Meditations on the Acts of the Apostles

J. N. Darby.


Acts 14.

At Iconium many believed, but the Jews renewed their efforts against the gospel. As God worked by the word, however, the apostles abode there a long time. But, the city being divided, and their adversaries desirous of doing them injury, they set out for Lystra and Derbe, where they preach the gospel, as also in the regions round about. At Lystra the power of God was manifested by the hand of Paul in healing a cripple who had never walked. Here we find that the faith of the cripple had to go with his restoration; in other cases this does not appear, the cure being effected by the power of God alone, by him who was His instrument.

373 The people, astonished by the miracle, call Barnabas Jupiter, and Paul Mercury, because he was the chief speaker. Barnabas (as Mercury was servant to Jupiter) is mentioned first in the narrative. The priest of Jupiter desires to do sacrifice with the people. The apostles, Barnabas and Paul, vexed in heart at seeing the purpose of the people, and far from desiring any honour for themselves, rend their clothes, and running in among the crowd to stop them, announce the one true God (not here salvation), who, till then, "had suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness."

Such was the beautiful description of what God was, even among the Gentiles, and of what He gave to be known by them; I do not say that they did know Him, for they preferred the imaginations of their own hearts, and the gods who favoured their evil lusts. Nothing could be more horrible than what man shewed himself to be, when God left him, on account of his perversity, to himself. What they did every day in their idolatry is unfit to be written. The account of it may be found in Romans 1. The apostles seek to persuade the Gentiles of Lystra to give up their idols, and to believe in the one, true, and bountiful God, whom they had come expressly to declare to them, to lead them to His knowledge and to faith in Him. Scarcely, however, do they succeed in preventing the people from sacrificing to them.

But the Jews (not satisfied with having driven the apostles from Antioch and Iconium, and moved by an animosity, grievous to the heart, against the gospel) come to Lystra also, and persuade the people, who, ignorant and fickle, now seek to stone those whom, shortly before, they had been ready to adore. Paul, the more culpable in their eyes because the more active in the work, is stoned, and, apparently dead, is dragged out of the city. Such is man - such the religious, when they have not the truth; Paul himself had been such - but such also is the power of the gospel, when active in an unbelieving world.

374 But it was not in the thoughts of God that His servant should then perish. "As the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city; and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe." Much blessed in this city, he goes on his way and returns to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, from whence he had been expelled. Outrage and violence neither impede the work nor enfeeble the courage of the servants. When the Lord so wills it, they return in peace to the very places from whence they have been driven. It is beautiful to see the calm superiority of faith over the violence of man, and how God conducts the heart of His servants. They submit to, or, if possible, avoid violence; but if the work requires it, God opens the door, and the labourers are there with it again.

Now another part of their work is here presented. They continue to preach the gospel; but it was now necessary to establish assemblies, and put them in regular order (v. 23). They give the disciples to understand that Christ was not come to bring peace on the earth which would meet with the opposition and enmity of the world, but that through much tribulation they must enter the kingdom of God. It was a warning for all times to make men understand that persecution was not a strange thing. "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" - not, however, all Christians. If a Christian conforms to the world, he will avoid persecution; but he will lose the joy of the Holy Ghost and communion with God; he will be saved as by fire, and an entrance into the eternal kingdom shall not be abundantly ministered to him. If we walk with God, we shall not be barren in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus.

I speak thus, because for many the time of open persecution has passed away; but, if we are faithful, we shall most surely experience persecution both from the world and from our own families. The world cannot tolerate faithfulness. If the Christian walk with the world, instead of winning the world to Christ, he himself gets at a distance from Him, and will lose, I do not say life, but his spiritual privileges, his joy, and the approval of Christ; and his testimony is against Christianity. By his ways he declares that the friendship of the world is not enmity against God. The Christian when with the world is in no respects at ease; and when in the company of spiritual Christians his conscience reproves him because he is walking badly, and that which is a joy to them, he cannot enter into. May all who are disposed to or in danger of being let to mingle with the ways of the world give heed to this exhortation!

375 The apostles chose elders for the assemblies in every city. It is neither chose by common vote, nor ordained; this is not the true rendering of the word, but "chose." The same word is employed in 2 Corinthians 8:19, where the assemblies chose brethren to accompany Paul with the money collected for the poor of Jerusalem. The same word occurs again in Acts 10:41, where it is used in respect of God, and "chosen" is necessarily the sense. The apostles then chose elders for the assemblies. The epistle to Titus is another proof that the authority of the apostles was the source of that of the elders. I do not dwell here, however, on this question, though it is an important one, since the ordinary translation leads to putting the truth in a false light.

We have not in these days apostolic authority; and election made by the assembly is a thing unknown to the word. The authority descended from Christ to the apostle, and from the apostle to the elder. The word Bishop, in its present acceptation, is also unknown in the word. All the elders are really called bishops, as in Acts 20:17, 28; no other bishops are found in scripture; and at the beginning Paul and Barnabas chose them for every assembly among the Gentiles, as afterwards Paul sent Titus to establish them in every town in the island of Crete.

It is important here to observe that the apostle not only preached the gospel for the salvation of souls, which was his principal work, but that he united the converts in assemblies, to which he was afterwards able to write; and that the church or assembly which he founded in every city was properly ordered and represented the universal assembly, of which those who in each place composed it were members 1 Cor. 12), with the promise that Jesus would be in the midst of them. But the wickedness of Christians, or of Christians so-called, and forgetfulness of Christ's return (Matt. 24:48-50), have corrupted Christianity according to the prophecies of the New Testament. See 2 Tim. 3:1-5; Jude 4; 1 John 2:18-19; Matt. 13:28-30. All is disorder, confusion, and corruption.

376 But we are here learning the primitive order, before the assembly became corrupted. John tells us that the last time has already come; and Paul that "the mystery of iniquity doth already work" (2 Thess. 2:7); Peter, that the hour has arrived to judge the house of God; Jude, that those who should be judged at the end had already crept in unawares.

The testimony is as clear as day, if we have ears to hear what is written in the word; that in the time of the apostles the corruption of the assembly of God had already commenced, and that, when the apostolic energy of Paul should be absent, evil from within and from without would inundate the church like a deluge. Matthew 13:29-30, teaches us that the evil effected by the enemy in the kingdom of God should not be taken away till the judgment. It all exists still, while the patience of God gathers in His own.

Then, when they had prayed with fasting and had commended them that believed to the Lord, the apostles go down by Pisidia to the sea-shore, preach in Perga, and pass on to Antioch. Here we see the true force of what had been done in chapter 13:3. They had been recommended to the grace of God, for the work they had now fulfilled. This is repeated in chapter 15:40; so that Paul would have been twice ordained, if this had been ordination; and he would moreover have been an apostle ordained by the laity. This, however, he stoutly denies (Gal. 1:1); "an apostle," he says, "not of men, neither by man." The Judaizers sought to have it so, but he refuted it with all his power. These insisted that his mission was from the church at Jerusalem, and opposed him precisely because it was not. He was not willing to be an apostle at all, if not from God, and from Jesus Christ.

It is to Antioch they go, not to Jerusalem; they return to their starting-point, from whence they had been recommended to the grace of God. The work of the Holy Ghost connects itself with Antioch, in its earthly relationship; the power is all from above. There the apostles recount the great things which God had done for them, and how He had opened the door among the Gentiles. "And there they abode a long time with the disciples."

In the preceding narrative we find this history of the preaching of the gospel among the Gentiles, by formal apostolic mission, the difficulties, the position of the Gentiles and of the Jews, the circumstances under which it was propagated in the world, and that independently of Judaism and of Jerusalem, a work in which Peter took no part. God worked mightily by him among the Jews; but, except that he was employed to introduce the first Gentile, he had nothing to do with them. He was the apostle of the circumcision, and with the other apostles formally gave up the work among the Gentiles to Paul and to Barnabas; Galatians 2.

377 Acts 15.

But the Jews - those at least who made a profession of Christianity with Satan as their instrument - sought to place the Gentiles under the yoke of Judaism, and destroy the work of God within, if they could not hinder it without the church. They went down from Judaea to Antioch, teaching the brethren that they must be circumcised, and observe the law of Moses, in order to be saved. The moment was a critical one. It was necessary, according to them, that the Gentiles should submit to the law of Moses, and become Jews, or that two separate assemblies should be formed. Paul and Barnabas, however, oppose themselves to these exactions. But God did not permit the question to be settled at Antioch.

It will readily be understood, that, had the cause of the Gentiles been vindicated by a decision given at Antioch, and, in spite of the Jews, they had preserved their liberty, the danger would have been imminent of two assemblies being formed, and of unity being lost. All the spiritual and apostolic power of Paul therefore was insufficient to overcome the opposing spirit at Antioch, and decide the question. It was God's will that it should be decided at Jerusalem, and that the Christian Jews themselves, the apostles, the elders, and the whole assembly, should pronounce the freedom of the Gentiles; and that thus holy liberty and unity should be secured. It is decided, therefore, that Barnabas and Paul shall go to Jerusalem concerning this matter. We learn from Galatians 2:2, that Paul went thither in obedience to direct revelation.

God permitted that these Jews, without mission, zealous without God for the law, the authority of which over the conscience had been terminated by the cross, should raise this question, so that it might be definitively settled. The apostles and elders, therefore, meet together. It seems that all the believers may have been present, since verse 12 speaks of the multitude; however it is the apostles and elders who meet together. Paul and Barnabas relate what has happened in their journey - the conversion of the Gentiles - and the brethren rejoice with great joy. Here the most simple hearts enjoy with simplicity the grace of God. But at Jerusalem they met with greater difficulty. Nothing could be more opposed to grace than the doctrine of the Pharisees, which asserted that righteousness must be obtained by works, and by the administration of ordinances.

378 Arrived at Jerusalem, they declare there also all things that God has done with them. But here God in His grace manifests the question as having been produced by the hardness of the heart; that is, that some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed demanded that the Gentiles should be circumcised. I do not believe, however, that it is Paul or Barnabas who relates this fact, which had happened at Jerusalem. The apostles and elders then meet together. After much disputing (for the principals, led doubtless by the Holy Ghost, were wise enough to allow all who thought themselves capable to give their opinion; and in order that after the thoughts of men the voice of God might be heard) Peter reminds the assembly how God had chosen him first to bear the gospel to the Gentiles, and that the Spirit had been given to Cornelius without his being circumcised; that God Himself had borne witness to them by the Holy Ghost just in the same way as to the believing Jews; that He had made no difference between them, purifying their hearts by faith. He acknowledges the yoke of the ordinances, and warns them not to tempt God by putting it on the neck of the Gentiles. For did not they themselves believe that they had been saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus, and not by ordinances?

Then all the multitude kept silence, and Paul and Barnabas declared what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. (Here, at Jerusalem, Barnabas is always mentioned first; it is probable that he spoke more than Paul, relating what had been done. Paul had laboured more than any other; but at Jerusalem it was natural that Barnabas should be more forward than Paul.)

Then James, who held the first place at Jerusalem (see Acts 12:17; 21:18; Gal. 2:12), gives a summary of the judgment of the assembly, which no one opposes, and, by the aid of the Holy Ghost, a definite form to the thought of God, expressing His will respecting the Gentiles. The work of the Holy Ghost is here in the first place remarkable; and also His full liberty, so that all the thoughts of men are brought to light, and given utterance to. In the next place, what God proposed to reveal by Peter in the case of Cornelius; and then the wonders that had been wrought by the hands of Barnabas and Paul among the Gentiles. Such is what seemed good to the Holy Ghost, who was given to Cornelius, and who wrought also among the Gentiles with signs and wonders by the hands of those who were sent out from Him.

379 Then James (who, as we have seen, represented the Judaic spirit, and in whose mind the feelings of the assembly at Jerusalem concurred, but who was fully under the influence of the Holy Ghost) expresses the thought of that assembly, and of the eleven apostles of Jerusalem, whom we may call Judaic, the judgment of God on the vital question under consideration; namely, that the Gentiles should not be subject to the law of Moses. The word of the prophets supported this sentence, for they had declared that there should be Gentiles on whom the name of the Lord should be called. It is with this intention that he cites the past.

Thus the Gentiles were free. The things they had to observe were duties before the publication of the law. The worship of one God, and the purity of man, were always obligatory. Noah had been prohibited from eating blood, in testimony that the life belonged to God. These great principles are established by this decision - the abstaining from idols - that life belongs to God alone, purity of life in man. They were principles necessary for the Gentiles, and corrected their evil habits; principles recognised by the law, but which had not been distinctly laid down by it.

The assembly did not vote. All consented, under the influence of the Holy Ghost to what had been expressed. All agreed, apostles, elders, and the whole assembly, to send men chosen from among them to confirm by word of mouth the account of Barnabas and Paul, and the written decision which they took with them from Jerusalem. The apostles and elders assembled together to examine the question, but all the brethren joined with them in the letter sent to the Gentiles. Thus it was not the Gentiles who maintained their rights in spite of the assembly at Jerusalem, but by the wisdom and grace of God, the assembly at Jerusalem which acknowledges the liberty of the Gentiles as to the law; and unity is thus preserved.

380 We may add that it was not a general, or other assembly, for it was the assembly at Jerusalem, and the apostles and elders of that city, who met together, with a few from Antioch on the part of the Gentiles, to consider the question. The Councils, for many centuries called "general," were convoked by the emperors to settle the disputes of the bishops: first in the east, on which occasions there were never more than six bishops present from the west; and afterwards when the Greek church separated from the Latin church, when there was no emperor from the west, councils being assembled by the popes without a single bishop from the east being present. These popes, without one bishop from the east, and profiting by the need of the emperor of the east who was menaced by the Turks, sought to unite the east to the west in the fifteenth century at Florence, but the attempt failed.

What we have here is that the apostle and the Judaic assembly, by which God had begun the work, set the Gentiles free from the law; and unity is preserved. We learn too how the Holy Ghost gives unity of thought concerning the questions which had arisen, since the gathering was waiting on the Lord. Thus is the liberty of the Holy Ghost preserved to the Gentiles, and, by the goodness of God the unity of the whole assembly maintained. It is declared that no commission had been given to those who had disturbed the Gentiles, subverting their souls. Subsequently, after much long-suffering on the part of God the Jews are called, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, to give up Judaism. The law and Christianity cannot be united.

Paul and Barnabas, then, taking leave of Jerusalem, come to Antioch, assemble the multitude, and give them the letter The brethren, having read it, rejoice for the consolation. Thus was the state of the whole assembly settled, and also the relationship between the Jews and Gentiles. The necessary rule for them is established. They are to walk well, avoiding certain things. Judas and Silas remain for a time with the disciples at Antioch, exhorting them, and rejoicing in this new fellowship of the love of the assembly at Jerusalem for the brethren among the Gentiles. Then Judas leaves them, but Silas, drawn towards these new brethren, remains at Antioch. Paul and Barnabas also remain there, teaching the brethren; and many others likewise interest themselves on their behalf; for the power of the Holy Ghost was working in their midst. Life was fresh in those days.

381 After some time Paul, active and full of love, his work accomplished for the moment at Antioch, turns towards the gatherings he had founded, desiring to know how it fared with them. But now Barnabas, like Peter before him, disappears from the scene. Not that he no longer worked for the Lord, but he did not maintain himself at the same level of service of Paul. Eclipsed in the work when with him, now he disappears altogether. A good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith, he was yet not detached from everything as was Paul, for whom, according to his call on the way to Damascus, Christ glorified and His own was all in all.

This remarkable servant of God knew no longer anything after the flesh - a consecration necessary to the founder of the church of God. He had given up Judaism that he might become a minister of the economy of the church. See 1 Cor. 3:10; Eph. 3:1-2; Col. 1:23-25. This economy had always existed in the counsels of God, but after the delay granted by His patience till the preceding mission of Paul from Antioch, which mission was then only put into execution, it is put on its true footing, on account of the attachment of Barnabas to things which were only objects of natural affection. John Mark was the son of the sister of Barnabas, and the island of Cyprus his native country; Col. 4:10; Acts 4:36.

Barnabas was quite disposed to accompany Paul in his journey, but he wished to take Mark with him; this, however, was displeasing to Paul, for Mark had left them in the preceding journey at Perga. He had not courage sufficient to confront the difficulties of the work outside of Cyprus. Paul only thought of God, Mark of the circumstances; but it is not thus that difficulties are to be overcome. It is possible that the flesh may have manifested itself in Paul; but at all events he could not boast of being in the right. Paul did not think of the economy entrusted to him, but of what according to faith suited the work - the principle of life and heart necessary to accomplish it. He did not know the results, but what was necessary to produce them. Separation was necessary, and that God had wrought out in him. Still acerbity was unnecessary. At the bottom Paul was right, and the hand of God was with him. Even where the purpose of the heart is just, the flesh may very soon manifest itself.

382 Barnabas separates himself, and sets out for Cyprus, his country, taking Mark, his nephew, for the work of the Lord, but no longer the companion of Paul in the work to which God had called him. We do not forget the real worth of Barnabas, a true servant of Jesus, to whom the Holy Ghost Himself has borne witness; only he was not suited to that work. We learn ourselves that a heart consecrated to the Lord, without other attachment, separated from everything, is alone suited to represent Christ in a ministry such as that of Paul, and indeed in every true ministry.

Affection is good, but it is not consecration. Woe to us if we have not natural affection - it is a sign of the last times (2 Tim. 3:8); but these are not suited to such a work, a work which demands that one should not know anything after the flesh. Natural affection is not the "new creation," though fully recognised by God in Christ Himself, when He was not in the work; neither is natural affection the power of the Holy Ghost, which alone produces the effects of grace in the work of God.

Barnabas then goes his way; such was his will. Paul chooses Silas, and is recommended by the brethren to the grace of God - a second ordination if it were a question of that, but it is quite another thing. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches. Remark here that many had been formed where the apostle had not before been, as he found the first time he passed through the island of Cyprus.

Acts 16.

Now from the beginning of chapter 16 down to the end of chapter 20 we have the public ministry of Paul among the Gentiles during many years when he has commenced his apostolic ministry (as under the grace and direction of the Lord, head of the work), having undertaken it, it being laid upon his heart by the power of the Holy Ghost, and taking with him first of all Silas, and afterwards other co-labourers - but always to help him - in a work, in which by the authority of the Lord and led of the Spirit, he held the first place; the activity, the direction, and the movement proceeded from him, the others who accompanied him being only co-labourers and being under his direction: but he stands alone now as apostle of the Gentiles. Rom. 11:13; Eph. 3; Rom. 1:13, 15; Gal. 2:7-8.

383 We have seen that now Barnabas has separated himself. Paul (1 Cor. 3), as a wise master builder has laid the foundation; others worked independently, as Barnabas, Apollos, etc. But Paul had the revelation of the mystery of the church, and the administration of the economy among the Gentiles to found and set in order everything. See 1 Cor. 16:1; 7:17: and many other passages. Timothy, and Titus; and Silas; and many others named in his epistles, laboured under his direction; and he sent them wherever the exigencies of the work required. He had already taken with him Silas; and now, having returned to Lystra and Derbe, he chooses Timothy to whom the brethren bore a good testimony.

It appears that Paul laid his hands upon him (2 Tim. 1:6), the young man having been marked out by prophecy, as he had been himself; then the testimony of the elders was added, and they also laid on their hands; 1 Tim. 4:14. It is possible that Paul may have laid his hands upon him when he visited Derbe on his first journey.* That; however, is not said: at the same time, it was known by the brethren of Lystra and of Iconium, as also at Derbe; prophecy had marked him out; and the testimony of all, manifested by the laying on of the hands of the elders, confirmed it. Paul conferred on him the gift of the Spirit (2 Tim. 1:6-7) by the laying on of his hands, although it may not be said openly when. It is quite possible that he might have been active already in that locality, but he was specially gifted for the present work by that imposition of hands of the apostle.

{*In chapter 22:4, the reading should be: "and Gaius and Timotheus of Derbe." Gaius was not of Derbe. The difference is only in the punctuation.}

There yet remains a special fact to remark upon. Confusion had entered into the practical life of the Jews, as among the Christians. The mother of Timothy was a Jewess, his father a Greek; a thing unlawful among the Jews. His mother was pious (it is not said if it was before his conversion or after); also his grandmother was so; 2 Tim. 1. Now such a marriage was totally contrary to the custom of the Jews. See Neh. 13:23-31; Ezra 9, 10. According to these books the sons and daughters were heathen, and ought to be rejected and sent away, as well as the wife. It was a disorder. Paul availing himself, not of the law but of the privileges of grace, and thinking of the Jews, of whom there were many in those regions, circumcises Timothy. This was not according to Judaism; on the contrary, it was against its order, but he took away what would have been a stumbling-block for the Israelites. It was pleasing to the Jews: he did it to gain them; in a word, it was not a legal act, quite the contrary. It was an act of superiority to the law. The Jews all knew that his father was a Greek; and the position of Timothy, his mother being a Jewess, was scandalous for them, and the apostle takes away the scandal. The hearts of the Jews would find themselves contented; and they would have had something to say if the son of a Greek, by whom his mother had been rendered impure, had presented to them the gospel. It was an arbitrary act, but the scandal was taken away, and he went against the prejudices of his people. But when the Jews wished to force him to circumcise Titus, he yielded to them not even for a moment; Gal. 2:3-5.

384 At the same time, as they passed "through the cities they delivered the decrees of the apostles and the elders for to keep"; a perpetual testimony, if the Christian Jews should wish to put their brethren from among the Gentiles under the law of Moses, that they acted against the thoughts and authority of the apostles and of the elders, of those whom the Lord had established for Christ by the Holy Ghost, who in the Jewish church itself were as an authority. That the Judaisers were not in any way authorised by the chief men gives a source of joy to the Gentile brethren thus established in the faith.

And remark how the Christian faith is now spread throughout all the regions where Paul prosecuted his labours; and the number of those gathered together increased daily. Now we follow his labours in other countries and regions.

Here we find another precious truth: the perpetual direction of God by the way, be it directly by the Spirit, or be it by other intimations. Paul was sent to preach the gospel to the entire creation under heaven; but that field is large, and so he labours under the authority of the Lord, the Son, who is over the house of God; as also He was announced as Lord and Saviour to poor sinners. They execute then this mission in Phrygia, and in the regions of Galatia. He had already commenced in Phrygia on his first journey, but now he enters Galatia, a large province, for the first time. These had suddenly gone astray from the right way, through the means of Judaising Christians: people who wished, as we have seen, to join the law to Christianity. We possess the epistle written by the faithful care of the apostle to deliver them from their error: an epistle more severe than all, since they had taken away the divine foundation of righteousness and true holiness - more severe than that to the Corinthians, who had committed nevertheless sins more horrible than the heathen, and had got into deplorable disorder. He says all the good he can to the Corinthians, although he does not spare them as regards their deeds, but reproaches them; and also he did not wish to visit them until they repented. But as to the Galatians he says nothing loving to commence with, but sets himself at once to reproach them, and at the end salutes no one. Troubled in his heart he does not know how to take them (chap. 4:20), he would wish to be among them in order to speak according to their wants. His love had not grown weak, but he travailed again in birth of them until Christ was formed in them. We see the power of the love of the blessed apostle. Moses, weary, fatigued by the unbelief of the people, asks if he had brought forth all this people that he should carry them as a father. Paul, full of the love of Christ, is contented to do it a second time rather than lose them. He was their father in the faith; so powerful is the love of Christ in the heart!

385 After having crossed Phrygia and Galatia, the Holy Ghost forbids them to preach in Asia. Later he dwelt about three years in Ephesus, the capital of the province; and all Asia* heard the word of God. Arrived in Mysia they essay to go into Bithynia; but the Spirit of Jesus suffers them not. Having passed by Mysia, they come to Troas. There Paul has a vision in a dream. It was not the open direction of the Spirit; it was left to spiritual intelligence to understand the meaning. A man of Macedonia appeared to him, beseeching him to come and succour them.

{*Then it was the name of a province of the Roman Empire.}

As Paul lived in the things of God, he interpreted the vision as his mission, by the knowledge he had both of the thoughts of God and of the wants of men, and passed over therefore at once into Macedonia. Perhaps it is not very important, but we may remark here, that for the first time we find the writer speak in the first person: "We endeavoured"; that is to say, Luke, who has written the facts, becomes now the companion of Paul in his work.

386 Here the question presents itself: In what manner and to what extent can we expect the direction of God in our work? The answer is analogous to that which we have already given with respect to the intervention of God in order to liberate us from dangers. We cannot expect visible and sensible interventions; but we can expect with certainty the care and direction of God by His Spirit in the heart, if we walk with Him - "To be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding" - to be led by the Spirit if we walk in humility. See Rom. 8:14; Col. 1; also Psalm 32:8-9. I do not doubt that, if we walk with God and look to Him, the Spirit will put in our hearts the special things that He wishes us to do. Only it is important that we keep in memory the word of God, in order that it may be a guard against all our own imaginations; otherwise, the Christian who lacks humility will do his own will, often taking it for the Holy Ghost. That is but the deceitful folly of his heart; first, that it knows them; secondly, taking it for the Holy Ghost: but. I repeat, he who looks with humility to the Lord will be conducted by the Lord in the way; and the Holy Ghost who dwells in him will suggest to him the things which He wishes him to do. "He that is spiritual judgeth all things, and he himself is judged of no one … We have the mind of Christ, 1 Cor. 2:15-16.

Here then the apostle gathers that the Lord had sent him to Macedonia, and goes there. He stops at Philippi, the principal city of the country and a Roman colony. He commences, as he always does, with the Jews. It appears that there was not a synagogue there. It was the custom of the Jews to have their worship in such a case, as it is still, on the banks of the river - I believe, for the sake of purification. There were but a few women there: Paul contented himself with them, and spoke to them of Christ, and of salvation through Him. There was Lydia, a proselyte who worshipped the true God; she was among these women, had not the knowledge of Christ, but the piety which does not neglect the worship of the Sabbath day in a far distant country, where it was not the natural occasion to observe it. The blessing is accorded at least to that one in whose heart this faithfulness is found. The Lord opened the heart of Lydia to attend to the things spoken by Paul. She was a Gentile, but brought to the knowledge of the only true God; and she is another example of the difference between conversion and the knowledge of salvation in Christ.

387 There were many such worshippers - their souls were wearied with the folly and iniquity of paganism, which was insufficient to satisfy the needs of the soul, and through grace they were turned to the only true God known among the Jews, and they frequented the Jewish worship, without being circumcised. They were called religious persons, persons who served God. They listened to the apostle more than the Jews, and were often the occasion of their jealousy; of this class was Lydia. See chap. 17:17; and 13:16; where it is said, "and ye which fear God." They are found without being named, in chapter 13:1, and distinctly verse 43, and also elsewhere. Lydia is baptised with all her house: and Paul and his companions enter her house and dwell there. It may be said that now the assembly was founded at Philippi.

But the enemy is not satisfied to allow the work to make progress, without doing anything to oppose it. On the contrary he works with deceit; he does not assail the work openly. He has the appearance of helping it, certainly not recognising Christ as Lord, because then he would no longer be Satan (the adversary), but flattering the apostle, in order to be able to mix himself up with the work of the Lord, to accredit himself with this union, and to spoil it at the same time. He acts thus with more finesse in order that Christians may be less wise to refute him. To be supported by the world (and Satan is the prince of it) will appear to be a great help to the progress of the gospel. The enemy disguises himself, makes himself the friend of the servants of God and of the work, transforms himself into an angel of light. The Gibeonites with deceit made themselves the friends of Israel, and in consequence they were never conquered, as our friends are not conquered. Thus, when the Christian or the assembly, mixes itself with the world, the loss is always on the side of the Christian, because the world in its nature is always with its motives, but the flesh is always in the Christian. He may draw near to the world, but not the world to the Spirit. The testimony, however, is lost. Wine mixed with water is no longer pure wine, it has lost its taste. The friendship of the world is enmity against God.

388 The world seems amiable when it draws near to Christians and their testimony, but it draws near to Christians to spoil their testimony, and to put itself in esteem; but to Christ it cannot draw near. The spirit of Python can flatter the servants of God in order to gain them; it can speak of God, of the most high God, even of the way of salvation, but not of Christ Lord and Saviour, of the state of sin and guilt in which man is, in which he is lost. That would be to confess that he who says such things is lost. That is quite another story. When the world unites itself to Christians, their testimony is lost, and the fault is always that of the Christians. They accept the world, because they have already lost true spirituality, the love of Christ rejected by the world, the love of the holy glory of His cross in which His heavenly glory was exhibited in this world.

But the apostle does not seek to excite the enmity of Satan, he does not accept that testimony, he keeps himself ever separate, neither does he act so as to change it into open opposition. He continues quietly on his way. At last he can no longer bear the voice of the unclean spirit, it being so grievous to his heart that he associated himself with him; he casts him out by the power of the Holy Ghost. Suddenly the enmity of the natural heart under the influence of the world is revealed. And that influence is more fatal for man than the possession of the body and faculties.

The Lord drove out the legion with a word; but the world, frightened by the manifestation of divine power, cast out Jesus from its confines. Similarly here, the demon being cast out, the masters of the damsel through human motives to which the demon lent himself, seeing that their gain was lost, stirred up a persecution against Paul and Silas.

What the servants of the most high God do is now of no consequence. Man's god is money, power and human glory. Satan never wishes that the power of God should be cast out. To be recognised, accredited, to join himself to the excellency of the truth pleases him, because he knows well that true power is with God, and thus that which remains of the truth in effect increases his influence. for that is now only increased, not destroyed. He will speak sufficiently of the truth to deceive Christians if it were possible, in order that, such as he is as prince of the world, he may not the less be in light.

389 The pure light manifests him, and thus is it that Christianity, and Christians, less wise than the apostle, have mixed themselves with the world, and the result is that Christianity lies under the power of Satan. The apostle did not act thus; but now it is quite possible persecution will arise, and that is what came to pass here. If the enemy cannot accredit himself with the gospel, he will oppose it.

The motives were purely human, the influence that of Satan. The motives presented to the magistrates were nothing but false pretexts. They worked on the pride and the fear of the authorities, who desired peace, and that was disturbed by the enemies, not by the Christians. Besides the gospel did not oppose Roman dignity which possessed the city, it being a colony. The magistrates ask no more; they had stirred up a multitude which strove for its privileges. Rending their clothes, they command them to be beaten, and then send them to prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely. He, having received such a charge, thrusts them into the inner prison, making their feet fast in the stocks.

All then was tranquillised; but the magistrates thought nothing of justice, nor of paying costs* for poor evangelists. But God has not forgotten them, and bears marked testimony to His servants. He permits them to be punished unjustly, and it is their glory to make no resistance. It is a means by which still brighter testimony may be given to His word, and to His servants.

{*Feeing counsel.}

They are thrust then into the inner prison, and there sing praises to God, and the prisoners hear them. Suddenly there is a great earthquake, the doors of the prison are opened, and every one's bands are loosed. God intervenes for His own, and to bear testimony to His word. When persecution is allowed, the wickedness of man can do much, but he cannot hold against the power of God those who fall into his hands. The jailor wishes to kill himself; but Paul crying out that they were all there, prevents him from doing so. Leading out Paul and Silas, he asks them what he must do to be saved. The answer is simple, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." The word is then announced to him and his, and he is baptised with his house. He then cares for his prisoners, and washes their stripes, being filled with joy and peace with all his house.

390 Tranquillity restored, the magistrates, believing that all trouble is thus ended, send word to the jailor to let Paul and Silas go. But it was a struggle between the testimony of God and the power of Satan; it was necessary that the unjust magistrates should own their fault, and the rights of the gospel of God. Paul did not wish to excite this struggle (an important warning to us), but to continue his work peacefully. The devil was seeking to mix himself up with the work, to associate himself, to the eyes of the world, with what was done by the servants of God. This provoked the apostle. It was necessary either to receive the testimony of the devil, and join his name to that of Christ, or to enter into a struggle. He casts out, therefore, the unclean spirit; and open war is thus at once declared.

Satan is the prince of this world; and the world, stirred up by the present power of God in the work of the Spirit, is, unless kept down by God, stronger than His servants. Here God permits the world to manifest itself in violence and injustice, in the multitude as much as in the magistrates. The servants of God submit to this injustice, are beaten and cast into prison, their enemies being the guilty ones, as is nearly always the case. I say nearly, because it is possible for Christians to fail in wisdom, and to provoke a struggle without cause. They do not resist; but here the power of the Holy Ghost and the state of their souls shew complete superiority to circumstances. Full of joy in prison and in the stocks, they can sing praises. Testimony is rendered even to the prisoners. As far as the body is concerned, the world is stronger than the Christian, if God allows it to act; but in soul, the Christian is always above circumstances, if he can realise the presence of God. His presence is the greatest of all circumstances, and overcomes the others. One can rejoice even in sufferings, as we see in Acts 5:41; Romans 5:5.

Moreover, God makes use of the circumstances, and enters, so to speak, into the struggle Himself; the doors are opened, and the bands are loosed. In body man is powerless, unless God see fit to intervene; and often He does so by His providence, if not in a miraculous way. All were witnesses or convinced that God was victorious in the struggle - though some, in spite of themselves. The magistrates had taken part in the wrong with great injustice, and it was necessary, therefore, that they should own their fault. Now that all was calm, they sought, in the wisdom of the world, to let the affair blow over in silence. But when God works and shews Himself, He makes it plain that He has rights in this world.

391 Paul and Silas were in prison against all the rights of God and of men; and the magistrates are obliged by the firmness of Paul to own their fault, and to ask the servants of the Lord as a favour to depart. This, as it suited them, they do without delay; only, being perfectly free, they enter into the house of Lydia, see the brethren, comfort them, and depart.

When Paul sought to make use of his rights as a Roman in order to arrest injustice, he lost his liberty, and was sent a prisoner to Rome, although the Lord had directed everything. But here he did not attempt to arrest injustice; he submitted, only taking advantage of this right afterwards, when it was a question of the innocence of the gospel and of its conduct, and when it happened that the magistrates, and not he, were in the wrong.

But God has this peculiar work in the world, the blessings of grace; and makes sure of all this for the conversion of the jailor. He works as a man of the world at his post; but by this manifest intervention of God, he is awakened, convinced of sin, and given to feel his need of salvation. Now that all call themselves Christians, one asks if a man is a good Christian, truly converted; but then all were heathens or Jews, and became Christians. Now Christianity is salvation. The grace of God has brought salvation into the world in the Son of God; and by His work on the cross, it is announced by the Holy Ghost. The need makes itself felt when the conscience is moved by the Holy Ghost. What it seeks for is salvation, as here does the jailor. The answer is simple and clear: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."

The object of faith is the person of the Lord Jesus, and the redemption accomplished by Him; and all believers, reaping the benefits of this work, are saved. Now one investigates and scrutinises in order to know whether one has faith in the heart, and whether it be true faith. We all pass more or less through this state, but true peace is never to be found there. It is perhaps, however, useful in humbling us, and teaching us that in us dwells no good thing. But we are not called upon to believe in the faith which is in us, but to believe in Christ Jesus; and God declares that all believers are justified, and have eternal life. I do not examine my eyes to know whether I see, but look at the object before them, and know that I see. People quote the passage in 2 Corinthians 13:5; but those who do so deceive themselves, leaving out the correct beginning of the passage, "Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, … examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith." The apostle shews them their folly in doubting his true apostleship. If Christ had not spoken by him, since they had received his word, how was it that he had been the means of their conversion? For the same reason he continues to inquire, "Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you?" Christ therefore had spoken by his mouth. There were many proofs of his apostleship. Here he shews them their stupidity, because if he were not an apostle, they would not be Christians. Of their conversion they had no doubt. If we examine ourselves to know whether we walk as Christians, we do well; but if we do so to know whether we are Christians, it is not according to the word.

392 Faith looks towards Jesus, not towards self. The experience of the examination of the heart, in order to discover what passes there to make one believe, leads us to see that it is impossible thus to find peace, or even victory, for we are looking at what is behind us; but when we are convinced of this, the answer of God is there - He has given salvation in Christ, and he who believes is justified. The Lord says, "Thy sins are forgiven; go in peace, thy faith hath saved thee," Luke 7. The woman looked to Jesus, and believed His word, not thinking of the state of her own heart. The state of her heart, the conviction that she could not find peace and salvation in herself, led her to look to Jesus, and in Him she found peace. The gospel gives the answer of God to the heart clearly and fully. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."

I learn by experience that in me dwells no good thing, and that I have not the strength to conquer. I cease to look towards myself, as though I could become better. The flesh is always there; the will may be good (in a converted man), but practice does not correspond to will. Not amendment, but salvation, is needful to us: and that we possess in Christ by faith, and, in salvation, peace. Being unable to accomplish justice in ourselves, we submit to the justice of God. By the faith that Christ Himself is our justice before God, we learn by experience what we are ourselves. This experience is itself the fruit of the work of the word by the Spirit in the heart; but by this we learn that we are lost, that, looking to Christ, we are saved. "Believe, and thou shalt be saved." Good works are what suit the position we then occupy. It is the same in human relationships of children, wives, servants; it is necessary to be in the relationship, or the duties do not exist. When we are saved, we become the sons of God, and then we find the duty of sonship; but it cannot exist before we are sons. The duty of man as the creature of God existed, but on that ground we are lost. Christian duty does not begin till we are Christians. It is remarkable, here and elsewhere, how whole households are admitted to the Christian assembly.

393 Acts 17.

To suffer with patience, to sing in the midst of tribulation - this is power; then with the same strength we can, when free, carry on the Lord's work, with like courage. So says the apostle, referring to such circumstances, in Thessalonians 2:2; having been stoned and shamefully entreated at Philippi, he boldly and energetically continues to preach the gospel at Thessalonica. It is there we find him at this point of our narrative. God leads through persecution just as by all other means. The Apostle selects localities where there were synagogues. Passing through Amphipolis and Apollonia, he stops at Thessalonica; where was a synagogue. It was a large city, where to this day many Jews are to be found. "To the Jew first and also to the Greek," characterised his work.

In Philippi we find Satan's opposition apart from the Jews, for, though Paul had there sought the Jews also, they had no part whatever in the conflict. The enemy had desired to identify himself with the work of the gospel, falsifying it in order to avoid the destruction of his own power: but he does not support open opposition. But when the religious element is present - that is a religion which boasts of possessing the rights conferred by God on His own on the earth, the professors of which do not submit to the truth - this is always a source of persecution. In Philippi it was simply an arrogant and self-interested people who spurned all religions which spoke of the true God, as well as everything else except its own superstitions, and only sought to preserve peace under the government of Satan. It was the world that cast out Paul, as the Gadarenes did Jesus. It could endure the manifestation neither of the truth, nor of the power of God.

394 In the narrative which follows we again find the religious element in enmity to the truth; the Jews jealous of the gospel of grace, and of the Gentiles, to whom it was announced, although the former had the first place in its administration. For three sabbaths Paul reasons with the Jews of Thessalonica in the synagogue, according to the custom, shewing them that it was expedient that Christ should suffer, and rise again, and that Jesus was this Christ. Some of the Gentiles, who worshipped the true and one God, whose need had led them to recognise Him who had revealed Himself, believed. They were many in number, and of the chief women not a few.

The blessing of God does not fail to excite the jealousy of the Jews, and to the enmity of the human heart all means are lawful. Stirring up the people of the baser sort, they assault the house of Jason, seeking to bring out the servants of God, but they do not find them there. Jason, however, and certain other brethren they drag before the rulers of the city, accusing them of teaching doctrines opposed to the authority of Caesar, and of saying that there was another king, Jesus. But the rulers, troubled, it is true, with the people, were wiser than those of Philippi; for, taking security of Jason, they let them go. The chief culprits, Paul and his companions, not being found, were not there; and the brethren, finding the door shut for the moment against the work, send Paul and Silas to Berea, a neighbouring city.

In the epistles to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:14), where also the apostle speaks of the state of the Jews (2 Thess. 1:4), it appears that immediately after the apostle's departure, a violent persecution sprang up, and that the converts suffered greatly, but remained faithful, so that their faith became celebrated everywhere. It was to these that the apostle wrote his two first epistles, immediately after his departure from Athens and Corinth, in order to encourage them to persevere, having sent Timothy from Athens, to know if they stood fast in the faith (1 Thess. 3:1). In reading these epistles, and Acts 18:6, we find that the first was written from Athens when Silas and Timothy had rejoined him (Acts 17:15; 1 Thess. 1:1). Then he had sent Timothy to Thessalonica, who, on his return, brings good tidings of the state of the Thessalonians. The first epistle is then written. It seems that Silas and Timothy had come back and again rejoined the apostle, when he had already left Athens and was come to Corinth; Acts 18:5.

395 Of this journey we have no account, but it is the proof of the tender care with which the apostle watched over the new converts, and sought to establish them in the faith and path of Christ. The two epistles are remarkable for the freshness and affection of the communications, of which they are full, and especially the first, for the testimony which the apostle could render to the state of the disciples.

It will be useful to examine for a little what the apostle taught during his short stay at Thessalonica. We have very little, almost nothing, of the apostle's discourses outside of the synagogue. At Athens he makes a speech in the Areopagus, but he does not preach. He preached, it is said, Jesus and the resurrection. Let us gather up what is said here. In the synagogue he maintained that Christ should suffer and rise again from among the dead; moreover, he announced the kingdom of God, because He was accused of having taught that there was another king, Jesus (chap. 20:25). Short though the time was in Thessalonica, yet during his sojourn there, he had taught the disciples the coming of the Lord; which, in reading the Epistle, is perfectly clear. The disciples had learnt that Jesus had delivered them from the wrath to come, the resurrection, and the expectation of the Son of God from heaven; that they were called to suffer with Christ, and to walk in holiness; the coming of the Lord with fire for judgment, and that with all His saints; that they should be caught up to meet the Lord; that the man of sin should be revealed, and that the mystery of iniquity was already working, but that they were called to share the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. He taught salvation by the truth and by faith through the power of the Holy Ghost who sanctified them for God; and all this by grace, to those who were chosen for salvation. Even the peculiarities of the last days were communicated to them; 2 Thess. 2:5.

But all this was for the disciples; only the coming of the Lord in judgment of the living - this world - was announced to all, and they were exhorted to flee from the wrath to come, from which Jesus was the deliverer. It was necessary now to announce facts known to all; but if he speaks of salvation, the person of the Lord, as also His coming, has a far greater place in his doctrine than in that of the preachers of to-day. A present salvation is clearly announced, through Christ dead for us, so that we might live with Him. That which was everywhere presented for salvation is described with much simplicity and clearness in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Christ put to death for our sins, buried, and raised up the third day. But here also the facts hold a greater place than now. We reason on the value of the facts, and this is necessary; but the more the facts are put in evidence, the more will the preaching be powerful.

396 While the people are occupied with Jason, Paul sets out for Berea, and with undiminished courage enters into the synagogue of that city. Here the grace of God is manifestly with him, to dispose the hearts of the Jews to listen, and to search the word, and many believe. But the unhappy Jews carry on their work, and come from Thessalonica, to stir up the people against Paul and the others. It is mournful to see their permanent hatred to the gospel. But it is ever thus with an old religion set aside by truth which its professors will not receive.

A few brethren conduct Paul to Athens, and he sends an order to Silas and Timothy to join him there at once. But with all this, the enemy does nothing but order the path of the gospel, according to the will of God.

Now at Athens the sight of the idolatry ardently practised in that city pressed heavily on the spirit of the apostle. He reasons in the synagogue with the Jews, and daily in the market with them that met with him. Athens had been a city famous for the glory of its arts and of its arms, and for its schools of philosophy. Having succumbed to the Roman yoke, it had lost its importance, and lived in idleness, seeking for some new thing, still philosophising, and boasting in the memory of its ancient glory in pagan philosophy, surpassed perhaps by that of Alexandria and Tarsus (where Paul himself had been educated), although where the leaders of Roman society studied. The fruit was not great in this vain and idle city, but the instruction for us is precious.

The apostle's discourse at the Areopagus was not the preaching of the gospel. It was his apology before an ancient tribunal whose decisions had, in times gone by, possessed great weight, but which then, though still allowed to exist, no longer retained its ancient importance. But the fact that the apostle was obliged to present himself before the tribunal, gave him the opportunity of manifesting the wisdom and grace he possessed through the Spirit of God. As we have seen he preached in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia. In the market-place, where the philosophers and townspeople met together, he announced Jesus and the resurrection, His person, His victory over death, the testimony that God had accepted the sacrifice of Christ, and moreover that in Him we are admitted into a new creation (a position which Adam, even in innocence, never occupied) the kingdom of the second, of the last Adam.

397 I do not say that all these points were unfolded, but the apostle announced the grand foundations on which all these truths are built up. He did so according to the need and capacity of his hearers; and nobody is so incapable as a philosopher, and those under his influence and who walk in the vain thought of being something, when in reality they are nothing, and such was the true character of the Athenians. Knowledge is blinding. Human intelligence does not know God. God enters the conscience when He speaks in order to make Himself known; and in proportion to the pretension of the human mind to intelligence, is the hardness and inaction of the conscience. It is as though dead, and man as though he had none, and therefore no capacity to receive the truth whereby he may know God. These wise men thought that Jesus and the resurrection were gods, so far were they from the truth. The mind of man, and the activity of his intelligence, when it is a question of morality and of God, can do nothing but always drive him farther and farther away. He finds no basis for morality, and consequently no true rule; and when God is submitted to the human understanding, He is no longer God in any sense. God does not present Himself to man in order to know what he ought to be. Conscience and faith put God in His own place, and man in his true relation to God; and the word is the means of doing so, the word in which God reveals Himself, and shews what man is.

Some mocked the apostle, saying, "What will this babbler say?" Ridicule is often a means in the hands of the enemy to turn away souls from the truth, because men are afraid to identify themselves with what others despise. Conscience and moral courage are the very last things to be found in the heart of man: grace awakens conscience, and gives strength to follow it. Still here was something new; and that was always enough for the Athenians, fatigued by the nonentity of their existence. Accordingly they lead Paul to the Areopagus, once honourable and honoured, in order to know what this new doctrine might be. Because however frivolous philosophical opinions may be, they cannot quietly endure either truth or Christ. One human opinion may be as good as another; but the testimony of God operates on the conscience, and demands the heart.

398 Paul, surely taught by the Holy Ghost, replies in the Areopagus with admirable wisdom, and a calm love which lays hold on the sole circumstance to which he could attach the truth he desired to communicate to them. His practised eye had observed in the city the only little remnant of truth by which he could lead them to recognise their true position. It was not simply a declaration of the salvation of the soul, which had already occupied him in the synagogue and public market-place; here he explains the true character of the religion of idols, but with perfect delicacy; and seeks to bind that remnant of truth which the enemy had not been able to destroy, with truth more positive, with the name of Jesus, and with that which appealed to the conscience.

The people of the city, idle and at heart sceptical, were given up to idolatry; and, the circle of the gods being exhausted, they had dedicated an altar to the unknown God. It is said that in former times a fatal malady had reigned in the city; and that the inhabitants, having prayed in vain to all the gods to remove the plague, had consulted an oracle, who directed them to dedicate an altar to the unknown God. It is unnecessary, however, to seek for any special source of this worship. At the bottom of all idolatry there is the idea of God, corrupted, and taken possession of by Satan, so that men may worship demons; but the idea cannot be eradicated from the heart of man. Infidels seek to do so, but it always remains at the bottom of the heart, in spite of all their efforts. It is born with the birth of man, and creation bears witness too clear and too strong to allow the heart to believe that everything was made by nothing. And then conscience speaks too loud to allow it to be unhearkened to. Man does not want God and tries to forget Him; he reasons, and seeks diversions; but the thought always returns, and possibility makes itself felt. He endeavours to get rid of the thought by every means, but still it is always there; and the thought of God always makes us feel guilty.

399 God is to be found in all idolatries, neglected and forgotten, it is true; but He exists in all mythologies, and is found in the conscience when awakened by fear. When men are in agony (so says a Christian of pagan times) they do not say, "Oh, immortal gods!" but "Oh God! a proof, I would add, of a soul naturally Christian." They made great gods and little gods, placed a god or a goddess at fountains, in woods, and wherever they could see the operations of nature; but behind everything remained the deep feeling that there was one only and all-powerful God. Thus among the Brahmins in India, in Egypt, among the Sabeans, among the Scandinavians, there were gods without end, yet one God not worshipped but owned as the source of everything. This God, the Author of all, rested in darkness. In India not a single temple was ever dedicated to him, but still He exists and is the source of everything. Among the Sabeans, the ancient Persians, there was another kind of pagan religion which recognised Ahrim and Ahrmasda, a bad and a good god, and in which God was worshipped in fire, and which had no idol; there was another god as the source of these. I say source, because a creation was not owned among the pagans. See Hebrews 11:3.

The imagination, under the influence of Satan, created gods everywhere, but at the bottom the idea of God was there. And yet this God, the true, was unknown - deplorable state of mankind, deprived of God, of whom they stood in such deep need! thus enemies to His true knowledge, because the conscience, which makes responsibility felt, could not endure His presence, because the heart desired things which the conscience in the presence of God condemned. They made gods who would help men to gratify their passions. Man cannot suffice to himself; he has lost God, and fears Him; his heart stoops to that which is more degraded than himself. He seeks, but in vain, to satisfy the need of his heart by means of objects which degrade him, and make him forget God, of whom the thought is anguish to his heart.

God, the unknown God, now reveals Himself; and the apostle, with great happiness of thought laying hold of the inscription on the altar, announces the true God whom they did not know. This is not the gospel; but he identifies the God he had already preached in the gospel of Jesus and of the resurrection with the truth they themselves admitted, and, defending it, speaks to the conscience. The unknown God would judge the world by this Jesus, in that He had raised Him from the dead. This truth he applies to their conscience and to idolatry, under the yoke of which they were subjected. By the power of the Spirit in Paul they stood accused, convicted of having falsified the idea of God and denied His glory, the glory of the only Creator, for they had only recognised Him by the confession that He was unknown.

400 Here was what was done by the apostle. He announced to them clearly this true God, who had manifested Himself in the gift of life, and in the things necessary to sustain that life. Through the conscience He was then not far from each of them. During the times of ignorance, God had borne with the wanderings of man; He had passed them over without judgment. Now He was calling to all men everywhere to repent, because a day was appointed in the which He should judge the world; He speaks of the judgment of this habitable earth, in righteousness by the Man whom He had ordained; whereof He had given assurance unto all men, in that He had raised Him from the dead. In this way He reveals by the power of the Spirit the one true Creator-God, the Sustainer of all things, the knowledge of whom had been lost in the folly of idolatry, into which man had been deluded by the enemy, who, by means of the passions of deceived beings, had made himself God. Then he declares the approaching judgment of this world by Jesus, the risen Man, but that grace, in the patience of God, invited all men to repent.

Such was the apostle's defence; not of himself, truly; but he brings his hearers into the presence of God, and sets forth that which the conscience could not deny, and that this was what they ought to have known (Rom. 1:19-20). Then he reveals what was new, namely, that judgment was approaching, that it was to be executed by the Man established by God, of whom He had given assurance, in raising Him from the dead, as the public proof of His ways and power, which ended the path of man on earth, and overthrew the power of Satan. The accusers receive their own sentence To the existence of God they say nothing, but many mock at the idea of resurrection.

401 It is the present exercise of the power of God that man cannot receive; let there be a God, and it is well; but let Him do something, let Him intervene presently, and man cannot willingly receive it. But the mighty word of the apostle touches some hearts even among this frivolous people. The harvest is small, but God does not leave Himself without testimony. A few, believing the gospel, join themselves to the servants of God; but the testimony being rendered, the apostle remains there no longer. Philosophy and frivolity united, as is always the case, give a high opinion of self, are bad soil for grace, and do not deserve that God should wait long for the good will of vanity. Grace can be effective everywhere; but here testimony and judgment are given against philosophy and the pretensions of men.