Part 3 of An Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles newly translated from an amended text.
The Spirit of God next brings before us the first signal working of that judaizing which was destined to play a deep, wide, and permanent portion in the history of the church of God. 'And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, Except ye be circumcised1 after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved' (ver. 1).
1 The critical or aoristic form as in ABCD and many cursives, is preferable. The Text. Rec. though largely supported implies continuance or habit, which does not apply here.
In every point of view this was serious. It was an error, and yet it claimed to be founded on the word of God. It proceeded from men bearing the name of Christ, and withal it struck at the foundation. Satan's habitual effort is to insinuate evil, not only under fair appearance and if possible by one part of the word made to neutralize another, but through disciples. No principle more false than to urge the reputation of advocates in defence of their doctrine, which must stand or fall according to scripture interpreted in the light of Christ and His work, for these ever call for the energies of the Holy Spirit, as they command the hearts of the faithful.
It is clear also that the truth of God is imperilled by an unwarranted addition even more than by the manifest opposition of unbelief. These men did not avowedly deny the gospel, nor teach that one could be saved by an ordinance only; but they did insist on the necessity of circumcision in order to salvation. This is to undermine Christianity, which is not merely promise but accomplishment; but mere promises leave the door open, as inspired history shows, for thereby insinuating the law, instead of sovereign grace reigning through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. It was really ignorance of Christ risen from the dead and glorified in heaven, the proper object of the Christian. He never can thus be by faith before the soul without maintaining the efficacy of His atoning death. What has law or circumcision to do with Him Who is at the right hand of God? On this side of the cross law has its place (1 Tim. 1:8-11).
But these men were occupied with their prejudices and were looking back at things and persons on earth, not through the rent veil upon Christ above. Hence their pride was wounded. They could not bear to hear that the distinctive mark, the ancient glory of a Jew, was now eclipsed and gone. They had but feebly learned the teaching of the cross. They had not discerned there the sentence of death on the flesh at its best. They would no doubt have acknowledged their need of Him Who suffered once for all their sins, but they saw not their religion (and circumcision was its initiatory and characteristic badge) treated as naught, yea, utterly condemned therein. Error flows from a wholly false measure. Had Christ, the truth been before their souls, had they estimated aright His death on the cross, they had never fallen into a mistake so profound and unworthy.
But they were wrong otherwise also. The Lord had promised the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of truth, to guide into it all and to teach what they could not bear during His earthly ministry. The truth was there in His person; but yet the best taught of His disciples did not understand at all fully even fundamentals till He was risen and glorified. But now the Holy Spirit had been sent down from heaven, and Gentiles without circumcision had received Him, no less than did the circumcised believers. Was this nothing in their eyes? Is it not a solemn lesson that disciples could be so blinded by their religious habits as to overlook a fact so plain, certain and conclusive? For God had taken care that not the apostles of the uncircumcision but Peter himself should be His chosen instrument for the call of Cornelius in the presence of the six brethren of the circumcision that accompanied him from Joppa.
It is instructive also to observe, if faith is ever humble, bold though it may be, how presumptuous error is. For these men who were clamorous for the necessity of circumcision, ventured not to plead that apostolic authority had laid down any such dogma as they sought to impose. Their judgment and their dignity, we may say, proceeded from themselves, behaving in this like the Gentiles who know not God.
Insurrection against the truth was thus permitted to display itself in the face of the apostles that the Lord might give us His own distinct and ever-abiding correction. What a mercy to us, as well as to the church of God ever since, that this question was not suppressed till the apostles disappeared from the earth! We should then have had only an uninspired answer, however sound. Now we have what all Christians own to possess divine authority. That which an apostle writes is really the Lord's commandment (1 Cor. 14:37).
The troublers came from Judea, which with the weak and ignorant would be apt to lend weight to their words. Of this Satan is ever active to take advantage. Human tradition readily creeps in, and as naturally flatters the flesh. The Holy Ghost falls back upon the word; only we must take care that we do not require the letter which kills when we can only have the spirit which gives life. Subjection to Christ alone keeps us right life in Him is always obedient and holy, and is the way of true intelligence. Human tradition is never to be trusted even among disciples. God is jealous for His word, which bears constant testimony to Christ and therefore against human pride. The men who came down from Judea were imperious nominally for God; it was really for the flesh and self. They would have cut off, if they could, not only the Gentile saints but the apostles of the uncircumcision.
'And' when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and questioning with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up unto Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question' (ver. 2). Here again let us admire the wisdom of God's ways. Paul and Barnabas themselves were unable to settle the dispute. Self-will is invincible, even for apostles. God had it in His mind to interpose in a much more impressive and efficacious manner. It might have been dangerous, however desirable in itself, to have terminated the present matter of debate at Antioch. For the evil, being inveterate as to principle in the nature of things, would surely have broken out afresh subsequently, and elsewhere, probably worst of all in Jerusalem itself. It was true wisdom, therefore, to transfer the further discussion of the question to the source from whence the mischief had come; more particularly as Paul and Barnabas would go there in order that it might not only be heard but there and then settled by all the authority given of God for the governing of His assembly on the earth. All was thus directed under the good hand of God, for the evil was judged in the quarter from whence it emanated, where presumably, not to say notoriously, was its hotbed, where lived those who knew best its promoters, and where all was rather favourable than hostile to them, with on the other hand the immense moral weight that would follow the judgment from such as God had set first in the church to govern in the Lord's name.
1 Text Rec. followed by the Authorized Version and many has 'therefore', and even Lachmann adheres to it, as AEHP and most cursives give it. But the correct particle δέ has the best support and is clearly right. The common συζητήοεως is unfounded.
In Gal. 2:1, 2 the apostle Paul says he went up 'according to revelation'. Here the inspired historian says that they (i.e., the brethren or the labourers generally without defining more) arranged or decided that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to the apostles and elders at Jerusalem about this question. There is no more contradiction here than in Acts 13:2 where the Spirit called unmistakably and exclusively the same servants of the Lord to a definite missionary work, while they also enjoyed the cordial and holy fellowship of their fellow-labourers in commending them to the grace of God for that tour. They may have had the revelation direct as in Acts 16:9, 10, or through the prophetic intimation of others as before, what is certain is that 'according to revelation' Paul went up, and not merely as a step appointed by others. Each statement is in perfect keeping with the document where it is given, and the Holy Spirit's design in each, though men as usual have not been wanting to set them in antagonism. Titus was one of these others, and his case at least was of immediate bearing on the question as an uncircumcised Gentile endowed and honoured of God beyond most; but this again is specified only to the Galatians for its importance there, though room be amply and evidently left for it in the Acts. The rationalistic misuse of God's word is an instance of that ignorance or dishonesty, if not both, which characterizes the system. The believer ought to have no hesitation or difficulty, inasmuch as faith adheres to all scripture as divine.
'They therefore, having been set forward by the assembly, passed through both1 Phoenicia and Samaria, recounting the conversion of the Gentiles, and they caused great joy to all the brethren' (ver. 3). Is there any good reason why propemphthentes should not be rendered 'set forward' here as in Rom. 15:24, 1 Cor. 16:6; 3 John 6? No doubt the heart of the saints was with them, not with the legalists; but there was considerate and affectionate care for their wants by the way, whether or not there was any escort, as in Acts 21:5, which some conceive here. The picture is a lovely one, the joy in all created by the accounts heard of God's grace outside Israel. What a contrast with Jewish jealousy! Yet are unlettered men and women peculiarly open to superstition, prejudice, and human feeling. But divine love prevailed, in accordance with the truth. Others alas! who for the time ought to have been teachers had again need to be taught the elements of the beginning of the oracles of God and had come to need milk, not solid food (Heb. 5:12). It is harder to unlearn than to learn.
1 Text. Rec. follows most in omitting τε 'both', which the more ancient authorities insert.
'And on arriving at Jerusalem they were welcomed1 by the assembly and the apostles and the elders, and reported all things that God did with them. But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees, believers, saying, It is necessary to circumcise them and charge [them] to keep the law of Moses' (vers. 4, 5).
1 The critical reading is stronger than that of Text. Rec.
The heart of the church beat truly, but there were adversaries now within as well as without. It was not yet the conference, but meetings preliminary to it, where the wonderful works of God by the gospel drew out sympathy or opposition among those at Jerusalem who bore the Lord's name. Those who at this time resented the liberty of grace are expressly said to have believed. The crisis, therefore, was grace. Unity — unity not merely by-and-by in heaven, but now on earth — is the blessed privilege and the inalienable responsibility of the body of Christ, the assembly. There was no such unhappy wish as to forestall the due place by dealing with the question where Paul and Barnabas had especial and commanding influence, and then arguing on the church's unity to compel the communion of the assembly in Jerusalem and of course everywhere else. Yet Antioch might have been plausibly set forward as the only proper place to discuss and determine a question which so intimately concerned the Lord's glory among the Gentile believers. For not from Jerusalem but from Antioch were those ambassadors of Christ sent forth who had been the great pioneers in the missionary work of the Holy Spirit. Self or party could have furnished abundant reasons; but Christ held His place, which first sought His will and then made all saints clear, even those who were creating trouble by their lack of grace, lowliness, and intelligence. Thus the snare was avoided by which Satan sought even then to scatter and make a Jewish church apart from the Gentile; or, at the least, by leaving out the assembly in Jerusalem the apostles, and the elders, to begin a separate course at Antioch, which would end in division ere long, if not immediately. But grace and truth prevailed, the respect due to all those whom the Lord had honoured and, as we have seen the particular principle of dealing with evil in its root, and not merely its fruits.
It was, I presume, at this juncture that the apostle, as he tells us in Gal. 2:2-10, set the gospel he preached to the Gentiles before those of reputation in private. It was then they saw that he had been entrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision, even as Peter with that of the circumcision; and that James, Cephas, and John gave to Paul and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship according to that partition of the work which the Lord had already marked out for all that had eyes to discern. This was of the utmost moment to state in the Epistle; but it was outside the public history and independent of the council which is the Spirit's object in the chapter before us. The independence of Paul's mission and work does not enter into view here, whereas in the letter to the Galatians it was of capital moment, and the decrees of the council are not named where they could have no just place, and their mention might have wrought only mischief. How truly, in the New Testament as in the Old, to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven! Above, such distinction is uncalled for, where all is light, peace, and love, to God's glory.
It seems evident that much was done before the council. The opposition of the judaizing party had come out fully and distinctly from the time the apostles of the Gentiles had been received by the assembly, as it had wrought since the baptism of Cornelius and his household. Naturally the public recital of what God had done in Asia Minor provoked their prejudices yet more. What occurred privately is not stated here; but we know from the early verses of Galatians 2 that it was of high moment.
What is reported in Acts 15 had for its prime object the repression of Jewish feeling and the distinct recognition of the Gentiles who believed on common ground with the Jewish disciples. The decrees that were ordained by the apostles and the elders in Jerusalem had the greatest weight in that point of view. But, in writing to the Gentile assemblies, the apostle takes the high ground of grace, and proves the incompatibility of a fleshly ordinance, however venerable or instructive, with the truth of a dead and risen Saviour as a ground of justification before God. In that grand scheme, wherein God Himself has wrought for guilty and lost man in the cross and blood of His Son, circumcision made with hands wholly vanishes away. And the Gentile believers, dead in their offences and the uncircumcision of their flesh, Christ quickened together with Him, no less than the Jewish faithful, having forgiven us all the offences. The handwriting written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, He blotted out and took out of the way, nailing it to the cross (Col. 2:13-15).
We can understand how truly it was of God, thus to confront and set aside all Gentile inclination for ordinances by the teaching of the truth of Christ, which had buried the question in His grave and given the Christian a new place in Him, to which the flesh never had, nor can have, a claim. The decrees had their place and season most suitably while the early Jews who believed were objects of the patience of God: but the apostolic Epistles treat the question on a deeper foundation and with higher associations, which abide for ever. But it is highly instructive to notice that the apostle was not behind others in honouring and using the decrees, which are not even mentioned in the final discussion of the case for the edification of the church in general.
'And the apostles and the elders were gathered together to see about this matter. And when there had been much questioning, Peter stood up and said to them, Brethren (lit. Men-brethren) ye know how that from early days God chose among you1 that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And the heart-knowing God bore them witness, giving [them]2 the Holy Spirit, even as to us also, and He put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why tempt ye God, that ye should put a yoke on the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe3 that through the grace of the Lord Jesus4 we shall be saved in like manner as they' (vers. 6-11). Here we have the opening of the council. None but the apostles and elders are mentioned as gathered together. It was emphatically for their decision, but assuredly not without the presence and concurrence of the assembly, as we know from verse 22, not to speak of verse 12; and this of course as a reality, not a mere form which Christianity forbids. But God would have the positive seal of the highest authority in the eyes even of the remonstrants. Hence the prominent mention throughout of the apostles and elders, while it cannot be doubted that the assembly was present and free to take part. It was a matter in which every soul had a real interest but in which the judgment of the wisest was particularly needed. And One wiser than any took His guiding part here (ver. 28), Whose personal presence we have seen to be sedulously acknowledged throughout this entire Book, as indeed it is characteristic of the church of God according to the scriptures. The Holy Ghost was there and was counted upon for guidance to the glory of Christ.
1 Most with Text. Rec. read 'us'.
2 The pronoun here is doubtful, the sense is clear.
3 The Sinaitic, et al., have the strange error of the future here.
4 'Christ' in the Text. Rec. has some authority, but neither much nor the best.
This, however, did not preclude discussion. Verse 7 lets us know that there was much debate or questioning. No doubt it was sorrowful and humiliating that there should be such disputation, even in the presence of the apostles, but the fact is plain and is calmly recorded by the Holy Spirit, which should convince not a few how far their notion of ecclesiastical order differs from primitive history. Even in apostolic days we see how liberty prevailed though flesh undoubtedly took advantage of it. To destroy the liberty because of its abuse were a remedy worse than the disease; and thus it is with Christendom bound in fetters of brass for ages, and denouncing true liberty as licence. Human rules have rendered the scriptural state of things just as impossible against good as against evil. But faith, when directed to God's revelation in this, can never rest satisfied short of subjection to scripture, and the rather as the Holy Spirit was promised to abide with us for ever.
The apostles, it is evident, bore patiently with the difficulties and even disputes of their less discerning and more prejudiced brethren. They were strong in the grace that is in Christ. They had His glory livingly before their souls. They sought not lordship over the faith of their brethren, but that others should stand by faith even as they stood. As the grace and truth of Christ faded in men's hearts, ecclesiastical authority became an idol or self-importance a snare. Such was, such is, no small part of the present ruined state of the church: no one contends that there was perfection even in apostolic days, still less can one look for perfection now even within the most circumscribed sphere. But every faithful soul is bound to stand for the Lord's honour according to the written word, and to eschew whatever is opposed to God's order as well as to doctrinal truth and personal holiness. The denial of such a responsibility is in substance not only a sin but antinomian in principle, no matter whose be the names or what the fair-spoken pleas to excuse the unfaithfulness. It is easy to point out grievous shortcoming even where a truthful stand is made. But those who point it out with complacency fail in this very matter to exhibit the Spirit of Christ, and will never be able to justify human methods in God's church, even if they succeeded in carrying them out ever so successfully. How much more worthy to do better according to the word what they blame for being done so feebly! Is it uncharitable to say that to act themselves according to the word is far from their purpose, which is simply to discredit those who do seek it?
Peter then reminds all of his mission to Joppa, where the Gentiles received the gospel through him as God's first and apostolic instrument. Most powerfully does he urge God's dealings with them, 'the heart-knowing God' bearing witness to them in the gift of the Holy Spirit, uncircumcised as they were, nay, further, that He put no distinction between the Jewish and the Gentile believers, seeing that His purification is of the heart by faith. For this a rite avails nothing. 'Now, therefore, why tempt ye God'? Their prejudice, in itself, and specially if maintained, was a real disbelief of God's word and acts. It was putting a yoke of law upon the neck of the disciples, which none in the past or present could bear: a circumcised man was debtor to do the whole law. For, introduced in glory as it was, it is a ministry of death and condemnation. The gospel believed is salvation through the grace of the Lord Jesus, Who bore our penalty and blotted out our sins in His blood. This is grace indeed, where all the guilt was ours and all that availed for our forgiveness and deliverance was His, to the vindication of that God, His God and Father, Whom we had rebelled against or lived without. In reality we knew Him not as He is, believing the lie of Satan rather than the truth of God. We did our own will and gave Him no credit for love, though He so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes should not perish but have everlasting life. But now we have seen the Son and believed in Him. His grace in suffering for our sins, the Just for the unjust, has made us both ashamed of ourselves and acquainted with God; and He is love. 'Hereby know we love, because He laid down His life for us' (1 John 3:16).
Formed by that grace, it is remarkable that Peter says here, 'we believe that we Jews shall be saved in like manner as they (Gentiles)'. The natural phrase for a Jew would have been, 'They in like manner as we'; but grace reigns and Peter says, 'We, in like manner as they'. How worthy of the gospel! This was not Simon Bar-Jonah left to himself, but it was Peter — a true rock-man. Flesh and blood had not prompted the thought or word but the Father Who is in heaven.
Peter had made an admirable introduction and his argument was the reflection of the grace of the Lord Jesus. It was well and worthy that the apostle of the circumcision should so speak not merely from personal experience but from the sovereign choice of God. We can understand the effect: 'And all the multitude kept silence.' None could doubt the strong Jewish prejudice of Peter, no more could they question now his assertion of liberty from the law for the Gentiles. But there was another reason for keeping silence. 'And they hearkened unto Barnabas and Paul rehearsing what signs and wonders God wrought among the Gentiles by them' (ver. 12). Here there ought not to be a hesitation that 'all the multitude' must take in not merely the apostles and the elders but the assembly. This seems certain from verse 22, whatever may be our judgment of the true reading in verse 23. It is interesting to note that the signs and wonders are said to have been wrought of God by Barnabas and Paul, whereas in verse 4 the more general work of the Lord is said to have been all that God wrought with them. The signs and wonders were more external and they are viewed as mere instruments. 'With them,' implies more of fellowship and divine association than exercise of mere power. Such a statement must have had the most powerful effect on Jewish minds. God graciously gave in abundance what they would expect peculiarly in so novel a work among the Gentiles. His grace had fully provided for all emergencies beforehand.
'And after they had held their peace, James answered saying, Brethren [Men-brethren] hearken to me; Simeon has rehearsed how God first visited the Gentiles to take out of [them] a people for His name' (vers. 13, 14). This is a most important proposition in its way; it gives a separate character to the present work of God. It in no way denies that God had a line of saints in Israel, and before Israel, and what is more, outside Israel; but it asserts a special gathering 'out' at this present time, and it leaves no room for the vain thought, that even one nation, as a whole, shall be brought by the gospel to confess the Lord, still less that all nations shall be so changed. The truth is that God only proposes while Jesus is at His right hand to take out of all a people for His name. This is the church of God and it is as distinct from the ways of God before the cross as from those which are to follow the Lord's appearing and reign by-and-by.
'And to this agree the words of the prophets, as it is written; After these things I will return and will build again the tabernacle of David which is fallen, and will build again its ruins and will set it up; so that the residue of men may seek out the Lord and all the nations upon whom My name is called, saith [the] Lord, Who maketh [all] these things known from the beginning of the world' (vers. 15-18).
It is an error to suppose that these last words allude to the mystery of forming the believing Gentiles with the faithful Jews into one body, the church. Rom. 16:25, 26 and Eph. 3:5, 6 do refer to that mystery, but not our text which simply speaks of God's gracious recognition of those of the nations that believe as His own, though Gentiles still, whether under the gospel now or in the future kingdom. Union with Christ and the Head as His body goes much farther, though said of Gentiles now as of believing Jews, but no Old Testament prophet reveals it. The prophetic writings of Romans 16 and the prophets of Ephesians 3 are New Testament exclusively.
It will be observed that the prophets are referred to generally, though none but Amos is quoted, and the object is general. James draws from their testimony, proved expressly by the one cited, the principle of Gentiles as such having the Lord's name called upon them. So far were they of the nations from having to accept circumcision that the prophet speaks of all the Gentiles. This will be in the days of the kingdom as no Jew could deny. They will not become Jews any more than the Jews will become Gentiles, both will be blessed of the Lord in their respective positions when the Messiah reigns. It was absurd therefore to object to God's grace toward the Gentiles now, under the gospel, and in the church where is neither Jew nor Gentile, but Christ is all and in all.
The reading in verse 18 is somewhat doubtful, and even the version, which may mean 'Who doeth these things known from the beginning of the world.' The general sense is plain enough. Accordingly James gives his judgment: 'Wherefore my judgment is that we trouble not those who from the Gentiles turn to God, but write to them that they may abstain from pollutions of idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from generations of old hath in every city those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath' (vers. 19-21).
'The pollution of idols' were meats offered to idols, as in verse 29. Cf. Dan. 1:8, Mal. 1:7, not to speak of Ecclus. xl. Bentley's conjecture of χοιρείας ('pork') for πορνείας is an instance of the great scholar's audacity and erudite ignorance (perhaps suggested by Bellonius' Observat. iii. 10 whom he cites in ver. 29). We may think it strange to see unclean sin classed with idolatrous sanction; but the Jew felt differently, and to the Gentile they were equally indifferent.
Thus it was going up rather to God's ways with Noah, than enforcing the law of Moses. Noah being a sort of head of mankind generally after the flood, Gentile liberty was thus secured, idolatry was intolerable, and so was fornication, however universal both among the nations. Abstinence from things strangled and blood brought in the recognition of God's taking account of man as fallen. God forbade both: the use of the creature was not forbidden to man, but God prohibited meddling with the special signs of death; life belongs to God, and it was forfeited through sin. As for the law, there was no reason why the church should busy itself in that direction: from generations of old Moses had in every city those that preach him. The synagogues at any rate had the law read there every sabbath. The Gentiles henceforth might well rejoice in the gospel.
It may be noticed by the way that no vote was taken, nor any equivalent measure. For it was no question of the will of man but of God. Who wrought by the Spirit to give holy wisdom and general concurrence.
'Then it seemed good to the apostles and elders with the whole assembly having chosen1 from among them to send men with Paul and Barnabas to Antioch, Judas called2 Barsabbas and Silas, leading men among the brethren, having written by their hand, The apostles and the elder brethren3 to the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greeting. Whereas we heard that some who went out from us troubled you with words, upsetting your souls4; to whom we gave no commandment, it seemed good to us, having been of one accord5 to choose6 and send men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men that have given up their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, themselves also announcing by word the same things. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these necessary things: to abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and blood, and things strangled, and fornication; from which if ye keep yourselves ye shall do well. Farewell' (vers. 22-29).
1 'Chosen', verses 22 and 25, in the Authorized and other Versions is ungrammatical. G. Wakefield is half right, half wrong.
2 Text. Rec. with some authority gives 'surnamed', as in Authorized Version.
3 The common text follows EHLP, et al., as opposed to ABCD et al., and probably was framed to suit verse 22; it was a mere clerical error.
4 Text. Rec. with many MSS. adds 'saying that ye must be circumcised and keep the law'. The most ancient authorities omit.
5 The Authorized Version renders this in a way of no bearing here.
6 'Chosen', verses 22 and 25, in the Authorized Version and others is ungrammatical. G. Wakefield is half right, half wrong.
It will be observed that the most ancient authorities open with a reading which is now accepted by almost all critics. This yields a sense rather more remote from ecclesiastical tradition than the ordinary text, where 'the elders' are distinguished sharply from 'the brethren' immediately following. The 'elder brethren', however, is a formula which exactly agrees with the state of things which was obtaining at Jerusalem. No doubt they were 'the elders' there, as we find them called in Acts 11:30, as well as in Acts 15:2, 6. They were the local authorities; but they appear not to have been chosen formally, as the elders undoubtedly were in the Gentile assemblies, by apostolic authority, direct or indirect; they seem rather to have acted simply from their experience and moral weight, as was usual among the Jews. This falls in remarkably with the peculiar expression employed here, 'the elder brethren', and harmonizes with the tone of Peter's address in 1 Peter 5:1-4.
But there is another remark to make of still more immediate and important application practically. Judas Barsabbas and Silas were sent with Paul and Barnabas, characterized as 'leading men among the brethren'. They were neither apostles on the one hand, nor were they elders or elder brethren on the other, but were for their fitness chosen by the council to visit Antioch. It is the same expression which we find three times (vers. 7, 17, 24) in Heb. 13. The Revised Version, like the Authorized translates it 'chiefs in Acts 15:22; but 'those that had (or, 'have') the rule' in Hebrews: 'had' for the departed chiefs, 'have' for such as still lived and laboured. They are not spoken of as elders, but seem to have been identified with the ministration of the word (ver. 7), rather than with oversight or presiding like the elders. This fact gives us clear insight, when duly recognized into the far greater liberty as well as variety of gift exercised in the apostolic church as compared with the straitness of modern Christendom I do not speak of sign-gifts, such as miracles and tongues, but of spiritual endowments given of Christ for the perfecting of the saints. Denominational arrangements on the worldly system of a salary, with the claims of an exclusive position, directly interferes with the Lord's will in this respect and destroys the beautiful liberty of the Spirit to the famishing (not the edification) of the body of Christ.
Yet it will be found by the attentive reader not only of the Acts of the Apostles but of their Epistles, that the principle and the practice of this free ministration in the assemblies is easily vouched for apart from local authority or official rank throughout the New Testament. Rom. 12:4-8 is plain. 'Teaching' and 'exhorting', and 'ruling', or 'leading', are spoken of as 'gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us' distinct from 'prophecy', as well as one from another. In the church or assembly according to God's word there was and ought to be room for them all. It were the sheerest unbelief to assume that they are now extinct. Woe be to the adversaries of the Holy Ghost who affirm such a falsehood to justify their system!
The reader can compare also 1 Cor. 12 and 1 Cor. 14 throughout, as well as 1 Cor. 15:1-21, Gal. 6:6, Eph. 4:7-16, Phil. 1:14, Col. 2:19, 1 Thess. 5:12, 13, 2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Peter 4:10, 11; 3 John 7, 8, which prove in the clearest manner the full opening in the assembly as well as towards the world for those suitably gifted which scripture maintains, and only persons like Diotrephes, as far as God's word speaks, dare to oppose and neutralize.
It is in vain to plead, as unbelief blindly does, that such largeness and liberty were only suited to the apostolic day. For this really gives the highest sanction to such free action of the Holy Ghost. If inspired men, if the highest gifts that God ever set in the church, did not hinder but help on every form of gracious ministry, how can men in avowedly inferior position nowadays justify their opposition? None but the most prejudiced will contend that the ordinary gifts of edification fail. None but enthusiasts will deny that the sign-gifts, which ushered in the present economy, are extinct. Not so those, thank God, that are given by the ascended Christ unto the work of ministering, save such as were for laying the foundation (Eph. 2:20) which once laid was laid for ever.
We may remark in the letter of the council that the order is 'Barnabas and Paul' (ver. 25) as in verse 12, whereas earlier in the chapter as in verse 2, and later as in verse 35, and subsequently, it is 'Paul and Barnabas'. The feeling of the saints in Jerusalem expressed itself in the former way, as was the feeling elsewhere in the early days of the great apostle's testimony. Compare Acts 11:30; Acts 12:25; Acts 13:2, 7. But Acts 13:13, marks a great change, as we see in verses 43, 46, 50 (but not Acts 14:14). The reader of the Old Testament may find a similar principle in Ex. 6:13, 20, 26 and 27. In the order of nature it is 'Aaron and Moses'; in sovereign grace it becomes 'Moses and Aaron'. The author of the Old and the New is the same, and can only be God Himself working in man through His unerring Spirit.
This was the only council which was entitled to say, 'It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.' If others have imitated the language, it is but profanity. Yet it was not an ecumenical assembly at all, but simply the assembly at Jerusalem where the apostles and local elders met together to consider the matter. The decision was most rightly taken there, whence the evil had sprung, and where the apostles were, Paul and Barnabas going up for the purpose. It was they with the whole assembly at Jerusalem who decided for the liberty of the Gentile converts. How different and disastrous it must have been had it been a council at Antioch, even though the decision had been the same! It is of all consequence that the way as well as the end be of the Holy Spirit and in accordance with the word of God. So it was with this council, and we hear no more of the 'much' discussion or questioning which had agitated the brethren before the council. Judas and Silas were sent as the most unequivocal witnesses of the decision at Jerusalem that Barnabas and Paul might thence have a support above all question. The power of divine grace had thus wrought in truth and righteousness for the name of Jesus; and there was a great calm.
There was no such portentous error as a portion of the assembly (though in Jerusalem exceedingly numerous) deciding for itself alone then, the other portions following suit and lastly, all who objected to the fraud and force of the transaction jostled and declared outside in the city, with the like course pursued throughout the country. No wonder that breaches must be created by so gross a departure from the word, even if the object had not been partiality to a favourite preceded by unrighteous oppression. At the council in Jerusalem, as love wrought for Christ's glory so righteousness was the result, and unity throughout was maintained. Nobody thought of another judgment of the question, either in other parts of Jerusalem or anywhere else. God honoured His own principles in His word, grace triumphed, and the saints at large, however previously alienated, owned and rejoiced in the blessing, where appearances had threatened a storm of evil omen to all who valued the gospel.
But the ecumenical councils anathematized individuals and forced divisions far and wide. In this they succeeded; for nothing is so easy as to scatter the saints. To allay fleshly violence, to conciliate the alienated, to repress party, needs grace and truth wielded by the Lord: what was so rare at these councils (as the patience of Christ)? Will and passion reigned more humblingly and bitterly than in the political sphere.
Even the first and most important of these 'general councils' was convened by the Emperor Constantine, though an unbaptized man! to be held at Nicea. The number of western delegates was ridiculously small, as indeed it ever was at all the councils in the East. Later, when the popes exercised the power of the emperors, the eastern bishops were wholly absent. Thus the claim to be 'ecumenical' was a nullity, and most evidently after the West quarrelled with the East, for thenceforward only the Latin party attended. Thus God took care that, as the departure became complete and evil was enforced by man's will, unity should be manifestly at an end, though none were so loud and arrogant in their claim of it as those who in their blind zeal had done most to destroy the testimony to it.
The scene now changes to Antioch, whither the chosen envoys repair with Paul and Barnabas.
'They then having been let go, went down unto Antioch, and having gathered the multitude delivered the letter. And when they had read it they rejoiced at the consolation. And Judas and Silas, being themselves also prophets, exhorted the brethren with much discourse and strengthened [them]. And having continued a time, they were let go in peace from the brethren unto those that sent them' (vers. 30-33).
At Antioch was the assembly where the Holy Ghost had exercised His sovereign rights in making good the glory of Christ by calling and separating His servants. It was there that Satan had sought to judaize by legal influence derived from Jerusalem. And now that the assembly in Jerusalem had repudiated and cast out that leaven of Pharisaism, Antioch is the first Gentile assembly to hear that grace had triumphed in the very circle whence the evil had spread. The multitude assembled, the letter was delivered, and, when it was read, 'they rejoiced at the consolation'.
Alas! it has been rare in ecclesiastical history when such is the fruit of 'decrees'; for they are in general a dreary record of anathemas, and, like Ezekiel's roll, lamentation and mourning and woe are written there. Here the gracious power of the Spirit was at work, whatever the adversaries; and edification resulted, not destruction. There was no selfish design, still less a purpose to scatter. The word of God was proved to tally with the ways of His mercy, and the Holy Spirit bound all together, great or small, in giving emphasis and freedom to the gospel in its widest range. Those whose prejudice would have fettered and really corrupted its character, stood abashed and silent, however obstreperous they might have been before. Those who simply desired to hold fast grace, 'rejoiced at the consolation', which was the sweeter because the material of it came from Jerusalem.
'And Judas and Silas, being themselves also prophets, exhorted the brethren with much discourse and confirmed them.' We cannot but see the blessed liberty of ministry even where apostles were present. Clerical rights, and personal jealousies? had no place yet. The brethren accordingly confirmed all, as might be looked for, through these ample witnesses, whose one desire for all was growth through the truth. It was the same principle at work here? which was developed years afterwards in 1 Cor. 12, 14, as indeed the New Testament knows none other according to God. After some time Judas and Silas were dismissed in peace 'unto those that had sent them'? not merely 'unto the apostles?, as in the later copies and some early versions? the more important of which join the ancient in omitting verse 34 of the Text. Rec. as reflected in the Authorized Version. It was probably an insertion due to an inference from verse 40? which is as easy to account for as it is hard to conceive? the best leaving it out if genuine. Silas may have returned, instead of abiding, which last does not well agree with verse 33.
'But Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch teaching and evangelizing, with many others also, the word of the Lord' (ver. 35). Here again we have a plain scripture fully confirming the large and active ministry of the word which characterized these early days. If it be answered that such simplicity was suited to days of testimony before Christianity became an institution established here below, the reply is that the mischief lies there exactly. Christianity ought never to be other than a pilgrimage of faith, and never to have become a thing settled in the earth like judaism. Communion with Christ and separation from the world are the necessary conditions of fidelity. Our only right establishment will be the holy city Jerusalem? coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, in the day of Christ's appearing. Till then neither ease nor honour nor peace nor power in the world, but, as the apostle says, boasting in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom the world is crucified to each, and each of us to the world. Hence ministry is in scripture no question of worldly rank or emolument (though the labourer is worthy of his hire) but of devoted and loving service according to the gift of Christ.
Here we cannot do better than introduce an incident of the liveliest but withal painful interest, the collision between the great apostle of the circumcision and the younger but still greater apostle of the Gentiles (Gal. 2:11 et seq.). There seems no real reason to doubt that it occurred at Antioch about this very time after the council of Jerusalem and before the departure of Barnabas, and so it is understood by Ussher (Works, xi. 51), as by others of the greatest weight of old as now. Yet as a fact never was a plain matter so distressingly perverted than by respectable ancients, never greater anxiety to alter its time among recent writers, some of whom prefer an earlier, others a later, date. The real moral is the reluctance of men to bow to the truth, which is all the more impressive if we give due weight to the time when it happened. Certainly man is not exalted thereby, but God Who does not fail of raising up an adequate testimony to His own glory.
No less a man than the chief of the twelve, after all that grace had done failed to walk straightforwardly according to the truth of the gospel; and having sinned publicly, he was publicly reproved for a compromise so dangerous, and for an inconsistency in his case most glaring. 'But when Cephas came unto Antioch, I resisted him face to face, because he was condemned. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he drew back and separated himself fearing those of the circumcision; and the rest of the Jews also dissembled with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw them not walking straightforwardly according to the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before all, If thou being a Jew livest Gentile-wise and not Jew-wise, how dost thou compel the Gentiles to judaize? We, Jews by nature and not sinners from among Gentiles, yet knowing that a man is not justified by works of law but only through faith of Jesus Christ, even we believed in Christ Jesus . . .' (Gal. 2:11-16).
One can see on the one hand what a handle was given to enemies not only by the circumcision itself but yet more by the indelible page of inspiration; as on the other hand we may be sure the Holy Spirit would never have thus recorded it for ever unless it were due to God's glory and a most needed lesson for the highest of the Lord's servants through all time. And so we learn how Porphyry chuckled over both (Hieron. vii. 371) and Marcion turned it to his Gnostic account (Tertull. Adv. Marcionem, etc.) as the author of the Clementines to his malignant aspersion of the apostle Paul.
But there is incomparably more to humble a serious Christian in the way the truth was evaded save by very few. Clemens Alex. is mentioned by Eusebius H.E. i. 12 as authority for the notion that the Cephas in question was not Peter but one of the seventy (!) a notion which spread of old and has not quite disappeared from modern times. Far more weighty are those who condescended to the still baser idea of Origen that the dispute was a mere feint promoted knowingly by both Paul and Peter in which the latter plays the errorist in order to be crushed the more effectually by the former! The greatest preacher of Constantinople, Chrysostom, more than once advocates this monstrous figment; as did Jerome with his usual keenness. With such a representation Augustine dealt worthily, arguing that to accept inspired men's acting a falsehood was to shake the entire authority of scripture. The correspondence is characteristic of each, and may be seen in the Epistolary portion of their works. Jerome was neither humble nor magnanimous enough to sing the palinode to which Augustine had at first invited him, but his authorities, real or assumed, as well as his threats of crushing his adversary under the weight of his own blows, did not deter the Bishop of Hippo from an overwhelming overthrow of the case alleged and a faithful vindication of the plain bearing of God's word, which in fact ought never to be called into question for one moment.
Thenceforward Peter vanishes from inspired history. This is the last of his acts noticed, though both his Epistles appeared much later. It is affecting and solemn that so it should be; but so it was. People think it strange after being so used and honoured — after Pentecost, Caesarea, and the council in Jerusalem quite recently. But the fear of man was ever a snare to Peter; nor was it the first time that he was rebuked for shrinking from the practical consequences of the truth in this world.
'But after certain days Paul said to Barnabas, Let us return now and see after the brethren in every city wherein we announced the word of the Lord, how they fare. And Barnabas was minded to take with [them] John also that was called Mark; but Paul thought good not to take with [them] him that withdrew from them from Pamphylia and went not with them unto the work. And there arose a sharp feeling, so that they parted one from another; and Barnabas taking Mark sailed away unto Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he passed through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the assemblies' (vers. 36-41).
Alas! further sorrow was not far off; and the ardent desire of the apostle Paul to visit the young assemblies in Asia Minor gave occasion to it. For Barnabas, already damaged by the influence of Peter, set his heart on taking with them John Mark, his cousin. Paul had not forgotten his formerly forsaking the work, its toils and its disagreeables, its shame and the self-abnegation it entails, hence he set his face against such a companion, till grace had wrought complete restoration in self-judgment and devotedness without stint. Good a man as was Barnabas and attached to his honoured companion, this proved too much for his present state which resented Paul's estimate as severe and beyond measure. But honey, however sweet in itself, was an element forbidden in an offering to the Lord (Lev. 2:11), and Barnabas should have remembered that his natural tie was not favourable to a righteous judgment in the point of difference. Certain it is that there arose a sharp feeling between those blessed servants of the Lord 'so that they parted one from another', never more to join in common labours. It is not that there ceased on Barnabas' side earnestness in the work or the blessing of the Lord; and the apostle Paul speaks of him with nothing but warm affection and respect in subsequent allusions. Further, it is the joy of grace to hear of Mark owned in the Lord's service, put forward by the apostle where the lack of such a recognition might have stood in his way, and this with peculiar appreciation in the latest Epistle he ever wrote (2 Tim. 4:11). Lastly, it was this very Mark who, I doubt not, purchased to himself a good degree and signal honour in being the inspired witness of our Lord's ministry. Who could enter so deeply as Mark into the wonders of a gospel service where glory shone out of the clouds of unequalled humiliation without one shade of failure, where grace reigned unwaveringly in the midst of sore trial and continual provocation with not a single comfort save from above?
So 'Barnabas taking Mark sailed away unto Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.' It seems plain that Barnabas, beloved as he was, failed at this moment to carry the conscience of his brethren with him. Paul on the other hand was once more accorded, and Silas with him, that mark of united recommendation to the grace of the Lord, which he and Barnabas enjoyed on their first mission to the Gentiles from Antioch (Acts 13:2, 3; Acts 14:26). It is almost needless to remark how unfounded is the assumption that 'ordination' is in question here: the renewed mention shows how little they understand the mind of the Lord who are in quest of such perverted efforts to sanction old wives' fables, and overlook the grace which identified the brethren that tarried by the stuff with the mightier champions that went down to the battle.
Another feature of interest to note is that, while ministry is of individual faith, this does not hinder one of superior discernment choosing another as companion in work; as the Lord had Himself sent out His servants, both twelve and seventy, two and two before His face. Such a choice is scriptural; election of a minister in the word by an assembly is wholly unknown to the word.
We are meant to observe too that not a word more is said historically of Barnabas, who with his kinsman sailed off to his native isle. Of Paul it is written that 'he passed through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the assemblies' (ver. 41). The 'rite' of confirmation has no real source in God's word; but His servants were diligent in strengthening the faith of the saints. They rightly felt that the truth is best learnt within, where practice illustrates and develops principle. Church action where living and true is the ready comment on scripture, and continual teaching draws attention to details as well as to the truth as a whole in the person of Christ. Thus are the assemblies confirmed according to God.
The apostle has now fully and freely entered on his fresh missionary excursion, as well as on his visitation of the assemblies already formed. Silas is his chosen companion, no longer Barnabas. All things work together for good in the hand of divine love; whilst governmentally each shall bear his own burden: grace does not fail, but moral responsibility is untouched also.
From Syria and Cilicia Paul journeys to Lycaonia. 'And he came unto Derbe and unto Lystra, and, behold, a certain disciple was there, by name Timothy, son of a Jewish believing woman, but of a Greek father; who was borne witness to by the brethren in Lystra and Iconium. Him Paul would have to go forth with him, and he took and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek' (vers. 1-3).
Little is said of the other results from the apostle's visit to Derbe and Lystra. Our attention is concentrated on a 'young disciple' there. He was therefore not converted at this time, but, doubtless, during the former visit of the apostle, who speaks of him as his 'true child in faith'. Timothy he had begotten in Christ Jesus through the gospel. The circumstances were peculiar. He was the son of a believing Jewess, Eunice, but of a Greek father, with an exceptionally good testimony from the brethren in those parts. This led to a remarkable step on the part of the apostle: he circumcised him 'on account of the Jews' there, 'for they all knew that his father was a Greek' or Gentile.
Now this was in no way the requirement of the law, which, on the contrary, in strictness placed Timothy by his birth in a painful and outside position. It was really an act of grace on the part of the same apostle who would have utterly repelled the circumcision of Titus; for Titus was a Gentile. Still less is it inconsistent with the recent council at Jerusalem; for the question there was whether the Jewish yoke was to be placed on the Gentiles that believed. It was decided, we have seen, that no such compulsion was authorized or desirable. Here, it was the child of a Jewess against whom Jews would have had a feeling because of his father. In all probability the father was now dead, of whom we never hear as alive, and who in that case, might have perpetuated the uncircumcised condition of his son. If the father no longer lived, Paul could act the more freely, and the same champion for liberty who refused compulsion in the case of Titus, himself took and circumcised Timothy.
It is of great moment that we learn to submit our souls to the largeness of divine truth. The principles which governed the cases of Titus and Timothy were quite distinct, because their nature and circumstances were wholly different. But there was a centre in which the two principles found harmony. They were alike expressions of Christian liberty; in neither instance was the apostle under law but under grace. What can be more instructive for us? We are always liable to the exact reverse: flesh and law habitually work together, as on the other hand we are called to the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ.
We may learn from this to avoid and resist the notion that there can be but one principle to govern our conduct. It is not so, if the relationships and the circumstances of the parties wholly differ. Wisdom in that case would rather seek from God's word the Spirit's instruction for our guidance in each case respectively. Nature and tradition constantly tend to a dead level, which is as far as possible from the wisdom of God, in which we are called to judge and act. A principle however true and sound, as for instance not to circumcise Titus, might entirely fail to meet Timothy's case whom grace circumcised to stop the mouths of Jews though the letter of the law would rather have put him away than circumcise him. Routine is sure to mislead in the things of God. An eye single to Christ and His grace will discover the true way, and grace knows where to be inflexible and when to yield. It was the wise procedure of one who, free from all made himself bondman to all that he might gain the more; who became to the Jews as a Jew in order that he might gain the Jews, to those under law as under law (not being himself under law) in order that he might gain those under law, to those without law as without law (not as without law to God but as lawfully subject to Christ) in order that he might gain those without law.
What an admirable lesson was this, practically, for Timothy, henceforth to be the companion and fellow-worker of the great apostle of the Gentiles, whatever the immense gap between them! The step, too, was taken in connection with his going forth with Paul who sought to cut off occasion from them that sought occasion. Grace where there is no demand can go far to meet such as have honest difficulties; whilst it resents and refuses every effort to impose what is unauthorized by God and is inconsistent with itself (1 Cor. 9:20, 21).
We may here recall the important facts for which we are indebted to the two Epistles which the apostle wrote long after to Timothy; for they really had the most influential bearing on the course which was opening for his young companion. First, there were prophecies which went before as to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:18, 1 Tim. 4:14), and this not only as marking him out but indicating the gift of God to be imparted. The history simply gives us the apostle's wish and mind as to him, but the apostle's letter shows that there were prophetic intimations, presumably from more than one, respecting the work to which he was divinely designated; not unlike the way in which Barnabas and Saul had been called and separated to their first missionary work and journey. Even the apostle did not act without these remarkable interventions, of which he reminds his beloved child when he first wrote to enforce the commission entrusted to him and to define his duties in that charge, 'that thou mightest war by them (i.e., the prophecies) the good warfare', though this would be vain without 'having faith and a good conscience' It would brace his spirit to remember that God had designated him to a work of such difficulty and peril.
Secondly, a positive gift of God, or cavrisma, had been communicated to Timothy by the imposition of the apostle's hands (2 Tim. 1:6), the elderhood having also joined in laying on their hands at the same time (1 Tim. 4:14) as not only witnesses but as having fellowship with the apostle's act. The believer in God's word needs no argument to prove that such a power of the Spirit is wholly distinct from any qualities previously possessed by Timothy, though no doubt all he had before was the vessel in and through which the gift wrought. But such a phrase, like so many common among evangelical, as well as Catholic, 'sanctified intellect', is wholly misleading, because it expresses the error of human nature rehabilitated or improved by grace, denies the judgment of the fleshly mind in the cross to which faith thoroughly bows, and leaves out the special energy of the Spirit according to the gift of Christ. This Timothy then received and in the way Scripture describes: which none should doubt because of the powerless, not to say profane, imitation of some bodies in Christendom from early days till now. With Timothy it was a special way for a special work. It is error and ignorance to generalize it, and to assume that others did not receive gifts, carivsmata, without any such laying on of hands; as it is also to aver that the Holy Ghost was given to the faithful only after a similar sort. That He was so given in peculiar circumstances by imposition of apostolic hands is true; that it was always so is to neglect the still weightier instances of Acts ii. and x. So with the gifts; they were given in sovereign grace without any such act ordinarily; and this is of all moment for the saints at all times since, when there were and could be no apostles to lay hands on any. But superstition is as blind as rationalism, though seemingly more reverent.
'And as they passed through the cities, they delivered them the decrees to observe, which had been ordained by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem' (ver. 4). This is particularly recorded of the apostle and his companions; and it is the more to be noticed because, when the questions discussed at the council came up for solution in the Epistles these decrees are never referred to. Here again we have to discern the wisdom of God. The decrees were given where Jewish influence prevailed. They were of the highest value to settle the doubts of those who looked up to Jerusalem and especially to the apostles and elders there. If in Jerusalem the chiefs and the church as a whole condemned wholly the imposing of circumcision on Gentiles, who were entitled to press it elsewhere? Certainly not such as had reverence for those whom the Lord had set up in Jerusalem.
In the First Epistle to the Corinthians and in that to the Galatians, the question is argued on the broad ground of the gospel, without reference to the decrees. Here again there is no inconsistency whatever. The decrees were admirably in season and place for those to whom they were given; and Paul was conspicuously zealous in giving assemblies already formed where Jews abounded these decrees to observe. But when he wrote his Epistles in the subsequent exercise of his apostolic power, he solves the question altogether apart from the decision at Jerusalem by the truth of Christ and His work now fully revealed.
'The assemblies then were being strengthened in the faith and increased in number daily' (ver. 5). Thus did the Lord use the action of grace for helping on His testimony. Agitation is eminently destructive not only of the confirmation of the soul but the going forward of the work among fresh converts. Faith is nourished by grace, not by questions gendering strife, any more than 'by meats' as the apostle somewhat contemptuously speaks of Jewish controversies, 'wherein they that walked were not profited' (2 Tim. 2:23; Heb. 13:9). And grace is inseparable from Christ Who is 'the same yesterday, and today, and for ever'. Questions apart from Him are met by diverse and strange teachings which only distract the senses. It is good that the heart be established by grace. This was what the apostle walked in to the profit of those that heard him. Faith was strengthened and fresh assemblies sprung up more and more, or, at the least, their numbers increased daily. Such is the beautiful picture drawn by the Spirit of God; and such the encouragement given to the apostle with his companions in labour.
We know how universal was the field opened for the work of the gospel: Go ye into all the world, said the Master to the apostles, and preach the gospel to the whole creation (Mark 16:15). This general order, which ever abides, does not, however, supersede the direction in detail which the Holy Spirit knows how to supply to the Lord's glory. He will have the servant subject to Christ and exercised livingly about His will: a matter of the deepest moment for all who would serve Him thoroughly, and as obligatory now as of old though we may lack some of the means of intimation. This truth remarkably appears in what follows as it does elsewhere.
'And they1 went through the Phrygian and Galatian country, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia, and 2having come over against Mysia, they attempted to proceed into2 Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus2 permitted them not; and passing by Mysia they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul by night: There was a certain man of Macedon standing and beseeching him and saying, Come over into Macedonia and help us. And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia,3 concluding that God3 had called us to preach the gospel to them. Having therefore sailed away from Troas we took a straight course unto Samothrace, and on the morrow unto Neapolis, and thence unto Philippi, which is a city of Macedonia, first of the district, a colony. And we were in this city staying certain days' (vers. 6-12).
1 The highest authorities (ABCDE) with adequate support of the cursives and versions, et al, support the finite verb against the participle in HLP and the mass of cursives, and Text. Rec.
2 The more ancient read the copulative against the majority and Text. Rec. as they give εἰς instead of κατά, and add Ἰησοῦ.
3 The authorities are more divided as to the article here, the best omitting it. So they are between 'God' and 'the Lord', but the oldest support the former.
It is not only in the unconverted that man's will is treated by scripture as evil: the believer now, as living in the Spirit, is exhorted to walk in the Spirit, and the power is vouchsafed in the Spirit given, though His power will not act in positive blessing save to Christ's glory in dependence on Him and obedience to His word. So it is of high moment to remember that it is not otherwise in the work of the Lord, where the labourer is constantly exposed to the danger of being guided by fair appearances or of following what pleases his own mind, or it may be the suggestions of others whom he respects. The Lord is jealous, as valuing our subjection and fidelity and confidence in Himself, that we look to Him Who does not fail to act by the Spirit that His will be known and done. The work is His, and He only is adequate to its direction in gracious wisdom and power: we are at best only His journeymen in that work. How happy to work as well as walk by faith, guided by His eye and succoured no less than sent here or there by His grace! In a world given up to self-will and all its baneful ways, how sweet to Him that His servants do not forget their absent Lord any more than their own blessedness in having Him to make His will plain, that their hearts refer to Him, that their faith expects from Him all needed to glorify Him and to preserve themselves from straying!
So was the work of Paul and his companions ordered of the Lord, and it is here set out in the written word, that we may labour in the same spirit of faith, and neither forego the like favour nor reduce scripture to a dead letter. 'And they went through the Phrygian and Galatian country, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.' The allusion to Phrygia and Galatia as the combined sphere of their visitation is full of interest as a fact; but how striking the absence of detail where our curiosity would have demanded a great deal! In the Epistle to the assemblies of Galatia we have not only the fruit of sowing the gospel seed there but circumstances revealed of high value and solemn warning. Of Phrygia we know scarce any particulars, save that Paul and Silas did then go through that region as well as Galatia, 'having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia'.
Was this province of Asia then wholly barren? Was it hopeless soil? From the beginning of the gospel, witnesses thence (Acts 2:9, 10) had heard the mighty works of God spoken in their tongue and in that of Phrygia among many others, yet here Phrygia is visited, Asia is not, while in the all-wise direction of the Lord the region of Galatia and Phrygia sees the apostle going through it in order, 'stablishing all the disciples' and not evangelizing only (Acts 18:23). Also Paul visits Ephesus after Apollos had wrought there not in vain, and to his own learning the way of God more carefully, and there the apostle brings on the little nucleus of disciples into full Christian truth and privilege (Acts 19), and carried on the work for more than two years, first in the synagogue, then in the school of Tyrannus, so that, not the capital only but the province also, 'all they that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks', and that word, not without special powers wrought of God by the hands of Paul, 'mightily grew and prevailed'. He Who knew all hearts, and alone can employ any mouth to God's glory, the Holy Spirit forbade their speaking the word in Asia now. Those who believe in man may show their real unbelief in God by cavilling at the present prohibition; those whose confidence is in His grace will admire His admirable care in leading to the right place of testimony then, and in working later in the place now prohibited when He deigned in His goodness to create a fruitful oasis if not more than one in that desert. He knows infallibly, as even an apostle did not, and He it is Who is still here to guide the work to the praise of the Name of Jesus. As He knows the time to sow, so He ensures a harvest at the right season.
Nor was this the only prohibition about the same time. For 'having come over against Mysia, they attempted to proceed into Bithynia; and the Spirit of Jesus permitted them not' (ver. 7). Here the evidence is as plain as possible to those who justly estimate scripture of the personal action of the Spirit in correction even of the apostle's proposed movements. 'They attempted to proceed into Bithynia', where we know (1 Peter 1:1) sojourners of the dispersion, i.e., Christian Jews were, as well as in Galatia and proconsular Asia, but this was not now the mind of the Lord for His service. And an expression is employed, more than usually, though by no means uniquely, connecting the Spirit with the Lord, which has therefore so much the more appropriate force in the passage, 'and the Spirit of Jesus permitted them not.' The Spirit is as we all know a divine person and may be spoken of simply as the Spirit, or the Holy Spirit; He may be introduced in a general way as the Spirit or the Holy Spirit of God, or as the Spirit of the Lord, i.e. Jehovah. Again, He may be specially designated, where truth required it, as the Spirit of the Father, of the Son, of Christ, or as here, of 'Jesus', in each case securing an appropriateness not to be reached otherwise. Scarce anything shows or produces more looseness of conception among Christians than the neglect of these fine and wonderful distinctions found in no other books with any approach to scripture, but found in every book of scripture where the subject matter admits of them and in perfection, whoever may be the inspired writer, and whenever written, so as to point to one unerring and divine Spirit, the true Author. 'The Spirit of Jesus' blends the personal interest of the glorified Man Whose Name it was their heart's desire and the great object of their life to make known, subject to His will, with the power of the Spirit Who is the energy that works in the new man.
'And passing by Mysia they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul by night: There was a certain man of Macedon standing and beseeching him and saying, Come over into Macedonia and help us. And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them' (vers. 8-10).
Thus the Lord helped His servant in a positive manner. They all needed direction for their work, and Paul alone saw the vision: a favour frequently shown him, and of the highest character, which no creature has a right to expect. Grace gave him revelations also. But though set in a very different place in the assembly the condition and wants of which are so far apart from the primitive state, God never fails for present difficulties. It is we who fail in waiting and counting on Him, though the prime directory of His written word is complete as it was not then. But special honour was put on one who was behind none in position, and whose labours were most abundant and blessed. All were immediately impressed by the apostle's vision and turned their eyes and steps toward Macedonia.
But it is well to notice that the language is 'we', and not 'they' as heretofore. Luke thus modestly but without doubt lets us see that he at Troas joined the apostle's company. That the inspired writer was a personal witness from this point is surely not a slight matter; but no error can be more profound in principle than the human notion that a higher character begins to attach to his account. Not so: inspiration excludes all question of degrees of assurance or of authority. It is equally of God, whether the writer witnessed what he wrote, or not. The Spirit of God alone secures absolute truth, which no seeing, hearing, or research could effect. Man cannot rise to the divinely given, save as a receiver. He may be indefinitely exact but is necessarily human. God, as He knows all, communicates what is due to His glory in love to His own.
In fact there is no more minuteness in what is conveyed during the writer's presence. Conversations, differences, journeys, preachings, were given when he was absent, no less than when with the apostle's companions. How comforting this quiet evidence that in the inspired word we have to do, not merely with good men doing their best, but with a God Who cannot err or lie! He provides us with His account through man of these spiritually instructive facts. Later in the history we learn that they made a little stay in the Troad where at least there was an assembly (Acts 20); but there was no indecision now, no tarrying by the way: the gospel must be preached forthwith in Macedonia.
'Having therefore sailed away from Troas we took a straight course unto Samothrace, and on the morrow unto Neapolis, and thence unto Philippi, which is a city of Macedonia, first of the district, a colony. And we were in this city staying certain days' (vers. 11, 12). The description is most exact. It would not have been true to call it the chief city or capital of Macedonia; but of that part or district it was: a Roman colony too, not a Greek, which had a somewhat important bearing on the incidents that follow, of which we have so graphic a sketch. There Roman armies had engaged in deadly strife, not with strangers, but with one another. There the fate of the moribund republic was decided. There the coming empire of the world began to dawn, an empire which was to last as no predecessor had done, though it had the unenviable distinction of contact with the Lord of glory not only in His despised birth but in His crucifixion of shame; as it alone, after succombing long and notoriously, is destined to live again for a brief but awful space of lawlessness closing in a vain, blasphemous and destructive opposition to His appearing from heaven in glory.
But there were far other and happier reasons which made the entrance of the gospel and the founding of the church in Philippi full of holy interest. The work began in face of an ensnaring spirit of evil and of an adverse unrighteous world, with singular simplicity, with joy rising high and loudly above sorrow and shame, with a display of divine grace no less than divine power. There was nothing exactly like this at Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, Thessalonica, though each no doubt had characteristics of admirably suited and special favour. Philippi too went, not without severe trials and peculiar difficulties but as a whole in spiritual power, to ripe experience beyond known parallel without so painful a brand of declension as we know befell the once fair and bright assembly in Ephesus. God would have us learn how the good seed took root and bore fruit at Philippi. Let others boast in the old almanac of man's tale as vain and unreliable in the ecclesiastical as in the secular sphere. Here the believer can rest in the certain truth of God and profit by that which He Who knows all gives for our refreshment or our admonition. We see alas! how fading was that which grace made so good and true and faithful in its measure, for where is that assembly now? how was it in the next generation after Paul's Epistle to all the saints there? If it had stood as the Latin church, it had like Rome been but a pillar of salt with every truth falsified (save perhaps those elements which the Athanasian creed owns), and every way of grace changed into judaizing. This would have been but deeper dishonour of Christ; and the assembly at Philippi, as in almost all the apostolic plantations, has passed away, that men might learn, were they not blinded by worldly wisdom and the fleshly mind, that the power and even the truth of the church of God rests not in an ecclesiastical succession, but in the living energy of the Holy Spirit working in the bond of Christ's confessors who are worse than nothing as a witness if untrue to Him, who are just of price in God's sight as they do His will and reflect His grace.
The gospel entered Europe apostolically with genuine simplicity. Two inspired men were among those who introduced it, an apostle, the greatest of them indeed, and a prophet not the least of them, or as he is popularly styled 'the evangelist', Luke. Very likely he may have been an evangelist in the true scriptural sense of the term. Certainly upon such as Paul and Luke were built the saints now called of God (Eph. 2:20), as to them was revealed the mystery of Christ (Eph. 3:5). The foundation was well laid, even Jesus Christ; yet what a holy absence of pretension do we see here!
'And on the sabbath day we went forth outside the gate1 by a river where2 prayer [or, place of prayer] was wont to be; and we sat down and spoke to the women that had come together. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, that worshipped God, heard, whose heart the Lord opened to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she was baptized and her house, she besought, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and abide. And she constrained us' (vers. 13-15).
1 The most ancient MSS., ABCD, good cursives, et al., give πύλης, instead
of πόλεως, (city), as in the Text. Rec. following most.
2 Some ancient authorities give 'where we supposed there was a place of prayer', as in the Revised Version.
There was no synagogue, it would seem, in the city, once called 'The Fountains' but now Philippi from his name who had annexed the district from Thrace to his ancestral Macedonia, and drew largely the treasures of this world from gold mines in the neighbourhood. By that river-side outside the city gate, among the women that assembled, one at least received richer treasure and so drank as to have within her a fountain springing up into eternal life. The good physician who writes was not a painter save graphically. Think of a philosopher, or even a rabbi, speaking to the women of what God is and gives, of the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ! Even the disciples once on a time wondered that the Lord talked with a woman, for He first vindicated the solemnity of a lost soul, the blessed value of a saved one, be it of man or woman. And here the choicest of His servants is found, not alone but with a few of kindred mind and heart, ministering Christ and dispensing the mysteries of God to the assembled women.
Among these one attracts our attention in the narrative, Lydia, of Thyatira, a seller of that dye for which these Lydians were far famed in Homer's day (Iliad. δ. 141), as 'the dyers' may be illustrated by the inscription found in the ruins of Thyatira. She was not an idolater, but a worshipper of God, and so betook herself to the little band of Jews that met on the sabbath for prayer, separate from the heathen corruptions around, at a river-side, a spot convenient for the Jews and made use of for purifying. This seems to decide that it was the little and less known Gangas, rather than the Strymon which was more remote. Lydia was hearing, and the Lord opened her heart to attend to the things spoken by Paul: she received Him that came by water and blood, believing on the name of Jesus Christ.
It is well to observe the special form of the work of grace in souls: two never seem precisely alike. It is not merely that men differ, but that the Spirit of God gives a fresh character in the case, while all had been once alike lost sinners, and the same Christ is all and in all. Each, however, has his own individuality, and God does not withhold honour from the weaker vessel but shares His joy in love by detailing the peculiar circumstances of such a one as here before us. No doubt her conscience was exercised, she repented toward God. If this had not been before, it was now, for there is no vital operation in the soul without that self-judgment which owns our sins and ruined state, and turns to God's mercy as the sole spring of saving hope. But the glad tidings or gospel of God presents the Christ already dead and risen, that the guilty may have remission of sins not promised only but preached to them, and every believer may know himself justified from all things — exactly what the law could not effect for its most zealous votary
But here we are not told of such pungent grief and anxiety as in the Jewish converts at Pentecost confronted with their guilt in rejecting their own Messiah; nor of such great fear as smote all that heard of the judicial death of Ananias and Sapphira nor of the great grace which multiplied disciples in the face of persecutions for such as taught and preached the Lord Jesus. The Lord wrought on Lydia, opening her heart to pay heed to the discourse of Paul. It was not prayer only that day, but God's answer in the testimony of grace which in Christ supplies every want and flows, yea, overflows, evermore to His glory.
Made a disciple, Lydia was baptized as became her (John 4:1). Such was the Lord's command to His servants. Only the males among the. Jews were circumcised; disciples, both men and women, were baptized (Acts 8:12). Not only Lydia was baptized but her household also: 'And when she was baptized and her house . . .' What is meant thereby? We do not hear of children or of husband; she may have been a widow. without a family or never married. She had a household, and we hear (ver. 40) of the brethren there, believers therefore, and probably not men only but women. Of little ones we hear nothing; and the divine account, which is full and minutely exact to admiration in other respects, not even implies anything of the kind, so that the temerity of tradition, of intellect, of will, that would from this account extract a ground for supposing infants in this case at any rate, is as bold and manifest as unjustifiable.
Hence Meyer, the ablest modern commentator of the Lutheran body, says honestly, in opposition to all his ecclesiastical prejudices, 'When Jewish or heathen families became Christians, the children in them could have been baptized only in cases in which they were so far developed that they could profess their faith in Christ, and did actually profess it; for this was the universal requisition for the reception of baptism: [see also vers. 31, 33; Acts 18:8]. On the contrary, if the children were unable to believe, they did not partake of the rite, since they were wanting in what the act pre-supposed. The baptism of children is not to be supposed as an apostolic institution, but arose gradually in the post-apostolic age, after early and long-continued resistance, in connection with certain views of doctrine, and did not become general in the church till after the time of Augustine. The defence of infant-baptism transcends the domain of exegesis, and must be given up to that of dogmatics.' Others of high eminence might be added, themselves paedo-baptist, who frankly own that neither here, nor later in the chapter, nor in 1 Cor. 1 is there the least proof that any were baptized except confessors of Christ, and that the baptism of infants has no scriptural warrant.
But this by the way. Lydia's heart, opened of the Lord, went out toward His servants. She 'besought [us] saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and abide. And she constrained us.' The love of Christ was there and made her, little knowing the value of her gracious importunity in His sight, to be a fellow-helper with the truth (3 John 8).
Another lesson of far-reaching practical moment ought to be evident: the profound indifference not only to souls but to the Lord in that refusal to 'judge', which pleases the flesh and characterizes the world-church, be it Catholic or Protestant, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, or aught else that is not based on the Christ of God confessed and the Holy Spirit given of God (Matt. 16:16-18; Acts 11:17). No doubt men plead that we must not judge, or that we must exercise a judgment of charity: both pleas alike are ignorant, perverse and evil. Certainly we ought never to be censorious, never to impute bad motives where evil conduct is not manifest. But it is equally unbelieving and heartless, for such as know that faith in God's testimony to Christ is the turning point of the passage from death into life — life eternal, to abandon or neglect discrimination in this respect. Our solemn judgment, if guided by the word, is that death is the condition of all, our judgment of charity and our joy are, that they only live through and of and in Christ who by grace hear His word; as thereon we exhort them in His name that they should not henceforth live unto themselves but unto Him that for them died and rose again.
From such a judgment as this Lydia did not shrink but rather humbly challenged it as due to the Lord. Paul and his company acted on it, and the Holy Spirit has recorded it for our admonition. There was assuredly therefore no lack of love in Peter's judging Simon the Samaritan from his own words, and this, though a baptized man, to be in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity (Acts 8:20-23). It was rather indeed the painful side, but in the circumstances absolutely indispensable, in that judgment of love which the knowledge of God entails on His servants; and woe be to those who, to gratify the world or for selfish ease and advantage, relinquish so plain and indisputable a duty to their Master! This did not Peter any more than Paul.
'And it came to pass as we were going unto prayer [or, the place of prayer], that a certain maid haying a spirit of Python met us, who brought her masters much gain by divinations. She, having followed Paul and us, cried, saying, These men are bondmen of the Most High God who announce to you [or, us] salvation's way. And this she did for many days. But Paul, being distressed, turned and said to the spirit, I charge thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And it came out the same hour' (vers. 16-18).
As the better authorities ( ABCE, et al.) insert the article with 'prayer' in verse 16, it is allowed that 'the place of prayer' is the more likely meaning. But if so here, it would go far to commend the same sense in verse 13, the article being there properly absent as it was a previously unknown and unmentioned place. The incident recorded was weighty in itself and in its consequences. Satan essayed a new means of mischief, not assailing the gospel but patronizing it and this for many days. Distressed thereby the apostle at length turned and enjoined the evil spirit to leave her, which came to pass in the name of Jesus.
Alas! not so have the servants of the Most High God acted in Europe They have accepted, instead of eschewing, the favours of the enemy, to their own shame and ruin and to their Master's dishonour. In Asia the gospel was resisted, calumniated, and persecuted. No Python followed its preachers, nor was the cry heard, These men are bondmen of the Most High who announced to you salvation's way. Open opposition, not flattery, was the devil's way. But Europe later had no Paul to cast out the unclean spirit, an unholy compact at last prevailed, and servants of God claimed honour to Jesus from the homage of the world. But it was hollow lip-service, as the event in Philippi soon proved. The world is at enmity with God essentially and always; and nothing is so far from its prince's heart than the honour of His Son. A liar and its father, he hates detection; and his rage came out when the faithful apostle, who had at first slighted his overtures, cast out in Jesus' name the power from its instrument of imposture.
An act of such uncompromising decision as well as power roused the enemy acting on human covetousness. But it is well to note that the apostle did not act in divine energy till Satan's persistence made it a duty.
'And when her masters saw that the hope of their gain was gone,1 they laid hold on, and dragged Paul and Silas into the market-place before the rulers, and when they had brought them unto the praetors, they said, These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city, and set forth customs which it is not lawful for us to receive or practise, being Romans. And the crowd rose up together against them, and the praetors rent their garments off them, and commanded to beat [them] with rods. And, having laid many stripes on them, they cast [them] into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely, who, having received such a charge, cast them into the inner prison and secured their feet into the stocks' (vers. 19-24).
1 Literally, 'gone out'; it would seem in allusion to the going out of the demon
Defeated in his effort to mix himself up with God's work, the enemy flees to his ordinary and natural opposition through human interests and passions. Covetousness is a mainspring of the world's activity, 'covetousness, which is idolatry' (Col. 3:5). Those whose hope of gain vanished with the cast-out spirit lawlessly apprehended Paul and Silas, and dragged them into the market-place, where the local rulers then, even more than now, were found. It may be noticed that here only the inspired historian specifies the magistrates in Philippi with the Greek term which answers to praetors: a striking evidence of minute accuracy, for the city was a colony, and a colony was but Rome on a small scale, with its two chiefs (sometimes modified by need, but in general duumviri). We shall see the city governors of Thessalonica quite differently designated in the next chapter, but there too with similarly characteristic accuracy as here. Compare also Acts 13:7, 12; Acts 18:12; Acts 19:31 for other instances of such exactitude.
'And when they had brought them unto the praetors, they said, These men, being (ὑπάρχοντες) Jews (or, as Mr. Humphry suggests, "being Jews to begin with"), exceedingly trouble our city, and set forth customs which it is not lawful for us to receive or practise, being (ὄντες) Romans.' This was calculated, and no doubt intended, to arouse the mob, the more sensitive on the score of Roman pride and privilege, because they were not unmixedly Roman, and such as might be Romans, though tolerant of other religionists one with another, were jealous of anything like aggression on themselves. The appeal was not in vain. 'And the crowd rose up together (i.e., with the masters of the dispossessed slave) against them, and the praetors, rending their garments off them, commanded to scourge them with rods.' It may not be necessary to hold with Bengel that the duumvirs stripped Paul and Silas with their own hands; but the special expression employed (περιρήξαντες) and the general scope and intrinsic sense, exclude the notion that the magistrates rent (διαρρήσσω) their own clothes. It is certain that they gave command to beat them with rods, though uncondemned: an open violation of Roman law, which exposed themselves to severe punishment, had proceedings been instituted. 'And having inflicted on them many stripes, they cast [them] into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely, who, having received such a charge, cast them into the inner prison and secured their feet into the stocks.'
Such was man, civilized man, high and low, carried away into most manifest injustice, without the form even of trying the holy, harmless, and self-denying servants of the Lord, at the call of the basest who had lived by the oracles or divinations of their female slave under Satan's power.
Had God nothing to do?
'But about midnight, Paul and Silas in praying were singing praises to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and the bands of all were loosed' (vers. 25, 26). Could any facts more dearly indicate Whose purpose and hand had wrought on behalf of His injured ministers? An earthquake, men could readily argue, might happen, and with the most singular coincidence of circumstances; but who ever heard of an earthquake so great as to shake, not windows or walls, not chains or bolts only, but the foundations of an extensive building? And withal so nicely adjusted as to cast down nothing, nor injure a soul! Only all the doors were forthwith opened, and everyone's bands were loosed! It was the same divine power which had delivered Simon Peter, though chained to two soldiers, on the eve of his execution (Acts 12); the same power which had extricated the apostles from a prison-house, shut in all safety, with the keepers standing at the doors (Acts 5).
Here a deeper purpose was in hand, and a great earthquake heralded it; and Paul and Silas, who had been praying to God in hymns, remained in the prison to declare His wonderful works; yea, those whose naturally strongest desire had otherwise been to make their escape and renew their lawless life were so overawed that not one stirred from the opened prison. It was the God of all grace, Who answered the prayers and praises of His prisoners, Who knew how to control the wicked, and Who was guiding His servants for His glory. For He was now about to do more, and most worthily of the name of His Son; and to do this so as to win to Himself as hardened a heart as beat within the prison walls.
Let us too hear. 'And the jailer, being roused out of sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm, for we are all here. And he called for lights, and sprang in, and trembling for fear fell down before Paul and Silas, and led them forth, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus,1 and thou shalt be saved, and thy house' (vers. 27-31).
1 The mass of witnesses adds 'Christ' as in Text. Rec., but the most ancient with some good cursives, the Vulg., et al., do not accredit it.
We can understand the horror of the jailer, and his first impulse, as a heathen, to make away with himself, inferring from the open doors the flight of the prisoners, and therefore (according to the stern law De Custodia Reorum) with no other prospect for himself than a violent stroke of judicial shame. But conceive the overwhelming effect on his conscience when the apostle averted his suicidal hand by the loud assurance that the prisoners were all there! Light from God penetrated his dark heart on the instant. with a deep desire for mercy, before he got the lights he called for. He needed no more intimation where to turn for the truth he wanted, no more dealings of God to prove His hand was in all that had just occurred, and that He was really with those who had been so harshly thrust into prison with mockings and scourgings. Had not the Pythoness notoriously designated them as servants of the Most High God, who proclaim salvation's way? The depths of his soul were broken up; and as his sins rose from every hiding place, he felt instinctively that now was the moment to find God. So he sprang in, and, all of a tremble, fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them forth to inquire of the great salvation.
For salvation in any lesser sense is not to be thought of. The earthquake was soon all over, the prisoners were all safe; what had he to fear from Roman justice? But God had awakened his soul, and his sins troubled him. Not death from man, but divine judgment at the close of all was before his eyes, and God's servants, for whom He had just been interposing miraculously, were there to tell him the way of salvation. Whatever learned men may think, who, never having felt the burden of their sins, catch at words, and waste their time on questions dubious or not, the jailer's burning anxiety was about the salvation of his soul. The strange utterance respecting his two holy prisoners could not but rise before him in his then awe-stricken frame of mind. It was really God Who was at work in his conscience, as He had wrought otherwise in the prison. Not a moment was to be lost, so, having led forth the two prisoners, he says Sirs, what must I do that I may be saved?' Eternal salvation was the urgent want of his soul, as he honestly owns.
Nor was the answer of the Lord's servants less prompt. Thanks be to God, it may and it ought always to be so, when the soul is thus in earnest. For the righteous foundation on which salvation rests is already laid, and so perfectly that to add anything, to wait for aught else, is to dishonour God and to hinder the sinner. The atoning work is done and accepted of God, Who therefore sends His glad tidings to the guilty, without respect of persons. It is no question of promises on man's part or of amelioration as a ground of divine favour. Man was once let alone till his violence and corruption became insupportable, and judgment swept all away, save the few who trusted God in the ark provided for them by grace. Man was then tried fully by God's law, with every religious help possible but, as God indicated beforehand, all was vain, save to prove that man could not be saved on any ground of moral worth or religious ordinance. What remained? Nothing but a Saviour sent from God to be a propitiation for sins. The Saviour has already come, has already died, and is now risen and glorified. Yea, God has sent from heaven the Holy Spirit thereon to declare the glad tidings by His servants. Therefore Paul and Silas could say with absolute confidence, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house.'
Such is the grace of God in the gospel. It brings salvation for all. It is no longer laid up in shadows. It has appeared to the world. It summons all men everywhere to repent, but none receives the remission of his sins save through faith; and the Lord Jesus is the object of that faith. No doubt He has suffered for our sins: else there could be no sovereign proclamation on God's part, nor such a righteous blessing for man. But faith goes with grace, and excludes any and every desert of men; as the righteousness revealed in the gospel is God's, founded upon the accomplished work of Christ.
But it is all-important to see and hold fast the fact that the gospel presents the person of Christ, and not His work only. The soul is called to 'believe on the Lord Jesus'. This could not purge the conscience without the shedding of His blood; it could not give peace or liberty, unless He were not only delivered up for our offences, but raised for our justification. But it is on the Lord Jesus that we believe. Thus alone is the soul set in a right attitude from the first, and that object of faith abides to the last.
'Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved.' This gave joy and assurance to the jailer's soul, as we shall see by and by. So it was intended of God, Who is the God of peace, not of uncertainty, and would bring the believer into the communion of His own mind. 'Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.' Faith is the principle, and not human righteousness but God's revealed unto faith; for there is no other ground which grace or truth could accredit Anything else would exalt man, in the way either of his own merits, or of ordinances done by others for him. God's righteousness revealed by faith unto faith excludes everything of the sort. Christ alone is, and abides, the only efficacious ground — the Lord Jesus Who has already offered His one sacrifice on the cross. All scripture on this infinite theme is but the development of that which was made known to the jailer in these pregnant words, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house.'
It will be seen that salvation is no less open to the jailer's house than to himself. Jew or Gentile makes no difference, old or young, bond or free, but on the same terms of faith. In scripture there is no such notion, whatever the precious privileges attached to the head of a house, that he believes for them, or that they are to be saved because he is saved by faith. On the contrary the idea is a fleshly licence, based on letter, not spirit, as dangerous for the soul as it is subversive of fundamental truth. No wonder that it shelters itself under the dark shade of ordinance with appeal to feeling and imagination without scripture, though boasting loudly of its own spiritual intelligence. Even Dean Alford forgot the Book of Common Prayer in his allegiance to God's word, and declares that καὶ ὁ οἰκος σου [and thy house] does not mean that his faith would save his household — but that the same way was open to them as to him: 'Believe and thou shalt be saved, and the same of thy household.' So too Meyer, in the face of as great or yet greater prejudices, exploded an error opposed to the gospel and the truth generally, and says that the epanorthosis σὺ καὶ ὁ οἶκος σου extends or belongs in effect to πίστευσον and σωθήσῃ. For, be it noted, the verse speaks not of an institution like baptism, but, of salvation, and we do well to speak seriously of what is so serious. But human levity in divine things is as incredibly common as deplorable.
But as yet, as far as I am aware, this heterodoxy is only whispered in private, or at most, taught where the ignorant and blinded votaries of party are present to hear. Its advocates do not venture to affirm it where it would be sifted to their shame, and rejected by those who still hold the truth. It will be seen in the inspired word which follows, how daringly these enthusiasts overlook the context in their haste to avail themselves of the most superficial appearance to give their favourite notion currency. This however we may leave till the rest of this scripture comes before us in due course. But it is the characteristic of error to despise what is most certain, solid, and blessed in a vain chase after shadows, and to rejoice more for one pervert, than for ninety and nine repentant sinners.
Let it be carefully weighed: the question of the jailer, the answer of the Lord's servants, was not about the sign but about the reality of salvation soul-salvation, as Peter calls it (1 Peter 1:9). And this is here, as elsewhere, bound up with faith; which of all things is personal, as is the repentance it implies. Believing for others, even so close as one's household, in order that they should be not baptized merely, but thus saved, shows not only the poverty in resource of this pretentious school, but their hardihood in advancing questions, so dangerous for souls, on such slender grounds.
The assumption which underlies the theory, in the minds of the more moderate, probably is that the jailer's house consisted only of children, young enough to be irresponsible: otherwise (of which extravagance some are not ashamed) it would be convicted of slighting repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus more flagrantly than any orthodox Christian sect: for which of the sects does not demand some such profession in candidates of riper years? No wonder therefore that all godly, or even sober, interpreters of the divine word repudiate those shifts of hard-driven controversialists. But scripture enables us to carry this disproof to the uttermost; for it is added (in ver. 32) that they spoke the word of the Lord to him 'with all that were in his house', as if the Holy Spirit by express anticipation had designed to leave no possible plea for teaching so strange. Those only who could hear the word were then concerned; none else was by the call itself included within the terms of the blessing, whatever grace might effect afterwards, if indeed any remained to be called and blessed.
'And they spoke to him the word of the Lord' [or, God]1 with all that were in his house. And at that hour of the night he took and washed [them from] their stripes, and was baptized, he and all his immediately. And having brought them up into his house, he set meat [a table] before them, and rejoiced with all his house, having believed in God (vers. 32-34).
1 Some ancient authorities read 'God', but the best sustain the Text. Rec., save in preferring 'with' to 'and to', though in sense equivalent.
The jailer took them 'that hour' of the night, however unseasonable it might seem; for such is the force, rather than 'the same' which is not said, though of course the latter also was true. But we must correctly reproduce what was originally written and meant. After washing their stripes he and all his were baptized without delay, it would seem in the precincts of the prison proper. Then he brought them 'up' into his house, apparently over the prisoners' quarters, attended to their bodily refreshment, and rejoiced with all his house, having believed in God.
Undoubtedly the Greek phrase for 'with all his house' is adverbial; but this makes no difference for the sense substantially, either here or anywhere else. Thus all the family of every man pertaining to Jacob (Ex. 1:1) came from Palestine into Egypt: the heads of each house did not come with Jacob in lieu of the members. It was equally true of all, though the heads only were specified. So here the jailer rejoiced, yet not representatively for his family; but they too as really in their measure as he, though his joy as believing in God is duly specified, It is intended that we should understand the joy of faith in the case of all. A beautiful picture of the reality and activity of God's grace in this world, and this with the whole house of a hardened pagan; and of such it is repeatedly predicated. For is He the God of Jews only? Is He not also of Gentiles? Yes, of Gentiles also; since God is one Who shall justify circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through their faith, not annulling law thereby, but establishing it, for law never was so vindicated as in the death of the Lord Jesus; and hence the believers, once guilty, enter into peace and joy.
Such is the triumph of God's righteousness for all who submit to it, yet it is no promise in suspense, still less a sham, but a reality of blessed and effectual grace for none but those that do submit, whatever may be one's desire and hope for others. It is sweet to see thoughtful love and hospitality at once in motion, when faith purifies the heart. The restraining and controlling hand of law is a great boon in a sinful world; yet what is it at best compared with the working of divine grace, even in one but just born of God?
'And when it was day, the praetors sent the lictors, saying, Let those men go. And the jailer reported the saying unto Paul, The praetors have sent that ye be let go: now then go out and proceed in peace. But Paul said unto them, They beat us openly, uncondemned, men being Romans, and cast us into prison; and now do they cast us out privily? No indeed: but let themselves come and bring us out. And the lictors announced these words to the praetors and they were afraid when they heard they were Romans. And on coming they besought them, and bringing out entreated [them] to go out of the city. And when they went out of prison, they entered into [the house of] Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they exhorted them and departed' (vers. 35-40).
Another evidence of a Roman colony appears here in the lictors employed as subordinates by the praetors, which is disguised in the vague name of 'serjeants', as the higher officials under that of 'magistrates'.
The passionate or time-serving concession to unjust clamour had now passed away, and word was dispatched next morning to dismiss the abused prisoners of the day before. The jailer naturally repeated his orders, glad doubtless to release them. But Paul was now as firm in a dignified way for the vindication of the gospel, and even of the law, of which they were the unworthy administrators, as he and his companion before in uncomplaining meekness had borne their lawless violence. If there is a time to keep silent, there is a time to speak; and the Spirit alone can guide as to either, for which the word alone suffices, for it warrants both, each in its due season. Here we see the two injunctions carried out in the same transaction, and both turning to the glory of the Lord.
It was not invariably so even with such honoured servants. Their own spirit might, and occasionally did, act without the sure guidance of God; as when the high priest was rebuked and Caesar was appealed to, each time with consequences less or more serious, as it may be shown when the history comes before us. Here beyond controversy the silent suffering of Paul and Silas was a mighty and striking testimony to the practical grace which our Lord would have to characterize His own. 'For what glory is it,' says another apostle, 'if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable [lit., grace] with God' (1 Peter 2:20). To this saints, as such, are called. Peculiarly does it become those to practise it who teach it, as did the blessed pair then at Philippi. They were reproached for the name of Christ, and were partakers of His sufferings without a murmur, nay, with prayers and hymns of joy that they were counted worthy to bear wrong and shame for His Name.
But now that they had thus endured, it was fitting that it should be proved that Paul and Silas were not evildoers punished justly with scourging and prison and the stocks, but that the guardians of the law had been guilty of flagrant, manifest, and inexcusable unrighteousness against the preachers of the gospel. The time was come when the praetors sent to let them go, and Paul saw this, not at first the jailer. Therefore said the apostle to them, 'They beat us openly, uncondemned, men being Romans, and cast us into prison; and do they cast us out privily? No, indeed; but let themselves come and bring us out.' Their exposure was complete, though only the officials and their victims might know it. There was not the semblance of resentment, not the least desire to injure them, and exact from men who lay absolutely in the power of those they had wantonly injured. But it was unanswerably demonstrated, that, in the conflict between the officials of Roman law at Philippi and the ministers of the gospel, the latter were no less honoured by the gracious power of God than the former had utterly failed to repress the mob, and had even become the ringleaders in cruel infraction of that law they were bound to enforce.
The lictors bring back Paul's words to the praetors, who when they heard the sufferers were Romans could not hide their fear, but came and besought their prisoners. It was a humiliation on their part, as undeniable a triumph for those charged with God's gospel, who had suffered only as Christians with the Spirit of glory and of God resting on them.
Certainly the preachers of grace were not disposed to swerve from grace, least of all now that the truth was clear; nor had they any wish to put dishonour on any human institution, but rather to be patterns in that subjection to it for the Lord's sake, to which they were conspicuous in exhorting others. They were easily entreated, having never thought of a prosecution.
'And when they brought them out, they asked [them] to go out of the city. And they went out of the prison into [the house of] Lydia; and when they saw the brethren, they exhorted them and departed.' They exercised their indisputable title to liberty by a visit, on quitting the prison, to Lydia, where they saw 'the brethren'. These would seem to be her household of whom we heard in verse 15. Of none others in that holy bond of relationship do we read at this time in Philippi. These they exhorted or comforted, as well there might be need, and the Lord's servants could happily do in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. As they had rejoiced in their bonds, they took their leave: a lovely picture in their own persons, of that superiority to circumstances which the apostle in his Epistle at a later day impressed on all the saints there, for their blessing and ours.
We are now brought into somewhat new circumstances. The work of the Lord goes on, the testimony varies in its character, the zeal of the labours is the same, the results differ more or less, and so does the opposition of the enemy.
'Now, when they had journeyed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was the synagogue of the Jews' (ver. 1).
It is remarkable that the more ancient manuscripts (ABD, et al.) omit the article before synagogue, as do the Authorized and Revised Versions; but the testimony to its existence is ample and varied. On the one hand it is well-nigh impossible to conceive its insertion unless it were originally there. On the other it is easy to understand its omission, because of its unusual connection. It would be quite justified if in fact there was but that synagogue in the district, which would give it notoriety. At Philippi we saw that there was none; there was only the place for prayer by the river, where a few used to assemble on the sabbath.
'And Paul as his custom was went in among them, and on three sabbaths reasoned with them from the scriptures, opening and alleging that the Christ must suffer, and rise again from [among] the dead, and that this Jesus, whom I announce to you, is the Christ' (vers. 2, 3). Here the apostle returns to a testimony of pointed application to the Jews. No doubt it is of the highest value to everyone, but the form of it exactly suited the place where his discourses were given. A suffering and a risen Christ was proved out of the scriptures, and this not merely as a truth in what they owned to be the word of God, but the absolute necessity because of man's sin, and the only adequate remedy in God's grace, with the further and clenching conclusion that 'This is the Christ Jesus, Whom I announce to you.' No miracle was needed here to arrest attention. The scriptures are a testimony beyond miracles, and the most permanent of all testimony. Jesus alone, as far as His first advent is concerned, gives full meaning to the word of God, and this it is which completely meets the conscience and the heart of the believer for purging to the one, and giving a blessed and blessing object to the other. But it is not all that the apostle had to say at Thessalonica, as we shall shortly learn, and as it is all which is mentioned here, no more need be added now.
'And some of them were persuaded and added [joined themselves] to Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few' (ver. 4). Thus, as the apostle wrote afterwards, 'Our gospel was not with you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance' (1 Thess. 1:5). The harvest was considerable, not only from among the Jews, but far more from the Gentiles, including not a few women of rank, In no assembly of apostolic times do we find in fact greater simplicity, freshness, and power of the truth than among the Thessalonians.
But the success of the gospel is ever apt to rouse bitter opposition and nowhere so much as among the Jews, who would keenly feel that rancorous spite which is natural to those who were overwhelmed by their own scriptures, for which they could not account, but to which they would not bow. 'But the Jews, having been stirred up to jealousy, took unto them certain wicked men of the rabble (lit., market-loungers) and gathering a crowd set the city in confusion, and besetting the house of Jason, sought to bring them out to the people. And not having found them, they dragged Jason and certain brethren before the city-rulers (or, politarchs), crying out, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also whom Jason has received; and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus. And they troubled the crowd and the city-rulers, when they heard these things. And having taken security for Jason and the rest, they let them go' (vers. 5-9).
Here we see the usual lack of common honesty, which marks the religious assailants of the truth. The Jews, who professed the fear of God did not scruple, through jealousy, to form a party with wicked men of the lowest sort against the gospel. Abandoned heathens were good enough allies against the truth of their own Messiah, Whom worldly lusts would not let them discern in the suffering, but risen Jesus. God was in none of their thoughts; and self-wit/ wrought to darken and destroy the force of His word. Their degradation could not be hidden in the company with whom they consorted to form a crowd and set the city in uproar. Yet were the Jews the exclusive representatives of divine law before all nations They were now alas! the standing proof of utter failure, not because the law was not holy, the commandment holy and just and good, but because they themselves were unholy, unjust, and evil. Even now, their own Messiah being come, they failed to recognize Him through unbelief urged the Gentiles to crucify Him, and now were also forbidding His servants to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved. Thus were they filling up their sins always 'but the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.'
The host of Paul, Jason, was the special object of their animosity, his house they beset in their desire to bring forward the Lord's servants unto the people, i.e., the regular assembly of the city. Not finding them, they dragged Jason and certain brethren before the city-rulers,1 a peculiar title of the local authorities, which so much the more attests Luke's accuracy because the term occurs in no known remains of Greek antiquity. But an inscription still extant on the marble arch of the western or Vardir gate of Saloniki proves that such was the title of the Thessalonian magistrates, and that there were seven. By a remarkable coincidence three of the names of Paul's companions found here, or in the Epistles, answer to as many in that inscription given from Boeckh, No. 1967, in Conybeare and Howson I. 395. Sosipater, Secundus, and Gaius are common to both, a fact which points to the prevalence of these names in that region. It was a free city anciently called Therma, which afterwards received its name of Thessalonica from Cassander in compliment to his wife, Thessalonica, sister of Alexander the Great, and it remains a flourishing city of the Turkish empire in our day (1887) under the derived name of Saloniki or Salonica.
1 The Greek noun here, πολίαχος, not πολίταρχος, is a word, with its cognate verb, of common occurrence in Dio Cassius, for praefect or commandant of a city, besides its broader usage in the past as said of a king or prince. But I do not find it applied to magistrates in Greek cities, only to the praefect of Rome.
The outcry of the assailants in verses 6, 7 is strikingly instructive, at least in its latter part. That the preachers of divine grace 'turned the world upside down' was natural to say, and became a standing reproach, however untrue. Yet is it intelligible because the gospel penetrates among high and low, and separates from the world by a divine bond to Christ in heaven. But for that very reason it does not meddle with the authority of the world; to which, on the contrary, it enjoins subjection on every soul as God's ordinance here below. It simply but completely attaches the heart of those who believe to the rejected One, now glorified in heaven. But we cannot look for truth in a foolish cry raised by envious Jews and idle loungers of the Gentiles. They only sought an appearance sufficient to arouse the fears of the magistrates, and therefore drive away the chief heralds of the truth
But they laid another charge of a more definite kind, which has the more interest because of the light on it furnished by both the Epistles to the Thessalonians: 'And these all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.'
The insinuation was unfounded and malicious undoubtedly; but it had a show of evidence in the prominence given to the kingdom of God in which Jesus was to come. For He was gone, among other objects, to receive that kingdom and to return. Now, whatever the ill-willed folly of representing that this expectation is antagonistic to the rights of Caesar, it is plain that the teaching was very far from modern doctrine, which could never be so misconstrued. Paul and his companions held before the saints the constant looking for Christ to come and reign; and this, not as a secret for the initiated, but as a most influential hope which penetrated all walk as well as doctrine, and to be urged from first to last throughout the whole Christian life. We learn from the earliest chapter of the first Epistle that it characterized the Thessalonian converts from their starting point. They turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to await His Son from the heavens, Whom He raised out of the dead, Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath. (1 Thess. 1) Their conversion was to wait for Jesus no less than to serve God. That hope, therefore, was suited to the youngest believers as truly as to the apostle. It was independent of prophetic scheme, with which neophytes, especially from the heathen, could not be acquainted. Yet was it so much the more a hope bright and unembarrassed in which they lived from day to day.
So surely was this the case, that the apostle reminds them (1 Thess. 2.) how, as a father his own children, he used to exhort 'each one of you, and comfort and testify that ye should walk worthy of God, Who calleth you to His own kingdom and glory'. What could more prove His kingdom as bearing on present walk? And in fact it is notorious that the lack of it before the eyes of the saints exposes them to seeking ease and honour, and wealth and all worldliness. With His kingdom and glory before us, we can heartily bear present shame and suffering, and the walk is elevated accordingly. Even the apostle looked for his crown of boasting in the saints only before our Lord Jesus at His coming. Then would holiness have its consummation and display at His coming with all His saints (1 Thess. 3). Dead and living saints (1 Thess. 4) would be changed and be with Him on high at His coming; and in due time the day of the Lord should fall with sudden destruction on a thoughtless, unexpecting world (1 Thess. 5).
If possible, more precise is the intimation about the kingdom in the Second Epistle. The saints in Thessalonica, through various causes, did not then enjoy so much of the brightness of the hope, but the apostle joins his fellow-labourers with himself in boasting of their endurance and faith in all their persecutions and tribulations. This is viewed as a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God to the end that they should be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, 'for the sake of which ye also suffer'. Retribution will come in its day at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven: He it is Who makes good, manifests, and administers the kingdom (2 Thess. 1). But that day cannot be (errorists pretended that it was already present) ere the apostasy come, and the man of sin be revealed.
There was already at work the mystery or secret of lawlessness, the upshot of which will be the revelation of that lawless one, who is yet himself to sit down in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. This will draw swift judgment on him and his adherents; for the Lord Jesus shall consume him with the breath of His mouth, and annul him by the appearing of His coming (2 Thess. 2). This need not alarm the feeblest believers seeing that God has called them by the gospel to obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, though we need the Lord meanwhile to direct our hearts into the love of God, and into the patience of the Christ (2 Thess. 3) It is the second advent, as men call it, the manifestation of the Lord in glory, which introduces the kingdom judicially, when in the language of Daniel. the 'little stone', having executed judgment on all opposing hostile powers here below, will then expand into a great mountain and fill the whole earth. To expect universal spread and supremacy for God's kingdom, before the King comes in personal and public overthrow of His foes, is an error of no small magnitude. The error sought early entrance but met with immediate exposure by the apostle who strengthened the Thessalonians in the truth. He from the beginning pressed the coming of Jesus, and God's kingdom then: a truth as solemn for the world as full of cheer for the saints.
But the world was hostile, though nothing more was done then beyond taking bail1 of Jason and the rest, and letting them go, as the preachers were not found. Persecution soon fell heavily, as the Epistle shows, on the young converts.
1 This is expressed, not in the more ancient Greek technical expression ἐγγύη but in the equivalent of the Latin satisdatio, τὸ ἱκανὸν.
'But the brethren immediately sent away by night Paul and Silas unto Berea, who on their arrival went away into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, being such as received the word with all readiness of mind, day by day examining the scriptures whether these things were so. Many out of them therefore believed, and of the Greek2 women of good position, and of men, not a few. But when the Jews from Thessalonica knew that the word of God was announced by Paul in Berea also, they came thither also, stirring up and troubling3 the crowds. And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to proceed toward4 the sea; but Silas and Timothy abode there. But they that were conducting Paul brought [him] as far as Athens; and having received a charge for Silas and Timothy that they should come as quickly as possible unto him, they departed' (vers. 10-15).
2 They were not Grecians or Hellenists, but Greeks.
3 'And troubling' has ancient and wide support.
4 Ignorance of the idiomatic use of ὡς here probably led to ἓως in ABE and some other authorities, and to its omission in D, et al.
It is blessed to mark the unwearied zeal of the Lord's servants. They had barely escaped the ill-will roused by the Jews at Thessalonica, when we behold them undauntedly repairing to the synagogue in Berea on their arrival. Here they experienced such readiness of heart in searching the scriptures as evinced a greater simplicity and real nobility of soul. To bow to the word, to receive it as God's word, which indeed it is, is the truest condition of divine blessing; yet did they daily examine scripture, whether the things preached accorded with the things written. Therefore many from among them believed. There is no way so sure or good. And it is of interest to observe that here also not a few Greek women of rank, no less than men, believed, as well as the God-fearing Jews. It was doubtless an unspeakable deliverance from debasing immorality, as well as from empty fable — from a life of selfishness to serve an only and true God, and to await His Son from heaven.
But Jewish rancour could not content itself with driving the apostles from Thessalonica: from Thessalonica came the hostile Jews to Berea in order to counteract the preached word, stirring up and troubling the crowds there also.
Knowledge of old revelation gives no security for receiving the truth God is actually sending or using most at any given time. On the contrary, as we see in these Jews here and elsewhere, if there be pride in what is already possessed, it will act powerfully in rejecting what is meant of God to test the heart now; especially if grace be at work to open the door of faith to those who had no religious standing from of old. Hence the gospel is of all things most repulsive to the ancient people of God, who madly refused the mercy which waited on them first of all, before it was preached to the Gentiles.
Thereon Paul is again sent off by the brethren toward the sea, whilst his companions stayed there still. Athens was the apostle's destination, whither he had a loving escort, and where he charged Silas and Timothy to rejoin him. But Athens, as we shall see, was not destined to be a fruitful field for the incorruptible seed, the living and abiding word of God.
No! Athens was to be comparatively barren for the gospel: so different are the thoughts of God from those of men. Mere love of novelty, not value for truth, characterized that city once the most renowned seat of the arts, of letters, of philosophy. It was covered with idols: God was not really in their thoughts. Indeed He cannot be known or loved apart from Jesus. But now a herald was come to set the testimony of Jesus before them, yet alas how little heeded!
'Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked in him as he observed the city to be full of idols.1 He reasoned therefore, in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout, and in the market-place every day with those that turned up. And certain also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers2 attacked him. And some said, What would this babbler say? and others, He seemeth to be an announcer of strange divinities, because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And having taken hold of him, they brought [him] up to the Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new teaching [is], that is spoken by thee? For thou bringest certain strange things unto our ears: we wish to know therefore what these things mean. Now all Athenians and the strangers sojourning there spent their time in nothing else than either to tell something or to hear something3 newer' [i.e., than the last] (vers. 16-21).
1 Κατείδωλός πόλις Actor. Apost.xvii. 16 quod non est, ut quidam opinantur simulacris dedita urbs, sed simulacris referta.' Zeunius ap. Viger, de pr. Gr. L Idiom. 638, ed iii. Lips. 1822.
2 'Also' has good authority, though omitted in Text. Rec., which inserts 'the' before Stoic, and 'to them' before 'preached'.
3 The most ancient authorities support the double 'something'.
It was an indignant and painful feeling which stirred the apostle's spirit as he beheld idols everywhere. Companionship he loved and valued, and tidings of Thessalonica he longed for, but at once he goes to the synagogue for the Jews and proselytes, as well as to the market-place every day for those that came by. The Epicureans and the Stoics soon encountered him; the former being really Atheists under the plea of chance, and looking for the dissolution of soul and body; the latter, of a sterner school which cried up necessity or fate, and an intolerant and intolerable egotism, being really Pantheists. Some had recourse to banter: 'What would this babbler say?' Others took Paul up more gravely: 'He seemeth to be an announcer of strange divinities [or demons], because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.' So ignorant were these sages as to count the resurrection a goddess, the counterpart of Jesus, a god. The true God was unknown.
But they were no longer disposed to persecute. Intellectual levity survived the loss of their national independence and political power. Mocking or curiosity alone remained. Still they were sufficiently struck by the apostle's preaching to lay hold of him and bring him up to the Areopagus, not to try him for his life, as they once did with Socrates, but that they might know what this new doctrine was. Even they could not but avow how strange the sound was to their ears: 'We wish to know therefore, what these things mean.' The truth, however, enters not through the ear merely, but the conscience also, and what conscience was there in spending their time for nothing else than either to tell or to hear the last news? We shall see that the apostle brought God, as a personal and living reality, before themselves as morally related to Him. Till conscience is awakened, what groundwork can there be? Otherwise the gospel is degraded into another new thing, and Jesus and the resurrection become the latest additions to the Pantheon of heathen vanities.
'And Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus, and said, Men of Athens, in all things I observe that ye are very [i.e., more than others] reverent to divinities [or demons]; for passing through and closely observing the objects of your worship, I found also an altar on which was the inscription, To an unknown God. What [or Whom], therefore, ye without knowing worship, this1 I announce to you. The God that made the world and all things therein, He, being Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands, nor is He served by human2 hands as needing something more, Himself giving to all life, and breath, and all things. And He made of one [blood3] every nation of men to dwell on all3 the face of the earth, having determined appointed4 seasons, and the bounds of their habitation, that they should seek God5, if haply they might feel after and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and are; as also some of your own poets have said, For His offspring also are we. Being therefore God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divinity is like gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and device of man. God therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, now commendeth men6 that they should all everywhere repent, inasmuch as7 He has appointed a day in which He is about to judge the world [inhabited earth] in righteousness, by a Man Whom He marked out, having given assurance to all in that He raised Him from [the] dead' (vers. 22-31).
1 The neuter form has more ancient support than the much more general masculine.
2 'Of men' in Text. Rec. must yield in antiquity to 'human'.
3 'Blood' is not in AB, eight cursives, and most ancient Versions, some reading 'every face'.
4 'Foreappointed' rests on D and a few more.
5 'God' has ample support of the best kind.
6 Text. Rec. has 'all men' with many, but not the best witnesses, as in the text followed.
7 καθότι ABDE, et al., διότι 'because', has inferior weight.
Though we have only a sketch of the apostle's discourse, we can readily see its striking difference from that which he was wont to preach to the Jews. He comes down to the lowest point and form of truth, in order, as he had done before (Acts 14) with the Lycaonian barbarians, to reach the Athenian conscience, the Jews having through the law incomparably more worthy thoughts of God and of their own relationship to Him. Nevertheless the address opens with habitual courtesy whilst there was not a particle to flatter their pride. The apostle laid hold of the only object in that crowd of honours paid to truly strange demons, which confessed the humbling fact about themselves and God. 'An unknown God' told the true tale; all else around was but deception and the triumph of the enemy. 'What, therefore, ye worship in ignorance, this I announce to you.'
The God that made the world and all things therein is the Judge of all the world by the same risen Man Who is Saviour of such as repent and believe the gospel, be they who or what they may. Creation was owned by neither Epicureans nor Stoics: the one holding the absurdity of a fortuitous concourse of atoms, the other conceiving a fixed ever-recurring cycle of generation and dissolution in the universe, which was their god if they can be allowed to have had any. But the Creator of all things is also Lord of heaven and earth; He neither rests in apathy, nor is He the mere active soul of the passive world, but supreme Ruler, not of heaven only, but of the earth. He is not therefore to be limited to human sanctuaries, nor to be served by human hands, as though He needed anything, seeing that He Himself gives to all life and breath and the whole of what they enjoy. Some elements of these truths might be accepted here and there, for man has a conscience, but seen fully and simply they swept away the dark clouds of philosophic dreamers, maintaining for God His own place of sovereign goodness towards man, let him be ever so proud, dark, and miserable.
The apostle adds more. He struck next at a well-known theme of Athenian vanity, by no means however peculiar to that race, or land, or time: 'And He made of one [blood] every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined appointed seasons and the bounds of their habitation, that they should seek God, if indeed they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.' The one origin of man goes with the unity of God, as the pretension to distinct races goes with their respective patrons of polytheism. The Jews as they fell away helped on the falsehood in their self-exalting vanity, though to them only was committed the revelation of the twofold truth, which Christianity alone applied thoroughly and carried out according to God. It was not only the mere passing testimony to His goodness in the gift from heaven of rains and fruitful seasons, to which the apostle here pointed, but also to appointed seasons, and the boundaries of the dwelling of the various nations, all under God's hand with peculiar favours distributed to each, and at least a whisper to seek after (not 'the Lord', which is true neither in the Jewish sense of Jehovah, nor still less in the only just revealed exaltation of the rejected Messiah, but) 'God', if haply they might grope after and find Him, though He is not far from each of us.
It is not however without interest to compare Job's treatment of the same truth generally (Job 12:23-25): only he dwells rather on the side of the divine sovereignty of Him to Whom the nations, haughtily indifferent about Him though they might be, are 'as a drop of a bucket', and are counted 'as the small dust of the balance' (Isa. 40:15). But the glowing heat of the inspired preacher does not fail to urge the moral aim of His beneficent arrangements on the grandest scale, that they might seek after Himself, if perhaps they might feel after and find Him: teaching quite in keeping with his own Epistle to the Romans (Rom. 1:20). Even in the darkness of heathenism more than one had owned, if not Paul's fine statement of man's absolute dependence on God for continued life, activity, and existence, God as the source of the race: a truth already given most distinctly in Luke 3:38, supposed parabolically in Luke 15:11, and taught formally in the first clause of Eph. 4:6. The poets among them (the heathen Greeks) had expressed it; not the Cilician Aratus only (whom he cites verbally), but Cleanthes also in nearly similar words, as well as others substantially.
With this acknowledgment of their poetical seers the apostle states the confutation of the folly of idolatry. If man alone of creatures on earth is God's offspring, how maintain that the divinity is like a work of man's craft and imagination in gold, or silver, or stone? 'We ought not' so to think, he says graciously, not forgetting that Israel too had to bear the sterner irony of Isaiah (Isa. 44:9-20). A lifeless stock that man forms cannot be, or duly represent, the God Who made him and all things.
Yet the God, Who was thus shamefully misrepresented in the times of the ignorance that was past, would no longer overlook as heretofore such delinquency; He is now charging on men that they all everywhere repent (ver. 30). Here was a death-blow, not only for the self-indulgence of the Epicurean as well as for the self-righteous Stoic, but also for the careless and the proud of all mankind, and not least in that city. And the apostle followed it up with the solemn reason for heed and urgency, 'because He had appointed a day in which He is about to judge the habitable [earth] in righteousness by a Man Whom He had marked out, having afforded assurance [or, ground of belief] to all in that He raised Him out of [the] dead.'
Here the prevalent thought of Christendom errs greatly. The Jews used to, and perhaps in some measure still, look for a judgment of living men; the mass of Christians, notwithstanding the Creeds, only look (all but exclusively in fact) for a judgment of the dead before eternity. The apostle here and elsewhere pressed the judgment of this habitable scene at our Lord's appearing to introduce His kingdom in displayed power and glory, as He did Himself in Matt. 24, and 25; Mark 13; Luke 17, 19, 21, and other scriptures. The pledge of His thus coming to judge and to reign is His own resurrection, as ours who believe will be at His coming preparatorily to our appearing and reigning with Him.
This scripture shows how vital and fundamental a truth is His resurrection, which so blessedly involves our own, besides being the witness to His victory over death and Satan to the Father's glory in vindicating His Son to the efficacy of His sacrifice to the believer, and to the displayed condition of man for heaven according to divine counsels. Granted that in the nature of the case it is a fact attested by His own, though with the most abundant and weighty evidence, above all by God's word long before the fact, as well as by fresh revelation immediately after. Could any other fact be shown possessed of grounds to be compared with these? All that on which the soul stands for ever before God rests on the self-same ground of divinely given testimony; and, consequently, as being addressed to faith, purifies the heart through the operation of the Holy Ghost, as nothing else can do.
What was the effect on the Athenians? 'Now when they heard of resurrection of dead [men], some mocked, but others said, We will hear thee concerning this yet again. Thus Paul went out from their midst. But some men crave to him and believed; among whom also was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them' (vers. 32-34)
Nor should we wonder at these heathen philosophers and newsmongers being staggered by a call resting on a basis so irrefragable on God's part so crushing to human will and unbelief, as resurrection. For human science never rises above sensible causes and effects, or phenomena arrayed according to natural laws. This is all true and interesting in its own sphere. The folly is in denying what is as wholly different in kind, as grace necessarily is from nature, and in rejecting facts attested by the fullest and surest testimony, the most unreasonable course to be conceived in things which must and ought, as facts, to depend on testimony: a course only intelligible in this exceptional case through the desperate antagonism of fallen humanity to God, even when He is waiting on and speaking to man in the richest mercy.
But man, and not least philosophic man, rebels against resurrection. He might endure a whole night's Socratic discussion of the soul's immortality; for this gratifies the nobler sort, if it be offensive to the morally degraded. But a dead man raised brings in God; and proves God intervening in the midst of a busy world to mark out the Man Whom they crucified, Who is going to judge this habitable world one day, as also in due time the dead raised later, ere all things are made new for eternity. To science as science, I repeat, this fact is repulsive, because impossible for their idol for what can be the cause of resurrection? Certainly not death, but God in the person of the Son.
Bow, proud man, bow to Him, Who in love sent His Son that we might live through Him, true God as He is, and that He might die for us — for our sins, without which the gift of eternal life had been the merest anomaly, but with it the deep blessing of a full and everlasting salvation of His grace, yet righteous, to the glory of God for ever. There were mockers and triflers then as now. Oh! may you, like the others of old, cleave to the apostle, and find your place with the true Dionysius of Luke, not with the Neo-Platonist impostor who borrowed the scriptural name for his fables and rhapsodies of the sixth century manufacture. Doubtless that blessed place must be shared with a Damaris and others, whose names are written in heaven if unknown on earth. May Christ satisfy your soul, as well He may Who is all, and in all!
In marked distinction from Athens is the dealing of divine grace with Corinth, the wealthy capital of Achaia, the southern province of Greece under the Roman empire. Thither the apostle repaired after his brief visit to Athens: with what result the record stands, not in the inspired history alone, but in the two great Epistles to the church of God in Corinth.
'After these things he1 departed from2 Athens and came unto Corinth And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, of Pontus by race, lately come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded2 all the Jews to depart from2 Rome. And he came unto them; and because he was one of the same trade, he abode with them, and [? they]3 wrought, for by their trade they were tent-makers. And he was discoursing in the synagogues every sabbath, and persuading Jews and Greeks' (vers. 1-4).
1 Good MSS. add ὁ Παῦλος as in Text. Rec., the Authorized and other Versions but the best omit.
2 The form varies in copies, with the same sense in substance in all the words thus marked.
3 'They' wrought is sustained by pm B, Coptic and Origen, for one can scarce add the loose Æthiopic Version. It seems strange that the Revisers should adopt so precarious a reading in the face of all other authorities.
The ways of grace are wholly above man's thoughts. None could have anticipated that God would raise a trophy to His Son, not in intellectual Athens, but in demoralized Corinth. Was there any antecedent link, or natural suitability whatever, between the Holy One of God and this proverbial seat of impurity? The grace of God gives no account of its matters, but works to the glory of Christ; and most of all where man is most needy. Even so the apostle asked in the beginning of his First Epistle to the Corinthians, 'Where is [the] wise? Where [the] scribe? Where [the] disputer of this age? Did not God make foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God the world through wisdom knew not God, God was pleased through the foolishness of the preaching to save those that believe. Since Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumbling block, and unto Gentiles foolishness, but unto the called themselves, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [the] power of God, and [the] wisdom of God, because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.' The wisdom of this age had proved its folly in Athens; the compassion of God yearned over Corinth in the face of all its dissolute manners and corruption.
'For behold your calling, brethren, how that there are not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, but God chose the foolish things of the world that He might put to shame the wise, and God chose the weak things of the world that He might put to shame the strong things, and the base things of the world, and the things despised, did God choose, and the things that are not, that He might bring to naught the things that are; that no flesh should glory before God.' Never was this more realized than in Corinth, where in due time a numerous assembly was formed from both Jews and Gentiles, for the most part of no great account in this world.
Paul was not long alone. He found in Corinth a certain Jew, called Aquila, who though of Pontus by race (like his namesake of a later date, who, however, was a Jewish proselyte and translated the Old Testament into Greek most literally), had just come from Italy, with Priscilla, his wife. This is their first mention in scripture. We hear of them afterwards in Ephesus and of the assembly at their house. Later still they were found once more in Rome, and saluted as Paul's fellow-workers in Christ Jesus, 'who for my life staked their own necks, to whom not I only am thankful, but also all the assemblies of the Gentiles' (Rom. 16:3, 4). There also we hear of the assembly at their house. In the last Epistle which our apostle ever wrote he bids Timothy salute them once more and for the last time in Ephesus.
The occasion of their coming from Italy at this time was because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Suetonius, the Roman biographer of the Caesars, states that this emperor, because of a Jewish outbreak, 'impulsore Chresto', expelled them from Rome. The Latin words cited are probably an error on his part, but may allude to violence on the side of unbelieving Jews against those who believed, or may be a confusion (owing to Roman jealousy) with the preaching of the Messiah elsewhere. Bp. Pearson is of opinion that this expulsion happened about A.D. 52, in which year Tacitus (Ann. xii. 52) puts the Senate's decree for expelling the 'mathematici' or 'Chaldaei'; but whether they were identical or connected is uncertain. It is known that Claudius was deeply indebted to Herod Agrippa the First for his nomination to the empire, and did not forget him but rewarded the Herod family: so one could hard]y suppose so hostile an attitude towards the Jews, while Herod Agrippa was in Rome; and we can easily understand that, if enacted in his absence, the decree soon fell through. This consideration clears up the statement of Dio Cassius (Ix. 6), which some have supposed to contradict St. Luke, as well as Suetonius, that the emperor did not expel them, but ordered them not to congregate in Rome. If we distinguish the times, all is clear and true.
But God made use of the edict to bring Aquila and his wife into lifelong communication with the apostle. Whether they were converted or not before they first met is not quite certain. Much stress has been laid on Aquila's description as 'a certain Jew', rather than as a disciple; but this may be satisfactorily enough accounted for, both as qualifying the place of his birth, and as furnishing the ground of his quitting Rome for Corinth. Then we must bear in mind that, as the Romans and strangers in general did not in these early days distinguish Christian Jews from their brethren after the flesh, so Paul repeatedly designates himself a Jew afterwards in this Book (Acts 21:39; Acts 22:3). The apostle never speaks of them as his children in the faith, however warmly he may greet or characterize them. Certain it is that they were abundantly blessed through him, as he graciously owns the large debt due to them, not by himself only, but by all the assemblies of the Gentiles.
We never hear of this devoted pair in Judea, they were widely known outside the land among the Gentiles where assemblies met. Their wealth or their trade afforded the means to welcome the gathering of saints at their own house; a circumstance not unusual in those days (or even much later, as we know from the Acta Martyrii S. Justini, Ruinart). So we see also in the cases of Nymphas and Philemon. It abides now a happy resource where a few can only thus be gathered to Christ's name according to His word. That they should first wait for a bishop is either an Ignatian tradition or a notion at the present day flowing from the same unbelieving superstition which gave birth to the tradition in the past. Only the ever-living truth of 'one body and one Spirit' would call for fellowship in such an act. Independency is a denial of true church action.
Another fact in solving a principle of deep practical moment comes out in verse 3: 'And because he was one of the same trade, he abode with them and wrought; for by their occupation they were tent-makers.'1 God was pleased so to order things that the great apostle, in the wealthiest and most luxurious city of Greece, should carry on an honest occupation for necessary wants. What a death-blow to clericalism on the one hand, and to worldliness on the other! Yet, in the circumstances of both Paul himself and Corinth, it was just the course which was worthy of the gospel of the grace which sent it out. It is unreasonable to suppose that this blessed servant of the Lord failed in ordinary foresight for his missionary journey, or that the assemblies of the saints were lacking in care for him or in zeal for the work, especially in the regions beyond those where the faithful were already gathered together unto Christ's name.
1 It is known that among the Jews of that day it was usual for a son to learn a trade. Some, if not all, of the greatest Rabbis exercised a handicraft. Indeed in the Talmud Rabbi Juda says, He that does not teach his son a trade, virtually teaches him to be a thief; and Rabban Gamaliel compares a man with a trade to a vineyard that is fenced.
The apostle had pushed forward alone without means into a quarter of abounding ease and distinguished elegance, to say nothing of the dissoluteness of morals which followed in their train; and here, labouring with his own hands for the necessities of others not less than his own, as was his wont, he truly represented the Master Who came not to be ministered unto but to minister. It was for the Son of man alone to give His life a ransom for many, it was His exclusively to suffer once for sins, Just for unjust, to bring us to God. But the apostle of the Gentiles was Christ's follower, or imitator, with energy of devotedness unparalleled not among saints or servants only, but among the apostles, whom God set foremost in the church. And grace gave his single eye to discern how best to please and glorify Christ in such circumstances. At a later day he exhorted the presbyters of the Ephesian assembly in his affecting farewell charge at Miletus; for he was not the man to urge on others what he shrank from himself. Neither did he hesitate to commend such a path of gracious self-abnegation to those whose function it is to feed or tend the flock of God.
The labourer is indeed worthy of his food, and of his hire for there are other necessities beyond food; and the Lord forgot none, as is plain from this twofold statement (Matt. 10:10, Luke 10:7, as cited in 1 Tim. 5: l 8): so the apostle declares (1 Cor. 9:14), the Lord ordained that those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel, as the law had done before for those that ministered about holy things. But, while insisting on a title so just and true for others, we see the blessed man foregoing it for himself in the same context: 'But I [emphatically] have used none of these things; and I write not these things that it may be so done in my case; for it were good for me rather to die than that any man should make my glorying vain. For if I preach the gospel I have nothing to glory of; for necessity is laid upon me; for woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel. For if I do this willingly, I have a reward, but if not of mine own will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. What then is my reward? That in preaching the gospel, I make the gospel without charge, so as not to use for myself [or, to the full] my title as to the gospel' (1 Cor. 9:15-18). Here was not letter but spirit, not self but Christ, in the full stream of that love which displayed itself to sinners in Christ sent that we who were dead might live through Him and that He might die a propitiation for our sins. It was meet that the highest witness of grace among men should be a manifest giver in his measure as God is infinitely.
So he told the Thessalonians in his earliest Epistle, that he sought not glory of men, 'neither from you nor from others, when we might have been a burden as apostles of Christ.' None ever so well felt the value of Christ's words, It is more blessed to give than to receive. His reason was far more elevated than that which Calvin imputes — because the false apostles taught freely without taking anything, that they might craftily insinuate themselves. In 1 Cor. 9, where his motives are shown, there is no allusion to these evil workers, and in fact there could be no such persons in Corinth when Paul came to preach, and no assembly as yet existed. It was a heart filled with love, and burning to illustrate the gospel in deed and in truth as he proclaimed it in word, without question of adversaries yet to arise and set up cheap and vaunting pretensions to similar grace. In his Second Epistle (2 Cor. 11) no doubt he does speak of his keeping himself in everything from being a burden to the saints in Corinth, and of his determination so to keep himself, that he might cut off the occasion of those wishing for an occasion, that wherein they boasted they might be found even as we [not we even as they].
'And he was discoursing in the synagogue every sabbath and persuading Jews and Greeks' (ver. 4).
The same word means either 'discoursing' in general, or in particular 'reasoning', or even 'disputing', as in Mark 9:34; Acts 17:2; Acts 24:12; Jude 9. Here as in Acts 20:7, 9; Heb. 12:5, the more general force seems preferable; in others 'reasoning' may be right as between the extremes. Context alone can decide. As the synagogue was the scene of the discourses, we may gather assuredly that the testimony of the Old Testament was the ample ground-work on which Paul appealed to his hearers, who were not exclusively Jews, for we are expressly told that (not Hellenists but) Greeks were the objects of his habitual persuasion. If they were not proselytes, they must have been men whom the licentious excesses of heathenism drove them there, and no wonder, when, as another has said, their religion itself corrupted man; and he made of his corruption a religion.
Nowhere was this more deeply and conspicuously true than in Corinth, where the worship of Aphrodite with her infamous ἱερόδουλοι prevailed (the counterpart of Venus at Rome, and of Astarte, or Hebrew Ashtoreth in Syria). Abandoning all fear or thought of the true God, they fell below even the natural decency of man, and dishonoured themselves in the dishonour of God. The synagogue cold as it was, attracted consciences which revolted from evil which philosophy indulged in, or at best was far too weak to supplant or restrain, and Greeks there listened with Jews, to the holy and persuasive discourses of the apostle. We shall find a crisis that went farther ere long, but not till the apostle had the companionship of beloved fellow-labourers.
It may be added that too much has been made of the word 'persuade' in verse 4, as if it meant to 'induce by little and little'. It is on the contrary the word by which the apostle himself expresses the preaching of the gospel to win souls in view of the awful reality of Christ's tribunal for the hard or heedless (2 Cor. 5:10, 11). Paul's word was not certainly in persuasive words of wisdom, as he told the Corinthians in his First Epistle (1 Cor. 2:3-5), but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, at the very time when he was with them, from his coming in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. He was not there as a philosopher or as 'the power of God which is called great', but as much of a contrast as one can conceive; and this, that the faith of such as believed might stand, not in man's wisdom but in God's power. But, as the effect of his discoursing in the synagogue, he was persuading Jews and Greeks.
When his companions arrived, this was what they found, and more soon followed. Great is the virtue, even for an apostle, of fellowship in labour, and cheering was the news then brought.
'And when both Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul was engrossed with (or constrained by) the word,1 testifying to the Jews that Jesus was2 the Christ. But as they opposed themselves and blasphemed, he shook out his clothes, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own head; I [am] pure; from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles. And departing thence he went into a certain man's house, by name Titus3 Justus, a worshipper of God, whose house adjoined to the synagogue' (vers. 5-7).
1 λόγῳ ABDE, six cursives, Vulg. Memph. Theb. Syrr. Arm. Aeth.; πνεύματι (as in Text. Rec.) has quite inferior authorities.
2 εἱναι is read by the best witnesses.
3 Titus, or Titius, is vouched for by BDgr2 E, four cursives, Vulg. Memph. Syr.-Harcl. Arm. Indeed Syr.-Pesch. and Theb. gave Titus only; and a cursive corrects Justus by Titus.
It will be noticed that the two fellow-labourers are said to have come down from 'Macedonia', as the Roman province of northern Greece was called in distinction from Achaia, of which Corinth was the metropolis. Macedonia is the natural phrase, if Silas and Timothy came down from different quarters, and the repeated article would well fall in with this. They were no doubt together at Berea; and Timothy, if not Silas, joined Paul at Athens, whence he was dispatched to Thessalonica with a view to establish them and encourage on behalf of their faith, that none should be disturbed in the afflictions then and there so severe. Both Silas and Timothy now joined the apostle at Corinth, but not necessarily at the same moment, any more than from the same point of departure. 1 Thess. 3:6. omits all mention of Silas as the companion of Timothy on this mission to Thessalonica, who brought to Paul the glad tidings of the Thessalonian saints, whereas the apostle speaking of the preaching at Corinth joins Silas and Timothy with himself in the address of that Epistle (2 Cor. 1:19). The apostle had forewarned these young converts of the tribulation that befell them; but this only the more increased his desires for them; and now he could rejoice that the tempter had failed, and that they were steadfast The apostle was then occupied earnestly with the word when the two came down; and assuredly their joint labours with him were as cheering to his heart as the good report brought about his beloved Thessalonians. Not the least ground seems to support the notion that their arrival with supplies enabled Paul to give up tent-making for the exclusive preaching of the word: certainly the verb suneivceto does not mean anything of the sort, but rather that the state of absorption with the word, by which he was characterized, went on, for it is the imperfect, not the aorist as it should have been if indicative of a fresh act or course consequent on their coming.
But there is another word which has to be taken into account, in order to a sound judgment. Were πνεύματι genuine, I cannot but think Erasmus (pace Bezae) right, and that the meaning would then be 'straightened in spirit'. But it is not so. The Received reading πνεύματι ('spirit') is not sustained by the best authorities which give λόγῳ ('word'), πνεύματι having crept in from Acts 17:16; Acts 18:25; Acts 19:21, et al. Hence such a rendering as Wakefield's must be summarily and on every ground discarded, 'the mind of Paul was violently disturbed', and none the less because the translation is commended by its author in his notes as perfectly agreeable to the original. Similarly erroneous is the turn given by Hammond, Mill, and Wolf, as if the apostle's spirit was vexed at the unbelief of the Jews; or the opposite notion of Beza and others, who construe it into the zealous ardour which carried him away. Others again like Casaubon, Grotius, et al., depart still farther and consider 'the spirit' to mean the Holy Spirit by Whose impulse he was borne away at this time: a rendering which is in every way faulty, for the verb cannot bear such a force, and the reading is certainly erroneous. If genuine, it would rather require the article absent (unless ἁγίῳ were expressed): its insertion simply would point to one's own spirit.
It is needless, however, though instructive in some measure, to discuss these departures from the truth, for it may be laid down as certain that the passage intimates that the apostle was occupied in the word when his fellow-workmen came from Macedonia. He was testifying thoroughly (διαμαρτυρόμενος) to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ or Messiah, the constant stumbling-block of that blinded people. Undoubtedly Jesus is much more than 'the Christ'; and none ever preached His higher glory, both personal and conferred, more than Paul. But none the less did he press on the Jews that Jesus is the Christ, as the break-up of their unbelief, and the necessary hinge of all further light and blessing.
'But as they opposed themselves and blasphemed, he shook out his clothes and said unto them, Your blood [be] upon your own head: I [am] pure, from henceforth I will go [proceed] unto the Gentiles' (ver. 6).
With rare exceptions such is the spirit of the Jews, and in it they fulfil the awful warnings of their prophets from Moses downwards. They are a perverse and crooked generation, and very froward withal, children in whom is no faith, moving Jehovah to jealousy with that which is not good, and provoking Him to anger with their vanities; as He has moved them to jealousy with those which are not a people, and provoked them to anger with a foolish nation. Ignorance is bearable and claims patient service in presenting the truth; but opposition is quite another thing, especially in the face of ample and convincing testimony; and speaking injuriously, or blasphemy yet more, is worse still, seeing that it is grace and truth in Christ which is thus outrageously rejected. This is fatal. Those who despised Jesus on earth had a fresh testimony concerning Him risen and glorified and still waiting to be gracious. There is no third, no other, witness to render unto those who reject Him speaking from heaven, as He is now — nothing but judgment for His adversaries when He appears in glory.
The apostle accordingly answered in significant deed as well as word: 'he shook out his clothes, and said unto them . . .' It was the spirit if not the form of Matt. 10:14, as even more rigidly carried out by himself and Barnabas at the Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:51). It was as if the dust of the place they dwelt in defiled, and must be shaken off1 as a testimony against them, Sodom and Gomorrah were more tolerable.
1 Think of Wakefield, while he retains the ordinary version, saying, 'I am partly inclined to think it means here — throwing off his garment: which exhibits a striking image of the conduct of the apostle: As I throw off this cloak, so I relinquish all further concern with you.'
Paul said also, Your blood [be] upon your own head. So, and yet worse, had those cried who actually urged on the Lord to the cross when Pilate would have let Him go, His blood be upon us and upon our children. And so it is until this day. 'I [am] pure,' added the apostle, 'henceforth I will proceed unto the Gentiles.' It was in perfect harmony not only with his own course elsewhere, but, what is of deeper importance still, with the ways of God in the gospel. The Jews were to have testimony first, and so they had and not quite in vain. Some did hear to the salvation of their souls; there is an elect remnant. But when the mass reject the gospel with hatred and blasphemy, the stream of blessing flows, though it is not lost but blessed amid the barren sands of the Gentiles.
It may interest some to know that, even in so simple a passage as the last, men of learning have differed. Lachmann suggested, and Alford followed, a punctuation which yields the sense, 'I shall henceforth with a pure conscience go to the Gentiles.' Wakefield follows the Peschito Syriac in breaking it up thus: 'From this moment I am clean therefrom, I go to the Gentiles.' In his note he says, 'This disposition gives a degree of abruptness to the periods more suitable to an angry man'! The irreverence of the translator seems to my mind as manifest as his lack of judgment, and the ordinary division most consistent, dignified, and impressive.
'And departing thence he went into a certain man's house, by name Titus Justus, a worshipper of God, whose house adjoined to the synagogue' (ver. 7).
Many, from Chrysostom to Alford, et al, have understood that the apostle removed from his quarters with Aquila1; and they have sought to assign motives and reasons in justification of the change. But there is no need to take the trouble, for it was a question of leaving not his lodgings, but the synagogue, and of finding therefore, not new quarters for his abode, but a suited place wherein to continue the testimony rendered previously in the synagogue. And this appears to me strikingly confirmed by the contiguity to the synagogue of the house, the use of which was offered at once by the devout Gentile whose heart was opening to the truth. If it were a mere lodging, why speak of its joining hard to the synagogue, on which Paul was henceforth turning his back? But if a suited room were wanted for testimony, two conditions met in the house of Justus; one, that the owner was himself a Gentile, and hence most proper to win the attendance of Gentiles, as well as to accentuate the grave and new step of the apostle; the other, that it was close enough to the synagogue to attract both Jews who might have a conscience about the rejected truth of God, and Gentile proselytes who had been in the habit of attending the synagogue, like Justus. The school of Tyrannus in the following chapter exactly answers to the change here. There nobody questions that a place for meeting apart from the synagogue is meant. We need not therefore infer that the apostle ceased to reside with Aquila, because the house of Justus furnished a suitable place for preaching when the synagogue no longer served. The apostle was not consulting for himself but for others without allowing Calvin's idea, 'that he might the more nettle the Jews' — a petty and evil motive, very far from his heart who had just forewarned them of their obstinacy and danger of destruction. To remind them of the baneful consequences of impenitence was of God; to 'nettle' them by abandoning the house of his godly friends, Aquila and Priscilla, for that of a Gentile proselyte, seems inconsistent with Christ, with godly wisdom and right feeling. But with the gainsaying and blaspheming of the synagogue it was impossible to go on without constant strife; and therefore to use for testimony the house of one who valued the gospel, became the evidently proper step, particularly as it was hard by the synagogue, whence any disposed or in earnest might the more readily come.
1 Indeed, instead of ἐκεῖθεν the Codex Bezae and a cursive (137) expressly change 'thence' into 'from Aquila's', which marks how strong was the current in this direction. Of course it was a mere gloss, and even a misinterpretation to boot.
Remarkable blessing followed the decision of the apostle not among Gentiles only, but among the Jews themselves.
'And Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed the Lord with all his house, and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized. And the Lord said by night1 through a vision to Paul, Fear not, but speak and be not silent; because I am with thee, and no one shall set on thee to harm thee, because I have much people in this city. And he settled down a year and six months, teaching among them the word of God' (vers. 8-11).
1 The order of the words differs in the MSS.
It is not a small thing that the Holy Spirit singles out the name of any man for everlasting record in scripture. Thus 'Crispus' is mentioned as believing the Lord; and the rather, as he had been 'the ruler of the synagogue'; nor this only, for 'the whole of his household' believed also, though nothing is said of their baptism. Their faith, the great matter, was no slight cheer to the labourers, and a powerful appeal to the Jews generally. The phraseology is peculiar: not here believing 'on' the Lord as object of faith, though this was true also, but believing what He says. 1 Cor. 1:14 states that the apostle baptized him, but not a word about his house, yet assuredly they too, also accepting His testimony, were baptized though not by the apostle, who did but little in it, as he tells the Corinthians. Under the Lord's keeping he had been preserved from any appearance of prominence personally.
'And many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.' The work now went on vigorously under the blessing of the Lord. It was a time of rich ingathering. These were clearly not Jews but Greeks, but none the less did many of them hear and believe the gospel; and, as became them, they submitted to the outward mark which severs the confessor of Christ from the careless or hostile world. They were buried with Christ through baptism unto death. In that act, had they been dumb, they said they died with Christ to sin; not only that He had died for their sins, now remitted on their faith, but that they were to reckon themselves to be dead to sin and alive in Him to God. Sin, therefore, was not to reign in their mortal body. What a change and deliverance for men once bondmen of sin unto death, now made free from sin, and become bondmen of righteousness, bondmen to God, having their fruit unto sanctification and the end eternal life! For in Corinth abounded fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, abusers of themselves with men, thieves, covetous drunkards, revilers, extortioners; 'and such were some of you,' said the apostle, to the Corinthians who believed (1 Cor. 6:11). In no way had they been exempt from those vile corruptions.
Grace does not find, but makes, the saints after a new and heavenly pattern, as will be manifest when they are manifested with Christ in glory. It levels all in an utter condemnation, but it freely and fully sets in Christ all who believe according to the good pleasure of God's will which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved, in Whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our offences, according to the riches of His grace. This men hate, because it makes nothing of human distinctions in which the pride of man exalts and loses itself. It forbids all glorying in flesh that the sole glorying may be in the Lord. For there is but one man who is of all weight in the eyes of God, not the first, but the Second, even the Man Christ Jesus, Who gave Himself a ransom for all, the testimony in its own times, which becomes the turning-point of every soul: if heard, he lives; if rejected, he perishes in his sins, whatever the appearances or pretensions.
For in believing, man best owns his guilt and God's grace, reversing the world's sentence and endorsing heaven's estimate of the Crucified One. Baptized in His name he becomes His to serve, where he was once Satan's slave, in not a few cases shamelessly. Henceforth by virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, he is, whatever the condition, to please Him in all things; if a slave, he is Christ's freedman; if free, noble, royal, none the less is he Christ's bondman. You cannot have the heavenly and everlasting privileges without the responsibility meanwhile here below. Of this, for the individual, baptism is the sign; as the Lord's supper is the sign of communion corporately. And none had the significance of the latter so fully laid open to them, as the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 10, and 11. They needed the instruction and the warning peculiarly; and therefore grace gave them both.
But the Lord was pleased also to vouchsafe extraordinary encouragement to His servant. Paul had a vision, in which he heard as well as saw. At his conversion he had seen and heard the Lord by day (Acts 9); as afterwards in a trance or ecstasy, when he returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, he saw Him Who bade him to get out of Jerusalem for his mission to the Gentiles (Acts 22:17-21). 2 Cor. 12:2-4 records his translation (whether in the body or out of the body, he did not know) to the third heaven. Thus visions and revelations were comparatively frequent with the apostle. At this time the design was practical. The Lord said to him, 'Fear not, but speak and be not silent' (ver. 9). The structure of the phrase implies that he was anxious. He needed a spring of courage beyond what his fellow-labourers could supply, and the Lord gave accordingly. Natural boldness is a force wholly unsuited to spiritual warfare, where the rule is, 'When I am weak, then am I strong.' All, to be safe and of God, must be in dependence on the grace of Christ. Then, as He Himself said to the apostle, 'My grace is sufficient for thee, for power is perfected in weakness' (2 Cor. 12:9). Most gladly, therefore, the apostle could say, will I rather glory in my weakness, that the strength of Christ may spread a tabernacle over me. So it was now: instead of fearing more he was to persevere in speaking and not to hold his peace, of which he was in danger, though (as the form of the phrase implies) he had not begun to yield to it.
In the next verse the Lord condescends to give two reasons: the first, 'because I am with thee, and no one shall set on thee to harm thee', the second, 'because I have much people in this city.' What could be more consolatory to the tried servant? The Lord bound Himself, on the one hand, to give His gracious and mighty presence against all adversaries and, on the other, to open to him a great door and effectual in his work. Rage as Satan's emissaries might the Lord had many to bring to Himself as His own in that depraved an] godless city.
It is lamentable to hear such remarks as those of Limborch, who will have the Lord to mean, not so much objects of mere and sovereign grace to magnify His own mercy in redemption, as virtuous and well-disposed brethren, for this reason called His people here, and His sheep in John 10:16. To mistakes we are all liable, and not least those who flatter themselves to be most secure from them, but an error of this kind undermines the gospel, as it indicates the feeblest sense of man's utter ruin, and of our need of grace to the last degree. No one doubts God's wisdom in bringing such a one as Cornelius under the gospel, when He first sent it out publicly to the Gentiles by Peter; but the great apostle of the Gentiles tells a very different tale (1 Cor. 6:9-11) of the characters whom grace deigned to bless at Corinth. Again, the Lord, in the parable of the marriage-feast for the king's son, directs His bondmen to go into the thoroughfares of the highways, and as many as they could find, to invite to the feast. Accordingly they went out into the highways, and, gathered together all, as many as they found, both bad and good, and the wedding-feast was filled with guests (Matt. 22:1-10). They are men met and, in believing the gospel, saved indiscriminately to the praise of the riches of God's grace; for the 'good' discover through the truth of Christ that they too sinned and come wholly short of the glory of God, while the 'bad' find in His plenteous redemption that His grace justifies freely, the same One being Lord of all, and rich toward all that call upon Him. There is no difference, as at bottom in the ruin, so in result in the salvation, that as sin reigned in death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
At Corinth, in the face of all difficulties, the apostle abode longer than we have yet heard of elsewhere. 'And he settled down a year and six months, teaching among them the word of God' (ver. 11).
The result was, not only the salvation of many souls, but the church of God there: holy, catholic, apostolic, if ever there was such an assembly anywhere. It was planted by one inferior to none; it was watered by others who were not surpassed by any, and God gave the increase beyond controversy. Yet how soon the fair scene is blighted, not merely by the presence in their midst of such sin as was unheard of ordinarily among the Gentiles, but by the low, fleshly, and worldly-minded condition of the saints generally! So much so, that the apostle had to vindicate his own office before the self-assumed bar of his own children in the faith, and put off a visit in their dire need of his help, because he must have come then with a rod, and he wished rather to see them in love and in a spirit of meekness; and this could only be on their self-judgment which in fact his First Epistle wrought in them. Men picture the apostles going about and their words received implicitly, and their presence had but to be known in order to secure unhesitating deference among the saints. This was not so. Miracles, inspiration, and the highest place in the church produced no more submission then and there than when an analogous place was given Moses and Aaron in the congregation of Jehovah of old.
But the failure at Corinth in so brief an interval was turned to God to the double end; first, of refuting the folly that a true assembly may not err and become corrupt, even in a few short years, in both doctrine and practice; and, secondly, of drawing from God the suited correction at any time for all saints who are enabled by faith to gather on the footing of God's church according to His word and by His Spirit. No doubt, recovery was the fruit of the apostle's writing, as his Second Epistle bears witness; but how long this lasted, who can say? Certain it is that the second century, if not the first, A.D., saw the assembly everywhere, departed from the very aim our gracious God and Father had in gathering the saints — the glory of Christ therein by the Spirit. Christ's coming was no longer an object of hope but rather of fear, His word became more and more overlaid by human authority and tradition, and the world began to seem a prize to possess and enjoy increasingly, instead of a scene of suffering and testimony, till He come Whose right it is, when we shall reign with Him in glory.
During the apostle's stay at Corinth an event occurred which was of interest enough for the Holy Ghost to claim a place in the inspired narrative and thus to carry on the design of the work given to Luke for accomplishing.
'But when Gallio was pro-consul1 of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul, and brought him before the judgment-seat, saying, This [man] persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law. But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said unto the Jews, If indeed it were some wrong, or wicked villainy, O Jews, with reason should I have borne with you, but if they are questions about a word and names and your own law, ye shall look yourselves:2 I do not intend to be judge of these things. And he drove them from the judgment-seat. And having all3 laid hold on Sosthenes the ruler of the synagogue, they beat [him] before the judgment-seat. And Gallio cared for none of these things. And Paul having remained yet many days, took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence into Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila, having shorn his head in Cenchreae, for he had a vow' (vers. 12-18).
1 ἀνθυπατεύοντος is the Text. Rec. supported by most cursives, but ABD with several good juniors give the two words ἀνθυπάτου ὄντος. The additions of Codex Bezae are numerous here as elsewhere, but hardly call for remark.
2 Text. Rec., supported by four uncials and most cursives, adds γάρ 'for'; but the oldest MSS. and Versions do not give it.
3 Text. Rec. with most adds οἱ Ἒλληνες, 'the Greeks', but the best authorities are adverse.
The testimony went forth fearlessly; the vision answered its purpose. Paul was not afraid but spoke and held not his peace; and while much people came forth to the Lord's name, none else was allowed to do His servant harm. If not a sparrow falls on the ground without our Father if the very hairs of our head are all numbered, if the Lord Himself will confess before His Father him that confesses the Son before men, there is ground for good courage, not for fear of man. And the impotence of the most exasperated was proved in an unexpected way and quarter, but not without the Lord.
Gallio was notoriously one of the most amiable of men. 'None of mortals,' said the famous Seneca of him, 'is so sweet to one man, as he to all men.' This no doubt expressed the admiring affection of a brother; but the general character of the Roman governor is indisputable. And the Jews hoped to profit for their rancorous hostility by his pliant temper and love of approbation against the uncompromising witness of the one true God the Father, and of one Lord Jesus Christ. But malice defeats itself against grace and truth whenever God is pleased so to order it; and here, as He had distinctly promised to be with Paul and that none should injure him, so it came to pass in a way strikingly different from the apostle's experience elsewhere.
It may be well to notice again the precise position of Gallio. He was 'pro-consul' of Achaia. It is the more striking, because the province under both Tiberius and Caligula had been imperial, and hence under the authority then of a pro-praetor. Claudius, the reigning emperor, had restored Achaia to the senate, which involved the change of its former government to that of a pro-consul. Accordingly at this time Luke speaks accurately not of a pro-praetor, but of a pro-consul. We saw a similar instance in Sergius Paulus the pro-consul of Cyprus, which, like Achaia, had been under imperial authority, but was afterwards transferred to the senate, and thus became pro-consular. The inspired historian made no mistake in these details, where it was exceedingly easy to do so if he had not been under divine guidance, and the more so, as the early Christians notoriously kept aloof from all meddling with political administration. But in scripture we are entitled to look for the truth in things small and great; and this should be recognized by giving as exactly as possible the reproduction of its meaning.
In fact Luke had been supposed in one at least of these instances to have erred by applying the term erroneously according to the state of things which had existed before the transfer to the senate, till a passage was found in an historian not read generally which confirmed the change, and coins with the new title made it still more evident. Had there been no coins, no statement in Dio Cassius, extraneous evidence would have failed, yet the truth would have remained all the same in scripture: only even Christians would have trembled because history did not speak in support of scripture. It is such incredulity which is so deplorable, and this among not heathens and Jews only but the baptized. But how sad that men bearing the Christian name should be swayed in a moment by human testimonies, after showing their readiness to doubt even when they had the inspired word for it! Can anything evince more clearly that men naturally distrust God and His word? These things ought not so to be.
The Jews then with one accord rose up against Paul, and brought him to the well-known seat of the governor whence they counted on a sentence favourable to their desires. 'This [man]', said they, 'persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law.' Gallio saw through the case in a moment, and that it needed no defence. 'The law' in their mouth meant the law of Moses. This was enough for the Roman, whose pride was roused for his own. 'And when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews . . .' He had heard enough to be sure that neither state law, nor public morality, nor private rights, had been violated, and it was no business of his to inquire farther. The contempt in which Jews were generally held no doubt strengthened his decision, of which the accused reaped the benefit. His amiable indifference did not wish to be troubled with what the apostle had to say. Religious opinion or the worship of God, as a question between the Jews and one they blamed, did not concern him or his office; God was in none of his thoughts, and he preferred to hear no more. The time would come when Christ's servants would be brought before governors and kings for His sake, for a testimony to them and the Gentiles, when it should be given them in that hour what was to be spoken. Here it was not the time to speak, though Paul was arraigned before the bema. The Lord guarded the interests of the gospel, and of its blessed witness, through employing providentially the careless amiability of the judge; who assuredly could not be accused of any real partiality for the apostle, and the less if he entertained views akin to those of his philosophic brother. Seneca's Stoicism was as far from appreciating the faith and humility of the Christian as from receiving the revelation of the Father and the Son, or the eternal life and redemption which the Holy Spirit now makes the known portion of the believer.
The Roman left the Jews to settle their religious questions in their own way. Gallio declined to have his hand forced, he had no mind to be a judge of these things. 'Were it indeed some wrong, or wicked villainy, O Jews, with reason I should have borne with you; but if it be questions about a word and names and your own law, look to it yourselves: I am not minded to be a judge of these things.' The kindest and most courteous may be contemptuous enough when the truth is concerned, of which he knows nothing. 'And he drove them from the judgment-seat' (ver. 16). Even if physical force was not used, there is implied at the least peremptoriness.
Such an issue on the part of an official so exalted would unavoidably act on an impressionable people who shared the prevalent scorn of the heathen towards Jews disappointed of their prey. It is not needful to specify that 'all were Greeks', who assailed the prominent Jew who complained in the case, though there is large and good authority for this addition, adopted in the Text. Rec. Certainly the reading of some cursives, which attributes the assault to 'all the Jews', refutes itself as intrinsically worthless and absurd. Had not Sosthenes but Crispus been said to be the object of animosity, such a reading could be understood. But Sosthenes would seem to have succeeded Crispus in that office, without a hint of his conversion as yet, though he may have been the one who is later spoken of as a brother. The best, though not the most considerably authenticated, variant is that which is found in the Sinaitic, Alexandrian, and Vatican Uncials, and some of the most ancient versions. These witnesses simply say that they 'all' laid hold of Sosthenes the ruler of the synagogue, and were beating him before the judgment-seat, and that Gallio gave himself no trouble about the matter. Thus did God in His providence bring to naught the malicious attack of the Jews on Paul, while manifesting the unbelieving easiness of Gallio.
It is interesting to note also that the apostle did not quit Corinth at once as indeed the failure of the Jews before the governor left him free. 'And Paul having remained yet many days took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence unto Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila, having shorn his head in Cenchreae, for he had a vow' (ver. 18). It was during his stay at Corinth that the two Epistles to the Thessalonians were written, with an interval between them, short but sufficient to show what mischief could befall the saints in a brief time, so mistaken are those who think it was only after centuries that error was able to enter. So it also was, as we know, among the assemblies of Galatia in a more fatal way, and on a subject yet more fundamental. And both occasions were where the saints had the inestimable benefit of an apostolic planting, which Rome had not any more than other places, which vaunted as proudly as with scanty reason. Indeed Corinth itself was to manifest the same liability to go astray, though it was chiefly in ecclesiastical truth and order, though by no means confined to it and yet there Paul stayed many days before the charge made to Gallio, and, as we are told, 'yet many days' after. But at length he bade the brethren adieu and sailed thence unto Syria, and with him his beloved companions Priscilla and Aquila.
There is a clause at the end of verse 18 which has afforded matter for debate. The ancients do not seem to have doubted that Paul himself is in question, the preceding words being parenthetical. Others, especially of late, as Wieseler and Meyer, have been more willing to attach the vow, and shaving of the head, to Aquila. But the great apostle went far in compliance with, and in condescension to, Jewish forms in certain circumstances which left the grace of the gospel untouched. It was the effort to impose the law on the Gentiles who believed, which roused a tempest of feeling and irresistible argument, as indeed his whole soul was engaged with burning zeal at once for the cross of his Master, and for the liberty of the souls imperilled by that effort. Some ancients indeed, not the Aethiopic Version only, gave the sense that more than one shaved the head according to vow; but I see no sufficient reason to doubt that it was Paul; for he is the one before the mind of the inspiring Spirit, rather than to speak of Aquila.
Not only was Paul's head shorn in Cenchreae, and this as a vow, but we ought to gather from the subsequent history, if not from the immediate context, that it was of the Spirit to reveal the fact as important for us to observe in the account He is giving of that blessed man and of his labours. Not that we are meant to infer that Paul in thus acting was at the height of the fresh revelations of Christ given to him, but that along with these he acted thus with a good conscience. He was apostle of the Gentiles and minister of the church, but he was also, as he said, a Pharisee, son of Pharisees, who even after this charged himself to his nation with alms and offerings, and was found purified in the temple. Grace was bringing out its new and hitherto unrevealed wonders in Christ, and in the church, to God's glory; but the most deeply taught and fully furnished witness of heavenly truth heartily loved the ancient people of God and never forgot that he too was an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin; and this, not only within the precincts of Jerusalem and the land, but, as we see here, among the Greeks. This is often a great difficulty to those imbued with the spirit and habits of traditional Christianity, but it is because they are and would be logical, where the Holy Spirit is giving in those most honoured of the Lord things just as they were. Prejudices and prepossession are not so quickly shaken off, even where we behold an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile. The Lord deals pitifully with a true heart, where a cold intellect can only spy out an inconsistency; but the criticizing mind could not follow that heart for a moment either in its zealous service or in the spiritual might and power which pursues the service to the Lord's glory. We shall see that more follows of a similar character, which in the inspired record points beyond controversy to no less a man than the apostle.
'And they1 arrived at Ephesus, and he left them there;2 but he himself, entering into the synagogue reasoned3 with the Jews. And when they asked him to remain4 for a longer time, he did not consent, but taking his leave and saying, [I must by all means keep the coming feast at Jerusalem;]5 I will return again unto you if God will, he sailed from Ephesus. And landing at Caesarea, he west up and saluted the church, and went down unto Antioch. And having spent some time he departed, going through the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, establishing all the disciples' (vers. 19-23).
1 So read ABE, et al., Sah. Syr.-Pesch. Are Aeth. pp; Dgr καταντήσας, the rest supporting the Text. Rec., as in the A.V., et al.
2 Some ancient authorities omit, or transpose, this clause, to make the narrative more flowing, and there is much conflict of testimony as to αὐτοῦ or ἐκεῖ for there'.
3 διελέξατο has the best suffrages, διελέχθη the most numerous, διελέγετο has a few MSS. and Versions of value, but is hardly consistent with the next
4 'With them' (or 'there'), is added by some, as in Text. Rec., but the best omit.
5 Very weighty witnesses omit the words in brackets; as to which Tischendorf refers to Acts 19:21, Acts 20:16.
There is no doubt considerable and good authority in support of the Received Text, followed by the A.V. and most others. But the best witnesses and versions sustain the plural form in the first clause, which gives additional force to the singular in the second, in which all agree. 'And they arrived at Ephesus' is the reading given by the Sinaitic, Alexandrian, Vatican, and Laud's Bodleian, with some cursives. The Greek of Beza's MS. is probably a mere clerical error, as it makes no grammatical coherence, and the Latin agrees with the oldest authorities and several of the best ancient versions. It is certainly true that they all reached Ephesus. It is only a matter of emphasis that the apostle entered into the synagogue and discoursed to the Jews: though he did leave them there, there was no need of giving prominence to such a circumstance. Still less is it implied that they did not accompany him to the synagogue, or that aujtou' if genuine instead of ejkei' suggests that the synagogue was outside the city; which inferences appear alike unfounded.
'And when they asked him to remain for a longer time, he did not consent, but taking his leave and saying, [I must by all means keep the coming feast at Jerusalem,] I will return again unto you if God will, he sailed from Ephesus' (vers. 20, 21). It is well known that the clause within the brackets is not in the Uncials of the highest character, though it is attested by abundant and good authority. Hence it becomes very much a question of internal evidence. Meyer lays stress on the reference of ajnabav" in verse 22; but 'going up', though unquestionably to Jerusalem, need not have been to keep a Jewish feast, unless it was expressly so explained. The only thing recorded as a fact is his saluting the church. This in no way disproves the purpose to keep the feast there; but it undoes the force of the argument founded on ajnabav". The truth is that both may be true; verse 21, if genuine, stating what he meant to do in Jerusalem, though nothing is said of its accomplishment, and verse 22 letting us know that his heart had other objects before him than the purpose he had mentioned to the Jews of Ephesus. And the history shortly after informs us that he did soon return to Ephesus for one of the most blessed services even of his wonderful life.
Such statements as these test the heart of the readers. If vain or proud irreverent or self-righteous, they will probably yield to the snare of thinking and even speaking disrespectfully of the great apostle to the damage of their own souls and the injury of others. For nothing is easier than for persons superficially conscious of their own grave faults to mark with eagerness and self-satisfaction any acts of Paul, a servant of Christ so deeply taught and devoted, which sprang from his excessive attachment to the ancient people of God, and to the habits of their religious life. It is easy also to forget that it is to his inspired writings, more than to all other sources put together, that they owe the means of sitting in judgment on him in this respect. But is this the return that divine grace would produce in hearts which have truly profited? Does it become us? Is it not a wiser and a holier conclusion to see how affections of the sweetest kind may entangle even the most faithful and spiritual, and to watch that we who have it all set before us by the unwavering and impartial hand of the Holy Spirit may learn from it, so that, far behind in self-abnegation and untiring labours and sufferings for Christ, we slip not through less elevated affections into far more serious delinquency?
It was after this visit to Jerusalem that the apostle went down to Antioch (ver. 22). Was it not then, as it was certainly there (Gal. 2:11-13), that Cephas, blessed man as he was, must needs be resisted to the face? Indeed he stood condemned, for his conduct was no mere lingering respect for Jewish institutions, nor self-sacrificing love for the people of whom, as to flesh, the Messiah came, but a wavering compromise of God's gospel to the Gentiles through fear of the circumcision; and this, after not only a special revelation to him when he went to Caesarea, but his stand with the apostles and elders at the council in Jerusalem. It was not condescension to Jewish feeling, but what Paul did not hesitate to call dissimulation and not walking uprightly according to the truth of the gospel; and it was so much the worse and more dangerous because of the eminence and influence of the defaulters. True, it was very far from the awful evil which began to rise up against the truth or teaching of Christ in the 'last hour' of John, which this apostle of love vindicated so sternly (1 John 2:18, 19). But hitherto men had not sunk to the unclean reasoning that heinous sin is to be excused, because it is practised by those who claim to be dear children of God, though even they had had the warning that one who boasted of his readiness to lay down his life for Christ was precisely the man who at that very moment was on the eve of denying Christ repeatedly with oaths.
All that we are told by Luke is that, having spent some time (i.e., at Antioch), Paul 'departed, going through the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order, establishing all the disciples' (ver. 23). When the apostle planted the gospel in Galatia, he had entered the country from Phrygia, which lay to its south and south-west (Acts 16:6). But now coming from a different direction, he traversed Galatia before Phrygia. And as it was a second visit, we hear of his passing through the country 'in order', that is, where assemblies existed, and establishing 'all the disciples' who had already received the gospel. This is of much interest in its bearing on the Epistle which was certainly written not long after their calling: 'I wonder that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ, unto a different gospel, which is not another' (Gal. 1:6). Such is man even where the foundation had been laid a little before by the greatest of apostles.
Here is introduced an incident of importance in its bearing on the history of souls passing out of the transition state, which John the Baptist's teaching represents, into the full light of gospel. The episode indeed is twofold, one part closing Acts 18, the other opening Acts 19, both tending to illustrate the same thing in substance: only the former deals with it as a question of truth, the other, of the consequent power of the Spirit which was received on the faith of the gospel. Let us look at each in due order, and first at the conclusion of the chapter before us.
'But a certain Jew, Apollos1 by name, an Alexandrian by race, an eloquent [or learned] man, arrived at Ephesus, being mighty in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the way2 of the Lord, and being fervent in his spirit he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus,3 knowing only the baptism of John, and he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla4 and Aquila heard him, they took him up, and more accurately expounded to him the way of God.5 And when he was minded to go through into Achaia, the brethren wrote and urged the disciples to receive him; and he, on coming, contributed much to those that had believed through grace. For he forcibly confuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ' (vers. 24-28).
1 The Sinaitic pm, two cursives, the Coptic and the Arm. confound Apollos with Apelles (Rom. 16:10).
2 Beza's uncial with more than fifteen cursives reads 'word' for 'way'.
3 For 'the Lord' in Text. Rec. (supported by HP, et al.), the best witnesses have 'Jesus'.
4 The order in the inferior uncials, etc., is 'Aquila and Priscilla' but ABE with Vulg. Cop. Aeth. as above.
5 The order, and even words, fluctuate in the copies.
There simply comes before us a Jewish workman, who soon needed not to be ashamed, however unformed at first. He was a native of the city which was afterwards to play a notorious part in the corruption of heavenly truth by earthly wisdom, himself a man of learning, or eloquence (for the word lovgio" is used for both), and able in the scriptures. Nor was he merely a scholar and otherwise competent, but already instructed in the way of the Lord. Born of God, he was as to intelligence in advance of a God-fearing Jew, but short of the fuller truth which the gospel affords as the foundation for the mystery to be revealed, with all its wonderful light on God's counsels and ways. Further, being fervent in his spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things 'concerning Jesus' (for the right reading helps to clear the true sense). He was ignorant of all truth beyond 'the baptism of John'. Nor was he lacking in moral courage or zeal; 'and he began to speak boldly in the synagogue'.
This raised the question, practically of great moment, how souls thus endowed, yet little acquainted with the truth, are to be dealt with? Grace answers and settles all according to its own power. The latest advance beyond the dead level of orthodox tradition is to be hailed and cherished. How lamentable to despise those today who are where we were yesterday! 'Who maketh thee to differ? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive, why dost thou glory as if not receiving?' So at a later moment did the apostle reprove the vain Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:7). Far different was the feeling of the godly pair with whom he had abode in that very city. 'But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him up and expounded to him the way of God more accurately.'
Nor did the learned Alexandrian resent the private instruction, not only of the Christian Jew, but of his wife, who, as we may gather from the unusual order, seems to have entered into the truth with a more spiritual mind than her husband. Was it inconsistent with the apostolic exhortation in 1 Tim. 2:12? In no way. A woman might possess the highest spiritual gift, as we find (Acts 21:9) that the four daughters of Philip did in fact; and assuredly there is room, not to say responsibility, for the due exercise of that and every other gift from the Lord, without collision with His word, nay only carrying it out the more. To him that hath shall be given. Apollos had enough to encourage those who knew the grace of Christ better to set out the truth according to the word, as he had enough true knowledge of the things concerning Jesus to value and welcome for his soul all that Priscilla and Aquila could open from the scriptures. Ought He not to have suffered unto death for our sins and to enter into His glory? 'Thus it is written, and thus it behoved the Christ to suffer and to rise from among the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all the nations' (Luke 24:46, 47).
This rises far beyond the promised Messiah which was the substance of John's teaching, with repentance urged on the souls that received it. Apollos knew no more, however eloquently he might proclaim its value and however ably he might fortify its truth by apt proofs from the Old Testament scriptures. It may be argued, no doubt, that John went farther in his preaching because he testified of Jesus as the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. But the conclusion is invalid that John knew or taught redemption by His blood. Not even the apostles did till the Lord rose from the dead. John spoke in the Spirit beyond anything which he personally apprehended. He thoroughly knew that He, Who was standing in the midst of those who knew Him not, was the Christ and Son of God in a sense peculiar to Himself alone. And therefore, did he preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, owning the One mightier, Whose sandals he was not fit to unloose, Who should baptize with the Holy Spirit. The efficacy of His death, the power of His resurrection, the glory of His place on high, John did not enter into as the disclosed and enjoyed objects of his faith; nor did any other till the mighty facts took place, and were set out in the Spirit from the word of God.
Thus the help of the Christian pair was as welcome to Apollos as they were needed to supply the defects of his instruction. And we may observe how distant and different were the means employed of God from the formal methods of a divinity school. Can the moderns boast of superior efficiency? This may well be doubted by those who know what fertile hotbeds of heterodoxy theological schools have proved in all ages and lands, Protestant as well as Catholic or any other. They may be more or less learned, they may cultivate for a few terms Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, and the like; they may teach their own peculiar traditions and dogmas, with the commonplaces of theology, they may exercise their students in composition and elocution. But the truth of God must be known by faith, and to faith only can it be entrusted profitably; and these are commodities so rare in the schools as never to be reckoned on, though of course now and then to be found there, but even where they enter, all is unfavourable for growth: so encumbered are they with that which is extraneous and human. The means afforded by grace to Apollos, and recorded for our guidance by the inspiring Spirit, would, I fear, find scant favour in the eyes of the professors, or even of the divinity students, that believe; and would be assuredly scorned by all who believe not, whether leaders or led.
But God has deemed it good and wise to let us know how Apollos fared under his tuition. 'And when he was minded to go through into Achaia, the brethren wrote and urged the disciples to receive him; and he on coming contributed much to those that had believed through grace.' For he forcibly confuted the Jews in public strewing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.' His progress was thus manifest to all; and arrogant opposers were put to shame, as the faithful were built up by his means. For Apollos could work with a force beyond those who privately had led him on. Such is the scriptural way of obtaining a good degree, and much boldness in faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Here we have another fact of deep interest as illustrating the state of souls not as yet favoured with the apostolic or even more ordinary gospel testimony. The grace of Christ displays its elasticity in meeting them with the truth which they needed, in order to bring them into the full enjoyment of the Christian condition:
'And it came to pass, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having gone through the upper parts, came [down(?)]1 unto Ephesus, and finding2 certain disciples, said unto them, Received ye [the] Holy Spirit since ye believed? And they [said]3 unto him, Not even if [the] Holy Spirit was did we hear. And he said,4 Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. And Paul said, John baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him that was coming after him, that is, on Jesus'5 (vers. 1-4).
1 Text. Rec. ἐλθεῖν, BHL., most cursives and Versions; κατελθεῖν AE, many cursives, Arm.
2 Text. Rec. εὑρὠν . . . εἶπεν, DEHLP, et al. εὑρεῖν . . . εἶπέν τε AB, several cursives, Vulg., et al.
3 Text. Rec. on large authority adds εἶπον, which does not appear in ABDE, et al.
4 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν simply AE, et al. έἰπε τε Text. Rec. with BHLP and most (HLP, et al, adding πρὸς αὐτούς).
6 Text. Rec. has τὸν χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν HLP, most cursives; as some with several Versions support 'Jesus Christ' but the best τὸν Ἰησοῦν, D giving only χριστόν.
It is important to recognize what is here clearly made known in the inspired narrative that these imperfectly instructed souls, whom Paul found at Ephesus, after Apollos had gone to Corinth, are owned as disciples. The apostle does not question the reality of their faith. He observed probably a certain legalism in them, which raised the question not whether they were born of the Spirit, but whether they were sealed by Him. 'Received ye the Holy Spirit since ye believed?' Their answer makes the distinction as plain as it is momentous. They had not so much as heard of the Holy Spirit as the apostle asked. They were doubtless not unacquainted with the Old Testament, nor of course with John's testimony, as appears from what followed. They were therefore familiar with the Holy Spirit as spoken of in the scripture, and must have heard directly or indirectly that John declared the Messiah was to baptize with the Spirit. Whether this was a fact yet, they knew not.
The existence of the Holy Spirit was never in question. What they had not even heard was of any answer to the promise, still less had they been made partakers. This raised the further question, To what then were ye baptized? with the answer, To John's baptism. They were not therefore even on the ground of Christian profession, for, as the apostle wound up, John's was 'a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him that was coming after him, that is, on Jesus.' Christian baptism supposes Him to be dead and risen, the work of redemption accomplished, with eternal life and remission of sins proclaimed in His name. They were believers, the Holy Spirit had wrought in their souls so that the word of God had entered, but they were wholly short even of those immediately conferred privileges which faith in the gospel enjoys.
Now the case before us is not without its bearing on souls around us in the present day. How many saints there are who know nothing beyond the new birth, imagining this to be the common blessing of Christianity if they be not also betrayed thereby into the delusion of what they call higher life, holiness, sanctification, or perfection! The last three of these are scriptural terms, but when treated as a goal of attainment, and especially in the sense of the amelioration of nature or the practical extinction of sin within, they veil very grave deflections from the truth.
It is therefore to be noted how careful scripture is to distinguish between the early vital work of the Holy Spirit in awakening souls by the application of the word, and the subsequent reception of the Spirit when the gospel is believed. In the men at Ephesus before us there was as yet no such reception; yet they were born of God, which never is apart from subjection to His word. But it may be far from the gospel of His grace. Any part of the divine word, one might say generally, is applicable to quickening a soul, hardly as in this case going beyond what an Old Testament saint experienced. How many in Christendom rest on promise and have no notion of accomplishment! They of course allow that the Saviour is come, but of salvation come, and of God's righteousness revealed, they are wholly ignorant. They are still in quest of what they have not got as the present gift of God, they if earnest are therefore anxious, tried, groaning after they know not what, if not over their own proved unworthiness and the treacherous evil of their hearts. They quite overlook the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ; still less do they rest on His work of redemption as valid for their own souls. Am I His, or am I not? is the question that harasses them habitually. Attracted by His love they listen to His words and are momentarily bright, then the thought of self rises in their conscience, and they are in the depths, wholly unable to reconcile the love of a holy God with their actual state which they cannot but feel. Hence they are driven, from ignorance of the gospel, to search after as many signs of a renewed condition as they can discover within them; and thus they toil in a life of hopes balanced against fears, having as little sense of total ruin as they have of God's love toward them. And no wonder, for they are occupied not with Christ but with themselves. How then can such escape that sense of internal misery inevitable to the spirit, and the more so if born of God, till they know, by faith, the mighty work of Christ, where all evil is judged, all sins forgiven, perfect righteousness established without us and yet for us immutably, and ourselves brought nigh to God as His saints and children without a question unsettled?
Of all this the Ephesian disciples could know nothing. They were avowedly waiting where John's doctrine and baptism left them, believing on Him that should come after him, that is, on Jesus. But they were wholly unacquainted with the blessing that had already come, the glad tidings taking the place of promises, because all that God requires, as well as every need of the poorest of sinners, is already accomplished in the atoning work of our Lord Jesus. And so it is practically with many a believer now, not speaking merely of schools of doubt, where on principle the right state is laid down to be the most painful shrinking from rest in the saving grace of God, but in view of the thousands who, without a doubt of Jesus as the only Saviour, have no idea that God is proclaiming peace to them through the blood of the cross of Christ.
They too are under law in effect; and hence in a state of habitual bondage through fear of death, feelings as to themselves constantly clouding the simple truth (on which the gospel insists) that we are lost, and that all is grace on God's part, Who has been already glorified perfectly as to sin in the cross, so that He can righteously afford to bless the believer fully. Ignorant of this wondrous grace which excludes all thought of self save as evil and lost, what can one do but look for good as a ground of hope with God, while vaguely conscious withal that nothing but mercy will do? In truth all is comparatively vague in such a state, alas! far too common in Christendom, where not the wicked only need the gospel, but many a righteous soul, quickened by the Spirit to feel in a measure for God, but as yet never realizing that it is for the lost the Son of man came and died, that they, resting by faith on His blood, might know their sins blotted out, and their old man crucified with Him that the body of sin might be destroyed that they henceforth should not serve sin, but, freed from it and become servants of God, have their fruit unto holiness and the end everlasting life.
Now, in the state described, it is too much to assume that souls, wretched in the present, and drawing a precarious and oft vanishing comfort from the future, albeit prayerful and pious, have received the Holy Spirit, the incomparable privilege of the gospel; and this, because they have not really moved on from the promise to which an Old Testament saint clung rightly as to his sheet-anchor in a storm when the light had not yet dawned. It is sad for a disciple now to be in a similar state, instead of submitting to the righteousness of God and thus having peace with Him, as justified by faith through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are none of us apostles, but it is no mean part of our work and testimony to meet the true' wants of such souls. Else in vain do you look for an unworldly walk, for worship in Spirit and in truth, in vain, or worse than vain, do you force on these weakly plants into the high region of the church's privileges as Christ's body, or even of its responsibilities as of God's house. Such souls really need the gospel as well as the Spirit in power for their souls. It is after hearing the word of truth, the gospel of their salvation, that saints, it may be as in the case before us born of God are on believing sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. Then, and not till then, can they thrive, flourish, and bear the fruit of righteousness, which is by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God. The blessing turns on 'the hearing of faith', not on works of law, which works wrath and a curse. 'They which be of faith are blessed' — they only.
It can hardly be supposed that the twelve disciples in Ephesus here brought before us had enjoyed the teaching of Apollos, still less the help of Aquila and Priscilla who unfolded to him the way of God more exactly. If so, they would have been led on, as they were by the apostle afterwards. For it was pure ignorance which hindered their advance in truth, and not either obstinacy or the absurd and wicked error imputed by some to them, which appeared later in the East, and left traces to a recent epoch, as Neander states in the first volume of his Church History. John's baptism, in scripture, went with his call to repent, as we have just seen, and that they should believe on the coming Messiah, i.e., Jesus. In no way was it the blasphemy of accepting John as Messiah. They knew of promise, not of accomplishment: but that was to stop short of the gospel. They are now given to receive the full truth and blessing. Paul preached to them Jesus. What is there for souls which is not through Him and in Him?
'And when they heard this, they were baptized unto the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spake with tongues and prophesied; and they were in all about twelve men' (vers. 5-7).
But here it is well to understand what is taught; for some have inferred from the inspired historian that the original formulary had lapsed, and that the apostles here and elsewhere in the Acts are represented as baptizing only to the name of the Lord Jesus. This is a serious position. It professes to stand on the letter of scripture which cannot be broken; yet is it one which demands and deserves the fullest consideration, for it really annuls scripture. It has been entertained, and even acted on, by not a few whose principle it is to abhor any view or practice which puts a slight on the immediate authority of our Lord. Yet no one denies that He clearly laid down for that institution baptizing to the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19).
So it is laid down in the earliest of the Gospels, where the great commission is given to the eleven. They were told to go forth and disciple all the nations, the Jews having already been made the object of their testimony in Acts 10:5, 6. But now, Messiah being not only rejected but risen, and themselves associated with Him, the circle is enlarged consequently on His death and resurrection; and it is no longer a question of the rights of Jehovah, the one true God and Governor of Israel, but of God fully revealed, not only in the person, but by the work, of the Lord Jesus; and those disciples His servants are to baptize unto the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Here in Matthew was the fitting place to make that Name known, for in this Gospel more than any other, we have the consequences of the rejection of the Messiah, and the new witness substituted for the old, all authority being given to Him in heaven and on earth. From this point of view the rejecting and rebellious Jews are left with their house, and, we may add, their city, desolate till grace works repentance in their hearts another day. Meanwhile, in virtue of the accomplished work of the crucified Christ now risen from the dead grace sends out a message of sovereign mercy to all the Gentiles. It is not the Son of David filling the throne of Israel, nor is it the Son of man with His dominion and glory and kingdom given Him, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve Him — His dominion an everlasting one which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
These are glories of the new age when the Lord Jesus is displayed from heaven in power and presence on His return. Here it is the Trinity revealed and testimony to be rendered before that day, when they were to teach (not the law nor the prophets, but) all things whatsoever Jesus enjoined on them. And the Lord said, 'Lo! I am with you all the days until the completion of the age' an age not completed till even the last week of Daniel's seventy is fulfilled. This may not be and is not the revelation of the mystery which was reserved for the Holy Spirit through the apostle of the Gentiles, but it is in contrast not only with the law of Moses, but with the promises given to the fathers and the seal attached to them. And Paul could say, as the twelve could not, that Christ sent him not to baptize but to preach the gospel. Yet did he in his place as a confessor submit to that institution of the Lord, as he also baptized from time to time those who confessed Him, as the inspired history abundantly testifies.
But nothing would be less like scripture than to rehearse the formula every time a record of baptism was made in it. The fact was stated, and the mode of statement in scripture is invariably formed according to the character and design of the Book wherein it occurs. Now it lies on the face of the Acts that the Holy Spirit is throughout bearing testimony to Jesus as the Lord. Baptism therefore when predicated of any in its course is so described. This exactly accords with the record, and is as it should be, if the Book be really stamped with that design, as it evidently is to any intelligent eyes. Besides it is in the highest degree probable, that those who administered baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, as bound by the injunction of the Lord, would also add the Lord's name as confessed by the baptized. So in some way it is habitually done at this day by those who follow in their steps. Certainly the Book of the Acts has Christian baptism mentioned as 'on', 'in', or 'to' the name of the Lord, each case being in strict harmony with its own character. But this in no way warrants the inference that the twelve, or Paul, or any other dispensed with the divinely given formulary. The form of the history is due to that design equally divine which controls this Book like every other in the Bible.
Another circumstance may be noticed: namely, that these Ephesian disciples received the Holy Spirit through the imposition of Paul's hands as the Samaritans did through the hands of Peter and John. It was a signal mark of God's honouring the apostles. As the work in Samaria was due to the free action of the Spirit in Philip, it was the more necessary to bind all together lest there should have been with God's sanction a church in Samaria independent of that in Jerusalem. The unity of the Spirit was safeguarded by giving the new converts the seal of the Spirit only in answer to the prayers and by the hands of two chief apostles from among the twelve. What simpler proof that, as the Spirit is one, so is the church, however locally severed? So it is now. The Ephesian disciples, baptized to Jesus on hearing the gospel, had Paul's hands laid on them in order to receive the Holy Spirit. It was one body everywhere; and Paul's authority, as of God set first in the church, is attested like that of Peter and John before him.
It is in vain to argue that the Holy Spirit here conferred means only spiritual powers. These powers indeed were included in the divine gift, as the close of verse 6 intimates. But speaking with tongues, or even prophesying, was not all that the reception of the Spirit conveyed, nor yet the best part of the blessing. It is the Spirit Himself Who is given, as well as gifts for sign or for edification, which are both particularly indicated here. Even Bp. Middleton, according to his own too narrow and defective principle, would have been compelled to own the Holy Spirit here personally given. And this gift it is which is never withdrawn, and which indeed makes the Christian and the church to be such. There is neither the one nor the other if there be no gift, nor sealing, of the Spirit any longer.
Nor is it true that this gift depends on an apostle, or an imaginary apostolic succession which is wholly unknown to scripture and excluded by it. For the intervention of apostles, as in Acts 8 and 19, was exceptional, however right and wise on each occasion. The large and typical instances were when He was given, first to Jewish believers at Pentecost and afterwards to Gentile believers at Cornelius' house; at neither of which times does scripture speak of the apostles laying on hands. The Spirit was given directly on their faith of the gospel, a fact made absolutely certain and clear beyond controversy in the case of the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-46), which of course is especially of interest and importance to us who are not of Israel. Such a fact is decisive for one who believes in the wisdom and goodness of God, not only in so doing then, but in recording it for the comfort of souls ever afterwards; lest they, ignorant of the direct gift to Jewish and Gentile believers, as warrant for the like expectation afterwards, might fall into the error, either of despair because the apostolic order existed not, or of presumption in dreaming of a fresh apostolic choir or band as being necessary for the supply of that gift, or for any other kindred function. The Catholic systems indeed suppose a sort of perpetual apostolicity, and thus solve the difficulty by an error no less portentous, Protestantism believes not in the abiding presence of the other Paraclete so as to make good the promise of the Father for ever; while Irvingism boasts of a new apostolate (well nigh gone) to effectuate an order which would ignore the ruin-state of the church — a gross moral mistake. But the truth is as blessed in its permanence, as these errors are pernicious.
The rather peculiar but instructive case of the twelve disciples in Ephesus being given, the apostle is next seen resuming his service among the Jews at their synagogue. Compare Acts 18:19-21. He was there according to his pledge.
'And entering into the synagogue he spoke boldly for three months, discoursing and persuading the1 things concerning the kingdom of God. But when some were hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, discoursing daily in the school of 2 Tyrannus. And this was done for two years, so that all those that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord,3 both Jews and Greeks. And God wrought uncommon powers by the hands of Paul, so that even upon the sick were brought from his body handkerchiefs, or aprons, and the diseases left them, and the evil spirits went out' (vers. 8-12).
1 Some MSS. and Versions omit the article, but most insert it, which Luke's usage confirms.
2 Most support Text. Rec. in adding 'a certain', but the most ancient omit.
3 Text. Rec., with HLP and most cursives, adds 'Jesus, but not ABDE, and all the old Versions.
The apostle's patient perseverance was great. For three months he spoke boldly in the circumscribed sphere of the synagogue, 'the things concerning the kingdom of God' (ver. 8) being the matter of his discourse and persuasion, as we can readily conceive of all subjects the most suited to inquiring Jews, who knew the law and the prophets. The godly, as we hear of Joseph of Arimathea, were looking for the kingdom of God (Luke 23:50, 51). This involved his opening to them the sufferings of Christ and the glories after these. It never occurred to his mind to disparage that kingdom, still less to deny it, because of higher possessions and richer grace in the great mystery as to Christ, and as to the assembly (Eph. 5:32) meanwhile revealed for the Christian. Even salvation as now opened in the gospel of God's grace has depths beyond the kingdom. But the Jews, from tradition with its darkening effects, and from unbelief which overlooks what is of the deepest import in scripture, were apt to turn from Jesus as the Christ, and thus got blinded in presence of that light which if heeded would have made everything manifest. It is only by light divine in Him that all things have their true character exposed, and His grace not only frees us from all fear of consequences from it, but emboldens us to desire it as the assured blessing of our souls to God's glory. Some there were who did go on in faith and taste that the Lord is good; others stumbled at the word, being disobedient.
'But when some were hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way4 before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, discoursing daily in the school of Tyrannus' (ver. 9).
4 [In apostolic days the Christian faith seems to have acquired the name of 'the Way'; see Acts 9:2; Acts 19:9, 23; Acts 22:4, Acts 24:14, 22. Peter uses the term, 'the way of truth' (2 Peter 2:2).]
The truth preached in the synagogue had now brought out plainly those who received the love of it that they might be saved, and with at least as much distinctness those whose hard rejection of it led them to speak evil of the Way in presence of the multitude. To have continued longer could have answered no good end; it would have led to bitterness of altercation and reviling from the adversaries. To withdraw from them at this point was clearly of God. Thus were the disciples separated in the capital of the province, the religious centre of an area far larger still. The synagogue being no longer a seemly place, a room commodious enough was due, not only to the disciples, but to the testimony; and the apostle carried on his work of daily discourse in the school of one who was, as far as we can judge, a rhetorician or a philosopher.
What a contrast in that school, no doubt at different hours of the day, between the Christian teacher and the heathen! The one was filled with the grace and truth which, as a revealed whole, came into being by Jesus and in His person, flowing from the love of God to man, and with not a whit less divine authority than the law pronounced at Sinai more than fifteen centuries before, and last, not least, which brought home to heart and conscience by the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, a Spirit not of fearfulness, but of power, and love, and a sound mind; the other, not perhaps lacking in imaginative thought clothed in attractive language, gave out speculation, being wholly destitute of certainty on all that most deeply concerns God and man, ignorant of all means of his reconciliation with God on a righteous basis, or of forming near and holy relationships with Him, possessing no present assurance of His will nor affections for every day's enjoyment and obedience, and still less able to lift up the veil which hides the unseen and eternal. Yet here each of them addressed his hearers, Paul, if not Tyrannus, day by day; the one presenting a work of art which gave scope for excellency of speech, and the assumption, but not the reality, of wisdom; the other a simple yet deep witness, dependent on the Holy Spirit, to the One Who gave Himself a ransom for all, the testimony in its own times, for God delights in grace.
Hence it is, that the place of testimony was of no moment: all the value, virtue, truth, grace, and glory that we boast is in the One preached. Holy place, or most holy, was nothing now, Jesus only. Had He not been cast out by the people of God, by their scribes and doctors, by Levites, and priests, and high-priests? and when they slew Him by the hand of lawless men, had not God Himself testified by rending the veil from top to bottom? Earthly holiness was utterly desecrated. The temple therefore is nothing, nor Jerusalem, nor the mountain of blessing in Samaria. One sacrifice has swallowed up all others, and is alone efficacious. AH centres in the crucified but exalted Jesus on high, where is the true tabernacle which the Lord pitched, not man; where is the Great Priest, even Jesus Himself.
Hence the same building, which man misused for vanity, faith could use for magnifying the name of the Lord. The consecration of a building since the ascension of Christ is a return to Judaism and one of the beggarly elements of the world; and the grander the building is, the more flagrant its inconsistency with the cross. Popery in all this is consistently but outrageously wrong, in rebellion against God and the truth, resuscitating all that received its death-blow in the death of Christ; for it boasts of its temples, its priests, and its sacrifices for the living and the dead. But where is the consistency of the Anglican who, admitting the one sacrifice as already complete and accepted, contends for earthly priests as well as holy places? where is that of the Dissenter, who, discarding an earthly priesthood, clings to the delusion and pride of his temple, chapel, or miscalled 'church'?
The practice of the early church coincided with and confirms this principle. For those who had boldness to enter into the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, the Great Priest over the house of God, what mattered the mere place of assembling themselves together? Alas! indeed, that a place of earthly splendour must cloud the truth and moral glory of the cross. An upper room, a private house, however obscure the quarter, or (if occasion required as here) 'the school of Tyrannus', any place, small or great, according to the exigencies of the time, sufficed for the assembly. If numbers grew in a large town, they might for convenience meet in many rooms, but never so as to jeopard the characteristic truth that it was 'the church', not 'churches', in that town. Where unity is abandoned, save for the foundations, it is no longer God's church, but man's.
At Ephesus as yet things were in their infancy, the disciples were separated (i.e., from the Jews who adhered to the synagogue), and in 'the School of Tyrannus' the apostle discourses daily. 'And this was done for two years, so that all those dwelling in Asia, heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks' (ver. 10). A great and effectual door of testimony lay open to him, if there were many adversaries. Proconsular Asia had the gospel before it. Many may not have listened more than once, for curiosity reigned among the Greeks, which, if easily attracted, is not less easily sated. But if ever an attractive centre existed for Asiatic Greeks, it was in Ephesus. It was a time too, when men, weary of pretentious philosophy and sick of the mental and moral horrors of paganism, yearned after something sure, solid, and good, if they knew not what, which they had found very partially in the synagogue.
They wanted, in the language of Job, 'an interpreter, one among a thousand, to shew unto man what is right for him, and God could be gracious to him and say, Deliver him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom' (Job 33:23, 24). And in the apostle they had one of the rarest interpreters, and, more than that, one who beyond all men could feel for Jews and Greeks; for no Jew had, in his unbelief, ever hated Jesus more bitterly than he, no Greek more proudly than he despised that name. And who had felt or developed so much the riches of God's grace in Christ? For the space of two years all that dwelt, not in the city only, but in the province (where the seven Apocalyptic churches and others are afterwards known to have been gathered), heard the word of the Lord from one so laboriously zealous and so every way competent to proclaim and unfold and apply it. He was content to go about preaching the kingdom; nor was it enough for him to urge on perishing souls repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. He did indeed testify the gospel of the grace of God; but he shrunk not from declaring the whole counsel of God. Nowhere do we see a spot so favoured; nowhere did this wise master-builder lay a foundation so broad deep, and strong, though indeed it was none other than that only one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. But who laid it so well as Paul at Ephesus, according to the grace of God which was given to him?
In due time God's building in Ephesus comes before us with a wonderful lustre and fulness, not only in the Book now occupying us, but in the apostolic Epistle to the saints that were there and the faithful in Christ Jesus. To no assembly elsewhere does the Holy Spirit so freely bring out the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit, and by none was it revealed as by the apostle Paul and to no saints communicated as to those addressed in that Epistle. Yet in the eyes of tradition the church in Ephesus is of slight account compared with that in Antioch, or in Alexandria, to say nothing of Rome or of Constantinople afterwards. But God's ways are higher than man's ways and His thoughts than those of the sons of men. No more humiliating proof of the departure of Christian profession from the divine estimate than is found in ecclesiastical history, with its ever-increasing homage to the spirit of the world.
But we may notice the honour which God at this time put on the apostolic testimony to the Lord Jesus and the gospel in the new sphere. 'And God wrought uncommon powers by the hands of Paul, so that even upon the sick were brought from his body handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases left them, and the evil spirits went out' (vers. 11, 12). The beneficent power of God in man and for man was thus attested. By-and-by it will triumph in the kingdom where all things are to be put into the hands of the glorified Son of man. But He is glorified already, although we see not yet all things put under Him. Meanwhile the Spirit is here on earth to bear witness of Him and His victory achieved in righteousness over Satan. This is the principle of those early displays of divine energy in man. They were testimonies to His defeat of the devil in man's favour, powers of the world to come, though of course but samples of what will be then universal. Certainly neither the church nor any individual saint has ground for long centuries to boast on this score. But God did work marvellously not only by Paul but in the assembly, as we see even in Corinth, to the glory of Jesus, that man might learn on all sides and in every way the delivering power in His hands, not only over human infirmity, but over all the power of the enemy.
Through the apostle this victorious power was manifested here with no little splendour. The God, Who gave and sent His Son to become a man as well as a propitiation for our sins, is not indifferent to man's miseries, or to Satan's malicious pleasure in rebellion and ruin. And these early days of the victory of the ascended Christ were illuminated with brilliant manifestations that all power in heaven and on earth is in Him Who is at God's right hand, and Who answers to the faith that called on His name. Nor was it only in the presence or at the word of the apostle: what had touched his person did not fail upon the sick who could not approach him. The faith that brought handkerchiefs or aprons from him to them had its reward: the diseases departed from them, and evil spirits (a distinct class) went out. Truly it was delivering energy to the Lord's glory in and for man; and it could not but deeply impress those who are sensitive enough to their interests and feelings in this life. But what is it at the best compared with the still deeper glory of the Son of man when God was glorified in Him dying for sin, that there too righteousness might be vindicated and be for ever on the side of man, of believing man unequivocally and absolutely?
But the Lord was pleased to manifest in another way, negatively indeed but effectively, what His grace delivers from in this present evil age.
'And certain ones of the Jewish exorcists that went about took in hand to call upon those that had wicked spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. And there were seven sons of Sceva, a certain1 Jewish chief-priest, doing this. But the wicked spirit answering said to them, Jesus I know, and Paul I am acquainted with, but who are ye? And the man in whom the wicked spirit was, leaping upon them and mastering them both,2 prevailed against them, so that they fled out from that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, that inhabited Ephesus. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. Many too of those that had believed came confessing and declaring their deeds. And not a few of those that practised curious arts brought their books and burnt them before all. And they summed up the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So with might the word of the Lord increased and prevailed' (vers. 13-20).
1 So it stands in the Vatican and other good authorities. The ordinary text has 'certain ones, sons of . . .", and much the larger support.
2 The better reading is ἀμφοτέρων (ABD, et al.), not 'them', as in the common text, a change to suit the 'seven', whereas two only were concerned in this case.
During His ministry (Matt. 12:24-28), the Lord answered the reproach of the scornful Pharisee by appealing to those sons of Israel who cast out demons; He did so Himself by the Spirit of God. The spirits were subject not to the twelve only (Mark 6:7), but to the seventy also through His name, nor was there any exhibition of divine energy which more affected their minds (Luke 10:17). It was the first sign which, when He rose from the dead, He promised should follow those that believe (Mark 16:17). Whether by sickness or by spirits' unclean possession, there was no case which resisted the power of the Holy Ghost (Acts 5:16). We have seen a similar record of Philip in Samaria (Acts 8:7), and especially of Paul (Acts 16:18; Acts 19:12).
It is the more important to press the word of God as to those evil possessions, because, on the one hand, the bias of man has set in so strangely in modern times to treat their existence with unbelieving contempt, where, on the other hand, people are not given up to besotted and blinding superstition. For Satan catches men by snares of the most opposite kinds. The truth is the one thing which men do not affect. And as they treat evil spirits in possession of human beings as an exploded old-wives' fable so they no less scout the reality of the Holy Spirit's dwelling in every believer, and working in some by way of special gift, not to speak of His action in the assembly. The Book of the Acts is most explicit in bearing witness to spiritual power, good and evil: to doubt the continuance of both is mere incredulity, and unworthy of the believer particularly.
Here the Lord displayed His resentment of those who, without owning Himself, sought to avail themselves of the apostolic action in His name as a charm to which divine energy must be attached. Seven were concerned in a general way, two (it would seem) directly, on whom consequently the blow fell. Their position too, as sons of a Jewish chief-priest, drew the more attention to so solemn a discomfiture. In vain did they call over any the name of the Lord, indeed their daring to adjure 'by Jesus Whom Paul preacheth' brought out the more distinctly His vindication of His servant, and their own impotence, as well as the reality of the enemy's power. For the wicked spirit attested at once his acquaintance with Paul and his knowledge of his Master, not only with withering contempt for the hollow profanity of those who abused His name, but with the most practical demonstration that the evil power could tread down and put them to shame, instead of submitting to a victory at such unholy lips.
It is interesting to note how the wicked spirit identifies himself with the one whom he possesses, just as the Spirit of God is graciously pleased to work in those who are made, by His dwelling in them, vessels to magnify the name of Jesus. It is He Who effects all that is blessed yet is it all blended with their minds and affections; so that it is as a whole set to their account. Thus here the demoniac, 'leaping upon them and mastering both, prevailed against them, so that they fled out from that house naked and wounded.' It was his doing, though he could not by any means have done it save by that terrible power. The moral impression of this defeat was great on all outside in Ephesus. Nor was it only that fear fell on them all, but the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. It was not simply that God and the enemy were brought before men's consciences; there was a testimony to the Deliverer also.
But there was even more. What became known universally acted with especial power on many of those who had believed. They came confessing and declaring their deeds; and if any went farther still, they gave the best proof of the abhorrence with which they now regarded their tampering with the wicked one. For 'not a few of those that practised curious arts brought their books and burnt them before all.' The price was reckoned up. and it was found not inconsiderable. Living facts brought home the power of the word, and conscience responded at once.
This was one of the many ways in which the Holy Spirit wrought at Ephesus; as we find the varied action of the Spirit one of the most prominent characteristics of the Epistle written to the saints long after. It was the word of the Lord that thus mightily grew and prevailed: not a company of saints merely, but the word of the Lord — that word which He has magnified above all His name. It is now the holiest answer on earth to Christ in heaven; and how precious to see, not merely the fear of His name overawing Jews and Greeks, but those who believed so zealous for His glory as to tell out their own shame and worst degradation in converted days, and to take vengeance on all they had, no matter how costly, which breathed of the enemy's power and wiles!
Yet it is salutary to bear in mind that, whatever be these dark arts and diabolical energies, the god of this age carries on his most widely destructive work by methods of no seemingly unusual character, but suiting his delusions to the passions and the lusts of the flesh, even to the natural affections as well as interests of men, through the meshes of that world of which he is the prince. It is in this way above all that souls are kept blind through the exclusion of the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ. In Christendom now, as of old in Judea, the mass perish, not in the terrible displays which appear here and there or now and then, but under the placid surface of what is respected and enjoys an unquestioned character of patriotism and even religion, where the Father is unknown, and consequently it is not the true Christ brought home to the heart by the Holy Spirit. But the word of the Lord accomplishes the gracious purpose of Him Who sends it forth, and extensively too in the conversion and blessing of souls, if no longer in the might of apostolic days.
Thus in Ephesus did the word of the Lord grow and prevail 'with might' according to the remarkable expression of Luke. Every testimony had been at full tide there, the evident power and presence of the Spirit, attested by tongues and prophesyings, bold preaching of the kingdom of God for months in the synagogue, and still less restricted discoursing daily in the school of Tyrannus for two years, during which time the disciples took up their due separate position; so that not only they of Ephesus, but, speaking generally, all those that dwelt in the province of Asia, Jews and Greeks alike, heard the word of the Lord. The uncommon powers wrought by the hands of Paul proved even externally where and with whom God was, as the ignominious penalty of the Jewish exorcists demonstrated that even Satan despised their selfish and profane use of the name of Jesus, so as to overawe all inside, and to exercise healthfully the conscience of many within, where it was for the Lord's glory. What need was there for the prolonged stay of the apostle whose heart went out to the regions beyond?
'Now after these things were fulfilled, Paul purposed in his spirit, passing through Macedonia and Achaia, to proceed unto Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there I must see Rome also. And having sent into Macedonia two of those that ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in1 Asia for awhile' (vers. 21, 22).
1 Dgr has ἐν, but this is evidently to avoid the difficulty of εἰς, which expresses the direction of the apostle, though it was only a question of abiding where he was, a pregnant construction not at all infrequent.
It is not correct to interpret 'in the spirit' here of the Holy Ghost. No more is meant than that the apostle purposed it 'in his spirit'; a frequent phrase of his, not only in this Book but elsewhere. He longed once more to go to Jerusalem after passing through the two Roman provinces of Greece. He felt that his work was closed for the present at Ephesus, and that after visiting Jerusalem he must see Rome also. With this we may compare Rom. 1:9-13, as well as Acts 15:22-29, though the journey to Spain appears nowhere else in the inspired writings, and we know not that it was ever realized.
How immense the energy which comes out in these few words! How much more, when we consider how fully he preached the gospel of Christ, not where He was already named, but where the good news had never penetrated before! It was also a spiritual capacity and zeal that embraced not heavenly truth only, and the whole scope of divine counsels for eternity, as well as the Old Testament prophecies of the kingdom, but the most ordinary matters of need for the peace and fellowship of the saints, yea, even for their temporal good day by day. We see too, how with apostolic authority he directed the service of others, and this at all cost to himself personally, for at this very time he sent into Macedonia two of those that ministered to him, not Erastus only, but the fellow-labourer nearest to his heart, his beloved child, Timothy, whilst he himself stayed awhile in Asia.
'And about that time arose no small disturbance about the Way. For a certain [man] by name Demetrius, a silver-beater, making silver shrines [miniature temples] of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans, whom he gathered together with the workmen of like nature, and said, Men, ye are aware that we2 have our prosperity from this business. And ye behold and hear that this Paul hath persuaded and turned away a considerable crowd, not only of Ephesus, but of almost all Asia, saying that they are no gods that are made by hands. Now, not only is there danger for us that this trade come into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be counted for nothing, and that even she should be deposed from her3 magnificence, whom all Asia and the world [habitable earth] revereth. And when they heard, they were filled with wrath and kept crying out, saying, Great is Artemis of the Ephesians. And the city was filled with confusion; and they rushed with one accord into the theatre, having seized together Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul's fellow-travellers. And when Paul was minded to enter unto the people, the disciples suffered him not. And some of the Asiarchs also, being his friends, sent unto him and urged him not to adventure himself into the theatre' (vers. 23-31).
2 Tischendorf has shown the mistake of Griesbach in giving ὑμῶν for ἡμῖν (ABDE, et al.), instead of the vulgar ἡμῶν. This error is faithfully repeated in the notes of Scholz, a very inferior critic.
3 τῆς μεγαλειότητος ABE and near 20 cursives, et al., rather than τὴν μεγαλειότητα as in Text. Rec.
Such was the fresh effort of the enemy, not so much by means of Jews as Gentiles, and accordingly by an appeal to worldly lusts rather than by spiritual power in an evil shape. Nevertheless, religious motives, such as they were, even here threw a certain halo around that which was really selfish and utterly sordid. Nor is any device of the enemy more common or permanent. Satan contrives in this world to interweave debasing and destructive superstition with the present interests and honour of mankind. This being so, one cannot wonder that the mass of men are most readily inflamed by the testimony of the truth which threatens to undermine their religion and their worldly property. It is the same today, in principle, as then at Ephesus. An active leader was easily found to take the matter up and blow it into a flame. The artisans and the workmen engaged in the trade of the silver shrines of Artemis were roused by their employer Demetrius, who appealed to their covetousness and at the same time pointed out that Paul's teaching threatened not only their trade but the discredit of the great goddess Artemis. And the appeal was not in vain; it never is, save where grace makes known the truth.
Man, ignorant of God, will fight for nothing more keenly than for his wealth and his religion. Nor could it be denied that throughout much more than Ephesus, or even Asia, Paul had persuaded and turned away much people from their gods many and lords many. There was no doubt that he really did mean that those are no gods which are made with hands, that to us there is one God, the Father, of Whom are all things, and we unto Him, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom are all things and we through Him (1 Cor. 8:6). We ought not to think, therefore, that the divinity is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and device of man. And that one God now commendeth men that they should all everywhere repent, because He hath appointed a day in the which He is going to judge the world, or habitable earth, in righteousness by the Man Whom He hath ordained, giving to all proof of it in that He raised Him from the dead. So had Paul openly preached at Athens during his brief visit; assuredly his long abode in Ephesus was not less fruitful in the solemn proclamation of the truth. We need not have wondered if the silversmith had taken fire at the beginning of his stay. But grace knows how to make the wrath of man praise God, as well as to restrain the residue of wrath
It was well ordered, however, that the outburst should come while the apostle was still there. Two of his fellow-travellers were actually seized; and Paul intended to go in to the raging populace in the theatre, but the disciples would not suffer him. And very interesting it is to see the moral effect of Paul's teaching and life on certain of the chief officers of Asia, who while distinguished from the disciples are expressly said to have been his friends. These sent unto him and besought him not to trust himself in the theatre. What is more, the scripture shows that Paul, whatever his own courage or feeling, did not despise these friends, notwithstanding their position. but gave way to the remonstrance of his brethren. He who on fit occasion knew how to wield on earth the power of heaven for the Lord's glory, and who wrote with divine authority for the saints here below till Christ comes, could graciously bend to others, as well as stand alone where this was of God. Only the Holy Spirit can give the discernment at the moment, where the eye is single to Christ.
Such was the uproar which pervaded the crowd in the theatre at Ephesus. 'Different ones therefore kept crying somewhat different things; for the assembly was in confusion, and the mass knew not wherefore they were come together. And from the crowd they instructed1 (or, drew together) Alexander, the Jews putting him forward; and Alexander waving his hand wished to make defence to the people. But when they came to know he was a Jew, one shout arose from all, crying for about two hours, Great [is] Artemis of [the] Ephesians. And the town clerk after stilling the crowd, says, Ephesians, which of men is he who knoweth not that the city of [the] Ephesians is temple-keeper of the great Artemis and of what fell from the sky? Since then these things cannot be gainsaid, you must be quiet and do nothing rash. For ye have brought these men, neither temple-robbers nor blasphemers of our (or, your) goddess. If then Demetrius and the artisans with him have a matter against anyone, court-days are going on, and there are pro-consuls: let them accuse each other; but if you make any inquiry about other things, it will be settled in the lawful assembly. For indeed we are in danger of being accused of riot today, there being no cause concerning which we shall be able to render an account of this concourse. And having said thus (or, these things) he dismissed the assembly' (vers 32-41).
1 συνεβιβασαν is the best reading (ABE and many cursives) and means as above. The vulgar text hardly falls in with προβαλόνῖων following without tautology.
In this Book we have already had the Holy Spirit's account of religious excitement among the Jews, not only when it issued in the death of Stephen, but on other occasions where they were the chief instigators of the heathen against the gospel and its messengers. It was meet that we should have a living picture of a quasi-religious tumult among the heathen themselves, and this in the most capacious theatre of which there are remains to the present day. Assuredly the Gentiles were rather more senseless than the Jews, though their convictions were in no way so deep. 'Some, therefore, cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was tumultuous, and the most knew not wherefore they were come together.' Whatever the selfish motives underneath, their expression of wrath was about the great Artemis, of whom Ephesians boasted. Nevertheless, as we have seen, God wrought providentially through wiser men of high station among them, for the Asiarchs, whose chief or chiefs lived at Ephesus, had the easiest means and best position in the state, and by their very office would be expected most to resent any dishonour done to their religion. But kind feeling, if not conscience, made them tender the prudent advice to Paul that he should not adventure himself into the theatre. God used them to shelter His servant, where zeal and courage would have been unavailing, and might have exposed him to danger.
Here again we find the Jews putting forward Alexander. This, nevertheless, was a move, which however craftily devised, did not benefit themselves, but rather inflamed the multitude so much the more. The instincts of the heathen resented such an apologist. Was it in common honesty possible that the Jews would have more respect than the Christians for their great goddess?
It was in vain, therefore, for Alexander to beckon with his hand in the desire to make a defence to the people. It was enough that they perceived him to be a Jew, and therefore hostile to their idolatry. There was one voice from all, about the space of two hours, as they cried out, Great [is] Artemis of [the] Ephesians. What a true reflection of the world governed by prejudice and feeling in what is of all moment, not only for the life that now is, but also for that which is to come! God, the true God, is not in their thoughts, which are therefore open to any and every delusion.
The town clerk, or recorder, now appears on the scene; a much more important person in that age and country than in most others, as we learn from ancient inscriptions and otherwise. He was a heathen like the rest; but his common sense was shocked by their objectless excesses, and his speech sets forth in plain and pointed terms their own folly and wrong, not as to God but as among men, and more particularly before their Roman governors.
Having stilled the crowd, he says, 'Ephesians, who1 is there of men that knoweth not that the city of the Ephesians is temple-keeper of the great Artemis, and of that which fell down from Zeus (or, the sky)? As these things cannot be gainsaid, ye ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. For ye have brought these men neither temple-robbers2 nor blasphemers of our goddess. If, therefore, Demetrius and the artisans that are with him have a matter against anyone, court-days are going on, and there ere pro-consuls: let them accuse (or prosecute) one another. But if you make any inquiry about other things,3 it will be settled in the regular assembly. For indeed we are in danger of being accused for the riot of today, there being no ground concerning which we shall4 be able to give account of this concourse. And, having said this, he dismissed the assembly.'
1 The γάρ, 'for', not expressed in our version, or perhaps any other, implies, without bluntly saying, Why this ado? For 'which of men is there who knoweth not . . .,
2 All the old Protestant English Versions have the absurdly false rendering 'robbers of churches'. So inveterate is bad habit, even beyond the vulgar. Wiclif and the Rhemish were preserved from it by adhering to the Vulgate.
3 B and many cursives support περαιτέρων, and so Mr. T. S. Green, 'further', which makes good sense, but the ancient versions are adverse.
4 'The best authorities add a negative here. It may be due to οὖ immediately preceding. If genuine, it may be explained by emphatic speech, which is not always logically correct.
Thus is man beguiled. He assumes as unquestionable what is a mere delusion of the enemy. No intelligence secures against the lie of Satan, nothing but the truth brought home by the Spirit of God. For this man, otherwise sensible, the great Artemis and the stone that fell from the sky, were things which could not be gainsaid. On this supposition he insists on calmness as the only state of mind befitting his co-religionists. He urges that those concerned were neither temple-robbers nor revilers of their goddess. Why, therefore, should such men be brought before them? But he is more precise also, and sets before Demetrius and the artisans in company with him, that their procedure was irregular and dangerous for all. A charge must be laid at a proper time and place, and before the suited judge. There alone could there be a lawful result. Any other enquiry must be settled in the lawful assembly, which the present was not. More than that, 'we are in danger', nor they only, but 'we', of being accused of riot for this day's proceedings, no cause existing for which they could render an account of this concourse. The Romans, it is well known, were most jealous of such disorderly assemblages; which they often punished with bloodshed without measure. As his speech thus closed with a most significant hint, he had no difficulty thereon in dismissing the assembly.
It would appear from the Epistle to the Corinthians, that the tumultuous meeting in the theatre was but one incident of a dangerous crisis at Ephesus (1 Cor. 15:32). Certainly the apostle did not quit the city till there was a lull.
'And after the uproar had ceased, Paul having called [or, sent1] for the disciples, and exhorted and saluted [them], departed to go into Macedonia. And, having gone through those parts and exhorted them with much discourse, he came into Greece. And having spent three months, and a plot being laid against him by the Jews, as he was about to sail for Syria he determined to return through Macedonia.2 And there accompanied him (as far as Asia3); Sopater, a Berean, [son] of Pyrrhus3; and of Thessalonians Aristarchus and Secundus, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and of Asia Tychicus and Trophimus. These going before waited for us at Troas; and we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened [bread], and came unto them to Troas in five days, where we tarried seven days' (vers. 1-6).
1 Most support the former, the best the latter.
2 In verse 3 structural varieties appear in the copies.
3 A few very ancient witnesses do not contain these words, which are sustained in the great mass; but '[son] of Pyrrhus' is genuine.
In this passage, as in many others of scripture, we have a living testimony to the joints and bands which operated so efficaciously in apostolic times to preserve the saints in unity, fellowship, and love. There was no lack of missionary zeal; but, besides, the Spirit of God wrought much in the exhortation and encouragement of the saints. Thus was the body of Christ built up. It is in this care that we see the most manifest contrast of modern times with the primitive. If the converts are guarded from turning aside, it is in general the most that is now attempted. Zeal habitually goes out towards the conversion of sinners, and those devoted to that work are regarded as eminently faithful and enlightened if they do not yield to superstition on the one hand or to philosophy on the other. Growth in the truth is rare and practically unknown even among the teachers, not to speak of the converts. The consequences are deplorable: teachers and taught in these circumstances are ever liable to the many misleading influences around.
In these early days we see on the contrary the utmost care and zeal in visiting afresh those who had been already brought to God, and gathered to the name of Jesus. Nor was it only by oral instruction. That new and characteristic form of Christian instruction which expressed itself in the apostolic Epistles was now fully in operation. No composition admits of greater candour and intimacy; none gives such scope to the affections of the heart. It was from Ephesus that the apostle wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians, as grand a development of Christian and church truth as was the Epistle to the Romans, written not long after as we shall see, on the great foundations of grace in justifying the ungodly, and on the reconciling of the indiscriminate gospel with the peculiar promises to Israel, as well as on the practical walk of the believer in view of all this.
There is no fresh inspiration going on now; but these two modes of seeking the edification of souls ought surely both to proceed. Preaching and teaching have a most unquestionable importance in reaching sours more simply and directly than any other; but there is an exactness as well as a fullness of treatment, which are best conveyed in a written (and, we may add, a printed) form. There is another object also of great value attained in the latter way — that souls can be reached thereby all over the world, most of whom neither could nor would listen to oral instruction of distinctive weight.
In those early days then we see not only the principle of both oral and written teaching, but the highest form of either ever reached on the earth. The apostles and prophets were the foundation on which the church was built. By the gracious power of the Holy Ghost they had immunity from error. It was not men doing their best, but God conveying His mind perfectly through chosen instruments.
Their writings alone constitute the Christian standard. Others at the present day may be raised up to recover what is forgotten, and to propagate this and all truth, the Spirit may work energetically by them, and give reliable accuracy to their thoughts and words in unfolding revealed truth; but they are in no wise a standard. Their writings are not God-inspired and, as they are not entitled to issue their convictions under the authority of 'Thus saith the Lord', for every or any word of theirs, so the saints are responsible to judge all they say or write, and still more what they do, by unerring scripture.
Here then, after the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for and exhorted the disciples, and, after bidding them farewell, departed to go into Macedonia the scene of his former labours. There too we find him passing through those quarters, and, after exhorting the saints with much discourse, he came into Greece. It was during the three months spent there that he wrote the Epistle to the Romans. He had long desired to visit Rome in person, but was hindered hitherto. Urgent duties detained him elsewhere; and God had it in His purpose that His servant should enter Rome only as a prisoner. It was not so that even the apostle would have ordered matters, still less the saints themselves. It is good, however, to learn and accept God's profound wisdom in all these dealings of His.
In weakness, and fear, and much trembling, Paul at first testified at Corinth (1 Cor. 2:3). After much danger and persecution he had left Ephesus. An ill-understood man, his deep spirituality and zeal ran athwart much prejudice at Jerusalem. He could at length only go to Rome with a chain. Such were the ways of God in the unequalled path and service of the blessed apostle.
Nevertheless thorough sobriety pervades the action of Paul. When there was a plot on the part of the Jews against him, as about to sail into Syria, he avoids it by adopting the resolution of returning, not from Achaia direct, but through Macedonia. The Jews had enormous influence in that great commercial entrepot, Corinth; and injury or death could easily have been, humanly speaking, inflicted upon him as a passenger in one of the numerous ships of that day. He therefore changed his plan and returned through the northern province. And there accompanied him Sopater, Pyrrhus' son, a Berean, and of Thessalonians Aristarchus and Secundus, and Gaius of Derbe and Timothy, and of Asia Tychicus and Trophimus.
It was not therefore that merely the apostle laboured in all directions. Here we find not less than seven companions in service, who were in no way restrained to one fixed local sphere. The presbyters or elders laboured and took the lead locally. There were many others besides the apostles who moved about with perfect liberty, seeking the blessing of the faithful and the spread of the gospel. Of these labourers we may discern at least two classes. Some few attached themselves as much as possible to the companionship of Paul. Of these we have a sample before us. But there were others like Apollos who laboured in a more independent way and enjoyed less of his society, though they had his entire love and confidence.
In verse 5 we learn of another deeply attached personal companion Luke, the inspired writer of this very Book. 'And these having gone before awaited us at Troas.' Thus quietly does this honoured man intimate that he too was with the apostle at this time and at Philippi. It will be remembered that it was in these regions that Luke had first become the companion of Paul (Acts 16:10-12).
'And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened [bread], and came unto them to Troas in five days, where we tarried seven days' (ver. 6). Why the party did not move together, why the others went before, and Paul and Luke waited till after the feast, we can only conjecture. But we see the special association of Luke with the apostle and utterly reject the vain key to it which Wieseler suggests, that Luke travelled with him as his physician. If men cannot trace below the surface of the word with spiritual insight, how sad that they should exercise their wits in such degrading ingenuity! And will even saints learn how deeply the church is fallen when such thoughts are repeated instead of provoking indignation?
The delay of seven days furnished the ever-desired privilege of partaking the Lord's Supper together. That the stay of the brethren for that time had a special and spiritual aim appears from what follows.
'And on the first [day] of the week, when we1 were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed to them, about to depart on the morrow, and prolonged the word till midnight. And there were many lights in the upper room where we were gathered together. And a certain youth, by name Eutychus, as he was sitting2 in the window, being overpowered with deep sleep, as Paul was discoursing yet longer, fell overpowered by the sleep down from the third storey, and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and fell upon him, and clasping him round said, Be not troubled, for his life [soul] is in him. And when he went up and broke the3 bread and had eaten, and conversed with them a long while till daybreak, so he departed. And they brought the boy alive and were not a little comforted' (vers. 7-12).
1 ABDE, some twenty cursives, and all the Ancient Versions, as against the Text. Rec., τῶν μαθητῶν HLP, and most cursives, probably to square with αὐτοῖς. So σἦαν in verse following with the scantiest support.
2 καθεζόμενος seems better than καθὴμενος.
3 τόν pm. ABCD--, which Text. Rec. omits with most.
There is no real difficulty or doubt as to the day intended. It was not the Sabbath or seventh, but the first, day of the week marked out to every Christian by the resurrection of our Lord. So we find the disciples meeting on that day, the first of the week — the very day that Jesus came and took His stand in their midst risen from the dead. So it was eight days after, when Thomas was with them and was delivered from his unbelief (John 20:19-29). It was the day of new (not old) creation, of grace and not law. There was no transfer from the seventh day to the first, nor is the first ever called Sabbath-day; but as the apostles and others who had been Jews availed themselves of the Sabbath and of liberty to speak in the synagogue, so the first day was unequivocally the special and honoured day for the Christian assembly. When they were all together from Pentecost and onwards in Jerusalem we can understand their being day by day in close attendance with one consent in the temple and breaking bread at home. Here we find among the Gentiles, when time had passed over, that the first day called the Christians together as such. This is made the more marked in the passage before us because it is said that Paul discoursed 'to them'. Twice over it is said that 'we' gathered together (vers. 5, 6). The constant duty for all the family of God as distinct from the Jews was to assemble on that day to break bread; the special object of Paul's discourse then was found in the saints who lived at Troas: 'Paul discoursed to them'.
This is entirely confirmed by 1 Cor. 16:2: 'Every first day of a week let each of you set by himself a store according as he may thrive that there may be no collections then when I shall come.' 'The first day' of the week was clearly a settled institution for the Christian body.
Not the first day but the Sabbath was the memorial of creation rest, which the law imposed in due time as a most holy commandment peculiarly bound up with God's authority and honour. The resurrection of Christ has brought in a new creation, after having by Himself purged our sins on the cross. Hence the first day is the day of manifest and triumphant life in Christ, our life, when our hearts go forth in worship, communion and service. A bodily rest which one shared with the ox and the ass certainly does not rise up to the blessed associations of Christ risen from the dead. Nor does the canon of the New Testament close without stamping this day as 'the Lord's day' (Rev. 1:10). Efforts have not been wanting on the one hand to make this a prophetic day with which it really has not one idea in common. For 'the day of the Lord' will be one of ever-increasing and solemn judgments from God on the earth, whereas 'the Lord's day' is one of heavenly grace, bringing us already into the victory of His resurrection from the dead, the pledge of our own resurrection or change at His coming. On the other hand it is to lower the character and authority of the first day of the week beyond calculation, to treat it merely as the day appointed by the church.
Thus neither creation nor law nor human arrangement had to do with it. The first of the week is a day marked out by the Lord's repeated appearing, by the inspired sanction of the Holy Ghost, and by the final sanction of it as devoted to the Lord in the one great prophetic Book of the New Testament; just as the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:20) alone shares, as distinct from all other suppers, the same striking and distinctive designation.
Again, some have sought to lower the breaking of bread at Troas, here spoken of, to the love-feast; but there is no ground whatever for such a notion. From the first, the breaking of bread was appropriated to the Lord's Supper: so we see it from the beginning of Christianity (Acts 2:46). It is there clearly distinguished from partaking of food with rejoicing and singleness of heart. Earlier in the chapter, verse 42, the breaking of bread or the loaf refers solely to the Lord's Supper. This is shown by its surroundings — the teaching of the apostles and the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers. These constituted the united holy walk of the saints, and no doubt they had the most powerful influence on the ordinary habits and necessary wants of believers every day; but it is plain that the verse distinctly speaks of that which was most sacred.
Nor is it denied that 'breaking of bread' might be said of an ordinary meal, when the context so demands. So we find on a most impressive occasion where the Lord Himself taking the loaf blessed and, having broken, gave it to His disciples (Luke 24:30-35). It remains true however, that where the context speaks of the communion in the breaking of bread, the Lord's Supper alone is meant. So it is here; and, in this most interesting way, the Lord's Supper and the Lord's day were thus bound up together. It was no doubt a time when the assembly enjoyed the exercise of gifts, as here Paul discoursed to them, not 'preached' as the Authorized Version says, which might convey the thought of the gospel proclaimed to unconverted souls. 'Discourse' is clearly a word of more general bearing, and quite as applicable to those within as to any without.
But the circumstances of this moment were peculiar. Paul was about to set out on the morrow, and extended his discourse till midnight. This gave occasion to the painful incident which befell Eutychus. It was not done in a corner; for 'there were many lights in the upper room where we were'. The youth so named was sitting on the window-seat; and being borne down with deep sleep, as Paul was discoursing at great length, he fell, overborne by the sleep, from the third storey to the bottom, and was taken up dead. It must be acknowledged that the inspired physician who wrote the account was a most competent witness. It is not merely that he appeared dead, or that he was taken up for dead, as some have said. He was really dead, but Paul went down, fee upon him, as the prophet of old notoriously did, and clasping him said, 'Trouble not yourselves, for his life (soul) is in him.' 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', said the apostle, though divine power alone could retain it or hinder the proximate break-up.
Some have supposed that when Paul had gone up and broken the loaf and eaten, it was the interrupted celebration of the Lord's Supper. This appears to me opposed to the intimations of the context. Scripture describes it, not as fellowship, but solely as the personal act of the apostle. No doubt it was 'the loaf' of the Lord's Supper, but it was that loaf now partaken of by the apostle for his own refreshment, after so long speaking and circumstances so trying, about to go forth on his journey. This seems borne out by the word, γευσάμενος, rightly translated 'eaten., or literally 'tasted'. We can readily understand therefore why the Lord avoids such a word in calling on His disciples to 'take, eat', in the institution of His supper. The word φαγεῖν could be, and is, used in the most general way, but it is here γεύομαι. Again, the apostle's 'conversing' with them a long while, tilt daybreak, much better suits a meal than the assembly. So, we are told, he departed; as they brought the boy alive and were not a little comforted. The joy much exceeded the sorrow.
Such was the close of the visit to Troas. At this time the apostle appears to have been deeply impressed that his ministry, in the east at any rate, was soon to close. So he had intimated to the saints in Rome a little before, for he lets them know that as he had been hindered these many times from coming to them, so now that he had no more any place in 'these regions' he hoped to see them (Rom. 15:22, 23).
Paul was bent on his ministration of the contribution from Macedonia and Achaia for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. This done, his purpose was to go on by Rome into Spain, assured of coming to the saints in the capital with the fullness of the blessing of Christ. This deep feeling appears to have affected his ministry wherever he went. It was no doubt in the earnestness to which it gave rise that he had discoursed so long the last night of his stay in Troas.
But now the journey must be entered on. 'But we, having gone before on board the ship, set sail for Assos, there intending to take up Paul, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go on foot' (ver. 13). Here was another effect of the same solemn feeling. There is a time for social intercourse, there is a time also for isolation; and the apostle who enjoyed fellowship of heart with his brethren as no saint ever perhaps equalled, realized that it was now a season to be alone. One can hardly doubt that this was by no means an infrequent thing for one so actively engaged in public work as Paul. His habitual piety would dispose him now and then to seek such an opportunity of unburdening his spirit, and of renewing, in a marked and full way, his sense of dependence on the grace of Christ. These secret dealings with the Lord were so much the more needful because the exigencies of the work called for energy and prominence before men.
At this juncture, beyond any question, we see that Paul had appointed to be apart from his beloved companions, who went on board ship, even though it involved his own more laborious progress by land. It is left for us to judge its motive and meaning,1 and we cannot but think that what is here suggested is a better key than the mere notion of a visit to one and another by the way. The general context rather adds to the conclusion that Paul was avoiding all but indispensable visits just then, and that having but a short time for his journey, he gave what time he could spare to the most important objects before his heart. Unnamed visits would scarcely have furthered this aim.
1 Calvin thinks it was for his health, and that his courtesy spared his companions, others for paying visits by the way.
'And when he met with us at Assos, we took him up, and came unto Mitylene, and having sailed thence on the morrow we arrived over against Chios, and on the next day we touched at Samos, and [having remained at Trogyllium] the day after we came unto Miletus. For Paul had determined to sail past2 Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hastening, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost' (vers. 14-16).
2 'By' (A.V.) is equivocal as it might mean by that way. 'Past' means without stopping there.
There is no spiritual reason to dwell upon the associations which Assos or Mitylene, Chios or Samos, Trogyllium or Miletus might suggest. They are here brought before us simply as the varying points of the apostolic journey, from which it would divert us if we occupied our minds with historical questions interesting enough as to each of them.
Suffice it to say that, although Paul had his heart filled with that which was of the deepest importance for the saints in Ephesus, Miletus was the point of approach, rather than the capital of Asia. Here too the motive seems plain. Had he gone to Ephesus itself, with a strong affection and the many ties he had with the numerous saints there, he could not have left them without a considerable delay. He therefore preferred to sail past Ephesus, that he might not frustrate the object of his journey to Palestine. If one so known and loved and loving as he was had visited Ephesus, he could not have avoided a stay of some length among them. He therefore made Miletus his place of passing sojourn, in order that nothing should hinder the fulfilment of his desire to be at Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost.
On the other hand, it was of the utmost moment that the saints at Ephesus should receive words of wise and gracious counsel at this moment. The apostle therefore adopts a method by no means usual. 'And from Miletus he sent unto Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church' (ver. 17). These presbyters were the fitting medium. They had the regular and responsible ecclesiastical charge in that city. We can hardly doubt from the general impression of the rest of the chapter, that they were not a few in number. As this does not fall in with the usual habits and thoughts (not to say, selfishness) of men, the notion slipped in even from ancient times that the elders of all the churches round about are meant. But such a tampering with the word of God is not to be allowed for a moment. The apostle sent to Ephesus and called to himself the elders of the church there, not of the churches around. There may have been many meeting-places in Ephesus, but, as is well known, scripture never speaks of the assemblies, always of the assembly or church, in a city. Hence, however numerous, they are here styled the elders of the church, and they no doubt cared for the affairs of all. Whilst local responsibility was also preserved in its place, unity was not therefore forgotten. Common action would be the natural and proper result. So it was in Jerusalem, as we know from the revealed notices of that assembly, which consisted of many thousands of saints; and so we see it here in Ephesus, though no details of numbers are given. The grand principles of the church prevailed and were the same everywhere, though at first there were Jewish elements at work in Jerusalem if some of them indeed did not linger still. But such unity was of and for heaven, not of Judaism, being pre-eminently of the Holy Spirit. 'There is one body and one Spirit' (Eph. 4:4).
Another matter may claim brief notice here, though it may seem somewhat of an anticipation. The elders of the church are designated 'overseers' or 'bishops' by the apostle (ver. 28): 'Take heed unto yourselves and to all the flock in which the Holy Ghost made [set] you bishops, to feed [tend] the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood.' This identification falls in with every scriptural notice we possess. Such is the genuine inference from 1 Tim. 3:1-7 as well as from 1 Tim. 5:17-19 and still more plainly from Titus 1:5, 6, compared with verses 7, 9, as well as from Acts 11, 14, 15, 16, and 21, and from 1 Peter 5 and James 5, no less than Phil. 1:1. The great distinction which soon reigned in Christendom between bishops and presbyters is wholly unknown to the word of God.
Not one, but more were appointed in each assembly or city, where charges were conferred at all. There was regularly a plurality of elders and bishops. They might be men of gift, teachers, or evangelists; but the indispensable work was to 'rule' or 'preside'. This was the object of their appointment, for appointed they certainly were by apostolic authority direct, or indirect when an apostle could not be there (as for instance by Titus commissioned for the purpose by the apostle Paul (Titus 1:5). The gifts, on the other hand, were given by Christ without any such intervention. A pastor, teacher, or evangelist, as such, was never nominated by an apostle or an apostolic delegate.
The distinction from elders or deacons, it is well to bear in mind. 'The seven' at Jerusalem, who rendered diaconal service, were chosen by the multitude of the believers before they were appointed by the apostles (Acts 6:1-6). That this election by the church does not apply to elders is plain from every scripture that treats of their appointment, which lay exclusively with the apostles or their expressly authorized deputies. Still less was there by men an election of those so called gifts: in their case Christ chose. As Christ gave them, they preached or taught on their direct responsibility to Him. Where Christians gave of their means, they were allowed to choose dispensers in whom they had confidence. Such is the uniform teaching of the New Testament, and the only legitimate inference from it. The painful departure of Christendom, nationalists and dissenters, Catholics and Protestants, is so glaring that one only wonders how godly men can overlook the facts in the word which make the will of God manifest, or, how, if they apprehend them, there can be indifference to the truth and to the inalienable duties involved by it.
It is the more important to notice the fact that the elders were of 'the church in Ephesus', because the old error of Irenaeus re-appears, among other moderns, in Dr. Hackett's Commentary on this Book. 'Luke speaks only of the Ephesian elders as summoned to meet the apostle at Miletus; but as the report of his arrival must have spread rapidly, it could not have failed to draw together others also, not only from Ephesus, but from the neighbouring towns where churches had been established' (pp. 334, 335). The truth is that ancient and modern arrangements are alike inconsistent with Scripture. Irenaeus was embarrassed by the prejudice of episcopacy, as were the authorized translators, but the plurality of elders or bishops from the church in Ephesus is not a whit more compatible with the 'minister' of the dissenting bodies. It is certain that neighbouring towns or churches are in this instance wholly ignored, and that the presbyters of Ephesus only were summoned, and are alone addressed. Verse 25 is quite consistent with this. But it will be noticed that the apostle summoned the elders with authority, and that they responded to his call without question. To lower the apostle to the place of an ordinary minister is wholly unscriptural.
'And when they were come to him, he said to them, Ye know from the first day that I came to Asia how I was with you all the time serving the Lord with all lowliness of mind, and1 tears, and temptations, which befell me by the plots of the Jews; how I kept back nothing of what is profitable, so as not to announce to you and to teach you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ' (vers. 18-21).
1 Text. Rec. adds 'many', supported by CHLP, et al., but ABDE et al., omit.
Here the apostle does not refrain from reminding them of his own service in their midst. This was a habit of his, as we see very particularly in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians and elsewhere; burning zeal and a good conscience before God alone account for it. Nothing could be farther from his character than liking to speak of himself. He calls it his folly in reminding the Corinthians of his labours and his sufferings; never would he have said one word of either, had it not been of the utmost moment for the saints. They knew very scantily what the glory of Christ demands what the walk and service and devotedness of the Christian should be. They had been conversant only with the gross darkness of heathenism, or with the hollow and pretentious hardness of the Jews. They needed not precept only, but, what is so much more powerful along with it, a living example to form and fashion the ways of Christ.
Unswerving fidelity characterized the apostle's course habitually, as he says, 'Serving the Lord with all lowliness of mind, and tears, and temptations which befell me by the plots of the Jews.' Such an one could well appeal to others who knew him, as he does now with peculiar solemnity to the Ephesian elders. It is not learning or success in ministry which he puts before them, but serving the Lord with all lowliness of mind. How often that service puffs up the novice! What dangers surround even the most experienced! Lowliness of mind is of all moment in it, and the Lord helps by the very difficulties and griefs which accompany it. Paul was not ashamed to speak of his tears any more than of the temptations which befell him through the plots of the Jews, the constant adversaries of the gospel, animated with special bitterness against Paul.
Further, he could say that they knew how he kept back nothing of what is profitable. This needs faith without which fidelity will fail; for the apostle was altogether above the fear of man, and withheld in nothing what was for their good, but announced to them and taught them publicly, and at their houses, testifying both to Jews and Greeks repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
Naturally the subject-matter points to his work from the beginning of his arrival at Ephesus, but also to that which every soul needs as the first testimony of the gospel. Hence we hear of testifying to Jews and Greeks. It is what every man wants that he may come to God. Repentance and faith are inseparable where there is reality, and the language is as precise as we are entitled to expect from one who not only had the mind of God but expressed it like the apostle. As there is no genuine repentance without faith, so there is no faith of God's elect without repentance. Repentance toward God is the soul judging itself, and confessing its ways as in His sight. Faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ is the soul receiving the good news God sends concerning His Son. 'Repent', said Peter on the day of Pentecost to the Jews already pricked in heart, who accepted the word and set to their seal that God is true. 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house,' said Paul and Silas to the Philippian jailer and to all that were in his house. How unfounded it would be to imagine that in the one case there was repentance without faith, or, in the other, faith on the Lord Jesus Christ without repentance toward God! In a divine work both are given and found.
The Holy Spirit, Who works all that is good in the soul, takes care that repentance and faith shall co-exist. There may be difference in the outward development. Some souls may manifest more deeply the sorrow of repentance; others may be abounding in the peace and joy of faith, but wherever it is a true operation of God, there cannot but be both. We must allow for the different manifestations in different persons. No two conversions present exactly the same outward effect, some being more simple, others going through the dealings of God more thoroughly. It is well when the repentance toward God is as deep as the faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ is unhesitating. All then goes happily forward with the soul. But this is far from a common case. In most so far as we can see faith may be somewhat feeble, and consequently the soul is not a little tried with the sense of its sinfulness before God. In such circumstances self-occupation is apt to cloud the heart.
The spiritual eye is to be set on Christ as the object of faith, but with scrutiny of self subjectively before God, and hence comes a real judgment of sins and sin. There may not be peace, and there is not when this self-judgment with sorrow of heart begins; but faith in a God revealed to the conscience is surely there, though not yet rest by faith in the accepted and appropriated work of redemption. When Christ's work and God's grace are better and more fully known, the self-judgment of repentance is so much the more profound. In this case the judgment-seat of Christ, however solemn, is no longer an object of dread. All is out already in conscience, and the flesh is judged as a hateful thing, and so evil really that nothing but the cross of Christ could be an adequate dealing with it, but there it is now known that our old man was crucified with Him that the body of sin might be done away (not merely our sins be forgiven), so that we should no longer serve sin; for he that died has been justified from sin. As surely as death has no more dominion (sin never had) over Christ Who, having died to sin once for all, lives unto God, even so we also may land should, reckon ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:6-11). We died with Him.
Repentance toward God then is not the gospel of His grace, nor is it remission of sins, but is that inward work in the conscience by the Holy Spirit's use of the word, without which the privileges of the gospel are vain and only hurry on the soul the more rashly to destruction. The low views which make repentance a human work as a preface to faith are no less objectionable than the so-called high views which merge all in faith making repentance no more than a change of mind. Neither legalism nor antinomianism are of God, but the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ. Truth does not spare the flesh or its works, faith and repentance bow in self-loathing to Christ, and grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Repentance then is not mere regret or remorse (which is expressly μεταμέλεια); μετάνοια is that afterthought, or judgment on reflection, formed by God's working through His word to which conscience bows, self and its past ways being judged before God. It is never apart from a divine testimony and hence it is from faith, God's goodness, not His judgment only, leads to it; and godly sorrow works repentance unto salvation not to be regretted, as the sorrow of the world works death (2 Cor. 7:10). 'I have sinned against heaven and in Thy sight', 'God be merciful to me the sinner': such is its confession and cry in a broken and contrite spirit. The gospel, the good news of grace, is God's answer.
Next, the apostle turns from his ministry at Ephesus to the prospect before him. He was well aware that the severest trials awaited him (compare Rom. 15:30, 31), and it would appear, he had no slight presentiment that Jerusalem would prove the source of much that was imminently hanging over him. 'And now, behold, I go bound in the [or, my] spirit1 unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Spirit testifieth to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me' (vers. 22, 23).
l Canon Humphry attaches more importance than is due to the old expositors as Chrysostom, Ammonius, Didymus, who will have the phrase to mean that Paul went 'led captive by the Spirit'. Usage, as well as the distinction τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον in the following verses, point to his spirit, on which Meyer at last fell back after first taking up the notion of the Greek Fathers. Paul was not free in his spirit for any other direction than Jerusalem, cost what this might.
Though he was not aware of the precise shape, he thus lets it be known that he went with eyes open to that coming pressure of troubles, which was only interrupted for a little while before all terminated in a martyr's death. He knew further that, whatever might be the close, bonds and afflictions intervened, and what could be more serious for the testimony of the Lord and saints generally to the heart of one who loved the church? Nevertheless God was in it all, for during these very bonds Paul wrote the Epistles which furnish, as we happily know, the fullest and brightest light of Christ and on heavenly things that was ever vouchsafed for the permanent instruction and comfort of the saints of God. We shall see that loving remonstrances did not fail on every side, which must have added so much the more to his grief in resisting all such appeals.
Indeed the apostle here gives the pith of his answer to every entreaty and dissuasive: 'But I hold not my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus to testify the gospel of the grace of God'1 (ver. 24). Nothing could frustrate such a resolve. It was to him no question of success, as men speak, nor of present effects, however promising. His eye was on the glory of Christ, his ear only for the will of God. Suffering or death as a sequence he would not allow to deter him for an instant. His Master had shown him, in the highest degree and for the deepest ends, how in a world of sin and misery suffering glorifies God.
l There are minor differences in the readings of the text, but nothing of weight enough to detain us here.
Undoubtedly there was that in the cross of Christ which belongs to none but Himself. The expiation of sin falls exclusively to Him, the infinite Sacrifice, but sacrifice, though the deepest, is far from being the only element in Christ's death. There were other sufferings which the saints are permitted to share with Him — to be despised, to be rejected, to suffer for love and truth, as well as for righteousness. These sufferings are not confined to Christ, as it was to suffer for sin; and Paul perhaps more than any other was one who could rejoice in his sufferings for the saints, as well as fill up that which was behind of the tribulations of Christ in his flesh, for His body which is the church. The sufferings of the gospel also were for him to glory in; and no mere man before or since ever won so good a title or those honourable scars (Col. 1:24, Gal. 6:17).
Most truthfully, therefore, could the apostle say that he made no account of his life as dear to himself: nor is it merely before the Ephesian elders that he felt transport, or on any transient occasions of like kind. He had it before his heart to finish his course with joy, and the service which he had received of the Lord Jesus to testify the glad tidings (or gospel) of the grace of God. The large-heartedness of the apostle is as refreshing as instructive. Who had such a crowd of daily pressure on him? Who like him bore the burden of all the assemblies? If he had to do with weak consciences, who could be weak like Paul? Who went out in heart toward one who stumbled as he did? Nevertheless the gospel was as near to his spirit as to the most earnest evangelist. There was no one-sidedness in this blessed servant of the Lord. He was here simply to carry out all the objects of His love, to promote His glory wherever His name penetrated, and Christ is not more the Head of the church than the sum and substance of the gospel.
It will be noticed that the gospel is here designated 'the glad tidings of the grace of God.' This appears to be the most comprehensive title given to it in Scripture. Elsewhere the apostle speaks of it as 'the gospel of the glory of Christ', where its heavenly side is meant to be made prominent. Again, he speaks of it as 'the gospel of God', when its source in divine love is pointed out. Furthermore, we hear of 'the gospel of Christ', where He is in view through Whom alone the glad tidings become possible from God to man. In the Gospels we read of 'the gospel of the kingdom', looking on to Messiah in power and glory: in the Revelation, of the 'everlasting gospel', the revelation of the bruised Seed bruising the serpent's head. Each has its main or distinctive meaning; but as none can be, apart from Christ, so none of them appears to be so full as 'the gospel of the grace of God'. Nor is any other designation of it more than this last in keeping with the Acts of the Apostles, as well as with that apostle's heart who was now addressing the Ephesian elders. The person and the work of the Lord Jesus are fully supposed although not expressed by it; for in whom or through whom, can God's grace shine out, save in Him or by Him?
'And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom 1 [of God], shall see my face no more' (ver. 25). It is his farewell. His work, as to presence in their midst, was ended.
1 The best and oldest MSS. and Versions, save the Vulg., etc., read simply 'the kingdom.' Others add 'of God', which is meant if not expressed, others of Jesus', and 'of the Lord Jesus'.
Here we have another and distinct topic, and one that is apt to be overlooked in modern preaching, viz., 'The kingdom'. He who examines the Acts of the Apostles will find how large a place it occupies in the preaching not of Peter only but of Paul, and, we may be assured, of all the other servants of the Lord in those early days. It is a grave blank where the kingdom is left out as it is now. Nor is it only that the future according to God is habitually lost to the faith of saints through the unfaithfulness of modern preachers, but thereby the gospel of God's grace also suffers. For in that case there is sure to be confusion, which, mingling both characters never enjoys the simple and full truth of either 2: for the kingdom will be the triumph of righteousness by power when Christ appears in His glory. A truth it was, most familiar, to those who were bred in the constant and glorious vision of Old Testament prophecy. Christianity, though it open to us heavenly things, was never intended to enfeeble this prospect; rather should it enable the believer to taste its blessing more, as well by imparting a deeper intelligence of its principles as by bringing in the heavenly glory. We can enjoy it in an incomparably larger and more distinct way, and we have its principles explained by a deeper and fuller view of its basis in the reconciling work of the Lord Jesus on the cross.
2 Thus Calvin (Opera vi. 185): 'Regnum Dei iterum vocatur evangelii doctrina, quae regnum Dei in hoc mundo inchoat, homines renovando in imaginem Dei, donec tandem in ultima resurrectione compleatur.' (The doctrine of the gospel is again called God's kingdom, which begins God's kingdom in this world by renewing men into God's image, till at length it be complete in the last resurrection.) Calvin was a pious and able man; but the value of his commentary on scripture has been extravagantly overrated. Of course, not a little turns on the spiritual intelligence of him who speaks.
'Wherefore I testify to you this day that I am pure from the blood of all. For I shrank not from announcing to you all the counsel of God' (vers: 26, 27). The apostle could thus solemnly attest his fidelity to the trust the Lord had confided to him. (Compare Ezek. 3:18-20). Twice at least (vers. 20, 27) he disclaims expressly that reserve which some bearing the Christian name have not been ashamed to avow as a merit learnt from Him Whose death rent the veil, and Who puts all true followers of His in the light of life, the light which makes everything manifest. Walking in darkness now that the True Light shines is a walk in the flesh without God. With such doctrine no wonder that 'the hungry sheep look up and are not fed.'
It is a mistake that 'all the counsel of God' means no more than the plan of God for saving men unfolded in the gospel. 'The gospel' is indeed the preaching of salvation in a dead and risen Saviour; 'the kingdom', whether morally or in its fully manifested form, has its own distinct force in God's reign, as we have seen; 'all the counsel of God' rises still higher and embraces His purpose in its utmost extent (e.g., Eph. 1:9-12).
Having thus solemnly set before them his own ministry, he now turns to the elders and their work. 'Take heed1 to yourselves and to all the flock in which the Holy Ghost set you overseers to tend the assembly of God which He purchased with His own blood' [or, the blood of His own One] (ver. 28).
1 The copula αὖν 'therefore' seems an early addition, but the best copies have it not.
The first of all duties is to take heed to our own selves, whatever may be our position, and this an overseer is more particularly to weigh. For what can be more dangerous than activity about others when there is carelessness as to ourselves? It is not from the word abstractedly, but from its shining on the path of our own experience that most is learnt practically. Undoubtedly we may learn from others, and through others; but how can there be reality, unless we take heed 'unto ourselves'?
Still the object in appointing elders was to oversee the flock and all the flock. There might be, and in general were, several overseers; but the duty of the overseer is to take heed 'to all the flock' where he lives. This is the more important, as it humbles the spirit while it enlarges the heart, for who is sufficient for these things? It tends to neutralize the self-importance of 'my people', as well as the rivalry when one thinks of another and 'his people'. The 'one body' was a new thing then; it is absolutely unheard of in modem Christianity. The saints had to learn that God had but one flock here below. There was unity whether in each place or all over the world. Yet the elders had to do with all the flock where they resided, not elsewhere. Eldership was a local charge.
In this the elders are wholly distinct from 'the gifts' (Eph. 4:8-11) which are in the unity of the body of Christ. They themselves of course were members like others, and as such consequently belonged not to 'a body', but to 'the body'. But the office of eldership was within definite limits; the charge did not run beyond the particular assembly or city wherein they were appointed. It is admitted, nay pressed, that no one could claim to be an elder unless he were duly appointed; and it is plain from scripture that none could appoint save the apostles, or one positively commissioned by an apostle for the purpose. In other words the bishops, or elders (for they are identical in God's word), depended for their due installation on an apostle, directly or indirectly; but when thus appointed, it could be said, as here, that the Holy Ghost set them as bishops or overseers: His sanction accompanied apostolic nomination.
The Authorized Version has gone a little beyond what the inspired word really says, 'Over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers.' It is rightly rendered in the Revised Version, ''in the which'. They were thus made to feel that they were in and of the flock of God like every other saint. Nevertheless no one ought to deny that the responsibility of every elder was to rule. For, as the apostle says to Timothy (1 Tim. 5:17), 'Let the elders that rule well be accounted worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in the word and in teaching.' They might not all labour in teaching: but they were all set to 'rule', or preside, and they were responsible to rule 'well'. They were expressly appointed to the lead, as that which pertained to their office. They were in the flock, but in the Lord they were over their brethren, though they were by no means the only persons who were.
This in no way interfered with the gifts in the body. Some may be pastors and teachers, others evangelists; but both were on a quite different footing from the elders. The business of the gifted men was the ministry of the word, whether to those within or to those without, and they were accordingly to labour entirely apart from a designated charge over any circumscribed or particular spot. Eph. 4 is decisive for this principle and fact. It is not only that apostles and prophets had an unrestricted field of work; the lesser gifts, who were the fruit of Christ's grace to the church, had a similar title, though in a humbler way. Thus all gifts as such are in the unity of Christ's body; none of them is merely a local official (as we have seen the elder to be); though he might also be appointed to a charge, his gift otherwise goes beyond it.
The overseers then are exhorted by the apostle to tend or shepherd the assembly of God. Here again we see how strong is the contrast of scriptural truth with the system, which reigns today, of this congregation for one 'minister' and that for another. For of old the elders were all as overseers to tend the assembly, and here the whole of it in Ephesus. No doubt their duty was to carry on oversight where they resided; but it was to shepherd the church of God there, and not each one a part of it only.1 The largeness of the scriptural truth is as evident as the contractedness of men's arrangements ever since apostolic days. Men, in their wisdom, may have judged it necessary to allot a portion to this one and another to that one in the same city; but earthly prudence, however respectable and useful for present interests, is ever to be distrusted in divine things. When in fact the break-up of the flock of God came to pass, the clerical order which had crept in could not but pave the way for not schisms only, but sects, each with their governing functionaries.
1 We may see the same scriptural fact in Phil. 1:1, where King James's translators left in 'bishops', instead of adopting 'overseers' as in Acts 20:28. The cases are exactly parallel, as indeed a similar constitution prevailed wherever the apostles visited and supplied full order. The modern 'minister' of dissent is as unknown as the traditional 'diocesan'.
So completely are the children of God fallen from His mind that the various denominations of Christendom are now supposed even by saints to be a providential arrangement, which only enthusiasts could wish to disturb. But as this is not according to the word of the Lord, so it is far from the path of faith. Human reason can never overthrow the plain, sure, and abiding revelation of God's will as we have it in scripture, the especial safeguard in the difficult times of the last days as the apostle tells us (2 Tim. 3). Difficulties may be enormous, dangers may increase, the trials be immense; but obedience is of all things the most lowly for man and the most acceptable to God. Let every believer weigh these matters as in His sight: His will should be dear to all the children of God.
The apostle then gives the more seriousness to the task which the overseers had before them, by the consideration not only that the assembly was God's rather than theirs, which it is never said to be (however common may be the word in man's mouth), but 'which He purchased or acquired to Himself'.
'With His own blood' is beyond controversy a difficult expression, and especially in the best representation of the text, which deserves careful examination. It is not meant that there is the least cloud over the truth that He Who shed His blood for us was God. If the Saviour here was not God, His purchase would have only a creature's value, and must be wholly insufficient to acquire on God's part the assembly as it was, yea, as it is. Being a divine person, His gaining it to Himself by blood has an infinite and eternal efficacy.
But the expression, as it stands in the Authorized and Revised Versions is unexampled in scripture; and what is more, as already remarked, it is peculiarly embarrassing for the Christian scholar, because the form of it, now most approved on the best grounds, is extremely emphatic instead of being general. Indeed it would be easier to understand the sense as commonly understood, if the form had been, as in the vulgar reading, τοῦ ἰδίου αἳματος. The critical reading, though at first sight it may add to the difficulty, seems however the right one, τοῦ αἵματος τοῦ ἰδίου. But it is suggested that we should take τοῦ ἰδίου in government rather than in concord. The meaning that results from this would be 'the blood of His Own One', i.e., of Christ, His Son, rather than 'His own blood'. This meaning, if certain, would make all plain.
It was in all probability the perplexity here felt which led some copyists in early days to substitute the church 'of the Lord', for that 'of God'. But this reading, though externally well supported (ACpm DE, et al.), is at issue with New Testament usage, and is thus on the whole inferior to that of the common text, though as far as 'God' goes no one need be surprised that Wetstein and Griesbach adopted it; but it is not so intelligible why Lachmann, Tischendorf, and Tregelles are not here found rather with Mill, Wolf, Bengel, Scholz, Alford (in all his editions since the first two), Wordsworth, Westcott and Hort, who hold to τοῦ θεοῦ.. It is Alford's mistake that Matthai prefers the same, for in both his editions he follows his Moscow copies, and has the same conflate reading as the Complutensian, τοῦ κυρίοῦ καὶ θεοῦ (C3HLP, some 110 or more cursives). Other varieties there are, scarce worth noticing on any ground, as, τοῦ κυρίου θεῦυ (3,95**), τοῦ θεου καὶ κυρίου (47). Some ancient versions represent τοῦ χριστοῦ, one old Latin 'Jesu Christi', and the Georgian — τοῦ κυρίοῦ τοῦ θεου.
Dr. Scrivener therefore fairly enough says that our choice evidently lies between κυρίῦ and θεοῦ, though Patristic testimony may slightly incline to the latter, as he does himself. But why he should consider that the usus loquendi of the apostle, though incontrovertibly sustaining θεοῦ against, κυρίου, 'appears little relevant to the case of either', is to my mind unintelligible. For the utmost that can be said for the immense weight on one side is that it may not have been impossible to have said the other in this sole instance. Scripture beyond doubt is larger than man's mind; but assuredly he is rather bold or careless who could slight an expression invariably found for one never found elsewhere, and here easily understood to be a change in order to escape a sentiment extremely harsh and unexampled if taken as it commonly is.
It may not be without profit to conceive how the discovery of the Sinai MS., and a clearer knowledge, not only of the Vatican copy, but of other weighty authorities, must have modified, if not revolutionized, the judgment of Griesbach. 'Ex his omnibus luculenter apparet, pro lectione qeou' ne unicum quidem militare codicem, qui sive vetustate sive interna bonitate sue testis idonei et incorrupti laude ornari queat. Non reperitur, nisi in libris recentioribus iisdemque vel penitus contemnendis, vel misere, multis saltem in locis, interpolatis. Sed nec versionum auctoritate tueri se potest. Nulla enim translatio habet qeou' praeter Vulgatum recentiorem, (quam redarguunt antiquiores libri latini,) et Philoxenianam syriacam, . . . Tandem neque apud Patres certa lectionis istius vestigia deprehenduntur ante Epiphanium, . . . Quomodo igitur salvis critcae artis legibus lectio θεοῦ, utpote omni auctoritate justa destituta, defendi queat, equidem haud intelligo.' (N. T. Gr. ed. sec. ii. 115, Halae Sax. et Lond. 1806). It is now certified, not by Birch only, who might have been more heeded, notwithstanding the silence of the collation for Bentley, but by the personal and expressly minute examination of Tregelles, who rather looked for an erasure, but found no sign of it in B, but θεοῦ as also in . Now no sober and intelligent mind can doubt that the weight of and B is at least equal to ACDE.
Among the cursives, as usual, some may be of slight account, but others are really valuable and undeserving of so sweeping a censure. As to Versions, none can be produced of greater value than the Vulgate and the most ancient and excellent copies, such as the Amiatine, Fuldensian, Demidovianus, Toletanus, et al., as well as the Clementine edition, have 'Dei'. It is rather audacious to begin with Epiphanius among the Fathers in face of the well-known allusion of Ignatius (Πρὸς Ἐφεσίους i.) which this verse alone can account for. Greek and Latin Fathers cite the common text, or refer freely to it (as Tertullian Ad Uxorem ii. 3, Clement Alex. ii. 3, 44), though no doubt there is a vacillation which answers to the various readings.
Griesbach also argues on the improbability that Athanasius could have read the text as it stands and deny as he does against Apollinarius that αἲμα θεοῦ occurs, ascribing such an expression to the Arians; indeed many besides Athanasius objected to such language. And it would have been truly impossible if διἄ τοῦ ἰδίου αἲματος had been the true reading. But it is not. The majority of later copies may support it, as they do the unquestionably wrong τοῦ κυρίοῦ καὶ θεου but all late critics agree to follow ABCDE, et al.
It would appear then that the great champion of orthodoxy must have understood τοῦ ἰδίου to be expressive of Christ, as God's 'own' One. Otherwise the emphasis, if we take τοῦ ἰδίου in concord, renders the phrase so intolerable that nothing but necessity could justify it. Is there any such need? In other words, if the true text were διὰ τοῦ ἰδίου αἴματος, we must translate it as in the Authorized Version and all others which were based on that reading now recognized as incorrect; and we could then understand the phrase only as predicated of Him Who is God by what theologians call κοινωνία ἰδιωμάτων. And Meyer considers that the true reading was changed to the common but indirect one because τοῦ ἰδίον, as it ought to be, might be referred to Christ. Daederlein, Michaelis, and other moderns, when they so refer τοῦ ἰδίου, may have had low thoughts of Christ, but certainly not such was Athanasius, who, it seems, must have so understood the passage. Can it be questioned that the emphatic contrastic force, if we take it as God's own blood, brings the phrase under what he calls the τολμήματα τῶν Ἀρειανῶν?
It is easy to ask for justification by Greek usage. This is exactly what from the nature of the case could hardly be; for in all the New Testament, as there is no other instance of a noun followed by τοῦ ἰδίου, there is no distinct matter for comparison. But it is to be noticed that, where Christ goes before, what follows is διά τοῦ ἰδίου αίματος (Heb. 9:12; Heb. 13:12). It is reasonable therefore to infer that, as the emphatic contrast would be dogmatically extravagant, the rendering most entitled to our acceptance is 'through the blood of His own One'. Dr. Hort indeed suggests 'through the blood that was His own, i.e., as being His Son's' (The N.T. in Greek, ii. 99). It may be doubted whether this will commend itself more than Mr. Darby's.
The general truth is untouched. The question is how best to solve the very real difficulty. The suggested version seems much less objectionable than Dr. Hort's conjecture at the close of his note, that υἱοῦ may have dropped out of the τοῦ ἰδίου at some very early transcription affecting all existing documents. Conjectural emendation1 in N.T. scripture has never approached a proof of its need or value in a solitary example. He Who gave us His word has watched over it; and we need not distrust Him here.
1 G. C. Knapp, (N.T. Gr. ii. 647, 8, ed. 4th, London, 1824) hazards another guess. 'Primitively perhaps it was thus written — the church, which He purchased with the blood of His own [namely, Son], Rom. 8:3, 32. Luke elsewhere always speaks simply of the church. Those who referred "purchased" to Christ substituted, from Heb. 13:12, διὰ τοῦ ἰδίου αἲματος '. But leaving out his conjecture, he leans to this version, which he preferred to the usual one
The reasoning of Bp. Middleton (Greek Article, Rose's Ed., 291-5) is founded on the erroneous vulgar text, and directed mainly against Mr. G. Wakefield, whose version and notes are here, as ever, devoted to the confirmation of his heterodox views. But Michaelis was not so ignorant as to translate the common text as the Bp. says he did, nor ought a writer on the Greek article to have overlooked an emphasis in the repeated article, as compared with the ordinary form, which would be hard indeed to predicate of God as such, when the unemphatic only is applied to Christ's own blood. It is to be doubted therefore whether Bp. Middleton, or those who cite him in this connection did really comprehend or see the true conditions of the question. For on the one hand the common deduction involves us in thoughts and expressions wholly foreign to scripture, on the other hand, if the Greek can honestly mean by the blood of His own One the balance of truth is at once restored, and the utmost that can be alleged against the construction is that its seeming ambiguity might be supposed improbable for the apostle's mouth. That it is sound Greek to express this meaning will scarcely be disputed save by prejudiced persons who do not sufficiently bear in mind the graver objections to the other version.2
2 See also J.N.D.'s footnote to the passage in his New Translation (1884).
Returning then from the consideration of the passage, one may conclude that the Text. Rec. is right in reading church or assembly 'of God' but wrong in following that form of expression at the close of the verse which would compel us to translate, contrary to all the phraseology of scripture elsewhere, 'through His own blood'. The reading of all critics with adequate information and judgment might, and ordinarily would, bear the same meaning with the force of a contrasting emphasis, which is never used even of our Lord; if said of God, it is wholly unaccountable. It seems that this moral improbability made Athanasius deny the phrase (found in Ignatius, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian) to be in scripture; which nevertheless has it, and has it in the most pointed form, if we are bound to render διὰ τοῦ αἲματος τοῦ ἰδίου as scholars usually do, without speaking of the Oriental Versions, which cut the knot by giving 'the Lord', 'the Lord and God', and 'Christ'. But it seems only prejudice to deny that tou' ijdivou may be as legitimately in regimen as in concord: if in regimen, the sense would be 'of His own One', and the difficulty of the right text is at an end. In this case the apostle employs unusually touching terms to enforce on the elders to shepherd the assembly of God. which He acquired to Himself through the blood of His own One, special personality being merged in a purchase so beyond measure dear and precious. That the Saviour is the Son of the Father from everlasting to everlasting is certain to the believer, but the Book of the Acts habitually presents the truth from a broader point of view with which the apostolic charge would here coalesce.
Taking heed to themselves as well as to all the flock of God was the more necessary because of the sure and dark prospect which the apostle now puts before them: 'I know that after my departure grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise speaking things perverted to draw away the disciples after them' (vers. 29, 30).
On earth it has been always thus. So Moses warned Israel, when he was about to depart (Deut. 32:15 - 33). Those under grace, we now learn from the apostle, would behave themselves in the house of God no better than the people under law. And so it came to pass, as the Old Testament shows us: Israel utterly ruined, everywhere dispersed, despised outcasts, nowhere more than in their own land; and so the New Testament everywhere warns of a like result in Christendom.
The Lord Himself, in the great parabolic series of Matt. 13, sets forth its corruption from the beginning. The tares once sown were never to be rooted up until the harvest, and the time of the harvest will be the judgment of the quick on earth. So, in His great prophecy on the Mount of Olives (Matt. 24 - 25), the Lord does not hide the sad future. The evil servant would say in his heart, 'My lord delayeth His coming', and would begin to beat his fellow-servants, as well as to eat and drink with the drunken. There cannot be, there is not, either recovery, or a general progress for good. Christ's appearing in judgment will deal with the evil effectually. It is not shown otherwise in the beautiful picture of the ten virgins, five wise and five foolish. Was not failure apparent and complete, when all slumbered and slept, while the bridegroom tarried? Grace assuredly awakes the wise, who had oil in their vessels, to trim their lamps, and go in with the Bridegroom to the marriage. As for the foolish, who had no oil and are therefore busied here and there in procuring it — in vain, the door was shut. So with the servants that traded with the talents given: nothing but judgment will rectify the wrong done to the Master. Not only is there to be no such thing as universal prevalence of the gospel, but within its own limited range of profession misrepresentation of Christ and opposition to His will are to characterize it to the last. No one denies that there will be, till He comes, as there ever has been, a witness of Christ and truth in life and suffering for His name; but there is also the sad and ever swelling succession of the evil done to that name, not merely by persecution from without, but still more painfully and shamelessly by every spiritual pravity within.
The Epistles entirely confirm and fill up the dark outline presented by our Lord. Of this declension we have spoken perhaps sufficiently elsewhere, but surely 2 Thess. 2 is the adequate testimony, and from an early day: l Tim. 4, and 2 Tim. 3 fall in with this preparatively. Peter in his Second Epistle (2 Peter 2), and Jude both announce the same in yet more sombre colours; and none goes more to the root of the matter than John, not only in his Epistles, but prophetically in the Revelation.
Here, however, we have the inroad of the declension stated by Paul as a marked starting-point: 'I know that after my departure grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise speaking things perverted to draw away the disciples after them.' There is much unbelief as to this, even among Christians otherwise well disposed. They fail to see that the power of Christianity lies in the ungrieved guidance of the Spirit of God according to His word; and His Spirit can freely work only in Christ's name to God's glory. When men act on human principles, where the spirit of the world prevails, ruin is the necessary result. As long as the apostle was here, the spiritual power and influence to restrain was immense. There was then the most vigilant and the most decided resistance to evil of every kind. He knew that after his departure spiritual energy would decay more and more, and that the glory of the Lord would thus be swamped. So easy, so deadly, among the saints of God is compromise, to which amiability, prudence, desire of peace love of numbers, and similar expedients, would expose them.
The commentators tell us that grievous wolves are not persecutors, but rather false friends. Real foes should enter in among those who bear the name of the Lord and spare not the flock. But the commentators are surely wrong in identifying the grievous wolves with those described in verse 30 'From among your own selves shall men arise speaking things perverted.' Surely these are manifestly different classes of evil men, the first more violent, the second more subtle, the first seeking their own gratification and advantage, and the second doing the deadlier work of speaking things perverted to draw away the disciples after them. To take advantage of the flock for selfish means is wicked; to set up self and error in the place of Christ is yet worse, if more seemly in appearance.
Here it may be noticed that the Authorized Version fails to represent the full malignity of the evil. Every party leader seeks to draw away disciples. Here it is the more aggravated effort to draw away 'the' disciples after them. It was to mislead them all, to subject all saints to themselves. Hence the apostle's solemn appeal: 'Wherefore watch, remembering that by the space of three years I ceased not admonishing each one night and day with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all that are sanctified' (vers. 31, 32).
The ministry of Paul in Ephesus at this latter day was just an answer to what it had been among the Thessalonians earlier, first as nurse, then as father (1 Thess. 2:7, 11). It was for the elders now to watch and not to forget that loving example of love; but love will never abide, never bear the strain, without real faith in God for that work; and therefore the force of his 'commending them' to God and to the word of His 'grace'. It is not commendation to one only, but to both. Without God before the heart the word becomes dry and sapless, and we grow discouraged and impatient, without the word to direct the life, we are in danger from the will and the wisdom, or from the folly, of man. The word of His grace becomes the grand test and resource, while looking to God for every step and in every question. So we find the apostle laying it down by the Holy Ghost in 2 Tim. 3:15, which passage also, by the way, helps to decide the true reference of what has been questioned: in Acts 20:32, should it be, 'which' is able, or 'Who' is able, to build you up? The comparison strengthens the former rendering.
The apostle had thus set before the elders a prospect most grievous, which lapse of time has fully confirmed. Indeed, before his departure the signs of coming evils were already apparent everywhere, so that when his later Epistles more especially prophesied not merely of decay, but of utter ruin, even then he had to speak of the seeds of these coming evils as already sown. No greater error was there than that which ere long began to prevail, and most extensively in modern times, the dream of progress. It is directly opposed to these apostolic testimonies, and no less to the plainest possible facts in Christendom.
Even on the loose estimate of bare profession, how far is the Christian faith from having title to that triumph of which men fondly speak? Indeed, if these vain hopes were realized, would they not present a glaring contrast to all that the Bible teaches us of that which is committed to human responsibility? From Adam downwards the history of man is the history of failure. Not that grace has not wrought, and wrought wonders, in the narrow path of Christ here below; but as the rule, everywhere and always ruin has followed every fresh trial of man, and every fresh testimony of God because of man. Look at him in Eden or out of Eden, before the deluge or since it: have truth and righteousness prevailed for the mass? That God has wrought by individuals, that He has blessed families, that He has owned righteousness in a people, as well as faith wherever His own grace made it good in the elect, is clear. As the race as well as its head broke down, none the less did Israel, notwithstanding the singular favour which God showed; and as the people, so the priests, and so the kings, till there was no remedy, and God swept them from His land, not only by the Assyrian and by the Babylonian powers, but still more by the Roman.
That Christendom is no exception we have already seen, and this not from experience only, but from the distinct, and repeated, and complete testimony of the inspired men who laid its foundation; and yet men venture to hope — 'to hope'! Is it their hope that the apostolic words will prove untrue? Is it that men; so utterly fallen as they are now in Christendom, will do better than those in whom the Spirit of God first wrought with a power as much beyond consequent as precedent? But alas! poverty in its lowest state is apt to be the proudest. God will surely be true, and every man who opposes Him a liar. This decline from truth then was briefly and profoundly set forth by the apostle about to depart from Ephesus.
Let me notice again how the ordinary translation of verse 30 weakens the force of the last words. It is not merely to draw away 'disciples' after them: every heretic seeks to do and does this; but the object of the enemy through these perverse men is to draw away 'the disciples, the body of those that confessed the Lord on the earth. Not less than the desertion of the whole flock was the blow aimed at the glory of Christ. He only is entitled to the loyalty of all the disciples, and if it is a serious thing for any one disciple to be drawn away from Him, from His will about His own below, how much more to seek the misleading of all! But self-will is blind to all but its own will and soon learns to confound itself with the will of the Master. But think of the dishonour which is thus cast upon His name!
'Wherefore watch ye,' says the apostle to the elders, 'remembering that for three years I ceased not admonishing each one night and day with tears.' This little glimpse, which necessity wrung out from the apostle's heart, lets us see his entire devotedness. It was not business, nor the spread of truth even, still less the prevalence of his own opinions for good. It was one who loved Christ, and pressed this devotion to Him and to His own above all on those who took the lead. Untiring, tender watchful care filled his heart, with the deepest feeling habitually and at all cost. Such he would have us feel, as well as those he addressed that day. Who is sufficient for these things? The sufficiency is in and from God.
So Paul continues, 'And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all that are sanctified.' Whatever be the days of danger, difficulty, and ruin, God abides faithful, the Saviour unchangeable, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever. If all the apostles, since they and the prophets laid the foundation, have passed away, the word of His grace remains as does the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. He only had divine power even when apostles were there. There is no excuse therefore for unbelief. Faith shines the more in a dark day, and devotedness is called out by the sense of His dishonour Who is dearest to the heart.
Nor is there anything in comparison with the word of His grace in ability to build us up. Boldness of thought and beauty of language are all vain if there be not the truth, and the truth is never so sure, and strong and holy, as in His own word, which is truth. This searches the conscience this strengthens the heart, this nourishes faith and makes the blessed hope abounding and mighty in the love which is the strength of all that is good. For love is of God, and God is good, and as His word builds us up now so it gives us the inheritance among all that are sanctified. The word of God truly received delivers from the love of this present age, from the world and the things of the world.
Hence adds the apostle, 'I coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel; yea, yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those that were with me' (vers. 33, 34). Life in Christ is infinitely blessed and it is the portion of the believer by the grace of God; a life wholly and absolutely different from that old Adam life, which meets its doom not in death only, but in judgment without end. For the Christian our old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be annulled that we might no longer serve sin, so that each can say, 'I am crucified with Christ, and no longer live I but Christ liveth in me, but in that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me' (Gal. 2:20).
It is ruin no doubt to set aside the grace of God, as the reintroduction of the law must do. But how terrible to give a false unworthy testimony to the grace of God by allowing the desires of that life which should be buried in the grave of Christ! The old man covets silver, and gold, and apparel. All these minister to the lusts of the body as well as of the mind. Love serves others, love with faith alone glorifies God; and it is well when those who teach these things are living ensamples of all they urge on others. How few can say truthfully and throughout with the apostle, 'I coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel, yea, yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities, and to those that were with me. In all things I gave you an example, how that so labouring ye ought to help [support] the weak, and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive' (vers. 33-35).
Then let no one who seems or claims to be a leader now forget them; yea, let us all remember these ways of the apostle and these words of the Lord Jesus. This is certainly not after the manner of men, not yet of Israel, nay, nor of Christendom. They are the words of Christ, and His life here below is the most blessed comment upon them. It certainly is not enjoyment, or present honour, but His love in tending and feeding the sheep of His pasture, looking for the day of reckoning when the Chief Shepherd shall be manifested, and faithful shepherds shall receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away.
Yet the account is not complete without the parting scene which proves that faith in the unseen hinders not, but imparts, the love which is of God in this world of sorrow and selfishness. 'And having thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. And they all wept sore, and falling on Paul's neck, fondly kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the word which he had spoken, that they should behold his face no more. And they brought him forward unto the ship' (vers. 36-38). Such was the bearing of the greatest of apostles. Oh, how fallen from its reality are those who vaunt themselves his successors! How far short are any of us who abhor such pretensions! As truth and love receded, hierarchy in every shape made for itself a throne, as far from the mind of Christ as earth is from heaven. But let us beware lest our love grow cold in presence of abounding iniquity.