Alexander Maclaren.

Expositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts online

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From the other Epistles we can collect some particulars of his
companions, and of the oversight which he kept up of the Churches.

The picture here drawn lays hold, not on anything connected with his
trial, but on his evangelistic activity, and shows us how,
notwithstanding all hindrances, anxieties about his fate, weariness,
and past toils, the flame of evangelistic fervour burned undimmed in
'Paul the aged,' as the flame of mistaken zeal had burned in the 'young
man named Saul,' and how the work which had filled so many years of
wandering and homelessness was carried on with all the old joyfulness,
confidence, and success, from the prisoner's lodging. In such
unexpected fashion did God fulfil the Apostle's desire to 'preach the
Gospel to you that are at Rome also.' To preach the word with all
boldness is the duty of us Christians who have entered into the
heritage of fuller freedom than Paul's, and of whom it is truer than of
him that we can do it, 'no man forbidding' us.


And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all
that came in unto him, 31. Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching
those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence,
no man forbidding him.' - ACTS xxviii. 30, 31.

So ends this book. It stops rather than ends. Many reasons might be
suggested for closing here. Probably the simplest is the best, that
nothing more is said for nothing more had yet been done. Probably the
book was written during these two years. This abrupt close suggests
several noteworthy thoughts.

I. The true theme of the book.

How convenient if Luke had told us a little more! But Paul's history is
unfinished, like Peter's and John's. This book's treatment of all the
Apostles teaches, as we have often had to remark, that Christ and His
acts are its true subject.

We are wise if we learn the lesson of keeping all human teachers, even
a Paul, in their inferior place, and if we say of each of them: 'He was
not the Light, but came that he might bear witness of the Light.'

II. God's unexpected and unwelcome ways of fulfilling our desires, and
His purposes.

It had long been Paul's dream to 'see Rome.' How little he knew the
steps by which his dream was to be fulfilled! He told the Ephesian
elders that he was going up to Jerusalem under compulsion of the
Spirit, and 'not knowing the things that should befall him there,'
except that he was certain of 'bonds and imprisonment.' He did not know
that these were God's way of bringing him to Rome. Jewish fury, Roman
statecraft and law-abidingness, two years of a prison, a stormy voyage,
a shipwreck, led him to his long-wished-for goal. God uses even man's
malice and opposition to the Gospel to advance the progress of the
Gospel. Men, like coral insects, build their little bit, all unaware of
the whole of which it is a part, but the reef rises above the waves and
ocean breaks against it in vain.

So we may gather lessons of submission, of patient acceptance of
apparently adverse circumstances, and of quiet faith that He who 'makes
stormy winds to fulfil His word and flaming fires His ministers,' will
bend to the carrying out of His designs all things, be they seemingly
friendly or hostile, and will realise our dreams, if in accordance with
His will, even through events which seem to shatter them. Let us trust
and be patient till we see the issues of events.

III. The world's mistaken estimate of greatness.

Who was the greatest man in Rome at that hour? Not the Caesar but the
poor Jewish prisoner. How astonished both would have been if they had
been told the truth! The two kingdoms were, so to speak, set face to
face in these two, their representatives, and neither of them knew his
own relative importance. The Caesar was all unaware that, for all his
legions and his power, he was but 'a noise'; Paul was as unconscious
that he was incomparably the most powerful of the influences that were
then at work in the world. The haughty and stolid eyes of Romans saw in
him nothing but a prisoner, sent up from a turbulent subject land on
some obscure charge, a mere nobody. The crowds in forum and
amphitheatre would have laughed at any one who had pointed to that
humble 'hired house,' and said, 'There lodges a man who bears a word
that will shatter and remould the city, the Empire, the world.'

Let us have confidence in the greatness of the word, though the world
may be deaf to its music and blind to its power, and let us never fear
to ally ourselves with a cause which we know to be God's, however it
may be unpopular and made light of by the 'leaders of opinion.'

IV. The true relation between the Church and the State.

'None forbidding him' marks a great step forward. Paul's unhindered
freedom of speech in Rome itself marks 'the victory of the word, the
apex of the Gospel.' The neutral attitude of the imperial power was,
indeed, broken by subsequent persecutions, but we may say that on the
whole Rome let Christianity alone. That is the best service that the
State can render to the Church. Anything more is help which encumbers
and is harmful to the true spiritual power of the Gospel. The real
requirement which it makes on the civil power is simply what the Greek
philosopher asked of the king who was proffering his good offices,
'Stand out of the sunshine!'

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