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constrained services of worn-out age: and them that honour him, he will honour. And in every future period of life, in every distress, in every danger, in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment, he will say, I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth.
THE SIGHT OF CHRISTIAN FRIENDS
And from thence, when the brethren heard of us, they
came to meet us as far as Appii-forum, and The Three Taverns. whom, when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage.--Acts xxviii. 15.
The case was this : From the malice of his countrymen, Paul had appealed unto Cæsar. He was therefore under the necessity of going to Rome. In his voyage he was shipwrecked on the island of Melita, now called Malta, and which has been of late as well as in earlier times, so famous. After continuing there three months, he renewed his voyage, landed at Puteoli, not far from Naples, and went towards Rome. At Rome there were brethren, and when they heard of his approach, they went down to “meet him as far as Appii-forum, and The Three Taverns :''—This did them honour; it marked their zeal and their kindness; but observe the effect of the interview on the mind of the apostle :-" Whom, when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage.'
This teaches us, first, that characters the most distinguished in the church of God, may sometimes need encouragement. What made the apostle now droop, we cannot determine. Perhaps he had heard what a tiger Nero had lately become; perhaps he began to feel some melancholy thoughts respecting the result of his trial. To appear before the emperor of the world in the presence of a thousand spectators was enough to make nature shudder; and there is nature as well as grace, and there are animal spirits as well as religious principles in the best.
Whatever was the cause, it seems the apostle was now depressed and desponding--even he who in his epistle to the Romans could say, “ If God be for us, who can be against us ?-nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us”—even he discovers a dejection of mind, and a failure of courage.
People often imagine that the saints recorded in the scripture were a race of men entirely different from modern Christians. But this is a mistake. Even they found themselves in an enemy's country ; they travelled also through a vale of tears, pierced with thorns and briers-66 without were fightings, and within were fears.” Our case, therefore, is not peculiar-we neither sigh nor tremble alone. Where are the hands which never hang down; the knees which never become feeble ? “ Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.” Asaph said, “My soul refused to be comforted: I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed.” David said, “My soul cleaveth to the dust." And Paul exclaimed, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” If such was the experience of characters so pre-eminent, what wonder that we are liable to the same exercises ?
Secondly. Let us observe the benefit that is to be derived from intercourse with Christian friends. When Paul saw these brethren, he was inspired with new life ; he dropped his melancholy gloom, and marched forward with confidence and joyhe took courage. “Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man's friend by hearty counsel. Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend."
In no condition is it “ good for man to be alone." Religion, instead of destroying the social principle, refines and strengthens it. Our Saviour has promised, that " where two or three are gathered together in his name, he will be in the midst of them." To cheer and animate each other, “ he sent forth his disciples two and two before his face.-Two are better than one; for if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow : but wo to him that is alone when he falleth ; for he hath not another to help him up."
Have you ever been in distress? How soothing was the presence of a tender and a pious friend ! Such a person was a ministering spirit- an expositor of the promise, “ 'The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing ; thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness." Have you ever been in spiritual darkness and perplexity ?-you sighed, “ No one was ever like me !" But a Christian related his experience, and announced the same feelings, and you were set at liberty. Or have you in a scorching day been ready to perish for thirst? Like another angel, in the case of Hagar, “ he opened your eyes, and showed you a well,” and you “ went on your way rejoicing.” God of all grace, whatever thou art pleased to deny us while in this world, withhold not from us a Christian friend; one who will counsel us in our doubts, comfort us in our sorrows, animate us by his example, and encourage us by his confidence.
How pleasing is it, when travelling to heaven, to overtake those who will be " our companions in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ !" How overjoyed is a Christian to find some followers of the Lamb, when he has entered a town or a village, saying with Abraham, 6. Surely the fear of God is not in this place !” It has enlivened him—6. Well, there are more that love and serve my Lord and Saviour than I imagined.” What a glow of satisfaction does a man called by divine grace diffuse in a church when he walks in to ask for communion and fellowship with them! “ They that fear thee will be glad when they see me, because I have hoped in thy word.” How desirable is the Lord's day, and the Lord's house, in which we see so many of our brethren !
“Lord, how delightful 'tis to see,
A whole assembly worship thee;
They hear of heav'n, and learn the way!" How charming will heaven be, where we shall see them all!
Thirdly. Let us remark that we may be edified by those who are below us in station, in talents, and in grace. Thus these private Christians helped an inspired apostle : “ When he saw them, he thanked God, and took courage.--Apollo was an eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures,”
but he was “taught the way of the Lord more perfectly" by two of his hearers, Aquila and Priscilla. Naaman the Syrian was a mighty man, but he was indebted for his cure to a little maid. She had been taken captive in war, and waited upon Naaman's wife, and “ she said unto her mistress, would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy.-The king is served by the labour of the field.”
Let us learn, then, that there is no such thing as independence ; that there is a connexion among men which embraces all ranks and degrees-and a dependence founded upon it; so that no being is above the want of assistance, and no being is useless or unimportant. It is in the world, and it is in the church as it is in the human frame : “ But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him ; and the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of your that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.”
Lastly. All the comfort and advantage we derive from creatures, should awaken gratitude to God. It is said, he thanked God. Doubtless the apostle was sensible of his obligations to these brethren, and thanked them for their civility and tenderness in coming, unasked, so far to meet him. But says the man alive to God, Who made these Christian friends? who inclined them to favour me? who rendered them the means of restoring my soul? “ Of him, and through him, and to him are all things. To whom be glory for ever. Amen."