George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Angel and the Sandals
And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did--Act 12:8
Peter, the Prison-breaker
There is a vividness of detail about this story which assures us that facts are being recorded. No imagination, however lively, could have conceived the scene that is presented here. When a man has played a part in some great hour or been an eyewitness of some memorable action, there is a note in his telling of it, no matter how he blunders, which is better than all the periods of historians. And unless we be blinded by a foolish prejudice which deadens the literary as well as other faculties, we cannot but distinguish that note here. Peter had been in prison once before, and once before he had escaped miraculously. Now, having in their hands again this prison-breaker, the authorities were determined there should be no more miracles. But when prayer arises like a continual incense and when God puts out His mighty arm to help, "stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage." Behold, the angel of the Lord came upon Peter, and a light shined in the darkness of the prison. And he smote Peter on the side and raised him up, and the chains fell off from his hands and he was free. Then dazed with the sudden light as Peter was, thinking he dreamed and that his dream was idle, the angel said to him, "Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals."
Asleep the Night Before His Execution
These words are rich in spiritual suggestion. In the first place, they are the angel's argument that what had happened was actually true. Peter was fast asleep when the light shone; asleep, and it was the night before his execution. A man must have a very good conscience, or a very dead one, to be able to sleep on such a night as that. Then in a moment the cell was all resplendent, and the glory of it pierced the sleep of Peter, and he opened his eyes, and the visitant was there, and he was dazed and "dark with excessive bright." Was this a dream, and waking would be vain?--"Peter, bind on thy sandals, gird thyself. Art thou in doubt as to whether it is real? Employ the light I bring to tie thy shoe-latchet. Do not seek to handle me; do not inquire my name. Do not wait there wondering if it is all a dream. Gird up thy mantle and bind thy sandals on, and thou wilt speedily discover all is true." I do not think that Peter, however long he lived, would ever forget that lesson of the angel. Every morning as he stooped to tie his sandals he would say, "Even this may be an argument for liberty." Not by remarkable and striking proofs nor by the doing of anything uncommon, not in such ways was Peter made to feel that all that had happened to him was reality. It was by doing an ordinary deed--girding his cloak and putting on his shoes--but doing it now in the light the angel brought, a light that "never was on land or sea."
Using the Sight We Have in Ordinary Deeds
Now I think that that angel-argument with Peter is one that ought to be powerful with us all. There is no such proof that the new light is real as just the use of it for common deeds. We are all tempted to put things to the test in ways that are remarkable and striking We want to say to the puddle, "Be thou dry," as Bunyan did in his untutored youth. But the voice of the angel says to us, "Not so; but buckle thy mantle and bind thy sandals on, and prove in the quiet actions of today that the vision which shone on thee was not a dream." It may be a mighty proof of a man's patriotism that he is willing to drain his veins for his dear country; but to fight for that country's welfare day by day, in the face of abuse and slander, is a greater. It may be a mighty argument for love that one would lay himself down and die for Annie Laurie but to be courteous and kind to Annie Laurie daily is the kind of argument that all the angels love. (I refer of course to the refrain of the exquisite and anonymous song, "Annie Laurie"--"And for bonnie Annie Laurie; I'd lay me down and dee.") Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not. Use the light to tie the sandal on. Be a better father among your growing children. Be a better sister to your provoking brothers. I think that Peter would always have such thoughts when he recalled all that had happened in the prison.
The Divine Economy of Power
Then once again our text suggests what I might call the divine economy of power. "Gird thyself; do not expect me to do it; what thou canst do for thyself, that thou must do." It was not pride that kept the angel from that service. Things we would scorn to do are done by angels gladly. If it was not beneath Christ to wash the feet of Peter, it was not beneath an angel to tie his shoe-latchet. But the angel refrained (as angels always do), in that economy of strength which is divine, from doing for Peter in his hour of need what it was in his power to do himself. Let Peter strive all night, he cannot loose his chains, and therefore it is the angel who does that. No beating of Peter's hands will burst the gate, and therefore it is the angel who unbars it. But "gird thyself, and bind thy sandals on"--even when God is at work there is something thou canst do; and that something, which is within thy compass, will never be performed by heavenly visitant.
The Miracles of Jesus
We see this same economy of power when we study the miracles of Jesus Christ. It is an added evidence for Jesus' miracles that the miraculous is kept down to the lowest point. He makes the wine, but will not fetch the water, it is in the power of the servants to do that. He feeds the famishing thousands on the hill, but the disciples must bring the bread and distribute it. The hand of man must roll away the stone when Lazarus is to be summoned from the grave, and when the breath of life has been bestowed, it is for others to unwrap his cerements.
Do Not Expect God to Do What You Can Do
Do you see the meaning of that divine procedure? It makes us fellow workers with the Highest. Peter needed the angel for his rescue, but for the rescue the angel needed Peter. "Gird thyself and bind thy sandals on; do the little thou canst do to help me"--so Peter was lifted out of mere passivity and made a fellow laborer with God. I think of this text when I see the harvest field where men are busy amid the golden grain. The ministry of God has given the harvest, and now the ministry of man must bring it home. I think of it when I see men struggling heavenward, wrestling towards heaven "just a little 'gainst storm and wind and tide." It is God who has wrought in them to do His will, and now they must work out their own salvation. Do we not sometimes wonder why it should be so hard to win the crown which God delights to give? Redeemed by blood, why should we have to fight so, why struggle in deadly fashion to the end? And the answer is that thus we are ennobled and called into fellowship with the divine and raised to be sharers in that work of grace which rests on the satisfaction of Christ Jesus. All that you cannot do, God will do. All that you can do, God will never do. Trust Him to free you by bursting iron doors and leading you triumphantly from prison. But gird thyself; do not ask God to do it. Do not wait for the angel to tie on the sandal. It is only a fool who would be idle because he was assured the light had come.
Leisureliness in God's Procedure
Lastly, the text suggests to me a certain leisureliness in God's procedure. The angels are always bent upon their ministry, but we never find an angel in a hurry. We know the kind of man that Peter was and how ardent and impulsive was his nature. He was always swift to speak and swift to act, too often without any reckoning of consequence. But had the calmest and most phlegmatic spirit been the tenant of that apostle's breast, it might well have been stirred into feverish haste that morning. Every moment was precious, and every moment perilous. Another instant and the soldiers might awake. Alive to his danger and to his opportunity, can you wonder if Peter clean forgot his sandals? And then the angel, calm amid that tumult, with a calmness born of fellowship with God, said "Gird thyself and put thy sandals on." I wonder if the girdle was ever so rebellious as on that morning in the prison house. I wonder if his sandals were ever so refractory as when every moment meant life or death to Peter; but there was something imperious about this angel, and Peter had no choice but to obey. It seemed an age to Peter while he stooped in his great agony of apprehension. What mattered the securing of his cloak when every moment was infinitely precious? But when Peter came to look back upon it all, he would see the meaning of the angel's conduct and learn the lesson (which is so hard to learn) that there is no hurry in the plans of God.
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