Paul gathered a bundle of sticks, and as he laid them on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself to his hand.
I. HUMANITY AS A NATURAL SENTIMENT. It is the common bond uniting together mankind in helpfulness, sympathy, and charity. A sentiment which we can see is based:
1. On the fact that God hath "made of one blood all nations to dwell upon the earth." This truth of fact is now scientifically accepted, and called the "solidarity of the human race;" but it is the earliest divinely revealed truth, declared in the parentage of the race.
2. On the ties of brotherhood which follow the division of the race into separate families. The bond which binds together the members of families, binds together also tribes and nations, which are but God's great family.
3. On the common image of God which men share, and which applies chiefly to moral disposition. The most characteristic feature of God is his care for others, and, apart from the mischief done by sin, this image of God man still bears. Charity is God's image on man; selfishness is the devil's image on man.
II. HUMANITY AS A NATIONAL CHARACTERISTIC. More strikingly marked in some nations than in others.
1. Usually found in those whose country is exposed to calamity, by reason of a wide seaboard, or an unhealthy condition, or exposure to enemies. Men are bound together when a common fate hangs over them all.
2. Also found in nations marked by the milder virtues, rather than those energetic, active ones which so often lead to war. Peace-loving nations build hospitals, asylums, etc., and care for the suffering members. War tends to make men indifferent to suffering. England in later times has striven to carry humanity into her war, limiting in every way possible the distress it entails. Humanity strives for the day when war shall be a sound that men may hear no more forever.
III. HUMANITY AS A RELIGIOUS ESSENTIAL. Christian people must be humane. They cannot be Christian and wholly fail of brotherly duties. Those who are bound to God in the dear bonds of redeemed sonship cannot fail to come nearer in sympathy to their brothers of the common humanity. Illustrate fully the Christian teaching on the culture of the spirit of humanity; the New Testament is full of counsels similar to this: "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." - R.T.
And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire.
(H. Trumbull, D.)
There came a viper out of the heat and fastened on his hand.
I. The viper and THE BUSY HAND. It was when Paul's hand was busy that the viper fastened on it. "Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do," or rather allows them to find mischief for themselves. But he hates the busy hand and tries to poison it and make it idle. When you are diligent at any task look out for the viper. Whenever you say, "Oh I what's the use!" or, "Never do today what can be done tomorrow," beware of the viper on the busy hand. Shake it off! It will sting you into idleness, and then Satan will have no difficulty in getting you to do what he likes.
II. The viper and THE OPEN HAND. Satan likes close-fistedness; but when he sees an open, generous hand, the "old serpent" fastens on it. I will tell you how you may know when it is there. Here is a lad who yesterday got his week's wages. When in church he hears the minister pleading on behalf of some heathen children, he begins to ask, "What have I to do with them? The money is my own." Or on your way to the Sabbath school you may be tempted to halve the penny you had determined to put into the mission box. Satan does not wish you to give anything to carry the gospel to your brothers and sisters afar off. He knows that you are helping Christ to bruise his head. There is a beautiful legend of an old English open-handed king. After King Oswald learned Christ, he was feasting one day with Aidan the Bishop, when he was told that a hungry multitude waited around his door. He sent out to them the untasted feast, and divided among them the silver dishes, so that Aidan blessed his hand, saying, "May this hand never grow old." Some time afterwards Oswald fell in battle, and, as his limbs were cruelly cut up and hung upon stakes by the enemy, it was observed that the hand that Aidan had blessed — the open hand of Oswald — remained white and uncorrupted. God loves the open hand, but the viper fastens on it. Look to God and shake it off!
III. The viper and THE PRAYING HAND. We are told to lift up "holy hands" of prayer "without wrath and doubting." Satan hates the hands of prayer. The praying boy or girl keeps so near Christ that Satan can scarcely do any harm. He wishes you to stop praying, in order to get the better of you. Have you never felt weary, or heard a voice saying to you, "What does God care for a boy or girl like you?" or, "How can He hear you in the heavens?" The viper has fastened on your hand. Pray all the more earnestly for power to shake it off!
(W. Dickie, M.)
1. Notice this conspicuousness of Paul in its many features.
2. The personal qualities of Paul. He was a born leader, a many-sided man. Again, we notice that with this promptness, readiness and power of controlling circumstances there is also a cheerfulness of spirit. Some look only on the dark side. They seem unwilling to admit that the moon itself has a bright side. Paul's cheerfulness is contagious. He tells the men that they will be saved. The face of Keats wore the radiance of an angel. Lord Holland each morning looked as if he had just received good news. I think that they must have prayed, "Lord, lift Thou the light of Thy countenance upon us." Though smarting, bleeding, hungering, and oppressed, Paul was always rejoicing in hope and making others glad.
3. The usefulness of St. Paul is seen in his building a fire. He gathers a bundle of sticks. He is foremost in service. He does not say that this is the work of a servant. The higher a man is, the more a minister he comes to be. Nobility obliges. He does not preach to them, but gathers fuel. He is useful when away from home. See how this usefulness worked out. The barbarians — that is, "the bearded people," as the shaven Greek looked on the unshaven foreigner — "showed us no common kindness." Paul healed the sick among them, and yet said that he was debtor to them. In doing good you reap a benefit.
4. Finally, see the terrible irony of life. The hands are stretched out for warmth, and poison enters. We look for good, and behold evil is ours. This is the sarcasm of life. Hezekiah has the added years he prays for, and finds in them added sorrow. Samson carries off the gates of Gaza that vainly held him, but comes eyeless and woful into a Philistine prison at the end. Abraham has a son, but is told to slay him. David has the crown, but weeps over the treason of Absalom and finally over his dishonourable death.
(H. Gallaher, D.)
Homiletic Monthly.There are a great many vipers with deadly poison in their fangs, ready to fasten on the hand of any Christian man or woman who "gathers a bundle of sticks," i.e., has to do with secular affairs. There are —
I. THE VIPER TO WHICH THE BUSINESS MAN IS EXPOSED. How many hands, busy in trade, that old serpent fastens on, and will not let go! If he does not kill them outright with his poisonous principles and temptations, he at least wounds their honour, peace, usefulness, and Christian standing. Shake off the viper into the fire, man of business! Hesitate not, or you are a dead man!
II. THE VIPER OF INDIFFERENCE has fastened itself on the hand of very many nominal Christians. "Woe unto them that are at ease in Zion!" And how many there are, and what peril they are in! "I would thou wert cold or hot," etc.
III. THE VIPER OF UNBELIEF. TO reject and cast away God's Word, as many do, is to uncover a nest of vipers and lie down in the midst of them.
IV. THE VIPER OF PREJUDICE. This, when it gets firm hold of a man, is a terrible power, a most malign influence, and if he do not shake it off into the fire, it will poison his life, warp his judgment, and kill his influence. How intense is the power of prejudice in social life, in politics, in matters theological and ecclesiastical!
V. THE VIPERS OF EVIL HABITS, such as gambling, drunkenness, tippling, Sabbath desecration, social dissipation at the theatre, are of the deadliest sort. Few escape on whom they once fasten. Their sting is deadly. Shake off into the fire that venomous serpent which has wriggled out of "the bundle of sticks you have gathered"; or, as sure as the wages of sin is death, you are doomed, and that speedily!
(Homiletic Monthly.)I. Everywhere in the pursuit of duty we must expect the viper or the serpent to dart out upon us. Everywhere in the path of obedience to the higher calls of life we shall find ourselves beset by difficulties and assaults which will probably succeed too well in doing what the viper failed to do to the apostle. We shall find ourselves often wounded in the hand, at any rate according to the old prophecy, in the heel. Well for us if we are on our guard and ready instinctively to shake off the attacks and, God-protected by Divine grace, to feel no harm!
1. Professional life, business life, trade, or work well illustrates what I mean. It is one of the most necessary things in the world. It supplies the needs of human life. It is the method by which the members of the human family perform their duties as members one of another. It creates some of the most valuable parts of human character. Energy, quickness, power of organisation, invention, discovery, method, calculation, experience, soberness of mind — these are some of its results on character. But how often do we see the viper dart out from the midst, and fasten on a man's hand! How often do we see trade or business blunting the higher and nobler faculties of human life, blinding the soul to the spiritual world, exhausting all the natural energies in merely material interests, and sometimes — alas! too often — undermining the uprightness and honesty of a hitherto spotless character! How often do we see the hand or the heel wounded, while all power to shake off the venomous beast seems to have deserted the soul!
2. Or look at knowledge in its many branches. What is more fascinating or delightful? It moves at will up and down the history of the world, entering into all great events, revealing the motives and actions of the greatest of mankind, making the past almost as real as the present. It penetrates into the deepest and closest recesses of man's being — his instincts, his motives, his intellectual powers, his loves, his joys, his sorrows. But even here, my friends, be on your guard; even here the viper darts out and is ready to fasten on the hand. For there are spheres of truth which reason can only enter hand in hand with faith, and reason is apt to rise in rebellion, and flash scorn on that which is beyond its ken, and glory in its ignorance or, as it prefers to phrase it, its agnosticism.
3. Or is there anything more beautiful than friendship in its many forms? It is on its widest score the bond of society, and without society of some sort life would be intolerable. It is in narrower limits the bond of that home life of which we in England are so justly proud. In its deepest and intensest forms it is one of the dearest bonds we know on earth. Grow on, dear friends, deeper and deeper into the joys of friendship and of love; make your homes more homelike; let society be worthy of the name; but still beware of the trail of the serpent. Under the guise of friendship and of love how many evil influences are at work, you all know too well. Too often the viper has fastened on the hand, and desolate homes and ruined lives and wasted love have been the last results.
4. The serpent has penetrated paradise, and all man's life is henceforth lived in his presence. The Church is the paradise of God on earth; the nearest meeting place of man with God; the home of grace; the refuge of penitent sinners; the resting place of God's revelation; the soul's best and truest home. It is here that you can do the greatest works for God; that you can lead others to know the happiness which you have found. It is here that you may be "the light of the world," and "the salt of the earth." It is here that you may be God's band of labourers, "fellow workers with God." Yet here, too, beware the dart of the serpent. Here he fastens upon and wounds the hand. Here sometimes narrowness, and bitterness, and obstinacy, and self-will, and proud contemptuousness, and prejudice, and jealousy, and littleness of spirit may mar and spoil what God intended.
II. St. Paul shook off the venomous beast into the fire, and felt no harm, because he did it instinctively the moment the dart was made, and because he was God-protected by the last promise of our Lord to His disciples. It is only by the religion of Jesus Christ that we can cast off the serpent. It can only he through high communion with God and a constant sense of His loving presence that you and all can dwell safely and have the blessings of life.
(J. Weston Townroe.)Mark 16:18). He casts from him,
1. The venomous serpent of slander (vers. 3, 4).
2. The shining adder of flattery (ver. 6).
3. The dangerous reptile of worldly anxiety and cares (vers. 8, 9).
4. The old serpent of sin (with application to ver. 4, "a murderer").
(K. Gerok.)I. IN WHAT LIGHT IT WAS VIEWED BY THE PEOPLE PRESENT.
1. As a judgment for a heinous crime.
2. As an evidence that he was a god.
II. IN WHAT LIGHT IT SHOULD BE VIEWED. It was intended by God as —
1. A means to awaken their attention to the gospel.
2. A standing memorial of His care over His faithful servants.Conclusion: Learn from hence —
1. Justice to man.
2. Confidence in God.
They said...no doubt this man is a murderer whom...vengeance suffereth not to live
(H. Trumbull, D.)I. THERE IS A GENERAL SENSE OF DIVINE JUSTICE AMONG MEN.
1. This conviction exists, often imperfect and perverted, but still so manifesting itself, as it did on this occasion, as to show that it lies deep in the human mind. There are things remaining in fallen man — perceptions of what is right, and promptings to what is right, which show what he originally was, and which show also the character of the government under which he is placed. These things resemble the half-effaced inscriptions found on ancient tombs and monuments. The letters and dates are half-obliterated; but skill may enable us to fill up the inscription; to put in a letter here, and a figure there, so as to leave no doubt that the true words are restored. In like manner, there are in the soul, half-effaced records of man's original nature and dignity. From them alone we never could know entirely what man originally was. Yet when they are filled up with the knowledge imparted by revelation, the record becomes complete. Among these traces left upon the hearts of men, are —(1) The belief in some form of a Divinity, or Divine government, as was indicated in the case of these islanders.(2) A sense of justice, and a feeling that the guilty deserve to be punished.
2. Whenever men have embodied their sentiments in codes of morals, it has been done in accordance with this view. There are no books on morals, in any language, or age, which do not make a distinction between right and wrong; and for the most part, in regard to the same actions.
3. The same views are found in a community before there are regular laws in regard to the administration of justice. There never has been a nation or tribe which had not some notions that the guilty should be punished, and especially that a murderer ought not to escape. In the earliest ages it was a universal conviction that the duty of avenging the blood of the slain devolved on the "nearest of kin" (Numbers 35:19, seq.; Deuteronomy 19:6, 12; Joshua 20:3; 2 Samuel 14:11). Such a person was recognised in all Oriental nations, and among American savages. The "avenger of blood" was the minister of justice — one who represented that every man felt to be a carrying out of the Divine purpose in the infliction of vengeance.
4. The same thing is true in regard to the laws of men. As the world advances in civilisation, arrangements for the punishment of crime enter into all laws.
II. THERE IS AN ARRANGEMENT UNDER THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT BY WHICH CRIME WILL BE DETECTED AND PUNISHED. This was evidently the belief of these islanders; and it was founded on a state of things which was then open to observation, and which exists everywhere. This might be proved in reference to all forms of guilt. The boy at school who does a wrong on the supposition that it will be undiscovered, or the boy who robs an orchard at night, is often surprised to find that there was some observer, or that some circumstance of which he was not aware has brought his deed to light. But it will be more appropriate to illustrate this in reference to murder. These islanders believed that the "goddess of vengeance" would not suffer the murderer to go unpunished, although he had survived one peril. They were in error in supposing that this particular thing was proof; but they were in the right in believing that there is an arrangement designed to find out the murderer. "Murder will out." There is —
1. The awakened vigilance in every community, making every man feel that he has a personal responsibility in securing, it he can, the punishment of the murderer.
2. The difficulty of concealing the crime. In itself considered, it would not seem to be difficult to obliterate all traces of a murder; to place the knife where it could not be found; to burn a garment so that it should not reveal the stain; or to dispose of the body so that no traces of it could be found. Yet nothing is more difficult.
3. The slight circumstances through which detection occurs — a lock of hair, a footprint, an unguarded remark, the possession of some article of little value, etc.
4. The madness of him who has committed the crime. Remorse, compelling him to confess; troubled dreams; the fear of every man.
III. THERE IS A GENERAL CONVICTION THAT IT IS PROPER AND RIGHT THAT THIS SHOULD BE SO. These islanders acquiesced in the arrangement, and saw in the fastening of the viper on Paul's hand that which was right in the case. On no subject have the sentiments of men been more decided and unanimous than on this. We may observe here that punishment is not primarily for the reformation of the guilty, nor for the mere security of a community against the commission of crime. There is a higher idea, which is founded on the fact that justice demands it; and when punishment is inflicted — when the murderer dies, the world at large acquiesces in it as right. Conclusion:
1. These things have been written in the human heart by the hand of God Himself.
2. The sinner lives in a world over which a just Being presides, and where justice demands punishment.
3. Wherever the sinner goes, this demand will follow him.
4. The universe will assent to the final punishment of the sinner.
5. There is a way in which the guilty may escape from impending judgment (Isaiah 53:4-6). In Christ the guilty may find pardon; through Him the pardoned sinner will be safe on sea or land; whoso believeth on Him will be no more exposed to wrath in this world or in the world to come.
(A. Barnes, D.)I. FOR SIN.
1. This exclamation would not have been less impressive or natural had these Maltese been "barbarians" in our sense of the word. But they were barbarians only in the sense in which we should be barbarians in France or Germany if we did not understand the language. The conviction they expressed was universal. Neither barbarism nor civilisation had anything to do with it. A Jew, no less than a pagan, a Roman, or a Greek, would have jumped to the same conclusion. The very apostles themselves, over a much less striking and dramatic instance, asked: "Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" And no modern advance of thought has eradicated, or will eradicate, the stubborn instinct which teaches men to connect suffering with guilt. Even the most advanced thinkers admit, not only that there is some connection between sin and suffering, but also that the connection is one of cause and effect. It is a natural and primitive instinct, and it is only by a resolute use of our reasoning faculty that we have been able to control it.
2. Admitting the instinct, we ought also to admit its testimony. We are so made and bred that we cannot, without a supreme effort, attribute the ordering of events to chance or accident. We feel instinctively that a Divine Nemesis manifests itself both in the order of the world at large and in the lot of individual men. Before a man can get rid of this wholesome religious conviction he must both unmake and remake himself: and then he will be very apt, despite the prevalent petticoat positivism, to revert to his original type.
3. For the conviction is a true one, though it often assumes questionable forms. It is true that all suffering springs from sin and bears witness against it, though it is not true either that we can always trace the suffering to its cause, or that the effects of a sin are always confined to the person who commits it. St. Paul traces death, e.g., to sin; yet not every man's death to every man's sin. On the contrary he argues — one sinned, all died. And it is at this point that men have always been apt to go wrong. The broad fact is true, but men have commonly misinterpreted it. They have assumed that they can invariably trace the physical effect to its immediate ethical cause, and that the cause is invariably to be found in the conduct of those who suffer the effect. You know how impossible it proved for our Lord Himself to dislodge these assumptions from the minds of the men of His own day. "Suppose ye," He said, "that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans," etc. An hour before the tower of Siloam fell, many of them, I dare say, would have shrunk from placing themselves high above those on whom it crashed down. But the moment the tower fell, that question was settled for them by God Himself, and their escape was a most gratifying proof of their moral superiority, though of course they were very sorry for the poor people who had been killed. Let us learn, then, that suffering, either personal, domestic, or national, is not always the result of sin; Job suffered many calamities; yet Job was a perfect man and an upright. If men always suffered for or in proportion to their sins we should be driven to the intolerable conclusion that the Greatest Sufferer was also the Greatest Sinner; that He who knew no sin was the very Chief of Sinners!
II. FOR OUR GOOD. We are "purged," not because we do not bring forth fruit unto holiness, but that we may bring forth more fruit. The greater welfare of Job, e.g., was both an intention, and an effect, of the sufferings inflicted on him. In like manner St. Paul long writhed on "the stake in his flesh," in order that the unsuspected resources both of his own nature and of the grace of God might be developed in and upon him. And, still in the like manner, we are taught that the Man Christ Jesus "learned by the things which He suffered"; and that He was the more highly exalted because He humbled Himself to pain, and grief, and death.
III. FOR THE GOOD OF OTHERS.
1. If Christ suffered more than other men, it was that He might become the Saviour of all men. If St. Paul long writhed in agony, it was that the power and grace of God might shine the more conspicuously through him on the world around. The affliction of Job was designed for the teaching of his friends and neighbours, and for ours. The blind man about whose sin the disciples were perplexed suffered that the works of God should be made manifest in him — not because he was a sinner, but that he might first open his eyes on the Friend and Saviour of sinners, and get sight for his spirit as well as for his body. And through this man the enlightening and redeeming power of Christ has been set forth, in an impressive figure, to all the world.
2. By calling our attention to him, Christ has taught us to look, in all our own sufferings, for some similar Divine intention and work. They may, or may not, be the consequences of, or the correction for, our sins. But they are always designed for the manifestation of some work of God Which will promote our welfare and that of those around us.
3. Now we all see, I think, that if, when we suffer, we were to fling away, as St. Paul flung off the venomous beast, all that is evil in suffering, all in it that tempts us to distrust or complaint, and to recognise the loving work and intention of God in it, we should be the gainers by it. And we can also see that, were we to take our suffering patiently, bravely, cheerfully, we should be teaching a valuable lesson and giving valuable help to others; that even those who once thought we were sinners above other men because we suffered such things would come to think we were braver and better because we suffered them so patiently, and be led to ask whence we got our patience and our courage.
4. This suffering for the good of others is, indeed, demanded of all who follow Christ. For if any man will follow Him, he must take up his cross, etc. Now the very commonest form of affliction is the pain we feel at the loss of those whom we love. Is it love, is it not rather self-love, which makes us so bitterly regret our loss that we refuse to be comforted? If, for them, to die is gain, shall we grudge them the gain because it involves loss for us, and yet call ourselves the servants and friends of Christ, who loved not Himself, but lived in and for others? If we had more of the spirit of Christ, love would teach us a joy in our friend's gain which would more than counterbalance our grief for their own loss. And common as this kind of affliction is, it affords us a rare opportunity of bearing witness to the power and grace of God.
(S. Cox, D.)
Howbeit...after they...saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said he was a God.
S. Times.This was quite in accordance with heathen modes of thought. The whole story of the wanderings of the wine god, Dionysus, is little more than a record of how the god came to this or that place and was received as a man, till, astounded by some portent, the people "changed their minds, and said that he was a god." Thus, when he came to Argos, the people would not acknowledge him; but, after he displayed his divine powers in the punishment of certain offenders, they hailed him as a god, and erected temples in his honour. How large a place was occupied in heathen thought by portents is shown in the list given for Dionysus's voyage from Icaria to Naxos. The sailors decided to sell him as a slave, and so abandoned the proper route. Thereupon the masts and oars became serpents, ivy grew up around the vessel, the sound of invisible flutes was heard, Dionysus transformed himself into a lion, and the sailors, struck with madness, flung themselves into the sea. The people would also have a certain selfish element in their recognition of Paul as a god. Doubtless many of them remembered how Jupiter and Mercury came down to earth as men, and how those who refused to receive them were destroyed by an inundation, while only Philemon and Baucis, their kindly host and hostess, were saved.
(H. Trumbull, D.)
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