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Acts 27:1-44 - Homilies By E. Johnson

The voyage to Italy: an allegory of the Christian's course.

Bunyan wrote an immortal allegory of the Christian course as a journey by land. It may be rewritten as a sea-voyage.

I. THE CHRISTIAN SETS OUT IN STRANGE COMPANY ', AND WITH OFTEN UNCONGENIAL SURROUNDINGS . Romans, Macedonians, prisoners, Alexandrians, are Paul's fellow-voyagers (verses 1, 2, 4-8). No seclusion, no picked society nor refined retirement, can be or ought to be the usual lot of the Christian. We cannot go out of the world. In society, among all the diversities of human character, our education and trial must go on, our experience be gained. The greater the variety of men, the more eliciting of our capabilities, the larger scope for doing good.

II. THE CHRISTIAN IS SURE TO MEET WITH FRIENDS . A friend and hospitality is to be found at most ports (verse 3). And love begets love. Captain Julius, another of those fine Roman soldiers who cross the stage of the Christian story, is glad of an excuse to show the kindness of his heart to his prisoner. Oh, let us believe in the human heart; if we speak to it in the tones of love, it will give hack its sweet echo everywhere. Unexpected acts of friendship are revelations of God to us in lonely places and sad hours.

"I fancied he was fled,

And after many a year,

Glowed unexhausted kindliness

Like daily sunrise there."

III. CLOUDY SKIES . (Verses 9-15.) Forebodings of danger are felt as the Christian goes on. Sunny life-seasons, the joys of calm friendship, must give place to dark skies and danger. The changing drama of nature mirrors the story of the human soul. The Christian, taught by experience, becomes prophetic, like Paul. The centurion and the master of the ship may typify that blind obstinacy which will persevere with its designs in the teeth of nature's laws. Nothing fatal occurs without previous warnings. In the natural and in the moral world we constantly come upon effects without visible causes, But the causes exist and are in action. Hence the constant duty of sobriety and watchfulness. The deep lesson of the gospel here illustrated is that we ought not to be taken at unawares.

IV. UNBELIEVING FEAR AND BELIEVING CONFIDENCE . The former in verses 16-20. To save dear life men will cast their treasures as worthless dross into the sea. And when, in spite of all, death seems near and inevitable, nothing is left but despair. But if earthly life itself is well lost for the sake of the immortal soul, hope need not set, but rather rise, like the morning star, above these troubled waves. This contrast is brought out by the behavior of the apostle (verses 21-26). Through the many sunless and starless days and nights, hope shines unquenched within his breast. There are reflections of such times within the horizon of the soul ( Isaiah 11:10 ; Isaiah 63:17 ). Reason contends with faith; and in struggle with itself the spirit becomes conscious of its power and victory through God. Paul supports himself on a Divine intimation, confirming the promise of the past ( Acts 23:1-35 . 11). The great thing is to be intent upon our work and witness; then comes the sense of security, the faith that no harm can come nigh us until our work be done.

"Too busied with the crowded hour

To fear to live or die."

It will be felt deeply true that—

"On two days it steads not to run from thy grave—

The appointed and the unappointed day;

On the first neither balm nor physician can save,

Nor thee on the second the universe slay."

V. SHIPWRECK AND LANDING . (Verses 39-44.) The day breaks. The face of God appears after the night of weeping and watching. When need is sorest, he is nearest. Yet his light leads to strange and unfamiliar scenes: "They knew not the land." The scenery that unfolds before the soul in the great crises of life or in the hour of death is that of a foreign shore. Death is a great break-up of all our familiar and trusted associations, and great experiences of change in the soul may resemble it in this. Their use is to teach self-reliance—that true self-reliance which identifies God with the truest impulses of the soul. At the moment when all seems lost, all is gained. The foreign and seeming unfriendly shore proves a haven and a home; the restless sea tosses them from its bosom to terra firma, and to a rest. So to the faithful soul do the fears and fancies of the terrified imagination give way to fixed prospects, and we are wrecked in transitory conditions that we may find a footing in the eternal.—J.

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