It is very comforting to consider the nature of our title to the Scriptures. It is something far beyond clearness and certainty. It is, I may say, perfect and wonderful. From Genesis to Malachi, the Spirit of God was surveying a period of nearly four thousand years. He had therefore materials for hundreds of volumes, had He pleased to use them. But He has not done so. Nay, His method, generally, would appear to be strange. For He passes by what might be thought to have been the weightier matter of the history, and gives some small domestic scene, and that too in much detail at times.
And why is this? Why within the compass of a verse or two will He, as He does, contract the record of nations for centuries, and spend chapters on the family occurrences of a few years?
God tells us, "They are written for our admonition." (1 Cor. 10:11.) And again, "Whatsoever was written aforetime was written for our learning." (Rom. 15:4.) And again, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable." (2 Tim. 3:16.)
These passages tell us by what rule the Holy Ghost conducted His divine labour in the Scriptures, and why it was He adopted this peculiar method. He was consulting for us. In the mind of the Father and the Son, the Holy Ghost was serving the children of God in this work. That principle is the life or breath of every part. And the histories of men good or bad, of family scenes, and national revolutions, are all preserved and recorded by the Spirit with respect to our comfort and admonition.
Thus we get, as I said, nothing less than a wondrous title to the divine Word. Let us be reading what part of it we may, still have we title to say, "This was written for me; my good was consulted in this."
May I not, therefore, say, Is not this a wondrous and a perfect right the Lord gives me to His Scriptures? He wrote them for us.
And so I might take occasion to say of the gifts of the Spirit. They were measured out into different vessels under the same prescription, that the profit of the saints might be advanced: (See 1 Cor. 12:7, 1 Cor. 14:1-3, 19.) The manifestation of the Spirit was given to profit withal, imparted under consultations of our edification and blessing. Just as the Scriptures were inspired and delivered with this same intent, likewise. Our profit was before the mind of the Holy Ghost when He wrote the standard volume, and when He filled the living vessels with His manifestations.
What higher title then, I ask again, can we want, than such as this? and what higher could we get, if we wanted it? This is a wondrous title; and a perfect right we have to the full use and enjoyment of these precious, unspeakably, immeasurably precious fruits of the breathing of the Holy Ghost.
The same method is observed, the same rule and purpose guides and decides all that is made known to us in the writings of the New Testament as well as the Old. We are still thought of. There were materials, such as the world could not have contained the books that would have recorded them. But they are not given, but "these things are written," says one passage, "that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name."
The chapter we now propose to look at for a little (Acts 27) illustrates what I have been saying. It is a very long chapter, but occupies itself about a matter which, in human calculation, we might have said and thought could have well afforded to give place to other things in Paul's testimony. But "wisdom is justified." The ways and methods of wisdom, as well as her judgments and councils, are all "justified of her children."
This chapter, together with a part of the following one, gives us an account of the apostle's voyage from Syria to Italy, and his short journey onward from the sea-shore to Rome. The simple fact that great space is given to this in the history of the Acts of the Apostles, alone might lead us to judge that the Spirit has a mind or purpose in it, beyond the merely acquainting of us with a fact; and so we shall find it.
It is true, that the whole chapter is morally valuable, in this sense; that it gives us a strong view and impression of Christianity being to be found in all the ordinary circumstances and casualties of life; that the palpable, tangible world, in which we find our present life and exercise, is the very scene in which the Spirit had His witnesses.
But we may expect to find in this chapter even more than these things - more than either one fact in Paul's history, or this moral instruction to which I have referred.
The crew and company had been removed from the ship in which they had sailed from the coast of Syria; into another that was bound direct for Italy. (v. 6.) But shortly after, dangers began to threaten, and Paul gets an intimation that the voyage would be with damage and hazard. (v. 10.)
This he had, I judge, by the Spirit. He does not gather it from the winds and waves. It was only the authority of the Holy Ghost that could have warranted a stranger, a landsman, a prisoner too, to speak on such a subject with authority, opposing the judgment of "the owner," and "the master," and "the more part." The rest, on the contrary, were directed by providence, so called. The south wind blew softly, and they supposed that they had obtained their purpose. (v. 13.) And so they sailed on. But a Euroclydon quickly followed the soft southern breeze, unexpected by those who looked around, but confirming the witness of him who learned his lesson from the Spirit. (v. 14.)
But the Euroclydon seems only to drive the apostle into his harbour more closely. He learns the mind of God, and comes forth laden with the glorious harvest that he had gathered. (v. 21.) He rebukes them for not having heeded his former word; but, in the abounding grace of Him whom he served, and for whom he now witnessed, he pledges the safety of all who sailed with him in the ship. (vv. 22-26.)
The prisoner is thus the saviour. He who was on his way to appear before the power of this world, and in chains, is the vessel for bearing the truth, the grace, and the power of Him that is above the world. This is after the pattern of the Crucified One, being the life of the world. This is weakness made strong. This is praise perfected in the mouth of babes and sucklings. This is the mystery of God's salvation in a world that has destroyed itself. Paul the prisoner is the saviour. The lives of all are given to him who was in chains. The most despised one is the one whom the Lord of life, and light, and glory owns. And such an one gets all God's secrets. "Howbeit," says he, "we must be cast upon a certain island." He knew the detail, as well as the mere fact of safety. And he believed, in spite of all appearances, and with confidence pledged the truth of the divine promise and grace.
Here indeed was God and His saint. Here indeed was a sample of the divine mystery. Paul, after this, allows much to be done in the vessel. There was a sounding, a casting of anchors out from the stern, and a lightening the ship. (vv. 28, 29.) And he gives great encouragement and cheer of heart. (vv. 33-38.) But he will have nothing to be trusted but the promise. (v. 31.) If the boat be resorted to, confidence is at once placed in other resources, in provisions of safety independent of God, and then the promise will be rejected, and death must follow. The waters will swallow all who are not in the ark of the promise. But according to the same promise, the ship goes to pieces. It is worth nothing, never to be used again. But the lives are spared. Not a hair of the head of any perishes. Some swim, some float on planks, but all get their life, according to the promise that they who were in company with Rome's prisoner, but God's witness and treasurer, should be safe. "And so it came to pass, that they all escaped to land."
And in all this, farther notices of the divine mystery show themselves. There is a voice in it all, which may be heard. We have already noticed the prisoner as the saviour - the despised and bound one in the scene, being the only vessel of all the true glory and blessing that was there. How sensibly, how visibly, how audibly, all that meets the eye, and the ear, and the heart of him that is taught of God. It needs no interpreter. It is full of God's way, as I have already observed. But here we have even more than that. The vessel goes to pieces. The lives of all are preserved. But it was not the vessel, but the promise that preserved the travellers. They had been committed to the ship; but the ship breaks asunder, and the promise is their ark in the waters again. All stewardships fail, and prove unfaithful. The church, as the witness or candlestick, is broken and removed; but that which is of God Himself - His truth, His love, His promise - survives as fresh and perfect as ever; and none who trust in Him, and in Him alone, shall ever be confounded. The voyage may end in complete wreck. The dispensation may end in apostacy; but all who hang on the promise, all who trust the word of man's Prisoner, God's Messenger, survive. Some swim, others float on planks. Some may be strong, and work their way more in the solitary strength of the Spirit, others weaker may hang about fragments that float around on the surface here and there, inviting the timid and the unskilled; but whether they swim or rest on the planks, all, strong and weak together, reach the shore; they cannot perish, for the God of the promise has them in His hand, and no wind or wave can dash them thence.
Is there not then, I ask, a parable or mystery in all this? This is not Paul's voyage only, but ours. It is the safety of wrecked mariners, the safety of all believers who trust in the promise, the God of the promise, the covenant sealed and made sure, the purchased, as well as promised, blessing and security of a poor ruined, helpless, and tossed soul, who has by faith found his way, and taken refuge in the sanctuary of peace, though all props and stays here. fail him. Cisterns may be broken, but the fountain is as fresh and full as ever. Chorazin and Bethsaida may disappoint Jesus, but the Father does not. Hymenaeus and Philetus may disappoint Paul, but God's foundations do not. "All men forsook me," says he on a great occasion, "but the Lord stood by me." And the Psalmist in triumph exclaims, "If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do? The Lord is in His holy temple!" Yes; the way to magnify our security, is to see it in the midst of perils and alarms. The very depth of the waters around honoured the strength and sufficiency of the ark to Noah; the ruthlessness of the sword in passing through Egypt, glorified the blood that has sheltering the first-born of Israel; and the solemn terrors of the coming day of the Lord will but enhance the safety and the joy of the ransomed, whether with Jesus in the heavens, or as the remnant in their "chambers" in the land.