PAUL IN THE CASTLE AT JERUSALEM. Divine encouragement amidst the difficulties, struggles, and perils of life.
Instances of special encouragement.—Seasonableness of it.—Difficulties and dangers.—(I.) Secret conspiracy.—Character of its agents.—Probability of its success.—Facility of its execution.—Means of its defeat . —(2.) Impending trials.—Before Felix.—Before Festus.—(3.) Approaching peril at sea.—Assurance of safety.—Hope of success needed by all men.—Cherished by all men.—Founded on the history of the past.—On God's promises, general and absolute.—On innate hopefulness.—This hopefulness, a natural endowment.—This endowment, a proof of Divine benevolence. —Workings of this hopeful spirit, illustrated.—In the young.—In the mariner.—In tha merchant.—In the farmer; the soldier; the philanthropUt.—In the sufferer; and in the
"And the night following, the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as tf1ou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome."
Acts xiriii. it.
NIGHT-JOURNEY IN JUDEA.
ON two other occasions in the life of Paul, a special Divine encouragement was given to him similar to the one which forms the subject of this chapter. One, as we have already seen, was when he was approaching Corinth, and when, for some cause not fully known to us, he seems to have been filled with deep apprehension of danger, or to have been discouraged by the difficulties before him, or by his want of success in Athens: "Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city" (Acts xviii. 9, 10). The other occasion, which we shall have to notice hereafter, was on the dangerous voyage to Rome: "For there stood by me," said he to the desponding crew, "this night the angel of God, whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar" (Acts xxvii. 23, 24). At other times he seems to have gone to his work under the general promises which God had made to him, and which He makes to all His people; but in these instances, the difficulties which environed him were such as to make a special promise appropriate. In the case before us, the special promise was that he should see Rome, implying that he would be permitted to preach the Gospel there.
As one of the incidents in the life of Paul, and as giving occasion to illustrate what may occur in the lives of others, this special assurance of protection is worthy of consideration. The point suggested is THE DIVINE ENCOURAGEMENT GIVEN TO US In THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE GREAT PURPOSES OF LIFE, especially when surrounded with difficulties and embarrassments.
In considering this, with the case before us in view, it will be proper to notice—I. The difficulties and dangers which then surrounded Paul; and, II. What we may learn from the assurance that he would be protected, and would be permitted to carry the Gospel to the capital of the world.
I. The difficulties and dangers which surrounded Paul.
Under this head we may embrace all those which were then apparent, and all those which he would encounter, and which would tend to thwart his purpose, before he should see Rome. The promise made to him would cover all these, for it made it certain that he would pass safely through all, till the object was secured.
(1.) The conspiracy which had been secretly formed against his life. At no time probably had he been in greater peril; at no time had there been a greater probability that the malice of his enemies would secure a triumph in his death; at no time could an assurance of Divine protection be more appropriate or desirable.
Of this conspiracy (Acts xxiii. 12—15), it may be remarked,
(a.) That it was made sufficiently strong to render the accomplishment of the scheme morally certain. More than forty men were united in it. It may be presumed that it was composed of men who were ready to face any danger in order to accomplish the object, and of men the most resolute and determined among the enemies of Paul. The fulfilment of this design was secured also, as far as possible, by a solemn oath. They "bound themselves under a curse"—avtOtfianaav iavrovs, more literally, "anathematized themselves" or "bound themselves with an oath of execration;" 'AvaOifian aviOifiartaaf1tv iavrove, "with an anathema we have anathematized ourselves." That is, we have cursed ourselves with a curse; we have bound ourselves over to death— to destruction—to the wrath of God; we have separated ourselves from God's favour, and devoted ourselves to eternal destruction (comp. Rob. Lex. ) if we do not succeed. The peril could not be small when such desperate men had bound themselves to the accomplishment of their purpose by such a solemn anathema.
(b.) It was not in itself improbable that they would be successful in persuading Lysias to grant this. The influence of the Sanhedrim would be supposed to be great with him. It was proposed to urge the plea that they desired to "inquire something more perfectly concerning" Paul (ver. 15)—aKp1/3E<TT£po1>—"more accurately or precisely" (Rob. Lex.); to obtain more minute information as to his principles, and as to what he had done. In support of this request, it might be urged that the former trial had been suddenly and unexpectedly interrupted; that in the excitement they had learned really nothing of his views and of his manner of life; and that now in a calmer manner they might pursue the investigation, and ascertain what was the real ground of the disturbance. It might be presumed, also, that Lysias would be quite willing to grant a request which promised to relieve him of his embarrassment .
(c.) We may suppose that, if the request had been granted, it would have been an easy matter to have carried their purpose into execution. It is not probable that a strong guard would have been sent to accompany him on an errand apparently so peaceful, and it would not have been difficult for forty men fully armed to strike the fatal blow before protection could be given, whatever the consequences to themselves.
In the vision Paul was assured of protection from this danger; and he was rescued in a most remarkable manner. In some way unknown to us a nephew of Paul received intimation of the conspiracy, and having communicated it to Paul, was dispatched by him with the intelligence to Lysias, who at once made ample arrangements for his removal to Caesarea, and with such a guard that he would be safe from the conspirators (vers. 16—24).
(2.) The trials before the Roman governors, through which Paul was to pass before he could arrive in Rome. When brought to Czesarea, indeed, he was safe from those who had conspired against his life; but it was not yet altogether certain that he would not be delivered into the hands of the Jews, or that he might not be doomed to a long imprisonment which would prevent his reaching Rome. We may conclude that the address in the vision, "Be of good cheer, for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome," was designed to sustain and comfort him with the assurance that from these dangers also he would be safe. The trials here referred to were those before Felix and Festus. There will be occasion to consider them more fully hereafter. At present it is necessary to allude to them only so far as they involved the danger that Paul might again be delivered into the hands of the Jews, or that he might be prevented, as the result of those trials, from going to Rome.
The character of Felix (Acts xxiv.) was not such as to afford any very confident expectation that justice would be done. A man corrupt at heart and in his life (ver. 25); a man ready to be bribed (ver. 26); a man unacquainted with Jewish customs and opinions (ver. 22); a man disposed to do anything to gratify the Jews which would not directly affect the Roman authority (ver. 27); from such a man there was little reason to hope for a decision in accordance with justice.
The probability that Paul would be delivered up to the Jews, and that his life would be again endangered, was not less in the trial before Festus than in that before Felix. Festus (Acts xxv.) was equally disposed to conciliate the Jews (ver. 9); and he therefore proposed that Paul should go again to Jerusalem, and be tried there. Paul saw that this might endanger his life, by his being again placed in the power of his enemies; and therefore he made appeal to Caesar—an appeal which admitted of no evasion, and which secured for him what had been promised him in the vision, that he should see Rome, and have an opportunity of testifying there in behalf of the Gospel.
It is easy to see how, when brought before Felix and before Festus, the promise that he should "bear witness" to the cause of the Saviour "at Rome" was necessary to sustain him; and it is easy to imagine how often he might refer to this promise in the apparent uncertainty as to the result of the trial.
(3.) He would again be placed in circumstances where the recollection of the promise would come to him. On the voyage to Rome, his life would be in danger. In the storm, and in the shipwreck which followed, all human probability of reaching Rome would fail entirely. Amidst these scenes, Paul could not but fall back on the assurance made to him, that as in Jerusalem so also in Rome he must testify of Christ
II. We are now prepared to consider the assurance given in the vision, as an illustration of what may occur in our lives; of the arrangements which God has made to keep us from despondency and despair, and to set before us, amidst the dangers and uncertainties of life, such a hope of success as to call into proper exercise our active powers, and confirm our faith in Him. We shall not find, indeed, that this is an arrangement of miracle, or that it is by a heavenly "vision;" but we may find that for this purpose there is an arrangement which bears all the marks of a Divine origin as really as a miracle or a direct "vision," and that it is a striking proof of Divine forethought, wisdom, and benevolence.
It will prepare us to consider this, if we bear in remembrance that there is need of such an arrangement; and that we are secretly conscious to ourselves that there is such an arrangement .
(a.) There is need of such an arrangement. Life is a struggle of uncertain issue. We are often surrounded with perils. We are embarrassed in our way. We are disappointed and foiled in our plans. We are beset with enemies, artful, powerful, malignant. We see no egress from our difficulties; no way of escape from our danger. We cannot throw off the burden under which we seem ready to sink; and if we emerge from one difficulty, new ones thicken in our path. We cannot but ask, in these circumstances, whether there is not something to buoy up the soul; to support us; to comfort us. Obviously we need some arrangement that will inspire hope; obvibusly our world would not be complete if there were not such an arrangement; for, without this, men would settle down in despair.
(b.) We are secretly conscious to ourselves that there is such an arrangement. The world, though full of disappointment and trouble, is not inactive, or despairing. The powers of man do not droop and flag. The shuttle is not still; the plough is not suffered to stand idle in the furrow; the anvil does not cease to ring; the spindles are not motionless; the ship is not suffered to lie at anchor until it rots at the wharf. The world is a busy world. All men have their own plans; and all are cheered with hope, and the great and constant movements on sea and land are carried forward under the stimulus of the Divine arrangements, the promises of God, the hopes which He inspires. There is something —a conscious something—which inspirits the mariner, the warrior, the farmer, the merchant, the traveller, the Christian. What is this arrangement? How does it appear from the arrangement that it is of Divine origin, and marked by Divine benevolence?
In reply to these questions I shall advert to three things, which, in a world so full of conflict and toil, serve to give assurance or hope to men.
(1.) I refer, first, to the records of the past, or the experience of the world. We have unconsciously before us, in our struggles and difficulties, the memory of the struggles of the past, and of the general prosperity and success which crown the conflicts of life. We may not, indeed, have this distinctly and definitely before our minds, and perhaps we are scarcely conscious that it has any influence on us; and yet, in our seasons of fear and perplexity, we secretly summon to our recollection all that we have observed, or all that we have been told, or all that we have read of a successful issue to efforts and perils like our own. Life is a battle. That is the record; that is the history of the world. The great lessons of the past come to aid us in our conflicts, and to encourage us with hopes of victory.
Thus we have in our minds the memory of those who have been made immortal in the endeavour to break the yoke of oppression, and to secure freedom for themselves and for their children. Thus we have before our minds the memory of those who in early life have striven against the evils of poverty and dependence, but have surmounted those difficulties, and have been successful, honoured, and respected in their lives. Thus we have before us the memory of the farmers who labour hard, who cut down forests, who fence their fields, who plough and sow, uncertain what may be the result, but who gather in the golden grain, and fill their granaries with the fruits of their toil. Thus we have before our minds the memory of the mariners who have braved the dangers of the deep, who have penetrated distant seas, who have encountered storms and tempests, and who have returned from far distant lands in ships laden with corn, or oil, or silks, or spices, or gold, or ivory. Thus, also, in the effort to obtain the friendship of God, and the pardon of sin, we have before our minds the memory of those who have prayed, and wept, and pleaded for mercy, and who have found peace. Every soldier who
has fought for liberty, every farmer who has cultivated his fields, every seaman who has made successful voyages, every merchant who has overcome the difficulties in his path, and every sinner who has struggled to find salvation, has been contributing his part in furnishing the lessons which are to guide us, and in imparting an inspiration which is to animate, to cheer, and to sustain us. These are the arrangements of God for the encouragement of struggling men; they show what is the general tendency of things in our world—a tendency favourable to effort and to virtue; they preserve the world from idleness and despair; and the result is seen in each new generation as it comes upon the stage.
(2.) I refer, in the second place, to the general promises of the Bible in regard to success in our efforts, and to safety amid our dangers; especially to the promises of ultimate success in the great interest of life—the salvation of the soul.
In reference to temporal matters, these promises are not indeed absolute and specific; in reference to the great end of life, they are. Success in our efforts in regard to this world may not be necessary to our highest welfare; success in our efforts to be saved, is. In the one case it was desirable that there should be such general promises of success as would stimulate us to effort; in the other case, it was indispensable that there should be an absolute promise of success in every instance where there was a desire to be saved, and where efforts should be put forth in accordance with that desire.
Thus we find, in fact, that the promises of the Bible in regard to success in this life are of a general character (see Isa. xxxiii. 15, 16; Psa. xxxvii. 25; 1 Tim. iv. 8; Psa. lxxxiv. 11 ; Phil. iv. 19; Psa. xxiii. 1; Heb. xiii. 5). Of this nature are all those promises of temporal good addressed to the righteous, with which the Scriptures abound, and which constituted so large a part of the assurances of His favour which God made to His ancient people (comp. Lev. xix. 25; xxvi. 4; Deut. vii. 13; xvi. 15; xxviii. 4; Ps lxvii. 6). The old Jewish dispensation was founded, to a large extent, on these promises, but the spirit of those promises is found in every dispensation; and, as a great rule in the Divine administration, they are not disregarded. There actually is such a general measure of success in life as to correspond with these general promises.
In reference to the future life, however, we find that the promises of success are absolute. These, in all cases when there is a sincere desire to be saved,—when there is corresponding effort or striving to "enter in at the strait gate,"—when there is true repentance,—and when there is genuine faith,—are without any contingency or doubt. There are no such failures and disappointments in regard to salvation as there are in the things pertaining to this life; nor for the purpose of discipline is it required that there should be any possibility of failure. Accordingly all the promises in the Bible in regard to salvation are of the most absolute nature; and we have the positive assurance that, if we seek it aright, salvation will certainly be ours (Matt. vii. 7, 8; Mark xvi. 16; John vi. 37; Rev. xxii. 17). That there are dangers and enemies in the way of our salvation, and that it requires a struggle, is certain. There are foes without, and foes within. There are the corruptions of our own hearts to be contended with. There are the temptations of the world to be met . There are the arts of the great enemy of souls to be overcome. But the promise of victory in regard to all these is positive; and any man may engage in the work of seeking after salvation under a promise as absolute and certain as was the special revelation of safety which was made to Paul.
(3.) I refer, thirdly, to what may be designated an internal confidence of success, of safety, of protection, even when we have no direct promise, and when we could not secure the same conf1dence of mind by the exercise of reason or by any ground of probability which would be apparent to us. This is a more difficult point than those which we have been considering; and yet it constitutes a Divine arrangement as definite as those, and is one of the numerous things not often adverted to, which show that there is a God, and which express His benevolence.
This is not revelation. It is not of the nature of a vision. It is not a direct Divine promise made to the soul. It is not the result of reasoning;—perhaps, as we shall see, it would neither be suggested by reasoning, nor sustained by reason. It is something with which God has endowed us in our nature, over and beyond our reason, and which was designed for the very purpose of encouraging us. Perhaps, in ordinary language, it would be called buoyancy or elasticity of spirit. It i.c hope ever springing up in the breast. It is a belief that we may be successful. It lives even when we have been disappointed, and spreads over the future a mild and pure light, that attracts us and leads us on. It is the prospect of a safe harbour, after being tossed in a tempest; of an oasis, or a fountain of waters, when we have been wandering long in a desert; of health, when we are sick; of safety, when we are in danger; of success, when all seems dark.
Perhaps what is here intended can be best understood by supposing that God had made man, as He might have done (and as a very few of the race seem to have been made, apparently to show how all might have been made), with the opposite temperament or constitution. Obviously, He might have fashioned all men so that everything in the future would have looked discouraging, dark, and gloomy; and in this manner a malignant God would have formed the race. Instead of the buoyancy of spirit, and the inspiration of hope, and the elasticity and recuperative energy under which we rally from disappointment, and instead of the bright imagination which gilds and brightens the future, man might have been so created as to act on the mere reality of things as they actually occur,—or so that a morbid fancy would darken all surrounding objects, and cover all the future with a pall. Under such a form of creation, only the most absolute necessity would have prompted to exertion; and in the gloom of disappointment, the race would have sunk in despair. But God has not so made man. He has made him capable of being stimulated by hope; of looking forward to brighter things. The past is fixed, whether gloomy or bright;—the future, imagination makes bright;—and thus man is perpetually incited to new exertions. In all this we may see a great law of our nature designed to encourage the world, and to keep it from despondency, inaction, and despair. Could there be a more decided proof of Divine benevolence?
(a.) How much of hope there is in the young man! What would there have been to stimulate him to effort, if he had been created with a gloomy instead of a hopeful temperament, and if his imagination had been so made as to darken instead of throwing a cheerful light on the future? Under what a discouraging cloud would he begin his way, if he had been so formed as to look only on the things of sorrow and sadness which may be in his future course,—or, when looking at actual life, to bring into prominence, and keep before his mind, the real sadnesses of life; if he had been made to reflect constantly on such subjects as the following,— How many fail in their plans! how many are cut down in the beginning of their way! how soon may I be cut down! But the imagination of the young does not dwell on these things. It fixes on the hope of success; on health, happiness, prosperity; on things that cheer and animate.
(b. ) How much of this there is in the mariner! If, when he thinks of embarking on a voyage, his imagination should dwell only on storms and quicksands and shipwrecks,—if he should think only of the lives that have been lost on the coast to which he goes,—or if he should think only of the bottom of the ocean, over which he is to sail, as covered with the remains of vessels and the bodies of those who have perished in the tempest, —if he should conjure up all that has been real in navigating distant seas, who would venture to sail on the great deep? But the fancy of the seaman is on other things. He thinks of favourable winds, and prosperous voyages, and rich returns; and hence it is that the sails of commerce whiten every sea.
(c.) How much of this there is in the case of the merchant! On entering into business, he does not think only of the number that fail, and of the hazards of trade, and of the uncertainty of the result, and of the condition of bankruptcy; but he places before his mind the image and the hope of success. His mind rests on that; and by that he is stimulated.
(d.) How much of this there is also in the case of the farmer, of the soldier, of the man endeavouring to do good! If the first of these should dwell only on the hardships of his mode of life,—on the toil of clearing and cultivating the ground,—on late frosts in spring and early frosts in autumn,—on rust and mildew,—on the ravages of the Hessian fly, the weavel, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar; or if the second should think only of hard fare and hard marches,—of cold and hunger and thirst and danger,—of sickness in the camp,—of wounds on the battle-field, and of the groans and cries of anguish of dying men; or if the third should think only of the discouragements in the way of doing good in a world like this,—of the indifference of men to their best interests,—of their opposition to well-intentioned plans of benevolence,—and of their ingratitude,—how few would engage in the work of agriculture, how few would go forth in defence of their country, how few would preach the Gospel in Christian lands, or carry it to the heathen world.
(e.) How much of this is there also in the sufferer on his bed, or the sinner seeking the salvation of his soul! If the one should look forward only to pain,—his imagination picturing to him all the future as only a prolongation of present endurance, aggravating every symptom of disease, and dwelling only on the numbers who under similar forms of disease have died, what gloom would settle down on every sick bed! and if the other should think only of his sins, and of the sorrows of the everlasting burnings, and never advert to the promises of God, to the cross of Christ, to the gracious terms of salvation, and to the number who have been saved, what sinner would hope for salvation? But God has created the mind buoyant, elastic, hopeful. He leads men to think of recovery and success, rather than to anticipate disaster and defeat. He has thus said to every man, not in distinct vision, as he did to Paul, yet really in language like that addressed to the apostle, "BE OF GOOD CHEER 1"