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1. I shall consider the situation and circumstances of the Apostle sailing a prisoner to Romne.
2. The error of Julius the centurion in not taking the Apostle's judgment concerning the voyage.
3. The attempt of the shipmen to flee out of the ship, and leave her in a helpless condition.
4. The comfort, encouragement and safety derived to the whole company from the presence of St. Paul.
5. The necessity they were under of throwing their provisions into the sea, to lighten the ship.
6. And lastly, the insensibility and ingratitude of the soldiers, who gave counsel to kill the prisoners, amongst whom the blessed Apostle himself, who under God was the Saviour of them all, must have fallen a sacrifice.
Of these things, all of which are of important consideration, the first that offers itself is the situation of St. Paul himself, sailing as a prisoner to Rome.
He is brought into this, as into all his other perils, by his fidelity to God and his services to the world as a minister of the Gospel. The malicious Jews raised a clamour against him, and falsely accused him to the Roman Governor, as a mover of sedition; with full purpose to take away his life; so that he was constrained to appeal to the authority of Cæsar for his own preservation; in consequence of which, he embarked on shipboard with other prisoners to take his trial at Rome.
When the servants of God are persecuted, and obliged to fly from reproach and treachery and cruelty, for their own security; we may be tempted to imagine, that God has forgotten them, and left them to the malice of their adversaries: whereas he is then most mindful of them. They are, as the Apostle himself speaks, persecuted but not forsaken, cast down but not destroyed: and he warns the Christians of Thessalonica, not to be moved or disturbed in their profession by these afflictions; for yourselves know, saith he, that we are appointed thereunto. God is often nearest to his saints when he seems farthest off. To us indeed, short-sighted as we are, it is more easy to discover and acknowledge his attention, when we are sensible of his bounty. We see and adore the hand of the Creator, in the clearness of the fountain, the brightness of the sunshine, and the calmness of the ocean; but his power, as a Saviour, is manifested in the storms and troubles of life. Therefore he brings his servants into distress, that he may make his power known by bringing them out of it; with this farther advantage to themselves, that they are exercised and improved by the trial of their faith.
It is for this end that we see the life of the great Apostle diversified with such contrary visitations. We see him honoured beyond all other men by a miraculous call to the ministry, yet under continual troubles and perils, for acting in his proper character: while he is favoured with more abundant revelations, he is vexed and humbled with a thorn in the flesh: he pleads with all the dignity and power of an orator before kings and rulers, while he is fettered as a malefactor for the hope of Israel: he is admired, and worshipped as a God in the likeness of a man, at Lystra, and soon afterwards stoned by the same people, and dragged out of the city for dead.
On the occasion mentioned in the text, we see him on shipboard, in the company of soldiers and sailors, whose conversation is generally of the coarsest sort, and upon the lowest subjects; very unsuitable to the dignity and purity of an Apostle. But in this situation, it pleases God to distinguish and exalt him, as
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a preacher and a deliverer. The ship that carries him becomes like the ark of Noah; he himself is like that
1 second father of mankind, and all the souls embarked with him, whatever their character may be, are preserved for his sake.
But let us ask once more, how it comes to pass, that we find this holy man exercised with so many perils by sea and by land? The answer is plain ; the Lord had said of him, at the time of his miraculous conversion; I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake. He was the vessel chosen to bear the name of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Next to him who came into the world, to be the light of the Gentiles, ise had the greatest office that ever man was entrusted with; he was made the Apostle of the Gentiles: he was preferred above all, and therefore he was to suffer more than all. The heroes of this world are distinguished by great actions, but the servants of God by great sufferings; and it is a better evidence, because it is a much harder trial, of our faith, to suffer patiently, than to act valiantly. A man may act for his own glory, and it is surprising to see how much is done, and spoken, and written, in the world, on this principle: but if he suffers in a cause which the world opposes, it is for the glory of God: he who was to be the Saviour and pattern of all mankind, was therefore made perfect through sufferings. St. Paul is now before us, in his progress to perfection, through the like way of patient suffering for the truth's sake. He has suffered by land among Jews, heathens, and false brethren ; and now he is
; joined with shipmen and soldiers, to go through all the trials and dangers to which men are exposed, who go down to the sea in ships, and suffer shipwreck on
, that dreadful element.
If we follow him with our observations on this occasion, the first remarkable thing that offers itself is the error of Julius the centurion, who refused to take the Apostle's judgment concerning the voyage. “ When much time was spent, and when sailing was
now dangerous, because the fast was already past, “ Paul admonished them, and said unto them, Sirs, I
perceive that this voyage will be with much hurt “ and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, “ but also of our lives. Nevertheless the centurion « believed the master and the owner of the ship, more " than those things which were spoken by Paul.” The Apostle argues, first from natural reasons and common experience: their progress had been so slow, that much time was lost, and they were now fallen into a season of the year always dangerous to navigation. But he goes farther; he speaks as one having authority, and descends to the particulars; that the voyage would be fatal to the ship, to the lading, and to their lives. He received his information from the God who made the waters of the sea, and raises them into a storm at his will, and can still them with his word: in this character he gives his advice; but, in the opinion of the hearers, it has no weight, and the advice of a common navigator, the master and owner of the ship, is thought to be the wiser. What a misfortune it is, to us, when we prefer the ill-grounded presumptions of man to the warnings of an inspired Apostle; and this when the lives of so many are at stake! He that hears of this may be filled with indignation, and put the question to himself, “ had I “ been in that ship, should I have rejected the advice " of St. Paul, for the saving of my own life?" Yes, you would : you would have been ignorant of the Gospel, as the people were to whom he spake; you
would have seen the great St. Paul under the disadvantages of a prisoner, going to Rome to be tried for his life ; perhaps you would have heard the shipmen jesting in their way upon his want of skill, and asking, how a scholar, brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, should have any judgment in affairs of navigation ? The pride and perverseness of men will always find some plausible reason for despising that counsel which is better than their own; and so did these here: but at last they saw their error when it was too late, and all the horrors of shipwreck were inevitable. We should often succeed much better than we do in common things, if we were to consult divine revelation, and take the advice of religious people, instead of trusting to the current policy of the world, or to the voice of an unprincipled majority, who cry out with violence upon very little ground of reason, as these did here. It seemed, the haven they were then at was not commodious to winter in ; so they gave up their safety and their lives to avoid a little transient inconvenience. It
, who but sailors should give counsel in affairs of navigation? Yet we see by experience, a preacher of the Gospel knew more of the voyage than they did. And thus it happens with us on many occasions: we go to man for advice, and miscarry, when we might have it from God and succeed. I think this observation might be extended very far. We live in an age when human wisdom is magnified far beyond its value; and, in the course of our education, we take its authority implicitly in many things, where the Bible would teach us better, and make us wiser as well as happier. For want of this, we too frequently make shipwreck of faith: and in many instances, reason, learning, true policy and true philosophy, are shipwrecked along with it.