The Biblical Illustrator
After these things Paul departed from Athens and came to Corinth.
Paul at Corinth
Paul entered, not the grand, classical Corinth, but a sort of afterglow Corinth. The old city had been destroyed by Consul Mummius 146 B.C. It was burned to the ground. The streets ran with molten metal from the innumerable statues and gothic buildings; the fused mass continued to be collected for years afterwards, and fetched a good price in the open market as “Corinthian brass”; it was exported in blocks. Julius Caesar rebuilt and colonised Corinth not long before Christ. It was a flourishing mercantile town in Paul’s time. Over its isthmus men dragged the ships from Port Cenchraea to Port Lechaeum, and thus the tide of commerce flowed from the East straight through to Rome, leaving in the city about one of the most unenviable and mixed moral deposits conceivable. Imagine Liverpool and Brighton, without a touch of Christian influence, rolled into one, and you have Corinth. They were traders, not manufacturers--money getters, not creators; engaged, not in producing (which requires invention and implies culture), but in transference. Mere money grubbing is not elevating, refining, or morally bracing. They were pleasure mad too--that was their reaction from toil. Drunkenness and debauchery--temples consecrated to it, priestesses devoted to licence; when your life is on a low moral plane, your recreation is certain to be on a lower one still. The Jewry was there, of course, but it had little moral influence--a protest against sin without a touch of sympathy for moral frailty, and I should like to know what good ever came of such a gospel as that. What could this poor, suffering Jew--apparently a very indifferent specimen of a sorry community of fanatics--do in such a Vanity Fair? Such he must have seemed to the fashionable tourist from Rome, to the Corinthian fop or merchant. Indeed, how hopeless the outlook upon a great city after nineteen centuries of Christian civilisation! But Paul looked upon that scene with other eyes. The fields which might appear to us burnt up and wasted were to him whitening to the harvest. He felt he could operate in that atmosphere--he believed in humanity, in Christ--that was quite enough. He had to deal with the slaves of pleasure, the dupes of money, the puppets of ambition. He knew that every one of them hungered for something different from what he had got. Bide your time, man of God! Watch and pray; the world will come round to you--the world can’t do without you. When the thrill of the senses is past--money gone, ambition a wreck--does not everyone cry out for something which the world cannot give or take away? Sensuality, drink, extortion. I have seen something like it not a hundred miles from London. “Truly a mad world, my masters!” this Corinth about A.D. 53. It was Paul’s opportunity. (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)
Paul at Corinth
Let us inquire--
I. Respecting Corinth.
1. Greece, in the time of the Roman dictators, had become worn out, corrupt, and depopulated. It was necessary, therefore, to repeople it and to reinvigorate its constitution with new blood. So Caesar sent to his re-erected city freedmen of Rome.
2. Another element was the Greek population. To understand this we must make a distinction. Greece was tainted to the core. Her ancient patriotism and valour were no more. Her statesmen and poets had died with her disgrace. Foreign conquest had broken her spirit. Loss of liberty had ended in loss of manhood. The last and most indispensable element of goodness had perished, for hope was dead. They buried themselves in stagnancy. But amid this universal degeneracy there were two classes.
3. The next thing which influenced Corinthian society was Roman provincial government--an influence, however, favourable to Christianity. The doctrine of Christ has not as yet come into direct antagonism with heathenism. Persecution always arose first on the part of the Jews; and, indeed, until it became evident that in Christianity there was a Power before which all the principalities of evil must perish, the Roman magistrates interposed their authority between the Christians and their fierce enemies. A signal instance of this is related in this chapter.
4. The last element in this complex community was the Jews. In their way they were religious, i.e., strenuous believers in the virtue of ordinances. God only existed to them for the benefit of the Jewish nation. To them a Messiah must be a World-Prince. To them a new revelation could only be substantiated by marvels and miracles, and St. Paul describes the difficulty which this tendency put in the way of the progress of the gospel among them in the words, “The Jews require a sign.”
II. Respecting the apostle Paul. For his work the apostle was assisted and prepared--
1. By the fellowship of Aquila and Priscilla. Such an one as Paul thrown alone upon a teeming, busy, commercial population would have felt crushed. His spirit had been pressed within him at Athens, but that was not so oppressive as the sight of human masses, crowding, hurrying, driving together, all engaged in getting rich, or in seeking mere sensual enjoyment. In this crisis providential arrangements had prepared for him the companionship of Priscilla and Aquila.
2. He was sustained by manual work. He wrought with his friends as a tent maker. For by the rabbinical law, all Jews were taught a trade. So, too, it was the custom of the monastic institutions to compel every brother to work. A wise provision! In a life of gaiety or merely thoughtful existence, woe and trial to the spirit that has nothing for the hands to do! Misery to him who emancipates himself from the universal law, “In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread.” Evil thoughts, despondency, sensual feeling, sin in every shape is before him, to beset and madden, often to ruin him.
3. By the experience he had gained in Athens. There the apostle had met the philosophers on their own ground. His speech was triumphant as oratory, as logic, and as a specimen of philosophic thought; but in its bearing on conversion it was unsuccessful. Taught by this experience, he came to Corinth and preached no longer to the wise, the learned, or the rich. God had chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith. St. Paul no longer confronted the philosopher on his own ground, or tried to accommodate the gospel to his tastes: “I determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” We know the result--the Church of Corinth, the largest and noblest harvest ever given to ministerial toil. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Paul at Corinth
I. The servant labouring. He began by doing a double work--tent making during the week and reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath--thus showing the possibility of working for one’s self, and yet finding time to work for the Master. Note--
1. His friends. Several things drew the apostle and Aquila and Priscilla together.
2. His work. Why did Paul labour with his hands (2 Corinthians 11:9)? He was sensitive about being a burden, although he believed in the duty of Churches supporting their own ministers (1 Corinthians 9:7-14; 1 Timothy 5:18).
II. The servant preaching. When Silas and Timothy came they relieved him of the necessity of manual labour (2 Corinthians 2:9). Then he was “constrained by the Word” (1 Corinthians 9:16). He felt forced to speak the Word--
1. To the Jews.
(a) The action of the Jews, “opposed themselves and blasphemed.”
(b) Paul’s action (Acts 18:6; Ezekiel 33:8-9).
2. To the Gentiles. Note--
III. The servant protected.
1. The promise of protection (Acts 18:9-10; 1 Corinthians 2:3). God knows our discouragements and when to comfort us. Paul was encouraged to go on because of the assurance--
2. The promise fulfilled.
(a) That Paul did not even have to defend himself.
(b) That it was based on justice.
(c) That the charge resulted disastrously to the accusers. “Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein; and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him.” (M. C. Hazard.)
Paul at Corinth
From the summit of the Acropolis at Athens one could plainly see through the clear atmosphere of Greece at a distance of forty-five miles, the lofty Aero-Corinthus, the temple-crowned mountain at whose base lay the wealthy and luxurious city. Thither the apostle now directs his course. As a great commercial centre from which the light of Christianity, once enkindled, will naturally radiate along all the lines of trade, he recognises the importance of establishing at the earliest possible moment a Church in this city. But a strange depression of spirit comes over him as he enters the great metropolis, such as we do not find him experiencing anywhere else. The evidences of it are manifold. Writing afterward to the Corinthian Church, he says, “For I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.” The testimony of the historian in this passage is that when Silas and Timotheus came to Corinth they found him “pressed in spirit.” But the chief evidence is in the vision which was accorded to him, and the words of encouragement it brings (verses 9, 10).
I. The sources of the apostle’s discouragement and the elements of encouragement afforded him.
1. The sense of personal loneliness. He came to land amidst bales of merchandise, throngs of merchants, trains of porters and beasts of burden. From the warehouses and shipping around him he looked upward to the temple of Venus, and entering the city over which she presided he saw that the hearts of the people were divided between wealth and pleasure. Between him and this people there was no congeniality. To add to this, he was entirely alone. In this state of loneliness what he needed to cheer him, what every Christian worker needs, is just the message, “For I am with thee” (verse 10).
2. A view of the lawlessness and liability to popular tumult and violence of a community held together merely by the love of pleasure or the greed of gain. In Jerusalem, where the priestly power was dominant, and in Athens, where the memory of the great lawgivers still held sway, there was some maintenance of order. But in volatile, licentious Corinth there was no knowing at what moment some enemy might fire the passions of the mob. To meet this element in the apostle’s discouragement what could have been more suited than “No man shall set on thee to hurt thee” (verse 10). In this doctrine of God’s sovereign control over the hearts of wicked men the missionaries of the Cross in heathen lands have found comfort.
3. Paul’s apprehension that the preaching of the gospel to such a people would be utterly unacceptable. With hearts immersed in business or intoxicated with pleasure, what effect could the preaching of the gospel produce? Many a servant of God, since called to minister in some centre of wealth and fashion, has felt this same chill of despondency. What is the comfort which the Lord gives to His discouraged servant? “I have much people in this city” (verse 10). Christ knew them, and had sent Paul to set in motion the instrumentalities by which they should be brought to repentance. How could Paul fail then? Cheer up, O desponding servant of God! The Master has an elect people here, and your feeble instrumentality has behind it the unchanging sovereignty and mercy of God.
II. The interweaving of God’s providence with His purpose of election, arranging all the conditions necessary to Paul’s success. The conditions are--
1. That Paul shall have the means of subsistence whilst he is preaching the gospel. Before he came to Corinth, God had brought to that city Aquila and Priscilla, who were forced to leave Rome, and, seeking the next best centre, came to Corinth; and so when Paul came he found employment with them, and thus his support was providentially arranged.
2. That he shall have efficient helpers in his work. To secure these we have first the acceptance of the gospel by Aquila and Priscilla, then Silas and Timotheus (verse 5), who had failed in some way to reach the apostle at Athens, were brought to him at the most opportune moment.
3. That he shall have some suitable place for holding religious services. This, too, is in the providence of God most agreeably arranged. For all informal services through the week the large room in which the tents and sails are stitched would amply suffice. So long as he directs his ministry to the Jews he has the use of the synagogue. When he turns to the Gentiles the Lord inclines the heart of Justus (verse 7) to throw open his dwelling as a place of worship; and so Paul has the two-fold advantage of a hall free to Gentiles, and next door to the synagogue, so that it is easily accessible to the Jews.
4. That he shall have protection from the violence of his enemies and liberty to speak boldly in the name of Jesus. Provision has been made for this also by a train of providential arrangements (verses 12-17). Just as this crisis is approaching, when so much depends upon the character of the Roman governor in Corinth, the Senate sends out Gallio, a great student and admirer of Roman law, and, in the oratory at least, an ardent advocate of a high tone of public morals, who, whilst he holds Paul under the protection which the law gives, sits quietly by whilst a disturbance takes place amongst the persecutors themselves, so that it becomes manifest to the Jews that they can expect no sympathy from him in any future attempts to interfere with the apostle’s preaching; and so he is able afterwards to speak the Word of God boldly, no man hindering him. (T. D. Witherspoon, D. D.)
Paul at Corinth
1. Not seeing sufficient encouragement to attempt to found a Church in Athens, Paul turned his steps to Corinth. Here the Greek mind was to be encountered under a new phase; not, as in Athens, devoted to science, to eloquence, but to gaiety and luxury. Approaching Corinth, the most conspicuous object was not, as in Athens, the Parthenon, dedicated to the goddess of wisdom, but the temple of Venus. Our subject for the present is, accordingly, Christianity in contact with gaiety, luxury, and refined sensuality.
2. Corinth, unlike Athens, was a commercial city, the mart of Asia and of Europe, bringing thither a multitude of strangers, leading to the habits of luxury consequent on wealth. We must add also that on the very isthmus on which the city was built were celebrated the Isthmian Games, which drew together vast numbers of people from other parts of Greece, and from foreign lands. No city has been or is more profligate. In the art of refining upon the pleasures of sense, Corinth was in the ancient world what Paris is in the modern--the seat of splendour, gaiety, sensuality.
3. What the feelings were with which the apostle approached such a city, he tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:3. It was to relieve his solicitude that the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision (verses 9, 10). The purpose of the apostle was deliberately formed. What it was he tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:1-2. Amidst the works of art and beauty, and even among the gay and pleasure-loving people, he would seek to introduce the Cross as an object which would become more attractive than all the splendours and all the vanities around them. To understand the apostle’s purpose, and to elucidate our subject, it will be necessary to consider--
I. The new topic of thought which Paul proposed to introduce into Corinth--“Christ, and Him crucified.” The apostle subsequently stated how the Cross is naturally regarded by that class of minds (1 Corinthians 1:18-23).
1. He who came to them to preach this doctrine was a Jew, unable to advance claims to a hearing from Greeks. His country had produced no philosophers like theirs.
2. He of whom Paul came to speak “Christ”--was a Jew also, of lowly origin, of no education, who had been associated mainly with fishermen, and had been rejected by His own countrymen.
3. The theme was one that was little likely to be attractive to those who lived in Corinth. The “Cross,” little as it has now to make it attractive to the gay and the worldly, had then everything that could make the mention of it repulsive. Who will now venture to make an allusion to it in a ballroom, etc.? But at the time when Paul resolved to know nothing but “Christ crucified,” the word had but one idea attached to it, and was regarded as more dishonourable than are now the words “guillotine” and “gallows.” How could it be hoped by Paul that the gay citizens of Corinth could be made to overcome this revulsion of feeling, and to find an object of attraction in a cross?
4. The Cross was to be made known to them as a method of salvation; as a means of inducing the gay and the worldly to forsake their vanities and follies. It was this alone which it was Paul’s object to proclaim. And it was on this alone that he relied for success (1 Corinthians 2:4; 1 Corinthians 1:17). It was easy to see how this would be likely to appear to dwellers in Greece. “We preach Christ crucified--unto the Greeks foolishness,” weakness of intellect, imbecility of mind. To the apprehension of the Greek there could be no adaptedness in the idea of a “cross” to the work of salvation. He had his own ideas of what was necessary to save men. It was to be done by philosophy. But what element of power could there be connected with that instrument of cruelty and death, to make the corrupt pure, or elevate the degraded? A Greek philosopher would ask these questions, as philosophers do now.
II. The adaptedness of this topic to arrest the minds of the gay, the refined, and the worldly; to secure the conversion of those who live for pleasure, or who are sunk in gross sensuality.
1. The gospel claims this to be the only effectual mode (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).
2. Yet there is not in the whole compass of the Christian theology any one point more difficult of explanation than this. It is probable that even Paul would have despaired of being able to state to their comprehension how this was to be done, or to show them what was the real power of the Cross. A gay and thoughtless world sees no such wisdom in that gospel now, and we cannot so explain it to them that they will perceive it.
3. However, notwithstanding this, there cannot be any real doubt of the fact. Nothing is better established than that the gospel is the only effectual means of leading the sinner to abandon his sins and to turn to God. For--
4. With all that is discouraging and apparently hopeless, in endeavouring to explain this so that it will be appreciated by an unrenewed heart, there are things which are in fact really explanatory of this power.
(a) He suffered (as far as the nature of the case would allow) what sin deserves, and what the sinner would himself suffer if he were to endure in his own person the penalty of God’s violated law.
(b) We feel the evil of a wrong course of life more deeply when it brings calamity on the innocent. An intemperate man will be more likely to be affected by the sufferings which he brings on his family than by the consequences which he brings on himself.
Paul at Corinth
Note in connection with the preaching of the gospel--
I. A propitious concurrence of circumstances. Paul enters Corinth a poor stranger, but see what arrangement has been made for his accommodation (verse 2).
1. The emperor had expelled all the Jews from Rome.
2. Aquila and Priscilla, thus expelled from Rome, came to Corinth.
3. Aquila “was of the same craft as Paul”--another event of interest.
4. Paul found them out. And that he should find them out in such a large city is also noteworthy. They were Jews, strangers; they were of the same social grade, all of which circumstances would tend to mutual sympathy. Is not Divine superintendence to be seen in this propitious concurrence of circumstances?
II. The value of handicraft (verse 3) agrees with many passages in the apostle’s letters (1 Corinthians 4:12; 2 Corinthians 11:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8), and shows--
1. That there is no disgrace in manual labour. A greater man than Paul never lived, and here we see him working at his trade.
2. The necessity of independency in a minister. No man urged with greater force the duty of the Church to support its ministers (1 Corinthians 9:14). But notwithstanding this, he was determined by the labour of his own hands to maintain an honourable independency (2 Corinthians 11:9). The pulpit which is felt to be the means of bread to the minister is often terribly degraded, and no wonder.
III. The stimulating influence of cooperation (verse 5). He had encountered all the difficulties of his mission in Athens alone. The sight of his fellow labourers fanned his earnestness into a stronger flame. Timothy had just visited Thessalonica, and the news he brought prompted Paul to address a letter to that Church. It sometimes happens that an increase in our coadjutors lessens our own diligence; it was not so with Paul.
IV. The law of responsibility (verse 6). Renewed zeal stirred up fiercer opposition. Paul felt two things, now, in relation to the law of responsibility.
1. That, having been faithful to his conscience, his duty was discharged.
2. That, having rejected the gospel, they had increased their own responsibility. They rejected the spiritual life offered to them, and were guilty of self-murder. “Your blood be upon your own heads” (Ezekiel 33:8-9).
V. A change of sphere (verses 6, 7). Paul was not particular where he preached. At Rome it was in his “own hired lodging” (Acts 28:30). At Ephesus it was the school of Tyrannus (chap. 16). At Philippi, by the riverside (chap. 16). Here, at Corinth, it was a house close to the synagogue. This fact shows--
1. That Paul was not afraid of the Jews, notwithstanding their intolerance and persecution.
2. His belief that the gospel is equally adapted for all, the Gentile as well as the Jew.
3. A conviction that his ministry was too precious to be wasted upon incorrigible souls. When a minister finds he is amongst a people he cannot benefit, it is his duty to select another sphere.
VI. Moral triumphs (verse 8). Crispus, being a man of distinction, his conversion would be a signal demonstration of the power of the gospel, and afford a mighty impulse to its advancement in the city. The class of converts here, it would seem, were not generally of the philosophers or nobles, but the most profligate and degraded (1 Corinthians 6:11). This fact is a demonstration that Christianity is equal to the conquest of the world.
VII. Divine encouragement (verses 9, 10). Observe--
1. The kind of service Christ requires of His ministers--bold speech.
2. The encouragement He vouchsafes to His ministers--
Paul at Corinth
1. The Athenians said, “We will hear thee again.” When did it occur to a selfish man that he had anything to consider but his own purpose and convenience? It did not occur to the Athenian mind that perhaps Paul himself would not be there the next day! We take for granted that our opportunities will always be available. Yet we read in Scripture that “the door was shut.” The laggards never thought about the door being possibly closed! Whilst Paul is available then make the most of him. “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found.” Now is the accepted time!
2. “Paul departed from Athens and came to Corinth.” The only event that lifts up Corinth in history was an event that Corinth knew nothing of. The man may have come into London last night who will invest it with its sublimest fame. Give us drink, meat, drum, trumpet and dance enough, and what care we what Jew or Gentile is making his way amongst us? Poor Jew, laughed at by every man of form and nobleness, with an idea that the world is to be saved by the Cross! All things fail but the truth. The fine gold becomes dim, and the painted cheek shows at last its ghastliness, and the noble frame falls to dust. But truth lives when Corinthian grandeurs and vanities are forgotten.
3. Had the visit to Athens been without advantage? No; it gave Paul a lesson in preaching. His Athenian discourse was a classical speech; practical indeed, but conceived in a philosophical spirit. Men, however, are not philosophers, and philosophy seldom touches them. For once Paul tried to talk the Grecian speech, and when he was done they mocked him. 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 (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). “God helping me, the Corinthians shall hear of Christ and the Cross!”
4. Entering Corinth, Paul “found a certain Jew, named Aquila,” 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. What is their purpose? To find the sun! Banish chance from all your criticism of life. Paul came unto Aquila and Priscilla, “and because he was of the same craft, he abode with them and wrought.” According to the Jewish law, if a man did not bring up his son to a trade he was said to bring him up as a thief. There are many such thieves in Christendom.
5. Paul “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath.” The first verse made us feel apprehensive. We said as Paul went away, “Is he then disgusted with the work?” We wait until Corinth is reached, and, behold, Paul is once more in the synagogue. What a hold 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? In the old time the preachers “were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword,” etc., and no man gave up the work. That is its best vindication! If they had been man-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 (1 Corinthians 4:9-13). Why, then, did he not give it all up? He could not. “For I think that God hath set forth.” Let a man think that his ill-treatment is limited by human spite, and he will surrender his mission; but let him feel that God hath set him there, and he will accept all this base treatment as part of the sacred discipline. Seize that idea, and you will be quiet with the peace of heaven. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Paul at Corinth
It has been said that Corinth was the Vanity Fair of the Roman Empire; at once the London and the Paris of the first century after Christ. You are a poor man, without money, without friends, and with no letter of recommendation to any person or firm in the great city. What would it mean for you to make a place and a reputation for yourself under such circumstances? Think how many forces within and without you would have to be involved in order to lift your single obscure personality into a commanding position, from which you could attract public attention and determine public opinion and action! The very thought of the task is calculated to discourage and even appall the average mind. And yet Paul not only faced the thought, but he actualised it. The question arises: How did he do it? In trying to answer this question, we shall find ourselves touching some of the secret springs of the power of a Christian personality in a great metropolis. The history of the gradual development of a personal character as it emerges from obscurity to eminence, from dependence to dominion, is full of inspiration. Not every man illustrates this evolution of soul power. Too often the process is in the other direction. More frequently the development stops where a good many peach crops do, under the late spring frosts and ends only in leaves. While it is true that all men and women have not the natural endowments for making these great impressions upon their age and generation, it is also true that most men and women, by a right adjustment and discipline of the powers which God has given them, might do much more than they are doing to change and better the world. Let us look for a few moments at the picture which our sacred artist has given us of Paul in Corinth.
1. The first thing which the apostle did was to find employment. The first thing which a man must do if he would gain for himself an influence in any community is to show his ability to take care of himself in a material way. Labour is one of the foundation stones of soul power. A trade or a profession is the vantage ground within which the character is to grow, and from which it is to make itself felt upon the world at large. The man who will not work cannot rule. One of the first questions for a man to settle is, “What shall my lifework be? What employment shall I follow, in order that I may do my share in adding to the productive forces of the world?” There is no place in society for the idle or the lazy man. Among men, as among animals, parasitism leads to degeneration and uselessness. Wealth which stops work kills character.
2. In the next place, I notice that Paul preached while he worked. “He reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.” He did what every man and woman must do if they hope to make any permanent impression upon the community in which they live. He mingled his religious and secular life in such a way that the two played into each, or rather the one grew out of the other as the blossom grows out of the stem. The man who has within him possibilities of eternity, and the powers which belong to heaven, must of necessity be a preacher and a reformer wherever he lives and moves. If he has Christ in his soul as the motive power of his life, he must express Christ under the conditions of that life, not merely on Sunday and on prayer meeting day, but all through the week. Thus only will he save his trade or profession from the charge of being merely a makeshift whereby to earn his bread. His business as a merchant is a means of presenting Jesus Christ to clerk and customer. The most effective preaching of this day, I venture to say, is that which is done by the man who is following some honourable business, and at the same time by word and act ministering to the needs of the world in the name of Jesus Christ.
3. But I notice again that “when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit.” That is, he was wholly seized and arrested by the truth of his religion, so that he applied himself to it with the utmost earnestness. I find here a very important suggestion in the line of developing personal influence in the community. The presence of Paul’s two friends greatly added to his efficiency. A man works a good deal better with congenial spirits than he does alone. Every reformer knows what I mean when I speak of that loneliness which is necessarily connected with all pioneer work. Christ experienced it. Few personalities are strong enough to walk in advance of their age entirely alone. They can go on for a little while, but unless they find sympathy and cooperation they are liable to fall by the way. Eagerly they turn back, wistfully they look around the great sea of faces behind them, anxious to discover someone who has left the common ranks and moved up nearer to them. This was the way Paul felt when he waited and looked for the coming, of Silas and Timotheus. If Christians understood how much they could do by giving even their presence to a good cause, the world would be made better much more rapidly than it is now. It is astonishing how a half-dozen, or even two, thoroughly sympathetic workers in the church can turn a pastor’s discouragement into joy and make an enthusiastic phalanx which can chase a thousand. Silas may not be a very able or eloquent co-worker; he may be a very modest and very inefficient man; and yet the single item of his sympathy may change Paul’s pending defeat into a glorious victory. Not Paul alone, but Paul plus Silas and Timotheus, moved Corinth. Mass your personalities. Organise! It means victory.
4. But I discover one other condition of Paul’s condition of Paul’s success in Corinth, in this remarkable statement, which we find in the ninth and tenth verses of this chapter--“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.” Here we have another illustration of the reality of the Divine presence and guidance in every human life. Paul had these manifestations of the unseen Christ for a special reason. They lived at a time when the world had had little or no Christian experience which could avail to encourage and cheer them. There was no great enlightened consciousness for them to appeal to. And so what God has given to us today in the form of a wide Christian sympathy and multiplied Christian experiences and a vast array of convincing facts he gave to these early disciples in the form of supernatural revelations. The Lord is not confined to visions and dreams in manifesting His presence to them that love Him. His promise, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world,” was spoken to be fulfilled. Men practically bind their lives by material limitations and refuse to think that there is any influence or help from an unseen spiritual realm. The result is they fail in all high endeavour and come short of all true manhood and womanhood. It is just as true today as it was when Paul was asserting his Christian personality in Corinth, that the man who would work any great good for himself or his fellow men and make the world better for his having lived in it must have the actual help of the incarnate Son of God. (C. A. Dickinson.)
Paul at Corinth
It is most natural to count Aquila and Priscilla among Paul’s early Corinthian converts, and to take the record as it stands, that similarity of trade was what drew them and Paul together. Associated with these tent makers, Paul worked as others worked, and with the others rested and worshipped on the Sabbath. In the synagogue, and doubtless also at his daily toil, he told the message that never was long absent from his lips. Nevertheless, through all the first part of his life in Corinth his apostolic mission recedes from view. Paul the tent maker was in Corinth waiting the coming of Timothy and Silas. When these companions came all was changed. He had been weighed down by anxiety for those whom he had left in trouble after too short teaching in the new faith. They told him of the young disciples’ steadfastness, and set his heart at rest. He had been hurried from place to place, nowhere having time to see the full result of his work. Timothy and Silas brought him from the Macedonian disciples a contribution which freed his hands. And from the time of their coming, Paul set vigorously to work to minister salvation to the Corinthians. The period of seeming inactivity was not without result. It got him ready to work most effectively with just the people about him. His new intensity of effort took speedy effect, partly unfavourable, partly favourable. This history reveals three stages in Paul’s work at Corinth.
1. The period of incidental though fundamental work, while his thoughts were far away with the Christians he had left in Macedonia.
2. The period of intense apostolic activity which followed on the coming of his companions with comforting reports from Macedonia and with gifts that freed his time for more continuous activity.
3. The new experience of opposition ignored and of work bravely continued until the apostle went elsewhere of his own choice. The significance of this experience of Paul appears more clearly if we call to mind the whole course of that missionary journey which reached its goal in Corinth. Is it not clear that Corinth was God’s objective point in all that journey? From place to place the apostle was hurried, leaving each time disciples seeming to need his ministry, until he reached that great centre of life and luxury. There he was bidden to stay, let his enemies do what they would.
Surely God’s hand was in all that hard experience, and if so the study of it can teach us much.
1. We may learn from it, first, that God often directs His faithful servants to build better than they know. We, of course, always recognise that the Church’s growth is, from beginning to end, God’s work, and this is true. But when we see the thoughts and plans of good men over-ridden, and the success desired by them reached through their continual and almost total disappointment, we are led to bow more humbly before that august power not ourselves that makes for righteousness. God causes to praise Him not only the wrath of evil men, but also the well-meant but mistaken, and therefore frustrated, efforts of good men. Our disappointments, our apparent failures, may be the very experiences by which we shall be enabled most to glorify God and bless humanity. Toil on, then, brother; let not your heart sink. God is with you as He was with Paul all that disappointing way from Macedonia to Corinth. Be your heart right, your head clear with the best light prayer will give you, and your hands busy in the work of His kingdom, and God will care for all consequences. These consequences will one day be revealed, and some of them will be so splendid as to make you glad that you lived.
2. We see from this part of Paul’s history, secondly, that God carries forward His kingdom strategically, seizing every point of special vantage and leaving unimportant positions temporarily unoccupied. In Philippi and Thessalonica and Beroea lived men and women enough for the apostle’s ministry for many years. Yet God rushed him from these needy places to Corinth. Why? We can never guess until we have our eyes opened to see that God’s purpose is not carried out in a haphazard way, but as great generals win campaigns. Corinth was the place from which the new salvation could spread most widely into different regions so affecting the world’s life. This is why God sped Paul to Corinth, and kept him there until the new faith was fairly rooted and could grow and bring forth fruit for the world’s health.
3. Notice, thirdly, the application of this thought to the missionary problem. The light of Christ must be put where it can reach the uttermost corners of the earth, and in each age where it will reach as far as possible for that age. God’s purpose is to save the whole world. Therefore His people cannot rest in the Philippis or the Thessalonicas; they must sweep on and on, till every Corinth on earth is reached and made a missionary centre.
4. We observe, in the fourth place, that the Almighty proposes not to save men as so many isolated specimens of humanity, but to save human society. Corinth did not consist of a great drove of men, such as we see at fairs or in caravans, but in an organic body of rational beings. Its importance strategically consisted largely in this. God’s thought of salvation is not met by the rescue of any number of individual souls to eternal life, be the number large or small. He seeks through the salvation of individual men and women to save all the social total. Thus, humanity is to feel the vitalising touch of Christ, in order that the customs, laws, ideals, and hopes of men may be lifted up and made heavenly, and this is to occur through the winning in earth’s every corner of some souls who shall live the Christlike life and be centres of Christlike influence. Only when this is thoroughly renovated will men be saved. Only then will the Son of Man see the full travail of His soul and be satisfied. (R. Rhees.)
Paul at Corinth
I. We see, first, something of the way in which Paul moved about as an agent of the gospel.
1. Failure was the cause generally of his changing his place of work. At some places (Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus) he stayed a considerable time. It was because his attempt to lead men to Christ there passed from the point of endeavour to the point of success. At other places he preached until he was stoned out of the gates, or met with such complete unsusceptibility of heart, that not even antagonism was aroused. Paul had not been maltreated at Athens, but he had made little or no impression. It is easier to be learned than it is to be humble.
2. That a place seemed unpromising for gospel work did not deter Paul from entering it. Athens might have been considered a favourable spot for the attempt, and Corinth not. But Paul went on as readily to Corinth as to Athens. From the luxurious fashionable set who gave Corinthian society its character, Paul could hope for little, nor could he expect any heed from the representatives of the Roman State, who would sneer at anything religious, particularly if it came from among the Jews. Yet what a mistake he would have made if he had not gone to Corinth. He was to win many souls there for Christ, was to establish one of the best-known Churches in Christendom there. The badness of a place is not a good ground for keeping the gospel from it, but the contrary.
II. Paul had a definite way of determining who his associates were to be in any place. There is nothing mysterious in his method, nor is it different from that followed by every other man. Each man, by the laws of personal affinity, goes to “his own.” Paul naturally gravitated towards men of similar mind with himself.
1. He naturally sought out Jews. He was a Jew himself, and had the intense race feeling which has always distinguished “the peculiar people” (2 Corinthians 11:22). They were in a sense halfway to the gospel already, inasmuch as they believed in the true God and His ancient revelation; therefore they offered ground already prepared for the sowing of the Word of life. Thus it was that on coming to Corinth Paul made the acquaintance of Aquila. He knew that in him he would have much in common.
2. The development of this friendship was assisted by the similarity of occupation of the two men. Both were tent makers, a trade common in Cilicia, the apostle’s native land. Sameness of occupation is a very active element in the making and establishing of friendships.
3. Still another element was at work in the shaping of Paul’s relations with others--Providence. By chance, some might say, Paul and Aquila, after many vicissitudes for both, met in Corinth.
III. Paul’s way of life is set before us.
1. He pursued his trade.
2. While Paul plied his trade among his fellow Jews, he was discussing religious questions with them and laying a foundation for the gospel.
IV. Paul’s increase of activity. The time came when the ground was prepared for the proclamation of the full gospel to the Corinthian Jews. When that time came, delay would have been not discretion but cowardice.
1. The change in Paul’s procedure seems to have been due to the coming of Silas and Timothy from Macedonia (verse 5).
2. The result was that which was common with Paul in similar circumstances--opposition. The opposition rose to the point of intense ridicule, literally blasphemy, of the apostle’s words. And what was it all about? The simple declaration that Jesus was the Christ (verse 5). The natural man receiveth not the things of God. We must expect, then, that men will always antagonise their own coming to Christ.
V. Paul changed his plan at this point. He had worked hitherto along the line of friendship. He had conciliated. Now he rises with the moral dignity of a messenger of God, and shaking out his garment, that not a grain of dust from the place may cleave to him, he cries, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles” (verse 6).
1. This invoking of the testimony of the dust was a common Oriental method of cursing one’s enemies, and was full of terror to those who witnessed it. It was not an invocation of wrath upon them, but rather a warning to flee from wrath.
2. Paul next tried what, generally speaking, would have been called the more unfavourable ground, since he had had no success where he had been entitled to expect it. In the same way in which he had been driven from Athens to less favourable Corinth, he was driven from Jewish Corinth to the less favourable Gentile Corinth.
VI. The results at last appear. If there had been no results, Paul, in a sense, would have accomplished his mission. What, then, if conversions do not follow preaching? What did Paul do? He went to another place.
1. The results were great. He preached in a Gentile house (i.e., that of Titus Justus; Paul still lived with Aquila)
, and the ruler of the synagogue was converted. So does the gospel find a welcome in the unlikeliest hearts, and the grace of God find a home in the darkest spots. You never can tell where the gospel will win its way. It is ours to press onward in every direction.
2. After Paul’s discouragement there came this astounding success. Unless we are better than Paul, we may expect times of discouragement; and, bless God, we may also expect times of deep rejoicing.
VII. The Divine encouragement is given to Paul in a vision (verses 9, 10). It was given to him--
1. By the presence of God. Paul had his companions now with him. But he was lonesome for a stronger than they, and God came Himself. Even the strongest souls have such hours of longing after God. We long to have God with us; but, beyond that, to know that He is with us. And in many ways God lets us know, and in the knowledge gives us deep comfort.
2. The Lord encouraged Paul with a double promise--
VIII. General lessons.
1. The gospel has an irregular movement; all is not success, all is not failure.
2. Our duty is to press on without ceasing.
3. God is with us. The powers that resist the gospel are nothing to the power that befriends it.
4. Success is sure; in multitudes of places it has proved immediate. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
An apostolic pastorate
Let us consider--
I. Its motive. It was--
1. A single motive. No one could have misunderstood it. A Christian gains much in power when all men know what he seeks. The apostle laboured to save souls.
2. An unselfish motive. Confident that souls would be saved if his message were delivered, he waited for no human call or provision for his support. He affirmed the principle that those “who preach the gospel shall live of the gospel.” But he loved to remind them that they had neither called him to preach nor paid him for preaching. When Garabaldi was thrown into prison, he said, “Let fifty Garibaldi’s be thrown into prison--but let Borne be free!” He counted himself as of no consequence, but his cause as everything. When he went to appeal for recruits they demanded what he had to offer as inducements. The old man replied, “Poverty and hardships and battles and wounds and--victory!” They caught his enthusiasm, threw their hats into the air, and enlisted on the spot. The record of this pastorate is as impressive a lesson to the layman as to the minister. By far the larger number of those who spread the gospel must be men and women who support themselves by ordinary occupations. The honour of labour is determined by its motive. Paul did not demean himself by stitching away at the hair cloth for the tents, but the apostle ennobled the trade by engaging in it.
II. Its spirit. The love of Christ constrained the apostle. It kindled love not only toward Him, but toward all those for whom Christ died. But he had, at different times, different degrees of earnestness. He had come up from Athens deeply self-abased; but when Silas and Timothy came, bringing him good news concerning the Thessalonian converts, his ministry took on new life. “For now we live,” he wrote them, “if ye stand fast in the Lord.” The sympathy of his fellow workers, and of those to whom he had preached, greatly increased his power. The evidence of interest on the part of their people has often aroused ministers so that revivals have followed. The Thessalonian converts made themselves so felt in the preaching of Paul at Corinth that converts were made and opposition roused, and he was driven from the synagogue.
III. Its wisdom.
1. Paul chose the place where his work would be most effective. Corinth was a noble field for preaching, because the gospel once received here would be widely diffused.
2. The character of the people also attracted the preacher. Education without Christ makes a barren field like Athens; business activity makes a field fruitful for good or evil. No minister should be blamed for choosing the field that promises the largest results.
3. He adopted the methods that would reach the largest number. The synagogue was the place where he would find the people assembled; but, when he could not preach in the synagogue, he chose a house close by, owned by a proselyte, who would favour the assembling of a mixed audience.
4. He was persevering. Every Sabbath he was at his post. He was not irritated by seeming failure. When the Jews would not hear him he turned to the Gentiles.
5. He presented themes which would compel attention. Jesus as the royal Messiah whom the Jews were anticipating.
6. His preaching was scholarly--not mere exhortation, but a presentation of proofs and arguments. He reasoned with his hearers and persuaded them.
IV. Its weaknesses and supports.
1. Paul was not above fear.
2. The Divine message assured Paul of three things.
Conclusion: These great lessons are taught by this pastorate--faithful work for Christ’s sake--
1. Develops noble personal character.
2. Enlarges experience and skill in the service of God.
3. Secures special protection and favour from God.
4. Is sure of abiding results. (Monday Club Sermons.)
Paul at Corinth
I. Paul set himself to work upon those most likely to be influenced by his teaching. He spake and reasoned every Sabbath in the synagogue to and with those who had some sort of belief in the true and living God, and who were not utterly unacquainted with spiritual things. Probably thought that by this means he might the sooner influence others.
II. Paul being repulsed does not abandon the work. It was not his nature. Before his conversion his whole energy was bent to accomplish whatsoever he took in hand.
III. Paul’s heart is greatly cheered in his labours--
1. By the conversion of Titus Justus, Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, and many others.
2. By the sympathy of that gracious and devout couple, Aquila and Priscilla.
3. By the active aid of Silas and Timotheus, who had recently joined him. “Jesus Christ … was preached among you by us, by me, and Silvanus, and Timotheus” (2 Corinthians 1:19). Touches scattered through the Epistles show that St. Paul was no misanthrope, but was cheered by companionship.
4. By the night vision. Not the first time he had been so favoured (cf. 16:9, 10)
IV. Paul kept steadily at the appointed work. “He sat there a year and six months teaching among them the Word of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-4 gives us the marrow and soul of the apostle’s teaching. Result--the Church of Corinth: one of the largest and noblest harvests ever given to ministerial toil. Conclusion:
1. God must surely have “much people” in this place.
2. God will use us to gather in the “people for His name.” Believe not only that He can but that He will.
3. God’s gospel which would do at Corinth will do anywhere. (F. Goodall, B. A.)
The value of unsuccessful missionaries
While we praise the successful missionaries for the sacrifices and services they have wrought in the name of Christ we should not forget the unsuccessful ones, those who have done their best, but in circumstances where they could reap but little, and perhaps cut off in an untimely way and thrust out of their field with never an opportunity to do what they had an ambition to do. What about them? Think of George Schmidt with his heart burning to preach in Africa, who went there and was driven off by the settlers and not allowed to return, and who used to pray day after day, “Lord, permit me to go to Africa,” until he was found dead on his knees without ever going back. Think of that noble Bishop Patteson, so splendidly endowed that they said, “Why waste your talents on the heathen?” Yet he went to the Pacific Islands, and they took him as an enemy. As he was saying, “Peace be unto you,” they slew him, and, like his Lord, he was sent back from the very people that he came to bless with five bleeding wounds upon his person. Think of Melville Cox, that noble Methodist who went out from America, who had a consuming passion to preach the gospel on the western coast of Africa. He had hardly reached the shore when he was stricken down with fever, and all there is left of him is a grave, with the words, “Though a thousand fall, let not Africa be given up.” Then think of Adam M’Call, who, stricken down, dying, said, “Lord Jesus, Thou knowest that I consecrated my life to Africa. If Thou dost choose to take me instead of the work which I purposed to do for Thee, what is that to me? Thy will be done.” Where was their success? If they could speak to us they would say in the words of the great missionary St. Paul, “I have but one ambition, that, whether I be absent from the body or present with the Lord, I may be well-pleasing unto Him.”
“Do the next thing”
This old English maxim receives a remarkable illustration in this chapter of Paul’s history. When one thing does not succeed, or one method is frustrated, try another. Nil desperandum. God helps those who help themselves.
1. Paul departs from Athens where his message was derided by proud intellectualists, to Corinth where there was a large artisan and commercial population. Christ rejected by the Pharisees and Scribes turned to the common people, who heard him gladly. How many ministers might reap a large success if they turned, if only occasionally, from the respectable but otiose habitues of their ornate sanctuaries to the masses of the people. Anyhow, no Christian worker is justified in confining his attention to spheres where the result is small, while the adjoining “fields are white unto harvest.”
2. When Paul came to Corinth the duty nearest to hand was to work for his own living. This duty happened to be a necessity, as it is in the majority of cases; but it is none the less a duty for all that. “Diligence in business,” Paul himself tells us, is the service of God: it is only secular when its aims and methods are secular. To the busy mechanic, clerk, etc., the lesson is--work as Paul worked, honestly, industriously, with a single eye to God’s glory, and wait for the next thing which is sure to turn up.
3. Those who employed Paul were religious people, and therefore frequenters of a place of worship. He went with them, therefore, and took his share of Church work. Whether this should fall to the lot of Christian employers or not, it is their duty to join the nearest Church. Sunday is not a day for recreation but for tranquil and blessed work for the Master. He in His Providence enables you to find temporal support, and expects you to use the opportunities afforded by His grace to extend His Kingdom.
4. Paul soon found (verse 5) friends who were like minded with him. And whether amongst previous associates or newly-acquired friends, the earnest Christian worker will assuredly find sympathisers and helpers. This should lead, as it did in Paul’s case, to added zeal. Single handed he was able to do much (verse 4), but thus assisted and encouraged he doubled his enthusiasm, and his success may be measured by the opposition he encountered. God intends seasons of special encouragement to be employed in larger usefulness. Do not let them pass away unimproved.
5. But Paul’s added energy was resented (verse 6). Certain communities can endure anything but this. As long as a man works along certain lines he is tolerated, perhaps thanked for his services; but when he oversteps long-established boundaries he is sure to be opposed. What is he to do? Acquiesce? Retire in disgust or despair? No! Let him do the next thing; find another sphere. If there is no room in the synagogue, the street, the poor tenement, the sick room will find room for the outflow of Christian energy.
6. For where one door is closed another will surely open to the Christian worker. Expelled, practically, from the synagogue, Paul found the house of Justus ready to receive him (verse 7), and here he did synagogue work which he could not do in the synagogue (verse 8). How many are dumb and inactive for the want of that sanctified ingenuity which is born of determined Christian devotion! The proprieties or narrowness of our Churches should send multitudes of unemployed Christians into the highways and hedges.
7. There is ever Divine encouragement for those who will do the next thing (verses 9, 10). (J. W. Burn.)
Acts 18:1-28; Acts 19:1-7
And he went through Syria and Cilicia confirming the churches.
Paul as a model for all gospel ministers
He recognises the importance of--
I. Establishing new converts in the faith. In this visit he does not break new ground, but goes over the old scenes. Who that remembers the treatment which he met with at Lystra can fail to admire his magnanimity and dauntless heroism in entering this place again? Note in relation to his confirmatory work--
1. The method (Acts 16:4). He carried with him wherever he went, and expounded, the apostolic letter from Jerusalem (Acts 15:23-29).
2. The success (Acts 16:5). Here was--
II. Enlisting true coadjutors in the work. Off the page of history stands there a man more brave, mighty, self-dependent than Paul. Yet he needs a companion. He lost Barnabas, and he “chose Silas,” and took with him Timotheus. Christ knew our social needs, and hence, in sending out His disciples and apostles, He sent them in twos. One supplements the deficiencies of the other; in the breast of one there lies a spark to rekindle the waning fire of the other’s zeal. He selected the best man as his social helper. In a great work, link not yourselves to spiritually common men when you may get moral peers and princes.
III. Accommodating himself to public sentiment. The Jews believed in circumcision. Although the rite was no longer binding, it was not yet a moral wrong; and hence Paul, in accommodation to the popular sentiment, circumcises Timothy. His fixed line of procedure was to act on the cities through the synagogues. But such a course would have been impossible had not Timothy been circumcised (Acts 21:29). The very intercourse of social life would have been almost impossible, for it was still “an abomination” for the circumcised to eat with the uncircumcised. In all this Paul was consistent with himself, with his own grand axiom, “I am all things to all men, that I might save some.”
IV. Yielding to the dictates of the Divine Spirit (Acts 16:6-8).
1. There is a Divine Spirit, and that Spirit has access to the human spirit.
2. If we are the true ministers of Christ, His Spirit, according to tits promise, is with us--“Lo, I am with you always.”.
And found a certain Jew named Aquila … with his wife Priscilla.
Aquila and Priscilla
No book is less systematic than the Bible, yet none has so complete a code of faith and duty. Its statements of principles and directions for conduct, again, are not always on the surface, but often where we should least expect them. Through the indirect teaching of an example, though words dropped incidentally, by the relation of casual circumstances, we learn to “understand what the will of the Lord is.” In the case of Onesimus, e.g., we face the problem of slavery, and see how Christianity deals with it, not by violence but by forbearance and the sense of justice. Julius the centurion reminds us of the value and duty of courtesy (Acts 27:3; Acts 27:31; Acts 27:43); Timothy of the necessity of a religious education; and Aquila and Priscilla that the true unit of social life in the Church is found in married life. We have, of course, conjugal duties laid down very clearly and fully by Peter (1 Peter 3:1-7) and Paul (Ephesians 5:22-23; Colossians 3:18-19), but there are some things in the relation of married life to the Church which no mere catalogue of duties could have taught; and it is remarkable that in the history of each of these apostles there is notice of a married couple in the one case as a warning, in the other as a useful example. Ananias and Sapphira warn us that a curse instead of a blessing may enter the circle which should be the holiest and happiest on earth, and that husband and wife, instead of strengthening one another in doing and suffering God’s will, may make one another strong and fearless in sin and shame. Turning to our subject, note--
I. The meeting of St. Paul with Aquila and Priscilla. We have here an illustration of the providential opportunities of life. They had been brought to Rome through the exigencies of trade. Thence in consequence of the emperor’s edict they moved eastward, possibly intending to return to Pontus, and meanwhile exercising their craft in Corinth, which lay on their route. At that moment Paul was moving southward to the same place. The synagogue would be, of course, one bond of union, but another was found in their common trade. Here we see the unexpected blessing which came to Paul through having learnt tent making. Such a meeting was remarkable, yet it occurred, as have many of our own God-provided meetings, in the natural order of events. One of our greatest responsibilities consists in the right use of such providential opportunities. This meeting secured for Paul, at a critical time, a close friendship which--
1. Enabled him to further his religious work, as we shall see more fully further on.
2. Provided solace for him when much needed. He was alone and discouraged. The profligacy of Corinth must have been a perpetual distress to him, and all the associations of the place must have been alien from his sympathies. How much, then, must he have valued the home he unexpectedly found at this time.
II. Their removal to Ephesus (Acts 18:18). Possibly Paul’s movements determined theirs, or the exigencies of business may have afforded him an opportunity for accomplishing part of his journey to Jerusalem. No doubt arrangements were made for them to continue the work begun by Paul at Ephesus, and to prepare for more systematic work on his return. And an occasion soon presented itself in the case of Apollos, whose willingness to learn, and from a woman, notwithstanding his zeal and the admiration which his talents excited, is worthy of imitation. But on their side we are to note the zeal for Christ which made them quick sighted in discovering his capabilities, and their devotion to the task of equipping him more completely for his high service. Their sound judgment and mature character fitted them for the task, in which a great part must be assigned to the ready sympathy and tact of Priscilla, which teaches us the responsible and efficient part which women have to play in advancing God’s kingdom, Note, too, how their work at Ephesus reacted on the place where they first met with Paul. He had instructed them at Corinth; they instruct Apollos at Ephesus; and then he passes to Corinth to “water” where the apostle had “planted” (Acts 18:26 cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6). So true it is that the streams of God’s providence move hither and thither, and often turn back to the place from which they originally moved.
III. Their reunion with Paul at Ephesus. Again (1 Corinthians 16:19, which was written from Ephesus), we are invited to look at Christianity from its domestic side, than which no side is more important, and English religion is to be congratulated on its recognition of it in the institution of family worship. But turning back to these times the phrase, “the Church that is in their house” suggests hospitality on its heroic side. The home of Aquila was the acknowledged meeting place of Christians for worship and mutual help, and this involved persecution. From being a place of comfort and protection for Paul, it became one for all Christ’s followers, and thus for Christ Himself (Matthew 25:35; Matthew 25:40).
IV. Their residence at Rome (Romans 16:3-5). Once more their hospitality is prominent; but more. They are said by the apostle not only to have been “his helpers in Christ Jesus,” but to have “laid down their necks for His sakes” probably at Ephesus, for which not only the apostle gives thanks, “but all the Churches of the Gentiles,” beginning with that of Corinth, and surely including those of today.
V. The last notice of them is in Paul’s latest Epistle (2 Timothy 4:19). The friendship, tried and strengthened through such a variety of experience, continued to the end. The sharers of the salutation are “the household of Onesiphorus,” so that the domestic aspect of Christian life is doubly made conspicuous and charming at the very close of Paul’s career. Conclusion: Aquila and Priscilla were examples of the combination of active Christianity with industrial life; but it is well to emphasise the lesson above indicated. Wedded life in combination with active Christianity is the very central point of the safety and happiness of society. (Dean Howson.)
And because he was of the same craft he abode with them.
At this time Paul was miserably poor; he had hardly enough to eat and drink; he was tolerably ragged and out at elbows, no doubt. He was more alone than usual. He had to work first, but work has a way of coming to willing hands. Aquila and Priscilla, respectable Jews, kept a shop--tent and mat makers they were. They let Paul have a room, and he at once sat steadily down to mat weaving. He might certainly have posed as a teacher of some note--a gifted man, an advanced Rabbi, as indeed he was; he might have set up a school, taken fees, and accepted board and lodging from his admirers; instead of which he worked with his hands. His instinct as usual, was right, as is apparent from the fact that, as it was, he was accused of raising money out of the Corinthians for his own purposes, because he was so eager about the collections for the poor saints at Jerusalem. He could then turn and remind them that although the labourer was worthy of his hire he had never taken any hire of them, nor had Titus, nor Timothy. (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)
By their occupation they were tent makers.--
The staple manufacture of his native city was the weaving, first into ropes, then into tent covers and garments of the hair of the goat flocks of the Taurus. As the making of these cilicia was unskilled labour of the commonest kind, the trade of tent maker was one both lightly esteemed and miserably paid. It must not, however, be inferred from this that the family of St. Paul were people of low position. The learning of a trade was a duty enjoined by the Rabbis on the parents of every Jewish boy. Gamaliel himself said that “learning of any kind, even the advanced study of the law, unaccompanied by a trade, ends in nothing and leads to sin.” R. Judah said truly that “labour honours the labourer,” and that not to teach one’s son a trade is like teaching him robbery. The wisdom of this rule became apparent in the case of Paul, as doubtless of hundreds besides, when the changes and chances of life compelled him to earn his livelihood. It is clear from the education provided for Paul that his parents could have little conjectured how absolutely their son would be reduced to depend on so unremunerative a toil. The reason why this was chosen may have been purely local; perhaps his father had been taught the same trade. “A man should not change his trade, nor that of his father,” says R. Yochanan. But though we see how much he felt the burden of the wretched labour by which he determined to earn his own bread rather than trespass on the charity of his converts (1 Thessalonians 2:6-9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8; 1 Corinthians 9:12-15), yet it had one advantage in being so absolutely mechanical as to leave the thought entirely free. While he plaited the black, strong-scented goat’s hair, he might be soaring in thought to the inmost heaven, or holding high converse with Apollos or Aquila, with Luke or Timothy, on the loftiest themes which can engage the thought of man. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
Paul in the workshop
I. An admonitory example to preachers. Though the apostle’s manner of acting is now no longer suitable for the ministerial office, yet by the disposition manifested in it, he puts to shame ministerial spiritual pride and unspiritual luxury and sloth.
II. An encouraging example for the artisan. Be not ashamed of thy trade, for every honourable occupation is well pleasing to God; but in thy trade be not ashamed of God and thy Christianity. Thus in trade a man may be a servant of God and an apostle among his associates. (K. Gerok.)
Tent making in Corinth
Peter the Great was a shipbuilder, and worked at a forge. The late Emperor of Germany learned the business of a bookbinder; and one of the Queen’s sons is a practical sailor. A number of Christ’s disciples were fishermen. Our Lord Himself was a carpenter. And Paul had been reared to the trade of a tent maker in his early years, and resumed it as an occupation when necessities fell upon him to undertake the work of personal support.
I. The details of this artisan life he lived is Corinth.
1. It was an honourable craft whose products were useful and valuable. Some occupations no one can follow, and keep his Christian profession clean.
2. Paul sought consistent partners in his business. God guided him when he “found” Aquila and Priscilla. It is false and mean to choose false and mean men for associates, and then charge the meanness of the “concern” upon them.
3. Paul pursued his work honestly. “Holiness to the Lord,” could have been embroidered on the cilicia canopies as the company trade mark (Zechariah 14:20). We have not the slightest doubt that he always knotted his thread when he took up his needle, that he pulled each stitch through conscientiously as in the sight of God, and that he fastened the end of it when he finished the seam. For we do not see how those people could have had family prayers, unless they knew they had been “doing successful business on Christian principles.”
4. Paul held his business cautiously in hand, and never let it interfere with his religious life. He looked on tent making as a means to an end. That establishment was “closed on Saturdays.” Regularly Paul attended the best service he could find; and he preached everywhere he could get an audience.
5. Paul used his opportunities wisely even when hardest at work. Probably he was the instrument in Aquila’s conversion. Think of the glorious talks they had together.
II. The effect of his working at his trade upon his profession as a Christian preacher.
I. It illustrated his often-repeated maxims concerning the dignity of honest labour (2 Thessalonians 3:7-13). This busy apostle evidently believed that there was no room for drones in a Christian have. This is a most active world; there is something for every healthy soul to do. The spectacle offered whenever one saw his spiritual leader, was worth a hundred eloquent sermons against indolence. If any further illustration is needed, think of his address to the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:32-35).
2. It removed all ground of cavil as to his making a gain out of godliness. There was some reason for his peculiar solicitude in this vain and fastidious city.
3. It showed his consideration for his poorer brethren. It is very touching to read 1 Corinthians 4:11-16. Oh, how quickly troubled common people listen to one who talks like that!
4. It gave evidence of his supreme love for Christ. What could he do more? (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The necessity of an occupation, and the right way of pursuing it
St. Paul, like every minister, had a right to support; but there were good reasons why he should here waive it.
1. He wished to show an example of quiet industry. Some had been unduly excited, and thrown out of their ordinary pursuits by the revelations and influences of Christianity; it would sober them, and help them back to a regular life if they saw their apostle, who had been favoured with the most extraordinary revelations, earning his bread.
2. He was pleased to be able to feel that his preaching was gratuitous.
3. Having a trade gave scope for the graces of self-denial and almsgiving.
4. He followed the example of His Master, who followed the trade of a carpenter.
5. Ballast was given to his mind by work, very necessary to steady it when it was rocked by strong emotions.
6. His work being a handicraft, left his mind comparatively free for prayer and meditation. One can imagine that God would often visit him in his work, in accordance with the usual plan on which Divine visions and calls are vouchsafed, as shown in the cases of Gideon, Elisha, David, Matthew, Peter. And possibly as Paul was stitching his tents there may have come across his mind thoughts of the fleeting nature of the present and the durable character of the future habitation of the spirit. “For we know that if the earthly house of the tent were dissolved,” etc.
I. For most there is an occupation made ready to their hands. How then shall they draw into spiritual account their daily task?
1. Firmly settle it in the mind that it is the task assigned to us by Providence, which God will inspect, and approve or disapprove according to our industry or indolence.
2. Never allow ourselves to think of it as a hindrance to piety. Think of it as contributing to health and cheerfulness of mind, as a steadying influence, preventing mental extravagances.
3. Remember how often God has come across men in their daily task.
4. Aim rather at doing well what is done, rather than getting through much. Hurry is very prejudicial to our moral well-being. Resolutely refuse to attend to more than one thing at a time. God’s will is to be done in earth as it is in heaven: can we imagine restless impulsiveness among the angels? “Rivers,” says Francis of Sales, “which slide peaceably through the valleys, bear great boats and rich merchandise; and rain which falls gently on the fields makes them fruitful in grass and corn; but torrents and rivers, which run rapidly, ruin the bordering country, and are unprofitable for traffic; and tempestuous rains furrow the fields. Never was work well done with too much violence and earnestness.”
II. But in all pursuits there are intermissions. Those who nourish a high spiritual ambition will turn these to spiritual account. However devoutly we may work, when we follow our trade it is for ourselves; but in our leisure moments we may do something gratuitously for the cause of Christ. This is what Paul did. Many say, “But my work puts such a strain upon me that I am fit for nothing at the end of the day.” To this the reply is that a more responsible and anxious occupation than Paul’s never fell to any man’s lot; and yet he found time to earn enough to support himself and to relieve the wants of others. Probably if we did our work in a brighter and less anxious spirit it would wear us less. And then in our leisure moments some Church work--be it teaching, or visiting, or extra labour for charities--there would be the thought of its gratuitousness to uphold us, and a feeling of security, from the circumstance of self-denial, would be wrought in the soul.
III. There are those who are not called upon to work for a livelihood. Reading, it may be said, is the suitable occupation for such--being a means of mental cultivation and self-improvement. But reading without any outcome hardly constitutes an occupation such as the Christian mind craves, in a world whose ignorance, misery, and sin requires, not self-improvement, but such definite work as shall bear on the physical, intellectual, and moral good of our fellow creatures. Let every unoccupied Christian choose one of the many fields of Church work, determining which it shall be by the pointings of God’s finger in Providence, and by the direction in which his instinct, powers, and capacities lead him.
IV. The advantage which manual work has over mental. It is with the spirit that God, who is a Spirit, is to be served. That the outward pursuits, then, should make as little demand upon it as possible is an advantage of which a devout soul may avail itself. Paul’s thoughts, doubtless, were with his Master, while he was making his tents. Intellectual pursuits may be nobler than handicraft; but there is a spirit in man, and if a handicraft gives greater scope for the action of the spirit--if the husbandman as he digs his field, the lacewoman as she plies her bobbins, the shepherd as he tends his flocks, are free to feed their spirits the while with the thought of God’s power, wisdom, and goodness, they are more than compensated for their intellectual loss by their spiritual gain. (Dean Goulburn.)
Christian journeymen on their travels
I. The dangers in the strange country. The temptations in luxurious Corinth.
II. The acquaintance by the way. Aquila, etc.
III. The work at the trade (verse 3).
IV. The care for the soul.
1. God’s Word.
2. Sanctification of the Sabbath (verse 4). (K. Gerok.)
Weekly labour and Sabbath sanctification
1. Weekly labour creates hunger and thirst after Sabbath rest and Sabbath fare.
2. Sabbath sanctification imparts strength and pleasure to the daily work of life. (K. Gerok.)
The value of a fixed calling
The Jews compared a man with a fixed employment to “a vineyard fenced.” A good comparison. A man’s activities, within his proper calling, are not like trees scattered up and down the wayside, or over the wilderness, when much of the fruit is lost; but like well-planted and well-trained vines in a garden, where the most is made of them, and they are all husbanded and preserved. (J. Stoughton.)
And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit (R.., By the Word).
1. Different effects are produced in different minds by the proclamation of the same truths. Some may accept it with a languid spirit, assured of its verity, but wholly indifferent to its real import; others may receive it with all gladness, rejoicing to repeat it with enthusiastic delight. A lighted match falling on a granite rock or pile of sand is extinguished; but the same, when applied to wood, kindles a genial glow, or, to powder, creates a flame and explosion. So with truth. Even Christian minds are affected by the same truth very differently at different times.
2. Paul was familiar with these varying experiences. When he was at Athens his spirit was stirred within him as he saw the prevailing idolatry. At Rome he felt the power of her imperial greatness, and was not ashamed of the gospel of the Son of God. But now at Corinth, though he preached in the synagogue, it does not seem that he was putting forth any special effort to reach the people. He may have been disheartened. But the vision was at hand, and with it the emphatic command, “Speak!” Even now was he “straitened.” The same word is used by the Saviour (Luke 12:50) and by Paul (Philippians 1:23), when he says that he is “in a strait betwixt two.” Now that the help brought him by Silas and Timotheus released him from labour, he yielded to an urgent and imperative impulse, testifying that, Jesus was Christ. Opposition did not deter. When the Jews blasphemed, he shock his robe, and said (Acts 18:6).
3. We are apt to regard the great apostle as a flaming star that burned incessantly. We forget his human moods, though he records them. We rejoice in these recorded imperfections of the good, so far as they show the triumphs of Divine grace, for they encourage us to trust in the same ennobling and overruling grace in the midst of our own infirmities. Rising from his apparently passive condition, urged by the assurance, “I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee,” he boldly and ardently proclaimed the truth as it is in Jesus.
I. This enthusiasm was justifiable; his inertness was not. Moods like this might have led him to say that he was not meet to be an apostle; but when he reflected upon the truth, it filled and thrilled him. Now he was ready to preach to prince or peasant. Man was great in his possibilities. Sin was a terrific evil. He saw, too, the power of the gospel to save man. He believed that eternal life and death hinged on the acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ. These were the springs of his enthusiasm, and they justified it. A man drops from an ocean steamer into the sea. You shout aloud for help to save him. The occasion justifies your excitement. A trivial occurrence would not warrant an outcry. Fanaticism is sometimes shown in its disproportionate zeal for unimportant matters; but Paul was pressed by an imminent and awful truth that menaced the ungodly. His enthusiasm would be ours if his convictions were.
II. There is an enormous power in such an enthusiasm.
1. So it proved at Corinth when Paul’s soul flamed forth in eager utterance. The power of truth is measured oftentimes by the resistance it awakens. So bitterly did the Jews hate him, they were ready to invoke the aid of Rome--another hated power--to crush Paul. We ought not to be cast down because today atheists assault Christianity. This is but the answer of man’s rebellious will to God’s authoritative voice. Were there no opposition to the Bible we might think that there was no power in it.
2. The work Paul did at Corinth showed that his enthusiasm had a vital energy. Even in that wicked city Paul gained “much people” to the Lord. Did we feel the pressure he felt, we, too, would be eloquent in our advocacy of the truth. The burden of the spirit is relieved by earnest speech; and this secret, subtle power of soul is contagious. Rome felt it, as thousands of martyrs gave up their lives for the Lord Jesus. Mediaeval ages felt it, as Christian missionaries carried to savage tribes the gospel that became the seed of Christian commonwealths. Germany and England felt this intrepid and heroic enthusiasm of the Reformers. Puritan civilisation, modern missionary enterprises--in short, all self-sacrifice founded on conviction of the truth of God, illustrate the abiding and triumphant power of this element of life.
III. We infer, then, what is our great lack. It is the “pressure of the Word.” We do not have it as we ought. We are trying to push a steamer across the sea, only using tepid water. Without this full and mighty pressure of consecrated enthusiasm, our example, teaching, and giving are all defective in impulse and in power.
IV. Therefore we see the duty of prayer for the holy ghost. Kindled as at Pentecost, out love will then make our life vocal with a Divine message. Our inertness will be rebuked as we contemplate the devotion of Paul under the pressure of his illuminated sense of truth and duty. Baptized anew, the Church will go on from conquest to conquest. (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)
Encouragements--Divine and human
1. In Acts 18:5 we read that “Paul was pressed in the spirit”; in chap. 17:16 we read that Paul’s “spirit was stirred in him.” In both cases it was not a little transient excitement, it was agony. Would God we could recall our early enthusiasm, our first burning hate of sin. We are familiar with it; we pat its black head. Paul was a man of conviction. He really believed 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.
2. In Acts 17:6 we read, “From henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.” Paul was not the man to lay hold upon the plough and to turn back; Paul would not even keep company with a young man who had broken faith with him in the Christian work. He went clear through with it to the end. Let us never give up the work. 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.
3. A little encouragement would cheer us now. Here it is in Acts 17:7-8. Paul “entered into a certain man’s house, named Justus, one that worshipped God”--is there any greater phrase in all human speech? “And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed,” and many of the Corinthians thought they would believe too. Great men are the looking glasses into which ordinary men look to see what they ought to be like. What we want, then, is courage on the part of those whose influence is extensive. If you, the head of the house, could say, “Let us worship God,” many within the house might respond “So be it.” We must have leadership--may that leadership always be in an upward direction.
4. We have encouragement in Acts 17:9 in another form. These words were not spoken once for all; they are spoken every day to every earnest labourer. God took the census of Corinth from a religious point of view. 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. God is looking for His own; and one of the most gracious surprises in store for the Church is that there will be more people in God’s pure home than it may have entered into the most generous human heart to conceive.
5. But Acts 17:12 seems to contradict the vision. What a violent transition! 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 so, but not really. Evil shall be overruled for good; for the outcome was the Church at Corinth.
6. But we are told by Mr. Buckle, e.g., that Christian missions have failed. He sets side by side with missionary reports the testimony of impartial, independent, well-instructed travellers, who say that whilst many heathen populations have taken upon themselves Christian forms of worship, they are destitute of the spirit of Christianity. It is beautiful to notice the verdant simplicity of men who have just discovered that nominally converted and baptized people are not angels. “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. 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. We do not expect a man to grow in a night. If they have been arrested; if their attention has been turned in the right direction; if they have expressed a desire to enter even into the veriest elementary lines of discipleship, let us be glad, and report at home that the battle is moving towards victory. Things are seen most by contrast. What is black is blackest when seen upon a white surface, and so many of our shortcomings and failures look very black because of the background of the holy Name which we profess to have accepted as our symbol and our hope--the spotless name of the Son of God! (J. Parker, D. D.)
Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak.
speaks to us about three things.
I. The worker. Paul, at a time of sore discouragement and depression. The best of men are but men at the best. The strongest men, apart from a firm faith in the Lord God, are as weak as the weakest. Now if any working Christian feels weak and discouraged, let it rally him to know that no affliction has overtaken him but such as is common to men.
II. The worker’s master.
1. He knows us just then and there, in the midst of all our weakness and discouragement, and makes His first concern the individual worker. He is not simply concerned with the whole mass and movement of the spiritual campaign, like some great general who cannot be concerned with the individual soldier. Christ is concerned in the whole; but at the same time He says, “I see every man who is tugging and fighting, and feeling himself discouraged.” Have you noticed how the engine driver, when he stops, pays hardly any attention to the traffic? but he is out with the lubricator, pouring in a few drops in one place, and then in another, to cool and prevent friction, and to make everything sweet and easy in its working. So with Christ. You are an engine pulling away at some Bible class or Sabbath school, or tract distribution. You have hooked on to it, and do not mean to give it up; but you feel as if the wheels were barely turning, and that you are making nothing of it. Think of this: the Lord looks after the engine. Here He comes with oil, this comfort, and He is pouring it on to your overheated spirit.
2. The Lord’s comfort just comes straight to the sore place. Now, Paul’s greatest failing and fear, as suggested by the narrative, was: “It’s no use my preaching here. To the Greeks it is like the idle wind; and to the Jews it is like the red rag to the bull.” The Lord speaks straight to the point; and says, “Be not afraid”--pointing to the fact that he was afraid--“but speak, and hold not thy peace”--pointing to the fact that fear was belonging to muzzle his mouth. The word here used is worth noticing, for there is a lesson in it. In Athens they called Paul “spermologos,” a chattering sparrow, a seed picker, a man talking a kind of rant, with the suggestion that it is not his own; it was picked up somewhere else, and we can’t understand it. “Babble away, Paul. I will be with you, and to those who are saved the babbling will be the power of God and the wisdom of God.” And so He says today, “I have put my words into thy mouth; therefore let thy tongue wag My words.” You remember that, writing afterwards to these Corinthians, Paul told them he had determined to keep this simple speech. Said he virtually, “I rather refined the babble at Athens. So when I came to Corinth I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, lest the gospel of Christ should be of none effect.” We must take care that we let the Lord speak to us when we are depressed, and when we have fallen on times when the old gospel “won’t do,” when the spirit of the age demands something more scientific and philosophical.
3. The Lord gave him a word about personal safety--“No man shall set on thee to hurt thee.” Let us go on with the work for which we are here. I wish we would look to the Master. Paul was looking at himself and at the Corinthians; Christ said, “Look at Me! I am nearer to you than your fears.” “Lo, I am with thee alway, even to the end of the world.” What was said to Paul was not new. You will find these words in the Bible over and over again long before this. There is a vast mass of Bible words known in the mass, but we need them in our own heart, and for our own lives. When Bishop Fisher was being led out to martyrdom, the scaffold a little unnerved and depressed him. He took his New Testament and sent up a prayer: “O God, send me some particular word that will help me in this awful hour”; and he opened the book at these words, “This is life eternal to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” He had seen that five hundred times before; but he closed his Testament now, saying, “Blessed be God, this will suffice for all eternity.” It is a different thing you see when the “fear nots” and “I ams” come home to you when you are dying a thousand deaths in fearing one. As a commander once said to his soldiers when they represented how great was the enemy and how few they were, “How many do you count me for?” Another general was said to be worth a whole battalion. And who shall enumerate what God is worth?
III. The master’s verdict on the work--“I have much people in this city.” I almost knew what was coming. You will always find that while the Lord is comforting Elijah, and David, and Peter, and Paul, and you, and me, there is a smile on His face, as much as to say, “You are forgetting ‘I have much people in this city.’ If the work had been yours, that were another thing. But this gospel is Mine. I weighed this Corinthian pigsty in the scales of My eternal purposes, and from all eternity I marked out my own in Corinth, and I will get them. Go out and call them. They will come.” What a word that is to discouraged workers--“Much people in this city.” I believe that literally, at that time, there were more Christians there than Paul thought of, and I believe today that your influence and mine is far wider than in our discouraged moments we are giving either God or ourselves credit for. No word can return to Him void; and He comes and says, “Paul, you are working well, and the results are at least equal to the output. I have got one of the best grips on the paganism of this century.” Whatever department of social life you look at, if you look carefully through the Epistles to the Corinthians, you will find that there was a sample of Christ’s saving grace there. It went right into the midst of Corinthian worldliness and commercial activity, and laid hold of Erastus, the City Chamberlain, and held him out as a sample. Then, again, there was the household of Stephanas. He got the families there, and we will get them, and the old gospel will get nations. And if he would say again, “Lord, there are people here sunken in drunkenness and in lasciviousness.” Listen how the gospel told (1 Corinthians 6:9). How it must have encouraged Paul, this look of things from the Master’s point of view. This is the doctrine of election in its practical shape. I like this election plan; it does not say that all will be saved--that is universalism, it is simply wind. Well, it is not so windy and does not make so large a show as other ways of putting it; but it infallibly says that somebody will come, and that is what I want. (J. McNeill.)
The fourth vision of Paul
I. The Saviour’s declaration--“I have much people in this city.” As if He said, “There are many people here dead in trespasses and sins, ignorant of Me, opposed to Me; these are to be enlightened, subjected to Me, and in time to come will constitute My people.” Notice--
1. The Saviour’s classification of men. Those who are the people of Christ, and those who are not. There are other distinctions, personal, social, educational, and civil; but all these affect only the external part of humanity, and that only for a time, but Christ’s classification will last forever. To be Christ’s means the subjugation of our nature, our mind, and reflective powers to Him.
2. Christ has a perfect knowledge of the human race. Paul was anxious to do good; he was soon to be discouraged. Jesus told him, “I have much people in this city.” I know the present position and future history of every individual.
3. Jesus appoints means for the salvation of man. One evidence of this is the fact that He continues the living ministry suitable to the wants of our spiritual nature.
II. The Saviour’s command. “Speak, hold not thy peace.” The authority assumed here by Christ should teach us that we are not to do just as we please; we must go where He commands.
1. He was to exercise the power of speech. One of the most wonderful endowments of man is that grand organ of communication between mind and mind, heart and heart. It is of no use to philosophise; God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of Christ.
2. He was to banish fear. The apostle was not to be afraid of the intellectualism of the place. The debilitating effect of fear is known to every man; it divides, and distracts, and enfeebles the faculties of manhood. Be not afraid, the plan is fixed, success is certain--the government is Mine.
III. The Saviour’s promise. “For I am with thee.” The apostle felt the force of the guarantee ever after this, and spake the Word with authority.
1. In the production of miracles.
2. In turning the heart to God. (Caleb Morris.)
I. The Saviour’s declaration.
1. His knowledge of men.
2. His classification of men.
3. His provision for the salvation of men.
II. The Saviour’s command. Paul was--
1. To banish fear.
2. To exercise the power of speech.
III. The Saviour’s promise.
1. I am with thee.
2. No man shall hurt thee. (E. Norris.)
Paul’s vision at Corinth
It is clear from this that even he who was not a whit behind the chief of the apostles sometimes needed special comfort. But the Lord took care to visit His servant when he was in trouble. He came to him in the visions of the night. We do not expect to see Christ in visions now, for “we have a more sure word of prophecy”--the Word of God. A dream might be only a dream, even in those olden times, but this Word of the Lord is no delusion. The Lord did but appear to Paul during one night, for visions are short and few; but any night you like to wake and open the Scriptures, you shall hear Jesus speaking to you. Besides, visions and such like things belong to the infancy of the Church: now she needs not that the Invisible should be supplemented by signs and wonders. If you plant a tree in an orchard, it is very common to put a big stake by the side of it to keep it up. Nobody thinks of putting a post to support an apple tree which has been there for the last fifty years. The Church of God today is a tree that needs no support of miracle and vision. You have the Word of God, which is better than visions. Note here--
I. The tendency of our weakness. That tendency is revealed in the first word--“Be not afraid.” We feel when we newly find Christ that we must speak for Jesus, and we do sol but after awhile a foolish fear freezes many a tongue. Happily we are delivered from open persecution; but there are other things which evidently frighten a good many.
1. Some are afraid to speak for Jesus because of the defects of their education. We should endeavour to do our Lord’s work in the best possible manner, but if we cannot overcome early disadvantages we ought not therefore to hold back. Was not Moses slow of utterance? Was he silent? Did not Isaiah own that his lips were unfit to deliver the message? Was he therefore idle?
2. Others are fearful because they have not educated people to listen to them, but are surrounded by a rough lot, whose manners and habits distress them. Oh, be content to take a little of the rough with the smooth for your Master’s sake. Sometimes their aversion may only be a secondary means of enabling the gospel to get at them the better; and, if it be so, why should we be afraid?
3. There are those who tremble at the slightest degree of publicity. I would not harshly condemn all, for certain minds are timid, and must be allowed to do good by stealth. But some are blameably deficient in courage. The soldier who was so very modest that he retired before the battle was shot. What a shameful thing to be bold about everything else yet cowardly about Christ.
4. Still I hear you say, “I am afraid to speak out for religion because I should bring down upon myself a world of opposition at home.” That is painful, but it is part of the cost which you reckoned upon when you took up the cross to follow Jesus--that “a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”
II. The calling of our faith. “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace.” It is the vocation of faith to be a speaker. When the heart believeth the mouth makes confession. Faith made Noah a preacher, and caused it to be said of Abel, “he being dead yet speaketh.” “I believed,” said David, “therefore have I spoken.” A dumb faith is a questionable grace. Faith first speaks to Christ, then for Christ. It hears His voice, and then acts as an echo by repeating it. Those that believe in Christ ought to speak for Him, because--
1. We are debtors; we are put in trust with the gospel for other people; let us not be false to our trusteeship. Let us take care that the light be not hid under a bushel, and that the talent be not wrapped in a napkin. We have the bread of life in our houses; let it not be hoarded. Who can tell what we owe to Christ? He seems to say, “Pay it back to My brethren.”
2. We were saved by the testimony of other people. I owe a great deal of my being brought to Christ to my parents; and as a parent I am to repay that obligation by teaching my own children. I owe very much to a very excellent teacher. I did try to pay back my teacher by teaching others. I owed still more to such men as Baxter and Bunyan, who left their books for me to read. I have tried to write earnest books to repay that loan. Most of all I owe my decision, under God, to a man I never knew, who preached Christ crucified to me; and I would be always preaching Christ crucified to others, as the best way of making some sort of return.
3. How are we to expect the gospel to be kept alive in this world if we do not hand it on to the next generation as the former handed it down to us? It is from one lip to another that the Word of God is passed, with a kind of living flame which books are not likely to communicate. Common humanity calls upon every Christian to seek the salvation of others. They are perishing! If we love God, we must love our brother also.
III. The encouragement of our service.
1. God’s presence--“I am with thee.” When a man speaks for God, God speaks in him. We never go a warfare for God at our own charges. If God be with thee, who can be against thee? Does He not say, “My grace is sufficient for thee”?
2. God’s protection--“No man shall set on thee to hurt thee.” The Jews dragged Paul before the judgment seat of Gallio, and Paul must have been amazed when he saw the persecutors themselves beaten. When men meddle with one of God’s lights they will sooner or later burn their own fingers.
3. God’s predestination--“I have much people in this city;” i.e., many who belonged to Christ, though they were as yet heathens. I learn from this that the doctrine of God’s predestination is no check to labour. “If there are so many that will be saved,” says one, “then why do you preach?” That is why we do preach. If there are so many fish to be taken in the net, I will go and catch some of them.
4. The certainty of success. That is why the Lord said to Paul, “I have much people in this city.”
5. The sufficiency of old means and methods. Our Lord did not say, “Paul, be not afraid, but deliver a Sunday afternoon lecture with a nonsensical title and little or no gospel in it.” God’s way of saving souls is the best way, after all. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
It is often the experience of the servants of God to meet with discouragements and disappointments in the work of the Lord. Such depressing effects are frequently due to the absence of personal sympathy in the work, the want of an outward shield to protect from untoward external circumstances, and the absence of visible or tangible tokens of what men call “success.” St. Paul had a very bitter experience of this kind at Corinth; and it was there--when cast down in spirit by such experience, which had to some extent broken down his energies and darkened his hopes of future success--that God appeared to him in a night vision with the words of encouragement. Now, there are three sources of encouragement here suggested to the apostle. First of all, there is the doctrine of God’s Divine presence with His own servants, “I am with thee”; secondly, there is the doctrine of His Divine providence, exercised in behalf of His servants, “No man shall set on thee, to hurt thee”; and thirdly, the doctrine of the Divine purpose to save sinners through the instrumentality of the Word preached and taught by the efforts of His servants. These were great encouragements to continue the work of the ministry in faith and hope, in spite of felt weakness and depression, opposition experienced, and dangers feared, and the absence of visible fruits of his labour. And they are as open to God’s faithful labourers today as they were to His servants of old.
I. God is most surely present with His faithful servants in their work for Him: “I am with thee.” Happy they who hear that loving whistler, whether it come to them through the written Word, or through providential events--for God does so speak to His own, bidding them look away from themselves and their human weaknesses and above their adverse earthly surroundings, unto Him in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom, and knowledge, and strength; whose guardian care of them never relaxes, whose guiding eye never slumbers nor sleeps. Oh, what pathos there is in the aloneness of individual life on the great sea of universal being! Who can bear it, and not be crushed by it, if they let it come home to them? Blessed are those who can realise the Divine companionship which was the apostle’s source of courage and strength. Every humble believer can claim it--can rejoice in the possession of it; and then, however human sympathy may be withheld, the aloneness of individual life is done away with: the intolerable burden of it is borne by One who is able to bear it; Divine sympathy and love flow into and flood the soul of the believer, in Jesus Christ, who is emphatically our “Emmanuel--God with us.” This, then, is the grand secret of the Christian’s strength and courage--“I am with thee!” This is the fountain of the Christian’s hope and confidence, the support of his energy and of his zeal--“I am with thee!” We must all die alone--speaking after the manner of men--and alone indeed must the departing soul be which cannot say as it enters “the valley of the shadow,” “I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me.” Oh, for that perfect union with Christ, here below, which will enable us at all times, and in every circumstance of life, to realise the ever-abiding blessedness of the fact that God in Christ is with us! This is the antidote to the tremblings and heart failings of our frail nature: this is the Divine cordial that will sustain every faithful worker for God, through the burden and heat of life’s day!
II. Notice the doctrine of Divine providence. God exercises a providential care--an unfailing guardianship, over His believing people: “No man shall set on thee to hurt thee.” Now, in a certain sense, many did set upon St. Paul, and did hurt him. From the hour that he began to preach the gospel at Damascus, he was never free from trials. Amid his varied successes, adversaries invariably rose up and pursued him from city to city. What then? Was God therefore unfaithful to His own promise? By no means. For mark the form of it. God did not say that Paul was to be exempt from all opposition--trial--ill-treatment at the hands of unworthy men. No! He says, “No man shall set on thee to hurt thee.” And when we look into the face of St. Paul do we not see how true God was to His word? Can we say that anything he was called upon to endure in the work and service of God was really hurtful to his true life? It was by means of his imprisonments that the gospel penetrated to regions from which it would otherwise have been excluded; and not one trial did he undergo which was not overruled of God for His own glory, end the highest good of His faithful apostle. And doubt not, beloved, that the same upholding and preserving providence will be exercised as surely today as in the days of St. Paul’s earthly career, over you and me, if only we serve God in the same spirit as he did, and with the same unassailable faith and confidence in His all-sufficient grace.
III. Notice the doctrine of the Divine purpose to save sinners through the instrumentality of God’s servants. “Be not afraid,” says the Lord to St. Paul, “but speak, and hold not thy peace;…for I have much people in this city.” This is what gives the crowning force to the following two-fold assurance, “I am with thee,” and “No man shall set on thee to hurt thee.” God’s great purpose of mercy, in Christ Jesus, is the grand foundation rock on which we are encouraged to rest all our hopes of eternal salvation. It is the fountainhead of all our encouragement to come to God, and to work for Him, and with Him. Observe that it is for those within the range of, and working with, the great purpose of God, that this two-fold assurance is alone available. Do we recognise this purpose in ourselves and for others? If we do, we shall be very humble in ourselves, but we shall also be very courageous in pursuing the work of God committed to us. And oh, what wonders might we not be permitted to do in God’s service if our faith were stronger in God’s service if our faith were stronger in God’s presence with us, His providence over us, His purpose of love concerning us. As we look around upon the state of personal religion in this our day, our finite minds may be tempted to despond, and to give up all hope of better things prevailing. But there are thousands upon thousands of God’s hidden ones in the world whom we indeed may know nothing of, but He “knoweth them that are His,” and that is enough. May He shed abroad His love in all our hearts, leading us to fuller trust in Him, to firmer reliance on the promises of His Word, and to greater earnestness in His service. (James Mackie, M. A.)
The light of God’s presence
They tell you of the Davy safety lamp. The true safety lamp that no gust of earthly winds can ever put out, that no wind from hell can touch, is the lamp of God’s presence. The poor heathens, when their friends get sick, flee from the stricken ones. Heathenism has no doctrine of abiding with you in the time of trouble. The father will leave his son’s presence. The son will flee from his stricken father. But it is different with those in Jesus. It is when I am sick that most of all the soft hand of Jesus is put on my brow. It is when I am downhearted that I see Him most clearly. It is when the mists of time come close round me that somehow, through the rift of the cloud, I get a view of my Saviour’s face. You are better for that sorrow. It has put a softness into your step, bereaved father, that you would never have had. Mother, because of that little empty chair by the fireside, there is a holy dew on that cheek of thine that no May dew or Scotch breeze could give you. In Edinburgh, coming late at night from tutor duty, there was always a building ablaze with light at all hours, as I stepped it across the meadows to my lonely lodgings. Be it midnight or three o’clock in the morning, be it darkness or light, this building was ablaze. The other lights had gone out in the city, to save gas; the very street lamps had been put out in that quarter; the moon was in the sky alone, for we are very economical in Scotland; but, whatever the night, this building was ablaze. Ah! it was the building where there was suffering. Christian feeling and Christian kindness, these have always the lights in, in the Edinburgh Hospital. There is always light there. Thank God that our poor sick ones never have added to their sufferings the darkness of forgetfulness. It preached a sermon to me as, night by night, I saw the hospital ablaze with light. I said, “That is like the Church of God. That is like my own heart. Give God a grip where suffering is, give God a heart where sorrow has lighted, give God a tried soul, and He will keep the lamp alight till the day dawn. God never withdraws His light.” (John Robertson.)
God’s presence a defence
A man, on Saturday, in New York, stands in his store, and says, “How shall I meet these obligations? How can I endure this new disaster?” He goes home, Sabbath finds him in the house of God. Through the song, the sermon, and prayer, Jesus says to that man, “O man! I have watched thee; seen all thy struggles. It is enough: I will see thee through; I will stand between thee and thy creditors. I will make up in heavenly treasures what you have lost in earthly treasures. Courage, man! courage! Angels of God, I command you to clear the track for that man; put your wings over his head; with your golden sceptres strike for his defence; throw around him all the defences of eternity!” (T. De Witt Talmage.)
I have much people in this city.
The people for Christ
This is a typical statement, and holds good of all large centres. Of London, Paris, New York, Christ still says to stimulate and comfort His servants, “I have much people in this city.” It is noteworthy that the main Christian attack in early times was on great cities--
1. Because they were Satan’s strongholds--these captured, the rest would be a matter of detail.
2. Because Christianity appealed to and wanted to consecrate to its service the thought, activity, enterprise, and freedom which they fostered.
3. Because with the constant flow in and out of their populations, and their commercial and other influence on surrounding towns and countries, Christianity could reach the widest circle.
4. Because Christianity takes the whole human family in charge, and therefore it is natural that she should regard the centres where that family most congregates as her special sphere. Not that the villages are to be neglected: on the contrary, the villages are likely to be more efficiently evangelised when the towns are won. Paul, in his “fear and much trembling,” arising partly out of his experience of city work, and partly out of the gigantic problems presented by the voluptuousness, polish, scepticism, and commercial activity of Corinth, may have been tempted to turn aside to some quieter scene of labour. If so, he was sharply aroused by the declaration of the text. Note--
I. That the people belong to Christ.
1. This is often hard to believe. Often the opposite seems nearer the truth. Lust, drunkenness, frivolity, selfishness, ambition, infidelity, say, “We have much people in this city,” and offer ample evidence in support of it. But it is untrue. They have captivated and enslaved the people, but they are usurpers. No one has a right to the people but Christ, because--
2. They are His--
II. That Christ claims the people.
I. All the people. This universal claim is based on universal right, and embraces all--
2. All that the people are and have.
III. That Christ’s servants should fearlessly urge Christ’s claims upon the people.
1. What have they to fear? Rejection, persecution, death? The best of Christ’s servants and the Master Himself endured all this. Should, then, any shrink when the utmost they have to contend with is a sense of personal weakness, nervous timidity, or trifling self-sacrifice?
2. On what have they to rely.
The possibilities of humanity
Michael Angelo, the wonderful artist, walking with some friends one day through an obscure street in Florence, saw a block of marble, rough, shapeless, stained, lying amid a heap of rubbish. Others had passed by it carelessly, but his keen eye saw that it was a treasure, and he fell to cleansing away the filth that obscured it. “What are you doing with that worthless rock?” asked one of his friends. “Oh,” says Angelo, “there is an angel in that block, and I must get it out.” So God saw in sinful humanity, stained, defiled, and wretched, the possibility of angels and saints redeemed. It is this possibility that made it worth while for Christ to die for men. It is this which should incite us to labour with long patience that men may be saved.
Acts 18:12; Acts 18:17
And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection.
Gallio and Paul
The proconsul of Achaia had ended his term of office, and the proconsul appointed by the emperor was Marcus Annaeus Novatus, who, having been adopted by the friendly rhetorician Lucius Junius Gallio, had taken the name of Lucius Junius Antaeus Gallio. Very different was the estimate of his contemporaries from that which has made his name since proverbial for indifferentism. The brother of Seneca and the uncle of Luean, he was the most; universally popular member of that distinguished family. “No mortal man is so sweet to any single person as he is to all mankind”; “Even those who love my brother Gallio to the utmost yet do not love him enough,” wrote Seneca of him. He was the very flower of pagan courtesy and culture. A Roman with all a Roman’s dignity and seriousness, and yet with all the grace and versatility of a polished Greek. Whatever the former proconsul had been, he had not been one with whom the Jews could venture to trifle, nor had they ventured to hand Paul over to the secular arm. But now that a new proconsul, well known for his mildness, had arrived, who was perhaps unfamiliar with the duties of his office, and whose desire for popularity might have made him complaisant to prosperous Jews, they thought they could with impunity excite a tumult. Though Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome, their religion was a religio licita; but the religion of “this fellow,” they urged, was a spurious counterfeit of Judaism which had become a religio illicita by running counter to its Mosaic Law. Such was the charge urged by a hubbub of voices, and as soon as it had become intelligible, Paul was on the point of making his defence. But Gallio was not going to trouble himself by listening to any defence. He took no notice whatever of Paul. With a thorough knowledge of, and respect for, the established laws, but with a genuinely Roman indifference for conciliatory language, he quashed the indictment and ordered his lictors to clear the court. But while we regret this unphilosophic disregard, let us at least do justice to Roman impartiality. In Gallio, in Lycrias, in Felix, in Festus, in the centurion Julius, and even in Pilate, different as were their degrees of rectitude, we cannot but admire the trained judicial insight with which they saw through the subterranean injustice and virulent animosity of the Jews in bringing false charges against innocent men. But the superficiality which judges only by externals always brings its own retribution. The haughty, distinguished and cultivated proconsul would have been to the last degree amazed had anyone told him that so paltry an occurrence would be for ever recorded in history; that it would be the only scene in his life in which posterity would feel a moment’s interest; that he would owe to it any immortality he possesses; that he had flung away the greatest opportunity of his life when he closed the lips of the Jewish prisoner; that it would be believed for centuries that that prisoner had converted his great brother Seneca to his own “execrable superstition”; that the “parcel of questions” about a mere opinion, and names, and a matter of the Jewish law, which he had so disdainfully refused to hear, should hereafter become the most prominent of all questions to the whole civilised world. And Paul may have suspected many of these facts as little as “the sweet Gallio” did. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
In this fragment of apostolic history, notice--
I. Religious intolerance (Acts 18:12) is seen in three things--
1. In the reason of their opposition to Paul. Was it because he had violated any law, invaded any human rights, broken the public peace, or insulted the public morals? No, but simply because he had “persuaded” men to worship God in a way not exactly agreeable to their own views.
2. In the spirit of their opposition. “They made insurrection with one accord.”
3. In the means of their opposition. Bigotry substitutes abuse for argument and in this case bigots sought to crush by invoking the arm of civil authority.
II. Magisterial propriety. Did Gallio, like Pilate, bow to public wish? No, he would not even entertain the case (Acts 18:14-15). He meant that the question of religious differences came not within the authority of a civil magistrate. On this principle the Roman government generally acted. Gallio, as a magistrate, acted justly--
1. Towards himself. The magistrate who interferes with the religious opinions of the people incurs a responsibility too great for any man to bear.
2. To his fellow subjects. “Look ye to it.” Religion is not to be settled in courts of law, but in courts of conscience.
III. Social retribution. “Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, and beat him before the judgment seat.” “With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” This case develops--
1. The natural sense of justice in humanity. These Greeks had witnessed Sosthenes’ wicked endeavours to crush a righteous man, and their sense of justice was outraged; and now their opportunity occurred for vengeance. This sense of justice is a spark from Divinity, and a pledge that one day justice will be done to all.
2. The reproductiveness of evil in man. Sosthenes had dealt out vengeance to Paul, and now it came back to him in a rich harvest. Violence begets violence, etc. The propagating power of evil is immense. “Satan cannot cast out Satan.” Christ has taught the true theory of this moral expulsion.
3. The power of the gospel. It is more than probable that this is the Sosthenes referred to in 1 Corinthians 1:2. So that over this fierce persecutor Paul’s gospel so triumphed, that he became a brother in the holy cause.
IV. Lamentable indifference. “He cared for none of these things.” This can scarcely be nothing more than mere magisterial unconcernedness about religious disputes. As an educated Roman, he regarded the religion of Paul as beneath his notice. Religious indifferentism is one of the greatest and most prevalent evils of this age too, and it is infidelity in its worst form. Mere theoretical infidelity you can put down by argument. But this is beyond the reach of all logic. Religious indifference is--
1. Unreasonable. No question is of such transcendent moment to man as religion, and therefore it is madness on his part to neglect it.
2. Criminal. It is contrary to the wishes and the labours of the holiest men; it involves the abuse of all the means of spiritual improvement; and it is a practical disregard to all the commands of God.
3. Perilous. The danger is great, increasing, but still, thank God, at present avoidable. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The nature and extent of the office of the civil magistrate
If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews--if you would accuse this man of any injustice whereby he had invaded anyone’s right and property, or could lay to his charge any other villainous action done with a mischievous design, and whereby he had disturbed the public peace--reason would that I should bear with you. I should then be obliged by the duty of my place to take cognisance of your matter. But if it be a question of words, and names, and of your law; if the controversy, as it seems to me, be not about civil but religious matters, as about the Word which Paul preached, and the truth of that Word, and whether it be agreeable to your law--it is none of my business to determine such disputes. And this was a wise answer, and showed that he was well acquainted with the nature and extent of his office; and he was too good a man to lift himself in any party, and to abuse the power which was lodged in his hands by applying it to purposes foreign to the original design of it. The words thus opened, naturally lead me to treat of the nature and extent of the office of the civil magistrate.
I. Then let us consider the end and design of civil government. It is plain that civil government was instituted for the preservation and advancement of men’s civil interests, for the better security of their lives and liberties and external possessions. Men soon became sensible of the necessity of civil government for these ends, from the inconveniences they suffered by a private life independent on each other. The proper business of the magistrate is to preserve the external peace and the temporal good of the community; to protect every man in his just right and property (1 Thessalonians 4:6). But then it is to be considered that these transgressions are subject to be punished by the civil magistrate in a civil capacity only, and not in a religious one. They fall under his cognisance, as they are injurious to men’s civil interests, and not as they have an inherent turpitude in them, and are transgressions of the Divine law; for in that capacity, I conceive, they are out of the magistrate’s power, and not cognisable before any courts of human judicature. The not observing this distinction has introduced no small confusion in this subject. But because those vices which are so many transgressions of God’s laws have also a natural tendency to injure our neighbour in his civil interests, and to disturb the good order and government of the world, therefore it unavoidably happens that the magistrate, in the due execution of his office, does indirectly intermeddle with religion. But though we cannot actually separate the ill influence any vice has upon the society we live in, from its being a transgression of some Divine law, yet in our minds we may make this separation, and consider every vice as a mixed action, as a transgression of the laws of man, and of the laws of God, In the first capacity only it is subject to human judicatures; in the second, it is cognisable only before the tribunal of heaven. For this reason, because vice and wickedness are punishable by the civil magistrate only upon a civil account, sins are differently estimated and differently punished by human and by Divine laws. Human laws make an estimate of sins from the damage they do to private persons, or to the public good, and inflict the greatest punishment upon those sins which are most injurious in this respect. And, therefore, if there be any sins wherein society is no way concerned, which it neither feels nor is affected with, the magistrate has nothing to do with punishing them. Consequently, secret intentions and designs of wickedness, treasonable thoughts, rebellious wishes, and seditious purposes, if they never break out into acts, can never be liable to civil punishments. But with regard to the laws of God the case is far otherwise. He takes an estimate of our sins by other measures, from those degrees of light and knowledge against which the offence was committed, and often punishes those sins most which are least, or not at all, censured by the civil power. Thus anger and revenge with Him is murder, and lustful thoughts and desires, adultery. And other actions there are which, though justly punishable by the civil power, are in their own nature guiltless, and do not displease God, but by being trangressions of that general law, of paying all due obedience to those whom He has set over us.
II. The end and design of religion. Though religion is a great friend to civil government, and the practice of the duties which that enjoins tends very much to our present happiness, and makes this world a much more easy place than it would be without it, yet all this is but remotely the effect of religion, and makes no part of its main and principal design. Religion, in a true sense, and as the word itself imports, is an obligation upon us to God. And, therefore, though men formed themselves into societies for civil reasons, they did not do it upon any religious account; because religion as it relates to God is transacted between a man’s self and God, and is what nobody else is concerned in. So that it is neither necessary in itself nor essential to true religion that great numbers of men should meet together and be incorporated in societies for the better discovery, or the more due exercise of it. Hence it is that they who lived before the institution of civil governments, or the foundation of commonwealths, were as famous for their piety and religion as any who have been since. In this state of nature, I mean before the institution of civil government, religion, as it related to God alone, had no other hold upon men but from the fear and reverence of God, and was a perfect stranger to all human power and outward force. In this state no man whatever could require me to conform to his judgment on religious matters, nor could I require him to conform to mine. This was the case of religion in a state of nature. Let us next see whether any alteration was made in this case by the institution of civil government. Now since those wrongs which men daily received from one another, and which first moved them to eater into societies, did not affect their religion, but their lives, and liberty, and goods, it follows that when they waived their natural freedom, and combined together, they did not at all submit themselves in religious matters to the will of the civil magistrate, as they submitted their persons and properties to be disposed of by him for the obtaining the end of society, the mutual defence and preservation of one another. Men cannot abandon the care of their souls as they may that of their bodies and estates, and blindly leave it to the magistrate to prescribe what faith or worship they shall embrace. And therefore the magistrate ought not to insist upon terms of purely a religious nature with those who are under his government, or exercise his power and authority over them in this respect. This will quickly appear by taking a view of the chief and principal parts of religion. To begin, then, with morality and virtue, which, though unhappily distinguished from religion, are the chief and main things wherein it consists. These are founded in the eternal nature of things, whereby some things are evidently fit, and others as evidently unfit to be done whatever the consequence of them be here. This being plainly the nature of things, we justly conclude it to be the will of God who made us what we are, and put this difference between some things and others, that we should observe this difference in oar actions. And herein we are to be directed by our own reason or conscience: we are accountable to God alone. But what if anyone upon pretence of conscience, and to show his liberty, should commit any matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, invade anyone’s property, or disturb the public peace? Why, then, I say, no pretence of religion or conscience can screen him from the civil power. He ought to be restrained and punished. But then he does not suffer upon a religious, but upon a civil account. If we place religion in the belief of any set of doctrines, here, too, every man must judge for himself. The magistrate has nothing to do to interpose in this case, to apply force of any kind to bring men over to any particular persuasion. The peace and good order of society are the only points which he is to take care of, and since these are as consistent with men’s holding different opinions in religion, as they are with their being of different sentiments in other matters, the magistrate is no more concerned to intermeddle in religious disputes than he is in those of philosophy, law, or physic. Indeed, if men hold any opinions in religion which are destructive of the peace and quiet of the world, and act in persuance of these opinions, their actions then are of a civil and not of a religious nature, and they render themselves obnoxious to the civil power. For the magistrate to interpose and make himself a judge and an avenger in affairs which are purely of a religious nature is to trangress the bounds of his duty and to invade the prerogative of God; it is to judge and misuse the servants of another master who are not at all- accountable to him. For nothing can be more clear and certain than that as religion has God only for its Author, so it is properly His care and concern only. But such attempts as these are not only wicked and unjust, but very foolish and fruitless, as will appear if we consider that the nature and the virtue too of all religion consists in a free choice, in the consent of our minds, in the sincerity of our hearts, in our being fully persuaded of the truth of what we believe, and of the goodness of what we practise. But of what use can human laws, enforced by civil penalties, be in all this? They may make me do things which are in my power, and depend upon my will; but to believe this or that to be true is not in my power, nor depends upon my will, but upon the light and evidence and information which I have. And will civil discouragements, fines, stripes and imprisonment enlighten the understanding, convince men’s minds of error, and inform them of the truth? Can they have any such efficacy as to make men change the inward judgment they have framed of things? Nothing can do this but reason and argument. And therefore if the magistrate interposes here, and either chooses a religion for me, or forces me to practise that which I have chosen with temporal rewards and punishments, he destroys my religion and spoils the virtue of whatever I do under that name. But, further, as religion consists in such a belief and practice, as we in our consciences are persuaded to be best and most acceptable to God, as it lies in the integrity of the heart, so it can be subject only to the judgment of the great God whose prerogative it is to be a searcher of the heart and a fryer of the reins; who sees the secret springs of our actions and knows our thoughts and intentions afar off. Upon which account no man upon earth can be a judge in religious matters, nor take upon him the cognisance of this cause. By this time I hope it appears that Gallio acted wise and conscientious part in this affair. For most certain it is, that the duty of the magistrate is confined to the care of the civil and temporal good of his people, and does not extend to their spiritual and eternal affairs. It is nothing to him what false and erroneous opinions men hold, what ridiculous and absurd doctrines they profess, or, in a word, what they believe or disbelieve in religion, so long as hereby they do no prejudice to their neighbour, nor make any alteration in men’s civil rights, nor disturb the public peace and quiet. But here it may be objected, Is the magistrate to show no zeal for the honour of God and the authority of His laws? To this I answer, that since God, who is most certainly the properest Judge in this case, and best knows what are the fittest means to be made use of for these ends, has not thought fit to enforce His laws with any other sanctions but the rewards and punishments of a future and invisible state, nor to promote His honour and true religion by any other motives but these, what authority has any man to make any alteration in what God has established, and to enforce His laws with any other sanctions than what He Himself has appointed? And as to true religion and a right belief, every man is orthodox to himself, and thinks his own religion to be true; and, therefore, if this be any argument why the magistrate should use force in promoting his own religion, it will plead as strongly for false religions as for the true one. As for God’s honour, He Himself is the best guardian of it, and will most certainly take care of it in His own time and way, for He is a jealous God. But then I add, that for men to be restrained from these vices by the power and authority of the civil magistrate, and out of fear of his sword, is no honour to God whatever it may be to Caesar. To conclude: Since religion and civil government are, in their original, and business, and in everything else belonging to them, thus perfectly distinct and entirely different from each other, it would put an end to many controversies, and make very much for the peace and quiet both of Church and State, if men would observe this distinction, and each party would keep within their respective bounds. This would hinder them from clashing and interfering with one another, and would prevent those heats and animosities, those acts of violence and rapine, cruelty and oppression that have abounded in the Christian world upon account of religion. And let the magistrate, too, confine himself to his own proper business and attend to the worldly welfare of the commonwealth, and instead of exercising his power in binding other men’s consciences by human laws, let him take care to conform his own conscience to the laws of God, and direct all his counsels and endeavours to promote universally the civil welfare of all his subjects. And let him not think that he bears the sword in vain unless he employs it in the cause of God and religion. It was not put into his hands for this use, nor can it be applied to this purpose with any good effect. (B. Ibbot, D. D.)
I. The laudable administration of justice in his treatment of the point of complaint (verse 12-15). He rejects it because it referred to a purely religious matter.
II. The censurable administration of justice in his conduct at the violence of the Greeks (verse 16, 17). Here he shows himself indifferent and unfair. Magistrates have in ecclesiastical controversies to distinguish between what is above law and what is against the law, and have to resent what is unlawful on whatever side it happens. (Lisco.)
Reports of Christian service
1. The report which is given of Paul’s work in verse 13 is exactly the report which is being given today by hostile journalists and critics. Do not take any bad or worldly man’s report of any Christian service he may have attended. They lack the one thing needful--sympathy. No man is qualified to report a religious meeting who is not himself religious. He can tell who spoke and give an abstract of what was said; but there will be wanting from it the aroma, the heavenliness, which gave it all its gracious power. This has a wide bearing upon all matters religious and theological. The Jews heard Paul speak and they said, “This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law”--that is, 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. Have no fear of perverting Jews misrepresenting inspired apostles and bringing God’s doctrine to ruin. The form will change; and yet when all the words have been rearranged we shall find the inner, holy doctrine untouched.
2. The Jews were unanimous in their insurrection. Unanimity is nothing; sincerity is nothing. Sincerity is only good when rightly directed, and unanimity is worthless if moving not in the direction of truth. Paul stood alone, so far as men were concerned, on more occasions than one. Said he, in one instance, “No man stood with me … notwithstanding the Lord stood with me.” Let us take care, then, lest we mistake human unanimity for Divine counsel.
3. And now Gallio, much maligned by those who do not know him, comes into the story. He has been set up as a type of the careless man. And base creatures have been told that they were “Gallios”! They never were so honoured in their lives! Gallio would not touch them with the tip of his fingers! Gallio simply knew his business and attended to it, and limited himself by it; and his carelessness was a distinct evidence of his high qualification for his office. Yet I would chide even Gallio for the unintentional injury he has done (verse 14) in depriving the Church of another speech by the greatest speaker that ever served the cause of Christ. What he would have said to that sweet Gallio who can tell? 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.
4. Gallio used a phrase which brought him within lines which we wish could have enclosed him forever. 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? 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. Is it true that you care “for none of those things”? Then for what do you care? (J. Parker, D. D.)
And Gallio cared for none of those things.
The indifferentism of Gallio
Gallio is one of the most unfortunate characters in all history. It has been his fate to suffer at the hands of foes and friends. It was once the fashion to regard him in the light of this single incident, and to condemn him as selfishly indifferent to all interests but his own. Since he has been studied in the light of his history and character as described by other pens, the verdict has been reversed, and this incident has been interpreted as the action of an impartial, upright judge. The truth, as usual, lies between the two extremes. Gallio is neither so bad as his enemies would make him, nor so good as his friends would have him to be. He is simply a man of the world at his best, and has many modern representatives.
I. What Gallio did not care for.
1. Judaism; as is plain from his judgment. Whether right or wrong, it is quite evident, it was a matter of indifference to him, not only as a magistrate, but, if the spirit of his speech is to be taken into account, as a man.
2. Christianity; for he closed Paul’s mouth. This was not the case with Pilate, or Felix, or Festus, each of whom manifested some interest in the subject, and allowed its advocates to state their case.
3. Truth. Precisely the same issue was raised here as before other Roman tribunals, and, except at Philippi, was impartially discussed; but Gallio gagged the representative of Christianity, and allowed the Greeks to assault the representative of Judaism. Gallio neither knew nor cared on which side, if on either, lay the truth. And there are many Gallios today. The established order of things in religion, morals, politics, society, may remain for aught they care. On the whole, perhaps, it is better that they should remain; but if this order is disturbed by some bold revolutionist, it will not much matter, so long as he does not trouble them. They will be mixed up with neither. The parties may fight it out; and if a third party intervenes and crushes one, so much the better--there is one nuisance the less.
II. What Gallio did care for. What he was sent to Achaia to do. He was responsible to the home government for two things, and about these he was solely solicitous.
1. To administer justice. This he did with perfect impartiality, and in a way that warrants the encomiums passed upon him by his contemporaries. As a Roman judge, he knew nothing of Judaism, and so dismissed the charge against Paul as soon as he heard it, and refused to listen to his defence as superfluous, for he had been guilty of no offence against Roman law. If the mob assaulted Sosthenes that was his look-out; for the future he would mind his own business. And so our modern Gallios are simply men of one idea. That may be business, pleasure, politics, literature. Everything outside is a matter of indifference. “Let them fight it out amongst themselves.”
2. To maintain the supremacy of Roman rule. If Jews persecute Christians; if Greeks maltreat Jews--so much the better. The empire will have fewer malcontents to trouble it while they are trying to exterminate each other. “Divide and rule.” And so our modern Gallios view with equanimity controversies outside their sphere. In politics the one thing that gladdens the heart of the statesman is dissension among his opponents. The Christian advocate is calm in view of the utter want of unanimity on the part of the adversaries of the Cross; but so is the infidel as he contemplates the antagonism of Christian sects. If union is strength, dissension is weakness; and the best thing that Gallio can wish for is division among his foes.
III. By what motives Gallio was actuated.
1. Scepticism. Gallio was neither better nor worse than the cultivated gentlemen of his age. And we know that the culture of the first century was saturated with unbelief. Faith in Jupiter was gone, and no arguments had reached Gallio likely to replace Jupiter by either the Jehovah of Sosthenes or the Jesus of Paul. The thought of the nineteenth century is in this respect like that of the first, and it would be hard to find a mere exact parallel than between Matthew Arnold and Gallio.
2. Love of ease. To have subjected Sosthenes and Paul to a rigid cross-examination, to have pondered the evidence, and to have pronounced accordingly, would have sorely troubled the “sweet Gallio.” He wanted to be troubled neither in the government of his province nor in the government of himself. Sedition he would quell by driving it out, and social disturbers he would treat in a no less drastic fashion. “Don’t trouble us; settle these matters amongst yourselves” is the dictum of Gallio’s latest successors.
IV. The consequences which Gallio reaped.
1. Immediate success.
2. Everlasting loss. Who can tell what might have happened had Gallio embraced the same opportunity as Felix or Festus? He might not have been able to save himself from death at the hands of Nero, with which one account credits him; but he would undoubtedly have saved himself from self-destruction, with which he is credited by another. And our modern Gallios may be able to silence reason and stifle conscience, and live above intellectual and moral care; but this will not annihilate the hereafter. Conclusion:
1. Face the truth, whatever it may be.
2. Side with the truth, whatever it may involve.
3. Follow the truth, wherever it may lead. (J. W. Burn.)
1. To be named in the Bible is to be immortal. It is the misfortune of some names that they have found their way into the sacred book. All other records spoke well of them, living and dead, save this. What is this but to say that it is the misfortune of some lives to face an ordeal? Such was the case with Gallio. He refused, indeed, to condemn; but in escaping Scylla he incurs Charybdis, and becomes for all time the type of Indifference. The sweetness for which his friends love him in God’s sight is feebleness.
2. In this particular instance he was not to blame. The Jews are trading upon toleration to invoke intolerance. Orthodoxy? Yes. Nonconformity? No. It is a question, not of crime, but of words and names. He will have nothing to do with it; and when the Gentile mob retaliate, he will have nothing to do with that.
3. The decision was right, but not the motive, which was not justice, but indifference to right and wrong. Thus Gallio passes from the stage in which for a moment he has stood with the gospel to enjoy his highly-gained favour with the Corinthians, to his pleasures, to Rome, and to suicide.
I. Excuses for indifference.
1. Is not indifference a synonym for impartiality?
2. Look at the evil brought upon the world by that earnestness which is the opposite of indifference! When we see the harshness with which earnestness runs down opponents, it is almost refreshing to be in the presence of one who says, “We are all imperfect; live and let live.”
3. To all this we may reply that indifference in some matters may be harmless, and even advantageous. We are not called upon to be earnest about everything. Nevertheless, there is a vice called indifference, which is only too common in our age.
II. To what indifference is due.
1. Affectation. The man does feel. The indifference is a pretence.
2. Early forcing. The modern tendency is to precipitate manhood, and the result of juvenile precocity is adult apathy.
3. Reaction. Earnestness meets with a check, or wears itself out.
4. Suspense. There is an impression abroad that in this transitional period intelligent minds can find no rest, and the “honest doubter” is the hero of the hour.
5. Sorrow. Some affliction has been taken amiss, there has been a nursing of the loss, and so life has lost its zest; or, without this, there may be an unhappiness, vague and all pervading, which strangles every energy of being.
6. Sin. How listless towards duty, etc., the man who carries everywhere with him a guilty conscience.
III. The duty of interesting ourselves in something.
1. God has constituted us differently, and set us in a world fertile in choices. He is not indifferent who cultivates this taste, study, occupation, or that. But in something which is first pure, then vigorous, wholesome, and of good report. God expects each one to interest himself, and with his might.
2. And while He leaves us a wide choice, He sets before us two objects concerning which He offers no choice. He who says, “I love God,” and hateth his brother, is a Gallio; and so is he who says, “I cannot love God, but I will promote the welfare of society.” (Dean Vaughan.)
I. The character of those things for which our Gallios do not care. Things--
1. For which the Creator cares.
2. Which receive their saving significance from the life and death of the Redeemer.
3. Into which angels desire to look.
4. In behalf of which our ancestors were willing to shed their blood.
5. In which our best friends are most deeply interested.
II. Some of the causes of this indifference.
1. A shallow misapprehension of the nature of religion.
2. Mental sloth.
3. Love of ease.
III. Its effect.
1. At death.
2. At judgment. (Biblical Museum.)
The social indifferentist
1. The things for which Gallio cared nothing were in one sense none of his business. He was the Roman proconsul of Achaia. As elsewhere, so at Corinth, the Greeks heard Paul, and were attracted to him. The Hebrews heard him, hated him, and dragged him before Gallio. But the question being one with which he had nothing to do, Gallio promptly dismissed it. But this was not the end. The Greeks on this occasion believed in the right of free speech, and, like a great many other champions of free speech, they proceeded to proclaim their sympathies by an act of personal violence (verse 17). And though it was without the smallest legal warrant, though it was even a more gross and disorderly breach of the peace than that which had preceded it, “Gallio cared for none of those things.” These dogs of Jews and these emasculated Corinthians, so long as the peace of the empire was undisturbed, what mattered it how much they quarrelled?
2. This is a picture of an amiable and cultivated indifferentism. Its conspicuous characteristic lay in this, that it betrayed an utter insensibility to the simplest principles of justice. Sosthenes and his co-religionists had undoubtedly done St. Paul a wrong; but they had done it under legal forms, and had appealed to the proconsul for their authority. The Greeks, on the other hand, had deliberately taken the law into their own hands. Undoubtedly, in a technical sense, this was no concern of Gallio’s; but, in another and very real sense, his indifference was neither wise, nor loyal, nor manly. If Gallio had really cared to win for the empire the trust and loyalty of her conquered peoples, he would have seen to is that no blow should be unjustly struck, nor any meanest citizen of Corinth, whether Jew or Greek, lightly or lawlessly wronged. But to have done this would have been to break through the crust of that passionless indifference which was the mark of culture in those days.
3. “But that,” we say, “was a pagan culture, and its fruit “was worthy of the tree. We are not pagans, but Christians, and are bound inflexibly to repudiate the principles of such a man.” But what are the facts? One distinguishing mark of our Christian civilisation is a development of individual reserve. We learn to conceal emotions, or at least to chasten their expressions. Tell someone a story of wrong, or want, or sorrow, and the chances are you will get the answer, “Really, how very unpleasant. Can you not find something more agreeable to talk about than that?” Nor is this wholly surprising or without excuse. My neighbour is thrown into a spasm of torture by a musical discord, which my less tutored faculty scarce perceives. It hurts him; and, to leave that fact out of account in judging of the way in which he endures a series of discords, is neither just nor kindly. Now then, it is a result of culture that it makes the sensibilities infinitely more susceptible to external impressions. And therefore it is not unnatural that some natures should be unwilling to hear of the miseries that are torturing so many of their fellow men, nor that, refusing to know about such things, they cease, before long, to care about them. It is the old picture of Gallio watching through the parted drapery the scourging of Sosthenes in the street. It is not an engaging spectacle. Here at hand is the last chronicle of the busy and brilliant life of Rome. Here is the last roll that has come from the pen of Seneca. How much pleasanter to lose one’s self in the pages of Ovid or Lucullus or Martial, instead of going out into the hot sun to stop a street fight between a herd of fanatical Israelites and Corinthians! And so, today, there is a large class that finds it far pleasanter to draw the curtains upon the crime and sorrow that are without, while they have the freshest voice in song or story to beguile them.
4. And yet how utterly is this to miss the noblest end of culture, whose function is not merely to train the powers for enjoyment, but first and supremely for helpful service. And then what is the religion of Jesus Christ but to bring Christ into our common life, and so ennoble that life by the sweetness and sanctity which He alone can shed upon it? Shall we selfishly turn to Him to comfort us, and catch no impulse from His life to reach out and comfort our brethren? Did He come only to teach us how to build handsome churches and keep them for ourselves? Oh, no; it was not merely for you and me that Christ died, but for humanity. Into the culture of that elder time He came to put the one ingredient that it needed supremely to ennoble it--a Divine unselfishness. He came to kill out that torpid indifference that could see cruelty and injustice, and “care for none of those things,” and to supplant it with an inextinguishable and self-forgetting love. Every now and then our ears are startled by some brutal deed, that makes us shudder for our kind. And, reading of it amid our own safe and comfortable surroundings, we cry out, “How shocking! How barbarous! Where were the police?” At best a municipal discipline, however admirable, can only repress and punish the outward manifestations of our social evils. The medicine that shall heal them must be drawn from the Cross. And Christians must be the channels through which the throbbing tide of sympathy shall reach and heal the sorrows and the sins of our fellows. The other day, in Wales, the waters broke out in a colliery. There were four hundred men at work below the surface, and, panic stricken, they rushed to the mouth of the pit and touched the telegraph, when, to their horror, they remembered that that morning the signal wire had parted, and had not yet been mended. With the energy of despair, one of them, trained at sea, flung himself against the rugged sides of the shaft, and, with a grasp that seemed a superhuman endowment given him for the moment, scaled the perpendicular wall until he came to the break in the wire. The parted ends hung within a few inches of each other, but how was he to join them together? To let go his hands and strive to reach them thus was death to himself and death to those below him. Suddenly, with an inspiration born of the dire peril, he grasped one end in his mouth, and reaching then with agonising effort for the other, caught the two between his lips, reunited thus the parted wire, and re-established the electric current that told to those above the danger and signalled swiftly back again the coming of deliverance. What he climbed up to do you and I must climb down to do. There is a vast multitude below us that our lips and hands and feet must bring into living and saving relations with the Son of God.
5. Not to care when others, no matter how obscure or remote from us, are going down to hell, is not Christianity, but paganism blank and heartless; and such paganism is very full of peril. The social problem now confronting us is one of the gravest and most threatening problems of our time. The labourer does not love the capitalist, and the capitalist does not always understand the labourer. But we shall not finally silence the heresies of the communist with the bullets of the militia. Over against the unreason of the working man we must rear something better than the stern front of a stony indifference. If his misfortunes are not our fault, none the less he himself is our brother. And somehow--anyhow--we must make him feel that we account him so. (Bp. H. C. Potter, D. D.)
And Paul after this tarried there a good while.
Preparing for labour
1. Paul has conquered his position in Corinth. He seemed to have acquired a right to remain there. And after tarrying “a good while” he “took his leave of the brethren.” This is a new tone. Paul has not often gone away from a city in this quiet, friendly manner. His going out has often been amidst tumult and battle. But now he must take leave of the brethren. He had “shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow.” The great liberalist in the Church was also addicted to Levitical obedience. Paul maintained a hard discipline over himself, and therefore could afford to be very liberal towards other people. 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. Think of Paul doing that. We can trust that man. We feel that a man so honest in a matter so comparatively trifling is likely to be severely true in matters of larger breadth. It is thus we must judge one another. Men cannot, perhaps, understand the articles of our theological belief, but they can understand our temper, our honesty over the counter. If they find us faithful in little things they must reason that we are faithful also in greater things.
2. Paul came to Ephesus, and 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. He does not want to look at anything in the city of Ephesus--famed in a country famous for great cities. 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 (Acts 18:20). We have seen how these Jews hated him, banishing him from their cities; but at Ephesus he meets with another reception. Is the devil playing a trick here? Was there an attempt here to keep him from Jerusalem, whither he must go to accomplish his vow? We cannot tell; but Paul bade them farewell, saying (Acts 18:21). Did they want him to return? He will come back; for he has his greatest day yet before him!
3. In Acts 18:22 are the saddest words in the Acts. Paul going back to Jerusalem for the fourth time! The Church will wait for him; will pray with him; 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 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 Judaising 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 bleeding. 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,” etc. 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, “this is home.” We cannot live on ceremony, 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. But at Jerusalem they were too orthodox to be Christians. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Paul constitutionally was an earnest man. Every chapter in his life before, and after, his conversion shows him to be a man whose purposes were made red hot with the passion of an ever-glowing nature. His earnestness is here seen--
I. In his noble defiance of danger. The Jews had “made insurrection with one accord” against him, and he must have felt, even after Gallio had refused to entertain their malignant purposes, their ire was still all aflame. Yet he quits not the scene of duty. “Paul tarried there yet a good while.” His sympathy with Christ and the Divine purpose raised him above the fear of all danger.
II. In his surrender of friendship.
1. His adieu to his brethren at Corinth. “He took his leave of the brethren.” He entered this Paris of the old world to fight the battles alone, and the antagonism was immense; and he left it with numerous converts and a prosperous Church. The members of that Church were “his brethren”: he loved them. The two letters which he afterwards wrote to them show the depth of his affection. Yet he leaves them at the call of duty.
2. His separation from his dearest companions at Ephesus--Priscilla and Aquila. It must have been not a little painful to a man of Paul’s tender sensibilities, to separate from those with whom he had been so closely and so lovingly connected.
3. His departure from Ephesus in opposition to the earnest request of his friends (verse 20). “Whosoever loveth father and mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me.” Paul proved himself worthy of Christ.
III. In his consecration to duty.
1. He felt that God’s will called him to Jerusalem now. “I must by all means keep this feast.” He had no doubt about the Divine will upon this point, and hence he was prepared to make any sacrifices to carry it out.
2. He was willing to return to Ephesus, if it were God’s will. Consecration to the Divine will, which was the very spirit of his life, was the philosophy of his greatness. Deo volente. This should always be the devout proviso in all our plans. Conclusion: The following remarks of Gerok are worth quoting:
“1. No hostile hatred restrains him where the Lord sends him (verse 19).
2. No brotherly love retains him when the Lord calls him away (verse 20).
3. No place is too distant to him; he hastens when the Spirit draws him thither (verse 21).
4. No place is too pleasant to him; he takes his leave when the Lord cannot use him there (verse 22). I must go to Jerusalem, the watchword of a pilgrim of God, by which he breaks through all the temptations of the world, in love and suffering, from friend and foe.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The apostles had no elaborate inspired code drawn up for their guidance as, e.g., Moses had. In the latter case the minuteness of the instruction precluded the possibility of mistake; in the former they had to depend almost exclusively on the inscrutable guidance of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord had laid down as a general rule “Go ye into all the world”; for particular conformity to this rule in the multitudinous instances in which it had to be applied they had to depend upon the inspire d direction of their own common sense. And so in endeavouring to ascertain the principles of apostolic procedure for modern use we have to carefully study a typical tract of apostolic work. Such we have here. Here we see underlying apostolic procedure--
I. Perseverance where circumstances were propitious. The action of Gallio, whatever we may think of the man and his motives, were wholly favourable to Paul. The Jews mere silenced, and would give no further trouble; and the gospel, in the estimation of the populace, would have at least quasi proconsular sanction. Neither Jew nor heathen would venture to attack it after this. And so Paul tarried at Corinth “a good while,” founding the Church, and confirming the Thessalonians by two epistles. Where, as was the ease formerly at Philippi and afterwards at Ephesus, the circumstances were unpropitious, it was manifestly both the duty and the interest of the apostle to leave.
II. Fidelity to previously registered vow. Whether the making of the vow was wise may be open to question, but we are precluded from discussing this by ignorance of all the circumstances. Still it is hard to overlook the fact of Paul’s indifference to the ceremonial law, and the fact that Paul’s continuance in Corinth might have prevented the evils which necessitated the first Epistle to the Corinthians. But Paul being a man of one idea, it was necessary that that one idea should be carried out. And so the vow made at Corinth must be fulfilled at Jerusalem. But Ephesus lay on the route, the work at which eventually compensated for absence from Corinth.
III. Seizure of every opportunity of extending Christ’s kingdom. Accompanying his friends, whom business probably took to Ephesus, he embraced the opportunity of preaching Christ in the synagogue. He had well earned a period of leisure after his arduous and anxious toils at Corinth, and doubtless he regarded his journey to Jerusalem in the light of a holiday. But the recreations Of earnest Christian workers are utilised in the service of Christ. It was not much that Paul could do during his brief stay at Ephesus, but he was at least able to lay a foundation on which he afterwards built.
IV. Dependence upon Divine providence (verse 21). “If God will” was the one unfailing rule with the apostle, in both personal and ministerial matters. Hence his unfailing confidence, courage, and sense of security. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” If God open a path who can stand in the way? God did not will that he should go to Ephesus (Acts 16:6); but He willed that remarkable series of circumstances which opened up Greece to Christianity. St. Paul on his way back from Jerusalem would find that God willed him to evangelise Ephesus, and directly or by deputies to found the seven Churches of Asia.
V. Profitable economy of time. There was scant opportunity for service at Jerusalem, so he wasted no time there. There was little sympathy with the great missionary at headquarters, so, having completed his vow and saluted the Church, he repaired to congenial Antioch, from which he received, seemingly, a similar missionary impulse to that which preceded his first journey.
VI. Following up of results (verse 23; cf. Acts 16:6). (J. W. Burn.)
I. Where do they work? When the Lord shows a way and opens a door.
II. How do they work? With unwearied zeal, but with humble attention to the intimations of the Lord.
III. For what do they work? Not for their own glory and gain, but for the kingdom of God and the salvation of men. (K. Gerok.)
Having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had a vow.--
The grammatical structure of the Greek sentence makes it possible to refer the words to Aquila as well as Paul, but there is hardly the shadow of a doubt that the latter is meant.
1. If Aquila had taken the vow he too would have had to go to Jerusalem instead of remaining at Ephesus.
2. The language of James (Acts 21:23-24) implies a conviction, as resting on past experience, that St. Paul would willingly connect himself with those who had such a vow. It remains to inquire as to--
I. The nature and conditions of the vow. There can be no doubt that the “vow” was that of the temporary Nazarite (Numbers 6:1-21). It implied a separation from the world and common life (this was the meaning of the word “Nazarite”), and while under the vow the man who had taken it was to drink no wine or strong drink, and to let no razor pass over his head or face. When the term was completed, he was to shave his head at the door of the tabernacle and burn the hair in the fire of the altar. It will be noted that the Nazarites in Acts 21:24, who are completing their vow, shave their heads. Here a different word (“shorn”) is used, which is contrasted with “shaving” in 1 Corinthians 11:6. It was lawful for a man to have his hair cut or cropped during the continuance of the vow and this apparently was what St. Paul now did. But in this case also the hair so cut off was to be taken to the temple, and burnt there and this explains the apostle’s eagerness, “by all means” (verse 21) to keep the coming feast at Jerusalem.
II. Paul’s motives.
1. The strong feeling of thankfulness for deliverance from danger, following upon fear which, as in nearly all phases of the religious life, has been the chief impulse out of which vows have grown. We have seen the fear, and the promise, and the deliverance, in the record of St. Paul’s work at Corinth, and the vow of self-consecration, for a season, to a life of special devotion was the natural result. St. Paul had not learnt to despise or condemn such expressions of devout feeling.
2. His desire to be “all things to all men,” and, therefore, as a Jew to Jews (1 Corinthians 9:20). A Nazarite vow would testify to all his brethren by blood that he did not despise the law himself nor teach other Jews to despise it. Such a vow, involving, as it did for a time, a greater asceticism than that of common life, furnishes a link in the succession of thoughts in 1 Corinthians 9:22-25, between the apostle’s being made “all things to all men” and his keeping under his body, and bringing it into subjection.” (Dean Plumptre.)
I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem.
The duty of observing the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper
When our Lord came to be baptized He satisfied John by saying, “Suffer it to be so, for thus it behoveth us to fulfil all righteousness”--i.e., it becomes us to observe every righteous ordinance of God. The same spirit that animated the Master directed the conduct of His disciples; everywhere they were distinguished by a reverence for the ordinances of religion. And if there be an instance in which this spirit was more strikingly exemplified, we see it in the case before us. Surrounded as he was by the people of Ephesus, who entreated him to remain among them for a longer period, he still felt the preponderating influence of the obligation to observe the feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem. I trust every heart here responds to the feeling of the apostle. A Christian will say, “I must by all means keep this feast,” for--
I. It is the commandment of Christ. Were it a mere conventional ordinance, merely one of those outward circumstances which are not essential to the existence of Christianity, it might be left to our own discretion whether we should observe it or not. But it comes to us on the authority of the Saviour, who said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” There is not any precept more explicitly laid down, and we cannot refuse to observe it without setting aside the authority of Him to whom we are indebted for all that we now are or hope hereafter to enjoy.
II. That I may be the better warned of the evil of sin. There is in this ordinance a manifestation of the evil of sin that is not to be found elsewhere; for we commemorate that great sacrifice which the Father required: in order to render the exercise of mercy to the penitent consistent with the exercise of His justice, in the moral administration of the world. When, therefore, the believer sits down at the table of the Son of God, and has his eyes turned to the Cross of Christ, his heart is smitten with a sense of the evil nature and destroying tendency of sin, and he feels that the world is crucified unto him and he unto the world.
III. Because it is one of the appointed means of grace. There is no feeling to which the heart is more ready to respond than our need of strength greater than our own for the varied duties and trials and sorrows of our nature. And God has promised that His grace shall be sufficient for us--that His strength shall be perfect in our weakness. But we must wait upon Him for this strength and grace in the way of His appointing (Ezekiel 36:37). We are not, therefore, to expect the blessing unless we employ the means. And the Lord’s Supper is one of the appointed means by which the Spirit of God meets the believer, to renew, to sanctify, to encourage, and to direct him.
IV. Because it is one of the most direct means of uniting the family of God in the bonds of peace and love. At this table the rich and the poor meet together. There we learn to love mankind when we see that love which embraced the world. There we learn to forgive an enemy when we see Christ bleeding for His foes.
V. Because we know not that we shall have another opportunity. We are all dying creatures, and we know not what a day may bring forth. (J. Johnston.)
If God will.
Recognition of the Divine will in human affairs
There is a self-reliance that stifles the spirit of religion. On the other hand, there are timid souls who are ever hesitating and wavering, and who would rather be carried by the current than take the oars and impel their skiff against it. Merciless, overbearing strength, and weak, purposeless yielding are neither of them attractive. Paul was a man of strong will and ready decision. There was a strength about him that could be relied upon. And yet he was gentle, sympathetic, open to influence and persuasion. The character was balanced and kept right by faith. He did not determine matters hastily. He listened and weighed, then he referred the matter for decision to God. There was, in his idea of life, another will beside his own--another wisdom--another choice. And he was glad to subordinate himself to that as the determining element. We have here--
I. A recognition of the Divine superintendence and ordination of human life. The words imply that all is not left to Paul’s determinations; that he has not the shaping of his own course. There is a Divine will over all, and it prevails. We are here in circumstances in which we are required to act for ourselves, but we find ourselves often thwarted; our will, determining itself, comes into collision with others; there are plans into which others do not fit. More than this, there is another will stronger than ours which prevails against us. Do what we please, we can only reach our end, perfect our plan, fulfil our purpose--“if God will.” Is, then, man the mere sport and play of a Divine decree--the creature of Fate--the victim of an Iron Rule that uses or crushes, as the case may be? Certainly not. Man has power of choice; he is called upon to judge what is most fitting and most proper. But God, who has left him free, realises His own ends through that freedom, even through that freedom should determine itself in opposition to the behests of His will. We see about us natural processes going on--the day and night, the seasons, the sunshine, the winds and storms. Man has no power over any one of them. But he can realise his purposes by means of them, and God is always doing so. In like manner He realises His purposes by means of the free choice of His creatures.
II. An expression of humble submission. The words imply that Paul did not wish any other will than God’s to be done. Paul did not desire to be where God did not wish him to be. He desired God to rule his life for him. He would return if God led him thither; otherwise they should see his face no more. This is the essential principle of the regenerate heart. The essence of sin is neither more nor less than self will. Only when the spirit of life in Christ Jesus is in us, do we get rid of the desire to order our own away. What schooling it needs to perfect this mind in us! How stubborn and rebellious we are! What frightful blunders we make! How heart breaking are our disappointments! It is by a discipline the most painful, sometimes carried through long years, that God teaches us to let Him order our life for us, and prepare our good. The trials and disappointments of life are all meant to teach us that God’s will is far better than ours, and to school our rebellion into acquiescence, our self-determination into adoring trust. We should cultivate this spirit more and more.
III. A declaration that God has ways of making His will known. The sphere, conditions, and time of labour are Divinely ordained. But how are we to know what God would have us do? There is a light which shines from the Word, and a light which shines in the spirit, an inward persuasion that such and such works are to be done, and there is an objective providential light by which God guides His own as by the pillar of cloud and fire. By these means God lets men see what He would have them do. Conclusion: There is here, then--
1. A caution suggested against that presumption which is based on the idea of human power and prerogative.
2. A condition of effectual prayer.
3. What confidence, what peace, there must come to those who feel, like Paul, that God knows them, cares for them, orders their way, appoints their lot.
4. How easy submission ought to be to us! (W. H. Davison.)
Acts 18:23-28; Acts 19:1-7
And after he had spent some time [at Antioch] he departed, and went over all the country of Galatia and Phrygia.--
Paul’s third missionary journey
1. Nothing was said as to who went with him from Corinth to Syria. It was not, however, Paul’s custom to travel alone if he could help it. The probability is, that both Silas and Timothy accompanied him. Silas and he set out together on the second journey, and he and Barnabas had started on the first, and together they would be likely to return. Timothy, in addition to his other duties, was very much of a personal attendant on St. Paul, so that his being with him would be almost indispensable.
2. Silas drops out of the history here, probably settling again at Jerusalem. The special work he had consented to undertake was fulfilled. Some years afterwards, we find a Silvanus mentioned by St. Peter in his epistle to the strangers scattered through Pontus, Galatia, Asia, and Bithynia, as one not unknown to them (1 Peter 5:12). It would be natural to find Silas associated with Peter, as both had special relations with the Church at Jerusalem, and natural too, that he should be the bearer of an epistle to people among whom he had personally travelled.
3. Paul and Timothy then went down to Antioch. Something similar to what had occurred before would occur again. The Church would be called together to receive an account of what bad been accomplished. With what interest the Church would listen to the incidents connected with the visit to Galatia, the extraordinary circumstances which led Paul and his companions to Troas, the vision calling them to Macedonia, their advancing to Europe with “all that God had done with them” at Philippi and Thessalonica, Berea and Athens, Corinth and Cenchrea!
4. After staying “some time” at Antioch, he set out again with Ephesus as his destination, but contemplating first a visit to the Churches in Phrygia and Galatia. Here, Again, nothing is said of companions. But we may safely say that Timothy at least would be with him. We find him with the apostle at Ephesus towards the close of this journey, and the probability is that he was with him at the beginning. They no doubt visited Derbe and Lystra, and the neighbouring Churches. Timothy would revisit the home of his childhood, would meet probably his mother and grandmother, and perhaps find that his father, if not a Christian before, had been “won” by the influence of the “holy women,” beholding “their pure conversation coupled with fear.” As Timothy had engaged in a Divine work, and had seen in the course of it some of the most wonderful cities in the world; as he was no doubt greatly advanced in character, besides being developed into mature manhood, it is impossible not to feel that the meeting between him and his parents would be one of deep and touching interest.
5. This is the second time that Paul visits Galatia; the third of his visiting Derbe, Lystra, and the neighbouring places; and it looks very like a regular and systematic apostolic “visitation.” The apostle was always anxious not only to lay a foundation, but to build upon it, “like a wise master builder.” His confirmation of the disciples consisted in such ministerial instruction, exhortation, appeal, as might quicken the indolent, comfort the distressed, encourage the weak, animate the desponding, and strengthen and corroborate in every soul holy purposes and spiritual aims.
6. While he is doing this we shall look in at Ephesus and see what has been transpiring there since he left Aquila and Priscilla behind there. On their first settling at Ephesus there were no Christian disciples with whom they could meet; and hence, in the absence of the higher means of grace, they attended for Sabbath worship at the synagogue. One morning a stranger appeared in the assembly, and on being invited by the rulers of the synagogue, spoke with fervour, learning, and eloquence. He was an advanced Jew, for “he was instructed in the way of the Lord,” so far as that could be done by the teaching of John the Baptist. That teaching was the teaching of preparation and repentance--a readiness to receive the coming One. Whether Apollos had got so far as to know that John had recognised in Jesus the Christ whose forerunner he was, it is impossible to say. He certainly knew nothing of the Saviour’s death, resurrection, and ascension, the outpouring of the Spirit, with the great doctrines underlying these facts; but, so far as he knew, he believed; believing, he spoke. Aquila and Priscilla saw the sincerity and earnestness of the man; they saw also the defectiveness of his knowledge; they were deeply interested in him; so they sought his confidence, took him to their house, and “expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” In spite of the difference between a learned Alexandrian and a tradesman of Pontus, there was much that the one could impart to the other. Apollos had had the advantage of whatever could be acquired in the schools of the Rabbis, but Aquila and his wife had for two years lived with St. Paul, and it is easy to see how much they could reveal of the way of the Lord to one who knew only the baptism of John. It is interesting to think of the power of Christian intelligence, the unlearned wisdom of the heart in Priscilla and Aquila, and of the humility and teachableness of Apollos, who was advanced from a disciple of John to a believer in Jesus. Furnished by a “letter of commendation” Apollos went to Corinth, where he found ample scope for his new knowledge and old accomplishments, and began to “help them much who believed” (verses 27, 28). The character of Apollos comes out to great advantage in connection with the effect he produced at Corinth. His powers were so remarkable, and his eloquence of speech so fell in with the taste of the Corinthians, that he became wonderfully popular. When parties sprang up in the Church, there were those who called themselves by the name of Apollos. We have reason to think that this was not acceptable to Apollos himself, for when he was afterwards at Ephesus, and a visit from him seems to have been requested by the Corinthians, and when Paul himself urged him to go, he declined to do so (1 Corinthians 16:12).
7. We now return to St. Paul, who did not arrive at Ephesus until after Apollos had left; of him he would hear much that would interest him from Aquila and Priscilla. Immediately on his arrival he met with certain disciples of John, who were in much the same condition as Apollos. Paul’s question, “Did ye receive the Holy Ghost when ye believed?” brought out the true state of the case, and led to explanations which led to their baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Settled down again, doubtless with Aquila and Priscilla, Paul prepared to attend the synagogue in accordance with the promise he had given to return to Ephesus. “For the space of three months” he continued to do this, “disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.” We have reason to think that many were impressed; but “divers being hardened,” the apostle retired to a meeting place that he could call his own, the “school of one Tyraunus,” where he continued for “two years,” in addition to the three months mentioned before. The result was, “that all they that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.” (T. Binney.)
Paul’s third missionary journey
I. The disciples of Christ have need of strengthening. Those whom Paul revisited in Phrygia and Galatia were Christians. But they were deficient in knowledge, and probably not established in the practice of Christian principles. Thus they were in danger of being led away by false teachers, and of lapsing into evil courses. Paul, by another visit, would enlighten and establish them. It is not enough that souls are influenced to accept the Saviour. They only are safe who are grounded in the truth. Many a preacher fails of lasting results because hopeful converts are neglected. Indoctrination is the great want of our times. The air is full of scepticism. The building process is vastly important; souls need to be fortified for the foes they are sure to meet.
II. God leads into clearer light and larger usefulness those who live and labour according to the light they have. Apollos was instructed in the way of the Lord according to the imperfect knowledge of John’s disciples; but did not know that Jesus was the Messiah. The sincerity, devotion, and earnestness of his heart fitted him to welcome the news of Christ as come. He was ready for instruction from any source. In the providence of God, teachers were found for him. He became acquainted with Christ, and an open door was ready for him. Souls are not to wait for the knowledge of all truth before they begin to love and serve. At first the full illumination may be withheld; but, doing the truth as one understands it, he shall be led into larger truth for greater service.
III. God often uses humble instruments in accomplishing large results. The learned and eloquent Apollos was vastly superior to Aquila and Priscilla; but they led him into an accurate knowledge of the Messiah. Thus there were two persons belonging to the laity--one a woman, accomplishing a work which usage assigns to public teachers of religion.
IV. Labour is of long range. Paul was instrumental in the conversion of Aquila and Priscilla. These two wrought at Ephesus; led Apollos into the knowledge of Christ. Apollos was instrumental in winning many converts at Corinth, and thenceforth became a missionary of great zeal and power. A child in the Sabbath school is led to Christ; he is educated in the Christian faith, and becomes a teacher, a preacher, a missionary; is instrumental in the conversion of many souls, and these of many more; and so the centuries go by, that teacher’s work widening until the end. The mountainside sends forth its rill. The rill becomes a river, and the river runs on, watering a continent. Cheer up, then, servant of the Master in any sphere, eternity alone shall tell the story of your toil. (Sermons by the Monday Club.)
And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria.--
He is here presented to us as a man of--
I. Superior Biblical knowledge. He was “mighty in the Scriptures,” and “instructed in the way of the Lord.” To be mighty in the Scriptures is not to have a mere knowledge of the letter. A man’s verbal knowledge of the Scriptures may be extensive and correct, and yet he may be very ignorant of their spiritual import. True mightiness in the Scriptures includes a knowledge of the leading--
1. Historical facts. These embody principles that have to do both with the procedure of God and the duty and destiny of man.
2. Principles. Facts are valuable only as they are the casket and mirror of principles. These principles are doctrinal and ethical--theoretic and regulative.
3. Aims. The grand aim of the Scriptures is not to build up creeds, to establish sects, to make man the creature of dogmas, rituals, and pietistic moods--such a use is a perversion--but to make men morally good. He who does not understand this to be its grand purpose, however conversant he may be with its leading facts and principles, cannot be mighty in the Scriptures or “understand the way of the Lord.” A man may be mighty in linguistical attainments, in classic lore, in general literature, in the arts and sciences, but unless he is “mighty in the Scriptures,” he will never be a great preacher.
II. Effective power of expression. Eloquence is influential expression--such an expression of a man’s own soul as makes his audience feel one in heart with him in the question discussed. Eloquence will depend mainly on--
1. The power of the subject on the speaker’s mind. If he has so compassed it with his intellect that he can hold it before his heart until it melts, thrills, and permeates him, he has in him the first condition of eloquence.
2. Adequate communicative organs. A man may have the subject so in him as to inflame his own soul, and yet be unable to make his audience pulsate with his own emotions. He may lack in--
“True eloquence cannot be brought from far. Labour and learning may toil for it, but they will toil in vain. Words and phrases may be marshalled in every way, but they cannot compass it. It must exist in the man, in the subject, in the occasion. Affected passion, intense expression, the pomp of declamation, all may aspire to it: they cannot reach it. It comes, if it come at all, like the outbreaking of a fountain from the earth, or the bursting forth of volcanic fires, with spontaneous, original, native force. The graces taught in the schools, the costly ornaments and studied contrivances of speech, shock and disgust men when their own lives, and the fate of their wives, their children, and their country, hang on the decision of an hour. Then patriotism is eloquent--then self-devotion is eloquent. The clear conception outrunning the deductions of logic, the high purpose, the firm resolve, the dauntless spirit speaking on the tongue, beaming from the eye, informing every feature, and urging the whole man onward to his object. This, then, is eloquence; or, rather, it is something greater and higher than all eloquence. It is action--noble, sublime, godlike action.”
III. Fine attributes of spirit. We learn that it was--
1. Earnest. “Being fervent in spirit.” Earnestness is the necessary result of genuine faith in the gospel, and is essential to all eloquence in its advocacy.
2. Faithful. He taught faithfully so far as he knew. He did not pretend to a knowledge which he had not. There was much that he did not know, for knowing only the “baptism of John,” he had not a knowledge of Jesus as the Messiah.
3. Courageous. He was not satisfied with talking in a more private way, but he entered the synagogue, and, with an undaunted courage, spoke to the bigoted Jews.
4. Docile. This man of genius and eloquence feels his ignorance, and modestly submits to the teaching of Aquila and Priscilla. This beautiful little incident furnishes an example--
IV. Varied capacity for usefulness. “And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia,” etc. He had heard, perhaps, of the triumphs of Paul at Corinth, and desired to help forward the good cause. It would seem from 1 Corinthians 1:12; 1 Corinthians 3:4-5, that his eloquence had so wonderfully charmed certain members of the Church at Corinth, that division sprang up. The description of his work here shows that he had--
1. A capacity for confirming those who believed. It is said, “he helped them much which had believed.” He helped them, no doubt, by dissipating their doubts, enlarging their conceptions, strengthening their faith, argumentatively vanquishing their assailants.
2. A capacity for convincing those who did not believe. He “mightily convinced the Jews, and that publicly.” He was a man capable of performing the two grand functions of the true preacher--edifying the Church, and converting the sinner. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
In him we see--
I. A man with great natural gifts devoting them to the study and exposition of Divine truth. All good men cannot be preachers, but intellectual gifts are put to their noblest use when they are employed in the discovery and proclamation of Divine truth, or for the advancement of righteousness. What a difference between Apollos and some eloquent politician or lawyer who uses his gifts merely to win fame and wealth.
II. A great man condescending to be instructed by social and mental inferiors. Apollos was an Alexandrian scholar--a rank corresponding to that of a graduate of Oxford or Cambridge, and yet he submitted to be taught by a tent maker and his wife. Let us accept truth from any quarter. Many poor persons are well qualified to instruct great scholars in the things of the kingdom.
III. A great man risking all his prospects of worldly advancement in the exposition of unpopular truths. Consider how the Jews would have rewarded Apollos had he shown that Jesus was not the Christ. Let it be our concern to ascertain not whether our opinions are likely to be popular, but whether they are true; and if they are true let us not fear to make them known. (R. A. Bertram.)
What is eloquence
Eloquence is speaking out from the heart. I will tell you what I call eloquence in a child: it is the whole child working itself up to gain its wish and have its way. There is a pretty thing that the child wants. He is very little, but he tries to speak about it, and does his best to express his longings. He points to what he wants, and clutches at it, and cries after it. Still he does not succeed, and then he works himself up into an agony of desire. The boy cries all over--every bit of him pleads, demands, strives. Every hair of his head is pleading for what he wants. He not only cries with his eyes and with his tongue, but he cries with his fingers and his hair. He thinks of nothing but the one thing on which his little heart is set. I call that eloquence. There is, in the Vatican, the famous group of the Laocoon: I stood one day looking at it. You remember how the father and his sons are twisted about with venomous snakes, and they are writhing in agony as the deadly folds enclose them. As I stood looking at the priceless group, a gentleman said to me, “Mr. Spurgeon, look at that eloquent great-toe.” Well, yes, I had looked at that great-toe. It was like a live thing, though only marble. I had not called it “eloquent” till he gave me the word; but certainly it was eloquent, though silent. It spake of anguish and deadly pain. When a man speaks in earnest, he is eloquent even though he may be slow of speech. His whole nature is stirred as he pleads with sinners for the Lord Jesus; and this makes him eloquent. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. The influence to which he was exposed in his early days.
1. Alexandria was a meeting place of East and West, and was characterised alike by mercantile and mental activity. Even the memory of Alexander, its great founder, would tend to produce breadth of view among the Alexandrians, to make them tolerant. Here the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, and a famous school of Biblical interpretation grew up side by side with schools of Greek philosophy. Such mutual relations of Jews and heathens in this place were among the providential preparations for the spread of Christianity. In the midst of these influences Apollos was brought up; and the accomplishments thus acquired were of essential service to him in his future work.
2. It is interesting to mark how God draws from different sources what is meant ultimately to flow together in one beneficent stream. The contrast between St. Paul’s training and that of Apollos was great. The latter was nurtured in Greek scholarship at Alexandria. The former was “brought up” in Rabbinical learning “at the feet of Gamaliel” in Jerusalem. Yet afterwards they met, and became fellow workers in the cause of the gospel. It is an example inviting us to cooperation with others.
3. Turning to the more directly religious side of the preparation of Apollos we find--
II. Features of his personal character.
1. He was “eloquent.” God chooses His instruments suitably. Eloquence is a gift bestowed only on a few. We may be very useful without, and very mischievous with, eloquence. The point of real moment is, that in the case of Apollos this gift was sanctified and turned to a religious use.
2. He was “fervent in spirit.” Temperaments vary. Some are naturally warmer than others. And yet there must be enthusiasm where Christ has been received fully into the heart; and enthusiasm in ourselves is God’s instrument for kindling enthusiasm in others.
3. He “was instructed in the way of the Lord”--“he taught diligently the things of the Lord”--he learnt the way of God “more perfectly.” From these phrases, especially in the original, we infer that he had that habit of mind which we call accuracy. The difference between men in regard to real influence in the world relates not so much to amount as to accuracy of knowledge. Moreover, progressive advance in religious knowledge depends, at each step, upon accuracy. On what, then, does accuracy depend? On attention. An inattentive learner never becomes an accurate scholar. Justly then do we lay great stress on attention, in the teaching of the young.
4. He was humble. His secular training came from a very distinguished source, his high religious training from a very lowly one. How often has this been the case since! Those who have been eminent in university honours have often learnt their best lessons of religion even from the poor, and often from women.
III. The active career of usefulness on which he now entered.
1. Equipped with varied knowledge, he was filled with a noble zeal to make that knowledge fruitful. His desires turned with characteristic energy to a distant scene of labour. Alexandria, Ephesus, and Corinth were connected by trade, and Aquila and Priscilla would be constantly speaking of St. Paul’s work in Achaia. Thus Apollos was seized with the desire of continuing the work which St. Paul had begun; and Aquila and Priscilla were in nowise loth to encourage him in the enterprise. “The brethren” in Ephesus shared these feelings, “and wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive” Apollos. This is the first recorded instance of commendatory letters, a kind of correspondence which became an instrument of the utmost value for binding together the separated parts of the growing Church. Armed with such letters, Apollos crossed to Corinth: and the result is told in forcible though simple language (verse 28). What a great mission was this, to bind together two parts of the Christian community, and to communicate strength where strength was needed! and helping work of this kind, on a smaller or larger scale, is within the power of us all.
2. Here 1 Corinthians helps us to complete our study. The arrival of this learned, eloquent, and fervent man, though intended for the spreading and deepening of practical religion, had been followed by the formation of religious parties. In all that we usually sum up under the term popularity Apollos was probably far superior. On the other hand, St. Paul had founded the Church, and came with supreme authority. Besides this, individual hearts and minds have been relatively brought more closely into contact with the one or the other. Thus that deplorable growth of party spirit took place at Corinth, which has had its counterpart ever since, the true remedy for which is to be found in those general principles which St. Paul enunciates in this Epistle. We are to look up to that one common Divine source from whence all gifts and graces proceed (1 Corinthians 3:21-22). Now the question arises whether this party-spirit was the fault of Apollos. 1 Corinthians 16:12 decisively proves that it was not. By this time Apollos and St. Paul were in personal companionship. How considerate is his conduct! St. Paul wished him to go to Corinth, but he firmly declined. His appearance there would only have been the signal for a new outbreak of this party spirit. It is difficult to say which is the more admirable, the generosity of Paul and his perfect confidence that Apollos would not abuse an opportunity; or the delicate and thoughtful respect for St. Paul, and the utmost reluctance on the part of Apollos to run any risk of exalting himself at the expense of another. What an example of self-restraint and mutual consideration is presented to us here! It is this kind of forbearance which maintains and strengthens friendship, and secures the continuance of cooperation in Christian work.
3. Friendships thus cemented last long and bear many strains. We are not surprised by the anxiety shown by St. Paul long afterwards for the comfort of Apollos in the prospect of a fatiguing journey (Titus 3:13).
1. This meditation may serve as an illustration of the large amount of religious instruction which we may secure from the study of a Scripture character. Recognition of God’s hand in our early training--a good and conscientious use of opportunities--a ready zeal for Christ’s service--humility in learning from those who are further advanced in the Christian course than ourselves--a cheerful rendering of timely help to those around us--a firm discountenancing of factious party spirit--a considerate care for the reputation and comfort of others--can we not all, through the Holy Spirit’s aid, form such habits of mind as these?
2. And we may revert to the providential guiding of Apollos in connection with St. Paul. His early knowledge of Christianity began at Alexandria; his mature training was received, and his active work began, at Ephesus; his distinguished public career was run at Corinth. Thus three great cities saw the three stages of his religious progress.
3. Or we may treat this providential guidance in another way. St. Paul, apparently by accident, meets Aquila and Priscilla at Corinth. There, through intercourse with him, they become fitted for influence on a large scale. At Ephesus, Apollos is brought under this beneficial influence. And finally he is labouring at Corinth on the foundation laid by St. Paul, while the apostle is again cooperating with Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus. We may justly put all this side by side with our own experience in regard to changes of home, of occupation, of companionship, and may draw from it the comfortable assurance that, wherever we are, if we have a true desire to serve God, He will provide for us suitable work and, so far as we need, Christian sympathy. (Dean Howson.)
A new man in the Church
I. How marvellous is the preeminence of individual men!
1. Herein is the continual miracle of 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.
2. Men are so much alike up to a given point, and then without patent reason they separate into individualities, and go out on independent missions. 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. So with the great mental eagles--they all belong to us. 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, rivalry, 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.
II. 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.
1. Apollos was “an eloquent man.” Here Apollos cannot be reproduced by us. Eloquence cannot be acquired; it is the gift of tongues.
2. Apollos 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. Men who are not fervent are not to be blamed. You would not blame a man for being born blind. 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. 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,
3. Apollos was “mighty in the Scriptures.” There we cannot imitate him. Might in Bible reading is the gift of God. 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. 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 Psalms; there are other minds mighty in the histories; there are others with a special gift for taking hold of, and explaining, Christ. We must all work together.
4. Apollos was “instructed in the way of the Lord.” There we may join him. 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. He speaks riddle and enigma. What scope for industry! What a field for teachableness!
5. But this is not all; even in Apollos there was a weak point. 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. 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. The fervent man touches everything with his fervour. 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 cooperation. There are men who are teaching the elements of morality, and endeavouring to save the world by political elevation. They must not be undervalued; they ought to be treated exactly as Aquila and Priscilla treated Apollos. If the offer of further information is declined, the responsibility has 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 most advanced scholar will be the most docile learner.
III. “Aquila and Priscilla took Apollos unto them and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” Thus, in an indirect way, Apollos was a pupil of Paul. Paul will one day get hold of him, and when the two fires meet the light will be seen and the warmth will be felt afar.
IV. These men are ours. The great things are all ours. We cannot go into the rich man’s house and warm our hands at his blazing fire; but the coldest child can hold up its little hands to God’s sun. The dweller in the obscure hamlet cannot claim the secondary cities in the same way in which he can claim the metropolis. So with the great Pauls and Apolloses, and the mighty speakers and teachers, poets and thinkers--they belong to us, everyone (1 Corinthians 3:22-23). (J. Parker, D. D.)
A teacher taught
Most of us like to come suddenly upon the record of a famous man in the Scriptures. Apollos comes quite abruptly on the stage of action, like Elijah, unannounced and unattended; but in the end it is evident he proves to be one of the master spirits of the age.
I. His qualifications as a religious teacher were by no means slight.
1. He was “mighty in the Scriptures.” He could take prophecy, psalm, history, and the ritual, and make the Jewish congregations feel that the great longing of the world for four thousand years had at last found its answer in the advent of Jesus as the Christ. Some modern scholars declare he wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews. So here is our lesson: One who is only partly instructed can do much in bringing souls to Christ. Let him tell what he knows. Truth augments its volume and increases its value by extensive distribution.
2. He was “an eloquent man.” It is a prodigious and priceless gift, that of being able to wield language with skill and success. Tact in teaching is worth d hundred libraries to a Christian worker. The usefulness of any young Christian will depend not upon the many things about which he is ignorant, but upon the vigorous few things he is sure of. Talent is extirpated by disuse. He that hears ought to say, Come.
3. He was “fervent,” boiling “in spirit.” A modern scholar talks about “a dry light, in which subjects are viewed, without any predilection, or passion, or emotion, simply as they exist.” Most likely Apollos did not know what such a thing was. Some so-called great preachers erect their themes as if they desired them to stand like feudal castles in moonlight, with every tower and turret drawn sharply outlined against the cold sky. We do not believe that Apollos had anything of that sort of artistic finish. Things were real to his fervent soul, not just picturesque and pretty. Intellectual deficiency can best be atoned for by a great warmth of heart for Jesus the Master. Let the young Christian cling to the two or three things he positively knows; and let him press them with love and tears; and God will give him his answer.
4. He was industrious. He “spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord.” Yet his list of themes was very scant. John the Baptist told him only two things: Christ was coming and sinners must repent. But that lasted this young man awhile. If one is all afire for work, and is satisfied with his Bible, he only wants two subjects to talk about: “repentance” and “Jesus Christ.” Then let him go and look up Aquila and Priscilla, and get experience.
II. How was it that this teacher went to be taught and came back a wiser and better man?
1. Aquila and his wife spent the time in “expounding,” not in expostulating. There was untold force in Apollos. He was like a mountain torrent--a magnificent water power needing only a flume and a fresh sort of wheel. These friends did not “take him down”; they “took him unto them.” They did not carp nor criticise nor discourage him; they did not talk about his “way;” but about “the way of God.”
2. It is better for young people to take help gracefully. Aquila and Priscilla dared a good deal when they took him up. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
I. The illustration here given of the providence of God, over human lives. Here are persons, born in the most remote regions, separated by every variety of circumstance, yet brought together, in the changes of this mortal life, to affect one another with reference to the highest interests--Aquila, Apollos, Paul. One from Rome, one from Alexandria, and one from Tarsus. Europe, Africa, and Asia, each contributes an element to this combination. Can we doubt, when we consider how much hung upon that conjunction, that it was of God. God, who “can do nothing certainly except He do all things really,” arranges the various movements and associations of human life, making all conduce to our improvement if we will, or else, if we will not, to our humiliation.
II. The progress which there is in every Christian life. Our condition on earth is that of a growing life. To stand still is to go backwards. Most of all is this so in the things of God. It is a terrible sign when we are satisfied where we are in the spiritual life. The wisest of us have much to learn, the best of us much to attain. Apollos was already mighty in the Scriptures, and able to teach accurately the things of the Lord. And yet he was ignorant of one whole department of Christian truth. He knew nothing of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. If he had thought himself too wise to learn, he would have lived and died only half a Christian.
III. We must :earnestly use that which we have already received. We do not yet know all that we shall know, nor are we yet all that we shall be. But that is no reason for keeping to ourselves the light we have. It is in using that we acquire. It was by teaching in the synagogue what he already knew of Christ that Apollos put himself in the way of those who could teach him more. A sense of deficiency is no excuse for idleness. It is to him that hath--i.e., that useth what he hath--that more is given.
IV. The proper treatment of persons in a less mature or enlightened condition. Aquila and Priscilla saw that there was a fatal omission in his public teaching. Many modern Christians would have stamped the man at once as a teacher of error, and deserted his ministry. But these good Christians, recognising the natural gifts and spiritual graces of this new teacher, in calm serious conversation laid before him those deeper mysteries of Christian truth which were the life of their souls, and which they desired to make also the life of his. We ought to be ever on the watch for opportunities of leading onward those who are now behindhand in the doctrine or in the life of Christ. Instead of shrinking from close personal communication with others upon the things of the soul, we ought to seek it. There are those who are longing for it; those who are sadly complaining that Christians are always ready to talk of anything but of the one thing.
V. How simply does the office of a Christian towards others resolve itself into work of helping! Apollos, when he had been more fully instructed in Christian doctrine, and had, at the entreaty of those who knew his great gifts, passed on into Achaia to minister to the Church of Corinth, helped much, by the grace given to him, them which had believed. What an idea does this expression convey of the obstacles which a Christian has to encounter! There are great rocks in our path, too heavy oftentimes for our unaided strength to roll out of the way. What a real assistance, in such cases, may the helping hand of a fellow Christian afford who has surmounted the same difficulty himself! And how intricate sometimes is the choice of paths, as we thread the labyrinth of life! What a real assistance may the voice of a friend afford us, if he can say, I have tried many of these paths, but this is the right one. And how heavy sometimes is the weight which we have to carry! What a real assistance is the offer of a Christian friend to relieve us by his brotherly sympathy, and thus to fulfil the law of Christ! And how arduous sometimes is the work which has to be done! And then what a real assistance it is, if some known and tried voice will offer to divide it with us. And how difficult, sometimes, is the discernment of truth! how puzzling the adjustment of the conflicting elements of Scripture doctrine! What a real assistance, at such times, may be the voice of the well-instructed and the sympathising teacher, who can bring into the dark chamber the lamp of discernment and of revelation, unravel the tangled web, draw harmony out of discord, reconcile the jarring elements, and justify the ways of God to men! (Dean Vaughan.)
Mighty in the Scriptures.--
Mighty in the Scriptures
I. The Scriptures are like the ocean.
1. No man can exhaust the stores of knowledge treasured in the mighty deep. It may be studied for a lifetime under different aspects.
2. All this may be applied to Scripture. It may be studied under different aspects, and in each furnish inexhaustible stores of knowledge. It may be viewed--
3. But as scientific knowledge of the ocean may be possessed without practical skill in navigation, so a man may possess a knowledge of Scripture history, etc., and yet not be mighty in the Scriptures. These are the materials which power uses, and without which he can accomplish nothing; but the power itself is the ability to use this knowledge effectively. This includes--
(a) Strong conviction of the truth and importance of what the Bible teaches.
(b) Fervent desire that it should be recognised and obeyed.
II. The importance of being mighty in the Scriptures. The whole power of a minister as such is a power in the Scriptures. This exists in different degrees, but it is all that any minister has, be it much or little. It is therefore the one object to be sought in preparing for the ministry, without which a minister, no matter what else he may have of knowledge or talent, will accomplish no good, and may do immense harm.
III. The duty of being mighty in the Scriptures. It is our duty--
1. To obtain all the kinds of knowledge of Scripture above mentioned, especially committing it to memory, so as to be able to quote it abundantly, correctly, and appropriately.
2. To acquire the ability to use that knowledge. This is--
Mighty in the Scriptures
I. In the study of the Scriptures. This must be--
4. With all the aid that related sciences can afford.
5. Prayerful and with dependence on the Guide into all truth.
II. In the knowledge of the Scriptures; as following from the former. In the knowledge of their--
4. End and aim.
III. In the exposition of the Scriptures, as following from both the first and the second.
1. In the opening up of their meaning.
2. In the ready and apt quotation of texts.
3. In the application of the truth to the heart and conscience.
IV. In the effects which the mighty study, knowledge and exposition of the Scriptures are calculated to produce. “Mightily grew the Word of God and prevailed.”
1. In the edification of the Church.
2. In the multiplication of converts. (J. W. Burn.)
Whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they … expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.--
The importance of Bible teaching
1. It is by being taught that, men acquire knowledge of and competency for anything. All Christians need to be taught (Romans 16:16), and it is impossible for any to begin too early (2 Timothy 3:15), and none are too old. Apollos, although mighty in the Scriptures, did not feel himself above this necessity.
2. Religion develops the power to learn, and produces the spirit most favourable to learning--humility.
3. The things which Christians are to learn are the sublimest and most important (Acts 20:30; 2 Timothy 3:17). Note--
I. What the Bible is to men in general.
1. It throws light on Nature. The materialist cannot find God in His own creation; the natural theologian can only find traces of Him; the Bible student is taught to find Him everywhere.
2. It reveals God’s plan of salvation (2 Timothy 2:10; Hebrews 8:5).
3. It contains the standard of true morality. A well-made clock may be expected to keep Correct time; but owing to circumstances few clocks are always right. It is well, therefore, to have a public clock in every city which shall serve as a positive standard for all the other clocks of the place--better still to have at Greenwich one that is so for the whole country. Man is a moral clock whose original construction was perfect, but whose moral order is now sadly deranged (Ecclesiastes 7:29; Romans 3:23); but God has given us a standard whereby the right can be ascertained and the wrong ones rectified, in the Bible.
4. It is the rule whereby the destiny of every man shall be determined at the final judgment (Acts 17:31; John 12:48). For these reasons, therefore, man, as man, needs Bible teaching.
II. The particular relation of the Bible to the Churches.
1. It is their school book. The Churches are so many schools in which Christ teaches, and He will permit of no other text book but this.
2. It is their legal code. When a man becomes a citizen of another country, it is important that he should become acquainted with the laws of that country, lest he should unwittingly break them. So when a man comes out of the world into the kingdom of God it is necessary for him to master the laws by which that kingdom is governed (Isaiah 8:20).
3. It is the means of their sanctification (John 17:17; Ephesians 5:25-26).
4. It is their fountain of comfort (Psalms 119:50; Romans 15:4).
5. It is their defensive and aggressive weapon. Some weapons are defensive only, but a sword is both (Ephesians 6:17; Matthew 4:3-11).
6. They are its custodians, as the Jewish Church was of the Old Testament.
7. They are the instruments by which its light is to shine on the world (Philippians 2:15-16); but it must be in them first (Galatians 3:16); otherwise they are lamps without oil.
8. They are to teach it to the world (Matthew 28:19-20).
9. Through it they are to convert the world (Mark 16:15; 2 Timothy 4:2).
10. It is the means of their growth--
And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him.
The duty of the Church at home to the work and the workers abroad
1. We should give our Christian brother Godspeed on his work for God.
2. We can sometimes help the cause of foreign missions without leaving our own homes.
3. We cannot, however, be Christians at all, without being in some sense foreign missionaries.
4. We should match the self-surrender of the brother who gives up his home and land to carry on the work abroad, by self-denial for his support.
5. We should give to the faithful brother who is going forth in Christ’s name, that most comforting of all assurances--that the prayers of Christ’s Church are with him.
6. We should help Apollos and Apollos should help us, and our helping of one another should be to the end that the Master’s kingdom may be widened and upbuilded.
7. We may be sure that time and money used in teaching Apollos the truth are well “employed, for Apollos will in turn become a powerful teacher of the truth. (S. S. Times.)
The Churches and removing members
One of the gravest of modern ecclesiastical problems relates to the removal of members. There is a constant drain on our Churches through business exigencies, family arrangements, the habit of removing from town into the country, etc. In some neighbourhoods in the course of a few years the personnel of the congregation is entirely changed. What becomes of those who thus remove? It is notorious that a vast number drop out of Church life altogether. This like other problems arises from our departure from apostolic precedent. Members leave without reporting themselves either to the Church they are leaving, or to the Church to which they are removing; they are allowed to leave without commendation, or are allowed to come without welcome; and failing to adjust themselves to their new environment they simply fall out of the Church’s ranks and so are lost. But even at this early date an arrangement was made which effectually checked this evil. A member of a particular Church was made to feel that he was a member of the Church of Christ everywhere. And so the “brethren” at Ephesus commended by letter Apollos to the “disciples” at Corinth, who, when he arrived in his new sphere in the most natural manner imaginable, took up the threads of his old life and continued his old work. Note then--
I. That the Church from which a member is removing should commend him to the Church to which he removes.
1. This authenticates the member and is an effectual safeguard against imposture. In the absence of such a commendation the caution which is mistaken for coldness is only natural, for many a Church has suffered from receiving non-authenticated strangers.
2. This secures for the member a welcome and a home. There can be no hesitation in receiving one who has earned a good report amongst those who have known him for years.
3. This shows a brotherly interest in the prosperity of other Churches. “Brother So-and-so has been of use to us as a Sunday school teacher, or a church officer--make use of him; he will do you good, as he has done us good.”
II. The Church to which a member removes should “receive” him, if he brings his credentials--
1. Without suspicion. He has been already approved by a sister Church, and should not have to undergo another period of probation.
2. With hearty brotherly affection. Parting with old associates if often most distressing; let him feel that he has only changed one group of brethren for another.
3. To full Church rights and privileges. Let him take as nearly as possible the position he occupied amongst his old friends. This was what the Corinthians did in the case of Apollos.
III. A member on removing should ask for his credentials and at once present them and contribute his share of Church life and usefulness.
1. He should put a proper value on his membership by securing its continuity himself. How is the Church to know he is removing and where he is removing to without information? Surely it is not infra dig. to give this information, and to secure at least a friendly recommendation!
2. He should not wait to be “looked up” in his new sphere, and because screened from observation in some back seat, or lost in the crowd of retiring worshippers, complain that he is neglected.
3. He should take as deep an interest in the work of his new sphere as in the work of the old. This is what Apollos did. Conclusion: This rule should not be sectarian. When a member of one branch of Christ’s Church removes to a place represented only by another branch, let him be duly accredited and received as belonging to the common Christian community; and let him not withhold his full fellowship, least of all create a schism ill favour of his own denomination because of some difference in creed or polity. (J. W. Burn.)
Who when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace.
Spiritual succorer derived from appointed means
1. The God of nature is the God of grace. In the world of nature, God not only brings creatures into life, but provides for their support. So in the world of grace. Christians are new creatures; but they require attention and supplies. And “He who giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry,” will not overlook the wants of His own children.
2. In harmony with this reflection are the words of the text, Apollos was “an eloquent man,” etc. Here we remark that talent and knowledge are distinguishable; and that the heart may be right with God, while the judgment in Divine things is defective. It is well, however, to see a man using the light he has, and “to him that hath shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly.” This was the case here (Acts 18:26).
3. This honours both parties.
4. Apollos was willing to go where there was least help, and most probability of usefulness. But no preacher ought to be countenanced till he is accredited. When, therefore, Apollos was “disposed to pass into Achaia,” he travelled with letters of recommendation; and “when he was come, he helped them much which had believed through grace.” Whence we observe that--
I. Christians and believers. To believe is to have a persuasion of the truth of a thing submitted to our attention. It is obvious, however, that the credence which characterises the subjects of Divine grace does not rest in the judgment without producing a correspondent state of the heart: “for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” “Faith worketh by love.” James shows the inutility of that faith which admits the truth into the understanding, while the possessor is not sanctified by it. If a man believe anything, it is his own mortality; and yet the conviction is completely counteracted by his passions and sins, and he lives as if he were to live here always. Ungodly characters may, therefore, give credit to the Scriptures, and to the most interesting doctrines of the gospel, and yet “hold the truth in unrighteousness.” The hazard of deception arises from the resemblance there often is between a counterfeit and a genuine faith; and the tendency there is in men to be satisfied with the assent of the mind, which costs nothing, without “obeying from the heart the form of doctrine which is delivered us.” But such is the disposition of everyone that believes to the saving of the soul.
II. That they who believe, believe through grace. From this source comes--
1. The very object of faith as a revelation. This principally consists in the “record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and that this life is in His Son.”
2. The existence of faith as a production. This may be inferred from our moral inability. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one.” But we are not left to infer the fact: we have the most express ascriptions of it to a Divine influence. “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven.” And so far was this from being peculiar to him, that it is said of the Ephesians, “By grace are ye saved, through faith: and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
3. The exercise of faith as a principle. This faith must be exerted in every condition. But as there is nothing of so much importance, there is nothing so much opposed. And how is it to be maintained? “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” “Lord, increase our faith.” Thus the continuance and the progress of the principle depend upon the same grace which produced it; and He who is the Author, is also the Finisher of our faith.
III. They need help. This they all feel. Paul himself, after all his proficiency, was not ashamed to say, “I have not yet attained, neither am I already perfect.” The Christian feels a deficiency which requires help.
1. In his knowledge.
2. In his sanctification. His graces are imperfect. Something is wanting--and, oh! how much--to his patience, his love, his hope, his faith.
3. In his comfort.
IV. But assistance is afforded by the ministry of the gospel. “Who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace.” It is necessary, however, to observe that he did this only through the blessing of God attending his labours. “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos,” etc.? (1 Corinthians 3:5). Apollos helped the believers--
1. By his prayers. This was done by his praying with them and for them, not only in public, but in private. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
2. By preaching. Preaching is an ordinance peculiar to the gospel. Every religion of old had its rites; and its votaries were accustomed to assemble together at stated times and on various occasions, in their temples and at their altars: but they never came to receive instruction. What instruction had their leaders to communicate? But when your ministers meet you, they have everything that is interesting to announce.
3. By example. Example is deservedly said to be more influential than precept. The physician is not likely to gain the confidence of the patient when he prescribes for a disease under which he labours himself.
1. “Dost thou believe on the Son of God?”
2. If faith comes from the grace of God, they are mistaken who place it in the virtue of man. “By the grace of God, I am what I am.” Let the same truth which excludes boasting prevent despair.
3. Do not despise the day of small things. Despise it not--
4. Pity those who are destitute of your religious advantages.
5. Be grateful for the privileges you enjoy, and be concerned properly to improve them. (W. Jay.)
For he mightily convinced the Jews.--
What Apollos was at Ephesus (verse 24) he was at Corinth. Change of sphere sometimes takes all the might out of a preacher. But this is not always his fault. The preacher who, supported by the prayers, cooperation, and enthusiasm of a warm-hearted Church, wins many souls to Christ, is not to be blamed if his ministry amongst an apathetic people is comparatively barren of results. Mighty preaching is--
I. Convincing preaching.
1. Some preaching is--
2. All these kinds of preaching are important and necessary in their place: but even these are powerless unless they produce conviction; and wisely handled subjects of passing interest, grave mental and moral problems, and the woes of humanity may be made instruments of power. The mighty preaching of Apollos produced conviction--
3. For this convincing preaching the Holy Spirit is essential (John 16:7-11).
II. The means of producing this conviction are the Scriptures.
1. Some endeavour to produce conviction by abstract reasoning. And nothing is more incontestible than that the fact of sin and the power and claims of Christ as Saviour can be proved on intellectual lines. But logic is too cold to be powerful, and those who are capable of following closely subtle lines of argument are very few.
2. Some depend on authority, and the result is either stubborn antagonism or the manufacture of worthless devotees. Rarely has conviction been produced by the mere ipse dixit of a preacher or a Church.
3. The mighty preacher deals with the Scriptures and shows from them that Christ is--
III. Mighty preaching is the great means of helping the Church. Apollos helped them much, “for he mightily convinced,” etc. Of course he helped those whom he convinced--by being the means of their conversion; and doubtless he, like others, helped the Church by counsel, government, encouragement, etc. Still the main help that the Church wanted then and what it wants now is that referred to in the text. This--
1. Strengthens the Church numerically. Those who are convinced that Jesus is Christ, join the Church and thus add to its numerical strength. The law of growth operates here as elsewhere. Vigour is manifested by growth.
2. Encourages its hopes. A stationary or declining Church is a desponding Church; and despondency is paralysis. On the contrary a hopeful Church is a progressive Church, and nothing stimulates hope like success. (J. W. Burn.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Acts 18". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25