3136. Lessons From The Malta Fire

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No. 3136-55:133. A Sermon Delivered On Thursday Evening, January 30, 1873, By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.

A Sermon Published On Thursday, March 18, 1909.

They kindled a fire, and received every one of us, because of the present rain, and because of the cold. {Ac 28:2}

1. As much as lies in us, we should seek to do good to all men, and we can never know to whom we may be rendering service. These people of Malta never dreamed that they were entertaining an apostle, and it never entered into their heads that their simple act of hospitality would be recorded in the Sacred Scriptures, and that millions of eyes would read of, and millions of minds would think on, this kind act of theirs on behalf of this shipwrecked company. They really entertained an angel unawares, and they had many blessings as a result, for we find that Paul afterwards healed the father of the chief man of the island, and others of the inhabitants who were suffering from various diseases. We can never tell how God may bless us for acts of kindness which we may do to others; but just as it is said that curses, like chickens, come home to roost, and that he who throws a stone into the air will find it fall on his own head, so do good actions, deeds of kindness and charity, come back to us in some form or other, even as Christ said to his disciples, “Give, and it shall be given to you: good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, men shall give into your bosom. For with the same measure that you measure out, it shall be measured to you again.” It is the best way to bless ourselves to be earnest in blessing others. These hospitable people were bringing down on the island of Malta untold blessings while they were, in their simple kindliness, entertaining shipwrecked mariners. At this season of the year, in the midst of such a city as this, abounding as it does with the poor and needy, there are abundant opportunities for using “the mammon of unrighteousness” well by relieving their needs, and what you possess would be made all the sweeter to yourselves through your ministering to others in their necessities. I am not, however, going to speak on that matter just now, but I intend to use the text in this way. First, I am afraid we are very apt to grow spiritually cold and, therefore, next, the text suggests that we should be diligent in using means for getting spiritual warmth; and, thirdly, since there are a good many in this world who are cold, as Paul and his companions were when they came shivering from the deep, it should be our constant duty to seek to kindle a fire, and to receive every one of them, because of the cold.

2. I. First, then, I am afraid that WE OURSELVES ARE VERY APT TO BE COLD SPIRITUALLY.

3. First, because we ourselves are cold subjects,—hot enough perhaps in temper, earnest enough in pursuit of business, fast enough where pleasure may draw us, but ah! how chilly, how wintry when we have to deal with the things of God! I know that, at one time, we burned and flamed with sacred ardour, but we look back on that period with the deepest regret that it should have gone by so long ago. Even now, when we are moved by an earnest discourse, or are gathered with faithful brethren, we begin to glow again; but how easy it is for us to get back to the icy state, and to have our soul frozen so that it does not flow freely as it should! Do you not find, brethren, that you never need make any effort to be dull in religious matters, but that the effort has to be made the other way,—that you have to make an effort, and need God’s grace to give you strength to make it, towards holiness, towards fervency, towards enthusiasm? By nature, we are as hard, and cold, and dead as stones, and seem as if we never could be warm; and we never are unless God turns the heart of stone into a heart of flesh. And even then, it often seems to grow hard and cold again, so that we need fresh grace to warm our heart, and to keep it beating at anything like the pace of life. I do not know how it may be with you, dear friends. Perhaps you have been so lifted up by divine grace that you have never wearied in the heavenly race; if so, you are very happy and privileged individuals. But there are some of us, who, although we have not been allowed to actually stand still, have found our onward progress to be a hard climb up the Hill Difficulty, because we are so lethargic and heavy. Often we have had to cry, with Dr. Watts,—


   Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,

      With all thy quickening powers,

   Kindle a flame of sacred love

      In these cold hearts of ours.

   Dear Lord! and shall we ever lie

      At this poor dying rate?

   Our love so faint, so cold to thee,

      And thine to us so great?


4. We are indeed cold subjects. Just compare your state of heart, for a while, with the ardour of apostles, confessors, and martyrs who lived and died for Jesus. Compare, or rather, contrast yourselves with some other children of God when you have known, whose fervent prayers put you to shame, and whose many acts of self-denial, and whose whole persevering service now rise before you to make you blush. Above all, contrast yourselves with your dear Lord and Saviour. He was a veritable flame of fire, but what are you? Alas! alas! what am I? Cold, cold, cold! Even his great love scarcely warms us to anything like true Christian affection. We can think of hell with its unutterable horrors, and yet be scarcely moved; we can think of heaven with its indescribable glories, and yet be scarcely affected; we can turn to you, oh you blessed Christ of Calvary, and look at your ghastly wounds, yet our soul is scarcely made to melt! It is sad that it should be so, but it is mournfully true that we are cold by nature.

5. But then, besides that, we live in a cold country. Whoever has to move around in this world knows that this is true. Not only are we so chilly by nature that, even when we live in the torrid zone of revival, we can scarcely keep ourselves warm, but, alas! we are often compelled to be where everything is like the Arctic regions. You who have to spend most of your time in business, do you meet many in the market or on the Exchange who help you to make progress in the divine life? You who have to go to work with other workmen, do you meet many who toil for their bread who speak earnest words for Jesus? I ask you who live as servants in the house, or you whose occupation calls you abroad, do you meet many who aid you spiritually? Have you found this world to help you join to God? In the olden time, it was a world lying in the wicked one, and God’s people were strangers and foreigners here, and I fear it is still so. Our very employments, as they engross our attention, take our thoughts away from higher things, and so tend to chill us. How often does it happen that the possession of riches brings coldness to the heart; and, on the other hand, if we grow poor, chilly penury represses the congenial currents of the soul, and prevents them from flowing freely, as they ought to do. There is scarcely any position in life that can be said to minister to growth in grace. How few heads encircled by a crown have ever been dedicated to God, and how seldom have the beggar’s rags covered the body of a truly gracious man! Everywhere it is a cold world in which we live, and we are cold subjects in a cold world.

6. But then, besides that, there are very cold seasons that come over us. There are times when everything seems chillier than usual. The Church at one time seems to be all in earnest; her prayer meetings are crowded and fervent, her ministry seems full of life, and zeal, and enthusiasm, the members seem to walk together in holy unity and love seeking what shall bring most glory to God. But the Church has her winters as well as her summers; after her revivals there will come years of dearth, seven years of famine after seven years of plenty, and the canker-worm will come, and eat up the fruit of the land, and do that for a long period of time. When the Church as a whole is cold, it is not easy for us as individuals to be warm. I have often heard members of this church say, when they have gone away to join other congregations, that they have felt as if they had suddenly dropped out of a conservatory into an ice well. {a} I can easily gauge the temperature of a congregation in any place where I go to preach. I can soon see that some are warm and hearty, and ready to receive the truth, while it is hard work to preach to others because they evidently either do not understand or do not appreciate the gospel, or if they do appreciate it, they have a particular way of preventing the preacher from seeing that they have any enjoyment of the word that he has spoken. There are churches which always seem to be very cold, and there are other churches that once glowed with summer heat that have now come into their wintry season.

7. Let me add that there are not only these cold seasons in the Church as a whole, but we ourselves have our cold seasons. I suppose we are very much like each other; but sometimes, for some reason, we scarcely know why, we are full of fervour and ardour. We are not only in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, but we are also in the Spirit all the days of the week; the candle of the Lord shines on our path, we walk in the light as God is in the light, and we have fellowship with him, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin. That Spirit of God is with us, and the time of the singing of birds has come to us. At other times, the desire to pray is within us, but we cannot pray. Gloomy doubts arise, or carking cares come crowding in on us, or else a dreadful indifference, which we cannot shake off, steals over us, like the sleepy fits which come on people when they want to be active, but their eyelids are so heavy that they cannot keep from sleep. This will happen again and again, and we struggle against it, and seek by any means and every means to keep ourselves spiritually warm. I suppose the experience of most of God’s people will verify this.

8. So I have tried to show you that we are cold by nature, we live in a cold country, and there are cold seasons with us all.

9. And then I may add that there are some people who live in very cold corners. There are some who not only live in a country that is cold, but they are in the coldest part of that country. There may be a cold room that is more chilly than any other in the house, and some of my friends seem to have lived in that particularly cold room. Good people as they are, if they speak to you, it is very frosty talk. They never greet you with that congenial smile that is born of sunshine. They seem almost to prefer to have the temperature of winter in their souls, it is constitutional with them, and they spread that cold to those with whom they come in contact. I always like a room which has a sunny aspect, but I know some people who prefer a room that is darkened by a high brick wall. If they could have a room near the Old Bailey, with a clear view of the gallows, that is the kind of prospect that would please them. They like to think of the corruptions of their own heart, and of the depravity that rages within, and no preaching will suit them unless it makes them thoroughly melancholy; and if it makes them unutterably wretched, they consider that the preacher is a deeply-experienced man of God sent to instruct them. I shall not quarrel with these brethren, and if they prefer the room with the dark or wintry aspect, they may have it so far as I am concerned. I shall be quite content to take the room with the sunnier aspect, and to look out on green fields, and waving trees, and shining water, and to see the goodness, and lovingkindness, and tenderness of the Almighty both in nature and grace.

10. But, besides the fact that some people are in these cold corners constitutionally, others seem to have found their way there in the order of God’s providence. A wife, who has become converted, has a husband who has no desire for the things of God, and therefore opposes and vexes her continually. A Christian is living with another Christian of totally opposite views and doctrines; they ought to have fellowship with each other, but they do not, and differences constantly come up. Then there is a Christian, whose unhappy lot it is to live with people who have no sympathy whatever with true religion. Another Christian man is thrown, not by his own choice, but unavoidably, among those who continually ridicule him, or he is compelled to dwell with fellow Christians who are all of the cold school, and who freeze him; or what is perhaps quite as bad, a Christian is compelled to live where he has no one to assist him with a word of sympathy, no one with whom he can take sweet counsel, and walk to the house of God in company. These are some of those who live in an especially cold corner, and if you are among them, I would say to you that, if you cannot get out of that cold corner, you must, above all others, kindle a fire because of the present cold; above all others, you must give good heed to what I shall have to say to you now about maintaining the warmth of the heart. Since you have the more severe trial, you must be all the more earnest in overcoming it.

11. II. I will say no more about the cold lest you begin to shiver while I am speaking of it, but we will now come to THE KINDLING OF THE FIRE. Thank God, he does not leave us without some means of becoming spiritually warmer. There is an abundance of fuel to overcome the cold. The Christian man being subject to coldness of heart, God has provided him with the means of kindling a spiritual fire that may make him warm, and keep him warm.

12. The first great fire is the Word of God. “‘Is not my Word like a fire,’ says the Lord?” It is so in many ways, but especially because it has such a warming influence. When we are spiritually cold, and we go to hear the Word preached, how it warms our hearts! Brethren, have you not often proved it to be so? You have been trembling, and downcast, and almost distracted, and you have said, “I will go and enquire at the hand of the Lord,” and God has given you a message that has so changed your feelings that you have gone out with unspeakable joy, blessing God that your feet have ever trodden that floor which has become sacred to you through the visitation of God’s Spirit. It is not often that I can hear a sermon; but when I do, I have sometimes had times of very gracious refreshing to my soul. I remember, one Sabbath morning, listening to a man who was by no means literate, and as I listened, I felt the tears streaming down my cheeks as I realized afresh how precious Christ was to me, and I envied the good people who could hear the gospel preached Sabbath by Sabbath, and who did not have to stand up, and deliver it to others, and go without spiritual food themselves. I am sure you, who love the Lord, will bear witness that, when Christ is preached, your heart is always warmed. The preacher may have spoken very simply, and not have tried to display any of the graces of oratory, yet the sermon satisfied your soul because Christ was in it; but if there is no Christ in it, you go down the aisles saying, like Mary Magdalene, “They have taken away my Lord.” It is Jesus Christ that you want; and when you get the truth about him, and about the Father, and about the Spirit,—when you get the doctrine of electing love, of God’s faithfulness, of God’s sovereignty, of God’s immutability, and all those precious things of the covenant of grace, you feel something like the two disciples did when, on the way to Emmaus, Jesus himself talked with them, and their hearts burned within them.

13. Is it not very much the same also in reading the Word of God? I can speak more from experience on this than on hearing the Word preached. Oh, to get one verse—or perhaps only a few words in it,—into your mouth, and keep it there, and roll it under your tongue as a sweet morsel. At first, it tastes like wafers made with honey, and as you press it between the lips of meditation, and turn it over and over on the palate of mental discernment, at last you say, “How sweet are your words to my taste! yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” So the Word begins to warm your heart. You asked if there was any love there, and now it begins to flame out towards God. You thought the Spirit of adoption was gone from you, but now you say, “Abba, Father,” with no faltering tongue. Your faith, which seemed to be in a swoon, suddenly revives, and gains new vigour. Ah, brethren, read the Scriptures diligently when you are passing through these cold seasons, keep close to the fire of the precious promises and the other divine messages, and you will not be frost-bitten. That is one fire.

14. There is another fire which is equally efficacious. If you would be warmed when your soul is cold, begin to pray. Pray! Pray! Pray! Some have said that it is only good to pray when you feel moved to pray, but I would rather say that you should pray to feel moved to pray. When you feel that you cannot pray is the very time when you should pray, for when you can pray there may be less need for prayer than when you feel that you cannot pray. Instead of its being wisdom to forsake the mercy seat, because you feel dead and cold, it is the most flagrant folly. A man might say to me, “If I put my hand near the fire when it is very cold, it pains my hand.” No doubt it does, because the cold is in it; but you need to bear that pain in order to get the cold out. So, when we try to pray when we feel dead and cold, the very trying to pray makes us feel an inward pain; but we must try, and keep on trying. Prayer is our very life, and is essential to our health and our growth. As Montgomery’s well-known hymn reminds us, it is the Christian’s—


   Watchword at the gates of death:

   He enters heaven with prayer.


If your heart is cold, multiply your times for prayer. Try praying with someone else. Ask some Christian brother to come to your room, and pray with you; and you, my dear sister, call in some Christian woman whom you know, and say to her, “Come, dear sister, and let us pray together.” Much blessing often comes through two or more Christians joining their supplications in private; but if that does not help you, I would urge you to get to the meeting where many gather together to pray. If you can do so, come to the prayer meeting, and see if your heart does not burn within you there. I cannot promise that it will certainly be so, for some of our brethren’s prayers are not always fervent; but when the meeting is as it should be, we help each other to get warm, and to keep warm. I cannot tell you how much I owe to the Monday evening prayer meetings and the other prayer meetings that are held so frequently in connection with our work here. I do hope that we shall never have them less frequently, for those prayer meetings have been the strength of this pulpit. The pillars on which our ministry rests are, under God, the prayers of our people. If you want to be warm spiritually, you must keep up the spirit of prayer.

15. Next, I would say that, in addition to hearing and reading the Word, and praying fervently, it will often tend to warm us to be much in meditation. Having read the Scriptures, keep them in memory; turn them over and over in your minds, and let your meditation grow beyond meditation into fellowship and communion with Christ. Sit down and think of him, and of his great love for you. Try to picture to yourself Gethsemane and Golgotha. Turn over in your mind the all-important doctrine of the Atonement, and meditate on its wonderful efficacy; think of Christ’s prevailing intercession for his people, think of his second Advent. If nothing else will warm a man’s heart, surely the love of Christ will do it. There is such a warmth of love in the heart of Christ that it makes even the dead to live. Meditate perpetually on him, and you shall not have to complain for long that you are spiritually cold.

16. I would also strongly recommend anyone who feels a chill in his heart to seek much fellowship with his fellow Christians. I believe, under God, there is scarcely any greater blessing for a Christian man than to have those to speak with who can help him by telling him their experience. If two friends are walking together, and one of them stumbles, the other can help to hold him up. I recommend that young Christians especially seek suitable godly companions. We are sociable by nature, and we are too apt to get the wrong kind of associates; but if we have Christian companions, true helpers in the Lord, we shall find the way to heaven much smoothed. Be as much as you can with the saints of God. I have sometimes spent an hour with a congenial spirit, a man whose heart has been warm with love for his Master, and when he has gone, I have felt that I could bless God for having had the privilege of talking with him, yet that very man has said that he thanked God for that hour because of the good he had gotten from me, while it seemed to me as if I had gotten all the good, and had given nothing in return.

17. If all this should not sufficiently warm you, I would strongly recommend one fire, which, under the blessing of God’s Spirit, is sure to warm a Christian, and that is, kindle the flame of earnest service for God and your fellow creatures. You may rest assured that the best way of getting good is by doing good. I mean, of course, for the man who is saved, because he is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Job’s captivity was turned when he prayed for his friends, but not until then. Christ’s disciples had all their baskets empty, but there was a boy in the crowd who had a few loaves and fishes. I have no doubt that the disciples as well as the people were hungry; but they had nothing to eat except through feeding the multitude with the loaves and fishes that their Master had blessed. When the people were fed, the disciples also were fed; and when you are alert to the necessities of others, and begin to help them, you will find God blessing you. I believe that many professing Christians are cold and uncomfortable because they are doing nothing for their Lord; but if they actively served him, their blood would begin to circulate spiritually, and it would be well with them. You know what the farmer in the country says to his boys, “You say that you cannot warm yourselves by the fire; well, then, just go out into the barn, and do something that needs to be done, or go and attend to the horses in the stable”; and very soon the boys feel a good deal warmer, and it is only because they have had something to do. And Christian people, who want the minister to preach to them this doctrine and the other, if they had something to do for Christ, would be all the better for it. Let the preacher take care to keep up a good fire, and put on plenty of the coals of sound doctrine; but that alone will not warm the people; but the moment they begin to seek to do good to others, they will have kindled a fire which will warm themselves as well as others.

18. III. Our third point is to be that, like these barbarous people, we should not simply think of ourselves in the cold, but SEEK TO KINDLE A FIRE FOR THE GOOD OF OTHERS, because of the present cold.

19. It is a very cold period, spiritually, just now. The professing Church seems to be frozen so hard that those fine skaters, of modern growth, have a fine sheet of ice on which to perform their wonderful revolutions. If God would send us a gracious thaw, they would soon disappear. When the Church is filled with the Spirit, her members do not find any room for these modern foolish notions about high culture, which usually spring from ignorance of what is really worth knowing. If God will give us back a really living Church, we shall soon find that these evils have vanished. Just as the iron gets bright when it gets hot, so let the Church of Christ get red-hot, and it will soon throw off all this rubbish.

20. What is the first thing towards warming people at the fire? The first thing is, that we must get a flame; and though the Indians are said to make a flame by rubbing two pieces of wood together, I do not think that you and I will ever get it in that way. There is no way for us to get a revival fire but from God himself. If anyone can “get up a revival,” as it has been said that they do, in any other way, it is not worth having. The only kind of revival that is worth having is what has come down from God, not what has been gotten up by men. The fire which fell on Elijah’s sacrifice on Carmel was the fire of the Lord which fell from heaven, and which “consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.” We want that kind of fire; and if we have only two or three praying people, who feel that they would die of a broken heart if the Church of Christ should continue in the condition in which she now is, we shall soon see a different state of things. The heart of God is still moved by the prayers of his people, his hand is still stretched out in blessing in answer to the cries of his children. The kindling of the fire of revival must be from a live coal from off the heavenly altar.

21. After you get a flame, you must remember that all fires begin with littles. At first you have only a little spark feebly glowing, and you might put that spark out if you tried to make it into a big fire all at once. You must let it burn a little among the shavings and chips and wood, and then drop your coal on deftly, cunningly, tenderly, as if you loved the little fire too much to risk putting it out by putting on too much fuel at once. We must not despise the day of small things. We must give ourselves up to the full belief that God intends us to do great things by doing them a little at a time. It is because we despise little things that we do not prosper as we might. You may have heard the story of a little child, who was seen outside a door one day. A man had dumped a whole load of coal, and she was with a little firepan taking some of them into the house. Someone said to the child, “Do you expect to get in all that load of coal?” “Yes,” she replied, “if I keep on long enough”; and there are many other great tasks that can be accomplished little by little. If we are prayerfully dependent on God, great things can be done by any one of us; but let no one say, “I am going to do great things; I intend to have a glorious revival; there will be a great stir.” I do not think there will be anything of the kind if it depends on what you are going to do. I have more faith in good men speaking to their children about their souls, and in godly women praying for their little ones, and in Sunday School teachers praying and labouring for the conversion of their students, and in humble, consecrated men talking about Christ to scores, or hundreds, or thousands of people. That is how God usually sends revivals of religion, and the fire will soon spread when it begins to burn in that way; and then there is one thing that should always be done. Have you never seen your servants—or you, good housewives, have you never done it yourselves,—have you never knelt down in front of the fire when it has been nearly out, and gently blown on it? That is a fine way of getting a spark to grow into a fire; and in a Christian church, those who often go down on their knees in prayer will soon blow the spark into a living flame. Just what Mary does with the kitchen or parlour fire is what you must do in order to get the spiritual fire needed because of the present cold. You must fan it on your knees with your very life’s breath, and then it will burn.

22. But when it does burn, there must be fresh fuel for it. Paul knew this, and therefore he set to work picking up sticks. When we once get God’s revival fire to warm this cold world, the Church must find suitable fuel to feed it. We must get some from this brother, and some from another brother, and from our good sisters too, and we ourselves must be the glowing coals, and if we can be kept close together, and be fanned by the spirit of unity and by the breath of the Holy Spirit, there will soon be a blessed furnace heat that shall warm this cold earth.


   Spirit divine, attend our prayers,

      Make a lost world thy home;

   Descend with all thy gracious powers;

      Oh come, Great Spirit, come!

   Come as the fire, and purge our hearts,

      Like sacrificial flame;

   Let our whole soul an offering be

      To our Redeemer’s name.


23. And perhaps, while we are trying to gather all the fuel that we can, we may pick up a viper in the process. It was so in Paul’s case, and I should not wonder if it is so in ours. I have heard this fault found with revivals, that certain people had been added to the Church who never ought to have been admitted. Very likely some people found fault with that Malta fire when, in the process of picking up sticks to feed it, a viper fastened on Paul’s hand. I have noticed that, whenever there is a revival in the Church, there is almost certain to be a hypocrite hidden away among the converts. If you have a garden, you must have noticed that the snails come out after the rain; and after a revival, slimy hypocrites are pretty sure to appear, but what if they do? The Lord Jesus Christ did not stop preaching because he knew that there was a Judas among his disciples; and if we should have a Judas in our ranks, should that make us give up our work for Christ? No; but if there are in our midst some people who are good-for-nothing, let us try all the more to find those who will be good for something; and if, in the course of the Lord’s work, there should be unworthy people added to the Church, so much the greater should be our anxiety that worthy people should be added too, to counterbalance the mischief that the others may produce.

24. Oh, that we might have just now the gracious assurance sent from God that we are to have an even greater revival than any that we have ever yet experienced! As a church, we have lived in revivals for nearly twenty years; there has never been a time, that I can remember, when there have not been souls converted in our midst. I do not know that there has ever been a Sabbath without a conversion in this place; I do not think there has been a sermon without a conversion. We cannot speak positively about every one of them; but we can say, to our certain knowledge of many of them, and we have every reason to believe that it was the same concerning all the rest, that our message has had the blessing of God on it. To him be praise, and to him let us cry that everywhere that great prayer may be answered, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”

25. So I have used a very simple incident to present very important truths; but, alas, there are some, in this place, to whom this subject may have seemed very uninteresting, for they themselves are not saved, they themselves are not converted. I would not have them go out of this building without reminding them that the gospel is to be preached to every creature in all the world, and therefore it is to be preached to them. And this is the gospel: “He who believes and is baptised shall be saved.” You will observe that I have not left out half of it. It is more than I dare to do to play with Christ’s gospel, or to clip one of its wings. Christ’s own words are, “He who believes and is baptised shall be saved; but he who does not believe shall be damned.” To believe is simply to trust Christ; to be baptised is to be immersed in water on profession of your faith in Jesus Christ. May God grant to all of you grace first to believe in his Son, Jesus Christ, and then to confess that faith, in his own appointed way, by being baptised in his name, and to him all be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.


{a} Ice well: A cold storage pit containing a solid cake of ice built up during freezing weather. Editor.

Exposition By C. H. Spurgeon {Ac 28} {b}

1-3. And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Malta. And the barbarous people showed us great kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received every one of us, because of the present rain, and because of the cold. And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks,—

It must have been a fine sight to see the great apostle of the Gentiles gathering a bundle of sticks to put on the fire. But the men who can do great things are usually the men who do not disdain to do little things.

3-5. And laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet vengeance does not permit to live.” And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm.

Was this not a fulfilment of the Master’s words concerning the signs following faith in him? “They shall take up serpents.” Whether this viper had bitten Paul so as to really fill his veins with venom, we do not know, and it is an equal miracle whether it had done so or not. Whether the sting had already poisoned him or not, his life was preserved, and that was sufficient.

6. However they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked for a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.

Those who saw what had happened to him regarded it as so marvellous that they thought he must be one of their heathen deities who had come down to the earth. He was not a god, however; but he was a man of God, and God had preserved him in the hour of peril.

7-10. In the same quarters were an estate of the chief man of the island, whose name was Publius; who received us, and courteously lodged us for three days. And it came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick with a fever and a bloody flux: to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid his hands on him, and healed him. So when this was done, others also, who had diseases on the island, came, and were healed: who also honoured us with many honours; and when we departed, they loaded us with such things as were necessary.

Happy island of Malta to have such a missionary driven on its shore, to heal the sick, and preach the gospel to the people. The calamities of ministers are often a blessing to the people. The shipwreck of Paul resulted in blessing to that island which otherwise it might have missed. Let us, as God’s servants, leave ourselves in his hands; and believe that he can sometimes use us better by means of a shipwreck than if he had given the winds and waves charge concerning us to bear us safely to our desired haven.

11-13. And after three months we departed in a ship of Alexandria, which had wintered at the isle, whose sign was Castor and Pollux. And landing at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. And from there we circled around, and came to Rhegium: and after one day the south wind blew, and we came the next day to Puteoli:

Those who have ever been there regard the place as almost sacred where Paul set his foot on his way to Rome. It is a place where there is an abundance of hot springs, a place which of old was frequented for healing; I have stood there with intense delight: “We came the next day to Puteoli”:—

14. Where we found brethren,—

There were some Christians there. See how soon the gospel had spread as far as to this seaport town; probably some Christian sailors carried it there. Blessed will it be when the ships of Tarshish shall bear not only men especially set apart as missionaries, but when every sailor shall be a missionary for Christ. “We came the next day to Puteoli: where we found brethren,”—

14. And desired to stay with them seven days:—

So they were able to have one Lord’s day together. They were probably only a very small company of poor Christians, but what a joyful privilege it was for them to have the beloved apostle with them for that memorable week in their lives!

14. And so we went towards Rome.

Now it was a marching band of soldiers taking them as prisoners to appear before the emperor at Rome.

15. And from there, 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.

It must have cheered his heart to see that there were some who loved him sufficiently to make a weary tramp along the Appian Road, to meet him, and greet him in the name of their common Lord.

16. And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with a soldier who kept him.

This was a great favour, no doubt, but do not forget that he had to have his right hand chained to the left hand of the soldier day and night, and that was not very pleasant either for him or for the soldier. Yet he had an opportunity of personal communion with the soldiers of the Praetorian guard, and since they were continually being changed, Paul no doubt had opportunities for conversation with hundreds of them, and so the gospel was spread in a very unlikely quarter. Would you like to be chained to a soldier day after day, and month after month? There are some who would not have that experience for half-an-hour without putting the gospel plainly before the soldier so that he should at least know what it is, even if he did not accept it. That is a wonderful way of preaching,—man to man; when they were chained hand to hand, there was no getting away from what Paul had to say.

17. And it came to pass, that after three days

That was quick work; he had only gotten into his house three days when he began to work: “After three days”—

17. Paul called the chief of the Jews together:—

There are said to have been seven synagogues in Rome at that time, so the apostle sent for a number of the chief men in the various congregations.

17-20. And when they were come together, he said to them, “Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our forefathers, yet I was delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me. But when the Jews spoke against it, I was constrained to appeal to Caesar; not that I had anything to accuse my nation of. For this reason therefore I have called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.”

They were all looking for the Messiah, for there was at that time a general expectation of his coming.

21, 22. And they said to him, “We neither received letters out of Judea concerning you, neither any of the brethren who came showed or spoke any evil of you. But we desire to hear from you what you think: for as concerning this sect, we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”

Although men did not understand it, they spoke against it. This is often a blessing. This is the kind of advertisement that helps the gospel, for if men will only be sufficiently interested in it to speak against it, they will be likely to come and hear it, and some of them will be almost certain to receive it. The truth never spreads so fast as when men oppose it.

23. And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning until evening {See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 1970, “Loving Persuasion” 1971}

It was a long and blessed day, a grand opportunity for Paul to be able to expound the gospel hour after hour. But see the result,—the result which always seems to follow the faithful preaching of the truth:—

24-28. And some believed the things which were spoken, and some did not believe. {See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 516, “The Minister’s Stock-Taking” 507} And when they did not agree among themselves, they departed, after Paul had spoken one word, “Well spoke the Holy Spirit by Isaiah the prophet to our forefathers, saying, ‘Go to these people, and say, "Hearing they shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing they shall see, and not perceive: for the heart of these people is become gross, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have closed their eyes; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them."’ Be it known therefore to you, that the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.”

Oh, blessed confidence of the apostle! If some reject the gospel, others will receive it.

29-31. And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves. And Paul lived two whole years in his own hired house, and received all who came in to him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ,—

What a subject Paul had to preach about, “the kingdom of God, and those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ,” and how faithfully and fearlessly he proclaimed this great theme!

31. With all confidence, no man forbidding him.


{b} This exposition was originally published with sermon No. 3138 for lack of room to publish it with this sermon to which it properly belongs. Editor.

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These sermons from Charles Spurgeon are a series that is for reference and not necessarily a position of Answers in Genesis. Spurgeon did not entirely agree with six days of creation and dives into subjects that are beyond the AiG focus (e.g., Calvinism vs. Arminianism, modes of baptism, and so on).

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