THE VOYAGE TO ROME.
The fulfilment of the Divine purposes and promises connected with
Ancient navigation.—Dangers of the voyage.—Calmness of the apostle.— The assurance or promise of salvation.—God has a plan for saving men. —It was necessary for Him to have such a plan.—Such plan must have been eternal.—Such plan could not be wrong, if the thing planned was right.—This plan is specific and definite.—All Divine plans are so.— The nature of the case demands it.—Scripture affirms it.—Definite as to the number saved.—As to the certainty of their salvation.—God's plan connected with human agency.—God might work alone.—He did so in creation.—He can still do so, if He pleases.—But He does not ordinarily do this.—In secular things He uses human instrumentality.—So in religion.—Hence we learn a lesson of activity.—Our hope of salvation is connected with the use of means.—Life a voyage.—The shore of safety.
"Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Now I exhort yon to
be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship. . . . 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, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved."
Acts xxvii. 21, 22, and 30, 31.
THE voyage described in Acts xxvii., so far as the apostle Paul was concerned, was in consequence of the appeal which he ~A had made to the Roman emperor, when he was arraigned before Festus (Acts xxv. 10, I1). Navigation at that time, over those seas, was very different from what it is there now. Then it was long, tedious, dangerous, in vessels ill-fitted for the voyage, dependent on the changing winds, and often occupying wearisome months, making it necessary to secure a safe harbour on the way, till the dangerous season was past;—whereas now the same voyage is made in vessels navigated in a manner wholly unknown to the ancients; not dependent on the winds; and requiring only a few days to make the voyage which it took Paul so many weeks to accomplish.
The narrative of this voyage, as given in the Acts of the Apostles, has been very carefully studied in modern times by men eminent in the science of navigation, and it has been shown that it is a description of a voyage which actually occurred; and that the narrative was written by one who was an eye-witness, and a participator in the scenes, as well as by one who was familiar with navigation. It is, from the nature of the case, almost the only event recorded in the Bible where modern nautical knowledge can be applied to verify the account of the sacred historian. To those not acquainted with ancient navigation, and with nautical matters, the narrative, as it stands, is encompassed with many difficulties; and until recently it did not occur to any expositor of the Bible to apply to it the knowledge which a seaman has.1
It does not comport with my design to attempt a minute illustration of the history. The principal interest in the voyage is that which is derived from the fact that a Christian apostle was on board; from the fact that this was one of the incidents in his
1 "A practical knowledge of seamanship was required for the elucidation of the whole subject; and none of the ordinary commentators seem to have looked on it with the eye of a sailor. The first who examined St. Paul's voyage in a practical spirit was the late Admiral Sir Charles Penrose. . . A similar investigation was made subsequently, but independently, and more minutely and elaborately, by James Smith, Esq., of Jordanhill, whose published work on the subject (1848) has already obtained an European reputation."—Conybeare and Hmuson, vol ii. p. 321, note. The substance of this examination, illustrating the narrative of the author of the Acts of the Apostles, may be seen in the twenty-third chapter of their work (voL ii. pp. 321—374).
life; from the nature of the object which he aimed to accomplish, the great work in which he was engaged,—that of spreading the Gospel among the nations of the earth. If we take away the apostle Paul from the scene and the events, the voyage would not be distinguished from thousands of voyages made over those waters in Grecian, Roman, or Alexandrian ships; the storm and tempest which then occurred would be in no manner distinguishable from similar storms and tempests constantly occurring there; the efforts to secure a safe harbour, or to ensure the safety of the vessel by "undergirding," or to fasten it by anchors cast out of the stern, could be in no way distinguished from efforts made, of a similar kind, a hundred times before or since; and the shipwreck would have ceased long since to be remembered as having anything to distinguish it from a thousand shipwrecks which had before occurred in those dangerous seas. The name of the vessel; the name of the captain; the names of the sailors; and the names of the other prisoners, have alike long ago perished.
Perhaps the main point in the history now under our attention, so far as the Apostle Paul was concerned, was his entire calmness in the midst of the dangers of the deep; his confidence in God; his assurance that he would be brought safely on his way to Rome. Of this he had had a promise in the nightvision at Jerusalem (Acts xxiii. I1). Under this assurance, his mind had been calm amidst the dangers oi the voyage, until having passed by Crete, they encountered a more fearful peril than any which they had experienced—the imminent danger of shipwreck. Then, in order to reassure the mind of Paul, and in order that he might inspire confidence in the crew and prisoners, and might thus be the means of saving all on board, a new vision was vouchsafed to him: "There stood by me this night," said he to the alarmed mariners, "the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar; and lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer; for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me" (vers. 23—25).
Yet, there was something more than the mere assurance—the promise—the declared purpose on the part of God manifested in the vision, that was necessary to save the crew, and the passengers, and the soldiers. There was something outside of the mere assurance or promise, which was needful in order that this might be done,—something without which it could not be done. There was that, connected with human agency, without which the purpose of God, though so plainly declared, would not, and could not be accomplished. What that was, is stated in the words of Paul to the centurion and soldiers, "Except these abide in the ship, YE CANNOT BE SAVED." In the impending danger, the "shipmen"— the crew—made arrangements "to flee out of the ship;" they let down a boat into the sea for that purpose. The men, who alone, it is to be presumed, were in any manner acquainted with the management of a vessel,
and who, therefore, alone were qualified to do what was necessary to be done, were about to withdraw from the ship; Paul said that if U1at were allowed, the destruction of all on board would be certain. He had seen much of sea-dangers; and either by what he had witnessed, or by natural sagacity, or by Divine inspiration, he knew what the danger was now. Confiding in his advice, the escape of the crew was prevented; and the ultimate result was, that all on board—the crew, the centurion, the soldiers, the prisoners, and Paul among them—escaped safe to land (ver. 44).
From the circumstances thus detailed, I shall deduce this proposition :—that the plans and purposes of God are to be carried out in connexion with human agency; or, to put it in stronger language, are dependent on human agency. The case before us related to salvation from the dangers of the sea. The same principle is applicable to a higher salvation,—the final salvation of men from the danger of eternal ruin,—the salvation of the soul; and it is with reference to this that I shall use it. My remarks, however, will mainly be in illustration of the general principle, that THE PURPOSES OF God Are Dependent On Human Agency For The1r Accompl1shment.
I shall illustrate this under two general heads :— I. There is, on the part of God, a definite plan or purpose in regard to the salvation of men; and II. The accomplishment of that purpose is connected with human agency.
I. The first proposition is that there is, on the part of God, a definite plan or purpose in regard to the salvation of men. There was an assurance given to Paul that he would be brought to Rome; there is an assurance equally strong and clear to the people of God that they will be brought to heaven.
There are two subordinate points to be considered here:—(1) That there is such a plan; (2) That this plan is specific and positive in regard to those who shall be saved.
(1.) There is such a plan on the part of God. That is, He has a purpose in regard to the salvation of men. That plan or purpose is what is commonly designated by a word that grates harshly on the ears of most men,—His "decree." The evidence that there is such a plan is found in such passages of Scripture as the following:—"He"—the Messiah—"shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied" (Isa. liii. 11). That is, His work—His sacrifice—shall not be in vain, or void. The purpose contemplated shall be accomplished; and there shall be a full equivalent for all the sufferings of the Messiah in behalf of men. "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me" (John vi. 37); that is, all whom He has given me by purpose or by covenant,—all whom He has intended or promised to give me—shall surely come to me; the purpose to give them to me makes the result certain. "I lay down My life for the sheep; and other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd" (John x. 15, 16); that is, there are some given me by the Divine purpose and promise whom I may call "mini-" for whom I am about to lay down my life, with a special purpose that they should be saved. "He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love; having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will; ... we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" (Eph. 1. 4—11). It is not possible for language to express more clearly than this passage does, the fact that God has a definite design in regard to the salvation of His people; that their redemption is the result of that purpose; and that their being brought into His church is to be traced solely to that plan. There is no article of any creed held by any church, however "Calvinistic," that expresses the doctrine in stronger or more "objectionable" language—if it be right to apply to it a term which is often used in regard to the doctrine; and there is no such church, however firm its belief in the doctrine of decrees, that is not satisfied with the use of the language of the Apostle Paul as expressing its own faith.
The following remarks may be added here:— (a.) That the success of the plan of salvation was not left, and could not have been left, to chance, or to the determination of men themselves whether they would embrace it or not. It was a matter of too much importance to be thus left; it involved too much sacrifice, suffering, and self-denial. It cannot be believed that the Son of God would have come into the world to suffer and die, with any uncertainty as to the result of His work, or under any such arrangement as that of a doubtful experiment to see whether man might not be redeemed. Had it been left to any such contingency as would be involved in the question whether man himself would be disposed to accept the salvation so offered, it is morally certain that the scheme would have been a failure, and that not one of the race would have been saved.
(b.) Another remark is, that if this plan existed at all, it was eternal. God has no new counsels. He has no succession of purposes. He forms no plans to meet unexpected and uncertain contingencies. Every plan which He has, must be, like His own nature, "the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." If there is any real diff1culty in regard to the plan, as bearing on human freedom or responsibility, it exists equally whether the plan is eternal, or whether it is of recent formation. The essential difficulty (so far as there is any difficulty), is that the plan was formed before the event occurred; and it matters not, in respect to that, whether it was a day, or a year, or a million of years, or from eternity.
(c.) A third remark is, that such a purpose on the part of God cannot be wrong, nor can the fact that He has formed such an eternal purpose constitute an objection to His character or government, unless it can be shown that the thing purposed to be done was wrong. If that is right in itself, it cannot have been wrong to resolve to do it. If it be right for a man to pay his debts, to tell the truth, to do an act of kindness to the poor, to befriend the prisoner and the fatherless, it cannot be wrong for him to resolve that he will do it; and the more firmly he determines to do this, the more do we regard him as a man of virtue. And if this constitutes excellence of character in man, it cannot be a proof of want of excellence in God.
(2.) The plan of God is specific and particular. It embraces just what will occur; exactly as it will occur; just the number that shall be saved ; just the individuals on whom life will be conferred; and the definite fact that they will be saved, or that they cannot be lost.
The declaration of the Divine purpose, in the case of Paul, was definite and specific. It was that he should stand before Caesar; that all on board the vessel should be rescued, and that not a hair of their heads should perish. Thus it must be in regard to the plan of salvation; to the manner in which individual men will be saved; to the fact that no one of those who are embraced in the plan will be allowed to perish.
(a.) This must be so in regard to all the Divine plans. In the nature of the case, they must be specific and definite. They are based on will, where there is power corresponding with that will, and where there is knowledge of all that can affect the execution of that will. They are not formed on conjectural or uncertain reasoning, as the plans of men often are; nor in view of any contingency which is unforeseen and doubtful; nor as the result of mere sagacity; nor under the deceptive influence of mere hope or desire; nor when there may be a power, as is often the case in regard to human schemes, which is unknown to the author of the plan, and against which he cannot guard. It is impossible to conceive that God should form a plan in relation to which, from these or any other causes, there would be anything indefinite or uncertain as to the issue.
(b.) The carrying out of the Divine plans demands that there shall be certainty and definiteness in each and all of them. One depends on another. The failure of one would jeopard every other, or render its accomplishment uncertain. In a machine the failure of one wheel, pulley, or band, might derange the whole. Thus it must be in the Divine plans. The revolution of the earth on its axis, and in its orbit, depends on the exactness of the movements of the sun, moon, and stars; and a want of certainty in the movements of any one of them would have rendered the formation of a purpose in regard to the earth, except by miracle, impossible. If it be admitted that God has any plan, the admission carries with it of necessity also the idea that it is definite and certain.
(c.) This idea occurs in the Scriptures everywhere in regard to the plan of redemption, and the salvation of men. That plan is never represented as left to uncertainty, or as depending on any contingency, or as liable to be affected and frustrated by that which was not loreseen, and which could not be provided against. There are statements in the Bible (e.g., 1 Pet. i. 2; Matt. xxiv. 22, 31; Rom. ix. 11, 12;" and 15, 16), which prove that there is definiteness in the Divine mind as to the number of those who shall be saved; that this matter is not left indefinite; that the plan is not, in this respect, subject to contingencies. Whatever may be the foundation of the "election" in the case,—whether it is the mere will of God, or whether it is the foresight of what would be, or whether it is the fact that no others could have been saved,— the fact is affirmed everywhere in the word of God, that there is a portion of the human family designated to salvation, and that this portion constitutes the part of the human race which is to be saved,—"THE ELECT Of God" (Col. iii. 12).
The same thing is true in regard to the certainty of salvation. It was, in the case before us, no uncertain or contingent matter whether those on board the vessel should in the end escape safe to land. The Bible is as clear and definite in its statements with regard to the salvation of those whom God designs to save, as was this promise in regard to the safety of the prisoners, the soldiers, and the crew. "Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil, i. 6). "It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish" (Matt. xviii. 14). "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am" (John xvii. 24). "No man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand,"—ovSite, no one—man, angel, or devil— (John x. 27—29). "Whom he did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren; moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified" (Rom. viii. 29, 30).
There is no mistaking the meaning of such language. Those whom He did "foreknow" and whom He "glorified" are the same. Of those—all those—thus foreknown, it is affirmed that they are "predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son;" that they are "called;" that they are "justified;" that they are "glorified"—that is, saved. There has been no change in the number, or in the persons, in the process. None thus foreknown, and predestinated, and called, and justified, have fallen off. No new ones have been added; no places have been vacated; no names have been stricken off; no new enlistment has been gone into, to fill up the ranks made thin by apostasy. The march has been an unbroken one; all that started reached heaven. If any who seemed to start on the way have wandered off and have been dropped, the fact is elsewhere accounted for. So it is said of Judas, that from the apostleship, he "by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place" (Acts i. 25). So of those who left the Church in the time of the apostle John: "they went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but tluy went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us" (1 John ii. 19). So of the hearer who was represented by the seed that fell in stony places; "yet hath he not root in hiinself" (Matt . xiii. 21);—he falls away because he has no true piety.
Thus we have seen that God has a plan for human salvation; and that this plan is definite, both as to the number of the saved, and as to the certainty of their being saved.
II. My second proposition was, that the accomplishment of the Divine purpose in the salvation of men is connected with human agency. This is founded on the statement: "Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved;" that is to say, on the fact that it was in the power of these men to leave the ship, and thus to frustrate the Divine purpose; and on the declaration that their remaining there was indispensable to the safety of all. If they had not stayed in the vessel, the purpose of God could not have been carried out, except by miracle.
There are two methods by which God can accomplish His purposes; two to make choice of; two to use. The one is His own absolute and independent power; the other is the instrumentality of means. It cannot be denied that both of these methods are adopted, each in an appropriate sphere, though we may not be able to separate and define them, so as to determine always where the one ends and the other begins, or may not be able always to understand why the one or the other was adopted in a particular case.
(1.) There is a sphere where God works alone; where He accomplishes His purposes by His own independent power. Such, undoubtedly, was the case in the creation of the worlds; such may be the case in keeping the uerse in the form and order in which He has created it; such may be His control over what are called the "laws of nature"—gravitation; attraction; repulsion; electricity; galvanism; and the vital forces. In the act of creation no means could have been used, no instrumentalities could have been employed, no secondary causes could have been relied on, nothing could have entered into the result but the Divine power and will; for the very idea of creation is that nothing but God preceded that which was brought into being. There was a time—if the word "time" may be so employed— when God was literally alone. There was a period when He ceased to be alone, for He willed that there should be worlds where there had been none before; that there should be countless beings where all before was void.
That He reserves this power still, no one can doubt or deny; that He does not make use of it, no one can prove. He has not exhausted it in the acts of creation. He has not so bound or committed Himself that He may not employ it. Whether He does thus employ it in any case, is a question to be settled, not by assuming that it is never put forth, but, as in any other case, by appropriate evidence in regard to a fact.
It may be that this power is reserved in relation to the establishment of the truth of religion by miracle; by some act of His above the powers of nature, and where the only antecedents to what is done are His will and His power—as in raising one from the dead, or in opening the eyes of the blind. It may be that this power is reserved in relation to the conversion of the soul by the special influences of the Spirit of God. It may be that this power is reserved for vindicating and defending His people in times of danger. It may be that this power is reserved in relation to great changes which are to occur on the earth in the elevation of the race. It may be that this power is reserved in relation to the final resurrection of the dead, and the winding up of the affairs of the world.
(2.) But while all this is in the power of God, and while no one can prove that this power is not reserved in relation to important matters in the world's history, it is also true that this is not the ordinary method by which God works. It is true that God could have saved the prisoners and the soldiers, by miracle; but He chose not to save them in this way. It is certain that He would not have saved them at all, if the crew had not, at the suggestion of Paul, remained in the ship.
To work by human agency is God's ordinary method in the secular affairs of men; this is His ordinary method in their salvation. It is only on this supposition that we can form our plans, and found our hopes, in respect either to our secular or our spiritual interests.
The earth is cultivated in this way. God could create plants, fruits, and flowers now, as He did in Eden. He could level the forests, upturn the soil, raise fences around the fields, gather out the stones, scatter or create the seed, and gather in the harvest, by His own direct power. But He does not do this. If man employs not his own agency, it is not done, and will not be done.
The sea is navigated in the same manner. God could bring the productions of foreign climes across the waters —the gold, the diamonds, the pearls—the spices, the oranges, the bananas—the wheat, the rice, the cotton, the silks, the woollens, the linens—by His own power, without the instrumentality of man. But He does not do it. If man does it not himself, it will not be done; and in this sense, the plans of God are dependent on human agency. If that agency were not put forth, the nations would have no commercial intercourse, nor the productions of one climate be transferred to another.
Religion is propagated in like manner. God could, undoubtedly, reveal His truth individually to any and every human being on the earth, and make His will known by miracle and inspiration to each successive generation. He could give a Bible to every man; He could at once flood the moral world with truth, as He did the natural world with light . But He does not do this. Religion is not spread in any such way. It is by human effort; and if that effort is not put forth, the work is not done; so that, in this sense also, the plans of God are made to depend on the agency of man.
The souls of men are converted and saved in this same manner. God has the power of converting the soul by His own direct agency. But He does not do it. The sinner is promised salvation if he will pray; if he will repent; if he will believe; if he will forsake his sins; if he will turn to God; if he will live a holy life. He prays; he repents; he believes; he forsakes his sins; he turns to God; he leads a holy life,—and he is saved. If he did not do this, he would not be saved; and in this sense, also, it is true that the plans of God are inseparably connected with the agency of man. Of any sinner it is just as true that he will not be saved without his own efforts, as it was in the case of the tossed and endangered soldiers and prisoners and mariners in the ship, that unless all should abide in it, no one on board could be saved.
In view of the doctrine thus illustrated, I would remark,
(1.) That it has an important bearing on the whole subject of religion. It is opposed to Antinomianism— a refuge which men are prone to embrace when the doctrine of the Divine decrees and purposes is brought before them. It prompts to activity and energy in a case where men might otherwise plead that, since the whole matter of salvation is determined and fixed by the Divine purpose, their own efforts are needless, and would be of no avail.
(2.) Our only hope of salvation is connected with the use of the means which God has appointed. It is only so far as we employ those means, only so far as in fact we comply with His commands, only so far as we do what He requires us to do, that we can have any wellfounded hope of eternal life. God has not authorized us to hope in anything else; and all other hope is mere presumption. In the work of salvation, as in everything else, the means must be proportionate to the end; they must be such as God has appointed; they must be employed as He has directed.
(3.) Life is a voyage, a perilous voyage, which that of Paul afFectingly illustrates. The delays; the slow progress; the necessity of seeking safe harbours; the storms; the quicksands; the darkness; the uncertain way; the leaky ship; the striking on the shore; the beating of the waves; the failure of the anchors; the breaking up of the vessel; the plunge into the deep; the clinging to boards and broken pieces,—what apt emblems of human life! From all these dangers there is a safe refuge—a shore which may be reached—a firm anchorage—a land where, secure from danger, we shall be welcomed, and may dwell for ever. How happy would it be if we could assure all, as Paul did the alarmed and imperilled mariners, that "there shall be no loss of any man's life;" that God hath given us all those that sail with us; that "there shall not a hair fall from the head of any;" that only "the ship" will be lost. Our earthly possessions will, indeed, perish in the final wreck of all things; but let the ship perish, let all that we have sink in the deep, if we may come "safe to land." From these storms and billows—these dangerous seas— these tempestuous voyages—may we all be brought, at last, SAFE TO HEAVEN 1