divine
and eternal Person.

And if this be the very heart and kernel of the Christian doctrine of
faith - that it is simple personal trust in Jesus Christ; it is worthy
of notice, how all the subsidiary meanings and uses of the word flow
out of that, whilst it cannot be explained by any of them. People are
in the habit of setting up antitheses betwixt faith and reason, betwixt
faith and sight, betwixt faith and possession. They say, 'We do not
_know_, we must _believe_'; they say, 'We do not _see_, we must have
faith'; they say, 'We do not _possess_, we must trust.' Now faith - the
trust in Christ - the simple personal relation of confidence in
Him - _that_ lies beneath all these other meanings of the word. For
instance, faith is, in one sense, the opposite and antithesis of sight;
because Christ, unseen, having gone into the unseen world, the
confidence which is directed towards Him must needs pass out beyond the
region of sense, and fix upon the immortal verities that are veiled by
excess of light at God's right hand. Faith is the opposite of sight;
inasmuch as Christ, having given us assurance of an unseen and
everlasting world, we, trusting in Him, believe what He says to us, and
are persuaded and know that there are things yonder which we have never
seen with the eye nor handled with the hand. Similarly, faith is the
completion of reason; because, trusting Christ, we believe what He
says, and He has spoken to us truths which we in ourselves are unable
to discover, but which, when revealed, we accept on the faith of His
truthfulness, and because we rely upon Him. Similarly, faith is
contrasted with present possession, because Christ has promised us
future blessings and future glories; and having confidence in the
Person, we believe what He says, and know that we shall possess them.
But the root from which spring the power of faith as the opposite of
sight, the power of faith as the telescope of reason, the power of
faith as the 'confidence of things not possessed,' is the deeper
thing - faith in the Person, which leads us to believe Him whether He
promises, reveals, or commands, and to take His words as verity because
He _is_ 'the Truth.'

And then, again, if this, the personal trust in Christ as our living
Redeemer - if this be faith, then there come also, closely connected
with it, certain other emotions or feelings in the heart. For instance,
if I am trusting to Christ, there is inseparably linked with it
self-distrust. There are two sides to the emotion; where there is
reliance upon another, there must needs be non-reliance upon self. Take
an illustration. There is the tree: the trunk goes upward from the
little seed, rises into the light, gets the sunshine upon it, and has
leaves and fruit. That is the upward tendency of faith - trust in
Christ. There is the root, down deep, buried, dark, unseen. Both are
springing, but springing in apposite directions, from the one seed.
That is, as it were, the negative side, the downward
tendency - self-distrust. The two things go together - the positive
reliance upon another, the negative distrust of myself. There must be
deep consciousness not only of my own impotence, but of my own
sinfulness. The heart must be emptied that the seed of faith may grow;
but the entrance in of faith is itself the means for the emptying of
the heart. The two things co-exist; we can divide them in thought. We
can wrangle and squabble, as divided sects hare done, about which comes
first, the fact being, that though you can part them in thought, you
cannot part them in experience, inasmuch as they are but the obverse
and the reverse, the two sides of the same coin. Faith and
repentance - faith and self-distrust - they are done in one and the same
indissoluble act.

And again, faith, as thus conceived of, will obviously have for its
certain and immediate consequence, love. Nay, the two emotions will be
inseparable and practically co-existent. In thought we can separate
them. Logically, faith comes first, and love next, but in life they
will spring up together. The question of their order of existence is an
often-trod battle-ground of theology, all strewed with the relics of
former fights. But in the real history of the growth of religious
emotions in the soul, the interval which separates them is impalpable,
and in every act of trust, love is present, and fundamental to every
emotion of love to Christ is trust in Christ.

But without further reference to such matters, here is the broad
principle of our text. Trust in Christ, not mere assent to a principle,
personal dependence upon Him revealed as the 'Lamb of God that taketh
away the sin of the world,' an act of the will as well as of the
understanding, and essentially an act of the will and not of the
understanding - that is the thing by which a soul is saved. And much of
the mist and confusion about saving faith, and non-saving faith, might
be lifted and dispersed if we once fully apprehended and firmly held by
the divine simplicity of the truth, that faith is trust in Jesus Christ.

III. Once more: from this general definition there follows, in the
third place, an explanation of the power of faith.

'We are justified,' says the Bible, 'by faith.' If a man believes, he
is saved. Why so? Not, as some people sometimes seem to fancy, as if in
faith itself there was any merit. There is a very strange and subtle
resurrection of the whole doctrine of works in reference to this
matter; and we often hear belief in the Gospel of Christ spoken about
as if _it_, the work of the man believing, was, in a certain way and to
some extent, that which God rewarded by giving him salvation. What is
that but the whole doctrine of works come up again in a new form? What
difference is there between what a man does with his hands and what a
man feels in his heart? If the one merit salvation, or if the other
merit salvation, equally we are shut up to this, - Men get heaven by
what they do; and it does not matter a bit what they do it with,
whether it be body or soul. When we say we are saved by faith, we mean
accurately, _through_ faith. It is God that saves. It is Christ's life,
Christ's blood, Christ's sacrifice, Christ's intercession, that saves.
Faith is simply the channel through which there flows over into my
emptiness the divine fulness; or, to use the good old illustration, it
is the hand which is held up to receive the benefit which Christ lays
in it. A living trust in Jesus has power unto salvation, only because
it is the means by which 'the power of God unto salvation' may come
into my heart. On one side is the great ocean of Christ's love,
Christ's abundance, Christ's merits, Christ's righteousness; or,
rather, there is the great ocean of Christ Himself, which includes them
all; and on the other is the empty vessel of my soul - and the little
narrow pipe that has nothing to do but to bring across the refreshing
water, is the act of faith in Him. There is no merit in the dead lead,
no virtue in the mere emotion. It is not faith that saves us; it is
Christ that saves us, and saves us through faith.

And now, lastly, these principles likewise help us to understand
wherein consists the guilt and criminality of unbelief. People are
sometimes disposed to fancy that God has arbitrarily selected this one
thing, believing in Jesus Christ, as the means of salvation, and do not
distinctly see why and how non-belief is so desperate and criminal a
thing. I think that the principles that I have been trying feebly to
work out now, help us to see how faith is not arbitrarily selected as
the instrument and means of our salvation. There is no other way of
effecting it. God could not save us in any other way than that,
salvation being provided, the condition of receiving it should be trust
in His Son.

And next they show where the guilt of unbelief lies. Faith is not first
and principally an act of the understanding; it is not the mere assent
to certain truths. I believe, for my part, that men are responsible
even for their intellectual processes, and for the beliefs at which
they arrive by the working of these; and I think it is a very shallow
philosophy that stands up and says - (it is almost exploded now, and
perhaps not needful even to mention it) - that men are 'no more
responsible for their belief than they are for the colour of their
hair.' Why, if faith were no more than an intellectual process, it
would still be true that they are responsible for it; but the faith
that saves a man, and unbelief that ruins a man, are not processes of
the understanding alone. It is the will, the heart, the whole moral
being, that is concerned. Why does any one not trust Jesus Christ? For
one reason only: because _he will not_. Why has any one not faith in
the Lamb of God? Because his whole nature is turning away from that
divine and loving Face, and is setting itself in rebellion against it.
Why does any one refuse to believe? Because he has confidence in
himself; because he has not a sense of his sins; because he has not
love in his heart to his Lord and Saviour. Men are responsible for
unbelief. Unbelief is criminal, because it is a moral act - an act of
the whole nature. Belief or unbelief is the test of a man's whole
spiritual condition, just because it is the whole being, affections,
will, conscience and all, as well as the understanding, which are
concerned in it. And therefore Christ, who says, 'Sanctified by faith
that is in Me,' says likewise, 'He that believeth not, shall be
condemned.'

And now, brethren, take this one conviction into your hearts, that what
makes a man a Christian - what saves my soul and yours - what brings the
love of Christ into any life, and makes the sacrifice of Christ a power
to pardon and purify, - that that is not merely believing this Book, not
merely understanding the doctrines that are there, but a far more
profound act than that. It is the casting of myself upon Himself, the
bending of my willing heart to His loving Spirit; the close contact,
heart to heart, soul to soul, will to will, of my emptiness with His
fulness, of my sinfulness with His righteousness, of my death with His
life: that I may live by Him, be sanctified by Him, be saved by Him,
'with an everlasting salvation.' Faith is trust: Christ is the Objeet
of faith. Faith is the condition of salvation; and unbelief is your
fault, your loss - the crime which ruins men's souls!



'BEFORE GOVERNORS AND KINGS'

'Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly
vision: 20. But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem,
and throughout all the coasts of Judsea, and then to the Gentiles, that
they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
21. For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about
to kill me. 22. Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto
this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things
than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come; 23. That
Christ should suffer, and that He should be the first that should rise
from the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the
Gentiles. 24. And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud
voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.
25. But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the
words of truth and soberness. 26. For the king knoweth of these things,
before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these
things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.
27. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou
believest. 28. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me
to be a Christian. 29. And Paul said, I would to God, that not only
thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost and
altogether such as I am, except these bonds. 30. And when he had thus
spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that
sat with them: 31. And when they were gone aside, they talked between
themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds.
32. Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at
liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.' - ACTS xxvi. 19-32.

Festus was no model of a righteous judge, but he had got hold of the
truth as to Paul, and saw that what he contemptuously called 'certain
questions of their own superstition,' and especially his assertion of
the Resurrection, were the real crimes of the Apostle in Jewish eyes.
But the fatal wish to curry favour warped his course, and led him to
propose a removal of the 'venue' to Jerusalem. Paul knew that to return
thither would seal his death-warrant, and was therefore driven to
appeal to Rome.

That took the case out of Festus's jurisdiction. So that the hearing
before Agrippa was an entertainment, got up for the king's diversion,
when other amusements had been exhausted, rather than a regular
judicial proceeding. Paul was examined 'to make a Roman holiday.'
Festus's speech (chap. xxv. 24-27) tries to put on a colour of desire
to ascertain more clearly the charges, but that is a very thin pretext.
Agrippa had said that he would like 'to hear the man,' and so the
performance was got up 'by request.' Not a very sympathetic audience
fronted Paul that day. A king and his sister, a Roman governor, and all
the elite of Caesarean society, ready to take their cue from the faces
of these three, did not daunt Paul. The man who had seen Jesus on the
Damascus road could face 'small and great.'

The portion of his address included in the passage touches
substantially the same points as did his previous 'apologies.' We may
note how strongly he puts the force that impelled him on his course,
and lays bare the secret of his life. 'I was not disobedient to the
heavenly vision'; then the possibility of disobedience was open after
he had heard Christ ask, 'Why persecutest thou Me?' and had received
commands from His mouth. Then, too, the essential character of the
charge against him was that, instead of kicking against the owner's
goad, he had bowed his neck to his yoke, and that his obstinate will
had melted. Then, too, the 'light above the brightness of the sun'
still shone round him, and his whole life was one long act of obedience.

We note also how he sums up his work in verse 20, representing his
mission to the Gentiles as but the last term in a continuous widening
of his field, from Damascus to Jerusalem, from Jerusalem to Judaea (a
phase of his activity not otherwise known to us, and for which, with
our present records, it is difficult to find a place), from Judaea to
the Gentiles. Step by step he had been led afield, and at each step the
'heavenly vision' had shone before him.

How superbly, too, Paul overleaps the distinction of Jew and Gentile,
which disappeared to him in the unity of the broad message, which was
the same to every man. Repentance, turning to God, works worthy of
repentance, are as needful for Jew as for Gentile, and as open to
Gentile as to Jew. What but universal can such a message be? To limit
it would be to mutilate it.

We note, too, the calmness with which he lays his finger on the real
cause of Jewish hate, which Festus had already found out. He does not
condescend to rebut the charge of treason, which he had already
repelled, and which nobody in his audience believed. He is neither
afraid nor angry, as he quietly points to the deadly malice which had
no ground but his message.

We further note the triumphant confidence in God and assurance of His
help in all the past, so that, like some strong tower after the most
crashing blows of the battering-ram, he still 'stands.' 'His steps had
wellnigh slipped,' when foe after foe stormed against him, but 'Thy
mercy, O Lord, held me up.'

Finally, Paul gathers himself together, to leave as his last word the
mighty sentence in which he condenses his whole teaching, in its aspect
of witness-bearing, in its universal destination and identity to the
poorest and to loftily placed men and women, such as sat languidly
looking at him now, in its perfect concord with the earlier revelation,
and in its threefold contents, that it was the message of the Christ
who suffered, who rose from the dead, who was the Light of the world.
Surely the promise was fulfilled to him, and it was 'given him in that
hour what he should speak.'

The rustle in the crowd was scarcely over, when the strong masterful
voice of the governor rasped out the coarse taunt, which, according to
one reading, was made coarser (and more lifelike) by repetition, 'Thou
art mad, Paul; thou art mad.' So did a hard 'practical man' think of
that strain of lofty conviction, and of that story of the appearance of
the Christ. To be in earnest about wealth or power or science or
pleasure is not madness, so the world thinks; but to be in earnest
about religion, one's own soul, or other people's, is. Which was the
saner, Paul, who 'counted all things but dung that he might win
Christ,' or Festus, who counted keeping his governorship, and making
all that he could out of it, the one thing worth living for? Who is the
madman, he who looks up and sees Jesus, and bows before Him for
lifelong service, or he who looks up and says, 'I see nothing up there;
I keep my eyes on the main chance down here'? It would be a saner and a
happier world if there were more of us mad after Paul's fashion.

Paul's unruffled calm and dignity brushed aside the rude exclamation
with a simple affirmation that his words were true in themselves, and
spoken by one who had full command over his faculties; and then he
turned away from Festus, who understood nothing, to Agrippa, who, at
any rate, did understand a little. Indeed, Festus has to take the
second place throughout, and it may have been the ignoring of him that
nettled him. For all his courtesy to Agrippa, he knew that the latter
was but a vassal king, and may have chafed at Paul's addressing him
exclusively.

The Apostle has finished his defence, and now he towers above the petty
dignitaries before him, and goes straight at the conscience of the
king. Festus had dismissed the Resurrection of 'one Jesus' as
unimportant: Paul asserted it, the Jews denied it. It was not worth
while to ask which was right. The man was dead, that was agreed. If
Paul said He was alive after death, that was only another proof of
madness, and a Roman governor had more weighty things to occupy him
than investigating such obscure and absurd trifles. But Agrippa, though
not himself a Jew, knew enough of the history of the last twenty years
to have heard about the Resurrection and the rise of the Church. No
doubt he would have been ready to admit his knowledge, but Paul shows a
disposition to come to closer quarters by his swift thrust, 'Believest
thou the prophets?' and the confident answer which the questioner gives.

What was the Apostle bringing these two things - the publicity given to
the facts of Christ's life, and the belief in the prophets - together
for? Obviously, if Agrippa said Yes, then the next question would be,
'Believest thou the Christ, whose life and death and resurrection thou
knowest, and who has fulfilled the prophets thereby?' That would have
been a hard question for the king to answer. His conscience begins to
be uncomfortable, and his dignity is wounded by this extremely rude
person, who ventures to talk to him as if he were a mere common man. He
has no better answer ready than a sarcasm; not a very forcible one,
betraying, however, his penetration into, and his dislike of, and his
embarrassment at, Paul's drift. His ironical words are no confession of
being 'almost persuaded,' but a taunt. 'And do you really suppose that
it is so easy a matter to turn me - the great Me, a Herod, a king,' and
he might have added, a sensual bad man, 'into a Christian?'

Paul met the sarcastic jest with deep earnestness, which must have
hushed the audience of sycophants ready to laugh with the king, and
evidently touched him and Festus. His whole soul ran over in yearning
desire for the salvation of them all. He took no notice of the gibe in
the word _Christian_, nor of the levity of Agrippa. He showed that
purest love fills his heart, that he has found the treasure which
enriches the poorest and adds blessedness to the highest. So peaceful



Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 52 of 57)