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confession which it prompts, and the calmness and security which it
ensures. Let us then look at them from these points of view.

I. We note the clear setting forth of the essence of true religion.

Remember that Paul is speaking to heathens; that his present purpose is
not to preach the Gospel, but to make his own position clear. So he
says 'the God' - never mind who _He_ is at present - 'the God to whom I
belong ' - that covers all the inward life - 'and whom I serve' - that
covers all the outward.

'Whose I am.' That expresses the universal truth that men belong to God
by virtue of their being the creatures of His hand. As the 100th Psalm
says, according to one, and that a probably correct reading, 'It is He
that hath made us, and _we are His_.' But the Apostle is going a good
deal deeper than any such thoughts, which he, no doubt, shared in
common with the heathen men around him, when he declares that, in a
special fashion, God had claimed him for His, and he had yielded to the
claim. 'I am Thine,' is the deepest thought of this man's mind and the
deepest feeling of his heart. And that is godliness in its purest form,
the consciousness of belonging to God. We must interpret this saying by
others of the Apostle's, such as, 'Ye are not your own, ye are bought
with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your bodies and spirits which
are His.' He traces God's possession of him, not to that fact of
creation (which establishes a certain outward relationship, but nothing
more), nor even to the continuous facts of benefits showered upon his
head, but to the one transcendent act of the divine Love, which gave
itself to us, and so acquired us for itself. For we must recognise as
the deepest of all thoughts about the relations of spiritual beings,
that, as in regard to ourselves in our earthly affections, so in regard
to our relations with God, there is only one way by which a spirit can
own a spirit, whether it be a man on the one side and a woman on the
other, or whether it be God on the one side and a man on the other, and
that one way is by the sweetness of complete and reciprocal love. He
who gives himself to God gets God for himself. So when Paul said,
'Whose I am,' he was thinking that he would never have belonged either
to God or to himself unless, first of all, God, in His own Son, had
given Himself to Paul. The divine ownership of us is only realised when
we are consciously His, because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Brethren, God does not count that a man belongs to Him simply because
He made him, if the man does not feel his dependence, his obligation,
and has not surrendered himself. He in the heavens loves you and me too
well to care for a formal and external ownership. He desires hearts,
and only they who have yielded themselves unto God, moved thereto by
the mercies of God, and especially by the encyclopaediacal mercy which
includes all the rest in its sweep, only they belong to Him, in the
estimate of the heavens.

And if you and I are His, then that involves that we have deposed from
his throne the rebel Self, the ancient Anarch that disturbs and ruins
us. They who belong to God cease to live to themselves. There are two
centres for human life, and I believe there are only two - the one is
God, the other is my wretched self. And if we are swept, as it were,
out of the little orbit that we move in, when the latter is our centre,
and are drawn by the weight and mass of the great central sun to become
its satellites, then we move in a nobler orbit and receive fuller and
more blessed light and warmth. They who have themselves for their
centres are like comets, with a wide elliptical course, which carries
them away out into the cold abysses of darkness. They who have God for
their sun are like planets. The old fable is true of these 'sons of the
morning' - they make music as they roll and they flash back His light.

And then do not let us forget that this yielding of one's self to Him,
swayed by His love, and this surrendering of will and purpose and
affection and all that makes up our complex being, lead directly to the
true possession of Him and the true possession of ourselves.

I have said that the only way by which spirit possesses spirit is by
love, and that it must needs be on both sides. So we get God for
ourselves when we give ourselves to God. There is a wonderful
alternation of giving and receiving between the loving God and his
beloved lovers; first the impartation of the divine to the human, then
the surrender of the human to the divine, and then the larger gift of
God to man, just as in some series of mirrors the light is flashed back
from the one to the other, in bewildering manifoldness and shimmering
of rays from either polished surface. God is ours when we are God's.
'And this is the covenant that I will make with them after these days,
saith the Lord. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.'

And, in like manner, we never own ourselves until we have given
ourselves to God. Each of us is like some feudatory prince, dependent
upon an overlord. His subjects in his little territory rebel, and he
has no power to subdue the insurgents, but he can send a message to the
capital, and get the army of the king, who is his sovereign and theirs,
to come down and bring them back to order, and establish his tottering
throne. So if you desire to own yourself or to know the sweetness that
you may get out of your own nature and the exercise of your powers, if
you desire to be able to govern the realm within, put yourself into
God's hands and say, 'I am Thine; hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe.'

I need not say more than just a word about the other side of Paul's
confession of faith, 'Whom I serve.' He employs the word which means
the service of a worshipper, or even of a priest, and not that which
means the service of a slave. His purpose was to represent how, as his
whole inward nature bowed in submission to, and was under the influence
of, God to whom he belonged, so his whole outward life was a life of
devotion. He was serving Him there in the ship, amidst the storm and
the squalor and the terror. His calmness was service; his confidence
was service; the cheery words that he was speaking to these people were
service. And on his whole life he believed that this was stamped, that
he was devoted to God. So _there_ is the true idea of a Christian life,
that in all its aspects, attitudes, and acts it is to be a
manifestation, in visible form, of inward devotion to, and ownership
by, God. All our work may be worship, and we may 'pray without
ceasing,' though no supplications come from our lips, if our hearts are
in touch with Him and through our daily life we serve and honour Him.
God's priests never are far away from their altar, and never are
without, somewhat to offer, as long as they have the activities of
daily duty and the difficulties of daily conflict to bring to Him and
spread before Him.

II. So let me turn for a moment to some of the other aspects of these
words to which I have already referred, I find in them, next, the bold
confession which true religion requires.

Shipboard is a place where people find out one another very quickly.
Character cannot well be hid there. And such circumstances as Paul had
been in for the last fortnight, tossing up and down in _Adria_, with
Death looking over the bulwarks of the crazy ship every moment, were
certain to have brought out the inmost secrets of character. Paul durst
not have said to these people 'the God whose I am and whom I serve' if
he had not known that he had been living day by day a consistent and
godly life amongst them.

And so, I note, first of all, that this confession of individual and
personal relationship to God is incumbent on every Christian. We do not
need to be always brandishing it before people's faces. There is very
little fear of the average Christian of this day blundering on that
side. But we need, still less, to be always hiding it away. One hears a
great deal from certain quarters about a religion that does not need to
be vocal but shows what it is, without the necessity for words. Blessed
be God! there is such a religion, but you will generally find that the
people who have most of it are the people who are least tongue-tied
when opportunity arises; and that if they have been witnessing for God
in their quiet discharge of duty, with their hands instead of their
lips, they are quite as ready to witness with their lips when it is
fitting that they should do so. And surely, surely, if a man belongs to
God, and if his whole life is to be the manifestation of the ownership
that he recognises, that which specially reveals him - viz., his own
articulate speech - cannot be left out of his methods of manifestation.

I am afraid that there are a great many professing Christian people
nowadays who never, all their lives, have said to any one, 'The God
whose I am and whom I serve.' And I beseech you, dear brethren, suffer
this word of exhortation. To say so is a far more effectual, or at
least more powerful, means of appeal than any direct invitation to
share in the blessings. You may easily offend a man by saying to him,
'Won't you be a Christian too?' But it is hard to offend if you simply
say that you are a Christian. The statement of personal experience is
more powerful by far than all argumentation or eloquence or pleading
appeals. We do more when we say, 'That which we have tasted and felt
and handled of the Word of Life, declare we unto you,' than by any
other means.

Only remember that the avowal must be backed up by a life, as Paul's
was backed up on board that vessel. For unless it is so, the profession
does far more harm than good. There are always keen critics round us,
especially if we say that we are Christians. There were keen critics on
board that ship. Do you think that these Roman soldiers, and the other
prisoners, would not have smiled contemptuously at Paul, if this had
been the first time that they had any reason to suppose that he was at
all different from them? They would have said, 'The God whose _you_ are
and whom _you_ serve? Why, you are just the same sort of man as if you
worshipped Jupiter like the rest of us!' And that is what the world has
a right to say to Christian people. The clearer our profession, the
holier must be our lives.

III. Last of all, I find in these words the calmness and security which
true religion secures.

The story, as I have already glanced at it in my introductory remarks,
brings out very wonderfully and very beautifully Paul's promptitude,
his calmness in danger, his absolute certainty of safety, and his
unselfish thoughtfulness about his companions in peril. And all these
things were the direct results of his entire surrender to God, and of
the consistency of his daily life. It needed the angel in the vision to
assure him that his life would be spared. But whether the angel had
ever come or not, and though death had been close at his hand, the
serenity and the peaceful assurance of safety which come out so
beautifully in the story would have been there all the same. The man
who can say 'I belong to God' does not need to trouble himself about
dangers. He will have to exercise his common sense, as the Apostle
shows us; he will have to use all the means that are in his power for
the accomplishment of ends that he knows to be right and legitimate.
But having done all that, he can say, 'I belong to Him,' it is His
business to look after His own property. He is not going to hold His
possessions with such a slack hand as that they shall slip between His
fingers, and be lost in the mire. 'Thou wilt not lose the souls that
are Thine in the grave, neither wilt Thou suffer the man whom Thou
lovest to see corruption.' God keeps His treasures, and the surer we
are that He is able to keep them unto that day, the calmer we may be in
all our trouble.

And the safety that followed was also the direct result of the
relationship of mutual possession and love established between God and
the Apostle. We do not know to which of the two groups of the
shipwrecked Paul belonged; whether he could swim or whether he had to
hold on to some bit of floating wreckage or other, and so got 'safe to
land.' But whichever way it was, it was neither his swimming nor the
spar to which, perhaps, he clung, that landed him safe on shore. It was
the God to whom he belonged. Faith is the true lifebelt that keeps us
from being drowned in any stormy sea. And if you and I feel that we are
His, and live accordingly, we shall be calm amid all change, serene
when others are troubled, ready to be helpers of others even when we
ourselves are in distress. And when the crash comes, and the ship goes
to pieces: 'so it will come to pass that, some on boards, and some on
broken pieces of the ship, they all come safe to land,' and when the
Owner counts His subjects and possessions on the quiet shore, as the
morning breaks, there will not be one who has been lost in the surges,
or whose name will be unanswered to when the muster-roll of the crew is
called.



A TOTAL WRECK, ALL HANDS SAVED

'And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had
let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have
cast anchors out of the foreship, 31. Paul said to the centurion and to
the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. 32.
Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off.
33. And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take
meat, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and
continued fasting, having taken nothing. 34. Wherefore I pray you to
take some meat; for this is for your health; for there shall not an
hair fall from the head of any of you. 35. And when he had thus spoken,
he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all; and when
he had broken it, he began to eat. 36. Then were they all of good
cheer, and they also took some meat. 37. And we were in all in the ship
two hundred threescore and sixteen souls. 38. And when they had eaten
enough, they lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea.
39. And when it was day, they knew not the land; but they discovered a
certain creek with a shore, into the which they were minded, if it were
possible, to thrust in the ship. 40. And when they had taken up the
anchors, they committed themselves unto the sea, and loosed the
rudder-bands, and noised up the main-sail to the wind, and made toward
shore. 41. And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the
ship aground: and the fore part stuck fast, and remained unmoveable,
but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves. 42. And
the soldiers' counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any-of them
should swim out, and escape. 43. But the centurion, willing to save
Paul, kept them from their purpose: and commanded that they which could
swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land: 44.
And the rest some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And
so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.' - ACTS xxvii
30-44.

The Jews were not seafaring people. Their coast had no safe harbours,
and they seldom ventured on the Mediterranean. To find Paul in a ship
with its bow pointed westwards is significant. It tells of the
expansion of Judaism into a world-wide religion, and of the future
course of Christianity. The only Old Testament parallel is Jonah, and
the dissimilarities of the two incidents are as instructive as are
their resemblances.

This minute narrative is evidently the work of one of the passengers
who knew a good deal about nautical matters. It reads like a log-book.
But as James Smith has well noted in his interesting monograph on the
chapter, the writer's descriptions, though accurate, are
unprofessional, thus confirming Luke's authorship. Where had the
'beloved physician' learned so much about the sea and ships? Did the
great galleys carry surgeons as now? At all events the story is one of
the most graphic accounts ever written. This narrative begins when the
doomed ship has cast anchor, with a rocky coast close under her lee.
The one question is, Will the four anchors hold? No wonder that the
passengers longed for daylight!

The first point is the crew's dastardly trick to save themselves,
frustrated by Paul's insight and promptitude. The pretext for getting
into the boat was specious. Anchoring by the bow as well as by the
stern would help to keep the ship from driving ashore; and if once the
crew were in the boat and pulled as far as was necessary to lay out the
anchors, it would be easy, under cover of the darkness, to make good
their escape on shore and leave the landsmen on board to shift for
themselves. The boat must have been of considerable size to hold the
crew of so large a ship. It was already lying alongside, and landsmen
would not suspect what lay under the apparently brave attempt to add to
the vessel's security, but Paul did so. His practical sagacity was as
conspicuous a trait as his lofty enthusiasm. Common sense need not be
divorced from high aims or from the intensest religious self-devotion.
The idealist beat the practical centurion in penetrating the sailors'
scheme.

That must have been a great nature which combined such different
characteristics as the Apostle shows. Unselfish devotion is often
wonderfully clear-sighted as to the workings of its opposite. The
Apostle's promptitude is as noticeable as his penetration. He wastes no
time in remonstrance with the cowards, who would have been over the
side and off in the dark while he talked, but goes straight to the man
in authority. Note, too, that he keeps his place as a prisoner. It is
not his business to suggest what is to be done. That might have been
resented as presumptuous; but he has a right to point out the danger,
and he leaves the centurion to settle how to meet it. Significantly
does he say 'ye,' not 'we.' He was perfectly certain that he 'must be
brought before Caesar'; and though he believed that all on board would
escape, he seems to regard his own safety as even more certain than
that of the others.

The lesson often drawn from his words is rightly drawn. They imply the
necessity of men's action in order to carry out God's purpose. The
whole shipful are to be saved, but 'except these abide ... ye cannot be
saved,' The belief that God wills anything is a reason for using all
means to effect it, not for folding our hands and saying, 'God will do
it, whether we do anything or not.' The line between fatalism and
Christian reliance on God's will is clearly drawn in Paul's words.

Note too the prompt, decisive action of the soldiers. They waste no
words, nor do they try to secure the sailors, but out with their knives
and cut the tow-rope, and away into the darkness drifts the boat. It
might have been better to have kept it, as affording a chance of safety
for all; but probably it was wisest to get rid of it at once. Many
times in every life it is necessary to sacrifice possible advantages in
order to secure a more necessary good. The boat has to be let go if the
passengers in the ship are to be saved. Misused good things have
sometimes to be given up in order to keep people from temptation.

The next point brings Paul again to the front. In the night he had been
the saviour of the whole shipload of people. Now as the twilight is
beginning, and the time for decisive action will soon be here with the
day, he becomes their encourager and counsellor. Again his saving
common sense is shown. He knew that the moment for intense struggle was
at hand, and so he prepares them for it by getting them to eat a
substantial breakfast. It was because of his faith that he did so. His
religion did not lead him to do as some people would have done - begin
to talk to the soldiers about their souls - but he looked after their
bodies. Hungry, wet, sleepless, they were in no condition to scramble
through the surf, and the first thing to be done was to get some food
into them. Of course he does not mean that they had eaten absolutely
nothing for a fortnight, but only that they had had scanty nourishment.
But Paul's religion went harmoniously with his care for men's bodies.
He 'gave thanks to God in presence of them all'; and who shall say that
that prayer did not touch hearts more deeply than religious talk would
have done? Paul's calmness would be contagious; and the root of it, in
his belief in what his God had told him, would be impressively
manifested to all on board. Moods are infectious; so 'they were all of
good cheer,' and no doubt things looked less black after a hearty meal,

A little point may be noticed here, namely, the naturalness of the
insertion of the numbers on board at this precise place in the
narrative. There would probably be a muster of all hands for the meal,
and in view of the approaching scramble, in order that, if they got to
shore, there might be certainty as to whether any were lost. So here
the numbers come in. They were still not without hope of saving the
ship, though Paul had told them it would be lost; and so they jettison
the cargo of wheat from Alexandria. By this time it is broad day and
something must be done.

The next point is the attempt to beach the vessel. 'They knew not the
land,' that is, the part of the coast where they had been driven; but
they saw that, while for the most part it was iron-bound, there was a
shelving sandy bay at one point on to which it might be possible to run
her ashore. The Revised Version gives a much more accurate and
seaman-like account than the Authorised Version does. The anchors were
not taken on board, but to save time and trouble were 'left in the
sea,' the cables being simply cut. The 'rudder-bands' - that is, the
lashings which had secured the two paddle-like rudders, one on either
beam, which had been tied up to be out of the way when the stern
anchors were put out - are loosed, and the rudders drop into place. The
foresail (not 'mainsail,' as the Authorised Version has it) is set to
help to drive the ship ashore. It is all exactly what we should expect
to be done.

But an unexpected difficulty met the attempt, which is explained by the
lie of the coast at St. Paul's Bay, Malta, as James Smith fully
describes in his book. A little island, separated from the mainland by
a channel of not more than one hundred yards in breadth, lies off the
north-east point of the bay, and to a beholder at the entrance to the
bay looks as if continuous with it. When the ship got farther in, they
would see the narrow channel, through which a strong current sets and
makes a considerable disturbance as it meets the run of the water in
the bay. A bank of mud has been formed at the point of meeting. Thus
not only the water shoals, but the force of the current through the
narrows would hinder the ship from getting past it to the beach. The
two things together made her ground, 'stem on' to the bank; and then,
of course, the heavy sea running into the bay, instead of helping her
to the shore, began to break up the stern which was turned towards it.

Common peril makes beasts of prey and their usual victims crouch
together. Benefits received touch generous hearts. But the legionaries
on board had no such sentiments. Paul's helpfulness was forgotten. A
still more ignoble exhibition of the instinct of self-preservation than
the sailors had shown dictated that cowardly, cruel suggestion to kill
the prisoners. Brutal indifference to human life, and Rome's iron
discipline holding terror over the legionaries' heads, are vividly
illustrated in the 'counsel,' So were Paul's kindnesses requited! It is
hard to melt rude natures even by kindness; and if Paul had been
looking for gratitude he would have been disappointed, as we so often
are. But if we do good to men because we expect requital, even in
thankfulness, we are not pure in motive. 'Looking for nothing again' is
the spirit enforced by God's pattern and by experience.

The centurion had throughout, like most of his fellows in Scripture,
been kindly disposed, and showed more regard for Paul than the rank and
file did. He displays the good side of militarism, while they show its
bad side; for he is collected, keeps his head in extremities, knows his
own mind, holds the reins in a firm hand, even in that supreme moment,
has a quick eye to see what must be done, and decision to order it at
once. It was prudent to send first those who could swim; they could
then help the others. The distance was short, and as the bow was
aground, there would be some shelter under the lee of the vessel, and



Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 55 of 57)