The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Almighty God, everything is in thine hands. It is thine to set up and to pull down; to make rich and to make poor. It is well. "Even Song of Solomon, Father, for so it seemeth good in thy sight." We rejoice in all this rule of thine. Whom thou lovest thou chastenest; whom thou wilt enrich thou dost first impoverish; whom thou wilt lead into nobler prayer thou wilt for a small moment forsake. Thy purpose is all love. There is no hatred in God. All thy ways are light, sometimes so bright as to be dark. Clouds and darkness are round about thy throne, but in thyself is no darkness at all. Thou knowest that we are here but for a little time, and during that little time thou art training us for the eternal day, for the unwearying service in the everlasting temple. Thou dost train us variously, but always with tender wisdom. Take thine own way with us, for we are thine, and into thine hands we fall in the name of Jesus Christ, our only, because infinite, Saviour. We assemble in his name. His resurrection day is the brightness of our time; his triumph over death is our victory in pledge and earnest. Because Jesus lives, we shall live also. This is his own sweet word, and we cannot part with it. It is the angel that sings in the house, and that makes the night of trouble better than many a day of joy. We stand in Christ Jesus the Lord. When we have least to say it is because our hearts are full of wonder, love, and praise, for which there are no words. Enable us to live in Christ Jesus, the Priest of the world, the Saviour of sinners, the Redeemer of all that have transgressed. May we learn of him. May we know his very Spirit and reproduce it in our own. He was pure, gentle, true, self-forgetting, sin-forgiving; when he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not, but committed himself unto him that judgeth righteously. May we attain the measure of the stature of perfect men in Christ Jesus. This is beyond our ability, but thy grace is sufficient for us, thy Spirit is our Comforter. The Spirit of Truth dwells with us, yea, dwells within us, and it is his purpose to purify us and make us like our Lord. May we not interrupt the sacred work by impatience, or by ill-nature, or ingratitude; but may we abide constantly in the6ure confidence that all things work together for good to them that love God. If thou wilt enrich us with this faith, we shall never be poor again. To have this faith is to have all things—things present and things to come. Lord, increase our faith! We bless thee that we are united in Christian love. We thank thee for a new object which constrains our love, and binds to itself all our desires. That object is to know thee and to glorify thee in and through the blessed Son of thy love. We would have no other care; each would say for himself, "For me to live is Christ. God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." May each remember this holy vow, and breathe its spirit, that he may live loyally the life of sacrifice and the life of eternal hope. We know how wanting we are, lacking in every good quality, often speaking good words and forgetting to obey them; but thou knowest our fall, thou rememberest our beginnings. If we forget the hole out of which we were dug, thou dost never forget. Have pity upon us! We often mean better than we do. Our purpose is often thine own creation; it is our unworthy deed that seems to throw discredit on the inspired motive. We are unequal; the force within is Divine, but it is marred in the expression because of our fallen humanity. Lord, pity us! Thou Triune God, let thy compassion fall upon us! Make the house a home. Train up all the little children thyself. Set them in such trades and occupations as are best for them when their schooling days are done, tell each what he ought to be, according to thy will, and let his little young heart accept the destiny with eager love. Spare all that will make the world better. Thou dost seem to take away the teacher and the reformer and the wise, and to leave behind many we could well spare. This is our ignorance. Thou art the Husbandman; pluck what thou wilt where thou wilt, the trees are all thine. We have nothing that we have not received. Heal the sick. How long their days! How longer still their nights! How wearily the time moves! Sit beside them, look at them, touch them, speak to their inward hearing, and then they will forget all time and darkness, night and day, for they will be living with the Lord. Reconcile us to all thy way. Send messages to us from the sanctuary, and grant us a great reviving. Let thy Spirit fall upon this assembly and upon all our interests, and inspire us with heroic faith and enrich us with inexhaustible patience. Amen.
1. After these things he departed from Athens [ Acts 1:4], and came to Corinth [Julius Csar had rebuilt Corinth, constituting it a colony and the provincial capital, Acts 1:12. It was now again, after lying waste from b.c146 to b.c46, the greatest commercial city in Greece, while Athens was but a superannuated university town, Acts 17:21].
2. And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, a man of Pontus by race, lately come from Italy [from Rome, his dwelling-place, whither also he returned, Romans 16:3] with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome [Suetonius tells us the name of the chief agitator of the Jews was Chrestus; not "Christus," which name he rightly spells when mentioned. Chrestus was a common slave name].
3. And he came unto them; and because he was of the same trade, he abode with them, and they wrought [to assume that Aq. and Pris. were Christians already, in order to account for Paul"s intimacy with them, is both gratuitous and ignores the actual reason, the Jewish custom, which Luke gives]: for by their trade they were tent-makers [tent-tailors. A Cilician industry; the goat-hair rugs themselves were called cilicia].
4. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks [proselytes of the gate].
5. But when Silas [ Acts 17:10] and Timothy [ Acts 17:14-15] came down from Macedonia [from Thessalonica, whither, on second thoughts—comp. Acts 17:15 with 1 Thessalonians 3:1—Paul had directed Timothy to go], Paul was constrained by the word [G. "seized upon by the word." The opposite experience is when the minister has difficulty in "finding a text"!], testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ [Messiah].
6. And when they opposed themselves [to this word], and blasphemed, he shook out his raiment [ Matthew 23:35; Romans 13:2], and said unto them, Your blood be upon [ 2 Thessalonians 1:8] your own heads; I am clean; from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles [ Acts 13:46].
"PAUL departed from Athens." The Athenians said when they left him, "We will hear thee again of this matter." How like selfish human talk that is! They forgot, what we too forget, that there are two parties in every contract. When did it occur to a selfish man that he had anything to consider but his own purpose and his own convenience? It did not occur to the Athenian mind that perhaps Paul himself would not be there the next day! "Paul departed"—the sun goes, the preacher ceases to preach, the vain hearer says, "I will hear thee again concerning these things," and perhaps when that hearer returns Paul is not there! How then? We think the sun will always be present. We take for granted that our mercies, privileges, and opportunities will always be available. This is vanity; this is selfishness; this is the very sin of sin. We read in sacred Scripture that "the door was shut." The laggards came again and found that the door was shut. They never thought about the door being possibly closed! We think we can go to church when we like, and take up the broken hymn where we left it. Some day we shall find that "the door is shut." We go back to Mars" Hill and find the teacher gone. "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord "—the famine that kills the soul! Whilst Paul is available make the most of him. Whilst the Redeemer tarries tarry along with the sacred Presence. "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near." There have been those who went away to buy oil for themselves, and when they came back the chance was gone; there was nothing left but the outer darkness! Now is the accepted time!
"Paul departed from Athens and came to Corinth," the apostolic journey, as we have seen, of about forty miles. Probably he did not go by road; that might have taken him a long time. The supposition is that he crossed by water for about five hours, and then walked some eight miles to Corinth, and Corinth did not know he had come! The only event that lifts up Corinth in history was an event that Corinth knew nothing of! Corinth was the Venice of Southern Greece, so situated as to catch two civilizations—the east and the west; and a right gay city was Corinth! The Corinthians could drink and dance and follow the devil through all the mazes of his pranks and antics! The Corinthians were skilled in sin. There was no city superior to it in its devotion to the altar of darkness. A little blear-eyed Jew went into it with a sore heart, and Corinth that night sang as loudly, drank as deeply, showed its finery with as base and vain a profusion as if the wandering Jew had never been born! The man may have come into London last night who will invest the metropolis with its sublimest fame. Poor man! living in one of the poorest lodging-houses in all the city, perhaps having hardly enough to pay for this morning"s breakfast—perhaps he may be in this house. We do not know what is happening. Give us drink enough, meat enough, drum and trumpet and dance enough, and what care we what Jew or Gentile is making his way amongst us? We have no eye but for purple and fine linen, and no palate but for sumptuous fare. Poor Jew with the Christian fanaticism in his heart! Poor, ill-shapen Jew, laughed at by every man of form and nobleness, with an idea in his mind that the world is to be saved by the Cross! Put him in anywhere, his room is better than his company. All things fail but truth. The fine gold becomes dim, and the canker-worm eats the fine clothing, and the painted cheek shows at last its well concealed ghastliness, and the noble frame falls down a meal for death, a festival for worms! But truth, spiritual truth—the kind of truth that gets down through the fancy, imagination, taste, feeling, right away into the very heart"s heart, that lives when gorgeous palaces and Corinthian grandeurs and vanities are forgotten—this is immortality. Not iron, or brass, or things of outward beauty made with hands, but the inner loveliness, the meek and quiet spirit, the pure heart, the truth-loving mind, the soul that yearns for God—these shall abide. The sun himself shall sink in years, but the truth of the living God will be the light of the universe when that poor celestial spark is utterly forgotten!
Had the visit to Athens been without advantage? We were sorry for Paul when he turned away from the Athenian city, mocked by Athenian taste. We felt grieved that such a fire should have been extinguished by such indifference. Was the visit, then, wholly without advantage? No. It involved a great lesson to Paul upon the art and mystery of preaching. He preached better at Corinth than he did at Athens. We noticed that in his Athenian discourse there was hardly an evangelical tone. It was a classical speech; it was addressed to a speculative question; it involved that which was practical indeed, but the whole subject was approached in a philosophical spirit. Men are not philosophers, and that is the reason why philosophy seldom touches them. He who speaks to the heart is the true Christian philosopher. In going his forty miles from Athens, Paul seems to have said to himself, "No more preaching like that for me. Give me another chance and I will preach in another tone." So when he came to Corinth he did, and when he wrote to the Corinthians he said, in the second chapter of his First Epistle, "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of Wisdom of Solomon, declaring unto you the testimony of God (I learned at Athens that that would never do again, so) I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified." The visit to Athens was not in vain. For once, poor Apostle, he tried to talk the Grecian speech, and when he was done they mocked him and said, "We will hear thee again, thou seed-pecker." Going to Corinth he said, "I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling." There he will succeed! He made room for the Lord. He seemed (only seemed) to have got up a sermon for Athens, and when the Athenians heard it they mocked both him and his discourse. But at Corinth he got nothing up; he said, "Lord, take thy way. I am here, play what music thou wilt upon me." "My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man"s Wisdom of Solomon, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power; that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." That is the way to make the best of your losses! Here is the secret of the true treatment of human failures. When you are going from the Athens in which you have failed to the Corinth in which you may have another opportunity, put some sharp questions to yourselves. Say, "How was it that I made no impression there? Where was the flaw? Was my tone wrong? Was the substance of my matter wrong? Was my spirit a little too controversial, or contentious? Did I lower the dignity of the Gospel and make it one of many, as if the Athenians had as much right to speak about these things as I had? I see it now. Let me but stand up in Corinth and, God helping me, the Corinthians shall hear of Christ and the Cross!"
Entering Corinth, Paul "found a certain Jew, named Aquila." How did he find him? He found a "certain Jew" amid a population of tens of thousands! How do we find one another? That is a social mystery. We "came together." How? How do the roots know where the sun is? You put stones upon them and they still work their way, and more stones and still they are growing as fast as they can. What is their purpose? To find the sun! There are mysteries of the earth as well as mysteries of the written Word. Paul had never seen Aquila before, and yet when they met and hand touched hand, they had been with one another from eternity! Banish chance from all your criticism of life. There is no chance, but the chance of the eternal purpose.
Paul came unto Aquila and Priscilla, "and because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought; for by their occupation they were tent-makers." It did not follow that they were therefore poor. According to the Jewish law every man was bound to bring up his son to some way of getting his living. Some Christians have outlived that fanaticism. According to the Jewish law, if a man did not bring up his son to a trade he was said to bring him up to be a thief. There are many such thieves in Christendom! Why do you not learn to work? You can easily set it down if you can do without it. He is not the gentleman whose only claim to the title is that he cannot make his own living. He must then get somebody to make it for him! Will you submit to the humiliation?
In the fourth verse we read that Paul "reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath." So the first verse is explained in the fourth. The first verse is this: "After these things Paul departed from Athens"; and we thought he had departed from the work! He had not changed the work, he had only changed the city. The word "departed" in the first verse made us feel apprehensive. We said as Paul went away, "Is he then disgusted with the work? Has he seen its folly? Does he now see that epicureanism and stoicism, as represented in Athenian life, are better than Christian devotion? Will he preach no more?" We wait until the forty-mile journey is completed, and, behold, Paul is once more in the synagogue every Sabbath, persuading the Jews and the Greeks. What a hold this Christian work gets upon a man! You can give up almost any other kind of work, but who can give up the service of the Cross? We have seen enough of the results of Paul"s preaching to lead us to suppose that if any other man might have given up the work Paul might have surrendered it, for surely he was badly treated in the exercise of his ministry! But the work gets hold of the heart. It pays poor wages; it makes no worldly promises; it tells a man that he will be buffeted, and stigmatized, and sneered at. Many a Christian preacher occupies a lower social level than he might under some circumstances have done. Still, the work gets hold of his heart; he cannot give it up. That is plainly proved. In the old, old time the enemy was determined to put down this preaching; he would have no more of it, and he tried his very best, and what was the result? As for the preachers, "they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth;" and no man gave up the work. That is its best vindication! If they had been Prayer of Manasseh -made preachers they would have changed their occupation, but being born of the incorruptible seed of the Divine will and purpose they were faithful unto the end.
Paul gains some new experience in Corinth; he puts down this note in his book: "For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.... Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place; and labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day." Why then did he not give it all up? He could not. In the very first words we heard from his lips the reason was given. I have read from first Corinthians, fourth chapter, ninth verse; and in the opening of that verse you have the whole secret: "For I think that GOD hath set forth." It is God"s doing. God takes us to the whipping-post and sets us within reach of the mocker. This is God"s discipline; this is the way he will test our sincerity and reveal his Gospel. Let a man think that his ill-treatment is limited by human spite and malice, and he will surrender his mission; but let him feel that GOD hath set him there to be mocked, ill-treated, defamed, spat upon, and he will accept all this base treatment as part of the sacred discipline. The enemy would have no power over us but with God"s permission. The devil cannot add one link unto his chain until God enables him to forge it. The whole thing is in God"s keeping. Seize that idea, and you will be quiet with the peace of heaven.
Almighty God, we come to thee in Jesus Christ thy Song of Solomon, the door that is ever open, and the only door by which men can come to the Father. We bless thee for that open door. May we hasten to it and enter, lest by delay we find that the door is shut when we come! We would ask for large room in thine house, and being in it we would abide there for ev. Who would wish to leave thy table? In our Father"s house there is bread enough and to spare. Once we perished with hunger when we were in a far land, and no man gave unto us; but now we are in our Father"s house, and thou hast said unto us, "Eat and drink abundantly, O beloved, and let your souls delight themselves in fatness." We wish to come to thee through great increase of faith. Our prayer is that every doubt and hesitation may be destroyed, and that our hearts, being filled with faith and burning with love, may have no question to ask concerning the nearness, the goodness, and the infinite sufficiency of God. Thou knowest what temptations assail us, thou knowest how our hearts are often hardened by unbelief, and thou knowest how our eyes are often blinded because of disobedience. Thou dost receive us in thine house that thou mayest do us good. Thou wilt reply to every heart"s necessity; every life has its own prayer, weak or strong, earthly or full of heavenliness, and thou wilt listen to every heart"s own speech, and answer it with appropriate love. Thou hast called us to growth, and in calling us to growth, thou hast given the sun to warm us, and the rich rains to refresh the roots of our faith. May we accept the gracious gifts of heaven, and answer them by daily increase of strength, and continual growth in loveliness and beauty. We would be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; we would be men of God; we would be thoroughly furnished unto all good works. Our desire, created by thyself, and therefore to be satisfied by thyself alone, is that we may be temples of the Holy Ghost, wise unto salvation, well-instructed in the heavenly testimony, baptized into the very Spirit of Christ, and being filled with his Spirit, to wait in patience, and toil in hopefulness, until the day of maturity and reward. Do thou, by the gracious ministry of the Holy Spirit, work in us all the good pleasure of thy will, and the work of faith with power; may there be no remnant of the old nature left in us. May the city of God within our hearts lie four-square, the length and the breadth and the height of it being equal; so that being perfected according to thy purpose, our life, washed with the blood of Christ, and made to glow by the purifying energy of the Holy Ghost, may be lifted up into heavenly service, and comforted with heavenly rest. We remember—because thou dost put it into our hearts—the sick, the poor, the wandering, and those that are ill at ease—men who cannot find rest at night or work by day; lives that knock at doors that never open; wanderers that search and cry, but never find or hear the friendly voice. Thou knowest those who are on the sea, in trouble and fear. Thou knowest the loved ones from whom we are parted as by the stroke of a sharp knife. They are all present to thee, the good and the bad, the wheat and the tares, those who are nearly angels, and those that are nearly lost. The Lord"s pity weep for them, the Lord"s love go out after them, the Lord"s grace be as a portion of meat in due season to every soul suffering the pain of hunger. What we most need we cannot tell thee in words, but thou readest the speechless prayer. Look upon us. Read our thoughts we cannot speak, and enter into covenant with us, pledging that whatsoever our sin may have been, thy grace is infinitely more, and will surely drown it, as the stone is lost in the sea. What we forget thou wilt remember. If we have omitted from our prayer any name, or life, or interest, thou wilt not omit it from thy love. We give one another to thee standing hand in hand—fathers, mothers, children, friends, neighbours, acquaintances, pastor, people—standing heart in heart, hand in hand, we say, at the Cross, and in the name of him who died upon it, take us all, love us all, cast none away. Amen.
7. And he departed thence [from the synagogue, where the words of the previous verse were spoken], and went into the house of a certain man named Titus Justus, one that worshipped God [a proselyte], whose house joined hard to the synagogue.
8. And Crispus [ 1 Corinthians 1:14], the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord [G. believed the Lord], with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.
9. And the Lord said unto Paul in the night by a vision: Be not afraid, but speak, and not hold thy peace;
10. For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to harm thee, for I have much people in this city.
11. And he dwelt [G. "tarried," as Luke 24:49] there a year and six months, teaching the Word of God among them [writing thence two Ep. to the Thess, the earliest of all the N. T. writings].
Encouragements—Divine and Human
IN the fifth verse we read that "Paul was pressed in the spirit;" in the seventeenth chapter and the sixteenth verse we read that Paul"s "spirit was stirred in him." In both cases there was a paroxysm. It was not a little transient excitement, or momentary ruffling of the feelings, it was really what we ourselves never feel now—agony. He could stand it no longer; his soul was in pain. He would have been more accustomed to it now. Would God we could recall our early enthusiasm, our virgin passion, our first burning hate of sin. We are familiar with it; we pat its black head! There was a time when Paul could not look upon idolatry without his soul writhing in pain, and when he could not look upon Jewish obstinacy and unbelief without his breast heaving with violent paroxysm. We can now drive through whole miles of idolatry, unbelief, worldliness, and sensuality, and sit down at the other end to the smoking feast, as if we had come through hell blindfolded. Familiarity has its acute and terrible danger. Paul was a man of conviction. He really believed in his soul that there was no other name given under heaven among men whereby they could be saved but the name of Christ. That faith will not lodge in the same heart with indifference. That faith wants a whole heart to itself. It says, "If this salvation is worth anything, it is worth everything." That old martyr-faith is dead.
In the sixth verse we read, "And when they opposed themselves"—literally, set themselves in battle array—"and blasphemed, he shook his raiment [symbolically], and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles." We do sometimes long to be missionaries; to plough a virgin soil; to name the name of Christ to men for the very first time; to meet men to whom the Gospel would be news. Paul did not say he would give up the work. Paul was not the man to lay hold upon the plough of the heavenly kingdom, and to turn back; Paul would not even keep company with a young man who had broken faith with him in the Christian work; so if he himself had at last broken down in the middle of it, surely then the pillars of heaven would have been rottenness, and earth"s base built on stubble! He went clear through with it to the end. The old Paul—"such an one as Paul the aged"—sat down and said, "I have fought a good fight"; lay back in his bed, and said, "I have finished my course." Let us never give up the work. We may give up this corner of the vineyard or that; we may leave localities, but we must not leave the Cross. We may turn in vexation of soul from stolid unbelief and preach to ignorant and bewildered heathenism, but do not let the work have less of our energy because we have been disappointed in this or that particular circle.
A little encouragement would cheer us now. One ray of sunlight shooting athwart this gathering gloom would make us young again. Here it is in the seventh verse. Paul departed from that quarter of Corinth, "and entered into a certain man"s house, named Justus, one that worshipped God, whose house joined hard to the synagogue. And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptized." "One that worshipped God"! Is there any greater phrase in all human speech? Perhaps you are waiting in order to know something about God before you worship him. You can never know anything about God except—GOD! But the little, inventive, ingenious, industrious, fussy human brain wants to define God and classify his attributes, and practise upon him a kind of spiritual vivisection. The firmament will not be taken to pieces! I preach GOD, not some view of God. If you begin to have "views" of God, you will begin to have sects and classes, orthodoxies and heterodoxies, divisions, and whole libraries of pamphlets with nothing in them but words. Worship is greater than any definition of worship. God is the undefinable term. The soul knows him, but cannot get the mouth to speak Him. In this stupendous temple words may soon be lies. What is your feeling? Is there an uprising in your heart that can only say, "Abba!" "Father!" That uprising of the heart is the miracle of Christ, the inward and wondrous working of the Holy Ghost. Why do you not order back your obtrusive intellect, and tell it to be still in the presence of such an experience? Many of us could be almost good if we could hold our tongues! Some of us could almost pray if we were dumb!
When Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed, many of the Corinthians thought they would believe too. A quaint commentator has said that great men are the looking-glasses into which ordinary men look to see what they ought to be like. There was much human nature among the Corinthians! It is so with all departments of life and thought. This is not an argument on one side only, but on every side of human life. What we want, then, is courage on the part of those whose influence is legitimately beneficial and extensive. If you, the head of the house, could say, "Let us worship God," many within the house might respond affectionately and earnestly, "So be it." We must have leadership—may that leadership always be in an upward and solar direction.
A little encouragement now, I say, would come in well. Here it is again in the ninth verse, in another form. "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." These words express a Divine encouragement; they are addressed to every sincere heart; they were not spoken once for all and limited to a personality and a place, they are spoken from the heavens every day to every earnest labourer. The time of visions has not gone for ev. To-day it is possible to hold heart-to-heart fellowship with God. Even now the spirit can assure itself that it is reading the very will of God and doing the very behest of heaven. Paul was accustomed to visions. The first vision startles a man; the second is expected; the third longed for; and the last hailed with thankfulness and expectation, for it is the vision of heaven—the vision of rest. God took the census of Corinth from a religious point of view; he said, "I have much people in this city." He was going to work miracles in Corinth. Apparently there was not a saint in the whole place. As Athens was "wholly given to idolatry," so Corinth was, apparently, wholly given to sensuality. We cannot tell where God"s people are. The ancient prophet thought that he alone was left; but God told him that he knew of seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Surely there are more good and brave souls and Christ-worshippers and Christ-seekers than we have yet supposed. I see no reason why in the presence of this tenth verse we should not take a more hopeful view of human society. "How can I give thee up?" Even yet he expects some of us to pray; even yet he knows that many of us will come home. The Christian Gospel is not an exclusive one; whoever is excluded from its hospitality is self-expelled. God is looking for his own. He is looking for the religious among the irreligious; and one of the most gracious surprises in store for the Church is that there will be more people in God"s pure home—heaven—than it may have entered into the most generous human heart to conceive or venture to anticipate.
But the twelfth verse seems to contradict the vision. We no sooner hear of the vision than we learn that "the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat, saying, This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law." What a violent transition in personal experience! At night, lost in the ecstasies of Divine fellowship, in the morning dragged before the judgment seat by an incensed mob! Is it thus that Providence contradicts itself? Apparently Song of Solomon, but not really. Good will come out of this evil; character will be developed; friendships will be tested; the way will be broadened and improved, and evil shall be overruled for good.
You may probably have read the "History of Civilization in England," by Mr. Buckle. Mr. Buckle has, in that most refined and erudite work, made no concealment of his opposition to what are called Christian missions. He refers to certain good-natured and well-intentioned people, whose motives he would not question for a moment, who have gone to distant parts of the world to propagate the Christian faith. He says they bring home, or send home, very interesting reports of spiritual successes gained in the mission-field; but he says he has taken pains to test the accuracy of those reports. He sets side by side along with them the testimony of impartial, independent, well-instructed travellers—not religious agents of religious societies—and those travellers say in the distinctest terms that whilst many heathen populations have received Christian baptism and taken upon themselves Christian forms of worship, they are destitute of the spirit of Christianity, and if they could be seen, and lived with, by men who believed in missionary reports, those men might very possibly have their faith in missions considerably shaken. How can we, after reading such a testimony, take any part in missionary operations? This, unfortunately for Mr. Buckle"s originality, was recognized in the Bible itself some hundreds of years before he lived. It is beautiful to notice the verdant simplicity of men who have just discovered that converted people—nominally converted and baptized people—are not angels. They write it in their books as if it were news. They quote from "impartial and independent travellers" as if at last they had found the reality of the case. "Independent travellers" have never written such burning, scorching words against Christian converts as Paul wrote. Mr. Buckle has written most classic and refined English, but he does not touch the moral agony, the sublime vehemence of the Jew, who nearly nineteen hundred years ago wrote words of condemnation regarding Christian converts, which probably are unequalled in the most energetic eloquence of the world. Take Corinth as described by Canon Farrar—one of the most learned and eloquent Christian writers and preachers of this day. These are his words: "Corinth was the Vanity Fair of the Roman Empire, at once the London and the Paris of the first century after Christ.... But there was one characteristic of heathen life which would come home to Paul at Corinth with overwhelming force, and fill his pure soul with infinite pain. It was the gross immorality of a city conspicuous for its depravity, even amid the depraved cities of a dying heathenism. Its very name had become a synonym for reckless debauchery.... East and West mingled their dregs of foulness in the new Gomorrah of classic culture." Out of that city Paul brought some converts! But "impartial and independent travellers" testify that they were not angelic in spirit and temper and character! Take ancient Corinth as described by Frederick William Robertson, of Brighton, the prophet and the martyr of his age. These are his words: "The city was the hotbed of the world"s evil, in which every noxious plant, indigenous or transplanted, rapidly grew and flourished; where luxury and sensuality throve rankly, stimulated by the gambling spirit of commercial life. All Corinth now, in the apostolic time, as in previous centuries, became a proverbial name for moral corruption." That was the field in which the Apostle Paul had to labour. "Many of the Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptized "; but "impartial and independent travellers" testify that even after that they were not so good as they might have been. Did Paul set them forth to be perfect men? Read his Epistles to the Corinthians. Read above all—a passage, the whole of which I dare not read in public—Paul"s description of heathenism as given in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, and then say whether any "impartial and independent traveller" is to testify against a man who used such accusatory language. We must not give up missionary work simply because some "impartial and independent travellers" interrupt their geographical business by little scrutinies into the spirit and manners of people who had been baptized into the name of Christ. Let us go to the States—the Southern States of America. You talk about Freedom; you boast about Liberty; you have written odes and sonnets and poems of divers length to the Spirit of freedom and liberty. I will show you what it is. Here are some millions of black men who used to be slaves, and at that time the auctioneer who sold them used to give them really very nice characters, spoke of them in really creditable terms, and so put up their price. But now that they have become freed men look at them; lounging about the streets; lying and basking like dogs in the sunshine; going to the tavern; rising late; doing next to nothing—that freedom! And yet your poet says—
Almighty God, thou hast in Christ Jesus provided a feast for all people; a feast of wine on the lees, a feast of fat things. Thine invitation is—"Eat and drink abundantly, O beloved." Jesus Christ is the true bread sent down from heaven, of which if a man eat he shall hunger no more, but be satisfied with the satisfaction of his Lord and quiet with the peace of the Saviour. We have come to this feast upon the mountain today, and as we have travelled up the steep sides of the hill, we have heard a voice, which our hearts knew well, saying, "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled;" and again, "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink." That voice is the voice of Jesus Christ, thine only-begotten, thy well-beloved Song of Solomon, the mediator between God and Prayer of Manasseh, the man Christ Jesus. There is no voice like it; our hearts know every tone of its gracious music; our life rises to it because it is full of God, and full of grace. Thou wilt come to the feast thyself; without thee it would be no feast. We come to see thee; to eat bread with thee; to touch thy dear hand, thou wounded Saviour of the world; and to look into Thine eyes full of heaven, full of eternity. Thou wilt not disappoint the least of thy guests; for the least thou wilt prepare the most—yea, for the youngest a double portion. This is our hope, and it makes us glad; this is our confidence, and it makes us strong. No more is there any fear in our heart; no more can night settle upon our lives, in gloom and darkness; death itself is swallowed up in victory, and sin is a forgotten shadow. Thou wilt cast sin and death into the lake of fire; thou wilt burn them out of thy beautiful universe. In this great faith—sometimes as a calm river, sometimes as mighty music of triumphing in the heart—may we conduct all the affairs of life, and go on from strength to strength until every one of us appears in Zion before God. Thou knowest that every day we fall; every morning ere the dew has gone up we have eaten the forbidden fruit; every day we have talked with the serpent and been worsted by his baneful speech. But the seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent; our enemy shall be slain, and we shall be delivered with a mighty and costly redemption, and shall be set in thy heaven far above all sin, temptation, storm, and sorrow. Meanwhile, we are upon the earth, the way is weary, the well is seldom at hand when we seem to need it most; at night time the road is dangerous, and the day itself thickly beset with foes. The Lord grant unto us grace, peace, and confidence in the Holy Ghost. Give us the larger view. Help us to take in the "all things" which work together for good. Deliver us from superficial views and narrow and straitened outlooks, and give us that clear eye of believing love which sees amid all time the "third day" of perfectness. For special mercies we pray thee. Some hearts have but one sharp, clear prayer. In some cases life is narrowed to one point of need; in other cases the heart is full of laughter and joy, the delight of those who have been to the wedding festival and have seen the summer side of life; others have no prayer though they are not without love; others are lost in wonder, are amazed at the sight of the altar, and know not the reading that is inside the Book, and yet are willing to see and know and fall down with us in common adoration. To such let there be light given from heaven, more beautiful than the dawning of the day. So shall there be joy at thy feast this holy Sabbath; and many hearts shall arise to bless thee in new hymns, and Psalm, and anthems full of sacred joy. The old man"s prayer is already taking to itself the tone of a song. He has prayed long and expected much and received of thy fulness grace upon grace. Now he is in a strait betwixt two: his prayer ends in singing: the Amen of his prayer has in it the first note of his anthem. The Lord be gracious to such and destroy old age as somewhat that belongs to death; and establish in the heart of the veteran worshipper the sweet, dewy, tender thankfulness which comes of faith. Away beyond the church-line we see bed after bed of sickness and pain and weariness; around each bed a little circle of servants, kindly, affectionate, devoted. We hear, even on this day of Resurrection, sighings and groanings, and farewells; and we see, even on the green earth so rich with the emerald of spring, showers of tears, hot and bitter, that have been rained out of grieved hearts. But thou seest more than we see; there is balm in Gilead, there is a physician there. The Cross of Christ is the answer to all sin, and therefore the answer to all sorrow and pain and distress of heart. Do thou reveal it. Show all sides of that wondrous Cross, and take the heart through all its mystery of shame, agony, priesthood, sacrifice, triumph, and the eternal and ever prevalent intercession of him who died upon it. Then in the Church, and beyond the Church, the feast shall be enjoyed in common, by a number which no man can number. Amen.
12. But when [after this quiet year-and-a-half] Gallio was proconsul of Achaia [i.e, in53,54 a.d. Tacitus tells us that Gallio, the brother of Seneca, was likewise put to death by Nero], the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul, and brought him before the judgment seat,
13. Saying, this man persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the [i.e, Moses"] law.
14. But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said unto the Jews, If indeed it were a matter of wrong or of wicked villainy, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you [suffer you to proceed with the case]:
15. But if they are questions about words and names and your own law [G. "the law which concerns you"] look to it yourselves; I am not minded [G. "inclined"] to be a judge of these matters [this just judgment of the secular judge is styled by the persecutor of Servetus, "atheistic"].
16. And he drave [G. "dismissed," see Dem272, 11, 1373, 12] them from the judgment seat.
17. And they [the bystanders] all laid hold on Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue [not the Sosthenes of1Corinthians1, who was apparently not a Corinthian], and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of these things [took no official note of them].
Reports of Christian Service
HAVE you ever considered how extremely appropriate to all ages is the sentiment which inspires this report? As usual, our endeavour is to find out what is modern as well as what is ancient in the text. The report which is given of Paul"s work in the thirteenth verse is exactly the report which is being given today by hostile journalists, critics, and hearers of Christian truth. Again and again, as you can bear witness, I have begged you, as fellow students of the sacred Word, not to put away from you the apostolic annals as if they belonged to a society that lived nineteen centuries ago. To-day Christianity is suffering from the perverted reports of its spirit and its service, which are being rendered by those who are hostile to its claims. We report ourselves. Even when we attempt to report the most simple and patent facts, we cannot separate the personality of the reporter from the report which he renders. There are bad men who undertake to repor" what Christians are doing! What can be the report of such men but a perversion? Even if the exact letters could be chosen to represent the exact occurrences there would be wanting the subtle music of sympathy, the tender spirit of love, the high influence which comes of personal identification with the thing which is being reported. You cannot report with the hand alone. You must, if you would truly report spiritual doctrine and heroic service, report with the heart. Do not take any bad man"s report of any Christian service he may have attended; do not take any worldly man"s report of it; do not listen to the unsympathetic narrator of Christian occurrences. All these men lack the one thing that is needful, the inexplicable sympathy, the subtle and wordless masonry of oneness of heart with the worker who is toiling and with the work which is being attempted. This lesson overflows with instruction; it touches an infinite area of thought and service. No man is qualified to report a religious meeting who is not himself religious. He can tell who rose and sat down, and give some kind of abstract of what was said; but there will be wanting from it the aroma, the fragrance, the heavenliness, which gave it all its gracious power. This has a wide bearing upon all matters religious and theological. We misreport one another, therefore, we had better not report one another at all. We believe in God, but we are often reported as only believing something about God. That is a lie! We believe in Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world, and yet we are only reported as believing something about him. Now wherever the word "about" comes in it qualifies the thing that is referred to; and we are not saved by our qualifications of terms and doctrines, but by our inward and often speechless FAITH. We are saved by faith, and we have no explanation of it that can satisfy ourselves. But how little progress I make as a teacher in this direction! You need not discourage me by further obstinacy; I am already sufficiently discouraged. The fussy, mechanical, irrepressible mind wants to write down something about God, and thus create a field of battle, for no two men believe identically, absolutely, inclusively, and finally, the same things about any great question. You can have spiritual faith without Prayer of Manasseh -made creed, but how it pleases the puerile mind to write down something in regular, numerical order! This creed-mongering, and this church-manufacturing, has crucified Christ on ten thousand crosses. Yet I know enough of the working of the mind to know that even now some man is thinking that he could put down in black ink and in plain Roman letters something that he would expect somebody else to believe in "about" God. Song of Solomon, indeed, you may be able, but you must not make that endeavour either essential or final. We are kept together by common FAITH. I would not sign with my right hand any creed which that right hand could write. Why not? Because words change, doctrines never; because the word that meant one thing yesterday may mean another to-morrow. Circumstances are continually occurring to change the colour and the tone and the undertone of words, and no man can read in another man"s tone, and therefore my signature might give a false impression to those who read it. This is precisely what the unanimous Jews did in the days of Paul. They heard him speak and they said, "This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law"—that Isaiah, contrary to their reading of the law. The law is one thing, and my reading of it another. So with the Bible: the Bible is one thing, and the preacher"s reading of it is another. I must read it for myself; my heart must read it, and through the faith that comes of that personal reading, equal, by the energy and ministry of the Holy Ghost, to a personal interview with the Son of God, I must be saved. Words can hardly suffice to explain how much I fear lest any man should be believing simply because I believe. You cannot believe as I believe, nor I as you. Every man must have his own faith, his own light, his own hope, and yet, when that personal and discriminating process is completed there will be found at the end wondrous unity, the more beautiful that it is non-mechanical, and the more lasting that it is a city not made with hands. Have no fear of perverting Jews misrepresenting inspired Apostles and bringing God"s doctrine to ruin. The form will change; there will be second and third amended editions of catechisms; there will be long and angry debates in Christian assemblies; and yet when all the words have been rearranged and readjusted, by very skilful and cunning distribution of their terms, we shall find the inner, spiritual, holy doctrine untouched. What is it you believe? If you are trusting to definitions and calling that "intelligent" Christianity, take care that your "intelligent" Christianity does not ruin you. I want a Christianity that has the fewest possible human definitions, but that sums itself up into terms we can hardly quote too often and not too pathetically—
I find from the twelfth verse that the Jews were unanimous in the insurrection which they made against Paul. Unanimity is nothing; sincerity is nothing. We must inquire what the unanimity is about, and what the sincerity implies. Sincerity is only good when rightly directed, and unanimity is worthless if moving not in the direction of truth, righteousness, and grace. Paul stood alone, so far as men were concerned, on more occasions than one. Said Hebrews, in one instance, "No man stood with me... notwithstanding the Lord stood with me." When a man speaks in the Lord"s name you hear more than one speaker; as there are voices as the sound of many waters, so there are voices that bring unto themselves the music of all heaven. Let us take care, then, lest we mistake human unanimity for Divine counsel. Whether the unanimity is with us or against us, it counts nothing if the foundation is wrong; and if the foundation is right, the unanimity will come in at the last.
And now Gallio, much maligned, and greatly preached against by those who do not know him, comes into the story. Gallio is a man who has suffered many things at the hands of preachers. He has always been set up as a type of the careless man. The text has often been, "And Gallio cared for none of these things." And base creatures have been told that they were "Gallios"! They never were so honoured in their lives! They Gallios! Gallio would not touch them with the tip of his fingers! Gallio was not a careless rake; Gallio was not a religiously indifferent man; Gallio knew his business and attended to it, and limited himself by it; and his carelessness was not a moral blemish, but was rather a personal honour and a distinct evidence of his high qualification for the office which he sustained in the community. Gallio was the brother of Seneca, and Seneca said, "No man can look so sweetly upon any one creature as my brother Gallio can look upon all mankind," He was the sweetest, loveliest, most genial of hearts. To charge him with moral carelessness is unjust, but to make many modern sluggards into Gallios is to libel the dead. Let them find in history some other symbolic name, but do not let them imagine that they are followers of the brother of Seneca. Sweet soul! The genial heart who, not understanding the controversy, declined to take any part in it.
Yet I would chide even Gallio for the unintentional injury he has done to the world. We read in the fourteenth verse, "And when Paul was now about to open his mouth, Gallio said unto the Jews—" There Gallio did us unintentional mischief. He has deprived the Church of another speech by the greatest speaker that ever served the cause of Christ. Paul"s speech was ready; Paul"s defence was always within call. What he would have said to that sweet Gallio who can tell? We miss the accidental eloquence of a few measurable sentences, but we know from what Paul did say upon other occasions that he would only have varied the majesty of his eloquence by the tenderness of a special appeal. The substance of his speech we have in all the other speeches; but we do wonder with what accidental beauty and subtlety of allusion he would have addressed the sweetest heart that ever listened to him. Gallio used a phrase which brought him within lines which we wish could have enclosed him for ev. Speaking from his point of view, he said, "But if it be a question of words and names." Could Gallio have heard Paul upon the Word, who can tell what would have occurred? But are we not always putting away from ourselves great opportunities? Do we not feel weary just when the discourse is sharpening itself into the eloquence that would touch our mind like light, and our heart like a wand of love? Why do we not live in an expectancy that turns water into wine, and common suppers into sacred sacraments? The next sentence might have saved you, but just then your ears waxed heavy and you did not hear! There may be careless people notwithstanding the misapplication of the name of Gallio. Instead of calling you by that historical name, I would call you by your own names, plainly and frankly; with a plainness which you might at first resent, but with a candour which you will afterwards come to bless. Is it true that you care "for none of those things"? Then for what do you care? What is it that absorbs your mind, that constrains your heart, and that moves your whole nature as with the energy of a passion? Show it me. What is it? I undertake to show you, by fair argument that would pass as gold in the market-place, that whatever it is out of Christ it is unworthy of the immortality that trifles with it and of the manhood that is being debased by its frivolity.
Almighty God, we stand at the Cross of thy Song of Solomon, thanking thee for all goodness, for daily care, for love unbroken and complete. We bring our thanksgiving unto thee and lay it humbly and lovingly on the altar, and ask thee to take it as our only gift. We have nothing that we have not received, but thou hast been pleased to work in us a thankful heart, and we bring our gratitude to thee in return for blessings that have no number, and for compassion infinite and unspeakable. We know what sin we have done, and we hide ourselves in darkness. Thou hast set a great light before us in the Cross of Jesus Christ the Saviour, and we would hasten out of the night of our gloom and despair into the broad, glorious morning of thy pardon and mercy and love. Receive us, we humbly pray thee, every one, and let us all be released from every memory that torments and from every accusation that burdens the soul. The house is thine, and in our Father"s house there is bread enough and to spare. May we eat of it abundantly, and so destroy the hunger which is consuming our inmost life. The day is thine; the beams of the sun seem to come in tender brightness as if charged with special messages of love. This is the day of resurrection. This morning all tombs are vacated, and death has no place in the earth which it has apparently conquered, for Christ is risen today, and in Christ all that are Christ"s arise. He is become the firstfruits of the dead; and if we be risen with Christ we must set our affections on things above and not on things of the earth. Enable us by the power of the Holy Ghost so to elevate our affections as to show that we have been delivered from the prison of this present life, and have been introduced into the infinite liberty of thine own eternal being. Our prayer cannot be so great as thy love. All our words when put together can ask but one drop out of the firmament of thy pity. Giving doth not impoverish thee, neither doth withholding enrich thee. Thou hast unsearchable riches in Christ Jesus the Lord. Thou hast a gift for every heart; in thy love there is an answer to every necessity. There is no wound in all the smitten heart of man which cannot be healed by the balm of the Cross. So will we enlarge our prayers and add to them all that our mind can think or our imagination conceive; and when we have made the appeal all that we can make it, thou art able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. We pray to be surprised by the revelations of thy light, and the communications of thy love. May we daily be startled into some new prayer and some higher hymn of praise. Give us the occasional vision which makes our hope a still brighter flame. Come to us in some special way that shall unite all the ordinary visions of life, and make the common unusual, and the daily vision a special brightness. We thank thee for personal mercies which we may not name in the hearing of others. We bless thee for family light and security and rest; for all that makes the household the centre of our life and the strength of our confidence. We thank thee for prosperity in business, in basket and in store. Thou didst increase the flour and thou didst cause the oil to overflow the vessels. God be praised for blessings in the market-place, in the house, and in the open life, and in the secret heart. Now speak comfortably to us. Let all things temporal and sensible fall away into their proper place; and may our eyes be fixed upon the eternal glory, the eternal throne, the eternal King; and so fixed, our hearts shall forget their trouble, our weakness shall become strength, and our perplexity shall be turned into quietness and confidence. The Lord hear us when we ask for pardon. We must be heard, for the cry goes up to heaven through the Cross of Christ—through that blessed Cross send back thy great reply; and every one of us shall feel that there is no past of guilt, but a great past of forgiveness, and a bright future of service and friendship and love and toil that brings no weariness. Amen.
18. And Paul having tarried after this yet many days [after the conclusion of the year-and-a-half of security, and after the Jews" abortive attempt] took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence for Syria, and with him [sailed] Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his [not Paul"s, but Aquila"s head. G. "and Aquila shorn as to his head," an idiom which the Vulgate rightly translates by, "Aquila, who had shorn his head in Cenchrea, for he had a vow"] head in Cenchrea; for he had a vow [the Revisers, by their punctuation of the Greek text, separate the adjective from Aquila and so shave Paul].
19. And they [Priscilla and Aquila "with Paul," Acts 18:18. They sailed; they came; he left them] came to Ephesus, and he left [ceased to lodge with] them there; but he himself ["by himself," or "for his part"] entered into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.
20. And when they asked him to abide a longer time he consented not.
21. But taking his leave of them, and saying, I will return again unto you, if God will, he set sail from Ephesus [the words omitted were supplied by copyists from Acts 20:16].
22. And when he had landed at Csarea, he went up and saluted the [Csarean] Church, and went down to Antioch [for Syria, Acts 18:18, was his destination. Note the summary account of the journey from Corinth to Antioch].
23. And having spent some time there, he departed [on his third missionary journey], and went through the region of Galatia and Phrygia [i.e, Lycaonia] in order [as before], stablishing all the disciples.
Preparing for Labour
PAUL had conquered his position in Corinth. He seemed to have acquired a right to remain there. The battle had raged and Paul had been brought into rest, and confidence had been established, in some degree, between himself and the Corinthian public. Paul, seeing an opportunity of doing very much good, consented to remain there, and to work constructively rather than disputatiously. But Paul "took his leave of the brethren." This is a new tone in the narrative. Paul has not often gone away from a city in this quiet, friendly, and social manner; Paul"s going out has often been amidst tumult, battle, evil-feeling, and malignant criticism and treatment. Paul now must take leave of the brethren. He has a purpose which he must carry out; that purpose will presently come before us in a few significant words. The intention was in the Apostle"s heart a long time before he expressed it, and it gave, no doubt, a subtle pathos and tenderness to a good deal of his concluding service in Corinth. When his tone became sweeter and tenderer; when his appeals were more urgent and ardent, people around him might wonder at the change of accent and emphasis. They would say, "Is this premonitory? Is the spirit of death already upon him? Is he talking from under a shadow that will presently deepen into the final gloom? How sweetly he now speaks! how gracious is his whole manner! how the old rigour and sternness have become subdued! and how like a little child is this foremost of disputants, this invincible assailant of evil!" The explanation was that Paul had made up his mind to go to Jerusalem and there complete a Levitical obligation. Over part of the road he took with him Priscilla and Aquila. But their names did not come before us in this order when we first made their acquaintance. Then they were husband and wife, new they seem to be wife and husband. There is an order in these things; there is a subtle primacy of influence, character, and spiritual genius which asserts itself naturally, and which has to be carefully looked for because of its unobtrusive-ness. It would be easy to read the eighteenth verse without noticing that Priscilla comes before Aquila. Who noticed that change of relation in the public reading of the Word? Does it not seem as if Priscilla ought to be a greater Christian teacher than Aquila? What can he know of the interior of the faith-temple, the love-life, the sacrifice which is Christianity translated into its native tongue? It is not the man that should preach, but the woman always. The man should be but tolerated, for what can he know of spiritual mystery, of religious instinct, of that sharp, clear vision which, taking little heed of the letter, sees the angel behind it, and that angel, looking back to the woman"s heart, what only a woman"s heart can see? My wonder Isaiah, not that the order of the names should stand as it does in the eighteenth verse, but that ever Aquila should have taken the precedence of Priscilla. Go to the humble heart, if you would have a right reading of Scripture. Hebrews, or she, who has suffered most can read God"s Bible best. This elocution cannot be taught for money; it is the genius of blood. You must feel, or you cannot read. Let me hear the suffering mother read sobbingly, and though her words be blurred by tears and chokings, there will come out of them gleamings of spiritual fire that will tell me that inside the whole transaction is the God of the Abrahams, the Isaacs, and the Jacobs, of all massive and sublime history.
Paul had "shorn his head in Cenchrea: he had a vow." The greatest liberalist in the Church was also addicted to Levitical obedience. The man who so strenuously and nobly fought the battle of circumcision himself took the Nazarite vow. Do not think that a liberal Apostle is necessarily a latitudinarian in action. Paul maintained a hard discipline over himself, and, therefore, could afford to be very liberal and compassionate towards other people. He is the man to be dreaded, who is severe with others and clement to himself; and he is the man to be trusted—almost to the point of idolatry—who keeps himself "under," who strikes himself, as Paul said he did, in the eyes, and who is gentle, gracious, and hopeful in relation to everybody but himself. Could Paul be prevented from carrying out this now? Not all the forces of Corinth, not all the seductions of Ephesus could keep back that faithful heart. The vow could only be completed in the metropolis. It was permitted by the Nazarite law for a man whose hair had grown long under the necessity of the vow to cut off his hair, but he must keep it and take it up to Jerusalem and burn it in the Temple at the appointed hour in the appointed fire. That hair could not be burned elsewhere and the law be honoured. Paul carried his shorn locks with him. Think of Paul doing it. The Apostle of liberty, the man who would not give place by subjection, no, not for an hour, to those who would limit the liberty that is in Christ Jesus, carrying up his shorn hair to burn it according to the Levitical law. We can trust that man. Sometimes we dare not approach Paul, when he is wrapped, as it were, in a mantle of light and fire, and when he is his very self, standing between heaven and earth—more a figure of the former than of the latter. Then he seems a long way from us, but when he comes down to the plain level and says—"I have a vow, and I must by all means keep it"—we feel that a man so honest in a matter so comparatively trifling is likely at least to be severely true in matters of larger breadth which transcend oftentimes, not only our intellectual, but our moral comprehension. It is thus we must judge one another. Where we cannot understand the doctrine we can understand the action. If I cannot understand your metaphysics of the Trinity, I can understand how you keep your engagements with me; and if you fail in those engagements you can hardly be surprised if I begin to doubt concerning the metaphysics which lie beyond my usual intellectual line. Men cannot, perhaps, understand the articles of our theological belief, but they can understand our temper, our honesty over the counter, our punctuality, our ordinary honour in life. If they find us faithful in little things they must reason that we are faithful also in greater things. We may not be able elaborately to defend our theology, but we can live such a life of simplicity, honourableness, decency, nobleness, and purity, as shall make it hard work for the sceptic to get at the inner citadel which we call our theological faith. We can build such moral outworks as will cause the assailant or the sceptic a great deal of difficulty. Finding our honour so brilliant, our daily virtues so complete, our temper so magnanimous, our word a bond of adamant—the unbeliever will find it hard work to say one word against our prayer, or to mock the utterance of one article of our faith.
Paul came to Ephesus and left Priscilla and Aquila there, but he himself finding that he had a little margin of time said he would look into the synagogue and reason with the Jews. That is how Paul kept holiday. We cannot run with this footman; he is swifter than the horse-rider. He does not want to look at anything in the city of Ephesus—famed in a country famous for great cities. Again he says, "Where is the synagogue? Where are the Jews? Let me reason with them." But the woods around Ephesus are beautiful—why not drive through them? Imagine Paul driving through a pine-wood for the purpose of sniffing the scented air. He lived in the synagogue; the Jews were the mountains he wanted to see, and the obstinacy of the unbelieving heart was the only field in which he cared to take holiday. At Ephesus he met with an unwonted reception; he so "reasoned" with the Jews there that when he talked about going farther on" they desired him to tarry longer time with them." We have seen how these Jews spat upon him, hated him, banished him from their synagogues and their cities; but at Ephesus he meets with another reception. What is the meaning of that? Is the devil playing a trick here? He has one trick that he tries occasionally—not too frequently so as to spoil it—and he may be trying that subtlest trick at Ephesus. Was there an attempt here to keep the Apostle Paul from Jerusalem, whither he must go to accomplish his vow? Was this a bond fide welcome? Did the Ephesian Jews speak the sentiment of their hearts? We cannot tell; but if they did not they got their answer. Paul "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." Did they want him to return? Did they say anything to encourage him to come back again? He will come back; he has his greatest day yet before him! What we have seen in the eighteen chapters gone is next to nothing to the battles that have to come. Paul will be greater when he comes back from Jerusalem, for there the spur will touch his blood, and he will have a new and broader work before him.
In the twenty-second verse are the saddest words in the Acts of the Apostles. The words are but three in number, but they hide a whole grave full of shattered hopes and anticipated joys. Paul going back to Jerusalem for the fourth time! The Church will wait for him! The Church will pray with him! The Church will hold a great banqueting day after a spiritual fashion, for the noblest of her warriors has returned, and his speech will be a recital of battles fought and won. Paul went up to Jerusalem and "saluted the Church." That is all! Paul went up to Jerusalem and made his bow. Paul went up to Jerusalem and offered courteous homage to the Primate of the Church. Where the sound of festival? Festival there was none! Where the clang of trumpet, and the throb of drum, and the unfolding of red banners? There was none! Did that take place in the Mother Church? Yes. Can a woman forget her sucking child? Yes. Paul was never greater than when he held his tongue, and left the dignitaries to perish in their own vanity. What a time they might have had had they gathered around the warrior and said, "Show us your wounds and scars, and tell us what news there is from the seat of war." But no. Paul was a liberal thinker; Paul had protested against the Judaizing teachers; Paul had committed a great offence by claiming liberty in Christ for Gentile believers; and some men cannot forgive. Do not blame them until you have blamed a flint for not bleating. Did Paul change his faith or his policy because of this metropolitan coldness? No; having played the gentleman where he rather would have displayed the Christian, "he went down to Antioch; and after he had spent some time there—" He was more at home among the Gentiles. Paul made short work of his visit to the Church in Jerusalem, for the door was shut and the key was lost; but when he came to Antioch he said, "The sun is brighter, the earth is greener, friends are cheerier; this is home." We cannot live on ceremony; we cannot live on dignity; we cannot be happy where persons do but touch us with the tips of their fingers, intimating thereby that they would rather not touch us at all; but only live in love, in mutual trust, in mutual prayer. See how Paul was treated at Jerusalem, but Paul will live, a growing figure, when the men who snubbed him at Jerusalem are forgotten echoes. Have faith in God; try to find out that which is true and right and good, and follow it to the end, It would be cheering to have a kind word at Jerusalem in the very midst of the battle; to have an opportunity of looking over the armour, and seeing that the panoply was in good condition. It would be cheering if the elder Apostles could come and say, "Brave heart, fight on! for our prayers and our love will follow you across all the war-fields." But at Jerusalem they were too orthodox to be Christians.
Almighty God, thou dost say with kingly love to every one coming to thee in Christ Jesus, the Priest and the Saviour of Prayer of Manasseh, "What is thy petition? and what is thy request? and it shall be granted unto thee." Thou art not as the kings of the earth, reserving unto themselves half their kingdom when they make great promises. Thou hast given unto thy Church all things—all height, all depth, all riches, all spaces, all duration; all things are ours, and we are Christ"s, and Christ is God"s. Wilt thou give us to feel the infinity of our riches, that there may be no longer any word or tone of poverty upon our lips, but that we may speak as rich men, to whose wealth there is no end, and whose joy is wide and lasting as God"s heaven. We are children of the dust, and our lower nature drags us down to its own beginning; but we are also children of light, children of the Holy One; and thou dost give us lifting up of heart and thought according to the measure of our dignity in Christ Jesus. Our hope in him is that the higher will destroy the lower, and that in thine own good time and way we shall be made like unto the angels, stainless, infinite in the whiteness of purity, loving God with undistracted heart, and serving him with undivided strength. Having this hope in us we would purify ourselves; having within us this most sacred joy, we would be no longer children of the night, but would become children of the day; loving the light; loving the noontide most because the noontide is brightest; crying for higher heavens and brighter light; moved by a sacred and Divine ambition to which there is no answer in things that can be seen or spoken of. For the holy feeling of this aspiration we bless thee. When it comes upon us in the full tide of its power we feel like men who shake off their chains and rise into places fit for souls that are unstained. This is thy Sabbath blessing. This is the Lord"s day. We have come to thee from the battle of the week, and we have come to praise thee for some defeats which have been real successes, and for some victories that have caused us pain. We would no longer be as those who undertake to see and hear and act for themselves. We will do no such thing; thou shalt be our eyes, our ears, and our hands; and we will stand behind and hear thy report, and answer thy command, and follow it so far thou dost give us strength by the mystery of thy will and love. We want to live so. Our desire is to live and move and have our being in God. We would be swallowed up of love. We would know nothing that is not thine, and do nothing that is not according to the good pleasure of thy will. This we have learned in Christ, and not out of him; out of thy Son no such lesson can be learned. This knowledge is born of the agony of sacrifice; herein is the Cross of Christ in all its infinite meaning. We would be crucified with Christ; we would glory in the Cross of Christ; we would bear the name of Christ. Help us to know what it is to carry his flag, to breathe his name, and to represent his court, feeling the dignity of the call and the solemnity of the obligation. May we throw open our window seven times towards the Jerusalem that is above, day by day, and thus live in fellowship with God, and stoop to earth merely as a temporary discipline. Some whom them lovest are sick. Thou canst help them. Thou knowest every bone and every member of the body, for thou didst make it all with the infinite cunning of Omniscience. Heal those whom thou hast laid down after a time, and during that time may their thought be moving upward in loving and anxious desire. Guide the perplexed. They do not know whether to go to this side or to that; they might as well be blind. Take hold of the hand that is groping in the darkness, and lead thou on. Comfort the broken-hearted; turn tears into jewels; make sighing equal to prayer; and may those who are ill at ease be brought into the sanctuary of Christ. Foil the enemy; break him down in the very power of his pride; when he is about to strike what would be the fatal blow, do thou bend back his arm and cover his eyes with eternal night. The Lord lift up all the children, that they may feel safe in thine arms, and may return with childish laughter the light of thy smile. The Lord hear; the Lord read our unspoken thought; the Lord exalt himself by forgiving sin through the infinite merits of the blood of Christ. Amen.
24. Now [—while Paul was progressing through Phrygian Galatia towards Ephesus, God was preparing his way in that city:] a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by race, a learned [G. "eloquent"] Prayer of Manasseh, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures.
25. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spake and taught carefully [G. "accurately"; so far as he had learned them] the things concerning Jesus, knowing only the baptism of John [ Acts 19:3-4]:
26. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilia and Aquila heard him, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more carefully [G. "with fuller accuracy"].
27. And when he was minded to pass over into Achaia, the brethren encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples to receive him [ 1 Corinthians 3:1. Note this evidence of a Church having been founded at Ephesus]: and when he was come, he helped them much which had believed [which he did] through grace:
28. For [as only grace could have enabled him to do] he powerfully confuted the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ [ 1 Corinthians 3:6. Bengel"s note on Apollos Isaiah, "he watered, but did not plant"].
A New Man In the Church
HOW marvellous is the preeminence of individual men. Herein is the continual miracle of daily Providence. The great man always comes; yet few can tell how or whence. God is pleased to make sudden revelations of power. He is pleased to surprise men themselves by unexpected accessions of strength, so that the feeble man becomes as the mighty, and the obscure man steps up to the very summit of prominence and renown. Elijah comes without warning, and is Elijah all at once. Other men have been found on the same lines and have challenged society with equal suddenness. Men are so much alike up to a given point, and then without potent reason they separate from one another into individualities, assuming distinctive colours, and going out on separate and independent missions. It is not the first hundred feet that give a mountain its name, but the last ten feet. Just that little peak will get the mountain a name among mountains; that little hardly visible outline will create the fame of the hill. It is so that God is always distributing human power, talent, and influence. We have very much in common, and then after that which is common we have that which is individual, and so become particularized into glittering units, each standing alone, yet each having subtle relations to the whole. Study the miracle of the succession of the generations, those of you who have what you call your "doubts" about historical miracles. The anecdotal miracles have passed away, but there is an eternal miracle, and men would see it but for the impoverishing familiarity which takes no notice of the sunlight because it is so regular, so common, and so plentiful. Yet we are all one, centrally and morally. The little bird that can fly seems to have a larger liberty than man who can only walk; but the air is only the wider earth—it is all earth; the air belongs to us, and though birds can fly in it, they never get away from the earth really. So with the great mental eagles, flying souls, minds that open the broad pinions of immeasurable power and flap them at heaven"s gate—they all belong to us; they are bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. Argumentative Paul and eloquent Apollos are brethren with us, sitting at the same table and kneeling at the same altar. If we could get that view of our leaders we should destroy all envy, suspicion, distrust, rivalry, and jealousy, because Apollos would be my larger self, and Paul in his noblest moods would be myself transfigured. We should glorify God in the greatness of our brethren.
Let us look at the preeminence of Apollos and study the characteristics which were natural and inimitable and those which were acquired and therefore possible of reproduction by ourselves. Apollos was "an eloquent Prayer of Manasseh," and therefore his temptations were great. It is difficult for any eloquent man to be what is popularly known as honest It is a tremendous trial of integrity, as usually understood, to have great command of language. Do not suppose that the eloquent man hears his own eloquence as we hear it; he is told about it. If he be artificial in his eloquence he hears every tone of it; but if inspiredly eloquent he is himself a hearer as well as a speaker. How does it come to be almost impossible for an eloquent man to be popularly considered as honest? Because he sees so many colours in words, so many critical variations of meaning. He does not speak with broad vulgarity any word that he utters; and when I suggest the difficulty of an eloquent man being honest I am bound to add that he is often thought to be dishonest when he is not really so. He is speaking another language. Some persons have only two colours—black and white. What can they know of the revelations of colour which God has granted to these latter times? Some voices have only two movements—loud and low, they have no internal line, no broken, mysterious, weird tones. They are either speaking very loudly or very lowly, and they know nothing of the mystery of the mind which sees a whole apocalypse in the action of intonation. In English we have only two numbers. We are a concise people; we speak of "singular and plural." But there are other languages that have more numbers than two. In English we have but three cases; but there are other languages that have six cases, as many of my junior hearers know only too painfully. In a language that divides everything into singular and plural there can be, so far, no great mystery. In a language that has only the nominative, possessive, and objective he would be a backward boy who could not master that little variety of case in one short day. But where language becomes more subtle, complicated, and involved, men may be saying things which to the simpler mind appear to be of the nature of tergiversation and even lying, which are in their substance critically and punctiliously true. We know that there are men among us—healthy men—of large and active digestion, who say, "Yes or no!" They mistake their abruptness for frankness, and their violence for candour. "Yes" and "No" are not the poles of truth and integrity. Here Apollos cannot be reproduced by us. Eloquence cannot be acquired; it is the gift of tongues.
Apollos was not only "eloquent," he was "fervent in the spirit." There he may not be imitated. You can paint fire, but it will never warm you. Fire is the gift of God. He fixes the temperature of the blood, the scope and fervour of the mind. Men who are not fervent are not to be blamed. You would not blame a man for being born blind. You are not cruel in your judgment of a man who is lame from his birth. In those physical instances you can see the meaning of the truth; that same truth has also its inner and spiritual meaning with regard to intellectual faculties and moral qualities. Fire can read the Scriptures; fire is at home in the Bible. It is like blaze mingling with blaze when fervent Apollos reads burning Isaiah. How the flames leap together and form one grand oblation at the altar of the sun! The difficulty here is lest men who are not fervent should blame men who are fervent; and lest fervent men should be impatient with men who are not fervent. Here also we belong to one another. Human nature is incomplete without the smallest, youngest, frailest child that ever crawled in the dust. The door must not be shut upon the gathered hosts until the last little creeper has been brought in and sat at the Father"s table. Men who are not fervent are often most useful. There is a purpose to be served in the economy of things by ice as well as by fire—only do not let them quarrel. Do not let ice say, "You, fire, exaggerate things"; and do not let fire say, "You, ice, are an offence to every planet that burns in the sky." We are all treated by the same Maker, and we shall be judged by Infinite Justice.
Apollos was not only "eloquent" and "fervid," he was "mighty in the Scriptures." There we cannot imitate him. Might in Bible reading is the gift of God. It is a wondrous word. To read the Bible so as to become mighty in it requires insight, sympathy, kinship with the writers, a spiritual knowledge of the language, identification with the Spirit of God. All men cannot read—some schoolmasters cannot read; some preachers cannot read. Therein so many blunders are made. To become mighty in the Scriptures is to know such a variety of mind: Moses, and the prophets, and the minstrels of Israel, and Christ, and the Apostles—who can comprehend all that gamut of inspired utterance? We may be able to repeat every word of the Bible, and yet know nothing about the inner Scriptures. The Scriptures are in the Bible; the Scriptures are within the Scriptures. "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." We can toil at this service. Some of us can understand one portion of Scripture who cannot understand another. We must not begrudge one another the partial gift, nor endeavour to reduce it to contempt. There are some hearts mighty in the Psalm; there are other minds mighty in the histories of the Bible; there are others with a special gift for taking hold of, and explaining, Christ. We must all work together. No one minister is the whole ministry. To hear the sermon which is preached in London today you must add all the individual sermons, and when they have gathered themselves up into one sublime thunder, you have heard the sermon preached today in the name of Christ. You should go further still and take in, not one capital, but all cities, not one empire, but all kingdoms, nations, and states; add into one mighty sum all that has been spoken in them, and then you will have preached in the ear of inspired fancy the complete sermon heard today respecting Jesus Christ. I claim for every servant his own place; for every minister his own special vocation; and I would have every teacher, minister, speaker, honoured according to the particular gift that is in him.
Apollos was not only "eloquent," "fervent," and "mighty in the Scriptures"; he was "instructed in the way of the Lord." There we may join him. He spoke through instruction, which is the surest basis of inspiration. We are not to suppose that inspiration excludes instruction. Instruction is the proof of inspira-tion—that is to say, the inspired Word so comes down into the life as to prove itself along the line of our intelligence and moral responsibility. How few people are "instructed in the way of the Lord." There is nothing in this world more astounding than its ignorance. There are preachers gifted with an imagination, I know not whence descended, that speak of "this large and intelligent assembly"; you cannot tell anything about the intelligence of an assembly until you have examined man by man alone in any book in the sacred record. There is a gift of kind heaven by which a man can publicly look much wiser than he really is. "Instructed in the way of the Lord." Why, these words involve the devotion of a lifetime. The "way of the Lord" is in the deep waters, and in the secret places, and in the tabernacles of the thunder, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He speaks riddle and enigma, and utters words that startle us by reason of their peculiarity and utter strangeness. What scope for industry! What a field for teachableness!
So far Apollos out-soars us, but this cannot be all; even in Apollos there must be a weak point. Let us find it out—indeed no long quest is needed, for we are told distinctly in the twenty-fifth verse that Apollos knew "only the baptism of John." If he could be so eloquent about water, what will he be when he comes to speak of blood? We shall find this man doing wonders in the Church. If he could burn so in the very soul when he knew only the initial baptism, what will he be when he sees and feels the Cross, the Blood, the Sacrifice, and understands somewhat of the forgiveness of sins, and the glory of immortality, and the splendour of the Christian heaven? It is possible to teach even the alphabet earnestly. Apollos knew only the alphabet, but he taught the separate letters as if they were separate poems. It is quite possible to repeat the alphabet as though it contained nothing, and it is possible to repeat the letters of the alphabet as if they were the beginnings of temples, libraries, and whole heavens of intelligence and revelation and spiritual possibility. The fervent man touches everything with his fervour; even when he repeats the alphabet it is repeated as with fire. Do not despise the teachers who are not teaching exactly the fulness of the Gospel. If they are teaching up to the measure of their intelligence, thank God for their co-operation. There are men in all great cities who are teaching the baptism of John, who are teaching the elements of morality, and who are endeavouring to save the world by political elevation and the larger political truth. They must not be undervalued; they must not be talked about scornfully; they ought to be treated exactly as Aquila and Priscilla treated Apollos. If the offer of further information is declined or resented, the offer has been made and the responsibility has thus been discharged. But do not despise men who do not teach your particular phase of doctrine. They may be earnest and not belong to your Church; they will, however, show their earnestness by their teachableness. The moment a Prayer of Manasseh, in the Church or out of it, puts on the priest and enters a claim for personal infallibility, that moment he is a trespasser in the sanctuary of God. The oldest of us has hardly begun his lesson; the wisest of us will be the first to receive another suggestion; the most advanced scholar will be the most docile learner. You may not have come to my Gospel of forgiveness of sins through the blood of the Cross, but you are here, in the sacred place, to-day—I will set that fact down to your credit. If you go to church I will make that out a line in your favour. You may not have travelled far along the road, but your face is in the right direction, and that is a circumstance that must not be undervalued. The Cross of Christ was set up not to destroy men"s lives, but to save them.
"Aquila and Priscilla took Apollos unto them and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly." Thus, in an indirect way, Apollos became a pupil of St. Paul himself. Paul will probably one day get hold of him, and when the two fires meet the light will be seen and the warmth will be felt afar. These men are ours. The sun belongs to the very poorest man that lives. The sun belongs to the blind man who can only feel the warm beam upon his dark face. The great things are all ours. We cannot go into the rich man"s house or room and warm our cold hands at his blazing fire; but the coldest child can hold up its little hands to God"s sun, and, so to speak, bathe them in its impartial warmth. The capital of the country belongs to every villager. The obscure dweller in the obscure hamlet cannot claim the secondary cities in the same way in which he can claim the metropolis. The metropolis does not belong to any one particular set of inhabitants; it is the Imperial city; it belongs to every one in the whole empire. To go to the metropolis is indeed to go to the mother city; to go, in a sense, home, and to have some well-established right to be there. So with the great Pauls and Apolloses, and the mighty speakers and teachers, poets and thinkers—they belong to us, every one. The language of the country belongs to every Prayer of Manasseh, woman, and child in the country, simply because of its largeness. If it were a patois it would belong to its valley, or a particular hill-side; but being the pure speech of the country it belongs to every one who can utter its words; and it is "enough to fill the ambition of a common man that Chatham"s language was his mother-tongue." So the higher we go the more we own. "All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ"s, and Christ is God"s." This is Paul"s own inventory of our property; let us claim it, every whit and line.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 18". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25