The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Almighty God, thou art near unto us in Christ Jesus thy Son. We come to thee by him, and, therefore, by the only way. We would come boldly in his name, speaking to thee what is in our hearts, telling thee of our sin, singing to thee of our thankfulness, and asking from thee daily direction and continual sustenance. This is our delight; it is no longer a burden to us, because of the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts. He takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto us. Jesus Christ himself thus enlarges upon our wondering vision until he fills all things with his radiant presence. Under the ministry of the Holy Spirit we would live, and would prove that we are under him by our joyfulness, peace, hopefulness, triumph over the world and time, and by all the fruits which they bear who are warmed by the presence of the spirit of fire. We bless thee that we have passed from the baptism of John to the baptism of the Cross. We are no longer in the state of mere repentance which daily begs forgiveness; we enjoy communion with God, fellowship with the Father—yea, we have access into inner sanctuaries, into the Holy of holies, which we have obtained through the Cross of Christ; so that we are no longer children of grief and of fear, carrying burdens many and heavy; but are children of the day and of the light, filled with sacred hope, animated with unutterable joy—yea, glorying in tribulations, also. This is thy miracle wrought in our hearts; we know it to be thine; this is no workmanship of ours; this is the gift of God, having in it the quality of eternal life and the joy of heaven partially begun. We bless thee for all the gifts of the week; for the balmy winds of summer; for the bread of the table; for the sleep which has refreshed us; for the thoughts which have made us men; for the hopes which have proved us to be in Christ Jesus; for all the favours thou hast shown throughout the rising and falling of the days. We stand here today to praise God with a full heart and an open mouth. Verily we are not afraid of our own voices. We would make a joyful noise unto the rock of our salvation. We would speak with holy confidence and emphasis of the preserving, sanctifying, tender care of which we have been the continual subjects. Hear thy people when they sing their psalm. Listen to them when they would whisper in the heart of thy love some tale of pain, of sin, of shame, and answer them with great answers, when, at the Cross of Christ and in the presence of its atoning blood, they ask thee for a double portion of thy Holy Spirit. We remember the sick—those who are at home and those who are in public institutions. We pray that they may be healed and comforted, and that the thought of their weakness may become a new strength. We desire that having seen the side of life which is humiliating, they may now see the side of life which presents itself towards heaven"s light and rises towards heaven"s rest. Sanctify affliction and pain, sleepless nights, and weary days. Speak comfortably to those who can hear no voice but thine own, and where eyes are closing on earth"s dim light may the eyes of the soul be opened on heaven"s cloudless morning. Give wisdom to all physicians; give patience and tenderness to all nurses; make thou the bed of the afflicted, and keep thou watch by the side of the helpless. We pray for all mankind; and if specially for the land we love the most, thou thyself hast set that partiality in our hearts. We bless thee for love of home and native land; and we pray that every one now before thee, praying for special places and countries, may be heard and graciously answered. Read thy word to us thyself. May we know that we are only listeners, and may the expression of every life be, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth." Let this be a wonderful day in the history of the Church. May thy servants speak with new boldness, and by their ministry may special miracles be done. Amen.
1. And it came to pass that, while Apollos was at Corinth [ Acts 18:27], Paul having passed through the upper [G. "more inland"; i.e, Lycaonia, the Phrygian district of Galatia, Acts 18:23] country came to Ephesus, and found certain disciples [older term still used for Christians, Acts 11:26].
2. And he said unto them, Did ye receive the Holy Ghost when ye believed? [G. "Holy Ghost" without the article, as in John 7:39; signifying, the gift of the spirit. "Given" is therefore correctly supplied below, as in John 7:39 : "Did ye receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as the consequence of your believing?"] And they said unto him, Nay, we did not so much as hear whether the Holy Ghost was given [ 1 Corinthians 12:13; for a strikingly illustrative modern instance see John Wesley"s Alders-gate Street "experience," as narrated by Tyerman].
3. And he said, Into what then were ye baptized? And they said, Into John"s baptism.
4. And Paul said, John baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people that they should believe on him which should come after him, that Isaiah, on Jesus.
5. And when they heard this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord [the Ascended] Jesus.
6. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues [ Acts 10:46, 1 Corinthians 12-14], and prophesied [ Acts 11:27. Signs and wonders were still necessary to enable their minds to grasp the new conscious fellowship of the Spirit].
7. And they were in all about twelve men [the Spirit saith "about"].
8. And he entered into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, reasoning and persuading as to the things concerning the kingdom of God.
9. But when some were hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way [compare with Acts 9:2] before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, reasoning daily in the [? rabbinical] school of Tyrannus [as Jews came freely to hear Paul this was probably a "private synagogue," Tyrannus being the Greek name of a Jewish teacher].
10. And this continued for the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the Word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
11. And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul:
12. Insomuch that unto the sick were carried away from his body [G. "skin": after use by the Apostle] handkerchiefs or aprons [used by tent-stitchers], and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out.
Apollos Completed By Paul
PAUL said he would return to Ephesus. In this chapter we find Paul again in that famous city. Something has occurred since he was last there—that event occupied our attention in our last study. An "eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures," named Apollos, had been exercising his ministry in Ephesus, and some twelve men had answered the persuasion of his matchless eloquence. Paul found them out, and as he looked upon them he was surprised. They did not look happy. There was a severity in the face which excited Paul"s anxiety; there was nothing radiant in that little Church. The twelve heads were bowed; the twelve faces were written all over with lines of discipline, subservience, fear, penitence. Paul was a direct speaker. Looking at them, and observing their mode and appearance, he said, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost?" He noticed that something was absent. He said, "This is not a Christian assembly; these twelve men are unhappy; they are not singing men; the spirit of triumph is not in their hearts—what is it that is lacking here?" "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?" If you had, your heads would have been erect; your eyes would have been flames of light; a new life would have lifted you up to higher levels of thought and feeling and utterance; what is wanting here is the Holy Ghost. Paul was a penetrative observ. He looked for causes, traced their operation, and judged of them by their effects.
Is there no lesson here for us? Looking upon us today, what would Paul inquire? He would read our faces; he would listen to our voices; he would pay attention to our mode of singing the sacred psalm and of reading the Holy Book, and if he saw happiness in our faces and heard music in our voices, and saw that we were not men who were time-bound and fettered by sense, he would say, "This is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven, and these are the living miracles of the living Spirit of God." But if he saw us world-bound, if he saw our truant minds running out of the church for the purpose of collecting accounts and alleviating temporal anxieties, and making arrangements for the lower life—if he saw our prayers like birds with bruised wings that could not fly; and if he heard us talking the common speech of time in the common tone of earth, he would say, "What is wanting here is the Holy Ghost—Spirit of fire, Spirit of light, Spirit of love!" There is no mistaking his presence, for there is none like it. "The fruit of the Spirit is... joy."
The twelve men who followed Apollos were like their eloquent leader. We have seen, in the25th verse of the preceding chapter, that Apollos knew only the baptism of John. What he knew he preached. Paul recognized the work that had been done, and did not attempt to undo it, but rather to complete it; and that is what we must study to do in reference to the education of the world. If you come to me knowing only the first four rules of arithmetic I must begin with you where you end; and recognizing the validity of these four rules of arithmetic, I must lead you up into heights on which no tape line can be laid, and gradually so enlarge your vision and increase the inheritance of your soul until you despise with ineffable contempt everything that can be measured by arithmetical figures and standards. I must not begin your education by throwing into contempt the only four rules you do know; my object as a wise prophet must be to lead you on until you yourselves feel that the first four rules of arithmetic are only for infants, and not for princes and kings of heaven. Paul did not attempt to undervalue the work of Apollos—he carried it on to holy consummation. One minister must complete the work which another minister began. The students of Apollos must become the students of Paul. We began by loving eloquence; we end by loving instruction. But do not let the instructive teacher undervalue the eloquent evangelist. They belong to one another. Apollos has the silver trumpet; Chrysostom has the golden mouth. Let such men make their parables, create their metaphors and figures, thunder with strenuous energy of rhetoric, and they will do a good work in the world. By-and-by their students will look out for other teachers, and will pass on from the lower school of eloquence to the higher school of instruction, doctrine, even the theology which is truly theological. So must we have large appreciation of men: so must we put out no little light, but be thankful for its flicker and spark. The young man likes to hear a fluent speaker, one who rushes with unbroken force at a speed incalculable over an area immeasurable. The young man calls it "eloquence." He goes to the church where the Apollos preaches long before the doors are opened, and willingly stands there that he may see this rushing torrent of eloquence, and hear this mighty wind of sacred appeal. I will not condemn him; many of us once belonged exactly to that class. But Time—teaching, drilling, chastening Time—works its wondrous wizardry upon the mind, and without violence, or consciousness of transition, we come to a mental condition which says, "There was more in that one sentence than in the infinite Niagara whose bewildering forces once stupefied our youthful minds." But do not condemn any man. Let him teach what he can. If he is still calling for water to throw upon the faces of the people, or calling for people to plunge into the water, he knows no better—let him do it. Have faith in the revelations which accompany a wise use of time.
If Paul did not discredit the work of Apollos, the disciples of Apollos did not discredit the larger revelation of Paul. The inference Isaiah, that the disciples of Apollos were well-taught. They were not finalists; they felt that something more might be possible. That is the highest result of education. The heart in a state of continual expectancy and preparedness in reference to spiritual possibilities—that is the image of the true scholar, and that is the condition of true progress. Christians are always "looking forward and hastening unto." Marvellous attitude! A posture created by inspiration! The look, the hastening—these are the proofs of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. Jesus Christ availed himself of this wonderful provision in human nature which creates continual expectation of still larger and brighter things. When did Jesus Christ say, "This is the end"? We know what he did say. For example: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now." Or again, "Thou shalt see greater things than these." The future will throw the past into relative insignificance. And again: "When Hebrews, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth." "Henceforth, know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now, henceforth, know we him no more." Is there then a new Christ? Certainly not. What is there? This: An enlarging appreciation of the true Christ, Christ is always giving to us his larger SELF. These are the "unsearchable riches." We have not changed our Christ, but our view of him has become larger, purer, clearer; so that he is to our best conception as is the cloudless noontide to the gray dawn. Look for no new birth in Bethlehem, for no new historical, visible Christ; but see if, in the growing time, the expanding and developing ages, there is not everywhere the print of the nails and the scar made by the sharp spear, and lay your finger-tip upon one proved and established benefit of civilization which cannot be traced back step by step to the cradle in Bethlehem. Perhaps preachers may have themselves to blame for not having given a true revelation of the magnitude and glory of the name of Christ. For myself, I find Christ everywhere; I cannot get away from him. If you have been thinking of some merely ecclesiastical Christ, I can, to a large extent, agree with you that such a Christ can never spread himself over all the ages and take into himself all the experiences of mankind. But the Christ we preach is not a creation of the Church, is not under the patronage of the Church, is not secured in his place by the lock and key of the Church. He is Alpha and Omega—First, Last; who was, and Isaiah, and is to come; filling all things. This view of Christ enables me to look hopefully upon some persons who do not know the full extent of his name—even upon Apolloses who have only got so far as the baptism of John. Such men are not to be won by denunciation, but by recognition, and recognition of the frankest, manliest, and most independent quality. The Church is larger than any four walls built for its accommodation.
We learn from verse seven that "all the men were about twelve"; and yet there is no whining about a "poor" Church and a "weak" Church. We must burn such adjectives out of the speech of Christians. There is no "poor" Church; there can be no "weak" Church. If you think of the Church as a commercial institution with investments, endowments, revenues, and outgoings, then you may speak about the Church being both poor and weak, but the Church is a spiritual fellowship, a branch in the vine sucking the very life of the root. Have we now to Revelation -define the term "Church"? I fear so. There is a great deal of inquiry as to whether the Church is "poor," or "rich," or "weak," or "strong." It is not heroic inquiry. Moreover, we may be totally wrong in our estimate as to which is the "poor" Church and which is the "rich" one. A Church is not necessarily strong because its pews are thronged and its collections are heavy. It may be that the handful of copper given by some village Church may be more than the two handsful of gold given by the metropolitan congregation. In the large sum there may not be one sign of sacrifice—and giving only begins when sacrifice begins. The little sum may represent pinching and suffering and economy equal to sacrifice. Banish from your thought and speech the idea that any Church, redeemed, purified, inspired by the Holy Ghost, can be either poor or weak—though the number of the men may be "about twelve." If you allow the other style of reasoning you will insult not only the ministry, but the very genius of the Christian Church. We shall then talk about our "weaker" brethren and our "poorer" brethren, and will apportion them places on the back seats when they come up to the feast of trumpets. Let us protest against this. On the floor of the Church and in the presence of the Cross all Christians are equal.
We find from the verses remaining that the Gospel produced its usual twofold effect. Some received the Holy Ghost and advanced in the doctrines of grace, being strengthened daily by the indwelling Spirit of God. "But when divers were hardened and believed not"—is the other side of the case. It must always be so. The Gospel is a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death. Every sermon makes us worse or better. Here you have the same city, the same preacher, the same doctrine, but not the same result. The results were twofold. In the one instance the Gospel resulted in life unto life, and in the other in death unto death.
In the eleventh verse we have an expression which would indeed be out of place in the cold speech of today"s Christianity. We are afraid of the word "miracles"; we have almost to apologize for its use. But the writer of the Acts of the Apostles not only speaks of miracles, but of "special miracles"; miraculous miracles; miracles with a difference. Truly such men were not afraid of the word "miracles." We whisper it, or slur it; even in our most energetic speech we have cunning enough to drop the word miracle into a kind of tertiary tone; it is not uttered with a boldness, roundness, emphasis. But in the eleventh verse we find "special miracles." Until the Church becomes bold enough to use its native tongue it will live by sufferance, and at last it will crawl into a dishonoured grave—the only tomb which it has deserved.
Almighty God, surely this is thy day, and thou art in this place, and the gate of heaven is not far from our hand. The brightness of the sun is thine; the living air blows from the hills of heaven, and the calm day is a pledge of still deeper rest. This is the day which the Lord hath made—hast thou not made all days? Were they not all rounded by thyself into the completeness of their beauty? Yet is there upon this day some touch more wonderful, some sign more tender, and about it there breathes an atmosphere unlike all other. We know this day amongst all the seven. It stands alone, yet is the friend of all; none may aspire to its sublimity of memory, though all may be touched by the grace of its history. We would that all our time might receive from this sacred day some touch that shall lift it up into nobler responsibility and honour. Thou hast led us through the week, and brought us to see the beginning of another. May we know the meaning of all these beginnings in life. Thou hast jewelled our time with new chances. Thou dost make every day a new possibility, every week a fresh opportunity, every year another time for doing better than before. May we understand this providence of time; may we know the meaning of the succession of days. We bless thee for the black night-river into which we can throw all that was evil in the day gone. We come with psalms—yea, with shoutings and raptures before thee, because thy gentleness hath made us great. Thou hast withheld nothing from us. Thou hast delighted in our souls. We have been as a garden of precious flowers unto thee, which thou hast watched and tended and watered with dew and warmed with special fire. Thou hast cared for us with wondrous care. When we put our life together and see its true shape, it is a temple not made with hands; it is the Lord"s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. When we thought we saw the place of ruin, thou didst clothe the wilderness with choice flowers. When we said, "This river will surely swallow us up," behold, thou didst strike it with a rod, and the waters parted, and we went through on soft golden sand. Thou hast beaten down mountains for us, and made our foes into friends, and caused our persecutors to become our helpers. We will not burn incense unto ourselves, but wave the censer of a thankful heart before thyself—Father, Song of Solomon, and Holy Ghost, from whom all good things come. We would remember our sin were not our hearts filled beforehand with the Cross. We cannot see the blackness through the sacrificial blood. We hide ourselves in the Cross. Rock of Ages, let us hide ourselves in thee. Pity us. Lift us up from the lowest dust. Show the miracle of grace triumphing over the rebellion of sin, and may we in the Cross of Christ find the answer to our hearts" guilt and the despair of conscience. Thou knowest what we need, every one of us, down to the least child whose only song is laughter, and whose only prayer is wonder. We want so much, but it is all as nothing to thee. Feed us with the bread of heaven. Lead us into all truth. Give us the royal heart that takes in the prodigal and prays for him as if he were already at home. Take away from us all anti-Christ, all bigotry, littleness, exclusiveness, self-idolatrousness, and may we stand in the love of God as shown in the Cross of Christ, and carry up the whole world as the object of the salvation that is in Christ Jesus. Destroy our love of opinion. Utterly drive out of us the notion that we are to be saved by notions. Help us to slay our views and thoughts, our conceptions and theories, and to abandon the base idolatry which kneels to its own inventions. Help us to know nothing but Christ and him crucified—not to know him with explanations, but without them, by the wondrous insight of the heart. The Lord dry our tears; make our knees strong, and our hands skilful, and make our eyes clear and far-sighted. The Lord reconstruct our manhood, and make us like Jesus Christ through and through. We have friends at home who cannot come to thy house because they are sick.—Thou wilt visit them, and make the house a church, and bring to the heart memories and hopes and joys full of heaven"s own tender grace. We have friends for whom we dare not pray if Christ had not died. Find them out, and as a shepherd layeth the strayed lamb on his shoulder and bringeth it home, do thou bring by the sweet compulsion of grace every wanderer to thine own table. The Lord hear us; heighten the heavens above us, and make the earth greener, and work in us all the wondrousness of a conscious immortality, until there shall be in our life no sin, no sorrow, no night, no death, and may our life be as the New Jerusalem, which lieth four-square, the length being as the breadth. Amen.
13. But certain also of the strolling [itinerant] Jews, exorcists, took upon them to name over them which had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.
14. And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, a chief priest [? head of one of the twenty-four courses of the Levitical priesthood], which did this.
15. And the evil spirit answered and said unto them, Jesus I know [recognize], and Paul I know; but who [what sort] are ye?
16. And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and mastered both of them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
Seven Sons of Sceva
IN considering these circumstances we must call to mind what had been done in the city of Ephesus, the capital of Asia. A great spiritual revolution had taken place. Paul had been resident in Ephesus, more or less, for two years. At first he found the twelve disciples of Apollos utterly without Christian knowledge beyond the introductory baptism of John. Under Paul"s ministry the Holy Ghost had been poured out, and from that time great interest was felt in the whole subject of spiritual influence. From time immemorial superstition has grown in Ephesus, and to add one superstition to another came quite easy to the sophisticated minds of the Asiatics. Christianity was another department of magic. It seemed to succeed well in the hands of Paul and his colleagues, and it might be worth while to incorporate it with Ephesian mysteries. At all events, the men who had practised exorcism, or the art of casting out, were willing to try it, and the trial is related in this passage.
Even the Jews of Ephesus were tainted by this superstition. As we see from the14th verse "there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests," which "took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus." We must not dismiss the men as impostors. They were deluded, but not necessarily wicked. They wanted to do a good work, and so far we must credit them with a good motive. You and I are most concerned in finding out the modern meaning and present-day force of the narrative. A wonderful testimony—the more wonderful because unconscious—is here borne to the power of Christianity. Such testimony is of high corroborative value. The outsiders had been looking on, wondering how the new magic would act. They said nothing about it, but when occasion served they endeavoured to practise it; and so much to the world"s testimony, unconscious or reluctant, to the potent power of Christian action. The Ephesians did not say, "This argument is cumulative, cogent, and unanswerable, therefore we yield our intellectual citadel to the holy siege." They uttered no words, but looking on they saw wonder after wonder, and when the Apostles were not there they tried to conjure according to the apostolic necromancy, as they regarded it. That is being done today. If Paul had failed, the Ephesians never would have tried the new art. When the seven sons of the chief of the priests tried to repeat the processes of Paul they unconsciously certified to the practical influence which Paul had exercised in Ephesus.
The thirteenth verse sums up a large mass of evidence; it is a condensed history of Christian triumph. The Ephesian necromancers and exorcists had seen the most stubborn of the devils dragged out of their heart-caves. For years they had been trying to silence this evil spirit and that, and the evil spirit had mocked them, chattering back in broken speech the boldest words of a timid audacity. But in this instance the most reluctant and stubborn of the spirits had been dispossessed, and the Ephesians, without saying to Paul, "You are right and we will follow you," tried to turn Paul"s art into a department of Ephesian mystery. Much is expected of Christians today, as much was expected of Paul in his time. Never did the public arise and say to Christ, "You really must be excused if you cannot cast out this one particular devil." They expected him to cleanse the very hell of the heart. There must be no break-down; there must be no saying, "Hitherto thy power can go, and no further." He must walk through the very centre of the burning hell, and work miracles where miracle had never before been worked. It is exactly so with Christians today. They are expected to keep the whole ten commandments and to add all other possible commandments to them, and if they fail to touch the very uppermost line in the heights of virtue there are men at the foot cruel enough to chide them for failure, to mock their prayers, and turn their aspiration into reproaches. Necromancers may fail in their momentary trick, but Christians must be kept up to the mark. Christians are never allowed to tamper with law, pureness, commandment, moral authority, Divine or human exaction—they are scourged to the mark. What is the meaning of this? Rightly understood, it is the sublimest tribute which can be borne to the moral nobleness of Christian faith. They who would but laugh a careless laugh over a necromancer will denounce bitterly any Christian heart that fails to give in its life the Amen to its own prayer.
Add to that thought the one which arises in connection with the endeavour of the seven sons of Sceva to cast out evil spirits. Wherein did they fail? They failed at every point. They came into the ministry in a wrong way; and that is always an explanation of failure of the worst kind. How did they come into the ministry in a wrong way? The answer is given in the thirteenth verse. "They took upon them,"—that is the explanation. When men take the ministry "upon them" it fails in the last outcome in their hands. No man must go to war in this battle on his own account or at his own charges. This ministry is not something which a man may elect in preference to something else. The ministry is nothing if it is not a burden, a necessity, a fire in the bones, a spectre that will not let a man sleep at midnight till he has given his answer in a vow to serve it. There are those who would tell us that if we give our ministers better incomes we shall have better men. God forbid. Such teaching is the ruin of true ministry. When a man begins to calculate that he can have so much in the ministry and so much out of it he is not called to the ministry. This is a vocation, not a profession; this is an inspiration, not a calculation.
They—the seven sons of Sceva—knew nothing about the Name with which they conjured. Instead of saying, "We adjure you by Jesus Christ whom we love," they said, "We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth." The sacred influence will not pass through such negative or non-conducting connections. That is one of the noblest tributes that can be paid to the dignity and heavenliness of Christianity. It will not have anything to do with any other thought; it will not be incorporated; it will stand by itself and by itself alone. There are many persons who would be glad to amalgamate Christianity with something else. But Christianity will not be amalgamated. This is new cloth that will be put upon an old garment without making the rent worn. This is new wine that will be put into old bottles without utterly tearing them to pieces. Christianity will not mix. Christianity will not consent to be part of an eclectic philosophy, saying, "You can add a little of me to a little of Aristotle and other great teachers and inventors of ethical systems." Christianity wants the world to itself. It would be more popular if it were more neighbourly. If it could sit down with other philosophies and confer with them upon equal terms it might receive a little caressing and a little patronage and a more immediate recognition. But no; it must cleanse the house, drive out all revelry, and reign alone. Can we wonder that it is not the popular religion? The wonder would be if it were.
How much modern meaning there is in the expression, "We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth." There was no doubt about the subject of Paul"s preaching. If you asked the seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, whom Paul preached, they would answer you instantaneously and without qualification, "He preached one Jesus." This is a tribute to the honesty and consistency of Paul. Here is a certificate signed by seven unexpected but trustworthy signatories. We are urged today to preach the Christ whom the Puritans preached. That exhortation is not without deep meaning; but a man may stand in the pulpit and say to his hearers, "I adjure you to serve the Christ whom the Puritans preached," and his hearers will return the answer of indifference or the reply of mockery. A minister may go further and say, "I adjure you, by the Christ whom the Apostles preached, to save yourselves," and the word would have no power; the powder might blaze, but there would be no ball to take effect. A man might go even further and say to nineteenth-century hearers, "I adjure you, by the Christ of the New Testament, to believe," and the nineteenth century would know nothing about such a Christ. What then is the secret of force? How is the Christian man to suit his age and arrest it? By preaching the Christ whom his own heart knows and loves—not by preaching a Christ whom somebody else once preached with great effect, but the Christ known to him, loved by him, so that he can at any moment stand up and say, "Once I was blind, now I see, and a Man called Christ opened mine eyes, and it is to my Christ that I call you." Paul uses an expression which some persons cannot think is in the New Testament. He uses the expression, "My gospel." Every man has his own conception of God, his own hold of the Gospel, his own reading of truth, and he must preach that. If I have to preach a Christ whom another man preached I have to commit a lesson to memory and to be very careful lest I stumble in the verbal recitation; but if I preach a Christ born in my own heart, the hope of glory, living with me day by day, talking to me on the road, watching me whilst I sleep, meeting me in new converse when I awake, showing me the mystery of sin and the greater mystery of grace; if I have communion with him, deep, loving, ardent fellowship—then I can preach without learning a lesson, my whole life must break into argumentative eloquence, and men must be constrained to say, "He has been with Jesus and learned of him." O Church of the Living God! do not refer the nineteenth century to books written in the seventeenth, or even the first, century, except as incidental illustrations and corroborative testimonies. The only Christ any age can listen to is the Christ which the preacher himself knows, loves, and serves.
The answer returned by the evil spirit is the answer which every age will return to professional necromancers and moralists. "The evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcome them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded." Exactly what every ministry is doing that adjures or conjures in a secondary way. The answer of the spirits was argumentative; so is the answer of the spirits today. The answer of the spirits was violent; and the answer of the spirits is violent in every age, when they are charged or appealed to by unauthorized assailants. These seven sons of Sceva are living today. Here is one of them. A man who indulges himself in some way and then seeks to exorcise the spirit of intemperance in others. He gratifies every appetite, never cuts with a knife right into the indulgence which pleases him; but looking over his own indulgence, as over foaming wine, he bids some other man be self-controlled. What wonder if the drunkards of the land should throw back in the face of the Church its calls to sobriety? They are mocking calls. He only has power over his age in this direction who says, "I should like to drink this—to take this; I could take so much and let it alone, but for your sake I set it down. Now be sober!" That man is not preaching a total abstinence which somebody else practises, but a self-control which he has imposed upon his own appetite. The seven sons of Sceva have seven sisters, and the whole fourteen of them are living today. They are living, for example, in that person who reproves worldliness and practises religious vanity. If the Christian is not consistent with his own principles, what wonder that the nineteenth century should laugh at his preaching? It is quite right. O evil spirit, if I might speak to thee, black, damned thing, go on, mock the preachers, mock the Christian assemblies, twit them with their inconsistencies and vanities and follies, never let them alone! O hell, be the ally of Christ! There is a religious worldliness as well as a worldliness that does not debase the name of religion by calling it in as a qualification. Shall we who have a beam in our eyes be preaching about the mote that is in the eyes of other men. You will hurl the ten commandments at the head without effect if you do not go along with them. The world can laugh even at Christian theology when marked out in abstract propositions, but when Christian theology is incarnated in personal godliness, individual holiness, when the Christ that is preached is not only a historical Christ but also a living, present, and personally-known Christ, the age will begin to wonder, and there is a wonder which may end in prayer.
Almighty God, there is no night in thy city. Thou dwellest in eternity. Through Jesus Christ thy Song of Solomon, we are children of the light, we have nothing to do with darkness; our souls are birds of the morning, and we are called in the Holy One to shine as the sun in his strength. Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, and we, too, are named by that great name. We have no light of our own. The light which shines in our life is borrowed from the original and infinite lustre. We have nothing that we have not received, every good gift and every perfect gift cometh down from the Father of Lights. Thou hast called us to a religion that is a revelation. Thou hast not called us to secrecy and mystery, but to openness and far-sounding gospels, clear as the voice of love, and pleading as the tones of prayer. May we know to what we are called and by whom we are called, and knowing these things make us strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, that we may show forth unto all men that we are children of the light and not of the night. Make thy book an open secret to us. May we feel its mysteriousness, and yet rejoice in its light and sympathy. Restrain the curiosity that would become profanity, and help the faculty that would search in reverence for thy word and thy truth as for hidden treasures. Thy book opens before us like an immeasurable sky; it is full of stars, it is full of suns. May we walk in its many lights, take upon us its many colours, and have in our character the mystery that can only be explained by nobleness of conduct. Feed us with the bread of heaven. It is the food of the soul; without it we die. Lord, evermore give us this bread. Lead us by the river of God, which is full of water. Give us a sense of infinite wealth in Christ, so that all poverty, all death, all darkness, and all sense thereof may be destroyed in us. Thou hast crowned the week with thy goodness; thou hast spread our table for us; thou hast sent the gift of sleep night by night to tired eyes; thou hast surrounded us with securities not easily violated; thou hast given us love one for another, so that life lives in life, and love answers love, and a glad music unites the whole. This is the daily miracle of daily providence. Now would we give one another to thee in Christ Jesus. Nourish us, comfort us, speak to us the word we most require. Make the strong man stronger by added tenderness. Make the working servant more industrious by rekindling the lamp of his hope. Heal those that are ready to perish; show them what life is and what is death, and speak unto them from thine own heaven, and comfort such with the temporary healing of time or with the eternal healing of immortality. The Lord be with those who are not with us. David"s place is empty; the father is not with the child; the mother is unwillingly absent; the little child is disappointed at not being here; the man of business has gone a long journey; some are on the sea, and some in far-away lands. The Lord bring all around us in spirit, sympathy, and religious expectation, and let the feast-board be enlarged until all for whom we ought to pray sit down and eat and drink abundantly of the Lord"s provision. We put ourselves absolutely into thine hands. When we are in a great sea of tumult we would not put out a hand to save ourselves. Come to us and the waves shall be as solid rocks. Relieve the heart that is much plagued about the prodigal, the vow breaker, the little child, the life yet undirected and uncentred. Take all our affairs into thine hands, for thou who didst plant the lily and teach the bird its Song of Solomon, and make all things beautiful in their season, canst, and wilt, arrange all our little concerns, and make us laugh with rare, great joy, because thou hast made all things work together for good. We say our prayer at the Cross, and when we clasp our hands we put them around the body of him who died, the Just for the unjust. Amen.
17. And this became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, that dwelt at Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all. and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.
18. Many also of them that [now] had believed [those in whom the "fear" had wrought repentance and faith] came, confessing and declaring their [previous] deeds ["tricks"].
19. And not a few of them that practised curious ["vain"] arts, brought their books together, and burned them in the sight of all: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver [drachmae, about 1875].
20. So mightily grew the word of the Lord and prevailed.
The Sacrificial Fire
THERE was a kind of religious indignation in the man who was possessed by the evil spirit. He was made stronger than all the seven men who conjured with a Name which they did not know and love in their hearts. Nominal faith is always coming to grief. It has no backbone; it carries only a painted fire; there is no iron bullet in its gun. The devil is always real, and the more real when he pretends to be an angel of light. His cannon is full of iron. Hypocrisy only adds to the reality of devilism. It is not so with Christianity. Christianity is powerless if insincere. If I may so put it, I may say that Christianity when it ceases to be sincere ceases to be Christian. That is the difficulty of the Church. It is the difficulty of keeping up sincerity. Sincerity is sacrifice, and it is difficult to find fire every day for the altar, and to climb upon it and lie down in its hot centre and be burned in the sight of heaven. It is so much easier to do a trick; to read a word—so much easier to say a prayer than to pray. There the enemy has the advantage over us. He has nothing but the meanest work to do. When he mocks he is religious; when he sneers he is at church; when he helps himself he serves the only altar he ever kneels before. It is so different with the followers of him who made the Cross the symbol of discipleship. They are watched at every point. When they fall below the line of passion they fall into criminal Luke -warmness. God will have nothing tepid in his Church—fire, and only fire! Christians, who are really such in their hearts, have, therefore, a hard time of it in the world. But is there any humiliation equal to that inflicted upon a man by the devil he vainly tries to expel? Look at the text for an answer. Such an unvanquished devil mocks the impotent exorcist, laughs at him, sneers at him, leaps upon him, bites him, and sends him home a sad sight! Such was the faith of the "seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests." A sermon that has to expel devils must not be a recitation but a sacrifice, not words but drops of blood. Hence it is so hard to preach; easy to write miles of empty sentences—hard to cut the whole heart into little pieces—into Gospel syllables. But this can be done by thy power, thou Spirit of Pentecost!
What result followed a clear conception of the majesty of the name of the Lord Jesus? The answer is given in the seventh verse: "The name of the Lord Jesus was magnified." That which could hardly be seen before grew, expanded, and unrolled itself until it filled the whole arch of the skies, and nothing could be seen but the splendour of its own light. These are the results which could be secured today if the cause were equal to the effect. Was this a merely sentimental adoration on the part of the Ephesians? Clearly not. Practical issues were realized. A clear conception of the sublimity of the name of Jesus Christ affects the whole circle in which we stand. It clears that circle of all impurity; it fills that circle with light; it lifts that circle up to heaven.
But a very painful process first takes place. Let us see what that process is? In the eighteenth verse we read: "And many that believed came and confessed." That is the great social consequence. The enemy comes in and lays his books on the church floor, and says over them, "These, one and all, are lies." You can forgive men who speak thus frankly. There might be more forgiveness if there were more frankness. Think of educated men ransacking their libraries and bringing out of their secret places all documents that were more or less tainted with falsehood, and bearing them right into the centre of Christian society, and saying, "These are lies!" That is what must be done. But that is only one side of the case. How sublime the force which constrains a man to confess that his life has been a lie! We have seen in our last study that Christianity would not mix with any other religion. The practical proof of that is in the instance now before us. When the Spirit of Christ enters into a man it says to him, "You must make no mistake about me. I never eat with idols; I never share the house with strangers; I am always master and never servant. You must go up and down, though it cost you the remainder of your life, confessing, acknowledging, and begging forgiveness. You cannot swallow the lie; you must expel it, and take the shame of its proclamation, and then we can begin anew. Marvel not that I say unto thee, thou must be born again." So many of us want our immoralities simply to rot within and pass away by processes of decay; but Christianity says it must not be so. Out with them! Name them! Brand them! Burn them! Drop them with iron hand right into the hell they deserve, one by one, each with its own curse upon it like a load that will never permit it to rise again through the billows of fire. What wonder, we may ask again and again, that Christianity makes so little progress in the world? It hinders its own way; it blocks up its own path; it will make men so good that men hate it. Were it a notion, an intellectual theory, a mental idol, a branch of contemporaneous culture, it might have the Primate"s chair; but it is a new birth, coming through crucifixion with Christ and the regeneration wrought by the Holy Ghost; and therefore Christianity is by so much the self-hindering religion, but, for that very reason, the religion that never needs to be patching up its own work and doing it over again. It works slowly, surely, finally; setting on the top stone wherever it lays the foundation.
Confession never stands alone. You will find that confession was followed by sacrifice. "Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together and burned them before all men; and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver." That is the Cross! We cannot have merely sentimental confession—that may be but a variation of the original guilt. Christianity always says, "This is the way to the Cross: walk ye in it." The sacrifice was expensive; the men lost their trade; and that is the last thing a man is willing to lose in an earthly direction. The men gave up business. Christianity shuts up many commercial institutions. This, therefore, let us repeat for the sake of the grave lesson it conveys, was not a sentimental confession, but a sacrifice of daily and stated income. The days of the text were not days of printing, when ten thousand copies of the Ephesian letters could be struck off in so many hours. The letters were copied from the stone by hand. The copying of the letters was itself a profession by which men sustained their families. Some of the letters had been copied by ancient members of the household, and had been handed on from sire to Song of Solomon, and there were those who kissed the precious documents as heirlooms of the family. These documents were taken into the open air and burned in the sight of all men; and if some of them appeared to be dropping out of the fire they were taken up and thrown into the middle of it. This was not playing at life. How tremendous in energy, how sublime in pathos, the force which could operate upon men"s hearts so as to issue in this unparalleled sacrifice! The men at Ephesus who took part in the surrender are to be regarded with honour. It is easy for us to look upon a fire which is burning other people"s books; but Christianity has done nothing for us until it has lighted exactly the same fire in our houses. Do not wonder you are not quite happy in your mind—you have not had a fire! Do not be surprised that you are dyspeptic theologians, analyzing your notions and rearranging your ideas, and asking yourselves vexatious questions which are only meant to contribute to your own vanity. You have not had a fire! Until we have reached this point we can have no heaven. We know the trade is evil, but we do not shut it up. We compound for the continuance of the trade by giving tithes to the Church. We know the money is got by a species of swindling and public deception and trickery, but we double our pew subscriptions and keep the infernal machine grinding for us. Then we find fault with the preaching or with the Church, and we suddenly find that we must be "abreast with the times," therefore must leave the Church and take to other ways of thinking. O thou whited sepulchre! O thou lying spirit! You must burn down your place of business. I should not wonder if many a joint stock company has to be thrown into the blaze, and you may have to give up your director"s fees. I should not wonder if some part of the Royal Exchange would have to be thrown in also. I do not say this must be so; I am sketching rather a large possibility than stating a solemn fact. But the lesson is the same, though the incident and the illustration may vary; and that lesson is that until we have had a fire in the house and in the heart it is blasphemy to be painting our notions in red letters and holding them up to the heavens as if they were acts of sacrifice. There are those who are going to renounce strong drinks and are going to be abstainers out and out, but—they are going to keep something in the house for callers! No; you must have a fire! The "something" you are keeping for visitors will remind you of its existence, and say seductively to you, "It is now a long time since you had anything of my kind; you are stronger now and better, and have learned the manly art of self-control. Now let us renew our alliance." You must have a fire, if you are to succeed. If you mean to play with yourself, then have no fire. If you mean to see how near you can go to the edge without falling in, then I have no speech to make to you. I began by supposing that you were earnest in asking me to help you to save your life. There are those who intend giving up all evil things, but they do not exactly see why they should waste so much property by burning it; so they will hide it away in a secret drawer. I read nothing of that kind in the sacred record. There must be no secret drawers, nothing excepted, no reservations, but a dragging out of every leaf and tittle and iota, and a complete and final conflagration. Again and again, let us say, what wonder that Christianity makes such little progress in the world? Of what avail is it that we keep our curious arts and our curious books, and yet buy a weekly sermon to sleep over on Sunday afternoon? That is not the Cross.
What is the whole issue? The answer is in the twentieth verse: "So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed." The "word" had it all its own way. Devils ran out of the path lest they should be killed, and all bad things said, "Pity us, and spare us," but the great fire devoured them. We must have root and branch work. There must be no parleying with the foe. We must have no sympathy with men who teach that Christianity is a string of notions much resembling a string of unconnected beads. Christianity is crucifixion, self-dethronement, self-hatred, trust in Christ, death with Christ, resurrection with Christ; it is not a notion, but a sacrifice. Lord Jesus, why didst thou make thy way so hard in the world? We would take thee into our houses along with other great men, and give thee high place at the table; but thou art a hard Prayer of Manasseh, reaping where thou didst not sow, and asking every one of us, the daintiest as well as the roughest, to stretch out his hands and his feet and be nailed to the Cross, and open his side to the sharp spear. If thy religion were something else we would like it, we would wear it, we would try to make it the fashion of our time. But who can make the Cross a fashion, or make crucifixion popular?
Almighty God, we have heard of thy mercy, and therefore our hope is yet alive. We dare not look at thy law; we have broken its letter, we have grieved its spirit, we have trampled upon its purpose. We are not here to turn the altar into a place of self-defence, but to say with our inmost heart, "We have all sinned and come short of thy glory." We know what sin Isaiah, though we cannot tell. We have felt the darkness of that night-shadow, and it is deep and cold and full of fear. We have felt the warm shining of thy grace upon our souls, and in it there has been morning brightness, vernal promise, summer glory, and an abundance of pardon. Thou dost not pardon grudgingly; there is no upbraiding to follow the gifts of thy heart. We live in thine answer to our prayer, and thou art pleased to live in our love, thou art grieved by rebellion; we pain thee by our wandering; the heavens are black with astonishment, and the earth trembles, because of amazement, when thou dost upbraid us for oft-repeated ingratitude and sin. We stand at the sacred Cross as thirsty men stand before springing waters. There is no other hope. It is not a Cross of letters and words with meanings we can fully tell, but a great love-Cross, a great altar whereon is seen the very heart of the heart of God. We may not speak about it without humbling our own power of speech and mocking ourselves, because of the emptiness of our noblest terms. There is no speech for the love of the Cross; we must be dumb with gratitude, silent because of adoration, filled with joy that trembles because of its infinite fulness. Give us the heart purity that sees God. Thou wilt not give us the tongue that can tell about thee, but we do ask for, the heart that sees thee, looks right into thy beaming face, and reads with holy insight the innermost thought of the Cross of Christ. We bless thee that no man can take the Cross of Christ from us. The blood is always there; it cannot be sponged out, nor hidden, nor covered up with all the nights that ever darkened upon the earth. It is thy testimony, it is the tragedy of heaven, it is the answer that we can only need now and then—the great, secret, deep, marvellous answer that men may not trifle with in many words or thoughtless speech. We have seen the Cross, and we must now see it evermore. The sight is graven upon our heart; the Lamb of God in his great agony must forever be before the eyes that have once beheld him. We think of thy love in the house and on the roadside, and in the market-place; in the chamber of affliction, up the hill of difficulty, and down in the valley, sultry and imprisoning. Thy love is an angel that never sleeps. Thy gifts are flowers that know no winter blight. Thou dost evermore beset us behind and before, and lay thine hand upon us and hold us up by thy mighty grace. We are the living to praise thee. We have seen the grave and demanded its victory; we have looked upon death and mocked him to the face—ghastly indeed, but overthrown. Death is swallowed up in victory. This is the triumph of the Cross. May we abide in Christ, live in Christ; may our life"s music be taken from Christ, and may we find that the surest places in all the wide universe are the places where he sets his feet. The Lord gather from this assembly today all special praises, all particular Song of Solomon, all individual utterances, for every heart has its own hymn within the public hymn, deeper and higher than the public psalm. Send blessings upon the old, that they may forget the winter of age and feel the breeze of the coming heaven-spring. Send messages to little children, that they may think life is all sunshine, and keep back the care, the anxiety, as long as thou canst. The Lord hear us, poor weary pilgrims, grouped around the Cross; pity us, lift us up; give us to know that we live in the love of God, and not in the caprice of men; and, abiding under the roof of that sanctuary, give us to know that the storm can never put out our fires, and that in the darkest night there is a brightness which the pure heart can see. Amen.
21. Now after these things were ended, Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome.
22. And having sent into Macedonia two of them that ministered unto him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.
23. And about that time there arose no small stir concerning the Way.
24. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines of Diana, brought no little business unto the craftsmen;
25. whom he gathered together, with the workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this business we have our wealth.
26.. And ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands:
27. and not only is there danger that this our trade come into disrepute; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana be made of no account, and that she should even be deposed from her magnificence [better, "that the temple be disesteemed and the splendour of the goddess impaired." Demetrius forsees the injury, but not the destruction of Diana"s worship], whom all Asia and the world worshippeth.
28. And when they heard this they were filled with wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.
29. And the city was filled with the confusion; and they rushed with one accord into the theatre [ruins of which building, constructed to hold over25,000 spectators, still remain], having seized Gaius and Aristarchus [ Acts 20:4; Acts 27:2; Colossians 4:10; Philemon 1:24; Caius of Macedonia is not elsewhere mentioned], men of Macedonia, Paul"s companions in travel.
30. And when Paul was minded to enter in unto the people, the disciples suffered him not.
31. And certain also of the [G. "Asiarchs": the ten annually elected presidents of the provincial games and sacrificial rites were thus named. They defrayed the enormous expenses of the games which were held during the whole of May (hence called Artemision), and they retained the honourable title when past the presidency] chief officers of Asia, being his friends, sent unto him, and besought him not to adventure himself into the theatre.
32. Some therefore cried one thing, and some another; for the assembly was in confusion; and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together. [Yet they were unanimous for assembling, Acts 19:29.]
33. And they brought Alexander [ 1 Timothy 1:20 and 2 Timothy 4:14] out of the multitude [or better, some of the multitude instructed Alexander], the Jews putting him forward [compare Acts 19:9]. And Alexander beckoned with the hand [moved his hand up and down], and would have made a defence [G. "apology"] unto the people.
34. But when they perceived that he was a Jew, all with one voice, about the space of two hours, cried out, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.
35. And when the town clerk [an official who wrote, kept, and read publicly, when required, the statutes and judgments of a Greek democracy] had quieted the multitude, he saith, Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there who knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is temple-keeper [G. "temple-sweeper." Cf. Psalm 84:10] of the great Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter [must therefore be supposed to have been saved when Herostratus burnt down the old temple on the night when Alexander the Great was born. This image had many breasts, and tapered to its base].
36. Seeing then that these things cannot be gainsaid, ye ought to be quiet, and to do nothing rash.
37. For ye have brought hither these men, which are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess.
38. If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen that are with him have a matter [a charge] against any Prayer of Manasseh, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls [there would be only one in each province. The meaning Isaiah, proconsuls (judges) as well as courts, are provided by the state]; let them accuse one another.
39. But if ye seek anything about other matters [not yet defined by statute], it shall be settled in the regular [legislative] assembly.
40. For indeed we are in danger to be ["run the risk of being"] accused concerning this day"s riot, there being no cause for it; and as touching it we shall not be able to give account of this concourse. [The reviser"s Greek text is here corrupt. The "not" is obviously a copyist"s repetition, and "this day"s riot," involves an ungrammatical transposition of the Greek order of words, quite without N. T. precedent. Translate: "For we run the risk of being accused of riot concerning this day, there being no cause whereby we may give an account of this concourse."]
41. And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the assembly. [" Song of Solomon," says Chrysostom, "he quenched their rage, for what kindles easily is easily put out."]
Old Complaints and New Reproaches
THE application of these words to present-day life is a task that might be assigned to a child. The speech of Demetrius is a speech that was made yesterday in every centre of civilization affected by Christian ideas and demands. Demetrius never dies; his word is to be heard in every tongue; he is present in great force in every Church, and present as representing two very special and remarkable phases of life. In the twenty-seventh verse he puts these two phases before us in the most vivid colouring. With the subtlety of selfishness he puts the case with comical adroitness. He knows the value of a little piety. How it flavours the appeals that are made to man"s fears and to man"s commercial fortunes! See how religious he becomes quite suddenly! If it were a mere matter of trade he would not have troubled himself about it. He could have lifted his noble self above all market-place considerations and reflections, but—"not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised." The second was the thought that afflicted his pious heart! The mere matter of losing a few silverlings in shrines would never have excited him beyond a momentary flutter, but to see the great temple of the great Artemis despised was more than that godly soul could bear. Said I not truly that Demetrius never dies? Was it not a wise word—wise because consistent with facts—that Demetrius is present in great force in every centre of civilization affected by Christian ideas and claims? What was the reality of the case from the first point of view? "A certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana, brought no small gain unto the craftsmen." Trade was injured; "no small gain" was destroyed; the weekly takings had gone down to nothing. If Paul had preached abstract ideas and lived in a painted theology, and clothed himself in clouds "rolled" a thousand miles above the air, Demetrius would have made shrines for him if he had ordered them, but a preacher that comes down upon the earth, walks in the common dust, thunders upon immediate iniquity and visible falsehood, may get himself into trouble. We have escaped all this. Modern preachers are never in trouble; they tell the false dealer that after all if he did not deal in that he would deal in something else. The preachers might preach a whole year upon the evils of intemperance, but if those who deal in strong drink were to find their takings going down very considerably, the preacher would soon hear of the circumstance and find himself involved in no small trouble. That is one reason why a modern institution, known to us all, is often persecuted, opposed, denounced, and vilified. It is not an institution of ideas and propositions, and theological placards, propounding curious problems for curious minds, but an institution that stops people from going in to spend money on bad counters; and Demetrius comes out and shakes his indignant fist in its face. He is quite right. I thank God for it, personally. You may circulate what books you please if you do not interfere with the profitable circulation of corrupt literature—you are quite at liberty to walk upon both sides of the street; but if the literature that is eating out the morality of our young people is interfered with, is arrested in its baleful progress, then you will be caricatured, travestied, spat upon, contemned, laughed at. My brethren, rejoice when such persecution befalls you. It is a sign of true success; your blows are taking effect. Demetrius will not fail to let you know how your work is going on. Do not believe yourselves about it; you see things through painted glass, and report that the orient is white and the day is coming when there is nothing of the kind on the road. Do not take the Christian"s word for progress; he means to speak truth; from his own point of view he speaks nothing but truth, he is honest and upright, but he does not know the reality of the case. Demetrius knows it. I want to hear Demetrius when he calls the men of the same craft together and says, "Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth," and "this our craft is in danger to be set at nought—what shall be done?" Then the war is going well; the fight is at its highest point of agony; press on—another stroke, another rush, and down goes Demetrius, and all his progeny fall into the pit to keep him profitless company. What bad journal have you, as a Christian Church, ever shut up? What place of iniquitous business have you ever bought and washed with disinfecting lime, and within its unholy walls set up the altar of Christ? What property do you buy? Where do you follow and out-bid Demetrius, driving him back, and back, and back? Is he in the thoroughfares of the capital cities of the world, or is he not? We are afraid to build churches too near one another; we study one another"s feelings about that. I would God the thoroughfare five miles long had churches on both sides of the street, one after another in great godly rows, phalanxes of moral strength, sanctuaries into which the poor and the weak and the weary might run, with great hospitable doors standing open night and day. Show me the thoroughfare in any great city in the world in which Christian churches have pushed back evil institutions and made them take up their quarters in narrow streets—back, back to the river"s edge and into the river, if possible. To see such a city would be to see the beginning of heaven. Christ would almost have to inquire lor his own address if he came back to earth; he would need some one to point out his dwelling-places; they are quite back; they are put up on sufferance; they are watched with suspicion; they are left to decay; and if any adventurous spirit should propose to paint them, clean and repair them, such proposition would be received as a new assault upon the purses of the people. Demetrius will let you know how the work is going on. Do not let us deceive ourselves and trifle with facts. Who dares assail an evil institution, an effete society, and obsolete secretariat and pension? Preach abstract ideas, rewrite "Paradise Lost," add to it "Paradise Regained," publish them both in sumptuous editions, and Demetrius is well content. He never suffered much through blank verse, he rather likes it; it sounds as if there might be something in it, but that something is not a thunderbolt.
The next phase of the case as put by Demetrius is infinitely more humiliating. The temple of the great goddess Diana is in danger of being despised. How shall we name that particular phase of the situation? It is best represented by the words a religious panic. The temple was in danger. That is the language of today. We have set up societies for the purpose of defending Christianity. All those societies represent, with few exceptions, some degree of religious panic. The temple is never in danger—that must be our faith. If it is a temple that can be put in danger, it is a temple made with hands and must go down. Hear the great challenge of the Master: "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." What panics we have seen! What godly godless excitement, as if truth could ever be in danger; as if some blind Samson could catch hold of the pillars of heaven and shake down upon us the contents of the sky. What a sky we live under if you think it can be shaken down! Some time ago a number of highly learned and morally and spiritually distinguished men issued a volume entitled, "Essays and Reviews." It was the doom of Christianity! It was the end of the world! Edition after edition was published—for sceptical books enjoy a circulation whilst orthodox books enjoy a slumber. The Church likes to buy heterodox literature; it looks like being "in advance of the times." From what I can understand of the case Christianity has come forward since the day of the publication of "Essays and Reviews," and the smell of fire has not passed upon it. What excitement there was! What panic in religious halls and on religious platforms! and yet Christianity, quiet as light, pure as the living breeze that blows among the snowy tops of the hills, has gone forward on her beneficent career without ever having bought a copy of the volume that some people earnestly thought was to have taken her life. There was no need for panic. Some time ago a bishop, who was born to take an inventory of things, and to reckon them up within the four corners of the multiplication table—a small universe and hard to lie down upon—began to suggest that it was impossible for seven-and-twenty thousand men to stand upon six square inches! What a panic there was! It was the end of the world, this time! "A Prayer of Manasseh," as Mrs. Carlyle well said, "with a little silk apron on had undertaken to find fault with the Pentateuch." She took it wisely; she was in no panic. She looked at the "apron" and despised the arithmetic. So far as I can understand, the Pentateuch seems to be very much where it was. Why these panics? Why these causeless distresses? We want to get at truth and fact and right, and if any man can help us in that direction he is not an enemy but a friend. I would rather teach that the men of true science are all men of a Christian spirit. They may not be so advanced as others; they may be sadly wanting in this or that department of theological culture and knowledge, but wherever I find a man whose supreme purpose is truth and reality, I find, not an enemy, but a fellow-worker. We ought to have a religion that cannot be put in danger. No man can touch my religion. If our religion is an affair of letters, forms, dates, autographs, and incidents of that kind, then I do not wonder that our cabinet is sometimes burglariously entered and certain things filched from it. I do not keep my religion in a museum; my Christianity is not locked up even in an iron safe; my conception of GOD no man can break through, nor steal. You cannot take my Bible from me; if you could prove that the Apostle John wrote the Pentateuch, and that Moses wrote the Apocalypse, and that the Apocalypse should come in the middle of the Bible and not at the end, you have not touched what I hold to be the revelation of God to the human mind and the human heart. Let us leave all such questions to be decided by the very few who are capable of gathering together the evidence, adjusting and distributing it, and founding upon it wise critical conclusions. What we, as the common people, have to be sure about Isaiah, that God has not left himself without witness amongst us; that God has sent great messages of law and love and light and life to every one of us; that God"s revelations do not depend upon changing grammars, but upon an inward, spiritual consciousness and holy sympathy, whose insight is not intellectual but moral—the purity of heart which sees God. When all the assaults have been concluded there remains the tragedy of human life; when all other books have been published, there remains another publication to come forth—the Book that can speak to conscious sin, to blinded penitence, to broken-hearted, sobbing, supplicating contrition. The Bible speaks to my own heart as no other book speaks; it knows me altogether; it is a mirror which reveals me to myself; it is a voice which calls me out of myself; it is a friend that will quietly sit down beside me seven days, because my grief is very great, will wait until its turn comes, and then will speak in silvery tone, in tender accent, so winningly, so graciously, so lovingly. It hath a history, it hath a Psalm, it hath a Song of Solomon, it hath a tongue, it hath a fire. It proves its own inspiration by its grasp of human life, by its answers to human need.
The town-clerk laid down the principle that ought to guide us. He did not know probably how good a philosophy he was propounding. The town-clerk said, "Seeing then that these things cannot be spoken against, ye ought to be quiet." That is what we say about our Christian teaching. There are some things which cannot be "spoken against" so far as my own experience is concerned. The brevity of life, the certainty of death, the reality of sin, the present hell that burns me, the need of a Saviour who needs no saviour himself—these things cannot be "spoken against"; therefore, those of us who feel them to be true "ought to be quiet."
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 19". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25