Acts

F W Grant.

Division 3. (Acts 13–20.)

The Mysteries Opened.

It has been already said that we must not expect to have any full opening of the mysteries here, as we have in the epistles. The New Testament is characterized by them: "Let a man so account of us," says the apostle, "as ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 4:1). There are "mysteries of the Kingdom" (Matt. 13:11), as the Church also is one. Even the "blindness in part" which "is happened unto Israel" is a mystery (Rom. 11:25); and the partaking of the Gentile in the promise in Christ on equal terms with the Jew (Eph. 3:6) is a mystery also. Thus we can speak of mysteries being opened here without implying that the truth of the Church is declared as Paul elsewhere declares it. The mystery is the one assembly of Jew and Gentile, and Christ's epistle in the world, with the ministration of righteousness and life, and of the Spirit, in contrast with the legal ministration of death and of condemnation. As this, we shall not wonder if the enemy would use the Jew in his unbelief against it, and the legal principle which God, having accomplished His end with it, has set aside. This will appear, in fact, as Satan's great endeavor from the beginning. We have even a typical presentation of this as an enforcement of warning, in Elymas. The attempt of the Pharisaic converts to put the yoke of the law upon the Gentiles is a more open endeavor, and from within. The "ministration of righteousness" we find at the Pisidian Antioch.

Subdivision 1. (Acts 13, 14.)

Foundation principles.

The first subdivision here naturally comprises the account of the first mission from Antioch, constituted thus, instead of Jerusalem, the center of the new work. It gives us evidently the foundations laid by one who was a "wise master-builder," and with this the reception accorded to the grace proclaimed. This lies upon the surface; how much that must be underneath may the Spirit of God disclose to us as we take up what is here!

1. We have first the divine call, which must in some way be repeated, wherever profitable labor is to be done after this fashion. The Spirit of God is here pleased to make known to us that all the separation and guidance of the Lord's servants and messengers is from Himself. How strange and incongruous is the thought of "ordination" which so attaches to it in the minds of many! For, in the first place, both Barnabas and Saul are expressly named among the "prophets and teachers" ministering to the Lord in Antioch at this time. They were not. then, to be ordained to such an office, who had already been a good while in it; and surely not by men who could not be supposed to be any way superior, if equal, to themselves! One would surely say that the idea of equals lifting equals to a higher position than themselves, and which after all was only the position they had held before; would be too contradictory to be entertained by any serious mind. But if not, this was no ordination to an office at all.

Again, there was only one degree higher than those of these prophets and teachers, and that was the apostle's. Paul was an apostle, as all admit, in the fullest and most eminent way; but he distinctly declares himself (Gal. 1:1) "an apostle; not of men, nor through man:" men neither called him, nor ministered in this in any way. It was not then to this that he and Barnabas were called at Antioch.

We are told, moreover, to what it was they were called: for, at the end of the special work to which in fact they immediately set out, they return to Antioch, and there it is added, "whence they had been committed to the grace of God for the work which they fulfilled." It is as certain, therefore, as Scripture itself can make it, that the work in question was not an apostle's, prophet's, or teacher's office, but simply an evangelistic mission to the needy fields of Asia Minor.

Indeed, by this separation of Saul and Barnabas from their number at the Spirit's word, is only made more distinctly apparent that free and necessary work on His part which has been continually coming into more prominence in this book. He chooses, He sends; nothing is rightly done apart from this. Fit it was, the Spirit being come to take charge of all that should be done in the Name of Christ on earth, that this choice and will of the Spirit should now be emphasized in the strongest way. Judaism was a system of law, with a strong principle of succession in it; where in the most sacred things, as in the priesthood, son succeeded father; where the elders ruled as elders (though in this there was a right and necessary element, as has been said, and as we shall have more fully to see hereafter); the only exception to this (and it is a streak of blessed light through all the darkness of the history) is in the reservation of the prophet's office in the hand of God alone. Elsewhere, with the succession of kings, priests, elders, the flesh came in to defile and mar in every shameful and terrible way possible; while the prophets, with God's call and message; were the men of God in their several days. Each could say, after the pattern of Paul, "neither of men nor by man." Prophecy in this character of it, as has been already said, is of the very spirit of Christianity. It breathes of intercourse with God. And with God manifested in Christ, the sanctuary opened, who can wonder that the apostle should say, "I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied; for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues;" "covet spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy;" for "ye may all prophesy" (1 Cor. 14:1, 5, 31).

In the shadow of Judaism, (as we see in the disastrous return to it, now for so many centuries,) succession — that is, dependence upon flesh and blood — comes in naturally everywhere. The simple rule of God — the conscience before Him alone — cannot be permitted. The prophet call, the prophet voice, — these have less room for them in such legal systems than in Judaism itself: naturally, again; for this is the veil reintroduced, and therefore darker than anything that God could ever have permitted. At the time to which we have come in the book before us, Christianity was coming into her proper freedom from the yoke of bondage, the last remains of the shadow passing from her spirit; and in the new freedom, that it might be freedom, the rule of God was to be recognized in its full and sweet reality. The Christian was "not in the flesh, but in the Spirit," which meant both of these two inseparable things. Thus, of necessity, in the highest department of Christian work, the rule of the Spirit must be above all emphasized. It was only the assertion of what was now to be the universal principle; but it is here expressed in a manner the most distinct; not by a Voice within the soul itself merely, but by one that demanded and obtained the obedience of the gathered company, — to which they openly set their seals; for the imposition of hands was the sign of identification and fellowship with those to whom the call was — with their obedience to it.

They were all in all seriousness of spirit waiting upon the Lord when the word came; and afterwards when they laid their hands upon them, prayer and fasting accompanied the action. But those who acted with this true and earnest interest assumed no authority in it: they "let them go" — not "sent them away." The "sending forth," as now directly said, was of the Spirit.*

{*While the names of the prophets and teachers are given, it is not to be inferred that the ministry and fasting were only by these, but rather that the whole assembly at Antioch was engaged. Some of the gifts are mentioned, and these were doubtless the channels of the Spirit's communication, but on their return we find Paul and Barnabas gathering the whole assembly to rehearse the accomplishment of the work to which they had been committed (Acts 14:26, 27). It would thus seem that all was done with the fellowship of the entire assembly; and this seems to agree with the teaching as to the local assembly being the habitation of the Spirit. S.R.}

2. The journey through Cyprus has but one point in it upon which the historian dwells. Salamis is only mentioned to state that they announced the word of God there in the synagogues of the Jews. The rule, "to the Jew first," was observed in this case; nor have we any record of work among the Gentiles. Among the Jews also the fact of the preaching is not accompanied by any statement as to the effect; there may have been such; it would be natural, under such preachers, and on a mission directed by the Spirit of God, to reason that there must have been; but it is certain that it is only the fact that is given us here; and not its consequences. The Jew is still sought by divine grace, and sought in an especial manner also. The giving up of the nation as such does not mean any turning away of the offer of salvation from them. The first step upon the road here makes plain that the love that has been with them seeks them still. The breach is upon their side; not on His.

This seems to connect morally with the account which is now given of the Jew at Paphos; scarcely a Jew indeed, one would say, so perverted, heathenized, demonized, is he. All the more, however, is he the true picture of the Jew, or of Judaism, fallen by opposition to Christ into the power of the enemy, and then becoming the most virulent of foes. Such is this Bar Jesus, with his fair name and his practice of occult arts, false prophet through and through. He is the worst hindrance to the Gentile inquirer, stout refuser of salvation on his own account; and that, whether outside the professing church, or (as he will be by-and-by) within it. He is to be the great antagonist of Paul all through, bringing him at last into the Roman prison, in which for so many generations he was shut up; for without the Jew the Roman could have done little.

Plainly, it is not the opposition of the moment at which we are looking here, but something far deeper and more lasting; — lasting until the "mist and darkness," come upon the Jew for his opposition to the truth, shall pass away, in the dawn of a day beyond the present. Bar Jesus, living reality as he was, is nevertheless a type of something far more enduring than himself, and to us all more important. It will be good for us to stand still a little; and contemplate that to which our attention is here by the Spirit of God pointed, — the universal foe of the grace of the gospel.

"God gave man the law." This, which is almost the universal cry (hardly accurate as it is), is an argument which no one can contest, and which, it is thought, makes it really heresy to take seriously what Paul says about a Christian being "dead" to it. You may put in a word, and say, "dead to the (ceremonial) law." Then it will be all right to say so. But unfortunately the apostle, no matter what his apologists may invent for him, will not permit this. For the law of which he is speaking in the very place in which he says this (Rom. 7:4-7), is at any rate that which said, Thou shalt not covet," the last commandment graved upon those tables of stone shown, it is argued, by their very material to be absolutely permanent.

If this be true; then, as undoubtedly the Jew thought, he has certainly matter of contention with Paul about it. But the Jew went further than this, and upon the same warrant of "This do and thou shalt live," denied Paul's whole gospel of "righteousness without works" (Rom. 4:6), spite of his testimonies from Abraham and David. We shall find all this carefully gone through in the epistles, and we have no intention of taking it up here; but here is the fundamental controversy through the Christian centuries, within, more than with those outside the profession. Ritualism, Romanism, (how much more than these!) are just Judaism come into Christianity; but yet not purely that, — not Judaism as God gave it, — but with an element introduced which is of the enemy. Judaism was not an enemy to the truth of God; the law was a handmaid — Hagar. It pointed to Christ its end and fulfilment, not only in its types, but also by its own manifest incompetence to bring to God. Its "ministration" was of death and condemnation, with the veil before the face of God! The word from His lips was "None can see Me and live." Thus the finger of hope could only point forward to the "new covenant," which in the mere announcement of it made the first old (Heb. 8:13). But in the new ritualism of Rome and of her daughters, while the shadows of Judaism are darker than of old, no finger is found pointing beyond itself, — no glory of Christ illumines them. He is come and gone; and has left still a closed up sanctuary, and a gospel of doubt! The glory is still in the face of Moses; the veil is upon His own! But this is Judaism with its heart dead within it, and the light that plays over it weird, fantastic, demonic. Its mysteries are magic; the power it craves oppressive, not protective; its yoke is tyrannous, and its burden heavy. It is Elymas the sorcerer, courting the powers of the world, and opposing the gospel of grace in the apostle. It is Paul of all men whom this does oppose.

The conflict with the Jew manifests Saul as Paul, the name which he henceforth retains. The contrast between the two is such as could not escape notice. Saul, the man of Benjamin, necessarily brings up the figure of that other Saul, the king of men, such as the people "asked," head and shoulders above the common stature, in contrast with Paul, the "little," the man "less than the least of all saints," and only the chief of sinners. But this is he who can now be "strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus," "a good soldier of Jesus Christ." Paul is the fittest name possible for the man who is to be taken into the third heaven, and lead us into the open sanctuary, and present us "perfect in Christ Jesus."

It is not from the converted Sergius that Paul derives his name, the most unlikely thing possible for one so free from all human dependence. While, at the same time, it is quite in keeping with all else here that the man who escapes from the snare of the Jew should be also a Paul — a "little" one. "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the Kingdom of heaven." In Scripture, while the history is ever truth, the fullest reason of things is always the spiritual one; for He who is Infinite Wisdom governs all, and with an absolute control of all material, which if we accredited it, and realized the service of love in which it is made to work, we should see the glory of God indeed.

Upon the opposers of truth the mist and darkness of error must surely settle down. Woe to him who resists at any point the light of God! It is by the cover of darkness alone that he can do it; and he who shuts his eyes to any part of truth will find that he can make no terms with the error to which he surrenders. In the purport of his act he shuts out everything; and it is only the mercy of God which can put limit to the terms of an absolute surrender to the "authority of darkness."

3. The conflict at Paphos is thus but a typical introduction to what follows it; in which we are now to find what the reception of the gospel of Christ will be in a world so needy of it, so ignorant of its need. The conversion of the proconsul is all that we hear of in this way in Paphos; for we have not all that took place; but all that the Spirit of God saw fit to communicate. Cyprus is now left behind, and "Paul and his company" cross over to the mainland, to Perga in Pamphylia, on their onward way. There John their assistant leaves, when the work is just beginning, and returns to Jerusalem. With the general reticence of Scripture in such matters, we are told nothing of his motives. We may inter, as it is usual to do, and as the point at which he leaves and his return home naturally would indicate, that the difficulties of the way were making themselves felt with one whose strength was not sufficiently in God for the demand. The path of faith will surely be too severe a test for all that is not faith; and all may not be faith that at first seems so. Faith is strengthened in the path, and does not fail because of difficulties which it supposes, and by which it is exercised: but the unreal is sifted out, and the true state of things is made apparent. Not that there was not reality in John, as we realize in his recovery afterwards. He needed, no doubt, the lesson, to learn which Paul's faithfulness also might be requisite, when again he offered himself for what he failed in now. How good when we truly learn by our failures the way not to fail! A different thing, indeed, from the constant failure to which so many seem only to become habituated, and easily plead their weakness, as if they found no more strength in God than in themselves.*

{*May there not be a suggestion too that Mark shrunk from the evident tendency to reach Gentiles? This is the theme of this part of the book, and the mention of his return to Jerusalem is significant. S.R.}

With the sorrow of this defection on them, the travelers pass on from Perga; and next we hear of them at Antioch in Pisidia, where we have the proclamation of Paul's gospel, in a way that "stands over against" the proclamation to the Jews by Peter at Jerusalem. Antioch of Pisidia ("the well-watered plains?") may give us a hint of this, as the other Antioch (of Syria — Aram, the "high" or "exalted") has been seen to "stand over against" Jerusalem in another respect. The address here is indeed to Israelites, and in the synagogue also, but taking in the proselytes in a distinct way, too, — "ye that fear God." The announcement, besides, of justification for every one who believeth in Jesus gathers in the Gentiles in numbers the next sabbath, inflaming, alas! the jealousy of the Jews. As a consequence of this, the turning to the Gentiles is definitely announced. Peter declares forgiveness of sins to those who repent and are baptized. Paul, justification in Christ for the believer. No apostle except Paul in terms declares this; although John here; as in other ways, comes nearest to him; indeed, the difference in this respect is scarcely more than verbal. The bold assurance as to the impotence of Moses, law, in the face of the synagogue, is characteristic of Paul.

The apostle begins by reminding them how God had brought Israel out of Egypt, and planted them in the land. After this, while through their sins the time was indeed disastrous, He had raised them up judges to the end of about 450 years, till Samuel — another memorable deliverance. There was more disaster, for the people would have a king; but here also, after forty years of trial, God over-topped their failure with the gift of one after His own heart; with him the promise of a Saviour in his line. There was then a weary interval, which for his purpose the speaker can pass over; at last, after a needed baptism of repentance proclaimed to Israel, the Saviour came. All had known John; and he had borne public witness to the coming after him of One with regard to whom he was not worthy to do a menial's office. His salvation whom John had heralded was now being declared to the residents at Antioch.

A strange story indeed, of a smitten and slain Saviour! slain in accordance with their prophecies, by a people who refused the testimony of the prophets. Causelessly slain, yet His death had broken the bonds of death, and God had raised Him in an exceptional manner from among the dead: a thing borne witness to by many witnesses.

The apostle had testimony of his own which he could have added, as we know; but he prefers to make his appeal to what they had in their hand, the Scriptures which, thank God, are in our hand also. He appeals to three special texts as to the fulfilment of this promise.

The first is the second psalm, to which Peter also had appealed. God had owned a Man on earth — His anointed King on Zion — as His begotten Son. This was the claim which, as made by Jesus, the scribes so stoutly resisted. That any man should dare; in that sense, to call God his Father, was in itself, whatever he might offer in proof, incredible and monstrous. All His glorious works were nullified by this claim. Yet there it was, upon the face of their own scriptures, true certainly as to some Man: so that, if He had not claimed it, He could not have been the Christ of God! Thus the very objection that they made was proof rather for, than proof against Him. Jesus was in fact the One raised up of God to them in fulfilment of the promise. Did they but recall that psalm, — and how could an Israelite forget it? — they might see how the very controversy of Israel and of the kings of the earth with Him was recorded in it, — the vain attempt "against Jehovah and against His Christ." Did not He who sat in the heavens laugh? What could they do with Him they had safely guarded in His sepulchre? — with the Risen One whom they had helped so manifestly to proclaim? If they had His body, they had only to produce it, to quench all this joy that had so strangely arisen over the grave of a Crucified Man. But everywhere that Cross itself became a triumph! The Crucified had become glorified on earth; was it not the reflection of a brighter and heavenly glory?

The second psalm does not, however, speak of resurrection; for that the apostle adduces a singular text from Isaiah (Isa. 55:3), "I will give you the sure (or faithful) mercies of David." These mercies, as every one knew, were to be in a Person (as the next verses also show), a Son of David, greater far than he. And of Him the sixteenth psalm, next quoted, plainly speaks. David it is; and yet was it fulfilled in David? Here was a Pious One; who on account of what He was, though His soul would be in hades, would not be suffered to see corruption in the grave. That was not true of David, as they all knew. Of One whom they could not deny to be the Son of David it was true. In Him those mercies were deposited in a way which rescued them from peril evermore.

The connection between the "mercies" and the "Pious" One is not seen in English. The words are really the same — and this both in Greek and Hebrew; and some would make them so in English, by translating, "Thy Merciful One;" but I do not take this to be the connection. It is not as being merciful that God could not suffer Him to see corruption: nor for anything that He is towards men. As "Thy Pious One" is undoubtedly a good translation, so it is one that suits the place in which we find it here. But the word used in relation to Jehovah, as in the first case, cannot mean this; we cannot speak of Jehovah's "piety"; and here the alternative rendering as "mercies," "benefits," is evidently right. The word in Hebrew, in its radical meaning, speaks of affection abundant and ready to flow out, whether God ward or manward, and needing therefore to be variously expressed. In the One before us, the true David, or "Beloved," is found the abundant outflow in both directions; and here is the connection between the passages as far as this word is concerned. In the Mediator standing between God and man, both God and Man are found in full, ideal relationship. And it is in the Risen Man that this is clearly established, never to be disordered any more.

The effect is now that there is a gospel: "Through this Man is announced to you remission of sins;" and that in a complete way which not only witnesses mercy on God's part, but righteousness, — as justification manifestly does. The wail of the Jobs of ancient time is answered, "How shall man be just with God?" though in a way transcending all ability on man's side; for now God is just, and the Justifier of the ungodly, through faith in Jesus. The justification of a sinner — the righteousness of God put fully upon his side — in the only way in which it could possibly be accomplished, will be the wonder and delight of eternity. What indeed could Moses, law do in such a matter? It was only for sins done inadvertently that it provided (Lev. 4:2, 13, 22, 27); for any other it was incompetent. And if "without shedding of blood is no remission," "the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sins" (Heb. 9:22, Heb. 10:4-7). Of something beyond itself it was ever speaking; yea, of Him whose death for sinners was now an offence everywhere to the Jew.

The apostle adds the warning which the prophet had already given; or rather, God by him; an intimation not to be carried away by the unbelief of their leaders, — an unbelief so plainly foretold. Alas, it was soon to be seen that they needed the warning, and yet that it was to be, except to a remnant, given in vain!*

{*This address of Paul has something in common with that of Stephen, in that it is a historic summary. It differs from that however, and resembles Peter's at Pentecost, in showing from Scripture the death and resurrection of Christ. S.R.}

4. The history of this follows; in which we see the pride of the Jew in his exclusive privileges making him refuse the most precious blessings, if he is to share them with the Gentile. The simple condition of faith which the gospel imposes sets the believing Gentile upon the same footing with the Jew; and on the next sabbath almost the whole city comes together to hear news like this. The sight of the multitudes stirs up the Jews to jealousy, and they contradict Paul with open railing. This in turn rouses the two evangelists to declare their express commission to the Gentiles; and that, since they who had been privileged to have the first invitation of divine grace had put it from them, they would turn to these. And again they produce the undeniable statement of the Word, that Christ was set to be a light to the nations, a salvation even to the end of the earth.

It is, in fact, to One whose labor has been in vain in Israel that God speaks after this manner (Isa. 49:4-6). If Israel were not gathered, this even would be a small thing, compared with the work in which. He should be glorified, of wide blessing among the Gentiles. This shows it contemplated, at least, that there might be a time when Israel would reject while the Gentiles would receive Him. What serious question would not such a suggestion raise in the mind of a Jew! And these prophets were read continually in their synagogues! but unbelief gets through the plainest testimonies. The Gentiles are glad, however, and glorify the word of the Lord; and in the sovereign grace of God many believe; and the word of the Lord is carried abroad throughout all the country.

But an opposition is now roused, which follows the apostles through all their labors in these parts. Those who will not themselves receive the truth will not, if they can help it, suffer the truth to be received; and the Jews have influence enough with the Gentiles to turn them against those whom they hate for bringing blessing to the Gentiles! Such is man! So the bringers of good news are cast out for the news they bring; but the disciples are filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

5. The work at Iconium does not present much difference from that at Antioch; only that here a larger number of the Jews believe. The end is similar; the unbelieving Jews stir up the Gentiles, and the apostles have to flee. What is emphasized in the account given is certainly the help found in God, who links Himself to human weakness so as to make it "mighty through God." First, in the synagogue they "so spake that a great multitude of both Jews and Greeks believed." Here, spite of its being clearly the work of God to bring men to Himself, yet none the less is He pleased to give effect to the words of His people in such sort that it can be said, they so spake as to produce faith. There is a right fitting of words to such an end which must not be overlooked; a skill which only a wisdom begotten of love can enable with, and which disdains not diligence for the attainment of its ends, — "And because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he pondered and sought out, and set in order many proverbs. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words, and that which was written uprightly, even words of truth" (Ecc. 12:9, 10).

There are many who seem to think that the teaching of the Spirit of God should set aside all this. They speak slightingly of the "study" even of the word of God. They no longer cry after knowledge," nor "lift up the voice for understanding;" they do not "seek her as silver," nor "search for her as for hid treasures." Yet they doubt not to "understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God" (Prov. 2:3-5). Without sowing of seed, they expect harvests, and that negligence now shall do the work of diligence, and find the blessing it has never sought.

But the man of God is to be furnished unto all good works; and from Scripture only is this furnishing. If we are to be "as new-born babes, desiring the sincere milk of the Word," how much does a new-born babe desire milk? Alas! the careless way in which the word of God is read today shows little of the teaching of the Spirit of God; and thus with each new wind of doctrine, the anchors of so many drag at once!

Here we are speaking rather of the ability to affect others; and for this the need of gift from God must not be forgotten. But the possession of whatever gift does not render one superior to the rules which are common to all Christians, and which are plain moral rules, every one. The servant serves with what the Christian has acquired; and this is a most important rule indeed! We acquire and prove in our own souls what we can then use for the souls of others; and the very fact that we are to serve others with it shows the need all have of it, and not servants only. There is no part of the word of God that is not intended for all the people of God; and we all learn as learners, not as teachers. Oh for the longing from the heart of every Christian for that which has all come from the heart of God for all His own!

Those so speak as to make men believe, who have themselves received with a living and joyous faith what they impart to others; and who impart it therefore, not according to the rules of an artificial pedagogy, but from such full hearts as alone can reach hearts.

So the apostles spake, and so the Iconians believed. But all the more it stirred the souls of some to faith, the more would it awaken opposition in the hearts of its rejectors. Again it was the Jews who evil affected the Gentiles towards the brethren, newly become such. Here too, however, the weak are with the Strong, who protects them and enables them to continue in the midst of the opposition, by means, perhaps, of the signs and wonders which He grants them to do, and of which at Antioch we hear nothing. They seem by no means, therefore, a necessary accompaniment of the gospel, but rather an occasional help, — in this case, seemingly, to quiet opposition, and make men realize with whom they had to do.

The city was divided; but at last a determined attack was to be made, — a combined attempt to stone them on the part of Jews and Gentiles both. Acting then upon the Lord's words to the disciples, they flee to Lystra and Derbe, in the wilder parts of Lycaonia, and there pursue their work.

6. As at Iconium there was seen the power of Him who was with His word, so now at Lystra is demonstrated the fickleness of the multitude, who presently stone the man whom at first they would have worshiped as a god. The healing of the impotent man suggests the latter; yet is all incompetent to commend to the mass the blessed truth brought to them by the healer, which should have been its own commendation; while the tale of his traducers finds its way to the very bottom of their hearts! Both ways one touches boundaries here, but finds good nowhere. Men will idolize you, perhaps; for God has lost His place with them, and it is easily given to another. They will destroy their idol too, as easily. This is the creature, man, to whom nevertheless God has sent a message of infinite grace, the story of a work more wonderful than ever blessed before the ears that hear it; but over this he has the greatest difficulty! What but the power of the Spirit could one trust to make way for the gospel in a world like this?

Preserved from it at Iconium, Paul is permitted to be stoned at Lystra; how, amid it all, his mind must have gone back to Stephen! but that he should abide in the flesh was needful yet for many; and this, and not the wills of lawless men, governs all: while the disciples stand round him, he rises up, and returns into the city. "Fear would have said, Go anywhere else just now. Self would have said, Stay there, and see what a future triumph for the gospel! But the thoughts of man are in neither suggestion the mind of Christ; and this the apostle had and acted on." (W. Kelly.) "On the morrow he went away with Barnabas to Derbe."

7. The limit of their journey at the present time is now reached. At Derbe there are many disciples made, with no record of after-persecution; and thence they return to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, "confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of God." Such words for the mass seem idle now, though assuredly they should still have meaning. The lives of the speakers were in this case an illustration in full of what they declared, and it was not possible for any to dissent from a principle so manifest as these had made it.

Now for the first time we come to the appointment of elders in the assemblies; a class of officers of which we have heard hitherto only among the assemblies in Judea. Unless age and experience are to count for nothing in the affairs of the assembly, an eldership must naturally obtain recognition everywhere, practically if not formally; and in the Jewish assemblies it seems to have been simply a natural growth (1 Peter 5:1, 5), officialized by antique and patriarchal custom. Yet all would not be ready to take their part in the responsibilities implied, and many would become in different ways disqualified. The eldership would thus become more restricted than the term properly would argue for.

In the assembly also, in contradistinction from Judaism, all terms had a spiritual significance. The "babes, young men, and fathers" were spiritual grades primarily; even though by no means wholly severed from their natural representatives. Years would count, and yet not simply as time and nothing else. That would be true even in nature, that men might be older or younger than their age; but spiritually much greater and more significant would such disproportion be. Thus there would be disqualifications for eldership, and mainly moral, though not wholly. If any one examines the apostle's qualifications of an overseer (which was the official status of the elder), as given in the first epistle to Timothy, he will easily discern the moral character on which all is based, and that it is that of the "father" (1 Tim. 3:1-7; comp. 1 Tim. 5:1). A specific gift was quite another matter; and though it might and should develop, no age or experience could communicate it. But it was just the experience of one spiritually a "father" which would enable him for oversight in the family of God.

In the case of the assemblies here, the apostles choose elders for them; they are not able, therefore, to do it for themselves: and this is confirmed by die express commission given to. Titus to appoint elders in those of Crete, as by the directions as to them given to Timothy; where the fact of his being at Ephesus, where there were already such (Acts 20:17) makes their inability to appoint also as evident as that of the assembly. It was an office which apparently any might desire, and to which, therefore, one would say, all who had the needful qualifications might be appointed. The appointment conveyed an authority which the exercise of special gift did not require; that of the preacher or teacher being simply that of the word he ministered, and not of office.

Things being thus set in order in these young assemblies, with prayer and fasting they commended them to the Lord, in whom they had believed; and passing back along the road by which they had come, having reached the seacoast, sailed to Antioch. There they had been committed to the grace of God for the work now fulfilled; and there they related how God through them had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. There they remained no little time.

Subdivision 2. (Acts 15:1-35.)

Is the Law to be added to the Gospel?

We have already seen abundantly, and as emphasized in the Cross itself, that it is the men of law who are to be the special opponents of the way of grace. That which God gave for the cure of self-righteousness is that which the perversity of man uses in the interest of it. And this we are to find both outside and inside Christianity, adapting itself in various grades and modifications to what is its mere opposite; as a parasitic growth twines itself round and sustains itself upon that from which it draws the nutritive juices which are its life.

The law was given for the cure of legality; but its mode of dealing with this (perhaps the only, and thus the absolutely necessary way) being that of experiment, it seems at first sight, and on a superficial view, to favor it. God gave the law, say men, and think they need go no further. Would He say, "Do this," without meaning that you are to do it? That its real purpose should be to stop every one's mouth, and bring all the world in guilty before God, — that is an intolerable thought. And when, convicted and undone, we must needs cast ourselves upon Christ entirely for the righteousness which in ourselves we cannot find, still, for most of us, if not all, the same weary round must be pursued in the interests of holiness and practical life; conscience goading us on a road which to the most conscientious is most impracticable, until we break down with the despairing groan, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?" The least conscientious get on best here; and they find provided for them all along the road certain helps for travelers — mere evasions of the truth, or opiates for the conscience — which enable them to tread it with apparent ease, or lead them off unwittingly upon a convenient bye-path. With these inventions we have not as yet to do; we are here at the beginning of the history of Christianity, and things meet us in their first and simplest forms. Here therefore, those of the sect of the Pharisees who believe have only in a straightforward manner to declare that it is needful to circumcise the Gentile converts, and to enjoin them to keep the law of Moses. And by this they mean, not certain moral essentials, but the law as a whole: what a Jew would call that. This question — already settled as it might seem, and indeed really was — comes up nevertheless again for settlement. It cannot be suffered to be decided in default merely of advocates for Moses; it must be taken up distinctly, raised and argued out; and this is accordingly what we find now.

1. Those who are the occasion of the question being raised do not themselves make a question of it. They preach boldly and without a doubt their legal doctrine, as is usual with men of their class. "Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved." It need not, one would think, have raised much alarm; for they could quote neither scripture nor apostle for it; but the sheep of Christ are, alas, a timid folk, and a loud voice and a confident tone are apt to dismay, if not to carry them. A commotion thus is easily excited, which even Paul and Barnabas are unable to put an end to. Behind these persons from Judea looms the shadow of Jerusalem and the twelve, the primal seat of authority; and in fact it is of God that this matter shall be settled there, so that there may be no possibility of cavil any more. Jerusalem is to be the place of settlement, just because the Jewish yoke is to be finally and for ever taken off the necks of the Gentiles, and no other hands could do it so well. It is an act of abdication of supposed rights that is to be accomplished, and those must do this who are thought to have the rights. After all, the decision really is that God has settled the matter, and that they have nothing to do but to bow to what He has done.

It is in a very different interest that this first "council" is quoted and appealed to, namely to give sanction to a hierarchical government of the Church. The patriarchate of Jerusalem is thus made to have its beginning from the earliest times, with James as its head and oracle giving sentence, even in the presence of the whole conclave of the apostles themselves! A small foundation indeed, upon which to build the immense system that has been built upon it. The moral suitability of all here is as plain as the unsuitability for the purposes of ecclesiastical pretension which it is made to serve. And this will be more evident as we proceed to consider it.

The discordant voices that have been heard have come from Judea. There is the seat of what may be a growing and fatal heresy. The place for it to be met is there where it has had its origin, and with the full agreement of those who are leaders in the Jewish assemblies. Paul and Barnabas, with others from Antioch, it is arranged, shall go up there; and the assembly, in testimony of their fellowship with them, conduct them on the way. Everywhere, as they pass through Phenicia and Samaria, they carry with them the news of the Gentile work now fairly beginning, and of the wonderful power of God which has shown itself in this: a fitting introduction to bring hearts into accord with Him in the grace He has already manifested, and to make them fear to cloud it by the bringing in of a principle so contradictory to that first free action of the Spirit as that which men would now fain introduce.

So they come to Jerusalem, and in full assembly, before the apostles and elders, announce the same joyful news of the blessing that has been given, — the first-fruits of a great harvest to come in. God has wrought; will they dictate to Him the terms of continuance of that which without condition He has so begun? Here the Pharisees among the disciples echo the voice which has been heard at Antioch, and in the same positive way. We cannot be saved by the law, indeed, but can we he saved without the law? — a question existing today, apart from the crude form in which it is uttered here; and urged with the same heedlessness of the answer of God already fully given, as well as of the imperative needs that lie hid in their souls who ask it.

2. It is noticeable that not the apostles only come to consider the matter. Those set in the place of founders of Christianity — Christ's special gifts to the Church for that purpose — do not assume on that account to sit in a conclave of their own, and simply let others know the decision they have arrived at. Just so much the more as the Lord has endowed them with special gift, so much the less need have they to fence themselves round with the claim of authority which after all is found in the word they bring, and must have its confirmation in the conscience and heart of those that listen to it. Those whose history we have before us here are evidently men who believe in full light and fresh air, — who allow discussion, and appeal themselves both to Scripture and reason. Reason is not a revelation, and must be subject to revelation; but which will enlighten, not contradict it. The more they were persuaded of the truth they had being indeed from God, the more freely could they take the ground of one of these apostles, "I speak as to wise men" — sensible men, as we speak commonly — "judge ye what I say" (1 Cor. 10:15). The cry against the mind so often made by assumed spirituality is most contrary to God, who has made us altogether for Himself, and claims us altogether. Mind is not a product of the fall, though the fall has darkened and enfeebled it. We need God here as everywhere, to deliver from the power of sin which has enslaved naturally all our faculties; but a man without mind is simply an idiot, and the lack is one which no spiritual work that one ever hears of provides substitute for. Mind is a gift of creation, not of new creation. The new-creative work is spiritual, and not mental, however much the whole man is enlarged and blessed by it.

The naturalness of all here is refreshing. Debate goes on freely with the apostles in presence; the arguments of the law-advocates are allowed to have full hearing, although they are not recorded for us. At last Peter stands up and narrates the story we have listened to before, of how God had settled this matter a good while since, when by his mouth the Gentiles first heard the gospel and believed. God had testified in their behalf, putting the seal of His Spirit on them though uncircumcised, purifying them not by circumcision but by faith. Had He then spoken anything of any supplementary work to be effected in them by Moses? And what did their own experience tell them of the yoke of the law? Would they put that upon these fresh disciples, which they and their fathers too had found no ability to bear? It would be tempting God, not pleasing Him to impose that upon them which He in His ways had conspicuously left aside. And they themselves trusted for salvation, not to legal righteousness, but to the grace of the Lord Jesus.

The clear and sufficient argument goes further than they yet were able or disposed to carry it. Was God indeed freeing the Gentiles, necks from such an intolerable yoke, still to leave the Jewish believers under it? But they keep to the point in hand: God had certainly spoken with sufficient plainness as to it, and the silence following testifies to the effect produced. To have resisted would have been resisting Him. They are silent therefore, while Barnabas and Paul — we see how naturally here at Jerusalem Barnabas, best and longest known, returns to his old precedence — once more relate the signs and wonders with which it had pleased God to confirm their work among the nations. It was in fact Peter's argument extended and amplified; and thus God had been bearing witness to what was in His heart: who should gainsay Him? It was a different — a strange work compared with anything that the law could show, the heart of God breaking through all barriers with its message of divine reconciliation and peace for all; — God the God of all His creatures once again; sin and its estrangements overcome for all who would have it so!

This story of grace ended, James adds a final word; not, surely, as president of the conference, any more than Patriarch of Jerusalem, but as led of the Spirit, who has the controlling place all through, and therefore just the most suitable person to show the complete harmony that prevailed. It is, no doubt, as commonly understood, not James the apostle, the son of Alphaeus, but James the brother of Jude, the writer of the epistle which we have under his name. Everything that we know of him shows him to have been himself one of the most zealous of the law, which indeed all the thousands of believing Jews could a good while afterwards still be claimed to be (Acts 21:20). If James gives his judgment in agreement with Peter, then there is really no more to be said. In that sense his judgment is final; but Peter's had already settled all. Rather, it was God who had done so; and James continues but his argument by an appeal to Scripture to show that the blessing of the Gentiles as Gentiles had been before announced by God Himself. For this purpose, while he refers generally to the prophets he is content to quote Amos 9:11, 12, in proof that there would be nations upon whom God's Name would be called. He does not at all say that the fulfilment of this was now taking place, or therefore, that the tabernacle of David was now being raised up. It is sufficient for him that such a thing as Gentiles being owned as God's was in full accord with God's ways announced. The prophecy clearly looks on to millennial times, and not to Christian; but that which God can do at one time cannot be in itself inconsistent for Him to do at another.*

{*The quotation here of the Septuagint version, where it so decidedly differs from the Hebrew, cannot but impress one. James does not seem the man to favor Hellenism, and the whole character of the proceedings shows the manifest guidance of the Spirit of God. A very slight change of the Hebrew letters would reproduce the text which the Alexandrian translators must have had before them. The meaning thus obtained seems also better than that of the present text.}

James concludes that those are not to be troubled who from the nations are turning to God. Whoever desires to know the law can hear it every sabbath in the synagogues. Let them only abstain from pollutions of idols, from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. And to this the whole assembly agree without further discussion.

We have no difficulty as to the first two things specified here. The last two are connected together, and go back beyond Moses to God's covenant with Noah and his posterity, — therefore are not simply Jewish, though incorporated in the Jewish law, but apply to the whole present race of men. "The blood is the life," and life belongs to God: the recognition of this in so open a way as is here enjoined is surely seemly; and in a world of strife and bloodshed such as sin has made this, — where, too, the creatures subjected to man are in danger of ruthless extirpation at his hands, not even limited by his own interest in their preservation, is (or would be, if it were maintained) every way for good. Man has, of course, set it aside, and the world at large has forgotten it; but the good of that which is from God abides, and this it is the duty and privilege of the Church to maintain, — the rights of the Creator, as well as the grace of the Redeemer. Another has said with regard to this decree:

"It is a direction which teaches, not that which is abstractly good or evil, but that which was suitable to the case presented. It was necessary, not 'righteous before God', to avoid certain things. The things might be really evil, but they are not here looked at in that way. There were certain things to which the Gentiles were accustomed, which it was proper they should renounce, in order that the assembly might walk as it ought before God in peace. To the other ordinances of the law they were not to be subjected. Moses had those who preached him. That sufficed, without compelling the Gentiles to submit to his laws, when they joined themselves, not to the Jews, but to the Lord.

"This decree therefore does not pronounce upon the nature of the things forbidden, but upon the opportuneness — the Gentiles having in fact been in the habit of doing all these things. We must observe that they were not things forbidden by the law only. It was that which was contrary to the order established by God as Creator, or to a prohibition given to Noah when he was told to eat flesh. Woman was only to be connected with man in the sanctity of marriage, and this is a very great blessing. Life belonged to God. All fellowship with idols was an outrage against the authority of the true God. Let Moses teach his own laws; these things were contrary to the intelligent knowledge of the true God. It is not therefore a new law imposed by Christianity, nor an accommodation to the prejudices of the Jews. It has not the same kind of validity as a moral ordinance that is obligatory in itself. It is the expression to Christian intelligence of the terms of man's true relations with God in the things of nature, given by the goodness of God, through the leaders at Jerusalem, to ignorant Christians setting them free from the law, and enlightening them with regard to the relations between God and man, and to that which was proper to man, — things of which, as idolatrous Gentiles, they had been ignorant. I have said, addressed to Christian intelligence: accordingly there is nothing inconsistent in eating anything that is sold at the shambles; for I acknowledge God who gave it, and not an idol. But if the act implies communion with the idol, even to the conscience of another, it would be provoking God to jealousy; I sin against Him or against my neighbor. I do not know whether an animal is strangled or not, but if people act so as to imply that it is indifferent whether life belongs to God or not, I sin again; I am not defiled by the thing, but I fail in Christian intelligence with regard to the rights of God as Creator." (Synopsis.)

3. For the publication of the decree, the assembly choose out men from among them to send back as their representatives with Paul and Barnabas to Antioch, to confirm all by word of mouth that they were writing, that no suspicion should by any possibility arise; expressing also in their letter, in strong terms their thorough confidence in those who had, been the leaders in this work among the Gentiles. It is striking that in the letter the "elder brethren" (which is generally accepted now as the true reading) are associated with the apostles. It confirms what has been already said as to the character of eldership in the Jewish assemblies, while showing how little jealous as to their prerogatives as such were the genuine apostles. The place they had, and which was given them by the Lord, the Spirit of God maintained in the spiritual power which was theirs — the gift which they used to serve with. In seven out of fourteen of Paul's epistles we find a similar association of others with himself; and such style is truly apostolic. The men of those days were yet in remembrance of the Lord's pattern of greatness being a little child, and that He Himself had been among them as one that serveth.

When they say, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us," it has to be remembered that the Spirit coming upon Cornelius and his company was indeed to Peter and to those with him the incontrovertible proof of God's acceptance of men uncircumcised; and that thus we can easily see why they should speak of the Spirit first and apart from themselves. The same seal had everywhere been put upon the Gentile converts; how then could they do otherwise than obediently follow as the Spirit so manifestly led? Their decision had been called for: they declare themselves therefore, as they could not do otherwise, in obedient harmony with what the Spirit Himself, apart from them, had done. The witness of the prophets, to which James had appealed, was also His witness; and the command given to Noah was of course no new enactment, but what Scripture had handed down. Really there was the fullest reason, therefore, for the language which they use, which separates what the Spirit Himself had led in from their own following as thus led of Him.

Nor is it in the least probable that they would have thought it necessary in announcing a decision of this character, to assure men that they were acting by the Spirit in such terms as they use here. That they had the Spirit, no one questioned; their actual guidance would not be better proved by the assertion, if any were disposed to question that. The apostle Paul does indeed, on one occasion, when he had been giving a judgment as to what it would be happier for one to do, remind us that he had the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 7:40). But that is just because he is not speaking authoritatively, but simply tendering advice. He is not, as it were, in this case, the apostle, but the man; and we might need to be reminded that he was yet a man endowed (in how singular a way) with the Spirit of God. But what is before us now is a very different thing from this; and the authority of their decree would not be enhanced by a claim which the fact of its emanation from the apostles of the Lord and Saviour rendered quite unnecessary. On the other hand it would not be out of place to point out, against those who were troubling that the Spirit had already decided the whole matter. The case of Cornelius could not be unknown to them; in which the lack of circumcision had been definitely a question, and at Jerusalem itself. They had been taking up again what had been before sufficiently threshed out. In fact it was the enemy's work, however overruled of God for blessing; and in other and more subtle forms was to be again and again renewed.

For such need as all this implied, the testimony of Judas and Silas, prophets themselves, would be all-important; and thus in fact we hear of the comforting and establishment of the brethren by their means. Peace and unity were perfectly preserved; and as yet the adversary had gained no advantage. It is noted that, after they had tarried awhile, they are "let go in peace" to those who sent them; while the word of the Lord makes progress still in Antioch, and the number increases of those who labor in it.

Subdivision 3. (Acts 15:36 – 20:38.)

Transformations: the moral result.

The part of the Acts to which we have now come, and which seems to include all the remaining labors of Paul, in Europe and in Asia, until his last journey to Jerusalem, where the malice of the Jews delivers him, after the pattern of his blessed Master, into the hands of the Gentiles, is from its largeness and variety hard to characterize. It can hardly be doubted, however, to give the moral result of the publication of the gospel in the Gentile world. The record presents carefully selected types of its working in the midst of a people far enough away from God to worship in Athens one unknown, and in Ephesus to have it slander to assert that "they are no gods that are made with hands." Where God is thus lost the whole anchorage of the soul is lost, and all things must be in drift; but it is hard for us to realize how openly evil stalked abroad in the old heathen world. The remedy provided by the gospel was no superficial one, but met the condition in what was its source, by the revelation of God in Christ, and the establishment of abiding relationship in peace between Him and all who in faith received the word of reconciliation.

Section 1. (Acts 15:36 — 16:12.)

The fundamental principle the sovereign will of God.

The character of the message is seen in the messenger, as Paul elsewhere urges. A yea and nay preacher would not commend his preaching as a trustworthy "yea." (2 Cor. 1:17-19.) A man himself insubject could not expect to lead others into subjection to God. And this is what we start with here in him who is the pattern worker set before us in the scenes in which we are now to accompany him. For him to live was Christ; and that means obedience absolute: that God must be God was his fundamental principle; and this gave him, not freedom from exercise, but assurance as to a path which he could walk in in faith as God's path — the only thing that can give ability for it. Christ as his Lord alone, the Spirit was for him, as for all others then, sole Guide and Interpreter of his Lord's will. His conscience was before God and not man, as a right conscience ever must be. Nothing is more plainly seen here than the positive way in which the Spirit guided, often in opposition to the human wisdom and will of the apostle himself. Being forbidden to speak the Word in Asia, they attempt to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit suffers them not. Then follows the vision of the man of Macedonia, and they pass over into Europe. Guidance is by no means in any uniform way; one needs to be on the alert, as well as instructed in the Lord's mind. Guidance with the eye requires the eye to be in waiting for the look that is to guide; and so Elijah stood before the Lord his God.

1. In the first place we do not hear of any direct word. It is the heart that prompts Paul to think of the brethren in the various places in which he had preached the gospel, with solicitude to know how they have been faring since. He proposes therefore to Barnabas that they should visit them together. Love is the true motive principle, and (where it is divine love) is clear-sighted too. The trouble as to guidance here is to avoid mixtures and counterfeits. That Barnabas should be ready seems a matter of course; but he proposes to take Mark with them, who had failed them on the former occasion, and at the very entrance upon what was the real work. Here was love too, no doubt, but as to his sister's son, too purely human. Paul being unwilling, there arises a very warm feeling between them, which separates the two so closely attached hitherto. Barnabas, kindly man as he is, now ruffled in his affections which doubtless are mingled with gracious desire that the young man may recover himself, seems to manifest most (as just such kindly spirits, so touched, are apt to do) the impatience which hurries him off with his nephew to his native land; and we lose him from the history. Paul, choosing Silas for his companion, goes forth, commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. Barnabas had failed also, just before this, as we learn from Galatians, following Peter's example upon the Jewish question; and this would naturally add to the seriousness of the matter in Paul's eyes. Certainly with him it was faithfulness that cost much which could make him stand against the endeared companion of days so happily remembered, and against the solicitations of a heart that knew if any did, the mercy of God towards the weak and erring, but now must be strong in the interests of grace itself to keep it free from all that would hinder its proper testimony among men. To Mark, at a later day, he gladly bears testimony; and he, the failing servant, is privileged, as we know, to give us the story of the Unfailing, Perfect One. Would he not in that after-time be the first to justify the apparent harshness which was only truth to Christ before all else, of the apostle now? And this is true love also, that seeketh not her own, but can be faithful because it is love.

2. But love gives wisdom also; and fullest obedience to Christ will go farthest in all that is permissible to yield to bring men to Him. At Jerusalem the circumcision of the Gentiles had been resisted to the uttermost, and on his new journey into Asia Minor Paul carried with him and delivered to the assemblies the decrees which had distinctly freed them from any imposition of the yoke of the law; yet at Lystra he himself circumcises Timothy, the child of a Jewess and a Greek; and this is for some an inconsistency sufficient to discredit the whole narrative. In fact, it is doubted, however, whether such a step was legally right at all; though if it were not, it is hard to see how it would have conciliated the unconverted Jews, and not rather have been an additional offence to them. The apostle certainly knew well the people he was dealing with, none better; and that would settle the legality of it, in their minds at least. As for his own use of the Jewish rite, he uses it, as is plain in the fullest Christian liberty, which is always liberty to give up one's privileges wherever the love that constrains us to seek souls for Christ shall be better served by it. He expresses elsewhere carefully the principle that guides him here: "to those that are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under law, that I might gain those that are under the law" (1 Cor. 9:20). Here is the motive of his act in this case, with the assertion at the same time of his own freedom from the law while acting so. It is the wisdom that wins souls that he displays in it. Of Timothy we shall hear much elsewhere. At present we know him only as one to whom witness is borne by the brethren, and whom Paul takes with him as companion and assistant on his journey now. He answers to his name all through, as "one who honors God"; and even the two epistles to him which are preserved to us are in striking accord with this. It is to Timothy that Paul in his very last epistle pours out his whole heart.

The company of travelers thus increased carry with them the decrees determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem; and these have happy effect in confirming the assemblies in the faith, and adding to their number. Grace it is that establishes the soul and wins the heart to God.

3. The controlling hand and guidance of the Spirit are here very clearly seen. There was no one method of it, — and this is for our instruction, as well as the fact itself. If the broad commission be to "go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature," that in no wise sets aside the fact that there is to be subjection to God as to the way of carrying this out. His personal interest in it is such that He cannot leave to hap-hazard, or to the fallible judgment of men, the questions of time and place, and indeed of any other matters in connection with a work so precious. There is need — even for an apostle, there always was — for every one who would have success in his work to take every debatable point into the sanctuary for guidance. How we shall be guided, we see here to be another matter. They pass through Phrygia and Galatia, where we hear afterwards of disciples who are, no doubt largely, if not altogether, the fruit of their labor at this time. They then turn westward towards proconsular Asia, which included Mysia, Lydia, and Caria, that is, all the western coast, — at another time to be evangelized by Paul from Ephesus with large results. Now, however, they are forbidden of the Holy Spirit to speak the Word there. They seek from Mysia, therefore, to go north-east into Bithynia; but here again, with more of outward restraint apparently, "the Spirit of Jesus suffered them not." In both these cases we are left without positive means of ascertaining the character of the hindrance: for the first word does not necessarily signify a verbal prohibition. Satan too might hinder, as the apostle says to the Romans; but hindrance by the Spirit would, no doubt, be realized by its character, if not sometimes without serious and profitable exercise: the enemy cannot so well mimic the work of God as to deceive the one who is truly single-hearted. Indeed the unique expression used here — the Spirit of Jesus — may well intimate this: the Spirit in the power of which He walked upon earth; Jesus being the personal Name by which He was known on earth.

Thus they are hindered from going whether to the right or to the left. If they go forward, they must go to Troas. There, almost upon the old battleground between Europe and Asia, they were just opposite Macedonia; and there that vision appeared in the night to Paul, in which a man of Macedonia, representative of the whitening harvest fields beyond, stood and besought him, saying, "Come over and help us!" Immediately they concluded that the Lord had called them to announce the gospel in those parts, and sought to go forth into Macedonia.

Thus, after a time of fruitful and happy work, they are left for awhile to groping and uncertainty, headed off from different roads that seem open to them, yet shut up by this to take the direction in which the Lord was in fact bringing them, until in due time the uncertainty is removed, and they receive definite assurance as to what is in His mind. How comforting to us, conscious of many perplexities, is this little glimpse of the way of one like Paul! It may be said however, that we can hardly expect a vision at last to resolve our doubts, and that thus we are still left without the consolation we might derive from this. But neither did the apostle expect or in general receive a vision to guide him. It is not given to any man to walk habitually in such open light. It would not really encourage faith, which has to do with the unseen and not the seen. And perhaps the record here may serve a purpose of good by preventing our expectation of any one method of assurance, and casting us upon Him to meet us in any way He please; so that we may learn the better His various speech, and be more on the alert to discover Him under whatever apparent disguises. Doubtless the man of Macedonia shows us the appeal to that in us which is, or should be, at all times the motive power; and the weighing of comparative needs, as well as of what in the Lord's ways He has been leading on to, will have its place in determining the issue for us. After all, no rules can be given which will not probably have large exception in actual working out. The Lord is able to give assurance to the heart that honestly seeks to be subject to Him; and that is the main point.

Another beautiful touch in the narrative is found here: — At Troas we discern, simply by the change of the pronoun used, that the narrator himself has joined the party of Paul. His name is never once mentioned, and it is only by the change from "they" to "we" that we are able to trace him from Troas to Philippi, where he seems to remain until Paul returns, after his long stay at Ephesus, when be rejoins and travels with him to Jerusalem (Acts 20:6 – 21:18). There, during Paul's long imprisonment, we lose sight of him again; but upon the apostle's voyage to Italy, once more he is with him the whole way to Rome (Acts 27:1 – 28:16). Through all he certainly filled no unimportant place, — one would say more so than others whose names are mentioned; yet he keeps to this reticence which characterizes him all along the way. There is no trace of self-consciousness about him, as one may say; and how beautiful is this in the inspired historian of such a book as this! what an example for us, who are, alas, so apt to give at least their due value to all our doings. It is surely a lesson which we shall do well to take to heart.

Section 2. (Acts 16:13-40.)

Progress through conflict.

Philippi is evidently the starting-point of the history proper, as the Spirit of God is pleased to take it up for our instruction. It begins with conflict, and the power of Satan is more nakedly manifest here than at Paphos upon the former journey. It is no longer, however, debased Judaism that is the instrument, but heathenism, the rule of the demons or false gods, which had for the world at large usurped the place of the One true God. The power of the world has here therefore to be reckoned with,, and the progress of the gospel in the teeth of persecution. Yet under no circumstances does the gospel succeed so well; and Philippi is a marked instance of this, — always in lively sympathy with the gospel, as we know from the epistle to the saints there; and to whom the apostle speaks as to sympathetic bearers of his own earnest pressing forward in what was to him a race for a prize. The name Philippi, "fond of horses," naturally reminds us of this, and stamps with its significance spiritually those who now come before us, as well as the whole-hearted laborers the fruit of whose work they are. Progress through conflict may well characterize this section; and there is little true progress made where the adverse power is not realized.

1. The beginning here is in a humble way enough. Here, where they have been brought by, a vision of imploring need, the very man of the vision does not appear; and in the absence of any synagogue, such as in general provided them with their first opportunity, they are fain to go outside the city-gate, by the bank of the river where it was the custom for prayer to be, and speak to the women who seem alone to have the heart to come together. We see that they are not men who will miss a small door open in seeking a large one; and here also, if there be effectual entrance, it must be the Lord who makes it. The heart of Lydia* is thus divinely opened to attend to the things spoken by Paul. Her baptism soon follows, with that of her house, or family, as if the natural consequence of her own faith. So undoubtedly would a proselyte to Judaism as she was have considered it; and the Lord has long since assured us that such a rule as to the kingdom of God has not been repealed (Matt. 18:14). Entrance into the Church is not at all in question; to which the baptism of the Spirit alone could introduce. It is the confusion between Church and Kingdom which has largely been the cause of the difficulty upon these points which has arisen. The doctrine is not here before us to consider. Lydia, as the faithful person that she desires to be known as, does not shrink from identifying herself with those who have been the means of bringing her the truth which has won her. In those days it was not possible to be long ignorant of what it involved to do this; but with whole-hearted decision she at once presses the little company of. Christ's witnesses to come into her house and abide there; and her earnestness will admit of no refusal: she constrained them. In fact the clouds were already gathering which portended a storm which was soon to break.

{*Lydia's occupation and the city whence she came are given, and these with the significance of her name, would doubtless help in illuminating the brief narrative we have of her conversion, had we eyes to see. Thyatira was a city in Asia, where the door had just been closed on Paul. The first convert in Europe was from that city, and thus the continuity of the work is shown. Her business — said to be characteristic of the city — had to do with the adornment of the natural man. Her lowliness is in striking contrast with the Church of Thyatira (Rev. 2:18, etc.), which represents the Church of Rome, the "woman arrayed in purple and scarlet color." — S.R.}

2. The enemy does not begin, however, with an open attack — far from it: he announces himself in the first place as himself a witness to the message that Paul brings! A female slave, having a spirit of Python (supposed to be inspired by Apollo) and who brought her masters much gain by her divinations, followed Paul and his companions on their way to the place of prayer, and day after day cried out, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who show you the way of salvation." It was an astonishing testimony from one accredited by the multitude as a true prophetess, but whose whole condition spoke to those who could discern the truth of dreadful bondage to an evil spirit! Yet it was in this case a true testimony, and which from such lips would naturally bring the attention of many to the truth. Nor had those accredited by it any responsibility apparently in the matter. Why should they not even accept such homage to the truth forced from the mouth of a demon? So had the evil spirits in the Lord's time owned Him as the Holy One of God whom men scoffed at as the Nazarene. But He had silenced them, and cast them out; and now also there could be no alliance between the awful power that held the world captive and Him who is its Deliverer. Satan, if he will testify, shall testify in being cast out; and the apostle, though for a time simply ignoring his effort to attach himself as a parasite to the tree of life, at last brings to bear on him the power of the Name of Jesus Christ, and his captive is set free.

Alas, not always was there to be the wisdom to discern the attack of the enemy in that which spoke highly of the way of salvation, and glorified its ministers. And so in fact was the way to be perverted, and the ministry to become the chief agency in its perversion; the little seed became a tree, with the birds of the air lodged securely in its branches. Who can doubt that we have here a forecast of that which has now become history? — though the disaster wrought is not yet all told out.

Alliance or persecution, — these are the alternatives: false friendship or open war. The apostle's act shows at once his acceptance of the issue, and presages the final result; though for the present — and this in the ordering of God for blessing to His own — the conflict may seem largely to go against them. The cross must be the way to the crown, as the Lord fully assured us; and "if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him." The world is adverse, and the condition of progress is that we make our way through hostile forces. At Philippi, the enemy seeks to turn his first discomfiture into success. The loss of their gains stirs up the girl's masters to drag Paul and Silas before the magistrates, with the charge that as Jews they are troubling the city by introducing customs unlawful to them as Romans. The prejudice against Jews was great, and the last part of the charge had in it a certain amount of truth, as well as ability to rouse the fanaticism of Romans. "The letter of the Roman law, even under the republic, was opposed to the introduction of foreign religions; and though exceptions were allowed, as in the case of the Jews themselves, yet the spirit of the law entirely condemned such changes in worship as were likely to unsettle the minds of the citizens, or to produce any tumultuous uproar . . . . Thus Paul and Silas had undoubtedly been doing what in some degree exposed them to legal penalties; and were beginning a change which tended to bring down, and ultimately did bring down, the whole weight of the Roman law on the martyrs of Christianity" (Conybeare and Howson).

Thus the prince of this world had taken means to secure himself against the truth which might dethrone him; and at Philippi different causes combined to rouse the excitement of the mob so as to carry the magistrates along with it. The arrested men are stripped and beaten in the merciless way natural, not merely in the hard pagan world, but in the lawless condition in which things were at present. Bruised and bleeding they are thrust into prison, with a charge to the jailer to keep them safe; who on his part thrusts them into the innermost dungeon, and their feet into the stocks.

These are the world's weapons, which are freely used upon unarmed and defenceless men, teachers, as an oracle of their own had loudly proclaimed, of the way of salvation. But if the weapons of these men are not carnal, they are, in the language of one of the sufferers here, "mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds," and presently the prison walls are stirred to their foundations, as vibrating to the unaccustomed sound of prayer and praise from lips that cannot be silenced as the hearts that move them cannot be stilled.

3. "At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God; and the prisoners listened to them."

What a new sound it must have been! Had it been in a Christian land, as we say, however poorly any land may be that, we should think of memories that it would awaken in whatever hardened hearts; but here there were no memories to awaken; it was a new gospel of gladness going forth, which in such circumstances those old Romans knew not. They could die well, as we know; — sternly, grimly, they could die; with their song too upon their lips, as heroes, patriots, and in softer moods of love and loyalty; but all this was inspiration from earthly sources, and not strange to men: here was inspiration of another kind, — a new strain that held the listeners by its rapt unearthliness, its confidence and joy in an unseen God. Here was its revelation — its gospel: would there be answer to this undoubting claim upon One assumed so near and competent?

Suddenly an unexpected answer came: a great earthquake rocked the prison to its foundations; and in a moment all the doors were opened, and every one's bonds were loosed! Yet all the more the wonder held them: they were in hands so manifestly mighty, so interested too, and guided by purpose for the manifestation of which they could only wait. Did not some realize perhaps, that there was here a God worth waiting for, whom it must be a joy to know?

There was one, however, to whom what had taken place was a message of death, or seemed such. The jailer, roused from sleep by the sudden shock, and seeing the prison doors open, supposed that the prisoners had escaped. In that case, from the severity of the Roman law there would have been for him no escape. He had drawn his sword to kill himself, in despair of life, when a voice of quiet assurance from the depths of the prison arrested him. "Do thyself no harm," it called; "for we are all here." In that instant the voice of God had spoken to him; the keeper and his captives had changed places: the perfect authority breathing in these words, coupled with mercy to himself so great, which had laid aside all that self-concern prompted to, to care for a mere careless and hardened persecutor, smote him with conviction that God was with these men. He was in their hands, and not they in his. Conscience and heart were roused in him together; the sense of sin, and of goodness that drew him after it. He called for lights, and sprang in, and fell down before Paul and Silas, trembling with these new emotions; and bringing them out, with the voice of the prophetess, no doubt, ringing in his ears, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

It was such a cry as divine grace awakens and responds to. The facing of death immediately before, the consciousness of the divine hand in all that had taken place, had been used of the Spirit of God to make him understand what salvation would mean, though not the way of it. The way he did not understand; nor could he have understood without further help the simple words (to us, thank God!) in which it was made known to him: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, — thou and thy house." It is a blessed word; blessed in the largeness of assurance that clings to it; and which, though on opposite sides misconceived, we are not to give up on that account.

It is faith in a personal Saviour that is preached to the convicted man, — a committing himself to One mighty to save; a believing on, which is trusting, leaning on. It is not a doctrine simply that he is to accept, but a living Person who is to be trusted.

But then it is a Person who has accomplished a work for men, in the power of which He is Lord and Christ; not simply Sovereign Ruler, but the "Anointed" Priest, the Representative of His people. As having stood in our place upon the cross, He stands as the One in whom we are accepted before God.

It is necessarily, therefore, faith which saves, just because it is Christ who saves; it is not the value of faith in itself, although there is value in faith; for it is the real active principle in every soul: so that it can be said, "Faith, if it have not works, is dead, being alone." It works because it puts Christ in His place, and so God (as manifested in Christ) in His also. But as contrasted with works it is the very confession of creature nothingness and worthlessness, in which it lays hold of Another as all its competence and all its boast. Repentance and faith are thus but the opposite sides of the amazing change which is wrought in conversion: the one is the face turned towards God, as the other is the back turned upon self. Each therefore implies the other.

But now as to the closing words, "thou and thy house:" have they any special encouragement as to the family of a believer, or have they not? Do they mean only "thou, if thou believest, and thy house also, if they believe"? Or do they mean something more than this? Would there be need to assure the penitent here, that faith being the way of salvation, it was as open to his house upon their believing as to himself? It does not seem as if he would need to be assured of that.

On the other hand, there should not need to say, that if faith be, as it surely is, the way of salvation there is no exemption of the family of a believer from the necessity of faith. If there should possibly be any, as is sometimes stated, who with the plain word of Scripture before them can yet hold that for a believer's house there is even the possibility that without faith they may still please God, or that the father's faith can in anywise be proxy for that of the child, such a superstition needs only to be brought into honest daylight to be refuted. Quite a different thing it is to believe that there are special promises to a believer's house, not unconditional, and yet conditioned only upon his being in practical reality, and in relation to that which is in question, a believer. Such a belief has plenty to ground itself upon in Scripture, and is not a superstition but a faith.

Take Abraham, "the father of all them that believe" (Rom. 4:11), as an illustration and somewhat more. "I know him," says the Lord, "that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him" (Gen. 18:19). Here is, indeed, not a promise but an assurance, grounded upon that which the practical character of his faith wrought in the Old Testament example of it. Himself called out from the idolatry around to keep the way of the Lord, he acknowledged Him as the God of his household as well as his own God. With such purpose of heart the wise man's proverb would be fulfilled as to his house, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6). This is the rule of the Christian's house, according to which he is to bring up his children in the "nurture (or discipline) and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). To this the promise applies that assures him that it shall be effectual; and not in vain is the assurance. The faith which it is true they need cannot be imparted by all that man can do for them: how comforting then the word which entitles confidence in the Lord to whom we bring them, and whose we would have them, that nevertheless this "discipline and admonition" shall be effectual! Discipleship, government, discipline belong to the kingdom; and "thou and thy house" have always been the rule in the kingdom of God. Yet all here is distinctly conditional, not absolute, as the Gospels fully show us; and to this, and not to the Church, is baptism introductory (see Matt. 28:18, 19, notes); all is perfectly intelligible, therefore, when we find directly here, that "they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house;" and that the jailer "was baptized, he and all his, immediately."

Notable it is that of Israel's "set times" (Lev. 23), which typically present God's ways (as we say dispensationally), on to the end which is God's rest, those from Passover to Pentecost speak of what was indeed offered to Israel, and thus might have been hers, but being rejected through unbelief, they have passed from her in their spiritual significance and become the peculiar portion of the (characteristically Gentile) Church. No doubt can be entertained as to Pentecost; but the Sheaf of First-fruits also, which is Christ in resurrection, the promise of the harvest to come, is also ours whose portion will be with Him in this, while Israel inherits hers upon earth. Accordingly the feasts which speak of the national blessing come afterwards, with an interval between, in the seventh month; the feast of trumpets gathering them afresh, at the new moon, when the Sun of righteousness begins to shine afresh upon Israel; the day of atonement then showing their sins put upon the scapegoat and sent away; and finally the feast of tabernacles consummates their blessing.

Passover, let us notice, is not like the day of atonement, one sacrifice covering all the people, but "a lamb for a house," each family distinctly represented. Nay, if one should be defiled at the time of its celebration, or on a journey afar off, a second Passover can be kept, to remedy the omission. I do not say but that, in a secondary sense, this may apply to Israel, who were indeed defiled at the time of Christ's suffering for men; but this would only confirm the more the application of the Passover primarily to the present going out of the gospel in the day of Israel's rejection.

But what then is the principle that faces us in the Passover? Clearly, it is "Thou and thy house;" the heads of the houses kill the lamb, and sprinkle the blood upon the lintel and the two side-posts of the houses where they eat it. The family character of the redemption feast is manifest; and notice again that it is at Philippi, among those who are Gentile — no synagogue of the Jews in the place, and not a word of any man of Israel in the place, save only the preachers themselves, that we hear what we may call now the passover gospel — "Thou shalt be saved: thou and thy house."

What a change has passed, and as in a moment, upon the hardened instrument of heathen cruelty and opposition to the word of Christ! "He took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, and having brought them up into his house, set food before them, and rejoiced with all his house, believing God." Although we have to translate perhaps in this way, on account of the difficulty of other rendering in English, yet it should be understood that the expression "with all his house" is not here as in the case of Crispus afterwards where it is said that he "believed with all his house" (Acts 18:8). Here it is an adverb, and there should be a reason for the difference, the effect of which would be to make the joy more simply his own. It is certain, at least, that although they had spoken the word to all that were in his house, faith is ascribed to himself alone.

The work in the prison is done, and now indeed the prison doors can hold them no longer. The day having come, the magistrates sent the lictors with a curt message to "Let those men go." But Paul is concerned that there should be no avoidable reproach left upon the testimony, and he refuses to be dismissed in this manner after the public wrong upon men uncondemned. The magistrates are afraid when they hear that they are Roman citizens they have been treating in this manner, and come in humble fashion to bring them out; begging them, however, to leave the city. They return therefore to Lydia's house; and after having there met the brethren (of whom, in the time that had elapsed, and as from the epistle afterwards we cannot but infer that, there were many), and having comforted them, they departed.

Section 3. (Acts 17.)

Renewals.

The three narratives following unite together to show the renewal in different ways accomplished by Christianity. At Thessalonica the charge brought against it is in one sense true, and its glory, that there is another King — Jesus. At Berea the movement is peaceful and not revolutionary, though a great advance; the new revelation borne witness to by the old, which it fulfils and justifies. At Athens, at the highest point of civilization in the Gentile world, the need is deepest and most fundamental: it is the unknown God, once known, but from whom they have turned, who has afresh to be revealed in the blessed gospel of Jesus and the resurrection.

1. Thessalonica was the chief city of Macedonia; and here was the synagogue of the Jews — the only one which, apparently they possessed in those parts. Accordingly we find Paul here in the synagogue, and reasoning from the Scriptures. A suffering Messiah was always the offence to the Jew; and the necessity for this suffering, as well as the fact of the resurrection of the Lord, becomes therefore the apostle's theme. The effect among the Jews themselves, however, is not so great as among the proselytes, of whom a great multitude, and among them many women of chief rank, believe. This as usual arouses the jealousy of the unbelieving Jews, who are not ashamed to associate themselves with the rabble of the market-place to accomplish their ends, and drive the unwelcome strangers from the place. A tumult is raised and they beset the house of Jason,* where they were lodging, but do not find them; and failing in this, drag off Jason and certain of the brethren before the city-rulers. The charge is disregarding the decrees of Caesar for the commandments of a new King, Jesus. And, though this is, of course, their malice — a repetition of the old attack upon the Lord Himself — yet it is striking to note how constantly in the epistles to the Thessalonians afterwards the coming of the Lord is spoken of. The Kingdom itself is only twice actually mentioned in the two epistles; but that the coming was to introduce this could not fail to have been a part of the teaching in the synagogue. That they were a company waiting for God's Son from heaven was soon known throughout Macedonia and Achaia; and Jews could not be ignorant of what this would mean in connection with Messiah's reign. The attack for the present, ends without serious consequences. The rulers only take security of Jason and the others, and let them go. Paul and Silas are sent away by the brethren under cover of the night, and escape to Berea; although it could not be long, with such a testimony as that given by the newly gathered assembly, before persecution would revive, as in fact we know it did (1 Thess. 2:14; 2 Thess. 1:4); and this through the rancor still of those who should have been the first to welcome the announcement.

{*Jason means apparently "healer." Doubtless he was a Christian, as he is spoken of in Rom. 16:21. How like the Jews it was to refuse their own mercies. Christianity was the "healing" they needed individually and nationally, but in their mad hatred of Jesus they would forfeit every blessing. "When I would have healed Israel, then the iniquity of Ephraim was discovered." "I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by the arms; but they knew not that I healed them." However, a true pledge has been given by the true Jason, and one day, for Israel and Judah both, it will be said, "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely" (Hosea 7:1; Hosea 11:3; Hosea 14:4). — S.R.}

Brief as is the whole account here, it is evident that this is what the work in Thessalonica is intended to be associated with, — the coming of a kingdom such as the world has never seen, but which alone will give it the peace it craves. Peace can only be the effect of righteousness, and this not simply in the supreme head, but also in each subordinate authority, — when "the mountains shall bring peace unto the people, and the hills, by righteousness" (Ps. 72:3). Christ is in this way "the Desire of the nations," even although the nations with one consent united against Him, and a Christian nation is still little more than a convenient phrase. Nothing but judgment will put the world at the feet of Christ, and the "Great Shepherd of the sheep" must yet shepherd the nations with an iron rod (Ps. 2:9). Even for their own blessing — and it is in fact the, history of every converted soul — men must be warred upon and overcome.

Yet what a hope it is — the only possible one, as the history of the world bears) witness — the Patient Sufferer of the Cross the fulfilment of David's picture of —
"A righteous Ruler over men,
A Ruler in the fear of God!
Even as the morning-light when the sun ariseth,
A morning without clouds:
From the brightness after rain
The herb springeth from the earth" (2 Sam. 23:3, 4),

But if thus the King cometh, the Kingdom, in a true and blessed sense, is here already. Already is He Lord and Christ, and all authority in heaven and earth is given to Him. He is on the Father's throne, and we are "translated into the Kingdom of the Son of His love" (Col. 1:13). It is a Kingdom faith indeed alone can recognize, and yet for faith with glorious meaning. His subjects suffer, and the truest most; yet still it is "the Kingdom," if also "the patience, of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rev. 1:9). And while this does not set aside the subordinate authority of Caesar, but makes us subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake (1 Peter 2:13), it turns these "powers that be" into "ministers of God for good" (Rom. 13:4), and for faith produces a marvelous change. For even a wrong done to me in intent on the part of man, if I realize His intent in it, becomes the wholesome discipline of love, if not more unveiled blessing. How resentment is quieted, the fretted heart tranquilized, the soul encouraged, wisdom is given to us, as we are kept in the power of a truth like this! Paul and Silas may sing in their Philippian dungeon, before the earthquake executes its beneficent mission, and frees them from their shackles. Christ is on the throne; and while still we are to keep the word of His patience (Rev. 3:10), that too is blessing, and fellowship with Him is perfected in it.

2. In Berea we find, as in the case of the eunuch, the old dispensation leading on its disciples to the new. Revelation has always been progressive; and even now that it is complete, there is, in its gradual opening up under the guidance of the Spirit, something that seems analogous to this. Faith is in this way ever being tested, while also the new approves itself as of God by the firm hold which it retains of the past, in which it roots itself, and upon which it throws fresh light. The new truth cannot be in contradiction to the old, which in fact has led on towards and prepared the way for it. Nothing could seem more contradictory than the law and the gospel; and yet the latter is the necessary complement of the former. Legalism is the contradiction, and not the law.

The Jews at Berea are more noble than those at Thessalonica, the gospel commending itself to them by its own inherent credibility, its witness to the conscience and the heart. They were predisposed, therefore, to receive it, while yet they waited till Moses should be heard in testimony. With disciples such as these, miracles are not needed and would rather distract than help. The Word is itself the greatest of miracles — the voice of the Living God, which has sounded on through the ages, never silent, wherever there was an ear to hear. Thus the predisposition to receive the gospel ripens into faith with these Bereans as they search the Scriptures, with vigorous determination day by day. Many believe; and the Grecian women that were honorable (or of the higher class), and of men, not a few. The tidings of it soon reached Thessalonica, only forty-five miles away, and answer comes in the shape of angry emissaries from the unbelievers there, who stir up the multitudes. Again Paul has to flee, though Silas and Timothy, less important in the eyes of the persecutors, are able to remain; and thus the gospel of Christ makes its way to Athens.

3. At Athens Paul is roused by the obtrusive idolatry, nowhere more obtrusive than there, to earnest discussion in the market-place with any whom he meets. In the synagogue he seems to have found nothing; the Athenian spirit may well have had its effect here also, even in a reaction against the new things after which the busy idlers of the city sought, and with which their scorn could confound the good news of salvation by a dying and risen Saviour. As for the Greeks it is the Epicureans and Stoics who assail the preacher, as they think, of new divinities; themselves either sceptic as to any true God whatever, — the world being neither His creation nor His care, — or else on the other side making man independent of Him, and mere fate the real governor both of God and man. The Epicurean sought his end in pleasure; the Stoic stiffened himself in self-righteousness and pride. To the latter indifference was a positive duty; in both were the sure signs of that break-down of the purer philosophy which they followed which showed itself in the open scepticism in turn following them: all showing the consciousness of the failure of philosophy in every form, and the need of that revelation against which it nevertheless so eagerly contended.

After all, in the heart of man lay needs unsatisfied, which could not accept a stone for bread; and the restless questioning of the Athenian spirit bore witness to this also. Babbler as they might think Paul was, they still would hear him; and with courteous phrase they invite him to the Areopagus, where the supreme court of Athens commonly held its sittings. But there was now neither thought of judgment nor a true judicial spirit in the crowd that assembled there. The old world had largely with the Roman come to ask after the truth itself with little thought of finding it. Still, for the moment they listened; and he to whom truth was no question but a joyous and deep conviction, took advantage of the occasion offered to press upon them his one remedy for the common need of man — Jesus and the resurrection.

Everywhere around there were tokens, the speaker said, of their great reverence for divinities. It was easier, according to the satirist, to find a god than a man in Athens. Yet this reverence, misplaced and perverted as it was, had its touching side of appeal as witness to the cry of humanity after God. If they know not the One true God, they must invent one; or, perhaps, as with the Athenians, many; though this is but the testimony that the many cannot fill the place of the One.

Thus man's heart craves for a god; alas, one cannot say, for God: that is another matter. In Israel the true God was known, — had declared Himself, and in such a way as one would have thought would have won their hearts for ever to Himself. What was the answer which in fact they gave to Him? It was for long but the setting up of the idols of their defeated enemies, for whose sins God had cast them out before them! He Himself puts the question which reveals man's conduct in this respect (Jer. 2:11): "Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but My people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit." This does not make Israel an exception among the nations: man everywhere is man; when Pharisaism suited the prince of this world better than idolatry, the people became zealous monotheists and keepers of the law; and their own words, "Which of the Pharisees have believed on Him?" show the success of the scheme. The question of monotheism is not the question now, and the cross is not for the monotheist, but for the Christian.

Among the heathen also, at this time, change was in the air. The reverence for divinities yet outwardly remained, but Epicureans and Stoics were eating out the heart of it. The "unknown God," upon which Paul with divine sagacity had fixed his eyes, was now really characteristic of the condition, rather than even the goddess who had given her name and wisdom to the city. God was indeed more and more confessedly unknown; and great must have been the wonder, if not scorn, that met the apostle's bold declaration, — "Whom therefore ye ignorantly reverence, Him I proclaim unto you."

He goes on immediately to do this, — to set Him in His place in relation to the creature as the Maker of all, therefore the Lord of all, — a place that heathenism never truly gave Him. For the Epicurean, as for the modern scientific heathen, the world was a fortuitous collection of atoms, coming together according to laws of its own, — of the matter which it all was. For the Stoic also, God was but the force in matter, — not existent apart from it. The Platonist also believed matter to be eternal, although he attributed to God the soul which animated it and produced the actually existent world. But as a consequence God is in a continual struggle with that matter which He did not create, and by which He is limited. He can neither conquer it, nor withdraw Himself from it; He is not the absolute Creator and Lord of all whom the apostle announces — the Almighty, in whose control of all the soul of man can find its rest.

Supreme above all, it is thus alone He can be near to all; not dwelling in temples made with hands, which isolate and shut Him up; nor served by human hands, as if He were in need. Sufficient to Himself, He is the Source and Centre of all; life and breath and all things but His gift. None then can make Him his debtor, nor give Him, save of what is but His own.

Such is He then whom this preacher declares to the Athenians: a God who is really God. He proceeds to put man in his place with Him, leveling all distinctions upon which Jew and Greek alike prided themselves, in the assurance of that one blood in which all men participated. Nay, their times and the very bounds of their habitations had been alike fixed by. Him who withdrew not His care from any creature He had made, and who had appointed all these, that in the sense of their limitation and dependence, as well as of the divine ordering of things amid which they moved, men might in their need feel after Him and find Him. Nor is He far from any one: for indeed we are encompassed by Him, — in Him we live and move and are! The last is the full generalization: we are sustained by Him, we are carried by Him, — more completely than the infant in its mother's arms; for His arms never unclose, — in Him at all times we are: words which he caps with a quotation from their own poets, recognizing the true creative link with God of a spiritual being such as man is, "For we are also His offspring." He is not here considering the effect of the fall, nor as yet man's responsibility, but the place given him in God's design, from which he will be better able to estimate his own departure.

But alas, how far he had got! Was man indeed the offspring of God? and did he think that gold and silver and stone, — dead matter, graven by human skill into some resemblance of himself, could be a worthy representation of the divine? Could the eyes and ears and bodies of men, — things of which God could have no possible need for seeing or hearing — represent that in which they were "in His image"? The spiritual they could not represent! they could only degrade it by such similitudes.

Alas, it was indeed the unknown God they worshiped! And these things characterized times of ignorance which He from whom they had turned had patiently gone on with. God had ignored, as they had. If He had now come in to make Himself known afresh, there ensued for men the necessity of repentance. Judgment was decreed for the whole habitable earth in righteousness, and that by a Man to whom God had testified so as to give full assurance to all by having raised Him from among the dead.

It is of the judgment of the living, not of the dead, that the apostle speaks here, and with the evident intention of announcing the coming of the Lord and the introduction of His Kingdom. Of salvation He had yet said nothing; for his hearers are philosophers, and not the conscience-struck and weary. But of the world's need and its remedy they might still be ready to hear, who were ignorant of their own; and their hearts be stirred by the prospect of a reign of righteousness, in contrast with the hard Caesarism under which they were pressed down. They have had enough, however; and the mention of resurrection brings their patience to an end. Some mock; while others courteously defer the matter to another time; it is not serious enough to rouse them to hostility. Nothing was to be expected from an audience like this, and even Paul could only turn away and leave them. We hear of no such poverty of result in any other place, but with the wise of this world the wisdom of God is foolishness. Yet here also God could not allow His word to be absolutely barren. "Certain men clave to him and believed, among whom also was Dionysius* the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris." Though tradition has manufactured for the former a bishopric of Athens, and the martyr's crown, these are at present to us names only: the history connected with them remains for disclosure at a future time.

{*"Dionysius" is naturally connected with Dionysus or Bacchus, implying one dedicated to him. Etymologically it may mean "divinely, pricked" or "spurred." Damar" is in Greek "one subdued, tamed, broken in to the yoke," and so "a bride."}

Section 4. (Acts 18:1-23.)

"Weak things of the world."

It is to the Corinthians that Paul writes at an after-time, of how God has called the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty (1 Cor. 1:27); and they found in themselves the evidence of this. The two epistles to the Corinthians display them strikingly in this character. The first epistle especially, in contrast with that to the Ephesians, which sets before us the Church in its heavenly aspect, shows us the Church in the world, exposed to the influences which beset it from that trinity of evil which perplex the fallen creature. The first part of the epistle (chaps. 1 — 10) shows the Corinthians the need of fencing off these; as it too clearly manifests also how weak had been their resistance to them. Corinth was indeed a perfect type of the world as governed by the lusts that rule and rage in hearts away from God — of "the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1:4). Corinth was a proverb, even among the light-hearted Greeks, for this; and those who had been called out from it by the victorious grace of God were still in danger, often imminent indeed, of being again overcome by it. Yet here, as not in philosophic Athens, the Lord had much people. As in His life on earth He was known as the Friend of sinners, and Himself declared that He was the Saviour of the lost, so do we find the gospel true to its character as it goes forth here. In the haunts of vice it found the sick who needed the physician, and could bear also to be told that they needed one. Among the Corinthians, rather than the Athenians, would be those satiated* with the pleasures, convinced of the vanity of a world which they well knew. Here was the very place in which the contrast between this and what the gospel offered could be best told out. If those called were the weak things of the world, how weak also was that world itself; which yet held so many in its bondage!

{*May not this even be the meaning of "Corinth," from korennumi, "to sate"?}

1. The apostle departs from Athens, then, and comes to Corinth; and the spirit in which he entered this busy, rich, luxurious city, he himself has declared. He came with a deep, almost oppressive sense of his responsibility as bringing the testimony of God into the midst of a people so needy, while so alive to their own interest, accustomed to make keen estimate of the wares offered to them, and with every allurement of earth in earnest competition with that which he had to offer, a Saviour already rejected by the world and cast out, condemned and crucified. Well might one so absolutely devoted to his work of ministry, with the burden of souls so upon him, be "in weakness and fear, and in much trembling," as, fresh from his disappointment at Athens, he contemplated the scene before him now. With such an one this could only issue in a realization more complete than ever of the One Power which alone could be competent to lay hold of and arrest these busy idlers, and bring them to face themselves and God. Jesus Christ the Crucified was indeed his only theme; but if He were the One rejected by the world, He was also the One whom the Spirit glorified: and thus his preaching was in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. In a city in which oratory and persuasive speech would be peculiarly in requisition, there he relied upon no excellency of speech or of wisdom, used no allurement, but leaned wholly upon the Spirit of God.

There was one adaptation to the state of things at Corinth, however, which is noted for our attention. Not indeed that he practised it nowhere else, for he refers to his doing so afterwards at Ephesus (Acts 20:34), as in the two epistles to the Thessalonians he shows us that he had done among them. Still it is here for the first time that it is mentioned in the Acts that he labored for his maintenance, and the character of his work also. We are certainly intended to recognize here the suitability of this in wealthy and commercial Corinth. He would not have them think of the gospel as among the wares in which they traded. Money could not buy the priceless gift of God; nor should they be able to think, even for a moment, that he sought what was theirs in anywise. No, he sought themselves only, and in that love of Christ in which He had become poor for men, who was so rich, that they by His poverty might be made rich. Thus Paul in Corinth would take nothing of the Corinthians; for which he justifies himself afterwards in both epistles (1 Cor. 9:12-18; 2 Cor. 12:13-18).

It is not without meaning, certainly, that here also, in a place so typical of the world in its highest energy, we should be told that Paul's occupation was that of tent-making. Spiritually this needs no interpretation. It is what grace would teach every redeemed soul, as it taught Paul also to serve men in this very attitude of independence of them. Surely there is nothing also like the tent as a symbol of such independence; he that is but a pilgrim in the world can find ability for this, as he cannot who seeks his home in it. While his companions, names are equally significant of the faith which of old has used these travelers' ways: Priscilla or Prisca ("ancient" or "venerable") reminding us, as the apostle does in Hebrews, that "by faith the elders obtained a good report," and Aquila ("eagle") of its soaring habit and keen sight. This last is a man of Pontus, or "the deep;" as he that has been in the depth alone learns to rise above his natural condition, and it is "they that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, — these see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep." All here fits well together, and is of easy interpretation to those who can believe that the word of God deals so much in parables, and that it will bear the microscope after a fashion like this.

2. According to his common practise, Paul begins his testimony in the synagogue, addressing himself there, however, to both Jews and Greeks. From the former he gets little except opposition, going on to open blasphemy; which provokes the apostle on his part to announce his purpose, as at Pisidian Antioch before, to go to the Gentiles. He withdraws, therefore, to the house of a proselyte named Justus, adjoining the synagogue. The "just" was the characteristic title of saints under the law; but now he who would be with the just must be outside the synagogue. Here the work in Corinth seems fairly to begin: Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believes, with all his house; and many of the Corinthians follow him in the confession of their faith. Thus grace works, in contrast with the law, although it remains true that "not many wise men according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called." None the less the Spirit wrought; and whatever those were who were brought together, we know that they came behind in no gift (1 Cor. 1:7): God needed not the assistance of the world's endowments although He does not despise or set aside that which has been of His own communication who is Creator of all (Matt. 25:15). They are called into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ, from out of and yet in the midst of a world that lieth in the wicked one.

3. Here, as at Troas the vision of a man had appeared to him to invite his entrance into Europe, so now the Lord Himself appears to Paul to encourage him to remain. By revelation, as we learn from Galatians (Gal. 2:2), he had gone up to Jerusalem, to vindicate there the rights of the Gentiles as against the zealots for the law. He had carried thence with him the letter in which the Jewish leaders renounced explicitly what authority in this matter they might be supposed to have. Henceforth all the open testimony of God that we hear of is against his persistence in special Jewish ministrations. He had been told explicitly that the Jews would not receive his testimony concerning Christ, and the twelve had assigned to him the Gentile work, as they themselves assumed the responsibility of that among the Jews (Gal. 2:7-9). It is impossible not to connect all this with what we shall have in the after-history.

But the vision now is only encouragement. He is expressly guaranteed against harm, and assured of much people belonging to the Lord in this Gentile city, in which the Jews had shown already their opposition in so marked a way, that he must needs turn from them. Corinth was a place naturally discouraging enough; and with his heart so engaged with Israel as he himself has assured us that it was, the special seal now put upon his work in this place is very significant. Accordingly he continues for a year and six months teaching the word of God among them.

4. The Jews display their enmity more and more: and all that he has to experience in the way of persecution arises from this cause. It is they who bring him before the Gentile judgment-seat; and, availing themselves of the permission accorded to them to worship God after their own manner, they complain of him as inciting to an unlawful worship. It is their own law, however, of which they are thinking, and not the Roman one, as Gallio easily discerns; they were never noted for obedience to their Gentile rulers, though for their particular purpose they might profess to have no other king but Caesar. It was a mere hypocritical plea, as every one knew, and he treats it as such. Doubtless for him it was a question but of words and names, which he can meet with the most philosophic indifference! Think of the weariness, even to a Stoic, of being a judge in such matters! How little he knew of Him who even by means like these was sheltering His people. The accusers were driven from the judgment-seat. The multitude, going further than the judge, beat the ruler of the synagogue before it. But Gallio was still indifferent.

5. Thus protected according to the Lord's assurance, the apostle still remains a considerable time at Corinth; but nothing more is related to us than the fact. This is the end of his progress westward; and from Cenchrea, the port of Corinth, he sets sail for Syria, taking Ephesus, however, by the way. At Cenchrea we have a circumstance given which has divided the opinions of commentators, — that of the vow on the part of one of these travelers. Lechler ventures even to say that it is "involved in an obscurity which will never be removed;" but this is an accusation of an inspired writer which only shows for how little inspiration counts with many professedly orthodox today. That there is difficulty in deciding more than one question with regard to it, is quite another matter: the same may be said of multitudes of things in Scripture, which give us needful exercise, and that is all; surely a thing which we cannot expect to be saved from. To say, it cannot be cleared up, is to say, either that Luke meant nothing by it, or meant us to learn nothing (which is practically the same thing), or else that he blundered so painfully as to miss entirely the object for which he has written!

The first question we have to ask is, who is it of whom it is recorded here that "he shaved his head in Cenchrea: for he had — or, had had — a vow"? On the one hand Aquila is the one who stands immediately before; on the other, Paul (it is urged) is the principal subject here, and before the mind of the Spirit all through, rather than Aquila. Both these things, however, may be fully allowed without the consequence which is pressed as following. Paul's relation to the vow may be primary or secondary; it may be related to him simply as having to do with one of his company who, if not converted by his means, was yet in fullest connection and sympathy with him. It has been rightly noticed also, as it would seem, that in the passage Priscilla being named first brings Aquila into that place in which he would most naturally appear as the maker of the vow. Still, in two of Paul's epistles (Rom. 16:3; 2 Tim. 4:19) it has been objected, that the same order of the names occurs; and here we may believe that the reason is one of personal character and usefulness, in which the wife may have been in advance of her husband; and though in ver. 2 Aquila has the precedence, this is not at all certain as to ver. 26. We can only say therefore, that according to the structure of the sentence, the maker of the vow would seem to be Aquila.

Another argument to the same end is obvious, that we might more easily understand this vow of Aquila than of Paul. He is introduced to us at Corinth simply as a certain Jew, with whom Paul works because they were of the same trade, not necessarily of the same faith. If he were a late convert, no one could wonder at his having been under a vow when brought to Christ: a vow which may not till now have expired, the shaving of the head, as we naturally judge from the analogy of Nazariteship (though this were not it), took place at the expiration, and not at the commencement. All this would fit together in the simplest manner thus, and provoke no question. It has been said that the record of it would have no value either; but this assuredly is not well considered. A charge against Paul on the part of the Jews was, as we shall soon have witness, that he taught all the Jews among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, nor to walk after the customs (Acts 21:21). The evidence of Aquila with his shaven head would be in direct opposition to this.

Let Paul be the subject on the other hand, and there is very great difficulty. It is of no use to urge, as has been done, his purification afterwards at Jerusalem, which was undoubtedly a step taken to conciliate the Christian Jews, and conformable enough to his avowed principle to be to those under the law as under the law, that he might gain those who were under the law. A vow was a voluntary act between the person and God, not required of any, and therefore which could give no offence in its non-observance; there was no breach of law in not assuming it. Aquila might have assumed it in his pre-Christian state, when he would naturally let it run on to its termination and have honored Moses in that which was to him as a Christian a thing indifferent; but how could Paul's doctrine of being "dead to the law by the body of Christ" (Rom. 7:4) consist with the deliberate taking up of that which no conscience of another required, and which, if of his own free choice, would be the going back to build up again the things he had destroyed? Why then should we attribute that to the apostle to which certainly no necessity of the language here obliges us, and for which we have presently to seek all possible excuse in vain? The ethical argument is after all surely the decisive one, unless we are to be content to make an unasked for sacrifice of the apostle's character to show a liberality which is by no means that, in things that are not our own.

Paul then came with his companions to Ephesus, where he left them; he himself going on. But in the meanwhile he embraced the opportunity which the visit gave him to reason in the synagogue with the Jews, according to his wont. Here he found response in such a way that they would willingly have delayed his departure to minister to their need. But it is indeed strange to find that he is not ready to stay; and why? If the words that are in the common version be really part of the text, it is because he must by all means keep the coming feast at Jerusalem! If the words should not be there, he merely promises, if God will, to return. However this be, Jerusalem is in his heart, as we see by that which follows; although if it be not in the questioned words, the name itself is nowhere found. Indeed, in any case the narrative here is brief and as it were hurried. One cannot see what is really accomplished. Instead of any word about keeping the feast, he runs up from Caesarea, salutes the assembly (we have to infer what assembly, — perhaps to take it as if for him at the moment there were scarcely an assembly elsewhere), yet he does not stay; we do not see what, if anything, is accomplished: the greatly desired visit has a strange unsatisfactoriness about it. It may well be, as we realize from what takes place at a later time, that he cannot stay there; he goes down to Antioch, from whence the Spirit had called him to go forth at first; his second missionary journey is thus over.

In this sudden close of what has been so fruitful and blessed a labor — where neither at Jerusalem or Antioch do we read of anything commensurate with the rest at all — it seems to me that we have the sad foreshadow of that which afterwards closes the active ministry of the great apostle of the Gentiles in a Roman prison. His heart seems breaking over Israel; and Israel alone has no welcome for him. Israel is his betrayer, and the very hope as to her which it seems he cannot resist, but of the fruitlessness of which he has been warned long since, betrays and leads him to disaster. He is in fellowship with the heart at least, if not fully the mind, of that dear Lord and Master, into whose spirit he had drunk so largely. Here his heart yearns with His over Jerusalem. By and by he will have to say with Him, as in the epistle to the Hebrews, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate!"

This leave-taking of a beckoning field like that of Ephesus, this hurried visit to the unnamed city, from which, after a salutation to the assembly, he is forced away again, is touching indeed. In the near future he is to yield to his affections a costlier sacrifice. For the present he is spared for new fields of labor and large fruit.

Section 5. (Acts 18:23 — 20.)

The Assembly with God, and its responsibility.

We are now come to the last labors of the apostle among the Gentiles in liberty, with the constraint of Christ's love alone upon him; — so far, at least, as the Spirit has been pleased to declare them to us. His testimony did not, of course, end here, and through his bonds might acquire a character and power it could not else have. That God was over all, and in all for blessing, needs no demonstration; but this testimony in bonds has another character than that we have been considering. If the apostle were set free afterwards, and made his wished for journey into Spain, we have no account of it; nor is the account that is here given incomplete: it is sufficient for the purpose of the Spirit who has given it, which is not a biography of Paul or any other. The narrative before us has evidently quite another design than this: it is the history of the founding of the Church as the company of the saved, whether Jews or Gentiles, brought out from the Jewish house of bondage and given to enjoy the liberty of grace. Hence we shall find, according to the manner of Scripture elsewhere, that this last portion of the ministration of the mystery will be (whatever else may be in it) very much of the nature of a review and summary of its leading features — not of doctrine but of history — while carrying us on also beyond to the future so full of responsibility and peril, of a divine testimony once more committed to man, whose course has been hitherto little but continued failure. The fact that there would be this is not shirked for a moment, but clearly announced. There would be again the display of sad, mysterious wreckage of all that man could wreck; although God's purposes could not but go on to completion. The epistles, as we know, develop this failure fully.

Along with this, as is natural, there is yet a manifestation of the power of God as connected with this testimony, — a power supreme over all the power of the enemy: the failure is not from any failure in this respect, whatever may be the conflict, — a conflict of which the epistle to Ephesus, the assembly mainly before us in all this part, warns us, and of the conditions of it.

Ephesus is indeed the representative assembly everywhere in the New Testament. In the epistle we find the full doctrine of the Church committed to it, not as in those to the Corinthians, as a communion of saints on earth, but in its heavenly character. In Revelation it comes before us in the first place as a. vessel of testimony upon the earth. The two epistles exhibit it in contrasted spiritual condition: the first as faithful in Christ; the second as threatened with withdrawal of the candlestick, except it repent. We need not wonder to find this representative character attaching to it in the history also. We see it in its first freshness, and with its endowment of power; but with its responsibility also, and the sad prophecy of what would follow the removal of the apostle from the midst; when grievous wolves would be successors to so true a shepherd, and from among themselves would men arise speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.

This, then, is the Deuteronomy of the Acts, with which the history of the "dispensation of the mystery" concludes, so far as active labors are concerned of him to whom it was first committed. The last division of the book has a character of its own which we must consider elsewhere.

1. That which characterizes the whole account of Ephesus as we have it here is the uniqueness of power manifested. It is at the very seat of the enemy's power, as seen in the notorious idolatry there, the worship of Artemis or Diana, in her image that fell down from heaven, as well as in the demon-possessions, sorcery and magic that abounded there. Even on this account must the power of God be put forth in a decisive way. Special miracles are wrought by the hands of Paul; and the very demons themselves become unwilling witnesses, in the mastery shown over all pretenders to that to which where real they must needs be subject.

(1) The sources of this power are also carefully put before us. In Apollos we see the knowledge of Christ in its effect; in the other disciples of John the witness of the Spirit characteristic of Christianity. Here plainly is the secret of the whole matter, — the supreme Name, and He who is come to glorify the absent Lord. Iii the case of Apollos the Spirit is not mentioned; yet is He freely working in a testimony not confined to Paul, and glorifying therefore the more, Paul's blessed Master.

(a) First, however, we are shown Paul himself starting fresh from Antioch, in the energy of a love which, caring for all, carries him once more over ground he had visited on his second journey; taking it up now in an orderly manner, so as to overlook none of those who had then been brought to Christ, of whom (in Galatia at least), there were many, and, at present, earnest disciples. Of Phrygia we know nothing except that it had been visited throughout; but the implication is that there also there were many; for whom now he was caring rather than raising up new assemblies.

Meanwhile we hear of a notable arrival at Ephesus in the person of an Alexandrian Jew, from a place well-known already in connection with Philo and his allegorization of the Scriptures, by and by to be more noted for the similar, though Christian, school of Origen. But if Philo were his master, Apollos had been led on beyond him by the voice of Israel's preacher of repentance and of Jesus also, as far as proclaimed by him. He knew no further, doctrinally, whatever he may have known as to the facts of His death and resurrection. The Christian gospel was to him unknown.

Yet what he knew he was zealous in making known, and with a wealth of proof from the Old Testament. Thus he began to speak boldly in the synagogue, — a remarkable case of faith manifesting itself amid many hindrances. How much perplexity for a man with but Jewish hopes, Messiah come and Israel not being gathered! a message broken off, without completion! When we remember John's own questioning from Herod's prison, how striking it is to find so long after a disciple of John with faith in the Messiah he had announced, who yet might seem to have disappeared without the accomplishment of what He came for! But his heart carried his faith through all these difficulties; and the voice that spoke at Ephesus did not falter in spite of all.

We can understand then the joy of heart in one so loyal to the truth when Aquila and Priscilla took him to them, and made known to him the truth which both removed his difficulties and perfected with more glorious hopes that which already so possessed his soul. Doubtless it brought for a time his testimony at Ephesus to a close, while the former teacher became once more a learner at the feet of Him whom his faith amid whatever obscurity had yet recognized and confessed; and it is no wonder if the large Christian assembly at Corinth abounding in gift and in such near connection with the commercial centre of Asia, attracted the eager disciple. There at any rate he soon desired to be, where his eagerness and boldness rapidly made him a leader and helper of those who were in Christ before him. Publicly and completely he confuted the unbelieving Jews, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

The part taken by Priscilla, a woman, in this instruction given to Apollo; noted as it naturally has been and rightly, still deserves emphatic recognition. Did she go beyond her place? and does the prohibition of a woman's teaching by that Paul, one of whose company she had so long been, rebuke her conduct on this occasion? Nay, Paul it is who in naming these two whom he so highly valued, both in the comparatively early epistle to Rome, and in the later one to Timothy, puts Priscilla before Aquila. We may be sure that neither did she go beyond the place that God had given her, nor did the apostle mean to seal the lips of believing women, so that they should not help others with the truth they have received. On the contrary, the communication of that which one has received is as much the obligation of a woman as of a man. The knowledge of the truth is one of those various gifts of God which, according to the apostle's exhortation (1 Peter 4:10), brings under the responsibility of ministering it. Nay, if the heart be right with God, it must be so: the full spring must needs overflow; out of the abundance of the heart the mouth must speak.

This does not constitute teaching in the forbidden sense, even where, as in this case, there is a distinct purpose to set forth the way of the Lord. It by no means necessarily involves the authority, publicity or place of the teacher, which few men have, whom no one would think of depriving of their undoubted right to speak of Christ to the utmost of their ability. Without being an evangelist, one may evangelize; and so, without being or claiming to be a teacher, one may set forth the truth as God has enabled to apprehend it; thus a woman also without getting out of the place which the Creator has given to the woman.

We shall find the suited place to speak fully of this elsewhere; and what one would rather press here, and what needs much to be pressed, is the example of this noble woman in seeking to make another partake in that which had filled her own soul with peace and happiness. How largely is it true of men even, and much more of women, that the idea of having no responsibility in the matter of instructing others becomes an excuse for little regard to be instructed themselves, in any full and accurate way, in truths which are for all, and for one as much as another! It is conceded that it would be a shame for the teacher not to be taught; but they are not teachers; therefore they need not be accurately taught! But really it cannot be maintained that fulness or accuracy should be required of the teacher, if it is little matter in regard to those taught by him. As a teacher, what can one want which he does not need to teach? Have not all Christians need of all Christian truth? Alas, it is carelessness of heart that pleads so, whether in man or woman; and thus it is that, when Satan would bring in falsehood under some plausible disguise, the mass of Christians themselves are so slow to recognize it, if they recognize it at all; thus it is that, with all our vaunting of an open Bible, the Bible is yet but little really open to us! With all its fulness fur us, it is as to practical possession but a thing of shreds and tatters! And again, if uneducated teachers make uneducated disciples, the converse is also true, and unteachable disciples soon and of necessity make unskilled teachers. Why should they be skilled in that which their hearers have no heart to learn? And thus the wheel turns along a sharp decline!

(b) The case of Apollos is followed — and surely with meaning in the connection — by that of other disciples of John; but who plainly were not companions, still less equals of Apollos. By the latter Jesus was known, however imperfectly, but the twelve soon after found by the apostle have to learn the testimony which John bore to Jesus. Of the coming of the Spirit they have, of course, not heard; and that is the purport of their answer to the question put: they do not speak of the existence of the Spirit, but of His being on earth, — of the baptism of the Spirit being an actual accomplishment. But this with Jews, from Pentecost and on, had followed their baptism to the Name of Jesus; Paul therefore asks to what then they had been baptized; and Jesus being declared to them, they are baptized to His Name. Even then it is only upon the apostle's hands being laid upon them that the Holy Spirit comes upon them, and they speak with tongues and prophesy. Thus what Peter and John did at Samaria the apostle of the Gentiles does now in regard to Jews. Israel seems to be at a greater distance than formerly from God, and authority is not recognized in Jerusalem, but as connected with one whose testimony Israel will not receive, but who has been sent by the Lord from heaven, with a heavenly testimony which Israel has never had made to them. Power is in the Risen Jesus, and is actualized for men in the Spirit His Witness. The prophesying reminds us of the new intercourse with God, and the tongues of a gospel for the nations round.*

{*This is the only case of re-baptism mentioned in the New Testament, and it is interesting to note the reason. It was because they had only received the baptism of John, unto repentance, and not that which confessed Jesus Christ. Doubtless John's baptism, as all other, was by immersion, but the stress here is laid not upon the form — important as it is to be obedient in all things — but upon the Name of our Lord Jesus. There is doubtless instruction in this.

This instance also illustrates the indissoluble connection between faith in Christ and sealing with the Spirit, for doubtless they were both sealed individually and baptized corporately by the gift of the Holy Spirit. But there must be faith, and only that, if there is to be sealing. S.R.}

(2) In suited connection with this, we now find separation taking place between the Christian assembly and the unbelieving Jews. The apostle continues his labor in the school of a Greek, Tyrannus. God in absolute sovereignty, in a way which to the Jew might be in disrepute, but which was forced upon Him by their sin, while it was in fact the sovereignty of grace to sinners, is taking His place among the Gentiles. Thence the Word goes freely forth, so that all in Asia hear it, the word of the rejected Lord, — both Jews and Greeks. The position of the assembly is clearly defined, and there is a wide and fruitful testimony.*

{*The name Tyrannus, "a sovereign ruler," seems to emphasize this thought. All things are in God's hands, and never more so than when the doors are apparently closed. — S.R.}

(3) The power of God is now manifested in an extraordinary manner in connection with Paul, the minister of this new and heavenly grace, so that napkins (or sweat-cloths) and aprons from his skin — both the signs of a toil which sin has necessitated — not only healed disease but expelled demons from the possessed. So has love's labor wrought through Him who came under the penalty of sin to heal spiritual disease and destroy the power of Satan. So manifest was the power of the Name of Jesus that certain wandering Jews, exorcists, undertook to use it as a charm, to conjure with. Seven sons of a Jewish high-priest, named Sceva (or Skeua, "implement, instrument"?) did this, but with a result for them as unfortunate as unforeseen. "Jesus I know," answered the demon, "and Paul I am acquainted with; but who are ye?" And the demoniac fell upon them, mastered and drove them, naked and wounded, from the house.* Thus a startling witness from another side caused fear to fall upon all who dwelt at Ephesus. The effect was great in the confession and abjuring of their magic arts on the part of numbers who brought and publicly burned their books. "It was precisely in Ephesus that magic, strictly so called, held its seat. It had been originally connected with the worship of Artemis" (Lechler).**

{*It is striking that we have three Jewish sorcerers who came in contact with the gospel — Simon at Samaria, Elymas in Cyprus and these sons of Sceva. Simon professed Christianity, but showed his unregenerate heart by desiring to purchase the power of bestowing the gift of God. He seems to stand for professing Judaism which for gain would take the name of Christ, and then lapse. Bar-Jesus always opposed, yet with a name suggestive of that imitation of truth which is so common. He seems to stand for the whole nation upon whom judicial blindness has fallen. The sons of Sceva would imitate a power to which they were strangers. We cannot help remembering how the "false prophet" in the last days will perform lying wonders, and meet a more awful doom than these. — S.R.

**The magic and curious arts here spoken of cannot but suggest to the thoughtful mind that which finds frequent mention, not only in the Old Testament but the New. It is the habit of the day to speak with contempt of sorcery and witchcraft, as mere chicanery. But Scripture speaks of them as satanic. Without doubt it is part of the enemy's way to hide his hand, but faith should see with Scripture, nor confine demon possession, sorcery and magic to apostolic times merely. There is no question that they exist now under the forms of spiritism, hypnotism and other "curious arts." — S.R.}

Power, then, characterizes the work in Ephesus; and this, as already said, is in close relation to the view of the assembly in its responsibility which is here depicted. Ephesus means probably "desirable," and as the object of Christ's affection the assembly cannot lack on His side. Power cannot be wanting to it, if it is not wanting to itself. Evil from without cannot prevail against it, except it withdraw itself from the security of the divine shield. It is the ransomed and redeemed of Him who is gone up on high, having led captivity captive, and spoiled principalities and powers, triumphing over them in His Cross. "If God be for us, who shall be against us?" Alas, is this Ephesus, thus defended, thus endowed, still to illustrate the mutability of man in all that has been entrusted to him? is it to furnish after all the most signal illustration of the warning, "Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of?"

2. The apostle's labors are near their close at Ephesus, and he has in mind another visit to Macedonia and Achaia, before once more his longing heart carries him again to Jerusalem. After that he says, he must see Rome; and he was indeed to see it, but under what different circumstances from what he could have imagined now. How little he could have anticipated those years in prison, cut off from the work he loved, and then as a prisoner to see Rome also! It was a foreshadow doubtless of what awaited his gospel from legal opposition, and then from the world-power, with which in this respect it was allied. For himself we have already seen how he had been warned of the uselessness of his efforts in behalf of his misguided countrymen, and how he had been turned back on his last attempt to reach them, from the city itself, without anything attained. This time we know that he goes back as the bearer of a large offering from the Gentile Christians to the assemblies of Judea, which was to be an acknowledgement of the great debt they owed them, and a help to greater oneness of feeling between them. Yet was every fresh success among the Gentiles, accompanied as it was by a fresh manifestation of hostility on the part of the unbelieving Jews, increasing the bitterness of national enmity against himself, and the danger to himself at every return among them. Danger to himself was indeed never a deterrent: he was "ready not to be bound only, but to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 21:13). But would that sacrifice avail? and what of the growing work in those fields afar off, to which with the distinct warning that Israel would not receive his testimony, he had been expressly sent?

It is noteworthy how the claims of the Gentile assemblies are pressed upon him at this time. Of the state of the large assembly at Corinth he hears just at this time; the fruit of this for us we have through the overruling hand of God in those two epistles in which the dangers of the Church in the world its opposite are so vividly pictured for us. After this the conflict with Judaism in Galatia calls forth the letter in which he sharply defines the contrast between the principles of law and grace. The epistle to the Romans either before or after this, written in view of the hindrances he had found to coming to them, lays down for them and for us the great foundations of Christian position, and explains the grafting of Gentiles into the good olive in place of the Jewish branches broken off through unbelief. The state of Corinth probably delays him now, while sending Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia, and now suddenly there breaks out at Ephesus a tumult of opposition against him which threatens even life.

The history of this outbreak shows us the power of the prince of this world sustained by the worldly interests which love to shelter themselves under the cover of religion. A religion men must have; yet how thin a varnish of it will suffice for the crowd, while the crowd again will suffice for the religion. What an absurd thing to deny what all Asia and the world worship! Really men believe in men: and though you may think of the individuals what you please, the mass must be judged differently. Thus it can come to be heresy that they are no gods who are made with hands; and the town clerk can shame a multitude out of treating it seriously. This, though Demetrius and his fellows are keener sighted through their nearer concern in what affects their craft, and this is the first and inciting argument; though all can feel that they gain in greatness from their magnificent goddess, and their pride can work alongside of their grosser interests. In fact the cry that unites the mob is "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" though, when they come together, it is hard to translate this into an intelligible expression. Alexander the Jew (perhaps the coppersmith of whom Paul speaks elsewhere) cannot for that reason head the crowd against the refusers of idolatry, and confusion reigns; until the town-clerk with his wonder at what is not in question, and his plea for men who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers, backed by the suggestion of Rome's strong way of suppressing a riot, brings in order and dismisses the crowd. Paul is kept out of the way, even by the kindly advice of some of those in high place among the religious functionaries, who realize the nature of what has called the assemblage together. And indeed conscience is not in the crowd but in the individual; the Lord, as we remember, had often to scatter the crowds; Paul recognizes that he has no place here, and escapes their hands.

Such is the world into which Christianity has come — a kingdom of truth appealing to the true, claiming obedience at all personal cost, prostrating all idolatry before the ark of God. Outwardly its aspect may be greatly changed, but its features still remain, and the inevitable conflict. "All that is of the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, are not of the Father, but are of the world." And again, "In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."

3. The journey of the apostle through Macedonia and Achaia, with all its interest for us, is passed over in the briefest way. How much would we fain have known of Philippi and Thessalonica and Berea, of Athens and of Corinth! but Scripture approves itself in all this most unlike mere human history. After Paul's leaving Ephesus, a few words suffice for the journey through Macedonia, in which we have not even the names of the places he visited, or the time spent. In Greece (Achaia) not even Corinth is mentioned, although we are told that he was there three months. Then the machinations of the Jews, his constant enemies, decide him to return by way of Macedonia, and we are told the names of his companions,* more numerous than usual, who accompany him back to Asia; that they went before, however, from Philippi to Troas, waiting for him there. At Philippi, as we discern once more by the change of pronoun, Luke joins him once again, after an interval of between six and seven years, and sailing from Philippi, they come in five days to Troas.

{*There are seven of these companions, all of whose names occur elsewhere. The meanings are mostly plain, whether we can give the interpretation or not. 1. Sopater, "The Father the Saviour." No doubt an abbreviated form of Sosipater (Rom. 16:21). He was from Berea, where, more noble than those of Thessalonica, they searched the scriptures. He was the son of Pyrrhus, "the fiery or ardent," — a good companion in service. 2. Aristarchus, "the best ruler." 3. Secundus, "the second or assistant." These two were from Thessalonica. 4. Gaius, "pertaining to the land, or earth." He was from Derbe and not the Macedonian mentioned in Acts 19:29. We do not know which is the "mine host" of Rom. 16:23, and of John's third epistle. 5. Timothy, "one who honors God," well known from the two epistles addressed to him. 6. Tychicus, "fortunate," similar to Eutychus in this same chapter. He was frequently sent on errands by Paul. 7. Trophimus, "nourished." He was a Gentile apparently, and both he and Tychicus were from Asia. Nothing special is said of him except that he was left at Miletus sick (2 Tim. 4:20). — S.R.}

Seven days are spent at Troas, and terminate with the first day of the week, on which we find the disciples gathered together to break bread, and Paul, ready to depart on the morrow, pours out his heart to them till midnight. It is surely not, as some would have us consider it, an ordinary meal at which they gather, which would deprive the time specified of all its significance, and indeed the breaking of bread itself. On the other hand, with the first day of the week, the resurrection day, there are connected how many joyful and tender memories for the Christian heart! The seventh day rest of the old creation has now given place to that which speaks of a new beginning out of death, death itself yielding to life which has death behind it, and is a life eternal. Instead of a rest when the week of labor is over, it is a rest beginning and characterizing the blessedness it ushers in. The legal principle, "do and live," is exchanged in it for the evangelical one, "live and do." The seventh day is a command; the first day is a day of privilege; and how significant it is that, whereas in the Old Testament prophets the observance of the sabbath is again and again urged upon the people as a condition of blessing, in the New Testament epistles it is only once mentioned, and that to say, "Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days" (Col. 2:16). The things with which it is classed are a convincing testimony of how it is regarded.

The breaking of bread was that for which the believers at Troas were assembled, and not even to hear the apostle, great as the privilege of this might be. The language implies that this was an ordinary meeting to remember the Lord in His death, at which the apostle took occasion to address them. Upon the Lord's day they observed the Lord's Supper. The day is evidently what is styled this in the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:10), which is not the prophetic "day of the Lord," for this could not be applied at any rate to the first three chapters there; besides which it is another expression, literally "the Dominical day," as the Supper is (1 Cor. 11:20) "the Dominical Supper." What day but the first day of the week has the Lord stamped as His? the day hallowed by His appearance as risen in the assembly of His disciples; the day in which He hailed them as His brethren, and breathed on them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. That first day made Him their Lord in a glory unknown hitherto; and that title, "the Lord's day," conveys to us the very essence of its blessedness. He who was under death is victorious over it; He who was under our sins is risen for ever free; and when Thomas is bidden to reach out his hand and put it into His side, the glad cry of his heart in response is "My Lord and my God!"

Fit it is, then, that the Lord's Supper should go with the Lord's day; with the feast of Resurrection, the joy of the Remembrance. The death which He has left behind we cannot leave behind: His resurrection glorifies and does not efface it; the myrrh and aloes perfume His garments still (Ps. 45:8; John 19:39, 40). Up in the glory of heaven He is seen by the hearts of His redeemed as a "Lamb slain" still (Rev. 5:6).

How much depends upon our remembrance here! How suited a time for the departing apostle to address his farewell words to those he is of necessity leaving to bear their own burden of responsibility as the purchased of the precious blood of Christ! Upon the fulness and constancy of this remembrance rests all the hope of the future of the Church as His witness upon earth until He comes. In the joy of resurrection to show forth His death, — that is the responsibility; to realize this is to find power to sustain it. Upon such a fruitful theme no wonder that the apostle should prolong his speech till midnight, and beyond. But at midnight it is that a significant event occurs. In the upper room in which he is speaking, lighted up with many lights, but in a window looking out into the darkness, Eutychus, the "prosperous," sleeps, as in such places of outlook prosperity can induce sleep, soothed, alas, by words that once had interest, but out of which the meaning has now died. So sleeping, he falls out of the window to the ground, and is taken up dead. Until this word, we might easily take all this, (however literally a fact, as none will question,) to be yet an allegorical description of a soul's decline and fall from truth once really and savingly known. The lighted room in the midst of surrounding darkness, the windows, avenues into the darkness of the outside world, the youth even of the sleeper (it is to the young man that John speaks specifically when he says, "Love not the world"), his very name, Eutychus, pointing out the seduction of prosperity, the consequent sleep in this place of peril, which in fact leads to his fall, — all this reads with perfect consistency, and there would seem no difficulty in understanding the warning conveyed, until we hear this last word, "taken up dead," while he that believeth on Christ can never die. Yet here an exceptional word is spoken, — a word that we hear nowhere uttered as to a dead man. The apostle goes down, and falling upon him, and embracing him, says, "Be not troubled, for his life is in him." But one with his life in him is not what we would ordinarily call dead. Does this then simply speak of life now restored by the power of God which has wrought through Paul? I own that this is what one would naturally think; and in this case an interpretation of it in the way suggested is not to be thought of. We must then accept the modification that it represents the lapse of one not savingly, but only superficially impressed; and we might think of such as are, in Jude's strong language, "twice dead," — dead in nature, and now dead by apostasy. Such a warning would be indeed awfully solemn; but in the case of which Jude speaks he does not seem to intimate any possibility of recovery such as we see in Eutychus. Doubtless there are different grades, however, of cases seemingly the same; and here we might leave it.

But there are those who attribute a different meaning to the apostle's words: "Eutychus pays the penalty of his inattention; but God bears testimony to His own goodness, and to the power with which he had endued the apostle, by raising him from a state of death. Paul says that his soul was yet (?) in him: he had only to renew the connection between it and his physical organization. In other cases the soul had been recalled." Another says, "Assuredly the apostle in these words had no desire to make light of the power of God which had wrought in this miracle. It may be well to compare with this Luke 8:49-56, where the spirit of the Jewish maiden had departed. But the Lord's words were enough; and 'her spirit returned.' Here it was not so: 'his soul is in him,' says the apostle, though divine power alone could retain it, or hinder the proximate break-up."

If this be really what is meant, we have a death which, as far as man is concerned, is truly that, — the one in it outside of all human help, or even accessibility to any mode of appeal that can be made. Is it not possible also for a true child of God to get into a condition resembling this? as far as man is concerned inaccessible; the truth itself known in such sort that it has power no longer? nothing remaining capable of penetrating the hardened conscience, or of rousing any longer the insensible heart? How terrible may be the effect upon men in this way of truth heard, it may be, long, but not yielded to, or no longer so, but met with a resistance continued until it has stiffened into indifference? the speaker becoming perhaps "as a very lovely song of one that has a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument" (Ezek. 33:32), or soothing the hearer in his dangerous sleep!

Some lesson such as that which has been indicated, the story of Eutychus must surely yield. We are here amid intimations of the present time, when the Church, bereft of her first human guardians, would have to work out her own salvation in a world opposed to Christ; and in which, as we shall shortly have plainly declared, the enemy would have in the meantime only too much success both in alluring and worrying the sheep of Christ. The Spirit indeed would not depart; and in the faithfulness and love of God there would always be refuge and unfailing blessing, for His own. But the source of worse danger they carry ever with them, an evil heart of unbelief ready to turn them aside to seek other help than in the Only and All-powerful Helper. Thus declension and revival have marked the Church's history upon earth; the mercy of God raising up deliverers in those who sought fully to follow in the path of faith, while the mass dragging behind would limit and enfeeble the deliverance. In Paul here we may see the special power of one who wrought with God to revive the dead, and relieve for a time the distress; but the vessels of this power depart, and those who have rejoiced in it but had it not are left once more to face their own responsibility with their feebleness to meet it. The apostle in the consciousness of such a condition of things ensuing, himself sustained* by the refreshment of that which is the means of communion to the whole company, spends the whole night in converse with them till the day breaks, and at the day-dawn departs.

{*I do not doubt that it is the bread which they have broken at the Lord's Supper, which he now breaks for his own support (a connection which has great significance), and that this is not the Supper itself. As others have remarked, the action here is confined to himself, and the word "eaten" added, which is literally "tasted," is more suited to this.}

4. To Assos, where his companions proceed on shipboard, Paul goes alone on foot! It is probable enough that at this moment solitude was more congenial to him than companionship, even with those so spiritually akin as were his companions at this time. The future of that Church, so dear to him as the Church of Christ, was, as we know by what follows, upon his heart. He was the man of all on earth upon whom this burden rested (2 Cor. 11:28, 29). None knew as well, perhaps, as he, upon Whose shoulders of strength the graven names are; yet that did not hinder the employment of his heart with those for whom the heart of Christ was employed, but gave depth to it. There were personal causes of thought also, although not separate from the Church's need, in whose service his life was spent. He was going to Jerusalem; place of so many memories, and perhaps of his most real conflict. What waited him there? what lay beyond this? would it affect his after-course? would it alter those visions of future service which did not stop short of the furthest bounds of the west? Doubtless he had occupation enough with thoughts that thronged him those twenty-five miles or so to Assos. There they took him up, and thence they sailed, passing by Ephesus, which with all his ties to it would detain him too long if he visited it now, and only briefly pausing at Miletus.

But Ephesus could not be left aside with no token of his ever-abiding love; and the stay at Miletus gives him his desired opportunity. It was but thirty miles away, and a good road connecting; "he sent and called to him the elders of the assembly," for his last tender greeting.

The address of the apostle to the elders here is clearly in accordance with what has been already said of the representative character of the assembly at Ephesus. We have nothing like it elsewhere; and it ends in fact Paul's ministry of active labor as far as the only inspired account given us depicts it. From Jerusalem a new kind of testimony begins, and if he were freed from his chain at Rome, and permitted to carry out his thought of going on to Spain, yet nothing of this comes into or is needed for the completion of the history, — for the divine purpose with which it has been given us. A divine history is no mere account of things in detail; it is much more than this: it is a specially arranged extract from the whole, to prevent our losing ourselves in the many details, and to guide us to a proper estimate of the whole; it is at once a history and a comment which the history itself furnishes.

According to the divine thought, then, the evangelization of the Gentiles is here complete: we stand at the end and look back upon it; and with the review can look on also to see the result of it all, as thus complete. Moreover, in the review of the work of such an one as Paul we get a clearer apprehension spiritually of these results than if we had a wider field and many workmen. Then we should have a complicated problem to work out — to estimate the laborers and their labors separately and together, and to distinguish what might be due to each. Now on the other hand, we have one pattern workman, and we can certainly anticipate no better results from any other, nor from any number of others; we have the whole matter resolved for us with the greatest simplicity that can be.

An unalterably solemn thing it is, to look at it so; and a comparison made outside the history of the Acts will only confirm it. Where was there a place more competent as an example than the great assembly at Corinth, "coming behind in no gift;" the fruit of the apostle's careful labors for a year and a half; in how short a time does the first epistle, written from Ephesus during his work there, show us results such as we need not be reminded of; the Spirit of God, by the hand of Paul himself, has given it in detail. Look at Galatia with its zeal and enthusiasm for him who had brought it the gospel of Christ; in still less time from that of his second visit swept by the chilling blasts of legality, and giving up the joyous Spirit of adoption for the spirit of bondage. Compared with these Paul's declaration as to Ephesus is moderate indeed.

At the outset he reminds them of the character of his life and service among them, so well known during the long time he had spent there. His service now ended, he can speak of it with frankness and simplicity of heart to those who would need to serve with the same lowliness, compassed with the same perils. In his ministry there had been no reserve — no keeping back of anything that would be profitable, in a service which was not only public and general, at individual and from house to house. The basis of all was that which went out in testimony to Jews and Greeks, — repentance towards God, that judgment of self in His Presence which sets aside self-righteousness and self-confidence of every kind, and thus also that seeking after one's own will and way which is the essence of sin; on the other hand, faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, which alone gives God to be known and joyed in. and thus links the soul to Him from whom it can no more be sundered. These two things, it is evident, are but different parts of the one great whole of conversion, and which cannot exist apart from one another. One cannot exist, therefore, before the other, and they exercise a reciprocal influence upon each other. True repentance is as evangelical as true faith; and true faith as practical as true repentance. And the relation of each to a man's works is strangely in contrast with the usual thoughts; for while faith it is that is the worker, insomuch that "faith, if it have not works, is dead" faith merely, repentance it is that turns from all doings of man as wherein to have confidence, abhorring self, not sin merely, as the best man on earth was taught to do (Job 42:6). But thus the two clasp hands and walk together.

On such a basis, then, has his work been: but he is now leaving it; as far as they are concerned, it is for ever, — they will see his face no more. For himself, he is going to Jerusalem, bound in spirit — surely not the Holy Spirit, to whom the term he uses would be quite inapplicable, nor does it speak of the sweet and happy constraint of love, though love is in it — deep and constraining love; but along with this is certainly a foreboding which casts a shadow over him; the word "bound" reminds one of the victim for the altar; yet, if it were only that, and he felt the Lord were leading him in this way, his spirit would be brighter: his spirit would not bind him, though men's hands might. Contrast his words to the Philippians, where he is contemplating such a possibility: "Yea, and if I be offered" — "poured out" rather, the figure being taken from the drink-offering, which was a symbol of joy; and thus he goes on, — "and if I be poured out upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all" (Phil. 2:17). Again, when in nearer view of the end: — "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand; I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me in that day" (2 Tim. 4:6-8). The mere circumstances, therefore, will not explain the expression used by him now without a great wrong to the apostle himself; except indeed we take in the circumstances in a wider sense, beginning with his love to Israel; deep enough to have made him, as he declares to the Romans (and when this journey was in fact before him), be wishing that he himself were anathema from Christ for his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh (Rom. 9:3); yet with those words in his ears, — how they must have remained in his ears! — They will not receive thy testimony concerning Me," how the longing desire of the heart may work round the plainest testimonies! and especially even when the love that creates it is one like this of the apostle, a divine love for the people of God; for a people whose history was the history of God's grace to men from times far off, and of whom the Lord Himself had said, "Salvation is of the Jews."

Here he was, then, with his offering from the Gentiles, hoping, as it would seem, that now at last he might find that restriction removed, and that He who had once sent him far off to the Gentiles, might now permit him a testimony that should be accepted at Jerusalem itself. And yet — and yet — an uncertainty seems to cling to it in his mind, and shadow the hope that would fain be confident. He knows not what is to befall him there. There was the general witness of the Spirit — no exceptional thing that — wherever clustered the abodes of men, there were the scenes of his trial, if of his triumphs, — bonds and afflictions awaited him. What wonder if they did so at Jerusalem? Would he shrink from it on that account? Did he value his life, in the accomplishment of his course, — of that ministry received from the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God?

In Ephesus, however, his work was done; with the whole counsel of God fully declared to them, he was clear from the blood of all. He addresses himself, therefore, to those to whom the Spirit had given a place of oversight in the assembly, to care for it and watch and warn as he had done, tending the flock as shepherds, in view of evils which he can already foresee, and which would require their utmost vigilance and care.

As others have said, it is plain that the apostle thinks of no successors to himself in apostolic power or place. It is the elders who are now to exercise oversight, and they are not apostles. We find by the Apocalyptic epistle to Ephesus, that in fact just to that which, as has been already said, in a special way represents the Church at large there did come those who professed to be such successors: men who claimed to be apostles and were not, and whom they found liars (Rev. 2:2). The Corinthians also are warned of false apostles (2 Cor. 11:13), but nowhere are any exhorted to receive the true. This is marked and decisive as to those who make such claims today. It is remarkable indeed how ritualism has stultified itself in its successional pretensions, which always cleave to Peter, never to Paul: to the man, that is, who distinctly gave up the Gentiles to the care of Paul, himself going to the circumcision (Gal. 2:9). Who pretends, in fact, to be successor to Paul, who had the whole Gentile field committed to him? Or when did Paul confine himself to so narrow a field as that which the widest imaginable episcopal diocese would be to such an one (Rom. 1:13-15)? But in fact the episcopi — the bishops — are here in these elders (ver. 28, R.V.), who were simply the overseers of an assembly, — no one of them with diocese or parish or assembly of his own. We have seen such appointed in the Gentile assemblies by Paul and Barnabas on their first return journey through Lycaonia and Pisidia (Acts 14:23), and here we find them again in Ephesus. They are a company in each assembly of men fitted by their years, or that practical experience that should come through years, to take fatherly rule and oversight together. In this way they were to tend the flock as shepherds, but it by no means follows that this comprehends also the "nourishing and furnishing it with the wholesome food of the Word and all the means of grace," as Lechler alleges; here is not the place properly to discuss this; it is quite natural for those to think so who have been accustomed to see in the minister of the church the union of all the public "gifts" in the body of Christ. On the other hand it may be asserted without hesitation that the minister of a church, as almost everywhere found today, does not anywhere appear in the pages of the New Testament. The elders were a local board, as is plain; and by the very fact that they were "elders," though the word seems to have lost its meaning now, they could not include all ministry in the assembly; which the well-known text in the first epistle to Timothy (1 Tim. 5:17) confirms: elders might rule well, and yet not labor in the Word and doctrine; the one did not at all include the other.

Appointed by the apostle, as in the case before us compared with those already mentioned we cannot doubt they were, it could be said that the Holy Spirit had made them overseers, and in the assembly of God which He had purchased with the blood of His own — of One in such endeared relation as Christ was. How great the responsibility, then, of such a charge! The more, because evil times were coming, and not far off, as "after my departure" would surely indicate. The conflict with evil in a world like this cannot be avoided; and God turns it to blessing, but does not keep His people from it. Have we not to maintain a similar struggle with an inward enemy also? And so as to the Church of God, it would not be persecution from the world that would be the only, or even the chief trial. Here too there would be internal strife: "I know," says the apostle, "that after my departure there will come in among you grievous wolves, not sparing the flock; also from among your own selves shall men rise up, speaking things perverted, to draw away the disciples after them." On the one hand, from without the evil would break in through the slackly-guarded gates: we see the possibility of this in Simon at Samaria; though there the power did not lack to detect and cast out what had gained admission. On the other hand, from within perversions of truth would come, men seeking to make of themselves a centre instead of Christ: the subtlest evil, — truth with a twist in it, so as in some sense to deceive the true. For, alas, how seldom are we absolutely and altogether such that error cannot appeal to us! Doubtless "he that will do His will shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God;" but who then can look round among the contradictory views that divide the sincerest Christians, without realizing how much our own wills must deceive us after all?

How solemn does this make the apostle's word to Timothy, "Take heed to thyself and to the doctrine" (1 Tim. 4:16); to thyself first! For Scripture itself will only furnish perfectly the man of God: and we may be earnest enough to learn just such and such things, and find no capacity, because of something we do not want to learn, which must be learned first! For this cause what we may be pleased to call our open Bible may be a Bible with few wide open pages. If we shut our eyes, we cannot dictate to them just what they shall shut out!

But if anything like this be true, then we must not wonder at the decline that seems ever ready to set in after the greatest of revivals. All truth makes demand proportionate to its blessedness, and thus the highest truth may be the first to be lost. It is a solemn thing indeed that, even amongst Christians, the doctrine of Paul is that least received, most carped at. How significant were the tears with which day and night he ceased not to admonish every one!

Therefore they were to watch; God and the word of His grace remained with them, and would remain: a sufficient resource surely, whatever the trial. It was able to build them up and give them an inheritance among the sanctified; it is able still to minister now to the soul a portion as large as ever. We have no limit except that which we make for ourselves; why make it?

Sustained by all this wealth of blessing, he could appeal to them that he had coveted nothing from them. His own hands had sufficed for his need, and even for that of others with him. He had given them an example of labor freely engaged in on behalf of the weak, and a fulfilment of the words of the Lord Jesus, that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

He closes with a full heart, pouring out his prayers with them before he leaves them, with a burst of sorrowing love on their part at the close of a ministry to which they owed their all, henceforth a memory only, save in that one letter from the Roman prison in which he takes them and us up into the land where are no partings, and where the inheritance of them that are sanctified is spread before us and made our own. He had been already caught up there, to see things he could not communicate. In his captivity at Rome even he seems to have acquired a more penetrating apprehension of the things unseen, which he is able at the same time to communicate. May we have ability to receive these revelations which alone place us in the full height of our position as Christians, and thus give us the full length and breadth of what is through grace our own!