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What Has Been Said of the Nature of the Affections Makes this Evident 1. What has been said of the nature of the affections makes this evident, and may be sufficient, without adding anything further, to put this matter out of doubt; for who will deny that true religion consists in a great measure, in vigorous and lively actings of the inclination and will of the soul, or the fervent exercises of the heart? That religion which God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull, and lifeless wishes, raising us but a little above a state of indifference: God, in his word, greatly insists upon it, that we be good in earnest, “fervent in spirit,” and our hearts vigorously engaged in religion: Rom. 12:11, “Be ye fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”

 Deut. 10:12, “And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord the God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul?” and 6:4, 6, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy might.” It is such a fervent vigorous engagedness of the heart in religion, that is the fruit of a real circumcision of the heart, or true regeneration, and that has the promises of life; Deut. 30:6, “And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.”

 If we be not in good earnest in religion, and our wills and inclinations be not strongly exercised, we are nothing. The things of religion are so great, that there can be no suitableness in the exercises of our hearts, to their nature and importance, unless they be lively and powerful. In nothing is vigor in the actings of our inclinations so requisite, as in religion; and in nothing is lukewarmness so odious. True religion is evermore a powerful thing; and the power of it appears, in the first place in the inward exercises of it in the heart, where is the principal and original seat of it. Hence true religion is called the power of godliness, in distinction from the external appearances of it, that are the form of it, 2 Tim. 3:5: “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power of it.”

The Spirit of God, in those that have sound and solid religion, is a spirit of powerful holy affection; and therefore, God is said “to have given the Spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind,” 2 Tim. 1:7. And such, when they receive the Spirit of God, in his sanctifying and saving influences, are said to be “baptized with the Holy Ghost, and with fire;” by reason of the power and fervor of those exercises the Spirit of God excites in their hearts, whereby their hearts, when grace is in exercise, may be said to “burn within them;” as is said of the disciples, Luke 24:32.

The business of religion is from time to time compared to those exercises, wherein men are wont to have their hearts and strength greatly exercised and engaged, such as running, wrestling or agonizing for a great prize or crown, and fighting with strong enemies that seek our lives, and warring as those, that by violence take a city or kingdom. And though true grace has various degrees, and there are some that are but babes in Christ, in whom the exercise of the inclination and will, towards divine and heavenly things, is comparatively weak; yet everyone that has the power of godliness in his heart, has his inclinations and heart exercised towards God and divine things, with such strength and vigor that these holy exercises do prevail in him above all carnal or natural affections, and are effectual to overcome them:  

for every true disciple of Christ “loves him above father or mother, wife and children, brethren and sisters, houses and lands: yea, than his own life.” From hence it follows, that wherever true religion is, there are vigorous exercises of the inclination and will towards divine objects: but by what was said before, the vigorous, lively, and sensible exercises of the will, are no other than the affections of the soul…

False affections, however persons may seem to be melted by them while they are new, yet have a tendency in the end to harden the heart. A disposition to some kind of passions may be established; such as imply self-seeking, self-exaltation, and opposition to others.

But false affections, with the delusion that attends them, finally tend to stupify the mind, and shut it up against those affections wherein tenderness of heart consists: and the effect of them at last is, that persons in the settled frame of their minds, become less affected with their present and past sins, and less conscientious with respect to future sins, less moved with the warnings and cautions of God’s word, or God’s chastisements in his providence, more careless of the frame of their hearts, and the manner and tendency of their behavior, less quicksighted to discern what is sinful, less afraid of the appearance of evil, than they were while they were under legal awakenings and fears of hell.

Now they have been the subjects of such and such impressions and affections, and have a high opinion of themselves, and look on their state to be safe; they can be much more easy than before, in living in the neglect of duties that are troublesome and inconvenient; and are much more slow and partial in complying with difficult commands; are in no measure so alarmed at the appearance of their own defects and transgressions; are emboldened to favor themselves more, with respect to the labor, and painful care and exactness in their walk, and more easily yield to temptations, and the solicitations of their lusts; and have far less care of their behavior, when they come into the holy presence of God, in the time of public or private worship.

Formerly it may be, under legal convictions, they took much pains in religion, and denied themselves in many things: but now they think themselves out of danger of hell, they very much put off the burden of the cross, and save themselves the trouble of difficult duties, and allow themselves more in the enjoyment of their ease and their lusts.

 Such persons as these, instead of embracing Christ as their Savior from sin, trust in him as the Savior of their sins; instead of flying to him as their refuge from their spiritual enemies they make use of him as the defense of their spiritual enemies, from God, and to strengthen them against him. They make Christ the minister of sin, and great officer and vicegerent of the devil, to strengthen his interest, and make him above all things in the world strong against Jehovah; so that they may sin against him with good courage, and without any fear, being effectually secured from restraints, by his most solemn warnings and most awful threatenings. They trust in Christ to preserve to them the quiet enjoyment of their sins, and to be their shield to defend them from God’s displeasure; while they come close to him, even to his bosom, the place of his children, to fight against him, with their mortal weapons, hid under their skirts.3-32

However, some of these, at the same time, make a great profession of love to God, and assurance of his favor, and great joy in tasting the sweetness of his love. After this manner they trusted in Christ, that the Apostle Jude speaks of, who crept in among the saints unknown; but were really ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, Jude 4.

These are they that trust in their being righteous; and because God has promised that the righteous shall surely live, or certainly be saved, are therefore emboldened to commit iniquity, whom God threatens in Ezek. 33:13: “When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity; all his righteousness shall not be remembered, but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it.” Gracious affections are of a quite contrary tendency; they turn a heart of stone more and more into a heart of flesh. A holy love and hope are principles that are vastly more efficacious upon the heart, to make it tender, and to fill it with a dread of sin, or whatever might displease and offend God, and to engage it to watchfulness, and care, and strictness, than a slavish fear of hell. Gracious affections, as was observed before, flow out of a contrite heart, or (as the word signifies) a bruised heart, bruised and broken with godly sorrow; which makes the heart tender, as bruised flesh is tender, and easily hurt.

Godly sorrow has much greater influence to make the heart tender, than mere legal sorrow from selfish principles. The tenderness of the heart of a true Christian, is elegantly signified by our Savior, in his comparing such a one to a little child. The flesh of a little child is very tender; so is the heart of one that is new born. This is represented in what we are told of Naaman’s cure of his leprosy, by his washing in Jordan; which was undoubtedly a type of the renewing of the soul, by washing in the laver of regeneration.

We are told, 2 Kings 5:14, “That he went down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child.” Not only is the flesh of a little child tender, but his mind is tender. A little child has his heart easily moved, wrought upon and bowed: so is a Christian in spiritual things. A little child is apt to be affected with sympathy, to weep with them that weep, and cannot well bear to see others in distress: so it is with a Christian, John 11:25, Rom. 12:15, 1 Cor. 12:26. A little child is easily won by kindness: so is a Christian. A little child is easily affected with grief at temporal evils, and has his heart melted, and falls a weeping: thus tender is the heart of a Christian, with regard to the evil of sin.

A little child is easily affrighted at the appearance of outward evils, or anything that threatens its hurt: so is a Christian apt to be alarmed at the appearance of moral evil, and anything that threatens the hurt of the soul. A little child, when it meets enemies, or fierce beasts, is not apt to trust its own strength, but flies to its parents for refuge: so a saint is not self-confident in engaging spiritual enemies, but flies to Christ. A little child is apt to be suspicious of evil in places of danger, afraid in the dark, afraid when left alone, or far from home: so is a saint apt to be sensible of his spiritual dangers, jealous of himself, full of fear when he cannot see his way plain before him, afraid to be left alone, and to be at a distance from God: Prov. 28:14, “Happy is the man that feareth alway: but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief.” A little child is apt to be afraid of superiors, and to dread their anger, and tremble at their frowns and threatenings: so is a true saint with respect to God: Psal. 119:120, “My flesh trembleth for fear of thee, and I am afraid of thy judgments.”

Isa. 66:2, “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and trembleth at my word.” v. 5, “Hear ye the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word.” Ezra 9:4, “Then were assembled unto me everyone that trembled at the words of the God of Israel.” 10:3; “According to the counsel of my Lord, and of those that tremble at the commandment of our God.” A little child approaches superiors with awe: so do the saints approach God with holy awe and reverence: Job 13:2, “Shall not his excellency make you afraid? And his dread fall upon you?” Holy fear is so much the nature of true godliness, that it is called in Scripture by no other name more frequently, than the fear of God.

 Hence gracious affections do not tend to make men bold, forward, noisy, and boisterous; but rather to speak trembling: Hos. 13:1, “When Ephraim spake trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended in Baal, he died;” and to clothe with a kind of holy fear in all their behavior towards God and man; agreeably to Psal. 2:11, 1 Pet. 3:15, 2 Cor. 7:15, Eph. 6:5, 1 Pet. 3:2, Rom. 11:20.


“Which of you, intending to build a tower, does not down first sit down and count the cost?” (Luke 14:28). The text which heads this page is one of great importance. Few are the people who are not often obliged to ask themselves, “What does it cost?” In buying property, in building houses, in furnishing rooms, in forming plans, in changing dwellings, in educating children, it is wise and prudent to look forward and consider. Many would save themselves much sorrow and trouble if they would only remember the question: “What does it cost?” But there is one subject on which it is specially important to count the cost. That subject is the salvation of our souls. What does it cost to be a true Christian? What does it cost to be a really holy man? This, after all, is the grand question. For want of thought about this, thousands, after seeming to begin well, turn away from the road to heaven, and are lost forever in hell. We are living in strange times. Events are hurrying on with singular rapidity. We never know “what a day may bring forth”; how much less do we know what may happen in a year! We live in a day of great religious profession. Scores of professing Christians in every part of the land are expressing a desire for more holiness and a higher degree of spiritual life. Yet nothing is more common than to see people receiving the Word with joy, and then after two or three years falling away and going back to their sins. They had not considered what it costs to be a really consistent believer and holy Christian. Surely these are times when we ought often to sit down and count the cost and to consider the state of our souls. We must mind what we are about. If we desire to be truly holy, it is a good sign. We may thank God for putting the desire into our hearts. But still the cost ought to be counted. No doubt Christ’s way to eternal life is a way of pleasantness. But it is folly to shut our eyes to the fact that His way is narrow, and the cross comes before the crown.

1. The Cost of Being a True Christian

Let there be no mistake about my meaning. I am not examining what it costs to save a Christian’s soul. I know well that it costs nothing less than the blood of the Son of God to provide an atonement and to redeem man from hell. The price paid for our redemption was nothing less than the death of Jesus Christ on Calvary. We “are bought with a price.” “Christ gave Himself a ransom for all” (1 Cor. 6:20; 1 Tim. 2:6). But all this is wide of the question. The point I want to consider is another one altogether. It is what a man must be ready to give up if he wishes to be saved. It is the amount of sacrifice a man must submit to if he intends to serve Christ. It is in this sense that I raise the question: “What does it cost?” And I believe firmly that it is a most important one. I grant freely that it costs little to be a mere outward Christian. A man has only got to attend a place of worship twice on Sunday and to be tolerably moral during the week, and he has gone as far as thousands around him ever go in religion. All this is cheap and easy work: it entails no self-denial or self-sacrifice.

 If this is saving Christianity and will take us to heaven when we die, we must alter the description of the way of life, and write, “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to heaven!” But it does cost something to be a real Christian, according to the standard of the Bible. There are enemies to be overcome, battles to be fought, sacrifices to be made, an Egypt to be forsaken, a wilderness to be passed through, a cross to be carried, a race to be run. Conversion is not putting a man in an armchair and taking him easily to heaven. It is the beginning of a mighty conflict, in which it costs much to win the victory. Hence arises the unspeakable importance of “counting the cost.” Let me try to show precisely and particularly what it costs to be a true Christian. Let us suppose that a man is disposed to take service with Christ and feels drawn and inclined to follow Him. Let us suppose that some affliction or some sudden death or an awakening sermon has stirred his conscience and made him feel the value of his soul and desire to be a true Christian.

 No doubt there is everything to encourage him. His sins may be freely forgiven, however many and great. His heart may be completely changed, however cold and hard. Christ and the Holy Spirit, mercy and grace, are all ready for him. But still he should count the cost. Let us see particularly, one by one, the things that his religion will cost him.

1. True Christianity will cost one his self-righteousness. He must cast away all pride and high thoughts and conceit of his own goodness. He must be content to go to heaven as a poor sinner saved only by free grace and owing all to the merit and righteousness of another. He must really feel as well as say the Prayer Book words, that he has “erred and gone astray like a lost sheep,” that he has “left undone the things he ought to have done, and that there is no health in him.” He must be willing to give up all trust in his own morality, respectability, praying, Bible reading, church-going, and sacrament receiving, and to trust in nothing but Jesus Christ.

2. True Christianity will cost a man his sins. He must be willing to give up every habit and practice which is wrong in God’s sight. He must set his face against it, quarrel with it, break off from it, fight with it, crucify it and labor to keep it under, whatever the world around him may say or think. He must do this honestly and fairly. There must be no separate truce with any special sin which he loves. He must count all sins as his deadly enemies and hate every false way. Whether little or great, whether open or secret, all his sins must be thoroughly renounced. They may struggle hard with him every day and sometimes almost get the mastery over him. But he must never give way to them. He must keep up a perpetual war with his sins. It is written, “Cast away from you all your transgressions.” “Break off your sins … and iniquities.”

“Cease to do evil” (Ezek. 18:31; Dan. 4:27; Isa. 1:16). This sounds hard. I do not wonder. Our sins are often as dear to us as our children: we love them, hug them, cleave to them and delight in them. To part with them is as hard as cutting off a right hand or plucking out a right eye. But it must be done. The parting must come. “Though wickedness be sweet in the sinner’s mouth, though he hide it under his tongue; though he spare it, and forsake it not,” yet it must be given up, if he wishes to be saved (Job 20:12, 13). He and sin must quarrel if he and God are to be friends. Christ is willing to receive any sinners. But He will not receive them if they will stick to their sins.

 3. Also, Christianity will cost a man his love of ease. He must take pains and trouble if he means to run a successful race toward heaven. He must daily watch and stand on his guard, like a soldier on enemy’s ground. He must take heed to his behavior every hour of the day, in every company and in every place, in public as well as in private, among strangers as well as at home. He must be careful over his time, his tongue, his temper, his thoughts, his imagination, his motives, his conduct in every relation of life. He must be diligent about his prayers, his Bible reading, and his use of Sundays, with all their means of grace. In attending to these things, he may come far short of perfection; but there is none of those who he can safely neglect.

 “The soul of the sluggard desires, and has nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat” (Prov. 13:4). This also sounds hard. There is nothing we naturally dislike so much as “trouble” about our religion. We hate trouble. We secretly wish we could have a vicarious Christianity, and could be good by proxy, and have everything done for us. Anything that requires exertion and labor is entirely against the grain of our hearts. But the soul can have “no gains without pains.”

4. Lastly, true Christianity will cost a man the favor of the world. He must be content to be thought ill of by man if he pleases God. He must count it no strange thing to be mocked, ridiculed, slandered, persecuted and even hated. He must not be surprised to find his opinions and practices in religion despised and held up to scorn. He must submit to be thought by many a fool, an enthusiast and a fanatic, to have his words perverted and his actions misrepresented. In fact, he must not marvel if some call him mad. The Master says, “Remember the word that I said unto you, ‘The servant is not greater than his Lord.’

 If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also” (John 15:20). I dare say this also sounds hard. We naturally dislike unjust dealing and false charges and think it very hard to be accused without cause. We should not be flesh and blood if we did not wish to have the good opinion of our neighbors. It is always unpleasant to be spoken against and forsaken and lied about and to stand alone. But there is no help for it. The cup which our Master drank must be drunk by His disciples. They must be “despised and rejected of men” (Isa. 53:3). Let us set down that item last in our account. To be a Christian, it will cost a man the favor of the world. Considering the weight of this great cost, bold indeed must that man be who would dare to say that we may keep our self-righteousness, our sins, our laziness and our love of the world, and yet be saved! Moreover, I grant it costs much to be a true Christian.

But what sane man or woman can doubt that it is worth any cost to have the soul saved? When the ship is in danger of sinking, the crew think nothing of casting overboard the precious cargo. When a limb is mortified, a man will submit to any severe operation, and even to amputation, to save life. Surely a Christian should be willing to give up anything which stands between him and heaven. A religion that costs nothing is worth nothing! A cheap Christianity, without a cross, will prove in the end a useless Christianity, without a crown.

2. The Importance of Counting the Cost

I might easily settle this question by laying down the principle that no duty enjoined by Christ can ever be neglected without damage. I might show how many shut their eyes throughout life to the nature of saving religion and refuse to consider what it really costs to be a Christian. I might describe how at last, when life is ebbing away, they wake up and make a few spasmodic efforts to turn to God. I might tell you how they find to their amazement that repentance and conversion are no such easy matters as they had supposed, and that it costs “a great sum” to be a true Christian.

They discover that habits of pride and sinful indulgence and love of ease and worldliness are not so easily laid aside as they had dreamed. And so, after a faint struggle, they give up in despair, and leave the world hopeless, graceless and unfit to meet God! They had flattered themselves all their days that religion would be easy work when they once took it up seriously. But they open their eyes too late and discover for the first time that they are ruined because they never counted the cost. But there is a certain group of people to whom especially I wish to address myself in handling this part of my subject. It is a large class, an increasing class, and a class which in these days is in peculiar danger.

 Let me in a few plain words try to describe this class. It deserves our best attention. The people I speak of are not thoughtless about religion; they think a good deal about it. They are not ignorant of religion; they know the outlines of it pretty well. But their great defect is that they are not “rooted and grounded” in their faith. Too often they have picked up their knowledge second-hand, from being in religious families, or from being trained in religious ways, but have never worked it out by their own inward experience. Too often they have hastily taken up a profession of religion under the pressure of circumstances, from sentimental feelings, from animal excitement or from a vague desire to do like others around them, but without any solid work of grace in their hearts. People like these are in a position of immense danger.

They are precisely those, if Bible examples are worth anything, who need to be exhorted to count the cost. For want of counting the cost, myriads of the children of Israel perished miserably in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan. They left Egypt full of zeal and fervor as if nothing could stop them. But when they found dangers and difficulties in the way, their courage soon cooled down. They had never reckoned on trouble. They had thought the promised land would be all before them in a few days. And so when enemies, privations, hunger and thirst began to try them, they murmured against Moses and God and would sincerely have gone back to Egypt. In a word, they had not counted the cost and so lost everything and died in their sins. For want of counting the cost, many of our Lord Jesus Christ’s hearers went back after a time and “walked no more with Him” (John 6:66).

When they first saw His miracles and heard His preaching, they thought “the kingdom of God would immediately appear.” They cast in their lot with His apostles and followed Him without thinking of the consequences. But when they found that there were hard doctrines to be believed and hard work to be done and hard treatment to be borne, their faith gave way entirely and proved to be nothing at all. In a word, they had not counted the cost, and so made shipwreck of their profession. For want of counting the cost, King Herod returned to his old sins and destroyed his soul. He liked to hear John the Baptist preach. He observed and honored him as a just and holy man. He even “did many things” which were right and good. But when he found that he must give up his darling Herodias, his religion entirely broke down. He had not reckoned on this.

He had not counted the cost (Mark 6:20). For want of counting the cost, Demas forsook the company of Paul, forsook the gospel, forsook Christ, forsook heaven. For a long time he journeyed with the great apostle of the Gentiles and was actually a “fellow-laborer.” But when he found he could not have the friendship of this world as well as the friendship of God, he gave up his Christianity and cleaved to the world. “Demas has forsaken me,” says Paul, “having loved this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10).

He had not “counted the cost.” For want of counting the cost, the hearers of powerful evangelical preachers often come to miserable ends. They are stirred and excited into professing what they have not really experienced. They receive the Word with a “joy” so extravagant that it almost startles old Christians. They run for a time with such zeal and fervor that they seem likely to outstrip all others. They talk and work for spiritual objects with such enthusiasm that they make older believers feel ashamed. But when the novelty and freshness of their feelings is gone, a change comes over them. They prove to have been nothing more than stony-ground hearers. The description the great Master gives in the parable of the sower is exactly exemplified: “Temptation or persecution arises because of the Word, and they are offended” (Matt. 13:21). Little by little their zeal melts away and their love becomes cold.

By and by their seats are empty in the assembly of God’s people, and they are heard of no more among Christians. And why? They had never counted the cost. For lack of counting the cost, hundreds of professed converts, under religious revivals, go back to the world after a time and bring disgrace on religion. They begin with a sadly mistaken notion of what is true Christianity. They fancy it consists in nothing more than a so-called “coming to Christ” and having strong inward feelings of joy and peace. And so when they find, after a time, that there is a cross to be carried, that our hearts are deceitful, and that there is a busy devil always near us, they cool down in disgust and return to their old sins.

And why? Because they had really never known what Bible Christianity is. They had never learned that we must count the cost. For want of counting the cost, the children of religious parents often turn out ill and bring disgrace on Christianity. Familiar from their earliest years with the form and theory of the gospel, taught even from infancy to repeat great leading texts, accustomed every week to be instructed in the gospel, or to instruct others in Sunday schools, they often grow up professing a religion without knowing why or without ever having thought seriously about it. And then when the realities of grown-up life begin to press upon them, they often astound everyone by dropping all their religion and plunging right into the world. And why? They had never thoroughly understood the sacrifices which Christianity entails.

They had never been taught to count the cost. These are solemn and painful truths. But they are truths. They all help to show the immense importance of the subject I am now considering. They all point out the absolute necessity of pressing the subject of this message on all who profess a desire for holiness and of crying aloud in all the churches, “Count the cost.” I am bold to say that it would be well if the duty of counting the cost were more frequently taught than it is. Impatient hurry is the order of the day with many religionists. Instantaneous conversions, and immediate sensible peace, are the only results they seem to care for from the gospel. Compared with these, all other things are thrown into the shade. To produce them is the grand end and object, apparently, of all their labors.

 I say without hesitation that such a naked, one-sided mode of teaching Christianity is mischievous in the extreme. Let no one mistake my meaning. I thoroughly approve of offering men a full, free, present, immediate salvation in Christ Jesus. I thoroughly approve of urging on man the possibility and the duty of immediate instantaneous conversion. In these matters I give place to no one. But I do say that these truths ought not to be set before men nakedly, singly and alone. They ought to be told honestly what it is they are taking up if they profess a desire to come out from the world and serve Christ.

They ought not to be pressed into the ranks of Christ’s army without being told what the warfare entails. In a word, they should be told honestly to count the cost. Does anyone ask what our Lord Jesus Christ’s practice was in this matter? Let him read what Luke records. He tells us that, on a certain occasion, “There went great multitudes with Him: and He turned, and said unto them, ‘If any come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple’” (Luke 14:25–27).

 I must plainly say that I cannot reconcile this passage with the proceedings of many modern religious teachers. And yet, to my mind, the doctrine of it is as clear as the sun at noonday. It shows us that we ought not to hurry men into professing discipleship without warning them plainly to count the cost. Does anyone ask what the practice of the eminent and best preachers of the gospel has been in days gone by? I am bold to say that they have all with one mouth borne testimony to the wisdom of our Lord’s dealing with the multitudes to which I have just referred. Luther and Latimer and Baxter and Wesley and Whitefield, and Berridge and Rowland Hill were all keenly alive to the deceitfulness of man’s heart. They knew full well that all is not gold that glitters, that conviction is not conversion, that feeling is not faith, that sentiment is not grace, that all blossoms do not come to fruit. “Be not deceived,” was their constant cry.

“Consider well what you do. Do not run before you are called. Count the cost.” If we desire to do good, let us never be ashamed of walking in the steps of our Lord Jesus Christ. Work hard if you will, and have the opportunity, for the souls of others. Press them to consider their ways. Compel them with holy violence to come in, to lay down their arms and to yield themselves to God. Offer them salvation, ready, free, full, immediate salvation. Press Christ and all His benefits on their acceptance.

But in all your work tell the truth, and the whole truth. Be ashamed to use the vulgar arts of a recruiting sergeant. Do not speak only of the uniform, the pay and the glory; speak also of the enemies, the battle, the armor, the watching, the marching and the drill. Do not present only one side of Christianity. Do not keep back the cross of self-denial that must be carried, when you speak of the cross on which Christ died for our redemption. Explain fully what Christianity entails. Entreat men to repent and come to Christ; but bid them at the same time to count the cost.


“It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.” Hebrews 13:9.

IT is a good thing to have an established heart. With too many of us the inner life is variable and fickle. Sometimes we have days of deep religious earnestness, when it seems impossible for us to spend too long a time in prayer and fellowship with God. The air is so clear that we can see across the waters of the dividing sea, to the very outlines of the heavenly coasts. But a very little will mar our peace, and bring a veil of mist over our souls, to enwrap us perhaps for long weeks. Oh for an established heart! Now there is one thing which will not bring about this blessed state of establishment. And that is indicated by the expression, “meats”; which stands for the ritualism of the Jewish law.

There is ever a tendency in the human heart toward a religion of rites. It is so much easier to observe the prescriptions of an outward ceremonial than to brace the soul to faith and love and spiritual worship. Set the devotee a round of external observance, it matters little how rigorous and searching your demands, and the whole will be punctually and slavishly performed, with a secret sense of satisfaction in being thus permitted to do something toward procuring acceptance and favor with God. There is a great increase of ritualistic observance amongst us. We behold with astonishment the set of our times toward genuflexions; the austerities of Lent; the careful observance of prolonged and incessant services; and all the demands of a severe ritual.

 People who give no evidence in their character or behavior of real religion are most punctilious in these outward religious rites. Young men will salve their consciences for a day of Sabbath-breaking by an early celebration. In many cases these things are revivals of ancient Babylonish customs, passed into the professing Church in the worst and darkest days of its history. But their revival points to the strong religious yearnings of human nature, and the fascination which is exerted by outward rites in the stead of inward realities. But “meats” can never establish the inner life. The most ardent ritualist must confess to the sense of inward dissatisfaction and unrest, as the soul is condemned to pace continually the arid desert of a weary formalism, where it comes not to the green pastures or the waters of rest.

 “They have not profited them that have been occupied therein.” Another obstruction to an established heart arises from the curiosity which is ever running after divers and strange doctrines. In all ages of the Church, men have caught up single aspects of truth, distorting them out of the harmony of the Gospel, and carrying them into exaggerated and dangerous excess; and directly any one truth is viewed out of its place in the equilibrium of the Gospel, it becomes a heresy, leading souls astray with the deceitfulness of the false lights that wreckers wave along the beach. And when once we begin to follow the vagaries and notions of human teachers, apart from the teaching of the Spirit of God, we get into an unsettled, restless condition, which is the very antipodes to the established heart. There is only one foundation which never rocks, one condition which never alters. “It is good that the heart be established with grace.”

Primarily, of course, the established heart is the gift of God. “He which stablisheth us with you in Christ is God.” “The Lord shall establish thee an holy people unto himself.” “The God of all grace make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” We need therefore to pray to him to give us the heart established in grace. But there are certain conditions also indicated in this context with which we do well to comply. WE MUST FEED ON CHRIST. The very denial of the tenth verse proves that there is an altar whereof we have a right to eat. Not the Jews only, but Christians also, lay stress on eating; but ah, how different the food which forms their diet ! In the case of that ancient system out of which these Hebrew Christians had just emerged, the priests ate a considerable portion of the sacrifices which the people offered on the altar of God. This was the means of their subsistence.

 In consideration of their being set apart wholly to the divine service, and having no inheritance in the land, “they lived by the altar.” But we, who are priests by a &viner right, have left behind us the Tabernacle, with its ritual and sacrifices, and cannot feed on these outward meats without betraying the spirituality of the holy religion we profess. Our altar is the cross. Our sacrifice is the dying Saviour. Our food is to eat his flesh. “This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.”

 “The bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Eating consists of three processes: apprehension, mastication, and assimilation; and each of these has its spiritual counterpart in that feeding upon Christ which is the very life of our life. We, too, must apprehend him, by the careful reading of the Word of God. The Word is in the words. His words are spirit and life. We need not be always reading them, any more than we should be always eating. But just as a good meal will go on nourishing us long after we have taken it, and indeed when we have ceased to think about it, so a prolonged prayerful study of the Word of God will nourish our souls for long afterward. We, too, must fulfill the second process of eating by meditating long and thoughtfully on all that is revealed to us in the Word of the person and work of the Lord Jesus. It is only by allowing our heart and mind to dwell musingly on these sacred themes that they become so real as to nourish us. Better read less and meditate more, than read much and meditate little. We too must assimilate Christ, until he becomes part of our very being, and we begin to live, yet not we, because Christ lives in us, and has become our very life.

Our Lord told his disciples that he lived by the Father; and said that, if they desired to live in the same dependent state on himself, they must “eat him” (John 6:57). In Christ’s own case his being had reached such a pitch of union with his Father’s that to see or hear or know him was to see and hear and know God. And if we would only spend more time alone with him in prayerful, loving fellowship, a great change would pass over us also, and we should be transformed into his likeness in successive stages of glory upon glory. At regular intervals we meet around the table of the Lord to eat the bread and drink the wine. But our feeding on him ought to be as frequent as our daily ordinary meals. Why should we feed the spiritless than we do the body? Alas! how we pamper the latter, and starve the former, until we get past the sense of desire! We spoil our appetite by feeding it with the cloying sweetmeats and morsels of sense.

We are content to live as parasites on the juices of others, instead of acquiring nourishment at first hand for ourselves. What wonder that we are carried about by every wind of doctrine, and lack the established heart? And perhaps there would be nothing better for the whole of us Christian people than a revival of Bible study, a fresh consecration of the morning hour, a regular and systematic maintenance of seasons of prolonged fellowship with our Master and Lord. IF WE WOULD FEED ON CHRIST, WE MUST GO WITHOUT THE CAMP. In the solemn ritual of the great Day of Atonement it was ordained that the bodies of all the victims which had suffered death as sin-offerings, and of which the blood had been sprinkled before the mercy-seat, should be burned Without the camp (Lev. 16:27).

And in this mysterious specification, two truths were probably symbolized: first, that in the fullness of time, Jesus, the true sin-offering of the world, would suffer outside the city gate; and secondly, that men must leave the principles and rites of earthly systems behind them, if they Would realize all the blessedness of acceptance with God through the sacrifice of Christ. If, then, we would have Jesus as our food, our joy, our life, we must not expect to find him in the camps which have been pitched by men of this world. We must go forth from all such; from the camp of the world’s religiousness equally as from that of its sensuality; from the tents of its formalism and ritualism, as well as from those of its vanity.

The policy of going forth without the camp is the only safe course for ourselves, as it is the only helpful one for the world itself. There are plenty who argue that the wisest policy is to stop within the camp, seeking to elevate its morals. They do not realize that, if we adopt their advice, we must remain there alone; for our Lord has already gone. It is surely unbefitting that we should find a home where he is expelled.

What is there in us which makes us so welcome, when our Master was cast out to the fate of the lowest criminals? Besides, it will not be long before we discover that, instead of our influencing the camp for good, the atmosphere of the camp will infect us with its evil. Instead of our leveling it up, it will level us down. The only principle of moving the world is to emulate Archimedes in getting a point without it. All the men who have left a mark in the elevation of their times have been compelled to join the pilgrim host which is constantly passing through the city gates, and taking up its stand by the cross on which Jesus died.

Looking back on that memorable spot, we seem to see it thronged with the apostles, martyrs, reformers, and prophets of every age, who invite us to join them. It remains with us to say whether we will linger amid the luxury and fascinations which allure us to the camp; or whether we will dare to take up our cross, and follow our Master along the Via Dolorosa, bearing his reproach. Ah, young hearts, secret disciples, halters between two opinions, the issue of such a choice cannot be doubtful! With the cry, Deus vult, you will join this new crusade, and take your stand with Jesus, at the trysting-place of his cross.

 IF WE GO OUTSIDE THE CAMP, WE MUST BEAR HIS REPROACH. It is related of the good Charles Simeon, of Cambridge, that, at the commencement of his career as an evangelical clergyman at Cambridge, he encountered such virulent abuse and opposition that his spirit seemed on the point of being crushed. Turning to the Word of God for direction and encouragement, his eye lighted on the following passage: “As they came out they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; him they compelled to bear his cross.”

The similarity of the name to his own arrested him, and he was moved to new courage with the thought of his oneness with the sufferings of Jesus. So is it with us all. If we are reproached for the name of Jesus, happy are we; and we should rejoice, inasmuch as we are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, that, when his glory is revealed, we also may be glad with exceeding joy. How marvelous is it to learn the closeness of the bonds by which we are bound to the saints of the past When we are reproached for being Christians, we know something of what Moses felt when taunted in the royal palace of Egypt with his Hebrew origin; but “he esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt, because he had respect unto the recompense of reward.” BUT WHILST BEARING CHRIST’S REPROACH, WE SHALL FIND THE ONLY CONTINUING CITY.

It is very remarkable that, as we tear ourselves away from the gate of the city, and say farewell to what had seemed to be a symbol of the most enduring fabrics of earthly permanence, we are really passing out of the transient and unreal to become citizens of the only enduring and continuing City. The greatest cities of human greatness have not continued. Babylon, Nineveh, Thebes, the mighty cities of Mexico—all have passed. Buried in mounds, on which grass grows luxuriantly; while wild beasts creep through the moldering relics of the past.

But, amid all, there is arising from age to age a permanent structure, an enduring City, a confederation which gathers around the unchanging Saviour, and has in it no elements of decay. Do we enough live in this City in our habitual experience? It is possible to tread its golden streets as we plod along the thoroughfares of earth’s great cities; to mingle in its blessed companies, and share its holy exercises, though apparently we spend our days in dark city offices, and amid money-loving companions. The true pilgrim to tho City really lives in the City.

It will not be long, and it shall not be only an object for faith and spiritual vision, it shall become manifest. See, it comes! it comes! the holy City out of heaven from God, radiant with his light, vocal with song, the home of saints, the metropolis of a redeemed earth, the Bride of the Lamb, for whom the universe was made.

#4. E. M. BOUNDS: HIS WORKS ON PRAYER By Edward M. Bounds

To be humble is to have a low estimate of one’s self. It is to be modest, lowly, with a disposition to seek obscurity. Humility retires itself from the public gaze. It does not seek publicity nor hunt for high places, neither does it care for prominence. Humility is retiring in its nature. Self-abasement belongs to humility. It is given to self-depreciation.

 It never exalts itself in the eyes of others nor even in the eyes of itself. Modesty is one of its most prominent characteristics. In humility there is the total absence of pride, and it is at the very farthest distance from anything like self-conceit. There is no self-praise in humility. Rather it has the disposition to praise others.

“In honour preferring one another.” It is not given to self-exaltation. Humility does not love the uppermost seats and aspire to the high places. It is willing to take the lowliest seat and prefers those places where it will be unnoticed. The prayer of humility is after this fashion: “Never let the world break in, Fix a mighty gulf between; Keep me humble and unknown, Prized and loved by God alone.”

Humility does not have its eyes on self, but rather on God and others. It is poor in spirit, meek in behaviour, lowly in heart. “With all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love.” The parable of the Pharisee and publican is a sermon in brief on humility and self-praise. The Pharisee, given over to self-conceit, wrapped up in himself, seeing only his own self-righteous deeds, catalogues his virtues before God, despising the poor publican who stands afar off.

He exalts himself, gives himself over to self-praise, is self-centered, and goes away unjustified, condemned and rejected by God. The publican sees no good in himself, is overwhelmed with self-depreciation, far removed from anything which would take any credit for any good in himself, does not presume to lift his eyes to heaven, but with downcast countenance smites himself on his breast, and cries out, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Our Lord with great preciseness gives us the sequel of the story of these two men, one utterly devoid of humility, the other utterly submerged in the spirit of self-depreciation and lowliness of mind. “I tell you this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Luke 18:14. God puts a great price on humility of heart. It is good to be clothed with humility as with a garment. It is written, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.”

That which brings the praying soul near to God is humility of heart. That which gives wings to prayer is lowliness of mind. That which gives ready access to the throne of grace is self-depreciation. Pride, self-esteem, and self-praise effectually shut the door of prayer. He who would come to God must approach Him with self hid from his eyes. He must not be puffed-up with self-conceit, nor be possessed with an over-estimate of his virtues and good works. Humility is a rare Christian grace, of great price in the courts of heaven, entering into and being an inseparable condition of effectual praying.

It gives access to God when other qualities fail. It takes many descriptions to describe it, and many definitions to define it. It is a rare and retiring grace. Its full portrait is found only in the Lord Jesus Christ Our prayers must be set low before they can ever rise high. Our prayers must have much of the dust on them before they can ever have much of the glory of the skies in them. In our Lord’s teaching, humility has such prominence in His system of religion, and is such a distinguishing feature of His character, that to leave it out of His lesson on prayer would be very unseemly, would not comport with His character, and would not fit into His religious system.

The parable of the Pharisee and publican stands out in such bold relief that we must again refer to it. The Pharisee seemed to be inured to prayer. Certainly he should have known by that time how to pray, but alas! like many others, he seemed never to have learned this invaluable lesson. He leaves business and business hours and walks with steady and fixed steps up to the house of prayer. The position and place are well-chosen by him. There is the sacred place, the sacred hour, and the sacred name, each and all invoked by this seemingly praying man. But this praying ecclesiastic, though schooled to prayer, by training and by habit, prays not.

Words are uttered by him, but words are not prayer. God hears his words only to condemn him. A death-chill has come from those formal lips of prayer—a death-curse from God is on his words of prayer. A solution of pride has entirely poisoned the prayer offering of that hour. His entire praying has been impregnated with self-praise, self-congratulation, and self-exaltation. That season of temple going has had no worship whatever in it. On the other hand, the publican, smitten with a deep sense of his sins and his inward sinfulness, realising how poor in spirit he is, how utterly devoid of anything like righteousness, goodness, or any quality which would commend him to God, his pride within utterly blasted and dead, falls down with humiliation and despair before God, while he utters a sharp cry for mercy for his sins and his guilt.

A sense of sin and a realisation of utter unworthiness has fixed the roots of humility deep down in his soul, and has oppressed self and eye and heart, downward to the dust. This is the picture of humility against pride in praying. Here we see by sharp contrast the utter worthlessness of self-righteousness, self-exaltation, and self-praise in praying, and the great value, the beauty and the Divine commendation which comes to humility of heart, self-depreciation, and self-condemnation when a soul comes before God in prayer. Happy are they who have no righteousness of their own to plead and no goodness of their own of which to boast.

 Humility flourishes in the soil of a true and deep sense of our sinfulness and our nothingness. Nowhere does humility grow so rankly and so rapidly and shine so brilliantly, as when it feels all guilty, confesses all sin, and trusts all grace. “I the chief of sinners am, but Jesus died for me.” That is praying ground, the ground of humility, low down, far away seemingly, but in reality brought nigh by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. God dwells in the lowly places. He makes such lowly places really the high places to the praying soul.

 “Let the world their virtue boast, Their works of righteousness; I, a wretch undone and lost, Am freely saved by grace; Other tide I disclaim, This, only this, is all my plea, I the chief of sinners am, But Jesus died for me.” Humility is an indispensable requisite of true prayer. It must be an attribute, a characteristic of prayer. Humility must be in the praying character as light is in the sun. Prayer has no beginning, no ending, no being, without humility. As a ship is made for the sea, so prayer is made for humility, and so humility is made for prayer. Humility is not abstraction from self, nor does it ignore thought about self.

 It is a many-phased principle. Humility is born by looking at God, and His holiness, and then looking at self and man’s unholiness. Humility loves obscurity and silence, dreads applause, esteems the virtues of others, excuses their faults with mildness, easily pardons injuries, fears contempt less and less, and sees baseness and falsehood in pride. A true nobleness and greatness are in humility. It knows and reveres the inestimable riches of the Cross, and the humiliations of Jesus Christ. It fears the lustre of those virtues admired by men, and loves those that are more secret and which are prized by God. It draws comfort even from its own defects, through the abasement which they occasion.

It prefers any degree of compunction before all light in the world. Somewhat after this order of description is that definable grace of humility, so perfectly drawn in the publican’s prayer, and so entirely absent from the prayer of the Pharisee. It takes many sittings to make a good picture of it. Humility holds in its keeping the very life of prayer. Neither pride nor vanity can pray. Humility, though, is much more than the absence of vanity and pride. It is a positive quality, a substantial force, which energises prayer. There is no power in prayer to ascend without it.

Humility springs from a lowly estimate of ourselves and of our deservings. The Pharisee prayed not, though well schooled and habituated to pray, because there was no humility in his praying. The publican prayed, though banned by the public and receiving no encouragement from Church sentiment, because he prayed in humility. To be clothed with humility is to be clothed with a praying garment.

Humility is just feeling little because we are little. Humility is realising our unworthiness because we are unworthy, the feeling and declaring ourselves sinners because we are sinners. Kneeling well becomes us as the attitude of prayer, because it betokens humility. The Pharisee’s proud estimate of himself and his supreme contempt for his neighbour closed the gates of prayer to him, while humility opened wide those gates to the defamed and reviled publican. That fearful saying of our Lord about the works of big, religious workers in the latter part of the Sermon on the Mount, is called out by proud estimates of work and wrong estimates of prayer: “Many shall say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquiy.” Humility is the first and last attribute of Christly religion, and the first and last attribute of Christly praying. There is no Christ without humility.

There is no praying without humility. If thou wouldst learn well the art of praying, then learn well the lesson of humility. How graceful and imperative does the attitude of humility become to us! Humility is one of the unchanging and exacting attitudes of prayer. Dust, ashes, earth upon the head, sackcloth for the body, and fasting for the appetites, were the symbols of humility for the Old Testament saints. Sackcloth, fasting and ashes brought Daniel a lowliness before God, and brought Gabriel to him. The angels are fond of the sackcloth-and-ashes men.

How lowly the attitude of Abraham, the friend of God, when pleading for God to stay His wrath against Sodom! “Which am but sackcloth and ashes.” With what humility does Solomon appear before God! His grandeur is abased, and his glory and majesty are retired as he assumes the rightful attitude before God: “I am but a little child, and know not how to go out or to come in.” The pride of doing sends its poison all through our praying.

The same pride of being infects all our prayers, no matter how well-worded they may be. It was this lack of humility, this self-applauding, this self-exaltation, which kept the most religious man of Christ’s day from being accepted of God. And the same thing will keep us in this day from being accepted of Him. “O that now I might decrease! O that all I am might cease! Let me into nothing fall! Let my Lord be all in all.”


The aim of our work is to treat its subject as a department of history and of literature. Christianity was not merely a religion, but also, a system of life and action; and its introduction by Paul amid the society of the Roman Empire produced changes of momentous consequence, which the historian must study. What does the student of Roman history find in the subject of our investigation? How would an observant, educated, and unprejudiced citizen of the Roman Empire have regarded that new social force, that new philosophical system, if he had studied it with the eyes and the temper of a nineteenth-century investigator?

As a preliminary the historian of Rome must make up his mind about the trustworthiness of the authorities. Those which we shall use are: (1) a work of history commonly entitled the Acts of the Apostles (the title does not originate from the author); (2) certain Epistles purporting to be written by Paul. Of the latter we make only slight and incidental use; and probably even those who dispute their authenticity would admit that the facts we use are trustworthy, as being the settled belief of the Church at a very early period. It is, therefore, unnecessary to touch on the authenticity of the Epistles; but the question as to the date, the composition, and the author of the Acts must be discussed. If the main position of this book is admitted, it will furnish a secure basis for the Epistles to rest on. Works that profess to be historical are of various kinds and trustworthy in varying degrees.

 (1) There is the historical romance, which in a framework of history interweaves an invented tale. Some of the Apocryphal tales of the Apostles are of this class, springing apparently from a desire to provide Christian substitutes for the popular romances of the period.

(2) There is the legend, in which popular fancy, working for generations, has surrounded a real person and real events with such a mass of extraneous matter that the historical kernel is hardly discernible. Certain of the Apocryphal tales of the Apostles may belong to this class, and many of the Acta of martyrs and saints certainly do.

(3) There is the history of the second- or third-rate, in which the writer, either using good authorities carelessly and without judgment, or not possessing sufficiently detailed and correct authorities, gives a narrative of past events which is to a certain degree trustworthy, but contains errors in facts and in the grouping and proportions, and tinges the narrative of the past with the colour of his own time. In using works of this class the modern student has to exercise his historical tact, comparing the narrative with any other evidence that can be obtained from any source, and judging whether the action attributed to individuals is compatible with the possibilities of human nature.

 (4) There is, finally, the historical work of the highest order, in which a writer commands excellent means of knowledge either through personal acquaintance or through access to original authorities, and brings to the treatment of his subject genius, literary skill, and sympathetic historical insight into human character and the movement of events. Such an author seizes the critical events, concentrates the reader’s attention on them by giving them fuller treatment, touches more lightly and briefly on the less important events, omits entirely a mass of unimportant details, and makes his work an artistic and idealised picture of the progressive tendency of the period. Great historians are the rarest of writers. By general consent the typical example of the highest class of historians is Thucydides, and it is doubtful whether any other writer would be by general consent ranked along with him.

But all historians, from Thucydides downwards, must be subjected to free criticism. The fire which consumes the second-rate historian only leaves the real master brighter and stronger and more evidently supreme. The keenest criticism will do him the best service in the long run. But the critic in his turn requires high qualities; he must be able to distinguish the true from the false; he must be candid and unbiased and open-minded. There are many critics who have at great length stated their preference of the false before the true; and it may safely be said that there is no class of literary productions in our century in which there is such an enormous preponderance of error and bad judgment as in that of historical criticism.

 To some of our critics Herodotus is the Father of History, to others he is an inaccurate reproducer of uneducated gossip: one writer at portentous length shows up the weakness of Thucydides, another can see no fault in him. But, while recognizing the risk, and the probable condemnation that awaits the rash attempt, I will venture to add one to the number of the critics, by stating in the following chapters reasons for placing the author of Acts among the historians of the first rank. The first and the essential quality of the great historian is truth. What he says must be trustworthy. Now historical truth implies not merely truth in each detail, but also truth in the general effect, and that kind of truth cannot be attained without selection, grouping, and idealization.

So far as one may judge from books, the opinion of scholars seems to have, on the whole, settled down to the conclusion that the author of Acts belongs either to the second- or the third-rate historians. Among those who assign him to the third rate we may rank all those who consider that the author clipped up older documents and patched together the fragments in a more or less intelligent way, making a certain number of errors in the process. Theories of this kind are quite compatible with assigning a high degree of trustworthiness to many statements in the book; but this trustworthiness belongs not to the author of the work, but to the older documents which he glued together. Such theories usually assign varying degrees of accuracy to the different older documents: all statements which suit the critic’s own views on early Church history are taken from an original document of the highest character; those which he likes less belong to a less trustworthy document; and those which are absolutely inconsistent with his views are the work of the ignorant botcher who constructed the book.

But this way of judging, common as it is, assumes the truth of the critic’s own theory, and decides on the authenticity of ancient documents according to their agreement with that theory; and the strangest part of this medley of uncritical method is that other writers, who dispute the first critic’s theory of early Church history, yet attach some value to his opinion upon the spuriousness of documents which he has condemned solely on the ground that they disagree with his theory. The most important group among those who assign the author to the second rank of historians, consists of them that accept his facts as true, although his selection of what he should say and what he should omit seems to them strangely capricious. They recognise many of the signs of extraordinary accuracy in his statements; and these signs are so numerous that they feel bound to infer that the facts as a whole are stated with great accuracy by a personal friend of St. Paul.

But when they compare the Acts with such documents as the Epistles of Paul, and when they study the history as a whole, they are strongly impressed with the inequalities of treatment, and the unexpected and puzzling gaps; events of great importance seem to be dismissed in a brief and unsatisfactory way; and, sometimes, when one of the actors (such as Paul) has left an account of an event described in Acts, they find difficulty in recognizing the two accounts as descriptions of the same event. Bishop Lightfoot’s comparison of Gal. 2:1-10 with Acts 15:1 may be quoted as a single specimen out of many: the elaborate process whereby he explains away the seeming discrepancies would alone be sufficient, if it were right, to prove that Acts was a second-rate work of history.

We never feel on firm historical ground, when discrepancies are cleverly explained away: we need agreements to stand upon. Witnesses in a law court may give discrepant accounts of the same event; but they are half-educated, confused, unable to rise to historical truth. But when a historian is compared with the reminiscences of an able and highly educated actor in the same scenes, and when the comparison consists chiefly in a laboured proof that the discrepancies do not amount to positive contradiction, the conclusion is very near, that, if the reminiscences are strictly honest, the historian’s picture is not of the highest rank. But there is a further difficulty. How does it come that a writer, who shows himself distinctly second-rate in his historical perception of the comparative importance of events, is able to attain such remarkable accuracy in describing many of them? The power of accurate description implies in itself a power of reconstructing the past, which involves the most delicate selection and grouping of details according to their truth and reality, i.e., according to their comparative importance. Acts, as Lightfoot pictures it, is to me an inconceivable phenomenon; such a mixture of strength and weakness, of historical insight and historical incapacity, would be unique and incredible.

If the choice for an intelligible theory of Acts lay between Lightfoot’s view and that which is presented in different forms by Clemen, Spitta, and other scholars, I could only adopt the same point of view as these critics. Lightfoot, with all his genius, has here led English scholarship into a cul-de-sac: we can make no progress, unless we retrace our steps and try a new path. But my belief is that all the difficulties in which Lightfoot was involved spring from the attempt to identify the wrong events. In this attempt he naturally found discrepancies; but by a liberal allowance of gaps in the narrative of Acts, and the supposition of different points of view and of deficient information on Luke’s part, it was possible to show why the eyewitness saw one set of incidents, while Acts described quite a different set.

The historian who is to give a brief history of a great period need not reproduce on a reduced uniform scale all the facts which he would mention in a long history, like a picture reduced by a photographic process. If a brief history is to be a work of true art, it must omit a great deal, and concentrate the reader’s attention on a certain number of critical points in the development of events, elaborating these sufficiently to present them in life-like and clearly intelligible form. True historical genius lies in selecting the great crises, the great agents, and the great movements, in making these clear to the reader in their real nature, in passing over with the lightest and slightest touch numerous events and many persons, but always keeping clear before the reader the plan of composition. The historian may dismiss years with a word, and devote considerable space to a single incident.

In such a work, the omission of an event does not constitute a gap, but is merely a proof that the event had not sufficient importance to enter into the plan. A gap is some omission that offends our reason and our sense of harmony and propriety; and where something is omitted that bears on the author’s plan, or where the plan as conceived by the author does not correspond to the march of events, but only to some fanciful and subjective view, there the work fails short of the level of history. I may fairly claim to have entered on this investigation without any prejudice in favour of the conclusion which I shall now attempt to justify to the reader. On the contrary, I began with a mind unfavourable to it, for the ingenuity and apparent completeness of the Tubingen theory had at one time quite convinced me. It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought in contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor.

It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth. In fact, beginning with the fixed idea that the work was essentially a second-century composition, and never relying on its evidence as trustworthy for first-century conditions, I gradually came to find it a useful ally in some obscure and difficult investigations. But there remained still one serious objection to accepting it as entirely a first-century work. According to the almost universally accepted view, this history led Paul along a path and through surroundings which seemed to me historically and topographically self-contradictory. It was not possible to bring Paul’s work in Asia Minor into accordance with the facts of history on the supposition that an important part of that work was devoted to a district in the northern part of the peninsula, called Galatia.

 It may appear at first sight a mere topographical subtlety whether Paul traveled through North Galatia or through Lycaonia; but, when you consider that any details given of his journeys must be false to the one side just in proportion as they are true to the other, you will perceive that, if you try to apply the narrative to the wrong side of the country, it will not suit the scene, and if it does not suit, then it must appear to be written by a person ignorant of what he pretends to know. The case might be illustrated from our own experience. Suppose that an unknown person came to Auburn from New York, and you wished to find out whether he was an impostor or not.

 In our country we are exposed to frequent attempts at imposition, which can often be detected by a few questions; and you would probably ask him about his experiences on his journey from New York to Auburn. Now suppose you had been informed that he had come not along the direct road, but by a long detour through Boston, Montreal, and Toronto, and had thus arrived at Auburn; and suppose that you by questioning elicited from him various facts which suited only a route through Schenectady and Utica, you would condemn the man as an impostor, because he did not know the road which he pretended to have traveled. But suppose further that it was pointed out by some third party that this stranger had really traveled along the direct road, and that you had been misinformed when you supposed him to have come by the round-about way, your opinion as to the stranger’s truthfulness would be instantly affected.

 Precisely similar is the case of Acts as a record of travel; generations and centuries have been attempting to apply it to the wrong countries. I must speak on this point confidently and uncompromisingly, for the facts stand out so clear and bold and simple that to affect to hesitate or to profess any doubt as to one’s judgment would be a betrayal of truth. I know the difficulties of this attempt to understand rightly a book so difficult, so familiar, and so much misunderstood as Acts.

It is probable that I have missed the right turn or not grasped the full meaning in some cases. I am well aware that I leave some difficulties unexplained, sometimes from inability, sometimes from mere omission. But I am sustained by the firm belief that I am on the right path, and by the hope that enough of difficulties have been cleared away to justify a dispassionate historical criticism in placing this great writer on the high pedestal that belongs to him.


The twelve arrived at their final intimate relation to Jesus only by degrees, three stages in the history of their fellowship with Him being distinguishable. In the first stage they were simply believers in Him as the Christ, and His occasional companions at convenient, particularly festive, seasons. Of this earliest stage in the intercourse of the disciples with their Master we have some memorials in the four first chapters of John’s Gospel, which tell how some of them first became acquainted with Jesus, and represent them as accompanying Him at a marriage in Cana,2-1 at a passover in Jerusalem,2-2 on a visit to the scene of the Baptist’s ministry,2-3 and on the return journey through Samaria from the south to Galilee.2-4 In the second stage, fellowship with Christ assumed the form of an uninterrupted attendance on His person, involving entire, or at least habitual abandonment of secular occupations.

2-5 The present narratives bring under our view certain of the disciples entering on this second stage of discipleship. Of the four persons here named, we recognize three, Peter, Andrew, and John, as old acquaintances, who have already passed through the first stage of discipleship. One of them, James the brother of John, we meet with for the first time; a fact which suggests the remark, that in some cases the first and second stages may have been blended together—professions of faith in Jesus as the Christ being immediately followed by the renunciation of secular callings for the purpose of joining His company.

Such cases, however, were probably exceptional and few. The twelve entered on the last and highest stage of discipleship when they were chosen by their Master from the mass of His followers, and formed into a select band, to be trained for the great work of the apostleship. This important event probably did not take place till all the members of the apostolic circle had been for some time about the person of Jesus. From the evangelic records it appears that Jesus began at a very early period of His ministry to gather round Him a company of disciples, with a view to the preparation of an agency for carrying on the work of the divine kingdom. The two pairs of brothers received their call at the commencement of the first Galilean ministry, in which the first act was the selection of Capernaum by the seaside as the centre of operations and ordinary place of abode.2-6

And when we think what they were called unto, we see that the call could not come too soon. The twelve were to be Christ’s witnesses in the world after He Himself had left it; it was to be their peculiar duty to give to the world a faithful account of their Master’s words and deeds, a just image of His character, a true reflection of His spirit.2-7 This service obviously could be rendered only by persons who had been, as nearly as possible, eye-witnesses and servants of the Incarnate Word from the beginning. While, therefore, except in the cases of Peter, James, John, Andrew, and Matthew, we have no particulars in the Gospels respecting the calls of those who afterwards became apostles, we must assume that they all occurred in the first year of the Saviour’s public ministry. That these calls were given with conscious reference to an ulterior end, even the apostleship, appears from the remarkable terms in which the earliest of them was expressed. “Follow Me,” said Jesus to the fishermen of Bethsaida, “and I will make you fishers of men.”

These words (whose originality stamps them as a genuine saying of Jesus) show that the great Founder of the faith desired not only to have disciples, but to have about Him men whom He might train to make disciples of others: to cast the net of divine truth into the sea of the world, and to land on the shores of the divine kingdom a great multitude of believing souls. Both from His words and from His actions we can see that He attached supreme importance to that part of His work which consisted in training the twelve. In the intercessory prayer,2-8 e.g., He speaks of the training He had given these men as if it had been the principal part of His own earthly ministry. And such, in one sense, it really was.

The careful, painstaking education of the disciples secured that the Teacher’s influence on the world should be permanent; that His kingdom should be founded on the rock of deep and indestructible convictions in the minds of the few, not on the shifting sands of superficial evanescent impressions on the minds of the many. Regarding that kingdom, as our Lord Himself has taught us in one of His parables to do,2-9 as a thing introduced into the world like a seed cast into the ground and left to grow according to natural laws, we may say that, but for the twelve, the doctrine, the works, and the image of Jesus might have perished from human remembrance, nothing remaining but a vague mythical tradition, of no historical value, and of little practical influence. Those on whom so much depended, it plainly behoved to possess very extraordinary qualifications. The mirrors must be finely polished that are designed to reflect the image of Christ! The apostles of the Christian religion must be men of rare spiritual endowment. It is a catholic religion, intended for all nations; therefore its apostles must be free from Jewish narrowness, and have sympathies wide as the world.

It is a spiritual religion, destined ere long to antiquate Jewish ceremonialism; therefore its apostles must be emancipated in conscience from the yoke of ordinances.2-10 It is a religion, once more, which is to proclaim the Cross, previously an instrument of cruelty and badge of infamy, as the hope of the world’s redemption, and the symbol of all that is noble and heroic in conduct; therefore its heralds must be superior to all conventional notions of human and divine dignity, capable of glorying in the cross of Christ, and willing to bear a cross themselves. The apostolic character, in short, must combine freedom of conscience, enlargement of heart, enlightenment of mind, and all in the superlative degree.

The humble fishermen of Galilee had much to learn before they could satisfy these high requirements; so much, that the time of their apprenticeship for their apostolic work, even reckoning it from the very commencement of Christ’s ministry, seems all too short. They were indeed godly men, who had already shown the sincerity of their piety by forsaking all for their Master’s sake. But at the time of their call they were exceedingly ignorant, narrow-minded, superstitious, full of Jewish prejudices, misconceptions, and animosities.

They had much to unlearn of what was bad, as well as much to learn of what was good, and they were slow both to learn and to unlearn. Old beliefs already in possession of their minds made the communication of new religious ideas a difficult task. Men of good honest heart, the soil of their spiritual nature was fitted to produce an abundant harvest; but it was stiff, and needed much laborious tillage before it would yield its fruit. Then, once more, they were poor men, of humble birth, low station, mean occupations, who had never felt the stimulating influence of a liberal education, or of social intercourse with persons of cultivated minds.2-11 We shall meet with abundant evidence of the crude spiritual condition of the twelve, even long after the period when they were called to follow Jesus, as we proceed with the studies on which we have entered. Meantime we may discover significant indications of the religious immaturity of at least one of the disciples—Simon, son of Jonas—in Luke’s account of the incidents connected with his call.

Pressed by the multitude who had assembled on the shore of the lake to hear Him preach, Jesus, we read, entered into a ship (one of two lying near at hand), which happened to be Simon’s, and requesting him to thrust out a little from the land, sat down, and taught the people from the vessel. Having finished speaking, Jesus said unto the owner of the boat, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” Their previous efforts to catch fish had been unsuccessful; but Simon and his brother did as Jesus directed, and were rewarded by an extraordinary take, which appeared to them and their fishing companions, James and John, nothing short of miraculous. Simon, the most impressible and the most demonstrative of the four, gave utterance to his feelings of astonishment by characteristic words and gestures.

He fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” This exclamation opens a window into the inner man of him who uttered it through which we can see his spiritual state. We observe in Peter at this time that mixture of good and evil, of grace and nature, which so frequently reappears in his character in the subsequent history. Among the good elements discernible are reverential awe in presence of Divine Power, a prompt calling to mind of sin betraying tenderness of conscience, and an unfeigned self-humiliation on account of unmerited favor.

Valuable features of character these; but they did not exist in Peter without alloy. Along with them were associated superstitious dread of the supernatural and a slavish fear of God. The presence of the former element is implied in the reassuring exhortation addressed to the disciple by Jesus, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” Slavish fear of God is even more manifest in his own words, “Depart from me, O Lord.” Powerfully impressed with the super-human knowledge revealed in connection with the great draught of fishes, he regards Jesus for the moment as a supernatural being, and as such dreads Him as one whom it is not safe to be near, especially for a poor sinful mortal like himself. This state of mind shows how utterly unfit Peter is, as yet, to be an apostle of a Gospel which magnifies the grace of God even to the chief of sinners. His piety, sufficiently strong and decided, is not of a Christian type; it is legal, one might almost say pagan, in spirit. With all their imperfections, which were both numerous and great, these humble fishermen of Galilee had, at the very outset of their career, one grand distinguishing virtue, which, though it may co-exist with many defects, is the cardinal virtue of Christian ethics, and the certain forerunner of ultimate high attainment.

They were animated by a devotion to Jesus and to the divine kingdom which made them capable of any sacrifice. Believing Him who bade them follow Him to the Christ, come to set up God’s kingdom on earth, they “straightway” left their nets and joined his company, to be thenceforth His constant companions in all His wanderings. The act was acknowledged by Jesus Himself to be meritorious; and we cannot, without injustice, seek to disparage it by ascribing it to idleness, discontent, or ambition as its motive.

The Gospel narrative shows that the four brethren were not idle, but hard-working, industrious men. Neither were they discontented, if for no other reason than that they had no cause for discontent. The family of James and John at least seems to have been in circumstances of comfort; for Mark relates that, when called by Jesus, they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after Him. But ambition, had it no place among their motives? Well, we must admit that the twelve, and especially James and John, were by no means free from ambitious passions, as we shall see hereafter. But to whatever extent ambition may have influenced their conduct at a later period, it was not the motive which determined them to leave their nets. Ambition needs a temptation: it does not join a cause which is obscure and struggling, and whose success is doubtful; it strikes in when success is assured, and when the movement it patronizes is on the eve of its glorification.

The cause of Jesus had not got to that stage yet. One charge only can be brought against those men, and it can be brought with truth, and without doing their memory any harm. They were enthusiasts: their hearts were fired, and, as an unbelieving world might say, their heads were turned by a dream about a divine kingdom to be set up in Israel, with Jesus of Nazareth for its king.

That dream possessed them, and imperiously ruled over their minds and shaped their destinies, compelling them, like Abraham, to leave their kindred and their country, and to go forth on what might well appear beforehand to be a fool’s errand. Well for the world that they were possessed by the idea of the kingdom! For it was no fool’s errand on which they went forth, leaving their nets behind.

The kingdom they sought turned out to be as real as the land of Canaan, though not such altogether as they had imagined. The fishermen of Galilee did become fishers of men on a most extensive scale, and, by the help of God, gathered many souls into the church of such as should be saved. In a sense they are casting their nets into the sea of the world still, and, by their testimony to Jesus in Gospel and Epistle, are bringing multitudes to become disciples of Him among whose first followers they had the happiness to be numbered.

The four, the twelve, forsook all and followed their Master. Did the “all” in any case include wife and children? It did in at least one instance—that of Peter; for the Gospels tell how Peter’s mother-in-law was healed of a fever by the miraculous power of Christ.2-12 From a passage in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthian church, it appears that Peter was not the only one among the apostles who was married.2-13 From the same passage we further learn, that forsaking of wives for Christ’s sake did not mean literal desertion. Peter the apostle led his wife about with him, and Peter the disciple may sometimes have done the same.

The likelihood is that the married disciples, like married soldiers, took their wives with them or left them at home, as circumstances might require or admit. Women, even married women, did sometimes follow Jesus; and the wife of Simon, or of any other married disciple, may occasionally have been among the number.

 At an advanced period in the history we find the mother of James and John in Christ’s company far from home; and where mothers were, wives, if they wished, might also be. The infant church, in its original nomadic or itinerant state, seems to have been a motley band of pilgrims, in which all sorts of people as to sex, social position, and moral character were united, the bond of union being ardent attachment to the person of Jesus. This church itinerant was not a regularly organized society, of which it was necessary to be a constant member in order to true discipleship.

Except in the case of the twelve, following Jesus from place to place was optional, not compulsory; and in most cases it was probably also only occasional.2-14 It was the natural consequence of faith, when the object of faith, the centre of the circle, was Himself in motion. Believers would naturally desire to see as many of Christ’s works and hear as many of His words as possible. When the object of faith left the earth, and His presence became spiritual, all occasion for such nomadic discipleship was done away. To be present with Him thereafter, men needed only to forsake their sins.


Give me grace, O my Father, to persevere in the work to which you have called me, neither leaving it half-done nor giving up when the first enthusiasm has faded and other interests attract.