J. N. Darby.
There was but little fruit in this gifted but frivolous city: for God has chosen the foolish, the weak, and the despised things of the world, to bring to nought the things that are; and the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. The apostle pursues his journey to the other important Grecian centre, Corinth, a commercial city in a superb situation, but deeply corrupt, being dedicated to Venus, whose priestesses were given up to vice. Even at this time wealth abounded, and the city had become proverbial for luxury and dissoluteness.
The ambassador of God appears in the midst of this luxury, as a poor workman of the world; and we know from his letters that he refused to take anything from the wealthy Corinthians, while he received with joy the offering sent as the fruit of their love by the simple brethren of Philippi. There was afterwards another special reason why the apostle would not receive money from the Corinthians. This was that false teachers, seeking to profit by the work of Paul, pretended to labour without receiving anything; and Paul desired to take away every occasion of influence from these evil men, and that they should not pretend to that which was not equally verified in him.
Arrived then at Corinth, he finds two people of his own trade, and with them he lodges and works. There, in the simplicity of Christian life, the work of God begins. The Jews had, and always have, a trade. We are apt to believe that the apostles soared above all difficulties, because armed with divine authority, and that they were free from all fear. We, no doubt, who believe they have the Lord's authority, receive them as sent by Him: but the Gentiles recognised neither the Lord, nor those sent by Him. They were in the presence of the enemy's power. God had committed His word to them, that they might convey it to the world, which lay under the power of Satan; and this word they possessed in the weakness of the flesh. By faith they knew that the Lord would be with them; and certainly His faithfulness did not fail. But this is known by faith; and they felt all the difficulty of a work which introduced the light of God and the authority of His testimony in the midst of darkness, where the enemy reigned over the spirits of men.
402 It is a serious thing to make and carry on war for God against the prince of evil. We must know what we are doing, what the enemy is, and what He is whom we represent in this war, so that we may consider it according to the rules of a war of God, that He may sustain us, that the consciousness of His call may be with us, and that thus our faith and confidence in Him may not be interrupted. See how the apostle speaks of his entrance among the Corinthians; "And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power," 1 Cor. 2:3-4. One cannot do better than read the first four chapters of the first epistle: and for the question of money, chapter 9; what was the testimony, the life, and the feeling of the apostle in 2 Corinthians 4, 6 and 10. And how deep and real his testimony in chapter 12 and especially in verse 9, the source of his power in the midst of weakness! For in this epistle, as elsewhere, we find what the apostle's own feeling were, and what his labours; his heart appears. In 2 Corinthians 11 the effect produced by sufferings is shewn.
With fear and much trembling then, he commences the work in this seat of Satan. First he reasons in the synagogue, as he did everywhere, "to the Jew first and also to the Greek." From Athens, Paul had sent Timothy, who had joined him there according to Acts 18:15-16; 1 Thess. 3:2. Now Silas and Timothy return, and are found with Paul; Acts 17:5. Pressed in spirit by their presence, he bears still stronger testimony that Jesus was the Christ. He had laboured faithfully during their absence; but the presence of other Christians gives courage and strength to his spirit according to God. The feeling of what Christianity is fortifies the heart, and the state of unbelievers is more present to the mind, and more urgent to the heart. But the rights of Christ hold the first place in the apostle's heart; and when the Jews contradict and blaspheme, he leaves them, and, shaking his garments, says to them, "Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean; from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles."
403 Leaving them he enters into the house of a Gentile, one who worshipped the one true God. There were many such among the Gentiles, who, weary of the folly and iniquity of idolatry, worshipped in the synagogue, although they had not become Jews. It seems that he had left the house of Aquila and Priscilla. The house of a Gentile who owned the one true God was suited to his work; and to him the work was everything. Still, he does not go far away from the synagogue; and Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, is converted with all his house, whether from the testimony rendered by Paul in the synagogue, or after he had left it. Moreover, the testimony now reaches the Corinthians, and many believe and are baptized. The work, rejected by the Jews, is now established in the city; for, notwithstanding its wickedness, the Lord had many people there.
Besides this, the Lord encourages Paul by a vision in the night, saying to him, "Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace." The Lord was with him, and saw fit to hold the door open. All things were in His hands, and He would not permit the enemy to hinder the work because of wicked men. "He openeth, and no man shutteth." It is interesting to see how the Lord watches over the work, and over the hearts of His labourers. It is possible that direct communications and visions may not be given now as they were then; but God has not ceased to guide those who labour faithfully in His name, to manifest Himself to their hearts, and He holds still, as then, the keys; He opens, and no man shuts. It is sweet to see that, when we work for Him, He is with us, to speak to our hearts, and to direct us and regulate all our circumstances for His glory, and that according to a divine wisdom.
At Corinth the apostle remains a year and a half, teaching the word of God. The Jews, roused by the folly of their enmity against Christ and the gospel, seek to accuse Paul of a crime because he preached the gospel. They bring him before the judgment seat of the governor, a man profoundly indifferent to everything religious. The apostle is accused of having persuaded men to worship contrary to the law. The proconsul, Gallio, drives them from the judgment seat. He was right. His office was not to maintain the Jewish law, but to preserve order and peace in the country. It was only another proof of the unreasonable and unbridled hatred of these poor people, who had refused the grace of God, and nourished themselves in enmity against all.
404 The crowd take Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things. For him the Jewish religion was a miserable and contemptible superstition, because it separated its professors from all the world; for the human heart loves not the truth that condemns the falsity of the world and of its ways. If the chief of this religion were beaten, it was nothing to him; in his eyes he deserved it, and so they could do it. Unbelief despises superstition, and yet supports it; but it hates the truth, and, if it can, persecutes it. The poor Jews united these true characters - the truth of the oneness of God, and superstition in ordinances, which separated them from all the Gentiles. Contempt and persecution were the only fruits of their assault on the apostle.
The position of this people is shewn in a special way in the narrative before us. But Paul's relation with them is also shewn; we see to what an extent he was still bound to Jewish customs. He takes a vow and shaves his head in Cenchrea. He feels obliged in his heart to observe the feast at Jerusalem; and gives this to the Jews at Ephesus as his motive for not then remaining in their city. He is a true Jew, and acts like one; and the Spirit records these facts that we may understand the bonds which still held the spirit of the apostle. The state of a soul with regard to religious habits is a different thing from the energy of the Spirit of God in the declaration of the truth. We shall see the effect of these bonds strongly pronounced at the end of his career, whether toward the Christians at Jerusalem, or in his submission to their wishes.
He leaves Corinth then with Priscilla and Aquila, after a work largely blessed. The history of this assembly we read in the two epistles addressed to it. We may remark that it is an example of the influence which the world, in the midst of which it is placed, exercises on the assembly of God. Breathing the same atmosphere, it is always in danger of following its habits of thought; the effect on the mind of surrounding things, which ever resound in the ears of Christians, and, alas! too often in their hearts. It is difficult to avoid being more or less associated with what surrounds us universally. What we need is faith, which lives in things unseen.
405 Paul does not stop at Ephesus, where the Jews were disposed to listen to him, but expresses the hope of seeing them again. Leaving Priscilla and Aquila, two quiet people, but faithful and consecrated to the Lord, he goes on towards Jerusalem. There he salutes the assembly, and sets out for Antioch, the starting-point of the gospel for the Gentiles, and from whence he had been sent by the Holy Ghost. At Jerusalem he merely salutes the assembly, for here we are on Christian, not Jewish, ground.
The apostles' work is now situated in another provincial centre in the capital of the province of Asia, which was then only the south-west canton of Asia Minor, Caria, Lycia, etc. Paul had before been prohibited from preaching the word in Asia, having been sent into Macedonia. Now, while he remains at the capital, all the province listens to the word of God. It is good to wait on God and to follow His direction; His work is then much better done, and with a certainty that human plans can never give us. Having passed through the upper portion of Asia Minor (the northern and central), Paul arrives at Ephesus. In this important city he remains nearly three years. Here also the power of his ministry is displayed in a remarkable way. It is the special subject of this chapter. We are ignorant as to how Apollos was fully introduced into the Christian position. He was doubtless baptized, and had received the Holy Ghost; but nothing is said about it. All we know is that he was instructed in the way of the Lord by means of Aquila and Priscilla through the word. It was independently of Paul, and had to be so.
In this chapter the apostolic power and the difference of the estate of the disciples of John the Baptist are clearly shewn. The apostle perceives something in the state of these disciples which did not correspond with the presence of the Holy Ghost - the essential distinction of the Christians. They believe that the Messiah had come, and that Jesus was that Messiah; but they had not followed Him on the earth; they had remained with John, and had not received the Spirit. John had told them that Christ would baptize with the Spirit, but they did not know whether that Spirit had just come, according to the promise of God and the word of John. It is not meant, "If there be a Holy Ghost," because all the Jews well knew that there was; but they did not know if the Holy Ghost spoken of by John had come. The words are the same as those in John 7:39. Whoever became a Christian by baptism received the Holy Ghost. It was the seal of faith.
406 Paul explains to them that John had taught faith in Christ to come; but now He had come and moreover had been exalted to the right hand of God. They are then baptized in the name of the Lord. Paul lays his hands on them, and they receive the Holy Ghost, who bears witness of His presence by the gifts communicated to these disciples. It is a clear testimony to the apostolic power of Paul; Acts 8:14-17. The Holy Ghost was given without the laying on of hands, as on the day of Pentecost, then in the case of Cornelius, and generally with others. But among men the apostles alone possessed the power of communicating the Spirit. The miracles done by Paul's garments, and also by the shadow of Peter, likewise testify to the power vouchsafed to them by God. God desired to bear witness to the word of His grace.
This became still more remarkable when others, who pretended to cast out demons, undertook to make use of the name of Jesus. This placed the reality of the Lord's power over that of the devil in the clearest light. Certain Jews sought to profit by the power of the name of Jesus preached by Paul, but without having faith in His person. But the devil knew well with whom he had to do. He knew Jesus, and did not dare to resist Him; and he also well knew that Paul was His servant. But under what pretence did these unbelievers exercise authority over the power of the devil? The man possessed by the devil rises up against these Jews, and drives them out, so that they flee from the house naked and wounded.
What a testimony to the truth of Paul's mission, to the power by which he worked, and to the war that goes on in man between grace and the devil! It was not, and is not yet, the time for the Lord to manifest His power and His rights, in binding the enemy. His desire is that war should be carried on by man in faith, and by the power of the Spirit who dwells in believers. But it comes out clearly here, what this war is; and the total difference between the possession of truth and of the Spirit, learned as a certain truth, and the employment of the name of Jesus, without faith in the heart. One cannot exorcise the devil by the name of Jesus, when true faith in Jesus has no place in the heart.
407 The people were terrified by what had happened; but this ought not to surprise us. They felt how near they were to the power of God and to that of Satan, openly manifested. The enemy is no less dangerous when he works secretly. A single word from Jesus had been sufficient to cast out a legion of demons, no more to enter into the liberated man. But the influence of Satan persuaded the Gadarenes to beseech Jesus to depart out of their coasts, and He goes. The presence of God makes the heart tremble more when it perceives it, than that of Satan. Such is the condition of poor sinners. But Satan at bay is more to be feared than when he goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. "Resist the devil," it is said, "and he will flee from you." But we need all the armour of God to deliver from his snares.
The power of God in Paul is seen in three ways: first, the Spirit is communicated by the laying on of his hands; second, very wonderful miracles; third, the devils themselves are forced to own the power of His word, and the authority of Paul, when he makes use of the name of Jesus; and they make a difference between him and those who under false pretences employ that name. This was soon known by all, Greeks and Jews, and they were filled with fear. It moreover works on the conscience of the believers, who come and confess their deeds, bringing the books of their curious arts, for which Ephesus was celebrated, and burning them before all to the value of fifty thousand pieces of silver. When God reveals Himself in power, the heart opens before Him, and confesses sincerely all that the conscience knows, doing so openly for His glory. This is a special effect of the manifestation of His power. Man thinks no longer of himself, or of his shame, but is overcome by the presence of God.
But we must retrace our steps a little in order to observe the progress of the apostle's own work. For three months he reasons in the synagogue. It seems that the Jews were not so badly disposed as in other cities (for example, at Thessalonica and elsewhere). They had desired that the apostle should remain there some time, when he had gone to Jerusalem. However, the greater part did not long endure the preaching of the gospel. Many became hardened, and did not believe, speaking evil of the truth and of the Christian profession before the multitude. Paul then leaves them, separates the disciples, and continues to dispute daily in the school of one Tyrannus. Two years he spends in this way, so that all who dwelt in Asia, Greeks and Jews, heard the word of the Lord Jesus.
408 Thus was the Christian assembly formed outside the synagogue, the Jews (as ever) being contradictory and opposing. Their attempt to make use of the name of Jesus, without faith, was likewise turned to their dishonour. Though the goodness of God sought for them, yet their enmity against the name of Jesus, and against the grace which wounded their pride, they never lost. God then placed His blessing elsewhere. And when the Christians were separated from the Jews, and the assembly settled apart, this extraordinary power of the Spirit was manifested in Paul, as a testimony from God to his work, and to the growing assembly. Thus was this important gathering formed by divine power. For two years God held the reins, and kept the adversary in check, in order that the testimony of Christ might be firmly established in this capital of Asia, and resound in all the country round about. All had been under the direction of God. Formerly, Paul had not been permitted to go to Ephesus; but now, under the good hand of God, he labours there without hindrance - two or three weeks at Thessalonica, and two or three years at Ephesus. In the two cities the work is done according to His will. Now that the work is finished, as far as Paul is concerned at this time, he proposes to depart.
The enemy left free, and spurred on by the powerful effect of the word of God, raises a great tumult against Paul and the gospel (v. 23). But it is vain to fight against God. His fury expends itself in shouts and cries. But when God allows it, opposition manifests itself in its true character. The devil works on the passions, on selfish interests, on base motives, which rise up against the love, the grace, and the salvation which God sends to ruined men. God be praised, it was too late! It was the efficacy of His grace in liberating the slaves of a diabolical superstition, the worship of false gods, that is, of demons, which called forth all this tumult. We have seen that till the work was finished, the enemy was kept in check.
409 A certain man, Demetrius, gained large sums from the manufacture of little silver shrines to Diana, because this Diana was celebrated in the entire pagan world; and her temple was one of the seven wonders of the world (v. 27). Incited by the desire for gain, he assembles the craftsmen to oppose the truth which was destroying all their trade (v. 25, 26), the truth which shewed that gods made with hands were no gods. How deep the gloom into which man, without God, and by his very need of a God, throws himself!
Not only were their gains at stake, but the importance of their goddess and of their city was in danger of being destroyed. They do not say, "Great is Diana," but "Great is Diana of the Ephesians." The knowledge of the true God makes our own nothingness felt, and judges the state of the heart; but in a false religion there is an alliance with the passions of the heart. The worshippers are great according to the measure of their religion, and of that which they worship. If the Diana of the Ephesians was great, the Ephesians themselves were important according to her importance. To despise Diana was to detract from the greatness of her followers. Gain and importance were the two things which accompanied the worship of this goddess. Such was the source of the passions awakened by a few clever words from Demetrius. Such is the religion of the natural heart, which however feels the need of a God. It is a false religion which does not act on the conscience, unless perhaps to produce fear, if God be against it; but which nourishes human passions, and allies itself with the malice of the heart against truth.
The multitude rise in fury, and rush with one accord to the theatre. The brethren restrain Paul, and prevent him from going there, whither his zeal would have led him. God watches over His servant; there was nothing for him to do there. The crowd, however, take possession of two brethren, companions of Paul, and drag them to the theatre. Certain chiefs of the public festivals of Asia, friends of Paul, send to him, warning him not to present himself at the theatre, where there was only violence and tumult. But once more the poor Jews prove themselves without light. Walking in darkness in their own errors, they put forward one of their countrymen to defend the doctrine of the one God. But this only still further excites the fury of the people, who cry out for the space of two hours, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians." Without God it is impossible either to oppose the devil, or to maintain the truth; neither the truth of the one God, nor the name of Jesus associated with that of Paul who announced Him, had any power without faith and truth in the heart. The poor Jews had rejected the Saviour, and without their perceiving it, strength entirely failed them, as it did Samson, shorn of the Nazarite's hair. Although enemies to the new doctrine, yet they expected to be able to present amicably the doctrine of the one God. But, enemies to the grace of God and despised by men, all they could do was to excite the multitude to continue still longer their senseless and passionate cry, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians."
410 The town clerk, having appeased the people, gives them to understand that the authorities would most likely interfere on account of the tumult, and that the men (Gaius and Aristarchus) had done nothing contrary to the law. He then dismisses the disorderly and irregular assembly, which had done nothing but shew what man is under the power of Satan and moved by his own selfishness.
In short, we have in this chapter, presented in a remarkable way, the conflict between the Spirit of God working in the servants of Jesus, and the power of the devil, kept in check, however, by God, as long as His work was being performed; and the sorrowful position of the Jews, all their moral power being taken from them, since they were opposed to the gospel. The assembly of God being formed beyond their limits, they were no longer His people; when they sought to make use of the name of the Lord, it turned to their confusion; when they defended the doctrine of the one God, which they believed, it only made the people cry out the more, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians." Till the Lord comes, this conflict must continue; and though miracles have ceased, yet the care of His servants never grows weaker in the heart of Jesus. He works as really as ever, and the government of God orders everything for the good of His work. He may indeed permit Satan's rage to break forth, but He never forgets His own.
He can allow the apostles to be driven from Thessalonica and Berea, and then keep the enemy in check at Ephesus. But He always watches over His servants. He can hold the door open where He will, and shut it where He sees fit to do so. We can rely on Him! Only let us be directed by Him who openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth. When we have "a little strength," He sets before us an opened door.
411 Acts 20.
From 2 Corinthians 1 and 4, it would appear that the persecution was more violent, and that it continued longer than during the public events recorded in Acts 19. But what these particulars may have been, we are not told. But after the stormy assemblage in the theatre, Paul calls the disciples together, embraces them, and departs into Macedonia. Going over those parts, he exhorts the brethren, and arrives in Greece. There he remains three months. He had thought of returning from Greece to Syria; but the Jews - ever envious, and enemies to the gospel, as well as to the one who preached it outside their limits, since they had rejected Christ, and hope for them was gone - laid wait for him. The truth which they had had was always the truth; but now that the Son of God had come, and the Father and His love been manifested in Him, that no longer possessed any power; for this revelation was one of life eternal, and of the satisfaction of divine justice. They could not endure the thought of being placed on one side on account of the truth they would not receive, and therefore laid wait for Paul. When this becomes known to the apostle, he returns by way of Macedonia.
Let us remark in this brief narrative, which is not accidental, that when Paul had planted the gospel in a country, he did not abandon the converts, but returns with affectionate solicitude, instructs, exhorts, edifies, and watches over the seed planted by his instrumentality, in order that it may be preserved, and grow in the knowledge of Christ. He does not neglect the Lord's garden, well knowing that tares may spring up where the good seed grows, and that the enemy can spoil the harvest, if it is not well guarded. It is more needful now than ever to do this, for we are in the perilous times of the last days. Though the enemy can never pluck the sheep out of the Good Shepherd's hand, yet he may disperse them; they may be subjected to the effect of every kind of evil doctrine, by which their growth is hindered, the Lord's glory trampled upon, testimony to Him destroyed, and the candlestick taken away. Let the Lord's servants take warning!
412 Paul then returns by Macedonia. It is not important, but in verse 4 we should read, "Gaius and Timotheus of Derbe." From verse 5 we see that many attached themselves to Paul in the work; and others, besides those in verse 4 went before. Luke, the author of this book, and perhaps others too, accompanied the apostle in his journey towards Troas. The others tarried for him at Troas. It is not without interest to see this emotion of hearts moved by the gospel which Paul preached. All were free; some, such as Apollos, labouring apart; the others, the companions of the great central figure - great for his faith in Christ, and as sent directly from Him by the voice of the Holy Ghost - occupied and sent by Paul to carry on and accomplish the work in places he would himself have visited, had he not been obliged to go elsewhere, when the opportunity presented itself for them to be thus sent.
Leaving Philippi in five days, they come to Troas, and there remain seven days. Everywhere assemblies had been formed. Here a door had been opened to Paul in coming from Ephesus, but he had not been able to remain long, being uneasy about the Corinthians, since he did not find Titus there, whom he had sent to them. It was at Troas that Luke, who wrote the Acts, had attached himself to Paul, to accompany him the first time he visited Macedonia. We do not know how the gathering at Troas was formed; but there was one, and we are given to see into it a little, not its discipline or gifts, as in Corinthians, but its ordinary walk.
The first day of the week the disciples met together to break bread. This was evidently their custom. It was the first day of the week, and the disciples gathered themselves together according to their habit, to break bread. It was the first object of their meeting, the centre of their worship. Other things were done; they spoke, taught, as Paul did, sang; but they met together to break bread. This is confirmed by 1 Corinthians 11:20, where the apostle says that the Corinthians did not really assemble for the Lord's supper, since each ate his own supper, not thinking of the others, but eating and drinking for his own pleasure. Now this shews clearly that the object of the assembly was the Lord's supper. At the beginning they broke bread every day; Acts 2:42, 46. When gatherings were formed everywhere, and zeal had been enfeebled, they met only on the first day of the week, the day of the Lord's resurrection. This was not a rule, but Luke speaks of it as a usage well known everywhere among the Christians. It seems that Paul had awaited this day to speak to the disciples, simply because it was the day of their meeting together; however, that is not certain. However it may be, he profits by the occasion to preach to them before setting out, and he speaks till midnight. They met, it seems, in the evening.
413 The discourse was long, and they had not yet broken bread; the weather was hot, and there were many lights. Such is human weakness, that all this so affected a certain Eutychus, that he was overcome with sleep, as Paul was long preaching, and fell down from the third floor, where he was sitting by the window. He was taken up by the men dead. Paul naturally interrupts his discourse, goes down and throws himself on him, declaring that life is still in him. The separation had not yet taken place; he was stunned by the fall, and if the power of God had not interposed, he would have been caught in the clutches of death. Life, however, had not yet gone out of the body; and by the Spirit, Paul so works on it, that the functions of life are restored. The bonds between soul and body are re-established. In the case of the child restored to life by Elijah (1 Kings 17:21-22) the soul had already left the body, and returned to it. From these cases, as always elsewhere, we see that the soul is entirely distinct from the body; and though in our present state it works by means of the body, yet it is in its habitation; that life in this world is the activity of the soul by means of the functions of the body, the activity of which is restored by sleep, because we are feeble; that when the soul leaves the body, the man is definitively dead, but that the activity of the soul by the functions of the body may be interrupted, as is partly the case in sleep; and this action is re-established if the soul have not left the body, if God does so or permits it.
In its highest part - the spirit, the soul in relation to God is alas! at enmity against Him: it will not and does not submit to Him. With its inferior part, it works in the body: marvellous creation! in relations with God above, and with nature before. It is a mixture of thoughts which seek to rise to God but cannot, and of creature thoughts. It is responsible to God according to the nature it has originally received from Him. When born of God, it receives a totally new life, in which it is in relation with God, according to grace and redemption, a life animated by the Spirit which it receives from above, and which makes of the body an instrument for the service of God. Possessing this life, we know that, "if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." I have said this in reference to Eutychus, because in these days the simplicity of the truth regarding the soul is lost sight of by many.
414 Paul then goes up again, and, having broken bread, talks still even till day-break, comforting much the souls he saw perhaps for the last time. He then departs leaving Eutychus alive to the joy of the brethren. Paul sends on his companions by ship, and goes himself on foot, desiring to be alone. For us this is often a wise thing; to be alone, apart from men, but alone too with God, where we can think of Him, of ourselves before Him, of the work, as He sees it, and where in His presence responsibility is felt, instead of activity before men. No doubt this activity ought to appear in His presence, because it is holy; but at all events the activity of man is another thing than to place oneself before God, such as He is for us. It is not less true that this communion with Him, as His servants, gives and sustains a blessed confidence in Him, an intimacy of soul with Him, full of goodness and of grace.
Paul had instructed his companions to take him in at Assos, which they do: from thence they proceed to Mitylene, to Chios, and finally to Miletus, half a day from Ephesus. Paul had determined not to stop there, desiring if possible to be at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. If he had stopped at Ephesus, he must have remained some time, as he had laboured there for a long period, and with great blessing. He passes on therefore, sending from Miletus for the elders of the assembly at Ephesus, the centre of the work in that region. It is evident that the apostle was pre-occupied with the circumstances in which he was placed - with the apparent end of his career. This thought, it is probable, exercised an influence over him, when he went alone on foot to Assos. And also it was the cause of his long speech at Troas.
It is not only imagination which suggests this idea; the apostle expresses (at the end of the Epistle to the Romans, written when he was about to leave Corinth, Rom. 15:31) his fear that he might be an object of hatred to the rebels in Judaea; and he desires the Romans to pray that he may be delivered out of their hands, hoping thus to be able to see their face with joy, and from Rome to continue his work in Spain. We know that in Palestine he was taken, and after two years confinement at Caesarea, went a prisoner to Rome; that he remained there as such two years more; and that there, as far as the word is concerned, his history terminated. It is possible that he may have been liberated; I believe so, from what we find in the Epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon; Phil. 1:25-26; Philemon 22.
415 From 2 Timothy too it seems that he was set free, and that he returned to Asia. But as to the Biblical record of his labours, all is finished at the end of the Acts, which leaves him a prisoner at Rome. According to God's thoughts, such as they are communicated to us in the scriptures, that was the end of the apostle's work. And he felt that such was the case; and it is no more a question of going to Spain, or travelling anywhere beyond Rome. The Holy Ghost spoke of bonds and tribulations; and Paul's thought now turned towards his departure from this world.
The elders being come from Ephesus and assembled before him, Paul speaks of his ministry as of a thing accomplished. A little before he had told the Romans that he had no longer any place in those parts, his career there being over; Rom. 15:23. Revisiting the scenes of his work in Asia, and the regions of Asia Minor, he shews us the character of this work, and the effect of his departure; and this renders his discourse very important. He had served the Lord with much humility, in trials and in tears, caused by the snares of the Jews, whose opposition was continual and without conscience. In spite of it, however, he never failed both in public and in private to preach and teach all that was necessary for them, repentance towards God, and faith in Jesus Christ, as the true state of a soul brought to God. Nothing is said, as to the order of these two things in the heart, although in such order there is something practical, but of the true character of repentance and faith. Repentance was to be preached in the name of the Lord Jesus (Luke 24:47); so that His name might be owned, and that sinners might repent. It was founded on the ground of the grace and truth that came by Him; but true repentance takes place in the presence of God, and goes beyond sorrow for having done wrong, or shame, or the mere work of the natural conscience.
416 The soul revealed to itself through grace comes with open eyes into God's presence. All is judged according to Him whose presence is manifested to the soul; everything is judged as it appears in His eyes. The word of God is His eye in the conscience, and makes us feel that He has seen all, and then things appear to us as they do to Him. We no longer excuse ourselves, nor do we desire to do so. The result is confession to God by a conscience which feels itself in His presence (Heb. 4:12-13); while the heart restored desires holiness, and the soul feels its responsibility for all that we have done. We justify God in our condemnation (Luke 7:29); though in such a case there is always some confidence in His grace, not peace but confidence; for He who has become light to the soul is also love, Himself being both these things. When He reveals Himself as light in order to shew us our sins, it is in love He does so in Jesus; and He is love. He cannot reveal Himself to the soul without being the two things, for in His nature He is both.
Take the case of the woman in Luke 7. The light and the love of God had penetrated into her soul; she did not yet know what it was to be pardoned, but her heart had confidence in Jesus; and at the same time her conscience was deeply convinced of sin.
Take again the case of Peter (Luke 5:8): the prodigal son (Luke 15:17-19); and of the thief on the cross (Luke 23:41). Repentance thus is the effect of the revelation of God to the soul, which then shews itself; and up to a certain point it knows God as light, which manifests everything. "Come, see a man which told me all things that ever I did." But as love to the soul, the Lord inspires confidence, though the remission of sins be not known. This is discovered by the soul by faith in Christ Jesus - not only that Jesus is the Christ, but that by Him its sins are pardoned, for He was dead for our sins; and if we receive the word of God, we believing in Him know, that He has taken all our sins on Himself on His own body on the tree. When He had by Himself purged our sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; because by one offering He has perfected for ever them that are sanctified by that sacrifice.
417 Although faith in the work of Christ is necessary in order to possess peace, yet His person ever remains as the object of the heart - the Christ who has loved us, and given Himself for us, who now is glorified at the right hand of God, after having borne our sins, and submitted to death and the curse for us, but ever living for us now; who Himself will return to seek us, and make us perfectly like Himself in glory. We believe in Him, not only in the efficacy of His death. He is our righteousness before God, made such by God Himself, and we are accepted in the Beloved. John 17 tells us that we are loved with the same love wherewith the Father loves the Son. If true repentance is made in the presence of God, and in respect of Him, confidence and peace come by means of the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has made peace by His own blood.
Such was the testimony of Paul, the truth of the conscience, peace, and the knowledge of God by His Son Jesus come down here in love, ascended into heaven as man, having accomplished the work which His Father had given Him to do. So great were the truth and the revelation, and so like the apostle is the execution of his ministry! But this ministry was drawing to its close, without knowing that such was the case. The Spirit testified in every place that bonds and tribulations awaited him; and he foresees that they would see his face no more. This furnishes the opportunity to speak of the effect of His departure. The sheep of Jesus are safe in His hands; as to the life He has imparted to them, they can never perish - none can pluck them out of His hand. But a temple had been established, a house on the earth, of which the apostle was by grace the founder according to the will of God, the wise master-builder; 1 Cor. 3:10. According to another figure, He has placed a candlestick on the earth to shine round about Himself, and this He can take away. There will always be a house of God built with His hand, and by His power which will never grow less - Christ the foundation, the stones living, by grace placed on this chief corner stone, and growing to an holy temple for the Lord; Matt. 16:18; 1 Peter 2:4-5; Eph. 2:21.
Against this work of the Lord - a work carried on by grace in the heart - the gates of hell cannot prevail; for it is the fruit of the power of the Lord Jesus, working in grace. Moreover, this temple is not yet entirely built - it is growing. At least we may expect that by grace every soul can be introduced into it. God alone knows the moment when the work of grace which forms the assembly, the body of Christ, shall be accomplished. See 2 Peter 3:9. But God's will has been to form an assembly on the earth. The work of Jesus, of which we have spoken, is done here below; but beyond this, as we have seen, God formed an assembly by the ministry of Paul, a temple on the earth, confiding the building of this temple into the hands of men, and under their responsibility. It is now the habitation of God through the Spirit, Jews and Gentiles being built up together, founded according to the will of God, but left to the responsibility of man. "But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereon." "Now if any man build upon this foundation [Jesus Christ], gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is."
418 There are three kinds of workmen: a good Christian and a good workman, such as Paul; a good Christian and a bad workman, himself saved, but his work to be consumed; then he who seeks to corrupt and destroy the temple of God, whose work, as well as himself, shall perish. Such were the heresiarchs, who, moved by the enemy, sought to corrupt the faith. Three sects of them existed during Paul's own time; but as long as he remained in the world, his spiritual energy resisted and overcame evil; such as immorality among the Corinthians, and the loss of the doctrine of grace among the Galatians. But with his departure this energy disappeared. He had already said (Phil. 2:21) that all sought their own, not the things which were Jesus Christ's. No soul was to be found like that of Timothy to care for the state of the Christians.
Paul tells the elders then that, after his departure, grievous wolves should enter in among them, and that even of their own selves perverse men should arise, and draw the disciples away. Till Satan be bound, and the Lord come to do it, there will ever be conflicts. Since the beginning of the world, whenever God has established anything good, man's first act has been to destroy it. First, there was man himself; then, in the world after the flood, Noah got tipsy, and his authority was lost. Israel made the golden calf before ever Moses came down from the mountain. Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire the first day after their consecration, for which cause Aaron could no more enter into the inner sanctuary with his priestly garments of glory. Solomon having loved strange women, his kingdom was divided. So in the assembly established on the earth, soon after the apostle's departure, evil presents itself; and it is of this that the elders are forewarned.
419 Where were the other apostles? At Jerusalem. Peter, the apostle of the circumcision, leaves the gathering scattered by the destruction of Jerusalem. The chief of the apostles abandon to Paul the preaching of the gospel among the Gentiles, to which work the Lord Himself had called him at the first, and then again expressly, by the Holy Ghost at Antioch. To the other apostles, therefore, he does not entrust his ministry. Still less does Paul imagine that there can be successors in his office. He knows nothing of successors; but he exhorts the existing elders to faithfulness and watchfulness, commending them to God, and to the word of His grace, "which," he says, "is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified." Christ, ascended up on high, can still give evangelists, pastors, and teachers; and He does give them; but the office of personal apostolic care has disappeared. "After my departure," says the apostle. This is a departure without succession. It is sad, surely, yet true; and we have seen it in all that God has established among men. His grace continues, the faithful care of Christ can never fail. The Spirit has given His instructions for this time, as at the beginning, and the Lord is enough for the present condition, as He was faithful in the past. But such a thing as a succession to his apostleship is unknown to Paul when he speaks of his absence. God, and the word of His grace, are for him the refuge of God's people. They can meet together, and Christ will be in their midst; they can profit by the gifts He has granted according to His promise. The rules for our walk are contained in the word; but the apostleship, as a personal energy watching over the organisation of the assembly, has disappeared, leaving no succession behind it.
This is a solemn truth, which must be well borne in mind. But we must never forget that Christ is always enough for the assembly; that He is faithful in His care of it. and that He can never fail in strength, in love, or in faithfulness. What we have to do is to count on Him, and that with purpose of heart. Divine power is manifested more in Elijah and Elisha than in all the prophets of Jerusalem from the time of Moses himself. The Lord gives what is needful to His people. The word of God confirms sadly, but abundantly, what Paul says here. His testimony is that not only should evil appear in the exterior constitution of the church, but that it should continue till the Lord comes in judgment. Let us consider what the word of God says.
420 Jude declares that it was already needful to write to them, to exhort them to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, because certain men had crept in unawares who turned the grace of our God into lasciviousness. They were corrupting the assembly from within; and what is very remarkable, he declares that these are they (that is, the class of persons) who will be among the objects of the Lord's judgment, when He comes with ten thousands of His saints. The corruption, begun during the time of the apostles, will continue till the coming of the Lord. So much for internal corruption. But this is not all. Evil unfolds itself from the other side, as we find in the Epistle of John. Some had abandoned Christianity openly. "Little children, it is the last time; and as ye have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us," 1 John 2:18.
Thus we see that though this apostle survived Paul for many years, and certainly watched over the assemblies, in Asia Minor at least, dwelling, as it is said, at Ephesus, it was only in order to record the fact that the last time was already come, which was shewn by the presence of these antichrists, and by the apostasy of many. If it be asked why God waits so long before executing judgment, the answer is to be found in 2 Peter 3:9: "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." To Him a thousand years are as one day. In the time of the Jews, judgment was pronounced (Isa. 6), eight hundred years before it was executed, that is, when they had finally rejected the humbled, but also glorified Son of God.
The epoch of this ruin of the assembly on the earth is determined, namely, on the death of Paul - "After my departure." Doubtless, corruption had been rapidly growing. The mystery of iniquity was already working during the apostle's life; but his spiritual energy knew how to resist it. He being gone, however, it went on increasing without hindrance, except from the grace of God in individuals, and the chastisement by which God arrested the decline into ruin and corruption. The testimony of God, although hid under a bushel, has never yet been extinguished; and God has from time to time raised up witnesses in the midst of darkness, feeble perhaps, but true; and, at the time of the Reformation, delivered whole countries from open corruption. But we have seen that the evil, introduced in the time of Jude, was to continue till the judgment.
421 This solemn and humiliating truth is confirmed by other passages. The assembly has never been restored. Not only does John say that the last time has come, but that this is marked by the presence of antichrists. Now Antichrist shall be destroyed by the coming of the Lord. Paul reveals to us that the apostasy that began to shew itself in John's time will be fully unfolded at the last time; when Antichrist himself shall be manifested, whose coming shall be after the working of Satan, and whom the Lord shall destroy when He comes in glory. The mystery of iniquity was already working, even during the apostle's life, and the progress of evil was to continue from his days till the Lord should come. Thus too, the Lord says that the tares are to grow till the harvest.
It seems to us, then, that the death of Paul is the moment from which we must count the prevalence of evil. We say "prevalence," because evil was already working, though Paul resisted it by the power of the Spirit; and because this evil was to go on increasing till Christ should come; because in the last days perilous time should come, and the form of godliness without the power of it. Then in 2 Timothy 3 we also get the word of God set forth as that which is necessary, and sufficient to render the man of God perfect, and furnished unto all good works. All this truth is powerfully confirmed by what is said in Revelation 2 and 3, where the Christian who has ears to hear is called upon to hearken, not to the church, but to what the Spirit saith unto the church; and in His words we find judgment pronounced by Jesus Christ on the state of the church.
422 We would add that it is one thing to submit to the discipline, or practical judgment of an assembly, regarding evil, and quite another thing to suppose, when we are called upon to judge of the state of the church by the words of Christ and of the Spirit, that the authority of the assembly is the perpetual safeguard of the faith. The universal assembly, Christianity, is corrupted and divided, and cannot, even as an instrument in the hands of God, secure the maintenance of the truth. It is submission to the word of God only that can do it.
In order to shew how far the primitive church wandered from the truth, we shall quote from a book read in the assembly, one hundred and fifty years after the death of John, cited by one of the best fathers of the primitive churches as part of the inspired scriptures, and esteemed as such by another, who was less orthodox, it is true.
The author, pretending to have received a revelation says, "A man possessed a vineyard, and commanded his servants to gather the fruits. The servant, being very faithful, did what was entrusted to him, and besides, out of devotedness to his master, rooted all the weeds out of the vineyard. The master who was so much pleased with the servant, that he consulted his son and his friends as to what should be done for the faithful servant, and it was decided to make him heir with the son. Now the master is God, the son is the Holy Ghost, the friends are the angels, and the servant is Christ. God had sent him to establish the clergy for the support of the faithful; but He had done much more than this, and what God had not told him to do - He had taken away sins. Thus it is, according to the consultation of God with the Holy Ghost, and the angels, co-heirs with the Holy Ghost, who is Son and Heir of God." Such is what was read in the churches, written by the brother of Pope Pius, and pretended to have been inspired by God. And this a hundred and fifty years after the birth of Christ. What is recounted in the same book of holiness is no better. What is there related as holy in the visions of Hermas, it is impossible to transcribe on these pages!
Such then is the testimony of the apostle; after his departure, evil would prevail, active both within and without. He tells them nothing of the nomination of successors to the elders, any more than he does of a successor to himself. He insists on the faithfulness of those who were there, whom the Holy Ghost had made bishops (for bishops and elders were one and only one office); and commends them to God and to the word of His grace, which was able to build them up, and give them an inheritance among them that were sanctified. In fact, no means is established in the word for the continuance of the organisation of the assembly. People are mistaken on this point. The disciples were waiting for the coming of the Lord, the Lord Himself. See the parables of the servant, Matthew 24, of the virgins and the talents. But the apostle shews that this coming might be delayed till long after the life of those then on the earth. The sleeping virgins are the very same that are revealed; the servants who received the talents those found afterwards at the coming of the Lord. Paul says, "We which are alive and remain till the coming of the Lord." They did not know when He would come, but still they waited for Him; Luke 12:36, etc. What has produced the moral ruin of the assembly is, that she has ceased to look for the Lord; but has said, "The Lord delayeth his coming," Matt. 24:49. She has taken and beaten her fellow-servants, has eaten and drunk with the drunken. The hierarchy has been established; worldliness has invaded the assembly; and thus alliance has been made with the world.
423 The apostle recalls his own faithfulness, how he had been an example to the elders, labouring with his own hands, since it was more blessed to give than to receive. Then, kneeling down, he prays with them all. And they, weeping, embrace him sorrowfully, chiefly for the word that he had spoken, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship. Solemn departure, the end of the apostle's public work. He speaks of it as of a finished work, announcing that henceforward, in consequence of his absence, evil would prevail in the outward assembly of God on the earth, but assuring the faithful that God and the word of His grace would be enough to build them up, and give them an inheritance among those that were sanctified. This was certain. The power of Christ secures it; but the exterior system, Christianity, would be corrupted, having given up the expectation of the Lord's return. Paul teaches the same truth in 2 Timothy 3. John tells us that the last time has already arrived.
The patience of God continues to accomplish the work of grace; and Christ to supply the gifts necessary to the perfecting of the saints, and the building up of the assembly, although our coldness greatly hinders the Spirit. And this will be the case till the end of the gathering of the saints. Christianity has ripened in the midst of evil, as foretold by the apostles. It is evil which began in apostolic times, and which was already sufficiently mature in John's time, the last of the apostles; for he says that the last times had already come. We trust that the cry, "Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him," has already begun to go forth, and that many hearts will respond, and kindle their lamps. May the Lord add daily to their number!
424 Acts 21.
From Miletus, Paul sets out for Jerusalem. In this journey, nothing of importance occurs till the apostle's arrival at Tyre. There he finds disciples who tell him not to go up to Jerusalem; and this they do by the Spirit. We have already spoken a little of this. To tell him by the Spirit not to go up was more than to forewarn him that bonds and tribulation awaited him. He felt bound in spirit, and doubtless the hand of God was leading him, though it was not that free action of the Holy Ghost in his heart that had guided him in the Lord's work. He means by the state of his soul as a victim, and by this providence, not to preach to lost souls in order to save them, but to bear testimony to the Lord in the face of death. In such a testimony he answers for himself, and therefore for the Lord; but he was not seeking souls. He does nothing hurtful, but he does not work in the power of the Holy Ghost. To him the Lord Himself was everything. That was not changed; and the circumstances in which the apostle is found during these last years of his life resemble those in which the Lord was placed at Jerusalem. But in Him we see perfection in man; in Paul the grace of God with man, but man in his imperfection was not doing that work now. He was going to Jerusalem with money from the Greeks for the poor saints who lived there - a good Christian work, but not the apostolic work of the gospel. He could not bear witness as an apostle at Jerusalem. The Lord had told him so. Still as a prisoner he had a testimony, and the Lord was with him: and also towards those who had not otherwise heard the gospel, such as the governors and kings.
425 It is true that he followed afar off in the Lord's footsteps, being betrayed by the Jews, and placed by them with Gentiles to be put to death; but his true work as an apostle to the Gentiles was at an end, at least as far as we know from the word. We have seen that there is a certain difference between "they said to him by the Spirit," and "the Spirit said." If the Spirit Himself had said it, it would have been disobedience to Paul to have gone to Jerusalem: but it seems to us that it was rather a warning given by the Spirit, that he should not go there. Certainly it was much more than to say that afflictions awaited him. It was a solemn warning from the Spirit by the mouths of the brethren; and moreover he was "bound in spirit." But this warning the apostle neglects. He feels constrained to go to Jerusalem, but notwithstanding this, he is led by the providence and grace of God manifest towards him, faithful and blessed.
The Lord goes as a sheep, dumb before her shearers; and neither opens His mouth, nor replies to His accusers. Paul, however, claims Roman citizenship, and raises a tumult in the council by declaring himself a Pharisee. That he was a Roman, and also (as a Jew) a Pharisee, was true; but where was any testimony in these worldly facts? Christ was condemned solely for the witness He bore to the truth, to Himself before the Jews and before Pilate, although by the latter He was recognised as entirely innocent. Paul is betrayed by the Jews, and given over to the Gentiles as Christ was, and by them punished, though not put to death; but Christ is condemned by His own divine perfection, by jealousy and hatred against God, manifest in goodness. But Paul is condemned by the enmity of the Jews to the Gentiles.
The apostle follows the Lord, but it is afar off. With full heart we honour the apostle so faithful, so blessed, and own the power of the Spirit in his work among the Gentiles. But to Jerusalem he went neither to seek the Gentile, nor to bear witness to the Jews. The Lord had told him, "they will not receive thy testimony." And it is precisely when he reminds the Jews of these words of the Lord, that their fury breaks forth. But Christ was the object of the testimony: and though Paul witnessed a good confession, yet he was only the witness, honoured however, and following the Lord in the distance.
Let us follow now the sad history of the apostle's end. At Tyre he enjoys again Christian simplicity and affection. Then he and his companions, accompanied by the brethren of Tyre, go down to the sea, and there kneeling down on the shore, join in prayer. Then taking leave of them, Paul embarks in the ship, and the others return to their homes. Blessed by his faithful labours, Paul leaves the field for ever. It is possible, and also probable that he was liberated from his captivity at Rome, and that he recommenced his work, but we have not the history of this in the Bible. Arrives at Caesarea, he leaves the vessel, and enters into the house of Philip the evangelist, whose preceding history at Samaria, together with the treasurer of Candace, we have already perused. There a prophet comes from Jerusalem, who announces once more that bonds awaited Paul there. His companions and the brethren of Caesarea then beseech him not to go up to Jerusalem; but in vain, Paul declaring that he is ready to die there for the name of the Lord Jesus. "And when he would not be persuaded, they ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done."
426 Here we must draw the distinction between the apostle's service, in which he was the minister of God Himself, and guarded by the Holy Ghost, when his words were those of the Spirit conveyed by his mouth, and his individual walk when he is found in a place where he had not been sent to accomplish the work assigned to him. This distinction made, let us compare the path of the Lord with that of the apostle, and faithful as the latter was, mark the difference. The Lord, when He hears that Lazarus is sick, remains quietly for two days in the same place, and then, God's time being come, goes up to Jerusalem to do the will of His Father. The disciples, astonished, and fearing that death awaited Him there, warn Him, saying, "Goest thou thither again?" But the will of God was clear to the Lord, and therefore His path also, and He replies, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world." All is calm, all is in the light of a divine day for His heart. The Saviour is the object of testimony, perfect in Himself. The apostles, however great and faithful, were only witnesses of His perfection and His glory. In themselves, no matter how marvellously blessed, they were only men as others. Paul had to reprove Peter publicly, and to separate himself from Barnabas. Here, conducted by the hand of God, and strengthened by His grace, he is led, bound in the spirit, to pass through circumstances that put to the test his state of soul, and brought his public career to a close.
427 He goes up then to Jerusalem forewarned (though neglecting or resisting these various warnings of the Spirit), accompanied by the brethren who were with him, and an old disciple, Mnason, with whom he was to lodge. Arrived at Jerusalem, the disciples receive him gladly; and here begins the history of that submission to human forms and Jewish customs which terminated in his captivity at Rome. But he does not follow these Jewish forms and ceremonies that he may thereby attract his countrymen to the gospel, but because persuaded into them by the elders and James, in order to shew that he was himself a good Jew, faithful to the law, and to Jewish customs. It was precisely this that threw him into the hands of the hostile Jews, and then into those of the Gentiles. Jesus, on the contrary, in the dignity of His perfection, sits in the temple to instruct the multitude. All classes of Jews come to prove him; but all are judged, and reduced to silence by the divine patience of the Saviour, and none dare ask Him any more questions. Then, as we have said, the Lord is condemned for the witness He bore to the truth.
When Paul arrives, the elders assemble with James, and, attached as they were to Judaism, and surrounded by Christian Jews, in order to uphold the reputation of their religion and unite Christianity to Judaism, counsel Paul to satisfy the prejudices of the believing Jews by purifying himself after their custom, and offering sacrifices in the temple, so that he might appear a good Jew to their eyes. Paul accedes to their proposal; and we encounter the strange spectacle of the apostle offering sacrifices, as though all such had not been abolished by the Lord's death. He neither upholds nor wins the Jews who were not set free from their customs. Still God permitted him willingly to conform to these Jewish ceremonies. Being at Jerusalem, though warned by the Spirit not to go there, what could he do?
Let us remember, if we have been cast for the Lord's name out from a place where we have been under the authority of the governing power, not to re-enter it, so that we may not again be placed in the position from which we have been freed. The relationship has been broken by the authority itself, and if we have left it by the will of God, by returning we place ourselves anew under the abandoned authority; and if this be contrary to that of the Lord Jesus, under which we came when liberated from human authority, we re-established over us the authority which had been destroyed, and thus strife begins between the authority of Christ over us, and that which we have abandoned. It is impossible to go on well thus. We were free under the authority of Christ, free to do His will; and we have returned to the authority which prohibits obedience to Christ. For example, suppose that a son or daughter has been driven from home for the Lord's name; by this act the parents have renounced their authority. If this son returns to his father's house, he places himself under paternal authority, and what can he do when his parents oppose the faith of Christ? He is powerless; and moreover, has so lost his liberty as to renew over himself the authority which opposes that of Christ, has given up the latter to return to that which is contrary to it.
428 Mark again the power of ancient habits. For us it is as clear as the light of day, that the sacrifices of the Jews are annulled, and that the precious sacrifice of Christ has abolished them entirely. But here is a multitude of Christians at Jerusalem, zealous for the law, offering sacrifices, and their elders counselling Paul to do likewise. Let us remember that his submission to these customs put an end to the public testimony of the apostle. Still, as we follow Paul's history, let us ever bear his work in mind, all his labours, and the blessing which accompanied them. In this submission to Jewish ceremonies, he was not guided by the Spirit; he followed the advice of the elders; they were tenacious of the law; and his position was theirs. Paul does what they desire; and joining himself to four other men who had a vow goes with them to the temple to signify the days of purification, when a sacrifice should be offered for each of them.
But before the end of the days, certain Jews of Asia recognise Paul, and stir up the people against him, crying out that he taught everywhere against the law of Moses, and that he had profaned the temple. The doors are shut, and the crowd begin to abuse and beat Paul. While they are thus engaged, the Roman captain learns that all the city is in an uproar, and comes to liberate Paul from their hands. Such is the result of the attempt to conform to the superstitions of others, not made with a view to winning souls by guarding against offending them, but in order to convince these superstitious Jews that he walked as they did, thus only confirming them in their darkness!
429 If here we think of the Lord ever perfect, we shall perceive the difference of His path. Paul is taken by the hands of the Jewish rabble; Christ, when the band arrives, gives Himself up voluntarily, saying, "Whom seek ye? I have told you that I am he; if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way." It is not in any way to disparage the Lord's blessed workman, unequalled in his labours, caught up into the third heavens, that I point out this difference, but only that we may realise the unique perfection of the Saviour, the witness in His ministry of divine perfection in man, always, no doubt, but especially during His last sojourn at Jerusalem, when this perfection was proved to the end, then only shining more brightly, and found wanting in nothing.