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THE APOSTLE PAUL
Having briefly sketched the lives of the twelve apostles, we naturally come to what may be called the thirteenth —the Apostle Paul.
In a former chapter1414See “Short Papers” Volume 1, page 32. we have spoken of the “conversion,” and of the “apostleship” of Paul. We will now endeavor to trace his wonderful path, and note some of the prominent features of his labours. But, first of all, we would gather up what we know of him.
PAUL BEFORE HIS CONVERSION
It is very evident, from the few hints that we have in the sacred narrative of the early life of Paul, that he was formed in a remarkable manner by the whole course of his education for what he was to become, and for what he was to accomplish. This was of God, who watched over the development of that wonderful mind and heart, from the earliest period. (Gal. 1:16) Then he was known as “Saul of Tarsus” —this being his Jewish name —the name given him by his Jewish parents. Paul was his Gentile name; but we will speak of him as “Saul” until the sacred historian names him “Paul”.
Tarsus was the capital of Cilicia, and, as Paul says, “no mean city.” It was renowned as a place of commerce, and as a seat of literature. The tutors of both Augustus and Tiberius were men of Tarsus. But it will be chiefly famous to all time as the birthplace and early residence of the great apostle.
But, though born in a Gentile city, he was “an Hebrew of the Hebrews.” His father was of the tribe of Benjamin, and of the sect of the Pharisees, but settled at Tarsus. By some means he had acquired the Roman franchise, as his son could say to the chief captain, “But I was free-born.” At Tarsus he learned the trade of tent making. It was a wholesome custom among the Jews, to teach their sons some trade, though there might be little prospect of their depending upon it for their living.
When Paul made his defence before his countrymen, (Acts 22) he tells them that though born in Tarsus, he had been brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers.” History speaks of Gamaliel as one of the most eminent of the doctors of the law; and from the scriptures we learn that he was moderate in his opinions, and possessed of much worldly wisdom. But the persecuting zeal of the pupil soon appears in strong contrast with the master’s counsels for toleration.
At the time of Stephen’s martyrdom Saul is spoken of as yet a young man, but as consenting to Stephen’s death, and as keeping the clothes of them that stoned him. His conversion is supposed to have taken place about two years after the crucifixion; but the exact date is unknown.
From Acts 9, we learn that he made no delay, after his conversion, in confessing his faith in Christ to those that were around him. “Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus: and straightway he preached Christ in the synagogue that he is the Son of God.” This new testimony is especially worthy of notice. Peter had proclaimed Him as the exalted Lord and Christ: Paul proclaims Him in His higher and personal glory, as the Son of God. But the time for his public ministry had not yet come; he had many things to learn, and, led of the Spirit, he retires into Arabia, remains there for three years, and returns to Damascus. (Galatians 1:17)
Strengthened and confirmed in the faith during his retirement, he preaches with increased boldness, proving that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The Jews, his unrelenting enemies henceforward, are stirred up against him. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. But the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket. (2 Corinthians 11:32 - 33) He then found his way to Jerusalem; and through the friendly testimony of Barnabas he found his place among the disciples. Wonderful, blessed triumph of sovereign grace!
SAUL’S FIRST VISIT TO
JERUSALEM ABOUT A.D. 39
The apostle is now at Jerusalem —the holy city of his fathers —the metropolis of the Jews’ religion, and the acknowledged centre of Christianity. But now how changed is his own position since he started on his memorable journey to Damascus!
We may here pause for a moment, and notice in passing the hoary city of Damascus. It is intimately connected with the conversion, ministry, and history of our apostle. Besides, it is conspicuous all through scripture.
Damascus is supposed to be the oldest city in the world. The records of Josephus (Ant. 1:6. 4) indicate that Uz, the son of Aram, and grandson of Shem founded Damascus. It is first mentioned in scripture in connection with Abraham, whose steward was a native of the place: “The steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus.” (Gen. 15:2) It is thus a connecting link between the patriarchal age and modern times. Its beauty and richness have been proverbial for full four thousand years. The kings of Nineveh, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome have conquered it, and it has prospered under every dynasty, and outlived them all; but it owes its chief luster and its everlasting memorial to the name of the Apostle Paul.1515See Porter’s Five Years is Damascus, for the latest and best account of the city and its environments.
We now return to Jerusalem. After spending fifteen days with Peter and James, and reasoning with the Grecians, the brethren “brought him down to Cæsarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus. Then had the churches rest throughout all Judæa and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.” (Acts 9:26, 31) For the moment the adversary is silenced. Peace reigns, through the goodness of God. Persecution has accomplished the purposes of His grace. The two great elements of blessing —the fear of the Lord, and the comfort of the Holy Ghost —prevail in all the assemblies. Walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, they are edified, and their numbers greatly increase.
While Saul was at Tarsus, his native place, the good work of the Lord was making great progress at Antioch. Among those that were scattered abroad through the persecution which arose about Stephen, there were “men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spoke unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them; and a great number believed and turned unto the Lord.” (Acts 11:19 - 21) A new order of things commences here. Up to this time, the gospel had been preached to “none but unto the Jews only.” When the report of this blessed work of God among the Gentiles reached Jerusalem, the church sent Barnabas on a special mission to Antioch. “When he came, and had seen the grace of God, he was glad and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord. For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith; and much people was added unto the Lord.”
As the work increased, Barnabas —no doubt, feeling the need of help —thought of Saul, and, led of the Lord, he departed at once in search of him. Having found him, he brought him to Antioch; and there they laboured together for a “whole year,” both in the assemblies of believers, and among the people. Barnabas still takes the lead. Hence we read of “Barnabas and Saul.” Afterwards the order changes, and we read of “Paul and Barnabas.”
An opportunity soon occurred for the young converts at Antioch to show their affection for their brethren at Jerusalem. A prophet, “named Agabus, signified by the Spirit that there should be a great dearth throughout all the world; which came to pass in the days of Claudius Cæsar. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt at Judæa; which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.”
SAUL’S SECOND VISIT TO
JERUSALEM ABOUT A.D. 44
Charged with this service, Barnabas and Saul go up to Jerusalem. As yet, Jerusalem is owned as the centre of the work, though now rapidly extending to the Gentiles. But union is preserved, and the link with the metropolis is strengthened by means of the collection now sent. Nevertheless a new centre, a new commission, a new character of power, in connection with the history of the church, now comes before us. Barnabas and Saul, having fulfilled their ministry, return again to Antioch, bringing with them John, whose surname was Mark.
Acts 13 opens up before us an entirely new order of things in connection with apostolic work, and we shall do well to mark the mighty change. The great fact to be noted here is the place that the Holy Ghost takes in calling out and sending forth Barnabas and Saul. It is no longer Christ upon earth by His personal authority sending forth apostles, but the Holy Ghost. “Separate unto me,” He says, “Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them… so they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus.” Not, of course, that there could be any change as to the authority or power of either the Lord or the Spirit, but their mode of action was now changed. The Holy Ghost on earth, in connection with a glorified Christ in heaven, now becomes the source and power of the work that opens before us, and which is committed to Barnabas and Saul. Hence we now come to:
SAUL’S FIRST MISSIONARY
JOURNEY ABOUT A.D. 48
And here, further remark, before setting out with the apostles on their journey, how changed everything is. Observe they start, not from the old centre, Jerusalem; but from Antioch, a city of the Gentiles. This is significant. Jerusalem and the twelve have lost position as to outward authority and power. The Holy Ghost calls Barnabas and Saul to the work, fits them for it, and sends them forth, without the jurisdiction of the twelve.
It will not be expected that, in papers of such a brief character, we can notice the many incidents in Paul’s journeys. The reader will find them in the Acts and in the Epistles. We purpose merely to trace their outline, and to give prominence to certain landmarks, by which the reader will be able to trace for himself the various journeying of the greatest apostle —the greatest missionary —the greatest labourer that ever lived, the blessed Lord excepted. But in the first place, we would notice his companions and their starting-point.
BARNABAS has been for some time the close companion of Saul. He was a Levite of the island of Cyprus. He had been early called to follow Christ, and “having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Comparing his liberality with the fine testimony, which the Holy Ghost renders to him, he stands before us as a lovely and an exquisite character. And, from his early attachment to Saul, and from his heartiness in introducing him to the other apostles, we judge that he was more frank and larger-hearted, than those who had been trained in the narrowness of Judaism; but he lacked in service the thoroughness and determination of his companion Saul.
JOHN MARK was closely related to Barnabas —“his sister’s son.” (Col. 4:10) His mother was a certain Mary who dwelt at Jerusalem, and whose house seems to have been a meeting place for the apostles and first Christians. When Peter was delivered from prison, he went straight to “the house of Mary the mother of John whose surname was Mark.” (Acts 12) It is supposed that on this occasion he was converted through Peter’s means, for he afterwards speaks of him as “Marcus my son.” (1 Peter 1:13)
From these notices we learn, that he was neither an apostle nor one of the seventy —which he had not companied with the blessed Lord during His public ministry. But we may suppose he was anxious to work for Christ, and so joined Barnabas and Saul; though it afterwards appeared that his faith was not equal to the hardships of a missionary life. “Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem.” (Acts 13:13) Mark is supposed to have written his Gospel about A.D. 63.
ANTIOCH, the ancient capital of the Seleucidae, was founded by Seleucus Nicator about B.C. 300. It was a city only second to Jerusalem in the early history of the church. What Jerusalem had hitherto been to the Jews, Antioch now became to the Gentiles. It was a central point. From this time it occupied a most important place in the propagation of Christianity among the heathen. Here the first Gentile church was planted. (Acts 11:20, 21) Here the Disciples of Christ were first called Christians. (Chap. 11:26) And here our apostle commenced his public ministerial work. We now return to the mission.
Barnabas and Saul, with John Mark as their ministering attendant, are thus sent forth by the Holy Ghost. The Jews in virtue of their connection with the promises have the gospel first preached to them; but the conversion of Sergius Paulus marks, in a special manner, the beginning of the work amongst the Gentiles. It also marks a crisis in the history of the apostle. Here his name is changed from Saul to Paul; and now —save in Jerusalem (Acts 15:12 - 22) —it is no longer “Barnabas and Saul,” but “Paul and his company.” He takes the lead; the others are only those who are with Paul. But the scene has also a typical character.
The Pro-consul was evidently a thoughtful, prudent man, and felt the need of his soul. He sends for Barnabas and Saul, and desires to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer withstands them. He knew well that, if the governor received the truth that Paul preached, he would lose his influence at court. He therefore seeks to turn away the deputy from the faith. But Paul, in the conscious dignity and power of the Holy Ghost, “set his eyes on him,” and, in words of the most withering indignation, rebuked him in the presence of the governor. “O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season… Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord.” The mighty power of God accompanies the word of His servant, and the sentence pronounced is executed at the moment. The deputy is overwhelmed with the moral glory of the scene, and submits to the gospel.
“I do not doubt,” says one, “that in this wretched Bar-jesus we see a picture of the Jews at the present time, smitten with blindness for a season, because jealous of the influence of the gospel. In order to fill up the measure of their iniquity, they withstood its being preached to the Gentiles. Their condition is judged, their history given in the mission of Paul. Opposed to grace and seeking to destroy its effect upon the Gentiles —they have been smitten with blindness; nevertheless, only for a season.”1616Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, vol. 4, page 52.
During this first mission among the Gentiles, a great and blessed work was done. Compare Acts 13 and 14. Many places were visited, churches were planted, elders were appointed, the hostility of the Jews manifested, and the energy of the Holy Ghost displayed in the power and progress of the truth. At Lystra, Christianity was confronted, for the first time, with paganism; but in every place the gospel triumphs, and the various gifts of Paul as a workman, most blessedly appear. In addressing either the Jews who knew the scriptures, or ignorant barbarians, or cultivated Greeks, or enraged mobs, he proves himself to be a chosen vessel divinely fitted for his great work.
ANTIOCH IN PISIDIA deserves a special notice from what took place in the synagogue. Though there is a strong resemblance in Paul’s discourse to those of Peter and of Stephen in the earlier chapters of the Acts, yet we discover certain touches strictly Pauline in their character. His conciliatory style of address, the way he introduces Christ, and his bold proclamation of justification by faith alone, may be considered as typical of his after addresses and Epistles. None of the sacred writers speaks of justification by faith as Paul does. His closing appeal has been a favorite gospel text with all preachers in all ages. In a few words he states the blessedness of all who receive Christ, and the awful doom of those who reject Him; thereby proving that there can be no middle or neutral ground, when Christ is in question. “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken of in the prophets: Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.” (Acts 13:38 – 41)
Their mission being fulfilled, they return to Antioch in Syria. When the disciples heard what the Lord had done, and that the door of faith was opened to the Gentiles, they could only praise and bless His holy name. We must now turn for a moment to Jerusalem.
The effect of Paul’s first mission on the disciples at Jerusalem led to a great crisis in the history of the church. The jealousy of the pharisaic mind was so aroused, that a division between Jerusalem and Antioch was threatened at that early period of the church’s history. But God ruled in grace, and the matter as to Antioch was happily settled. But the bigotry of the believing Jews was unquenchable. In the church at Jerusalem they still connected with Christianity the requirements of the law, and these requirements they sought to impose on the believing Gentiles.
Some of the more strictly Jewish-minded Christians came down to Antioch, and assured the Gentiles that, unless they were circumcised after the manner of Moses, and kept the law, they could not be saved. Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them; but as it was too weighty a question to be settled by the apostolic authority of Paul, or by a resolution of the church at Antioch, it was agreed that a deputation should go up to Jerusalem, and lay the matter before the twelve apostles and the elders there. The choice naturally fell on Paul and Barnabas, as they had been the most active in the propagation of Christianity among the Gentiles. And now we come to:
PAUL’S THIRD VISIT TO
JERUSALEM ABOUT A.D. 50
When they arrived at Jerusalem, they found the same thing, not only in the minds of a few restless brethren, but also in the very bosom of the church. The source of the trouble was there, not among unbelieving Jews, but among those who professed the name of Jesus. “Then rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, that it was needful to circumcise them [the Gentiles], and to command them to keep the Law of Moses.” This plain statement brought the whole question fairly before the assembly, and their important deliberations commenced. Acts chapter 15 contains the account of what took place and how the question was settled. The apostles, elders, and the whole body of the church at Jerusalem were not only present with one accord, but took part in the discussion. The apostles neither assumed nor exercised exclusive power in the matter. It is usually called “The first Council of the Church,” but it may also be called the last council of the church, which could say, “It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.”
Many, according to modern notions of “essentials, and non-essentials,” will no doubt say, that the mere ceremony of circumcising or not circumcising a child was rather unimportant. But not so, according to the mind of God. It was a vital question. It affected the very foundations of Christianity, the deep principles of grace, and the whole question of man’s relations with God. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians is a commentary on the history of this question.
There was no rite or ceremony that the converted Jew was so unwilling to give up as circumcision. It was the sign and seal of his own relationship with Jehovah, and of the hereditary blessings of the covenant to his children. It has been the opinion of some, in all ages, that the church introduced “infant baptism” in order to meet this strong Jewish prejudice. But had it been so intended by the Lord, the council at Jerusalem was the very place to announce it. It would have fully met the difficulty, and settled the question before them, and restored peace and unity between the two parent churches. But none of the apostles or others alludes to it.
Before leaving this important and suggestive part of our apostle’s history, it maybe well just to notice certain facts which he brings out in Galatians 2, but which are not mentioned in the Acts. It was on this occasion that Paul went up by revelation, and took Titus with him. In the Acts we have the outward history of Paul yielding to the motives, desires, and objects of men; in the Epistle we have something deeper —that which governed the apostle’s heart. But God knows how to combine these outward circumstances amid the inward guidance of the Spirit. Christian liberty or legal bondage was the question at issue: whether the Law of Moses —in particular the rite of circumcision —ought to be imposed upon the Gentile converts. Paul, led of God, goes up to Jerusalem, and takes Titus with him. In the face of the twelve apostles, and of the whole church, he brings in Titus who was a Greek, and who had not been circumcised. This was a bold step —to introduce a Gentile, and uncircumcised, into the very centre of a bigoted Judaism! But the apostle went up by revelation. He had positive communications from God on the subject. It was the divine way of deciding the question, once and forever, between himself and the Judaizing Christians. This step was needful, as he says, “Because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.”
The apostle, then, having attained his main object, and having communicated his gospel to them at Jerusalem, leaves, with Barnabas, and returns to the Gentile Christians at Antioch. The two delegates, Judas and Silas, bearing the decrees of the council, accompany them. When the multitude of the disciples came together and heard the Epistle read, they rejoiced and were comforted.
Thus closed the first apostolic council, and the first apostolic controversy. And, from what we learn of these matters in the Acts, we might conclude that the division between the Jewish and Gentile Christians had been completely healed by the decision of the assembly; but we know from the Epistles, that the opposition of the Judaizing party, against the liberty of Gentile Christians, never even slumbered. It soon broke out afresh, and Paul had constantly to meet it and to contend against it.
PAUL’S SECOND MISSIONARY
JOURNEY ABOUT A.D. 51
After Paul and Barnabas had spent some time with the church at Antioch, another missionary journey was proposed. “Let us go again,” said Paul, “and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with them John whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought it not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark and sailed unto Cyprus; and Paul chose Silas and departed, being recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.” (Acts 15:36 – 41)
With a journey so important, so full of trials, and so requiring courage and steadfastness —before the mind of our apostle —he could not trust Mark as a companion; he could not easily excuse one whose home attachments rendered him unfaithful in the Lord’s service. Paul himself gave up all personal considerations and feelings when the work of Christ was concerned, and he wished others to do the same. Natural affection on this occasion may have betrayed Barnabas into again pressing his nephew into the service; but a severe earnestness characterised Paul. The ties of natural relationship and human attachments still had great influence over the mild Christian character of Barnabas. This is evident from his conduct at Antioch on the occasion of Peter’s weak compliance with the Judaizers from Jerusalem. (Gal. 2) The spread of the gospel in the hostile world was too sacred in Paul’s eyes to admit of experiments. Mark had preferred Jerusalem to the work, but Silas preferred the work to Jerusalem. This decided Paul as to his choice; though, no doubt, the Spirit guided him.
Barnabas takes Mark his kinsman, and sails to Cyprus his native country. And here we part with Barnabas, that beloved saint and precious servant of Christ! His name is not again mentioned in the Acts. These words “kinsman” and “native country” must be left to speak for themselves to the heart of every disciple who reads these pages. Were we meditating on this painful scene, in place of giving a mere outline of a great history, we might say much on the subject; but we leave it with two happy reflections:
1) That it was overruled for blessing to the heathen; the waters of life now flow in two streams in place of one. This, however, is God’s goodness, and gives no sanction to the divisions of Christians.
2) That Paul afterwards speaks of Barnabas with entire affection; and desires that Mark should come to him, having found him profitable for the ministry. (2 Corinthians 9:6, and 2 Timothy 4:11) We have no doubt that Paul’s faithfulness was made a blessing to them both. But the honey of human affections can never be accepted on the altar of God.
Having been recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God, they start on their journey. All is beautifully simple. No parade is made by their friends in seeing them off, and no great promises are made by them, as to what they were determined to do. “Let us go again and visit our brethren,” are the few, simple, unpretending words, which lead to Paul’s second and great missionary journey. But the master was thinking of His servants and providing for them. They had not to go far before finding a new companion in Timotheus of Lystra; and one who was to supply the void caused by the difference with Barnabas. If Paul lost the fellowship of Barnabas as a friend and brother, he found in Timothy, as his own son in the faith, sympathy and a fellowship, which only closed with the apostle’s life. “Him would Paul have to go forth with him,” but before they go, Paul “circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters; for they knew all that his father was a Greek.” (Acts 16:3) Paul, on this occasion, stoops to the prejudice of the Jews, and circumcises Timothy to set it aside.
TIMOTHEUS, or Timothy, was the son of one of those mixed marriages, which have ever been strongly condemned both in the Old and in the New Testament. His father was a Gentile, but his name is never mentioned; his mother was a pious Jewess. From the absence of any reference to the father, either in the Acts or in the Epistles, it has been supposed that he may have died soon after the child was born. Timothy was evidently left in infancy to the sole care of his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois, who taught him from a child to know the Holy Scriptures. And from the many allusions in Paul’s Epistles to the tenderness, the sensitiveness, and the tears of his beloved son in the faith, we may believe that he retained through life the early impressions of that gentle, loving, holy, household. Paul’s wonderful love for Timothy, and his tender recollections of his home at Lystra, and his early training there, have dictated some of the most touching passages in the writings of the great apostle. When an old man —in prison, in want, and martyrdom before him —he writes, “To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day: greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I maybe filled with joy; when I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice: and I am persuaded that in thee also.” (2 Tim, 1:2 - 5) He urges, and repeats his urgent invitation to Timothy to come and see him. “Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me” —“to come before winter.” We may be permitted to believe, that a son so tenderly loved, was allowed to arrive in time to soothe the last hours of his father in Christ, to receive his last counsel and blessing, and to witness him finish his course with joy.
SILAS, or Silvanus, first comes before us as a teacher in the church at Jerusalem; and probably he was both a Hellenist and a Roman citizen like Paul himself. (Acts 16:37) He was appointed as a delegate to accompany Paul and Barnabas on their return to Antioch with the decrees of the council. But as many details both in the life of Timothy and of Silas will naturally come before us in tracing the path of the apostle, we need say nothing more of either at present. We will now proceed with the journey.
Paul and Silas, with their new companion, go through the cities, enjoining them to keep the decrees ordained by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. The decrees were left with the churches, so that the Jews had the decision of Jerusalem itself that the law was not binding on the Gentiles. After visiting and confirming the churches already planted in Syria and Cilicia, they proceeded to Phrygia and Galatia. They travelled “throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia.” Here we pause for a moment and wonder as we transcribe such words as these, “throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia.” Phrygia and Galatia were not towns merely, but provinces, or large districts of country. And yet the sacred historian only uses these few words in recording the great work done there. How different is the condensed energy of the Spirit, from the inflated style of man! We learn from Neander’s history, that in Phrygia alone, in the sixth century, there were sixty-two towns. And it would appear that Paul and those who were with him had gone through all then existing.
The same remarks as to labour would apply to Galatia. And we learn from Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, that at this very time he was suffering in body. “Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.” But the power of his preaching so strikingly contrasted with the infirmity of his flesh, that the Galatians were moved even to extravagance in sympathy and generous feeling. “And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. ‘Where is then the blessedness ye spake of?’ for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes and have given them to me.” (Chap. 4:13 - 15) We learn from history that the Galatians were Celtic in their origin, impulsive and changeable in their character.1717See Smith’s Student’s New Testament history. The whole Epistle is a sorrowful illustration of their instability, and of the sad effects of the Judaizing element amongst them. “I marvel,” says Paul, “that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel, which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” But now, we return to the history in the Acts.
The character and effects of Paul’s ministry, as related in chapters 16 - 20, are truly marvellous. They must ever stand alone on the page of all history. Every servant of Christ, and especially the preacher, should study them most carefully and read them frequently. “The vessel of the Spirit,” as one has beautifully said, “shines with a heavenly light throughout the whole work of the gospel; he condescends at Jerusalem; thunders in Galatia when souls are being perverted; leads the disciples to decide for the liberty of the Gentiles, and uses all liberty himself to be as a Jew to the Jews, and as without law to those who had no law, but always subject to Christ. He was also ‘void of offence.’ Nothing within hindered his communion with God, whence he drew his strength to be faithful among men. He could say —and none-other but he —‘Be ye imitators of me as I am of Christ.’ Thus also he could say, ‘I endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.’”1818Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, vol. 4.
The way of the Spirit with the apostle in these chapters is also remarkable. He alone directs him in his wonderful course, and sustains him amidst many trials and opposing circumstances. For example, He forbids Paul to preach the word in Asia. He will not suffer him to go into Bithynia, but directs him by a vision of the night to go into Macedonia. “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them. Therefore, loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next day to Neapolis. And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony.” (Acts, Chapter 16:9 – 12)
PAUL CARRIES THE
GOSPEL INTO EUROPE
This marks a distinct epoch in the history of the church —the history of Paul, and the progress of Christianity. Paul and his companions now carry the gospel into Europe. And here we may be forgiven if we rest for a moment and recall the many interesting historical associations of Macedonian conquerors and conquests; and to dwell a little on the plain of Philippi, famous also in Roman history. Here the great struggle between the republic and the empire was terminated. To commemorate that event, Augustus founded a colony at Philippi. This was the first city at which Paul arrived on his entrance into Europe. It is called “the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony.” A Roman colony, we are told, was characteristically a miniature resemblance of Rome; and Philippi was more fit than any other in the empire to be considered the representative of imperial Rome.
To many of our young and inquiring readers, this short digression, we feel sure, will not be uninteresting. Besides, knowledge of such histories is useful to the student of prophecy, as they are the fulfillment of Daniel’s visions, especially of chapter 7. The city of Philippi was itself the monument of the rising power of Greece that was to crush the declining power of Persia. Alexander the Great, son of Philip, was the conqueror of the great king Darius; when the “Leopard” of Greece overcame the “Bear” of Persia.1919See Notes on the Book of Daniel, by W. K.
In looking back from the time that Paul sailed from Asia to Europe, nearly four hundred years had passed away since Alexander sailed from Europe to Asia. But how different their motives and their objects —their conflicts and their victories! The enthusiasm of Alexander was aroused by the recollection of his great ancestors, and by his determination to overthrow the great dynasties of the East; but though unconsciously and unintentionally, he was accomplishing the purposes of God. Paul had girded on his armor for another purpose, and to win greater and more enduring victories. He was sent forth by the Holy Spirit, not only to subdue the West, but also to bring the whole world into captivity to the obedience of Christ. Christianity is not for one nation or one people only, but for man universally, even as Paul himself expresses it in Colossians 1, “For every creature which is under heaven.” This is the mission of the gospel, and this is its sphere.
But there is another thing we must notice here before proceeding with Paul’s journey.
LUKE, the “beloved physician,” historian, and evangelist, appears to have joined Paul at this particular time. From verse 10 he writes in the first person plural: “We endeavored to go into Macedonia.” It is supposed that he was a Gentile by birth and converted at Antioch. He seems to have remained the faithful companion of the apostle till the close of his labours and his afflictions. (2 Timothy 4:11)
EFFECT OF PAUL’S
PREACHING AT PHILIPPI
The number of Jews at Philippi appears to have been small, as there was no synagogue in the place. But the apostle, as usual, goes first to them, even when it is only a few women come together by the riverside. (Acts 16) Paul preaches to them, Lydia is converted, the door is opened, and others also believe. It was in this unpretending place, and to those few pious women, that the gospel was first preached in Europe, and the first household baptised.2020The action of the Spirit as to the family seems to have obtained remarkably among the Gentiles; among the Jews, as far as I know, we do not hear of it. We have found, already, districts among the Jews, as also among the Samaritans, which were powerfully impressed (to say the least) by the gospel: but among the Gentiles, families seem particularly visited by divine grace, as recorded by the Spirit. Take for example, Cornelius, the jailor, Stephanus; indeed you find it over and over again. This is exceedingly encouraging —especially to us— Introductory Lectures to the Acts of the Apostles, etc., by W. K. But its quiet beginnings, and its peaceful triumphs, were soon to be disturbed by the malice of Satan and the covetousness of man. The gospel was not to be advanced in the midst of heathenism with ease and comfort, but with great opposition and suffering.
As the apostle and his companion were going to the oratory, or place of prayer, a damsel possessed of an evil spirit followed them, and cried, saying, “These men are the servants of the most high God, which show unto us the way of salvation.” At first, Paul took no notice of her. He went on with his own blessed work of preaching Christ, and winning souls for Him. But the poor possessed slave persisted in following them, and in uttering the same exclamation. It was a malicious attempt of the enemy to hinder the work of God by bearing a testimony to the ministers of the word. It will be observed that she does not bear testimony to “Jesus,” or to the “Lord,” but to His “servants,” and to “the most high God.” But Paul did not want a testimony to himself, or a testimony from an evil spirit, and he, “being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.”
As the damsel could no longer practice her arts of soothsaying, her masters saw themselves deprived of the gains, which they had hitherto derived from that source. Enraged at the loss of their property, and moving the multitude to side with them, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them before the magistrates. As they were well aware that they had no real charge to bring against them, they raised the old cry of “troubling the peace” —that they were attempting to introduce Jewish practices into the Roman colony, and to teach customs which were contrary to the Roman laws. And, as it has often been since, the clamour of the multitude was accepted in the place of evidence, examination, and deliberation. The magistrates, without further inquiry, commanded them to be publicly scourged and cast into prison. And thus it was; these blessed servants of God, wounded, bleeding, and faint, were handed over to a cruel jailor to keep them safely, and he added to their sufferings by making their feet fast in the stocks. But in place of Paul and Silas being depressed by their bodily sufferings and the gloomy walls of a prison, they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame and pain for the sake of Christ; and in place of the silence of midnight being broken with the sighs and groans of the prisoners, they “prayed and sang praises to God: and the prisoners heard them.”
If Satan is not without resources to carry on his evil work, God is not without resources to carry on His good work. He now makes use of all that has happened to direct the progress of the work of the gospel, and to accomplish the purposes of His love. The jailor is to be converted, the church is to be gathered out, and a witness set up for the Lord Jesus Christ, in the very stronghold of heathenism. At midnight, while Paul and Silas were singing, and the prisoners listening to the unusual sound, there was a great earthquake. God enters the scene in majesty and grace. He utters His voice, and the earth trembles: the prison walls are shaken; the doors fly open, and every man’s fetters fall off. And now, what are chains and prisons? —what are Roman legions? —what is the whole power of the enemy? God’s voice is heard in the storm: but the violence of the tempest is succeeded by the still small voice of the gospel and the peace of heaven.
Awakened in a moment by the earthquake, the jailor’s first thoughts were of his prisoners. Alarmed at seeing the prison doors open, and supposing that the prisoners were fled, he drew his sword and would have killed himself. “But Paul cried with a loud voice saying, Do thyself no harm, for we are all here.” These words of love broke the jailor’s heart. The calm serenity of Paul and Silas —their refusing to avail themselves of the opportunity to escape —their tender concern for him —all combined to make them appear in the eyes of the astonished jailor, as beings of a higher order. He laid aside his sword, called for a light, sprang into the prison; and, trembling, fell down at the apostle’s feet. His conscience was now reached, his heart was broken, and there was something like the violence of an earthquake agitating his whole soul. He takes the place of a lost sinner, and cries, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” He does not say, like the lawyer in Luke 10, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” It was no question with the jailor of doing something for life, but of salvation for the lost. The lawyer, like many others, did not know himself as a lost sinner; therefore he does not speak about salvation.
In reply to the most important inquiry that human lips can ever make, “What must I do to be saved?” the apostle directs the mind of the jailor to Christ —“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” God gave the blessing, and the whole house believed, rejoiced, and were baptised. And now all is changed; the jailor takes the prisoners into his house —his cruelty is changed into love, sympathy, and hospitality. In the same hour of the night he washed their stripes —set meat before them —rejoiced, believing in God with his entire house. What an eventful night! What a change in a few hours! and what a joyful morning dawned on that happy house! The Lord be praised!
Like Darius of old, the magistrates appear to have been disturbed during the night. The news of the earthquake might have reached them, or that Paul and Silas were Romans. But as soon as it was day, they sent word to the jailor to “let those men go.” He immediately made known the order to Paul and Silas, and wished them to depart in peace. But Paul refused to accept his liberty without some public acknowledgment of the wrong he had suffered. He also now made known the fact that he and Silas were Roman citizens. The famous words of Cicero had passed into a proverb, and had immense weight everywhere: “To bind a Roman citizen is an outrage, to scourge him is a crime.” The magistrates had evidently violated the Roman laws, but Paul only demanded that, as they had been publicly treated as guilty, the magistrates should come and publicly declare that they were innocent. This they readily did, seeing what wrong they had done. “And they came and besought them, and brought them out, and desired them to depart out of the city.” The apostles readily complied with the magistrates’ request, left the prison, and openly entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them and departed.2121See evangelistic papers on the leading characters of this chapter, Things New and Old, vol. 12. Pages 29 – 97.
We would only further add before leaving this memorable chapter, that it is very pleasant to find, in Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, the proofs of an attachment which bound them together, and which continued from “the first day” even until Paul’s imprisonment at Rome. His affection for his beloved Philippians was wonderful. He addressed them as —“my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.” And he acknowledges, with no small joy, their unwearied fellowship with him in the gospel, and the many practical proofs of their loving care and tender sympathy for himself. As early as his residence at Thessalonica they thought of his need. “For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.” (Philippians 4:15 – 19)
PAUL AT THESSALONICA AND BEREA
Paul and Silas now directed their course to Thessalonica. Timothy and Luke appear to have remained behind in Philippi for a short time. Having passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, Paul and Silas arrived at Thessalonica. Here they found a synagogue. It was a commercial town of great importance, where many Jews resided. “Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures.” His preaching touched the hearts of many and a great multitude of devout Greeks, and women of high station believed. But Paul’s old enemy again appears. “The Jews which believed not and being moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out unto the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Cæsar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.” These verses may suffice to give us the character of the universal enmity of the Jews against the gospel and against Paul its chief minister.
The apostle had evidently preached to the Thessalonians the truth respecting the exaltation of Christ, and His coming again in glory: “saying that there is another king, one Jesus.” This could explain the constant allusion to “the coming of the Lord,” and to “the day of the Lord,” in Paul’s Epistles to that church. From what Paul says in his first Epistle we learn that his labours were most abundant and greatly owned and blessed of the Lord to many souls. (1 Thessalonians 1:9, 10; and 2:10, 11)
The apostle now proceeded to Berea. Here the Jews were nobler. They examined what they heard by the word of God. There was great blessing here also. Many believed, but the Jews, like hunters after their prey, hastened from Thessalonica to Berea, and raised a tumult, which forced Paul to leave the place almost immediately. Accompanied by some of the Berean converts, he directed his course to Athens. Silas and Timotheus were left behind.
PAUL’S VISIT TO ATHENS
The appearance of the apostle in Athens is an event in his history of great importance. It was, in some respects, the capital of the world, and the seat of Grecian culture and philosophy, but it was also the central point of superstition and idolatry.
It is very interesting to observe, that the apostle was in no haste to enter upon his work here. He allowed time for reflection. Deep thoughts, and how to weigh up everything in the presence of God, and in the light of the death and resurrection of Christ, filled his mind. It was his first intention to wait for the arrival of Silas and Timotheus. He had sent back a message to Berea, that they were to come to him with all speed. But when he saw himself surrounded with temples, and altars, and statues, and idolatrous worship, he could keep silence no longer. As usual, he begins with the Jews, but also disputes daily with the philosophers in the market place. Christianity and paganism thus openly confront each other; and, be it observed, the apostle of Christianity was alone in Athens; but the place swarmed with the apostles of paganism; and so numerous were the objects of worship, that a satirist observed, “It is easier to find a god than a man in Athens.”
Some scornfully derided what they heard; others listened and wished to hear more. “Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoicks encountered him. And some said; ‘What will this babbler say?’ others said, ‘He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods;’ because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.” Thus we learn what Paul in his daily conversation had been pressing on the attention of the people, and the different classes of philosophers. It was “Jesus, and the resurrection.” These words had made the greatest impression, and remained the most distinctly in their minds. What a new thing, and what a blessed reality for souls! The Person of Christ; not a theory: the fact of the resurrection; not a gloomy uncertainty as to the future. The minister of Christ lays bare to the learned Athenians their fearful condition in the sight of the true God. Nevertheless, they sought to have a fuller and more deliberate exposition of these mysterious subjects, and they brought Paul unto Areopagus.
This place, we are told, was the most convenient and appropriate for a public address. The most solemn court of justice had sat from time immemorial on the hill of Areopagus. The judges sat in the open air, upon seats hewn out in the rock. On this spot many solemn questions had been discussed, and many solemn cases decided: beginning with the legendary trial of Mars, which gave to the place the name of “Mars’ hill.”
It was in this scene that Paul addressed the multitude. There is no moment in the apostle’s history, or in the history of the first planting of Christianity, more deeply interesting or better known than this. Inspired by feelings for the honour of God, and filled with the knowledge of man’s condition in the light of the cross, what must he have felt as he stood on Mars’ hill? Wherever he turned his eyes, the signs of idolatry in its thousand forms rose up before him. He might have been betrayed, under the circumstances, into speaking strongly; but he mastered his feelings, and refrained from intemperate language. Considering the fervency of his spirit, and the greatness of his zeal for truth, it was a remarkable instance of self-denial and self-command. But his Lord and Master was with him, though to the human eye he stood alone before the Athenians, and the many foreigners who flocked to that university of the world.
For wisdom, prudence, sound reasoning, and consummate skill, Paul’s address stands alone in the annals of mankind. He did not begin by attacking their false gods, or by denouncing their religion as a satanic delusion, and the object of his utter detestation. Zeal without proper knowledge might have done so, and would have been pleased with its faithfulness, but in the address before us we have an example of the best way of approaching the minds and hearts of ignorant and prejudiced persons in every age. May the Lord give wisdom to all His servants to follow it!
His opening words are both winning and reproving. “Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.” He thus begins by acknowledging that they had religious feelings, but that they were wrongly directed; and then speaks of himself as one who was ready to lead them to the knowledge of the true God. “Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” He wisely selects for his text, the inscription, “To the unknown God.” This gives him an opportunity to commence at the lowest step in the ladder of truth. He speaks of the oneness of God the Creator, and the relationship of man to Him. Paul soon leaves the argument against idolatry, and proceeds to preach the gospel. And yet, he is careful not to introduce the name of Jesus in his public address. He had done so fully in his more private ministrations: but, being now surrounded by the disciples and admirers of such names as Socrates, Plato, Zeno and Epicurus, he sacredly guards the holy name of Jesus from the risk of a comparison with such. He well knew that the name of the lowly Jesus of Nazareth was “to the Greeks foolishness.” Nevertheless it is easily seen that towards the close of his address, the attention of the whole audience is concentrated on the man Christ Jesus, though His name is not mentioned in the whole speech. Thus he proceeds: “And the times of this ignorance God winked at, but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” Here the patience of his audience failed —his discourse was interrupted. But, the last impression left on their minds was one of eternal weight and importance. The inspired apostle addressed himself to the consciences, not to the intellectual curiosity, of the philosophers. The mention of the resurrection of the dead, and the judgment of the world, with such commanding power and authority, could not fail to trouble these proud and self-indulgent men. The essential principle, or the highest aim of the Epicurean philosopher, was to gratify himself; that of the Stoic, was a proud indifference to good and evil, pleasure and pain.
Need we wonder then, that this remarkable assembly should have broken up, amidst the scornful derision of some, and the icy indifference of others? But, in spite of all, Christianity had gained its first and noble victory over idolatry; and, whatever may have been the immediate results of Paul’s speech, we know it has been blessed to many ever since, and that it shall yet bring forth much fruit in many souls, and continue to bear fruit to the glory of God for ever and ever.
Paul now departs from among them. He does not appear to have been driven away by any tumult or persecution. The blessed Lord gave him to taste His own joy, and the joy of angels over penitent sinners; “Among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” But in the military city of Philippi, and the mercantile cities of Thessalonica and Corinth, the number of conversions seems to have been much greater than in the highly educated and polished city of Athens. This is deeply humbling to the pride of man, and to the boasted powers of the human mind. One Epistle was written to the Philippians, two to the Thessalonians, and two to the Corinthians: but we possess no letter written by Paul to the Athenians, and we do not read that he ever again visited Athens.
PAUL’S VISIT TO CORINTH
The connection of Corinth with the history, teaching, and writings of our apostle is almost as intimate and important as either Jerusalem or Antioch. It may be considered as his European centre. Here God had “much people;” and here Paul “continued a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” It was also when at Corinth that he wrote his first apostolic letters —THE TWO EPISTLES TO THE THESSOLONIANS.
CORINTH, the Roman capital of Greece, was a large mercantile city, in immediate connection with Rome and the west of the Mediterranean, with Thessalonica and Ephesus on the Aegean, with Antioch and Alexandria in the East. Thus by means of its two noted harbours, it received the ships of both Eastern and Western Seas.2222For full and minute geographical details, see The Life and Epistles of St Paul by Conybeare and Howson. We may also state here, that we follow them chiefly as to dates. It is the latest and most comprehensive, and probably the best history of the great Apostle.
Paul appears to have travelled alone to Corinth. If Timotheus came to him when at Athens (1 Thess. 3:1), he was sent back again to Thessalonica; which place, as we shall soon see, was much on the apostle’s heart at this time. Soon after his arrival he unexpectedly found two friends and fellow labourers in Aquila and his wife Priscilla. At this particular time there must have been a greater number of Jews in Corinth than usual, “because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome.” The Lord thus used the banishment of Aquila and Priscilla to provide a lodging for His lonely servant. They were of his own country —of his own trade —of his own heart and spirit. And being “of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought; for by their occupation they were tent makers.” (Acts 18)
Most gracious, and marvellous too, are the ways of the Lord with His servant. In a city of wealth and commerce, surrounded by native Greeks, Roman colonists, and Jews from all quarters, he quietly works at his own trade that he may be burdensome to none of them. Here we have at any rate one example of the deepest and loftiest spirituality, combined with diligent labour in the common things of this life. What an example! and what a lesson! His daily toil was no hindrance to his communion with God. None ever knew so well, or felt so deeply, the value of the gospel he carried with him: the issues of life and death were bound up with it; and yet he could give himself up to ordinary labour. But this he did, as readily as preaching, for the Lord and for His saints. He frequently refers to this in his Epistles, and speaks of it as one of his privileges. “And in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself. As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall stop me of this boasting in the regions of Achaia.” 2323As some have made too much of this passage, and others too little, it may be well to note what we believe to be its true meaning. The apostle’s resolution not to be burdensome to the saints, as here so strongly expressed, applies chiefly, if not exclusively, to the Corinthian church. An important principle was involved, but it was a special, not a general, principle with the apostle. He acknowledges communications from other churches in the most grateful manner possible. (Phil. 4) And in writing to the Corinthians afterwards, he says, “I robbed other churches, taking wages of them to do your service. And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied.”The apostle, no doubt, had the best of reasons for thus refusing fellowship with the church of Corinth. We know there were “false apostles” and many enemies there; and that many grave and serious disorders had been allowed amongst them, which he strongly rebuked and sought to correct. Under these circumstances, lest his motives might be misconstrued, God beforehand had so ordered it that the apostle should rather work with his hands than receive support from the church at Corinth. And he resolved so to continue. ‘‘Wherefore?” he asks, “Because I love you not?” God knoweth. But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them that desire occasion.” (2 Corinthians 9:1 - 15.) (2 Cor. 9:7 – 12)
There is another thing connected with this feature of the apostle’s course, which adds great interest to it. It is generally believed that he wrote his two epistles to the Thessalonians about this time; and some think the Epistle to the Galatians also. These are still before us as the true witnesses of his nearness to God and communion with Him, while he “laboured working with his own hands.” But the Sabbath of rest comes, the workshop is closed, and Paul goes to the synagogue. This was his habit. “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both the Jews and the Greeks.” But while Paul was thus employed, weekdays and the Sabbath day, Silas and Timotheus arrived from Macedonia. It is evident that they brought some assistance with them, which would meet the apostle’s need at the time, and relieve him from such constant labour with his hands.
The coming of Silas and Timotheus seems to have encouraged and strengthened the apostle. His zeal and energy in the gospel are evidently increased. He “was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ;” but they opposed his doctrine and blasphemed. This leads Paul to take his course with great boldness and decision. He shakes his raiment, in token of being pure from their blood, and declares that now he turns to the Gentiles. In all this he was led of God, and acted according to His mind. So long as it was possible, he preached in the synagogue; but when he could no longer go there, he was compelled to use the most convenient place he could find. At Ephesus, he preached in the school of one Tyrannus: at Rome, he “dwelt two whole years in his own hired house;” and here, in Corinth, a proselyte, named Justus, opened his house to the rejected apostle.
At this particular crisis in the apostle’s history, he was favoured with another special revelation from the Lord Himself, “Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak and hold not thy peace. For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee; for I have much people in this city. And he continued, there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.” But again his unrelenting enemies are astir. The great success of the gospel among the heathen excited the rage of the Jews against Paul; and they sought to use the coming of Gallio, a new governor, to accomplish their wicked intentions.
GALLIO was the brother of Seneca the philosopher, and, like him, given to much learning. He was wise, fair, and tolerant as a governor, though contemptuous in his treatment of sacred things. But the Lord, who was with His servant as He had said, used the unbelieving indifference of Gallio to defeat the malicious designs of the Jews, and to turn their false accusations against themselves. As they were frustrated in their evil purposes, the apostle had greater liberty, and less annoyance, in carrying on the work of the gospel. Its blessed fruits were soon manifesting throughout the whole province of Achaia. (1 Thessalonians 1:8, 9)
PAUL’S PASSING VISIT TO EPHESUS
The time had now come when Paul thought it right to leave Corinth and revisit Jerusalem. He had a great desire to be at the coming feast. But before his departure, he took a solemn farewell of the young assembly, promising (the Lord willing) to return.
Accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla, he leaves Corinth in peace. But when at the harbour before sailing, a ceremony was performed which has given rise to much discussion. Paul, being under a vow, shaves his head at Cenchrea. In his own mind, and as led by the Spirit, we feel sure that he was far above and beyond a religion of feasts and vows; but he stooped in grace to the customs of his nation. To the Jew he becomes a Jew. Their constant opposition to his doctrine, and their violent persecution of himself, never weakened his affections for his beloved people: surely this was of God. While he sought in the energy of the Spirit to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, he never forgot, in faithfulness to the word of God, to preach to the Jews first. He thus stands before us, as the bright expression of God’s grace to the Gentiles, and of his lingering affections towards the Jews. The missionary band lands at Ephesus. Paul goes to the synagogue and reasons with the Jews. They seem inclined to hear him, but he has a strong desire to go up to Jerusalem, and keep the approaching feast. So he “bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem; but I will return again unto you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus.”
PAUL’S FOURTH VISIT TO JERUSALEM
The sacred historian does not supply us with any information as to what occurred in Jerusalem on this occasion. We are merely told that when Paul had “gone up and, saluted the church, he went down to Antioch.” But his intense desire to pay this visit may assure us of its great importance. He may have felt that the time had come when the Jewish Christians, assembled at the feast, should hear a full account of the reception of the gospel among the Gentiles. Roman colonies and Greek capitals had been visited, and a great work of God had been accomplished. All this would be perfectly natural and right, but we need not seek to remove the veil, which the Holy Ghost has drawn over this visit.
Paul goes down from Jerusalem to Antioch, visiting all the assemblies he had first formed; and thus, as it were, binds his work together —Antioch and Jerusalem. “So far as we know, Paul’s visit to Antioch was his last. We have already seen how new centres of Christian life had been established by him in the Greek cities of the Aegean. The course of the gospel is further and further towards the West, and the inspired part of the apostle’s biography, after a short period of deep interest in Judea, finally centres in Rome.”
THE RETURN OF PAUL TO ANTIOCH
After a journey which had extended over the space of three or four years, our apostle returns to Antioch. He had travelled over a wide circuit, and disseminated Christianity in many flourishing and populous cities, and almost entirely by his own exertions. If the reader would keep up his interest in Paul’s history, he must mark distinctly and keep clearly before him the great epochs in Paul’s life, and the main points in his different journeys. But before starting with Paul on his third missionary journey, it may be well to notice another great preacher of the gospel, who suddenly comes before us just at this time, and whose name, next to that of the apostle, is perhaps the most important in the early history of the church.
APOLLOS was a Jew by birth —a native of Alexandria. He was “an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures; but knowing only the baptism of John.” He was devoted, earnest, and upright, publicly confessing and preaching that which he knew; and the power of the Holy Ghost was manifested in him. It does not appear that he had received any appointment, ordination, or sanction of any kind, from either the twelve or Paul. But the Lord who is above all had called him, and was acting in him and by him. We thus see, in the case of Apollos, the manifestation of the power and liberty of, the Holy Spirit, without human intervention. It is well to note this. The idea of an exclusive clericalism is the practical denial of the liberty of the Spirit to act by whom He will. But though burning with zeal and a powerful speaker, Apollos knew only what John had taught his disciples. This, the Lord knew, and provided teachers for him. Among those who were listening to his earnest appeals, two of Paul’s well instructed disciples were led to take a special interest in him. And though he was both learned and eloquent, he was humble enough to be instructed by Aquila and Priscilla. They invited him to their house, and, no doubt in a lowly spirit, “expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” How simple! how natural! and, how beautiful! All is of the Lord. He ordered that Aquila and Priscilla should be left at Ephesus —that Apollos should come and stir up the people at Ephesus before the arrival of Paul; and, after being instructed, that he should go on to Corinth, and help on the good work there, which Paul had begun. Apollos watered what Paul had planted, and God gave abundant increase. Such are the blessed ways of the Lord in His thoughtful love and tender care of all His servants, and of all His assemblies.
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