The Book of Acts - "Searchlights from the Word" by G. Campbell Morgan.
Ye shall be My witnesses.
In the matter of the responsibility of the Christian soul, and the Christian Church, these are the arresting words of this first chapter of Luke's second treatise. This book is of priceless value as it gives the story of the first movements in the work of the Church. The incidents selected by Luke cover a period of about a generation and illustrate how varied were the forms of her service; and in them we have a revelation of her one mission, and of the method by which she is to fulfil it. That mission is simply and inclusively that of making Christ known, and the method by which it is to be accomplished is that of the witness of all her members. Because of the infinite fullness of the Lord, and the complex need of man, that mission is infinite. There is no possible experience of humanity, individual or social, to which He does not speak, in His infinite wisdom and in His redeeming power. Therefore the fullness of this witness demands all the natural and spiritual resources of His people. Nevertheless the simplicity of this statement enables us to make the most personal application of the truth. The question by which we may persistently test ourselves is: "How far am I living - thinking, speaking, doing - so that the Lord may be seen and heard and known?" The measure in which every Christian soul is a living witness, is the measure in which the Christian Church is fulfilling her true mission.
They were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
If the words: "Ye shall be My witnesses," reveal the mission of the Church, and the method by which she is to fulfil that mission, these declare the secret of her power. It is a power which is hers by gift, and is not in any sense her own, except as it is thus bestowed. This is a distinction which it is of the utmost importance that we never forget. As the Church has grown she has ever been enriched by the natural abilities of all her members. Those wonderful capacities resident within human lives are all needed and must be dedicated to the work of witnessing. But none of them is of any use whatever apart from the Holy Spirit. The fullness of the Spirit means fullness of the very life of Christ concerning which witness is to be borne. That fullness of life possesses and employs all natural capacities, so that through them the things of the mind of Christ may be made known to men, the things of the heart of Christ may be persuasive among men, and the things of the will of Christ may be prevailing in men. This is the wonder and glory of the Spirit-filled life. All natural gifts, which in themselves are powerless to witness for Christ, are by the Spirit cleansed, energized, and directed, so that they may become the media through which Christ is made known. The story of the Acts, and of the whole Church, in so far as it is the story of the victories of Christ, is the story of the capture and employment of all natural human capacities by Christ through His Holy Spirit.
Silver and gold have I none; but what I have, that give I thee.
These were not the words of apology. By comparison with what Peter had to bestow, silver and gold are the veriest dross. To give silver and gold to a cripple is a good thing indeed, if that is the best you can do for him. But it only maintains him in his disability. To give him strength to walk is to set him free from the need of alms. This is the difference between Christianity and all merely humanitarian efforts for the relief of the incapable. They help to make the conditions of continued inability somewhat bearable. It cancels the inability, and so ends the conditions, and makes the efforts for relief unnecessary. Therefore Christianity never has any need to apologize for itself. The service it renders to men, individually and socially, is of the highest. It deals not so much with conditions as with causes. By so doing it necessarily deals with conditions also. The principle illustrated in the case of this man is of the widest application. Apart from Christ, humanitarian efforts deal with surroundings, but cannot touch the man. Christianity begins with the man and so makes him the instrument for changing his own surroundings. Humanitarian effort plants a garden round a man and leaves him to spoil the garden. Christianity remakes the man, and he makes the garden.
They took knowledge of them, that they, had been with Jesus.
That is to say that they were witnessing in the true sense of the word. Not only were they talking about Him, they were doing it in such a way as to make those who heard them think of the Lord. That is the whole point of this statement. The rulers and elders and scribes before whom Peter and John were arraigned had known Jesus. Among their number were undoubtedly some who had been amazed as they had listened to Him, their amazement having been caused by the fact that, as they said, He had "the letters, never having learned." In these two men they discovered the same reason for astonishment. They were unlearned and ignorant men, yet they employed "boldness of speech." They were speaking about Him but what they said was characterized by the notes of certainty, authority, and power, just as had been the case with their Lord. It was this very fact which impressed the rulers. We often ask, in a hymn, that we may speak in living echoes of His tone. That is more than to say true things. It is so to say them, that they carry the authority of Christ. That is title witness, and the secret is given in an earlier verse: "Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit" (verse 8). It is only by such filling that our witness gains that authentic note which carries men through us to the Lord.
Rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the Name.
What a radiant unveiling we have in these words, of the new outlook, conception, motive of life, which Christ gives to those who are His witnesses in fellowship with the Holy Spirit! Notice that it is not said that they rejoiced in suffering, but that they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer. Surely there is a very deep note here. Suffering was suffering. The actual pain of the brutal Roman rods was not lessened. The indignity was very real, and yet it was transfigured for them, and they realized that the dishonour was an honour. The secret was that they constantly remembered that He, too, had suffered exactly in the same way, and now they understood some of the profound meanings of His sufferings. It was by His stripes that they had been healed. And now the result of their witness to Him, the witness of their, words, and of their lives, had brought them into actual participation in like sufferings, through which His redeeming power and purpose were served. Herein lay the high honour of this dishonour. Such suffering was the highest seal of the approval of Him Who had crowned their Lord with glory and honour that He might taste death for every man. That they also were so, in measure, crowned was surely justifiable reason for rejoicing. When the Cross is really endured, the shame is despised, and it becomes the reason for joy.
Men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom.
These were the qualifications for those who were to be set apart to serve tables, to look after the financial and business affairs of the Church. Note carefully the three things deemed essential for such service. First, they were to be "of good report" - that is, quite literally, "of good witness." They must be witnesses who had proved themselves as such, men in and through whom Christ had been made known. Second, it is said they were to be "full of the Spirit." That adds emphasis to the first requirement, for it is only men "full of the spirit" who are "of good witness." It also shows that the same witness to. Christ must be borne in the work to which they were appointed. Finally, they were to be "of wisdom." That is the recognition of the necessity for natural ability for business affairs; and, in its relation to the fullness of the Spirit, shows how the natural ability must be under His control. What a condemnation all this is of the way in which the Church has too often appointed men to manage her business affairs! No man should be allowed to share in such work who is not himself a witness by the Spirit. It is equally true that no witness should be appointed to this work if he lack wisdom, for that is essential to all true serving of tables.
Jesus standing on the right hand of God.
This attitude of the Lord arrests us. The New Testament references to Him as having entered the heavenlies describe Him as having sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. Here He was seen by Stephen standing. The two figures of speech remind us of two aspects of His work on behalf of man. When He had made the one offering which provided perfect and plenteous redemption, He sat down. This is the attitude which speaks of the completion of His redemptive work. But that work is being continued in its administration through all His witnesses who have fellowship with Him in the fullness of the Spirit. They are making up that which is behindhand in His afflictions. His having completed His work does not mean that He is in any sense separated from them, or that they endure the Cross in loneliness. He is with them in sympathy and in service. Thus Stephen, having completed the testimony of life and speech, and being about to consummate and crown that witness in agony and death, saw the Lord standing. It was to him the assurance of his Lord's co-operation and fellowship. The result is seen in that Stephen passed as his Lord had passed, commending his spirit to his Lord, and praying for his murderers. For the assurance of my soul as to its salvation, I see Him seated at the Father's right hand. For the assurance of my soul in its service and suffering, I see Him standing.
They therefore that were scattered abroad went about preaching the Word.
Again we are reminded of the place and power of suffering in the propaganda of the Word. That Word is always the Word of the Cross. The paragraph preceding these words is a condensed account of real suffering. The violent passions of hostility which had done Stephen to death swept on over all the Church in a blood of bitter persecution. The followers of the Lord, His witnesses, were driven out from home and kindred. They were scattered abroad. It is easy to read the statement, but we should not forget what it meant of anguish and apparent desolation. Those who in their anger brought it about would surely feel that they were at last putting an end to all that they so bitterly hated. They were mistaken. The witnesses can be scattered, but that is only to diffuse their witness .over a wider area, and to aid in the propagation of their message. Persecution has never hindered the preaching of the Word. It is only by patronage that the enemies of the Gospel can weaken the witness of those who have believed and have received the fullness of the Spirit. Persecution ever compels the witnesses to completer dependence upon their Lord, and so to fuller realization of His grace and strength. That issues in more perfect conformity to His likeness, and more intense rest in Him. Thus the witness continues in the growing beauty of lives according to the pattern, and in the glad boldness of speech that testifies to the power of His grace.
A chosen vessel unto Me.
How unexpected, and how surpassingly wise are the elections of God. "Saul breathing threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord": "A chosen vessel unto Me." Saul was a man of Tarsus, a Hebrew of Hebrews, and withal a free-born citizen of Rome. All his earliest years had been spent in the atmosphere of Tarsus, a city which was Greek in its outlook. He had been educated religiously, in the straitest of sects, that of the Pharisees. Through all his life, whether in Cilicia or Judaea, he had moved in the liberty of Roman citizenship. His youth had been clean: as touching the righteousness which is in the law he was blameless. He was free from all hypocrisy, and intense in his devotion to what he believed. This man was the chosen vessel of the Lord, to bear His name before Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. This is perhaps the supreme instance in the New Testament of how natural gifts and capacities are possessed by the Spirit, and made the media through which witness is borne to Christ. All those elements which made him the most powerful antagonist of Christianity became the forces which created the power of his protagonism. It was a critical hour for the Church. In the affairs of men critical hours are hours of uncertainty and therefore of peril. In the economy of God they are hours of victory, for He finds the man; and His gifts and callings are without repentance, for His wisdom is final and unclouded.
I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.
With what perfect precision and poetic beauty the ways of God move forward to the accomplishment of the purposes of His Grace. Saul, the chosen vessel for bearing the Name to the Gentiles, had passed out of sight to Arabia, and back to Tarsus. It would be many years before he was called to the great work for which he was chosen. In this chapter we have the account of how God prepared for that work by bringing Peter to an understanding of the wider meanings of His purpose in Christ. Peter's outlook naturally was narrow. He lacked full understanding of God's love for the Gentile. This he must be brought to see. In these words we have his declaration that the truth had broken in upon him. His words, "I perceive," show that a new light had come. God was seen as He had never been seen before, and therefore the Gentile was seen as never before. It was a day of great enlargement. Lifted to a new height, the horizons were set back, and territory which had been considered outside the range of the Divine Grace was seen bathed in its glory, and transfigured by its power. How powerful was the effect produced upon him is discovered in his subsequent words in Jerusalem: "Who was I that I could withstand God?" Even though there were moments later when Peter faltered in his yielding to this light, there is no doubt that this experience prepared him for fellowship in that work to which Paul was especially called. Thus, as God works with all, are all enabled to work together.
Men of Cyprus and Cyrene.
Who were they? None can tell. They remain anonymous. And yet it was their action which prepared the way for Paul's missionary journeys. They, coming to Antioch, overstepped the boundary of the Hebrew people, and "spake unto the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus." That action was followed immediately by the most far-reaching effects. That it was unusual, is proved by the action of the Church at Jerusalem which immediately sent Barnabas down to investigate. That it was of God, is proved by the action of Barnabas, "who, when he was come, and had seen the grace of God, was glad"; and after a while went away to Tarsus and brought Paul to his work. In the processes of this age of the Church's witness it is in the purpose and plan of God that men shall appear, whose works are manifest, and whose names are widely published abroad. But when the age is consummated many names unknown and unpublished during its processes will be made known. No man called to the places of conspicuous service has any right to attempt to hide, but every such man knows that his work is prepared for, and sustained by those who are anonymous on earth, but whose names are registered in Heaven. This registration, rather than our success in service, should be the cause of our joy, as our Lord distinctly told His disciples in the days of His flesh.
But the Word of God grew and multiplied.
The opening word "but" drives us back to the words immediately preceding, which are these: "And he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost." The contrast is graphic. The chapter opens with the words: "'Now about that time Herod the king put forth his hands to afflict certain of the Church." Herod's opposition was that of political expediency. He desired to gain favour with the Jews, and this was the cause of his action. Luke mentioned certain other of his political matters, and briefly gave the story of his tragic end. Then he added: "But the Word of God grew and multiplied." It is an instance of that which has persistently taken place. Every force arrayed against Christianity expresses itself for a reason in such fashion as apparently to weaken and hinder them, and then works on its own lines, to its own undoing and destruction. The Word of God, in spite of all such opposition, and indeed oftentimes helped rather than hindered thereby, grows and multiplies. Once really to believe this is to be saved from all panic in days when outward appearances seem to suggest that the Word of God is in danger. It is not so, but all that oppose, however strong, however subtle, pass and perish inevitably in the onward movements of a world that is still in the hands of God.
They sent them away. So they being sent forth by the Holy Spirit.
Acts 13:3, 4
Barnabas and Saul were sent away by the church at Antioch, and were sent forth by the Holy Spirit. Luke made the statement quite simply as revealing the natural order of procedure. It is a splendid revelation of the true method of activity in all missionary enterprise, and the whole story is of the utmost value in this regard. The Church is in existence, and it is occupied in the ministry to the Lord. To the Church under such conditions it is possible for the Spirit to make known the will of the. Lord; and for the Church to apprehend it Then the Church is able to act with order, and with full and final authority. The men thus chosen and separated, go out to their work with the consciousness that they are the instruments of the Church and the Spirit. They thus go as in the Name and with the full authority of Christ. What great things He is able to accomplish when such are the conditions, the sequel will show. The story gives us pause, and makes us wonder how much of our failure may not be the result of our departure from these fundamental principles. At least we should remember that no cleverness of our own will ever take the place of close fellowship with Christ by the Holy Spirit.
They returned to Lystra, and to Iconium, and to Antioch.
This is a singularly interesting statement in many ways. First it reminds us that Paul was more than an evangelist. He was a pastor, His missionary work was first that of proclaiming the Gospel and bringing men to decision; but he never rested there. He, of all men, realized the importance of subsequent teaching, in order to confirm the faith of the new disciples; and of setting them in order in Church life. Therefore he returned. Again, this particular story reveals his heroism, as it resulted from his complete devotion to his work. Recall the facts concerning his visits to these places. From the borders of Antioch, in Pisidia Paul and Barnabas had been cast out. From Iconium they had been compelled to flee. At Lystra Paul had been stoned, dragged out of the city, and left for dead. Yet they turned back, to the place of the stones, to the place of intention to stone, to the place that had cast them out. This returning to places of peril was made necessary because in every place they had been led in triumph, so far as their Gospel was concerned, in spite of apparent defeat. In Antioch they had left a company of disciples filled with joy and the Holy Ghost; in Iconium a multitude of Jews and Greeks who had believed and in Lystra also those who were disciples. Thus the way of the Cross was the way of perpetual triumph and persistent travail.
For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us.
Here we have another instance of that glorious and remarkable consciousness of co-operation between the Church and the Holy Spirit which characterized these early days. It is not merely the fact of it which is arresting, but the keen sense of it, which these disciples knew. These words occur in the midst of what we may term the official apostolic document sent to the Gentile Christians concerning the trouble which had arisen about circumcision. The decisions embodied in that document were arrived at after much discussion, not, we may gather, without some heat. Yet at last they came to such findings as they did, certain that they had the mind of the Spirit; and they said so, naturally and simply. These words constitute the real seal of authority upon the document. How seldom we find anything akin to this in modern documents of the Church. This may be accounted for by the fact that we have a wholesome dread of anything in the nature of unwarranted dogmatism; but the absence of the note leaves something lacking in our documents. If we are not sure that it is so, it would be nigh unto blasphemy to use the words; but such unsureness should drive us to heart-searching as to the cause of it. It is as possible for us to know the mind of the Spirit as it was for these men. If we do not, why not?
Forbidden of the Holy Spirit ... The Spirit of Jesus suffered them not.
Acts 16:6, 7
Without note or comment Luke wrote these almost startling words. Two men, commended to the grace of God by the Church in order to speak the Word of God, were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to do so; and being sent forth by the Holy Spirit into all the world were not suffered by the Spirit of Jesus to enter into a certain region. Thus they were compelled to journey silently in directions other than they would have chosen. The sequel gives the explanation. The plan of the Spirit was that they should pass over into Macedonia. Thus they were guided by hindrance. Judging by our own experiences, we are compelled to the conclusion that for the moment the experience was a perplexing one. The lesson we are to learn is that of the importance of obedience to the guidance of the Spirit when we cannot understand the reason, and indeed when it seems to us that the way marked out, is preventing us from fulfilling the highest things of our most sacred calling. The experience is not rare. Over and over again in the path of true service we are brought to just such places. A great opportunity is open right before us, and we are not permitted to avail ourselves of it. Or we are in the midst of work which is full of real success, and we are called to abandon it. We should never hesitate. This wonderful page of apostolic history teaches us that God's outlook is greater and grander than our own. We may always leave the issue to Him, and presently we shall learn how wise His way, how strong His will.
Now He commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent.
The call to repentance is the persistent call of Christianity, but it is always based upon the facts of Christianity. The now of these words leads on to the inasmuch immediately following them. God has placed the world under the government of the Man Whom He hath ordained, and the proof of it is given to the world in the fact of His Resurrection. In the light of these facts men are called to repentance - that is, to change of mind. The call to repentance is a call to reconsideration, to new thinking, to the testing of all things by these facts. The times in which men were ignorant of the truths made known by this act of resurrection, God overlooked. But now He commands them to conform their conceptions to the light which is shining. In the Divinely ordained Man, raised from the dead, men have a new revelation of God, of man, of the world, of the life that lies beyond the earthly. Life can only be truly lived here, as the truth is known about these very things. To be ignorant of God, of the real nature of man, of the deep secrets of the world, of the facts of the life beyond, is to be unable to live according to the truths of things as they are. While such ignorance is unavoidable, God does not hold man guilty; He overlooks the failure. But when the light is given, His command that men should repent is reasonable and beneficent. To walk according to ignorance when the light is shining, is to sin.
I have much people in this city.
This word of the Lord to His servant gave him his warrant for a lengthy stay in the city of Corinth. It was without doubt at the time the principal city of Achaia. If Athens was the centre of learning, Corinth was the centre of politics, of wealth, of corruption. There were resident Romans, Greeks and Hebrews. It is probable that Paul was at this time chiefly drawn to Macedonia, and inclined to return there. It would seem from this very message of the Lord that he had some fear of opposition. The words remind us of that which we are ever in danger of forgetting, that all our work is directed by One Who knows the hearts of all men. Corinth did not seem fruitful soil; it was given over to carnality - that is, to materialism. But the Lord knew all that was going on in the souls of men resident there; the restlessness, the heartache, the unsatisfied desires. He knew that there were many there who would respond to the message of His Gospel. He saw them, while as yet they saw not Him, and therefore He charged His servant to remain there, and promised him His comradeship and protection. What a glorious service it is, to proclaim amid the multitudes the message, which, being heard and believed, will bring to Himself in experience and outward confession, those whom the Lord already knows. In whatever city we may be working it is surely true that the Lord has much people there.
I must also see Rome.
In these words Paul gave expression, not to a desire only, but also to a conviction. That it was in harmony with the will of his Lord, subsequent events proved; but it is probable that at the time he had little consciousness of how long it would be ere he reached Rome, or how difficult would be the pathway thither. These things we shall see as we proceed. Perhaps the chief interest in this conviction of Paul at the moment is that of its revelation once more, of how in the economy of the Holy Spirit the natural things of a man are taken hold of, and pressed into the service of the enterprise of Christ. As we have seen before, Paul was a freeborn Roman citizen. He would be very conscious of the power of Rome in all human affairs. He knew how from that City of the Seven Hills the highways radiated to all parts of the world. He knew then the importance of the Christian Church in that great city. It was already in existence, having been planted almost certainly by the "sojourners from Rome" who were in Jerusalem at Pentecost. It was this sense which caused him to write his letter to them, and now made him desire to see the city. Thus the true apostle of Christ Jesus is ever lifting his eyes to larger things than those of his immediate work. He is always planning for advance, rather than contemplating withdrawal.
This phrase from the lips of Paul reveals one of the things that, through very varied experience, he had come to know. He knew that there were things in his programme that he did not know. Locally, the phrase was expressive of uncertainty as to the reception he would receive in Jerusalem. But its chief value for us lies in the fact that it is so used as to show that such ignorance did not interfere with the certainties of the future. He had received a ministry from the Lord Jesus, and the one and only thing that concerned him was that he should accomplish that ministry. What lay in the course, of bonds or affliction, or even death, mattered nothing; the doing of the appointed work was supreme. Thus there is the touch of a splendid carelessness in the words "not knowing"; a carelessness as to minor matters, born of a constant carefulness as to the principal matter. Thus the "not knowing" of Paul meant not caring to know, not asking to know; indeed, it meant preferring not to know. That is the true attitude of all who are walking in an appointed course, in the service of the Lord. We know Whose we are and Whom we serve. We know the way of His will for us. As to the rest, we can say not knowing"; and that is the ignorance of a perfect rest.
I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.
Paul was still journeying toward Rome, though he would not arrive there for years. The immediate goal was Jerusalem, and still he did not know what awaited him there. He had now reached Caesarea, and his friends were attempting to dissuade him from going, for the prophet Agabus had foretold that he would be bound and handed over to the Gentiles. This was Paul's reply to these beseechings of these friends. It was a declaration again of his devotion to the main path of duty, and of his carelessness as to what experiences he might pass through as he trod that path. To follow Paul thus, and to observe his steadfastness, impresses us with the strength of the man; but it impresses us more with the greatness of the work to which he was called. To him nothing could compare for grandeur, and dignity, and spaciousness, with the career of proclaiming the Name. Nothing else counted. The toil, the travail, the perils - these were incidental. He was entirely careless concerning them. And is it not always so, that any slacking in devotion is proof of some failure in conception as to the glory of the service? Any weakening in our sense of the supreme fullness and power of the Name will inevitably result in a growing sense of difficulties; and this will fill us with the fear that paralyses. While the Name is to us what it is to God, the Name above every name, the cost of proclaiming it is never counted.
The Lord said unto me, Arise, and go Into Damascus.
Paul was now in Jerusalem and in the midst of the circumstances which Agabus had foretold. He was a prisoner, and, by that fact, protected from the hostility of the Jewish mob. Having obtained, from the soldiers who had arrested him in order to protect him, permission to speak, he told the story of his apprehension by the Lord in the days long before. In the light of all that had happened to him since, these words are full of interest. In them we have the first command which the Lord had uttered to him after he had made the complete surrender. When, to his amazement, he found that Jesus was alive, without any equivocation or hesitation he yielded to Him his allegiance, and asked, "What shall I do, Lord?" Then he received his first orders, and they were of the simplest. He was told to go to Damascus and to wait. That was the way of the Lord with His chosen vessel, and it is His way with all whom He commands. He indicates the next step, and commands that we wait for further orders. Whereas He did give him the larger outlook upon his ministry presently, in general outline, the particular method through all the years was that of one step at a time. How gracious and beneficent a method this is! If we could be told ahead all the detailed experiences through which we pass, should we dare face them? However, we need not speculate on that, but rejoice that He leads us one step at a time.
The night following, the Lord stood by him.
The words "the night following" are very suggestive. Paul had passed through two tremendous days. The bitterness of his foes was such that no limit would be set to what they would do to him if they could. The chief captain was afraid that they might tear him to pieces, and so had rescued him by force and secured him in the castle. The "night following" such days would inevitably be a time of reaction. Bold, courageous, fearless during the day, the night of loneliness finds the strength spent, and the enemy is never slow to take advantage of that fact. Oh, the dreads and questionings and shrinkings of the night! Then we must need help. And then it was that "the Lord stood by him." Through all the stress and strain of those terrific days Paul had maintained in speech and demeanour the honour of the Name, and now the One Who bore the Name came to him manifestly, definitely, personally. Very beautiful was the word He spoke to His servant. Paul had long before declared his conviction that he must see Rome. Perhaps the form of despondency threatening him that night was that he might never do so. It would seem so from the very fact that the Lord's message to him was that he should certainly witness at Rome also. The value of all this is patent. Loyalty to the Name will often bring the witnesses into days of strain and so to nights of foreboding. But Ha always comes, and even if not manifestly, yet He always stands by.
He reasoned of righteousness, and self-control, and the judgment to come.
Felix sent for Paul, and "heard him concerning the faith in Christ Jesus": and this is what he heard, and he "was terrified." The faith in Christ Jesus is infinitely more than a soft love-story. It is always a love-story, but the love in it is the love of God, and that cuts like a sword, burns like a fire, searches like an acid, in the case of some. Paul was a true doctor of divinity. He not only knew the faith, he knew how to preach it so as to meet the need with which he was called upon to deal. His diagnosis and his prognosis were accurate. That is to say that he knew the nature of the spiritual malady of Felix, and also the course that disease would pursue. Therefore he handled this man's soul in the true way. The man was immoral: therefore he reasoned of righteousness. He was swayed by his passions: therefore he reasoned with him of self-control. He was rebellious against authority: therefore he reasoned with him concerning the tribunal before which he must ultimately render his account. But all this by the standards of the faith in Christ Jesus. By that faith Felix might find the power for righteousness, the strength for self-control, and so the readiness to stand uncondemned before the final judgment-bar. Surely it is a terrifying faith, for it rebukes sin, but the terror it awakes is the inspiration of new life. What the issue is, depends upon the response of the soul.
I appeal unto Caesar.
In making this appeal Paul was acting as a citizen of the city of God, and in the interest of that citizenship making use of his earthly citizenship. The processes of earthly justice were threatened by the proposal Festus made, to hand him over to the Jews by sending him for trial to Jerusalem. Against that danger Paul acted by appealing, as he had a right to do, to Caesar directly. In doing this, moreover, he was acting in accordance with his philosophy of human government, as set forth in his letter to the Romans. He believed that the powers were ordained of God to be terrors to the evil. If in the event it should prove that even Caesar's judgment was not according to that standard, the final condemnation would be Caesar's. In the meantime, he availed himself of the right which was his, basing that appeal upon the right vested in Caesar by God. It is a valuable illustration of what earthly citizenship means to those who are burgesses of the City of God. We have every right to avail ourselves of the administration of justice which is vested in earthly governments by the will of God. By doing so we are creating for these governments the opportunity to exercise their functions in a true way, and so the dignity of our citizenship in the City of God is seen. At last Caesar was judged by what he did with the man who appealed to him.
Except these bonds.
In this little phrase we have a revelation of the central victory of grace in Paul. He had been talking to Agrippa and without any question, striving to win him for his Master. When the libertine sneered at him, saying: "With but little persuasion thou wouldst fain make me a Christian," Paul had declared that his one most ardent desire for Agrippa and all who heard him was that they should be as he was, except for his bonds. He would give them his freedom but not his chain; his joy, but not his pain. Contrast that with the man as he was when first we met him. He was then "breathing threatening and slaughter," and all his fierceness then was the outcome of his honest devotion to what he believed to be the truth. Before Agrippa he was none the less honest, intense, devoted; but he was a new man in Christ Jesus, and therefore his desire for those opposing was, not that they should be imprisoned, but that they should be free; not that they should be put to death, but that they should find life. This is always the result of fellowship with Christ. It is the mystery of the Cross, the deep compassion in which the supremacy of holiness is never lost sight of, but which will take responsibility and bear suffering, in order that holiness may be realized in others, and those the most unworthy.
I believe God.
This was an affirmation of faith to pagan men under stress of great and grave difficulty. Luke's story of the stormy voyage and the shipwreck is one of the most graphic things in literature, and for us it is centred in Paul and his quiet courage throughout. So far as he was concerned, he knew that it was impossible that he should perish, for had not the Lord stood by him in the night more than two years ago, and assured him that he should witness in Rome? All through he comforted and strengthened those who sailed with him. When things were at their worst, an angel came to him and told him that he should stand before Caesar, and that none of those sailing with him should be lost. Then it was that he made his affirmation. The effect of that affirmation on those in authority is seen in the way in which they followed his directions subsequently. The value of a definite confession of confidence is very great. It is often that men who do not profess themselves to believe in God do believe in a man who does believe in Him, and are prepared to follow him. How much of influence we lose by slowness to confess the faith that is in us! The man who with definiteness will declare his belief in God, as against all contrary circumstances, is making other men put God to the test, and so is winning victories, for God never fails.
So we came to Rome.
The "so" of that statement refers to much more than the story of the voyage. It goes back at least to the occasion when in Ephesus Paul had said: "I must also see Rome." Since then probably three years had elapsed, and what strange experiences of bonds and afflictions he had passed through! At last he arrived in the imperial city as a prisoner, and Luke wrote: "So we came." The conviction that he would arrive had been challenged again and again by circumstances, and once perhaps when shut up in the castle in Jerusalem that conviction had been shaken. Then the Lord stood by him and assured him, and from that time there is not the slightest evidence of any tremor. Thus the "so" has more in it than the reference to the trying circumstances and the long delay. It referred also and principally to the power of the Lord, against which the hostility of Jerusalem, the vagaries of governors, and the wrath of the elements, were all alike powerless. And so it ever is. A man walking in a Divinely-marked pathway is perfectly safe. If it be the will of God that we should reach a certain place, and do a certain piece of work for Him, nothing can prevent our arriving, nothing can hinder our doing that work, save disobedience. The way of our coming, and the circumstances of our arrival may not be what we had anticipated, but we shall arrive, and God's purpose will be served.